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A SHORT TRIP HOME


by
 

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940)
 

Saturday Evening Post (17 December 1927)



Author's Note: In a moment of hasty misjudgment a whole paragraph
of description was lifted out of this tale where it originated, and
properly belongs, and applied to quite a different character in a
novel of mine.  I have ventured nonetheless to leave it here, even
at the risk of seeming to serve warmed-over fare.


I was near her, for I had lingered behind in order to get the short
walk with her from the living room to the front door.  That was a
lot, for she had flowered suddenly and I, being a man and only a
year older, hadn't flowered at all, had scarcely dared to come near
her in the week we'd been home.  Nor was I going to say anything in
that walk of ten feet, or touch her; but I had a vague hope she'd
do something, give a gay little performance of some sort, personal
only in so far as we were alone together.

She had bewitchment suddenly in the twinkle of short hairs on her
neck, in the sure, clear confidence that at about eighteen begins
to deepen and sing in attractive American girls.  The lamp light
shopped in the yellow strands of her hair.

Already she was sliding into another world--the world of Joe Jelke
and Jim Cathcart waiting for us now in the car.  In another year
she would pass beyond me forever.

As I waited, feeling the others outside in the snowy night, feeling
the excitement of Christmas week and the excitement of Ellen here,
blooming away, filling the room with "sex appeal"--a wretched
phrase to express a quality that isn't like that at all--a maid
came in from the dining room, spoke to Ellen quietly and handed her
a note.  Ellen read it and her eyes faded down, as when the current
grows weak on rural circuits, and smouldered off into space.  Then
she gave me an odd look--in which I probably didn't show--and
without a word, followed the maid into the dining room and beyond.
I sat turning over the pages of a magazine for a quarter of an
hour.

Joe Jelke came in, red-faced from the cold, his white silk muffler
gleaming at the neck of his fur coat.  He was a senior at New
Haven, I was a sophomore.  He was prominent, a member of Scroll and
Keys, and, in my eyes, very distinguished and handsome.

"Isn't Ellen coming?"

"I don't know," I answered discreetly.  "She was all ready."

"Ellen!" he called.  "Ellen!"

He had left the front door open behind him and a great cloud of
frosty air rolled in from outside.  He went halfway up the stairs--
he was a familiar in the house--and called again, till Mrs. Baker
came to the banister and said that Ellen was below.  Then the maid,
a little excited, appeared in the dining-room door.

"Mr. Jelke," she called in a low voice.

Joe's face fell as he turned toward her, sensing bad news.

"Miss Ellen says for you to go on to the party.  She'll come
later."

"What's the matter?"

"She can't come now.  She'll come later."

He hesitated, confused.  It was the last big dance of vacation, and
he was mad about Ellen.  He had tried to give her a ring for
Christmas, and failing that, got her to accept a gold mesh bag that
must have cost two hundred dollars.  He wasn't the only one--there
were three or four in the same wild condition, and all in the ten
days she'd been home--but his chance came first, for he was rich
and gracious and at that moment the "desirable" boy of St. Paul.
To me it seemed impossible that she could prefer another, but the
rumor was she'd described Joe as much too perfect.  I suppose he
lacked mystery for her, and when a man is up against that with a
young girl who isn't thinking of the practical side of marriage
yet--well--.

"She's in the kitchen," Joe said angrily.

"No, she's not."  The maid was defiant and a little scared.

"She is."

"She went out the back way, Mr. Jelke."

"I'm going to see."

I followed him.  The Swedish servants washing dishes looked up
sideways at our approach and an interested crashing of pans marked
our passage through.  The storm door, unbolted, was flapping in the
wind and as we walked out into the snowy yard we saw the tail light
of a car turn the corner at the end of the back alley.

"I'm going after her," Joe said slowly.  "I don't understand this
at all."

I was too awed by the calamity to argue.  We hurried to his car and
drove in a fruitless, despairing zigzag all over the residence
section, peering into every machine on the streets.  It was half an
hour before the futility of the affair began to dawn upon him--St.
Paul is a city of almost three hundred thousand people--and Jim
Cathcart reminded him that we had another girl to stop for.  Like a
wounded animal he sank into a melancholy mass of fur in the corner,
from which position he jerked upright every few minutes and waved
himself backward and forward a little in protest and despair.

Jim's girl was ready and impatient, but after what had happened her
impatience didn't seem important.  She looked lovely though.
That's one thing about Christmas vacation--the excitement of growth
and change and adventure in foreign parts transforming the people
you've known all your life.  Joe Jelke was polite to her in a daze--
he indulged in one burst of short, loud, harsh laughter by way of
conversation--and we drove to the hotel.

The chauffeur approached it on the wrong side--the side on which
the line of cars was not putting forth guests--and because of that
we came suddenly upon Ellen Baker just getting out of a small
coupé.  Even before we came to a stop, Joe Jelke had jumped
excitedly from the car.

