It was about a week from the beginning of Lent, when there would be a lull in the city's gaieties, and Society would shift the scene of its activities to the country clubs, and to California and Hot Springs and Palm Beach. Mrs. Caroline Smythe invited Alice to join her in an expedition to the last-named place; but Montague interposed, because he saw that Alice had been made pale and nervous by three months of night-and-day festivities. Also, a trip to Florida would necessitate ten or fifteen thousand dollars' worth of new clothes; and these would not do for the summer, it appeared—they would be faded and passe by that time.
So Alice settled back to rest; but she was too popular to be let alone—a few days later came another invitation, this time from General Prentice and his family. They were planning a railroad trip—to be gone for a month; they would have a private train, and twenty five people in the party, and would take in California and Mexico—"swinging round the circle," as it was called. Alice was wild to go, and Montague gave his consent. Afterward he learned to his dismay that Charlie Carter was one of those invited, and he would have liked to have Alice withdraw; but she did not wish to, and he could not make up his mind to insist.
These train trips were the very latest diversion of the well-to-do; a year ago no one had heard of them, and now fifty parties were leaving New York every month. You might see a dozen of such hotel-trains at once at Palm Beach; there were some people who lived on board all the time, having special tracks built for them in pleasant locations wherever they stopped. One man had built a huge automobile railroad car, shaped like a ram, and having accommodation for sixty people. The Prentice train had four cars, one of them a "library car," finished in St. Iago mahogany, and provided with a pipe-organ. Also there were bath-rooms and a barber-shop, and a baggage car with two autos on board for exploring purposes.
Since the episode of Mrs. Winnie, Oliver had apparently concluded that his brother was one of the initiated. Not long afterward he permitted him to a glimpse into that side of his life which had been hinted at in the songs at the bachelors' dinner.
Oliver had planned to take Betty Wyman to the theatre; but Betty's grandfather had come home from the West unexpectedly, and so Oliver came round and took his brother instead.
"I was going to play a joke on her," he said. "We'll go to see one of my old flames."
It was a translation of a French farce, in which the marital infidelities of two young couples were the occasion of many mishaps. One of the characters was a waiting-maid, who was in love with a handsome young soldier, and was pursued by the husband of one of the couples. It was a minor part, but the young Jewish girl who played it had so many pretty graces and such a merry laugh that she made it quite conspicuous. When the act was over, Oliver asked him whose acting he liked best, and he named her.
"Come and be introduced to her," Oliver said.
He opened a door near their box. "How do you do, Mr. Wilson," he said, nodding to a man in evening dress, who stood near by. Then he turned toward the dressing-rooms, and went down a corridor, and knocked upon one of the doors. A voice called, "Come in," and he opened the door; and there was a tiny room, with odds and ends of clothing scattered about, and the girl, clad in corsets and underskirt, sitting before a mirror. "Hello, Rosalie," said he.
And she dropped her powder-puff, and sprang up with a cry—"Ollie!" 'In a moment more she had her arms about his neck.
"Oh, you wretched man," she cried. "Why don't you come to see me any more? Didn't you get my letters?"
"I got some," said he. "But I've been busy. This is my brother, Mr. Allan Montague."
The other nodded to Montague, and said, "How do you do?"—but without letting go of Oliver. "Why don't you come to see me?" she exclaimed.
"There, there, now!" said Oliver, laughing good-naturedly. "I brought my brother along so that you'd have to behave yourself."
"I don't care about your brother!" exclaimed the girl, without even giving him another glance. Then she held Oliver at arm's length, and gazed into his face. "How can you be so cruel to me?" she asked.
"I told you I was busy," said he, cheerfully. "And I gave you fair warning, didn't I? How's Toodles?"
"Oh, Toodles is in raptures," said Rosalie. "She's got a new fellow." And then, her manner changing to one of merriment, she added: "Oh, Ollie! He gave her a diamond brooch! And she looks like a countess—she's hoping for a chance to wear it in a part!"
