Had To Go Somewhere

by Charles Hoy Fort

The crowded back room of a junk shop, all worn-out-looking and badly patched with shadows from a long rag of flame on a tipless gas-burner--against a flickering wall, a table for two musicians, their handwritten music in note-books, leaning upon bottles of cheap, red wine--against the opposite wall, baled rags surmounted by a black bale, insecurely poised, pointing downward like the head of a big, black dog on watch; part of a broad, scarlet petticoat hanging from it like a monster-dog's tongue--junkman's family and neighbors sitting on flat, oval-shaped objects on the floor, in an irregular line from table to bales.

"Sure," someone was saying, "we must go somewheres this night."

"Give me your `E,'" youthful fiddler, at the table, to the stout, respectable-looking cornetist, "You're sharp!"

More neighbors coming in; Mrs. O'Hare, a thin woman with a large spoon-shaped face and a little yellow-flowered hat, her arms around the waist of her long, lean husband, lugging and pushing him, making one think of "Hey, diddle, diddle--and the spoon ran away with the lamp-post"--slamming him against the bale-wall, where he leaned, chin on breast, eyes shut--one eye opening; then:

"Play `The Exile From Erin!'" Mr. O'Hare opening the other eye; faintly murmuring the song, "Oh, pity the case of an exile from Erin!" standing up straight, and throwing out chest, "Bidden by tyrants for ere to depart"--roaring, "Should I ne'er more behold you, I'd ne'er more forget you"--bellowing, "Erin, dear Erin, the pride of my heart"--back to the bale-wall, chin to breast and both eyes shut.

Mr. Trotta, the junkman, in the middle of the floor, visor of his chauffeur's cap down parallel with his pointed beard, both like the open beak of a hieroglyphic--"You? You? You?" motioning to each of his guests. Fiddler back to his table, from hat-passing, forefingering coins into two piles--stout, respectable-looking cornetist starting to speak; scratching his head; counting on fingers held under the table. Mr. Trotta, with bottles under his arm, taking money, bobbing over the counting of change, from a flannel money-bag; beard and visor seeming to peck, with the bobbing. "You?" to a night watchman, who stood with hands clasped by his neck, and red lantern a ruby locket. "Yes, I can only stay a minute, but I'll have one glass with you."

"Who gets the odd nickel?" the cornetist.

"I ain't kicking!" the fiddler. "There ain't nobody else kicking; then what's the matter with you?"

"Nothing isn't the matter with me."

"There he goes! I never seen such a fellow for arguments!"

"Where's my glass of beer?"

"Are you going to quit? Say, I'll pack up and go. I don't want no arguments. I can't stand no arguments--"

Mr. O'Hare, with his chin on his breast, starting toward the side door.

"There he goes to the saloons again!" Mrs. O'Hare. "Just let him go! Mrs. Snitzel, I'm too well-known and prominent in this neighborhood to be seen chasing any man. I'm convent-bred, ma'am, and my aunt was a famous musician--" Up and after him, dragging him to the bale-wall, slamming him against it--"'Tis a great pity you can't stay out of the saloons. I brought you in here to be out of harm's way."

Music again, but fiddle reeling from one tune to another; cornetist lowering his cornet, looking appealingly from side to side; playing again. Mr. Trotta, scattering a bag of salt upon the floor, slippery with red wine and beer.

"The only trouble with you," fiddler laying down his bow, "is you're kicking all the time--oh, yes, I'll play. Go on if youse wants to dance."

Junkman's family and neighbors up from their oval, flat seats, disclosing links of horse-collars, from table to bales, and up behind, to the black bale's neck. Youths waltzing with one another--youths darting to a side door, dragging in screeching girls. The pointing junkman; "You? You? You?" The night watchman: "Yes, but after another glass I'll have to go back." Rattle of dice for bottles of wine, twenty-five cents a quart--Mrs. O'Hare coming in again with her arms around her long, lean husband, over his shoulder her large face tipped with yellow, like a giant's spoon dipped in a roc's egg--"You'll stay here this time, I bet you. I don't know what the people must think of me, Mrs. Snitzel, me with an aunt who could play the accordion--"

A young lady, sitting on a link of the horse-collar chain, beside a young gentleman, combing his hair with her hair-comb; his arms bearishly about her; in her lap a flask of whiskey, cigarettes, and matches--"Yes, I'll recite for youse--light it for me!" putting a cigarette in the young gentleman's mouth. "When I was in the Tombs, I used to see Solinski, the murderer, every day. Once at noon, I seen six murderers playing ball."

Young gentleman to her: "I'm just from the shop and got my jumpers under these clothes. That guy brought me. I didn't even stop to change me clothes."

"Aw, you're alright!" holding the flask to his mouth. "Aw, take a good drink!" tilting the flask.

Fiddler, laying down his bow again, "What's the matter with you, anyway? What's a nickel? Five cents don't buy a house, does it? I say you can't buy no house with a nickel, can you? Or a suit of clothes?"

"Who drank my glass of beer?" respectable-looking cornetist staring stolidly about him. Waltzers standing still, in front of the horse-collars, with chins on one another's shoulders--

"What I like to see is fair play!"

"That's right; but play up!"

"I want to see everything straight!"

"Good boy; play up!"

"I can't stand for no arguments; I'd throw the money out of that window, first!"

Night watchman, with his lantern raised, as if peering into an excavation, advancing--"Oh, now, before I goes out, I'd like to see the lot of yez at peace, this night of all in the year. Let youse two save up till it comes even; then divide--" Mrs. O'Hare lugging in her husband again, and slamming him--

Young lady from the Tombs putting the comb back in her hair, handing her hat, flask, cigarettes and matches to the young gentleman--"Now, if yez'll all be quiet, I'll recite!" Young lady reciting "The Face on the Bar-room Floor," but forgetting it; starting something about two violets and a brook--"Aw, here!" to the young gentleman, "Light this for me."

Music again, and couples forming--fiddler laying down his fiddle, to look his contempt for the cornetist's playing; picking up the fiddle, and leaning back, closing his eyes, playing something of his own--cornetist standing up; cornet under his arm; sitting down again, to play--fiddler jumping up--"I don't want no remarks from you, so don't be passing none--see!" Tapping cornetist's shoulder--reeling among waltzers--"If I can't play without being insulted, I'll smash this fiddle! What do you think of that? I'll smash it so it can't never be put together again! What do you think of that?" staggering to his knees.

"Twelve o'clock!" exclamation from the night watchman. "Ain't it a curse to make a body work this night? I been on duty since six."

"Then," cried Mrs. O'Hare, "let me be the first--" but someone was pointing out to her that Mr. O'Hare had stolen away again. The fiddler had fallen at her feet, sprawling, dragging a horse-collar as if breaking a link from the chain. Stumbling over him, Mrs. O'Hare plunged like a breaking egg, yellow flowers streaming over her white face, against a wall of baled rags--the insecure top-bale quivering. Then, as if feeling its chain broken, a great black dog, with its red tongue fiercely licking, leaped to the floor, and bumping against the gas fixture, bumped the light out. In the darkness, the watchman's lantern shone like a sullen-fierce monster's eye. Scrambling, shrieking, swearing, someone shouting:

"A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!"

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