Apparently the sentimental Mrs. Smythe was willing to talk about these pets all through dinner; and so was her aunt, a thin and angular spinster, who sat on Montague's other side. And he was willing to listen—he wanted to know it all. There were umbrellas for dogs, to be fastened over their backs in wet weather; there were manicure and toilet sets, and silver medicine-chests, and jewel-studded whips. There were sets of engraved visiting-cards; there were wheel-chairs in which invalid cats and dogs might be taken for an airing. There were shows for cats and dogs, with pedigrees and prizes, and nearly as great crowds as the Horse Show; Mrs. Smythe's St. Bernards were worth seven thousand dollars apiece, and there were bull-dogs worth twice that. There was a woman who had come all the way from the Pacific coast to have a specialist perform an operation upon the throat of her Yorkshire terrier! There was another who had built for her dog a tiny Queen Anne cottage, with rooms papered and carpeted and hung with lace curtains! Once a young man of fashion had come to the Waldorf and registered himself and "Miss Elsie Cochrane"; and when the clerk made the usual inquiries as to the relationship of the young lady, it transpired that Miss Elsie was a dog, arrayed in a prim little tea-gown, and requiring a room to herself. And then there was a tale of a cat which had inherited a life-pension from a forty-thousand-dollar estate; it had a two-floor apartment and several attendants, and sat at table and ate shrimps and Italian chestnuts, and had a velvet couch for naps, and a fur-lined basket for sleeping at night!
Four days of horses were enough for Montague, and on Friday morning, when Siegfried Harvey called him up and asked if he and Alice would come out to "The Roost" for the week-end, he accepted gladly. Charlie Carter was going, and volunteered to take them in his car; and so again they crossed the Williamsburg Bridge—"the Jewish passover," as Charlie called it—and went out on Long Island.
Montague was very anxious to get a "line" on Charlie Carter; for he had not been prepared for the startling promptness with which this young man had fallen at Alice's feet. It was so obvious, that everybody was smiling over it—he was with her every minute that he could arrange it, and he turned up at every place to which she was invited. Both Mrs. Winnie and Oliver were quite evidently complacent, but Montague was by no means the same. Charlie had struck him as a good-natured but rather weak youth, inclined to melancholy; he was never without a cigarette in his fingers, and there had been signs that he was not quite proof against the pitfalls which Society set about him in the shape of decanters and wine-cups: though in a world where the fragrance of spirits was never out of one's nostrils, and where people drank with such perplexing frequency, it was hard to know where to draw a line.
"You won't find my place like Havens's," Siegfried Harvey had said. "It is real country." Montague found it the most attractive of all the homes he had seen so far. It was a big rambling house, all in rustic style, with great hewn logs outside, and rafters within, and a winding oak stairway, and any number of dens and cosy corners, and broad window-seats with mountains of pillows. Everything here was built for comfort—there was a billiard-room and a smoking-room, and a real library with readable books and great chairs in which one sank out of sight. There were log fires blazing everywhere, and pictures on the walls that told of sport, and no end of guns and antlers and trophies of all sorts. But you were not to suppose that all this elaborate rusticity would be any excuse for the absence of attendants in livery, and a chef who boasted the cordon bleu, and a dinner-table resplendent with crystal and silver and orchids and ferns. After all, though the host called it a "small" place, he had invited twenty guests, and he had a hunter in his stables for each one of them.
But the most wonderful thing about "The Roost" was the fact that, at a touch of a button, all the walls of the lower rooms vanished into the second story, and there was one huge, log-lighted room, with violins tuning up and calling to one's feet. They set a fast pace here—the dancing lasted until three o'clock, and at dawn again they were dressed and mounted, and following the pink-coated grooms and the hounds across the frost-covered fields.
Montague was half prepared for a tame fox, but this was spared him. There was a real game, it seemed; and soon the pack gave tongue, and away went the hunt. It was the wildest ride that Montague ever had taken—over ditches and streams and innumerable rail-fences, and through thick coverts and densely populated barnyards; but he was in at the death, and Alice was only a few yards behind, to the immense delight of the company. This seemed to Montague the first real life he had met, and he thought to himself that these full-blooded and high-spirited men and women made a "set" into which he would have been glad to fit—save only that he had to earn his living, and they did not.
In the afternoon there was more riding, and walks in the crisp November air; and indoors, bridge and rackets and ping-pong, and a fast and furious game of roulette, with the host as banker. "Do I look much like a professional gambler?" he asked of Montague; and when the other replied that he had not yet met any New York gamblers, young Harvey went on to tell how he had gone to buy this apparatus (the sale of which was forbidden by law) and had been asked by the dealer how "strong" he wanted it!
Then in the evening there was more dancing, and on Sunday another hunt. That night a gambling mood seemed to seize the company—there were two bridge tables, and in another room the most reckless game of poker that Montague had ever sat in. It broke up at three in the morning, and one of the company wrote him a cheque for sixty-five hundred dollars; but even that could not entirely smooth his conscience, nor reconcile him to the fever that was in his blood.
Most important to him, however, was the fact that during the game he at last got to know Charlie Carter. Charlie did not play, for the reason that he was drunk, and one of the company told him so and refused to play with him; which left poor Charlie nothing to do but get drunker. This he did, and came and hung over the shoulders of the players, and told the company all about himself.
Montague was prepared to allow for the "wild oats" of a youngster with unlimited money, but never in his life had he heard or dreamed of anything like this boy. For half an hour he wandered about the table, and poured out a steady stream of obscenities; his mind was like a swamp, in which dwelt loathsome and hideous serpents which came to the surface at night and showed their flat heads and their slimy coils. In the heavens above or the earth beneath there was nothing sacred to him; there was nothing too revolting to be spewed out. And the company accepted the performance as an old story—the men would laugh, and push the boy away, and say, "Oh, Charlie, go to the devil!"
After it was all over, Montague took one of the company aside and asked him what it meant; to which the man replied: "Good God! Do you mean that nobody has told you about Charlie Carter?"
It appeared that Charlie was one of the "gilded youths" of the Tenderloin, whose exploits had been celebrated in the papers. And after the attendants had bundled him off to bed, several of the men gathered about the fire and sipped hot punch, and rehearsed for Montague's benefit some of his leading exploits.
Charlie was only twenty-three, it seemed; and when he was ten his father had died and left eight or ten millions in trust for him, in the care of a poor, foolish aunt whom he twisted about his finger. At the age of twelve he was a cigarette fiend, and had the run of the wine-cellar. When he went to a rich private school he took whole trunks full of cigarettes with him, and finally ran away to Europe, to acquire the learning of the brothels of Paris. And then he came home and struck the Tenderloin; and at three o'clock one morning he walked through a plate-glass window, and so the newspapers took him up. That had suddenly opened a new vista in life for Charlie—he became a devotee of fame; everywhere he went he was followed by newspaper reporters and a staring crowd. He carried wads as big round as his arm, and gave away hundred-dollar tips to bootblacks, and lost forty thousand dollars in a game of poker. He gave a fete to the demi-monde, with a jewelled Christmas tree in midsummer, and fifty thousand dollars' worth of splendour. But the greatest stroke of all was the announcement that he was going to build a submarine yacht and fill it with chorus-girls!—Now Charlie had sunk out of public attention, and his friends would not see him for days; he would be lying in a "sporting house" literally wallowing in champagne.
And all this, Montague realized, his brother must have known! And he had said not a word about it—because of the eight or ten millions which Charlie would have when he was twenty-five!
In the morning they went home with others of the party by train. They could not wait for Charlie and his automobile, because Monday was the opening night of the Opera, and no one could miss that. Here Society would appear in its most gorgeous raiment, and, there would be a show of jewellery such as could be seen nowhere else in the world.
General Prentice and his wife had opened their town-house, and had invited them to dinner and to share their box; and so at about half-past nine o'clock Montague found himself seated in a great balcony of the shape of a horseshoe, with several hundred of the richest people in the city. There was another tier of boxes above, and three galleries above that, and a thousand or more people seated and standing below him. Upon the big stage there was an elaborate and showy play, the words of which were sung to the accompaniment of an orchestra.
Now Montague had never heard an opera, and he was fond of music. The second act had just begun when he came in, and all through it he sat quite spellbound, listening to the most ravishing strains that ever he had heard in his life. He scarcely noticed that Mrs. Prentice was spending her time studying the occupants of the other boxes through a jewelled lorgnette, or that Oliver was chattering to her daughter.
But after the act was over, Oliver got him alone outside the box, and whispered, "For God's sake, Allan, don't make a fool of yourself."
"Why, what's the matter?" asked the other.
"What will people think," exclaimed Oliver, "seeing you sitting there like a man in a dope dream?"
"Why," laughed the other, "they'll think I'm listening to the music."
To which Oliver responded, "People don't come to the Opera to listen to the music."
