An American Tragedy Chapter 18

The climax of the afternoon was reached, however, when after several more dances and drinks, the small river and its possibilities was again brought to the attention of all by Hegglund, who, looking out of one of the windows, suddenly exclaimed: “What’s de matter wit de ice down dere? Look at de swell ice. I dare dis crowd to go down dere and slide.”

They were off pell-mell—Ratterer and Tina Kogel, running hand in hand, Sparser and Lucille Nickolas, with whom he had just been dancing, Higby and Laura Sipe, whom he was finding interesting enough for a change, and Clyde and Hortense. But once on the ice, which was nothing more than a narrow, winding stream, blown clean in places by the wind, and curving among thickets of leafless trees, the company were more like young satyrs and nymphs of an older day. They ran here and there, slipping and sliding—Higby, Lucille and Maida immediately falling down, but scrambling to their feet with bursts of laughter.

And Hortense, aided by Clyde at first, minced here and there. But soon she began to run and slide, squealing in pretended fear. And now, not only Sparser but Higby, and this in spite of Clyde, began to show Hortense attention. They joined her in sliding, ran after her and pretended to try to trip her up, but caught her as she fell. And Sparser, taking her by the hand, dragged her, seemingly in spite of herself and the others, far upstream and about a curve where they could not be seen. Determined not to show further watchfulness or jealousy Clyde remained behind. But he could not help feeling that Sparser might be taking this occasion to make a date, even to kiss her. She was not incapable of letting him, even though she might pretend to him that she did not want him to. It was agonizing.

In spite of himself, he began to tingle with helpless pain—to begin to wish that he could see them. But Hegglund, having called every one to join hands and crack the whip, he took the hand of Lucille Nickolas, who was holding on to Hegglund’s, and gave his other free hand to Maida Axelrod, who in turn gave her free hand to Ratterer. And Higby and Laura Sipe were about to make up the tail when Sparser and Hortense came gliding back—he holding her by the hand. And they now tacked on at the foot. Then Hegglund and the others began running and doubling back and forth until all beyond Maida had fallen and let go. And, as Clyde noted, Hortense and Sparser, in falling, skidded and rolled against each other to the edge of the shore where were snow and leaves and twigs. And Hortense’s skirts, becoming awry in some way, moved up to above her knees. But instead of showing any embarrassment, as Clyde thought and wished she might, she sat there for a few moments without shame and even laughing heartily—and Sparser with her and still holding her hand. And Laura Sipe, having fallen in such a way as to trip Higby, who had fallen across her, they also lay there laughing and yet in a most suggestive position, as Clyde thought. He noted, too, that Laura Sipe’s skirts had been worked above her knees. And Sparser, now sitting up, was pointing to her pretty legs and laughing loudly, showing most of his teeth. And all the others were emitting peals and squeals of laughter.

“Hang it all!” thought Clyde. “Why the deuce does he always have to be hanging about her? Why didn’t he bring a girl of his own if he wanted to have a good time? What right have they got to go where they can’t be seen? And she thinks I think she means nothing by all this. She never laughs that heartily with me, you bet. What does she think I am that she can put that stuff over on me, anyhow?” He glowered darkly for the moment, but in spite of his thoughts the line or whip was soon re-formed and this time with Lucille Nickolas still holding his hand. Sparser and Hortense at the tail end again. But Hegglund, unconscious of the mood of Clyde and thinking only of the sport, called: “Better let some one else take de end dere, hadn’tcha?” And feeling the fairness of this, Ratterer and Maida Axelrod and Clyde and Lucille Nickolas now moved down with Higby and Laura Sipe and Hortense and Sparser above them. Only, as Clyde noted, Hortense still held Sparser by the hand, yet she moved just above him and took his hand, he being to the right, with Sparser next above to her left, holding her other hand firmly, which infuriated Clyde. Why couldn’t he stick to Laura Sipe, the girl brought out here for him? And Hortense was encouraging him.

