In the freemasonry of the boarding-house, the young man was early accepted as he was. He was promptly voted the driest, most uninteresting and self-absorbed savant ever seen. Even Miss Miller, ordinarily indefatigable where gentlemen were concerned, soon gave him up. To Mr. Bylash she spoke contemptuously of him, but secretly she was awed by his stately manner of speech and his godlike indifference to all pleasures, including those of female society. Of them all, Nicolovius was the only one who seemed in the least impressed by Mr. Queed’s appointment as editorial writer on the Post. With the others the exalted world he moved in was so remote from theirs that no surprises were possible there, and if informed that the little Doctor had been elected president of Harvard University, it would have seemed all in the day’s work to William Klinker. Klinker was six feet high, red-faced and friendly, and Queed preferred his conversation above any heard at Mrs. Paynter’s table. It reminded him very much of his friend the yeggman in New York.
What went on behind the door of the tiny Scriptorium the boarders could only guess. It may be said that its owner’s big grievance against the world was that he had to leave it occasionally to earn his bread and meat. Apart from this he never left it in those days except for one reason, viz., the consumption three times a day of the said bread and meat. Probably this was one explanation of the marked pallor of his cheek, but of such details as this he never took the smallest notice.
Under the tiny bed were three boxes of books, chief fruit of the savings of an inexpensive lifetime. But the books were now merely the occasional stimulus of a mind already well stored with their strength, well fortified against their weaknesses. Nowadays nearly all of Queed’s time, which he administered by an iron-clad Schedule of Hours, duly drawn up, went to the actual writing of his Magnum Opus. He had practically decided that it should be called “The Science of Sciences.” For his book was designed to coördinate and unify the theories of all science into the single theory which alone gave any of them a living value, namely, the progressive evolution of a higher organized society and a higher individual type. That this work would blaze a wholly new trail for a world of men, he rarely entertained a doubt. To its composition he gave fifteen actual hours a day on Post days, sixteen hours on non-Post days. Many men speak of working hours like these, or even longer ones, but investigation would generally show that all kinds of restful interludes are indiscriminately counted in. Queed’s hours, you understand, were not elapsed time — they were absolutely net. He was one of the few men in the world who literally “did n’t have time.”
He sat in Colonel Cowles’s office, scribbling rapidly, with his eye on his watch, writing one of those unanswerable articles which were so much dead space to a people’s newspaper. It was a late afternoon in early February, soon after the opening of the legislature; and he was alone in the office. A knock fell upon the door, and at his “Come,” a girl 66 entered who looked as pretty as a dewy May morning. Queed looked up at her with no welcome in his eye, or greeting on his lip, or spring in the pregnant hinges of his knee. Yet if he had been a less self-absorbed young scientist, it must certainly have dawned on him that he had seen this lady before.
“Oh! How do you do!” said Sharlee, for it was indeed no other.
“Oh — quite well.”
“Miss Leech tells me that Colonel Cowles has gone out. I particularly wished to see him. Perhaps you know when he will be back?”
“Perhaps in half and hour. Perhaps in an hour. I cannot say.”
She mused disappointedly. “I could hardly wait. Would you be good enough to give him a message for me?”
“Well — just tell him, please, that if he can make it convenient, we’d like the article about the reformatory to go in to-morrow, or the next day, anyway. He’ll understand perfectly; I have talked it all over with him. The only point was as to when the article would have the most effect, and we think the time has come now.”
“You would like an article written about a reformatory for to-morrow’s Post or next day’s. Very well.”
“Thank you so much for telling him. Good-afternoon.”
“You would like,” the young man repeated — “but one moment, if you please. You have omitted to inform me who you are.”
To his surprise the lady turned around with a gay laugh. Sharlee had supposed that Mr. Queed, having been offended by her, was deliberately cutting her. That her identity had literally dropped cleanly from his mind struck her as both much better and decidedly more amusing.
“Don’t you remember me” she reminded him once again, laughing full at him from the threshold. “My dog knocked you over in the street one day — surely you 67 remember the pleasure-dog? — and then that night I gave you your supper at Mrs. Paynter’s and afterwards collected twenty dollars from you for back board. I am Mrs. Paynter’s niece and my name is Charlotte Weyland.”
Weyland? . . . Weyland? Oho! So this was the girl — sure enough — that Henry G. Surface had stripped of her fortune. Well, well!
“Ah, yes, I recall you now.”
She thought there was an inimical note in his voice, and to pay him for it, she said with a final smiling nod: “Oh, I am so pleased!”
Her little sarcasm passed miles over his head. She had touched the spring of the automatic card-index system known as his memory and the ingenious machinery worked on. Presently it pushed out and laid before him the complete record, neatly ticketed and arranged, the full dossier, of all that had passed between him and the girl. But she was nearly through the door before he had decided to say:
“I had another letter from my father last night.”
“Oh!” she said, turning at once — “Did you!”
He nodded, gloomily. “However, there was not a cent of money in it.”
If he had racked his brains for a subject calculated to detain her — which we may rely upon it that he did not do — he could not have hit upon a surer one. Sharlee Weyland had a great fund of pity for this young man’s worse than fatherlessness, and did not in the least mind showing it. She came straight back into the room and up to the table where he sat.
“Does it help you at all — about knowing where he is, I mean?”
“Not in the least. I wonder what he’s up to anyway?”