This sounded like a joke, but it was not. To Society the Opera was a great state function, an exhibition of far more exclusiveness and magnificence than the Horse Show; and Society certainly had the right to say, for it owned the opera-house and ran it. The real music-lovers who came, either stood up in the back, or sat in the fifth gallery, close to the ceiling, where the air was foul and hot. How much Society cared about the play was sufficiently indicated by the fact that all of the operas were sung in foreign languages, and sung so carelessly that the few who understood the languages could make but little of the words. Once there was a world-poet who devoted his life to trying to make the Opera an art; and in the battle with Society he all but starved to death. Now, after half a century, his genius had triumphed, and Society consented to sit for hours in darkness and listen to the domestic disputes of German gods and goddesses. But what Society really cared for was a play with beautiful costumes and scenery and dancing, and pretty songs to which one could listen while one talked; the story must be elemental and passionate, so that one could understand it in pantomime—say the tragic love of a beautiful and noble-minded courtesan for a gallant young man of fashion.
Nearly every one who came to the Opera had a glass, by means of which he could bring each gorgeously-clad society dame close to him, and study her at leisure. There were said to be two hundred million dollars' worth of diamonds in New York, and those that were not in the stores were very apt to be at this show; for here was where they could accomplish the purpose for which they existed—here was where all the world came to stare at them. There were nine prominent Society women, who among them displayed five million dollars' worth of jewels. You would see stomachers which looked like a piece of a coat of mail, and were made wholly of blazing diamonds. You would see emeralds and rubies and diamonds and pearls made in tiaras—that is to say, imitation crowns and coronets—and exhibited with a stout and solemn dowager for a pediment. One of the Wallings had set this fashion, and now every one of importance wore them. One lady to whom Montague was introduced made a speciality of pearls—two black pearl ear-rings at forty thousand dollars, a string at three hundred thousand, a brooch of pink pearls at fifty thousand, and two necklaces at a quarter of a million each!
This incessant repetition of the prices of things came to seem very sordid; but Montague found that there was no getting away from it. The people in Society who paid these prices affected to be above all such considerations, to be interested only in the beauty and artistic excellence of the things themselves; but one found that they always talked about the prices which other people had paid, and that somehow other people always knew what they had paid. They took care also to see that the public and the newspapers knew what they had paid, and knew everything else that they were doing. At this Opera, for instance, there was a diagram of the boxes printed upon the programme, and a list of all the box-holders, so that anyone could tell who was who. You might see these great dames in their gorgeous robes coming from their carriages, with crowds staring at them and detectives hovering about. And the bosom of each would be throbbing with a wild and wonderful vision of the moment when she would enter her box, and the music would be forgotten, and all eyes would be turned upon her; and she would lay aside her wraps, and flash upon the staring throngs, a vision of dazzling splendour.
Some of these jewels were family treasures, well known to New York for generations; and in such cases it was becoming the fashion to leave the real jewels in the safe-deposit vault, and to wear imitation stones exactly like them. From homes where the jewels were kept, detectives were never absent, and in many cases there were detectives watching the detectives; and yet every once in a while the newspapers would be full of a sensational story of a robbery. Then the unfortunates who chanced to be suspected would be seized by the police and subjected to what was jocularly termed the "third degree," and consisted of tortures as elaborate and cruel as any which the Spanish Inquisition had invented. The advertising value of this kind of thing was found to be so great that famous actresses also had costly jewels, and now and then would have them stolen.
That night, when they had got home, Montague had a talk with his cousin about Charlie Carter. He discovered a peculiar situation. It seemed that Alice already knew that Charlie had been "bad." He was sick and miserable; and her beauty and innocence had touched him and made him ashamed of himself, and he had hinted darkly at dreadful evils. Thus carefully veiled, and tinged with mystery and romance, Montague could understand how Charlie made an interesting and appealing figure. "He says I'm different from any girl he ever met," said Alice—a remark of such striking originality that her cousin could not keep back his smile.
Alice was not the least bit in love with him, and had no idea of being; and she said that she would accept no invitations, and never go alone with him; but she did not see how she could avoid him when she met him at other people's houses. And to this Montague had to assent.
General Prentice had inquired kindly as to what Montague had seen in New York, and how he was getting along. He added that he had talked about him to Judge Ellis, and that when he was ready to get to work, the Judge would perhaps have some suggestions to make to him. He approved, however, of Montague's plan of getting his bearings first; and said that he would introduce him and put him up at a couple of the leading clubs.
All this remained in Montague's mind; but there was no use trying to think of it at the moment. Thanksgiving was at hand, and in countless country mansions there would be gaieties under way. Bertie Stuyvesant had planned an excursion to his Adirondack camp, and had invited a score or so of young people, including the Montagues. This would be a new feature of the city's life, worth knowing about.
Their expedition began with a theatre-party. Bertie had engaged four boxes, and they met there, an hour or so after the performance had begun. This made no difference, however, for the play was like the opera-a number of songs and dances strung together, and with only plot enough to provide occasion for elaborate scenery and costumes. From the play they were carried to the Grand Central Station, and a little before midnight Bertie's private train set out on its journey.
This train was a completely equipped hotel. There was a baggage compartment and a dining-car and kitchen; and a drawing-room and library-car; and a bedroom-car—not with berths, such as the ordinary sleeping-car provides, but with comfortable bedrooms, furnished in white mahogany, and provided with running water and electric light. All these cars were built of steel, and automatically ventilated: and they were furnished in the luxurious fashion of everything with which Bertie Stuyvesant had anything to do. In the library-car there were velvet carpets upon the floor, and furniture of South American mahogany, and paintings upon the walls over which great artists had laboured for years.
Bertie's chef and servants were on board, and a supper was ready in the dining-car, which they ate while watching the Hudson by moonlight. And the next morning they reached their destination, a little station in the mountain wilderness. The train lay upon a switch, and so they had breakfast at their leisure, and then, bundled in furs, came out into the crisp pine-laden air of the woods. There was snow upon the ground, and eight big sleighs waiting; and for nearly three hours they drove in the frosty sunlight, through most beautiful mountain scenery. A good part of the drive was in Bertie's "preserve," and the road was private, as big signs notified one every hundred yards or so.
So at last they reached a lake, winding like a snake among towering hills, and with a huge baronial castle standing out upon the rocky shore. This imitation fortress was the "camp."
Bertie's father had built it, and visited it only half a dozen times in his life. Bertie himself had only been here twice, he said. The deer were so plentiful that in the winter they died in scores. Nevertheless there were thirty game-keepers to guard the ten thousand acres of forest, and prevent anyone's hunting in it. There were many such "preserves" in this Adirondack wilderness, so Montague was told; one man had a whole mountain fenced about with heavy iron railing, and had moose and elk and even wild boar inside. And as for the "camps," there were so many that a new style of architecture had been developed here—to say nothing of those which followed old styles, like this imported Rhine castle. One of Bertie's crowd had a big Swiss chalet; and one of the Wallings had a Japanese palace to which he came every August—a house which had been built from plans drawn in Japan, and by labourers imported especially from Japan. It was full of Japanese ware—furniture, tapestry, and mosaics; and the guides remembered with wonder the strange silent, brown-skinned little men who had laboured for days at carving a bit of wood, and had built a tiny pagoda-like tea-house with more bits of wood in it than a man could count in a week.
They had a luncheon of fresh venison and partridges and trout, and in the afternoon a hunt. The more active set out to track the deer in the snow; but most prepared to watch the lake-shore, while the game-keepers turned loose the dogs back in the hills. This "hounding" was against the law, but Bertie was his own law here—and at the worst there could simply be a small fine, imposed upon some of the keepers. They drove eight or ten deer to water; and as they fired as many as twenty shots at one deer, they had quite a lively time. Then at dusk they came back, in a fine glow of excitement, and spent the evening before the blazing logs, telling over their adventures.
The party spent two days and a half here, and on the last evening, which was Thanksgiving, they had a wild turkey which Bertie had shot the week before in Virginia, and were entertained by a minstrel show which had been brought up from New York the night before. The next afternoon they drove back to the train.
In the morning, when they reached the city, Alice found a note from Mrs. Winnie Duval, begging her and Montague to come to lunch and attend a private lecture by the Swami Babubanana, who would tell them all about the previous states of their souls. They went—though not without a protest from old Mrs. Montague, who declared it was "worse than Bob Ingersoll."
And then, in the evening, came Mrs. de Graffenried's opening entertainment, which was one of the great events of the social year. In the general rush of things Montague had not had a chance properly to realize it; but Reggie Mann and Mrs. de Graffenried had been working over it for weeks. When the Montagues arrived, they found the Riverside mansion—which was decorated in imitation of an Arabian palace—turned into a jungle of tropical plants.
They had come early at Reggie's request, and he introduced them to Mrs. de Graffenried, a tall and angular lady with a leathern complexion painfully painted; Mrs. de Graffenried was about fifty years of age, but like all the women of Society she was made up for thirty. Just at present there were beads of perspiration upon her forehead; something had gone wrong at the last moment, and so Reggie would have no time to show them the favours, as he had intended.
