The Saturday Evening Mail: New York, October 19, 1912.
By Pelhan G. Wodehouse
ILLUSTRATED BY JOHN V. RANCK
BETTY, when she stepped on board the boat for Marseilles, had had no definite plan of action. She had been caught up and swept away by an overmastering desire for escape that left no room in her mind for thoughts of the morrow. It was not till the train was roaring its way across southern France that she found herself sufficiently composed to review her position and make plans.
She would not go back. She could not. The words she had used in her letter to Mr. Scobell were no melodramatic rhetoric. They were a plain and literal statement of the truth. Death would be infinitely preferable to life at Mervo on her stepfather’s conditions.
But, that settled, what then? What was she to do? The gods are businesslike. They sell; they do not give. And for what they sell they demand a heavy price. We may buy life of them in many ways: with our honor, our health, our independence, our happiness, with our brains or with our hands. But somehow or other, in whatever currency we may choose to pay it, the price must be paid.
Betty faced the problem. What had she? What could she give? Her independence? That, certainly. She saw now what a mockery that fancied independence had been. She had come and gone as she pleased, her path smoothed by her stepfather’s money, and she had been accustomed to consider herself free. She had learned wisdom now, and could understand that it was only by sacrificing such artificial independence that she could win through to freedom. The world was a market, and the only independent people in it were those who had a market value.
What was her market value? What could she do? She looked back at her life, and saw that she had dabbled. She had a little of most things—enough of nothing. She could sketch a little, play a little, sing a little, write a little. Also—and, as she remembered it, she felt for the first time a tremor of hope—she could use a typewriter reasonably well. That one accomplishment stood out in the welter of her thoughts, solid and comforting, like a rock in a quicksand. It was something definite, something marketable, something of value for which persons paid.
THE tremor of hope did not comfort her long. Her mood was critical, and she saw that in this, her one accomplishment, she was, as in everything else, an amateur. She could not compete against professionals. She closed her eyes, and had a momentary vision of those professionals, keen of face, leathern of finger, rattling out myriads of words at a dizzy speed. And, at that, all her courage suddenly broke; she drooped forlornly, and, hiding her face on the cushioned arms rest, she began to cry.
Tears are the Turkish bath of the soul. Nature never intended woman to pass dry-eyed through crises of emotion. A casual stranger, meeting Betty on her way to the boat, might have thought that she looked a little worried—nothing more. The same stranger, if he had happened to enter the compartment at this juncture, would have set her down at sight as broken-hearted beyond recovery. Yet such is the magic of tears that it was at this very moment that Betty was beginning to be conscious of a distinct change for the better. Her heart still ached, and to think of John even for an instant was to feel the knife turning in the wound, but her brain was clear; the panic fear had gone, and she faced the future resolutely once more. For she had just remembered the existence of Mrs. Oakley.
ONLY once in her life had Betty met her stepfather’s celebrated aunt, and the meeting had taken place nearly twelve years ago. The figure that remained in her memory was of a pale-eyed, grenadier-like old lady, almost entirely surrounded by clocks. It was these clocks that had impressed her most. She was too young to be awed by the knowledge that the tall old woman who stared at her just like a sandy cat she had once possessed was one of the three richest women in the whole wide world. She only remembered thinking that the finger which emerged from the plaid shawl and prodded her cheek was unpleasantly bony. But the clocks had absorbed her. It was as if all the clocks in the world had been gathered together into that one room. There had been big clocks, with almost human faces; small, perky clocks; clocks of strange shape; and one dingy, medium-sized clock in particular which had made her cry out with delight. Her visit had chanced to begin shortly before eleven in the morning, and she had not been in the room ten minutes before there was a whirring, and the majority of the clocks began to announce the hour, each after its own fashion—some with a slow bloom, some with a rapid, bell-like sound. But the medium-sized clock, unexpectedly belying its appearance of being nothing of particular importance, had performed its task in a way quite distinct from the others. It had suddenly produced from its interior a shabby little gold man with a trumpet, who had blown eleven little blasts before sliding backward into his house and shutting the door after him. Betty had waited in rapt silence till he finished, and had then shouted eagerly for more.
