ALADDIN & CO.
A ROMANCE OF YANKEE MAGIC
BY HERBERT QUICK
Author of "Virginia of the Air Lanes," "Double Trouble," etc.
GROSSET & DUNLAP Publishers—New York
Copyright 1904 Henry Holt and Company
Copyright 1907 The Bobbs-Merrill Company
PAGE CHAPTER I. Which is of an Introductory Character 1
CHAPTER II. Still Introductory 13
CHAPTER III. Reminiscentially Autobiographical 20
CHAPTER IV. Jim Discovers his Coral Island 39
CHAPTER V. We Reach the Atoll 46
CHAPTER VI. I am Inducted into the Cave, and Enlist 55
CHAPTER VII. We Make our Landing 67
CHAPTER VIII. A Welcome to Wall Street and Us 77
CHAPTER IX. I Go Abroad and We Unfurl the Jolly Roger 86
CHAPTER X. We Dedicate Lynhurst Park 96
CHAPTER XI. The Empress and Sir John Meet Again 112
CHAPTER XII. In which the Burdens of Wealth Begin to Fall upon Us 120
CHAPTER XIII. A Sitting or Two in the Game with the World and Destiny 137
CHAPTER XIV. In which we Learn Something of Railroads, and Attend Some Remarkable Christenings 152
CHAPTER XV. Some Affairs of the Heart Considered in their Relation to Dollars and Cents 169
CHAPTER XVI. Some Things which Happened in our Halcyon Days 185
CHAPTER XVII. Relating to the Disposition of the Captives 201
CHAPTER XVIII. The Going Away of Laura and Clifford, and the Departure of Mr. Trescott 214
CHAPTER XIX. In which Events Resume their Usual Course—at a Somewhat Accelerated Pace 231
CHAPTER XX. I Twice Explain the Condition of the Trescott Estate 248
CHAPTER XXI. Of Conflicts, Within and Without 260
CHAPTER XXII. In which I Win my Great Victory 270
CHAPTER XXIII. The "Dutchman's Mill" and What it Ground 281
CHAPTER XXIV. The Beginning of the End 291
CHAPTER XXV. That Last Weird Battle in the West 306
CHAPTER XXVI. The End—and a Beginning 320
ALADDIN & CO
THE PERSONS OF THE STORY.
James Elkins, the "man who made Lattimore," known as "Jim."
Albert Barslow, who tells the tale; the friend and partner of Jim.
Alice Barslow, his wife; at first, his sweetheart.
William Trescott, known as "Bill," a farmer and capitalist.
Josephine Trescott, his daughter.
Mrs. Trescott, his wife.
Mr. Hinckley, a banker of Lattimore.
Mrs. Hinckley, his wife; devoted to the emancipation of woman.
Antonia, their daughter.
Aleck Macdonald, pioneer and capitalist.
General Lattimore, pioneer, soldier, and godfather of Lattimore.
Miss Addison, the general's niece.
Captain Marion Tolliver, Confederate veteran and Lattimore boomer.
Mrs. Tolliver, his wife.
Will Lattimore, a lawyer.
Mr. Ballard, a banker.
J. Bedford Cornish, a speculator, who with Elkins, Barslow, and Hinckley make up the great Lattimore "Syndicate."
Clifford Giddings, editor and proprietor of the Lattimore Herald.
De Forest Barr-Smith, an Englishman "representing capital."
Cecil Barr-Smith, his brother.
Avery Pendleton, of New York, a railway magnate; head of the "Pendleton System."
Allen G. Wade, of New York; head of the Allen G. Wade Trust Co.
Halliday, a railway magnate; head of the "Halliday System."
Watson, a reporter.
Schwartz, a locomotive engineer on the Lattimore & Great Western.
Hegvold, a fireman.
Citizens of Lattimore, Politicians, Live-stock Merchants, Railway Clerks and Officials, etc.
Scene: Principally in the Western town of Lattimore, but partly in New York and Chicago.
Time: Not so very long ago.
ALADDIN & CO
Which is of Introductory Character.
Our National Convention met in Chicago that year, and I was one of the delegates. I had looked forward to it with keen expectancy. I was now, at five o'clock of the first day, admitting to myself that it was a bore.
The special train, with its crowd of overstimulated enthusiasts, the throngs at the stations, the brass bands, bunting, and buncombe all jarred upon me. After a while my treason was betrayed to the boys by the fact that I was not hoarse. They punished me by making me sing as a solo the air of each stanza of "Marching Through Georgia," "Tenting To-night on the Old Camp-ground," and other patriotic songs, until my voice was assimilated to theirs. But my gorge rose at it all, and now, at five o'clock of the first day, I was seeking a place of retirement where I could be alone and think over the marvelous event which had suddenly raised me from yesterday's parity with the fellows on the train to my present state of exaltation.
I should have preferred a grotto in Vau Vau or some south-looking mountain glen; but in the absence of any such retreat in Chicago, I turned into the old art-gallery in Michigan Avenue. As I went floating in space past its door, my eye caught through the window the gleam of the white limbs of statues, and my being responded to the soul vibrations they sent out. So I paid my fee, entered, and found the tender solitude for which my heart longed. I sat down and luxuriated in thoughts of the so recent marvelous experience. Need I explain that I was young and the experience was one of the heart?
I was so young that my delegateship was regarded as a matter to excite wonder. I saw my picture in the papers next morning as a youth of twenty-three who had become his party's leader in an important agricultural county. Some, in the shameless laudation of a sensational press, compared me to the younger Pitt. As a matter of fact, I had some talent for organization, and in any gathering of men, I somehow never lacked a following. I was young enough to be an honest partisan, enthusiastic enough to be useful, strong enough to be respected, ignorant enough to believe my party my country's safeguard, and I was prominent in my county before I was old enough to vote. At twenty-one I conducted a convention fight which made a member of Congress. It was quite natural, therefore, that I should be delegate to this convention, and that I had looked forward to it with keen expectancy. The remarkable thing was my falling off from its work now by virtue of that recent marvelous experience which as I have admitted was one of the heart. Do not smile. At three-and-twenty even delegates have hearts.
My mental and sentimental state is of importance in this history, I think, or I should not make so much of it. I feel sure that I should not have behaved just as I did had I not been at that moment in the iridescent cloudland of newly-reciprocated love. Alice had accepted me not an hour before my departure for Chicago. Hence my loathing for such things as nominating speeches and the report of the Committee on Credentials, and my yearning for the Vau Vau grotto. She had yielded herself up to me with such manifold sweetnesses, uttered and unutterable (all of which had to be gone over in my mind constantly to make sure of their reality), that the contest in Indiana, and the cause of our own State's Favorite Son, became sickening burdens to me, which rolled away as I gazed upon the canvases in the gallery. I lay back upon a seat, half closed my eyes, and looked at the pictures. When one comes to consider the matter, an art gallery is a wonderfully different thing from a national convention!
As I looked on them, the still paintings became instinct with life. Yonder shepherdess shielding from the thorns the little white lamb was Alice, and back behind the clump of elms was myself, responding to her silvery call. The cottage on the mountain-side was ours. That lady waving her handkerchief from the promontory was Alice, too; and I was the dim figure on the deck of the passing ship. I was the knight and she the wood-nymph; I the gladiator in the circus, she the Roman lady who agonized for me in the audience; I the troubadour who twanged the guitar, she the princess whose fair shoulder shone through the lace at the balcony window. They lived and moved before my very eyes. I knew the unseen places beyond the painted mountains, and saw the secret things the artists only dreamed of. Doves cooed for me from the clumps of thorn; the clouds sailed in pearly serenity across the skies, their shadows mottling mountain, hill, and plain; and out from behind every bole, and through every leafy screen, glimpsed white dryads and fleeing fays.
Clearly the convention hall was no place for me. "Hang the speech of the temporary chairman, anyhow!" thought I; "and as for the platform, let it point with pride, and view with apprehension, to its heart's content; it is sure to omit all reference to the overshadowing issue of the day—Alice!"
All the world loves a lover, and a true lover loves all the world,—especially that portion of it similarly blessed. So, when I heard a girl's voice alternating in intimate converse with that of a man, my sympathies went out to them, and I turned silently to look. They must have come in during my reverie; for I had passed the place where they were sitting and had not seen them. There was a piece of grillwork between my station and theirs, through which I could see them plainly. The gallery had seemed deserted when I went in, and still seemed so, save for the two voices.
Hers was low and calm, but very earnest; and there was in it some inflection or intonation which reminded me of the country girls I had known on the farm and at school. His was of a peculiarly sonorous and vibrant quality, its every tone so clear and distinct that it would have been worth a fortune to a public speaker. Such a voice and enunciation are never associated with any mind not strong in the qualities of resolution and decision.
On looking at her, I saw nothing countrified corresponding to the voice. She was dressed in something summery and cool, and wore a sort of flowered blouse, the presence of which was explained by the easel before which she sat, and the palette through which her thumb protruded. She had laid down her brush, and the young man was using her mahlstick in a badly-directed effort to smear into a design some splotches of paint on the unused portion of her canvas.
He was by some years her senior, but both were young—she, very young. He was swarthy of complexion, and his smoothly-shaven, square-set jaw and full red lips were bluish with the subcutaneous blackness of his beard. His dress was so distinctly late in style as to seem almost foppish; but there was nothing of the exquisite in his erect and athletic form, or in his piercing eye.
She was ruddily fair, with that luxuriant auburn-brown hair which goes with eyes of amberish-brown and freckles. These latter she had, I observed with a renewal of the thought of the country girls and the old district school. She was slender of waist, full of bust, and, after a lissome, sylph-like fashion, altogether charming in form. With all her roundness, she was slight and a little undersized.
