Hammett: “Holiday”

Holiday-The New Pearsons 7-23

Jeez, maybe I’ll take the rest of this blogging month off — I think Terry Zobeck has it under control!

For part three of his new series detailing edits made by Frederic Dannay — you’ll need your copy of the 1951 digest Woman in the Dark for this one — Terry deals with the Hammett short story “Holiday.”

Not exactly a tale of Xmas cheer, as you’ll find out.

“Holiday” currently is available in a pure text version in the collection Lost Stories (I’m sure you can figure out the Dannay cuts and edits by referring to this edition, too, but it’s more fun to juggle the paperbacks of over half a century ago).

Here’s Terry:


“Holiday” is a highlight of Hammett’s early fiction, among my favorites of any of his stories. It is not a crime story, but rather a slice of life character study, one that is hard not to see as heavily autobiographical. It was first published in the July 1923 issue The New Pearson’s and reprinted by Dannay in Woman in the Dark (1951).

Paul Hetherwick is a veteran enrolled as a patient at Public Service Health Hospital No. 64 in San Diego. We’re not told specifically what he’s suffering from, but there are several references to his cough. Sound familiar?

Hammett gives us a sharply drawn portrait of a day in the life of Paul Hetherwick. He obtains a day pass from the hospital administrator, withdraws $100 from the bank, and catches a bus to Tijuana. He spends some time playing the ponies at the track and then drinking with a couple of bar girls.

With economical, evocative prose Hammett lets us know that in addition to his lung disease, Paul is suffering from a bad case of ennui; he doesn’t care whether his horses pay off or if bar-girls drink up his money. He’s not even interested in sex with “the girl with red hair”. This attitude is presumably driven by the uncertainness of the future common to tubercular patients.

“Holiday” is only Hammett’s sixth published short story (not counting two early “miscellaneous” pieces) but he is already in high gear; here’s his description of the first bar-girl he encounters:

He let her lead him to a booth — feeling a perverse delight in her utter coarseness — where she sat leaning heavily against him, one hand on his knee. He wondered what it would be like to lie in the arms of such a monster: middle-aged, bull-throated, grotesquely masked even under her tawdry garniture, manifestly without sex.

After buying her several more drinks, Paul decides it’s time to move on. As he is leaving he begins to feel shame at the thought of being just another easy mark for her bar tab scam. Before he leaves he tells her:

“You’ve got me all wrong,” he assured her, seriously. “I don’t mind letting you take me for a ten or so when it’s all I’ve got. Ten isn’t much money one way or the other. But don’t think I’m coming down here with a roll to let you —”  Suddenly he saw himself standing in the doorway trying to justify himself to this monstrosity. He broke off with a clear, ringing laugh and walked away.

Typical of Hammett, having Paul cut off his self-loathing with a laugh.

At the next saloon Paul encounters the real reason for his Tijuana trip — the horses and the first saloon were just excuses to heighten his anticipation of seeing the red-haired girl. She’s a dancer and bar-girl at a saloon down the street from the first one. They talk some and drink for a while, comfortable, but not intimate; then:

He was filled with a strange affection for her: an affection that, though it was personal enough, had nothing of desire in it. Drunk as he undoubtedly was he did not want her physically. For all her beauty and pull upon his heart she was a girl who “hustled drinks” in a border town. That she might be a virgin — there wasn’t anything impossible about that unlikely hypothesis: her profession didn’t preclude it, even compelled continence during working hours — made no difference. It wasn’t even so much that she was tainted by the pawing of strange hands — she had a freshness that had withstood that — as that in some obscure way the desires of too many men had rendered her no longer quite desirable. If he ever turned to a woman of this particularly sordid world it would be to some such monster as the one down the street. Given a certain turn of temper, there would be a savage, ghoulish joy in her.

It may not be a crime story, but it is certainly hard-boiled.

If you’ve been hanging around the Mean Streets for awhile, then you know the drill: page number, line number, whether it is from the top or bottom of the page, and the edited text; Hammett’s original text is underlined.


Page       Line        top/bottom      Text

114         8             bottom            and bought a racing form, studying it carefully, together with some figures in a memorandum book,

115         3             top                   and kept him coughing his sharp, barking cough.

115         10           top                   for his two colored tickets. He had not been especially stirred by either the race or the result: he had thought the horse would win without difficulty.

115         17/18      top                   Between races he drank whiskey at the grandstand bar, being served liquor of the same quality that was procurable north of the border and paying the same prices.

115         3             bottom            grotesquely masked even under her tawdry garniture,

116         17           bottom            They took me down the line at the track

116         16           bottom            “Tough luck,” she said, with facial sympathy,

116         15           bottom            She grew confidential. [Should be a separate paragraph]

117         10           top                   waited for his beckoning nod.

117         17           bottom            they stood drinking slowly, close together but not touching, not talking very much, but smiling

118         11           top                   And then, resting one hand lightly on his sleeve,

118         12           top                   He backed away shaking his head. “So long!” He turned toward the door.

119         1             top                   because it was 444 Fourth Aavenue.

119         16           top                   in a thin, plaintive voice, and her companions—two sailors from the Pacific fleet—argued loudly some question having to do with gun-pointing.

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