Part 3 out of 4
hands me the authorities covering the issue in question in typewritten
form. It is extraordinarily simple and easy. Yet only yesterday I heard
of a middle-aged man, whom I knew to be a peculiarly well-equipped
all-around lawyer, who was ready to give up his private practice and
take a place in any reputable office at a salary of thirty-five hundred
Most of my own time is spent in untangling mixed puzzles of law and
fact, and my clients are comparatively few in number, though their
interests are large. Thus I see the same faces over and over again. I
lunch daily at a most respectable eating club; and here, too, I meet the
same men over and over again. I rarely make a new acquaintance downtown;
in fact I rarely leave my office during the day. If I need to confer
with any other attorney I telephone. There are dozens of lawyers in New
York whose voices I know well--yet whose faces I have never seen.
My office is on the nineteenth floor of a white marble building, and I
can look down the harbor to the south and up the Hudson to the north. I
sit there in my window like a cliffdweller at the mouth of his cave.
When I walk along Wall Street I can look up at many other hundreds of
these caves, each with its human occupant. We leave our houses uptown,
clamber down into a tunnel called the Subway, are shot five miles or so
through the earth, and debouch into an elevator that rushes us up to our
caves. Only between my house and the entrance to the Subway am I obliged
to step into the open air at all. A curious life! And I sit in my chair
and talk to people in multitudes of other caves near by, or caves in New
Jersey, Washington or Chicago.
Louis XI used to be called "the human spider" by reason of his industry,
but we modern office men are far more like human spiders than he, as we
sit in the center of our webs of invisible wires. We wait and wait, and
our lines run out across the length and breadth of the land--sometimes
getting tangled, to be sure, so that it is frequently difficult to
decide just which spider owns the web; but we sit patiently doing
nothing save devising the throwing out of other lines.
We weave, but we do not build; we manipulate, buy, sell and lend,
quarrel over the proceeds, and cover the world with our nets, while the
ants and the bees of mankind labor, construct and manufacture, and
struggle to harness the forces of Nature. We plan and others execute.
We dicker, arrange, consult, cajole, bribe, pull our wires and extort;
but we do it all in one place--the center of our webs and the webs are
woven in our caves.
I figure that I spend about six hours each day in my office; that I
sleep nearly nine hours; that I am in transit on surface cars and in
subways at least one hour and a half more; that I occupy another hour
and a half in bathing, shaving and dressing, and an hour lunching at
midday. This leaves a margin of five hours a day for all other
Could even a small portion of this time be spent consecutively in
reading in the evening, I could keep pace with current thought and
literature much better than I do; or if I spent it with my son and
daughters I should know considerably more about them than I do now,
which is practically nothing. But the fact is that every evening from
the first of November to the first of May the motor comes to the door at
five minutes to eight and my wife and I are whirled up or down town to a
dinner party--that is, save on those occasions when eighteen or twenty
people are whirled to us.
* * * * *
This short recital of my daily activities is sufficient to demonstrate
that I lead an exceedingly narrow and limited existence. I do not know
any poor men, and even the charities in which I am nominally interested
are managed by little groups of rich ones. The truth is, I learned
thirty years ago that if one wants to make money one must go where money
is and cultivate the people who have it. I have no petty legal
business--there is nothing in it. If I cannot have millionaires for
clients I do not want any. The old idea that the young country lawyer
could shove a pair of socks into his carpetbag, come to the great city,
hang out his shingle and build up a practice has long since been
completely exploded. The best he can do now is to find a clerkship at
twelve hundred dollars a year.
Big business gravitates to the big offices; and when the big firms look
round for junior partners they do not choose the struggling though
brilliant young attorney from the country, no matter how large his
general practice may have become; but they go after the youth whose
father is a director in forty corporations or the president of a trust.
In the same way what time I have at my disposal to cultivate new
acquaintances I devote not to the merely rich and prosperous but to the
multi-millionaire--if I can find him--who does not even know the size of
his income. I have no time to waste on the man who is simply earning
enough to live quietly and educate his family. He cannot throw anything
worth while in my direction; but a single crumb from the magnate's table
may net me twenty or thirty thousand dollars. Thus, not only for social
but for business reasons, successful men affiliate habitually only with
rich people. I concede that is a rather sordid admission, but it is
none the truth.
* * * * *
Money is the symbol of success; it is what we are all striving to get,
and we naturally select the ways and means best adapted for the purpose.
One of the simplest is to get as near it as possible and stay there. If
I make a friend of a struggling doctor or professor he may invite me to
draw his will, which I shall either have to do for nothing or else
charge him fifty dollars for; but the railroad president with whom I
often lunch, and who is just as agreeable personally, may perhaps ask me
to reorganize a railroad. I submit that, selfish as it all seems when I
write it down, it would be hard to do otherwise.
I do not deliberately examine each new candidate for my friendship and
select or reject him in accordance with a financial test; but what I do
is to lead a social and business life that will constantly throw me only
with rich and powerful men. I join only rich men's clubs; I go to
resorts in the summer frequented only by rich people; and I play only
with those who can, if they will, be of advantage to me. I do not do
this deliberately; I do it instinctively--now. I suppose at one time it
was deliberate enough, but to-day it comes as natural as using my
automobile instead of a street car.
We have heard a great deal recently about a so-called Money Trust. The
truth of the matter is that the Money Trust is something vastly greater
than any mere aggregation of banks; it consists in our fundamental trust
in money. It is based on our instinctive and ineradicable belief that
money rules the destinies of mankind.
Everything is estimated by us in money. A man is worth so and so
much--in dollars. The millionaire takes precedence of everybody, except
at the White House. The rich have things their own way--and every one
knows it. Ashamed of it? Not at all. We are the greatest snobs in the
civilized world, and frankly so. We worship wealth because at present we
desire only the things wealth can buy.
The sea, the sky, the mountains, the clear air of autumn, the simple
sports and amusements of our youth and of the comparatively poor,
pleasures in books, in birds, in trees and flowers, are disregarded for
the fierce joys of acquisition, of the ownership in stocks and bonds, or
for the no less keen delight in the display of our own financial
superiority over our fellows.
We know that money is the key to the door of society. Without it our
sons will not get into the polo-playing set or our daughters figure in
the Sunday supplements. We want money to buy ourselves a position and to
maintain it after we have bought it.
We want house on the sunny side of the street, with facades of graven
marble; we want servants in livery and in buttons--or in powder and
breeches if possible; we want French chefs and the best wine and
tobacco, twenty people to dinner on an hour's notice, supper parties and
a little dance afterward at Sherry's or Delmonico's, a box at the opera
and for first nights at the theaters, two men in livery for our motors,
yachts and thirty-footers, shooting boxes in South Carolina, salmon
water in New Brunswick, and regular vacations, besides, at Hot Springs,
Aiken and Palm Beach; we want money to throw away freely and like
gentlemen at Canfield's, Bradley's and Monte Carlo; we want clubs,
country houses, saddle-horses, fine clothes and gorgeously dressed
women; we want leisure and laughter, and a trip or so to Europe every
year, our names at the top of the society column, a smile from the grand
dame in the tiara and a seat at her dinner table--these are the things
we want, and since we cannot have them without money we go after the
money first, as the _sine qua non_.
We want these things for ourselves and we want them for our children. We
hope our grandchildren will have them also, though about that we do not
care so much. We want ease and security and the relief of not thinking
whether we can afford to do things. We want to be lords of creation and
to pass creation on to our descendants, exactly as did the nobility of
the _Ancien Regime_.
At the present time money will buy anything, from a place in the vestry
of a swell church to a seat in the United States Senate--an election to
Congress, a judgeship or a post in the diplomatic service. It will buy
the favor of the old families or a decision in the courts. Money is the
controlling factor in municipal politics in New York. The moneyed group
of Wall Street wants an amenable mayor--a Tammany mayor preferred--so
that it can put through its contracts. You always know where to find a
regular politician. One always knew where to find Dick Croker. So the
Traction people pour the contents of their coffers into the campaign
Until very recently the Supreme Court judges of New York bought their
positions by making substantial contributions to the Tammany treasury.
The inferior judgeships went considerably cheaper. A man who stood in
with the Big Boss might get a bargain. I have done business with
politicians all my life and I have never found it necessary to mince my
words. If I wanted a favor I always asked exactly what it was going to
cost--and I always got the favor.
No one needs to hunt very far for cases where the power of money has
influenced the bench in recent times. The rich man can buy his son a
place in any corporation or manufacturing company. The young man may go
in at the bottom, but he will shoot up to the top in a year or two, with
surprising agility, over the heads of a couple of thousand other and
better men. The rich man can defy the law and scoff at justice; while
the poor man, who cannot pay lawyers for delay, goes to prison. These
are the veriest platitudes of demagogy, but they are true--absolutely
and undeniably true.
We know all this and we act accordingly, and our children imbibe a like
knowledge with their mother's or whatever other properly sterilized milk
we give them as a substitute. We, they and everybody else know that if
enough money can be accumulated the possessor will be on Easy Street for
the rest of his life--not merely the Easy Street of luxury and comfort,
but of security, privilege and power; and because we like Easy Street
rather than the Narrow Path we devote ourselves to getting there in the
quickest possible way.
We take no chances on getting our reward in the next world. We want it
here and now, while we are sure of it--on Broadway, at Newport or in
Paris. We do not fool ourselves any longer into thinking that by
self-sacrifice here we shall win happiness in the hereafter. That is all
right for the poor, wretched and disgruntled. Even the clergy are prone
to find heaven and hell in this world rather than in the life after
death; and the decay of faith leads us to feel that a purse of gold in
the hand is better than a crown of the same metal in the by-and-by. We
are after happiness, and to most of us money spells it.
The man of wealth is protected on every side from the dangers that beset
the poor. He can buy health and immunity from anxiety, and he can
install his children in the same impregnable position. The dust of his
motor chokes the citizen trudging home from work. He soars through life
on a cushioned seat, with shock absorbers to alleviate all the bumps. No
wonder we trust in money! We worship the golden calf far more than ever
did the Israelites beneath the crags of Sinai. The real Money Trust is
the tacit conspiracy by which those who have the money endeavor to hang
on to it and keep it among themselves. Neither at the present time do
great fortunes tend to dissolve as inevitably as formerly.
Oliver Wendell Holmes somewhere analyzes the rapid disintegration of the
substantial fortunes of his day and shows how it is, in fact, but "three
generations from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves." A fortune of two hundred
thousand dollars divided among four children, each of whose share is
divided among four grandchildren, becomes practically nothing at all--in
only two. But could the good doctor have observed the tendencies of
to-day he would have commented on a new phenomenon, which almost
counteracts the other.
