By Dorothy Day
One day June was walking leisurely along Fourteenth Street when she met Terry Wode coming out of a saloon.
“A little appetizer,” he murmured, wiping his lips.
“Aren’t you pretty far uptown?” June reproved him. “And I thought that you weren’t going to do any investigating without me.”
Terry was a feature writer whom June had met while she was working on the Clarion, with whom she had often joined forces while on an assignment. Some time before, they had started what they called an investigation of all the saloons, between the Battery and Canal Street and the East and North Rivers. By limiting themselves thus they had hopes of some day visiting them all. (But they had not finished their explorations before prohibition went into effect.)
“Why, it’s only twelve o’clock and you know I never begin my investigations until two. As I said, I merely dropped in to build up an appetite for lunch and if you’ll come in and have a glass of port I’ll take you along. You’ll have an opportunity of meeting Mr. Hugh Brace, assistant managing editor of the Flame. I’ve got to hand in the stuff for the dramatic page today.”
“Sure, I’d love to. But I’ve already got an appetite and don’t want to drink. You’re only looking for a chance and an excuse to go back into a saloon again.”
As they entered a German restaurant on Third Avenue, a young man rose from his table to meet them.
Hugh Brace was a tall, slightly-built youth who was thirty-three and looked twenty-three. There was a look of great delicacy about him, an appearance of living in the night hours and sleeping during the day. As a matter of fact most of his work was done at night, not only on his own writing, but his editorial work on the Flame, a monthly magazine.
An artist who had the conviction that Hugh would become famous—as a matter of fact most of his friends had that conviction—had painted a life-size portrait of him several years before and in it brought out his extremely dusky transparency. There was almost a greenish light on his face. You did not notice the color of his hair or eyes. They were contradictory eyes. They were curiously detached and yet luminously sympathetic.
During the course of the lunch June noticed that his clothes as well as his manners had the same awkwardness. It came, she thought, from extreme shyness, and remained with him even when he forgot himself in the heat of discussion. Behind his writing desk, he had poise. With a pen in his hand he was gracious as well as graceful. He lost neither his dignity nor his train of thought when interrupted even when he had fulfilled the expectations of his friends and did become famous, giving up his magazine work to spend eight hours a day or an entire night, as the case may be, at his desk. For back of his apparent softness there was a streak of iron and he was never ill.
“Tomorrow the magazine goes to press,” he told them, “and I am short two book reviews. Have you got your ‘copy’ with you, Terry?”
Terry produced his “copy.” As dramatic critic, he didn’t feel called upon to confine his attention to the current plays on Broadway. He had found himself down on the Bowery near the Italian burlesque show not many weeks before and the result was a criticism and comparison of that production with the latest success of Broadway. Terry did not generally call himself a dramatic critic. He preferred to think of himself as a critic of life and there was much philosophy of a sort in his articles. His style reminded June of Robert Ingersoll. While the latter directed his criticism at the theology of the day, Terry hurled defiance and ridicule at the conventions of the world. All his energy he seemed to put in his writing.
After Terry’s contribution had been read and discussed Hugh reverted to his own troubles. “I’ve got one review planned out pretty well,” he said. “There are really only three ways of writing reviews. Usually you have to struggle to make the book fit into one of the three reviews—that is, if it is worth reviewing. As a matter of fact this one falls in perfectly with one of them and it’s as good as written now. It’s the story of a man’s spiritual development, and you can take the personal view. You test its worth by applying your personal experience. The man in the story finally comes to believe in a God—strange, but it’s a book that’s making a big sale with young soldiers on their way to the front.
“We all have a God of one kind or another. At one time, my God was a socialist ideal. Just now I find myself a Tolstoian without accepting his idea of a personal Deity. But it’s wartime and our only ideal can be internationalism.
“But, damn it! That doesn’t solve the question of where I’m going to get another review to fill those extra two pages. I don’t feel as though I’m going to write more than that one I’m interested in.”
“I’ve just been reading a book that I’d like to review,” June put in.
Hugh looked at her hopefully.
