HENRY SYDNOR HARRISON
WITH A FRONTISPIECE BY R.M. CROSBY
BOSTON AND NEW YORK HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
The Riverside Press Cambridge 1911
TO MY MOTHER
I First Meeting between a Citizen in Spectacles and the Great Pleasure-Dog Behemoth; also of Charles Gardiner West, a Personage at Thirty. 3
II Mrs. Paynter's Boarding-House: which was not founded as an Eleemosynary Institution. 14
III Encounter between Charlotte Lee Weyland, a Landlady's Agent, and Doctor Queed, a Young Man who wouldn't pay his Board. 25
IV Relating how Two Stars in their Courses fought for Mr. Queed; and how he accepted Remunerative Employment under Colonel Cowles, the Military Political Economist. 40
V Selections from Contemporary Opinions of Mr. Queed; also concerning Henry G. Surface, his Life and Deeds; of Fifi, the Landlady's Daughter, and how she happened to look up Altruism in the Dictionary. 51
VI Autobiographical Data imparted, for Sound Business Reasons, to a Landlady's Agent; of the Agent's Other Title, etc. 64
VII In which an Assistant Editor, experiencing the Common Desire to thrash a Proof-Reader, makes a Humiliating Discovery; and of how Trainer Klinker gets a Pupil the Same Evening. 79
VIII Formal Invitation to Fifi to share Queed's Dining-Room (provided it is very cold upstairs); and First Outrage upon the Sacred Schedule of Hours. 93
IX Of Charles Gardiner West, President-Elect of Blaines College, and his Ladies Fair: all in Mr. West's Lighter Manner. 104
X Of Fifi on Friendship, and who would be sorry if Queed died; of Queed's Mad Impulse, sternly overcome; of his Indignant Call upon Nicolovius, the Old Professor. 114
XI Concerning a Plan to make a Small Gift to a Fellow-Boarder, and what it led to in the Way of Calls; also touching upon Mr. Queed's Dismissal from the Post, and the Generous Resolve of the Young Lady, Charles Weyland. 127
XII More Consequences of the Plan about the Gift, and of how Mr. Queed drinks his Medicine like a Man; Fifi on Men, and how they do; Second Corruption of the Sacred Schedule. 137
XIII "Taking the Little Doctor Down a Peg or Two": as performed for the First and Only Time by Sharlee Weyland. 146
XIV In which Klinker quotes Scripture, and Queed has helped Fifi with her Lessons for the Last Time. 163
XV In a Country Churchyard, and afterwards; of Friends: how they take your Time while they live, and then die, upsetting your Evening's Work; and what Buck Klinker saw in the Scriptorium at 2 a.m.. 174
XVI Triumphal Return of Charles Gardiner West from the Old World; and of how the Other World had wagged in his Absence. 186
XVII A Remeeting in a Cemetery: the Unglassed Queed who loafed on Rustic Bridges; of the Consequences of failing to tell a Lady that you hope to see her again soon. 200
XVIII Of President West of Old Blaines College, his Trustees and his Troubles; his Firmness in the Brown-Jones Hazing Incident so misconstrued by Malicious Asses; his Article for the Post, and why it was never printed: all ending in West's Profound Dissatisfaction with the Rewards of Patriotism. 216
XIX The Little House on Duke of Gloucester Street; and the Beginning of Various Feelings, Sensibilities, and Attitudes between two Lonely Men. 239
XX Meeting of the Post Directors to elect a Successor to Colonel Cowles; Charles Gardiner West's Sensible Remarks on Mr. Queed; Mr. West's Resignation from Old Blaines College, and New Consecration to the Uplift. 248
XXI Queed sits on the Steps with Sharlee, and sees Some Old Soldiers go marching by. 257
XXII In which Professor Nicolovius drops a Letter on the Floor, and Queed conjectures that happiness sometimes comes to Men wearing a Strange Face. 274
XXIII Of the Bill for the Reformatory, and its Critical Situation; of West's Second Disappointment with the Rewards of Patriotism; of the Consolation he found in the Most Charming Resolve in the World. 290
XXIV Sharlee's Parlor on Another Evening; how One Caller outsat Two, and why; also, how Sharlee looked in her Mirror for a Long Time, and why. 300
XXV Recording a Discussion about the Reformatory between Editor West and his Dog-like Admirer, the City Boss; and a Briefer Conversation between West and Prof. Nicolovius's Boarder. 312
XXVI In which Queed forces the Old Professor's Hand, and the Old Professor takes to his Bed. 330
XXVII Sharlee Weyland reads the Morning Post; of Rev. Mr. Dayne's Fight at Ephesus and the Telephone Message that never came; of the Editor's Comment upon the Assistant Editor's Resignation, which perhaps lacked Clarity; and of how Eight Men elect a Mayor. 345
XXVIII How Words can be like Blows, and Blue Eyes stab deep; how Queed sits by a Bedside and reviews his Life; and how a Thought leaps at him and will not down. 363
XXIX In which Queed's Shoulders can bear One Man's Roguery and Another's Dishonor, and of what these Fardels cost him: how for the Second Time in his Life he stays out of Bed to think. 375
XXX Death of the Old Professor, and how Queed finds that his List of Friends has grown; a Last Will and Testament; Exchange of Letters among Prominent Attorneys, which unhappily proves futile. 387
XXXI God moves in a Mysterious Way: how the finished Miss Avery appears as the Instrument of Providence; how Sharlee sees her Idol of Many Years go toppling in the Dust, and how it is her Turn to meditate in the Still Watches. 397
XXXII Second Meeting between a Citizen and the Great Pleasure-Dog Behemoth, involving Plans for Two New Homes. 416
First Meeting between a citizen in Spectacles and the Great Pleasure-Dog Behemoth; also of Charles Gardiner West, a Personage at Thirty.
It was five of a November afternoon, crisp and sharp, and already running into dusk. Down the street came a girl and a dog, rather a small girl and quite a behemothian dog. If she had been a shade smaller, or he a shade more behemothian, the thing would have approached a parody on one's settled idea of a girl and a dog. She had enough height to save that, but it was the narrowest sort of squeak.
The dog was of the breed which are said to come trotting into Alpine monasteries of a winter's night with fat American travelers in their mouths, frozen stiff. He was extremely large for his age, whatever that was. On the other hand, the girl was small for her age, which was twenty-four next month; not so much short, you understand, for she was of a reasonable height, as of a dainty slimness, a certain exquisite reticence of the flesh. She had cares and duties and even sober-sided responsibilities in this world, beyond the usual run of girls. Yet her hat was decidedly of the mode that year; her suit was smartly and engagingly cut; her furs were glossy and black and big. Her face, it may be said here as well as later, had in its time given pleasure to the male sex, and some food for critical conversation to the female. A good many of the young men whom she met along the way this afternoon appeared distinctly pleased to speak to her.
The girl was Sharlee Weyland, and Sharlee was the short for Charlotte Lee, as invented by herself some score of years before. One baby-name in a hundred sticks through a lifetime, and hers was the one in that particular hundred. Of the young men along the way, one was so lucky as to catch her eye through a large plate-glass window. It was Semple and West's window, the ground-floor one in the great new Commonwealth Building, of which the town is rightly so proud, and the young man was no other than West, Charles Gardiner himself. A smile warmed his good-looking face when he met the eye of the girl and the dog; he waved a hand at them. That done, he immediately vanished from the window and reached for his hat and coat; gave hurried directions to a clerk and a stenographer; and sallying forth, overtook the pair before they had reached the next corner.
"Everything's topsy-turvy," said he, coming alongside. "Here you are frivolously walking downtown with a dog. Usually at this time you are most earnestly walking uptown, and not a sign of a dog as far as the eye can see. What on earth's happened?"
"Oh, how do you do?" said she, apparently not displeased to find herself thus surprised from the rear. "I too have a mad kind of feeling, as though the world had gone upside down. Don't be amazed if I suddenly clutch out at you to keep from falling. But the name of it—of this feeling—is having a holiday. Mr. Dayne went to New York at 12.20."
"Ah, I see. When the cat's away?"
"Not at all. I am taking this richly earned vacation by his express command."
"In that case, why mightn't we turn about and go a real walk—cease picking our way through the noisome hum of commerce and set brisk evening faces toward the open road—and all that? You and I and the dog. What is his name? Rollo, I suppose?"
"Rollo! No! Or Tray or Fido, either! His name is Bee, short for Behemoth—and I think that a very captivating little name, don't you? His old name, the one I bought him by, was Fred—Fred!—but already he answers to the pretty name of Bee as though he were born to it. Watch." She pursed her lips and gave a whistle, unexpectedly loud and clear. "Here, Bee, here! Here, sir! Look, look. He turned around right away!"
West laughed. "Wonderfully gifted dog. But I believe you mentioned taking a walk in the November air. I can only say that physicians strongly recommend it, valetudinarians swear by it—"
"Oh—if I only could!—but I simply cannot think of it. Do you know, I never have a holiday without wondering how on earth I could have gotten on another day without it. You can't imagine what loads of things I've done since two o'clock, and loads remain. The very worst job of them all still hangs by a hair over my head. I must cross here."
West said that evidently her conception of a holiday was badly mixed. As they walked he paid for her society by incessantly taking off his hat; nearly everybody they met spoke to them, many more to him than to her. Though both of them had been born in that city and grown up with it, the girl had only lately come to know West well, and she did not know him very well now. All the years hitherto she had joined in the general admiration of him shyly and from a distance, the pretty waiting-lady's attitude toward the dazzling young crown prince. She was observant, and so she could not fail to observe now the cordiality with which people of all sorts saluted him, the touch of deference in the greeting of not a few. He was scarcely thirty, but it would have been clear to a duller eye that he was already something of a personage. Yet he held no public office, nor were his daily walks the walks of philanthropic labor for the common good. In fact Semple & West's was merely a brokerage establishment, which was understood to be cleaning up a tolerable lot of money per annum.
