Full Online Books
BOOK CATEGORIES
Authors Authors Short Stories Short Stories Long Stories Long Stories Funny Stories Funny Stories Love Stories Love Stories Stories For Kids Stories For Kids Poems Poems Essays Essays Nonfictions Nonfictions Plays Plays Folktales Folktales Fairy Tales Fairy Tales Fables Fables Learning Kitchen Learning Kitchen
LINKS
Valid XHTML 1.0 Transitional Free Classified Website Without Registration Free Classified Website Daniel Company
Twitter Twitter Add book
donate
Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Crimson Tide: A Novel - Chapter 14
Famous Authors (View All Authors)
The Crimson Tide: A Novel - Chapter 14 Post by :Franinseattle Category :Long Stories Author :Robert W. Chambers Date :May 2012 Read :1884

Click below to download : The Crimson Tide: A Novel - Chapter 14 (Format : PDF)

The Crimson Tide: A Novel - Chapter 14

CHAPTER XIV

There had been a row at the Red Flag Club--a matter of differing opinions between members--nothing sufficient to attract the police, but enough to break several heads, benches and windows. And it was evident that some gentleman's damaged nose had bled all over the linoleum in the lobby.

Elmer Skidder, arriving at the studio next morning in his brand new limousine, heard about the shindy and went into the club to inspect the wreckage. Then, mad all through, he started out to find Puma. But a Sister Art had got the best of Angelo Puma in a questionable cabaret the night before, and he had not yet arrived at the studio of the Super-Picture Corporation.

Skidder, thrifty by every instinct, and now smarting under his wrongs at the hands--and feet--of the Red Flag Club, went away in his gorgeous limousine to find Sondheim, who paid the rental and who lived in the Bronx.

It was a long way; every mile and every gallon of gasoline made Skidder madder; and when at length he arrived at the brand new, jerry-built apartment house inhabited by Max Sondheim, he had concluded that the Red Flag Club was an undesirable tenant and that it must be summarily kicked out.

Sondheim was still in bed, but a short-haired and pallid young woman, with assorted spots on her complexion, bade Skidder enter, and opened the chamber door for him.

The bedroom, which smelled of sour fish, was very cold, very dirty, and very blue with cigar smoke. The remains of a delicatessen breakfast stood on a table near the only window, which was tightly shut, and under the sill of which a radiator emitted explosive symptoms of steam to come.

Sondheim sprawled under the bed-covers, smoking; two other men sat on the edge of the bed--Karl Kastner and Nathan Bromberg. Both were smoking porcelain pipes. Three slopping quarts of beer decorated the wash stand.

Skidder, who had halted in the doorway as the full aroma of the place smote him, now entered at the curt suggestion of Sondheim, but refused a chair.

"Say, Sondheim," he began, "I been to the club this morning, and I've seen what you've done to the place."

"Well?" demanded Sondheim, in a growling voice, "what haf we done?"

"Oh, nothing;--smashed the furniture f'r instance. That's all. But it don't go with me. See?"

Kastner got up and gave him a sinister, near-sighted look: "If ve done damach ve pay," he remarked.

"Sure you'll pay!" blustered Skidder. "And that's all right, too. But no more for yours truly. I'm through. Here's where your bunch quits the hall for keeps. Get me?"

"Please?" inquired Kastner, turning a brick red.

"I say I'm through!" blustered Skidder. "You gotta get other quarters. It don't pay us to keep on buying benches and mending windows, even if you cough up for 'em. It don't pay us to rent the hall to your club and get all this here notoriety, what with your red flags and the _po_-lice hanging around and nosin' into everything----"

"Ach wass!" snapped Kastner, "of vat are you speaking? Iss it for you to concern yourself mit our club und vat iss it ve do?"

"Say, who d'yeh think you're talkin' to?" retorted Skidder, his eyes snapping furiously. "Grab this from me, old scout?--I'm half owner of that hall and I'm telling you to get out! Is that plain?"

"So?" Kastner sneered at him and nudged Sondheim, who immediately sat up in bed and levelled an unwashed hand at Skidder.

"You think you fire us?" he shouted, his eyes inflamed and his dirty fingers crisping to a talon. "You go home and tell Puma what you say to us. Then you learn something maybe, what you don't know already!"

