About the Author

Stephen Leacock

Award-winning Canadian humorist and writer Stephen Leacock (1869-1944) was the author of more than 50 literary works, and between 1915 and 1925 was the most popular humorist in the English-speaking world. Leacock’s fictional works include classics like Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich, and Literary Lapses. In addition to his humor writings, Leacock was an accomplished political theorist, publishing such works as Elements of Political Science and My Discovery of the West: A Discussion of East and West in Canada, for which he won the Governor General's Award for writing in 1937. Leacock’s life continues to be commemorated through the awarding of the Leacock Medal for Humour and with an annual literary festival in his hometown of Orillia, Ontario.

Books by this Author
Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich

The Mausoleum Club stands on the quietest corner of the best residential street in the City. It is a Grecian building of white stone. About it are great elm trees with birds – the most expensive kind of birds – singing in the branches.
The street in the softer hours of the morning has an almost reverential quiet. Great motors move drowsily along it, with solitary chauffeurs returning at 10.30 after conveying the earlier of the millionaires to their down- town offices. The sunlight flickers through the elm trees, illuminating expensive nursemaids wheeling valuable children in little perambulators. Some of the children are worth millions and millions. In Europe, no doubt, you may see in the Unter den Linden avenue or the Champs Elysées a little prince or princess go past with a clattering military guard to do honour. But that is nothing. It is not half so impressive, in the real sense, as what you may observe every morning on Plutoria Avenue beside the Mausoleum Club in the quietest part of the city. Here you may see a little toddling princess in a rabbit suit who owns fifty distilleries in her own right. There, in a lacquered perambulator, sails past a little hooded head that controls from its cradle an entire New Jersey corporation. The United States attorney- general is suing her as she sits, in a vain attempt to make her dissolve herself into constituent companies. Near by is a child of four, in a khaki suit, who represents the merger of two trunk line railways. You may meet in the flickered sunlight any number of little princes and princesses far more real than the poor survivals of Europe. Incalculable infants wave their fifty- dollar ivory rattles in an inarticulate greeting to one another. A million dollars of preferred stock laughs merrily in recognition of a majority control going past in a go- cart drawn by an imported nurse. And through it all the sunlight falls through the elm- trees, and the birds sing and the motors hum, so that the whole world as seen from the boulevard of Plutoria Avenue is the very pleasantest place imaginable.
Just below Plutoria Avenue, and parallel with it, the trees die out and the brick and stone of the City begins in earnest. Even from the Avenue you see the tops of the sky- scraping buildings in the big commercial streets, and can hear or almost hear the roar of the elevated railway, earning dividends. And beyond that again the City sinks lower, and is choked and crowded with the tangled streets and little houses of the slums.
In fact, if you were to mount to the roof of the Mausoleum Club itself on Plutoria Avenue you could almost see the slums from there. But why should you? And on the other hand, if you never went up on the roof, but only dined inside among the palm- trees, you would never know that the slums existed – which is much better.
There are broad steps leading up to the club, so broad and so agreeably covered with matting that the physical exertion of lifting oneself from one’s motor to the door of the club is reduced to the smallest compass. The richer members are not ashamed to take the steps one at a time, first one foot and then the other; and at tight money periods, when there is a black cloud hanging over the Stock Exchange, you may see each and every one of the members of the Mausoleum Club dragging himself up the steps after this fashion, his restless eyes filled with the dumb pathos of a man wondering where he can put his hand on half a million dollars.
But at gayer times, when there are gala receptions at the club, its steps are all buried under expensive carpet, soft as moss and covered over with a long pavilion of red and white awning to catch the snowflakes; and beautiful ladies are poured into the club by the motorful. Then indeed it is turned into a veritable Arcadia; and for a beautiful pastoral scene, such as would have gladdened the heart of a poet who understood the cost of things, commend me to the Mausoleum Club on just such an evening. Its broad corridors and deep recesses are filled with shepherdesses such as you never saw, dressed in beautiful shimmering gowns, and wearing feathers in their hair that droop off sideways at every angle known to trigonometry. And there are shepherds too with broad white waistcoats and little patent leather shoes and heavy faces and congested cheeks. And there is dancing and conversation among the shepherds and shepherdesses, with such brilliant flashes of wit and repartee about the rise in Wabash and the fall in Cement that the soul of Louis Quatorze would leap to hear it. And later there is supper at little tables, when the shepherds and shepherdesses consume preferred stocks and gold- interest bonds in the shape of chilled champagne and iced asparagus, and great platefuls of dividends and special quarterly bonuses are carried to and fro in silver dishes by Chinese philosophers dressed up to look like waiters.
But on ordinary days there are no ladies in the club, but only the shepherds. You may see them sitting about in little groups of two and three under the palm- trees drinking whiskey and soda; though of course the more temperate among them drink nothing but whiskey and Lithia water, and those who have important business to do in the afternoon limit themselves to whiskey and Radnor, or whiskey and Magi water. There are as many kinds of bubbling, gurgling, mineral waters in the caverns of the Mausoleum Club as ever sparkled from the rocks of Homeric Greece. And when you have once grown used to them, it is as impossible to go back to plain water as it is to live again in the forgotten house in a side street that you inhabited long before you became a member.
Thus the members sit and talk in undertones that float to the ear through the haze of Havana smoke. You may hear the older men explaining that the country is going to absolute ruin, and the younger ones explaining that the country is forging ahead as it never did before; but chiefly they love to talk of great national questions, such as the protective tariff and the need of raising it, the sad decline of the morality of the working man, the spread of syndicalism and the lack of Christianity in the labour class, and the awful growth of selfishness among the mass of the people.
So they talk, except for two or three that drop off to directors’ meetings, till the afternoon fades and darkens into evening, and the noiseless Chinese philosophers turn on soft lights here and there among the palm- trees. Presently they dine at white tables glittering with cut glass and green and yellow Rhine wines; and after dinner they sit again among the palm- trees, half hidden in the blue smoke, still talking of the tariff and the labour class and trying to wash away the memory and the sadness of it in floods of mineral waters. So the evening passes into night, and one by one the great motors come throbbing to the door, and the Mausoleum Club empties and darkens till the last member is borne away and the Arcadian day ends in well- earned repose.
“I want you to give me your opinion very, very frankly,” said Mr. Lucullus Fyshe on one side of the luncheon table to the Rev. Fareforth Furlong on the other.
“By all means,” said Mr. Furlong.
Mr. Fyshe poured out a wineglassful of soda and handed it to the rector to drink.
“Now tell me very truthfully,” he said, “is there too much carbon in it?”
“By no means,” said Mr. Furlong.
“And – quite frankly – not too much hydrogen?”
“Oh, decidedly not.”
“And you would not say that the percentage of sodium bicarbonate was too great for the ordinary taste?”
“I certainly should not,” said Mr. Furlong, and in this he spoke the truth.
“Very good then,” said Mr. Fyshe, “I shall use it for the Duke of Dulham this afternoon.”
He uttered the name of the Duke with that quiet, democratic carelessness which meant that he didn’t care whether half a dozen other members lunching at the club could hear or not. After all, what was a duke to a man who was president of the People’s Traction and Suburban Co. and the Republican Soda and Siphon Co- operative, and chief director of the People’s District Loan and Savings? If a man with a broad basis of popular support like that was proposing to entertain a duke, surely there could be no doubt about his motives? None at all.
Naturally, too, if a man manufactures soda himself, he gets a little over- sensitive about the possibility of his guests noticing the existence of too much carbon in it.
In fact, ever so many of the members of the Mausoleum Club manufacture things, or cause them to be manufactured, or – what is the same thing – merge them when they are manufactured. This gives them their peculiar chemical attitude towards their food. One often sees a member suddenly call the head waiter at breakfast to tell him that there is too much ammonia in the bacon; and another one protest at the amount of glucose in the olive oil; and another that there is too high a percentage of nitrogen in the anchovy. A man of distorted imagination might think this tasting of chemicals in the food a sort of nemesis of fate upon the members. But that would be very foolish, for in every case the head waiter, who is the chief of the Chinese philosophers mentioned above, says that he’ll see to it immediately and have the percentage removed. And as for the members themselves, they are about as much ashamed of manufacturing and merging things as the Marquis of Salisbury is ashamed of the founders of the Cecil family.
What more natural therefore than that Mr. Lucullus Fyshe, before serving the soda to the Duke, should try it on somebody else? And what better person could be found for this than Mr. Furlong, the saintly young rector of St. Asaph’s, who had enjoyed the kind of expensive college education calculated to develop all the faculties. Moreover, a rector of the Anglican Church who has been in the foreign mission field is the kind of person from whom one can find out, more or less incidentally, how one should address and converse with a duke, and whether you call him, “Your Grace,” or “His Grace,” or just “Grace,” or “Duke,” or what. All of which things would seem to a director of the People’s Bank and the president of the Republican Soda Co. so trivial in importance that he would scorn to ask about them.
So that was why Mr. Fyshe had asked Mr. Furlong to lunch with him, and to dine with him later on in the same day at the Mausoleum Club to meet the Duke of Dulham. And Mr. Furlong, realising that a clergyman must be all things to all men and not avoid a man merely because he is a duke had accepted the invitation to lunch, and had promised to come to dinner, even though it meant postponing the Willing Workers’ Tango Class of St. Asaph’s until the following Friday.
Thus it had come about that Mr. Fyshe was seated at lunch, consuming a cutlet and a pint of Moselle in the plain, downright fashion of a man so democratic that he is practically a revolutionary socialist, and doesn’t mind saying so; and the young rector of St. Asaph’s was sitting opposite to him in a religious ecstasy over a salmi of duck.
“The Duke arrived this morning, did he not?” said Mr. Furlong.
“From New York,” said Mr. Fyshe; “he is staying at the Grand Palaver. I sent a telegram through one of our New York directors of the Traction, and his Grace has very kindly promised to come over here to dine.”
“Is he here for pleasure?” asked the rector.
“I understand he is –” Mr. Fyshe was going to say “about to invest a large part of his fortune in American securities,” but he thought better of it. Even with the clergy it is well to be careful. So he substituted “is very much interested in studying American conditions.”
“Does he stay long?” asked Mr. Furlong.
Had Mr. Lucullus Fyshe replied quite truthfully, he would have said, “Not if I can get his money out of him quickly,” but he merely answered, “That I don’t know.”
“He will find much to interest him,” went on the rector in a musing tone. “The position of the Anglican Church in America should afford him an object of much consideration. I understand,” he added, feeling his way, “that his Grace is a man of deep piety.”
“Very deep,” said Mr. Fyshe.
“And of great philanthropy?”
“Very great.”
“And I presume,” said the rector, taking a devout sip of the unfinished soda, “that he is a man of immense wealth?”
“I suppose so,” answered Mr. Fyshe quite carelessly; “all these fellows are.” – Mr. Fyshe generally referred to the British aristocracy as “these fellows” – “Land, you know, feudal estates; sheer robbery, I call it. How the working class, the proletariat, stand for such tyranny is more than I can see. Mark my words, Furlong, some day they’ll rise and the whole thing will come to a sudden end.”
Mr. Fyshe was here launched upon his favourite topic; but he interrupted himself, just for a moment, to speak to the waiter.
“What the devil do you mean,” he said, “by serving asparagus half cold?”
“Very sorry, sir,” said the waiter, “shall I take it out?”
“Take it out? Of course take it out, and see that you don’t serve me stuff of that sort again, or I’ll report you.”
“Very sorry, sir,” said the waiter.
Mr. Fyshe looked at the vanishing waiter with contempt upon his features. “These pampered fellows are getting unbearable,” he said. “By Gad, if I had my way I’d fire the whole lot of them: lock ’em out, put ’em on the street. That would teach ’em. Yes, Furlong, you’ll live to see it that the whole working class will one day rise against the tyranny of the upper classes, and society will be overwhelmed.”
But if Mr. Fyshe had realised that at that moment, in the kitchen of the Mausoleum Club, in those sacred precincts themselves, there was a walking delegate of the Waiters’ International Union leaning against a sideboard, with his bowler hat over one corner of his eye, and talking to a little group of the Chinese philosophers, he would have known that perhaps the social catastrophe was a little nearer than even he suspected.
“Are you inviting any one else to- night?” asked Mr. Furlong.
“I should have liked to ask your father,” said Mr. Fyshe, “but unfortunately he is out of town.”
What Mr. Fyshe really meant was, “I am extremely glad not to have to ask your father, whom I would not introduce to the Duke on any account.”
Indeed, Mr. Furlong, senior, the father of the rector of St. Asaph’s, who was President of the New Amalgamated Hymnal Corporation, and Director of the Hosanna Pipe and Steam Organ, Limited, was entirely the wrong man for Mr. Fyshe’s present purpose. In fact, he was reputed to be as smart a man as ever sold a Bible. At this moment he was out of town, busied in New York with the preparation of the plates of his new Hindu Testament (copyright); but had he learned that a duke with several millions to invest was about to visit the city, he would not have left it for the whole of Hindustan.
“I suppose you are asking Mr. Boulder,” said the rector.
“No,” answered Mr. Fyshe very decidedly, dismissing the name absolutely.
Indeed, there was even better reason not to introduce Mr. Boulder to the Duke. Mr. Fyshe had made that sort of mistake once, and never intended to make it again. It was only a year ago, on the occasion of the visit of young Viscount FitzThistle to the Mausoleum Club, that Mr. Fyshe had introduced Mr. Boulder to the Viscount and had suffered grievously thereby. For Mr. Boulder had no sooner met the Viscount than he invited him up to his hunting- lodge in Wisconsin, and that was the last thing known of the investment of the FitzThistle fortune.
