A Far Country
As the name of our city grew to be more and more a byword for sudden and fabulous wealth, not only were the Huns and the Slavs, the Czechs and the Greeks drawn to us, but it became the fashion for distinguished Englishmen and Frenchmen and sometimes Germans and Italians to pay us a visit when they made the grand tour of America. They had been told that they must not miss us; scarcely a week went by in our community—so it was said—in which a full-fledged millionaire was not turned out. Our visitors did not always remain a week,—since their rapid journeyings from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Canada to the Gulf rarely occupied more than four,—but in the books embodying their mature comments on the manners, customs and crudities of American civilization no less than a chapter was usually devoted to us; and most of the adjectives in their various languages were exhausted in the attempt to prove how symptomatic we were of the ambitions and ideals of the Republic. The fact that many of these gentlemen—literary and otherwise—returned to their own shores better fed and with larger balances in the banks than when they departed is neither here nor there. Egyptians are proverbially created to be spoiled.
The wiser and more fortunate of these travellers and students of life brought letters to Mr. and Mrs. Hambleton Durrett. That household was symptomatic—if they liked—of the new order of things; and it was rare indeed when both members of it were at home to entertain them. If Mr. Durrett were in the city, and they did not happen to be Britons with sporting proclivities, they simply were not entertained: when Mrs. Durrett received them dinners were given in their honour on the Durrett gold plate, and they spent cosey and delightful hours conversing with her in the little salon overlooking the garden, to return to their hotels and jot down paragraphs on the superiority of the American women over the men. These particular foreigners did not lay eyes on Mr. Durrett, who was in Florida or in the East playing polo or engaged in some other pursuit. One result of the lavishness and luxury that amazed them they wrote—had been to raise the standard of culture of the women, who were our leisure class. But the travellers did not remain long enough to arrive at any conclusions of value on the effect of luxury and lavishness on the sacred institution of marriage.
If Mr. Nathaniel Durrett could have returned to his native city after fifteen years or so in the grave, not the least of the phenomena to startle him would have been that which was taking place in his own house. For he would have beheld serenely established in that former abode of Calvinism one of the most reprehensible of exotic abominations, a 'mariage de convenance;' nor could he have failed to observe, moreover, the complacency with which the descendants of his friends, the pew holders in Dr. Pound's church, regarded the matter: and not only these, but the city at large. The stronghold of Scotch Presbyterianism had become a London or a Paris, a Gomorrah!
Mrs. Hambleton Durrett went her way, and Mr. Durrett his. The less said about Mr. Durrett's way—even in this suddenly advanced age—the better. As for Nancy, she seemed to the distant eye to be walking through life in a stately and triumphant manner. I read in the newspapers of her doings, her comings and goings; sometimes she was away for months together, often abroad; and when she was at home I saw her, but infrequently, under conditions more or less formal. Not that she was formal,—or I: our intercourse seemed eloquent of an intimacy in a tantalizing state of suspense. Would that intimacy ever be renewed? This was a question on which I sometimes speculated. The situation that had suspended or put an end to it, as the case might be, was never referred to by either of us.
One afternoon in the late winter of the year following that in which we had given a dinner to the Scherers (where the Durretts had rather marvellously appeared together) I left my office about three o'clock—a most unusual occurrence. I was restless, unable to fix my mind on my work, filled with unsatisfied yearnings the object of which I sought to keep vague, and yet I directed my steps westward along Boyne Street until I came to the Art Museum, where a loan exhibition was being held. I entered, bought a catalogue, and presently found myself standing before number 103, designated as a portrait of Mrs. Hambleton Durrett,—painted in Paris the autumn before by a Polish artist then much in vogue, Stanislaus Czesky. Nancy—was it Nancy?—was standing facing me, tall, superb in the maturity of her beauty, with one hand resting on an antique table, a smile upon her lips, a gentle mockery in her eyes as though laughing at the world she adorned. With the smile and the mockery—somehow significant, too, of an achieved inaccessibility—went the sheen of her clinging gown and the glint of the heavy pearls drooping from her high throat to her waist. These caught the eye, but failed at length to hold it, for even as I looked the smile faded, the mockery turned to wistfulness. So I thought, and looked again—to see the wistfulness: the smile had gone, the pearls seemed heavier. Was it a trick of the artist? had he seen what I saw, or thought I saw? or was it that imagination which by now I might have learned to suspect and distrust. Wild longings took possession of me, for the portrait had seemed to emphasize at once how distant now she was from me, and yet how near! I wanted to put that nearness to the test. Had she really changed? did anyone really change? and had I not been a fool to accept the presentment she had given me? I remembered those moments when our glances had met as across barriers in flashes of understanding. After all, the barriers were mere relics of the superstition of the past. What if I went to her now? I felt that I needed her as I never had needed anyone in all my life.... I was aroused by the sound of lowered voices beside me.
