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Books available in over 75 major metro areas in the U. Plus, access to the Digital Membership Coupons valid through December 30, Access to select online and car rental deals. No serious vices. Has an enormous capacity for work, but uses up all his energy with facile space-writing, leaving none for the sustained, concentrated effort necessary for creative work. Favorite sport: Feels best when doing nothing violent. Indifferent to business, probably because he has not been associated with it.
Finds he avoids anything he doesn't understand; typical American in this. Equally indifferent to God. May give Him more thought when older. Not an educated person at all; has no particular reverence for facts. Prefers a good book to anyone's companionship, but usually gets on well with men, and is quite popular with women. Doesn't sound like such a bad inventory; but just the same, his life so far is a failure—financially and artistically. Soon Gordon is walking around a community he feels very much a part of, thinking it not "such a bad little town, after all.
His theme: He rewrites the Itch-O advertising that gave him his financial start in the town. He never does get to his story; his soul is irrevocably suffocated. All these Haldeman-Julius stories ask the question of how one can stay in the small town and avoid the suffocated soul. The three p's of Peace, Prosperity, and Philistinism are strong forces, always ready to overpower. Part of their strength comes from the fact that they are exactly why so many people seek out and enjoy small-town life. Nell and Ambrose Fenner in "The Girl in the Snappy Roadster," for example, seem to fear life, to fear their own imaginations.
Ambrose is the opposite of what Gordon Hamilton was at the beginning of "Caught," yet the two end up more similar than different: No one knew it better than Ambrose himself. He nestled into Watsonville and Nell's companionship in much the way that a woodchuck nestles into its winter burrow. And like Gordon Hamilton's, their lives are interrupted by an outsider who exposes them for what they are. Fanny Harris, in a"snappy, sand-colored roadster, black wheels gleaming, polished nickel hound in full leap on its radiator," flashes into town and brings fantasies of travel, money, and extramarital sex.
Both Nell and Ambrose experiment, but, in the end, settle back down to the three p's. Their conclusion: But the Haldeman-Juliuses are not only exposing the three p's, the soul-suffocating security of the small town. They are also exploring solutions in their more positive characters. The story of Bessie Jones, "Comtesse du Jones," shows that with a creative use of the imagination one need not be entirely caught in the small town. When Robert Graham gives Bessie the book that introduces her to the French court, he is initiating her into a whole new world just as Fannie does for Nell and Ambrose , and it has a positive effect on her: Fact and romance moved in her fructifying soul, side by side, without conflict.
Romance takes over, and so the Haldeman-Juliuses introduce Peter Breeze, who is all fact and no romance, and who thus has much in common with the other Haldeman-Julius characters who live by the three p's. Bessie's illusions are shattered by the prosaic, but—importantly—she doesn't give up. In a humorous ending, she agrees to embark on another route. She is agreeing to continue letting her imagination creatively take part in her world. And this time she will have more of a chance to maintain her balance.
In fact, Bessie will become more like Robert and Janet Graham--a part of the small town, but connected by imagination to the wider world as well. Though on cordial terms with his neighbors, he was always a little aloof, never quite of them. It is also what keeps him on his toes and the town on its: The most complex of the stories, "Dreams and Compound Interest," clearly shows how the Grahams are at once in the town but not really of the town. Robert is, in the story, like a Gordon Hamilton who has gone ahead to write artistically: The utilitarian side to his gift was as clear as lucrative as her own banking methods.
Years spent with newspapers and magazines had taught him how to turn out articles that were always in demand at a good figure. But this spark that was 'different,' that experimented--Janet did not want it smothered; she wanted passionately to help kindle it into flame. Joe Harvey is trying to find "the dual-purpose cow, a Holstein and a Shorthorn in one. And, like Robert's, his dream is a long shot. But Joe Harvey is more of the small town. He has debts. Though Robert has no more chance of success--perhaps even less, with his intellectualized, somewhat ephemeral play of Machiavelli, Voltaire, and Chesterton--his means are greater.
His wife is the banker, who can at once reduce Joe Harvey to a "practical stockman who could be successful, forever pursuing a will-o'-the-wisp; dreaming among cows--a dream that was an ominous crescendo of disappointment. He is not really of the small town. The identification of Janet with Joe Harvey's wife, Fannie, and the final unfairness and irony of the story give it a complexity the other stories do not quite attain. Still, these stories are an important look at small town Kansas life around the s.