This Mr. Boulder of whom Mr. Fyshe spoke might indeed have been seen at that moment at a further table of the lunch room eating a solitary meal, an oldish man with a great frame suggesting broken strength, with a white beard and with falling under- eyelids that made him look as if he were just about to cry. His eyes were blue and far away, and his still, mournful face and his great bent shoulders seemed to suggest all the power and mystery of high finance.
Gloom indeed hung over him. For, when one heard him talk of listed stocks and cumulative dividends, there was as deep a tone in his quiet voice as if he spoke of eternal punishment and the wages of sin.
Under his great hands a chattering viscount, or a sturdy duke, or a popinjay Italian marquis was as nothing.
Mr. Boulder’s methods with titled visitors investing money in America were deep. He never spoke to them of money, not a word. He merely talked of the great American forest – he had been born sixty- five years back, in a lumber state – and, when he spoke of primeval trees and the howl of the wolf at night among the pines, there was the stamp of reality about it that held the visitor spellbound; and when he fell to talking of his hunting- lodge far away in the Wisconsin timber, duke, earl, or baron that had ever handled a double-barrelled express rifle listened and was lost.
“I have a little place,” Mr. Boulder would say in his deep tones that seemed almost like a sob, “a sort of shooting box, I think you’d call it, up in Wisconsin; just a plain place” – he would add, almost crying – “made of logs.”
“Oh, really,” the visitor would interject, “made of logs. By Jove, how interesting!”
All titled people are fascinated at once with logs, and Mr. Boulder knew it – at least subconsciously.
“Yes, logs,” he would continue, still in deep sorrow; “just the plain cedar, not squared, you know, the old original timber; I had them cut right out of the forest.”
By this time the visitor’s excitement was obvious. “And is there game there?” he would ask.
“We have the timber wolf,” said Mr. Boulder, his voice half choking at the sadness of the thing, “and of course the jack wolf and the lynx.”
“And are they ferocious?”
“Oh, extremely so – quite uncontrollable.”
On which the titled visitor was all excitement to start for Wisconsin at once, even before Mr. Boulder’s invitation was put in words.
And when he returned a week later, all tanned and wearing bush- whackers’ boots, and covered with wolf bites, his whole available fortune was so completely invested in Mr. Boulder’s securities that you couldn’t have shaken twenty- five cents out of him upside down.
Yet the whole thing had been done merely incidentally – round a big fire under the Wisconsin timber, with a dead wolf or two lying in the snow.
So no wonder that Mr. Fyshe did not propose to invite Mr. Boulder to his little dinner. No, indeed. In fact, his one aim was to keep Mr. Boulder and his log house hidden from the Duke.
And equally no wonder that as soon as Mr. Boulder read of the Duke’s arrival in New York, and saw by the Commercial Echo and Financial Undertone that he might come to the City looking for investments, he telephoned at once to his little place in Wisconsin – which had, of course, a primeval telephone wire running to it – and told his steward to have the place well aired and good fires lighted; and he especially enjoined him to see if any of the shanty men thereabouts could catch a wolf or two, as he might need them.
“Is no one else coming then?” asked the rector.
“Oh yes. President Boomer of the University. We shall be a party of four. I thought the Duke might be interested in meeting Boomer. He may care to hear something of the archaeological remains of the continent.”
If the Duke did so care, he certainly had a splendid chance in meeting the gigantic Dr. Boomer, the president of Plutoria University.
If he wanted to know anything of the exact distinction between the Mexican Pueblo and the Navajo tribal house, he had his opportunity right now. If he was eager to hear a short talk – say half an hour – on the relative antiquity of the Neanderthal skull and the gravel deposits of the Missouri, his chance had come. He could learn as much about the stone age and the bronze age, in America, from President Boomer, as he could about the gold age and the age of paper securities from Mr. Fyshe and Mr. Boulder.
So what better man to meet a duke than an archaeological president?
And if the Duke should feel inclined, as a result of his American visit (for Dr. Boomer, who knew everything, understood what the Duke had come for) inclined, let us say, to endow a chair in Primitive Anthropology, or do any useful little thing of the sort, that was only fair business all round; or if he even was willing to give a moderate sum towards the general fund of Plutoria University – enough, let us say, to enable the president to dismiss an old professor and hire a new one – that surely was reasonable enough.
The president, therefore, had said yes to Mr. Fyshe’s invitation with alacrity, and had taken a look through the list of his more incompetent professors to refresh his memory.
The Duke of Dulham had landed in New York five days before and had looked round eagerly for a field of turnips, but hadn’t seen any. He had been driven up Fifth Avenue and had kept his eyes open for potatoes, but there were none. Nor had he seen any shorthorns in Central Park, nor any Southdowns on Broadway. For the Duke, of course, like all dukes, was agricultural from his Norfolk jacket to his hobnailed boots.
At his restaurant he had cut a potato in two and sent half of it to the head waiter to know if it was Bermudian. It had all the look of an early Bermudian, but the Duke feared from the shading of it that it might be only a late Trinidad. And the head waiter sent it to the chef, mistaking it for a complaint, and the chef sent it back to the Duke with a message that it was not a Bermudian but a Prince Edward Island. And the Duke sent his compliments to the chef, and the chef sent his compliments to the Duke. And the Duke was so pleased at learning this that he had a similar potato wrapped up for him to take away, and tipped the head waiter twenty- five cents, feeling that in an extravagant country the only thing to do is to go the people one better. So the Duke carried the potato round for five days in New York and showed it to everybody. But beyond this he got no sign of agriculture out of the place at all. No one who entertained him seemed to know what the beef that they gave him had been fed on; no one, even in what seemed the best society, could talk rationally about preparing a hog for the breakfast table. People seemed to eat cauliflower without distinguishing the Denmark variety from the Oldenburg, and few, if any, knew Silesian bacon even when they tasted it. And when they took the Duke out twenty- five miles into what was called the country, there were still no turnips, but only real estate, and railway embankments, and advertising signs; so that altogether the obvious and visible decline of American agriculture in what should have been its leading centre saddened the Duke’s heart. Thus the Duke passed four gloomy days. Agriculture vexed him, and still more, of course, the money concerns which had brought him to America.
Money is a troublesome thing. But it has got to be thought about even by those who were not brought up to it. If, on account of money matters, one has been driven to come over to America in the hope of borrowing money, the awkwardness of how to go about it naturally makes one gloomy and preoccupied. Had there been broad fields of turnips to walk in and Holstein cattle to punch in the ribs, one might have managed to borrow it in the course of gentlemanly intercourse, as from one cattle- man to another. But in New York, amid piles of masonry and roaring street- traffic and glittering lunches and palatial residences, one simply couldn’t do it.
Herein lay the truth about the Duke of Dulham’s visit and the error of Mr. Lucullus Fyshe. Mr. Fyshe was thinking that the Duke had come to lend money. In reality he had come to borrow it. In fact, the Duke was reckoning that by putting a second mortgage on Dulham Towers for twenty thousand sterling, and by selling his Scotch shooting and leasing his Irish grazing and sub- letting his Welsh coal rent he could raise altogether a hundred thousand pounds. This, for a duke, is an enormous sum. If he once had it he would be able to pay off the first mortgage on Dulham Towers, buy in the rights of the present tenant of the Scotch shooting and the claim of the present mortgagee of the Irish grazing, and in fact be just where he started. This is ducal finance, which moves always in a circle.
In other words the Duke was really a poor man – not poor in the American sense, where poverty comes as a sudden blighting stringency, taking the form of an inability to get hold of a quarter of a million dollars, no matter how badly one needs it, and where it passes like a storm- cloud and is gone, but poor in that permanent and distressing sense known only to the British aristocracy. The Duke’s case, of course, was notorious, and Mr. Fyshe ought to have known of it. The Duke was so poor that the Duchess was compelled to spend three or four months every year at a fashionable hotel on the Riviera simply to save money, and his eldest son, the young Marquis of Beldoodle, had to put in most of his time shooting big game in Uganda, with only twenty or twenty- five beaters, and with so few carriers and couriers and such a dearth of elephant men and hyena boys that the thing was a perfect scandal. The Duke indeed was so poor that a younger son, simply to add his efforts to those of the rest, was compelled to pass his days in mountain climbing in the Himalayas, and the Duke’s daughter was obliged to pay long visits to minor German princesses, putting up with all sorts of hardship. And while the ducal family wandered about in this way – climbing mountains, and shooting hyenas, and saving money, the Duke’s place or seat, Dulham Towers, was practically shut up, with no one in it but servants and housekeepers and gamekeepers and tourists; and the picture galleries, except for artists and visitors and villagers, were closed; and the town house, except for the presence of servants and tradesmen and secretaries, was absolutely shut. But the Duke knew that rigid parsimony of this sort, if kept up for a generation or two, will work wonders, and this sustained him; and the Duchess knew it, and it sustained her; in fact, all the ducal family, knowing that it was only a matter of a generation or two, took their misfortune very cheerfully.
The only thing that bothered the Duke was borrowing money. This was necessary from time to time when loans or mortgages fell in, but he hated it. It was beneath him. His ancestors had often taken money, but had never borrowed it, and the Duke chafed under the necessity. There was something about the process that went against the grain. To sit down in pleasant converse with a man, perhaps almost a gentleman, and then lead up to the subject and take his money from him, seemed to the Duke’s mind essentially low. He could have understood knocking a man over the head with a fire shovel and taking his money, but not borrowing it.
So the Duke had come to America, where borrowing is notoriously easy. Any member of the Mausoleum Club, for instance, would borrow fifty cents to buy a cigar, or fifty thousand dollars to buy a house, or five millions to buy a railroad with complete indifference, and pay it back, too, if he could, and think nothing of it. In fact, ever so many of the Duke’s friends were known to have borrowed money in America with magical ease, pledging for it their seats or their pictures, or one of their daughters – anything.
So the Duke knew it must be easy. And yet, incredible as it may seem, he had spent four days in New York, entertained everywhere, and made much of, and hadn’t borrowed a cent. He had been asked to lunch in a Riverside palace, and, fool that he was, had come away without so much as a dollar to show for it. He had been asked to a country house on the Hudson, and, like an idiot – he admitted it himself – hadn’t asked his host for as much as his train fare. He had been driven twice round Central Park in a motor and had been taken tamely back to his hotel not a dollar the richer. The thing was childish, and he knew it. But to save his life the Duke didn’t know how to begin. None of the things that he was able to talk about seemed to have the remotest connection with the subject of money. The Duke was able to converse reasonably well over such topics as the approaching downfall of England (they had talked of it at Dulham Towers for sixty years), or over the duty of England towards China, or the duty of England to Persia, or its duty to aid the Young Turk Movement, and its duty to check the Old Servia agitation. The Duke became so interested in these topics and in explaining that while he had never been a Little Englander he had always been a Big Turk, and that he stood for a Small Bulgaria and a Restricted Austria, that he got further and further away from the topic of money, which was what he really wanted to come to; and the Duke rose from his conversations with a look of such obvious distress on his face that everybody realised that his anxiety about England was killing him.
And then suddenly light had come. It was on his fourth day in New York that he unexpectedly ran into the Viscount Belstairs (they had been together as young men in Nigeria, and as middle- aged men in St. Petersburg), and Belstairs, who was in abundant spirits and who was returning to England on the Gloritania at noon the next day, explained to the Duke that he had just borrowed fifty thousand pounds, on security that wouldn’t be worth a halfpenny in England.
And the Duke said with a sigh, “How the deuce do you do it, Belstairs?”
“Do what?”
“Borrow it,” said the Duke. “How do you manage to get people to talk about it? Here I am wanting to borrow a hundred thousand, and I’m hanged if I can even find an opening.”
At which the Viscount had said, “Pooh, pooh! you don’t need any opening. Just borrow it straight out – ask for it across a dinner table, just as you’d ask for a match; they think nothing of it here.”
“Across the dinner table?” repeated the Duke, who was a literal man.
“Certainly,” said the Viscount. “Not too soon, you know – say after a second glass of wine. I assure you it’s absolutely nothing.”
And it was just at that moment that a telegram was handed to the Duke from Mr. Lucullus Fyshe, praying him, as he was reported to be visiting the next day the City where the Mausoleum Club stands, to make acquaintance with him by dining at that institution.
And the Duke, being as I say a literal man, decided that just as soon as Mr. Fyshe should give him a second glass of wine, that second glass should cost Mr. Fyshe a hundred thousand pounds sterling.
And oddly enough, at about the same moment, Mr. Fyshe was calculating that provided he could make the Duke drink a second glass of the Mausoleum champagne, that glass would cost the Duke about five million dollars.
So the very morning after that the Duke had arrived on the New York express in the City; and being an ordinary, democratic, commercial sort of place, absorbed in its own affairs, it made no fuss over him whatever. The morning edition of the Plutopian Citizen simply said, “We understand that the Duke of Dulham arrives at the Grand Palaver this morning,” after which it traced the Duke’s pedigree back to Jock of Ealing in the twelfth century and let the matter go at that; and the noon edition of the People’s Advocate merely wrote, “We learn that Duke Dulham is in town. He is a relation of Jack Ealing.” But the Commercial Echo and Financial Undertone, appearing at four o’clock, printed in its stock market columns the announcement: “We understand that the Duke of Dulham, who arrives in town to- day, is proposing to invest a large sum of money in American Industrials.”
And of course that announcement reached every member of the Mausoleum Club within twenty minutes.
