In Passing


I WAS living then with Anna and Nicholas Shusser in a house out beyond the race tracks. Nicholas was the manager of a five-and-ten-cent store in the town and I worked for him. I ate all of my meals at the Shussers’ and usually spent my evenings with them, sitting in the plot of grass out behind the house, drinking beer. We never did much else. Neither they nor I had the money to go anywhere. But it was nice sitting out in the back yard when we were tired from the store. It was quiet, because most of the houses in the neighborhood were closed. The racing season had n’t begun then.

Anna was beautiful. Nicholas talked all the time. He usually talked about the lycée he had attended in Geneva and about their annual grande course in the mountains. Then sometimes, after they had gone to bed, I would walk down the road by the race tracks. Preparations were already being made for the season. They were painting and gilding the iron fence that enclosed the tracks and trimming the shrubbery. Some of the horses had arrived, and when you passed down the road you could smell their bodies and the liniments and the manure. A police dog guarded the stables, and whenever I passed down the road he would begin to bark. That end of the town was still empty. The mansions were boarded up. I never met anyone on that road and I never heard anything but the sound of my own heels and the barking of the dog.

Both Anna and Nicholas came from abroad. Anna came from Moscow and Nicholas from Palestine, but his family had moved to Geneva when he was young so that he could get an education at Swiss schools. Although they had been in America for nine years, they still spoke with a strong accent and always talked about Europe. Anna talked about the elevator in her home in Moscow and about the kind of cakes they had for tea. Nicholas talked about the grande course or about the way they trapped flies under a glass bell in Palestine. They both loved cities and crowds and they hated that town. But they hated it less than they would hate any other American town, for in some way it resembled the world they were most familiar with: a world of impermanence, travel, train compartments, damp pensions, boats. New York stood second to Europe in their minds. They always wanted to go to New York. Anna kept the radio on a New York station all day, and sometimes when we were sitting in the garden drinking beer she would turn her head when she heard the cars passing on the New York highway.

‘Those are cars, are n’t they, Nick?’ she’d say. ‘Those are cars, are n’t they? That noise I hear.’

Nicholas would laugh and speak to me. ‘See Anna, poor Anna. She wants to get out, to get away. Yes, Anna, those are cars going down the New York road.’

‘How far is New York, Nick?’

‘Four hundred miles. Maybe at Christmas you can go down this year.’

Anna’s mother and sister were in Palestine, and her brother, Lazar, conducted an orchestra in Paris. He was famous and wealthy. They corresponded with one another and she lived for his letters. It seemed strange to her that she should be imprisoned in that little upstate town, with its race track and curative waters and vast, windy hotels, and that she should sit in the back yard and read letters from her brother speaking in terms of thousands of francs earned and spent and thousands of people and crowded, lighted houses.

Nicholas’s family were all in America. His brother was a successful chainstore manager in Cleveland and his mother and his sister lived in New York. His sister taught mediæval history in a college in the city. He liked his sister; he liked her better than his brother; but he always spoke of her with reserve. Their worlds wore different. She was a scholar. She was ugly and absent-minded; he told stories about her absent-mindedness. But in the end he would say that he loved her, but she was a scholar and scholars were beyond his understanding.

They had almost no friends in the town. They did n’t like the people. Most of the population were dependent upon the racing season, and that fast month of easy money had spoiled them. They had none of the ambition or experience of Anna and Nicholas. They had never been to another town and they never wanted to go to another town, and the faint rush of cars on the highway meant nothing to them. They were malicious and selfish. Nicholas had a few business friends, and sometimes friends of theirs from the city would come up for the races or the cure. Then there were indirect friendships formed through their family. Friends of Nicholas’s brother or sister or mother would pass through the town and stop to see them. During the summer months fifty per cent of the population of the town was transient. It was the scene of continual arrivals and departures. And so there were always people passing through to see Nicholas and Anna. Girsdansky was one of these.

Neither of them had ever met Girsdansky before. They had n’t even heard the name. I was there when he called up on the phone that night and introduced himself as a friend of Nicholas’s sister. Nicholas invited him up to the house. But all that evening before Girsdansky came Nicholas kept trying to remember if at some time he had not heard the name before. All he could think of was a Hebrew scholar with a similar name. He finally decided that Girsdansky would be the scholar. ‘I’ll be glad,’ he said, ‘I can talk in Hebrew. It is a better language than Yiddish. Yiddish is nothing. I hope he can stay a long time.’


