Tales Of Two Cities (Philadelphia & New York) by Christopher Morley

Story type: Essay


I. PHILADELPHIA

AN EARLY TRAIN

The course of events has compelled me for several months to catch an early train at Broad Street three times a week. I call it an “early” train, but, of course, these matters are merely relative; 7:45 are the figures illuminated over the gateway–not so very precocious, perhaps; but quite rathe enough for one of Haroun-al-Raschid temper, who seldom seeks the “oblivion of repose” (Boswell’s phrase) before 1 A. M.

Nothing is more pathetic in human nature than its faculty of self-deception. Winding up the alarm clock (the night before) I meditate as to the exact time to elect for its disturbing buzz. If I set it at 6:30 that will give me plenty of time to shave and reach the station with leisure for a pleasurable cup of coffee. But (so frail is the human will) when I wake at 6:30 I will think to myself, “There is plenty of time,” and probably turn over for “another five minutes.” This will mean a hideous spasm of awakening conscience about 7:10–an unbathed and unshaven tumult of preparation, malisons on the shoe manufacturers who invented boots with eyelets all the way up, a frantic sprint to Sixteenth Street and one of those horrid intervals that shake the very citadel of human reason when I ponder whether it is safer to wait for a possible car or must start hotfoot for the station at once. All this is generally decided by setting the clock for 6:50. Then, if I am spry, I can be under way by 7:20 and have a little time to be philosophical at the corner of Sixteenth and Pine. Of the vile seizures of passion that shake the bosom when a car comes along, seems about to halt, and then passes without stopping–of the spiritual scars these crises leave on the soul of the victim, I cannot trust myself to speak. It does not always happen, thank goodness. One does not always have to throb madly up Sixteenth, with head retorted over one’s shoulder to see if a car may still be coming, while the legs make what speed they may on sliddery paving. Sometimes the car does actually appear and one buffets aboard and is buried in a brawny human mass. There is a stop, and one wonders fiercely whether a horse is down ahead, and one had better get out at once and run for it. Tightly wedged in the heart of the car, nothing can be seen. It is all very nerve-racking, and I study, for quietness of mind, the familiar advertising card of the white-bearded old man announcing “It is really very remarkable that a cigar of this quality can be had for seven cents.”

Suppose, however, that fortune is with me. I descend at Market Street, and the City Hall dial, shining softly in the fast paling blue of morning, marks 7:30. Now I begin to enjoy myself. I reflect on the curious way in which time seems to stand still during the last minutes before the departure of a train. The half-hour between 7 and 7:30 has vanished in a gruesome flash. Now follow fifteen minutes of exquisite dalliance. Every few moments I look suddenly and savagely at the clock to see if it can be playing some saturnine trick. No, even now it is only 7:32. In the lively alertness of the morning mind a whole wealth of thought and accurate observation can be crammed into a few seconds. I halt for a moment at the window of that little lunchroom on Market Street (between Sixteenth and Fifteenth) where the food comes swiftly speeding from the kitchen on a moving belt. I wonder whether to have breakfast there. It is such fun to see a platter of pale yellow scrambled eggs sliding demurely beside the porcelain counter and whipped dextrously off in front of you by the presiding waiter. But the superlative coffee of the Broad Street Station lunch counter generally lures me on.

What mundane joy can surpass the pleasure of approaching the station lunch counter, with full ten minutes to satisfy a morning appetite! “Morning, colonel,” says the waiter, recognizing a steady customer. “Wheatcakes and coffee,” you cry. With one deft gesture, it seems, he has handed you a glass brimming with ice water and spread out a snowy napkin. In another moment here is the coffee, with the generous jug of cream. You splash in a large lump of ice to make it cool enough to drink. Perhaps the seat next you is empty, and you put your books and papers on it, thus not having to balance them gingerly on your knees. All round you is a lusty savour of satisfaction, the tinkle of cash registers, napkins fluttering and flashing across the counters, coloured waiters darting to and fro, great clouds of steam rising where the big dish covers are raised on the cooking tables. You see the dark-brown coffee gently quivering in the glass gauge of the nickel boiler. Then here come the wheatcakes. Nowhere else on earth, I firmly believe, are they cooked to just that correct delicacy of golden brown colour; nowhere else are they so soft and light of texture, so hot, so beautifully overlaid with a smooth, almost intangible suggestion of crispness. Two golden butter pats salute the eye, and a jug of syrup. It is now 7:38.

As everyone knows, the correct thing is to start immediately on the first cake, using only syrup. The method of dealing with the other two is classic. One lifts the upper one and places a whole pat of butter on the lower cake. Then one replaces the upper cake upon the lower, leaving the butter to its fate. In that hot and enviable embrace the butter liquefies and spreads itself, gently anointing the field of coming action. Upon the upper shield one smilingly distributes the second butter pat, knifed off into small slices for greater speed of melting. By the time the first cake has been eaten, with the syrup, the other two will be ready for manifest destiny. The butter will be docile and submissive. Now, after again making sure of the time (7:40) the syrup is brought into play and the palate has the congenial task of determining whether the added delight of melting butter outweighs the greater hotness and primal thrill of the first cake which was glossed with the syrup only. You drain your coffee to the dregs; gaze pityingly on those rushing in to snap up a breakfast before the 8 o’clock leaves for New York, pay your check, and saunter out to the train. It is 7:43.

This, to be sure, is only the curtain-raiser to the pleasures to follow. This has been a physical and carnal pleasure. Now follow delights of the mind. In the great gloomy shed wafts and twists of thick steam are jetting upward, heavily coiled in the cold air. In the train you smoke two pipes and read the morning paper. Then you are set down at Haverford. It is like a fairyland of unbelief. Trees and shrubbery are crusted and sheathed in crystal, lucid like chandeliers in the flat, thin light. Along the fence, as you go up the hill, you marvel at the scarlet berries in the hedge, gleaming through the glassy ribs of the bushes. The old willow tree by the Conklin gate is etched against the sky like a Japanese drawing–it has a curious greenish colour beneath that gray sky. There is some mystery in all this. It seems more beautiful than a merely mortal earth vexed by sinful men has any right to be. There is some ice palace in Hans Andersen which is something like it. In a little grove, the boughs, bent down with their shining glaziery, creak softly as they sway in the moving air. The evergreens are clotted with lumps and bags of transparent icing, their fronds sag to the ground. A pale twinkling blueness sifts over distant vistas. The sky whitens in the south and points of light leap up to the eye as the wind turns a loaded branch.

A certain seriousness of demeanour is noticeable on the generally unfurrowed brows of student friends. Midyears are on and one sees them walking, freighted with precious and perishable erudition, toward the halls of trial. They seem a little oppressed with care, too preoccupied to relish the entrancing pallor of this crystallized Eden. One carries, gravely, a cushion and an alarm clock. Not such a bad theory of life, perhaps–to carry in the crises of existence a cushion of philosophy and an alarum of resolution.

RIDGE AVENUE

One of the odd things about human beings is, that wherever they happen to live they accept it as a matter of course. In various foreign cities I have often been amused (as every traveller has) to see people going about their affairs just as though it were natural and unquestionable for them to be there. It is just the same at home. Everyone I see on the streets seems to be not at all amazed at living here instead of (let us say) Indianapolis or Nashville. I envy my small Urchin his sense of the extreme improbability of everything. When he gets on a trolley car he draws a long breath and looks around in ecstasy at the human scenery. I am teaching him to say in a loud, clear tone, as he gets on the car, “Look at all the human beings!” in the same accent of amazement that he uses when he goes to the Zoo. Perhaps in this way he will preserve the happy faculty of being surprised.

It is an agreeable thing to keep the same sense of surprise in one’s home town that one would have in a strange city. You will find much to startle you if you keep your eyes open. Yesterday, for instance, I was lucky enough to meet a gentleman who had stood only a few feet away from Lincoln when he made the Gettysburg Speech. Then I found that in a certain cafeteria which I frequent the price you pay for your lunch is always just one cent less than that punched on the check. The cashier explained that this always gives a pleasant surprise to the customers, and has proved such a good advertising dodge that the proprietor made it a habit. And I saw, in a clothing dealer’s window on Ninth Street, some fuzzy caps for men, mottled purple and ochre, that proved that the adventurous spirit has not died in the breast of the male sex.

There is much to exercise the eye in a voyage along Ridge Avenue. Approaching by way of Ninth Street, one sees in the window of a barber shop the new contract that the employing barbers have drawn up with their journeymen. This agreement shows a sound sense of human equities, proclaiming as it does that “the owner must not do no act to injure the barber personal earnings.” It suddenly occurred to me, what I had not thought of before, how the barbers of Great Britain must have grieved when a London newspaper got up (some years ago) an agitation in favour of every man in England raising a beard in memory of King Edward. The plan was that the money thus saved was to be devoted to building–I had almost said “growing”–a battleship, to be named after the Merry Monarch. Of course, one should not speak of raising a beard, but of lowering it. However—-

Ridge Avenue begins at Ninth and Vine, in a mood of depression. Perhaps the fact that it runs out toward the city’s greatest collection of cemeteries has made it morbidly conscious of human perishability. At any rate, it starts among pawnshops, old clothing and furniture, and bottles of Old Virginia Bitters, the Great Man Restorer. The famous National Theatre at Callowhill Street has become a garage; it is queer to see the old proscenium arch and gilded ceiling dustily vaulted over a fleet of motortrucks. After a wilderness of railway yards one comes to a curious bit in the 1100 block; a little brick tunnel that bends around into a huddle of backyards and small houses, where a large green parrot was stooping and nodding on a pile of old boxes. This little scene is overlooked by the tall brown spires of the Church of the Assumption on Spring Garden Street.

There is matter for tarrying at the Spring Garden Street crossing. Here is an ambitious fountain built by the bequest of Mary Rebecca Darby Smith, with the carving by J. J. Boyle picturing another Rebecca (she of Genesis xxiv, 14) giving a drink to Abraham’s servant and his camels. It is carved in the bronze that the donor gave the fountain “To refresh the weary and thirsty, both man and beast,” so it is disconcerting to find it dry, as dry as the inns along the way. The horse trough is boarded over and thirsting equines go up to Broad Street for a draught. The seat by the fountain was occupied by a man reading the New York Journal, always a depressing sight.

Across from the fountain is one of the best magazine and stationery shops in the city. Here I overheard a conversation which I reproduce textually. “What you doing, reading?” said one to another. “Yes, reading about the biggest four-flusher in the Yew-nited States,” said he, looking over an afternoon paper which had just come in. “Who do you mean?” “Penrose. Say if it was a Republican in the White House, theyda passed the treaty long ago.” The proprietor of this shop is a humorist. Someone came in asking for a certain brand of cigarettes. He does not sell tobacco. “Next door,” he said, and added: “And you’ll find some over on the fountain.”

Ridge Avenue specializes in tobacco shops, where you will find many brands that require a strong head. Red Snapper, Panhandle Scrap, Pinch Hit, Red Horse, Brown’s Mule, Jolly Tar, Penn Statue Cuttings, Nickel Cross Cut, Cotton Ball Twist. In the shop windows you will see those photographs illustrating current events, the two favourites just now being a picture of Mike Gilhooley, the famous stowaway, gazing plaintively at the profile of New York, and “Jack Dempsey Goes the Limit,” where Jack signs up for a $1,000 war-savings certificate. One wonders if Jack’s kind of warfare is really so profitable after all.

There are a number of little side excursions from the avenue that repay scrutiny. Lemon Street, for instance, where in a lane of old brown wooden houses some children were playing in an empty wagon, with the rounded tower of the Rodef Shalom synagogue looming in the background. Best of all is Melon Street and its modest tributary, Park Avenue–stretches of quiet little brick homes with green and yellow shutters and mottled gray marble steps. These little houses have the serene and sunny air so typical of Philadelphia byways. Through their narrow side entrances one sees glimpses of green in backyards. In the front windows move the gently swaying faces of grandmothers, lulled in the to and fro of a rocking chair. There are shining brass knobs and bell-pulls; rubber plants on the sills, or perhaps a small bowl of goldfish with a white china swan floating. In one window was a sign “Vacancies.” Over it hung a faded service flag with a golden star. Who could phrase the pathos of these two things, side by side?

At Broad Street, Ridge Avenue leaps up with a spurt of high life. In the window of a hotel dining room a gentleman sat eating his lunch, stevedoring a buttered roll with such gusto that one felt tempted to applaud. There are the white pillars of a bank and the battleship gray of the Salvation Army headquarters. Beyond Broad, the avenue spruces up a bit and enters upon a vivacious phase. Dogs are frequent: white bull terriers lie sunning in the shop windows. Offers to lend money are enticing. There is a fascinating slate yard at 1525, where great gray slabs lie in the sun, a temptation to urchins with a bit of chalk. In the warm bask of the afternoon there rises a pleasing aroma of fruits and vegetables piled up in baskets and crates on the pavement. Grapes give off a delectable savour in the golden air. Elderly ladies are out in force to do the marketing, and their eyes are bright with the bargaining passion. Round the windows of a ten-cent store, most fascinating of all human spectacles, they congregate and compare notes. A fruit dealer has an ingenious stunt to attract attention. On his cash register lies a weird-looking rotund little fish–a butter fish, he calls it–which has a face not unlike that of Fatty Arbuckle. Either this fish inflates itself or he has blown it full of air in some ingenious manner, for it presents a grotesque appearance, and many ladies stop to inquire. Then he spoofs them gently. “Sure,” he says, “it’s a jitney fish. It lives on the cash register. It can fly, it can bite, it can talk, and it likes money.”

At the corner of Wylie Street stands an old gray house with a mansard roof and gable windows. Against it is a vivid store of fruit glowing in the sun, red and purple and yellow. Here, or on Vineyard Street, one turns off to enter the quaint triangular settlement of Francisville.

THE UNIVERSITY AND THE URCHIN

Sunday afternoon is by old tradition dedicated to the taking of Urchins out to taste the air, and indeed there is no more agreeable pastime. And so, as the Urchin sat in his high chair and thoughtfully shovelled his spoon through meat chopped remarkably small and potatoes mashed in that curious fashion that produces a mass of soft, curly tendrils, his curators discussed the question of where he should be taken.

It was the first Sunday in March–mild and soft and tinctured with spring. “There’s the botanic garden at the University,” I suggested. The Urchin settled it by rattling his spoon on the plate and sliding several inches of potato into his lap. “Go see garden!” he cried. With the generous tastes of twenty-seven months he cares very little where he is taken; he can find fascination in anything; but something about the word “garden” seemed to allure him. So a little later when he had been duly habited in brown leggings, his minute brown overcoat, and white hat with ribbons behind it, he and his curators set out. The Urchin was in excellent spirits, for he had been promised a ride on a trolley car–a glorious adventure. In one pocket he carried his private collection of talismans, including a horse-chestnut and a picture of a mouse. Also, against emergencies, a miniature handkerchief with a teddy bear embroidered in one corner and a safety pin. The expedition may be deemed to have been a success, as none of these properties were called upon or even remembered.