They show people variously succeeding and failing in their attempts to live richly in a town too rooted in peace, prosperity, and Philistinism. Like much other literature of the small town, they work by showing characters whose somewhat stale but contented routines are suddenly interrupted by outsiders or by uncommon events. Their reactions to the interruptions, to the chances to change their lives, reveal their character. If they react with imagination, they grow.
Like Bessie Jones, they become balancers of reality and romance.
If they react with fear, they become trapped, caught like Gordon Hamilton. In some way, this must have been the predicament of the Haldeman-Juliuses themselves. Marcet, who grew up in Girard, had also been on the Broadway stage and had been connected to a wider world all through her life. Emanuel, who was born in Philadelphia, had grown up in large cities, worked in Chicago, Milwaukee, and Los Angeles as a writer and had come to Girard to work on the Socialist newspaper, the Appeal to Reason.
He was used to an intellectual community.
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In part, these stories of the perils and rewards of small town life are proof of their success. T o understand why Gordon Hamilton, half-baked author of still unwritten masterpieces, youngster of twenty-five, who knew a little about everything and a great deal about little--to understand why Gordon decided to shake the stardust from his soul and leave his world of phrases, poems, and pigments for near-visioned, close-fisted Kansas, to be a Pagan in the mazes of Presbyterianism, romanticist in a world of realism, blower of bubbles in a stone quarry--to understand this, one must give heed to Sylvia.
Sylvia's soft, golden hair was bobbed; her laughter had a merry lilt; the round, childlike, violet eyes were fringed with heavy, curling lashes, and in the soft fabrics dyed by her own rosy fingers into rare, intoxicating colors, she seemed like some dainty creature who had strayed from fairyland.
Her brilliant loveliness completely captured the sensitive, beauty-worshipping youth. And when, just as everyone thought he had nearly won her, she suddenly veered to his own chum and shack mate, Oliver Mercer, who dabbled in oils and played the piano. Radnor-by-the-Sea became impossible for Gordon. He felt that he must go away from California, far away from Sylvia and Oliver and from the colony of friends who knew of his bitter disappointment. His first thought was of Radnor-by-the-Sea's great-aunt, Greenwich Village; but in Fallon, Kansas, a job was waiting for him on the Middle West's most popular weekly.
In fact, between unfinished novels, Gordon had made his living for several years by writing many of this paper's editorials, for which he received five dollars a column set in eight-point solid, eighteen ems wide , and frequent invitations to come to Fallon for steady work at thirty dollars a week, with--important item--traveling expenses included. Radnor-by-the-Sea, with its vaulting ambitions, self-consumed with talk, was caviar and pretzels; the Midland Weekly, with its large circulation and medical ads, was a thick slice of bread and butter.
Heavy of heart and weary of spirit, Gordon purchased his ticket. You know, of course, that a wretch found with a bottle of beer may receive a more severe sentence than that given to the gentleman who kills his neighbor. Gordon was in no mood for humor. It'll get you, sure. There's something in their atmosphere that's deadening to certain kinds of impulse.
Before you know it, you'll be joining the No-Tobacco League, receiving honors in lodges, going to funerals, and becoming an all-around useful member of society. Don't do it. I swear to you, you're making the mistake of your life. Here's a young fellow," his thoughts ran on, "with splendid health and fairly good looks. Doesn't sound like such a bad inventory; but just the same, his life so far is a failure--financially and artistically. The world needs divine bums. As soon as I get a couple of hundred dollars ahead in Fallon, I'll go straight to Paris, where poverty is beautiful, to my own kind of people: What difference does it make if I spend my last quarter once a month?
But I'll keep a grip on myself and buckle down to real work. The little town of thirty-five hundred much preferred to welcome newcomers at about three o'clock of a sunshiny Saturday afternoon. At that hour, with the Square swarming with farmers, a hundred or more rigs tied to the iron rail surrounding the courthouse yard, and all makes of cars parked at the curbing, it seemed to warrant the boosters' proud phrase of "City of the Second Class.
Decidedly, on Saturday one could not but be impressed with the bustle and activity. But Gordon came on a Tuesday morning, at an early hour, when even Kansas City is quiet. To his unprejudiced eye, Fallon appeared to be three homes, a barn, and a chicken house. All the more reason why I'll duck out as soon as I get a reasonable reserve.