Ellen turned toward us, a faintly distracted look--perhaps of
surprise, but certainly not of alarm--in her face; in fact, she
didn't seem very aware of us.  Joe approached her with a stern,
dignified, injured and, I thought, just exactly correct reproof in
his expression.  I followed.

Seated in the coupé--he had not dismounted to help Ellen out--was a
hard thin-faced man of about thirty-five with an air of being
scarred, and a slight sinister smile.  His eyes were a sort of
taunt to the whole human family--they were the eyes of an animal,
sleepy and quiescent in the presence of another species.  They were
helpless yet brutal, unhopeful yet confident.  It was as if they
felt themselves powerless to originate activity, but infinitely
capable of profiting by a single gesture of weakness in another.

Vaguely I placed him as one of the sort of men whom I had been
conscious of from my earliest youth as "hanging around"--leaning
with one elbow on the counters of tobacco stores, watching, through
heaven knows what small chink of the mind, the people who hurried
in and out.  Intimate to garages, where he had vague business
conducted in undertones, to barber shops and to the lobbies of
theatres--in such places, anyhow, I placed the type, if type it
was, that he reminded me of.  Sometimes his face bobbed up in one
of Tad's more savage cartoons, and I had always from earliest
boyhood thrown a nervous glance toward the dim borderland where he
stood, and seen him watching me and despising me.  Once, in a
dream, he had taken a few steps toward me, jerking his head back
and muttering:  "Say, kid" in what was intended to be a reassuring
voice, and I had broken for the door in terror.  This was that sort
of man.

Joe and Ellen faced each other silently; she seemed, as I have
said, to be in a daze.  It was cold, but she didn't notice that her
coat had blown open; Joe reached out and pulled it together, and
automatically she clutched it with her hand.

Suddenly the man in the coupé, who had been watching them silently,
laughed.  It was a bare laugh, done with the breath--just a noisy
jerk of the head--but it was an insult if I had ever heard one;
definite and not to be passed over.  I wasn't surprised when Joe,
who was quick tempered, turned to him angrily and said:

"What's your trouble?"

The man waited a moment, his eyes shifting and yet staring, and
always seeing.  Then he laughed again in the same way.  Ellen
stirred uneasily.

"Who is this--this--" Joe's voice trembled with annoyance.

"Look out now," said the man slowly.

Joe turned to me.

"Eddie, take Ellen and Catherine in, will you?" he said
quickly. . . .  "Ellen, go with Eddie."

"Look out now," the man repeated.

Ellen made a little sound with her tongue and teeth, but she didn't
resist when I took her arm and moved her toward the side door of
the hotel.  It struck me as odd that she should be so helpless,
even to the point of acquiescing by her silence in this imminent
trouble.

"Let it go, Joe!" I called back over my shoulder.  "Come inside!"

Ellen, pulling against my arm, hurried us on.  As we were caught up
into the swinging doors I had the impression that the man was
getting out of his coupé.

Ten minutes later, as I waited for the girls outside the women's
dressing-room, Joe Jelke and Jim Cathcart stepped out of the
elevator.  Joe was very white, his eyes were heavy and glazed,
there was a trickle of dark blood on his forehead and on his white
muffler.  Jim had both their hats in his hand.

"He hit Joe with brass knuckles," Jim said in a low voice.  "Joe
was out cold for a minute or so.  I wish you'd send a bell boy for
some witch-hazel and court-plaster."

It was late and the hall was deserted; brassy fragments of the
dance below reached us as if heavy curtains were being blown aside
and dropping back into place.  When Ellen came out I took her
directly downstairs.  We avoided the receiving line and went into a
dim room set with scraggly hotel palms where couples sometimes sat
out during the dance; there I told her what had happened.

"It was Joe's own fault," she said, surprisingly.  "I told him not
to interfere."

This wasn't true.  She had said nothing, only uttered one curious
little click of impatience.

"You ran out the back door and disappeared for almost an hour," I
protested.  "Then you turned up with a hard-looking customer who
laughed in Joe's face."

"A hard-looking customer," she repeated, as if tasting the sound of
the words.

"Well, wasn't he?  Where on earth did you get hold of him, Ellen?"

"On the train," she answered.  Immediately she seemed to regret
this admission.  "You'd better stay out of things that aren't your
business, Eddie.  You see what happened to Joe."

Literally I gasped.  To watch her, seated beside me, immaculately
glowing, her body giving off wave after wave of freshness and
delicacy--and to hear her talk like that.

"But that man's a thug!" I cried.  "No girl could be safe with him.
He used brass knuckles on Joe--brass knuckles!"

"Is that pretty bad?"

She asked this as she might have asked such a question a few years
ago.  She looked at me at last and really wanted an answer; for a
moment it was as if she were trying to recapture an attitude that
had almost departed; then she hardened again.  I say "hardened,"
for I began to notice that when she was concerned with this man her
eyelids fell a little, shutting other things--everything else--out
of view.

