The prudent husbandman, after having taken from his field all the straw that is there, rakes it over with a wooden rake and gets as much again. The wise child, after the lemonade jug is empty, takes the lemons from the bottom of it and squeezes them into a still larger brew. So does the sagacious author, after having sold his material to the magazines and been paid for it, clap it into book-covers and give it another squeeze. But in the present case the author is of a nice conscience and anxious to place responsibility where it is due. He therefore wishes to make all proper acknowledgments to the editors of Vanity Fair, The American Magazine, The Popular Magazine, Life, Puck, The Century, Methuen’s Annual, and all others who are in any way implicated in the making of this book.
Oct. 1, 1915.
I SPOOF: A Thousand-Guinea Novel
II THE READING PUBLIC
III AFTERNOON ADVENTURES AT MY CLUB l–The Anecdotes of Dr. So and So
2–The Shattered Health of Mr. Podge 3–The Amazing Travels of Mr. Yarner 4–The Spiritual Outlook of Mr. Doomer 5–The Reminiscences of Mr. Apricot
6–The Last Man Out of Europe
7–The War Mania of Mr. Jinks and Mr. Blinks 8–The Ground Floor
9–The Hallucination of Mr. Butt IV RAM SPUDD
V ARISTOCRATIC ANECDOTES
VI EDUCATION MADE AGREEABLE
VII AN EVERY-DAY EXPERIENCE
VIII TRUTHFUL ORATORY
IX OUR LITERARY BUREAU
X SPEEDING UP BUSINESS
XI WHO IS ALSO WHO
XII PASSIONATE PARAGRAPHS
XIII WEEJEE THE PET DOG
XIV SIDELIGHTS ON THE SUPERMEN
XV THE SURVIVAL or THE FITTEST
XVI THE FIRST NEWSPAPER
XVII IN THE GOOD TIME AFTER THE WAR
I.–Spoof. A Thousand-Guinea Novel. New! Fascinating! Perplexing!
Readers are requested to note that this novel has taken our special prize of a cheque for a thousand guineas. This alone guarantees for all intelligent readers a palpitating interest in every line of it. Among the thousands of MSS. which reached us–many of them coming in carts early in the morning, and moving in a dense phalanx, indistinguishable from the Covent Garden Market waggons; others pouring down our coal-chute during the working hours of the day; and others again being slipped surreptitiously into our letter-box by pale, timid girls, scarcely more than children, after nightfall (in fact many of them came in their night-gowns),–this manuscript alone was the sole one–in fact the only one–to receive the prize of a cheque of a thousand guineas. To other competitors we may have given, inadvertently perhaps, a bag of sovereigns or a string of pearls, but to this story alone is awarded the first prize by the unanimous decision of our judges.
When we say that the latter body included two members of the Cabinet, two Lords of the Admiralty, and two bishops, with power in case of dispute to send all the MSS. to the Czar of Russia, our readers will breathe a sigh of relief to learn that the decision was instant and unanimous. Each one of them, in reply to our telegram, answered immediately SPOOF.
This novel represents the last word in up-to-date fiction. It is well known that the modern novel has got far beyond the point of mere story-telling. The childish attempt to INTEREST the reader has long since been abandoned by all the best writers. They refuse to do it. The modern novel must convey a message, or else it must paint a picture, or remove a veil, or open a new chapter in human psychology. Otherwise it is no good. SPOOF does all of these things. The reader rises from its perusal perplexed, troubled, and yet so filled with information that rising itself is a difficulty.
We cannot, for obvious reasons, insert the whole of the first chapter. But the portion here presented was praised by The Saturday Afternoon Review as giving one of the most graphic and at the same time realistic pictures of America ever written in fiction.
Of the characters whom our readers are to imagine seated on the deck–on one of the many decks (all connected by elevators)–of the Gloritania, one word may be said. Vere de Lancy is (as the reviewers have under oath declared) a typical young Englishman of the upper class. He is nephew to the Duke of–, but of this fact no one on the ship, except the captain, the purser, the steward, and the passengers are, or is, aware.
In order entirely to conceal his identity, Vere de Lancy is travelling under the assumed name of Lancy de Vere. In order the better to hide the object of his journey, Lancy de Vere (as we shall now call him, though our readers will be able at any moment to turn his name backwards) has given it to be understood that he is travelling merely as a gentleman anxious to see America. This naturally baffles all those in contact with him.
The girl at his side–but perhaps we may best let her speak for herself.
Somehow as they sat together on the deck of the great steamer in the afterglow of the sunken sun, listening to the throbbing of the propeller (a rare sound which neither of them of course had ever heard before), de Vere felt that he must speak to her. Something of the mystery of the girl fascinated him. What was she doing here alone with no one but her mother and her maid, on the bosom of the Atlantic? Why was she here? Why was she not somewhere else? The thing puzzled, perplexed him. It would not let him alone. It fastened upon his brain. Somehow he felt that if he tried to drive it away, it might nip him in the ankle.
In the end he spoke.
“And you, too,” he said, leaning over her deck-chair, “are going to America?”
He had suspected this ever since the boat left Liverpool. Now at length he framed his growing conviction into words.
“Yes,” she assented, and then timidly, “it is 3,213 miles wide, is it not?”
“Yes,” he said, “and 1,781 miles deep! It reaches from the forty-ninth parallel to the Gulf of Mexico.”
“Oh,” cried the girl, “what a vivid picture! I seem to see it.”
“Its major axis,” he went on, his voice sinking almost to a caress, “is formed by the Rocky Mountains, which are practically a prolongation of the Cordilleran Range. It is drained,” he continued–
“How splendid!” said the girl.
“Yes, is it not? It is drained by the Mississippi, by the St. Lawrence, and–dare I say it?–by the Upper Colorado.”
Somehow his hand had found hers in the half gloaming, but she did not check him.
“Go on,” she said very simply; “I think I ought to hear it.”
“The great central plain of the interior,” he continued, “is formed by a vast alluvial deposit carried down as silt by the Mississippi. East of this the range of the Alleghanies, nowhere more than eight thousand feet in height, forms a secondary or subordinate axis from which the watershed falls to the Atlantic.”
He was speaking very quietly but earnestly. No man had ever spoken to her like this before.
“What a wonderful picture!” she murmured half to herself, half aloud, and half not aloud and half not to herself.
“Through the whole of it,” de Vere went on, “there run railways, most of them from east to west, though a few run from west to east. The Pennsylvania system alone has twenty-one thousand miles of track.”
“Twenty-one thousand miles,” she repeated; already she felt her will strangely subordinate to his.
He was holding her hand firmly clasped in his and looking into her face.
“Dare I tell you,” he whispered, “how many employees it has?”
“Yes,” she gasped, unable to resist.
“A hundred and fourteen thousand,” he said.
There was silence. They were both thinking. Presently she spoke, timidly.
“Are there any cities there?”
“Cities!” he said enthusiastically, “ah, yes! let me try to give you a word-picture of them. Vast cities–with tall buildings, reaching to the very sky. Why, for instance, the new Woolworth Building in New York–“
“Yes, yes,” she broke in quickly, “how high is it?”
“Seven hundred and fifty feet.”
The girl turned and faced him.
“Don’t,” she said. “I can’t bear it. Some other time, perhaps, but not now.”
She had risen and was gathering up her wraps. “And you,” she said, “why are you going to America?”
“Why?” he answered. “Because I want to see, to know, to learn. And when I have learned and seen and known, I want other people to see and to learn and to know. I want to write it all down, all the vast palpitating picture of it. Ah! if I only could–I want to see” (and here he passed his hand through his hair as if trying to remember) “something of the relations of labour and capital, of the extraordinary development of industrial machinery, of the new and intricate organisation of corporation finance, and in particular I want to try to analyse–no one has ever done it yet–the men who guide and drive it all. I want to set down the psychology of the multimillionaire!”
He paused. The girl stood irresolute. She was thinking (apparently, for if not, why stand there?).