The car we boarded did not take us just where we expected to go, but that made little difference to the Urchin, who gazed steadfastly out of the window at a panorama of shabby streets, and offered no comment except one of extreme exultation when we passed a large poster of a cow. Admirably docile, he felt confident that the unusual conjunction of both arbiters of destiny and an impressive trolley car would in the end produce something extremely worth while. We sped across Gray’s Ferry bridge–it seems strange to think that region was once so quiet, green, and rustic–transferred to another car on Woodland Avenue, past the white medley of tombstones in Woodland Cemetery, and got off at the entrance to the dormitory quadrangles at Thirty-seventh Street. We entered through the archway–the Urchin’s first introduction to an academic atmosphere. “This is the University,” I said to him severely, and he was much impressed. As is his way, he conducted himself with extreme sobriety until he should get the hang of this new experience and see what it was all about. I knew from the serene gold sparkle of his brown eyes that there was plenty of larking spirit in him, waiting until he knew whether it was safe to give it play. He held my hand punctiliously while waiting to see what manner of place this University was.

A college quadrangle on a Sunday afternoon has a feeling all its own. Thin tinklings of mandolins eddy from open windows, in which young men may be seen propped up against bright-coloured cushions, always smoking, and sometimes reading with an apparent zeal which might deceive a few onlookers. But the slightest sound of footfalls on the pavement outside their rooms causes these heads to turn and scan the passers. There is always a vague hope in these youthful breasts that some damsel of notable fairness may have strayed within the bastions. Groups of ladies of youth and beauty do often walk demurely through the courts, and may be sure of hearing admiring whistles shrilled through the sunny air. When a lady walks through a college quadrangle and hears no sibilation, let her know sadly that first youth is past. Even the sedate guardianship of Scribe and Urchin did not forfeit one Lady of Destiny her proper homage of tuneful testimonial. So be it ever!

One who inhabited college quadrangles not so immeasurably long ago, and remembers with secret pain how massively old, experienced, and worldly wise he then thought himself, can never resist a throb of amazement at the entertaining youthfulness of these young monks. How quaintly juvenile they are, and how oddly that assumption of grave superiority sits upon their golden brows! With what an inimitable air of wisdom, cynicism, ancientry, learned aloofness and desire to be observed do they stroll to and fro across the quads, so keenly aware in their inmost bosoms of the presence of visitors and determined to grant an appearance of mingled wisdom, great age, and sad doggishness! What a devil-may-care swing to the stride, what a nonchalance in the perpetual wreath of cigarette smoke, what a carefully assumed bearing of one carrying great wisdom lightly and easily casting it aside for the moment in the pursuit of some waggish trifle. “Here,” those very self-conscious young visages seem to betray, “is one who might tell you all about the Holy Roman Empire, and yet is, for the moment, diverting himself with a mere mandolin.” And yet, as the Lady of Destiny shrewdly observed, it is a pity they should mar their beautiful quadrangles with orange peel and scraps of paper.

We walked for some time through those stately courts of Tudor brick and then passed down the little inclined path to the botanic garden, where irises and fresh green spikes are already pushing up through the damp earth. A pale mellow sunlight lay upon the gravel walks and the Urchin resumed his customary zeal. He ran here and there along the byways, examined the rock borders with an air of scientific questioning, and watched the other children playing by the muddy pond. We found shrubbery swelling with buds, also flappers walking hatless and blanched with talcum, accompanied by Urchins of a larger growth. Both these phenomena we took to be a sign of the coming equinox.

Returning to the dormitory quadrangles, we sat down on a wooden bench to rest, while the Urchin, now convinced that a university is nothing to be awed by, scampered about on the turf. His eye was a bright jewel of roguishness, for he thought that in trotting about the grass he was doing something supremely wicked. He has been carefully trained not to err on the grass of the city square to which he is best accustomed, so this surprising and unchecked revelry quite went to his head. Across and about those wide plots of sodden turf he trotted and chuckled, a small, quaint mortal with his hat ribbons fluttering. Cheering whistles hailed him from open windows above, and he smiled to himself with grave dignity. Apparently, like a distinguished statesman, he regarded these tributes not as meant for himself, but for the great body of childhood he innocently represents, and indeed from which his applauders are not so inextricably severed. With the placid and unconscious happiness of a puppy he careered and meandered, without motive or method. Perhaps his underlying thought of a university, if he has any, is that it is a place where no one says “Keep Off the Grass,” and, intellectually speaking, that would not be such a bad motto for an institution of learning.

I don’t know whether Doctor Tait McKenzie so intended it, but his appealing and beautiful statue of Young Franklin in front of the University gymnasium is admirably devised for the delight of small Urchins. While their curators take pleasure in the bronze itself, the Urchin may clamber on the different levels of the base, which is nicely adapted for the mountaineering capacity of twenty-seven months. The low brick walls before the gymnasium and the University museum are also just right for an Urchin who has recently learned the fascination of walking on something raised above the ground, provided there is a curator near by to hold his hand. And then, as one walks away toward the South Street bridge an observant Urchin may spy the delightful spectacle of a freight train travelling apparently in midair. Some day, one hopes, all that fine tract of open space leading from the museum down to the railroad tracks may perhaps be beautified as a park or an addition to the University’s quadrangle system. I don’t know who owns it, but its architectural possibilities must surely make the city-planner’s mouth water.

By this time the Urchin was beginning to feel a bit weary, and was glad of a lift on a parental shoulder. Then a Lombard Street car came along and took us up halfway across the bridge. So ended the Urchin’s first introduction to a university education.

PINE STREET

Our neighbourhood is very genteel. I doubt if any one who has not lived in Philadelphia can imagine how genteel it is. Visitors from out of town are wont to sigh with rapture when they see our trim blocks of tall brick dwellings–that even cornice running in a smooth line for several hundred yards really is quite a sight–and exclaim, “Oh, I wish we had something like this in New York!” But our gentility is a little self-conscious, for we live on the very frontier of a region, darker in complexion, which is far from scrupulous in deportment. Uproarious and naive are the humours of South Street, lying just behind us. Stanleys have gone exploring thither and come back with merry tales. South Street on a bright evening, its myriad barber shops gleaming with lathered dusky cheeks, wafting the essence of innumerable pomades and lotions, that were a Travel indeed. On South Street the veins of life run close to the surface.

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We are no less human on our street, but it takes a bit more study to get at the secret. There is a certain reticence about us. It would take an earthquake to cause much fraternization along Pine Street. Perhaps it is because three houses out of every four bear the tablets of doctors. The average layman fears to stop and speak to his neighbour for fear it will develop into a professional matter. We board up our front windows at night with heavy wooden shutters. We have no druggists, only “apothecaries.” These apothecaries are closed on Sundays. They sell stamps in little isinglass capsules, to be quite sanitary, two twos in a capsule for five cents. In their shops you can still get soda water with “plain cream” and shaved ice, such as was customary twenty-five years ago. When our doctors go away for the summer, someone comes twice a week from June to October to polish up the little silver name plate. It is the custom in our neighbourhood (so one observes through drawing room windows) to have reading lamps with rosy pink shades and at least two beautiful daughters of debutante age. I hope I am not unjust, but our street looks to me like the kind of place where people take warm baths, in a roomy old china tub, on Sunday afternoons. After that, they go downstairs and play a hymn on the piano, at twilight.

There are a number of very odd features about our neighbourhood. There is a large schoolhouse at the next corner, but as far as I can see, it is not used as a school, not for children, at any rate. Sometimes, about 8 o’clock in the evening, I see the building gloriously illuminated, and a lonely lady stooped and assiduous at a table. She seems quite solitary. Perhaps her researches are so poignant that the school board has prescribed entire silence. But midway down the block is a very jolly little private school, to which very genteel children may be seen approaching early in the morning. The little girls come with a bustle of starch, on foot, accompanied by governesses; the small boys arrive in limousines. They are small boys dressed very much in the English manner, with heavy woollen stockings ending just below the knee. They probably do not realize that their tailor has carefully planned them to look like dear little English boys. Then there is a very mysterious small theatre near by. If it were a movie theatre, what a boon it would be! But no, it is devoted to a strange cult called the Religion of Business, which meets there on Sundays. Before that, there was a Korean congress there. There is a lovely green room in this theatre, but not much long green in the box office. Philadelphia prefers Al Jolson to Hank Ibsen.

We have our tincture of vie de Boheme, though, in our little French table d’hote, a thoroughly atmospheric place. Delightful Madame B., with her racy philosophy of life, what delicious soups and salads she serves! Happy indeed are those who have learned the way to her little tables, and heard her cheerful cry “A la cuisine!” when one of her small dogs prowls into the dining room. Equally unique is the old curiosity shop near by, one of the few genuine “notion” shops left in the city (though there is a delightful one on Market Street near Seventeenth, to enter which is to step into a country village). This is just the kind of shop bought by the old gentleman in one of Frank Stockton’s agreeable tales, “Mr. Tolman,” in the volume called “The Magic Egg”. The proprietress, charming and conversable lady, will sell you anything in the “notions” line, from a paper of pins to garter elastic. Then there is the laundry, whose patrons carry on a jovial game known as “Looking for Your Own.” Every week, by some cheery habit of confusion, the lists are lost, and one hunts through shelves of neatly piled and crisply laundered garments to pick out one’s own collars, pyjamas, or whatever it may be. The amusing humour of this pastime must be experienced to be understood.

The little cigar and magazine shop on the corner is the political and social focus of the neighbourhood. I shall never forget the pallid and ghastly countenance of the newsdealer when the rumour first went the rounds that “Hampy” was elected. Every evening a little gathering of local sages meets in the shop; on tilted chairs, in a haze of tobacco, they while the hours away. In tobacco the host adheres to the standard blends, but in literature he is enterprising. Until recently this was the only place I know in Philadelphia where one could get the Illustrated London News every week.

There are twinges of modernity going on along our street. Some of the old houses have been remodeled into apartments. There is an “electric shoe repairer” just round the corner. But the antique dealers and plumbers for which the street is famous still hold sway; the fine old brick pavement still collects rain water in its numerous dimpled hollows, and the yellowish marble horse-blocks adorn the curb. The nice shabby stables in the little side streets have not yet been turned into studios by artists, and the neighbourhood’s youngest urchins set sail for Rittenhouse Square every morning on their fleet of “kiddie-cars.” Their small stout legs, twinkling along the pavements in white gaiters on a wintry day, are a pleasant sight. Even our urchins are notably genteel. Surrounded on all sides by the medical profession, they are reared on registered milk and educator crackers. If Philadelphia ever betrays its soul, it does so on this delightful, bland, and genteel highway.

PERSHING IN PHILADELPHIA

The pavement in front of Independence Hall was a gorgeous jumble of colours. The great silken flags of the Allies, carried by vividly costumed ladies, burned and flapped in the wind. On a pedestal stood the Goddess of Liberty, in rich white draperies that seemed fortunately of sufficient texture to afford some warmth, for the air was cool. She graciously turned round for Walter Crail, the photographer of our contemporary, the Evening Public Ledger, to take a shot at her.

Down Chestnut Street came a rising tide of cheers. A squadron of mounted police galloped by. Then the First City Troop, with shining swords. Fred Eckersburg, the State House engineer, was fidgeting excitedly inside the hall, in a new uniform. This was Fred’s greatest day, but we saw that he was worried about Martha Washington, the Independence Hall cat. He was apprehensive lest the excitement should give her a fit or a palsy. Independence Hall is no longer the quiet old place Martha used to enjoy before the war.

The Police Band struck up “Hail to the Chief.” Yells and cheers burst upward from the ground like an explosion. Here he was, standing in the car. There was the famous chin, the Sam Browne belt, the high laced boots with spurs. Even the tan gloves carried in the left hand. There was the smile, without which no famous man is properly equipped for public life. There was Governor Sproul’s placid smile, too, but the Mayor seemed too excited to smile. Rattle, rattle, rattle went the shutters of the photographers. Up the scarlet lane of carpet came the general. His manner has a charming, easy grace. He saluted each one of the fair ladies garbed in costumes of our Allies, but taking care not to linger too long in front of any one of them lest any embracing should get started. A pattering of tiger lilies or some such things came dropping down from above. He passed into the hall, which was cool and smelt like a wedding with a musk of flowers.

While the Big Chief was having a medal presented to him inside the hall we managed to scuttle round underneath the grand stand and take up a pencil of vantage just below the little pulpit where the general was to speak. Here the crowd groaned against a bulwark of stout policemen. Philadelphia cops, bless them, are the best tempered in the world. (How Boston must envy us.) Genially two gigantic bluecoats made room against the straining hawser for young John Fisher, aged eleven, of 332 Greenwich Street. John is a small, freckle-faced urchin. It was amusing to see him thrusting his eager little beezer between the vast, soft, plushy flanks of two patrolmen. He had been there over two hours waiting for just this adventure. Then, to assert the equality of the sexes, Mildred Dubivitch, aged eleven, and Eva Ciplet, aged nine, managed to insert themselves between the chinks in the line of cops. An old lady more than eighty years old was sitting placidly in a small chair just inside the ropes. She had been in the square more than five hours, and the police had found her a seat. “Are you going to put Pershing’s name in, too?” asked John as we noted his address.

Independence Square never knew a more thrilling fifteen minutes. The trees were tossing and bending in the thrilling blue air. There was a bronzy tint in their foliage, as though they were putting on olive drab in honour of the general. Great balloons of silver clouds scoured across the cobalt sky. At one minute to 11 Pershing appeared at the top of the stand. The whole square, massed with people, shook with cheers.

Had it been any other man we would have said the general was frightened. He came down the aisle of the stand with his delightful, easy, smiling swing; but he looked shrewdly about, with a narrow-eyed, puckered gaze. He was plainly a little flabbergasted. He seemed taken aback by the greatness of Philadelphia’s voice. He said something to himself. On his lips it looked like “What the deuce,” or something of similar purport. He sat down on a chair beside Governor Sproul. Not more than four feet away, amazed at our own audacity, we peered over the floor of the stand.

He was paler than we expected. He looked a bit tired. Speaking as a father, we were pleased to note the absence of Warren, who was (we hope) getting a good sleep somewhere. We had a good look at the renowned chin, which is well worth study. It must be a hard chin to shave. It juts upward, reaching a line exactly below the brim of his cap. Below his crescent moustache there is no lower lip visible: it is tucked and folded in by the rising thrust of the jaw. It is this which gives him the “grim” aspect which every reader of the papers hears about. He is grim, there’s no doubt about it, with the grimness of a man going through a tough ordeal. “I can see him all right,” squeaked little John Fisher, “but he doesn’t see me.” The first two rows of seats at the right of the aisle were crammed with generals, two-star and three-star. From our lowly station we could see a grand panorama of mahogany leather boots and the flaring curves of riding breeches. It was a great day for Sam Browne. The thought came to us that has reached us before. The higher you go in the A. E. F. the more the officers are tailored after the English manner. It is the finest proof of international cousinship. When England and America wear the same kind of clothes, alliance is knit solid.

Pershing sat with his palms on his knees. He looked worried. There was a wavering crease down his lean cheeks. The plumply genial countenance of Governor Sproul next to him was an odd contrast to that dry, hard face. The bell in the tower tolled eleven times. He stood up for the photographers. Walter Crail, appearing from somewhere, sprang up on the parapet facing the general. “Look this way!” he shouted as the general turned toward some movie men. That will be Walter’s first cry when he gets to heaven, or wherever. Mayor Smith’s face was pallid with excitement. His nicely draped trouserings, which were only six inches from our notebook, quivered slightly as he said fifteen words of introduction.