“It’s an old copy of ‘Aurora Leigh’ that I picked up in a second-hand store over on Third Avenue, printed in eighteen seventy-seven or thereabouts. I’ve read ‘Aurora Leigh’ before and it’s been reviewed before. But this is an exceptional copy. There’s nothing like it in the world. Better than any first edition. It’s a present some young woman made to a friend of hers fifty years ago, but before she made the gift she went through it calling attention to different parts of it in marginal notes. And it seems from the notes that both of them were ardent suffragettes and indignant at the part they had to play in life as stay-at-homes.”
“That sounds as though it would be amusing,” Hugh said enthusiastically. “We could call it ‘Review of the marginal notes in an old edition of Aurora Leigh’. You couldn’t have it done by tomorrow, could you?”
“Sure,” June agreed willingly. “I’m so interested in the book that it would be easy to write a review of it. I thought of it in fact, but was too lazy to do it. Now that there is some reason for it and somebody wants it, I’ll get right to work.”
A week after that Hugh Brace telephoned June at her office inviting her to lunch with him the next day. When she met him in a little restaurant near the “Flame” office, he showed her the proof of her review and it looked far more dignified to her than any of the signed “stories” that she had seen under her name in the Clarion. Only her initials were signed to it.
“And now,” said Hugh, “how would you like to have a steady editorial position on the Flame? Do you know anything about make-up or type or proof reading? No. Well those things don’t matter because I can teach them to you very easily. What really matters is whether you have good taste and from the tone of your review, I think you have. You can’t tell anything from your newspaper work, you know. Journalism is beyond taste, it seems to me.”
That was how June felt about it.
“What we want is literary taste and I guess you have it. Alaric is going to spend most of the summer lecturing in the west on poetry—woman’s clubs, you know, and I’ve kicked about the burden of work falling on me. So he’s agreed to pay ten dollars a week to someone who will assist me.”
“And what’ll I have to do?” asked June breathless.
“Well, the simplest thing is to read proof every month after the material has gone to the press. You’ve got to be very careful about that. We’re exceptionally meticulous. We can’t afford good paper, so we pay as much attention to the printing and make-up as we can.
“Every day you read the contributions that come into the office, sending back most of them of course. Those that aren’t any good go back with printed slips. If you like what is sent in in the way of poetry or story or article and yet think that it isn’t good enough to print or suited to the magazine, you can write a little note to send back with it. We don’t pay for anything we accept, so we have to be as appreciative as we have time to be.
“You also interview the people that come to the office to see me or any other editor, taking the place of a private secretary which none of us has ever had. In general you add to the dignity of the office. And of course every month you’ll have to have one or two reviews written. I dummy up the magazine and I’ll show you how to do it so you can help.”
“You’ll have to show me how to write book reviews,” June told him. “You said there were three ways, but you only told me one of them. I understand how that one is done all right, but I don’t think that I’d have self-confidence enough to write a book review in the first person, applying my personal experience to it as a test of worth.”
There was no need to say whether or not she would accept the position. The expression on her face when Hugh mentioned it told him that. He told her before they parted that he was sorry her pay would be five dollars less than she had received on the Clarion but that she would work only five hours a day most of the month.
June had a feeling that she had graduated from journalism, and mentally agreed with her father, when she set out to her afternoon assignments, that newspaper work was not a job for a woman. She almost strutted.
June took it for granted the next Monday when she set out for the Flame office that her duties began at nine. Her first eagerness for this new and responsible position made her wake up hours too early. It was still dark but there was a softness about the sky which pressed against the window, promising dawn. Too drowsy to get out of bed to look at her watch on the bureau, she lay there, watching the window. The shades had been left up, contrary to her custom, for she was used to sleeping late and she wished the first light to awaken her. As she watched, the sky changed to violet, then became sickly pale. There was a sudden chirping of birds on the neighboring housetops.
From the river came the sound of a man whistling the Star Spangled Banner, all out of tune. He was silent and the river seemed empty. Then a tug sneezed violently. A few coughs of the engine, a grating and creaking against the pier, clearly heard although it was two blocks away, and a gentle rhythmical chugging and steaming. A man called out. Someone answered. Then the boat swished past leaving only the tentative caress of the waves against the little beach; like a baby’s lips pressing against its mother’s breast when it is not quite hungry, June thought. A tender, happy sound. And she lay there and appreciated her simile until the first rays of the sun reddened the room.