He was very sad, and he felt so angry and bitter that he could scarcely play the game. He wanted to stop and quarrel with Sparser. But so brisk and eager was Hegglund that they were off before he could even think of doing so.

And then, try as he would, to keep his balance in the face of this, he and Lucille and Ratterer and Maida Axelrod were thrown down and spun around on the ice like curling irons. And Hortense, letting go of him at the right moment, seemed to prefer deliberately to hang on to Sparser. Entangled with these others, Clyde and they spun across forty feet of smooth, green ice and piled against a snow bank. At the finish, as he found, Lucille Nickolas was lying across his knees face down in such a spanking position that he was compelled to laugh. And Maida Axelrod was on her back, next to Ratterer, her legs straight up in the air; on purpose he thought. She was too coarse and bold for him. And there followed, of course, squeals and guffaws of delight—so loud that they could be heard for half a mile. Hegglund, intensely susceptible to humor at all times, doubled to the knees, slapped his thighs and bawled. And Sparser opened his big mouth and chortled and grimaced until he was scarlet. So infectious was the result that for the time being Clyde forgot his jealousy. He too looked and laughed. But Clyde’s mood had not changed really. He still felt that she wasn’t playing fair.

At the end of all this playing Lucille Nickolas and Tina Kogel being tired, dropped out. And Hortense, also. Clyde at once left the group to join her. Ratterer then followed Lucille. Then the others separating, Hegglund pushed Maida Axelrod before him down stream out of sight around a bend. Higby, seemingly taking his cue from this, pulled Tina Kogel up stream, and Ratterer and Lucille, seeming to see something of interest, struck into a thicket, laughing and talking as they went. Even Sparser and Laura, left to themselves, now wandered off, leaving Clyde and Hortense alone.

And then, as these two wandered toward a fallen log which here paralleled the stream, she sat down. But Clyde, smarting from his fancied wounds, stood silent for the time being, while she, sensing as much, took him by the belt of his coat and began to pull at him.

“Giddap, horsey,” she played. “Giddap. My horsey has to skate me now on the ice.”

Clyde looked at her glumly, glowering mentally, and not to be diverted so easily from the ills which he felt to be his.

“Whadd’ye wanta let that fellow Sparser always hang around you for?” he demanded. “I saw you going up the creek there with him a while ago. What did he say to you up there?”

“He didn’t say anything.”

“Oh, no, of course not,” he replied cynically and bitterly. “And maybe he didn’t kiss you, either.”

“I should say not,” she replied definitely and spitefully, “I’d like to know what you think I am, anyhow. I don’t let people kiss me the first time they see me, smarty, and I want you to know it. I didn’t let you, did I?”

“Oh, that’s all right, too,” answered Clyde; “but you didn’t like me as well as you do him, either.”

“Oh, didn’t I? Well, maybe I didn’t, but what right have you to say I like him, anyhow. I’d like to know if I can’t have a little fun without you watching me all the time. You make me tired, that’s what you do.” She was quite angry now because of the proprietary air he appeared to be assuming.

And now Clyde, repulsed and somewhat shaken by this sudden counter on her part, decided on the instant that perhaps it might be best for him to modify his tone. After all, she had never said that she had really cared for him, even in the face of the implied promise she had made him.

“Oh, well,” he observed glumly after a moment, and not without a little of sadness in his tone, “I know one thing. If I let on that I cared for any one as much as you say you do for me at times, I wouldn’t want to flirt around with others like you are doing out here.”

“Oh, wouldn’t you?”

“No, I wouldn’t.”

“Well, who’s flirting anyhow, I’d like to know?”

“You are.”

“I’m not either, and I wish you’d just go away and let me alone if you can’t do anything but quarrel with me. Just because I danced with him up there in the restaurant, is no reason for you to think I’m flirting. Oh, you make me tired, that’s what you do.”

“Do I?”

“Yes, you do.”

