A SEDAN with no lights burning was standing beside the! road just above Piney Falls bridge and as I drove past it a girl put her head out and said, УPlease.Ф Her voice was urgent but there was not enough excitement in it to make it either harsh or shrill.
I put on my brakes, then backed up. By that time a man had got out of the sedan. There was enough light to let me see he was young and fairly big. He moved a hand in the direction I had been going and said, УOn your way, buddy.Ф
The girl said again, УWill you drive me into town, please?Ф She seemed to be trying to open the sedan door. Her hat had been pushed forward over one eye.
I said, УSure.Ф
The man in the road took a step toward me, moved his hand as before, and growled, УScram, you.Ф
I got out of my car. The man in the road had started toward me when another man's voice came from the sedan, a harsh warning voice. УGo easy, Tony. It's Jack Bye.Ф The sedan door swung open and the girl jumped out.
Tony said, УOh!Ф and his feet shuffled uncertainly on the road; but when he saw the girl making for my car he cried indignantly at her, УListen, you can't ride to town with ЧФ
She was in my roadster by then. УGood night,Ф she said.
He faced me, shook his head stubbornly, began, УI'll be damned if I'll let ЧФ
I hit him. The knockdown was fair enough, because I hit him hard, but I think he could have got up again if he had wanted to. I gave him a little time, then asked the fellow in the sedan, УAll right with you?Ф I still could not see him.
УHe'll be all right,Ф he replied quickly. УI'll take care of of him all right.Ф
УThanks.Ф I climbed into my car beside the girl. The rain I had been trying to get to town ahead of was beginning to fall. A coupe with a man and a woman in it passed us going toward town. We followed the coupe across the bridge.
The girl said, УThis is awfully kind of you. I wasn't in any danger back there, but it wasЧnasty.Ф
УThey wouldn't be dangerous,Ф I said, Уbut they would beЧnasty.Ф
УYou know them?Ф
УBut they knew you. Tony Forrest and Fred Barnes.Ф When I did not say anything, she added, УThey were afraid of you.Ф
УI'm a desperate character.Ф
She laughed. УAnd pretty nice of you, too, tonight. I wouldn't've gone with either of them alone, but I thought with two of them ЕФ She turned up the collar of her coat. УIt's raining in on me.Ф
I stopped the roadster again and hunted for the curtain that belonged on her side of the car. УSo your name's Jack Bye,Ф she said while I was snapping it on.
УAnd yours is Helen Warner.Ф
УHow'd you know?Ф She had straightened her hat.
УI've seen you around.Ф I finished attaching the curtain and got back in.
УDid you know who I was when I called to you?Ф she asked when we were moving again.
УIt was silly of me to go out with them like that.Ф
I said I was sorry my flask was empty.
We had turned into the western end of Hellman Avenue. It was four minutes past ten by the clock in front of the jewelry store on the corner of Laurel Street. A policeman in a black rubber coat was leaning against the clock. I did not know enough about perfumes to know the name of hers.
She said, УI'm chilly. Can't we stop somewhere and get a drink?Ф
УDo you really want to?Ф My voice must have puzzled her; she turned her head quickly to peer at me in the dim
УI'd like to,Ф she said, Уunless you're in a hurry.Ф
УNo. We could go to Mack's. It's only three or four blocks from here, butЧit's a nigger joint.Ф
She laughed. УAll I ask is that I don't get poisoned.Ф
УYou won't, but you're sure you want to go?Ф
УCertainly.Ф She exaggerated her shivering. УI'm cold. It's early.Ф
Toots Mack opened his door for us. I could tell by the politeness with which he bowed his round bald black head and said, УGood evening, sir; good evening, madam,Ф that he wished we had gone some place else, but I was not especially interested in how he felt about it. I said, УHello, Toots; how are you this evening?Ф too cheerfully.
There were only a few customers in the place. We went to the table in the corner farthest from the piano. Suddenly she was staring at me, her eyes, already very blue, becoming very round.
УI thought you could see in the car,Ф I began.
УHow'd you get that scar?Ф she asked, interrupting me.
She sat down.
УThat.Ф I put a hand to my cheek. УFightЧcouple of years ago. You ought to see the one on my chest.Ф
УWe'll have to go swimming some time,Ф she said gayly.
УPlease sit down and don't keep me waiting for my drink.Ф
УAre you sure you ЧФ
She began to chant, keeping time with her fingers on the table, УI want a drink, I want a drink, I want a drink.Ф Her mouth was small with full lips and it curved up without growing wider when she smiled.
We ordered drinks. We talked too fast. We made jokes and laughed too readily at them. We asked questionsЧabout the name of the perfume she used was one Чand paid too much or no attention to the answers. And Toots looked glumly at us from behind the bar when he thought we were hot looking at him. It was all pretty bad.
We had another drink and I said, УWell, let's slide along.Ф
She was nice about seeming neither too anxious to go nor to stay. The ends of her pale blonde hair curled up over the edge of her hat in back.
At the door I said, УListen, there's a taxi-stand around the corner. You won't mind if I don't take you home?Ф
She put a hand on my arm. УI do mind. Please ЧФ The street was badly lighted. Her face was like a child's. She took her.hand off my arm. УBut if you'd rather .†.†.Ф
УI think I'd rather.Ф
She said slowly, УI like you, Jack Bye, and I'm awfully grateful for ЧФ
I said, УAw, that's all right,Ф and we shook hands and I went back into the speakeasy.
Toots was still behind the bar. He came up to where I stood. УYou oughtn't to do that to me,Ф he said, shaking his head mournfully.
УI know. I'm sorry.Ф
УYou oughtn't to do it to yourself,Ф he went on just as sadly. УThis ain't Harlem, boy, and if old Judge Warner finds out his daughter's running around with you and coming in here he can make it plenty tough for both of us. I like you, boy, but you got to remember it don't make no difference how light your skin is or how many colleges you went to, you're still nigger.Ф
I said, УWell, what do you suppose I want to be? A Chinaman?Ф