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A young lawyer, Allan Montague moves to New York City from Mississippi, along with his mother and cousin Alice. He joins his younger brother Oliver, who had taken up residence there several years before. The newcomers soon discover that Oliver has become a highly networked member of a fast-paced social circuit comprising some of the most powerful members of the business class.
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LONDON ∙ NEW YORK ∙ TORONTO ∙ SAO PAULO ∙ MOSCOW
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TOKYO ∙ SYDNEY ∙ CAPE TOWN ∙ AUCKLAND ∙ BEIJING
Published by Sovereign Classic
First published in 2016
Copyright © 2016 Sovereign
All Rights Reserved.
“Return at ten-thirty,” the General said to his chauffeur, and then they entered the corridor of the hotel.
Montague gazed about him, and found himself trembling just a little with anticipation. It was not the magnificence of the place. The quiet uptown hotel would have seemed magnificent to him, fresh as he was from the country; but, he did not see the marble columns and the gilded carvings-he was thinking of the men he was to meet. It seemed too much to crowd into one day-first the vision of the whirling, seething city, the centre of all his hopes of the future; and then, at night, this meeting, overwhelming him with the crowded memories of everything that he held precious in the past.
There were groups of men in faded uniforms standing about in the corridors. General Prentice bowed here and there as they retired and took the elevator to the reception-rooms. In the doorway they passed a stout little man with stubby white moustaches, and the General stopped, exclaiming, “Hello, Major!” Then he added: “Let me introduce Mr. Allan Montague. Montague, this is Major Thorne.”
A look of sudden interest flashed across the Major’s face. “General Montague’s son?” he cried. And then he seized the other’s hand in both of his, exclaiming, “My boy! my boy! I’m glad to see you!”
Now Montague was no boy—he was a man of thirty, and rather sedate in his appearance and manner; there was enough in his six feet one to have made two of the round and rubicund little Major. And yet it seemed to him quite proper that the other should address him so. He was back in his boyhood to-night—he was a boy whenever anyone mentioned the name of Major Thorne.
“Perhaps you have heard your father speak of me?” asked the Major, eagerly; and Montague answered, “A thousand times.”
He was tempted to add that the vision that rose before him was of a stout gentleman hanging in a grape-vine, while a whole battery of artillery made him their target.
Perhaps it was irreverent, but that was what Montague had always thought of, ever since he had first laughed over the tale his father told. It had happened one January afternoon in the Wilderness, during the terrible battle of Chancellorsville, when Montague’s father had been a rising young staff-officer, and it had fallen to his lot to carry to Major Thorne what was surely the most terrifying order that ever a cavalry officer received. It was in the crisis of the conflict, when the Army of the Potomac was reeling before the onslaught of Stonewall Jackson’s columns. There was no one to stop them-and yet they must be stopped, for the whole right wing of the army was going. So that cavalry regiment had charged full tilt through the thickets, and into a solid wall of infantry and artillery. The crash of their volley was blinding—and horses wore fairly shot to fragments; and the Major’s horse, with its lower jaw torn off, had plunged madly away and left its rider hanging in the aforementioned grape-vine. After he had kicked himself loose, it was to find himself in an arena where pain-maddened horses and frenzied men raced about amid a rain of minie-balls and canister. And in this inferno the gallant Major had captured a horse, and rallied the remains of his shattered command, and held the line until help came-and then helped to hold it, all through the afternoon and the twilight and the night, against charge after charge.—And now to stand and gaze at this stout and red-nosed little personage, and realize that these mighty deeds had been his!
Then, even while Montague was returning his hand-clasp and telling him of his pleasure, the Major’s eye caught some one across the room, and he called eagerly, “Colonel Anderson! Colonel Anderson!”
And this was the heroic Jack Anderson! “Parson” Anderson, the men had called him, because he always prayed before everything he did. Prayers at each mess,—a prayer-meeting in the evening,—and then rumour said the Colonel prayed on while his men slept. With his battery of artillery trained to perfection under three years of divine guidance, the gallant Colonel had stood in the line of battle at Cold Harbour—name of frightful memory!—and when the enemy had swarmed out of their intrenchments and swept back the whole line just beyond him, his battery had stood like a cape in a storm-beaten ocean, attacked on two sides at once; and for the half-hour that elapsed before infantry support came up, the Colonel had ridden slowly up and down his line, repeating in calm and godly accents, “Give ‘em hell, boys—give ‘em hell!”—The Colonel’s hand trembled now as he held it out, and his voice was shrill and cracked as he told what pleasure it gave him to meet General Montague’s son.
“Why have we never seen you before?” asked Major Thorne. Montague replied that he had spent all his life in Mississippi—his father having married a Southern woman after the war. Once every year the General had come to New York to attend the reunion of the Loyal Legion of the State; but some one had had to stay at home with his mother, Montague explained.
There were perhaps a hundred men in the room, and he was passed about from group to group. Many of them had known his father intimately. It seemed almost uncanny to him to meet them in the body; to find them old and feeble, white-haired and wrinkled. As they lived in the chambers of his memory, they were in their mighty youth-heroes, transfigured and radiant, not subject to the power of time.