So much of her as there was, the young fellow seemed ready to absorb, regarding her with avid eyes—a gaze which she seldom met. But whenever he gave his attention to the mahlstick, her eyes sought his countenance with a look which was almost scrutiny. It was as if some extrinsic force drew her glance to his face, until the stronger compulsion of her modesty drove it away at the return of his black orbs. My heart recognized with a throb the freemasonry into which I had lately been initiated, and, all unknown to them, I hailed them as members of the order.
Their conversation came to me in shreds and fragments, which I did not at all care to hear. I recognized in it those inanities with which youth busies the lips, leaving the mind at rest, that the interplay of magnetic discharges from heart to heart may go on uninterruptedly. It is a beautiful provision of nature, but I did not at that time admire it. I pitied them. Alice and I had passed through that stage, and into the phase marked by long and eloquent silences.
"I was brought up to think," I remember to have heard the fair stranger say, following out, apparently, some subject under discussion between them, "that the surest way to make a child steal jam is to spy upon him. I should feel ashamed."
"Quite right," said he, "but in Europe and in the East, and even here in Chicago, in some circles, it is looked upon as indispensable, you know."
"In art, at least," she went on, "there is no sex. Whoever can help me in my work is a companion that I don't need any chaperon to protect me from. If I wasn't perfectly sure of that, I should give up and go back home."
"Now, don't draw the line so as to shut me out," he protested. "How can I help you with your work?"
She looked him steadily in the face now, her intent and questioning regard shading off into a somewhat arch smile.
"I can't think of any way," said she, "unless it would be by posing for me."
"There's another way," he answered, "and the only one I'd care about."
She suddenly became absorbed in the contemplation of the paints on her palette, at which she made little thrusts with a brush; and at last she queried, doubtfully, "How?"
"I've heard or read," he answered, "that no artist ever rises to the highest, you know, until after experiencing some great love. I—can't you think of any other way besides the posing?"
She brought the brush close to her eyes, minutely inspecting its point for a moment, then seemed to take in his expression with a swift sweeping glance, resumed the examination of the brush, and finally looked him in the face again, a little red spot glowing in her cheek, and a glint of fire in her eye. I was too dense to understand it, but I felt that there was a trace of resentment in her mien.
"Oh, I don't know about that!" she said. "There may be some other way. I haven't met all your friends, and you may be the means of introducing me to the very man."
I did not hear his reply, though I confess I tried to catch it. She resumed her work of copying one of the paintings. This she did in a mechanical sort of way, slowly, and with crabbed touches, but with some success. I thought her lacking in anything like control over the medium in which she worked; but the results promised rather well. He seemed annoyed at her sudden accession of industry, and looked sometimes quizzically at her work, often hungrily at her. Once or twice he touched her hand as she stepped near him; but she neither reproved him nor allowed him to retain it.
I felt that I had taken her measure by this time. She was some Western country girl, well supplied with money, blindly groping toward the career of an artist. Her accent, her dress, and her occupation told of her origin and station in life, and of her ambitions. The blindness I guessed,—partly from the manner of her work, partly from the inherent probabilities of the case. If the young man had been eliminated from this problem with which my love-sick imagination was busying itself, I could have followed her back confidently to some rural neighborhood, and to a year or two of painting portraits from photographs, and landscapes from "studies," and exhibiting them at the county fair; the teaching of some pupils, in an unnecessary but conscientiously thrifty effort to get back some of the money invested in an "art education" in Chicago; and a final reversion to type after her marriage with the village lawyer, doctor or banker, or the owner of the adjoining farm. I was young; but I had studied people, and had already seen such things happen.
But the young man could not be eliminated. He sat there idly, his every word and look surcharged with passion. As I wondered how long it would be until they were as happy as Alice and I, the thought grew upon me that, however familiar might be the type to which she belonged, he was unclassified. His accent was Eastern—of New York, I judged. He looked like the young men in the magazine illustrations—interesting, but outside my field of observation. And I could not fail to see that girl must find herself similarly at odds with him. "But," thought I, "love levels all!" And I freshly interrogated the pictures and statues for transportation to my own private Elysium, forgetful of my unconscious neighbors.
My attention was recalled to them, however, by their arrangements for departure, and a concomitant slightly louder tone in their conversation.
"It's just a spectacular show," said he; "no plot or anything of that sort, you know, but good music and dancing; and when we get tired of it we can go. We'll have a little supper at Auriccio's afterward, if you'll be so kind. It's only a step from McVicker's."
"Won't it be pretty late?" she queried.
"Not for Chicago," said he, "and you'll find material for a picture at Auriccio's about midnight. It's quite like the Latin Quarter, sometimes."
"I want to see the real Latin Quarter, and no imitation," she answered. "Oh, I guess I'll go. It'll furnish me with material for a letter to mamma, however the picture may turn out."
"I'll order supper for the Empress," said he, "and—"
"And for the illustrious Sir John," she added. "But you mustn't call me that any more. I've been reading her history, and I don't like it. I'm glad he died on St. Helena, now: I used to feel sorry for him."
"Transfer your pity to the downtrodden Sir John," he replied, "and make a real living man happy."
They passed out and left me to my dreams. But visions did not return. My idyl was spoiled. Old-fashioned ideas emerged, and took form in the plain light of every-day common-sense. I knew the wonderfully gorgeous spectacle these two young people were going to see at the play that night, with its lights, its music, its splendidly meretricious Orientalism. And I knew Auriccio's,—not a disreputable place at all, perhaps; but free-and-easy, and distinctly Bohemian. I wished that this little girl, so arrogantly and ignorantly disdainful (as Alice would have been under the same circumstances) of such European conventions as the chaperon, so fresh, so young, so full of allurement, so under the influence of this smooth, dark, and passionate wooer with the vibrant voice, could be otherwise accompanied on this night of pleasure than by himself alone.
"It's none of your business," said the voice of that cold-hearted and slothful spirit which keeps us in our groove, "and you couldn't do anything, anyhow. Besides, he's abjectly in love with her: would there be any danger if it were you and your Alice?"
"I'm not at all sure about him or his abjectness," replied my uneasy conscience. "He knows better than to do this."
"What do you know of either of them?" answered this same Spirit of Routine. "What signify a few sentences casually overheard? She may be something quite different; there are strange things in Chicago."
"I'll wager anything," said I hotly, "that she's a good American girl of the sort I live among and was brought up with! And she may be in danger."
"If she's that sort of girl," said the Voice, "you may rely upon her to take care of herself."
"That's pretty nearly true," I admitted.
"Besides," said the Voice illogically, "such things happen every night in such a city. It's a part of the great tragedy. Don't be Quixotic!"
Here was where the Voice lost its case: for my conscience was stirred afresh; and I went back to the convention-hall carrying on a joint debate with myself. Once in the hall, however, I was conscripted into a war which was raging all through our delegation over the succession in our membership in the National Committee. I thought no more of the idyl of the art-gallery until the adjournment for the night.
The great throng from the hall surged along the streets in an Amazonian network of streams, gathering in boiling lakes in the great hotels, dribbling off into the boarding-house districts in the suburbs, seeping down into the slimy fens of vice. Again I found myself out of touch with it all. I gave my companions the slip, and started for my hotel.
All at once it occurred to me that I had not dined, and with the thought came the remembrance of my pair of lovers, and their supper together. With a return of the feeling that these were the only people in Chicago possessing spirits akin to mine, I shaped my course for Auriccio's. My country dazedness led me astray once or twice, but I found the place, retreated into the farthest corner, sat down, and ordered supper.
It was not one of the places where the out-of-town visitors were likely to resort, and it was in fact rather quieter than usual. The few who were at the tables went out before my meal was served, and for a few minutes I was alone. Then the Empress and Sir John entered, followed by half a dozen other playgoers. The two on whom my sentimental interest was fixed came far down toward my position, attracted by the quietude which had lured me, and seated themselves at a table in a sort of alcove, cut off from the main room by columns and palms, secluded enough for privacy, public enough, perhaps, for propriety. So far as I was concerned I could see them quite plainly, looking, as I did, from my gloomy corner toward the light of the restaurant; and I was sufficiently close to be within easy earshot. I began to have the sensation of shadowing them, until I recalled the fact that, so far, it had been a case of their following me.
I thought his manner toward her had changed since the afternoon. There was now an openness of wooing, an abandonment of reserve in glance and attitude, which should have admonished her of an approaching crisis in their affairs. Yet she seemed cooler and more self-possessed than before. Save for a little flutter in her low laugh, I should have pronounced her entirely at ease. She looked very sweet and girlish in her high-necked dress, which helped make up a costume that she seemed to have selected to subdue and conceal, rather than to display, her charms. If such was her plan, it went pitifully wrong: his advances went on from approach to approach, like the last manoeuvres of a successful siege.
"No," I heard her say, as I became conscious that we three were alone again; "not here! Not at all! Stop!"
When I looked at them they were quietly sitting at the table; but her face was pale, his flushed. Pretty soon the waiter came and served champagne. I felt sure that she had never seen any before.
"How funny it looks," said she, "with the bubbles coming up in the middle like a little fountain; and how pretty! Why, the stem is hollow, isn't it?"
He laughed and made some foolish remark about love bubbling up in his heart. When he set his glass down, I could see that his hands were trembling as with palsy,—so much so that it was tipped over and broken.
"I'll fill another," said he. "Aren't you sorry you broke it?"
"I?" she queried. "You're not going to lay that to me, are you?"
"You're the only one to blame!" he replied. "You must hold it till it's steady. I'll hold your glass with the other. Why, you don't take any at all! Don't you like it, dear?"
