THEY CALL ME CARPENTER
A Tale of the Second Coming
Charles F. Nevens
True and devoted friend
The beginning of this strange adventure was my going to see a motion picture which had been made in Germany. It was three years after the end of the war, and you'd have thought that the people of Western City would have got over their war-phobias. But apparently they hadn't; anyway, there was a mob to keep anyone from getting into the theatre, and all the other mobs started from that. Before I tell about it, I must introduce Dr. Karl Henner, the well-known literary critic from Berlin, who was travelling in this country, and stopped off in Western City at that time. Dr. Henner was the cause of my going to see the picture, and if you will have a moment's patience, you will see how the ideas which he put into my head served to start me on my extraordinary adventure.
You may not know much about these cultured foreigners. Their manners are like softest velvet, so that when you talk to them, you feel as a Persian cat must feel while being stroked. They have read everything in the world; they speak with quiet certainty; and they are so old—old with memories of racial griefs stored up in their souls. I, who know myself for a member of the best clubs in Western City, and of the best college fraternity in the country—I found myself suddenly indisposed to mention that I had helped to win the battle of the Argonne. This foreign visitor asked me how I felt about the war, and I told him that it was over, and I bore no hard feelings, but of course I was glad that Prussian militarism was finished. He answered: "A painful operation, and we all hope that the patient may survive it; also we hope that the surgeon has not contracted the disease." Just as quietly as that.
Of course I asked Dr. Henner what he thought about America. His answer was that we had succeeded in producing the material means of civilization by the ton, where other nations had produced them by the pound. "We intellectuals in Europe have always been poor, by your standards over here. We have to make a very little food support a great many ideas. But you have unlimited quantities of food, and—well, we seek for the ideas, and we judge by analogy they must exist—"
"But you don't find them?" I laughed.
"Well," said he, "I have come to seek them."
This talk occurred while we were strolling down our Broadway, in Western City, one bright afternoon in the late fall of 1921. We talked about the picture which Dr. Henner had recommended to me, and which we were now going to see. It was called "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari," and was a "futurist" production, a strange, weird freak of the cinema art, supposed to be the nightmare of a madman. "Being an American," said Dr. Henner, "you will find yourself asking, 'What good does such a picture do?' You will have the idea that every work of art must serve some moral purpose." After a pause, he added: "This picture could not possibly have been produced in America. For one thing, nearly all the characters are thin." He said it with the flicker of a smile—"One does not find American screen actors in that condition. Do your people care enough about the life of art to take a risk of starving for it?"
Now, as a matter of fact, we had at that time several millions of people out of work in America, and many of them starving. There must be some intellectuals among them, I suggested; and the critic replied: "They must have starved for so long that they have got used to it, and can enjoy it—or at any rate can enjoy turning it into art. Is not that the final test of great art, that it has been smelted in the fires of suffering? All the great spiritual movements of humanity began in that way; take primitive Christianity, for example. But you Americans have taken Christ, the carpenter—"
I laughed. It happened that at this moment we were passing St. Bartholomew's Church, a great brown-stone structure standing at the corner of the park. I waved my hand towards it. "In there," I said, "over the altar, you may see Christ, the carpenter, dressed up in exquisite robes of white and amethyst, set up as a stained glass window ornament. But if you'll stop and think, you'll realize it wasn't we Americans who began that!"
"No," said the other, returning my laugh, "but I think it was you who finished him up as a symbol of elegance, a divinity of the respectable inane."
Thus chatting, we turned the corner, and came in sight of our goal, the Excelsior Theatre. And there was the mob!
At first, when I saw the mass of people, I thought it was the usual picture crowd. I said, with a smile, "Can it be that the American people are not so dead to art after all?" But then I observed that the crowd seemed to be swaying this way and that; also there seemed to be a great many men in army uniforms. "Hello!" I exclaimed. "A row?"
There was a clamor of shouting; the army men seemed to be pulling and pushing the civilians. When we got nearer, I asked of a bystander, "What's up?" The answer was: "They don't want 'em to go in to see the picture."
"It's German. Hun propaganda!"
Now you must understand, I had helped to win a war, and no man gets over such an experience at once. I had a flash of suspicion, and glanced at my companion, the cultured literary critic from Berlin. Could it possibly be that this smooth-spoken gentleman was playing a trick upon me—trying, possibly, to get something into my crude American mind without my realizing what was happening? But I remembered his detailed account of the production, the very essence of "art for art's sake." I decided that the war was three years over, and I was competent to do my own thinking.
Dr. Henner spoke first. "I think," he said, "it might be wiser if I did not try to go in there."
"Absurd!" I cried. "I'm not going to be dictated to by a bunch of imbeciles!"
"No," said the other, "you are an American, and don't have to be. But I am a German, and I must learn."
I noted the flash of bitterness, but did not resent it. "That's all nonsense, Dr. Henner!" I argued. "You are my guest, and I won't—"
"Listen, my friend," said the other. "You can doubtless get by without trouble; but I would surely rouse their anger, and I have no mind to be beaten for nothing. I have seen the picture several times, and can talk about it with you just as well."
"You make me ashamed of myself," I cried—"and of my country!"
"No, no! It is what you should expect. It is what I had in mind when I spoke of the surgeon contracting the disease. We German intellectuals know what war means; we are used to things like this." Suddenly he put out his hand. "Good-bye."
"I will go with you!" I exclaimed. But he protested—that would embarrass him greatly. I would please to stay, and see the picture; he would be interested later on to hear my opinion of it. And abruptly he turned, and walked off, leaving me hesitating and angry.
At last I started towards the entrance of the theatre. One of the men in uniform barred my way. "No admittance here!"
"But why not?"
"It's a German show, and we aint a-goin' to allow it."
"Now see here, buddy," I countered, none too good-naturedly, "I haven't got my uniform on, but I've as good a right to it as you; I was all through the Argonne."
"Well, what do you want to see Hun propaganda for?"
"Maybe I want to see what it's like."
"Well, you can't go in; we're here to shut up this show!"
I had stepped to one side as I spoke, and he caught me by the arm. I thought there had been talk enough, and gave a sudden lurch, and tore my arm free. "Hold on here!" he shouted, and tried to stop me again; but I sprang through the crowd towards the box-office. There were more than a hundred civilians in or about the lobby, and not more than twenty or thirty ex-service men maintaining the blockade; so a few got by, and I was one of the lucky ones. I bought my ticket, and entered the theatre. To the man at the door I said: "Who started this?"
"I don't know, sir. It's just landed on us, and we haven't had time to find out."
"Is the picture German propaganda?"
"Nothing like that at all, sir. They say they won't let us show German pictures, because they're so much cheaper; they'll put American-made pictures out of business, and it's unfair competition."
"Oh!" I exclaimed, and light began to dawn. I recalled Dr. Henner's remark about producing a great many ideas out of a very little food; assuredly, the American picture industry had cause to fear competition of that sort! I thought of old "T-S," as the screen people call him for short—the king of the movie world, with his roll of fat hanging over his collar, and his two or three extra chins! I though of Mary Magna, million dollar queen of the pictures, contriving diets and exercises for herself, and weighing with fear and trembling every day!
It was time for the picture to begin, so I smoothed my coat, and went to a seat, and was one of perhaps two dozen spectators before whom "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" received its first public showing in Western City. The story had to do with a series of murders; we saw them traced by a young man, and fastened bit by bit upon an old magician and doctor. As the drama neared its climax, we discovered this doctor to be the head of an asylum for the insane, and the young man to be one of the inmates; so in the end the series of adventures was revealed to us as the imaginings of a madman about his physician and keepers. The settings and scenery were in the style of "futurist" art—weird and highly effective. I saw it all in the light of Dr. Henner's interpretation, the product of an old, perhaps an overripe culture. Certainly no such picture could have been produced in America! If I had to choose between this and the luxurious sex-stuff of Mary Magna—well, I wondered. At least, I had been interested in every moment of "Dr. Caligari," and I was only interested in Mary off the screen. Several times every year I had to choose between mortally hurting her feelings, and watching her elaborate "vamping" through eight or ten costly reels.
I had read many stories and seen a great many plays, in which the hero wakes up in the end, and we realize that we have been watching a dream. I remembered "Midsummer Night's Dream," and also "Looking Backward." An old, old device of art; and yet always effective, one of the most effective! But this was the first time I had ever been taken into the dreams of a lunatic. Yes, it was interesting, there was no denying it; grisly stuff, but alive, and marvelously well acted. How Edgar Allen Poe would have revelled in it! So thinking, I walked towards the exit of the theatre, and a swinging door gave way—and upon my ear broke a clamor that might have come direct from the inside of Dr. Caligari's asylum. "Ya, ya. Boo, boo! German propaganda! Pay your money to the Huns! For shame on you! Leave your own people to starve, and send your cash to the enemy."
I stopped still, and whispered to myself, "My God!" During all the time—an hour or more—that I had been away on the wings of imagination, these poor boobs had been howling and whooping outside the theatre, keeping the crowds away, and incidentally working themselves into a fury! For a moment I thought I would go out and reason with them; they were mistaken in the idea that there was anything about the war, anything against America in the picture. But I realized that they were beyond reason. There was nothing to do but go my way and let them rave.
But quickly I saw that this was not going to be so easy as I had fancied. Right in front of the entrance stood the big fellow who had caught my arm; and as I came toward him I saw that he had me marked. He pointed a finger into my face, shouting in a fog-horn voice: "There's a traitor! Says he was in the service, and now he's backing the Huns!"
I tried to have nothing to do with him, but he got me by the arm, and others were around me. "Yein, yein, yein!" they shouted into my ear; and as I tried to make my way through, they began to hustle me. "I'll shove your face in, you damned Hun!"—a continual string of such abuse; and I had been in the service, and seen fighting!
I never tried harder to avoid trouble; I wanted to get away, but that big fellow stuck his feet between mine and tripped me, he lunged and shoved me into the gutter, and so, of course, I made to hit him. But they had me helpless; I had no more than clenched my fist and drawn back my arm, when I received a violent blow on the side of my jaw. I never knew what hit me, a fist or a weapon. I only felt the crash, and a sensation of reeling, and a series of blows and kicks like a storm about me.
