20 March 2020
We present the second of four parts of the short story "The Blue Hotel," by Stephen Crane. The story was originally adapted by the U.S. Department of State. The audio was recorded and produce by VOA Learning English.
"I think you are tongue-tied," said Scully finally to his son, the cowboy, and the Easterner; and at the end of this sentence he left the room.
Upstairs the Swede was closing his bag. His back was half-turned toward the door, and hearing a noise there, he turned and jumped up, uttering a loud cry. Scully's face was frightening in the light of the small lamp he carried. This yellow shine, streaming upward, left his eyes in deep shadows. He looked like a murderer.
"Man! Man!" exclaimed Scully. "Have you gone mad?"
"Oh, no! Oh, no!" answered the other. "There are people in this world who know nearly as much as you do—understand?"
For a moment they stood gazing at each other. Then Scully placed the light on the table and sat himself on the edge of the bed. He spoke slowly. "I never heard of such a thing in my life. It's a complete mystery. I can't think how you ever got this idea into your head." Then Scully lifted his eyes and asked, "And did you really think they were going to kill you?"
The Swede looked at the old man as if he wished to see into his mind. "I did," he said at last. He apparently thought that this answer might cause an attack. As he worked on his bag his whole arm shook, the elbow trembling like a bit of paper.
Having finished with his bag, the Swede straightened himself. "Mr. Scully," he said with sudden courage, "how much do I owe you?"
"You don't owe me anything," said the old man angrily.
"Yes, I do," answered the Swede. He took some money from his pocket and held it out to Scully, but the latter moved his hand away in firm refusal.
"I won't take your money," said Scully. "Not after what's been happening here." Then a plan seemed to come to him. "Here," he cried, picking up his lamp and moving toward the door. "Here! Come with me a minute."
"No," said the Swede, in great alarm.
"Yes," urged the old man. "Come on! I want you to come—just across the hall—in my room."
The Swede must have decided that the hour of his death had come. His mouth dropped open and his teeth showed like a dead man's. He at last followed Scully across the hall, but he had the step of one hung in chains.
"Now," said the old man. He dropped suddenly to the floor and put his head beneath the bed. The Swede could hear his dulled voice. "I'd keep it under my pillow if it weren't for that boy Johnnie. Where is it now? I never put it twice in the same place. There—now, come out!"
Finally he came out from under the bed, dragging with him an old coat. "I've got it," he whispered. Still on the floor on his knees, he unrolled the coat and took from it a large, yellow-brown whiskey bottle.
His first act was to hold the bottle up to the light. Satisfied, apparently, that nobody had touched it, he pushed it with a generous movement toward the Swede.
The weak-kneed Swede was about to eagerly grasp this element of strength, but he suddenly pulled his hand away and cast a look of terror upon Scully.
"Drink," said the old man in a friendly tone. He had risen to his feet, and now stood facing the Swede.
There was a silence. Then again Scully said, "Drink!"
The Swede laughed wildly. He seized the bottle, put it to mouth. And as his lips curled foolishly around the opening and his throat worked, he kept his glance, burning with hate, upon the old man's face.
After the departure of Scully, the three men, still at the table, sat for a long moment in surprised silence. Then Johnnie said, "That's the worst man I ever saw."
"Oh, I don't know," replied the Easterner.
"Well, what do you think makes him act that way?" asked the cowboy.
"He's frightened." The Easterner knocked his pipe against the stove. "He's frightened right out of his senses."
"At what?" asked Johnnie and the cowboy together.
"I don't know, but it seems to me this man has been reading cheap novels about the West, and he thinks he's in the middle of it—the shooting and killing and all."
"But," said the cowboy, deeply shocked, "this isn't a wild place. This is Nebraska."
"Yes," added Johnnie, "and why doesn't he wait until he really gets out West?"
The traveled Easterner laughed. "Things aren't bad even there— not in these days. But he thinks he's right in the middle of hell."