“Perhaps,” she faltered, “I could help you.”
“Yes, I might.” She hesitated. “I–I–come from America.”
“You!” said de Vere in astonishment. “With a face and voice like yours! It is impossible!”
The boldness of the compliment held her speechless for a moment.
“I do,” she said; “my people lived just outside of Cohoes.”
“They couldn’t have,” he said passionately.
“I shouldn’t speak to you like this,” the girl went on, “but it’s because I feel from what you have said that you know and love America. And I think I can help you.”
“You mean,” he said, divining her idea, “that you can help me to meet a multimillionaire?”
“Yes,” she answered, still hesitating.
“You know one?”
“Yes,” still hesitating, “I know ONE.”
She seemed about to say more, her lips had already opened, when suddenly the dull raucous blast of the foghorn (they used a raucous one on this ship on purpose) cut the night air. Wet fog rolled in about them, wetting everything.
The girl shivered.
“I must go,” she said; “good night.”
For a moment de Vere was about to detain her. The wild thought leaped to his mind to ask her her name or at least her mother’s. With a powerful effort he checked himself.
“Good night,” he said.
She was gone.
Limits of space forbid the insertion of the whole of this chapter. Its opening contains one of the most vivid word-pictures of the inside of an American customs house ever pictured in words. From the customs wharf de Vere is driven in a taxi to the Belmont. Here he engages a room; here, too, he sleeps; here also, though cautiously at first, he eats. All this is so admirably described that only those who have driven in a taxi to an hotel and slept there can hope to appreciate it.
Limits of space also forbid our describing in full de Vere’s vain quest in New York of the beautiful creature whom he had met on the steamer and whom he had lost from sight in the aigrette department of the customs house. A thousand times he cursed his folly in not having asked her name.
Meanwhile no word comes from her, till suddenly, mysteriously, unexpectedly, on the fourth day a note is handed to de Vere by the Third Assistant Head Waiter of the Belmont. It is addressed in a lady’s hand. He tears it open. It contains only the written words, “Call on Mr. J. Superman Overgold. He is a multimillionaire. He expects you.”
To leap into a taxi (from the third story of the Belmont) was the work of a moment. To drive to the office of Mr. Overgold was less. The portion of the novel which follows is perhaps the most notable part of it. It is this part of the chapter which the Hibbert Journal declares to be the best piece of psychological analysis that appears in any novel of the season. We reproduce it here.
“Exactly, exactly,” said de Vere, writing rapidly in his note-book as he sat in one of the deep leather armchairs of the luxurious office of Mr. Overgold. “So you sometimes feel as if the whole thing were not worth while.”
“I do,” said Mr. Overgold. “I can’t help asking myself what it all means. Is life, after all, merely a series of immaterial phenomena, self-developing and based solely on sensation and reaction, or is it something else?”
He paused for a moment to sign a cheque for $10,000 and throw it out of the window, and then went on, speaking still with the terse brevity of a man of business.
“Is sensation everywhere or is there perception too? On what grounds, if any, may the hypothesis of a self-explanatory consciousness be rejected? In how far are we warranted in supposing that innate ideas are inconsistent with pure materialism?”
De Vere listened, fascinated. Fortunately for himself, he was a University man, fresh from the examination halls of his Alma Mater. He was able to respond at once.
“I think,” he said modestly, “I grasp your thought. You mean–to what extent are we prepared to endorse Hegel’s dictum of immaterial evolution?”
“Exactly,” said Mr. Overgold. “How far, if at all, do we substantiate the Kantian hypothesis of the transcendental?”
“Precisely,” said de Vere eagerly. “And for what reasons [naming them] must we reject Spencer’s theory of the unknowable?”
“Entirely so,” continued Mr. Overgold. “And why, if at all, does Bergsonian illusionism differ from pure nothingness?”
They both paused.
Mr. Overgold had risen. There was great weariness in his manner.
“It saddens one, does it not?” he said.
He had picked up a bundle of Panama two per cent. gold bonds and was looking at them in contempt.
“The emptiness of it all!” he muttered. He extended the bonds to de Vere.
“Do you want them,” he said, “or shall I throw them away?”
“Give them to me,” said de Vere quietly; “they are not worth the throwing.”
“No, no,” said Mr. Overgold, speaking half to himself, as he replaced the bonds in his desk. “It is a burden that I must carry alone. I have no right to ask any one to share it. But come,” he continued, “I fear I am sadly lacking in the duties of international hospitality. I am forgetting what I owe to Anglo-American courtesy. I am neglecting the new obligations of our common Indo-Chinese policy. My motor is at the door. Pray let me take you to my house to lunch.”
De Vere assented readily, telephoned to the Belmont not to keep lunch waiting for him, and in a moment was speeding up the magnificent Riverside Drive towards Mr. Overgold’s home. On the way Mr. Overgold pointed out various objects of interest,–Grant’s tomb, Lincoln’s tomb, Edgar Allan Poe’s grave, the ticket office of the New York Subway, and various other points of historic importance.
On arriving at the house, de Vere was ushered up a flight of broad marble steps to a hall fitted on every side with almost priceless objets d’art and others, ushered to the cloak-room and out of it, butlered into the lunch-room and footmanned to a chair.
As they entered, a lady already seated at the table turned to meet them.
One glance was enough–plenty.
It was she–the object of de Vere’s impassioned quest. A rich lunch-gown was girdled about her with a twelve-o’clock band of pearls.
She reached out her hand, smiling.
“Dorothea,” said the multimillionaire, “this is Mr. de Vere. Mr. de Vere–my wife.”
Of this next chapter we need only say that the Blue Review (Adults Only) declares it to be the most daring and yet conscientious handling of the sex-problem ever attempted and done. The fact that the Congregational Times declares that this chapter will undermine the whole foundations of English Society and let it fall, we pass over: we hold certificates in writing from a great number of the Anglican clergy, to the effect that they have carefully read the entire novel and see nothing in it.
. . . . . . .
They stood looking at one another.
“So you didn’t know,” she murmured.
In a flash de Vere realised that she hadn’t known that he didn’t know and knew now that he knew.
He found no words.
The situation was a tense one. Nothing but the woman’s innate tact could save it. Dorothea Overgold rose to it with the dignity of a queen.
She turned to her husband.
“Take your soup over to the window,” she said, “and eat it there.”
The millionaire took his soup to the window and sat beneath a little palm tree, eating it.
“You didn’t know,” she repeated.
“No,” said de Vere; “how could I?”
“And yet,” she went on, “you loved me, although you didn’t know that I was married?”
“Yes,” answered de Vere simply. “I loved you, in spite of it.”
“How splendid!” she said.
There was a moment’s silence. Mr. Overgold had returned to the table, the empty plate in his hand. His wife turned to him again with the same unfailing tact.
“Take your asparagus to the billiard-room,” she said, “and eat it there.”
“Does he know, too?” asked de Vere.
“Mr. Overgold?” she said carelessly. “I suppose he does. Eh apres, mon ami?”
French? Another mystery! Where and how had she learned it? de Vere asked himself. Not in France, certainly.
“I fear that you are very young, amico mio,” Dorothea went on carelessly. “After all, what is there wrong in it, piccolo pochito? To a man’s mind perhaps–but to a woman, love is love.”
She beckoned to the butler.
“Take Mr. Overgold a cutlet to the music-room,” she said, “and give him his gorgonzola on the inkstand in the library.”
“And now,” she went on, in that caressing way which seemed so natural to her, “don’t let us think about it any more! After all, what is is, isn’t it?”
“I suppose it is,” said de Vere, half convinced in spite of himself.
“Or at any rate,” said Dorothea, “nothing can at the same time both be and not be. But come,” she broke off, gaily dipping a macaroon in a glass of creme de menthe and offering it to him with a pretty gesture of camaraderie, “don’t let’s be gloomy any more. I want to take you with me to the matinee.”
“Is he coming?” asked de Vere, pointing at Mr. Overgold’s empty chair.
