Greenwich Village, to be sure, has a long history. I might begin, like H. G. Wells, with the time when it was a part of a fiery nebula, and tell how Life first emerged from the primeval slime--but I shall not. And you must look elsewhere for the story of how, after the coming of the white man, the little Indian village of Sappocanican became in the seventeenth century, a Dutch settlement, the Bossen Bouwerie, and still later, under English rule, the village of Green Wich. I am no hand at archæology; but I have heard tell that two hundred years ago the town of New York was huddled down in the southernmost tip of Manhattan Island, in what is now the financial section, Green Wich being two miles out of town--an aristocratic country place "up the Hudson." And a quiet English village it seems to have remained till the Revolution. Under American rule it appears to have enjoyed a boom, being colonized by citizens fleeing from the yellow fever in New York; and thus, a century ago, it became a thriving suburb. Washington Square--originally a Potter's Field and hanging-ground for murderers (or so I have read in a book)-- was presently the very center of fashionable life. In this vicinity, moreover, it is said that there once lived such writers as Bayard Taylor, G. W. Curtis, and Edgar Allen Poe. But--
As New York expanded hugely northward, this
nineteenth-century residence district was deserted and left to decay
a picturesque twentieth-century slum, in which only the north side of
Square still held its head above the mire; and this slum, for economic
reasons, became increasingly the home of artists and writers.
The rents were cheap because the rush of traffic could not make its way through the little twisted streets that crossed and recrossed each other and never seemed to get anywhere else. That was before Seventh Avenue had been ruthlessly and efficiently cut through as the West Side subway was extended southward; Greenwich Avenue still, like a barrier flung athwart the Village, protected it from the roaring town all about.
I have listened to Sinclair Lewis, and Paul
and Edna Kenton, and Vachel Lindsay, telling of those early days--the
of the "real" Village, as they proudly say. But that
Village is nevertheless only the dark quasi-prehistoric background to
Village whose story I am about to relate.
Like those ancient cities which Schliemann dug up in the Troad, each city resting upon the dust of its forgotten predecessors, so Greenwich Village presents the spectacle of successive layers of ruin. Count them over--that happy Indian village, the busy Dutch settlement, the quiet English hamlet, the fashionable American suburb, and the proud Washington Square period--while the Greenwich Village of my immediate predecessors may be called the sixth Village. And upon its ruins was built the seventh Village, which I saw come blazing into existence.
The event occurred in 1913. In that year was created the Greenwich Village of which all the world has heard--which has become a byword, which has been loved and feared and laughed at by millions of Americans who have never seen it--and which some clever folk have declared never existed at all outside the realm of fancy. It is of that Greenwich Village that I am going to tell-its rise and fall. For it has fallen, like Troy, like Babylon. Its ruins--lived palely among by the inhabitants of the Eighth and present Village--are a shrine to which the golden youth of America still makes pilgrimages from prairie towns. But it is gone for ever, the Greenwich Village that I knew--and therefore I tell its story.
Its story properly begins with Egeria. (I
be forgiven if in this record I afford some of my old friends the
disguise of a fanciful nomenclature.) Egeria had the rare gift of
being able to start things. Some people, it is true, said that
she inevitably started was trouble; but that was scarcely just to
Incredibly naive, preposterously reckless, believing wistfully in
and goodness, a Candide in petticoats and sandals, she did
manage to involve herself in complicated difficulties; but she faced
difficulties serenely, and fought her way out of them--into some new
People laughed at her a good deal, and loved her very much indeed, and
followed at her beck into the beautiful and absurd schemes she was
She invented Greenwich Village--the Greenwich Village whose gay laughter was heard around the world. It wasn't at all what she had meant it to be--for she was a very serious young woman, and it was incurably frivolous. But still--she did it!
It was perhaps not strange that, to many, Egeria's gift should have appeared to be destructive. But even when she was breaking something to pieces, she was making something new out of the pieces. Thus it was when she broke up the old Liberal Club. She didn't do it on purpose--she just couldn't help it. She was like one of those catalytic agents in chemistry, that disintegrate and change and recombine whatever bodies they come in contact with. The old Liberal Club was a respectable, well-meaning up-town club, composed mainly of polite old-fashioned believers in the gradual improvement of mankind by going to lectures. Egeria entered it, and it went into a ferment, and presently there was an explosion. The immediate cause of the explosion, oddly enough, was Egeria's marriage. She couldn't even do with so conventional a thing as get married, without creating a terrific sensation and getting headlines in the yellow journals. People took sides fiercely--they were always taking sides, whenever Egeria did anything!--and then the more shocked half of the membership resigned. Egeria took the other half, her faithful friends and followers, and led them into Greenwich Village.
