Flappers and Philosophers
F. Scott Fitzgerald
Part 5 out of 5
--considered the silver--again decided against it.
Back in his room at the boarding-house he examined the additions
to his personal property:
Sixty-five dollars in bills.
A platinum ring with three medium diamonds, worth, probably,
about seven hundred dollars. Diamonds were going up.
A cheap gold-plated ring with the initials O. S. and the date
inside--'03--probably a class-ring from school. Worth a few
A red-cloth case containing a set of false teeth.
A silver watch.
A gold chain worth more than the watch.
An empty ring-box.
A little ivory Chinese god--probably a desk ornament.
A dollar and sixty-two cents an small change.
He put the money under his pillow and the other things in the
toe of an infantry boot, stuffing a stocking in on top of them.
Then for two hours his mind raced like a high-power engine here
and there through his life, past and future, through fear and
laughter. With a vague, inopportune wish that he were married,
he fell into a deep sleep about half past five.
Though the newspaper account of the burglary failed to mention
the false teeth, they worried him considerably. The picture of
a human waking in the cool dawn and groping for them in vain,
of a soft, toothless breakfast, of a strange, hollow, lisping
voice calling the police station, of weary, dispirited visits
to the dentist, roused a great fatherly pity in him.
Trying to ascertain whether they belonged to a man or a woman,
he took them carefully out of the case and held them up near
his mouth. He moved his own jaws experimentally; he measured
with his fingers; but he failed to decide: they might belong
either to a large-mouthed woman or a small-mouthed man.
On a warm impulse he wrapped them in brown paper from the
bottom of his army trunk, and printed FALSE TEETH on the
package in clumsy pencil letters. Then, the next night, he
walked down Philmore Street, and shied the package onto the
lawn so that it would be near the door. Next day the paper
announced that the police had a clew--they knew that the
burglar was in town. However, they didn't mention what the
At the end of a month "Burglar Bill of the Silver District
was the nurse-girl's standby for frightening children. Five
burglaries were attributed to him, but though Dalyrimple had
only committed three, he considered that majority had it and
appropriated the title to himself. He had once been seen--"a
large bloated creature with the meanest face you ever laid eyes
on." Mrs. Henry Coleman, awaking at two o'clock at the beam of
an electric torch flashed in her eye, could not have been
expected to recognize Bryan Dalyrimple at whom she had waved
flags last Fourth of July, and whom she had described as "not
at all the daredevil type, do you think?"
When Dalyrimple kept his imagination at white heat he managed to
glorify his own attitude, his emancipation from petty scruples
and remorses--but let him once allow his thought to rove
unarmored, great unexpected horrors and depressions would
overtake him. Then for reassurance he had to go back to think
out the whole thing over again. He found that it was on the
whole better to give up considering himself as a rebel. It was
more consoling to think of every one else as a fool.
His attitude toward Mr. Macy underwent a change. He no longer
felt a dim animosity and inferiority in his presence. As his
fourth month in the store ended he found himself regarding his
employer in a manner that was almost fraternal. He had a vague
but very assured conviction that Mr. Macy's innermost soul would
have abetted and approved. He no longer worried about his
future. He had the intention of accumulating several thousand
dollars and then clearing out--going east, back to France, down
to South America. Half a dozen times in the last two months he
had been about to stop work, but a fear of attracting attention
to his being in funds prevented him. So he worked on, no longer
in listlessness, but with contemptuous amusement.
Then with astounding suddenness something happened that changed
his plans and put an end to his burglaries.
Mr. Macy sent for him one afternoon and with a great show of
jovial mystery asked him if he had an engagement that night. If
he hadn't, would he please call on Mr. Alfred J. Fraser at eight
o'clock. Dalyrimple's wonder was mingled with uncertainty. He
debated with himself whether it were not his cue to take the
first train out of town. But an hour's consideration decided him
that his fears were unfounded and at eight o'clock he arrived at
the big Fraser house in Philmore Avenue.
Mr. Fraser was commonly supposed to be the biggest political
influence in the city. His brother was Senator Fraser, his son-
in-law was Congressman Demming, and his influence, though not
wielded in such a way as to make him an objectionable boss, was
He had a great, huge face, deep-set eyes, and a barn-door of an
upper lip, the melange approaching a worthy climax if a long
During his conversation with Dalyrimple his expression kept
starting toward a smile, reached a cheerful optimism, and then
receded back to imperturbability.
"How do you do, sir?" he laid, holding out his hand. "Sit down.
I suppose you're wondering why I wanted you. Sit down."
Dalyrimple sat down.
"Mr. Dalyrimple, how old are you?"
"You're young. But that doesn't mean you're foolish. Mr.