That was a moment I might have said something, I suppose, but in
spite of everything, I couldn't light into her.  I was too much
under the spell of her beauty and its success.  I even began to
find excuses for her--perhaps that man wasn't what he appeared to
be; or perhaps--more romantically--she was involved with him
against her will to shield some one else.  At this point people
began to drift into the room and come up to speak to us.  We
couldn't talk any more, so we went in and bowed to the chaperones.
Then I gave her up to the bright restless sea of the dance, where
she moved in an eddy of her own among the pleasant islands of
colored favors set out on tables and the south winds from the
brasses moaning across the hall.  After a while I saw Joe Jelke
sitting in a corner with a strip of court-plaster on his forehead
watching Ellen as if she herself had struck him down, but I didn't
go up to him.  I felt queer myself--like I feel when I wake up
after sleeping through an afternoon, strange and portentous, as if
something had gone on in the interval that changed the values of
everything and that I didn't see.

The night slipped on through successive phases of cardboard horns,
amateur tableaux and flashlights for the morning papers.  Then was
the grand march and supper, and about two o'clock some of the
committee dressed up as revenue agents pinched the party, and a
facetious newspaper was distributed, burlesquing the events of the
evening.  And all the time out of the corner of my eye I watched
the shining orchid on Ellen's shoulder as it moved like Stuart's
plume about the room.  I watched it with a definite foreboding
until the last sleepy groups had crowded into the elevators, and
then, bundled to the eyes in great shapeless fur coats, drifted out
into the clear dry Minnesota night.


II


There is a sloping mid-section of our city which lies between the
residence quarter on the hill and the business district on the
level of the river.  It is a vague part of town, broken by its
climb into triangles and odd shapes--there are names like Seven
Corners--and I don't believe a dozen people could draw an accurate
map of it, though every one traversed it by trolley, auto or shoe
leather twice a day.  And though it was a busy section, it would be
hard for me to name the business that comprised its activity.
There were always long lines of trolley cars waiting to start
somewhere; there was a big movie theatre and many small ones with
posters of Hoot Gibson and Wonder Dogs and Wonder Horses outside;
there were small stores with "Old King Brady" and "The Liberty Boys
of '76" in the windows, and marbles, cigarettes and candy inside;
and--one definite place at least--a fancy costumer whom we all
visited at least once a year.  Some time during boyhood I became
aware that one side of a certain obscure street there were bawdy
houses, and all through the district were pawnshops, cheap
jewellers, small athletic clubs and gymnasiums and somewhat too
blatantly run-down saloons.

The morning after the Cotillion Club party, I woke up late and
lazy, with the happy feeling that for a day or two more there was
no chapel, no classes--nothing to do but wait for another party
tonight.  It was crisp and bright--one of those days when you
forget how cold it is until your cheek freezes--and the events of
the evening before seemed dim and far away.  After luncheon I
started downtown on foot through a light, pleasant snow of small
flakes that would probably fall all afternoon, and I was about half
through that halfway section of town--so far as I know, there's no
inclusive name for it--when suddenly whatever idle thought was in
my head blew away like a hat and I began thinking hard of Ellen
Baker.  I began worrying about her as I'd never worried about
anything outside myself before.  I began to loiter, with an
instinct to go up on the hill again and find her and talk to her;
then I remembered that she was at a tea, and I went on again, but
still thinking of her, and harder than ever.  Right then the affair
opened up again.

It was snowing, I said, and it was four o'clock on a December
afternoon, when there is a promise of darkness in the air and the
street lamps are just going on.  I passed a combination pool parlor
and restaurant, with a stove loaded with hot-dogs in the window,
and a few loungers hanging around the door.  The lights were on
inside--not bright lights but just a few pale yellow high up on the
ceiling--and the glow they threw out into the frosty dusk wasn't
bright enough to tempt you to stare inside.  As I went past,
thinking hard of Ellen all this time, I took in the quartet of
loafers out of the corner of my eye.  I hadn't gone half a dozen
steps down the street when one of them called to me, not by name
but in a way clearly intended for my ear.  I thought it was a
tribute to my raccoon coat and paid no attention, but a moment
later whoever it was called to me again in a peremptory voice.  I
was annoyed and turned around.  There, standing in the group not
ten feet away and looking at me with the half-sneer on his face
with which he'd looked at Joe Jelke, was the scarred, thin-faced
man of the night before.

He had on a black fancy-cut coat, buttoned up to his neck as if he
were cold.  His hands were deep in his pockets and he wore a derby
and high button shoes.  I was startled, and for a moment I
hesitated, but I was most of all angry, and knowing that I was
quicker with my hands than Joe Jelke, I took a tentative step back
toward him.  The other men weren't looking at me--I don't think
they saw me at all--but I knew that this one recognized me; there
was nothing casual about his look, no mistake.

