Chapter 9

Dear Midnight of Love

 

And Yerkes? He gazed at that little face in the third row. She was not his type. She held her pointed little chin up and stared right back, but the clothes were all wrong for her complexion. Lilac was not a color to suit her, he thought. Yerkes generally told his women what to wear. They loved it or had sense enough to pretend to. This girl had no sense about clothes. Straight seams. No ruffles. Very common looking. He couldn’t help noticing something about that girl’s face. . .what? Then he recalled the bust of a young girl by Rodin which he had recently purchased and had put on display in his gallery at the house. That must be it. The tiny cascade of baroque curls and the upturned little nose. . .yes. He sighed.

For a man like Yerkes, nothing could be more unnerving than to find his attention rivetted upon a woman who was, obviously, of an inferior class. An exception could be made, thought Yerkes, the artist of loopholes, only if the girl reminded him of an exquisite artwork. He stroked his chin recalling the Rodin. In fact, Yerkes did not limit his search for beauty to the burlesque house as did many of his fellow money bags. He was drawn to the beautiful in women, in art and in nature. He beheld a reflection of the ideal in his indoor palm garden. In the stained glass windows of a ruined French abbey installed in his office. In the revolutionary painting, Rockets and Blue Lights, by Turner, which he bought for his office. In the goldfish he had raised as a boy. Goldfish still floated in Yerkes’s mind’s eye when he was bored, as at this moment. He recalled the same incident that often came to him with a wave of emotion. He had taken a goldfish out out of the water once and had set it on the counter next to the tank. Eyes bulging, the fish had gasped a few times and then Yerkes had picked up the corners of the wet handkerchief upon which the fish was lying and had lowered the creature back into the sparkling water. He had watched the fish swim away, apparently as good as before. At the base of his neck, even now, hairs rose. Beauty so close to death, but rescued in time. Rescued in time. So much beauty, so little time. Yerkes winked at the girl in the third row. She looked startled and then smiled. Too late now to see the opening of King Leopold’s gem display, anyway. But. . .there was always something to beguile the night, to while away the hours before sleep, thought Yerkes.

Bathhouse John Coughlin, the alderman of the First Ward, was seated next to Emma at the telescope ceremony. Never a one to miss a trick for all his apparent slowness and bulk, the Bath saw that Himself up on the stage was laying in some awfully pert stares at the third row. The Bath naturally took it that Yerkes was staring at him, stunned by his outfit. Had Solomon in all his glory ever set eyes on the likes of Bathhouse John, today? Not bloody likely. Yerkes might well stare. The Bath’s flashing raiment included a sky-blue linen jacket. Running up and down the jacket were white lines somewhat larger and wider apart than the bars of the Cook County jail. At his breast pocket was a half-yard of cambric handkerchief with a large and vigorous monogram. An astonished reporter later wrote that the Bath’s waistcoat was yellow. . .with orange spots. Miniature conch shells acted as buttons and to heighten the effect, or for ballast, was suspended a massive watch chain. The Bath’s trousers were a sort of check, somewhat quieter than the coat. The reporter concluded that Bathhouse John might have walked up and down the Midway later that evening and no one would have noticed the absence of the nine o’clock cannon. So. . .when he realized that Yerkes was actually staring at the thin girl seated next to him, Bathhouse John grew perplexed. But only momentarily. He knew Yerkes’s eye for the ladies. Later on, he planned to parade around at the banquet and just let Mister Yerkes ignore him then! This was a point of honor with The Bath. His sartorial grace must have its due. He looked down at his pocket watch. When were they going to leave off with the blazing speeches so that the real fun might begin?

“I never seen it to fail," stage-whispered Bathhouse John to Emma, "That they give Our Carter five minutes and he takes his own half an hour!"

“You mean the Mayor?" Emma blurted out, astonished at such familiarity.