The Duke of Dulham entered the Mausoleum Club that evening at exactly seven of the clock. He was a short, thick man with a shaven face, red as a brick, and grizzled hair, and from the look of him he could have got a job at sight in any lumber camp in Wisconsin. He wore a dinner jacket, just like an ordinary person, but even without his Norfolk coat and his hobnailed boots there was something in the way in which he walked up the long main hall of the Mausoleum Club that every imported waiter in the place recognised in an instant.
The Duke cast his eye about the club and approved of it. It seemed to him a modest, quiet place, very different from the staring ostentation that one sees too often in a German hof or an Italian palazzo. He liked it.
Mr. Fyshe and Mr. Furlong were standing in a deep alcove or bay where there was a fire and india- rubber trees and pictures with shaded lights and a whiskey- and- soda table. There the Duke joined them. Mr. Fyshe he had met already that afternoon at the Palaver, and he called him “Fyshe” as if he had known him forever; and indeed, after a few minutes he called the rector of St. Asaph’s simply “Furlong,” for he had been familiar with the Anglican clergy in so many parts of the world that he knew that to attribute any peculiar godliness to them, socially, was the worst possible taste.
“By Jove,” said the Duke, turning to tap the leaf of a rubber- tree with his finger, “that fellow’s a Nigerian, isn’t he?”
“I hardly know,” said Mr. Fyshe, “I imagine so”; and he added, “You’ve been in Nigeria, Duke?”
“Oh, some years ago,” said the Duke, “after big game, you know – fine place for it.”
“Did you get any?” asked Mr. Fyshe.
“Not much,” said the Duke; “a hippo or two.”
“Ah,” said Mr. Fyshe.
“And, of course, now and then a giro,” the Duke went on, and added, “My sister was luckier, though; she potted a rhino one day, straight out of a doolie; I call that rather good.”
Mr. Fyshe called it that too.
“Ah, now here’s a good thing,” the Duke went on, looking at a picture. He carried in his waist- coat pocket an eye- glass that he used for pictures and for Tamworth hogs, and he put it to his eye with one hand, keeping the other in the left pocket of his jacket; “and this – this is a very good thing.”
“I believe so,” said Mr. Fyshe.
“You really have some awfully good things here,” continued the Duke. He had seen far too many pictures in too many places ever to speak of “values” or “compositions” or anything of that sort. The Duke merely looked at a picture and said, “Now here’s a good thing,” or “Ah! here now is a very good thing,” or “I say, here’s a really good thing.”
No one could get past this sort of criticism. The Duke had long since found it bullet- proof.
“They showed me some rather good things in New York,” he went on, “but really the things you have here seem to be awfully good things.”
Indeed, the Duke was truly pleased with the pictures, for something in their composition, or else in the soft, expensive light that shone on them, enabled him to see in the distant background of each a hundred thousand sterling. And that is a very beautiful picture indeed.
“When you come to our side of the water, Fyshe,” said the Duke, “I must show you my Botticelli.”
Had Mr. Fyshe, who knew nothing of art, expressed his real thought, he would have said, “Show me your which?” But he only answered, “I shall be delighted to see it.”
In any case there was no time to say more, for at this moment the portly figure and the great face of Dr. Boomer, president of Plutoria University, loomed upon them. And with him came a great burst of conversation that blew all previous topics into fragments. He was introduced to the Duke, and shook hands with Mr. Furlong, and talked to both of them, and named the kind of cocktail that he wanted, all in one breath, and in the very next he was asking the Duke about the Babylonian hieroglyphic bricks that his grandfather, the thirteenth Duke, had brought home from the Euphrates, and which every archaeologist knew were preserved in the Duke’s library at Dulham Towers. And though the Duke hadn’t known about the bricks himself, he assured Dr. Boomer that his grandfather had collected some really good things, quite remarkable.
And the Duke, having met a man who knew about his grandfather, felt in his own element. In fact, he was so delighted with Dr. Boomer and the Nigerian rubber- tree and the shaded pictures and the charm of the whole place and the certainty that half a million dollars was easily findable in it, that he put his eye- glass back in his pocket and said,
“A charming club you have here, really most charming.”
“Yes,” said Mr. Fyshe, in a casual tone, “a comfortable place, we like to think.”
But if he could have seen what was happening below in the kitchens of the Mausoleum Club, Mr. Fyshe would have realised that just then it was turning into a most uncomfortable place.
For the walking delegate with his hat on sideways, who had haunted it all day, was busy now among the assembled Chinese philosophers, writing down names and distributing strikers’ cards of the International Union and assuring them that the “boys” of the Grand Palaver had all walked out at seven, and that all the “boys” of the Commercial and the Union and of every restaurant in town were out an hour ago.
And the philosophers were taking their cards and hanging up their waiters’ coats and putting on shabby jackets and bowler hats, worn sideways, and changing themselves by a wonderful transformation from respectable Chinese to slouching loafers of the lowest type.
But Mr. Fyshe, being in an alcove and not in the kitchens, saw nothing of these things. Not even when the head waiter, shaking with apprehension, appeared with cocktails made by himself, in glasses that he himself had had to wipe, did Mr. Fyshe, absorbed in the easy urbanity of the Duke, notice that anything was amiss.
Neither did his guests. For Dr. Boomer, having discovered that the Duke had visited Nigeria, was asking him his opinion of the famous Bimbaweh remains of the lower Niger. The Duke confessed that he really hadn’t noticed them, and the Doctor assured him that Strabo had indubitably mentioned them (he would show the Duke the very passage), and that they apparently lay, if his memory served him, about half- way between Oohat and Ohat; whether above Oohat and below Ohat or above Ohat and below Oohat he would not care to say for a certainty; for that the Duke must wait till the president had time to consult his library.
And the Duke was fascinated forthwith with the president’s knowledge of Nigerian geography, and explained that he had once actually descended from below Timbuctoo to Oohat in a doolie manned only by four swats.
So presently, having drunk the cocktails, the party moved solemnly in a body from the alcove towards the private dining- room upstairs, still busily talking of the Bimbaweh remains, and the swats, and whether the doolie was, or was not, the original goatskin boat of the book of Genesis.
And when they entered the private dining- room with its snow- white table and cut glass and flowers (as arranged by a retreating philosopher now heading towards the Gaiety Theatre with his hat over his eyes), the Duke again exclaimed,
“Really, you have a most comfortable club – delightful.”
So they sat down to dinner, over which Mr. Furlong offered up a grace as short as any that are known even to the Anglican clergy. And the head waiter, now in deep distress – for he had been sending out telephone messages in vain to the Grand Palaver and the Continental, like the captain of a sinking ship – served oysters that he had opened himself and poured Rhine wine with a trembling hand. For he knew that unless by magic a new chef and a waiter or two could be got from the Palaver, all hope was lost.
But the guests still knew nothing of his fears. Dr. Boomer was eating his oysters as a Nigerian hippo might eat up the crew of a doolie, in great mouthfuls, and commenting as he did so upon the luxuriousness of modern life.
And in the pause that followed the oysters he illustrated for the Duke with two pieces of bread the essential difference in structure between the Mexican pueblo and the tribal house of the Navajos, and lest the Duke should confound either or both of them with the adobe hut of the Bimbaweh tribes he showed the difference at once with a couple of olives.
By this time, of course, the delay in the service was getting noticeable. Mr. Fyshe was directing angry glances towards the door, looking for the reappearance of the waiter, and growling an apology to his guests. But the president waved the apology aside.
“In my college days,” he said, “I should have considered a plate of oysters an ample meal. I should have asked for nothing more. We eat,” he said, “too much.”
This, of course, started Mr. Fyshe on his favourite topic. “Luxury!” he exclaimed, “I should think so! It is the curse of the age. The appalling growth of luxury, the piling up of money, the ease with which huge fortunes are made” (Good! thought the Duke, here we are coming to it), “these are the things that are going to ruin us. Mark my words, the whole thing is bound to end in a tremendous crash. I don’t mind telling you, Duke – my friends here, I am sure, know it already – that I am more or less a revolutionary socialist. I am absolutely convinced, sir, that our modern civilisation will end in a great social catastrophe. Mark what I say” – and here Mr. Fyshe became exceedingly impressive – “a great social catastrophe. Some of us may not live to see it, perhaps; but you, for instance, Furlong, are a younger man; you certainly will.”
But here Mr. Fyshe was understating the case. They were all going to live to see it, right on the spot.
For it was just at this moment, when Mr. Fyshe was talking of the social catastrophe and explaining with flashing eyes that it was bound to come, that it came; and when it came it lit, of all places in the world, right there in the private dining- room of the Mausoleum Club.
For the gloomy head waiter re- entered and leaned over the back of Mr. Fyshe’s chair and whispered to him.
“Eh? what?” said Mr. Fyshe.
The head waiter, his features stricken with inward agony, whispered again.
“The infernal, damn scoundrels!” said Mr. Fyshe, starting back in his chair. “On strike: in this club! It’s an outrage!”
“I’m very sorry, sir. I didn’t like to tell you, sir. I’d hoped I might have got help from the outside, but it seems, sir, the hotels are all the same way.”
“Do you mean to say,” said Mr. Fyshe, speaking very slowly, “that there is no dinner?”
“I’m sorry, sir,” moaned the waiter. “It appears the chef hadn’t even cooked it. Beyond what’s on the table, sir, there’s nothing.”
The social catastrophe had come.
Mr. Fyshe sat silent with his fist clenched. Dr. Boomer, with his great face transfixed, stared at the empty oystershells, thinking perhaps of his college days. The Duke, with his hundred thousand dashed from his lips in the second cup of champagne that was never served, thought of his politeness first and murmured something about taking them to his hotel.
But there is no need to follow the unhappy details of the unended dinner. Mr. Fyshe’s one idea was to be gone: he was too true an artist to think that finance could be carried on over the table- cloth of a second- rate restaurant, or on an empty stomach in a deserted club. The thing must be done over again; he must wait his time and begin anew.
And so it came about that the little dinner- party of Mr. Lucullus Fyshe dissolved itself into its constituent elements, like broken pieces of society in the great cataclysm portrayed by Mr. Fyshe himself.
The Duke was bowled home in a snorting motor to the brilliant rotunda of the Grand Palaver, itself waiterless and supperless.
The rector of St. Asaph’s wandered off home to his rectory, musing upon the contents of its pantry.
And Mr. Fyshe and the gigantic Doctor walked side by side homewards along Plutoria Avenue, beneath the elm trees.
Nor had they gone any great distance before Dr. Boomer fell to talking of the Duke.
“A charming man,” he said, “delightful. I feel extremely sorry for him.”
“No worse off, I presume, than any of the rest of us,” growled Mr. Fyshe, who was feeling in the sourest of democratic moods; “a man doesn’t need to be a duke to have a stomach.”
“Oh, pooh, pooh!” said the president, waving the topic aside with his hand in the air; “I don’t refer to that. Oh, not at all. I was thinking of his financial position – an ancient family like the Dulhams; it seems too bad altogether.”
For, of course, to an archaeologist like Dr. Boomer an intimate acquaintance with the pedigree and fortunes of the greater ducal families from Jock of Ealing downwards was nothing. It went without saying. As beside the Neanderthal skull and the Bimbaweh ruins it didn’t count.
Mr. Fyshe stopped absolutely still in his tracks. “His financial position?” he questioned, quick as a lynx.
“Certainly,” said Dr. Boomer; “I had taken it for granted that you knew. The Dulham family are practically ruined. The Duke, I imagine, is under the necessity of mortgaging his estates; indeed, I should suppose he is here in America to raise money.”
Mr. Fyshe was a man of lightning action. Any man accustomed to the Stock Exchange learns to think quickly.
“One moment!” he cried; “I see we are right at your door. May I just run in and use your telephone? I want to call up Boulder for a moment.”
Two minutes later Mr. Fyshe was saying into the telephone, “Oh, is that you, Boulder? I was looking for you in vain to- day – wanted you to meet the Duke of Dulham, who came in quite unexpectedly from New York; felt sure you’d like to meet him. Wanted you at the club for dinner, and now it turns out that the club’s all upset – waiters’ strike or some such rascality – and the Palaver, so I hear, is in the same fix. Could you possibly –”
Here Mr. Fyshe paused, listening a moment and then went on, “Yes, yes; an excellent idea – most kind of you. Pray do send your motor to the hotel and give the Duke a bite of dinner. No, I won’t join you, thanks. Most kind. Good- night –”
And within a few minutes more the motor of Mr. Boulder was rolling down from Plutoria Avenue to the Grand Palaver Hotel.
What passed between Mr. Boulder and the Duke that evening is not known. That they must have proved congenial company to one another there is no doubt. In fact, it would seem that, dissimilar as they were in many ways, they found a common bond of interest in sport. And it is quite likely that Mr. Boulder may have mentioned that he had a hunting- lodge – what the Duke would call a shooting- box – in Wisconsin woods, and that it was made of logs, rough cedar logs not squared, and that the timber wolves and others which surrounded it were of a ferocity without parallel.
Those who know the Duke best could measure the effect of that upon his temperament.
At any rate, it is certain that Mr. Lucullus Fyshe at his breakfast- table next morning chuckled with suppressed joy to read in the Plutopian Citizen the item:
“We learn that the Duke of Dulham, who has been paying a brief visit to the City, leaves this morning with Mr. Asmodeus Boulder for the Wisconsin woods. We understand that Mr. Boulder intends to show his guest, who is an ardent sportsman, something of the American wolf.”
And so the Duke went whirling westwards and northwards with Mr. Boulder in the drawing- room end of a Pullman car, that was all littered up with double- barrelled express rifles and leather game bags, and lynx catchers and wolf traps and Heaven knows what. And the Duke had on his very roughest sporting suit, made, apparently, of alligator hide; and as he sat there with a rifle across his knees, while the train swept onward through open fields and broken woods, the real country at last, towards the Wisconsin forest, there was such a light of genial happiness in his face that had not been seen there since he had been marooned in the mud jungles of Upper Burmah.
And opposite, Mr. Boulder looked at him with fixed, silent eyes, and murmured from time to time some renewed information of the ferocity of the timber wolf.
But of wolves other than the timber wolf, and fiercer still, into whose hands the Duke might fall in America, he spoke never a word.
Nor is it known in the record what happened in Wisconsin, and to the Mausoleum Club the Duke and his visit remained only as a passing and a pleasant memory.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

