We have a compact with our friend Endymion that as soon as either of us spends money for anything not strictly necessary he must straightway return to the office. After leaving the curb market, we found ourselves in a basement bookshop on Broadway, and here Endymion fell afoul of a copy of Thomas Hardy's "Wessex Poems," illustrated by the author. Piteously he tried to persuade us that it was a matter of professional advancement to him to have this book; moreover, he said, he had just won five dollars at faro (or some such hazard) so that he was not really spending money at all; but we countered all his sophisms with slogging rhetoric. He bought the book, and so had to return to the office in disgrace.
We fared further, having a mind to revisit the old Eastern Hotel, down by the South Ferry, of whose cool and dusky bar-room we had pleasant memories in times gone by; but we found to our distress that this also, like many more of our familiar landmarks, is a prey to the house-wrecker, and is on its way to become an office building. On our way back up Broadway it occurred to us to revisit what we have long considered one of the most impressive temples in our acquaintance, the lobby of the Telephone and Telegraph Building, on Dey Street. Here, passing by the enticing little terrace with brocaded chairs and soft lights where two gracious ladies sit to interview aspiring telephone debutantes, one stands in a dim golden glow, among great fluted pillars and bowls of softly burning radiance swung (like censers) by long chains. Occasionally there is an airy flutter, a bell clangs, bronze doors slide apart, and an elevator appears, in charge of a chastely uniformed priestess. Lights flash up over this dark little cave which stands invitingly open: UP, they say, LOCAL 1-13. The door-sill of the cave shines with a row of golden beads (small lights, to guide the foot)—it is irresistible. There is an upward impulse about the whole place: the light blossoms upward from the hanging translucent shells: people step gently in, the doors close, they are not seen again. It is the temple of the great American religion, Going Up. The shining gold stars in the ceiling draw the eye aloft. The temptation is too great. We step into the little bronze crypt, say "Thirteen" at a venture, and are borne softly and fluently up. Then, of course, we have to come down again, past the wagons of spring onions on Fulton Street, and back to the office.
GRAND AVENUE, BROOKLYN
We have always been a strong partisan of Brooklyn, and when we found ourself, in company with Titania, set down in the middle of a golden afternoon with the vista of Grand Avenue before us, we felt highly elated. Just how these two wayfarers chanced to be deposited in that quiet serenity, so far from their customary concerns, is not part of the narrative.
There are regions of Brooklyn, we have always felt, that are too good to be real. Placid stretches of streets, with baby carriages simmering in the sun, solid and comfortable brownstone houses exhaling a prosperous condition of life, tranquil old-fashioned apothecaries' shops without soda fountains, where one peers in and sees only a solitary customer turning over the pages of a telephone book. It is all rather like a chapter from a story, and reminds us of a passage in "The Dynamiter" where some untroubled faubourgs of London are winningly described.
Titania was wearing a little black hat with green feathers. She looked her best, and was not unaware of it. Our general plan, when destiny suddenly plumps us into the heart of Brooklyn, is to make our way toward Fulton Street, which is a kind of life-line. Once on Fulton Street we know our way. Moreover, Fulton Street has admirable second-hand bookshops. Nor do we ever forget that it was at the corner of Fulton and Cranberry streets that "Leaves of Grass" was set up, in the spring of 1855, Walt doing a good deal of the work himself. The only difficulty about getting to Fulton Street is that people will give you such contradictory instruction. One will tell you to go this way; the next will point in the opposite direction. It is as though Brooklynites suspect the presence of a stranger, and do not wish their sacred secrets to be discovered. There is a deep, mysterious freemasonry among the residents of this genial borough.
At the corner of Grand and Greene avenues we thought it well to ask our way. A lady was standing on the corner, lost in pleasant drowse. April sunshine shimmered all about: trees were bustling into leaf, a wagonload of bananas stood by the curb and the huckster sang a gay, persuasive madrigal. We approached the lady, and Titania spoke gently: "Can you tell me——" The lady screamed, and leaped round in horror, her face stricken with fearful panic. She gasped and tottered. We felt guilty and cruel. "We were not meditating an attack," we said, "but just wanted to ask you the way to Fulton Street." Perhaps the poor soul's nerves were unstrung, for she gave us instruction that we felt instinctively to be wrong. Had we gone as she said (we now see by studying the map) we would have debouched into Wallabout Bay. But undoubtedly it was the protective instinct of the Brooklynite, on guard before strangers. Is there some terrific secret in Brooklyn that all residents know about but which must never be revealed to outsiders?
Making a mental note not to speak too suddenly at the next encounter, the two cheerful derelicts drifted along the sunny coast of Grand Avenue. A shining and passionless peace presided over the streets. A gentle clop-clop of hooves came trotting down the way: here was a man driving a white horse in a neat rubber-tired buggy without a top. He leaned back and smiled to himself as he drove along. Life did not seem to be the same desperate venture it appears round about Broadway and Wall Street. Who can describe the settled amiability of those rows of considerable brown houses, with their heavy oak doors, their pots of daisies on the stoop, their clear window panes, and now and then the face of a benignant grandmother peeping from behind lace curtains. The secret of Brooklyn, perhaps, is contentment, and its cautious residents do not want the rest of us to know too much about it, lest we all flock over there in swarms.