I ask you to believe that I did not run away in the Argonne. I did my job, and got my wound, and my honorable record. But there I had a fighting chance, and here I had none; and maybe I was dazed, and it was the instinctive reaction of my tormented body—anyhow, I ran. I staggered along, with the blows and kicks to keep me moving. And then I saw half a dozen broad steps, and a big open doorway; I fled that way, and found myself in a dark, cool place, reeling like a drunken man, but no longer beaten, and apparently no longer pursued. I was falling, and there was something nearby, and I caught at it, and sank down upon a sort of wooden bench.
I had run into St. Bartholomew's Church; and when I came to—I fear I cut a pitiful figure, but I have to tell the truth—I was crying. I don't think the pain of my head and face had anything to do with it, I think it was rage and humiliation; my sense of outrage, that I, who had helped to win a war, should have been made to run from a gang of cowardly rowdies. Anyhow, here I was, sunk down in a pew of the church, sobbing as if my heart was broken.
At last I raised my head, and holding on to the pew in front, looked about me. The church was apparently deserted. There were dark vistas; and directly in front of me a gleaming altar, and high over it a stained glass window, with the afternoon sun shining through. You know, of course, the sort of figures they have in those windows; a man in long robes, white, with purple and gold; with a brown beard, and a gentle, sad face, and a halo of light about the head. I was staring at the figure, and at the same time choking with rage and pain, but clenching my hands, and making up my mind to go out and follow those brutes, and get that big one alone and pound his face to a jelly. And here begins the strange part of my adventure; suddenly that shining figure stretched out its two arms to me, as if imploring me not to think those vengeful thoughts!
I knew, of course, what it meant; I had just seen a play about delirium, and had got a whack on the head, and now I was delirious myself. I thought I must be badly hurt; I bowed my reeling head in my arms, and began to sob like a kid, out loud, and without shame. But somehow I forgot about the big brute, and his face that I wanted to pound; instead, I was ashamed and bewildered, a queer hysterical state with a half dozen emotions mixed up. The Caligari story was in it, and the lunatic asylum; I've got a cracked skull, I thought, and my mind will never get right again! I sat, huddled and shuddering; until suddenly I felt a quiet hand on my shoulder, and heard a gentle voice saying: "Don't be afraid. It is I."
Now, I shall waste no time telling you how amazed I was. It was a long time before I could believe what was happening to me; I thought I was clean off my head. I lifted my eyes, and there, in the aisle of the most decorous church of St. Bartholomew, standing with his hand on my head, was the figure out of the stained glass window! I looked at him twice, and then I looked at the window. Where the figure had been was a great big hole with the sun shining through!
We know the power of suggestion, and especially when one taps the deeps of the unconscious, where our childhood memories are buried. I had been brought up in a religious family, and so it seemed quite natural to me that while that hand lay on my head, the throbbing and whirling should cease, and likewise the fear. I became perfectly quiet, and content to sit under the friendly spell. "Why were you crying?" asked the voice, at last.
I answered, hesitatingly, "I think it was humiliation."
"Is it something you have done?"
"No. Something that was done to me."
"But how can a man be humiliated by the act of another?"
I saw what he meant; and I was not humiliated any more.
The stranger spoke again. "A mob," he said, "is a blind thing, worse than madness. It is the beast in man running away with his master."
I thought to myself: how can he know what has happened to me? But then I reflected, perhaps he saw them drive me into the church! I found myself with a sudden, queer impulse to apologize for those soldier boys. "We had some terrible fighting," I cried. "And you know what wars do—to the minds of the people, I mean."
"Yes," said the stranger, "I know, only too well."
I had meant to explain this mob; but somehow, I decided that I could not. How could I make him understand moving picture shows, and German competition, and ex-service men out of jobs? There was a pause, and he asked, "Can you stand up?"
I tried and found that I could. I felt the side of my jaw, and it hurt, but somehow the pain seemed apart from myself. I could see clearly and steadily; there were only two things wrong that I could find—first, this stranger standing by my side, and second, that hole in the window, where I had seen him standing so many Sunday mornings!
"Are you going out now?" he asked. As I hesitated, he added, tactfully, "Perhaps you would let me go with you?"
Here was indeed a startling proposition! His costume, his long hair—there were many things about him not adapted to Broadway at five o'clock in the afternoon! But what could I say? It would be rude to call attention to his peculiarities. All I could manage was to stammer: "I thought you belonged in the church."
"Do I?" he replied, with a puzzled look. "I'm not sure. I have been wondering—am I really needed here? And am I not more needed in the world?"
"Well," said I, "there's one thing certain." I pointed up to the window. "That hole is conspicuous."
"Yes, that is true."
"And if it should rain, the altar would be ruined. The Reverend Dr. Lettuce-Spray would be dreadfully distressed. That altar cloth was left to the church in the will of Mrs. Elvina de Wiggs, and God knows how many thousands of dollars it cost."
"I suppose that wouldn't do," said the stranger. "Let us see if we can't find something to put there."
He started up the aisle, and through the chancel. I followed, and we came into the vestry-room, and there on the wall I noticed a full length, life-sized portrait of old Algernon de Wiggs, president of the Empire National Bank, and of the Western City Chamber of Commerce. "Let us see if he would fill the place," said the stranger; and to my amazement he drew up a chair, and took down the huge picture, and carried it, seemingly without effort, into the church.
He stepped upon the altar, and lifted the portrait in front of the window. How he got it to stay there I am not sure—I was too much taken aback by the procedure to notice such details. There the picture was; it seemed to fit the window exactly, and the effect was simply colossal. You'd have to know old de Wiggs to appreciate it—those round, puffy cheeks, with the afternoon sun behind them, making them shine like two enormous Jonathan apples! Our leading banker was clad in decorous black, as always on Sunday mornings, but in one place the sun penetrated his form—at one side of his chest. My curiosity got the better of me; I could not restrain the question, "What is that golden light?"
Said the stranger: "I think that is his heart."
"But that can't be!" I argued. "The light is on his right side; and it seems to have an oblong shape—exactly as if it were his wallet."
Said the other: "Where the treasure is, there will the heart be also."
We passed out through the arched doorway, and Broadway was before us. I had another thrill of distress—a vision of myself walking down this crowded street with this extraordinary looking personage. The crowds would stare at us, the street urchins would swarm about us, until we blocked the traffic and the police ran us in! So I thought, as we descended the steps and started; but my fear passed, for we walked and no one followed us—hardly did anyone even turn his eyes after us.
I realized in a little while how this could be. The pleasant climate of Western City brings strange visitors to dwell here; we have Hindoo swamis in yellow silk, and a Theosophist college on a hill-top, and people who take up with "nature," and go about with sandals and bare legs, and a mane of hair over their shoulders. I pass them on the street now and then—one of them carries a shepherd's crook! I remember how, a few years ago, my Aunt Caroline, rambling around looking for something to satisfy her emotions, took up with these queer ideas, and there came to her front door, to the infinite bewilderment of the butler, a mild-eyed prophet in pastoral robes, and with a little newspaper bundle in his hand. This, spread out before my aunt, proved to contain three carrots and two onions, carefully washed, and shining; they were the kindly fruits of the earth, and of the prophet's own labor, and my old auntie was deeply touched, because it appeared that this visitor was a seer, the sole composer of a mighty tome which is to be found in the public library, and is known as the "Eternal Bible."
So here I was, strolling along quite as a matter of course with my strange acquaintance. I saw that he was looking about, and I prepared for questions, and wondered what they would be. I thought that he must naturally be struck by such wonders as automobiles and crowded street-cars. I failed to realize that he would be thinking about the souls of the people.
Said he, at last: "This is a large city?"
"About half a million."
"And what quarter are we in?"
"The shopping district."
"Is it a segregated district?"
"Segregated? In what way?"
"Apparently there are only courtesans."
I could not help laughing. "You are misled by the peculiarities of our feminine fashions—details with which you are naturally not familiar—"
"Oh, quite the contrary," said he, "I am only too familiar with them. In childhood I learned the words of the prophet: 'Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet; therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will discover their secret parts. In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon, the chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers, the bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings, and nose jewels, the changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins, the glasses, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the veils. And it shall come to pass that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; and instead of a girdle a rent; and instead of well set hair, baldness; and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth; and burning instead of beauty.'"
From the point of view of literature this might be great stuff; but on the corner of Broadway and Fifth Street at the crowded hours it was unusual, to say the least. My companion was entering into the spirit of it in a most alarming way; he was half chanting, his voice rising, his face lighting up. "'Thy men shall fall by the sword, and thy mighty in the war. And her gates shall lament and mourn; and she being desolate shall sit upon the ground.'"
"Be careful!" I whispered. "People will hear you!"
"But why should they not?" He turned on me a look of surprise. "The people hear me gladly." And he added: "The common people."
Here was an aspect of my adventure which had not occurred to me before. "My God!" I thought. "If he takes to preaching on street corners!" I realized in a flash—it was exactly what he would be up to! A panic seized me; I couldn't stand that; I'd have to cut and run!
I began to speak quickly. "We must get across this street while we have time; the traffic officer has turned the right way now." And I began explaining our remarkable system of traffic handling.
But he stopped me in the middle. "Why do we wish to cross the street, when we have no place to go?"
"I have a place I wish to take you to," I said; "a friend I want you to meet. Let us cross. "And while I was guiding him between the automobiles, I was desperately trying to think how to back up my lie. Who was there that would receive this incredible stranger, and put him up for the night, and get him into proper clothes, and keep him off the soap-box?
Truly, I was in an extraordinary position! What had I done to get this stranger wished onto me? And how long was he going to stay with me? I found myself recalling the plight of Mary who had a little lamb!
Fate had me in its hands, and did not mean to consult me. We had gone less than a block further when I heard a voice, "Hello! Billy!" I turned. Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord! Of all the thankless encounters—Edgerton Rosythe, moving picture critic of the Western City "Times." Precisely the most cynical, the most profane, the most boisterous person in a cynical and profane and boisterous business! And he had me here, in full daylight, with a figure just out of a stained glass window in St. Bartholomew's Church!