The Village had been quietly there all the time; but from the moment Egeria moved the Liberal Club down there, it was different. She touched it off, and it went up like a sky-rocket: the bright gleams of that pyrotechnic spectacle have hardly yet faded from the sky.
Yes, the Village had been there since time immemorial, with its crooked streets and old buildings; artists and writers had always lived here--but in tiny groups and cliques, mutually indifferent, or secretly suspicious of each other. Each person knew his own little crowd, and that was all; of the rest of his neighbors he was no more aware than if he had lived in an apartment-block up town.
There was no common center, no meeting place for the Village as a whole. And Egeria determined that there should be one. Indeed, without such a center, how would the new invaders, Egeria and her freinds, ever get acquainted with those shy and timid aborigines, the artist-folk?
"We need each other," she declared. "They have something to teach us--and we will wake them up!"
Egeria's "we" meant the group of university people, students and professors, the social workers, the newspaper men and women, who accepted her as their leader in rash idealistic enterprises. Egeria herself was a school teacher.
(Yes, let it not fail to be recorded among the paradoxes of our American social history, that the Greenwich Village of which all the world knows was founded by a school teacher in all earnestness!)
"Why," Egeria asked, "shouldn't intelligent people today have the same chance to know each other that the church and the tavern gave their grandparents?"
The new Liberal Club was to give them that chance. It was to be the social center of Greenwich Village--its tavern and its church.
But if Egeria originated that statesmanlike idea, it was Ernest who really carried it out. Ernest was destined to be the new club's first president, and almost its last. Not quite its last, for there came a new generation that knew not Ernest and his importance in the Village universe--he ceased to be president--and the club presently ceased to exist: moreover, when the club stopped, the Village, our glorious Seventh Village--came speedily to an end. As the poet has said--
"While stands the Coliseum, Rome shall stand;
When falls the Colesium, Rome shall fall--
And when Rome falls, the world."
Who was this extraordinary personage? Not,
as might have been expected, a great and manysided genius; no, it was
of our brilliant fellows, our wits, our dashing intellectuals, and
less one of our artists. Ernest was an engineer, whose daytime
it was to see that the wheels of the Elevated went round properly;
to tell, he had no imaginiation whatever. Yet had he been
there would have been no Village to write about. In his simple
matter-of-factness, he was worth a dozen geniuses.
It was a scornful curiosity that had led him to the old Liberal Club, to hear "a man called Jung" lecture on Dreams! There he fell under the spell of Egeria, and was inevitable drafted into her new scheme of colonizing Greenwich Village.
A practical question had arisen which was beyond Egeria's powers to cope with--the question of finances. Even in those days, when a whole house of huge rooms with high celings and fireplaces could be had in the Village for a trifle, that trifle nevertheless loomed tremendous. The remnant of the club was poor, and the prospective new artist and writer members would be poorer still. How run a clubhouse on practically nothing at all? This was the problem that Ernest undertook to solve.
"But why"--some impatient reader might interrupt to complain,--"why is it that in your account of a place known to all the world as the happy playground of artists and writers, they have scarcely appeared in the picture?" That is as it should be. The artists and writers, as a matter of plain facts, had nothing whatever to do with the founding of their little republic. It was founded for them by a school teacher, and engineer, and a restaurant keeper.
For Ernest decided that the club, to be a success, must be run in conjunction with a restaurant. He discovered a restaurant keeper called, affectionately, Polly. And the problem was solved.
Polly is a mystery, and one that I do not pretend
to fathom. She had come from the staid and quiet suburban town of
Evanston, Illinois. And she herself was in appearance staid and
and suburban; yet she collected about her in her restaurant the wildest
and noisiest horde of young folk in America. Over this motley
drawn from the four corners of the continent, she presided with a
serenity. Doubtless she liked it. She must have enjoyed
the madonna of these truants and orphans. She saw to it that
spoiled, reckless, wayward children were properly fed, whether or not
had the money to pay for it. And for all I know, she may have
their buttons on....