"Here I am.  What are you going to do about it?" his eyes seemed to
say.

I took another step toward him and he laughed soundlessly, but with
active contempt, and drew back into the group.  I followed.  I was
going to speak to him--I wasn't sure what I was going to say--but
when I came up he had either changed his mind and backed off, or
else he wanted me to follow him inside, for he had slipped off and
the three men watched my intent approach without curiosity.  They
were the same kind--sporty, but, unlike him, smooth rather than
truculent; I didn't find any personal malice in their collective
glance.

"Did he go inside?" I asked.

They looked at one another in that cagy way; a wink passed between
them, and after a perceptible pause, one said:

"Who go inside?"

"I don't know his name."

There was another wink.  Annoyed and determined, I walked past them
and into the pool room.  There were a few people at a lunch counter
along one side and a few more playing billiards, but he was not
among them.

Again I hesitated.  If his idea was to lead me into any blind part
of the establishment--there were some half-open doors farther back--
I wanted more support.  I went up to the man at the desk.

"What became of the fellow who just walked in here?"

Was he on his guard immediately, or was that my imagination?

"What fellow?"

"Thin face--derby hat."

"How long ago?"

"Oh--a minute."

He shook his head again.  "Didn't see him," he said.

I waited.  The three men from outside had come in and were lined up
beside me at the counter.  I felt that all of them were looking at
me in a peculiar way.  Feeling helpless and increasingly uneasy, I
turned suddenly and went out.  A little way down the street I
turned again and took a good look at the place, so I'd know it and
could find it again.  On the next corner I broke impulsively into a
run, found a taxicab in front of the hotel and drove back up the
hill.



Ellen wasn't home.  Mrs. Baker came downstairs and talked to me.
She seemed entirely cheerful and proud of Ellen's beauty, and
ignorant of anything being amiss or of anything unusual having
taken place the night before.  She was glad that vacation was
almost over--it was a strain and Ellen wasn't very strong.  Then
she said something that relieved my mind enormously.  She was glad
that I had come in, for of course Ellen would want to see me, and
the time was so short.  She was going back at half-past eight
tonight.

"Tonight!" I exclaimed.  "I thought it was the day after tomorrow."

"She's going to visit the Brokaws in Chicago," Mrs. Baker said.
"They want her for some party.  We just decided it today.  She's
leaving with the Ingersoll girls tonight."

I was so glad I could barely restrain myself from shaking her hand.
Ellen was safe.  It had been nothing all along but a moment of the
most casual adventure.  I felt like an idiot, but I realized how
much I cared about Ellen and how little I could endure anything
terrible happening to her.

"She'll be in soon?"

"Any minute now.  She just phoned from the University Club."

I said I'd be over later--I lived almost next door and I wanted to
be alone.  Outside I remembered I didn't have a key, so I started
up the Bakers' driveway to take the old cut we used in childhood
through the intervening yard.  It was still snowing, but the flakes
were bigger now against the darkness, and trying to locate the
buried walk I noticed that the Bakers' back door was ajar.

I scarcely know why I turned and walked into that kitchen.  There
was a time when I would have known the Bakers' servants by name.
That wasn't true now, but they knew me, and I was aware of a sudden
suspension as I came in--not only a suspension of talk but of some
mood or expectation that had filled them.  They began to go to work
too quickly; they made unnecessary movements and clamor--those
three.  The parlor maid looked at me in a frightened way and I
suddenly guessed she was waiting to deliver another message.  I
beckoned her into the pantry.

"I know all about this," I said.  "It's a very serious business.
Shall I go to Mrs. Baker now, or will you shut and lock that back
door?"

"Don't tell Mrs. Baker, Mr. Stinson!"

"Then I don't want Miss Ellen disturbed.  If she is--and if she is
I'll know of it--"  I delivered some outrageous threat about going
to all the employment agencies and seeing she never got another job
in the city.  She was thoroughly intimidated when I went out; it
wasn't a minute before the back door was locked and bolted behind
me.

Simultaneously I heard a big car drive up in front, chains
crunching on the soft snow; it was bringing Ellen home, and I went
in to say good-by.

Joe Jelke and two other boys were along, and none of the three
could manage to take their eyes off her, even to say hello to me.
She had one of those exquisite rose skins frequent in our part of
the country, and beautiful until the little veins begin to break at
about forty; now, flushed with the cold, it was a riot of lovely
delicate pinks like many carnations.  She and Joe had reached some
sort of reconciliation, or at least he was too far gone in love to
remember last night; but I saw that though she laughed a lot she
wasn't really paying any attention to him or any of them.  She
wanted them to go, so that there'd be a message from the kitchen,
but I knew that the message wasn't coming--that she was safe.
There was talk of the Pump and Slipper dance at New Haven and of
the Princeton Prom, and then, in various moods, we four left and
separated quickly outside.  I walked home with a certain depression
of spirit and lay for an hour in a hot bath thinking that vacation
was all over for me now that she was gone; feeling, even more
deeply than I had yesterday, that she was out of my life.