Dalyrimple, what I've got to say won't take long. I'm going to
make you a proposition. To begin at the beginning, I've been
watching you ever since last Fourth of July when you made that
speech in response to the loving-cup."
Dalyrimple murmured disparagingly, but Fraser waved him to
"It was a speech I've remembered. It was a brainy speech,
straight from the shoulder, and it got to everybody in that
crowd. I know. I've watched crowds for years." He cleared his
throat as if tempted to digress on his knowledge of crowds--then
continued. "But, Mr. Dalyrimple, I've seen too many young men
who promised brilliantly go to pieces, fail through want of
steadiness, too many high-power ideas, and not enough
willingness to work. So I waited. I wanted to see what you'd
do. I wanted to see if you'd go to work, and if you'd stick to
what you started."
Dalyrimple felt a glow settle over him.
"So," continued Fraser, "when Theron Macy told me you'd started
down at his place, I kept watching you, and I followed your
record through him. The first month I was afraid for awhile.
He told me you were getting restless, too good for your job,
hinting around for a raise---"
"---But he said after that you evidently made up your mind to
shut up and stick to it. That's the stuff I like in a young man!
That's the stuff that wins out. And don't think I don't
understand. I know how much harder it was for you after all that
silly flattery a lot of old women had been giving you. I know
what a fight it must have been---"
Dalyrimple's face was burning brightly. It felt young and
"Dalyrimple, you've got brains and you've got the stuff in you--
and that's what I want. I'm going to put you into the State
"The State Senate. We want a young man who has got brains, but
is solid and not a loafer. And when I say State Senate I don't
stop there. We're up against it here, Dalyrimple. We've got to
get some young men into politics--you know the old blood that's
been running on the party ticket year in and year out."
Dalyrimple licked his lips.
"You'll run me for the State Senate?"
"I'll PUT you in the State Senate."
Mr. Fraser's expression had now reached the
point nearest a smile and Dalyrimple in a happy frivolity felt
himself urging it mentally on--but it stopped, locked, and slid
from him. The barn-door and the jaw were separated by a line
strait as a nail. Dalyrimple remembered with an effort that it
was a mouth, and talked to it.
"But I'm through," he said. "My notoriety's dead. People are
fed up with me."
"Those things," answered Mr. Fraser, "are mechanical. Linotype
is a resuscitator of reputations. Wait till you see the HERALD,
beginning next week--that is if you're with us--that is," and
his voice hardened slightly, "if you haven't got too many ideas
yourself about how things ought to be run."
"No," said Dalyrimple, looking him frankly in the eye. "You'll
have to give me a lot of advice at first."
"Very well. I'll take care of your reputation then. Just keep
yourself on the right side of the fence."
Dalyrimple started at this repetition of a phrase he had thought
of so much lately. There was a sudden ring at the door-bell.
"That's Macy now," observed Fraser, rising. "I'll go let him in.
The servants have gone to bed."
He left Dalyrimple there in a dream. The world was opening up
suddenly--- The State Senate, the United States Senate--so life
was this after all--cutting corners--common sense, that was the
rule. No more foolish risks now unless necessity called--but it
was being hard that counted-- Never to let remorse or self-
reproach lose him a night's sleep--let his life be a sword of
courage--there was no payment--all that was drivel--drivel.
He sprang to his feet with clinched hands in a sort of triumph.
"Well, Bryan," said Mr. Macy stepping through the portières.
The two older men smiled their half-smiles at him.
"Well Bryan," said Mr. Macy again.
Dalyrimple smiled also.
"How do, Mr. Macy?"
He wondered if some telepathy between them had made this new
appreciation possible--some invisible realization. . . .
Mr. Macy held out his hand.
"I'm glad we're to be associated in this scheme--I've been for
you all along--especially lately. I'm glad we're to be on the
same side of the fence."
"I want to thank you, sir," said Dalyrimple simply. He felt a
whimsical moisture gathering back of his eyes.
The Four Fists
At the present time no one I know has the slightest desire to
hit Samuel Meredith; possibly this is because a man over fifty
is liable to be rather severely cracked at the impact of a
hostile fist, but, for my part, I am inclined to think that all
his hitable qualities have quite vanished. But it is certain
that at various times in his life hitable qualities were in his
face, as surely as kissable qualities have ever lurked in a
I'm sure every one has met a man like that, been casually
introduced, even made a friend of him, yet felt he was the sort
who aroused passionate dislike--expressed by some in the
involuntary clinching of fists, and in others by mutterings
about "takin' a poke" and "landin' a swift smash in ee eye." In
the juxtaposition of Samuel Meredith's features this quality was
so strong that it influenced his entire life.
