Read CHAPTER XIX - TYPICAL AMERICANS NO DOUBT of The Dictator , free online book, by Justin McCarthy, on

Up in Hampstead the world seemed to wheel in its orbit more tranquilly than in the feverish city which lay at the foot of its slopes. There was something in its clear, its balsamic air, so cleanly free from the eternal smoke-clouds of London, that seemed to invite to a repose, to a leisurely movement in the procession of life. Captain Sarrasin once said that it reminded him of the pure air of the prairie, almost of the keen air of the canons. Captain Sarrasin always professed that he found the illimitable spaces of the West too tranquillising for him. The sight of those great, endless fields, the isolation of those majestic mountains, suggested to him a recluse-like calm which never suited his quick-moving temper. So he did not very often visit his brother in Hampstead, and the brother in Hampstead, deeply engrossed in the grave cares of comparative folk-lore, seldom dropped from his Hampstead eyrie into the troubled city to seek out his restless brother. Hampstead was just the place for the folk-lore-loving Sarrasin. No doubt that, actually, human life is just the same in Hampstead as anywhere else, from Pekin to Peru, tossed by the same passions, driven onward by the same racking winds of desire, ambition, and despair. People love and hate and envy, feel mean or murderous, according to their temper, as much on the slopes of Hampstead as in the streets of London that lie at its foot. But such is not the suggestion of Hampstead itself upon a tranquil summer day to the pensive observer. It seems a peaceful, a sleepy hollow, an amiable elevated lubber-land, affording to London the example of a kind of suburban Nirvana.

So while London was fretting in all its eddies, and fretting particularly for us in the eddy that swirled and circled around the fortunes of the Dictator, up in Hampstead, at Blarulf’s Garth, and in the adjacent cottage which Mr. Sarrasin had named Camelot, life flowed on in a tranquil current. The Dictator often came up; whatever the claims, the demands upon him, he managed to dine one day in every week with Miss Ericson. Not the same day in every week indeed; the Dictator’s life was inevitably too irregular for that; but always one day, whichever day he could snatch from the imperious pressure of the growing plans for his restoration, from the society which still regarded him as the most royal of royal lions, and, above all, from the society of the Langleys. However, it did not matter. One day was so like another up in Hampstead, that it really made no difference whether any particular event took place upon a Monday, a Tuesday, or a Wednesday; and Miss Ericson was so happy in seeing so much of her nephew after so long and blank an absence, that it would never have occurred to her to complain, if indeed complaining ever found much of a place in her gentle nature.

Whenever the Dictator came now, Mr. Sarrasin was always on hand, and always eager to converse with the wonderful nephew who had come back to London like an exiled king. To Mr. Sarrasin the event had a threefold interest. In the first place, the Dictator was the nephew of Miss Ericson. Had he been the most commonplace fellow that had ever set one foot before the other, there would have been something attractive about him to Sarrasin because of his kinship with his gentle neighbour. In the second place, he knew now that his brother, the brother whom he adored, had declared himself on the Dictator’s side, and had joined the Dictator’s party. In the third place, if no associations of friendship or kinship had linked him in any way with the fortunes of the Dictator, the mere fact of his eventful rule, of his stormy fortunes, of the rise and fall of such a stranger in such a strange land, would have fired all that was romantic, all that was adventurous, in the nature of the quiet, stay-at-home gentleman, and made him as eager a follower of the Dictator’s career as if Ericson had been Jack with the Eleven Brothers, or the Boy who Could not Shiver. So Mr. Sarrasin spent the better part of six days in the week conversing with Miss Ericson about the Dictator; and on the day when Ericson came to Hampstead, Sarrasin was sure, sooner or later, to put in an appearance at Blarulf’s Garth, and to beam in delighted approbation upon the exile of Gloria.

One day Mr. Sarrasin came into Miss Ericson’s garden with a countenance that beamed with more than usual benignity. But the benignity was, as it were, blended with an air of unwonted wonder and exhilaration which consorted somewhat strangely with the wonted calm of the excellent gentleman’s demeanour. He had a large letter in his hand, which he kept flourishing almost as wildly as if he were an enthusiastic spectator at a racecourse, or a passenger outward bound waving a last good-night to his native land.

It happened to be one of the days when the Dictator had come up from the strenuous London, and from playing his own strenuous part therein. He was sitting with Miss Ericson in the garden, as he had sat there on the first day of his return that day which now seemed so long ago and so far away almost as long ago and as far away as the old days in Gloria themselves. He was telling her all that had happened during the days that had elapsed since their last meeting. He spoke, as he always did now, much of the Langleys, and as he spoke of them Miss Ericson’s grave, kind eyes watched his face closely, but seemed to read nothing in its unchanged composure. As they were in the middle of their confidential talk, the French windows of the little drawing-room opened, and Mr. Sarrasin made his appearance a light-garmented vision of pleasurably excited good-humour.