"That's Mrs. Hambleton Durrett," I heard a woman say. "Isn't she beautiful?"
The note of envy struck me sharply—horribly. Without waiting to listen to the comment of her companion I hurried out of the building into the cold, white sunlight that threw into bold relief the mediocre houses of the street. Here was everyday life, but the portrait had suggested that which might have been—might be yet. What did I mean by this? I didn't know, I didn't care to define it,—a renewal of her friendship, of our intimacy. My being cried out for it, and in the world in which I lived we took what we wanted—why not this? And yet for an instant I stood on the sidewalk to discover that in new situations I was still subject to unaccountable qualms of that thing I had been taught to call "conscience"; whether it were conscience or not must be left to the psychologists. I was married—terrible word! the shadow of that Institution fell athwart me as the sun went under a cloud; but the sun came out again as I found myself walking toward the Durrett house reflecting that numbers of married men called on Nancy, and that what I had in mind in regard to her was nothing that the court would have pronounced an infringement upon the Institution.... I reached her steps, the long steps still guarded by the curved wrought-iron railings reminiscent of Nathaniel's day, though the "portals" were gone, a modern vestibule having replaced them; I rang the bell; the butler, flung open the doors. He, at any rate, did not seem surprised to see me here, he greeted me with respectful cordiality and led me, as a favoured guest, through the big drawing-room into the salon.
"Mr. Paret, Madam!"
Nancy, rose quickly from the low chair where she sat cutting the pages of a French novel.
"Hugh!" she exclaimed. "I'm out if anyone calls. Bring tea," she added to the man, who retired. For a moment we stood gazing at each other, questioningly. "Well, won't you sit down and stay awhile?" she asked.
I took a chair on the opposite side of the fire.
"I just thought I'd drop in," I said.
"I am flattered," said Nancy, "that a person so affaire should find time to call on an old friend. Why, I thought you never left your office until seven o'clock."
"I don't, as a rule, but to-day I wasn't particularly busy, and I thought I'd go round to the Art Museum and look at your portrait."
"More flattery! Hugh, you're getting quite human. What do you think of it?"
"I like it. I think it quite remarkable."
"Have a cigarette!"
I took one.
"So you really like it," she said.
"Oh, I think it's a trifle—romantic," she replied "But that's Czesky. He made me quite cross,—the feminine presentation of America, the spoiled woman who has shed responsibilities and is beginning to have a glimpse—just a little one—of the emptiness of it all."
I was stirred.
"Then why do you accept it, if it isn't you?" I demanded. "One doesn't refuse Czesky's canvases," she replied. "And what difference does it make? It amused him, and he was fairly subtle about it. Only those who are looking for romance, like you, are able to guess what he meant, and they would think they saw it anyway, even if he had painted me—extinct."
"Extinct!" I repeated.
"Hugh, you're a silly old goose!"
"That's why I came here, I think, to be told so," I said.
Tea was brought in. A sense of at-homeness stole over me,—I was more at home here in this room with Nancy, than in any other place in the world; here, where everything was at once soothing yet stimulating, expressive of her, even the smaller objects that caught my eye,—the crystal inkstand tipped with gold, the racks for the table books, her paper-cutter. Nancy's was a discriminating luxury. And her talk! The lightness with which she touched life, the unexplored depths of her, guessed at but never fathomed! Did she feel a little the need of me as I felt the need of her?
"Why, I believe you're incurably romantic, Hugh," she said laughingly, when the men had left the room. "Here you are, what they call a paragon of success, a future senator, Ambassador to England. I hear of those remarkable things you have done—even in New York the other day a man was asking me if I knew Mr. Paret, and spoke of you as one of the coming men. I suppose you will be moving there, soon. A practical success! It always surprises me when I think of it, I find it difficult to remember what a dreamer you were and here you turn out to be still a dreamer! Have you discovered, too, the emptiness of it all?" she inquired provokingly. "I must say you don't look it"—she gave me a critical, quizzical glance—"you look quite prosperous and contented, as though you enjoyed your power."
I laughed uneasily.