Just as the beginner at golf may effect a drive surpassing that of the expert, so may a child unconsciously eclipse the practiced courtier. There was no soft side to Mrs. Oakley’s character, as thousands of suave would-be borrowers had discovered in their time, but there was a soft spot. To general praise of her collection of clocks she was impervious; it was unique, and she did not require you to tell her so, but exhibit admiration for the clock with the little trumpeter, and she melted. It was the one oasis of sentiment in the Sahara of her mental outlook, the grain of radium in the pitchblende. Years ago it had stood in a little New England farmhouse, and a child had clapped her hands and shouted, even as Betty had done, when the golden man slid from his hiding place. Much water had flowed beneath the bridge since those days. Many things had happened to the child. But she still kept her old love for the trumpeter. The world knew nothing of this. The world, if it had known, would have been delighted to stand before the clock and admire it volubly, by the day. But it had no inkling of the trumpeter’s importance, and, when it came to visit Mrs. Oakley, was apt to waste its time showering compliments on the obvious beauties of the queens of the collection.
But Betty, ignoring these, jumped up and down before the dingy clock, demanding further trumpetings, and, turning to Mrs. Oakley, as one possessing influence, she was aware of a curious, intent look in the old lady’s eyes.
“Do you like that clock, my dear?” said Mrs. Oakley.
“Yes! Oh, yes!”
“Perhaps you shall have it some day, honey.”
BETTY was probably the only person who had been admitted to that room who would not, on the strength of this remark, have steered the conversation gently to the subject of a small loan. Instead, she ran to the old lady, and kissed her. And, as to what had happened after that, memory was vague. There had been some talk, she remembered, of a dollar to buy candy, but it had come to nothing, and now that she had grown older and had read the frequent paragraphs and anecdotes that appeared in the papers about her stepfather’s aunt, she could understand why. She knew now what everybody knew of Mrs. Oakley—her history, her eccentricities, and the miserliness of which the papers spoke with a satirical lightness that seemed somehow but a thin disguise for what was almost admiration.
Mrs. Oakley was one of two children, a son and a daughter, of a Vermont farmer. Of her early life no records remain. Her public history begins when she was twenty-two and came to New York. After two years’ struggling, she found a position in the firm of one Redgrave. Those who knew her then speak of her as a tall, handsome girl, hard and intensely ambitious. From contemporary accounts she seems to have out-Nietzsched Nietzsche. Nietzsche’s vision stopped short at the superman. Jane Scobell was a superwoman. She had all the titanic selfishness and indifference to the comfort of others which marks the superman, and, in addition, undeniable good looks and a knowledge of the weaknesses of men. Poor Mr. Redgrave had not had a chance from the start. She married him within a year. Two years later, catching the bulls in an unguarded moment, Mr. Redgrave despoiled them of a trifle over three million dollars, and died the same day of an apoplectic stroke caused by the excitement of victory. His widow, after a tour in Europe, returned to the United States and visited Pittsburg. Any sociologist will support the statement that it is difficult, almost impossible, for an attractive widow, visiting Pittsburg, not to marry a millionaire, even if she is not particularly anxious to do so. If such an act is the primary object of her visit, the thing becomes a certainty. Groping through the smoke, Jane Redgrave seized and carried off no less a quarry than Alexander Baynes Oakley, a widower, whose income was one of the seven wonders of the world. In the fullness of time he, too, died, and Jane Oakley was left with the control of two vast fortunes.
SHE did not marry again, though it was rumored that it took three secretaries, working nine hours a day, to cope with the written proposals, and that butler after butler contracted clergyman’s sore throat through denying admittance to amorous callers. In the ten years after Alexander Baynes’ death, every impecunious aristocrat in the civilized world must have made his dash for the matrimonial pole. But her pale eyes looked them over, and dismissed them.
During those early years she was tempted once or twice to speculation. A failure in a cotton deal not only cured her of this taste, but seems to have marked the point in her career when her thoughts began to turn to parsimony. Until then she had lived in some state, but now, gradually at first, then swiftly, she began to cut down her expenses. Now we find her in an apartment in West Central Park, next in a Washington Square hotel, then in a Harlem flat, and finally—her last, fixed abiding place—in a small cottage on Staten Island.
It was a curious life that she led, this woman who could have bought kingdoms if she had willed it. A Swedish maid-of-all-work was her only companion. By day she would walk in her little garden, or dust, or arrange and wind up her clocks. At night, she would knit, or read one of the frequent reports that arrived at the cottage from charity workers on the east side. Those were her two hobbies, and her only extravagances—clocks and charity.