After a hearty reception by Mr. Rhodes, the publisher, who made no effort to conceal his satisfaction over his arrival, he was given a pleasant corner and told to "go to it. After dinner, Mr. Rhodes brought to Gordon's desk a short, fat man whom he introduced as Professor Tomlin McPherson, one of the Midland's regular advertisers. The fact is"--he dropped his voice confidentially--"it's made from one of my grandmother's recipes. I did humanity a service when I put it on the market. I have testimonials from every state in the Union," he ended, with unmistakable pride.
It ain't up to snuff when it comes to grammar. If you'll put it in good shape, I'll pay you five beans. He is ready to read a library about it. He wants to know the cause of it, its nature, and its characteristics. This circular takes it for granted that the inquirer merely wants Itch-O. He wants more.
Have an account?
He wants information. Can you turn it out? Never had Itch-O's praises been sung so well, never had its virtues been described so rapturously. The phrases of eulogy galloped from his Underwood. Itch-O became literature. The professor was delighted, and that very evening, as he wrote the promised check, he added that he would appreciate more such suggestions and work.
On his way to a night lunch counter for a belated meal, Gordon remembered nervously that he had covenanted with himself to stay merely long enough to save a couple hundred dollars for the great journey. But how could he have dreamed that the entire fortune would be acquired the first day? Really, in all decency, he owed it to Mr. Rhodes to remain at least a few weeks. He would leave, of course, and that shortly, but there was no reason why he should break his streak of luck when it had only begun. Never before had he earned so much at one time. The next day, taking the advice of Mr. Rhodes, he dropped into the First State Bank to deposit his check.
Graham, the friendly little vice-president, waited on him and introduced him to the president, James Osborne, who had already heard of him. The thrill was indescribable. When he strolled about after supper, he noticed the trim post office with its well kept lawn, the imposing high school building, and the neat churches. It wasn't such a bad little town, after all, he reflected. To be sure, the general impression was that of unutterable commonplaceness, and there was a pitiful lack of understanding of beauty, either of line or of color. The most pretentious house was, architecturally, quite the most terrible.
But the people seemed unusually sensible and kindly. The whole world couldn't be artists. Hamilton, meet Mr. Burns, the next state senator from this district. Burns was, indeed, running for office, and it was Gordon's new job to pen his advertisements, his letters of acceptance, his statements to the county press, and other literature intended to turn an apparently honest man into a senator.
At the end of the tenth perfect day, Gordon, smiling to himself, checked over his accounts. He realized that he had a corner on writing in Fallon and felt an amused worry over the monster of the income tax which, at this rate, would soon menace him. Immediately he decided to conceal the visitations of Madam Money. Certainly, he would not leave, for the present. He would stay in Fallon until he had cleaned up a couple of thousand. Paris could wait a few months. Paris, like Radnor-by-the-Sea, began to seem remote. As the new consciousness of his own market value began to sink deeper, his courage and initiative grew.
Before many weeks had passed, he decided to enlarge his scale of activities. Going into Mr. Rhodes's office, he announced suddenly that he intended to resign. The publisher was more than surprised. As Gordon had expected, he was worried. If I'm to do two men's work, I must have two men's pay. Rhodes admitted graciously. The paper has a large circulation, but it could have twice as many subscribers if it had more pep and we employed more efficient methods.
If I'm to stay, I'll have to be given more authority. I must be managing editor, with a salary of seventy-five a week and the understanding that, as soon as I put on a hundred thousand more readers, that amount will be doubled. Rhodes was not the sort of man to be easily bullied, but he had become convinced of Gordon's unusual abilities.
The Midland had, for the past year, been losing ground, and he had learned from bitter experience that Fallon was not an alluring point for brilliant young men. The matter ended with Gordon issuing forth a full-fledged managing editor at the demanded salary. The inspired gambler had placed everything on a small pair and had come off victorious. It was Mr. Rhodes who was first impressed with the desirability of marriage for Gordon.
For, after the momentous interview which more than doubled the young man's salary, he threw up his hands and muttered words to the effect that one could never be sure of single men. If only this positive minded person were married--with, perchance, a family--ah, then he, Frank Rhodes, could use very different tactics. At which point he made a quick census of the town and instantly thought of Ruth Sterling.
If Ruth could be interested! All Fallon stood a little in awe of her. She had been reared so differently from the rest of the small-towners. She had come to her parents late in their lives, and, her mother dying while she was a baby, her father had brought her up himself. She had been sent to a convent school, then to Paris, and had flitted back and forth with him between the little town and the East until his death, when she was eighteen. People had wondered what she would "do"; but, alone as she was, she had clung passionately to the place where her father had spent his life; and during the two years that had passed she had learned, under Janet Graham's wise guidance, to enjoy managing the conservative investments left to her.