We then came to the bustle of Fulton Street, which deserves a book in itself. Some day we want to revisit a certain section of Fulton Street where (if we remember rightly) a rotisserie and a certain bookstore conspire to make one of the pleasantest haunts in our experience. We don't know exactly what the secret of Brooklyn may be, but we are going to spend some time over there this spring and lie in wait for it.
ON WAITING FOR THE CURTAIN TO GO UP
We often wonder whether people are really as human as they appear, or is it only our imagination? Everybody, we suggest, thinks of others as being excessively human, with all the frailties and crotchets appertaining to that curious condition. But each of us also (we are not dogmatic on this matter) seems to regard himself as existing on a detached plane of observation, exempt (save in moments of vivid crisis) from the strange whims of humanity en masse.
For example, consider the demeanour of people at a theatre while waiting for the curtain to go up. To note the censoriousness with which they study each other, one concludes that each deems himself (herself) singularly blessed as the repository of human correctness.
Incidentally, why is it that one gets so thirsty at the theatre? We never get thirsty at the movies, or not nearly so thirsty. The other evening we drank seven paper cups full of water in the intermissions of a four-act play.
The presence of people sitting behind one is the reason (we fancy) for a great deal of the queer antics that take place while one is waiting for the curtain to rise, particularly when it is twenty minutes late in going up as it was at a certain theatre the other evening. People behind one have a horrible advantage. One knows that they can hear everything you say, unless you whisper it in a furtive manner, which makes them suspect things far worse than any one would be likely to say in a Philadelphia theatre, except, of course, on the stage. The fact that you know they can overhear you, and intend to do so, leads one on to make the most outrageous, cynical, and scoffish remarks, particularly to denounce with fury a play that you may be enjoying quite passably well. All over the house you will hear (after the first act) men saying to their accompanying damsels, "How outrageously clumsy that act was. I can't conceive how the director let it get by." Now they only say this because they think it will make the people behind feel ashamed for having enjoyed such a botch. But does it? The people in the row behind immediately begin to praise the play vigorously, for the benefit of the people behind them; and in a minute you see the amusing spectacle of the theatre cheering and damning by alternate rows.
Here and there you will see a lady whispering something to her escort, and will notice how ladies always look backward over a lily shoulder while whispering. They want to see what effect this whispering will have on the people behind. There is a deep-rooted feud between every two rows in an audience. The front row, having nobody to hate (except possibly the actors), take it out in speculating why on earth anybody can want to sit in the boxes, where they can see nothing.
What the boxes think about we are not sure. We never sat in a box except at a burlicue.
And then a complete essay might be written on the ads in the theatre program—what high-spirited ads they are! How full of the savour and luxurious tang of the beau monde! How they insist on saying specialite instead of specialty!
Well, all we meant to say when we began was, the heroine was Only Fair—by which we mean to say she was beautiful and nothing else.
MUSINGS OF JOHN MISTLETOE
It was old John Mistletoe, we think, in his "Book of Deplorable Facts," discussing the congenial topic of "Going to Bed" (or was it in his essay on "The Concinnity of Washerwomen?") said something like this:
Life passes by with deplorable rapidity. Post commutatorem sedet horologium terrificum, behind the commuter rideth the alarm clock, no sooner hath he attained to the office than it is time for lunch, no sooner hath lunch been dispatched than it is time to sign those dictated letters, no sooner this accomplished, 'tis time to hasten trainward. The essential thing, then, is not to let one's experiences flow irrevocably past like a river, but to clutch and hold them, thoughtfully, long enough to examine and, in a manner, sieve them, to halt them in the mind for meditation. The relentless fluidity of life, the ease with which it vanisheth down the channel of the days, is the problem the thoughtful man must deal with. The urgent necessity is to dam the stream here and there so we can go swimming in it.
Time is a breedy creature: the minutes propagate hours, the hours beget days, the days raise huge families of months, and before we know it we are crowded out of this sweet life by mere surplus of Time's offspring. This is a brutish Malthusianism which must be adamantly countered. Therefore it is my counsel that every man, ere he retire for the night and commit his intellect to inscrutable nothingness, do let it hop abroad for a little freedom. Life must be taken with a grain of saltation: let the spirit dance a measure or two ere it collapse. For this purpose it is my pleasure, about the hour of midnight, to draw a jug of cider from the keg and a book from the shelf. I choose some volume ill written and stupidly conceived, to set me in conceit with myself. I read a few pages, and then apply myself to the composition of verses. These done, I burn them, and go to bed with a cheerful spirit.