Her charity had its limitations. In actual money she expended little. She was a theoretical philanthropist. She lent her influence, her time, and her advice, but seldom her bank balance. Arrange an entertainment for the delectation of the poor, and you would find her on the platform, but her name would not be on the list of subscribers to the funds. She would deliver a lecture on thrift to an audience of factory girls, and she would give them a practical example of what she preached.
Yet, with all its limitations, her charity was partly genuine. Her mind was like a country in the grip of civil war. One-half of her sincerely pitied the poor, burned at any story of oppression, and cried “Give!” but the other cried “Halt!” and held her back, and between the two she fell.
It was to this somewhat unpromising haven of refuge that Betty’s mind now turned in her trouble. She did not expect great things. She could not have said exactly what she did expect. But, at least, the cottage on Staten Island offered a resting place on her journey, even if it could not be the journey’s end. Her mad dash from Mervo ceased to be objectless. It led somewhere.
A LETTER OF INTRODUCTION.
NEW YORK, revisited, had much the same effect on Betty as it had had on John during his first morning of independence. As the liner came up the bay, and the great buildings stood out against the clear blue of the sky, she felt afraid and lonely. That terror which is said to attack immigrants on their first sight of the New York skyline came to her, as she leaned on the rail, and with it a feeling of utter misery. By a continual effort during the voyage she had kept her thoughts from turning to John, but now he rose up insistently before her, and she realized all that had gone out of her life.
She rebelled against the mad cruelty of the fate which had brought them together again. It seemed to her now that she must always have loved him, but it had been such a vague, gentle thing, this love, before that last meeting—hardly more than a pleasant accompaniment to her life, something to think about in idle moments, a help and a support when things were running crosswise. She had been so satisfied with it, so content to keep him a mere memory. It seemed so needless and wanton to destroy her illusion.
Of love as a wild-beast passion, tearing and torturing quite ordinary persons like herself, she had always been a little skeptical. The great love poems of the world, when she read them, had always left her with the feeling that their authors were of different clay from herself and had no common meeting ground with her. She had seen her friends fall in love, as they called it, and it had been very pretty and charming, but as far removed from the frenzies of the poets as an amateur’s snapshot of Niagara from the cataract itself. Elsa Keith, for instance, was obviously very fond and proud of Marvin, but she seemed perfectly placid about it. She loved, but she could still spare half an hour for the discussion of a new frock. Her soul did not appear to have been revolutionized in any way.
GRADUALLY Betty had come to the conclusion that love, in the full sense of the word, was one of the things that did not happen. And now, as if to punish her presumption, it had leaped from hiding and seized her.
There was nothing exaggerated or unintelligible in the poets now. They ceased to be inhabitants of another world, swayed by curiously complex emotions. They were her brothers—ordinary men with ordinary feelings and a strange gift for expressing them. She knew now that it was possible to hate the man you loved and to love the man you hated, to ache for the sight of some one even while you fled from him.
It did not take her long to pass the customs. A small grip constituted her entire baggage. Having left this in the keeping of the amiable proprietor of a near-by delicatessen store, she made her way to the ferry.
Her first inquiry brought her to the cottage. Mrs. Oakley was a celebrity on Staten Island.
At the door she paused for a moment, then knocked.
The Swede servant, she who had been there at her former visit, twelve years ago, received her stolidly. Mrs. Oakley was dusting her clocks.
“Ask her if she can see me,” said Betty. “I’m—” great step-niece sounded too ridiculous—“I’m her niece,” she said.
The handmaid went and returned, stolid as ever. “Ay tal her vat yu say about niece, and she say she not knowing any niece,” she announced.
Betty amended the description, and presently the Swede returned once more, and motioned her to enter.
Like so many scenes of childhood, the room of the clocks was sharply stamped on Betty’s memory, and, as she came into it now, it seemed to her that nothing had changed. There were the clocks, all round the walls, of every shape and size, the big clocks with the human faces and the small, perky clocks. There was the dingy, medium-sized clock that held the trumpeter. And there, looking at her with just the old sandy-cat expression in her pale eyes, was Mrs. Oakley.