They stood on the corner, waiting for a convenient chance to cross, and West looked at her as at one whom it was pleasant to rest one's eyes upon. She drew his attention to their humming environment. For a city of that size the life and bustle here were, indeed, such as to take the eye. Trolley cars clanged by in a tireless procession; trucks were rounding up for stable and for bed; delivery wagons whizzed corners and bumped on among them; now and then a chauffeur honked by, grim eyes roving for the unwary pedestrian. On both sides of the street the homeward march of tired humans was already forming and quickening.
"Heigho! We're living in an interesting time, you and I," said West. "It isn't every generation that can watch its old town change into a metropolis right under its eyes."
"I remember," said she, "when it was an exciting thing to see anybody on the street you didn't know. You went home and told the family about it, and very likely counted the spoons next morning. The city seemed to belong to us then. And now—look. Everywhere new kings that know not Joseph. Bee!"
"It's the law of life; the old order changeth." He turned and looked along the street, into the many faces of the homeward bound. "The eternal mystery of the people.... Don't you like to look at their faces and wonder what they're all doing and thinking and hoping and dreaming to make out of their lives?"
"Don't you think they're all hoping and dreaming just one thing?—how to make more money than they're making at present? All over the world," said Miss Weyland, "bright young men lie awake at night, thinking up odd, ingenious ways to take other people's money away from them. These young men are the spirit of America. We're having an irruption of them here now ... the Goths sacking the sacred city."
"Clever rascals they are too. I," said West, "belong to the other group. I sleep of nights and wake up in the morning to have your bright young Goths take my money away from me."
He laughed and continued: "Little Bobby Smythe, who used to live here, was in my office the other day. I was complimenting him on the prosperity of the plumbers' supply manufacture—for such is his mundane occupation, in Schenectady, N.Y. Bobby said that plumbers' supplies were all well enough, but he made his real money from an interesting device of his own. There is a lot of building going on in his neighborhood, it seems, and it occurred to him to send around to the various owners and offer his private watchman to guard the loose building materials at night. This for the very reasonable price of $3.50 a week. It went like hot cakes. 'But,' said I, 'surely your one watchman can't look after thirty-seven different places.' 'No,' said Bobby, 'but they think he does.' I laughed and commended his ingenuity. 'But the best part of the joke,' said he, 'is that I haven't got any watchman at all.'"
Sharlee Weyland laughed gayly. "Bobby could stand for the portrait of young America."
"You've been sitting at the feet of a staunch old Tory Gamaliel named Colonel Cowles. I can see that. Ah, me! My garrulity has cost us a splendid chance to cross. What are all these dreadful things you have still left to do on your so-called holiday?"
"Well," said she, "first I'm going to Saltman's to buy stationery. Boxes and boxes of it, for the Department. Bee! Come here, sir! Look how fat this purse is. I'm going to spend all of that. Bee! I wish I had put him to leash. He's going to hurt himself in a minute—you see!—"
"Don't you think he's much more likely to hurt somebody else? For a guess, that queer-looking little citizen in spectacles over the way, who so evidently doesn't know where he is at."
"Oh, do you think so?—Bee!... Then, after stationery, comes the disagreeable thing, and yet interesting too. I have to go to my Aunt Jennie's, dunning."
"You are compelled to dun your Aunt Jennie?"
She laughed. "No—dun for her, because she's too tender-hearted to do it herself. There's a man there who won't pay his board. Bee! Bee!—BEE!-O heavens—It's happened!"
And, too quick for West, she was gone into the melee, which immediately closed in behind her, barricading him away.
What had happened was a small tragedy in its way. The little citizen in spectacles, who had been standing on the opposite corner vacantly eating an apple out of a paper bag, had unwisely chosen his moment to try the crossing. He was evidently an indoors sort of man and no shakes at crossing streets, owing to the introspective nature of his mind. A grocery wagon shaved him by an inch. It was doing things to the speed-limit, this wagon, because a dashing police patrol was close behind, treading on its tail and indignantly clanging it to turn out, which it could not possibly do. To avoid erasing the little citizen, the patrol man had to pull sharply out; and this manoeuvre, as Fate had written it, brought him full upon the great dog Behemoth, who, having slipped across the tracks, stood gravely waiting for the flying wagon to pass. Thus it became a clear case of sauve qui peut, and the devil take the hindermost. There was nothing in the world for Behemoth to do but wildly leap under the hoofs for his life. This he did successfully. But on the other side he met the spectacled citizen full and fair, and down they went together with a thud.
The little man came promptly to a sitting posture and took stock of the wreck. His hat he could not see anywhere, the reason being that he was sitting on it. The paper bag, of course, had burst; some of the apples had rolled to amazing distances, and newsboys, entire strangers to the fallen gentleman, were eating them with cries of pleasure. This he saw in one pained glance. But on the very heels of the dog, it seemed, came hurrying a girl with marks of great anxiety on her face.
"Can you possibly forgive him? That fire-alarm thing scared him crazy—he's usually so good! You aren't hurt, are you? I do hope so much that you aren't?"
The young man, sitting calmly in the street, glanced up at Miss Weyland with no sign of interest.
"I have no complaint to make," he answered, precisely; "though the loss of my fruit seems unfortunate, to say the least of it."
"I know! The way they fell on them," she answered, as self-unconscious as he—"quite as though you had offered to treat! I'm very much mortified—But—are you hurt? I thought for a minute that the coal cart was going right over you."
A crowd had sprung up in a wink; a circle of interested faces watching the unembarrassed girl apologizing to the studious-looking little man who sat so calmly upon his hat in the middle of the street. Meantime all traffic on that side was hopelessly blocked. Swearing truck drivers stood up on their seats from a block away to see what had halted the procession.
"But what is the object of a dog like that?" inquired the man ruminatively. "What good is he? What is he for?"
"Why—why—why," said she, looking ready to laugh—"he's not a utilitarian dog at all, you see! He's a pleasure-dog, you know—just a big, beautiful dog to give pleasure!—"
"The pleasure he has given me," said the man, gravely producing his derby from beneath him and methodically undenting it, "is negligible. I may say non-existent."
From somewhere rose a hoarse titter. The girl glanced up, and for the first time became aware that her position was somewhat unconventional. A very faint color sprang into her cheeks, but she was not the kind to retreat in disorder. West dodged through the blockade in time to hear her say with a final, smiling bow:
"I'm so glad you aren't hurt, believe me ... And if my dog has given you no pleasure, you may like to think that you have given him a great deal."
A little flushed but not defeated, her gloved hand knotted in Behemoth's gigantic scruff, she moved away, resigning the situation to West. West handled it in his best manner, civilly assisting the little man to rise, and bowing himself off with the most graceful expressions of regret for the mishap.
Miss Weyland was walking slowly, waiting for him, and he fell in beside her on the sidewalk.
"Don't speak to me suddenly," said she, in rather a muffled voice. "I don't want to scream on a public street."
"Scratch a professor and you find a Tartar," said West, laughing too. "When I finally caught you, laggard that I was, you looked as if he were being rude."
Miss Weyland questioned the rudeness; she said that the man was only superbly natural. "Thoughts came to him and he blabbed them out artlessly. The only things that he seemed in the least interested in were his apples and Bee. Don't you think from this that he must be a floral and faunal naturalist?"
"No Goth, at any rate. Did you happen to notice the tome sticking out of his coat pocket? It was The Religion of Humanity, unless my old eyes deceived me. Who under heaven reads Comte nowadays?"
"Not me," said Miss Weyland.
"There's nothing to it. As a wealthy old friend of mine once remarked, people who read that sort of books never make over eighteen hundred a year."
On that they turned into Saltman's. There much stationery and collateral stuff was bought for cash paid down, and all for the use of the Department. Next, at a harness-store, a leash was bargained for and obtained, and Behemoth bowled over no more young men that day. Thereafter, the two set their faces westerly till they came to the girl's home, where the dog was delivered to the cook, and Miss Weyland went upstairs to kiss her mother. Still later they set out northward through the lamp-lit night for the older part of town, where resided the aunt on whose behalf there was dunning to be done that night.
Charles Gardiner West asserted that he had not a thing in all this world to do, and that erranding was only another way of taking a walk, when you came to think of it. She was frankly glad of his company; to be otherwise was to be fantastic; and now as they strolled she led him to talk of his work, which was never difficult. For West, despite his rising prosperity, was dissatisfied with his calling, the reason being, as he himself sometimes put it, that his heart did not abide with the money changers.
"Sometimes at night," he said seriously, "I look back over the busy day and ask myself what it has all amounted to. Suppose I did all the world's stock-jobbing, what would I really have accomplished? You may say that I could take all the money I made and spend it for free hospitals, but would I do it? No. The more I made, the more I'd want for myself, the more all my interest and ambition would twine themselves around the counting-room. You can't serve two masters, can you, Miss Weyland? Uplifting those who need uplifting is a separate business, all by itself."
"You could make the money," laughed she, "and let me spend it for you. I know this minute where I could put a million to glorious advantage."
"I'm going to get out of it," said West. "I've told Semple so—though perhaps it ought not to go further just yet. I'd enjoy," said he, "just such work as yours. There's none finer. You'd like me immensely as your royal master, I suppose? Want nothing better than to curtsy and kowtow when I flung out a gracious order?—as, for instance, to shut up shop and go and take a holiday?"
"Delicious! Though I doubt if anybody in the world could improve on Mr. Dayne." Suddenly a new thought struck her, and she made a faint grimace. "There's nothing so very fine about my present work—oh me! I'll give you that if you want it."
"I see I must look this gift horse over very closely. What is it?"
"They call it dunning."
"I forgot. You started to tell me, and then your dog ran amuck and began butting perfect strangers all over the place."