Girsdansky came up to the house that night about an hour after he had phoned. We were sitting in the back yard and Nicholas had put a lot of beer on the ice. He was excited. They were both excited, but Anna was quiet. They were excited at meeting a stranger from the city. Finally Girsdansky came. The first thing I heard was his heels on the sidewalk. His step was young and quick. Then I heard his voice in the hallway, while Nicholas greeted him. It was not the voice of a Hebrew scholar. It was the voice of a young man. It was precise and composed and a little flat, like the voice projected by a phonograph. Then he came down into the yard and we all shook hands and Nicholas brought out the beer.

The light in the yard was weak and only a little light came from the kitchen and at first I could hardly see him. At first I thought he was an adolescent. It was his figure and his complexion that gave the impression of an adolescent. His figure was slight and callow, not at all effeminate, but it had none of the development that the figure of a man of his age usually has. It was not gross or thin or crooked or strong. It was the straight callow figure of a boy. And his features had the same unusual youth and simplicity. He was a blond, Polish type. His complexion was as clear and highly colored as a girls. His hair was brown and wavy and parted in the middle. He wore a pair of steelrimmed spectacles that flashed in the light from the kitchen when he turned his head. When I first saw him I thought he was seventeen, eighteen years old. He looked like the picture of Sir Galahad that used to hang in the Public Library of the town I come from.

But after we had talked for a little while I knew he was older than that. He was at least in his early thirties. He did not talk like a boy, although his voice had the same clarity and callowness of his figure and his features, He talked like a man. The impression of youth that he gave was largely because he showed no trace of confusion or habit or vice, and because age seems to be indicated by confusion and habit and vice.

We drank a lot of beer and talked, and Nicholas got some crackers and we ate crackers. Girsdansky told Nicholas the news of his sister and his mother and they found they had some common friends in the city and they talked about these. Nicholas told a story about Geneva and the grande course. Anna asked Girsdansky if he had ever been to Moscow. Girsdansky said that he was a Communist; he mentioned it casually. He said that he had been sent up there to do some organizing of the Negro workers. He said that he was working for the L—, giving the name of a large organization that was sympathetic to the Communist Party. He said that he would be in town for a week and he invited us to two meetings where he was going to speak. Then, at about eleven o’clock, he left. He was a little uncertain about finding his way back into town and I wanted to take a walk anyhow, so I offered to walk into town with him.

We walked down the main avenue that led into the town. We talked about Anna and Nicholas and the town. ‘I’ve only been here for a couple of days,’ Girsdansky said, ‘but the little that I ’ve seen of the town seems to incorporate and intensify all of the corruption and unpleasantness of the capitalist world. These lumpen towns are heartbreaking. They will be the last places where the truth is realized. Everywhere you go you see people led on by the delusion of easy money. But even these towns have n’t long to go. If you are poor, you eventually have to admit that you are poor. I’ve talked with a few people and they say that during the last five years the betting goes down and down. There is less business. They tell me that a couple of the gambling houses have closed. Not because of the Federal Government,’ he said, ‘but because they can’t afford to keep them open. Poverty is a greater force than the Federal Government. Are you a Communist?’ he asked.

‘No,’ I said.

‘Look at those houses,’ he said. He pointed to the mansions that lined each side of the street. They were dark and boarded up. ‘To think of building places like that! It makes me sick. And you find them outside of every small town.’ He yawned. ‘I’m tired,’ he said. ‘I’m on the go all the time, day and night. I’m with my wife about two months of every year and my son does n’t recognize me. When I leave here I ’ll have to go down to Pittsburgh and then Philadelphia and then Boston and the mill towns around there. It’s a hard job,’ he said, ‘but it’s worth it.’

‘How long have you been organizing?’ I asked.

‘Eight years,’ he said, ‘ever since I left college. I studied philosophy,’ he said. He laughed. ‘But when I got out I changed my field pretty quick. I’ve been going up and down the country now for eight years. It’s hard work. But there is no work with a greater compensation. I can see how, after eight years, things have changed, and how much nearer we are to a revolution. At first I thought it was something I should never see — or even my son. But now I feel sure I’ll see it. And before I’m much older. I hate this world,’ he said, ‘and these houses and these streets.’

We went down by the dark race track. We could hear our own heels on the road and our own voices. The police dog began to bark. He continued to bark long after we had passed the track and we could hear him barking in the distance. We walked down into the village, down to the small hotel where he was staying. He explained that the people who owned the hotel had been trying to form a Communist local for some time and that he had been sent up at their request. He said that he was speaking at a Negro church in the South End on the next night. I told him that I’d see him at the meeting. We said good-night and I walked back to Shussers’ alone.