Her right-hand man in this enterprise was the picturesque Hippolyte. He was an anarchist, and a gentle soul, but somewhat formidable in aspect, despite his diminutive size, what with his fierce mustachios and goatee, and his occasional outbursts of volcanic invective. "Bourgeois pigs!" was his favorite descriptive phrase. He had been, it was said, in half the prisons of Europe--not at all a bad record for one who could cater to the Village, where laws and policemen were held in slight regard. Hippolyte was cook, waiter, dishwasher and chief conversationalist at the new restaurant. Without Hippolyte, the Village might have existed, but it would not have been what it was. Without Polly, it could scarcely have come into existence.
But if these were the founders of the Village, its true presiding spirit, its inspirer and guide and stimulus was Grace. It would wrong her to say that she was its organizer. It would be truer to call her the flame at which its new life was kindled. She was wonderful, adorable, beautiful. restless, serene--but who can describe Grace? Not I. We were all in love with her; amd we all still are.
Egeria's dream, after a fashion of its own, came true. . . . Artists and writers must eat; they came to Polly's, delighted to find real home-cooking: and afterward they stayed to dance and talk in the rooms of the Liberal Club upstairs. They became acquainted with each other--which is the secret of all that happened afterward. The touchy, proud, suspicious, irascible stand-offishness which is characteristic of the struggling young artist in America, vanished under the genial influences of Polly's savory meals and the alluring strains of ragtime from the Liberal Club phonograph. At the little gayly-painted tables in that basement room, and on the dancing-floor above, they are inspired to make friendships, to give parties, and to fall in love.
To the club and restaurant there flocked, moreover, what was just beginning to be playfully called "the intelligentsia." Many of these had their actual residence elsewhere in the city, but their spiritual home was in Greenwich Village. Some of them, indeed, unable to stay away, moved into the garrets and basements of the district, painting their furniture in bright colors, and being happy--for the first time in their lives, as they enthusiastically declared. In how many unsuspected minds there lurks the child's desire to live in a garret! Here they could fulfill that simple wish. Among them were scholars, scientists, historians, and such like serious folk, as well as story tellers and picture makers. There were also "leaders of revolts": for instance, there was Big Bill, with his one eye and his great fist and his soft voice--a radical labor leader, the hero of a hundred battles in the war of the classes.
And there were girls by the score, young and lovely and eager; wanting to write, to paint, to act, to see life and live it. An exciting young world, full of high purpose and serious endeavor--and that may have been why its play was so golden and its love so lovely.
Up on Greenwich Avenue was the office of the Masses.
delcared in its editorial manifesto to be "a Revolutionary and Not a
Reform Magazine; a Magazine with a Sense of Humor and No Respect for
Respectable; Frank; Arrogant; Impertinent; a Magazine whose Final
is to Do What It Pleases, and Conciliate Nobody, Not Even Its
It did not pay for contributions, beacause it had no money; but it was
felt to be a privilege to appear in its pages. The contributors
submitted anonymously at a monthly meeting of the editors and their
and voted on. John Sloan and Max Eastman could be seen at these
engaging in wordy battles over a poem or a picture, with Art Young and
John Reed, George Bellows and Louis Untermeyer, Mary Vorse and Arturo
Horatio Winslow and Howard Brubaker holding up their hands for and
lively method of editorial decision which once aroused our guest
to protest against the desecration of bringing democracy into the realm
of art. "But," some one asked, "don't even anarchists have to
editorial decisions?" "Yes," said Hippolyte, "but we do not abide
by our decisions!" To tell the truth, neither did we.
From late in 1913, when I came to New York, I was with the magazine during the hectic years of its brief career--for it was frequently suppressed by the postal authorities, who were offended by the boldness both of its art and its opinions. Max Eastman was the acting editor: tall, handsome, sleek, and in repose as lazy looking as a hound-dog lying on the hearth, he exhibited an immense energy on the platform; he was one of the two real orators I have heard in my lifetime--and his best speech, I think, was made at the Masses' trial, when what were left of its editors were solemnly prosecuted for making jokes about the war for democracy. The war had scattered and divided us; friend was set against old friend; and even if that had not been unhappily true, the war would inevitably have brought to an end that glorious intellectual playtime in which art and ideas, free self-expression and the passion of propaganda, were for one moment happily mated.