And something eluded me, some one more thing to do, something that
I had lost amid the events of the afternoon, promising myself to go
back and pick it up, only to find that it had escaped me.  I
associated it vaguely with Mrs. Baker, and now I seemed to recall
that it had poked up its head somewhere in the stream of
conversation with her.  In my relief about Ellen I had forgotten to
ask her a question regarding something she had said.

The Brokaws--that was it--where Ellen was to visit.  I knew Bill
Brokaw well; he was in my class at Yale.  Then I remembered and sat
bolt upright in the tub--the Brokaws weren't in Chicago this
Christmas; they were at Palm Beach!

Dripping I sprang out of the tub, threw an insufficient union suit
around my shoulders and sprang for the phone in my room.  I got the
connection quick, but Miss Ellen had already started for the train.

Luckily our car was in, and while I squirmed, still damp, into my
clothes, the chauffeur brought it around to the door.  The night
was cold and dry, and we made good time to the station through the
hard, crusty snow.  I felt queer and insecure starting out this
way, but somehow more confident as the station loomed up bright and
new against the dark, cold air.  For fifty years my family had
owned the land on which it was built and that made my temerity seem
all right somehow.  There was always a possibility that I was
rushing in where angels feared to tread, but that sense of having a
solid foothold in the past made me willing to make a fool of
myself.  This business was all wrong--terribly wrong.  Any idea I
had entertained that it was harmless dropped away now; between
Ellen and some vague overwhelming catastrophe there stood me, or
else the police and a scandal.  I'm no moralist--there was another
element here, dark and frightening, and I didn't want Ellen to go
through it alone.

There are three competing trains from St. Paul to Chicago that all
leave within a few minutes of half-past eight.  Hers was the
Burlington, and as I ran across the station I saw the grating being
pulled over and the light above it go out.  I knew, though, that
she had a drawing-room with the Ingersoll girls, because her mother
had mentioned buying the ticket, so she was, literally speaking,
tucked in until tomorrow.

The C., M. & St. P. gate was down at the other end and I raced for
it and made it.  I had forgotten one thing, though, and that was
enough to keep me awake and worried half the night.  This train got
into Chicago ten minutes after the other.  Ellen had that much time
to disappear into one of the largest cities in the world.

I gave the porter a wire to my family to send from Milwaukee, and
at eight o'clock next morning I pushed violently by a whole line of
passengers, clamoring over their bags parked in the vestibule, and
shot out of the door with a sort of scramble over the porter's
back.  For a moment the confusion of a great station, the
voluminous sounds and echoes and cross-currents of bells and smoke
struck me helpless.  Then I dashed for the exit and toward the only
chance I knew of finding her.

I had guessed right.  She was standing at the telegraph counter,
sending off heaven knows what black lie to her mother, and her
expression when she saw me had a sort of terror mixed up with its
surprise.  There was cunning in it too.  She was thinking quickly--
she would have liked to walk away from me as if I weren't there,
and go about her own business, but she couldn't.  I was too matter-
of-fact a thing in her life.  So we stood silently watching each
other and each thinking hard.

"The Brokaws are in Florida," I said after a minute.

"It was nice of you to take such a long trip to tell me that."

"Since you've found it out, don't you think you'd better go on to
school?"

"Please let me alone, Eddie," she said.

"I'll go as far as New York with you.  I've decided to go back
early myself."

"You'd better let me alone."  Her lovely eyes narrowed and her face
took on a look of dumb-animal-like resistance.  She made a visible
effort, the cunning flickered back into it, then both were gone,
and in their stead was a cheerful reassuring smile that all but
convinced me.

"Eddie, you silly child, don't you think I'm old enough to take
care of myself?"  I didn't answer.  "I'm going to meet a man, you
understand.  I just want to see him today.  I've got my ticket East
on the five o'clock train.  If you don't believe it, here it is in
my bag."

"I believe you."

"The man isn't anybody that you know and--frankly, I think you're
being awfully fresh and impossible."

"I know who the man is."

Again she lost control of her face.  That terrible expression came
back into it and she spoke with almost a snarl:

"You'd better let me alone."

I took the blank out of her hand and wrote out an explanatory
telegram to her mother.  Then I turned to Ellen and said a little
roughly:

"We'll take the five o'clock train East together.  Meanwhile you're
going to spend the day with me."

The mere sound of my own voice saying this so emphatically
encouraged me, and I think it impressed her too; at any rate, she
submitted--at least temporarily--and came along without protest
while I bought my ticket.