As Pershing stood up to speak the crowd surged forward. The general was worried. “Don’t, don’t! Somebody will get hurt!” he called sharply. Then Mayor Smith surged forward also and said something to the police about watching the crowd.

The general took off his cap. Holding it in his left hand (with the gloves) he patted his close-cropped hair nervously. He frowned. He began to speak.

The speech has already been covered by our hated rivals. We will not repeat it, save to say that it was as crisp, clean-cut, and pointed as his chin. He was nervous, as we could see by the clenching and unclenching of his hands. His voice is rather high. We liked him for not being a suave and polished speaker. He gestured briskly with a pointing forefinger, and pronounced the word patriotic with a short A–“pattriotic.” Later he stumbled over it again and got it out as patterotism. We liked him again for that. He doesn’t have to pronounce it, anyway. We liked him best of all for the unconscious slip he made. “This reception,” he said, “I understand is for the splendid soldiery of America that played such an important part in the war with our Allies.” A respectful ripple of laughter passed over the stand at this, but he did not notice it. He was fighting too hard to think what to say next. We liked him, too, for saying “such an important part.” A man who had been further away from the fighting would have said that it was America, alone and unaided, that won the war. He is just as we have hoped he would be: a plain, blunt man. We have heard that he is going to enter the banking business. We’d like to have an account at that bank.

FALL FEVER

About this time of year, when the mellow air swoons (as the poets say) with golden languor and the landscape is tinged a soft brown like a piece of toast, we feel the onset and soft impeachment of fall fever.

Fall fever is (in our case at any rate) more insidious than the familiar disease of spring. Spring fever impels us to get out in the country; to seize a knotted cudgel and a pouchful of tobacco and agitate our limbs over the landscape. But the drowsiness of autumn is a lethargy in the true sense of that word–a forgetfulness. A forgetfulness of past discontents and future joys; a forgetfulness of toil that is gone and leisure to come; a mere breathing existence in which one stands vacantly eyeing the human scene, living in a gentle simmer of the faculties like a boiling kettle when the gas is turned low.

Fall fever, one supposes, is our inheritance from the cave man, who (like the bear and the–well, some other animal, whatever it is) went into hibernation about the first of November. Autumn with its soft inertia lulled him to sleep. He ate a hearty meal, raked together some dry leaves, curled up and slid off until the alarm clock of April.

This agreeable disease does not last very long with the modern man. He fights bravely against it; then the frost comes along, or the coal bill, and stings him into activity. But for a few days its genial torpor may be seen (by the observant) even in our bustling modern career. When we read yesterday that Judge Audenried’s court clerks had fallen asleep during ballot-counting proceedings we knew that the microbe was among us again. Keats, in his lovely Ode, describes the figure of Autumn as stretched out “on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep.” Unhappily the conventions forbid city dwellers from curling up on the pavements for a cheerful nap. If one were brave enough to do so, unquestionably many would follow his example. But the urbanite has taught himself to doze upright. You may see many of us, standing dreamily before Chestnut Street show windows in the lunch hour, to all intents and purposes in a state of slumber. Yesterday, in that lucid shimmer of warmth and light, a group stood in front of a doughnut window near Ninth Street: not one of them was more than half awake. Similarly a gathering watched the three small birds who have become a traditional window ornament on Chestnut Street (they have recently moved from an oculist to a correspondence course office) and a faint whisper of snoring arose on the sultry air. The customs of city life permit a man to stand still as long as he likes if he will only pretend to be watching something. We saw a substantial burgher pivoted by the window of Mr. Albert, the violin maker, on Ninth Street. Apparently he was studying the fine autographed photo of Patti there displayed; but when we sidled near we saw that his eyes were closed; this admirable person, who seemed to be what is known as a “busy executive,” and whose desk undoubtedly carries a plate-glass sheet with the orisons of Swett Marden under it, was in a blissful doze.

Modern life (as we say) struggles against this sweet enchantment of autumn, but Nature is too strong for us. Why is it that all these strikes occur just at this time of year? The old hibernating instinct again, perhaps. The workman has a subconscious yearning to scratch together a nice soft heap of manila envelopes and lie down on that couch for a six months’ ear-pounding. There are all sorts of excuses that one can make to one’s self for waving farewell to toil. Only last Sunday we saw this ad in a paper:

HEIRS WANTED. The war is over and has made many new heirs. You may be one of them. Investigate. Many now living in poverty are rich, but don’t know it.

Now what could be simpler (we said to ourself as we stood contemplating those doughnuts) than to forsake our jolly old typewriter and spend a few months in “investigating” whether any one had made us his heir? It might be. Odd things have happened. Down in Washington Square, for instance (we thought), are a number of sun-warmed benches, very reposeful to the sedentary parts, on which we might recline and think over the possibility of our being rich unawares. We hastened thither, but apparently many had had the same idea. There was not a bench vacant. The same was true in Independence Square and in Franklin Square. We will never make a good loafer. There is too much competition.

So we came back, sadly, to our rolltop and fell to musing. We picked up a magazine and found some pictures showing how Mary Pickford washes her hair. “If I am sun-drying my hair,” said Mary (under a photo showing her reclining in a lovely garden doing just that), “I usually have the opportunity to read a scenario or do some other duty which requires concentration.” And it occurred to us that if a strain like that is put upon a weak woman we surely ought to be able to go on moiling for a while, Indian summer or not. And then we found some pictures by our favourite artist, Coles Phillips, with that lovely shimmer around the ankles, and we resolved to be strong and brave and have pointed finger-nails. But still, in the back of our mind, the debilitating influence of fall fever was at work. We said to ourself, without the slightest thought of printing it (for it seemed to put us in a false light), that the one triumphant and unanswerable epigram of mankind, the grandest and most resolute utterance in the face of implacable fate, is the snore.

TWO DAYS BEFORE CHRISTMAS

Will the hand-organ man please call? Our wife has dug up our old overcoat and insists on giving it to him. We intended to give it to the Honolulu Girls around at the Walnut Theatre, they looked a bit goose-fleshed last week, but we always have hay fever when we get near those grass skirts. Grass widows is what the profession calls the Hawaiian ladies. Hope the temperature isn’t going up again. We love the old-fashioned Christmas and all that sort of thing. Nipping air makes cheeks pink; we love to see them nestled in fur coats on Chestnut Street. This is the time of year to do unexpected kindnesses. We know one man who stands in line for hours in front of movie theatres just in order to shout Merry Christmas through the little hole in the glass. Shaving seems less of a bore. Newspapers are supposed to be heartless, but they all take a hand in trying to help poor children. Find ourselves humming hymn tunes. Very odd, haven’t been to a church for years. Great fun surprising people. We’ve been reading the new phone book; noticed several ways in which people might surprise each other by calling up and wishing many happy returns of the day. Why doesn’t Beulah R. Wine ring up Mrs. Louis F. Beer, for instance? Or, A. D. Smoker and Burton J. Puffer might go around to W. C. Matchett, tobacconist, at 1635 South Second Street, and buy their Christmas cigars. George Wharton Pepper might give Mayme Salt a ring (on the phone, that is). What a pleasant voice that telephone operatrix has. Here’s to you, child, and many of them. Grand time, Christmas.

* * * * *

Fine old Anglo-Saxon festival, Christmas. A time of jovial cheer and bracing mirth. Must be so, because Doctor Frank Crane and Ralph Waldo Trine have often said so. Christmas hard on people like that, however: they are bursting with the Christmas spirit all the year round; very trying when the real occasion comes. That’s the beauty of having a peevish and surly disposition: when one softens up at Christmas everybody notices it and is pleased. Chaucer, fine old English poet, first English humorist, gave good picture of Christmas cheer more than five hundred years ago. Never quoted on Christmas cards, why not copy it here? Chaucer’s spelling very like Ring Lardner’s, but good sort just the same. Says he:

And this was, as thise bookes me remembre,
The colde, frosty sesoun of Decembre….
The bittre frostes with the sleet and reyn
Destroyed hath the grene in every yard;
Janus sit by the fyre with double beard,
And drynketh of his bugle horn the wyn;
Biforn hym stant brawn of the tusked swyn,
And “Nowel” crieth every lusty man.

Janus, god of doors, what we call nowadays a janitor. Had two faces so he could watch the front and back door at once and get a double tip at Christmas time. Also, that was why he wore a beard; too much trouble to shave. We don’t cry Nowel any more; instead we petition the janitor to send up a little more steam. But what a jolly picture Chaucer gives of Christmas! Wine to drink (fine ruddy wine, as red as the holly berries), crackling flitch of pig to eat, and a merry cry of welcome sounding at the threshold as your friends come stamping in through the snow.

Grand time, Christmas! No one is really a Philadelphian until he has waited for a Pine Street car on a snowy night. Please have my seat, madam, there’s plenty of room on the strap. Wonder why the pavement on Chestnut Street is the slipperiest in the world? Always fall down just in front of our bank; most embarrassing; hope the paying teller doesn’t see us. Very annoying to lose our balance just there. Awfully nice little girl in there who balances the books. Has a kind heart. The countless gold of a merry heart, as William Blake said. She looks awfully downcast when our balance gets the way it is now. Hate to disappoint her. Won’t have our book balanced again for a devil of a while. Even the most surly is full of smiles nowadays. Most of us when we fall on the pavement (did you ever try it on Chestnut between Sixth and Seventh on a slippery day?) curse the granolithic trust and wamble there groaning. But not nowadays. Make the best of things. Fine panorama of spats.

* * * * *

Association of ideas. Everybody wears silk stockings at Christmas time. Excessive geniality of the ad-writers. Uproarious good cheer. Makes one almost ashamed to notice the high price of everything. Radicals being deported. Why not deport Santa Claus, too? Very radical notion that, love your neighbour better than yourself. Easy to do; very few of us such dam fools as to love ourselves, but so often when you love your neighbour she doesn’t return it. Nice little boxes they have at the ten-cent stores, all covered with poinsettia flowers, to put presents in. Wonder when poinsettia began to be used as a Christmas decoration and why? Everyone in ten-cent store calls them “poinsettias,” but named after J. R. Poinsett. Encyclopedia very handy at times; makes a good Christmas present, one dollar down and a dollar a month for life. Nobody can tell the difference between real pearls and imitation; somebody ought to put the oysters wise. Save them a lot of trouble and anxiety. Don’t know just what duvetyne is, but there seems to be a lot of it drunk nowadays. Hope that clockwork train for the Urchin will arrive soon; we were hoping to have three happy evenings playing with it before he sees it. Fine to have children; lots of fun playing with their presents. We are sure that life after death is really so, because children always kick the blankets off at night. Fine bit of symbolism that; put it in a sermon, unless Doctor Conwell gets there first.

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Grand time, Christmas! We vowed to try to take down our weight this winter, and then they put sugar back on the menu, and doughnut shops spring up on every street, and Charles F. Jenkins sent us a big sack of Pocono buckwheat flour and we’re eating a basketful of griddle cakes every morning for breakfast. Terrible to be a coward; we always turn on the hot water first in the shower bath, except the first morning we used it. The plumber got the indicator on the wrong way round, and when you turn to the place marked HOT it comes down like ice. Our idea of a really happy man is the fellow driving a wagonload of truck just in front of a trolley car, holding it back all the way downtown; when he hears the motorman clanging away he pretends he thinks it’s the Christmas chimes and sings “Hark the Herald Angels.”

Speaking of Herald Angels reminds us of a good story about James Gordon Bennett; we’ll spring it one of these days when we’re hard up for copy. Jack Frost must be a married man, did you see him try to cover up the show windows with his little traceries the other day when the shopping was at its height? There was a pert little hat in a window on Walnut Street we were very much afraid someone might see; the frost saved us. Don’t forget to put Red Cross seals on your letters. Delightful to watch the faces on the streets at Christmas time. Everybody trying hard to be pleasant; sometimes rather a strain. Curious things faces–some of them seem almost human; queer to think that each belongs to someone and no chance to get rid of it; sorry we’re not in the mirror industry; never thought of it before, but it ought to be profitable. Happier most of us, if mirrors never had been invented. Hope all our nice-natured clients will have the best kind of a time; forgive us for not answering letters; we are too disillusioned about ourself to make any resolutions to do better. We’re going home now; on the way we’ll think of a lot of nice things we might have said, write them down and use them to-morrow. Hope Dorothy Gish will get something nice in her stocking. Don’t make the obvious retort. Grand time, Christmas!

IN WEST PHILADELPHIA

Climbing aboard car No. 13–ominously labelled “Mt. Moriah”–I voyaged toward West Philadelphia. It was a keen day, the first snow of winter had fallen, and sparkling gushes of chill swept inward every time the side doors opened. The conductor, who gets the full benefit of this ventilation, was feeling cynical, and seeing his blue hands I didn’t blame him. Long lines of ladies, fumbling with their little bags and waiting for change, stepped off one by one into the windy eddies of the street corners. One came up to pay her fare ten blocks or so before her destination, and then retired to her seat again. This puzzled the conductor and he rebuked her. The argument grew busy. To the amazement of the passengers this richly dressed female brandished lusty epithets. “You Irish mick!” she said. (One would not have believed it possible if he had not heard it.) “That’s what I am, and proud of it,” said he. The shopping solstice is not all fur coats and pink cheeks. If you watch the conductors in the blizzard season, and see the slings and arrows they have to bear, you will coin a new maxim. The conductor is always right.

It is always entertaining to move for a little in a college atmosphere. I stopped at College Hall at the University and seriously contemplated slipping in to a lecture. The hallways were crowded with earnest youths of both sexes–I was a bit surprised at the number of co-eds, particularly the number with red hair–discussing the tribulations of their lot. “Think of it,” said one man, “I’m a senior, and carrying twenty-three hours. Got a thesis to do, 20,000 words.” On a bulletin board I observed the results of a “General Intelligence Exam.” It appears that 1,770 students took part. They were listed by numbers, not by names. It was not stated what the perfect mark would have been; the highest grade attained was 159, by Mr. (or Miss?) 735. The lowest mark was 23. I saw that both 440 and 1124 got the mark of 149. If these gentlemen (or ladies) are eager to play off the tie, it would be a pleasure to arrange a deciding competition for them. The elaborate care with which the boys and girls ignore one another as they pass in the halls was highly delightful, and reminded me of exactly the same thing at Oxford. But I saw the possible beginning of true romance in the following notice on one of the boards:

WANTED: Names and addresses of ten nice American university students who must remain in Philadelphia over Christmas, away from home, to be invited to a Christmas Eve party to help entertain some Bryn Mawr College girls in one of the nicest homes in a suburb of Philadelphia.

Certainly there is the stage set for a short story. Perhaps not such a short one, either.

Naturally I could not resist a visit to the library, where most of the readers seemed wholly absorbed, though one student was gaping forlornly over a volume of Tennyson. I found an intensely amusing book, “Who’s Who in Japan,” a copy of which would be a valuable standby to a newspaper paragrapher in his bad moments. For instance:

SASAKI, TETSUTARO: One of the highest taxpayers of Fukushima-ken, President of the Hongu Reeling Partnership, Director of the Dai Nippon Radium Water Co.; brewer, reeler; born Aug., 1860.