"You've seen Toodles," said Oliver, to his brother "She's in 'The Kaliph of Kamskatka.'".
"They're going on the road next week," said Rosalie. "And then I'll be all alone." She added, in a pleading voice: "Do, Ollie, be a good boy and take us out to-night. Think how long it's been since I've seen you! Why, I've been so good I don't know myself in the looking-glass. Please, Ollie!"
"All right," said he, "maybe I will."
"I'm not going to let you get away from me," she cried. "I'll come right over the footlights after you!"
"You'd better get dressed," said Oliver. "You'll be late."
He pushed aside a tray with some glasses on it, and seated himself upon a trunk; and Montague stood in a corner and watched Rosalie, while she powdered and painted herself, and put on an airy summer dress, and poured out a flood of gossip about "Toodles" and "Flossie" and "Grace" and some others. A few minutes later came a stentorian voice in the hallway: "Second act!" There were more embraces, and then Ollie brushed the powder from his coat, and went away laughing.
Montague stood for a few moments in the wings, watching the scene-shifters putting the final touches to the new set, and the various characters taking their positions. Then they went out to their seats. "Isn't she a jewel?" asked Oliver.
"She's very pretty," the other admitted.
"She came right out of the slums," said Oliver—"over on Rivington Street. That don't happen very often."
"How did you come to know her?" asked his brother.
"Oh, I picked her out. She was in a chorus, then. I got her first speaking part."
"Did you?" said the other, in surprise. "How did you do that?"
"Oh, a little money," was the reply. "Money will do most anything. And I was in love with her—that's how I got her."
Montague said nothing, but sat in thought.
"We'll take her out to supper and make her happy," added Oliver, as the curtain started up. "She's lonesome, I guess. You see, I promised Betty I'd reform."
All through that scene and the next one Rosalie acted for them; she was so full of verve and merriment that there was quite a stir in the audience, and she got several rounds of applause. Then, when the play was over, she extricated herself from the arms of the handsome young soldier, and fled to her dressing-room, and when Oliver and Montague arrived, she was half ready for the street.
They went up Broadway, and from a group of people coming out of another stage-entrance a young girl came to join them—an airy little creature with the face of a doll-baby, and a big hat with a purple feather on top. This was "Toodles"—otherwise known as Helen Gwynne; and she took Montague's arm, and they fell in behind Oliver and his companion.
Montague wondered what one said to a chorus-girl on the way to supper. Afterward his brother told him that Toodles had been the wife of a real-estate agent in a little town in Oklahoma, and had run away from respectability and boredom with a travelling theatrical company. Now she was tripping her part in the musical comedy which Montague had seen at Mrs. Lane's; and incidentally swearing devotion to a handsome young "wine-agent." She confided to Montague that she hoped the latter might see her that evening—he needed to be made jealous.
"The Great White Way" was the name which people had given to this part of Broadway; and at the head of it stood a huge hotel with flaming lights, and gorgeous marble and bronze, and famous paintings upon the walls and ceilings inside. At this hour every one of its many dining-rooms was thronged with supper-parties, and the place rang with laughter and the rattle of dishes, and the strains of several orchestras which toiled heroically in the midst of the uproar. Here they found a table, and while Oliver was ordering frozen poached eggs and quails in aspic, Montague sat and gazed about him at the revelry, and listened to the prattle of the little ex-sempstress from Rivington Street.
His brother had "got her," he said, by buying a speaking part in a play for her; and Montague recalled the orgies of which he had heard at the bachelors' dinner, and divined that here he was at the source of the stream from which they were fed. At the table next to them was a young Hebrew, whom Toodles pointed out as the son and heir of a great clothing manufacturer. He was "keeping" several girls, said she; and the queenly creature who was his vis-a-vis was one of the chorus in "The Maids of Mandalay." And a little way farther down the room was a boy with the face of an angel and the air of a prince of the blood—he had inherited a million and run away from school, and was making a name for himself in the Tenderloin. The pretty little girl all in green who was with him was Violet Pane, who was the artist's model in a new play that had made a hit. She had had a full-page picture of herself in the Sunday supplement of the "sporting paper" which was read here—so Rosalie remarked.
