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families. At the same time he deplored the mistaken zeal of our
low-income classes in trying to more than make up for the negligence of
their betters. He said, 'The American population may, therefore, be
increasing most rapidly from that group least fitted by heredity or by
income to develop social worth in their offspring. Such a process of
"reversed selection" must mean, for the nation, a constant decrease in
the social worth of each succeeding generation.' He brought forward a
good many figures, but I have been so angry that I am quite unable to
recall what they are."

"In that case," Harding said, "you should lose no time in seeking out
the man and slaying him before his side of the case comes back to you."

"People," said Cooper, with that happy gift of his for dropping a
subject to suit his own convenience, "have fallen into the habit of
saying that the art of letter-writing is extinct. They say we don't
write the way Madame de Sévigné did or Charles Lamb. This is not true.

"For instance, on April 26, 1913, Charles Crawl, a low-income American
residing in the soft-coal districts of western Pennsylvania, wrote a
letter which I have not been able to get out of my mind. With that
unhappy predilection for getting into tight places which is one of the
characteristics of our improvident, low-income classes, Charles Crawl
happened to be in one of the lower workings of the Cincinnati mine when
an explosion of gas - unavoidable, as in all mine disasters - killed
nearly a hundred operatives. Charles Crawl escaped injury, but after
creeping through the dark for two days he felt his strength going from
him, and so, with a piece of chalk, on his smudgy overalls, he wrote the
following letter:

"'Good-bye, my children, God bless you.'

"He had two children, which for a man of low social worth was doing
quite well. But on the other hand he was improvident enough to leave his
children without a mother. When I was at college, my instructor in
rhetoric was always saying that my failure to write well was due to the
fact that I had nothing to say; and he used to quote passages from
Isaiah to show how the thing should be done. I think my rhetoric teacher
would have approved of Charles Crawl's epistolary style. I think Isaiah
would have."

"But we can't all of us work in the mines," I said.

"Therefore it is not to you that America is looking for the development
of an epistolary art," said Cooper; "an art in which we are bound to
take first place long before our coal deposits are exhausted. Charles
Crawl had his predecessors. In November, 1909, Samuel Howard was
thoughtless enough to let himself be killed, with several hundred
others, in the St. Paul's mine at Cherry, Illinois. He, too, left a
letter behind him. He wrote:

"If I am dead, give my diamond ring to Mamie Robinson. The ring is
at the post-office. I had it sent there. The only thing I regret
is my brother that could help mother out after I am dead and gone.
I tried my best to get out and could not.

"You see, being a low-income man, of small social worth and pitifully
inefficient, even when he did his best to get out, he could not. But
perhaps the subject tires you?"

"You might as well go on," said Harding. "If you finish with this
subject you will have some other grievance."

"I have only two more examples of the vulgar epistolary style to cite,"
said Cooper. "Strictly speaking one of them is not a letter. But it is
to the point. On the night of April 14, 1912, an Irishman named Dillon
of low social value, in fact a stoker, happened to be swimming in the
North Atlantic. The _Titanic_ had just sunk from beneath his feet. But
perhaps I had better quote the testimony before the Mersey Commission,
which, being an official communication, is necessarily unanswerable, as
the late Sir W. S. Gilbert pointed out:

"Then he [Dillon] swam away from the noise and came across Johnny
Bannon on a grating -

"From the fact that Johnny Bannon had managed to possess himself of a
grating we are justified in concluding that he was a man of somewhat
higher social worth than the witness, Dillon. However,

" - came across Johnny Bannon on a grating. He said, "Cheero,
Johnny," and Bannon answered, "I am all right, Paddy." There was
not room on the grating for two, and Dillon, saying, "Well, so
long, Johnny," swam off -

In thus leaving Johnny Bannon in undisputed possession of the grating
you see that Dillon once more wrote himself down as a low-grade man
unfit for competitive survival. However,

- "Well, so long, Johnny," swam off in the direction of a star
where Johnny Bannon had seen a flashlight.

And as it turned out, it was, indeed, a flashlight, and Dillon was
pulled out of the water to go on stoking and accelerating the process of
national decadence.