"I'll learn _you something!" retorted Skidder. "Just wait till I show Puma the wreckage----"

"Let him look at it and be damned!" roared Bromberg. "Go home and show it to him! And see if he talks about firing us!"

"Say," demanded Skidder, astonished, "do you fellows think you got any drag with Angy Puma?"

"Go back and ask him!" growled Bromberg. "And don't try to come around here and get fresh again. Listen! You go buy what benches you say we broke and send the bill to me, and keep your mouth shut and mind your fool business!"

"I'll mind my own and yours too!" screamed Skidder, seized by an ungovernable access of fury. "Say, you poor nut!--you sick mink!--you stale hunk of cheese!--if you come down my way again I'll kick your shirttail for you! Get that?" And he slammed the door and strode out in a flaming rage.

But when, still furiously excited, he arrived once more at the office,--and when Puma, who had just entered, had listened in sullen consternation to his story, he received another amazing and most unpleasant shock. For Puma told him flatly that the tenancy of the Red Flag Club suited him; that no lease could be broken, except by mutual consent of partners; and that he, Skidder, had had no business to go to Sondheim with any such threat of eviction unless he had first consulted his partner's wishes.

"Well, what--what--" stammered Skidder--"what the hell drag have those guys got with you?"

"Why is it you talk foolish?" retorted Puma sharply. "Drag? Did Sondheim say----"

"No! _I say it. I ask you what have those crazy nuts got on you that you stand for all this rumpus?"

Puma's lustrous eyes, battered but still magnificent, fixed themselves on Skidder.

"Go out," he said briefly to his stenographer. Then, when the girl had gone, and the glass door closed behind her, he turned heavily and gazed at Skidder some more. And, after a few moments' silence: "Go on," he said. "What did Sondheim say about me?"

Skidder's small, shifty eyes were blinking furiously and his essentially suspicious mind was also operating at full speed. When he had calculated what to say he took the chance, and said:

"Sondheim gave me to understand that he's got such a hell of a pull with you that I can't kick him out of my property. What do you know about that, Angelo?"

"Go on," said Puma impatiently, "what else did he say about me?"

"Ain't I telling you?"

"Tell more."

Skidder had no more to tell, so he manufactured more.

"Well," he continued craftily, "I didn't exactly get what that kike said." But his grin and his manner gave his words the lie, as he intended they should. "Something about your being in dutch--" He checked himself as Puma's black eyes lighted with a momentary glare.

"What? He tells you I am in with Germans!"

"Naw;--in dutch!"

Puma's sanguinary skin reddened; his puffy fingers fished for a cigar in the pocket of his fancy waistcoat; he found one and lighted it, not looking at his partner. Then he picked up the morning paper.

Skidder shrugged; stood up, pretending to yawn; started to open the door.

"Elmer?"

"Yeh? What y'want?"

"I want to know exactly what Max Sondheim said to you about me."

"Well, you better go ask Sondheim."

"No. I ask you--my friend--my associate in business----"

"A fine associate!--when I can't kick in when I want to kick out a bunch of nuts that's wrecking the hall, just because they got a drag with you----"

"Listen. I am frank like there never was a----"

"Sure. Go on!"

"I say it! Yes! I am frank like hell. From my friend and partner I conceal nothing----"

"Not even the books," grinned Skidder.

"Elmer. You pain me. I who am all heart! Elmer, I ask it of you if you will so kindly tell me what it is that Sondheim has said to you about this 'drag.'"

"He said," replied the other viciously, "that he had you cinched. He said you'd hand me the ha-ha when I saw you. And you've done it."

"Pardon. I did not say to you a ha-ha, Elmer. I was surprised when you have told me how you have gone to Sondheim so roughly, without one word to me----"

"You was soused to the gills last night. I didn't know when you'd show up at the studio----"

"It was not just to me that you go to Sondheim in this so surprising manner, without informing me." He looked at his cigar; the wrapper was broken and he licked the place with a fat tongue. "Elmer?"

"That's me," replied the other, who had been slyly watching him. "Spit it out, Angy. What's on your mind?"

"I tell you, Elmer!"

Puma's face became suddenly wreathed in guileless smiles: "Me, I am frank like there never--but no matter," he added; "listen attentively to what I shall say to you secretly, that I also desire to be rid of this Red Flag Club."

