Flappers and Philosophers/Dalyrimple Goes Wrong/Chapter 3
Next morning Mr. Hanson informed him coldly of the necessity of punching the time-clock at seven every morning, and delivered him for instruction into the hands of a fellow worker, one Charley Moore.
Charley was twenty-six, with that faint musk of weakness hanging about him that is often mistaken for the scent of evil. It took no psychological examiner to decide that he had drifted into indulgence and laziness as casually as he had drifted into life, and was to drift out. He was pale and his clothes stank of smoke; he enjoyed burlesque shows, billiards, and Robert Service, and was always looking back upon his last intrigue or forward to his next one. In his youth his taste had run to loud ties, but now it seemed to have faded, like his vitality, and was expressed in pale-lilac four-in-hands and indeterminate gray collars. Charley was listlessly struggling that losing struggle against mental, moral, and physical anæmia that takes place ceaselessly on the lower fringe of the middle classes.
The first morning he stretched himself on a row of cereal cartons and carefully went over the limitations of the Theron G. Macy Company.
"It's a piker organization. My Gosh! Lookit what they give me. I'm quittin' in a coupla months. Hell! Me stay with this bunch!"
The Charley Moores are always going to change jobs next month. They do, once or twice in their careers, after which they sit around comparing their last job with the present one, to the infinite disparagement of the latter.
"What do you get?" asked Dalyrimple curiously.
"Me? I get sixty." This rather defiantly.
"Did you start at sixty?"
"Me? No, I started at thirty-five. He told me he'd put me on the road after I learned the stock. That's what he tells 'em a1l."
"How long've you been here?" asked Dalyrimple with a sinking sensation.
"Me? Four years. My last year, too, you bet your boots."
Dalyrimple rather resented the presence of the store detective as he resented the time-clock, and he came into contact with him almost immediately through the rule against smoking. This rule was a thorn in his side. He was accustomed to his three or four cigarettes in a morning, and after three days without it he followed Charley Moore by a circuitous route up a flight of back stairs to a little balcony where they indulged in peace. But this was not for long. One day in his second week the detective met him in a nook of the stairs, on his descent, and told him sternly that next time he'd be reported to Mr. Macy. Dalyrimple felt like an errant schoolboy.
Unpleasant facts came to his knowledge. There were "cave-dwellers" in the basement who had worked there for ten or fifteen years at sixty dollars a month, rolling barrels and carrying boxes through damp, cement-walled corridors, lost in that echoing half-darkness between seven and five-thirty and, like himself, compelled several times a month to work until nine at night.
At the end of a month he stood in line and received forty dollars. He pawned a cigarette-case and a pair of field-glasses and managed to live—to eat, sleep, and smoke. It was, however, a narrow scrape; as the ways and means of economy were a closed book to him and the second month brought no increase, he voiced his alarm.
"If you've got a drag with old Macy, maybe he'll raise you," was Charley's disheartening reply. "But he didn't raise me till I'd been here nearly two years."
I've got to live," said Dalyrimple simply. "I could get more pay as a laborer on the railroad but, golly, I want to feel I'm where there's a chance to get ahead."
Charles shook his head skeptically and Mr. Macy's answer next day was equally unsatisfactory.
Dalyrimple had gone to the office just before closing time.
"Mr. Macy, I'd like to speak to you."
"Why—yes." The unhumorous smile appeared. The voice was faintly resentful.
"I want to speak to you in regard to more salary."
Mr. Macy nodded.
"Well," he said doubtfully, "I don't know exactly what you're doing. I'll speak to Mr. Hanson."
He knew exactly what Dalyrimple was doing, and Dalyrimple knew he knew.
"I'm in the stock-room—and, sir, while I'm here I'd like to ask you how much longer I'll have to stay there."
"Why—I'm not sure exactly. Of course it takes some time to learn the stock."
"You told me two months when I started."
"Yes. Well, I'll speak to Mr. Hanson."
Dalyrimple paused, irresolute.
"Thank you, sir."
Two days later he again appeared in the office with the result of a count that had been asked for by Mr. Hesse, the bookkeeper. Mr. Hesse was engaged and Dalyrimple, waiting, began idly fingering in a ledger on the stenographer's desk.
Half unconsciously he turned a page—he caught sight of his name—it was a salary list:
His eyes stopped——
So Tom Everett, Macy's weak-chinned nephew, had started at sixty—and in three weeks he had been out of the packing-room and into the office.
So that was it! He was to sit and see man after man pushed over him: sons, cousins, sons of friends, irrespective of their capabilities, while he was cast for a pawn, with "going on the road" dangled before his eyes—put of with the stock remark: I'll see; I'll look into it." At forty, perhaps, he would be a bookkeeper like old Hesse, tired, listless Hesse with a dull routine for his stint and a dull background of boarding-house conversation.
This was a moment when a genii should have pressed into his hand the book for disillusioned young men. But the book has not been written.