Life on the big plantation had been a lonely one, especially for a Southern-born man who had fought in the Union army. General Montague had been a person of quiet tastes, and his greatest pleasure had been to sit with his two boys on his knees and “fight his battles o’er again.” He had collected all the literature of the corps which he had commanded—a whole library of it, in which Allan had learned to find his way as soon as he could read. He had literally been brought up on the war—for hours he would lie buried in some big illustrated history, until people came and called him away. He studied maps of campaigns and battle-fields, until they became alive with human passion and struggle; he knew the Army of the Potomac by brigade and division, with the names of commanders, and their faces, and their ways-until they lived and spoke, and the bare roll of their names had power to thrill him.—And now here were the men themselves, and all these scenes and memories crowding upon him in tumultuous throngs. No wonder that he was a little dazed, and could hardly find words to answer when he was spoken to.
But then came an incident which called him suddenly back to the world of the present. “There is Judge Ellis,” said the General.
Judge Ellis! The fame of his wit and eloquence had reached even far Mississippi—was there any remotest corner of America where men had not heard of the silver tongue of Judge Ellis? “Cultivate him!” Montague’s brother Oliver had laughed, when it was mentioned that the Judge would be present—”Cultivate him—he may be useful.”
It was not difficult to cultivate one who was as gracious as Judge Ellis. He stood in the doorway, a smooth, perfectly groomed gentleman, conspicuous in the uniformed assembly by his evening dress. The Judge was stout and jovial, and cultivated Dundreary whiskers and a beaming smile. “General Montague’s son!” he exclaimed, as he pressed the young man’s hands. “Why, why—I’m surprised! Why have we never seen you before?”
Montague explained that he had only been in New York about six hours. “Oh, I see,” said the Judge. “And shall you remain long?”
“I have come to stay,” was the reply.
“Well, well!” said the other, cordially. “Then we may see more of you. Are you going into business?”
“I am a lawyer,” said Montague. “I expect to practise.”
The Judge’s quick glance had been taking the measure of the tall, handsome man before him, with his raven-black hair and grave features. “You must give us a chance to try your mettle,” he said; and then, as others approached to meet him, and he was forced to pass on, he laid a caressing hand on Montague’s arm, whispering, with a sly smile, “I mean it.”
Montague felt his heart beat a little faster. He had not welcomed his brother’s suggestion—there was nothing of the sycophant in him; but he meant to work and to succeed, and he knew what the favour of a man like Judge Ellis would mean to him. For the Judge was the idol of New York’s business and political aristocracy, and the doorways of fortune yielded at his touch.
There were rows of chairs in one of the rooms, and here two or three hundred men were gathered. There were stands of battle-flags in the corners, each one of them a scroll of tragic history, to one like Montague, who understood. His eye roamed over them while the secretary was reading minutes of meetings and other routine announcements. Then he began to study the assemblage. There were men with one arm and men with one leg—one tottering old soldier ninety years of age, stone blind, and led about by his friends. The Loyal Legion was an officers’ organization, and to that extent aristocratic; but worldly success counted for nothing in it—some of its members were struggling to exist on their pensions, and were as much thought of as a man like General Prentice, who was president of one of the city’s largest banks, and a rich man, even in New York’s understanding of that term.
The presiding officer introduced “Colonel Robert Selden, who will read the paper of the evening: ‘Recollections of Spottsylvania.’” Montague started at the name—for “Bob” Selden had been one of his father’s messmates, and had fought all through the Peninsula Campaign at his side.
He was a tall, hawk-faced man with a grey imperial. The room was still as he arose, and after adjusting his glasses, he began to read his story. He recalled the situation of the Army of the Potomac in the spring of 1864; for three years it had marched and fought, stumbling through defeat after defeat, a mighty weapon, lacking only a man who could wield it. Now at last the man had come—one who would put them into the battle and give them a chance to fight. So they had marched into the Wilderness, and there Lee struck them, and for three days they groped in a blind thicket, fighting hand to hand, amid suffocating smoke. The Colonel read in a quiet, unassuming voice; but one could see that he had hold of his hearers by the light that crossed their features when he told of the army’s recoil from the shock, and of the wild joy that ran through the ranks when they took up their march to the left, and realized that this time they were not going back.—So they came to the twelve days’ grapple of the Spottsylvania Campaign.
There was still the Wilderness thicket; the enemy’s intrenchments, covering about eight miles, lay in the shape of a dome, and at the cupola of it were breastworks of heavy timbers banked with earth, and with a ditch and a tangle of trees in front. The place was the keystone of the Confederate arch, and the name of it was “the Angle”—”Bloody Angle!” Montague heard the man who sat next to him draw in his breath, as if a spasm of pain had shot through him.
At dawn two brigades had charged and captured the place. The enemy returned to the attack, and for twenty hours thereafter the two armies fought, hurling regiment after regiment and brigade after brigade into the trenches. There was a pouring rain, and the smoke hung black about them; they could only see the flashes of the guns, and the faces of the enemy, here and there.
The Colonel described the approach of his regiment. They lay down for a moment in a swamp, and the minie-balls sang like swarming bees, and split the blades of the grass above them. Then they charged, over ground that ran with human blood. In the trenches the bodies of dead and dying men lay three deep, and were trampled out of sight in the mud by the feet of those who fought. They would crouch behind the works, lifting their guns high over their heads, and firing into the throngs on the other side; again and again men sprang upon the breastworks and fired their muskets, and then fell dead. They dragged up cannon, one after another, and blew holes through the logs, and raked the’ ground with charges of canister.
