An American Tragedy Chapter 2

The head of the Lycurgus branch of the Griffiths, as contrasted with the father of the Kansas City family, was most arresting. Unlike his shorter and more confused brother of the Door of Hope, whom he had not even seen for thirty years, he was a little above the average in height, very well-knit, although comparatively slender, shrewd of eye, and incisive both as to manner and speech. Long used to contending for himself, and having come by effort as well as results to know that he was above the average in acumen and commercial ability, he was inclined at times to be a bit intolerant of those who were not. He was not ungenerous or unpleasant in manner, but always striving to maintain a calm and judicial air. And he told himself by way of excuse for his mannerisms that he was merely accepting himself at the value that others placed upon him and all those who, like himself, were successful.

Having arrived in Lycurgus about twenty-five years before with some capital and a determination to invest in a new collar enterprise which had been proposed to him, he had succeeded thereafter beyond his wildest expectations. And naturally he was vain about it. His family at this time—twenty-five years later—unquestionably occupied one of the best, as well as the most tastefully constructed residences in Lycurgus. They were also esteemed as among the few best families of this region—being, if not the oldest, at least among the most conservative, respectable and successful in Lycurgus. His two younger children, if not the eldest, were much to the front socially in the younger and gayer set and so far nothing had happened to weaken or darken his prestige.

On returning from Chicago on this particular day, after having concluded several agreements there which spelled trade harmony and prosperity for at least one year, he was inclined to feel very much at ease and on good terms with the world. Nothing had occurred to mar his trip. In his absence the Griffiths Collar and Shirt Company had gone on as though he had been present. Trade orders at the moment were large.

Now as he entered his own door he threw down a heavy bag and fashionably made coat and turned to see what he rather expected—Bella hurrying toward him. Indeed she was his pet, the most pleasing and different and artistic thing, as he saw it, that all his years had brought to him—youth, health, gayety, intelligence and affection—all in the shape of a pretty daughter.

“Oh, Daddy,” she called most sweetly and enticingly as she saw him enter. “Is that you?”

“Yes. At least it feels a little like me at the present moment. How’s my baby girl?” And he opened his arms and received the bounding form of his last born. “There’s a good, strong, healthy girl, I’ll say,” he announced as he withdrew his affectionate lips from hers. “And how’s the bad girl been behaving herself since I left? No fibbing this time.”

“Oh, just fine, Daddy. You can ask any one. I couldn’t be better.”

“And your mother?”

“She’s all right, Daddy. She’s up in her room. I don’t think she heard you come in.”

“And Myra? Is she back from Albany yet?”

“Yes. She’s in her room. I heard her playing just now. I just got in myself a little while ago.”

“Ay, hai. Gadding about again. I know you.” He held up a genial forefinger, warningly, while Bella swung onto one of his arms and kept pace with him up the stairs to the floor above.

“Oh, no, I wasn’t either, now,” she cooed shrewdly and sweetly. “Just see how you pick on me, Daddy. I was only over with Sondra for a little while. And what do you think, Daddy? They’re going to give up the place at Greenwood and build a big handsome bungalow up on Twelfth Lake right away. And Mr. Finchley’s going to buy a big electric launch for Stuart and they’re going to live up there next summer, maybe all the time, from May until October. And so are the Cranstons, maybe.”

Mr. Griffiths, long used to his younger daughter’s wiles, was interested at the moment not so much by the thought that she wished to convey—that Twelfth Lake was more desirable, socially than Greenwood—as he was by the fact that the Finchleys were able to make this sudden and rather heavy expenditure for social reasons only.

Instead of answering Bella he went on upstairs and into his wife’s room. He kissed Mrs. Griffiths, looked in upon Myra, who came to the door to embrace him, and spoke of the successful nature of the trip. One could see by the way he embraced his wife that there was an agreeable understanding between them—no disharmony—by the way he greeted Myra that if he did not exactly sympathize with her temperament and point of view, at least he included her within the largess of his affection.

As they were talking Mrs. Truesdale announced that dinner was ready, and Gilbert, having completed his toilet, now entered.

“I say, Dad,” he called, “I have an interesting thing I want to see you about in the morning. Can I?”

“All right, I’ll be there. Come in about noon.”

