“P’raps I don’t,” said the swart man; and lapsed into a fuming silence.
When he spoke again his voice was less friendly, and he prodded Denton by way of address. “Look see!” he said: “are you going to let me show you ‘ow to scrap?”
“It’s tremendously kind of you,” said Denton; “but—”
There was a pause. The swart man rose and bent over Denton.
“Too much ge’man,” he said—”eh? I got a red face… . By gosh! you are—you are a brasted fool!”
He turned away, and instantly Denton realised the truth of this remark.
The swart man descended with dignity to a cross way, and Denton, after a momentary impulse to pursuit, remained on the platform. For a time the things that had happened filled his mind. In one day his graceful system of resignation had been shattered beyond hope. Brute force, the final, the fundamental, had thrust its face through all his explanations and glosses and consolations and grinned enigmatically. Though he was hungry and tired, he did not go on directly to the Labour Hotel, where he would meet Elizabeth. He found he was beginning to think, he wanted very greatly to think; and so, wrapped in a monstrous cloud of meditation, he went the circuit of the city on his moving platform twice. You figure him, tearing through the glaring, thunder-voiced city at a pace of fifty miles an hour, the city upon the planet that spins along its chartless path through space many thousands of miles an hour, funking most terribly, and trying to understand why the heart and will in him should suffer and keep alive.
When at last he came to Elizabeth, she was white and anxious. He might have noted she was in trouble, had it not been for his own preoccupation. He feared most that she would desire to know every detail of his indignities, that she would be sympathetic or indignant. He saw her eyebrows rise at the sight of him.
“I’ve had rough handling,” he said, and gasped. “It’s too fresh—too hot. I don’t want to talk about it.” He sat down with an unavoidable air of sullenness.
She stared at him in astonishment, and as she read something of the significant hieroglyphic of his battered face, her lips whitened.Her hand—it was thinner now than in the days of their prosperity, and her first finger was a little altered by the metal punching she did—clenched convulsively. “This horrible world!” she said, and said no more.
In these latter days they had become a very silent couple; they said scarcely a word to each other that night, but each followed a private train of thought. In the small hours, as Elizabeth lay awake, Denton started up beside her suddenly—he had been lying as still as a dead man.
“I cannot stand it!” cried Denton. “I will not stand it!”