"Well, then----"

"A moment! I am embarrass. Yes. You ask why? I shall tell you. It is this. Formerly I have reside in Mexico. My business has been in Mexico City. I have there a little cinema theatre. In 1913 I arrive in New York. You ask me why I came? And I am frank like--" his full smile burst on Skidder--"like a heaven angel! But it is God's truth I came here to make of the cinema a monument to Art."

"And make your little pile too, eh, Angy?"

"As you please. But this I affirm to you, Elmer; of politics I am innocent like there never was a cherubim! Yes! And yet your Government has question me. Why? you ask so naturally. My God! I know no one in New York. I arrive. I repair to a recommended hotel. I make acquaintance--unhappily--with people who are under a suspicion of German sympathy!"

"What the devil did you do that for?" demanded Skidder.

Puma spread his jewelled fingers helplessly.

"How am I to know? I encounter people. I seek capital for my art. Me, I am all heart: I suspect nobody. I say: 'Gentlemen, my art is my life. Without it I cease to exist. I desire capital; I desire sympathy; I desire intelligent recognition and practical aid.' Yes. In time some gentlemen evince confidence. I am offered funds. I produce, with joy, my first picture. Ha! The success is extravagant! But--alas!"

"What tripped you?"

"Alas," repeated Puma, "your Government arrests some gentlemen who have lend to me much funds. Why? Imagine my grief, my mortification! They are suspect of German propaganda! Oh, my God!"

"How is it they didn't pinch _you_?" asked Skidder coldly, and beginning to feel very uneasy.

"Me? No! They investigate. They discover only Art!"

Skidder squinted at him nervously. If he had heard anything of that sort in connection with Puma he never would have flirted with him financially.

"Well, then, what's this drag they got with you?--Sondheim and the other nuts?"

"I tell you. Letters quite innocent but polite they have in possession----"

"Blackmail, by heck!"

"I must be considerate of Sondheim."

"Or he'll squeal on you. Is that it?"

Puma's black eyes were flaring up again; the heavy colour stained his face.

"Me, I am----"

"All right. Sondheim's got something on you, then. Has he?"

"It is nothing. Yet, it has embarrass me----"

"That ratty kike! I get you, Angy. You were played. Or maybe you did some playing too. Aw! wait!"--as Puma protested--"I'm getting you, by gobs. Sure. And you're rich, now, and business is pretty good, and you wish Sondheim would let you alone."

"Yes, surely."

"How much hush-cash d'yeh pay him?"

"I?"

"Yaas, you! Come on, now, Angy. What does he stick you up for per month?"

Puma's face became empurpled: "He is a scoundrel," he said thickly. "Me--I wish to God and Jesus Christ I saw the last of him!" He got up, and his step was lithe as a leopard's as he paced the room, ranging the four walls as though caged. And, for the first time, then Skidder realised that this velvet-eyed, velvet-footed man might possibly be rather dangerous--dangerous to antagonise, dangerous to be associated with in business.

"Say," he blurted out, "what else did you let me in for when I put my money into your business? Think I'm going to be held up by any game like that? Think I'm going to stand for any shake-down from that gang? Watch me."

Puma stopped and looked at him stealthily: "What is it you would do, Elmer?"

But Skidder offered no suggestion. He remained, however, extremely uneasy. For it was plain enough that Puma had been involved in dealings sufficiently suspicious to warrant Government surveillance.

All Skidder's money and real estate were now invested in Super-Pictures. No wonder he was anxious. No wonder Puma, also, seemed worried.

For, whatever he might have done in the past of a shady nature, now he had become prosperous and financially respectable and, if let alone, would doubtless continue to make a great deal of money for Skidder as well as for himself. And Skidder, profoundly troubled, wondered whether his partner had ever been guiltily involved in German propaganda, and had escaped Government detection only to fall a victim, in his dawning prosperity, to blackmailing associates of earlier days.

"That mutt Sondheim looks like a bad one to me, and the other guy--Kastner," he observed gloomily.

"It is better that we should not offend them."

"Just as you say, brother."

"I say it. Yes. We shall be wise to turn to them a pleasing face."

"Sure. The best thing to do for a while is to stall along," nodded Skidder, "--but always be ready for a chance to hand it to them. That's safest; wait till we get the goods on them. Then slam it to 'em plenty!"

"If they annoy me too much," purred Puma, displaying every dazzling tooth, "it may not be so agreeable for them. I am bad man to crowd.... Meanwhile----"

"Sure; we'll stall along, Angy!"

