Great and sudden wealth, however, if combined with obscure antecedents and questionable qualifications, was still looked upon askance. In spite of the fact that Adolf Scherer had "put us on the map," the family of the great iron-master still remained outside of the social pale. He himself might have entered had it not been for his wife, who was supposed to be "queer," who remained at home in her house opposite Gallatin Park and made little German cakes,—a huge house which an unknown architect had taken unusual pains to make pretentious and hideous, for it was Rhenish, Moorish and Victorian by turns. Its geometric grounds matched those of the park, itself a monument to bad taste in landscape. The neighbourhood was highly respectable, and inhabited by families of German extraction. There were two flaxen-haired daughters who had just graduated from an expensive boarding-school in New York, where they had received the polish needful for future careers. But the careers were not forthcoming.
I was thrown constantly with Adolf Scherer; I had earned his gratitude, I had become necessary to him. But after the great coup whereby he had fulfilled Mr. Watling's prophecy and become the chief factor in our business world he began to show signs of discontent, of an irritability that seemed foreign to his character, and that puzzled me. One day, however, I stumbled upon the cause of this fermentation, to wonder that I had not discovered it before. In many ways Adolf Scherer was a child. We were sitting in the Boyne Club.
"Money—yes!" he exclaimed, apropos of some demand made upon him by a charitable society. "They come to me for my money—there is always Scherer, they say. He will make up the deficit in the hospitals. But what is it they do for me? Nothing. Do they invite me to their houses, to their parties?"
This was what he wanted, then,—social recognition. I said nothing, but I saw my opportunity: I had the clew, now, to a certain attitude he had adopted of late toward me, an attitude of reproach; as though, in return for his many favours to me, there were something I had left undone. And when I went home I asked Maude to call on Mrs. Scherer.
"On Mrs. Scherer!" she repeated.
"Yes, I want you to invite them to dinner." The proposal seemed to take away her breath. "I owe her husband a great deal, and I think he feels hurt that the wives of the men he knows down town haven't taken up his family." I felt that it would not be wise, with Maude, to announce my rather amazing discovery of the iron-master's social ambitions.
"But, Hugh, they must be very happy, they have their friends. And after all this time wouldn't it seem like an intrusion?"
"I don't think so," I said, "I'm sure it would please him, and them. You know how kind he's been to us, how he sent us East in his private car last year."
"Of course I'll go if you wish it, if you're sure they feel that way." She did make the call, that very week, and somewhat to my surprise reported that she liked Mrs. Scherer and the daughters: Maude's likes and dislikes, needless to say, were not governed by matters of policy.
"You were right, Hugh," she informed me, almost with enthusiasm, "they did seem lonely. And they were so glad to see me, it was rather pathetic. Mr. Scherer, it seems, had talked to them a great deal about you. They wanted to know why I hadn't come before. That was rather embarrassing. Fortunately they didn't give me time to talk, I never heard people talk as they do. They all kissed me when I went away, and came down the steps with me. And Mrs. Scherer went into the conservatory and picked a huge bouquet. There it is," she said, laughingly, pointing to several vases. "I separated the colours as well as I could when I got home. We had coffee, and the most delicious German cakes in the Turkish room, or the Moorish room, whichever it is. I'm sure I shan't be able to eat anything more for days. When do you wish to have them for dinner?"
"Well," I said, "we ought to have time to get the right people to meet them. We'll ask Nancy and Ham."
Maude opened her eyes.
"Nancy! Do you think Nancy would like them?"
"I'm going to give her a chance, anyway," I replied....
It was, in some ways, a memorable dinner. I don't know what I expected in Mrs. Scherer—from Maude's description a benevolent and somewhat stupid, blue-eyed German woman, of peasant extraction. There could be no doubt about the peasant extraction, but when she hobbled into our little parlour with the aid of a stout, gold-headed cane she dominated it. Her very lameness added to a distinction that evinced itself in a dozen ways. Her nose was hooked, her colour high,—despite the years in Steelville,—her peculiar costume heightened the effect of her personality; her fire-lit black eyes bespoke a spirit accustomed to rule, and instead of being an aspirant for social honours, she seemed to confer them. Conversation ceased at her entrance.
"I'm sorry we are late, my dear," she said, as she greeted Maude affectionately, "but we have far to come. And this is your husband!" she exclaimed, as I was introduced. She scrutinized me. "I have heard something of you, Mr. Paret. You are smart. Shall I tell you the smartest thing you ever did?" She patted Maude's shoulder. "When you married your wife—that was it. I have fallen in love with her. If you do not know it, I tell you."
Next, Nancy was introduced.
"So you are Mrs. Hambleton Durrett?"
Nancy acknowledged her identity with a smile, but the next remark was a bombshell.
"The leader of society."
"Alas!" exclaimed Nancy, "I have been accused of many terrible things."
Their glances met. Nancy's was amused, baffling, like a spark in amber. Each, in its way, was redoubtable. A greater contrast between two women could scarcely have been imagined. It was well said (and not snobbishly) that generations had been required to make Nancy's figure: she wore a dress of blue sheen, the light playing on its ripples; and as she stood, apparently wholly at ease, looking down at the wife of Adolf Scherer, she reminded me of an expert swordsman who, with remarkable skill, was keeping a too pressing and determined aspirant at arm's length. I was keenly aware that Maude did not possess this gift, and I realized for the first time something of the similarity between Nancy's career and my own. She, too, in her feminine sphere, exercised, and subtly, a power in which human passions were deeply involved.
If Nancy Durrett symbolized aristocracy, established order and prestige, what did Mrs. Scherer represent? Not democracy, mob rule—certainly. The stocky German peasant woman with her tightly drawn hair and heavy jewels seemed grotesquely to embody something that ultimately would have its way, a lusty and terrible force in the interests of which my own services were enlisted; to which the old American element in business and industry, the male counterpart of Nancy Willett, had already succumbed. And now it was about to storm the feminine fastnesses! I beheld a woman who had come to this country with a shawl aver her head transformed into a new species of duchess, sure of herself, scorning the delicate euphemisms in which Fancy's kind were wont to refer to asocial realm, that was no less real because its boundaries had not definitely been defined. She held her stick firmly, and gave Nancy an indomitable look.
"I want you to meet my daughters. Gretchen, Anna, come here and be introduced to Mrs. Durrett."
It was not without curiosity I watched these of the second generation as they made their bows, noted the differentiation in the type for which an American environment and a "finishing school" had been responsible. Gretchen and Anna had learned—in crises, such as the present—to restrain the superabundant vitality they had inherited. If their cheekbones were a little too high, their Delft blue eyes a little too small, their colour was of the proverbial rose-leaves and cream. Gene Hollister's difficulty was to know which to marry. They were nice girls,—of that there could be no doubt; there was no false modesty in their attitude toward "society"; nor did they pretend—as so many silly people did, that they were not attempting to get anywhere in particular, that it was less desirable to be in the centre than on the dubious outer walks. They, too, were so glad to meet Mrs. Durrett.
Nancy's eyes twinkled as they passed on.
"You see what I have let you in for?" I said.
"My dear Hugh," she replied, "sooner or later we should have had to face them anyhow. I have recognized that for some time. With their money, and Mr. Scherer's prestige, and the will of that lady with the stick, in a few years we should have had nothing to say. Why, she's a female Napoleon. Hilda's the man of the family."
After that, Nancy invariably referred to Mrs. Scherer as Hilda.
If Mrs. Scherer was a surprise to us, her husband was a still greater one; and I had difficulty in recognizing the Adolf Scherer who came to our dinner party as the personage of the business world before whom lesser men were wont to cringe. He seemed rather mysteriously to have shed that personality; become an awkward, ingratiating, rather too exuberant, ordinary man with a marked German accent. From time to time I found myself speculating uneasily on this phenomenon as I glanced down the table at his great torso, white waist-coated for the occasion. He was plainly "making up" to Nancy, and to Mrs. Ogilvy, who sat opposite him. On the whole, the atmosphere of our entertainment was rather electric. "Hilda" was chiefly responsible for this; her frankness was of the breath-taking kind. Far from attempting to hide or ignore the struggle by which she and her husband had attained their present position, she referred with the utmost naivete to incidents in her career, while the whole table paused to listen.
"Before we had a carriage, yes, it was hard for me to get about. I had to be helped by the conductors into the streetcars. I broke my hip when we lived in Steelville, and the doctor was a numbskull. He should be put in prison, is what I tell Adolf. I was standing on a clothes-horse, when it fell. I had much washing to do in those days."
"And—can nothing be done, Mrs. Scherer?" asked Leonard Dickinson, sympathetically.
"For an old woman? I am fifty-five. I have had many doctors. I would put them all in prison. How much was it you paid Dr. Stickney, in New York, Adolf? Five thousand dollars? And he did nothing—nothing. I'd rather be poor again, and work. But it is well to make the best of it."...
"Your grandfather was a fine man, Mr. Durrett," she informed Hambleton. "It is a pity for you, I think, that you do not have to work."
Ham, who sat on her other side, was amused.
"My grandfather did enough work for both of us," he said.
"If I had been your grandfather, I would have started you in puddling," she observed, as she eyed with disapproval the filling of his third glass of champagne. "I think there is too much gay life, too much games for rich young men nowadays. You will forgive me for saying what I think to young men?"