EVEN the possession of an income of eighteen million dollars and a unique collection of clocks cannot place a woman above the making of the obvious remark. “How you have grown!” said Mrs. Oakley.
The words seemed to melt the chill that had gathered around Betty’s heart. She had been prepared to enter into long explanations, and the knowledge that these would not be required was very comforting.
“Do you remember me?” she exclaimed.
“You are the little girl who clapped her hands at the trumpeter, but you are not little now.”
“I’m not so very big,” said Betty, smiling. She felt curiously at home, and pity for the loneliness of this strange old woman caused her to forget her own troubles.
“You look pretty when you smile,” said Mrs. Oakley thoughtfully. She continued to look closely at her. “You are in trouble,” she said.
Betty met her eyes frankly.
“Yes,” she said.
The old woman bent her head over a Sevres china clock, and stroked it tenderly with her feather duster.
“Why did you run away?” she asked without looking up.
Betty had a feeling that the ground was being cut from beneath her feet. She had expected to have to explain who she was and why she had come, and behold, both were unnecessary. It was uncanny. And then the obvious explanation occurred to her.
“Did my stepfather cable?” she asked.
Mrs. Oakley laid down the feather duster and, opening a drawer, produced some sheets of paper—to the initiated eye plainly one of Mr. Scobell’s lengthy messages.
“A wickedly extravagant cable,” she said, frowning at it. “He could have expressed himself perfectly well at a quarter of the expense.”
BETTY began to read. The dimple on her chin appeared for a moment as she did so. The tone of the message was so obsequious. There was no trace of the old peremptory note in it. The words “dearest aunt” occurred no fewer than six times in the course of the essay, its author being apparently reckless of the fact that it was costing him half a dollar a time. Mrs. Oakley had been quite right in her criticism. The gist of the cable was:
“Betty has run away to America dearest aunt ridiculous is sure to visit you please dearest aunt do not encourage her.”
The rest was pure padding.
Mrs. Oakley watched her with a glowing eye. “If Bennie Scobell,” she soliloquized, “imagines that he can dictate to me——” She ceased, leaving an impressive hiatus. Unhappy Mr. Scobell, convicted of dictation even after three dollars’ worth of “dearest aunt!”
Betty handed back the cable. Her chin, emblem of war, was tilted and advanced.
“I’ll tell you why I ran away, aunt,” she said.
MRS. OAKLEY listened to her story in silence. Betty did not relate it at great length, for with every word she spoke the thought of John stabbed her afresh. She omitted much that has been told in this chronicle. But she disclosed the essential fact, that Napoleonic Mr. Scobell had tried to force her into a marriage with a man she did not—she hesitated at the word—did not respect, she concluded.
Mrs. Oakley regarded her inscrutably for a while before replying.
“Respect!” she said at last. “I have never met a man in my life whom I could respect. Harpies! Every one of them! Every one of them! Every one of them!”
She was muttering to herself. It is possible that her thoughts were back with those persevering young aristocrats of her second widowhood. Certainly, if she had sometimes displayed a touch of the pirate in her dealings with man, man, it must be said in fairness, had not always shown his best side to her.
“Respect!” she muttered again. “Did you like him, this prince of yours?”
Betty’s eyes filled. She made no reply.
“Well, never mind,” said Mrs. Oakley. “Don’t cry, child! I’m not going to press you. You must have hated him or else loved him very much, or you would never have run away. . . . Dictate to me!” she broke off, half-aloud, her mind evidently once more on Mr. Scobell’s unfortunate cable.
Betty could bear it no longer.
“I loved him!” she cried. “I loved him!”
She was shaking with dry sobs. She felt the old woman’s eyes upon her, but she could not stop.
A sudden whirr cut through the silence. One of the large clocks near the door was beginning to strike the hour. Instantly the rest began to do the same, till the room was full of the noise. And above the din there sounded sharp and clear the note of the little trumpeter.
The noise died away with metallic echoings.
It was a changed voice that spoke. Betty looked up and saw that the eyes that met hers were very soft.
She moved quickly to the old woman’s side.
“Honey, I’m going to tell you something about myself that nobody dreams of. Betty, when I was your age, I ran away from a man because I loved him. It was just a little village tragedy, my dear. I think he was fond of me, but father was poor and her folks were the great people of the place, and he married her. And I ran away, like you, and went to New York.”
BETTY pressed her hand. It was trembling. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered.