When I start to piece together the fragments of that day a sort of
confusion begins, as if my memory didn't want to yield up any of
it, or my consciousness let any of it pass through.  There was a
bright, fierce morning during which we rode about in a taxicab and
went to a department store where Ellen said she wanted to buy
something and then tried to slip away from me by a back way.  I had
the feeling, for an hour, that someone was following us along Lake
Shore Drive in a taxicab, and I would try to catch them by turning
quickly or looking suddenly into the chauffeur's mirror; but I
could find no one, and when I turned back I could see that Ellen's
face was contorted with mirthless, unnatural laughter.

All morning there was a raw, bleak wind off the lake, but when we
went to the Blackstone for lunch a light snow came down past the
windows and we talked almost naturally about our friends, and about
casual things.  Suddenly her tone changed; she grew serious and
looked me in the eye, straight and sincere.

"Eddie, you're the oldest friend I have," she said, "and you
oughtn't to find it too hard to trust me.  If I promise you
faithfully on my word of honor to catch that five o'clock train,
will you let me alone a few hours this afternoon?"

"Why?"

"Well"--she hesitated and hung her head a little--"I guess
everybody has a right to say--good-by."

"You want to say good-by to that--"

"Yes, yes," she said hastily; "just a few hours, Eddie, and I
promise faithfully that I'll be on that train."

"Well, I suppose no great harm could be done in two hours.  If you
really want to say good-by--"

I looked up suddenly, and surprised a look of such tense cunning in
her face that I winced before it.  Her lip was curled up and her
eyes were slits again; there wasn't the faintest touch of fairness
and sincerity in her whole face.

We argued.  The argument was vague on her part and somewhat hard
and reticent on mine.  I wasn't going to be cajoled again into any
weakness or be infected with any--and there was a contagion of evil
in the air.  She kept trying to imply, without any convincing
evidence to bring forward, that everything was all right.  Yet she
was too full of the thing itself--whatever it was--to build up a
real story, and she wanted to catch at any credulous and
acquiescent train of thought that might start in my head, and work
that for all it was worth.  After every reassuring suggestion she
threw out, she stared at me eagerly, as if she hoped I'd launch
into a comfortable moral lecture with the customary sweet at the
end--which in this case would be her liberty.  But I was wearing
her away a little.  Two or three times it needed just a touch of
pressure to bring her to the point of tears--which, of course, was
what I wanted--but I couldn't seem to manage it.  Almost I had her--
almost possessed her interior attention--then she would slip away.

I bullied her remorselessly into a taxi about four o'clock and
started for the station.  The wind was raw again, with a sting of
snow in it, and the people in the streets, waiting for busses and
street cars too small to take them all in, looked cold and
disturbed and unhappy.  I tried to think how lucky we were to be
comfortably off and taken care of, but all the warm, respectable
world I had been part of yesterday had dropped away from me.  There
was something we carried with us now that was the enemy and the
opposite of all that; it was in the cabs beside us, the streets we
passed through.  With a touch of panic, I wondered if I wasn't
slipping almost imperceptibly into Ellen's attitude of mind.  The
column of passengers waiting to go aboard the train were as remote
from me as people from another world, but it was I that was
drifting away and leaving them behind.

My lower was in the same car with her compartment.  It was an old-
fashioned car, its lights somewhat dim, its carpets and upholstery
full of the dust of another generation.  There were half a dozen
other travellers, but they made no special impression on me, except
that they shared the unreality that I was beginning to feel
everywhere around me.  We went into Ellen's compartment, shut the
door and sat down.

Suddenly I put my arms around her and drew her over to me, just as
tenderly as I knew how--as if she were a little girl--as she was.
She resisted a little, but after a moment she submitted and lay
tense and rigid in my arms.

"Ellen," I said helplessly, "you asked me to trust you.  You have
much more reason to trust me.  Wouldn't it help to get rid of all
this, if you told me a little?"

"I can't," she said, very low--"I mean, there's nothing to tell."

"You met this man on the train coming home and you fell in love
with him, isn't that true?"

"I don't know."

"Tell me, Ellen.  You fell in love with him?"

"I don't know.  Please let me alone."

"Call it anything you want," I went on, "he has some sort of hold
over you.  He's trying to use you; he's trying to get something
from you.  He's not in love with you."

"What does that matter?" she said in a weak voice.

"It does matter.  Instead of trying to fight this--this thing--
you're trying to fight me.  And I love you, Ellen.  Do you hear?
I'm telling you all of a sudden, but it isn't new with me.  I love
you."

She looked at me with a sneer on her gentle face; it was an
expression I had seen on men who were tight and didn't want to be
taken home.  But it was human.  I was reaching her, faintly and
from far away, but more than before.

"Ellen, I want you to answer me one question.  Is he going to be on
this train?"

She hesitated; then, an instant too late, she shook her head.

"Be careful, Ellen.  Now I'm going to ask you one thing more, and I
wish you'd try very hard to answer.  Coming West, when did this man
get on the train?"

"I don't know," she said with an effort.

Just at that moment I became aware, with the unquestionable
knowledge reserved for facts, that he was just outside the door.
She knew it, too; the blood left her face and that expression of
low-animal perspicacity came creeping back.  I lowered my face into
my hands and tried to think.