What was it? Not the shape, certainly, for he was a pleasant-
looking man from earliest youth: broad-bowed with gray eyes that
were frank and friendly. Yet I've heard him tell a room full of
reporters angling for a "success" story that he'd be ashamed to
tell them the truth that they wouldn't believe it, that it
wasn't one story but four, that the public would not want to
read about a man who had been walloped into prominence.
It all started at Phillips Andover Academy when he was fourteen.
He had been brought up on a diet of caviar and bell-boys' legs
in half the capitals of Europe, and it was pure luck that his
mother had nervous prostration and had to delegate his education
to less tender, less biassed hands.
At Andover he was given a roommate named Gilly Hood. Gilly was
thirteen, undersized, and rather the school pet. From the
September day when Mr. Meredith's valet stowed Samuel's clothing
in the best bureau and asked, on departing, "hif there was
hanything helse, Master Samuel?" Gilly cried out that the
faculty had played him false. He felt like an irate frog in
whose bowl has been put goldfish.
"Good gosh!" he complained to his sympathetic contemporaries,
"he's a damn stuck-up Willie. He said, 'Are the crowd here
gentlemen?' and I said, 'No, they're boys,' and he said age
didn't matter, and I said, 'Who said it did?' Let him get fresh
with me, the ole pieface!"
For three weeks Gilly endured in silence young Samuel's comments
on the clothes and habits of Gilly's personal friends, endured
French phrases in conversation, endured a hundred half-feminine
meannesses that show what a nervous mother can do to a boy, if
she keeps close enough to him--then a storm broke in the aquarium.
Samuel was out. A crowd had gathered to hear Gilly be wrathful
about his roommate's latest sins.
"He said, 'Oh, I don't like the windows open at night,' he said,
'except only a little bit,'" complained Gilly.
"Don't let him boss you."
"Boss me? You bet he won't. I open those windows, I guess, but
the darn fool won't take turns shuttin' 'em in the morning."
"Make him, Gilly, why don't you?"
"I'm going to." Gilly nodded his head in fierce agreement.
"Don't you worry. He needn't think I'm any ole butler."
"Le's see you make him."
At this point the darn fool entered in person and included the
crowd in one of his irritating smiles. Two boys said, "'Lo,
Mer'dith"; the others gave him a chilly glance and went on talking
to Gilly. But Samuel seemed unsatisfied.
"Would you mind not sitting on my bed?" he suggested politely to
two of Gilly's particulars who were perched very much at ease.
"My bed. Can't you understand English?"
This was adding insult to injury. There were several comments on
the bed's sanitary condition and the evidence within it of animal
"S'matter with your old bed?" demanded Gilly truculently.
"The bed's all right, but---"
Gilly interrupted this sentence by rising and walking up to
Samuel. He paused several inches away and eyed him fiercely.
"You an' your crazy ole bed," he began. "You an' your crazy---"
"Go to it, Gilly," murmured some one.
"Show the darn fool---"
Samuel returned the gaze coolly.
"Well," he said finally, "it's my bed--- "
He got no further, for Gilly hauled of and hit him succinctly in
"Show the big bully!"
Just let him touch you--he'll see!"
The group closed in on them and for the first time in his life
Samuel realized the insuperable inconvenience of being
passionately detested. He gazed around helplessly at the
glowering, violently hostile faces. He towered a head taller
than his roommate, so if he hit back he'd be called a bully and
have half a dozen more fights on his hands within five minutes;
yet if he didn't he was a coward. For a moment he stood there
facing Gilly's blazing eyes, and then, with a sudden choking
sound, he forced his way through the ring and rushed from the
The month following bracketed the thirty most miserable days of
his life. Every waking moment he was under the lashing tongues
of his contemporaries; his habits and mannerisms became butts
for intolerable witticisms and, of course, the sensitiveness of
adolescence was a further thorn. He considered that he was a
natural pariah; that the unpopularity at school would follow him
through life. When he went home for the Christmas holidays he
was so despondent that his father sent him to a nerve
specialist. When he returned to Andover he arranged to arrive
late so that he could be alone in the bus during the drive from
station to school.
Of course when he had learned to keep his mouth shut every one
promptly forgot all about him. The next autumn, with his
realization that consideration for others was the discreet
attitude, he made good use of the clean start given him by the
shortness of boyhood memory. By the beginning of his senior year
Samuel Meredith was one of the best-liked boys of his class--and
no one was any stronger for him than his first friend and
constant companion, Gilly Hood.