"Hello, Billy! Who's your good-looking friend?" Rosythe was in full sail before a breeze of his own making.
How could I answer. "Why—er—"
The stranger spoke. "They call me Carpenter."
"Ah!" said the critic. "Mr. Carpenter, delighted to meet you." He gave the stranger a hearty grip of the hand. "Are you on location?"
"Location?" said the other; and Rosythe shot an arrow of laughter towards me. Perhaps he knew about the vagaries of my Aunt Caroline; anyhow, he would have a fantastic tale to tell about me, and was going to exploit it to the limit!
I made a pitiful attempt to protect my dignity. "Mr. Carpenter has just arrived," I began—
"Just arrived, hey?" said the critic. "Oviparous, viviparous, or oviviparous?" He raised his hand; actually, in the glory of his wit, he was going to clap the stranger on the shoulder!
But his hand stayed in the air. Such a look as came on Carpenter's face! "Hush!" he commanded. "Be silent!" And then: "Any man will join in laughter; but who will join in disease?"
"Hey?" said Rosythe; and it was my turn to grin.
"Mr. Carpenter has just done me a great service," I explained. "I got badly mauled in the mob—"
"Oh!" cried the other. "At the Excelsior Theatre!" Here was something to talk about, to cover his bewilderment. "So you were in it! I was watching them just now."
"Are they still at it?"
"A fine set of boobs," I began—
"Boobs, nothing!" broke in the other. "What do you suppose they're doing?"
"Saving us from Hun propaganda, so they told me."
"The hell of a lot they care about Hun propaganda! They are earning five dollars a head."
"Sure as you're born!"
"You really know that?"
"Know it? Pete Dailey was at a meeting of the Motion Picture Directors' Association last night, and it was arranged to put up the money and hire them. They're a lot of studio bums, doing a real mob scene on a real location!"
"Well, I'll be damned!" I said. "And what about the police?"
"Police?" laughed the critic. "Would you expect the police to work free when the soldiers are paid? Why, Jesus Christ——"
"I beg pardon?" said Carpenter.
"Why—er—" said Rosythe; and stopped, completely bluffed.
"You ought not swear," I remarked, gravely; and then, "I must explain. I got pounded by that mob; I was knocked quite silly, and this gentleman found me, and healed me in a wonderful way."
"Oh!" said the critic, with genuine interest. "Mind cure, hey? What line?"
I was about to reply, but Carpenter, it appeared, was able to take care of himself. "The line of love," he answered, gently.
"See here, Rosythe," I broke in, "I can't stand on the street. I'm beginning to feel seedy again. I think I'll have a taxi."
"No," said the critic. "Come with me. I'm on the way to pick up the missus. Right around the corner—a fine place to rest." And without further ado he took me by the arm and led me along. He was a good-hearted chap inside; his rowdyisms were just the weapons of his profession. We went into an office building, and entered an elevator. I did not know the building, or the offices we came to. Rosythe pushed open a door, and I saw before me a spacious parlor, with birds of paradise of the female sex lounging in upholstered chairs. I was led to a vast plush sofa, and sank into it with a sigh of relief.
The stranger stood beside me, and put his hand on my head once more. It was truly a miracle, how the whirling and roaring ceased, and peace came back to me; it must have shown in my face, for the moving picture critic of the Western City "Times" stood watching me with a quizzical smile playing over his face. I could read his thoughts, as well as if he had uttered them: "Regular Svengali stuff, by God!"
I was so comfortable there, I did not care what happened. I closed my eyes for a while; then I opened them and gazed lazily about the place. I noted that all the birds of paradise were watching Carpenter. With one accord their heads had turned, and their eyes were riveted upon him. I found myself thinking. "This man will make a hit with the ladies!" Like the swamis, with their soft brown skins, and their large, dark, cow-like eyes!
There had been silence in the place. But suddenly we all heard a moan; I felt Carpenter start, and his hand left my head. A dozen doors gave into this big parlor—all of them closed. We perceived that the sound came through the door nearest to us. "What is it?" I asked, of Rosythe.
"God knows," said he; "you never can tell, in this place of torment."
I was about to ask, "What sort of place is it?" But the moan came again, louder, more long drawn out: "O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-oh!" It ended in a sort of explosion, as if the maker of it had burst.
Carpenter turned, and took two steps towards the door; then he stopped, hesitating. My eyes followed him, and then turned to the critic, who was watching Carpenter, with a broad grin on his face. Evidently Rosythe was going to have some fun, and get his revenge!
The sound came again—louder, more harrowing. It came at regular intervals, and each time with the explosion at the end. I watched Carpenter, and he was like a high-spirited horse that hears the cracking of a whip over his head. The creature becomes more restless, he starts more quickly and jumps farther at each sound. But he is puzzled; he does not know what these lashes mean, or which way he ought to run.
Carpenter looked from one to another of us, searching our faces. He looked at the birds of paradise in the lounging chairs. Not one of them moved a muscle—save only those muscles which caused their eyes to follow him. It was no concern of theirs, this agony, whatever it was. Yet, plainly, it was the sound of a woman in torment: "O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-oh!"
Carpenter wanted to open that door. His hand would start towards it; then he would turn away. Between the two impulses he was presently pacing the room; and since there was no one who appeared to have any interest in what he might say, he began muttering to himself. I would catch a phrase: "The fate of woman!" And again: "The price of life!" I would hear the terrible, explosive wail: "O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-oh!" And it would wring a cry out of the depths of Carpenter's soul: "Oh, have mercy!"
In the beginning, the moving picture critic of the Western City "Times" had made some effort to restrain his amusement. But as this performance went on, his face became one enormous, wide-spreading grin; and you can understand, that made him seem quite devilish. I saw that Carpenter was more and more goaded by it. He would look at Rosythe, and then he would turn away in aversion. But at last he made an effort to conquer his feelings, and went up to the critic, and said, gently: "My friend: for every man who lives on earth, some woman has paid the price of life."
"The price of life?" repeated the critic, puzzled.
Carpenter waved his hand towards the door. "We confront this everlasting mystery, this everlasting terror; and it is not becoming that you should mock."
The grin faded from the other's face. His brows wrinkled, and he said: "I don't get you, friend. What can a man do?"
"At least he can bow his heart; he can pay his tribute to womanhood."
"You're too much for me," responded Rosythe. "The imbeciles choose to go through with it; it's their own choice."
Said Carpenter: "You have never thought of it as the choice of God?"
"Holy smoke!" exclaimed the critic. "I sure never did!"
At that moment one of the doors was opened. Rosythe turned his eyes. "Ah, Madame Planchet!" he cried. "Come tell us about it!"
A stoutish woman out of a Paris fashion-plate came trotting across the room, smiling in welcome: "Meester Rosythe!" She had black earrings flapping from each ear, and her face was white, with a streak of scarlet for lips. She took the critic by his two hands, and the critic, laughing, said: "Respondez, Madame! Does God bring the ladies to this place?"
"Ah, surely, Meester Rosythe! The god of beautee, he breengs them to us! And the leetle god with the golden arrow, the rosy cheeks and the leetle dimple—the dimple that we make heem for two hundred dollars a piece—eh, Meester Rosythe? He breengs the ladies to us!"
The critic turned. "Madame Planchet, permit me to introduce Mr. Carpenter. He is a man of wonder, he heals pain, and does it by means of love."
"Oh, how eenteresting! But what eef love heemself ees pain—who shall heal that, eh, Meester Carpentair?"
"O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-h!" came the moan.
Said Rosythe: "Mr. Carpenter thinks you make the ladies suffer too much. It worries him."
"Ah, but the ladies do not mind! Pain? What ees eet? The lady who makes the groans, she cannot move, and so she ees unhappy. Also, she likes to have her own way, she ees a leetle—what you say?—spoilt. But her troubles weel pass; she weel be beautiful, and her husband weel love her more, and she weel be happy."
"O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-oh!" from the other room; and Madame Planchet prattled away: "I say to them, Make plenty of noises! Eet helps! No one weel be afraid, for all here are worshippers of the god of beautee—all weel bear the pains that he requires. Eh, Meester Carpentair?"
Carpenter was staring at her. I had not before seen such intensity of concentration on his face. He was trying to understand this situation, so beyond all believing.
"I weel tell you something," said Madame Planchet, lowering her voice confidentially. "The lady what you hear—that ees Meeses T-S. You know Meester T-S, the magnate of the peectures?"
Carpenter did not say whether he knew or not.
"They come to me always, the peecture people; to me. the magician, the deputee of the god of beautee. Polly Pretty, she comes, and Dolly Dimple, she comes, and Lucy Love, she comes, and Betty Belle Bird. They come to me for the hair, and for the eyes, and for the complexion. You are a workair of miracles yourself—but can you do what I do? Can you make the skeen all new? Can you make the old young?"
"Mary Magna, she comes to me, and she breengs me her old grandmother, and she says, 'Madame,' she says, 'make her new from the waist up, for you can nevair tell how the fashions weel change, and what she weel need to show.' Ha, ha, ha, she ees wittee, ees the lovely Mary! And I take the old lady, and her wrinkles weel be gone, and her skeen weel be soft like a leetle baby's, and in her cheeks weel be two lovely dimples, and she weel dance with the young boys, and they weel not know her from her grandchild—ha, ha, ha!—ees eet not the wondair?"
I knew by now where I was. I had heard many times of Madame Planchet's beauty-parlors. I sat, wondering; should I take Carpenter by the arm, and lead him gently out? Or should I leave him to fight his own. fight with modern civilization?
Madame turned suddenly upon me. "I know you, Meester Billee," she said. "I have seen you with Mees Magna! Ah, naughtee boy! You have the soft, fine hair—you should let it grow—eight inches we have to have, and then you can come to me for the permanent wave. So many young men come to me for the permanent wave! You know eet? Meester Carpentair, you see, he has let hees hair grow, and he has the permanent wave—eet could not be bettair eef I had done eet myself. I say always, 'My work ees bettair than nature, I tell nature by the eemperfections.' Eh, voila?"
