It was back in my sailor days, in the winter of my great down-and-outness,
that all this happened. In those years of wandering, to be broke and "on
the beach" in some seaport or other of the world was no new experience;
but this had been an unusually long period of inaction even for me. Six
months before I had landed in New York after a voyage from Buenos Aires as
able seaman on a British tramp. Since that time I had loafed around the
water front, eking out an existence on a small allowance from my family,
too lazy of body and mind, too indifferent to things in general, to ship
to sea again or do anything else. I shared a small rear room with another
"gentleman-ranker," Jimmy Anderson, an old friend of mine, over an
all-night dive near South street known as Tommy the Priest's.
the story of Jimmy, my roommate, and it begins on a cold night in the
early part of March. I had waited in Tommy the Priest's, hunched up on a
chair near the stove in the back room, all the late afternoon until long
after dark. My nerves were on edge as a result of a two days' carouse
ensuing on the receipt of my weekly allowance. Now all that money was
gone—over the bar—and the next few days gloomed up as a dreary, sober and
hungry ordeal which must, barring miracles, be endured patiently or
otherwise. Three or four others of the crowd I knew were sitting near me,
equally sick and penniless. We stared gloomily before us, in listless
attitudes, spitting dejectedly at the glowing paunch of the stove. Every
now and then someone would come in bringing with him a chill of the
freezing wind outside. We would all look up hopefully. No, only a
stranger. Nothing in the way of hospitality to be expected from him.
"Close that damned door!" we would growl in chorus and huddle closer to
the stove, shivering, muttering disappointed curses. In mocking contrast
the crowd at the bar were drinking, singing, arguing in each other's ears
with loud, care-free voices. None of them noticed our existence.
Surely a bad night for Good Samaritans, I thought, and reflected with
bitterness that I counted several in that jubilant throng who had eagerly
accepted my favors of the two nights previous. Now they saw me and
nodded—but that was all. Suddenly sick with human ingratitude, I got out
of my chair and, grumbling a surly "good-night, all" to the others, went
out the side door and up the rickety stairs to our room—Jimmy's and mine.
The thought of spending a long evening alone in the room seemed
intolerable to me. I lit the lamp and glanced around angrily. A fine hole!
The two beds took up nearly all the space but Jimmy had managed to cram
in, in front of the window, a small table on which stood his dilapidated
typewriter. The typewriter, of course, was broken and wouldn't work. Jimmy
was always going to have it fixed—tomorrow. But then Jimmy lived in a
dream of tomorrows; and nothing he was ever associated with ever worked.
The lamp on the table threw a stream of light through the dirty window,
revealing the fire-escape outside. Inside, on a shelf along the
windowsill, a dyspeptic geranium plant sulked in a small red pot. This
plant was Jimmy's garden and his joy. Even when he was too sick to wash
his own face he never forgot to water it the first thing after getting up.
It goes without saying, the silly thing never bloomed. Nothing that Jimmy
loved ever bloomed; but he always hoped, in fact he was quite sure, it
would eventually blossom out—in the dawn of some vague tomorrow.
For me it had value only as a symbol of Jimmy's everlasting futility,
of his irritating inefficiency. However, at that period in my life, all
flowers were yellow primroses and nothing more, and Jimmy's pet was out of
place, I thought, and in the way.
Books were piled on the floor against the walls—and what books! Where
Jimmy got them and what for, God only knows. He never read them, except a
few pages at haphazard to put him to sleep. Yet there must have been fifty
at least cluttering up the room—books about history, about journalism,
about economics—books of impossible poetry and incredible prose, written
by unknown authors and published by firms one had never heard of. He had a
craze for buying them and never failed, on the days he was paid for the
odd bits of work he did as occasional stenographer for a theatrical
booking firm, to stagger weakly into Tommy's, very drunk, with two or
three of these unreadable volumes clutched to his breast—books with titles
like: "A Commentary on the Bulls of Pope Leo XIII," or "God and the
Darwinian Theory" by John Jones, or "Sunflowers and Other Verses" by Lydia
Smith. Think of it!
I used to grow wild with rage as I watched him showing them to Tommy,
or Big John, if he was on, or to anyone else who would look and listen,
with all the besotted pride in the world. I would think of the drinks and
the food—kippered herring and bread and good Italian cheese—he might have
purchased for the price of these dull works; and I would swear to myself
to thrash him good and hard if he even dared to speak to me.
And then—Jimmy would come and lay his idiotic books on my table and I
would look up at him furiously; and there he would stand, wavering a bit,
smiling his sweet, good-natured smile, trying to force half his remaining
change into my hand, his lonely, wistful eyes watching me with the
appealing look of a lost dog hungry for an affectionate pat. What could I
do but laugh and love him and show him I did by a slap on the back or in
some small way or another? It was worth while forgetting all the injuries
in the world just to see the light of gratitude shine up in his eyes.
