As I had intended, I was earlier than usual at my office door. I stood listening for a moment. All was still. He must be gone. I tried the knob. The door was locked. Yes, my procedure had worked to a charm; he indeed must be vanished.
Yet a certain melancholy mixed with this: I was almost sorry for my brilliant success. I was thunderstruck. For an instant I stood like the man who, pipe in mouth, was killed one cloudless afternoon long ago in Virginia, by a summer lightning; at his own warm open window he was killed, and remained leaning out there upon the dreamy afternoon, till some one touched him, when he fell.
But again obeying that wondrous ascendancy which the inscrutable scrivener had over me, and from which ascendancy, for all my chafing, I could not completely escape, I slowly went down stairs and out into the street, and while walking round the block, considered what I should next do in this unheard-of perplexity. Turn the man out by an actual thrusting I could not; to drive him away by calling him hard names would not do; calling in the police was an unpleasant idea; and yet, permit him to enjoy his cadaverous triumph over me,—this too I could not think of.
Yes, as before I had prospectively assumed that Bartleby would depart, so now I might retrospectively assume that departed he was. In the legitimate carrying out of this assumption, I might enter my office in a great hurry, and pretending not to see Bartleby at all, walk straight against him as if he were air.
Such a proceeding would in a singular degree have the appearance of a home-thrust. It was hardly possible that Bartleby could withstand such an application of the doctrine of assumptions. But upon second thoughts the success of the plan seemed rather dubious. I resolved to argue the matter over with him again. I am pained, Bartleby. I had thought better of you. I had imagined you of such a gentlemanly organization, that in any delicate dilemma a slight hint would have suffice—in short, an assumption. But it appears I am deceived. Do you pay any rent? Do you pay my taxes?
Or is this property yours? Are your eyes recovered?
Could you copy a small paper for me this morning? In a word, will you do any thing at all, to give a coloring to your refusal to depart the premises? I was now in such a state of nervous resentment that I thought it but prudent to check myself at present from further demonstrations. Bartleby and I were alone. I remembered the tragedy of the unfortunate Adams and the still more unfortunate Colt in the solitary office of the latter; and how poor Colt, being dreadfully incensed by Adams, and imprudently permitting himself to get wildly excited, was at unawares hurried into his fatal act—an act which certainly no man could possibly deplore more than the actor himself.
Often it had occurred to me in my ponderings upon the subject, that had that altercation taken place in the public street, or at a private residence, it would not have terminated as it did. It was the circumstance of being alone in a solitary office, up stairs, of a building entirely unhallowed by humanizing domestic associations—an uncarpeted office, doubtless, of a dusty, haggard sort of appearance;—this it must have been, which greatly helped to enhance the irritable desperation of the hapless Colt.
But when this old Adam of resentment rose in me and tempted me concerning Bartleby, I grappled him and threw him. Aside from higher considerations, charity often operates as a vastly wise and prudent principle—a great safeguard to its possessor. Mere self-interest, then, if no better motive can be enlisted, should, especially with high-tempered men, prompt all beings to charity and philanthropy.
At any rate, upon the occasion in question, I strove to drown my exasperated feelings towards the scrivener by benevolently construing his conduct. Poor fellow, poor fellow! I endeavored also immediately to occupy myself, and at the same time to comfort my despondency. I tried to fancy that in the course of the morning, at such time as might prove agreeable to him, Bartleby, of his own free accord, would emerge from his hermitage, and take up some decided line of march in the direction of the door.
Will it be credited? Ought I to acknowledge it? That afternoon I left the office without saying one further word to him. Gradually I slid into the persuasion that these troubles of mine touching the scrivener, had been all predestinated from eternity, and Bartleby was billeted upon me for some mysterious purpose of an all-wise Providence, which it was not for a mere mortal like me to fathom. Yes, Bartleby, stay there behind your screen, thought I; I shall persecute you no more; you are harmless and noiseless as any of these old chairs; in short, I never feel so private as when I know you are here.
At last I see it, I feel it; I penetrate to the predestinated purpose of my life. I am content. Others may have loftier parts to enact; but my mission in this world, Bartleby, is to furnish you with office-room for such period as you may see fit to remain. I believe that this wise and blessed frame of mind would have continued with me, had it not been for the unsolicited and uncharitable remarks obtruded upon me by my professional friends who visited the rooms.
