The Clarion by Samuel Hopkins Adams - HTML preview
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The year of grace, 1913, commended itself to Dr. L. André Surtaine as an excellent time in which to be alive, rich, and sixty years old. Thoroughly, keenly, ebulliently alive he was. Thoroughly rich, also; and if the truth be told, rather ebulliently conscious of his wealth. You could see at a glance that he had paid no usurious interest to Fate on his success; that his vigor and zest in life remained to him undiminished. Vitality and a high satisfaction with his environment and with himself as well placed in it, radiated from his bulky and handsome person; but it was the vitality that impressed you first: impressed and warmed you; perhaps warned you, too, on shrewder observation. A gleaming personality, this. But behind the radiance one surmised fire. Occasion given, Dr. Surtaine might well be formidable.
The world had been his oyster to open. He had cleaved it wide. Ill-natured persons hinted, in reference to his business, that he had used poison rather than the knife wherewith to loosen the stubborn hinges of the bivalve. Money gives back small echo to the cries of calumny, however. And Dr. Surtaine's Certina, that infallible and guaranteed blood-cure, eradicator of all known human ills, "famous across the map of the world," to use one of its advertising phrases, under the catchword of "Professor Certain's Certina, the SureCure" (for he preserved the old name as a trade-mark), had made a vast deal of money for its proprietor. Worthington estimated his fortune at fifteen millions, growing at the rate of a million yearly, and was not preposterously far afield. In a city of two hundred thousand inhabitants, claimed (one hundred and seventy-five thousand allowed by a niggling and suspicious census), this is all that the most needy of millionaires needs. It was all that Dr. Surtaine needed. He enjoyed his high satisfaction as a hard-earned increment.
Something more than satisfaction beamed from his face this blustery March noon as he awaited the Worthington train at a small station an hour up the line. He fidgeted like an eager boy when the whistle sounded, and before the cars had fairly come to a stop he was up the steps of the sleeper and inside the door. There rose to meet him a tall, carefully dressed and pressed youth, whose exclamation was evenly apportioned between welcome and surprise.
To the amusement of the other passengers, the two seized each other in a bear-hug.
"Oof!" panted the big man, releasing his son. "That's the best thing that's happened to me this year. George" (to the porter), "get me a seat. Get us two seats together. Aren't any? Perhaps this gentleman," turning to the chair back of him, "wouldn't mind moving across the aisle until we get to Worthington."
"Certainly not. Glad to oblige," said the stranger, smiling. People usually were "glad to oblige" Dr. Surtaine whether they knew him or not. The man inspired good will in others.
"It's nearly a year since I've set eyes on my son," he added in a voice which took the whole car into his friendly confidence; "and it seems like ten. How are you feeling, Hal? You look chirp as a cricket."
"Couldn't possibly feel better, sir. Where did you get on?"
"Here at State Crossing. Thought I'd come up and meet you. The office got on my nerves this morning. Work didn't hold me worth a cent. I kept figuring you coming nearer and nearer until I couldn't stand it, so I banged down my desk, told my secretary that I was going to California on the night boat and mightn't be back till evening, hung the scrapbasket on the stenographer's ear when she tried to hold me up to sign some letters, jumped out of the fifth-story window, and here I am. I hope you're as tickled to see me as I am to see you."
The young man's hand went out, fell with a swift movement, to touch his father's, and was as swiftly withdrawn again.
"Worthington's just waiting for you," the Doctor rattled on. "You're put up at all the clubs. People you've never heard of are laying out dinners and dances for you. You're a distinguished stranger; that's what you are. Welcome to our city and all that sort of thing. I'd like to have a brass band at the station to meet you, only I thought it might jar your quiet European tastes. Eh? At that, I had to put the boys under bonds to keep 'em from decorating the factory for you."
"You don't seem to have lost any of your spirit, Dad," said the junior, smiling.
"Noticed that already, have you? Well, I'm holding my own, Boyee. Up to date, old age hasn't scratched me with his claws to any noticeable extent—is that the way it goes?—see 'Familiar Quotations.' I'm getting to be a regular book-worm, Hal. Shakespeare, R.L.S., Kipling, Arnold Bennett, Hall Caine—all the high-brows. And I get 'em, too. Soak 'em right in. I love it! Tell me, who's this Balzac? An agent was in yesterday trying to make me believe that he invented culture. What about him? I'm pretty hot on the culture trail. Look out, or I'll overhaul you."