They opened the glass door and went out into the studio. And Puma began again on his favourite theme, the acquiring of Broadway property and the erection of a cinema theatre. And Skidder, with his limited imagination of a cross-roads storekeeper, listened cautiously, yet always conscious of agreeable thrills whenever the subject was mentioned.

And, although he knew that capital was shy and that conditions were not favourable, his thoughts always reverted to a man he might be willing to go into such a scheme with--the president of the Shadow Hill Trust Company, Alonzo Pawling.

* * * * *

At that very moment, too, it chanced that Mr. Pawling's business had brought him to New York--in fact, his business was partly with Palla Dumont, and they were now lunching together at the Ritz.

Alonzo Pawling stood well over six feet. He still had all his hair--which was dyed black--and also an inky pair of old-fashioned side whiskers. For the beauty of his remaining features less could be said, because his eyes were a melancholy and faded blue, his nose very large and red, and his small, loose mouth seemed inclined to sag, as though saturated with moisture.

Many years a widower he had, when convenient opportunity presented itself, never failed to offer marriage to Palla Dumont. And when, as always, she refused him in her frank, amused fashion, they returned without embarrassment to their amiable footing of many years--she as child of his old friend and neighbour, Judge Dumont, he as her financial adviser, and banker.

As usual, Mr. Pawling had offered Palla his large, knotty hand in wedlock that morning. And now that this inevitable preliminary was safely over, they were approaching the end of a business luncheon on entirely amiable terms with each other.

Financial questions had been argued, investments decided upon, news of the town discussed, and Palla was now telling him about Elmer Skidder and his new and apparently prosperous venture into moving pictures.

"He came to see me last evening," she said, smiling at the recollection, "and he arrived in a handsome limousine with an extra man on the front--oh, very gorgeous, Mr. Pawling!--and we had tea and he told me how prosperous he had become in the moving picture business."

"I guess," said Mr. Pawling, "that there's a lot of money in moving pictures. But nobody ever seems to get any of it except the officials of the corporation and their favourite stars."

"It seems to be an exceedingly unattractive business," said Palla, recollecting her unpleasant impressions at the Super-Picture studios.

"The right end of it," said Mr. Pawling, "is to own a big theatre."

She smiled: "You wouldn't advise me to make such an investment, would you?"

Mr. Pawling's watery eyes rested on her reflectively and he sucked in his lower lips as though trying to extract the omnipresent moisture.

"I dunno," he said absently.

"Mr. Skidder told me that he would double his invested capital in a year," she said.

"I guess he was bragging."

"Perhaps," she rejoined, laughing, "but I should not care to make such an investment."

"Did he ask you?"

"No. But it seemed to me that he hinted at something of that nature. And I was not at all interested because I am contented with my little investments and my income as it is. I don't really need much money."

Mr. Pawling's pendulous lip, released, sagged wetly and his jet-black eyebrows were lifted in a surprised arch.

"You're the first person I ever heard say they had enough money," he remarked.

"But I have!" she insisted gaily.

Mr. Pawling's sad horse-face regarded her with faded surprise. He passed for a rich man in Shadow Hill.

"Where is Elmer's place of business?" he inquired finally, producing a worn note-book and a gold pencil. And he wrote down the address.

There was in all the world only one thing that seriously worried Mr. Pawling, and that was this worn note-book. Almost every day of his life he concluded to burn it. He lived in a vague and daily fear that it might be found on him if he died suddenly. Such things could happen--automobile or railroad accidents--any one of numberless mischances.

And still he carried it, and had carried it for years--always in a sort of terror while the recent Mrs. Pawling was still alive--and in dull but perpetual anxiety ever since.

There were in it pages devoted to figures. There were, also, memoranda of stock transactions. There were many addresses, too, mostly feminine.

Now he replaced it in the breast pocket of his frock-coat, and took out a large wallet strapped with a rubber band.

While he was paying the check, Palla drew on her gloves; and, at the Madison Avenue door, stood chatting with him a moment longer before leaving for the canteen.

Then, smilingly declining his taxi and offering her slender hand in adieu, she went westward on foot as usual. And Mr. Pawling's directions to the chauffeur were whispered ones as though he did not care to have the world at large share in his knowledge of his own occult destination.

