(Copyright, estate of Gaillard Hunt)
CITY OF MASTERLESS MEN
The earth swung the city of Washington slowly but inexorably further and further toward the east, as it did every morning. Motormen yawned and clanged a warning before leaving the barn; traffic cops muttered at the weather, fastened their raincoats and went on duty. Throughout the length and breadth of the city alarm clocks rattled their harsh summons, reminding the occupants of small cottages in the suburbs, small apartments in town, small rooms in boarding-houses that it was Monday morning, that traffic was getting heavier every minute, that nine o'clock was getting a minute closer every minute, that there was still time for a hurried breakfast but would not be for anyone who lay in bed any longer, that the penalties for lateness were dire and jobs were scarce. And the old men in the suburbs ate hurriedly and went out and started their cars, the middle-aged people in town ate hurriedly and went out and stood on loading platforms, the young people within walking distance ate hurriedly and went out and walked rapidly along the sidewalks headed for downtown. As the minute hand started on its final lap before nine o'clock more and more cars entered the avenues and turned toward the government buildings, street cars were closer together and more crowded, the pedestrians on the sidewalks became thicker and thicker and all had but one thought -- to get to work on time. And, as the minute hand rounded the turn and swung into the home stretch, the traffic got thicker and more confused -- street cars clanged, horns blew, intersections were never clear when the lights changed, cops waved frantically and all moved slower and slower until, in the final sprint against the steady and tireless lope of the minute hand, cars pulled up on parking lots, people streamed off street cars and the flow of humanity through departmental doors swelled to a flood as the minute hand neared the finish and ebbed to a trickle as it crossed the line and bells rang, time clocks went dead, and doors slammed shut. Then a deep sigh, for the race just won and the week's work ahead.
Mrs. Mann always woke up to the rattle of street cars and blowing of horns on the Avenue during rush hour, although her house was on a side street. She did not mind because all her life she had liked to get up promptly and now, when she was fifty some years old, she saw no need to change her habits. She dressed and went down to breakfast.
On the way she looked into the living room and it was just as she thought -- there were glasses all over the place. She went in to survey the extent of the damage. A couple of ash trays had turned over and someone had spilled some stuff on the top of the old spinet and she wasn't sure Bessie knew how to get that kind of a stain out. She simply could not allow that. She would just tell Jane and Hilda frankly that if there was any more drinking in the living room she would come right downstairs and send the young men home.
There was a little liquor left in some of the glasses and it smelled horribly. It was awful what young people drank nowadays -- it was awful that young girls should drink at all. They never used to when she was a girl and they were just as gay and had a much better time; they used to have lovely balls at Rauscher's and the Willard -- Germans and cotillions and such -- more beaux, better dancers, everything. And even the men didn't drink in company -- you don't have to drink to have a good time. The way girls did nowadays was positively disgusting. It was small consolation that all her friends who had daughters felt the same way about them. Jane and Hilda weren't the only ones, in fact some people's daughters were a lot worse.
She went into the dining room and said, "Bessie, as soon as you've given me my breakfast will you clean up the living room." A voice from the kitchen answered, "Yes'm." She sat down at the table and continued, "Do you think you can get the stains from that er -- whisky off the spinet, Bessie?" and Bessie said, "Yes'm, I've done it befo'."
The Post was on the table and she read the headlines. Hoover had his budget message ready, Congress was about to convene, and stocks were down still further. Hamilton Fish was issuing some kind of warning about the Hunger March. Stuff and nonsense, when Coxey's Army was here nobody had known the difference. The paper as a whole looked very dull, and it was probably all the fault of that spoiled brat Ned McLean -- a fine old man such as John R. was deserved someone better to carry on his paper.
After breakfast she thought she really should wake up Peter. He ought to be seeing about getting his job at the Office back. It was just like him to quit the company up in New York State because they were going to cut his salary. He went right ahead without any thought of consequences and now he would probably not be able to get back in the Office. In times like these a young man should be thankful to stick to any job he has. But Peter would be hard to get up -- she might have to call him for several minutes and it was getting late and she had work to do. There was a meeting of the Colonial Dames at luncheon and she had to check some accounts and write some letters in preparation. They, in cooperation with some Catholic ladies, were erecting a stone cross down in Virginia on the site of the first Catholic church in America and she was in charge of the project because one of her ancestors was buried there -- the cross was to carry an inscription explaining that the early settlers of Virginia were Catholics and had established the principle of religious liberty in America. That ought to show that common Bishop Cannon and his Ku Klux followers how wrong they were.
