Page:Manhattan Transfer (John Dos Passos, 1925).djvu/407

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The Burthen of Nineveh


eyes looked about the room, the eyes of a little child that has been hurt before it begins to cry, until he fell back limp, his open mouth biting at his shoulder. Achmet looked at him coolly for a long time then he went up to him and spat in his face. Immediately he took a handkerchief out of the pocket of his linen jacket and wiped the spittle off the taut ivory skin. Then he closed the mouth and propped the body among the pillows and walked softly out of the room. In the hall Gladys sat in a big chair reading a magazine. "Sahib much better, he sleep a little bit maybe."

"Oh Achmet I'm so glad," she said and looked back to her magazine.

Ellen got off the bus at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fiftythird Street. Rosy twilight was gushing out of the brilliant west, glittered in brass and nickel, on buttons, in people's eyes. All the windows on the east side of the avenue were aflame. As she stood with set teeth on the curb waiting to cross, a frail tendril of fragrance brushed her face. A skinny lad with towhair stringy under a foreignlooking cap was offering her arbutus in a basket. She bought a bunch and pressed her nose in it. May woods melted like sugar against her palate.

The whistle blew, gears ground as cars started to pour out of the side streets, the crossing thronged with people. Ellen felt the lad brush against her as he crossed at her side. She shrank away. Through the smell of the arbutus she caught for a second the unwashed smell of his body, the smell of immigrants, of Ellis Island, of crowded tenements. Under all the nickelplated, goldplated streets enameled with May, uneasily she could feel the huddling smell, spreading in dark slow crouching masses like corruption oozing from broken sewers, like a mob. She walked briskly down the cross-street. She went in a door beside a small immaculately polished brass plate.