But thus it often is, that the constant friction of illiberal minds wears out at last the best resolves of the more generous. Though to be sure, when I reflected upon it, it was not strange that people entering my office should be struck by the peculiar aspect of the unaccountable Bartleby, and so be tempted to throw out some sinister observations concerning him. Sometimes an attorney having business with me, and calling at my office and finding no one but the scrivener there, would undertake to obtain some sort of precise information from him touching my whereabouts; but without heeding his idle talk, Bartleby would remain standing immovable in the middle of the room.
So after contemplating him in that position for a time, the attorney would depart, no wiser than he came. Thereupon, Bartleby would tranquilly decline, and yet remain idle as before. Then the lawyer would give a great stare, and turn to me. And what could I say? At last I was made aware that all through the circle of my professional acquaintance, a whisper of wonder was running round, having reference to the strange creature I kept at my office.
This worried me very much.
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And as the idea came upon me of his possibly turning out a long-lived man, and keep occupying my chambers, and denying my authority; and perplexing my visitors; and scandalizing my professional reputation; and casting a general gloom over the premises; keeping soul and body together to the last upon his savings for doubtless he spent but half a dime a day , and in the end perhaps outlive me, and claim possession of my office by right of his perpetual occupancy: as all these dark anticipations crowded upon me more and more, and my friends continually intruded their relentless remarks upon the apparition in my room; a great change was wrought in me.
I resolved to gather all my faculties together, and for ever rid me of this intolerable incubus. Ere revolving any complicated project, however, adapted to this end, I first simply suggested to Bartleby the propriety of his permanent departure. In a calm and serious tone, I commended the idea to his careful and mature consideration. But having taken three days to meditate upon it, he apprised me that his original determination remained the same; in short, that he still preferred to abide with me.
What shall I do? I now said to myself, buttoning up my coat to the last button. Rid myself of him, I must; go, he shall. But how? You will not thrust him, the poor, pale, passive mortal,—you will not thrust such a helpless creature out of your door? No, I will not, I cannot do that. Rather would I let him live and die here, and then mason up his remains in the wall. What then will you do? For all your coaxing, he will not budge. Bribes he leaves under your own paperweight on your table; in short, it is quite plain that he prefers to cling to you.
Then something severe, something unusual must be done. And upon what ground could you procure such a thing to be done? That is too absurd. No visible means of support: there I have him. No more then. Since he will not quit me, I must quit him. I will change my offices; I will move elsewhere; and give him fair notice, that if I find him on my new premises I will then proceed against him as a common trespasser. In a word, I propose to remove my offices next week, and shall no longer require your services. I tell you this now, in order that you may seek another place. On the appointed day I engaged carts and men, proceeded to my chambers, and having but little furniture, every thing was removed in a few hours.
Throughout, the scrivener remained standing behind the screen, which I directed to be removed the last thing. It was withdrawn; and being folded up like a huge folio, left him the motionless occupant of a naked room. I stood in the entry watching him a moment, while something from within me upbraided me. But it dropped upon the floor , and then,—strange to say—I tore myself from him whom I had so longed to be rid of. Established in my new quarters, for a day or two I kept the door locked, and started at every footfall in the passages. When I returned to my rooms after any little absence, I would pause at the threshold for an instant, and attentively listen, ere applying my key.
But these fears were needless. Bartleby never came nigh me. I thought all was going well, when a perturbed looking stranger visited me, inquiring whether I was the person who had recently occupied rooms at No. He refuses to do any copying; he refuses to do any thing; he says he prefers not to; and he refuses to quit the premises. I know nothing about him.
Formerly I employed him as a copyist; but he has done nothing for me now for some time past. Several days passed, and I heard nothing more; and though I often felt a charitable prompting to call at the place and see poor Bartleby, yet a certain squeamishness of I know not what withheld me. All is over with him, by this time, thought I at last, when through another week no further intelligence reached me. But coming to my room the day after, I found several persons waiting at my door in a high state of nervous excitement. Every body is concerned; clients are leaving the offices; some fears are entertained of a mob ; something you must do, and that without delay.
Aghast at this torrent, I fell back before it, and would fain have locked myself in my new quarters. In vain I persisted that Bartleby was nothing to me—no more than to any one else. In vain:—I was the last person known to have any thing to do with him, and they held me to the terrible account. Going up stairs to my old haunt, there was Bartleby silently sitting upon the banister at the landing.