This night I am speaking of I picked up one of the books in desperation
and lay down to read with the lamp at the head of the bed; but I couldn't
concentrate. I was too sick in body, brain, and soul to follow even the
I threw the book aside and lay on my back staring gloomily at the
ceiling. The inmate of the next room, a broken-down telegrapher—"the
Lunger" we used to call him—had a violent attack of coughing which seemed
to be tearing his chest to pieces. I shuddered. He used to spit blood in
the back room below. In fact, when drunk, he was quite proud of this
achievement, but grew terrified at all allusions to consumption and wildly
insisted that he only had "bloody bronchitis," and that he was getting
better every day. He died soon after in that same room next to ours.
Perhaps his treatment was at fault. A quart and a half of five-cent
whiskey a day and only a plate of free soup at noon to eat is hardly a
diet conducive to the cure of any disease—not even "bloody bronchitis."
He coughed and coughed until, in a frenzy of tortured nerves, I yelled
to him: "For God's sake, shut up!" Then he subsided into a series of
groans and querulous, choking complaints. I thought of consumption, the
danger of contagion, and remembered that the window ought to be open. But
it was too cold. Besides, what was the difference? "Con" or something
else, today or tomorrow, it was all the same—the end. What did I care? I
had failed—or rather I had never cared enough about it all to want to
I must have dozed for I came to with a nervous jump to find the lamp
sputtering and smoking and the light growing dimmer every minute. No oil!
That fool Jimmy had promised to brink back some. I had given him my last
twenty cents and he had taken the can with him. He was sober, had been for
almost a week, was suffering from one of his infrequent and brief efforts
at reformation. No, there was no excuse. I cursed him viciously for the
greatest imbecile on earth. The lamp was going out. I would have to lie in
darkness or return to the misery of the back room downstairs.
I recognized his step on the stairs and a moment later he came in,
bringing the oil. I glared at him. "Where've you been?" I shouted. "Look
at that lamp, you idiot! I'd have been in the dark in another second."
Jimmy came forward shrinkingly, a look of deep hurt in his faded blue
eyes. He murmured something about "office" and stooped down to fill the
"Office!" I taunted scornfully, "what office? What do you take me for?
I've heard that bunk of yours a million times."
Jimmy finished filling the lamp and sat down on the side of his bed
opposite me. He didn't answer; only stared at me with an irritating sort
of compassionate pity. How prim he was sitting there is his black suit,
wispy, grey hair combed over his bald spot, his jowly face scraped close
and chalky with too much cheap powder, the vile odor of which filled the
room. I noticed for the first time his clean collar, his fresh shirt. He
must have been to the Chinaman's and retrieved part of his laundry. This
was what he usually did when he had a windfall of a dollar or so from some
unexpected source. Never took out all his laundry. That would have been
too expensive. Just called at the Chink's and changed his shirt and
collar. His other articles of clothing he washed himself at the sink in
I eyed him up and down resentfully. Here was a man who ought always to
remain drunk. Sober, he was a respectable nuisance. And his shoes were
"Why the profound meditation?" I asked. "You'd think, to look at you,
you were sitting up with my corpse. Cheer up! I feel bad enough without
your adding to the gloom."
"That's just it, Art," he began in slow, doleful tones. "I hate to see
you in this condition. You wouldn't ever feel this way if
you'd—only—only—" he hesitated as he saw my sneer.
"Only what?" I urged.
"Only stop your hard drinking," he mumbled, avoiding my eyes.
"This is almost too much, Jimmy. The water wagon is fatal to your sense
of humor. After a week's ride you've accumulated more cheap moralizing
than any anchorite in all his years of fasting."
"I'm your friend," he blundered on, "and you know it, Art—or I wouldn't
"And it hurts you more than it does me, I'll bet!"
Jimmy had the piqued air of the rebuffed but well-intentioned. "If
that's the way you want to take it—" he was staring unhappily at the
floor. We were silent for a time. Then he continued with the obstinacy of
the reformed turned reformer: "I'm your friend, the best friend you've
got." His eyes looked up into mine and his glance was timidly questioning.
"You know that, don't you, Art?"
All my peevishness vanished in a flash before his woeful sincerity. I
reached over and grabbed his hand—his white, pudgy little hand so in
keeping with the rest of him—warm and soft. "Of course I know it, Jimmy.
Don't be foolish and take what I've said seriously. I've got a full-sized
grouch against everything tonight."
Jimmy brightened up and cleared his throat. He evidently thought my
remarks an expression of willingness to serve as audience for his
temperance lecture. Still he hesitated politely. "I know you don't want to
I laughed shortly. "Go ahead. Shoot. I'm all ears."