We must have sat there, with scarcely a word, for well over an
hour.  I was conscious that the lights of Chicago, then of
Englewood and of endless suburbs, were moving by, and then there
were no more lights and we were out on the dark flatness of
Illinois.  The train seemed to draw in upon itself; it took on an
air of being alone.  The porter knocked at the door and asked if he
could make up the berth, but I said no and he went away.

After a while I convinced myself that the struggle inevitably
coming wasn't beyond what remained of my sanity, my faith in the
essential all-rightness of things and people.  That this person's
purpose was what we call "criminal," I took for granted, but there
was no need of ascribing to him an intelligence that belonged to a
higher plane of human, or inhuman, endeavor.  It was still as a man
that I considered him, and tried to get at his essence, his self-
interest--what took the place in him of a comprehensible heart--but
I suppose I more than half knew what I would find when I opened the
door.

When I stood up Ellen didn't seem to see me at all.  She was
hunched into the corner staring straight ahead with a sort of film
over her eyes, as if she were in a state of suspended animation of
body and mind.  I lifted her and put two pillows under her head and
threw my fur coat over her knees.  Then I knelt beside her and
kissed her two hands, opened the door and went out into the hall.

I closed the door behind me and stood with my back against it for a
minute.  The car was dark save for the corridor lights at each end.
There was no sound except the groaning of the couplers, the even
click-a-click of the rails and someone's loud sleeping breath
farther down the car.  I became aware after a moment that the
figure of a man was standing by the water cooler just outside the
men's smoking room, his derby hat on his head, his coat collar
turned up around his neck as if he were cold, his hands in his coat
pockets.  When I saw him, he turned and went into the smoking room,
and I followed.  He was sitting in the far corner of the long
leather bench; I took the single armchair beside the door.

As I went in I nodded to him and he acknowledged my presence with
one of those terrible soundless laughs of his.  But this time it
was prolonged, it seemed to go on forever, and mostly to cut it
short, I asked:  "Where are you from?" in a voice I tried to make
casual.

He stopped laughing and looked at me narrowly, wondering what my
game was.  When he decided to answer, his voice was muffled as
though he were speaking through a silk scarf, and it seemed to come
from a long way off.

"I'm from St. Paul, Jack."

"Been making a trip home?"

He nodded.  Then he took a long breath and spoke in a hard,
menacing voice:

"You better get off at Fort Wayne, Jack."

He was dead.  He was dead as hell--he had been dead all along, but
what force had flowed through him, like blood in his veins, out to
St. Paul and back, was leaving him now.  A new outline--the outline
of him dead--was coming through the palpable figure that had
knocked down Joe Jelke.

He spoke again, with a sort of jerking effort:

"You get off at Fort Wayne, Jack, or I'm going to wipe you out."
He moved his hand in his coat pocket and showed me the outline of a
revolver.

I shook my head.  "You can't touch me," I answered.  "You see, I
know."  His terrible eyes shifted over me quickly, trying to
determine whether or not I did know.  Then he gave a snarl and made
as though he were going to jump to his feet.

"You climb off here or else I'm going to get you, Jack!" he cried
hoarsely.  The train was slowing up for Fort Wayne and his voice
rang loud in the comparative quiet, but he didn't move from his
chair--he was too weak, I think--and we sat staring at each other
while workmen passed up and down outside the window banging the
brakes and wheels, and the engine gave out loud mournful pants up
ahead.  No one got into our car.  After a while the porter closed
the vestibule door and passed back along the corridor, and we slid
out of the murky yellow station light and into the long darkness.

What I remember next must have extended over a space of five or six
hours, though it comes back to me as something without any
existence in time--something that might have taken five minutes or
a year.  There began a slow, calculated assault on me, wordless and
terrible.  I felt what I can only call a strangeness stealing over
me--akin to the strangeness I had felt all afternoon, but deeper
and more intensified.  It was like nothing so much as the sensation
of drifting away, and I gripped the arms of the chair convulsively,
as if to hang onto a piece in the living world.  Sometimes I felt
myself going out with a rush.  There would be almost a warm relief
about it, a sense of not caring; then, with a violent wrench of the
will, I'd pull myself back into the room.

Suddenly I realized that from a while back I had stopped hating
him, stopped feeling violently alien to him, and with the
realization, I went cold and sweat broke out all over my head.  He
was getting around my abhorrence, as he had got around Ellen coming
West on the train; and it was just that strength he drew from
preying on people that had brought him up to the point of concrete
violence in St. Paul, and that, fading and flickering out, still
kept him fighting now.

He must have seen that faltering in my heart, for he spoke at once,
in a low, even, almost gentle voice:  "You better go now."

"Oh, I'm not going," I forced myself to say.

"Suit yourself, Jack."

