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Gift of 

YALE UNIVERSITY 


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With the aid of the 
ROCKEFELLER FOUNDATION 
1949 








DARK LAUGHTER 




DARK 

LAUGHTER 

eyHERWOOD <vfNDERSON 



MCMXXV 


BONI & LIVERIGHT 



COPYRIGHT 1915 BY 
BONI & LIVERIGHT, Inc. 


PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES 



Dedicated 

TO 

JANE W. PRALL 




BOOK ONE 




DARK LAUGHTER 


CHAPTER ONE 

B ruce Dudley stcxxl near a window that was 
covered with flecks of paint and through which 
could be faintly seen, first a pile of empty boxes, then 
a more or less littered factory yard running down to a 
steep bluff, and beyond the brown waters of the Ohio 
River. Time very soon now to push the windows up. 
Spring would be coming soon now. Near Bruce at 
the next window, stood Sponge Martin, a thin wiry 
little old man with a heavy black mustache. Sponge 
chewed tobacco and had a wife who got drunk with 
him sometimes on pay-days. Several times a year, 
on the evening of such a day, the two did not dine at 
home but went to a restaurant on the side of the hill 
in the business part of the city of Old Harbor and 
there had dinner in style. 

After eating they got sandwiches and two quarts of 
Kentucky-made ‘‘moon'' whisky and went off fishing in 
the river. This only happened in the spring, summer 
and fall and when the nights were fair and the fish 
biting. 

They built a fire of driftwood and sat around, hav- 
ing put out catfish lines. There was a place up river 
about four miles where there had formerly been, dur- 
ing the river's flush days, a small sawmill and a wood- 

[9] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


yard for supplying river packets with fuel and they 
went there. It was a long walk and neither Sponge 
nor his wife was very young but they were both tough 
wiry little people and they had the corn whisky to 
cheer them on the way. The whisky was not colored 
to look like the whisky of commerce but was clear 
like water and very raw and burning to the throat and 
its effect was quick and lasting. 

Being out to make a night of it they gathered wood 
to start a fire as soon as they had got to their favorite 
fishing place. Then everything was all right. Sponge 
had told Bruce dozens of times that his wife didnT 
mind anything. ^^She’s as tough as a fox terrier/^ he 
said. Two children had been born to the couple 
earlier in life and the oldest, a boy, had got his leg cut 
off hopping on a train. Sponge spent two hundred 
and eighty dollars on doctors but might as well have 
saved the money. The kid had died after six weeks 
of suffering. 

When he spoke of the other child, a girl playfully 
called Bugs Martin, Sponge got a little upset and 
chewed tobacco more vigorously than usual. She had 
been a rip-terror right from the start. No doing any- 
thing with her. You couldn’t keep her away from the 
boys. Sponge tried and his wife tried but what good 
did it do? 

Once, on a pay-day night in the month of October, 
when Sponge and his wife were up river at their fav- 
orite fishing place, they got home at five o’clock the 
next morning, both still a little lit up, and what did 
Bruce Dudley think they had found going on? Mind 

[ 10 ] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


you, Bugs was only fifteen then. Well, Sponge had 
gone into the house ahead of his wife and there, on 
the new rag carpet in the front hallway was that kid 
asleep and beside her was a young man also asleep. 

What a nerve! The young man was a fellow who 
worked in Mouser^s grocery. He didn^t live in Old 
Harbor any more. Heaven knows what had become 
of him. When he woke up and saw Sponge standing 
there with his hand on the door-knob he jumped up 
quick and lit out, almost knocking Sponge over as he 
rushed through the door. Sponge kicked at him but 
missed. He was pretty well lit up. 

Then Sponge went after Bugs. He shook her till 
her teeth fairly rattled but did Bruce think she hol- 
lered? Not she! Whatever you might think of Bugs 
she was a game little kid. 

She was fifteen when Sponge beat her up that time. 
He whacked her good. Now she was in a house in 
Cincinnati, Sponge thought. Now and then she wrote 
a letter to her mother and in the letters she always 
lied. What she said was that she was working in a 
store but that was the bunk. Sponge knew it was a lie 
because he had got the dope about her from a man who 
used to live in Old Harbor but who had a job in Cin- 
cinnati now. One night he went out to a house and 
saw Bugs there raising hell with a crowd of rich young 
Cincinnati sports but she never saw him. He kept 
himself in the background and then later wrote Sponge 
about it. What he said was that Sponge ought to try 
to straighten Bugs out but what was the use making a 

[II] 




Dark laughter 


fuss. She had been that way since she was a kid, hadn't 
she? 

And when you came right down to it what did that 
fellow want to butt in for. What was he doing in 
such a place — so high and mighty afterwards ? He had 
better keep his nose in his own back yard. Sponge 
hadn't even shown the letter to his old woman. What 
was the use of getting her all worked up? If she 
wanted to believe that bunk about Bugs having a good 
job in a store why not let her? If Bugs ever came 
home on a visit, which she was always writing her 
mother some day maybe she would, Sponge wouldn't 
ever let on to her himself. 

Sponge's old woman was all right. When she and 
Sponge were out that way, after catfish, and they had 
both taken five or six good stiff drinks of “moon," 
she was like a kid. She made Sponge feel — Lordy! 

They were lying on a pile of half-rotten old saw- 
dust near the fire, right where the old wood-yard had 
been. When the old woman was a little lit up and acted 
like a kid it made Sponge feel that way too. It was 
a cinch the old woman was a good sport. Since he had 
married her, when he was a young man about twenty- 
two, Sponge hadn't ever fooled around any other 
women at all — except maybe a few times when he was 
away from home and was a little soused. 


[ 12 ] 



CHAPTER TWO 


I T was a fancy notion all right, the one that had got 
Bruce Dudley into the position he was now in — 
working in a factory in the town of Old Harbor, 
Indiana, where he had lived as a child and as a young 
lad and where he was now masquerading as a workman 
under an assumed name. The name amused him. A 
thought flashing across the mind and John Stockton 
had become Bruce Dudley. Why not? For the time 
being anyway he was letting himself be anything that 
it pleased his fancy to be. He had got the name in 
an Illinois town to which he had come from the far 
south — from the city of New Orleans to be exact. 
That was when he was on his way back to Old Har- 
bor to which he had also come following a whim. The 
Illinois town was one where he was to change cars. 
He had just walked along the main street of the town 
and had seen two signs over two stores, “Bruce, Smart 
and Feeble — Hardware” and “Dudley Brothers — 
Grocery.” 

It was like being a criminal. Perhaps he was a 
kind of criminal, had suddenly become one. It might 
well be that a criminal was but a man like himself who 
had suddenly stepped a little out of the beaten path 
most all men travel. Criminals took other people’s 
lives or took goods that did not belong to them and 

[ 13 ] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


he had taken — what? Himself? It might very well 
be put that way. 

“Slave, do you think your own life belongs to you? 
Hocus, Pocus, now you see it and now you don’t. 
Why not Bruce Dudley?” 

Going about the town of Old Harbor as John Stock- 
ton might lead to complications. It wasn’t likely any- 
one there would remember the shy boy who had been 
John Stockton, would recognize him in the man of 
thirty-four, but a lot of people might remember the 
boy’s father, the school-teacher, Edward Stockton. It 
might even be that the two looked alike. “Like father 
like son, eh?” The name Bruce Dudley had a kind of 
something in it. It suggested solidity and respecta- 
bility and Bruce had got an hour’s amusement, while 
waiting for the train up to Old Harbor by walking 
about the streets of an Illinois town and trying to 
think of other possible Bruce Dudleys of the world. 
“Captain Bruce Dudley of the American Army, Bruce 
Dudley, Minister of the First Presbyterian Church 
of Hartford, Connecticut. But why Hartford? Well, 
why not Hartford? He, John Stockton, had never 
been to Hartford, Connecticut. Why had the place 
come into his mind? It stood for something, didn’t it? 
Very likely it was because Mark Twain lived there for 
a long time and there had been a kind of connection be- 
tween Mark Twain and a Presbyterian or a Congrega- 
tional or a Baptist minister of Hartford. Also there 
was a kind of connection between Mark Twain and the 
Mississippi and Ohio Rivers and John Stockton had 
been fooling along, up and down the Mississippi River 

[ 14] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


for six months on that day when he got off the train at 
the Illinois town bound for Old Harbor, And wasn’t 
Old Harbor on the Ohio River? 

T’witchelty, T’weedlety, T’wadelty, T’wum, 

Catch a nigger by the thumb. 

“Big slow river crawling down out of a wide rich 
fat valley between mountains far away. Steamboats 
on the river. Mates swearing and hitting niggers over 
the heads with clubs. Niggers singing, niggers danc- 
ing, niggers toting loads on their heads, nigger women 
having babies — easy and free — half white a lot of the 
babies.’’ 

The man who had been John Stockton and who sud- 
denly, by a whim, became Bruce Dudley, had been think- 
ing a lot about Mark Twain during the six months be- 
fore he took the new name. Being near the river and 
on the river had made him think. It wasn’t strange 
after all that he chanced to think of Hartford, Con- 
necticut, too. “He did get all crusted up, that boy,” 
he whispered to himself that day when he went about 
the streets of the Illinois town bearing for the first 
time the name Bruce Dudley. 

“A man like that, eh — who had seen what that man 
had, a man who could write and feel and think a thing 
like that Huckleberry Finn, going up there to Hartford 
and — 


T’witchelty, T’weedlety, T’wadelty, T’wum, 
Catch a nigger by the thumb, eh? 

[15] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


“Oh, Lord! 

“What a lot of fun to think, feel, cut the grapes, 
put some of the grapes of life into the mouth, spit 
the seeds out. 

“Mark Twain, learning to be a river pilot on the 
Mississippi in the early days in the valley. What 
things he must have seen, felt, heard, thought 1 When 
he wrote a real book he had to put all aside, all he had 
learned, felt, thought, as a man, had to go back into 
childhood. He did it bouncing well, now didn’t he? 

“But suppose he had really tried to put into books 
a lot of what he had heard, felt, thought, seen as a man 
on the river. What a howl raised ! He never did that, 
did he? Once he wrote a thing. He called it “Con- 
versations in the Court of Queen Elizabeth,’’ and he 
and his friends used to pass it around and chuckle 
over it. 

“Had he got right down into the valley, in his day, 
as a man, let’s say, he might have given us many 
memorable things, eh? It must have been a rich 
place, rank with life, fairly rancid with life. 

“Big slow deep river crawling down between the 
mud banks of an empire. Corn growing rank up north. 
Rich Illinois, Iowa, Missouri lands getting their hair 
cut of tall trees and then corn growing. Down fur- 
ther south, forests still, hills, niggers. The river get- 
ting slowly bigger and bigger. Toswns along the river 
— tough towns. 

“Then — ^away down — moss growing on the banks of 
the rivers and the land of cotton and sugar-cane. 
More niggers. 

[i6] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


Tf you ain^t never been loved by a brown skin you 
ain’t never been loved at all/ 

'‘After years of that — what — Hartford, Connecti- 
cut! Those other things — 'The Innocents Abroad,’ 
'Roughing It’ — stale jokes piled up, everyone applaud* 
ing. 

T’witchelty, T’weedlety, T’wadelty, T’wiun. 

Catch your nigger by the thuml>— 

"Make a slave of him, eh? Tame the lad/’ 

• • • • • 

Bruce didn’t look much like a factory hand. It had 
taken more than two months to grow a short thick 
beard and to let his mustache grow and while it was 
growing his face itched all the time. Why had he 
wanted to grow it? When he left Chicago and his 
wife he had cut out to a place called La Salle in Illi- 
nois and had started down the Illinois River in an 
open boat. Later he lost the boat and spent nearly 
two months, while he was growing the beard, in getting 
down river to New Orleans. It was a little trick he 
had always wanted to do. Since he was a kid and had 
read Huckleberry Finn, he had kept some such notion 
in mind. Nearly every man who lived long in the 
Mississippi Valley had that notion tucked away in him 
somewhere. The great river, lonely and empty now, 
was, in some queet way, like a lost river. It had come 
to represent the lost youth of Middle America perhaps. 
Song, laughter, profanity, the smell of goods, dancing 
niggers — life everywhere! Great gaudy boats on a 
river, lumber rafts floating down, voices across the 

[17] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


silent nights, song, an empire unloading its wealth on 
the face of the waters of a river! When the Civil 
War came on, the Middle West got up and fought like 
the Old Harry because it didn’t want its river taken 
away. In its youth the Middle West had breathed 
with the breathing of a river. 

“The factory men were pretty smart, weren’t they? 
First thing they did when they got the chance was to 
choke off the river, take the romance out of com- 
merce. They may not have intended anything of the 
sort, romance and commerce were just natural enemies. 
They made the river as dead as a door-nail with their 
railroads and it has been that way ever since.” 

Big river, silent now. Creeping slowly down past 
mud banks, miserable little towns, the river as power- 
ful as ever, strange as ever, but silent now, forgotten, 
neglected. A few tugs with strings of barges. No 
more gaudy boats, profanity, song, gamblers, excite- 
ment, life. 

When he was working his way down river, Bruce 
Dudley had thought that Mark Twain, when he went 
back to visit the river after the railroads had choked to 
death the river life, that Mark might have written an 
epic then. He might have written of song killed, of 
laughter killed, of men herded into a new age of speed, 
of factories, of swift, fast-running trains. Instead of 
which he filled the book mostly with statistics, wrote 
stale jokes. Oh, well! You can’t always be offending 
someone, can you, brother scribblers? 


[i8] 




CHAPTER THREE 


W HEN he had got to Old Harbor, the place of 
his boyhood, Bruce did not spend much time 
thinking of epics. That wasn’t his lay just then. He 
was after something, had been after it for a year. 
What it was he couldn’t have said in so many words. 
He had left his wife in Chicago, where she had a job 
on the same newspaper he had worked on, and sud- 
denly, with less than three hundred dollars to go on, 
had started off on an adventure. There was a reason, 
he thought, but he was willing enough to let reason 
lie, for the time being an)rway. His growing the 
beard had not been because his wife would make any 
special effort to find him when he turned up missing. 
It had been a whim. It was such fun to think of him- 
self as going thus, unknown, mysteriously through life. 
Had he told his wife what he was going to do there 
would have been no end of talk, arguments, the rights 
of women, the rights of men. 

They had been that kind in their relations to each 
other — he and Bernice — had got started together that 
way and had kept it up. Bruce hadn’t thought his wife 
to blame. “I helped start things wrong myself — ^acted 
as though she were something superior,” he thought, 
grinning. He remembered things he had said to her 
concerning her superiority, her mind, her talent. They 

[ 19] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


had expressed a kind of hope that something grace- 
ful and fine would flash up out of her. Perhaps, in 
the beginning he had talked that way because he wanted 
to worship. She had half seemed the great person he 
had called her because he seemed to himself so worth- 
less. He had played the game that way, not thinking 
much about it and she had fallen for it, had liked it, 
had taken what he said with entire seriousness and then 
he did not like what she had become, what he had 
helped make her. 

Had he and Bernice ever had children perhaps what 
he had done would have been an impossibility, but 
they had none. She hadn’t wanted any. “Not by a 
man like you. You’re too flighty,’’ she had said. 

And Bruce was flighty. He knew it. Having drifted 
into newspaper work he had kept on drifting for ten 
years. All the time he had wanted to do something — 
write perhaps — ^but every time he had tried his own 
words and ideas, put down, made him weary. Per- 
haps he had got too deep into the newspaper cliche, 
the jargon — ^jargon of words, ideas, moods. As he 
had gone along Bruce had put words down on paper 
less and less. There was a way to be a newspaper 
man, get by, without writing at all. You phoned your 
stuff in, let someone else write it up. There were 
plenty of the scribbling kind of fellows about — word- 
slingers. 

Fellows making a mess at words, writing the news- 
paper jargon. Every year it got worse and worse. 

Deep in him perhaps Bruce had always had buried 
away a kind of inner tenderness about words, ideas, 

[ 20 ] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


moods. He had wanted to experiment, slowly, going 
carefully, handling words as you might precious 
stones, giving them a setting. 

It was a thing you didn’t talk about too much. Too 
many people going into such things in a flashy way, 
getting cheap acclaim — Bernice, his wife, for example. 

And then the war, “bunk-shooting” worse than ever 
— the very Government going into “bunk-shooting” 
on the grand scale. 

Lord, what a time! Bruce had managed to keep 
himself on local stuff — murders, the capture of boot- 
leggers, fires, labor rows, but all the time he had got 
more and more bored, tired of it all. 

As for his wife Bernice — ^he hadn’t seemed to her to 
be getting anywhere either. She had both despised 
and in an odd way feared him. She had called him 
“flighty.” Had he but succeeded, after ten years, in 
building up within himself a contempt for life? 

In the factory at Old Harbor, where he was now 
working, automobile wheels were made and he had got 
a job in the varnishing roc«n. He had been compelled 
to do something, being broke. There was a long room 
in a great brick building near the river-bank and the 
window that looked out into the factory yard. A boy 
brought the wheels in a truck and dumped them down 
beside a peg on which he put them one by one to lay 
on the varnish. 

It had been lucky for him he had got the place be- 
side Sponge Martin. He thought of him often enough 
in relation to the men with whom he had been asso- 
ciated ever since he had grown to manhood, intellectual 

[21 ] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


men, newspaper reporters who wanted to write novels, 
women feminists, illustrators who drew pictures for 
the newspapers and for advertisements but who liked 
to have what they called a studio and to sit about talk- 
ing of art and life. 

Next to Sponge Martin, on the other side, was a 
surly fellow who hardly spoke all day long. Often 
Sponge winked and whispered to Bruce about him. 
“I’ll tell you what’s wrong. He thinks his wife is fool- 
ing around with another man here in town and she is, 
too, but he doesn’t dare inquire into the matter too 
closely. He might find out that what he suspects is a 
fact so he just glums around,’’ Sponge said. 

As for Sponge himself, he had been a carriage- 
painter in the town of Old Harbor before anyone ever 
thought of building any such thing as a wheel factory 
there, before anyone had ever thought of any such thing 
as an automobile. On some days he talked altogether 
of the earlier days when he had owned his own shop. 
There was a kind of pride in him when he got on that 
subject and for his present job, varnishing wheels, only 
contempt. “Anyone could do it,” he said. “Look at 
you. You ain’t got no special hand for it but if you 
would pep up you could turn out almost as many wheels 
as I can and do ’em just as well.” 

But what was a fellow to do? Sponge could have 
been foreman of the factory finishing room if he had 
wanted to lick boots a little. One had to smile and kow- 
tow a little when young Mr. Grey came around, which 
he only did about once a month. 

The trouble with Sponge was that he had known 

[ 22 ] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


the Greys too long. Maybe young Grey had got it 
into his head that he, Sponge, was too much of a booze- 
hoister. He had known the Greys when this young 
one, that was now such a big bug, was just a kid. 
Once he had finished a carriage for old Grey. He 
used to come around to Sponge Martin’s shop bringing 
his kid with him. 

The carriage he was having built was sure a darby. 
It had been built by old Sil Mooney, who had a carriage- 
building shop right near Sponge Martin’s finishing 
shop. 

The description of the carriage built for Grey, the 
banker of Old Harbor, when Bruce was himself a boy 
and when Sponge had his own shop, took a whole after- 
noon. The old workman was so deft and quick with 
his brush that he could finish a wheel, catching every 
corner, without looking at it. Most of the men in the 
room worked in silence, but Sponge never stopped talk- 
ing. In the room at Bruce Dudley’s back, behind a 
brick wall, there was a constant low rumble of machines 
but Sponge had got a trick of making his voice ride 
just above the racket. He pitched it in a certain key 
and every word came distinct and clear to the ears of 
his fellow workman. 

Bruce watched Sponge’s hands, tried to imitate the 
movement of his hands. The brush was held just so. 
There was a quick, soft movement. Sponge could fill 
his brush very full and yet handle it in such a way 
that the varnish did not drip down and he left no ugly 
thick places on the wheels he did. The stroke of the 
brush was like a caress. 

[ 23 ] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


Sponge talked of the days when he had a shop of his 
own and told the story of the carriage built for old 
Grey the banker. As he talked Bruce got a notion. 
He kept thinking of his having left his wife so lightly. 
There had been a sort of wordless quarrel — one of the 
sort they had often got into. Bernice did special articles 
for the Sunday paper and she had written a story that 
had been accepted by a magazine. Then she joined a 
writers’ club in Chicago. All this had been going on 
and Bruce had not tried to do anything special on his 
own job. He had done just what he had to do, nothing 
more, and gradually Bernice had come to respect him 
less and less. It was evident she had a career before 
her. Writing special articles for Sunday newspapers, 
becoming a successful writer of magazine stories, eh? 
For a long time Bruce had gone along with her, going 
with her to meetings of the writers’ club, going to 
studios where men and women sat talking. There was 
a place in Chicago, out near Forty-seventh Street near 
the park, where a lot of writers and painters lived, 
some low small building that had been put there during 
the World’s Fair and Bernice had wanted him to go 
out there to live. She had wanted to associate more 
and more with people who wrote, made pictures, read 
books, talked of books and pictures. Now and then 
she spoke to Bruce in a certain way. Had she begun 
to patronize him a little? 

He smiled at the thought of it, smiled at the thought 
of himself, now working in the factory beside Sponge 
Martin. One day he had gone with Bernice to a meat 
market — ^they were getting chops for dinner and he 

[24] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


had noted the way an old fat meat-cutter in the place 
handled his tools. The sight had fascinated him and 
as he had stood in the place beside his wife, waiting 
her turn to be served, she began talking to him and 
he did not hear. What he was thinking about was the 
old meat-cutter, the deft quick hands of the old meat- 
cutter. They represented something to him. What 
was it? The man’s hands had handled a quarter of 
beef with a sure quiet touch that represented to Bruce 
perhaps a way in which he would like to handle words. 
Well now, it might be that he did not want to handle 
words at all. He was a little afraid of words. They 
were such tricky, elusive things. It might be that he 
did not know what he wanted to handle. That might 
be what was the matter with him. Why not go and 
find out? 

With his wife Bruce had come out of the place and 
had walked along a street, she still talking. Of what 
was she talking? Suddenly Bruce had realized he did 
not know, — did not care. When they got to their apart- 
ment she went to cook the chops and he sat by a win- 
dow, looking into a city street. The building stood 
near a corner where men coming out from the down- 
town district got off north- and south-bound cars to 
take other cars going east or west and the evening 
rush hour had begun. Bruce worked on an evening 
paper and so would be free until early morning, but as 
soon as he and Bernice had consumed the chops she 
would go into a back room of the apartment and begin 
to write. Lord, what a lot of stuff she wrote ! When 
she was not at work on her Sunday special stuff she 

[25] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


worked on a story. She was at work on one just at 
that moment. It concerned a very lonely man in the 
city who while walking one evening saw in a shop win- 
dow the wax dummy of what in the darkness he took 
to be a very beautiful woman. Something had hap- 
pened to the street light at the corner where the shop 
stood and the man had for the moment thought the 
woman in the window alive. He had stood looking at 
her and she had looked back at him. It had been an 
exciting experience. 

And then, you see, later, the man in Bernice’s story 
had found out his absurd mistake, but he was as lonely 
as ever and kept going back to the shop window night 
after night. Sometimes the dummy woman was there 
and sometimes she had been taken away. She ap- 
peared now in one gown — ^now in another. She was in 
rich furs and was walking along a winter street. Now 
she had been arrayed in a summer frock and was stand- 
ing on the shore of a sea or she was in a bathing cos- 
tume and was about to plunge off into the sea. 

The whole thing was a whimsical notion and Bernice 
had been excited about it. How would she make it 
turn out? One night after the street lamp at the 
comer had been fixed the light was so strong that 
the man could not help seeing that the woman he had 
come to love was made of wax. How would it be to 
have him take a cobblestone and break the street lamp? 
Then he might press his lips against the cold window- 
glass and run off down a side street never to be seen 
again. 

T’wichelty, T’weedlety, T’wadelty, T’wum. 

[26] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


Bruce’s wife Bernice would be a great writer some 
day, eh? Was he, Bruce, jealous of her? When they 
went together to one of the places where other news- 
paper men, illustrators, poets and young musicians gath- 
ered the people were inclined to look at Bernice, ad- 
dress their remarks to her rather than to him. She 
had a way of doing things for people. A young girl 
got out of college and wanted to be a journalist, or a 
young musician wanted to meet some man of power in 
the musical field and Bernice managed things for them. 
Gradually she had come to have a following in Chicago 
and was already planning to move on to New York. A 
New York paper had made her an offer and she was 
considering it. “You can get a job there as well as 
here,” she had said to her husband. 

As he stood beside his bench in the factory at Old 
Harbor, varnishing an automobile wheel, Bruce lis- 
tened to the words of Sponge Martin, boasting of the 
days when he had a shop of his own and was finishing 
the carriage that had been built for the elder Grey. He 
described the wood that had been used, told how 
straight and fine the grain was, how every part had 
been carefully fitted into other parts. In the afternoon 
old Grey sometimes came to the shop after the bank 
was closed for the day and sometimes he brought his 
son with him. He was in a hurry for the job to be 
finished. Well, there was to be some kind of a special 
affair in the town on a certain day. The Governor of 
the State was to come and the banker was to entertain 
him. He wanted the new carriage to haul him up from 
the railroad station. 


[27] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


Sponge talked and talked, enjoying his own words, 
and Bruce listened, hearing every word while he kept 
right on having his own thoughts, too. How many 
times had he heard Sponge’s story and how delightful 
it was to keep on hearing it. The moment had been 
the big one in Sponge Martin’s life. The carriage 
couldn’t be finished in the way it should be and be 
ready for the Governor’s coming. That was all to it. 
In those days, when a man had his own shop, a man 
like old Grey might rave and rave, but what good did it 
do him? Silas Mooney, when he had built the car- 
riage, had done a good job and did old Grey think that 
Sponge was going to turn round and do a bum, hurried 
job? They had it out one day, old Grey’s kid, young 
Fred Grey, who now owned the wheel factory where 
Sponge worked as a common laborer, standing and 
listening. What Sponge thought was that young Grey 
got an earful that day. No doubt he thought, just 
because he owned a bank and because people like gov- 
ernors of states came to visit at his house, that his 
dad was a kind of God Almighty, but if he did he got 
his eyes opened that time anyway. 

Old Grey got mad and began to swear. “It’s my car- 
riage and if I tell you to put on a few less coats and 
not to let each coat set so long before you rub it down 
and put on another you got to do what I say,’’ he had 
declared, shaking his fist at Sponge. 

Aha! And hadn’t that been a moment for Sponge? 
Did Bruce want to know what he told old Grey? It 
had just happened that he had about four good shots 

[28] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


in him that day and when he was a little lit up the Lord 
Almighty couldn’t tell him how to do no job. He had 
walked up close to old Grey and had doubled up his 
fist. “Look here,” he had said, “you’re not so young 
any more and you’re a little fat. You want to keep in 
mind you been sitting up there in that bank of yours 
too much. Suppose now you get gay with me and 
because you want that carriage in a hurry you come 
down here and try to take the job away from me or 
something like that. Do you know what will happen 
to you? You’ll get kicked out, that’s what will hap- 
pen. I’ll cave your fat face in with my fist, that’s what 
will happen and if you get foxy and send anyone else 
down here I’ll come up to your bank and maul you 
there, that’s what I’ll do.” 

Sponge had told the banker that. He wasn’t going 
to be hurried into doing no bum job, not by him or 
anyone else. He had told the banker that and then 
when the banker had walked out of his shop, saying 
nothing, he had gone over to a comer saloon and had 
got a bottle of good whisky. Just to show old Grey 
something he had locked up his shop and knocked off 
for the day. “Let him haul his Governor in a livery 
hack.” That’s what he had said to himself. He had 
got the bottle of whisky and he and his old woman had 
gone fishing together. It had been one of the best 
parties they had ever been on. He had told the old 
woman about it and she had been tickled to death at 
what he had done. “You done just right,” she had 
said. Then she had told Sponge that he was worth a 

[29] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


dozen such men as old Grey. That might have been 
exaggerating a little but Sponge had liked to hear it all 
right. Bruce ought to have seen his old woman in them 
days. She was young then and as good-looking a skirt 
as there was in the state. 


[30] 




CHAPTER FOUR 


W ORDS flitting across the mind of Bruce Dud- 
ley, varnishing wheels in the factory of the 
Grey Wheel Company of Old Harbor, Indiana. 
Thoughts flitting across his mind. Drifting images. 
He had begun to get a little skill with his fingers. 
Could one in time get a little skill with thoughts, too? 
Could thoughts and images be laid on paper some day 
as Sponge Martin laid on varnish, never too thick, 
never too thin, never lumpy? 

Sponge the workman telling old Grey to go to hell, 
offering to kick him out of his shop. The governor 
of a state riding in a livery hack because a workman 
wouldn’t be hurried into doing a bum job. Bernice, 
his wife, at her typewriter in Chicago, doing special 
articles for the Sunday papers, writing that story about 
the man and the dummy wax figure of a woman in a 
shop window. Sponge Martin and his woman going off 
to celebrate because Sponge had told the local prince, 
the banker, to go to hell. The picture of a man and 
woman on a sawdust pile with a bottle beside them. 
A bonfire down near the river’s edge. Catfish lines 
out. Bruce thought of the scene as taking place on a 
soft summer night. There were wonderful soft sum- 
mer nights in the valley of the Ohio. Up and down 
river, above and below the hill on which Old Harbor 

[31] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


stood, the land was low and in the winter the floods 
came up and covered the land. The floods left a soft 
silt on the land and it was rich, rank with richness. 
Wherever the land was not cultivated, weeds, flowers 
and tall flowering berry bushes grew thick. 

They would be lying there on the sawdust pile. 
Sponge Martin and his wife, a little lit up, the fire 
blazing between them and the river, the catfish lines 
out, the air filled with smells, the soft fishy river smell, 
smells of blossoms, smells of things growing. It might 
be there would be a moon hanging over them. 

The words Bruce had heard Sponge say — 

“When she is a little lit up she acts like a kid and 
makes me feel like a kid too.” 

Lovers lying on an old sawdust pile under a summer 
moon on the banks of the Ohio. 


[32] 




BOOK TWO 




CHAPTER FIVE 


T hat story Bernice was writing about the man 
who saw the wax figure in a shop window and 
thought it was a woman. 

Did Bruce really wonder how it had come out, what 
sort of an ending she had given it? To tell the truth 
he did not. There was something malicious in his 
thoughts of the story. It seemed to him absurd and 
childish and he was glad that it was so. Had Bernice 
really succeeded in the thing she had undertaken — so 
casually, in such an offhand way — the whole problem 
of their relation would have been somewhat different. 
“I would have had to look to my self-respect then,” he 
thought. That grin would not have come so easily. 

Sometimes Bernice used to talk — she and her friends 
talked a good deal. They all, the young illustrators and 
the writers who gathered in the rooms in the evenings 
to talk — well, they all worked in newspaper offices or 
in advertising offices just as Bruce did. They pre- 
tended to despise what they were doing but kept on 
doing it just the same. “We have to eat,” they said. 
What a lot of talk there had been about the necessity 
of eating. 

In Bruce Dudley’s mind, as he listened to Sponge 
Martin’s story of the defiance of the banker, was the 
memory of that evening when he had cut out from the 

[ 35 ] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


apartment where he had lived with Bernice and from 
Chicago. He had been sitting by the front window of 
the apartment and looking out, and at the back of 
the apartment Bernice was cooking the chops. She 
would have potatoes and a salad. It would take her 
twenty minutes to cook the things and put them on the 
table. Then the two would sit down at the table to 
eat. How many evenings sitting down together like 
that — within two or three feet of each other physically 
and yet miles apart. They hadn’t any children because 
Bernice had never wanted them. “I’ve got my work 
to do,” she had said on the two or three occasions when 
he had spoken of the matter as they lay in bed together. 
She had said that but what she had meant was some- 
thing else. She hadn’t wanted to tie herself down, not 
to him, not to the man she had married. When she 
spoke of him to others she always laughed good- 
naturedly. “He’s all right but he’s flighty and he won’t 
work. He isn’t very ambitious,” she sometimes said. 
Bernice and her friends had a way of speaking openly 
of their loves. They compared notes. Perhaps they 
used every little emotion they had as material for 
stories. 

In the street before the window at which Bruce 
sat waiting for the chops and the potatoes a lot of 
men and women getting off street cars and waiting 
for other cars. Gray figures in a gray street. “If a 
man and a woman are so and so together — well, then 
they are so and so.” 

In the shop at Old Harbor, as when he had been a 
newspaper man in Chicago, the same thing always going 

[36] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


on. Bruce had a technique of going along, doing the 
thing before him well enough while his mind went 
wool-gathering over the past and the present. Time 
ceased for him. In the shop, working beside Sponge, 
he had been thinking of Bernice, his wife, and now 
suddenly he began thinking of his father. What had 
happened to him? He had been a country school- 
teacher near Old Harbor in Indiana and then he had 
married another school-teacher who had come down 
there from Indianapolis. Then he had got a job in 
the town schools, and when Bruce was a small boy had 
got a place working on a newspaper in Indianapolis. 
The little family had moved there and the mother had 
died. Bruce went then to live with his grandmother 
and his father went to Chicago. He was there still. 
Now he worked in an advertising agency and had got 
himself another wife and with her three children. In 
the city Bruce had seen him, perhaps twice a month, 
when father and son lunched together at some down- 
town restaurant. His father had married a young wife 
and she didn’t like Bernice and Bernice didn’t like 
her. They got on each other’s nerves. 

Now Bruce was thinking old thoughts. His thoughts 
went around in a circle. Was that because he had 
wanted to be a man handling words, ideas, moods — 
and hadn’t made it? The thoughts he had as he worked 
in the factory at Old Harbor had been in his mind 
before. They had been in his mind on a certain eve- 
ning as the chops sizzled in the pan in the kitchen at 
the back of the apartment in which he had lived for a 
long time with Bernice. It was not his apartment. 

[37] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


When she had fixed it up Bernice had kept herself and 
her own wants in mind and that was as it should be. 
She wrote her Sunday special stuff there and also 
worked on her stories. Bruce did not need a place to 
write as he did little or no writing. ‘T only need a 
place to sleep/’ he had said to Bernice. 

‘The lonely man who fell in love with the dummy 
figure in the shop window, eh? Wonder how she will 
make it turn out. Why not have a sweet young girl, 
working in the store, step into the window some night? 
That would be the beginning of a romance. No, she 
will have to handle it in a more modern way. That 
would be too obvious.” 

Bruce’s father was a funny chap. What a lot of 
enthusiasms he had gone through in his long life and 
now, although he was old and gray, when Bruce lunched 
with him he almost always had a new one. When the 
father and son went to lunch together they avoided 
speaking of their wives. Bruce suspected that because 
he had married a second wife who was almost as young 
as the son, his father always felt a little guilty in his 
presence. They never spoke of their wives. When 
they met in some Loop restaurant Bruce said, “Well, 
Dad, how’s the kids?” Then the father spoke of his 
latest enthusiasm. He was an advertising writer and 
was sent out to write advertisements of soap, safety 
razors, automobiles. “I’ve got a new steam car ac- 
count,” he said. “The car is a whizz. It will run 
thirty miles on a gallon of kerosene oil. No gears 
to shift. As smooth and soft as riding in a boat on a 
calm sea. Lord, what power ! They have to work out 

[38] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


a few things yet but they’ll do it all right. The man 
who invented this car is a wonder. The greatest me- 
chanical genius I’ve ever seen yet. I’ll tell you what, 
son, when this thing breaks it will smash the market 
for gasoline. You wait and see.” 

Bruce shifting nervously about in his chair in the 
restaurant as his father talked — Bruce unable to say 
anything when he went out with his wife among the 
Chicago intellectual and artistic set. There was Mrs. 
Douglas, the rich woman who had a country home 
and one in town and who wrote poetry and plays. Her 
husband owned a lot of property and was a connoisseur 
of the arts. Then there was the crowd over on Bruce’s 
own paper. When the paper was down in the after- 
noon they sat about talking of Huysmans, Joyce, Ezra 
Pound and Lawrence. There was great pride in word- 
slinging. Such and such a man knew how to sling 
words. Little groups all over town talking of word 
men, sound men, color men and Bruce’s wife, Bernice, 
knew them all. What was it all about, this eternal fuss- 
ing about painting, music, writing? There was some- 
thing in it. People couldn’t let the subjed: alone. A 
man might write something, just knocking the props 
out from under all the artists Bruce had ever heard 
about — it wouldn’t be hard he thought — ^but after the 
job was done it wouldn’t prove anything either. 

From where he had been sitting by the window of 
his apartment that evening in Chicago he could see men 
and women getting on and off street cars at the street 
intersection where the cross-town cars met the cars in 
and out of the Loop. God, what a world of people in 

[39] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


Chicago! At his own job he had to do a lot of run- 
ning about through Chicago streets. He phoned most 
of his stuff in and some fellow in the office dressed it 
up. There was a young Jew in the office who could 
fairly make the words dance over the page. He did a 
lot of Bruce’s stuff. What they liked about Bruce 
in the local room was that he was supposed to have a 
head. He had got a certain kind of reputation. His 
own wife didn’t think he was much of a newspaper 
man and the young Jew thought he wasn’t worth any- 
thing, but he got a lot of important assignments that 
the others wanted. He had a kind of knack. What 
he did was to get at the heart of the matter — some- 
thing of that sort. Bruce smiled at the praise he was 
giving himself in his own thoughts. “I guess we’ve 
all got to keep telling ourselves we’re some good or we 
would all go and jump in the river,” he thought. 

What a lot of people getting off one car and onto 
another. They had all been downtown working and 
now they were going to apartments much like the one 
in which he lived with his wife. What was his father 
like in his relations with his wife, the young wife he 
had got after Bruce’s mother had died. With her he 
had got three children, ready-made, while by Bruce’s 
mother he had never got but the one — Bruce himself. 
There had been plenty of time for more. Bruce was 
ten when his mother died. The grandmother with 
whom he had lived in Indianapolis was still alive. 
When she died she would no doubt leave Bruce her 
little fortune. She must be worth at least fifteen 

[40] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


thousand. He hadn’t written to her for over three 
months. 

The men and women in the streets, such men and 
women as were now getting off and on the cars in the 
street before the apartment. Why did they all look so 
tired ? What was the matter with them ? What he had 
in his mind at the moment was not physical tiredness. 
In Chicago and in other cities he had visited the people 
were all inclined to have that tired, bored look on their 
faces when you caught them off guard, when they were 
walking along through the streets or standing at a 
street corner waiting for a car and Bruce had a fear 
that he looked the same way. Sometimes at night when 
he went off by himself, when Bernice was going to 
some party he wanted to avoid, he saw people eating 
in some cafe or sitting together in the park who didn’t 
look bored. Downtown, in the Loop, during the day, 
people went along thinking of getting across the next 
street crossing. The crossing policeman was about 
to blow his whistle. They ran, little herds of them, 
like flocks of quails, escaping with their lives most of 
them. When they had got to the sidewalk on the 
other side a look of triumph. 

Tom Wills, the man on the city desk down at the 
office, had a liking for Bruce. After the paper was 
down in the afternoon he and Bruce often went to a 
little German place where they could get drinks and 
had a pint of whisky between them. The German made 
Tom Wills a special rate on pretty good bootleg stuff 
because Tom steered a lot of people in there. 

In a little back room they sat, Tom and Bruce, and 

[41] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


when they had taken a few pulls out of the bottle 
Tom talked. He always said the same things. First 
he cursed the war and condemned America for getting 
into it and then cursed himself. “I’m no good,” he 
said. Tom was like all of the newspaper men Bruce 
had ever known. He really wanted to write a novel 
or a play and liked to talk about the matter to Bruce 
because he didn’t think Bruce had any such ambitions. 
“You’re a hard-boiled guy, ain’t you?” he said. 

He told Bruce of his plan. “There’s a note I’d like 
to strike. It’s about impotence. Have you noticed, 
going along the streets, that all of the people you see 
are tired out, impotent?” he asked. “What is a news- 
paper — the most impotent thing in the world. What is 
the theater? Have you gone much lately? They give 
you such a weariness that your back aches, and the 
movies, God, the movies are ten times worse, and if 
this war isn’t a sign of universal impotence, sweeping 
over the world like a disease, then I don’t know much. 
A fellow I know, Hargrave of the Eagle, was out 
there to that place called Hollywood. He was telling 
me about it. He says all the people out there are like 
fish with their fins cut off. They wriggle around trying 
to make effective movements and can’t do it. He says 
they all have an inferiority complex something awful — 
tired-out magazine writers gone out there to get rich 
in their old age, all that sort of thing. The women all 
trying to be ladies. Well, not trying to be ladies ex- 
actly. That isn’t the idea. They are trying to look 
like ladies and gentlemen, live in the kind of houses 
ladies and gentlemen are supposed to live in, walk and 

[42] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


talk like ladies and gentlemen. It’s such a God-awful 
mess, he says, as you never dreamed of and you got 
to bear in mind the movie people are America’s pets. 
After you been there for a while, out in Los Angeles, 
Hargrave says, if you don’t go jump in the sea you’ll 
go crazy. He says the whole Pacific Coast is a lot like 
that — in that tone I mean — impotence crying out to 
God that it is beautiful, that it is big, that it is effective. 
Look at Chicago, too, T will,’ that’s our motto as a 
city. Did you know that? They got one out in San 
Francisco, too, Hargrave says, ‘San Francisco knows 
how.’ Knows how what? How to get the tired fish 
out there from Iowa, Illinois and Indiana, eh? Har- 
grave says that in Los Angeles the people walk along 
the street by the thousands with no place to go. A lot 
of smart guys, he says, sell them lots — places out on 
the desert — because they are too tired out. to know their 
own minds. They buy and then go back into town 
and walk up and down the streets. He says a dog 
smelling a street post out there will make ten thousand 
people stop and look as though it was the most exciting 
event in the world. I suppose he exaggerates a little. 

"‘And, anyway. Pm not bragging. When it comes 
to impotence if you can beat me you’re a darby. What 
do I do ? I sit at a desk and give out little slips. And 
what do you do ? You take the slips, read them and run 
around town getting little items to be played up in the 
paper and you’re so impotent you don’t even write 
your own stuff. What’s it all about? One day they 
murder someone in this town and get six lines out 
of it and on the next day if they do the same murder 

[43] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


they get played up all over every paper in town. It 
all depends what we got on just then. You know how 
it is. And I ought to be writing my novel, or a play, if 
I’m ever going to do it. If I write one about the only 
thing I know anything about, do you think anyone in 
the world would read it? Only thing I could possibly 
write about would be just about this stuff I’m always 
giving you — about impotence, what a lot of it there is. 
Do you think anyone wants that kind of stuff ?” 


[44] 




CHAPTER SIX 


O N that evening in the Chicago apartment Bruce 
sat having these thoughts and smiling softly to 
himself. For some reason Tom Wills, swearing at the 
impotence of American life, had always amused him. 
He, himself, did not think Tom was impotent. He 
thought the proof of the man’s potence could have 
been found just in the fact that he got so mad when 
he talked. It took something in a man to be mad about 
anything. He had to have some juice in him to do 
that. 