THE WORLD'S MOST FAMOUS ORATION
Address to An Employer Upon Demanding a Raise, or, The Battle of Manila Envelopes
As Planned As Delivered
I think you will admit, If you are not too sir, that the quality busy, sir, there is one of my work during the other matter—in fact, last two years has been the truth of the matter such that my services in fact is exactly—well, could not easily be replaced. sir, I was precisely I speak more wondering whether—of in pain than in anger course I know this is a when I say that it has bad time—indeed I have been a matter of profound been very pleased to see surprise to me to business picking up a note that you have not bit lately, and I am sure seen fit to acknowledge my own department has my value to the firm in been—but to tell you the some substantial way. I truth, sir, I have been think I may say that wondering—of course it I have been patient. is just as you think best I have continued my and I wouldn't think of efforts with unremitting insisting, but after all, zeal, and I think I may perhaps I have made a flatter myself that my mistake in mentioning endeavors have not been it, but I was thinking without result. I have that possibly you might here, carefully tabulated, bear in mind the idea of a memorandum of a possible future raise in the increased profits in salary at some future time. my department during the last twelve months, due in great part to my careful management. I am sorry to have to force you into a decision, but I think I owe it to myself to say candidly that unless you see the matter in the same way that I do I shall feel obliged to deprive the firm of my services.
To-day we rather intended to write an essay on Laziness, but were too indolent to do so.
The sort of thing we had in mind to write would have been exceedingly persuasive. We intended to discourse a little in favour of a greater appreciation of Indolence as a benign factor in human affairs.
It is our observation that every time we get into trouble it is due to not having been lazy enough. Unhappily, we were born with a certain fund of energy. We have been hustling about for a number of years now, and it doesn't seem to get us anything but tribulation. Henceforward we are going to make a determined effort to be more languid and demure. It is the bustling man who always gets put on committees, who is asked to solve the problems of other people and neglect his own.
The man who is really, thoroughly, and philosophically slothful is the only thoroughly happy man. It is the happy man who benefits the world. The conclusion is inescapable.
We remember a saying about the meek inheriting the earth. The truly meek man is the lazy man. He is too modest to believe that any ferment and hubbub of his can ameliorate the earth or assuage the perplexities of humanity.
O. Henry said once that one should be careful to distinguish laziness from dignified repose. Alas, that was a mere quibble. Laziness is always dignified, it is always reposeful. Philosophical laziness, we mean. The kind of laziness that is based upon a carefully reasoned analysis of experience. Acquired laziness. We have no respect for those who were born lazy; it is like being born a millionaire: they cannot appreciate their bliss. It is the man who has hammered his laziness out of the stubborn material of life for whom we chant praise and allelulia.
The laziest man we know—we do not like to mention his name, as the brutal world does not yet recognize sloth at its community value—is one of the greatest poets in this country; one of the keenest satirists; one of the most rectilinear thinkers. He began life in the customary hustling way. He was always too busy to enjoy himself. He became surrounded by eager people who came to him to solve their problems. "It's a queer thing," he said sadly; "no one ever comes to me asking for help in solving my problems." Finally the light broke upon him. He stopped answering letters, buying lunches for casual friends and visitors from out of town, he stopped lending money to old college pals and frittering his time away on all the useless minor matters that pester the good-natured. He sat down in a secluded cafe with his cheek against a seidel of dark beer and began to caress the universe with his intellect.
The most damning argument against the Germans is that they were not lazy enough. In the middle of Europe, a thoroughly disillusioned, indolent and delightful old continent, the Germans were a dangerous mass of energy and bumptious push. If the Germans had been as lazy, as indifferent, and as righteously laissez-fairish as their neighbours, the world would have been spared a great deal.
People respect laziness. If you once get a reputation for complete, immovable, and reckless indolence the world will leave you to your own thoughts, which are generally rather interesting.
Doctor Johnson, who was one of the world's great philosophers, was lazy. Only yesterday our friend the Caliph showed us an extraordinarily interesting thing. It was a little leather-bound notebook in which Boswell jotted down memoranda of his talks with the old doctor. These notes he afterward worked up into the immortal Biography. And lo and behold, what was the very first entry in this treasured little relic?
Doctor Johnson told me in going to Ilam from Ashbourne, 22 September, 1777, that the way the plan of his Dictionary came to be addressed to Lord Chesterfield was this: He had neglected to write it by the time appointed. Dodsley suggested a desire to have it addressed to Lord C. Mr. J. laid hold of this as an excuse for delay, that it might be better done perhaps, and let Dodsley have his desire. Mr. Johnson said to his friend, Doctor Bathurst: "Now if any good comes of my addressing to Lord Chesterfield it will be ascribed to deep policy and address, when, in fact, it was only a casual excuse for laziness."
Thus we see that it was sheer laziness that led to the greatest triumph of Doctor Johnson's life, the noble and memorable letter to Chesterfield in 1775.
Mind your business is a good counsel; but mind your idleness also. It's a tragic thing to make a business of your mind. Save your mind to amuse yourself with.