Johnnie and the cowboy thought for a long while.
"It's strange," remarked Johnnie at last.
"Yes," said the cowboy. "This is a queer game. I hope we don't get a lot of snow, because then we'd have to have this man with us all the time. That wouldn't be any good."
Soon they heard a loud noise on the stairs, accompanied by jokes in the voice of old Scully; and laughter, evidently from the Swede. The men around the stove stared in surprise at each other. The door swung open, and Scully and the Swede came into the room.
Five chairs were now placed in a circle about the stove. The Swede began to talk, loudly and angrily. Johnnie, the cowboy, and the Easterner remained silent while old Scully appeared to be eager and full of sympathy.
Finally the Swede announced that he wanted a drink of water. He moved in his chair, and said that he would go and get some.
"I'll get it for you," said Scully at once.
"No," refused the Swede roughly. "I'll get it for myself." He got up and walked with the manner of an owner into another part of the hotel.
As soon as the Swede was out of the room, Scully jumped to his feet and whispered quickly to the others: "Upstairs he thought I was trying to poison him."
"This makes me sick," said Johnnie. "Why don't you throw him out in the snow?"
"He's all right now," declared Scully. "He was from the East, and he thought this was a rough place. That's all. He's all right now."
The cowboy looked with admiration upon the Easterner. "You were right," he said.
"Well," said Johnnie to his father, "he may be all right now, but I don't understand it. Before, he was afraid, but now he's too brave."
Scully now spoke to his son. "What do I keep? What do I keep? What do I keep?" he demanded in a voice like thunder. He struck his knee sharply to indicate he himself was going to make reply, and that all should listen. "I keep a hotel," he shouted. "A hotel, do you hear? A guest under my roof has special privileges. He is not to be threatened. Not one word shall he hear that would make him want to go away. There's no place in this town where they can say they took in a guest of mine because he was afraid to stay here." He turned suddenly upon the cowboy and the Easterner. "Am I right?"
"Yes, Mr. Scully," said the cowboy, "I think you're right." "Yes, Mr. Scully," said the Easterner, "I think you're right."
At supper that evening, the Swede burned with energy. He sometimes seemed on the point of bursting into loud song, and in all of his madness he was encouraged by old Scully. The Easterner was quiet; the cowboy sat in wide-mouthed wonder, forgetting to eat, while Johnnie angrily finished great plates of food. The daughters of the house, when they were obliged to bring more bread, approached as carefully as rabbits. Having succeeded in their purpose, they hurried away with poorly hidden fear. The Swede controlled the whole feast, and he gave it the appearance of a cruel affair. He seemed to have grown suddenly taller; he gazed bitterly into every face. His voice rang through the room.
After supper, as the men went toward the other room, the Swede hit Scully hard on the shoulder. "Well, old boy, that was a good meal."
Johnnie looked hopefully at his father. He knew that the old man's shoulder was still painful from an old hurt. And indeed, it appeared for a moment as if Scully were going to flame out in anger about it. But Scully only smiled a sickly smile and remained silent. The others understood that he was admitting his responsibility for the Swede's new attitude.
When they were gathered about the stove, the Swede insisted on another game of cards. In his voice there was always a great threat. The cowboy and the Easterner both agreed, without interest, to play. Scully said that he would soon have to go to meet the evening train, and so the Swede turned to Johnnie. For a moment their glances crossed like swords, and then Johnnie smiled and said, "Yes, I'll play."
They formed a square around the table. The Easterner and the Swede again played together. As the game continued, it was noticeable that the cowboy was not playing as noisily as before.
Scully left to meet the train. In spite of his care, an icy wind blew into the room as he opened the door. It scattered the cards and froze the players. The Swede cursed frightfully. When Scully returned, his icy entrance interrupted a comfortable and friendly scene. The Swede cursed again, but soon they were once more giving attention to their game, their heads bent forward and their hands moving fast.