"And then," she continued, "and then one day when your luncheon has disagreed with you—you walk into a gallery and see a portrait of—of an old friend for whom in youth, when you were a dreamer, you professed a sentimental attachment, and you exclaim that the artist is a discerning man who has discovered the secret that she has guarded so closely. She's sorry that she ever tried to console herself with baubles it's what you've suspected all along. But you'll just run around to see for yourself—to be sure of it." And she handed me my tea. "Come now, confess. Where are your wits—I hear you don't lack them in court."
"Well," I said, "if that amuses you—"
"It does amuse me," said Nancy, twining her fingers across her knee and regarding me smilingly, with parted lips, "it amuses me a lot—it's so characteristic."
"But it's not true, it's unjust," I protested vigorously, smiling, too, because the attack was so characteristic of her.
"What then?" she demanded.
"Well, in the first place, my luncheon didn't disagree with me. It never does."
She laughed. "But the sentiment—come now—the sentiment? Do you perceive any hint of emptiness—despair?"
Our chairs were very close, and she leaned forward a little.
"Emptiness or no emptiness," I said a little tremulously, "I know that I haven't been so contented, so happy for a long time."
She sat very still, but turned her gaze on the fire.
"You really wouldn't want to find that, Hugh," she said in another voice, at which I exclaimed. "No, I'm not being sentimental. But, to be serious, I really shouldn't care to think that of you. I'd like to think of you as a friend—a good friend—although we don't see very much of one another."
"But that's why I came, Nancy," I explained. "It wasn't just an impulse—that is, I've been thinking of you a great deal, all along. I miss you, I miss the way you look at things—your point of view. I can't see any reason why we shouldn't see something of each other—now—"
She continued to stare into the fire.
"No," she said at length, "I suppose there isn't any reason." Her mood seemed suddenly to change as she bent over and extinguished the flame under the kettle. "After all," she added gaily, "we live in a tolerant age, we've reached the years of discretion, and we're both too conventional to do anything silly—even if we wanted to—which we don't. We're neither of us likely to quarrel with the world as it is, I think, and we might as well make fun of it together. We'll begin with our friends. What do you think of Mr. Scherer's palace?"
"I hear you're building it for him."
"I told him to get Eyre," said Nancy, laughingly, "I was afraid he'd repeat the Gallatin Park monstrosity on a larger scale, and Eyre's the only man in this country who understands the French. It's been rather amusing," she went on, "I've had to fight Hilda, and she's no mean antagonist. How she hates me! She wanted a monstrosity, of course, a modernized German rock-grotto sort of an affair, I can imagine. She's been so funny when I've met her at dinner. 'I understand you take a great interest in the house, Mrs. Durrett.' Can't you hear her?"
"Well, you did get ahead of her," I said.
"I had to. I couldn't let our first citizen build a modern Rhine castle, could I? I have some public spirit left. And besides, I expect to build on Grant Avenue myself."
"And leave here?"
"Oh, it's too grubby, it's in the slums," said Nancy. "But I really owe you a debt of gratitude, Hugh, for the Scherers."
"I'm told Adolf's lost his head over you."
"It's not only over me, but over everything. He's so ridiculously proud of being on the board of the Children's Hospital.... You ought to hear him talking to old Mrs. Ogilvy, who of course can't get used to him at all,—she always has the air of inquiring what he's doing in that galley. She still thinks of him as Mr. Durrett's foreman."
The time flew. Her presence was like a bracing, tingling atmosphere in which I felt revived and exhilarated, self-restored. For Nancy did not question—she took me as I was. We looked out on the world, as it were, from the same window, and I could not help thinking that ours, after all, was a large view. The topics didn't matter—our conversation was fragrant with intimacy; and we were so close to each other it seemed incredible that we ever should be parted again. At last the little clock on the mantel chimed an hour, she started and looked up.
"Why, it's seven, Hugh!" she exclaimed, rising. "I'd no idea it was so late, and I'm dining with the Dickinsons. I've only just time to dress."
"It's been like a reunion, hasn't it?—a reunion after many years," I said. I held her hand unconsciously—she seemed to be drawing me to her, I thought she swayed, and a sudden dizziness seized me. Then she drew away abruptly, with a little cry. I couldn't be sure about the cry, whether I heard it or not, a note was struck in the very depths of me.
"Come in again," she said, "whenever you're not too busy." And a minute later I found myself on the street.