Samuel became the sort of college student who in the early
nineties drove tandems and coaches and tallyhos between
Princeton and Yale and New York City to show that they
appreciated the social importance of football games. He believed
passionately in good form--his choosing of gloves, his tying of
ties, his holding of reins were imitated by impressionable
freshmen. Outside of his own set he was considered rather a
snob, but as his set was THE set, it never worried him. He
played football in the autumn, drank high-balls in the winter,
and rowed in the spring. Samuel despised all those who were
merely sportsmen without being gentlemen or merely gentlemen
without being sportsmen.
He live in New York and often brought home several of his
friends for the week-end. Those were the days of the horse-car
and in case of a crush it was, of course, the proper thing for
any one of Samuel's set to rise and deliver his seat to a
standing lady with a formal bow. One night in Samuel's junior
year he boarded a car with two of his intimates. There were
three vacant seats. When Samuel sat down he noticed a heavy-eyed
laboring man sitting next to him who smelt objectionably of
garlic, sagged slightly against Samuel and, spreading a little
as a tired man will, took up quite too much room.
The car had gone several blocks when it stopped for a quartet of
young girls, and, of course, the three men of the world sprang
to their feet and proffered their seats with due observance of
form. Unfortunately, the laborer, being unacquainted with the
code of neckties and tallyhos, failed to follow their example,
and one young lady was left at an embarrassed stance. Fourteen
eyes glared reproachfully at the barbarian; seven lips curled
slightly; but the object of scorn stared stolidly into the
foreground in sturdy unconsciousness of his despicable conduct.
Samuel was the most violently affected. He was humiliated that
any male should so conduct himself. He spoke aloud.
"There's a lady standing," he said sternly.
That should have been quite enough, but the object of scorn only
looked up blankly. The standing girl tittered and exchanged
nervous glances with her companions. But Samuel was aroused.
"There's a lady standing," he repeated, rather raspingly. The
man seemed to comprehend.
"I pay my fare," he said quietly.
Samuel turned red and his hands clinched, but the conductor was
looking their way, so at a warning nod from his friends he
subsided into sullen gloom.
They reached their destination and left the car, but so did the
laborer, who followed them, swinging his little pail. Seeing his
chance, Samuel no longer resisted his aristocratic inclination.
He turned around and, launching a full-featured, dime-novel
sneer, made a loud remark about the right of the lower animals
to ride with human beings.
In a half-second the workman had dropped his pail and let fly at
him. Unprepared, Samuel took the blow neatly on the jaw and
sprawled full length into the cobblestone gutter.
"Don't laugh at me!" cried his assailant. "I been workin' all
day. I'm tired as hell!"
As he spoke the sudden anger died out of his eyes and the mask
of weariness dropped again over his face. He turned and picked
up his pail. Samuel's friends took a quick step in his direction.
"Wait!" Samuel had risen slowly and was motioning back. Some
time, somewhere, he had been struck like that before. Then he
remembered--Gilly Hood. In the silence, as he dusted himself
off, the whole scene in the room at Andover was before his eyes--
and he knew intuitively that he had been wrong again. This
man's strength, his rest, was the protection of his family. He
had more use for his seat in the street-car than any young girl.
"It's all right," said Samuel gruffly. "Don't touch 'him. I've
been a damn fool."
Of course it took more than an hour, or a week, for Samuel to
rearrange his ideas on the essential importance of good form. At
first he simply admitted that his wrongness had made him
powerless--as it had made him powerless against Gilly--but
eventually his mistake about the workman influenced his entire
attitude. Snobbishness is, after all, merely good breeding grown
dictatorial; so Samuel's code remained but the necessity of
imposing it upon others had faded out in a certain gutter.
Within that year his class had somehow stopped referring to him
as a snob.
After a few years Samuel's university decided that it had shone
long enough in the reflected glory of his neckties, so they
declaimed to him in Latin, charged him ten dollars for the paper
which proved him irretrievably educated, and sent him into the
turmoil with much self-confidence, a few friends, and the proper
assortment of harmless bad habits.
His family had by that time started back to shirt-sleeves,
through a sudden decline in the sugar-market, and it had already
unbuttoned its vest, so to speak, when Samuel went to work. His
mind was that exquisite TABULA RASA that a university education
sometimes leaves, but he had both energy and influence, so he
used his former ability as a dodging half-back in twisting
through Wall Street crowds as runner for a bank.
His diversion was--women. There were half a dozen: two or three
débutantes, an actress (in a minor way), a grass-widow, and one
sentimental little brunette who was married and lived in a
little house in Jersey City.
They had met on a ferry-boat. Samuel was crossing from New York
on business (he bad been working several years by this time) and
he helped her look for a package that she had dropped in the crush.
"Do you come over often?" he inquired casually.
"Just to shop," she said shyly. She had great brown eyes and the
pathetic kind of little mouth. "I've only been married three
months, and we find it cheaper to live over here."