"I'll forgive you for not being my grandfather, at any rate," replied Ham, with unaccustomed wit.
She gazed at him with grim humour.
"It is bad for you I am not," she declared.
There was no gainsaying her. What can be done with a lady who will not recognize that morality is not discussed, and that personalities are tabooed save between intimates. Hilda was a personage as well as a Tartar. Laws, conventions, usages—to all these she would conform when it pleased her. She would have made an admirable inquisitorial judge, and quite as admirable a sick nurse. A rare criminal lawyer, likewise, was wasted in her. She was one of those individuals, I perceived, whose loyalties dominate them; and who, in behalf of those loyalties, carry chips on their shoulders.
"It is a long time that I have been wanting to meet you," she informed me. "You are smart."
I smiled, yet I was inclined to resent her use of the word, though I was by no means sure of the shade of meaning she meant to put into it. I had, indeed, an uneasy sense of the scantiness of my fund of humour to meet and turn such a situation; for I was experiencing, now, with her, the same queer feeling I had known in my youth in the presence of Cousin Robert Breck—the suspicion that this extraordinary person saw through me. It was as though she held up a mirror and compelled me to look at my soul features. I tried to assure myself that the mirror was distorted. I lost, nevertheless, the sureness of touch that comes from the conviction of being all of a piece. She contrived to resolve me again into conflicting elements. I was, for the moment, no longer the self-confident and triumphant young attorney accustomed to carry all before him, to command respect and admiration, but a complicated being whose unity had suddenly been split. I glanced around the table at Ogilvy, at Dickinson, at Ralph Hambleton. These men were functioning truly. But was I? If I were not, might not this be the reason for the lack of synthesis—of which I was abruptly though vaguely aware between my professional life, my domestic relationships, and my relationships with friends. The loyalty of the woman beside me struck me forcibly as a supreme trait. Where she had given, she did not withdraw. She had conferred it instantly on Maude. Did I feel that loyalty towards a single human being? towards Maude herself—my wife? or even towards Nancy? I pulled myself together, and resolved to give her credit for using the word "smart" in its unobjectionable sense. After all; Dickens had so used it.
"A lawyer must needs know something of what he is about, Mrs. Scherer, if he is to be employed by such a man as your husband," I replied.
Her black eyes snapped with pleasure.
"Ah, I suppose that is so," she agreed. "I knew he was a great man when I married him, and that was before Mr. Nathaniel Durrett found it out."
"But surely you did not think, in those days, that he would be as big as he has become? That he would not only be president of the Boyne Iron Works, but of a Boyne Iron Works that has exceeded Mr. Durrett's wildest dreams."
She shook her head complacently.
"Do you know what I told him when he married me? I said, 'Adolf, it is a pity you are born in Germany.' And when he asked me why, I told him that some day he might have been President of the United States."
"Well, that won't be a great deprivation to him," I remarked. "Mr. Scherer can do what he wants, and the President cannot."
"Adolf always does as he wants," she declared, gazing at him as he sat beside the brilliant wife of the grandson of the man whose red-shirted foreman he had been. "He does what he wants, and gets what he wants. He is getting what he wants now," she added, with such obvious meaning that I found no words to reply. "She is pretty, that Mrs. Durrett, and clever,—is it not so?"
I agreed. A new and indescribable note had come into Mrs. Scherer's voice, and I realized that she, too, was aware of that flaw in the redoubtable Mr. Scherer which none of his associates had guessed. It would have been strange if she had not discovered it. "She is beautiful, yes," the lady continued critically, "but she is not to compare with your wife. She has not the heart,—it is so with all your people of society. For them it is not what you are, but what you have done, and what you have."
The banality of this observation was mitigated by the feeling she threw into it.
"I think you misjudge Mrs. Durrett," I said, incautiously. "She has never before had the opportunity of meeting Mr. Scherer of appreciating him."
"Mrs. Durrett is an old friend of yours?" she asked.
"I was brought up with her."
"Ah!" she exclaimed, and turned her penetrating glance upon me. I was startled. Could it be that she had discerned and interpreted those renascent feelings even then stirring within me, and of which I myself was as yet scarcely conscious? At this moment, fortunately for me, the women rose; the men remained to smoke; and Scherer, as they discussed matters of finance, became himself again. I joined in the conversation, but I was thinking of those instants when in flashes of understanding my eyes had met Nancy's; instants in which I was lifted out of my humdrum, deadly serious self and was able to look down objectively upon the life I led, the life we all led—and Nancy herself; to see with her the comic irony of it all. Nancy had the power to give me this exquisite sense of detachment that must sustain her. And was it not just this sustenance she could give that I needed? For want of it I was hardening, crystallizing, growing blind to the joy and variety of existence. Nancy could have saved me; she brought it home to me that I needed salvation.... I was struck by another thought; in spite of our separation, in spite of her marriage and mine, she was still nearer to me—far nearer—than any other being.
Later, I sought her out. She looked up at me amusedly from the window-seat in our living-room, where she had been talking to the Scherer girls.
"Well, how did you get along with Hilda?" she asked. "I thought I saw you struggling."
"She's somewhat disconcerting," I said. "I felt as if she were turning me inside out."
"Hilda's a discovery—a genius. I'm going to have them to dinner myself."
"And Adolf?" I inquired. "I believe she thought you were preparing to run away with him. You seemed to have him hypnotized."
"I'm afraid your great man won't be able to stand—elevation," she declared. "He'll have vertigo. He's even got it now, at this little height, and when he builds his palace on Grant Avenue, and later moves to New York, I'm afraid he'll wobble even more."
"Is he thinking of doing all that?" I asked.
"I merely predict New York—it's inevitable," she replied. "Grant Avenue, yes; he wants me to help him choose a lot. He gave me ten thousand dollars for our Orphans' Home, but on the whole I think I prefer Hilda even if she doesn't approve of me."
Nancy rose. The Scherers were going. While Mr. Scherer pressed my hand in a manner that convinced me of his gratitude, Hilda was bidding an affectionate good night to Maude. A few moments later she bore her husband and daughters away, and we heard the tap-tap of her cane on the walk outside....
The remembrance of that dinner when with my connivance the Scherers made their social debut is associated in my mind with the coming of the fulness of that era, mad and brief, when gold rained down like manna from our sooty skies. Even the church was prosperous; the Rev. Carey Heddon, our new minister, was well abreast of the times, typical of the new and efficient Christianity that has finally buried the hatchet with enlightened self-interest. He looked like a young and prosperous man of business, and indeed he was one.
The fame of our city spread even across the Atlantic, reaching obscure hamlets in Europe, where villagers gathered up their lares and penates, mortgaged their homes, and bought steamship tickets from philanthropists,—philanthropists in diamonds. Our Huns began to arrive, their Attilas unrecognized among them: to drive our honest Americans and Irish and Germans out of the mills by "lowering the standard of living." Still—according to the learned economists in our universities, enlightened self-interest triumphed. Had not the honest Americans and Germans become foremen and even presidents of corporations? What greater vindication for their philosophy could be desired?
The very aspect of the city changed like magic. New buildings sprang high in the air; the Reliance Trust (Mr. Grierson's), the Scherer Building, the Hambleton Building; a stew hotel, the Ashuela, took proper care of our visitors from the East,—a massive, grey stone, thousand-awninged affair on Boyne Street, with a grill where it became the fashion to go for supper after the play, and a head waiter who knew in a few weeks everyone worth knowing.
To return for a moment to the Huns. Maude had expressed a desire to see a mill, and we went, one afternoon, in Mr. Scherer's carriage to Steelville, with Mr. Scherer himself,—a bewildering, educative, almost terrifying experience amidst fumes and flames, gigantic forces and titanic weights. It seemed a marvel that we escaped being crushed or burned alive in those huge steel buildings reverberating with sound. They appeared a very bedlam of chaos, instead of the triumph of order, organization and human skill. Mr. Scherer was very proud of it all, and ours was a sort of triumphal procession, accompanied by superintendents, managers and other factotums. I thought of my childhood image of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and our progress through the flames seemed no less remarkable and miraculous.
Maude, with alarm in her eyes, kept very close to me, as I supplemented the explanations they gave her. I had been there many times before.
"Why, Hugh," she exclaimed, "you seem to know a lot about it!"
Mr. Scherer laughed.
"He's had to talk about it once or twice in court—eh, Hugh? You didn't realize how clever your husband was did you, Mrs. Paret?"
"But this is so—complicated," she replied. "It is overwhelming."
"When I found out how much trouble he had taken to learn about my business," added Mr. Scherer, "there was only one thing to do. Make him my lawyer. Hugh, you have the floor, and explain the open-hearth process."
I had almost forgotten the Huns. I saw Maude gazing at them with a new kind of terror. And when we sat at home that evening they still haunted her.
"Somehow, I can't bear to think about them," she said. "I'm sure we'll have to pay for it, some day."
"Pay for what?" I asked.
"For making them work that way. And twelve hours! It can't be right, while we have so much, and are so comfortable."
"Don't be foolish," I exclaimed. "They're used to it. They think themselves lucky to get the work—and they are. Besides, you give them credit for a sensitiveness that they don't possess. They wouldn't know what to do with such a house as this if they had it."
"I never realized before that our happiness and comfort were built on such foundations;" she said, ignoring my remark.
"You must have seen your father's operatives, in Elkington, many times a week."
