Read Clarkton Online

Authors: Howard Fast

Clarkton

Clarkton

Howard Fast

For
Bette

Who has been my first

reader and loyal comrade

these many years

Contents

Thursday, December 6, 1945

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Friday, December 7, 1945

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Saturday, December 8,1945

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Sunday, December 9,1945

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A Biography of Howard Fast

Copyright Page

Nero, in order to stifle the rumor (as if he himself had set Rome on fire), ascribed it to those people who were hated for their wicked practices, and called by the vulgar “Christians”; these, he punished exquisitely.

The Author of this name was “Christ,” who, in the reign of Tiberius, was brought to punishment by Pontius Pilate, the procurator. For the present this pernicious superstition was in part suppressed, but it brake out again, not only over Judea, whence this mischief first sprang, but in the city of Rome also, whither do run from every quarter and make a noise, all the flagrant and shameful enormities.

At first, therefore, those were seized who confessed, afterward a vast multitude were detected by them, and were convicted, not so much as really guilty of setting the city on fire, but as hating all mankind; nay, they made a mock of them as they perished, and destroyed them by putting them into the skins of wild beasts, and setting dogs upon them to tear them to pieces.

Some were nailed to crosses, and others flamed to death; they were also used in the night time instead of torches, for illumination. Nero had offered his own gardens for this spectacle.

—Tacitus,
Annates
(about 100 A.D.).

Thursday, December 6, 1945

T
he dreams of George Clark Lowell
were always well ordered, natural, and devoid of that bizarre and inhuman quality which clings to the dreams of so many; and this was, as his good friend, Dr. Elliott Abbott, once remarked, a comforting sign of normalcy. One might say that his dreams traveled restricted thoroughfares most casually. As, for example, this night, or very early in the dawn perhaps, he dreamed that he was walking through a light summer rain hand in hand with a girl. Who she was, he didn't know, nor was he aware of any particular curiosity concerning her identity. She was much younger than he, of course—his own age was forty-four—and she revealed her youth in her lissom stride and in the sway of her body. As is so often the case in dreams, he was able to observe both himself and the girl from a distance and at the same time walk by her side, holding her hand, but in spite of the vantage of the two positions, he could not see her face, or it may be that he did not care particularly to see her face.

Both he and the girl were wearing those long, green oilskin raincoats which were popular a generation ago, and which were then known as slickers. Their heads were bare, and the fine, warm, misty rain settled on their hair, put a sheen on their cheeks, and blew like a vapor into their laughing mouths. They walked on a country road and it was to ward evening.

So pleasant was the dream, so credible, that when he woke up, he sought frantically for a return way; but there was none; the dream clouded and dissipated, and he accepted the fact of his being awake. He looked at his watch on the night table beside him, and saw that it was 6:45 in the morning.

At that hour, there was just the first gray hint of daylight in the sky, a sickly gray that allowed him to read his watch, examine his long, shapely fingers and make out the cream-colored walls of the bedroom, the red tapestry drapes on the window, the two landscapes on the facing wall—uniform throughout the Hotel Bradly—and the mirror of the maple dresser, which was directly across from the foot of the bed. If he had turned his head just a little to his right, he would have also made out a mop of black hair on the next pillow, but this he studiously avoided doing, holding himself with a certain rigidity instead, listening to the regular, deep breathing of his companion.

As he lay there, something he had read or heard once about the deep and gentle sleep of the innocent flashed into his mind, and it occurred to him that either that had as little truth in it as most homilies, or the girl who had spent the night with him on the twelfth floor of the Hotel Bradly at 66th Street and Broadway had a soul as spotless as a white bedsheet fresh out of the laundry. His repugnance, almost revulsion, toward her at this early hour of the morning was not an unfamiliar ingredient, and he crept out of the bed with a mortal fear of waking her.

He stood naked in the chilled room, a tall, well-formed and broad-shouldered man of forty-four. For his age, he had less flesh than most, a flat stomach, and the reasonably well-preserved muscles of a former college athlete; the body could pass for less years than he owned, and his good head of brown hair was only beginning to turn gray at the temples. His small, neatly trimmed mustache gave him an air of distinction, and the wide, flat brows, the deep-set eyes, the narrow, slightly arched nose, the broad, full mouth and the almost square chin completed the picture of a handsome man. Good looks he had always known and accepted, and not the least of his accomplishments was the ability to live very well with them.