Either you must do something, or something must be done to you. Now what sort of business would you like to engage in? Would you like to re-engage in copying for some one? No, I would not like a clerkship; but I am not particular. There is no trying of the eyesight in that. That would improve your health. It does not strike me that there is any thing definite about that.
I like to be stationary. But I am not particular. Despairing of all further efforts, I was precipitately leaving him, when a final thought occurred to me—one which had not been wholly unindulged before. Come, let us start now, right away. I answered nothing; but effectually dodging every one by the suddenness and rapidity of my flight, rushed from the building, ran up Wall-street towards Broadway, and jumping into the first omnibus was soon removed from pursuit. As soon as tranquility returned I distinctly perceived that I had now done all that I possibly could, both in respect to the demands of the landlord and his tenants, and with regard to my own desire and sense of duty, to benefit Bartleby, and shield him from rude persecution.
I now strove to be entirely care-free and quiescent; and my conscience justified me in the attempt; though indeed it was not so successful as I could have wished. So fearful was I of being again hunted out by the incensed landlord and his exasperated tenants, that, surrendering my business to Nippers, for a few days I drove about the upper part of the town and through the suburbs, in my rockaway; crossed over to Jersey City and Hoboken, and paid fugitive visits to Manhattanville and Astoria.
In fact I almost lived in my rockaway for the time. When again I entered my office, lo, a note from the landlord lay upon the desk. I opened it with trembling hands.
It informed me that the writer had sent to the police, and had Bartleby removed to the Tombs as a vagrant. Moreover, since I knew more about him than any one else, he wished me to appear at that place, and make a suitable statement of the facts. These tidings had a conflicting effect upon me. At first I was indignant; but at last almost approved. As I afterwards learned, the poor scrivener, when told that he must be conducted to the Tombs, offered not the slightest obstacle, but in his pale unmoving way, silently acquiesced.
Some of the compassionate and curious bystanders joined the party; and headed by one of the constables arm in arm with Bartleby, the silent procession filed its way through all the noise, and heat, and joy of the roaring thoroughfares at noon. The same day I received the note I went to the Tombs, or to speak more properly, the Halls of Justice. Seeking the right officer, I stated the purpose of my call, and was informed that the individual I described was indeed within.
I then assured the functionary that Bartleby was a perfectly honest man, and greatly to be compassionated, however unaccountably eccentric. I narrated all I knew, and closed by suggesting the idea of letting him remain in as indulgent confinement as possible till something less harsh might be done—though indeed I hardly knew what. At all events, if nothing else could be decided upon, the alms-house must receive him.
I then begged to have an interview. Being under no disgraceful charge, and quite serene and harmless in all his ways, they had permitted him freely to wander about the prison, and especially in the inclosed grass-platted yard thereof.
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And so I found him there, standing all alone in the quietest of the yards, his face towards a high wall, while all around, from the narrow slits of the jail windows, I thought I saw peering out upon him the eyes of murderers and thieves. Nothing reproachful attaches to you by being here. And see, it is not so sad a place as one might think. Look, there is the sky, and here is the grass.
Such gentlemen as have friends here, hire me to provide them with something good to eat. And you must be as polite to him as possible. Thinking it would prove of benefit to the scrivener, I acquiesced; and asking the grub-man his name, went up with him to Bartleby. May Mrs. Cutlets and I have the pleasure of your company to dinner, sir, in Mrs. Well now, upon my word, I thought that friend of yourn was a gentleman forger ; they are always pale and genteel-like, them forgers.
Did you know Monroe Edwards? But I cannot stop longer. Look to my friend yonder. You will not lose by it. I will see you again. Some few days after this, I again obtained admission to the Tombs, and went through the corridors in quest of Bartleby; but without finding him. The yard was entirely quiet. It was not accessible to the common prisoners.
The surrounding walls, of amazing thickness, kept off all sounds behind them.
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The Egyptian character of the masonry weighed upon me with its gloom. But a soft imprisoned turf grew under foot. The heart of the eternal pyramids, it seemed, wherein, by some strange magic, through the clefts, grass-seed, dropped by birds, had sprung. Strangely huddled at the base of the wall, his knees drawn up, and lying on his side, his head touching the cold stones, I saw the wasted Bartleby. But nothing stirred. I paused; then went close up to him; stooped over, and saw that his dim eyes were open; otherwise he seemed profoundly sleeping.