“Him and none other, unless it’s the west wind," Bathhouse John agreed. Emma asked Bathhouse John if he were the alderman of the First Ward. Aldermen like Bathhouse John were, of course, infamous to many people in town, but that all depended upon the point of view. The poor, by and large, remembered the scuttles of coal and Thanksgiving turkeys. The poor did not roast a man because he pocketed a few dollars in bribes. Judging that this was one of his many fans from the Ward, Bathhouse nodded and beamed at Emma. He was an easy man to please. If they recognized the face or complimented the outfit, he went into ecstasy. Emma could hardly wait to tell Maminka and Anton that she had been sitting there next to a man who called the mayor by his first name! She also marvelled at the fine material of his suit, which had so many colors all at once.

Someone opened a trap door and a couple dozen white pigeons wheeled and careened up, up toward the rafters of the Manufactures Building. "Must be Yerkes’s Big Finale," suggested Bathhouse John. "Dive for cover!" He threw his arms over his head. "Faith, we’ll all be needing our umbrellas when those birds wheel back this way!" He rose in his seat and offered an arm to the startled Emma. To make a proper exit, he needed to have a young thing on his arm. This one would do. "Would you do me the honor of coming to the party afterwards?"

Emma shouted over the din of voices and scraping chairs. "I don’t think so. . . Maybe I shouldn’t. . ." As she mumbled and mulled the idea over, Bathhouse John took her by the arm and quick-marched toward the doors of the Manufactures Building. On the other side of it, continued Emma in her head, the alderman was no stranger. He often had some young lady from the neighborhood escort him to events. He meant nothing by doing so. Bathhouse John’s wife seldom attended anything. She was a real homebody. Emma decided if luck would place such an opportunity in her lap, who was she to go around spitting in luck’s eye? After all, was not this the way to end up picking putty with the pigeons? She would remind Maminka that Anton got to go off and sort out his thoughts a couple of times a week. She didn’t even _have_ any thoughts to sort out! And this was for why? Because she never got away from Vina Fields’s kitchen to see anything. And what a summer never to see anything! No, she would miss the potato peelings for this once and Maminka could cover for her. It took them two years to get over to see Lake Michigan, but this was not like Lake Michigan. The World’s Fair was for once only. . .and so on arguing with herself.

Emma did a good job convincing herself, as she and The Bath plowed through the crowd. People fell away on both sides of the elephantine Bathhouse, who was like some gaily painted steamer plowing through glaciers as they made their way north across the Fair. The two walked briskly past the United States Government Building, crossed the little bridge over the manmade channels which ran through the fairgrounds. A gondolier crooned as he swept under the bridge in a battery-powered gondola. Such marvels! At the Fisheries Building with its wild and snaky columns, they turned left. They marched over a third little bridge and past a tiny Japanese tea house. A pale girl with her jet black hair up in a bun stared out the rice paper doors at them. Beyond the tea house loomed the Illinois Building.

“But, I wasn’t invited to this party!" Emma fairly shrieked, huffing to keep up and losing her courage. She had seen the rough eviction of her fellow greenhorns from places where their presence was not required.

“Not invited?" snorted Bathhouse John. "Nonsense. You are with me," he grinned and patted Emma’s hand. His flawed, yellow diamond tie clip sparkled like the headlight on a fire truck as the pair swept past crowds of awed tourists. A rustle of approval followed Emma and the impressive Bathhouse. She felt as if she would like to disappear into the ground. Never had so many eyes been trained upon her. Or, more properly, on The Bath’s suit.

They approached the arched entrance of the Illinois State Building. The tower was high, too high. The Illinois State Committee had gotten into hot water for putting up a tower higher than any other building at the Fair. They were serene and unperturbed at the howlings from the New York State Building and other benighted regions. The tower stayed. Emma looked up at the stringy tower as they walked into the foyer. A sign in gold letters pointed upstairs to the banquet hall for the Yerkes Party.