It was good to live in the daylight again. Although she had forced herself to rise every morning at eleven while she was working on the Clarion, she felt that she had lived at night for seven months. It was springtime, and early morning, so she hopped out of bed, splashed through her bathing, mended a pair of stockings and dressed. By this time it was seven o’clock. Whistling almost as disjointedly as the man on the river had, she started out, reflecting that she had time to walk to the office.
Breakfasts at seven in April always taste good to you. Both the month and the hour are in their favor. Poached eggs on toast, the latter thick with fresh butter, coffee that is half milk, the paper which has the most features in it propped up against the water carafe before you. You can get such a breakfast in some of the East Side Jewish bakeries. The very sounds of the elevated, the people in the street, the waiter beside the steaming coffee urn, are crisp.
It takes three-quarters of an hour to read and appreciate a newspaper thoroughly. It was after eight when June was swinging along the strangely clear sidewalks of Fifth Avenue and exactly nine when she passed the thirty-sixth block and reached Fourteenth Street where the office was then situated.
The elevator boy looked very drowsy to June who was glowing. On the fourth floor where the three office rooms were there was a complete silence. From behind the desk at one of the windows, a girl’s head popped up.
June named herself.
“O-o-oh! You’re Miss Henreddy. Mr. Brace told me that you’d be around this morning. But he ought to have told you—nine o’clock is awfully early for the Flame. I got here early to-day because I left a book here that I was reading and I wanted to go on with it.” She held out “Ann Veronica.” “I’m the stenographer. The business manager gets here at ten and the advertising manager about noon. And Mr. Brace—we never know what time to expect him. Lots of times he works at home.”
After showing June into the office which she was to share with Mr. Brace, the latter returned to the business office and “Ann Veronica,” leaving June to survey with pride her new domain.
There were four tables in the room, two of them stacked with drawings, manuscripts and proofs in the utmost confusion. Huge drawings stood against the wall, reprints of the same drawings were tacked around the room. On four sides, two shelves had been built and these were crowded with books that had been reviewed, as June could tell by the titles, and books to be reviewed. The one window in the room looked out over Union Square’s battleship.
June explored thoroughly and then sat down at her desk which held a pile of opened mail six inches high. Evidently Mr. Brace didn’t care for reading manuscripts. She did not wonder, as she read them carefully at first and then more swiftly, signing her initials to rejection blanks and enclosing them in return envelopes with their luckless contributions.
One page held these three:
There were two of them,
of my loose dress,
the lover at my side.
A BROWN STONE FRONT
My apartment house
stands like an old horse
that is being curried
Two men are shearing off its coat.
Garlic and Waterspouts—
When I would swing by my tail from the treetops
Life keeps a cord
About my neck.
Bad as the poems were, June took an enthusiastic interest in all of them. Mr. Brace had said that she was to write letters to those whose work seemed worthy of criticism if not publication and she ventured a few replies, not to be sent however until they had been approved. The work was engrossing, and it was one o’clock before she knew it. By two she had finished the stack, and selecting a book from the shelves which she thought she would like to review for the next number, she proceeded to lunch.
Mr. Brace did not appear in the office for several days and June continued the work which he had pointed out to her at her leisure. She took to arriving at ten, answering the mail and reading by the open window which looked out over Union Square. Artists dropped in now and then, bringing drawings for the next number of the magazine and stopped to chat.
There was a little round-faced, round-bodied man with a curl on the top of his head like one of the Katzenjammer kids. He was the best cartoonist on the staff and in addition to running a comic monthly magazine of his own, represented a large capitalist monthly, for which he drew political cartoons.
There were two serious young artists, one an American Jew and another a Hungarian, who often came together for an hour’s gossip with Brace or June, whoever happened to be in the office.