She shrank back, looked toward the door, and then took the hand in both of hers, holding it close to her side, and drank the wine like a child taking medicine. His arm, his hand still holding the glass, slipped about her waist, but she turned swiftly and silently freed herself and sat down by the chair in which he had meant that both should sit, holding his hands. Then in a moment I saw her sitting on the other side of the table, and he was filling the glasses again. The guests had all departed. The well-disciplined waiters had effaced themselves. Only we three were there. I wondered if I ought to do anything.
They sat and talked in low tones. He was drinking a good deal of the champagne; she, little; and neither seemed to be eating anything. He sat opposite to her, leaning over as if to consume her with his eyes. She returned his gaze often now, and often smiled; but her smile was drawn and tremulous, and, to my mind, pitifully appealing. I no longer wondered if I ought to do anything; for, once, when I partly rose to go and speak to them, the impossibility of the thing overcame my half resolve, and I sat down. The anti-quixotic spirit won, after all.
At last a waiter, returning with the change for the bill with which I had paid my score, was hailed by Sir John, and was paid for their supper. I looked to see them as they started for home. The girl rose and made a movement toward her wrap. He reached it first and placed it about her shoulders. In so doing, he drew her to him, and began speaking softly and passionately to her in words I could not hear. Her face was turned upward and backward toward him, and all her resistance seemed gone. I should have been glad to believe this the safe and triumphant surrender to an honest love; but here, after the dances and Stamboul spectacles, hidden by the palms, beside the table with its empty bottles and its broken glass, how could I believe it such? I turned away, as if to avoid the sight of the crushing of some innocent thing which I was powerless to aid, and strode toward the door.
Then I heard a little cry, and saw her come flying down the great hall, leaving him standing amazedly in the archway of the palm alcove.
She passed me at the door, her face vividly white, went out into the street, like a dove from the trap at a shooting tournament, and sprang lightly upon a passing street-car. I could act now, and I would see her to a place of safety; so I, too, swung on by the rail of the rear car. She never once turned her face; but I saw Sir John come to the door of the restaurant and look both ways for her, and as he stood perplexed and alarmed, our train turned the curve at the next corner, we were swept off toward the South Side, and the dark young man passed, as I supposed, "into my dreams forever." I made my way forward a few seats and saw her sitting there with her head bowed upon the back of the seat in front of her. I bitterly wished that he, if he had a heart, might see her there, bruised in spirit, her little ignorant white soul, searching itself for smutches of the uncleanness it feared. I wished that Alice might be there to go to her and comfort her without a word. I paid her fare, and the conductor seemed to understand that she was not to be disturbed. A drunken man in rough clothes came into the car, walked forward and looked at her a moment, and as I was about to go to him and make him sit elsewhere, he turned away and came back to the rear, as if he had some sort of maudlin realization that the front of the train was sacred ground.
At last she looked about, signalled for the car to stop, and alighted. I followed, rather suspecting that she did not know her way. She walked steadily on, however, to a big, dark house with a vine-covered porch, close to the sidewalk. A stout man, coatless, and in a white shirt, stood at the gate. He wore a slouch hat, and I knew him, even in that dim light, for a farmer. She stopped for a moment, and without a word, sprang into his arms.
"Wal, little gal, ain't yeh out purty late?" I heard him say, as I walked past. "Didn't expect yer dad to see yeh, did yeh? Why, yeh ain't a-cryin', be yeh?"
"O pa! O pa!" was all I heard her say; but it was enough. I walked to the corner, and sat down on the curbstone, dead tired, but happy. In a little while I went back toward the street-car line, and as I passed the vine-clad porch, heard the farmer's bass voice, and stopped to listen, frankly an eavesdropper, and feeling, somehow, that I had earned the right to hear.
"Why, o' course, I'll take yeh away, ef yeh don't like it here, little gal," he was saying. "Yes, we'll go right in an' pack up now, if yeh say so. Only it's a little suddent, and may hurt the Madame's feelin's, y' know—"
* * * * *
At the hotel I was forced by the crowded state of the city to share the bed of one of my fellow delegates. He was a judge from down the state, and awoke as I lay down.
"That you, Barslow?" said he. "Do you know a fellow by the name of Elkins, of Cleveland?"
"No," said I, "why?"
"He was here to see you, or rather to inquire if you were Al Barslow who used to live in Pleasant Valley Township," the Judge went on. "He's the fellow who organized the Ohio flambeau brigade. Seems smart."
"Pleasant Valley Township, did he say? Yes, I know him. It's Jimmie Elkins."
And I sank to sleep and to dreams, in which Jimmie Elkins, the Empress, Sir John, Alice, and myself acted in a spectacular drama, like that at McVicker's. And yet there are those who say there is nothing in dreams!
This Jimmie Elkins was several years older than I; but that did not prevent us, as boys, from being fast friends. At seventeen he had a coterie of followers among the smaller fry of ten and twelve, his tastes clinging long to the things of boyhood. He and I played together, after the darkening of his lip suggested the razor, and when the youths of his age were most of them acquiring top buggies, and thinking of the long Sunday-night drives with their girls. Jim preferred the boys, and the trade of the fisher and huntsman.
Why, in spite of parental opposition, I loved Jimmie, is not hard to guess. He had an odd and freakish humor, and talked more of Indian-fighting, filibustering in gold-bearing regions, and of moving accidents by flood and field, than of crops, live-stock, or bowery dances. He liked me just as did the older men who sent me to the National Convention,—in spite of my youth. He was a ne'er-do-weel, said my father, but I snared gophers and hunted and fished with him, and we loved each other as brothers seldom do.
At last, I began teaching school, and working my way to a better education than our local standard accepted as either useful or necessary, and Jim and I drifted apart. He had always kept up a voluminous correspondence with that class of advertisers whose black-letter "Agents Wanted" is so attractive to the farmer-boy; and he was usually agent for some of their wares. Finally, I heard of him as a canvasser for a book sold by subscription,—a "Veterinarians' Guide," I believe it was,—and report said that he was "making money." Again I learned that he had established a publishing business of some kind; and, later, that reverses had forced him to discontinue it,—the old farmer who told me said he had "failed up." Then I heard no more of him until that night of the convention, when I had the adventure with the Empress and Sir John, all unknown to them; and Jim made the ineffectual attempt to find me. His family had left the old neighborhood, and so had mine; and the chances of our ever meeting seemed very slight. In fact it was some years later and after many of the brave dreams of the youthful publicist had passed away, that I casually stumbled upon him in the smoking-room of a parlor-car, coming out of Chicago.
I did not know him at first. He came forward, and, extending his hand, said, "How are you, Al?" and paused, holding the hand I gave him, evidently expecting to enjoy a period of perplexity on my part. But with one good look in his eyes I knew him. I made him sit down by me, and for half an hour we were too much engrossed in reminiscences to ask after such small matters as business, residence, and general welfare.
"Where all have you been, Jim, and what have you been doing, since you followed off the 'Veterinarians' Guide,' and I lost you?" I inquired at last.
"I've been everywhere, and I've done everything, almost," said he. "Put it in the 'negative case,' and my history'll be briefer."
"I should regard organizing a flambeau brigade," said I, "as about the last thing you would engage in."
"Ah!" he replied, "His Whiskers at the hotel told you I called that time, did he? Well, I didn't think he had the sense. And I doubted the memory on your part, and I wasn't at all sure you were the real Barslow. But about the flambeaux. The fact is, I had some stock in the flambeau factory, and I was a rabid partisan of flambeaux. They seemed so patriotic, you know, so sort of ennobling, and so convincing, as to the merits of the tariff controversy!"
It was the same old Jim, I thought.
"We used to have a scheme," I remarked, "our favorite one, of occupying an island in the Pacific,—or was it somewhere in the vicinity of the Spanish Main—"
"If it was the place where we were to make slaves of all the natives, and I was to be king, and you Grand Vizier," he answered, as if it were a weighty matter, and he on the witness-stand, "it was in the Pacific—the South Pacific, where the whale-oil comes from. A coral atoll, with a crystal lagoon in the middle for our ships, and a fringe of palms along the margin—coco-palms, you remember; and the lagoon was green, sometimes, and sometimes blue; and the sharks never came over the bar, but the porpoises came in and played for us, and made fireworks in the phosphorescent waves...."
His eyes grew almost tender, as he gazed out of the window, and ceased to speak without finishing the sentence,—which it took me some minutes to follow out to the end, in my mind. I was delighted and touched to find these foolish things so green in his memory.
"The plan involved," said I soberly, "capturing a Spanish galleon filled with treasure, finding two lovely ladies in the cabin, and offering them their liberty. And we sailed with them for a port; and, as I remember it, their tears at parting conquered us, and we married them; and lived richer than oil magnates, and grander than Monte Cristos forever after: do you remember?"
"Remember! Well, I should smile!"—he had been laughing like a boy, with his old frank laugh. "Them's the things we don't forget.... Did you ever gather any information as to what a galleon really was? I never did."
"I had no more idea than I now have of the Rosicrucian Mysteries; and I must confess," said I, "that I'm a little hazy on the galleon question yet. As to piracy, now, and robbers and robbery, actual life fills out the gaps in the imagination of boyhood, doesn't it, Jim?"
"Apt to," he assented, "but specifically? As to which, you know?"
"Well, I've had my share of experience with them," I answered, "though not so much in the line of rob-or, as we planned, but more as rob-ee."
Jim looked at me quizzically.
"Board of Trade, faro, or ... what?" he ventured.
"General business," I responded, "and ... politics."
"Local, state, or national?" he went on, craftily ignoring the general business.
"A little national, some state, but the bulk of it local. I've been elected County Treasurer, down where I live, for four successive terms."