These were all in Kansas, and Mr. Rhodes shrewdly guessed that it would be no easy task to persuade her to leave Fallon. Gordon was drawn to her the first time they met. He liked the sweet tranquillity of her fresh, young face, the well-groomed, carefully netted dark hair, her trim figure, perfect poise, and unmistakable good breeding. Rhodes and his wife had invited them for a Sunday afternoon auto trip, and during the whole ride Gordon and Ruth talked together in the tonneau.
It seemed to them scarcely less than a miracle that they had read the same books, liked the same plays, had so many valuations in common, could laugh with the same tender amusement at Fallon's institutions, and sigh the same sigh for interesting places and people. Gordon told her of the changes he had already effected in the Midland Weekly, of his big plans for its future, of his need for utterance, and even outlined in detail some of his unfinished writings. As Ruth listened intently, she became more and more aware of the dynamic possibilities of this dark, charming youth, more and more intrigued by his winning personality, so baffling in its mixture of commercial practicality and inspired idealism.
Never, it seemed to Gordon, had he known anyone with such understanding. He felt doubly sure of himself, baptized with a reborn confidence in his artistic future. By the time they reached home, their friendship was established. Marriage, after a few months of companionship, was the logical, natural step for both. Gordon's yearning for sparkling, restless little Sylvia had been a disturbing, disintegrating force. In his love for Ruth was a rare quality of trust and comradeship. How he adored the hominess of her! He knew instinctively that children would bring to her the same deep joy which he realized with a new thrill would be his if he were to be a father.
Together, he felt, they would find life a long adventure, always rich in new emotions, new thoughts, and new experiences. Each day would be full of growth and achievement. It was all so simple, too, for Ruth still lived in the old family homestead. There was no initial outlay necessary, no assuming of serious responsibilities. It seemed a part of Gordon's streak to marry thus.
This faculty of being successful continued to develop with Midas-like rapidity. Literally, whatever he touched turned into dollars. It became an accepted conclusion in Fallon that anything he might do would be profitable. He traded some unimproved land for a modern, well-equipped farm, which he ran on shares, going in for thoroughbred Poland Chinas. Through his skillful advertising, the Hamilton Hog Sales became famous in three states and brought prices that made Fallon gasp.
He organized a cooperative elevator with the farmers' money and his own luck. It was a go from the start. At his direction, Itch-O's capitalization was increased by two hundred per cent, the stock was sold, a liberal block transferred as commission to himself, and the entire business put completely under his capable management. From the day he leased the Midland Weekly, its profits steadily increased. He was the most listened-to man at the town's Commercial Club. His say-so was final, because his promises were golden and certain to actualize.
The County Fair Association, which he started, and to which he sold some of his wife's land for the ground, drew thirty thousand people the first season, and Gordon rightly was given the credit. He was looked up to as a pillar of boost, a man who was putting Fallon on the map, a genius at organization. He raised ten thousand dollars and placed a corporation in control of the town's best drug store, with himself as president.
It occurred to him that Fallon's volume of trade would grow immeasurably if it were more available by car line to the miners of the nearby camps; and, getting together sixty-five thousand dollars of the necessary funds in the county, he secured the balance in Kansas City. He was elected president of the new road. As one out of every six persons in the surrounding country owned a car, he decided that it would be an excellent thing to give the town a twenty-five thousand dollar garage, properly incorporated, with a vague system of profit rebates to the stockholders, of whom there were many.
Again he was elected president. He went into coal mining and helped to open up the yet unexploited local oil fields, and every venture with which he was connected was a success. Always serene, always at leisure, always ready to organize any enterprise and assume its presidency, his word, spoken with delightful courtesy, was law. In less than seven years, he was the wealthiest man in the county.
Southeastern Kansas had never known anyone like Gordon Hamilton. He was something new. He had long since observed that, while for a few the church was a sincere expression of their religious faith, for the majority of the people of Fallon it was more in the nature of a club, and one of the obvious stepping-stones toward dignity and prominence. Without hypocrisy, professing nothing, he began to attend Presbyterian services and functions with consistent regularity. When a vacancy occurred on the Board of Trustees, he was unanimously elected to fill it.