"Does he--does your husband like your being alone like this?"
She laughed, a cheery young laugh.
"Oh, dear me, no. We were to meet for dinner but I must have
misunderstood the place. He'll be awfully worried."
"Well," said Samuel disapprovingly, "he ought to be. If you'll
allow me I'll see you home."
She accepted his offer thankfully, so they took the cable-car
together. When they walked up the path to her little house they
saw a light there; her husband had arrived before her.
"He's frightfully jealous," she announced, laughingly apologetic.
"Very well," answered Samuel, rather stiffly. "I'd better leave
She thanked him and, waving a good night, he left her.
That would have been quite all if they hadn't met on Fifth
Avenue one morning a week later. She started and blushed and
seemed so glad to see him that they chatted like old friends.
She was going to her dressmaker's, eat lunch alone at Taine's,
shop all afternoon, and meet her husband on the ferry at five.
Samuel told her that her husband was a very lucky man. She
blushed again and scurried off.
Samuel whistled all the way back to his office, but about twelve
o'clock he began to see that pathetic, appealing little mouth
everywhere--and those brown eyes. He fidgeted when he looked at
the clock; he thought of the grill down-stairs where he lunched
and the heavy male conversation thereof, and opposed to that
picture appeared another; a little table at Taine's with the
brown eyes and the mouth a few feet away. A few minutes before
twelve-thirty he dashed on his hat and rushed for the cable-car.
She was quite surprised to see him.
"Why--hello," she said. Samuel could tell that she was just
"I thought we might lunch together. It's so dull eating with a
lot of men."
"Why, I suppose there's no harm in it. How could there be!"
It occurred to her that her husband should have taken lunch with
her--but he was generally so hurried at noon. She told Samuel
all about him: he was a little smaller than Samuel, but, oh,
MUCH better-looking. He was a book-keeper and not making a lot
of money, but they were very happy and expected to be rich
within three or four years.
Samuel's grass-widow had been in a quarrelsome mood for three or
four weeks, and through contrast, he took an accentuated
pleasure in this meeting; so fresh was she, and earnest, and
faintly adventurous. Her name was Marjorie.
They made another engagement; in fact, for a month they lunched
together two or three times a week. When she was sure that her
husband would work late Samuel took her over to New Jersey on
the ferry, leaving her always on the tiny front porch, after
she had gone in and lit the gas to use the security of his
masculine presence outside. This grew to be a ceremony--and it
annoyed him. Whenever the comfortable glow fell out through the
front windows, that was his CONGÉ; yet he never suggested coming
in and Marjorie didn't invite him.
Then, when Samuel and Marjorie had reached a stage in which they
sometimes touched each other's arms gently, just to show that
they were very good friends, Marjorie and her husband had one of
those ultrasensitive, supercritical quarrels that couples never
indulge in unless they care a great deal about each other. It
started with a cold mutton-chop or a leak in the gas-jet--and
one day Samuel found her in Taine's, with dark shadows under her
brown eyes and a terrifying pout.
By this time Samuel thought he was in love with Marjorie--so he
played up the quarrel for all it was worth. He was her best
friend and patted her hand--and leaned down close to her brown
curls while she whispered in little sobs what her husband had
said that morning; and he was a little more than her best friend
when he took her over to the ferry in a hansom.
"Marjorie," he said gently, when he left her, as usual, on the
porch, "if at any time you want to call on me, remember that I
am always waiting, always waiting."
She nodded gravely and put both her hands in his. "I know," she
said. "I know you're my friend, my best friend."
Then she ran into the house and he watched there until the gas
For the next week Samuel was in a nervous turmoil. Some
persistently rational strain warned him that at bottom he and
Marjorie had little in common, but in such cases there is
usually so much mud in the water that one can seldom see to the
bottom. Every dream and desire told him that he loved Marjorie,
wanted her, had to have her.
The quarrel developed. Marjorie's husband took to staying in New
York until late at night came home several times disagreeably
overstimulated, and made her generally miserable. They must have
had too much pride to talk it out--for Marjorie's husband was,
after all, pretty decent--so it drifted on from one
misunderstanding to another. Marjorie kept coming more and more
to Samuel; when a woman can accept masculine sympathy at is much
more satisfactory to her than crying to another girl. But
Marjorie didn't realize how much she had begun to rely on him,
how much he was part of her little cosmos.
One night, instead of turning away when Marjorie went in and lit
the gas, Samuel went in, too, and they sat together on the sofa
in the little parlor. He was very happy. He envied their home,
and he felt that the man who neglected such a possession out of
stubborn pride was a fool and unworthy of his wife. But when he
kissed Marjorie for the first time she cried softly and told him
to go. He sailed home on the wings of desperate excitement,
quite resolved to fan this spark of romance, no matter how big
the blaze or who was burned. At the time he considered that his
thoughts were unselfishly of her; in a later perspective he knew
that she had meant no more than the white screen in a motion
picture: it was just Samuel--blind, desirous.
