"What about that stern discipline that was to be put in force here—no rocking, no getting up at night to coddle a weeping infant?"
"Yes, I know. That's all good stuff before you get one. I've got one of my own now, and I've got a new light on this. Say, Dreiser, take my advice. Go through the routine. Don't try to escape. Have a kid or two or three. There's a psychic punch to it you can't get any other way. It's nature's way. It's a great scheme. You and your girl and your kid."
As he talked he rocked, holding the baby boy to his breast. It was wonderful.
And Mrs. Peter—how happy she seemed. There was light in that house, flowers, laughter, good fellowship. As in his old rooms so in this new home he gathered a few of his old friends around him and some new ones, friends of this region. In the course of a year or two he was on the very best terms of friendship with his barber around the corner, his grocer, some man who had a saloon and bowling alley in the neighborhood, his tailor, and then just neighbors. The milkman, the coal man, the druggist and cigar man at the next corner—all could tell you where Peter lived. His little front "yard" had two beds of flowers all summer long, his lot in the back was a garden—lettuce, onions, peas, beans. Peter was always happiest when he could be home working, playing with the baby, pushing him about in a go-cart, working in his garden, or lying on the floor making something—an engraving or print or a box which he was carving, the infant in some simple gingham romper crawling about. He was always busy, but never too much so for a glance or a mock-threatening, "Now say, not so much industry there. You leave my things alone," to the child. Of a Sunday he sat out on the front porch smoking, reading the Sunday paper, congratulating himself on his happy married life, and most of the time holding the infant. Afternoons he would carry it somewhere, anywhere, in his arms to his friends, the Park, New York, to see me. At breakfast, dinner, supper the heir presumptive was in a high-chair beside him.
"Ah, now, here's a rubber spoon. Beat with that. It's less destructive and less painful physically."
"How about a nice prust" (crust) "dipped in bravery" (gravy) "—heh? Do you suppose that would cut any of your teeth?"
"Zuleika, this son of yours seems to think a spoonful of beer or two might not hurt him. What do you say?"
Occasionally, especially of a Saturday evening, he wanted to go bowling and yet he wanted his heir. The problem was solved by fitting the latter into a tight little sweater and cap and carrying him along on his shoulder, into the bar for a beer, thence to the bowling alley, where young hopeful was fastened into a chair on the side lines while Peter and myself or some of his friends bowled. At ten or ten-thirty or eleven, as the case might be, he was ready to leave, but before that hour les ongfong might be sound asleep, hanging against Peter's scarf, his interest in his toes or thumbs having given out.
"Peter, look at that," I observed once. "Don't you think we'd better take him home?"
"Home nothing! Let him sleep. He can sleep here as well as anywhere, and besides I like to look at him." And in the room would be a great crowd, cigars, beers, laughter, and Peter's various friends as used to the child's presence and as charmed by it as he was. He was just the man who could do such things. His manner and point of view carried conviction. He believed in doing all that he wanted to do simply and naturally, and more and more as he went along people not only respected, I think they adored him, especially the simple homely souls among whom he chose to move and have his being.
About this time there developed among those in his immediate neighborhood a desire to elect him to some political position, that of councilman, or State assemblyman, in the hope or thought that he would rise to something higher. But he would none of it—not then anyhow. Instead, about this time or a very little later, after the birth of his second child (a girl), he devoted himself to the composition of a brilliant piece of prose poetry ("Wolf"), which, coming from him, did not surprise me in the least. If he had designed or constructed a great building, painted a great picture, entered politics and been elected governor or senator, I would have taken it all as a matter of course. He could have. The material from which anything may rise was there. I asked him to let me offer it to the publishing house with which I was connected, and I recall with interest the comment of the oldest and most experienced of the bookmen and salesmen among us. "You'll never make much, if anything, on this book. It's too good, too poetic. But whether it pays or not, I vote yes. I'd rather lose money on something like this than make it on some of the trash we do make it on."
Amen. I agreed then, and I agree now.
The last phase of Peter was as interesting and dramatic as any of the others. His married life was going forward about as he had planned. His devotion to his home and children, his loving wife, his multiplex interests, his various friends, was always a curiosity to me, especially in view of his olden days. One day he was over in New York visiting one of his favorite Chinese importing companies, through which he had secured and was still securing occasional objects of art. He had come down to me in my office at the Butterick Building to see if I would not come over the following Saturday as usual and stay until Monday. He had secured something, was planning something. I should see. At the elevator he waved me a gay "so long—see you Saturday!"
But on Friday, as I was talking with some one at my desk, a telegram was handed me. It was from Mrs. Peter and read: "Peter died today at two of pneumonia. Please come."
I could scarcely believe it. I did not know that he had even been sick. His little yellow-haired wife! The two children! His future! His interests! I dropped everything and hurried to the nearest station. En route I speculated on the mysteries on which he had so often speculated—death, dissolution, uncertainty, the crude indifference or cruelty of Nature. What would become of Mrs. Peter? His children?
I arrived only to find a home atmosphere destroyed as by a wind that puts out a light. There was Peter, stiff and cold, and in the other rooms his babies, quite unconscious of what had happened, prattling as usual, and Mrs. Peter practically numb and speechless. It had come so suddenly, so out of a clear sky, that she could not realize, could not even tell me at first. The doctor was there—also a friend of his, the nearest barber! Also two or three representatives from his paper, the owner of the bowling alley, the man who had the $40,000 collection of curios. All were stunned, as I was. As his closest friend, I took charge: wired his relatives, went to an undertaker who knew him to arrange for his burial, in Newark or Philadelphia, as his wife should wish, she having no connection with Newark other than Peter.
It was most distressing, the sense of dull despair and unwarranted disaster which hung over the place. It was as though impish and pagan forces, or malign ones outside life, had committed a crime of the ugliest character. On Monday, the day he saw me, he was well. On Tuesday morning he had a slight cold but insisted on running out somewhere without his overcoat, against which his wife protested. Tuesday night he had a fever and took quinine and aspirin and a hot whiskey. Wednesday morning he was worse and a doctor was called, but it was not deemed serious. Wednesday night he was still worse and pneumonia had set in. Thursday he was lower still, and by noon a metal syphon of oxygen was sent for, to relieve the sense of suffocation setting in. Thursday night he was weak and sinking, but expected to come round—and still, so unexpected was the attack, so uncertain the probability of anything fatal, that no word was sent, even to me. Friday morning he was no worse and no better. "If he was no worse by night he might pull through." At noon he was seized with a sudden sinking spell. Oxygen was applied by his wife and a nurse, and the doctor sent for. By one-thirty he was lower still, very low. "His face was blue, his lips ashen," his wife told me. "We put the oxygen tube to his mouth and I said 'Can you speak, Peter?' I was so nervous and frightened. He moved his head a little to indicate 'no.' 'Peter,' I said, 'you mustn't let go! You must fight! Think of me! Think of the babies!' I was a little crazy, I think, with fear. He looked at me very fixedly. He stiffened and gritted his teeth in a great effort. Then suddenly he collapsed and lay still. He was dead."
I could not help thinking of the force and energy—able at the last minute, when he could not speak—to "grit his teeth" and "fight," a minute before his death. What is the human spirit, or mind, that it can fight so, to the very last? I felt as though some one, something, had ruthlessly killed him, committed plain, unpunished murder—nothing more and nothing less.
And there were his cases of curios, his rug, his prints, his dishes, his many, many schemes, his book to come out soon. I gazed and marveled. I looked at his wife and babies, but could say nothing. It spelled, what such things always spell, in the face of all our dreams, crass chance or the willful, brutal indifference of Nature to all that relates to man. If he is to prosper he must do so without her aid.
That same night, sleeping in the room adjoining that in which was the body, a pale candle burning near it, I felt as though Peter were walking to and fro, to and fro, past me and into the room of his wife beyond, thinking and grieving. His imagined wraith seemed horribly depressed and distressed. Once he came over and moved his hand (something) over my face. I felt him walking into the room where were his wife and kiddies, but he could make no one see, hear, understand. I got up and looked at his cadaver a long time, then went to bed again.
The next day and the next and the next were filled with many things. His mother and sister came on from the West as well as the mother and brother of his wife. I had to look after his affairs, adjusting the matter of insurance which he left, his art objects, the burial of his body "in consecrated ground" in Philadelphia, with the consent and aid of the local Catholic parish rector, else no burial. His mother desired it, but he had never been a good Catholic and there was trouble. The local parish assistant refused me, even the rector. Finally I threatened the good father with an appeal to the diocesan bishop on the ground of plain common sense and courtesy to a Catholic family, if not charity to a tortured mother and wife—and obtained consent. All along I felt as if a great crime had been committed by some one, foul murder. I could not get it out of my mind, and it made me angry, not sad.