"My last letter," continued Cooper, "was written in October, 1912, in
the Tombs. The author was one Frank Cirofici, known to the patrons of
educational moving-picture shows all over the country as Dago Frank. It
was addressed to one Big Jack Zelig, a distinguished ornament of our
Great White Way, cut down before his time by a bullet from behind.
Cirofici wrote:

"I know the night I heard Jip and Lefty were arrested I cried like
a little baby. - Dear pal, I have more faith in you than in any
living being in this country. I tell you the truth right from my
heart. I don't know you long, Jack, and I think if it wasn't for
you, I don't know what would happen to me. Being I am a Dago, of
course, you don't know what I know."

"Please," said Harding, "please don't knock a hole into your own
argument by asking us to shed tears over the undefiled wells of purity
that lie deep in the soul of the Bowery gunman. You won't contend that
Dago Frank, when he leaves us, will be a loss to the nation."

"It would be an act of delusion on my part," said Cooper, "to expect you
to see what I am driving at without going to the trouble of spelling it
out for you, Harding, even if you do belong to the classes of superior
social worth. What I want to express is the justifiable wrath which
possesses me at this silly habit of taking a pile of figures and adding
them up and dividing by three and deducing therefrom scarlet visions of
Decadence and the fall of Rome and Trafalgar, and all that rot. What if
empires, and republics, and incomes, and the size of families do rise
and fall? Does the soul of man decay? Do the primitive loyalties decay?
As long as we have men like Charles Crawl and Samuel Howard, do you
think I care whether or not Harvard graduates neglect to reproduce their
kind? The soul of man, as embodied in Dillon with his 'So long, Johnny,'
is as sound to-day as it was ten thousand years ago, before the human
race entered on its decline by putting on clothes. And Cirofici, pouring
his soul out to his 'pal,' crying like a child over those poor lambs,
Lefty Lewis and Gyp the Blood - "

"If that's what you mean," said Harding with suspicious humility, "I
quite agree with you. You know, I have often - "

"Once you agree with me," said Cooper, "I don't see why it is necessary
for you to continue."




XI

ROMANCE


At 5:15 in the afternoon of an exceptionally sultry day in August, John
P. Wesley, forty-seven years old, in business at No. 634 East
Twenty-sixth Street as a jobber in tools and hardware, was descending
the stairs to the downtown platform of the Subway at Twenty-eighth
Street, when it occurred to him suddenly how odd it was that he should
be going home. His grip tightened on the hand rail and he stopped short
in his tracks, his eyes fixed on the ground in pained perplexity. The
crowd behind him, thrown back upon itself by this abrupt action, halted
only for a moment and flowed on. Cheerful office-boys looked back at him
and asked what was the answer. Stout citizens elbowed him aside without
apology. But Wesley did not mind. He was asking himself why it was that
the end of the day's work should invariably find him descending the
stairs to the downtown platform of the Subway. Was there any reason for
doing that, other than habit? He wondered why it would not be just as
reasonable to cross the avenue and take an uptown train instead.

Wesley had been taking the downtown train at Twenty-eighth Street at
5:15 in the afternoon ever since there was a Subway. At Brooklyn Bridge
he changed to an express and went to the end of the line. At the end of
the line there was a boat which took him across the harbour. At the end
of the boat ride there was a trolley car which wound its way up the hill
and through streets lined with yellow-bricked, easy-payment, two-family
houses, out into the open country, where it dropped him at a cross road.
At the end of a ten minutes' walk there was a new house of stucco and
timber, standing away from the road, its angular lines revealing mingled
aspirations toward the Californian bungalow and the English Tudor. In
the house lived a tall, slender, grey-haired woman who was Wesley's
wife, and two young girls who were his daughters. They always came to
the door when his footsteps grated on the garden path, and kissed him
welcome. After dinner he went out and watered the lawn, which, after his
wife and the girls, he loved most. He plied the hose deliberately, his
eye alert for bald patches. Of late the lawn had not been coming on
well, because of a scorching sun and the lack of rain. A quiet chat with
his wife on matters of domestic economy ushered in the end of a busy
day. At the end of the day there was another day just like it.