Nicholas was too tired that night to go down to the meeting and Anna stayed home with him. Both Nicholas and Anna liked Girsdansky; but in some way he had disappointed them. ‘He doesn’t smoke,’ Nicholas said. ‘He hardly touched his beer. Maybe he did n’t like our beer.’ They had felt somehow that through his clear, temperate, sensible character he was different from them, for Nicholas was confused, intemperate, and extravagant. He loved to spend money, and, although they had almost no money, he wasted what they had with great pleasure. He loved extravagance. He used to bring Anna cut flowers when cut flowers were expensive. He felt that extravagance was a full expression of his character. And it seemed impossible to him that Girsdansky could imagine, in anything but hate and impatience, his love of Anna and money and drink and the world. Girsdansky’s slight figure and his young, clear face and his dry voice seemed to show no room for an understanding of those things. In front of Girsdansky, Nicholas felt like a sinner. And so he said he was tired that night and Anna stayed home with him and I went down to the meeting alone.

The meeting was in a little, musty church in the South End. When I came in, the church was nearly full. The audience was half Jewish and half Negro. The Negroes were from the South; they came North every year to work in the stables and at the big hotels. Girsdansky was standing on the platform talking with the preacher. The preacher introduced him. Then Girsdansky began to talk about the Herndon case.

He was careful — very careful. None of the Negroes in the audience had been exposed to Communist propaganda before. They were even suspicious of the term ‘Communist.’ But they listened to him while he told the story of Angelo Herndon, a young man sentenced for the expression of his opinion, by an ancient, lame law, to certain death on a chain gang. He spoke for about an hour. He was a good speaker; his voice and his presence were attractive and he could lift his voice until it filled the little church. He still looked young and he gave the impression that he would never grow old, since he would never grow old through habit or love or vice. There was a lot of applause at the end of the speech. The Negroes were glad to hear the discrimination they were bitterly familiar with described in terms that implied some rebellion. It was a strange, new world. Then refreshments were served in a vestibule off the church. I stayed to speak with Girsdansky for a minute and then I left.

The night of his second speech was on a Saturday, and Nicholas and I were working late in the store, so neither of us could go. But on Sunday afternoon I met him on Main Street. That was the day before the racing season began and the small street, was crowded with traffic and the sidewalk was crowded. I saw him ahead of me long before he saw me. He looked unlike anyone else on the street. He was carrying some books under his arm. He looked as though he did n’t see the street or the musty hotels that were being opened then or the touts standing in front of the drugstore. I said hello and we shook hands and I asked him if he wanted a drink. He said that he had n’t eaten his lunch yet, but if I wanted to have a drink while he ate his lunch it would be fine. So we went into a lunch cart near there and he ordered lunch and I ordered a beer.

He looked tired, very tired. He said that he had been working day and night and that he was translating some of the Marx and Engels correspondence in his spare time. ‘I just got a letter from France to-day,’ he said. ‘My only regrets in this work are that I can’t be all over the world at the same time. There’s rioting in Havre, Cherbourg, Bordeaux, Calais. That’s good news. It brings everything nearer. But the news from Paris is n’t so good. That’s the Fascist headquarters; I don’t have to tell you that, of course. And De la Rocque, financed by the Cotys and the De Wendels, is forming an armed militia of forty thousand men. It’s discouraging. Armed men will have to be combated with armed men; and forty thousand is a formidable number to fight against — particularly when our armed militia amounts to exactly one hundred and forty-three men.’

He ordered bacon and eggs and drank a couple of glasses of water. He talked and talked and talked. He talked continually about revolution. He talked about history, and about the tendency he saw in that unconscionably long story toward revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. He spoke of revolution as if it were something he would see on the next day, or the next, and as if the noise of traffic on Main Street were the noise of military lorries.

‘A great deal will depend upon the young men in your generation,’ he said. ‘You’ve had the good fortune to miss the boom period and all of that, harmful, inflated ambition. You have never knowm anything but what it is to be poor. You have probably learned by now,’he said, ‘that there is no greater power than money, — inexpressibly greater, to be romantic, than love or death, — and that you will never have money in this rotten world and that you will never have power. We depend upon your generation for a great deal, for if anyone has the right to ask revenge or justice it is the young men. And there are twenty million of them,’ he said, ‘twenty million men of your age, cooling their heels right now in lunch carts, employment agencies, furnished rooms, buses, or, still worse, in homes, listening to the radio and rereading the paper. Youth is valuable and irretractable. And no man of any courage is going to sit back and take day after day that bears no resemblance to a just and full life. There are twenty million. You know how many that is. Think of it!