* * * * *

Palla's duty at the canteen lasted until six o'clock that afternoon, and she hurried on her way home because people were dining there at seven-thirty.

With the happy recollection that Jim, also, was dining with her, she ran lightly up the steps and into the house; examined the flowers which stood in jars of water in the pantry, called for vases, arranged a centre-piece for the table, and carried other clusters of blossoms into the little drawing-room, and others still upstairs.

Then she returned to criticise the table and arrange the name-cards. And, this accomplished, she ran upstairs again to her own room, where her maid was waiting.

Two or three times in a year--not oftener--Palla yielded to a rare inclination which assailed her only when unusually excited and happy. That inclination was to whistle.

She whistled, now, while preparing for the bath; whistled like a blackbird as she stood before the pier-glass before the maid hooked her into a filmy, rosy evening gown--her first touch of colour since assuming mourning.

The bell rang, and the waitress brought an elaborate florist's box. There were pink orchids in it and Jim's card;--perfection.

How could he have known! She wondered rapturously, realising all the while that they'd have gone quite as well with her usual black.

Would he come early? She had forgotten to ask it. Would he? For, in that event--and considering his inclination to take her into his arms--she decided to leave off the orchids until the more strenuous rites of friendship had been accomplished.

She was carrying the orchids and the long pin attached, in her left hand, when the sound of the doorbell filled her with abrupt and delightful premonitions. She ventured a glance over the banisters, then returned hastily to the living room, where he discovered her and did exactly what she had feared.

Her left hand, full of orchids, rested on his shoulder; her cool, fresh lips rested on his. Then she retreated, inviting inspection of the rosy dinner gown; and fastened her orchids while he was admiring it.

Her guests began to arrive before either was quite ready, so engrossed were they in happy gossip. And Palla looked up in blank surprise that almost amounted to vexation when the bell announced that their tete-a-tete was ended.

Shotwell had met the majority of Palla's dinner guests. Seated on her right, he received from his hostess information concerning some of those he did not know.

"That rather talkative boy with red hair is Larry Rideout," she said in a low voice. "He edits a weekly called _The Coming Race_. The Post Office authorities have refused to pass it through the mails. It's rather advanced, you know."

"Who is the girl on his right--the one with the chalky map?"

"Questa Terrett. Don't you think her pallor is fascinating?"

"No. What particular stunt does she perform?"

"Don't be flippant. She writes."

"Ads?"

"Jim! She writes poems. Haven't you seen any of them?"

"I don't think so."

"They're rather modern poems. The lines don't rhyme and there's no metrical form," explained Palla.

"Are they any good?"

"They're a little difficult to understand. She leaves out so many verbs and nouns----"

"I know. It's a part of her disease----"

"Jim, please be careful. She is taken seriously----"

"Taken seriously ill? There, dear, I won't guy your guests. What an absolutely deathly face she has!"

"She is considered beautiful."

"She has the profile of an Egyptian. She's as dead-white as an Egyptian leper----"

"Hush!"

"Hush it is, sweetness! Who's the good-looking chap over by Ilse?"

"Stanley Wardner."

"And his star trick?"

"He's a secessionist sculptor."

"What's that?"

"He is one of the ultra-modern men who has seceded from the Society of American Sculptors to form, with a few others, a new group."

"Is he any good?"

"Well, Jim, I don't know," she said candidly. "I don't think I am quite in sympathy with his work."

"What sort is it?"

"If I understand him, he is what is termed, I believe, a concentrationist. For instance, in a nude figure which he is exhibiting in his studio, it's all a rough block of marble except, in the middle of the upper part, there is a nose."

"A nose!"

"Really, it is beautifully sculptured," insisted Palla.

"But--good heavens!--isn't there any other anatomical feature to that block of marble?"

"I explained that he is a concentrationist. His school believes in concentrating on a single feature only, and in rendering that feature as minutely and perfectly as possible."

Jim said: "He looks as sane as a broker, too. You never can tell, can you, sweetness?"

He glanced at several other people whose features were not familiar, but Palla's explanations of her friends had slightly discouraged him and he made no further inquiries.

Vanya Tchernov was there, dreamy and sweet-mannered; Estridge sat by Ilse, looking a trifle careworn, as though hospital work were taking it out of him. Marya Lanois was there, too, with her slightly slanting green eyes and her tiger-red hair--attracting from him a curious sort of stealthy admiration, inexplicable to him because he knew he was so entirely in love with Palla.