His Life and Work
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Literary Lapses

“Now, ladies and gentlemen,” said the conjurer, “having shown you that the cloth is absolutely empty, I will proceed to take from it a bowl of goldfish. Presto!”

All around the hall people were saying, “Oh, how wonderful! How does he do it?”

But the Quick Man on the front seat said in a big whisper to the people near him. “He — had — it — up — his — sleeve.”

Then the people nodded brightly at the Quick Man and said, “Oh, of course”; and everybody whispered round the hall. “He — had — it — up — his — sleeve.”

“My next trick,” said the conjurer, “is the famous Hindostanee rings. You will notice that the rings are apparently separate; at a blow they all join (clang. clang, clang) — Presto!”

There was a general buzz of stupefaction till the Quick Man was heard to whisper. “He — must — have — had — another — lot — up — his — sleeve.”

Again everybody nodded and whispered. “The — rings — were — up — his — sleeve.”

The brow of the conjurer was clouded with a gathering frown.

“I will now,” he continued, “show you a most amusing trick by which I am enabled to take any number of eggs from a hat. Will some gentleman kindly lend me his hat? Ah. Thank you — Presto!”

He extracted seventeen eggs, and for thirty-five seconds the audience began to think that he was wonderful.

Then the Quick Man whispered along the front bench, “He — has — a — hen — up — his — sleeve.” and all the people whispered it on. “He — has — a — lot — of — hens — up — his — sleeve.”

The egg trick was ruined.

It went on like that all through. It transpired from the whispers of the Quick Man that the conjurer must have concealed up his sleeve, in addition to the rings, hens, and fish, several packs of cards, a loaf of bread, a doll’s cradle, a live guinea-pig, a fifty-cent piece, and a rocking-chair.

The reputation of the conjurer was rapidly sinking below zero. At the close of the evening he rallied for a final effort.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “I will present to you, in conclusion, the famous Japanese trick recently invented by the natives of Tipperary. Will you. Sir,” he continued, turning toward the Quick Man, “will you kindly hand me your gold watch?”

It was passed to him.

“Have I your permission to put it into this mortar and pound it to pieces?” he asked savagely.

The Quick Man nodded and smiled.

The conjurer threw the watch into the mortar and grasped a sledge hammer from the table. There was a sound of violent smashing. “He’s — slipped — it — up — his — sleeve,” whispered the Quick Man.

“Now, sir,” continued the conjurer, “will you allow me to take your handkerchief and punch holes in it? Thank you. You see, ladies and gentlemen, there is no deception, the holes are visible to the eye.”

The face of the Quick Man beamed. This time the real mystery of the thing fascinated him.

“And now, sir, will you kindly pass me your silk hat and allow me to dance on it? Thank you.”

The conjurer made a few rapid passes with his feet and exhibited the hat crushed beyond recognition.

“And will you now, sir, take off your celluloid collar and permit me to bum it in the candle? Thank you, sir. And will you allow me to smash your spectacles for you with my hammer? Thank you.”

By this time the features of the Quick Man were assuming a puzzled expression. “This thing beats me,” he whispered, “I don’t see through it a bit.”

There was a great hush upon the audience. Then the conjurer drew himself up to his full height and, with a withering look at the Quick Man, he concluded:

“Ladies and gentlemen, you will observe that I have, with this gentleman’s permission, broken his watch, burnt his collar, smashed his spectacles, and danced on his hat. If he will give me the further permission to paint green stripes on his overcoat, or to tie his suspenders in a knot, I shall be delighted to entertain you. If not, the performance is at an end.”

And amid a glorious burst of music from the orchestra the curtain fell, and the audience dispersed, convinced that there are some tricks, at any rate, that are not done up the conjurer’s sleeve.

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My Discovery Of The West

My Discovery Of The West

A Discussion of East and West in Canada
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My Financial Career

My Financial Career

Short Story
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My Financial Career and Other Follies

My Financial Career
When I go into a bank I get rattled. The clerks rattle me; the wickets rattle me; the sight of the money rattles me; everything rattles me.
The moment I cross the threshold of a bank and attempt to transact business there, I become an irresponsible idiot.
I knew this beforehand, but my salary had been raised to fifty dollars a month and I felt that the bank was the only place for it.
So I shambled in and looked timidly round at the clerks. I had an idea that a person about to open an account must needs consult the manager.
I went up to a wicket marked “Accountant.” The accountant was a tall, cool devil. The very sight of him rattled me. My voice was sepulchral.
“Can I see the manager?” I said, and added solemnly, “alone.” I don’t know why I said “alone.”
“Certainly,” said the accountant, and fetched him.
The manager was a grave, calm man. I held my fifty-six dollars clutched in a crumpled ball in my pocket.
“Are you the manager?” I said. God knows I didn’t doubt it.
“Yes,” he said.
“Can I see you,” I asked, “alone?” I didn’t want to say “alone” again, but without it the thing seemed self-evident.
The manager looked at me in some alarm. He felt that I had an awful secret to reveal.
“Come in here,” he said, and led the way to a private room. He turned the key in the lock.
“We are safe from interruption here,” he said. “Sit down.”
We both sat down and looked at each other. I found no voice to speak.
“You are one of Pinkerton’s men, I presume,” he said.
He had gathered from my mysterious manner that I was a detective. I knew what he was thinking, and it made me worse.
“No, not from Pinkerton’s,” I said, seeming to imply that I came from a rival agency.
“To tell the truth,” I went on, as if I had been prompted to lie about it, “I am not a detective at all. I have come to open an account. I intend to keep all my money in this bank.”
The manager looked relieved but still serious; he concluded now that I was a son of Baron Rothschild or a young Gould.
“A large account, I suppose,” he said.
“Fairly large,” I whispered. “I propose to deposit fifty-six dollars now and fifty dollars a month regularly.”
The manager got up and opened the door. He called to the accountant.
“Mr. Montgomery,” he said unkindly loud, “this gentleman is opening an account, he will deposit fifty-six dollars. Good morning.”
I rose.
A big iron door stood open at the side of the room.
“Good morning,” I said, and stepped into the safe.
“Come out,” said the manager coldly, and showed me the other way.
I went up to the accountant’s wicket and poked the ball of money at him with a quick convulsive movement as if I were doing a conjuring trick.
My face was ghastly pale.
“Here,” I said, “deposit it.” The tone of the words seemed to mean, “Let us do this painful thing while the fit is on us.”
He took the money and gave it to another clerk.
He made me write the sum on a slip and sign my name in a book. I no longer knew what I was doing. The bank swam before my eyes.
“Is it deposited?” I asked in a hollow, vibrating voice.
“It is,” said the accountant.
“Then I want to draw a cheque.”
My idea was to draw out six dollars of it for present use. Someone gave me a cheque-book through a wicket and someone else began telling me how to write it out. The people in the bank had the impression that I was an invalid millionaire. I wrote something on the cheque and thrust it in at the clerk. He looked at it.
“What! are you drawing it all out again?” he asked in surprise. Then I realised that I had written fifty-six instead of six. I was too far gone to reason now. I had a feeling that it was impossible to explain the thing. All the clerks had stopped writing to look at me.
Reckless with misery, I made a plunge.
“Yes, the whole thing.”
“You withdraw your money from the bank?”
“Every cent of it.”
“Are you not going to deposit any more?” said the clerk, astonished.
An idiot hope struck me that they might think something had insulted me while I was writing the cheque and that I had changed my mind. I made a wretched attempt to look like a man with a fearfully quick temper.
The clerk prepared to pay the money.
“How will you have it?” he said.
“How will you have it?”
“Oh” – I caught his meaning and answered without even trying to think – “in fifties.”
He gave me a fifty-dollar bill.
“And the six?” he asked dryly.
“In sixes,” I said.
He gave it me and I rushed out.
As the big door swung behind me I caught the echo of a roar of laughter that went up to the ceiling of the bank. Since then I bank no more. I keep my money in cash in my trousers pocket and my savings in silver dollars in a sock.