‘It’s simple,’ he said. ‘ It’s as simple as A B C. Anyone who has been poor and helpless and hungry, day after day after day, with no prospects of ever being anything but poor and helpless and hungry, must eventually realize it. It is simple. These are your chains; no iron was ever heavier. And you have to break them. And you can — with your own hands. Can’t you realize? Don’t you see? It’s a new world. No more hunger, no more worrying for to-morrow’s food and tomorrow’s, no more sitting in a hallway waiting as if you were waiting for a train. It’s simple, simple, simple, and everyone, after these years, must come back to justice and reason. It’s a rotten world — everyone has had a chance to realize that. Its rottenness pervades everything. The only thing to do is to change it. It is as simple as the desire to eat and drink and live. If a man of any courage or strength finds himself bound hand and foot he will naturally break his bonds. The world is slow to learn, but people will learn. How can they avoid learning? And they are learning! I’ve seen that during the eight years I’ve been going up and down the country.’

His voice, even when he spoke in hate, was precise and impersonal. He talked like a book; his talk had the clarity and dryness of a book. He ate slowly and uninterestedly. After his eggs he ordered a baked apple and a glass of milk. I kept drinking beer. By that time I knew that he neither drank nor smoked. He had the temperance and the reason and the faith of a saint, and he spoke of another world with the simplicity that a saint would speak of the City of God. ‘It is simple,’ he repeated. ‘It is a matter of pure reason. We are living in a rotten world, shaped by dead hands and ruled by dead hands. We are the young. It is in our power to change it. It is as simple as the desire to eat and sleep and live.’

When he had finished eating we went out on to the street. It was getting dark. The narrow street was crowded. It looked and smelled like a railway depot and it had the feeling of a railway depot. He talked without interruption. ‘. . . Men are poor. Poverty will define itself to them in these ugly years as an imprisonment worse than any jail. They will realize that there is only one way out. Revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat— there is not another reasonable answer. There is no other reasonable hope. . . .’

People kept separating us, but he went on talking. He looked different from anyone else on the street. He looked like an American on the streets of London. He was slim and young and he was carrying some books. He did not notice the street or the crowd or the touts or the harlots. He seemed to have less room in his character for a hate of them than he had for plans of what another world would be. ‘There will be a strike,’ he said, ‘this fall. Longshoremen. The docks. The East Coast and the West Coast. Our Marine Unions are powerful. . . .’

I walked down to the end of the street with him and then we said goodbye. His work there was finished; the local was organized. He was leaving for Pittsburgh on the following morning. ‘Good-bye,’ he said. ‘Maybe I’ll see you in New York. Maybe we’M meet on one of the barricades. It won’t be long now.’ We shook hands. ‘Good-bye, good-bye.’

Then I walked back up the main street, and into the crowd again. I like crowds. The big hotels were open. I went into the bar of the Excelsior and ordered a beer. The season had begun; the bar was full of touts and trainers and horsemen talking about horses. Everywhere there was the tension of a gambling house. Craps and roulette and chemin de fer tables were set up in a casino in the courtyard. I went down and watched the gaming for a little while and the faces above the tables. They were intent and greedy. The players were not rich. The betting was low, and some of the people, particularly some of the women, were shabbily dressed; but there was nothing in their faces but a love of money and the incorrigible dream of big money. Dance music was coming from the dining room, and from the street beyond the hotel I could hear the noise of traffic, the noise of the cars from every state in the Union, crowding into the village for the races, like the crippled pilgrims at the news of another miracle in Lourdes or Seville or Sainte-Anne-deBeaupré.


The racing season lasted five weeks and I stayed there until the end of the meet. Like the rest of the town, I bought dope and played the races, and on the last day Nicholas gave me the afternoon off and I went down and saw Corabelle win the Hopeful. She wasn’t the favorite; she had a bad post position, and she did n’t take the lead until halfway through the race, but then she nosed her way down the crowd, sweeter and faster than anything in the world with that faint thunder of hoofs, stirring you like something you remember but can’t place; and everyone went wild, yelling and screaming and throwing up their programmes. And that night we could hear, from the back yard at Shussers’, the horse vans going down the southern highway to Aqueduct and Belmont Park, as if they were dragging the breath out of that village, leaving a settlement of musty, empty rooms.

