We present the first 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.
The Palace Hotel at Fort Romper was painted a light blue, a color of blue found on the legs of a certain bird that makes it bright in any surroundings. The Palace Hotel, then, looked always loud and screaming in a way that made the bright winter scenes of Nebraska seem only a dull gray. It stood alone, and when the snow was falling, the town two hundred yards away could not be seen.
When a traveler came from the railroad station, he was obliged to pass the Palace Hotel before he came to the group of low houses which was Fort Romper. It was believed that no traveler could pass the Palace Hotel without looking at it. Pat Scully, the hotel owner, had proved himself a master at choosing paints. It is true that on clear days, when the long lines of trains swept through Fort Romper, passengers were surprised at the sight. Those that knew the brown-reds, and the dark greens of the eastern part of the country laughingly expressed shame, pity, shock. But to the citizens of this western town and to the people who stopped there, Pat Scully had performed a wonder.
As if the displayed delights of such a blue hotel were not sufficiently inviting, Scully went every morning and evening to meet the trains that stopped at Romper. He would express greetings and welcome to anyone he might see hesitating.
One morning when a snow-covered engine dragged its long string of cars to the station, Scully performed the marvelous trick of catching three men. One was a shaky and quick-eyed Swede, with a great, shining, cheap bag; one was a tall, sun-browned cowboy, who was on his way to a job near the Dakota border; one was a little silent man from the east coast, who didn’t look like it and didn’t announce it.
Scully practically made them prisoners. He was so quick and merry and kindly that each probably thought it would be cruel to try to escape. So they followed the eager little man. He wore a heavy fur cap pulled tightly down on his head. It caused his two red ears to stand out stiffly, as if they were made of tin.
At last, Scully grandly conducted them through the door of the blue hotel. The room which they entered was small. It was occupied mostly by a huge stove in the center, which was burning with great force. At various points on its surface the iron had become shiny and glowed yellow from the heat. Beside the stove, Scully’s son, Johnnie, was playing a game of cards with a farmer. They were quarreling.
With loud words Scully stopped their play, and hurried his son upstairs with the bags of the new guests. He himself led them to three bowls of icy water. The cowboy and the Easterner washed themselves in this water until they were as red as fire. The Swede, however, merely placed his fingers in the bowl. It was noticeable throughout these proceedings that the three travelers were made to feel that Scully was very kind indeed. He was giving out great favors.
Afterward they returned to the first room. There, sitting about the stove, they listened to Scully shouting at his daughters, who were preparing the noon meal. They employed the silence of experienced men who move carefully among new people. The Swede was especially silent. He seemed to be occupied in making secret judgments of each man in the room. One might have thought that he had the sense of foolish fear which accompanies guilt. He looked like a badly frightened man.
Later, at dinner, he spoke a little, directing his conversation entirely to Scully. He said that he had come from New York, where he had worked for ten years as a suit maker. These facts seemed to interest Scully, and afterward he told that he had lived at Romper for fourteen years. The Swede asked about the crops and the price of labor. He seemed hardly to listen to Scully’s lengthy replies. His eyes continued to wander from man to man.
Finally, with a laugh, he said that some of these western towns were very dangerous; and after this declaration he straightened his legs under the table, nodded his head, and laughed again, loudly. It was plain that this had no meaning to the others. They looked at him, wondering and in silence.
After dinner, it was decided to play a game of cards. The cowboy offered to play with Johnnie, and they all turned to ask the Swede to play with the little Easterner. The Swede asked some questions about the game. Learning that it wore many names, and that he had played it under another name, he accepted the invitation.
He came toward the men nervously, as though he expected to be attacked. Finally, seated, he looked from face to face and laughed sharply. This laugh was so strange that the Easterner looked up quickly, the cowboy sat with his mouth open, and Johnnie paused, holding the cards with still fingers.
Afterward there was a short silence. Then Johnnie said, “Well, let’s begin. Come on now!” They pulled their chairs forward until their knees touched under the table. They began to play, and their interest in the game caused the others to forget the strange ways of the Swede.
Suddenly the Swede spoke to Johnnie: “I suppose there have been a good many men killed in this room.” The mouths of the others dropped open and they looked at him.
“What are you talking about?” said Johnnie. The Swede laughed again his loud laugh, full of a kind of false courage. “Oh, you know what I mean all right,” he answered.
“I don’t!” Johnnie protested. The card game stopped, and the men stared at the Swede. Johnnie evidently felt that as the son of the hotel owner he should make a direct inquiry. “Now, what are you trying to say?” he asked.
The Swede’s fingers shook on the edge of the table. “Oh, maybe you think I haven’t been anywhere. Maybe you think I don’t have any experience?”