He squinted up at her interrogatively through his circular glasses, as though she ought to be able to tell him if anybody could. Then a thought very much like that took definite shape in his mind. He himself had no time to give to mysterious problems and will-o’-the-wisp pursuits; his 68 book and posterity claimed it all. This girl was familiar with the city; doubtless knew all the people; she seemed intelligent and capable, as girls went. He remembered that he had consulted her about securing remunerative work, with some results; possible she would also have something sensible to say about his paternal problem. He might make an even shrewder stroke. As his landlady’s agent, this girl would of course be interested in establishing his connection with a relative who had twenty-dollar bills to give away. Therefore if it ever should come to a search, why might n’t he turn the whole thing over to the agent — persuade her to hunt his father for him, and thus leave his own time free for the service of the race?
“Look here,” said he, with a glance at his watch. “I’ll take a few minutes, Kindly sit down there and I’ll show you how the man is behaving.”
Sharlee sat down as she was bidden, close by his side, piqued as to her curiosity, as well as flattered by his royal condescension. She wore her business suit, which was rough and blue, with a smart little pony coat. She also wore a white veil festooned around her hat, and white gloves that were quite unspotted from the world. The raw February winds had whipped roses into her cheeks; her pure ultramarine eyes made the blue of her suit look commonplace and dull. Dusk had fallen over the city, and Queed cleverly bethought him to snap on an electric light. It revealed a very shabby, ramshackle, and dingy office; but the long table in it was new, oaken, and handsome. In fact, it was one of the repairs introduced by the new management.
“Here,” said he, “is his first letter — the one that brought me from New York.”
He took it from its envelope and laid it open on the table. A sense of the pathos in this ready sharing of one’s most intimate secrets with a stranger took hold of Sharlee as she leaned forward to see what it might say.
“Be careful! Your feather thing is sticking my eye.”
Meekly the girl withdrew to a safer distance. From there 69 she read with amazement the six typewritten lines which was all that the letter proved to be. They read thus:
Your father asks that, if you have any of the natural feelings of a son, you will at once leave New York and take up your residence in this city. This is the first request he has ever made of you, as it will be, if you refuse it, the last. But he earnestly begs that you will comply with it, anticipating that it will be to your decided advantage to do so.
“The envelope that that came in,” said Queed, briskly laying it down. “Now here’s the envelope that the twenty dollars came in — it is exactly like the other two, you observe. — The last exhibit is somewhat remarkable; it came yesterday. Read that.”
Sharlee required no urging. She read:
Make friends, mingle with people, and learn to like them. This is the earnest injunction of
“Note especially,” said the young man, “the initial Q on each of the three envelopes. You will observe that the tail in every instance is defective in just the same way.”
Sure enough, the tail of every Q was broken off short near the root, like the rudimentary tail anatomists find in Genus Homo. Mr. Queed looked at her with scholarly triumph.
“I suppose that removes all doubt,” said she, “that all these came from the same person.”
“Unquestionably. — Well? What do they suggest to you?”
A circle from the green-shaded desk-lamp beat down on the three singular exhibits. Sharlee studied them with bewilderment mixed with profound melancholy.
“Is it conceivable,” said she, hesitatingly — “I only suggest this because the whole thing seems so extraordinary — that somebody is playing a very foolish joke on you?”
He stared. “Who on earth would wish to joke with me?”
Of course he had her there. “I wish,” she said, “that you would tell me what you yourself think of them.”
“I think that my father must be very hard up for something to do.”
“Oh — I don’t think I should speak of it in that way if I were you.”
“Why not? If he cites filial duty to me, why shall I not cite paternal duty to him? Why should he confine his entire relations with me in twenty-four years to two preposterous detective-story letters?”
Sharlee said nothing. To tell the truth, she thought the behavior of Queed Senior puzzling in the last degree.
“You grasp the situation? He knows exactly where I am; evidently he has known it all along. He could come to see me to-night; he could have come as soon as I arrived here three months ago; he could have come five, ten, twenty years ago, when I was in New York. But instead he elects to write these curious letters, apparently seeking to make a mystery, and throwing the burden of finding him on me. Why should I become excited over the prospect? If he would promise to endow me now, to support or pension me off, if I found him, that would be one thing. But I submit to you that no man can be expected to interrupt a most important life-work in consideration of a single twenty-dollar bill. And that is the only proof of interest I ever had from him. No — ” he broke off suddenly — “no, that’s hardly true after all. I suppose it was he who sent the money to Tim.”
Presently she gently prodded him. “And do you want to tell me who Tim Queed is?”
He eyed her thoughtfully. If the ground of his talk appeared somewhat delicate, nothing could have been more matter-of-fact than the way he tramped it. Yet now he 71 palpably paused to ask himself whether it was worth his while to go more into detail. Yes; clearly it was. If it ever became necessary to ask the boarding-house agent to find his father for him, she would have to know what the situation was, and now was the time to make it plain to her once and for all.
“He is the man I lived with till I was fourteen; one of my friends, a policeman. For a long time I supposed, of course, that Tim was my father, but when I was ten or twelve, he told me, first that I was an orphan who had been left with him to bring up, and later on, that I had a father somewhere who was not in a position to bring up children. That was all he would ever say about it. I became a student while still a little boy, having educated myself practically without instruction of any sort, and when I was fourteen I left Tim because he married at that time, and, with the quarreling and drinking that followed, the house became unbearable. Tim then told me for the first time that he had, from some source, funds equivalent to twenty-five dollars a month for my board, and that he would allow me fifteen of that, keeping ten dollars a month for his services as agent. You follow all this perfectly? So matters went along for ten years, Tim bringing me the fifteen dollars every month and coming frequently to see me in between, often bringing along his brother Murphy, who is a yeggman. Last fall came this letter, purporting to be from my father. Absurd as it appeared to me, I decided to come. Tim said that, in that case, he would be compelled to cut off the allowance entirely. Nevertheless, I came.”