“Well, maybe I better go off and not bother you any more at all then,” he returned, a trace of his mother’s courage welling up in him.

“Well, maybe you had, if that’s the way you’re going to feel about me all the time,” she answered, and kicked viciously with her toes at the ice. But Clyde was beginning to feel that he could not possibly go through with this—that after all he was too eager about her—too much at her feet. He began to weaken and gaze nervously at her. And she, thinking of her coat again, decided to be civil.

“You didn’t look in his eyes, did you?” he asked weakly, his thoughts going back to her dancing with Sparser.


“When you were dancing with him?”

“No, I didn’t, not that I know of, anyhow. But supposing I did. What of it? I didn’t mean anything by it. Gee, criminy, can’t a person look in anybody’s eyes if they want to?”

“In the way you looked in his? Not if you claim to like anybody else, I say.” And the skin of Clyde’s forehead lifted and sank, and his eyelids narrowed. Hortense merely clicked impatiently and indignantly with her tongue.

“Tst! Tst! Tst! If you ain’t the limit!”

“And a while ago back there on the ice,” went on Clyde determinedly and yet pathetically. “When you came back from up there, instead of coming up to where I was you went to the foot of the line with him. I saw you. And you held his hand, too, all the way back. And then when you fell down, you had to sit there with him holding your hand. I’d like to know what you call that if it ain’t flirting. What else is it? I’ll bet he thinks it is, all right.”

“Well, I wasn’t flirting with him just the same and I don’t care what you say. But if you want to have it that way, have it that way. I can’t stop you. You’re so darn jealous you don’t want to let anybody else do anything, that’s all the matter with you. How else can you play on the ice if you don’t hold hands, I’d like to know? Gee, criminy! What about you and that Lucille Nickolas? I saw her laying across your lap and you laughing. And I didn’t think anything of that. What do you want me to do—come out here and sit around like a bump on a log?—follow you around like a tail? Or you follow me? What-a-yuh think I am anyhow? A nut?”

She was being ragged by Clyde, as she thought, and she didn’t like it. She was thinking of Sparser who was really more appealing to her at the time than Clyde. He was more materialistic, less romantic, more direct.

He turned and, taking off his cap, rubbed his head gloomily while Hortense, looking at him, thought first of him and then of Sparser. Sparser was more manly, not so much of a cry-baby. He wouldn’t stand around and complain this way, you bet. He’d probably leave her for good, have nothing more to do with her. Yet Clyde, after his fashion, was interesting and useful. Who else would do for her what he had? And at any rate, he was not trying to force her to go off with him now as these others had gone and as she had feared he might try to do—ahead of her plan and wish. This quarrel was obviating that.

“Now, see here,” she said after a time, having decided that it was best to assuage him and that it was not so hard to manage him after all. “Are we goin’ t’fight all the time, Clyde? What’s the use, anyhow? Whatja want me to come out here for if you just want to fight with me all the time? I wouldn’t have come if I’d ’a’ thought you were going to do that all day.”

She turned and kicked at the ice with the minute toe of her shoes, and Clyde, always taken by her charm again, put his arms about her, and crushed her to him, at the same time fumbling at her breasts and putting his lips to hers and endeavoring to hold and fondle her. But now, because of her suddenly developed liking for Sparser, and partially because of her present mood towards Clyde, she broke away, a dissatisfaction with herself and him troubling her. Why should she let him force her to do anything she did not feel like doing, just now, anyhow, she now asked herself. She hadn’t agreed to be as nice to him to-day as he might wish. Not yet. At any rate just now she did not want to be handled in this way by him, and she would not, regardless of what he might do. And Clyde, sensing by now what the true state of her mind in regard to him must be, stepped back and yet continued to gaze gloomily and hungrily at her. And she in turn merely stared at him.

“I thought you said you liked me,” he demanded almost savagely now, realizing that his dreams of a happy outing this day were fading into nothing.

“Well, I do when you’re nice,” she replied, slyly and evasively, seeking some way to avoid complications in connection with her original promises to him.