The lazy man does not stand in the way of progress. When he sees progress roaring down upon him he steps nimbly out of the way. The lazy man doesn't (in the vulgar phrase) pass the buck. He lets the buck pass him. We have always secretly envied our lazy friends. Now we are going to join them. We have burned our boats or our bridges or whatever it is that one burns on the eve of a momentous decision.
Writing on this congenial topic has roused us up to quite a pitch of enthusiasm and energy.
TEACHING THE PRINCE TO TAKE NOTES
The Prince of Wales probably suffers severely during his tours abroad, for he is a shy youth; but he also makes many friends, for he is a delightfully simple and agreeable person. When we used to see him he looked a good deal like the traditional prince of the fairy tales, for he was a slender boy with yellow hair, and blue eyes, and a quick pink blush. And we feel toward him the friendly sense of superiority that the college alumnus always feels toward the man who was a freshman when he himself was a senior; for the prince and ourself stood in that relation a few years ago at a certain haunt of letters.
There was a course of lectures on history that we were to attend. It was a popular course, and the attendance was large. Arriving late at the first lecture the room was packed, and we could see from the door that there was only one empty seat. This happened to be in the very front row, and wondering how it was that so desirable a place had not been seized we hastened to it. The lecturer was a swift talker, and we fell to taking notes busily. Not for some minutes did we have a chance to scrutinize our surroundings. We then saw that in the adjoining chair sat the prince, and surmised that no one had wanted to take the chair for fear of being twitted by his companions for a supposed desire to hobnob with royalty.
If we remember correctly, it was the prince's first term of college life. The task of taking notes from a rapid-fire lecturer was plainly one to which he was not accustomed, and as he wrestled with his notebook we could see that he had not learned the art of considering the lecturer's remarks and putting down only the gist of them, in some abbreviated system of his own, as every experienced student learns. Grant Robertson, the well-known historian, was lecturing on English constitutional documents, and his swift and informal utterance was perfectly easy to summarize if one knew how to get down the important points and neglect the rest. But the unhappy prince, desperately eager to do the right thing in this new experience, was trying to write down every word. If, for instance, Mr. Robertson said (in a humorous aside), "Henry VIII was a sinful old man with a hobby of becoming a widower," the experienced listener would jot down something like this: H 8, self-made widower. But we could see that the prince was laboriously copying out the sentence in full. And naturally, by the end of a few paragraphs, he was hopelessly behind. But he scribbled away industriously, doing his best. He realized, however, that he had not quite got the hang of the thing, and at the end of the lecture he turned to us with most agreeable bashfulness and asked if we would lend him our notebook, so that he could get down the points that he had missed. We did so, and briefly explained our own system of abbreviating. We noticed that in succeeding sessions our royal neighbour did very much better, learning in some measure to discriminate between what was advisable to note down and what was mere explanatory matter or persiflage on the part of the lecturer. But (if we must be candid) we would not recommend him as a newspaper reporter. And, indeed, the line of work to which he has been called does not require quite as intense concentration as that of a cub on what Philip Gibbs calls "The Street of Adventure."
No one could come in contact with the prince without liking him, for his bashful, gentle, and teachable nature is very winning. We remember with a certain amusement the time that Grant Robertson got off one of his annual gags to the effect that, according to the principle of strict legitimacy, there were in Europe several hundred (we forget the figure) people with a greater right to the British throne than the family at present occupying it. The roomful of students roared with genial mirth, and the unhappy prince blushed in a way that young girls used to in the good old days of three-piece bathing suits.
A CITY NOTEBOOK
It would be hard to find a more lovely spot in the flush of a summer sunset than Wister Woods. Old residents of the neighbourhood say that the trees are not what they were fifteen and twenty years ago; the chestnuts have died off; even some of the tall tulip-poplars are a little bald at the top, and one was recently felled by a gale. But still that quiet plateau stands in a serene hush, flooded with rich orange glow on a warm evening. The hollyhocks in the back gardens of Rubicam Street are scarlet and Swiss-cheese-coloured and black; and looking across the railroad ravine one sees crypts and aisles of green as though in the heart of some cathedral of the great woods.
Belfield Avenue, which bends through the valley in a curve of warm thick yellow dust, will some day be boulevarded into a spick-and-span highway for motors. But now it lies little trafficked, and one might prefer to have it so, for in the stillness of the evening the birds are eloquent. The thrushes of Wister Woods, which have been immortalized by T. A. Daly in perhaps the loveliest poem ever written in Philadelphia, flute and whistle their tantalizing note, while the song sparrow echoes them with his confident, challenging call. Down behind the dusty sumac shrubbery lies the little blue-green cottage said to have been used by Benjamin West as a studio. In a meadow beside the road two cows were grazing in the blue shadow of overhanging woodland.
Over the road leans a flat outcrop of stone, known locally as "The Bum's Rock." An antique philosopher of those parts assured the wayfarer that it is named for a romantic vagabond who perished there by the explosion of a can of Bohemian goulash which he was heating over a small fire of sticks; but one doubts the tale. Our own conjecture is that it is named for Jacob Boehm, the oldtime brewer of Germantown, who predicted in his chronicles that the world would come to an end in July, 1919. From his point of view he was not so far wrong.