"Oh," said she, "it's the commonest little story in the world. All landladies can tell them to you by the hour. This man has been at Aunt Jennie's nearly a month, and what's the color of his money she hasn't the faintest idea. Such is the way our bright young men carve out their fortunes—the true Gothic architecture! Possibly Aunt Jennie has thrown out one or two delicate hints, carefully insulated to avoid hurting his feelings. You know the way our ladies of the old school do—the worst collectors the world has ever seen. So she telephoned me this morning—I'm her business woman, you see—asking me to come and advise her, and I'm coming, and after supper—"
"Well, what'll you do?"
"I'm going to talk with him, with the man. I'm simply going to collect that money. Or if I can't—"
"What's the horrid alternative?"
"I'm going to fire him!"
West laughed merrily. His face always looked most charming when he smiled. "Upon my word I believe you can do it."
"I have done it, lots of times."
"Ah! And is the ceremony ever attended by scenes of storm and violence?"
"Never. They march like little lambs when I say the word. Hay-foot—straw-foot!"
"But then your aunt loses their arrears of board, I suppose."
"Yes, and for that reason I never fire except as a last desperate resort. Signs of penitence, earnest resolves to lead a better life, are always noted and carefully considered."
"If you should need help with this customer to-night—not that I think you will, oh no!—telephone me. I'm amazingly good at handling bright young men. This is your aunt's, isn't it?"
"No, no—next to the corner over there. O heavens! Look—look!"
West looked. Up the front steps of Miss Weyland's Aunt Jennie's a man was going, a smallish man in a suit of dusty clothes, who limped as he walked. The electric light at the corner illumined him perfectly—glinted upon the spectacles, touched up the stout volume in the coat-pocket, beat full upon the swaybacked derby, whereon its owner had sat what time Charlotte Lee Weyland apologized for the gaucherie of Behemoth. And as they watched, this man pushed open Aunt Jennie's front door, with never so much as a glance at the door-bell, and stepped as of right inside.
Involuntarily West and Miss Weyland had halted; and now they stared at each other with a kind of wild surmise which rapidly yielded to ludicrous certainty. West broke into a laugh.
"Well, do you think you'll have the nerve to fire him?"
Mrs. Paynter's Boarding-House: which was not founded as an Eleemosynary Institution.
There was something of a flutter among the gathered boarders when Miss Weyland was seen to be entering the house, and William Klinker, who announced the fact from his place by the window, added that that had ought to help some with the supper. He reminded the parlor that there had been Porterhouse the last time. Miss Miller, from the sofa, told Mr. Klinker archly that he was so material. She had only the other day mastered the word, but even that is more than could be said for Mr. Klinker. Major Brooke stood by the Latrobe heater, reading the evening paper under a flaring gas-light. He habitually came down early to get it before anybody else had a chance. By Miss Miller on the sofa sat Mr. Bylash, stroking the glossy moustache which other ladies before her time had admired intensely. Despite her archness Miss Miller had heard with a pang that Miss Weyland was coming to supper, and her reason was not unconnected with this same Mr. Bylash. In earlier meetings she had vaguely noted differences between Mrs. Paynter's pretty niece and herself. True, she considered these differences all in her own favor, as, for example, her far larger back pompadour, with the puffs, but you never could tell about gentlemen.
"I'm surprised," she said to Mr. Klinker, "Mr. Bylash didn't go out to give her the glad hand, and welcome her into our humble coturee."
Mr. Bylash, who had been thinking of doing that very thing, said rather shortly that the ladies present quite satisfied him.
"And who do you think brought her around and right up to the door?" continued William Klinker, taking no notice of their blandishments. "Hon. West—Charles Gardenia West—"
A scream from Miss Miller applauded the witty hit.
"Oh, it ain't mine," said Mr. Klinker modestly. "I heard a fellow get it off at the shop the other day. He's a pretty smooth fellow, Charles Gardenia is—a little too smooth for my way of thinking. A fellow that's always so smilin'—Oh, you Smithy!" he suddenly yelled out the window—"Smithy! Hey!—Aw, I can beat the face off you!—Awright—eight sharp at the same place.—Go on, you fat Mohawk you!... But say," he resumed to the parlor, "y'know that little woman is a stormy petrel for this house—that's right. Remember the last time she was here—the time we had the Porterhouse? Conference in the dining-room after supper, and the next morning out went the trunks of that red-head fellow—from Baltimore—what's his name?—Milhiser."
"Well, she hasn't got any call to intrude in my affairs," said Mr. Bylash, still rather miffed. "I'm here to tell you that!"
"Oh, I ain't speakin' of the reg'lars," answered Klinker, "so don't get nervous. But say, I got kind of a hunch that here is where the little Doc gets his."
Klinker's hunch was not without foundation; this very question was being agitated at that moment in the room just over his head. Miss Weyland, having passed the parlor portieres with no thought that her movements were attracting interest on the other side of them, skipped up the stairs, rapped on her Aunt Jennie's door, and ran breathlessly into the room. Her aunt was sitting by the bureau, reading a novel from the circulating library. Though she had been sitting right here since about four o'clock, only getting up once to light the gas, she had a casual air like one who is only killing a moment's time between important engagements. She looked up at the girl's entrance, and an affectionate smile lit her well-lined face.
"My dear Sharlee! I'm so glad to see you."
They kissed tenderly.
"Oh, Aunt Jennie, tell me! Is he—this man you telephoned me about—is he a little, small, dried young man, with spectacles and a brown derby, and needing a hair-cut, and the gravest, drollest manner in the world? Tell me—is he?"
"My dear, you have described him to the life. Where did you see him?"
Sharlee collapsed upon the bed. Presently she revived and outlined the situation to Aunt Jennie.
Mrs. Paynter listened with some interest. If humor is a defect, as they tell us nowadays, she was almost a faultless woman. And in her day she had been a beauty and a toast. You hear it said generously of a thousand, but it happened to be true in her case. The high-bred regularity of feature still survived, but she had let herself go in latter years, as most women will who have other things than themselves to think about, and hard things at that. Her old black dress was carelessly put on; she could look at herself in the mirror by merely leaning forward an inch or two, and it never occurred to her to do it—an uncanny thing in a woman.
"I'm sure it sounds quite like him," said Mrs. Paynter, when her niece had finished. "And so Gardiner West walked around with you. I hope, my dear, you asked him in to supper? We have an exceptionally nice Porterhouse steak to-night. But I suppose he would scorn—"
The girl interrupted her, abolishing and demolishing such a thought. Mr. West would have been only too pleased, she said, but she positively would not ask him, because of the serious work that was afoot that night.
"The pleasure I've so far given your little man," laughed she, patting her aunt's cheeks with her two hands, "has been negligible—I have his word for that—and to-night it is going to be the same, only more so."
Sharlee arose, took off her coat and furs, laid them on the bed, and going to the bureau began fixing her hair in the back before the long mirror. No matter how well a woman looks to the untrained, or man's, eye, she can always put in some time pleasurably fixing her hair in the back.
"Now," said Sharlee, "to business. Tell me all about the little dead-beat."
"It is four weeks next Monday," said Mrs. Paynter, putting a shoe-horn in her novel to mark the place, "since the young man came to me. He was from New York, and just off the train. He said that he had been recommended to my house, but would not say by whom, nor could he give references. I did not insist on them, for I can't be too strict, Sharlee, with all the other boarding-places there are and that room standing empty for two months hand-running, and then for three months before that, before Miss Catlett, I mean. The fact is, that I ought to be over on the Avenue, where I could have only the best people. It would be infinitely more lucrative—why, my dear, you should hear Amy Marsden talk of her enormous profits! And Amy, while a dear, sweet little woman, is not clever! I remember as girls—but to go back even of that to the very heart of the matter, who ever heard of a clever Wilkerson? For she, you know, was born ..."
"Never you mind Mrs. Marsden, Aunt Jennie," said the girl, gently drawing her back to the muttons,—"we'll make lots more money than she some day. So you gave him the room, then?"
"Yes, the room known as the third hall back. A small, neat, economical room, entirely suitable for a single gentleman. I gave him my lowest price, though I must say I did not dream then that he would spend all his time in his room, apparently having no downtown occupation, which is certainly not what one expects from gentlemen, who get low terms on the silent understanding that they will take themselves out of the house directly after breakfast. Nevertheless—will you believe it?—ten days passed and not a word was said about payment. So one morning I stopped him in the hall, as though for a pleasant talk. However, I was careful to introduce the point, by means of an anecdote I told him, that guests here were expected to pay by the week. Of course I supposed that the hint would be sufficient."
"But it wasn't, alas?"
"On the contrary, ten days again passed, and you might suppose there was no such thing as money in all this world. Then I resolved to approach him directly. I knocked on his door, and when he opened it, I told him plainly and in so many words that I would be very much gratified if he would let me have a check whenever convenient, as unfortunately I had heavy bills due that must be met. I was very much mortified, Sharlee! As I stood there facing that young man, dunning him like a grocer's clerk, it flashed into my mind to wonder what your great-grandfather, the Governor, would think if he could have looked down and seen me. For as you know, my dear, though I doubt if you altogether realize it at all times, since our young people of to-day, I regret to have to say it—though of course I do except you from this criticism—"
By gentle interruption and deft transition, Sharlee once more wafted the conversation back to the subject in hand.
"And when you went so far as to tell him this, how did he take it?"
"He took it admirably. He told me that I need feel no concern about the matter; that while out of funds for the moment, doubtless he would be in funds again shortly. His manner was dignified, calm, unabashed—"
"But it didn't blossom, as we might say, in money?"
"As to that—no. What are you to do, Sharlee? I feel sure the man is not dishonest,—in fact he has a singularly honest face, transparently so,—but he is only somehow queer. He appears an engrossed, absent-minded young man—what is the word I want?—an eccentric. That is what he is, an engrossed young eccentric."
Sharlee leaned against the bureau and looked at her aunt thoughtfully. "Do you gather, Aunt Jennie, that he's a gentleman?"