This was the beginning of a new intimacy with Nancy, resembling the old intimacy yet differing from it. The emotional note of our parting on the occasion I have just related was not again struck, and when I went eagerly to see her again a few days later I was conscious of limitations,—not too conscious: the freedom she offered and which I gladly accepted was a large freedom, nor am I quite sure that even I would have wished it larger, though there were naturally moments when I thought so: when I asked myself what I did wish, I found no answer. Though I sometimes chafed, it would have been absurd of me to object to a certain timidity or caution I began to perceive in her that had been absent in the old Nancy; but the old Nancy had ceased to exist, and here instead was a highly developed, highly specialized creature in whom I delighted; and after taking thought I would not have robbed her of fine acquired attribute. As she had truly observed, we were both conventional; conventionality was part of the price we had willingly paid for membership in that rarer world we had both achieved. It was a world, to be sure, in which we were rapidly learning to take the law into our own hands without seeming to defy it, in order that the fear of it might remain in those less fortunately placed and endowed: we had begun with the appropriation of the material property of our fellow-citizens, which we took legally; from this point it was, of course, merely a logical step to take—legally, too other gentlemen's human property—their wives, in short: the more progressive East had set us our example, but as yet we had been chary to follow it.
About this time rebellious voices were beginning to make themselves heard in the literary wilderness proclaiming liberty—liberty of the sexes. There were Russian novels and French novels, and pioneer English novels preaching liberty with Nietzschean stridency, or taking it for granted. I picked these up on Nancy's table.
"Reading them?" she said, in answer to my query. "Of course I'm reading them. I want to know what these clever people are thinking, even if I don't always agree with them, and you ought to read them too. It's quite true what foreigners say about our men,—that they live in a groove, that they haven't any range of conversation."
"I'm quite willing to be educated," I replied. "I haven't a doubt that I need it."
She was leaning back in her chair, her hands behind her head, a posture she often assumed. She looked up at me amusedly.
"I'll acknowledge that you're more teachable than most of them," she said. "Do you know, Hugh, sometimes you puzzle me greatly. When you are here and we're talking together I can never think of you as you are out in the world, fighting for power—and getting it. I suppose it's part of your charm, that there is that side of you, but I never consciously realize it. You're what they call a dual personality."
"That's a pretty hard name!" I exclaimed.
"I can't help it—you are. Oh, not disagreeably so, quite normally—that's the odd thing about you. Sometimes I believe that you were made for something different, that in spite of your success you have missed your 'metier.'"
"What ought I to have been?"
"How can I tell? A Goethe, perhaps—a Goethe smothered by a twentieth-century environment. Your love of adventure isn't dead, it's been merely misdirected, real adventure, I mean, forth faring, straying into unknown paths. Perhaps you haven't yet found yourself."
"How uncanny!" I said, stirred and startled.
"You have a taste for literature, you know, though you've buried it. Give me Turgeniev. We'll begin with him...."
Her reading and the talks that followed it were exciting, amazingly stimulating.... Once Nancy gave me an amusing account of a debate which had taken place in the newly organized woman's discussion club to which she belonged over a rather daring book by an English novelist. Mrs. Dickinson had revolted.
"No, she wasn't really shocked, not in the way she thought she was," said Nancy, in answer to a query of mine.
"How was she shocked, then?"
"As you and I are shocked."
"But I'm not shocked," I protested.
"Oh, yes, you are, and so am I—not on the moral side, nor is it the moral aspect that troubles Lula Dickinson. She thinks it's the moral aspect, but it's really the revolutionary aspect, the menace to those precious institutions from which we derive our privileges and comforts."
I considered this, and laughed.
"What's the use of being a humbug about it," said Nancy.
"But you're talking like a revolutionary," I said.
"I may be talking like one, but I'm not one. I once had the makings of one—of a good one,—a 'proper' one, as the English would say." She sighed.
"You regret it?" I asked curiously.
"Of course I regret it!" she cried. "What woman worth her salt doesn't regret it, doesn't want to live, even if she has to suffer for it? And those people—the revolutionaries, I mean, the rebels—they live, they're the only ones who do live. The rest of us degenerate in a painless paralysis we think of as pleasure. Look at me! I'm incapable of committing a single original act, even though I might conceive one. Well, there was a time when I should have been equal to anything and wouldn't have cared a—a damn."
I believed her....