"You won't have to go very far or fast. I've got only smatterings." But the boy spoke with a subdued complacency not wholly lost upon the shrewd father.
"Not so much that you'll think Worthington dull and provincial?"
"Oh, I dare say I shall find it a very decent little place."
But here Hal touched another pride and loyalty, quite as genuine as that which Dr. Surtaine felt for his son.
"Little place!" he cried. "Two hundred thousand of the livest people on God's earth. A gen-u-wine American city if there ever was one."
"Evidently it suits you, sir."
"Couldn't suit better if I'd had it made to order," chuckled the Doctor. "And I did pretty near make it over to order. It was a dead-and-alive town when we opened up here. Didn't care much about my business, either. Now we're the biggest thing in town. Why Certina is the cross-mark that shows where Worthington is on the map. The business is sim-plee BOOMING." The word exploded in rapture. "Nothing like it ever known in the proprietary trade. Wait till you see the shop."
"That will be soon, won't it, sir? I think I've loafed quite long enough."
"You're only twenty-five," his father defended him. "It isn't as if you'd been idling. Your four years abroad have been just so much capital. Educational capital, I mean. I've got plenty of the other kind, for both of us. You don't need to go into the business unless you want to."
"Being an American, I suppose I've got to go to work at something."
"You don't want me to live on you all my life, though, I suppose."
"Well, I don't want you to want me to want you to," returned the other, laughing. "But there's no hurry."
"To tell the truth, I'm rather bored with doing nothing. And if I can be of any use to you in the business—"
"You're ready to resume the partnership," his father concluded the sentence for him. "That was the foundation of it all; the old days when I did the 'spieling' and you took in the dollars. How quick your little hands were! Can you remember it? The smelly smoke of the torches, and the shadows chasing each other across the crowds below. And to think what has grown out of it. God, Boyee! It's a miracle," he exulted.
"It isn't very clear in my memory. I used to get pretty sleepy, I remember," said the son, smiling.
"Poor Boyee! Sometimes I hated the life, for you. But there was nobody to leave you with; and you were all I had. Anyway, it's turned out well, hasn't it?"
"That remains to be seen for me, doesn't it? I'm rather at the start of things."
"Most youngsters would be content with an unlimited allowance, and the world for a playground."
"One gets tired of playing. And of globe-trotting."
"Good! Do you think you can make Worthington feel like home?"
"How can I tell, sir? I haven't spent two weeks altogether in the place since I entered college eight years ago."
"Did it ever strike you that I'd carefully planned to keep you away from here, and that our periods of companionship have all been abroad or at summer places?"
"You've never spoken of it."
"Good boy! Now I'll tell you why. I wanted to be absolutely established before I brought you back here. Not in business, alone. That came long ago. There have been obstacles, in other ways. They're all overcome. To-day we come pretty near to being king-pins in this town, you and I, Hal. Do you feel like a prince entering into his realm?"
"Rather more like a freshman entering college," said the other, laughing. "It isn't the town, it's the business that I have misgivings about."
"Misgivings? How's that?" asked the father quickly.
"What I can do in it."
"Oh, that. My doubts are whether it's the best thing for you."
"Don't you want me to go into it, Dad?"
"Of course I want you with me, Boyee. But—well, frank and flat, I don't know whether it's genteel enough for you."
"Genteel?" The younger Surtaine repeated the distasteful adjective with surprise.
"Some folks make fun of it, you know. It's the advertising that makes it a fair mark. 'Certina,' they say. 'That's where he made his money. Patent-medicine millions.' I don't mind it. But for you it's different."
"If the money is good enough for me to spend, it's good enough for me to earn," said Hal Surtaine a little grandiloquently.
"Humph! Well, the business is a big success, and I want you to be a big success. But that doesn't mean that I want to combine the two. Isn't there anything else you've ever thought of turning to?"
"I've got something of a leaning toward your profession, Dad."