Above Boehm's Rock, in a grassy level among the trees, a merry little circle of young ladies was sitting round a picnic supper. The twilight grew darker and fireflies began to twinkle. In the steep curve of the Cinder and Bloodshot (between Fisher's and Wister stations) a cheerful train rumbled, with its engine running backward just like a country local. Its bright shaft of light wavered among the tall tree trunks. One would not imagine that it was less than six miles to the City Hall.
* * * * *
A quarter to one A. M., and a hot, silent night. As one walks up Chestnut Street a distant roaring is heard, which rapidly grows louder. The sound has a note of terrifying menace. Then, careering down the almost deserted highway, comes a huge water-tank, throbbing like an airplane. A creamy sheet of water, shot out at high pressure, floods the street on each side, dashing up on the pavements. A knot of belated revellers in front of the Adelphia Hotel, standing in mid-street, to discuss ways and means of getting home, skip nimbly to one side, the ladies lifting up their dresses with shrill squeaks of alarm as the water splashes round them. Pedestrians plodding quietly up the street cower fearfully against the buildings, while a fine mist envelops them.
After the tank comes, more leisurely, a squad of brooms. The street is dripping, every sewer opening clucks and gurgles with the falling water. There is something unbelievably humorous in the way that roaring Niagara of water dashes madly down the silent street. There is a note of irony in it, too, for the depressed enthusiasts who have been sitting all evening in a restaurant over lemonade and ginger ale. Perhaps the chauffeur is a prohibitionist gone mad.
* * * * *
While eating half a dozen doughnuts in a Broad Street lunchroom at one o'clock in the morning, we mused happily about our friends all tucked away in bed, sound asleep. There is one in particular on whom we thought with serene pleasure. It was charming to think of that delightful, argumentative, contradictory, volatile person, his active mind stilled in the admirable reticence of slumber. He, so endlessly speculatory, so full of imaginative enthusiasms and riotous intuitions and troubled zeals concerning humanity, lost in a beneficent swoon of unconsciousness! We could not just say why, but we broke into chuckles to think of him lying there, not denying any of our statements, absolutely and positively saying nothing. To have one's friends asleep now and then is very refreshing.
* * * * *
Off Walnut Street, below Fifth, and just east of the window where that perfectly lovely damsel sits operating an adding machine—why is it, by the way, that the girls who run adding machines are always so marvellously fair? Is there some secret virtue in the process of adding that makes one lovely? We feel sure that a subtracting engine would not have that subtle beautifying effect—just below Fifth Street, we started to say, there runs a little alley called (we believe) De Silver Court. It is a sombre little channel between high walls and barred windows, but it is a retreat we recommend highly to hay fever sufferers. For in one of the buildings adjoining there seems to be a warehouse of some company that makes an "aromatic disinfector." Wandering in there by chance, we stood delighted at the sweet medicinal savour that was wafted on the air. It had a most cheering effect upon our emunctory woes, and we lingered so long, in a meditative and healing ecstasy, that young women immured in the basement of the aromatic warehouse began to peer upward from the barred windows of their basement and squeak with astonished and nervous mirth. We blew a loud salute and moved away.
* * * * *
We entered a lunchroom on Broad Street for our favourite breakfast of coffee and a pair of crullers. It was strangely early and only a few of the flat-arm chairs were occupied. After dispatching the rations we carefully filled our pipe. With us we had a copy of an agreeable book, "The Calamities and Quarrels of Authors." It occurred to us that here, in the brisk serenity of the morning, would be a charming opportunity for a five-minute smoke and five pages of reading before attacking the ardours and endurances of the day. Lovingly we applied the match to the fuel. We began to read:
Of all the sorrows in which the female character may participate, there are few more affecting than those of an authoress——
A stern, white-coated official came over to us and tapped us on the shoulder.
"There's a sign behind you," he said.
We looked, guiltily, and saw:
POSITIVELY NO SMOKING
* * * * *
The cocoateria on Eighth Street closes at one A. M. Between twelve-thirty and closing time it is full of busy eaters, mostly the night shift from the Chestnut Street newspaper offices and printing and engraving firms in the neighbourhood. Ham and eggs blossom merrily. The white-coated waiters move in swift, stern circuit. Griddle cakes bake with amazing swiftness toward the stroke of one. Little dishes of baked beans stand hot and ready in the steam-chest. The waiter punches your check as he brings your frankfurters and coffee. He adds another perforation when you get your ice cream. Then he comes back and punches it again.
"Here," you cry, "let it alone and stop bullying it!"
"Sorry, brother," he says. "I forgot that peach cream was fifteen cents."
One o'clock. They lock the door and turn out the little gas jet where smokers light up. As the tables empty the chairs are stacked up on top. And if it is a clear warm evening the customers smoke a final weed along the Chestnut Street doorsteps, talking together in a cheery undertone.