“Silly boy,” laughed Dorothea. “Of course John is coming. You surely don’t want to buy the tickets yourself.”
. . . . . . .
The days that followed brought a strange new life to de Vere.
Dorothea was ever at his side. At the theatre, at the polo ground, in the park, everywhere they were together. And with them was Mr. Overgold.
The three were always together. At times at the theatre Dorothea and de Vere would sit downstairs and Mr. Overgold in the gallery; at other times, de Vere and Mr. Overgold would sit in the gallery and Dorothea downstairs; at times one of them would sit in Row A, another in Row B, and a third in Row C; at other times two would sit in Row B and one in Row C; at the opera, at times, one of the three would sit listening, the others talking, at other times two listening and one talking, and at other times three talking and none listening.
Thus the three formed together one of the most perplexing, maddening triangles that ever disturbed the society of the metropolis.
. . . . . . .
The denouement was bound to come.
It was late at night.
De Vere was standing beside Dorothea in the brilliantly lighted hall of the Grand Palaver Hotel, where they had had supper. Mr. Overgold was busy for a moment at the cashier’s desk.
“Dorothea,” de Vere whispered passionately, “I want to take you away, away from all this. I want you.”
She turned and looked him full in the face. Then she put her hand in his, smiling bravely.
“I will come,” she said.
“Listen,” he went on, “the Gloritania sails for England to-morrow at midnight. I have everything ready. Will you come?”
“Yes,” she answered, “I will”; and then passionately, “Dearest, I will follow you to England, to Liverpool, to the end of the earth.”
She paused in thought a moment and then added.
“Come to the house just before midnight. William, the second chauffeur (he is devoted to me), shall be at the door with the third car. The fourth footman will bring my things–I can rely on him; the fifth housemaid can have them all ready–she would never betray me. I will have the undergardener–the sixth–waiting at the iron gate to let you in; he would die rather than fail me.”
She paused again–then she went on.
“There is only one thing, dearest, that I want to ask. It is not much. I hardly think you would refuse it at such an hour. May I bring my husband with me?”
De Vere’s face blanched.
“Must you?” he said.
“I think I must,” said Dorothea. “You don’t know how I’ve grown to value, to lean upon, him. At times I have felt as if I always wanted him to be near me; I like to feel wherever I am–at the play, at a restaurant, anywhere –that I can reach out and touch him. I know,” she continued, “that it’s only a wild fancy and that others would laugh at it, but you can understand, can you not–carino caruso mio? And think, darling, in our new life, how busy he, too, will be–making money for all of us–in a new money market. It’s just wonderful how he does it.”
A great light of renunciation lit up de Vere’s face.
“Bring him,” he said.
“I knew that you would say that,” she murmured, “and listen, pochito pocket-edition, may I ask one thing more, one weeny thing? William, the second chauffeur–I think he would fade away if I were gone–may I bring him, too? Yes! O my darling, how can I repay you? And the second footman, and the third housemaid–if I were gone I fear that none of–“
“Bring them all,” said de Vere half bitterly; “we will all elope together.”
And as he spoke Mr. Overgold sauntered over from the cashier’s desk, his open purse still in his hand, and joined them. There was a dreamy look upon his face.
“I wonder,” he murmured, “whether personality survives or whether it, too, when up against the irresistible, dissolves and resolves itself into a series of negative reactions?”
De Vere’s empty heart echoed the words.
Then they passed out and the night swallowed them up.
At a little before midnight on the next night, two motors filled with muffled human beings might have been perceived, or seen, moving noiselessly from Riverside Drive to the steamer wharf where lay the Gloritania.
A night of intense darkness enveloped the Hudson. Outside the inside of the dockside a dense fog wrapped the Statue of Liberty. Beside the steamer customs officers and deportation officials moved silently to and fro in long black cloaks, carrying little deportation lanterns in their hands.
To these Mr. Overgold presented in silence his deportation certificates, granting his party permission to leave the United States under the imbecility clause of the Interstate Commerce Act.
No objection was raised.
A few moments later the huge steamer was slipping away in the darkness.
On its deck a little group of people, standing beside a pile of first-class cabin luggage, directed a last sad look through their heavy black disguise at the rapidly vanishing shore which they could not see.
De Vere, who stood in the midst of them, clasping their hands, thus stood and gazed his last at America.
“Spoof!” he said.
(We admit that this final panorama, weird in its midnight mystery, and filling the mind of the reader with a sense of something like awe, is only appended to Spoof in order to coax him to read our forthcoming sequel, Spiff!)
II.–The Reading Public. A Book Store Study
“Wish to look about the store? Oh, oh, by all means, sir,” he said. Then as he rubbed his hands together in an urbane fashion he directed a piercing glance at me through his spectacles.
“You’ll find some things that might interest you,” he said, “in the back of the store on the left. We have there a series of reprints–Universal Knowledge from Aristotle to Arthur Balfour–at seventeen cents. Or perhaps you might like to look over the Pantheon of Dead Authors at ten cents. Mr. Sparrow,” he called, “just show this gentleman our classical reprints–the ten-cent series.”
With that he waved his hand to an assistant and dismissed me from his thought.
In other words, he had divined me in a moment. There was no use in my having bought a sage-green fedora in Broadway, and a sporting tie done up crosswise with spots as big as nickels. These little adornments can never hide the soul within. I was a professor, and he knew it, or at least, as part of his business, he could divine it on the instant.
The sales manager of the biggest book store for ten blocks cannot be deceived in a customer. And he knew, of course, that, as a professor, I was no good. I had come to the store, as all professors go to book stores, just as a wasp comes to an open jar of marmalade. He knew that I would hang around for two hours, get in everybody’s way, and finally buy a cheap reprint of the Dialogues of Plato, or the Prose Works of John Milton, or Locke on the Human Understanding, or some trash of that sort.
As for real taste in literature–the ability to appreciate at its worth a dollar-fifty novel of last month, in a spring jacket with a tango frontispiece–I hadn’t got it and he knew it.
He despised me, of course. But it is a maxim of the book business that a professor standing up in a corner buried in a book looks well in a store. The real customers like it.
So it was that even so up-to-date a manager as Mr. Sellyer tolerated my presence in a back corner of his store: and so it was that I had an opportunity of noting something of his methods with his real customers–methods so successful, I may say, that he is rightly looked upon by all the publishing business as one of the mainstays of literature in America.
I had no intention of standing in the place and listening as a spy. In fact, to tell the truth, I had become immediately interested in a new translation of the Moral Discourses of Epictetus. The book was very neatly printed, quite well bound and was offered at eighteen cents; so that for the moment I was strongly tempted to buy it, though it seemed best to take a dip into it first.
I had hardly read more than the first three chapters when my attention was diverted by a conversation going on in the front of the store.
“You’re quite sure it’s his LATEST?” a fashionably dressed lady was saying to Mr. Sellyer.
“Oh, yes, Mrs. Rasselyer,” answered the manager. “I assure you this is his very latest. In fact, they only came in yesterday.”
As he spoke, he indicated with his hand a huge pile of books, gayly jacketed in white and blue. I could make out the title in big gilt lettering–GOLDEN DREAMS.
“Oh, yes,” repeated Mr. Sellyer. “This is Mr. Slush’s latest book. It’s having a wonderful sale.”
“That’s all right, then,” said the lady. “You see, one sometimes gets taken in so: I came in here last week and took two that seemed very nice, and I never noticed till I got home that they were both old books, published, I think, six months ago.”
“Oh, dear me, Mrs. Rasselyer,” said the manager in an apologetic tone, “I’m extremely sorry. Pray let us send for them and exchange them for you.”
“Oh, it does not matter,” said the lady; “of course I didn’t read them. I gave them to my maid. She probably wouldn’t know the difference, anyway.”