He had got up from the window to walk across the 
long studio room to where his wife Bernice had set 
the table, still wearing the smile, and it was just the 
kind of a smile that disconcerted Bernice. When he 
wore it he never talked because he was living outside 
himself and the people immediately about. They did 
not exist. For the time being nothing very real had 
any existence. Odd that at such times, when nothing 
in the world was very definite, he was himself the most 
likely to do some definite thing. At such a moment 
he could have lighted a fuse connected with a building 
filled with d)mamite and could have blown up himself, 
all of the city of Chicago, all America, as calmly as he 
could have lighted a cigarette. Perhaps he was him- 
self, at such times, a building filled with dynamite. 

[45] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


When he was that way Bernice was afraid of him and 
was ashamed of being afraid. Being afraid of anything 
made her seem less important to herself. Sometimes 
she grew sullenly silent and sometimes she tried to laugh 
it off. At such times she said Bruce had the air of an 
old Chinaman poking around in an alleyway. 

The place in which Bruce then lived with his wife 
was one of the sort of places that are being fixed up 
nowadays in American cities to house just such child- 
less couples as himself and Bernice. '"Married couples 
who have no children and do not intend having any — • 
people whose aspirations are above that/' Tom Wills in 
one of his angry moods would have said. There were 
a lot of such places in New York City and in Chicago 
and they were fast coming into vogue in smaller cities 
like Detroit, Cleveland and Des Moines. They were 
called studio apartments. 

The ohe Bernice had found and had fixed up for 
herself and Bruce had a long room at the front with 
a fireplace, a piano, a couch on which Bruce slept at 
night — when he did not go to Bernice, which he didn't 
very often — and back of that was a bedroom and a tiny 
kitchen. Bernice slept in the bedroom and wrote in 
the studio, and the bathroom was stuck in between the 
studio and Bernice's bedroom. When the couple ate 
at home they brought in something, usually f^om a 
delicatessen store, for the occasion, and Bernice served 
it on a folding table that could afterwards be put away 
in a closet. In what was called Bernice's bedroom 
there was a chest of drawers where Bruce kept his shirts 
and underwear, and his clothes had to be hung up in 

[46] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


Bernice’s closet. “You should see me diving about 
the joint in the morning in my shift,” he had once said 
to Tom Wills. “It’s a shame Bernice isn’t an illus- 
trator. She might get some good stuff on modem 
city life from me in my B.V.D.’s. ‘The lady novelist’s 
husband getting all set for the day.’ Some of that 
stuff the fellows put in the Sunday papers and call 
‘among us mortals.’ ‘Life as it is’ — something of 
that sort. I don’t look at the Sundays once a month, 
but you know what I mean. Why should I look at 
the things? I don’t look at anything in any paper 
except my own stuff and I only do that to see what 
that smart Jew has managed to get out of it. If I 
had his brain I’d write something myself.” 

Bruce had walked slowly across the room toward 
the table where Bernice had already seated herself. On 
the wall back of her was a portrait of herself done by 
a young man who had been in Germany for a year 
or two after the Armistice and had come back filled 
with enthusiasm about the reawakening of German art. 
He had done Bernice in broad lines of color and had 
twisted her mouth a little to one side. One ear had 
been made twice the size of the other. That was for 
distortion’s sake. Distortion often got effects you 
couldn’t get at all by straight painting. The young man 
had been at a party in Bernice’s apartment one evening 
when Bruce was there and had talked a lot, and a few 
days later, one afternoon when Bruce came from the 
office there the fellow was, sitting with Bernice. Bruce 
had had a feeling of having butted in where he wasn’t 
wanted and had been embarrassed. It had been an 

[47] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


awkward moment and Bruce had wanted to back out 
after putting his head in at the studio door, but had 
not known how to do it without embarrassing them. 
He had been compelled to do some fast thinking. 
‘‘You'll excuse me," he said, “I have to go right out 
again. Tve got an assignment on which I may have 
to work all night." He had said that and then had gone 
hurriedly through the studio and into Bernice's bedroom 
to change his shirt. He had felt it was up to him to 
change something. Was there something on between 
Bernice and the young chap? He hadn't cared much. 

Afterwards he wondered about the portrait. He had 
wanted to ask Bernice about it but hadn't dared. What 
he had wanted to ask was why she had stood for it to 
be made to look as the portrait had made her look. 

“It's for the sake of art, I guess," he thought, still 
smiling on the evening when he sat down with Bernice 
to the chops. Thoughts of Tom Wills talking, 
thoughts of the look on Bernice’s face and on the young 
painter's face — that time he came suddenly in on them, 
thoughts of himself and the absurdities of his own 
mind and his own life. How could he help smiling 
although he knew the smile always upset Bernice ? How 
could he explain that the smile had no more to do with 
her absurdities than with his own? 

“For the sake of art," he thought, putting one of 
the chops on a plate and handing it to Bernice. His 
mind liked to play with phrases like that, silently and 
maliciously taunting her and himself too. Now she 
was sore at him because of the smile and the meal 
would be eaten in silence. After the meal he would go 

[48] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


to sit by the window and Bernice would hurry out of 
the apartment to spend the evening with some of her 
friends. She couldn’t very well order him out and he 
would sit tight — smiling. 

Perhaps she would go back into her bedroom and 
work on that story. How would she make it come out ? 
Suppose a policeman to come along and seeing the 
man enamored of the wax woman in the store window 
and thinking him crazy or a thief planning to break 
into the store — suppose the policeman should arrest the 
man. Bruce kept on smiling at his own thoughts. He 
imagined a conversation between the policeman and the 
young man, the young man trying to explain his lone- 
liness and his love. In a bookstore downtown there 
was a young man Bruce had once seen at an artists’ 
party to which he had once gone with Bernice and who 
had now, for some unexplainable reason to Bruce, be- 
come the hero of the tale Bernice was writing. The 
man in the bookstore was short, pale and wan and had 
a small neat black mustache and she had made her hero 
like that. Also he had extraordinarily thick lips and 
shining black eyes and Bruce remembered to have 
heard that he wrote poetry. It might be that he actually 
had fallen in love with a dummy figure in a store win- 
dow and had told Bernice about it. Bruce thought that 
might be what a poet was like. Surely only a poet 
could fall in love with a dummy figure in a shop 
window. 

“For the sake of art.” The phrase kept running 
through his head like a refrain. He kept smiling and 
now Bernice was furious. He had at any rate suc- 

[49] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


ceeded in spoiling her dinner and her evening. That 
at any rate he had not intended. The poet and the wax 
woman would be left, hanging in air as it were, un- 
fulfilled. 

Bernice got up and stood over him, staring down at 
him across the small table. How furious she was! 
Was she going to strike him ? What a strange puzzled 
baffled look in her eyes. Bruce looked up at her im- 
personally — as he might have looked out a window 
at a scene in the street. She did not say anything. 
Had it got beyond speech between them? If it had 
surely he was to blame. Would she dare strike him? 
Well, he knew she would not. Why did he keep smil- 
ing? That was what made her so furious. Better to 
go softly through lile — let people alone. Did he have 
any special desire to torture Bernice and if he did, why? 
Now she wanted to have it out with him, to bite, strike, 
kick, like a furious little female animal, but it was a 
handicap Bernice had that when she was thoroughly 
worked up she could not talk. She just got a little 
white and that look came into her eyes. Bruce had a^^ 
idea. Did she, his wife Bernice, hate and fear all men 
and was she making the hero of her story such a silly 
fellow because she wanted to make all men sing small ^ 
That would certainly make her, the female, loom larger. 
It might be that was what the whole feminist movement 
was about. Bernice had already written several stories 
and in alt of them the men were like that chap in the 
book-shop. It was a little odd. Now she, herself, 
looked something like the chap in the book-shop. 

“For the sake of art, eh?” 

[50] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


Bernice went hurriedly out of the room. Had she 
stayed, there was at least a chance he might have got 
her, as it was possible men sometimes got their women. 
“You come off your perch and I’ll come off mine. 
Loosen up. Function as a woman and let me function 
as a man, with you.’’ Was Bruce ready to have that 
happen? He thought he had always been ready for 
that — with Bernice or some other woman. When it 
came to the test why did Bernice always run away? 
Would she go into her bedroom and cry? Well, no. 
Bernice wasn’t after all one of the crying sort. She 
would get out of the house until he had gone and then 
— when she was alone — would perhaps work on that 
story — the soft little poet and the wax woman in the 
window, eh? Bruce was perfectly aware of how ma- 
licious were his own thoughts. Once in a long time 
he had a notion Bernice wanted him to beat her. Could 
that be possible? If so, why? If a woman got that 
way in her relations with a man what brought it about ? 

Bruce having got himself into deep water by his own 
thoughts went to sit again by the window looking into 
the street. Both he and Bernice had left their chops 
uneaten. Whatever happened now Bernice would not 
come back into the room to sit while he was there, not 
on that evening, and the cold chops would lie like that, 
on the table over there. The couple had no servant. 
Every morning a woman came in for two hours to clean 
the place up. That was the way such establishments 
were run. Well, if she wanted to go out of the apart- 
ment it would be necessary for her to pass through the 
studio before his eyes. To slip out at the back door, 

[51] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


through an alleyway, would be beneath her dignity as 
a woman. It would be a come-down for the female 
sex — represented by Bernice — and she would never 
lose her sense of the necessity of dignity — in the sex. 

“For the sake of art.” Why did that phrase stick 
in Bruce’s mind? It was a silly little refrain. Had 
he been smiling all evening, making Bernice furious 
by the smile — ^because of that phrase? What was art 
anyway? Did such men as himself and Tom Wills 
want to laugh at it? Did they incline to think of art 
as a silly, mawkish sort of exhibitionism on the part 
of silly people because to do so made them seem to 
themselves rather grand and noble — ^above all such non- 
sense — something of that sort? Once when she was 
not angry, when she was soberly in earnest, a short 
time after their marriage, Bernice had said something 
of that sort. That was before Bruce had succeeded in 
breaking down something in her, her own self-respect, 
perhaps. Did all men want to break something down 
in women — ^make slaves of them? Bernice said they 
did and for a long time he had believed her. Then 
they had seemed to get on all right. Now things had 
surely gone to pot. 

After all it was evident that, as far as Tom Wills 
was concerned, he, at bottom, cared more about art 
than all the other people Bruce had known, certainly 
more than Bernice or any of her friends. Bruce did 
not think he knew or understood Bernice or her friends 
very well but did think he knew Tom Wills. The man 
was a perfectionist. To him art was something out 
beyond reality, a fragrance touching the reality of 

[52] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


things through the fingers of a humble man filled 
with love — something like that — a. little perhaps like a 
beautiful mistress to whom the man, the boy within the 
man, wanted to bring all of the rich, beautiful things of 
his mind, of his fancy. What he had to bring had 
seemed to Tom Wills such a meager offering that the 
thought of trying to make the offering made him 
ashamed. 

Although Bruce sat by the window pretending to look 
out he was not seeing people in the street outside. Was 
he waiting for Bernice to pass through the room, want- 
ing to punish her a little more? “Am I becoming a 
Sadist?” he asked himself. He sat with hands folded, 
smiling, smoked a cigarette and looked at the floor and 
the last feeling he was ever to have of the presence of 
his wife Bernice was when she passed through the 
room without his looking up. 

And so she had made up her mind that she could 
pass through the room, snubbing him. It had begun at 
the meat market where he had been interested in the 
hands of that meat-cutter cutting meat rather than in 
what she was saying to him. What had she been talk- 
ing about, her latest story or an idea for a special article 
for the Sunday paper? Not having heard what she 
said he could not remember. At any rate his mind 
had checked her all right. 

He heard her footsteps crossing the room where he 
sat looking at the floor, but he was at that moment 
thinking, not of her but of Tom Wills. He was doing 
again what had made her angry in the first place, what 
always made her angry when it happened. Perhaps he 

[S3] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


was at just that moment smiling the peculiarly exasper- 
ating smile that always drove her half mad. What a 
fate that she should have to remember him thus. She 
would always be thinking that he was laughing at her 
— at her aspirations as a writer, at her pretensions to 
strength of will. There was no doubt she did make 
some such pretensions but then who didn’t make pre- 
tensions of one kind or another? 

Well, he and Bernice had sure got into a jam. She 
had dressed for the evening and went out saying noth- 
ing. Now she would spend the evening with her own 
friends, perhaps with that chap who worked in the 
bookstore or with the young painter who had been to 
Germany and had painted her portrait. 

Bruce got up out of his chair and snapping on an 
electric light went to stand looking at the portrait. 
The distortion idea meant something to the European 
artists who began it no doubt, but he doubted the 
young man’s knowing quite what it meant. How 
superior he was! Did he mean to set himself up— to 
decide offhand that he knew what the young man did 
not know ? 

He stood thus, looking at the portrait, and then sud- 
denly his fingers, hanging at his side, felt something 
greasy and unpleasant. It was the cold uneaten chop 
on his own plate. His fingers touched it, felt it and 
then with a shrug of his shoulders he took a handker- 
chief out of his hip pocket and wiped his fingers. 
‘T’witchelty, T’weedlety, T’wadelty, T’wum. Catch a 
nigger by the thumb.” Suppose it were true that art 
was the most exacting thing in the world? It was 

[ 54 ] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


true as a general thing that a certain type of men, who 
did not look physically very strong, almost always went 
in for the arts. When a fellow like himself went out 
with his wife among the so-called artists, went into a 
room where a lot of them had congregated, he so often 
got an impression, not of masculine strength and viril- 
ity, but of something on the whole feminine. Huskier 
men, fellows like Tom Wills, tried to stay as far away 
from art talk as they could. Tom Wills never discussed 
the subject with anyone but Bruce and he hadn’t begun 
doing that until the two men had known each other 
for several months. There were a lot of other men. 
Bruce, in his work as a reporter, went about a good deal 
among gamblers, race-track men, baseball players, prize- 
fighters, thieves, bootleggers, flash men of all sorts. 
When he first went to work on the paper he was for a 
time a sporting writer. On the paper he had a reputa- 
tion, of a sort. He couldn’t write much — never tried. 
What he could do, Tom Wills thought, was to sense 
things. It was a faculty of which Bruce did not speak 
often. Let him be on the track of a murder. Very 
well, he went into a room where several men were con- 
gregated, a bootlegger’s place up an alleyway, let us 
say. He would be willing to bet something that in 
such a case, if the fellow was hanging around, he 
could spot the man who had done the job. Proving it 
was another matter. However, he had the faculty, “the 
nose for news,” it was called among newspaper men. 
Others had it too. 

Oh, Lordy! If he had it, was so almighty keen, why 

[ 55 ] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


had he wanted to marry Bernice? He had gone back 
to his chair by the window, snapping out the light as 
he went, but now it was quite dark in the street outside. 
If he had that faculty why had it not worked at a 
time when surely it was of vital importance to him to 
have it work? 

Again he smiled in the darkness. Now suppose, just 
suppose now, that I am as much of a nut as Bernice or 
any of the rest of them. Suppose I am ten times worse. 
Suppose Tom Wills is ten times worse, too. It might 
be that I was only a kid when I married Bernice and 
that I have grown up a little. She thinks I’m a dead 
one — that I haven’t kept up with the show, but, just 
suppose now, it is she who has dropped behind. I might 
as well think that. It is a lot more flattering to me 
than just thinking I’m a chump or that I was a chtunp 
when I got married. 


[56] 




BOOK THREE 




CHAPTER SEVEN 


I T was while thinking some such thoughts that John 
Stockton, who later became Bruce Dudley, left his 
wife on a certain fall evening. He sat in the darkness 
for an hour or two and then got his hat and went out 
of the house. His physical connection with the apart- 
ment in which he had lived with Bernice was slight, a 
few half-worn neckties hanging on a hook in a closet 
— three pipes and some shirts and collars in a drawer, 
two or three suits of clothes, a winter overcoat. Later 
when he was a workman in the factory at Old Harbor, 
Indiana, working beside Sponge Martin, hearing 
Sponge talk, hearing something of the story of Spongers 
relations with ^‘his old woman, ’’ he hadn’t much regret 
for the way in which he had left. ‘Tf you’re leaving, 
one way is as good as another -and the less fuss about 
the matter the better,” he told himself. Most of the 
things Sponge said he had heard before but it was pleas- 
ant to hear good talk. The story about that time when 
Sponge threw the banker out of his carriage-painting 
shop — let Sponge tell it a thousand times and it would 
be pleasant to hear. Maybe there was art in that, the 
grasping of the real dramatic moment of a life, eh? 
He shrugged his shoulders — thinking. ‘‘Sponge, the 
sawdust pile, the drinks. Sponge coming home drunk 
in the early morning and finding Bugs, lying on the 

[59] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


new rag" carpet asleep, her arms about the shoulders of 
a young man. Bugs, a little live thing, filled with pas- 
sion — ^made ugly later — living in a house in Cincinnati 
now. Sponge in relation to the town, the Ohio River 
Valley, sleeping on an old sawdust pile — ^his relation to 
the ground beneath him, the stars overhead, the brush 
in his hand as he painted automobile wheels, the caress 
in the hand that held the brush, profanity, crudeness — 
love of an old woman — ^alive like a fox terrier.” 

What a floating disconnected thing Bruce felt him- 
self. He was a strong man physically. Why had he 
never taken hold of life with his hands? Words — the 
beginning of poetry, perhaps. The poetry of seed hun- 
ger. “I am a seed, floating on a wind. Why have I not 
planted myself? Why have I not found ground in 
which I can take root?” 

Suppose I had come home some evening and walk- 
ing up to Bernice had struck her a blow. Farmers be- 
fore planting seed plowed the ground, ripped out old 
roots, old weeds. Suppose I had thrown Bernice’s 
typewriter through a window. “Damn you — no more 
driveling words here. Words are tender things, lead- 
ing to poetry— or lies. Leave craftsmanship to me. 
I’m going towards it slowly, carefully, humbly. I’m 
a working-man. You get in line and be a working- 
man’s wife. I’ll plow you like a field. I’ll harrow 
you.” 

When Sponge Martin talked, telling that story, Bruce 
could hear every word said and at the same time go on 
having his own thoughts. 

That evening when he left Bernice — ^all his life now 
[6o] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


he would be thinking of her vaguely as a thing heard 
far off — faint determined footsteps crossing a room 
while he sat looking at the floor and thinking of Tom 
Wills and of what do you think — oh, Lord, of words. 
If one couldn’t smile at oneself, take a laugh for one- 
self as one went along, what was the use living at all ? 
Suppose he had gone to Tom Wills that night when he 
left Bernice. He tried to fancy himself going on a 
car to the suburbs where Tom lived and knocking on 
the door. For all he knew Tom had a wife a good 
deal like Bernice. She might not write stories but at 
the same time she might be a nut on something — on re- 
spectability say. 

Suppose, on the night when he left Bernice, Bruce 
had gone out to Tom Wills’ place. Tom’s wife coming 
to the door. “Come in.” Then Tom coming in bed- 
room slippers. Bruce shown into the front room. 
Bruce remembered that someone down at the newspaper 
office had once said to him, “Tom Wills’ wife is a 
Methodist.” 

Just imagine Bruce in that house sitting in the front 
room with Tom and his wife. “Do you know. I’ve a 
notion to leave my wife. Well, you see, she’s more 
interested in other things than in being a woman. 

“I just thought I’d come out and tell you folks be- 
cause I won’t be showing up down at the office in the 
morning. I’m cutting out. To tell the truth I haven’t 
thought much about where I’m going. I’m setting out 
on a little voyage of discovery. I’ve a notion that My- 
self is a land few men know about. I thought I’d take 
a little trip into myself, look around a little there. God 

[6i] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


knows what I’ll find. The idea excites me, that’s all. 
I’m thirty-four and my wife and I have no kids. I 
guess I’m a primitive man, a voyager, eh ? 

Off again. 

On again. 

Gone again, 

Finnegan. 

“Maybe I’ll turn out to be a poet.’’ 

After Bruce left Chicago, while he wandered south- 
ward for some months and later when he worked in the 
factory beside Sponge Martin, striving to get from 
Sponge something of the workman’s quick facility with 
his hands, thinking the beginning of education might 
lie in a man’s relations with his own hands, what he 
could do with them, what he could feel with them, what 
message they could carry up through his fingers to his 
brain, about things, about steel, iron, earth, fire, and 
water — while all of this was going on, he amused him- 
self trying to think how he would go at it to tell his 
purpose to Tom Wills and his wife — to anyone for 
that matter. He thought how amusing it might be to 
try to tell Tom and his Methodist wife just all the 
thoughts in his head. 

He never did go out to Tom and his wife, of course, 
and in truth what he actually did had become of minor 
importance to Bruce. He had a vague notion that he, 
in common with almost all American men, had got out 
of touch with things — stones lying in fields, the fields 
themselves, houses, trees, rivers, factory walls, tools, 
women’s bodies, sidewalks, people on sidewalks, men in 

[62] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


overalls, men and women in automobiles. The whole 
business of the visit to Tom Wills was imagined, an 
amusing idea to play with as he varnished wheels and 
Tom Wills had himself become a sort of phantom. 
He had been replaced by Sponge Martin, by the man 
actually working beside him. “Perhaps I am a lover 
of men. That may be why I couldn’t stand for the 
presence of Bernice any more,” he thought, smiling at 
the idea. 

There was a certain sum in the bank, some three 
hundred and fifty dollars, that had been there in his 
name for a year or two and that he had never told 
Bernice about. Perhaps he had really intended, from 
the time he had married her, to do to Bernice some 
such thing as he finally did. When, as a young man, he 
left his grandmother’s house to go live in Chicago, 
she had given him five hundred dollars and he had kept 
three hundred and fifty of it intact. Mighty lucky he 
did, too, he thought, as he walked about the streets of 
Chicago that evening after the silent quarrel with the 
woman. After he left the apartment he went for a 
walk in Jackson Park and then walked downtown 
to a cheap hotel and paid two dollars for a room for 
the night. He slept well enough, and in the morning 
when he got into the bank at ten he had already found 
out that there was a train for a town named La Salle, 
Illinois, at eleven. It was an odd and amusing notion 
he thought, that one about to go to a town named 
La Salle, there to buy a second-hand rowboat and start 
rowing quite casually down a river, leaving a puzzled 
wife somewhere in the wake of his boat, that such a 

[63] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


one should spend the morning playing with the notion 
of a visit to Tom Wills and his Methodist wife in a 
house in a suburb. 

“And wouldn’t his wife have been sore, wouldnt 
she have given poor Tom a razzing for being the 
friend of any such casual chap as myself? After all, 
you see, life is a very serious affair, at least it is when 
you get it related to somebody else,” was what he had 
thought as he sat on the train — ^that morning when he 
left. 


[641 




CHAPTER EIGHT 


F irst one thing and then another. A liar, an 
honest man, a thief abruptly slipping out of the 
service of a daily newspaper in an American city. News- 
papers are a necessary part of modern life. They weave 
the loose ends of life into a pattern. Everyone interested 
in Leopold and Loeb, the young murderers. All people 
thinking alike. Leopold and Loeb become the nation’s 
pets. The nation horror-struck about what Leopold 
and Loeb did. What is Harry Thaw doing now, who 
is divorced, who fled with the bishop’s daughter? 
Dance life! Awake and dance! 

A sneak leaving Chicago on a train at eleven o’clock 
in the morning, having told his wife nothing of his 
plans. A woman who has been married misses a man. 
Living loosely is dangerous — ^to women. A habit once 
established is hard to break. Better keep a man around 
the house. He comes in handy. And then too, for 
Bernice, the unannounced disappearance of Bruce would 
be hard to explain. First she would lie. “He had to 
go out of town for a few days.” 

Everywhere men trying to explain the actions of 
their wives, women trying to explain the actions of their 
husbands. People didn’t have to break up homes to get 
into a position where explanations had to be made. 
Life should not be as it is. If life were not so com- 

[65] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


plex it would be more simple. Fm sure you would 
like that kind of a man — if you happen to like that 
kind of a man, eh? 

Bernice would likely enough think Bruce was on 
a drunk. He had been on two or three royal sprees 
after he married her. Once he and Tom Wills stayed 
on a bender for three days and would both have lost 
their jobs but that it came during Tom’s vacation 
time. Tom saved the reporter’s scalp. But never 
mind that. Bernice might think the paper had sent 
him out of town. 

Tom Wills might phone up to the apartment — a little 
angry — ‘Ts John sick or what t’ell?” 

“No, he was here last night when I went out.” 

Bernice having her pride hurt. A woman might 
write short stories, do Sunday special stulf, go about 
freely with men (modem women who had any sense 
did that a lot nowdays — it’s the mood of the day) 
“still and all,” as that Ring Lardner would say, “it don’t 
make no difference.” Women nowdays are putting up 
a great little fight to get something they want, some- 
thing they think they want anyway. 

That doesn’t make them any less women at bottom 
— ^maybe it doesn’t. 

A woman is a special thing then. You got to see 
that. Wake up, man ! Things have changed in the last 
twenty years. You mossback! If you can get her 
you get her. If you can’t, you can’t. Don’t you think 
the world progresses at all? Sure it does. Look at 
the flying machines we got and the radio. Didn’t we 
have a swell war? Didn’t we lick the Germans? 

[ 66 ] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


Men want to cheat. That's whereon there is a lot 
of misunderstanding. What about that three-fifty 
Bruce kept hidden away for over four years, his get- 
away stake? When you go to the races, and the meet- 
ing lasts, say, thirty days, and you haven’t taken a trick 
and then the meeting is over, how you going to get out 
of town if you haven’t a cent put away, on the quiet? 
You got to walk out of town or sell the mare, haven’t 
you? Better hide it in the hay. 


[67] 




CHAPTER NINE 


T hree or four times after Bruce married Bernice 
they were both busted higher than a kite. Bernice 
had to borrow money and so did Bruce. Still and all he 
said nothing about that three-fifty. Something to the 
windward, eh ? Had he all the time intended just what 
he finally did? If you’re that kind of a cove you 
might as well smile, get a laugh out of yourself if 
you can. Pretty soon you’ll be dead and then maybe 
there’ll be no laughs. No one ever figured out even 
Heaven a very jolly place. Dance life! Catch the 
swing of the dance if you can. 

Bruce and Tom Wills used to talk sometimes. They 
both had the same bees in their bonnets, though the 
buzzing never came out into words. Just a faint buzz- 
ing far off. They talked, tentatively, when they had 
taken several drinks — about some fellow, an imaginary 
figure who cut out, left his job, went on the grand 
sneak. Where to ? What for ? When they got to that 
part of their talk both men always felt a little lost. 
“They raise good apples up in Oregon,” Tom said. 
“I’m not so apple-hungry,” Bruce replied. 

Tom had an idea it wasn’t only men found life 
a little dizzy and heavy most of the time, that women 
had the same feeling — ^a lot of them anyway. “If 
they aren’t reli^ous or haven’t kids there’s hell to 

[ 68 ] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


pay,” he said. He told of a woman he knew. “She 
was a good quiet little wife and went along, tending 
up to her house, making everything comfortable for 
her husband, never a word out of her. 

“Then something happened. She was pretty good- 
looking and played the piano pretty well so she got a 
job playing in a church and after that some fellow 
who owned a movie theater went to church one Sunday, 
because his little daughter had died and gone to Heaven 
the summer before and he felt he ought to square 
himself when the White Sox weren’t playing at home. 

“And so he offered her a better job in his movie 
place. She had a feeling for the keys and was a neat 
good-looking little thing — or at least a lot of men 
thought she was.” Tom Wills said he didn’t think 
she ever intended it at all, but the first thing you know 
she began to look down on her husband. “There she 
was, up on the heights,” Tom said. “She took a slant 
down and began to size up her hubby. He had seemed 
quite a thing once, but now — it wasn’t her fault. After 
all, young or old, rich or poor, men were pretty easy 
to get — if you had the touch. She couldn’t help it — 
being talented that way.” Wliat Tom meant to say 
was that this escape hunch was in everyone’s bonnet. 

Tom never said, “I’d like to beat it myself.” He 
never came out quite that strong. In the newspaper 
office they said that Tom’s wife had something on him. 
The young Jew who worked there told Bruce once that 
Tom was scared stiff of his wife, and the next day, 
when Tom and Bruce were lunching together, Tom told 
Bruce the same story about the young Jew. The Jew 

[69] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


and Tom never got on well together. When Tom 
came down in the morning and didn’t feel very good- 
natured he always jumped on the Jew. He never did 
that to Bruce. “A nasty little word-slinger,” he said. 
“He’s stuck on himself because he can make words 
stand on their heads.’’ He leaned over and whispered 
to Bruce. “Fact,” he said, “it happens every Saturday 
night.” 

Was Tom nicer to Bruce, did he give him a lot of 
snap assignments because he thought they were in the 
same boat? 


[70] 




BOOK FOUR 




CHAPTER TEN 


H eat ! Bruce Dudley had just come down river. 

June, July, August, September in New Orleans. 
You can’t make a place something it won’t be. It was 
slow work getting down river. Few or no boats. Often 
whole days idling about in river towns. You can take 
a train and go where you please, but what’s the hurry? 

Bruce at that time, when he had just left Bernice and 
his newspaper job, had something in mind that 
expressed itself in the phrase — “What’s your hurry?” 
He sat in the shade of trees by the river-bank, got a 
ride once on a. barge, rode on little local packets, sat in 
front of stof^ in river towns, slept, dreamed. People 
talked with a slow drawling speech, niggers were hoe- 
ing cotton, other niggers fished for catfish in the 
river. 

The niggers were something for Bruce to look at, 
think about. So many black men slowly growing 
brown. Then would come the light brown, the velvet- 
browns, Caucasian features. The brown women tend- 
ing up to the job — getting the race lighter and lighter. 
Soft Southern nights, warm dusky nights. Shadows 
flitting at the edge of cotton-fields, in dusky roads by 
sawmill towns. Soft voices laughing, laughing. 

Oh, ma banjo dog, 

Oh, ho, ma banjo dog. 

• • • • w 


[73] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


An’ I ain’t go’na give you 
None of ma jelly roll. 


So much of that sort of thing in American life. If 
you are a thinking man — ^and Bruce was — you make 
half acquaintances — half friendships — Frenchmen, 
Germans, Italians, Englishmen — Jews. The Middle 
Western intellectual circles along the edge of which 
Bruce had played — watching Bernice plunge more 
boldly in — were filled with men not American at all. 
There was a young Polish sculptor, an Italian sculptor, 
a French dilettante. Was there such a thing as an 
American? Perhaps Bruce was the thing himself. 
He was reckless, afraid, bold, shy. 

If you are a canvas do you shudder sometimes when 
the painter stands before you? All the others lending 
their color to him. A composition being made. Him- 
self the composition. 

Could he ever really know a Jew, a German, a 
Frenchman, an Englishman? 

And now a nigger. 

Consciousness of brown men, brown women, com- 
ing more and more into American life — ^by that token 
coming into him too. 

More willing to come, more avid to come than any 
Jew, German, Pole, Italian. Standing laughing — 
coming by the back door — with shuffling feet, a laugh — 
a dance in the body. 

Facts established would have to be recognized some- 
time — ^by individuals — when they were on an intellectual 
jag perhaps — ^as Bruce was then. 

[74] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


In New Orleans, when Bruce got there, the long 
docks facing the river. On the river just ahead of 
him when he came the last twenty miles, a small house- 
boat fitted up with a gas engine. Signs on it. “JESUS 
WILL SAVE.” Some itinerant preacher from up 
river starting south to save the world. “THY WILL 
BE DONE.” The preacher, a sallow man with a 
dirty beard, in bare feet, at the wheel of the little boat. 
His wife, also in bare feet, sitting in a rocking-chair. 
Her teeth were black stumps. Two children in bare 
feet, lying on a narrow deck. 

The docks of the city go around in a great crescent. 
Big ocean freighters coming in bringing coffee, bananas, 
fruits, goods, taking out cotton, lumber, corn, oils. 

Niggers on the docks, niggers in the city streets, 
niggers laugl^ig. A slow dance always going on. 
German sea-captains, French, American, Swedish, 
Japanese, English, Scotch. The Germans now sailing 
under other flags than their own. The Scotch sailing 
under the English flag. Clean ships, dirty tramp 
ships, half-naked niggers — a shadow-dance. 

How much does it cost to be a good man, an earnest 
man? If we can’t produce good earnest men, how are 
we ever going to make any progress? You can’t 
ever get anywhere if you aren’t conscious — in earnest. 
A brown woman having thirteen children — a different 
man for every child — going to church too, singing, 
dancing, broad shoulders, broad hips, soft eyes, a soft 
laughing voice — getting God on Sunday night — getting 
— ^what — on Wednesday night ? 

[75] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


Men, you've got to be up and doing if you want 
progress. 

William Allen White, Heywood Broun — passing 
judgment on the arts — why not — Oh, ma banjo dog — 
Van Wyck Brooks, Frank Crowninshield, Tululla Bank- 
head, Henry Mencken, Anita Loos, Stark Young, Ring 
Lardner, Eva Le Gallienne, Jack Johnson, Bill Hey- 
wood, H. G. Wells write good books, don't you think ? 
The Literary Digest, The Dial Book of Modern Art, 
Harry Wills. 

They dance south — out of doors — whites in a 
pavilion in one field, blacks, browns, high browns, 
velvet-browns in a pavilion in the next field — but one. 

We've got to have more earnest men in this country. 

Grass growing in a field between. 

Oh, ma banjo dog! 

Song in the air, a slow dance. Heat. Bruce had 
some money then. He might have got a job, but what 
was the use? Well, he might have gone uptown and 
tackled the New Orleans Picayune, or the Item or 
States for a job. Why not go see Jack McClure, the 
ballad-maker — on the Picayune! Give us a song, Jack 
— 3. dance — the gumbo drift. Come, the night is hot. 
What was the use? He still had some of the money 
he had slipped into his pocket when he left Chicago. 
In New Orleans you can get a loft in which to sleep 
for five dollars a month if you know how. You know 
how when you don't want to work — when you want to 
look and listen — when you want your body to be lazy 
while your mind works. New Orleans is not Chicago. 
It isn't Cleveland or Detroit. Thank God for that ! 

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DARK LAUGHTER 


Nigger girls in the streets, nigger women, nigger 
men. There is a brown cat lurking in the shadow 
of a building. “Come, brown puss — come get your 
cream.” The men who work on the docks in New 
Orleans have slender flanks like running horses, broad 
shoulders, loose heavy lips hanging down — faces like 
old monkeys sometimes — ^bodies like young gods — 
sometimes. On Sundays — ^when they go to church, 
or to a bayou baptizing, the brown girls do sure cut 
loose with the colors — gaudy nigger colors on nigger 
women making the streets flame — deep purples, reds, 
yellows, green like young corn-shoots coming up. They 
sweat. The skin colors brown, golden yellow, reddish 
brown, purple-brown. When the sweat runs down 
high brown backs the colors come out and dance before 
the eyes. K^sh that up, you silly painters, catch it 
dancing. Song-tones in words, music in words — in 
colors too. Silly American painters! They chase a 
Gauguin shadow to the South Seas. Bruce wrote a 
few poems. Bernice had got very far away in, oh 
such a short time. Good thing she didn’t know. Good 
thing no one knows how unimportant he is. We 
need earnest men — got to have ’em. Who’ll run the 
show if we don’t get that kind? For Bruce — for the 
time — no sensual feeling that need be expressed through 
his body. 

Hot days. Sweet Mama! 

Funny business, Bruce trying to write poems. When 
he had that job on the newspaper, where a man is 
supposed to write, he never wanted to write at all. 

[77] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


Southern white men writing songs — fill themselves first 
with Keats and Shelley. 

I am giving out of the richness of myself to many 
mornings. 

At night, when the waters of the seas murmur I am 
murmuring. 

I have surrendered to seas and suns and days and 
swinging ships. 

My blood is thick with surrender. 

It shall be let out through wounds and shall color the 
seas and the earth. 

My blood shall color the earth where the seas come 
for the night kiss and the seas shall be red. 

What did that mean? Oh, laugh a little, men! 
What matters what it means ? 

Or again — 

Give me the word. 

Let my throat and my lips caress the words of your lips. 

Give me the word. 

Give me three words, a dozen, a hundred, a history. 

Give me the word. 

A broken jargon of words in the head. In old 
New Orleans the narrow streets are filled with iron 
gates leading away, past damp old walls, to cool patios. 
It is very lovely — old shadows dancing on sweet old 
walls, but some day it will all be torn away to make 
room for factories. 

Bruce lived for five months in an old house where 

[78] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


rent was low, where cockroaches scurried up and down 
the walls. Nigger women lived in the building across 
the narrow street 

You lie naked on the bed on hot summer mornings 
and let the slow creeping river-wind come, if it will. 
Across the street, in another room, a nigger woman of 
twenty arises at five and stretches her arms. Bruce 
rolls and looks. Sometimes she sleeps alone but some- 
times a brown man sleeps with her. Then they both 
stretch. Thin-flanked brown man. Nigger girl with 
slender flexible body. She knows Bruce is looking. 
What does it matter? He is looking as one might 
look at trees, at young colts playing in a pasture. 

Bruce got out of his bed and went away along a 
narrow street to another street near the river where 
he got coffee and a roll of bread for five cents. Think- 
ing of niggers-!^ What sort of business is that ? How 
come? Northern men so often get ugly when they 
think of niggers, or they get sentimental. Give pity 
where none is needed. The men and women of the 
South understand better, maybe. “Oh, hell, don’t get 
fussy ! Let things flow ! Let us alone ! We’ll float !” 
Brown blood flowing, white blood flowing, deep river 
flowing. 

A slow dance, music, ships, cotton, corn, coffee. 
Slow lazy laughter of niggers. Bruce remembered a 
line he had once seen written by a negro. “Would 
white poet ever know why my people walk so softly and 
laugh at sunrise ?” 

Heat. The sun coming up in a mustard-colored sky. 
Driving rains that came, swirled over a half-dozen 

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DARK LAUGHTER 


blocks of city streets and in ten minutes no trace of 
moisture left. Too much wet warmth for a little more 
wet warmth to matter. The sun licking it up, taking 
a drink for itself. One might get clear-headed here. 
Clear-headed about what? Well, don’t hurry. Take 
your time. 

Bruce lay lazy in bed. The brown girl’s body was 
like the thick waving leaf of a young banana plant. If 
you were a painter now, you could paint that, maybe. 
Paint a brown nigger girl in a broad leaf waving and 
send it up North. Why not sell it to a society woman 
of New Orleans? Get some money to loaf a while 
longer on. She wouldn’t know, would never guess. 
Paint a brown laborer’s narrow suave flanks onto the 
trunk of a tree. Send it to the Art Institute in Chi- 
cago. Send it to the Anderson Galleries in New York. 
A French painter went down to the South Seas. 
Freddy O’Brien went down. Remember when the 
brown woman tried to ravage him and he said how he 
escaped ? Gauguin put a lot of pep in his book but they 
trimmed it for us. No one cared much, not after 
Gauguin was dead anyway. You get a cup of such 
coffee for five cents and a big roll of bread. No swill. 
In Chicago, morning coffee at cheap places is like swill. 
Niggers like good things. Good big sweet words, 
flesh, corn, cane. Niggers like a free throat for song. 
You’re a nigger down South and you get some white 
blood in you. A little more, and a little more. North- 
ern travelers help, they say. Oh, Lord! Oh, my 
banjo dog! Do you remember the night when that 
Gauguin came home to his little hut and there, in the 

[8o] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


bed, was the slender brown girl waiting for him? 
Better read that book. “Noa-Noa,” they call it. 
Brown mysticism in the walls of a room, in the hair 
— of a Frenchman, in the eyes of a brown girl. Noa- 
Noa. Do you remember the sense of strangeness? 
French painter kneeling on the floor in the darkness, 
smelling the strangeness. The brown girl smelling 
the strangeness. Love ? What ho ! Smelling strange- 
ness. 

Go softly. Don’t hurry. What’s all the shooting 
about? 

A little more white, a little more white, graying 
white, muddy white, thick lips — staying sometimes. 
Over we go! 

Something lost too. The dance of bodies, a slow 
dance. 

Bruce on a bed in a five-dollar room. Away off, 
broad leaves of young banana plants waving. “D’you 
know why my people laugh in the morning? Do you 
know why my people walk softly?” 

Sleep again, white man. No hurry. Then along 
a street for coffee and a roll of bread, five cents. 
Sailors off ships, bleary-eyed. Old nigger women and 
white women going to market. They know each other, 
white women, nigger women. Go soft. Don’t hurry 1 

Song — a slow dance. A white man lying still on 
docks, in a five-dollar-a-month bed. Heat. No hurry. 
When you get that hurry out of you the mind works 
maybe. Maybe song will start in you too. 

Lord, it would be nice with Tom Wills down here. 

[8i] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


Shall I write him a letter? No, better not. After a 
while, when cool days come, you mosey along up North 
again. Come back here some day. Stay here some 
day. Look and listen. 

Song — dance — a slow dance. 


[82] 



BOOK FIVE 




CHAPTER ELEVEN 

‘‘(O ATURDAY night and supper on the table. My 
woman cooking supper — what! Me with 
a pipe in my mouth.’’ 

Lif’ up the skillet, put down the lid, 

Mama’s go’na make me some a-risen bread* 

An’ I ain’t go’na give you 
None of my jelly roll. 

An’ I ain’t go’na give you 
None of my jelly roll. 

• • • • • 

Saturday evening’ in the factory at Old Harbor. 
Sponge Martin putting his brushes away and Bruce 
imitating his every movement. “Leave the brushes 
so and they’ll be fine and fit on Monday morning.” 

Sponge singing as he puts things away, clears up. 
An orderly little cuss — Sponge. He’s got the work- 
man’s instinct. Likes things so and so, tools in order. 
“Messy men make me sick. I hate ’em.” 

The surly man who worked next to Sponge was in a 
great hurry to get out at the door. He had been ready 
to leave for ten minutes. 

No cleaning up brushes, putting things in order for 

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DARK LAUGHTER 


him. Every two minutes he looked at his watch. His 
hurry amused Sponge. 

Wants to get home and see if his old woman is 
still there — alone. He wants to go home and don’t 
want to go. If he loses her he’s afraid he’ll never 
get another woman. Women are so damned hard 
to get. They haint hardly any left. Only about ten 
million of ’em around loose — without any man — spe- 
cially in New England, I’ve heard,” Sponge said, wink- 
ing as the surly workman hurried away without saying 
good-night to his two fellows. 

Bruce had a suspicion that Sponge had made up the 
story about the workman and his wife to amuse him- 
self, to amuse Bruce. 

He and Sponge went out at the door together. ‘Why 
don’t you come on down for Sunday dinner?” Sponge 
said. He invited Bruce every Saturday night, and 
Bruce had already accepted several times. 