The younger group of radicals that June met every day no longer talked of the war. That had already been declared. Now it was the draft which followed upon the heels of the declaration on April first. Registration day was June fifth. Were they to register? If they were consistently opposed to war, it was inconsistent to register. Registering and taking the chance that they wouldn’t be conscripted and so have to plead conscientious objection seemed cowardly. Not to register would make them fugitives from the law.
Sometimes June lunched with them and sometimes Ivan and Chester called her on the telephone and she met them at what was their breakfast and her lunch.
Poets came in and sat on the desk swinging their feet and declaiming, or, if they had their poems with them, reading aloud.
But these were only the accredited members of the staff and their friends. Other poets, and other artists came diffidently and asked her advice as to markets and the kind of work the “Flame” wanted. And June was both condescending and pitiful.
After the first few days when Brace did show up, he looked pale and puffy eyed. “I always loaf a bit after getting the magazine out every month,” he told her.
“You don’t look as though you have been loafing,” June told him.
“Not exactly. Loafing on the job, I meant. I’ve been writing for the last couple of nights and couldn’t sleep in the day.”
He fidgeted around desultorily for a while, approved of the letters that June had written, glanced over the contributions that she had laid to one side for him, and then threw his pen down in disgust.
“I’ve got to do something. This infernal restlessness. Worked myself out and you can’t get drunk in the springtime. It goes against the grain somehow. What’ll we do?” and he turned to June appealingly.
“Goldman and Ulan were in a little while ago and they were starting out for a tramp up the Hudson. You might walk off your feelings.”
He chuckled as he jumped out of his chair and went out into the business office. When he returned he had the business manager and the advertising manager with him. It was an unusual occurrence but all three were in the office at the same time.
“All decided. We’ve dismissed the office force, in other words the stenographer and bookkeeper, and we four will go on a picnic over in New Jersey. I’ve got a little old shack there which I retire to in moments of stress.” Brace was radiant.
“I think I should like to forget free verse for a while,” June sighed, stretching tremendously. “It makes me so angry after I’ve read a hundred samples, that I get all tense from holding myself in. Back here,” and June located the tenseness in the back of her neck, “and ‘specially here,” and she rubbed her jaw.
“Chuck the work in the drawer,” Hugh told her briskly. “That tense feeling is just what I’ve been recovering from. After a number as full of ‘suppressed sex’ verse and ‘obscene art’ as this one has been, I feel like going home and writing healthy romances in the style of Marion Crawford. And when I get there I find myself putting down on paper the same ideas the ‘Flame’ is full of. It’s a good thing for the novel I’m writing that I don’t realize it until I’ve been at it for three days. Then I have to get out for fear I’ll tear it up. After a picnic,” he ended cheerfully, “I’ll go back thinking I’m the equal of Anatole France. And so continue the great work.”
The obscene pictures which Hugh referred to was called to the paper’s attention that morning by the post office department, the American censor of the arts, for whom a sample copy of the magazine had to be made up from page proofs before the edition was allowed to go to press. It was an ordinary picture of a nude woman, ordinary to the “Flame,” at least, which appreciated nudity, and the fact that the artist was an upright middle-aged American who was more appreciated abroad than he was in America, mattered little to the censor.
“We’ve got to do something about that picture,” observed the business manager now that his attention had been called to it. “What’ll it be? Have the printer block it out?”
“That’s entirely too simple to be clever,” Brace reproved. “I’ve got a much better idea. I thought of it after you had telephoned to me this morning.” He took out one of those fashion books which are stacked in the doors of department stores as he spoke. “I stopped in Wanamaker’s as I passed,” he explained. And he picked up a pair of scissors and turning to a page of fashionable dresses he began to cut one out very carefully.
“Lovely idea,” June observed. “It reminds me of the time that I cut out paper dolls. Mother used to bring us home some of those every time she went downtown.”
The other two watched him fascinated. Not having played with paper dolls in their youth they did not know what Hugh was about to do.
“There! It is just the right size, you see.” And he took the original drawing of the nude figure and pasted it from neck to shin. “I’m sure the artist won’t mind my defacing his original. Anything to put something over on the post office . . . . Now if you’ll just send this down to the engraver’s and have him make a plate of it and give him word to send it to the printer’s they can substitute this for the original.” Brace surveyed the ridiculous result of his work with a great deal of satisfaction.