Mrs. Paynter threw out her hands helplessly. "What does the term mean nowadays? The race of gentlemen, as the class existed in my day, seems to be disappearing from the face of the earth. We see occasional survivals of the old order, like Gardiner West or the young Byrd men, but as a whole—well, my dear, I will only say that the modern standards would have excited horror fifty years ago and—"
"Well, but according to the modern standards, do you think he is?"
"I don't know. He is and he isn't. But no—no—no! He is not one. No man can be a gentleman who is utterly indifferent to the comfort and feelings of others, do you think so?"
"Indeed, no! And is that what he is?"
"I will illustrate by an incident," said Mrs. Paynter. "As I say, this young man spends his entire time in his room, where he is, I believe, engaged in writing a book."
"Oh, me! Then he's penniless, depend upon it."
"Well, when we had the frost and freeze early last week, he came to me one night and complained of the cold in his room. You know, Sharlee, I do not rent that room as a sitting-room, nor do I expect to heat it, at the low price, other than the heat from the halls. So I invited him to make use of the dining-room in the evenings, which, as you know, with the folding-doors drawn, and the yellow lamp lit, is converted to all intents and purposes into a quiet and comfortable reading-room. Somewhat grumblingly he went down. Fifi was there as usual, doing her algebra by the lamp. The young man took not the smallest notice of her, and presently when she coughed several times—the child's cold happened to be bad that night—he looked up sharply and asked her please to stop. Fifi said that she was afraid she couldn't help it. He replied that it was impossible for him to work in the room with a noise of that sort, and either the noise or he would have to vacate. So Fifi gathered up her things and left. I found her, half an hour later, in her little bedroom, which was ice-cold, coughing and crying over her sums, which she was trying to work at the bureau. That was how I found out about it. The child would never have said a word to me."
"How simply outrageous!" said the girl, and became silent and thoughtful.
"Well, what do you think I'd better do, Sharlee?"
"I think you'd better let me waylay him in the hall after supper and tell him that the time has come when he must either pay up or pack up."
"My dear! Can you well be as blunt as that?"
"Dear Aunt Jennie, as I view it, you are not running an eleemosynary institution here?"
"Of course not," replied Aunt Jennie, who really did not know whether she was or not.
Sharlee dropped into a chair and began manicuring her pretty little nails. "The purpose of this establishment is to collect money from the transient and resident public. Now you're not a bit good at collecting money because you're so well-bred, but I'm not so awfully well-bred—"
"I'm bold—blunt—brazen! I'm forward. I'm resolute and grim. In short, I belong to the younger generation which you despise so—"
"I don't despise you, you dear—"
"Come," said Sharlee, springing up; "let's go down. I'm wild to meet Mr. Bylash again. Is he wearing the moleskin vest to-night, do you know? I was fascinated by it the last time I was here. Aunt Jennie, what is the name of this young man—the one I may be compelled to bounce?"
"His name is Queed. Did you ever—?"
"Queed? Queed? Q-u-e-e-d?"
"An odd name, isn't it? There were no such people in my day."
"Probably after to-morrow there will be none such once more."
"Mr. Klinker has christened him the little Doctor—a hit at his appearance and studious habits, you see—and even the servants have taken it up."
"Aunt Jennie," said Sharlee at the door, "when you introduce the little Doctor to me, refer to me as your business woman, won't you? Say 'This is my niece, Miss Weyland, who looks after my business affairs for me,' or something like that, will you? It will explain to him why I, a comparative stranger, show such an interest in his financial affairs."
Mrs. Paynter said, "Certainly, my dear," and they went down, the older lady disappearing toward the dining-room. In the parlor Sharlee was greeted cordially and somewhat respectfully. Major Brooke, who appeared to have taken an extra toddy in honor of her coming, or for any other reason why, flung aside his newspaper and seized both her hands. Mr. Bylash, in the moleskin waistcoat, sure enough, bowed low and referred to her agreeably as "stranger," nor did he again return to Miss Miller's side on the sofa. That young lady was gay and giggling, but watchful withal. When Sharlee was not looking, Miss Miller's eye, rather hard now, roved over her ceaselessly from the point of her toe to the top of her feather. What was the trick she had, the little way with her, that so delightfully unlocked the gates of gentlemen's hearts?
At supper they were lively and gay. The butter and preserves were in front of Sharlee, for her to help to; by her side sat Fifi, the young daughter of the house. Major Brooke sat at the head of the table and carved the Porterhouse, upon which when the eyes of William Klinker fell, they irrepressibly shot forth gleams. At the Major's right sat his wife, a pale, depressed, nervous woman, as anybody who had lived thirty years with the gallant officer her husband had a right to be. She was silent, but the Major talked a great deal, not particularly well. Much the same may be said of Mr. Bylash and Miss Miller. Across the table from Mrs. Brooke stood an empty chair. It belonged to the little Doctor, Mr. Queed. Across the table from Sharlee stood another. This one belonged to the old professor, Nicolovius. When the meal was well along, Nicolovius came in, bowed around the table in his usual formal way, and silently took his place. While Sharlee liked everybody in the boarding-house, including Miss Miller, Professor Nicolovius was the only one of them that she considered at all interesting. This was because of his strongly-cut face, like the grand-ducal villain in a ten-twenty-thirty melodrama, and his habit of saying savage things in a soft, purring voice. He was rude to everybody, and particularly rude, so Sharlee thought, to her. As for the little Doctor, he did not come in at all. Half-way through supper, Sharlee looked at her aunt and gave a meaning glance at the empty seat.
"I don't know what to make of it," said Mrs. Paynter sotto voce. "He's usually so regular."
To the third floor she dispatched the colored girl Emma, to knock upon Mr. Queed's door. Presently Emma returned with the report that she had knocked, but could obtain no answer.
"He's probably fallen asleep over his book," murmured Sharlee. "I feel certain it's that kind of book."
But Mrs. Paynter said that he rarely slept, even at night.
"... Right on my own front porch, mind you!" Major Brooke was declaiming. "And, gentlemen, I shook my finger in his face and said, 'Sir, I never yet met a Republican who was not a rogue!' Yes, sir, that is just what I told him—"
"I'm afraid," said Nicolovius, smoothly,—it was the only word he uttered during the meal,—"your remark harrows Miss Weyland with reminders of the late Mr. Surface."
The Major stopped short, and a silence fell over the table. It was promptly broken by Mrs. Paynter, who invited Mrs. Brooke to have a second cup of coffee. Sharlee looked at her plate and said nothing. Everybody thought that the old professor's remark was in bad taste, for it was generally known that Henry G. Surface was one subject that even Miss Weyland's intimate friends never mentioned to her. Nicolovius, however, appeared absolutely unconcerned by the boarders' silent rebuke. He ate on, rapidly but abstemiously, and finished before Mr. Bylash, who had had twenty minutes' start of him.
The last boarder rising drew shut the folding-doors into the parlor, while the ladies of the house remained to superintend and assist in clearing off the supper things. The last boarder this time was Mr. Bylash, who tried without success to catch Miss Weyland's eye as he slid to the doors. He hung around in the parlor waiting for her till 8.30, at which time, having neither seen nor heard sign of her, he took Miss Miller out to the moving-picture shows. In the dining-room, when Emma had trayed out the last of the things, the ladies put away the unused silver, watered the geranium, set back some of the chairs, folded up the white cloth, placing it in the sideboard drawer, spread the pretty Turkey-red one in its stead, set the reading lamp upon it; and just then the clock struck eight.
"Now then," said Sharlee.
So the three sat down and held a council of war as to how little Doctor Queed, the young man who wouldn't pay his board, was to be brought into personal contact with Charlotte Lee Weyland, the grim and resolute collector. Various stratagems were proposed, amid much merriment. But the collector herself adhered to her original idea of a masterly waiting game.
"Only trust me," said she. "He can't spend the rest of his life shut up in that room in a state of dreadful siege. Hunger or thirst will force him out; he'll want to buy some of those apples, or to mail a letter—"
Fifi, who sat on the arm of Sharlee's chair, laughed and coughed. "He never writes any. And he never has gotten but one, and that came to-night."
"Fifi, did you take your syrup before supper? Well, go and take it this minute."
"Mother, it doesn't do any good."
"The doctor gave it to you, my child, and it's going to make you better soon."
Sharlee followed Fifi out with troubled eyes. However, Mrs. Paynter at once drew her back to the matter in hand.
"Sharlee, do you know what would be the very way to settle this little difficulty? To write him a formal, businesslike letter. We'll—"
"No, I've thought of that, Aunt Jennie, and I don't believe it's the way. A letter couldn't get to the bottom of the matter. You see, we want to find out something about this man, and why he isn't paying, and whether there is reason to think he can and will pay. Besides, I think he needs a talking to on general principles."
"Well—but how are you going to do it, my dear?"
"Play a Fabian game. Wait!—be stealthy and wait! If he doesn't come out of hiding to-night, I'll return for him to-morrow. I'll keep on coming, night after night, night after night, n—Some one's knocking—".
"Come in," said Mrs. Paynter, looking up.
The door leading into the hail opened, and the man himself stood upon the threshold, looking at them absently.
"May I have some supper, Mrs. Paynter? I was closely engaged and failed to notice the time."
Sharlee arose. "Certainly. I'll get you some at once," she answered innocently enough. But to herself she was saying: "The Lord has delivered him into my hand."
Encounter between Charlotte Lee Weyland, a Landlady's Agent, and Doctor Queed, a Young Man who wouldn't pay his Board.
Sharlee glanced at Mrs. Paynter, who caught herself and said: "Mr. Queed, my niece—Miss Weyland."
But over the odious phrase, "my business woman," her lips boggled and balked; not to save her life could she bring herself to damn her own niece with such an introduction.