“I went to New York because I wanted to kill my heart. And I killed it. There’s only one way. Work! Work! Work!” She was sitting bolt upright, and the soft look had gone out of her eyes. They were hard and fiery under the drawn brows. “Work! Ah, I worked! I never rested. For two years. Two whole years. It fought back at me. It tore me to bits. But I wouldn’t stop. I worked on: I killed it.”
She stopped, quivering. Betty was cold with a nameless dismay. She felt as if she were standing in the dark on the brink of an abyss.
The old woman began to speak again.
“Child, it’s the same with you. Your heart’s tearing you. Don’t let it! It will get worse and worse if you are afraid of it. Fight it! Kill it! Work!”
She stopped again, clenching and unclenching her fingers, as if she were strangling some living thing. There was silence for a long moment.
“What can you do?” she asked suddenly.
Her voice was calm and unemotional again. The abruptness of the transition from passion to the practical took Betty aback. She could not speak.
“There must be something,” continued Mrs. Oakley. “When I was your age I had taught myself bookkeeping, shorthand and typewriting. What can you do? Can you use a typewriter?”
“Yes,” said Betty promptly.
“Not very well?”
“H’m. Well, I expect you will do it well enough for Mr. Renshaw—on my recommendation. I’ll give you a letter to him. He is the editor of a small weekly paper. I don’t know how much he will offer you, but take it and work! You’ll find him pleasant. I have met him at charity organization meetings on the east side. He’s useful at the entertainments—does conjuring tricks—stupid, but they seem to amuse people. You’ll find him pleasant. There.”
SHE had been writing the letter of introduction during the course of these remarks. At the last word she blotted it and placed it in an envelope.
“That’s the address,” she said. “J. Brabazon Renshaw, Office of ‘Peaceful Moments.’ Take it to him now. Good-by.”
It was as if she were ashamed of her late display of emotion. She spoke abruptly, and her pale eyes were expressionless. Betty thanked her and turned to go.
“Tell me how you get on,” said Mrs. Oakley.
“Yes,” said Betty.
“And work. Keep on working!”
There was a momentary return of her former manner as she spoke the words, and Betty wavered. She longed to say something comforting, something that would show that she understood.
Mrs. Oakley had taken up the feather duster again.
“Steena will show you out,” she said curtly. And Betty was aware of the stolid Swede in the doorway. The interview was plainly at an end.
“Good-by, aunt,” she said, “and thank you ever so much—for everything.”
THE man in the street did not appear to know it, but a great crisis was imminent in New York journalism.
Everything seemed much as usual in the city. The cars ran blithely on Broadway. Newsboys shouted their mystic slogan, “Wuxtry!” with undiminished vim. Society thronged Fifth avenue without a furrow on its brow. At a thousand street corners a thousand policemen preserved their air of massive superiority to the things of this world. Of all the four million not one showed the least sign of perturbation.
Nevertheless, the crisis was at hand. Mr. J. Brabazon Renshaw, editor-in-chief of “Peaceful Moments,” was about to leave his post and start on a three months’ vacation.
“Peaceful Moments,” as its name (an inspiration of Mr. Renshaw’s own) was designed to imply, was a journal of the home. It was the sort of paper which the father of the family is expected to take back with him from the office and read aloud to the chicks before bedtime under the shade of the rubber plant.
Circumstances had left the development of the paper almost entirely to Mr. Renshaw. Its contents were varied. There was a “Moments in the Nursery” page, conducted by Luella Granville Waterman and devoted mainly to anecdotes of the family canary, by Jane (aged six), and similar works of the younger set. There was a “Moments of Meditation” page, conducted by the Rev. Edwin T. Philpotts; a “Moments among the Masters” page, consisting of assorted chunks looted from the literature of the past, when foreheads were bulged and thoughts profound, by Mr. Renshaw himself; one or two other special pages; a short story; answers to correspondents on domestic matters; and a “Moments of Mirth” page, conducted by one B. Henderson Asher—a very painful affair.
THE proprietor of this admirable journal was that Napoleon of finance, Mr. Benjamin Scobell.
That this should have been so is but one proof of the many-sidedness of that great man.