“Come on all, or the dinner will be getting cold,” admonished Mrs. Griffiths earnestly, and forthwith Gilbert turned and went down, followed by Griffiths, who still had Bella on his arm. And after him came Mrs. Griffiths and Myra, who now emerged from her room and joined them.

Once seated at the table, the family forthwith began discussing topics of current local interest. For Bella, who was the family’s chief source of gossip, gathering the most of it from the Snedeker School, through which all the social news appeared to percolate most swiftly, suddenly announced: “What do you think, Mamma? Rosetta Nicholson, that niece of Mrs. Disston Nicholson, who was over here last summer from Albany—you know, she came over the night of the Alumnae Garden Party on our lawn—you remember—the young girl with the yellow hair and squinty blue eyes—her father owns that big wholesale grocery over there—well, she’s engaged to that Herbert Tickham of Utica, who was visiting Mrs. Lambert last summer. You don’t remember him, but I do. He was tall and dark and sorta awkward, and awfully pale, but very handsome—oh, a regular movie hero.”

“There you go, Mrs. Griffiths,” interjected Gilbert shrewdly and cynically to his mother. “A delegation from the Misses Snedeker’s Select School sneaks off to the movies to brush up on heroes from time to time.”

Griffiths senior suddenly observed: “I had a curious experience in Chicago this time, something I think the rest of you will be interested in.” He was thinking of an accidental encounter two days before in Chicago between himself and the eldest son, as it proved to be, of his younger brother Asa. Also of a conclusion he had come to in regard to him.

“Oh, what is it, Daddy?” pleaded Bella at once. “Do tell me about it.”

“Spin the big news, Dad,” added Gilbert, who, because of the favor of his father, felt very free and close to him always.

“Well, while I was in Chicago at the Union League Club, I met a young man who is related to us, a cousin of you three children, by the way, the eldest son of my brother Asa, who is out in Denver now, I understand. I haven’t seen or heard from him in thirty years.” He paused and mused dubiously.

“Not the one who is a preacher somewhere, Daddy?” inquired Bella, looking up.

“Yes, the preacher. At least I understand he was for a while after he left home. But his son tells me he has given that up now. He’s connected with something in Denver—a hotel, I think.”

“But what’s his son like?” interrogated Bella, who only knew such well groomed and ostensibly conservative youths and men as her present social status and supervision permitted, and in consequence was intensely interested. The son of a western hotel proprietor!

“A cousin? How old is he?” asked Gilbert instantly, curious as to his character and situation and ability.

“Well, he’s a very interesting young man, I think,” continued Griffiths tentatively and somewhat dubiously, since up to this hour he had not truly made up his mind about Clyde. “He’s quite good-looking and well-mannered, too—about your own age, I should say, Gil, and looks a lot like you—very much so—same eyes and mouth and chin.” He looked at his son examiningly. “He’s a little bit taller, if anything, and looks a little thinner, though I don’t believe he really is.”

At the thought of a cousin who looked like him—possibly as attractive in every way as himself—and bearing his own name, Gilbert chilled and bristled slightly. For here in Lycurgus, up to this time, he was well and favourably known as the only son and heir presumptive to the managerial control of his father’s business, and to at least a third of the estate, if not more. And now, if by any chance it should come to light that there was a relative, a cousin of his own years and one who looked and acted like him, even—he bridled at the thought. Forthwith (a psychic reaction which he did not understand and could not very well control) he decided that he did not like him—could not like him.

“What’s he doing now?” he asked in a curt and rather sour tone, though he attempted to avoid the latter element in his voice.

“Well, he hasn’t much of a job, I must say,” smiled Samuel Griffiths, meditatively. “He’s only a bell-hop in the Union League Club in Chicago, at present, but a very pleasant and gentlemanly sort of a boy, I will say. I was quite taken with him. In fact, because he told me there wasn’t much opportunity for advancement where he was, and that he would like to get into something where there was more chance to do something and be somebody, I told him that if he wanted to come on here and try his luck with us, we might do a little something for him—give him a chance to show what he could do, at least.”

He had not intended to set forth at once the fact that he became interested in his nephew to this extent, but—rather to wait and thrash it out at different times with both his wife and son, but the occasion having seemed to offer itself, he had spoken. And now that he had, he felt rather glad of it, for because Clyde so much resembled Gilbert he did want to do a little something for him.