Two, three, five, seven years later, I visited the little family in Philadelphia. The wife was with her mother and father in a simple little home street in a factory district, secretary and stenographer to an architect. She was little changed—a little stouter, not so carefree, industrious, patient. His boy, the petted F——, could not even recall his father, the girl not at all of course. And in the place were a few of his prints, two or three Chinese dishes, pottered by himself, his loom with the unfinished rug. I remained for dinner and dreamed old dreams, but I was uncomfortable and left early. And Mrs. Peter, accompanying me to the steps, looked after me as though I, alone, was all that was left of the old life.
A Doer of the Word
Noank is a little played-out fishing town on the southeastern coast of Connecticut, lying half-way between New London and Stonington. Once it was a profitable port for mackerel and cod fishing. Today its wharves are deserted of all save a few lobster smacks. There is a shipyard, employing three hundred and fifty men, a yacht-building establishment, with two or three hired hands; a sail-loft, and some dozen or so shops or sheds, where the odds and ends of fishing life are made and sold. Everything is peaceful. The sound of the shipyard axes and hammers can be heard for miles over the quiet waters of the bay. In the sunny lane which follows the line of the shore, and along which a few shops struggle in happy-go-lucky disorder, may be heard the voices and noises of the workers at their work. Water gurgling about the stanchions of the docks, the whistle of some fisherman as he dawdles over his nets, or puts his fish ashore, the whirr of the single high-power sewing machine in the sail-loft, often mingle in a pleasant harmony, and invite the mind to repose and speculation.
I was in a most examining and critical mood that summer, looking into the nature and significance of many things, and was sitting one day in the shed of the maker of sailboats, where a half-dozen characters of the village were gathered, when some turn in the conversation brought up the nature of man. He is queer, he is restless; life is not so very much when you come to look upon many phases of it.
"Did any of you ever know a contented man?" I inquired idly, merely for the sake of something to say.
There was silence for a moment, and one after another met my roving glance with a thoughtful, self-involved and retrospective eye.
Old Mr. Main was the first to answer.
"Yes, I did. One."
"So did I," put in the sailboat maker, as he stopped in his work to think about it.
"Yes, and I did," said a dark, squat, sunny, little old fisherman, who sold cunners for bait in a little hut next door.
"Maybe you and me are thinking of the same one, Jacob," said old Mr. Main, looking inquisitively at the boat-builder.
"I think we've all got the same man in mind, likely," returned the builder.
"Who is he?" I asked.
"Charlie Potter," said the builder.
"That's the man!" exclaimed Mr. Main.
"Yes, I reckon Charlie Potter is contented, if anybody be," said an old fisherman who had hitherto been silent.
Such unanimity of opinion struck me forcibly. Charlie Potter—what a humble name; not very remarkable, to say the least. And to hear him so spoken of in this restless, religious, quibbling community made it all the more interesting.
"So you really think he is contented, do you?" I asked.
"Yes, sir! Charlie Potter is a contented man," replied Mr. Main, with convincing emphasis.
"Well," I returned, "that's rather interesting. What sort of a man is he?"
"Oh, he's just an ordinary man, not much of anybody. Fishes and builds boats occasionally," put in the boat-builder.
"Is that all? Nothing else?"
"He preaches now and then—not regularly," said Mr. Main.
A-ha! I thought. A religionist!
"A preacher is expected to set a good example," I said.
"He ain't a regular preacher," said Mr. Main, rather quickly. "He's just kind of around in religious work."
"What do you mean?" I asked curiously, not quite catching the import of this "around."
"Well," answered the boat builder, "he don't take any money for what he does. He ain't got anything."
"What does he live on then?" I persisted, still wondering at the significance of "around in religious work."
"I don't know. He used to fish for a living. Fishes yet once in a while, I believe."
"He makes models of yachts," put in one of the bystanders. "He sold the New Haven Road one for two hundred dollars here not long ago."
A vision of a happy-go-lucky Jack-of-all-trades arose before me. A visionary—a theorist.
"What else?" I asked, hoping to draw them out. "What makes you all think he is contented? What does he do that makes him so contented?"
"Well," said Mr. Main, after a considerable pause and with much of sympathetic emphasis in his voice, "Charlie Potter is just a good man, that's all. That's why he's contented. He does as near as he can what he thinks he ought to by other people—poor people."
"You won't find anybody with a kinder heart than Charlie Potter," put in the boat-builder. "That's the trouble with him, really. He's too good. He don't look after himself right, I say. A fellow has to look out for himself some in this world. If he don't, no one else will."
"Right you are, Henry," echoed a truculent sea voice from somewhere.
I was becoming both amused and interested, intensely so.
"If he wasn't that way, he'd be a darned sight better off than he is," said a thirty-year-old helper, from a far corner of the room.
"What makes you say that?" I queried. "Isn't it better to be kind-hearted and generous than not?"
"It's all right to be kind-hearted and generous, but that ain't sayin' that you've got to give your last cent away and let your family go hungry."
"Is that what Charlie Potter does?"
"Well, no, maybe he don't, but he comes mighty near to it at times. He and his wife and his adopted children have been pretty close to it at times."
You see, this was the center, nearly, for all village gossip and philosophic speculation, and many of the most important local problems, morally and intellectually speaking, were here thrashed put.
"There's no doubt but that's where Charlie is wrong," put in old Mr. Main a little later. "He don't always stop to think of his family."
"What did he ever do that struck you as being over-generous?" I asked of the young man who had spoken from the corner.
"That's all right," he replied in a rather irritated and peevish tone; "I ain't going to go into details now, but there's people around here that hang on him, and that he's give to, that he hadn't orter."
"I believe in lookin' out for Number One, that's what I believe in," interrupted the boat-maker, laying down his rule and line. "This givin' up everything and goin' without yourself may be all right, but I don't believe it. A man's first duty is to his wife and children, that's what I say."
"That's the way it looks to me," put in Mr. Main.
"Well, does Potter give up everything and go without things?" I asked the boat-maker.
"Purty blamed near it at times," he returned definitely, then addressing the company in general he added, "Look at the time he worked over there on Fisher's Island, at the Ellersbie farm—the time they were packing the ice there. You remember that, Henry, don't you?"
Mr. Main nodded.
"What about it?"
"What about it! Why, he give his rubber boots away, like a darned fool, to old drunken Jimmy Harper, and him loafin' around half the year drunk, and worked around on the ice without any shoes himself. He might 'a' took cold and died."
"Why did he do it?" I queried, very much interested by now.
"Oh, Charlie's naturally big-hearted," put in the little old man who sold cunners. "He believes in the Lord and the Bible. Stands right square on it, only he don't belong to no church like. He's got the biggest heart I ever saw in a livin' being."
"Course the other fellow didn't have any shoes for to wear," put in the boat-maker explanatorily, "but he never would work, anyhow."
They lapsed into silence while the latter returned to his measuring, and then out of the drift of thought came this from the helper in the corner:
"Yes, and look at the way Bailey used to sponge on him. Get his money Saturday night and drink it all up, and then Sunday morning, when his wife and children were hungry, go cryin' around Potter. Dinged if I'd 'a' helped him. But Potter'd take the food right off his breakfast table and give it to him. I saw him do it! I don't think that's right. Not when he's got four or five orphans of his own to care for."
"His own children?" I interrupted, trying to get the thing straight.
"No, sir; just children he picked up around, here and there."
Here is a curious character, sure enough, I thought—one well worth looking into.
Another lull, and then as I was leaving the room to give the matter a little quiet attention, I remarked to the boat-maker:
"Outside of his foolish giving, you haven't anything against Charlie Potter, have you?"
"Not a thing," he replied, in apparent astonishment. "Charlie Potter's one of the best men that ever lived. He's a good man."
I smiled at the inconsistency and went my way.
A day or two later the loft of the sail-maker, instead of the shed of the boat-builder, happened to be my lounging place, and thinking of this theme, now uppermost in my mind, I said to him:
"Do you know a man around here by the name of Charlie Potter?"
"Well, I might say that I do. He lived here for over fifteen years."
"What sort of a man is he?"
He stopped in his stitching a moment to look at me, and then said:
"How d'ye mean? By trade, so to speak, or religious-like?"
"What is it he has done," I said, "that makes him so popular with all you people? Everybody says he's a good man. Just what do you mean by that?"
"Well," he said, ceasing his work as though the subject were one of extreme importance to him, "he's a peculiar man, Charlie is. He believes in giving nearly everything he has away, if any one else needs it. He'd give the coat off his back if you asked him for it. Some folks condemn him for this, and for not giving everything to his wife and them orphans he has, but I always thought the man was nearer right than most of us. I've got a family myself—but, then, so's he, now, for that matter. It's pretty hard to live up to your light always."