“I suppose not,” said Mr. Sellyer, with a condescending smile. “But of course, madam,” he went on, falling into the easy chat of the fashionable bookman, “such mistakes are bound to happen sometimes. We had a very painful case only yesterday. One of our oldest customers came in in a great hurry to buy books to take on the steamer, and before we realised what he had done–selecting the books I suppose merely by the titles, as some gentlemen are apt to do–he had taken two of last year’s books. We wired at once to the steamer, but I’m afraid it’s too late.”
“But now, this book,” said the lady, idly turning over the leaves, “is it good? What is it about?”
“It’s an extremely POWERFUL thing,” said Mr. Sellyer, “in fact, MASTERLY. The critics are saying that it’s perhaps THE most powerful book of the season. It has a–” and here Mr. Sellyer paused, and somehow his manner reminded me of my own when I am explaining to a university class something that I don’t know myself–“It has a–a–POWER, so to speak–a very exceptional power; in fact, one may say without exaggeration it is the most POWERFUL book of the month. Indeed,” he added, getting on to easier ground, “it’s having a perfectly wonderful sale.”
“You seem to have a great many of them,” said the lady.
“Oh, we have to,” answered the manager. “There’s a regular rush on the book. Indeed, you know it’s a book that is bound to make a sensation. In fact, in certain quarters, they are saying that it’s a book that ought not to–” And here Mr. Sellyer’s voice became so low and ingratiating that I couldn’t hear the rest of the sentence.
“Oh, really!” said Mrs. Rasselyer. “Well, I think I’ll take it then. One ought to see what these talked-of things are about, anyway.”
She had already begun to button her gloves, and to readjust her feather boa with which she had been knocking the Easter cards off the counter. Then she suddenly remembered something.
“Oh, I was forgetting,” she said. “Will you send something to the house for Mr. Rasselyer at the same time? He’s going down to Virginia for the vacation. You know the kind of thing he likes, do you not?”
“Oh, perfectly, madam,” said the manager. “Mr. Rasselyer generally reads works of–er–I think he buys mostly books on–er–“
“Oh, travel and that sort of thing,” said the lady.
“Precisely. I think we have here,” and he pointed to the counter on the left, “what Mr. Rasselyer wants.”
He indicated a row of handsome books–“Seven Weeks in the Sahara, seven dollars; Six Months in a Waggon, six-fifty net; Afternoons in an Oxcart, two volumes, four-thirty, with twenty off.”
“I think he has read those,” said Mrs. Rasselyer. “At least there are a good many at home that seem like that.”
“Oh, very possibly–but here, now, Among the Cannibals of Corfu–yes, that I think he has had–Among the–that, too, I think–but this I am certain he would like, just in this morning–Among the Monkeys of New Guinea–ten dollars, net.”
And with this Mr. Sellyer laid his hand on a pile of new books, apparently as numerous as the huge pile of Golden Dreams.
“Among the Monkeys,” he repeated, almost caressingly.
“It seems rather expensive,” said the lady.
“Oh, very much so–a most expensive book,” the manager repeated in a tone of enthusiasm. “You see, Mrs. Rasselyer, it’s the illustrations, actual photographs”–he ran the leaves over in his fingers–“of actual monkeys, taken with the camera–and the paper, you notice–in fact, madam, the book costs, the mere manufacture of it, nine dollars and ninety cents–of course we make no profit on it. But it’s a book we like to handle.”
Everybody likes to be taken into the details of technical business; and of course everybody likes to know that a bookseller is losing money. These, I realised, were two axioms in the methods of Mr. Sellyer.
So very naturally Mrs. Rasselyer bought Among the Monkeys, and in another moment Mr. Sellyer was directing a clerk to write down an address on Fifth Avenue, and was bowing deeply as he showed the lady out of the door.
As he turned back to his counter his manner seemed much changed.
“That Monkey book,” I heard him murmur to his assistant, “is going to be a pretty stiff proposition.”
But he had no time for further speculation.
Another lady entered.
This time even to an eye less trained than Mr. Sellyer’s, the deep, expensive mourning and the pensive face proclaimed the sentimental widow.
“Something new in fiction,” repeated the manager, “yes, madam–here’s a charming thing–Golden Dreams”–he hung lovingly on the words–“a very sweet story, singularly sweet; in fact, madam, the critics are saying it is the sweetest thing that Mr. Slush has done.”
“Is it good?” said the lady. I began to realise that all customers asked this.
“A charming book,” said the manager. “It’s a love story–very simple and sweet, yet wonderfully charming. Indeed, the reviews say it’s the most charming book of the month. My wife was reading it aloud only last night. She could hardly read for tears.”
“I suppose it’s quite a safe book, is it?” asked the widow. “I want it for my little daughter.”
“Oh, quite safe,” said Mr. Sellyer, with an almost parental tone, “in fact, written quite in the old style, like the dear old books of the past–quite like”–here Mr. Sellyer paused with a certain slight haze of doubt visible in his eye–“like Dickens and Fielding and Sterne and so on. We sell a great many to the clergy, madam.”
The lady bought Golden Dreams, received it wrapped up in green enamelled paper, and passed out.
“Have you any good light reading for vacation time?” called out the next customer in a loud, breezy voice–he had the air of a stock broker starting on a holiday.
“Yes,” said Mr. Sellyer, and his face almost broke into a laugh as he answered, “here’s an excellent thing–Golden Dreams–quite the most humorous book of the season–simply screaming–my wife was reading it aloud only yesterday. She could hardly read for laughing.”
“What’s the price, one dollar? One-fifty. All right, wrap it up.” There was a clink of money on the counter, and the customer was gone. I began to see exactly where professors and college people who want copies of Epictetus at 18 cents and sections of World Reprints of Literature at 12 cents a section come in, in the book trade.
“Yes, Judge!” said the manager to the next customer, a huge, dignified personage in a wide-awake hat, “sea stories? Certainly. Excellent reading, no doubt, when the brain is overcharged as yours must be. Here is the very latest–Among the Monkeys of New Guinea, ten dollars, reduced to four-fifty. The manufacture alone costs six-eighty. We’re selling it out. Thank you, Judge. Send it? Yes. Good morning.”
After that the customers came and went in a string. I noticed that though the store was filled with books–ten thousand of them, at a guess–Mr. Sellyer was apparently only selling two. Every woman who entered went away with Golden Dreams: every man was given a copy of the Monkeys of New Guinea. To one lady Golden Dreams was sold as exactly the reading for a holiday, to another as the very book to read AFTER a holiday; another bought it as a book for a rainy day, and a fourth as the right sort of reading for a fine day. The Monkeys was sold as a sea story, a land story, a story of the jungle, and a story of the mountains, and it was put at a price corresponding to Mr. Sellyer’s estimate of the purchaser.
At last after a busy two hours, the store grew empty for a moment.
“Wilfred,” said Mr. Sellyer, turning to his chief assistant, “I am going out to lunch. Keep those two books running as hard as you can. We’ll try them for another day and then cut them right out. And I’ll drop round to Dockem & Discount, the publishers, and make a kick about them, and see what they’ll do.”
I felt that I had lingered long enough. I drew near with the Epictetus in my hand.
“Yes, sir,” said Mr. Sellyer, professional again in a moment. “Epictetus? A charming thing. Eighteen cents. Thank you. Perhaps we have some other things there that might interest you. We have a few second-hand things in the alcove there that you might care to look at. There’s an Aristotle, two volumes–a very fine thing–practically illegible, that you might like: and a Cicero came in yesterday–very choice–damaged by damp–and I think we have a Machiavelli, quite exceptional–practically torn to pieces, and the covers gone–a very rare old thing, sir, if you’re an expert.”
“No, thanks,” I said. And then from a curiosity that had been growing in me and that I couldn’t resist, “That book–Golden Dreams,” I said, “you seem to think it a very wonderful work?”
Mr. Sellyer directed one of his shrewd glances at me. He knew I didn’t want to buy the book, and perhaps, like lesser people, he had his off moments of confidence.
He shook his head.