Next day at Taine's, when they met for lunch, Samuel dropped all
pretense and made frank love to her. He had no plans, no
definite intentions, except to kiss her lips again, to hold her
in his arms and feel that she was very little and pathetic and
lovable. . . . He took her home, and this time they kissed until
both their hearts beat high--words and phrases formed on his lips.
And then suddenly there were steps on the porch--a hand tried
the outside door. Marjorie turned dead-white.
"Wait!" she whispered to Samuel, in a frightened voice, but in
angry impatience at the interruption he walked to the front door
and threw it open.
Every one has seen such scenes on the stage--seen them so often
that when they actually happen people behave very much like
actors. Samuel felt that he was playing a part and the lines
came quite naturally: he announced that all had a right to lead
their own lives and looked at Marjorie's husband menacingly, as
if daring him to doubt it. Marjorie's husband spoke of the
sanctity of the home, forgetting that it hadn't seemed very holy
to him lately; Samuel continued along the line of "the right to
happiness"; Marjorie's husband mentioned firearms and the
divorce court. Then suddenly he stopped and scrutinized both of
them--Marjorie in pitiful collapse on the sofa, Samuel
haranguing the furniture in a consciously heroic pose.
"Go up-stairs, Marjorie," he said, in a different tone.
"Stay where you are!" Samuel countered quickly.
Marjorie rose, wavered, and sat down, rose again and moved
hesitatingly toward the stairs.
"Come outside," said her husband to Samuel. "I want to talk to
Samuel glanced at Marjorie, tried to get some message from her
eyes; then he shut his lips and went out.
There was a bright moon and when Marjorie's husband came down
the steps Samuel could see plainly that he was suffering--but
he felt no pity for him.
They stood and looked at each other, a few feet apart, and the
husband cleared his throat as though it were a bit husky.
"That's my wife," he said quietly, and then a wild anger surged
up inside him. "Damn you!" he cried--and hit Samuel in the
face with all his strength.
In that second, as Samuel slumped to the ground, it flashed to
him that he had been hit like that twice before, and
simultaneously the incident altered like a dream--he felt
suddenly awake. Mechanically he sprang to his feet and squared
off. The other man was waiting, fists up, a yard away, but
Samuel knew that though physically he had him by several inches
and many pounds, he wouldn't hit him. The situation had
miraculously and entirely changed--a moment before Samuel had
seemed to himself heroic; now he seemed the cad, the outsider,
and Marjorie's husband, silhouetted against the lights of the
little house, the eternal heroic figure, the defender of his home.
There was a pause and then Samuel turned quickly away and went
down the path for the last time.
Of course, after the third blow Samuel put in several weeks at
conscientious introspection. The blow years before at Andover
had landed on his personal unpleasantness; the workman of his
college days had jarred the snobbishness out of his system, and
Marjorie's husband had given a severe jolt to his greedy
selfishness. It threw women out of his ken until a year later,
when he met his future wife; for the only sort of woman worth
while seemed to be the one who could be protected as Marjorie's
husband had protected her. Samuel could not imagine his grass-
widow, Mrs. De Ferriac, causing any very righteous blows on her
His early thirties found him well on his feet. He was associated
with old Peter Carhart, who was in those days a national figure.
Carhart's physique was like a rough model for a statue of
Hercules, and his record was just as solid--a pile made for the
pure joy of it, without cheap extortion or shady scandal. He had
been a great friend of Samuel's father, but he watched the son
for six years before taking him into his own office. Heaven
knows how many things he controlled at that time--mines,
railroads, banks, whole cities. Samuel was very close to him,
knew his likes and dislikes, his prejudices, weaknesses and
One day Carhart sent for Samuel and, closing the door of his
inner office, offered him a chair and a cigar.
"Everything 0. K., Samuel?" he asked.
"I've been afraid you're getting a bit stale."
"Stale?" Samuel was puzzled.
"You've done no work outside the office for nearly ten years?"
"But I've had vacations, in the Adiron---"
Carhart waved this aside.
"I mean outside work. Seeing the things move that we've always
pulled the strings of here."
"No " admitted Samuel; "I haven't."
"So," he said abruptly "I'm going to give you an outside job
that'll take about a month."
Samuel didn't argue. He rather liked the idea and he made up his
mind that, whatever it was, he would put it through just as
Carhart wanted it. That was his employer's greatest hobby, and
the men around him were as dumb under direct orders as infantry
"You'll go to San Antonio and see Hamil," continued Carhart.