‘What has happened to our dear old friend?’ Ericson asked the old lady as Sarrasin came beaming across the grass towards them, fluttering his letter. ‘He seems to be quite excited.’

Miss Ericson laughed as she rose to greet her friend. ’You may be sure we shall not long be left in doubt,’ she said, as she advanced with hands extended.

Mr. Sarrasin caught both her hands and pressed them warmly. ’I have such news,’ he murmured, ‘such wonderful news!’ Then he turned his smiling face in the direction of the Dictator. ’Good-day, Mr. Ericson; wonderful news! And it concerns you too, in a measure; only in a measure, indeed, but still in a measure.’

The Dictator’s face expressed a smiling interest. He had really grown quite fond of this sweet-tempered, cheery, childlike old gentleman. Miss Ericson drew Sarrasin to a seat opposite to her own, and sat down again with an air of curiosity which suggested that she and her nephew were waiting for the wonderful news. As she had predicted, they had not long to wait. Mr. Sarrasin having plunged into the subject on the moment of his arrival, could think of nothing else.

‘I have a letter here,’ he said; ’such a letter! Whom do you think it is from? Why, from no less a person than Professor Flick, who is, as of course you know, the most famous authority on folk-lore in the whole of the West of America.’

Sarrasin paused and looked at them with an air of triumph. He evidently expected them to say something. So Ericson spoke.

‘I am ashamed to say,’ he confessed, ’that I have never heard the honoured name of Professor Flick before.’

Mr. Sarrasin looked a trifle dashed. ’I was in hopes you might have known,’ he said, ’for his name and his books are of course well known to me. But no doubt you have had little time for such study. Anyhow, we shall soon know him personally, both you and I; you probably even sooner than I.’

‘Indeed!’ said Ericson. ’How am I to come to know him? I am not very strong on folk-lore.’

‘Why?’ answered Mr. Sarrasin. ’Because he is stopping in your hotel. This letter which I have received from him this morning is dated from Paulo’s Hotel, the chosen home apparently of all illustrious persons.’

The Dictator smiled. ’I dare not claim equality with Professor Flick, and I fear I might not recognise him if I met him in the corridors, or on the stairs. I must inquire about him from Miss Paulo.’

‘Do, do,’ said Mr. Sarrasin. ’But he will come here. Of course he will come here. He writes to me a most flattering letter, in which he does me the honour to say that he has read with pleasure my poor tractates on “The Survival of Solar Myths in Kitchen Customs,” and on “The Probable Patagonian Origin of ‘A Frog he would a-wooing go.’” He is pleased to express a great desire to make my acquaintance. I wonder if he has heard of my brother? Oisin must have been in Sacramento and Omaha and all the other places.’

‘I should think he was sure to have met your brother,’ said the Dictator, feeling he was expected to say something.

‘If not, I must introduce my brother,’ Mr. Sarrasin said joyously. ‘Fancy anyone being introduced to anybody through me!’

Miss Ericson had listened quietly, with an air of smiling interest, while Mr. Sarrasin was giving forth his joyful news. Now she leaned forward and spoke.

‘What do you propose to do in honour of this international episode?’ she asked. There was a slender vein of humour in Miss Ericson’s character, and she occasionally exercised it gently at the expense of her friend’s hobby. Mr. Sarrasin always enjoyed her mild banter hugely. Now, as ever, he paid it the tribute of the cheeriest laughter.

‘That is excellent,’ he said; ’International Episode is excellent. But, you see,’ he went on, growing suddenly grave, ’it really is something of an international affair after all. Here we have an eminent American scholar ’

’Who is naturally anxious to make the acquaintance of an eminent English scholar,’ the Dictator suggested.

Mr. Sarrasin’s large fair face flushed pink with pleasure.

’You are too good, Mr. Ericson, too good. But I feel that I must do something for our distinguished friend, especially as he has done me the honour to single me out for so gratifying a mark of his approval. I think that I shall ask him to dinner.’ And Mr. Sarrasin looked thoughtfully at his audience to solicit their opinion.

‘A very good idea,’ said the Dictator. ’Nothing cements literary or political friendship like judicious dining. Dining has a folk-lore of its own.’