All they had to do to prepare the picnic was to stop in a butcher and grocery shop and buy supplies. “We’ll put it down on general expenses,” the business manager observed as he paid for the purchases. “We’re short on household expenses.”
For the three men clubbed together as the advertising manager put it, in order that they might live in the style to which they were accustomed without exceeding their meager salaries.
That day was a long day of talk—mostly about themselves.
Daniel Sloane, the advertising manager, was a tall, phlegmatic Hollander who had lived most of his youth in Texas. He was a graduate of Harvard and when he was consciously conversing, you could detect a trace of what is known as the “Harvard accent” in his enunciation. There was more than a hint of the Southwestern in his speech for he had worked in a small town in the west before he had earned enough money to go to Harvard, and you could tell that he spoke Dutch with his family by a slight foreign note in his voice.
At the time when June was in the university town Daniel had been driving an ambulance car in France. Six months of service at the front resulted in shell shock. At this time, the shattering of his nerves was still noticeable, but he was making continual efforts to get back. He had no sympathy with the “Flame” but being something of a Jesuit in his principles, he worked to live. Now that war was declared by America he never let up in his endeavor to enlist in any form of active service.
Before the war he had had the same dogged enthusiasm for writing plays with the same dogged determination to have them produced. Although he no longer wrote—war did not admit of voluntarily pursuing one’s personal ambition—he never lost faith in what he had written and the greatest mark of friendship that he could have possibly shown, he showed to June. He gave her two of his plays to read. They were good plays to read, she knew that, but she knew too little about the production of them to criticize from more than a literary standpoint. She criticized them diffidently, for although she could imagine writing a book or a short story, she could not imagine herself writing a play. And when some one else did what was impossible to her, she respected them accordingly.
Daniel had two complexes, as Hugh in his enthusiasm for psycho-analysis often pointed out to him. One was a persecution complex. That was in regard to his writing. The other was a chastity complex.
For Daniel, as Tolstoi put it, had “whored a great deal in his youth.” That was the general idea which he managed to convey to June in the course of their friendship. From the way in which he talked of that revered institution which he had attended, June drew the conclusion that looseness was no part of it. Texas was connected with Daniel’s early life, and the only deduction you could draw from Daniel’s talk was that Texas was as iniquitous a place as the legended California in the days of the gold strike.
Hugh was an ardent feminist. June was much more in sympathy with what he had to say than she was with the haphazard talk of the “little group” in the university in their discussions of free love and single standards. When he talked of the necessity of a love life for woman, irrespective of marriage, she found him much more intelligible than she had found women writers on the subject. There were long arguments as to why a young woman should not remain in a virginal state after she had felt the first tingling of desire.
“If I had followed your line of reasoning,” June told Hugh indignantly, “I should have lost my virtue at the age of twelve. I was far more conscious of sex at that time (and once again a few years later) than I ever have been since. And that was because I knew nothing about it. It was a thing that wasn’t mentioned in polite society. Radicals are so free in their discussions and I’ve heard so much about sex that it loses in importance the more I learn. It’s no longer a temptation to indulge desire. It isn’t forbidden. You speak of it as a supremely right thing to do—to take a lover or as many lovers as you want. It is, but it isn’t heroic. I shouldn’t feel brave and untrammeled and all that if I went in for lovers. Just because it isn’t forbidden. We can’t think about society and the condemnation of society because we don’t live in it. Look at the people I know, the people I came in contact with on the ‘Clarion’ and the people I meet around the ‘Flame.’ Anything short of absolute promiscuity is disregarded as long as you can speak of sexual relationships as love affairs.
“When they gossip you hear them say, ‘Have you heard the latest? Beatrice has left Charlie, or do you think he left her? And now she’s living with Bertram. I wonder how long it will last.—Oh, wasn’t she the one who lived with Jim Albright for three years?’
“Or if you mention the name of some woman, somebody immediately speaks up—‘Who is she living with now?’