I am not sure whether it was for the benefit of me or of Carpenter. The deputee of the god of beautee was moved to volunteer a great revelation. "Would you like to see how we make eet—the permanent wave? I weel show you Messes T-S. But you must not speak—she would not like eet if I showed her to gentlemen. But her back ees turned and she cannot move. We do not let them see the apparatus, because eet ees rather frightful, eet would make them seek. You will be very steel, eh?"
"Mum's the word, Madame," said Rosythe, speaking for the three of us.
"O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-oh!" moaned the voice.
"First, I weel tell you," said Madame. "For the complete wave we wind the hair in tight leetle coils on many rods. Eet ees very delicate operations—every hair must be just so, not one crooked, not one must we skeep. Eet takes a long time—two hours for the long hair; and eet hurts, because we must pull eet so tight. We wrap each coil een damp cloths, and we put them een the contacts, and we turn on the eelectreeceetee—and then eet ees many hours that the hair ees baked, ees cooked een the proper curves, eh? Now, very steel, eef you please!"
And softly she opened the door.
Before us loomed what I can only describe as a mountain of red female flesh. This flesh-mountain had once apparently been slightly covered by embroidered silk lingerie, but this was now soaked in moisture and reduced to the texture of wet tissue paper. The top of the flesh-mountain ended in an amazing spectacle. It appeared as if the head had no hair whatever; but starting from the bare scalp was an extraordinary number of thin rods, six inches or so in length. These rods stood out in every direction, and being of gleaming metal, they gave to the head the aspect of some bright Phoebus Apollo, known as the "far-darter;" or shall I say some fierce Maenad with electric snakes having nickel-plated skins; or shall I say some terrific modern war-god, pouring poison gases from a forest of chemical tubes? Over the top of the flesh-mountain was a big metal object, a shining concave dome with which all the tubes connected; so that a stranger to the procedure could not have felt sure whether the mountain was holding up the dome, or was dangling from it. A piece of symbolism done by a maniac artist, whose meaning no one could fathom!
From the dome there was given heat; so from the pores of the flesh-mountain came perspiration. I could not say that I actually saw perspiration flowing from any particular pore; it is my understanding that pores are small, and do not squirt visible jets. What I could say is that I saw little trickles uniting to form brooks, and brooks to form rivers, which ran down the sides of the flesh-mountain, and mingled in an ocean on the floor.
Also I observed that flesh-mountains when exposed to heat do not stand up of their own consistency, but have a tendency to melt and flatten; it was necessary that this bulk should be supported, so there were three attendants, one securely braced under each armpit, and the third with a more precarious grip under the mountain's chin. Every thirty seconds or so the heaving, sliding mass would emit one of those explosive groans: "O-o-o-o-o-oh!" Then it would collapse, an avalanche would threaten to slide, and the living caryatids would shove and struggle.
Said Madame Planchet, in her stage-whisper: "The serveece of the young god of beautee!" And my fancy took flight. I saw proud vestals tending sacred flames on temple-clad islands in blue Grecian seas; I saw acolytes waving censers, and grave, bearded priests walking in processions crowned with myrtle-wreaths. I wondered if ever since the world began, the young god of beautee looking down from his crystal throne had beheld a stranger ritual of adoration!
Silently we drew back from the door-way, and Madame closed the door, reducing the promethean groans and the strong ammoniacal odors. I did not see the face of Carpenter, because he had turned it from us. Rosythe favored me with a smile, and whispered, "Your friend doesn't care for beautee!" Then he added, "What do you suppose he meant by that stuff about 'the price of life' and 'the choice of God?'"
"Didn't you really get it?" I asked.
"I'm damned if I did."
"My dear fellow," I said, "you didn't tell us what sort of place this was; and Carpenter thought it must be a maternity-ward."
The moving picture critic of the Western City "Times" gave me one wild look; then from his throat there came a sound like the sudden bleat of a young sheep in pain. It caused Carpenter to start, and Madame Planchet to start, and for the first time since we entered the place, the birds of paradise gave signs of life elsewhere than in the eye-muscles. The sheep gave a second bleat, and then a third, and Rosythe, red in the face and apparently choking, turned and fled to the corridor.
Madame Planchet drew me apart and said: "Meester Billee, tell me something. Ees eet true that thees gentleman ees a healer? He takes away the pains?"
"He did it for me," I answered.
"He ees vairy handsome, eh, Meester Billee?"
"Yes, that is true."
"I have an idea; eet ees a wondair." She turned to my friend. "Meester Carpentair, they tell me that you heal the pains. I think eet would be a vairy fine thing eef you would come to my parlor and attend the ladies while I give them the permanent wave, and while I skeen them, and make them the dimples and the sweet smiles. They suffer so, the poor dears, and eef you would seet and hold their hands, they would love eet, they would come every day for eet, and you would be famous, and you would be reech. You would meet—oh, such lovely ladies! The best people in the ceety come to my beauty parlors, and they would adore you, Meester Carpentair—what do you say to eet?"
It struck me as curious, as I looked back upon it; Madame Planchet so far had not heard the sound of Carpenter's voice. Now she forced him to speak, but she did not force him to look at her. His gaze went over her head, as if he were seeing a vision; he recited:
"Because the daughters of Zion are haughty, and walk with stretched forth necks and wanton eyes, walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet; therefore the Lord will smite with a scab the crown of the head of the daughters of Zion, and the Lord will discover their secret parts."
"Oh, mon Dieu!" cried Madame Planchet.
"In that day the Lord will take away the bravery of their twinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon, the chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers, the bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings, the rings and nose jewels, the changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins, the glasses, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the veils. And it shall come to pass that instead of sweet smell there shall be stink; and instead of a girdle a rent; and instead of well set hair, baldness; and instead of a stomacher a girding of sackcloth: and burning instead of beauty."
And at that moment the door from the corridor was flung open, and Mary Magna came in.
"My God, will you look who's here! Billy, wretched creature, I haven't laid eyes on you for two months! Do you have to desert me entirely, just because you've fallen in love with a society girl with the face of a Japanese doll-baby? What's the matter with me, that I lose my lovers faster than I get them? Edgerton Rosythe, come in here—you've got a good excuse, I admit—I'm almost as much scared of your wife as you are yourself. But still, I'd like a chance to get tired of some man first. Hello, Planchet, how's my old grannie making out in your scalping-shop? Say, would you think it would take three days labor for half a dozen Sioux squaws to pull the skin off one old lady's back? And a week to tie up the corners of her mouth and give her a permanent smile! 'Why, grannie,' I said, 'good God, it would be cheaper to hire Charlie Chaplin to walk round in front of you all the rest of your life!' And—why, what's this? For the love of Peter, somebody introduce me to this gentleman. Is he a friend of yours, Billy? Carpenter? Excuse me, Mr. Carpenter, but we picture people learn to talk about our faces and our styles, and it isn't every day I come on a million dollars walking round on two legs. Who does the gentleman work for?"
The storm of Mary Magna stopped long enough for her to stare from one to another of us. "What? You mean nobody's got him? And you all standing round here, not signing any contracts? You, Edgerton—you haven't run to the telephone to call up Eternal City? Well, as it happens, T-S is going to be here in five minutes—his wife is being made beautiful once again somewhere in this scalping-shop. Take my advice, Mr. Carpenter, and don't sign today—the price will go up several hundred per week as long as you hold off."
Mary stopped again; and this was most unusual, for as a general rule she never stopped until somebody or something stopped her. But she was fascinated by the spectacle of Carpenter. "My good God! Where did he come from? Why, it seems like—I'm trying to think—yes, it's the very man! Listen, Billy; you may not believe it, but I was in a church a couple of weeks ago. I went to see Roxanna Riddle marry that grand duke fellow. It was in a big church over by the park—St. Bartholomew's, they call it. I sat looking at a stained glass window over the altar, and Billy, I swear I believe this Mr. Carpenter came down from that window!"
"Maybe he did, Mary," I put in.
"But I'm not joking! I tell you he's the living, speaking image of that figure. Come to think of it, he isn't speaking, he hasn't said a word! Tell me, Mr. Carpenter, have you got a voice, or are you only a close up from 'The Servant in the House' or 'Ben Hur'? Say something, so I can get a line on you!"
Again I stood wondering; how would Carpenter take this? Would he bow his head and run before a hail-storm of feminine impertinence? Would she "vamp" him, as she did every man who came near her? Or would this man do what no man alive had yet been able to do—reduce her to silence?
He smiled gently; and I saw that she had vamped him this much, at least—he was going to be polite! "Mary," he said, "I think you are carrying everything but the nose jewels."
"Nose jewels? What a horrid idea! Where did you get that?"
"When you came in, I was quoting the prophet Isaiah. Some eighty generations of ladies have lived on earth since his day, Mary; they have won the ballot, but apparently they haven't discovered anything new in the way of ornaments. Some of the prophet's words may be strange to you, but if you study them you will see that you've got everything he lists: 'their tinkling ornaments about their feet, and their cauls, and their round tires like the moon, the chains, and the bracelets, and the mufflers, the bonnets, and the ornaments of the legs, and the headbands, and the tablets, and the earrings, the rings, and nose jewels, the changeable suits of apparel, and the mantles, and the wimples, and the crisping pins, the glasses, and the fine linen, and the hoods, and the veils.'"
As Carpenter recited this list, his eyes roamed from one part to another of the wondrous "get up" of Mary Magna. You can imagine her facing him—that bold and vivid figure which you have seen as "Cleopatra" and "Salome," as "Dubarry" and "Anne Boleyn," and I know not how many other of the famous courtesans and queens of history. In daily life her style and manner is every bit as staggering; she is a gorgeous brunette, and wears all the colors there are—when she goes down the street it is like a whole procession with flags. I'll wager that, apart from her jewels, which may or may not have been real, she was carrying not less than five thousand dollars worth of stuff that fall afternoon. A big black picture hat, with a flower garden and parts of an aviary on top—but what's the use of going over Isaiah's list?
"Everything but the nose jewels," said Carpenter, "and they may be in fashion next week."
"How about the glasses?" put in Rosythe, entering into the fun.
"Oh, shucks!" said I, protecting my friend. "Turn out the contents of your vanity-bag, Mary."
"And the crisping-pins?" laughed the critic.
"Hasn't Madame Planchet just shown us those?"
