Short Stories · The Magazine Rack

A Subway Romance Part II

A young woman stands next to a newspaper stand in this 1924 illustration. People stream behind her. Most of them are men in suits, overcoats, and hats.
The young womanl stands among the bustle of the New York subway tunnel.

When we last left our dreamer Nick, he had just met an intriguing girl at his newsstand in the New York subway system. If you missed the first section of the story, you can locate it here. Now we continue with “A Subway Romance,” Part II.

The story continues…

Her voice was rich and low, with a kind of sighing lilt in it. She seemed not to have seen the price labels.

She bought two nut bars and slipped them into a bag at her side, while Nick tried futilely to think of something to say. It had been a long time since he had indulged in social small talk. At last he found himself commenting upon the coolness of the weather and urging her to try some of the whipped creams.

The Gipsy shook her head. Her red lips smiled. Nick caught a tantalizing gleam between long lashes and stood staring helplessly as she walked away. When he had recovered his wits sufficiently to crawl out of the low side door and go to look for her she had disappeared in the crowd. Nick ran up the stairs and down. He plunged frantically into the floods of passengers streaming from local to express and from express to local. He returned to his stall flushed and baffled, and found two customers thrusting coins over the magazine counter, with no pair of hands there to return the change.

After this Nick began to look at the people around him instead of gazing dreamily at the subway vault. He began to grow vaguely dissatisfied with his life, yet unwilling to break away for one of his vagrant adventures. A wan loneliness possessed him, such as he had never known in the most isolated country places; and still he felt loath to desert his subway stand. He studied the faces that streamed past him and began to experience a faint thrill of satisfaction at discovering some of the same ones day after day. Often he watched hopefully for a flash of the Gipsy’s crimson shawl. But he watched in vain. Her voice had broken the spell of his long silence, her wild beauty had stirred the sluggish pool of his content, and then she had swept on, lost in the seething current of the subway crowds.

An old friend resurfaces

One night, a week after the Gipsy passed, Nick saw a familiar face peering in at him. It was a loose-mouthed, heavy-jawed face with no self discipline. In a flash of recollection Nick recognized this man. They had bunked together in a slum hotel in San Francisco. Nick usually avoided the out and out hoboes. Shorty had been more congenial than most of his kind. In Nick’s present mood the familiar face was welcome.

“Hello, Shorty,” said Nick.

“H’ar ye, Bo,” grinned Shorty sticking his hand in across the newspapers.

When Nick closed the stand that night Shorty was waiting for him. They had lunch at a hot tamale wagon down in Christopher Street and they sat on a park bench and watched the moon edging over the roofs while Shorty told of his wanderings. Again Nick felt the pull of vagabondage. His mind raced out along an Arizona canyon slivered with moonlight. He heard the sough of the pines, the murmur of prairie grasses, the trickle of water beside a pitch-pine campfire. He crumpled a sooty park leaf in his fingers, and longed for the smell of sage and resin.

Catching up

Nick only half heard the marvelous tale that Shorty related with profane emphasis. He was planning to pack the battered suitcase that lay covered with dust under the cot in his hall bedroom, planning to chuck the news stand and the rewards of a regular income. He had thought of it vaguely before, but the force of habit and the weekly check had held him. But tonight, with the moon rising over the roofs and Shorty chuckling at his elbow, his business acumen had sunk to almost a minus quantity.

Why had he stuck there for the last two years? he asked himself. He had money now, enough to take him to Cuba, to South America, though he had never thought of saving it for that purpose. Well, he was ready at last to leave the noisy glare of his burrow. He had hoarded his savings senselessly like a blind mole storing away food. He had watched the trains pass long enough. He had watched millions of faces without hearing a voice or touching a hand. Restless feet had surged past him, day after day, and he had quietly stuck to his cage, pushing out papers and picking up change.

Yet, under all his eager planning, there lurked a poignant regret. More than he would admit, he had hoped that the Gipsy girl might return sometime and smile and speak to him over the candy counter. It was she who had aroused him from his strange lethargy. But he had a persistent intuition that he would miss her, out along the open trails, for in spite of her Gipsy dress she had seemed a creature of the town. At the thought of missing her, Nick’s heart sank, and his bold resolution ebbed like water.

At water’s edge

“Guess we’d better move on somewheres.” Shorty’s arm was around Nick’s shoulders. Shorty’s corncob pipe was unpleasantly near Nick’s nose. Nick looked up and saw a policeman moored in the offing, swinging his club a shade ostentatiously. They moved on. Over on the Brooklyn waterfront they lighted a driftwood fire. Nick stretched on the ground beside it, unmindful of the fact that his suit had just been cleaned and pressed. In spite of the cheering blaze the wind crept up with a little nagging chill, and Shorty made a tour of investigation along a row of warehouses and returned with a dirty horse blanket. They crept under it together, after arranging some empty boxes to protect themselves and their fire. Nick sniffed the smell of the water and stared blissfully up at the stars.

He heard the waves lapping against the pier, and his drowsy wits went roving. South America, Cuba. Long roads that he had never traveled, blue seas that he had never crossed. Perhaps China and Japan a little later. Strange cities, far ports. That would be his way of life. He rejoiced at the thought of the money he had laid by. When that was gone he would work again, and then he would go on. What had he been thinking of, to sit dreaming behind a counter? He felt a sudden contempt for the Sunday afternoon hikes he had taken around Manhattan, the holiday excursions up in the Bronx. He laughed as he remembered his nonsense about that Gipsy girl.

Shorty stirred sleepily.

“What’s the joke, Bo?” he inquired.

“Nothin’. Jest a-dreamin’, I guess,” murmured Nick.

A new morning

It seemed only a few minutes until he turned on his side and peered out at the sky, reddening beyond the warehouses. Shorty had kept the fire going and Nick felt warm, even with the wind blowing up stronger from the water.

They boiled their coffee in an empty Karo can, munched sandwiches, and watched the bay flashing like a vast opal under the morning sun. Ships crept up the harbor, ferry boats steered a resolute course, motor boats chugged erratically about.

To be continued…

Find out what happens after “A Subway Romance,” Part II. Look for Part III, which brings an end to the tale.

This is a typical Twenties short story. These tales sold magazines by the thousands for a good many years. Sometimes they were serialized, and then released in book form. Often, though, they appeared like this: short, single tales that transported the reader to a different place, time, or situation.