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My Remarkable Uncle

My Remarkable Uncle

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The most remarkable man I have ever known in my life was my uncle Edward Philip Leacock – known to ever so many people in Winnipeg fifty or sixty years ago as E.P. His character was so exceptional that it needs nothing but plain narration. It was so exaggerated already that you couldn’t exaggerate it.
When I was a boy of six, my father brought us, a family flock, to settle on an Ontario farm. We lived in an isolation unknown, in these days of radio, anywhere in the world. We were thirty-five miles from a railway. There were no newspapers. Nobody came and went. There was nowhere to come and go. In the solitude of the dark winter nights the stillness was that of eternity.
Into this isolation there broke, two years later, my dynamic Uncle Edward, my father’s younger brother. He had just come from a year’s travel around the Mediterranean. He must have been about twenty-eight, but seemed a more than adult man, bronzed and self-confident, with a square beard like a Plantagenet King. His talk was of Algiers, of the African slave market; of the Golden Horn and the Pyramids. To us it sounded like the Arabian Nights. When we asked, “Uncle Edward, do you know the Prince of Wales?” he answered, “Quite intimately” – with no further explanation. It was an impressive trick he had.
In that year, 1878, there was a general election in Canada. E.P. was in it up to the neck in less than no time. He picked up the history and politics of Upper Canada in a day, and in a week knew everybody in the countryside. He spoke at every meeting, but his strong point was the personal contact of electioneering, of bar-room treats. This gave full scope for his marvellous talent for flattery and make-believe.
“Why, let me see” – he would say to some tattered country specimen beside him glass in hand – “surely, if your name is Framley, you must be a relation of my dear old friend General Sir Charles Framley of the Horse Artillery?” “Mebbe,” the flattered specimen would answer. “I guess, mebbe; I ain’t kept track very good of my folks in the old country.” “Dear me! I must tell Sir Charles that I’ve seen you. He’ll be so pleased.” . . . In this way in a fortnight E.P. had conferred honours and distinctions on half the township of Georgina. They lived in a recaptured atmosphere of generals, admirals and earls. Vote? How else could they vote than conservative, men of family like them?
It goes without saying that in politics, then and always, E.P. was on the conservative, the aristocratic side, but along with that was hail-fellow-well-met with the humblest. This was instinct. A democrat can’t condescend. He’s down already. But when a conservative stoops, he conquers.
The election, of course, was a walk-over. E.P. might have stayed to reap the fruits. But he knew better. Ontario at that day was too small a horizon. For these were the days of the hard times of Ontario farming, when mortgages fell like snowflakes, and farmers were sold up, or sold out, or went “to the States,” or faded humbly underground.
But all the talk was of Manitoba now opening up. Nothing would do E.P. but that he and my father must go west. So we had a sale of our farm, with refreshments, old-time fashion, for the buyers. The poor, lean cattle and the broken machines fetched less than the price of the whisky. But E.P. laughed it all off, quoted that the star of the Empire glittered in the west, and off to the West they went, leaving us children behind at school.
They hit Winnipeg just on the rise of the boom, and E.P. came at once into his own and rode on the crest of the wave. There is something of magic appeal in the rush and movement of a “boom” town – a Winnipeg of the 80’s, a Carson City of the 60’s. . . . Life comes to a focus; it is all here and now, all present, no past and no outside – just a clatter of hammers and saws, rounds of drinks and rolls of money. In such an atmosphere every man seems a remarkable fellow, a man of exception; individuality separates out and character blossoms like a rose.
E.P. came into his own. In less than no time he was in everything and knew everybody, conferring titles and honours up and down Portage Avenue. In six months he had a great fortune, on paper; took a trip east and brought back a charming wife from Toronto; built a large house beside the river; filled it with pictures that he said were his ancestors, and carried on in it a roaring hospitality that never stopped.
His activities were wide. He was president of a bank (that never opened), head of a brewery (for brewing the Red River) and, above all, secretary-treasurer of the Winnipeg Hudson Bay and Arctic Ocean Railway that had a charter authorizing it to build a road to the Arctic Ocean, when it got ready. They had no track, but they printed stationery and passes, and in return E.P. received passes over all North America.
But naturally his main hold was politics. He was elected right away into the Manitoba Legislature. They would have made him Prime Minister but for the existence of the grand old man of the province, John Norquay. But even at that in a very short time Norquay ate out of E.P.’s hand, and E.P. led him on a string. I remember how they came down to Toronto, when I was a schoolboy, with an adherent group of “Westerners,” all in heavy buffalo coats and bearded like Assyrians. E.P. paraded them on King Street like a returned explorer with savages.
Naturally E.P.’s politics remained conservative. But he pitched the note higher. Even the ancestors weren’t good enough. He invented a Portuguese Dukedom (some one of our family once worked in Portugal) – and he conferred it, by some kind of reversion, on my elder brother Jim who had gone to Winnipeg to work in E.P.’s office. This enabled him to say to visitors in his big house, after looking at the ancestors – to say in a half-whisper behind his hand, “Strange to think that two deaths would make that boy a Portuguese Duke.” But Jim never knew which two Portuguese to kill.
To aristocracy E.P. also added a touch of peculiar prestige by always being apparently just about to be called away – imperially. If some one said, “Will you be in Winnipeg all winter, Mr. Leacock?” he answered, “It will depend a good deal on what happens in West Africa.” Just that; West Africa beat them.
Then came the crash of the Manitoba boom. Simple people, like my father, were wiped out in a day. Not so E.P. The crash just gave him a lift as the smash of a big wave lifts a strong swimmer. He just went right on. I believe that in reality he was left utterly bankrupt. But it made no difference. He used credit instead of cash. He still had his imaginary bank, and his railway to the Arctic Ocean. Hospitality still roared and the tradesmen still paid for it. Any one who called about a bill was told that E.P.’s movements were uncertain and would depend a good deal on what happened in Johannesburg. That held them another six months.
It was during this period that I used to see him when he made his periodic trips “east,” to impress his creditors in the West. He floated, at first very easily, on hotel credit, borrowed loans and unpaid bills. A banker, especially a country town banker, was his natural mark and victim. He would tremble as E.P. came in, like a stock-dove that sees a hawk. E.P.’s method was so simple; it was like showing a farmer peas under thimbles. As he entered the banker’s side-office he would say: “I say. Do you fish? Surely that’s a greenheart casting-rod on the wall?” (E.P. knew the names of everything.) In a few minutes the banker, flushed and pleased, was exhibiting the rod, and showing flies in a box out of a drawer. When E.P. went out he carried a hundred dollars with him. There was no security. The transaction was all over.
He dealt similarly with credit, with hotels, livery stables and bills in shops. They all fell for his method. He bought with lavish generosity, never asking a price. He never suggested pay till just as an afterthought, just as he was going out. And then: “By the way, please let me have the account promptly. I may be going away,” and, in an aside to me, as if not meant for the shop, “Sir Henry Loch has cabled again from West Africa.” And so out; they had never seen him before; nor since.
The proceeding with a hotel was different. A country hotel was, of course, easy, in fact too easy. E.P. would sometimes pay such a bill in cash, just as a sportsman won’t shoot a sitting partridge. But a large hotel was another thing. E.P., on leaving – that is, when all ready to leave, coat, bag and all – would call for his bill at the desk. At the sight of it he would break out into enthusiasm at the reasonableness of it. “Just think!” he would say in his “aside” to me, “compare that with the Hotel Crillon in Paris!” The hotel proprietor had no way of doing this; he just felt that he ran a cheap hotel. Then another “aside,” “Do remind me to mention to Sir John how admirably we’ve been treated; he’s coming here next week.” “Sir John” was our Prime Minister and the hotel keeper hadn’t known he was coming – and he wasn’t. . . . Then came the final touch – “Now, let me see . . . seventy-six dollars . . . seventy-six. . . . You give me” – and E.P. fixed his eye firmly on the hotel man – “give me twenty-four dollars, and then I can remember to send an even hundred.” The man’s hand trembled. But he gave it.
This does not mean that E.P. was in any sense a crook, in any degree dishonest. His bills to him were just “deferred pay,” like the British debts to the United States. He never did, never contemplated, a crooked deal in his life. All his grand schemes were as open as sunlight – and as empty.
In all his interviews E.P. could fashion his talk to his audience. On one of his appearances I introduced him to a group of college friends, young men near to degrees, to whom degrees mean everything. In casual conversation E.P. turned to me and said, “Oh, by the way you’ll be glad to know that I’ve just received my honorary degree from the Vatican – at last!” The “at last” was a knock-out – a degree from the Pope, and overdue at that!
Of course it could not last. Gradually credit crumbles. Faith weakens. Creditors grow hard, and friends turn their faces away. Gradually E.P. sank down. The death of his wife had left him a widower, a shuffling, half-shabby figure, familiar on the street, that would have been pathetic but for his indomitable self-belief, the illumination of his mind. Even at that, times grew hard with him. At length even the simple credit of the bar-rooms broke under him. I have been told by my brother Jim – the Portuguese Duke – of E.P. being put out of a Winnipeg bar, by an angry bar-tender who at last broke the mesmerism. E.P. had brought in a little group, spread up the fingers of one hand and said, “Mr. Leacock, five!” . . . The bar-tender broke into oaths. E.P. hooked a friend by the arm. “Come away,” he said. “I’m afraid the poor fellow’s crazy! But I hate to report him.”
Presently even his power to travel came to an end. The railways found out at last that there wasn’t any Arctic Ocean, and anyway the printer wouldn’t print.
Just once again he managed to “come east.” It was in June 1891. I met him forging along King Street in Toronto – a trifle shabby but with a plug hat with a big band of crape round it. “Poor Sir John,” he said. “I felt I simply must come down for his funeral.” Then I remembered that the Prime Minister was dead, and realized that kindly sentiment had meant free transportation.
That was the last I ever saw of E.P. A little after that some one paid his fare back to England. He received, from some family trust, a little income of perhaps two pounds a week. On that he lived, with such dignity as might be, in a lost village in Worcestershire. He told the people of the village – so I learned later – that his stay was uncertain; it would depend a good deal on what happened in China. But nothing happened in China; there he stayed, years and years. There he might have finished out, but for a strange chance of fortune, a sort of poetic justice, that gave E.P. an evening in the sunset.
It happened that in the part of England where our family belonged there was an ancient religious brotherhood, with a monastery and dilapidated estates that went back for centuries. E.P. descended on them, the brothers seeming to him an easy mark, as brothers indeed are. In the course of his pious “retreat,” E.P. took a look into the brothers’ finances, and his quick intelligence discovered an old claim against the British Government, large in amount and valid beyond a doubt.
In less than no time E.P. was at Westminster, representing the brothers. He knew exactly how to handle British officials; they were easier even than Ontario hotel keepers. All that is needed is hints of marvellous investment overseas. They never go there but they remember how they just missed Johannesburg or were just late on Persian oil. All E.P. needed was his Arctic Railway. “When you come out, I must take you over our railway. I really think that as soon as we reached the Coppermine River we must put the shares on here; it’s too big for New York. . . .”
So E.P. got what he wanted. The British Government are so used to old claims that it would as soon pay as not. There are plenty left.
The brothers got a whole lot of money. In gratitude they invited E.P. to be their permanent manager; so there he was, lifted into ease and affluence. The years went easily by, among gardens, orchards and fishponds old as the Crusades.
When I was lecturing in London in 1921 he wrote to me: “Do come down; I am too old now to travel; but any day you like I will send a chauffeur with a car and two lay-brothers to bring you down.” I thought the “lay-brothers” a fine touch – just like E.P.
I couldn’t go. I never saw him again. He ended out his days at the monastery, no cable calling him to West Africa. Years ago I used to think of E.P. as a sort of humbug, a source of humour. Looking back now I realize better the unbeatable quality of his spirit, the mark, we like to think just now, of the British race.
If there is a paradise, I am sure he will get in. He will say at the gate – “Peter? Then surely you must be a relation of Lord Peter of Tichfield?”
But if he fails, then, as the Spaniards say so fittingly, “May the earth lie light upon him.”