“Oh, I wish I could meet some one who would tempt me very insidiously to give up my virtue, persuading me to wickedness that was lovely just because it was wickedness!”
Hugh was a subtle antagonist and usually June could find nothing to say to his arguments. She could not even take the attitude of Daniel who held up purity as an ideal with almost Biblical fervor. He talked as she had heard Ellen talk many times. Even if she had wished to combat Daniel’s arguments, she could not have done so, for logic was not one of her gifts. From her knowledge of it (confined to Jevon’s handbook) she was inclined to think that reason predominated on the side of Hugh. It was hard to find where instinct came in.
Hugh’s premise was that virginity was a state of dishonesty and it was only by living in a state of unreality that virginity continued.
June could only say that she was sure she was an honest person and that she had always faced reality.
“What you mean by facing reality,” Hugh told her, “is facing the more intellectual discussion of sex. As a matter of fact you are an utter coward when it comes to acknowledging your own feelings and the recognition of their importance in your life.”
June could only repeat what she had said before, that she had had no “feelings” since she was fifteen.
Whereupon Hugh regarded her lithe young body for several seconds and then gave a supercilious snort.
“You make me furious with your pose of cool indifference; I know you’re an exotic person. Don’t you suppose my feelings tell me something? It isn’t that I want you—”
“Now you’re lying,” she caught him up quickly. “Even if I’m not seething with feelings of suppressed sex, I can recognize different forms of approach. The poetical, the primitive, the psychic, the intellectual and your combination of them which I can only call logical. But I must say that I like the simpler forms better. They at least allow of some illusion.”
That summer, similar conversations took place just as often in public with Daniel and Kenneth Graves (the business manager) as listeners, as in private. And June was delighted at the opportunity to point out to him, with her new found knowledge of Freudian theories that he was something of an exhibitionist in his love-making. Or as one jealous rival put it in a moment of irritation, Hugh’s love encounters should really take place on the stage of the Hippodrome before a packed house.
During these discussions, Kenneth would sit curled up on a sofa, drawing consolation from the stem of a wet briar, making noises which were at first irritating to June, and which afterwards she associated with a singing teakettle or a purring cat. Although he was inarticulate, he managed to convey his appreciation of what was being said by a few rumbled words which nobody understood or paid any attention to. Somehow, in his person he reflected New England and was a thoroughly good young man. Without in any way modifying his own ideas or his life to conform to the ideas of those around him, he was tolerant and appreciative of his friends.
June’s intimacy with those three grew from a suggestion made by Hugh at the close of that picnic day, a suggestion prompted by a view to economy.
“You cannot possibly live and clothe yourself on ten dollars a week,” Hugh told her thoughtfully. “Besides a salary of such dimensions savours of capitalistic exploitation. Daniel and Kenneth and I, as you probably know, have rented a furnished apartment from a friend of ours for the summer at practically nothing so as to keep down our own expenses. And we’ve decided that the only thing lacking around there is a woman. Kenneth sleeps on a couch in the dining-room and Daniel and I have separate couches in the living-room. Besides a kitchen, there is a big hall bedroom which is quite unnecessary, so why don’t you come down and live there? Your only responsibilities, my dear, will be to be silent in the morning and fairly agreeable in the evening. We’ll all take turns at cooking and bed-making, Yes, even the dish-washing.”
This was the beginning of the “ménage au quatre” which miraculously worked from inception and was their boast to friends and even acquaintances. Hugh’s theoretically love-making, Kenneth’s vicious pipe, Daniel’s lectures on chastity and June’s almost irrepressible desire to sing before breakfast did not seriously disturb the friendship of the four. And the arrangement continued till the “Flame” with many other radical publications was abolished by the government in the fall of that year.
Breakfasts were at eight every morning and June for courtesy’s sake was conceded the first bath. She always felt so fresh after her cold plunge that it usually fell to her to run around the corner to buy the papers and go to the little French bakery for brioche. By the time she had returned, the others had jumped in the tub and out, had set the table and made the coffee. Immediately scrambled eggs and tomatoes had been established as the staple breakfast food and these Daniel prepared. Hugh made the coffee and it was Kenneth that set the table. He acknowledged that he was worthless as a cook but June comforted him by saying he was the only man she ever saw who could set a table properly without forgetting anything that was necessary.
