Read CHAPTER I of With Edge Tools, free online book, by Hobart Chatfield-Taylor, on ReadCentral.com.

THE STATEN CLUB.

In the world of clubs the “Staten” held its head proudly. It was a social union comprising the most exclusive men of family and fashion. Though its outward walls differed little from those of other clubs which lined the avenue, its muster-roll was sacredly guarded by the governors, and posted at the hall desk was a long list of waiting aspirants, each to undergo in his turn the scrutiny of the committee-room, where all antecedents must be known and approved before his card could bear “Staten Club” in the left-hand, lower corner. Other club buildings there were, in New York, of greater stateliness, with marble walls and galleries, and well filled libraries, but the “Staten” cared for none of these, and proudly pointed to its members’ list, where were inscribed five hundred names which no other club could ever hope to equal. Three rooms, the restaurant, cafe, and billiard room, received their share of patronage, while the lounging room, upon the avenue, where a few papers were kept for respectability’s sake, and others for use, was the daily haunt of some of the choicest spirits. In the early days of the club’s history, to be sure, a thoughtless governor had inspired the foundation of a library. A room upstairs somewhere (few of the members knew where) was selected, and into this were placed a set of Dickens, the “Britannica,” an atlas, a history or two, a dictionary, and perhaps a hundred other books, which together formed the nucleus of a store of knowledge. But no one went there except Simkins, Rynder and McLaughlin. They were a queer lot; none of the men could make them out; it was their families that got them elected, and they never seemed to have anything better to do than cuddle over musty books. But the choice clique were those whose names were most often signed to the wine-room tickets. It was they who ran the club and made it the popular place it was.

On a particular January afternoon, of a year not long since passed, one of the broad, front windows of the lounging room was occupied by three intimates of “the set.” There was Rennsler Van Vort, whose ancestor had been a red-faced burgher at the time when old Peter Stuyvesant rigorously ruled New Amsterdam. His fortune was his name, for the family was too old to be wealthy and too proud to be in trade; yet he never lacked a berth on a yacht or a room in a country house, and wherever he went, he brought a collection of rare tales and a song or two which made him the friend of all. Like his burgher ancestor he had a red, round face and was bald, but behind his glasses there were two queer, little eyes which shone with kindly humor, and from lips half hidden by stubby black hairs, bright, timely words were sure to come. Rennsler was the senior by several years of his companions, and, if the truth were known, he probably cared little for them, but Roland Waterman owned the “Phrygia,” and Clifford Howard-Jones was a coaching man with a shooting box and other convenient accessories.

It had been snowing in the morning, but the sun had turned the snow to slush, and the three men, for lack of more exciting sport, were watching the omnibus horses slide and struggle down Murray Hill, and the pedestrians splash and spatter in their vain efforts to dodge the cabs and reach the curbs with unsoiled feet. If the unfortunate wayfarer happened to be a woman, and a pretty one at that, the three friends would smirk and nudge each other, as the little feet tripped daintily from puddle to puddle, or splashed her white skirts with great mud blotches, while the owner folded them about her and pattered rapidly on her heels, foolishly fancying the more speed the less mud. An occasional witticism from Rennsler’s lips would heighten the grotesqueness of a luckless passer’s struggles. The other two would laugh and Howard-Jones would add some strained gibe, with the flat effect that forced wit always has. Perhaps half an hour was thus passed, when Howard-Jones spied a woman leaving a house in a side street. A carriage was waiting at the curb, and a footman was vainly endeavoring to protect her feathers from the rain; but forgetting the servant and his umbrella, she gathered her skirts up frantically and rushed from the bottom step to the carriage door, which, of course being closed, left her no alternative but to stand patiently in the drenching rain until the marked precision of the footman’s steps brought relief and the umbrella.

“Look at that action!” shouted Howard-Jones. “Great for park work but too high for the open. Easy, my beauty, or you will come a cropper at the curb. By Jove, fellows, it is Mrs. Harry Osgood.”

“So it is,” replied Waterman. “I wonder what she is mousing about that street after? She must be searching for her Duncan. Dear girl, how pathetically lonesome she looked at Sherry’s last night when Grahame left her to dance with Mrs. Rossy Platt.”

This remark was hailed by Howard-Jones with the world-wise chuckle with which a man of narrow sympathy and ill-spent life invariably receives a pointed insinuation against a woman’s character. Broad sentiments and heroic impulses are seldom nursed in clubs, and Howard-Jones had learned his ethics within the limits of the world in which he moved.