Noticing the omission and looking through the reasons for it as through window-glass, Sharlee smothered a laugh, and bowed. Mr. Queed bowed, but did not laugh or even smile. He drew up a chair at his usual place and sat down. As by an involuntary reflex, his left hand dropped toward his coat-pocket, whence the top edges of a book could be described protruding. Mrs. Paynter moved vaguely toward the door. As for her business woman, she made at once for the kitchen, where Emma and her faithful co-worker and mother, Laura, rose from their supper to assist her. With her own hands the girl cut a piece of the Porterhouse for Mr. Queed. Creamed potatoes, two large spoonfuls, were added; two rolls; some batterbread; coffee, which had to be diluted with a little hot water to make out the full cup; butter; damson preserves in a saucer: all of which duly set forth and arranged on a shiny black "waiter."
"Enough for a whole platform of doctors," said Sharlee, critically reviewing the spread. "Thank you, Emma."
She took the tray in both hands and pushed open the swing-doors with her side, thus making her ingress to the dining-room in a sort of crab-fashion. Mrs. Paynter was gone. Mr. Queed sat alone in the dining-room. His book lay open on the table and he was humped over it, hand in his hair.
Having set her tray on the side-table, Sharlee came to his side with the plate of steak and potatoes. He did not stir, and presently she murmured, "I beg your pardon."
He looked up half-startled, not seeming to take in for the first second who or what she was.
"Oh ... yes."
He moved his book, keeping his finger in the place, and she set down the plate. Next she brought the appurtenances one by one, the butter, coffee, and so on. The old mahogany sideboard yielded knife, fork, and spoon; salt and pepper; from the right-hand drawer, a fresh napkin. These placed, she studied them, racked her brains a moment and, from across the table—
"Is there anything else?"
Mr. Queed's eye swept over his equipment with intelligent quickness. "A glass of water, please."
Sharlee poured a glass from the battered silver pitcher on the side-table—the one that the Yankees threw out of the window in May, 1862—and duly placed it. Mr. Queed was oblivious to the little courtesy. By this time he had propped his book open against the plate of rolls and was reading it between cuts on the steak. Beside the plate he had laid his watch, an open-faced nickel one about the size of a desk-clock.
"Do you think that is everything?"
"I believe that is all."
"Do you remember me?" then asked Sharlee.
He glanced at her briefly through his spectacles, his eyes soon returning to his supper.
"I think not."
The girl smiled suddenly, all by herself. "It was my dog that—upset you on Main Street this afternoon. You may remember ...? I thought you seemed to—to limp a little when you came in just now. I'm awfully sorry for the—mishap—"
"It is of no consequence," he said, with some signs of unrest. "I walk seldom. Your—pleasure-dog was uninjured, I trust?"
"Thank you. He was never better."
That the appearance of the pleasure-dog's owner as a familiar of his boarding-house piqued his curiosity not the slightest was only too evident. He bowed, his eyes returning from steak to book.
"I am obliged to you for getting my supper."
If he had said, "Will you kindly go?" his meaning could hardly have been more unmistakable. However, Mrs. Paynter's resolute agent held her ground. Taking advantage of his gross absorption, she now looked the delinquent boarder over with some care. At first glance Mr. Queed looked as if he might have been born in a library, where he had unaspiringly settled down. To support this impression there were his pallid complexion and enormous round spectacles; his dusty air of premature age; his general effect of dried-up detachment from his environment. One noted, too, the tousled mass of nondescript hair, which he wore about a month too long; the necktie-band triumphing over the collar in the back; the collar itself, which had a kind of celluloid look and shone with a blue unwholesome sheen under the gas-light. On the other hand there was the undeniably trim cut of the face, which gave an unexpected and contradictory air of briskness. The nose was bold; the long straight mouth might have belonged to a man of action. Probably the great spectacles were the turning-point in the man's whole effect. You felt that if you could get your hands on him long enough to pull those off, and cut his hair, you might have an individual who would not so surely have been christened the little Doctor.
These details the agent gathered at her leisure. Meantime here was the situation, stark and plain; and she, and she alone, must handle it. She must tell this young man, so frankly engrossed in his mental and material food, which he ate by his watch, that he must fork over four times seven-fifty or vacate the premises.... Yes, but how to do it? He could not be much older than she herself, but his manner was the most impervious, the most impossible that she had ever seen. "I'm grim and I'm resolute," she said over to herself; but the splendid defiance of the motto failed to quicken her blood. Not even the recollection of the month's sponge for board and the house-rent due next week spurred her to action. Then she thought of Fifi, whom Mr. Queed had packed off sobbing for his good pleasure, and her resolution hardened.
"I'm afraid I must interrupt your reading for a moment," she said quietly. "There is something I want to say...."
He glanced up for the second time. There was surprise and some vexation in the eyes behind his circular glasses, but no sign of any interest.
"When my aunt introduced you to me just now she did not—did not identify me as she should—"
"Really, does it make any difference?"
"Yes, I think it does. You see, I am not only her niece, but her business woman, her agent, as well. She isn't very good at business, but still she has a good deal of it to be done. She runs this boarding-place, and people of various kinds come to her and she takes them into her house. Many of these people are entirely unknown to her. In this way trouble sometimes arises. For instance people come now and then who—how shall I put it?—are very reserved about making their board-payments. My aunt hardly knows how to deal with them—"
He interrupted her with a gesture and a glance at his watch. "It always seems to me an unnecessary waste of time not to be direct. You have called to collect my arrearage for board?"
"Well, yes. I have."
"Please tell your aunt that when I told her to give herself no concern about that matter, I exactly meant what I said. To-night I received funds through the mail; the sum, twenty dollars. Your aunt," said he, obviously ready to return to his reading matter, "shall have it all."
But Sharlee had heard delinquent young men talk like that before, and her business platform in these cases was to be introduced to their funds direct.
"That would cut down the account nicely," said she, looking at him pleasantly, but a shade too hard to imply a beautiful trust. She went on much like the firm young lady enumerators who take the census: "By the way—let me ask: Have you any regular business or occupation?"
"Not, I suppose, in the sense in which you mean the interrogation."
"Perhaps you have friends in the city, who—"
"Friends! Here! Good Lord—no!" said he, with exasperated vehemence.
"I gather," was surprised from her, "that you do not wish—"
"They are the last thing in the world that I desire. My experience in that direction in New York quite sufficed me, I assure you. I came here," said he, with rather too blunt an implication, "to be let alone."
"I was thinking of references, you know. You have friends in New York, then?"
"Yes, I have two. But I doubt if you would regard them as serviceable for references. The best of them is only a policeman; the other is a yeggman by trade—his brother, by the way."
She was silent a moment, wondering if he were telling the truth, and deciding what to say next. The young man used the silence to bolt his coffee at a gulp and go hurriedly but deeply into the preserves.
"My aunt will be glad that you can make a remittance to-night. I will take it to her for you with pleasure."
He put his hand into his outer breast-pocket, pulled out an envelope, and absently pitched it across the table. She looked at it and saw that it was postmarked the city and bore a typewritten address.
"Am I to open this?"
"Oh, as you like," said he, and, removing the spoon, turned a page.
The agent picked up the envelope with anticipations of helpful clues. It was her business to find out everything that she could about Mr. Queed. A determinedly moneyless, friendless, and vocationless young man could not daily stretch his limbs under her aunt's table and retain the Third Hall Back against more compensatory guests. But the letter proved a grievous disappointment to her. Inside was a folded sheet of cheap white paper, apparently torn from a pad. Inside the sheet was a new twenty-dollar bill. That was all. Apart from the address, there was no writing anywhere.
Yet the crisp greenback, incognito though it came, indubitably suggested that Mr. Queed was not an entire stranger to the science of money-making.
"Ah," said the agent, insinuatingly, "evidently you have some occupation, after all-of—of a productive sort...."
He looked up again with that same air of vexed surprise, as much as to say: "What! You still hanging around!"
"I don't follow you, I fear."
"I assume that this money comes to you in payment for some—work you have done—"
"It is an assumption, certainly."
"You can appreciate, perhaps, that I am not idly inquisitive. I shouldn't—"
"What is it that you wish to know?"
"As to this money—"
"Really, you know as much about it as I do. It came exactly as I handed it to you: the envelope, the blank paper, and the bill."
"But you know, of course, where it comes from?"
"I can't say I do. Evidently," said Mr. Queed, "it is intended as a gift."
"Then—perhaps you have a good friend here after all? Some one who has guessed—"
"I think I told you that I have but two friends, and I know for a certainty that they are both in New York. Besides, neither of them would give me twenty dollars."
"But—but—but," said the girl, laughing through her utter bewilderment—"aren't you interested to know who did give it to you? Aren't you curious? I assure you that in this city it's not a bit usual to get money through the mails from anonymous admirers—"
"Nor did I say that this was a usual case. I told you that I didn't know who sent me this."
"But I have an idea. I think my father sent it."
"Oh! Your father ..."
So he had a father, an eccentric but well-to-do father, who, though not a friend, yet sent in twenty dollars now and then to relieve his son's necessities. Sharlee felt her heart rising.
"Don't think me merely prying. You see I am naturally interested in the question of whether you—will find yourself able to stay on here—"
"You refer to my ability to make my board payments?"
Throughout this dialogue, Mr. Queed had been eating, steadily and effectively. Now he slid his knife and fork into place with a pained glance at his watch; and simultaneously a change came over his face, a kind of tightening, shot through with Christian fortitude, which plainly advertised an unwelcome resolution.
"My supper allowance of time," he began warningly, "is practically up. However, I suppose the definite settlement of this board question cannot be postponed further. I must not leave you under any misapprehensions. If this money came from my father, it is the first I ever had from him in my life. Whether I am to get any more from him is problematical, to say the least. Due consideration must be given the fact that he and I have never met."
"Oh!... Does—he live here, in the city?"
