Allan Montague's father had died about five years before. A couple of years later his younger brother, Oliver, had announced his intention of seeking a career in New York. He had no profession, and no definite plans; but his father's friends were men of influence and wealth, and the doors were open to him. So he had turned his share of the estate into cash and departed.
Oliver was a gay and pleasure-loving boy, with all the material of a prodigal son in him; his brother had more than half expected to see him come back in a year or two with empty pockets. But New York had seemed to agree with Oliver. He never told what he was doing—what he wrote was simply that he was managing to keep the wolf from the door. But his letters hinted at expensive ways of life; and at Christmas time, and at Cousin Alice's birthday, he would send home presents which made the family stare.
Montague had always thought of himself as a country lawyer and planter. But two months ago a fire had swept away the family mansion, and then on top of that had come an offer for the land; and with Oliver telegraphing several times a day in his eagerness, they had taken the sudden resolution to settle up their affairs and move to New York.
There were Montague and his mother, and Cousin Alice, who was nineteen, and old "Mammy Lucy," Mrs. Montague's servant. Oliver had met them at Jersey City, radiant with happiness. He looked just as much of a boy as ever, and just as beautiful; excepting that he was a little paler, New York had not changed him at all. There was a man in uniform from the hotel to take charge of their baggage, and a big red touring-car for them; and now they were snugly settled in their apartments, with the younger brother on duty as counsellor and guide.
Montague had come to begin life all over again. He had brought his money, and he expected to invest it, and to live upon the income until he had begun to earn something. He had worked hard at his profession, and he meant to work in New York, and to win his way in the end. He knew almost nothing about the city—he faced it with the wide-open eyes of a child.
One began to learn quickly, he found. It was like being swept into a maelstrom: first the hurrying throngs on the ferry-boat, and then the cabmen and the newsboys shouting, and the cars with clanging gongs; then the swift motor, gliding between trucks and carriages and around corners where big policemen shepherded the scurrying populace; and then Fifth Avenue, with its rows of shops and towering hotels; and at last a sudden swing round a corner—and their home.
"I have picked a quiet family place for you," Oliver had said, and that had greatly pleased his brother. But he had stared in dismay when he entered this latest "apartment hotel"—which catered for two or three hundred of the most exclusive of the city's aristocracy—and noted its great arcade, with massive doors of bronze, and its entrance-hall, trimmed with Caen stone and Italian marble, and roofed with a vaulted ceiling painted by modern masters. Men in livery bore their wraps and bowed the way before them; a great bronze elevator shot them to the proper floor; and they went to their rooms down a corridor walled with blood-red marble and paved with carpet soft as a cushion. Here were six rooms of palatial size, with carpets, drapery, and furniture of a splendour quite appalling to Montague.
As soon as the man who bore their wraps had left the room, he turned upon his brother.
"Oliver," he said, "how much are we paying for all this?"
Oliver smiled. "You are not paying anything, old man," he replied. "You're to be my guests for a month or two, until you get your bearings."
"That's very good of you," said the other; "—we'll talk about it later. But meantime, tell me what the apartment costs."
And then Montague encountered his first full charge of New York dynamite. "Six hundred dollars a week," said Oliver.
He started as if his brother had struck him. "Six hundred dollars a week!" he gasped.
"Yes," said the other, quietly.
It was fully a minute before he could find his breath. "Brother," he exclaimed, "you're mad!"
"It is a very good bargain," smiled the other; "I have some influence with them."
Again there was a pause, while Montague groped for words. "Oliver," he exclaimed, "I can't believe you! How could you think that we could pay such a price?"
"I didn't think it," said Oliver; "I told you I expected to pay it myself."
"But how could we let you pay it for us?" cried the other. "Can you fancy that I will ever earn enough to pay such a price?"
"Of course you will," said Oliver. "Don't be foolish, Allan—you'll find it's easy enough to make money in New York. Leave it to me, and wait awhile."
But the other was not to be put off. He sat down on the embroidered silk bedspread, and demanded abruptly, "What do you expect my income to be a year?"
"I'm sure I don't know," laughed Oliver; "nobody takes the time to add up his income. You'll make what you need, and something over for good measure. This one thing you'll know for certain—the more you spend, the more you'll be able to make."
And then, seeing that the sober look was not to be expelled from his brother's face, Oliver seated himself and crossed his legs, and proceeded to set forth the paradoxical philosophy of extravagance. His brother had come into a city of millionaires. There was a certain group of people—"the right set," was Oliver's term for them—and among them he would find that money was as free as air. So far as his career was concerned, he would find that there was nothing in all New York so costly as economy. If he did not live like a gentleman, he would find himself excluded from the circle of the elect—and how he would manage to exist then was a problem too difficult for his brother to face.