"Good for you!" he responded. "But I don't see how that can be made to harmonize with your remark about rob-or and rob-ee. It's been your own fault, if you haven't been on the profitable side of the game, with the dear people on the other. And I judge from your looks that you eat three meals a day, right along, anyhow. Come, now, b'lay this rob-ee business (as Sir Henry Morgan used to say) till you get back to Buncombe County. As a former partner in crime, I won't squeal; and the next election is some ways off, anyhow. No concealment among pals, now, Al, it's no fair, you know, and it destroys confidence and breeds discord. Many a good, honest, piratical enterprise has been busted up by concealment and lack of confidence. Always trust your fellow pirates,—especially in things they know all about by extrinsic evidence,—and keep concealment for the great world of the unsophisticated and gullible, and to catch the sucker vote with. But among ourselves, my beloved, fidelity to truth, and openness of heart is the first rule, right out of Hoyle. With dry powder, mutual confidence, and sharp cutlasses, we are invincible; and as the poet saith,
"'Far as the tum-te-tum the billows foam Survey our empire and behold our home,'
or words to that effect. And to think of your trying to deceive me, your former chieftain, who doesn't even vote in your county or state, and moreover always forgets election! Rob-ee indeed! rats! Al, I'm ashamed of you, by George, I am!"
This speech he delivered with a ridiculous imitation of the tricks of the elocutionist. It was worthy of the burlesque stage. The conductor, passing through, was attracted by it, and notified us that the solitude of the smoking-room had been invaded, by a slight burst of applause at Jim's peroration, followed by the vanishing of the audience.
"No need for any further concealment on my part, so far as elections are concerned," said I, when we had finished our laugh, "for I go out of office January first, next."
"Oh, well, that accounts for it, then," said he. "I notice, say, three kinds of retirement from office: voluntary (very rare), post-convention, and post-election. Which is yours?"
"Post-convention, I'm sorry to say. I wish it had been voluntary."
"It is the cheapest; but you're in great luck not to get licked at the polls. Altogether, you're in great luck. You've been betting on a game in which the percentage is mighty big in favor of the house, and you've won three or four consecutive turns out of the box. You've got no kick coming: you're in big luck. Don't you know you are?"
I did not feel called upon to commit myself; and we smoked on for some time in silence.
"It strikes me, Jim," said I, at last, "that you've done all the cross-examination, and that it is time to listen to your report. How about you and your conduct?"
"As for my conduct," was the prompt answer, "it's away up in the neighborhood of G. I've managed to hold the confounded world up for a living, ever since I left Pleasant Valley Township. Some of the time the picking has been better than at others; but my periods of starvation have been brief. By practicing on the 'Veterinarians' Guide' and other similar fakes, I learned how to talk to people so as to make them believe what I said about things, with the result, usually, of wooing the shrinking and cloistered dollar from its lair. When a fellow gets this trick down fine, he can always find a market for his services. I handled hotel registers, city directories, and like literature, including county histories—"
"Sh-h-h!" said I, "somebody might hear you."
"—and at last, after a conference with my present employers, the error of my way presented itself to me, and I felt called to a higher and holier profession. I yielded to my good angel, turned my better nature loose, and became a missionary."
"A what!" I exclaimed.
"A missionary," he responded soberly. "That is, you understand, not one of these theological, India's-coral-strand guys; but one who goes about the United States of America in a modest and unassuming way, doing good so far as in him lies."
"I see," said I, punning horribly, "'in him lies.'"
"Eh?... Yes. Have another cigar. Well, now, you can't defend this foreign-mission business to me for a minute. The hills, right in this vicinity, are even now white to the harvest. Folks here want the light just as bad as the foreign heathen; and so I took up my burden, and went out to disseminate truth, as the soliciting agent of the Frugality and Indemnity Life Association, which presented itself to me as the capacity in which I could best combine repentance with its fruits."
"I perceive," said I.
"Perfectly plain, isn't it, to the seeing eye?" he went on. "You see it was like this: Charley Harper and I had been together in the Garden City Land Company, years ago, during the boom—by the way, I didn't mention that in my report, did I? Well, of course, that company went up just as they all did, and neither Charley nor I got to be receiver, as we'd sort of laid out to do, and we separated. I went back to my literature—hotel registers, with an advertising scheme, with headquarters at Cleveland. That's how I happened to be an Ohio man at that national convention. Charley always had a leaning toward insurance, and went down into Illinois, and started a mutual-benefit organization, which he kept going a few years down on the farm—Springfield, or Jacksonville, or somewhere down there; and when I ketched up with him again, he was just changing it to the old-line plan, and bringing it to the metropolis. Well, I helped him some to enlist capital, and he offered me the position of Superintendent of Agents. I accepted, and after serving awhile in the ranks to sort of get onto the ropes, here I am, just starting out on a trip which will take me through a number of states."
"How does it agree with you?" I inquired.
"Not well," said he, "but the good I accomplish is a great comfort to me. On this trip, now, I expect to do much in the way of stimulating the boys up to their great work of spreading the light of the gospel of true insurance. Sometimes, in these days of apathy and error, I find my burden a heavy one; and notwithstanding the quiet of conscience I gain, if it weren't for the salary, I'd quit to-morrow, Al, danged if I wouldn't. It makes me tired to have even you sort of hint that I'm actuated by some selfish motive, when, in truth and in fact, I live but to gather widows and orphans under my wing, so to speak, and give second husbands a good start, by means of policies written on the only true plan, combining participation in profits with pure mutuality, and—"
"Never mind!" said I with a silence-commanding gesture. "I've heard all that before. You're onto the ropes thoroughly; but don't practice your infernal arts on me! I hope the salary is satisfactory?"
"Fairish; but not high, considering what they get for it."
"You used to be more modest," said I. "I remember that you once nearly broke your heart because you couldn't summon up courage to ask Creeshy Hammond to go to the 'Fourth' with you; d'ye remember?"
"Well, I guess, yes!" he replied. "Wasn't I a miserable wretch for a few days! And I've never been able to ask any woman I cared about, the fateful question, yet."
We went into the parlor-car, and talked over old times and new for an hour. I told him of my marriage and my home, and I studied him. I saw that he still preserved his humorous, mock-serious style of conversation, and that his hand-to-hand battle with the world had made him good-humoredly cynical. He evinced a knowledge of more things than I should have expected; and had somehow acquired an imposing manner, in spite of his rather slangy, if expressive, vocabulary. He had the power of making statements of mere opinion, which, from some vibration of voice or trick of expression, struck the hearer as solid facts, thrice buttressed by evidence. He bore no marks of dissipation, unless the occasional use of terms traceable to the turf or the gaming-table might be considered such; but these expressions, I considered, are so constantly before every reader of the newspapers that the language of the pulpit, even, is infected by them. Their evidential value being thus destroyed, they ought not to be weighed at all, as against firm, wholesome flesh, a good complexion, and a clear eye, all of which Mr. Elkins possessed.
"It's funny," said I, "how seldom I meet any of the old neighbor-boys. Do you see any of them in your travels?"
"Not often," he answered, "but you remember little Ed Smith, who lived on the Hayes place for a while, and brought the streaked snake into the schoolhouse while Julia Fanning was teaching? Well, he was an architect at Garden City, and lives in Chicago now. We sort of chum together: saw him yesterday. He left Garden City when the land company went up. I tell you, that was a hot town for a while! Railroads, and factories, and irrigation schemes, and prices scooting toward the zenith, till you couldn't rest. If I'd got into that push soon enough, I shouldn't have made a thing but money; as it was, I didn't lose only what I had. A good many of the boys lost a lot more. But I tell you, Al, a boom properly boomed is a sure thing."
"You're a constant source of surprise to me, Jim," said I. "I should have thought them sure to lose."
"They're sure to win," said he earnestly.
I demurred. "I don't see how that can possibly be," said I, "for of all things, booms seem to me the most fickle and incalculable."
"They seem so," said he, smiling, but still in earnest, "to your rustic and untaught mind, and to most others, because they haven't been studied. The comet, likewise, doesn't seem very stable or dependable; but to the eye of the astronomer its orbit is plain, and the time of its return engagement pretty certain. It's the same with seventeen-year locusts—and booms; their visits are so far apart that the masses forget their birthmarks and the W's on their backs. But if you'll follow their appearances from place to place, as I've done, putting up my ante right along for the privilege, you'll become an accomplished boomist; and from the first gentle stirrings of boom-sprouts in the soil, so to speak, you can forecast their growth, maturity, and collapse."
"I must be permitted to doubt it," said I.
"It's easy, my son," he resumed, "dead easy, and it's psychology on the hugest scale; and among the results of its study is constant improvement of the mind, going on coincidentally with the preparation of the way to the ownership of steam-yachts and racing-stables, or any other similar trifles you hanker for."
"Great brain, Jim! Massive intellect!" said I, laughing at the fantastic absurdity of his assertion. "Why, such knowledge as you possess is better than straight tips on all the races ever to be run. It's better than our tropical island and Spanish galleons. You get richer, and you don't have to look out for men-of-war. Do I hold my job as Grand Vizier?"
"You hold any job you'll take: I'll make out the appointment with the position and salary blank, and you can fill it up. And if you get dissatisfied with that, the old grand hailing-sign of distress will catch the speaker's eye, any old time. But, I tell you, Al, in all seriousness, I'm right about this boom business. They're all alike, and they all have the same history. With the conditions right, one can be started anywhere in a growing country. I've had my ear to the ground for a while back, and I've heard things. I'm sure I detect some of the premonitory symptoms: money piling up in the financial centers; property away down, but strengthening, in the newer regions; and, lately, a little tendency to take chances in investments, forgetting the scorching of ten or twelve years ago. A new generation of suckers is gettin' ready to bite. Look into this thing, Al, and don't be a chump."
"The same old Jim," said I; "you were manipulating a corner in tobacco-tags while I was learning my letters."
"Do you ever forget anything?" he inquired. "I have about forgotten that myself. How was that tobacco-tag business, Al?"
