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"Not so very. Say, Liz, the boss gave me a raise to-day; five dollars more now."
"That's right, Jimmie; slick; how much is that?"
"That's thirty, now, Liz." Then looking at her, "Say, ain't you glad?"
"Sure I'm glad, Jimmie, but—” a slight pause.
"But what?" he demanded impatiently.
"Jimmie, I'm engaged. I wanted you to know;—and he's just the finest man, Jimmie. I want you to meet him; he works in a soap factory, and-"
"Oh!" said Jimmie, cleared his throat, and then, for want of something better, "Oh," he said again.
“Jimmie!” appealingly. "You ain't mad?”
"No, course not," he said, and tried to smile broadly. "I bet he's a dandy!" His gaze shifted from the window to the stove, from there to Liz, and back quickly to the window again.
"Well, guess I'll be going along. Then you won't-you won't want to-to go to a show to-night, Liz?"-hoping against hope.
At home in the rooms, he hurled his hat in the general direction of the rack and sank viciously into an old red plush chair. Maggie, behind the evening paper in a corner, was chewing gum and perusing the columns of one Beatrice Fairfax. She barely looked over her paper as he entered.
"'Lo, Jimmie! I seen Mayme Bradley with a straw bonnet on to-day; wonder what she thinks she is, a modest violet, coming out this soon? And I seen Liz Brown, too, and she says to
"Hmph! When'll supper be ready, ma?" asked Jimmie.
Mrs. McManus paused in her preparation of supper.
"Right soon, lad; don't fret. And did yez get that raise you was goin' after, Jimmie?"
"Yes," half sullenly.
"It's been a nice day, ain't it?"
"Nice day!" Jimmie laughed bitterly, and felt for his pipe and tobacco. "Nice day! Nice day the devil! Bet it snows to-night!"
Lighting his pipe he flicked the match through the inch of open window and moodily watched it disappear down the darkening air-shaft. MacLean Hoggson.
"Faber est quisque suae fortunae." -Fog hung over the river. The air stifled with it, a damp rolling cloud like a grey mantle of gauze that has been soaked for days in stagnant water. Through this restless mass an indistinct background revealed itself grotesquely, the iron stanchions of the bridge, the crude outlines of docks, low rambling sheds, shapeless hulks of rotting wood, all framed in a loom of tall and ancient buildings. It was a nasty evening. The moisture sifted to the ground with a monotonous drip, drip. Small pimples of light seemed to swell, to expand, to trickle in an ugly orange splotch down the grey stratum of vapor. A few fishing boats stood out faintly in their slips like charcoal sketches, and beyond, where the river turned, were masts of ships with mist hanging to the shrouds resembling ghostly sails stirred by an inshore breeze. Above, the sky was the color of black mud slowly fading into a dull red where an outbound steamer was coaling.
A man was standing near the parapet of the bridge, almost invisible. He was extremely cold. His chin, boring down into the high collar of his coat, was firmly set, trying to stop the incontrollable chattering of his teeth. His breath, transforming into a steamlike vapor, escaped between his thin lips spasmodically. Beneath the frayed sleeves of his coat bare hands gripped and ungripped. He consistently muttered to himself as if repeating a piece, "Damn, damn, damn!" The mists swirled about his waist. He seemed to recede, to melt, then to appear again, suddenly, like some distorted image popping to the surface of a turbid pool.
Not far down under his feet the river moved stealthily. It glided along with a faint murmur, a slight perceptible gurgling as the current eddied about the posts. It moved along mysteriously as if bent on an urgent and hidden mission, concealing within its soiled breast things never dreamed of, never reaching the grotesques of the imaginations of men. Without protest it sheltered dirt and filth and sin, the desires, the greed, the selfishness of those who, giving up the hope of distant goals, sought
repose down there in the swift undercurrent, beneath the layer of soot, beneath the oil, down where the cold water slid over the mud. And to a select few it seemed to offer a welcome, a welcome different and evanescent, but certainly an enigmatical disclosure of one supreme form of consolation.
The man mounted the railing painfully. His fingers stung as they came in contact with the iron. He hesitated waveringly. His purpose was as depressing as it was obvious, yet he seemed as uncertain as the fog which pressed around him. And as he waited there and waited there, his fibres strung to the pitch, his senses pulsing persuasively, a gloved hand came out of the dusk and touched his arm. He recoiled sharply, and leaned back with his face turned toward the intruder. And with unconscious violence his voice shrilled: "Damn! Oh, damn, damn!" It was absurd, disgusting. He revolted childishly at the interruption. The devices of his own heart and soul were sufficient to offer a clear course of action. And shaking himself erect he made a motion to turn away.