Sharlee had listened to this autobiographical sketch with close and sympathetic attention. “And now that you are here —and settled — have n’t you decided to do something —?”
He leaned back in his swivel chair and stared at her.
“Do something! Have n’t I done all that he asked? Have n’t I given up fifteen dollars a month for him? Decidedly, the next move is his.”
“But if you meant to take no steps when you got here, why did you come?”
“To give him his chance, of course. One city is exactly like another to me. All that I ask of any of them is a table and silence. Apart from the forfeiture of my income, living here and living there are all one. Do! You talk of it glibly enough, but what is there to do? There are no Queeds in this city. I looked in the directory this morning. In all probability that is not his name anyway. Kindly bear in mind that I have not the smallest clue to proceed upon, even had I the time and willingness to proceed upon it.”
“I am obliged to agree with you,” she said, “in thinking that your — ”
“Besides,” continued Doctor Queed, “what reason have I for thinking that he expects or desires me to track him down? For all that he says here, that may be the last thing in the world he wishes.”
Sharlee, turning toward him, her chin in her white-gloved hand, looked at him earnestly.
“Do you care to have me discuss it with you?”
“Oh, yes, I have invited an expression of opinion from you.”
“Then I agree with you in thinking that your father is not treating you fairly. His attitude toward you is extraordinary, to say the least of it. But of course there must be some good reason for this. Has it occurred to you that he may be in some — situation where it is not possible for him to reveal himself to you?”
“Such as what?”
“Well, I don’t know — ”
“Why does n’t he say so plainly in his letters then?”
“I don’t know.”
The young man threw out his hands with a gesture which inquired what in the mischief she was talking about then.
“Here is another thought,” said Sharlee, not at all disconcerted. “Have you considered that possibly he may be doing this way — as a test?”
“Test of what?”
“Of you. I mean that, wanting to — to have you with him now, he is taking this way of finding out whether or not you want him. Don’t you see what I mean? He appeals here to the natural feelings of a son, and then again he tells you to make friends and learn to like people. Evidently he is expecting something of you — I don’t know exactly what. But don’t you think, perhaps, that if you began a search for him, he would take is as a sign — ”
“I told you that there is no way in which a search, as you call it, could be begun. Nor, if there were, have I the smallest inclination to begin it. Nor, again, if I had, could I possibly take the time from My Book.”
She was silent a moment. “There is, of course, one way in which you could find out at any moment.”
“Indeed! What is that, pray?”
“Mr. Tim Queed.”
He smiled faintly but derisively. “Hardly. Of course Tim knows all about it. He told me once that he was present at the wedding of my parents; another time that my mother died when I was born. But he would add, and will add, not a word to these confidences; not even to assure me definitely that my father is still alive. He says that he has sworn an oath of secrecy. I called on him before I left New York. No, no; I may discover my father or he may discover me, or not, but we can rest absolutely assured that I shall get no help from Tim.”
“But you can’t mean simply to sit still — ”
“And leave matters to him. I do.”
“But — but,” she still protested, “he is evidently unhappy, Mr. Queed — evidently counting on you for something — ”
“Then let him come out like a man and say plainly what he wants. I cannot possibly drop my work to try to solve entirely superfluous enigmas. Keep all this in mind — take an interest in it, will you?” he added briskly. “Possibly I might need your help some day.”
“Certainly I will. I appreciate your telling me about it and I’d be so glad to help you in any way that I could.”
“How do you like my editorials?” he demanded abruptly.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand a line of them!”
He waved his hand indulgently, like a grandfather receiving the just tribute of his little ones. “They are for thinkers, experts,” said he, and picked up his pencil.
The agent took the hint; pushed back her chair; her glove was unbuttoned and she slowly fastened it. In her heart was a great compassion for the little Doctor.
“Mr. Queed, I want you to know that if I ever could be of help to you about anything, I’d always think it a real pleasure. Please remember that, won’t you? Did you know I lived down this way, in the daytime?”
She made a gesture toward the window, and away to the south and east. “My office is only three blocks away, down there in the park — ”
“Your office? You don’t work!”
“Oh, don’t I though!”
“Why, I thought you were a lady!”
They were so close together that she was compelled to laugh full in his face, disclosing two rows of splendid little teeth and the tip of a rosy little tongue. Probably she could have crushed him by another pointing gesture, turned this time toward her honored great-grandfather who stood in marble in the square; but what was the use?
“What are you laughing at?” he inquired mildly.
“At your definition of a lady. Where on earth did you get it? Out of those laws of human society you write every night at my aunt’s?”
“No,” said he, the careful scientist at once, “no, I admit, if you like, that I used the term in a loose, popular sense. I would not seriously contend that females of gentle birth and breeding — ladies in the essential sense — are never engaged in gainful occupations — ”
“You should n’t,” she laughed, “not in this city at any rate. It might astonish you to know how many females of gentle birth and breeding are engaged in gainful occupations on this one block alone. It was not ever thus with them. Once they had wealth and engaged in nothing but delicious leisure. But in 1861 some men came down here, about six to one, and took all this wealth away from them, at the same time exterminating the males. Result: the females, ladies in the essential sense, must either become gainful or starve. They have not starved. Sociologically, it’s interesting. Make Colonel Cowles tell you about it some time.”