"I have some reason to believe that he does. It is indeed," Mr. Queed set forth to his landlady's agent, "because of that belief that I have come here. I have assumed, with good grounds, that he would promptly make himself known to me, take charge of things, and pay my board; but though I have been here nearly a month, he has so far made not the slightest move in that direction, unless we count this letter. Possibly he leaves it to me to find him, but I, on my part, have no time to spare for any such undertaking. I make the situation clear to you? Under the circumstances I cannot promise you a steady revenue from my father. On the other hand, for all that I know, it may be his plan to send me money regularly after this."
There was a brief pause. "But—apart from the money consideration—have you no interest in finding him?"
"Oh—if that is all one asks! But it happens not to be a mere question of my personal whim. Possibly you can appreciate the fact that finding a father is a tremendous task when you have no idea where he lives, or what he looks like, or what name he may be using. My time is wholly absorbed by my own work. I have none to give to a wild-goose chase such as that, on the mere chance that, if found, he would agree to pay my board for the future."
If he had been less in earnest he would have been grotesque. As it was, Sharlee was by no means sure that he escaped it; and she could not keep a controversial note out of her voice as she said:—
"Yours must be a very great work to make you view the finding of your father in that way."
"The greatest in the world," he answered, drily. "I may call it, loosely, evolutionary sociology."
She was so silent after this, and her expression was so peculiar, that he concluded that his words conveyed nothing to her.
"The science," he added kindly, "which treats of the origin, nature, and history of human society; analyzes the relations of men in organized communities; formulates the law or laws of social progress and permanence; and correctly applies these laws to the evolutionary development of human civilization."
"I am familiar with the terms. And your ambition is to become a great evolutionary sociologist?"
He smiled faintly. "To become one?"
"Oh! Then you are one already?"
For answer, Mr. Queed dipped his hand into his inner pocket, produced a large wallet, and from a mass of papers selected a second envelope.
"You mention references. Possibly these will impress you as even better than friends."
Sharlee, seated on the arm of Major Brooke's chair, ran through the clippings: two advertisements of a well-known "heavy" review announcing articles by Mr. Queed; a table of contents torn from a year-old number of the Political Science Quarterly to the same effect; an editorial from a New York newspaper commenting on one of these articles and speaking laudatorily of its author; a private letter from the editor of the "heavy" urging Mr. Queed to write another article on a specified subject, "Sociology and Socialism."
To Sharlee the exhibit seemed surprisingly formidable, but the wonder in her eyes was not at that. Her marvel was for the fact that the man who was capable of so cruelly elbowing little Fifi out of his way should be counted a follower of the tenderest and most human of sciences.
"They impress me," she said, returning his envelope; "but not as better than friends."
"Ah? A matter of taste. Now—"
"I had always supposed," continued the girl, looking at him, "that sociology had a close relation with life—in fact, that it was based on a conscious recognition of—the brotherhood of man."
"Your supposition is doubtless sound, though you express it so loosely."
"Yet you feel that the sociologist has no such relation?"
He glanced up sharply. At the subtly hostile look in her eyes, his expression became, for the first time, a little interested.
"How do you deduce that?"
"Oh!... It is loose, if you like—but I deduce it from what you have said—and implied—about your father and—having friends."
But what she thought of, most of all, was the case of Fifi.
She stood across the table, facing him, looking down at him; and there was a faintly heightened color in her cheeks. Her eyes were the clearest lapis lazuli, heavily fringed with lashes which were blacker than Egypt's night. Her chin was finely and strongly cut; almost a masculine chin, but unmasculinely softened by the sweetness of her mouth.
Mr. Queed eyed her with some impatience through his round spectacles.
"You apparently jumble together the theory and what you take to be the application of a science in the attempt to make an impossible unit. Hence your curious confusion. Theory and application are as totally distinct as the poles. The few must discover for the many to use. My own task—since the matter appears to interest you—is to work out the laws of human society for those who come after to practice and apply."
"And suppose those who come after feel the same unwillingness to practice and apply that you, let us say, feel?"
"It becomes the business of government to persuade them."
"And if government shirks also? What is government but the common expression of masses of individuals very much like yourself?"
"There you return, you see, to your fundamental error. There are very few individuals in the least like me. I happen to be writing a book of great importance, not to myself merely, but to posterity. If I fail to finish my book, if I am delayed in finishing it, I can hardly doubt that the world will be the loser. This is not a task like organizing a prolonged search for one's father, or dawdling with friends, which a million men can do equally well. I alone can write my book. Perhaps you now grasp my duty of concentrating all my time and energy on this single work and ruthlessly eliminating whatever interferes with it."
The girl found his incredible egoism at once amusing and extremely exasperating.
"Have you ever thought," she asked, "that thousands of other self-absorbed men have considered their own particular work of supreme importance, and that most of them have been—mistaken?"
"Really I have nothing to do with other men's mistakes. I am responsible only for my own."
"And that is why it is a temptation to suggest that conceivably you had made one here."
"But you find difficulty in suggesting such a thought convincingly? That is because I have not conceivably made any such mistake. A Harvey must discover the theory of the circulation of the blood; it is the business of lesser men to apply the discovery to practical ends. It takes a Whitney to invent the cotton gin, but the dullest negro roustabout can operate it. Why multiply illustrations of a truism? Theory, you perceive, calls for other and higher gifts than application. The man who can formulate the eternal laws of social evolution can safely leave it to others to put his laws into practice."
Sharlee gazed at him in silence, and he returned her gaze, his face wearing a look of the rankest complacence that she had ever seen upon a human countenance. But all at once his eyes fell upon his watch, and his brow clouded.
"Meantime," he went on abruptly, "there remains the question of my board."
"Yes.... Do I understand that you—derive your living from these social laws that you write up for others to practice?"
"Oh, no—impossible! There is no living to be made there. When my book comes out there may be a different story, but that is two years and ten months off. Every minute taken from it for the making of money is, as you may now understand, decidedly unfortunate. Still," he added depressedly, "I must arrange to earn something, I suppose, since my father's assistance is so problematical. I worked for money in New York, for awhile."
"Yes, I helped a lady write a thesaurus."
"It was a mere fad with her. I virtually wrote the work for her and charged her five dollars an hour." He looked at her narrowly. "Do you happen to know of any one here who wants work of that sort done?"
The agent did not answer. By a series of covert glances she had been trying to learn, upside down, what it was that Mr. Queed was reading. "Sociology," she had easily picked out, but the chapter heading, on the opposite page, was more troublesome, and, deeply absorbed, she had now just succeeded in deciphering it. The particular division of his subject in which Mr. Queed was so much engrossed was called "Man's Duty to His Neighbors."
Struck by the silence, Sharlee looked up with a small start, and the faintest possible blush. "I beg your pardon?"
"I asked if you knew of any lady here, a wealthy one, who would like to write a thesaurus as a fad."
The girl was obliged to admit that, at the moment, she could think of no such person. But her mind fastened at once on the vulgar, hopeful fact that the unsocial sociolologist wanted a job.
"That's unfortunate," said Mr. Queed. "I suppose I must accept a little regular, very remunerative work—to settle this board question once and for all. An hour or two a day, at most. However, it is not easy to lay one's hand on such work in a strange city."
"Perhaps," said Miss Weyland slowly, "I can help you."
"I'm sure I hope so," said he with another flying glance at his watch. "That is what I have been approaching for seven minutes."
"Don't you always find it an unnecessary waste of time not to be direct?"
He sat, slightly frowning, impatiently fingering the pages of his book. The hit bounded off him like a rubber ball thrown against the Great Wall of China.
"Well?" he demanded. "What have you to propose?"
The agent sat down in a chair across the table, William Klinker's chair, and rested her chin upon her shapely little hand. The other shapely little hand toyed with the crisp twenty dollar bill, employing it to trace geometric designs upon the colored table-cloth. Mr. Queed had occasion to consult his watch again before she raised her head.
"I propose," she said, "that you apply for some special editorial work on the Post."
"The Post? The Post? The morning newspaper here?"
"One of them."
He laughed, actually laughed. It was a curious, slow laugh, betraying that the muscles which accomplished it were flabby for want of exercise.
"And who writes the editorials on the Post now?"
"A gentleman named Colonel Cowles—"
"Ah! His articles on taxation read as if they might have been written by a military man. I happened to read one the day before yesterday. It was most amusing—"
"Excuse me. Colonel Cowles is a friend of mine—"
"What has that got to do with his political economy? If he is your friend, then I should say that you have a most amusing friend."
Sharlee rose, decidedly irritated. "Well—that is my suggestion. I believe you will find it worth thinking over, Good-night."
"The Post pays its contributors well, I suppose?"
"That you would have to take up with its owners."
"Clearly the paper needs the services of an expert—though, of course, I could not give it much time, only enough to pay for my keep. The suggestion is not a bad one—not at all. As to applying, as you call it, is this amiable Colonel Cowles the person to be seen?"
"Yes. No—wait a minute." She had halted in her progress to the door; her mind's eye conjured up a probable interview between the Colonel and the scientist, and she hardly had the heart to let it go at that. Moreover, she earnestly wished, for Mrs. Paynter's reasons, that the tenant of the third hall back should become associated with the pay-envelope system of the city. "Listen," she went on. "I know one of the directors of the Post, and shall be glad to speak to him in your behalf. Then, if there is an opening, I'll send you, through my aunt, a card of introduction to him and you can go to see him."
"Couldn't he come to see me? I am enormously busy."
"So is he. I doubt if you could expect him to—"
"H'm. Very well. I am obliged to you for your suggestion. Of course I shall take no step in the matter until I hear from you."
"Good-evening," said the agent, icily.
He bowed slightly in answer to the salute, uttering no further word; for him the interview ended right there, cleanly and satisfactorily. From the door the girl glanced back. Mr. Queed had drawn his heavy book before him, pencil in hand, and was once more engrossed in the study and annotation of "Man's Duty to His Neighbors."
In the hail Sharlee met Fifi, who was tipping toward the dining-room to discover, by the frank method of ear and keyhole, how the grim and resolute collector was faring.