"I suppose I was too young to think about such things," she reflected. "Besides, I used to be sorry for them, sometimes. But these men at the steel mills—I can't tell you what I feel about them. The sight of their great bodies and their red, sullen faces brought home to me the cruelty of life. Did you notice how some of them stared at us, as though they were but half awake in the heat, with that glow on their faces? It made me afraid—afraid that they'll wake up some day, and then they will be terrible. I thought of the children. It seems not only wicked, but mad to bring ignorant foreigners over here and make them slaves like that, and so many of them are hurt and maimed. I can't forget them."
"You're talking Socialism," I said crossly, wondering whether Lucia had taken it up as her latest fad.
"Oh, no, I'm not," said Maude, "I don't know what Socialism is. I'm talking about something that anyone who is not dazzled by all this luxury we are living in might be able to see, about something which, when it comes, we shan't be able to help."
I ridiculed this. The prophecy itself did not disturb me half as much as the fact that she had made it, as this new evidence that she was beginning to think for herself, and along lines so different from my own development.
While it lasted, before novelists, playwrights, professors and ministers of the Gospel abandoned their proper sphere to destroy it, that Golden Age was heaven; the New Jerusalem—in which we had ceased to believe—would have been in the nature of an anticlimax to any of our archangels of finance who might have attained it. The streets of our own city turned out to be gold; gold likewise the acres of unused, scrubby land on our outskirts, as the incident of the Riverside Franchise—which I am about to relate—amply proved.
That scheme originated in the alert mind of Mr. Frederick Grierson, and in spite of the fact that it has since become notorious in the eyes of a virtue-stricken public, it was entered into with all innocence at the time: most of the men who were present at the "magnate's" table at the Boyne Club the day Mr. Grierson broached it will vouch for this. He casually asked Mr. Dickinson if he had ever noticed a tract lying on the river about two miles beyond the Heights, opposite what used to be in the old days a road house.
"This city is growing so fast, Leonard," said Grierson, lighting a special cigar the Club kept for him, "that it might pay a few of us to get together and buy that tract, have the city put in streets and sewers and sell it in building lots. I think I can get most of it at less than three hundred dollars an acre."
Mr. Dickinson was interested. So were Mr. Ogilvy and Ralph Hambleton, and Mr. Scherer, who chanced to be there. Anything Fred Grierson had to say on the question of real estate was always interesting. He went on to describe the tract, its size and location.
"That's all very well, Fred," Dickinson objected presently, "but how are your prospective householders going to get out there?"
"Just what I was coming to," cried Grierson, triumphantly, "we'll get a franchise, and build a street-railroad out Maplewood Avenue, an extension of the Park Street line. We can get the franchise for next to nothing, if we work it right." (Mr. Grierson's eye fell on me), "and sell it out to the public, if you underwrite it, for two million or so."
"Well, you've got your nerve with you, Fred, as usual," said Dickinson. But he rolled his cigar in his mouth, an indication, to those who knew him well, that he was considering the matter. When Leonard Dickinson didn't say "no" at once, there was hope. "What do you think the property holders on Maplewood Avenue would say? Wasn't it understood, when that avenue was laid out, that it was to form part of the system of boulevards?"
"What difference does it make what they say?" Ralph interposed.
Dickinson smiled. He, too, had an exaggerated respect for Ralph. We all thought the proposal daring, but in no way amazing; the public existed to be sold things to, and what did it matter if the Maplewood residents, as Ralph said; and the City Improvement League protested?
Perry Blackwood was the Secretary of the City Improvement League, the object of which was to beautify the city by laying out a system of parkways.
The next day some of us gathered in Dickinson's office and decided that Grierson should go ahead and get the options. This was done; not, of course, in Grierson's name. The next move, before the formation of the Riverside Company, was to "see" Mr. Judd Jason. The success or failure of the enterprise was in his hands. Mahomet must go to the mountain, and I went to Monahan's saloon, first having made an appointment. It was not the first time I had been there since I had made that first memorable visit, but I never quite got over the feeling of a neophyte before Buddha, though I did not go so far as to analyze the reason,—that in Mr. Jason I was brought face to face with the concrete embodiment of the philosophy I had adopted, the logical consequence of enlightened self-interest. If he had ever heard of it, he would have made no pretence of being anything else. Greatness, declares some modern philosopher, has no connection with virtue; it is the continued, strong and logical expression of some instinct; in Mr. Jason's case, the predatory instinct. And like a true artist, he loved his career for itself—not for what its fruits could buy. He might have built a palace on the Heights with the tolls he took from the disreputable houses of the city; he was contented with Monahan's saloon: nor did he seek to propitiate a possible God by endowing churches and hospitals with a portion of his income. Try though I might, I never could achieve the perfection of this man's contempt for all other philosophies. The very fact of my going there in secret to that dark place of his from out of the bright, respectable region in which I lived was in itself an acknowledgment of this. I thought him a thief—a necessary thief—and he knew it: he was indifferent to it; and it amused him, I think, to see clinging to me, when I entered his presence, shreds of that morality which those of my world who dealt with him thought so needful for the sake of decency.
He was in bed, reading newspapers, as usual. An empty coffee-cup and a plate were on the littered table.
"Sit down, sit down, Paret," he said. "What do you hear from the Senator?"
I sat down, and gave him the news of Mr. Watling. He seemed, as usual, distrait, betraying no curiosity as to the object of my call, his lean, brown fingers playing with the newspapers on his lap. Suddenly, he flashed out at me one of those remarks which produced the uncanny conviction that, so far as affairs in the city were concerned, he was omniscient.
"I hear somebody has been getting options on that tract of land beyond the Heights, on the river."
He had "focussed."
"How did you hear that?" I asked.
"It's Grierson, ain't it?"
"Yes, it's Grierson," I said.
"How are you going to get your folks out there?" he demanded.
"That's what I've come to see you about. We want a franchise for Maplewood Avenue."
"Maplewood Avenue!" He lay back with his eyes closed, as though trying to visualize such a colossal proposal....
When I left him, two hours later, the details were all arranged, down to Mr. Jason's consideration from Riverside Company and the "fee" which his lawyer, Mr. Bitter, was to have for "presenting the case" before the Board of Aldermen. I went back to lunch at the Boyne Club, and to receive the congratulations of my friends. The next week the Riverside Company was formed, and I made out a petition to the Board of Aldermen for a franchise; Mr. Bitter appeared and argued: in short, the procedure so familiar to modern students of political affairs was gone through. The Maplewood Avenue residents rose en masse, supported by the City Improvement League. Perry Blackwood, as soon as he heard of the petition, turned up at my office. By this time I was occupying Mr. Watling's room.
"Look here," he began, as soon as the office-boy had closed the door behind him, "this is going it a little too strong."
"What is?" I asked, leaning back in my chair and surveying him.
"This proposed Maplewood Avenue Franchise. Hugh," he said, "you and I have been friends a good many years, Lucia and I are devoted to Maude."
I did not reply.
"I've seen all along that we've been growing apart," he added sadly. "You've got certain ideas about things which I can't share. I suppose I'm old fashioned. I can't trust myself to tell you what I think—what Tom and I think about this deal."
"Go ahead, Perry," I said.
He got up, plainly agitated, and walked to the window. Then he turned to me appealingly.
"Get out of it, for God's sake get out of it, before it's too late. For your own sake, for Maude's, for the children's. You don't realize what you are doing. You may not believe me, but the time will come when these fellows you are in with will be repudiated by the community,—their money won't help them. Tom and I are the best friends you have," he added, a little irrelevantly.
"And you think I'm going to the dogs."
"Now don't take it the wrong way," he urged.
"What is it you object to about the Maplewood franchise?" I asked. "If you'll look at a map of the city, you'll see that development is bound to come on that side. Maplewood Avenue is the natural artery, somebody will build a line out there, and if you'd rather have eastern capitalists—"
"Why are you going to get this franchise?" he demanded. "Because we haven't a decent city charter, and a healthy public spirit, you fellows are buying it from a corrupt city boss, and bribing a corrupt board of aldermen. That's the plain language of it. And it's only fair to warn you that I'm going to say so, openly."
"Be sensible," I answered. "We've got to have street railroads,—your family has one. We know what the aldermen are, what political conditions are. If you feel this way about it, the thing to do is to try to change them. But why blame me for getting a franchise for a company in the only manner in which, under present conditions, a franchise can be got? Do you want the city to stand still? If not, we have to provide for the new population."
"Every time you bribe these rascals for a franchise you entrench them," he cried. "You make it more difficult to oust them. But you mark my words, we shall get rid of them some day, and when that fight comes, I want to be in it."
He had grown very much excited; and it was as though this excitement suddenly revealed to me the full extent of the change that had taken place in him since he had left college. As he stood facing me, almost glaring at me through his eye-glasses, I beheld a slim, nervous, fault-finding doctrinaire, incapable of understanding the world as it was, lacking the force of his pioneer forefathers. I rather pitied him.
"I'm sorry we can't look at this thing alike, Perry," I told him. "You've said solve pretty hard things, but I realize that you hold your point of view in good faith, and that you have come to me as an old friend. I hope it won't make any difference in our personal relations."
"I don't see how it can help making a difference," he answered slowly. His excitement had cooled abruptly: he seemed dazed. At this moment my private stenographer entered to inform me that I was being called up on the telephone from New York. "Well, you have more important affairs to attend to, I won't bother you any more," he added.