About a hundred and fifty guests were invited to this entertainment. A supper was served at little tables in the great ball-room, and afterward the guests wandered about the house while the tables were whisked out of the way and the room turned into a play-house. A company from one of the Broadway theatres would be bundled into cabs at the end of the performance, and by midnight they would be ready to repeat the performance at Mrs. de Graffenried's. Montague chanced to be near when this company arrived, and he observed that the guests had crowded up too close, and not left room enough for the actors. So the manager had placed them in a little ante-room, and when Mrs. de Graffenried observed this, she rushed at the man, and swore at him like a dragoon, and ordered the bewildered performers out into the main room.
But this was peering behind the scenes, and he was supposed to be watching the play. The entertainment was another "musical comedy" like the one he had seen a few nights before. On that occasion, however, Bertie Stuyvesant's sister had talked to him the whole time, while now he was let alone, and had a chance to watch the performance.
This was a very popular play; it had had a long run, and the papers told how its author had an income of a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year. And here was an audience of the most rich and influential people in the city; and they laughed and clapped, and made it clear that they were enjoying themselves heartily. And what sort of a play was it?
It was called "The Kaliph of Kamskatka." It had no shred of a plot; the Kaliph had seventeen wives, and there was an American drummer who wanted to sell him another—but then you did not need to remember this, for nothing came of it. There was nothing in the play which could be called a character—there was nothing which could be connected with any real emotion ever felt by human beings. Nor could one say that there was any incident—at least nothing happened because of anything else. Each event was a separate thing, like the spasmodic jerking in the face of an idiot. Of this sort of "action" there was any quantity—at an instant's notice every one on the stage would fall simultaneously into this condition of idiotic jerking. There was rushing about, shouting, laughing, exclaiming; the stage was in a continual uproar of excitement, which was without any reason or meaning. So it was impossible to think of the actors in their parts; one kept thinking of them as human beings—thinking of the awful tragedy of full-grown men and women being compelled by the pressure of hunger to dress up and paint themselves, and then come out in public and dance, stamp, leap about, wring their hands, make faces, and otherwise be "lively."
The costumes were of two sorts: one fantastic, supposed to represent the East, and the other a kind of reductio ad absurdum of fashionable garb. The leading man wore a "natty" outing-suit, and strutted with a little cane; his stock-in-trade was a jaunty air, a kind of perpetual flourish, and a wink that suggested the cunning of a satyr. The leading lady changed her costume several times in each act; but it invariably contained the elements of bare arms and bosom and back, and a skirt which did not reach her knees, and bright-coloured silk stockings, and slippers with heels two inches high. Upon the least provocation she would execute a little pirouette, which would reveal the rest of her legs, surrounded by a mass of lace ruffles. It is the nature of the human mind to seek the end of things; if this woman had worn a suit of tights and nothing else, she would have been as uninteresting as an underwear advertisement in a magazine; but this incessant not-quite-revealing of herself exerted a subtle fascination. At frequent intervals the orchestra would start up a jerky little tune, and the two "stars" would begin to sing in nasal voices some words expressive of passion; then the man would take the woman about the waist and dance and swing her about and bend her backward and gaze into her eyes—actions all vaguely suggestive of the relationship of sex. At the end of the verse a chorus would come gliding on, clad in any sort of costume which admitted of colour and the display of legs; the painted women of this chorus were never still for an instant—if they were not actually dancing, they were wriggling their legs, and jerking their bodies from side to side, and nodding their heads, and in all other possible ways being "lively."
But it was not the physical indecency of this show that struck Montague so much as its intellectual content. The dialogue of the piece was what is called "smart"; that is, it was full of a kind of innuendo which implied a secret understanding of evil between the actor and his audience—a sort of countersign which passed between them. After all, it would have been an error to say that there were no ideas in the play—there was one idea upon which all the interest of it was based; and Montague strove to analyze this idea and formulate it to himself. There are certain life principles-one might call them moral axioms—which are the result of the experience of countless ages of the human race, and upon the adherence to which the continuance of the race depends. And here was an audience by whom all these principles were—not questioned, nor yet disputed, nor yet denied—but to whom the denial was the axiom, something which it would be too banal to state flatly, but which it was elegant and witty to take for granted. In this audience there were elderly people, and married men and women, and young men and maidens; and a perfect gale of laughter swept through it at a story of a married woman whose lover had left her when he got married:—
"She must have been heartbroken," said the leading lady.
"She was desperate," said the leading man, with a grin.
"What did she do?" asked the lady "Go and shoot herself?"
"Worse than that," said the man. "She, went back to her husband and had a baby!"
But to complete your understanding of the significance of this play, you must bring yourself to realize that it was not merely a play, but a kind of a play; it had a name—a "musical comedy"—the meaning of which every one understood. Hundreds of such plays were written and produced, and "dramatic critics" went to see them and gravely discussed them, and many thousands of people made their livings by travelling over the country and playing them; stately theatres were built for them, and hundreds of thousands of people paid their money every night to see them. And all this no joke and no nightmare—but a thing that really existed. Men and women were doing these things—actual flesh-and-blood human beings.
Montague wondered, in an awestricken sort of way, what kind of human being it could be who had flourished the cane and made the grimaces in that play. Later on, when he came to know the "Tenderloin," he met this same actor, and he found that he had begun life as a little Irish "mick" who lived in a tenement, and whose mother stood at the head of the stairway and defended him with a rolling-pin against a policeman who was chasing him. He had discovered that he could make a living by his comical antics; but when he came home and told his mother that he had been offered twenty dollars a week by a show manager, she gave him a licking for lying to her. Now he was making three thousand dollars a week—more than the President of the United States and his Cabinet; but he was not happy, as he confided to Montague, because he did not know how to read, and this was a cause of perpetual humiliation. The secret desire of this little actor's heart was to play Shakespeare; he had "Hamlet" read to him, and pondered how to act it—all the time that he was flourishing his little cane and making his grimaces! He had chanced to be on the stage when a fire had broken out, and five or six hundred victims of greed were roasted to death. The actor had pleaded with the people to keep their seats, but all in vain; and all his life thereafter he went about with this vision of horror in his mind, and haunted by the passionate conviction that he had failed because of his lack of education—that if only he had been a man of culture, he would have been able to think of something to say to hold those terror-stricken people!
At three o'clock in the morning the performance came to an end, and then there were more refreshments; and Mrs. Vivie Patton came and sat by him, and they had a nice comfortable gossip. When Mrs. Vivie once got started at talking about people, her tongue ran on like a windmill.
There was Reggie Mann, meandering about and simpering at people. Reggie was in his glory at Mrs. de Graffenried's affairs. Reggie had arranged all this-he did the designing and the ordering, and contracted for the shows with the agents. You could bet that he had got his commission on them, too—though sometimes Mrs. de Graffenried got the shows to come for nothing, because of the advertising her name would bring. Commissions were Reggie's speciality—he had begun life as an auto agent. Montague didn't know what that was? An auto agent was a man who was for ever begging his friends to use a certain kind of car, so that he might make a living; and Reggie had made about thirty thousand a year in that way. He had come from Boston, where his reputation had been made by the fact that early one morning, as they were driving home from a celebration, he had dared a young society matron to take off her shoes and stockings, and get out and wade in the public fountain; and she had done it, and he had followed her. On the strength of the eclat of this he had been taken up by Mrs. Devon; and one day Mrs. Devon had worn a white gown, and asked him what he thought of it. "It needs but one thing to make it perfect," said Reggie, and taking a red rose, he pinned it upon her corsage. The effect was magical; every one exclaimed with delight, and so Reggie's reputation as an authority upon dress was made for ever. Now he was Mrs. de Graffenried's right-hand man, and they made up their pranks together. Once they had walked down the street in Newport with a big rag doll between them. And Reggie had given a dinner at which the guest of honour had been a monkey—surely Montague had heard of that, for it had been the sensation of the season. It was really the funniest thing imaginable; the monkey wore a suit of broad-cloth with collar and cuffs, and he shook hands with all the guests, and behaved himself exactly like a gentleman—except that he did not get drunk.
And then Mrs. Vivie pointed out the great Mrs. Ridgley-Clieveden, who was sitting with one of her favourites, a grave, black-bearded gentleman who had leaped into fame by inheriting fifty million dollars. "Mrs. R.-C." had taken him up, and ordered his engagement book for him, and he was solemnly playing the part of a social light. He had purchased an old New York mansion, upon the decoration of which three million dollars had been spent; and when he came down to business from Tuxedo, his private train waited all day for him with steam up. Mrs. Vivie told an amusing tale of a woman who had announced her engagement to him, and borrowed large sums of money upon the strength of it, before his denial came out. That had been a source of great delight to Mrs. de Graffenried, who was furiously jealous of "Mrs. R. C."