When the season ended, there was n’t much business in the store. I planned to go back to Manhattan. I planned to go back there until I received that letter from my father. ’I feel that you ought to know,’ he wrote, That we are leaving this house after thirty years. The bank has foreclosed the mortgage and sold the land to Standard Oil. They are going to tear down the house and put up a gas station here. We are going to take an apartment in Adams. Jim is going to boarding school, although I don’t know where the money is going to come from. I don’t know what is going to happen to the rugs and furniture, etc. . . . I don’t know what your mother’s plans are yet. But we should like to see you before we leave here and if you could come down we should be very grateful.’ And so a few days later I said good-bye to Anna and Nicholas. They went down to the bus depot with me. We shook hands.

‘Good-bye, stranger.’

‘Good-bye, Anna, Nick.’

‘If you could only have had better weather,’ Anna said. ‘It makes me lonely. Cold, rainy. I hope it is n’t cold on the bus.’

‘Good-bye, stranger,’ Nicholas kept saying. Then the bus started up and we went down the long road and out of the Adirondacks. It was good to be on the road again. It was rainy and cold. Some of the grass along the road had begun to take on color and some of the swamp maples had turned and the mountains all around the sky were purple. Most of the roadside stands had closed and it looked like autumn. We came into Albany late that night. It was still raining — a light, cold rain. I walked around the streets and spent the night in the bus depot. In the early morning I took a bus to Boston. That trip took nearly all day. We went through the flat, cultivated valley of the Connecticut and crossed Lebanon Mountain and left the Berkshires for the straight turnpikes of my own country and that worn landscape with its hotels and roadhouses and gas stations. We came into Boston a little before dark. I took an evening train to the cape where our home was. My father met me at the depot. I had written them the day I was coming and so he was there when I got off the train.

He looked a little older. He was in his early sixties then, and had not worked for a long time. He was living off a little royalty money he received for an invention he had designed some time before. He had made a lot of money in his life and had spent a lot of money. He loved to spend money; extravagance seemed to be the fullest expression of his character, and when he lost this power he grew old quickly. He looked older than his age that evening when he met me. But I was very glad to see him.

I drove the car down to the house that night, and when we came down on to the highway I could see it ahead of me. It was a large, rambling house, which had been built before the Revolution. It was the house that I had been born in and that my parents expected to die in. The rooms were lighted, and when we came up the drive my brother and my mother came out to meet me. It was good to be back. It was better than I could have imagined. Nearly everything was unchanged. My brother was taller and stronger; he was seventeen years old then, five years younger than I. My mother did n’t seem to have changed any. Her hair was gray. She was wearing a fresh linen dress. She looked a little tired, but she looked the same.

I had a couple of drinks and some supper in the kitchen. My brother wanted to know about the races and I told him about Corabelle. ‘I’d like to go up there next season,’he said. ‘I’ve never seen a real race. I’d like them, I guess. I’d have good luck with my bets; I usually have good luck. I got two dollars out of the jackpot down at the corner last week.’ I told them everything I could remember and then I walked through the house with my mother. Neither of us mentioned the fact, that night, that they were leaving the house. She took me through the rooms as if she enjoyed it as much as I did and as if it would be hers forever. ‘See,’ she said, ‘everything’s the same, is n’t it?’ Everything was the same. There were the same Turkey carpets and portraits of my grandmother and my brother and myself, and the handsome, shabby furniture and curtains and books and the cast of Venus de Milo. She took me through all of the rooms. ‘Your room is just the same,’ she said, ‘is n’t it? Jim wanted to take down the snowshoes, but I would n’t let him. He has a pair of his own. And whenever he takes out the books I make him put them back where he found them. The moths got into that carpet. I guess it’s because you were n’t around to spill your cigarette ashes. But we had it mended. You would n’t know the difference, would you?’ Then we went back to the kitchen. We were all happy and we were all talking at once. ‘I found your steam engine up in the attic,’ my brother said. ‘You know — the electric one. I ’ve got it now so it can cut wood. And I took apart the old rheostat and fixed it so I can candle the lights in my room. I’m going to take it back to school with me.’

‘Did you get any long shots?’ my father asked. ‘ I read in the paper that a sixty-to-one horse came in. I wondered if you had any money on her. I thought about you when I read it.’

‘Would you like something more to eat?’ my mother said. ‘I made some Chess cakes yesterday and there’s an Edam in the ice chest.’ Finally we all went upstairs. I was tired. I talked with my brother for a little while in the hallway. He told me his plans for returning to boarding school and about the college he wanted to go to and about the basketball team. Then I undressed and went to bed.