* * * * *
No man has ever started upon a new cheque-book without a few sourly solemn thoughts.
In the humble waters of finance wherein we paddle we find that a book of fifty cheques lasts us about four months, allowing for two or three duds when we start to make out a foil payable to bearer (self) and decide to renounce that worthy ambition and make it out to the gas company instead.
It occurs to us that if Bunyan had been writing "Pilgrim's Progress" nowadays instead of making Christian encounter lions in the path he would have substituted gas meters, particularly the quarter-in-the-slot kind that one finds in a seaside cottage. However——
Four months is quite a long time. It may be weak of us, but we can never resist wondering as we survey that flock of empty cheques just what adventures our bank account is going to undergo during that period, and whether our customary technique of being aloof with the receiving teller and genial and commentary with the paying ditto is the right one. We always believe in keeping a paying teller in a cheerful frame of mind. We would never admit to him that we think it is going to rain. We say, rather, "Well, it may blow over," and try not to surmise how many hundreds there are in the pile at his elbow. Probably we think the explanation for the really bizarre architecture of our bank is to keep depositors' attention from the money. Unquestionably Walt Whitman's tomb over in Harleigh—Walt's vault—was copied from our bank.
The cheques in our book are blue. We have always regretted this. If we had known it beforehand perhaps we would have inflicted our problems upon another bank. Because there are so many more interesting colours for cheques, tints upon which the ink shows up in a more imposing manner. A pale pink or cream-coloured cheque for $2.74 looks much more exciting than a blue cheque for $25. We have known gray, pink, white, brown, green, and salmon-coloured cheques. A friend of ours once showed us one that was a bright orange, but refused to let us handle it. But yellow is the colour that appeals to us most strongly. When we were very young and away from home our monthly allowance, the amount of which we shall not state, but it cost us less effort than any money we ever received since, came to us by way of pale primrose-coloured cheques. For, after all, there are no cheques like those one used to get from one's father. We hope the Urchin will think so some day.
* * * * *
We like to pay homage to the true artist in all lines. At the corner of Market and Marshall streets—between Sixth and Seventh—the collar-clasp orator has his rostrum, and it seems to us that his method of harangue has the quality of genuine art. He does not bawl or try to terrify or bully his audience into purchase as do the auctioneers of the "pawnbrokers' outlets." How gently, how winningly, how sweetly he pleads the merits of his little collar clasp! And there is shrewd imagination in his attention-catching device, which is a small boy dressed in black, wearing a white hood of cheesecloth that hides his face. This peculiar silent figure, with a touch of mystery about it, serves to keep the crowd wondering until the oration begins.
With a smile, with infinite ingratiation and gentle persuasion, our friend exhibits the merits of his device which does away with the traditional collar-button. His art is to make the collar-button seem a piteous, almost a tragic thing. His eyes swim with unshed tears as he describes the discomfort of the man whose collar, fastened by the customary button, cannot be given greater freedom on a hot, muggy day. He shows, by exhibition on his own person, the exquisite relief afforded by the adjustable collar clasp. "When the day grows cool," he says, "when you begin to enjoy yourself and want your collar tighter, you just loosen the clasp, slide the tabs closer together, and there you are. And no picking at your tie to get the knot undone. Now, how many of you men have spoiled an expensive tie by picking at it? Your fingers come in contact with the fibres of the silk and the first thing you know the tie is soiled. This little clasp"—and he casts a beam of affection upon it—"saves your tie, it saves your collar, and it saves your patience." A note of yearning pathos comes into his agreeable voice, and he holds out a handful of the old-fashioned collar-buttons. "You men are wearing the same buttons your great-grandfathers wore. Don't you want to get out of collar slavery? Don't you want to quit working your face all out of shape struggling with a collar-button? Now as this is a manufacturing demonstration——"
* * * * *
On a warm evening nothing is more pleasant than a ride on the front platform of the Market Street L, with the front door open. As the train leaves Sixty-ninth Street it dips down the Millbourne bend and the cool, damp smell of the Cobb's Creek meadows gushes through the car. Then the track straightens out for a long run toward the City Hall. Roaring over the tree tops, with the lights of movies and shops glowing up from below, a warm typhoon makes one lean against it to keep one's footing. The airy stations are lined by girls in light summer dresses, attended by their swains. The groan of the wheels underfoot causes a curious tickling in the soles of the feet as one stands on the steel platform.
This groan rises to a shrill scream as the train gathers speed between stations, gradually diminishing to a reluctant grumble as the cars come to a stop. In the distance, in a peacock-blue sky, the double gleam of the City Hall tower shines against the night. Down on the left is the hiss and clang of West Philadelphia station, with the long, dim, amber glow of the platform and belated commuters pacing about. Then the smoky dive across the Schuylkill and the bellow of the subway.
* * * * *
From time to time humanity is forced to revise its customary notions in the interests of truth. This is always painful.