It may be, and probably is, the fact that comparatively small fortunes
still tend to disintegrate. This was certainly the rule during the first
half of the nineteenth century in New England, when there was no such
thing as a distinctly moneyed class, and when the millionaire was a
creature only of romance. But when, as to-day, fortunes are so large
that it is impossible to spend or even successfully give away the income
from them, a new element is introduced that did not exist when Doctor
Holmes used to meditate in his study on the Back Bay overlooking the
At the present time big fortunes are apt to gain by mere accretion what
they lose by division; and the owner of great wealth has opportunities
for investment undreamed of by the ordinary citizen who must be content
with interest at four per cent and no unearned increment on his capital.
This fact might of itself negative the tendency of which he speaks; but
there is a much more potent force working against it as well. That is
the absolute necessity, induced by the demands of modern metropolitan
life, of keeping a big fortune together--or, if it must be divided, of
rehabilitating it by marriage.
There was a time not very long ago when one rarely heard of a young man
or young woman of great wealth marrying anybody with an equal fortune.
To do so was regarded with disapproval, and still is in some
communities. To-day it is the rule instead of the exception. Now we
habitually speak in America of the "alliances of great families." There
are two reasons for this--first, that being a multi-millionaire is
becoming, as it were, a sort of recognized profession, having its own
sports, its own methods of business and its own interests; second, that
the luxury of to-day is so enervating and insidious that a girl or
youth reared in what is called society cannot be comfortable, much less
happy, on the income of less than a couple of million dollars.
As seems to be demonstrated by the table of my own modest expenditure in
a preceding article, the income of but a million dollars will not
support any ordinary New York family in anything like the luxury to
which the majority of our young people--even the sons and daughters of
men in moderate circumstances--are accustomed.
Our young girls are reared on the choicest varieties of food, served
with piquant sauces to tempt their appetites; they are permitted to pick
and choose, and to refuse what they think they do not like; they are
carried to and from their schools, music and dancing lessons in motors,
and are taught to regard public conveyances as unhealthful and
inconvenient; they never walk; they are given clothes only a trifle less
fantastic and bizarre than those of their mothers, and command the
services of maids from their earliest years; they are taken to the
theater and the hippodrome, and for the natural pleasures of childhood
are given the excitement of the footlights and the arena.
As they grow older they are allowed to attend late dances that
necessitate remaining in bed the next morning until eleven or twelve
o'clock; they are told that their future happiness depends on their
ability to attract the right kind of man; they are instructed in every
art save that of being useful members of society; and in the ease,
luxury and vacuity with which they are surrounded their lives parallel
those of demi-mondaines. Indeed, save for the marriage ceremony, there
is small difference between them. The social butterfly flutters to the
millionaire as naturally as the night moth of the Tenderloin. Hence the
tendency to marry money is greater than ever before in the history of
Frugal, thrifty lives are entirely out of fashion. The solid,
self-respecting class, which wishes to associate with people of equal
means, is becoming smaller and smaller. If an ambitious mother cannot
afford to rent a cottage at Newport or Bar Harbor she takes her daughter
to a hotel or boarding house there, in the hope that she will be thrown
in contact with young men of wealth. The young girl in question, whose
father is perhaps a hardworking doctor or business man, at home lives
simply enough; but sacrifices are made to send her to a fashionable
school, where her companions fill her ears with stories of their motors,
trips to Europe, and the balls they attend during the vacations. She
becomes inoculated with the poison of social ambition before she comes
Unable by reason of the paucity of the family resources to buy luxuries
for herself, she becomes a parasite and hanger-on of rich girls. If she
is attractive and vivacious so much the better. Like the shopgirl
blinded by the glare of Broadway, she flutters round the drawing rooms
and country houses of the ultra-rich seeking to make a match that will
put luxury within her grasp; but her chances are not so good as
To-day the number of large fortunes has increased so rapidly that the
wealthy young man has no difficulty in choosing an equally wealthy mate
whose mental and physical attractions appear, and doubtless are, quite
as desirable as those of the daughter of poorer parents. The same
instinct to which I have confessed myself, as a professional man, is at
work among our daughters and sons. They may not actually judge
individuals by the sordid test of their ability to purchase ease and
luxury, but they take care to meet and associate with only those who can
In this their parents are their ofttimes unconscious accomplices. The
worthy young man of chance acquaintance is not invited to call--or, if
he is, is not pressed to stay to dinner. "Oh, he does not know our
crowd!" explains the girl to herself. The crowd, on analysis, will
probably be found to contain only the sons and daughters of fathers and
mothers who can entertain lavishly and settle a million or so on their
offspring at marriage.
There is a constant attraction of wealth for wealth. Poverty never
attracted anything. If our children have money of their own that is a
good reason to us why they should marry more money. We snarl angrily at
the penniless youth, no matter how capable and intelligent, who dares
cast his eyes on our daughter. We make it quite unambiguous that we have
other plans for her--plans that usually include a steam yacht and a
shooting box north of Inverness.
There is nothing more vicious than the commonly expressed desire of
parents in merely moderate circumstances to give their children what are
ordinarily spoken of as "opportunities." "We wish our daughters to have
every opportunity--the best opportunities," they say, meaning an equal
chance with richer girls of qualifying themselves for attracting wealthy
men and of placing themselves in their way. In reality opportunities for
what?--of being utterly miserable for the rest of their lives unless
they marry out of their own class.
The desire to get ahead that is transmitted from the American business
man to his daughter is the source of untold bitterness--for, though he
himself may fail in his own struggle, he has nevertheless had the
interest of the game; but she, an old maid, may linger miserably on,
unwilling to share the domestic life of some young man more than her
equal in every respect.
There is a subtle freemasonry among those who have to do with money.
Young men of family are given sinecures in banks and trust companies,
and paid many times the salaries their services are worth. The
inconspicuous lad who graduates from college the same year as one who
comes from a socially prominent family will slave in a downtown office
eight hours a day for a thousand dollars a year, while his classmate is
bowing in the ladies at the Fifth Avenue Branch--from ten to three
o'clock--at a salary of five thousand dollars. Why? Because he knows
people who have money and in one way or another may be useful sometime
to the president in a social way.
The remuneration of those of the privileged class who do any work at all
is on an entirely different basis from that of those who need it. The
poor boy is kept on as a clerk, while the rich one is taken into the
firm. The old adage says that "Kissing goes by favor"; and favors,
financial and otherwise, are given only to those who can offer something
in return. The tendency to concentrate power and wealth extends even to
the outer rim of the circle. It is an intangible conspiracy to corner
the good things and send the poor away empty. As I see it going on round
me, it is a heartless business.
Society is like an immense swarm of black bees settled on a honey-pot.
The leaders, who flew there first, are at the top, gorged and distended.
Round, beneath and on them crawl thousands of others thirsting to feed
on the sweet, liquid gold. The pot is covered with them, layer on
layer--buzzing hungrily; eager to get as near as possible to the honey,
even if they may not taste it. A drop falls on one and a hundred fly on
him and lick it off. The air is alive with those who are circling about
waiting for an advantageous chance to wedge in between their comrades.
They will, with one accord, sting to death any hapless creature who
* * * * *
Frankly I should not be enough of a man to say these things if my
identity were disclosed, however much they ought to be said. Neither
should I make the confessions concerning my own career that are to
follow; for, though they may evidence a certain shrewdness on my own
part, I do not altogether feel that they are to my credit.
When my wife and I first came to New York our aims and ideals were
simple enough. I had letters to the head of a rather well-known firm on
Wall Street and soon found myself its managing clerk at one hundred
dollars a month. The business transacted in the office was big
business--corporation work, the handling of large estates, and so on.
During three years I was practically in charge of and responsible for
the details of their litigations; the net profit divided by the two
actual members of the firm was about one hundred and fifty thousand
dollars. The gross was about one hundred and eighty thousand, of which
twenty thousand went to defray the regular office expenses--including
rent, stenographers and ordinary law clerks--while ten thousand was
divided among the three men who actually did most of the work.
The first of these was a highly trained lawyer about forty-five years of
age, who could handle anything from a dog-license matter before a police
justice to the argument of a rebate case in the United States Supreme
Court. He was paid forty-five hundred dollars a year and was glad to get
it. He was the active man of the office. The second man received
thirty-five hundred dollars, and for that sum furnished all the special
knowledge needed in drafting railroad mortgages and intricate legal
documents of all sorts. The third was a chap of about thirty who tried
the smaller cases and ran the less important corporations.
The two heads of the firm devoted most of their time to mixing with
bankers, railroad officials and politicians, and spent comparatively
little of it at the office; but they got the business--somehow. I
suppose they found it because they went out after it. It was doubtless
quite legitimate. Somebody must track down the game before the hunter
can do the shooting. At any rate they managed to find plenty of it and
furnished the work for the other lawyers to do.
I soon made up my mind that in New York brains were a pretty cheap
commodity. I was anxious to get ahead; but there was no opening in the
firm and there were others ready to take my place the moment it should
become vacant. I was a pretty fair lawyer and had laid by in the bank
nearly a thousand dollars; so I went to the head of the firm and made
the proposition that I should work at the office each day until one
o'clock and be paid half of what I was then getting--that is, fifty
dollars a month. In the afternoons an understudy should sit at my desk,
while I should be free.
I then suggested that the firm might divide with me the proceeds of any
business I should bring in. My offer was accepted; and the same
afternoon I went to the office of a young stockbroker I knew and stayed
there until three o'clock. The next day I did the same thing, and the
day after. I did not buy any stocks, but I made myself agreeable to the
group about the ticker and formed the acquaintance of an elderly German,
who was in the chewing-gum business and who amused himself playing the
It was not long before he invited me to lunch with him and I took every
opportunity to impress him with my legal acumen. He had a lawyer of his
own already, but I soon saw that the impression I was making would have
the effect I desired; and presently, as I had confidently expected, he
gave me a small legal matter to attend to. Needless to say it was
accomplished with care, celerity and success. He gave me another. For
six months I dogged that old German's steps every day from one o'clock
in the afternoon until twelve at night. I walked, talked, drank beer
and played pinochle with him, sat in his library in the evenings, and
took him and his wife to the theater.
At the end of that period he discharged his former attorney and retained
me. The business was easily worth thirty-five hundred dollars a year,
and within a short time the Chicle Trust bought out his interests and I
became a director in it and one of its attorneys.