"My prof—oh, you mean medicine."
"Nothing in it. Doctors are a lot of prejudiced pedants and hypocrites. Not one in a thousand is more than an inch wide. What started you on that?"
"I hardly know. It was just a notion. I think the scientific and sociological side is what appeals to me. But my interest is only theoretical."
"That's very well for a hobby. Not as a profession. Here we are, half an hour late, as usual."
The sudden and violent bite of the brakes, a characteristic operation of that mummy among railroads, the Mid-State and Great Muddy River, commonly known as the "Midand-Mud," flung forward in an involuntary plunge the incautious who had arisen to look after their things. Hal Surtaine found himself supporting the weight of a fortuitous citizen who had just made his way up the aisle.
"Thank you," said the stranger in a dry voice. "You're the prodigal son of whom we've heard such glowing forecast, I presume."
"Well met, Mr. Pierce," called Dr. Surtaine's jovial voice. "Yes, that's my son, Harrington, you're hanging to. Hal, this is Mr. Elias M. Pierce, one of the men who run Worthington."
Releasing his burden Hal acknowledged the introduction. Elias M. Pierce, receding a yard or so into perspective, revealed himself as a spare, middle-aged man who looked as if he had been hewn out of a block, square, and glued into a permanent black suit. Under his palely sardonic eye Hal felt that he was being appraised, and in none too amiable a spirit.
"A favorite pleasantry of your father's, Mr. Surtaine," said Pierce. "What became of Douglas? Oh, here he is."
A clean-shaven, rather floridly dressed man came forward, was introduced to Hal, and inquired courteously whether he was going to settle down in Worthington. "Probably depends on how well he likes it," cut in the dry Mr. Pierce. "You might help him decide. I'm sure William would be glad to have you lunch with him one day this week at the Huron Club, Mr. Surtaine."
Somewhat surprised and a little annoyed at this curiously vicarious suggestion of hospitality, the newcomer hesitated, although Douglas promptly supported the offer. Before he had decided what to reply, his father eagerly broke in.
"Yes, yes. You must go, Hal," he said, apparently oblivious of the fact that he had not been included in the invitation.
"I'll try to be there, myself," continued Pierce, in a flat tone of condescension. "Douglas represents me, however, not only legally but in other matters that I'm too busy to attend to."
"Mr. Pierce is president of the Huron Club," explained Dr. Surtaine. "It's our leading social organization. You'll meet our best business men there." And Hal had no alternative but to accept.
Here William Douglas turned to speak to Dr. Surtaine. "The Reverend Norman Hale has been looking for you. It is some minor hitch about that Mission matter, I believe. Just a little diplomacy wanted. He said he'd call to see you day after to-morrow."
"Meaning more money, I suppose," said Dr. Surtaine. Then, more loudly: "Well, the business can stand it. All right. Send him along."
With Hal close on his heels he stepped from the car. But Douglas, having the cue from his patron, took the younger man by the arm and drew him aside.
"Come over and meet some of our fair citizens," he said. "Nothing like starting right."
The Pierce motor car, very large, very quietly complete and elegant, was waiting near at hand, and in it a prematurely elderly, subdued nondescript of a woman, and a pretty, sensitive, sensuous type of brunette, almost too well dressed. To Mrs. Pierce and Miss Kathleen Pierce, Hal was duly presented, and by them graciously received. As he stood there, bareheaded, gracefully at ease, smiling up into the interested faces of the two ladies, Dr. Surtaine, passing to his own car to await him, looked back and was warmed with pride and gratitude for this further honorarium to his capital stock of happiness, for he saw already in his son the assurance of social success, and, on the hour's reckoning, summed him up. And since we are to see much of Harrington Surtaine, in evil chance and good, and see him at times through the eyes of that shrewd observer and capitalizer of men, his father, the summing-up is worth our present heed, for all that it is to be considerably modified in the mind of its proponent, as events develop. This, then, is Dr. Surtaine's estimate of his beloved "Boyee," after a year of separation.
"A little bit of a prig. A little bit of a cub. Just a little mite of a snob, too, maybe. But the right, solid, clean stuff underneath. And my son, thank God! My son all through."