Now he walked beside Sponge up a climbing street 
toward his hotel, a small working-man’s hotel, on a 
street half-way up the Old Harbor hill, a hill that 
climbed abruptly up almost from the river’s edge. At 
the river’s edge, on a shelf of land just above the high- 
water line, there was only room for a line of rail- 
road tracks and for the row of factory buildings be- 
tween the tracks and the river’s edge. Across the 
tracks and a narrow road by the factory doors, streets 
climbed up the side of the hill and other streets ran 
parallel with the tracks around the hill. The business 
section of the town was almost half-way up the hillside. 
The long red-brick buildings of the wheel company, 
[ 86 ] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


then a dusty road, the railroad tracks and after that 
clusters of streets of working-men’s houses, small 
frame affairs close together, then two streets of stores, 
and above the beginning of what Sponge called “the 
swell part of town.” 

The hotel where Bruce lived was in a street of work- 
ing-men’s houses, just above the business streets, “half 
swell and half low-life,” Sponge said. 

Time was — ^when Bruce, then John Stockton, was 
a lad and lived for a time at the same hotel — that it 
was in the “swellest” part of town. The land running 
on up the hill was pretty much country then, with 
trees covering the hill. Before automobiles came, it 
was too much work getting up the hill and besides Old 
Harbor hadn’t many swells. That was when his father 
had got the job as principal in the high school at Old 
Harbor and just before the little family went to live 
in Indianapolis. 

Bruce, then in knee-pants, with his father and mother, 
had lived in two adjoining rooms — small ones on the 
second floor of the three-storied frame hotel. It 
wasn’t the best hotel in town, even then, nor was it what 
it had now become — half a laborers’ rooming-house. 

The hotel was still owned by the same woman, a 
widow, who had owned it when Bruce was a boy. Then 
she was a young widow with two children, a boy and 
a girl — the boy two or three years the older. He had 
disappeared from the scene when Bruce came back 
there to live — had gone to Chicago where he had a 
job as copy-writer in an advertising agency. Bruce had 
grinned when he heard of that. “Lordy, a kind of 

[87] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


circle of life. You start somewhere, come back to 
where you started. It doesn’t much matter what your 
intentions are. Round and round you go. Now you 
see it and now you don’t.” His Dad and that kid 
both working at the same job in Chicago, crossing 
each other’s tracks, both in earnest about their jobs, 
too. When he heard what the son of the house was 
doing in Chicago, there popped into Bruce’s mind a 
story one of the boys in the newspaper office had told 
him. It was a story about certain people, Iowa people, 
Illinois people, Ohio people. The Chicago newspaper 
man had seen a lot of people when he went for a trip 
with a friend in a car. ‘They are in business or they 
own a farm and suddenly they begin to feel they aren’t 
getting anywhere. Then they sell the little farm or 
the store and buy a Ford. They start traveling, men, 
women and kids. Out they go to California and get 
tired of that. They move on down to Texas and then 
to Florida. The car rattles and bangs like a milk- 
wagon but they keep on the go. Finally they get back 
to where they started and then begin the whole show all 
over again. The country is getting all filled up with 
such caravans, thousands of them. When such an out- 
fit goes broke they settle down wherever they happen 
to be, become farm-hands or factory-hands. There’s a 
lot of them. It’s the American passion for being on 
the go, a little going to seed, I guess.” 

The son of the widow who owned the hotel had gone 
off to Chicago and had got a job and married, but the 
daughter hadn’t had any such luck. She hadn’t found 
herself a man. Now the mother was getting old and 

[ 88 ] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


the daughter was slipping into her place. The hotel 
had changed because the town had changed. When 
Bruce was a kid, living there in knee-pants with his 
father and mother, several half-important people — 
like his father, the principal in the high school, a young 
unmarried doctor and two young lawyers — lived there. 
Traveling men who wanted to save a little money did 
not go to the more expensive hotel on the chief busi- 
ness street, but were satisfied with the neat little place 
on the hillside above. In the evening, when Bruce 
was a child, such men used to sit in chairs before the 
hotel talking, explaining to each other their presence 
in the less expensive place. “I like it. It’s quieter up 
here,” one of them said. They were trying to make 
a little money on their travelers’ expense accoimts and 
seemed half ashamed of the fact. 

The daughter of the house was then a pretty little 
thing with long yellow curls. On spring and fall 
evenings she was always playing about the front of 
the hotel. The traveling men petted and fussed with 
her and she liked it. One by one they took her to sit 
in their laps and gave her pennies or sticks of candy. 
“How long had that lasted?” Bruce wondered. At 
what age had she become self-conscious, a woman? 
Perhaps she had slid off one thing and into another 
without knowing. One evening she had been sitting 
on the knees of a young man and suddenly she had a 
feeling. She didn’t know what it was. It wasn’t 
proper for her to do that sort of thing any more. 
Down she jumped and walked away with a certain dig- 
nified air that made the traveling men and others sit- 

[89] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


ting about laugh. The young traveling man tried to 
get her to come back and sit on his lap again but she 
wouldn’t and then she went into the hotel and up to her 
room feeling — Lord knows what. 

Did that happen when Bruce was a child there ? He, 
his father and mother used to go sit in the chairs before 
the door of the hotel sometimes on spring and fall 
evenings. His father’s position in the high school 
gave him a certain dignity in the eyes of the others. 

And what about Bruce’s mother, Martha Stockton. 
It was odd what a distinct, and at the same time 
indistinct figure she had been to him since he had 
grown to manhood. He had all sorts of dreams about 
her, thoughts about her. Now sometimes, in the life 
of his fancy, she was young and handsome, and some- 
times she was old and tired of life. Had she become 
merely a figure his fancy played with? A mother, 
after her death, or after you no longer live near her, 
is something the male fancy can play with, dream of, 
make a part of the movement of the grotesque dance 
of life. Idealize her. Why not? She is gone. She 
will not come near to break the thread of the dream. 
The dream is as true as the reality. Who knows the 
difference? Who knows anything? 

Mother, dear mother, come home to me now 
The clock in the steeple strikes ten. 

• • . • • 

Silver threads among the gold. 

Sometimes Bruce wondered if the same thing had 
happened to his father’s conception of the dead woman 

[90] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


that had happened to his own. When he and his father 
lunched together in Chicago he had sometimes wanted 
to ask the older man questions but dared not. It 
might have been done perhaps if there hadn’t been that 
feeling between Bernice and his father’s new wife. 
Why had they taken such a dislike to each other? It 
would have been worth while to have been able to say 
to the older man; “What about it, eh, Dad? Which 
do you most like having near you — the living body of 
the younger woman or the half real, half manufactured 
dream of the one who died?” A mother’s figure, held 
in solution — in a floating, changing liquid thing — ^the 
fancy. 

The flashy young Jew in the newspaper office could 
sure sling great mother stuff — “gold-star mothers send- 
ing sons off to war — the mother of a young murderer 
in court — in black — put in there by the son’s attorney 
— a fox, that fellow — good jury stuff.” When Bruce 
was a child he, with his mother and father, lived on the 
same floor of the hotel at Old Harbor where he later 
got a room. Then there was the room for his father 
and mother and the smaller one for himself. The 
bathroom was on the same floor several doors away. 
Perhaps the place looked then much as it did now, but 
to Bruce it seemed infinitely more shabby. On the day 
when he came back to Old Harbor and went to the 
hotel, and when he was shown to a room, he trembled, 
thinking the woman who led the way upstairs for him 
was about to lead him to the same room. At first, 
when he was left alone in the room, he thought it 
might be the same one he had occupied as a child. His 

[91] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


mind went, ‘‘dick, click/’ like an old clock in an empty 
house. “Oh, Lord! Ring around the rosy, eh?” 
Gradually things cleared. He decided it wasn’t the 
same room. He wouldn’t have it be the same. 

“Better not. I might wake up some night, crying 
for mother, wanting her soft arms about me, my head 
on her soft breasts. Mother-complex — something of 
that sort. I’m supposed to be trying to cut loose from 
memories. Get some new breath into my nostrils if I 
can. The dance of life! Don’t stop. Don’t go back. 
Dance the dance out to the end. Listen, do you hear 
the music ?” 

The woman who had shown him to the room was 
undoubtedly the child of the curls. That he knew by 
her name. She had grown a little stout, but wore neat 
clothes. Her hair was already a little gray. Was she, 
inside herself, still a child? Did he want to be a child 
again? Was that what had drawn him back to Old 
Harbor? “Well, hardly,” he had said to himself, 
stoutly. “I’m on another lay just now.” 

But, about that woman, the hotel woman’s daugh- 
ter — ^herself now a hotel woman? 

Why hadn’t she got her a man? Perhaps she hadn’t 
wanted one. It might be that she had seen too much 
of men. He, himself, as a child, had never played with 
the two hotel children because the little girl had made 
him feel shy when he met her alone in the halls and 
because, as the boy was two or three years older, he 
felt shy with him too. 

In the morning, when he was a child in knee-trou- 
sers, living in the hotel with his father and mother, he 

[92] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


went off to school walking usually with his father, and 
in the afternoon, when school was out, came home 
alone. His father stayed at the schoolhouse until 
later, correcting papers or something of that sort. 

In the late afternoon and when the weather was fine 
Bruce and his mother went for a walk. What had she 
been doing all day ? There was no food to cook. They 
dined in the hotel dining-room among the traveling 
men and the farmers and town people who came there 
to eat. A few business men also came. Supper then 
was twenty-five cents. A procession of strange people 
always passing in and out of a boy’s fancy. Plenty of 
things for the fancy to feed on then. Bruce had been 
a rather silent boy. His mother was that type too. 
Bruce’s father did the talking for the family. 

What did his mother do all day? She did a lot of 
sewing. Also she made lace. Later, when Bruce mar- 
ried Bernice, his grandmother, with whom he had lived 
after his mother died, sent her a lot of lace the mother 
had made. It was rather delicate stuff, turned a little 
yellow with age. Bernice was glad to get it. She wrote 
a note to the grandmother saying how sweet it was of 
her to send it. 

In the afternoon, when the lad, who was now a man 
of thirty-four, got home from school, about four, his 
mother took him for a walk. At that time several 
river packets came regularly to Old Harbor and both 
the woman and her child liked to go down to the levee. 
What a bustle ! What a singing, swearing and shout- 
ing! The town, that had been sleeping all day in the 
heat of the river valley, suddenly awoke. Drays drove 

[93] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


pell-mell down the hillside streets, there was a cloud of 
dust, dogs barked, boys ran and shouted, a whirlwind 
of energy swept over the town. It seemed a life-and- 
death matter that the boat not be kept at the landing an 
unnecessary moment. The boats landed goods and 
took on and put off passengers near a street of small 
stores and saloons that stood on the ground now oc- 
cupied by the Grey Wheel Factory. The stores faced 
the river and at their back doors ran the railroad that 
was slowly but surely choking the river life to death. 
What an unromantic thing the railroad seemed, there 
in sight of the river and the river life. 

Bruce’s mother took her child down the sloping 
streets to one of the small stores facing the river where 
she usually bought some trifle, a package of pins or 
needles or a spool of thread. Then she and the boy 
sat on a bench before the store and the storekeeper 
came to the door to speak to her. He was a neat-look- 
ing man with a gray mustache. ‘'The boy likes look- 
ing at the boats and the river, doesn’t he, Mrs. Stock- 
ton?” he said. The man and the woman talked of the 
heat of the late September day or of the chances for 
rain. Then a customer appeared and the man disap- 
peared inside the store and did not come out again. 
The boy knew his mother had bought the trifle in the 
store because she didn’t like to sit on the bench in front 
without giving the store a little patronage. Already 
that part of town was going to pieces. The business 
of the town was drawing away from the river, had 
turned its back on the river where all the town life had 
once centered. 


[943 




DARK LAUGHTER 


The woman and the boy sat for an hour on the 
bench. The light began to soften and a cool evening 
breeze blew up the river valley. How seldom the 
woman spoke! It was sure Bruce’s mother had not 
been very social. The wife of the principal of the 
school could have had a good many women friends in 
the town but she did not seem to want them. Why? 

When a boat was coming in or going out it was 
very exciting. There was a long broad landing-plank 
that had been let down on the sloping levee, into which 
cobblestones had been set, and niggers ran or trotted 
on and off the boat with loads on their heads or shoul- 
ders. They were barefooted and often half naked. 
On hot days in the late May or early September how 
their black faces, backs and shoulders shone in the 
afternoon light ! There was the boat, the slowly mov- 
ing gray waters of the river, the green of the trees over 
on the Kentucky shore and the woman sitting beside the 
boy — so near and yet so far away. 

Certain things, impressions, pictures, memories had 
got fixed in the boy’s mind. They stayed there after 
the woman was dead and he had himself become a man. 

The woman. Mystery. Love of women. Scorn of 
women. What are they like? Are they like trees? 
How much can woman thrust into the mystery of life, 
think, feel? Love men. Take women. Drift with the 
drifting of days. That life goes on does not concern 
you. It concerns women. 

Thoughts of a man dissatisfied with life, as it had 
presented itself to him confused with what he thought 
a boy had felt sitting by a river with a woman. Be- 

[95] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


fore he got old enough to be at all conscious of her, 
as a being like himself, she died. Had he, Bruce, in 
the years after she died and while he was growing to 
manhood and after he became a grown man, had he 
manufactured the feeling he had come to have con- 
cerning her ? That might be. It might be he had done 
it because Bernice did not seem much of a mystery. 

The lover must love. It is his nature. Did men 
like Sponge Martin, who were workmen and lived and 
felt down through their fingers — did they get life more 
clearly? 

Bruce walking out at a factory door with Sponge on 
a Saturday evening. Winter almost gone, spring 
coming soon now. 

Before the factory door at the wheel of an auto- 
mobile a woman — the wife of Grey, the owner of the 
factory. Another woman sitting on a bench beside 
her boy looking at the moving face of a river in the 
evening light. Drifting thoughts, fancies in a man’s 
mind. The reality of life clouded at the moment. 
Seed-sowing hunger, soil-hunger. A group of words 
caught in the meshes of the mind drifting up into con- 
sciousness, forming words on his lips. As Sponge 
talked, Bruce and the woman in the car, for a moment 
only, looked into each other’s eyes. 

The words in Bruce’s mind at the moment were 
from the Bible. “And Judah said unto Onan, Go in 
unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up 
seed to thy brother.” 

What a queer jumble of words — ideas. Bruce had 
been away from Bernice for several months. Was he 

[96] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


on the lookout for another woman now? Why the 
startled look in the eyes of the woman in the automo- 
bile? Had he embarrassed her by staring at her? 
But she had stared at him. There had been a look in 
her eyes as though she were about to speak to him, a 
workman in her husband’s factory. He would listen 
to Sponge. 

Bruce walked beside Sponge without looking back. 
*‘What a thing that Bible!” It had been one of the 
few books Bruce never tired of reading. When he 
was a boy and after his mother died his grandmother 
always had the book about — reading in the New Testa- 
ment, but he read the older Testament. Stories — 
men and women in relation to each other — fields, 
sheep, grain growing, famine coming into a land, years 
of plenty coming. Joseph, David, Saul, Samson, the 
strong man — honey, bees, barns, cattle — men and 
women going into barns to lie on the threshing-floors. 
‘‘When he saw her — he thought her to be a harlot be- 
cause she had covered her face.” That was when he 
went up unto his sheep-shearers to Timorath, he and 
his friend Hirah, the Adullamite. 

“And he turned unto her by the way and said. Go 
to, I pray thee, let me come in unto you.” 

And why had not that young Jew in the newspaper 
office in Chicago read the book of his fathers? There 
would not have been such loose word-slinging then. 

Sponge on a sawdust pile in the Ohio River Valley 
beside his old woman — the old woman who was alive 
like a fox terrier. 

A woman in an automobile with her eyes on Bruce. 

[97] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


A workman, like Sponge, saw, felt, tasted things 
through his fingers. There was a disease of life due 
to men getting away from their own hands, their own 
bodies too. Things felt with the whole body — rivers 
— ^trees — skies — grasses growing — grain growing — 
ships — seed stirring in the ground — city streets — dust 
in city streets — steel — iron — sky-scrapers — faces in 
city streets — bodies of men — ^bodies of women — 
children’s quick slender bodies. 

That young Jew in the Chicago newspaper office 
slinging words brilliantly — slinging the bunk. Bernice 
writing that story about the poet and the woman of 
wax, Tom Wills swearing at the young Jew. “He’s 
afraid of his woman.” 

Bruce cutting out from Chicago — spending weeks on 
a river — on the docks in New Orleans. 

Thoughts of his mother — thoughts of a boy’s 
thoughts of his mother. A man like Bruce could think 
a hundred diverse thoughts walking ten steps beside a 
workman named Sponge Martin. 

Had Sponge noticed the little passage between him- 
self — Bruce — and that woman in the car? He had 
felt it — ^perhaps through his fingers. 

“That woman’s taken a shine to you. Better look 
out,” Sponge said. 

Bruce smiled. 

More thoughts of his mother as he walked with 
Sponge. Sponge talking. He did not press the theme 
of the woman in the car. It might just have been a 
workman’s slant. Workmen were like that, they 
thought of women only in one way. There was a kind 

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DARK LAUGHTER 


of terrible matter-of-factness about workmen. More 
than likely most of their observations were lies. De 
diddle de dum dum ! De diddle de dum dum 1 

Bruce remembered, or thought he remembered, cer- 
tain things about his mother, and after he came back 
to Old Harbor they piled up in his consciousness. The 
nights in the hotel. After the evening meal and when 
the nights were fair he, with his father and mother, sat 
about with the strangers, travelers and others, before 
the door of the hotel and then Bruce was put to bed. 
Sometimes the principal of the school got into a dis- 
cussion with some man. “Is a protective tariff a good 
thing? Don’t you think it will raise prices too much? 
The fellow between will get crushed between the 
upper and the nether millstone.” 

What was a nether millstone ? 

The father and mother went to sit in their rooms, the 
man reading school papers and the woman a book. 
Sometimes she worked at her sewing. Then the 
woman came into the boy’s room and kissed him on 
both cheeks. “Now you go to sleep,” she said. Some- 
times after he was in bed the parents went out for a 
walk. Where did they go ? Did they go to sit on the 
bench by the tree in front of the store on the street 
facing the river ? 

The river going on always — a huge thing. It never 
seemed to hurry. After a while it joined another river, 
called the Mississippi, and went away south. More and 
more water flowing. When he was lying in bed the 
river seemed to flow through the boy’s head. On 

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DARK LAUGHTER 


spring nights, sometimes, when the man and woman 
were out, there came a sudden flaw of rain and he got 
out of his bed and went to the open window. The sky 
was dark and mysterious, but when one looked down 
from his second-story room there was the cheerful sight 
of people going hurriedly along a street, going down- 
hill along a street toward the river, dodging in and out 
of doorways to avoid the rain. 

On other nights in bed there was just the dark space 
where the window and the sky were. Men passed along 
a hallway outside his door — traveling men going to 
bed — ^heavy-footed fat men, most of them. 

The man Bruce had somehow got his notion of his 
mother mixed up with his feeling about the river. He 
was quite conscious that it was all rather a muddle in 
his head. Mother Mississippi, Mother Ohio, eh? 
That was all tommyrot, of course. “Poetic bunk,” Tom 
Wills would have called it. It was symbolism, getting 
off your base, saying one thing and meaning another. 
Still there might be something in it — something Mark 
Twain had almost got and didn’t dare try to quite get 
— ^the beginning of a kind of big continental poetry, 
eh? Warm, big rich rivers flowing down — Mother 
Ohio, Mother Mississippi. When you begin to get 
smart you got to look out for that kind of bunk. Go 
easy, brother, if you say it out loud some foxy city man 
may laugh at you. Tom Wills growling, “Ah, cut it 
out!” When you were a boy and sat looking at the 
river something appeared, a dark spot away off up 
river. You watched it coming slowly down hut it was 

[ lOO] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


so far out that you could not see what it was. Water- 
soaked logs sometimes bobbed along, just one end stick- 
ing up like a man swimming. It might be a swimmer 
away out there but of course it couldn’t be. Men do 
not swim down the Ohio, miles and miles, down the 
Mississippi, miles and miles. When Bruce was a child 
and sat on the bench watching, he half closed his eyes, 
and his mother sitting beside him did the same thing. 
The thing to figure out later, when he was a grown 
man, was whether or not he and his mother had, at the 
same time, the same thoughts. Perhaps the thoughts 
Bruce later fancied he had, as a child, hadn’t come at 
all. The fancy was a tricky thing. What one was try- 
ing to do with the fancy was to link oneself, in some 
rather mysterious way, with others. 

You watched the log bob along. Now it was oppo- 
site you, away over near the Kentucky shore where the 
slow strong current was. 

And now it would begin to get smaller and smaller. 
How long could you keep it in sight, on the gray face 
of the waters, a little black thing getting smaller and 
smaller? It became a test. The need was terrible. 
What need? To keep the eyes glued on a drifting, 
floating black spot on a moving surface of yellow-gray, 
to hold the eyes there fixed, as long as possible. 

What did a man or woman sitting on a bench on a 
street on a dusky evening and looking at the darkening 
face of a river, what did they see? Why had they 
need to do the rather absurd thing together? When 
the child’s father and mother were out alone together 

[ loi 1 




DARK LAUGHTER 


at night was there something of the same kind of need 
in them? Did they meet the need in such a childish 
way? When they came home and had got into bed 
sometimes they talked in low tones and sometimes th^ 
were silent 


t 102] 



CHAPTER TWELVE 


O THER strange memories for Bruce, walking 
with Sponge. When he went with his father 
and mother from Old Harbor to Indianapolis they 
went by boat to Louisville. Then Bruce was twelve. 
His memories of that occasion might be more trust- 
worthy. They got up in the early morning and went in 
a hack to the boat-landing. There were two other 
passengers, two young men who were evidently not 
citizens of Old Harbor. Who were they? Certain 
figures, seen under certain circumstances, remain 
sharply in the memory always. A tricky business 
though, taking such things too seriously. It might 
lead to mysticism and an American mystic would be 
something ridiculous. 

That woman in the car by the factory door Bruce 
and Sponge had just passed. Odd that Sponge had 
known about there being a passage — of a sort — ^be- 
tween her and Bruce. He hadn’t been looking. 

Odd, too, if Bruce’s mother had been one who was 
always making such contacts, making them and her 
man — Bruce’s father — ^not knowing. 

She, herself, might not have known — not con- 
sciously. 

That day of his boyhood on the river had tmdoubt- 
edly been very yiyid to Bruce. 

[ 103] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


To be sure, Bruce was a child then, and to a child 
the adventure of going to live at a new place is some- 
thing tremendous. 

What will be seen at the new place, what people will 
be there, what will life be like there? 

The two young men who had got on the boat that 
morning when he, with his father and mother, left Old 
Harbor, had stood by a railing on an upper deck talking 
while the boat got out into the stream. One was rather 
heavy, a broad-shouldered man with black hair and big 
hands. He smoked a pipe. The other was slender and 
had a small black mustache which he kept stroking. 

Bruce sat with his father and mother on a bench. 
The morning passed. Landings were made and goods 
were put off the boat. The two young men passengers 
kept walking about, laughing and talking earnestly, 
and the child had a feeling that one of them, the slen- 
der man, had some sort of connection with his mother. 
It was as though the man and the woman had once 
known each other and now were embarrassed finding 
themselves on the same boat. When they passed the 
bench where the Stocktons sat the slender man did not 
look at them but out over the river. Bruce had a shy 
boyish desire to call to him. He became absorbed in 
the young man and in his mother. How young she 
looked that day — like a girl. 

Bruce’s father got into a long talk with the captain 
of the boat who bragged of his experiences in the early 
days on the river. He talked of the black deck-hands, 
“We owned them then, like so many horses, but we had 
to take care of them like horses. It was after the war 

[ 104] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


we began getting the most out of them. They were our 
property just the same, do you see, but we couldn't 
sell them and we could always get all we wanted. 
Niggers love the river. You can't keep a nigger off the 
river. We used to get 'em for five or six dollars a 
month and we didn't pay 'em that if we didn't want to. 
Why should we? If a nigger got gay we knocked him 
into the river. No one ever made any inquiry about a 
missing nigger, them days." 

The boat-captain and the school-teacher went away 
to another part of the boat and Bruce sat alone with 
his mother. In his memory — after she died — she re- 
mained a slender, rather small woman with a sweet, 
serious face. Almost always she was quiet and re- 
served, but sometimes — rarely — as on that day on the 
boat she became strangely alive and eager. In the 
afternoon when the boy had grown tired running 
about the boat he went to sit with her again. Evening 
came. Within an hour they would be tied up at Louis- 
ville. The captain had taken Bruce's father up into the 
pilot-house. Near Bruce and his mother stood the two 
young men. The boat came to a landing, the last land- 
ing it would make before reaching the city. 

There was a long sloping shore with cobblestones set 
in the mud of the river levee and the town at which they 
had stopped was much like the town of Old Harbor, 
only somewhat smaller. Many bags of grain were to 
be put off and the niggers were trotting up and down 
the landing-stage singing as they worked. 

From the throats of the ragged black men as they 
trotted up and down the landing-stage, strange haunt- 

[ 105] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


ing notes. Words were caught up, tossed about, held 
in the throat. Word-lovers, sound-lovers — ^the blacks 
seemed to hold a tone in some warm place, under their 
red tongues perhaps. Their thick lips were walls under 
which the tone hid. Unconscious love of inanimate 
things lost to the whites — skies, the river, a moving 
boat — ^black mysticism — ^never expressed except in song 
or in the movements of bodies. The bodies of the 
black workers belonged to each other as the sky be- 
longed to the river. Far off now, down river, where the 
sky was splashed with red, it touched the face of the 
river. The tones from the throats of the black work- 
ers touched each other, caressed each other. On the 
deck of the boat a red-faced mate stood swearing as 
though at the sky and the river. 

The words coming from the throats of the black 
workers could not be understood by the boy but were 
strong and lovely. Afterwards when he thought of 
that moment Bruce always remembered the singing 
voices of the negro deck-hands as colors. Streaming 
reds, browns, golden yellows coming out of black 
throats. He grew strangely excited inside himself, and 
his mother, sitting beside him, was also excited. “Ah, 
my baby ! Ah, my baby !” Sounds caught and held in 
black throats. Notes split into quarter-notes. The 
word, as meaning, of no importance. Perhaps words 
were always unimportant. There were strange words 
about a “banjo dog.” What was a “banjo dog?” 
“Ah, my banjo dog 1 Oh, oh! Oh, oh I Ah, my banjo 
dog!” 

Brown bodies trotting, black bodies trotting. The 

[io6] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


bodies of all the men running up and down the landing- 
stage were one body. One could not be distinguished 
from another. They were lost in each other. 

Could the bodies of people be so lost in each other? 
Bruce’s mother had taken the boy’s hand and held it 
closely, warmly. Near by stood the slender young man 
who had got on the boat in the morning. Did he know 
how the mother and the boy felt at that moment and 
did he want to be a part of them? There was no doubt 
that all day, as the boat labored up river, there had 
been something between the woman and the man, some- 
thing of which they had both been but semi-conscious. 
The school-teacher had not known, but the boy and the 
slender young man’s companion had known. Long 
after that evening sometimes — ^thoughts coming into 
the head of a man who had once been a boy on a boat 
with his mother. All day as the man had gone about 
the boat he had talked to his companion but there had 
been a call in him toward the woman with the child. 
Something within him went toward the woman as the 
sun went toward the western horizon. 

Now the evening sun seemed to be about to drop 
into the river, far off to the west, and the sky was rosy 
red. 

The young man’s hand rested on the shoulder of his 
companion but his face was turned toward the woman 
and the child. The woman’s face was red, like the 
evening sky. She did not look at the young man, but 
away from him across the river and the boy looked 
from the young man’s face to his mother’s face. His 
mother’s hand gripped his hand tightly. 

[ 107] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


Bruce never had any brothers or sisters. Could it 
be that his mother had wanted more children ? Long 
afterwards, sometimes — that time after he left Bernice, 
when he was floating down the Mississippi River in 
an open boat, before he lost his boat one night in a 
storm when he had gone ashore — odd things happened. 
He pulled the boat ashore under a tree somewhere and 
lay down on the grass on the river-bank. An empty 
river filled with ghosts before his eyes. He was half 
asleep, half awake. Fancies flooded his mind. Before 
the storm came that blew his boat away he lay for a 
long time in the darkness near the water's edge reliving 
another evening on a river. The strangeness and the 
wonder of things — in nature — he had known as a boy 
and that he had somehow later lost — the sense lost liv- 
ing in a city and being married to Bernice — could he 
get it back again? There was the strangeness and won- 
der of trees, skies, city streets, black men, white men — 
of buildings, words, sounds, thoughts, fancies. Per- 
haps white men's getting on so fast in life, having 
newspapers, advertising, great cities, smart clever 
minds, ruling the world, had cost them more than they 
had gained. They hadn't gained much. 

That young man Bruce had once seen on an Ohio 
river-boat when he was a boy taking the trip up river 
with his father and mother — ^had he on that evening 
been something of what Bruce later became ? It would 
be an odd turn of the mind if the young man had never 
existed — if a boy's mind had invented him. Suppose 
he had just invented him later — as something — to ex- 
plain his mother to himself as a means for getting 

[io8] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


close to the woman, his mother. The man’s memory 
of the woman, his mother, might also be an invention. 
A mind like Bruce’s sought explanations for every- 
thing. 

On the boat on the Ohio River, evening coming on 
fast. There was a town sitting high up on a bluflf and 
three or four people had got off the boat. The niggers 
kept singing — singing and trotting — dancing up and 
down a landing-stage. A broken-down hack, to which 
two decrepit-looking horses were hitched, went away 
up along a street toward the town on the bluff. On the 
shore were two white men. One was small and alert 
and had an account-book in his hand. He was check- 
ing off the grain-bags as they were brought ashore. 
‘^One-hundred-twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four.” 
'^Ah, my banjo dog! Oh, ho! Oh, ho!” 

The second white man on the shore was tall and 
lean and there was something wild about his eyes. On 
the still evening air the voice of the captain of the boat, 
talking to Bruce’s father up above in the pilot-house or 
on the deck above, could be distinctly heard. ‘‘He’s a 
crazy man.” The second white rhan ashore sat at the 
top of the levee with his knees drawn up between his 
arms. His body rocked slowly to and fro in the rhythm 
of the singing negroes. The man had been in some 
kind of an accident. There was a cut on his long lean 
cheek and the blood had run down into his dirty beard 
and dried there. There was a tiny streak of red faintly 
seen like the streak of fiery red in the red sky of the 
west the boy could see when he looked away down 
river toward the setting sun. The injured man was 

[ 109] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


dressed in ragged clothes and his lips hung open, thick 
lips hanging open like niggers’ lips when they sang. 
His body rocked. The body of the slender young man 
on the boat, who was trying to keep up a conversation 
with his companion, the broad-shouldered man, was 
rocking almost imperceptibly. The body of the woman 
who was Bruce’s mother was rocking. 

To the boy on the boat that evening the whole world, 
the sky, the boat, the shore running away into the gath- 
ering darkness seemed rocking with the voices of the 
singing niggers. 

Had the whole thing been but a fancy, a whim ? Had 
he, as a boy, gone to sleep on a boat with his hand 
gripped in his mother’s hand and dreamed it all? It 
had been hot all day on the narrow-decked river-boat. 
The gray waters running along beside the boat made a 
boy sleepy. 

What had happened between a small woman sitting 
silently on the deck of a boat and a young man with a 
tiny mustache who talked all day to his friend, never 
addressing a word to the woman? What could hap- 
pen between people that no one knew anything about, 
that they themselves knew little about? 

As Bruce walked beside Sponge Martin and passed 
a woman sitting in an automobile and something — a 
flashing kind of thing passed between them — what did 
it signify? 

On the boat, that day on the river, Bruce’s mother 
had turned her face toward the young man, even as the 
boy watched the two faces. It was as though she had 
suddenly consented to something — a, kiss perhaps. 

[ no] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


No one had known but the boy and perhaps — ^as a 
wild fanciful notion — the crazy man sitting on the 
river levee and staring at the boat — his thick lips hang- 
ing open. “He’s three-quarters white and one-quarter 
nigger, and he’s been crazy for ten years,” the voice of 
the captain explained to the school-teacher on the deck 
above. 

The crazy man sat hunched up ashore, on the top of 
the levee, until the boat was pulling away from the land- 
ing and then he got to his feet and shouted. Later the 
captain said he did it whenever a boat landed at the 
town. The man was harmless, the captain said. The 
crazy man with the streak of red blood on his cheek got 
to his feet and stood up very straight and tall. His 
body seemed like the trunk of a dead tree growing at 
the levee-top. There might have been a dead tree 
there. The boy might have gone to sleep and dreamed 
it all. He had been strangely attracted to the slender 
young man. He might have wanted the young man 
near himself and had let his fancy draw him near 
through the body of a woman, his mother. 


How ragged and dirty were the clothes of the crazy 
man ! A kiss had passed between the young woman on 
deck and the slender young man. The crazy man 
shouted something. “Keep afloat! Keep afloat!” he 
cried, and all the niggers down below on the lower deck 
of the boat were silent. The body of the young man 
with the mustache quivered. A woman’s body quiv- 
ered. A boy’s body quivered. 

[Ill] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


"All right,” the captain’s voice shouted. “It’s all 
right. We’ll take care of ourselves.” 

"He’s just a harmless lunatic, comes down every 
time a boat comes in and always shouts something like 
that,” the captain explained to Bruce’s father as the 
boat swung out into the stream, 


[ II2] 




CHAPTER THIRTEEN 


S ATURDAY night and supper on the table. The 
old woman cooking supper — what ! 

Lif’ up the skillet, put down the lid, 

Mama’s go’na make me some a-risen bread ! 


An’ I ain’t go’na give you none of my jelly roll. 

An’ I ain’t go’na give you none of my jelly roll. 

A Saturday evening in the early spring in Old Har- 
bor, Indiana. In the air the first faint promise of the 
hot moist summer days to come. In the lowlands up 
and down river from Old Harbor the river flood- waters 
still covered the deep flat fields. A warm rich land of 
growth — trees growing rank — woods and corn grow- 
ing rank. The whole Middle Amerk:an empire — swept 
by frequent and delicious rains, great forests, prairies 
on which early spring flowers grow like a carpet — 
land of many rivers running down to the brown slow 
strong mother of rivers, land to live in, make love in, 
dance in. Once the Indians danced there, made feasts 
there. They threw poems about like seeds on a wind. 
Names of rivers, names of towns. Ohio! Illinois! 
Keokuk ! Chicago ! Illinois ! Michigan ! 

On Saturday evening when Sponge and Bruce put 

[ 113] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


away their brushes and came out of the factory, Sponge 
kept urging Bruce to come to his house* for Sunday 
dinner. ‘‘You ain’t got no old woman. My old woman 
likes to have you there. 

Sponge was in a playful mood, Saturday evening. 
On Sunday he would stuff himself with fried chicken, 
mashed potatoes, chicken gravy, pie. Then he would 
stretch himself on the floor beside his front door and 
sleep. If Bruce came he would manage in some way 
to get a bottle of whisky and Sponge would have 
several long pulls at the bottle. After Bruce had taken 
a pull or two Sponge and his old woman would finish 
it. Then the old woman would sit in a rocking-chair, 
laughing and teasing Sponge. “He ain’t much good 
any more — not much juice in him. I got to be looking 
out for a younger man — ^like you maybe,” she said, 
winking at Bruce. Sponge laughed and rolled on the 
floor, grunting sometimes, like a fat clean old pig. “I 
got you two kids. What’s got wrong with you?” 

“Time now to think of going fishing — some pay-day 
night — soon now, eh, old woman ?” 

On the table the dishes unwashed. The two older 
people slept. Sponge with his body across the open 
door, the old woman in her rocking-chair. Her mouth 
fell open. She had false teeth in the upper jaw. Flies 
came in at the open door and settled on the table. Feed, 
flies! Plenty of fried chicken left, plenty of gravy, 
plenty of mashed potatoes. 

Bruce had an idea the dishes were left unwashed be- 
cause Sponge wanted to help clear up, but neither he 
nor the old woman wanted another man to see him 

[114] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


helping do a woman^s task. Bruce could imagine a 
conversation between them before he came. “Look 
here, old woman, you let them dishes alone. You wait 
’til later, ’til after he goes.” 

Sponge owned an old brick house that had once been 
a stable near the river’s edge where the stream bent 
away to the north. The railroad ran past his kitchen 
door, and in front of his house, down nearer the water’s 
edge, there was a dirt road. In the spring floods, some- 
times, the road was under water and Sponge had to 
wade in water to get up to the tracks. 

In an earlier day the dirt road had been the main 
road into the town and there had been a tavern and a 
stage-coach station, but the small brick stable Sponge 
had bought at a low price and had converted into a 
house — when he was a young man and had just got him 
a wife — was the only indication of former grandeur 
left along the road. 

Five or six hens and a rooster walked in the road 
that was full of deep ruts. Few automobiles came that 
way and when the others slept Bruce stepped carefully 
over Sponge’s body and walked away from town along 
the road. When he had gone a half-mile and had 
left the town behind, the road turned away from the 
river into the hills and, just at that point, the current 
set in sharp against the river-bank. The road there 
was in danger of falling into the river and at this point 
Bruce loved to sit on a log near the river’s edge and 
look down. There was a fall of perhaps ten feet and 
the current was eating and eating at the banks. Logs 
and driftwood carried by the current almost touched 

[115] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


the shore and then were carried out again into the mid- 
dle of the stream. 

It was a place to sit, dreaming and thinking. When 
he grew tired of the sight of the river he went into 
the hill country, returning to town in the evening by 
a new road directly over the hills. 

Sponge in the shop just before the time when the 
whistle blew on Saturday afternoon. He was a man 
who had spent all the years of his life working and 
eating and sleeping. When Bruce had worked on the 
newspaper in Chicago he had gone out of the news- 
paper office in the afternoon feeling dissatisfied, empty. 
Often he and Tom Wills went to sit in some dark little 
restaurant on a side street. There was a place just 
over the river on the North Side where bootleg whisky 
and wine could be had. For two or three hours they 
sat drinking in the little dark place while Tom growled. 

“What a life for a grown man — throwing bunk — 
sending others out to gather up city scandal— the Jew 
dressing it up in gaudy words.” 

Although he was old Sponge did not seem tired 
when the day’s work was done but as soon as he got 
home and had eaten he wanted to sleep. All afternoon, 
on Sunday, after the Sunday dinner, at noon, he slept. 
Was the man entirely satisfied with life? Did his job 
satisfy him, his wife, the house in which he lived, the 
bed in which he slept ? Did he have no dreams, seek 
nothing he could not find ? When he awoke on a sum- 
mer morning after a night on the sawdust pile beside 
the river and his old woman, what thoughts came into 
his mind? Could it be that, to Sponge, his old woman 

[ 




DARK LAUGHTER 


was like the river, like the sky overhead, like the trees 
on a distant river-shore? Was she to him like a fact 
in nature, something about which you asked no ques- 
tions — something like birth or death? 

Bruce decided the old man was not necessarily self- 
satisfied. With him being satisfied or not satisfied did 
not count. There was in him a kind of humbleness 
as in Tom Wills and he liked the skill of his own hands. 
That gave him something to rest on in life. Tom 
Wills would have liked the man. “He’s got something 
on you and me,” Tom would have said. 

As to his old woman — he was used to her. Unlike 
many working-men’s wives she did not look worn out. 
That might have been because she had never had but 
two children, but also it might have been because of 
something else. There was a thing worth doing her 
man could do better than most other men. He rested 
in that fact and his wife rested in him. The man and 
woman had stayed within the limits of their powers, 
had moved freely within a small but clear circle of 
life. The old woman cooked well and she liked going 
off with Sponge on an occasional spree — they dignified 
by calling it “going fishing.” She was a tough wiry 
little thing and did not get tired of life — of Sponge her 
husband. 

Being satisfied or not satisfied with life had nothing 
to do with Sponge Martin. On Saturday afternoon 
when he and Bruce were getting ready to leave he 
threw up his hands and declaimed : “Saturday night and 
supper on the table. It’s the happiest time in a work- 
ing-man’s life.” Was Bruce out for something very 

[117] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


like Sponge had got ? It might be he had left Bernice 
just because she did not know how to team with him. 
She hadn’t wanted to team with him. What had she 
wanted? Well, never mind her. Bruce had been 
thinking of her all afternoon, of her and his mother, 
what he could remember of his mother. 

Very likely a man like Sponge did not go around, as 
he did, with his brain churning — fancies drifting — a 
feeling of being all corked up — unreleased. It must 
be that most men got into a place, after a time, where 
all stood still. Little fragments of thoughts flying 
about in the mind. Nothing organized. The thoughts 
getting further and further away. 

There was a log he had once, as a boy, seen bobbing 
on the face of the river. It got further and further 
away, was presently just a tiny black spot. Then it 
went, disappeared into the vast flowing grayness. It 
did not go suddenly. When you were gazing hard at 
it, trying to see just how long it could be kept in sight, 
then — 

Was it there? It was! It wasn’t! It was! It 
wasn’t ! 

A trick of the mind. Suppose most men were dead 
and did not know it. When you were alive, a surge 
of thoughts, fancies, through the mind. Perhaps if 
you got the thoughts and fancies organized a little, 
made them work through your body, made thoughts 
and fancies a part of yourself — 

They might be used then — perhaps as Sponge Mar- 
tin used a brush. You might lay them on something 
as Sponge Martin could lay varnish on. Suppose 

[ii8] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


about one man in a million got things organized a little. 
What would that mean? What would such a man be? 

Would he be a Napoleon, a Caesar? 

Not likely. That would be too much bother. If he 
became a Napoleon or a Caesar he would have to be 
thinking all the time of the others, trying to use the 
others, trying to wake them up. Well, no, he wouldn’t 
try to wake them up. If they woke up they would be 
just like him. “I like not his lean and hungry look. 
He thinks too much.” That sort of thing, eh? A 
Napoleon or a Caesar would have to give others toys 
to play with, an army— conquests. He would have to 
make a display before them, have wealth, wear fine 
clothes, make them all envious, make them all want to 
be as he was. 

Bruce had many thoughts about Sponge as he 
worked beside him in the shop, as he walked beside 
him along a street, as he saw him sleeping on the floor 
like a pig or a dog, after stuffing himself with food 
his old woman had cooked. Sponge had lost his car- 
riage-painting shop through no fault of his own. 
There were too few carriages to paint. Later he might 
have set up a shop to paint automobiles if he had wanted 
to, but it was likely he was getting too old for that. 
He would keep on painting wheels, talking of the time 
when he did own a shop, eating, sleeping, getting 
drunk. When he and his old woman were a little 
drunk she seemed like a kid to him and he became like 
a kid, for a time. How often? About four times a 
week. Sponge said once, laughing. He might have 
been bragging. Bruce tried to imagine himself Sponge 

[ ” 9 ] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


at such a moment, Sponge lying on the sawdust pile 
beside the river with his old woman. He couldn’t do 
it. What got mixed up in such fancies was his own 
reaction to life. He couldn’t be Sponge, the old work- 
man robbed of his position as a master workman — 
drunk and trying to be like a kid with an old woman. 
What happened was that at the thought certain un- 
pleasant experiences of his own life came up to mock 
him. Once he had read a book by Zola, “La Terre,’’ 
and later, but a short time before he left Chicago, Tom 
Wills had shown him a new book by the Irishman 
Joyce, “Ulysses.’’ There were certain pages. A mcm 
named Bloom standing on a beach near some women. 
A woman. Bloom’s wife, in her bedroom at home. The 
thoughts of the woman — her night of animalism — all 
set down — minutely. Realism in writing lifted up 
sharp to something burning and raw like a raw sore. 
Others coming to look at the sores. For Bruce, to try 
to think of Sponge and his wife in their hour of plea- 
sure in each other, such pleasure as youth knew, was 
like that. It left a faint unpleasant smell in his nostrils 
— like decayed eggs — dumped in a wood — across the 
river — far off. 