I fell into the habit of dropping in on Nancy at least twice a week on my way from the office, and I met her occasionally at other houses. I did not tell Maude of that first impulsive visit; but one evening a few weeks later she asked me where I had been, and when I told her she made no comment. I came presently to the conclusion that this renewed intimacy did not trouble her—which was what I wished to believe. Of course I had gone to Nancy for a stimulation I failed to get at home, and it is the more extraordinary, therefore, that I did not become more discontented and restless: I suppose this was because I had grown to regard marriage as most of the world regarded it, as something inevitable and humdrum, as a kind of habit it is useless to try to shake off. But life is so full of complexities and anomalies that I still had a real affection for Maude, and I liked her the more because she didn't expect too much of me, and because she didn't complain of my friendship with Nancy although I should vehemently have denied there was anything to complain of. I respected Maude. If she was not a squaw, she performed religiously the traditional squaw duties, and made me comfortable: and the fact that we lived separate mental existences did not trouble me because I never thought of hers—or even that she had one. She had the children, and they seemed to suffice. She never renewed her appeal for my confidence, and I forgot that she had made it.
Nevertheless I always felt a tug at my heartstrings when June came around and it was time for her and the children to go to Mattapoisett for the summer; when I accompanied them, on the evening of their departure, to the smoky, noisy station and saw deposited in the sleeping-car their luggage and shawls and bundles. They always took the evening train to Boston; it was the best. Tom and Susan were invariably there with candy and toys to see them off—if Susan and her children had not already gone—and at such moments my heart warmed to Tom. And I was astonished as I clung to Matthew and Moreton and little Biddy at the affection that welled up within me, saddened when I kissed Maude good-bye. She too was sad, and always seemed to feel compunctions for deserting me.
"I feel so selfish in leaving you all alone!" she would say. "If it weren't for the children—they need the sea air. But I know you don't miss me as I miss you. A man doesn't, I suppose.... Please don't work so hard, and promise me you'll come on and stay a long time. You can if you want to. We shan't starve." She smiled. "That nice room, which is yours, at the southeast corner, is always waiting for you. And you do like the sea, and seeing the sail-boats in the morning."
I felt an emptiness when the train pulled out. I did love my family, after all! I would go back to the deserted house, and I could not bear to look in at the nursery door, at the little beds with covers flung over them. Why couldn't I appreciate these joys when I had them?
One evening, as we went home in an open street-car together, after such a departure, Tom blurted out:—"Hugh, I believe I care for your family as much as for my own. I often wonder if you realize how wonderful these children are! My boys are just plain ruffians—although I think they're pretty decent ruffians, but Matthew has a mind—he's thoughtful—and an imagination. He'll make a name for himself some day if he's steered properly and allowed to develop naturally. Moreton's more like my boys. And as for Chickabiddy!—" words failed him.
I put my hand on his knee. I actually loved him again as I had loved and yearned for him as a child,—he was so human, so dependable. And why couldn't this feeling last? He disapproved—foolishly, I thought—of my professional career, and this was only one of his limitations. But I knew that he was loyal. Why hadn't I been able to breathe and be reasonably happy in that atmosphere of friendship and love in which I had been placed—or rather in which I had placed myself?... Before the summer was a day or two older I had grown accustomed to being alone, and enjoyed the liberty; and when Maude and the children returned in the autumn, similarly, it took me some days to get used to the restrictions imposed by a household. I run the risk of shocking those who read this by declaring that if my family had been taken permanently out of my life, I should not long have missed them. But on the whole, in those years my marriage relation might be called a negative one. There were moments, as I have described, when I warmed to Maude, moments when I felt something akin to a violent antagonism aroused by little mannerisms and tricks she had. The fact that we got along as well as we did was probably due to the orthodox teaching with which we had been inoculated,—to the effect that matrimony was a moral trial, a shaking-down process. But moral trials were ceasing to appeal to people, and more and more of them were refusing to be shaken down. We didn't cut the Gordian knot, but we managed to loosen it considerably.
I have spoken of a new species of titans who inhabited the giant buildings in Wall Street, New York, and fought among themselves for possession of the United States of America. It is interesting to note that in these struggles a certain chivalry was observed among the combatants, no matter how bitter the rivalry: for instance, it was deemed very bad form for one of the groups of combatants to take the public into their confidence; cities were upset and stirred to the core by these conflicts, and the citizens never knew who was doing the fighting, but imagined that some burning issue was at stake that concerned them. As a matter of fact the issue always did concern them, but not in the way they supposed.