From the anecdotes that people told, Montague judged that Mrs. de Graffenried must be one of those new leaders of Society, who, as Mrs. Alden said, were inclined to the bizarre and fantastic. Mrs. de Graffenried spent half a million dollars every season to hold the position of leader of the Newport set, and you could always count upon her for new and striking ideas. Once she had given away as cotillion favours tiny globes with goldfish in them; again she had given a dance at which everybody got themselves up as different vegetables. She was fond of going about at Newport and inviting people haphazard to lunch—thirty or forty at a time—and then surprising them with a splendid banquet. Again she would give a big formal dinner, and perplex people by offering them something which they really cared to eat. "You see," explained Mrs. Vivie, "at these dinners we generally get thick green turtle soup, and omelettes with some sort of Florida water poured over them, and mushrooms cooked under glass, and real hand-made desserts; but Mrs. de Graffenried dares to have baked ham and sweet potatoes, or even real roast beef. You saw to-night that she had green corn; she must have arranged for that months ahead—we can never get it from Porto Rico until January. And you see this little dish of wild strawberries—they were probably transplanted and raised in a hothouse, and every single one wrapped separately before they were shipped."
All these labours had made Mrs. de Graffenried a tremendous power in the social world. She had a savage tongue, said Mrs. Vivie, and every one lived in terror of her; but once in a while she met her match. Once she had invited a comic opera star to sing for her guests, and all the men had crowded round this actress, and Mrs. de Graffenried had flown into a passion and tried to drive them away; and the actress, lolling back in her chair, and gazing up idly at Mrs. de Graffenried, had drawled, "Ten years older than God!" Poor Mrs. de Graffenried would carry that saying with her until she died.
Something reminiscent of this came under Montague's notice that same evening. At about four o'clock Mrs. Vivie wished to go home, and asked him to find her escort, the Count St. Elmo de Champignon—the man, by the way, for whom her husband was gunning. Montague roamed all about the house, and finally went downstairs, where a room had been set apart for the theatrical company to partake of refreshments. Mrs. de Graffenried's secretary was on guard at the door; but some of the boys had got into the room, and were drinking champagne and "making dates" with the chorus-girls. And here was Mrs. de Graffenried herself, pushing them bodily out of the room, a score and more of them—and among them Mrs. Vivie's Count!
Montague delivered his message, and then went upstairs to wait until his own party should be ready to leave. In the smoking-room were a number of men, also waiting; and among them he noticed Major Venable, in conversation with a man whom he did not know. "Come over here," the Major called; and Montague obeyed, at the same time noticing the stranger.
He was a tall, loose-jointed, powerfully built man, a small head and a very striking face: a grim mouth with drooping corners tightly set, and a hawk-like nose, and deep-set, peering eyes. "Have you met Mr. Hegan?" said the Major. "Hegan, this is Mr. Allan Montague." Jim Hegan! Montague repressed a stare and took the chair which they offered him. "Have a cigar," said Hegan, holding out his case.
"Mr. Montague has just come to New York," said the Major. "He is a Southerner, too."
"Indeed?" said Hegan, and inquired what State he came from. Montague replied, and added, "I had the pleasure of meeting your daughter last week, at the Horse Show."
That served to start a conversation; for Hegan came from Texas, and when he found that Montague knew about horses—real horses—he warmed to him. Then the Major's party called him away, and the other two were left to carry on the conversation.
It was very easy to chat with Hegan; and yet underneath, in the other's mind, there lurked a vague feeling of trepidation, as he realized that he was chatting with a hundred millions of dollars. Montague was new enough at the game to imagine that there ought to be something strange, some atmosphere of awe and mystery, about a man who was master of a dozen railroads and of the politics of half a dozen States. He was simple and very kindly in his manner, a plain man, interested in plain things. There was about him, as he talked, a trace of timidity, almost of apology, which Montague noticed and wondered at. It was only later, when he had time to think about it, that he realized that Hegan had begun as a farmer's boy in Texas, a "poor white"; and could it be that after all these years an instinct remained in him, so that whenever he met a gentleman of the old South he stood by with a little deference, seeming to beg pardon for his hundred millions of dollars?
And yet there was the power of the man. Even chatting about horses, you felt it; you felt that there was a part of him which did not chat, but which sat behind and watched. And strangest of all, Montague found himself fancying that behind the face that smiled was another face, that did not smile, but that was grim and set. It was a strange face, with its broad, sweeping eyebrows and its drooping mouth; it haunted Montague and made him feel ill at ease.
There came Laura Hegan, who greeted them in her stately way; and Mrs. Hegan, bustling and vivacious, costumed en grande dame. "Come and see me some time," said the man. "You won't be apt to meet me otherwise, for I don't go about much." And so they took their departure; and Montague sat alone and smoked and thought. The face still stayed with him; and now suddenly, in a burst of light, it came to him what it was: the face of a bird of prey—of the great wild, lonely eagle! You have seen it, perhaps, in a menagerie; sitting high up, submitting patiently, biding its time. But all the while the soul of the eagle is far away, ranging the wide spaces, ready for the lightning swoop, and the clutch with the cruel talons!
The next week was a busy one for the Montagues. The Robbie Wallings had come to town and opened their house, and the time drew near for the wonderful debutante dance at which Alice was to be formally presented to Society. And of course Alice must have a new dress for the occasion, and it must be absolutely the most beautiful dress ever known. In an idle moment her cousin figured out that it was to cost her about five dollars a minute to be entertained by the Wallings!
What it would cost the Wallings, one scarcely dared to think. Their ballroom would be turned into a flower-garden; and there would be a supper for a hundred guests, and still another supper after the dance, and costly favours for every figure. The purchasing of these latter had been entrusted to Oliver, and Montague heard with dismay what they were to cost. "Robbie couldn't afford to do anything second-rate," was the younger brother's only reply to his exclamations.
Alice divided her time between the Wallings and her costumiers, and every evening she came home with a new tale of important developments. Alice was new at the game, and could afford to be excited; and Mrs. Robbie liked to see her bright face, and to smile indulgently at her eager inquiries. Mrs. Robbie herself had given her orders to her steward and her florist and her secretary, and went on her way and thought no more about it. That was the way of the great ladies—or, at any rate, it was their pose.
The town-house of the Robbies was a stately palace occupying a block upon Fifth Avenue—one of the half-dozen mansions of the Walling family which were among the show places of the city. It would take a catalogue to list the establishments maintained by the Wallings—there was an estate in North Carolina, and another in the Adirondacks, and others on Long Island and in New Jersey. Also there were several in Newport—one which was almost never occupied, and which Mrs. Billy Alden sarcastically described as "a three-million-dollar castle on a desert."
Montague accompanied Alice once or twice, and had an opportunity to study Mrs. Robbie at home. There were thirty-eight servants in her establishment; it was a little state all in itself, with Mrs. Robbie as queen, and her housekeeper as prime minister, and under them as many different ranks and classes and castes as in a feudal principality. There had to be six separate dining-rooms for the various kinds of servants who scorned each other; there were servants' servants and servants of servants' servants. There were only three to whom the mistress was supposed to give orders—the butler, the steward, and the housekeeper; she did not even know the names of many of them, and they were changed so often, that, as she declared, she had to leave it to her detective to distinguish between employees and burglars.
Mrs. Robbie was quite a young woman, but it pleased her to pose as a care-worn matron, weary of the responsibilities of her exalted station. The ignorant looked on and pictured her as living in the lap of ease, endowed with every opportunity: in reality the meanest kitchen-maid was freer—she was quite worn thin with the burdens that fell upon her. The huge machine was for ever threatening to fall to pieces, and required the wisdom of Solomon and the patience of Job to keep it running. One paid one's steward a fortune, and yet he robbed right and left, and quarrelled with the chef besides. The butler was suspected of getting drunk upon rare and costly vintages, and the new parlour-maid had turned out to be a Sunday reporter in disguise. The man who had come every day for ten years to wind the clocks of the establishment was dead, and the one who took care of the bric-a-brac was sick, and the housekeeper was in a panic over the prospect of having to train another.
And even suppose that you escaped from these things, the real problems of your life had still to be faced. It was not enough to keep alive; you had your career—your duties as a leader of Society. There was the daily mail, with all the pitiful letters from people begging money—actually in one single week there were demands for two million dollars. There were geniuses with patent incubators and stove-lifters, and every time you gave a ball you stirred up swarms of anarchists and cranks. And then there were the letters you really had to answer, and the calls that had to be paid. These latter were so many that people in the same neighbourhood had arranged to have the same day at home; thus, if you lived on Madison Avenue you had Thursday; but even then it took a whole afternoon to leave your cards. And then there were invitations to be sent and accepted; and one was always making mistakes and offending somebody—people would become mortal enemies overnight, and expect all the world to know it the next morning. And now there were so many divorces and remarryings, with consequent changing of names; and some men knew about their wives' lovers and didn't care, and some did care, but didn't know—altogether it was like carrying a dozen chess games in your head. And then there was the hairdresser and the manicurist and the masseuse, and the tailor and the bootmaker and the jeweller; and then one absolutely had to glance through a newspaper, and to see one's children now and then.