I had already severed my connection with the firm and had opened an
office of my own. Among the directors in the trust with whom I was
thrown were a couple of rich young men whose fathers had put them on the
board merely for purposes of representation. These I cultivated with the
same assiduity as I had used with the German. I spent my entire time
gunning for big game. I went after the elephants and let the sparrows
go. It was only a month or so before my acquaintance with these two
boys--for they were little else--had ripened into friendship. My wife
and I were invited to visit at their houses and I was placed in contact
with their fathers. From these I soon began to get business. I have kept
it--kept it to myself. I have no real partners to steal it away from me.
I am now the same kind of lawyer as the two men who composed the firm
for which I slaved at a hundred dollars a month. I find the work for my
employees to do. I am now an exploiter of labor. It is hardly necessary
for me to detail the steps by which I gradually acquired what is known
as a gilt-edged practice; but it was not by virtue of my legal
abilities, though they are as good as the average. I got it by putting
myself in the eye of rich people in every way open to me. I even joined
a fashionable church--it pains me to write this--for the sole purpose of
becoming a member of the vestry and thus meeting on an intimate footing
the half-dozen millionaire merchants who composed it. One of them gave
me his business, made me his trustee and executor; and then I resigned
from the vestry.
I always made myself _persona grata_ to those who could help me along,
wore the best clothes I could buy, never associated with shabby people,
and appeared as much as possible in the company of my financial betters.
It was the easier for me to do this because my name was not Irish,
German or Hebraic. I had a good appearance, manners and an agreeable
gloss of culture and refinement. I was tactful, considerate, and tried
to strike a personal note in my intercourse with people who were worth
while; in fact I made it a practice--and still do so--to send little
mementos to my newer acquaintances--a book or some such trifle--with a
line expressing my pleasure at having met them.
I know a considerable number of doctors, as well as lawyers, who have
built up lucrative practices by making love to their female clients and
patients. That I never did; but I always made it a point to flatter any
women I took in to dinner, and I am now the trustee or business adviser
for at least half a dozen wealthy widows as a direct consequence.
One reason for my success is, I discovered very early in the game that
no woman believes she really needs a lawyer. She consults an attorney
not for the purpose of getting his advice, but for sympathy and his
approval of some course she has already decided on and perhaps already
followed. A lawyer who tells a woman the truth thereby loses a client.
He has only to agree with her and compliment her on her astuteness and
sagacity to intrench himself forever in her confidence.
A woman will do what she wants to do--every time. She goes to a lawyer
to explain why she intends to do it. She wants to have a man about on
whom she can put the blame if necessary, and is willing to
pay--moderately--for the privilege. She talks to a lawyer when no one
else is willing to listen to her, and thoroughly enjoys herself. He is
the one man who--unless he is a fool--cannot talk back.
Another fact to which I attribute a good deal of my professional eclat
is, that I never let any of my social friends forget that I was a lawyer
as well as a good fellow; and I always threw a hearty bluff at being
prosperous, even when a thousand or two was needed to cover the
overdraft in my bank account. It took me about ten years to land myself
firmly among the class to which I aspired, and ten years more to make
that place impregnable.
To-day we are regarded as one of the older if not one of the old
families in New York. I no longer have to lick anybody's boots, and
until I began to pen these memoirs I had really forgotten that I ever
had. Things come my way now almost of themselves. All I have to do is to
be on hand in my office--cheerful, hospitable, with a good story or so
always on tap. My junior force does the law work. Yet I challenge
anybody to point out anything dishonorable in those tactics by which I
first got my feet on the lower rungs of the ladder of success.
It may perhaps be that I should prefer to write down here the story of
how, simply by my assiduity and learning, I acquired such a reputation
for a knowledge of the law that I was eagerly sought out by a horde of
clamoring clients who forced important litigations on me. Things do not
happen that way in New York to-day.
Should a young man be blamed for getting on by the easiest way he can?
Life is too complex; the population too big. People have no accurate
means of finding out who the really good lawyers or doctors are. If you
tell them you are at the head of your profession they are apt to believe
you, particularly if you wear a beard and are surrounded by an
atmosphere of solemnity. Only a man's intimate circle knows where he is
or what he is doing at any particular time.
I remember a friend of mine who was an exceedingly popular member of one
of the exclusive Fifth Avenue clubs, and who, after going to Europe for
a short vacation, decided to remain abroad for a couple of years. At the
end of that time he returned to New York hungry for his old life and
almost crazy with delight at seeing his former friends. Entering the
club about five o'clock he happened to observe one of them sitting by
the window. He approached him enthusiastically, slapped him on the
shoulder, extended his hand and cried:
"Hello, old man! It's good to see you again!"
The other man looked at him in a puzzled sort of way without moving.
"Hello, yourself!" he remarked languidly. "It's good to see you, all
right--but why make so much damned fuss about it?"
The next sentence interchanged between the two developed the fact that
he was totally ignorant that his friend had been away at all. This is by
no means a fantastic illustration. It happens every day. That is one of
the joys of living in New York. You can get drunk, steal a million or
so, or run off with another man's wife--and no one will hear about it
until you are ready for something else. In such a community it is not
extraordinary that most people are taken at their face value. Life
moves at too rapid a pace to allow us to find out much about
anybody--even our friends. One asks other people to dinner simply
because one has seen them at somebody's else house.
I found it at first very difficult--in fact almost impossible--to spur
my wife on to a satisfactory cooperation with my efforts to make the
hand of friendship feed the mouth of business. She rather indignantly
refused to meet my chewing-gum client or call on his wife. She said she
preferred to keep her self-respect and stay in the boarding-house where
we had resided since we moved to the city; but I demonstrated to her by
much argument that it was worse than snobbish not to be decently polite
to one's business friends. It was not their fault if they were vulgar.
One might even help them to enlarge their lives. Gradually she came
round; and as soon as the old German had given me his business she was
the first to suggest moving to an apartment hotel uptown.
For a long time, however, she declined to make any genuine social
effort. She knew two or three women from our neighborhood who were
living in the city, and she used to go and sit with them in the
afternoons and sew and help take care of the children. She said they and
their husbands were good enough for her and that she had no aspirations
toward society. An evening at the theater--in the balcony--every two
weeks or so, and a rubber of whist on Saturday night, with a
chafing-dish supper afterward, was all the excitement she needed. That
was twenty-five years ago. To-day it is I who would put on the brakes,
while she insists on shoveling soft coal into the social furnace.
Her metamorphosis was gradual but complete. I imagine that her first
reluctance to essay an acquaintance with society arose out of
embarrassment and bashfulness. At any rate she no sooner discovered how
small a bluff was necessary for success than she easily outdid me in the
ingenuity and finesse of her social strategy. It seemed to be
instinctive with her. She was always revising her calling lists and
cutting out people who were no longer socially useful; and having got
what she could out of a new acquaintance, she would forget her as
completely as if she had never made her the confidante of her inmost
thoughts about other and less socially desirable people.
It seems a bit cold-blooded--this criticism of one's wife; but I know
that, however much of a sycophant I may have been in my younger days, my
wife has outdone me since then. Presently we were both in the swim,
swept off our feet by the current and carried down the river of success,
willy-nilly, toward its mouth--to a safe haven, I wonder, or the deluge
of a devouring cataract?
* * * * *
The methods I adopted are those in general use, either consciously or
unconsciously, among people striving for success in business, politics
or society in New York. It is a struggle for existence, precisely like
that which goes on in the animal world. Only those who have strength or
cunning survive to achieve success. Might makes right to an extent
little dreamed of by most of us. Nobody dares to censure or even mildly
criticize one who has influence enough to do him harm. We are interested
only in safeguarding or adding to the possessions we have already
secured. We are wise enough to "play safe." To antagonize one who might
assist in depriving us of some of them is contrary to the laws of
Our thoughts are for ourselves and our children alone. The devil take
everybody else! We are safe, warm and comfortable ourselves; we exist
without actual labor; and we desire our offspring to enjoy the same ease
and safety. The rest of mankind is nothing to us, except a few people it
is worth our while to be kind to--personal servants and employees. We
should not hesitate to break all ten of the Commandments rather than
that we and our children should lose a few material comforts. Anything,
save that we should have really to work for a living!
There are essentially two sorts of work: first--genuine labor, which
requires all a man's concentrated physical or mental effort; and
second--that work which takes the laborer to his office at ten o'clock
and, after an easy-going administrative morning, sets him at liberty at
three or four.
The officer of an uptown trust company or bank is apt to belong to the
latter class. Or perhaps one is in real estate and does business at the
dinner tables of his friends. He makes love and money at the same time.
His salary and commissions correspond somewhat to the unearned increment
on the freeholds in which he deals. These are minor illustrations, but a
majority of the administrative positions in our big corporations carry
salaries out of all proportion to the services rendered.
These are the places my friends are all looking for--for themselves or
their children. The small stockholder would not vote the president of
his company a salary of one hundred thousand dollars a year, or the
vice-president fifty thousand dollars; but the rich man who controls the
stock is willing to give his brother or his nephew a soft snap. From
what I know of corporate enterprise in these United States, God save the
minority stockholder! But we and our brothers and sons and nephews must
live--on Easy Street. We must be able to give expensive dinners and go
to the theater and opera, and take our families to Europe--and we can't
do it without money.
We must be able to keep up our end without working too hard, to be safe
and warm, well fed and smartly turned out, and able to call in a
specialist and a couple of trained nurses if one of the children falls
ill; we want thirty-five feet of southerly exposure instead of
seventeen, menservants instead of maid-servants, and a new motor every
We do not object to working--that is to say, we pride ourselves on
having a job. We like to be moderately busy. We would not have enough to
amuse us all day if we did not go to the office in the morning; but what
we do is not _work_! It is occupation perhaps--but there is no labor
about it, either of mind or body. It is a sinecure--a "cinch." We could
stay at home and most of us would not be missed. It is not the
seventy-five-hundred-dollar-a-year vice-president but the
eight-hundred-and-fifty-dollar clerk for want of whom the machine would
stop if he were sick. Our labor is a kind of masculine light housework.
We probably have private incomes, thanks to our fathers or great
uncles--not large enough to enable us to cut much of a dash, to be sure,
but sufficient to give us confidence--and the proceeds of our daily
toil, such as it is, go toward the purchase of luxuries merely. Because
we are in business we are able to give bigger and more elegant dinner
parties, go to Palm Beach in February, and keep saddle-horses; but we
should be perfectly secure without working at all.
Hence we have a sense of independence about it. We feel as if it were
rather a favor on our part to be willing to go into an office; and we
expect to be paid vastly more proportionately than the fellow who needs
the place in order to live: so we cut him out of it at a salary three
times what he would have been paid had he got the job, while he keeps on
grinding at the books as a subordinate. We come down late and go home
early, drop in at the club and go out to dinner, take in the opera, wear
furs, ride in automobiles, and generally boss the show--for the sole
reason that we belong to the crowd who have the money. Very likely if we
had not been born with it we should die from malnutrition, or go to
Ward's Island suffering from some variety of melancholia brought on by
worry over our inability to make a living.