Gradually, out of the chaotic melee in which these titans were engaged had emerged one group more powerful than the rest and more respectable, whose leader was the Personality to whom I have before referred. He and his group had managed to gain control of certain conservative fortresses in various cities such as the Corn National Bank and the Ashuela Telephone Company—to mention two of many: Adolf Scherer was his ally, and the Boyne Iron Works, Limited, was soon to be merged by him into a greater corporation still. Leonard Dickinson might be called his local governor-general. We manned the parapets and kept our ears constantly to the ground to listen for the rumble of attacks; but sometimes they burst upon us fiercely and suddenly, without warning. Such was the assault on the Ashuela, which for years had exercised an apparently secure monopoly of the city's telephone service, which had been able to ignore with complacency the shrillest protests of unreasonable subscribers. Through the Pilot it was announced to the public that certain benevolent "Eastern capitalists" were ready to rescue them from their thraldom if the city would grant them a franchise. Mr. Lawler, the disinterestedness of whose newspaper could not be doubted, fanned the flame day by day, sent his reporters about the city gathering instances of the haughty neglect of the Ashuela, proclaiming its instruments antiquated compared with those used in more progressive cities, as compared with the very latest inventions which the Automatic Company was ready to install provided they could get their franchise. And the prices! These, too, would fall—under competition. It was a clever campaign. If the city would give them a franchise, that Automatic Company—so well named! would provide automatic instruments. Each subscriber, by means of a numerical disk, could call up any other, subscriber; there would be no central operator, no listening, no tapping of wires; the number of calls would be unlimited. As a proof of the confidence of these Eastern gentlemen in our city, they were willing to spend five millions, and present more than six hundred telephones free to the city departments! What was fairer, more generous than this! There could be no doubt that popular enthusiasm was enlisted in behalf of the "Eastern Capitalists," who were made to appear in the light of Crusaders ready to rescue a groaning people from the thrall of monopoly. The excitement approached that of a presidential election, and became the dominant topic at quick-lunch counters and in street-cars. Cheap and efficient service! Down with the Bastille of monopoly!
As counsel for the Ashuela, Mr. Ogilvy sent for me, and by certain secret conduits of information at my disposal I was not long in discovering the disquieting fact that a Mr. Orthwein, who was described as a gentleman with fat fingers and a plausible manner, had been in town for a week and had been twice seen entering and emerging from Monahan's saloon. In short, Mr. Jason had already been "seen." Nevertheless I went to him myself, to find him for the first time in my experience absolutely non-committal.
"What's the Ashuela willing to do?" he demanded.
I mentioned a sum, and he shook his head. I mentioned another, and still he shook his head.
"Come 'round again," he said...
I was compelled to report this alarming situation to Ogilvy and Dickinson and a few chosen members of a panicky board of directors.
"It's that damned Grannis crowd," said Dickinson, mentioning an aggressive gentleman who had migrated from Chicago to Wall Street some five years before in a pink collar.
"But what's to be done?" demanded Ogilvy, playing nervously with a gold pencil on the polished table. He was one of those Americans who in a commercial atmosphere become prematurely white, and today his boyish, smooth-shaven face was almost as devoid of colour as his hair. Even Leonard Dickinson showed anxiety, which was unusual for him.
"You've got to fix it, Hugh," he said.
I did not see my way, but I had long ago learned to assume the unruffled air and judicial manner of speaking that inspires the layman with almost superstitious confidence in the lawyer....
"We'll find a way out," I said.
Mr. Jason, of course, held the key to the situation, and just how I was to get around him was problematical. In the meantime there was the public: to permit the other fellow to capture that was to be lacking in ordinary prudence; if its votes counted for nothing, its savings were desirable; and it was fast getting into a state of outrage against monopoly. The chivalry of finance did not permit of a revelation that Mr. Grannis and his buccaneers were behind the Automatic, but it was possible to direct and strengthen the backfire which the Era and other conservative newspapers had already begun. Mr. Tallant for delicate reasons being persona non grata at the Boyne Club, despite the fact that he had so many friends there, we met for lunch in a private room at the new hotel, and as we sipped our coffee and smoked our cigars we planned a series of editorials and articles that duly appeared. They made a strong appeal to the loyalty of our citizens to stand by the home company and home capital that had taken generous risks to give them service at a time when the future of the telephone business was by no means assured; they belittled the charges made by irresponsible and interested "parties," and finally pointed out, not without effect, that one logical consequence of having two telephone companies would be to compel subscribers in self-defence to install two telephones instead of one. And where was the saving in that?
"Say, Paret," said Judah B. when we had finished our labours; "if you ever get sick of the law, I'll give you a job on the Era's staff. This is fine, the way you put it. It'll do a lot of good, but how in hell are you going to handle Judd?..."
For three days the inspiration was withheld. And then, as I was strolling down Boyne Street after lunch gazing into the store windows it came suddenly, without warning. Like most inspirations worth anything, it was very simple. Within half an hour I had reached Monahan's saloon and found Mr. Jason out of bed, but still in his bedroom, seated meditatively at the window that looked over the alley.