* * * * *

And now, motionless in the crowd, Wesley was asking whether right to the
end of life this succession of days would continue. Why always the
south-bound train? He was aware that there were good reasons why. One
was the tall grey-haired woman and the two young girls at home who were
in the habit of waiting for the sound of his footsteps on the garden
path. They were his life. But apparently, too, there must be life along
the uptown route of the Interborough. He wanted to run amuck, to board a
north-bound train without any destination in mind, and to keep on as far
as his heart desired, to the very end perhaps, to Van Cortlandt Park,
where they played polo, or the Bronx, where there was a botanical museum
and a zoo. Even if he went only as far as Grand Central Station, it
would be an act of magnificent daring.

Wesley climbed to the street, crossed Fourth Avenue, descended to the
uptown platform, and entered a train without stopping to see whether it
was Broadway or Lenox Avenue. Already he was thinking of the three women
at home in a remote, objective mood. They would be waiting for him, no
doubt, and he was sorry, but what else could he do? He was not his own
master. Under the circumstances it was a comfort to know that all three
of them were women of poise, not given to making the worst of things,
and with enough work on their hands to keep them from worrying
overmuch.

Having broken the great habit of his life by taking an uptown train at
5:15, Wesley found it quite natural that his minor habits should fall
from him automatically. He did not relax into his seat and lose himself
in the evening paper after his usual fashion. He did not look at his
paper at all, but at the people about him. He had never seen such men
and women before, so fresh-tinted, so outstanding, so electric. He
seemed to have opened his eyes on a mass of vivid colours and sharp
contours. It was the same sensation he experienced when he used to break
his gold-rimmed spectacles, and after he had groped for a day in the
mists of myopia, a new, bright world would leap out at him through the
new lenses.

Wesley did not make friends easily. In a crowd he was peculiarly shy.
Now he grew garrulous. At first his innate timidity rose up and choked
him, but he fought it down. He turned to his neighbour on the right, a
thick-set, clean-shaven youth who was painfully studying the comic
pictures in his evening newspaper, and remarked, in a style utterly
strange to him:

"Looks very much like the Giants had the rag cinched?"

The thick-set young man, whom Wesley imagined to be a butcher's
assistant or something of the sort, looked up from his paper and said,
"It certainly does seem as if the New York team had established its
title to the championship."

Wesley cleared his throat again.

"When it comes to slugging the ball you've got to hand it to them," he
said.

"Assuredly," said the young man, folding up his paper with the evident
design of continuing the conversation.

Wesley was pleased and frightened. He had tasted another new sensation.
He had broken through the frosty reserve of twenty years and had spoken
to a stranger after the free and easy manner of men who make friends in
Pullman cars and at lunch counters. And the stranger, instead of
repulsing him, had admitted him, at the very first attempt, into the
fraternity of ordinary people. It was pleasant to be one of the great
democracy of the crowd, something which Wesley had never had time to be.
But on the other hand, he found the strain of conversation telling upon
him. He did not know how to go on.

The stranger went out, but Wesley did not care. He was lost in a
delicious reverie, conscious only of being carried forward on
free-beating wings into a wonderful, unknown land. The grinding of
wheels and brakes as the train halted at a station and pulled out again
made a languorous, soothing music. The train clattered out of the tunnel
into the open air, and Wesley was but dimly aware of the change from
dark to twilight. The way now ran through a region of vague apartment
houses. There were trees, stretches of green field waiting for the
builder, and here or there a colonial manor house with sheltered
windows, resigned to its fate. Then came cottages with gardens. And in
one of these Wesley, shocked into acute consciousness, saw a man with a
rubber hose watering a lawn. Wesley leaped to his feet.

The train was at a standstill when he awoke to the extraordinary fact
that he was twelve miles away from South Ferry, and going in the wrong
direction. The imperative need of getting home as soon as he could
overwhelmed him. He dashed for the door, but it slid shut in his face
and the train pulled out. His fellow passengers grinned. One of the most
amusing things in the world is a tardy passenger who tries to fling
himself through a car door and flattens his nose against the glass. It
is hard to say why the thing is amusing, but it is. Wesley did not know
that he was being laughed at. He merely knew that he must go home. He
got out at the next station, and when he was seated in a corner of the
south-bound train, he sighed with unutterable relief. He was once more
in a normal world where trains ran to South Ferry instead of away from
it. He dropped off at his road crossing, just two hours late, and found
his wife waiting.