Then he began. You know the sort of drool—introduced by a sage wag of
the head and the inevitable remark: "I've been through it all myself, and
I know." I won't bore you with it. Coming from Jimmy it was the last word
I tried not to listen, concentrating my mind on the man himself, my
nerves soothed by the monotonous flow of his soft-voiced syllables. Yes,
he'd been through it all, there was no doubt of that, from soup to nuts.
What he didn't realize was that none of it had ever touched him deeply.
Forgetful of the last kick his eyes had always looked up at life again
with the same appealing, timid uncertainty, pleading for a caress, fearful
of a blow. And life had never failed to deal him the expected kick, never
a vicious one, more of a shove to get him out of the way of a spirited
boot at someone who really mattered. Spurned, Jimmy had always returned,
affectionate, uncomprehending, wagging his tail ingratiatingly, so to
speak. The longed-for caress would come, he was sure of it, if not today,
then tomorrow. Ah, tomorrow!
I looked searchingly at his face—the squat nose, the wistful eyes, the
fleshy cheeks hanging down like dewlaps on either side of his weak mouth
with its pale, thick lips. The usual marks of dissipation were there but
none of the scars of intense suffering. The whole effect was
characterless, unfinished; as if some sculptor at the last moment had
suddenly lost interest in his clay model of a face and abandoned his work
in disgust. I wondered what Jimmy would do if he ever saw that face in the
clear, cruel mirror of Truth. Straggle on in the same lost way, no doubt,
and cease to have faith in mirrors.
Although most of his lecture was being lost on me I couldn't prevent a
chance word now and then from seeping into my consciousness. "Wasted
youth—your education—ability—a shame—lost opportunity—drink—some nice
girl"—these words my ears retained against my will, and each word had a
sting to it. Gradually my feeling of kindliness toward Jimmy petered out.
I began to hate him for a pestiferous little crank. What right had he to
meddle with my sins? Some of the things he was saying were true; and
truth—that kind of truth—should be seen and not heard.
I was becoming angry enough to shrivel him up with some contemptuous
remark about his hypocrisy and the doubtful duration of time he would stay
on the wagon when he suddenly disgressed from my misdeeds and began
virtuously holding himself up as a horrible example.
He began at the beginning, and, even though I welcomed the change of
subject, I swore inwardly at the prospect of hearing the history of his
life all over again. He had told me this tale at least fifty times while
in all stages of maudlin drunkenness. Usually he wept—which was sometimes
funny and sometimes not, depending on my own condition. At all events it
would be a novelty to hear his sober version. I might get at some facts
To my surprise this story seemed to be identical with the others I had
been lulled to sleep by on so many nights. Making allowances for the
natural exaggeration of one in liquor, there was but little difference. It
started with the Anderson estate in Scotland where Jimmy had spent his
boyhood. This estate of the family extended over the greater part of a
Scotch county, so Jimmy claimed, and he was touchy when anyone seemed
skeptical regarding its existence.
He loved to dilate on the beauty of the country, the old manor house,
the farms, the game park, and all the rest of it. All this was heavily
mortgaged, he admitted; and he was not in good standing with most of his
relatives on the other side; but he declared that there was one aunt, far
gone in years and hoarded wealth, who still treasured his memory, and he
promised all the gang in the back room a rare blowout should the old lady
pass away in the proper frame of mind. To all of this the crowd would
listen with an amiable pretence of belief. For, after all, he was Jimmy
and they all swore by him, and a fairy tale like that is no great matter
to hold against a man.
But here he was spinning the same yarn in all its details! I looked at
him suspiciously. No, he was certainly stone sober. Could there be any
truth in it then? Impossible. I finally concluded that Jimmy, after the
fashion of liars, had ended by mistaking his own fabrications for fact.
He continued on through his years in Edinburgh University, his
graduation with honors, his going into journalism first in Scotland, then
in England, afterwards as a correspondent on the Continent, and finally
his work in South Africa during the Boer War as representative of some
I had never been able to verify any of this except that relating to the
Boer War. An old friend of his had once told me that Jimmy did hold a
responsible position in South Africa during the war and had received a
large salary. Then the old friend, old-friendlike, shook his head gravely
and muttered: "Too bad! Too bad! Drink!" Whether the rest of Jimmy's life,
as related by him, had ever been lived or not hardly mattered, I thought.
Undoubtedly he had been well educated and what is called a gentleman over
there. Of course the Anderson estate was a work of fiction, or, at best, a
glorified country house.
"And mind you, Art, up to that time," Jimmy's story had reached the
point where he was at the front in South Africa for the news service
company, "I had never touched a drop except a glass of wine with dinner
now and again. That was ten years ago and I was thirty-five.