Scully took up a newspaper, and as he slowly turned from page to page it made a comfortable sound. Then suddenly he heard three awful words: "You are cheating!"
The little room was now filled with terror. After the three words, the first sound in the room was made by Scully's paper as it fell forgotten to his feet. His eyeglasses had fallen from his nose, but by a grasp he had caught them. He stared at the card-players.
Probably the silence was only an instant long. Then, if the floor had been suddenly pulled out from under the men, they could not have moved more quickly. The five had thrown themselves at a single point. Johnnie, as he rose to throw himself upon the Swede, almost fell. The loss of the moment allowed time for the arrival of Scully. It also gave the cowboy time to give the Swede a good push which sent him backwards.
The men found voices together, and shouts of anger, appeal, or fear burst from every throat. The cowboy pushed and pulled feverishly at the Swede, and the Easterner and Scully held wildly to Johnnie. But through the smoky air, above the straining bodies of the peace-compellers, the eyes of the enemies steadily warned each other.
Scully's voice was loudest. "Stop now! Stop, I say! Stop, now—" Johnnie, as he struggled to break away from Scully and the Easterner, was crying, "Well, he says I cheated! He says I cheated! I won't allow any man to say I cheated! If he says I cheated him, he's a—!"
The cowboy was telling the Swede, "Stop now! Do you hear?"
The screams of the Swede never ceased: "He did cheat! I saw him! I saw him!"
As for the Easterner, he was begging in a voice that was not heard: "Wait a moment, can't you? Oh, wait a moment. What's the use of fighting over a game of cards? Wait a moment."
In-this noisy quarrel, no complete sentence was clear. "Cheat"— "Stop"—"He says"—these pieces cut the screaming and rang out sharply. It was remarkable that Scully, who undoubtedly made the most noise, was the least heard.
Then suddenly there was a great stillness. It was as if each man had paused for breath. Although the room still filled with the anger of men, it could be seen there was no danger of immediate fighting.
At once Johnnie pushed forward. "Why did you say I cheated? Why did you say I cheated. I don't cheat, and I won't let any man say I do!"
The Swede said, "I saw you! I saw you!"
"Well," cried Johnnie, "I'll fight any man who says I cheat!"
"No, you won't," said the cowboy. "Not here."
Johnnie spoke to the Swede again. "Did you say I cheated?"
The Swede showed his teeth. "Yes."
"Then," said Johnnie, "we must fight."
"Yes, fight," roared the Swede. He was like a mad devil. "Yes, fight! I'll show you what kind of a man I am! I'll show you who you want to fight! Maybe you think I can't fight! Maybe you think I can't! I'll show you, you criminal! Yes, you cheated! You cheated! You cheated!"
"Well, let's start, then, fellow," said Johnnie coolly.
The cowboy turned in despair to Scully. "What are you going to do now?"
A change had come over the old man. He now seemed all eagerness; his eyes glowed.
"We'll let them fight," he answered bravely. "I can't watch this any longer. I've endured this cursed Swede till I'm sick. We'll let them fight."
Now it's your turn. What do you think of this story? Does it remind you of any other stories you have read? Write to us in the Comments section or on 51VOA.COM.
Come back next week for Part Three of our story.
See how well you understand the story by taking this listening quiz. Play each short video and then choose the best answer.
Words in This Story
tongue-tied - adj. unable to speak because you are nervous or shy
grasp - v. to take and hold something with your fingers or hands
brave - adj. feeling or showing no fear; not afraid
poison - v. to give someone a substance that can cause people or animals to die or to become very sick if it gets into their bodies especially by being swallowed
oblige - v. to do something that someone has asked you to do; to do a favor for someone
attitude - n. the way you think and feel about someone or something
straining - adj. a feeling of stress and worry that you have because you are trying to do too much, are dealing with a difficult problem
feverishly - adv. involving intense emotion or activity; feeling or showing great or extreme excitement
compel - v. to force someone to do something
endure - v. to experience pain or suffering for a long time