Every time Peter Mann woke up with a hangover he would have been dreaming of a gun fight, and this morning he was somehow mixed up in a feud in swamplands. His side was standing kneedeep in water and the enemy was advancing. The fire was brisk; the enemy's bullets would crack through the reeds and ricochet from the water and he could never get an enemy quite lined up in his sights and always missed by a small margin. The enemy continued to advance, Peter had to reload and while he was fumbling with a clip he was shot through the wrist and stomach. He wondered why he did not fall and was afraid he would be hit again but he woke up.
He felt the usual relief over not being shot. A glance at the window told him why the setting of the dream had been a swamp. It was a gray chilly day, and damp -- so damp that the air felt wet. There was no way of telling what time it was so he reached for his pants, drew matches and cigarettes from the pocket, lit one and lay there diagnosing the hangover.
There was that usual defeated feeling in the stomach, and a slight rawness in his throat. There was also a headache -- his head was not actually hurting but the headache was there, ready to spring into action if he weakened or made a false move. He would have to keep it back by will-power and if he couldn't there was always bromo-seltzer. The whole thing was not so bad and would not last long. He had not been so drunk last night -- the reason the whisky had affected him the way it had was because he had been driving all day and part of the night. Besides, it was very silly to go to bed and then get up and drink like that just because someone urges you to. In fact the whole procedure was silly. It was a silly argument he had had with Peyton over whether the average woman ever forgets the first man that sleeps with her, and that Shakespeare versus Marlowe debate was not on a very high plane of intelligence either. Still the others had acted just as bad -- Hilda and Ed Collins had fought openly and Ed had walked out mad, talking about jobs. Hell, it was all right and no damage done, he hadn't insulted anyone or anything, and that guy Peyton promised to be a lot of fun to know better.
He got up and dressed. Downstairs he met his mother in the hall, she was dressed to go out. She said, "Now Peter, how do you ever expect to get your job back if you won't get up in the mornings."
"Today's an exception, Mother. You have to consider that I was driving all day and I've got to get some sleep some time."
"I consider you got up and were drinking all night with those people."
"Those people being your own daughters, Mother."
"I'm not condoning them in the least. I think it's disgusting. But you ought to have better sense."
"I hereby refuse to be the sole repository of better sense around here."
"You certainly are starting out not to be," she said as she went through the door.
He went into the dining room. Hilda was at the table, scowling, and Jane was sitting by the corner fireplace reading the comic section of the Post. The room had not changed since he had last seen it. There was a faded oil portrait of some vaguely-known ancestor wearing a stock on one side wall, and a clearer portrait of a better known and more immediate ancestor on the other. These were flanked by some etchings of which at least one was a Whistler. The table was a rectangular Duncan Phyfe, and there was a mahogany sideboard along the wall. The chairs were not uniform and included two ladderbacks and the Morris that Jane was sitting in, upon one of the arms of which her coffee cup was balanced. She was munching a piece of toast and there was a blazing gas burner in the fireplace.
"Have we still got Bessie?" asked Peter.
A large light-skinned colored woman stuck her head through the door from the kitchen and said, "Yessuh Mr. Peter, I'm still here. Reckon I'll be staying with yawl quite a while yet, way things is now. Still like your eggs fried over, Mr. Peter?"
He sat down at the table and looked at Jane, who had her dressing gown pulled tight around her on the side away from the fire. She was of somewhat angular build with brown hair which she kept bobbed and slightly wavy. Her face was thin and her features small and well-shaped and her eyes bright. Hilda was smaller and more rounded and her hair was straight and almost black, done up in a knot at the back. Her face was round and features even , with dark eyes that sometimes smoldered, usually with anger at something one of her family or Ed Collins or somebody was doing. There was no reason anyone should think they were twins, except that they each had an unmistakable family stamp, but occasionally someone did and it griped both of them because they insisted they were both so terribly different. Actually their difference was a sort of dovetailing arrangement whereby Jane was coldblooded and domineering but Hilda got credit for being warm in comparison. The fact of their being so often in competition precluded any great difference between them.
Mrs. Mann was a widow, her husband had been president of a historical society and had achieved several honorary degrees and a salary of approximately four thousand a year by the time he died. However she had inherited from other quarters a small amount of capital which provided education and a couple of trips to Paris for the girls in the days when stocks paid dividends, but now dividends were low and absolutely no one went to Paris, and they had to make the best of what Washington had to offer.
Peter said, "You were doing that when I went North and now you're still doing it."
"What?" said Jane.
"Sitting over there by that carbon monoxide generator in a wrapper, eating toast and coffee and reading the comic section of the Post. About this time every morning, too."
"In a wrapper and a rage," said Hilda.