All this while Mary had not taken her eyes off Carpenter. "So you are really one of those religious fellows!" she exclaimed. "You'll know exactly what to do without any directing! How perfectly incredible!" And at that appropriate moment T-S pushed open the door and waddled in!
You know the screen stars, of course; but maybe you do not know those larger celestial bodies, the dark and silent and invisible stars from which the shining ones derive their energies. So, permit me to introduce you to T-S, the trade abbreviation for a name which nobody can remember, which even his secretaries have to keep typed on a slip of paper just above their machine—Tszchniczklefritszch. He came a few years ago from Ruthenia, or Rumelia, or Roumania—one of those countries where the consonants are so greatly in excess of the vowels. If you are as rich as he, you call him Abey, which is easy; otherwise, you call him Mr. T-S, which he accepts as a part of his Americanization.
He is shorter than you or I, and has found that he can't grow upward, but can grow without limit in all lateral directions. There is always a little more of him than his clothing can hold, and it spreads out in rolls about his collar. He has a yellowish face, which turns red easily. He has small, shiny eyes, he speaks atrocious English, he is as devoid of culture as a hairy Ainu, and he smells money and goes after it like a hog into a swill-trough.
"Hello, everybody! Madame, vere's de old voman?
"She ees being dressed—"
"Vell, speed her up! I got no time. I got—Jesus Christ!"
"Yes, exactly," said Mary Magna.
The great man of the pictures stood rooted to the spot. "Vot's dis? Some joke you people playin' on me?" He shot a suspicious glance from one to another of us.
"No," said Mary, "he's real. Honest to God!"
"Oh! You bring him for an engagement. Vell, I don't do no business outside my office. Send him to see Lipsky in de mornin'."
"He hasn't asked for an engagement," said Mary.
"Oh, he ain't. Vell, vot's he hangin' about for? Been gittin' a permanent vave? Ha, ha, ha!"
"Cut it out, Abey," said Mary Magna. "This is a gentleman, and you must be decent. Mr. Carpenter, meet Mr. T-S."
"Carpenter, eh? Vell, Mr. Carpenter, if I vas to make a picture vit you I gotta spend a million dollars on it—you know you can't make no cheap skate picture fer a ting like dat, if you do you got a piece o' cheese. It'd gotta be a costume picture, and you got shoost as much show to market vun o' dem today as you got vit a pauper's funeral. I spend all dat money, and no show to git it back, and den you actors tink I'm makin' ten million a veek off you—"
"Cut it out, Abey!" broke in Mary. "Mr. Carpenter hasn't asked anything of you."
"Oh, he ain't, hey? So dat's his game. Vell, he'll find maybe I can vait as long as de next feller. Ven he gits ready to talk business, he knows vere Eternal City is, I guess. Vot's de matter, Madame, you got dat old voman o' mine melted to de chair?"
"I'll see, I'll see, Meester T-S," said Madame, hustling out of the room.
Mary came up to the great man. "See here, Abey," she said, in a low voice, "you're making the worst mistake of your life. Apparently this man hasn't been discovered. When he is, you know what'll happen."
"Vere doss he come from?"
"I don't know. Billy here brought him. I said he must have come out of a stained glass window in St. Bartholomew's Church."
"Oho, ho!" said T-S.
"Anyhow, he's new, and he's too good to keep. The paper's 'll get hold of him sure. Just look at him!"
"But, Mary, can he act?"
"Act? My God, he don't have to act! He only has to look at you, and you want to fall at his feet. Go be decent to him, and find out what he wants."
The great man surveyed the figure of the stranger appraisingly. Then he went up to him. "See here, Mr. Carpenter, maybe I could make you famous. Vould you like dat?"
"I have never thought of being famous," was the reply.
"Vell, you tink of it now. If I hire you, I make you de greatest actor in de vorld. I make it a propaganda picture fer de churches, dey vould show it to de headens in China and in Zululand. I make you a contract fer ten years, and I pay you five hunded dollars a veek, vedder you vork or not, and you vouldn't have to vork so much, because I don't catch myself makin' a million dollar feature picture vit gawd amighty and de angels in it for no regular veekly releases. Maybe you find some cheap skate feller vit some vild cat company vot promise you more; but he sells de picture and makes over de money to his vife's brudders, and den he goes bust, and vere you at den, hey? Mary Magna, here, she tell you, if you git a contract vit old Abey, it's shoost like you got libbidy bonds. I make dat lovely lady a check every veek fer tirty-five hunded dollars, an' I gotta sign it vit my own hand, and I tell you it gives me de cramps to sign so much money all de time, but I do it, and you see all dem rings and ribbons and veils and tings vot she buys vit de money, she looks like a jeweler's shop and a toy-store all rolled into vun goin' valkin' down de street."
"Mr. Carpenter was just scolding me for that," said Mary. "I've an idea if you pay him a salary, he'll feed it to the poor."
"If I pay it," said T-S, "it's his, and he can feed it to de dicky-birds if he vants to. Vot you say, Mr. Carpenter?"
I was waiting with curiosity to hear what he would say; but at that moment the door from the "maternity-room" was opened, and the voice of Madame Planchet broke in: "Here she ees!" And the flesh-mountain appeared, with the two caryatids supporting her.
"My Gawd!" gasped Mrs. T-S. "I'm dyin'!"
Her husband responded, beaming, "So you gone and done it again!"
Said Mrs. T-S: "I'll never do it no more!"
Said the husband: "Y'allus say dat. Fergit it, Maw, you're all right now, you don't have to have your hair frizzed fer six mont's!"
Said Mrs. T-S: "I gotta lie down. I'm dyin', Abey, I tell you. Lemme git on de sofa."
Said the husband: "Now, Maw, we gotta git to dinner—"
"I can't eat no dinner."
"Vot?" There was genuine alarm in the husband's voice. "You can't eat no dinner? Sure you gotta eat your dinner. You can't live if you don't eat. Come along now, Maw."
T-S went and stood before her, and a grin came over his face. "Sure, now, ain't it fine? Say, Mary, look at dem lovely curves. Billy, shoost look here! Vy, she looks like a kid again, don't she! Madame, you're a daisy—you sure deliver de goods."
Madame Planchet beamed, and the flesh-mountain was feebly cheered. "You like it, Abey?"
"Sure, I like it! Maw, it's grand! It's like I got a new girl! Come on now, git up, we go git our dinner, and den we gotta see dem night scenes took. Don't forgit, we're payin' two tousand men five dollars apiece tonight, and we gotta git our money out of 'em." Then, taking for granted that this settled it, he turned to the rest. "You come vit us, Mary?"
"I must wait for my grannie."
"Sure, you leave your car fer grannie, and you come vit us, and we git some dinner, and den we see dem mob scenes took. You come along, Mr. Carpenter, I gotta have some talk vit you. And you, Billy? And Rosythe—come, pile in."
"I have to wait for the missus," said the critic. "We have a date."
"Vell, said T-S, and he went up close. "You do me a favor, Rosythe; don't say nuttin' about dis fellow Carpenter tonight. I feed him and git him feelin' good, and den I make a contract vit him, and I give you a front page telegraph story, see?"
"All right," said the critic.
"Mum's de vord now," said the magnate; and he waddled out, and the two caryatids lifted the flesh-mountain, and half carried it to the elevator, and Mary walked with Carpenter, and I brought up the rear.
The car of T-S was waiting at the door, and this car is something special. It is long, like a freight-car, made all of shining gun-metal, or some such material; the huge wheels are of solid metal, and the fenders are so big and solid, it looks like an armored military car. There is an extra wheel on each side, and two more locked on to the rear. There is a chauffeur in uniform, and a footman in uniform, just to open the doors and close them and salute you as you enter. Inside, it is all like the sofas in Madame's scalping shop; you fall into them, and soft furs enfold you, and you give a sigh of Contentment, "O-o-o-o-o-o-oh!"
"Prince's," said T-S to the chauffeur, and the palace on wheels began to glide along. It occurred to me to wonder that T-S was not embarrassed to take Carpenter to a fashionable eating-place. But I could read his thoughts; everybody would assume that he had been "on location" with one of his stars; and anyhow, what the hell? Wasn't he Abey Tszchniczklefritszch?
"Wor-r-r-r-r! Wor-r-r-r-r-r!" snarled the horn of the car; and I could understand the meaning of this also. It said: "I am the car of Abey Tszchniczklefritszch, king of the movies, future king of the world. Get the hell out o' my way!" So we sped through the crowded streets, and pedestrians scattered like autumn leaves before a storm. "My Gawd, but I'm hungry!" said T-S. "I ain't had nuttin' to eat since lunch-time. How goes it, Maw? Feelin' better? Vell, you be all right ven you git your grub."
So we came to Prince's, and drew up before the porte-cochere, and found ourselves confronting an adventure. There was a crowd before the place, a surging throng half-way down the block, with a whole line of policemen to hold them back. Over the heads of the crowd were transparencies, frame boxes with canvas on, and lights inside, and words painted on them. "Hello!" cried T-S. "Vot's dis?"
Suddenly I recalled what I had read in the morning's paper. The workers of the famous lobster palace had gone on strike, and trouble was feared. I told T-S, and he exclaimed: "Oh, hell! Ain't we got troubles enough vit strikers in de studios, vitout dey come spoilin' our dinner?"
The footman had jumped from his seat, and had the door open, and the great man began to alight. At that moment the mob set up a howl. "For shame! For shame! Unfair! Don't go in there! They starve their workers! They're taking the bread out of our mouths! Scabs! Scabs!"
I got out second, and saw a spectacle of haggard faces, shouting menaces and pleadings; I saw hands waved wildly, one or two fists clenched; I saw the police, shoving against the mass, poking with their sticks, none too gently. A poor devil in a waiter's costume stretched out his arms to me, yelling in a foreign dialect: "You take de food from my babies!" The next moment the club of a policeman came down on his head, crack. I heard Mary scream behind me, and I turned, just in the nick of time. Carpenter was leaping toward the policeman, crying, "Stop!"