Then with the painstaking circumstantiality of two old schoolmates luxuriating in memories, we talked over the tobacco-tag craze which swept through our school one winter. Everything in life takes place in school, and the "tobacco-tag craze" has quite often recurred to me as showing boys acting just as men act, and Jimmie Elkins as the born stormy petrel of financial seas.
It all came back to our minds, and we reconstructed this story. The manufacturers of "Tomahawk Plug" had offered a dozen photographs of actresses and dancers to any one sending in a certain number of the tin hatchets concealed in their tobacco. The makers of "Broad-axe Navy" offered something equally cheap and alluring for consignments of their brass broad-axes. The older boys began collecting photographs, and a market for tobacco-tags of certain kinds was established. We little fellows, though without knowledge of the mysterious forces which had given value to these bits of metal, began to pick up stray tags from sidewalk, foot-path, and floor. A marked upward tendency soon manifested itself. Boys found their "Broad-axe" or "Door-key" tags, picked tip at night, doubled in value by morning. The primary object in collecting tags was forgotten in the speculative mania which set in. Who would exchange "Tomahawk" tags for the counterfeit presentment of decollete dancers, when by holding them he could make cent-per-cent on his investment of hazel-nuts and slate-pencils?
The playground became a Board of Trade. We learned nothing but mental arithmetic applied to deals in "Door-keys," "Arrow-heads," and other tag properties. We went about with pockets full of tags.
Jim, not yet old enough to admire the beauties of the photographs, came forward in a week as the Napoleon of tobacco-tag finance. He acquired tags in the slumps, and sold them in the bulges. He raided particular brands with rumors of the vast supply with which the village boys were preparing to flood us. He converted his holdings into marbles and tops. Finally, he planned his master-stroke. He dropped mysterious hints regarding some tag considered worthless. He asked us in whispers if we had any. Others followed his example, and "Door-key" tags went above all others and were scarce at any price. Then Jimmie Elkins brought out the supply which he had "cornered," threw it on the market, and before it had time to drop took in a large part of the playground currency. I lost to him a good drawing-slate and a figure-4 trap.
Jimmie pocketed his winnings, but the trouble attracted the attention of the teacher, and under adverse legislation a period of liquidation set in. The distress was great. Many found themselves with property which was not convertible into photographs or anything else. To make matters worse, the discovery was made that the big boys had left school to begin the spring's work, and no one wanted the photographs. Bankrupt and disillusioned, we returned to the realities of kites, marbles, and knives, most of which we had to obtain from Jimmie Elkins.
"Yes," said he, "it's a good deal the same with booms. But if you understand 'em ... eh, Al?"
"Well," said I, really impressed now, "I'll look into it. And when you get ready to sow your boom-seed, let me know. I change cars in a few minutes, and you go on. Come down and see me sometimes, can't you? We haven't had our talk half out yet. Doesn't your business ever bring you down our way?"
"It hasn't yet, but I'm coming down into that neck of the woods within six weeks, and I guess I can fix it so's to stop off,—mingling pleasure and business. It's the only way the hustling philanthropist of my style ever gets any recreation."
"Do it," said I; "I'll have plenty of time at my disposal; for I go out of office before that time; and I may want to go into your boom-hatchery."
"On the theory that the great adversary of mankind runs an employment agency for ex's? There's the whistle for your junction. By George, Al, I can't tell you how glad I am to have ketched up with you again! I've wondered about you a million times. Don't let's lose track of each other again."
"No, no, Jim, we won't!" The train was coming to a stop. "Don't allow anything to side-track you and prevent that visit."
"Well, I should say not," he answered, following me out upon the platform of the station. "We'll have a regular piratical reunion—a sort of buccaneers' camp-fire. I've a curiosity to see some of the fellows who acted the part of rob-or to your rob-ee. I want to hear their side of the story. Good-by, Al. Confound it, I wish you were going on with me!"
He wrung my hand at parting, reminding me of the old Jim who studied from the same geography with me, more than at any time since we met. He stayed with me until after his train had started, caught hold of the hand-rail as the rear car went by, and passed out of view, waving his hand to me.
I sat down on a baggage-truck waiting for my train, thinking of my encounter with Jim. All the way home I was busy pondering over a thousand things thus suddenly recalled to me. I could see every fence-corner and barn, every hill and stream of our old haunts; and after I got home I told Alice all about it.
"He seems quite a remarkable fellow," said I, "and a perfect specimen of the pusher and hustler—a quick-witted man of affairs. If he is ever put down, he can't be kept down."
"I think I prefer a more refined type of man," said Alice.
"In the sixteenth century," I went on with that excessive perspicacity which our wives have to put up with, "he'd have been a Drake or a Dampier; in the seventeenth, the commander of a privateer or slaver; in this age, I shall not be at all surprised if he turns out a great railway or financial magnate. It's like a whiff of boyhood to talk with him; though he's a greatly different sort of man from what I should have expected to find him. I think you'll like him."
She seemed dubious about this. Our wives instinctively disapprove of people we used to know prior to that happy meeting which led to marriage. This prejudice, for some reason, is stronger against our feminine acquaintances than the others. I am not analytical enough to do more than point out this feeling, which will, I think, be admitted by all husbands to exist.
"That sort of man," said she, "lacks the qualities of bravery and intrepidity which make up a Drake or a Dampier. They are so a-scheming and calculating!"
"The last time I saw Jim until to-day," said I, "he did something which seems to show that he had those more admirable qualities."
Then I told her that story of Jim and the mad dog, which is remembered in Pleasant Valley to this day. Some say the dog was not mad; but I, who saw his terrible, insane look as he came snapping and frothing down the road, believe that he was. Jim had left the school for a year or so, and I was a "big boy" ready to leave it. It was at four one afternoon, and as the children filed into the road, there met them the shouts of men and cries of "Run! Run! Mad dog!"
The children scattered like a covey of quail; but a pair of little five-year-olds, forgotten by the others, walked on hand in hand, looking into each other's faces, right toward the poor crazed, hunted brute, which trotted slowly toward the children, gnashing its frothing jaws at sticks and weeds, at everything it met, ready to bury its teeth in the first baby to come within reach.
A young man with a canvasser's portfolio stood behind a fence over which he had jumped to avoid the dog. Suddenly he saw the children, knew their danger, and leaped back into the road. It was like a bull-fighter vaulting the barriers into the perils of the arena,—only it was to save, not to destroy. The dog had passed him and was nearer the children than he was. I wondered what he expected to do as I saw him running lightly, swiftly, and yet quietly behind the terrible beast. As he neared the animal, he stooped, and my blood froze as I saw him seize the dog with both hands by the hinder legs. The head curled sidewise and under, and the teeth almost grazed the young man's hands with a vicious, metallic snap. Then we saw what the contest was. The young man, with a powerful circling sweep of his arms, whirled the dog so swiftly about his head that the lank frame swung out in a straight line, and the snap could not be repeated. But what of the end? No muscles could long stand such a strain, and when they yielded, then what?
Then we saw that as he swung his loathsome foe, the young man was gradually approaching the schoolhouse. We saw the horrible snapping head whirl nearer and nearer at every turn to the corner of the building. Then we saw the young man strike a terrible blow at the stone wall, using the dog as a club; and in a moment I saw the stones splashed with red, and the young man lying on the ground, where the violence of his effort had thrown him, and by him lay the quivering form of what we had fled from. And the young man was James Elkins.
Alice breathed hard as I finished, and stood straight with her chin held high.
"That was fine!" said she. "I want to see that man!"
Jim discovers his Coral Island.
There has long been abroad in the world a belief that events which bear some controlling relation to one's destiny are announced by premonition, some spiritual trepidation, some movement of that curtain which cuts off our view of the future. I believe this notion to be false, but feel that it is true; and the manner in which that adventure of mine in the old art gallery and at Auriccio's impressed my mind, and the way in which my memory clung to it, seem to justify my feeling rather than my belief. Whenever I visited Chicago, I went to the gallery, more in the hope of seeing the girl whose only name to me was "the Empress" than to gratify my cravings for art. I felt a boundless pity for her—and laughed at myself for taking so seriously an incident which, in all likelihood, she herself dismissed with a few tears, a few retrospective burnings of heart and cheek. But I never saw her. Once I loitered for an hour about the boarding-house with the vine-clad porch, while the boarders (mostly students, I judged) came and went; but though I saw many young girls, the Empress was not among them. And all this time the years were rolling on, and I was permitting my once bright political career to blight and wither by my own neglect, as a growth not worth caring for.
I became a private citizen in due time, but found no comfort in leisure. I was in those doldrums which beset the politician when rivals justle him from his little eminence. One who, for years, is annually or biennially complimented by the suffrages of even a few thousands of his fellow citizens, and is invited into the penetralia of a great political party, is apt to regard himself, after a while, as peculiarly deserving of the plaudits of the humble and the consideration of the powerful. Then comes the inevitable hour when pussy finds himself without a corner. The deep disgust for party and politics which then takes possession of him demands change of scene and new surroundings. Any flagging in partisan enthusiasm is sure to be attributed to sore-headedness, and leads to charges of perfidy and thanklessness. Yet, for him, the choice lies between abated zeal and hypocrisy, inasmuch as no man can normally be as zealous for his party as the fanatic into which the candidate or incumbent converts himself.
Underlying my whole frame of mind was the knowledge that, so far as making a career was concerned, I had wasted several years of my life, and had now to begin anew. Add to this a slight sense of having played an unworthy part in life (although here I was unable to particularize), and a new sense of aloofness from the people with whom I had been for so long on terms of hearty and back-slapping familiarity, and no further reason need be sought for a desire which came mightily upon me to go away and begin life over again in a new milieu. In spite of the mild opposition of my wife, this desire grew to a resolve; and I came to look upon myself as a temporary sojourner in my own home.