While the Colonel read, still in his calm, matter-of-fact voice, you might see men leaning forward in their chairs, hands clenched, teeth set. They knew! They knew! Had there ever before been a time in history when breastworks had been charged by artillery? Twenty-four men in the crew of one gun, and only two unhurt! One iron sponge-bucket with thirty-nine bullet holes shot through it! And then blasts of canister sweeping the trenches, and blowing scores of living and dead men to fragments! And into this hell of slaughter new regiments charging, in lines four deep! And squad after squad of the enemy striving to surrender, and shot to pieces by their own comrades as they clambered over the blood-soaked walls! And heavy timbers in the defences shot to splinters! Huge oak trees—one of them twenty-four inches in diameter—crashing down upon the combatants, gnawed through by rifle-bullets! Since the world began had men ever fought like that?
Then the Colonel told of his own wound in the shoulder, and how, toward dusk, he had crawled away; and how he became lost, and strayed into the enemy’s line, and was thrust into a batch of prisoners and marched to the rear. And then of the night that he spent beside a hospital camp in the Wilderness, where hundreds of wounded and dying men lay about on the rain-soaked ground, moaning, screaming, praying to be killed. Again the prisoners were moved, having been ordered to march to the railroad; and on the way the Colonel went blind from suffering and exhaustion, and staggered and fell in the road. You could have heard a pin drop in the room, in the pause between sentences in his story, as he told how the guard argued with him to persuade him to go on. It was their duty to kill him if he refused, but they could not bring themselves to do it. In the end they left the job to one, and he stood and cursed the officer, trying to get up his courage; and finally fired his gun into the air, and went off and left him.
Then he told how an old negro had found him, and how he lay delirious; and how, at last, the army marched his way. He ended his narrative the simple sentence: “It was not until the siege of Petersburg that I was able to rejoin my Command.”
There was a murmur of applause; and then silence. Suddenly, from somewhere in the room, came the sound of singing—”Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!” The old battle-hymn seemed to strike the very mood of the meeting; the whole throng took it up, and they sang it, stanza by stanza. It was rolling forth like a mighty organ-chant as they came to the fervid closing:—
“He hath sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat; He is sifting out the hearts of men before his judgment seat; Oh! be swift, my soul, to answer Him; be jubilant, my feet,—Our God is marching on!”
There was a pause again; and the presiding officer rose and said that, owing to the presence of a distinguished guest, they would forego one of their rules, and invite Judge Ellis to say a few words. The Judge came forward, and bowed his acknowledgment of their welcome. Then, perhaps feeling a need of relief after the sombre recital, the Judge took occasion to apologize for his own temerity in addressing a roomful of warriors; and somehow he managed to make that remind him of a story of an army mule, a very amusing story; and that reminded him of another story, until, when he stopped and sat down, every one in the room broke into delighted applause.
They went in to dinner. Montague sat by General Prentice, and he, in turn, by the Judge; the latter was reminded of more stories during the dinner, and kept every one near him laughing. Finally Montague was moved to tell a story himself—about an old negro down home, who passed himself off for an Indian. The Judge was so good as to consider this an immensely funny story, and asked permission to tell it himself. Several times after that he leaned over and spoke to Montague, who felt a slight twinge of guilt as he recalled his brother’s cynical advice, “Cultivate him!” The Judge was so willing to be cultivated, however, that it gave one’s conscience little chance.
They went back to the meeting-room again; chairs were shifted, and little groups formed, and cigars and pipes brought out. They moved the precious battle-flags forward, and some one produced a bugle and a couple of drums; then the walls of the place shook, as the whole company burst forth:—
“Bring the good old bugle, boys! we’ll sing another song—Sing it with a spirit that will start the world along—Sing it as we used to sing it, fifty thousand strong,—While we were marching through Georgia!”
It was wonderful to witness the fervour with which they went through this rollicking chant—whose spirit we miss because we hear it too often. They were not skilled musicians—they could only sing loud; but the fire leaped into their eyes, and they swayed with the rhythm, and sang! Montague found himself watching the old blind soldier, who sat beating his foot in time, upon his face the look of one who sees visions.
And then he noticed another man, a little, red-faced Irishman, one of the drummers. The very spirit of the drum seemed to have entered into him—into his hands and his feet, his eyes and his head, and his round little body. He played a long roll between the verses, and it seemed as if he must surely be swept away upon the wings of it. Catching Montague’s eye, he nodded and smiled; and after that, every once in a while their eyes would meet and exchange a greeting. They sang “The Loyal Legioner” and “The Army Bean” and “John Brown’s Body” and “Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching”; all the while the drum rattled and thundered, and the little drummer laughed and sang, the very incarnation of the care-free spirit of the soldier!
They stopped for a while, and the little man came over and was introduced. Lieutenant O’Day was his name; and after he had left, General Prentice leaned over to Montague and told him a story. “That little man,” he said, “began as a drummer-boy in my regiment, and went all through the war in my brigade; and two years ago I met him on the street one cold winter night, as thin as I am, and shivering in a summer overcoat. I took him to dinner with me and watched him eat, and I made up my mind there was something wrong. I made him take me home, and do you know, the man was starving! He had a little tobacco shop, and he’d got into trouble—the trust had taken away his trade. And he had a sick wife, and a daughter clerking at six dollars a week!”
The General went on to tell of his struggle to induce the little man to accept his aid—to accept a loan of a few hundreds of dollars from Prentice, the banker! “I never had anything hurt me so in all my life,” he said. “Finally I took him into the bank—and now you can see he has enough to eat!”
They began to sing again, and Montague sat and thought over the story. It seemed to him typical of the thing that made this meeting beautiful to him—of the spirit of brotherhood and service that reigned here.—They sang “We are tenting to-night on the old camp ground”; they sang “Benny Havens, Oh!” and “A Soldier No More”; they sang other songs of tenderness and sorrow, and men felt a trembling in their voices and a mist stealing over their eyes. Upon Montague a spell was falling.