"Why don't you ever do that for me?" she added, to Oliver.
"Perhaps I will," said he, with a laugh. "What does it cost?"
And when he learned that the honour could be purchased for only fifteen hundred dollars, he said, "I'll do it, if you'll be good." And from that time on the last trace of worriment vanished from the face and the conversation of Rosalie.
As the champagne cocktails disappeared, she and Oliver became confidential. Then Montague turned to Toodles, to learn more about how the "second generation" was preying upon the women of the stage.
"A chorus-girl got from ten to twenty dollars a week," said Toodles; and that was hardly enough to pay for her clothes. Her work was very uncertain—she would spend weeks at rehearsal, and then if the play failed, she would get nothing. It was a dog's life; and the keys of freedom and opportunity were in the keeping of rich men, who haunted the theatres and laid siege to the girls. They would send in notes to them, or fling bouquets to them, with cards, or perhaps money, hidden in them. There were millionaire artists and bohemians who kept a standing order for seats in the front rows at opening performances; they had accounts with florists and liverymen and confectioners, and gave carte blanche to scores of girls who lent themselves to their purposes. Sometimes they were in league with the managers, and a girl who held back would find her chances imperilled; sometimes these men would even finance shows to give a chance to some favourite.
Afterward Toodles turned to listen to Oliver and his companion; and Montague sat back and gazed about the room. Next to him was a long table with a dozen, people at it; and he watched the buckets of champagne and the endless succession of fantastic-looking dishes of food, and the revellers, with their flushed faces and feverish eyes and loud laughter. Above all the tumult was the voice of the orchestra, calling, calling, like the storm wind upon the mountains; the music was wild and chaotic, and produced an indescribable sense of pain and confusion. When one realized that this same thing was going on in thousands of places in this district it seemed that here was a flood of dissipation that out-rivalled even that of Society.
It was said that the hotels of New York, placed end to end, would reach all the way to London; and they took care of a couple of hundred thousand people a day—a horde which had come from all over the world in search of pleasure and excitement. There were sight-seers and "country customers" from forty-five states; ranchers from Texas, and lumber kings from Maine, and mining men from Nevada. At home they had reputations, and perhaps families to consider; but once plunged into the whirlpool of the Tenderloin, they were hidden from all the world. They came with their pockets full of money; and hotels and restaurants, gambling-places and pool-rooms and brothels—all were lying in wait for them! So eager had the competition become that there was a tailoring establishment and a bank that were never closed the year round, except on Sunday.
Everywhere about one's feet the nets of vice were spread. The head waiter in one's hotel was a "steerer" for a "dive," and the house detective was "touting" for a gambling-place. The handsome woman who smiled at one in "Peacock Alley" was a "madame"; the pleasant-faced young man who spoke to one at the bar was on the look-out for customers for a brokerage-house next door. Three times in a single day in another of these great caravanserais Montague was offered "short change"; and so his eyes were opened to a new kind of plundering. He was struck by the number of attendants in livery who swarmed about him, and to whom he gave tips for their services. He did not notice that the boys in the wash-rooms and coat-rooms could not speak a word of English; he could not know that they were searched every night, and had everything taken from them, and that the Greek who hired them had paid fifteen thousand dollars a year to the hotel for the privilege.
So far had the specialization in evil proceeded that there were places of prostitution which did a telephone-business exclusively, and would send a woman in a cab to any address; and there were high-class assignation-houses, which furnished exquisite apartments and the services of maids and valets. And in this world of vice the modern doctrine of the equality of the sexes was fully recognized; there were gambling-houses and pool-rooms and opium-joints for women, and drinking-places which catered especially for them. In the "orange room" of one of the big hotels, you might see rich women of every rank and type, fingering the dainty leather-bound and gold-embossed wine cards. In this room alone were sold over ten thousand drinks every day; and the hotel paid a rental of a million a year to the Devon estate. Not far away the Devons also owned negro-dives, where, in the early hours of the morning, you might see richly-gowned white women drinking.