I read the other day the true story of a little East Side tailor who
could not earn enough to support himself and his wife. He became
half-crazed from lack of food and together they resolved to commit
suicide. Somehow he secured a small 22-caliber rook rifle and a couple
of cartridges. The wife knelt down on the bed in her nightgown, with her
face to the wall, and repeated a prayer while he shot her in the back.
When he saw her sink to the floor dead he became so unnerved that,
instead of turning the rifle on himself, he ran out into the street,
with chattering teeth, calling for help.
This tragedy was absolutely the result of economic conditions, for the
man was a hardworking and intelligent fellow, who could not find
employment and who went off his head from lack of nourishment.
Now "I put it to you," as they say in the English law courts, how much
of a personal sacrifice would you have made to prevent this tragedy?
What would that little East Side Jewess' life have been worth to you?
She is dead. Her soul may or may not be with God. As a suicide the
Church would say it must be in hell. Well, how much would you have done
to preserve her life or keep her soul out of hell?
Frankly, would you have parted with five hundred dollars to save that
woman's life? Five hundred dollars? Let me tell you that you would not
voluntarily have given up smoking cigars for one year to avoid that
tragedy! Of course you would have if challenged to do so. If the fact
that the killing could be avoided in some such way or at a certain
price, and the discrepancy between the cost and the value of the life
were squarely brought to your particular attention, you might and
probably would do something. How much is problematical.
Let us do you the credit of saying that you would give five hundred
dollars--and take it out of some other charity. But what if you were
given _another_ chance to save a life for five hundred dollars? All
right; you will save that too. Now a third! You hesitate. That will be
spending fifteen hundred dollars--a good deal. Still you decide to do
it. Yet how embarrassing! You find an opportunity to save a fourth, a
fifth--a hundred lives at the same price! What are you going to do?
We all of us have such a chance in one way or another. The answer is
that, in spite of the admonition of Christ to sell our all and give to
the poor, and others of His teachings as contained in the Sermon on the
Mount, you probably, in order to save the lives of persons unknown to
you, would not sacrifice a single substantial material comfort for one
year; and that your impulse to save the lives of persons actually
brought to your knowledge would diminish, fade away and die in direct
proportion to the necessity involved of changing your present luxurious
mode of life.
Do you know any rich woman who would sacrifice her automobile in order
to send convalescents to the country? She may be a very charitable
person and in the habit of sending such people to places where they are
likely to recover health; but, no matter how many she actually sends,
there would always be eight or ten more who could share in that blessed
privilege if she gave up her motor and used the money for the purpose.
Yet she does not do so and you do not do so; and, to be quite honest,
you would think her a fool if she did.
What an interesting thing it would be if we could see the mental
processes of some one of our friends who, unaware of our knowledge of
his thoughts, was confronted with the opportunity of saving a life or
accomplishing a vast good at a great sacrifice of his worldly
Suppose, for instance, he could save his own child by spending fifty
thousand dollars in doctors, hospitals and nurses. Of course he would do
so without a moment's hesitation, even if that was his entire fortune.
But suppose the child were a nephew? We see him waver a little. A
cousin--there is a distinct pause. Shall he pauperize himself just for a
cousin? How about a mere social acquaintance? Not much! He might in a
moment of excitement jump overboard to save somebody from drowning; but
it would have to be a dear friend or close relative to induce him to go
to the bank and draw out all the money he had in the world to save that
The cities are full of lives that can be saved simply by spending a
little money; but we close our eyes and, with our pocket-books clasped
tight in our hands, pass by on the other side. Why? Not because we do
not wish to deprive ourselves of the necessaries of life or even of its
solid comforts, but because we are not willing to surrender our
_amusements_. We want to play and not to work. That is what we are
doing, what we intend to keep on doing, and what we plan to have our
children do after us.
Brotherly love? How can there be such a thing when there is a single
sick baby dying for lack of nutrition--a single convalescent suffocating
for want of country air--a single family without fire or blankets?
Suggest to your wife that she give up a dinner gown and use the money to
send a tubercular office boy to the Adirondacks--and listen to her
excuses! Is there not some charitable organization that does such
things? Has not his family the money? How do you know he really has
consumption? Is he a _good_ boy? And finally: "Well, one can't send
every sick boy to the country; if one did there would be no money left
to bring up one's own children." She hesitates--and the boy dies
perhaps! So long as we do not see them dying, we do not really care how
many people die.
Our altruism, such as it is, has nothing abstract about it. The
successful man does not bother himself about things he cannot see. Do
not talk about foreign missions to _him_. Try his less successful
brother--the man who is _not_ successful because you can talk over with
him foreign missions or even more idealistic matters; who is a failure
because he will make sacrifices for a principle.
It is all a part of our materialism. Real sympathy costs too much money;
so we try not to see the miserable creatures who might be restored to
health for a couple of hundred dollars. A couple of hundred dollars?
Why, you could take your wife to the theater forty times--once a week
during the entire season--for that sum!
Poor people make sacrifices; rich ones do not. There is very little real
charity among successful people. A man who wasted his time helping
others would never get on himself.
* * * * *
It will, of course, be said in reply that the world is full of
charitable institutions supported entirely by the prosperous and
successful. That is quite true; but it must be remembered that they are
small proof in themselves of the amount of real self-sacrifice and
genuine charity existing among us.
Philanthropy is largely the occupation of otherwise ineffective people,
or persons who have nothing else to do, or of retired capitalists who
like the notoriety and laudation they can get in no other way. But, even
with philanthropy to amuse him, an idle multi-millionaire in these
United States has a pretty hard time of it. He is generally too old to
enjoy society and is not qualified to make himself a particularly
agreeable companion, even if his manners would pass muster at Newport.
Politics is too strenuous. Desirable diplomatic posts are few and the
choicer ones still require some dignity or educational qualification in
the holders. There is almost nothing left but to haunt the picture
sales or buy a city block and order the construction of a French
chateau in the middle of it.
I know one of these men intimately; in fact I am his attorney and helped
him make a part of his money. At sixty-four he retired--that is, he
ceased endeavoring to increase his fortune by putting up the price of
foodstuffs and other commodities, or by driving competitors out of
business. Since then he has been utterly wretched. He would like to be
in society and dispense a lavish hospitality, but he cannot speak the
language of the drawing room. His opera box stands stark and empty. His
house, filled with priceless treasures fit for the Metropolitan Museum,
is closed nine months in the year.
His own wants are few. His wife is a plain woman, who used to do her own
cooking and, in her heart, would like to do it still. He knows nothing
of the esthetic side of life and is too old to learn. Once a month, in
the season, we dine at his house, with a mixed company, in a desert of
dining room at a vast table loaded with masses of gold plate. The
peaches are from South Africa; the strawberries from the Riviera. His
chef ransacks the markets for pheasants, snipe, woodcock, Egyptian quail
and canvasbacks. And at enormous distances from each other--so that the
table may be decently full--sit, with their wives, his family doctor,
his clergyman, his broker, his secretary, his lawyer, and a few of the
more presentable relatives--a merry party! And that is what he has
striven, fought and lied for for fifty years.
Often he has told me of the early days, when he worked from seven until
six, and then studied in night school until eleven; and of the later
ones when he and his wife lived, like ourselves, in a Fourteenth Street
lodging house and saved up to go to the theater once a month. As a young
man he swore he would have a million before he died. Sunday afternoons
he would go up to the Vanderbilt house on Fifth Avenue and, shaking his
fist before the ornamental iron railing, whisper savagely that he would
own just such a house himself some day. When he got his million he was
going to retire. But he got his million at the age of forty-five, and it
looked too small and mean; he would have ten--then he would stop!
By fifty-five he had his ten millions. It was comparatively easy, I
believe, for him to get it. But still he was not satisfied. Now he has
twenty. But apart from his millions, his house and his pictures, which
are bought for him by an agent on a salary of ten thousand dollars a
year, he has nothing! I dine with him out of charity.
Well, recently Johnson has gone into charity himself. I am told he has
given away two millions! That is an exact tenth of his fortune. He is a
religious man--in this respect he has outdone most of his brother
millionaires. However, he still has an income of over a million a
year--enough to satisfy most of his modest needs. Yet the frugality of a
lifetime is hard to overcome, and I have seen Johnson walk home--seven
blocks--in the rain from his club rather than take a cab, when the same
evening he was giving his dinner guests peaches that cost--in
December--two dollars and seventy-five cents apiece.
The question is: How far have Johnson's two millions made him a
charitable man? I confess that, so far as I can see, giving them up did
not cost him the slightest inconvenience. He merely bought a few hundred
dollars' worth of reputation--as a charitable millionaire--at a cost of
two thousand thousand dollars. It was--commercially--a miserable
bargain. Only a comparatively few people of the five million inhabitants
of the city of New York ever heard of Johnson or his hospital. Now that
it has been built, he is no longer interested. I do not believe he
actually got as much satisfaction out of his two-million-dollar
investment as he would get out of an evening at the Hippodrome; but who
can say that he is not charitable?
* * * * *
I lay stress on this matter of charity because essentially the
charitable man is the good man. And by good we mean one who is of value
to others as contrasted with one who is working, as most of us are, only
for his own pocket all the time. He is the man who is such an egoist
that he looks on himself as a part of the whole world and a brother to
the rest of mankind. He has really got an exaggerated ego and everybody
else profits by it in consequence.
He believes in abstract principles of virtue and would die for them; he
recognizes duties and will struggle along, until he is a worn-out,
penniless old man, to perform them. He goes out searching for those who
need help and takes a chance on their not being deserving. Many a poor
chap has died miserably because some rich man has judged that he was not
deserving of help. I forget what Lazarus did about the thirsty gentleman
in Hades--probably he did not regard him as deserving either.
With most of us a charitable impulse is like the wave made by a stone
thrown into a pool--it gets fainter and fainter the farther it has to
go. Generally it does not go the length of a city block. It is not
enough that there is a starving cripple across the way--he must be on
your own doorstep to rouse any interest. When we invest any of our money
in charity we want twenty per cent interest, and we want it quarterly.
We also wish to have a list of the stockholders made public. A man who
habitually smokes two thirty-cent cigars after dinner will drop a
quarter into the plate on Sunday and think he is a good Samaritan.
The truth of the matter is that whatever instinct leads us to contribute
toward the alleviation of the obvious miseries of the poor should
compel us to go further and prevent those miseries--or as many of them
as we can--from ever arising at all.