"Oh Hilda," said Jane. "You know perfectly well that if anyone has a rage at breakfast it's you."
"At least she's dressed," said Peter, "How do you ever expect to accomplish anything if you don't even get dressed?"
Jane got up, placed her empty coffee cup on the table, took a cigarette from a package, and sat down again. I don't care to accomplish anything," she said.
"Possibly you don't. How are you coming on that Proust translation?"
"Yes. For Struthers."
"Struthers?" said Hilda.
"Come now," said Peter. "Don't both of you pull a blank. Last summer Struthers, the Charlottesville publishing magnate, said that if Jane translated that particular book of Proust she was talking about he would print it. That was when Jane said C. K. Scott M. was dull and stilted and she could do better."
"I remember," said Hilda.. "Struthers, the one-press press tycoon. No dullard he,"
"No risky bargain-maker, either," said Peter. "He knew his offer was perfectly safe if it depended on Jane translating a whole book of anything. However, passing over that angle, I've thought of a literary project that's a whiz for anyone who wants to undertake it."
"No doubt something terrible," said Jane, blowing smoke into the fireplace.
"Come on, we know you're going to tell us," said Hilda. "Only don't make it too long, this early in the morning."
"It's a digest of Ulysses," said Peter.
Jane said, "You're a little late. There's already dozens of 'em. Guide to Ulysses, Introduction to Ulysses, so forth and so forth and so forth."
"But this is different. This will get 'em -- "
"Have 'em rolling in the aisles," said Jane.
"Absolutely. I mean a digest, or key, or comprehensive index, or something, that will tell you just where to find all of the dirty passages. Page and paragraph on which they start and stop. Save the general public untold trouble."
"Save your friends untold trouble." "
"Sure will," said Peter. "Furthermore it will be broken down into classes and subclasses and completely indexed, annotated and cross-referenced. For instance, under sex, female viewpoint, there will be natural, unnatural with several subclasses, pleasant, forced, disappointing, dutiful, several subclasses of whom with, several of setting, time, position, location, etc. Then there are quite a few classes and subclasses on going to the John including --"
"That's enough," interrupted Hilda. "We get the idea, needn't go on."
"Sounds like something from Ballyhoo," said Jane. She reached into the fireplace and turned down the gas burner.
Hilda changed the subject. "Incidentally, Peyton thinks you're swell and wants you to go out with us tonight."
"Yes," said Jane. 'You and he certainly were in rare form last night. I'd like to have that argument written down."
"I wouldn't," said Peter. "Just what is the capacity of this Peyton guy anyhow?"
"About a quart and a half," said Jane.
"Somebody always says something like that," said Peter.
"Ed brought him around," said Hilda. "He tried to give me a play but found I had my hands full with Ed and now he's giving Jane a big rush."
"I never heard such a lie," said Jane.
Hilda shrugged. "Well anyhow he's better than Randolph and Root and Bickford all the time. New blood."
''What Washington needs is new babes," said Peter.
CONGRESS MET TODAY TO DEFER TAKING OATH AWATING ADOPTION OF A RESOLUTION OF SORROW OVER THE DEATH OF HER HUSBAND SEN THIADDUES CARAWAY
BASEL- - -ALBERTO BENDUCE OF ITALY WAS ELECTED PRES OF THE YOUNG PLAN COMMITTEE STUDYING GERMANY'S CAPACITY TO PAY REPARATIONS. THE7 MEMBER COMMITTEE SELECTED HIM AFTER WALTER W. STEWART THE AMERICAN REPRESENTATIVE HAD DECLINED THE NOMINATION. THE FRENC H DELEGATION OPPOSED.
MONT STERLING, KY---AFTER 2WEEKS MORE THAN 150 WITNESSES HAVE TESTIFIED IN THE MURDER AND CONSPIRACY TRIAL OF W B JONES?XXX W.B. JONES, HARLAN COUNTY LABOR LEADER ACCUSED OF HAVING PLOTTED A BATTLE NEAR EVARTS, KY, IN W
ICH 4 WERE SLAIN
CALCUTTA---THE PROVINCIAL CONFERENCE IN BENGAL URGED A BOYCOTT OF BRITISH GOODS BANKE XXX BANKS AND SHIPPING LINES. MAHATMA GHANDI SAID -THE ROUND TABLE CONFERENCE JUST VCLOSED IN LONDON PROVIDED NO CVXGRTSJUGVNHJSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS
WASHINGTON-- -GENERAL COXEY WILL JUST BE AN ONLOKER THIS TIME HE SAID THAT BSMNT768543XX???
