The House of the Vampire
By George Sylvester Viereck
THE two boys had bathed their souls in the sea-breeze, and their eyes in light.
The tide of pleasure-loving humanity jostling against them had carried their feet to the "Lion Palace." From there, seated at table and quenching their thirst with high-balls, they watched the feverish palpitations of the city's life-blood pulsating in the veins of Coney Island, to which they had drifted from Brighton Beach.
Ernest blew thoughtful rings of smoke into the air.
"Do you notice the ferocious look in the mien of the average frequenter of this island resort?" he said to Jack, whose eyes, following the impulse of his more robust youth, were examining specimens of feminine flotsam on the waves of the crowd.
"It is," he continued, speaking to himself for want of an audience, "the American who is in for having a 'good time.' And he is going to get it. Like a huntsman, he follows the scent of happiness; but I warrant that always it eludes him. Perhaps his mad race is only the epitome of humanity's vain pursuit of pleasure, the eternal cry that is never answered."
But Jack was not listening. There are times in the life of every man when a petticoat is more attractive to him than all the philosophy of the world.
Ernest was a little hurt, and it was not without some silent remonstrance that he acquiesced when jack invited to their table two creatures that once were women.
"But they are interesting."
"I cannot find so."
They both had seen better times--of course. Then money losses came, with work in shop or factory, and the voice of the tempter in the commercial wilderness.
One, a frail nervous little creature, who had instinctively chosen a seat at Ernest's side, kept prattling in his ear, ready to tell the story of her life to any one who was willing to treat her to a drink. Something in her demeanour interested him.
"And then I had a stroke of luck. The manager of a vaudeville was my friend and decided to give me a trial. He thought I had a voice. They called me Betsy, the Hyacinth Girl. At first it seemed as if people liked to hear me. But I suppose that was because I was new. After a month or two they discharged."
"I suppose I was just used up, that's all."
"I never had much of a voice-and the tobacco smoke-and the wine-I love wine."
She gulped down her glass.
"And do you like your present occupation?"
"Why not? Am I not young? Am I not pretty?"
This she said not parrotwise, but with a simple coquettishness that was all her own.
On the way to the steamer a few moments later, Ernest asked, half-reproachfully: "Jack--and you really enjoyed this conversation?"
"Do you mean this?"
"Why, yes; she was--very agreeable."
"We're twenty, Ernest. And then, you see, it's like a course in sociology. Susie---"
"Susie, was that her name?"
"So she had a name?"
"She shouldn't. It should be a number."
"They may not be pillars of society; still, they're human."
"Yes," said Ernest, "that is the most horrible part of it."