But the hand restrained him. And a deep voice said: "A dangerous business, my friend!" It was a kind voice, yet with a compelling note in it. It reverberated remarkably in the heavy atmosphere; it carried over the listener's head. And there was no pity in it, no patronizing sign of weakness, no sense of responsibility. Possessing weird power, it emphasized a distinct persistence of tone, spoken as if stating an indubitable fact. The stranger advanced a few feet. He seemed to tower into the mists. He stood waiting, as if rooted to the spot, like some foundation of structure, a dominant force placed there to judge and decide, to grapple understandingly with another's intimate need. The smaller man retained his pose unflinchingly. The fog moved in front of him, blotting out for the moment the stranger's material shape. He suddenly rasped out, "No, I say, no! Nothing doing!" He coughed unknowingly. "My business, you understand." The drizzle oozed down from the brim of his hat. He became nervously energetic, jerked his hand upward stiffly. The stranger moved closer.
"Serious proposition, this-taking one's life. Have you considered it?"
There was no answer. The smaller man appeared to shrink backward, to sulk, as if discovered in the act of doing something that he knew was wrong, yet being unwilling to admit it.
"The trouble with you is, if you don't mind my saying it, over-timidity. I might call it muleishness." The stranger paused reflectively. "I've been watching you for the past fifteen minutes, and somehow you don't seem to grasp the proper initiative. Why didn't you jump?"
“Afraid.”........ It came out some way. It was an extraordinary confession under the circumstances. One of those bizarre glimpses into human nature.
“Ah,” mumbled the stranger, "I see.”
"Once," began the smaller man with unusual confidence, "there was plenty of warmth in living. But fires go out."
"They can be rekindled."
There was a silence. The stranger shuffled impatiently. "You are a skeptic. Skepticism is all right if there is any cause for it. A poor situation. I tell you it isn't worth the trouble."
"Everything is worth while."
"Well, why not find it then? Why not make short notice of it ?"
"I told you," snapped the smaller man. "I'm afraid, horribly afraid. Yet you've planted a determination. I had it somewhere anyway. And you've helped it, kindled it, understand me?"
"Perfectly. You think I'm here to prevent your action. But I have no such intention. I was curious, that was all."
"Who in hell are you, and what do you want?"
The larger man uttered a low laugh. "Ah, that's better. I was afraid you were going to get dramatic. I detest dramatics." "Well ?"
"Frankly, my friend, you're interesting, you're odd. If I were not interested in all odd people as a mass, I would never have interrupted your intended performance. Yet I took a risk on you. There is nothing unusual in suicide."
"What makes you think I'm odd?”
"The very fact that you question my remark. Why don't you tell me to go to hell, and end the affair?”
"I'm going to in a minute."
"Splendid! But first I want you to listen to me.
There is no
reason in sliding out of existence in this fashion without weighing the conditions carefully, and without being capable of appreciating the general effects."
"Sounds like old stuff. I don't get you."
"I mean merely this: you have determined for some worthy cause, no doubt, to commit suicide by jumping into the river. It is not going to be a pleasant death at the first plunge. The water is cold as Greenland and there are things floating down there that aren't exactly soft or nice. Yet the situation is highly romantic, which is a point in its favor certainly. To one with an artistic sense it might appeal. It has appealed to you. Also it has appealed to me. I, too, am going to sleep in that river to-night."
"Well, haven't I as much right to it as you?"
"You're a queer bird to be kidding me like this. I don't get your drift at all."
"You don't believe me, you mean?" There was a note of amusement in the stranger's voice.
The mists flattened across their bodies. Out in the greyness a fog-horn boomed solemnly. The water from bridge supports dripped.....
“As I said, you are an odd sort," went on the stranger. "That doesn't necessarily imply that you should comprehend things. You must have a reason for wishing to die. A child would recognize that. And can't I also harbor a reason, a motive that somehow impels me to follow the same prosaic course as yours? Come, there's nothing remarkable about this, I assure you. Men do it every night. Even women, young girls who have lost money, hopes, desires, or perhaps a love. Over they go, down into that cold void below us where the rotten water eats away their skin like old parchment, and mildews their clothing