So far as I am concerned, the division of goodness into seven or more
specific virtues is purely arbitrary. Virtue is generic. A man is either
generous or mean--unselfish or selfish. The unselfish man is the one who
is willing to inconvenience or embarrass himself, or to deprive himself
of some pleasure or profit for the benefit of others, either now or
By the same token, now that I have given thought to the matter, I
confess that I am a selfish man--at bottom. Whatever generosity I
possess is surface generosity. It would not stand the acid test of
self-interest for a moment. I am generous where it is worth my
while--that is all; but, like everybody else in my class, I have no
generosity so far as my social and business life is concerned. I am
willing to inconvenience myself somewhat in my intimate relations with
my family or friends, because they are really a part of _me_--and,
anyway, not to do so would result, one way or another, in even greater
inconvenience to me.
Once outside my own house, however, I am out for myself and nobody else,
however much I may protest that I have all the civic virtues and deceive
the public into thinking I have. What would become of me if I did not
look out for my own interests in the same way my associates look out
for theirs? I should be lost in the shuffle. The Christian virtues may
be proclaimed from every pulpit and the Banner of the Cross fly from
every housetop; but in business it is the law of evolution and not the
Sermon on the Mount that controls.
The rules of the big game are the same as those of the Roman
amphitheater. There is not even a pretense that the same code of morals
can obtain among corporations and nations as among private individuals.
Then why blame the individuals? It is just a question of dog eat dog. We
are all after the bone.
No corporation would shorten the working day except by reason of
self-interest or legal compulsion. No business man would attack an abuse
that would take money out of his own pocket. And no one of us, except
out of revenge or pique, would publicly criticize or condemn a man
influential enough to do us harm. The political Saint George usually
hopes to jump from the back of the dead dragon of municipal corruption
into the governor's chair.
We have two standards of conduct--the ostensible and the actual. The
first is a convention--largely literary. It is essentially merely a
matter of manners--to lubricate the wheels of life. The genuine sphere
of its influence extends only to those with whom we have actual contact;
so that a breach of it would be embarrassing to us. Within this
qualified circle we do business as "Christians & Company, Limited."
Outside this circle we make a bluff at idealistic standards, but are
guided only by the dictates of self-interest, judged almost entirely by
I admit, however, that, though I usually act from selfish motives, I
would prefer to act generously if I could do so without financial loss.
That is about the extent of my altruism, though I concede an omnipresent
consciousness of what is abstractly right and what is wrong.
Occasionally, but very rarely, I even blindly follow this instinct
irrespective of consequences.
There have been times when I have been genuinely self-sacrificing.
Indeed I should unhesitatingly die for my son, my daughters--and
probably for my wife. I have frequently suffered financial loss rather
than commit perjury or violate my sense of what is right. I have called
this sense an instinct, but I do not pretend to know what it is. Neither
can I explain its origin. If it is anything it is probably utilitarian;
but it does not go very far. I have manners rather than morals.
Fundamentally I am honest, because to be honest is one of the rules of
the game I play. If I were caught cheating I should not be allowed to
participate. Honesty from this point of view is so obviously the best
policy that I have never yet met a big man in business who was crooked.
Mind you, they were most of them pirates--frankly flying the black flag
and each trying to scuttle the other's ships; but their word was as good
as their bond and they played the game squarely, according to the rules.
Men of my class would no more stoop to petty dishonesties than they
would wear soiled linen. The word lie is not in their mutual language.
They may lie to the outside public--I do not deny that they do--but they
do not lie to each other.
There has got to be some basis on which they can do business with one
another--some stability. The spoils must be divided evenly. Good morals,
like good manners, are a necessity in our social relations. They are the
uncodified rules of conduct among gentlemen. Being uncodified, they are
exceedingly vague; and the court of Public Opinion that administers them
is apt to be not altogether impartial. It is a "respecter of persons."
One man can get away with things that another man will hang for. A Jean
Valjean will steal a banana and go to the Island, while some rich fellow
will put a bank in his pocket and everybody will treat it as a joke. A
popular man may get drunk and not be criticized for it; but the sour
chap who does the same thing is flung out of the club. There is little
justice in the arbitrary decisions of society at large.
In a word we exact a degree of morality from our fellowmen precisely in
proportion to its apparent importance to ourselves. It is a purely
practical and even a rather shortsighted matter with us. Our friend's
private conduct, so far as it does not concern us, is an affair of small
moment. He can be as much of a roue as he chooses, so long as he
respects our wives and daughters. He can put through a gigantic
commercial robbery and we will acclaim his nerve and audacity, provided
he is on the level with ourselves. That is the reason why cheating one's
club members at cards is regarded as worse than stealing the funds
belonging to widows and orphans.
So long as a man conducts himself agreeably in his daily intercourse
with his fellows they are not going to put themselves out very greatly
to punish him for wrongdoing that does not touch their own bank accounts
or which merely violates their private ethical standards. Society is
crowded with people who have been guilty of one detestable act, have got
thereby on Easy Street and are living happily ever after.
I meet constantly fifteen or twenty men who have deliberately married
women for their money--of course without telling them so. According to
our professed principles this is--to say the least--obtaining money
under false pretenses--a crime under the statutes. These men are now
millionaires. They are crooks and swindlers of the meanest sort. Had
they not married in this fashion they could not have earned fifteen
hundred dollars a year; but everybody goes to their houses and eats
There are others, equally numerous, who acquired fortunes by
blackmailing corporations or by some deal that at the time of its
accomplishment was known to be crooked. To-day they are received on the
same terms as men who have been honest all their lives. Society is not
particular as to the origin of its food supply. Though we might refuse
to steal money ourselves we are not unwilling to let the thief spend it
on us. We are too busy and too selfish to bother about trying to punish
those who deserve punishment.
On the contrary we are likely to discover surprising virtues in the most
unpromising people. There are always extenuating circumstances. Indeed,
in those rare instances where, in the case of a rich man, the social
chickens come home to roost, the reason his fault is not overlooked is
usually so arbitrary or fortuitous that it almost seems an injustice
that he should suffer when so many others go scot-free for their
Society has no conscience, and whatever it has as a substitute is
usually stimulated only by motives of personal vengeance. It is easier
to gloss over an offense than to make ourselves disagreeable and perhaps
We have not even the public spirit to have a thief arrested and appear
against him in court if he has taken from us only a small amount of
money. It is too much trouble. Only when our pride is hurt do we call
loudly on justice and honor.
Even revenge is out of fashion. It requires too much effort. Few of us
have enough principle to make ourselves uncomfortable in attempting to
show disapproval toward wrongdoers. Were this not so, the wicked would
not be still flourishing like green bay trees. So long as one steals
enough he can easily buy our forgiveness. Honesty is not the best
policy--except in trifles.
When I began to pen these wandering confessions--or whatever they may
properly be called--it was with the rather hazy purpose of endeavoring
to ascertain why it was that I, universally conceded to be a successful
man, was not happy. As I reread what I have written I realize that,
instead of being a successful man in any way, I am an abject failure.
The preceding pages need no comment. The facts speak for themselves. I
had everything in my favor at the start. I had youth, health, natural
ability, a good wife, friends and opportunity; but I blindly accepted
the standards of the men I saw about me and devoted my energies to the
achievement of the single object that was theirs--the getting of money.
Thirty years have gone by. I have been a leader in the race and I have
secured a prize. But at what cost? I am old--a bundle of undesirable
habits; my health is impaired; my wife has become a frivolous and
extravagant woman; I have no real friends: my children are strangers to
me, and I have no home. I have no interest in my family, my social
acquaintances, or in the affairs of the city or nation. I take no
sincere pleasure in art or books or outdoor life. The only genuine
satisfaction that is mine is in the first fifteen-minutes' flush after
my afternoon cocktail and the preliminary course or two of my dinner. I
have nothing to look forward to. No matter how much money I make, there
is no use to which I can put it that will increase my happiness.
From a material standpoint I have achieved everything I can possibly
desire. No king or emperor ever approximated the actual luxury of my
daily life. No one ever accomplished more apparent work with less actual
personal effort. I am a master at the exploitation of intellectual
I have motors, saddle-horses, and a beautiful summer cottage at a cool
and fashionable resort. I travel abroad when the spirit moves me; I
entertain lavishly and am entertained in return; I smoke the costliest
cigars; I have a reputation at the bar, and I have an established income
large enough to sustain at least sixty intelligent people and their
families in moderate comfort. This must be true, for on the one hundred
and twenty-five dollars a month I pay my chauffeur he supports a wife
and two children, sends them to school and on a three-months' vacation
into the country during the summer. And, instead of all these things
giving me any satisfaction, I am miserable and discontented.
The fact that I now realize the selfishness of my life led me to-day to
resolve to do something for others--and this resolve had an unexpected
and surprising consequence.
Heretofore I had been engaged in an introspective study of my own
attitude toward my fellows. I had not sought the evidence of outside
parties. What has just occurred has opened my eyes to the fact that
others have not been nearly so blind as I have been myself.
James Hastings, my private secretary, is a man of about forty-five years
of age. He has been in my employ fifteen years. He is a fine type of man
and deserves the greatest credit for what he has accomplished. Beginning
life as an office boy at three dollars a week, he educated himself by
attending school at night, learned stenography and typewriting, and has
become one of the most expert law stenographers in Wall Street. I
believe that, without being a lawyer, he knows almost as much law as I
Gradually I have raised his wages until he is now getting fifty dollars
a week. In addition to this he does night-work at the Bar Association at
double rates, acts as stenographer at legal references, and does, I
understand, some trifling literary work besides. I suppose he earns from
thirty-five hundred to five thousand dollars a year. About thirteen
years ago he married one of the woman stenographers in the office--a
nice girl she was too--and now they have a couple of children. He lives
somewhere in the country and spends an unconscionable time on the train
daily, yet he is always on hand at an early hour.
What happened to-day was this: A peculiarly careful piece of work had
been done in the way of looking up a point of corporation law, and I
inquired who was responsible for briefing it. Hastings smiled and said
he had done so. As I looked at him it suddenly dawned on me that this
man might make real money if he studied for the bar and started in
practice for himself. He had brains and an enormous capacity for work. I
should dislike losing so capable a secretary, but it would be doing him
a good turn to let him know what I thought; and it was time that I did
somebody a good turn from an unselfish motive.
"Hastings," I said, "you're too good to be merely a stenographer. Why
don't you study law and make some money? I'll keep you here in my
office, throw things in your way and push you along. What do you say?"
He flushed with gratification, but, after a moment's respectful
hesitation, shook his head.
"Thank you very much, sir," he replied, "but I wouldn't care to do it. I
Though I am fond of the man, his obstinacy nettled me.