It is an old fetich that the week-end in summer is a time for riotous enjoyment, of goodly cheer and mirthful solace. A careful examination of human beings during this hebdomadal period of carnival leads us to question the doctrine.
When we watch the horrors of discomfort and vexation endured by simple-hearted citizens in pursuit of a light-hearted Saturday and Sunday, we often wonder how it is that humanity will so gleefully inflict upon itself sufferings which, if they were imposed by some taskmaster, would be called atrocious.
We observe, for instance, women and children standing sweltering in the aisles of trains during a two-hour run to the seashore. We observe the number of drownings, motor accidents, murders, and suicides that take place during the Saturday to Monday period. We observe families loaded down with small children, who might have been happy and reasonably cool at home, struggling desperately to get away for a day in the country, rising at 5 A. M., standing in line at the station, fanning themselves with blasphemy, and weary before they start. We observe them chased home by thunderstorms or colic, dazed and blistered with sunburn, or groaning with a surfeit of ice cream cones.
It is a lamentable fact (and the truth is almost always lamentable, and hotly denied) that for the hard-working majority the week-end is a curse rather than a blessing. The saddest fact in human annals is that most people are never so happy as when they are hard at work. The time may come when criminals will be condemned, not to the chair, but to twenty successive week-ends spent standing in the aisles of crowded excursion trains.
* * * * *
Strolling downtown to a well-known home of fish dinners, it is appetizing to pass along the curve of Dock Street in the coolness of the evening. The clean, lively odours of vegetables and fruit are strong on the air. Under the broad awnings of the commission merchants and produce dealers the stock is piled up in neat and engaging piles ready to be carted away at dawn. Under the glow of pale arcs and gas lamps the colours of the scene are vivid. Great baskets of eggplant shine like huge grapes, a polished port wine colour; green and scarlet peppers catch points of light; a flat pinkish colour gleams on carrots. Each species seems to have an ordered pattern of its own. Potatoes are ranged in a pyramid; watermelons in long rows; white and yellow onions are heaped in sacks. The sweet musk of cantaloupes is the scent that overbreathes all others. Then, down nearer to the waterfront, comes the strong, damp fishy whiff of oysters. To stroll among these gleaming piles of victuals, to watch the various colours where the lamps pour a pale silver and yellow on cairns and pyramids of vegetables, is to gather a lusty appetite and attack the first oyster stew of the season with a stout heart.
It being a very humid day, we stopped to compliment the curly-headed sandwich man at Ninth and Market on his decollete corsage, which he wears in the Walt Whitman manner. "Wish we could get away with it the way you do," we said, admiringly. He looked at us with the patience of one inured to bourgeois comment. "It's got to be tried," said he, "like everything else."
* * * * *
We stopped by the Weather Man's little illuminated booth at Ninth and Chestnut about 10 o'clock in the evening. We were scrutinizing his pretty coloured pictures, wondering how soon the rain would determine, when a slender young man appeared out of the gloom, said "I'm sorry to have to do this," switched off the light, and pulled down the rolling front of the booth. It was the Weather Man himself.
We were greatly elated to meet this mythical sage and walked down the street a little way with him. In order to cheer him up, we complimented him on the artistic charm of his little booth, with its glow of golden light shining on the coloured map and the bright loops and curves of crayon. We told him how almost at any time in the evening groups of people can be seen admiring his stall, but his sensitive heart was gloomy.
"Most of them don't understand it," he said, morosely. "The women are the worst. I've gone there in the evening and found them studying the map eagerly. Hopefully, I would creep up behind to hear their comments. One will say, 'Yes, that's where my husband came from,' or 'I spent last summer over there,' pointing to some place on the map. They seem to think it's put there for them to study geography."
We tried to sympathize with the broken-hearted scientist, but his spirit had been crushed by a long series of woes.
"The other evening," said he, "I saw a couple of girls gazing at the map, and they looked so intelligent I really was charmed. Apparently they were discussing an area of low pressure that was moving down from the Great Lakes, and I lent an ear. Imagine my chagrin when one of them said: 'You see the colour of that chalk line? I'm going to make my next knitted vestee just like that.' And the other one said: 'I think the whole colour scheme is adorable. I'm going to use it as a pattern for my new camouflage bathing-suit.'"
"Thank goodness," cried the miserable Weather Man: "I have another map like that down at the Bourse, and the brokers really give it some intelligent attention."
We went on our way sadly, thinking how many sorrows there are in the world. It is grievous to think of the poor Weather Man, lurking with beating pulses in the neighbourhood of Ninth and Chestnut in the hope of finding someone who understands his painstaking display. The next time you are standing in front of his booth do say something about the Oceanic High in the South Atlantic or the dangerous Aleutian Low or the anticyclonic condition prevailing in the Alleghenies. He might overhear you, and it would do his mournful heart good.
* * * * *
It was eight o'clock, a cool drizzling night. Chestnut Street was gray with a dull, pearly, opaque twilight. In the little portico east of Independence Hall the gas lamp under the ceiling cast a soft pink glow on the brick columns.