The train wobbled as it took a curve, making the water in the copper bowls of the washroom to swish from side to side. Ellen Kidd was sitting on the bench smoking a cigarette, waiting for a chance to use the mirror, The woman who was using it now was putting on entirely too much lipstick --she had faded hair and a short neck and was certainly taking her time and the room was close with the smell of talcum and perspiration and it made Ellen's head ache a little. Another woman came out of the toilet and sat down, she was large and handsome and determined looking but Ellen vowed that she would use the mirror next and she wouldn't hurry, either.
There was a small rectangle of clear glass in the frosted window and she looked out and saw gliding fields and marshlands. They were almost there now so this would be northern Virginia -- these hurrying bare trees and macadam roads and dump pits. A radio station marked WJSV flashed past and the woman with the short neck left the mirror and Ellen stepped before it.
She looked herself over deliberately. She was a little pale but that was only natural after the long trip and her eyes were darker - - they always got that way when she was excited and she was just a bit excited now because she was almost in Washington. She fluffed a little powder on her face and drew her lipstick -- she did not need much because her lips were full and well-shaped -- and then she gave her attention to her hair. As she let it down and shook it the door opened almost hitting her and a young girl came in, she was the cute one who sat down at the end and wore an expensive tweed suit and had airplane luggage. Ellen turned back to the mirror and caught the girl looking at her in plain admiration, and it gave her a glow of satisfaction as she put up her hair. She might well admire, she thought. She's a pretty thing, but terribly young. You know a lot that she doesn't Ellen she's just a female and you're not a female honey you're a woman and you've been through all that it takes to make a woman and you've all that a woman has. She admires your face or hair or figure but she doesn't know all of it. Nor do I, nor anyone else. Beauty in my face -- for what? Love in my breasts -- for whom? Not for Johnny clang shut on Johnny out in the cold with Johnny. Ellen how could you. Always after it's all over it's Ellen how could you. Always, all three times. Three times isn't much, three is experience, any more would be weakness and you're not weak Ellen ask Johnny or Al or Rust or any of the others that never had a chance. Next time, Ellen, next time will be It. See to it that next time is It. You're built for someone and someone for you and next time will be It. She stuck hairpins into the knot of her hair and went out into the car.
There were the two salesmen sprawled on the pullman seats and talking loudvoiced, as she went past they stopped and she could feel them look her over. Let them look -- that's as close as either of them will ever get. The schoolteacherish woman was reading a book, as Ellen went by she noticed it was The Fountain. The obese half-bald man with the alligator grip was staring out the window and looked just as stupid and morose as he had all evening. She reached her seat and sat down and turned her attention to the passing landscape.
They were going past an airport and the engine far ahead whistled drawnout and howling like a lost soul. A culvert over a highway went past and, with a sudden change of sound, they were on a bridge. This would be the Potomac River and it looked horribly muddy -- almost slimy. On the other side she could see buildings over the matted brown branches of trees. Then she saw the monument, it was just like its pictures only there the trees were always pink and cherryblossomed and not bare like this. The train whisked off the bridge and ran past macadam roads laid out like a park and suddenly they were in the city. It was positively slummy with dingy buildings and run-down apartment houses. Then they began to burrow like a mole, the walls of the cut rose higher and higher until the light was cut off completely and they were in a tunnel. The conductor came through calling "Only stop in Washington" and Ellen saw to her bags.
In a cab with the bags piled around her she got her first closeup view of the city. It was all low and big -- not high buildings like Birmingham or Memphis but big buildings spread out and staunchly built out of stone blocks. The streets were wide as pastures, and every now and then they would come to some kind of a park and have to wait for lights. She was sure the driver would get her to the boarding house by the shortest route -- he was an intelligent looking boy and had been nice about the bags and she must give him a tip. After all her job started right away and she would be making a good salary.
At last the cab stopped and she got out. They were before a red brick house in a row of similar red brick houses. The driver carried the bags up the steps for her, and she rang the bell and asked the fare. It was so little it surprised her and she gave him a quarter tip. He acted as if it were an unexpected windfall and as he drove off she heard someone within the house approaching and the door opened and there stood Bee in a kimono.
"Eeeeee," squealed Bee and they embraced.
Bee went on, "Well. At last. You know I had a feeling you'd come today. I wouldn't have come down to let you in if it wasn't for that. Miss Scott is out as usual."
"Are you ill, Bee?"
"Yes. Much more than usual. It's the unexpected exertion of working, or something."
"Oh that. Well I never, Bee. Do you really get time off for it?"
"Sure do. We do. That is, in my division. They say the boss has a calendar marked off in twenty-eight dayses and you can always get a day sick leave if you're regular."
They both laughed extensively.
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