“He has told me about it. In fact he tells me constantly. And this work that you do,” he said, not unkindly and not without interest, “what is it? Are you a teacher, perhaps, a . . . no! — You speak of an office. You are a clerk, doubtless, a bookkeeper, a stenographer, an office girl?”
She nodded with exaggerated gravity. “You have guessed my secret. I am a clerk, bookkeeper, stenographer, and office girl. My official title, of course, is a little more frilly, but you describe — ”
“Well? What is it?”
“They call it Assistant Secretary of the State Department of Charities.”
He looked astonished; she had no idea his face could take on so much expression.
“You! You! Why, how on earth did you get such a position?”
“Pull,” said Sharlee.
Their eyes met, and she laughed him down.
“Who is the real Secretary to whom you are assistant?”
“The nicest man in the world. Mr. Dayne — Rev. George Dayne.”
“A parson! Does he know anything about his subject? Is he an expert? — a trained relief worker? Does he know Willoughby? And Smathers? And Conant?”
“Knows them by heart. Quotes pages of them at a time in his letters without ever glancing at the books.”
“I may claim some familiarity with their theories.”
He fussed with his pencil. “I recall defining sociology for you one night at my boarding-house. . . .”
“Well,” said he, determined to find something wrong, “those men whom I mentioned to you are not so good as they think, particularly Smathers. I may as well tell you that I shall show Smathers up completely in my book.”
“We shall examine your argument with care and attention. We leave no stone unturned to keep abreast of the best modern thought.”
“It is extraordinary that such a position should be held by a girl like you, who can have no scientific knowledge of the many complex problems. . . . However,” he said, a ray of brightness lightening his displeasure, “your State is notoriously backward in this field. Your department, I fancy, can hardly be more than rudimentary.”
“It will be much, much more than that in another year or two. Why, we’re only four years old!”
“So this is why you are interested in having editorials written about reformatories. It is a reformatory for women that you wish to establish?”
“How did you know?”
“I merely argue from the fact that your State is so often held up to reproach for lack of one. What is the plan?”
“We are asking,” said the Assistant Secretary, “for a hundred thousand dollars — sixty thousand to buy the land and build, forty thousand for equipment and two years’ support. Modest enough, is it not? Of course we shall not get a penny from the present legislature. Legislatures love to say no; it dearly flatters their little vanity. We are giving them the chance to say no now. Then when they meet again, two years from now, we trust that they will be ready to give us what we ask — part of it, at any rate. We can make a start with seventy-five thousand dollars.”
Queed was moved to magnanimity. “Look here. You have been civil to me — I will write that article for you Myself.”
While Sharlee had become aware that the little Doctor was interested, really interested, in talking social science with her, she thought he must be crazy to offer such a contribution of his time. A guilty pink stole into her cheek. A reformatory article by Mr. Queed would doubtless be scientifically pluperfect, but nobody would read it. Colonel Cowles, on the other hand, had never even heard of Willoughby and Smathers; but when he wrote an article people read it, and the humblest understood exactly what he was driving at.”
“Why — it’s very nice of you to offer to help us, but I could n’t think of imposing on your time — ”
“Naturally not,” said he, decisively, “but it happens that we have decided to allow a breathing-space in my series on taxation, that the public may digest what I have already written. I am therefore free to discuss other topics for a few days. For to-morrow’s issue, I am analyzing certain little understood industrial problems in Bavaria. On the following day — ”
“It’s awfully good of you to think of it,” said Sharlee, embarrassed by his grave gaze. “I can’t tell you how I appreciate it. But — but — you see, there’s a lot of special detail that applies to this particular case alone — oh, a great lot of it — little facts connected with peculiar State conditions and — and the history of our department, you know — and I have talked it over so thoroughly with the Colonel — ”
“Here is Colonel Cowles now.”
She breathed a sigh. Colonel Cowles, entering with the breath of winter upon him, greeted her affectionately. Queed, rather relieved that his too hasty offer had not been accepted, noted with vexation that his conversation with the agent had cost him eighteen minutes of time. Vigorously he readdressed himself to the currency problems of 78 the Bavarians; the girl’s good-night, as applied to him, fell upon ears deafer than any post.
Sharlee walked home through the tingling twilight; fourteen blocks, and she did them four times a day. It was a still evening, clear as a bell and very cold; already stars were pushing through the dim velvet round; all the world lay white with a light hard snow, crusted and sparkling under the street lights. Her private fear about the whole matter was that Queed Senior was a person of a criminal mode of life, who, discovering the need of a young helper, was somehow preparing to sound and size up his long-neglected son.
Queed never read his own articles when they appeared in print in the Post. In this peculiarity he may be said to have resembled all the rest of the world, with the exception of the Secretary of the Tax Reform League, and the Assistant Secretary of the State Department of Charities. But not by any such device, either, can a man elude his Fate. On the day following his conversation with Mrs. Paynter’s agent, Fortune gave Queed to hear a portion of his article on the Bavarians read aloud, and read with derisive laughter.
