The Midnight Special Songtext - Van Morrison

The Midnight Special - Van Morrison



The gloomy Hurstwood, sitting in his cheap hotel, where he had taken

refuge with seventy dollars--the price of his furniture--between him and

nothing, saw a hot summer out and a cool fall in, reading. He was not

wholly indifferent to the fact that his money was slipping away. As
fifty cents after fifty cents were paid out for a day's lodging he

became uneasy, and finally took a cheaper room--thirty-five cents a

day--to make his money last longer. Frequently he saw notices of Carrie.

Her picture was in the "World" once or twice, and an old "Herald" he

found in a chair informed him that she had recently appeared with some

others at a benefit for something or other. He read these things with

mingled feelings. Each one seemed to put her farther and farther away

into a realm which became more imposing as it receded from him. On the

bill-boards, too, he saw a pretty poster, showing her as the Quaker

Maid, demure and dainty. More than once he stopped and looked at these,

gazing at the pretty face in a sullen sort of way. His clothes were

shabby, and he presented a marked contrast to all that she now seemed to


Somehow, so long as he knew she was at the Casino, though he had never

any intention of going near her, there was a sub-conscious comfort for

him--he was not quite alone. The show seemed such a fixture that, after

a month or two, he began to take it for granted that it was still

running. In September it went on the road and he did not notice it. When

all but twenty dollars of his money was gone, he moved to a fifteen-cent

lodging-house in the Bowery, where there was a bare lounging-room filled

with tables and benches as well as some chairs. Here his preference was

to close his eyes and dream of other days, a habit which grew upon him.

It was not sleep at first, but a mental hearkening back to scenes and

incidents in his Chicago life. As the present became darker, the past

grew brighter, and all that concerned it stood in relief.

He was unconscious of just how much this habit had hold of him until one

day he found his lips repeating an old answer he had made to one of his

friends. They were in Fitzgerald and Moy's. It was as if he stood in the

door of his elegant little office, comfortably dressed, talking to Sagar

Morrison about the value of South Chicago real estate in which the

latter was about to invest.

"How would you like to come in on that with me?" he heard Morrison say.

"Not me," he answered, just as he had years before. "I have my hands

full now."

The movement of his lips aroused him. He wondered whether he had really

spoken. The next time he noticed anything of the sort he really did


"Why don't you jump, you bloody fool?" he was saying. "Jump!"

It was a funny English story he was telling to a company of actors. Even

as his voice recalled him, he was smiling. A crusty old codger, sitting

near by, seemed disturbed; at least, he stared in a most pointed way.

Hurstwood straightened up. The humour of the memory fled in an instant

and he felt ashamed. For relief, he left his chair and strolled out into

the streets.

One day, looking down the ad. columns of the "Evening World," he saw

where a new play was at the Casino. Instantly, he came to a mental halt.

Carrie had gone! He remembered seeing a poster of her only yesterday,

but no doubt it was one left uncovered by the new signs. Curiously, this

fact shook him up. He had almost to admit that somehow he was depending

upon her being in the city. Now she was gone. He wondered how this

important fact had skipped him. Goodness knows when she would be back

now. Impelled by a nervous fear, he rose and went into the dingy hall,

where he counted his remaining money, unseen. There were but ten dollars

in all.

He wondered how all these other lodging-house people around him got

along. They didn't seem to do anything. Perhaps they begged--unquestionably

they did. Many was the dime he had given to such as they in his day. He

had seen other men asking for money on the streets. Maybe he could get

some that way. There was horror in this thought.

Sitting in the lodging-house room, he came to his last fifty cents. He

had saved and counted until his health was affected. His stoutness had

gone. With it, even the semblance of a fit in his clothes. Now he

decided he must do something, and, walking about, saw another day go by,

bringing him down to his last twenty cents--not enough to eat for the


Summoning all his courage, he crossed to Broadway and up to the Broadway

Central hotel. Within a block he halted, undecided. A big, heavy-faced

porter was standing at one of the side entrances, looking out. Hurstwood

purposed to appeal to him. Walking straight up, he was upon him before

he could turn away.

"My friend," he said, recognising even in his plight the man's

inferiority, "is there anything about this hotel that I could get to


The porter stared at him the while he continued to talk.