Followed thereupon the swift placing of the church on a sound business basis and the remodeling of the nondescript building into a stately gothic edifice. It was not large, but in drab little Fallon it stood, with its pure lines and glowing windows, challenging in its beauty, a pearl set in lead. As Gordon sat, on Sundays, in the family pew, with Ruth and their children, he knew that all the town thought him a paragon of respectability; and, although he could not explain why, he felt that he thoroughly deserved this reputation--that, at bottom, he always had been solid.
Ruth was quietly proud of him, and their emotional life flowed smoothly, but she was often deeply troubled because of the scarcity of money. They were worth many times what she had been when they were married, but there was always a flock of outstanding notes which, with their interest, had to be met.
It was Gordon's method. If he wished to invest in a project, he borrowed, sometimes using Ruth's splendid securities as collateral. The debt paid, it meant that they had accumulated just that much more principal. This knowledge recompensed Gordon for all the necessary sacrifices and economies. There came a day, however, when Ruth rebelled. She says there are half a dozen other women--wives of progressive Fallon men--doing the same ridiculous thing for lack of proper spunk.
It's a long list. Shall I go on? I feel as you do about people who wrangle. Perhaps it wasn't quite frank, but, you see, I could usually understand that you honestly--often just because you were a man--couldn't comprehend the reasonableness of what I asked. If we had been seriously involved, I shouldn't have let a penny slip, but it suddenly dawned on me that there was absolutely no need for this petty scrimping and saving. Now we can't afford a single luxury. We've never been away together since we were married--I haven't been East for five years, and I dress like a frump.
Oh, my dear," she pleaded, "do see the humorous side of it! It isn't as if you were naturally stingy, and I shouldn't care if there were any use in it; but we have enough--so much more than enough. Yet here we are, so strapped that I must borrow for what I consider essentials. Actually, Gordon, it seems more of a problem when I want a new hat than when we need a new silo.
You make me feel like a brute, but you know I've never gone into anything to which you haven't agreed. As soon as we swing this steam shovel deal we will stop. It shall be the end. I will give myself to writing. You know that is what I have always planned. Janet doesn't want me to. I am going to pay it, Gordon.
I shall sell one of my mortgages. I won't consent to it. Renew the note, and the next dividend from the Midland shall go toward it. I've always felt you were with me. I can't understand what's come over you. I've recovered my sense of proportion and I mean to keep it. I won't be poor any longer, merely to make more when we have enough now to live beautifully. There's neither rhyme nor reason in it. It's changing you, too, Gordon. I remember I wanted a couple of hundred dollars for Paris--to be a boulevardier--to meet strange failures. But, instead, I became a success. Are you sorry?
Then, after a moment, she added very low, "Only sometimes--forgive me if I hurt you, darling--I'm afraid you will feel, too late, that your life has been a failure. After supper, as he listened to her moving about, putting the little folks to bed, he went over their conversation. Was he, after all, a fool to have left the adventures of the soul for the game of piling dollar on dollar for the sheer sport of piling?
Made restless by his thoughts, he put on his hat for a walk downtown. As he strolled, he became more serious. Was it true, he asked himself, that he was being caught in the meshes of his own success? Was it really a misfortune that his luck had been so unfailing? And had it been luck, or ability? A toss-up, he concluded. I must take time to write. But isn't it rather inane to say everlastingly, 'I must write,' as though the world needed more books. Rather childish that. That was what Ruth wanted. She was right, too; but hang it all, he had the habit of seeing opportunities.
He hadn't even tapped the ones offered in this little town. And what a future he could give his children! Suppose he had written a novel--half a dozen? Would it really have counted for more in the world than what he had actually accomplished? Would he have created any more, truly? The Midland Weekly's circulation was doubled. Itch-O was a useful and favorite national commodity.
Hundreds of grateful letters poured into his office every day. Ruth was still in love with him. He cherished her and their two sturdy boys and beautiful baby daughter. The town and county looked up to him. What if he had never had all this joy, success, and power? But he did have them and now he would not, could not, be without them.
Then why this pricking of conscience, this conviction that, in spite of his logic, he had allowed himself and his standards to be subtly, irrevocably cheapened? His eye was attracted by the glaring red of a poster in front of the town's best movie house, and he stopped to look. It was a picturization of Pierrot and the Moon Maiden. But before he could examine the lithograph with any care, he felt a hand on his shoulder and heard an excited voice exclaim, "If it isn't Gordon! Gordon Hamilton, the long-lost, the plutocratic, small-town Croesus!
