And sometimes I dance. I was on my way there when I met you—was due at three o'clock. He had never been direct with women or with direct women. But this girl created her own atmosphere which quite enveloped him. Abruptly, as if acting on an impulse, she pushed back her chair.
She was getting into her coat now. He hurried awkwardly around the table, and helped her. She pursed her lips. Yes, I've seen her—at the Black and White ball this winter!
A blonde—pretty—went as a Picabia dancer. N OT until he was crossing Sixth Avenue, under the elevated road, did it occur to him that she had deliberately broken her rehearsal appointment to have tea with him and then as deliberately, had left him for the rehearsal. He had interested her; then, all at once, he had ceased to interest her. It was not the first time Peter had had this experience with women, though none of the others had been so frank about it. Resentments rose. Why on earth had he sat there so meekly and let her go on like that—he, the more or less well-known Eric Mann!
Had he no force of character at all? No dignity? Suppose she had to write plays to suit the whims of penny-splitting Broadway managers who had never heard of Andreyev and Tchekov, were bored by Shaw and Shakespeare and thought an optimist was an eye doctor—where would she get off! During the short block between Sixth Avenue and the Square, anger conquered depression. When he entered the old brick apartment building he was muttering. When he left the elevator and walked along the dark corridor to the rooms he was considering reprisals. Peter shared the dim old seventh-floor apartment with two fellow bachelors, Henry Sidenham Lowe and the Worm.
The three were sometimes known as the Seventh-Story Men. The phrase was Hy Lowe's and referred to the newspaper stories of that absurd kidnaping escapade—the Esther MacLeod case, it was—back in The three were a bit younger then. Hy Lowe was a slim young man with small features that appeared to be gathered in the middle of his face. His job might have been thought odd anywhere save in the Greenwich Village region.
After some years of newspaper work he had settled down to the managing editorship of a missionary weekly known as My Brother's Keeper. Hy was uncommunicative, even irreverent regarding his means of livelihood, usually referring to the paper as his meal ticket, and to his employer, the Reverend Doctor Hubbell Harkness Wilde if at all as the Walrus.
In leisure moments, perhaps as a chronic reaction from the moral strain of his job, Hy affected slang, musical comedy and girls. The partly skinned old upright piano in the studio was his. And he had a small gift at juggling plates.
The Worm was a philosopher; about Peter's age, sandy in coloring but mild in nature, reflective to the point of self-effacement. He read interminably, in more than one foreign language and was supposed to write book reviews. He had lived in odd corners of the earth and knew Gorki personally. His name was Henry Bates. Peter came slowly into the studio, threw off coat and hat and stood, the beginnings of a complacent smile on his face.
Isn't she fair game?
Over in the corner by a window, his attention caught by this outbreak, the Worm looked up at Peter and reflected for a moment. He was deep in a Morris chair, the Worm, clad only in striped pajamas that were not over-equipped with buttons, and one slipper of Chinese straw that dangled from an elevated foot. Peter leaned over his shoulder and sang the choppy refrain with him. In the interest of accuracy the two sang it again, The third rendition brought them to the borders of harmony.
The Worm looked up again and studied Peter's back, rather absently as if puzzling him out and classifying him. He knit his brows. Then his eyes lighted, and he turned back in his book, fingering the pages with a mild eagerness. Finding what he sought, he read thoughtfully and smiled. He closed his book; hitched forward to the old flat-top desk that stood between the windows; lighted a caked brier pipe; and after considerable scribbling on scraps of paper appeared to hit upon an arrangement of phrases that pleased him.
These phrases he printed out painstakingly on the back of a calling card which he tacked up with a hair-brush on the outer side of the apartment door. Then he went into the bedroom to dress. The two were fond of the Worm, but they never talked with him about their girls.
She's plumb mysterious.
All she'd tell was that she is playing a boy at that little Crossroads Theater of Zanin's, and that I'd have to go there to find her out. Going to-night. Want to come along? Extraordinary eyes, green with brown in 'em—but green. And built like a boy. Very graceful. She left home—walked right out. Calls herself modern.
She's the original lady highbrow, if you ask me. Sure I'll go to see her. Even if she never could see me. You see he knows we live down here where the Village crowds circulate. Easy enough to get, of course, but I ducked I'm going to hop into the bathtub. There's time enough. Then we can eat at the Parisian. Peter settled down to read the sporting page of the evening paper. Shortly the Worm, clad now, drifted back to the Morris chair.
They heard Hy shuffle out in his bath slippers and close the outer door after him. Then he opened the door and came back, He stood in the doorway, holding his bathrobe together with one hand and swinging his towel with the ether; and chuckling.
Peter paid little heed to this brief conversation. And when he and Hy went out, half an hour later, he gave only a passing glance to the card on the door. He was occupied with thoughts of a slim girl with green eyes who had fascinated and angered him in a most confusing way. T HE Crossroads Theater was nothing more than an old store, with a shallow stage built in at the rear and a rough foyer boarded off at the front.
The seats were rows of undertaker's chairs, But the lighting was managed with some skill; and the scenery, built and painted in the neighborhood, bordered on a Barker-Craig-Reinhardt effectiveness. Peter and Hy stood for a little time in the foyer, watching the audience come in. It was a distinctly youthful audience—the girls and women were attractive, most of them Americans; the men running more foreign, with a good many Russian Jews among them.
They all appeared to be great friends. And they handled one another a good deal. Peter, self-conscious, hunting copy as always, saw one tired-looking young Jewish painter catch the hand of a pretty girl—an extraordinarily pretty girl, blonde, of a slimly rounded figure—and press and caress her fingers as he chatted casually with a group. After a moment the girl drew her hand away gently, half-apologetically, while a faint wave of color flowed to her transparent cheek. All Peter's blind race prejudice flamed into a little fire of rage. Here it was—his subject—the restless American girl experimenting with life, the selfish bachelor girl, deep in the tangles of Bohemia, surrounded by just the experimental men that would be drawn to the district by such as she So Peter read it.
And he was tom by confused clashing emotions. There was color in his own face now, and his pulse was leaping. The theme was the grim influence of street life on the mind of a child. It was an uncomfortable little play. All curtains were drawn back.
Subjects were mentioned that should never, Peter felt, be even hinted at in the presence of young women. Rough direct words were hurled at that audience. Peter, blushing, peered about him.
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There sat the young women and girls by the dozen, serene of face, frankly interested. Then a newsboy came running on the stage—slim, light of foot—dodged cowering in a saloon doorway, and swore at an off-stage policeman from whose clutches he had escaped.