“A bad business,” he said. “The publishers have unloaded the thing on us, and we have to do what we can. They’re stuck with it, I understand, and they look to us to help them. They’re advertising it largely and may pull it off. Of course, there’s just a chance. One can’t tell. It’s just possible we may get the church people down on it and if so we’re all right. But short of that we’ll never make it. I imagine it’s perfectly rotten.”
“Haven’t you read it?” I asked.
“Dear me, no!” said the manager. His air was that of a milkman who is offered a glass of his own milk. “A pretty time I’d have if I tried to READ the new books. It’s quite enough to keep track of them without that.”
“But those people,” I went on, deeply perplexed, “who bought the book. Won’t they be disappointed?”
Mr. Sellyer shook his head. “Oh, no,” he said; “you see, they won’t READ it. They never do.”
“But at any rate,” I insisted, “your wife thought it a fine story.”
Mr. Sellyer smiled widely.
“I am not married, sir,” he said.
AFTERNOON ADVENTURES AT MY CLUB
1.–The Anecdotes of Dr. So and So
That is not really his name. I merely call him that from his manner of talking.
His specialty is telling me short anecdotes of his professional life from day to day.
They are told with wonderful dash and power, except for one slight omission, which is, that you never know what the doctor is talking about. Beyond this, his little stories are of unsurpassed interest–but let me illustrate.
. . . . . . .
He came into the semi-silence room of the club the other day and sat down beside me.
“Have something or other?” he said.
“No, thanks,” I answered.
“Smoke anything?” he asked.
The doctor turned to me. He evidently wanted to talk.
“I’ve been having a rather peculiar experience,” he said. “Man came to me the other day–three or four weeks ago–and said, ‘Doctor, I feel out of sorts. I believe I’ve got so and so.’ ‘Ah,’ I said, taking a look at him, ‘been eating so and so, eh?’ ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Very good,’ I said, ‘take so and so.’
“Well, off the fellow went–I thought nothing of it–simply wrote such and such in my note-book, such and such a date, symptoms such and such–prescribed such and such, and so forth, you understand?”
“Oh, yes, perfectly, doctor,” I answered.
“Very good. Three days later–a ring at the bell in the evening–my servant came to the surgery. ‘Mr. So and So is here. Very anxious to see you.’ ‘All right!’ I went down. There he was, with every symptom of so and so written all over him–every symptom of it–this and this and this–“
“Awful symptoms, doctor,” I said, shaking my head.
“Are they not?” he said, quite unaware that he hadn’t named any. “There he was with every symptom, heart so and so, eyes so and so, pulse this–I looked at him right in the eye and I said–‘Do you want me to tell you the truth?’ ‘Yes,’ he said. ‘Very good,’ I answered, ‘I will. You’ve got so and so.’ He fell back as if shot. ‘So and so!’ he repeated, dazed. I went to the sideboard and poured him out a drink of such and such. ‘Drink this,’ I said. He drank it. ‘Now,’ I said, ‘listen to what I say: You’ve got so and so. There’s only one chance,’ I said, ‘you must limit your eating and drinking to such and such, you must sleep such and such, avoid every form of such and such–I’ll give you a cordial, so many drops every so long, but mind you, unless you do so and so, it won’t help you.’ ‘All right, very good.’ Fellow promised. Off he went.”
The doctor paused a minute and then resumed:
“Would you believe it–two nights later, I saw the fellow–after the theatre, in a restaurant–whole party of people–big plate of so and so in front of him–quart bottle of so and so on ice–such and such and so forth. I stepped over to him–tapped him on the shoulder: ‘See here,’ I said, ‘if you won’t obey my instructions, you can’t expect me to treat you.’ I walked out of the place.”
“And what happened to him?” I asked.
“Died,” said the doctor, in a satisfied tone. “Died. I’ve just been filling in the certificate: So and so, aged such and such, died of so and so!”
“An awful disease,” I murmured.
2.–The Shattered Health of Mr. Podge
“How are you, Podge?” I said, as I sat down in a leather armchair beside him.
I only meant “How-do-you-do?” but he rolled his big eyes sideways at me in his flabby face (it was easier than moving his face) and he answered:
“I’m not as well to-day as I was yesterday afternoon. Last week I was feeling pretty good part of the time, but yesterday about four o’clock the air turned humid, and I don’t feel so well.”
“Have a cigarette?” I said.
“No, thanks; I find they affect the bronchial toobes.”
“Whose?” I asked.
“Mine,” he answered.
“Oh, yes,” I said, and I lighted one. “So you find the weather trying,” I continued cheerfully.
“Yes, it’s too humid. It’s up to a saturation of sixty-six. I’m all right till it passes sixty-four. Yesterday afternoon it was only about sixty-one, and I felt fine. But after that it went up. I guess it must be a contraction of the epidermis pressing on some of the sebaceous glands, don’t you?”
“I’m sure it is,” I said. “But why don’t you just sleep it off till it’s over?”
“I don’t like to sleep too much,” he answered. “I’m afraid of it developing into hypersomnia. There are cases where it’s been known to grow into a sort of lethargy that pretty well stops all brain action altogether–“
“That would be too bad,” I murmured. “What do you do to prevent it?”
“I generally drink from half to three-quarters of a cup of black coffee, or nearly black, every morning at from eleven to five minutes past, so as to keep off hypersomnia. It’s the best thing, the doctor says.”
“Aren’t you afraid,” I said, “of its keeping you awake?”
“I am,” answered Podge, and a spasm passed over his big yellow face. “I’m always afraid of insomnia. That’s the worst thing of all. The other night I went to bed about half-past ten, or twenty-five minutes after,–I forget which,–and I simply couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t. I read a magazine story, and I still couldn’t; and I read another, and still I couldn’t sleep. It scared me bad.”
“Oh, pshaw,” I said; “I don’t think sleep matters as long as one eats properly and has a good appetite.”
He shook his head very dubiously. “I ate a plate of soup at lunch,” he said, “and I feel it still.”
“You FEEL it!”
“Yes,” repeated Podge, rolling his eyes sideways in a pathetic fashion that he had, “I still feel it. I oughtn’t to have eaten it. It was some sort of a bean soup, and of course it was full of nitrogen. I oughtn’t to touch nitrogen,” he added, shaking his head.
“Not take any nitrogen?” I repeated.
“No, the doctor–both doctors–have told me that. I can eat starches, and albumens, all right, but I have to keep right away from all carbons and nitrogens. I’ve been dieting that way for two years, except that now and again I take a little glucose or phosphates.”
“That must be a nice change,” I said, cheerfully.
“It is,” he answered in a grateful sort of tone.
There was a pause. I looked at his big twitching face, and listened to the heavy wheezing of his breath, and I felt sorry for him.
“See here, Podge,” I said, “I want to give you some good advice.”
“About your health.”
“Yes, yes, do,” he said. Advice about his health was right in his line. He lived on it.
“Well, then, cut out all this fool business of diet and drugs and nitrogen. Don’t bother about anything of the sort. Forget it. Eat everything you want to, just when you want it. Drink all you like. Smoke all you can–and you’ll feel a new man in a week.”
“Say, do you think so!” he panted, his eyes filled with a new light.
“I know it,” I answered. And as I left him I shook hands with a warm feeling about my heart of being a benefactor to the human race.
Next day, sure enough, Podge’s usual chair at the club was empty.
“Out getting some decent exercise,” I thought. “Thank Heaven!”
Nor did he come the next day, nor the next, nor for a week.
“Leading a rational life at last,” I thought. “Out in the open getting a little air and sunlight, instead of sitting here howling about his stomach.”
The day after that I saw Dr. Slyder in black clothes glide into the club in that peculiar manner of his, like an amateur undertaker.
“Hullo, Slyder,” I called to him, “you look as solemn as if you had been to a funeral.”
“I have,” he said very quietly, and then added, “poor Podge!”
“What about him?” I asked with sudden apprehension.