SAKURAI, ICHISAKU: Member of the Niigata City Council; Director of the Niigata Gas Co., Niigata Savings Bank. Born June, 1872, Studied Japanese and Chinese classics and arithmetic. At present also he connects with the Niigata Orphanage and various other philanthropic bodies. Was imprisoned by acting contrary to the act of explosive compound for seven years. Recreations: reading, Western wine.

Relying on my apparent similarity to the average undergrad, I plunged into the sancta of Houston Hall and bought a copy of the Punch Bowl. What that sprightly journal calls “A little group of Syria’s thinkers” was shooting pool. The big fireplaces, like most fireplaces in American colleges, don’t seem to be used. They don’t even show any traces of ever having been used, a curious contrast to the always blazing hearths of English colleges. The latter, however, are more necessary, as in England there is usually no other source of warmth. A bitter skirmish of winds, carrying powdered snow dust, nipped round the gateways of the dormitories and Tait McKenzie’s fine statue of Whitefield stood sharply outlined against a cold blue sky. I lunched at a varsity hash counter on Spruce Street and bought tobacco in a varsity drug store, where a New York tailor, over for the day, was cajoling students into buying his “snappy styles” in time for Christmas. There is no more interesting game than watching a lot of college men, trying to pick out those who may be of some value to the community in future–the scientists, poets, and teachers of the next generation. The well-dressed youths one sees in the varsity drug stores are not generally of this type.

The Evans School of Dentistry at Fortieth and Spruce is a surprising place. Its grotesque gargoyles, showing (with true medieval humour) the sufferings of tooth patients, are the first thing one notices. Then one finds the museum, in which is housed Doctor Thomas W. Evans’s collection of paintings and curios brought back from France. Unfortunately there seems to be no catalogue of the items, so that there is no way of knowing what interesting associations belong to them. But most surprising of all is to find the travelling carriage of the Empress Eugenie in which she fled from France in the fatal September days of 1870. She spent her last night in France at the home of Doctor Evans, and there is a spirited painting by Dupray showing her leaving his house the next morning, ushered into the carriage by the courtly doctor. The old black barouche, or whatever one calls it, seems in perfect condition still, with the empress’s monogram on the door panel. Only the other day we read in the papers that the remarkable old lady (now in her ninety-fourth year) has been walking about Paris, revisiting well-known scenes. How it would surprise her to see her carriage again here in this University building in West Philadelphia. The whole museum is delightfully French in flavour; as soon as one enters one seems to step back into the curiously bizarre and tragic extravagance of the Second Empire.

One passes into the dignified and placid residence section of Spruce and Pine streets, with its distinctly academic air. Behind those quiet walls one suspects bookcases and studious professors and all the delightful passions of the mind. On Baltimore Avenue the wintry sun shone white and cold; in Clark Park, Charles Dickens wore a little cap of snow, and Little Nell looked more pathetic than ever. There is a breath of mystery about Baltimore Avenue. What does that large sign mean, in front of a house near Clark Park–THE EASTERN TRAVELLERS? Then one comes to the famous shop of S. F. Hiram, the Dodoneaean Shoemaker he calls himself. This wise coloured man has learned the advertising advantages of the unusual. His placard reads:

Originator of that famous Dobrupolyi System of repairing.

When one enters and asks to know more about this system, he points to another placard, which says:

It assumes the nature and character of an
appellative noun, and carries the article The System.

His shop contains odd curios as well as the usual traffic of a cobbler. “The public loves to be hood-winked,” he adds sagely.

HORACE TRAUBEL

We wait with particular interest to hear what Philadelphia will have to say about the passing of Horace Traubel. Traubel was the official echo of the Great Voice of Camden, and in his obituary one may discern the vivacity of the Whitman tradition. This is a matter of no small concern to the curators of the Whitman cult. The soul of Philadelphia cannot be kept alive by conventions and statistics alone. Such men as Traubel have helped.

There are two kinds of rebels. By their neckties you may know them. Walt Whitman was of the kind that wears no necktie at all. Then there is the lesser sort, of which Traubel was one–the rebel who wears a flowing black bow tie with long trailers. Elbert Hubbard wore one of these. It is a mild rebellion of which this is symbol. It often goes with shell spectacles.

We never knew Horace Traubel, though he was the man we most wanted to meet when we came to Philadelphia. We have heard men of all conditions speak of him with affection and respect. He was dedicated from boyhood to the Whitman cause. From Walt himself he caught the habit of talking about Walt, and he carried it on with as much gusto and happiness as Walt did. Only recently he said in his little magazine The Conservator:

When I was quite small I used to want to be a great man. But in my observations of the old man’s better than great way of meeting the gifts as well as the reverses of fate I didn’t want to be a great man. I only wanted to stay unannexed to any institution as he was. No college ever decorated him. For the best of reasons. No college could. He could decorate them.

So Traubel remained unannexed. He was fired from a bank because he happened to take issue in public with one of the bank’s chief depositors. He floated about happily, surrounded by young Whitman disciples, carrying on his guerrilla for what his leader called the “peerless, passionate, good cause” of human democracy. His little magazine led a precarious life, supported by good friends. His protest against iniquities was an honest, good-humoured protest.

Horace Traubel will be remembered, as he wished to be remembered, as the biographer of Whitman. Whitman also, we may add, wished Traubel to be so remembered. In his careful record of the Camden sage’s utterances and pulse-beats he approached (as nearly as any one) the devoted dignity of Boswell. We were about to say the self-effacing devotion of Boswell; but the beauty of biography is that the biographer cannot wholly delete himself from the book. One is always curious about the recording instrument. When we see a particularly fine photograph our first question is always, “What kind of camera was it taken with?”

It seems to us–speaking only by intuition, for we never knew him–that Traubel was a happy man. He was untouched by many of the harassing ambitions that make the lives of prosperous men miserable. He was touched in boyhood by one simple and overmastering motive–to carry on the Whitman message and spread it out for the younger world. Much of the dunnage of life he cast overboard. He was too good a Whitman disciple to estimate success in the customary terms. When he left his job in the bank he opened an account in the Walt Whitman philosophy–and he kept a healthy balance there to the end.


II. NEW YORK

THE ANATOMY OF MANHATTAN

She is the only city whose lovers live always in a mood of wonder and expectancy. There are others where one may sink peacefully, contentedly into the life of the town, affectionate and understanding of its ways. But she, the woman city, who is bold enough to say he understands her? The secret of her thrilling and inscrutable appeal has never been told. How could it be? She has always been so much greater than any one who has lived with her. (Shall we mention Walt Whitman as the only possible exception? O. Henry came very near to her, but did he not melodramatize her a little, sometimes cheapen her by his epigrammatic appraisal, fit her too neatly into his plot? Kipling seemed to see her only as the brutal, heedless wanton.) Truly the magic of her spell can never be exacted. She changes too rapidly, day by day. Realism, as they call it, can never catch the boundaries of her pearly beauty. She needs a mystic.

No city so challenges and debilitates the imagination. Here, where wonder is a daily companion, desire to tell her our ecstasy becomes at last only a faint pain in the mind. If you would mute a poet’s lyre, put him on a ferry from Jersey City some silver April morning; or send him aboard at Liberty Street in an October dusk. Poor soul, his mind will buzz (for years to come) after adequate speech to tell those cliffs and scarps, amethyst and lilac in the mingled light; the clear topaz chequer of window panes; the dull bluish olive of the river, streaked and crinkled with the churn of the screw! Many a poet has come to her in the wooing passion. Give him six months, he is merely her Platonist. He lives content with placid companionship. Where are his adjectives, his verbs? That inward knot of amazement, what speech can unravel it?

Her air, when it is typical, is light, dry, cool. It is pale, it is faintly tinctured with pearl and opal. Heaven is unbelievably remote; the city itself daring so high, heaven lifts in a cautious remove. Light and shadow are fantastically banded, striped, and patchworked among her cavern streets; a cool, deep gloom is cut across with fierce jags and blinks of brightness. She smiles upon man who takes his ease in her colossal companionship. Her clean soaring perpendiculars call the eye upward. One wanders as a botanist in a tropical forest. That great smooth groinery of the Pennsylvania Station train shed: is it not the arching fronds of iron palm trees? Oh, to be a botanist of this vivid jungle, spread all about one, anatomist of the ribs and veins that run from the great backbone of Broadway!

To love her, one thinks, is to love one’s fellows; each of them having some unknown share in her loveliness. Any one of her streets would be the study and delight of a lifetime. To speak at random, we think of that little world of brightness and sound bourgeois cheer that spreads around the homely Verdi statue at Seventy-third Street. We have a faithful affection for that neighbourhood, for reasons of our own. Within a radius, thereabouts, of a quarter-mile each way, we could live a year and learn new matters every day. They call us a hustling folk. Observe the tranquil afternoon light in those brownstone byways. Pass along leisurely Amsterdam Avenue, the region of small and genial shops, Amsterdam Avenue of the many laundries. See the children trooping upstairs to their own room at the St. Agnes branch of the Public Library. See the taxi drivers, sitting in their cars alongside the Verdi grass plot (a rural breath of new-mown turf sweetening the warm, crisp air) and smoking pipes. Every one of them is to us as fascinating as a detective story. What a hand they have had in ten thousand romances. At this very moment, what quaint and many-stranded destinies may hail them and drive off? But there they sit, placid enough, with a pipe and the afternoon paper. The light, fluttering dresses of enigmatic fair ones pass gayly on the pavement. Traffic flows, divides, and flows on, a sparkling river. Here is that mystery, a human being, buying a cigar. Here is another mystery asking for a glass of frosted chocolate. Why is it that we cannot accost that tempting riddle and ask him to give us an accurate precis of his life to date? And that red-haired burly sage, he who used to bake the bran muffins in the little lunchroom near by, and who lent us his Robby Burns one night–what has become of him?

So she teases us, so she allures. Sometimes, on the L, as one passes along that winding channel where the walls and windows come so close, there is a felicitous sense of being immersed, surrounded, drowned in a great, generous ocean of humanity. It is a fine feeling. All life presses around one, the throb and the problem are close, are close. Who could be weary, who could be at odds with life, in such an embrace of destiny? The great tall sides of buildings fly open, the human hive is there, beautiful and arduous beyond belief. Here is our worship and here our lasting joy, here is our immortality of encouragement. Yes, perhaps O. Henry did say the secret after all: “He saw no longer a rabble, but his brothers seeking the ideal.”

VESEY STREET

The first duty of the conscientious explorer is to study his own neighbourhood, so we set off to familiarize ourself with Vesey Street. This amiable byway (perhaps on account of the proximity of Washington Market) bases its culture on a solid appreciation of the virtue of good food, an admirable trait in any street. Upon this firm foundation it erects a seemly interest in letters. The wanderer who passes up the short channel of our street, from the docks to St. Paul’s churchyard, must not be misled by the character of the books the bibliothecaries display in their windows. Outwardly they lure the public by Bob Ingersoll’s lectures, Napoleon’s Dream Book, efficiency encyclopaedias and those odd and highly coloured small brochures of smoking-car tales of the Slow Train Through Arkansaw type. But once you penetrate, you may find quarry of a more stimulating kind. For fifteen cents we eloped with a first edition of Bunner’s “Love in Old Cloathes,” which we were glad to have in memory of the “old red box on Vesey Street” which Banner immortalized in rhyme, and which still stands (is it the same box?) by the railing of St. Paul’s. Also, even nobler treasure to our way of thinking, did we not just now find (for fifteen cents) Hilaire Belloc’s “Hills and the Sea,” that enchanting little volume of essays, which we are almost afraid to read again. Belloc, the rogue–the devil is in him. Such a lusty beguilery moves in his nimble prose that after reading him it is hard not to fall into a clumsy imitation of his lively and frolic manner. There is at least one essayist in this city who fell subject to the hilarious Hilaire years ago. It is an old jape but not such a bad one: our friend Murray Hill will never return to the status quo ante Belloc.

But we were speaking of Vesey Street. It looks down to the water, and the soft music of steamship whistles comes tuning on a cold, gusty air. Thoroughly mundane little street, yet not unmindful of matters spiritual, bounded as it is by divine Providence at one end (St. Paul’s) and by Providence, R. I. (the Providence Line pier) at the other. Perhaps it is the presence of the graveyard that has startled Vesey Street into a curious reversal of custom. On most other streets, we think, the numbers of the houses run even on the south side, odd on the north. But just the opposite on Vesey. You will find all even numbers on the north, odd on the south. Still, Wall Street errs in the same way.

If marooned or quarantined on Vesey Street a man might lead a life of gayety and sound nourishment for a considerable while, without having recourse to more exalted thoroughfares. There are lodging houses in that row of old buildings down toward the docks; from the garret windows he could see masts moving on the river. For food he would live high indeed. Where will one see such huge glossy blue-black grapes; such enormous Indian River grapefruit; such noble display of fish–scallops, herrings, smelts, and the larger kind with their dead and desolate eyes? There are pathetic rows of rabbits, frozen stiff in the bitter cold wind; huge white hares hanging in rows; a tray of pigeons with their iridescent throat feathers catching gleams of the pale sunlight. There are great sacks of nuts, barrels of cranberries, kegs of olive oil, thick slabs of yellow cheese. On such a cold day it was pleasant to see a sign “Peanut Roasters and Warmers.”

Passing the gloomy vista of Greenwich Street–under the “L” is one of those mysterious little vents in the floor of the street from which issues a continual spout of steam–our Vesey grows more intellectual. The first thing one sees, going easterly, is a sign: THE TRUTH SEEKER, One flight Up. The temptation is almost irresistible, but then Truth is always one flight higher up, so one reflects, what’s the use? In this block, while there is still much doing in the way of food–and even food in the live state, a window full of entertaining chicks and ducklings clustered round a colony brooder–another of Vesey Street’s interests begins to show itself. Tools. Every kind of tool that gladdens the heart of man is displayed in various shops. One realizes more and more that this is a man’s street, and indeed (except at the meat market) few of the gayer sex are to be seen along its pavements. One of the tool shops has open-air boxes with all manner of miscellaneous oddments, from mouse traps to oil cans, and you may see delighted enthusiasts poring over the assortment with the same professional delight that ladies show at a notion counter. One of the tool merchants, however, seems to have weakened in his love of city existence, for he has put up a placard:

WANTED TO RENT Small Farm Must Have Fruit and Spring Water

How many years of repressed yearning may speak behind that modest ambition!

Our own taste for amusement leads us (once luncheon dispatched; you should taste Vesey Street’s lentil soup) to the second-hand bookshops. Our imagined castaway, condemned to live on Vesey Street for a term of months, would never need to languish for mental stimulation. Were he devout, there is always St. Paul’s, as we have said; and were he atheist, what a collection of Bob Ingersoll’s essays greets the faring eye! There is the customary number of copies of “The Pentecost of Calamity”; it seems to the frequenter of second-hand bazaars as though almost everybody who bought that lively booklet in the early days of the war must have sold it again since the armistice. Much rarer, we saw a copy of “Hopkins’s Pond,” that little volume of agreeable sketches written so long ago by Dr. Robert T. Morris, the well-known surgeon, and if we had not already a copy which the doctor inscribed for us we would certainly have rescued it from this strange exile.

