Only five men in cellblock F applied for the course in banking. Nobody much took it seriously. They guessed that the Fiduciary University was either newborn or on the skids and had resorted to Falconer for publicity. The bounteous education of unfortunate convicts was always good for some space in the paper. When the time came, Farragut and the others went down to the parole board room to take the intelligence quotient test. Farragut knew that he tested badly. He had never tested over 119 and had once gone as low as 101. In the army this had kept him from any position of command and had saved his life. He took the test with twentyfour other men, counting blocks and racking his memory for the hypotenuse of the isosceles triangle. The scores were supposed to be secret, but for a package of cigarettes Tiny told him he had flunked out with 112. Jody scored at 140 and claimed he had never done so badly.
Jody was Farragut’s best friend. They had met in the shower, where Farragut had noticed a slight young man with black hair smiling at him. He wore around his neck a simple and elegant gold cross. They were not allowed to speak in the shower, but the stranger, soaping his left shoulder, spread out his palm so that Farragut could read there, written in indelible ink: “Meet me later.” When they had dressed they met at the door. “You the professor?” the stranger asked. “I’m 734–508–32,” said Farragut. He was that green. “Well, I’m Jody,” said the stranger brightly, “and I know you’re Farragut but so long as you ain’t homosexual I don’t care what your name is. Come on with me. I’ll show you my hideout.” Farragut followed him across the grounds to an abandoned water tower. They climbed up a rusty ladder to a wooden catwalk where there was a mattress, a butt can and some old magazines. “Everybody’s got to have a hideout,” said Jody. “This is mine. The view is what they call the Millionaire’s View. Next to the death house, this is the best place for seeing it.” Farragut saw, over the roofs of the old cellblocks and the walls, a two-mile stretch of river with cliffs and mountains on the western shore. He had seen or glimpsed the view before at the foot of the prison street, but this was the most commanding sight he had been given of the world beyond the wall and he was deeply moved.
HE WANTED TO DO SOMETHING…TO WRITE OR DRAW…OR something…but it was so comfortable just to lay there on the bed…his shoes off…and think…think of everything…short disconnected thoughts…to wonder…to remember…to think and smoke…why wasn’t he worried that he had no money…he had had five cents…but he had been hungry…he was hungry and still…all he wanted to do was…lay there comfortably smoking…think…wishing he were writing…or drawing…or something…something about the things he felt and thought…but what did he think…he remembered how his mother had awakened him one night…ages ago…six years ago…Alex…he had always wondered at the strangeness of it…she had seemed so…so…so just the same…Alex…I think your father is dead…and it hadn’t seemed so strange…yet…one’s mother didn’t say that…didn’t wake one at midnight every night to say…feel him…put your hand on his head…then whisper with a catch in her voice…I’m afraid…ssh don’t wake Lam…yet it hadn’t seemed as it should have seemed…even when he had felt his father’s cool wet forehead…it hadn’t been tragic…the light had been turned very low…and flickered…yet it hadn’t been tragic…or weird…not at all as one should feel when one’s father died…even his reply of…yes he is dead…had been commonplace…hadn’t been dramatic…there had been no tears…no sobs…not even a sorrow…and yet he must have realized that one’s father couldn’t smile…or sing anymore…after he had died…everyone remembered his father’s voice…it had been a lush voice…a promise… Continue Reading
A STUDY IN TEMPERAMENT
IT WAS PAUL’S AFTERNOON TO APPEAR BEFORE the faculty of the Pittsburgh High School to account for his various misdemeanors. He had been suspended a week ago, and his father had called at the Principal’s office and confessed his perplexity about his son. Paul entered the faculty room suave and smiling. His clothes were a trifle outgrown, and the tan velvet on the collar of his open overcoat was frayed and worn; but for all that there was something of the dandy about him, and he wore an opal pin in his neatly knotted black four-in-hand, and a red carnation in his buttonhole. This latter adornment the faculty somehow felt was not properly significant of the contrite spirit befitting a boy under the ban of suspension.
Paul was tall for his age and very thin, with high, cramped shoulders and a narrow chest. His eyes were remarkable for a certain hysterical brilliancy, and he continually used them in a conscious, theatrical sort of way, peculiarly offensive in a boy. The pupils were abnormally large, as though he were addicted to belladonna, but there was a glassy glitter about them which that drug does not produce.
When questioned by the Principal as to why he was there Paul stated, politely enough, that he wanted to come back to school. This was a lie, but Paul was quite accustomed to lying; found it, indeed, indispensable for overcoming friction. His teachers were asked to state their respective charges against him, which they did with such a rancor and aggrievedness as evinced that this was not a usual case. Disorder and impertinence were among the offenses named, yet each of his instructors felt that it was scarcely possible to put into words the real cause of the trouble, which lay in a sort of hysterically defiant manner of the boy’s; in the contempt which they all knew he felt for them, and which he seemingly made not the least effort to conceal. Once, when he had been making a synopsis of a paragraph at the blackboard, his English teacher had stepped to his side and attempted to guide his hand. Paul had started back with a shudder and thrust his hands violently behind him. The astonished woman could scarcely have been more hurt and embarrassed had he struck at her. The insult was so involuntary and definitely personal as to be unforgettable. In one way and another he had made all his teachers, men and women alike, conscious of the same feeling of physical aversion. In one class he habitually sat with his hand shading his eyes; in another he always looked out of the window during the recitation; in another he made a running commentary on the lecture, with humorous intention. Continue Reading
AS THE YEARS PASSED THE GIRLS WHO HAD BEEN such intimates as children still remained true to one another.
Ethel by now had married. Maura had married; the one having removed to Harrisburg, the other to New York City. And both began to bring up families. Ethel especially went in for children. Within a very brief period, comparatively speaking, she had three of them, then four, then five and finally six. And through it all, she kept in constant touch with her girlhood friend, dark-eyed Maura, by writing long intimate letters.
At first these had been newsy chit chat, ending always however in continued protestations of that love which the women had enjoyed during their childhood. Maura showed them to her husband and both enjoyed their full newsy quality dealing as they did with people and scenes with which both were familiar.
UPON THE HALF DECAYED VERANDA OF A SMALL frame house that stood near the edge of a ravine near the town of Winesburg, Ohio, a fat little old man walked nervously up and down. Across a long field that had been seeded for clover but that had produced only a dense crop of yellow mustard weeds, he could see the public highway along which went a wagon filled with berry pickers returning from the fields. The berry pickers, youths and maidens, laughed and shouted boisterously. A boy clad in a blue shirt leaped from the wagon and attempted to drag after him one of the maidens, who screamed and protested shrilly. The feet of the boy in the road kicked up a cloud of dust that floated across the face of the departing sun. Over the long field came a thin girlish voice. “Oh, you Wing Biddlebaum, comb your hair, it’s falling into your eyes,” commanded the voice to the man, who was bald and whose nervous little hands fiddled about the bare white forehead as though arranging a mass of tangled locks.