Now he walked softly around the bed, captured his under wear, and went into the bathroom. Fear of waking the girl kept him from the shower. He shaved quickly and expertly, spent only a moment with his hair, which he combed straight back, packed his toilet things in an alligator case, and then went back to the bedroom to finish dressing himself. His only concession to time was to select a clean white shirt from an open suitcase; the green tie and the brown sharkskin suit he had worn the night before. His packing took only a moment more; he had a calf Gladstone and a cordovan wardrobe, both of which he closed silently and carefully. Those and a briefcase-he set down next to the door, and then for the first time he allowed himself to look at the girl in the bed.

She had turned while he dressed from her stomach to her back, and her left arm was outflung on the part of the bed where he had been. Sleep gave a certain sweetness to her knowing, brittle features; sleep returned to her the twenty-three or -four years she had existed.

George Clark Lowell permitted himself only a glance. At this moment, he had neither sympathy nor desire; his mind was formless; he thought of her neither as a slut nor as a human being, nor was she anyone with a name, a character, a past or a future.

Taking his wallet out of his breast pocket, he placed a twenty-dollar bill on the dresser; after a moment's hesitation, he added another twenty to it. Then he opened the door carefully, moved his luggage outside, and just as carefully closed the door behind him. The luggage he carried to the elevator himself, and the elevator girl was both sleepy and disinterested. In fact, no one at the Bradly was particularly concerned with the sins, major or minor, of those who rented their rooms. Its location, seven blocks above the limit of desirability on the West Side, had long since given over its fifteen modern stories of red brick to the trade it practiced.

In the cheerless lobby, the night clerk listened to George Clark Lowell say:

“I'm catching an early train. I'll check out and pay for today, and my wife will occupy the room until this afternoon.”

Even if the night clerk had known his right name, it would have meant nothing to him, and two people in a room were always man and wife.

2.
A
fter he had checked his bags at Grand Cen
tral and had a cup of coffee at the bar, Lowell felt a good deal better. His sense of guilt, which was compounded with disgust at himself—always afterward and hardly ever before—was, as usual, tempered by the fact that he was free again, that nothing in particular had happened; and, again as usual, that would slowly mature into a sense of accomplishment.

The cold air of the cheerless winter day was bracing, and since he had a little more than three hours before train time, he decided that he would walk uptown to the University Club, gain an appetite along the way, have just one whisky sour before he ate, and then buy a present for Lois. When he thought of the present—as he inevitably did—it did not disturb him that he should have a commonplace reaction to a commonplace sin. Long ago, he had gotten over the need for conscious rationalization. He was a disarmingly quiet man, and if he were ever to think about it, he could easily enough convince himself that he was not a bad man. These periodic interruptions of a relatively placid life were of little consequence.

He came out of Grand Central in the earliest stream of commuters, walked westward to Fifth Avenue, and then uptown. He liked such simple things as the very act of walking, and by the time he reached the club, the night before was more or less forgotten—the more easily since on his way he went over the business that had brought him to New York from the Massachusetts town where he lived.

3.
L
eopold and James were Industrial Consult
ants, with offices on the thirty-second floor of the Empire State building. When Lowell had entered their reception room, at a quarter to three of the day before this, he had felt moderately disturbed, a state of mind not helped by the fact that their offices were decorated in the style he disliked most, a sort of machine-age modernism made of glass brick, badly used, fluted chrome, tasteless copper bas-reliefs, and laminated chairs. The pale-blue carpet on the floor was at least an inch thick, and on an enormous glass coffee table was spread out copies of
Fortune, United States News
, and the
Wall Street Journal.
He lit a cigarette and had smoked half of it before a stocky, middle-aged woman in low-heeled shoes ushered him into James's office. Here, the pale blue was carried into the drapes and into the wallpaper, a photographic panorama of Yellowstone Park or some other part of the Rockies, white peaks and pine forests and sparkling lakes, printed in blues. James sat at a gray desk in front of an enormous window, the winter, sunlight framing him in a vista of limitless and wonderful distance, sky and clouds. He was a very small, dapper man, birdlike in movement, who hopped around the desk, shook hands with Lowell, pressed him into a chair, and then, contradicting the sum total of previous impressions, plunged almost harshly into the business that had brought them together. As he talked, he betrayed a vague, almost imperceptible foreign accent—one that Lowell could not place, that allied itself with no country, no area.

“I'm glad you came down to see me personally, Mr. Lowell,” he said. “These are delicate matters, and one deals with them delicately. One deals with them efficiently, but one deals with them delicately. They are necessary, but delicate.” Every time he said
delicate
, his voice rasped like a file. Lowell, who reacted morally so readily, felt neither like nor dislike, but rather a sense of amazement. Later, it occurred to him that he would have reacted in precisely the same fashion if a fine Irish setter he had once owned had opened its mouth and spoken to him. Distaste came afterward; now he was relieved that the man's face remained in the shadow all the time they talked.

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