‘But don’t you think,’ suggested Miss Ericson, ’that as this gentleman, Professor ’

‘Flick,’ prompted Mr. Sarrasin.

’Thank you; Professor Flick. That, as Professor Flick is a stranger, and a distinguished stranger, it is your duty, my dear Mr. Sarrasin, to call upon him at his hotel?’

Mr. Sarrasin bowed again. ’Thank you, Miss Ericson, thank you. You always think of the right thing. Of course it is obviously my duty to pay my respects to Professor Flick at his hotel, which happens also to be our dear friend’s hotel. And the sooner the better, I suppose.’

‘The sooner the visit the stronger the compliment, of course,’ said Miss Ericson.

‘That decides me,’ said Mr. Sarrasin. ‘I will go this very day.’

‘Then let us go into town together,’ the Dictator suggested. ’I must be getting back again.’ For this was one of those days on which Ericson came out early to Blarulf’s Garth and left after luncheon. The suggestion made Mr. Sarrasin beam more than ever.

‘That will be delightful,’ he said, with all the conviction of a schoolboy to whom an unexpected holiday has been promised.

‘I have my cab outside,’ the Dictator said. Ericson liked tearing round in hansom cabs, and could hardly ever be induced to make use of one of the hotel broughams.

So the two men took affectionate leave of Miss Ericson and passed together out of the gate. There were two cabs in sight one waiting for Ericson, the other in front of Sarrasin’s Camelot Cottage. Two men had got out of the cab, and were asking some questions of the servant at the door.

‘These must be your friends of the Folk-Lore,’ Ericson said.

’Why God bless me I suppose so! Never heard of such promptness. Will you excuse me a moment? Can you wait? Are you pressed for time? It may not be they, you know, after all.’

‘Oh, yes, I’ll wait; I am in no breathless hurry.’

Then Sarrasin went over and accosted the two men. Evidently they were the men he had guessed them to be, for there was much bowing and shaking of hands and apparently cordial and effusive talk. Then the whole trio advanced towards Ericson. He saw that one of the men was big, fair-haired, and large-bearded, and that he wore moony spectacles, which gave him something of the look of Mr. Pickwick grown tall. The other man was slim and closely shaven, except for a yellowish moustache. There was nothing very striking about either of them.

‘Excellency,’ the good Sarrasin said, in his courtliest and yet simplest tones, ’I ask permission to present to you two distinguished American scholars Professor Flick of Denver and Sacramento, and Mr. Andrew J. Copping of Omaha. These gentlemen will be proud to have the honour of meeting the patriot Dictator of Gloria, whose fame is world-renowned.’

‘Excellency,’ said Professor Flick, ‘I am proud to meet you.’

‘Excellency,’ said Mr. Andrew J. Copping, ‘I am proud to meet you.’

‘Gentlemen,’ Ericson said, ’I am very glad to meet you both. I have been in your country indeed, I have been all over it.’

‘And yet it is a pretty big country, sir,’ the Professor observed, with a good-natured smile, as that of a man who kindly calls attention to the fact that one has made himself responsible for rather a large order.

‘It is, indeed,’ Ericson assented, without thought of disputation; ’but I have been in most of its regions. My own interests, of course, are in South America, as you would know.’

‘As we know now, sir,’ the Professor replied, ’as we know now, Excellency. I am ashamed to say that we specialists have a way of getting absorbed right up in our own topics, and my friend and I know hardly anything of politics or foreign affairs. Why, Mr. Sarrasin,’ and here the Professor suddenly turned to Sarrasin, as if he had something to say that would specially interest him above all other men, ’do you know, sir, that I sometimes fail to remember who is the existing President of the United States?’

‘Well, I am sure,’ said Sarrasin, ’I don’t know at this moment the name of the present Lord Mayor of London.’

’And that is how I had known nothing about the career of your Excellency until quite lately,’ the Professor blandly explained. ’I think it wrong, sir a breach of truth, sir that a man should pretend to any knowledge on any subject which he has not got. Of course, since I have been in Paulo’s Hotel I have heard all about your record, and it is a pride and a privilege to me to make your acquaintance. And we need hardly say, sir, my friend and I, what a surprise it is to have the honour of making your acquaintanceship on the occasion of the first visit we have ventured to pay to the house of our distinguished friend Professor Sarrasin.’

‘Not a professor,’ said Sarrasin, with a mild disclaiming smile. ’I have no claim to any title of any kind.’

‘Fame like yours, sir,’ the Professor gravely said, ’requires no title. In our far-off West, among all true votaries of folk-lore, the name of Sarrasin is, sir well, is a household word.’

