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Chapter 17

Upon a wet evening, several months after the last chapter,
two interminable rows of cars, pulled by slipping horses,
jangled along a prominent side-street.  A dozen cabs, with coat-enshrouded
drivers, clattered to and fro.  Electric lights, whirring softly,
shed a blurred radiance.  A flower dealer, his feet tapping
impatiently, his nose and his wares glistening with rain-drops,
stood behind an array of roses and chrysanthemums.  Two or three
theatres emptied a crowd upon the storm-swept pavements.  Men
pulled their hats over their eyebrows and raised their collars to
their ears.  Women shrugged impatient shoulders in their warm
cloaks and stopped to arrange their skirts for a walk through the
storm.  People having been comparatively silent for two hours burst
into a roar of conversation, their hearts still kindling from the
glowings of the stage.

The pavements became tossing seas of umbrellas.  Men stepped
forth to hail cabs or cars, raising their fingers in varied forms
of polite request or imperative demand.  An endless procession
wended toward elevated stations.  An atmosphere of pleasure and
prosperity seemed to hang over the throng, born, perhaps, of good
clothes and of having just emerged from a place of forgetfulness.

In the mingled light and gloom of an adjacent park,
a handful of wet wanderers, in attitudes of chronic dejection,
was scattered among the benches.

A girl of the painted cohorts of the city went along the street.
She threw changing glances at men who passed her, giving smiling
invitations to men of rural or untaught pattern and usually seeming
sedately unconscious of the men with a metropolitan seal upon their faces.

Crossing glittering avenues, she went into the throng emerging
from the places of forgetfulness.  She hurried forward through the
crowd as if intent upon reaching a distant home, bending forward in
her handsome cloak, daintily lifting her skirts and picking for her
well-shod feet the dryer spots upon the pavements.

The restless doors of saloons, clashing to and fro, disclosed
animated rows of men before bars and hurrying barkeepers.

A concert hall gave to the street faint sounds of swift,
machine-like music, as if a group of phantom musicians were
hastening.

A tall young man, smoking a cigarette with a sublime air,
strolled near the girl.  He had on evening dress, a moustache, a
chrysanthemum, and a look of ennui, all of which he kept carefully
under his eye.  Seeing the girl walk on as if such a young man as
he was not in existence, he looked back transfixed with interest.
He stared glassily for a moment, but gave a slight convulsive start
when he discerned that she was neither new, Parisian, nor theatrical.
He wheeled about hastily and turned his stare into the air,
like a sailor with a search-light.

A stout gentleman, with pompous and philanthropic whiskers,
went stolidly by, the broad of his back sneering at the girl.

A belated man in business clothes, and in haste to catch a
car, bounced against her shoulder.  "Hi, there, Mary, I beg your
pardon!  Brace up, old girl."  He grasped her arm to steady her,
and then was away running down the middle of the street.

The girl walked on out of the realm of restaurants and
saloons.  She passed more glittering avenues and went into darker
blocks than those where the crowd travelled.

A young man in light overcoat and derby hat received a glance
shot keenly from the eyes of the girl.  He stopped and looked at
her, thrusting his hands in his pockets and making a mocking smile
curl his lips.  "Come, now, old lady," he said, "you don't mean to
tell me that you sized me up for a farmer?"

A laboring man marched along with bundles under his arms.
To her remarks, he replied: "It's a fine evenin', ain't it?"

She smiled squarely into the face of a boy who was hurrying by
with his hands buried in his overcoat, his blonde locks bobbing on
his youthful temples, and a cheery smile of unconcern upon his
lips.  He turned his head and smiled back at her, waving his hands.
him.  "He's all right!  He didn't mean anything!  Let it go!
He's a good fellah!"

"Din' he insul' me?" asked the man earnestly.

"No," said they.  "Of course he didn't!  He's all right!"

"Sure he didn' insul' me?" demanded the man, with deep anxiety
in his voice.

"No, no!  We know him!  He's a good fellah.  He didn't mean anything."