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Social Criticism

The Unsolved Riddle of Social Justice and Other Essays
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Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town

The Hostelry of Mr. Smith

I don’t know whether you know Mariposa. If not, it is of no consequence, for if you know Canada at all, you are probably well acquainted with a dozen towns just like it.
There it lies in the sunlight, sloping up from the little lake that spreads out at the foot of the hillside on which the town is built. There is a wharf beside the lake, and lying alongside of it a steamer that is tied to the wharf with two ropes of about the same size as they use on the Lusitania. The steamer goes nowhere in particular, for the lake is landlocked and there is no navigation for the Mariposa Belle except to “run trips” on the first of July and the Queen’s Birthday, and to take excursions of the Knights of Pythias and the Sons of Temperance to and from the Local Option Townships.
In point of geography the lake is called Lake Wissanotti and the river running out of it the Ossawippi, just as the main street of Mariposa is called Missinaba Street and the county Missinaba County. But these names do not really matter. Nobody uses them. People simply speak of the “lake” and the “river” and the “main street,” much in the same way as they always call the Continental Hotel, “Pete Robinson’s” and the Pharmaceutical Hall, “Eliot’s Drug Store.” But I suppose this is just the same in every one else’s town as in mine, so I need lay no stress on it.
The town, I say, has one broad street that runs up from the lake, commonly called the Main Street. There is no doubt about its width. When Mariposa was laid out there was none of that shortsightedness which is seen in the cramped dimensions of Wall Street and Piccadilly. Missinaba Street is so wide that if you were to roll Jeff Thorpe’s barber shop over on its face it wouldn’t reach half way across. Up and down the Main Street are telegraph poles of cedar of colossal thickness, standing at a variety of angles and carrying rather more wires than are commonly seen at a transatlantic cable station.
On the Main Street itself are a number of buildings of extraordinary importance, – Smith’s Hotel and the Continental and the Mariposa House, and the two banks (the Commercial and the Exchange), to say nothing of McCarthy’s Block (erected in 1878), and Glover’s Hardware Store with the Oddfellows’ Hall above it. Then on the “cross” street that intersects Missinaba Street at the main corner there is the Post Office and the Fire Hall and the Young Men’s Christian Association and the office of the Mariposa Newspacket, – in fact, to the eye of discernment a perfect jostle of public institutions comparable only to Threadneedle Street or Lower Broadway. On all the side streets there are maple trees and broad sidewalks, trim gardens with upright calla lilies, houses with verandahs, which are here and there being replaced by residences with piazzas.
To the careless eye the scene on the Main Street of a summer afternoon is one of deep and unbroken peace. The empty street sleeps in the sunshine. There is a horse and buggy tied to the hitching post in front of Glover’s hardware store. proprietor of Smith’s Hotel, standing in his chequered waistcoat on the steps of his hostelry, and perhaps, further up the street, Lawyer Macartney going for his afternoon mail, or the Rev. Mr. Drone, the Rural Dean of the Church of England Church, going home to get his fishing rod after a mothers’ auxiliary meeting.
But this quiet is mere appearance. In reality, and to those who know it, the place is a perfect hive of activity. Why, at Netley’s butcher shop (established in 1882) there are no less than four men working on the sausage machines in the basement; at the Newspacket office there are as many more jobprinting; there is a long distance telephone with four distracting girls on high stools wearing steel caps and talking incessantly; in the offices in McCarthy’s block are dentists and lawyers with their coats off, ready to work at any moment; and from the big planing factory down beside the lake where the railroad siding is, you may hear all through the hours of the summer afternoon the long-drawn music of the running saw.
Busy – well, I should think so! Ask any of its inhabitants if Mariposa isn’t a busy, hustling, thriving town. Ask Mullins, the manager of the Exchange Bank, who comes hustling over to his office from the Mariposa House every day at 10.30 and has scarcely time all morning to go out and take a drink with the manager of the Commercial; or ask – well, for the matter of that, ask any of them if they ever knew a more rushing go-a-head town than Mariposa.
Of course if you come to the place fresh from New York, you are deceived. Your standard of vision is all astray. You do think the place is quiet. You do imagine that Mr. Smith is asleep merely because he closes his eyes as he stands. But live in Mariposa for six months or a year and then you will begin to understand it better; the buildings get higher and higher; the Mariposa House grows more and more luxurious; McCarthy’s block towers to the sky; the buses roar and hum to the station; the trains shriek; the traffic multiplies; the people move faster and faster; a dense crowd swirls to and fro in the post-office and the five and ten cent store – and amusements! Well, now! Lacrosse, baseball, excursions, dances, the Fireman’s Ball every winter and the Catholic picnic every summer; and music – the town band in the park every Wednesday evening, and the Oddfellows’ brass band on the street every other Friday; the Mariposa Quartette, the Salvation Army – why, after a few months’ residence you begin to realize that the place is a mere mad round of gaiety.
In point of population, if one must come down to figures, the Canadian census puts the numbers every time at something round five thousand. But it is very generally understood in Mariposa that the census is largely the outcome of malicious jealousy. It is usual that after the census the editor of the Mariposa Newspacket makes a careful re-estimate (based on the data of relative non-payment of subscriptions), and brings the population up to 6,000. After that the Mariposa Times-Herald makes an estimate that runs the figures up to 6,500. Then Mr. Gingham, the undertaker, who collects the vital statistics for the provincial government, makes an estimate from the number of what he calls the “demised” as compared with the less interesting persons who are still alive, and brings the population to 7,000. After that somebody else works it out that it’s 7,500; then the man behind the bar of the Mariposa House offers to bet the whole room that there are 9,000 people in Mariposa. That settles it, and the population is well on the way to 10,000, when down swoops the federal census taker on his next round and the town has to
Still, it is a thriving town and there is no doubt of it. Even the transcontinental railways, as any townsman will tell you, run through Mariposa. It is true that the trains mostly go through at night and don’t stop. But in the wakeful silence of the summer night you may hear the long whistle of the through train for the west as it tears through Mariposa, rattling over the switches and past the semaphores and ending in a long, sullen roar as it takes the trestle bridge over the Ossawippi. Or, better still, on a winter evening about eight o’clock you will see the long row of the Pullmans and diners of the night express going north to the mining country, the windows flashing with brilliant light, and within them a vista of cut glass and snow-white table linen, smiling negroes and millionaires with napkins at their chins whirling past in the driving snowstorm.
I can tell you the people of Mariposa are proud of the trains, even if they don’t stop! The joy of being on the main line lifts the Mariposa people above the level of their neighbours in such places as Tecumseh and Nichols Corners into the cosmopolitan atmosphere of through traffic and the larger life. Of course, they have their own train, too – the Mariposa Local, made up right there in the station yard, and running south to the city a hundred miles away. That, of course, is a real train, with a box stove on end in the passenger car, fed with cordwood upside down, and with seventeen flat cars of pine lumber set between the passenger car and the locomotive so as to give the train its full impact when shunting.
Outside of Mariposa there are farms that begin well but get thinner and meaner as you go on, and end sooner or later in bush and swamp and the rock of the north country. And beyond that again, as the background of it all, though it’s far away, you are somehow aware of the great pine woods of the lumber country reaching endlessly into the north.
Not that the little town is always gay or always bright in the sunshine. There never was such a place for changing its character with the season. Dark enough and dull it seems of a winter night, the wooden sidewalks creaking with the frost, and the lights burning dim behind the shop windows. In olden times the lights were coal oil lamps; now, of course, they are, or are supposed to be, electricity, – brought from the power house on the lower Ossawippi nineteen miles away. But, somehow, though it starts off as electricity from the Ossawippi rapids, by the time it gets to Mariposa and filters into the little bulbs behind the frosty windows of the shops, it has turned into coal oil again, as yellow and bleared as ever.
After the winter, the snow melts and the ice goes out of the lake, the sun shines high and the shanty-men come down from the lumber woods and lie round drunk on the sidewalk outside of Smith’s Hotel – and that’s spring time. Mariposa is then a fierce, dangerous lumber town, calculated to terrorize the soul of a newcomer who does not understand that this also is only an appearance and that presently the rough-looking shantymen will change their clothes and turn back again into farmers.
Then the sun shines warmer and the maple trees come out and Lawyer Macartney puts on his tennis trousers, and that’s summer time. The little town changes to a sort of summer resort. There are visitors up from the city. Every one of the seven cottages along the lake is full. The Mariposa Belle churns the waters of the Wissanotti into foam as she sails out from the wharf, in a cloud of fl ags, the band playing and the daughters and sisters of the Knights of Pythias dancing gaily on the deck.
That changes too. The days shorten. The visitors disappear. The golden rod beside the meadow droops and withers on its stem. The maples blaze in glory and die. The evening closes dark and chill, and in the gloom of the main corner of Mariposa the Salvation Army around a naphtha lamp lift up the confession of their sins – and that is autumn. Thus the year runs its round, moving and changing in Mariposa, much as it does in other places.
If, then, you feel that you know the town well enough to be admitted into the inner life and movement of it, walk down this June afternoon half way down the Main Street – or, if you like, half way up from the wharf – to where Mr. Smith is standing at the door of his hostelry. You will feel as you draw near that it is no ordinary man that you approach. It is not alone the huge bulk of Mr. Smith (two hundred and eighty pounds as tested on Netley’s scales). It is not merely his costume, though the chequered waistcoat of dark blue with a flowered pattern forms, with his shepherd’s plaid trousers, his grey spats and patent-leather boots, a colour scheme of no mean order. Nor is it merely Mr. Smith’s finely mottled face. The face, no doubt, is a notable one, – solemn, inexpressible, unreadable, the face of the heaven-born hotel keeper. It is more than that. It is the strange dominating personality of the man that somehow holds you captive. I know nothing in history to com pare with the position of Mr. Smith among those who drink over his bar, except, though in a lesser degree, the relation of the Emperor Napoleon to the Imperial Guard.
When you meet Mr. Smith first you think he looks like an over-dressed pirate. Then you begin to think him a character. You wonder at his enormous bulk. Then the utter hopelessness of knowing what Smith is thinking by merely looking at his features gets on your mind and makes the Mona Lisa seem an open book and the ordinary human countenance as superficial as a puddle in the sunlight. After you have had a drink in Mr. Smith’s bar, and he has called you by your Christian name, you realize that you are dealing with one of the greatest minds in the hotel business.
Take, for instance, the big sign that sticks out into the street above Mr. Smith’s head as he stands. What is on it? “jos. smith, prop.” Nothing more, and yet the thing was a flash of genius. Other men who had had the hotel before Mr. Smith had called it by such feeble names as the Royal Hotel and the Queen’s and the Alexandria. Every one of them failed. When Mr. Smith took over the hotel he simply put up the sign with “jos. smith, prop.,” and then stood underneath in the sunshine as a living proof that a man who weighs nearly three hundred pounds is the natural king of the hotel business.
But on this particular afternoon, in spite of the sunshine and deep peace, there was something as near to profound concern and anxiety as the features of Mr. Smith were ever known to express.
The moment was indeed an anxious one. Mr. Smith was awaiting a telegram from his legal adviser who had that day journeyed to the county town to represent the proprietor’s interest before the assembled License Commissioners. If you know anything of the hotel business at all, you will understand that as beside the decisions of the License Commissioners of Missinaba County, the opinion of the Lords of the Privy Council are mere trifles.
The matter in question was very grave. The Mariposa Court had just fined Mr. Smith for the second time for selling liquors after hours. The Commissioners, therefore, were entitled to cancel the license.
Mr. Smith knew his fault and acknowledged it. He had broken the law. How he had come to do so, it passed his imagination to recall. Crime always seems impossible in retrospect. By what sheer madness of the moment could he have shut up the bar on the night in question, and shut Judge Pepperleigh, the district judge in Missinaba County, outside of it? The more so inasmuch as the closing up of the bar under the rigid license law of the province was a matter that the proprietor never trusted to any hands but his own. Punctually every night at 11 o’clock Mr. Smith strolled from the desk of the “rotunda” to the door of the bar. If it seemed properly full of people and all was bright and cheerful, then he closed it. If not, he kept it open a few minutes longer till he had enough people inside to warrant closing. But never, never unless he was assured that Pepperleigh, the judge of the court, and Macartney, the prosecuting attorney, were both safely in the bar, or the bar parlour, did the proprietor venture to close up. Yet on this fatal night Pepperleigh and Macartney had been shut out – actually left on the street without a drink, and compelled to hammer and beat at the street door of the bar to gain admittance.