There are only two of the really necessary delights of life that the Vesey Street maroon would miss. There is no movie, there are no doughnuts. We are wondering whether in any part of this city there has sprung up the great doughnut craze that has ravaged Philadelphia in the past months. As soon as prohibition became a certainty, certain astute merchants of the Quaker City devoted themselves to inoculating the public with a taste for these humble fritters, and now they bubble gayly in the windows of Philadelphia’s most aristocratic thoroughfare. It is really a startling sight to see Philadelphia lining up for its noonday quota of doughnuts, and the merchants over there have devised an ingenious method of tempting the crowd. A funnel, erected over the frying sinkers, carries the fragrant fumes out through a transom and gushes it into the open air, so that the sniff of doughnuts is perceptible all down the block. There is a fortune waiting on Vesey Street for the man who will establish a doughnut foundry, and we solemnly pledge our own appetite and that of all our friends toward his success.[2]

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At its upper end, perhaps in memory of the vanished Astor House, Vesey Street stirs itself into a certain magnificence, devoting its window space to jewellery and silver-mounted books of prayer. At this window one may regulate his watch at a clock warranted by Charles Frodsham of 84, Strand, to whose solid British accuracy we hereby pay decent tribute. Over all this varied scene lifts the shining javelin-head of the Woolworth Building, seen now and then in an almost disbelieved glimpse of sublimity; and the golden Lightning of the Telephone and Telegraph pinnacle, waving his zigzag brands in the sun.

[2] Since this was written, the lack has been supplied–on Park Row, just above the top of Vesey Street; probably the most luxurious doughnut shop ever conceived.

BROOKLYN BRIDGE

A windy day, one would have said in the dark channels of downtown ways. In the chop house on John Street, lunch-time patrons came blustering in, wrapped in overcoats and mufflers, with something of that air of ostentatious hardiness that men always assume on coming into a warm room from a cold street. Thick chops were hissing on the rosy grill at the foot of the stairs. In one of the little crowded stalls a man sat with a glass of milk. It was the first time we had been in that chop house for several years … it doesn’t seem the same. As Mr. Wordsworth said, it is not now as it hath been of yore. But still,

The homely Nurse doth all she can
To make her foster-child, her Inn-mate Man,
Forget the glories he hath known.

It’s a queer thing that all these imitation beers taste to us exactly as real beer did the first time we tasted it (we were seven years old) and shuddered. “Two glasses of cider,” we said to the comely serving maid. Alas

That nature yet remembers
What was so fugitive.

There is a nice point of etiquette involved in lunching in a crowded chop house. Does the fact of having bought and eaten a moderate meal entitle one to sit with one’s companion for a placid talk and smoke afterward? Or is one compelled to relinquish the table as soon as one is finished, to make place for later comers? These last are standing menacingly near by, gazing bitterly upon us as we look over the card and debate the desirability of having some tapioca pudding. But our presiding Juno has already settled the matter, and made courtesy a matter of necessity. “These gentlemen will be through in a moment,” she says to the new candidates. Our companion, the amiable G—- W—-, was just then telling us of a brand of synthetic whiskey now being distilled by a famous tavern of the underworld. The superlative charm of this beverage seems to be the extreme rigidity it imparts to the persevering communicant. “What does it taste like?” we asked. “Rather like gnawing furniture,” said G—- W—-. “It’s like a long, healthy draught of shellac. It seems to me that it would be less trouble if you offered the barkeep fifty cents to hit you over the head with a hammer. The general effect would be about the same, and you wouldn’t feel nearly so bad in the morning.”

A windy day, and perishing chill, we thought as we strolled through the gloomy caverns and crypts underneath the Brooklyn Bridge. Those twisted vistas seen through the archways give an impression of wrecked Louvain. A great bonfire was burning in the middle of the street. Under the Pearl Street elevated the sunlight drifted through the girders in a lively chequer, patterning piles of gray-black snow with a criss-cross of brightness. We had wanted to show our visitor Franklin Square, which he, as a man of letters, had always thought of as a trimly gardened plot surrounded by quiet little old-fashioned houses with brass knockers, and famous authors tripping in and out. As we stood examining the facade of Harper and Brothers, our friend grew nervous. He was carrying under his arm the dummy of an “export catalogue” for a big brass foundry, that being his line of work. “They’ll think we’re free verse poets trying to get up courage enough to go in and submit a manuscript,” he said, and dragged us away.

A windy day, we had said in the grimy recesses of Cliff and Dover streets. (Approaching this sentiment for the third time, perhaps we may be permitted to accomplish our thought and say what we had in mind.) But up on the airy decking of the Brooklyn Bridge, where we repaired with G—- W—- for a brief stroll, the afternoon seemed mild and tranquil. It is a mistake to assume that the open spaces are the windier. The subway is New York’s home of AEolus, and most of the gusts that buffet us on the streets are merely hastening round a corner in search of the nearest subway entrance so that they can get down there where they feel they belong. Up on the bridge it was plain to perceive that the March sunshine had elements of strength. The air was crisp but genial. A few pedestrians were walking resolutely toward the transpontine borough; the cop on duty stood outside his little cabin with the air of one ungrieved by care. Behind us stood the high profiles of the lower city, sharpened against the splendidly clear blue sky which is New York’s special blessing. On the water moved a large tug, towing barges. Smoke trailed behind it in the same easy and comfortable way that tobacco reek gushes over a man’s shoulder when he walks across a room puffing his pipe.

The bridge is a curiously delightful place to watch the city from. Walking toward the central towers seems like entering a vast spider’s web. The footway between the criss-cross cables draws one inward with a queer fascination, the perspective diminishing the network to the eye so that it seems to tighten round you as you advance. Even when there is but little traffic the bridge is never still. It is alive, trembling, vibrant, the foot moves with a springy recoil. One feels the lift and strain of gigantic forces, and looks in amazement on the huge sagging hawsers that carry the load. The bars and rods quiver, the whole lively fabric is full of a tremor, but one that conveys no sense of insecureness. It trembles as a tree whispers in a light air.

And of the view from the bridge, it is too sweeping to carry wholly in mind. Best, one thinks, it is seen in a winter dusk, when the panes of Manhattan’s mountains are still blazing against a crystal blue-green sky, and the last flush of an orange sunset lingers in the west. Such we saw it once, coming over from Brooklyn, very hungry after walking in most of the way from Jamaica, and pledged in our own resolve not to break fast until reaching a certain inn on Pearl Street where they used to serve banana omelets. Dusk simplifies the prospect, washes away the lesser units, fills in the foreground with obliterating shadow, leaves only the monstrous sierras of Broadway jagged against the vault. It deepens this incredible panorama into broad sweeps of gold and black and peacock blue which one may file away in memory, tangled eyries of shining windows swimming in empty air. As seen in the full brilliance of noonday the bristle of detail is too bewildering to carry in one clutch of the senses. The eye is distracted by the abysses between buildings, by the uneven elevation of the summits, by the jumbled compression of the streets. In the vastness of the scene one looks in vain for some guiding principle of arrangement by which vision can focus itself. It is better not to study this strange and disturbing outlook too minutely, lest one lose what knowledge of it one has. Let one do as the veteran prowlers of the bridge: stroll pensively to and fro in the sun, taking man’s miracles for granted, exhilarated and content.

THREE HOURS FOR LUNCH

Hudson Street has a pleasant savour of food. It resounds with the dull rumble of cruising drays, which bear the names of well-known brands of groceries; it is faintly salted by an aroma of the docks. One sees great signs announcing cocoanut and whalebone or such unusual wares; there is a fine tang of coffee in the air round about the corner of Beach Street. Here is that vast, massy brick edifice, the New York Central freight station, built 1868, which gives an impression of being about to be torn down. From a dilapidated upper window hangs a faded banner of the Irish Republic. At noontime this region shows a mood of repose. Truckmen loll in sunny corners, puffing pipes, with their curved freight hooks hung round their necks. In a dark smithy half a dozen sit comfortably round a huge wheel which rests on an anvil, using it as a lunch table. Near Canal Street two men are loading ice into a yellow refrigerator car, and their practiced motions are pleasant to watch. One stands in the wagon and swings the big blocks upward with his tongs. The other, on the wagon roof, seizes the piece deftly and drops it through a trap on top of the car. The blocks of ice flash and shimmer as they pass through the sunshine. In Jim O’Dea’s blacksmith shop, near Broome Street, fat white horses are waiting patiently to be shod, while a pink glow wavers outward from the forge.

At the corner of Hudson and Broome streets we fell in with our friend Endymion, it being our purpose to point out to him the house, one of that block of old red dwellings between Hudson and Varick, which Robert C. Holliday has described in “Broome Street Straws,” a book which we hope is known to all lovers of New York local colour. Books which have a strong sense of place, and are born out of particular streets–and especially streets of an odd, rich, and well-worn flavour–are not any too frequent. Mr. Holliday’s Gissingesque appreciation of the humours of landladies and all the queer fish that shoal through the backwaters of New York lodging houses makes this Broome Street neighbourhood exceedingly pleasant for the pilgrim to examine. It was in Mr. Holliday’s honour that we sallied into a Hudson Street haberdashery, just opposite the channel of Broome Street, and adorned ourself with a new soft collar, also having the pleasure of seeing Endymion regretfully wave away some gorgeous mauve and pink neckwear that the agreeable dealer laid before him with words of encouragement. We also stood tranced by a marvellous lithograph advertising a roach powder in a neighbouring window, and wondered whether Mr. Holliday himself could have drawn the original in the days when he and Walter Jack Duncan lived in garrets on Broome Street and were art students together. Certainly this picture had the vigorous and spirited touch that one would expect from the draughting wrist of Mr. Holliday. It showed a very terrible scene, apparently a civil war among the roaches, for one army of these agile insects was treasonously squirting a house with the commended specific, and the horrified and stricken inmates were streaming forth and being carried away in roach ambulances, attended by roach nurses, to a neighbouring roach cemetery. All done on a large and telling scale, with every circumstance of dismay and reproach on the faces of the dying blattidae. Not even our candour, which is immense, permits us to reprint the slogan the manufacturer has adopted for his poster: those who go prowling on Hudson Street may see it for themselves.

In the old oyster and chop house just below Canal Street we enjoyed a very agreeable lunch. To this place the Broome Street garreteers (so Mr. Holliday has told us) used to come on days of high prosperity when some cheque arrived from a publisher. At that time the tavern kept an open fireplace, with a bright nest of coals in the chilly season; and there was a fine mahogany bar. But we are no laudator of acted time; the fireplace has been bricked up, it is true; but the sweet cider is admirable, and as for the cheesecake, we would back it against all the Times Square variety that Ben De Casseres rattles about. It is delightful and surprising to find on Hudson Street an ordinary so droll and Dickensish in atmosphere, and next door is a window bearing the sign WALTER PETER. We feel sure that Mr. Holliday, were he still living in those parts, would have cajoled the owner into changing that E to an A.

Our stroll led us north as far as Charlton Street, which the geographers of Greenwich Village claim as the lower outpost of their domain. Certainly it is a pleasing byway, running quietly through the afternoon, and one lays an envious eye upon the demure brick houses, with their old-fashioned doorways, pale blue shutters, and the studio windows on the southern side. At the corner of Varick Street is a large house showing the sign, “Christopher Columbus University of America.” Macdougal Street gives one a distant blink of the thin greenery of Washington Square.

An unexpected impulse led us eastward on Grand Street, to revisit Max Maisel’s interesting bookshop.–We had never forgotten the thrill of finding this place by chance one night when prowling toward Seward Park. In bookshops of a liberal sort we always find it advisable to ask first of all for a copy of Frank Harris’s “The Man Shakespeare.” It is hardly ever to be found (unfortunately), so the inquiry is comparatively safe for one in a frugal mood; and it is a tactful question, for the mention of this book shows the bookseller that you are an intelligent and understanding kind of person, and puts intercourse on good terms at once. However, we did find one book that we felt we simply had to have, as it is our favourite book for giving away to right-minded people–“The Invisible Playmate,” by William Canton. We fear that there are still lovers of children who do not know this book; but if so, it is not our fault.

Grand Street is a child at heart, and one may watch it making merry not only along the pavement but in the shop windows. Endymion’s gallant spirit was strongly uplifted by this lively thoroughfare, and he strode like one whose heart was hitting on all six cylinders. Max Maisel’s bookshop alone is enough to put one in a seemly humour. But then one sees the gorgeous pink and green allurements of the pastry cooks’ windows, and who can resist those little lemon-flavoured, saffron-coloured cakes, which are so thirst-compelling and send one hastily to the nearest bar for another beaker of cider? And it seems natural to find here the oldest toyshop in New York, where Endymion dashed to the upper floor in search of juvenile baubles, and we both greatly admired the tall, dark, and beauteous damsel who waited on us with such patience and charity. Endymion by this time was convinced that he was living in the very heart and climax of a poem; he became more and more unreal as we walked along: we could see his physical outline (tenuous enough at best) shimmer and blur as he became increasingly alcaic.

Along the warm crowded pavement there suddenly piped a liquid, gurgling, chirring whistle, rising and dropping with just the musical trill that floats from clumps of creekside willows at this time of year. We had passed several birdshops on our walk, and supposed that another was near. A song sparrow, was our instant conclusion, and we halted to see where the cage could be hung. And then we saw our warbler. He was little and plump and red-faced, with a greasy hat and a drooping beer-gilded moustache, and he wore on his coat a bright blue peddler’s license badge. He shuffled along, stooping over a pouch of tin whistles and gurgling in one as he went. There’s your poem, we said to Endymion–“The Song-Sparrow on Grand Street.”

We propose to compile a little handbook for truants, which we shall call “How to Spend Three Hours at Lunch Time.” This idea occurred to us on looking at our watch when we got back to our kennel.

PASSAGE FROM SOME MEMOIRS

How long ago it seems, that spring noonshine when two young men (we will call them Dactyl and Spondee) set off to plunder the golden bag of Time. These creatures had an oppressive sense that first Youth was already fled. For one of them, in fact, it was positively his thirtieth birthday; poor soul, how decrepitly he flitted in front of motor trucks. As for the other, he was far decumbent in years, quite of a previous generation, a perfect Rameses, whose senile face was wont to crack into wrinklish mirth when his palsied cronies called him the greatest poet born on February 2, 1886.

It was a day–well, it is fortunate that some things do not have to be described. Suppose one had to explain to the pallid people of the thither moon what a noonday sunshine is like in New York about the Nones of May? It could not be done to carry credence. Let it be said it was a Day, and leave it so. You have all known that gilded envelopment of sunshine and dainty air.

These pitiful creatures arose from the subway at Fourteenth Street and took the world in their right hands. From this revolving orb, said they, they would squeeze a luncheon hour of exquisite satisfactions. They gazed sombrely at Union Square, and uttered curious reminiscences of the venerable days when one of them had worked, actually toiled for a living, upon the shores of that expanse. Ten years had passed (yes, at least ten–O edax rerum!). Upon a wall these observant strollers saw a tablet to the memory of William Lloyd Garrison. Strange, said they, we never noticed this before. Ah, said one, this is hallowed ground. It was near here that I used to borrow a quarter, the day before pay-day, to buy my lunch. The other contributed similar recollections. And now, quoth he, I am grown so prosperous that when I need money I can’t afford to borrow less than two hundred dollars.