The Bath remembered that he had not caught this girl’s name over the din. He asked Emma to repeat her name so that he might introduce her to Mister Yerkes and the mayor.

“Emma Klimova," she said. The Bath never missed a beat.

“Could that be such as Tony Klima?" Emma explained that Anton Klima was her brother. "And wasn’t he the strappin’ gossoon who whaled the tar out of young Ryan, me nephew, do ye mind!" Bathhouse John exclaimed all this in such a way that Emma thought her luck had just run out. "But. . ." he slapped Emma loudly on her back, "They’s no hard feelings and now the two are thick as flies on a layer cake."

Emma stood sputtering a moment. Immediately ahead was the famous Mister Yerkes in a most becoming linen suit. He smiled and kissed Emma’s hand, much like they did at home in Europe when The Bath introduced her. He would join their table later.

"Fine, said The Bath, and I’ll be having some tips on the fourth race at Garfield Park. Don’t let me forget!" Yerkes went on to the next person in the line. A young boy-waiter who was stationed at the end of the reception line led Emma and The Bath to a corner table.

Bathhouse John took one look at the persons sharing his table and began to sputter like a malfunctioning gas jet. He shouted after the waiter.

"Sit down and give your mouth a rest, Jawn," said a bespectacled man. "And introduce the young lady." The Bath obliged and the professor said that his name was Finley Peter Dunne. Next to Mister Dunne was a gangly young man with buck teeth and a worn collar. His name was Ted Dreiser, a stringer for The Chicago Daily Globe. Dreiser said very little. Emma couldn’t tell if this were because he was just shy, had impaired speech or was sizing up the situation.

The Bath demanded that Dunne should write a complete description of his outfit in his next newspaper column. "Jawn, you forget yourself, said Dunne. We are here to honor the streetcar magnum, evil scran to his face. What I say about you can only be described as a byproduct, like the entrails from the meat packing. You’ll just have to plunk down your two cents like the rest to find out what I’ll be saying." Dunne narrowed his eyes and adjusted his spectacles. Bad enough that he had to stifle his views many times to please conservative editors. He was not going to take orders from this big lummox, in addition.

Emma realized the two men hated each other, but also that Mister Dunne was none other than Chicago’s most popular writer. Mister Dooley, Dunne’s mythical barkeep, was all the rage.

Bathhouse John snapped, "But _why_ have ye never a good word for me in that damnable column, Peter? I made that rascal Fish put in pedestrian overpasses over his Illinois Central tracks so’s our poor from the First Ward could get to the Lake. That’s reform, man!"

Dunne adjusted his little pince nez spectacles down onto his nose and looked over them at Bathhouse. Young Dreiser leaned forward in his seat, not wanting to miss a moment of this go-round. Dreiser was feeling bored. He had recently hit on the theory, not entirely unique, that Chicago was ruled by the law of the jungle, such Bengal tigers as Charles Yerkes being at the top of the food chain. But tonight Yerkes had proven a disappointment to Dreiser. He had reined in his fangs and was scarcely distinguishable from the pompous bores. At least they ought to be able to get something going over here at the press table. Or. . .what was Chicago coming to?

“Reform, is it?" Dunne’s upper lip curled and a crooked smile formed. "Don’t be an ass. There isn’t a thing that can be reformed that Yerkes doesn’t put his seal on. And how do I know that you aren’t just using this to get some bathhouse concession out on the beach?"

The Bath’s mouth was opening and closing as he struggled to cut in and answer Dunne. But then Dunne quickly changed course, as if he were only just now seeing Bathhouse John for the first time.

“What the blazes have you got yourself up as, Jawn?" Dunne decided to get The Bath going on his favorite hobbyhorse, dress reform, to calm him down. Obligingly, he swept his arms with grandiose gestures and outlined his reform campaign.