Let me speak of one of our number, John Reed, our "marvelous boy" and "sleepless soul that perished in his pride"--a great, husky, untamed youth of immense energies and infantine countenance, who had helped Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and Arturo Giovannitti organize the Paterson strike; who presently went to Mexico and then to Europe as a war correspondent; who tossed off beautiful poems, and poetic plays, and stories full of a profound zest for life. He was adventurer and artist, playboy and propagandist. He never had time, in the hurry of life and adventure, to be wholly the creative artist in literature that he might have been; but in all that he touched he showed himself a poet. Writing, for propaganda purposes, of a political trial in Chicago, he could not help throwing off such sentences as this:
"Small on the huge bench sits a wasted man with
white hair, an emaciated face in which two burning eyes are set like
parchment skin split by a crack for a mouth; the face of Andew Jackson
three years dead. This is Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis."
Too full of a restless energy to pause and tamely nurture any single one of his many great gifts, driven by a daimonic impatience to expend his youth recklessly upon a thousand rash and lofty adventures, now becoming for a moment the historian of the Russian revolutionary party in America, he went back into Russia for new adventures--never to return. There in Russia, as "Tovarish Jack," he leaves a memory of fiery and high-heated youth, that "would have nothing or impossible things." He lies buried under the walls of the Kremlin.
When I had been in New York only a few days,
came to my room on Washington Square South and asked me to do a play
the opening of the Liberal Club. Jack Reed was to have done it,
he was leaving for Mexico as a war correspondent.
I had never done any plays, and so I said I would. Besides, one always did what Egeria asked.
Going to the club rooms, I found that there was no stage, no curtain, no costumes, and no money. So, gathering a group of people who wanted to act, I proposed to present a play "in the Chinese manner," without scenery and with much make-believe; and I proceeded to tell them a fable, which Arthur Davison Ficke and I had invented over a luncheon-table, of St. George in Greenwich Village--a satire upon the earnest Bohemianism of our little world. St. George was to be one of those young men who go about urgung young women to free themselves from the bonds of conventionality; the rock on which the poor damsel was immured was a parlor chair, and the Dragon was her very correct and respectable aunt. Having freed the girl, St. George found that she wanted him to marry her; he did, and they settled down, and presently a baby appeared, brought in by a stork propelled by the Property Man in the best Chinese manner. Not knowing what to do with the baby, Priscilla--that was the name we gave her--took advice of a neighbor, Mrs. Flub, who urged the Montessori System upon her. "What! You've never heard of the Montessori System? Why, my dear, it's simply a lot of things. And you put the baby down among the things--and you never have to bother about it again!" Thus relieved of the burdens of parenthood, Priscilla cultivated her soul, going in successively for suffrage, anarchism, and authorship under Mrs. Flub's guidance; while St. George gave up his business and became a Futurist painter, whereupon Priscilla turned practical, and started a tea shop! Helen Westley was the Dragon and Sherwood Anderson, visiting Greenwich Village at the outset of his literary career, adorned one of the minor parts. Everyone invented his own lines, and forgot them, and made up new and better ones on the spur of the moment; and the play, because it made fun of our earnest "modernity," was tremendously successful, and was thus the first of a series of little plays that were given over a period of several years, during which we acquired a movable stage, a curtain, footlights, scenery, and costumes galore, but lost, inevitably, that first fine careless rapture.
Beginning in this accidental and happy-go-lucky manner, our Liberal Club theater has nevertheless its place in the history of the Little Theater movement in New York. For a while it was the only one, and it was followed by the Washington Square Players, the Provincetown Players, and the Theater Guild; and many who were active in our productions at the Liberal Club had some share in these later undertakings.
We ourselves were too interested in enjoying ourselves to achieve much beyond that enjoyment. Yet I can remember some very happy touches in the acting of Jo Gotsch, Edward Goodman, Kirah Markham, Clement Wood, Marjorie Jones, Justus Sheffield, Berkeley Tobey, and others; and in certain fantastic costumes designed by Jean Starr Untermeyer. In my exuberance I designed and executed most of the scenery, and, against the protests of all my friends, acted in most of the plays myself, as well as writing them. But where the productions fell short of dramatic art, they did succeed in being gay communal ritual. In them the village laughed at itself and relished the mockery.