They lunched (one brushes away the mist of time to recall the details) where the bright sunlight fell athwart a tablecloth of excellent whiteness. They ate (may one be precise at so great a distance?)–yes, they ate broiled mackerel to begin with; the kind of mackerel called (but why?) Spanish. Whereupon succeeded a course of honeycomb tripe, which moved Dactyl to quoting Rabelais, something that Grangousier had said about tripes. Only by these tripes is memory supported and made positive, for it was the first time either had tackled this dish. Concurrent with the tripes, one inducted the other into the true mystery of blending shandygaff, explaining the first doctrine of that worthy draught, which is that the beer must be poured into the beaker before the ginger ale, for so arises a fatter and lustier bubblement of foam. The reason whereof they leave no testament. While this portion of the meal was under discussion their minds moved free, unpinioned, with airy lightness, over all manner of topics. It seemed no effort at all to talk. Ripe, mellow with long experience of men and matters, their comments were notable for wisdom and sagacity. The waiter, overhearing shreds of their discourse, made a private notation to the effect that these were Men of Large Affairs. Then they embarked upon some salty crackers, enlivened with Camembert cheese and green-gage jam. By this time they were touching upon religion, from which they moved lightly to the poems of Louise Imogen Guiney. It is all quite distinct as one looks back upon it.

Issuing upon the street, Dactyl said something about going back to the office, but the air and sunlight said him nay. Rather, remarked Spondee, let us fare forward upon this street and see what happens. This is ever a comely doctrine, adds the chronicler. They moved gently, not without a lilac trailing of tobacco fume, across quiet stretches of pavement. In the blue upwardness stood the tower of the Metropolitan Life Building, a reminder that humanity as a whole pays its premiums with decent regularity. They conned the nice gradations of tint in the spring foliage of Gramercy Park. They talked, a little soberly, of thrift, and of their misspent years.

Lexington Avenue lay guileless beneath their rambling footfalls. At the corner of Twenty-second Street was a crowd gathered, and a man with the customary reverted cap in charge of a moving picture machine. A swift car drew up before the large house at the southeast corner. Thrill upon thrill: something being filmed for the movies! In the car, a handsome young rogue at the wheel, and who was this blithe creature in shiny leather coat and leather cap, with crumpling dark curls cascading beneath it? A suspicion tinkled in the breast of Spondee, in those days a valiant movie fan. Up got the young man, and hopped out of the car. Up stood the blithe creature–how neatly breeched, indeed, a heavenly forked radish–and those shining riding boots! She dismounted–lifted down (so unnecessarily it seemed) by the rogue. She stood there a moment and Spondee was convinced. DOROTHY GISH, said he to Dactyl. Miss Gish and her escort darted into the house, the camera man reeling busily. At an upper window of the dwelling a white-haired lady was looking out, between lace curtains, with a sort of horror. Query, was she part of the picture, or only the aristocratic owner of the house, dismayed at finding her home suddenly become part of a celluloid drama? Spondee had always had a soft spot in his heart for Miss Dorothy, esteeming her a highly entertaining creature. He was disappointed in the tranquil outcome of the scene. He had hoped to see leaping from windows and all manner of hot stuff. Near by stood a coloured groom with a horse. The observers concluded that Miss Gish was to do a little galloping shortly. Dactyl and Spondee moved away. Spondee quoted a poem he had once written about Miss Dorothy. He recollected only two lines:

She makes all the rest seem a shoal of poor fish
So we cast our ballot for Dorothy Gish.

Peering again into the dark backward and abysm, it seems that the two rejuvenated gossips trundled up on Lexington Avenue to Alfred Goldsmith’s cheerful bookshop. Here they were startled to hear Mr. Goldsmith cry: “Well, Chris, here are some nice bones for you.” One of these visitors assumed this friendly greeting was for him, but then it was explained that Mr. Goldsmith’s dog, named Christmas, was feeling seedy, and was to be pampered. At this moment in came the postman with a package of books, arrived all the way from Canada. One of these books was “Salt of the Sea,” a volume of tales by Morley Roberts, and upon this Spondee fell with a loud cry, for it contained “The Promotion of the Admiral,” being to his mind a tale of great virtue which he had not seen in several years. Dactyl, meanwhile, was digging out some volumes of Gissing, and on the faces of both these creatures might have been seen a pleasant radiation of innocent cheer. Mr. Goldsmith also exhibited (it is still remembered) a beautiful photo of Walt Whitman, which entertained the visitors, for it showed old Walt with his coat-sleeve full of pins, which was ever Walt’s way.

How long ago it all seems. Does Miss Dorothy still act for the pictures? Does Chris, the amiable Scots terrier, still enjoy his bones? Does old Dactyl still totter about his daily tasks? Queer to think that it happened only yesterday. Well, time runs swift in New York.

FIRST LESSONS IN CLOWNING

A medley of crashing music, pungently odd and exhilarating smells, the roaring croon of the steam calliope, the sweet lingering savour of clown-white grease paint, elephants, sleek barking seals, trained pigs, superb white horses, frolicking dogs, exquisite ladies in tights and spangles, the pallid Venuses of the “living statuary,” a whole jumble of incongruous and fantastic glimpses, moving in perfect order through its arranged cycles–this is the blurred and ecstatic recollection of an amateur clown at the circus.

It was pay day that afternoon and all the performers were in cheerful humour. Perhaps that was why the two outsiders, who played a very inconspicuous part in the vast show, were so gently treated. Certainly they had approached the Garden in some secret trepidation. They had had visions of dire jests and grievous humiliations: of finding themselves suddenly astride the bare backs of berserk mules, or hoisted by blazing petards, or douched with mysterious cascades of icy water. Pat Valdo had written: “I am glad to hear you are going to clown a bit. I hope you both will enjoy the experience.” To our overwrought imaginations this sounded a little ominous. What would Pat and his lively confreres do to us?

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We need not have feared. Not in the most genial club could we have been more kindly treated than in the dressing room where we found Pat Valdo opening his trunk and getting out the antic costumes he had provided. (The eye of a certain elephant, to tell the truth, was the only real embarrassment we suffered. We happened to stand by him as he was waiting to go on, and in his shrewd and critical orb we saw a complete disdain. He spotted us at once. He knew us for interlopers. He knew that we were not a real clown, and his eye showed a spark of scorn. We felt shamed, and slunk away.)

A liberal coating of clown-white, well rubbed into the palms before applying; a rich powdering of talcum; and decorations applied by Pat Valdo with his red and black paint-sticks–these give an effect that startles the amateur when he considers himself in the mirror. Topped with a skull-cap of white flannel (on which perches a supreme oddity in the way of a Hooligan hat) and enveloped in a baggy Pierrot garment–one is ready to look about and study the dressing room, where our fellows, in every kind of gorgeous grotesquerie, are preparing for the Grand Introductory Pageant–followed by the “Strange People.” (They don’t call them Freaks any more.) Here is Johannes Joseffson, the Icelandic Gladiator, sitting on his trunk, with his bare feet gingerly placed on his slippers to keep them off the dusty floor while he puts on his wrestling tights. As he bends over with arched back, and raises one leg to insert it into the long pink stocking, one must admire the perfect muscular grace of his thighs and shoulders. Here is the equally muscular dwarf, being massaged by a friend before he dons his pink frills and dashing plumed hat and becomes Mlle. Spangletti, “the marvel equestrienne, darling of the Parisian boulevards.” Here is the inevitable Charley Chaplin, and here the dean of all the clowns, an old gentleman of seventy-four, in his frolicsome costume, as lively as ever. Here is a trunk inscribed Australian Woodchoppers, and sitting on it one of the woodchoppers himself, a quiet, humorous, cultivated gentleman with a great fund of philosophy. A rumour goes the rounds–as it does behind the scenes in every kind of show. “Do you know who we have with us to-day? I see one of the boxes is all decorated up.” “It’s Mrs. Vincent Astor.” “Who’s she?” interjects the Australian woodchopper, satirically. “It’s General Wood.” “Did you hear, Wood and Pershing are here to-day?” Charley Chaplin asserts that he has “a good gag” that he’s going to try out to-day and see how it goes. One of the other clowns in the course of dressing comes up to Pat Valdo, and Pat introduces his two pupils. “Newspaper men, hey?” says the latter. “What did you tell me for? I usually double-cross the newspaper men when they come up to do some clowning,” he explains to us. We are left wondering in what this double-crossing consists. Suddenly they all troop off down the dark narrow stairs for the triumphal entry. The splendour of this parade may not be marred by any clown costumes, so the two novices are left upstairs, peering through holes in the dressing-room wall. The big arena is all an expanse of eager faces. The band strikes up a stirring ditty. A wave of excitement sweeps through the dingy quarters of the Garden. The show is on, and how delirious it all is!

Downstairs, the space behind the arena is a fascinating jostle of odd sights. The elephants come swaying up the runway from the basement and stand in line waiting their turn. Here is a cage of trained bears. In the background stands the dogcatcher’s cart, attached to the famous kicking mule. From the ladies’ dressing quarters come the aerial human butterflies in their wings and gauzy draperies. On the wall is a list of names, Mail Uncalled For. One of the names is “Toby Hamilton.” That must mean old Toby, and we fear the letter will never be called for now, for Toby Hamilton, the famous old Barnum and Bailey press agent, who cleaned up more “free space” than any man who ever lived, died in 1916. Suddenly appears a person clad in flesh tights and a barrel, carrying a label announcing himself as The Common People. Someone thrusts a large sign into the hands of one of the amateur clowns, and he is thrust upon the arena, to precede the barrelled Common People round the sawdust circuit. He has hardly time to see what the sign says–something about “On Strike Against $100 Suits.” The amateur clown is somewhat aghast at the huge display of friendly faces. Is he to try to be funny? Here is the flag-hung box, and he tries to see who is in it. He doesn’t see either Wood, Pershing, or Mrs. Astor, who are not there; but a lot of wounded soldiers, who smile at him encouragingly. He feels better and proceeds, finding himself, with a start, just beneath some flying acrobats who are soaring in air, hanging by their teeth. Common People shouts to him to keep the sign facing toward the audience. The tour is made without palpable dishonour.

Things are now moving so fast it is hard to keep up with them. Pat Valdo is dressed as a prudish old lady with an enormous bustle. Escorted by the clown policeman and the two amateurs, Pat sets out, fanning himself demurely. Hullo! the bustle has detached itself from the old lady, but she proceeds, unconscious. The audience shouts with glee. Finally the cop sees what has happened and screams. The amateur clowns scream, too, and one of them, in a burst of inspiration, takes off his absurd hat to the bustle, which is now left yards behind. But Pat is undismayed, turns and beckons with his hand. The bustle immediately runs forward of its own accord and reattaches itself to the rear of the skirt. You see, there is a dwarf inside it. The two amateur clowns are getting excited by this time and execute some impromptu tumbling. One tackles the other and they roll over and over desperately. In the scuffle one loses both his hat and skull-cap and flees shamefast from the scene. It is asserted by our partner that “this went big.” He swears it got a laugh. Pat Valdo hurries off to prepare for his boomerang throwing. Pat is a busy man, for he is not only a clown, but he and Mrs. Valdo also do wonderful stunts of their own on Ring Number One.

And there are moments of sheer poetry, too. Into the darkened arena, crossed by dazzling shafts of light, speeds a big white motor car. Bird Millman descends, tossing aside her cloak. “A fairy on a cobweb” the press agents call her, and as two humble clowns watch entranced through the peepholes in the big doors the phrase seems none too extravagant. See her, in a foam of short fluffy green skirts, twirl and tiptoe on the glittering wire, all grace and slenderness and agile enchantment. She bows in the dazzle of light and kisses her hands to the crowd. Then she hops into the big car and is borne back behind the scenes. Once behind the doors her gay vivacity ceases. She sits, wearily, several minutes, before getting out of the car. And then, later, comes Mlle. Leitzel. She, like all the other stars, is said to have “amazed all Europe.” We don’t know whether Europe is harder to amaze than America. Certainly no one could be more admiringly astounded than the amateur clowns gazing entranced through the crack of the doorway. To that nerve-tightening roll of drums she spins deliriously high up in giddy air, floating, a tiny human pin-wheel, in a shining cone of light. One can hear the crowd catch its breath. She walks back, all smiles, while her maid trots ahead saying something unintelligible. Her tall husband is waiting for her at the doorway. He catches her up like a child and carries her off, limp and exhausted. One of the clowns (irreverent creature) makes a piteous squawk and begs us to carry him to his dressing room.

A trained pig, trotting cheerfully round in search of tidbits, is retrieved from under the hooves of Mrs. Curtis’s horse, which is about to go out and dance. The dogcatcher’s wagon is drawn up ready to rush forth, and the trained terrier which accompanies it is leaping with excitement. He regards it as a huge lark, and knows his cue perfectly. When the right time comes he makes a dash for a clown dressed as an elderly lady and tears off her skirt. One of the amateurs was allowed to ride behind the kicking mule, but to his great chagrin the mule did not kick as well as usual. Here are Charley Chaplin and some others throwing enormous dice from a barrel. No matter how the dice are thrown they always turn up seven. Into this animated gamble the amateur clown enters with enjoyment. All round him the wildest capers are proceeding. The double-ended flivver is prancing about. John Barleycorn’s funeral procession is going its way. “Give me plenty of space,” says Charley Chaplin to us, “so the people can watch me.” We do so, reverently, for Charley’s antics are worth watching. We make a wild dash, and plan to do a tumble in imitation of Charley’s. To our disappointment we find that instead of sliding our feet dig into the soft sawdust, and the projected collapse does not arrive. Intoxicated by the rich spice of circus odours, the booming calliope, the galloping horses, we hardly know what we are doing half the time. We hear Miss May Wirth, the Wonder Rider of the World, complaining bitterly that someone got in front of her when she was doing her particularly special stunt. We wonder dubiously whether we were the guilty one. Alas, it is all over but the washing up. Pat Valdo, gentlest of hosts, is taking off his trick hat with the water cistern concealed in it. He has a clean towel ready for his grateful pupils.

The band is playing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and all the clowns, in various stages of undress, stand at attention. Our little peep into the gay, good-hearted, courageous, and extraordinary world of the circus is over. Pat and his fellows will go on, twice a day, for the next six months. It takes patience and endurance. But it must be some consolation to know that nothing else in the world gives half as much pleasure to so many people.

HOUSE-HUNTING

A curious vertigo afflicts the mind of the house-hunter. In the first place, it is sufficiently maddening to see the settled homes of other happier souls, all apparently so firmly rooted in a warm soil of contentment while he floats, an unhappy sea-urchin, in an ocean of indecision. Furthermore, how confusing (to one who likes to feel himself somewhat securely established in a familiar spot) the startling panorama of possible places in which he visualizes himself. One day it is Great Neck, the next it is Nutley; one day Hollis, the next Englewood; one day Bronxville, and then Garden City. As the telephone rings, or the suasive accents of friendly realtors expound the joys and glories of various regions, his uneasy imagination flits hoppingly about the compass, conceiving his now vanished household goods reassembled and implanted in these contrasting scenes.