All this Mrs. Robbie explained at luncheon; it was the rich man's burden, about which common people had no conception whatever. A person with a lot of money was like a barrel of molasses—all the flies in the neighbourhood came buzzing about. It was perfectly incredible, the lengths to which people would go to get invited to your house; not only would they write and beg you, they might attack your business interests, and even bribe your friends. And on the other hand, when people thought you needed them, the time you had to get them to come! "Fancy," said Mrs. Robbie, "offering to give a dinner to an English countess, and having her try to charge you for coming!" And incredible as it might seem, some people had actually yielded to her, and the disgusting creature had played the social celebrity for a whole season, and made quite a handsome income out of it. There seemed to be no limit to the abjectness of some of the tuft-hunters in Society.
It was instructive to hear Mrs. Robbie denounce such evils; and yet—alas for human frailty—the next time that Montague called, the great lady was blazing with wrath over the tidings that a new foreign prince was coming to America, and that Mrs. Ridgely-Clieveden had stolen a march upon her and grabbed him. He was to be under her tutelage the entire time, and all the effulgence of his magnificence would be radiated upon that upstart house. Mrs. Robbie revenged herself by saying as many disagreeable things about Mrs. Ridgley-Clieveden as she could think of; winding up with the declaration that if she behaved with this prince as she had with the Russian grand duke, Mrs. Robbie Walling, for one, would cut her dead. And truly the details which Mrs. Robbie cited were calculated to suggest that her rival's hospitality was a reversion to the customs of primitive savagery.
The above is a fair sample of the kind of conversation that one heard whenever one visited any of the Wallings. Perhaps, as Mrs. Robbie said, it may have been their millions that made necessary their attitude toward other people; certain it was, at any rate, that Montague found them all most disagreeable people to know. There was always some tempest in a teapot over the latest machinations of their enemies. And then there was the whole dead mass of people who sponged upon them and toadied to them; and finally the barbarian hordes outside the magic circle of their acquaintance—some specimens of whom came up every day for ridicule. They had big feet and false teeth; they ate mush and molasses; they wore ready-made ties; they said: "Do you wish that I should do it?" Their grandfathers had been butchers and pedlars and other abhorrent things. Montague tried his best to like the Wallings, because of what they were doing for Alice; but after he had sat at their lunch-table and listened to a conversation such as this, he found himself in need of fresh air.
And then he would begin to wonder about his own relation to these people. If they talked about every one else behind their backs, certainly they must talk about him behind his. And why did they go out of their way to make him at home, and why were they spending their money to launch Alice in Society? In the beginning he had assumed that they did it out of the goodness of their hearts; but now that he had looked into their hearts, he rejected the explanation. It was not their way to shower princely gifts upon strangers; in general, the attitude of all the Wallings toward a stranger was that of the London hooligan—"'Eave a 'arf a brick at 'im!" They considered themselves especially appointed by Providence to protect Society from the vulgar newly rich who poured into the city, seeking for notoriety and recognition. They prided themselves upon this attitude—they called it their "exclusiveness"; and the exclusiveness of the younger generations of Wallings had become a kind of insanity.
Nor could the reason be that Alice was beautiful and attractive. One could have imagined it if Mrs. Robbie had been like—say, Mrs. Winnie Duval. It was easy to think of Mrs. Winnie taking a fancy to a girl, and spending half her fortune upon her. But from a hundred little things that he had seen, Montague had come to realize that the Robbie Wallings, with all their wealth and power and grandeur, were actually quite stingy. While all the world saw them scattering fortunes in their pathway, in reality they were keeping track of every dollar. And Robbie himself was liable to panic fits of economy, in which he went to the most absurd excesses—Montague once heard him haggling over fifty cents with a cabman. Lavish hosts though they both were, it was the literal truth that they never spent money upon anyone but themselves—the end and aim of their every action was the power and prestige of the Robbie Wallings.
"They do it because they are friends of mine," said Oliver, and evidently wished that to satisfy his brother. But it only shifted the problem and set him to watching Robbie and Oliver, and trying to make out the basis of their relationship. There was a very grave question concerned in this. Oliver had come to New York comparatively poor, and now he was rich—or, at any rate, he lived like a rich man. And his brother, whose scent was growing keener with every day of his stay in New York, had about made up his mind that Oliver got his money from Robbie Walling.
Here, again, the problem would have been simple, if it had been another person than Robbie; Montague would have concluded that his brother was a "hanger-on." There were many great families whose establishments were infested with such parasites. Siegfried Harvey, for instance, was a man who had always half a dozen young chaps hanging about him; good-looking and lively fellows, who hunted and played bridge, and amused the married women while their husbands were at work, and who, if ever they dropped a hint that they were hard up, might be reasonably certain of being offered a cheque. But if the Robbie Wallings were to write cheques, it must be for value received. And what could the value be?
"Ollie" was rather a little god among the ultra-swagger; his taste was a kind of inspiration. And yet his brother noticed that in such questions he always deferred instantly to the Wallings; and surely the Wallings were not people to be persuaded that they needed anyone to guide them in matters of taste. Again, Ollie was the very devil of a wit, and people were heartily afraid of him; and Montague had noticed that he never by any chance made fun of Robbie—that the fetiches of the house of Walling were always treated with respect. So he had wondered if by any chance Robbie was maintaining his brother in princely state for the sake of his ability to make other people uncomfortable. But he realized that the Robbies, in their own view of it, could have no more need of wit than a battleship has need of popguns. Oliver's position, when they were about, was rather that of the man who hardly ever dared to be as clever as he might, because of the restless jealousy of his friend.
It was a mystery; and it made the elder brother very uncomfortable. Alice was young and guileless, and a pleasant person to patronize; but he was a man of the world, and it was his business to protect her. He had always paid his own way through life, and he was very loath to put himself under obligations to people like the Wallings, whom he did not like, and who, he felt instinctively, could not like him.
But of course there was nothing he could do about it. The date for the great festivity was set; and the Wallings were affable and friendly, and Alice all a-tremble with excitement. The evening arrived, and with it came the enemies of the Wallings, dressed in their jewels and fine raiment. They had been asked because they were too important to be skipped, and they had come because the Wallings were too powerful to be ignored. They revenged themselves by consuming many courses of elaborate and costly viands; and they shook hands with Alice and beamed upon her, and then discussed her behind her back as if she were a French doll in a show-case. They decided unanimously that her elder cousin was a "stick," and that the whole family were interlopers and shameless adventurers; but it was understood that since the Robbie Wallings had seen fit to take them up, it would be necessary to invite them about.
At any rate, that was the way it all seemed to Montague, who had been brooding. To Alice it was a splendid festivity, to which exquisite people came to take delight in each other's society. There were gorgeous costumes and sparkling gems; there was a symphony of perfumes, intoxicating the senses, and a golden flood of music streaming by; there were laughing voices and admiring glances, and handsome partners with whom one might dance through the portals of fairyland.—And then, next morning, there were accounts in all the newspapers, with descriptions of one's costume and then some of those present, and even the complete menus of the supper, to assist in preserving the memories of the wonderful occasion.
Now they were really in Society. A reporter called to get Alice's photo for the Sunday supplement; and floods of invitations came—and with them all the cares and perplexities about which Mrs. Robbie had told. Some of these invitations had to be declined, and one must know whom it was safe to offend. Also, there was a long letter from a destitute widow, and a proposal from a foreign count. Mrs. Robbie's secretary had a list of many hundreds of these professional beggars and blackmailers.
Conspicuous at the dance was Mrs. Winnie, in a glorious electric-blue silk gown. And she shook her fan at Montague, exclaiming, "You wretched man—you promised to come and see me!"
"I've been out of town," Montague protested.
"Well, come to dinner to-morrow night," said Mrs. Winnie. "There'll be some bridge fiends."
"You forget I haven't learned to play," he objected.
"Well, come anyhow," she replied. "We'll teach you. I'm no player myself, and my husband will be there, and he's good-natured; and my brother Dan—he'll have to be whether he likes it or not."
So Montague visited the Snow Palace again, and met Winton Duval, the banker,—a tall, military-looking man of about fifty, with a big grey moustache, and bushy eyebrows, and the head of a lion. His was one of the city's biggest banking-houses, and in alliance with powerful interests in the Street. At present he was going in for mines in Mexico and South America, and so he was very seldom at home. He was a man of most rigid habits—he would come back unexpectedly after a month's trip, and expect to find everything ready for him, both at home and in his office, as if he had just stepped round the corner. Montague observed that he took his menu-card and jotted down his comments upon each dish, and then sent it down to the chef. Other people's dinners he very seldom attended, and when his wife gave her entertainments, he invariably dined at the club.
He pleaded a business engagement for the evening; and as brother Dan did not appear, Montague did not learn any bridge. The other four guests settled down to the game, and Montague and Mrs. Winnie sat and chatted, basking before the fireplace in the great entrance-hall.
"Have you seen Charlie Carter?" was the first question she asked him.
"Not lately," he answered; "I met him at Harvey's."
"I know that," said she. "They tell me he got drunk."
"I'm afraid he did," said Montague.
"Poor boy!" exclaimed Mrs. Winnie. "And Alice saw him! He must be heartbroken!"