Mr. Scobell had founded “Peaceful Moments” at an early stage in his career, and it was only at very rare intervals nowadays that he recollected that he still owned it. He had so many irons in the fire now that he had no time to waste his brain tissues thinking about a paper like “Peaceful Moments.” It was one of his failures. It certainly paid its way and brought him a small sum each year, but to him it was a failure, a bombshell that had fizzled.
He had intended to do big things with “Peaceful Moments.” He had meant to start a new epoch in the literature of Manhattan.
“I gottan idea,” he had said to Miss Scobell. “All this yellow journalism—red blood and all that—folks are tired of it. They want something milder. Wholesome, see what I mean? There’s money in it. Guys make a roll too big to lift by selling soft drinks, don’t they? Well, I’m going to run a soft-drink paper. See?”
THE enterprise had started well. To begin with, he had found the ideal editor. He had met Mr. Renshaw at a down-East gathering presided over by Mrs. Oakley, and his Napoleonic eye had seen in J. Brabazon the seeds of domestic greatness. Before they parted, he had come to terms with him. Nor had the latter failed to justify his intuition. He made an admirable editor. It was not Mr. Renshaw’s fault that the new paper had failed to electrify America. It was the public on whom the responsibility for the failure must be laid. They spoiled the whole thing. Certain of the faithful subscribed, it is true, and continued to subscribe, but the great heart of the public remained untouched. The great heart of the public declined to be interested in the meditations of Mr. Philpotts and the humor of Mr. B. Henderson Asher, and continued to spend its money along the bad old channels. The thing began to bore Mr. Scobell. He left the conduct of the journal more and more to Mr. Renshaw, until finally—it was just after the idea for extracting gold from sea water had struck him—he put the whole business definitely out of his mind. (His actual words were that he never wanted to see or hear of the darned thing again, inasmuch as it gave him a pain in the neck.) Mr. Renshaw was given a free hand as to the editing, and all matters of finance connected with the enterprise were placed in the hands of Mr. Scobell’s solicitors, who had instructions to sell the journal, if, as its owner crisply put it, they could find any chump who was enough of a darned chump to give real money for it. Up to the present the great army of chumps had fallen short of this ideal standard of darned chumphood.
EVER since this parting of the ways, Mr. Renshaw had been in his element. Under his guidance “Peaceful Moments” had reached a level of domesticity which made other so-called domestic journals look like sporting supplements. But at last the work had told upon him. Whether it was the effort of digging into the literature of the past every week, or the strain of reading B. Henderson Asher’s “Moments of Mirth” is uncertain. At any rate, his labors had ended in wrecking his health to such an extent that the doctor had ordered him three months’ complete rest, in the woods or mountains, whichever he preferred; and, being a farseeing man, who went to the root of things, had absolutely declined to consent to Mr. Renshaw’s suggestion that he keep in touch with the paper during his vacation. He was adamant. He had seen copies of “Peaceful Moments” once or twice, and refused to permit a man in Mr. Renshaw’s state of health to come in contact with Luella Granville Waterman’s “Moments in the Nursery” and B. Henderson Asher’s “Moments of Mirth.”
“You must forget that such a paper exists,” he said. “You must dismiss the whole thing from your mind, live in the open, and develop some flesh and muscle.”
Mr. Renshaw had bowed before the sentence, howbeit gloomily, and now, on the morning of Betty’s departure from Mrs. Oakley’s house with the letter of introduction, was giving his final instructions to his temporary successor.
This temporary successor in the editorship was none other than John’s friend, Rupert Smith, late of the “News.”
SMITH, on leaving Harvard, had been attracted by newspaper work, and had found his first billet on a Western journal of the type whose society column consists of such items as “Jim Thompson was to town yesterday with a bunch of other cheap skates. We take this opportunity of once more informing Jim that he is a liar and a skunk,” and whose editor works with a pistol on his desk and another in his hip pocket. Later he had drifted to New York.
His presence in the office of “Peaceful Moments” was due to the uncomfortable habit of most of the New York daily papers of cutting down their staff of reporters during the summer. The dismissed had, to sustain them, the knowledge that they would return, like the swallows, anon, and be received back into their old places; but in the meantime they suffered the inconvenience of having to support themselves as best they could. Smith, when, in the company of half-a-dozen others, he had had to leave the “News,” had heard of the vacant post of assistant editor on “Peaceful Moments,” and had applied for and received it. He was a young man of spirit and resource.