Startling scenarios are filmed in his reeling mind while he listens, over the tinkling wire, to the enumeration of rooms, baths, pantries, mortgages, commuting schedules, commodious closets, open fireplaces, and what not. In the flash and coruscation of thought he has transported his helpless family to Yonkers, or to Manhasset, or to Forest Hills, or wherever it may be, and tries to focus and clarify his vision of what it would all be like. He sees himself (in a momentary close-up) commuting on the bland and persevering Erie, or hastening hotly for a Liberty Street ferry, or changing at Jamaica (that mystic ritual of the Long Island brotherhood). For an instant he is settled again, with a modest hearth to return to at dusk … and then the sorrowful compliment is paid him and he wonders how the impression got abroad that he is a millionaire.

There is one consoling aspect of his perplexity, however, and that is the friendly intercourse he has with high-spirited envoys who represent real estate firms and take him voyaging to see “properties” in the country. For these amiable souls he expresses his candid admiration. Just as when one contemplates the existence of the doctors one knows, one can never imagine them ill, so one cannot conceive of the friendly realtor as in any wise distressed or grieved by the problems of the home. There is something Olympian about them, happy creatures! They deal only in severely “restricted” tracts. They have a stalwart and serene optimism. Odd as it seems, one of these friends told us that some people are so malign as to waste the time of real estate men by going out to look at houses in the country without the slightest intention of “acting.” As a kind of amusement, indeed! A harmless way of passing an afternoon, of getting perhaps a free motor ride and enjoying the novelty of seeing what other people’s houses look like inside. But our friend was convinced of one humble inquirer’s passionate sincerity when he saw him gayly tread the ice floes of rustic Long Island in these days of slush and slither.

How do these friends of ours, who see humanity in its most painful and distressing gesture (i.e., when it is making up its mind to part with some money), manage to retain their fine serenity and blitheness of spirit? They have to contemplate all the pathetic struggles of mortality, for what is more pathetic than the spectacle of a man trying to convince a real estate agent that he is not really a wealthy creature masking millions behind an eccentric pose of humility? Our genial adviser Grenville Kleiser, who has been showering his works upon us, has classified all possible mental defects as follows:

(a) Too easy acquiescence

(b) A mental attitude of contradiction

(c) Undue skepticism

(d) A dogmatic spirit

(e) Lack of firmness of mind

(f) A tendency to take extreme views

(g) Love of novelty; that is, of what is foreign, ancient, unusual, or mysterious.

All these serious weaknesses of judgment may be discerned, in rapid rotation, in the mind of the house-hunter. It would be only natural, we think, if the real estate man were to tell him to go away and study Mr. Kleiser’s “How to Build Mental Power.” In the meantime, the vision of the home he had dreamed of becomes fainter and fainter in the seeker’s mind–like the air of a popular song he has heard whistled about the streets, but does not know well enough to reproduce. How he envies the light-hearted robins, whose house-hunting consists merely in a gay flitting from twig to twig. Yet, even in his disturbance and nostalgia of spirit, he comforts himself with the common consolation of his cronies–“Oh, well, one always finds something”–and thus (in the words of good Sir Thomas Browne) teaches his haggard and unreclaimed reason to stoop unto the lure of Faith.

LONG ISLAND REVISITED

The anfractuosities of legal procedure having caused us to wonder whether there really were any such place as the home we have just bought, we thought we would go out to Salamis, L. I., and have a look at it. Of course we knew it had been there a few weeks ago, but the title companies do confuse one so. We had been sitting for several days in the office of the most delightful lawyer in the world (and if we did not fear that all the other harassed and beset creatures in these parts would instantly rush to lay their troubles in his shrewd and friendly bosom we would mention his name right here and do a little metrical pirouette in his honour)–we had been sitting there, we say, watching the proceedings, without the slightest comprehension of what was happening. It is really quite surprising, let us add, to find how many people are suddenly interested in some quiet, innocent-looking shebang nestling off in a quiet dingle in the country, and how, when it is to be sold, they all bob up from their coverts in Flushing, Brooklyn, or Long Island City, and have to be “satisfied.” What floods of papers go crackling across the table, drawn out from those mysterious brown cardboard wallets; what quaint little jests pass between the emissaries of the title company and the legal counsel of the seller, jests that seem to bear upon the infirmity of human affairs and cause the well-wishing adventurer to wonder whether he had ever sufficiently pondered the strange tissue of mortal uncertainties that hides behind every earthly venture … there was, for instance, occasional reference to a vanished gentleman who had once crossed the apparently innocent proscenium of our estate and had skipped, leaving someone six thousand dollars to the bad; this ingenious buccaneer was, apparently, the only one who did not have to be “satisfied.” At any rate, we thought that we, who entered so modestly and obscurely into this whole affair, being only the purchaser, would finally satisfy ourself, too, by seeing if the property was still there.

Long Island and spring–the conjunction gives us a particular thrill. There are more beautiful places than the Long Island flats, but it was there that we earned our first pay envelope, and it was there that we first set up housekeeping; and as long as we live the station platform of Jamaica will move us strangely–not merely from one train to another, but also inwardly. There is no soil that receives a more brimming benison of sunshine than Long Island in late April. As the train moves across the plain it seems to swim in a golden tide of light. Billboards have been freshly painted and announce the glories of phonographs in screaming scarlets and purples, or the number of miles that divide you from a Brooklyn department store. Out at Hillside the stones that demarcate the territory of an old-fashioned house are new and snowily whitewashed. At Hollis the trees are a cloud of violent mustard-yellow (the colour of a safety-matchbox label). Magnolias (if that is what they are) are creamy pink. Moving vans are bustling along the road. Across the wide fields of Bellaire there is a view of the brown woods on the ridge, turning a faint olive as the leaves gain strength. Gus Wuest’s roadhouse at Queens looks inviting as of old, and the red-brown of the copper beeches reminds one of the tall amber beakers. Here is the little park by the station in Queens, the flag on the staff, the forsythia bushes the colour of scrambled eggs.

Is it the influence of the Belmont Park race track? There seem to be, in the smoking cars, a number of men having the air of those accustomed to associate (in a not unprofitable way) with horses. Here is one, a handsome person, who holds our eye as a bright flower might. He wears a flowing overcoat of fleecy fawn colour and a derby of biscuit brown. He has a gray suit and joyful socks of heavy wool, yellow and black and green in patterned squares which are so vivid they seem cubes rather than squares. He has a close-cut dark moustache, his shaven cheeks are a magnificent sirloin tint, his chin splendidly blue by the ministration of the razor. His shirt is blue with a stripe of sunrise pink, and the collar to match. He talks briskly and humorously to two others, leaning over in the seat behind them. As he argues, we see his brown low shoe tapping on the floor. One can almost see his foot think. It pivots gently on the heel, the toe wagging in air, as he approaches the climax of each sentence. Every time he drives home a point in his talk down comes the whole foot, softly, but firmly. He relights his cigar in the professional manner, not by inhaling as he applies the match, but by holding the burned portion in the flame, away from his mouth, until it has caught. His gold watch has a hunting case; when he has examined it, it shuts again with a fine rich snap, which we can hear even above the noise of the car.

On this early morning train there are others voyaging for amusement. Here are two golfing zealots, puffing pipes and discussing with amazing persistence the minutiae of their sport. Their remarks are addressed to a very fashionable-looking curate, whose manners are superb. Whether he is going to play golf we know not; at any rate, he smiles mildly and politely to all they say. Perhaps he is going round the course with them, in the hope of springing some ecclesiastical strategy while they are softened and chastened by the glee of the game. The name of their Maker, it is only fair to suspect, has more than once been mentioned on the putting green; and if it should slip out, the curate will seize the cue and develop it. In the meantime, one of the enthusiasts (while his companion is silenced in the act of lighting his pipe) is explaining to the cloth how his friend plays golf. “I’ll tell you how he plays,” he says. “Imagine him sitting down in a low chair and swinging a club. Then take the chair away and he still keeps the same position. That’s what he looks like when he drives.” The curate smiles at this and prepares his face to smile with equal gentleness when the other retorts.

After Floral Park the prospect becomes more plainly rural. The Mineola trolley zooms along, between wide fields of tilled brown earth. There is an occasional cow; here and there a really old barn and farmhouse standing, incongruously, among the settlements of modern kindling-wood cottages; and a mysterious agricultural engine at work with a spinning fly-wheel. Against the bright horizon stand the profiles of Garden City: the thin cathedral spire, the bulk of St. Paul’s school, the white cupola of the hotel. The tree-lined vistas of Mineola are placidly simmering in the morning sun. A white dog with erect and curly tail trots very purposefully round the corner of the First National Bank. We think that we see the spreading leaves of some rhubarb plants in a garden; and there are some of those (to us very enigmatic, as we are no gardener) little glass window frames set in the soil, as though a whole house, shamed by the rent the owner wanted to charge, had sunk out of sight, leaving only a skylight.

As we leave East Williston we approach more interesting country, with a semblance of hills, and wooded thickets still brownly tapestried with the dry funeral of last year’s leaves. On the trees the new foliage sways in little clusters, catching the light like the wings of perching green butterflies. Some of the buds are a coppery green, some a burning red, but the prevailing colour is the characteristic sulphur yellow of early spring. And now we are set down at Salamis, where the first and most surprising impression is of the unexpected abundance of competitive taxicabs. Having reached the terminus of our space, we can only add that we found our estate still there–and there are a few stalks of rhubarb surviving from an earlier plantation.

ON BEING IN A HURRY

New York is a perplexing city to loaf in. (Walt Whitman if he came back to Mannahatta would soon get brain fever.) During the middle hours of the day, at any rate, it is almost impossible to idle with the proper spirit and completeness. There is a prevailing bustle and skirmish that “exerts a compulsion,” as President Wilson would say. The air is electric and nervous. We have often tried to dawdle gently about the neighbourhood of the City Hall in the lunch hour, to let the general form and spirit of that clearing among the cliffs sink into our mind, so that we could get some picture of it. We have sat under a big brown umbrella, to have our shoes shined, when we had nothing more important to do than go to the doughnut foundry on Park Row and try some of those delectable combinations of foods they have there, such as sponge cake with whipped cream and chocolate fudge. And in a few seconds we have found ourself getting all stirred up and crying loudly to the artist that we only wanted a once-over, as we had an important appointment. You have to put a very heavy brake on your spirit in downtown New York or you find yourself dashing about in a prickle of excitement, gloriously happy just to be in a hurry, without particularly caring whither you are hastening, or why.

One of the odd things about being in a hurry is that it seems so fiercely important when you yourself are the hurrier and so comically ludicrous when it is someone else. We see our friend Artaxerxes scorching up Church Street and we scream with laughter at him, because we know perfectly well that there is absolutely not one of his affairs important enough to cause him to buzz along like that. We look after him with a sort of mild and affectionate pity for a deluded creature who thinks that his concerns are of such glorious magnitude. And then, a few hours later, we find ourself on a subway car with only ten minutes to catch the train for Salamis at Atlantic Avenue. And what is our state of mind? We stand, gritting our teeth (we are too excited to sit, even if there were a seat) and holding our watch. The whole train, it seems to us, is occupied by invalids, tottering souls and lumbago cripples, who creep off at the stations as though five seconds made not the slightest difference. We glare and fume and could gladly see them all maced in sunder with battle-axes. Nothing, it seems to us, could soothe our bitter hunger for haste but to have a brilliant Lexington Avenue express draw up at the platform with not a soul in it. Out would step a polite guard, looking at his watch. “You want to catch a train at 5:27?” he asks. “Yes, sir, yes, sir; step aboard.” All the other competitors are beaten back with knotted thongs and we are ushered to a seat. The bells go chiming in quick sequence up the length of the train and we are off at top speed, flying wildly past massed platforms of indignant people. We draw up at Atlantic Avenue, and the solitary passenger, somewhat appeased, steps off. “Compliments of the Interborough, sir,” says the guard.

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The commuter, urgently posting toward the 5:27, misses the finest flavour of the city’s life, for it is in the two or three hours after office work is over that the town is at her best. What a spry and smiling mood is shown along the pavements, particularly on these clear, warm evenings when the dropping sun pours a glowing tide of soft rosy light along the cross-town streets. There is a cool lightness in the air; restaurants are not yet crowded (it is, let us say, a little after six) and beside snowy tablecloths the waiters stand indulgently with folded arms. Everybody seems in a blithe and spirited humour. Work is over for the day, and now what shall we do for amusement? This is the very peak of living, it seems to us, as we sally cheerily along the street. It is like the beginning of an O. Henry story. The streets are fluttering with beautiful women; light summer frocks are twinkling in the busy frolic air. Oh, to be turned loose at the corner of Broadway and Thirty-second Street at 6:15 o’clock of a June evening, with nothing to do but follow the smile of adventure to the utmost! Thirty-second, we might add, is our favourite street in New York. It saddens us to think that the old boarding house on the corner of Madison Avenue is vanished now and all those quaint and humorous persons dispersed. We can still remember the creak of the long stairs and the clink of a broken slab in the tiled flooring of the hall as one walked down to the dining room.

Affection for any particular street largely depends on the associations it has accumulated in one’s mind. For several years most of our adventures in New York centred round Thirty-second Street; but its physique has changed so much lately that it has lost some of its appeal. We remember an old stone-yard that used to stand where the Pennsylvania Hotel is now, a queer jumbled collection of odd carvings and relics. At the front door there was a bust of Pan on a tall pedestal, which used to face us with a queer crooked grin twice a day, morning and evening. We had a great affection for that effigy, and even wrote a little piece about him in one of the papers, for which we got about $4 at a time when it was considerably needed. We used to say to ourself that some day when we had a home in the country we would buy Pan and set him in a Long Island garden where he would feel more at home than in the dusty winds of Thirty-second Street. Time went on and we disappeared from our old haunts, and when we came back Pan had vanished, too. You may imagine our pleasure when we found him again the other day standing in front of a chop house on Forty-fourth Street.

But one great addition to the delights of the Thirty-second Street region is the new and shining white tunnel that leads one from the Penn Station subway platform right into the heart of what used (we think) to be called Greeley Square. It is so dazzling and candid in its new tiling that it seems rather like a vast hospital corridor. One emerges through the Hudson Tube station and perhaps sets one’s course for a little restaurant on Thirty-fifth Street which always holds first place in our affection. It is somewhat declined from its former estate, for the upper floors, where the violent orchestra was and the smiling little dandruffian used to sing solos when the evening grew glorious, are now rented to a feather and ostrich plume factory. But the old basement is still there, much the same in essentials, by which we mean the pickled beet appetizers, the minestrone soup, the delicious soft bread with its brittle crust, and the thick slices of rather pale roast beef swimming in thin, pinkish gravy. And the three old French waiters, hardened in long experience of the frailties of mortality, smile to see a former friend. One, grinning upon us rather bashfully, recalls the time when there was a hilarious Oriental wedding celebrating in a private room upstairs and two young men insisted on going in to dance with the bride. He has forgiven various pranks, we can see, though he was wont to be outraged at the time. “Getting very stout,” he says, beaming down at us. “You weigh a hundred pounds more than you used to.” This is not merely cruel; it is untrue. We refrain from retorting on the growth of his bald spot.