A woman of forty sat on his right--he promptly forgot her name each time he heard it--who ate fastidiously and chose birth-control as the subject for conversation. And he dodged it in vain, for her conversation had become a monologue, and he sat fiddling with his food, very red, while the silky voice, so agreeable in pitch and intonation, slid smoothly on.

Afterward Palla explained that she was a celebrated sociologist, but Jim remained shy of her.

Other people came in after dinner. Vanya seated himself at the piano and played from one of his unpublished scores. Ilse sang two Scandinavian songs in her fresh, wholesome, melodious voice--the song called _Ygdrasil_, and the _Song of Thokk_. Wardner had brought a violin, and he and Vanya accompanied Marya's Asiatic songs, but with some difficulty on the sculptor's part, as modern instruments are scarcely adapted to the sort of Russian music she chose to sing.

Marya had a way, when singing, which appeared almost insolent. Seated, or carelessly erect, her supple figure fell into lines of indolently provocative grace; and the warm, golden notes welling from her throat seemed to be flung broadcast and indifferently to her listeners, as alms are often flung, without interest, toward abstract poverty and not to the poor breathing thing at one's elbow.

She sang, in her preoccupied way, one of her savage, pentatonic songs, more Mongol than Cossack; then she sang an impudent _burlatskiya lazily defiant of her listeners; then a so-called "dancing song," in which there was little restraint in word or air.

The subtly infernal enchantment of girl and music was felt by everybody; but several among the illuminati and the fair ultra-modernettes had now reached their limit of breadth and tolerance, and were becoming bored and self-conscious, when abruptly Marya's figure straightened to a lovely severity, her mouth opened sweetly as a cherub's, and, looking up like a little, ruddy bird, she sang one of the ancient _Kolyadki_, Vanya alone understanding as his long, thin fingers wandered instinctively into an improvised accompaniment:


I

"Young tears
Your fears disguise;
He is not coming!
Sweet lips
Let slip no sighs;
Cease, heart, your drumming!
He is not coming,
(A)_Lada!_
He is not coming.
_Lada oy Lada!_

"Gaze not in wonder,--
Yonder no rider comes;
Hark how the kettle-drums
Mock his hoofs' thunder;
Hark to their thudding,
Pretty breasts budding,--
Setting the Buddhist bells
Clanking and banging,--
Wheels at the hidden wells
Clinking and clanging!
(_Lada oy Lada!_)
Plough the flower under;
Tear it asunder!

"Young eyes
In swift surprise,
What terror veils you?
Clear eyes,
Who gallops here?
What wolf assails you?
What horseman hails you,
_Lada!_
What pleasure pales you?
_Lada oy Lada!_

"Knight who rides boldly,
May Erlik impale you,--
Your mother bewail you,
If you use her coldly!
Health to the wedding!
Joy to the bedding!
Set all the Christian bells
Swinging and ringing--
Monks in their stony cells
Chanting and singing
(_Lada oy Lada!_)
Bud of the rose,
Gently unclose!"


Marya, her gemmed fingers bracketed on her hips, the last sensuous note still afloat on her lips, turned her head so that her rounded chin rested on her bare shoulder; and looked at Shotwell. He rose, applauding with the others, and found a chair for her.

But when she seated herself, she addressed Ilse on the other side of him, leaning so near that he felt the warmth of her hair.

"Who was it wrestled with Loki? Was it Hel, goddess of death? Or was it Thor who wrestled with that toothless hag, Thokk?"

Ilse explained.

The conversation became general, vaguely accompanied by Vanya's drifting improvisations, where he still sat at the piano, his lost gaze on Marya.

Bits of the chatter around him came vaguely to Shotwell--the birth-control lady's placid inclination toward obstetrics; Wardner on concentration, with Palla listening, bending forward, brown eyes wide and curious and snowy hands framing her face; Ilse partly turned where she was seated, alert, flushed, half smiling at what John Estridge, behind her shoulder, was saying to her,--some improvised nonsense, of which Jim caught a fragment:


"If he who dwells in Midgard
With cunning can not floor her,
What hope that Mistress Westgard
Will melt if I implore her?