In this seething caldron of graft there were many strange ways of making money, and many strange and incredible types of human beings to be met. Once, in "Society," Montague had pointed out to him a woman who had been a "tattooed lady" in a circus; there was another who had been a confederate of gamblers upon the ocean steamships, and another who had washed dishes in a mining-camp. There was one of these great hotels whose proprietor had been a successful burglar; and a department-store whose owner had begun life as a "fence." In any crowd of these revellers you might have such strange creatures pointed out to you; a multimillionaire who sold rotten jam to the people; another who had invented opium soothing-syrup for babies; a convivial old gentleman who disbursed the "yellow dog fund" of several railroads; a handsome chauffeur who had run away with an heiress. 'Once a great scientist had invented a new kind of underwear, and had endeavoured to make it a gift to humanity; and here was a man who had seized upon it and made millions out of it! Here was a "trance medium," who had got a fortune out of an imbecile old manufacturer; here was a great newspaper proprietor, who published advertisements of assignations at a dollar a line; here was a cigar manufacturer, whose smug face was upon every billboard—he had begun as a tin manufacturer, and to avoid the duty, he had had his raw material cast in the form of statues, and brought them in as works of art!
And terrible and vile as were the sources from which the fortunes had been derived, they were no viler nor more terrible than the purposes for which they had been spent. Mrs. Vivie Patton had hinted to Montague of a "Decameron Club," whose members gathered in each others' homes and vied in the telling of obscene stories; Strathcona had told him about another set of exquisite ladies and gentlemen who gave elaborate entertainments, in which they dressed in the costumes of bygone periods, and imitated famous characters in history, and the vices and orgies of courts and camps. One heard of "Cleopatra nights" on board of yachts at Newport. There was a certain Wall Street "plunger," who had begun life as a mining man in the West; and when his customers came in town, he would hire a trolley-car, and take a load of champagne and half a dozen prostitutes, and spend the night careering about the country. This man was now quartered in one of the great hotels in New York; and in his apartments he would have prize fights and chicken fights; and bloodthirsty exhibitions called "purring matches," in which men tried to bark each other's shins; or perhaps a "battle royal," with a diamond scarf-pin dangling from the ceiling, and half a dozen negroes in a free-for-all fight for the prize.
No picture of the ways of the Metropolis would be complete which did not force upon the reluctant reader some realization of the extent to which new and hideous incitements to vice were spreading. To say that among the leisured classes such practices were raging like a pestilence would be no exaggeration. Ten years ago they were regarded with aversion by even the professionally vicious; but now the commonest prostitute accepted them as part of her fate. And there was no height to which they had not reached—ministers of state were enslaved by them; great fortunes and public events were controlled by them. In Washington there had been an ambassador whose natural daughter taught them in the houses of the great, until the scandal forced the minister's recall. Some of these practices were terrible in their effects, completely wrecking the victim in a short time; and physicians who studied their symptoms would be horrified to see them appearing in the homes of their friends.
And from New York, the centre of the wealth and culture of the country, these vices spread to every corner of it. Theatrical companies and travelling salesmen carried them; visiting merchants and sightseers acquired them. Pack-pedlers sold vile pictures and books—the manufacturing or importing of which was now quite an industry; one might read catalogues printed abroad in English, the contents of which would make one's flesh creep. There were cheap weeklies, costing ten cents a year, which were thrust into area-windows for servant-girls; there were yellow-covered French novels of unbelievable depravity for the mistress of the house. It was a curious commentary upon the morals of Society that upon the trains running to a certain suburban community frequented by the ultra-fashionable, the newsboys did a thriving business in such literature; and when the pastor of the fashionable church eloped with a Society girl, the bishop publicly laid the blame to the morals of his parishioners!