HIS appearance, to those who did not know him, hardly suggested this. He was very tall and thin, with a dark, solemn face. He was a purist in the matter of clothes, and even in times of storm and stress presented an immaculate appearance to the world. In his left eye, attached to a cord, he wore a monocle.
Through this, at the present moment, he was gazing benevolently at Mr. Renshaw, as the latter fussed about the office in the throes of departure on his vacation.
“Well,” chirruped the holiday maker—he was a little man with a long neck, and he always chirruped—“Well, I think that is all, Mr. Smith. Oh, ah, yes! The stenographer. You will need a new stenographer.”
The “Peaceful Moments” stenographer had resigned her position three days before in order to get married.
“Unquestionably, Comrade Renshaw,” said Smith. “A blonde.”
Mr. Renshaw looked annoyed.
“I have told you before, Mr. Smith, I object to your addressing me as comrade. It is not—it is not—er—fitting.”
Smith waved a deprecating hand.
“Say no more,” he said. “I will correct the habit.”
MR. RENSHAW had to pause for a moment to reorganize his ideas.
“I think—ah, yes. I think it would be best perhaps to wait for a day or two, in case Mrs. Oakley should recommend some one. I mentioned the vacancy in the office to her, and she said she would give the matter her attention. I should prefer, if possible, to give the place to her nominee. She——”
“—has eighteen million a year,” said Smith. “I understand. Scatter seeds of kindness.”
Mr. Renshaw looked at him sharply. Smith’s face was solemn and thoughtful.
“Nothing of the kind,” the editor said, after a pause. “I should prefer Mrs. Oakley’s nominee because Mrs. Oakley is a shrewd, practical woman who—er—who—who, in fact——”
“Just so,” said Smith, eying him gravely through the monocle. “Entirely.”
The scrutiny irritated Mr. Renshaw.
“Do put that thing away, Mr. Smith,” he said.
“Yes, that ridiculous glass. Put it away.”
“Instantly,” said Smith, replacing the monocle in his vest pocket. “You object to it? Well, well, many people do. We all have these curious likes and dislikes. It is these clashings of personal taste which constitute what we call life. Yes. You were saying?”
Mr. Renshaw wrinkled his forehead.
“I have forgotten what I intended to say,” he said querulously. “You have driven it out of my head.”
SMITH clicked his tongue sympathetically. Mr. Renshaw looked at his watch.
“Dear me,” he said, “I must be going. I shall miss my train. But I think I have covered the ground quite thoroughly. You understand everything?”
“Absolutely,” said Smith. “I look on myself as some engineer controlling a machine with a light hand on the throttle. Or like some faithful hound whose master——”
“Ah! There is just one thing. Mrs. Julia Burdett Parslow is a little inclined to be unpunctual with her ‘Moments with Budding Girlhood.’ If this should happen while I am away, just write her a letter, quite a pleasant letter, you understand, pointing out the necessity of being in good time. She must realize that we are a machine.”
“Exactly,” murmured Smith.
“The machinery of the paper cannot run smoothly unless contributors are in good time with their copy.”
“Precisely,” said Smith. “They are the janitors of the literary world. Let them turn off the steam heat, and where are we? If Mrs. Julia Burdett Parslow is not up to time with the hot air, how shall our ‘Girlhood’ escape being nipped in the bud?”
“And there is just one other thing. I wish you would correct a slight tendency I have noticed lately in Mr. Asher to be just a trifle—well, not precisely risky, but perhaps a shade broad in his humor.”
“Young blood!” sighed Smith. “Young blood!”
“Mr. Asher is a very sensible man, and he will understand. Well, that is all, I think. Now, I really must be going. Good-by, Mr. Smith.”
At the door Mr. Renshaw paused with the air of an exile bidding farewell to his native land, sighed and trotted out.
Smith put his feet upon the table, flicked a speck of dust from his coat sleeve, and resumed his task of reading the proofs of Luella Granville Waterman’s “Moments in the Nursery.”
Printer’s errors corrected above:
In Ch. X, newspaper omitted “is” in the phrase “that it is difficult, almost impossible”.
In Ch. X, newspaper had “One-half of her sincerity pitied the poor”; amended to “sincerely” as in book edition.
In Ch. XII, newspaper had “as its owned crisply put it”; amended to “owner” as in book edition.