The incident occurred on a street-car, which he had taken because of the heavy snow-fall: another illustration of the tiny instruments with which Providence works out its momentous designs. Had he not taken the car — he was on the point of not taking it, when one whizzed invitingly up — he would never have heard of the insult that the Post’s linotype had put upon him, and the course of his life might have been different. As it was, two men on the next seat in front were reading the Post and making merry.
“ . . . ‘A lengthy procession of fleas harassed the diet.’ Now what in the name of Bob . . .”
Gradually the sentence worked its way into the closed fastness of the young man’s mind. It had a horrible familiarity, like a ghastly parody on something known and dear. 80With a quick movement he leaned forward, peering over the shoulder of the man who held the paper.
The man looked around, surprised, and annoyed by the strange face breaking in so close to his own, but Queed paid no attention to him. Yes . . . it was his article they were mocking at — HIS article. He remembered the passage perfectly. He had written: “A lengthy procession of pleas harassed the Diet.” His trained eye swept rapidly down the half column of print. There it was! “A procession of fleas.” In his article! Fleas, unclean, odious vermin, in His Article!
Relatively, Queed cared nothing about his work on the Post, but for all the children of his brain, even the smallest and feeblest, he had a peculiar tenderness. He was more jealous of them than a knight of his honor, or a beauty of her complexion. No insult to his character could have enraged him like a slight put upon the least of these his articles. He sat back in his seat, feeling white, and something clicked inside his head. He remembered having heard that click once before. It was the night he determined to evolve the final theory of social progress, which would wipe out all other theories as the steam locomotive had wiped out the prairie schooner.
He knew well enough what that click meant now. He had got a new purpose, and that was to exact personal reparation from the criminal who had made Him and His Work the butt of street-car loafers. Never, it seemed to him, could he feel clean again until he had wiped off those fleas with gore.
To his grim inquiry Colonel Cowles replied that the head proof-reader, Mr. Pat, was responsible for the typographical errors, and Mr. Pat did not “come on” till 6.30. It was now but 5.50. Queed sat down, wrote his next day’s article and handed it to the Colonel, who read the title and coughed.
“I shall require no article from you to-morrow or next day. On the following day” — here the Colonel opened a drawer and consulted a schedule — “I shall receive with 81pleasure your remarks on ‘Fundamental Principles of Distribution — Article Four.’ ”
Queed ascended to the next floor, a noisy, discordant floor, full of metal tables on castors, and long stone-topped tables not on castors, and Mergenthaler machines, and slanting desk-like structures holding fonts of type. Rough board partitions rose here and there; over everything hung the deadly scent of acids from the engravers’ room.
“That’s him now,” said an ink-smeared lad, and nodded toward a tall, gangling, mustachioed fellow in a black felt hat who had just come up the stairs.
Queed marched straight for the little cubbyhole where the proof-readers and copy-holders sweated through their long nights.
“You are Mr. Pat, head proof-reader of the Post?”
“That’s me, sor,” said Mr. Pat, and he turned with rather a sharp glance at the other’s tone.
“What excuse have you to offer for making my article ridiculous and me a common butt?”
“An’ who the divil may you be, please?”
“I am Mr. Queed, special editorial writer for this paper. Look at this.” He handed over the folded Post, with the typographical enormity heavily underscored in blue. “What do you mean by falsifying my language and putting into my mouth an absurd observation about the most loathsome of vermin?”
Mr. Pat was at once chagrined and incensed. He happened, further, to be in most sensitive vein as regards little oversights in his department. His professional pride was tortured with the recollection that, only three days before, he had permitted the Post to refer to old Major Lamar as “that immortal veterinary,” and upon the Post’s seeking to retrieve itself the next day, at the Major’s insistent demand, he had fallen into another error. The hateful words had come out as “immoral veteran.”
“Now look here!” said he. “There’s nothing to be gained talking that way. Ye’ve got me — I’ll give ye that ! But 82 what do ye expect? — eighty columns of type a night and niver a little harmless slip — ?”
“You must be taught to make no slips with my articles. I’m going to punish you for that — ”
“What-a-at! Say that agin!”
“Stand out here — I am going to give you a good thrashing. I shall whip . . .”
Another man would have laughed heartily and told the young man to trot away while the trotting was good. He was nearly half a foot shorter than Mr. Pat, and his face advertised his unmartial customs. But Mr. Pat had the swift fierce passions of his race; and it became to him an unendurable thing to be thus bearded by a little spectacled person in his own den. He saw red; and out shot his good right arm.
The little Doctor proved a good sailer, but bad at making a landing. His course was arched, smooth, and graceful, but when he stopped, he did it so bluntly that men working two stories below looked up to ask each other who was dead. Typesetters left their machines and hurried up, fearing that here was a case for ambulance or undertaker. But they saw the fallen editor pick himself up, with a face of stupefied wonder, and immediately start back toward the angry proofreader.
Mr. Pat lowered redly on his threshhold. “G’awn now! Get away!”
Queed came to a halt a pace away and stood looking at him.
“G’awn, I tell ye! I don’t want no more of your foolin’!”
The young man, arms hanging inoffensively by his side, stared at him with a curious fixity.
These tactics proved strangely disconcerting to Mr. Pat, obsessed as he was by a sudden sense of shame at having thumped so impotent an adversary.
“Leave me be, Mr. Queed. I’m sorry I hit ye, and I niver would ’a’ done it — if ye had n’t — ”
The man’s voice died away. He became lost in a great 83 wonder as to what under heaven this little Four-eyes meant by standing there and staring at him with that white and entirely unfrightened face.