"Look here!" I cried. "I'm offering you an unusual chance. You had
better think twice before you decline such an opportunity to make
something of yourself. If you don't take it you'll probably remain what
you are as long as you live. Seize it and you may do as well as I have."
Hastings smiled faintly.
"I'm very sorry, sir," he repeated. "I'm grateful to you for your
interest; but--I hope you'll excuse me--I wouldn't change places with
you for a million dollars! No--not for ten million!"
He blurted out the last two sentences like a schoolboy, standing and
twisting his notebook between his fingers.
There was something in his tone that dashed my spirits like a bucket of
cold water. He had not meant to be impertinent. He was the most truthful
man alive. What did he mean? Not willing to change places with me! It
was my turn to flush.
"Oh, very well!" I answered in as indifferent a manner as I could
assume. "It's up to you. I merely meant to do you a good turn. We'll
think no more about it."
I continued to think about it, however. Would not change places with
me--a fifty-dollar-a-week clerk!
Hastings' pointblank refusal of my good offices, coming as it did hard
on the heels of my own realization of failure, left me sick at heart.
What sort of an opinion could this honest fellow, my mere
employee--dependent on my favor for his very bread--have of me, his
master? Clearly not a very high one! I was stung to the
* * * * *
It was Saturday morning. The week's work was practically over. All of my
clients were out of town--golfing, motoring, or playing poker at
Cedarhurst. There was nothing for me to do at the office but to indorse
half a dozen checks for deposit. I lit a cigar and looked out the window
of my cave down on the hurrying throng below. A resolute, never-pausing
stream of men plodded in each direction. Now and then others dashed out
of the doors of marble buildings and joined the crowd.
On the river ferryboats were darting here and there from shore to shore.
There was a bedlam of whistles, the thunder of steam winches, the clang
of surface cars, the rattle of typewriters. To what end? Down at the
curb my motor car was in waiting. I picked up my hat and passed into the
"By the way, Hastings," I said casually as I went by his desk, "where
are you living now?"
He looked up smilingly.
"Pleasantdale--up Kensico way," he answered.
I shifted my feet and pulled once or twice on my cigar. I had taken a
"Er--going to be in this afternoon?" I asked. "I'm off for a run and I
might drop in for a cup of tea about five o'clock."
"Oh, will you, sir!" he exclaimed with pleasure. "We shall be delighted.
Mine is the house at the crossroads--with the red roof."
"Well," said I, "you may see me--but don't keep your tea waiting."
As I shot uptown in my car I had almost the feeling of a coming
adventure. Hastings was a good sort! I respected him for his bluntness
of speech. At the cigar counter in the club I replenished my case.
Then I went into the reception room, where I found a bunch of
acquaintances sitting round the window. They hailed me boisterously.
What would I have to drink? I ordered a "Hannah Elias" and sank into a
chair. One of them was telling about the newest scandal in the divorce
line: The president of one of our largest trust companies had been
discovered to have been leading a double life--running an apartment on
the West Side for a haggard and _passee_ showgirl.
"You just tell me--I'd like to know--why a fellow like that makes such a
damned fool of himself! Salary of fifty thousand dollars a year! Big
house; high-class wife and family; yacht--everything anybody wants. Not
a drinking man either. It defeats me!" he said.
None of the group seemed able to suggest an answer. I had just tossed
off my "Hannah Elias."
"I think I know," I hazarded meditatively. They turned with one accord
and stared at me. "There was nothing else for him to do," I continued,
"except to blow his brains out."
The raconteur grunted.
"I don't just know the meaning of that!" he remarked. "I thought he was
a friend of yours!"
"Oh, I like him well enough," I answered, getting up. "Thanks for the
drink. I've got to be getting home. My wife is giving a little luncheon
to thirty valuable members of society."
I was delayed on Fifth Avenue and when the butler opened the front door
the luncheon party was already seated at the table. A confused din
emanated from behind the portieres of the dining room, punctuated by
shouts of female laughter. The idea of going in and overloading my
stomach for an hour, while strenuously attempting to produce light
conversation, sickened me. I shook my head.
"Just tell your mistress that I've been suddenly called away on
business," I directed the butler and climbed back into my motor.
"Up the river!" I said to my chauffeur.
We spun up the Riverside Drive, past rows of rococo apartment houses,
along the Lafayette Boulevard and through Yonkers. It was a glorious
autumn day. The Palisades shone red and yellow with turning foliage.
There was a fresh breeze down the river and a thousand whitecaps gleamed
in the sunlight. Overhead great white clouds moved majestically athwart
the blue. But I took no pleasure in it all. I was suffering from an
acute mental and physical depression. Like Hamlet I had lost all my
mirth--whatever I ever had--and the clouds seemed but a "pestilent
congregation of vapors." I sat in a sort of trance as I was whirled
farther and farther away from the city.
At last I noticed that my silver motor clock was pointing to half-past
two, and I realized that neither the chauffeur nor myself had had
anything to eat since breakfast. We were entering a tiny village. Just
beyond the main square a sign swinging above the sidewalk invited
wayfarers to a "quick lunch." I pressed the button and we pulled to the
"Lunch!" I said, and opened the wire-netted door. Inside there were half
a dozen oilcloth-covered tables and a red-cheeked young woman was sewing
in a corner.
"What have you got?" I asked, inspecting the layout.
"Tea, coffee, milk--eggs any style you want," she answered cheerily.
Then she laughed in a good-natured way. "There's a real hotel at
Poughkeepsie--five miles along," she added.
"I don't want a real hotel," I replied. "What are you laughing at?"
Then I realized that I must look rather civilized for a motorist.
"You don't look as you'd care for eggs," she said.
"That's where you're wrong," I retorted. "I want three of the biggest,
yellowest, roundest poached eggs your fattest hen ever laid--and a
schooner of milk."
The girl vanished into the back of the shop and presently I could smell
toast. I discovered I was extremely hungry. In about eight minutes she
came back with a tray on which was a large glass of creamy milk and the
triple eggs for which I had prayed. They were spherical, white and
"You're a prize poacher," I remarked, my spirits reviving.
She smiled appreciatively.
"Going far?" she inquired, sitting down quite at ease at one of the
I looked pensively at her pleasant face across the eggs.
"That's a question," I answered. "I can't make out whether I've been
moving on or just going round and round in a circle."
She looked puzzled for an instant. Then she said shrewdly:
"Perhaps you've really been _going back_."
"Perhaps," I admitted.
I have never tasted anything quite so good as those eggs and that milk.
From where I sat I could look far up the Hudson; the wind from the river
swayed the red maples round the door of the quick lunch; and from the
kitchen came the homely smells of my lost youth. I had a fleeting vision
of the party at my house, now playing bridge for ten cents a point; and
my soul lifted its head for the first time in weeks.
"How far is it to Pleasantdale?"
"A long way," answered the girl; "but you can make a connection by
trolley that will get you there in about two hours."
"Suits me!" I said and stepped to the door. "You can go, James; I'll get
He cast on me a scandalized look.
"Very good, sir!" he answered and touched his cap.
He must have thought me either a raving lunatic or an unabashed
adventurer. A moment more and the car disappeared in the direction of
the city. I was free! The girl made no attempt to conceal her amusement.
Behind the door was a gray felt hat. I took it down and looked at the
size. It was within a quarter of my own.
"Look here," I suggested, holding out a five-dollar bill, "I want a
Wishing Cap. Let me take this, will you?"
"The house is yours!" she laughed.
Over on the candy counter was a tray of corncob pipes. I helped myself
to one, to a package of tobacco and a box of matches. I hung my derby on
the vacant peg behind the door. Then I turned to my hostess.
"You're a good girl," I said. "Good luck to you."
For a moment something softer came into her eyes.
"And good luck to you, sir!" she replied. As I passed down the steps she
threw after me: "I hope you'll find--what you're looking for!"
* * * * *
In my old felt hat and smoking my corncob I trudged along the road in
the mellow sunlight, almost happy. By and by I reached the trolley line;
and for five cents, in company with a heterogeneous lot of country
folks, Italian laborers and others, was transported an absurdly long
distance across the state of New York to a wayside station.
There I sat on a truck on the platform and chatted with a husky,
broad-shouldered youth, who said he was the "baggage smasher," until
finally a little smoky train appeared and bore me southward. It was the
best holiday I had had in years--and I was sorry when we pulled into
Pleasantdale and I took to my legs again.
In the fading afternoon light it indeed seemed a pleasant, restful
place. Comfortable cottages, each in its own yard, stood in neighborly
rows along the shaded street. Small boys were playing football in a
field adjoining a schoolhouse.
Presently the buildings became more scattered and I found myself
following a real country road, though still less than half a mile from
the station. Ahead it divided and in the resulting triangle, behind a
well-clipped hedge, stood a pretty cottage with a red roof--Hastings', I
I tossed away my pipe and opened the gate. A rather pretty woman of
about thirty-five was reading in a red hammock; there were half a dozen
straw easy chairs and near by a teatable, with the kettle steaming. Mrs.
Hastings looked up at my step on the gravel path and smiled a welcome.
"Jim has been playing golf over at the club--he didn't expect you until
five," she said, coming to meet me.
"I don't care whether he comes or not," I returned gallantly. "I want to
see you. Besides, I'm as hungry as a bear." She raised her eyebrows. "I
had only an egg or so and a glass of milk for luncheon, and I have
"Oh!" she exclaimed. I could see she had had quite a different idea of
her erstwhile employer; but my statement seemed to put us on a more
friendly footing from the start.
"I love walking too," she hastened to say. "Isn't it wonderful to-day?
We get weeks of such weather as this every autumn." She busied herself
over the teacups and then, stepping inside the door for a moment,
returned with a plate piled high with buttered toast, and another with
sandwiches of grape jelly.
"Carmen is out," she remarked; "otherwise you should be served in
"Carmen is our maid, butler and valet," she explained. "It's such a
relief to get her out of the way once in a while and have the house all
to oneself. That's one of the reasons I enjoy our two-weeks' camping
trip so much every summer."
"You like the woods?"
"Better than anything, I think--except just being at home here. And the
children have the time of their lives--fishing and climbing trees, and
watching for deer in the boguns."
The gate clicked at that moment and Hastings, golf bag on shoulders,
came up the path. He looked lean, brown, hard and happy.
"Just like me to be late!" he apologized. "I had no idea it would take
me so long to beat Colonel Bogey."
"Your excuses are quite unnecessary. Mrs. Hastings and I have discovered
that we are natural affinities," said I.
