He left his office and turned into one of the big department stores that backs up on Dearborn Street, where he bought himself a cheap bag and furnished it with a few necessaries. Then, leaving the store, simply kept on going to the first railway station that lay in his way. He chose a destination quite at random. The train announcer, with a megaphone, was calling off a list of towns which a train, on the point of departure, would stop at. Rodney picked one that he had never visited, bought a ticket, walked down the platform past the Pullmans, and found himself a seat in a coach.
He found a measure of relief in all this. It gave him the illusion, at least, of doing something. Or, more accurately, of getting ready to do something, while it liberated him from the immediate necessity of doing it. He’d go to a hotel in that town whose name was printed on his ticket, and hire a room; lock himself up in it, and then begin to think. Once he could get the engine of his mind to going, he’d be all right. There must be some right thing to do. Or if not that, at least something that was better to do than anything else. And when his mind should have discovered what that thing was, he’d have, he felt, resolution enough to go on and do it. Until he should find it, he was like a man shamed—naked, unable to encounter the most casual glance of any of the persons in his world who knew his shame. Once he was safe in that hotel room, the process of thinking could begin. He wouldn’t have to hurry about it. He could take all the time he liked.
For the present, he was getting a queer sort of comfort out of what would ordinarily be labeled the discomforts of his surroundings: the fierce dry heat of the car, the smells—that of oranges was perhaps the strongest of these—the raucous persistence of the train butcher hawking his wares; and, most of all, in the very density of the crowd.
This is one of the comforts that many a member of the favored, chauffeur-driven, servant-attended class lives his life in ignorance of, the nervous relief that comes from ceasing, for a while, to be an isolated, sharply bounded, perfectly visible entity, and subsiding, indistinguishably, into a mere mass of humanity; in being nobody for a while. It was a want which, in the old days before his marriage, Rodney had often, unconsciously, felt and gratified. He had enjoyed being herded about, riding in crowded street-cars, working his way through the press in the down-town streets during the noon hour.
He was no more conscious of it now, but it was distinctly pleasant to him to be identified for the conductor merely by a bit of blue pasteboard with punch marks in it, stuck in his hat-band.
The pleasant torpor didn’t last long, because presently, the rhythmic thud of the wheels began singing to him the same damned tune that had dogged his footsteps earlier that morning: “I’m all alone, you’re all alone; come on, let’s be lonesome together.”