"And yet I've come to Asgard,
And hope I shall not bore her
If I tell Mistress Westgard
How deeply I adore her----"

Through the hum of conversation and capricious laughter, Vanya's vague music drifted like wind-blown thistle-down, and his absent regard never left Marya, where she rested among the cushions in low-voiced dialogue with Jim.

"I had hoped," she smiled, "that you had perhaps remembered me--enough to stop for a word or two some day at tea-time."

He had had no intention of going; but he said that he had meant to and would surely do so,--the while she was leisurely recognising the lie as it politely uncoiled.

"Why won't you come?" she asked under her breath.

"I shall certainly----"

"No; you won't come." She seemed amused: "Tell me, are you too a concentrationist?" And her beryl-green eyes barely flickered toward Palla. Then she smiled and laid her hand lightly on her breast: "I, on the contrary, am a Diffusionist. It's merely a matter of how God grinds the lens. But prisms colour one's dull white life so gaily!"

"And split it up," he said, smiling.

"And disintegrate it," she nodded, "--so exquisitely."

"Into rainbows."

"You do not believe that there is hidden gold there?" And, looking at him, she let one hand rest lightly against her hair.

"Yes. I believe it," he said, laughing at her enchanting effrontery. "But, Marya, when the rainbow goes a-glimmering, the same old grey world is there again. It's always there----"

"Awaiting another rainbow!"

"But storms come first."

"Is another rainbow not worth the storm?"

"Is it?" he demanded.

"Shall we try?" she asked carelessly.

He did not answer. But presently he looked across at Vanya.

"Who is there who would not love him?" said Marya serenely.

"I was wondering."

"No need. All love Vanya. I, also."

"I thought so."

"Think so. For it is quite true.... Will you come to tea alone with me some afternoon?"

He looked at her; reddened. Marya turned her head leisurely, to hear what Palla was saying to her. At the sound of her voice, Jim turned also, and saw Palla bending near his shoulder.

"I'm sorry," she was saying to Marya, "but Questa Terrett desires to know Jim----"

"Is it any wonder," said Marya, "that women should desire to know him? Alas!--" She laughed and turned to Ilse, who seated herself as Jim stood up.

Palla, her finger-tips resting lightly on his arm, said laughingly: "Our youthful and tawny enchantress seemed unusually busy with you this evening. Has she turned you into anything very disturbing?"

"Would you care?"

"Of course."

"Enough to come to earth and interfere?"

"Good heavens, has it gone as far as that!" she whispered in gay consternation. "And could I really arrive in time, though breathless?"

He laughed: "You don't need to stir from your niche, sweetness. I swept your altar once. I'll keep the fire clean."

"You adorable thing--" He felt the faintest pressure of her fingers; then he heard himself being presented to Questa Terrett.

The frail and somewhat mortuary beauty of this slim poetess, with her full-lipped profile of an Egyptian temple-girl and her pale, still eyes, left him guessing--rather guiltily--recollecting his recent but meaningless disrespect.

"I don't know," she said, "just why you are here. Soldiers are no novelty. Is somebody in love with you?"

It was a toss-up whether he'd wither or laugh, but the demon of gaiety won out.

She also smiled.

"I asked you," she added, "because you seem to be quite featureless."

"Oh, I've a few eyes and noses and that sort----"

"I mean psychologically accentless."

"Just plain man?"

"Yes. That is all you are, isn't it?"

"I'm afraid it is," he admitted, quite as much amused as she appeared to be.

"I see. Some crazy girl here is enamoured of you. Otherwise, you scarcely belong among modern intellectuals, you know."

At that he laughed outright.

She said: "You really are delightful. You're just a plain, fighting male, aren't you?"

"Well, I haven't done much fighting----"

"Unimaginative, too! You could have led yourself to believe you had done a lot," she pointed out. "And maybe you could have interested me."

"I'm sorry. But suppose you try to interest _me_?"

"Don't I? I've tried."

"Do your best," he encouraged her cheerfully. "You never can be sure I'm not listening."

At that she laughed: "You nice youth," she said, "if you'd talk that way to your sweetheart she'd sit up and listen.... Which I'm afraid she doesn't, so far."

He felt himself flushing, but he refused to wince under her amused analysis.

"You've simply got to have imagination, you know," she insisted. "Otherwise, you don't get anywhere at all. Have you read my smears?"

"Smears?"

"Bacteriologists take a smear of something on a glass slide and slip it under a microscope. My poems are like that. The words are the bacteria. Few can identify them."