They walked on side by side without speaking, but once or twice she
turned and caught him staring at her with a peculiar mixture of wonder
and unaccustomed tenderness.

Finally he broke out.

"It's good to see you again!"

She laughed and was happy. His voice stirred in her memories of long
ago.

"It's good to have you back, dear," she said.

"But you really look remarkably well," he insisted.

"I rested this afternoon."

"That's what you should do every day," he said. "Look at that old maple
tree! It hasn't changed a bit!"

"No," she said, and began to wonder.

"And the girls are well?"

"Oh, yes."

"I can hardly wait till I see them," he said; and then, to save
himself, "I guess I am getting old, Alice."

"You are younger to-night than you have been for a long time," she said.

Jennie and her sister were waiting for them on the porch. They wondered
why father's kiss fell so warmly on their cheeks. He kissed them twice,
which was very unusual; but being discreet young women they asked no
questions. After dinner Wesley went out to look at the lawn.




XII

WANDERLUST


April sunlight on the river and the liners putting out to sea. Paris!
Florence! the Alps! the Mediterranean! I turned away and let my thoughts
run back to the time when Emmeline and I were in the habit of making,
once a year, the trip to Prospect Park South.

The Subway has brought this delightful region within the radius of
ordinary tourist travel, though I am told that the element of adventure
has not been completely eliminated, owing to the necessity of
transferring at Atlantic Avenue, where it is still the custom of the
traffic policemen to direct passengers to the wrong car. At the time of
which I am speaking, Prospect Park South lay off the beaten track, but
the difficulties of the venture were atoned for by the delight of
finding one's self, at the journey's end, in a world of new impressions,
a world untouched by the rush and clamour of our own days, and steeped
in the colour and poetry which Cook's, cotton goods, and the
cinematograph have been wiping out in Europe and the Near East.

There were no Baedekers then for travellers to Prospect Park South.
To-day I presume guide-books and maps may be purchased at the Manhattan
end of the Brooklyn Bridge if people still go by that route. We did
without guide-books or guides, because the inhabitants of Prospect Park
South were a kindly folk and as a rule would wait for visitors at the
trolley stops, with an umbrella. When this did not happen, we asked our
way from passers-by. These were always strangers who had lost their way.
The inhabitants were either peacefully at home or waiting at the trolley
stops. For that matter an inhabitant, when encountered by rare chance,
was not really of assistance. A resident always referred to streets and
avenues by the names they bore when he first moved in; and inasmuch as
the streets in Prospect Park South are renamed every year and the
street numbers altered at the same time, the settlers, who would find
their own homes by intuition, were worse than useless as guides. On the
other hand, to meet a stranger who was lost was always a help. It was a
peculiarity of strangers who were lost in Prospect Park South that they
would always be passing the street you were looking for, while you in
turn had just turned in from the street they were looking for, so that
an exchange of information was always mutually profitable.

The following hints for travellers to Prospect Park South are based upon
our experiences of some years ago. Those who go by the Interborough tube
will probably find that changed conditions have rendered many of these
rules obsolete. But for those who go by way of Brooklyn Bridge they may
still be of some value. First then as to dress. As a rule one should
dress for Prospect Park South very much as for a short run to Europe.
That is to say, woollens are always preferable, especially in the rainy
season (which in Prospect Park South is coextensive with the visiting
season), owing to the long waits between cars. It is true, as I have
said, that the inhabitants of Prospect Park South are accustomed to wait
at the trolley stations with an umbrella, and no household is without a
full assortment of old mackintoshes and rubbers to lend to improvident
visitors who believed the weather reports in the paper. But house
parties in Prospect Park South are frequently large and there may not be
enough old raincoats to go around. A light overcoat, an umbrella,
rubbers or a pair of stout shoes, and a pocket electric light for
reading names on the street lamps at night, will be found sufficient for
the ordinary traveller.