“Why, he died on Tuesday,” answered the doctor. “Hadn’t you heard? Strangest case I’ve known in years. Came home suddenly one day, pitched all his medicines down the kitchen sink, ordered a couple of cases of champagne and two hundred havanas, and had his housekeeper cook a dinner like a Roman banquet! After being under treatment for two years! Lived, you know, on the narrowest margin conceivable. I told him and Silk told him–we all told him–his only chance was to keep away from every form of nitrogenous ultra-stimulants. I said to him often, ‘Podge, if you touch heavy carbonized food, you’re lost.'”
“Dear me,” I thought to myself, “there ARE such things after all!”
“It was a marvel,” continued Slyder, “that we kept him alive at all. And, of course”–here the doctor paused to ring the bell to order two Manhattan cocktails–“as soon as he touched alcohol he was done.”
So that was the end of the valetudinarianism of Mr. Podge.
I have always considered that I killed him.
But anyway, he was a nuisance at the club.
3.–The Amazing Travels of Mr. Yarner
There was no fault to be found with Mr. Yarner till he made his trip around the world.
It was that, I think, which disturbed his brain and unfitted him for membership in the club.
“Well,” he would say, as he sat ponderously down with the air of a man opening an interesting conversation, “I was just figuring it out that eleven months ago to-day I was in Pekin.”
“That’s odd,” I said, “I was just reckoning that eleven days ago I was in Poughkeepsie.”
“They don’t call it Pekin over there,” he said. “It’s sounded Pei-Chang.”
“I know,” I said, “it’s the same way with Poughkeepsie, they pronounce it P’Keepsie.”
“The Chinese,” he went on musingly, “are a strange people.”
“So are the people in P’Keepsie,” I added, “awfully strange.”
That kind of retort would sometimes stop him, but not always. He was especially dangerous if he was found with a newspaper in his hand; because that meant that some item of foreign intelligence had gone to his brain.
Not that I should have objected to Yarner describing his travels. Any man who has bought a ticket round the world and paid for it, is entitled to that.
But it was his manner of discussion that I considered unpermissible.
Last week, for example, in an unguarded moment I fell a victim. I had been guilty of the imprudence–I forget in what connection–of speaking of lions. I realized at once that I had done wrong–lions, giraffes, elephants, rickshaws and natives of all brands, are topics to avoid in talking with a traveller.
“Speaking of lions,” began Yarner.
He was right, of course; I HAD spoken of lions.
“–I shall never forget,” he went on (of course, I knew he never would), “a rather bad scrape I got into in the up-country of Uganda. Imagine yourself in a wild, rolling country covered here and there with kwas along the sides of the nullahs.”
I did so.
“Well,” continued Yarner, “we were sitting in our tent one hot night–too hot to sleep–when all at once we heard, not ten feet in front of us, the most terrific roar that ever came from the throat of a lion.”
As he said this Yarner paused to take a gulp of bubbling whiskey and soda and looked at me so ferociously that I actually shivered.
Then quite suddenly his manner cooled down in the strangest way, and his voice changed to a commonplace tone as he said,–
“Perhaps I ought to explain that we hadn’t come up to the up-country looking for big game. In fact, we had been down in the down country with no idea of going higher than Mombasa. Indeed, our going even to Mombasa itself was more or less an afterthought. Our first plan was to strike across from Aden to Singapore. But our second plan was to strike direct from Colombo to Karuchi–“
“And what was your THIRD plan?” I asked.
“Our third plan,” said Yarner deliberately, feeling that the talk was now getting really interesting, “let me see, our third plan was to cut across from Socotra to Tananarivo.”
“Oh, yes,” I said.
“However, all that was changed, and changed under the strangest circumstances. We were sitting, Gallon and I, on the piazza of the Galle Face Hotel in Colombo–you know the Galle Face?”
“No, I do not,” I said very positively.
“Very good. Well, I was sitting on the piazza watching a snake charmer who was seated, with a boa, immediately in front of me.
“Poor Gallon was actually within two feet of the hideous reptile. All of a sudden the beast whirled itself into a coil, its eyes fastened with hideous malignity on poor Gallon, and with its head erect it emitted the most awful hiss I have heard proceed from the mouth of any living snake.”
Here Yarner paused and took a long, hissing drink of whiskey and soda: and then as the malignity died out of his face–
“I should explain,” he went on, very quietly, “that Gallon was not one of our original party. We had come down to Colombo from Mongolia, going by the Pekin Hankow and the Nippon Yushen Keisha.”
“That, I suppose, is the best way?” I said.
“Yes. And oddly enough but for the accident of Gallon joining us, we should have gone by the Amoy, Cochin, Singapore route, which was our first plan. In fact, but for Gallon we should hardly have got through China at all. The Boxer insurrection had taken place only fourteen years before our visit, so you can imagine the awful state of the country.
“Our meeting with Gallon was thus absolutely providential. Looking back on it, I think it perhaps saved our lives. We were in Mongolia (this, you understand, was before we reached China), and had spent the night at a small Yak about four versts from Kharbin, when all of a sudden, just outside the miserable hut that we were in, we heard a perfect fusillade of shots followed immediately afterwards by one of the most blood-curdling and terrifying screams I have ever imagined–“
“Oh, yes,” I said, “and that was how you met Gallon. Well, I must be off.”
And as I happened at that very moment to be rescued by an incoming friend, who took but little interest in lions, and even less in Yarner, I have still to learn why the lion howled so when it met Yarner. But surely the lion had reason enough.
4.–The Spiritual Outlook of Mr. Doomer
One generally saw old Mr. Doomer looking gloomily out of the windows of the library of the club. If not there, he was to be found staring sadly into the embers of a dying fire in a deserted sitting-room.
His gloom always appeared out of place as he was one of the richest of the members.
But the cause of it,–as I came to know,–was that he was perpetually concerned with thinking about the next world. In fact he spent his whole time brooding over it.
I discovered this accidentally by happening to speak to him of the recent death of Podge, one of our fellow members.
“Very sad,” I said, “Podge’s death.”
“Ah,” returned Mr. Doomer, “very shocking. He was quite unprepared to die.”
“Do you think so?” I said, “I’m awfully sorry to hear it.”
“Quite unprepared,” he answered. “I had reason to know it as one of his executors,–everything is confusion,–nothing signed,–no proper power of attorney,–codicils drawn up in blank and never witnessed,–in short, sir, no sense apparently of the nearness of his death and of his duty to be prepared.
“I suppose,” I said, “poor Podge didn’t realise that he was going to die.”
“Ah, that’s just it,” resumed Mr. Doomer with something like sternness, “a man OUGHT to realise it. Every man ought to feel that at any moment,–one can’t tell when,–day or night,–he may be called upon to meet his,”–Mr. Doomer paused here as if seeking a phrase–“to meet his Financial Obligations, face to face. At any time, sir, he may be hurried before the Judge,–or rather his estate may be,–before the Judge of the probate court. It is a solemn thought, sir. And yet when I come here I see about me men laughing, talking, and playing billiards, as if there would never be a day when their estate would pass into the hands of their administrators and an account must be given of every cent.”
“But after all,” I said, trying to fall in with his mood, “death and dissolution must come to all of us.”
“That’s just it,” he said solemnly. “They’ve dissolved the tobacco people, and they’ve dissolved the oil people and you can’t tell whose turn it may be next.”
Mr. Doomer was silent a moment and then resumed, speaking in a tone of humility that was almost reverential.
“And yet there is a certain preparedness for death, a certain fitness to die that we ought all to aim at. Any man can at least think solemnly of the Inheritance Tax, and reflect whether by a contract inter vivos drawn in blank he may not obtain redemption; any man if he thinks death is near may at least divest himself of his purely speculative securities and trust himself entirely to those gold bearing bonds of the great industrial corporations whose value will not readily diminish or pass away.” Mr. Doomer was speaking with something like religious rapture.
“And yet what does one see?” he continued. “Men affected with fatal illness and men stricken in years occupied still with idle talk and amusements instead of reading the financial newspapers,–and at the last carried away with scarcely time perhaps to send for their brokers when it is already too late.”