Independence Square was a sea of tremulous, dripping boughs. The quaint heptahedral lamps threw splashed shimmers of topaz colour across the laky pavement. "Golden lamps in a green night," as Marvell says, twinkled through the stir and moisture of the evening.
ON GOING TO BED
One of the characters in "The Moon and Sixpence" remarked that he had faithfully lived up to the old precept about doing every day two things you heartily dislike; for, said he, every day he had got up and he had gone to bed.
It is a sad thing that as soon as the hands of the clock have turned ten the shadow of going to bed begins to creep over the evening. We have never heard bedtime spoken of with any enthusiasm. One after another we have seen a gathering disperse, each person saying (with an air of solemn resignation): "Well, I guess I'll go to bed." But there was no hilarity about it. It is really rather touching how they cling to the departing skirts of the day that is vanishing under the spinning shadow of night.
This is odd, we repeat, for sleep is highly popular among human beings. The reluctance to go to one's couch is not at all a reluctance to slumber, for almost all of us will doze happily in an armchair or on a sofa, or even festooned on the floor with a couple of cushions. But the actual and formal yielding to sheets and blankets is to be postponed to the last possible moment.
The devil of drowsiness is at his most potent, we find, about 10:30 P. M. At this period the human carcass seems to consider that it has finished its cycle, which began with so much courage nearly sixteen hours before. It begins to slack and the mind halts on a dead centre every now and then, refusing to complete the revolution. Now there are those who hold that this is certainly the seemly and appointed time to go to bed and they do so as a matter of routine. These are, commonly, the happier creatures, for they take the tide of sleep at the flood and are borne calmly and with gracious gentleness out to great waters of nothingness. They push off from the wharf on a tranquil current and nothing more is to be seen or heard of these voyagers until they reappear at the breakfast table, digging lustily into their grapefruit.
These people are happy, aye, in a brutish and sedentary fashion, but they miss the admirable adventures of those more embittered wrestlers who will not give in without a struggle. These latter suffer severe pangs between 10:30 and about 11:15 while they grapple with their fading faculties and seek to reestablish the will on its tottering throne. This requires courage stout, valour unbending. Once you yield, be it ever so little, to the tempter, you are lost. And here our poor barren clay plays us false, undermining the intellect with many a trick and wile. "I will sit down for a season in that comfortable chair," the creature says to himself, "and read this sprightly novel. That will ease my mind and put me in humour for a continuance of lively thinking." And the end of that man is a steady nasal buzz from the bottom of the chair where he has collapsed, an unsightly object and a disgrace to humanity. This also means a big bill from the electric light company at the end of the month. In many such ways will his corpus bewray him, leading him by plausible self-deceptions into a pitfall of sleep, whence he is aroused about 3 A. M. when the planet turns over on the other side. Only by stiff perseverance and rigid avoidance of easy chairs may the critical hour between 10:30 and 11:30 be safely passed. Tobacco, a self-brewed pot of tea, and a browsing along bookshelves (remain standing and do not sit down with your book) are helps in this time of struggle. Even so, there are some happily drowsy souls who can never cross these shallows alone without grounding on the Lotus Reefs. Our friend J—— D—— K——, magnificent creature, was (when we lived with him) so potently hypnoidal that, even erect and determined as his bookcase and urgently bent upon Brann's Iconoclast or some other literary irritant, sleep would seep through his pores and he would fall with a crash, lying there in unconscious bliss until someone came in and prodded him up, reeling and ashamed.
But, as we started to say, those who survive this drastic weeding out which Night imposes upon her wooers—so as to cull and choose only the truly meritorious lovers—experience supreme delights which are unknown to their snoring fellows. When the struggle with somnolence has been fought out and won, when the world is all-covering darkness and close-pressing silence, when the tobacco suddenly takes on fresh vigour and fragrance and the books lie strewn about the table, then it seems as though all the rubbish and floating matter of the day's thoughts have poured away and only the bright, clear, and swift current of the mind itself remains, flowing happily and without impediment. This perfection of existence is not to be reached very often; but when properly approached it may be won. It is a different mind that one uncovers then, a spirit which is lucid and hopeful, to which (for a few serene hours) time exists not. The friable resolutions of the day are brought out again and recemented and chiselled anew. Surprising schemes are started and carried through to happy conclusion, lifetimes of amazement are lived in a few passing ticks. There is one who at such moments resolves, with complete sincerity, to start at one end of the top shelf and read again all the books in his library, intending this time really to extract their true marrow. He takes a clean sheet of paper and sets down memoranda of all the people he intends to write to, and all the plumbers and what not that he will call up the next day. And the next time this happy seizure attacks him he will go through the same gestures again without surprise and without the slightest mortification. And then, having lived a generation of good works since midnight struck, he summons all his resolution and goes to bed.
THE COUNTRY LIFE PRESS
GARDEN CITY, N. Y.