Over these men and their story there hung a mystery—a presence of wonder, that discloses itself but rarely to mortals, and only to those who have dreamed and dared. They had not found it easy to do their duty; they had had their wives and children, their homes and friends and familiar places; and all these they had left to serve the Republic. They had taught themselves a new way of life—they had forged themselves into an iron sword of war. They had marched and fought in dust and heat, in pouring rains and driving, icy blasts; they had become men grim and terrible in spirit-men with limbs of steel, who could march or ride for days and nights, who could lie down and sleep upon the ground in rain-storms and winter snows, who were ready to leap at a word and seize their muskets and rush into the cannon’s mouth. They had learned to stare into the face of death, to meet its fiery eyes; to march and eat and sleep, to laugh and play and sing, in its presence—to carry their life in their hands, and toss it about as a juggler tosses a ball. And this for Freedom: for the star-crowned goddess with the flaming eyes, who trod upon the mountain-tops and called to them in the shock and fury of the battle; whose trailing robes they followed through the dust and cannon-smoke; for a glimpse of whose shining face they had kept the long night vigils and charged upon the guns in the morning; for a touch of whose shimmering robe they had wasted in prison pens, where famine and loathsome pestilence and raving madness stalked about in the broad daylight.
And now this army of deliverance, with its waving banners and its prancing horses and its rumbling cannon, had marched into the shadow-world. The very ground that it had trod was sacred; and one who fingered the dusty volumes which held the record of its deeds would feel a strange awe come upon him, and thrill with a sudden fear of life—that was so fleeting and so little to be understood. There were boyhood memories in Montague’s mind, of hours of consecration, when the vision had descended upon him, and he had sat with face hidden in his hands.
It was for the Republic that these men had suffered; for him and his children—that a government of the people, by the people, for the people, might not perish from the earth. And with the organ-music of the Gettysburg Address echoing within him, the boy laid his soul upon the altar of his country. They had done so much for him—and now, was there anything that he could do? A dozen years had passed since then, and still he knew that deep within him—deeper than all other purposes, than all thoughts of wealth and fame and power—was the purpose that the men who had died for the Republic should find him worthy of their trust.
The singing had stopped, and Judge Ellis was standing before him. The Judge was about to go, and in his caressing voice he said that he would hope to see Montague again. Then, seeing that General Prentice was also standing up, Montague threw off the spell that had gripped him, and shook hands with the little drummer, and with Selden and Anderson and all the others of his dream people. A few minutes later he found himself outside the hotel, drinking deep draughts of the cold November air.
Major Thorne had come out with them; and learning that the General’s route lay uptown, he offered to walk with Montague to his hotel.
They set out, and then Montague told the Major about the figure in the grape-vine, and the Major laughed and told how it had felt. There had been more adventures, it seemed; while he was hunting a horse he had come upon two mules loaded with ammunition and entangled with their harness about a tree; he had rushed up to seize them—when a solid shot had struck the tree and exploded the ammunition and blown the mules to fragments. And then there was the story of the charge late in the night, which had recovered the lost ground, and kept Stonewall Jackson busy up to the very hour of his tragic death. And there was the story of Andersonville, and the escape from prison. Montague could have walked the streets all night, exchanging these war-time reminiscences with the Major.
Absorbed in their talk, they came to an avenue given up to the poorer class of people; with elevated trains rattling by overhead, and rows of little shops along it. Montague noticed a dense crowd on one of the corners, and asked what it meant.
“Some sort of a meeting,” said the Major.
They came nearer, and saw a torch, with a man standing near it, above the heads of the crowd.
“It looks like a political meeting,” said Montague, “but it can’t be, now—just after election.”
“Probably it’s a Socialist,” said the Major. “They’re at it all the time.”
They crossed the avenue, and then they could see plainly. The man was lean and hungry-looking, and he had long arms, which he waved with prodigious violence. He was in a frenzy of excitement, pacing this way and that, and leaning over the throng packed about him. Because of a passing train the two could not hear a sound.
“A Socialist!” exclaimed Montague, wonderingly. “What do they want?”
“I’m not sure,” said the other. “They want to overthrow the government.”
The train passed, and then the man’s words came to them: “They force you to build palaces, and then they put you into tenements! They force you to spin fine raiment, and then they dress you in rags! They force you to build jails, and then they lock you up in them! They force you to make guns, and then they shoot you with them! They own the political parties, and they name the candidates, and trick you into voting for them—and they call it the law! They herd you into armies and send you to shoot your brothers—and they call it order! They take a piece of coloured rag and call it the flag and teach you to let yourself be shot—and they call it patriotism! First, last, and all the time, you do the work and they get the benefit—they, the masters and owners, and you—fools—fools—fools!”
The man’s voice had mounted to a scream, and he flung his hands into the air and broke into jeering laughter. Then came another train, and Montague could not hear him; but he could see that he was rushing on in the torrent of his denunciation.
Montague stood rooted to the spot; he was shocked to the depths of his being—he could scarcely contain himself as he stood there. He longed to spring forward to beard the man where he stood, to shout him down, to rebuke him before the crowd.
The Major must have seen his agitation, for he took his arm and led him back from the throng, saying: “Come! We can’t help it.”
“But—but—,” he protested, “the police ought to arrest him.”
“They do sometimes,” said the Major, “but it doesn’t do any good.”
They walked on, and the sounds of the shrill voice died away. “Tell me,” said Montague, in a low voice, “does that go on very often?”
“Around the corner from where I live,” said the other, “it goes on every Saturday night.”