The choice of route is important. Those who, like us, live in upper
Manhattan may lay their plans (excluding the Subway) either for the
Ninth Avenue L or the Sixth Avenue L. As far south as Fifty-third Street
the two lines coincide. Below Fifty-third Street the question of route
should be determined by one's personal preferences in the matter of
scenery; though not entirely. Veteran travellers assure me that there is
also a difference in comfort. The curves are sharper on Sixth Avenue,
but there are more flat wheels on the Ninth Avenue line. According as
the tourist is susceptible to lateral or vertical disturbances he will
make his choice. The front and rear cars are to be recommended above all
others because a seat may always be obtained. I recognise, however, that
if the traveller has long been a resident of New York he will force his
way into the middle cars. Then, hanging from a strap, he may curse the
company and be in turn cursed by the quick-tempered gentleman upon whose
feet he is standing.

A phrase-book is not necessary. The English language is used on both the
Sixth and Ninth Avenue lines, and being equally incomprehensible, cannot
be looked up in a dictionary. Only legal currency of the United States
is accepted at the ticket-offices, but change is frequently given in
Canadian dimes. It is convenient, but not essential, to supply one's
self with reading matter at the beginning of the trip. Newspapers are
always to be had for the picking on the floor of the cars. The question
of fresh air, a topic of constant unpleasant controversy between
American travellers and Europeans on the Continent, need not concern the
traveller here. The matter is regulated by the company management which
keeps the windows closed in summer and open in winter. Passengers of an
independent turn of mind will be wary of opening windows on their own
account. The sudden entrance of air following upon the heavy
perspiration induced by the effort has been known to lead to pneumonia.

With these few general considerations in mind, we may proceed to give a
rapid sketch of the route the tourist traverses. As we have said, down
to Fifty-third Street the passenger on the Sixth Avenue and on the Ninth
Avenue will pass through the same landscape. As the train makes the
magnificent curve through One Hundred and Tenth Street he will have
before him on the right the towering mass of the Cathedral of St. John,
which a kindly neighbour will tell him is Columbia University, and on
the left the lovely, wooded heights of Central Park, their base skirted
by a low line of garages and French dyeing establishments. At
Ninety-eighth Street, on the right, is a water tower of red brick, which
probably has the distinction of being the tallest water tower on
Ninety-eighth Street. At Seventy-seventh Street to the left is the
Museum of Natural History, which the same kindly informant to whom we
have referred will describe as the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On every
cross street to the right one may catch a glimpse of the beautiful
Riverside Drive with the smoke from the New York Central's freight
engines rising above the trees.

At Fifty-third Street the Sixth Avenue trains diverge to the left for a
short distance and then, turning south once more, carry the traveller
through a region heavily overgrown with skeleton advertising signs of
woman's apparel and table waters. If the Ninth Avenue route is selected
the vista is one of tenement houses and factories. At Thirty-third
Street is the new Pennsylvania Station, the cost of which the same
kindly neighbour will exaggerate by several hundred millions of dollars.

Ten blocks further down are the buildings of the General Theological
Seminary, so beautiful in line and colour that no resident of New York
ever alludes to them. A few minutes further down the train rounds a
curve and the traveller, if he goes in the early morning, as every
visitor to Prospect Park South must, catches a glimpse of the fairy land
of steeples and battlements of lower New York, a Camelot wreathed with
wisps of steam. For the lover of scenery the Ninth Avenue is to be
unhesitatingly recommended, whereas the Sixth Avenue route will give
pleasure to the citizen who takes pride in the development of our
garment industries.

I have no space to describe the interesting views to be had while
crossing Brooklyn Bridge. I can only mention the harbour with the
sunlight upon it, a spectacle of loveliness for which New York will be
forgiven much. Straight under the span of the bridge is the pier from
which Colonel Roosevelt set sail for South America. On the left, close
to the edge of the river, is the beetling mass of sugar refineries
famous the world over as the scene of an epoch-making experiment in
modifying the law of gravitation, when the sugar company succeeded in
weighing in three thousand pounds of sugar to the ton and paying duty on
the smaller amount to the United States Government.


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