Montague said nothing. "You know," she went on, "Charlie really means well. He has honestly an affectionate nature."
She paused; and Montague Said, vaguely, "I suppose so."
"You don't like him," said the other. "I can see that. And I suppose now Alice will have no use for him, either. And I had it all fixed up for her to reform him!"
Montague smiled in spite of himself.
"Oh, I know," said she. "It wouldn't have been easy. But you've no idea what a beautiful boy Charlie used to be, until all the women set to work to ruin him."
"I can imagine it," said Montague; but he did not warm to the subject.
"You're just like my husband," said Mrs. Winnie, sadly. "You have no use at all for anything that's weak or unfortunate."
There was a pause. "And I suppose," she said finally, "you'll be turning into a business man also—with no time for anybody or anything. Have you begun yet?"
"Not yet," he answered. "I'm still looking round."
"I haven't the least idea about business," she confessed. "How does one begin at it?"
"I can't say I know that myself as yet," said Montague, laughing.
"Would you like to be a protege of my husband's?" she asked.
The proposition was rather sudden, but he answered, with a smile, "I should have no objections. What would he do with me?"
"I don't know that. But he can do whatever he wants down town. And he'd show you how to make a lot of money if I asked him to." Then Mrs. Winnie added, quickly, "I mean it—he could do it, really."
"I haven't the least doubt of it," responded Montague.
"And what's more," she went on, "you don't want to be shy about taking advantage of the opportunities that come to you. You'll find you won't get along in New York unless you go right in and grab what you can. People will be quick enough to take advantage of you."
"They have all been very kind to me so far," said he. "But when I get ready for business, I'll harden my heart."
Mrs. Winnie sat lost in meditation. "I think business is dreadful," she said. "So much hard work and worry! Why can't men learn to get along without it?"
"There are bills that have to be paid," Montague replied.
"It's our dreadfully extravagant way of life," exclaimed the other. "Sometimes I wish I had never had any money in my life."
"You would soon tire of it," said he. "You would miss this house."
"I should not miss it a bit," said Mrs. Winnie, promptly. "That is really the truth—I don't care for this sort of thing at all. I'd like to live simply, and without so many cares and responsibilities. And some day I'm going to do it, too—I really am. I'm going to get myself a little farm, away off somewhere in the country. And I'm going there to live and raise chickens and vegetables, and have my own flower-gardens, that I can take care of myself. It will all be plain and simple—" and then Mrs. Winnie stopped short, exclaiming, "You are laughing at me!"
"Not at all!" said Montague. "But I couldn't help thinking about the newspaper reporters—"
"There you are!" said she. "One can never have a beautiful dream, or try to do anything sensible—because of the newspaper reporters!"
If Montague had been meeting Mrs. Winnie Duval for the first time, he would have been impressed by her yearnings for the simple life; he would have thought it an important sign of the times. But alas, he knew by this time that his charming hostess had more flummery about her than anybody else he had encountered—and all of her own devising! Mrs. Winnie smoked her own private brand of cigarettes, and when she offered them to you, there were the arms of the old ducal house of Montmorenci on the wrappers! And when you got a letter from Mrs. Winnie, you observed a three-cent stamp upon the envelope—for lavender was her colour, and two-cent stamps were an atrocious red! So one might feel certain that it Mrs. Winnie ever went in for chicken-raising, the chickens would be especially imported from China or Patagonia, and the chicken-coops would be precise replicas of those in the old Chateau de Montmorenci which she had visited in her automobile.
But Mrs. Winnie was beautiful, and quite entertaining to talk to, and so he was respectfully sympathetic while she told him about her pastoral intentions. And then she told him about Mrs. Caroline Smythe, who had called a meeting of her friends at one of the big hotels, and organized a society and founded the "Bide-a-Wee Home" for destitute cats. After that she switched off into psychic research—somebody had taken her to a seance, where grave college professors and ladies in spectacles sat round and waited for ghosts to materialize. It was Mrs. Winnie's first experience at this, and she was as excited as a child who has just found the key to the jam-closet. "I hardly knew whether to laugh or to be afraid," she said. "What would you think?"
"You may have the pleasure of giving me my first impressions of it," said Montague, with a laugh.
"Well," said she, "they had table-tipping—and it was the most uncanny thing to see the table go jumping about the room! And then there were raps—and one can't imagine how strange it was to see people who really believed they were getting messages from ghosts. It positively made my flesh creep. And then this woman—Madame Somebody-or-other—went into a trance—ugh! Afterward I talked with one of the men, and he told me about how his father had appeared to him in the night and told him he had just been drowned at sea. Have you ever heard of such a thing?"
"We have such a tradition in our family," said he.
"Every family seems to have," said Mrs. Winnie. "But, dear me, it made me so uncomfortable—I lay awake all night expecting to see my own father. He had the asthma, you know; and I kept fancying I heard him breathing."
They had risen and were strolling into the conservatory; and she glanced at the man in armour. "I got to fancying that his ghost might come to see me," she said. "I don't think I shall attend any more seances. My husband was told that I promised them some money, and he was furious—he's afraid it'll get into the papers." And Montague shook with inward laughter, picturing what a time the aristocratic and stately old banker must have, trying to keep his wife out of the papers!
Mrs. Winnie turned on the lights in the fountain, and sat by the edge, gazing at her fish. Montague was half expecting her to inquire whether he thought that they had ghosts; but she spared him this, going off on another line.
"I asked Dr. Parry about it," she said. "Have you met him?"
Dr. Parry was the rector of St. Cecilia's, the fashionable Fifth Avenue church which most of Montague's acquaintances attended. "I haven't been in the city over Sunday yet," he answered. "But Alice has met him."
"You must go with me some time," said she. "But about the ghosts—"
"What did he say?"
"He seemed to be shy of them," laughed Mrs. Winnie. "He said it had a tendency to lead one into dangerous fields. But oh! I forgot—I asked my swami also, and it didn't startle him. They are used to ghosts; they believe that souls keep coming back to earth, you know. I think if it was his ghost, I wouldn't mind seeing it—for he has such beautiful eyes. He gave me a book of Hindu legends—and there was such a sweet story about a young princess who loved in vain, and died of grief; and her soul went into a tigress; and she came in the night-time where her lover lay sleeping by the firelight, and she carried him off into the ghost-world. It was a most creepy thing—I sat out here and read it, and I could imagine the terrible tigress lurking in the shadows, with its stripes shining in the firelight, and its green eyes gleaming. You know that poem—we used to read it in school—'Tiger, tiger, burning bright!'"
It was not very easy for Montague to imagine a tigress in Mrs. Winnie's conservatory; unless, indeed, one were willing to take the proposition in a metaphorical sense. There are wild creatures which sleep in the heart of man, and which growl now and then, and stir their tawny limbs, and cause one to start and turn cold. Mrs. Winnie wore a dress of filmy softness, trimmed with red flowers which paled beside her own intenser colouring. She had a perfume of her own, with a strange exotic fragrance which touched the chorus of memory as only an odour can. She leaned towards him, speaking eagerly, with her soft white arms lying upon the basin's rim. So much loveliness could not be gazed at without pain; and a faint trembling passed through Montague, like a breeze across a pool. Perhaps it touched Mrs. Winnie also, for she fell suddenly silent, and her gaze wandered off into the darkness. For a minute or two there was stillness, save for the pulse of the fountain, and the heaving of her bosom keeping time with it.
And then in the morning Oliver inquired, "Where were you, last night?" And when his brother answered, "At Mrs. Winnie's," he smiled and said, "Oh!" Then he added, gravely, "Cultivate Mrs. Winnie—you can't do better at present."
Montague accepted his friend's invitation to share her pew at St. Cecilia's, and next Sunday morning he and Alice went, and found Mrs. Winnie with her cousin. Poor Charlie had evidently been scrubbed and shined, both physically and morally, and got ready to appeal for "one more chance." While he shook hands with Alice, he was gazing at her with dumb and pleading eyes; he seemed to be profoundly grateful that she did not refuse to enter the pew with him.
A most interesting place was St. Cecilia's. Church-going was another of the customs of men and women which Society had taken up, like the Opera, and made into a state function. Here was a magnificent temple, with carved marble and rare woods, and jewels gleaming decorously in a dim religious light. At the door of this edifice would halt the carriages of Society, and its wives and daughters would alight, rustling with new silk petticoats and starched and perfumed linen, each one a picture, exquisitely gowned and bonneted and gloved, and carrying a demure little prayer-book. Behind them followed the patient men, all in new frock-coats and shiny silk hats; the men of Society were always newly washed and shaved, newly groomed and gloved, but now they seemed to be more so—they were full of the atmosphere of Sunday. Alas for those unregenerate ones, the infidels and the heathen who scoff in outer darkness, and know not the delicious feeling of Sunday—the joy of being washed and starched and perfumed, and made to be clean and comfortable and good, after all the really dreadful wickedness of six days of fashionable life!—And afterward the parade upon the Avenue, with the congregations of several score additional churches, and such a show of stylish costumes that half the city came to see!