Something prompted me to touch him. I felt his hand, when a tingling shiver ran up my arm and down my spine to my feet. The round face of the grub-man peered upon me now. Or does he live without dining? There would seem little need for proceeding further in this history. Upon what basis it rested, I could never ascertain; and hence, how true it is I cannot now tell.
But inasmuch as this vague report has not been without certain strange suggestive interest to me, however sad, it may prove the same with some others; and so I will briefly mention it. The report was this: that Bartleby had been a subordinate clerk in the Dead Letter Office at Washington , from which he had been suddenly removed by a change in the administration.
When I think over this rumor, I cannot adequately express the emotions which seize me. Dead letters! Conceive a man by nature and misfortune prone to a pallid hopelessness, can any business seem more fitted to heighten it than that of continually handling these dead letters, and assorting them for the flames? For by the cart-load they are annually burned. Sometimes from out the folded paper the pale clerk takes a ring:—the finger it was meant for, perhaps, moulders in the grave; a bank-note sent in swiftest charity:—he whom it would relieve, nor eats nor hungers any more; pardon for those who died despairing; hope for those who died unhoping; good tidings for those who died stifled by unrelieved calamities.
On errands of life, these letters speed to death. Slate logo Sign In Sign Up. Arts has moved! You can find new stories here. A Slate Plus Special Feature:.
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Wall Street. The Atlantic. Am I not right? Surely you do not mean to persist in that mulish vagary? A ruin. Trinity Church. A statue. At the expiration of that period, I peeped behind the screen, and lo! Bartleby was there. I re-entered, with my hand in my pocket—and—and my heart in my mouth. The Tombs. His unwonted wordiness inspirited me. Morgaine S. The Portal. Eric Weinstein. Duolingo French Podcast. Duolingo Spanish Podcast.
The Jordan B. Peterson Podcast. Jordan B Peterson. The Wild. The Tony Robbins Podcast. Tony Robbins. Forgotten Classics. They then find cloth with what looks like to be blood on it, and they smell sulfur which Nathan says is the smell of the Devil , and the boys see a shadow move up the stairs. Burke takes the flashlight from Roy and goes to investigate with Randy. Roy and Nathan go into a bedroom and talk, and Nathan says he feels as if he'll never leave that house. He hears the voice again and Roy goes to see if the guys are back.
Nathan sees his father and closes his eyes tight, when Roy enters the room again. He tells Nathan not to look at whatever he's seeing anymore and kisses him. Roy gets down on his knees and proceeds to fellate Nathan, when Burke and Randy find them. Roy storms out of the room, and Nathan hears the voice again, and is suddenly knocked unconscious. A shadow of a person carries him up the stairs. In the attic, Burke rapes Nathan, and realizing what he's done, disgusted with himself, he breaks an arm off a rocking chair and knocks Nathan over the head with it.
Blood starts pooling on the floor beneath Nathan's head, and Burke leaves him in the attic. When Roy and Randy find Nathan early the next morning, he appears to be dead. Roy tells Randy to go on and find Burke, whom he says he doesn't believe at this point about what happened. Roy cries once Randy leaves, then Roy leaves too. The police arrive, bringing Nathan's father who tearfully covers Nathan's face with a blanket. Nathan awakens from a coma, or resurrected if he died, gets up and leaves the plantation house.
He wanders for a long time still dazed from the blow to his head. Finally he sees Roy coming out of Sunday evening church, but Roy is with his family, so Nathan wanders around some more waiting for Roy to get home. Nathan's mother leaves his father, and Nathan, his head now clear, finds Roy crying in the barn where Nathan slept while hiding from his father. As Roy looks up, he sees Nathan and hugs him. At the end of the story, Roy is driving the bus and looks in the mirror to an empty seat, but when he looks a second time, Nathan is there smiling at him.
The movie departs from the novel and leaves the impression that Nathan is truly dead, and that the previous scenes were a wishful dream sequence of one of the two boy lovers, presumably Roy. In the book this scene does not take place. The book has the boys meeting in the yard of Roy's church, running together into the woods to talk things over, and deciding to run away together since Roy has been seen sucking Nathan by both Burke and Randy, and both boys will surely will be outed to their families and the whole community.