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Chapter 19

  • This idea of appealing to the president of one of the great railroads tha_ntered New York was not so difficult to execute. Eugene dressed himself ver_arefully the next morning, and going to the office of the company in Forty- second Street, consulted the list of officers posted in one of the halls, an_inding the president to be on the third floor, ascended. He discovered, afte_ompelling himself by sheer will power to enter, that this so-called offic_as a mere anteroom to a force of assistants serving the president, and tha_o one could see him except by appointment.
  • "You might see his secretary if he isn't busy," suggested the clerk wh_andled his card gingerly.
  • Eugene was for the moment undetermined what to do but decided that maybe th_ecretary could help him. He asked that his card might be taken to him an_hat no explanation be demanded of him except by the secretary in person. Th_atter came out after a while, an under secretary of perhaps twenty-eigh_ears of age, short and stout. He was bland and apparently good natured.
  • "What is it I can do for you?" he asked.
  • Eugene had been formulating his request in his mind—some method of putting i_riefly and simply.
  • "I came up to see Mr. Wilson," he said, "to see if he would not send me out a_ day-laborer of some kind in connection with some department of the road. _m an artist by profession and I am suffering from neurasthenia. All th_octors I have consulted have recommended that I get a simple, manual positio_f some kind and work at it until I am well. I know of an instance in whic_r. Wilson, assisted, in this way, Mr. Savin the author, and I thought h_ight be willing to interest himself in my case."
  • At the sound of Henry Savin's name the under-secretary pricked up his ears. H_ad, fortunately, read one of his books, and this together with Eugene'_nowledge of the case, his personal appearance, a certain ring of sincerity i_hat he was saying, caused him to be momentarily interested.
  • "There is no position in connection with any clerical work which the presiden_ould give you, I am sure," he replied. "All of these things are subject to _ystem of promotion. It might be that he could place you with one of th_onstruction gangs in one of the departments under a foreman. I don't know.
  • It's very hard work, though. He might consider your case." He smile_ommiseratingly. "I question whether you're strong enough to do anything o_hat sort. It takes a pretty good man to wield a pick or a shovel."
  • "I don't think I had better worry about that now," replied Eugene in return, smiling wearily. "I'll take the work and see if it won't help me. I think _eed it badly enough."
  • He was afraid the under-secretary would repent of his suggestion and refus_im entirely.
  • "Can you wait a little while?" asked the latter curiously. He had the ide_hat Eugene was someone of importance, for he had suggested as a partin_rgument that he could give a number of exceptional references.
  • "Certainly," said Eugene, and the secretary went his way, coming back in hal_n hour to hand him an enveloped letter.
  • "We have the idea," he said quite frankly waiving any suggestion of th_resident's influence in the matter and speaking for himself and th_ecretary-in-chief, with whom he had agreed that Eugene ought to be assisted,
  • "that you had best apply to the engineering department. Mr. Hobsen, the chief- engineer, can arrange for you. This letter I think will get you what yo_ant."
  • Eugene's heart bounded. He looked at the superscription and saw it addresse_o Mr. Woodruff Hobsen, Chief Engineer, and putting it in his pocket withou_topping to read it, but thanking the under-secretary profusely, went out. I_he hall at a safe distance he stopped and opened it, finding that it spoke o_im familiarly as "Mr. Eugene Witla, an artist, temporarily incapacitated b_eurasthenia," and went on to say that he was "desirous of being appointed t_ome manual toil in some construction corps. The president's office recommend_his request to your favor."
  • When he read this he knew it meant a position. It roused curious feelings a_o the nature and value of stratification. As a laborer he was nothing: as a_rtist he could get a position as a laborer. After all, his ability as a_rtist was worth something. It obtained him this refuge. He hugged i_oyously, and a few moments later handed it to an under-secretary in th_hief-Engineer's office. Without being seen by anyone in authority he was i_eturn given a letter to Mr. William Haverford, "Engineer of Maintenance o_ay," a pale, anæmic gentleman of perhaps forty years of age, who, as Eugen_earned from him when he was eventually ushered into his presence a half hou_ater, was a captain of thirteen thousand men. The latter read the letter fro_he Engineer's office curiously. He was struck by Eugene's odd mission and hi_ppearance as a man. Artists were queer. This was like one. Eugene reminde_im of himself a little in his appearance.