Such was the state of our affairs, when a letter came from Mr. Elkins (in lieu of the promised visit) urging me to remove to the then obscure but since celebrated town of Lattimore.
"I got to be too rich for Charley Harper's blood," said the letter, among other things. "I wanted as much in the way of salary as I could earn, working for myself, and Charley kicked—said the directors wouldn't consent, and that such a salary list would be a black eye for the Frugality and Indemnity if it showed up in its statements. So I quit. I am loan agent for the company here, which gives me a visible means of support, and keeps me from being vagged. But, in confidence, I want to tell you that my main graft here is the putting in operation of my boom-hatching scheme. Come out, and I'll enroll you as a member of the band once more; for this is the coral atoll for me. You ought to get out of that stagnant pond of yours, and come where the natatory medium is fresh, clean, and thickly peopled with suckers, and a new run of 'em coming on right soon. In other words, get into the swim."
After reading this letter and considering it as a whole, I was so much impressed by it that Lattimore was added to the list of places I meant to visit, on a tour I had planned for myself.
In the West, all roads run to or from Chicago. It is nearer to almost any place by the way of Chicago than by any other route: so Alice and I went to the city by the lake, as the beginning of our prospecting tour. I took her to the art gallery and showed her just where my two lovers had stood,—telling her the story for the first time. Then she wanted to eat a supper at Auriccio's; and after the play we went there, and I was forced to describe the whole scene over again.
"Didn't she see you at all?" she asked.
"Not at all," said I.
"You are a good boy," said my wife, judging me by one act which she approved. "Kiss me."
This occurred after we reached our lodgings. I suggested as a change of subject that my next day's engagements took me to the Stock Yards, and I assumed that she would scarcely wish to accompany me.
"I think I prefer the stores," said she, "and the pictures. Maybe I shall have an adventure."
At the big Exchange Building, I found that the acquaintance whom I sought was absent from his office, and I roamed up and down the corridors in search of him. As usual the gathering here was intensely Western. There were bronzed cattlemen from every range from Amarillo to the Belle Fourche, sturdy buyers of swine from Iowa and Illinois, sombreroed sheepmen from New Mexico, and vikingesque Swedes from North Dakota. Men there were wearing thousand-dollar diamonds in red flannel shirts, solid gold watch-chains made to imitate bridle-bits, and heavy golden bullocks sliding on horse-hair guards. It pleased me, as such a crowd always does. The laughter was loud but it was free, and the hunted look one sees on State Street and Michigan Avenue was absent.
"I wish Alice had come," said I, noting the flutter of skirts in a group of people in the corridor; and then, as I came near, the press divided, and I saw something which drew my eyes as to a sight in which lay mystery to be unraveled.
Facing me stood a stout farmer in a dark suit of common cut and texture. He seemed, somehow, not entirely strange; but the petite figure of the girl whose back was turned to me was what fixed my attention.
She wore a smart traveling-gown of some pretty gray fabric, and bore herself gracefully and with the air of dominating the group of commission men among whom she stood. I noted the incurved spine, the deep curves of the waist, and the liberal slope of the hips belonging to a shapely little woman in whom slimness was mitigated in adorable ways, which in some remote future bade fair to convert it into matronliness. Under a broad hat there showed a wealth of red-brown hair, drawn up like a sunburst from a slender little neck.
"I have provided a box at Hooley's," said the head of a great commission firm. "Mrs. Johnson will be with us. We may count upon you?"
"I think so," said the girl, "if papa hasn't made any engagements."
The stout farmer blushed as he looked down at his daughter.
"Engagements, eh? No, sir!" he replied. "She runs things after the steers is unloaded. Whatever the little gal says goes with me."
They turned, and as they came on down the hall, still chatting, I saw her face, and knew it. It was the Empress! But even in that glimpse I saw the change which years had brought. Now she ruled instead of submitting; her voice, still soft and low, had lost its rustic inflections; and in spite of the change in the surroundings,—the leap from the art gallery to the Stock Yards,—there was more of the artist now, and less of the farmer's lass. They turned into a suite of offices and disappeared.
"Well, Mr. Barslow," said my friend, coming up. "Glad to see you. I've been hunting for you."
"Who is that girl and her father?" I asked.
"One of the Johnson Commission Company's Shippers," said he, "Prescott, from Lattimore; I wish I could get his shipments."
"No!" said I, "Not Lattimore!"
"Prescott of Lattimore," he repeated. "Know anything of him?"
"N-no," said I. "I have friends in that town."
"I wish I had," was the reply; "I'd try to get old Prescott's business."
* * * * *
"There's destiny in this," said Alice, when I told her of my encounter with the Empress and her father. "Her living in Lattimore is not an accident."
"I doubt," said I, "if anybody's is."
"She looked nice, did she?" Alice went on, "and dressed well?" and without waiting for an answer added: "Let's leave Chicago. I'm anxious to get to Lattimore!"
We Reach the Atoll.
So we journeyed on to Duluth, to St. Paul and Minneapolis, and to the cities on the Missouri. It was at one of those recurrent periods when the fever of material and industrial change and development breaks out over the whole continent. The very earth seemed to send out tingling shocks of some occult stimulus; the air was charged with the ozone of hope; and subtle suggestions seemed to pass from mind to mind, impelling men to dare all, to risk all, to achieve all. In every one of these young cities we were astonished at the changes going on under our very eyes. Streets were torn up for the building of railways, viaducts, and tunnels. Buildings were everywhere in course of demolition, to make room for larger edifices. Excavations yawned like craters at street-corners. Steel pillars, girders, and trusses towered skyward,—skeletons to be clothed in flesh of brick and stone.
Suburbs were sprouting, almost daily, from the mould of the market-gardens in the purlieus. Corporations were contending for the possession of the natural highway approaches to each growing city. Street-railway companies pushed their charters to passage at midnight sessions of boards of aldermen, seized streets in the night-time, and extended their metallic tentacles out into the fields of dazed farmers.
On the frontiers, counties were organized and populated in a season. Every one of them had its two or three villages, which aped in puny fashion the achievements of the cities. New pine houses dotted prairies, unbroken save for the mile-long score of the delimiting plow. Long trains of emigrant-cars moved continually westward. The world seemed drunk with hope and enthusiasm. The fulfillment of Jim's careless prophecy had burst suddenly upon us.
Such things as these were fresh in our memories when we reached Lattimore. I had wired Elkins of our coming, and he met us at the station with a carriage. It was one sunny September afternoon when he drove us through the streets of our future home to the principal hotel.
"We have supper at six, dinner at twelve-thirty, breakfast from seven to ten," said Jim, as we alighted at the hotel. "That's the sort of bucolic municipality you've struck here; we'll shove all these meals several hours down, when we get to doubling our population. You'll have an hour to get freshened up for supper. Afterwards, if Mrs. Barslow feels equal to the exertion, we'll take a drive about the town."
Lattimore was a pretty place then. Low, rounded hills topped with green surrounded it. The river flowed in a broad, straight reach along its southern margin. A clear stream, Brushy Creek, ran in a miniature canyon of limestone, through the eastern edge of the town. On each side of this brook, in lawns of vivid green, amid natural groves of oak and elm, interspersed with cultivated greenery, stood the houses of the well-to-do. Trees made early twilight in most of the streets.
People were out in numbers, driving in the cool autumnal evening. As a handsome girl, a splendid blonde, drove past us, my wife spoke of the excellent quality of the horseflesh we saw. Jim answered that Lattimore was a center of equine culture, and its citizens wise in breeders' lore. The appearance of things impressed us favorably. There was an air of quiet prosperity about the place, which is unusual in Western towns, where quietude and progress are apt to be thought incompatible. Jim pointed out the town's natural advantages as we drove along.
"What do you think of that, now?" said he, waving his whip toward the winding gorge of Brushy Creek.
"It's simply lovely!" said Alice, "a little jewel of a place."
"A bit of mountain scenery on the prairie," said Jim. "And more than that, or less than that, just as you look at it, it's the source from which inexhaustible supplies of stone will be quarried when we begin to build things."
"But won't that spoil it?" said Alice.
"Well, yes; and down on that bottom we've found as good clay for pottery, sewer-pipes, and paving-brick as exists anywhere. Back there where you saw that bluff along the river—looks as if it's sliding down into the water—remember it? Well, there's probably the only place in the world where there's just the juxtaposition of sand and clay and chalk to make Portland cement. Supply absolutely unlimited! Why, there ought to be a thousand men employed right now in those cement works. Oh, I tell you, things'll hum here when we get these schemes working!"
We laughed at him: his visualization of the cement works was so complete.
"I suppose you know where all the capital is coming from," said I, "to do all these things? For my part, I see no way of getting it except our old plan of buccaneering."
"Exactly my idea!" said he. "Didn't I write you that I'd enroll you as a member of the band? Has Al ever told you, Mrs. Barslow, of our old times, when we, as individuals, were passing through our sixteenth-century stage?"
"Often," Alice replied. "He looks back upon his pirate days as a time of Arcadian simplicity, 'Untouched by sorrow, and unsoiled by sin.'"
"I can easily understand," said Jim reflectively, "how piracy might appear in that roseate light after a few years of practical politics. Now from the moral heights of a life-insurance man's point of view it's different."
So we rode on chatting and chaffing, now of the old time, now of the new; and all the time I felt more and more impressed by the dissolving views which Jim gave us of different parts of his program for making Lattimore the metropolis of "the world's granary," as he called the surrounding country. As we topped a low hill on our way back, he pulled up, to give us a general view of the town and suburbs, and of the great expanse of farming country beyond. Between us and Lattimore was a mile stretch of gently descending road, with grain-fields and farm-houses on each side.
