You Can't Go Home Again

You Can't Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe

Book: You Can't Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe Read Free Book Online
Authors: Thomas Wolfe
Tags: Drama, General, European, American
banker, the politician, and the Mayor.
    At Baltimore, when the train slowed to a stop in the gloom beneath the station, he caught a-momentary glimpse of a face on the platform as it slid past his window. All that he could see was a blur of thin, white features and a sunken mouth, but at the corners of the mouth he thought he also caught the shadow of a smile—faint, evil, ghostly—and at sight of it a sudden and unreasoning terror seized him. Could that be Judge Rumford Bland?
    As the train started up again and passed through the tunnel on the other side of the city, a blind man appeared at the rear of the car. The other people were talking, reading, or dozing, and the blind man came in so quietly that none of them noticed him enter. He took the first seat at the end and sat down. When the train emerged into the waning sunlight of this September day, George looked round and saw him sitting there. He just sat quietly, gripping a heavy walnut walking-stick with a frail hand, the sightless eyes fixed in vacancy, the thin and sunken face listening with that terrible intent stillness that only the blind know, and around the mouth hovered that faint suggestion of a smile, which, hardly perceptible though it was, had in it a kind of terrible vitality and the mercurial attractiveness of a ruined angel. It was Judge Rumford Bland!
    George had not seen him in fifteen years. At that time he was not blind, but already his eyes were beginning to fail. George remembered him as he was then, and remembered, too, how the sight of the man, frequently to be seen prowling the empty streets of the night when all other life was sleeping and the town was dead, had struck a nameless terror into his boy’s heart. Even then, before blindness had come upon him, some nocturnal urge had made him seek deserted pavements beneath the blank and sterile corner lights, past windows that were always dark, past doors that were for ever locked.
    He came from an old and distinguished family, and, like all his male ancestors for one hundred years or more, he had been trained in the profession of the law. For a single term he had been a police-court magistrate, and from then on was known as “Judge” Bland. But he had fallen grievously from the high estate his family held. During the period of George Webber’s boyhood he still professed to be a lawyer. He had a shabby office in a disreputable old building which he owned, and his name was on the door as an attorney, but his living was earned by other and more devious means. Indeed, his legal skill and knowledge had been used more for the purpose of circumventing the law and defeating justice than in maintaining them. Practically all his “business” was derived from the negro population of the town, and of this business the principal item was usury.
    On the Square, in his ramshackle two-storey building of rusty brick, was “the store”. It was a second-hand furniture store, and it occupied the ground floor and basement of the building. It was, of course, nothing but a blind for his illegal transactions with the negroes. A hasty and appalled inspection of the mountainous heap of ill-smelling junk which it contained would have been enough to convince one that if the owner had to depend on the sale of his stock he would have to close his doors within a month. It was incredible. In the dirty window was a pool table, taken as brutal tribute from some negro billiard parlour. But what a pool table! Surely it had not a fellow in all the relics in the land. Its surface was full of lumps and dents and ridges. Not a pocket remained without a hole in the bottom big enough to drop a baseball through. The green cloth-covering had worn through or become unfixed in a dozen places. The edges of the table and the cloth itself were seared and burnt with the marks of innumerable cigarettes. Yet this dilapidated object was by all odds the most grandiose adornment of the whole store.
    As one peered back into the gloom of the

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