  • "An artist," he said interestedly. "So you want to work as a day laborer?" H_ixed Eugene with clear, coal-black eyes looking out of a long, pear-shape_ace. Eugene noticed that his hands were long and thin and white and that hi_igh, pale forehead was crowned by a mop of black hair.
  • "Neurasthenia. I've heard a great deal about that of late, but have never bee_roubled that way myself. I find that I derive considerable benefit when I a_ervous from the use of a rubber exerciser. You have seen them perhaps?"
  • "Yes," Eugene replied, "I have. My case is much too grave for that, I think. _ave traveled a great deal. But it doesn't seem to do me any good. I want wor_t something manual, I fancy—something at which I have to work. Exercise in _oom would not help me. I think I need a complete change of environment. _ill be much obliged if you will place me in some capacity."
  • "Well, this will very likely be it," suggested Mr. Haverford blandly. "Workin_s a day-laborer will certainly not strike you as play. To tell you the truth, I don't think you can stand it." He reached for a glass-framed map showing th_arious divisions of the railroad stretching from New England to Chicago an_t. Louis, and observed quietly. "I could send you to a great many places, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Michigan, Canada." His finger roved idly about.
  • "I have thirteen thousand men in my department and they are scattered far an_ide."
  • Eugene marveled. Such a position! Such authority! This pale, dark man sittin_s an engineer at a switch board directing so large a machine.
  • "You have a large force," he said simply. Mr. Haverford smiled wanly.
  • "I think, if you will take my advice, you will not go in a construction corp_ight away. You can hardly do manual labor. There is a little carpenter sho_hich we have at Speonk, not very far outside the city, which I should thin_ould answer your needs admirably. A little creek joins the Hudson there an_t's out on a point of land, the shop is. It's summer now, and to put you in _roiling sun with a gang of Italians would be a little rough. Take my advic_nd go here. It will be hard enough. After you are broken in and you think yo_ant a change I can easily arrange it for you. The money may not make so muc_ifference to you but you may as well have it. It will be fifteen cents a_our. I will give you a letter to Mr. Litlebrown, our division engineer, an_e will see that you are properly provided for."
  • Eugene bowed. Inwardly he smiled at the thought that the money would not b_cceptable to him. Anything would be acceptable. Perhaps this would be best.
  • It was near the city. The description of the little carpenter shop out on th_eck of land appealed to him. It was, as he found when he looked at the map o_he immediate division to which this belonged, almost within the city limits.
  • He could live in New York—the upper portion of it anyhow.
  • Again there was a letter, this time to Mr. Henry C. Litlebrown, a tall, meditative, philosophic man whom Eugene found two days later in the divisio_ffices at Yonkers, who in turn wrote a letter to Mr. Joseph Brooks, Superintendent of Buildings, at Mott Haven, whose secretary finally gav_ugene a letter to Mr. Jack Stix, foreman carpenter at Speonk. This letter, when presented on a bright Friday afternoon, brought him the advice to com_onday at seven A. M., and so Eugene saw a career as a day laborer stretchin_ery conspicuously before him.
  • The "little shop" in question was located in the most charming manne_ossible. If it had been set as a stage scene for his especial artisti_enefit it could not have been better. On a point of land between the rive_nd the main line of the railroad and a little creek, which was east of th_ailroad and which the latter crossed on a trestle to get back to the mainlan_gain, it stood, a long, low two-storey structure, green as to its roof, re_s to its body, full of windows which commanded picturesque views of passin_achts and steamers and little launches and row-boats anchored safely in th_aters of the cove which the creek formed. There was a veritable song of labo_hich arose from this shop, for it was filled with planes, lathes and wood- turning instruments of various kinds, to say nothing of a great group o_arpenters who could make desks, chairs, tables, in short, office furniture o_arious kinds, and who kept the company's needs of these fittings for it_epots and offices well supplied. Each carpenter had a bench before a windo_n the second floor, and in the centre were the few necessary machines the_ere always using, small jig, cross cut, band and rip saws, a plane, and fou_r five lathes. On the ground floor was the engine room, the blacksmith'_hop, the giant plane, the great jig and cross cut saws, and the store roo_nd supply closets. Out in the yard were piles of lumber, with tracks i_etween, and twice every day a local freight called "The Dinky" stopped t_witch in or take out loaded cars of lumber or finished furniture an_upplies. Eugene, as he approached on the day he presented his letter, stoppe_o admire the neatness of the low board fence which surrounded it all, th_eauty of the water, the droning sweetness of the saws.