And so, as quickly as he could, he was to bring himself to a state of mind where things did not surprise him; where he did what others did and paid what others paid, and did it serenely, as if he had done it all his life. He would soon find his place; meantime all he had to do was to put himself into his brother's charge. "You'll find in time that I have the strings in my hands," the latter added. "Just take life easy, and let me introduce you to the right people."
All of which sounded very attractive. "But are you sure," asked Montague, "that you understand what I'm here for? I don't want to get into the Four Hundred, you know—I want to practise law."
"In the first place," replied Oliver, "don't talk about the Four Hundred—it's vulgar and silly; there's no such thing. In the next place, you're going to live in New York, and you want to know the right people. If you know them, you can practise law, or practise billiards, or practise anything else that you fancy. If you don't know them, you might as well go practise in Dahomey, for all you can accomplish. You might come on here and start in for yourself, and in twenty years you wouldn't get as far as you can get in two weeks, if you'll let me attend to it."
Montague was nearly five years his brother's senior, and at home had taken a semi-paternal attitude toward him. Now, however, the situation seemed to have reversed itself. With a slight smile of amusement, he subsided, and proceeded to put himself into the attitude of a docile student of the mysteries of the Metropolis.
They agreed that they would say nothing about these matters to the others. Mrs. Montague was half blind, and would lead her placid, indoor existence with old Mammy Lucy. As for Alice, she was a woman, and would not trouble herself with economics; if fairy godmothers chose to shower gifts upon her, she would take them.
Alice was built to live in a palace, anyway, Oliver said. He had cried out with delight when he first saw her. She had been sixteen when he left, and tall and thin; now she was nineteen, and with the pale tints of the dawn in her hair and face. In the auto, Oliver had turned and, stared at her, and pronounced the cryptic judgment, "You'll go!"
Just now she was wandering about the rooms, exclaiming with wonder. Everything here was so quiet and so harmonious that at first one's suspicions were lulled. It was simplicity, but of a strange and perplexing kind—simplicity elaborately studied. It was luxury, but grown assured of itself, and gazing down upon itself with aristocratic disdain. And after a while this began to penetrate the vulgarest mind, and to fill it with awe; one cannot remain long in an apartment which is trimmed and furnished in rarest Circassian walnut, and "papered" with hand-embroidered silk cloth, without feeling some excitement—even though there be no one to mention that the furniture has cost eight thousand dollars per room, and that the wall covering has been imported from Paris at a cost of seventy dollars per yard.
Montague also betook himself to gazing about. He noted the great double windows, with sashes of bronze; the bronze fire-proof doors; the bronze electric candles and chandeliers, from which the room was flooded with a soft radiance at the touch of a button; the "duchesse" and "marquise" chairs, with upholstery matching the walls; the huge leather "slumber-couch," with adjustable lamp at its head. When one opened the door of the dressing-room closet, it was automatically filled with light; there was an adjustable three-sided mirror, at which one could study his own figure from every side. There was a little bronze box near the bed, in which one might set his shoes, and with a locked door opening out into the hall, so that the floor-porter could get them without disturbing one. Each of the bath-rooms was the size of an ordinary man's parlour, with floor and walls of snow-white marble, and a door composed of an imported plate-glass mirror. There was a great porcelain tub, with glass handles upon the wall by which you could help yourself out of it, and a shower-bath with linen duck curtains, which were changed every day; and a marble slab upon which you might lie to be rubbed by the masseur who would come at the touch of a button.
There was no end to the miracles of this establishment, as Montague found in the course of time. There was no chance that the antique bronze clock on the mantel might go wrong, for it was electrically controlled from the office. You did not open the window and let in the dust, for the room was automatically ventilated, and you turned a switch marked "hot" and "cold." The office would furnish you a guide who would show you the establishment; and you might see your bread being kneaded by electricity, upon an opal glass table, and your eggs being tested by electric light; you might peer into huge refrigerators, ventilated by electric fans, and in which each tiny lamb chop reposed in a separate holder. Upon your own floor was a pantry, provided with hot and cold storage-rooms and an air-tight dumb-waiter; you might have your own private linen and crockery and plate, and your own family butler, if you wished. Your children, however, would not be permitted in the building, even though you were dying—this was a small concession which you made to a host who had invested a million dollars and a half in furniture alone.
A few minutes later the telephone bell rang, and Oliver answered it and said, "Send him up."
"Here's the tailor," he remarked, as he hung up the receiver.
"Whose tailor?" asked his brother.
"Yours," said he.
"Do I have to have some new clothes?" Montague asked.
"You haven't any clothes at present," was the reply.
Montague was standing in front of the "costumer," as the elaborate mirror was termed. He looked himself over, and then he looked at his brother. Oliver's clothing was a little like the Circassian walnut; at first you thought that it was simple, and even a trifle careless—it was only by degrees you realized that it was original and distinguished, and very expensive.
"Won't your New York friends make allowance for the fact that I am fresh from the country?" asked Montague, quizzically.