Queed was, in fact, in the grip of a brand-new idea, an idea so sudden and staggering that it overwhelmed him. He could not thrash Mr. Pat. He could not thrash anybody. Anybody in the world that desired could put gross insult upon his articles and go scot-free, the reason being that the father of these articles was a physical incompetent.
All his life young Mr. Queed had attended to his own business, kept quiet and avoided trouble. This was his first fight, because it was the first time that anybody had publicly insulted his work. In his whirling sunburst of indignation, he had somehow taken it for granted that he could punch the head of a proof-reader in much the same way that he punched the head off Smathers’s arguments. Now he suddenly discovered his mistake, and the discovery was going hard with him. Inside him there was raging a demon of surprising violence of deportment; it urged him to lay hold of some instrument of a rugged, murderous nature and assassinate Mr. Pat. But higher up in him, in his head, there spoke the stronger voice of his reason. While the demon screamed homicidally, reason coldly reminded the young man that not to save his life could he assassinate, or even hurt, Mr. Pat, and that the net result of another endeavor to do so would be merely a second mortifying atmospheric journey. Was it not unreasonable for a man, in a hopeless attempt to gratify irrational passion, to take a step the sole and certain consequences of which would be a humiliating soaring and curveting through the air?
It was a terrible struggle, the marks of which broke out on the young man’s forehead in cold beads. But he was a rationalist among rationalists, and in the end his reason subdued his demon. Therefore, the little knot of linotypers and helpers who had stood wonderingly by while the two adversaries stared at each other, through a tense half-minute, now listened to the following dialogue: —
“I believe I said that I would give you a good thrashing. I now withdraw those words, for I find that I am unable to make them good.”
“I guess you ain’t — what the divil did ye expect? Me to sit back with me hands behind me and leave ye — ”
“I earnestly desire to thrash you, but it is plain to me that I am not, at present, in position to do so.”
“Fergit it! What’s afther ye, Mr. Queed ?”
“To get in position to thrash you, would take me a year, two years, five years. It is not — no, it is not worth my time.”
“Well, who asked f’r any av your time? But as f’r that, I’ll give ye your chance to get square — ”
“I suppose you feel yourself free now to take all sorts of detestable liberties with my articles?”
“Liberties — what’s bitin’ ye, man? Don’t I read revised proof on the leaded stuff every night, no matter what the rush is? When did ye ever before catch me —?”
“Physically, you are my superior, but muscle counts for very little in this world, my man. Morally, which is all that matters, I am your superior — you know that, don’t you? Be so good as to keep your disgusting vermin out of my articles in the future.”
He walked away with a face which gave no sign of his inner turmoil. Mr. Pat looked after him, stirred and bewildered, and addressed his friends the linotypers angrily.
“Something loose in his belfry, as ye might have surmised from thim damfool tax-drools.”
For Mr. Pat was still another reader of the unanswerable articles, he being paid the sum of twenty-seven dollars per week to peruse everything that went into the Post, including advertisements of auction sales and for sealed bids.
Queed returned to his own office for his hat and coat. Having heard his feet upon the stairs, Colonel Cowles called out: —
“What was the rumpus upstairs, do you know? It sounded as if somebody had a bad fall.”
“Somebody did get a fall, though not a bad one, I believe.”
“Who?” queried the editor briefly.
In the hall, it occurred to Queed that perhaps he had misled his chief a little, though speaking the literal truth. The fall that some body had gotten was indeed nothing much, for people’s bodies counted for nothing so long as they kept them under. But the fall that this body’s self-esteem had gotten was no such trivial affair. It struck the young man as decidedly curious that the worst tumble his pride had ever received had come to him through his body, that part of him which he had always treated with the most systematic contempt.
The elevator received him, and in it, as luck would have it, stood a tall young man whom he knew quite well.
“Hello, there, Doc!”
“How do you do, Mr. Klinker?”
“Been up chinning your sporting editor, Ragsy Hurd. Trying to arrange a mill at the Mercury between Smithy of the Y. M. C. A. and Hank McGurk, the White Plains Cyclone.”
“A mill —?”
“Scrap — boxin’ match, y’know. Done up your writings for the day?”
“My newspaper writings — yes.”
In the brilliant close quarters of the lift, Klinker was looking at Mr. Queed narrowly. “Where you hittin’ for now? Paynter’s?”
“Walkin’? — That’s right. I’ll go with you.”
As they came out into the street, Klinker said kindly: “You ain’t feelin’ good, are you, Doc? You’re lookin’ white as a milk-shake.”
“I feel reasonably well, thank you. As for color, I have never had any, I believe.”
“I don’t guess, the life you lead. Got the headache, 86have n’t you? Have it about half the time, now don’t you, hey?”
“Oh, I have a headache quite frequently, but I never pay any attention to it.”
“Well, you’d ought to. Don’t you know the headache is just nature tipping you off there’s something wrong inside? I’ve been watching you at the supper table for some time now. That pallor you got ain’t natural pallor. You’re pasty, that’s right. I’ll bet segars you wake up three mornings out of four feelin’ like a dish of stewed prunes.”
“If I do — though of course I can only infer how such a dish feels — it is really of no consequence, I assure you.”