He looked away as if he expected some objection to be made to this, but hearing none, he went on. "I always liked him personally very much. He ain't around here now any more—lives up in Norwich, I think. He's a man of his word, though, as truthful as kin be. He ain't never done nothin' for me, I not bein' a takin' kind, but that's neither here nor there."
He paused, in doubt apparently, as to what else to say.
"You say he's so good," I said. "Tell me one thing that he ever did that struck you as being preeminently good."
"Well, now, I can't say as I kin, exactly, offhand," he replied, "there bein' so many of them from time to time. He was always doin' things one way and another. He give to everybody around here that asked him, and to a good many that didn't. I remember once"—and a smile gave evidence of a genial memory—"he give away a lot of pork that he'd put up for the winter to some colored people back here—two or three barrels, maybe. His wife didn't object, exactly, but my, how his mother-in-law did go on about it. She was livin' with him then. She went and railed against him all around."
"She didn't like to give it to them, eh?"
"Well, I should say not. She didn't set with his views, exactly—never did. He took the pork, though—it was right in the coldest weather we had that winter—and hauled it back about seven miles here to where they lived, and handed it all out himself. Course they were awful hard up, but then they might 'a' got along without it. They do now, sometimes. Charlie's too good that way. It's his one fault, if you might so speak of it."
I smiled as the evidence accumulated. Houseless wayfarers, stopping to find food and shelter under his roof, an orphan child carried seven miles on foot from the bedside of a dead mother and cared for all winter, three children, besides two of his own, being raised out of a sense of affection and care for the fatherless.
One day in the local post office I was idling a half hour with the postmaster, when I again inquired:
"Do you know Charlie Potter?"
"I should think I did. Charlie Potter and I sailed together for something over eleven years."
"How do you mean sailed together?"
"We were on the same schooner. This used to be a great port for mackerel and cod. We were wrecked once together"
"How was that?"
"Oh, we went on rocks."
"Any lives lost?"
"No, but there came mighty near being. We helped each other in the boat. I remember Charlie was the last one in that time. Wouldn't get in until all the rest were safe."
A sudden resolution came to me.
"Do you know where he is now?"
"Yes, he's up in Norwich, preaching or doing missionary work. He's kind of busy all the time among the poor people, and so on. Never makes much of anything out of it for himself, but just likes to do it, I guess."
"Do you know how he manages to live?"
"No, I don't, exactly. He believes in trusting to Providence for what he needs. He works though, too, at one job and another. He's a carpenter for one thing. Got an idea the Lord will send 'im whatever he needs."
"Well, and does He?"
"Well, he lives." A little later he added:
"Oh, yes. There's nothing lazy about Charlie. He's a good worker. When he was in the fishing line here there wasn't a man worked harder than he did. They can't anybody lay anything like that against him."
"Is he very difficult to talk to?" I asked, meditating on seeking him out. I had so little to do at the time, the very idlest of summers, and the reports of this man's deeds were haunting me. I wanted to discover for myself whether he was real or not—whether the reports were true. The Samaritan in people is so easily exaggerated at times.
"Oh, no. He's one of the finest men that way I ever knew. You could see him, well enough, if you went up to Norwich, providing he's up there. He usually is, though, I think. He lives there with his wife and mother, you know."
I caught an afternoon boat for New London and Norwich at one-thirty, and arrived in Norwich at five. The narrow streets of the thriving little mill city were alive with people. I had no address, could not obtain one, but through the open door of a news-stall near the boat landing I called to the proprietor:
"Do you know any one in Norwich by the name of Charlie Potter?"
"The man who works around among the poor people here?"
"That's the man."
"Yes, I know him. He lives out on Summer Street, Number Twelve, I think. You'll find it in the city directory."
The ready reply was rather astonishing. Norwich has something like thirty thousand people.
I walked out in search of Summer Street and finally found a beautiful lane of that name climbing upward over gentle slopes, arched completely with elms. Some of the pretty porches of the cottages extended nearly to the sidewalk. Hammocks, rocking-chairs on verandas, benches under the trees—all attested the love of idleness and shade in summer. Only the glimpse of mills and factories in the valley below evidenced the grimmer life which gave rise mayhap to the need of a man to work among the poor.
"Is this Summer Street?" I inquired of an old darky who was strolling cityward in the cool of the evening. An umbrella was under his arm and an evening paper under his spectacled nose.
"Bress de Lord!" he said, looking vaguely around. "Ah couldn't say. Ah knows dat street—been on it fifty times—but Ah never did know de name. Ha, ha, ha!"
The hills about echoed his hearty laugh.
"You don't happen to know Charlie Potter?"
"Oh, yas, sah. Ah knows Charlie Potter. Dat's his house right ovah dar."
The house in which Charlie Potter lived was a two-story frame, overhanging a sharp slope, which descended directly to the waters of the pretty river below. For a mile or more, the valley of the river could be seen, its slopes dotted with houses, the valley itself lined with mills. Two little girls were upon the sloping lawn to the right of the house. A stout, comfortable-looking man was sitting by a window on the left side of the house, gazing out over the valley.
"Is this where Charlie Potter lives?" I inquired of one of the children.
"Did he live in Noank?"
Just then a pleasant-faced woman of forty-five or fifty issued from a vine-covered door.
"Mr. Potter?" she replied to my inquiry. "He'll be right out."
She went about some little work at the side of the house, and in a moment Charlie Potter appeared. He was short, thick-set, and weighed no less than two hundred pounds. His face and hands were sunburned and brown like those of every fisherman of Noank. An old wrinkled coat and a baggy pair of gray trousers clothed his form loosely. Two inches of a spotted, soft-brimmed hat were pulled carelessly over his eyes. His face was round and full, but slightly seamed. His hands were large, his walk uneven, and rather inclined to a side swing, or the sailor's roll. He seemed an odd, pudgy person for so large a fame.
"Is this Mr. Potter?"
"I'm the man."
"I live on a little hummock at the east of Mystic Island, off Noank."
"I came up to have a talk with you."
"Will you come inside, or shall we sit out here?"
"Let's sit on the step."
"All right, let's sit on the step."
He waddled out of the gate and sank comfortably on the little low doorstep, with his feet on the cool bricks below. I dropped into the space beside him, and was greeted by as sweet and kind a look as I have ever seen in a man's eyes. It was one of perfect courtesy and good nature—void of all suspicion.
"We were sitting down in the sailboat maker's place at Noank the other day, and I asked a half dozen of the old fellows whether they had ever known a contented man. They all thought a while, and then they said they had. Old Mr. Main and the rest of them agreed that Charlie Potter was a contented man. What I want to know is, are you?"
I looked quizzically into his eyes to see what effect this would have, and if there was no evidence of a mist of pleasure and affection being vigorously restrained I was very much mistaken. Something seemed to hold the man in helpless silence as he gazed vacantly at nothing. He breathed heavily, then drew himself together and lifted one of his big hands, as if to touch me, but refrained.
"Yes, brother," he said after a time, "I am."
"Well, that's good," I replied, taking a slight mental exception to the use of the word brother. "What makes you contented?"
"I don't know, unless it is that I've found out what I ought to do. You see, I need so very little for myself that I couldn't be very unhappy."
"What ought you to do?"
"I ought to love my fellowmen."
"And do you?"
"Say, brother, but I do," he insisted quite simply and with no evidence of chicane or make-believe—a simple, natural enthusiasm. "I love everybody. There isn't anybody so low or so mean but I love him. I love you, yes, I do. I love you."
He reached out and touched me with his hand, and while I was inclined to take exception to this very moral enthusiasm, I thrilled just the same as I have not over the touch of any man in years. There was something effective and electric about him, so very warm and foolishly human. The glance which accompanied it spoke, it seemed, as truthfully as his words. He probably did love me—or thought he did. What difference?
We lapsed into silence. The scene below was so charming that I could easily gaze at it in silence. This little house was very simple, not poor, by no means prosperous, but well-ordered—such a home as such a man might have. After a while I said:
"It is very evident that you think the condition of some of your fellowmen isn't what it ought to be. Tell me what you are trying to do. What method have you for improving their condition?"
"The way I reason is this-a-way," he began. "All that some people have is their feelings, nothing else. Take a tramp, for instance, as I often have. When you begin to sum up to see where to begin, you find that all he has in the world, besides his pipe and a little tobacco, is his feelings. It's all most people have, rich or poor, though a good many think they have more than that. I try not to injure anybody's feelings."
He looked at me as though he had expressed the solution of the difficulties of the world, and the wonderful, kindly eyes beamed in rich romance upon the scene.
"Very good," I said, "but what do you do? How do you go about it to aid your fellowmen?"
"Well," he answered, unconsciously overlooking his own personal actions in the matter, "I try to bring them the salvation which the Bible teaches. You know I stand on the Bible, from cover to cover."
"Yes, I know you stand on the Bible, but what do you do? You don't merely preach the Bible to them. What do you do?"