"He's got a job on hand and he wants a man to take charge."
Hamil was in charge of the Carhart interests in the Southwest, a
man who had grown up in the shadow of his employer, and with
whom, though they had never met, Samuel had had much official
"When do I leave?"
"You'd better go to-morrow," answered Carhart, glancing at the
calendar. "That's the 1st of May. I'll expect your report here on
the 1st of June."
Next morning Samuel left for Chicago, and two days later he was
facing Hamil across a table in the office of the Merchants'
Trust in San Antonio. It didn't take long to get the gist of the
thing. It was a big deal in oil which concerned the buying up of
seventeen huge adjoining ranches. This buying up had to be done
in one week, and it was a pure squeeze. Forces had been set in
motion that put the seventeen owners between the devil and the
deep sea, and Samuel's part was simply to "handle" the matter
from a little village near Pueblo. With tact and efficiency the
right man could bring it off without any friction, for it was
merely a question of sitting at the wheel and keeping a firm
hold. Hamil, with an astuteness many times valuable to his
chief, had arranged a situation that would give a much greater
clear gain than any dealing in the open market. Samuel shook
hands with Hamil, arranged to return in two weeks, and left for
San Felipe, New Mexico.
It occurred to him, of course, that Carhart was trying him out.
Hamil's report on his handling of this might be a factor in
something big for him, but even without that he would have done
his best to put the thing through. Ten years in New York hadn't
made him sentimental and he was quite accustomed to finish
everything he began--and a little bit more.
All went well at first. There was no enthusiasm, but each one of
the seventeen ranchers concerned knew Samuel's business, knew
what he had behind him, and that they had as little chance of
holding out as flies on a window-pane. Some of them were
resigned--some of them cared like the devil, but they'd talked
it over, argued it with lawyers and couldn't see any possible
loophole. Five of the ranches had oil, the other twelve were
part of the chance, but quite as necessary to Hamil's purpose,
in any event.
Samuel soon saw that the real leader was an early settler named
McIntyre, a man of perhaps fifty, gray-haired, clean-shaven,
bronzed by forty New Mexico summers, and with those clear steady
eye that Texas and New Mexico weather are apt to give. His ranch
had not as yet shown oil, but it was in the pool, and if any man
hated to lose his land McIntyre did. Every one had rather looked
to him at first to avert the big calamity, and he had hunted all
over the territory for the legal means with which to do it, but
he had failed, and he knew it. He avoided Samuel assiduously,
but Samuel was sure that when the day came for the signatures he
It came--a baking May day, with hot wave rising off the parched
land as far as eyes could see, and as Samuel sat stewing in his
little improvised office--a few chairs, a bench, and a wooden
table--he was glad the thing was almost over. He wanted to get
back East the worst way, and join his wife and children for a
week at the seashore.
The meeting was set for four o'clock, and he was rather
surprised at three-thirty when the door opened and McIntyre came
in. Samuel could not help respecting the man's attitude, and
feeling a bit sorry for him. McIntyre seemed closely related to
the prairies, and Samuel had the little flicker of envy that
city people feel toward men who live in the open.
"Afternoon," said McIntyre, standing in the open doorway, with
his feet apart and his hands on his hips.
"Hello, Mr. McIntyre." Samuel rose, but omitted the formality of
offering his hand. He imagined the rancher cordially loathed
him, and he hardly blamed him. McIntyre came in and sat down
"You got us," he said suddenly.
This didn't seem to require any answer.
"When I heard Carhart was back of this," he continued, "I gave up."
"Mr. Carhart is---" began Samuel, but McIntyre waved him silent.
"Don't talk about the dirty sneak-thief!"
"Mr. McIntyre," said Samuel briskly, "if this half-hour is to be
devoted to that sort of talk---"
"Oh, dry up, young man," McIntyre interrupted, "you can't abuse
a man who'd do a thing like this."
Samuel made no answer.
"It's simply a dirty filch. There just ARE skunks like him too
big to handle."
"You're being paid liberally," offered Samuel.
"Shut up!" roared McIntyre suddenly. "I want the privilege of
talking." He walked to the door and looked out across the land,
the sunny, steaming pasturage that began almost at his feet and
ended with the gray-green of the distant mountains. When he
turned around his mouth was trembling.