There was no chance to parley in this emergency. I grabbed Carpenter in a foot-ball tackle. I got one arm pinned to his side, and Mary, good old scout, got the other as quickly. She is a bit of an athlete—has to keep in training for those hoochie-coochies and things she does, when she wins the love of emperors and sultans and such-like world-conquerors. Also, when we got hold of Carpenter, we discovered that he wasn't much but skin and bones anyhow. We fairly lifted him up and rushed him into the restaurant; and after the first moment he stopped resisting, and let us lead him between the aisles of diners, on the heels of the toddling T-S. There was a table reserved, in an alcove, and we brought him to it, and then waited to see what we had done.
Carpenter turned to me-and those sad but everchangjng eyes were flashing. "You have taken a great liberty!"
"There wasn't any time to argue," I said. "If you knew what I know about the police of Western City and their manners, you wouldn't want to monkey with them."
Mary backed me up earnestly. "They'd have mashed your face, Mr. Carpenter."
"My face?" he repeated. "Is not a man more than his face?"
You should have heard the shout of T-S! "Vot? Ain't I shoost offered you five hunded dollars a veek fer dat face, and you vant to go git it smashed? And fer a lot o' lousy bums dat vont vork for honest vages, and vont let nobody else vork! Honest to Gawd, Mr. Carpenter, I tell you some stories about strikes vot we had on our own lot—you vouldn't spoil your face for such lousy sons-o'-guns—"
"Ssh, Abey, don't use such langwich, you should to be shamed of yourself!" It was Maw, guardian of the proprieties, who had been extracted from the car by the footman, and helped to the table.
"Vell, Mr. Carpenter, he dunno vot dem fellers is like—"
"Sit down, Abey!" commanded the old lady. "Ve ain't ordered no stump speeches fer our dinner."
We seated ourselves. And Carpenter turned his dark eyes on me. "I observe that you have many kinds of mobs in your city," he remarked. "And the police do interfere with some of them."
"My Gawd!" cried T-S. "You gonna have a lot o' bums jumpin' on people ven dey try to git to dinner?"
Said Carpenter: "Mr. Rosythe said that the police would not work unless they were paid. May I ask, who pays them to work here? Is it the proprietor of the restaurant?"
"Vell," cried T-S, "ain't he gotta take care of his place?"
"As a matter of fact," said I, laughing, "from what I read in the 'Times' this morning, I gather that an old friend of Mr. Carpenter's has been paying in this case."
Carpenter looked at me inquiringly.
"Mr. Algernon de Wiggs, president of the Chamber of Commerce, issued a statement denouncing the way the police were letting mobs of strikers interfere with business, and proposing that the Chamber take steps to stop it. You remember de Wiggs, and how we left him?"
"Yes, I remember," said Carpenter; and we exchanged a smile over that trick we had played.
I could see T-S prick forward his ears. "Vot? You know de Viggs?"
"Mr. Carpenter possesses an acquaintance with our best society which will astonish you when you realize it."
"Vy didn't you tell me dat?" demanded the other; and I could complete the sentence for him: "Somebody has offered him more money!"
Here the voice of Maw was heard: "Ain't we gonna git nuttin' to eat?"
So for a time the problem of capital and labor was put to one side. There were two waiters standing by, very nervous, because of the strike. T-S grabbed the card from one, and read off a list of food, which the waiter wrote down. Maw, who was learning the rudiments of etiquette, handed her card to Mary, who gave her order, and then Maw gave hers, and I gave mine, and there was only Carpenter left.
He was sitting, his dark eyes roaming here and there about the dining-room. Prince's, as you may know, is a gorgeous establishment: too much so for my taste—it has almost as much gilded moulding as if T-S had designed it for a picture palace. In front of Carpenter's eyes sat a dame with a bare white back, and a rope of big pearls about it, and a tiara of diamonds on top; and beyond her were more dames, and yet more, and men in dinner-coats, putting food into red faces. You and I get used to such things, but I could understand that to a stranger it must be shocking to see so many people feeding so expensively.
"Vot you vant to order, Mr. Carpenter?" demanded T-S; and I waited, full of curiosity. What would this man choose to eat in a "lobster palace"?
Carpenter took the card from his host and studied it. Apparently he had no difficulty in finding the most substantial part of the menu. "I'll have prime ribs of beef," said he; "and boiled mutton with caper sauce; and young spring turkey; and squab en casserole; and milk fed guinea fowl—" The waiter, of course, was obediently writing down each item. "And planked steak with mushrooms; and braised spare ribs—"
"My Gawd!" broke in the host.
"And roast teal duck; and lamb kidneys—"
"Fer the love o' Mike, Mr. Carpenter, you gonna eat all dat?"
"No; of course not."
"Den vot you gonna do vit it?"
"I'm going to take it to the hungry men outside."
Well, sir, you'd have thought the world had stopped turning round, so still it was. The two waiters nearly dropped their order-pads and their napkins; they did drop their jaws, and Mrs. T-S's permanent wave seemed about to go flat.
"Oh, hell!" cried T-S at last. You can't do it!"
"You can't order only vot you gonna eat."
"But then, I don't want anything. I'm not hungry."
"But you can't sit here like a dummy, man!" He turned to the waiter. "You bring him de same vot you bring me. Unnerstand? And git a move on, cause I'm starvin'. Fade out now!" And the waiter turned and fled.
The proprietor of Eternal City wiped his perspiring forehead with his napkin, and started rather hurriedly to make conversation. I understood that he wanted to enjoy his dinner, and proposed to talk about something pleasant in the meantime. "I vonna tell you about dis picture ve're goin' to see took, Mr. Carpenter. I vant you should see de scale we do tings on, ven we got a big subjic. Y'unnerstand, dis is a feature picture ve're makin' now; a night picture, a big mob scene.".
"Mob scene?" said Carpenter. "You have so many mobs in this world of yours!"
"Vell, sure," said T-S. "You gotta take dis vorld de vay you find it. Y'can't change human nature, y'know. But dis vot you're gonna see tonight is only a play mob, y'unnerstand."
"That is what seems strangest of all to me," said the other, thoughtfully. "You like mobs so well that you make imitation ones!"
"Vell, de people, dey like to see crowds in a picture, and dey like to see action. If you gonna have a big picture, you gotta spend de money."
"Why not take this real mob that is outside the door?"
"Ha, ha, ha! Ve couldn't verk dat very good, Mr. Carpenter. Ve gotta have it in de right set; and ven you git a real mob, it don't alvays do vot you vant exactly! Besides, you can't take night pictures unless you got your lights and everyting. No, ve gotta make our mobs to order; we got two tousand fellers hired—"
"What Mr. Rosythe called 'studio bums'? You have that many?"
"Sure, we could git ten tousand if de set vould hold 'em. Dis picture is called 'De Tale o' Two Cities,' and it's de French revolution. It's about a feller vot takes anodder feller's place and gits his head cut off; and say, dere's a sob story in it vot's a vunder. Ven dey brought me de scenario, I says, 'Who's de author?' Dey says, 'It's a guy named Charles Dickens.' 'Dickens?' says I. 'Vell, I like his verk. Vot's his address?' And Lipsky, he says, says he, 'Dey tell me he stays in a place called Vestminster Abbey, in England.' 'Vell,' says I, 'send him a cablegram and find out vot he'll take fer an exclusive contract.' So we sent a cablegram to Charles Dickens, Vestminster Abbey, England, and we didn't git no answer, and come to find out, de boys in de studios vas havin' a laugh on old Abey, because dis guy Dickens is some old time feller, and de Abbey is vere dey got his bones. Vell, dey can have deir fun—how de hell's a feller like me gonna git time to know about writers? Vy, only twelve years ago, Maw here and me vas carryin' pants in a push-cart fer a livin', and we didn't know if a book vas top-side up or bottom—ain't it, Maw?"
Maw certified that it was—though I thought not quite so eagerly as her husband. There were five little T-S's growing up, and bringing pressure to let the dead past stay buried, in Vestminster Abbey or wherever it might be.
The waiter brought the dinner, and spread it before us. And T-S tucked his napkin under both ears, and grabbed his knife in one hand and his fork in the other, and took a long breath, and said: "Good-bye, folks. See you later!" And he went to work.
For five minutes or so there was no sound but that of one man's food going in and going down. Then suddenly the man stopped, with his knife and fork upright on the table in each hand, and cried: "Mr. Carpenter, you ain't eatin' nuttin'!"
The stranger, who had apparently been in a daydream, came suddenly back to Prince's. He looked at the quantities of food spread about him. "If you'd only let me take a little to those men outside!" He said it pleadingly.
But T-S tapped imperiously on the table, with both his knife and fork together. "Mr. Carpenter, eat your dinner! Eat it, now, I say!" It was as if he were dealing with one of the five little T-S's. And Carpenter, strange as it may seem, obeyed. He picked up a bit of bread, and began to nibble it, and T-S went to work again.
There was another five minutes of silence; and then the picture magnate stopped, with a look of horror on his face. "My Gawd! He's cryin'!" Sure enough, there were two large tears trickling, one down each cheek of the stranger, and dropping on the bread he was putting into his mouth!
"Look here, Mr. Carpenter," protested T-S. "Is it dem strikers?"
"I'm sorry; you see—"
"Now, honest, man, vy should you spoil your dinner fer a bunch o' damn lousy loafers—"
"Abey, vot a vay to talk at a dinner-party!" broke in Maw.
And then suddenly Mary Magna spoke. It was a strange thing, though I did not realize it until afterwards. Mary, the irrepressible, had hardly said one word since we left the beauty parlors! Mary, always the life of dinner parties, was sitting like a woman who had seen the ghost of a dead child; her eyes following Carpenter's, her mind evidently absorbed in probing his thoughts.
"Abey!" said she, with sudden passion, of a sort I'd never seen her display before. "Forget your grub for a moment, I have something to say. Here's a man with a heart full of love for other people—while you and I are just trying to see what we can get out of them! A man who really has a religion—and you're trying to turn him into a movie doll! Try to get it through your skull, Abey!"
The great man's eyes were wide open. "Holy smoke, Mary! Vot's got into you?" And suddenly he almost shrieked. "Lord! She's cryin' too!"