“And do the people listen?” he asked.
“Sometimes they can’t keep the street clear,” was the reply.
And again they walked in silence. At last Montague asked, “What does it mean?”
The Major shrugged his shoulders. “Perhaps another civil war,” said he.
Allan Montague’s father had died about five years before. A couple of years later his younger brother, Oliver, had announced his intention of seeking a career in New York. He had no profession, and no definite plans; but his father’s friends were men of influence and wealth, and the doors were open to him. So he had turned his share of the estate into cash and departed.
Oliver was a gay and pleasure-loving boy, with all the material of a prodigal son in him; his brother had more than half expected to see him come back in a year or two with empty pockets. But New York had seemed to agree with Oliver. He never told what he was doing—what he wrote was simply that he was managing to keep the wolf from the door. But his letters hinted at expensive ways of life; and at Christmas time, and at Cousin Alice’s birthday, he would send home presents which made the family stare.
Montague had always thought of himself as a country lawyer and planter. But two months ago a fire had swept away the family mansion, and then on top of that had come an offer for the land; and with Oliver telegraphing several times a day in his eagerness, they had taken the sudden resolution to settle up their affairs and move to New York.
There were Montague and his mother, and Cousin Alice, who was nineteen, and old “Mammy Lucy,” Mrs. Montague’s servant. Oliver had met them at Jersey City, radiant with happiness. He looked just as much of a boy as ever, and just as beautiful; excepting that he was a little paler, New York had not changed him at all. There was a man in uniform from the hotel to take charge of their baggage, and a big red touring-car for them; and now they were snugly settled in their apartments, with the younger brother on duty as counsellor and guide.
Montague had come to begin life all over again. He had brought his money, and he expected to invest it, and to live upon the income until he had begun to earn something. He had worked hard at his profession, and he meant to work in New York, and to win his way in the end. He knew almost nothing about the city—he faced it with the wide-open eyes of a child.
One began to learn quickly, he found. It was like being swept into a maelstrom: first the hurrying throngs on the ferry-boat, and then the cabmen and the newsboys shouting, and the cars with clanging gongs; then the swift motor, gliding between trucks and carriages and around corners where big policemen shepherded the scurrying populace; and then Fifth Avenue, with its rows of shops and towering hotels; and at last a sudden swing round a corner—and their home.
“I have picked a quiet family place for you,” Oliver had said, and that had greatly pleased his brother. But he had stared in dismay when he entered this latest “apartment hotel”—which catered for two or three hundred of the most exclusive of the city’s aristocracy—and noted its great arcade, with massive doors of bronze, and its entrance-hall, trimmed with Caen stone and Italian marble, and roofed with a vaulted ceiling painted by modern masters. Men in livery bore their wraps and bowed the way before them; a great bronze elevator shot them to the proper floor; and they went to their rooms down a corridor walled with blood-red marble and paved with carpet soft as a cushion. Here were six rooms of palatial size, with carpets, drapery, and furniture of a splendour quite appalling to Montague.
As soon as the man who bore their wraps had left the room, he turned upon his brother.
“Oliver,” he said, “how much are we paying for all this?”
Oliver smiled. “You are not paying anything, old man,” he replied. “You’re to be my guests for a month or two, until you get your bearings.”
“That’s very good of you,” said the other; “—we’ll talk about it later. But meantime, tell me what the apartment costs.”
And then Montague encountered his first full charge of New York dynamite. “Six hundred dollars a week,” said Oliver.
He started as if his brother had struck him. “Six hundred dollars a week!” he gasped.
“Yes,” said the other, quietly.
It was fully a minute before he could find his breath. “Brother,” he exclaimed, “you’re mad!”
“It is a very good bargain,” smiled the other; “I have some influence with them.”
Again there was a pause, while Montague groped for words. “Oliver,” he exclaimed, “I can’t believe you! How could you think that we could pay such a price?”
“I didn’t think it,” said Oliver; “I told you I expected to pay it myself.”
“But how could we let you pay it for us?” cried the other. “Can you fancy that I will ever earn enough to pay such a price?”
“Of course you will,” said Oliver. “Don’t be foolish, Allan—you’ll find it’s easy enough to make money in New York. Leave it to me, and wait awhile.”
But the other was not to be put off. He sat down on the embroidered silk bedspread, and demanded abruptly, “What do you expect my income to be a year?”
“I’m sure I don’t know,” laughed Oliver; “nobody takes the time to add up his income. You’ll make what you need, and something over for good measure. This one thing you’ll know for certain—the more you spend, the more you’ll be able to make.”
And then, seeing that the sober look was not to be expelled from his brother’s face, Oliver seated himself and crossed his legs, and proceeded to set forth the paradoxical philosophy of extravagance. His brother had come into a city of millionaires. There was a certain group of people—”the right set,” was Oliver’s term for them—and among them he would find that money was as free as air. So far as his career was concerned, he would find that there was nothing in all New York so costly as economy. If he did not live like a gentleman, he would find himself excluded from the circle of the elect—and how he would manage to exist then was a problem too difficult for his brother to face.
And so, as quickly as he could, he was to bring himself to a state of mind where things did not surprise him; where he did what others did and paid what others paid, and did it serenely, as if he had done it all his life. He would soon find his place; meantime all he had to do was to put himself into his brother’s charge. “You’ll find in time that I have the strings in my hands,” the latter added. “Just take life easy, and let me introduce you to the right people.”
All of which sounded very attractive. “But are you sure,” asked Montague, “that you understand what I’m here for? I don’t want to get into the Four Hundred, you know—I want to practise law.”