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What are you doing here in Fallon, Kansas? You escaped because you could not win her; I escaped because I did. And yet, was it so different from his own effort to earn a couple of hundred for possibly a futile journey to Paris? It's a shame. One must be ready to make great sacrifices. Take myself. I might be a money-maker, too, but see what I do. I get only my expenses and twenty-five dollars a week, but I am happy, because every evening and sometimes twice a day I give this little gem of fantasy a background of music. Only an artist can comprehend the joy I have in creating my own compositions.
I could draw on a rich repertoire, but I prefer to dip into my own well. And his clothes--how cheap! Gordon wondered whether this might be because of a lack of humor or of an over-abundance of it. Or was the man able to persuade himself that he was before a great audience thirsting for his art? His gestures were most profound. The piano, alas! Gordon saw very little of the picture, though what he watched was exquisite.
The musician held him. Oliver had spoken the truth. It was plain that, as he played, he was lifted up into a world of poetry and ecstasy. Sincerity and happiness shone from his face. He did not seem to realize, as did Gordon, that he was pouring his music into stone ears. None of his efforts would make the slightest elevation of tone in Fallon. A thousand such ambassadors would leave it untouched. During the wait between the first and second shows, Oliver seated himself by Gordon, who could not help hearing the little rustlings and whisperings as the townsfolk noticed their financier associating with this odd, minstrel-like stranger.
It irritated Gordon to find that he felt conspicuous and uncomfortable. Oliver ate up this thin slice of praise. I've been thinking," he went on impetuously, "that since you are so well off, you might do something for a poor artist. You cannot help yourself, why not help me? I'll pay you back someday, if I can; and if I can't you will, at least, have rendered some service to art. I'll write you. I may need five or six hundred, and I may need more.
It ought to be a good investment. Instead of getting only twenty-five a week, I'll often clear twenty-five a night when I play to my own show. You will make money, and, being cautious, you will save. You will lease a few more pictures, square yourself up with me, and go into the business on a larger scale.
You will understand what has kept me from writing. You will become too occupied to compose. I hate to ask it of you, but--you understand. I am going to undo this sordid little world of yours and send you on the road to peace, prosperity, and Philistinism. My dear fellow, you are soon to realize that this art for art's sake--this will to suffer, this sacrifice--is all bluff, except in youth--a pose! You may think you look down on me as a defaulter, but you envy me my success.
He was sure Oliver's was no standard, and yet he could not deny that at one time it had been his own. I'll put all these thoughts and emotions into a story, and if, when it's finished, it's no good, I'll be able to live my regular life without further qualms. Hamilton; just a minute. For heaven's sake, are you helpless? Must I write every word? We'll have to employ some live wire who can attend to the detail work. I'm getting sick and tired of it. I must have time to live, to think, to create. Confused, the professor found an excuse to go.
There he found Ruth lying on the couch reading. I've come home to work. I've had enough of this endless money grubbing. I'm going to work on a story. I'll make some coffee. He wrote a while hurriedly, tore out the sheet. Before he adjusted another, he recalled his recent meeting with the professor and cussed him roundly. In his own journey to Parnassus, this fat little man had stopped him with a fat little temptation, and since then he had been bowing before the god of Itch-O.
He searched for his pipe and lost himself in a whirlwind of chaotic reflections. One thought, however, dominated--that of the necessity for a new booklet--a clever one. Oh, the professor's evil spirit! How it persisted! It has to be done. When I get it out of the way, I'll be free to go ahead with a clear mind. Again did the praises of Itch-O rise in symphonic volume, with the glorious climax that "the trial treatment is free. A lump swelled in his throat as his tired mind admitted that once more he had been caught.
Will you show me what have you written? I'll tackle the story tomorrow evening. Well, shall we get to sleep? T he Square was all but deserted. Even the time-worn courthouse, centered among weeds and scrawny catalpas seemed dozing, and the little county seat's one stone-fronted building, the First State Bank, with blinds drawn, appeared to have shut its eyes wearily after one more fussy day in heavy harness.
Inside, Bob, the youthful teller, was clacking away at the Burroughs, jerking his skinny, stringy neck each time he yanked the handle. The cashier mumbled solemnly as he stacked the twenties in five-hundred dollar piles. James Osborne, the president—bag-eyed, with a stern, inexorable face, a rock-ribbed jaw, and heavy figure—sat writing letters. And at her desk near his, Janet Graham, the girlish vice-president, was going over belligerent-looking mortgages.