Then—something happened. Ten years," he repeated sadly, "and now look
where I am!" He stared despondently before him for a moment, then
brightened up and squared his bent shoulders. "But that's all past and
gone now, and I'm through with this kind of life for good and all."
"There's always tomorrow," I ventured ironically.
"Yes, and I'm going to make the most of it." His eyes were bright with
the dream of a new hope; or rather, the old hope eternally redreamed. He
glanced at the table. "I'll have to have that typewriter fixed up."
"Yes, tomorrow, if I can spare the time." He hadn't noticed my sarcasm.
"Why, is your day all taken up?" I asked, marvelling at his
"Pretty well so." He put on an air of importance. "I saw Edwards
today"—Edwards was a friend of his who had risen to be an editor on one of
the big morning papers—"and he's found an opening for me—a real opening
which will give me an opportunity to show them all I'm still in the race."
"And you start in tomorrow?" I was dumbfounded.
"Yes, in the afternoon." His face was alive with energy. "Oh, I'll show
them all, Art, that I'm still one of the best when I want to be. They've
sneered at me long enough."
"Then you really are about to become a wage slave?" I simply couldn't
"Honestly, Art. Tomorrow. Do you think I'm spoofing you about it?"
"I must admit you seem to be confessing the shameless truth. Well, at
any rate, you seem to be pleased, so—" here I jumped up and pumped his
hand up and down—"a million congratulations, Jimmy, old scout!" Jimmy's
joy was good to see. There were tears in his eyes as he thanked me. Good
old Jimmy! It took him quite a while to get over his emotion. Then, as if
he had suddenly remembered something, he began hurriedly fumbling through
all his pockets.
"I must have lost it," he said finally, giving up the search. "I wanted
to show it to you."
"A letter I received today from Aunt Mary." Aunt Mary was the elderly
relative in whose will Jimmy hoped to be remembered. "She complains of
having felt very feeble for the past half year. She appears to be entirely
ignorant of my present condition, thank God. Writes that I'm to come and
pay her a long visit should I decide to take a trip abroad this Spring.
"And you've lost the letter?" I asked, trying to hide my skepticism.
"Yes—was showing it to Edwards—must have dropped on the floor—or else
he—" Jimmy stopped abruptly. I think he must have sensed my amused
incredulity, for he seemed very put out at something and didn't look at
me. "I do hope the poor old lady isn't seriously ill," he murmured after a
"What!" I laughed. "Have you the face to tell me that, when you know
you've been looking forward to her timely taking off ever since I've known
Jimmy's face grew red and he stammered confusedly. He knew he'd said
things which might have sounded that way when he'd been drinking. It was
whiskey talking and he didn't mean it. Really he liked her a lot. He
remembered she'd been very kind to him when he was a lad. Had hardly seen
her since then—twenty-five years ago. No, money or no money, he wanted her
to live to be a hundred.
"But you've told me she's almost ninety now! Isn't she?"
"Yes, eighty-six, I think."
"Then," I said with finality, "she's overlingered her welcome, and
you're a simpleton to be wasting your crocodile tears—in advance, at that.
Besides, I've never noticed her sending you any of her vast fortune. She
might at least have made you a present once in a while if she cared to
earn any regrets over her demise."
"I've never written her about my hard luck. I hardly ever wrote to
her," Jimmy said slowly. His tones were ridiculously dismal, and he sat
holding his face in his hands in the woebegone attitude of a mourner.
"Well, you should have written." A sudden thought made me smile. "What
will the bunch in the back room say when they hear this? You may give them
that long-promised blowout—tomorrow," I added maliciously.
Jimmy stirred uneasily and turned on me a glance full of dim suspicion.
"Why do you keep repeating that word tomorrow? You've said it now a dozen
"Because tomorrow is your day, Jimmy," I answered carelessly. "Doesn't
your career as a sober, industrious citizen begin then?"
"Oh," he sighed with relief, "I thought—" he walked up and down in the
narrow space between the beds, his hands deep in his pockets. Finally he
stopped and stood beside me. There was an exultant ring to his voice. "Ah,
I tell you, Art, it's great to feel like a man again, to know you're done
for good and all with that mess downstairs." After a pause he went on in a
coaxing, motherly tone. "Don't you think you ought to go to work and do
something? I hate to see you—like this. You know what a pal I am, Art. You
can listen to me. It's a shame for you to let yourself go to seed this
way. Really, Art, I mean it."
"Now, Jimmy," I got up and put my hands on his shoulders. "I say it
without any hard feeling, but I've had about enough of your reform
movement for one night. It'll be more truly charitable of you to offer me
the price of a drink—if you have it. Your day of reformation is none so
remote you can't realize from experience how rotten I feel. I can hear
polar bears baying at the Northern Lights."
