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Roads of Destiny

"Next To Reading Matter"
He compelled my interest as he stepped from the ferry at Desbrosses Street. He had the
air of being familiar with hemispheres and worlds, and of entering New York as the lord
of a demesne who revisited it in after years of absence. But I thought that, with all his air,
he had never before set foot on the slippery cobblestones of the City of Too Many
Caliphs.
He wore loose clothes of a strange bluish drab colour, and a conservative, round Panama
hat without the cock-a-loop indentations and cants with which Northern fanciers disfigure
the tropic head-gear. Moreover, he was the homeliest man I have ever seen. His ugliness
was less repellent than startling—arising from a sort of Lincolnian ruggedness and
irregularity of feature that spellbound you with wonder and dismay. So may have looked
afrites or the shapes metamorphosed from the vapour of the fisherman's vase. As he
afterward told me, his name was Judson Tate; and he may as well be called so at once. He
wore his green silk tie through a topaz ring; and he carried a cane made of the vertebræ of
a shark.
Judson Tate accosted me with some large and casual inquiries about the city's streets and
hotels, in the manner of one who had but for the moment forgotten the trifling details. I
could think of no reason for disparaging my own quiet hotel in the downtown district; so
the mid-morning of the night found us already victualed and drinked (at my expense),
and ready to be chaired and tobaccoed in a quiet corner of the lobby.
There was something on Judson Tate's mind, and, such as it was, he tried to convey it to
me. Already he had accepted me as his friend; and when I looked at his great, snuff-
brown first-mate's hand, with which he brought emphasis to his periods, within six inches
of my nose, I wondered if, by any chance, he was as sudden in conceiving enmity against
strangers.
When this man began to talk I perceived in him a certain power. His voice was a
persuasive instrument, upon which he played with a somewhat specious but effective art.
He did not try to make you forget his ugliness; he flaunted it in your face and made it part
of the charm of his speech. Shutting your eyes, you would have trailed after this rat-
catcher's pipes at least to the walls of Hamelin. Beyond that you would have had to be
more childish to follow. But let him play his own tune to the words set down, so that if all
is too dull, the art of music may bear the blame.
"Women," said Judson Tate, "are mysterious creatures."
My spirits sank. I was not there to listen to such a world-old hypothesis—to such a time-
worn, long-ago-refuted, bald, feeble, illogical, vicious, patent sophistry—to an ancient,
baseless, wearisome, ragged, unfounded, insidious, falsehood originated by women
themselves, and by them insinuated, foisted, thrust, spread, and ingeniously promulgated
 
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