THE PACE OF YOUTH
by Stephen Crane
Stimson stood in a corner and glowered. He was a fierce man and
had indomitable whiskers, albeit he was very small.
"That young tarrier," he whispered to himself. "He wants to quit
makin' eyes at Lizzie. This is too much of a good thing. First
thing you know, he'll get fired."
His brow creased in a frown, he strode over to the huge open doors
and looked at a sign. "Stimson's Mammoth Merry-Go-Round," it read,
and the glory of it was great. Stimson stood and contemplated the
sign. It was an enormous affair; the letters were as large as men.
The glow of it, the grandeur of it was very apparent to Stimson.
At the end of his contemplation, he shook his head thoughtfully,
determinedly. "No, no," he muttered. "This is too much of a good
thing. First thing you know, he'll get fired."
A soft booming sound of surf, mingled with the cries of bathers,
came from the beach. There was a vista of sand and sky and sea
that drew to a mystic point far away in the northward. In the
mighty angle, a girl in a red dress was crawling slowly like
some kind of a spider on the fabric of nature. A few flags hung
lazily above where the bathhouses were marshaled in compact
squares. Upon the edge of the sea stood a ship with its shadowy
sails painted dimly upon the sky, and high overhead in the still,
sun-shot air a great hawk swung and drifted slowly.
Within the Merry-Go-Round there was a whirling circle of ornamental
lions, giraffes, camels, ponies, goats, glittering with varnish
and metal that caught swift reflections from windows high above
them. With stiff wooden legs, they swept on in a never-ending
race, while a great orchestrion clamored in wild speed. The summer
sunlight sprinkled its gold upon the garnet canopies carried by
the tireless racers and upon all the devices of decoration that
made Stimson's machine magnificent and famous. A host of laughing
children bestrode the animals, bending forward like charging
cavalrymen, and shaking reins and whooping in glee. At intervals
they leaned out perilously to clutch at iron rings that were
tendered to them by a long wooden arm. At the intense moment
before the swift grab for the rings one could see their little
nervous bodies quiver with eagerness; the laughter rang shrill
and excited. Down in the long rows of benches, crowds of people
sat watching the game, while occasionally a father might arise
and go near to shout encouragement, cautionary commands, or
applause at his flying offspring. Frequently mothers called out:
"Be careful, Georgie!" The orchestrion bellowed and thundered on
its platform, filling the ears with its long monotonous song.
Over in a corner, a man in a white apron and behind a counter
roared above the tumult: "Popcorn! Popcorn!"
A young man stood upon a small, raised platform, erected in a
manner of a pulpit, and just without the line of the circling
figures. It was his duty to manipulate the wooden arm and affix
the rings. When all were gone into the hands of the triumphant
children, he held forth a basket, into which they returned all
save the coveted brass one, which meant another ride free and
made the holder very illustrious. The young man stood all day
upon his narrow platform, affixing rings or holding forth the
basket. He was a sort of general squire in these lists of
childhood. He was very busy.
And yet Stimson, the astute, had noticed that the young man
frequently found time to twist about on his platform and smile at
a girl who shyly sold tickets behind a silvered netting. This,
indeed, was the great reason of Stimson's glowering. The young
man upon the raised platform had no manner of license to smile
at the girl behind the silvered netting. It was a most gigantic
insolence. Stimson was amazed at it. "By Jiminy," he said to
himself again, "that fellow is smiling at my daughter." Even in
this tone of great wrath it could be discerned that Stimson was
filled with wonder that any youth should dare smile at the
daughter in the presence of the august father.
Often the dark-eyed girl peered between the shining wires, and,
upon being detected by the young man, she usually turned her
head quickly to prove to him that she was not interested. At
other times, however, her eyes seemed filled with a tender fear
lest he should fall from that exceedingly dangerous platform.
As for the young man, it was plain that these glances filled
him with valor, and he stood carelessly upon his perch, as if
he deemed it of no consequence that he might fall from it. In
all the complexities of his daily life and duties he found
opportunity to gaze ardently at the vision behind the netting.
This silent courtship was conducted over the heads of the crowd who
thronged about the bright machine. The swift eloquent glances of
the young man went noiselessly and unseen with their message. There
had finally become established between the two in this manner a
subtle understanding and companionship. They communicated accurately
all that they felt. The boy told his love, his reverence, his hope
in the changes of the future. The girl told him that she loved him,
and she did not love him, and she did not know if she loved him.