"They might," was the reply. "I know a hundred who would lend me money, if I asked them. But I don't ask them."
"Then how soon shall I be able to appear?" asked Montague, with visions of himself locked up in the room for a week or two.
"You are to have three suits to-morrow morning," said Oliver. "Genet has promised."
"Suits made to order?" gasped the other, in perplexity.
"He never heard of any other sort of suits," said Oliver, with grave rebuke in his voice.
M. Genet had the presence of a Russian grand duke, and the manner of a court chamberlain. He brought a subordinate to take Montague's measure, while he himself studied his colour-scheme. Montague gathered from the conversation that he was going to a house-party in the country the next morning, and that he would need a dress-suit, a hunting-suit, and a "morning coat." The rest might wait until his return. The two discussed him and his various "points" as they might have discussed a horse; he possessed distinction, he learned, and a great deal could be done with him—with a little skill he might be made into a personality. His French was not in training, but he managed to make out that it was M. Genet's opinion that the husbands of New York would tremble when he made his appearance among them.
When the tailor had left, Alice came in, with her face shining from a cold bathing. "Here you are decking yourselves out!" she cried. "And what about me?"
"Your problem is harder," said Oliver, with a laugh; "but you begin this afternoon. Reggie Mann is going to take you with him, and get you some dresses."
"What!" gasped Alice. "Get me some dresses! A man?"
"Of course," said the other. "Reggie Mann advises half the women in New York about their clothes."
"Who is he? A tailor?" asked the girl.
Oliver was sitting on the edge of the canapé, swinging one leg over the other; and he stopped abruptly and stared, and then sank back, laughing softly to himself. "Oh, dear me!" he said. "Poor Reggie!"
Then, realizing that he would have to begin at the beginning, he proceeded to explain that Reggie Mann was a cotillion leader, the idol of the feminine side of society. He was the special pet and protege of the great Mrs. de Graffenried, of whom they had surely heard—Mrs. de Graffenried, who was acknowledged to be the mistress of society at Newport, and was destined some day to be mistress in New York. Reggie and Oliver were "thick," and he had stayed in town on purpose to attend to her attiring—having seen her picture, and vowed that he would make a work of art out of her. And then Mrs. Robbie Walling would give her a dance; and all the world would come to fall at her feet.
"You and I are going out to 'Black Forest,' the Wallings' shooting-lodge, to-morrow," Oliver added to his brother. "You'll meet Mrs. Robbie there. You've heard of the Wallings, I hope."
"Yes," said Montague, "I'm not that ignorant."
"All right," said the other, "we're to motor down. I'm going to take you in my racing-car, so you'll have an experience. We'll start early."
"I'll be ready," said Montague; and when his brother replied that he would be at the door at eleven, he made another amused note as to the habits of New Yorkers.
The price which he paid at the hotel included the services of a valet or a maid for each of them, and so when their baggage arrived they had nothing to do. They went to lunch in one of the main dining-rooms of the hotel, a room with towering columns of dark-green marble and a maze of palms and flowers. Oliver did the ordering; his brother noticed that the simple meal cost them about fifteen dollars, and he wondered if they were to eat at that rate all the time.
Then Montague mentioned the fact that before leaving home he had received a telegram from General Prentice, asking him to go with him that evening to the meeting of the Loyal Legion. Montague wondered, half amused, if his brother would deem his old clothing fit for such a function. But Oliver replied that it would not matter what he wore there; he would not meet anyone who counted, except Prentice himself. The General and his family were prominent in society, it appeared, and were to be cultivated. But Oliver shrewdly forbore to elaborate upon this, knowing that his brother would be certain to talk about old times, which would be the surest possible method of lodging himself in the good graces of General Prentice.
After luncheon came Reggie Mann, dapper and exquisite, with slender little figure and mincing gait, and the delicate hands and soft voice of a woman. He was dressed for the afternoon parade, and wore a wonderful scarlet orchid in his buttonhole. Montague's hand he shook at his shoulder's height; but when Alice came in he did not shake hands with her. Instead, he stood and gazed, and gazed again, and lifting his hands a little with excess of emotion, exclaimed, "Oh, perfect! perfect!"
"And Ollie, I told you so!" he added, eagerly. "She it tall enough to wear satin! She shall have the pale blue Empire gown—she shall have the pale blue Empire gown if I have to pay for it myself! And oh, what times we shall have with that hair! And the figure—Reval will simply go wild!"
So Reggie prattled on, with his airy grace; he took her hand and studied it, and then turned her about to survey her figure, while Alice blushed and strove to laugh to hide her embarrassment. "My dear Miss Montague," he exclaimed, "I bring all Gotham and lay it at your feet! Ollie, your battle is won! Won without firing a shot! I know the very man for her—his father is dying, and he will have four millions in Transcontinental alone. And he is as handsome as Antinous and as fascinating as Don Juan! Allons! we may as well begin with the trousseau this afternoon!"