"You know the crowd in New York behind this Automatic company as well as I do, Jason," I said. "Why do you want to deal with them when we've always been straight with you, when we're ready to meet them and go one better? Name your price."
"Suppose I do—what then," he replied. "This thing's gone pretty far. Under that damned new charter the franchise has got to be bid for—hasn't it? And the people want this company. There'll be a howl from one end of this town to the other if we throw 'em down."
"We'll look out for the public," I assured him, smiling.
"Well," he said, with one of his glances that were like flashes, "what you got up your sleeve?"
"Suppose another telephone company steps in, and bids a little higher for the franchise. That relieves, your aldermen of all responsibility, doesn't it?"
"Another telephone company!" he repeated.
I had already named it on my walk.
"The Interurban," I said.
"A dummy company?" said Mr. Jason.
"Lively enough to bid something over a hundred thousand to the city for its franchise," I replied.
Judd Jason, with a queer look, got up and went to a desk in a dark corner, and after rummaging for a few moments in one of the pigeon-holes, drew forth a glass cylinder, which he held out as he approached me.
"You get it, Mr. Paret," he said.
"What is it?" I asked, "a bomb!"
"That," he announced, as he twisted the tube about in his long fingers, holding it up to the light, "is the finest brand of cigars ever made in Cuba. A gentleman who had every reason to be grateful to me—I won't say who he was—gave me that once. Well, the Lord made me so's I can't appreciate any better tobacco than those five-cent 'Bobtails' Monahan's got downstairs, and I saved it. I saved it for the man who would put something over me some day, and—you get it."
"Thank you," I said, unconsciously falling in with the semi-ceremony of his manner. "I do not flatter myself that the solution I have suggested did not also occur to you."
"You'll smoke it?" he asked.
"Now? Here with me?"
"Certainly," I agreed, a little puzzled. As I broke the seal, pulled out the cork and unwrapped the cigar from its gold foil he took a stick and rapped loudly on the floor. After a brief interval footsteps were heard on the stairs and Mike Monahan, white aproned and scarlet faced, appeared at the door.
"Bobtails," said Mr. Jason, laconically.
"It's them I thought ye'd be wanting," said the saloon-keeper, holding out a handful. Judd Jason lighted one, and began smoking reflectively.
I gazed about the mean room, with its litter of newspapers and reports, its shabby furniture, and these seemed to have become incongruous, out of figure in the chair facing me keeping with the thoughtful figure in the chair facing me.
"You had a college education, Mr. Paret," he remarked at length.
"Life's a queer thing. Now if I'd had a college education, like you, and you'd been thrown on the world, like me, maybe I'd be livin' up there on Grant Avenue and you'd be down here over the saloon."
"Maybe," I said, wondering uneasily whether he meant to imply a similarity in our gifts. But his manner remained impassive, speculative.
"Ever read Carlyle's 'French Revolution'?" he asked suddenly.
"Why, yes, part of it, a good while ago."
"When you was in college?"
"I've got a little library here," he said, getting up and raising the shades and opening the glass doors of a bookcase which had escaped my attention. He took down a volume of Carlyle, bound in half calf.
"Wouldn't think I cared for such things, would you?" he demanded as he handed it to me.
"Well, you never can tell what a man's real tastes are until you know him," I observed, to conceal my surprise.
"That's so," he agreed. "I like books—some books. If I'd had an education, I'd have liked more of 'em, known more about 'em. Now I can read this one over and over. That feller Carlyle was a genius, he could look right into the bowels of the volcano, and he was on to how men and women feet down there, how they hate, how they square 'emselves when they get a chance."
He had managed to bring before me vividly that terrible, volcanic flow on Versailles of the Paris mob. He put back the book and resumed his seat.
"And I know how these people fed down here, below the crust," he went on, waving his cigar out of the window, as though to indicate the whole of that mean district. "They hate, and their hate is molten hell. I've been through it."
"But you've got on top," I suggested.
"Sure, I've got on top. Do you know why? it's because I hated—that's why. A man's feelings, if they're strong enough, have a lot to do with what he becomes."
"But he has to have ability, too," I objected.
"Sure, he has to have ability, but his feeling is the driving power if he feels strong enough, he can make a little ability go a long way."
I was struck by the force of this remark. I scarcely recognized Judd Jason. The man, as he revealed himself, had become at once more sinister and more fascinating.