"Why is it," said The Bath, "That the male gender must always look like it’s going to a funeral when it ain’t?" The Bath slammed his fist on the table as punctuation. No one had a clue why that should be so The Bath went on. He rose from his chair and pirouetted once around the table with with elephantine grace. He came back to Dunne and prodded him in the chest. Dunne nodded encouragingly. "So you ask me, Jawn, what is the meaning of this? So, I’m here saying that I want to be strictly original. You take that Prince of Wales. The man’s a rank lobster in his tastes, Peter, as you and I well know."

Dunne shrugged.

"Well, he may be all right playing baccarat or putting his coins on the right horses at the races, but when it comes to mapping out style for well-dressed Americans, he’s simply a faded two-spot in the big deck of fashion. People have been following his lead because no other guy has the nerve to challenge him for the championship. But I’m out now for first place and you’ll see his percentage drop." Dunne pulled out a tiny notebook and,a sigh, began writing notes. Every so often he would look up and wink at Emma, to see if she were enjoying The Bath as much as the rest of them. She was, although she was more inclined to take what Bathhouse John was saying at face value, her education in street smarts being up to this time meager.

During a rare lull in Bathhouse John’s homily, Dunne asked Emma about herself, her family and so on. Emma hesitated. "It’ll all be fictionalized, Dunne explained. Sometimes I need to get a few ideas from the old neighborhoods, that’s all."

Afraid that he was being upstaged once again by this girl and feeling that some mistake had been made in picking this particular piece of window dressing for the evening, Bathhouse John hauled out his secret weapon from his waistcoat pocket. "This here is the Real Thing, Peter, me own musical composition! Who says poets are born, not made? I made myself do poetry. T’is a little thing I was saving for a premiere at the Iroqouis Theatre. Picture this: I’ll have the Cook County Democratic Marching Club come onstage, fifty strong, in their liveliest, bottle green blazers. . ."

"Bottle green’s the right color!" Dunne interrupted.

The Bath paused, then continued as though he did not hear. "Next out trips dainty May de Sousa, all in white, to sing me own ‘Dear Midnight of Love!’" Bathhouse bolted to his feet, swaying on his moorings, and let out a bellow which which recalled the noon whistle at The Union Stock Yards. Heads turned across the vast banquet hall.

"Dear Midnight of Love, Why did we meet? Dear Midnight of Love, Your face so sweet. . ." And so on for three more verses in the manner of, "Loving only as doves, Dear Midnight of Love!" Bathhouse John concluded and plumped down into his chair. His face pulsated a mottled red from his exertions. Applause mixed with laughter spread across the hall. Of course, with my voice, I can’t do it justice, The Bath explained modestly, mopping beads of sweat from his brow.

"They should call you Bathos John," said Dunne.

The Bath, not having a dictionary, did not know whether to thank Dunne or punch his lights out.

The bellowing in the corner drew Yerkes’s eye to the press table. He came over to check out the scenery. Bathhouse attempted to explain his theories, but Yerkes had his own agenda. Turning to Emma, Yerkes asked her pointedly, "Where did you get those astonishing, green eyes?"

"From Tatinek," she answered, not suspecting that this was a rhetorical come-on.

"That’s Bohunk for father," Bathhouse added helpfully, aware that Yerkes did not circulate enough in the First Ward to know such nuances of speech.

"Tatinek, eh?" Yerkes smiled. "You know there is a terrific display of your Bohemian lace over in the Austrian Building. Would you like to see it? I can get us in by the private entrance that officials use." Never one to spit in luck’s eye, Emma nodded enthusiastically. Yerkes helped her to get out from her chair in the most gentlemanly fashion as the others gaped openmouthed. Yerkes ignored them. Bathhouse started to sputter about his aldermanic duty to see the young lady home. "No need," said Yerkes and brushed him aside. "You know, my dear, I have a great sympathy for the plight of your Bohemian people. It seems that your farms produce, but all of the money ends up in Vienna. . ." Yerkes had an almost unfailing instinct for what would, as it were, play in the provinces. But his sympathy sparked no chord in Emma. She was concentrating on details of Yerkes’s person rather than anything he said. Which was just as well, since Yerkes had only the most muddled idea of Central European politics. For instance, he complimented Emma on that great Bohemian poet, Kossuth. She did not correct him. Never had she seen a diamond like the one he wore on his right hand. Recalling something that she was interested in seeing as they walked outdoors, Emma spoke up.