I spent the first couple of days cutting wood. The woodbins were empty and my parents did n’t want to order another cord because they were moving so soon and because they had a long bill at the wood dealer’s. They had bills everywhere. And so I felled a couple of trees and cut them into lengths with my brother and split them for the fireplaces. There was n’t much else to do. We inflated the old football and passed it back and forth in the yard. I went swimming in the lake a couple of times and in the afternoons I walked out into the woods behind the barn that stretched to the south for thirty miles without a house or a road. And in the evenings I sat in the kitchen and read The Conquest of Mexico.

Neither of my parents seemed bitter or greatly disturbed over the fact that they were being forced to leave the house. They only spoke of it when they were reminded of some preparation that would have to be made. So far they had done nothing. My mother wanted everything left as it was until the day the moving men came. And they did n’t seem greatly disturbed over the fact that they were poor. My father still smoked cigars and my mother still went through the grocery store, trailed by a couple of clerks, buying anything she wanted. They owed money everywhere. They had lost their credit, but they lived comfortably, day after day, with the little cash they had. They did n’t know what they were going to pay the rent of their apartment with when they moved or who was going to pay Jim’s board and tuition at school. I worried about it. Finally I asked my mother. ‘Don’t worry,’ she said. ‘We haven’t any money, that’s true. But we’ve always been able to find some. And I guess our luck won’t break now. The lame and the lazy are always provided for. Remember the lilies of the field . . .’

I decided then to go on to New York. There was nothing much I could do there. I decided late one afternoon when I had gone swimming alone and when I was walking back from the lake. The water had been cold and the air was cold. It was a cold, gray day. It looked like rain and some jays in the orchard were calling for rain. Then I noticed the two men in the orchard behind the house. They had on riding breeches and high, laced boots. They had surveying instruments and they were surveying the level of the ground where the house was. I knew they were from the oil company. I did n’t say anything to them. I walked through the orchard up to the house.

My mother was in the cookroom cutting out biscuits with the bowl of a wineglass. ‘Tom,’ she said, when I came into the room, ‘who are those men out there? They’ve been there most of the afternoon. Do you know who they are?’

‘No,’ I said, ‘I don’t know who they are. I guess they’re surveyors from the oil company.’

‘Don’t they know we’re still living here?’ she said. ‘I wish they would n’t do anything until we go. I asked them at the bank and they promised they wouldn’t. We’re going soon enough. I wish you’d ask them to leave,’ she said. ‘Tell them to come back the first of the month. We’ll be gone then. Tell them this is still private property.’

‘Sure,’ I said.

I went out and told them they were trespassing on private property and that this would remain private property until the first of the month. They thought I was fooling, so I told them again. Finally they packed up their stuff and went off. I went back to the kitchen. My mother was still cutting out biscuits. She did n’t say anything about the surveyors.

‘Tell me about the races,’ she said, ‘or about the place where you worked or the people you stayed with. You haven’t told me anything yet. I’ve never been up there. I always wanted to go when I was young, but we never made it. Tell me about the town. Does it look anything like the pictures on the bottle labels? That’s the only idea I have of it. The pictures on the Vichy bottles.’

She suddenly turned pale. She had pressed too hard on the wineglass and the base had broken and the stem had stuck up into her palm. The blood spurted out over the table. ‘I’ve cut myself,’ she said. ‘I guess I’ve cut myself.’ She sank into a chair beside the table. The blood was running all over her fingers and dripping on to the floor. I staunched the cut with a napkin and got some cold water. She told me where the iodine and the bandages were. When I came back into the room she was whiter than her linen dress. I swabbed the cut with iodine and clumsily wrapped a bandage around her palm. ‘That’s all right,’ she said. ‘It’s not such a bad cut. I was lucky, I guess. It might have been much worse. It’s not such a bad cut. We ’re always lucky,’ she said bitterly. She began to cry. She cried like a young girl. She gasped for breath as if she were suffocating.

‘Why do they have to come while we’re still here?’ she said. ‘Why can’t they wait until we go? We’re going. We’ll be gone in a little while. Why can’t they wait? Oh, I can’t stand it!’ she cried. ‘I can’t stand it any longer. It’s too much to ask of anyone. This is our house; my sons were born here; I want to die here. For thirty years we’ve been working, saving, trying to find something, anything. And now it’s all gone. We’re poor. We have to count each penny. I lie in bed at night worrying about the bills. I can’t sleep. We have n’t anything, Tom,’ she cried. ‘We haven’t anything, anything! Do you know what this is? You can’t know; you’re too young. We have n’t a place to rest in, a place to die in. We may die in a hotel. On the street. We have n’t anything, Tom, anything! Oh, sit down beside me,’ she said. ‘ Give me a cigarette.