Oh, Lord ! Was his own mother — on the boat, that 
time they saw the crazy man and the young fellow 
with the mustache — was she, at that moment, a kind 
of Bloom? 

Bruce did not want that thought. The figure of 
Bloom had seemed true to him, beautifully true, but 
it had sprung out of a brain not his. A European, a 
Continental man — ^that Joyce. Over there men had 

[ 120 ] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


lived in one place a long time and had deposited some- 
thing of themselves everywhere. A sensitive man 
walking there, living there, got it into his being. In 
America much of the land was still new, unsoiled. 
Hang on to the sun, the wind and the rain. 


A LAME ONE 
TO J. J. 

At night when there are no lights, my city is a man 
who arises from a bed to stare into darkness. 

In the daytime my city is the son of a dreamer. He 
has become the companion of thieves and prostitutes. 
He has denied his father. 

My city is a thin little old man who lives in a rooming- 
house in a dirty street. He wears false teeth that 
have become loose and make a sharp clicking sound 
when he eats. He cannot find himself a woman and 
indulges in self -abuse. He picks cigar-ends out of 
the gutter. 

My city lives in the roofs of the houses, in the eaves. 
A woman came to my city and he threw her far 
down, out of the eaves onto a pile of stones. Those 
who live in my city declare she fell. 

There is an angry man whose wife is unfaithful. He 
is my city. My city is in his hair, in his breath, in 
his eyes. When he breathes his breath is the breath 
of my city. 

There are many cities standing in rows. There are 
cities that sleep, cities that stand in the mud of 
swamps. 


[ 121 ] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


My city is very strange. It is tired and nervous. My 
city has become a woman whose lover is ill. She 
creeps in the hallways of a house and listens at the 
door of a room. 

I cannot tell what my city is like. 

My city is a kiss from the feverish lips of many tired 
people. 

My city is a murmur of voices coming out of a pit. 

Had Bruce fled from his own city, Chicago, hoping 
to find, in the soft nights of a river town, something 
to cure him ? 

What was he up to? Suppose it was something 
like this — suppose that young man in the boat had 
suddenly said to the woman sitting there with the child, 
‘T know you aren’t going to live very long and that you 
will not have any more children. I know everything 
about you that you, yourself, cannot know.” There 
might be such a thing as moments when men and men, 
women and women, men and women could get like 
that toward each other. ‘‘Ships that pass in the night.” 
It was the sort of thing it made a man seem silly to 
himself to think about definitely but it was quite sure 
there was something that people like himself, his mother 
before him, that young man on the river packet, peoph 
scattered about, here and there, that they were after. 

Bruce’s mind flopped back. Since he had left Ber- 
nice he had done a lot of thinking and feeling he had 
never done before and that was something gained. He 
might not be getting anywhere in particular but he 

[ 122 ] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


was having fun of a sort and he wasn’t bored as he had 
formerly been. The hours in the shop varnishing 
wheels did not cut much figure. You could varnish 
wheels and think of anything you pleased and the more 
skillful your hands became the more freedom your 
mind and your fancy had. There was a kind of plea- 
sure in the passing hours. Sponge, the unmalicious, the 
man child, playing, bragging, talking, showing Bruce 
how to varnish wheels accurately and well. It was 
the first time in his life Bruce had ever done anything 
well with his hands. 

If a man got so he could use his own thoughts, his 
own feelings, his own fancies as Sponge could use a 
paint-brush, what then ? What would the man be like ? 

Would that be what an artist was? It would be a 
fine to-do, if he, Bruce, in running away from Bernice 
and her crowd, from the conscious artists, had only 
done so because he wanted to be just what they wanted 
to be. Men and women in Bernice’s crowd were al- 
ways talking of being artists, speaking of themselves 
as artists. Why had men, like Tom Wills and him- 
self, a kind of contempt for them? Did he and Tom 
Wills secretly want to be artists of another sort? Was 
that what he, Bruce, had been up to when he lit out 
from Bernice and when he came back to Old Harbor? 
Was there something in the town he had missed as a 
boy there — he wanted to find — ^some string he wanted 
to pick up? 


I 123] 




CHAPTER FOURTEEN 

S ATURDAY evening and Bruce walking out at 
the shop door with Sponge. The other work- 
man, the surly man at the next bench, had gone hur- 
riedly out just ahead of them, had hurried out with- 
out saying good-night and Sponge had winked at 
Bruce. 

“He wants to get home quick to see if his old woman 
is still there — wants to see if she has gone off with 
that other chap she is always fooling with. He comes 
to her house in the afternoon. No danger his wanting 
to take her. He’d have to support her then. She’d 
go fast enough if he asked her but he won’t. Much 
better let this one do the work and make the money 
to feed and clothe her, eh?” 

Why had Bruce called Sponge unmalicious? Lord 
knows he was malicious enough. There was a thing 
called manhood, maleness, he had, and that he was 
proud of — as he was of his craftsmanship. He had 
got his own woman fast and hard and had contempt 
for any man who couldn’t do the same thing. His con- 
tempt had no doubt leaked across to the workman beside 
him and had made him more surly than he would have 
been had Sponge treated him as he did Bruce. 

When he came into the shop in the morning Bruce 
always spoke to the man at the second wheel-peg and 

[ 124] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


he thought the man sometimes looked at him wistfully, 
as though to say, “If I could get a chance to tell you, 
if I knew how to tell you there would be my side to 
the story, too. I’m what I am. If I lost one woman 
I wouldn’t ever know how to go at it to get me an- 
other. I ain’t the kind that get ’em easy. I ain’t got 
the nerve. To tell the truth, and if you only knew it. 
I’m a good deal more like you than this Sponge. With 
him everything is down in his hands. He gets every- 
thing out of him through his hands. Take his woman 
away and he would get another with his hands. I’m 
like you. I’m a thinker, a dreamer maybe. I’m the 
kind that makes a mess of his life.’’ 

How much easier for Bruce to be, in fancy, the 
surly silent workman than for him to be Sponge. Still 
it was Sponge he liked, wanted to be like. Did he? 
Anyway he wanted to be, partly, like him. 

In the street outside the factory as the two men 
walked across railroad tracks and up along a climb- 
ing cobblestone street toward the business part of Old 
Harbor, in the gathering dusk of the early spring eve- 
ning, Sponge was smiling. It was the same kind of 
detached, half-malicious smile Bruce used to wear 
sometimes in Bernice’s presence and that always drove 
her half mad. It wasn’t directed at Bruce. Sponge 
was thinking of the surly workman, strutting like a 
rooster because he was more the man — more male. Had 
Bruce been up to some such trick with Bernice? No 
doubt he had. Lordy, she ought to be glad he wasn’t 
around any more. 

His thoughts whirling on. His thoughts centered 

[ 125] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


on the surly workman now. Awhile before, but a few 
minutes before, he had tried to imagine himself Sponge 
lying on a sawdust pile under the stars. Sponge with 
his hide full of whisky, and his old woman lying be- 
side him. He had tried to fancy himself, under such 
circumstances, the stars shining down, the river run- 
ning silently near at hand, had tried to imagine himself 
under such circumstances, feeling like a kid and feeling 
the woman beside him as a kid. It hadn’t worked. 
What he would do, what such a fellow as himself 
would do under such circumstances he knew only too 
well. He would awake in the cold morning light, hav- 
ing thoughts, too many thoughts. What he had suc- 
ceeded in doing was to make himself feel, at the mo- 
ment, very ineffectual. He had re-created himself, in 
the fancy of the moment, not as Sponge, the effectual, 
the direct, the man who could give himself completely, 
but himself in some of his own more ineffectual mo- 
ments. He had remembered times, two or three of 
them, when he had been with women and had been in- 
effectual. Perhaps he had been ineffectual with Ber- 
nice. Had he been ineffectual or had she? 

Much easier after all to imagine himself the surly 
workman. That he could really do. He could imag- 
ine himself beaten by a woman, afraid of her. He 
could imagine himself a fellow like that Bloom in the 
book “Ulysses” and it was evident that Joyce, the 
writer and dreamer, was in the same boat. He had 
certainly done his Bloom much better than he had his 
Stephen, had made him a lot more real — ^and Bruce, in 
fancy, could make the surly workman more real than 

[126] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


Sponge, could enter into him more quickly, understand 
him better. He could be the surly ineffectual work- 
man, could, in fancy, be the man in bed with the wife 
— could lie there afraid, angry, hopeful, full of pre- 
tense. That is what he had been with Bernice perhaps 
— ^partly, anyway. Why hadn’t he told her, when she 
was writing that story, why hadn’t he told her with 
an oath what rot it was, what it really meant? In- 
stead he had worn that grin that had so puzzled and 
angered her. He had fled into the recesses of his own 
mind where she could not follow and from that van- 
tage-point had grinned out at her. 

Now he was walking up along a street with Sponge 
and Sponge was grinning the same kind of a grin he 
himself had so often worn in Bernice’s presence. They 
had been sitting together, dining perhaps, and she had 
suddenly got up from a table and had said : “I’ve got 
to go write now.’’ Then the grin had come. Often it 
knocked her off her pins for a whole day. She 
couldn’t write a word. What a dirty trick, really ! 

Sponge, however, was doing it, not to him, Bruce, 
but to the surly workman. Bruce, was reasonably sure 
of that. He felt safe. 

They had got to the town’s business street and were 
walking along with crowds of other workmen, all em- 
ployees of the wheel factory. A car carrying young 
Grey, the owner of the factory, and his wife, climbed 
up the hill on second speed, the engine making a sharp 
whining sound, and passed near them. The woman 
at the wheel turned to look. It was Sponge told Bruce 
who was in the car. 


[ 127] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


^‘She’s been coming down there quite often lately. 
She totes him home. She's one he got away from 
here somewhere, when he was in the war. I don’t 
think he’s really got her. Maybe she’s lonesome, in 
a strange town where there ain’t many of her kind, 
and likes to come down to the factory at quitting-time 
to look ’em over. She’s been looking you over pretty 
regularly lately. I’ve noticed it.” 

Sponge was smiling. Well, it wasn’t a smile. It 
was a grin. At the moment Bruce thought he looked 
like a wise old Chinaman — something of that sort. 
He became self-conscious. Sponge might be making 
fun of him as he did of the surly workman at the next 
bench. In the picture Bruce had made of his fellow 
workman, and that he liked. Sponge surely did not have 
many very subtle thoughts. It would have been some- 
thing of a come-down for Bruce to think of the work- 
man as very sensitive to impressions. There was no 
doubt he had got rather a jump out of the woman in 
the car and it had happened three times now. To 
think of Sponge as being very sensitive would be like 
thinking of Bernice as better than he would ever be 
at the very thing he wanted most to be. Bruce wanted 
to be preeminent in something — in being more sensitive 
to everything going on about him than others could 
possibly be. 

They came to the corner where Bruce turned upward 
to go toward his hotel. Sponge still wearing that smile. 
He kept urging Bruce to come to his house to dinner 
on Sunday. ‘‘All right,” Bruce said, “and I’ll man- 
age to get a bottle. There’s a young doc living at the 

[ 128] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


hotel, ni tackle him for a prescription. I guess 
he’ll come across all right.” 

Sponge kept smiling, having a good time with his 
own thoughts. “It would be a jolt. You ain’t exactly 
like the rest of us. Maybe you make her think of 
someone she’s been stuck on before. I wouldn’t so 
much mind seeing a Grey get a jolt like that.” 

As though not wanting Bruce to comment on what 
he had said the old workman changed the subject 
quickly. “There’s something I been wanting to tell 
you. You better look a little out. Sometimes you get 
a look on your face exactly like that Smedley,” he 
said, laughing. Smedley was the surly workman. 

Still smiling Sponge walked away along the street, 
Bruce standing to watch him go. As though conscious 
of being watched he strutted a little, straightening his 
old shoulders as though to say — “He don’t think I 
know as much as I do.” The sight made Bruce also 
grin. 

“I guess I know what he means but there’s small 
chance of that. I didn’t leave Bernice, looking for 
some other woman. I’ve got another bee in my bon- 
net although I don’t just know what it is,” he thought 
as he climbed the hill toward the hotel. Thinking that 
Sponge had shot and missed he felt relieved and rather 
happy. “It wouldn’t do to have the little cuss know 
more about me than I have been able to find out my- 
self,” he thought again. 


[ 129] 





BOOK SIX 




CHAPTER FIFTEEN 


P erhaps she had figured it all out from the be- 
ginning and didn’t quite dare tell herself. She 
saw him first, walking with a small man, heavily mus- 
tached, up a cobblestone street that led from her hus- 
band’s factory, and the impression she had of her own 
feelings was just that she would like to stop him some 
evening as he came out at the factory door. It was 
the same feeling she had about that man in Paris, the 
one she saw at Rose Frank’s apartment, and he had 
eluded her. She had never succeeded in getting near 
him, in hearing a word from his lips. Perhaps he had 
belonged to Rose and Rose had managed to keep him 
out of the way. Still Rose didn’t seem that sort. She 
had seemed like one woman who would take a chance. 
It might be that this man and the one in Paris were 
alike unconscious of her. Aline did not want to do 
anything crude. She thought of herself as a lady. 
And then, too, there was nothing in life at all if you 
could not get at things in some subtle way. Plenty of 
women went after men openly — drove straight at them 
— ^but what did they get ? No use getting a man as a 
man and in no other way. She had Fred, her husband, 
that way — ^had, she thought, all he had to offer. 

It wasn’t so much — a kind of sweet childlike faith 
in her, hardly justified, she thought. He had a fixed 

[133] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


notion of what a woman, the wife of a man in his po- 
sition, should be and he took it for granted she was 
what he thought. Fred took too much for granted. 

Outwardly she was all he expected. That was 
hardly the point. One couldn^t prevent oneself having 
thoughts. There might be nothing to life but just that 
— living — seeing the days pass — ^being a wife and per- 
haps presently a mother — dreaming — keeping the 
thing, down inside, in order. If one couldn't always 
keep it in order at least one could keep it out of sight. 
You walked in a certain way — wore the right clothes 
— ^knew how to talk — kept up a kind of touch with the 
arts, with music, painting, the new moods in house 
furnishings — read the latest novels. You and your 
husband had together a certain position to maintain 
and you did your share. He looked to you for certain 
things, the keeping-up of a certain style — ^appearances. 
In a town like Old Harbor, Indiana, it wasn't so hard. 

And anyway a man who worked in a factory was 
likely t6 be a factory-hand — nothing more. You 
couldn't be thinking of him. His resemblance to that 
other man she had seen in Rose's apartment was no 
doubt a physical accident. There was about the two 
men the same air, a kind of readiness to give and not 
ask much. One thought of such a man going along, 
quite casually, becoming absorbed In something, burn- 
ing himself out in it, then dropping it — as casually 
perhaps. Burning himself out in what? Well, say in 
some kind of work, or In the love of a woman. Did 
she want to be loved like that, by that sort of a man? 

* ‘Well, I do ! Every woman does. We don't get it 

[ 134] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


though, and if it were offered, most of us would be 
afraid. We are pretty practical and hard-headed, at 
bottom, all of us, weVe made that way. It’s what a 
woman is, that sort of thing. 

wonder why we are always trying to create the 
other illusion, feeding on it ourselves?” 

One has to think. The days pass. They are too 
much alike — the days. An imagined experience is not 
the same as one actually gone through, but it is some- 
thing. When a woman has been married things change 
for her. She has to try to keep up the illusion that 
everything is as it was before. It can’t be, of course. 
We know too much. 

Aline used to go for Fred quite often in the evening 
and when he was a little delayed the men came pouring 
out at the factory door and passed her as she sat at 
the wheel of the car. What did she mean to them? 
What did they mean to her ? Dark figures in overalls, 
tall men, short men, old men, young men. She had 
got the one man quite fixed in her mind. That was 
Bruce as he came from the shop with Sponge Martin, 
the little old man with the black mustache. She did 
not know who Sponge was, had never heard of him, 
but he talked and the man beside him listened. Did he 
listen? At any rate he had only looked at her once 
or twice — a fleeting self-conscious glance. 

How many men in the world ! She had got herself 
a man who had money and position. That had been 
a lucky chance, maybe. She wasn’t very young any 
more when Fred asked her to marry him, and some- 
times she wondered dimly if she would have consented 

[ 135 ] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


if marriage with him hadn’t seemed such a perfect 
solution. You had to take chances in life and it was 
a good chance. By such a marriage you got a house, 
position, clothes, an automobile. If you were stuck 
off in a little Indiana town, eleven months out of the 
year, at least you were on top of the heap in the town. 
Caesar riding through a miserable little town, going to 
join his army, Caesar addressing a comrade, “Better be 
king on a dung-heap than a beggar in Rome.” Some- 
thing of that sort. Aline wasn’t very accurate about 
quotations and it is sure she did not think the word 
“dung-heap.” It wasn’t the kind of word such women 
as herself knew anything about — ^wasn’t in their vo- 
cabularies. 

She thought about men a good deal, wondered about 
them. In Fred’s notion of things everything was set- 
tled for her, but was it? When things got settled you 
were through, might as well sit rocking in a chair wait- 
ing for death. Death, before life came. 

Aline hadn’t any children yet. She wondered why. 
Hadn’t Fred touched her deeply enough? Was there 
something in her still to be aroused, awakened from 
sleep? 

Her thoughts drifted into a new channel and she 
became what she herself would have called cynical. It 
was, after all, rather amusing how she managed to im- 
press people in Fred’s town, how she managed to im- 
press him. It might be that was because she had lived 
in Chicago and in New York and had been to Paris, 
because her husband Fred had become, since his father’s 

[136I 




DARK LAUGHTER 


death, the chief man of the town, because she had a 
knack for dress and a certain air. 

When the women of the town came to call on her, 
the Judge’s wife, the wife of Striker, the cashier of 
the bank in which Fred was by far the largest stock- 
holder — the doctor’s wife — when they came to her 
house they thought it up to them to talk of cultural 
things, of books, music and painting. Everyone knew 
she had been an art student. That confused and both- 
ered them. It was quite sure she wasn’t a favorite in 
the town but the women did not dare pay her out for 
snubbing them a little. If one of them could get some- 
thing on her they might make mince-meat of her, but 
how were they to do anything of that sort? Even to 
think of such a thing was a little vulgar. Aline did 
not like such thoughts. 

There was nothing to be got on her, never would be. 

Aline at the wheel of an expensive automobile 
watched Bruce Dudley and Sponge Martin going up 
a cobblestone street among many other working-men. 
They were the only two of all the men she had seen 
come out at the factory door who seemed much inter- 
ested in each other, and what an odd-looking pair they 
were. The younger man did not look much like a 
laborer. Well, what did a laborer look like? What 
differentiated a laborer from another man, from the 
kind of men who were Fred’s friends, from the kind 
of men she had known at her father’s house in Chicago 
when she was a young girl? One might fancy that 
a laborer would naturally look humble, but it was certain 
that the little broad-backed man had nothing humble 

[ 137] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


about him, and as for Fred, her own husband, there 
had been when she first saw him nothing to mark him 
as anything special. Perhaps she was only attracted 
to the two men because they seemed interested in each 
other. The little old man was so cocky. He went 
along up the cobblestone street like a banty rooster. If 
Aline had been more like Rose Frank and that crowd 
of hers in Paris she would have thought of Sponge 
Martin as a man always liking to strut before women 
as a rooster struts before hens, and such a thought, 
put in somewhat different terms, did in fact cross her 
mind. Smiling, she thought that Sponge might very 
well have been a Napoleon Bonaparte walking along 
like that, stroking a black mustache with stubby fin- 
gers. The mustache was a bit too black for such an 
old man. It was shiny — coal-black. Perhaps he dyed 
it, the cocky little old thing. One had to get amuse- 
ment somehow, had to think about something. 

What was keeping Fred? Since his father had died 
and he had come into his money Fred certainly took 
life pretty seriously. He seemed to feel the weight of 
things on his shoulders, was always talking as though 
everything would go to pieces at the factory if he did 
not stay on the job all the time. She wondered how 
much of his talk about the importance of the things he 
did was true ? 


[138] 




CHAPTER SIXTEEN 


A LINE had met her husband Fred at Rose Frank’s 
apartment in Paris. That was during the sum- 
mer after the so-called World War came to an end and 
it was an evening to be remembered. Funny, too, 
about this World business. The Anglo-Saxons, the 
Nordics, were always using the word — ^best in the 
world — ^biggest in the world, world wars, champions of 
the world. 

You go along in life, not thinking very much, not 
feeling very much, not knowing very much — about 
yourself or anyone else — thinking life is so and so, 
and then — ^bang! Something happens. You aren’t at 
all what you had thought you were. A lot of people 
found that out during the war. 

Under certain circumstances you had thought you 
knew just about what you would do, but all of your 
thoughts were, as likely as not, lies. After all, it might 
be, you never knew anything really until it had touched 
your own life, your own body. There is a tree grow- 
ing in a field. Is it really a tree? What is a tree? 
Go touch it with your fingers. Stand back several feet 
and hurl your body against it. It is unyielding — ^like 
a rock. How rough the bark is! Your shoulder 
hurts. There is blood on your cheek. 

A tree is something to you but what is it to another ? 

[ 139] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


Suppose it were your job to cut the tree down. You 
lay an ax to its body, to its sturdy trunk. Some trees 
bleed when injured, others weep bitter tears. Once 
when Aline Aldridge was a child, her father — who had 
an interest in turpentine forests somewhere in the 
South — came home from a trip down there and was 
talking with another man in the living-room of the 
Aldridge house. He told how they cut and maimed 
the trees to get the sap for the turpentine. Aline had 
been sitting in the room, on a stool by her father’s 
knee, and had heard it all — ^the story of a vast forest of 
trees all cut and maimed. For what? To get turpen- 
tine. What was turpentine? Was it some strange 
golden elixir of life? 

What a tale ! When it was told, Aline grew a little 
pale, but her father and his friend did not notice. Her 
father had been giving a technical description of the 
process of producing turpentine. The men were not 
thinking her thoughts, did not sense her thoughts. 
Later in her bed that night she cried. What did they 
want to do it for? Why did they want their blamed 
old turpentine ? 

Trees crying out — bleeding. Men going about, 
hurting them, cutting them with axes. Some of the 
trees fell down groaning, while others stood up, the 
blood running from them, crying out to the child in 
the bed. The trees had eyes, they had arms, legs and 
bodies. A forest of injured trees, staggering about, 
bleeding. The ground under the trees was red with 
blood. 

When the World War came on and Aline had become 
[ 140] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


a woman she remembered her father’s story of the 
turpentine-trees, how they got their turpentine. Her 
brother George, three years older than herself, was 
killed in France, and Teddy Copeland, the young man 
she was engaged to marry, died of the “flu” in an 
American camp; and in her consciousness of them they 
did not remain as dead men, but as men injured and 
bleeding, far off, in some strange place. Neither the 
brother nor Ted Copeland had seemed very near to her, 
no nearer perhaps than the trees of the forest of the 
story. She had not touched them closely. She had said 
she would marry Copeland because he was going off to 
war and had asked her. It had seemed the right thing 
to do. Could you say “no” to a young man at such 
a time — going off to be killed perhaps? It would 
have seemed like saying “no” to one of the trees. Sup- 
pose you were asked to bind up one of the trees’ wounds 
and said “no.” Well, Teddy Copeland had not been 
exactly a tree. He had been a young man and a very 
handsome one. Had she married him AHne’s father 
and brother would have been pleased. 

When the war was over Aline went for a visit to 
Paris with Esther Walker and her husband Joe, the 
painter who did the portrait of her dead brother from 
a photograph. He also did one of Teddy Copeland 
for his father and then another of Aline’s dead mother 
— ^getting five thousand dollars for each — and Aline 
had been the one who had told her father about the 
painter. She had seen a portrait of his at the Art In- 
stitute, where she then was a student, and had told her 
father of him. Then she met Esther Walker and in- 

[ 141 ] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


vited her and her husband out to the Aldridge house. 
Esther and Joe had both been good enough to say some 
very nice things about her own work, but that, she felt, 
was just politeness. Although she had a knack for 
drawing she hadn’t taken her own cleverness very seri- 
ously. There was something about painting, real paint- 
ing, she could not get at, could not understand. After 
the war started and her brother and Teddy went away 
she wanted to do something and could not bring herself 
to the business of working every minute to “help win 
the war” by knitting socks or running about selling 
Liberty Bonds. The war in fact bored her. She did 
not know what it was about. If it had not come on 
she would have married Ted Copeland and then — then 
at least she would have found out some things. 

Young men going away to be killed, thousands of 
them, hundreds of thousands. How many women felt 
as she did? It was taking something away from 
women, the chances for something. Suppose you are 
a field and it is spring. A farmer is coming toward 
you with a bag filled with seed. Now he has almost 
reached the field, but instead of coming to plant the seed 
he stops by the roadside and burns it. Women can’t 
have such thoughts, not directly. They can’t if they 
are nice women. 

Better to go in for art, take painting lessons — ^par- 
ticularly if you are rather clever with a brush. If you 
can’t do that go in for culture — read the latest books, 
go to the theater, go to hear music. When music is 
being played— certain kinds of music But never 

[ 142] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


mind that. That also is something a nice woman 
doesn’t talk about or think about. 

There are a lot of things to be let alone in life — 
that’s sure. 

Until after she reached Paris, Aline did not know 
what kind of a painter Joe Walker was or what kind 
of a woman was Esther, but on the boat she began to 
suspect, and when she did get a hunch about them she 
had to smile to think how willing she had been to let 
Esther work things out for her. The painter’s wife 
had been so quick and clever about paying Aline back. 
'‘You did a good turn for us — ^fifteen thousand is not 
to be sneezed at — now we’ll do as much for you.” 
There never had been, never would be, a thing so crude 
as a wink or a shrug of the shoulders from Esther. 
Aline’s father had been deeply hurt by the tragedy of 
the war and his wife had been dead since Aline was 
a child of ten and while she was in Chicago and Joe 
was at work on the portraits — you can’t do five-thou- 
sand-dollar portraits too fast, you must take at least 
two or three weeks for each — while she was practically 
living at the Aldridge house Esther made the older man 
feel almost as though he again had a wife to look after 
him. 

She spoke with such reverence of the man’s charac- 
ter and of the undoubted ability of the daughter. 
"Such men as you have made such sacrifices. It is the 
quiet man of ability going straight alone, helping to 
keep the social order intact, meeting every contingency 
without a murmur — it is such men who — it is a thing 
one can’t speak of openly, but in times like this, when 

[ 143 ] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


the whole social order has been shaken, when old stand- 
ards of life are being torn down, when the young have 
lost faith 

who are of an older order — we must be father 
and mother to the younger generation now.’^ 

‘‘Beauty will persist — the things worth while in life 
will persist/' 

“Poor Aline — ^to have lost both a prospective hus- 
band and a brother. And she has such talent, too. 
She is like you, very quiet, not saying much. A year 
abroad now may save her from some kind of a break- 
down." 

How easily Esther had befuddled Aline's father, the 
shrewd and capable corporation lawyer. Men were 
really altogether too easy. There was no doubt Aline 
should have stayed at home — in Chicago. A man, any 
man unmarried, with money, should not be left lying 
about loose with such women as Esther about. Al- 
though she had not had much experience Aline was 
no fool. Esther knew that. When Joe Walker came 
to the Aldridge house in Chicago to paint the portraits 
Aline was twenty-six. When she sat at the wheel of 
her husband's car, that evening before the factory in 
Old Harbor, she was twenty-nine. 

What a jumble ! What a mixed unaccountable thing 
life could be! 


[ 144] 




CHAPTER SEVENTEEN 


M ARRIAGE! Had she intended marriage, had 
Fred really intended marriage that night in 
Paris when both Rose Frank and Fred rather went off 
their heads, one after the other? How did one ever 
happen to get married anyway? How did it come 
about? What did people think they were up to when 
they did it? What made a man, after he had known 
dozens of women, suddenly decide to marry a par- 
ticular one? 

Fred had been a young American in an Eastern col- 
lege, an only son with a rich father, then a soldier, a 
rich man rather grandly enlisting as a common private 
— to help win a war — then in an American training 
camp— later in France. When the first American con- 
tingent went through England the English women — 
war-starved — ^the English women — 

American women too, “Help win the war!” 

What a lot Fred must have known he had never told 
Aline about. 

• • • • • 

On the evening as she sat in the car before the fac- 
tory in Old Harbor, Fred surely was taking his time. 
He had told her there was an advertising man coming 
down from Chicago and he might decide to do a thing 
called “putting on a national advertising campaign.” 

[ 145 ] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


The factory was making a lot of money and if a man 
didn’t spend some of it to build up good-will for the 
future he would have to pay it all out in taxes. Adver- 
tising was an asset, a legitimate expenditure. Fred 
thought he would try advertising. It was likely he 
was in his office now talking to the advertising man 
from Chicago. 

It was growing dark in the shadow of the factory, 
but why snap on the lights. It was nice to sit in half- 
darkness by the wheel, thinking. A slender woman in 
a rather elegant dress, a good hat — one she had got 
from Paris — long slender fingers resting on a driving- 
wheel, men in overalls passing out at a factory door and 
across a dusty road, passing very near the car — ^tall men 
— short men — a low murmur of men’s voices. 

A certain humbleness in working-men passing such 
a car, such a woman. 

Very little humbleness in a short, broad-shouldered 
old man, stroking a too-black mustache with stubby 
fingers. He seemed to want to laugh at Aline. “I’m 
onto you,” he seemed to want to shout — ^the cocky 
little old thing. His companion — to whom he seemed 
devoted — did look like that man in Rose’s apartment 
in Paris — that night — that so important night. 

That night in Paris, when Aline first saw Fred! 
She had gone with Esther and Joe Walker to Rose 
Frank’s apartment because both Esther and Joe thought 
they had better. By that time Esther and Joe amused 
Aline. She had a notion that, had they stayed in 
America long enough and had her father seen more 
of them, he also would have caught on — ^after a time. 

[ 146] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


After all, they had rather had him at a disadvantage — 
talking of art and beauty — ^that sort of thing to a man 
who had just lost a son in the war, a son whose portrait 
Joe was painting — and getting a very good likeness. 

Never such a couple for looking out for the main 
chance — never such a couple for educating a rather 
quick shrewd woman like Aline. Little enough danger 
such a couple ever staying in one spot too long. Their 
arrangement with Aline had been something quite spe- 
cial. No words about it. No words necessary. 
^'We’ll give you a peep under the tent at the show and 
you take no chances. We’re married. We’re quite 
respectable — always know the best people, you can see 
for yourself. That’s the advantage of being our kind 
of artists. You see all sides of life and take no chance. 
New York is getting more and more like Paris every 
year. But Chicago . . 

Aline had lived in New York two or three times, for 
some months each time, with her father, when he had 
important business there. They had lived at an ex- 
pensive hotel, but it was evident the Walkers knew 
things about modern New York life Aline did not 
know. 

They had succeeded in making Aline’s father feel 
comfortable about her — and perhaps he felt comfort- 
able with her away — for a time at least. Esther had 
been able to convey that notion to Aline. It had been 
a good arrangement for all concerned. 

And certainly, she thought, educational to Aline. 
Such people, really ! How odd that her father, a clever 
man in his own way, hadn’t caught onto them quicker. 

[147] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


They worked like a team, getting men like her father 
at five thousand each. Solid respectable people, Joe 
and Esther. Esther worked that string hard, and Joe, 
who never ran any risks by being seen in any but the 
best company — when they were in America — who 
painted very skillfully and who talked just boldly 
enough but not too boldly — he also helped to make 
thick and warm the art atmosphere when they were 
getting a new prospect lined up. 

Aline smiled in the darkness. What a sweet little 
cynic I am. You could live over, in fancy, a whole 
year of your life while you waited, perhaps three min- 
utes, for your husband to come out at a factory door 
and then you could run up a hillside and overtake two 
workmen, the sight of whom had started your brain 
working, could overtake them before they had walked 
three blocks up a hillside street. 

As for Esther Walker, Aline thought she had got, on 
rather well with her that summer in Paris. When they 
had got off for Europe together both women had been 
ready enough to put the cards on the table. Aline had 
made a great pretense of being deeply interested in art 
— perhaps it wasn't all just pretense — and had that 
talent of hers for making little drawings, and Esther 
had done a lot of talking about hidden ability that 
should be brought out, all that sort of thing. 

^‘You are onto me and I am onto you. Let's ride 
along together, saying nothing about the matter." 
Saying nothing Esther had managed to convey about 
that message to the young woman and Aline had fallen 
in with her mood. Well, it wasn't a mood. Such peo- 

[148] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


pie didn't have moods. What they did was to play a 
game. If you wanted to play with them they could be 
very friendly and sweet. 

Aline had got it all, a confirmation of about what she 
had thought, one night on the boat, and had to think 
fast and hold onto herself hard — for perhaps thirty 
seconds — while she made up her own mind about some- 
thing. What an ugly lonely feeling ! She had to hold 
her fists doubled and there was a fight to prevent tears 
coming. 

Then she fell for it — decided to play the game out — 
with Esther. Joe didn't count. You get educated fast 
if you only let yourself. She can't touch me, inside, 
maybe. I'll ride along and keep my eyes open. 

She had. They were rotten really, the Walkers, but 
Esther had something in her. She was outwardly the 
hard one, the schemer, but inside there was something 
she tried to hold onto and that had never been touched. 
It was sure her husband, Joe Walker, could never 
touch it and Esther was perhaps too cautious to take 
chances with another man. Once later she gave Aline 
a hint. ‘‘The man was young and I had just married 
Joe. It was during the year before the war started. 
For about an hour I thought I would and then I didn't. 
It would have given Joe an advantage I didn't dare let 
him have. I'm not one who would ever go the whole 
road — ruin myself. The young chap was the reckless 
sort — a young American boy. I decided I had better 
not. You understand." 

She had tried something on Aline — ^that time on the 
boat. What was it Esther had tried? One night when 

[ 149] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


Joe was talking with several people, telling them about 
modern painting, telling them about Cezanne and 
Picasso and the others, talking suavely, kindly, about 
the rebels in the arts, Esther and Aline went off to sit 
in chairs on another part of the deck. Two young men 
came along and tried to join them, but Esther knew how 
to fence off without giving offense. She evidently 
thought Aline knew more than she did, but it was not 
Aline’ s part to attempt to disillusion her. 

What an instinct, away down inside, to preserve 
something ! 

What was it Esther had tried on Aline ? 

There are a lot of things you can’t get down in 
words, even in your own thoughts. What Esther had 
talked about was a love that asked nothing, and how 
really beautiful that sounded! ‘Tt should be between 
two people of the same sex. Between yourself and a 
man it won’t work. I’ve tried it,” she said. 

She had taken AHne’s hand and for a long time they 
sat in silence, an odd creepy feeling deep down in Aline. 
What a test — to play the game out with such a woman 
— not to let her know what your instincts are doing to 
you — down inside — not to let the hands tremble — ^to 
make no physical sign of any shrinking. The woman’s 
soft voice, with the caress in it, a kind of sincerity too. 
”They get each other in a more subtle way. It lasts 
longer. It takes longer to understand but it lasts 
longer. There is something white and fine you try for. 
I’ve waited a long time for just you, maybe. As far 
as Joe is concerned I have been all right with him. It’s 
a little hard to talk. There’s so much that can’t be 

[ 150 ] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


said. In Chicago, when I saw you out there, I thought, 
^At your age most women in your position have mar- 
ried.' You'll have to do that sometime too, I suppose, 
but it makes a difference to me that you haven't yet — 
that you hadn't when I found you. It's getting so if 
a man and another man or two women are seen too 
much together there is talk. America is getting almost 
as sophisticated, as wise, as Europe. That's where 
husbands are a big help. You help them all you can, 
whatever their game is, but you keep all the best of 
yourself for the other — for the one who understands 
what you are really driving at." 

Aline moved restlessly at the wheel of the car think- 
ing of that evening on the boat and all it had meant. 
Had it been the beginning of sophistication for her? 
Life isn't just as it is set down in the copy-books. How 
much dare you let yourself find out? A game of life — 
a game of death. Very easy to let yourself become ro- 
mantic — and scared. American women surely have 
had things easy. Their men know so little — dare let 
themselves know so little. You can keep out of decid- 
ing anything if you wish, but is it any fun, never to be 
in the know — on the inside? If you look into life, 
know much of the taint of life, can you keep outside 
yourself? ‘‘Not much," Aline's father would no doubt 
have said, and it was something of that sort her husband 
Fred would have said too. You have to live your own 
life then. When her boat left the shores of America 
it left behind more than Aline wanted to think about. 
President Wilson had been finding out something of 
the sort at about that time. It killed him. 

[• ISI ] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


At any rate it was sure that the talk with Esther had 
made Aline the more ready to marry Fred Grey when 
she came to him later. Besides, it had made her less 
exacting, less sure of herself, the others, most of the 
others she had seen that summer in the company of Joe 
and Esther. Fred had been, he was, as fine as, say, a 
well-bred dog. If what he had was American she was 
glad enough, as a woman, to take American chances — 
she thought at the time. 

Esther’s talk had been so slow and soft. Aline 
could think of it all, remember it all very clearly in a 
few seconds, but it must have taken Esther longer to 
say all the sentences needed to convey her meaning. 

And the meaning Aline had to jump at, knowing 
nothing, get instinctively or not at all. Esther would 
be one to leave herself always a clear alibi. She was 
a very clever woman, no doubt of that. Joe had been 
lucky to get her, being what he was. 

It hadn’t worked, not yet. 

You come up and you go down. A woman of 
twenty-six, if she have anything in her at all, is ready. 
And if she hasn’t anything in her, another one, like 
Esther, doesn’t want her at all. If you want a fool, a 
romantic fool, what about a man, a good American 
business man? He’ll do well enough and you remain 
safe and sound. Nothing ever really touches you at 
all. A long life lived and you always high and dry and 
safe. Do you want that ? 

It was really as though Aline had been pushed by 
Esther off the side of the steamboat into the sea. And 
the sea was very lovely that evening when Esther 

[ 152] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


talked to her. That may have been one reason why 
Aline kept feeling safe. You get something outside 
you that way, like the sea, and it helps just because it 
is lovely. There is the sea, little waves breaking, the 
sea running white behind the ship’s wake, washing 
against the side of the ship like soft silk tearing, and 
in the sky stars coming out slowly. Why is it that 
when you twist things out of their natural order, when 
you become a little sophisticated and want more than 
you ever did before, the risk is relatively greater? So 
easy to become rotten. A tree never gets that way be- 
cause it is a tree. 

A voice talking, a hand touching your arm in just a 
certain way. Words coming far apart. Over on the 
other side the boat, Joe, Esther’s husband, talking that 
stuff of art. Several ladies gathered about Joe. After- 
wards they would speak of it, quoting his words. “As 
my friend Joseph Walker, the famous portrait-painter, 
you know, said to me — Cezanne is so and so. Picasso 
is so and so.” 

Take it that you are an American woman of twenty- 
six, trained as the daughter of a well-to-do Chicago 
lawyer would be trained, unsophisticated but shrewd, 
your body fresh and strong. You have had a dream. 
Well, young Copeland you had thought you were about 
to marry, was not quite the dream. He was nice 
enough. Not quite in the know enough — in some odd 
way. Most American men never get to be beyond 
seventeen — perhaps. 

Take it you were that way and had been pushed off a 
boat into the sea. Joe’s wife Esther has done that little 

[ 153] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


thing for you. What would you do? Try to save 
yourself? Down you go — down and down, cutting 
through the surface of the sea fast enough. Oh, Lord, 
there are a lot of spots in life the mind of the average 
man and woman never touches at all. I wonder why 
not? Everything — at least most things — ^are obvious 
enough. Perhaps even a tree is not a tree for you 
until you have banged against it. Why is the lid lifted 
for some, while everything remains sound and water- 
tight for others ? Those women on the deck listening to 
Joe as he talks — gabblers. Joe with his artist-mer- 
chant’s eye peeled. Like as not either he or Esther put 
down names and addresses in a little book. Good idea 
their going across every summer. Back in the fall. 
People like to meet artists and writers on a boat. It’s 
a touch of what Europe stands for, right near, at first 
hand. Lots of them work it. And don’t the Americans 
fall for it ! Fish come to the bait ! Both Esther and 
Joe having moments of dreadful weariness just the 
same. 

What you do when you are pushed off like that, as 
Aline was by Esther, is to hold your breath and not get 
rattled or indignant. There isn’t anything to it if you 
go getting indignant. If you think Esther can’t make 
a getaway, can’t clear her own skirts, you don’t know 
much. 

After you cut through the surface you think only of 
coming up again as clear and clean as when you went 
down. Down below all is cold and wet — death, that 
road. You know the poets. Come and die with me. 
Our hands clasped together in death. The white long 

[ 154] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


road together. Man and man, woman and woman. 
That sort of love — ^with Esther. What is life about? 
Who cares about life going on — in new forms, created 
out of ourselves ? 

If you’re one sort, it’s white dead fish to you — noth- 
ing else. You have to figure it out for yourself, and if 
you’re the kind no one pushes off the boat, the whole 
thing will never come your way and you’re safe. 
Maybe you’re hardly interesting enough ever to be in 
danger. Most people walk high and safe — all their 
days. 


Americans, eh? You got something out of it any- 
way, going to Europe with a woman like Esther. After 
that one time Esther never tried again. She had it all 
figured out. If Aline wasn’t to be something she 
wanted for herself she could use her anyway. The 
Aldridge family stood well in Chicago and there would 
be other portraits to do out there. Esther had learned, 
fast enough, how people in general felt about art. If 
Aldridge Senior had Joe Walker do two portraits 
and they looked to him when finished as he thought his 
wife and his son had looked, then he would be likely to 
boost the Walker game in Chicago, and having paid 
five thousand each he would value the portraits the more 
for just that reason. “The greatest painter living, I 
think,” Esther could imagine his saying to his Chicago 
friends. 

The daughter Aline might get wiser but she wouldn’t 
be likely to talk. When Esther had her mind made up 

[ 155] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


about Aline she covered up her trail very neatly — did 
it well enough that evening on the boat and made her 
position stronger on that other evening, after six weeks 
in Paris, when she. Aline and Joe walked together over 
to Rose Frank’s apartment. On that particular evening, 
when Aline had seen something of the Walkers’ life in 
Paris and when Esther thought her a good deal more 
in the know, she kept talking to Aline in low tones, 
and Joe walked along without hearing, without trying 
to hear. The evening was very lovely and they walked 
along the left bank of the Seine, turning away from the 
river at the Chambre des Deputes. People were 
sitting in little cafes on the rue Voltaire and over the 
scene hung the clear Parisian evening light — the paint- 
er’s light. “Over here you’ve got to look out for both 
women and men,’’ Esther said. “We Americans are 
considered fools by most Europeans just because there 
are things we don’t want to know. It’s because we are 
from a new country and have a kind of freshness and 
health in us.” 