My stenographer, quite at ease, leaned his sticks in a corner and helped
himself to a cup of tea and a couple of sandwiches, which in my opinion
rivaled my eggs and milk of the early afternoon. My walk had made me
comfortably tired; my lungs were distended with cool country air; my
head was clear, and this domestic scene warmed the cockles of my heart.
"How is the Chicopee & Shamrock reorganization coming on?" asked
Hastings, striving to be polite by suggesting a congenial subject for
"I don't know," I retorted. "I've forgotten all about it until Monday
morning. On the other hand, how are your children coming on?"
"Sylvia is out gathering chestnuts," answered Mrs. Hastings, "and Tom is
playing football. They'll be home directly. I wonder if you wouldn't
like Jim to show you round our place?"
"Just the thing," I answered, for I guessed she had household duties to
"Of course you'll stay to supper?" she pressed me.
I hesitated, though I knew I should stay, all the time.
"Well--if it really won't put you out," I replied. "I suppose there are
"One every hour. We'll get you home by ten o'clock."
"I'll have to telephone," I said, remembering my wife's regular
Saturday-night bridge party.
"That's easily managed," said Hastings. "You can speak to your own house
right from my library."
Again I barefacedly excused myself to my butler on the ground of
important business. As we strolled through the gateway we were met by a
sturdy little boy with tousled hair. He had on an enormous gray sweater
and was hugging a pigskin.
"We beat 'em!" he shouted, unabashed by my obviously friendly presence.
"Eighteen to nothing!"
"Tom is twelve," said Hastings with a shade of pride in his voice. "Yes,
the schools here are good. I expect to have him ready for college in
five years more."
"What are you going to make of him?" I asked.
"A civil engineer, I think," he answered. "You see, I'm a crank on fresh
air and building things--and he seems to be like me. This cooped-up city
life is pretty narrowing, don't you think?"
"It's fierce!" I returned heartily, with more warmth than elegance.
"Sometimes I wish I could chuck the whole business and go to farming."
"Why not?" he asked as we climbed a small rise behind the house. "Here's
my farm--fifteen acres. We raise most of our own truck."
Below the hill a cornfield, now yellow with pumpkins, stretched to the
farther road. Nearer the house was a kitchen garden, with an apple
orchard beyond. A man in shirtsleeves was milking a cow behind a tiny
"I bought this place three years ago for thirty-nine hundred dollars,"
said my stenographer. "They say it is worth nearer six thousand now.
Anyhow it is worth a hundred thousand to me!"
A little girl, with bulging apron, appeared at the edge of the orchard
and came running toward us.
"What have you got there?" called her father.
"Oh, daddy! Such lovely chestnuts!" cried the child. "And there are
millions more of them!"
"We'll roast 'em after supper," said her father. "Toddle along now and
She put up a rosy, beaming face to be kissed and dashed away toward the
house. I tried to remember what either of my two girls had been like at
her age, but for some strange reason I could not.
Across the road the fertile countryside sloped away into a distant
valley, hemmed in by dim blue hills, below which the sun had already
sunk, leaving only a gilded edge behind. The air was filled with a soft,
smoky haze. A church bell in the village struck six o'clock.
"_The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way_,"
"For 'plowman' read 'golfer,'" smiled my host. "By George, though--it is
pretty good to be alive!" The air had turned crisp and we both
instinctively took a couple of deep breaths. "Makes the city look like
thirty cents!" he ejaculated. "Of course it isn't like New York or
"No, thank God! It isn't!" I muttered as we wandered toward the house.
"I hope you don't mind an early supper," apologized Mrs. Hastings as we
entered; "but Jim gets absolutely ravenous. You see, on weekdays his
lunch is at best a movable feast."
Our promptly served meal consisted of soup, scrambled eggs and bacon,
broiled chops, fried potatoes, peas, salad, apple pie, cheese, grapes
plucked fresh from the garden wall, and black coffee, distilled from a
shining coffee machine. Mrs. Hastings brought the things hot from the
kitchen and dished them herself. Tom and Sylvia, carefully spruced up,
ate prodigiously and then helped clear away the dishes, while I produced
my cigar case.
Then Hastings led me across the hall to a room about twelve feet square,
the walls of which were lined with books, where a wood fire was already
crackling cozily. Motioning me to an old leather armchair, he pulled up
a wooden rocker before the mantel and, leaning over, laid a regiment of
chestnuts before the blazing logs.
I stretched out my legs and took a long pull on one of my
Carona-Caronas. It all seemed too good to be true. Only six hours before
in my marble entrance hall I had listened disgustedly to the cackle of
my wife's luncheon party behind the tapestry of my own dining room.
After all, how easy it was to be happy! Here was Hastings, jolly as a
clam and living like a prince on--what? I wondered.
"Hastings," I said, "do you mind telling me how much it costs you to
live like this?"
"Not at all," he replied--"though I never figured it out exactly. Let's
see. Five per cent on the cost of the place--say, two hundred dollars.
Repairs and insurance a hundred. That's three hundred, isn't it? We pay
the hired man thirty-five dollars and Carmen eighteen dollars a month,
and give 'em their board--about six hundred and fifty more. So far nine
hundred and fifty. Our vegetables and milk cost us practically
nothing--meat and groceries about seventy-five a month--nine hundred a
"We have one horse; but in good weather I use my bicycle to go to the
station. We cut our own ice in the pond back of the orchard. The schools
are free. I cut quite a lot of wood myself, but my coal comes high--must
cost me at least a hundred and fifty a year. I don't have many doctors'
bills, living out here; but the dentist hits us for about twenty-five
dollars every six months--that's fifty more. My wife spends about three
hundred and the children as much more. Of course that's fairly liberal.
One doesn't need ballgowns in our village.
"My own expenses are, railroad fare, lunches, tobacco--I smoke a pipe
mostly--and clothes--probably about five hundred in all. We go on a big
bat once a month and dine at a table-d'hote restaurant, and take in the
opera or the play. That costs some--about ten dollars a clip--say,
eighty for the season; and, of course, I blow the kids to a camping trip
every summer, which sets me back a good hundred and fifty. How does that
I had jotted the items down, as he went along, on the back of an
"Thirty-three hundred and eighty dollars," I said, adding them up.
"It seems a good deal," he commented, turning and gazing into the fire;
"but I have usually managed to lay up about fifteen hundred every
year--besides, of course, the little I give away."
I sat stunned. Thirty-three hundred dollars!--I spent seventy-two
thousand!--and the man lived as well as I did! What did I have that he
had not? But Hastings was saying something, still with his back toward
"I suppose you thought I must be an ungrateful dog not to jump at the
offer you made me this morning," he remarked in an embarrassed manner.
"It's worried me a lot all day. I'm really tremendously gratified at
your kindness. I couldn't very well explain myself, and I don't know
what possessed me to say what I did about my not being willing to
exchange places with you. But, you see, I'm over forty. That makes a
heap of difference. I'm as good a stenographer as you can find, and so
long as my health holds out I can be sure of at least fifty dollars a
week, besides what I earn outside.
"I've never had any kink for the law. I don't think I'd be a success at
it; and frankly, saving your presence, I don't like it. A lot of it is
easy money and a lot of it is money earned in the meanest way there
is--playing dirty tricks; putting in the wrong a fellow that's really
right; aggravating misunderstandings and profiting by the quarrels
people get into. You're a high-class, honorable man, and you don't see
the things I see." I winced. If he only knew, I had seen a good deal!
"But I go round among the other law offices, and I tell you it's a
"It's all right to reorganize a railroad; but in general litigation it
seems to me as if the lawyers spend most of their time trying to make
the judge and jury believe the witnesses are all criminals. Everything a
man says on the stand or has ever done in his life is made the subject
of a false inference--an innuendo. The law isn't constructive--it's
destructive; and that's why I want my boy to be a civil engineer."
He paused, abashed at his own heat.
"Well," I interjected, "it's a harsh arraignment; but there's a great
deal of truth in what you say. Wouldn't you like to make big money?"
"Big money! I do make big money--for a man of my class," he replied with
a gentle smile. "I wouldn't know what to do with much more. I've got
health and a comfortable home, the affection of an honest woman and two
fine children. I work hard, sleep like a log, and get a couple of sets
of tennis or a round of golf on Saturdays and Sundays. I have the
satisfaction of knowing I give you your money's worth for the salary you
pay me. My kids have as good teachers as there are anywhere. We see
plenty of people and I belong to a club or two. I bear a good reputation
in the town and try to keep things going in the right direction. We have
all the books and magazines we want to read. What's more, I don't worry
about trying to be something I'm not."
"How do you mean?" I asked, feeling that his talk was money in my moral
"Oh, I've seen a heap of misery in New York due to just wanting to get
ahead--I don't know where; fellows that are just crazy to make 'big
money' as you call it, in order to ride in motors and get into some sort
of society. All the clerks, office boys and stenographers seem to want
to become stockbrokers. Personally I don't see what there is in it for
them. I don't figure out that my boy would be any happier with two
million dollars than without. If he had it he would be worrying all the
time for fear he wasn't getting enough fun for his money. And as for my
girl I want her to learn to do something! I want her to have the
discipline that comes from knowing how to earn her own living. Of course
that's one of the greatest satisfactions there is in life anyway--doing
some one thing as well as it can be done."
"Wouldn't you like your daughter to marry?" I demanded.
"Certainly--if she can find a clean man who wants her. Why, it goes
without saying, that is life's greatest happiness--that and having
"Certainly!" I echoed with an inward qualm.
"Suppose she doesn't marry though? That's the point. She doesn't want to
hang round a boarding house all her life when everybody is busy doing
interesting things. I've got a theory that the reason rich
people--especially rich women--get bored is because they don't know
anything about real life. Put one of 'em in a law office, hitting a
typewriter at fifteen dollars a week, and in a month she'd wake up to
what was really going on--she'd be _alive_!"
"'_The world is so full of a number of things
I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings_!'"
said I. "What's Sylvia going to do?"
"Oh, she's quite a clever little artist." He handed me some charming
sketches in pencil that were lying on the table. "I think she may make
an illustrator. Heaven knows we need 'em! I'll give her a course at
Pratt Institute and then at the Academy of Design; and after that, if
they think she is good enough, I'll send her to Paris."
"I wish I'd done the same thing with my girls!" I sighed. "But the
trouble is--the trouble is--You see, if I had they wouldn't have been
doing what their friends were doing. They'd have been out of it."
"No; they wouldn't like that, of course," agreed Hastings respectfully.
"They would want to be 'in it'"
I looked at him quickly to see whether his remark had a double entendre.
"I don't see very much of my daughters," I continued. "They've got away
from me somehow."