‘I’m tired,’ she said. ‘I guess I’m tired out.’ She had been crying for a long time then. She stopped. She was speaking in a low voice, nearly as if she were speaking to herself. ‘I wouldn’t mind it so much,’ she said, ‘if I were younger or older. I would n’t mind it if I were an old woman. If there was n’t this horrible fear all the time! We’re poor sinners, I guess, and everything we own and everything we know and love and remember is open to dust and rust. But it does n’t seem right that we should lose everything, after all these years, everything! It seems to be against everything I have ever known or ever expected to know. It seems as if we ought to be able to make a decent living.’

It was growing dark in the kitchen. The last gray light was going out of the windows. I heard my father coming down the stairs.

‘Don’t mention this to your father,’ she said. ‘Don’t say anything about this to him, will you? Make the tea for me — all you have to do is to pour some hot water into the pot. There’s some cake in the cakebox. Put it on a fresh plate.’

There was a fire in the living room and I took the tea in there. ‘Don’t mention this to your father,’ she said, ‘will you?’ She sat down by the fire and tasted her tea and watched the fire. ‘There is n’t much sense in crying, I guess. But sometimes it gets me down. And I don’t suppose we have much to cry about. We have plenty to eat; our clothes are whole. And we’ll get some money, somehow. We always have, we always will.’ She spoke dryly, then. She spoke without any trace of having cried. ‘ We ’re lucky. I mean it. We’ll find some money somewhere. It’s always like this. We get down to the bottom, then something comes along. We’ll find some money — lots of it. Maybe I can borrow some from the bank. They ought to loan us a few dollars. That would be a start. That would tide us over until something else turns up.’

My father came into the room and sat down.

‘You know,’ she said to him, ‘we might be able to borrow some money from the bank. We’ve been good customers of theirs. I know Mr. Godfrey. He’s influential there. He might be willing to help. We might be able to borrow a few hundred dollars.’

‘Sure,’ my father said, ‘sure. I don’t see why we can’t borrow money from the bank. We’ve been good customers of theirs for thirty years. That’s what the money’s there for — to be borrowed.’

‘Not much,’ she said, ‘but a few hundred. Enough to tide us over.’

‘It seems funny to talk about money the way we talk about money now,’ he said. ‘It seems funny, does n’t it? It was n’t like that in the old times, Tom, let me tell you. Why, you know I was working for Flint. I worked for him for a few years and then I had a better offer out in Syracuse, so I resigned. So when I resigned Flint calls me into his office and gives me a drink and asks me if they owe me any money. “No,” I says, “no, I don’t think you owe me any money.” Well, he rings for his secretary and says, “Make Mr. Morgan out a check for a couple of thousand.” Just like that. Just like that he gave me a couple of thousand. Why, I used to go over to New York once a month, and Flint used to come along with me — just to have a good time, you know. We used to get the five o’clock train, get into New York about ten, and start hitting it up then.

‘Well, one night we were going over on that train and before dinner we went up to the smoker for a couple of drinks. While we were in the smoker I sees Danny Donnelly. He and I used to go to grammar school together and we boxed in the same gymnasium. Well, he had been playing bull on the market then and he was a millionaire. I went over and spoke to him and when I came back Flint asked me who my friend was. I told him and he asked me to have him eat dinner with us. It was agreeable to Donnelly, so we all went up to the diner together. All the time Donnelly thought Flint’s name was Flynn. He thought he was another Irishman. See? So when we sit down the first thing he does is to order a bottle of Gold Seal. Then I order a bottle of Gold Seal. Then Flint orders a bottle of Gold Seal.’

He broke out laughing. He laughed so that it was hard for him to speak. ‘Well, we drank every quart of champagne they had on that train,’ he said. ‘Then we had to start ordering pints. Honestly! We drank every quart. We stayed in that car until the train came into Grand Central about ten o’clock. Oh, those were the days, those were the days!’

His voice was kind and genial. He spoke as if he were conscious of the warm room and the cold evening. ‘We had plenty of money then,’ he said, ‘plenty of money. But we’ll have it again — don’t you worry.’ He was speaking to my mother then. He was speaking to her with the confidence and ease of their love that, after thirty years, had left them as indulgent of one another and as hopeful as a young man and a girl. ‘We’ll have it again. Maybe our horse will come in on the sweepstakes. I have a sweepstakes ticket. If we could win one of those prizes we would n’t have to worry about money again. It’s a good ticket. A friend of mine, a Canadian, sold it to me. We might win, you know. I would n’t be surprised. I found some four-leaf clovers out behind the barn. The frost had killed everything but them. They’re the first four-leaf clovers I’ve found this year. That means good luck.’