Amid this exquisite assemblage at St. Cecilia's, the revolutionary doctrines of the Christian religion produced neither perplexity nor alarm. The chance investigator might have listened in dismay to solemn pronouncements of everlasting damnation, to statements about rich men and the eyes of needles, and the lilies of the field which did not spin. But the congregation of St. Cecilia's understood that these things were to be taken in a quixotic sense; sharing the view of the French marquis that the Almighty would think twice before damning a gentleman like him.
One had heard these phrases ever since childhood, and one accepted them as a matter of course. After all, these doctrines had come from the lips of a divine being, whom it would be presumptuous in a mere mortal to attempt to imitate. Such points one could but leave to those whose business it was to interpret them—the doctors and dignitaries of the church; and when one met them, one's heart was set at rest—for they were not iconoclasts and alarmists, but gentlemen of culture and tact. The bishop who presided in this metropolitan district was a stately personage, who moved in the best Society and belonged to the most exclusive clubs.
The pews in St. Cecilia's were rented, and they were always in great demand; it was one of the customs of those who hung upon the fringe of Society to come every Sunday, and bow and smile, and hope against hope for some chance opening. The stranger who came was dependent upon hospitality; but there were soft-footed and tactful ushers, who would find one a seat, if one were a presentable person. The contingency of an unpresentable person seldom arose, for the proletariat did not swarm at the gates of St. Cecilia's. Out of its liberal income the church maintained a "mission" upon the East Side, where young curates wrestled with the natural depravity of the lower classes—meantime cultivating a soul-stirring tone, and waiting until they should be promoted to a real church. Society was becoming deferential to its religious guides, and would have been quite shocked at the idea that it exerted any pressure upon them; but the young curates were painfully aware of a process of unnatural selection, whereby those whose manner and cut of coat were not pleasing were left a long time in the slums.—On one occasion there had been an amusing blunder; a beautiful new church was built at Newport, and an eloquent young minister was installed, and all Society attended the opening service—and sat and listened in consternation to an arraignment of its own follies and vices! The next Sunday, needless to say, Society was not present; and within half a year the church was stranded, and had to be dismantled and sold!
They had elaborate music at St. Cecilia's, so beautiful that Alice felt uncomfortable, and thought that it was perilously "high." At this Mrs. Winnie laughed, offering to take her to an afternoon service around the corner, where they had a full orchestra, and a harp, and opera music, and incense and genuflexions and confessionals. There were people, it seemed, who like to thrill themselves by dallying with the wickedness of "Romanism"; somewhat as a small boy tries to see how near he can walk to the edge of a cliff. The "father" at this church had a jewelled robe with a train so many yards long, and which had cost some incredible number of thousands of dollars; and every now and then he marched in a stately procession through the aisles, so that all the spectators might have a good look at it. There was a fierce controversy about these things in the church, and libraries of pamphlets were written, and intrigues and social wars were fought over them.
But Montague and Alice did not attend this service—they had promised themselves the very plebeian diversion of a ride in the subway; for so far they had not seen this feature of the city. People who lived in Society saw Madison and Fifth Avenues, where their homes were, with the churches and hotels scattered along them; and the shopping district just below, and the theatre district at one side, and the park to the north. Unless one went automobiling, that was all of the city one need ever see. When visitors asked about the Aquarium, and the Stock Exchange, and the Museum of Art, and Tammany Hall, and Ellis Island, where the immigrants came, the old New Yorkers would look perplexed, and say: "Dear me, do you really want to see those tilings? Why, I have been here all my life, and have never seen them!"
For the hordes of sightseers there had been provided a special contrivance, a huge automobile omnibus which seated thirty or forty people, and went from the Battery to Harlem with a young man shouting through a megaphone a description of the sights. The irreverent had nicknamed this the "yap-wagon"; and declared that the company maintained a fake "opium-joint" in Chinatown, and a fake "dive" in the Bowery, and hired tough-looking individuals to sit and be stared at by credulous excursionists from Oklahoma and Kalamazoo. Of course it would never have done for people who had just been passed into Society to climb upon a "yap-wagon"; but they were permitted to get into the subway, and were whirled with a deafening clatter through a long tunnel of steel and stone. And then they got out and climbed a steep hill like any common mortals, and stood and gazed at Grant's tomb: a huge white marble edifice upon a point overlooking the Hudson. Architecturally it was not a beautiful structure—but one was consoled by reflecting that the hero himself would not have cared about that. It might have been described as a soap-box with a cheese-box on top of it; and these homely and familiar articles were perhaps not altogether out of keeping with the character of the humblest great man who ever lived.
The view up the river was magnificent, quite the finest which the city had to offer; but it was ruined by a hideous gas-tank, placed squarely in the middle of it. And this, again, was not inappropriate—it was typical of all the ways of the city. It was a city which had grown up by accident, with nobody to care about it or to help it; it was huge and ungainly, crude, uncomfortable, and grotesque. There was nowhere in it a beautiful sight upon which a man could rest his eyes, without having them tortured by something ugly near by. At the foot of the slope of the River Drive ran a hideous freight-railroad; and across the river the beautiful Palisades were being blown to pieces to make paving stone—and meantime were covered with advertisements of land-companies. And if there was a beautiful building, there, was sure to be a tobacco advertisement beside it; if there was a beautiful avenue, there were trucks and overworked horses toiling in the harness; if there was a beautiful park, it was filled with wretched, outcast men. Nowhere was any order or system—everything was struggling for itself, and jarring and clashing with everything else; and this broke the spell of power which the Titan city would otherwise have produced. It seemed like a monstrous heap of wasted energies; a mountain in perpetual labour, and producing an endless series of abortions. The men and women in it were wearing themselves out with toil; but there was a spell laid upon them, so that, struggle as they might, they accomplished nothing.
Coming out of the church, Montague had met Judge Ellis; and the Judge had said, "I shall soon have something to talk over with you." So Montague gave him his address, and a day or two later came an invitation to lunch with him at his club.
The Judge's club took up a Fifth Avenue block, and was stately and imposing. It had been formed in the stress of the Civil War days; lean and hungry heroes had come home from battle and gone into business, and those who had succeeded had settled down here to rest. To see them now, dozing in huge leather-cushioned arm-chairs, you would have had a hard time to guess that they had ever been lean and hungry heroes. They were diplomats and statesmen, bishops and lawyers, great merchants and financiers—the men who had made the city's ruling-class for a century. Everything here was decorous and grave, and the waiters stole about with noiseless feet.
Montague talked with the Judge about New York and what he had seen of it, and the people he had met; and about his father, and the war; and about the recent election and the business outlook. And meantime they ordered luncheon; and when they had got to the cigars, the Judge coughed and said, "And now I have a matter of business to talk over with you."
Montague settled himself to listen. "I have a friend," the Judge explained—"a very good friend, who has asked me to find him a lawyer to undertake an important case. I talked the matter over with General Prentice, and he agreed with me that it would be a good idea to lay the matter before you."
"I am very much obliged to you," said Montague.
"The matter is a delicate one," continued the other. "It has to do with life insurance. Are you familiar with the insurance business?"
"Not at all."
"I had supposed not," said the Judge. "There are some conditions which are not generally known about, but which I may say, to put it mildly, are not altogether satisfactory. My friend is a large policy-holder in several companies, and he is not satisfied with the management of them. The delicacy of the situation, so far as I am concerned, is that the company with which he has the most fault to find is one in which I myself am a director. You understand?"
"Perfectly," said Montague. "What company is it?"
"The Fidelity," replied the other—and his companion thought in a flash of Freddie Vandam, whom he had met at Castle Havens! For the Fidelity was Freddie's company.
"The first thing that I have to ask you," continued the Judge, "is that, whether you care to take the case or not, you will consider my own intervention in the matter absolutely entre nous. My position is simply this: I have protested at the meetings of the directors of the company against what I consider an unwise policy—and my protests have been ignored. And when my friend asked me for advice, I gave it to him; but at the same time I am not in a position to be publicly quoted in connexion with the matter. You follow me?"
"Perfectly," said the other. "I will agree to what you ask."
"Very good. Now then, the condition is, in brief, this: the companies are accumulating an enormous surplus, which, under the law, belongs to the policy-holders; but the administrations of the various companies are withholding these dividends, for the sake of the banking-power which these accumulated funds afford to them and their associates. This is, as I hold, a very manifest injustice, and a most dangerous condition of affairs."
"I should say so!" responded Montague. He was amazed at such a statement, coming from such a source. "How could this continue?" he asked.
"It has continued for a long time," the Judge answered.
"But why is it not known?"
"It is perfectly well known to every one in the insurance business," was the answer. "The matter has never been taken up or published, simply because the interests involved have such enormous and widely extended power that no one has ever dared to attack them."
Montague sat forward, with his eyes riveted upon the Judge. "Go on," he said.
"The situation is simply this," said the other. "My friend, Mr. Hasbrook, wishes to bring a suit against the Fidelity Company to compel it to pay to him his proper share of its surplus. He wishes the suit pressed, and followed to the court of last resort."