"You're still alive, Sharlee! Any luck?"
"The finest in the world, darling! Twenty dollars in the hand and a remunerative job for him in the bush."
Fifi did a few steps of a minuet. "Hooray!" said she in her weak little voice.
Sharlee put her arms around the child's neck and said in her ear: "Fifi, be very gentle with that young man. He's the most pitiful little creature I ever saw."
"Why," said Fifi, "I don't think he feels that way at all—"
"Don't you see that's just what makes him so infinitely pathetic? He's the saddest little man in the world, and it has never dawned on him."
It was not till some hours later, when she was making ready for bed in her own room, that it occurred to Sharlee that there was something odd in this advice to her little cousin. For she had started out with the intention to tell Mr. Queed that he must be very gentle with Fifi.
Relating how Two Stars in their Courses fought for Mr. Queed; and how he accepted Remunerative Employment under Colonel Cowles, the Military Political Economist.
The stars in their courses fought for Mr. Queed in those days. Somebody had to fight for him, it seemed, since he was so little equipped to fight for himself, and the stars kindly undertook the assignment. Not merely had he attracted the militant services of the bright little celestial body whose earthly agent was Miss Charlotte Lee Weyland; but this little body chanced to be one of a system or galaxy, associated with and exercising a certain power, akin to gravitation, over that strong and steady planet known among men as Charles Gardiner West. And the very next day, the back of the morning's mail being broken, the little star used some of its power to draw the great planet to the telephone, while feeling, in a most unstellar way, that it was a decidedly cheeky thing to do. However, nothing could have exceeded the charming radiance of Planet West, and it was he himself who introduced the topic of Mr. Queed, by inquiring, in mundane language, whether or not he had been fired.
"No!" laughed the star. "Instead of firing him, I'm now bent on hiring him. Oh, you'd better not laugh! It's to you I want to hire him!"
But at that the shining Planet laughed the more.
"What have I done to be worthy of this distinction? Also, what can I do with him? To paraphrase his own inimitable remark about your dog, what is the object of a man like that? What is he for?"
Sharlee dilated on the renown of Mr. Queed as a writer upon abstruse themes. Mr. West was not merely agreeable; he was interested. It seemed that at the very last meeting of the Post directors—to which body Mr. West had been elected at the stockholders' meeting last June—it had been decided that Colonel Cowles should have a little help in the editorial department. The work was growing; the Colonel was ageing. The point had been to find the help. Who knew but what this little highbrow was the very man they were looking for?
"I'll call on him—at your aunt's, shall I?—to-day if I can. Why, not a bit of it! The thanks are quite the other way. He may turn out another Charles A. Dana, cleverly disguised. When are you going to have another half-holiday up there?"
Sharlee left the telephone thinking that Mr. West was quite the nicest man she knew. Ninety-nine men out of a hundred, in his position, would have said, "Send him to see me." Mr. West had said, "I'll call on him at your aunt's," and had absolutely refused to pose as the gracious dispenser of patronage. However, a great many people shared Sharlee's opinion of Charles Gardiner West. One of them walked into his office at that very moment, also petitioning for something, and West received him with just that same unaffected pleasantness of manner which everybody found so agreeable. But this one's business, as it happened, completely knocked from Mr. West's head the matter of Mr. Queed. In fact, he never gave it another thought. The following night he went to New York with a little party of friends, chiefly on pleasure bent; and, having no particularly frugal mind, permitted himself a very happy day or so in the metropolis. Hence it happened that Sharlee, learning from her aunt that no Post directors had called forcing remunerative work on Mr. Queed, made it convenient, about five days after the telephone conversation, to meet Mr. West upon the street, quite by accident. Any girl can tell you how it is done.
"Oh, by the way," she said in the most casual way, "shall I send my little Doctor Queed to call upon you some day?"
West was agreeably contrite; abused himself for a shiftless lackwit who was slated for an unwept grave; promised to call that very day; and, making a memorandum the instant he got back to the office, this time did not fail to keep his word.
Not that Mr. Queed had been inconvenienced by the little delay. The minute after his landlady's agent left him, he had become immersed in that great work of his, and there by day and night, he had remained. Having turned over to the agent the full responsibility for finding work for him, he no longer had to bother his head about it. The whole matter dropped gloriously from his mind; he read, wrote, and avoided practicing sociology with tremendous industry; and thus he might have gone on for no one knows how long had there not, at five o'clock on the fifth day, come a knock upon his door.
"Well?" he called, annoyed.
Emma came in with a card. The name, at which the young man barely glanced, conveyed nothing to him.
"Well? What does he want?"
Emma did not know.
"Oh!" said Mr. Queed, irritably—"tell him to come up, if he must."
The Post director came up—two flights; he knocked; was curtly bidden to enter; did so.
He stepped into one of the smallest rooms he had ever seen in his life; about nine by five-and-a-half, he thought. A tiny single bed ran along one side of it; jammed against the foot of the bed was a tiny table. A tiny chair stood at the table; behind the chair stood a tiny bureau; beside the bureau, the tiniest little iron wash-stand in the world. In the chair sat a man, not tiny, indeed, but certainly nobody's prize giant. He sat in a kind of whirling tempest of books and papers, and he rode absorbedly in the whirlwind and majestically directed the storm.
West was intensely interested. "Mr. Queed?" he asked, from just inside the door.
"Yes," said the other, not looking up. "What can I do for you?"
West burst out laughing; he couldn't help it.
"Maybe you can do a great deal, Mr. Queed. On the other hand maybe I can do some little trifle for you. Which leg the boot is on nobody on earth can say at this juncture. I have ventured to call," said he, "as an ambassador from the morning Post of this city."
The name instantly started Queed's memory to working; he recalled something about the Post—as yet, so it happened, only the copy of it he had read; and he turned and looked around with slow professorial amusement kindling in his eyes.
"Ah!" said he. "Possibly you are Colonel Cowles, the military political economist?"
West was more amused than ever. "No," said he, "on the contrary, West is the name, C.G. West—to correspond, you know, with the one on that card you have in your hand. I'll sit down here on the bed—shall I?—so that we can talk more comfortably. Sitting does help the flow of ideas so remarkably, don't you find? I am trespassing on your time," said he, "at the suggestion of—an acquaintance of yours, who has been telling me great things about your work."
Queed looked completely puzzled.
"The Post, Mr. Queed," went on West agreeably, "is always looking for men who can do exceptional work. Therefore, I have come to consider with you whether we might not make an arrangement to our mutual advantage."
At that the whole thing came back to the young man. He had agreed to take light remunerative work to pay his board, and now the day of reckoning was at hand. His heart grew heavy within him.
"Well," said he, exactly as he had said to the agent, "what have you to propose?"
"I thought of proposing, first, that you give me some idea of what you have done and can do on lines useful for a daily newspaper. How does that method of procedure strike you?"
Queed produced his celebrated envelope of clippings. Also he hunted up one or two stray cuttings which proved to be editorials he had written on assignment, for a New York newspaper. West ran through them with intelligent quickness.
"I say! These are rather fine, you know. This article on the income tax now—just right!—just the sort of thing!"
Queed sat with his hand clamped on his head, which was aching rather badly, as indeed it did about three fourths of the time.
"Oh, yes," he said wearily.
"I take off my hat to you!" added West presently. "You're rather out of my depth here, but at least I know enough political economy to know what is good."
He looked at Queed, smiling, very good-humored and gay, and Queed looked back at him, not very good-humored and anything but gay. Doubtless it would have surprised the young Doctor very much to know that West was feeling sorry for him just then, for at that moment he was feeling sorry for West.
"Now look here," said West.
He explained how the Post desired a man to write sleep-inducing fillers—"occasional articles of weight and authority" was the way he put it—and wanted to know if such an opening would interest Mr. Queed. Queed said he supposed so, provided the Post took little of his time and paid his board in return for it. West had no doubt that everything could be satisfactorily arranged.
"Colonel Cowles is the man who hires and fires," he explained. "Go to see him in a day or two, will you? Meantime, I'll tell him all about you."
Presently West smiled himself out, leaving Queed decidedly relieved at the brief reprieve. He had been harried by the fear that his visitor would insist on his stopping to produce an article or so while he waited. However, the time had come when the inevitable had to be faced. His golden privacy must be ravished for the grim god of bread and meat. The next afternoon he put on his hat with a bad grace, and went forth to seek Colonel Cowles, editor-in-chief of the leading paper in the State.
The morning Post was an old paper, which had been in the hands of a single family from A.D. 1846 till only the other day. It had been a power during the war, a favorite mouthpiece of President Davis. It had stood like a wall during the cruelties of Reconstruction; had fought the good fight for white man's rule; had crucified carpet-baggism and scalawaggery upon a cross of burning adjective. Later it had labored gallantly for Tilden; denounced Hayes as a robber; idolized Cleveland; preached free trade with pure passion; swallowed free silver; stood "regular," though not without grimaces, through Bryanism. The Post was, in short, a paper with an honorable history, and everybody felt a kind of affection for it. The plain fact remained, however, that within recent years a great many worthy persons had acquired the habit of reading the more hustling State.
The Post, not to put too fine a point upon it, had for a time run fast to seed. The third generation of its owners had lost their money, mostly in land speculations in the suburbs of New York City, and in the State of Oregon. You could have thrown a brick from their office windows and hit far better land speculations, but they had the common fault of believing that things far away from home are necessarily and always the best. The demand rose for bigger, fatter newspapers, with comic sections and plenty of purple ink, and the Post's owners found themselves unable to supply it. In fact they had to retort by mortgaging their property to the hilt and cutting expenses to rock-bottom. These were dark days for the Post. That it managed to survive them at all was due chiefly to the personality of Colonel Cowles, who, though doubtless laughable as a political economist, was yet considered to have his good points. But the Hercules-labor grew too heavy even for him, and the paper was headed straight for the auctioneer's block when new interests suddenly stepped in and bought it. These interests, consisting largely of progressive men of the younger generation, thoroughly overhauled and reorganized the property, laid in the needed purple ink, and were now gradually driving the old paper back to the dividend-paying point again.