“In the first place,” replied Oliver, “don’t talk about the Four Hundred—it’s vulgar and silly; there’s no such thing. In the next place, you’re going to live in New York, and you want to know the right people. If you know them, you can practise law, or practise billiards, or practise anything else that you fancy. If you don’t know them, you might as well go practise in Dahomey, for all you can accomplish. You might come on here and start in for yourself, and in twenty years you wouldn’t get as far as you can get in two weeks, if you’ll let me attend to it.”
Montague was nearly five years his brother’s senior, and at home had taken a semi-paternal attitude toward him. Now, however, the situation seemed to have reversed itself. With a slight smile of amusement, he subsided, and proceeded to put himself into the attitude of a docile student of the mysteries of the Metropolis.
They agreed that they would say nothing about these matters to the others. Mrs. Montague was half blind, and would lead her placid, indoor existence with old Mammy Lucy. As for Alice, she was a woman, and would not trouble herself with economics; if fairy godmothers chose to shower gifts upon her, she would take them.
Alice was built to live in a palace, anyway, Oliver said. He had cried out with delight when he first saw her. She had been sixteen when he left, and tall and thin; now she was nineteen, and with the pale tints of the dawn in her hair and face. In the auto, Oliver had turned and, stared at her, and pronounced the cryptic judgment, “You’ll go!”
Just now she was wandering about the rooms, exclaiming with wonder. Everything here was so quiet and so harmonious that at first one’s suspicions were lulled. It was simplicity, but of a strange and perplexing kind—simplicity elaborately studied. It was luxury, but grown assured of itself, and gazing down upon itself with aristocratic disdain. And after a while this began to penetrate the vulgarest mind, and to fill it with awe; one cannot remain long in an apartment which is trimmed and furnished in rarest Circassian walnut, and “papered” with hand-embroidered silk cloth, without feeling some excitement—even though there be no one to mention that the furniture has cost eight thousand dollars per room, and that the wall covering has been imported from Paris at a cost of seventy dollars per yard.
Montague also betook himself to gazing about. He noted the great double windows, with sashes of bronze; the bronze fire-proof doors; the bronze electric candles and chandeliers, from which the room was flooded with a soft radiance at the touch of a button; the “duchesse” and “marquise” chairs, with upholstery matching the walls; the huge leather “slumber-couch,” with adjustable lamp at its head. When one opened the door of the dressing-room closet, it was automatically filled with light; there was an adjustable three-sided mirror, at which one could study his own figure from every side. There was a little bronze box near the bed, in which one might set his shoes, and with a locked door opening out into the hall, so that the floor-porter could get them without disturbing one. Each of the bath-rooms was the size of an ordinary man’s parlour, with floor and walls of snow-white marble, and a door composed of an imported plate-glass mirror. There was a great porcelain tub, with glass handles upon the wall by which you could help yourself out of it, and a shower-bath with linen duck curtains, which were changed every day; and a marble slab upon which you might lie to be rubbed by the masseur who would come at the touch of a button.
There was no end to the miracles of this establishment, as Montague found in the course of time. There was no chance that the antique bronze clock on the mantel might go wrong, for it was electrically controlled from the office. You did not open the window and let in the dust, for the room was automatically ventilated, and you turned a switch marked “hot” and “cold.” The office would furnish you a guide who would show you the establishment; and you might see your bread being kneaded by electricity, upon an opal glass table, and your eggs being tested by electric light; you might peer into huge refrigerators, ventilated by electric fans, and in which each tiny lamb chop reposed in a separate holder. Upon your own floor was a pantry, provided with hot and cold storage-rooms and an air-tight dumb-waiter; you might have your own private linen and crockery and plate, and your own family butler, if you wished. Your children, however, would not be permitted in the building, even though you were dying—this was a small concession which you made to a host who had invested a million dollars and a half in furniture alone.
A few minutes later the telephone bell rang, and Oliver answered it and said, “Send him up.”
“Here’s the tailor,” he remarked, as he hung up the receiver.
“Whose tailor?” asked his brother.
“Yours,” said he.
“Do I have to have some new clothes?” Montague asked.
“You haven’t any clothes at present,” was the reply.
Montague was standing in front of the “costumer,” as the elaborate mirror was termed. He looked himself over, and then he looked at his brother. Oliver’s clothing was a little like the Circassian walnut; at first you thought that it was simple, and even a trifle careless—it was only by degrees you realized that it was original and distinguished, and very expensive.
“Won’t your New York friends make allowance for the fact that I am fresh from the country?” asked Montague, quizzically.
“They might,” was the reply. “I know a hundred who would lend me money, if I asked them. But I don’t ask them.”
“Then how soon shall I be able to appear?” asked Montague, with visions of himself locked up in the room for a week or two.
“You are to have three suits to-morrow morning,” said Oliver. “Genet has promised.”
“Suits made to order?” gasped the other, in perplexity.
“He never heard of any other sort of suits,” said Oliver, with grave rebuke in his voice.
M. Genet had the presence of a Russian grand duke, and the manner of a court chamberlain. He brought a subordinate to take Montague’s measure, while he himself studied his colour-scheme. Montague gathered from the conversation that he was going to a house-party in the country the next morning, and that he would need a dress-suit, a hunting-suit, and a “morning coat.” The rest might wait until his return. The two discussed him and his various “points” as they might have discussed a horse; he possessed distinction, he learned, and a great deal could be done with him—with a little skill he might be made into a personality. His French was not in training, but he managed to make out that it was M. Genet’s opinion that the husbands of New York would tremble when he made his appearance among them.