"No, I'm not," declared Mary, vialiantly. But there were two drops on her cheeks, so big that she was forced to wipe them away. "It's just a little shame, that's all. Here we sit, with three times as much food before us as we can eat; and all over this city are poor devils with nothing to eat, and no homes to go to—don't you know that's true, Abey? Don't you know it, Maw?"
"Looka here, kid," said the magnate; "you know vot'll happen to you if you git to broodin' over tings? You git your face full o' wrinkles—you already gone and spoilt your make-up."
"Shucks, Abey," broke in Maw, "vot you gotta do vit dat? Vy don't you mind your own business?"
"Mind my own business? My own business, you say? Vell, I like to know vot you call my business! Ven I got a contract to pay a girl tirty-five hunded dollars a veek fer her face, and she goes and gits it all wrinkles, I ask any jury, is it my business or ain't it? And if a feller vants to pull de tremulo stop fer a lot o' hoboes and Bullsheviki, and goes and spills his tears into his soup—"
It sounded fierce; but Mary apparently knew her Abey; also, she saw that Maw was starting to cry. "There's no use trying to bluff me, Abey. You know as well as I do there are hungry people in this city, and no fault of theirs. You know, too, you eat twice what you ought to, because I've heard the doctor tell you. I'm not blaming you a bit more than I do myself—me, with two automobiles, and a whole show-window on my back." And suddenly she turned to Carpenter. "What can we do?"
He answered: "Here, men gorge themselves; in Russia they are eating their dead."
T-S dropped his knife and fork, and Maw gave a gulp. "Oh, my Gawd!"
"There are ten million people doomed to starve. Their children eat grass, and their bellies swell up and their legs dwindle to broom-sticks; they stagger and fall into the ditches, and other children tear their flesh and devour it."
"O-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-oh!" wailed Maw; and the diners at Prince's began to stare.
"Now looka here!" cried T-S, wildly. "I say dis ain't no decent way to behave at a party. I say it ain't on de level to be a feller's guest, and den jump on him and spoil his dinner. See here, Mr. Carpenter, I tell you vot I do. You be good and eat your grub, so it don't git vasted, and I promise you, tomorrow I go and hunt up strike headquarters, and give dem a check fer a tousand dollars, and if de damn graftin' leaders don't hog it, dey all git someting to eat. And vot's more, I send a check fer five tousand to de Russian relief. Now ain't dat square? Vot you say?"
"What I say is, Mr. T-S, I cannot be the keeper of another man's conscience. But I'll try to eat, so as not to be rude."
And T-S grunted, and went back to his feeding; and the stranger made a pretense of eating, and we did the same.
It happens that I was brought up in a highly conscientious family. To my dear mother, and to her worthy sisters, there is nothing in the world more painful than what they call a "scene"—unless possibly it is what they call a "situation." And here we had certainly had a "scene," and still had a "situation." So I sat, racking my brains to think of something safe to talk about. I recalled that T-S had had pretty good success with his "Tale of Two Cities" as a topic of Conversation, so I began:
"Mr. Carpenter, the spectacle you are going to see this evening is rather remarkable from the artistic point of view. One of the greatest scenic artists of Paris has designed the set, and the best judges consider it a real achievement, a landmark in moving picture work."
"Tell me about it," said Carpenter; and I was grateful for his tone of interest.
"Well, I don't know how much you know about picture making—"
"You had better explain everything."
"Well, Mr. T-S has built a large set, representing a street scene in Paris over a century ago. He has hired a thousand men—"
"Two tousand!" broke in T-S.
"In the advertisements?" I suggested, with a smile.
"No, no," insisted the other. "Two tousand, really. In de advertisements, five tousand."
"Well," said I, "these men wear costumes which T-S has had made for them, and they pretend to be a mob. They have been practicing all day, and by now they know what to do. There is a man with a megaphone, shouting orders to them, and enormous lights playing upon them, so that men with cameras can take pictures of the scene. It is very vivid, and as a portrayal of history, is truly educational."
"And when it is done—what becomes of the men?"
Utterly hopeless, you see! We were right back on the forbidden ground! "How do you mean?" I evaded.
"I mean, how do they live?"
"Dey got deir five dollars, ain't dey?" It was T-S, of course.
"Yes, but that won' last very long, will it? What is the cost of this dinner we are eating?"
The magnate of the movies looked to the speaker, and then burst into a laugh. "Ho, ho, ho! Dat's a good vun!"
Said I, hastily: "Mr. T-S means that there are cheaper eating places to be found."
"Well," said Carpenter, "why don't we find one?"
"It's no use, Billy. He thinks it's up to me to feed all de bums on de lot. Is dat it, Mr. Carpenter?"
"I can't say, Mr. T-S; I don't know how many there are, and I don't know how rich you are."
"Vell, dey got five million out o' verks in this country now, and if I vanted to bust myself, I could feed 'em vun day, maybe two. But ven I got done, dey vouldn't be nobody to make pictures, and somebody vould have to feed old Abey—or maybe me and Maw could go back to carryin' pants in a push cart! If you tink I vouldn't like to see all de hungry fed, you got me wrong, Mr. Carpenter; but vot I learned is dis—if you stop fer all de misery you see in de vorld about you, you vouldn't git novhere."
"Well," said Carpenter, "what difference would that make?"
The proprietor of Eternal City really wanted to make out the processes of this abnormal mind. He wrinkled his brows, and thought very hard over it.
"See here, Mr. Carpenter," he began at last, "I tink you got hold o' de wrong feller. I'm a verkin' man, de same as any mechanic on my lot. I verked ever since I vas a liddle boy, and if I eat too much now, maybe it's because I didn't get enough ven I vas liddle. And maybe I got more money dan vot I got a right to, but I know dis—I ain't never had enough to do half vot I vant to! But dere's plenty fellers got ten times vot I got, and never done a stroke o' vork fer it. Dey're de vuns y'oughter git after!"
Said Carpenter: "I would, if I knew how."
"Dey's plenty of 'em right in dis room, I bet." And Mary added: "Ask Billy; he knows them all!"
"You flatter me, Mary," I laughed.
"Ain't dey some of 'em here?" demanded T-S.
"Yes, that's true. There are some not far away, who are developing a desire to meet Mr. Carpenter, unless I miss the signs."
"Vere are dey at?" demanded T-S.
"I won't tell you that," I laughed, "because you'd turn and stare into their faces."
"So he vould!" broke in Maw. "How often I gotta tell you, Abey? You got no more manners dan if you vas a jimpanzy."
"All right," said the magnate, grinning good naturedly. "I'll keep a-eatin' my dinner. Who is it?"
"It's Mrs. Parmelee Stebbins," said I. "She boasts a salon, and has to have what are called lions, and she's been watching Mr. Carpenter out of the corner of her eye ever since he came into the room—trying to figure out whether he's a lion, or only an actor. If his skin were a bit dark, she would be sure he was an Eastern potentate; as it, she's afraid he's of domestic origin, in which case he's vulgar. The company he keeps is against him; but still—Mrs. Stebbins has had my eye three times, hoping I would give her a signal, I haven't given it, so she's about to leave."
"Vell, she can go to hell!" said T-S, keeping his promise to devote himself to his dinner. "I offered Parmelee Stebbins a tird share in 'De Pride o' Passion' fer a hunded tousand dollars, and de damn fool turned me down, and de picture has made a million and a quarter a'ready."
"Well," said I, "he's probably paying for it by sitting up late to buy the city council on this new franchise grab of his; and so he hasn't kept his date to dine with his expensive family at Prince's. Here is Miss Lucinda Stebbins; she's engaged to Babcock, millionaire sport and man about town, but he's taking part in a flying race over the Rocky Mountains tonight, and so Lucinda feels bored, and she knows the vaudeville show is going to be tiresome, but still she doesn't want to meet any freaks. She has just said to her mother that she can't see why a person in her mother's position can't be content to meet proper people, but always has to be getting herself into the newspapers with some new sort of nut."
"My Gawd, Billy!" cried Maw. "You got a dictaphone on dem people?"
"No, but I know the type so well, I can tell by their looks. Lucinda is thinking about their big new palace on Grand Avenue, and she regards everyone outside her set as a burglar trying to break in. And then there's Bertie Stebbins, who's thinking about a new style of collar he saw advertised to-day, and how it would look on him, and what impression it would make on his newest girl."
It was Mary who spoke now: "I know that little toad. I've seen him dancing at the Palace with Dorothy Doodles, or whatever her name is."
"Well," said I, "Mrs. Stebbins runs the newer set—those who hunt sensations, and make a splurge in the papers. It costs like smoke, of course—" And suddenly I stopped. "Look out!" I whispered. "Here she comes!"
I heard Maw catch her breath, and I heard Maw's husband give a grunt. Then I rose. "How are you, Billy?" gurgled a voice—one of those voices made especially for social occasions. "Wretched boy, why do you never come to see us?"
"I was coming to-morrow," I said—for who could prove otherwise? "Mrs. Stebbins, permit me to introduce Mrs. Tszchniczklefritszch."
"Charmed to meet you, I'm sure," said Mrs. Stebbins. "I've heard my husband speak of your husband so often. How well you are looking, Mrs.—"
She stopped; and Maw, knowing the terrors of her name, made haste to say something agreeable. "Yes, ma'am; dis country agrees vit me fine. Since I come here, I've rode and et, shoost rode and et."
"And Mr. T-S," said I.
"Howdydo, Mr. T-S?"
"Pretty good, ma'am," said T-S. He had been caught with his mouth full, and was making desperate efforts to swallow.
A singular thing is the power of class prestige! Here was Maw, a good woman, according to her lights, who had worked hard all her life, and had achieved a colossal and astounding success. She had everything in the world that money could buy; her hair was done by the best hair-dresser, her gown had been designed by the best costumer, her rings and bracelets selected by the best jeweller; and yet nothing was right, no power on earth could make it right, and Maw knew it, and writhed the consciousness of it. And here was Mrs. Parmelee Stebbins, who had never done a useful thing in all her days—except you count the picking out of a rich husband; yet Mrs. Stebbins was "right," and Maw knew it, and in the presence of the other woman she was in an utter panic, literally quivering in every nerve. And here was old T-S, who, left to himself, might have really meant what he said, that Mrs. Stebbins could go to hell; but because he was married, and loved his wife, he too trembled, and gulped down his food!