Sometimes a little sign, saying "Cashier" in gold letters, and
hanging upon the silvered netting, got directly in range and
interfered with the tender message.
The love affair had not continued without anger, unhappiness, despair.
The girl had once smiled brightly upon a youth who came to buy some
tickets for his little sister, and the young man upon the platform,
observing this smile, had been filled with gloomy rage. He stood
like a dark statue of vengeance upon his pedestal and thrust out the
basket to the children with a gesture that was full of scorn for
their hollow happiness, for their insecure and temporary joy. For
five hours he did not once look at the girl when she was looking
at him. He was going to crush her with his indifference; he was
going to demonstrate that he had never been serious. However, when
he narrowly observed her in secret he discovered that she seemed
more blithe than was usual with her. When he found that his apparent
indifference had not crushed her he suffered greatly. She did not
love him, he concluded. If she had loved him she would have been
crushed. For two days he lived a miserable existence upon his high
perch. He consoled himself by thinking of how unhappy he was, and
by swift, furtive glances at the loved face. At any rate he was
in her presence, and he could get a good view from his perch when
there was no interference by the little sign: "Cashier."
But suddenly, swiftly, these clouds vanished, and under the imperial
blue sky of the restored confidence they dwelt in peace, a peace
that was satisfaction, a peace that, like a babe, put its trust
in the treachery of the future. This confidence endured until the
next day, when she, for an unknown cause, suddenly refused to look
at him. Mechanically he continued his task, his brain dazed, a
tortured victim of doubt, fear, suspicion. With his eyes he
supplicated her to telegraph an explanation. She replied with a
stony glance that froze his blood. There was a great difference
in their respective reasons for becoming angry. His were always
foolish, but apparent, plain as the moon. Hers were subtle,
feminine, as incomprehensible as the stars, as mysterious as the
shadows at night.
They fell and soared and soared and fell in this manner until
they knew that to live without each other would be a wandering
in deserts. They had grown so intent upon the uncertainties,
the variations, the guessings of their affair that the world
had become but a huge immaterial background. In time of peace
their smiles were soft and prayerful, caresses confided to the
air. In time of war, their youthful hearts, capable of profound
agony, were wrung by the intricate emotions of doubt. They
were the victims of the dread angel of affectionate speculation
that forces the brain endlessly on roads that lead nowhere.
At night, the problem of whether she loved him confronted the
young man like a spectre, looming as high as a hill and telling
him not to delude himself. Upon the following day, this battle
of the night displayed itself in the renewed fervor of his
glances and in their increased number. Whenever he thought he
could detect that she too was suffering, he felt a thrill of
But there came a time when the young man looked back upon these
contortions with contempt. He believed then that he had imagined
his pain. This came about when the redoubtable Stimson marched
forward to participate.
"This has got to stop," Stimson had said to himself, as he stood
and watched them. They had grown careless of the light world that
clattered about them; they were become so engrossed in their
personal drama that the language of their eyes was almost as
obvious as gestures. And Stimson, through his keenness, his
wonderful, infallible penetration, suddenly came into possession
of these obvious facts. "Well, of all the nerves," he said,
regarding with a new interest the young man upon the perch.
He was a resolute man. He never hesitated to grapple with a crisis.
He decided to overturn everything at once, for, although small, he
was very fierce and impetuous. He resolved to crush this dreaming.
He strode over to the silvered netting. "Say, you want to quit
your everlasting grinning at that idiot," he said, grimly.
The girl cast down her eyes and made a little heap of quarters into
a stack. She was unable to withstand the terrible scrutiny of her
small and fierce father.
Stimson turned from his daughter and went to a spot beneath the
platform. He fixed his eyes upon the young man and said--
"I've been speakin' to Lizzie. You better attend strictly to your
own business or there'll be a new man here next week." It was as
if he had blazed away with a shotgun. The young man reeled upon
his perch. At last he in a measure regained his composure and
managed to stammer: "A--all right, sir." He knew that denials
would be futile with the terrible Stimson. He agitatedly began
to rattle the rings in the basket, and pretend that he was obliged
to count them or inspect them in some way. He, too, was unable
to face the great Stimson.
For a moment, Stimson stood in fine satisfaction and gloated over
the effect of his threat.
"I've fixed them," he said complacently, and went out to smoke
a cigar and revel in himself. Through his mind went the proud
reflection that people who came in contact with his granite will
usually ended in quick and abject submission.