Colonel Cowles, whose services had, of course, been retained, was of the old school of journalism, editor and manager, too. Very little went into the Post that he had not personally vised in the proof: forty galleys a night were child's play to him. Managing editor there was none but himself; the city editor was his mere office-boy and mouthpiece; even the august business manager, who mingled with great advertisers on equal terms, was known to take orders from him. In addition the Colonel wrote three columns of editorials every day. Of these editorials it is enough to say at this point that there were people who liked them.
Toward this dominant personality, the reluctant applicant for work now made his way. He cut an absent-minded figure upon the street, did Mr. Queed, but this time he made his crossings without mishap. Undisturbed by dogs, he landed at the Post building, and in time blundered into a room described as "Editorial" on the glass-door. A friendly young girl sitting there, pounding away on a typewriter, referred him to the next office, and the young man, opening the connecting door without knocking, passed inside.
A full-bodied, gray-headed, gray-mustached man sat in his shirt-sleeves behind a great table, writing with a very black pencil in a large sprawling hand. He glanced up as the door opened.
"I am the man, sir. How may I serve you?"
Queed laid on the table the card West had given him with a pencilled line of introduction.
"Oh—Mr. Queed! Certainly—certainly. Sit down, sir. I have been expecting you.—Let me get those papers out of your way."
Colonel Cowles had a heavy jaw and rather too rubicund a complexion. He looked as if apoplexy would get him some day. However, his head was like a lion's of the tribe of Judah; his eye was kindly; his manner dignified, courteous, and charming. Queed had decided not to set the Colonel right in his views on taxation; it would mean only a useless discussion which would take time. To the older gentleman's polite inquiries relative to his impressions of the city and so forth, he for the same reason gave the briefest possible replies. But the Colonel, no apostle of the doctrine that time is far more than money, went off into a long monologue, kindly designed to give the young stranger some idea of his new surroundings and atmosphere.
"... Look out there, sir. It is like that all day long—a double stream of people always pouring by. I have looked out of these windows for twenty-five years, and it was very different in the old days. I remember when the cows used to come tinkling down around that corner at milking-time. A twelve-story office building will rise there before another year. We have here the finest city and the finest State in the Union. You come to them, sir, at a time of exceptional interest. We are changing fast, leaping forward very fast. I do not hold with those who take all change to be progress, but God grant that our feet are set in the right path. No section of the country is moving more rapidly, or, as I believe, with all our faults, to better ends than this. My own eyes have seen from these windows a broken town, stagnant in trade and population and rich only in memories, transform itself into the splendid thriving city you see before you. Our faces, too long turned backward, are set at last toward the future. From one end of the State to another the spirit of honorable progress is throbbing through our people. We have revolutionized and vastly improved our school system. We have wearied of mud-holes and are laying the foundations of a network of splendid roads. We are doing wonders for the public health. Our farmers are learning to practice the new agriculture—with plenty of lime, sir, plenty of lime. They grasp the fact that corn at a hundred bushels to the acre is no dream, but the most vital of realities. Our young men who a generation ago left us for the irrigated lands of your Northwest, are at last understanding that the finest farmlands in the country are at their doors for half the price. With all these changes has come a growing independence in political thought. The old catchwords and bogies have lost their power. We no longer think that whatever wears the Democratic tag is necessarily right. We no longer measure every Republican by Henry G. Surface. We no longer ..."
Queed, somewhat interested in spite of himself, and tolerably familiar with history, interrupted to ask who Henry G. Surface might be. The question brought the Colonel up with a jolt.
"Ah, well," said he presently, with a wave of his hand, "you will hear that story soon enough." He was silent a moment, and then added, sadly and somewhat sternly: "Young man, I have reserved one count in the total, the biggest and best, for the last. Keep your ear and eye open—and I mean the inner ear and eye as well as the outer—keep your mind open, above all keep your heart open, and it will be given you to understand that we have here the bravest, the sweetest, and the kindliest people in the world. The Lord has been good to you to send you among them. This is the word of a man in the late evening of life to one in the hopeful morning. You will take it, I hope, without offense. Are you a Democrat, sir?"
"I am a political economist."
The Colonel smiled. "Well said, sir. Science knows no party lines. Your chosen subject rises above the valley of partisanry where we old wheel-horses plod—stinging each other in the dust, as the poet finely says. Mr. West has told me of your laurels."
He went on to outline the business side of what the Post had to offer. Queed found himself invited to write a certain number of editorial articles, not to exceed six a week, under the Colonel's direction. He had his choice of working on space, at the rate of five dollars per column, payment dependent upon publication; or of drawing a fixed honorarium of ten dollars per week, whether called on for the stipulated six articles or for no articles at all. Queed decided to accept the fixed honorarium, hoping that there would be many weeks when he would be called on for no articles at all. A provisional arrangement to run a month was agreed upon.
"I have," said the Colonel, "already sketched out some work for you to begin on. The legislature meets here in January. It is important to the State that our whole tax-system should be overhauled and reformed. The present system is a mere crazy-quilt, unsatisfactory in a thousand ways. I suggest that you begin with a careful study of the law, making yourself familiar with—"
"I am already familiar with it."
"Ah! And what do you think of it?"
"It is grotesque."
"Good! I like a clean-cut expression of opinion such as that, sir. Now tell me your criticisms on the law as it stands, and what you suggest as remedies."
Queed did so briefly, expertly. The Colonel was considerably impressed by his swift, searching summaries.
"We may go right ahead," said he. "I wish you would block out a series of articles—eight, ten, or twelve, as you think best—designed to prepare the public mind for a thorough-going reform and point the way that the reform should take. Bring this schedule to me to-morrow, if you will be so good, and we will go over it together."
Queed, privately amused at the thought of Colonel Cowles's revising his views on taxation, rose to go.
"By the bye," said the Colonel, unluckily struck by a thought, "I myself wrote a preliminary article on tax reform a week or so ago, meaning to follow it up with others later on. Perhaps you had best read that before—"
"I have already read it."
"Ah! How did it strike you?"
"You ask me that?"
"Certainly," said Colonel Cowles, a little surprised.
"Well, since you ask me, I will say that I thought it rather amusing."
The Colonel looked nettled. He was by nature a choleric man, but in his age he had learned the futility of disputation and affray, and nowadays kept a tight rein upon himself.
"You are frank sir—'tis a commendable quality. Doubtless your work will put my own poor efforts to the blush."
"I shall leave you to judge of that, Colonel Cowles."
The Colonel, abandoning his hospitable plan of inviting his new assistant to sup with him at the club, bowed with dignity, and Queed eagerly left him. Glancing at his watch in the elevator, the young man figured that the interview, including going and coming, would stand him in an hour's time, which was ten minutes more than he had allowed for it.
Selections from Contemporary Opinions of Mr. Queed; also concerning Henry G. Surface, his Life and Deeds; of Fifi, the Landlady's Daughter, and how she happened to look up Altruism in the Dictionary.
A month later, one icy afternoon, Charles Gardiner West ran into Colonel Cowles at the club, where the Colonel, a lone widower, repaired each day at six P.M., there to talk over the state of the Union till nine-thirty.
"Colonel," said West, dropping into a chair, "man to man, what is your opinion of Doctor Queed's editorials?"
"They are unanswerable," said the Colonel, and consulted his favorite ante-prandial refreshment.
West laughed. "Yes, but from the standpoint of the general public, Constant Reader, Pro Bono Publico, and all that?"
"No subscriber will ever be angered by them."
"Would you say that they helped the editorial page or not?"
"They lend to it an academic elegance, a scientific stateliness, a certain grand and austere majesty—"
"Colonel, I asked you for your opinion of those articles."
"Damn it, sir," roared the Colonel, "I've never read one."
Later West repeated the gist of this conversation to Miss Weyland, who ornamented with him a tiny dinner given that evening at the home of their very good friends, Mr. and Mrs. Stewart Byrd.
It was a beautiful little dinner, as befitted the hospitable distinction of the givers. The Stewart Byrds were hosts among a thousand. In him, as it further happens, West (himself the beau ideal of so many) had from long ago recognized his own paragon and pattern; a worthy one, indeed, this tall young man whose fine abilities and finer faiths were already writing his name so large upon the history of his city. About the dim-lit round of his table there were gathered but six this evening, including the host and hostess; the others, besides Sharlee Weyland and West, being Beverley Byrd and Miss Avery: the youngest of the four Byrd brothers, and heir with them to one of the largest fortunes in the State; and the only daughter of old Avery, who came to us from Mauch Chunk, Pa., his money preceding him in a special train of box cars, especially invented for the transportation of Pennsylvania millions to places where the first families congregate.
"And I had to confess that I'd never read one either. I did begin one," said West—"it was called 'Elementary Principles of Incidence and Distribution,' I remember—but the hour was eleven-thirty and I fell asleep."
"I know exactly how you felt about it," said Sharlee, "for I have read them all—moi!"
He looked at her with boundless admiration. "His one reader!"
"There are two of us, if you please. I think of getting up a club—Associated Sons and Daughters of Mr. Queed's Faithful Followers; President, Me. I'll make the other member Secretary, for he is experienced in that work. He's at present Secretary of the Tax Reform League in New York. Did Colonel Cowles show you the wonderful letter that came from him, asking the name of the man who was writing the Post's masterly tax articles, et cetera, et cetera?"
"No—really! But tell me, how have you, as President, enjoyed them?"
"I haven't understood a single word in any of them. Where on earth did he dig up his fearful vocabulary? Yet it is the plain duty of both of us to read these articles: you as one of his employers, I as the shrewd landlady's agent who keeps a watchful eye upon the earning power of her boarders."