When the tailor had left, Alice came in, with her face shining from a cold bathing. “Here you are decking yourselves out!” she cried. “And what about me?”
“Your problem is harder,” said Oliver, with a laugh; “but you begin this afternoon. Reggie Mann is going to take you with him, and get you some dresses.”
“What!” gasped Alice. “Get me some dresses! A man?”
“Of course,” said the other. “Reggie Mann advises half the women in New York about their clothes.”
“Who is he? A tailor?” asked the girl.
Oliver was sitting on the edge of the canapé, swinging one leg over the other; and he stopped abruptly and stared, and then sank back, laughing softly to himself. “Oh, dear me!” he said. “Poor Reggie!”
Then, realizing that he would have to begin at the beginning, he proceeded to explain that Reggie Mann was a cotillion leader, the idol of the feminine side of society. He was the special pet and protege of the great Mrs. de Graffenried, of whom they had surely heard—Mrs. de Graffenried, who was acknowledged to be the mistress of society at Newport, and was destined some day to be mistress in New York. Reggie and Oliver were “thick,” and he had stayed in town on purpose to attend to her attiring—having seen her picture, and vowed that he would make a work of art out of her. And then Mrs. Robbie Walling would give her a dance; and all the world would come to fall at her feet.
“You and I are going out to ‘Black Forest,’ the Wallings’ shooting-lodge, to-morrow,” Oliver added to his brother. “You’ll meet Mrs. Robbie there. You’ve heard of the Wallings, I hope.”
“Yes,” said Montague, “I’m not that ignorant.”
“All right,” said the other, “we’re to motor down. I’m going to take you in my racing-car, so you’ll have an experience. We’ll start early.”
“I’ll be ready,” said Montague; and when his brother replied that he would be at the door at eleven, he made another amused note as to the habits of New Yorkers.
The price which he paid at the hotel included the services of a valet or a maid for each of them, and so when their baggage arrived they had nothing to do. They went to lunch in one of the main dining-rooms of the hotel, a room with towering columns of dark-green marble and a maze of palms and flowers. Oliver did the ordering; his brother noticed that the simple meal cost them about fifteen dollars, and he wondered if they were to eat at that rate all the time.
Then Montague mentioned the fact that before leaving home he had received a telegram from General Prentice, asking him to go with him that evening to the meeting of the Loyal Legion. Montague wondered, half amused, if his brother would deem his old clothing fit for such a function. But Oliver replied that it would not matter what he wore there; he would not meet anyone who counted, except Prentice himself. The General and his family were prominent in society, it appeared, and were to be cultivated. But Oliver shrewdly forbore to elaborate upon this, knowing that his brother would be certain to talk about old times, which would be the surest possible method of lodging himself in the good graces of General Prentice.
After luncheon came Reggie Mann, dapper and exquisite, with slender little figure and mincing gait, and the delicate hands and soft voice of a woman. He was dressed for the afternoon parade, and wore a wonderful scarlet orchid in his buttonhole. Montague’s hand he shook at his shoulder’s height; but when Alice came in he did not shake hands with her. Instead, he stood and gazed, and gazed again, and lifting his hands a little with excess of emotion, exclaimed, “Oh, perfect! perfect!”
“And Ollie, I told you so!” he added, eagerly. “She it tall enough to wear satin! She shall have the pale blue Empire gown—she shall have the pale blue Empire gown if I have to pay for it myself! And oh, what times we shall have with that hair! And the figure—Reval will simply go wild!”
So Reggie prattled on, with his airy grace; he took her hand and studied it, and then turned her about to survey her figure, while Alice blushed and strove to laugh to hide her embarrassment. “My dear Miss Montague,” he exclaimed, “I bring all Gotham and lay it at your feet! Ollie, your battle is won! Won without firing a shot! I know the very man for her—his father is dying, and he will have four millions in Transcontinental alone. And he is as handsome as Antinous and as fascinating as Don Juan! Allons! we may as well begin with the trousseau this afternoon!”
Oliver was not rooming with them; he had his own quarters at the club, which he did not wish to leave. But the next morning, about twenty minutes after the hour he had named, he was at the door, and Montague went down.
Oliver’s car was an imported French racer. It had only two seats, open in front, with a rumble behind for the mechanic. It was long and low and rakish, a most wicked-looking object; whenever it stopped on the street a crowd gathered to stare at it. Oliver was clad in a black bearskin coat, covering his feet, and with cap and gloves to match; he wore goggles, pushed up over his forehead. A similar costume lay ready in his brother’s seat.
The suits of clothing had come, and were borne in his grips by his valet. “We can’t carry them with us,” said Oliver. “He’ll have to take them down by train.” And while his brother was buttoning up the coat, he gave the address; then Montague clambered in, and after a quick glance over his shoulder, Oliver pressed a lever and threw over the steering-wheel, and they whirled about and sped down the street.
Sometimes, at home in Mississippi, one would meet automobiling parties, generally to the damage of one’s harness and temper. But until the day before, when he had stepped off the ferry, Montague had never ridden in a motor-car. Riding in this one was like travelling in a dream—it slid along without a sound, or the slightest trace of vibration; it shot forward, it darted to right or to left, it slowed up, it stopped, as if of its own will—the driver seemed to do nothing. Such things as car tracks had no effect upon it at all, and serious defects in the pavement caused only the faintest swelling motion; it was only when it leaped ahead like a living thing that one felt the power of it, by the pressure upon his back.