"No, sir, I don't preach the Bible at all. I stand on it myself. I try as near as I can to do what it says. I go wherever I can be useful. If anybody is sick or in trouble, I'm ready to go. I'll be a nurse. I'll work and earn them food. I'll give them anything I can—that's what I do."
"How can you give when you haven't anything? They told me in Noank that you never worked for money."
"Not for myself alone. I never take any money for myself alone. That would be self-seeking. Anything I earn or take is for the Lord, not me. I never keep it. The Lord doesn't allow a man to be self-seeking."
"Well, then, when you get money what do you do with it? You can't do and live without money."
He had been looking away across the river and the bridge to the city below, but now he brought his eyes back and fixed them on me.
"I've been working now for twenty years or more, and, although I've never had more money than would last me a few days at a time, I've never wanted for anything and I've been able to help others. I've run pretty close sometimes. Time and time again I've been compelled to say, 'Lord, I'm all out of coal,' or 'Lord, I'm going to have to ask you to get me my fare to New Haven tomorrow,' but in the moment of my need He has never forgotten me. Why, I've gone down to the depot time and time again, when it was necessary for me to go, without five cents in my pocket, and He's been there to meet me. Why, He wouldn't keep you waiting when you're about His work. He wouldn't forget you—not for a minute."
I looked at the man in open-eyed amazement.
"Do you mean to say that you would go down to a depot without money and wait for money to come to you?"
"Oh, brother," he said, with the softest light in his eyes, "if you only knew what it is to have faith!"
He laid his hand softly on mine.
"What is car-fare to New Haven or to anywhere, to Him?"
"But," I replied materially, "you haven't any car-fare when you go there—how do you actually get it? Who gives it to you? Give me one instance."
"Why, it was only last week, brother, that a woman wrote me from Maiden, Massachusetts, wanting me to come and see her. She's very sick with consumption, and she thought she was going to die. I used to know her in Noank, and she thought if she could get to see me she would feel better.
"I didn't have any money at the time, but that didn't make any difference.
"'Lord,' I said, 'here's a woman sick in Maiden, and she wants me to come to her. I haven't got any money, but I'll go right down to the depot, in time to catch a certain train,' and I went. And while I was standing there a man came up to me and said, 'Brother, I'm told to give you this,' and he handed me ten dollars."
"Did you know the man?" I exclaimed.
"Never saw him before in my life," he replied, smiling genially.
"And didn't he say anything more than that?"
I stared at him, and he added, as if to take the edge off my astonishment:
"Why, bless your heart, I knew he was from the Lord, just the moment I saw him coming."
"You mean to say you were standing there without a cent, expecting the Lord to help you, and He did?"
"'He shall call upon me, and I shall answer him,'" he answered simply, quoting the Ninety-first Psalm.
This incident was still the subject of my inquiry when a little colored girl came out of the yard and paused a moment before us.
"May I go down across the bridge, papa?" she asked.
"Yes," he answered, and then as she tripped away, said:
"She's one of my adopted children." He gazed between his knees at the sidewalk.
"Have you many others?"
"Raising them, are you?"
"They seem to think, down in Noank, that living as you do and giving everything away is satisfactory to you but rather hard on your wife and children."
"Well, it is true that she did feel a little uncertain in the beginning, but she's never wanted for anything. She'll tell you herself that she's never been without a thing that she really needed, and she's been happy."
He paused to meditate, I presume, over the opinion of his former fellow townsmen, and then added:
"It's true, there have been times when we have been right where we had to have certain things pretty badly, before they came, but they never failed to come."
While he was still talking, Mrs. Potter came around the corner of the house and out upon the sidewalk. She was going to the Saturday evening market in the city below.
"Here she is," he said. "Now you can ask her."
"What is it?" she inquired, turning a serene and smiling face to me.
"They still think, down in Noank, that you're not very happy with me," he said. "They're afraid you want for something once in a while."
She took this piece of neighborly interference in better fashion than most would, I fancy.
"I have never wanted for anything since I have been married to my husband," she said. "I am thoroughly contented."
She looked at him and he at her, and there passed between them an affectionate glance.
"Yes," he said, when she had passed after a pleasing little conversation, "my wife has been a great help to me. She has never complained."
"People are inclined to talk a little," I said.
"Well, you see, she never complained, but she did feel a little bit worried in the beginning."
"Have you a mission or a church here in Norwich?"
"No, I don't believe in churches."
"Not in churches?"
"No. The sight of a minister preaching the word of God for so much a year is all a mockery to me."
"What do you believe in?"
"Personal service. Churches and charitable institutions and societies are all valueless. You can't reach your fellowman that way. They build up buildings and pay salaries—but there's a better way." (I was thinking of St. Francis and his original dream, before they threw him out and established monasteries and a costume or uniform—the thing he so much objected to.) "This giving of a few old clothes that the moths will get anyhow, that won't do. You've got to give something of yourself, and that's affection. Love is the only thing you can really give in all this world. When you give love, you give everything. Everything comes with it in some way or other."
"How do you say?" I queried. "Money certainly comes handy sometimes."
"Yes, when you give it with your own hand and heart—in no other way. It comes to nothing just contributed to some thing. Ah!" he added, with sudden animation, "the tangles men can get themselves into, the snarls, the wretchedness! Troubles with women, with men whom they owe, with evil things they say and think, until they can't walk down the street any more without peeping about to see if they are followed. They can't look you in die face; can't walk a straight course, but have got to sneak around corners. Poor, miserable, unhappy—they're worrying and crying and dodging one another!"
He paused, lost in contemplation of the picture he had conjured up.
"Yes," I went on catechistically, determined, if I could, to rout out this matter of giving, this actual example of the modus operandi of Christian charity. "What do you do? How do you get along without giving them money?"
"I don't get along without giving them some money. There are cases, lots of them, where a little money is necessary. But, brother, it is so little necessary at times. It isn't always money they want. You can't reach them with old clothes and charity societies," he insisted. "You've got to love them, brother. You've got to go to them and love them, just as they are, scarred and miserable and bad-hearted."
"Yes," I replied doubtfully, deciding to follow this up later. "But just what is it you do in a needy case? One instance?"
"Why, one night I was passing a little house in this town," he went on, "and I heard a woman crying. I went right to the door and opened it, and when I got inside she just stopped and looked at me.
"'Madam,' I said, 'I have come to help you, if I can. Now you tell me what you're crying for.'
"Well, sir, you know she sat there and told me how her husband drank and how she didn't have anything in the house to eat, and so I just gave her all I had and told her I would see her husband for her, and the next day I went and hunted him up and said to him, 'Oh, brother, I wish you would open your eyes and see what you are doing. I wish you wouldn't do that any more. It's only misery you are creating.' And, you know, I got to telling about how badly his wife felt about it, and how I intended to work and try and help her, and bless me if he didn't up and promise me before I got through that he wouldn't do that any more. And he didn't. He's working today, and it's been two years since I went to him, nearly."
His eyes were alight with his appreciation of personal service.
"Yes, that's one instance," I said.
"Oh, there are plenty of them," he replied. "It's the only way. Down here in New London a couple of winters ago we had a terrible time of it. That was the winter of the panic, you know. Cold—my, but that was a cold winter, and thousands of people out of work—just thousands. It was awful. I tried to do what I could here and there all along, but finally things got so bad there that I went to the mayor. I saw they were raising some kind of a fund to help the poor, so I told him that if he'd give me a little of the money they were talking of spending that I'd feed the hungry for a cent-and-a-half a meal."
"A cent-and-a-half a meal!"
"Yes, sir. They all thought it was rather curious, not possible at first, but they gave me the money and I fed 'em."
"Yes, as good as I ever eat myself," he replied.
"How did you do it?" I asked.
"Oh, I can cook. I just went around to the markets, and told the market-men what I wanted—heads of mackerel, and the part of the halibut that's left after the rich man cuts off his steak—it's the poorest part that he pays for, you know. And I went fishing myself two or three times—borrowed a big boat and got men to help me—oh, I'm a good fisherman, you know. And then I got the loan of an old covered brickyard that no one was using any more, a great big thing that I could close up and build fires in, and I put my kettle in there and rigged up tables out of borrowed boards, and got people to loan me plates and spoons and knives and forks and cups. I made fish chowder, and fish dinners, and really I set a very fine table, I did, that winter."
"For a cent-and-a-half a meal!"
"Yes, sir, a cent-and-a-half a meal. Ask any one in New London. That's all it cost me. The mayor said he was surprised at the way I did it."
"Well, but there wasn't any particular personal service in the money they gave you?" I asked, catching him up on that point. "They didn't personally serve—those who gave you the money?"
"No, sir, they didn't," he replied dreamily, with unconscious simplicity. "But they gave through me, you see. That's the way it was. I gave the personal service. Don't you see? That's the way."