"Hold on," I exclaimed, "this call can wait. I'd like to talk it over with you."
"I'm afraid it wouldn't be any use, Hugh," he said, and went out.
After talking with the New York client whose local interests I represented I sat thinking over the conversation with Perry. Considering Maude's intimacy with and affection for the Blackwoods, the affair was awkward, opening up many uncomfortable possibilities; and it was the prospect of discomfort that bothered me rather than regret for the probable loss of Perry's friendship. I still believed myself to have an affection for him: undoubtedly this was a sentimental remnant....
That evening after dinner Tom came in alone, and I suspected that Perry had sent him. He was fidgety, ill at ease, and presently asked if I could see him a moment in my study. Maude's glance followed us.
"Say, Hugh, this is pretty stiff," he blurted out characteristically, when the door was closed.
"I suppose you mean the Riverside Franchise," I said. He looked up at me, miserably, from the chair into which he had sunk, his hands in his pockets.
"You'll forgive me for talking about it, won't you? You used to lecture me once in a while at Cambridge, you know."
"That's all right—go ahead," I replied, trying to speak amiably.
"You know I've always admired you, Hugh,—I never had your ability," he began painfully, "you've gone ahead pretty fast,—the truth is that Perry and I have been worried about you for some time. We've tried not to be too serious in showing it, but we've felt that these modern business methods were getting into your system without your realizing it. There are some things a man's friends can tell him, and it's their duty to tell him. Good God, haven't you got enough, Hugh,—enough success and enough money, without going into a thing like this Riverside scheme?"
I was intensely annoyed, if not angry; and I hesitated a moment to calm myself.
"Tom, you don't understand my position," I said. "I'm willing to discuss it with you, now that you've opened up the subject. Perry's been talking to you, I can see that. I think Perry's got queer ideas,—to be plain with you, and they're getting queerer."
He sat down again while, with what I deemed a rather exemplary patience, I went over the arguments in favour of my position; and as I talked, it clarified in my own mind. It was impossible to apply to business an individual code of ethics,—even to Perry's business, to Tom's business: the two were incompatible, and the sooner one recognized that the better: the whole structure of business was built up on natural, as opposed to ethical law. We had arrived at an era of frankness—that was the truth—and the sooner we faced this truth the better for our peace of mind. Much as we might deplore the political system that had grown up, we had to acknowledge, if we were consistent, that it was the base on which our prosperity was built. I was rather proud of having evolved this argument; it fortified my own peace of mind, which had been disturbed by Tom's attitude. I began to pity him. He had not been very successful in life, and with the little he earned, added to Susan's income, I knew that a certain ingenuity was required to make both ends meet. He sat listening with a troubled look. A passing phase of feeling clouded for a brief moment my confidence when there arose in my mind an unbidden memory of my youth, of my father. He, too, had mistrusted my ingenuity. I recalled how I had out-manoeuvred him and gone to college; I remembered the March day so long ago, when Tom and I had stood on the corner debating how to deceive him, and it was I who had suggested the nice distinction between a boat and a raft. Well, my father's illogical attitude towards boyhood nature, towards human nature, had forced me into that lie, just as the senseless attitude of the public to-day forced business into a position of hypocrisy.
"Well, that's clever," he said, slowly and perplexedly, when I had finished. "It's damned clever, but somehow it looks to me all wrong. I can't pick it to pieces." He got up rather heavily. "I—I guess I ought to be going. Susan doesn't know where I am."
I was exasperated. It was clear, though he did not say so, that he thought me dishonest. The pain in his eyes had deepened.
"If you feel that way—" I said.
"Oh, God, I don't know how I feel!" he cried. "You're the oldest friend I have, Hugh,—I can't forget that. We'll say nothing more about it." He picked up his hat and a moment later I heard the front door close behind him. I stood for a while stock-still, and then went into the living-room, where Maude was sewing.
"Why, where's Tom?" she inquired, looking up.
"Oh, he went home. He said Susan didn't know where he was."
"How queer! Hugh, was there anything the matter? Is he in trouble?" she asked anxiously.
I stood toying with a book-mark, reflecting. She must inevitably come to suspect that something had happened, and it would be as well to fortify her.
"The trouble is," I said after a moment, "that Perry and Tom would like to run modern business on the principle of a charitable institution. Unfortunately, it is not practical. They're upset because I have been retained by a syndicate whose object is to develop some land out beyond Maplewood Avenue. They've bought the land, and we are asking the city to give us a right to build a line out Maplewood Avenue, which is the obvious way to go. Perry says it will spoil the avenue. That's nonsense, in the first place. The avenue is wide, and the tracks will be in a grass plot in the centre. For the sake of keeping tracks off that avenue he would deprive people of attractive homes at a small cost, of the good air they can get beyond the heights; he would stunt the city's development."
"That does seem a little unreasonable," Maude admitted. "Is that all he objects to?"
"No, he thinks it an outrage because, in order to get the franchise, we have to deal with the city politicians. Well, it so happens, and always has happened, that politics have been controlled by leaders, whom Perry calls 'bosses,' and they are not particularly attractive men. You wouldn't care to associate with them. My father once refused to be mayor of the city for this reason. But they are necessities. If the people didn't want them, they'd take enough interest in elections to throw them out. But since the people do want them, and they are there, every time a new street-car line or something of that sort needs to be built they have to be consulted, because, without their influence nothing could be done. On the other hand, these politicians cannot afford to ignore men of local importance like Leonard Dickinson and Adolf Scherer and Miller Gorse who represent financial substance and' responsibility. If a new street-railroad is to be built, these are the logical ones to build it. You have just the same situation in Elkington, on a smaller scale.
"Your family, the Hutchinses, own the mills and the street-railroads, and any new enterprise that presents itself is done with their money, because they are reliable and sound."
"It isn't pleasant to think that there are such people as the politicians, is it?" said Maude, slowly.
"Unquestionably not," I agreed. "It isn't pleasant to think of some other crude forces in the world. But they exist, and they have to be dealt with. Suppose the United States should refuse to trade with Russia because, from our republican point of view, we regarded her government as tyrannical and oppressive? or to cooperate with England in some undertaking for the world's benefit because we contended that she ruled India with an iron hand? In such a case, our President and Senate would be scoundrels for making and ratifying a treaty. Yet here are Perry and Tom, and no doubt Susan and Lucia, accusing me, a lifetime friend, of dishonesty because I happen to be counsel for a syndicate that wishes to build a street-railroad for the convenience of the people of the city."
"Oh, no, not of dishonesty!" she exclaimed. "I can't—I won't believe they would do that."
"Pretty near it," I said. "If I listened to them, I should have to give up the law altogether."
"Sometimes," she answered in a low voice, "sometimes I wish you would."
"I might have expected that you would take their point of view."
As I was turning away she got up quickly and put her hand on my shoulder.
"Hugh, please don't say such things—you've no right to say them."
"And you?" I asked.
"Don't you see," she continued pleadingly, "don't you see that we are growing apart? That's the only reason I said what I did. It isn't that I don't trust you, that I don't want you to have your work, that I demand all of you. I know a woman can't ask that,—can't have it. But if you would only give me—give the children just a little, if I could feel that we meant something to you and that this other wasn't gradually becoming everything, wasn't absorbing you more and more, killing the best part of you. It's poisoning our marriage, it's poisoning all your relationships."
In that appeal the real Maude, the Maude of the early days of our marriage flashed forth again so vividly that I was taken aback. I understood that she had had herself under control, had worn a mask—a mask I had forced on her; and the revelation of the continued existence of that other Maude was profoundly disturbing. Was it true, as she said, that my absorption in the great game of modern business, in the modern American philosophy it implied was poisoning my marriage? or was it that my marriage had failed to satisfy and absorb me? I was touched—but sentimentally touched: I felt that this was a situation that ought to touch me; I didn't wish to face it, as usual: I couldn't acknowledge to myself that anything was really wrong... I patted her on the shoulder, I bent over and kissed her.
"A man in my position can't altogether choose just how busy he will be," I said smiling. "Matters are thrust upon me which I have to accept, and I can't help thinking about some of them when I come home. But we'll go off for a real vacation soon, Maude, to Europe—and take the children."
"Oh, I hope so," she said.
From this time on, as may be supposed, our intercourse with both the Blackwoods began to grow less frequent, although Maude continued to see a great deal of Lucia; and when we did dine in their company, or they with us, it was quite noticeable that their former raillery was suppressed. Even Tom had ceased to refer to me as the young Napoleon of the Law: he clung to me, but he too kept silent on the subject of business. Maude of course must have noticed this, must have sensed the change of atmosphere, have known that the Blackwoods, at least, were maintaining appearances for her sake. She did not speak to me of the change, nor I to her; but when I thought of her silence, it was to suspect that she was weighing the question which had led up to the difference between Perry and me, and I had a suspicion that the fact that I was her husband would not affect her ultimate decision. This faculty of hers of thinking things out instead of accepting my views and decisions was, as the saying goes, getting a little "on my nerves": that she of all women should have developed it was a recurring and unpleasant surprise. I began at times to pity myself a little, to feel the need of sympathetic companionship —feminine companionship....