This was the kind of thing not to be tolerated. Either a hotel must be run decently or quit. An information was laid next day and Mr. Smith convicted in four minutes, his lawyers practically refusing to plead. The Mariposa court, when the presiding judge was cold sober, and it had the force of public opinion behind it, was a terrible engine of retributive justice.
So no wonder that Mr. Smith awaited with anxiety the message of his legal adviser.
He looked alternately up the street and down it again, hauled out his watch from the depths of his embroidered pocket, and examined the hour hand and the minute hand and the second hand with frowning scrutiny.
Then wearily, and as one mindful that a hotel man is ever the servant of the public, he turned back into the hotel.
“Billy,” he said to the desk clerk, “if a wire comes bring it into the bar parlour.”
The voice of Mr. Smith is of a deep guttural such as Plancon or Edouard de Reske might have obtained had they had the advantages of the hotel business. And with that, Mr. Smith, as was his custom in off moments, joined his guests in the back room. His appearance, to the untrained eye, was merely that of an extremely stout hotelkeeper walking from the rotunda to the back bar. In reality, Mr. Smith was on the eve of one of the most brilliant and daring strokes ever effected in the history of licensed liquor. When I say that it was out of the agitation of this situation that Smith’s Ladies’ and Gent’s Café originated, anybody who knows Mariposa will understand the magnitude of the moment.
Mr. Smith, then, moved slowly from the doorway of the hotel through the “rotunda,” or more simply the front room with the desk and the cigar case in it, and so to the bar and thence to the little room or back bar behind it. In this room, as I have said, the brightest minds of Mariposa might commonly be found in the quieter part of a summer afternoon.
To-day there was a group of four who looked up as Mr. Smith entered, somewhat sympathetically, and evidently aware of the perplexities of the moment.
Henry Mullins and George Duff, the two bank managers, were both present. Mullins is a rather short, rather round, smooth-shaven man of less than forty, wearing one of those round banking suits of pepper and salt, with a round banking hat of hard straw, and with the kind of gold tie-pin and heavy watch-chain and seals necessary to inspire con fidence in matters of foreign exchange. Duff is just as round and just as short, and equally smoothly shaven, while his seals and straw hat are calculated to prove that the Commercial is just as sound a bank as the Exchange. From the technical point of view of the banking business, neither of them had any objection to being in Smith’s Hotel or to taking a drink as long as the other was present. This, of course, was one of the cardinal principles of Mariposa banking.
Then there was Mr. Diston, the high school teacher, commonly known as the “one who drank.” None of the other teachers ever entered a hotel unless accompanied by a lady or protected by a child. But as Mr. Diston was known to drink beer on occasions and to go in and out of the Mariposa House and Smith’s Hotel, he was looked upon as a man whose life was a mere wreck. Whenever the School Board raised the salaries of the other teachers, fifty or sixty dollars per annum at one lift, it was well understood that public morality wouldn’t permit of an increase for Mr. Diston.
Still more noticeable, perhaps, was the quiet, sallow looking man dressed in black, with black gloves and with black silk hat heavily craped and placed hollow-side-up on a chair. This was Mr. Golgotha Gingham, the undertaker of Mariposa, and his dress was due to the fact that he had just come from what he called an “interment.” Mr. Gingham had the true spirit of his profession, and such words as “funeral” or “coffin” or “hearse” never passed his lips. He spoke always of “interments,” of “caskets,” and “coaches,” using terms that were calculated rather to bring out the majesty and sublimity of death than to parade its horrors.
To be present at the hotel was in accord with Mr. Gingham’s general conception of his business. No man had ever grasped the true principles of undertaking more thoroughly than Mr. Gingham. I have often heard him explain that to associate with the living, uninteresting though they appear, is the only way to secure the custom of the dead.
“Get to know people really well while they are alive,” said Mr. Gingham; “be friends with them, close friends, and then when they die you don’t need to worry. You’ll get the order every time.”
So, naturally, as the moment was one of sympathy, it was Mr. Gingham who spoke first.
“What’ll you do, Josh,” he said, “if the Commissioners go against you?”
“Boys,” said Mr. Smith, “I don’t rightly know. If I have to quit, the next move is to the city. But I don’t reckon that I will have to quit. I’ve got an idee that I think’s good every time.”
“Could you run a hotel in the city?” asked Mullins.
“I could,” said Mr. Smith. “I’ll tell you. There’s big things doin’ in the hotel business right now, big chances if you go into it right. Hotels in the city is branching out. Why, you take the dining-room side of it,” continued Mr. Smith, looking round at the group, “there’s thousands in it. The old plan’s all gone. Folks won’t eat now in an ordinary dining-room with a high ceiling and windows. You have to get ’em down underground in a room with no windows and lots of sawdust round and waiters that can’t speak English. I seen them places last time I was in the city. They call ’em Rats’ Coolers. And for light meals they want a Caff, a real French Caff, and for folks that come in late another place that they call a Girl Room that don’t shut up at all. If I go to the city that’s the kind of place I mean to run. What’s yours, Gol? It’s on the house.”
And it was just at the moment when Mr. Smith said this that Billy, the desk-clerk, entered the room with the telegram in his hand.
But stop – it is impossible for you to understand the anxiety with which Mr. Smith and his associates awaited the news from the Commissioners, without first realizing the astounding progress of Mr. Smith in the three past years, and the pinnacle of public eminence to which he had attained.
Mr. Smith had come down from the lumber country of the Spanish River, where the divide is toward the Hudson Bay, – “back north” as they called it in Mariposa.
He had been, it was said, a cook in the lumber shanties. To this day Mr. Smith can fry an egg on both sides with a lightness of touch that is the despair of his own “help.”
After that, he had run a river driver’s boarding-house.
After that, he had taken a food contract for a gang of railroad navvies on the transcontinental.
After that, of course, the whole world was open to him.
He came down to Mariposa and bought out the “inside” of what had been the Royal Hotel.
Those who are educated understand that by the “inside” of a hotel is meant everything except the four outer walls of it – the fittings, the furniture, the bar, Billy the desk clerk, the three dining-room girls, and above all the license granted by King Edward VII, and ratified further by King George, for the sale of intoxicating liquors.
Till then the Royal had been a mere nothing. As “Smith’s Hotel” it broke into a blaze of effulgence.
From the first, Mr. Smith, as a proprietor, was a wild, rapturous success.
He had all the qualifications.
He weighed two hundred and eighty pounds.
He could haul two drunken men out of the bar each by the scruff of the neck without the faintest anger or excitement.
He carried money enough in his trousers pockets to start a bank, and spent it on anything, bet it on anything, and gave it away in handfuls.
He was never drunk, and, as a point of chivalry to his customers, never quite sober. Anybody was free of the hotel who cared to come in. Anybody who didn’t like it could go out. Drinks of all kinds cost five cents, or six for a quarter. Meals and beds were practically free. Any persons foolish enough to go to the desk and pay for them, Mr. Smith charged according to the expression of their faces.
At first the loafers and the shanty men settled down on the place in a shower. But that was not the “trade” that Mr. Smith wanted. He knew how to get rid of them. An army of charwomen, turned into the hotel, scrubbed it from top to bottom. A vacuum cleaner, the first seen in Mariposa, hissed and screamed in the corridors. Forty brass beds were imported from the city, not, of course, for the guests to sleep in, but to keep them out. A bar-tender with a starched coat and wicker sleeves was put behind the bar.
The loafers were put out of business. The place had become too “high toned” for them.
To get the high class trade, Mr. Smith set himself to dress the part. He wore wide cut coats of filmy serge, light as gossamer; chequered waistcoats with a pattern for every day in the week; fedora hats light as autumn leaves; four-in-hand ties of saffron and myrtle green with a diamond pin the size of a hazelnut. On his fingers there were as many gems as would grace a native prince of India; across his waistcoat lay a gold watch-chain in huge square links and in his pocket a gold watch that weighed a pound and a half and marked minutes, seconds and quarter seconds. Just to look at Josh Smith’s watch brought at least ten men to the bar every evening.
Every morning Mr. Smith was shaved by Jefferson Thorpe, across the way. All that art could do, all that Florida water could effect, was lavished on his person.
Mr. Smith became a local character. Mariposa was at his feet. All the reputable businessmen drank at Mr. Smith’s bar, and in the little parlour behind it you might find at any time a group of the brightest intellects in the town.
Not but what there was opposition at first. The clergy, for example, who accepted the Mariposa House and the Continental as a necessary and useful evil, looked askance at the blazing lights and the surging crowd of Mr. Smith’s saloon. They preached against him. When the Rev. Dean Drone led off with a sermon on the text “Lord be merciful even unto this publican Matthew Six,” it was generally understood as an invitation to strike Mr. Smith dead. In the same way the sermon at the Presbyterian church the week after was on the text “Lo what now doeth Abiram in the land of Melchisideck Kings Eight and Nine?” and it was perfectly plain that what was meant was, “Lo, what is Josh Smith doing in Mariposa?”
But this opposition had been countered by a wide and sagacious philanthropy. I think Mr. Smith first got the idea of that on the night when the steam merry-go-round came to Mariposa. Just below the hostelry, on an empty lot, it whirled and whistled, steaming forth its tunes on the summer evening while the children crowded round it in hundreds. Down the street strolled Mr. Smith, wearing a soft fedora to indicate that it was evening.
“What d’you charge for a ride, boss?” said Mr. Smith.
“Two for a nickel,” said the man.
“Take that,” said Mr. Smith, handing out a ten-dollar bill from a roll of money, “and ride the little folks free all evening.”
That night the merry-go-round whirled madly till after midnight, freighted to capacity with Mariposa children, while up in Smith’s Hotel, parents, friends and admirers, as the news spread, were standing four deep along the bar. They sold forty dollars’ worth of lager alone that night, and Mr. Smith learned, if he had not already suspected it, the blessedness of giving.
The uses of philanthropy went further. Mr. Smith subscribed to everything, joined everything, gave to everything. He became an Oddfellow, a Forester, A Knight of Pythias and a Workman. He gave a hundred dollars to the Mariposa Hospital and a hundred dollars to the Young Men’s Christian Association.
He subscribed to the Ball Club, the Lacrosse Club, the Curling Club, to anything, in fact, and especially to all those things which needed premises to meet in and grew thirsty in their discussions.
As a consequence the Oddfellows held their annual banquet at Smith’s Hotel and the Oyster Supper of the Knights of Pythias was celebrated in Mr. Smith’s dining-room.
Even more effective, perhaps, were Mr. Smith’s secret benefactions, the kind of giving done by stealth of which not a soul in town knew anything, often, for a week after it was done. It was in this way that Mr. Smith put the new font in Dean Drone’s church, and handed over a hundred dollars to Judge Pepperleigh for the unrestrained use of the Conservative party.
So it came about that, little by little, the antagonism had died down. Smith’s Hotel became an accepted institution in Mariposa. Even the temperance people were proud of Mr. Smith as a sort of character who added distinction to the town. There were moments, in the earlier quiet of the morning, when Dean Drone would go so far as to step in to the “rotunda” and collect a subscription. As for the Salvation Army, they ran in and out all the time unreproved.
On only one point difficulty still remained. That was the closing of the bar. Mr. Smith could never bring his mind to it, – not as a matter of profit, but as a point of honour. It was too much for him to feel that Judge Pepperleigh might be out on the sidewalk thirsty at midnight, that the night hands of the Times-Herald on Wednesday might be compelled to go home dry. On this point Mr. Smith’s moral code was simplicity itself, – do what is right and take the consequences. So the bar stayed open.
Every town, I suppose, has its meaner spirits. In every genial bosom some snake is warmed, – or, as Mr. Smith put it to Golgotha Gingham – “there are some fellers even in this town skunks enough to inform.”
At first the Mariposa court quashed all indictments. The presiding judge, with his spectacles on and a pile of books in front of him, threatened the informer with the penitentiary. The whole bar of Mariposa was with Mr. Smith. But by sheer iteration the informations had proved successful. Judge Pepperleigh learned that Mr. Smith had subscribed a hundred dollars for the Liberal party and at once fined him for keeping open after hours. That made one conviction. On the top of this had come the untoward incident just mentioned and that made two. Beyond that was the deluge. This then was the exact situation when Billy, the desk clerk, entered the back bar with the telegram in his hand.
“Here’s your wire, sir,” he said.
“What does it say?” said Mr. Smith.