Mrs. Stebbins is one of those American matrons who do not allow marriage and motherhood to make vulgar physical impressions upon them. Her pale blue gown might have been worn by her daughter; her cool grey eyes looked out through a face without a wrinkle from a soul without a care. She was a patroness of art and intellect; but never did she forget her fundamental duty, the enhancing of the prestige of a family name. When she was introduced to a screen-actress, she was gracious, but did not forget the difference between an actress and a lady. When she was introduced to a strange man who did not wear trousers, she took it quite as an everyday matter, revealing no trace of vulgar human curiosity.
There came Bertie, full grown, but not yet out of the pimply stage, and still conscious of the clothes which he had taken such pains to get right. Bertie's sister remained in her seat, refusing naughtily to be compromised by her mother's vagaries; but Bertie had a purpose, and after I had introduced him round, I saw what he wanted—Mary Magna! Bertie had a vision of himself as a sort of sporting prince in this movie world. His social position would make conquests easy; it was a sort of Christmas-tree, all a-glitter with prizes.
I was standing near, and heard the beginning of their conversation. "Oh, Miss Magna, I'm so pleased to meet you. I've heard so much about you from Miss Dulles."
"Yes; Dorothy Dulles."
"I'm sorry. I don't think I ever heard of her."
"What? Dorothy Dulles, the screen actress?"
"No, I can't place her."
"But—but she's a star!"
"Well, but you know, Mr. Stebbins—there are so many stars in the heavens, and not all of them visible to the eye."
I turned to Bertie's mamma. She had discovered that Carpenter looked even more thrilling on a close view; he was not a stage figure, but a really grave and impressive personality, exactly the thing to thrill the ladies of the Higher Arts Club at their monthly luncheon, and to reflect prestige upon his discoverer. So here she was, inviting the party to share her box at the theatre; and here was T-S explaining that it couldn't be done, he had got to see his French revolution pictures took, dey had five tousand men hired to make a mob. I noted that Mrs. Stebbins received the "advertising" figures on the production!
The upshot of it was that the great lady consented to forget her box at the theatre, and run out to the studios to see the mob scenes for the "The Tale of Two Cities." T-S hadn't quite finished his dinner, but he waved his hand and said it was nuttin', he vouldn't keep Mrs. Stebbins vaitin'. He beckoned the waiter, and signed his magic name on the check, with a five-dollar bill on top for a tip. Mrs. Stebbins collected her family and floated to the door, and our party followed.
I expected another scene with the mob; but I found that the street had been swept clear of everything but policemen and chauffeurs. I knew that this must have meant rough work on the part of the authorities, but I said nothing, and hoped that Carpenter would not think of it. The Stebbins car drew up by the porte-cochere; and suddenly I discovered why the wife of the street-car magnate was known as a "social leader." "Billy," she said, "you come in our car, and bring Mr. Carpenter; I have something to talk to you about." Just that easily, you see! She wanted something, so she asked for it!
I took Carpenter by the arm and put him in. Bertie drove, the chauffeur sitting in the seat beside him. "Beat you to it!" called Bertie, with his invincible arrogance, and waved his hand to the picture magnate as we rolled away.
As it happened, we made a poor start. Turning the corner into Broadway, we found ourselves caught in the jam of the theatre traffic, and our car was brought to a halt in front of the "Empire Varieties." If you have been on any Broadway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, you can imagine the sight; the flaring electric signs, the pictures of the head line artists, the people waiting to buy tickets, and the crowds on the sidewalk pushing past. There was one additional feature, a crowd of "rah-rah boys," with yellow and purple flags in their hands, and the glory of battle in their eyes. As our car halted, the cheer-leader gave a signal, and a hundred throats let out in unison:
"Rickety zim, rickety zam, Brickety, stickety, slickety slam! Wallybaloo! Billybazoo! We are the boys for a hullabaloo—Western City!"
It sounded all the more deafening, because Bertie, in the front seat, had joined in.
"Hello!" said I. "We must have won the ball-game!"
"You bet we did!" said Bertie, in his voice of bursting self-importance.
"Ball-game?" asked Carpenter.
"Foot-ball," said I. "Western City played Union Tech today. Wonder what the score was."
The cheer leader seemed to take the words out of my mouth. Again the hundred voices roared:
"What was the score? Seventeen to four! Who got it in the neck? Union Tech! Who took the kitty? Western City!"
Then more waving of flags, and yells for our prize captain and our agile quarter-back: "Rah, rah, rah, Jerry Wilson! Rah, rah, rah, Harriman! Western City, Western City, Western City! W-E-S-T-E-R-N-C-I-T-Y! Western City!"
You have heard college yells, no doubt, and can imagine the tempo of these cries, the cumulative rush of the spelled out letters, the booming roar at the end. The voice of Bertie beat back from the wind-shield with devastating effect upon our ears; and then our car rolled on, and the clamor died away, and I answered the questions of Carpenter. "They are College boys. They have won a game with another college, and are celebrating the victory."
"But," said the other, "how do they manage to shout all together that way?"
"Oh, they've practiced that, of course."
"You mean—they gather and practice making those noises?"
"They make them in cold blood?"
I laughed. "Well, the blood of youth is seldom entirely cold. They imagine the victory while they rehearse, no doubt."
When Carpenter spoke again, it was half to himself. "You make your children into mobs! You train them for it!"
"It really isn't that bad," I replied. "It's all in good temper—it's their play."
"Yes, yes! But what is play but practice for reality? And how shall love be learned in savage war-dances?"
They tell us that we have a new generation of young people since the war; a generation which thinks for itself, and has its own way. I was an advocate of this idea in the abstract, but I must admit that I was startled by the concrete case which I now encountered. Bertie suddenly looked round from his place in the driver's seat. "Say," he demanded, in a grating voice, "where was that guy raised?"
"Bertie dear!" cried his mother. "Don't be rude!"
"I'm not being rude," replied the other. "I just want to know where he got his nut ideas."
"Bertie dear!" cried the mother, again; and you knew that for eighteen or nineteen years she had been crying "Bertie dear!"—in a tone in which rebuke was tempered by fatuous maternal admiration. And all the time, Bertie had gone on doing what he pleased, knowing that in her secret heart his mother was smiling with admiration of his masterfulness, taking it as one more symptom of the greatness of the Stebbins line. I could see him in early childhood, stamping on the floor and commanding his governess to bring him a handkerchief—and throwing his shoe at her when she delayed!
Presently it was Luanda's turn. Lucinda, you understand, was in revolt against the social indignity which her mother had inflicted upon her. When Carpenter had entered the car, she had looked at him once, with a deliberate stare, then lifted her chin, ignoring my effort to introduce him to her. Since then she had sat silent, cold, and proud. But now she spoke. "Mother, tell me, do we have to meet those horrid fat old Jews again?"
Mrs. Stebbins wisely decided that this was not a good time to explore the soul of a possible Eastern potentate. Instead, she elected to talk for a minute or two about a lawn fete she was planning to give next week for the benefit of the Polish relief. "Poland is the World's Bulwark against Bolshevism," she explained; and then added: "Bertie dear, aren't you driving recklessly?"
Bertie turned his head. "Didn't you hear me tell that old sheeny I was going to beat him to it?"
"But, Bertie dear, this street is crowded!"
"Well, let them look out for themselves!"
But a few seconds later it appeared as if the son and heir of the Stebbins family had decided to take his mother's advice. The car suddenly slowed up—so suddenly as to slide us out of our seats. There was a grinding of brakes, and a bump of something under the wheels; then a wild stream from the sidewalk, and a half-stifled cry from the chauffeur. Mrs. Stebbins gasped, "Oh, my God!" and put her hands over her face; and Lucinda exclaimed, in outraged irritation, "Mamma!" Carpenter looked at me, puzzled, and asked, "What is the matter?"
The accident had happened in an ill-chosen neighborhood: one of those crowded slum quarters, swarming with Mexicans and Italians and other foreigners. Of course, that was the only neighborhood in which it could have happened, because it is only there that children run wild in the streets at night. There was one child under the front wheels, crushed almost in half, so that you could not bear to look at it, to say nothing of touching it; and there was another, struck by the fender and knocked into the gutter. There was an old hag of a woman standing by, with her hands lifted into the air, shrieking in such a voice of mingled terror and fury as I had never heard in my life before. It roused the whole quarter; there were people running out of twenty houses, I think, before one of us could get out of the car.
The first person out was Carpenter. He took one glance at the form under the car, and saw there was no hope there; then he ran to the child in the gutter and caught it into his arms. The poor people who rushed to the scene found him sitting on the curb, gazing into the pitiful, quivering little face, and whispering grief-stricken words. There was a street-lamp near, so he could see the face of the child, and the crowd could see him.
There came a woman, apparently the mother of the dead child. She saw the form under the car, and gave a horrified scream, and fell into a faint. There came a man, the father, no doubt, and other relatives; there was a clamoring, frantic throng, swarming about the car and about the victims. I went to Carpenter, and asked, "Is it dead?" He answered, "It will live, I think." Then, seeing that the crowd was likely to stifle the little one, he rose. "Where does this child live?" he asked, and some one pointed out the house, and he carried his burden into it. I followed him, and it was fortunate that I did so, because of the part I was able to play.
I saw him lay the child upon a couch, and put his hands upon its forehead, and close his eyes, apparently in prayer. Then, noting the clamor outside growing louder, I went to the door and looked out, and found the Stebbins family in a frightful predicament. The mob had dragged Bertie and the chauffeur outside the car, and were yelling menaces and imprecations into their faces; poor Bertie was shouting back, that it wasn't his fault, how could he help it? But they thought he might have helped coming into their quarter with his big rich car; why couldn't he stay in his own part of the city, and kill the children of the rich? A man hit him a blow in the face and knocked him over; his mother shrieked, and leaped out to help him, and half a dozen women flung themselves at her, and as many men at the chauffeur. There was a pile of bricks lying handy, and no doubt also knives in the pockets of these foreign men; I believe the little party would have been torn to pieces, had it not occurred to me to run into the house and summon Carpenter.