Her mind was far from southeastern Kansas. Mechanically, she would note the dates on the interest coupons, and then, after jotting down a memorandum, she would stop and think a moment of her husband, Robert. His letter, which had come from New York on the noon train, was on her mind and in her heart. She slipped it out of its envelope and read it again. It told her that the managers could not even consider his play. It was too highbrow.
That sort of thing would not go. They were nice to me. I didn't expect so much attention. I should not have been surprised at complete indifference, if not rebuffs. Instead, I was taken out to dine by three potentates, and on each occasion told how utterly absurd I was to put my energy into this style of work. And I guess it's the truth, sweetheart.
Any number of clever men could manufacture the popular current play and straightforward, interesting story. But to write sparkling moonshine that left the bemused reader uncomfortably conscious that, while apparently talking in the absurdest fashion, the author had somehow given a penetrating criticism of life--this was left for the few who, when their genius had ripened, wrote for all time.
He had brought it to her, saying in his gentle naive way, "Of course, Janet, no civilized human being should write a play with such persons as these in it. I'm afraid the very characters are enough to queer its chances. Voltaire had become a fishmonger; Chesterton, a plumber; Shaw, a "gimme-the-rent" Irish landlord; Shakespeare, a successful movie owner; Poe, an undertaker; Dante, an Italian ice cream vendor; Beethoven, a pianist in a Fourteenth Street theatre orchestra; Juliet, a worker in a box factory, and Hamlet, alas, not Romeo,--her dopey husband.
There were others, all similarly situated. Their immediate lives were materialistic, but the artist in them strove for their pasts.
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In Hamlet's one-room domicile, this extraordinary company gathered to plot an escape from the actual and regain their former glories; but, each innately hostile to the others, their plans collapsed in utter disappointment. Their effort to organize genius was as futile as an attempt to persuade an eagle, an angel, a demon, and a fish to pull together for one purpose.
The play presupposed a degree of culture. Otherwise the delicate nuances of irony were lost. If it was talky in places, it was scintillating talk. It was actable in the right atmosphere. But Janet, always just, had to admit that she could not wholly blame the commercial managers. I found them receptive, even cordial. They probably thought the play just freakish enough to command attention. There won't be a chance this spring, but they will try it out early next fall if--notice the if--if I put up twenty-five hundred dollars to guarantee them against loss.
If it is less, they agree to rebate the difference, though between ourselves I rather question the value of their promises. It seems to be quite taken for granted there will be some loss. They summer at Provincetown, and I can go up with them to work on the scenery and costumes. The play will be presented at least six times, which is fair. I have also been to see the publisher of whom I spoke in my last letter.
He will publish the play if it is produced on the stage, if--another if--if we guarantee five hundred in case the first edition of a thousand falls flat. I know how you feel, darling, but I am strongly convinced that I should go home and forget about it. I have had lots of fun writing this thing. Why go further? Think it over carefully, Janet! She wanted him to have a fair chance. Three thousand dollars was a lot of money, but who would have known Thomas Hardy if he hadn't financed his first novel? Suppose many of the initial thousand of the published play should be left?
Weren't the remainders of others' early editions cherished now by the discriminating world? It wasn't as if it were a question whether or not Robert could write. The utilitarian side to his gift was clear and as lucrative as her own banking methods. But this spark that was "different," that experimented--Janet did not want it smothered; she wanted, passionately, to help kindle it into flame. She was, they said, precisely the sort of young woman that alarmists of not so very long ago were lifting their voice against in warning. She had not been long out of college when the death of the head of her family called her to take that place and make its third generation of country bankers.
She had accepted cheerfully what seemed to her a clear duty to "carry on," and had settled down in her little native town. It had never occurred to her, once Robert had found he could continue his work from there, that she should not combine a business and domestic life, and systematizing her day, she took as much pride in her cozy home as in the dividends the bank declared. Blessed with a happy, enthusiastic temperament, she gave an impression of buoyant youth that made her seem much less than her thirty years; her compact little figure radiated charm and vitality, and sunny chestnut hair curled about a merry, piquant face, lighted by warm, friendly, brown eyes that registered infinite shades of feeling.