Jimmy sighed disconsolately and dug some small change out of his
pocket. "I borrowed a dollar from Edwards," he explained. "I'll pay him
back out of my first salary." The self-sufficient pride he put into that
But his financial aid proved to be unnecessary. As I was about to take
half of his change, there was a great trampling from the stairs outside.
Our door was kicked open with a bang and Lyons, the stoker, and Paddy
Mehan, the old deep-water sailor, came crowding into the room. Lyons was
in the first jovial frenzy of drink but poor Paddy was already awash and
rapidly sinking. They had been paid off that afternoon after a trip across
on the American liner St. Paul.
"Hello, Lyons! Hello, Paddy!" Jimmy and I hailed them in pleased
"Hello, yourself!" Lyons crushed Jimmy's hand in one huge paw and
patted me affectionately on the back with the other. The jar of it nearly
knocked me off my feet but I managed to smile. Lyons and I were old pals.
I had once made a trip as sailor on the Philadelphia when he was in her
stokehold, and we had become great friends through a chance adventure
together ashore in Southampton—which is another story. He stood grinning,
swaying a bit in the lamplight, a great, hard bulk of a man, dwarfing the
proportions of our little room. Paddy lurched over to one of the beds and
fell on it. "Thick weather! Thick weather!" he groaned to himself, and
started to sing an old chanty in a thin, quavering, nasal whine.
Since roving's been my ru-i-in,
No more I'll go a-ro-o-ving with you, fair maid."
"Shut up!" roared Lyons and turned again to me. "Art, how are ye?" I
dodged an attempt at another love-tap and replied that I was well but
"Thirsty, is ut? D'ye hear that, Paddy, ye slimy Corkonian? Here's a
mate complainin' av thirst and we wid a full pay day in our pockets." He
pulled out a roll of bills and flaunted them before me with a splendid,
"Oh, whiskey killed my poor old dad! Whiskey! O Johnny!" carolled Paddy
"Listen to 'im!" Lyons reached over and shook him vigorously. "That's
the throuble wid all thim lazy, deck-scrubbers the loike av 'im. They
can't stand up to their dhrink loike men. Wake up, Paddy! We'll be goin'
below." He hauled Paddy to his feet and held him there. Come on, Art.
There's some av the boys ye know below waitin'. Ye'll have all the dhrink
ye can pour down your throat, and welcome; and anything more you're
wishful for ye've but to name. Come on, Jimmy, you're wan av us."
"I've got something to do before I go down. I'll join you in a few
minutes," Jimmy replied, wisely evading a direct refusal.
"See that ye do, me sonny boy," warned Lyons, pushing Paddy to the
door. I turned to Jimmy as I was going out. "Well, good luck till
tomorrow, Jimmy, if I don't see you before then."
"Thank you, Art," he murmured huskily and shook my hand. I started
down. From the bottom of the flight below I heard Lyons' rough curses and
Paddy wailing lugubriously: "Old Joe is dead, and gone to hell, poor old
"Ye'll be in hell yourself if ye fall in this black hole," Lyons
cautioned, steering him to the top of the second flight as I caught up
The fiesta which began with our arrival in the bar didn't break up
until long after daylight the next morning. It was one of the old, lusty
debauches of my sailor days—songs of the sea and yarns about ships
punctuated by rounds of drinks.
The last I remember was Lyons bawling out for someone to come down to
the docks and strip to him and see which was the better man. "Have a bit
av fun wid 'im" was the way he put it. I believe I was Dutch-courageous
enough to accept his challenge but he pushed me back in my chair with a
warning to be "a good bye" or I'd get a spanking. So the party had no
As you can well imagine I slept like a corpse all the next day and
didn't witness Jimmy's departure for his long hard climb back to
respectability and the man who was. When he came home that night he
appeared very elated, full of the dignity of labor, tremendously conscious
of his position in life, provokingly solicitous concerning my welfare. It
would have been insufferable in anyone else; but Jimmy—well, Jimmy was
Jimmy, and the most lovable chap on earth. You couldn't stay mad at him
more than a minute, if you had the slightest sense of humor.
Had he toiled and spun much on his first day, I asked him. No, he
admitted after a moment's hesitation, he had spent the time mostly in
feeling about, getting the hang of his work. Now tomorrow he'd get the
typewriter fixed so he could do Sunday special stuff in his spare
moments—stories of what he'd seen in South Africa and things of that kind.
Wasn't that a bully idea? I agreed that it was, and retreated to the gang
below who were still celebrating, leaving Jimmy with pencil poised over a
blank sheet of paper determined to map out one of his stories then and
I didn't see him the next day or the day after. I was touring the water
front with Lyons and Paddy and never returned to the room. The fourth day
of his job I ran into him for a second in the hallway. He said hello in a
hurried tone and brushed past me. For my part I was glad he didn't stop. I
felt he'd immediately start on a heart-to-heart talk which I was in no
mood to hear. Later on I remembered his manner had been strange and that
he looked drawn and fagged out.