"Well, zen," said the man, resolutely, "I'm go' 'pol'gize!"

When the waiter came, the man struggled to the middle of the floor.

"Girlsh shed you insul' me!  I shay damn lie!  I 'pol'gize!"

"All right," said the waiter.

The man sat down.  He felt a sleepy but strong desire to straighten
things out and have a perfect understanding with everybody.

"Nell, I allus trea's yeh shquare, din' I?  Yeh likes me, don' yehs, Nell?
I'm goo' f'ler?"

"Sure," said the woman of brilliance and audacity.

"Yeh knows I'm stuck on yehs, don' yehs, Nell?"

"Sure," she repeated, carelessly.

Overwhelmed by a spasm of drunken adoration, he drew two or
three bills from his pocket, and, with the trembling fingers of an
offering priest, laid them on the table before the woman.

"Yehs knows, damn it, yehs kin have all got, 'cause I'm stuck on yehs,
Nell, damn't, I--I'm stuck on yehs, Nell--buy drinksh--damn't--we're havin'
heluva time--w'en anyone trea's me ri'--I--damn't, Nell--we're havin'
heluva--time."

Shortly he went to sleep with his swollen face fallen forward on his chest.

The women drank and laughed, not heeding the slumbering man in the corner.
Finally he lurched forward and fell groaning to the floor.

The women screamed in disgust and drew back their skirts.

"Come ahn," cried one, starting up angrily, "let's get out of here."

The woman of brilliance and audacity stayed behind, taking up
the bills and stuffing them into a deep, irregularly-shaped pocket.
A guttural snore from the recumbent man caused her to turn and look
down at him.

She laughed.  "What a damn fool," she said, and went.

The smoke from the lamps settled heavily down in the little
compartment, obscuring the way out.  The smell of oil, stifling in
its intensity, pervaded the air.  The wine from an overturned glass
dripped softly down upon the blotches on the man's neck.

She smiled squarely into the face of a boy who was hurrying by with his
hands buried in his overcoat, his blonde locks bobbing on his youthful
temples, and a cheery smile of unconcern upon his lips. He turned his
head and smiled back at her, waving his hands.

"Not this eve--some other eve!"

A drunken man, reeling in her pathway, began to roar at her. "I ain'
ga no money, dammit," he shouted, in a dismal voice. He lurched on up
the street, wailing to himself, "Dammit, I ain' ga no money. Damn ba'
luck. Ain' ga no more money."

The girl went into gloomy districts near the river, where the tall
black factories shut in the street and only occasional broad beams of
light fell across the pavements from saloons. In front of one of these
places, from whence came the sound of a violin vigorously scraped, the
patter of feet on boards and the ring of loud laughter, there stood a
man with blotched features.

"Ah, there," said the girl.

"I've got a date," said the man.

Further on in the darkness she met a ragged being with shifting,
blood-shot eyes and grimey hands. "Ah, what deh hell? Tink I'm a
millionaire?"

She went into the blackness of the final block. The shutters of the
tall buildings were closed like grim lips. The structures seemed to
have eyes that looked over her, beyond her, at other things. Afar off
the lights of the avenues glittered as if from an impossible distance.
Street car bells jingled with a sound of merriment.

When almost to the river the girl saw a great figure. On going forward
she perceived it to be a huge fat man in torn and greasy garments. His
gray hair straggled down over his forehead. His small, bleared eyes,
sparkling from amidst great rolls of red fat, swept eagerly over the
girl's upturned face. He laughed, his brown, disordered teeth gleaming
under a gray, grizzled moustache from which beer-drops dripped. His
whole body gently quivered and shook like that of a dead jelly fish.
Chuckling and leering, he followed the girl of the crimson legions.

At their feet the river appeared a deathly black hue. Some hidden
factory sent up a yellow glare, that lit for a moment the waters
lapping oilily against timbers. The varied sounds of life, made joyous
by distance and seeming unapproachableness, came faintly and died away
to silence.

Stephen Crane

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