The Provincetown Players' Theater, which followed these happy amateur theatricals, was a more ambitious undertaking. It guiding spirit was George Cram Cook-- "Jig," as he was called. Poet, novelist, sculptor, dramatist, he was another of those fiery ones who cannot be content with the small statisfactions that life has to offer; another who was forever turning aside from the broad highway to make paths through the wilderness. He organized the Provincetown Players one summer down on Cape Cod, and brought them to New York to prove that there was more drama in America than was dreamed of on Broadway. Here were to be seen plays by Susan Glaspell, Eugene O'Neill, by Edna St. Vincent Millay. And having made New York come down to a Macdougal Street stable to see the most vivid drama that the town could boast, he went to Greece in pursuit of some other dream, and died there.
When the Provincetown Players were starting their venture, and a play of mine was to be given, I remember how, in response to a call for some girl to play an ingénue part, a slender little girl with red-gold hair came to the greenroom over the stable, and read the line of Annabelle in "The Angel Intrudes." She looked her frivolous part to perfection, and read the lines so winningly that she was at once engaged-- at a salary of nothing at all, that being our artistic custom. She left her name and address as she was departing, and when she was gone we read the name and were puzzled, for it was "Edna Millay." We wondered if she could possibly be Edna St. Vincent Millay, the author of that beautiful and astonishing poem, "Renascence."
And indeed it was she. Having just graduated from Vassar, she had come to New York to seek fame not as a poet, but as an actress: for who could expect to make a living at writing poetry? She acted in several plays at our theater, and put on some of her own, including her tremendously impressive "Aria da Capo." But the stage, as it turned out, could offer even more meager rewards than poetry, and so Edna Millay turned back to her first Muse, fortunately for American literature. She lived one icebound, dreadful winter in a tiny room on Waverly Place, a few doors from the house where Poe wrote "Ligeia." The house she lived in may one day be known as the place where "She is Overheard Singing" and "O think not I am faithful to a vow" were written. She lived in that gay poverty which is traditional of the village, and one may find vivid reminiscences of that life in her poetry:
"We were very tired, we were very merry--
We had gone back and forth all night on the
It was bare and bright, and smelled like a
But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a
We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;
And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn
It was, for all of us, a life that was quaintly enriched by our poverty. How otherwise, except by being very poor, should we ever have learned to make the most of those joys that are so cheap, or that cost nothing at all, the joys of comradeship and play and mere childlike fun? When some one had sold something, we trailed across Washington Sqaure to spend the money gorgeously in the basement of the Brevoort; but when there was no such luck, there was always the Staten Island Ferry, or the Fifth Avenue bus-- and always and always there was talk to keep us up till dawn. I remember an evening of still more infantile folly, when Theodore Dreiser and a table full of painters and poets and actresses and editors played "Up Jenkins!"-- a noisy, rowdy, childish game with much thumping on the table and shouting and laughter-- in one of those basement restaurants, forgetful of time, until we were interrupted by a policeman who had been drawn from blocks away by the sounds of our abandoned revelry-- and we realized that it was nearly dawn, and that we had been alone in the place for hours! The next time I see Dreiser, I will remind him of that incident; he will grin sheepishly, and unfold and refold his handkerchief, and rock back and forth in his perpetual rocking chair, and say: "A mad world, my masters!"
Having created the Village, Egeria would perhaps
have unmade it if she could. For there were many things she did
like about it; and the thing she she liked the least of all was the
which most luridly advertised it to the outside world-- its careless
from restraint in matters of love. Vagabond youth has always
the codes invented by those who have settled down and have a
in the world. Security means little to young artists, and the
of the world still less. Love, they know, is sweet while it
In Greenwich Village this attitude quickly became the social
Secrecy and hypocrisy were unnecessary there. And there, if
youth could discover fearlessly for itself, and not out of the leaves
musty books, the truths of human nature.
In the Village, at this time, we could talk freely enough about such things, because they were not scandalous to any hearer. They might be sad, or they might be-- and often were-- funny; but they seemed to us eminently natural. These marriages without benefit of clergy, these divorces without benefit of lawyers, these idyls and these heartbreaks without benefit of newspaper notoriety-- what can be said of then now that will be true to the spirit in which they lived? One incident will perhaps serve as well as many. And the one I should like to tell, if I can find words for it, is the story of-- as I might call them-- Paul and Rosika. In some respects it was not an altogether everyday occurrence, but in its essence it was sufficiently characteristic of the Village.
Paul, who was nineteen and wanted to be a writer of plays, had run away from a booming Southern town where that amibition was regarded as a species of madness, and had come to Greenwich Village-- where, if what he had heard was true, he would be regarded as a normal human being.