My brother came into the room. He poured himself a cup of tea and sat down.

‘Why do we always have tea?’ he said. ‘Why do we always drink tea?’

‘Because I’m English,’ my mother said, ‘ and because English people drink tea. If you don’t like tea you can make yourself some coffee.’

‘No,’ he said, ‘I don’t want coffee. I just wondered why we always drank tea.’

‘Or I might get some more money on my patent,’ my father said. ‘They might increase the royalty. Lots of men make ten, twelve thousand dollars a year on a patent.’

My brother got up and crossed the room. There was an old steel engraving of Egypt on the wall.

‘Have any of you people ever been to Egypt?’ he asked.

‘I’ve never been to Egypt,’ I said.

‘Alexandria, Karnak, Cairo,’ he said. ‘The names sound nice. I’d like to go there. I will go there some day.’

‘Where do you think you’ll live in New York?’ my mother said.

‘I don’t know,’ I said. ‘Somewhere on the West Side.’

‘Listen to that wind,’she said. ‘It sounds like winter. There’ll be big waves on the lake to-night. It’ll be cold out there.’

‘Did you know that this knife was made in France?’ my brother asked. He had picked the knife off the cake plate and was examining the blade. ‘Fait en France, it says, M. Pouzet. Médaille d’or. Exposition 1878. Lyon. Lyons. That’s a city in France, isn’t it? I’ll go there some day. Lyons, Marseilles, Paris — all those cities.’ He lifted the knife up so that my mother could see it. ‘Did you know it was made in France?’ he said.


I planned to take the night bus from Boston. My brother drove me into the city on the day I left. It was raining. There was a light, high wind from the coast, beating the smoke down on to the roofs. The wind and the rain were cold. I said good-bye to my parents. My brother raced the car down the drive. The road was empty and straight and wet, and he drove the car as fast as it would go.

‘Have you ever seen a Dusenberg?’ he asked.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I’ve seen and driven a Dusenberg.’

‘Gee,’ he said, ‘I’d like to drive one. I’d like to drive a Lancia — a real racing car. Or an airplane. I’d like to get a pilot’s license. But it takes a lot of money to get a license unless you’re in the army. Maybe if there’s a war I’ll volunteer as an aviator. Then I’ll get all the flying I want for nothing. But I hope there is n’t a war. It’ll spoil my plans. You can’t do much while there’s a war going on. And there are lots of places I want to go and things I want to do.

‘I’m going to Technology,’ he said. ‘I want to take up engineering. I don’t want to stop at that, of course, but it will be a good beginning. I can make some money and I can travel. I want to make a lot of money, and I want to travel. I don’t think I’ll get married right off. I’ll wait a little while longer. I’d like to look around and spend money on women. If you have money you can know all kinds of women.

‘I’ve been reading some of the books in your room,’ he said. ‘I don’t read much, but I like some of those books. The lives of the Generals — Hannibal, Alexander, Cæsar.

‘How is it in New York?’ he asked.

‘Oh, it’s all right,’ I said. There was n’t much else I could say. I could n’t tell him about sitting in a furnished room day after day, living on chocolate and stale bread.

‘I want to make a lot of money,’ he said. ‘I like money and I like women and I like to travel and go fast. I’m going to do all of that before I settle down.’

When we came into the city it was getting dark. It was still raining. I said good-bye to my brother. I checked my valise and bought my ticket and walked uptown. It was cold — like winter. The wind was blowing the leaves off the trees on the Common. The sidewalk was covered with wet leaves.

I walked down to the mall. There was a political speaker on the south side of the walk. Only a handful of people were listening to him. But he was addressing the trees and the wind and the sky as if he were addressing thousands. It was Girsdansky. I recognized him from a distance by his spectacles and his dry, slightly rasping voice. ‘It is simple,’ he was saying. ‘It is a matter of pure reason. We are living in a rotten world, shaped by dead hands and ruled by dead hands.’ He was speaking with the same intensity and purity that he had spoken to me on the streets of the spa.

‘It is in our power to change it. There is only one way out — the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is as simple as the desire to cat and sleep and live. . . .’

I did n’t stay there long; it was too cold to stand still. I did n’t speak to him. I don’t know whether he recognized me or not. I walked down Charles Street scuffing up the dead leaves and wondering where I should be in that season in another year.