“Don’t you fool yourself! It makes a lot of consequence to you. Ask a doctor, if you don’t believe me. But I got your dia’nosis now, same as a medical man — that’s right. I know what’s your trouble, Doc, just like you had told me yourself.”
“Ah? What, Mr. Klinker?”
“You mean lack of exercise?”
“I mean,” said Klinker, “that you’re fadin’ out fast for the need of it.”
The two men pushed on up Centre Street, where the march of home-goers was now beginning to thin out, in a moment of silence. Queed glanced up at Klinker’s six feet of red beef with a flash of envy which would have been unimaginable to him so short a while ago as ten minutes. Klinker was physically competent. Nobody could insult his work and laugh at the merited retribution.
“Come by my place a minute,” said Klinker. “I got something to show you there. You know the shop, o’ course?”
No; Mr. Queed was obliged to admit that he did not.
“I’m manager for Stark’s,” said Klinker, trying not to appear boastful. “Cigars, mineral waters, and periodicals. And a great rondy-vooze for the sporting men, politicians, and rounders of the town, if I do say it. I’ve seen you hit 87by the window many’s the time, only your head was so full of studies you never noticed.”
“Thank you, I have no time this evening, I fear — ”
“Time? It won’t take any — it’s right the end of this block. You can’t do any studyin’ before supper-time, anyhow, because it’s near that now. I got something for you there.”
They turned into Stark’s, a brilliantly-lit and prettily appointed little shop with a big soda-water plant at the front. To a white-coated boy who lounged upon the fount, Klinker spoke winged words, and the next moment Queed found himself drinking a foaming, tingling, hair-trigger concoction under orders to put it all down at a gulp.
They were seated upon a bench of oak and leather upholstery, with an enormous mirror reproducing their back views to all who cared to see. Klinker was chewing a toothpick; and either a toothpick lasted him a long time, or the number he made away with in a year was simply stupendous.
“Ever see a gymnasier, Doc?”
No; it seemed that the Doc had not.
“We got one here. There’s a big spare room behind the shop. Kind of a store-room it was, and the Mercuries have fitted it up as a gymnasier and athletic club. Only they’re dead ones and don’t use it much no more. Got kind of a fall this afternoon, did n’t you, Doc?”
“What makes you think that?”
“That eye you got. She’ll be a beaut to-morrow — skin’s broke too. A bit of nice raw beefsteak clapped on it right now would do the world and all for it.”
“Oh, it is of no consequence — ”
“You think nothing about your body is consequence, Doc, that only your mind counts, and that’s just where you make your mistake. Your body’s got to carry your mind around, and if it lays down on you, what — ”
“But I have no intention of letting my body lie down on me, as you put it, Mr. Klinker. My health is sound, my constitution — ”
“Forget it, Doc. Can’t I look at you and see with my own eyes? You’re committing slow suicide by over-work. That’s what it is.”
“As it happens, I am doing nothing of the sort. I have been working exactly this way for twelve years.”
“Then all the bigger is the overdue bill nature’s got against you, and when she does hit you she’ll hit to kill. Where’ll your mind and your studies be when we’ve planted your body down under the sod?”
Mr. Queed made no reply. After a moment, preparing to rise, he said: “I am obliged to you for that drink. It is rather remarkable — ”
“Headache all gone, hey?”
“Almost entirely. I wish you would give me the name of the medicine. I will make a memorandum — ”
“Nix,” said Klinker.
“Nix? Nux I have heard of, but . . .”
“Hold on,” laughed Klinker, as he saw Queed preparing to enter Nix in his note-book. “That ain’t the name of it and I ain’t going to give it to you. Why, that slop only covers up the trouble, Doc — does more harm than good in the long run. You got to go deeper and take away the cause. Come back here and I’ll show you your real medicine.”
“I’m afraid — ”
“Aw, don’t flash that open-faced clock of yours on me. That’s your trouble, Doc — matching seconds against your studies. It won’t take a minute, and you can catch it up eating supper faster if you feel you got to.”
Queed, curious, as well as decidedly impressed by Klinker’s sure knowledge in a field where he was totally ignorant, was persuaded. The two groped their way down a long dark passage at the rear of the shop, and into a large room like a cavern. Klinker lit a flaring gas-jet and made a gesture.
“The Mercury Athletic Club gymnasier and sporting-room.”
It was a basement room, with two iron-grated windows 89 at the back. Two walls were lined with stout shelves, partially filled with boxes. The remaining space, including wall-space, was occupied by the most curious and puzzling contrivances that Queed had ever seen. Out of the glut of enigmas there was but one thing — a large mattress upon the floor — that he could recognize without a diagram.
“Your caretaker sleeps here, I perceive.”
Klinker laughed. “Look around you, Doc. Take a good gaze.”
Doc obeyed. Klinker picked up a “sneaker” from the floor and hurled it with deadly precision at a weight-and-pulley across the room.
“There’s your medicine, Doc!”
Orange-stick in mouth, he went around like a museum guide, introducing the beloved apparatus to the visitor under its true names and uses, the chest-weights, dumb-bells and Indian clubs, flying-rings, a rowing-machine, the horizontal and parallel bars, the punching-bag and trapeze. Klinker lingered over the ceremonial; it was plain that the gymnasier was very dear to him. In fact, he loved everything pertaining to bodily exercise and manly sport; he caressed a boxing-glove as he never caressed a lady’s hand; the smell of witch-hazel on a hard bare limb was more titillating to him than any intoxicant. The introduction over, Klinker sat down tenderly on the polished seat of the rowing-machine, and addressed Doctor Queed, who stood with an academic arm thrown gingerly over the horizontal bar.