They went at what seemed to Montague a breakneck pace through the city streets, dodging among trucks and carriages, grazing cars, whirling round corners, taking the wildest of chances. Oliver seemed always to know what the other fellow would do; but the thought that he might do something different kept his companion’s heart pounding in a painful way. Once the latter cried out as a man leapt for his life; Oliver laughed, and said, without turning his head, “You’ll get used to it by and by.”
They went down Fourth Avenue and turned into the Bowery. Elevated trains pounded overhead, and a maze of gin-shops, dime-museums, cheap lodging-houses, and clothing-stores sped past them. Once or twice Oliver’s hawk-like glance detected a blue uniform ahead, and then they slowed down to a decorous pace, and the other got a chance to observe the miserable population of the neighbourhood. It was a cold November day, and an “out of work” time, and wretched outcast men walked with shoulders drawn forward and hands in their pockets.
“Where in the world are we going?” Montague asked.
“To Long Island,” said the other. “It’s a beastly ride—this part of it—but it’s the only way. Some day we’ll have an overhead speedway of our own, and we won’t have to drive through this mess.”
They turned off at the approach to the Williamsburg Bridge, and found the street closed for repairs. They had to make a detour of a block, and they turned with a vicious sweep and plunged into the very heart of the tenement district. Narrow, filthy streets, with huge, canon-like blocks of buildings, covered with rusty iron fire-escapes and decorated with soap-boxes and pails and laundry and babies; narrow stoops, crowded with playing children; grocery-shops, clothing-shops, saloons; and a maze of placards and signs in English and German and Yiddish. Through the throngs Oliver drove, his brows knitted with impatience and his horn honking angrily. “Take it easy,”—protested Montague; but the other answered, “Bah!” Children screamed and darted out of the way, and men and women started back, scowling and muttering; when a blockade of wagons and push-carts forced them to stop, the children gathered about and jeered, and a group of hoodlums loafing by a saloon flung ribaldry at them; but Oliver never turned his eyes from the road ahead.
And at last they were out on the bridge. “Slow vehicles keep to the right,” ran the sign, and so there was a lane for them to the left. They sped up the slope, the cold air beating upon them like a hurricane. Far below lay the river, with tugs and ferry-boats ploughing the wind-beaten grey water, and a city spread out on either bank—a wilderness of roofs, with chimneys sticking up and white jets of steam spouting everywhere. Then they sped down the farther slope, and into Brooklyn.
There was an asphalted avenue, lined with little residences. There was block upon block of them, mile after mile of them—Montague had never, seen so many houses in his life before, and nearly all poured out of the same mould.
Many other automobiles were speeding out by this avenue, and they raced with one another. The one which was passed the most frequently got the dust and smell; and so the universal rule was that when you were behind you watched for a clear track, and then put on speed, and went to the front; but then just when you had struck a comfortable pace, there was a whirring and a puffing at your left, and your rival came stealing past you. If you were ugly, you put on speed yourself, and forced him to fall back, or to run the risk of trouble with vehicles coming the other way. For Oliver there seemed to be but one rule,—pass everything.
They came to the great Ocean Driveway. Here were many automobiles, nearly all going one way, and nearly all racing. There were two which stuck to Oliver and would not be left behind—one, two, three—one, two, three—they passed and repassed. Their dust was blinding, and the continual odour was sickening; and so Oliver set his lips tight, and the little dial on the indicator began to creep ahead, and they whirled away down the drive. “Catch us this time!” he muttered.
A few seconds later Oliver gave a sudden exclamation, as a policeman, concealed behind a bush at the roadside, sprang out and hailed them. The policeman had a motor-cycle, and Oliver shouted to the mechanic, “Pull the cord!” His brother turned, alarmed and perplexed, and saw the man reach down to the floor of the car. He saw the policeman leap upon the cycle and start to follow. Then he lost sight of him in the clouds of dust.
For perhaps five minutes they tore on, tense and silent, at a pace that Montague had never equalled in an express train. Vehicles coming the other way would leap into sight, charging straight at them, it seemed, and shooting past a hand’s breadth away. Montague had just about made up his mind that one such ride would last him for a lifetime, when he noticed that they were slacking up. “You can let go the cord,” said Oliver. “He’ll never catch us now.”
“What is the cord?” asked the other.
“It’s tied to the tag with our number on, in back. It swings it up so it can’t be seen.”
They were turning off into a country road, and Montague sank back and laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks. “Is that a common trick?” he asked.
“Quite,” said the other. “Mrs. Robbie has a trough of mud in their garage, and her driver sprinkles the tag every time before she goes out. You have to do something, you know, or you’d be taken up all the time.”
“Have you ever been arrested?”
“I’ve only been in court once,” said Oliver. “I’ve been stopped a dozen times.”
“What did they do the other times—warn you?”
“Warn me?” laughed Oliver. “What they did was to get in with me and ride a block or two, out of sight of the crowd; and then I slipped them a ten-dollar bill and they got out.”
To which Montague responded, “Oh, I see!”
They turned into a broad macadamized road, and here were more autos, and more dust, and more racing. Now and then they crossed a trolley or a railroad track, and here was always a warning sign; but Oliver must have had some occult way of knowing that the track was clear, for he never seemed to slow up. Now and then they came to villages, and did reduce speed; but from the pace at which they went through, the villagers could not have suspected it.
And then came another adventure. The road was in repair, and was very bad, and they were picking their way, when suddenly a young man who had been walking on a side path stepped out before them, and drew a red handkerchief from his pocket, and faced them, waving it. Oliver muttered an oath.
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