“It is very sad,” I said.
“Very,” he repeated, “and saddest of all, perhaps, is the sense of the irrevocability of death and the changes that must come after it.”
We were silent a moment.
“You think of these things a great deal, Mr. Doomer?” I said.
“I do,” he answered. “It may be that it is something in my temperament, I suppose one would call it a sort of spiritual mindedness. But I think of it all constantly. Often as I stand here beside the window and see these cars go by”–he indicated a passing street car–“I cannot but realise that the time will come when I am no longer a managing director and wonder whether they will keep on trying to hold the dividend down by improving the rolling stock or will declare profits to inflate the securities. These mysteries beyond the grave fascinate me, sir. Death is a mysterious thing. Who for example will take my seat on the Exchange? What will happen to my majority control of the power company? I shudder to think of the changes that may happen after death in the assessment of my real estate.”
“Yes,” I said, “it is all beyond our control, isn’t it?”
“Quite,” answered Mr. Doomer; “especially of late years one feels that, all said and done, we are in the hands of a Higher Power, and that the State Legislature is after all supreme. It gives one a sense of smallness. It makes one feel that in these days of drastic legislation with all one’s efforts the individual is lost and absorbed in the controlling power of the state legislature. Consider the words that are used in the text of the Income Tax Case, Folio Two, or the text of the Trans-Missouri Freight Decision, and think of the revelation they contain.”
I left Mr. Doomer still standing beside the window, musing on the vanity of life and on things, such as the future control of freight rates, that lay beyond the grave.
I noticed as I left him how broken and aged he had come to look. It seemed as if the chafings of the spirit were wearing the body that harboured it.
It was about a month later that I learned of Mr. Doomer’s death.
Dr. Slyder told me of it in the club one afternoon, over two cocktails in the sitting-room.
“A beautiful bedside,” he said, “one of the most edifying that I have ever attended. I knew that Doomer was failing and of course the time came when I had to tell him.
“‘Mr. Doomer,’ I said, ‘all that I, all that any medical can do for you is done; you are going to die. I have to warn you that it is time for other ministrations than mine.’
“‘Very good,’ he said faintly but firmly, ‘send for my broker.’
“They sent out and fetched Jarvis,–you know him I think,–most sympathetic man and yet most business-like–he does all the firm’s business with the dying,–and we two sat beside Doomer holding him up while he signed stock transfers and blank certificates.
“Once he paused and turned his eyes on Jarvis. ‘Read me from the text of the State Inheritance Tax Statute,’ he said. Jarvis took the book and read aloud very quietly and simply the part at the beginning–‘Whenever and wheresoever it shall appear,’ down to the words, ‘shall be no longer a subject of judgment or appeal but shall remain in perpetual possession.’
“Doomer listened with his eyes closed. The reading seemed to bring him great comfort. When Jarvis ended he said with a sign, ‘That covers it. I’ll put my faith in that.’ After that he was silent a moment and then said: ‘I wish I had already crossed the river. Oh, to have already crossed the river and be safe on the other side.’ We knew what he meant. He had always planned to move over to New Jersey. The inheritance tax is so much more liberal.
“Presently it was all done.
“‘There,’ I said, ‘it is finished now.’
“‘No,’ he answered, ‘there is still one thing. Doctor, you’ve been very good to me. I should like to pay your account now without it being a charge on the estate. I will pay it as’–he paused for a moment and a fit of coughing seized him, but by an effort of will he found the power to say–‘cash.’
“I took the account from my pocket (I had it with me, fearing the worst), and we laid his cheque-book before him on the bed. Jarvis thinking him too faint to write tried to guide his hand as he filled in the sum. But he shook his head.
“‘The room is getting dim,’ he said. ‘I can see nothing but the figures.’
“‘Never mind,’ said Jarvis,–much moved, ‘that’s enough.’
“‘Is it four hundred and thirty?’ he asked faintly.
“‘Yes,’ I said, and I could feel the tears rising in my eyes, ‘and fifty cents.’
“After signing the cheque his mind wandered for a moment and he fell to talking, with his eyes closed, of the new federal banking law, and of the prospect of the reserve associations being able to maintain an adequate gold supply.
“Just at the last he rallied.
“‘I want,’ he said in quite a firm voice, ‘to do something for both of you before I die.’
“‘Yes, yes,’ we said.
“‘You are both interested, are you not,’ he murmured, ‘in City Traction?’
“‘Yes, yes,’ we said. We knew of course that he was the managing director.
“He looked at us faintly and tried to speak.
“‘Give him a cordial,’ said Jarvis. But he found his voice.
“‘The value of that stock,’ he said, ‘is going to take a sudden–‘
“His voice grew faint.
“‘Yes, yes,’ I whispered, bending over him (there were tears in both our eyes), ‘tell me is it going up, or going down?’
“‘It is going’–he murmured,–then his eyes closed–‘it is going–‘
“‘Yes, yes,’ I said, ‘which?’
“‘It is going’–he repeated feebly and then, quite suddenly he fell back on the pillows and his soul passed. And we never knew which way it was going. It was very sad. Later on, of course, after he was dead, we knew, as everybody knew, that it went down.”
5.–The Reminiscences of Mr. Apricot
“Rather a cold day, isn’t it?” I said as I entered the club.
The man I addressed popped his head out from behind a newspaper and I saw it was old Mr. Apricot. So I was sorry that I had spoken.
“Not so cold as the winter of 1866,” he said, beaming with benevolence.
He had an egg-shaped head, bald, with some white hair fluffed about the sides of it. He had a pink face with large blue eyes, behind his spectacles, benevolent to the verge of imbecility.
“Was that a cold winter?” I asked.
“Bitter cold,” he said. “I have never told you, have I, of my early experiences in life?”
“I think I have heard you mention them,” I murmured, but he had already placed a detaining hand on my sleeve. “Sit down,” he said. Then he continued: “Yes, it was a cold winter. I was going to say that it was the coldest I have ever experienced, but that might be an exaggeration. But it was certainly colder than any winter that YOU have ever seen, or that we ever have now, or are likely to have. In fact the winters NOW are a mere nothing,”–here Mr. Apricot looked toward the club window where the driven snow was beating in eddies against the panes,–“simply nothing. One doesn’t feel them at all,”–here he turned his eyes towards the glowing fire that flamed in the open fireplace. “But when I was a boy things were very different. I have probably never mentioned to you, have I, the circumstances of my early life?”
He had, many times. But he had turned upon me the full beam of his benevolent spectacles and I was too weak to interrupt.
“My father,” went on Mr. Apricot, settling back in his chair and speaking with a far-away look in his eyes, “had settled on the banks of the Wabash River–“
“Oh, yes, I know it well,” I interjected.
“Not as it was THEN,” said Mr. Apricot very quickly. “At present as you, or any other thoughtless tourist sees it, it appears a broad river pouring its vast flood in all directions. At the time I speak of it was a mere stream scarcely more than a few feet in circumference. The life we led there was one of rugged isolation and of sturdy self-reliance and effort such as it is, of course, quite impossible for YOU, or any other member of this club to understand,–I may give you some idea of what I mean when I say that at that time there was no town nearer to Pittsburgh than Chicago, or to St. Paul than Minneapolis–“
“Impossible!” I said.
Mr. Apricot seemed not to notice the interruption.
“There was no place nearer to Springfield than St. Louis,” he went on in a peculiar singsong voice, “and there was nothing nearer to Denver than San Francisco, nor to New Orleans than Rio Janeiro–“
He seemed as if he would go on indefinitely.
“You were speaking of your father?” I interrupted.
“My father,” said Mr. Apricot, “had settled on the banks, both banks, of the Wabash. He was like so many other men of his time, a disbanded soldier, a veteran–“
“Of the Mexican War or of the Civil War?” I asked.
“Exactly,” answered Mr. Apricot, hardly heeding the question,–“of the Mexican Civil War.”