“There’s your medicine, Doc. And if you don’t take it — well, it may be the long good-by for yours before the flowers bloom again.”
“How do you mean, Mr. Klinker — there is my medicine?”
“I mean you need half an hour to an hour’s hardest kind of work right here every day, reg’lar as meals.”
Queed started as though he had been stung. He cleared his throat nervously.
“No doubt that would be beneficial — in a sense, but I cannot afford to take the time from My Book — ”
“That’s where you got it dead wrong. You can’t afford not to take the time, Any doctor’ll tell you the same as me, that you’ll never finish your book at all at the clip you’re hitting now. You’ll go with nervous prostration, and it’ll wipe you out like a fly. Why, Doc,” said Klinker, impressively, “you don’t reelize the kind of life you’re leading — all indoors and sede’tary and working twenty hours a day. I come in pretty late some nights, but I never come so late that there ain’t a light under your door. A man can’t stand it, I tell you, playing both ends against the middle that away. You got to pull up, or it’s out the door feet first for you.”
Queed said uneasily: “One important fact escapes you, Mr. Klinker. I shall never let matters progress so far. When I feel my health giving way — ”
“Need n’t finish — heard it all before. They think they’re going to stop in time, but they never do. Old prostration catches ’em first every crack. You think an hour a day exercise would be kind of a waste, ain’t that right? Kind of a dead loss off’n your book and studies?”
“I certainly do feel — ”
“Well, you’re wrong. Listen here. Don’t you feel some days as if mebbe you could do better writing and harder writing if only you did n’t feel so mean?”
“Well . . . I will frankly confess that sometimes — ”
“Did n’t I know it! Do you know what, Doc? If you knocked out a little time for reg’lar exercise, you’d find when bedtime came, that you’d done better work than you ever did before.”
Queed was silent. He had the most logical mind in the world, and now at last Klinker had produced an argument that appealed to his reason.
“I’ll put it to you as a promise,” said Klinker, eyeing him earnestly. “One hour a day exercise, and you do more work in twenty-four hours than you’re doing now, besides feelin’ one hundred per cent better all the time.”
Still Queed was silent. One hour a day!
“Try it for only a month,” said Klinker the Tempter. 91 “I’ll help you — glad to do it — I need the drill myself. Gimme an hour a day for just a month, and I’ll bet you the drinks you would n’t quit after that for a hundred dollars.”
Queed turned away from Klinker’s honest eyes, and wrestled the bitter thing out. Thirty Hours stolen from his Book! . . . Yesterday, even an hour ago, he would not have considered such an outrage for a moment. But now, driving him irresistibly toward the terrible idea, working upon him far more powerfully than his knowledge of headache, even than Klinker’s promise of a net gain in his working ability, was this new irrationally disturbing knowledge that he was a physical incompetent. . . . If he had begun systematic exercise ten years ago, probably he could thrash Mr. Pat to-day.
Yet an hour a day is not pried out of a sacred schedule of work without pains and anguish, and it was with a grim face that the Doc turned back to William Klinker.
“Very well, Mr. Klinker, I will agree to make the experiment, tentatively — an hour a day for thirty days only.”
“Right for you, Doc! You’ll never be sorry — take it from me.”
Klinker was a brisk, efficient young man. The old gang that had fitted out the gymnasium had drifted away, and the thought of going once more into regular training, with a pupil all his own, was breath to his nostrils. He assumed charge of the ceded hour with skilled sureness. Rain or shine, the Doctor was to take half an hour’s hard walking in the air every day, over and above the walk to the office. Every afternoon at six— at which hour the managerial duties at Stark’s terminated — he was to report in the gym for half an hour’s vigorous work on the apparatus. This iron-clad regime was to go into effect on the morrow.
“I’ll look at you stripped,” said Klinker, eyeing his new pupil thoughtfully, “and see first what you need. Then I’ll lay out a reg’lar course for you — exercises for all parts of the body. Got any trunks?”
Queed looked surprised. “I have one small one — a steamer trunk, as it is called.”
Klinker explained what he meant, and the Doctor feared that his wardrobe contained no such article.
“Ne’mmind. I can fit you up with a pair. Left Hand Tom’s they used to be, him that died of the scarlet fever Thanksgiving. And say, Doc!”
“Here’s the first thing I’ll teach you. Never mister your sparring-partner.”
The Doc thought this out, laboriously, and presently said: “Very well, William.”
“Call me Buck, the same as all the boys.”
Klinker came toward him holding out an object made of red velveteen about the size of a pocket handkerchief.
“Put these where you can find them to-morrow. You can have ’em. Left Hand Tom’s gone where he don’t need ’em any more.”
“What are they? What does one do with them?”
“They’re your trunks. You wear ’em.”
“Where? On — what portion, I mean?”
“They’re like little pants,” said Klinker.
The two men walked home together over the frozen streets. Queed was taciturn and depressed. He was annoyed by Klinker’s presence and irritated by his conversation; he wanted nothing in the world so much as to be let alone. But honest Buck Klinker remained unresponsive to his mood. All the way to Mrs. Paynter’s he told his new pupil grisly stories of men he had known who had thought that they could work all day and all night, and never take any exercise. Buck kindly offered to show the Doc their graves.