He was not disappointed. Having taken his meals at Polly's for some weeks, during which he looked for a job without success, he became acquainted there; and when his new friends discovered that he was worried because his money was running short, they assured him that the Village would not let him starve. Presently he was invited by one of our number, Dirck, to share his garret in Patchin Place. Dirck was one of those tragi-comic figures of whom the Village had its due share-- a writer who did not write. Dirck dreamed of a great novel, but he never could write a perfect first page: and until the first page was perfect, why go on to the second? He agonized over that first page for years, and in the intervals of these agonies he did, hastily and perfunctorily, various kinds of hack-work. He cynically inducted Paul into the mysteries of book reviewing, and they would sit up all night with a pile of books on the table, flipping the pages, and clicking out the reviews on their typewriters. When Paul occasionally forgot, and paused to read one of the books he was reviewing, or seemed to labor unduly over a sentence, Dirck would curse him genially and ask, "What do you think you are doing-- writing for posterity?" On other nights they would sit up, after their friends had gone home, smoking endless cigarettes and confiding to each other the nature of the masterpieces they intended to do some time.
Across the hall lived a little girl named Rosika. She had come to New York, after having been a cabaret dancer somewhere. She spent her days haunting the agencies, and her evenings practicing or exercising noisily to a raucous little phonograph. She also used to borrow the books which Paul and Dirck had reviewed, before they took them out and sold them. She read these books indiscriminately, having an inordinate respect for anything printed; yet Paul and Dirck could never get her to express an opinion about anything she had read. When the cold spell came on that winter, and the gas-pressure became so feeble that she could not warm her room with her little gas stove, she would come to theirs, where they indulged in the luxury of a wood fire in the grate. She would sit curled up in a big chair, looking like a child as she bent over her book-- and indeed, she wasn't more than eighteen. She was so quiet that they sometimes forgot she was there. One evening she startled them, as Dirck was in the midst of extravagant talk of his unwritten masterpiece, by saying scornfully: "Yes! and when you do write that masterpiece, who will review it?-- A couple of Greenwich Village bums who are busy talking about the masterpieces they are going to write, and haven't any time to read yours!"
Paul flushed at the taunt. He didn't like to be called a Greenwich Village bum. It was too much like certain harsh phrases in his father's letters.... But Dirck turned to her, blew out a cloud of cigarette smoke thoughtfully, and said: "You're right, Sis. And that's why I don't write my masterpiece. And-- if I was such a damn fool-- those Greenwich Village bums would be wise not to waste their time reading it. Masterpieces should never be written-- they should only be thought about, and talked about. Once written-- they're masterpieces no longer, they're like everything else in this cheesy world. I take it that you accuse us of being dreamers. We plead guilty, don't we, Paul?"
Paul did not reply. He did not want to plead guilty of being merely a dreamer. It might be all right for Dirck, who was nearly thirty years old and hadn't done anything yet, to confess himself a failure. But he was still young. With the blood pounding in his temples, he turned on the girl.
"And what are you, I'd like to know?" he demanded bitterly. "Do you think you're in a position to criticize us? What have you done?"
"Nothing, yet," she said cooly. "But I shall do something, all right."
"Yes, what? Dream and starve-- and starve and dream-- like the rest of us!" It was not like Paul to be so ill-mannered, but her taunt had curiously unstrung his nerves. "What have you to offer the world?" he went on savagely. "Are you so different from the thousands of other girls that come to New York every year looking for fame? What hope--"
"Yes," she said stubbornly, "I am different."
Dirck put his hand gently on Paul's shoulder. "Never mind," he said. "Let her think so. We all think that-- for a while. She's only a kid. Let her dream on."
"You think I'm just a dreamer, do you?" That seemed to anger her, as her own taunt had angered Paul. "Well, I'll show you, some time!"
"All right-- I'll be waiting!" Paul answered contemptuously.
