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Moths in the Arc Light
by [?]


Bates lay staring at the green-shaded light on his desk and disgustedly he realized that he must have been sleeping there for hours on the leather couch in his office. His eyes were peppery, his mouth dry. He rose, staggering with the burden of drowsiness, and glanced at his watch. It was three in the morning.

“Idiot!” he said.

He wreathed to the window, twelve stories above the New York pavements. The stupidity that lay over his senses like uncombed wool was blown away as he exulted in the beauty of the city night. It was as nearly quiet now as Manhattan ever becomes. Stilled were the trolleys and the whang of steel beams in the new building a block away. One taxicab bumbled on the dark pavement beneath. Bates looked across a swamp of roofs to East River, to a line of topaz lights arching over a bridge. The sky was not dark but of a luminous blue—a splendid, aspiring, naked blue, in which the stars hung golden.

“But why shouldn’t I fall asleep here? I’ll finish the night on the couch, and get after the New Bedford specifications before breakfast. I’ve never spent twenty-four hours in the office before. I’ll do it!”

He said it with the pride of a successful man. But he ended, as he rambled back to the couch and removed his coat and shoes: “Still, I do wish there were somebody who cared a hang whether I came home or stayed away for a week!”

When the earliest stenographer arrived she found Bates at work. But often he was first at the office. No one knew of his discovery that before dawn the huckstering city is enchanted to blue and crocus yellow above shadowy roofs. He had no one who would ever encourage him to tell about it.

To Bates at thirty-five the world was composed of re-enforced concrete; continents and striding seas were office partitions and inkwells, the latter for signing letters beginning “In reply to your valued query of seventh inst. ” Not for five years had he seen storm clouds across the hills or moths that flutter white over dusky meadows. To him the arc light was the dancing place for moths, and flowers grew not in pastures but in vases on restaurant tables. He was a city man and an office man. Papers, telephone calls, eight-thirty to six on the twelfth floor, were the natural features of life, and the glory and triumph of civilization was getting another traction company to introduce the Carstop Indicator.

But he belonged to the new generation of business men. He was not one of the race who boast that they have had “mighty little book learning,” and who cannot be pictured without their derby hats, whether they are working, motoring, or in bed. Bates was slender, immaculate, polite as a well-bred woman, his mustache like a penciled eyebrow; yet in decision he was firm as a chunk of flint.

When he had come to New York from college Bates had believed that he was going to lead an existence of polite society and the opera. He had in fourteen years been to the opera six times. He dined regularly with acquaintances at the Yale Club, he knew two men in his bachelor apartment building by their first names, and he attended subscription dances and was agreeable to young women who had been out for three years. But New York is a thief of friends. Because in one night at a restaurant you may meet twenty new people therefore in one day shall you also lose twenty older friends. You know a man and like him; he marries and moves to Great Neck; you see him once in two years. After thirty Bates was increasingly absorbed in the one thing that always wanted him, that appreciated his attention—the office.