He was my friend, he implied.  He knew how it was with me and he
wanted to help.  He pitied me.  I'd better go away before it was
too late.  The rhythm of his attack was soothing as a song: I'd
better go away--AND LET HIM GET AT ELLEN.  With a little cry I sat
bolt upright.

"What do you want of this girl?" I said, my voice shaking.  "To
make a sort of walking hell of her."

His glance held a quality of dumb surprise, as if I were punishing
an animal for a fault of which he was not conscious.  For an
instant I faltered; then I went on blindly:

"You've lost her; she's put her trust in me."

His countenance went suddenly black with evil, and he cried:
"You're a liar!" in a voice that was like cold hands.

"She trusts me," I said.  "You can't touch her.  She's safe!"

He controlled himself.  His face grew bland, and I felt that
curious weakness and indifference begin again inside me.  What was
the use of all this?  What was the use?

"You haven't got much time left," I forced myself to say, and then,
in a flash of intuition, I jumped at the truth.  "You died, or you
were killed, not far from here!"--Then I saw what I had not seen
before--that his forehead was drilled with a small round hole like
a larger picture nail leaves when it's pulled from a plaster wall.
"And now you're sinking.  You've only got a few hours.  The trip
home is over!"

His face contorted, lost all semblance of humanity, living or dead.
Simultaneously the room was full of cold air and with a noise that
was something between a paroxysm of coughing and a burst of
horrible laughter, he was on his feet, reeking of shame and
blasphemy.

"Come and look!" he cried.  "I'll show you--"

He took a step toward me, then another and it was exactly as if a
door stood open behind him, a door yawning out to an inconceivable
abyss of darkness and corruption.  There was a scream of mortal
agony, from him or from somewhere behind, and abruptly the strength
went out of him in a long husky sigh and he wilted to the
floor. . . .

How long I sat there, dazed with terror and exhaustion, I don't
know.  The next thing I remember is the sleepy porter shining shoes
across the room from me, and outside the window the steel fires of
Pittsburgh breaking the flat perspective also--something too faint
for a man, too heavy for a shadow, of the night.  There was
something extended on the bench.  Even as I perceived it it faded
off and away.

Some minutes later I opened the door of Ellen's compartment.  She
was asleep where I had left her.  Her lovely cheeks were white and
wan, but she lay naturally--her hands relaxed and her breathing
regular and clear.  What had possessed her had gone out of her,
leaving her exhausted but her own dear self again.

I made her a little more comfortable, tucked a blanket around her,
extinguished the light and went out.


III


When I came home for Easter vacation, almost my first act was to go
down to the billiard parlor near Seven Corners.  The man at the
cash register quite naturally didn't remember my hurried visit of
three months before.

"I'm trying to locate a certain party who, I think, came here a lot
some time ago."

I described the man rather accurately, and when I had finished, the
cashier called to a little jockeylike fellow who was sitting near
with an air of having something very important to do that he
couldn't quite remember.

"Hey, Shorty, talk to this guy, will you?  I think he's looking for
Joe Varland."

The little man gave me a tribal look of suspicion.  I went and sat
near him.

"Joe Varland's dead, fella," he said grudgingly.  "He died last
winter."

I described him again--his overcoat, his laugh, the habitual
expression of his eyes.

"That's Joe Varland you're looking for all right, but he's dead."

"I want to find out something about him."

"What you want to find out?"

"What did he do, for instance?"

"How should I know?"

"Look here!  I'm not a policeman.  I just want some kind of
information about his habits.  He's dead now and it can't hurt him.
And it won't go beyond me."

"Well"--he hesitated, looking me over--"he was a great one for
travelling.  He got in a row in the station in Pittsburgh and a
dick got him."

I nodded.  Broken pieces of the puzzle began to assemble in my
head.

"Why was he a lot on trains?"

"How should I know, fella?"

"If you can use ten dollars, I'd like to know anything you may have
heard on the subject."

"Well," said Shorty reluctantly, "all I know is they used to say he
worked the trains."

"Worked the trains?"

"He had some racket of his own he'd never loosen up about.  He used
to work the girls travelling alone on the trains.  Nobody ever knew
much about it--he was a pretty smooth guy--but sometimes he'd turn
up here with a lot of dough and he let 'em know it was the janes he
got it off of."

I thanked him and gave him the ten dollars and went out, very
thoughtful, without mentioning that part of Joe Varland had made a
last trip home.

Ellen wasn't West for Easter, and even if she had been I wouldn't
have gone to her with the information, either--at least I've seen
her almost every day this summer and we've managed to talk about
everything else.  Sometimes, though, she gets silent about nothing
and wants to be very close to me, and I know what's in her mind.

Of course she's coming out this fall, and I have two more years at
New Haven; still, things don't look so impossible as they did a few
months ago.  She belongs to me in a way--even if I lose her she
belongs to me.  Who knows?  Anyhow, I'll always be there.


THE END



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