‘I am pleased to hear you say so,’ the blushing Sarrasin murmured; ’I will frankly confess that I am delighted. But I own that I am greatly surprised.’

‘Our folks when they take up a subject study it right through,’ the Professor affirmed. ’Sir, we should not have sought you if we had not known of you. We knew of you, and we have sought you.’

There was no gainsaying this. Sarrasin could not ignore his fame.

‘But you were going to the City, sir, with your illustrious friend.’ An American hardly ever understands the Londoner’s localisation of ’the City,’ and when he speaks of a visit to Berkeley Square would call it going to the City. ’Please do not let us interrupt your doubtless highly important mission.’

‘It was only a mission to call on you at Paulo’s Hotel,’ Sarrasin said; ’and his Excellency was kind enough to offer to drive me there. Now that you are here you have completed my mission for the moment. Shall we not go in?’

‘I am afraid I must get back to town,’ Ericson said.

’Surely surely our friends will quite understand how much your time is taken up.’

‘Much of it taken up to very little profit of any kind,’ Ericson said with a smile. ’But to-day I have some rather important things to look after. I am glad, however, that I did not set about looking after them too soon to see your American visitors, Mr. Sarrasin.’

‘Just a moment,’ Sarrasin eagerly said, stammering in the audacity of his venture. ’One part of my purpose in seeking out Professor Flick, and Mr. Mr. Andrew J. Copping of Omaha yes I think I am right of Omaha was to ask these gentlemen if they would do me the favour of dining with me on the earliest day we can fix not here, of course oh, no I could not think of bringing them out here again; but at the Folk-Lore Club, the only club, gentlemen, with which I have the honour to be connected ’

‘Sir, you do us too much honour,’ the Professor gravely said, ’and any day that suits you shall be made suitable to us.’

‘Suitable to us,’ Mr. Copping solemnly chimed in.

‘And I was thinking,’ Sarrasin said, turning to Ericson, who was now becoming rather eager to get away, ’that if we could prevail upon his Excellency to join us he might be interested in our quaint little club, to say nothing of an evening with two such distinguished American scholars, who, I am sure ’

‘I shall be positively delighted,’ Ericson said, ’if you can only persuade Hamilton to agree to the night and to let me off. Hamilton is my friend who acts as private secretary to me, Professor Flick; and, as I am informed you sometimes say in America, he bosses the show.’

’I believe, sir, that is a phrase common among the less educated of our great population,’ Professor Flick conceded.

‘Quite so,’ said Ericson, beginning to think the Professor of Folk-Lore rather a prig.

‘Then that is all but arranged,’ Sarrasin said, flushing with joy and only at the moment having one regret that the Folk-Lore Club did not take in ladies as guests, and that, therefore, there was no use in his thinking of asking Miss Ericson to join the company at his dinner party.

’Well, the basis of negotiation seems to have been very readily accepted on both sides,’ Ericson said, with a feeling of genuine pleasure in his heart that he was in a position to do anything that could give Sarrasin a pleasure, and resolving within himself that on that point at least he would stand no nonsense from Hamilton.

So they all parted very good friends. Sarrasin and the two Americans disappeared into Camelot, and Ericson drove home alone. As he drove he was thinking over the Americans. What a perfect type they both were of the regulation American of English fiction and the English stage! If they could only go on to the London stage and speak exactly as they spoke in ordinary life they must make a splendid success as American comic actors. But, no doubt, as soon as either began to act, the naturalness of the accent and the manner and the mode of speech would all vanish and something purely artificial would come up instead. Still, he wondered how it came about that distinguished scholars, learned above all things in folk-lore a knowledge that surely ought to bring something cosmopolitan with it should be thus absolutely local, formal, and typical of the least interesting and least appreciative form of provincial character in America. ‘It is really very curious,’ he said to himself. ’They seem to me more like men acting a stiff and conventional American part than like real Americans. But, of course, I have never met much of that type of American.’ He soon put the question away, and thought of other people than Professor Flick and Mr. Andrew J. Copping. He was interested in them, however he could not tell why and he was glad to have the chance of meeting them at dinner with dear old Sarrasin at the Folk-Lore Club; and he was wondering whether they would relax at all under the genial influence, and become a little less like type Americans cut out of wood and moved by clockwork, and speaking by mechanical contrivance. Ericson had a good deal of boyish interest in life, and even in small things, left in him, for all his Dictatorship and his projects, and his Gloria, and the growing sentiment that sometimes made him feel with a start and a pang that it was beginning to rival Gloria itself in its power of absorption.