Esther had said a lot of things of that sort to Aline. 
What she was really saying was something quite differ- 
ent. She was really denying that she had meant any- 
thing that night on the boat. “If you think I did, it 
is because you aren’t very nice yourself.” Something 
of that sort she was saying. Aline let it fly over her 
head. That night on the boat she had won the battle, 
she thought. There had been just a moment when she 
had to fight to get fresh air into her lungs, not to let 
her hands tremble as Esther held them, not to feel too 
utterly lonely and sad — leaving childhood — girlhood — 

[156] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


behind, like that, but after the one moment she was 
very quiet and mouselike, so much so that she had 
Esther a bit afraid of her — ^and that was really what 
she was after. It is always best to let the enemy clear 
away the dead after a battle — no fuss about that. 


[IS7] 



CHAPTER EIGHTEEN 


F red had come out at the factory door and was a 
little annoyed at Aline — or pretended to be — ^be- 
cause she had been sitting in the car in the half-dark- 
ness without letting him know. The advertising man 
with whom he had been talking inside walked away up 
the street and Fred did not offer to give him a lift. 
That was because Aline was there. Fred would have 
had to introduce him. It would have made a new con- 
tact for both Fred and Aline, would have slightly 
changed the relationship between Fred and the man. 
Fred offered to drive but Aline laughed at him. She 
liked the feel of the car, a rather powerful one, as it 
ground its way up the steep streets. Fred lighted a 
cigar and before dropping away into his own thoughts 
made another protest about her sitting in the car in the 
gathering darkness and waiting there without letting 
him know. In reality he liked it, liked the notion of 
Aline, the wife, half servant, waiting for him, the man 
of affairs. 'Tf I had wanted you I had but to blow 
the horn. As a matter of fact I could see you talking 
in there with that man through the window,’^ Aline 
said. 

The car ground its way up the street on second speed, 
and there was that man, standing at a corner under a 
light and still talking to the short broad-shouldered 

[158] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


man. Surely he had a face very like that other man, 
the American she had seen at Rose Frank’s apartment 
on the very evening she had met Fred. Odd that he 
should be a working-man in her husband’s factory, and 
yet she remembered, that evening in Paris — the Ameri- 
can in Rose’s apartment had said to someone that he 
was once a working-man in an American factory. That 
was during a lull in the conversation and before Rose 
Frank’s outbreak came. But why was this one so ab- 
sorbed in the small man he was with? They weren’t 
much alike — the two men. 

Working-men, men coming out at the door of a fac- 
tory, her husband’s factory. Tall men, short men, 
broad men, slender men, lame men, men blind in one 
eye, a one-handed man, men in sweaty clothes. They 
went along, shuffle, shuffle — on the cobblestones in the 
roadway before a factory door, crossed railroad tracks, 
disappeared into a town. Her own house was at the 
top of a hill above the town, looking down on the town, 
looking down on the Ohio River where it made a great 
bend about the town, looking down on miles of low 
country where the valley of the river broadened out 
above and below town. In the winter all was gray in 
the valley. The river spreading out over the low- 
lands, becoming a vast gray sea. When he was a 
banker, Fred’s father — “Old Grey” he was called by 
everyone in the town — had managed to get his hands 
on a lot of the valley land. In the early days they did 
not know how to work it profitably and because they 
couldn’t build farm-houses and barns down there they 
thought the land was no good. As a matter of fact 

[ 159 ] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


it was the richest land in the state. Every year the 
river overflowing left a fine gray silt on the land and 
that was marvelously enriching. The first farmers 
had tried to build levees, but when they broke, houses 
and barns were swept away in the floods. 

Old Grey had waited like a spider. Farmers came 
to the bank and borrowed a little money on the cheap 
land and then let it go, let him foreclose. Had he been 
wise or had it all been an accident ? Later it was found 
that, if you just let the water flow in and cover the 
land, it would run off again in the spring and leave that 
fine rich silt that made the corn grow almost like trees. 
What you did was to move out onto the land in the late 
spring with an army of hired men who lived in tents 
and in shacks set high up on stilts. You plowed and 
planted and the corn grew rank. Then you picked the 
corn and stored it in cribs, also built high up on stilts, 
and when the floods came again you sent barges out 
over the flooded lands to bring in the corn. You made 
money hand over fist. Fred had told Aline all about it. 
Fred thought that his father had been one of the 
shrewdest men that ever lived. He spoke of him, 
sometimes, as the Bible spoke of Father Abraham. 
“The Nestor of the house of Grey,” something of that 
sort. What did Fred think about the fact that his 
wife had brought him no children? No doubt he had 
many queer thoughts about her when he was alone. 
That was why he sometimes acted so half frightened 
when she looked at him. Perhaps he was afraid she 
knew his thoughts. Did she? 


[i6o] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


“Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a 
good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was 
gathered to his people. 

“And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the 
cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of 
Zohar the Hittite, which is before Manre. 

“The field which Abraham purchased of the sons of 
Heth; there was Abraham buried, and Sarah his wife. 

“And it came to pass after the death of Abraham, 
that God blessed his son Isaac ; and Isaac dwelt by the 
well of Lahairoi.” 


It was a little odd that, in spite of all the things 
Fred had told her Aline couldn’t get the figure of Old 
Grey, the banker, fixed in her mind. He had died just 
after Fred had married her, in Paris, and while Fred 
was hurrying home to him, leaving his new wife be- 
hind. It might have been that Fred did not want her 
to see the father, did not want the father to see her. 
He had just made a boat on the evening of the day he 
got the word of his father’s illness and Aline did not 
sail until a month later. 

He remained then, for Aline — “Old Grey” — a myth. 
Fred said he had lifted things up, had lifted the town 
up. It had been a mere mudhole village before his 
time, Fred said. “Now look at it.” He had made the 
valley produce, he had made the town produce. Fred 
had been a fool not to see things clearer. He had 
stayed on in Paris after the war was over? hanging 
around, had even thought for a time he might go in 

[i6i] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


for one of the arts, something of that sort. “In all 
France there never was such a man as father,” Fred had 
once declared to his wife Aline. He was a bit too em- 
phatic when he made such declarations. If he had not 
stayed on in Paris he would not have met Aline, would 
never have married her. When he made such state- 
ments Aline smiled, a soft knowing smile, and Fred 
changed his tone — a little. 

There was that fellow he roomed with at college. 
The fellow was always talking and giving Fred books 
to read, books by George Moore, James Joyce — “The 
Artist as a Young Man.” He had got Fred all balled 
up and he had even gone so far as to half defy his 
father about coming home; and then, when he saw his 
son’s mind was made up. Old Grey had done what he 
had thought a shrewd thing. “You take a year in 
Paris, studying art, doing whatever you choose, and 
then you come home and have a year here with me,” 
Old Grey had written. The son was to have whatever 
monies he wanted. Now Fred wished he had taken the 
first year at home. “I might have been some comfort 
to him. I was shallow and thoughtless. I might have 
met you. Aline, in Chicago, or in New York,” Fred 
said. 

What Fred had got out of the year in Paris was 
Aline. Was it worth the price? The old man living 
alone at home, waiting. He never even saw his son’s 
wife, never even heard of her. A man with but one 
son, and that son in Paris, fooling around after the 
war was over, after he had done his share of the job, 
over there. Fred had a little knack for drawing, just 

[162] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


as Aline had, but what of that ? He never even knew 
what he was after. Did Aline know what she was 
after? It would be nice if he could talk to Aline about 
it all. Why couldn’t he ? She was sweet and fine, very 
quiet most of the time. With such a woman you had 
to be careful. 


The car was grinding its way up the hillside now. 
There was one short street, very steep and crooked, 
where you had to shift into low. 

Men, working-men, advertising solicitors, business 
men. Fred’s friend in Paris, the fellow who worked 
him up to defy his father and to try his hand at be- 
coming a painter. He was a man who might very well 
turn out to be just such another fellow as Joe Walker. 
Already he was working Fred. Fred thought that he, 
Tom Burnside, his college friend, was everything a 
painter should be. He knew how to sit in a cafe, knew 
the names of wines, spoke French with an almost per- 
fect Parisian accent. Pretty soon now he would be- 
gin to make trips to America to sell paintings and do 
portraits. Already he had sold Fred a painting for 
eight hundred dollars. “It’s the best thing I’ve done 
so far and a man here wants to buy it for two thou- 
sand, but I don’t want to quite have it pass out of my 
hands just yet. I would rather have it in your hands. 
My one true friend.’’ Fred had fallen for that. An- 
other Joe Walker. If he managed to pick himself up 
an Esther somewhere he would do well. Nothing like 
making a friend of some rich man while you are both 

[163] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


young. When Fred showed the painting to some of 
his friends in the town of Old Harbor, Aline had a kind 
of shaky feeling of being, not in the presence of a hus- 
band, but at home in the presence of her father — ^her 
father showing some fellow lawyer or a client the por- 
traits Joe Walker had done. 

If you are a woman why can’t you get the man you 
have married as a child and be satisfied with that? 
Was it because a woman wanted her own children, did 
not want to adopt them, or marry them? Men, work- 
ing-men, in her husband’s factory, tall men, short men. 
Men walking along a Parisian boulevard at night. 
Frenchmen with a certain air. They were onto the 
women, the French. The idea was to stay on top of 
the heap, when women were concerned, use them, make 
them serve. Americans were sentimental fools about 
women. They wanted them to do for a man what he 
hadn’t strength to try to do for himself. 

The man at Rose Frank’s apartment, that evening 
when she first met Fred. Why was he in some odd 
way different ? Why had he stayed so sharply in Aline’s 
mind all these months? Just seeing, on the streets of 
an Indiana town, a man who made the same sort of 
impression on the mind, had stirred her all up, set her 
mind and her fancy whirling. It had happened two or 
three times, in the evening when she drove down for 
Fred. 

It might be that, on the night in Paris when she got 
Fred, she had wanted the other man instead. 

He, the other man, she found at Rose’s apartment, 
[ 164 ] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


when she went there with Esther and Joe, had paid no 
attention to her, hadn’t even spoken to her. 

The working-man she had just seen, walking up the 
hillside street with the short, broad-shouldered cocky- 
looking man, was like that other in some indefinable 
way. How absurd that she could not speak to him, 
find out something about him. She asked Fred who 
the short man was and he laughed. “That’s Sponge 
Martin. He’s a card,’’ Fred said. He might have said 
more but he wanted to think of what the Chicago ad- 
vertising man had told him. He was smart, that ad- 
vertising man. Up to a game of his own all right, but 
if it fell in with Fred’s game, what of it? 


[165] 




CHAPTER NINETEEN 

AT Rose Frank’s apartment in Paris, that evening, 
after the half -experience with Esther on the boat 
coming over and after some weeks among Esther’s 
and Joe’s acquaintances in Paris. The painter and his 
wife knew a good many rich Americans in Paris look- 
ing for an exciting time and Esther so managed it that 
she and Joe got in on a good many parties without 
spending much money. They added an artistic touch 
and also they were discreet — when discretion was wise. 

And after the evening on the boat Esther felt more 
or less free with Aline. She gave Aline credit for 
more knowledge of life than she had. 

That was something gained, for Aline, at least she 
thought it a gain. She had begun to move more freely 
within the circle of her own thoughts and impulses. 
Sometimes she thought — “Life is but a dramatization. 
You decide on your part in life and then try to play 
it skillfully.” To play it badly, bunglingly, was the 
great sin. Americans in general, young men and 
women like herself who had money enough and social 
position enough to be secure, could do about as they 
pleased if they were careful about covering their trails. 
At home, in America, there was something in the very 
air you breathed that made you feel secure while at 
the same time it limited you terribly. Good and bad 

[i66] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


were definite things, morality and immorality were defi- 
nite things. You moved in a well-defined circle of 
thoughts, ideas and emotions. Being a good woman 
you got from men the respect they thought due a good 
woman. Given money and a respectable position in life 
you had to do openly something that defied openly the 
social laws before you could step into a free world, and 
the free world into which you stepped by any such 
action was not free at all. It was dreadfully limited, 
ugly in fact, the kind of world inhabited by — well, say, 
by movie actresses. 

In Paris, and rather in spite of Esther and Joe, 
Aline had got a sharp sense of something in French 
life that fascinated her. Little incidental things about 
life, the men’s comfort-stalls in the open streets, the 
stallions hitched to dust-carts and trumpeting to mares, 
lovers kissing each other openly in the streets in the 
late afternoons — a kind of matter-of-fact acceptance 
of life that the English and Americans seemed un- 
able to come to, rather charmed her. Sometimes she 
went with Esther and Joe to the Place Vendome and 
spent the day with their American friends, but more 
and more she got into the habit of going off alone. 

A woman unaccompanied in Paris always had to be 
ready for annoyances. Men spoke to her, made sug- 
gestive movements with their hands, their mouths, 
followed her along the street. There was always going 
on, whenever she went forth alone, a kind of attack 
against herself, as a woman, as a being with woman’s 
flesh, woman’s secret desires. If something was gained 

[167] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


by the frankness of Continental life there was also 
much lost. 

She went to the Louvre. At home she had taken 
drawing and painting lessons at the Institute and had 
been called clever. Joe Walker had praised her work. 
Others had praised it. Then she had thought Joe must 
be a real painter. “I got caught by the American trick 
of thinking that what succeeded, was, for that reason, 
fine,” she thought, and the thought, coming as her own 
and not having been forced upon her by another, was a 
revelation. Of a sudden she, the American, began 
walking in the presence of men’s work feeling really 
humble. Joe Walker, all of his type of men, the suc- 
cessful painters, writers, musicians, who were Amer- 
ica’s heroes, got smaller and smaller in her eyes. Her 
own clever little imitative art seemed in the presence 
of work by El Greco, Cezanne, Fra Angelico and other 
Latins but child’s prattling, and the American men who 
stood high in the history of America’s attempts at the 
cultural life ? 

There was Mark Twain, who wrote a book called 
"The Innocents Abroad,” that Aline’s father had loved. 
When she was a child he was always reading it and 
laughing with delight over it, and it had really been 
nothing but a kind of small boy’s rather nasty disdain 
of things he couldn’t understand. Pap for vulgar 
minds. Could Aline honestly think her father or Mark 
Twain were vulgar men? Well, she could not. To 
Aline her father had always been sweet, kind and 
tender — ^too tender perhaps. 

One morning she sat on a bench in the Tuileries and 

[i68] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


near her on another bench two young men were talking. 
They were French and had not seen her take a seat on 
the near-by bench, and they talked. It was good to hear 
such talk. A kind of intense fervor about the art of 
painting. What was the right road? One of them 
declared for the Moderns, for Cezanne and Matisse, 
and burst forth suddenly into warm hero-worship. 
The men of whom he was speaking had kept, all their 
lives, to the good road. Matisse was doing it yet. 
Such men had in them devotion, bigness, the grand 
manner. It had been pretty much lost to the world 
until they came, and now — ^after their coming and be- 
cause of their fine devotion — it had a chance of really 
being born again into the world. 

Aline on her bench had leaned forward to listen. 
The words of the young Frenchman, flowing rapidly 
forth, were a little hard to catch. Her own French 
was rather slipshod. She waited for each word, lean- 
ing forward. If such a man — if someone having such 
fervor for what he thought fine in life — if he could 
only be brought near herself 

And then, at that moment, the young man, seeing her, 
seeing the look on her face, got to his feet and started 
toward her. Something warned her. She would have 
to flee, get a taxicab. The man was after all a Con- 
tinental. There was the touch of Europe, of the Old 
World, of a world in which men knew too much about 
women and not enough — perhaps. Were they right 
or wrong? There was an inability to think or feel 
women as anything but flesh, that was both terrible 
and in an odd way also true enough — to an American 

[ 169] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


woman, to an English woman perhaps, too startling 
though. When Aline met such a man, in the company 
of Joe and Esther — ^as she sometimes did — when her 
position was well-defined, safe, he seemed, beside most 
American men she had ever known, altogether grown 
up, graceful in his approach to life, much more worth 
while, much more interesting, with infinitely greater 
capacity for accomplishment — real accomplishment. 

As she walked with Esther and Joe, Esther kept 
pulling nervously at Aline. Her mind was filled with 
little hooks that wanted to grapple about in Aline’s 
mind. “Have you been stirred or moved by life over 
here? Are you just a stupid, self-satisfied American 
woman looking for a man — thinking that settles any- 
thing? You go along — a. prim, neat little figure of a 
woman, with good ankles, a small sharp interesting 
face, a good neck — the body graceful and fascinating 
too. What are you up to — really? Very soon now — 
within three or four years — your body will begin to 
settle into heaviness. Someone is going to tarnish 
your loveliness. I would rather like to do it. There 
would be satisfaction in that, a kind of joy. Do you 
think you can escape ? Is that what you’re up to— you 
little American fool V* 

• • • • • 

Esther walking through Parisian streets thinking. 
Joe, her husband, missing it all — not caring. He 
smoked cigarettes, twirled his cane. Rose Frank, to 
whose apartment they were going, was a correspondent 

[ 170] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


for several American newspapers that wanted a weekly 
letter, gossip about Americans in Paris, and Esther 
thought it just as well to keep in with her. If Rose 
was onto Esther and Joe what did it matter? They 
were of the sort American newspapers want to gossip 
about. 


It was the night after the Quat’z Arts Ball, and as 
soon as they had got to the apartment Aline knew 
something was wrong, although Esther — not at the 
moment so keen— did not sense it. She was perhaps 
occupied with Aline, thinking of her. Already several 
people had gathered, Americans all, and at once Aline, 
who from the first was very sensitive to Rose and her 
moods, concluded that, had she not already invited the 
people to come to her on that particular evening. Rose 
would have been glad to be alone or almost alone. 

There was a studio apartment with a large room in 
which the people had gathered, and Rose, the hostess, 
was wandering about among them, smoking cigarettes 
and with a queer vacant look in her eyes. When she 
saw Esther and Joe she made a gesture with the hand 
that held the cigarette. “Oh, Lord, you too, did I in- 
vite you?” the gesture seemed to say. At Aline she did 
not at first look at all; but later, when several other 
men and women had come in, she sat on a couch in a 
corner still smoking the cigarettes and staring at Aline. 

“Well, well, and so you are what you are? You 
also are here? I do not remember ever to have met 
you. You are with the Walker crew and so I fancy 

[ 171 ] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


you are newspaper stuff. Miss So-and-So of Indian- 
apolis. Something of that sort. The Walkers take 
no chances. When they tote anyone around it means 
money for them.” 

Rose Frank’s thoughts. She smiled as she looked 
at Aline. “I’ve been up against something. I’ve been 
banged. I’m going to talk. I’ve got to. It doesn’t 
much matter to me who is here. People have to take 
their chances. Now and then something happens to a 
human being — it might happen even to a rich young 
American woman like you — something that lies too 
heavy on the mind. When it happens you’ve got to 
talk. You’ve got to explode. Look out, you ! Some- 
thing is going to happen to you, young lady, but I’m 
not to blame. You’re to blame for being here.” 

It was obvious something was wrong with the Amer- 
ican newspaper woman. Everyone in the room felt it. 
There was a hurried, rather nervous outbreak of talk, 
all taking part in it except only Rose Frank, Aline and 
a man who sat at the side of the room and who had not 
noticed Aline, Joe, Esther or any of the others as they 
came in. He spoke once, to a young woman who sat 
near him. “Yes,” he said, “I was there, lived there 
for a year. I worked as a painter of bicycle wheels 
in a factory there. It’s about eighty miles from 
Louisville, isn’t it?” 

• • • • • 

It was the evening after the night of the Quat’z 
Arts Ball of the year after the war’s end, and Rose 

[ 172] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


Frank, having been to the ball with a young man — ^not 
present at her party on the following evening — wanted 
to talk of something that had happened to her. 

“I’ll have to talk about it, or I’ll explode if I don’t,” 
she was saying to herself, as she sat in her apartment 
among her guests, staring at Aline. 


She began. Her voice was highly pitched, filled with 
nervous excitement. 

All of the others in the room, all who had been talk- 
ing, stopped suddenly. There was an embarrassed 
hush. The people, men and women, had gathered in 
little groups, disposing of themselves in chairs drawn 
together and on a large couch in a corner. Several 
rather younger men and women sat in a circle on the 
floor. Aline, having, after that first look Rose had 
given them, instinctively moved away from Joe and 
Esther, sat alone on a chair near a window that looked 
down into a street. The window was open and as 
there was no screen she could see people moving about. 
Men and women moving down toward the rue Voltaire 
to cross one of the bridges into the Tuileries or to 
go sit in a cafe on the boulevards. Paris! Paris at 
night ! The silent young man who did not speak, ex- 
cept for the one sentence about working in a bicycle 
factory somewhere in America, obviously in reply to 
a question, seemed to have some indefinable connection 
with Rose Frank. Aline kept turning her head to 
look at him and at Rose. Something was about to 
happen in the room, and there was a reason, that could 

[ 173] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


not be explained, why it directly concerned the silent 
man, herself and the young man named Fred Grey 
who sat beside the silent man. “Perhaps he is like 
myself, doesn’t know much,” Aline thought, glancing 
at Fred Grey. 

Four people, for the most part strangers to each 
other, oddly isolated in a roomful of people. Some- 
thing was about to happen that concerned them as it 
could not concern any of the others. It was already 
happening. Did the silent man, sitting alone and 
looking at the floor, love Rose Frank? Could there be 
such a thing as love among such a congregation of 
people, Americans of that sort, gathered in a room in a 
Paris apartment — newspaper people, young radicals, 
art students? A queer notion that Esther and Joe 
should be there. They didn’t fit in and Esther felt it. 
She was a little nervous, but her husband Joe — ^he took 
what followed as something delicious. 

Four people, strangers to each other, isolated in a 
roomful of people. People were like drops of water in 
a river, flowing along. Suddenly the river became 
angry. It became furiously energetic, spreading out 
over lands, uprooting trees, sweeping houses away. 
Little whirlpools formed. Certain drops of water were 
whirled round and round in a circle, constantly touching 
each other, merging into each other, being absorbed 
into each other. There came times when human beings 
ceased being isolated. What one felt others felt. One 
might say that, at certain times, one left one’s own 
body and went, quite completely, into the body of an- 
other. Love might be something like that. The silent 

[ 174] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


man in the room seemed, as Rose Frank talked, to be 
a part of her. How odd ! 

And the young American — ^Fred Grey — ^he clung 
to Aline. “You are someone I can imderstand. I am 
out of my depths here.” 


A young Irish-American newspaper man, who had 
been sent by his American newspaper to Ireland to make 
a report on the Irish revolution and to interview the 
revolutionary leader, began to talk — insistently inter- 
rupting Rose Frank. “They took me in a cab blind- 
folded. I, of course, had no notion of where I was 
going. I had to trust the man and I did. The blinds 
were drawn. I kept thinking of that ride of Madame 
Bovary’s through the streets of Rouen. The cab rattled 
over the cobblestones in darkness. Perhaps the Irish 
love the drama of it. 

“And, then, there I was. I was in a room with him 

— with V , who is being hunted so hard by the 

secret agents of the British government, sitting with 
him in a room, as tight and snug as two bugs in a rug. 
I got a great story. I’m going to hit for a raise.” 

It was an attempt — to stop Rose Frank talking. 

Everyone in the room then had felt something wrong 
with the woman? 

Having invited the others to her apartment for that 
particular evening she did not want them there. She 
did want Aline. She wanted the silent man sitting 
by himself and a young American named Fred Grey, 

[175] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


Why she wanted just those four people Aline couldn’t 
have said. She felt it. The young Irish-American 
newspaper man had tried to speak of his experiences in 
Ireland to relieve a kind of tension in the room. ‘‘Now 
wait, you! I’ll talk and then someone else will talk. 
We’ll get through the evening comfortably and nicely. 
Something has happened. Perhaps Rose has quarreled 
with her lover. That man sitting over there alone may 
be her lover. I never saw him before but I’ll bet he 
is. Give us a chance, Rose, and we’ll get you through 
this bad moment.” It was something of that sort the 
young man, by the telling of his tale, had been trying 
to say to Rose and the others. 


It would not work. Rose Frank laughed, a queer 
high nervous laugh — dark laughter that. She was a 
plump strong-looking little American woman of per- 
haps thirty and was reputed to be very clever and able 
at her job. 

“Well, the devil, I was there. I took part in it all, 
saw it all, felt it all,” she said in a loud harsh voice 
and, although she had not said where she had been, 
everyone in the room, even Aline and Fred Grey knew 
what she meant. 


It had been in the air for days — a promise, a threat 
— ^the Quat’z Arts Ball of that year, and had come off 
on the night before. 

Aline had felt its coming in the air and so had Joe 
[176] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


and Esther. Joe had secretly wanted to go, had hun^ 
gered to go. 


The Quat’z Arts Ball of Paris is an institution. It is 
a part of student life in the capital of the arts. Every 
year it is held, and on that night the young art stu- 
dents, who have come to Paris from all over the West- 
ern world — from America, England, South America, 
Ireland, Canada, Spain — ^who have come to Paris to 
study one of the four very delicate arts — on that night 
they kick the roof off. 

Delicacy of line, tenderness of line, color sensitive- 
ness — for to-night — ^bah! 

Women came — usually models from the studios — 
free women. Everyone goes the limit. That is ex- 
pected. This once — anyway! 

It happens every year, but in the year after the 
war’s end Well, it was a year, wasn’t it? 


There had been something in the air for a long 
time. 

For too long a time ! 

Aline had seen something of the blow-off in Chicago 
on the first Armistice Day and it had moved her 
.strangely as it had all people who saw and felt it. 
There had been stories of the same sort of thing going 
on in New York, Cleveland, St. Louis, New Orleans — 
even in small American towns. Gray-haired women 
kissing boys, young women kissing young men — fac- 

[ 177] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


tories deserted — the lid off prohibition — offices empty 
— song — dance a little once again in life — you who 
haven’t been in the war, in the trenches, you who are 
just tired of whooping it up for war, for hate — ^joy — 
grotesque joy. The lie given the lie. 

The end of lies, the end of keeping up the pretense, 
the end of that sort of cheapness — ^the end of the 
War. 


Men lying, women lying, children lying, being taught 
to lie. 

Preachers lying, priests lying, bishops, popes and 
cardinals lying. 

Kings lying, governments lying, writers lying, artists 
drawing lying pictures. 

A debauch of lying. Keep it up! The bitter end! 
Outlast the other liar ! Make him eat it ! Kill i Kill 
some more ! Keep on killing ! Liberty ! Love of God ! 
Love of men! Kill! Kill! 


The thing in Paris had been carefully thought out — 
planned. Had not the young artists of the world who 
came to Paris — ^to study there the very delicate arts — 
had they not gone into the trenches instead — for France 
—dear France? Mother of arts, eh? Young men — 
artists — the more sensitive men of the Western 
world 


[178] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


Show ’em something! Show ’em up! Slap it into 
’em! 

Give ’em the limit ! 

They talk so big — ^make ’em like it! 

Well, everything has gone to pot, the fields de- 
stroyed, the fruit-trees cut, the vines torn out of the 
ground, old Mother Earth herself given the riz-raz. 
Is this damn cheap civilization of ours to go blandly 
on, never getting a slap in the face ? What t’ell ? 

Dada, eh? The innocents! Babes! Sweet woman- 
hood ! Purity ! The hearth and home ! 

Choke the babe in the crib ! 

Bah, that isn’t the way ! Let’s show ’em ! 

Slap it home to the women! Hit ’em where they 
live! Slap it home to the gabblers! Give ’em the 
riz-raz ! 

In the gardens in the cities, moonlight in the trees. 
You never were in the trenches. Were you — a year, two 
years, three, four, five, six? 

What t’ell moonlight? 

• • • * # 

Slap it to the women once! They were in it up to 
the neck. Sentimentality ! Gush I That’s what’s back 
of it all — a lot anyway. They liked it all — ^the women. 
Give ’em a party once ! Cherches la femme! We were 
sold out, up to the hilt, and they helped, a lot. A lot 
of David and Uriah stuff, too. Bathshebas aplenty. 

[ 179] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


Women talked a lot about tenderness — “our beloved 
sons^^ — ^remember? French women whooping it up, 
English women, Irish, Italian. How come ? 

Roll ’em in the stench of it 1 Life ! Western civi- 
lization ! 

Stench of the trenches — in the fingers, the clothes, 
the hair — staying there — getting into the blood — trench 
thoughts, trench feelings — trench love, eh? 

Is not this dear Paris, the capital of our Western 
civilization? 

What t’ell ? Let’s give ’em a look-m, once anyway 1 

Were we not what we were? Did we not dream? 
Did we not love a little, eh ? 

• ... I* 

Nudity now ! 

Perversion — well, what of that? 

Throw ’em on the floor, dance on ’em. 

How good are you? How much you got left in 
you? 

How come your eye out and your nose not skun ? 

• • • • • 

All right. That little brown plump thing over there. 
Watch me. Keep your eyes on the trench-hound once 1 

Young artists of the Western world. Let’s show 
’em the Western world — this once ! 

The limit, eh — this once I 

Do you like it— eh? 

How come ? 


[i8o] 




CHAPTER TWENTY 


R ose Frank, the American newspaper woman, had 
been to the Quat’z Arts Ball on the evening be- 
fore Aline saw her. For several years, all through the 
war, she had made her living by sending smart Parisian 
gossip to American newspapers, but she also had hun- 
gered for — the limit. It was in the air just then, the 
hunger for the limit. 

And on the evening in her apartment she had to 
talk. It was a mad necessity with her. Having been 
at the debauch all night she had been awake all day, 
walking up and down in her room and smoking ciga- 
rettes — waiting — to talk perhaps. 

She had been through it all. It wasn’t on the cards 
for newspaper men to get in, but a woman could work 
it — if she would take the chances. 

Rose had gone with a young American art student, 
whose name she did not mention. When she had in- 
sisted the young American had laughed. 

“All right. You fool! I’ll do it.” 

The young American had said he would try to take 
care of her. 

“I’ll try to manage. We’ll all be drunk of course.” 
• • • • • 

And after it was over, in the early morning, the two 
had gone for a ride to the Bois in a fiacre. The birds 

[i8i] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


singing softly. Men, women and children walking 
along. An old gray-haired man — rather fine-looking — 
riding a horse in the park. He might have been a pub- 
lic man — member of the chamber of deputies or some- 
thing of that sort. On the grass in the park a young 
boy, not over ten, was playing with a small white dog, 
while a woman stood in a near-by path watching. There 
was a soft little smile on her lips. The boy had such 
fine-looking eyes. 


Oh, Lord! 

Oh, Kalamazoo! 


It takes a long, lean 
brown-skin gal 
To make a preacher lay 
his Bible down. 


But what an experience it was ! It had taught Rose 
something. What? She did not know. 

What she was sorry for — ashamed of — was that she 
had put the young American to a world of trouble. 
After she got there and it was going on, everywhere, 
everything whirled around — she got dizzy, faint. 

And then desire — black, ugly, hungry desire — like a 
desire to kill everything that ever had been lovely in 
the world — in herself and others— everyone. 

She danced with a man who tore her dress open. 
She did not care. The young American came running 
and snatched her away. It happened three, four, five 

[ 182] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


times, things like that. She could not remember. The 
other men were all drunk and the young American 
drank nothing. He didn’t even smoke cigarettes. 
There was a reason. It did not matter. 

Esther sat back of Aline looking a little nervous and 
upset, like one on a ship in a storm, as Rose talked; 
but Joe fairly licked his chops. He wasn’t very pleas- 
ant to look at while Rose was talking. 

When she talked, sometimes Rose laughed, some- 
times there were tears in her eyes. “I’ll never talk 
about it again, after this once,’’ she said. 

What seemed to hurt her most was that she had come 
out of it physically untouched, had escaped. “Such 
cheating when I felt that way inside ! Mud ! Muddy 
men ! Muddy women ! The war ! Why should I have 
escaped?” 

Once the Irish-American newspaper man tried to in- 
terrupt. 

“In Ireland,” he said, and then began again. 

“In Ireland ” 

He stopped. 


“The fight for Irish freedom is going to go on.” 


The pantomimes began at twelve. Rose said — ^twenty- 
nine ways of love-making — ^all done in the life — naked 
people. There was a moment. At twelve any woman 
who wanted to save herself could get out. After that 
all barriers down. “I stuck.” 

[183] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


“There was something to decide. There was every- 
thing to decide. The youngster I went with had said 
he would try to see me through. What t’ell about him ? 
Did I want to cramp his style ? 

“Such a strange feeling in me — something primitive 
like a nigger woman in an African dance. That was 
what they were after when they got up the show. You 
strip all away, no pretense. If I’d been a nigger woman 
— good night — something exotic. No chance then — 
that’s sure. 

“Take a woman like me. I’ve been about a little. A 
newspaper woman sees things. Suppose something, 
your thoughts — we all have — that we are ashamed of 
— all the thoughts and strange terrible dreams you 
have when you’re a young girl — say fifteen at night — 
when the bed is hot — you can’t sleep— you can’t come 
awake — all that stripped bare. 

“All your thoughts acted out by humans — ^men and 
women, right before your eyes, showing yourself up to 
yourself — for once — something like that. Most of the 
women who stayed didn’t care. It was a man’s orgy, 
that one. Men doing something to show women up, 
for their gush — sentimentality — ^make ’em muddy — 
make ’em reek with it — something of that sort. Could 
a woman subscribe to it, fall into the swing of it? 
Plenty did. I saw things. They liked it. I myself 
escaped, by a lucky fluke, by cheating, as always. That 
kid who went with me. When a man grabbed me he 
always appeared and snatched me away. Everyone was 
pretty drunk. That saved me if I was saved. Can 
anyone be saved in this world? 

[ 184] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


“A kind of swoon, an orgy, a wild untamable thing. 
Most of the men there were young fellows who had 
been in the trenches, for France, for America, for Eng- 
land, you know. France for preservation, England 
for control of the seas, America for souvenirs. They 
were getting their souvenirs fast enough. They had 
got cynical — didn’t care. If you’re here and you are 
a woman, what you doing here ? I’ll show you. Damn 
your eyes. If you want to fight, all the better. I’ll 
slug you. That’s a way of making love. Didn’t you 
know? 

“The kid took me for the ride afterward. It was 
early morning and up in the Bois the trees were green 
and the birds were singing. Such thoughts in the 
head, things the kid with me had seen, things I had 
seen. The kid with me was fine, laughing. He had 
been in the trenches two years. ‘Sure we kids can stand 
a war. What t’ell. We got to stand for people all 
our lives, ain’t we?’ He thought of the green things, 
kept getting himself out of the riz-raz that way. ‘You 
let yourself in for it. I told you. Rose,’ he said. He 
might have taken me like a sandwich, consumed me, 
eaten me up, I mean. What he told me was good sense. 
‘Don’t try to go to sleep to-day,’ he said. 

“ ‘I’ve seen this,’ he said. ‘What of it? Let her 
ride. It doesn’t jar me no more than I’ve been jarred, 
but now I don’t think you had better see me any more 
to-day. You might get to hate me. You get to hate all 
people in war — and in things like this. It doesn’t mat- 
ter that nothing happened to you, that you slid out. 
That doesn’t cut any figure. Don’t let it make you 

[185] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


ashamed. Count it that you married me and found 
you didn’t want me or that I didn’t want you, something 
of that sort.’ ” 

Rose had stopped talking. She had been walking 
nervously up and down the room and smoking cigarettes 
as she talked. When the words stopped coming from 
her lips she dropped into a chair and sat with the tears 
running down her plump cheeks, and several of the 
women in the room went and tried to comfort her. 
They seemed to want to kiss her. One by one several 
women went to her and leaning over kissed her hair, 
but Esther and Aline sat each in her place with her 
hands gripped. What it meant to the one it did not 
mean to the other, but they were both upset. “A fool, 
that woman, for letting anything get her like that, for 
getting upset and giving herself away,” Esther would 
have said. 


[186] 




BOOK SEVEN 




CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE 

T he Greys, Fred and Aline, having driven up the 
hill to their house in Old Harbor, had dined. 
Was Aline doing to her husband Fred the same little 
trick Bruce had been in the habit of doing to his wife 
Bernice in the Chicago apartment? Fred Grey spoke 
of his affairs, of the plan to advertise in magazines 
with a national circulation the wheels made in his 
factory. 

For him, the wheel factory had become the center 
of life. There he moved about, a little king in a world 
of smaller officials, clerks and workers. The factory 
and his position meant even more to him because of 
his experience as a private in the army during the war. 
At the factory something within him seemed to expand. 
It was, after all, a huge plaything, a world set apart 
from the town — ^a walled town within the confines of a 
town — in which he was ruler. Did the men want a day 
off because of the celebration of some national holiday 
— Armistice Day, something of that sort — ^he was the 
one to say “Yes” or “No.” One Avas a bit careful not 
to get chesty. Often Fred said to Harcourt, who was 
secretary of the company — “I am, after all, but a ser- 
vant.” It was good occasionally to say such things, to 
remind oneself of the responsibility that must be shoul- 
dered by the man of affairs, responsibility to property, 

[189] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


to other investors, to workmen, to workmen's families. 
Fred had a hero— Theodore Roosevelt. What a shame 
he was not at the helm during the World War. Had 
not Roosevelt had things to say about men of wealth 
who did not shoulder the responsibility of position? 
Had Teddy been in there at the beginning of the World 
War, we would have got in quicker — smashed ’em. 

The factory was a little kingdom, but what about 
Fred’s home? He was a little nervous about his posi- 
tion there. That smile his wife wore sometimes when 
he spoke of his affairs. What did she mean by it? 

Fred thought he ought to talk. 

We have a market for all the wheels we can make 
now, but things may change. The question is — does 
the average man who runs an automobile know or care 
where the wheels come from? It’s a thing to think 
about. It costs a lot of money to advertise nationally, 
but if we don’t do it we will have to pay a lot more 
taxes — surplus earnings, you know. The government 
lets you deduct what you spend for advertising. What 
I mean is, that they let you count it as legitimate ex- 
pense. The newspapers and magazines have a lot of 
power, I tell you. They weren’t going to let the gov- 
ernment take that snap away. Well, I suppose I might 
as well do it. 

Aline sat smiling. Fred always thought she looked 
more like a European woman than an American. When 
she smiled like that and did not say anything, was she 
laughing at him? Damn it all, the whole matter of 
whether the wheel company made money or not was 
as important to her as to himself. She had always 

[ 190] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


been used to nice things, as a child and after her mar- 
riage. Lucky for her the man she had married had 
plenty of money. Aline spent thirty dollars a pair for 
shoes. Her feet were long and narrow, and it was 
difficult to get custom-made shoes that did not hurt her 
feet, so she ordered them made. There must be twenty 
pairs in the closet of her room upstairs, and they had 
cost her thirty to forty dollars a pair. Two times three 
is six. Six hundred dollars for shoes alone. Good 
Lord ! 

Maybe she didn^t mean anything special by that smile. 
Fred suspected that his affairs, the affairs of the fac- 
tory, were a little over Aline's head. Women didn't 
care for or understand such things. It took a man's 
brain for that. Everyone had thought he, Fred Grey, 
would make a mess of his father's affairs when he was 
suddenly called upon to take charge, but he hadn't. 
As for woman, he didn't want one of the smart-man- 
aging sort, one of the kind who try to tell you how to 
run things. Aline suited him all right. He wondered 
why he hadn't any children. Was it her fault or his ? 
Well, she was in one of her moods. When she was 
. that way you might as well let her alone. She would 
come out of it after a while. 

When the Greys had dined, Fred rather insistently 
keeping up the conversation about national advertising 
of automobile wheels, he wandered into the living-room 
of the house to sit in an easy chair under a lamp and 
read the evening paper while he smoked a cigar and 
Aline slipped unseen away. There had come a stretch 
of unusually warm days for that time of the year, and 

[ 191 ] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


she put a cloak about her and walked out into the gar- 
den. Nothing growing yet. The trees still bare. She 
sat on a bench and lighted a cigarette. Fred, her hus- 
band, liked her smoking. He thought it gave her rather 
an air — of Europe perhaps — of class, anyway. 

In the garden the soft dampness of a late winter — 
or early spring night. Which was it? The seasons 
hung balanced. How very quiet everything in the 
garden on the hilltop ! There was no doubt the Middle 
West was isolated from the world. In Paris, London, 
New York — now at this hour — people getting ready 
to drive out to the theater. Wine, lights, the swirl of 
people, talk. You get caught up, carried along. No 
time to get immeshed in a whirlpool of your own 
thoughts — thoughts driving through you like raindrops, 
wind-driven. 

Too many thoughts! 

That night when Rose talked — the intensity of it, 
that had caught Fred and Aline, that had played with 
them as a wind plays with dry, dead leaves — the war — 
the ugliness of it — men drenched with ugliness like 
rain — ^years of that. 

The Armistice — release — ^the attempt at naked joy. 

Rose Frank talking — the flood of naked words — 
dancing. After all, most of the women at the ball in 
Paris were what? Whores? An attempt to throw off 
pretense, fakiness. So much fake talk during the war. 
The war for righteousness — to make the world Free. 
The young men sick, sick, and sick of it. Laughing, 
though — dark laughter. Taking it standing up — the 
men. The words Rose Frank had said — ^about her 

[ 192] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


shame — that she had not gone the limit — in ugliness. 
Queer, disconnected thoughts, women’s thoughts. You 
want a man, but you want the best of the lot — if you 
can get him. 

There was that young Jewish man who talked to 
Aline one evening in Paris after she married Fred. 
He had for an hour got into the same mood Rose had 
been in and that Fred got into — ^just once — that time 
he asked Aline to marry him. She smiled at the 
thought. The young American Jew, who was a con- 
noisseur of prints and had a valuable collection, had 
escaped going down into the trenches. '‘What I did 
was to dig latrines — it seemed to me thousands of miles 
of latrines. Digging, digging, digging in a rocky soil 
— ^trenches — latrines. They got the habit of making 
me do that. I was trying to write music when the war 
began ; that is to say, when they raked me in. I thought 
— 'Well, a sensitive man, a neurotic,’ I thought. I 
thought they would pass me up. Every man, not a 
silly blind fool, thought that, hoped that, whether he 
said it or not. Anyway, he hoped. For once it was 
grand to be a cripple, or blind, or have diabetes. There 
was such a lot of it, drilling, the ugly shacks we lived 
in, no privacy, finding out too much about your fellow 
men too fast. Latrines. Then it was over, and I did 
not try to write music any more. I had some money, 
and I started to buy prints. I wanted things delicate^ — 
delicacy of line and feeling — something outside myself 
more delicate and sensitive than I could ever be — after 
what I had been through.” 

Rose Frank went to that ball where things blew off. 

[ 193] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


No one afterward in Aline’s presence talked much 
about it. Rose was an American and she escaped. She 
escaped getting clear into it, up to the limit, slid through 
— thanks to that kid who took care of her — an Amer- 
ican kid. 