"I'm out of work and out of money and I've got to get something--it

doesn't matter what. I don't care to talk about what I've been, but if

you'd tell me how to get something to do, I'd be much obliged to you. It

wouldn't matter if it only lasted a few days just now. I've got to have


The porter still gazed, trying to look indifferent. Then, seeing that

Hurstwood was about to go on, he said:

"I've nothing to do with it. You'll have to ask inside."

Curiously, this stirred Hurstwood to further effort.

"I thought you might tell me."

The fellow shook his head irritably.

Inside went the ex-manager and straight to an office off the clerk's

desk. One of the managers of the hotel happened to be there. Hurstwood

looked him straight in the eye.

"Could you give me something to do for a few days?" he said. "I'm in a

position where I have to get something at once."

The comfortable manager looked at him, as much as to say: "Well, I

should judge so."

"I came here," explained Hurstwood, nervously, "because I've been a

manager myself in my day. I've had bad luck in a way, but I'm not here

to tell you that. I want something to do, if only for a week."

The man imagined he saw a feverish gleam in the applicant's eye.

"What hotel did you manage?" he inquired.

"It wasn't a hotel," said Hurstwood. "I was manager of Fitzgerald and

Moy's place in Chicago for fifteen years."

"Is that so?" said the hotel man. "How did you come to get out of that?"

The figure of Hurstwood was rather surprising in contrast to the fact.

"Well, by foolishness of my own. It isn't anything to talk about now.

You could find out if you wanted to. I'm 'broke' now and, if you will

believe me, I haven't eaten anything to-day."

The hotel man was slightly interested in this story. He could hardly

tell what to do with such a figure, and yet Hurstwood's earnestness made

him wish to do something.

"Call Olsen," he said, turning to the clerk.

In reply to a bell and a disappearing hall-boy, Olsen, the head porter,


"Olsen," said the manager, "is there anything downstairs you could find

for this man to do? I'd like to give him something."

"I don't know, sir," said Olsen. "We have about all the help we need. I

think I could find something, sir, though, if you like."

"Do. Take him to the kitchen and tell Wilson to give him something to


"All right, sir," said Olsen.

Hurstwood followed. Out of the manager's sight, the head porter's manner


"I don't know what the devil there is to do," he observed.

Hurstwood said nothing. To him the big trunk hustler was a subject for

private contempt.

"You're to give this man something to eat," he observed to the cook.

The latter looked Hurstwood over, and seeing something keen and

intellectual in his eyes, said:

"Well, sit down over there."

Thus was Hurstwood installed in the Broadway Central, but not for long.

He was in no shape or mood to do the scrub work that exists about the

foundation of every hotel. Nothing better offering, he was set to aid

the fireman, to work about the basement, to do anything and everything

that might offer. Porters, cooks, firemen, clerks--all were over him.

Moreover his appearance did not please these individuals--his temper was

too lonely--and they made it disagreeable for him.

With the stolidity and indifference of despair, however, he endured it

all, sleeping in an attic at the roof of the house, eating what the cook

gave him, accepting a few dollars a week, which he tried to save. His

constitution was in no shape to endure.

One day the following February he was sent on an errand to a large coal

company's office. It had been snowing and thawing and the streets were

sloppy. He soaked his shoes in his progress and came back feeling dull

and weary. All the next day he felt unusually depressed and sat about as

much as possible, to the irritation of those who admired energy in


In the afternoon some boxes were to be moved to make room for new

culinary supplies. He was ordered to handle a truck. Encountering a big

box, he could not lift it.

"What's the matter there?" said the head porter. "Can't you handle it?"

He was straining hard to lift it, but now he quit.

"No," he said, weakly.

The man looked at him and saw that he was deathly pale.

"Not sick, are you?" he asked.

"I think I am," returned Hurstwood.

"Well, you'd better go sit down, then."

This he did, but soon grew rapidly worse. It seemed all he could do to

crawl to his room, where he remained for a day.

"That man Wheeler's sick," reported one of the lackeys to the night


"What's the matter with him?"

"I don't know. He's got a high fever."

The hotel physician looked at him.

"Better send him to Bellevue," he recommended. "He's got pneumonia."

Accordingly, he was carted away.