"Do you fellows love Wall Street?" he said hoarsely, "or
wherever you do your dirty scheming---" He paused. "I suppose you
do. No critter gets so low that he doesn't sort of love the
place he's worked, where he's sweated out the best he's had in
Samuel watched him awkwardly. McIntyre wiped his forehead with a
huge blue handkerchief, and continued:
"I reckon this rotten old devil had to have another million. I
reckon we're just a few of the poor he's blotted out to buy a
couple more carriages or something." He waved his hand toward
the door. "I built a house out there when I was seventeen, with
these two hands. I took a wife there at twenty-one, added two
wings, and with four mangy steers I started out. Forty summers
I've saw the sun come up over those mountains and drop down red
as blood in the evening, before the heat drifted off and the
stars came out. I been happy in that house. My boy was born
there and he died there, late one spring, in the hottest part of
an afternoon like this. Then the wife and I lived there alone
like we'd lived before, and sort of tried to have a home, after
all, not a real home but nigh it--cause the boy always seemed
around close, somehow, and we expected a lot of nights to see
him runnin' up the path to supper." His voice was shaking so he
could hardly speak and he turned again to the door, his gray
"That's my land out there," he said, stretching out his arm, "my
land, by God--- It's all I got in the world--and ever wanted." He
dashed his sleeve across his face, and his tone changed as he
turned slowly and faced Samuel. "But I suppose it's got to go
when they want it--it's got to go."
Samuel had to talk. He felt that in a minute more he would lose
his head. So he began, as level-voiced as he could--in the sort
of tone he saved for disagreeable duties.
"It's business, Mr. McIntyre," he said. "It's inside the law.
Perhaps we couldn't have bought out two or three of you at any
price, but most of you did have a price. Progress demands some
Never had he felt so inadequate, and it was with the greatest
relief that he heard hoof-beats a few hundred yards away.
But at his words the grief in McIntyre's eyes had changed to fury.
"You and your dirty gang of crooks!" be cried. "Not one of you
has got an honest love for anything on God's earth! You're a
herd of money-swine!"
Samuel rose and McIntyre took a step toward him.
"You long-winded dude. You got our land--take that for Peter
He swung from the shoulder quick as lightning and down went
Samuel in a heap. Dimly he heard steps in the doorway and knew
that some one was holding McIntyre, but there was no need. The
rancher had sunk down in his chair, and dropped his head in his
Samuel's brain was whirring. He realized that the fourth fist
had hit him, and a great flood of emotion cried out that the law
that had inexorably ruled his life was in motion again. In a
half-daze he got up and strode from the room.
The next ten minutes were perhaps the hardest of his life. People
talk of the courage of convictions, but in actual life a man's
duty to his family may make a rigid corpse seem a selfish
indulgence of his own righteousness. Samuel thought mostly of
his family, yet he never really wavered. That jolt had brought him
When he came back in the room there were a log of worried faces
waiting for him, but he didn't waste any time explaining.
"Gentlemen," he said, "Mr. McIntyre has been kind enough to
convince me that in this matter you are absolutely right and the
Peter Carhart interests absolutely wrong. As far as I am
concerned you can keep your ranches to the rest of your days."
He pushed his way through an astounded gathering, and within a
half-hour he had sent two telegrams that staggered the operator
into complete unfitness for business; one was to Hamil in San
Antonio; one was to Peter Carhart in New York.
Samuel didn't sleep much that night. He knew that for the first
time in his business career he had made a dismal, miserable
failure. But some instinct in him, stronger than will, deeper
than training, had forced him to do what would probably end his
ambitions and his happiness. But it was done and it never
occurred to him that he could have acted otherwise.
Next morning two telegrams were waiting for him. The first was
from Hamil. It contained three words:
"You blamed idiot!"
The second was from New York:
"Deal off come to New York immediately Carhart."
Within a week things had happened. Hamil quarrelled furiously
and violently defended his scheme. He was summoned to New York
and spent a bad half-hour on the carpet in Peter Carhart's
office. He broke with the Carhart interests in July, and in
August Samuel Meredith, at thirty-five years old, was, to all
intents, made Carhart's partner. The fourth fist had done its
I suppose that there's a caddish streak in every man that runs
crosswise across his character and disposition and general
outlook. With some men it's secret and we never know it's there
until they strike us in the dark one night. But Samuel's showed
when it was in action, and the sight of it made people see red.
He was rather lucky in that, because every time his little devil
came up it met a reception that sent it scurrying down below in
a sickly, feeble condition. It was the same devil, the same
streak that made him order Gilly's friends off the bed, that
made him go inside Marjorie's house.
If you could run your hand along Samuel Meredith's jaw you'd
feel a lump. He admits he's never been sure which fist left it
there, but he wouldn't lose it for anything. He says there's no
cad like an old cad, and that sometimes just before making a
decision, it's a great help to stroke his chin. The reporters
call it a nervous characteristic, but it's not that. It's so he
can feel again the gorgeous clarity, the lightning sanity of
those four fists.
Back to Full Books