The theory was that there were two worlds, and that they were kept rigidly separate. There were two sets of women; one to be toyed with and flung aside, and the other to be protected and esteemed. Such things as prostitutes and kept women might exist, but people of refinement did not talk about them, and were not concerned with them. But Montague was familiar with the saying, that if you follow the chain of the slave, you will find the other end about the wrist of the master; and he discovered that the Tenderloin was wreaking its vengeance upon Fifth Avenue. It was not merely that the men of wealth were carrying to their wives and children the diseases of vice; they were carrying also the manners and the ideals.
Montague had been amazed by the things he had found in New York Society; the smoking and drinking and gambling of women, their hard and cynical views of life, their continual telling of coarse stories. And here, in this under-world, he had come upon the fountain head of the corruption. It was something which came to him in a sudden flash of intuition;—the barriers between the two worlds were breaking down!
He could picture the process in a hundred different forms. There was Betty Wyman. His brother had meant to take her to the theatre, to let her see Rosalie, by way of a joke! So, of course, Betty knew of his escapades, and of those of his set; she and her girl friends were whispering and jesting about them. Here sat Oliver, smiling and cynical, toying with Rosalie as a cat might toy with a mouse; and to-morrow he would be with Betty—and could anyone doubt any longer whence Betty had derived her attitude towards life? And the habits of mind that Oliver had taught her as a girl she would not forget as a wife; he might be anxious to keep her to himself, but there would be others whose interest was different.
And Montague recalled other things that he had seen or heard in Society, that he could put his finger upon, as having come out of this under-world. The more he thought of the explanation, the more it seemed to explain. This "Society," which had perplexed him—now he could describe it: its manners and ideals of life were those which he would have expected to find in the "fast" side of stage life.
It was, of course, the women who made Society, and gave it its tone; and the women of Society were actresses. They were actresses in their love of notoriety and display; in their taste in clothes and jewels, their fondness for cigarettes and champagne. They made up like actresses; they talked and thought like actresses. The only obvious difference was that the women of the stage were carefully selected—were at least up to a certain standard of physical excellence; whereas the women of Society were not selected at all, and some were lean, and some were stout, and some were painfully homely.
Montague recalled cases where the two sets had met as at some of the private entertainments. It was getting to be the fashion to hobnob with the stage people on such occasions; and he recalled how naturally the younger people took to this. Only the older women held aloof; looking down upon the women of the stage from an ineffable height, as belonging to a lower caste—because they were obliged to work for their livings. But it seemed to Montague, as he sat and talked with this poor chorus-girl, who had sold herself for a little pleasure, that it was easier to pardon her than the woman who had been born to luxury, and scorned those who produced her wealth.
But most of all, one's sympathies went out to a person who was not to be met in either of these sets; to the girl who had not sold herself, but was struggling for a living in the midst of this ravening corruption. There were thousands of self-respecting women, even on the stage; Toodles herself had been among them, she told Montague. "I kept straight for a long time," she said, laughing cheerfully—"and on ten dollars a week! I used to go out on the road, and then they paid me sixteen; and think of trying to live on one-night stands—to board yourself and stop at hotels and dress for the theatre—on sixteen a week, and no job half the year! And all that time—do you know Cyril Chambers, the famous church painter?"
"I've heard of him," said Montague.
"Well, I was with a show here on Broadway the next winter; and every night for six months he sent me a bunch of orchids that couldn't have cost less than seventy-five dollars! And he told me he'd open accounts for me in all the stores I chose, if I'd spend the next summer in Europe with him. He said I could take my mother or my sister with me—and I was so green in those days, I thought that must mean he didn't intend anything wrong!"
Toodles smiled at the memory. "Did you go?" asked the man.