  • "Why, the work here couldn't be very hard," he thought. He saw carpenter_ooking out of the upper windows, and a couple of men in brown overalls an_umpers unloading a car. They were carrying great three-by-six joists on thei_houlders. Would he be asked to do anything like that. He scarcely thought so.
  • Mr. Haverford had distinctly indicated in his letter to Mr. Litlebrown that h_as to be built up by degrees. Carrying great joists did not appeal to him a_he right way, but he presented his letter. He had previously looked about o_he high ground which lay to the back of the river and which commanded thi_oint of land, to see if he could find a place to board and lodge, but ha_een nothing. The section was very exclusive, occupied by suburban New Yorker_f wealth, and they were not interested in the proposition which he ha_ormulated in his own mind, namely his temporary reception somewhere as _aying guest. He had visions of a comfortable home somewhere now with nic_eople, for strangely enough the securing of this very minor position ha_mpressed him as the beginning of the end of his bad luck. He was probabl_oing to get well now, in the course of time. If he could only live with som_ice family for the summer. In the fall if he were improving, and he though_e might be, Angela could come on. It might be that one of the dealers, Pottl_rères or Jacob Bergman or Henry LaRue would have sold a picture. One hundre_nd fifty or two hundred dollars joined to his salary would go a long wa_owards making their living moderately comfortable. Besides Angela's taste an_conomy, coupled with his own art judgment, could make any little place loo_espectable and attractive.
  • The problem of finding a room was not so easy. He followed the track south t_ settlement which was visible from the shop windows a quarter of a mile away, and finding nothing which suited his taste as to location, returned to Speon_roper and followed the little creek inland half a mile. This adventur_elighted him for it revealed a semi-circle of charming cottages ranged upon _ill slope which had for its footstool the little silvery-bosomed stream.
  • Between the stream and the hill slope ran a semi-circular road and above tha_nother road. Eugene could see at a glance that here was middle clas_rosperity, smooth lawns, bright awnings, flower pots of blue and yellow an_reen upon the porches, doorsteps and verandas. An auto standing in front o_ne house indicated a certain familiarity with the ways of the rich, and _ummer road house, situated at the intersection of a road leading out from Ne_ork and the little stream where it was crossed by a bridge, indicated tha_he charms of this village were not unknown to those who came touring an_eeking for pleasure. The road house itself was hung with awnings and on_ining balcony out over the water. Eugene's desire was fixed on this villag_t once. He wanted to live here—anywhere in it. He walked about under the coo_hade of the trees looking at first one door yard and then another wishin_hat he might introduce himself by letter and be received. They ought t_elcome an artist of his ability and refinement and would, he thought, if the_new. His working in a furniture factory or for the railroad as a day labore_or his health simply added to his picturesque character. In his wanderings h_inally came upon a Methodist church quaintly built of red brick and gre_tone trimmings, and the sight of its tall, stained glass windows and squar_ortress-like bell-tower gave him an idea. Why not appeal to the minister? H_ould explain to him what he wanted, show him his credentials—for he had wit_im old letters from editors, publishers and art houses—and give him a clea_nderstanding as to why he wanted to come here at all. His ill health an_istinction ought to appeal to this man, and he would probably direct him t_ome one who would gladly have him. At five in the afternoon he knocked at th_oor and was received in the pastor's study—a large still room in which a fe_lies were buzzing in the shaded light. In a few moments the minister himsel_ame in—a tall, grey-headed man, severely simple in his attire and with th_asy air of one who is used to public address. He was about to ask what h_ould do for him when Eugene began with his explanation.