He always dealt with written documents with a fine air of detachment. I don’t suppose there were ten people in Mariposa who knew that Mr. Smith couldn’t read.
Billy opened the message and read, “Commissioners give you three months to close down.”
“Let me read it,” said Mr. Smith, “that’s right, three months to close down.”
There was dead silence when the message was read. Everybody waited for Mr. Smith to speak. Mr. Gingham instinc tively assumed the professional air of hopeless melancholy.
As it was afterwards recorded, Mr. Smith stood and “studied” with the tray in his hand for at least four minutes. Then he spoke.
“Boys,” he said, “I’ll be darned if I close down till I’m ready to close down. I’ve got an idee. You wait and I’ll show you.
And beyond that, not another word did Mr. Smith say on the subject.
But within forty-eight hours the whole town knew that something was doing. The hotel swarmed with carpenters, bricklayers and painters. There was an architect up from the city with a bundle of blueprints in his hand. There was an engineer taking the street level with a theodolite, and a gang of navvies with shovels digging like fury as if to dig out the back foundations of the hotel.
“That’ll fool ’em,” said Mr. Smith.
Half the town was gathered round the hotel crazy with excitement. But not a word would the proprietor say.
Great dray loads of square timber, and two-by-eight pine joists kept arriving from the planing mill. There was a pile of matched spruce sixteen feet high lying by the sidewalk.
Then the excavation deepened and the dirt flew, and the beams went up and the joists across, and all the day from dawn till dusk the hammers of the carpenters clattered away, working overtime at time and a half.
“It don’t matter what it costs,” said Mr. Smith; “get it done.”
Rapidly the structure took form. It extended down the side street, joining the hotel at a right angle. Spacious and graceful it looked as it reared its uprights into the air.
Already you could see the place where the row of windows was to come, a veritable palace of glass, it must be, so wide and commodious were they. Below it, you could see the basement shaping itself, with a low ceiling like a vault and big beams running across, dressed, smoothed, and ready for staining. Already in the street there were seven crates of red and white awning.
And even then nobody knew what it was, and it was not till the seventeenth day that Mr. Smith, in the privacy of the back bar, broke the silence and explained.
“I tell you, boys,” he says, “it’s a caff – like what they have in the city – a ladies’ and gent’s caff, and that underneath (what’s yours, Mr. Mullins?) is a Rats’ Cooler. And when I get her started, I’ll hire a French Chief to do the cooking, and for the winter I will put in a ‘girl room,’ like what they have in the city hotels. And I’d like to see who’s going to close her up then.”
Within two more weeks the plan was in operation. Not only was the caff built but the very hotel was transformed. Awnings had broken out in a red and white cloud upon its face, its every window carried a box of hanging plants, and above in glory floated the Union Jack. The very stationery was changed. The place was now Smith’s Summer Pavilion. It was advertised in the city as Smith’s Tourists’ Emporium, and Smith’s Northern Health Resort. Mr. Smith got the editor of the Times-Herald to write up a circular all about ozone and the Mariposa pine woods, with illustrations of the maskinonge (piscis mariposis) of Lake Wissanotti.
The Saturday after that circular hit the city in July, there were men with fishing rods and landing nets pouring in on every train, almost too fast to register. And if, in the face of that, a few little drops of whiskey were sold over the bar, who thought of it?
But the caff! that, of course, was the crowning glory of the thing, that and the Rats’ Cooler below.
Light and cool, with swinging windows open to the air, tables with marble tops, palms, waiters in white coats – it was the standing marvel of Mariposa. Not a soul in the town except Mr. Smith, who knew it by instinct, ever guessed that waiters and palms and marble tables can be rented over the long distance telephone.
Mr. Smith was as good as his word. He got a French Chief with an aristocratic saturnine countenance, and a moustache and imperial that recalled the late Napoleon III. No one knew where Mr. Smith got him. Some people in the town said he was a French marquis. Others said he was a count and explained the difference.
No one in Mariposa had ever seen anything like the caff. All down the side of it were the grill fires, with great pewter dish covers that went up and down on a chain, and you could walk along the row and actually pick out your own cutlet and then see the French marquis throw it on to the broiling iron; you could watch a buckwheat pancake whirled into existence under your eyes and see fowls’ legs devilled, peppered, grilled, and tormented till they lost all semblance of the original Mariposa chicken.
Mr. Smith, of course, was in his glory.
“What have you got to-day, Alf?” he would say, as he strolled over to the marquis. The name of the Chief was, I believe Alphonse, but “Alf” was near enough for Mr. Smith.
The marquis would extend to the proprietor the menu, “Voilà, m’sieu, la carte du jour.”
Mr. Smith, by the way, encouraged the use of the French language in the caff. He viewed it, of course, solely in its relation to the hotel business, and, I think, regarded it as a recent invention.
“It’s comin’ in all the time in the city,” he said, “and y’aint expected to understand it.”
Mr. Smith would take the carte between his finger and thumb and stare at it. It was all covered with such devices as Potage à la Mariposa – Filet Mignon à la proprietaire – Côtellete à la Smith, and so on.
But the greatest thing about the caff were the prices. Therein lay, as everybody saw at once, the hopeless simplicity of Mr. Smith.
The prices stood fast at 25 cents a meal. You could come in and eat all they had in the caff for a quarter.
“No, sir,” Mr. Smith said stoutly, “I ain’t going to try to raise no prices on the public. The hotel’s always been a quarter and the caff ’s a quarter.”
Full? Full of people?
Well, I should think so! From the time the caff opened at 11 till it closed at 8.30, you could hardly find a table. Tourists, visitors, travellers, and half the people of Mariposa crowded at the little tables; crockery rattling, glasses tinkling on trays, corks popping, the waiters in their white coats flying to and fro, Alphonse whirling the cutlets and pancakes into the air, and in and through it all, Mr. Smith, in a white flannel suit and a broad crimson sash about his waist. Crowded and gay from morning to night, and even noisy in its hilarity.
Noisy, yes; but if you wanted deep quiet and cool, if you wanted to step from the glare of a Canadian August to the deep shadow of an enchanted glade, – walk down below into the Rats’ Cooler. There you had it; dark old beams (who could believe they were put there a month ago?), great casks set on end with legends such as Amontillado Fino done in gilt on a black ground, tall steins filled with German beer soft as moss, and a German waiter noiseless as moving foam. He who entered the Rats’ Cooler at three of a summer afternoon was buried there for the day. Mr. Golgotha Gingham spent anything from four to seven hours there of every day. In his mind the place had all the quiet charm of an interment, with none of its sorrows.
But at night, when Mr. Smith and Billy, the desk clerk, opened up the cash register and figured out the combined losses of the caff and the Rats’ Cooler, Mr. Smith would say:
“Billy, just wait till I get the license renood, and I’ll close up this damn caff so tight they’ll never know what hit her. What did that lamb cost? Fifty cents a pound, was it? I figure it, Billy, that every one of them hogs eats about a dollar’s worth a grub for every twenty-five cents they pay on it. As for Alf – by gosh, I’m through with him.”
But that, of course, was only a confidential matter as between Mr. Smith and Billy.
I don’t know at what precise period it was that the idea of a petition to the License Commissioners first got about the town. No one seemed to know just who suggested it. But certain it was that public opinion began to swing strongly towards the support of Mr. Smith. I think it was perhaps on the day after the big fish dinner that Alphonse cooked for the Mariposa Canoe Club (at twenty cents a head) that the feeling began to find open expression. People said it was a shame that a man like Josh Smith should be run out of Mariposa by three license commissioners. Who were the license commissioners, anyway? Why, look at the license system they had in Sweden; yes, and in Finland and in South America. Or, for the matter of that, look at the French and Italians, who drink all day and all night. Aren’t they all right? Aren’t they a musical people? Take Napoleon, and Victor Hugo; drunk half the time, and yet look what they did.
I quote these arguments not for their own sake, but merely to indicate the changing temper of public opinion in Mariposa. Men would sit in the caff at lunch perhaps for an hour and a half and talk about the license question in general, and then go down into the Rats’ Cooler and talk about it for two hours more.
It was amazing the way the light broke in in the case of particular individuals, often the most unlikely, and quelled their opposition.
Take, for example, the editor of the Newspacket. I suppose there wasn’t a greater temperance advocate in town. Yet Alphonse queered him with an Omelette à la License in one meal.
Or take Pepperleigh himself, the judge of the Mariposa court. He was put to the bad with a game pie, – pâté normand aux fines herbes – the real thing, as good as a trip to Paris in itself. After eating it, Pepperleigh had the common sense to realize that it was sheer madness to destroy a hotel that could cook a thing like that.
In the same way, the secretary of the School Board was silenced with a stuffed duck à la Ossawippi.
Three members of the town council were converted with a Dindon farci à la Josh Smith.
And then, finally, Mr. Diston persuaded Dean Drone to come, and as soon as Mr. Smith and Alphonse saw him they landed him with a fried flounder that even the apostles would have appreciated.
After that, every one knew that the license question was practically settled. The petition was all over the town. It was printed in duplicate at the Newspacket and you could see it lying on the counter of every shop in Mariposa. Some of the people signed it twenty or thirty times.
It was the right kind of document too. It began – “Whereas in the bounty of providence the earth putteth forth her luscious fruits and her vineyards for the delight and enjoyment of mankind –” It made you thirsty just to read it. Any man who read that petition over was wild to get to the Rats’ Cooler.
When it was all signed up they had nearly three thousand names on it.
Then Nivens, the lawyer, and Mr. Gingham (as a provincial official) took it down to the county town, and by three o’clock that afternoon the news had gone out from the long distance telephone office that Smith’s license was renewed for three years.
Rejoicings! Well, I should think so! Everybody was down wanting to shake hands with Mr. Smith. They told him that he had done more to boom Mariposa than any ten men in town. Some of them said he ought to run for the town council, and others wanted to make him the Conservative candidate for the next Dominion election. The caff was a mere babel of voices, and even the Rats’ Cooler was almost floated away from its moorings.
And in the middle of it all, Mr. Smith found time to say to Billy, the desk clerk: “Take the cash registers out of the caff and the Rats’ Cooler and start counting up the books.”
And Billy said: “Will I write the letters for the palms and the tables and the stuff to go back?”
And Mr. Smith said: “Get ’em written right away.”
So all evening the laughter and the chatter and the congratulations went on, and it wasn’t till long after midnight that Mr. Smith was able to join Billy in the private room behind the “rotunda.” Even when he did, there was a quiet and a dignity about his manner that had never been there before. I think it must have been the new halo of the Conservative candidacy that already radiated from his brow. It was, I imagine, at this very moment that Mr. Smith first realised that the hotel business formed the natural and proper threshold of the national legislature.
“Here’s the account of the cash registers,” said Billy.
“Let me see it,” said Mr. Smith. And he studied the figures without a word.
“And here’s the letters about the palms, and here’s Alphonse up to yesterday –”
And then an amazing thing happened.
“Billy,” said Mr. Smith, “tear ’em up. I ain’t going to do it. It ain’t right and I won’t do it. They got me the license for to keep the caff and I’m going to keep the caff. I don’t need to close her. The bar’s good for anything from forty to a hundred a day now, with the Rats’ Cooler going good, and that caff will stay right here.”
And stay it did.
There it stands, mind you, to this day. You’ve only to step round the corner of Smith’s Hotel on the side street and read the sign: ladies’ and gent’s café, just as large and as imposing as ever.
Mr. Smith said that he’d keep the caff, and when he said a thing he meant it!
Of course there were changes, small changes.
I don’t say, mind you, that the fillet de beef that you get there now is perhaps quite up to the level of the filet de boeufs aux champignons of the days of glory.
No doubt the lamb chops in Smith’s Caff are often very much the same, nowadays, as the lamb chops of the Mariposa House or the Continental
Of course, things like Omelette aux Trufles practically died out when Alphonse went. And, naturally, the leaving of Alphonse was inevitable. No one knew just when he went, or why. But one morning he was gone. Mr. Smith said that “Alf had to go back to his folks in the old country.”
So, too, when Alf left, the use of the French language, as such, fell off tremendously in the caff. Even now they use it to some extent. You can still get fillet de beef, and saucisson au juice, but Billy the desk clerk has considerable trouble with the spelling.
The Rats’ Cooler, of course, closed down, or rather Mr. Smith closed it for repairs, and there is every likelihood that it will hardly open for three years. But the caff is there. They don’t use the grills, because there’s no need to, with the hotel kitchen so handy.
The “girl room,” I may say, was never opened. Mr. Smith promised it, it is true, for the winter, and still talks of it. But somehow there’s been a sort of feeling against it. Every one in town admits that every big hotel in the city has a “girl room” and that it must be all right. Still, there’s a certain – well, you know how sensitive opinion is in a place like Mariposa.

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