I shall not go into the details of the procurement of what became known as the Riverside Franchise. In spite of the Maplewood residents, of the City Improvement League and individual protests, we obtained it with absurd ease. Indeed Perry Blackwood himself appeared before the Public Utilities Committee of the Board of Aldermen, and was listened to with deference and gravity while he discoursed on the defacement of a beautiful boulevard to satisfy the greed of certain private individuals. Mr. Otto Bitter and myself, who appeared for the petitioners, had a similar reception. That struggle was a tempest in a tea-pot. The reformer raged, but he was feeble in those days, and the great public believed what it read in the respectable newspapers. In Mr. Judah B. Tallant's newspaper, for instance, the Morning Era, there were semi-playful editorials about "obstructionists." Mr. Perry Blackwood was a well-meaning, able gentleman of an old family, etc., but with a sentiment for horse-cars. The Era published also the resolutions which (with interesting spontaneity!) had been passed by our Board of Trade and Chamber of Commerce and other influential bodies in favour of the franchise; the idea—unknown to the public—of Mr. Hugh Paret, who wrote drafts of the resolutions and suggested privately to Mr. Leonard Dickinson that a little enthusiasm from these organizations might be helpful. Mr. Dickinson accepted the suggestion eagerly, wondering why he hadn't thought of it himself. The resolutions carried some weight with a public that did not know its right hand from its left.
After fitting deliberation, one evening in February the Board of Aldermen met and granted the franchise. Not unanimously, oh, no! Mr. Jason was not so simple as that! No further visits to Monahan's saloon on my part, in this connection were necessary; but Mr. Otto Bitter met me one day in the hotel with a significant message from the boss.
"It's all fixed," he informed me. "Murphy and Scott and Ottheimer and Grady and Loth are the decoys. You understand?"
"I think I gather your meaning," I said.
Mr. Bitter smiled by pulling down one corner of a crooked mouth.
"They'll vote against it on principle, you know," he added. "We get a little something from the Maple Avenue residents."
I've forgotten what the Riverside Franchise cost. The sum was paid in a lump sum to Mr. Bitter as his "fee,"—so, to their chagrin, a grand jury discovered in later years, when they were barking around Mr. Jason's hole with an eager district attorney snapping his whip over them. I remember the cartoon. The municipal geese were gone, but it was impossible to prove that this particular fox had used his enlightened reason in their procurement. Mr. Bitter was a legally authorized fox, and could take fees. How Mr. Jason was to be rewarded by the land company's left-hand, unknown, to the land company's right hand, became a problem worthy of a genius. The genius was found, but modesty forbids me to mention his name, and the problem was solved, to wit: the land company bought a piece of downtown property from—Mr. Ryerson, who was Mr. Grierson's real estate man and the agent for the land company, for a consideration of thirty thousand dollars. An unconfirmed rumour had it that Mr. Ryerson turned over the thirty thousand to Mr. Jason. Then the Riverside Company issued a secret deed of the same property back to Mr. Ryerson, and this deed was not recorded until some years later.
Such are the elaborate transactions progress and prosperity demand. Nature is the great teacher, and we know that her ways are at times complicated and clumsy. Likewise, under the "natural" laws of economics, new enterprises are not born without travail, without the aid of legal physicians well versed in financial obstetrics. One hundred and fifty to two hundred thousand, let us say, for the right to build tracks on Maplewood Avenue, and we sold nearly two million dollars worth of the securities back to the public whose aldermen had sold us the franchise. Is there a man so dead as not to feel a thrill at this achievement? And let no one who declares that literary talent and imagination are nonexistent in America pronounce final judgment until he reads that prospectus, in which was combined the best of realism and symbolism, for the labours of Alonzo Cheyne were not to be wasted, after all. Mr. Dickinson, who was a director in the Maplewood line, got a handsome underwriting percentage, and Mr. Berringer, also a director, on the bonds and preferred stock he sold. Mr. Paret, who entered both companies on the ground floor, likewise got fees. Everybody was satisfied except the trouble makers, who were ignored. In short, the episode of the Riverside Franchise is a triumphant proof of the contention that business men are the best fitted to conduct the politics of their country.
We had learned to pursue our happiness in packs, we knew that the Happy Hunting-Grounds are here and now, while the Reverend Carey Heddon continued to assure the maimed, the halt and the blind that their kingdom was not of this world, that their time was coming later. Could there have been a more idyl arrangement! Everybody should have been satisfied, but everybody was not. Otherwise these pages would never have been written.
A FAR COUNTRY
By Winston Churchill
As the name of our city grew to be more and more a byword for sudden and fabulous wealth, not only were the Huns and the Slavs, the Czechs and the Greeks drawn to us, but it became the fashion for distinguished Englishmen and Frenchmen and sometimes Germans and Italians to pay us a visit when they made the grand tour of America. They had been told that they must not miss us; scarcely a week went by in our community—so it was said—in which a full-fledged millionaire was not turned out. Our visitors did not always remain a week,—since their rapid journeyings from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Canada to the Gulf rarely occupied more than four,—but in the books embodying their mature comments on the manners, customs and crudities of American civilization no less than a chapter was usually devoted to us; and most of the adjectives in their various languages were exhausted in the attempt to prove how symptomatic we were of the ambitions and ideals of the Republic. The fact that many of these gentlemen—literary and otherwise—returned to their own shores better fed and with larger balances in the banks than when they departed is neither here nor there. Egyptians are proverbially created to be spoiled.
The wiser and more fortunate of these travellers and students of life brought letters to Mr. and Mrs. Hambleton Durrett. That household was symptomatic—if they liked—of the new order of things; and it was rare indeed when both members of it were at home to entertain them. If Mr. Durrett were in the city, and they did not happen to be Britons with sporting proclivities, they simply were not entertained: when Mrs. Durrett received them dinners were given in their honour on the Durrett gold plate, and they spent cosey and delightful hours conversing with her in the little salon overlooking the garden, to return to their hotels and jot down paragraphs on the superiority of the American women over the men. These particular foreigners did not lay eyes on Mr. Durrett, who was in Florida or in the East playing polo or engaged in some other pursuit. One result of the lavishness and luxury that amazed them they wrote—had been to raise the standard of culture of the women, who were our leisure class. But the travellers did not remain long enough to arrive at any conclusions of value on the effect of luxury and lavishness on the sacred institution of marriage.
If Mr. Nathaniel Durrett could have returned to his native city after fifteen years or so in the grave, not the least of the phenomena to startle him would have been that which was taking place in his own house. For he would have beheld serenely established in that former abode of Calvinism one of the most reprehensible of exotic abominations, a 'mariage de convenance;' nor could he have failed to observe, moreover, the complacency with which the descendants of his friends, the pew holders in Dr. Pound's church, regarded the matter: and not only these, but the city at large. The stronghold of Scotch Presbyterianism had become a London or a Paris, a Gomorrah!
Mrs. Hambleton Durrett went her way, and Mr. Durrett his. The less said about Mr. Durrett's way—even in this suddenly advanced age—the better. As for Nancy, she seemed to the distant eye to be walking through life in a stately and triumphant manner. I read in the newspapers of her doings, her comings and goings; sometimes she was away for months together, often abroad; and when she was at home I saw her, but infrequently, under conditions more or less formal. Not that she was formal,—or I: our intercourse seemed eloquent of an intimacy in a tantalizing state of suspense. Would that intimacy ever be renewed? This was a question on which I sometimes speculated. The situation that had suspended or put an end to it, as the case might be, was never referred to by either of us.
One afternoon in the late winter of the year following that in which we had given a dinner to the Scherers (where the Durretts had rather marvellously appeared together) I left my office about three o'clock—a most unusual occurrence. I was restless, unable to fix my mind on my work, filled with unsatisfied yearnings the object of which I sought to keep vague, and yet I directed my steps westward along Boyne Street until I came to the Art Museum, where a loan exhibition was being held. I entered, bought a catalogue, and presently found myself standing before number 103, designated as a portrait of Mrs. Hambleton Durrett,—painted in Paris the autumn before by a Polish artist then much in vogue, Stanislaus Czesky. Nancy—was it Nancy?—was standing facing me, tall, superb in the maturity of her beauty, with one hand resting on an antique table, a smile upon her lips, a gentle mockery in her eyes as though laughing at the world she adorned. With the smile and the mockery—somehow significant, too, of an achieved inaccessibility—went the sheen of her clinging gown and the glint of the heavy pearls drooping from her high throat to her waist. These caught the eye, but failed at length to hold it, for even as I looked the smile faded, the mockery turned to wistfulness. So I thought, and looked again—to see the wistfulness: the smile had gone, the pearls seemed heavier. Was it a trick of the artist? had he seen what I saw, or thought I saw? or was it that imagination which by now I might have learned to suspect and distrust. Wild longings took possession of me, for the portrait had seemed to emphasize at once how distant now she was from me, and yet how near! I wanted to put that nearness to the test. Had she really changed? did anyone really change? and had I not been a fool to accept the presentment she had given me? I remembered those moments when our glances had met as across barriers in flashes of understanding. After all, the barriers were mere relics of the superstition of the past. What if I went to her now? I felt that I needed her as I never had needed anyone in all my life.... I was aroused by the sound of lowered voices beside me.
"That's Mrs. Hambleton Durrett," I heard a woman say. "Isn't she beautiful?"