Had Aline slipped through, too? Had Fred, her 
husband, slipped through untouched? Was Fred the 
same thing he would have been if the war had never 
come, thinking the same thoughts, taking life the same 
way? 

That night, after they all got out of Rose Frank’s 
place, Fred had been drawn to Aline — as by instinct. 
He had come out of the place with Esther, Joe and 
herself. Perhaps, after all, Esther had gathered him 
in, having something in mind. “All is grist that comes 
to mill” — something like that. That young man who 
sat near Fred and said that about working in a factory 
in America before Rose began talking. He had stayed 
when the others got out. Being in Rose’s apartment 
that night was, for all the people who had been there, 
a good deal like walking into a bedroom in which a 
woman lies naked. They had all felt that. 

Fred had walked with Aline when they left the apart- 
ment. What had happened had drawn him to her, had 
drawn her to him. There was never any doubt of their 
closeness to each other — for that one night, an3rway. 
He was to her, that evening, like the American kid who 
went with Rose to the ball, only nothing happened be- 
tween them that was an)rthing like what Rose had 
described. 

Why hadn’t something happened? If Fred had 

[ 194] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


wanted — ^that night. He hadn’t. They had just 
walked along through the streets, Esther and Joe ahead 
somewhere, and then presently they lost Esther and 
Joe. If Esther felt any responsibility for Aline, she 
wasn’t worried. She knew who Fred was if Aline did 
not. Trust Esther to know about a young man who 
had as much money as Fred. She was a regular hound- 
dog at spotting that kind. And Fred had also known 
who she was, that she was the respectable daughter of, 
oh, such a respectable Chicago attorney ! Was that the 

reason ? How many things to ask Fred that she 

never had asked, couldn’t — now that she was his wife 
— in Old Harbor, Indiana. 


Both Fred and Aline had been shaken by what they 
had heard. They went along the left bank of the Seine 
and found a little cafe where they stopped and had a 
drink. When they had taken the drink, Fred looked at 
Aline. He was rather pale. “I don’t want to appear 
greedy, but I want several stiff drinks — ^brandy — one 
right on top of the other. Do you mind if I take 
them ?” he asked. Then they wandered along the Quai 
Voltaire, and crossed the Seine at the Pont Neuf. 
Presently they had got into the little park in the rear 
of Notre Dame de Paris. That she had never before 
seen the man she was with had seemed good to Aline 
that night and she had kept thinking : “If he wants any- 
thing, I can ” He had been a soldier — a private 

in the trenches for two years. Rose had made Aline 
feel so vividly the shame of escape when the world is 

[ 195] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


plunged — into mud. That he had never before seen 
the woman he was with seemed good to Fred Grey 
that night. He had a notion about her. Esther had 
told him something. Just what Fred’s notion had been, 
Aline had not understood — not then. 

In the little park-like place into which they had wan- 
dered, French people of the neighborhood, young lovers, 
old men with their wives, fat middle-class men and 
women with children sitting about. Babies lying on 
the grass, their little fat legs kicking, women nursing 
babies, babies crying, a stream of talk, French talk. 
There was something Aline had once heard a man say 
concerning the French — when she was out for an eve- 
ning with Esther and Joe. “They may be killing men 
in a battle, bringing in the dead from a battlefield, 
making love — it doesn’t matter. When it comes time 
to sleep, they sleep. When it comes time to eat, they 
eat.’’ 

It had really been Aline’s first night in Paris. “I 
want to stay out all night. I want to think and feel 
things. Maybe I want to get drunk,’’ she had said to 
Fred. 

Fred had laughed. As soon as he got alone with 
Aline he had begun to feel strong and manly, and it 
was, he thought, a good feeling. The shakiness inside 
had begun to go away. She was an American woman, 
one of the sort he would marry when he got back to 
America — which would be soon now. To have stayed 
on in Paris had been a mistake. There were too many 
things to remind you of what life was like when you 
saw it raw. 


[196] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


What one wanted from woman was not a conscious 
participation in the facts of life — ^its vulgarities. 
Plenty of that sort of women about — in Paris, any- 
way — Americans, a lot of them — Rose Frank and her 
sort. Fred had only gone to Rose Frank’s apartment 
because Tom Burnside took him there. Tom came 
from good people in America, but thought — ^because 
he was in Paris and because he was a painter — well, he 
thought he ought to stick around with a lot of loose- 
living people — Bohemians. 

The thing was to explain to Aline, make her under- 
stand. What? Well, that nice people — women, any- 
way — ^know nothing of the sort of things Rose had 
talked about. 

The three or four shots of brandy Fred had taken 
had steadied him. In the dim light in the little park 
back of the cathedral he kept looking at Aline — ^at her 
sharp, delicate, small features, her slender feet, clad in 
expensive shoes, the slender hands lying in her lap. In 
Old Harbor, where the Greys had the brick house in 
the garden set on the very top of the hill above the river, 
how exquisite she would be — ^like one of the small, 
old-fashioned white marble statues people used to set 
on pedestals among green foliage in a garden. 

The thing was to tell her — an American woman — 
pure and fine — what? What an American, such an 
American as himself, who had seen what he had seen 
in Europe, what such a man wanted. Why, on the 
very night before the one when he sat with Aline he 
had seen — Tom Burnside had taken him to a place on 
Montmartre to see Parisian life. Such women ! Ugly 

[ 197] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


women, ugly men — ^pandering to American men, Eng- 
lish men. 

That Rose Frank! Her outbreak — ^such sentiments, 
to come from a woman’s lips. 

“I’ve something to say to you,’’ Fred had finally 
managed to speak. 

“What?” Aline asked. 

Fred tried to explain. Something he felt. “I’ve 
seen too many things like that Rose blowout,” he said. 
“I’ve been up front.” 

In reality it had been Fred’s intention to say some- 
thing about America and the life at home — to remind 
her. There was something he felt needed reasserting 
to a young woman like Aline — to himself, too — some- 
thing not to be forgotten. The brandy made him a bit 
loquacious. Names floated before his mind — ^names of 
men who stood for something in American life. Emer- 
son, Benjamin Franklin, W. D. Howells — “The better 
aspects of our American life” — Roosevelt, the poet 
Longfellow. 

“Truth, liberty — the freedom of man. America, 
mankind’s great experiment in Liberty.” 

Was Fred drunk? He thought certain words and 
said other words. That fool woman — ^hysterical — 
talking back there in that apartment. 

Thoughts dancing in the brain — ^horror. One night, 
in the time of the fighting, he went out on patrol in 
No Man’s Land and saw another man stumbling along 
in darkness and shot him. The man pitched forward 
dead. It had been the only time Fred consciously 
killed a man. You don’t kill men in war much. They 

[198] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


just die. The act was rather hysterical on his part. 
He and the men with him might have made the fellow 
surrender. They had all got the jimjams. After it 
happened, they all ran away together. 

A man killed. They rot sometimes, lying like that 
in shell-holes. You go out to gather them up, and they 
fall to pieces. 

Once later Fred crawled out during an advance and 
got into a shell-hole. A fellow lying there, face down. 
Fred had crawled in close beside him and had asked 
him to move over a little. Move, hell ! The man was 
dead — rotten with death. 

Might have been the very fellow he shot that night 
when he was hysterical. How could he tell whether 
the fellow was a German or not — in darkness that way? 
He had got hysterical, that time. 

Other times, before an advance. The men praying, 
speaking of God. 

Then it was over and he and others were still alive. 
Other men living — ^as he was — rotten with life. 

The strange desire for nastiness — on the tongue. To 
say words that reeked and stank as trenches stank — a 
madness for that — ^after such an escape^ — an escape 
with life — precious life — life to be nasty with, ugly 
with. Swear— curse God — go the limit. 

America — far oflf. Something sweet and fine. 
You’ve got to believe in that — in the men there — ^the 
women there. 

Hang on! Grip it with your fingers, your soul! 
Sweetness and truth! It’s got to be sweet and true. 
Fields — cities — streets — ^houses — trees — ^women. 

[ 199] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


Specially women. Kill anyone who says anything 
against our women — ^fields — cities. 

Specially women. They don’t know what’s up to 
them. 

We’re tired — damn tired, aching tired. 


Fred Grey talking one night in a little park in Paris. 
At night on the roof of Notre Dame angels may be 
seen walking up into the sky — white-clad women — 
stepping up to God. 

It may have been Fred was drunk. Perhaps Rose 
Frank’s words had made him drunk. What was the 
matter with Aline? She cried. Fred clung to her. 
He did not kiss her, did not want that. “I want you 
to marry me — live with me in America.” When he 
raised his head he could see the white-stone women — 
angels — walking up into the sky, on the roof of the 
cathedral. 

Aline — to herself — “Woman ? If he wants anything 
— he is a man hurt, befouled — why should I cling to 
myself?” 

Rose Frank’s words in Aline’s mind, an impulse. 
Rose Frank’s shame that she had remained — what is 
called clean. 

Fred had begun to sob as he tried to talk to Aline, 
and she took him into her arms. The French people 
in the little park did not mind much. They had seen 
a lot of things — shell-shock — ^all that sort of thing — 
modern war. Getting late. Time to go home and 
sleep. French prostitution during the war. “They 

[ 200 ] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


never forgot to ask for the money — did they, Buddy?” 

Fred clung to Aline and Aline clung to Fred — that 
night. “You are a nice girl, I spotted you. That 
woman you were with told me, Tom Burnside intro- 
duced me to her. I’m all right at home — nice people. 
I’ve got to have you. We’ve got to believe in things — 
kill people who don’t believe.” 

They went to ride in a fiacre — all night — ^to the Bois 
in the early morning — ^as Rose Frank and her American 
kid had done. After that a marriage — it had seemed 
inevitable. 

Like a train when you are on and it starts. You 
got to go somewhere. 

More talk. “Talk, boy — it helps maybe.” Talk of 
a man killed — in the darkness. I’m too full of haunts, 
I don’t want more talk. We Americans were all right. 
Getting along. Why did I stay here when the war was 
over? Tom Burnside got me to — for you, maybe. 
Tom never was in the trenches — lucky dog, I don’t 
hold it against him. 

“I want no more Europe-talk. I want you. You 
marry me. You got to. All I want is to forget — wade 
out. Let Europe rot.” 

Aline rode all night in the fiacre with Fred. It was 
such a courtship. He clung to her hand, but did not 
kiss her, and said nothing tender. 

He was like a child, wanting something she stood 
for — to him — wanting it desperately. 

Why not give herself? He was young and hand- 
some. 


[201 ] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


She had been willing to give 

He had not seemed to want — that. 


You get what you reach out your hand and take. 
Women always do the taking — if they have the courage. 
You take — a man — or a mood — or a child that has 
been hurt too much. Esther was as hard as nails, but 
she knew some things. It had been educational for 
Aline to go to Europe with her. There wasn’t much 
doubt that Esther felt the outcome of her having thrown 
Fred and Aline together was a triiunph for her system, 
for her way of managing things. She knew who Fred 
was. It would be a feather in her cap, with Aline’s 
father, when he realized what she had done. Had he 
had the picking of a husband for his daughter he 
would have picked — just Fred. Not many of that kind 
lying about loose. With such a man a woman — ^like 
Aline would be when she had grown a little wiser and 
older — well, she could manage just anything. She 
also would be grateful to Esther, after a while. 

And that was why Esther put the marriage right 
through, the next day — ^the same day, to be exact. “If 
you are going to keep a woman like that out all night — 
young man.” It had not been very hard to manage 
Fred and Aline. Aline had seemed in a daze. She had 
been in a daze. All that night and the next day and 
for several days afterward she wasn’t herself. What 
was she ? Perhaps she had been for the time, in fancy, 
that newspaper woman, Rose Frank. The woman had 
befuddled her — ^made all life seem strange and topsy- 

[ 202 ] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


turvy for the time being. Rose had given her the 
war, the sense of it — all in a heap — like a blow. 

She — Rose — had been in something and had escaped. 
She was ashamed of her escape. 

Aline wanted to be in something — up to the hilt — 
the limit — once, anyway. 

She had got into 

A marriage with Fred Grey. 


[203 ] 



CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO 

I N the garden Aline arose from the bench on which 
she had been sitting for a half hour, perhaps for 
an hour. The night was full of the promise of spring. 
In another hour her husband would be ready to go to 
bed. It had perhaps been a hard day for him at the 
factory. She would go into the house. No doubt 
he would have gone to sleep in his chair and she would 
arouse him. There would be some talk. ‘‘Are things 
going well at the factory?” “Yes, dear. I am very 
busy these days. Now I am trying to decide about 
advertising. Sometimes I think I will do it, sometimes 
I think I won't.” 

Aline would be alone in the house with the man, her 
husband, and outside would be the night of which he 
seemed so unconscious. When spring had advanced 
but a few weeks more, tender green growth would be 
springing up all over the hillside on which the house 
stood. The soil was rich up there. Fred's grand- 
father, still spoken of by old men of the town as Old 
Wash Grey, had been a horse-dea?er on rather a grand 
scale. It was said he had sold horses to both sides 
during the Civil War, and had taken something of a 
hand in several big horse-rtmning raids. He sold horses 
to Grant's army, there was a rebel raid, the horses dis- 
appeared and presently Old Wash sold them to Grant’s 

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DARK LAUGHTER 


army again. The whole hillside had once been a huge 
horse corral. 

A place of green things growing rank in the spring — 
trees putting forth leaves, grasses springing up, the 
early spring flowers coming, flowering bushes every- 
where. 

In the house, after the few remarks, silence. Aline 
and her husband would go up a flight of stairs. 
Always, when they had got to the top of the steps, there 
was a moment when something was to be decided. 
“Shall I come to you to-night?" “No, dear; I’m a 
little tired.” Something hung fire between the man 
and woman, a wall separated them. It had always been 
there — except once, for an hour, one night in Paris. 
Did Fred really want to tear it away? To do so would 
involve something. Really living with a woman is not 
living alone. Life takes on a new aspect. There are 
new problems. You must feel things, face things. 
Aline wondered if she wanted the wall destroyed. 
Sometimes she made an effort. At the top of the 
stairs she turned and smiled at her husband. Then she 
took his head in her two hands and kissed him, and 
when she had done that went quickly into her own room, 
where later, in the darkness, he came to her. It was 
odd, amazing, how close another could come and yet 
remain far away. Could Aline, if she willed it so, 
knock the wall down and really come close to the man 
she had married ? Did she want that? 

It was so good to be out alone on such an evening 
as the one during which we have crept into Aline’s 
thoughts. In the garden, that had been terraced over 

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DARK LAUGHTER 


the crown of the hill on which the house stood, there 
were several trees with benches beneath, and a low wall 
that separated the garden from the street that went past 
the house over the hill and down again. In the sum- 
mer when the trees were in leaf and when tall bushes 
grew thick upon the terraces one could not see the other 
houses of the street, but now they stood distinctly 
forth. In a neighboring house, where lived Mr. and 
Mrs. Willmott, there were guests in for the evening, 
and two or three motors stood before the door. The 
people sat at tables in a brightly lighted room playing 
cards. They laughed, talked, occasionally got up from 
one table and went to another. Aline had been invited 
to come with her husband, but had managed to get out 
of it by saying she had a headache. Slowly, surely, 
ever since she had been in Old Harbor, she had been 
restricting her own and her husband's social life. Fred 
said he liked it so and complimented her upon her ability 
to get out of things. In the evening after dinner he 
read the newspaper or a book. He preferred detective 
stories, saying he got a kick out of them and that they 
did not take his mind off business, as reading so-called 
serious books did. Sometimes he and Aline went for 
a drive in the evening, but not often. She had man- 
aged to restrict the mutual use of the car also. It threw 
her too much with Fred. There was nothing to talk 
about. 

When Aline got up from her seat on the bench, she 
walked slowly and softly about the garden. She was 
dressed in white and there was a little childish game 
she loved playing with herself. She went to stand near 

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DARK LAUGHTER 


a tree and, folding her arms, turned her face demurely 
toward the ground, or, plucking a branch from a bush, 
stood holding it against her breast as though it were a 
cross. In old gardens in Europe and in some old Amer- 
ican places, where there are trees and thick bushes, a 
certain effect is achieved by setting small white figures 
on columns among the deep foliage, and Aline in fancy 
metamorphosed herself into such a white, dainty 
figure. She was a stone woman leaning over to raise 
to her arms a small child who stood with upraised 
hands, or she was a nun in the garden of a convent 
pressing a cross against her breast. As such a tiny 
stone figure she had no thoughts, no feelings. What 
she achieved was a kind of occasional loveliness among 
the dark night foliage of the garden. She became a 
part of the loveliness of the trees and of thick bushes 
growing out of the ground. Although she did not 
know it, her husband Fred had once in fancy seen her 
just so — on the night when he had asked her to marry 
him. For years, for days and nights, forever perhaps, 
she could stand with outstretched arms about to take a 
child into her arms, or as a nun holding to her body 
the symbol of the cross on which had died her spiritual 
lover. It was a dramatization, childish, meaningless, 
and full of a kind of comforting satisfaction to one 
who in the actuality of life remains unfulfilled. Some- 
times when she stood thus in the garden, her husband 
within the house reading his paper or asleep in his 
chair, minutes passed when she did no thinking, felt 
nothing. She had become a part of the sky, of the 
ground, of passing winds. When it rained, she was the 

[207] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


rain. When thunder rolled down the Ohio River Val- 
ley, her body trembled slightly. As a small, lovely 
stone figure, she had achieved Nirvana. Now was the 
time for her lover to come — to spring out of the ground 
— to drop from the branches of a tree — ^to take her, 
laughing at the very notion of asking consent. Such 
a figure as Aline had become, placed in an exhibition 
in a museum would have seemed absurd; but in a 
garden among trees and bushes, and caressed by the 
low color-tones of the night, it became strangely lovely, 
and all of Aline’s relations with her husband had made 
her want, above everything else, to be strange and lovely 
in her own sight. Was she saving herself for some- 
thing, and, if so, for what? 

When she had posed herself thus, several times, she 
grew weary of the childishness of the game and was 
compelled to smile at her own foolishness. She went 
back along the path toward the house and, looking 
through a window, saw her husband asleep in his chair. 
The newspaper had fallen from his hand and his body 
had slumped into the chair’s generous depths so that 
only his rather boyish-looking head was visible, and 
after looking at him for a moment Aline moved again 
along a path toward the gate leading to the street. 
Where the Grey place faced the street there were no 
houses. Two roads, coming up from the town below, 
became a street near the comer of the garden, and on 
the street were several houses, in one of which she 
could, by raising her eyes, see the people still at their 
card game. 

Near the gate there was a large walnut-tree, and she 
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DARK LAUGHTER 


stood with her body pressed against it looking out into 
the street. At the corner, where the two roads joined, 
there was a street light, but at the entrance to the Grey 
place the light was dim. 

Something happened. 

A man came up the road from below, passed under 
the light and, turning, walked toward the Grey gate. 
It was Bruce Dudley, the man she had seen walking 
away from the factory with the small, broad-shouldered 
workman. Aline’s heart jiunped and then seemed to 
stop beating. If the man, inside himself, had been 
occupied with thoughts of her as she had with thoughts 
of him, then already they were something to each other. 
They were something to each other that presently would 
have to be taken into account. 

The man in Paris, the one she had seen in Rose 
Frank’s apartment that night when she got Fred. She 
had made a faint little try for him, but had been unsuc- 
cessful. Rose had got him. If the chance came again, 
would she be more bold ? There was one thing sure — 
if such a thing did happen, her husband Fred would not 
be taken into account. “When such a thing happens 
between a woman and a man, it happens between a 
woman and a man. No one else really gets into it at 
all,” she thought, smiling in spite of the fear that had 
taken hold of her. 

The man she now stood watching was coming along 
the street directly toward her, and when he had got to 
the gate leading up into the Grey garden he stopped. 
Aline moved slightly, but a bush growing near the tree 
hid her body. Did the man see her? An idea came. 

[209] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


She would try, to some purpose now, beings one of the 
small stone statues people place in gardens. The man 
worked in her husband’s factory and it might well be 
that he was coming to the house to see Fred about busi- 
ness. Aline’s notions of the relation between employee 
and employer in a factory were very vague. If the 
man actually came along the path toward the house, 
he would pass near enough to touch her, and the situa- 
tion might well become absurd. It would have been 
better for Aline to walk quite nonchalantly along the 
path away from the gate at which the man now stood. 
That she realized, but she did not move. If the man 
saw her and spoke to her, the tenseness of the moment 
would be broken. He would ask something about her 
husband and she would answer. The whole childish 
game she had been playing inside herself would end. 
As a bird crouches in the grass when a hunting dog 
runs through a field so Aline crouched. 

The man stood some ten feet away, looking first at 
the lighted house above and then calmly at her. Did 
he see her? Was he aware of her awareness? When 
the hunting dog has found his bird he does not dash 
in, but stands rigid and waiting. 


How absurd that Aline could not speak to the man 
in the road. She had been thinking of him for days. 
Perhaps he had been thinking of her. 

She wanted him. 

For what ? 

She did not know. 


[210] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


He stood for three or four minutes, and it seemed 
to Aline one of those strange pauses in life that are so 
absurdly unimportant and at the same time all-impor- 
tant. Had she the courage to step out of the shelter of 
the tree and the bush and speak to him ? “Something 
would then begin. Something would then begin.” The 
words danced in her head. 

He turned and walked away reluctantly. Twice he 
stopped to look back. First his legs, then his body, 
and at the last his head disappeared into the darkness 
of the hillside beyond the circle of light cast by the 
street-lamp overhead. There was an effect of sinking 
into the ground out of which he had suddenly appeared 
but a few moments before. 

The man had stood as close to Aline as the other man 
in Paris, the man she had met coming out of Rose’s 
apartment, the man on whom she had once tried with 
so little success to exert her womanly charms. 

The new man’s coming, in just that way, was a 
challenge. 

Would she take it? 

With a smile playing about her lips Aline walked 
along the path toward the house and toward her hus- 
band, who was still sound asleep in his chair with the 
evening newspaper lying beside him on the floor. 


[2n] 





BOOK EIGHT 




CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE 


S HE had got him. There remained little doubt in 
his mind ; but because it gave him a kind of plea- 
sure to think of himself as the devoted one, and of her 
as indifferent, he did not tell himself the exact truth. 
However, it had happened. When he saw it all fully 
he smiled and was rather happy. “That is settled any- 
way,” he told himself. It was flattering to think that 
he could do it, that he could surrender like that. One 
of the things Bruce said to himself at that time went 
something like this — “A man must at some time in his 
life focus all the strength of his being upon some one 
thing, the doing of some job of work, utter absorption 
in that or in some other human being, for a time 
anyway.” All his life Bruce had been rather like that. 
When he felt closest to people they seemed more re- 
moved than when he felt — as rarely happened — suffi- 
cient unto himself. It needed then a grand effort, an 
outgoing toward someone. 

As for work Bruce did not feel himself artist enough 
to think he would find an outlet in the arts. Now and 
then, when he was deeply moved, he wrote what might 
have been called poems, but the idea of being a poet, of 
being known as a poet, was rather dreadful to him. 
“Something like being widely known as a lover, a pro- 
fessional lover,” he thought. 

C215] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


Ordinary work, varnishing wheels in a factory, 
scribbling news for a newspaper, that sort of thing. 
Not much chance for an outpouring of the emotional 
nature at least. Men like Tom Wills and Sponge Mar- 
tin had puzzled him. They were shrewd, moved about 
within a certain limited circle of life with an air of 
ease. Perhaps they did not want or need what Bruce 
wanted and thought he needed — periods of rather in- 
tense emotional outpourings. Tom Wills at least had 
consciousness of futility, impotence. He used to talk 
with Bruce sometimes about the newspaper on which 
they both worked. “Think of it, man,” he said, “three 
hundred thousand readers. Think what that means. 
Three hundred thousand pairs of eyes fixed on the 
same page at practically the same hour every day, three 
hundred thousand minds supposed to be at work ab- 
sorbing the contents of a page. And such a page, such 
stuff. If they were really minds what would happen? 
Great God ! An explosion that would shake the world, 
eh? If the eyes saw! If the fingers felt, if the ears 
heard ! Man is dumb, blind, deaf. Could Chicago or 
Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Youngstown or Akron — mod- 
ern war, the modern factory, the modern college, Reno, 
Los Angeles, movies, art schools, music-teachers, the 
radio, governments — could such things go on blandly if 
the three hundred thousand, all the three hundred thou- 
sands, were not intellectual and emotional morons?” 

As though that mattered to Bruce or to Sponge 
Martin. It seemed to matter a lot to Tom. He was 
hurt by the fact. 

Sponge was the puzzle. He went fishing, drank 
[216] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


moon whisky, got satisfaction out of being aware. He 
and his wife were both fox terriers, not quite human. 

Aline had got Bruce. The mechanics of getting 
him, her move, had been laughable, crude, almost like 
putting an advertisement in a matrimonial paper. 
When she had realized fully that she wanted him near 
her, for a time anyway, wanted his person near her 
person, she could not think at first of any way to bring 
it about. She couldn’t very well send a note to his 
hotel. “You look rather like a man I once saw in Paris, 
give me the same subtle desires. I missed out on him. 
A woman named Rose Frank got the better of me the 
only chance I ever had. Would you mind coming a 
bit nearer so that I may see what you are like?’’ 

You can’t do a thing like that in a small town. If 
you are an Aline you can’t do it at all. What can you 
do? 

Aline had taken a long chance. A negro gardener, 
who worked about the Grey place, was discharged and 
she put an advertisement in the local newspaper. Four 
men came and were pronounced unsatisfactory before 
she got Bruce, but in the end she got him. 

It was an embarrassing moment when he came up the 
path to the door and for the first time she saw him 
very near, heard his voice. 

That was in a way the test. Would he make it easy 
for her? He at least tried, smiling inwardly. Some- 
thing was dancing within him as it had since he had 
seen the advertisement. He had seen it because two 
laborers at the hotel spoke of it in his hearing. Sup- 
pose you play with the idea that a game is going on 

[217] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


between you and a very charming woman. Most men 
spend their lives at just that game. You tell yourself 
many little lies, but perhaps you are wise to do so. 
You’ve got to have some illusions, haven’t you? It’s 
fun, like writing a novel. You make the charming 
woman more charming if your fancy can be made to 
help, make her do as you please, have imaginary con- 
versations with her, at night sometimes imagined love- 
meetings. That is not quite satisfactory. There isn’t, 
however, always that limitation. Sometimes you win. 
The book you are writing comes alive. The woman 
you love wants you. 

After all, Bruce did not know. He knew nothing. 
An3rway he had enough of the wheel-varnishing job 
and spring was coming. Had he not seen the advertise- 
ment he would have quit presently. When he saw it he 
smiled over the notion of Tom Wills, cursing the news- 
papers. “Newspapers have some use anyway,” he 
thought. 

Since Bruce had been in Old Harbor he had spent 
very little money and so he had silver to jingle in his 
pocket. He wanted to apply for the place personally 
and so he quit on the day before he saw her. A letter 
would have spoiled everything. If she were what he 
thought, what he wanted to think her, the writing of 
a letter would have settled matters at once. She 
wouldn’t have bothered with a reply. What puzzled 
him most was Sponge Martin, who only smiled know- 
ingly when Bruce announced his intention of quitting. 
How did the little cuss know? When Sponge found 
out what he was up to— if he got the place — ^well, a 

[218] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


moment of intense satisfaction for Sponge. “I spotted 
that all right, knew it before he knew it himself. She 
got him, didn’t she? Well, it’s all right. I like her 
looks myself.” 

Odd how much a man hated giving another man that 
kind of satisfaction. 

With Aline, Bruce was frank enough, although he 
Could not look directly at her during their first conver- 
sation. He wondered whether or not she was looking 
at him and rather thought she was. There was a way 
in which he felt like a horse or a slave being bought 
and he liked the feeling. “I’ve been working down at 
your husband’s factory but I’ve quit,” he said. “You 
see spring is coming and I want to try working out of 
doors. As for my being a gardener, it is, of course, 
absurd, but I would like trying it if you wouldn’t mind 
helping me. It is a little rash of me to come up here 
and apply. Spring is coming so fast and I want to 
work out of doors. As a matter of fact I am quite 
stupid with my hands and if you take me you will have 
to tell me everything.” 

How badly Bruce was playing his game. His note, 
for a time at least, was to be a laborer. The words he 
had been saying did not sound like words that would 
come from the lips of any laborer he had known. If 
you are going to dramatize yourself, play a certain role, 
you should at least play it well. His mind danced about 
seeking something more crude he might say. 

“Don’t worry about the wages, ma’am,” he said, and 
had a hard time suppressing a laugh. He kept lo okin g 

[219] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


at the ground and smiling. That was better. It was 
the note. What fun it was going to be, playing the 
game out with her, if she were willing. It might last 
a long time, no let-down. There might even be a con- 
test. Who would let down first? 


[ 220 ] 




CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR 


H 'E was happy as he had never been before, ab- 
surdly happy. Sometimes in the evening when 
his day's work was done, as he sat on the bench in 
the small building back of the house further up the 
hill where he had been given a cot on which to sleep, 
he thought he was consciously rather overdoing the 
thing. On several Sunday mornings he had gone to see 
Sponge and his wife and they had been very nice. 
Just a little inward laugh on Sponge's part. He did 
not like the Greys much. Once, long ago, he had as- 
serted his own manhood over old Grey, had told him. 

where to get off, and now Bruce, his friend At 

night sometimes, when Sponge was in bed beside his 
wife, he played with the idea of being himself in Bruce's 
present position. He imagined things had already hap- 
pened that might not happen at all, tried out his own 
figure in Bruce's position. It would not work. In 

such a house as the Greys' The truth was that in 

Bruce's position, as he imagined it, he would have 
been confused by the house itself, by the furniture of 
the house, by the grounds about the house. That time 
he had got Fred Grey’s father at a disadvantage he had 
him in his own shop, on his own dung-hill. It was 
really Sponge's wife who most enjoyed the thoughts of 
what was going on. At night while Sponge was having 
[221 ] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


his own thoughts she lay beside him thinking of delicate 
lingerie, soft colorful bed-hangings. Having Bruce 
drop in on them on Sunday was like having in the 
house the hero of a French novel. Or, something by 
Laura Jean Libbey — ^books she used to read when she 
was younger and her eyes were better. Her thoughts 
did not frighten her as her husband’s thoughts did him, 
and when Bruce came she had an inclination to give 
him delicate things to eat. She wanted very much to 
have him remain well, young-looking and handsome, 
that she might the better use him in her night-thoughts. 
That he had once worked in the shop beside Sponge 
seemed to her a desecration of something almost holy. 
It was like the Prince of Wales doing something of 
the sort, a kind of joke. Like the pictures you see 
sometimes in the Sunday papers — the President of the 
United States pitching hay on a Vermont farm, the 
Prince of Wales holding a horse for a jockey to mount, 
the Mayor of New York throwing out the first baseball 
at the beginning of the baseball season. Great men 
being common in order to make common men happy. 
Bruce had at any rate made life happier for Mrs. 
Sponge Martin, and when he went to see them and had 
come away walking along the little-used river-road, to 
climb, by a path through the bushes, the hill to the 
Grey place, he got it all and was both amused and 
pleased. He felt like an actor who had been rehears- 
ing a part before friends. They were uncritical, kindly. 
Easy enough to play the part for them. Could he play 
it successfully for Aline? 

[ 222 ] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


His own thoughts when he sat on the bench in the 
shed in which he now slept at night were complex. 

“I’m in love. That’s what it must be. As for her, 
it perhaps does not matter. She is at least willing to 
play with the thought of it.’’ 

One tried to escape love only when it was not love. 
Very skillful men — skillful in life — pretend not to be- 
lieve in it at all. Writers of books who believe in love, 
who make love the background of their books, are 
always strangely silly fellows. They make a mess of 
it trying to write of it. No intelligent person wants 
such love. It may be good enough for antiquated 
unmarried women or something for tired stenographers 
to read on the subway or elevated, going home from 
the office in the evening. It is the sort of thing that 
has to be kept within the confines of a cheap book. If 
you try bringing it into life — bah! 

In a book you make the simple statement — “they 
loved’’ — ^and the reader must believe or throw the 
book away. Easy enough to make statements — “John 
stood with his back turned and Sylvester crept from 
behind a tree. He raised his revolver and fired. John 
tumbled forward, dead.” Such things happen, to be 
sure, but they do not happen to anyone you know. 
Killing a man with words .scrawled on a sheet of paper 
is a quite different matter than killing him in life. 

Words to make people lovers. You say they are. 
Bruce did not so much want to be loved. He wanted 
to love. When the flesh comes in, that is something 
different. In him there was none of the vanity that 
makes men so ready to believe themselves lovable. 

[223] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


Bruce was quite sure he had not yet begun to think 
or to feel Aline as flesh. If that came it would be 
another problem than the one he had now undertaken. 
He wanted most of all to get outside himself, to center 
his life upon something outside himself. He had tried 
physical labor, but had found no work in which he 
could absorb himself, and also he realized, after he 
saw Aline, that for him Bernice had not offered enough 
of the possibilities of loveliness in herself — in her per- 
son. She was one who had thrown aside the possi- 
bilities of personal loveliness, of womanhood. In truth 
she was too much like Bruce himself. 

And what an absurdity — really ! If one could but be 
a lovely woman, if one could achieve loveliness in one’s 
own person, was it not enough, was it not all one could 
ask? Bruce, at the moment anyway, thought it was. 
He thought Aline lovely — so lovely that he hesitated 
about coming too near. If his own fancy was helping 
to make her more lovely — in his own sight — ^was it not 
an achievement? “Gently. Don’t move. Just be,” he 
wanted to whisper to Aline. 

Spring was coming on fast in southern Indiana. It 
was middle April, and in middle April, in the Ohio 
River Valley — at least many seasons — ^the spring is well 
advanced. The winter flood-waters had already receded 
from most of the flat lands in the river valley about 
and below Old Harbor, and as Bruce went about his 
new work in the Greys’ garden, directed by Aline, wheel- 
ing barrows of dirt, digging in the ground, planting 
seed, transplanting, he occasionally straightened his 
body, and standing at attention looked out over the land. 

[ 224] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


Although the flood-waters, that in winter covered all 
the lowlands in that country, were just receding, leav- 
ing everywhere wide shallow pools — pools the south- 
ern Indiana sun would soon drink up— although the 
receding flood-waters had left everywhere a thin coat- 
ing of gray river-mud, the gray was now fast re- 
ceding. 

Ever)rwhere the green of growing things crept out 
over the gray land. As the shallow pools dried, the 
green advanced. On some of the warm spring days, he 
could almost see the green creeping forward, cind now 
that he had become a gardener, a digger in the earth, 
he had occasionally the exciting feeling of being a part 
of what was going on. He was a painter at work on 
a vast canvas on which others were also at work. In 
the ground where he was digging, red, blue and yellow 
blossoms would presently appear. A little corner of 
the vast earth’s surface belonged to Aline and to him- 
self. There was an unspoken contrast. His own hands, 
that had always been so awkward and useless, directed 
now by her mind, might well become less useless. Now 
and then, as she sat on a bench near him or walked 
about the garden, he stole shy looks at her hands. They 
were very dainty and quick. Well, they were not 
strong, but his own hands were strong enough. Tough, 
rather thick fingers, broad palms. When he worked in 
the shop beside Sponge he had watched Sponge’s 
hands. There was a caress in them. There was a 
caress in Aline’s hands when, as occasionally happened, 
she touched one of the plants Bruce had been handling 
awkwardly. "You do it like this,” the quick deft 

[225] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


fingers seemed to be saying to his fingers. “Keep your- 
self out of it. Let the rest of your person sleep. Cen- 
ter everything now upon the fingers that are being 
directed by her fingers,” Bruce whispered to himself. 

Soon now the farmers who owned the flat lands in 
the river valley far below the hill on which Bruce 
worked, but who lived also back among the hills, would 
be going out upon the flat lands with their teams and 
tractors for the spring plowing. The low hills, lying 
back from the river, were like hunting-dogs crouched 
near the river’s edge. One of the dogs had crept near 
and had thrust a tongue into the water. That was the 
hill upon which Old Harbor stood. On the flat lands 
down below, Bruce had already seen men walking about. 
They were like flies walking across a distant window- 
pane. Dark gray men walking across a vast light gray- 
ness, looking, waiting the time of the coming of the 
spring green, waiting to help the spring green come. 

Bruce had seen the same thing when he was a boy 
and had walked up the Old Harbor hill with his mother, 
and now he was seeing it with Aline. 

They did not speak of it. As yet they spoke of noth- 
ing but the work to be done in the garden. When 
Bruce was a boy and came up the hill with his mother, 
the older woman had been unable to tell her son what 
she felt. The son had been unable to tell the mother 
what he felt. 

Often he felt like shouting to the tiny gray figures 
down below. “Come on! Come on! Start plowing! 
Plow! Plow!” 

He was himself a gray man like the tiny gray men 
[226] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


below. He was a crazy man like the crazy man he had 
once seen sitting with dried blood on his cheek beside 
the river. "Keep afloat!" the crazy man had called 
to a steamboat plowing its way up river. 

"Plow! Plow! Begin plowing! Tear up the soil ! 
Turn it over. The soil is growing warm ! Begin plow- 
ing ! Plow and plant !” was what Bruce wanted to shout 
now. 


[227] 




CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE 


B ruce had become a part of the life of the Grey 
household on the hill above the river. Inside 
himself something was being built. A hundred im- 
aginary conversations with Aline, that were never to 
take place in fact, went on in his mind. Sometimes 
when she came into the garden and talked to him of his 
work, he half waited, as though for her to pick up, 
where it had been dropped, a fancied talk had with her 
as he lay on his cot the night before. If Aline should 
become absorbed in him, as he was in her, a break would 
be inevitable, and after a break of any kind the whole 
tone of life in the garden would be changed. Bruce 
thought he had suddenly got an old wisdom. Sweet 
moments in life are rare. The poet has his moment of 
ecstasy and then it must be put aside. He works in 
a bank or is a professor in a college. Keats singing to 
the nightingale, Shelley to the skylark or to the moon. 
Both men going home afterwards to wives. Keats sit- 
ting at table with Fanny Brawne — a little fat, growing 
a little coarse — using words that jarred on the ear- 
drums. Shelley and that father-in-law of his. Lord 
help the good, the true and the beautiful ! The house- 
hold arrangements to be discussed. What shall we 
have for dinner to-night, dear? Little wonder Tom 
Wills was always swearing at life. “Good morning, 

[228] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


Life. Do you think the day .beautiful? Well, you 
see I have an attack of indigestion. I should not have 
eaten the shrimps. Sea-food hardly ever agrees with 
me. 

Because moments are hard to come at, because every- 
thing fades quickly away, is that any reason for be- 
coming second-rate, cheap, a cynic? Any little smart 
newspaper scribbler can turn you out a C5mic. Anyone 
can show how rotten life is, how silly love is — it’s easy. 
Take it and laugh. Then take also what comes later 
as cheerfully as you can. It might be that Aline felt 
nothing that Bruce felt, that what to him was the ex- 
perience, the high spot perhaps of a lifetime, was to 
her but a passing fancy. Boredom perhaps with life, 
as the wife of a rather commonplace manufacturer in 
an Indiana town. Perhaps physical desire alone — a 
new experience in life. Bruce thought it might be to 
him what he made it and he was proud and glad of what 
he thought of as his own sophistication. 

On his cot at night moments of intense sadness. He 
could not sleep and arose to creep out into the garden 
to sit on a bench. One night it rained and the cold 
rain wet him to the skin but he did not mind. Already 
the number of years he had lived had passed into the 
thirties and he felt himself at a turning-point. To- 
day I am young and can be foolish, but to-morrow I 
shall become old and wise. If I do not love fully now 
I shall never love. Old men do not walk or sit in the 
cold rain in a garden, looking at a dark house drenched 
by the rain. They take such feelings as I now have 
and turn them into poems which they publish to en- 

[229] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


hance their fame. A man enamored of a woman, his 
physical being all aroused, is a common enough sight. 
Spring comes, and men and women walk in city parks 
or along country roads. They sit together on the 
grass under a tree. They will do it next spring and in 
the spring of the year two thousand and ten. They 
did it in the evening of the day Caesar crossed the 
Rubicon. Does it matter? Men who have passed the 
age of thirty and who have intelligence understand such 
things. A German scientist can explain perfectly. If 
there is anything you do not understand in human life 
consult the works of Dr. Freud. 

The rain was cold and the house dark. Did Aline 
sleep beside the husband she had found in France, the 
man she had found upset, torn because he had been in 
battles, made hysterical because he had seen men in 
the raw, because once in a moment of hysteria he had 
killed a man ? Well, it would not do to have Aline in 
just that situation. The picture did not fit into the 
scheme. If I were her accepted lover, if I possessed 
her, I would have to accept the husband as a necessary 
fact. Later when I have left here, when this spring 
has passed, I will accept him, but not now. Bruce 
went softly through the rain and touched with his 
fingers the wall of the house in which Aline slept. 
Something had been decided for him. Both he and 
Aline were in a hushed silent place midway between 
events. Yesterday there was nothing. To-morrow or 
the day after, when the breach came, there would be 
nothing. Well, there would be something. There 

[230] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


would be a thing called knowledge of life. When 
he had touched the wall of the house with his wet 
fingers he crept back to his cot and lay down, but 
after a time arose to light a light. After all, he could 
not quite escape the desire to put down something of the 
feelings of the moment, to preserve them, 

I am building me a house slowly — a house in which I 
may live. Day by day the bricks are piled in long 
rows, making walls. Doors are hung and shingles are 
cut for the roof. The air is heavy with the perfume of 
logs, new-cut. 

In the morning you may see my house building — in the 
street, at the corner by the stone church — in a valley 
beyond your house, where the road dips down and 
crosses a bridge. 

It IS morning and the house is almost complete. 

It is evening and my house is in ruins. Weeds and 
vines have grown in the broken walls. The rafters of 
the house I aspired to build are buried in long grass. 
They have decayed. Worms live in them. You will 
find the ruins of my house in a street of your town, on 
a country road, in a long street hung with smoke-clouds 
in a city. 

This is a day, a week, a month. My house is not built. 
Would you come into my house? Take this key. 
Come in. 

Bruce wrote words on pieces of paper as he sat on 
the edge of his cot and as the spring rains swept over 
the hill on which he lived temporarily near Aline. 

[231 ] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


My house is in the perfume of the rose that grows in 
her garden, it sleeps in the eyes of a nigger who works 
on the docks in New Orleans. It is built on the foun- 
dation of a thought I am not man enough to express. 
I am not subtle enough to build my house. No man 
is subtle enough to build his house. 

It perhaps cannot be built. Bruce got off his cot 
and went outside again into the rain. There was a 
dim light now burning in a room upstairs in the Grey 
house. It might be someone was ill. How absurd! 
When you are building, why not build ? When you are 
singing a song, sing it. How much better to say to 
oneself that Aline did not sleep. For me the lie, the 
golden lie ! To-morrow or the day after I shall awake, 
shall be compelled to awake. 