"Are you serious?"

"Entirely."

He maintained his gravity: "Would you be kind enough to take a smear and let me look?" he inquired politely.

"Certainly: the experiment is called 'Unpremeditation.'"

She dropped one thin and silken knee over the other and crossed her hands on it as she recited her poem.


"UNPREMEDITATION."

"In the tube.
Several,
With intonation.
Red, red, red.
A square fabric
Once white
With intention.
Soiled, soiled, soiled.
Six hundred hundred million
Swarm like vermin,
Without intention.
Redder. Redder.
Drip, drip, drip.
A goes west,
B goes east,
C goes north,
Pink, pink, pink.
Two white squares.
And a coat-sleeve.
Without intention,
Intonations.
Pinker. Redder.
Six hundred hundred million.
Billions. Trillions.
A week. Two weeks.
Otherwise?
Eternity."


Jim's features had become a trifle glassy. "You do skip a few words," he said, "don't you?"

"Words are animalculae. Some skip, some gyrate, some sub-divide."

He put a brave face on the matter: "If you're not really guying me," he ventured, "would you tell me a little about your poem?"

"Why, yes," she replied amiably. "To put it redundantly, then, I have sketched in my poem a man in the subway, with influenza, which infects others in his vicinity."

She rose, smiled, and sauntered off, leaving him utterly unable to determine whether or not he had been outrageously imposed upon. Palla rescued him, and he went with her, a little wild-eyed, downstairs to the nearly empty and carpetless drawing-room, where a music box was playing and people were already dancing.

Toward midnight, Marya, passing Jim on her way to the front door, leaned wide from Vanya's arm:

"Let us at least discuss my rainbow theory," she said, laughing, and her face a shade too close to his; and continued on, still clinging to the sleeve of Vanya's fur-lined coat.

Ilse was the last to leave, with Estridge waiting behind her to hold her wrap.

She came up to Palla, took both her hands in an odd, subdued, wistful way.

After a moment she kissed her, and, close to her ear: "Wait, darling."

Palla did not understand.

Ilse said: "I mean--wait before you ever take any step to--to prove any theory--or belief."

Still Palla did not comprehend.

"With--Jim," said Ilse in a low voice.

"Oh. Why, of course. But--it could never happen."

"Why?"

Palla said honestly: "One reason is because he wouldn't anyway."

"You must not be certain."

"I am. I'm absolutely certain."

Ilse gazed at her, then laughed and pressed her hand. "Are you cold?" asked Palla.

"No."

"I thought I felt you shiver, dearest."

Ilse flushed and held out her arms for the sleeves of her fur coat, which Estridge was holding.

They went away together, leaving Palla alone with Shotwell, among the fading flowers.

(A) The ancient Slavonic Venus.

If you like this book please share to your friends :
NEXT BOOKS

The Crimson Tide: A Novel - Chapter 18 The Crimson Tide: A Novel - Chapter 18

The Crimson Tide: A Novel - Chapter 18
CHAPTER XVIIIShotwell Junior discovered in due course of time the memoranda of the repeated messages which Palla had telephoned to his several clubs, asking him to call her up immediately. It was rather late to do that now, but his pulses began to quicken again in the old, hopeless way; and he went to the telephone booth and called the number which seemed burnt into his brain forever. A maid answered; Palla came presently; and he thought her voice seemed colourless and unfamiliar. "Yes, I'm perfectly well," she replied to his inquiry; "where in the world did you go that night?
PREVIOUS BOOKS

The Crimson Tide: A Novel - Chapter 13 The Crimson Tide: A Novel - Chapter 13

The Crimson Tide: A Novel - Chapter 13
CHAPTER XIIIPalla's activities seemed to exhilarate her physically and mentally. Body and brain were now fully occupied; and, if the profit to her soul were dubious, nevertheless the restless spirit of the girl now had an outlet; and at home and in the Combat Club she planned and discussed and investigated the world's woes to her ardent heart's content. Physically, too, Red Cross and canteen work gave her much needed occupation; and she went everywhere on foot, never using bus, tram or taxicab. The result was, in spite of late and sometimes festive hours, that Palla had become something more than
NEXT 10 BOOKS | PREVIOUS 10 BOOKS | RANDOM 10 BOOKS
LEAVE A COMMENT