A LITTLE DINNER WITH MR. LUCULLUS FYSHE
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?”
“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?”
“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.
Excerpted from Arcadian Adventures with the Idle Rich by Stephen Leacock, Afterword by Gerald Lynch. Copyright © 2010 by Stephen Leacock, Afterword by Gerald Lynch. Excerpted by permission of New Canadian Library, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.