Often carefree as a child's, sometimes they were luminous with wisdom. As she returned to the Harvey mortgage, which she had deserted for Robert's letter, she frowned her dissatisfaction. Here was a man who should not be in arrears, a farmer who could make money. Where others less able than he were meeting their obligations promptly, Harvey was lagging behind, letting interest grow into the dread monster of compound interest. The conviction grew in Janet's mind, that if Robert were to have the means to bring his play before the public, Harvey would be one of the men who would have to pay up.
That makes them two years back in their interest. It totals around seven hundred dollars. Don't you think we should have Joe and his wife secure it by a chattel mortgage on their growing crops? He had been cashier under Janet's father, and had taught her practically all she knew of the business. He seemed uncompromisingly stern, but she had found that under a gruff exterior beat one of the kindest of hearts.
Both Osborne and Janet, like many country bankers, applied themselves to farmers' problems. They knew when to be easy and when to tighten the reins. And as the Grahams and Osborne owned two-thirds of the stock, what they decided was law. When Osborne was sometimes too conservative, a trifle old-fogy, perhaps, Janet might have been too venturesome. Together they struck a balance, one that encouraged healthy dividends twice a year.
Joe is on one of his buying tears right now. Just look at this. He is overdrawn now. Robert's dreams would never become tangible realities if a few more Harveys were to nest under the shelter of the First State Bank. He is probably at some stock show. Jim, what do you think of that man?
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But his dreams are big for his pocketbook, so he lets them lop over into other people's. He used to do first-rate until he got this high grade stock craze and took the notion that he was appointed by the gods to develop the dual-purpose breed of cattle. We've lent him money off and on for the last fifteen years. There was a time when all he had to do was ask for it; but somehow he seems to be going down hill lately. You know how things stand as well as I do. We've got to put our foot down and put it down hard. She and the two older boys about run the dairy. I notice one of the daughters helps deliver the milk.
As the teller opened it, Janet saw a large, stolid woman, in a straight, rusty coat that concealed any possible grace. Held tightly was a huge armful of baby, and clinging to her skirts was a bewitching- faced little butterfly of a girl. Graham in? How old is he now? Harvey divest the infant of the heavy outer blanket. But it ain't a boy. It's a girl. Long ago she had learned when in doubt to take it for granted that every child was a future president. And you call her--? The more prosaic the mother, the more poetic the name. It doesn't seem possible they can grow so rapidly.
Harvey talked. It's so warm in here I'm afraid you may catch cold when you go out. These spring days are very deceptive. I'm going to take off the rest of this wee lamb's wraps. Seven children already, and Fanny not more than three years older than I! And with Pearl still in her arms she went to get it. I know from experience. Come into the directors' room; it's more secluded. Harvey with eager interest.
She does splendidly. I think I shan't wean her until the hot summer is over. Harvey nodded her approval. Then, with a gesture dramatic in its simplicity, she opened her waist a trifle further. A jagged, ugly scar crossed the breast against which little Pearl lay. Janet's eyes misted with quick tears. Harvey, with a significant glance at Marie. But this," with a touch of her roughened fingers on Pearl's hair, "this has two. You have no trouble? Harvey sighed. It was a sigh that told as much as her words. Seems like I can't hardly get through my work.
Joe used to tell me how you was always here in the bank every day. I've heard folks wonder how you get any time to give to Gloria. Harvey's tongue. I wish I could give as much time to mine. Wonderful little souls! There is nothing like them. A genuine sweetness, a certain sound experience shone from both. They talked of their children. Gloria was eleven months and walking everywhere. Marie had walked at the end of ten. And her little legs were straight? But one could see! Pearl had the colic badly.
Had Fanny used one of the bands that go over the shoulders and under the shirt? They didn't slip and kept the little stomachs so warm. Johnny was just starting to school and found the two mile walk pretty far. Joe hoped soon to be able to buy a pony for the children to drive. They have been promised one for a year, but Gladys had been put off from her music for more than that. She seemed so pale this spring. Did she have enough vegetables with iron in them, spinach and carrots and such? A warm intimacy, as real as the fundamental facts upon which it rested, drew the two together. Gentleness and motherhood possessed the room.
On the soft, ample bosom little Pearl slept. The clock sounded the half hour, and a ripple of uneasiness flowed between them. Janet became acutely conscious that time was passing. Now, with little Pearl asleep, was the time to talk. She was aware, too, from the tension in Mrs. Harvey's silence that she, also, was gathering her forces for some difficult utterance. They must get down to business.