The fifth day Paddy and Lyons were both broke, but I collected my puny
allowance and we sat at a table in the back room squandering it
lingeringly on enormous scoops of lager and porter which were filling and
lasted a long time. We were still sitting there talking when Jimmy came
back from work. He looked in from the hallway, saw us and nodded, but went
on upstairs without speaking.
"What's the matther wid Jimmy?" grumbled Lyons. "Can't he speak to a
"He looks like he was sick," said Paddy. "Go up, Art, that's a good
lad, and ask him if he won't take a bit of a drink, maybe."
"I'll go," I said, getting up, "but he won't drink anything. Jimmy's
strictly temperance these days. He's more likely to give us all a sermon
on our sins."
"Divil take him, then," growled Lyons, "but run and get him all the
same. He looks loike he'd been drawn through a crack in the wall."
I ran quickly up the stairs and opened the door of our room. Jimmy was
sitting on the side of his bed, his head in his hands. I glanced at the
typewriter. The keys were still grey with a layer of long-accumulated
dust. Then he hadn't had it fixed. The same old tomorrow, I thought to
"Jimmy," I called to him. He jumped to his feet with a frightened
start. When he saw who it was a flush of anger came over his face.
"Why don't you scare the life out of a man!" he said irritably. I was
astonished. I'd never known him to flare up like this over a trifle.
"Come down and join us for a while. You don't have to drink, you know.
You look done-up. What's the trouble—been working too hard?"
He winced at this last remark as if I'd shaken my fist in his face.
Then he made a frantic gesture with his arms as though he were pushing me
out of the room. "Go! Go back!" His voice was unnaturally shrill. "Leave
me alone. I want to be alone."
"Jimmy!" I went to him in genuine alarm. "What's the matter? Anything
He pressed my hand and tried a feeble attempt at a smile. There were
dark rings under his eyes, and, somehow, in some indefinable manner, he
seemed years older, a broken old man.
"No, Art, I'm all right. Don't mind me. I've a splitting headache—"
"Don't be a fool and let them work you to death." He raised his hands
as if he were going to clap them over his ears to shut out my words.
"Leave me alone, Art, will you? I'm going to bed," he stammered.
"Right-o, that's the stuff. Get a good sleep and you'll be O. K." I
went downstairs slowly, vaguely worried about him, wondering what the
trouble could be. In the end I laid his peculiar actions to a struggle he
was having with his craving for drink. Paddy and Lyons agreed with this
opinion and called him a "game little swine" for sticking to his guns. And
as such we toasted him in our lager and porter.
When I went up to the room to turn in he was asleep, or pretending to
be, and I was careful not to disturb him. The next morning I heard him
moving about, but as soon as he saw I was awake, he appeared in a nervous
flurry to get away, and we didn't speak more than a few words to each
other. That night he never came home at all. I went to bed early—everyone
was broke and there was nothing else to do—and when I was roused out of my
slumber by the sun shining on my face through the dirty window, I saw that
his bed hadn't been touched. A somber presentiment of evil seemed to hover
around that bed. The white spread, threadbare and full of holes, which he
had tucked in with such precise neatness, had the suggestion of a shroud
about it—a shroud symbolically woven for one whose life had been
threadbare and full of holes.
I tried to laugh at such grim imaginings. Jimmy had stayed with Edwards
or someone else from his paper. What was strange in that? This wasn't the
first time he'd remained away all night, was it? If I was to give way to
such worries I might just as well put on skirts and be done with it.
But my phantoms, however foolish, refused to be laid. I got dressed in
a hurry, anxious to escape from this room, bright with sunlight, dark with
uncanny threat. Before I went down, struck by a sentimental mood, I got
some water from the sink in the hallway and poured it on his ridiculous
After a breakfast of free soup, I walked with Paddy and Lyons down to
the Battery. We spent the afternoon there, lounging on one of the benches.
It was as warm as a day in Spring and we sat blinking in the sunshine
drowsily listening to each other's yarns about the sea and lazily watching
the passing ships.
When the sun went down we returned to Tommy the Priest's. On the way
back I remembered this was Jimmy's pay day and wondered if he would show
up. He owed me some money which I hoped would be forthcoming. Otherwise
the night was liable to prove an uneventful one. And a farewell bust-up
was imperative because Paddy and Lyons would have to go on board ship the
following day if they wanted to make the next trip.
The evening didn't pass off as dully as we had feared. Old McDonald,
the printer, was in a festive mood and invited us to join him. Two of the
telegraph operators, out of a job at that time, had borrowed some money
somewhere and were anxious to return the many treats they had received
from us in the past. So the time whiled away very pleasantly.