"That's the tough part of it," he said thoughtfully. "I suppose rich
people are so busy with all the things they have to do that they haven't
much time for fooling round with their children. I have a good time with
mine though. They're too young to get away anyhow. We read French
history aloud every evening after supper. Sylvia is almost an expert on
the Duke of Guise and the Massacre of St. Bartholomew."
We smoked silently for some moments. Hastings' ideas interested me, but
I felt that he could give me something more personal--of more value to
myself. The fellow was really a philosopher in his quiet way.
"After all, you haven't told me what you meant by saying you wouldn't
change places with me," I said abruptly. "What did you mean by that? I
want to know."
"I wish you would forget I ever said it, sir," he murmured.
"No," I retorted, "I can't forget it. You needn't spare me. This talk is
not _ex cathedra_--it's just between ourselves. When you've told me why,
then I will forget it. This is man to man."
"Well," he answered slowly, "it would take me a long time to put it in
just the right way. There was nothing personal in what I said this
morning. I was thinking about conditions in general--the whole thing. It
can't go on!"
"What can't go on?"
"The terrible burden of money," he said.
"Terrible burden of money!" I repeated. What did he mean?
"The weight of it--that's bowing people down and choking them up. It's
like a ball and chain. I meant I wouldn't change places with any man in
the millionaire class--I couldn't stand the complexities and
responsibilities. I believe the time is coming when no citizen will be
permitted to receive an income from his inherited or accumulated
possessions greater than is good for him. You may say that's the wildest
sort of socialism. Perhaps it is. But it's socialism looked at from a
different angle from the platform orators--the angle of the individual.
"I don't believe a man's money should be taken away from him and
distributed round for the sake of other people--but for the protection
of the man himself. There's got to be a pecuniary safety valve. Every
dollar over a certain amount, just like every extra pound of steam in a
boiler, is a thing of danger. We want health in the individual and in
the state--not disease.
"Let the amount of a man's income be five, ten, fifteen or twenty
thousand dollars--the exact figure doesn't matter; but there is a limit
at which wealth becomes a drag and a detriment instead of a benefit! I'd
base the legality of a confiscatory income tax on the constitutionality
of any health regulation or police ordinance. People shouldn't be
permitted to injure themselves--or have poison lying round. Certainly
it's a lesson that history teaches on every page.
"Besides everybody needs something to work for--to keep him fit--at
least that's the way it looks to me. Nations--let alone mere
individuals--have simply gone to seed, died of dry rot because they no
longer had any stimulus. A fellow has got to have some idea in the back
of his head as to what he's after--and the harder it is for him to get
it, the better, as a rule, it is for him. Good luck is the worst enemy a
heap of people have. Misfortune spurs a man on, tries him out and
develops him--makes him more human."
"Ever played in hard luck?" I queried.
"I? Sure, I have," answered Hastings cheerfully. "And I wouldn't worry
much if it came my way again. I could manage to get along pretty
comfortably on less than half I've got. I like my home; but we could be
happy anywhere so long as we had ourselves and our health and a few
books. However, I wasn't thinking of myself. I've got a friend in the
brokering business who says it's the millionaires that do most of the
worrying anyhow. Naturally a man with a pile of money has to look after
it; but what puzzles me is why anybody should want it in the first
He searched along a well-filled and disordered shelf of shabby books.
"Here's what William James says about it:
"'We have grown literally afraid to be poor. We despise any one who
elects to be poor in order to simplify and save his inner life. We have
lost the power of even imagining what the ancient idealization of
poverty could have meant--the liberation from material attachments; the
unbribed soul; the manlier indifference; the paying our way by what we
are or do, and not by what we have; the right to fling away our life at
any moment irresponsibly--the more athletic trim, in short the moral
fighting shape.... It is certain that the prevalent fear of poverty
among the educated class is the worst moral disease from which our
"I guess he's about right," I agreed.
"That's my idea exactly," answered Hastings. "As I look at it the curse
of most of the people living on Fifth Avenue is that they're perfectly
safe. You could take away nine-tenths of what they've got and they'd
still have about a hundred times more money than they needed to be
comfortable. They're like a whole lot of fat animals in an
inclosure--they're fed three or four times a day, but the wire fence
that protects them from harm deprives them of any real liberty. Or
they're like goldfish swimming round and round in a big bowl. They can
look through sort of dimly; but they can't get out! If they really knew,
they'd trade their security for their freedom any time.
"Perfect safety isn't an unmixed blessing by any means. Look at the
photographs of the wild Indians--the ones that carried their lives in
their hands every minute--and there's something stern and noble about
their faces. Put an Indian on a reservation and he takes to drinking
whisky. It was the same way with the chaps that lived in the Middle Ages
and had to wear shirts of chainmail. It kept 'em guessing. That's merely
one phase of it.
"The real thing to put the bite into life is having a Cause. People
forget how to make sacrifices--or become afraid to. After all, even
dying isn't such a tremendous trick. Plenty of people have done it just
for an idea--wanted to pray in their own way. But this modern way of
living takes all the sap out of folks. They get an entirely false
impression of the relative values of things. It takes a failure or a
death in the family to wake them up to the comparative triviality of the
worth of money as compared, for instance, to human affection--any of the
real things of life.
"I don't object to inequality of mere wealth in itself, because I
wouldn't dignify money to that extent. Of course I do object to a
situation where the rich man can buy life and health for his sick child
and the poor man can't. Too many sick babies! That'll be attended to,
all right, in time. I wouldn't take away one man's money for the sake of
giving it to others--not a bit of it. But what I would do would be to
put it out of a man's power to poison himself with money.
"Suicide is made a crime under the law. How about moral and intellectual
suicide? It ought to be prevented for the sake of the state. No citizen
should be allowed to stultify himself with luxury any more than he
should be permitted to cut off his right hand. Excuse me for being
didactic--but you said you'd like to get my point of view and I've tried
to give it to you in a disjointed sort of way. I'd sooner my son would
have to work for his living than not, and I'd rather he'd spend his life
contending with the forces of nature and developing the country than in
quarreling over the division of profits that other men had earned."
I had listened attentively to what Hastings had to say; and, though I
did not agree with all of it, I was forced to admit the truth of a large
part. He certainly seemed to have come nearer to solving the problem
than I had even been able to. Yet it appeared to my conservative mind
shockingly socialistic and chimerical.
"So you really think," I retorted, "that the state ought to pass laws
which should prevent the accumulation--or at least the retention--of
Hastings smiled apologetically.
"Well," he answered, "I don't know just how far I should advocate active
governmental interference, though it's a serious question. You're a
thousand times better qualified to express an opinion on that than I am.
"When I spoke about health and police regulations I was talking
metaphorically. I suppose my real idea is that the moral force of the
community--public opinion--ought to be strong enough to compel a man to
live so that such laws would be unnecessary. His own public spirit, his
conscience, or whatever you call it, should influence him to use
whatever he has above a certain amount for the common good--to turn it
back where he got it, or somebody else got it, instead of demoralizing
the whole country and setting an example of waste and extravagance. That
kind of thing does an awful lot of harm. I see it all round me. But, of
course, the worst sufferer is the man himself, and his own good sense
ought to jack him up.
"Still you can't force people to keep healthy. If a man is bound to
sacrifice everything for money and make himself sick with it, perhaps he
ought to be prevented."
"Jim!" cried Mrs. Hastings, coming in with a pitcher of cider and some
glasses. "I could hear you talking all the way out in the kitchen. I'm
sure you've bored our guest to death. Why, the chestnuts are burned to a
"He hasn't bored me a bit," I answered; "in fact we are agreed on a
great many things. However, after I've had a glass of that cider I must
start back to town."
"We'd love to have you spend the night," she urged. "We've a nice little
guestroom over the library."
The invitation was tempting, but I wanted to get away and think. Also it
was my duty to look in on the bridge party before it became too sleepy
to recognize my presence. I drank my cider, bade my hostess good night
and walked to the station with Hastings. As we crossed the square to the
train he said:
"It was mighty good of you to come out here to see us and we both
appreciate it. Hope you'll forgive my bluntness this morning and for
shooting off my mouth so much this evening."
"My dear fellow," I returned, "that was what I came out for. You've
given me something to think about. I'm thinking already. You're quite
right. You'd be a fool to change places with anybody--let alone a
* * * * *
In the smoker of the accommodation, to which I retired, I sat oblivious
of my surroundings until we entered the tunnel. So far as I could see,
Hastings had it on me at every turn--at thirty-three hundred a
year--considerably less than half of what I paid out annually in
servants' wages. And the exasperating part of it all was that, though I
spent seventy-two thousand a year, I did not begin to be as happy as he
was! Not by a jugful. Face to face with the simple comfort of the
cottage I had just left, its sincerity and affection, its thrifty
self-respect, its wide interests, I confessed that I had not been myself
genuinely contented since I left my mother's house for college, thirty
odd years before. I had become the willing victim of a materialistic
I had squandered my life in a vain effort to purchase happiness with
money--an utter impossibility, as I now only too plainly saw. I was
poisoned with it, as Hastings had said--sick _with_ it and _sick of_ it.
I was one of Hastings' chaingangs of prosperous prisoners--millionaires
shackled together and walking in lockstep; one of his school of goldfish
bumping their noses against the glass of the bowl in which they were
confined by virtue of their inability to live outside the medium to
which they were accustomed.
I was through with it! From that moment I resolved to become a free
man; living my own life; finding happiness in things that were worth
while. I would chuck the whole nauseating business of valets and scented
baths; of cocktails, clubs and cards; of an unwieldy and tiresome
household of lazy servants; of the ennui of heavy dinners; and of a
family the members of which were strangers to each other. I could and
would easily cut down my expenditures to not more than thirty thousand a
year; and with the balance of my income I would look after some of those
sick babies Hastings had mentioned.
I would begin by taking a much smaller house and letting half the
servants go, including my French cook. I had for a long time realized
that we all ate too much. I would give up one of my motors and entertain
more simply. We would omit the spring dash to Paris, and I would insist
on a certain number of evenings each week which the family should spend
together, reading aloud or talking over their various plans and
interests. It did not seem by any means impossible in the prospect and I
got a considerable amount of satisfaction from planning it all out. My
life was to be that of a sort of glorified Hastings. After my healthy,
peaceful day in the quiet country I felt quite light-hearted--as nearly
happy as I could remember having been for years.
It was raining when I got out at the Grand Central Station, and as I
hurried along the platform to get a taxi I overtook an acquaintance of
mine--a social climber. He gave me a queer look in response to my
greeting and I remembered that I had on the old gray hat I had taken
from the quick lunch.
"I've been off for a tramp in the country," I explained, resenting my
own instinctive embarrassment.
"Ah! Don't say! Didn't know you went in for that sort of thing! Well,