"Yes, that's the way," I smiled, avoiding as far as possible a further discussion of this contradiction, so unconscious on his part, and in the drag of his thought he took up another idea.
"I clothed 'em that winter, too—went around and got barrels and boxes of old clothing. Some of them felt a little ashamed to put on the things, but I got over that, all right. I was wearing them myself, and I just told them, 'Don't feel badly, brother. I'm wearing them out of the same barrel with you—I'm wearing them out of the same barrel.' Got my clothes entirely free for that winter."
"Can you always get all the aid you need for such enterprises?"
"Usually, and then I can earn a good deal of money when I work steadily. I can get a hundred and fifty dollars for a little yacht, you know, every time I find time to make one; and I can make a good deal of money out of fishing. I went out fishing here on the Fourth of July and caught two hundred blackfish—four and five pounds, almost, every one of them."
"That ought to be profitable," I said.
"Well, it was," he replied.
"How much did you get for them?"
"Oh, I didn't sell them," he said. "I never take money for my work that way. I gave them all away."
"What did you do?" I asked, laughing—"advertise for people to come for them?"
"No. My wife took some, and my daughters, and I took the rest and we carried them around to people that we thought would like to have them."
"Well, that wasn't so profitable, was it?" I commented amusedly.
"Yes, they were fine fish," he replied, not seeming to have heard me.
We dropped the subject of personal service at this point, and I expressed the opinion that his service was only a temporary expedient. Times changed, and with them, people. They forgot. Perhaps those he aided were none the better for accepting his charity.
"I know what you mean," he said. "But that don't make any difference. You just have to keep on giving, that's all, see? Not all of 'em turn back. It helps a lot. Money is the only dangerous thing to give—but I never give money—not very often. I give myself, rather, as much as possible. I give food and clothing, too, but I try to show 'em a new way—that's not money, you know. So many people need a new way. They're looking for it often, only they don't seem to know how. But God, dear brother, however poor or mean they are—He knows. You've got to reach the heart, you know, and I let Him help me. You've got to make a man over in his soul, if you want to help him, and money won't help you to do that, you know. No, it won't."
He looked up at me in clear-eyed faith. It was remarkable.
"Make them over?" I queried, still curious, for it was all like a romance, and rather fantastic to me. "What do you mean? How do you make them over?"
"Oh, in their attitude, that's how. You've got to change a man and bring him out of self-seeking if you really want to make him good. Most men are so tangled up in their own errors and bad ways, and so worried over their seekings, that unless you can set them to giving it's no use. They're always seeking, and they don't know what they want half the time. Money isn't the thing. Why, half of them wouldn't understand how to use it if they had it. Their minds are not bright enough. Their perceptions are not clear enough. All you can do is to make them content with themselves. And that, giving to others will do. I never saw the man or the woman yet who couldn't be happy if you could make them feel the need of living for others, of doing something for somebody besides themselves. It's a fact. Selfish people are never happy."
He rubbed his hands as if he saw the solution of the world's difficulties very clearly, and I said to him:
"Well, now, you've got a man out of the mire, and 'saved,' as you call it, and then what? What comes next?"
"Well, then he's saved," he replied. "Happiness comes next—content."
"I know. But must he go to church, or conform to certain rules?"
"No, no, no!" he replied sweetly. "Nothing to do except to be good to others. 'True religion and undefiled before our God and Father is this,'" he quoted, "'to visit the widow and the orphan in their affliction and to keep unspotted from the world. Charity is kind,' you know. 'Charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, seeketh not its own.'"
"Well," I said, rather aimlessly, I will admit, for this high faith staggered me. (How high! How high!) "And then what?"
"Well, then the world would come about. It would be so much better. All the misery is in the lack of sympathy one with another. When we get that straightened out we can work in peace. There are lots of things to do, you know."
Yes, I thought, looking down on the mills and the driving force of self-interest—on greed, lust, love of pleasure, all their fantastic and yet moving dreams.
"I'm an ignorant man myself, and I don't know all," he went on, "and I'd like to study. My, but I'd like to look into all things, but I can't do it now. We can't stop until this thing is straightened out. Some time, maybe," and he looked peacefully away.
"By the way," I said, "whatever became of the man to whom you gave your rubber boots over on Fisher's Island?"
His face lit up as if it were the most natural thing that I should know about it.
"Say," he exclaimed, in the most pleased and confidential way, as if we were talking about a mutual friend, "I saw him not long ago. And, do you know, he's a good man now—really, he is. Sober and hard-working. And, say, would you believe it, he told me that I was the cause of it—just that miserable old pair of rubber boots—what do you think of that?"
I shook his hand at parting, and as we stood looking at each other in the shadow of the evening I asked him:
"Are you afraid to die?"
"Say, brother, but I'm not," he returned. "It hasn't any terror for me at all. I'm just as willing. My, but I'm willing."
He smiled and gripped me heartily again, and, as I was starting to go, said:
"If I die tonight, it'll be all right. He'll use me just as long as He needs me. That I know. Good-by."
"Good-by," I called back.
He hung by his fence, looking down upon the city. As I turned the next corner I saw him awakening from his reflection and waddling stolidly back into the house.
My Brother Paul
I like best to think of him as he was at the height of his all-too-brief reputation and success, when, as the author and composer of various American popular successes ("On the Banks of the Wabash," "Just Tell Them That You Saw Me," and various others), as a third owner of one of the most successful popular music publishing houses in the city and as an actor and playwright of some small repute, he was wont to spin like a moth in the white light of Broadway. By reason of a little luck and some talent he had come so far, done so much for himself. In his day he had been by turn a novitiate in a Western seminary which trained aspirants for the Catholic priesthood; a singer and entertainer with a perambulating cure-all oil troupe or wagon ("Hamlin's Wizard Oil") traveling throughout Ohio, Indiana and Illinois; both end- and middle-man with one, two or three different minstrel companies of repute; the editor or originator and author of a "funny column" in a Western small city paper; the author of the songs mentioned and a hundred others; a black-face monologue artist; a white-face ditto, at Tony Pastor's, Miner's and Niblo's of the old days; a comic lead; co-star and star in such melodramas and farces as "The Danger Signal," "The Two Johns," "A Tin Soldier," "The Midnight Bell," "A Green Goods Man" (a farce which he himself wrote, by the way), and others. The man had a genius for the kind of gayety, poetry and romance which may, and no doubt must be, looked upon as exceedingly middle-class but which nonetheless had as much charm as anything in this world can well have. He had at this time absolutely no cares or financial worries of any kind, and this plus his health, self-amusing disposition and talent for entertaining, made him a most fascinating figure to contemplate.
My first recollection of him is of myself as a boy often and he a man of twenty-five (my oldest brother). He had come back to the town in which we were then living solely to find his mother and help her. Six or seven years before he had left without any explanation as to where he was going, tired of or irritated by the routine of a home which for any genuine opportunity it offered him might as well never have existed. It was run dominantly by my father in the interest of religious and moral theories, with which this boy had little sympathy. He was probably not understood by any one save my mother, who understood or at least sympathized with us all. Placed in a school which was to turn him out a priest, he had decamped, and now seven years later was here in this small town, with fur coat and silk hat, a smart cane—a gentleman of the theatrical profession. He had joined a minstrel show somewhere and had become an "end-man." He had suspected that we were not as fortunate in this world's goods as might be and so had returned. His really great heart had called him.
But the thing which haunts me, and which was typical of him then as throughout life, was the spirit which he then possessed and conveyed. It was one of an agile geniality, unmarred by thought of a serious character but warm and genuinely tender and with a taste for simple beauty which was most impressive. He was already the author of a cheap songbook, "The Paul Dresser Songster" ("All the Songs Sung in the Show"), and some copies of this he had with him, one of which he gave me. But we having no musical instrument of any kind, he taught me some of the melodies "by ear." The home in which by force of poverty we were compelled to live was most unprepossessing and inconvenient, and the result of his coming could but be our request for, or at least the obvious need of, assistance. Still he was as much an enthusiastic part of it as though he belonged to it. He was happy in it, and the cause of his happiness was my mother, of whom he was intensely fond. I recall how he hung about her in the kitchen or wherever she happened to be, how enthusiastically he related all his plans for the future, his amusing difficulties in the past. He was very grand and youthfully self-important, or so we all thought, and still he patted her on the shoulder or put his arm about her and kissed her. Until she died years later she was truly his uppermost thought, crying with her at times over her troubles and his. He contributed regularly to her support and sent home all his cast-off clothing to be made over for the younger ones. (Bless her tired hands!)