They ate with newspapers propped before them and cigarettes near at hand to add the finishing touch to the meal. It was an attractive breakfast room. The table had been painted bright orange and the chairs were black. There was matting on the floor and a wide low couch was the only other furniture of the room. Japanese prints and old brass candlesticks and lamps were the only ornaments.
In the evening when one of the four brought home guests, which happened practically every night, it was understood that he should bring with him extra food. There was always steak. That Hugh insisted on for he often worked all night and went to bed after breakfast. June contributed strange-looking vegetables which no one knew how to cook and the recipes of the Italian grocer were seldom satisfactory. Kenneth favored complicated pastries of Greek, Turkish or French origin and Daniel saw to it that there were sensible and well known things such as potatoes and salad.
The meals were always successful. There were editors and authors, and artists who always had to be prevented from drawing on the attractive surface of the table.
There were nights when every one insisted upon assisting with the dishes, to hasten matters, thereby hindering them, and the big orange table, which could seat twelve was cleared for cards. Around the corner—you could buy everything around the corner—someone bought “stingers,” cocktails which were supposed to be especially insidious, but which only made June more than ever cautious at poker. She was always a cautious player. She realized that she had to be or one of the three others of the ménage (peremptorily fraternal) would order her out of the game. She never allowed herself to lose more than five dollars of her weekly salary and she seldom allowed that. For there were always preconceived purposes to which the salary was to be devoted.
More often discussion was the rule, the war, the Russian revolution, especially the draft. For all the men who came to the house were of draft age and the matter was of such importance to them that June regretted that she wasn’t a man also in order that she might have such a mighty matter on her conscience.
The night before registration day was one which she would never forget. Russell was there, that adventurous romantic who had rushed to the thick of the trouble in Mexico and who afterwards was to become an important figure in the revolution in Russia and lose his life there.
Remington, a blithe freelancer who spoke with a lisp and who had written three books of criticism on music before he was twenty-eight. Afterwards he became a newspaper correspondent and travelled and disappeared in that fascinating bit of Russian territory, Georgia.
His wife, a plain-looking short-haired girl with a cunning chuckle, who went there to look for him and who many years after found him living the life of a mystic in India.
Bonwit, a black-haired silent boy of twenty-two who was later imprisoned in Germany where he was sent as a correspondent for a radical publication.
And a young Jewish student from Columbia who served three days for publishing an anti-conscription pamphlet, who later escaped the draft by fleeing to Mexico, who somehow managed to get into Russia to attend the Third International and who finally decided he preferred life on a Mexican plantation.
His wife, a soft-eyed Gentile, who went with him as far as his first trip to Mexico and then eloped with an artist to Spain.
And that artist, big, blustering and pro-German, somehow unpopular although he was a good landscape painter and contributed every month to the “Flame.”
More attractive, Francis Stubble, an editorial writer and authority on international politics. His face was curiously bloated and grey and looked as though a depression would remain if you poked your finger in his cheek.
All decided against registration in that discussion which lasted until three in the morning. And then next morning, bright and early, they registered. It was better to prolong their usefulness in the radical world by sacrificing their principles, was their argument.
The women who came to the house were various. For instance, there were Hugh’s former sweethearts and June decided that it was a point in his favor, much as she disliked his idea of love-making, that they continued their friendship with him in after life, and even with each other. One married, not long after June met her and went to live in the middle west and raise babies. She was the sweetest of them all, June thought. She was delicately immaculate, both mentally and physically, and somehow reminded you of Galsworthy’s heroines.
Another was a tall, voluptuous brunette with a deep soft voice. She would sing after dinner—love lyrics and negro spirituals, strange, twisted fragments of tunes. You thought of low soft couches, the Nile, jades and scarabs and sandalwood perfume.
There was one adorable little thing with fluffy blonde hair, blue eyes and a thin little face. There was a flyaway look about her and you felt ponderous when with her. Perhaps that was why Hugh and she lived together for only two months.