“Yes, you do,” he grumbled. “I see how you do. Why, here we are out here now and you won’t even let me touch you. I’d like to know what you meant by all that you said, anyhow.”

“Well, what did I say?” she countered, merely to gain time.

“As though you didn’t know.”

“Oh, well. But that wasn’t to be right away, either, was it? I thought we said”—she paused dubiously.

“I know what you said,” he went on. “But I notice now that you don’t like me an’ that’s all there is to it. What difference would it make if you really cared for me whether you were nice to me now or next week or the week after? Gee whiz, you’d think it was something that depended on what I did for you, not whether you cared for me.” In his pain he was quite intense and courageous.

“That’s not so!” she snapped, angrily and bitterly, irritated by the truth of what he said. “And I wish you wouldn’t say that to me, either. I don’t care anything about the old coat now, if you want to know it. And you can just have your old money back, too, I don’t want it. And you can just let me alone from now on, too,” she added. “I’ll get all the coats I want without any help from you.” At this, she turned and walked away.

But Clyde, now anxious to mollify her as usual, ran after her. “Don’t go, Hortense,” he pleaded. “Wait a minute. I didn’t mean that either, honest I didn’t. I’m crazy about you. Honest I am. Can’t you see that? Oh, gee, don’t go now. I’m not giving you the money to get something for it. You can have it for nothing if you want it that way. There ain’t anybody else in the world like you to me, and there never has been. You can have the money for all I care, all of it. I don’t want it back. But, gee, I did think you liked me a little. Don’t you care for me at all, Hortense?” He looked cowed and frightened, and she, sensing her mastery over him, relented a little.

“Of course I do,” she announced. “But just the same, that don’t mean that you can treat me any old way, either. You don’t seem to understand that a girl can’t do everything you want her to do just when you want her to do it.”

“Just what do you mean by that?” asked Clyde, not quite sensing just what she did mean. “I don’t get you.”

“Oh, yes, you do, too.” She could not believe that he did not know.

“Oh, I guess I know what you’re talkin’ about. I know what you’re going to say now,” he went on disappointedly. “That’s that old stuff they all pull. I know.”

He was reciting almost verbatim the words and intonations even of the other boys at the hotel—Higby, Ratterer, Eddie Doyle—who, having narrated the nature of such situations to him, and how girls occasionally lied out of pressing dilemmas in this way, had made perfectly clear to him what was meant. And Hortense knew now that he did know.

“Gee, but you’re mean,” she said in an assumed hurt way. “A person can never tell you anything or expect you to believe it. Just the same, it’s true, whether you believe it or not.”

“Oh, I know how you are,” he replied, sadly yet a little loftily, as though this were an old situation to him. “You don’t like me, that’s all. I see that now, all right.”

“Gee, but you’re mean,” she persisted, affecting an injured air. “It’s the God’s truth. Believe me or not, I swear it. Honest it is.”

Clyde stood there. In the face of this small trick there was really nothing much to say as he saw it. He could not force her to do anything. If she wanted to lie and pretend, he would have to pretend to believe her. And yet a great sadness settled down upon him. He was not to win her after all—that was plain. He turned, and she, being convinced that he felt that she was lying now, felt it incumbent upon herself to do something about it—to win him around to her again.

“Please, Clyde, please,” she began now, most artfully, “I mean that. Really, I do. Won’t you believe me? But I will next week, sure. Honest, I will. Won’t you believe that? I meant everything I said when I said it. Honest, I did. I do like you—a lot. Won’t you believe that, too—please?”

And Clyde, thrilled from head to toe by this latest phase of her artistry, agreed that he would. And once more he began to smile and recover his gayety. And by the time they reached the car, to which they were all called a few minutes after by Hegglund, because of the time, and he had held her hand and kissed her often, he was quite convinced that the dream he had been dreaming was as certain of fulfillment as anything could be. Oh, the glory of it when it should come true!