As I look back now on my life, I realize quite clearly that of all the members of my family, subsequent to my mother's death, the only one who truly understood me, or, better yet, sympathized with my intellectual and artistic point of view, was, strange as it may seem, this same Paul, my dearest brother. Not that he was in any way fitted intellectually or otherwise to enjoy high forms of art and learning and so guide me, or that he understood, even in later years (long after I had written "Sister Carrie," for instance), what it was that I was attempting to do; he never did. His world was that of the popular song, the middle-class actor or comedian, the middle-class comedy, and such humorous aesthetes of the writing world as Bill Nye, Petroleum V. Nasby, the authors of the Spoopendyke Papers, and "Samantha at Saratoga." As far as I could make out—and I say this in no lofty, condescending spirit, by any means—he was entirely full of simple, middle-class romance, middle-class humor, middle-class tenderness and middle-class grossness, all of which I am very free to say early disarmed and won me completely and kept me so much his debtor that I should hesitate to try to acknowledge or explain all that he did for or meant to me.
Imagine, if you can, a man weighing all of three hundred pounds, not more than five feet ten-and-one-half inches in height and yet of so lithesome a build that he gave not the least sense of either undue weight or lethargy. His temperament, always ebullient and radiant, presented him as a clever, eager, cheerful, emotional and always highly illusioned person with so collie-like a warmth that one found him compelling interest and even admiration. Easily cast down at times by the most trivial matters, at others, and for the most part, he was so spirited and bubbly and emotional and sentimental that your fiercest or most gloomy intellectual rages or moods could scarcely withstand his smile. This tenderness or sympathy of his, a very human appreciation of the weaknesses and errors as well as the toils and tribulations of most of us, was by far his outstanding and most engaging quality, and gave him a very definite force and charm. Admitting, as I freely do, that he was very sensuous (gross, some people might have called him), that he had an intense, possibly an undue fondness for women, a frivolous, childish, horse-playish sense of humor at times, still he had other qualities which were absolutely adorable. Life seemed positively to spring up fountain-like in him. One felt in him a capacity to do (in his possibly limited field); an ability to achieve, whether he was doing so at the moment or not, and a supreme willingness to share and radiate his success—qualities exceedingly rare, I believe. Some people are so successful, and yet you know their success is purely selfish—exclusive, not inclusive; they never permit you to share in their lives. Not so my good brother. He was generous to the point of self-destruction, and that is literally true. He was the mark if not the prey of all those who desired much or little for nothing, those who previously might not have rendered him a service of any kind. He was all life and color, and thousands (I use the word with care) noted and commented on it.
When I first came to New York he was easily the foremost popular song-writer of the day and was the cause of my coming, so soon at least, having established himself in the publishing field and being so comfortably settled as to offer me a kind of anchorage in so troubled a commercial sea. I was very much afraid of New York, but with him here it seemed not so bad. The firm of which he was a part had a floor or two in an old residence turned office building, as so many are in New York, in Twentieth Street very close to Broadway, and here, during the summer months (1894-7) when the various theatrical road-companies, one of which he was always a part, had returned for the closed season, he was to be found aiding his concern in the reception and care of possible applicants for songs and attracting by his personality such virtuosi of the vaudeville and comedy stage as were likely to make the instrumental publications of his firm a success.
I may as well say here that he had no more business skill than a fly. At the same time, he was in no wise sycophantic where either wealth, power or fame was concerned. He considered himself a personage of sorts, and was. The minister, the moralist, the religionist, the narrow, dogmatic and self-centered in any field were likely to be the butt of his humor, and he could imitate so many phases of character so cleverly that he was the life of any idle pleasure-seeking party anywhere. To this day I recall his characterization of an old Irish washerwoman arguing; a stout, truculent German laying down the law; lean, gloomy, out-at-elbows actors of the Hamlet or classic school complaining of their fate; the stingy skinflint haggling over a dollar, and always with a skill for titillating the risibilities which is vivid to me even to this day. Other butts of his humor were the actor, the Irish day-laborer, the negro and the Hebrew. And how he could imitate them! It is useless to try to indicate such things in writing, the facial expression, the intonation, the gestures; these are not things of words. Perhaps I can best indicate the direction of his mind, if not his manner, by the following:
One night as we were on our way to a theater there stood on a nearby corner in the cold a blind man singing and at the same time holding out a little tin cup into which the coins of the charitably inclined were supposed to be dropped. At once my brother noticed him, for he had an eye for this sort of thing, the pathos of poverty as opposed to so gay a scene, the street with its hurrying theater crowds. At the same time, so inherently mischievous was his nature that although his sympathy for the suffering or the ill-used of fate was overwhelming, he could not resist combining his intended charity with a touch of the ridiculous.
"Got any pennies?" he demanded.
"Three or four."
Going over to an outdoor candystand he exchanged a quarter for pennies, then came back and waited until the singer, who had ceased singing, should begin a new melody. A custom of the singer's, since the song was of no import save as a means of attracting attention to him, was to interpolate a "Thank you" after each coin dropped in his cup and between the words of the song, regardless. It was this little idiosyncrasy which evidently had attracted my brother's attention, although it had not mine. Standing quite close, his pennies in his hand, he waited until the singer had resumed, then began dropping pennies, waiting each time for the "Thank you," which caused the song to go about as follows:
"Da-a-'ling" (Clink!—"Thank you!") "I am—" (Clink!—"Thank you!") "growing o-o-o-ld" (Clink!—"Thank you!"), "Silve-e-r—" (Clink!—"Thank you!") "threads among the—" (Clink!—"Thank you!") "go-o-o-ld—" (Clink! "Thank you!"). "Shine upon my-y" (Clink!—"Thank you!") "bro-o-ow toda-a-y" (Clink!—"Thank you!"), "Life is—" (Clink!—"Thank you!") "fading fast a-a-wa-a-ay" (Clink!—"Thank you!")—and so on ad infinitum, until finally the beggar himself seemed to hesitate a little and waver, only so solemn was his role of want and despair that of course he dared not but had to go on until the last penny was in, and until he was saying more "Thank yous" than words of the song. A passer-by noticing it had begun to "Haw-haw!", at which others joined in, myself included. The beggar himself, a rather sniveling specimen, finally realizing what a figure he was cutting with his song and thanks, emptied the coins into his hand and with an indescribably wry expression, half-uncertainty and half smile, exclaimed, "I'll have to thank you as long as you keep putting pennies in, I suppose. God bless you!"
My brother came away smiling and content.
However, it is not as a humorist or song-writer or publisher that I wish to portray him, but as an odd, lovable personality, possessed of so many interesting and peculiar and almost indescribable traits. Of all characters in fiction he perhaps most suggests Jack Falstaff, with his love of women, his bravado and bluster and his innate good nature and sympathy. Sympathy was really his outstanding characteristic, even more than humor, although the latter was always present. One might recite a thousand incidents of his generosity and out-of-hand charity, which contained no least thought of return or reward. I recall that once there was a boy who had been reared in one of the towns in which we had once lived who had never had a chance in his youth, educationally or in any other way, and, having turned out "bad" and sunk to the level of a bank robber, had been detected in connection with three other men in the act of robbing a bank, the watchman of which was subsequently killed in the melee and escape. Of all four criminals only this one had been caught. Somewhere in prison he had heard sung one of my brother's sentimental ballads, "The Convict and the Bird," and recollecting that he had known Paul wrote him, setting forth his life history and that now he had no money or friends.
At once my good brother was alive to the pathos of it. He showed the letter to me and wanted to know what could be done. I suggested a lawyer, of course, one of those brilliant legal friends of his—always he had enthusiastic admirers in all walks—who might take the case for little or nothing. There was the leader of Tammany Hall, Richard Croker, who could be reached, he being a friend of Paul's. There was the Governor himself to whom a plain recitation of the boy's unfortunate life might be addressed, and with some hope of profit.
All of these things he did, and more. He went to the prison (Sing Sing), saw the warden and told him the story of the boy's life, then went to the boy, or man, himself and gave him some money. He was introduced to the Governor through influential friends and permitted to tell the tale. There was much delay, a reprieve, a commutation of the death penalty to life imprisonment—the best that could be done. But he was so grateful for that, so pleased. You would have thought at the time that it was his own life that had been spared.
"Good heavens!" I jested. "You'd think you'd done the man an inestimable service, getting him in the penitentiary for life!"
"That's right," he grinned—an unbelievably provoking smile. "He'd better be dead, wouldn't he? Well, I'll write and ask him which he'd rather have."