It was shortly after midnight when Jimmy came in. As soon as I saw his
face I knew that something had happened to him, something very serious. He
was incredibly haggard and pale, and there were deep lines of suffering
about his mouth and eyes. His eyes—I can't describe them. There was
nothing behind them. He nodded and took his place at the bar beside us.
Then he spoke, asked us what we'd have, in a strained, forced voice as
though it cost him a tremendous effort to talk. He took whiskey himself,
poured out a glass brim full, and downed it straight. Big John changed a
bill for him, and without looking at me, he held out the couple of dollars
he owed me. I put them in my pocket. Jimmy motioned to Big John and called
for another round. A spell of silence was on the whole barroom. Everyone
there knew him well. They had all joked with him during the week about his
being on the wagon, but they had secretly admired his firmness of will.
Now they stared at him with genuine regret that he should have fallen.
Their faces grew sad. They had done the same thing themselves so many
times. They understood.
"Jimmy!" He caught the reproach in my voice and turned to me with a
twisted smile. "It doesn't matter," he said. "Nothing matters." His voice
became harsh. "Don't forget what you said about my lectures and start in
yourself." He immediately felt sorry for having said this. "No, Art, I
don't mean that. Never mind what I say. I'm upset—about something."
"Tell me what it is, Jimmy. Maybe I can help."
"Help?" He laughed hysterically. "No, no help please. After all, why
shouldn't I tell you now? You're bound to find out sooner or later.
They'll all know it." He indicated the others who, feeling that Jimmy
wanted to be alone with me, had taken their drinks to a table in the rear
and were sitting around talking in low, constrained voices. Jimmy blurted
out: "My job, Art, is gone to hell!"
"What!" I pretended more astonishment than I felt. I had guessed what
the trouble was.
"Yes, they asked me to quit—politely requested. Edwards was very nice
about it—very kind—very charitable." He put all the bitterness of his
heart into these last words.
"The rotten swine!"
"Oh no, Art, it wasn't his fault. If they hadn't—fired me—I'd have had
to resign anyway. I—I couldn't do the work."
"That's all nonsense, Jimmy. Well, cheer up. All said and done, it's
only a job the less. You can always get another for the asking."
He looked at me with a sort of wild scorn in his eyes. "Can't you
understand any better than that? What do I care for the job itself? It
isn't that. I tell you I couldn't do the work! I tried and tried. What I
wrote was rot. I couldn't get any news. No initiative—no imagination—no
character—no courage! All gone. Nothing left—not even cleverness. No
memory even!" He stopped, breathing hard, the perspiration glistening on
his forehead. "It came to me gradually—therealization. I couldn't believe
it. I had been so sure of myself all these years. All I needed was a
chance. It had been so easy for me in the past—long ago. These last few
days I've guessed the truth. I've been going crazy. Last night I
walked—walked and walked—thinking—and finally—I knew!" He paused, choking
back a sob, his face twitching convulsively with the effort he made to
control himself. Then he uttered a cracked sound intended for a laugh.
"I'm done—burnt out—wasted! It's time to dump the garbage. Nothing here."
He tapped his head with a silly gesture and laughed again. I began to be
afraid he really was going mad. "No, Art, it isn't the job that's lost.
"Now you're talking like a fool!" I spoke roughly, trying to shake him
out of this mood.
"I won't talk any more," he said quite calmly. "Don't worry. I'm all
shot to pieces—no sleep." He broke down suddenly and turned away from me.
"But it's hell, Art, to realize all at once—you're dead!"
I put my arm around his shoulders. "Have a drink, Jimmy. Hey you, John,
a little service!" What else was there to do? Life had jammed the clear,
cruel mirror in front of his eyes and he had recognized himself—in that
pitiful thing he saw. "Have a drink, Jimmy, and forget it. Take a real
drink!" I urged. What else was there to do?
After we had had a couple at the bar, Jimmy filling his glass to the
brim each time, I led him in back and we sat down at the table with the
crowd. More drinks were immediately forthcoming, and it wasn't long before
Jimmy became very drunk. He didn't say anything but his eyes glazed, his
lips drooped loosely, his head wagged uncertainly from side to side. I saw
he'd had enough and I hoped his tired brain had been numbed to a forgetful
"Come on to bed, Jimmy," I shook him by the arm.
He stared at me vacantly. "Bed—yes—sleep! sleep!" he mumbled, and came
with me willingly enough. I helped him up the stairs to the room and lit
the lamp. He sat on the side of the bed, swaying, unlacing his shoes with
difficulty. Presently he began to weep softly to himself. "It's you,
Alice—cause of all this—damn you—no—didn't mean that—beg pardon," he
muttered. He lifted his head and saw me sitting on the other bed. "One
word advice, Art—never get married—all rotten, all of 'em—"
This was something new. "What do you know about marriage?" I asked
curiously. "Nothing from experience, surely."