The note of envy struck me sharply—horribly. Without waiting to listen to the comment of her companion I hurried out of the building into the cold, white sunlight that threw into bold relief the mediocre houses of the street. Here was everyday life, but the portrait had suggested that which might have been—might be yet. What did I mean by this? I didn't know, I didn't care to define it,—a renewal of her friendship, of our intimacy. My being cried out for it, and in the world in which I lived we took what we wanted—why not this? And yet for an instant I stood on the sidewalk to discover that in new situations I was still subject to unaccountable qualms of that thing I had been taught to call "conscience"; whether it were conscience or not must be left to the psychologists. I was married—terrible word! the shadow of that Institution fell athwart me as the sun went under a cloud; but the sun came out again as I found myself walking toward the Durrett house reflecting that numbers of married men called on Nancy, and that what I had in mind in regard to her was nothing that the court would have pronounced an infringement upon the Institution.... I reached her steps, the long steps still guarded by the curved wrought-iron railings reminiscent of Nathaniel's day, though the "portals" were gone, a modern vestibule having replaced them; I rang the bell; the butler, flung open the doors. He, at any rate, did not seem surprised to see me here, he greeted me with respectful cordiality and led me, as a favoured guest, through the big drawing-room into the salon.
"Mr. Paret, Madam!"
Nancy, rose quickly from the low chair where she sat cutting the pages of a French novel.
"Hugh!" she exclaimed. "I'm out if anyone calls. Bring tea," she added to the man, who retired. For a moment we stood gazing at each other, questioningly. "Well, won't you sit down and stay awhile?" she asked.
I took a chair on the opposite side of the fire.
"I just thought I'd drop in," I said.
"I am flattered," said Nancy, "that a person so affaire should find time to call on an old friend. Why, I thought you never left your office until seven o'clock."
"I don't, as a rule, but to-day I wasn't particularly busy, and I thought I'd go round to the Art Museum and look at your portrait."
"More flattery! Hugh, you're getting quite human. What do you think of it?"
"I like it. I think it quite remarkable."
"Have a cigarette!"
I took one.
"So you really like it," she said.
"Oh, I think it's a trifle—romantic," she replied "But that's Czesky. He made me quite cross,—the feminine presentation of America, the spoiled woman who has shed responsibilities and is beginning to have a glimpse—just a little one—of the emptiness of it all."
I was stirred.
"Then why do you accept it, if it isn't you?" I demanded. "One doesn't refuse Czesky's canvases," she replied. "And what difference does it make? It amused him, and he was fairly subtle about it. Only those who are looking for romance, like you, are able to guess what he meant, and they would think they saw it anyway, even if he had painted me—extinct."
"Extinct!" I repeated.
"Hugh, you're a silly old goose!"
"That's why I came here, I think, to be told so," I said.
Tea was brought in. A sense of at-homeness stole over me,—I was more at home here in this room with Nancy, than in any other place in the world; here, where everything was at once soothing yet stimulating, expressive of her, even the smaller objects that caught my eye,—the crystal inkstand tipped with gold, the racks for the table books, her paper-cutter. Nancy's was a discriminating luxury. And her talk! The lightness with which she touched life, the unexplored depths of her, guessed at but never fathomed! Did she feel a little the need of me as I felt the need of her?
"Why, I believe you're incurably romantic, Hugh," she said laughingly, when the men had left the room. "Here you are, what they call a paragon of success, a future senator, Ambassador to England. I hear of those remarkable things you have done—even in New York the other day a man was asking me if I knew Mr. Paret, and spoke of you as one of the coming men. I suppose you will be moving there, soon. A practical success! It always surprises me when I think of it, I find it difficult to remember what a dreamer you were and here you turn out to be still a dreamer! Have you discovered, too, the emptiness of it all?" she inquired provokingly. "I must say you don't look it"—she gave me a critical, quizzical glance—"you look quite prosperous and contented, as though you enjoyed your power."
I laughed uneasily.
"And then," she continued, "and then one day when your luncheon has disagreed with you—you walk into a gallery and see a portrait of—of an old friend for whom in youth, when you were a dreamer, you professed a sentimental attachment, and you exclaim that the artist is a discerning man who has discovered the secret that she has guarded so closely. She's sorry that she ever tried to console herself with baubles it's what you've suspected all along. But you'll just run around to see for yourself—to be sure of it." And she handed me my tea. "Come now, confess. Where are your wits—I hear you don't lack them in court."
"Well," I said, "if that amuses you—"
"It does amuse me," said Nancy, twining her fingers across her knee and regarding me smilingly, with parted lips, "it amuses me a lot—it's so characteristic."
"But it's not true, it's unjust," I protested vigorously, smiling, too, because the attack was so characteristic of her.
"What then?" she demanded.
"Well, in the first place, my luncheon didn't disagree with me. It never does."
She laughed. "But the sentiment—come now—the sentiment? Do you perceive any hint of emptiness—despair?"
Our chairs were very close, and she leaned forward a little.
"Emptiness or no emptiness," I said a little tremulously, "I know that I haven't been so contented, so happy for a long time."
She sat very still, but turned her gaze on the fire.
"You really wouldn't want to find that, Hugh," she said in another voice, at which I exclaimed. "No, I'm not being sentimental. But, to be serious, I really shouldn't care to think that of you. I'd like to think of you as a friend—a good friend—although we don't see very much of one another."
"But that's why I came, Nancy," I explained. "It wasn't just an impulse—that is, I've been thinking of you a great deal, all along. I miss you, I miss the way you look at things—your point of view. I can't see any reason why we shouldn't see something of each other—now—"
She continued to stare into the fire.
"No," she said at length, "I suppose there isn't any reason." Her mood seemed suddenly to change as she bent over and extinguished the flame under the kettle. "After all," she added gaily, "we live in a tolerant age, we've reached the years of discretion, and we're both too conventional to do anything silly—even if we wanted to—which we don't. We're neither of us likely to quarrel with the world as it is, I think, and we might as well make fun of it together. We'll begin with our friends. What do you think of Mr. Scherer's palace?"
"I hear you're building it for him."
"I told him to get Eyre," said Nancy, laughingly, "I was afraid he'd repeat the Gallatin Park monstrosity on a larger scale, and Eyre's the only man in this country who understands the French. It's been rather amusing," she went on, "I've had to fight Hilda, and she's no mean antagonist. How she hates me! She wanted a monstrosity, of course, a modernized German rock-grotto sort of an affair, I can imagine. She's been so funny when I've met her at dinner. 'I understand you take a great interest in the house, Mrs. Durrett.' Can't you hear her?"
"Well, you did get ahead of her," I said.
"I had to. I couldn't let our first citizen build a modern Rhine castle, could I? I have some public spirit left. And besides, I expect to build on Grant Avenue myself."
"And leave here?"
"Oh, it's too grubby, it's in the slums," said Nancy. "But I really owe you a debt of gratitude, Hugh, for the Scherers."
"I'm told Adolf's lost his head over you."
"It's not only over me, but over everything. He's so ridiculously proud of being on the board of the Children's Hospital.... You ought to hear him talking to old Mrs. Ogilvy, who of course can't get used to him at all,—she always has the air of inquiring what he's doing in that galley. She still thinks of him as Mr. Durrett's foreman."
The time flew. Her presence was like a bracing, tingling atmosphere in which I felt revived and exhilarated, self-restored. For Nancy did not question—she took me as I was. We looked out on the world, as it were, from the same window, and I could not help thinking that ours, after all, was a large view. The topics didn't matter—our conversation was fragrant with intimacy; and we were so close to each other it seemed incredible that we ever should be parted again. At last the little clock on the mantel chimed an hour, she started and looked up.
"Why, it's seven, Hugh!" she exclaimed, rising. "I'd no idea it was so late, and I'm dining with the Dickinsons. I've only just time to dress."
"It's been like a reunion, hasn't it?—a reunion after many years," I said. I held her hand unconsciously—she seemed to be drawing me to her, I thought she swayed, and a sudden dizziness seized me. Then she drew away abruptly, with a little cry. I couldn't be sure about the cry, whether I heard it or not, a note was struck in the very depths of me.
"Come in again," she said, "whenever you're not too busy." And a minute later I found myself on the street.
This was the beginning of a new intimacy with Nancy, resembling the old intimacy yet differing from it. The emotional note of our parting on the occasion I have just related was not again struck, and when I went eagerly to see her again a few days later I was conscious of limitations,—not too conscious: the freedom she offered and which I gladly accepted was a large freedom, nor am I quite sure that even I would have wished it larger, though there were naturally moments when I thought so: when I asked myself what I did wish, I found no answer. Though I sometimes chafed, it would have been absurd of me to object to a certain timidity or caution I began to perceive in her that had been absent in the old Nancy; but the old Nancy had ceased to exist, and here instead was a highly developed, highly specialized creature in whom I delighted; and after taking thought I would not have robbed her of fine acquired attribute. As she had truly observed, we were both conventional; conventionality was part of the price we had willingly paid for membership in that rarer world we had both achieved. It was a world, to be sure, in which we were rapidly learning to take the law into our own hands without seeming to defy it, in order that the fear of it might remain in those less fortunately placed and endowed: we had begun with the appropriation of the material property of our fellow-citizens, which we took legally; from this point it was, of course, merely a logical step to take—legally, too other gentlemen's human property—their wives, in short: the more progressive East had set us our example, but as yet we had been chary to follow it.