I recall again taking him to task for going to the rescue of a "down and out" actor who had been highly successful and apparently not very sympathetic in his day, one of that more or less gaudy clan that wastes its substance, or so it seemed to me then, in riotous living. But now being old and entirely discarded and forgotten, he was in need of sympathy and aid. By some chance he knew Paul, or Paul had known him, and now because of the former's obvious prosperity—he was much in the papers at the time—he had appealed to him. The man lived with a sister in a wretched little town far out on Long Island. On receiving his appeal Paul seemed to wish to investigate for himself, possibly to indulge in a little lofty romance or sentiment. At any rate he wanted me to go along for the sake of companionship, so one dreary November afternoon we went, saw the pantaloon, who did not impress me very much even in his age and misery for he still had a few of his theatrical manners and insincerities, and as we were coming away I said, "Paul, why should you be the goat in every case?" for I had noted ever since I had been in New York, which was several years then, that he was a victim of many such importunities. If it was not the widow of a deceased friend who needed a ton of coal or a sack of flour, or the reckless, headstrong boy of parents too poor to save him from a term in jail or the reformatory and who asked for fine-money or an appeal to higher powers for clemency, or a wastrel actor or actress "down and out" and unable to "get back to New York" and requiring his or her railroad fare wired prepaid, it was the dead wastrel actor or actress who needed a coffin and a decent form of burial.
"Well, you know how it is, Thee" (he nearly always addressed me thus), "when you're old and sick. As long as you're up and around and have money, everybody's your friend. But once you're down and out no one wants to see you any more—see?" Almost amusingly he was always sad over those who had once been prosperous but who were now old and forgotten. Some of his silliest tender songs conveyed as much.
"Quite so," I complained, rather brashly, I suppose, "but why didn't he save a little money when he had it? He made as much as you'll ever make." The man had been a star. "He had plenty of it, didn't he? Why should he come to you?"
"Well, you know how it is, Thee," he explained in the kindliest and most apologetic way. "When you're young and healthy like that you don't think. I know how it is; I'm that way myself. We all have a little of it in us. I have; you have. And anyhow youth's the time to spend money if you're to get any good of it, isn't it? Of course when you're old you can't expect much, but still I always feel as though I'd like to help some of these old people." His eyes at such times always seemed more like those of a mother contemplating a sick or injured child than those of a man contemplating life.
"But, Paul," I insisted on another occasion when he had just wired twenty-five dollars somewhere to help bury some one. (My spirit was not so niggardly as fearsome. I was constantly terrified in those days by the thought of a poverty-stricken old age for myself and him—why, I don't know. I was by no means incompetent.) "Why don't you save your money? Why should you give it to every Tom, Dick and Harry that asks you? You're not a charity organization, and you're not called upon to feed and clothe and bury all the wasters who happen to cross your path. If you were down and out how many do you suppose would help you?"
"Well, you know," and his voice and manner were largely those of mother, the same wonder, the same wistfulness and sweetness, the same bubbling charity and tenderness of heart, "I can't say I haven't got it, can I?" He was at the height of his success at the time. "And anyhow, what's the use being so hard on people? We're all likely to get that way. You don't know what pulls people down sometimes—not wasting always. It's thoughtlessness, or trying to be happy. Remember how poor we were and how mamma and papa used to worry." Often these references to mother or father or their difficulties would bring tears to his eyes. "I can't stand to see people suffer, that's all, not if I have anything," and his eyes glowed sweetly. "And, after all," he added apologetically, "the little I give isn't much. They don't get so much out of me. They don't come to me every day."
Another time—one Christmas Eve it was, when I was comparatively new to New York (my second or third year), I was a little uncertain what to do, having no connections outside of Paul and two sisters, one of whom was then out of the city. The other, owing to various difficulties of her own and a temporary estrangement from us—more our fault than hers—was therefore not available. The rather drab state into which she had allowed her marital affections to lead her was the main reason that kept us apart. At any rate I felt that I could not, or rather would not, go there. At the same time, owing to some difficulty or irritation with the publishing house of which my brother was then part owner (it was publishing the magazine which I was editing), we twain were also estranged, nothing very deep really—a temporary feeling of distance and indifference.
So I had no place to go except to my room, which was in a poor part of the town, or out to dine where best I might—some moderate-priced hotel, was my thought. I had not seen my brother in three or four days, but after I had strolled a block or two up Broadway I encountered him. I have always thought that he had kept an eye on me and had really followed me; was looking, in short, to see what I would do As usual he was most smartly and comfortably dressed.
"Where you going, Thee?" he called cheerfully.
"Oh, no place in particular," I replied rather suavely, I presume. "Just going up the street."
"Now, see here, sport," he began—a favorite expression of his, "sport"—with his face abeam, "what's the use you and me quarreling? It's Christmas Eve, ain't it? It's a shame! Come on, let's have a drink and then go out to dinner."
"Well," I said, rather uncompromisingly, for at times his seemingly extreme success and well-being irritated me, "I'll have a drink, but as for dinner I have another engagement."
"Aw, don't say that. What's the use being sore? You know I always feel the same even if we do quarrel at times. Cut it out. Come on. You know I'm your brother, and you're mine. It's all right with me, Thee. Let's make it up, will you? Put 'er there! Come on, now. We'll go and have a drink, see, something hot—it's Christmas Eve, sport. The old home stuff."
He smiled winsomely, coaxingly, really tenderly, as only he could smile. I "gave in." But now as we entered the nearest shining bar, a Christmas crowd buzzing within and without (it was the old Fifth Avenue Hotel), a new thought seemed to strike him.
"Seen E—— lately?" he inquired, mentioning the name of the troubled sister who was having a very hard time indeed. Her husband had left her and she was struggling over the care of two children.
"No," I replied, rather shamefacedly, "not in a week or two—maybe more."
He clicked his tongue. He himself had not been near her in a month or more. His face fell, and he looked very depressed.
"It's too bad—a shame really. We oughtn't to do this way, you know, sport. It ain't right. What do you say to our going around there," it was in the upper thirties, "and see how she's making out?—take her a few things, eh? Whaddya say?"
I hadn't a spare dollar myself, but I knew well enough what he meant by "take a few things" and who would pay for them.
"Well, we'll have to hurry if we want to get anything now," I urged, falling in with the idea since it promised peace, plenty and good will all around, and we rushed the drink and departed. Near at hand was a branch of one of the greatest grocery companies of the city, and near it, too, his then favorite hotel, the Continental. En route we meditated on the impossibility of delivery, the fact that we would have to carry the things ourselves, but he at last solved that by declaring that he could commandeer negro porters or bootblacks from the Continental. We entered, and by sheer smiles on his part and some blarney heaped upon a floor-manager, secured a turkey, sweet potatoes, peas, beans, a salad, a strip of bacon, a ham, plum pudding, a basket of luscious fruit and I know not what else—provender, I am sure, for a dozen meals. While it was being wrapped and packed in borrowed baskets, soon to be returned, he went across the way to the hotel and came back with three grinning darkies who for the tip they knew they would receive preceded us up Broadway, the nearest path to our destination. On the way a few additional things were picked up: holly wreaths, toys, candy, nuts—and then, really not knowing whether our plan might not mis-carry, we made our way through the side street and to the particular apartment, or, rather, flat-house, door, a most amusing Christmas procession, I fancy, wondering and worrying now whether she would be there.
But the door clicked in answer to our ring, and up we marched, the three darkies first, instructed to inquire for her and then insist on leaving the goods, while we lagged behind to see how she would take it.
The stage arrangement worked as planned. My sister opened the door and from the steps below we could hear her protesting that she had ordered nothing, but the door being open the negroes walked in and a moment or two afterwards ourselves. The packages were being piled on table and floor, while my sister, unable quite to grasp this sudden visitation and change of heart, stared.
"Just thought we'd come around and have supper with you, E——, and maybe dinner tomorrow if you'll let us," my brother chortled. "Merry Christmas, you know. Christmas Eve. The good old home stuff—see? Old sport here and I thought we couldn't stay away—tonight, anyhow."
He beamed on her in his most affectionate way, but she, suffering regret over the recent estrangement as well as the difficulties of life itself and the joy of this reunion, burst into tears, while the two little ones danced about, and he and I put our arms about her.
"There, there! It's all over now," he declared, tears welling in his eyes. "It's all off. We'll can this scrapping stuff. Thee and I are a couple of bums and we know it, but you can forgive us, can't you? We ought to be ashamed of ourselves, all of us, and that's the truth. We've been quarreling, too, haven't spoken for a week. Ain't that so, sport? But it's all right now, eh?"
There were tears in my eyes, too. One couldn't resist him. He had the power of achieving the tenderest results in the simplest ways. We then had supper, and breakfast the next morning, all staying and helping, even to the washing and drying of the dishes, and thereafter for I don't know how long we were all on the most affectionate terms, and he eventually died in this sister's home, ministered to with absolutely restless devotion by her for weeks before the end finally came.