One evening, a week after Stimson had indulged in the proud reflection
that people who came in contact with his granite will usually ended
in quick and abject submission, a young feminine friend of the girl
behind the silvered netting came to her there and asked her to walk
on the beach after "Stimson's Mammoth Merry-Go-Round" was closed for
the night. The girl assented with a nod.
The young man upon the perch holding the rings saw this nod and
judged its meaning. Into his mind came an idea of defeating the
watchfulness of the redoubtable Stimson.
When the Merry-Go-Round was closed and the two girls started
for the beach, he wandered off aimlessly in another direction,
but he kept them in view, and as soon as he was assured that he
had escaped the vigilance of Stimson, he followed them.
The electric lights on the beach made a broad band of tremoring
light, extending parallel to the sea, and upon the wide walk there
slowly paraded a great crowd, intermingling, intertwining, sometimes
colliding. In the darkness stretched the vast purple expanse of the
ocean, and the deep indigo sky above was peopled with yellow stars.
Occasionally out upon the water a whirling mass of froth suddenly
flashed into view, like a great ghostly robe appearing, and then
vanished, leaving the sea in its darkness, whence came those bass
tones of the water's unknown emotion. A wind, cool, reminiscent
of the wave wastes, made the women hold their wraps about their
throats, and caused the men to grip the rims of their straw hats.
It carried the noise of the band in the pavilion in gusts. Sometimes
people unable to hear the music glanced up at the pavilion and
were reassured upon beholding the distant leader still gesticulating
and bobbing, and the other members of the band with their lips
glued to their instruments. High in the sky soared an unassuming
moon, faintly silver.
For a time the young man was afraid to approach the two girls; he
followed them at a distance and called himself a coward. At last,
however, he saw them stop on the outer edge of the crowd and stand
silently listening to the voices of the sea. When he came to where
they stood, he was trembling in his agitation. They had not seen
"Lizzie," he began. "I----"
The girl wheeled instantly and put her hand to her throat.
"Oh, Frank, how you frightened me," she said--inevitably.
"Well, you know, I--I----" he stuttered.
But the other girl was one of those beings who are born to attend
at tragedies. She had for love a reverence, an admiration that was
greater the more that she contemplated the fact that she knew nothing
of it. This couple, with their emotions, awed her and made her humbly
wish that she might be destined to be of some service to them. She
was very homely.
When the young man faltered before them, she, in her sympathy,
actually overestimated the crisis, and felt that he might fall
dying at their feet. Shyly, but with courage, she marched to the
"Won't you come and walk on the beach with us?" she said.
The young man gave her a glance of deep gratitude which was not
without the patronage which a man in his condition naturally feels
for one who pities it. The three walked on.
Finally, the being who was born to attend at this tragedy said
that she wished to sit down and gaze at the sea, alone.
They politely urged her to walk on with them, but she was obstinate.
She wished to gaze at the sea, alone. The young man swore to himself
that he would be her friend until he died.
And so the two young lovers went on without her. They turned once
to look at her.
"Jennie's awful nice," said the girl.
"You bet she is," replied the young man, ardently.
They were silent for a little time.
At last the girl said, "You were angry at me yesterday."
"No, I wasn't."
"Yes, you were, too. You wouldn't look at me once all day."
"No, I wasn't angry. I was only putting on."
Though she had, of course, known it, this confession seemed to
make her very indignant. She flashed a resentful glance at him.
"Oh, you were, indeed?" she said with a great air.
For a few minutes she was so haughty with him that he loved her
to madness. And directly this poem, which stuck at his lips, came
forth lamely in fragments.
When they walked back toward the other girl and saw the patience
of her attitude, their hearts swelled in a patronizing and secondary
tenderness for her.
They were very happy. If they had been miserable they would have
charged this fairy scene of the night with a criminal heartlessness;
but as they were joyous, they vaguely wondered how the purple sea,
the yellow stars, the changing crowds under the electric lights
could be so phlegmatic and stolid.
They walked home by the lakeside way, and out upon the water those
gay paper lanterns, flashing, fleeting, and careering, sang to them,
sang a chorus of red and violet, and green and gold; a song of mystic
bands of the future.
One day, when business paused during a dull sultry afternoon, Stimson
went uptown. Upon his return, he found that the popcorn man, from
his stand over in a corner, was keeping an eye upon the cashier's
cage, and that nobody at all was attending to the wooden arm and
the iron rings. He strode forward like a sergeant of grenadiers.