"And do you mean to tell me," asked Montague, "that you would have any difficulty to find a lawyer in New York to undertake such a case?"
"No," said the other, "not exactly that. There are lawyers in New York who would undertake anything. But to find a lawyer of standing who would take it, and withstand all the pressure that would be brought to bear upon him—that might take some time."
"You astonish me, Judge."
"Financial interests in this city are pretty closely tied together, Mr. Montague. Of course there are law firms which are identified with interests opposed to those who control the company. It would be very easy to get them to take the case, but you can see that in that event my friend would be accused of bringing the suit in their interest; whereas he wishes it to appear, as it really is, a suit of an independent person, seeking the rights of the vast body of the policy-holders. For that reason, he wished to find a lawyer who was identified with no interest of any sort, and who was free to give his undivided attention to the issue. So I thought of you."
"I will take the case," said Montague instantly.
"It is my duty to warn you," said the Judge, gravely, "that you will be taking a very serious step. You must be prepared to face powerful, and, I am afraid, unscrupulous enemies. You may find that you have made it impossible for other and very desirable clients to deal with you. You may find your business interests, if you have any, embarrassed—your credit impaired, and so on. You must be prepared to have your character assailed, and your motives impugned in the public press. You may find that social pressure will be brought to bear on you. So it is a step from which most young men who have their careers to make would shrink."
Montague's face had turned a shade paler as he listened. "I am assuming," he said, "that the facts are as you have stated them to me—that an unjust condition exists."
"You may assume that."
"Very well." And Montague clenched his hand, and put it down upon the table. "I will take the case," he said.
For a few moments they sat in silence.
"I will arrange," said the Judge, at last, "for you and Mr. Hasbrook to meet. I must explain to you, as a matter of fairness, that he is a rich man, and will be able to pay you for your services. He is asking a great deal of you, and he should expect to pay for it."
Montague sat in thought. "I have not really had time to get my bearings in New York," he said at last. "I think I had best leave it to you to say what I should charge him."
"If I were in your position," the Judge answered, "I think that I should ask a retaining-fee of fifty thousand dollars. I believe he will expect to pay at least that."
Montague could scarcely repress a start. Fifty thousand dollars! The words made his head whirl round. But then, all of a sudden, he recalled his half-jesting resolve to play the game of business sternly. So he nodded his head gravely, and said, "Very well; I am much obliged to you."
After a pause, he added, "I hope that I may prove able to handle the case to your friend's satisfaction."
"Your ability remains for you to prove," said the Judge. "I have only been in position to assure him of your character."
"He must understand, of course," said Montague, "that I am a stranger, and that it will take me a while to study the situation."
"Of course he knows that. But you will find that Mr. Hasbrook knows a good deal about the law himself. And he has already had a lot of work done. You must understand that it is very easy to get legal advice about such a matter—what is sought is some one to take the conduct of the case."
"I see," said Montague; and the Judge added, with a smile, "Some one to get up on horseback, and draw the fire of the enemy!"
And then the great man was, as usual, reminded of a story; and then of more stories; until at last they rose from the table, and shook hands upon their bargain, and parted.
Fifty thousand dollars! Fifty thousand dollars! It was all Montague could do to keep from exclaiming it aloud on the street. He could hardly believe that it was a reality—if it had been a less-known person than Judge Ellis, he would have suspected that some one must be playing a joke upon him. Fifty thousand dollars was more than many a lawyer made at home in a lifetime; and simply as a retaining-fee in one case! The problem of a living had weighed on his soul ever since the first day in the city, and now suddenly it was solved; all in a few minutes, the way had been swept clear before him. He walked home as if upon air.
And then there was the excitement of telling the family about it. He had an idea that his brother might be alarmed if he were told about the seriousness of the case; and so he simply said that the Judge had brought him a rich client, and that it was an insurance case. Oliver, who knew and cared nothing about law, asked no questions, and contented himself with saying, "I told you how easy it was to make money in New York, if only you knew the right people!" As for Alice, she had known all along that her cousin was a great man, and that clients would come to him as soon as he hung out his sign.
His sign was not out yet, by the way; that was the next thing to be attended to. He must get himself an office at once, and some books, and begin to read up insurance law; and so, bright and early the next morning, he took the subway down town.
And here, for the first time, Montague saw the real New York. All the rest was mere shadow—the rest was where men slept and played, but there was where they fought out the battle of their lives. Here the fierce intensity of it smote him in the face—he saw the cruel waste and ruin of it, the wreckage of the blind, haphazard strife.
It was a city caught in a trap. It was pent in at one end of a narrow little island. It had been no one's business to foresee that it must some day outgrow this space; now men were digging a score of tunnels to set it free, but they had not begun these until the pressure had become unendurable, and now it had reached its climax. In the financial district, land had been sold for as much as four dollars a square inch. Huge blocks of buildings shot up to the sky in a few months—fifteen, twenty, twenty-five stories of them, and with half a dozen stories hewn out of the solid rock beneath; there was to be one building of forty-two stories, six hundred and fifty feet in height. And between them were narrow chasms of streets, where the hurrying crowds overflowed the sidewalks. Yet other streets were filled with trucks and heavy vehicles, with electric cars creeping slowly along, and little swirls and eddies of people darting across here and there.
These huge buildings were like beehives, swarming with life and activity, with scores of elevators shooting through them at bewildering speed. Everywhere was the atmosphere of rush; the spirit of it seized hold of one, and he began to hurry, even though he had no place to go. The man who walked slowly and looked about him was in the way—he was jostled here and there, and people eyed him with suspicion and annoyance.
Elsewhere on the island men did the work of the city; here they did the work of the world. Each room in these endless mazes of buildings was a cell in a mighty brain; the telephone wires were nerves, and by the whole huge organism the thinking and willing of a continent were done. It was a noisy place to the physical ear; but to the ear of the mind it roared with the roaring of a thousand Niagaras. Here was the Stock Exchange, where the scales of trade were held before the eyes of the country. Here was the clearing-house, where hundreds of millions of dollars were exchanged every day. Here were the great banks, the reservoirs into which the streams of the country's wealth were poured. Here were the brains of the great railroad systems, of the telegraph and telephone systems, of mines and mills and factories. Here were the centres of the country's trade; in one place the shipping trade, in another the jewellery trade, the grocery trade, the leather trade. A little farther up town was the clothing district, where one might see the signs of more Hebrews than all Jerusalem had ever held; in yet other districts were the newspaper offices, and the centre of the magazine and book-publishing business of the whole country. One might climb to the top of one of the great "sky-scrapers," and gaze down upon a wilderness of houses, with roofs as innumerable as tree-tops, and people looking like tiny insects below. Or one might go out into the harbour late upon a winter afternoon, and see it as a city of a million lights, rising like an incantation from the sea. Round about it was an unbroken ring of docks, with ferry-boats and tugs darting everywhere, and vessels which had come from every port in the world, emptying their cargoes into the huge maw of the Metropolis.
And of all this, nothing had been planned! All lay just as it had fallen, and men bore the confusion and the waste as best they could. Here were huge steel vaults, in which lay many billions of dollars' worth of securities, the control of the finances of the country; and a block or two in one direction were warehouses and gin-mills, and in another direction cheap lodging-houses and sweating-dens. And at a certain hour all this huge machine would come to a halt, and its millions of human units would make a blind rush for their homes. Then at the entrances to bridges and ferries and trams, would be seen sights of madness and terror; throngs of men and women swept hither and thither, pushing and struggling, shouting, cursing—fighting, now and then, in sudden panic fear. All decency was forgotten here—people would be mashed into cars like football players in a heap, and guards and policemen would jam the gates tight—or like as not be swept away themselves in the pushing, grunting, writhing mass of human beings. Women would faint and be trampled; men would come out with clothing torn to shreds, and sometimes with broken arms or ribs. And thinking people would gaze at the sight and shudder, wondering—how long a city could hold together, when the masses of its population were thus forced back, day after day, habitually, upon the elemental brute within them.
In this vast business district Montague would have felt utterly lost and helpless, if it had not been for that fifty thousand dollars, and the sense of mastery which it gave him. He sought out General Prentice, and under his guidance selected his suite of rooms, and got his furniture and books in readiness. And a day or two later, by appointment, came Mr. Hasbrook.
He was a wiry, nervous little man, who did not impress one as much of a personality; but he had the insurance situation at his fingers' ends—his grievance had evidently wrought upon him. Certainly, if half of what he alleged were true, it was time that the courts took hold of the affair.
Montague spent the whole day in consultation, going over every aspect of the case, and laying out his course of procedure. And then, at the end, Mr. Hasbrook remarked that it would be necessary for them to make some financial arrangement. And the other set his teeth together, and took a tight grip upon himself, and said, "Considering the importance of the case, and all the circumstances, I think I should have a retainer of fifty thousand dollars."
And the little man never turned a hair! "That will be perfectly satisfactory," he said. "I will attend to it at once." And the other's heart gave a great leap.