"No," she answered. "I stayed here with a roof-garden show that failed. And I went to my old manager for a job, and he said to me, 'I can only pay you ten a week. But why are you so foolish?' 'How do you mean?' I asked; and he answered, 'Why don't you get a rich sweetheart? Then I could pay you sixty.' That's what a girl hears on the stage!"
"I don't understand," said Montague, perplexed. "Did he mean he could get money out of the man?"
"Not directly," said Toodles; "but tickets—and advertising. Why, men will hire front-row seats for a whole season, if they're interested in a girl in the show. And they'll take all their friends to see her, and she'll be talked about—she'll be somebody, instead of just nobody, as I was."
"Then it actually helps her on the stage!" said Montague.
"Helps her!" exclaimed Toodles. "My God! I've known a girl who'd been abroad with a tip-top swell—and had the gowns and the jewels to prove it—to come home and get into the front row of a chorus at a hundred dollars a week."
Toodles was cheerful and all unaware; and that only made the tragedy of it all one shade more black to Montague. He sat lost in sombre reverie, forgetting his companions, and the blare and glare of the place.
In the centre of this dining-room was a great cone-shaped stand, containing a display of food; and as they strolled out, Montague stopped to look at it. There were platters garnished with flowers and herbs, and containing roast turkeys and baked hams, jellied meats and game in aspic, puddings and tarts and frosted cakes—every kind of food-fantasticality imaginable. One might have spent an hour in studying it, and from top to bottom he would have found nothing simple, nothing natural. The turkeys had paper curls and rosettes stuck over them; the hams were covered with a white gelatine, the devilled crabs with a yellow mayonnaise-and all painted over in pink and green and black with landscapes and marine views—with "ships and shoes and sealing-wax and cabbages and kings." The jellied meats and the puddings were in the shape of fruits and flowers; and there were elaborate works of art in pink and white confectionery—a barn-yard, for instance, with horses and cows, and a pump, and a dairymaid—and one or two alligators.
And all this was changed every day! Each morning you might see a procession of a score of waiters bearing aloft a new supply. Montague remembered Betty Wyman's remark at their first interview, apropos of the whipped cream made into little curleques; how his brother had said, "If Allan were here, he'd be thinking about the man who fixed that cream, and how long it took him, and how he might have been reading 'The Simple Life'!"
He thought of that now; he stood here and gazed, and wondered about all the slaves of the lamp who served in this huge temple of luxury. He looked at the waiters—pale, hollow-chested, harried-looking men: he imagined the hordes of servants of yet lower kinds, who never emerged into the light of day; the men who washed the dishes, the men who carried the garbage, the men who shovelled the coal into the furnaces, and made the heat and light and power. Pent up in dim cellars, many stories under ground, and bound for ever to the service of sensuality—how terrible must be their fate, how unimaginable their corruption! And they were foreigners; they had come here seeking liberty. And the masters of the new country had seized them and pent them here!
From this as a starting-point his thought went on, to the hordes of toilers in every part of the world, whose fate it was to create the things which these blind revellers destroyed; the women and children in countless mills and sweatshops, who spun the cloth, and cut and sewed it; the girls who made the artificial flowers, who rolled the cigarettes, who gathered the grapes from the vines; the miners who dug the coal and the precious metals out of the earth; the men who watched in ten thousand signal-towers and engines, who fought the elements from the decks of ten thousand ships—to bring all these things here to be destroyed. Step by step, as the flood of extravagance rose, and the energies of the men were turned to the creation of futility and corruption—so, step by step, increased the misery and degradation of all these slaves of Mammon. And who could imagine what they would think about it—if ever they came to think?
And then, in a sudden flash, there came back to Montague that speech he had heard upon the street-corner, the first evening he had been in New York! He could hear again the pounding of the elevated trains, and the shrill voice of the orator; he could see his haggard and hungry face, and the dense crowd gazing up at him. And there came to him the words of Major Thorne:
"It means another civil war!"