Did Aline know? Did she secretly share in the 
excitement that was so shaking Bruce, making his 
fingers fumble as he worked in the garden during 
the day, making it so difficult for him to raise his eyes 
and look at her when there was any chance she might 
be looking at him? “Well, well, take it easy. Don’t 
worry. You haven’t done anything yet,” he told him- 
self. After all, the whole thing, his applying for the 
place in the garden, the being near her, was but an 
adventure, one of the adventures of life, the sort of 
adventure perhaps he had secretly been seeking when 
he left Chicago. A series of adventures — ^little glow- 
ing moments, flashes in darkness, and then utter dark- 
ness and death. He had been told that some of the 
bright-colored insects that already on warm days in- 
vaded the garden lived but for a day. No good dying, 

[232] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


however, before your moment came, killing the mo- 
ment by too much thinking. 

It was a fresh adventure each day when she came 
into the garden to direct his work. Now there was 
some use for the gowns she had bought in Paris dur- 
ing the month after Fred had left. If they were 
unfitted for morning wear in a garden, did it mat- 
ter? She did not put them on until after Fred left 
in the morning. There were two servants in the house, 
but they were both negresses. Negro women have 
an instinctive understanding. They say nothing, being 
wise in woman-lore. What they can get they take. 
That is understood. 

Fred left at eight, driving sometimes, sometimes 
walking away down the hill. He did not speak to 
Bruce or look at him. There was no doubt he dis- 
liked the idea of the young white man working in the 
garden. His dislike of the idea was in his shoulders, 
in the lines of his back, as he walked away. It gave 
Bruce a kind of half-ugly satisfaction. Why? The 
man, her husband, he had told himself, did not matter, 
did not exist — at least not in the world of his fancy. 

The adventure lay in her coming out of the house, 
being near him sometimes for an hour or two in the 
morning and for another hour or two in the afternoon. 
He shared in her plans for the garden, did things care- 
fully as she directed. She spoke and he heard her 
voice. When he thought her back was turned, or 
when, as happened sometimes on warm mornings, she 
sat on a bench, some distance away, and pretended 
to read a book, he stole furtive glances. How good 

[233] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


that her husband could buy her expensive and simple 
gowns, well-made shoes. The fact of the big wheel 
company going on down the river, of Sponge Martin 
varnishing automobile wheels, began to have a point. 
He had himself worked in the factory for some 
months, and had varnished a certain number of wheels. 
Some pennies of the profits from his own labor had 
perhaps gone into buying things for her to wear, a 
bit of lace about the wrists, a quarter-yard of the 
cloth that made the dress she wore. Good to look at 
her and smile at one's own thoughts, play with one's 
own thoughts. One might as well take things as they 
are. He, himself, could never be a successful manu- 
facturer. As for her being Fred Grey’s wife. If a 
painter has painted a canvas and has hung it, does it 
remain his canvas? If a man has written a poem, does 
it remain his poem? What absurdity! As for Fred 
Grey — he should have been glad. If he loved her, how 
good to think another loved also. You are doing 
well, Mr. Grey. Do 'tend up to your affairs. Make 
money. Buy her many beautiful things. I do not 
know how to do it. If the shoe were on the other foot. 
Well, you see, it isn't. It couldn't be. Why think 
of it? 

The situation the better really that Aline did not 
belong to Bruce, that she belonged to another. If 
she belonged to him he would have to go into the 
house with her, sit down with her at table, see too 
much of her. The worst was that she would see too 
much of him. She would find out about him. That 
was hardly the point of his adventure. Now, as mat- 

[234] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


ters stood, she could, if the fancy came to her, think 
of him as he thought of her, and he would do nothing 
to disturb her thoughts. “Life is better,” Bruce whis- 
pered to himself, “now that men and women have 
become civilized enough not to want to see too much 
of each other. Marriage is a relic of barbarism. It 
is the civilized man who clothes himself and his 
women, develops his decorative sense in the process. 
Once men did not even clothe the bodies of themselves 
or their women. Stinking hides drying on the floor 
of a cave. Later they learned to clothe not only the 
body but all the details of life. Sewerage came into 
vogue, ladies of the court of the early French kingsr— 
the Medici ladies, too — must have smelled abominably 
before they learned to douse themselves with scents.” 

Nowdays houses were built that allowed somewhat 
for separate existence, individual existence within the 
walls of the house. Better if men built their houses 
even more judiciously, separated themselves more and 
more. 

Let lovers creep in. Yourself become a lover creep- 
ing, creeping. What makes you think you are too 
ugly to be a lover ? What the world wanted was more 
lovers and fewer husbands and wives. Bruce did not 
think much concerning the soundness of his thoughts. 
Would you question the soundness of Cezanne’s 
thoughts as he stood before the canvas? Would you 
question the soundness of Keats’ thoughts as he sang? 

Much better that Aline, his lady, belonged to Fred 
Grey — a, manufacturer of the town of Old Harbor in 
Indiana. Why have factories in towns like Old Har- 

[235] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


bor if no Alines are to result? Are we to remain 
always barbarians? 

In another mood Bruce might well wonder how 
much Fred Grey knew, how much he was capable of 
knowing. Can anything happen in the world without 
all concerned knowing? 

They would try, however, to suppress their own 
knowledge. How natural and human to do so. In 
war or in peace we do not kill the man we hate. We 
try to kill the thing we hate in ourselves. 


[236] 




CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX 

F red grey walked down the path to the gate 
in the morning. Sometimes he turned and looked 
at Bruce. The two men had not as vet spoken to each 
other. 

No man likes the thought of another man, a white 
man, rather good to look upon, alone all day with his 
wife in a garden — no one else about but two negro 
women. Negro women have no moral sense. They 
will do anything. They like it maybe, don’t pretend 
not to like it. That’s what makes the whites so angry 
about them when they think about it. Such cattle! 
If we can’t have good serious men in this country what 
are we coming to? 

One afternoon in May, Bruce had been down into 
the town to buy some needed garden-tools, and he was 
walking back up the hill and there was Fred Grey 
walking just ahead of him. Fred was younger than 
himself but was some two or three inches shorter. 

Now that he sat all day at a desk in the factory office 
and lived well, Fred was inclined to grow fat. He had 
developed a paunch and his cheeks had grown puffy. 
He thought it would be a good thing, for a time any- 
way, to walk back and forth to his work. If Old 
Harbor only had a golf-course. Someone ought to 
promote one. The trouble was that there were not 

[237] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


enough people of his class in town to support a country 
club. 

The two men were climbing up the hill and Fred was 
aware of Bruce’s presence behind him. How unfortu- 
nate! If he had been behind, with Bruce in front, he 
could have regulated his own pace and could have spent 
the time as he walked along sizing the man up. After 
having glanced back and seen Bruce he did not turn 
again. Had Bruce known that he had turned his head 
to look? It was a question, one of those annoying 
little questions that can so get on a man’s nerves. 

When Bruce had come to work in the Greys’ garden 
Fred had at once recognized him as the man who had 
worked in the factory beside Sponge Martin, and had 
asked Aline about him, but she had replied by merely 
shaking her head. “Really, I know nothing about him, 
but he works very well,’’ she had said. How could you 
go back of that? You couldn’t. To imply, to suggest 
anything. Impossible I A man can’t be a barbarian like 
that. 

If Aline hadn’t loved him why had she married him? 
If he had married a poor girl then he might have 
grounds for suspicion, but Aline’s father was a good 
sound man and had a big law-practice in Chicago. A 
lady is a lady. That’s one advantage of marrying a 
lady. You don’t have to be always asking yourself 
questions. 

When you are walking up a hill before a man who is 
your gardener what is the best thing to do? In the 
time of Fred’s grandfather and even in his father’s 
time all men in Indiana small towns were pretty much 

[238] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


alike. Anyway they thought they were pretty much 
alike, but times had changed. 

The street up which Fred was climbing was one of 
the most exclusive in Old Harbor. Doctors and law- 
yers, a bank cashier, the best people in town lived up 
there now. Fred had rather got the jump on them 
because the house at the very top of the hill had be- 
longed to his family for three generations. Three 
generations in an Indiana town, particularly if you have 
money, means something. 

That gardener Aline had hired was always about 
with Sponge Martin when he worked down at the fac- 
tory; and of Sponge, Fred had a memory. When he 
was a boy, he went down to Sponge’s carriage-paint- 
ing shop with his father and there was a row. A good 
thing, Fred thought, that times had changed. I’d fire 

that Sponge, only The trouble was that Sponge 

had lived in the town since he was a boy. Everyone 
knew him and everyone liked him. You don’t want to 
get a town down on you if you have to live there. And 
then, too, Sponge was a good workman, no doubt of 
that. The foreman said he could do more work than 
any other man in his department and do it with one 
hand tied behind him. A man had to realize his obli- 
gations. Just because you own or control a factory you 
can’t treat men as you please. There is an obligation 
implied in the control of capital. You’ve got to realize 
that. 

If Fred waited for Bruce, walked up the hill be- 
side him, past the houses scattered along the hill, what 
then? What would the two men talk about? “I don’t 

[239] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


like the looks of him much,” Fred told himself. He 
wondered why. 

There was a certain tone a factory-owner like him- 
self simply had to take toward the men who worked for 
him. When you are in the army it’s different, of 
course. 

Had Fred been driving his car that evening it would 
have been easy enough to stop and offer the gardener 
a lift. That’s something different. It puts things on 
a different basis. If you are driving a good car you 
stop and say, “Jump in.” It’s nice. It’s democratic 
and at the same time you are all right. Well, you see, 
you own the car, after all. You shift the gears, step 
on the gas. There is something to talk about. There 
isn’t any question of whether or not one man puffs a bit 
more than the other, climbing a hill. No one puffs. 
You speak about the car, growl about it a little. “Yes, 
it’s a good enough car, but the upkeep is too much. 
Sometimes I think I will sell it and buy a Ford.” You 
praise the Ford, speak of Henry Ford as a great man. 
“He’s the kind of man we ought to have as President. 
What we need is a good careful business administra- 
tion.” You speak of Henry Ford without any tinge 
of jealousy, show you are a broad-minded man. “That 
peace-ship idea he had was kinda nutty, don’t you think ? 
Yes, but he has sure wiped that all out since.” 

But afoot! On your own legs I A man ought to 
cut out smoking so much. Fred had done too much 
sitting at a desk since he had got out of the army. 

Sometimes he read articles in the magazines or news- 
papers. Such and such a great business man was careful 

[ 240 ] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


about his diet. In the evening before going to bed he 
drank a glass of milk and ate a cracker. In the morning 
he got up early and took a brisk walk. Head clear for 
business. Damn! You get a good car and then you 
walk, to improve your wind, to keep in shape. Aline 
was right not to care much for driving about in the 
evening in the car. She liked to work in her garden. 
Aline had a good figure. Fred was proud of his wife. 
A fine little woman. 

Fred had a story about life in the army he liked to 
tell sometimes to Harcourt or to some traveling man — 
“You can’t tell how men will turn out when they are 
put to the test. In the army we had big men and little 
men. You would think, now wouldn’t you, that the 
big men would stand the grind the best? Well, you 
would be fooled. We had a fellow in our company, 
only weighed a hundred and eighteen. At home he had 
been a drug-clerk or something like that. He hardly 
ate enough to keep a sparrow alive, always seemed about 
to die, but he was a fooler. Gee, he was tough. He 
lasted and lasted.” 

“Better walk a little faster, avoid an embarrassing 
situation” — Fred thought. He increased his pace, not 
too much. He didn’t want the fellow behind him to 
know he was trying to avoid him. The fool might 
think he was afraid of something. 

Thoughts going on. Fred didn’t like such thoughts. 
Why in hell hadn’t Aline been satisfied with the negro 
gardener ? 

Well, a man couldn’t say to his wife — “I don’t like 
the looks of things here. I don’t like the idea of a 

[241 ] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


young white man alone with you all day in the garden.” 
A man might imply — ^what — ^well, physical danger. If 
he did she would laugh. 

To say too much would imply Well, something 

like an equality between himself and Bruce. That sort 
of thing was all right in the army. You had to do it 

there. But in civil life To say anything would 

be to say too much, to imply too much. 

Damn! 

Better to walk faster. Show him that although a 
man sits all day at a desk, keeping things going for just 
such laboring-men as himself, keeping their wages com- 
ing in, people’s children fed, all that sort of thing, that 
in spite of everything a man’s legs and wind are all 
right. 

Fred had got to the Greys’ front gate but a few steps 
ahead of Bruce, and had immediately gone into the 
house without looking back. The walk had been a sort 
of revelation to Bruce. This business of building him- 
self up, in his own mind, as a man asking nothing — 
nothing but the privilege of loving. 

There had been a rather nasty inclination to taunt 
her husband, make him feel uncomfortable. The foot- 
steps of the gardener had constantly drawn nearer and 
nearer. A sharp click-click, of heavy shoes at first 
on a cement sidewalk and then on a brick pavement. 
Bruce’s wind was good. He did not mind climbing. 
Well, he had seen Fred look around. He knew what 
was going on in Fred’s mind. 

Fred — listening to the footsteps — ‘T wish some of 
the men who work for me at the factory would show 

[242] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


that much life. I’ll bet when he worked at the factory 
he never hurried to his job.” 

Bruce — with a smile on his lips — a rather mean feel- 
ing of satisfaction within. 

“He is afraid. Then he knows. He knows but is 
afraid to know.” 

As they neared the top of the hill Fred had an in- 
clination to run, but checked it. There was an attempt 
at dignity. The man’s back told Bruce what he wanted 
to know. He remembered the man Smedley who had 
been such a delight to Sponge. 

“We men are pleasant things. There is so much 
good-will in us.” 

He had got almost to the place where he could by a 
special effort step on Fred’s heels. 

Inside something singing — a challenge. “I could if 
I wanted to. I could if I wanted to.” 

Could what? 


[243] 





BOOK NINE 




CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN 


S HE had got him near her and he seemed to her 
dumb, afraid to speak for himself. How bold 
one can be in fancy and how very difficult it is to be 
bold in fact. Having him there, in the garden at work, 
where she could see him every day, made her realize, as 
she had never before realized, the maleness of the male, 
at least of the American male. A Frenchman would 
have been another problem. She was infinitely relieved 
that he was not a Frenchman. What strange things 
males were, really. When she was not in the garden she 
could, by going upstairs into her own room, sit and look 
at him. He was trying so earnestly to be a gardener, 
making such a bungle of it for the most part. 

And what thoughts must be going on in his head. If 
Fred and Bruce but knew how, as she sat by the win- 
dow upstairs, she sometimes laughed at both of them, 
they might both be angry and flee the place for good. 
When Fred left in the morning at eight she ran quickly 
upstairs to watch him go. He walked down the path to 
the front gate with an attempt at dignity, as though to 
say, “I know nothing of what is going on here, in fact 
I am sure nothing is going on. It is beneath my dignity 
to suppose there is anything going on. To allow there 
was anything going on would be too much of a come- 
down. You see how it is. Watch my back as I walk 

[247] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


along. You see, don’t you, how unperturbed I am? 
Fm Fred Grey, am I not ? As for these upstarts !” 

All right for a woman to play but she must not play 
too long. The males have her there. 

Aline was no longer young, but her body as yet re- 
tained its rather finely-drawn elasticity. Within her 
body she could still walk in her garden, feeling it — ^her 
body — as one might feel a perfectly-made gown. When 
you get a bit older you adopt men’s notions of life, of 
morality. Loveliness of person is perhaps something 
like the throat of a singer. You are bom with it. You 
have it or you haven’t. If you are a man and your 
woman is not lovely it is your business to throw about 
her person the aroma of loveliness. She will be very 
thankful to you for that. It may be what the imagina- 
tion is for. That at least, to the mind of the woman, 
is what the male fancy is for. Of what other use is it 
— to her ? 

It is only when you are young that you, being a 
woman, may be a woman. It is only when you are 
young that you, being male, can be a poet. Hurry. 
When you have crossed the line you cannot turn back. 
Doubts will creep in. You will become moral and 
stern. Then you must begin thinking of life after 
death, get for yourself, if you can, a spiritual lover. 

Negroes singing — 

An’ the Lord said . . . 

Hurry, hurry. 

Negroes singing had sometimes a way of getting at 
the ultimate truth of things. Two negro women sang 

[248] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


in the kitchen of the house as Aline sat by the window 
upstairs watching her husband go down the path, watch- 
ing the man Bruce digging in the garden. Bruce 
stopped digging and looked at Fred. He had a certain 
advantage. He looked at Fred’s back. Fred did not 
dare turn to look at him. There was something Fred 
had to hang onto. He was gripping something, with his 
fingers, hanging onto what? Himself, of course. 

Everything had become a little tense in the house and 
in the garden on the hill. How much native cruelty in 
women ! The two negro women in the house sang, did 
their work, looked and listened. Aline was herself, 
as yet, quite cool. She had committed herself to noth- 
ing. 

Sitting by the window upstairs or walking in the 
garden one did not need to look at the man working 
there, one did not have to think of another man gone 
down a hill to a factory. 

One could look at trees, plants growing. 

There was a simple natural cruel thing called nature. 
One could think of that, feel a part of that. One plant 
sprang quickly up, choking another that grew beneath 
it. A tree having got a better start than another 
threw its shadow do\vn, choking the sunlight out 
from a smaller tree. Its roots spread more rapidly 
through the ground sucking up the life-giving mois- 
ture. A tree was a tree. One did not question it. 
Could a woman be just a woman, for a time? She 
had to be that to be a woman at all. 

Bruce was going about the garden plucking out 
of the ground the weaker plants. Already he had 

[249] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


learned that much of gardening. It did not take one 
long to learn. 

For Aline, a feeling of life surging through her, dur- 
ing the spring da)rs. Now she was herself, the woman 
given her chance, perhaps the one chance she would 
have. 

“The world is so full of cant, isn’t it, dear? Yes, 
but it is better to seem to subscribe.’’ 

A flashing moment for the woman to be the woman, 
for the poet to be the poet. Once she. Aline, had felt 
something, one evening in Paris — ^but another woman. 
Rose Frank, had got the better of her. 

She had tried feebly — ^being in fancy a Rose Frank, 
being an Esther Walker. 

From her window above, and sometimes as she sat in 
the garden holding a book, she looked searchingly at 
Bruce. What nonsense books are ! 

“Well, my dear, we have to have something to carry 
us over the dull times. Yes, but so much of life is dull, 
isn’t it, dear?’’ 

When Aline sat in the garden looking at Bruce he 
did not dare yet raise his eyes to look at her. When 
he did the test might come. 

She felt quite sure. 

What she told herself was that he was one who could, 
at moments, become blind, let go all holds, drop back 
into nature from which he came, be the man to her 
woman, for the moment at least. 

After that had happened ? 

She would wait and see what next, after that had 
happened. To usk the question in advance would be 

[250] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


to become a man, and that she was not ready to do 
yet. 

Aline, smiling. There was a thing Fred could not 
do but she did not as yet hate him for his inability. 
That kind of hatred might come later, if nothing 
happened now, if she let her chance go. 

Always from the first Fred had wanted a nice, firm 
little wall built about him. He wanted to be safe 
behind the wall, feel safe. A man within the walls 
of a house, safe, a woman’s hand holding his hand, 
warmly — awaiting him. All others shut out by the 
walls of the house. Was it any wonder men had been 
so busy building walls, strengthening the walls, fight- 
ing, killing each other, building systems of philosophy, 
building systems of morality? 

“But, my dear, they meet with no competition behind 
the walls. Do you blame them ? It is their one chance, 
you see. We women do the same thing when we get 
some man safe. It is all very well having no competi- 
tion when you are sure of yourself, but how long can 
a woman remain sure? Do be reasonable, my dear. 
It is only being reasonable that we can live with men 
at all.” 

So few women get lovers, really. Nowadays few 
men or women believe in love at all. Look at the books 
they write, the pictures they paint, the music they make. 
Civilization is perhaps nothing but a process of finding 
out what you cannot have. What you cannot have 
you make fun of. You belittle it if you can. You 
make it unpleasant to others too. Throw mud at it, 

[251 ] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


jeer at it — wanting it, God knows how badly, all the 
time of course. 

There is a thing men do not accept. They — ^the men 
are too crude. There is too much childishness in them. 
They are proud, exacting, sure of themselves and their 
own little systems. 

All about is life but they have put themselves above 
life. 

What they do not dare accept is the fact, the mystery, 
life itself. 

Flesh is flesh, a tree is a tree, grass is grass. The 
flesh of women is the flesh of trees, of flowers, of 
grasses. 

Bruce in the garden, his fingers touching the young 
trees, the young plants, was touching with his fingers 
also Aline’s flesh. Her flesh grew warm. There was 
a whirling, singing thing within. 

On many days she did no thinking at all. She 
walked in the garden, sat on a bench holding a book 
— waited. 

What things books are, painting, sculpture, poems. 
Men write, carve, paint. It is a way of dodging the 
issue. .They do so like to think no issue exists. Look, 
look at me. I am the center of life, the creator — when 
I have ceased to exist, nothing exists. 

Well, isn’t that true, for me at least? 


[252] 




CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT 


A line walked in her garden, watching Bruce. 

^It might have been more obvious to him that she 
would not have gone so far, had she not been ready, 
at the right moment, to go further. 

She meant really to try his boldness. 

There are moments when boldness is the most im- 
portant attribute in life. 

Days and weeks passed. 

The two negro women in the house watched and 
waited. Often they looked at each other and giggled. 
The air on the hilltop was filled with laughter — dark 
laughter. 

“Oh, Lord ! Oh, Lord ! Oh, Lord !” one of them cried 
to the other. She laughed — a high-pitched negro laugh. 

Fred Grey knew, but was afraid to know. The two 
men would both have been shocked had they known 
how shrewd and bold Aline — the innocent, quiet-look- 
ing one — ^had become, but they would never know. 
The two negro women perhaps knew but that did not 
matter. Negro women know how to be quiet, when 
whites are concerned. 


[253] 




BOOK TEN 




CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE 


A LINE lay in her bed. It was late in the afternoon 
vTa of a day in early June. It had happened, and 
Bruce had gone, where. Aline did not know. A half- 
hour before, he had gone down the stairs and out of the 
house. She had heard him moving along the gravel 
path. 

It was a warm, fragrant day and a gentle breeze blew 
across the hill and in at a window. 

If Bruce were wise now he would simply disappear. 
Could a man have that much wisdom? Aline smiled 
at the thought. 

Of one thing Aline was quite sure, and when the 
thought came to her it was like a cool hand passed 
lightly over hot fevered flesh. 

Now she would have a child, a son perhaps. That 
was the next step — the next event. One cannot be 
so deeply stirred without something happening, but 
what would she do when it did happen? Would she 
go quietly along, letting Fred think it was his child? 

Why not? The event would make Fred so proud, 
so happy. There was no doubt that, since she had 
married him. Aline had often been rather irritated 
and bored by Fred, by his childishness, his obtuseness. 
But now? Well, he had thought the factory mattered, 
that his own war-record mattered, that the position of 

[257] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


the Grey family in the community mattered most of all ; 
and these things had mattered, to him, to Aline too, 
in a way, in quite a secondary way she knew now. 
But why deny him what he so wanted in life, what he 
at least thought he wanted? The Greys of Old 
Harbor, Indiana. They had already gone on for three 
generations, and that was a long time in America, in 
Indiana. First a shrewd horse-trading Grey, a little 
coarse, chewing tobacco, liking to bet on horse-races, 
a true democrat, hail-fellow-well-met, putting cash 
away all the time. Then the banker Grey, still shrewd, 
but become cautious — friend to the governor of the 
state, a contributor to Republican campaign funds, 
once talked of mildly as a candidate for the United 
States Senate. He might have got it if he hadn’t 
happened to be a banker. It isn’t very good policy to 
put a banker on the ticket in a doubtful year. The 
two older Greys, and then Fred — not so bold, not so 
shrewd. There was little doubt Fred was, in his 
way, the best of the three. He wanted consciousness 
of quality, sought consciousness of quality. 

A fourth Grey who wasn’t a Grey at all. Her Grey. 
She might name him Dudley Grey — or Bruce Grey. 
Would she be bold enough to do that ? It would per- 
haps be taking too many chances. 

As for Bruce — well, she had selected him — ^not con- 
sciously. Things had happened. She had been so 
much bolder than she had planned. Really she had 
only intended playing with him, exerting her power 
over him. One can grow very tired and bored wait- 
ing — ^waiting in a garden on a hill in Indiana. 

[258] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


As she lay on the bed in her own room in the Grey 
house, at the top of the hill, Aline could, by turning 
her head on the pillow, see along the skyline, above 
the hedge that surrounded the garden, the upper part 
of the figure of anyone moving along the only street 
on the hilltop. Mrs. Willmott came out of her house 
and went along the street. And so she also had stayed 
at home on that day when all the others on the hilltop 
had gone down into the town. Mrs. Willmott had hay 
fever in the summer. In another week or two she 
would be going away to northern Michigan. Was 
she now coming to call on Aline, or was she going on 
down the hillside to some other house for an afternoon's 
call? If she came to the Grey house Aline had but to 
lie quietly, pretending she was asleep. If Mrs. Will- 
mott but knew of the events in the Grey house on that 
afternoon! What joy for her, joy akin to the joy 
thousands of people get from some story spread across 
the front page of a newspaper. Aline trembled a 
little. She had taken such chances, run such risks. 
There was in her something of the satisfaction men 
feel after a battle during which they have escaped 
uninjured. Her thoughts were a little vulgar-human. 
She wanted to gloat over Mrs. Willmott, who was 
walking down the hill to call upon a neighbor, but whose 
husband would later pick her up so that she would not 
have to climb back to her own house. When you have 
hay fever you must be careful. If Mrs. Willmott only 
knew. She 4hiew nothing. There was no reason why 
anyone should ever know now. 

The day had begun by Fred’s getting into his soldier’s 

[259] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


uniform. The town of Old Harbor, following the 
example of Paris, London, New York, thousands of 
smaller towns and cities, was to express its sorrow 
for the dead of the World War by dedicating a statue 
in a small park at the river’s edge, down near Fred’s 
factory. In Paris, the President of France, members 
of the Chamber of Deputies, great generals, the Tiger 
of France himself. Well, the Tiger won’t ever have 
to argue with Prexy Wilson again, will he? He and 
Lloyd George can rest now, take their ease at home. 
In spite of the fact that France is the center of Western 
civilization, a statue will be unveiled that would give 
an artist the jimjams. In London, the King, the Prince 
of Wales, the Dolly Sisters — no — no. 

In Old Harbor, the Mayor, members of the City 
Council, the Governor of the State, coming to deliver 
an address, prominent citizens riding in automobiles. 

Fred, the richest man in town walking in the ranks 
with the common soldiers. He had wanted Aline 
to be there, but she had just assumed that she would 
stay at home, and it had been difficult for him to pro- 
test. Although many of the men, with whom he would 
march shoulder to shoulder — ^privates like himself — 
were workmen in his factory, Fred felt rather fine 
about the whole matter. This was something different 
than walking up a hillside with a gardener, a workman 
— really a servant. One becomes impersonal. You 
march and you are a part of something bigger than 
any man, you are a part of your country, of its power 
and might. No man can claim equality with you be- 
cause you have marched with him into battle, because 

[ 260 ] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


you have marched with him in a parade commemorat- 
ing battles. There are certain things common to all 
men — ^birth and death, for example. You do not claim 
equality with a man because you and he were both 
bom of women, because, when your time comes, you 
will both die. 

In his uniform Fred had looked absurdly boyish. 
Really, if you are going to do things like that you 
should not grow a little round paunch, your cheeks 
should not grow fat. 

Fred had driven up the hill at noon to put on the 
uniform. There was a band playing downtown some- 
where, and the quick march-music, blown that way 
by the wind, came distinctly up the hill and into the 
house and garden. 

Everyone on the march, the world on the march. 
Fred had such a brisk, businesslike air. He wanted 
to say “come on down. Aline,” but didn’t. When he 
went down the path to the car the gardener Bruce was 
not in sight. Really it was nonsense his not having 
managed to get a commission when he went into the 
war, but what was done was done. 'There would be 
men of much lower station in the town’s life who 
would be wearing swords and tailor-made uniforms. 

When Fred had gone Aline had stayed for two or 
three hours in her room upstairs. The two negro 
women were also going. Presently they went down 
along the path to the gate. For them it was a gala 
occasion. They had put on gayly-colored dresses. 
There was a tall black woman and an older woman 
with a rich brown skin and a great broad back. They 

[261] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


went down to the gate together, prancing a little, Aline 
thought. When they got down into the town where 
the men were marching and the bands were playing 
they would prance more. Nigger women prancing for 
nigger men. “Come on, baby !“ 

“Oh, Lord!” 

“Oh, Lord!” 

“Were you in the war?” “Yes, sah. Government 
war, labor battalion, American Army. Dat’s me, 
sweety.” 

Aline had intended nothing, had made no plans. 
She sat in her room pretending to read a book. 
Howells’ “The Rise of Silas Lapham.” 

The pages danced. Down below in the town the 
band played. Men were marching. There was no 
war now. The dead cannot arise and march. Only 
those who survive can march. 

“Now! Now!” 

Something whispered inside her. Had she really 
intended? Why, after all, had she wanted the man 
Bruce near her? Is every woman at bottom, first of 
all, a wanton ? What nonsense ! 

She put the book aside and got another. Really ! 

Lying on the bed she held the book in her hand. 
Lying thus on the bed and looking out through a win- 
dow she could see only the sky and the top of trees. A 
bird flew across the sky and lit in one of the branches 
of a near-by tree. The bird looked directly at her. 
Was it laughing at her? She had been so wise, had 
thought herself superior to her husband Fred, to the 

[262] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


man Bruce too. As for the man Bruce, what did she 
know of him? 

She got another book and opened it at random. 

I will not say “it matters but little,’' for on the contrary 
to know the answer were of supreme importance to us. 
But, in the meantime, and until we shall learn whether 
it be the flower that endeavors to maintain and perfect 
the life that nature has placed within it, or whether it 
be nature that puts forth an eifort to maintain and 
improve the degree of existence the flower has assumed, 
or finally whether it be chance that ultimately governs 
chance, a multitude of semblance invite us to believe 
that something equal to our loftiest thoughts issues at 
times from a common source. 

Thoughts ! “Issues at times from a common 
source.” What did the man of the book mean? Of 
what was he writing? Men writing books! You do 
or you don’t! What is it you want? 

“My dear, books do so fill in the times between.” 
Aline arose and went down into the garden carrying 
the book in her hand. 

Perhaps the man Bruce had gone with the others 
down into the town. Well, that was hardly likely. 
He had said nothing about it. Bruce was not one 
of the sort who go into wars unless forced in. He was 
what he was, a man wandering about, seeking some- 
thing. Such men separate themselves too much from 
common men and then feel lonely. They are always 
going about searching — waiting — for what? 

Bruce was in the garden at work. He had that day 
put on a new blue uniform, such as workmen wear, 

[263] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


and now he stood with a garden-hose in his hand water- 
ing the plants. The blue of working-men’s uniforms 
is rather lovely. The rough cloth feels firm and 
good under the hand. He also looked strangely like 
a boy, pretending to be a workman. Fred pretending 
he was a common man, a private in the ranks of life. 

A strange world of pretense. Keep it up. Keep 
it up. 

“Keep afloat. Keep afloat.” 

If you let down for a moment ? 

Aline sat on a bench beneath a tree that grew on one 
of the terraces of the garden and Bruce stood holding 
the garden-hose on a lower terrace. He did not look 
at her. She did not look at him. Really ! 

What did she know of him ? 

Suppose she were to give him the ultimate challenge ? 
But how do you do that ? 

How absurd to be pretending that you are reading 
a book. The band, down in the town, that had been 
silent for a time, began to play again. How long since 
Fred had gone? How long since the two negro 
women had gone? Did the two negro women, as they 
walked down the path — prancing — did they know that 
while they were gone — on that day 

Aline’s hands were trembling now. She arose from 
the bench. When she raised her eyes Bruce was look- 
ing directly at her. She went a little white. 

The challenge was to come from him then? She 
hadn’t known that. The thought made her a little 
dizzy. Now that the test had come he did not locdc 
afraid and she was horribly frightened. 

[264] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


Of him? Well, no. Of herself, perhaps. 

She went with trembling legs along the path toward 
the house and could hear his footsteps on the gravel 
walk behind. The footsteps sounded firm and sure. 
That day when Fred had walked up the hill, pursued by 

the same footsteps She had had a sense of that, 

looking from her window upstairs in the house, and had 
been ashamed for Fred. Now she was ashamed for 
herself. 

When she had got to the door of the house and had 
stepped inside, her hand reached out as though to close 
the door behind herself. If she did that he would not 
of course persist. He would come to the door, and 
when it closed he would turn and walk away. She 
would see no more of him. 

Her hand reached twice for the door-knob but could 
not find it. She turned and walked across the room 
towards the stairs that led up into her own room. 

He had not hesitated at the door. What was to 
happen now would happen. 

There was nothing to be done about it. She was 
glad of that. 


[265] 




CHAPTER THIRTY 


A LINE was lying on her bed upstairs in the Grey 
house. Her eyes were like the eyes of a sleepy 
cat. No good thinking now of what had happened. 
She had wanted to have it happen, had brought it 
about. It was evident Mrs. Willmott was not coming 
to call on her. Perhaps she had been asleep. The 
sky was very clear and blue, but already the tone was 
deepening. Soon it would be evening, the negro 
women come home, Fred come home. . . . One would 
have to face Fred. About the negro women it did 
not matter. They would think as their natures led 
them to think, feel as their natures led them to feel. 
You can’t ever tell what a negro woman thinks or 
feels. They are like children looking at you with 
their strangely soft innocent eyes. White eyes, white 
teeth in a brown face — laughter. It is a laughter that 
does not hurt too much. 

Mrs. Willmott gone, out of sight. No more bad 
thoughts. Peace to the body, to the spirit too. 

How very gentle and strong he was ! At least she 
had made no mistake. Would he go away now? 

The thought frightened Aline. She did not want 
to think of it. Better to think of Fred. 

Another thought came. In reality she loved her 
husband, Fred. Wom€;n have more than one way of 

[266] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


loving. If he came to her now, perplexed, upset 

More than likely he would come feeling happy. If 
Bruce had disappeared from the place for good, that 
would make him happy too. 

How comfortable the bed felt. What made her so 
sure she would have a child now? She pictured her 
husband Fred holding the child in his arms and the 
thought pleased her. Afterwards she would have 
other children. There was no reason why Fred 
should be left in the position in which she had placed 
him. If she had to lead the rest of her life living 
with Fred, bearing children by him, life would not 
be bad. She had been a child and now she was a 
woman. Things changed in nature. That writer, the 
man who wrote the book she was trying to read when 
she went into the garden. The thing had not been too 
well said. A dry mind, thinking things out dryly. 

“A multitude of semblance invite us to believe that 
something equal to our loftiest thoughts issues at 
times from a common source.” 

There was a sound below-stairs. The two negro 
women had come home from having seen the parade 
and the ceremony for the unveiling of the statue. How 
good that Fred had not been killed in the war ! At any 
moment now he might be coming home, he might 
come directly upstairs to his room, the next one to her 
own, he might come to her. 

She did not move and presently she heard his foot- 
steps on the stairs. Memories of Bruce’s footsteps, 
going away. Fred’s footsteps coming, coming to her 

[267] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


perhaps. She did not mind. If he came she would 
be rather glad. 


He did come, pushing the door open rather timidly, 
and when her eyes invited he came to sit on the edge of 
the bed. 

“Well,” he said. 

He spoke of the necessity of her preparing (or 
dinner and then of the parade. It had all gone very 
well. He had not felt self-conscious. Although he 
did not say so she understood that he had been pleased 
with his own figure marching along with the working- 
men, a common man for the day. Nothing had 
happened to disturb his sense of the figure such a one 
as himself should cut in the life of his town. Now 
perhaps, also, he would no longer be disturbed by the 
presence of Bruce, but that he did not as yet know. 

One is a child and then one becomes a woman, a 
mother, perhaps. That may be one’s real function. 

Aline, with her eyes, invited Fred, and he leaned over 
and kissed her. Her lips were warm. A thrill ran 
through his body. What had happened? What a day 
it had been for him! If he got Aline, really got herl 
There was something he had always wanted from her, 
some recognition of his own manhood. 

If he got that — fully, deeply, as he had never 
quite. . . . 

He toc4c her into his arms, held her hard against 
his body. 


[268] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


Downstairs the negro women were preparing the 
evening meal. Something had happened downtown 
during the parade that had amused one of them and 
she told the other. 

A high-pitched negro laugh rang through the house. 


[2693 





BOOK ELEVEN 


[271] 




CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE 


L ate in the evening of an early fall day Fred 
was walking up the Old Harbor hill, having 
just made a contract for a national advertising cam- 
paign on Grey Automobile Wheels in the magazines. 
In a few weeks now it would begin. American people 
did read advertising. There wasn’t any doubt of it. 
One time Kipling wrote to the editor of an American 
magazine. The editor had sent him a copy of the 
magazine without the advertising. “But I want to see 
the advertising. It’s the most interesting thing in the 
magazine,’’ Kipling said. 

In a few weeks now the name of the Grey Wheel 
Company spread over the pages of all the national 
magazines. People out in California, in Iowa, in New 
York City, up in little New England towns, reading 
about Grey Wheels. “Grey Wheels .are Go-Getters,” 
“Road Samsons,” “Road Gulls.” What was wanted 
was just the right catch-line, something to stop the 
eye of the reader, make him think of Grey Wheels, 
want Grey Wheels. The advertising men from Chicago 
hadn’t got just the right line yet, but they would do it 
all right. Advertising men were pretty smart. Some 
of the advertising writers got fifteen, twenty, even forty 
or fifty thousand dollars a year. They wrote down 
advertising catch-lines. I tell you what, this is a 

[273] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


country. All Fred had to do was to “pass” on what 
the advertising men wrote. They made designs, wrote 
out the advertisements. All he had to do was to sit 
in his office and look them over. Then his brain 
decided what was good and what wasn’t. Young 
fellows who were studying art made the designs. 
Sometimes they got well-known painters, fellows like 
Tom Burnside over in Paris. When American busi- 
ness men started after a thing they got it. 

Nowdays Fred kept his car in a garage down in 
town. If he wanted to ride home, after an evening 
at the office, he just phoned and a man came for him. 

This, however, was a good night to walk. A man 
had to keep himself in condition. As he passed up 
through the business streets of Old Harbor, one of 
the big men from the Chicago Advertising Agency 
walking with him. (They had sent down their best 
men. The Grey Wheel matter was important to them.) 
As he walked along Fred looked up and down the 
business streets of his town. Already he had helped 
more than any other man to wake the little river town 
half a city and now he would do a lot more. Look 
what happened to Akron after they started making 
tires there, look what happened to Detroit because of 
Ford and a few others. As the Chicago man had 
pointed out, every car that ran had to have four wheels. 
If Ford can do that, why can’t you? All Ford did 
was to see his opportunity and take it. Wasn’t that 
just the test of a good American — come right down 
to it? 

Fred left the advertising man at his hotel. There 

[274] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


were really four advertising men but the other three 
were writers. They walked by themselves, behind 
Fred and their boss. “Of course bigger men, like 
you and me, have really to give them their ideas. It 
takes a cool head to know what to do and when to do 
it and to avoid mistakes. A writer is always a little 
nutty at bottom,” the advertising man said to Fred, 
laughing. 

When they got to the hotel door, Fred, however, 
stopped and waited for the others. He shook hands all 
round. If a man at the head of a big enterprise gets 
chesty, begins to think too well of himself 

Fred walked on up the hill alone. The night was 
fine and he was in no hurry. When you climbed like 
that and when your breath began to come with difficulty 
you stopped and stood for a while, looking, back down 
into the town. Away down there was the factory. 
Then the Ohio River, flowing on and on. When you 
got a big thing started it did not stop. There are 
fortunes in this country that can’t be hurt. Suppose 
a few bad years come and you lose two or three hundred 
thousand. What of it? You sit tight and wait. 
Your chance will come. The country is too big and 
rich for depression to last very long. What happens 
is that the little fellows get weeded out. The thing to 
do is to be one of the big fellows, to dominate in your 
own field. Already many of the things the Chicago 
man had said to Fred had become a part of his own 
thinking. In the past he had been Fred Grey, of the 
Grey Wheel Company, of Old Harbor, Indiana, but 
now he was to become something national. 

[275] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


How fine that night was! At a street corner where 
there was a light he looked at his watch. Eleven 
o’clock. He passed on into a darker space between 
lights. By looking straight ahead up the hill he could 
see the blue-black sky sprinkled with brilliant stars. 
When he turned to look back, and although he could not 
see it, he had a consciousness of the great river down 
there, the river on the banks of which he had always 
lived. It would be something now if he could make 
the river alive again as it was in his grandfather’s 
time. Barges steaming up to the docks of the Grey 
Wheel Company. Men shouting, clouds of gray 
smoke from factory chimneys rolling down the river 
valley. 

Fred felt oddly like a happy bridegroom and a happy 
bridegroom likes the night. 

Nights in the army — Fred, a private marching along 
a road in France. You get an odd feeling of being 
little, insignificant, when you are fool enough to go 
in for being a private in the army. Still there was 
that day in the spring when he marched through the 
Old Harbor streets, wearing his private’s uniform. 
How the people had cheered! Too bad Aline hadn’t 
heard it. He had sure made a hit with the town that 
day. Someone had told him, “If you ever want to be 
mayor or to go to Congress or to the United States 
Senate even ’’ 

In France, going along the roads in the darkness — 
the men being placed for an advance on the enemy — 
intense nights, awaiting death. A fellow had to admit 
to himself that it would have made some difference to 

[276] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


the town of Old Harbor if he had been killed in one 
of the battles he had been in. 

Other nights, after an advance — the horrible job 
done at last. A lot of fools who never were in a 
battle were always prancing to get in. A shame they 
weren't given a chance to see what it was like — the 
fools. 

The nights after battles, intense nights, too. You 
lay down on the ground maybe, trying to relax, every 
nerve jumping. Lord, if a man only had a lot of real 
booze now ! What about, say, two quarts of good old 
Kentucky Bourbon Whisky. They don't make any- 
thing better than Bourbon, do you think? A fellow 
can drink a lot of it and it won't hurt him afterwards. 
You ought to see some of the old fellows in our town^ 
Been drinking the stuff since they were boys and some 
of them live to be almost a hundred. 

After a battle, and in spite of the throbbing nerves 
and the weariness, intense joy. I'm alive ! I'm alive ! 
Othefs are dead now or torn to pieces and lying back 
somewhere in a hospital waiting to die, but I'm alive. 

Fred walking up the Old Harbor hill thinking. He 
walked a block or two and then stopped and stood 
by a tree and looked back at the town. There were 
a good many vacant lots still on the hillside. Once 
he stood for a long time by a fence built around a 
vacant lot. In the houses along the climbing streets 
nearly all the people had gone to bed. 

In France, after a battle, the men used to stand look- 
ing at each other. ‘‘My buddy got his. I got to find 
me a new buddy now." 