“If I were Osgood, I would go gunning for Grahame,” he retorted. “A rounder like Duncan never hovers about a bird so long for nothing.”

“He had far better give up dogs and horses and bestow a little attention on his wife,” Rennsler Van Vort replied. He had the persuasive sympathy, possessed by few men, which told him that a woman’s heart, though easily won by flattery may be as easily lost by neglect. The lack of fortune had brought him into contact with the petty meanness of life and if he had made friends whose hospitality helped out his meagre purse, he knew that without his postprandial accomplishments and unquestioned ancestry few boards would have a place for him. He did not imagine that a moral truism would deeply affect his companions, but his broad instincts prompted him to add that “when a married woman goes astray it is usually the fault of her mother or her husband.”

“Nonsense, old chap,” retorted Howard-Jones. “Mrs. Osgood is a pretty woman, and a pretty woman must have admiration. Duncan used to admire her, but Osgood had the money and she married him. Duncan Grahame keeps right on admiring her and Osgood doesn’t, so there you are.”

The argument thus incited might have been continued were it not for the interruption caused by the familiar voice of a man, who had just entered, hailing the group at the window with the somewhat pithy expression: “What are you sportsmen doing there? Staring at nothing, I’ll wager, and I don’t believe you have had one drink between you for a week.”

The men at the window turned, and were startled to see standing in the door the man of whom they were speaking, Duncan Grahame. His clothes showed that he had just come from the city. His trousers were turned up and muddy, and his hat was sprinkled with rain. The merry familiarity of his expression told, however, that he had not heard the remark just made, but Howard-Jones, a trifle abashed at finding one of the objects of his insinuations appear so inopportunely, and feeling that something had better be said to remove the embarrassment, took it upon himself to reply. “I don’t believe we have, but you are just in time to stir us up. Rennsler has been preaching and we are awfully dry; just punch that bell, won’t you.”

The appearance of the servant caused the four friends to draw as many chairs about a small cherry wood table, supplied with the usual complement of bell, match-box and ashtray, and as the servant put the familiar question “What is the order, sir?” it was followed by the habitual meditative silence. Grahame threw himself back in his chair and pushed his hat back, doubtfully. “I have got a Sahara thirst,” he finally said, “so I suppose it will have to be a long drink. Bring me a whiskey and soda.”

“Split the soda with me, won’t you?” interjected Howard-Jones.

“Couldn’t think of it, my love,” Grahame replied; “I have not had a drink to-day. Went to lunch with the senior partner and he ordered nothing more stimulating than unfiltered Croton. He took me out to talk business, and I nearly expired under the strain.” Howard-Jones finally decided to indulge in a whole bottle of Delatour, but when Rennsler Van Vort quietly told the servant he would take an Apollinaris lemonade without sugar, it was too much for the dashing Duncan. “When do you take orders, old man?” he said. “All you need is a cowl and sandals, for nature has kindly tonsured your locks for you. I suppose you will soon be leading the singing at noon prayer meetings.”

“I am off my liquor,” Van Vort replied; “but if I do come to noon meetings I feel sure I’ll do better with Sankey hymns than I do now with comic ditties.”

“Don’t start Rennsler preaching,” Howard-Jones interjected, “he’s primed with moral bosh and the atmosphere is too depressed already. What brings a hard-working man like you uptown at four o’clock? I thought you didn’t knock off until five.”

“I don’t,” Duncan replied, “but I am going out to Chicago to-morrow and I am taking a half holiday to prepare my nerves for the strain.”

“Going to Chicago,” the three interposed almost in a breath.

“Yes, and, worse luck, I don’t know when I shall get back. I am going out for an English syndicate we have in tow. The Britons have bought all the breweries and stock-yards out there, and now they are after elevators.”

“‘Elevators’”, exclaimed Waterman, “I should think they do need a few in London; those beastly ‘lifts’ they have in the hotels there are about the only British institution I don’t admire. But what have you got to do with elevators?”

“Don’t be an ass, Roland,” Duncan replied. “It is about time you knew that the chief industry of ‘the city of the future’, as some fool journalist calls Chicago, pork of course excepted, is grain, and elevators are the warehouses where it is stored. I am going out to work a scheme to buy them all up, make a trust, and sell the stock in London. Our house are the middlemen between Chicago and the Britons. Now do you see?”