“I don’t know anything about you,” answered Johnnie “and I don’t care where you’ve been. I just don’t know what you’re trying to say. Nobody has ever been killed in this room.”
The cowboy, who had been steadily gazing at the Swede, then spoke: “What’s wrong with you, fellow?”
Apparently it seemed to the Swede that he was powerfully threatened. He trembled, and turned pale near the comers of his mouth. He sent an appealing glance in the direction of the little Easterner. “They say they don’t know what I mean,” he remarked bitterly to the Easterner.
The latter answered after long and careful thought. “I don’t understand you,” he said calmly.
The Swede made a movement then which announced that he thought he had met attack from the only place where he had expected sympathy, if not help. “I see that you are all against me. I see—”
The cowboy felt as though he had lost his senses. “Say,” he cried, as he threw the cards fiercely down upon the table, “say, what are you trying to do?”
The Swede jumped up. “I don’t want to fight!” he shouted. “I don’t want to fight!”
The cowboy stretched his long legs slowly and carefully. His hands were in his pockets. “Well, who thought you did?” he inquired.
The Swede moved rapidly back toward a corner of the room. His hands were out protectingly in front of his chest, but he was making an apparent struggle to control his fright. “Gentlemen,” he almost whispered, “I suppose I am going to be killed before I can leave this house! I suppose I am going to be killed before I can leave this house!”
A door opened, and Scully himself entered. He paused in surprise as he noted the terror-filled eyes of the Swede. Then he said, “What’s the matter here?”
The Swede answered him quickly and eagerly: “These men are going to kill me.”
“Kill you!” shouted Scully. “Kill you! What are you talking about?”
The Swede put out his hands helplessly.
Scully turned upon his son. “What is this, Johnnie?”
The lad had become ill-tempered. “I don’t know,” he answered. “It doesn’t make any sense to me.” He began to pick up the cards, gathering them together angrily. “He says a good many men have been killed in this room, or something like that. And he says he’s going to be killed here, too. I don’t know what’s wrong with him. He’s probably crazy.”
Scully then looked for explanation to the cowboy, but the cowboy simply shook his head.
“Kill you?” said Scully again to the Swede. “Kill you? Man, you’re crazy.”
“Oh, I know,” burst out the Swede. “I know what will happen. Yes, I’m crazy—yes. Yes, of course, I’m crazy—yes. But I know one thing—” There was suffering and terror upon his face. “I know I won’t get out of here alive.”
Scully turned suddenly and faced his son. “You’ve been troubling this man!”
Johnnie’s voice was loud with its burden of undeserved blame. “Why, good God, I haven’t done anything to him!”
The Swede broke in. “Gentlemen, do not trouble yourselves. I will leave this house. I will go away, because—” he blamed them with his glance— “because I do not want to be killed.” “You will not go away,” said Scully.
“You will not go away until I hear the reason of this business. If anybody has troubled you, I will take care of him. This is my house. You are under my roof, and I will not allow any peaceful man to be troubled here.” He looked threateningly at Johnnie, the cowboy, and the Easterner.
“Don’t, Mr. Scully, don’t. I will go away. I do not want to be killed.” The Swede moved toward the door which opened to the stairs. It was evidently his intention to go at once for his bag.
“No, no,” shouted Scully commandingly; but the pale-faced man slipped by him and disappeared. “Now,” Scully angrily to the others, “what does this mean?”
Johnnie and the cowboy cried together: “Why, we didn’t do anything to him!”
Scully’s eyes were cold. “No,” he said, “you didn’t?”
Johnnie repeated his words. “Why, this is the wildest madman I ever saw. We didn’t do anything at all. We were just sitting here playing cards, and he—”
The father suddenly spoke to the Easterner. “What have these boys been doing?”
The Easterner thought again. “I didn’t see anything wrong at all,” he said at last, slowly.
Scully began to shout. “But what does it mean?” He stared fiercely at his son. “I ought to beat you for this, my boy.”
Johnnie was wild. “Well, what have I done?” he screamed at his father.
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Words in This Story
sufficiently – adv. having or providing as much as is needed
cowboy – n. a man who rides a horse and whose job is to take care of cows or horses especially in the western U.S.
occupied – adj. being used by someone or something
cards – n. a game played with a set of small pieces of stiff paper that are marked with symbols or pictures to show its value
quarrel(ing) – v. to argue about or disagree with something
nervously – adv. in a way showing feelings of being worried and afraid about what might happen
courage – n. the ability to do something that you know is difficult or dangerous
evidently – adv. in a way that can be easily seen or noticed
apparently – adv. used to describe something that appears to be true based on what is known
tremble(d) – v. to shake slightly because you are afraid, nervous or excited
eagerly – adv. in a way that shows you are very interested
undeserved – adj. unfair or unjustified