But Gilbert bristled and chilled, the while Bella and Myra, if not Mrs. Griffiths, who favored her only son in everything—even to preferring him to be without a blood relation or other rival of any kind, rather warmed to the idea. A cousin who was a Griffiths and good-looking and about Gilbert’s age—and who, as their father reported, was rather pleasant and well-mannered—that pleased Bella and Myra while Mrs. Griffiths, noting Gilbert’s face darken, was not so moved. He would not like him. But out of respect for her husband’s authority and general ability in all things, she now remained silent. But not so, Bella.

“Oh, you’re going to give him a place, are you, Dad?” she commented. “That’s interesting. I hope he’s better-looking than the rest of our cousins.”

“Bella,” chided Mrs. Griffiths, while Myra, recalling a gauche uncle and cousin who had come on from Vermont several years before to visit them a few days, smiled wisely. At the same time Gilbert, deeply irritated, was mentally fighting against the idea. He could not see it at all. “Of course we’re not turning away applicants who want to come in and learn the business right along now, as it is,” he said sharply.

“Oh, I know,” replied his father, “but not cousins and nephews exactly. Besides he looks very intelligent and ambitious to me. It wouldn’t do any great harm if we let at least one of our relatives come here and show what he can do. I can’t see why we shouldn’t employ him as well as another.”

“I don’t believe Gil likes the idea of any other fellow in Lycurgus having the same name and looking like him,” suggested Bella, slyly, and with a certain touch of malice due to the fact that her brother was always criticizing her.

“Oh, what rot!” Gilbert snapped irritably. “Why don’t you make a sensible remark once in a while? What do I care whether he has the same name or not—or looks like me, either?” His expression at the moment was particularly sour.

“Gilbert!” pleaded his mother, reprovingly. “How can you talk so? And to your sister, too?”

“Well, I don’t want to do anything in connection with this young man if it’s going to cause any hard feelings here,” went on Griffiths senior. “All I know is that his father was never very practical and I doubt if Clyde has ever had a real chance.” (His son winced at this friendly and familiar use of his cousin’s first name.) “My only idea in bringing him on here was to give him a start. I haven’t the faintest idea whether he would make good or not. He might and again he might not. If he didn’t—” He threw up one hand as much as to say, “If he doesn’t, we will have to toss him aside, of course.”

“Well, I think that’s very kind of you, father,” observed Mrs. Griffiths, pleasantly and diplomatically. “I hope he proves satisfactory.”

“And there’s another thing,” added Griffiths wisely and sententiously. “I don’t expect this young man, so long as he is in my employ and just because he’s a nephew of mine, to be treated differently to any other employee in the factory. He’s coming here to work—not play. And while he is here, trying, I don’t expect any of you to pay him any social attention—not the slightest. He’s not the sort of boy anyhow, that would want to put himself on us—at least he didn’t impress me that way, and he wouldn’t be coming down here with any notion that he was to be placed on an equal footing with any of us. That would be silly. Later on, if he proves that he is really worth while, able to take care of himself, knows his place and keeps it, and any of you wanted to show him any little attention, well, then it will be time enough to see, but not before then.”

By then, the maid, Amanda, assistant to Mrs. Truesdale, was taking away the dinner plates and preparing to serve the dessert. But as Mr. Griffiths rarely ate dessert, and usually chose this period, unless company was present, to look after certain stock and banking matters which he kept in a small desk in the library, he now pushed back his chair, arose, excusing himself to his family, and walked into the library adjoining. The others remained.

“I would like to see what he’s like, wouldn’t you?” Myra asked her mother.

“Yes. And I do hope he measures up to all of your father’s expectations. He will not feel right if he doesn’t.”

“I can’t get this,” observed Gilbert, “bringing people on now when we can hardly take care of those we have. And besides, imagine what the bunch around here will say if they find out that our cousin was only a bell-hop before coming here!”

“Oh, well, they won’t have to know that, will they?” said Myra.

“Oh, won’t they? Well, what’s to prevent him from speaking about it—unless we tell him not to—or some one coming along who has seen him there.” His eyes snapped viciously. “At any rate, I hope he doesn’t. It certainly wouldn’t do us any good around here.”

And Bella added, “I hope he’s not dull as Uncle Allen’s two boys. They’re the most uninteresting boys I ever did see.”

“Bella,” cautioned her mother once more.