CONFESSIONS OF A HUMAN GLOBULE

As a matter of fact, we find the evening subway jam very restful. Being neatly rounded in contour, with just a gentle bulge around the equatorial transit, we have devised a very satisfactory system. We make for the most crowded car we can find, and having buffeted our way in, we are perfectly serene. Once properly wedged, and provided no one in the immediate neighbourhood is doing anything with any garlic (it is well to avoid the vestibules if one is squeamish in that particular) we lift our feet off the floor, tuck them into the tail of our overcoat, and remain blissfully suspended in midair from Chambers Street to Ninety-sixth. The pressure of our fellow-passengers, powerfully impinging upon the globular perimeter we spoke of, keeps us safely elevated above the floor. We have had some leather stirrups sewed into the bottom of our overcoat, in which we slip our feet to keep them from dangling uncomfortably. Another feature of our technique is that we always go into the car with our arms raised and crossed neatly on our chest, so that they will not be caught and pinioned to our flanks. In that position, once we are gently nested among the elastic mass of genial humanity, it is easy to draw out from our waistcoat pocket our copy of Boethius’s “Consolations of Philosophy” and really get in a little mental improvement. Or, if we have forgotten the book, we gently droop our head into our overcoat collar, lay it softly against the shoulder of the tall man who is always handy, and pass into a tranquil nescience.

The subway is a great consolation to the philosopher if he knows how to make the most of it. Think how many people one encounters and never sees again.

NOTES ON A FIFTH AVENUE BUS

Far down the valley of the Avenue the traffic lights wink in unison, green, yellow, red, changing their colours with well-drilled promptness. It is cold: a great wind flaps and tangles the flags; the tops of the buses are almost empty. That brisk April air seems somehow in key with the mood of the Avenue–hard, plangent, glittering, intensely material. It is a proud, exultant, exhilarating street; it fills the mind with strange liveliness. A magnificent pomp of humanity–what a flux of lacquered motors, what a twinkling of spats along the pavements! On what other of the world’s great highways would one find churches named for the material of which they are built?–the Brick Church, the Marble Church! It is not a street for loitering–there is an eager, ambitious humour in its blood; one walks fast, revolving schemes of worldly dominion. Only on the terrace in front of the Public Library is there any temptation for tarrying and consideration. There one may pause and study the inscription–But Above All Things Truth Beareth Away the Victory … of course the true eloquence of the words lies in the But. Much reason for that But, implying a previous contradiction–on the Avenue’s part? Sometimes, pacing vigorously in that river of lovely pride and fascination, one might have suspected that other things bore away the victory–spats, diamond necklaces, smoky blue furs nestling under lovely chins…. Hullo! here is a sign, “Headquarters of the Save New York Committee.” Hum! Save from what? There was a time when the great charm of New York lay in the fact that it didn’t want to be saved. Who is it that the lions in front of the Public Library remind us of? We have so often pondered. Let’s see: the long slanting brow, the head thrown back, the haughty and yet genial abstraction–to be sure, it’s Vachel Lindsay!

We defy the most resolute philosopher to pass along the giddy, enticing, brilliant vanity of that superb promenade and not be just a little moved by worldly temptation.

SUNDAY MORNING

It was a soft, calm morning of sunshine and placid air. Clear and cool, it was “a Herbert Spencer of a day,” as H. G. Wells once remarked. The vista of West Ninety-eighth Street, that engaging alcove in the city’s enormous life, was all freshness and kempt tranquillity, from the gray roof of the old training ship at the river side up to the tall red spire near Columbus Avenue. This pinnacle, which ripens to a fine claret colour when suffused with sunset, we had presumed to be a church tower, but were surprised, on exploration, to find it a standpipe of some sort connected with the Croton water system.

Sunday morning in this neighbourhood has its own distinct character. There is a certain air of luxurious ease in the picture. One has a feeling that in those tall apartment houses there are a great many ladies taking breakfast in negligee. They are wearing (if one may trust the shop windows along Broadway) boudoir caps and mules. Mules, like their namesakes in the animal world, are hybrid things, the offspring of a dancing pump and a bedroom slipper. They are distinctly futile, but no matter, no matter. Wearing mules, however, is not a mere vanity; it is a form of physical culture, for these skimpish little things are always disappearing under the bed, and crawling after them keeps one slender. Again we say, no matter. This is no concern of ours.

Near Broadway a prosperous and opulently tailored costume emerges from an apartment house: cutaway coat, striped trousers, very long pointed patent leather shoes with lilac cloth tops. Within this gear, we presently see, is a human being, in the highest spirits. “All set!” he says, joining a group of similars waiting by a shining limousine. Among these, one lady of magnificently millinered aspect, and a smallish man in very new and shiny riding boots, of which he is grandly conscious. There are introductions. “Mr. Goldstone, meet Mrs. Silverware.” They are met. There is a flashing of eyes. Three or four silk hats simultaneously leap into the shining air, are flourished and replaced. The observer is aware of the prodigious gayety and excitement of life. All climb into the car and roll away down Broadway. All save the little man in riding boots. He is left on the sidewalk, gallantly waving his hand. Come, we think, he is going riding. A satiny charger waits somewhere round the corner. We will follow and see. He slaps his hunting crop against his glorious boots, which are the hue of quebracho wood. No; to our chagrin, he descends into the subway.

We sit on the shoeshining stand on Ninety-sixth Street, looking over the Sunday papers. Very odd, in the adjoining chairs men are busily engaged polishing shoes that have nobody in them, not visibly, at any rate. Perhaps Sir Oliver is right after all. While we are not watching, the beaming Italian has inserted a new pair of laces for us. Long afterward, at bedtime, we find that he has threaded them in that unique way known only to shoe merchants and polishers, by which every time they are tied and untied one end of the lace gets longer and the other shorter. Life is full of needless complexities. We descend the hill. Already (it is 9:45 A. M.) men are playing tennis on the courts at the corner of West End Avenue. A great wagon crammed with scarlet sides of beef comes stumbling up the hill, drawn, with difficulty, by five horses.

When we get down to the Ninety-Sixth Street pier we see the barque Windrush lying near by with the airy triangles of her rigging pencilled against the sky, and look amorously on the gentle curve of her strakes (if that is what they are). We feel that it would be a fine thing to be off soundings, greeting the bounding billow, not to say the bar-room steward; and yet, being a cautious soul of reservations all compact, we must admit that about the time we got abreast of New Dorp we would be homesick for our favourite subway station.

The pier, despite its deposit of filth, bales of old shoes, reeking barrels, scows of rubbish, sodden papers, boxes of broken bottles and a thick paste of dust and ash-powder everywhere, is a happy lounging ground for a few idlers on Sunday morning. A large cargo steamer, the Eclipse, lay at the wharf, standing very high out of the water. Three small boys were watching a peevish old man tending his fishing lines, fastened to wires with little bells on them. “What do you catch here?” we said. Just then one of the little bells gave a cracked tinkle and the angler pulled up a small fish, wriggling briskly, about three inches long. This seemed to anger him. He seemed to consider himself in some way humiliated by the incident. He grunted. One of the small boys was tactful. “Oh, gee!” he said. “Sometimes you catch fish that long,” indicating a length which began at about a yard and diminished to about eighteen inches as he meditated. “I don’t know what kind they are,” he said. “They’re not trouts, but some other kind of fish.”

This started the topic of relative sizes, always fascinating to small boys. “That’s a pretty big boat,” said one, craning up at the tall stem of the Eclipse. “Oh, gee, that ain’t big!” said another. “You ought to see some of the Cunard boats, the Olympic or the Baltic.”

On Riverside Drive horseback riders were cantering down the bridlepath, returning from early outings. The squirrels, already grossly overfed, were brooding languidly that another day of excessive peanuts was at hand. Behind a rapidly spinning limousine pedalled a grotesquely humped bicyclist, using the car as a pacemaker. He throbbed fiercely just behind the spare tire, with his face bent down into a rich travelling cloud of gasoline exhaust. An odd way of enjoying one’s self! Children were coming out in troops, with their nurses, for the morning air. Here was a little boy with a sailor hat, and on the band a gilt legend that was new to us. Instead of the usual naval slogan, it simply said Democracy. This interested us, as later in the day we saw another, near the goldfish pond in Central Park. Behind the cashier’s grill of a Broadway drug store the good-tempered young lady was reading Zane Grey. “I love his books,” she said, “but they make me want to break loose and go out West.”

VENISON PASTY

The good old days are gone, we have been frequently and authoritatively assured; and yet, sitting in an agreeable public on William Street where the bright eye of our friend Harold Phillips discerned venison pasty on the menu, and listening to a seafaring man describe a recent “blow” off Hatteras during which he stood four hours up to his waist in the bilges, and watching our five jocund companions dismiss no less than twenty-one beakers of cider, we felt no envy whatever for the ancients of the Mermaid Tavern. After venison pasty, and feeling somewhat in the mood of Robin Hood and Friar Tuck, we set off with our friend Endymion for a stroll through the wilderness. The first adventure of note that we encountered was the curb market on Broad Street, where we stood entranced at the merry antics of the brokers. This, however, is a spectacle that no layman can long contemplate and still deem himself sane. That sea of flickering fingers, the hubbub of hoarse cries, and the enigmatic gestures of youths framed in the open windows gave an impression of something fierce and perilous happening. Endymion, still deeming himself in Sherwood Forest, insisted that this was the abode of the Sheriff of Nottingham. “Stout deeds are toward!” he cried. “These villain wights have a damsel imprisoned in yonder keep!” With difficulty we restrained him from pressing to the rescue of the lady (for indeed we could see her, comely enough, appearing now and then at one of the windows; and anon disappearing, abashed at the wild throng). But gradually we realized that no such dire matter was being transacted, for the knights, despite occasional spasms of hot gesticulating fury, were mild and meant her no ill. One, after a sudden flux of business concerning (it seemed) 85 shares of Arizona Copper, fell suddenly placid, and was eating chocolate ice cream from a small paper plate. Young gallants, wearing hats trimmed with variegated brightly coloured stuffs (the favours of their ladies, we doubted not), were conferring together, but without passion or rancour.

We have a compact with our friend Endymion that as soon as either of us spends money for anything not strictly necessary he must straightway return to the office. After leaving the curb market, we found ourselves in a basement bookshop on Broadway, and here Endymion fell afoul of a copy of Thomas Hardy’s “Wessex Poems,” illustrated by the author. Piteously he tried to persuade us that it was a matter of professional advancement to him to have this book; moreover, he said, he had just won five dollars at faro (or some such hazard) so that he was not really spending money at all; but we countered all his sophisms with slogging rhetoric. He bought the book, and so had to return to the office in disgrace.

We fared further, having a mind to revisit the old Eastern Hotel, down by the South Ferry, of whose cool and dusky bar-room we had pleasant memories in times gone by; but we found to our distress that this also, like many more of our familiar landmarks, is a prey to the house-wrecker, and is on its way to become an office building. On our way back up Broadway it occurred to us to revisit what we have long considered one of the most impressive temples in our acquaintance, the lobby of the Telephone and Telegraph Building, on Dey Street. Here, passing by the enticing little terrace with brocaded chairs and soft lights where two gracious ladies sit to interview aspiring telephone debutantes, one stands in a dim golden glow, among great fluted pillars and bowls of softly burning radiance swung (like censers) by long chains. Occasionally there is an airy flutter, a bell clangs, bronze doors slide apart, and an elevator appears, in charge of a chastely uniformed priestess. Lights flash up over this dark little cave which stands invitingly open: UP, they say, LOCAL 1-13. The door-sill of the cave shines with a row of golden beads (small lights, to guide the foot)–it is irresistible. There is an upward impulse about the whole place: the light blossoms upward from the hanging translucent shells: people step gently in, the doors close, they are not seen again. It is the temple of the great American religion, Going Up. The shining gold stars in the ceiling draw the eye aloft. The temptation is too great. We step into the little bronze crypt, say “Thirteen” at a venture, and are borne softly and fluently up. Then, of course, we have to come down again, past the wagons of spring onions on Fulton Street, and back to the office.

GRAND AVENUE, BROOKLYN

We have always been a strong partisan of Brooklyn, and when we found ourself, in company with Titania, set down in the middle of a golden afternoon with the vista of Grand Avenue before us, we felt highly elated. Just how these two wayfarers chanced to be deposited in that quiet serenity, so far from their customary concerns, is not part of the narrative.

There are regions of Brooklyn, we have always felt, that are too good to be real. Placid stretches of streets, with baby carriages simmering in the sun, solid and comfortable brownstone houses exhaling a prosperous condition of life, tranquil old-fashioned apothecaries’ shops without soda fountains, where one peers in and sees only a solitary customer turning over the pages of a telephone book. It is all rather like a chapter from a story, and reminds us of a passage in “The Dynamiter” where some untroubled faubourgs of London are winningly described.

Titania was wearing a little black hat with green feathers. She looked her best, and was not unaware of it. Our general plan, when destiny suddenly plumps us into the heart of Brooklyn, is to make our way toward Fulton Street, which is a kind of life-line. Once on Fulton Street we know our way. Moreover, Fulton Street has admirable second-hand bookshops. Nor do we ever forget that it was at the corner of Fulton and Cranberry streets that “Leaves of Grass” was set up, in the spring of 1855, Walt doing a good deal of the work himself. The only difficulty about getting to Fulton Street is that people will give you such contradictory instruction. One will tell you to go this way; the next will point in the opposite direction. It is as though Brooklynites suspect the presence of a stranger, and do not wish their sacred secrets to be discovered. There is a deep, mysterious freemasonry among the residents of this genial borough.

At the corner of Grand and Greene avenues we thought it well to ask our way. A lady was standing on the corner, lost in pleasant drowse. April sunshine shimmered all about: trees were bustling into leaf, a wagonload of bananas stood by the curb and the huckster sang a gay, persuasive madrigal. We approached the lady, and Titania spoke gently: “Can you tell me—-” The lady screamed, and leaped round in horror, her face stricken with fearful panic. She gasped and tottered. We felt guilty and cruel. “We were not meditating an attack,” we said, “but just wanted to ask you the way to Fulton Street.” Perhaps the poor soul’s nerves were unstrung, for she gave us instruction that we felt instinctively to be wrong. Had we gone as she said (we now see by studying the map) we would have debouched into Wallabout Bay. But undoubtedly it was the protective instinct of the Brooklynite, on guard before strangers. Is there some terrific secret in Brooklyn that all residents know about but which must never be revealed to outsiders?

Making a mental note not to speak too suddenly at the next encounter, the two cheerful derelicts drifted along the sunny coast of Grand Avenue. A shining and passionless peace presided over the streets. A gentle clop-clop of hooves came trotting down the way: here was a man driving a white horse in a neat rubber-tired buggy without a top. He leaned back and smiled to himself as he drove along. Life did not seem to be the same desperate venture it appears round about Broadway and Wall Street. Who can describe the settled amiability of those rows of considerable brown houses, with their heavy oak doors, their pots of daisies on the stoop, their clear window panes, and now and then the face of a benignant grandmother peeping from behind lace curtains. The secret of Brooklyn, perhaps, is contentment, and its cautious residents do not want the rest of us to know too much about it, lest we all flock over there in swarms.

We then came to the bustle of Fulton Street, which deserves a book in itself. Some day we want to revisit a certain section of Fulton Street where (if we remember rightly) a rotisserie and a certain bookstore conspire to make one of the pleasantest haunts in our experience. We don’t know exactly what the secret of Brooklyn may be, but we are going to spend some time over there this spring and lie in wait for it.

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