“Was he under Lincoln?” I asked.
“OVER Lincoln,” corrected Mr. Apricot gravely. And he added,–“It is always strange to me the way in which the present generation regards Abraham Lincoln. To us, of course, at the time of which I speak, Lincoln was simply one of ourselves.”
“In 1866?” I asked.
“This was 1856,” said Mr. Apricot. “He came often to my father’s cabin, sitting down with us to our humble meal of potatoes and whiskey (we lived with a simplicity which of course you could not possibly understand), and would spend the evening talking with my father over the interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. We children used to stand beside them listening open-mouthed beside the fire in our plain leather night-gowns. I shall never forget how I was thrilled when I first heard Lincoln lay down his famous theory of the territorial jurisdiction of Congress as affected by the Supreme Court decision of 1857. I was only nine years old at the time, but it thrilled me!”
“Is it possible!” I exclaimed, “how ever could you understand it?”
“Ah! my friend,” said Mr. Apricot, almost sadly, “in THOSE days the youth of the United States were EDUCATED in the real sense of the word. We children followed the decisions of the Supreme Court with breathless interest. Our books were few but they were GOOD. We had nothing to read but the law reports, the agriculture reports, the weather bulletins and the almanacs. But we read them carefully from cover to cover. How few boys have the industry to do so now, and yet how many of our greatest men were educated on practically nothing else except the law reports and the almanacs. Franklin, Jefferson, Jackson, Johnson,”–Mr. Apricot had relapsed into his sing-song voice, and his eye had a sort of misty perplexity in it as he went on,–“Harrison, Thomson, Peterson, Emerson–“
I thought it better to stop him.
“But you were speaking,” I said, “of the winter of eighteen fifty-six.”
“Of eighteen forty-six,” corrected Mr. Apricot. “I shall never forget it. How distinctly I remember,–I was only a boy then, in fact a mere lad,–fighting my way to school. The snow lay in some places as deep as ten feet”– Mr. Apricot paused–“and in others twenty. But we made our way to school in spite of it. No boys of to-day,–nor, for the matter of that, even men such as you,–would think of attempting it. But we were keen, anxious to learn. Our school was our delight. Our teacher was our friend. Our books were our companions. We gladly trudged five miles to school every morning and seven miles back at night, did chores till midnight, studied algebra by candlelight”–here Mr. Apricot’s voice had fallen into its characteristic sing-song, and his eyes were vacant–“rose before daylight, dressed by lamplight, fed the hogs by lantern-light, fetched the cows by twilight–“
I thought it best to stop him.
“But you did eventually get off the farm, did you not?” I asked.
“Yes,” he answered, “my opportunity presently came to me as it came in those days to any boy of industry and intelligence who knocked at the door of fortune till it opened. I shall never forget how my first chance in life came to me. A man, an entire stranger, struck no doubt with the fact that I looked industrious and willing, offered me a dollar to drive a load of tan bark to the nearest market–“
“Where was that?” I asked.
“Minneapolis, seven hundred miles. But I did it. I shall never forget my feelings when I found myself in Minneapolis with one dollar in my pocket and with the world all before me.”
“What did you do?” I said.
“First,” said Mr. Apricot, “I laid out seventy-five cents for a suit of clothes (things were cheap in those days); for fifty cents I bought an overcoat, for twenty-five I got a hat, for ten cents a pair of boots, and with the rest of my money I took a room for a month with a Swedish family, paid a month’s board with a German family, arranged to have my washing done by an Irish family, and–“
“But surely, Mr. Apricot–” I began.
But at this point the young man who is generally in attendance on old Mr. Apricot when he comes to the club, appeared on the scene.
“I am afraid,” he said to me aside as Mr. Apricot was gathering up his newspapers and his belongings, “that my uncle has been rather boring you with his reminiscences.”
“Not at all,” I said, “he’s been telling me all about his early life in his father’s cabin on the Wabash–“
“I was afraid so,” said the young man. “Too bad. You see he wasn’t really there at all.”
“Not there!” I said.
“No. He only fancies that he was. He was brought up in New York, and has never been west of Philadelphia. In fact he has been very well to do all his life. But he found that it counted against him: it hurt him in politics. So he got into the way of talking about the Middle West and early days there, and sometimes he forgets that he wasn’t there.”
“I see,” I said.
Meantime Mr. Apricot was ready.
“Good-bye, good-bye,” he said very cheerily,–“A delightful chat. We must have another talk over old times soon. I must tell you about my first trip over the Plains at the time when I was surveying the line of the Union Pacific. You who travel nowadays in your Pullman coaches and observation cars can have no idea–“
“Come along, uncle,” said the young man.
6.–The Last Man out of Europe
He came into the club and shook hands with me as if he hadn’t seen me for a year. In reality I had seen him only eleven months ago, and hadn’t thought of him since.
“How are you, Parkins?” I said in a guarded tone, for I saw at once that there was something special in his manner.
“Have a cig?” he said as he sat down on the edge of an arm-chair, dangling his little boot.
Any young man who calls a cigarette a “cig” I despise. “No, thanks,” I said.
“Try one,” he went on, “they’re Hungarian. They’re some I managed to bring through with me out of the war zone.”
As he said “war zone,” his face twisted up into a sort of scowl of self-importance.
I looked at Parkins more closely and I noticed that he had on some sort of foolish little coat, short in the back, and the kind of bow-tie that they wear in the Hungarian bands of the Sixth Avenue restaurants.
Then I knew what the trouble was. He was the last man out of Europe, that is to say, the latest last man. There had been about fourteen others in the club that same afternoon. In fact they were sitting all over it in Italian suits and Viennese overcoats, striking German matches on the soles of Dutch boots. These were the “war zone” men and they had just got out “in the clothes they stood up in.” Naturally they hated to change.
So I knew all that this young man, Parkins, was going to say, and all about his adventures before he began.
“Yes,” he said, “we were caught right in the war zone. By Jove, I never want to go through again what I went through.”
With that, he sank back into the chair in the pose of a man musing in silence over the recollection of days of horror.
I let him muse. In fact I determined to let him muse till he burst before I would ask him what he had been through. I knew it, anyway.
Presently he decided to go on talking.
“We were at Izzl,” he said, “in the Carpathians, Loo Jones and I. We’d just made a walking tour from Izzl to Fryzzl and back again.”
“Why did you come back?” I asked.
“Back to Izzl,” I explained, “after you’d once got to Fryzzl. It seems unnecessary, but, never mind, go on.”
“That was in July,” he continued. “There wasn’t a sign of war, not a sign. We heard that Russia was beginning to mobilize,” (at this word be blew a puff from his cigarette and then repeated “beginning to mobilize”) “but we thought nothing of it.”
“Of course not,” I said.
“Then we heard that Hungary was calling out the Honveds, but we still thought nothing of it.”
“Certainly not,” I said.
“And then we heard–“
“Yes, I know,” I said, “you heard that Italy was calling out the Trombonari, and that Germany was calling in all the Landesgeschutzshaft.”
He looked at me.
“How did you know that?” he said.
“We heard it over here,” I answered.
“Well,” he went on, “next thing we knew we heard that the Russians were at Fryzzl.”
“Great Heavens!” I exclaimed.
“Yes, at Fryzzl, not a hundred miles away. The very place we’d been at only two weeks before.”
“Think of it!” I said. “If you’d been where you were two weeks after you were there, or if the Russians had been a hundred miles away from where they were, or even if Fryzzl had been a hundred miles nearer to Izzl–“
We both shuddered.
“It was a close call,” said Parkins. “However, I said to Loo Jones, ‘Loo, it’s time to clear out.’ And then, I tell you, our trouble began. First of all we couldn’t get any money. We went to the bank at Izzl and tried to get them to give us American dollars for Hungarian paper money; we had nothing else.”
“And wouldn’t they?”
“Absolutely refused. They said they hadn’t any.”
“By George,” I exclaimed. “Isn’t war dreadful? What on earth did you do?”