About this time rebellious voices were beginning to make themselves heard in the literary wilderness proclaiming liberty—liberty of the sexes. There were Russian novels and French novels, and pioneer English novels preaching liberty with Nietzschean stridency, or taking it for granted. I picked these up on Nancy's table.
"Reading them?" she said, in answer to my query. "Of course I'm reading them. I want to know what these clever people are thinking, even if I don't always agree with them, and you ought to read them too. It's quite true what foreigners say about our men,—that they live in a groove, that they haven't any range of conversation."
"I'm quite willing to be educated," I replied. "I haven't a doubt that I need it."
She was leaning back in her chair, her hands behind her head, a posture she often assumed. She looked up at me amusedly.
"I'll acknowledge that you're more teachable than most of them," she said. "Do you know, Hugh, sometimes you puzzle me greatly. When you are here and we're talking together I can never think of you as you are out in the world, fighting for power—and getting it. I suppose it's part of your charm, that there is that side of you, but I never consciously realize it. You're what they call a dual personality."
"That's a pretty hard name!" I exclaimed.
"I can't help it—you are. Oh, not disagreeably so, quite normally—that's the odd thing about you. Sometimes I believe that you were made for something different, that in spite of your success you have missed your 'metier.'"
"What ought I to have been?"
"How can I tell? A Goethe, perhaps—a Goethe smothered by a twentieth-century environment. Your love of adventure isn't dead, it's been merely misdirected, real adventure, I mean, forth faring, straying into unknown paths. Perhaps you haven't yet found yourself."
"How uncanny!" I said, stirred and startled.
"You have a taste for literature, you know, though you've buried it. Give me Turgeniev. We'll begin with him...."
Her reading and the talks that followed it were exciting, amazingly stimulating.... Once Nancy gave me an amusing account of a debate which had taken place in the newly organized woman's discussion club to which she belonged over a rather daring book by an English novelist. Mrs. Dickinson had revolted.
"No, she wasn't really shocked, not in the way she thought she was," said Nancy, in answer to a query of mine.
"How was she shocked, then?"
"As you and I are shocked."
"But I'm not shocked," I protested.
"Oh, yes, you are, and so am I—not on the moral side, nor is it the moral aspect that troubles Lula Dickinson. She thinks it's the moral aspect, but it's really the revolutionary aspect, the menace to those precious institutions from which we derive our privileges and comforts."
I considered this, and laughed.
"What's the use of being a humbug about it," said Nancy.
"But you're talking like a revolutionary," I said.
"I may be talking like one, but I'm not one. I once had the makings of one—of a good one,—a 'proper' one, as the English would say." She sighed.
"You regret it?" I asked curiously.
"Of course I regret it!" she cried. "What woman worth her salt doesn't regret it, doesn't want to live, even if she has to suffer for it? And those people—the revolutionaries, I mean, the rebels—they live, they're the only ones who do live. The rest of us degenerate in a painless paralysis we think of as pleasure. Look at me! I'm incapable of committing a single original act, even though I might conceive one. Well, there was a time when I should have been equal to anything and wouldn't have cared a—a damn."
I believed her....
I fell into the habit of dropping in on Nancy at least twice a week on my way from the office, and I met her occasionally at other houses. I did not tell Maude of that first impulsive visit; but one evening a few weeks later she asked me where I had been, and when I told her she made no comment. I came presently to the conclusion that this renewed intimacy did not trouble her—which was what I wished to believe. Of course I had gone to Nancy for a stimulation I failed to get at home, and it is the more extraordinary, therefore, that I did not become more discontented and restless: I suppose this was because I had grown to regard marriage as most of the world regarded it, as something inevitable and humdrum, as a kind of habit it is useless to try to shake off. But life is so full of complexities and anomalies that I still had a real affection for Maude, and I liked her the more because she didn't expect too much of me, and because she didn't complain of my friendship with Nancy although I should vehemently have denied there was anything to complain of. I respected Maude. If she was not a squaw, she performed religiously the traditional squaw duties, and made me comfortable: and the fact that we lived separate mental existences did not trouble me because I never thought of hers—or even that she had one. She had the children, and they seemed to suffice. She never renewed her appeal for my confidence, and I forgot that she had made it.
Nevertheless I always felt a tug at my heartstrings when June came around and it was time for her and the children to go to Mattapoisett for the summer; when I accompanied them, on the evening of their departure, to the smoky, noisy station and saw deposited in the sleeping-car their luggage and shawls and bundles. They always took the evening train to Boston; it was the best. Tom and Susan were invariably there with candy and toys to see them off—if Susan and her children had not already gone—and at such moments my heart warmed to Tom. And I was astonished as I clung to Matthew and Moreton and little Biddy at the affection that welled up within me, saddened when I kissed Maude good-bye. She too was sad, and always seemed to feel compunctions for deserting me.
"I feel so selfish in leaving you all alone!" she would say. "If it weren't for the children—they need the sea air. But I know you don't miss me as I miss you. A man doesn't, I suppose.... Please don't work so hard, and promise me you'll come on and stay a long time. You can if you want to. We shan't starve." She smiled. "That nice room, which is yours, at the southeast corner, is always waiting for you. And you do like the sea, and seeing the sail-boats in the morning."
I felt an emptiness when the train pulled out. I did love my family, after all! I would go back to the deserted house, and I could not bear to look in at the nursery door, at the little beds with covers flung over them. Why couldn't I appreciate these joys when I had them?
One evening, as we went home in an open street-car together, after such a departure, Tom blurted out:—"Hugh, I believe I care for your family as much as for my own. I often wonder if you realize how wonderful these children are! My boys are just plain ruffians—although I think they're pretty decent ruffians, but Matthew has a mind—he's thoughtful—and an imagination. He'll make a name for himself some day if he's steered properly and allowed to develop naturally. Moreton's more like my boys. And as for Chickabiddy!—" words failed him.
I put my hand on his knee. I actually loved him again as I had loved and yearned for him as a child,—he was so human, so dependable. And why couldn't this feeling last? He disapproved—foolishly, I thought—of my professional career, and this was only one of his limitations. But I knew that he was loyal. Why hadn't I been able to breathe and be reasonably happy in that atmosphere of friendship and love in which I had been placed—or rather in which I had placed myself?.... Before the summer was a day or two older I had grown accustomed to being alone, and enjoyed the liberty; and when Maude and the children returned in the autumn, similarly, it took me some days to get used to the restrictions imposed by a household. I run the risk of shocking those who read this by declaring that if my family had been taken permanently out of my life, I should not long have missed them. But on the whole, in those years my marriage relation might be called a negative one. There were moments, as I have described, when I warmed to Maude, moments when I felt something akin to a violent antagonism aroused by little mannerisms and tricks she had. The fact that we got along as well as we did was probably due to the orthodox teaching with which we had been inoculated,—to the effect that matrimony was a moral trial, a shaking-down process. But moral trials were ceasing to appeal to people, and more and more of them were refusing to be shaken down. We didn't cut the Gordian knot, but we managed to loosen it considerably.
I have spoken of a new species of titans who inhabited the giant buildings in Wall Street, New York, and fought among themselves for possession of the United States of America. It is interesting to note that in these struggles a certain chivalry was observed among the combatants, no matter how bitter the rivalry: for instance, it was deemed very bad form for one of the groups of combatants to take the public into their confidence; cities were upset and stirred to the core by these conflicts, and the citizens never knew who was doing the fighting, but imagined that some burning issue was at stake that concerned them. As a matter of fact the issue always did concern them, but not in the way they supposed.
Gradually, out of the chaotic melee in which these titans were engaged had emerged one group more powerful than the rest and more respectable, whose leader was the Personality to whom I have before referred. He and his group had managed to gain control of certain conservative fortresses in various cities such as the Corn National Bank and the Ashuela Telephone Company—to mention two of many: Adolf Scherer was his ally, and the Boyne Iron Works, Limited, was soon to be merged by him into a greater corporation still. Leonard Dickinson might be called his local governor-general. We manned the parapets and kept our ears constantly to the ground to listen for the rumble of attacks; but sometimes they burst upon us fiercely and suddenly, without warning. Such was the assault on the Ashuela, which for years had exercised an apparently secure monopoly of the city's telephone service, which had been able to ignore with complacency the shrillest protests of unreasonable subscribers. Through the Pilot it was announced to the public that certain benevolent "Eastern capitalists" were ready to rescue them from their thraldom if the city would grant them a franchise. Mr. Lawler, the disinterestedness of whose newspaper could not be doubted, fanned the flame day by day, sent his reporters about the city gathering instances of the haughty neglect of the Ashuela, proclaiming its instruments antiquated compared with those used in more progressive cities, as compared with the very latest inventions which the Automatic Company was ready to install provided they could get their franchise. And the prices! These, too, would fall—under competition. It was a clever campaign. If the city would give them a franchise, that Automatic Company—so well named! would provide automatic instruments. Each subscriber, by means of a numerical disk, could call up any other, subscriber; there would be no central operator, no listening, no tapping of wires; the number of calls would be unlimited. As a proof of the confidence of these Eastern gentlemen in our city, they were willing to spend five millions, and present more than six hundred telephones free to the city departments! What was fairer, more generous than this! There could be no doubt that popular enthusiasm was enlisted in behalf of the "Eastern Capitalists," who were made to appear in the light of Crusaders ready to rescue a groaning people from the thrall of monopoly. The excitement approached that of a presidential election, and became the dominant topic at quick-lunch counters and in street-cars. Cheap and efficient service! Down with the Bastille of monopoly!