"You may not have to wait so long--" She sprang up, snapped her fingers and cried: "You want to be shown, do you? Well, if you've got eyes to see with, I can show you now!" She ran to Dirck's phonograph, dusty in the corner, threw half a dozen records to the floor, set a piece of ragtime going, and commenced to dance. In a queer off-key voice that nevertheless had in it a strange barbaric quality, she sang the words as she danced; and it was no ordinary dance, for it seemed to bring the hot breath of the jungle into the room. At the end she drooped as though discouraged; and before Paul could say a word, Dirck, at the phonograph, had swiftly changed the record, and recognized the opening notes of a piece of half-Oriental gypsy-music. In a moment she had seized up the particolored silk covering from Dirck's couch, slipped the dress from her shoulders and kicked it aside, wrapped herself in the silken folds, and was dancing an improvisation-- or was it improvisation? ... for her movements seemed woven into the very texture of the music. Dirck quietly turned the record over, and her peacock rhythms melted into the soft melancholy of the ending. She stood there, letting her draperies slip to the floor, faced them defiantly for a moment, then snatched up her dress and fled across the hall without a word.
Paul and Dirck looked at each other.
"By God!" Dirck whispered.
Paul went across the hall, knocked at her door, and pushed it open.
"Well?" she asked him in a hard tone.
"It was-- wonderful!" he cried.
"You think maybe I can dance, then?"
"Of course you can! And with your youth and your beauty--"
She burst into tears.... He put his arms about her, and she clung to him. "It isn't-- just a dream of mine?" she asked, with deep eyes hungrily intent for his praise.
"No!" he cried, "It's real enough!"
"And I'm going to be a-- a famous dancer?"
"You are! I swear you are!"
She lifted her lips to his... and said presently:
"You know so much-- will you teach me a little?"
"Teach you-- what?" he asked in bewilderment.
"To speak beautifully-- your voice is like music-- and to know what words mean, and to understand books. And to write words myself."
"To write words!" he echoed in amazement.
"Yes-- I've been trying to teach myself, out of your books. But I don't know what the words mean, some of them. And there are so many things I want to know! I have never gone to school. My father works in the mills back at home and doesn't even speak English. We came from Hungary when I was ten. I have worked in factories, and danced in cabarets-- I know nothing. Will you teach me-- and be my sweetheart?"
Unsteadily, in a desperate attempt to be chivalrous, Paul answered: "I will teach you, and be your friend."
"That is what I mean!" said Rosika, and lifted her lips to be kissed again...
And, as it turned out, Rosika could not understand the distinction between being friends and sweethearts-- nor did Paul argue the point with her further....
He never saw her cry again. Hard, eager, aflame with ambition, she knew exactly what she wanted, and learned it quickly enough. And it is not strange if her young ambition kindled his own. He must prove to her that he too was no dreamer! He presently set to work once more on his play.... But long before that play was finished, Rosika had begun to find the fame she coveted....
And one day Paul-- who no longer lived with Dirck, but had a studio of his own-- sat in a state of suppressed emotional excitement, trying to calm himself by reading "The Love Sonnets of Proteus." From time to time he nervously pulled out his watch; he was expecting Rosika, and he had something important to say to her. He paused at one sonnet, and read it over, half-aloud:
"If I had chosen thee, thou shouldst have been
A virgin proud, untamed, immaculate,
Chaste as the morning star, a saint, a queen,
Scarred by no wars, no violence of hate;
Thou shouldst have been of soul commensurate
With thy fair body-- brave and virtuous
And kind and just; and if of poor estate,
At least an honest woman for my house.
I would have had thee come of honored blood
And honorable nurture. Thou shouldst bear
Sons to my pride and daughters to my heart,
And men should hold thee happy, wise and good.
Lo, thou art none of this, but only fair!
Yet must I love thee, dear, and as thou art."
He repeated the last line softly: "Yet must I
thee, dear, and as thou art!" There was a ring at the bell, and
jumped up. But instead of Rosika, there was a messenger boy, with
a letter addressed in Rosika's unformed handwriting. He tore it
"Dear Paul.''-- the letter ran-- "this is as good a time as any to say what I have to say and do what I have to do. If I tried to tell you, there would be only more quarrels and making-ups. We are getting to care too much--and you are so jealous-- and there must be no more talk of marriage, for that would be very foolish. No, the time has come for us to part. You have meant a great deal to me-- more than anybody else, ever-- and I hope I have been something to you, too. Go on and do the wonderful things you can do-- and goodbye. I shall always be your friend, Rosika."
"Is there any answer?" asked the messenger boy.
"No." He shut the door, and went back to his chair, looked blindly at the open book of sonnets and brushed it to the floor,-- and then forlornly put his arms on the table and cried-- a child whose bright toy has been snatched away by a cruel hand....
For that was what happened inevitably in this eager, hard, ambitious young world of dreams and struggle-- that was love in Greenwich Village.
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