A great protest swelling into revolt surged up in him. Ideas half forgotten, chaotically perceived and assimilated, filled his mind. Get on—that was the rule of life—and that was all. How he did it, didn't matter—but to be Hesse or Charley Moore.
"I won't!" he cried aloud.
The bookkeeper and the stenographers looked up in surprise.
For a second Dalyrimple stared—then walked up to the desk.
"Here's that data," he said brusquely. "I can't wait any longer."
Mr. Hesse's face expressed surprise.
It didn't matter what he did—just so he got out of this rut. In a dream he stepped from the elevator into the stock-room, and walking to an unused aisle, sat down on a box, covering his face with his hands.
His brain was whirring with the frightful jar of discovering a platitude for himself.
"I've got to get out of this," he said aloud and then repeated, "I've got to get out"—and he didn't mean only out of Macy's wholesale house.
When he left at five-thirty it was pouring rain, but he struck off in the opposite direction from his boarding-house, feeling, in the first cool moisture that oozed soggily through his old suit, an odd exultation and freshness. He wanted a world that was like walking through rain, even though he could not see far ahead of him, but fate bad put him in the world of Mr. Macy's lead storerooms and corridors. At first merely the overwhelming need of change took him, then half-plans began to formulate in his imagination.
"I'll go East—to a big city—meet people—bigger people—people who'll help me. Interesting work somewhere. My God, there must be." With sickening truth it occurred to him that his facility for meeting people was limited. Of all places it was here in his own town that he should be known, was known—famous—before the water of oblivion had rolled over him.
You had to cut corners, that was all. Pull—relationship—wealthy marriages——
For several miles, the continued reiteration of this preoccupied him and then he perceived that the rain had become thicker and more opaque in the heavy gray of twilight and that the houses were falling away. The district of full blocks, then of big houses, then of scattering little ones, passed and great sweeps of misty country opened out on both sides. It was hard walking here. The sidewalk had given place to a dirt road, streaked with furious brown rivulets that splashed and squashed around his shoes.
Cutting corners—the words began to fall apart, forming curious phrasings—little illuminated pieces of themselves. They resolved into sentences, each of which had a strangely familiar ring.
Cutting corners meant rejecting the old childhood principles that success came from faithfulness to duty, that evil was necessarily punished or virtue necessarily rewarded—that honest poverty was happier than corrupt riches.
It meant being hard.
This phrase appealed to him and he repeated it over and over. It had to do somehow with Mr. Macy and Charley Moore—the attitudes, the methods of each of them.
He stopped and felt his clothes. He was drenched to the skin. He looked about him and, selecting a place in the fence where a tree sheltered it, perched himself there.
In my credulous years—he thought—they told me that evil was a sort of dirty hue, just as definite as a soiled collar, but it seems to me that evil is only a manner of hard luck, or heredity-and-environment, or "being found out." It hides in the vacillations of dubs like Charley Moore as certainly as it does in the intolerance of Macy, and if it ever gets much more tangible it becomes merely an arbitrary label to paste on the unpleasant things in other people's lives.
In fact—he concluded—it isn't worth worrying over what's evil and what isn't. Good and evil aren't any standard to me—and they can be a devil of a bad hindrance when I want something. When I want something bad enough, common sense tells me to go and take it—and not get caught.
And then suddenly Dalyrimple knew what he wanted first. He wanted fifteen dollars to pay his overdue board bill.
With a furious energy he jumped from the fence, whipped off his coat, and from its black lining cut with his knife a piece about five inches square. He made two holes near its edge and then fixed it on his face, pulling his hat down to hold it in place. It flapped grotesquely and then dampened and clung to his forehead and cheeks.
Now … The twilight had merged to dripping dusk … black as pitch. He began to walk quickly back toward town, not waiting to remove the mask but watching the road with difficulty through the jagged eye-holes. He was not conscious of any nervousness . . . the only tension was caused by a desire to do the thing as soon as possible.
He reached the first sidewalk, continued on until he saw a hedge far from any lamp-post, and turned in behind it. Within a minute he heard several series of footsteps—he waited—it was a woman and he held his breath until she passed … and then a man, a laborer. The next passer, he felt, would be what he wanted … the laborer's footfalls died far up the drenched street … other steps grew nears grew suddenly louder.
Dalyrimple braced himself.
"Put up your hands!"
The man stopped, uttered an absurd little grunt, and thrust pudgy arms skyward.
Dalyrimple went through the waistcoat.
"Now, you shrimp," he said, setting his hand suggestively to his own hip pocket, "you run, and stamp—loud! If I hear your feet stop I'll put a shot after you!"
Then he stood there in sudden uncontrollable laughter as audibly frightened footsteps scurried away into the night.
After a moment, he thrust the roll of bills into his pocket, snatched of his mask, and running quickly across the street, darted down an alley.