Carl Sandburg





Without the Cane and Derby

(For C.C.)* 

The woman had done him wrong.
Either that . . . or the woman was clean as a white rose in the morning 
      gauze of dew.
It was either one or the other or it was the two things, right and 
      wrong, woven together like two braids of a woman's head of hair 
      hanging down woven together.

The room is dark. The door opens. It is Charlie playing for his 
      friends after dinner, "the marvelous urchin, the little genius of 
      the screen," (chatter it like a monkey's running laughter cry.)
No . . . it is not Charlie . . . it is somebody else. It is a man, gray 
      shirt, bandana, dark face. A candle in his left hand throws a slant 
      of light on the dark face. The door closes slow. The right hand 
      leaves the door knob slow.

He looks at something. What is it? A white sheet on a table. He 
      takes two long soft steps. He runs the candle light around a hump 
      in the sheet. He lifts the sheet slow, sad like.
A woman's head of hair shows, a woman's white face. He takes the 
      head between his hands and looks long at it. His fingers trickle 
      under the sheet, snap loose something, bring out fingers full of a 
      pearl necklace.
He covers the face and the head of hair with the white sheet. He 
      takes a step toward the door. The necklace slips into his pocket 
      off the fingers of his right hand. His left hand lifts the candle for 
      a good-by look.
Knock, knock, knock. A knocking the same as the time of the human 
      heartbeat.
Knock, knock, knock, first louder, then lower. Knock, knock, knock, 
      the same as the time of the human heartbeat.
He sets the candle on the floor . . . leaps to the white sheet . . . rips 
      it back . . . has his fingers at the neck, his thumbs at the throat, 
      and does three slow fierce motions of strangling.
The knocking stops. All is quiet. He covers the face and the head of 
      hair with the white sheet, steps back, picks up the candle and 
      listens.

Knock, knock, knock, a knocking the same as the time of the human 
      heartbeat.
Knock, knock, knock, first louder, then lower. Knock, knock, knock, 
      the same as the time of the human heartbeat.
Again the candle to the floor, the leap, the slow fierce motions of 
      strangling, the cover-up of the face and the head of hair, the step 
      back, the listening.
And again the knock, knock, knock . . . louder . . . lower . . . to the 
      time of the human heartbeat.
Once more the motions of strangling . . . then . . . nothing at all . . . 
      nothing at all . . . no more knocking . . . no knocking at all . . . 
      no knocking at all . . . in the time of the human heartbeat.

He stands at the door . . . peace, peace, peace everywhere only in 
      the man's face so dark and his eyes so lighted up with many 
      lights, no peace at all, no peace at all.
So he stands at the door, his right hand on the door knob, the candle 
      slants of light fall and flicker from his face to the straight white 
      sheet changing gray against shadows.
So there is peace everywhere . . . no more knocking . . . no knocking 
      at all to the time of the human heartbeat . . . so he stands at the 
      door and his right hand on the door knob.
And there is peace everywhere . . . only the man's face is a red gray 
      plaster of storm in the center of peace . . . so he stands with a 
      candle at the door . . . so he stands with a red gray face.

After he steps out the door closes; the door, the door knob, the table, 
      the white sheet, there is nothing at all; the owners are shadows; 
      the owners are gone; not even a knocking; not even a knock, 
      knock, knock . . . louder, lower, in the time of the human 
heartbeat.
The lights are snapped on. Charlie, "the marvelous urchin, the little 
      genius of the screen" (chatter it with a running monkey's laughter cry) 
      Charlie is laughing a laugh the whole world knows.
The room is full of cream yellow lights. Charlie is laughing . . . 
      louder . . . lower . . .
And again the heartbeats laugh . . . the human heartbeats laugh. . . .


*Charlie Chaplin