He winked at me with drunken cunning. "Don't I, though! Not half! Never
told you that, what? Never told you what happened—Cape Town?"
"No, you never did. What was it?"
"Might s'well tell Art—best friend—tell you everything tonight—all
over. Yes—married in England—English girl, pretty's picture—big blue
eyes—just before war—took her South Africa with me, 'n left her in Cape
Town when I went to front. I was called back to Cape Town s'denly—found
her with staff officer—dirty swine! No chance for doubt—didn't expect me
to turn up—saw them with my own eyes—flagrante delictu, you
know—dirty swine of a staff officer! Good bye, Jimmy Anderson! All over!
Drink! Drink! Forget!" He blubbered to himself, his face a grotesque
masque of tragedy.
In a flash it came back to me how he'd always stopped in the stories of
his life at the point where he'd commenced drinking. Even at his drunkest
he'd always ended the history there by saying abruptly: "and
then—something happened." I'd never attached much importance to it—thought
he merely wanted to suggest a mysterious reason as an excuse for his
tobogganing. Now, I knew. Who could doubt the truth of his statements,
knowing all he had been through that day? He was in a mood for truth. So
this was the something which happened! Here was real tragedy.
Real tragedy! And there he was sobbing, hiccuping, rolling his eyes
stupidly, scratching with limp fingers at the tears which ran down and
tickled the sides of his nose. I felt a mad desire to laugh.
"I suppose you and she were divorced?" I asked after a pause.
"No—I couldn't—no proof—no money. Besides, what'd I care about divorce?
Never want to marry again—never love anyone else." He wept more violently
"But didn't she get a divorce?"
"No, she's too cute for that—thinks Aunt Mary'll leave me money—and
I'll drink myself to death. No," he interrupted himself hastily, "can't be
that—not s'bad s' that—not Alice—no, no, mustn't say that—not right for me
to say that—don't know her reason—never can tell—about women. Damn shoes!"
He gave up the attempt to get his shoes off and flung himself on the bed,
fully dressed. In a minute he was dead to the world and snoring. I left
him and went downstairs.
Most of the people in the back room were asleep, but Paddy and Lyons
and the operators were still drinking at one table, and I sat down with
them. I talked at random on every subject that came up, seeking to forget
Jimmy and his woes, for a time at least. His two confessions that night
had got on my nerves.
Later on I must have dozed, for I was jolted out of a half dream by a
sharp cracking smash in the back yard. Everyone was awake and cursing in
an instant. Big John appeared from behind the curtain, grumbling: "Dot's
right! Leave bottle on the fire escape, you fellers! Dot's right! Und I
have to sweep up."
We heard someone racing down the stairs and Jimmy burst into the room.
His face was livid, his eyes popping out of his head. He rushed to the
chair beside me and sat down, shaking, his teeth chattering as if he had a
chill. I told Big John to bring him a drink.
"What's the trouble now, Jimmy?" I asked him when he'd calmed down a
little. He appeared to be quite sober after his sleep.
"The geranium—" he began, his lips trembling, his eyes filling up.
"So that's what fell down just now, is it?"
"Yes, I woke up, and I remembered I'd forgotten to water it. I got up
and went to get the water. The window was open. I must have stumbled over
something. I put out my hand to steady myself. It was so dark I couldn't
see. I knocked it out on the fire escape. Then I heard it crash in the
yard." He put his hands over his face and cried heart-brokenly like a sick
child whose only remaining toy has been smashed. Not drunken tears this
time, but real tears which made all of us at the table blink our eyes and
swear fiercely at nothing.
After a while he grew quiet again, attempted a smile, asked our pardons
for having created a foolish scene. He stared at his drink standing
untouched on the table in front of him; but never made any motion to take
it, didn't seem to realize what it was. For fully fifteen minutes he sat
and stared, as still as stone, never moving his eyes, never even seeming
to breathe. Then he got up from his chair and walked slowly to the door
like a man in a trance. As he was going out he turned to me and said: "I'm
tired, Art. I think I'll go to sleep," and something like a wan smile
trembled on his pale lips. He left the door open behind him and I heard
him climbing the stairs, and the slam of our door as he closed it behind
A buzz of conversation broke out as if his going had lifted a weight of
silence off the roomful of men. Then it happened—a swish, a sickish thud
as of a heavy rock dropping into thick mud. We looked wildly at one
another. We knew. We rushed into the hall and out to the yard. There it
was—a motionless, dark huddle of clothes, a splintered, protruding bone or
two, a widening pool of blood black against the grey flags—Jimmy!
The sky was pale with the light of dawn. Tomorrow had come.