  • "You don't know me at all. I am a stranger in this section. I am an artist b_rofession and I am coming to Speonk on Monday to work in the railroad sho_here for my health. I have been suffering from a nervous breakdown and a_oing to try day labor for awhile. I want to find a convenient, pleasant plac_o live, and I thought you might know of someone here, or near here, who migh_e willing to take me in for a little while. I can give excellent references.
  • There doesn't appear to be anything in the immediate neighborhood of th_hop."
  • "It is rather isolated there," replied the old minister, studying Eugen_arefully. "I have often wondered how all those men like it, traveling so far.
  • None of them live about here." He looked at Eugene solemnly, taking in hi_arious characteristics. He was not badly impressed. He seemed to be _eserved, thoughtful, dignified young man and decidedly artistic. It struc_im as very interesting that he should be trying so radical a thing as da_abor for his nerves.
  • "Let me see," he said thoughtfully. He sat down in his chair near his tabl_nd put his hand over his eyes. "I don't think of anyone just at the moment.
  • There are plenty of families who have room to take you if they would, but _uestion very much whether they would. In fact I'm rather sure they wouldn't.
  • Let me see now."
  • He thought again.
  • Eugene studied his big aquiline nose, his shaggy grey eyebrows, his thick, crisp, grey hair. Already his mind was sketching him, the desk, the dim walls, the whole atmosphere of the room.
  • "No, no," he said slowly. "I don't think of anyone. There is one family—Mrs.
  • Hibberdell. She lives in the—let me see—first, second, third, tenth hous_bove here. She has one nephew with her at present, a young man of about you_ge, and I don't think anyone else. I don't know that she would conside_aking you in, but she might. Her house is quite large. She did have he_aughter with her at one time, but I'm not sure that she's there now. I thin_ot."
  • He talked as though he were reporting his own thoughts to himself audibly.
  • Eugene pricked up his ears at the mention of a daughter. During all the tim_e had been out of New York he had not, with the exception of Frieda, had _ingle opportunity to talk intimately with any girl. Angela had been with hi_ll the time. Here in New York since he had been back he had been living unde_uch distressing conditions that he had not thought of either youth or love.
  • He had no business to be thinking of it now, but this summer air, this tree- shaded village, the fact that he had a position, small as it was, on which h_ould depend and which would no doubt benefit him mentally, and that he wa_omehow feeling better about himself because he was going to work, made hi_eel that he might look more interestedly on life again. He was not going t_ie; he was going to get well. Finding this position proved it. And he migh_o to the house now and find some charming girl who would like him very much.
  • Angela was away. He was alone. He had again the freedom of his youth. If h_ere only well and working!
  • He thanked the old minister very politely and went his way, recognizing th_ouse by certain details given him by the minister, a double balconie_eranda, some red rockers, two yellow jardinières at the doorstep, a greyis_hite picket fence and gate. He walked up smartly and rang the bell. A ver_ntelligent woman of perhaps fifty-five or sixty with bright grey hair an_lear light blue eyes was coming out with a book in her hand. Eugene state_is case. She listened with keen interest, looking him over the while. Hi_ppearance took her fancy, for she was of a strong intellectual and literar_urn of mind.
  • "I wouldn't ordinarily consider anything of the kind, but I am alone here wit_y nephew and the house could easily accommodate a dozen. I don't want to d_nything which will irritate him, but if you will come back in the morning _ill let you know. It would not disturb me to have you about. Do you happen t_now of an artist by the name of Deesa?"
  • "I know him well," replied Eugene. "He's an old friend of mine."
  • "He is a friend of my daughter's, I think. Have you enquired anywhere els_ere in the village?"
  • "No," said Eugene.
  • "That is just as well," she replied.
  • He took the hint.
  • So there was no daughter here. Well, what matter? The view was beautiful. O_n evening he could sit out here in one of the rocking chairs and look at th_ater. The evening sun, already low in the west was burnishing it a brigh_old. The outline of the hill on the other side was dignified and peaceful. H_ould sleep and work as a day laborer and take life easy for a while. He coul_et well now and this was the way to do it. Day laborer! How fine, ho_riginal, how interesting. He felt somewhat like a knight-errant reconnoitrin_ new and very strange world.