In three weeks the worst was over, but it was nearly the first of May

before his strength permitted him to be turned out. Then he was


No more weakly looking object ever strolled out into the spring sunshine

than the once hale, lusty manager. All his corpulency had fled. His face

was thin and pale, his hands white, his body flabby. Clothes and all, he

weighed but one hundred and thirty-five pounds. Some old garments had

been given him--a cheap brown coat and misfit pair of trousers. Also

some change and advice. He was told to apply to the charities.

Again he resorted to the Bowery lodging-house, brooding over where to

look. From this it was but a step to beggary.

"What can a man do?" he said. "I can't starve."

His first application was in sunny Second Avenue. A well-dressed man

came leisurely strolling toward him out of Stuyvesant Park. Hurstwood

nerved himself and sidled near.

"Would you mind giving me ten cents?" he said, directly. "I'm in a

position where I must ask someone."

The man scarcely looked at him, but fished in his vest pocket and took

out a dime.

"There you are," he said.

"Much obliged," said Hurstwood, softly, but the other paid no more

attention to him.

Satisfied with his success and yet ashamed of his situation, he decided

that he would only ask for twenty-five cents more, since that would be

sufficient. He strolled about sizing up people, but it was long before

just the right face and situation arrived. When he asked, he was

refused. Shocked by this result, he took an hour to recover and then

asked again. This time a nickel was given him. By the most watchful

effort he did get twenty cents more, but it was painful.

The next day he resorted to the same effort, experiencing a variety of

rebuffs and one or two generous receptions. At last it crossed his mind

that there was a science of faces, and that a man could pick the liberal

countenance if he tried.

It was no pleasure to him, however, this stopping of passers-by. He saw

one man taken up for it and now troubled lest he should be arrested.

Nevertheless, he went on, vaguely anticipating that indefinite something

which is always better.

It was with a sense of satisfaction, then, that he saw announced one

morning the return of the Casino Company, "with Miss Carrie Madenda." He

had thought of her often enough in days past. How successful she

was--how much money she must have! Even now, however, it took a severe

run of ill-luck to decide him to appeal to her. He was truly hungry

before he said:

"I'll ask her. She won't refuse me a few dollars."

Accordingly, he headed for the Casino one afternoon, passing it several

times in an effort to locate the stage entrance. Then he sat in Bryant

Park, a block away, waiting. "She can't refuse to help me a little," he

kept saying to himself.

Beginning with half-past six, he hovered like a shadow about the

Thirty-ninth Street entrance, pretending always to be a hurrying

pedestrian and yet fearful lest he should miss his object. He was

slightly nervous, too, now that the eventful hour had arrived; but being

weak and hungry, his ability to suffer was modified. At last he saw that

the actors were beginning to arrive, and his nervous tension increased,

until it seemed as if he could not stand much more.

Once he thought he saw Carrie coming and moved forward, only to see that

he was mistaken.

"She can't be long, now," he said to himself, half fearing to encounter

her and equally depressed at the thought that she might have gone in by

another way. His stomach was so empty that it ached.

Individual after individual passed him, nearly all well dressed, almost

all indifferent. He saw coaches rolling by, gentlemen passing with

ladies--the evening's merriment was beginning in this region of theatres

and hotels.

Suddenly a coach rolled up and the driver jumped down to open the door.

Before Hurstwood could act, two ladies flounced across the broad walk

and disappeared in the stage door. He thought he saw Carrie, but it was

so unexpected, so elegant and far away, he could hardly tell. He waited

a while longer, growing feverish with want, and then seeing that the

stage door no longer opened, and that a merry audience was arriving, he

concluded it must have been Carrie and turned away.

"Lord," he said, hastening out of the street into which the more

fortunate were pouring, "I've got to get something."

At that hour, when Broadway is wont to assume its most interesting

aspect, a peculiar individual invariably took his stand at the corner of

Twenty-sixth Street and Broadway--a spot which is also intersected by

Fifth Avenue. This was the hour when the theatres were just beginning to

receive their patrons. Fire signs announcing the night's amusements

blazed on every hand. Cabs and carriages, their lamps gleaming like

yellow eyes, pattered by. Couples and parties of three and four freely

mingled in the common crowd, which poured by in a thick stream, laughing

and jesting. On Fifth Avenue were loungers--a few wealthy strollers, a

gentleman in evening dress with his lady on his arm, some clubmen

passing from one smoking-room to another. Across the way the great

hotels showed a hundred gleaming windows, their caf

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