[277] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


“Hello, and so you’re still alive?” 

One thought mostly of oneself. “My arms are still 
here, my hands, my eyes, my legs. My body is still 
whole. I’d like to be with a woman now.” Sitting 
on the ground was good. It was good to feel the 
ground, under the nether cheeks. 

Fred remembered a night of stars, sitting by a road- 
side in France with another man he had never seen 
before. The man was evidently a Jew, a large man 
with curly hair and a big nose. How Fred knew the 
man was a Jew he couldn’t have said. You can almost 
always tell. Odd notion, eh, a Jew going to war and 
fighting for his country? I guess they made him go. 
What would have happened had he protested? “But 
I’m a Jew. I haven’t any country.” Doesn’t the 
Bible say the Jew is to be the man without a country, 
something of that sort? Swell chance! When Fred 
was a boy in Old Harbor there was but one family of 
Jews. The man owned a cheap little store down by 
the river and the sons used to go to the public school. 
Once Fred joined several other boys who were ragging 
one of the Jewish boys. They followed him along a 
street shouting, “Christ-killer ! Christ-killer I” 

Odd how a fellow felt after a battle. Fred had been 
seated by a roadside in France saying over and over 
to himself the malicious words, “Christ-killer, Christ- 
killer.” Not saying them aloud, because they would 
hurt the strange man sitting beside him. Rather fun 
to fancy hurting a man like that, any man, thinking 
thoughts that bum and sting like bullets, without saying 
them aloud. 


[278] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


The Jew, a quiet sensitive-looking man, sat beside 
a road in France with Fred after a battle in which a 
great many men had been killed. The dead men did 
not matter. What mattered was that you were alive. 
It was just such another night as the one on which he 
walked up the hill in Old Harbor. The young stranger 
in France looked at him and smiled, a hurt smile. He 
put up a hand toward the blue-black sky sprinkled with 
stars. ‘T’d like to reach up and get a handful. I'd 
like to eat 'em, they look so good," he had said. When 
he said it an intense passion drifted across his face. 
His fingers were gripped. It was as though he wanted 
to tear the stars out of the sky, to eat them, or throw 
them away in disgust, 


[ 279] 




CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO 


A LREADY Fred thought of himself as the father 
j \ of children. He went along thinking. Since he 
had got out of the war he had done well. If the 
advertising plans did not all work out it would not break 
him. A fellow had to take chances. Aline was to 
have a child and now that she had started in that direc- 
tion she might have several. You don’t want to raise 
one child alone. He — or she — ought to have someone 
to play with. Each child ought to have his own start 
in life. They might not all be money-makers. You 
can’t tell whether or not a child will be gifted. 

There was the house on the hill, toward which he 
was going slowly up-hill. He imagined the garden 
about the house filled with the laughter of children, 
little white-clad figures running among the flower-beds 
— swings hung from the lower branches of the larger 
trees. He would build a children’s playhouse at the 
back of the garden. 

No need now to think, as a fellow was going home, 
what he was to say to his wife when he got there. 
Since Aline had been expecting her child, how she 
had changed! 

She had, in fact, been a changed woman ever since 
that afternoon in the summer when Fred marched 
in the parade. He had come home on that afternoon 

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DARK LAUGHTER 


and had found her just awakened from sleep, and what 
a real awakening ! Women are very strange. No man 
ever finds out much about them. A woman may be 
one thing in the morning and then in the afternoon 
she may lie down to take a nap and awaken something 
quite different, something infinitely better, finer and 
sweeter — or something worse. That’s what makes 
marriage such an uncertain, really such a risky thing. 

On that evening in the summer after Fred was in 
the parade he and Aline did not come downstairs to 
dinner until nearly eight o’clock and the dinner had to 
be prepared a second time, but what did they care? 
If Aline had seen the parade and the part Fred took 
in it her new attitude might have been more under- 
standable. 

He had told her all about it, but that wasn’t until 
after he felt the change in her. How tender she was ! 
Again she was as she had been that night in Paris when 
he asked her to marry him. Then, to be sure, he had 
just got out of the war and had been upset by hearing 
a woman talk, the horrors of the war had come back 
on him with a rush and had temporarily unmanned 
him, but later, on that other evening, nothing like that 
had happened at all. His part in the parade had been 
very successful. He had expected to feel a little self- 
conscious, out of place, marching as a private with a 
lot of laboring-men and clerks from stores, but every- 
one had treated him as though he were a general lead- 
ing the parade. It was only when he came along that 
the cheers really broke forth. The richest man in town 

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DARK LAUGHTER 


marching afoot, as a common private. He had sure 
made himself strong in the town. 

And then he had come home and Aline was as he 
had never seen her since their marriage. Such 
tenderness ! It was as though he had been ill or hurt 
or something of that sort. 

Talk, a stream of talk from his lips. It was as 
though he, Fred Grey, had at last, after long waiting, 
got himself a wife. She was so tender and thoughtful, 
like a mother. 

And then — two months later — when she told him she 
was to have a child. 

When he and Aline were first married, that after- 
noon in the hotel room in Paris, when he was packing 
to hurry home and someone went out of the room 
and left them alone together. Later in Old Harbor, 
in the evenings when he came home from the factory. 
She did not want to go out to the neighbors or for a 
ride in the car, and what was to be done? In the 
evening after dinner he looked at her and she looked 
at him. What was to be said? There was nothing 
to talk about. Often the minutes passed with infinite 
slowness. In desperation he read a newspaper and she 
went out to walk about in the garden in the darkness. 
Almost every evening he went to sleep in his chair. 
How could they talk? There wasn’t anything special 
to be said. 

But now! 

Now Fred could go home and tell Aline everything. 
He told her about his plans for advertising, took 
advertisements home to show her, told her of little 

[282] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


things that happened during the day. “We got three 
big orders from Detroit. We have got a new press 
down in the shop. It’s half as big as a house. Let me 
tell you about how it works. Have you a pencil? I’ll 
make a drawing for you.” Often when Fred went up 
the hill now he thought of nothing but things to tell her. 
He even told her stories picked up from salesmen — 
if they weren’t too raw. When they were too raw 
he changed them. It was fun being alive and having 
such a woman for a wife. 

She listened, smiled, seemed never to weary of his 
talk. There was something in the very air of the 
house nowadays. Well, it was tenderness. Often she 
came and put her arms about him. 

Fred walked up the hill thinking. Flashes of happi- 
ness came, followed by occasional little flashes of anger. 
It was queer about the feeling of anger. It always 
concerned the man who had been first an employee 
in his factory and then the Greys’ gardener, and who 
had suddenly disappeared. Why did the fellow keep 
coming back into his mind? He had disappeared at 
just the time when the change had come to Aline, had 
walked off without giving notice, without even waiting 
to get his wages. Such fellows were like that, fly-by- 
nights, unreliable, no good. A negro, an old man, 
worked in the garden now. That was better. Every- 
thing was better now at the Grey house. 

It was walking up the hill that had made Fred think 
of that fellow. He could not help remembering an- 
other evening when he had walked up the hill with 
Bruce at his heels. Naturally a man who works out 

[283] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


of doors, does common labor, has better wind than a 
man who works indoors. 

I’d like to know though, what would happen if 
there weren’t other kinds of men too? Fred re- 
membered, with satisfaction, what the Chicago adver- 
tising man had said. The men who wrote advertise- 
ments, who wrote for newspapers, all that sort of 
fellows were really working-men, of a sort, and when 
it came right down to the scratch, could they be 
depended on? They could not. They hadn’t judg- 
ment, that was the reason. No ship would ever get 
an)rwhere without a pilot. It would just flounder and 
drift around and after a while sink. Society was made 
like that. Certain men had always to keep their hands 
on the wheel, and Fred was one of that sort. From 
the beginning he had been intended to be that sort. 


[284] 




CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE 


F red did not want to think of Bruce. To do 
so always made him a little uncomfortable. 
Why? There are people like that, who get into the 
mind and won’t get out. They work their way in 
where they aren’t wanted. You are going along, 
attending to your own affairs, and there they are. 
Sometimes you meet a man who crosses you in some 
way and then disappears. You have made up your 
mind to forget him, but you don’t. 

Fred was in his office down at the factory, dictating 
letters perhaps, or he was taking a turn through the 
shop. Suddenly everything stopped. You know how 
it is. On certain days everything is like that. 
Everything in nature seems to stop and stand still. On 
such days men speak with subdued voices, go more 
quietly about their affairs. All reality seems to drop 
away, and there is something, a kind of mystic connec- 
tion with a world outside the real world in which you 
move. On such days the figures of half- forgotten 
people troop back. There are men you want more 
than anything else in the world to forget and you 
can’t forget. 

Fred was in his office down at the factory, and some- 
one came to the door. There was a knock on the 
door. He jumped. Why was he always thinking, 

[285] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


when something of that sort happened, that it was 
Bruce come back? What had he to do with the man 
or the man with him? Had there been a challenge 
issued and as yet unmet? The devil! When you 
begin thinking such thoughts there is no telling where 
you will end. Better let all such thoughts alone. 

Bruce went away, disappeared, on the very day when 
the change came in Aline. That was the day when 
Fred was in the parade and when the two servants 
went down to see the parade. All afternoon Aline 
and Bruce had been alone together on the hill. Later 
when Fred got home the man was gone and after 
that Fred never saw him again. He had asked Aline 
about it several times but she had seemed annoyed, 
hadn’t wanted to talk of the matter. “I don’t know 
where he is,” she had said. That was all. If a man 
were to let himself go he might think. After all. 
Aline had met Fred through the fact of his having 
been a soldier. It was odd she hadn’t wanted to see 
the parade. If a man let his fancy go he might think. 

Fred had begun to get angry, walking up the hill 
in the darkness. Down at the shop, he was always, 
nowdays, seeing the old workman. Sponge Martin, and 
whenever he saw him he thought of Bruce. “I’d like 
to fire the old scoundrel,” he thought. Once the man 
had been downright impudent to Fred’s father. Why 
did Fred keep him around? Well, he’s a good work- 
man. For a man to think that, just because he owns 
a factory, he is master, is foolishness. Fred tried to 
say over to himself certain things, certain little pat 

[286J 




DARK LAUGHTER 


phrases he was always repeating aloud in the presence 
of other men, phrases about the obligations of wealth. 
Suppose he faced the real truth, that he did not dare 
dismiss the old workman. Sponge Martin, that he had 
not dared dismiss Bruce when he worked on the hill 
in the garden, that he did not dare inquire too closely 
into the fact of Bruce’s sudden disappearance. 

What Fred did was to fight down within himself all 
doubts, all questions. If a man started on that road 
where would he end ? He might end by beginning to 
doubt the parentage of his own unborn child. 

The thought was maddening. “What’s the matter 
with me?’’ Fred asked himself sharply. He had got 
almost to the top of the hill. Aline was there, asleep 
now, no doubt. He tried to think of the plans for 
advertising Grey wheels in the magazines. Every- 
thing was coming Fred’s way. His wife loved him, 
the factory was successful, he was a big man in his 
town. Now there was something to work for. Aline 
would have a son and another and another. He threw 
back his shoulders, and, as he walked, slowly and had 
not got out of breath, he walked for some distance 
with head erect and shoulders thrown back, as a soldier 
walks. 

Fred had got almost to the top of the hill when he 
stopped again. A large tree grew near the hilltop 
and he stood leaning against it. What a night ! 

Joy, gladness in life, in the possibilities of life, all 
mixed up in the mind with strange fears. It was like 
being in the war again, something like the nights be- 

[287] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


fore a battle. Hopes and fears fighting within. I 
don’t believe it’s going to happen. I won’t believe it’s 
going to happen. 

If Fred ever got the chance to wipe things out for 
good. The war to end war, to get peace at last. 


[288] 



CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR 


F red went across a little stretch of dirt road at 
the top of the hill and reached his own gate. 
His footsteps made no sound in the dust of the road. 
Inside the Grey garden Bruce Dudley and Aline sat 
talking. Bruce Dudley had come back to the Greys' 
house at eight that evening, expecting that Fred would 
be there. He had become somewhat desperate. Was 
Aline his woman or did she belong to Fred ? He would 
see Aline, find out if he could. He would go boldly 
back to the house, march up to the door — ^himself not 
a servant now. In any event, he would see Aline 
again. There would be a moment of looking into each 
other’s eyes. If it had been with her as with him, 
during the weeks since he had seen her, then the fat 
would be in the fire, something would be decided. 
After all, men are men and women are women — a life 
is a life. Is a whole life to be spent hungering because 
someone will be hurt ? And there was Aline. Perhaps 
she had only wanted Bruce for the moment, a matter 
of the flesh only, a woman bored with life reaching 
out for a little momentary excitement, and then, per- 
haps, it might be that she felt as he did. Flesh of your 
flesh, bone of your bone. Our thoughts running to- 
gether in the silence of nights. Something like that. 
Bruce had wandered for weeks, having thoughts — ^tak- 

[289] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


ing a job now and then, thinking, thinking, thinking — 
of Aline. Disturbing thoughts came. “I have no 
money. She would have to live with me as Sponge’s old 
woman lives with Sponge.” He remembered something 
that had existed between Sponge and his old woman, an 
old salty knowledge of each other. A man and woman 
on a sawdust pile under a summer moon. Fish-lines 
out. The soft night, the river flowing silently in the 
darkness, youth past, old age coming, two unmoral, 
unchristian people, lying on a sawdust pile and enjojnng 
the moment, enjoying each other, being part of the 
night, of the sky sprinkled with stars, of the earth. 
Many men and women lie together all their lives, each 
hungering away from the other. Bruce had done 
just that with Bernice, and then he had cut out. To 
stay would have been to betray, day after day, both 
himself and Bernice. Was Aline doing just that with 
her husband and did she know? Would she be glad, 
as he had been glad, for the opportunity to bring it to 
an end? Would her heart jump with gladness when 
she saw him again? He had thought he would know 
when he had come again to the door of her house. 


[290 ] 



CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE 


A ND so Bruce had come that evening and had found 
jr\ Aline shocked, frightened and infinitely glad. 
She took him into the house, touched his coat-sleeve 
with her fingers, laughed, cried a little, told him of the 
child, his child that would be born after a few months. 
In the kitchen of the house the two negro women 
looked at each other and laughed. When a negro 
woman wants to go live with another man she does. 
Negro men and women “takes up” with each other. 
Often they stay “took up” all the rest of their lives. 
White women furnish negro women with endless hours 
of amusement. 

Aline and Bruce went out into the garden. As 
they stood there in the darkness, saying nothing, the 
two negro women — it was their evening off — ^went 
down the path laughing. What were they laughing 
about? Aline and Bruce went back into the house. 
A feverish excitement had hold of them. Aline 
laughed and cried, “I thought it did not matter enough 
to you. I thought it was only a momentary thing with 
you.” They talked little. That Aline would go with 
Bruce was, in some queer silent way, taken for granted. 
Bruce took a deep breath and then accepted the fact. 
“Oh, Lord, I’ll have to work now. I’ll have to be 
definite.” Every thought Bruce had been having had 

[291 ] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


also gone through Aline’s head. After Bruce had been 
with her for a half-hour, Aline went into the house 
and hurriedly packed two bags, which she brought out 
of the house and left in the garden. In her mind, in 
Bruce’s mind, there was, all evening, the one figure — 
Fred. They were but waiting for him — for his com- 
ing. What would happen then ? They did not discuss 
the matter. What would happen would happen. They 
tried to make tentative plans — 3 . life of some kind 
together. “I would be a fool if I said I did not need 
money. I need it terribly, but what is to be done? 
I need you more,” Aline said. To her it seemed that 
at last she also was to become something definite. “I 
have really just been another Esther, living here with 
Fred. The test came once for Esther and she did 
not dare take it. She became what she is,” Aline 
thought. She did not dare think of Fred, of what 
she had done to him, what she was about to do. She 
would wait until he came up the hill to the house. 

Fred had reached the gate leading into the garden 
before he heard the voices, a woman’s voice, Aline’s 
voice, and then the voice of a man. He had been hav- 
ing such unquiet thoughts as he came up the hill, that 
already he was a little distraught. All evening, and 
in spite of the sense of triumph and well-being he had 
got from his talk with the Chicago advertising men, 
there had been something threatening him. For him 
then the night was to be a beginning and an end. A 
man gets himself placed in life, all is settled, every- 
thing is going well, unpleasant things of the past are 

forgotten, the future is rosy — ^and then What a 

[292] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


man wants is to be let alone. If life would only flow 
straight on, like a river. 

I am building me a house, slowly, 

A house in which I may live. 

It is evening and my house is in ruins, 

Weeds and vines have grown in the broken walls. 

Fred stepped silently inside his own garden and 
stopped by the tree where, on another evening, Aline 
had stood silently looking at Bruce. That was the 
first time Bruce had come up the hill. 

Had Bruce come again? He had. Without being 
able, as yet, to see anything in the darkness, Fred knew. 
He knew all, everything. Deep down within himself 
he had known from the very beginning. An appalling 
thought came. Since that day in France when he had 
married Aline, he had been waiting for something 
terrible to happen to him, and now it was about to 
happen. When he had asked Aline to marry him, that 
night in Paris, he sat with her behind the cathedral 
of Notre Dame. Angels, white, pure women, walking 
off the cathedral roof into the sky. They had just 
come from that other woman, the hysterical one, the 
woman who had cursed herself for her pretense, for her 
own cheating in life. And all the time Fred had 
wanted women to cheat, had wanted his wife Aline 
to cheat, if that were necessary. It isn't what you do 
that counts. You do what you can. What counts is 
what you seem to do, what others think you do — come 
right down to it. ‘T am trying to be a civilized man. 

[293] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


Help me, woman ! We men are what we are, what we 
must be. White, pure women, walking off a cathedral 
roof into the sky. Help us to believe in that. We 
later-day men are not the men of antiquity. We can- 
not accept Venus. Leave us the Virgin. We must 
have something or perish.’^ 

Since he had married Aline, Fred had been waiting 
for a certain hour to come, dreading its coming, putting 
the thoughts of its coming away from him. Now it 
had come. Suppose at any time during the last year — 
Aline had asked him a question — ^'Do you love me?’' 
Suppose he had been compelled to ask Aline that ques- 
tion. What a fearful question! What does it mean? 
What is love? At bottom Fred was modest. His 
belief in himself, in his own power to awaken love, 
was weak and wavering. He was an American man. 
For him woman meant at once too much and too little. 
Now he shook with fear. Now all of the vague fears 
he had kept concealed within himself since that day 
in Paris, when he had managed to fly away from Paris 
leaving Aline behind, were to become realities. There 
was no doubt in his mind as to who was with Aline. 
The man and the woman were sitting on a bench some- 
where near him. He could hear their voices very 
distinctly. They were waiting for his coming to tell 
him something, something terrible. 

On that other day, when he went down the hill to the 
parade, and the servants also went. ... A change had 
come over Aline after that day and he had been fool 
enough to think it was because she had begun to love 
and admire him — ^her husband. ‘T have been a fool, a 

[294] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


fool.” Fred’s thoughts were making him ill. On the 
day when he had gone down to the parade, when the 
whole town had proclaimed him the chief man of the 
town, Aline had stayed at home. On that day she had 
been busy getting what she wanted, what she had always 
wanted — a lover. For a moment Fred faced every- 
thing, the possibility of losing Aline, what it would 
mean to him. What a disgrace, a Grey of Old Harbor 
— ^his wife, running away with a common laborer — men 
turning to look at him on the street, down at the 
office — Harcourt — ^afraid to speak of the matter, afraid 
not to speak of it. 

Women looking at him, too. Women being more 
bold, expressing sympathy. 

Fred stood leaning against a tree. In a moment 
now something would take control of his body. Would 
it be anger or fear? How did he know that the 
horrible things he was now engaged in telling himself 
were true? Well, he did know. He knew every- 
thing. Aline had never loved him, he had been unable 
to awaken love in her. Why? Hadn’t he been bold 
enough? He would be bold. Perhaps it was not yet 
too late. 

He became furiously angry. What trickery! No 
doubt the man Bruce he had thought well gone out 
of his life, had never left Old Harbor at all. On the 
very day when he was down in the town at the parade, 
when he was doing his duty as a citizen and a soldier, 
while they were becoming lovers, a scheme had been 
concocted. The man would get out of sight, stay 
out of sight, and then, when Fred was busy with his 

[295] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


affairs, when he was down at the factory making money 
for her, the fellow would come creeping around. All 
during the weeks when he had been so happy and proud, 
thinking he had won Aline for himself, she had only 
changed her demeanor towards him because, in secret, 
she was meeting this other man, her lover. The very 
child whose promised coming had so filled him with 
pride was then not his child. All of the servants in his 
house were negroes. Such people ! A negro had no 
sense of pride, no morality. “You can’t trust a 
nigger.” It might well be that Aline was keeping the 
man Bruce. Women in Europe did that sort of thing. 
They married some man, a hard-working, respectable 
citizen like himself, who wore himself out, became old 
before his time, making money for his woman, buying 
her fine clothes, a fine house in which to live, and then ? 
What did she do ? She kept another man hidden away, 
a younger, stronger, handsomer man — a lover. 

Had not Fred found Aline in France ? Well, she was 
an American girl. He had found her in France, at a 
place, in the presence of such people. . . . He remem- 
bered vividly the evening in Rose Frank’s apartment in 
Paris, the woman talking — such talk — ^the tension in 
the air of the room — the men and women sitting about 
— the women smoking cigarettes — ^words from a 
woman’s lips — such words. That other woman — an 
American also — had been at a place, at a performance 
of some sort called the “Quat’z Arts Ball.” What was 
that? A place evidently where ugly sensuality had cut 
loose. 

And Fred had thought — ^Aline 

[296] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


In one moment Fred felt coldly, furiously angry, 
and in the next moment he felt so weak that he thought 
he could not continue to stand upright on his legs. 

A sharp hurtful memory came. On another eve- 
ning, but a few weeks earlier, Fred and Aline had been 
seated in the garden. The night was very dark and 
he was happy. He had been talking to Aline of some- 
thing — ^telling her, no doubt, of his plans for the 
factory — ^and for a long time she sat as though not 
hearing. 

And then she had told him something. “I am going 
to have a child,” she had said, coolly, quietly, like that. 
Aline could be maddening sometimes. 

At such a time, when the woman you have married 
tells you such a thing — the first child. . . . 

The thing is to take her into your arms, hold her 
tenderly. She should have cried a little, been both 
afraid and glad. A few tears would have been the 
most natural thing in the world. 

And Aline had told him in such a cool quiet way that 
for the moment he had been unable to say anything. 
He just sat staring at her. The garden was dark and 
her face was but a white oval in the darkness. She 
was like a stone woman. And then, at that moment, 
while he was looking at her and while that queer feeling 
of being unable to speak had hold of him, a man had 
come into the garden. 

Both Aline and Fred had jumped to their feet. For 
a moment they stood together thus, startled, afraid — 
of what? Were they both thinking the same thing? 
Fred now knew they were. They were both thinking 

[297] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


Bruce had come. That was it. Fred stood trembling. 
Aline stood trembling. Nothing happened. A man 
from one of the hotels down in the town had gone out 
for an evening’s walk, and having lost his way had wan- 
dered into the garden. He stood for a moment with 
Fred and Aline, talking of the town and of the beauty 
of the garden and the night. Both had time to recover. 
When the man had gone the time for saying something 
tender to Aline had passed. The announcement of the 
coming birth of a son had passed like a remark about 
the weather. 

Fred thought, trying to fight down his own thoughts. 
... It might be — after all, the thoughts he was 
now having might be all wrong. It might well be that, 
on that other evening when he had been afraid, he had 
been afraid of nothing, of shadows. On a bench near 
him somewhere in the garden, the man and woman were 
still talking. A few low words and then a long silence. 
There was a sense of waiting — for him no doubt, for 
his coming. In Fred a flood of thoughts, terrors — ^the 
lust to kill strangely mingled with the desire to flee, 
to escape. 

He began yielding to temptation. If Aline had her 
lover come to her thus boldly she was, not too afraid 
of being found out. One had to be very careful. The 
thing was not to find her out. She had meant to defy 
him. If he went boldly towards the two people and 
found what he was so afraid he would find, then all 
would have to come out at once. He would be com- 
pelled to demand an explanation. 

He fancied himself demanding an explanation — the 
[298] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


effort to keep his voice steady. It came — from Aline's 
lips. ‘T have been waiting only to be sure. The child 
you thought was to be your child is not your child. On 
the day you went down into town to parade before 
others I found my lover. He is here with me now.’' 

If something of the sort happened then what would 
Fred do? What did a man do under such circum- 
stances? Well, he killed the man. But that settled 
nothing. You were in a bad mess and only got into 
a worse. The thing to do was to avoid a scene. It 
might all be a mistake. Fred was now more afraid of 
Aline than of Bruce. 

He began creeping softly along a gravel path lined 
with rose-bushes. By bending forward and going very 
carefully it might be possible to reach the house unseen, 
unheard. What would he do then ? 

He would creep upstairs to his own room. Aline 
had been foolish, perhaps, but she could not be a com- 
plete fool. He had money, position, could provide 
her with everything she wanted — her life was secure — 
safe. If she had been a little reckless she would soon 
get over it. When Fred had almost reached the house 
a plan came into his mind but he did not dare go back 
along the path. However, when the man who was 
now with Aline had gone away, he would creep out of 
the house again and come in noisily. She would think 
he knew nothing. He would in fact know nothing 
definite. Being engaged with the man. Aline had for- 
gotten the passage of time. She could never have 
intended being so bold, being found out. 

If she were discovered, if she knew he knew, there 

[299] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


would have to be an explanation, a scandal — ^the Greys 
of Old Harbor — Fred Grey’s wife — ^Aline, perhaps, 
marching off with another man — the man a common 
man, a mere factory worker, a gardener. 

Fred became suddenly very magnanimous. Aline was 
but a foolish child. To drive her into a corner might 
ruin her life. In the end his time would come. 

And now he was furiously angry at Bruce. “I’ll 
get him!’’ In the library of the house, in a drawer, 
there was a loaded revolver. Once, when he was in 
the army he had shot a man. “I’ll wait. My time 
will come.” 

Pride now swept through Fred and he stood up 
straight in the path. He would not creep to the door 
of his own house like a thief. Standing erect now, he 
took two or three steps, going, however, toward the 
house and not toward the place from which came the 
voices. In spite of his boldness he put his feet down 
very carefully on the gravel of the path. It would 
be very comforting, indeed, if he could console himself 
with the feeling of boldness and yet not be found out. 


[300] 




CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX 


I T was, however, of no avail. Fred’s foot struck 
a round stone and he stumbled and was compelled 
to take a quick step to avoid falling. Aline’ s voice 
called. “Fred,” she said, and then there was a silence, 
a very pregnant silence, as Fred stood trembling in the 
path. The man and woman got up from the bench 
and came toward him and a sick lost feeling took posses- 
sion of him. He had been right. The man with Aline 
was the gardener, Bruce. When they had come to 
him the three stood for some moments in silence. Was 
it wrath or fear that had so taken possession of Fred? 
Bruce had nothing to say. The matter to be settled 
was between Aline and her husband. If Fred were 
suddenly to do something violent — shoot, for example — 
he would, of necessity, then become a direct participant 
in the scene. He was an actor standing aside while 
two other actors did their parts. Well, it was fear 
had hold of Fred. He was terribly afraid, not of the 
man Bruce, but of the woman Aline. 

He had almost reached the house when he had been 
discovered, but Aline and Bruce, having come toward 
him along an upper terrace, now stood between him 
and the house. Fred felt as he had felt as a soldier 
when about to go into battle. 

There was the same feeling of desolation, of being 

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DARK LAUGHTER 


utterly alone in some strangely empty place. When 
you are about to go into a battle you suddenly lose all 
connection with life. You are concerned with death. 
Death is all about you and the past is a fading shadow. 
There is no future. You are not loved. You love no 
one. The sky is over your head, the ground is still 
under your feet, there are comrades marching beside 
you, near the road along which you advance with some 
hundreds of other men — all like yourself, empty 
machines — like things — trees are growing, but the sky, 
the ground, the trees have nothing to do with you. 
Your comrades have nothing to do with you now. 
You are a disconnected thing floating in space, about 
to be killed, about to try to escape being killed and to 
kill others. Fred knew well the feeling he now had ; and 
that he should have it again, after the war had come 
to an end, after these months of peaceful living with 
Aline, in his own garden, at the door of his own house, 
filled him with an old horror. In a battle you are not 
afraid. Being brave or cowardly has nothing to do 
with the matter. You are there. Bullets will fly 
about you. You will be hit or you will escape. 

Now Aline did not belong to Fred. She had be- 
come the enemy. In a moment she would begin to say 
words. Words were bullets. They hit you or missed 
and you escaped. Although for weeks Fred had been 
fighting against the belief that something had happened 
between Aline and Bruce, he need make that fight no 
longer. Now he was to know the truth. Now, as in 
a battle, he would be hit or he would escape. Well, he 
had been in battles before. He had been lucky, had 

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DARK LAUGHTER 


escaped whole out of battles. Aline standing there be- 
fore him, the house dimly seen over her shoulder, the 
sky overhead, the ground under his feet, none of these 
things now belonged to him. He remembered some- 
thing — the young stranger beside the roadway in 
France, the young Jew who had wanted to pluck the 
stars out of the sky and eat them. Fred knew what 
the young man had meant. He had meant that he 
wanted to be a part of things again, that he wanted 
things to be a part of himself. 


[303] 




CHAPTER THIRTY-SEVEN 


A LINE was talking. The words came slowly, pain- 
XA fully from her lips. He could not see her lips. 
Her face was a white oval in the darkness. She was 
like a stone woman standing there before him. She 
had found she loved another man and he had come for 
her. When she and Fred were in France she had been 
but a girl, she had known nothing. She had thought 
of marriage as just marriage — ^two people living to- 
gether. Although she had done a quite unforgivable 
thing to Fred, nothing of the kind had been intended. 
Even after she had found her man and after they had 
been lovers she had thought, she had tried. . . . Well, 
she had thought she could still go on loving Fred, 
living with him. It took time for a woman to grow 
up just as it did for a man. We know so little of 
ourselves. She had gone along telling herself lies but 
now the man she loved had come back and she could 
not go on lying to him or to Fred. To go on living 
with Fred would be a lie. Not to go with her lover 
would be a lie. 

“The child I am expecting is not your child, Fred.” 

Fred said nothing. What was to be said? When 
you are in a battle the bullets hit you or you escape, 
you live, you are glad of life. There was a heavy 
silence. Seconds passed slowly, painfully. A battle 

[304] 



BOOK TWELVE 


[307] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


had put her arms about Fred’s neck and she might 
have kissed him, but he drew a little back, his body 
rigid, and the man and woman passed him as he stood 
so. He was letting her go. He had done nothing. 
It was evident preparations had already been made. 
The man Bruce was carrying two heavy bags. Did 
they have a car waiting somewhere? Where were 
they going? They had reached the gate and were 
passing out of the garden and into the road when he 
cried out again. “Don’t do it! You can’t! Don’t 
do it!’’ he cried. 


[306] 




BOOK TWELVE 


[307] 




CHAPTER THIRTY-EIGHT 

A LINE and Bruce had gone. For better or worse 
a new life had begun for them. Having experi- 
mented with life and love they had been caught. Now 
for them a new chapter would begin. They would be 
compelled to face new problems, a new kind of life. 
Having tried life with one woman and failed, Bruce 
would have to try again. Aline would have to try 
again. What curious experimental hours ahead for 
them, Bruce being a laborer perhaps. Aline without 
money to spend freely, without luxuries. Was what 
they had done worth the price? At any rate they had 
done it, they had taken a step from which they could 
not draw back. 

As always happens with a man and woman, Bruce 
was a little afraid — ^half afraid and half tender — and 
Aline’s mind took a practical turn. After all, she 
was an only child. Her father would be furious for 
a time, but in the end he would have to knuckle under. 
The child, when it came, would stir the male senti- 
mentality of both Fred and her father. Bernice, 
Bruce’s wife, might be harder to handle. Still — a 
little money. There was no chance her ever getting 
him again. There would be a new marriage, after a 
time. 

She kept touching Bruce’s arm, and because of Fred, 

[309] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


back there in the darkness, alone now, she wept softly. 
Odd that he, wanting her so much and now that he had 
got her, began almost at once thinking of something 
else. He had wanted to find the right woman, a woman 
he could really marry, but that was only half of it. 
He wanted to find the right kind of work too. 
Aline’s going away from Fred was inevitable, as had 
been his leaving Bernice. It was her problem but he 
still had a problem of his own. 

When they had gone through the gate, out of the 
garden and into the road, Fred stood stiff and rigid 
for a moment and then ran down to watch them go. 
His body still seemed frozen with fear and horror. 
Of what? Of everything sweeping down on him at 
once, without warning. Well, something within had 
been trying to warn him. “To hell with that!” That 
Chicago man he had just left at the door of the 
hotel downtown, his words. “There are certain men 
who can get into so strong a position they can’t be 
touched. Nothing can happen to them.” He had 
meant money of course. “Nothing can happen. Noth- 
ing can happen.” The words rang in Fred’s ears. How 
he hated the Chicago man. In a moment now, Aline, 
who was walking beside her lover along the short stretch 
of road at the top of the hill, would turn back. Fred 
and Aline would begin a new life together. It would 
happen so. It would have to happen so. His mind 
leaped back to money. If Aline went away with Bruce 
she would not have any money. Ha ! 

Bruce and Aline did not go down along one of the 
two roads into the town, but took a little-used path that 

[310] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


led abruptly down the hillside to the river-road below. 
It was the path Bruce had been in the habit of taking 
when, on Sundays, he went down to dine with Sponge 
Martin and his wife. The path was steep and over- 
grown with weeds and bushes. Bruce went ahead, 
carrying the two bags, and Aline followed, without 
looking back. She was crying, but Fred did not know. 
First her body disappeared, then her shoulders and 
finally her head. She seemed sinking into the ground, 
going down into darkness that way. Perhaps she had 
not dared look back. If she had turned she might 
have lost courage. Lot’s wife — the pillar of salt. Fred 
wanted to shout at the top of his voice — “Look, Aline I 
Look !’’ He said nothing. 

The path taken was one used only by laborers and 
servants who worked in the houses on the hill. It 
dropped abruptly down to the old road that followed 
the river and Fred remembered that when he was a 
boy he used to climb down that way with other boys. 
Sponge Martin lived down there in the old brick house 
that had once been a part of the stable of an inn when 
the road was the only one leading into the little river 
town. 

“It is all a lie. She will come back. She knows that 
if she is not here in the morning there will be talk. 
She won’t dare. In a moment now she will come back 
up the hill. I will take her back but in the future life 
in our house will be somewhat different. I will be boss 
here. I will tell her what she can do and what she 
can’t do. No more foolishness now.” 

The two people had completely disappeared. How 

[311 3 




DARK LAUGHTER 


very quiet the night ! Fred moved heavily toward the 
house and went inside. He pressed a button and the 
lower part of the house was lighted. How strange his 
house seemed, the room in which he stood. There was 
the large chair in which, in the evening, he habitually 
sat reading the evening paper while Aline walked out- 
side in the garden. In his youth Fred had played base- 
ball and he had never lost interest in the sport. In 
the evenings during the summer he always looked to 
see how the various league teams were getting along. 
Would the Giants win the pennant again ? Quite auto- 
matically he picked up the evening paper and then threw 
it down. 

Fred sat in the chair, his head in his hands, but 
quickly got up. He remembered that, in a drawer in a 
little room on the ground floor of the house, a room 
called the library, there was a loaded revolver, and he 
went and got it, and, standing in the lighted room, held 
it in his hands. He looked at it dumbly. The minutes 
passed. The house seemed unbearable to him and he 
went out again into the garden and sat on the bench 
where he had been seated with Aline that time when she 
told him of the expected coming of the child — ^the child 
that was not his child. 

^^One who has been a soldier, a man who is really a 
man, a man who deserves the respect of his fellow 
men, does not sit calmly by and let another man go aw^y 
with his woman.” 

Fred said the words over to himself as though speak- 
ing to a child, telling the child what should be done. 
Then he went into the house again. Well, he was a 

[312] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


man of action, a doer. Now was the time to do some- 
thing. Now he had begun to grow angry, but did not 
know definitely whether he was angry at Bruce, Aline 
or himself. By something like a conscious effort he 
directed his anger toward Bruce. He was the man. 
Fred tried to centralize his feelings. His anger would 
not gather itself together. He was angry at the Chi- 
cago advertising man he had been with an hour before, 
at the servants in his house, at the man Sponge Mar- 
tin, who had been Bruce Dudley’s friend. “I’ll not go 
into that advertising scheme at all,’’ he declared to him- 
self. For a moment he wished that one of the negro 
servants in his house would come into the room. He 
would raise the revolver and fire. Someone would be 
killed. His manhood would have asserted itself. 
Negroes are such people ! “They have no moral sense.” 
For just a moment he was tempted to press the muzzle 
of the revolver to his own head and fire, and then that 
temptation passed quickly away. 


[313] 




CHAPTER THIRTY-NINE 

G oing softly and silently out of the house and 
leaving the lights burning Fred went hurriedly 
along the path to the garden gate and out into the road. 
Now he had decided to find the man Bruce and kill 
him. His hand gripped the handle of the revolver and 
he ran along the road and began to climb hurriedly 
down the steep path to the lower road. Occasionally 
he fell. The path was very steep and uncertain. How 
had Aline and Bruce managed to get down? They 
might be somewhere below. He would shoot Bruce 
and then Aline would come back. All would be as it 
was before Bruce had appeared and brought ruin to 
himself and Aline. If Fred, when he became owner 
of the Grey Wheel Plant, had only fired that old scoun- 
drel, Sponge Martin. 

He still clung to the notion that at any moment he 
might come upon Aline making her way painfully up 
the path. Occasionally he stopped to listen. When he 
had got down to the lower road, he stood for some 
minutes. Near him there was a place where the current 
ran in close to the shore and a part of the old river- 
road had been eaten away. Someone had tried, by 
dumping wagon-loads of rubbish, the branches of trees, 

[314] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


a few tree-trunks, to stop the river’s hungry gnawing 
at the land. What a silly notion — that a river like the 
Ohio could be turned aside from its purpose so easily. 
Someone might, however, be concealed in the pile of 
brush. Fred went toward it. The river made a soft 
rushing sound at just that place. Away off somewhere, 
up or down river, there was the faint sound of a 
steamer’s whistle. It was like someone coughing in a 
dark house at night. 

Fred had determined to kill Bruce. That would be 
the thing now, wouldn’t it ? After it was done, no more 
words need be said. There need be no more terrible 
words from Aline’s lips. “The child I am expecting is 
not your child.’’ What an idea! “She can’t — she can’t 
be such a fool.” 

He began to run along the river-road toward the 
town. There was a thought in his mind. It might be 
that Bruce and Aline had gone to Sponge Martin’s 
house and that he would find them there. There was 
some kind of conspiracy. The man, Sponge Martin, 
had always hated the Greys. When Fred was a boy, in 
Sponge Martin’s shop. Well, insults had been hurled 
at Fred’s father. “If you try it I’ll beat you up. This 
is my shop. I won’t be hurried into doing bum work 
by you or anyone else.” A man like that, a little work- 
man in a town where Fred’s father was the principal 
citizen. 

Fred kept stumbling as he ran but held the handle of 
the revolver tightly. When he had got to the Martin 
house and found it dark he went boldly up and began 

[315] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


pounding on the door with the handle of the revolver 

Silence. Fred grew furious again, and when he had 
got into the road fired the revolver, not, however, at 
the house, but at the silent dark river. What a notion. 
After the shot all was still. The sound of the shot 
had aroused no one. The river flowed on in the dark- 
ness. He waited. In the distance somewhere there 
was a shout. 

He began walking back along the road and now he 
had grown weak and tired. He wanted to sleep. Well, 
Aline had been like a mother to him. When he was 
discouraged or upset she was someone to talk to. Lately 
she had been more and more like a mother. Could a 
mother so desert a child? He again became sure that 
Aline would come back. When he had got back to the 
place where the path went up the side of the hill she 
would be waiting. It might be true she loved the other 
man but there could be more than one kind of love. Let 
that go. He wanted peace now. Perhaps she got some- 
thing from him that Fred could not give, but, after 
all, she had only gone away for a time. The man was 
just getting out of the country. He had two bags when 
he went away. Aline had but gone down the hillside 
path to bid him good-bye. The lovers’ parting, eh? A 
woman who is married has her duties to perform. All 
old-fashioned women were like that. Aline was not a 
new woman. She came from good people. Her father 
was a man to be respected. 

Fred had become almost cheerful again, but when 
he got to the brush-pile at the foot of the path and found 

[316] 




DARK LAUGHTER 


»io one there he again gave way to grief. Sitting down 
on the log in the darkness he let the revolver fall to 
the ground at his feet and put his face in his hands. 
He sat for a long time, crying as a child might have 
cried. 


[317] 



CHAPTER FORTY 

T he night continued very dark and silent. Fred 
had got up the steep hill and into his own house. 
Going upstairs and into his room he undressed quite 
automatically, in the darkness. Then he got into bed. 

In the bed he lay exhausted. The minutes passed. In 
the distance he heard footsteps, then voices. 

Were they coming back now, Aline and her man, did 
they want to torture him some more? 

If she came back now! She would see who was 
master in the Grey house. 

If she did not come, there would have to be some 
sort of explanations. 

He would say she had gone to Chicago. 

“She has gone to Chicago. She has gone to 

Chicago.” He whispered the words aloud. 

The voices in the road before the house belonged to 
the two negro women. They had come up from their 
evening down in town bringing two negro men with 
them. 

“She has gone to Chicago. She has gone to 

Chicago.” 

After all, people would have to stop asking questions 
after a time. In Old Harbor, Fred Grey was a strong 
man. He would go right ahead with his advertising 
plans, get stronger and stronger. 

[318] 



DARK LAUGHTER 


That Bruce ! Shoes twenty to thirty dollars a pair. 
Ha! 

Fred wanted to laugh. He tried but couldn't. Those 
absurd words kept ringing in his ears. “She has gone 
to Chicago.” He could hear himself saying it to Har- 
court and others — smiling while he said it. 

A brave man. What one does is to smile. 

When one gets out of anything there is a sense of 
relief. In war, in a battle, when one is wounded — a, 
sense of relief. Now Fred would not have to play a 
part any more, be a man to some woman’s woman. That 
would be up to Bruce. 

In war, when you are wounded, a strange feeling of 
relief. “That’s done. Now get well.” 

“She has gone to Chicago.” That Bruce! Shoes 
twenty to thirty dollars a pair. A workman, a gar- 
dener. Ho, ho ! 

Why couldn’t Fred laugh? He kept trying but 
failed. In the road before the house one of the negro 
women now laughed. There was a shuffling sound. 
The older negro woman tried to quiet the younger, 
blacker woman, but she kept laughing the high shrill 
laughter of the negress. “I knowed it, I knowed it, all 
the time I knowed it,” she cried, and the high shrill 
laughter ran through the garden and into the room 
where Fred sat upright and rigid in bed. 

7B£ END 


'[319]