"I can guess how some of those Jacobins felt when they had the aristocrats in the dock. They'd got on top—the Jacobins, I mean. It's human nature to want to get on top—ain't it?" He looked at me and smiled, but he did not seem to expect a reply. "Well, what you call society, rich, respectable society like you belong to would have made a bum and a criminal out of me if I hadn't been too smart for 'em, and it's a kind of satisfaction to have 'em coming down here to Monahan's for things they can't have without my leave. I've got a half Nelson on 'em. I wouldn't live up on Grant Avenue if you gave me Scherer's new house."
I was silent.
"Instead of starting my career in college, I started in jail," he went on, apparently ignoring any effect he may have produced. So subtly, so dispassionately indeed was he delivering himself of these remarks that it was impossible to tell whether he meant their application to be personal, to me, or general, to my associates. "I went to jail when I was fourteen because I wanted a knife to make kite sticks, and I stole a razor from a barber. I was bitter when they steered me into a lockup in Hickory Street. It was full of bugs and crooks, and they put me in the same cell with an old-timer named 'Red' Waters; who was one of the slickest safe-blowers around in those days. Red took a shine to me, found out I had a head piece, and said their gang could use a clever boy. If I'd go in with him, I could make all kinds of money. I guess I might have joined the gang if Red hadn't kept talking—about how the boss of his district named Gallagher would come down and get him out,—and sure enough Gallagher did come down and get him out. I thought I'd rather be Gallagher than Red—Red had to serve time once in a while. Soon as he got out I went down to Gallagher's saloon, and there was Red leaning over the bar. 'Here's a smart kid! he says, 'He and me were room-mates over in Hickory Street.' He got to gassing me, and telling me I'd better come along with him, when Gallagher came in. 'What is it ye'd like to be, my son?' says he. A politician, I told him. I was through going to jail. Gallagher had a laugh you could hear all over the place. He took me on as a kind of handy boy around the establishment, and by and by I began to run errands and find out things for him. I was boss of that ward myself when I was twenty-six.... How'd you like that cigar?"
I praised it.
"It ought to have been a good one," he declared. "Well, I don't want to keep you here all afternoon telling you my life story."
I assured him I had been deeply interested.
"Pretty slick idea of yours, that dummy company, Mr. Paret. Go ahead and organize it." He rose, which was contrary to his custom on the departure of a visitor. "Drop in again. We'll talk about the books."...
I walked slowly back reflecting on this conversation, upon the motives impelling Mr. Jason to become thus confidential; nor was it the most comforting thought in the world that the artist in me had appealed to the artist in him, that he had hailed me as a breather. But for the grace of God I might have been Mr. Jason and he Mr. Paret: undoubtedly that was what he had meant to imply... And I was forced to admit that he had succeeded—deliberately or not—in making the respectable Mr. Paret just a trifle uncomfortable.
In the marble vestibule of the Corn National Bank I ran into Tallant, holding his brown straw hat in his hand and looking a little more moth-eaten than usual.
"Hello, Paret," he said "how is that telephone business getting along?"
"Is Dickinson in?" I asked.
We went through the cool bank, with its shining brass and red mahogany, its tiled floor, its busy tellers attending to files of clients, to the president's sanctum in the rear. Leonard Dickinson, very spruce and dignified in a black cutaway coat, was dictating rapidly to a woman, stenographer, whom he dismissed when he saw us. The door was shut.
"I was just asking Paret about the telephone affair," said Mr. Tallant.
"Well, have you found a way out?" Leonard Dickinson looked questioningly at me.
"It's all right," I answered. "I've seen Jason."
"All right!" they both ejaculated at once.
"We win," I said.
They stood gazing at me. Even Dickinson, who was rarely ruffled, seemed excited.
"Do you mean to say you've fixed it?" he demanded.
I nodded. They stared at me in amazement.
"How the deuce did you manage it?"
"We organize the Interurban Telephone Company, and bid for the franchise—that's all."
"A dummy company!" cried Tallant. "Why, it's simple as ABC!"
Dickinson smiled. He was tremendously relieved, and showed it.
"That's true about all great ideas, Tallant," he said. "They're simple, only it takes a clever man to think of them."
"And Jason agrees?" Tallant demanded.
I nodded again. "We'll have to outbid the Automatic people. I haven't seen Bitter yet about the—about the fee."
"That's all right," said Leonard Dickinson, quickly. "I take off my hat to you. You've saved us. You can ask any fee you like," he added genially. "Let's go over to—to the Ashuela and get some lunch." He had been about to say the Club, but he remembered Mr. Tallant's presence in time. "Nothing's worrying you, Hugh?" he added, as we went out, followed by the glances of his employees.
"Nothing," I said....