But, as I have said, I always prefer to think of him at this, the very apex or tower window of his life. For most of this period he was gay and carefree. The music company of which he was a third owner was at the very top of its success. Its songs, as well as his, were everywhere. He had in turn at this time a suite at the Gilsey House, the Marlborough, the Normandie—always on Broadway, you see. The limelight district was his home. He rose in the morning to the clang of the cars and the honk of the automobiles outside; he retired at night as a gang of repair men under flaring torches might be repairing a track, or the milk trucks were rumbling to and from the ferries. He was in his way a public restaurant and hotel favorite, a shining light in the theater managers' offices, hotel bars and lobbies and wherever those flies of the Tenderloin, those passing lords and celebrities of the sporting, theatrical, newspaper and other worlds, are wont to gather. One of his intimates, as I now recall, was "Bat" Masterson, the Western and now retired (to Broadway!) bad man; Muldoon, the famous wrestler; Tod Sloan, the jockey; "Battling" Nelson; James J. Corbett; Kid McCoy; Terry McGovern—prize-fighters all. Such Tammany district leaders as James Murphy, "The" McManus, Chrystie and Timothy Sullivan, Richard Carroll, and even Richard Croker, the then reigning Tammany boss, were all on his visiting list. He went to their meetings, rallies and district doings generally to sing and play, and they came to his "office" occasionally. Various high and mighties of the Roman Church, "fathers" with fine parishes and good wine cellars, and judges of various municipal courts, were also of his peculiar world. He was always running to one or the other "to get somebody out," or they to him to get him to contribute something to something, or to sing and play or act, and betimes they were meeting each other in hotel grills or elsewhere and having a drink and telling "funny stories."
Apropos of this sense of humor of his, this love of horse-play almost, I remember that once he had a new story to tell—a vulgar one of course—and with it he had been making me and a dozen others laugh until the tears coursed down our cheeks. It seemed new to everybody and, true to his rather fantastic moods, he was determined to be the first to tell it along Broadway. For some reason he was anxious to have me go along with him, possibly because he found me at that time an unvarying fountain of approval and laughter, possibly because he liked to show me off as his rising brother, as he insisted that I was. At between six and seven of a spring or summer evening, therefore, we issued from his suite at the Gilsey House, whither he had returned to dress, and invading the bar below were at once centered among a group who knew him. A whiskey, a cigar, the story told to one, two, three, five, ten to roars of laughter, and we were off, over the way to Weber & Fields (the Musical Burlesque House Supreme of those days) in the same block, where to the ticket seller and house manager, both of whom he knew, it was told. More laughter, a cigar perhaps. Then we were off again, this time to the ticket seller of Palmer's Theater at Thirtieth Street, thence to the bar of the Grand Hotel at Thirty-first, the Imperial at Thirty-second, the Martinique at Thirty-third, a famous drug-store at the southwest corner of Thirty-fourth and Broadway, now gone of course, the manager of which was a friend of his. It was a warm, moony night, and he took a glass of vichy "for looks' sake," as he said.
Then to the quondam Hotel Aulic at Thirty-fifth and Broadway—the center and home of the then much-berated "Hotel Aulic or Actors' School of Philosophy," and a most impressive actors' rendezvous where might have been seen in the course of an evening all the "second leads" and "light comedians" and "heavies" of this, that and the other road company, all blazing with startling clothes and all explaining how they "knocked 'em" here and there: in Peoria, Pasadena, Walla-Walla and where not. My brother shone like a star when only one is in the sky.
Over the way then to the Herald Building, its owls' eyes glowing in the night, its presses thundering, the elevated thundering beside it. Here was a business manager whom he knew. Then to the Herald Square Theater on the opposite side of the street, ablaze with a small electric sign—among the newest in the city. In this, as in the business office of the Herald was another manager, and he knew them all. Thence to the Marlborough bar and lobby at Thirty-sixth, the manager's office of the Knickerbocker Theater at Thirty-eighth, stopping at the bar and lobby of the Normandie, where some blazing professional beauty of the stage waylaid him and exchanged theatrical witticisms with him—and what else? Thence to the manager's office of the Casino at Thirty-ninth, some bar which was across the street, another in Thirty-ninth west of Broadway, an Italian restaurant on the ground floor of the Metropolitan at Fortieth and Broadway, and at last but by no means least and by such slow stages to the very door of the then Mecca of Meccas of all theater- and sportdom, the sanctum sanctorum of all those sportively au fait, "wise," the "real thing"—the Hotel Metropole at Broadway and Forty-second Street, the then extreme northern limit of the white-light district. And what a realm! Rounders and what not were here ensconced at round tables, their backs against the leather-cushioned wall seats, the adjoining windows open to all Broadway and the then all but somber Forty-second Street.
It was wonderful, the loud clothes, the bright straw hats, the canes, the diamonds, the "hot" socks, the air of security and well-being, so easily assumed by those who gain an all too brief hour in this pretty, petty world of make-believe and pleasure and pseudo-fame. Among them my dearest brother was at his best. It was "Paul" here and "Paul" there—"Why, hello, Dresser, you're just in time! Come on in. What'll you have? Let me tell you something, Paul, a good one—". More drinks, cigars, tales—magnificent tales of successes made, "great shows" given, fights, deaths, marvelous winnings at cards, trickeries in racing, prize-fighting; the "dogs" that some people were, the magnificent, magnanimous "God's own salt" that others were. The oaths, stories of women, what low, vice-besmeared, crime-soaked ghoulas certain reigning beauties of the town or stage were—and so on and so on ad infinitum.
But his story?—ah, yes. I had all but forgotten. It was told in every place, not once but seven, eight, nine, ten times. We did not eat until we reached the Metropole, and it was ten-thirty when we reached it! The handshakes, the road stories—"This is my brother Theodore. He writes; he's a newspaper man." The roars of laughter, the drinks! "Ah, my boy, that's good, but let me tell you one—one that I heard out in Louisville the other day." A seedy, shabby ne'er-do-well of a song-writer maybe stopping the successful author in the midst of a tale to borrow a dollar. Another actor, shabby and distrait, reciting the sad tale of a year's misfortunes. Everywhere my dear brother was called to, slapped on the back, chuckled with. He was successful. One of his best songs was the rage, he had an interest in a going musical concern, he could confer benefits, favors.
Ah, me! Ah, me! That one could be so great, and that it should not last for ever and for ever!
Another of his outstanding characteristics was his love of women, a really amusing and at times ridiculous quality. He was always sighing over the beauty, innocence, sweetness, this and that, of young maidenhood in his songs, but in real life he seemed to desire and attract quite a different type—the young and beautiful, it is true, but also the old, the homely and the somewhat savage—a catholicity of taste I could never quite stomach. It was "Paul dearest" here and "Paul dearest" there, especially in his work in connection with the music-house and the stage. In the former, popular ballad singers of both sexes, some of the women most attractive and willful, were most numerous, coming in daily from all parts of the world apparently to find songs which they could sing on the American or even the English stage. And it was a part of his duty, as a member of the firm and the one who principally "handled" the so-called professional inquirers, to meet them and see that they were shown what the catalogue contained. Occasionally there was an aspiring female song-writer, often mere women visitors.
Regardless, however, of whether they were young, old, attractive or repulsive, male or female, I never knew any one whose manner was more uniformly winsome or who seemed so easily to disarm or relax an indifferent or irritated mood. He was positive sunshine, the same in quality as that of a bright spring morning. His blue eyes focused mellowly, his lips were tendrilled with smiles. He had a brisk, quick manner, always somehow suggestive of my mother, who was never brisk.
And how he fascinated them, the women! Their quite shameless daring where he was concerned! Positively, in the face of it I used to wonder what had become of all the vaunted and so-called "stabilizing morality" of the world. None of it seemed to be in the possession of these women, especially the young and beautiful. They were distant and freezing enough to all who did not interest them, but let a personality such as his come into view and they were all wiles, bending and alluring graces. It was so obvious, this fascination he had for them and they for him, that at times it took on a comic look.
"Get onto the hit he's making," one would nudge another and remark.
"Say, some tenderness, that!" This in reference to a smile or a melting glance on the part of a female.
"Nothing like a way with the ladies. Some baby, eh, boys?"—this following the flick of a skirt and a backward-tossed glance perhaps, as some noticeable beauty passed out.
"No wonder he's cheerful," a sour and yet philosophic vaudevillian, who was mostly out of a job and hung about the place for what free meals he could obtain, once remarked to me in a heavy and morose undertone. "If I had that many women crazy about me I'd be too."
And the results of these encounters with beauty! Always he had something most important to attend to, morning, noon or night, and whenever I encountered him after some such statement "the important thing" was, of course, a woman. As time went on and he began to look upon me as something more than a thin, spindling, dyspeptic and disgruntled youth, he began to wish to introduce me to some of his marvelous followers, and then I could see how completely dependent upon beauty in the flesh he was, how it made his life and world.
One day as we were all sitting in the office, a large group of vaudevillians, song-writers, singers, a chance remark gave rise to a subsequent practical joke at Paul's expense. "I'll bet," observed some one, "that if a strange man were to rush in here with a revolver and say, 'Where's the man that seduced my wife?' Paul would be the first to duck. He wouldn't wait to find out whether he was the one meant or not."