"Where in thunder is Lizzie?" he demanded, a cloud of rage in his
The popcorn man, although associated long with Stimson, had never
got over being dazed.
"They've--they've--gone round to th'--th'--house," he said with
difficulty, as if he had just been stunned.
"Whose house?" snapped Stimson.
"Your--your house, I s'pose," said the popcorn man.
Stimson marched round to his home. Kingly denunciations surged,
already formulated, to the tip of his tongue, and he bided the
moment when his anger could fall upon the heads of that pair of
children. He found his wife convulsive and in tears.
And then she burst forth--"Oh--John--John--they've run away, I
know they have. They drove by here not three minutes ago. They
must have done it on purpose to bid me good-bye, for Lizzie
waved her hand sadlike, and then, before I could get out to
ask where they were going or what, Frank whipped up the horse."
Stimson gave vent to a dreadful roar.
"Get my revolver--get a hack--get my revolver, do you
hear--what the devil--" His voice became incoherent.
He had always ordered his wife about as if she were a battalion
of infantry, and despite her misery, the training of years
forced her to spring mechanically to obey; but suddenly she
turned to him with a shrill appeal.
"Confound it, let go of me!" he roared again, and shook her from
He ran hatless upon the street. There were a multitude of hacks
at the summer resort, but it was ages to him before he could
find one. Then he charged it like a bull.
"Uptown!" he yelled, as he tumbled into the rear seat.
The hackman thought of severed arteries. His galloping
horse distanced a large number of citizens who had been
running to find what caused such contortions by the little
It chanced as the bouncing hack went along near the lake,
Stimson gazed across the calm grey expanse and recognized
a color in a bonnet and a pose of a head. A buggy was
traveling along a highway that led to Sorington. Stimson
bellowed--"There--there--there they are--in that buggy."
The hackman became inspired with the full knowledge of the
situation. He struck a delirious blow with the whip. His
mouth expanded in a grin of excitement and joy. It came to
pass that this old vehicle, with its drowsy horse and its
dusty-eyed and tranquil driver, seemed suddenly to awaken,
to become animated and fleet. The horse ceased to ruminate
on his state, his air of reflection vanished. He became
intent upon his aged legs and spread them in quaint and
ridiculous devices for speed. The driver, his eyes shining,
sat critically in his seat. He watched each motion of this
rattling machine down before him. He resembled an engineer.
He used the whip with judgment and deliberation as the
engineer would have used coal or oil. The horse clacked
swiftly upon the macadam, the wheels hummed, the body of
the vehicle wheezed and groaned.
Stimson, in the rear seat, was erect in that impassive
attitude that comes sometimes to the furious man when
he is obliged to leave the battle to others. Frequently,
however, the tempest in his breast came to his face and
"Go it--go it--you're gaining; pound 'im! Thump the life
out of 'im; hit 'im hard, you fool!" His hand grasped the
rod that supported the carriage top, and it was clenched
so that the nails were faintly blue.
Ahead, that other carriage had been flying with speed, as
from realization of the menace in the rear. It bowled away
rapidly, drawn by the eager spirit of a young and modern
horse. Stimson could see the buggy-top bobbing, bobbing.
That little pane, like an eye, was a derision to him. Once
he leaned forward and bawled angry sentences. He began to
feel impotent; his whole expedition was a tottering of an
old man upon a trail of birds. A sense of age made him
shake again with wrath. That other vehicle, that was youth,
with youth's pace; it was swift-flying with the hope of
dreams. He began to comprehend those two children ahead
of him, and he knew a sudden and strange awe, because he
understood the power of their young blood, the power to
fly strongly into the future and feel and hope again,
even at that time when his bones must be laid in the
earth. The dust rose easily from the hot road and stifled
the nostrils of Stimson.
The highway vanished far away in a point with a suggestion of
intolerable length. The other vehicle was becoming so small
that Stimson could no longer see the derisive eye.
At last the hackman drew rein to his horse and turned to look
"No use, I guess," he said.
Stimson made a gesture of acquiescence, rage, despair. As the
hackman turned his dripping horse about, Stimson sank back with
the astonishment and grief of a man who has been defied by the
universe. He had been in a great perspiration, and now his bald
head felt cool and uncomfortable. He put up his hand with a
sudden recollection that he had forgotten his hat.
At last he made a gesture. It meant that at any rate he was
~~~~~~~ THE END ~~~~~~~