“Well, I’m deuced glad I didn’t go into Wall Street,” Roland replied. “I shouldn’t care to be shut up in that beastly hole, Chicago. I don’t believe there is a sportsman in the place. I stopped there a day once on my way to Minnesota, grouse shooting, and I never saw such a rum place. I put up at the biggest hotel in the town, and there wasn’t much to complain of in the size of it; but the dirt and the niggers were too much for me. I had to eat dinner at two o’clock and I wish you could have seen how they managed it. I was met at the door by a six-foot black man in a waistcoat that was perhaps white in the year one, and a coat made in the days of Henry Clay. He waltzed us down the room with the airs of a drum major and put us at a table with a drummer and a cow-boy. There we were given in charge of another colored gentleman who polished off the plates with a greasy towel, and placed big tumblers of iced water at each place. He took our orders and brought us the soup in fairly good shape, except that his black fingers got into all the plates; but you ought to have seen the rest of the dinner. He started from the kitchen at a record-breaking pace, spinning a tray on the forefinger of his right hand. He galloped past us and deposited his implements on a side table, then he commenced to sling canary birds’ bath tubs, filled with heaven knows what, across the table like poker chips, until we had a perfect collection of samples of the most villainously cooked truck I ever tasted. I tried to make out a ‘feed’, but I gave it up when the black gentleman appeared with all sorts of pie, floating island, ice cream and jelly. I then fled in despair and went out for a walk, but I didn’t find anything but mud, smoke, and cable cars. I tell you, Duncan, old man, you don’t know what Chicago is, or you wouldn’t look so beautifully unconcerned.”

A burst of laughter greeted Waterman’s recital of his pathetic experience, and then Duncan, who little relished his coming exile, mournfully asked if any of the fellows knew some people of the right sort in the place.

“No one but a charming creature of the vintage of forty-nine whom I saw at the Pier last summer,” retorted Howard-Jones. “She must ride sixteen stone, but she canters about like a yearling and plasters her hair all over her face in little curlycues, to say nothing of her voice, which used to run an effective opposition to the steam horn at the lighthouse. But speaking of lighthouses, you should have seen her diamond earrings; the light on Point Judith wasn’t a circumstance to them. When the heat was too much for her, she used to mop her face with a piece of chamois and puff like a crippled hunter. The papers called her ’the beautiful and accomplished leader of Chicago society.’ I tell you, old man, she is the girl for you; she’ll enliven your weary hours.”

Another laugh greeted this effusion, but Van Vort felt compelled to interpose an objection. “I don’t believe any of you fellows know the first thing about the West,” he said. “Your ideas are bounded by Bar Harbor on the north and Washington on the south, and as for their western limits, they don’t extend beyond Orange County.”

“Come, old chap, you’re getting into deep water. Didn’t I tell you I had been in Chicago?” objected Waterman.

“You went out West after chickens, and you didn’t get beyond a Minnesota shooting club. As for Chicago, you admit that you were there on a muggy day and didn’t stir two squares from an hotel which, I wager, wasn’t the best in the place. As for the people, one of the best mannered women I ever met came from Chicago.”

“Who was she?” Duncan interrupted. “If there is anybody decent in the place I want to know her.”

“Her name is Mrs. Sanderson. I met her in Washington last winter. Her uncle was in the State Department and she was visiting him. She had a friend with her who is also from Chicago, I think, and they both of them were better read and had less affectation than any women I have met for a year, at least.”

“That sounds encouraging,” replied Duncan. “I think I have heard Sibyl Wright talk about that Mrs. Sanderson. If there is any sport in Chicago I am bound to have it. My old college chum, Harold Wainwright, has been living out there for three years and he must know the town by this time.”

“I say, Duncan, won’t you have some more liquor? You need it to fortify your nerves for that voyage of discovery.”

“I think you are right, Roland,” Duncan replied. “By Jove, though, I don’t believe I have time; I have got a date before dinner.”

“Oh, yes you have; just one more for luck. Here, waiter, take the orders.”

The glasses were soon removed and freshly filled ones took their place. “When are you off?” said Waterman.

“To-morrow on the ‘Limited’” was the reply.

“Then let’s drink to the great Duncan and his success among the pork-packers,” said Howard-Jones.

The four men quickly drained their glasses and Duncan took a hurried leave of his friends. “Good-by, Duncan, good-by,” were the exchanged partings. Duncan hurried through the hall, hailed a cab at the door, gave an uptown address to the driver, jumped into the cab, and was off.