"By the way," said he, "do you see that white house and red barn in the maple grove off to the right? Well, you remember Bill Trescott?"
Neither of us could call such a person to mind.
"Well, it's all right, I suppose," he went on in a tone implying injury forgiven, "but you mustn't let Bill know you've forgotten him. The Trescotts used to live over by the Whitney schoolhouse in Greenwood Township,—right on the Pleasant Valley line, you know. He remembers you folks, Al. I'll drive over that way."
There were beds of petunias and four-o'clocks to be seen dimly glimmering in the dusk, as we drove through the broad gate. Men and women were gathered in a group about the base of the windmill, as Jim's loud "whoa" announced our arrival. The women melted away in the direction of the house. The men stood at gaze.
"Hello, Bill!" shouted Jim. "Come out here!"
"Oh, it's you, is it, Mr. Elkins," said a deep voice. "I didn't know yeh."
"Thought it was the sheriff with a summons, eh? Well, I guess hardly!" said Jim. "Mr. Trescott, I want you to shake hands with our old friend Mr. Barslow."
A heavy figure detached itself from the group, and, as it approached, developed indistinctly the features of a brawny farmer, with a short, heavy, dark beard.
"Wal, I declare, I'm glad to see yeh!" said he, as he grasped my hand. "I'd a'most forgot yeh, till Mr. Elkins told me you remembered my whalin' them Dutch boys at a scale onct."
I had had no recollection of him; yet form and voice seemed vaguely familiar. I assured him that my memory for names and faces was excellent. After being duly presented to Mrs. Barslow, he urged us to alight and come in. We offered as an excuse the lateness of the hour.
"Why, you hain't seen my family yet, Mr. Barslow," said he. "They'll be disappointed if yeh don't come in."
I suggested that we were staying for a few days at the Centropolis; and Alice added that we should be glad to see himself and Mrs. Trescott there at any time during our stay. Elkins promised that we should all drive out again.
"Wal, now, you must," said Mr. Trescott. "We must talk over ol' times and—"
"Fight over old battles," replied Jim. "All the battles were yours, though, eh, Bill?"
"Huh, huh!" chuckled Bill; "fightin's no credit to any man; but I 'spose I fit my sheer when I was a boy—when I was a boy, y' know, Mrs. Barslow, and had more sand than sense. Here, Josie, here's Mr. Elkins and some old friends of mine. Mr. and Mrs. Barslow, my daughter."
She was a little slim slip of a thing, in white, and emerged from the shrubbery at Mr. Trescott's call. She bowed to us, and said she was sorry that we could not stop. Her voice was sweet, and there was something unexpectedly cool and self-possessed in her intonation. It was not in the least the speech of the ordinary neat-handed Phyllis or Neaera; nor was her attitude at all countrified as she stood with her hand on her father's arm. The increasing darkness kept us from seeing her features.
"Josie's my right-hand man," said her father. "Half the business of the farm stops when Josie goes away."
My wife expressed her admiration for Lattimore and its environs, and especially for so much of the Trescott farm as could be seen in the deepening gloaming. The flowers, she said, took her back to her childhood's home.
"Let me give you these," said the girl, handing Alice a great bunch of blossoms which she had been cutting when her father called, and had held in her hands as we talked. My wife thanked her, and buried her face in them, as we bade the Trescotts good-night and drove home.
"That girl," said Jim, as we spun along the road in the light of the rising moon, "is a crackerjack. Bill thinks the world of her, and she certainly gives him a mother's care!"
"She seems nice," said Alice, "and so refined, apparently."
"Been well educated," said Jim, "and got a head, besides. You'll like her; she knows Europe better than some folks know their own front yard."
"I was surprised at the vividness of my memory of Bill's youthful combats," said I.
Jim's laugh rang out heartily through the Brushy Creek gorge.
"Well, I supposed you remembered those things, of course," said he, "and so I insinuated some impression of the delight with which you dwell upon the stories of his prowess. It made him feel good.... I'm spoiling Bill, I guess, with these tales. He'll claim to have a private graveyard next. As harmless a fellow as you ever saw, and the best cattle-feeder hereabouts. Got a good farm out there, Bill has; we may need it for stock yards or something, later on."
"Why not hire a corps of landscape-gardeners, and make a park of it?" I inquired sarcastically. "We'll certainly need breathing-spaces for the populace."
"Good idea!" he returned gravely. And as he halted the equipage at the hotel, he repeated meditatively: "A mighty good idea, Al; we must figure on that a little."
We were tired to silence when we reached our rooms; so much so that nothing seemed to make a defined and sharp impression upon my mind. I kept thinking all the time that I must have been mistaken in my first thought that I had never known the Trescotts.
"Their voices seem familiar to me," said I, "and yet I can't associate them with the old home at all. It's very odd!"
As Alice stood before the mirror shaking down and brushing her hair, she said: "Do you suppose he thought you in earnest about that absurd park?"
"No," I answered, "he understood me well enough; but what puzzles me is the question, was he in earnest?"
* * * * *
In the middle of the night I woke with a perfectly clear idea as to the identity of the Trescotts! Prescott, Trescott! Josie, Josephine the "Empress"! And then the voice and figure!
"Why are you sitting up in bed?" inquired Alice.
"I have made a discovery," said I. "That man at the Stock Yards meant Trescott, not Prescott."
"I don't understand," said she sleepily.
"In a word," said I, "the girl who gave you the flowers is the Empress!"
"Albert Barslow!" said Alice. "Why—"
My wife was silent for a long time.
"I knew we'd meet her," she said at last. "It is fate."
I am Inducted into the Cave, and Enlist.
"Here's the cave," said Jim, at the door of his office, next morning. "As prospective joint-proprietor and co-malefactor, I bid you welcome."
The smiles with which the employees resumed their work indicated that the extraordinary character of this welcome was not lost upon them. The office was on the ground-floor of one of the more pretentious buildings of Lattimore's main street. The post-office was on one side of it, and the First National Bank on the other. Over it were the offices of lawyers and physicians. It was quite expensively fitted up; and the plate-glass front glittered with gold-and-black sign-lettering. The chairs and sofas were upholstered in black leather. On the walls hung several decorative advertisements of fire-insurance companies, and maps of the town, county, and state. Rolls of tracing-paper and blueprints lay on the flat-topped tables, reminding one of the office of an architect or civil engineer. A thin young man worked at books, standing at a high desk; and a plump young woman busily clicked off typewritten matter with an up-to-date machine.
"You'll find some books and papers on the table in the next room," said Jim, as I finished my first look about. "I'll ask you to amuse yourself with 'em for a little while, until I can dispose of my morning's mail; after which we'll resume our hunt for resources. We haven't any morning paper yet, and the evening Herald is shipped in by freight and edited with a saw. But it's the best we've got—yet."
He read his letters, ran his eyes over his newspapers and a magazine or two, and dictated some correspondence, interrupted occasionally by callers, some of whom he brought into the room where I was whiling away the time, examining maps, and looking over out-of-date copies of the local papers. One of these callers was Mr. Hinckley, the cashier of the bank, who came to see about some insurance matters. He was spare, aquiline, and white-mustached; and very courteously wished Lattimore the good fortune of securing so valuable an acquisition as ourselves. It would place Lattimore under additional obligations to Mr. Elkins, who was proving himself such an effective worker in all public matters.
"Mr. Elkins," said he, "has to a wonderful degree identified himself with the material progress of the city. He is constantly bringing here enterprising and energetic business men; and we could better afford to lose many an older citizen."
I asked Mr. Hinckley as to the length of his own residence in Lattimore.
"I helped to plat the town, sir," said he. "I carried the chain when these streets were surveyed,—a boy just out of Bowdoin College. That was in '55. I staged it for four hundred miles to get here. Aleck Macdonald and I came together, and we've both staid from that day. The Indians were camped at the mouth of Brushy Creek; and except for old Pierre Lacroix, a squaw-man, we were for a month the only white men in these parts. Then General Lattimore came with a party of surveyors, and by the fall there was quite a village here."
Jim came in with another gentleman, whom he introduced as Captain Tolliver. The Captain shook my hand with profuse politeness.
"I am delighted to see you, suh," said he. "Any friend of Mr. Elkins I shall be proud to know. I heah that Mrs. Barslow is with you. I trust, suh, that she is well?"
I informed him that my wife was in excellent health, being completely recovered from the fatigue of her journey.
"Ah! this aiah, this aiah, Mr. Barslow! It is like wine in its invigorating qualities, like wine, suh. Look at Mr. Hinckley, hyah, doing the work of two men fo' a lifetime; and younge' now than any of us. Come, suh, and make yo' home with us. You nevah can regret it. Delighted to have you call at my office, suh. I am proud to have met you, and hope to become better acquainted with you. I hope Mrs. Tulliver and Mrs. Barslow may soon meet. Good-morning, gentlemen." And he hurried out, only to reappear as soon as Mr. Hinckley was gone.
"By the way, Mr. Barslow," he whispered, "should you come to Lattimore, as I have no doubt you will, I have some of the choicest residence property in the city, which I shall be mo' than glad to show you. Title perfect, no commissions to pay, city water, gas, and electric light in prospect. Cain't yo' come and look it ovah now, suh?"
"Who is this Captain Tolliver, Jim," I asked as we went out of the office together, "and what is he?"
"In other words, 'Who and what art thou, execrable shape?' Well, now, don't ask me. I've known him for years; in fact, he suggested to me the possibilities of this burg. In a way, the city is indebted to him for my presence here. But don't ask me about him—study him. And don't buy lots from him. The Captain has his failings, but he has also his strong points and his uses; and I'll be mistaken if he isn't cast for a fairly prominent part in the drama we're about to put on here. But don't spoil your enjoyment by having him described to you. Let him dawn on you by degrees."