The evenings were not all devoted to dinner parties. Daniel liked to visit burlesque shows occasionally, although once when he and June and Kenneth went to one on Fourteenth Street, he got up and walked out because too much emphasis was laid on the osculatory habits of the French comedian. Daniel was fiercely pro-French. The war seemed to enter into everything.
Kenneth developed a penchant (he called it that himself) for riding on Staten Island ferry boats, and, if the night were especially warm, continuing to South Beach on the front seat of an open car. If it was hot, the four of them and whoever else happened to be along, threw off their clothes on the dark beach and scampered into the surf. It was quite black and June did not feel that she was being immodest.
There was even a night at Coney Island, and Hugh, who had never been there before, insisted on riding on all the roller coasters and kissing June in the tunnels. And they all squealed at each steep descent.
From the many holidays they took to celebrate nothing in particular you would naturally think that no work was done at the “Flame” office. But the manuscripts were read and returned, book reviews were written, the accepted contributions sent to the printer and engraver, and the magazine came out as usual once a month.
On a magazine dealing with ideas about the news of the month rather than the news itself, exciting things do not happen with enough frequency to make them commonplace. Newspaper life is crammed with events, which taken by themselves would provide ideal situations around which to write many novels. But they come so thick and fast that they lose in emphasis. When June had worked on the “Flame” for six months she began to feel as though she were regaining perspective.
There was excitement though. For instance, one of the artists drew at random a picture of two women, one upright and lofty, looking to the horizon, the other kneeling at her feet and gazing up at her wistfully.
“Didn’t draw anything for this issue,” he told Hugh vaguely. “I was working on a portrait. Can you use this, do you think?” and he drew the picture of the two women from his portfolio.
“We need a cover for this issue and that ought to show up well.”
And the drawing was accepted as listlessly as it had been offered for it was a hot day and no one cared much whether the August number had a cover on it or not.
Later, in view of the trouble with the suffragists in Washington, Hugh decided to call it “the militant” with the result that when the magazine appeared on the newsstands it caught the eye of the suffrage party who immediately ordered five thousand copies of the drawing, and afterwards bought the original to hang at headquarters. There was much enthusiasm around the office that day for the artist was a poor man.
Twice also within the last year (but this was before June joined) the issues of the paper had aroused much excitement. Once for a Christmas poem about Mary and more especially about the nobility of Joseph who married her when she was pregnant and in danger of disgrace. There was also a picture of Christ on the cover with the announcement “Christ will speak in Brotherhood Hall.” Unfortunately, the men at the head of the company who controlled the newsstands in the subway and elevated stations were Catholics and objected to the issue. And now the “Flame” was no longer sold on the stands which they owned.
Another month a large clothing firm gave a full page advertisement to the magazine, offering prizes for the best essays written on several economic subjects. They had made a custom of offering prizes every year, but the “Flame” had never been one of the magazines to carry the advertisement. The post office took this occasion to stop the number stating as a reason that the magazine was advertising a lottery. None of the other magazines which carried the advertisement received any notice whatever.
After war was declared the capitalist press took every opportunity to sneer at the radical monthly. One month a full column called attention to a bit of verse written by one of the editors which poeticized the hungry passion of a middle-aged woman at that period in her life which is more often treated by doctors and pathologists than by poets. The poem appealed to June’s erotic sensibilities but she did not much blame the newspaper for its jostling comment. The editors themselves took it, as they took all adverse criticism, as free advertisement.
Then, as the magazine daily received more attention, and the circulation steadily rose till it was higher than it had ever been before, the post office delayed the issues more frequently, and more reluctantly released them. With the end of September, came federal officers and all the back numbers of the magazine, the material for the next number, all the contributions which were in the editorial office and all the books and correspondence of the business office were confiscated. The end had come. Every one knew that even before more federal officers came with warrants for five of the editors and two outside contributors. June felt rather out of it—for she did not regard the arrests at all seriously—until she also received a slip of paper which proved to be a subpoena. The date of the trial had not been set, but until after the trial she would feel that her work on the “Flame” was not yet over. Meanwhile, there was nothing to do.