"Please, could we not go to see that Red Indian Chief, Mister Crazy Horse, instead? They talk about him in the place I am staying."

This stopped Yerkes in mid-sentence, just as he was outlining a splendidly garbled version of the Thirty Year’s War.

"Well, girlie, whatever you say. They’ve got the chief camped out at the far end of the Midway, though. We’ll have a very long walk." Emma hiked up her skirts and set off at a trot. A gust of wind off the lake almost blew off Yerkes’s straw hat. He put one hand up to hold the blasted thing on, amazed at this girl’s enthusiasm for the Wild West.

Since the Chief was fond of whisky, he sometimes took to shooting out the electric lights ringing the roof the United States Government Building. It was the Chief’s gesture of thanks to Columbus. Although the whiskey did not improve his marksmanship, there was some concern among the Board of Managers that a visiting dignitary might get between the Chief and his light bulbs. They did what they thought prudent, while retaining the Indian presence, so popular with European tourists. Chief Crazy Horse found himself as far out on the periphery of the Fairgrounds as was possible. But he didn’t seem to mind. His nearest neighbors were Cairo-on-the-Midway. He went once, trailing feathers, to watch Little Egypt do her dance. The woman’s girations, so unlike the stately trotting of his own tribeswomen set up a jangling in Crazy Horse’s brain for days thereafter. He was smoking his pipe and muttering about the Fair when Emma and Yerkes arrived at his tent.

Yerkes called in to the Chief and flashed his VIP badge. He had a small pistol in a back pocket, should anything transpire. The Chief sat wrapped up in a figured blanket, blowing smoke rings. Immediately Crazy Horse demanded, "Why all this looking at woman who shakes her middle like buffalo cow dropping calf in snow storm?" He was puzzled by all the fuss about Little Egypt and thought this white woman might know something. Emma just stared back at the Chief.

"Why all this noise. . .all these crowds. . .for white man who came here in boat? Bad medicine!" Chief Crazy Horse spat some tobacco juice past Emma. She shuffled her feet uneasily. Yerkes pulled off and offered the Chief his gold tie clip if he would sing a couple Indian chants for them. The old man put the tie clasp into his mouth and chomped on it a bit, just to test whether it were really soft enough to be gold. He grunted, pocketed the clasp, and sang. Emma’s ears could not tell where one chant left off and another chant began. She could hear subtle emotions running through the words, which sounded to her like a mournful river flowing out to sea. Yerkes managed to slip his hand over Emma’s as she sat staring at the old chief. He looked at her profile in the firelight. For the time being, Yerkes was in his appreciation mode.

Then shouts and shots rang out. They were coming from the direction of the Court of Honor. Yerkes ran outside the tent. A young member of the Fair security force, the Columbian Guards, came riding toward the source of the commotion. Yerkes hailed the lad and asked what the blazes was going on. Wasn’t the Fair closed? The guard saw Yerkes huge VIP badge and answered immediately.

"Dastardly thieves, sir! They’ve stolen that bejewelled whip that belongs to the Belgian king!" The boy rode off. Columbian Guards were scurrying in all directions at once. This security force was made of tramps, young boys and floaters. They were semi-trained in calm circumstances. Now, all was chaos. Yerkes suggested to Emma that they go to the little Cairo Cafe. From there he could call for his coach to meet them at the nearby train station gate. Yerkes told Emma that they had best be out of the way. The guards could as easily shoot them as any jewel thieves. Emma looked up at Yerkes and agreed. She could hear the Fair clock tolling midnight.

 


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