That day I met most of the prominent men of the town. Jim took me into the banks, the shops, and the offices of the leading professional gentlemen. He informed them that I was considering the matter of coming to live among them; and I found them very friendly, and much interested in our proposed change of residence. They all treated Jim with respect, and his manner toward them had a dignity which I had not looked for. Evidently he was making himself felt in the community.
When we returned to the Centropolis at noon, we found Mrs. Trescott and her daughter chatting with my wife. The elder woman was ill-groomed, as are all women of her class in comparison with their town sisters, and angular. I knew the type so well that I could read the traces of farm cares in her face and form. The serving of gangs of harvesters and threshers, the ever-recurring problems of butter, eggs, and berries, the unflagging fight, without much domestic help, for neatness and order about the house, had impressed their stamp upon Mrs. Trescott. But she was chatting vivaciously, and assuring Mrs. Barslow that such a thing as staying longer in town that morning was impossible.
"I can feel in my bones," said she, "that there's something wrong at the farm."
"You always have that feeling," said her daughter, "as soon as you pass outside the gate."
"And I'm usually right about it," said Mrs. Trescott. "It isn't any use. My system has got into that condition in which I'm in misery if I'm off that farm. Josie drags me away from it sometimes; and I do enjoy meeting people! But I like to meet 'em out there the best; and I want to urge you to come often, Mrs. Barslow, while you're here. And in case you move here, I hope you'll like us and the farm well enough so that we'll see a good deal of you."
I was presented to Mrs. Trescott, and reintroduced to the young lady, with whom Alice seemed already on friendly terms. I was surprised at this, for she was not prone to sudden friendships. There was something so attractive in the girl, however, that it went far to explain the phenomenon. For one thing, there was in her manner that same steadiness and calm which I had noticed in her voice in the dusk last night. It gave one the impression that she could not be surprised or startled, that she had seen or thought out all possible combinations of events, and knew of their sequences, or adjusted herself to things by some all-embracing rule, by which she attained that repose of hers. The surprising thing about it, to my mind, was to find this exterior in Bill Trescott's daughter. I had seen the same thing once or twice in people to whom I thought it had come as the fruit of wide experience in the world.
While Miss Trescott was slim, and rather below the medium in height, she was not at all thin; and had the great mass of ruddy dark hair and fine brown eyes which I remembered so well, and a face which would have been pale had it not been for the tan—the only thing about her which suggested those occupations by which she became her father's "right-hand man." There was intelligence in her face, and a grave smile in her eyes, which rarely extended to her handsome mouth. If mature in face, form, and manner, she was young in years—some years younger than Alice. I hoped that she might stay to dinner; but she went away with her mother. In her absence, I devoted some time to praising her. Jim failed to join in my paeans further than to give a general assent; but he grew unaccountably mirthful, as if something good had happened to him of which he had not yet told us.
"I have invited a few people to my parlors this evening," said he, "and, of course, you will be the guests of honor."
My wife demurred. She had nothing to wear, and even if she had, I was without evening dress. The thing seemed out of the question.
"Oh, we can't let that stand in the way," said he. "So far as your own toilet is concerned, I have nothing to say except that you are known to be making a hurried visit, and I have an abiding faith, based on your manner of stating your trouble, that it can be remedied. I saw your eye take on a far-away look as you planned your costume, even while you were declaring that you couldn't do it. Didn't I, now?"
"You certainly did not," said Alice; and then I noticed the absorbed look myself. "But even if I can manage it, how about Albert?"
"I'll tell you about Albert. I'll bet two to one there won't be a suit of evening clothes worn. The dress suit may come in here with street cars and passenger elevators, but it lacks a good deal of being here yet, except in the most sporadic and infrequent way. And this thing is to be so absolutely informal that it would make the natives stare. You wouldn't wear it if you had it, Al."
"Who will come?" said Mrs. Barslow.
"Oh, a couple of dozen ladies and gentlemen, business men and doctors and lawyers and their women-folks. They'll stray in from eight to ten and find something to eat on the sideboard. They'll have the happiness of meeting you, and you can see what the people you are thinking of living among and doing business with are like. It's a necessary part of your visit; and you can't get out of it now, for I've taken the liberty of making all the arrangements. And, as a matter of fact, you don't want to do so, do you, now?"
Thus appealed to, Alice consented. Nothing was said to me about it, my willingness being presumed.
The guests that evening were almost exclusively men whom I had met during the day, and members of their families. In the absence of any more engaging topic, we discussed Lattimore as our possible future home.
"I have always felt," said Mr. Hinckley, who was one of the guests, "that this is the natural site of a great city. These valleys, centering here like the spokes of a wheel, are ready-made railway-routes. In the East there is a city of from fifty thousand to three times that, every hundred miles or so. Why shouldn't it be so here?"
"Suh," said Captain Tolliver, "the thing is inevitable. Somewhah in this region will grow up a metropolis. Shall it be hyah, o' at Fairchild, o' Angus Falls? If the people of Lattimore sit supinely, suh, and let these country villages steal from huh the queenship which God o'dained fo' huh when He placed huh in this commandin' site, then, suh, they ah too base to be wo'thy of the suhvices of gentlemen."
"I've always been taught," said Mrs. Trescott, "that the credit of placing her in this site belonged to either Mr. Hinckley or General Lattimore."
"Really," said Miss Addison to me, "I don't see how they can laugh at such irreverence!"
"I think," said Miss Hinckley in my other ear, "that Mr. Elkins expressed the whole truth in the matter of the rivalry of these three towns, when he said that when two ride on a horse, one must ride behind. Aren't his quotations so—so—illuminating?"
I looked about at the company. There were Mr. Hinckley, Mrs. Hinckley, their daughter, whom I recognized as the splendid blonde whose pacers had passed us when we were out driving, Mrs. Trescott and her daughter, and Captain and Mrs. Tolliver. Those present were plainly of several different sets and cliques. Mrs. Hinckley hoped that my wife would join the Equal Rights Club, and labor for the enfranchisement of women. She referred, too, to the eloquence and piety of her pastor, the Presbyterian minister, while Mrs. Tolliver quoted Emerson, and invited Alice to join, as soon as we removed, the Monday Club of the Unitarian Church, devoted to the study of his works. Mr. Macdonald, red-whiskered, weather-beaten, and gigantic, fidgeted about the punch-bowl a good deal; and replying to some chance remark made by Alice, ventured the opinion that the grass was gettin' mighty short on the ranges. Miss Addison, who came with her cousins the Lattimores, looked with disapproval upon the punch, and disclosed her devotion to the W. C. T. U. and the Ladies' Aid Society of the Methodist Church. The Lattimores were Will Lattimore and his wife. I learned that he was the son of the General, and Jim's lawyer; and that they went rarely into society, being very exclusive. This was communicated to me by Mrs. Ballard, who brought Miss Ballard with her. She asked in tones of the intensest interest if we played whist; while Miss Ballard suggested that about the only way we could find to enjoy ourselves in such a little place would be to identify ourselves with the dancing-party and card-club set. I began to suspect that life in Lattimore would not be without its complexities.
Mr. Trescott came in for a moment only, for his wife and daughter. Miss Trescott was not to be found at first, but was discovered in the bay-window with Jim and Miss Hinckley, looking over some engravings. Mr. Elkins took her down to her carriage, and I thought him a long time gone, for the host. As soon as he returned, however, the conversation again turned to the dominant thought of the gathering, municipal expansion. And I noted that the points made were Jim's. He had already imbued the town with his thoughts, and filled the mouths of its citizens with his arguments.
After they left, we sat with Jim and talked.
"Well, how do you like 'em?" said he.
"Why," said Alice, "they're very cordial."
"Heterogeneous, eh?" he queried.
"Yes," said she, "but very cordial. I am surprised to feel how little I dislike them."
As for me, I began to look upon Lattimore with more favor. I began to catch Jim's enthusiasm and share his confidence. As we smoked together in his rooms that evening, he made me the definite proposal that I go into partnership with him. We talked about the business, and discussed its possibilities.
"I don't ask you to believe all my prophecies," said he; "but isn't the situation fairly good, just as it is?"
"I think well of it," I answered, "and it's mighty kind of you to ask me to come. I'll go as far as to say that if it depends solely on me, we shall come. As for these prophecies of yours, I am in candor bound to say that I half believe them."
"Now you are shouting," said he. "Never better prophecies anywhere. But consider the matter aside from them. Then all we clean up in the prophecy department will be velvet, absolute velvet!"
"I can add something to the output of the prophecy department," said Alice, when I repeated the phrase; "and that is that there will be some affairs of the heart mingled with the real estate and insurance before long. I can see them in embryo now."
"If it's Jim and Miss Trescott you mean, I wish the affair well," said I. "I'm quite charmed with her."
"Well," said Alice, "from the standpoint of most men, Miss Hinckley isn't to be left out of the reckoning in such matters. What a face and figure she has! Miss Addison is too prudish and churchified; but I like Miss Hinckley."
"Yes," said I; "but Miss Trescott seems, somehow, to have been known to one, in some tender and touching relation. There's that about her which appeals to one, like some embodiment of the abstract idea of woman. That's why one feels as if he had risked his life for her, and protected her, and seen her suffer wrong, and all that—"
"That's only because of that affair you told me of," said my wife. "Since I've seen her, I've made up my mind that you misconstrued the matter utterly. There was really nothing to it."
In a week I wrote to Mr. Elkins, accepting his proposal, and promising to close up my affairs, remove to Lattimore, and join with him.
"I do not feel myself equal to playing the part of either Romulus or Remus in founding your new Rome," I wrote; "but I think as a writer of fire-insurance policies, and keeping the office work up, I may prove myself not entirely a deadhead. My wife asks how the breathing-spaces for the populace are coming on?"