As counsel for the Ashuela, Mr. Ogilvy sent for me, and by certain secret conduits of information at my disposal I was not long in discovering the disquieting fact that a Mr. Orthwein, who was described as a gentleman with fat fingers and a plausible manner, had been in town for a week and had been twice seen entering and emerging from Monahan's saloon. In short, Mr. Jason had already been "seen." Nevertheless I went to him myself, to find him for the first time in my experience absolutely non-committal.
"What's the Ashuela willing to do?" he demanded.
I mentioned a sum, and he shook his head. I mentioned another, and still he shook his head.
"Come 'round again," he said...
I was compelled to report this alarming situation to Ogilvy and Dickinson and a few chosen members of a panicky board of directors.
"It's that damned Grannis crowd," said Dickinson, mentioning an aggressive gentleman who had migrated from Chicago to Wall Street some five years before in a pink collar.
"But what's to be done?" demanded Ogilvy, playing nervously with a gold pencil on the polished table. He was one of those Americans who in a commercial atmosphere become prematurely white, and today his boyish, smooth-shaven face was almost as devoid of colour as his hair. Even Leonard Dickinson showed anxiety, which was unusual for him.
"You've got to fix it, Hugh," he said.
I did not see my way, but I had long ago learned to assume the unruffled air and judicial manner of speaking that inspires the layman with almost superstitious confidence in the lawyer....
"We'll find a way out," I said.
Mr. Jason, of course, held the key to the situation, and just how I was to get around him was problematical. In the meantime there was the public: to permit the other fellow to capture that was to be lacking in ordinary prudence; if its votes counted for nothing, its savings were desirable; and it was fast getting into a state of outrage against monopoly. The chivalry of finance did not permit of a revelation that Mr. Grannis and his buccaneers were behind the Automatic, but it was possible to direct and strengthen the backfire which the Era and other conservative newspapers had already begun. Mr. Tallant for delicate reasons being persona non grata at the Boyne Club, despite the fact that he had so many friends there, we met for lunch in a private room at the new hotel, and as we sipped our coffee and smoked our cigars we planned a series of editorials and articles that duly appeared. They made a strong appeal to the loyalty of our citizens to stand by the home company and home capital that had taken generous risks to give them service at a time when the future of the telephone business was by no means assured; they belittled the charges made by irresponsible and interested "parties," and finally pointed out, not without effect, that one logical consequence of having two telephone companies would be to compel subscribers in self-defence to install two telephones instead of one. And where was the saving in that?
"Say, Paret," said Judah B. when we had finished our labours; "if you ever get sick of the law, I'll give you a job on the Era's staff. This is fine, the way you put it. It'll do a lot of good, but how in hell are you going to handle Judd?...."
For three days the inspiration was withheld. And then, as I was strolling down Boyne Street after lunch gazing into the store windows it came suddenly, without warning. Like most inspirations worth anything, it was very simple. Within half an hour I had reached Monahan's saloon and found Mr. Jason out of bed, but still in his bedroom, seated meditatively at the window that looked over the alley.
"You know the crowd in New York behind this Automatic company as well as I do, Jason," I said. "Why do you want to deal with them when we've always been straight with you, when we're ready to meet them and go one better? Name your price."
"Suppose I do—what then," he replied. "This thing's gone pretty far. Under that damned new charter the franchise has got to be bid for—hasn't it? And the people want this company. There'll be a howl from one end of this town to the other if we throw 'em down."
"We'll look out for the public," I assured him, smiling.
"Well," he said, with one of his glances that were like flashes, "what you got up your sleeve?"
"Suppose another telephone company steps in, and bids a little higher for the franchise. That relieves, your aldermen of all responsibility, doesn't it?"
"Another telephone company!" he repeated.
I had already named it on my walk.
"The Interurban," I said.
"A dummy company?" said Mr. Jason.
"Lively enough to bid something over a hundred thousand to the city for its franchise," I replied.
Judd Jason, with a queer look, got up and went to a desk in a dark corner, and after rummaging for a few moments in one of the pigeon-holes, drew forth a glass cylinder, which he held out as he approached me.
"You get it, Mr. Paret," he said.
"What is it?" I asked, "a bomb!"
"That," he announced, as he twisted the tube about in his long fingers, holding it up to the light, "is the finest brand of cigars ever made in Cuba. A gentleman who had every reason to be grateful to me—I won't say who he was—gave me that once. Well, the Lord made me so's I can't appreciate any better tobacco than those five-cent 'Bobtails' Monahan's got downstairs, and I saved it. I saved it for the man who would put something over me some day, and—you get it."
"Thank you," I said, unconsciously falling in with the semi-ceremony of his manner. "I do not flatter myself that the solution I have suggested did not also occur to you."
"You'll smoke it?" he asked.
"Now? Here with me?"
"Certainly," I agreed, a little puzzled. As I broke the seal, pulled out the cork and unwrapped the cigar from its gold foil he took a stick and rapped loudly on the floor. After a brief interval footsteps were heard on the stairs and Mike Monahan, white aproned and scarlet faced, appeared at the door.
"Bobtails," said Mr. Jason, laconically.
"It's them I thought ye'd be wanting," said the saloon-keeper, holding out a handful. Judd Jason lighted one, and began smoking reflectively.
I gazed about the mean room, with its litter of newspapers and reports, its shabby furniture, and these seemed to have become incongruous, out of figure in the chair facing me keeping with the thoughtful figure in the chair facing me.
"You had a college education, Mr. Paret," he remarked at length.
"Life's a queer thing. Now if I'd had a college education, like you, and you'd been thrown on the world, like me, maybe I'd be livin' up there on Grant Avenue and you'd be down here over the saloon."
"Maybe," I said, wondering uneasily whether he meant to imply a similarity in our gifts. But his manner remained impassive, speculative.
"Ever read Carlyle's 'French Revolution'?" he asked suddenly.
"Why, yes, part of it, a good while ago."
"When you was in college?"
"I've got a little library here," he said, getting up and raising the shades and opening the glass doors of a bookcase which had escaped my attention. He took down a volume of Carlyle, bound in half calf.
"Wouldn't think I cared for such things, would you?" he demanded as he handed it to me.
"Well, you never can tell what a man's real tastes are until you know him," I observed, to conceal my surprise.
"That's so," he agreed. "I like books—some books. If I'd had an education, I'd have liked more of 'em, known more about 'em. Now I can read this one over and over. That feller Carlyle was a genius, he could look right into the bowels of the volcano, and he was on to how men and women feet down there, how they hate, how they square 'emselves when they get a chance."
He had managed to bring before me vividly that terrible, volcanic flow on Versailles of the Paris mob. He put back the book and resumed his seat.
"And I know how these people fed down here, below the crust," he went on, waving his cigar out of the window, as though to indicate the whole of that mean district. "They hate, and their hate is molten hell. I've been through it."
"But you've got on top," I suggested.
"Sure, I've got on top. Do you know why? it's because I hated—that's why. A man's feelings, if they're strong enough, have a lot to do with what he becomes."
"But he has to have ability, too," I objected.
"Sure, he has to have ability, but his feeling is the driving power if he feels strong enough, he can make a little ability go a long way."
I was struck by the force of this remark. I scarcely recognized Judd Jason. The man, as he revealed himself, had become at once more sinister and more fascinating.
"I can guess how some of those Jacobins felt when they had the aristocrats in the dock. They'd got on top—the Jacobins, I mean. It's human nature to want to get on top—ain't it?" He looked at me and smiled, but he did not seem to expect a reply. "Well, what you call society, rich, respectable society like you belong to would have made a bum and a criminal out of me if I hadn't been too smart for 'em, and it's a kind of satisfaction to have 'em coming down here to Monahan's for things they can't have without my leave. I've got a half Nelson on 'em. I wouldn't live up on Grant Avenue if you gave me Scherer's new house."
I was silent.
"Instead of starting my career in college, I started in jail," he went on, apparently ignoring any effect he may have produced. So subtly, so dispassionately indeed was he delivering himself of these remarks that it was impossible to tell whether he meant their application to be personal, to me, or general, to my associates. "I went to jail when I was fourteen because I wanted a knife to make kite sticks, and I stole a razor from a barber. I was bitter when they steered me into a lockup in Hickory Street. It was full of bugs and crooks, and they put me in the same cell with an old-timer named 'Red' Waters; who was one of the slickest safe-blowers around in those days. Red took a shine to me, found out I had a head piece, and said their gang could use a clever boy. If I'd go in with him, I could make all kinds of money. I guess I might have joined the gang if Red hadn't kept talking—about how the boss of his district named Gallagher would come down and get him out,—and sure enough Gallagher did come down and get him out. I thought I'd rather be Gallagher than Red—Red had to serve time once in a while. Soon as he got out I went down to Gallagher's saloon, and there was Red leaning over the bar. 'Here's a smart kid! he says, 'He and me were room-mates over in Hickory Street.' He got to gassing me, and telling me I'd better come along with him, when Gallagher came in. 'What is it ye'd like to be, my son?' says he. A politician, I told him. I was through going to jail. Gallagher had a laugh you could hear all over the place. He took me on as a kind of handy boy around the establishment, and by and by I began to run errands and find out things for him. I was boss of that ward myself when I was twenty-six.... How'd you like that cigar?"