An American Tragedy Chapter 4

However, as he now fancied, it was because he lacked an education that he had done so poorly. Because of those various moves from city to city in his early youth, he had never been permitted to collect such a sum of practical training in any field as would permit him, so he thought, to aspire to the great worlds of which these men appeared to be a part. Yet his soul now yearned for this. The people who lived in fine houses, who stopped at great hotels, and had men like Mr. Squires, and the manager of the bell-hops here, to wait on them and arrange for their comfort. And he was still a bell-hop. And close to twenty-one. At times it made him very sad. He wished and wished that he could get into some work where he could rise and be somebody—not always remain a bell-hop, as at times he feared he might.

About the time that he reached this conclusion in regard to himself and was meditating on some way to improve and safeguard his future, his uncle, Samuel Griffiths, arrived in Chicago. And having connections here which made a card to this club an obvious civility, he came directly to it and for several days was about the place conferring with individuals who came to see him, or hurrying to and fro to meet people and visit concerns whom he deemed it important to see.

And it was not an hour after he arrived before Ratterer, who had charge of the pegboard at the door by day and who had but a moment before finished posting the name of this uncle on the board, signaled to Clyde, who came over.

“Didn’t you say you had an uncle or something by the name of Griffiths in the collar business somewhere in New York State?”

“Sure,” replied Clyde. “Samuel Griffiths. He has a big collar factory in Lycurgus. That’s his ad you see in all the papers and that’s his fire sign over there on Michigan Avenue.”

“Would you know him if you saw him?”

“No,” replied Clyde. “I never saw him in all my life.”

“I’ll bet anything it’s the same fellow,” commented Ratterer, consulting a small registry slip that had been handed him. “Looka here—Samuel Griffiths, Lycurgus, N. Y. That’s probably the same guy, eh?”

“Surest thing you know,” added Clyde, very much interested and even excited, for this was the identical uncle about whom he had been thinking so long.

“He just went through here a few minutes ago,” went on Ratterer. “Devoy took his bags up to K. Swell-looking man, too. You better keep your eye open and take a look at him when he comes down again. Maybe it’s your uncle. He’s only medium tall and kinda thin. Wears a small gray mustache and a pearl gray hat. Good-lookin’. I’ll point him out to you. If it is your uncle you better shine up to him. Maybe he’ll do somepin’ for you—give you a collar or two,” he added, laughing.

Clyde laughed too as though he very much appreciated this joke, although in reality he was flustered. His uncle Samuel! And in this club! Well, then this was his opportunity to introduce himself to his uncle. He had intended writing him before ever he secured this place, but now he was here in this club and might speak to him if he chose.

But hold! What would his uncle think of him, supposing he chose to introduce himself? For he was a bell-boy again and acting in that capacity in this club. What, for instance, might be his uncle’s attitude toward boys who worked as bell-boys, particularly at his—Clyde’s—years. For he was over twenty now, and getting to be pretty old for a bell-boy, that is, if one ever intended to be anything else. A man of his wealth and high position might look on bell-hopping as menial, particularly bell-boys who chanced to be related to him. He might not wish to have anything to do with him—might not even wish him to address him in any way. It was in this state that he remained for fully twenty-four hours after he knew that his uncle had arrived at this club.

The following afternoon, however, after he had seen him at least half a dozen times and had been able to formulate the most agreeable impressions of him, since his uncle appeared to be so very quick, alert, incisive—so very different from his father in every way, and so rich and respected by every one here—he began to wonder, to fear even at times, whether he was going to let this remarkable opportunity slip. For after all, his uncle did not look to him to be at all unkindly—quite the reverse—very pleasant. And when, at the suggestion of Ratterer, he had gone to his uncle’s room to secure a letter which was to be sent by special messenger, his uncle had scarcely looked at him, but instead had handed him the letter and half a dollar. “See that a boy takes that right away and keep the money for yourself,” he had remarked.

Clyde’s excitement was so great at the moment that he wondered that his uncle did not guess that he was his nephew. But plainly he did not. And he went away a little crest-fallen.

Later some half dozen letters for his uncle having been put in the key-box, Ratterer called Clyde’s attention to them. “If you want to run in on him again, here’s your chance. Take those up to him. He’s in his room, I think.” And Clyde, after some hesitation, had finally taken the letters and gone to his uncle’s suite once more.

His uncle was writing at the time and merely called: “Come!” Then Clyde, entering and smiling rather enigmatically, observed: “Here’s some mail for you, Mr. Griffiths.”

“Thank you very much, my son,” replied his uncle and proceeded to finger his vest pocket for change, but Clyde, seizing this opportunity, exclaimed: “Oh, no, I don’t want anything for that.” And then before his uncle could say anything more, although he proceeded to hold out some silver to him, he added: “I believe I’m related to you, Mr. Griffiths. You’re Mr. Samuel Griffiths of the Griffiths Collar Company of Lycurgus, aren’t you?”

“Yes, I have a little something to do with it, I believe. Who are you?” returned his uncle, looking at him sharply.

“My name’s Clyde Griffiths. My father, Asa Griffiths, is your brother, I believe.”

At the mention of this particular brother, who, to the knowledge of all the members of this family, was distinctly not a success materially, the face of Samuel Griffiths clouded the least trifle. For the mention of Asa brought rather unpleasingly before him the stocky and decidedly not well-groomed figure of his younger brother, whom he had not seen in so many years. His most recent distinct picture of him was as a young man of about Clyde’s age about his father’s house near Bertwick, Vermont. But how different! Clyde’s father was then short, fat and poorly knit mentally as well as physically—oleaginous and a bit mushy, as it were. His chin was not firm, his eyes a pale watery blue, and his hair frizzled. Whereas this son of his was neat, alert, good-looking and seemingly well-mannered and intelligent, as most bell-hops were inclined to be as he noted. And he liked him.

However, Samuel Griffiths, who along with his elder brother Allen had inherited the bulk of his father’s moderate property, and this because of Joseph Griffiths’ prejudice against his youngest son, had always felt that perhaps an injustice had been done Asa. For Asa, not having proved very practical or intelligent, his father had first attempted to drive and then later ignore him, and finally had turned him out at about Clyde’s age, and had afterward left the bulk of his property, some thirty thousand dollars, to these two elder brothers, share and share alike—willing Asa but a petty thousand.

It was this thought in connection with this younger brother that now caused him to stare at Clyde rather curiously. For Clyde, as he could see, was in no way like the younger brother who had been harried from his father’s home so many years before. Rather he was more like his own son, Gilbert, whom, as he now saw he resembled. Also in spite of all of Clyde’s fears he was obviously impressed by the fact that he should have any kind of place in this interesting club. For to Samuel Griffiths, who was more than less confined to the limited activities and environment of Lycurgus, the character and standing of this particular club was to be respected. And those young men who served the guests of such an institution as this, were, in the main, possessed of efficient and unobtrusive manners. Therefore to see Clyde standing before him in his neat gray and black uniform and with the air of one whose social manners at least were excellent, caused him to think favorably of him.

“You don’t tell me!” he exclaimed interestedly. “So you’re Asa’s son. I do declare! Well, now, this is a surprise. You see I haven’t seen or heard from your father in at least—well, say, twenty-five or six years, anyhow. The last time I did hear from him he was living in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I think, or here. He isn’t here now, I presume.”

“Oh, no, sir,” replied Clyde, who was glad to be able to say this. “The family live in Denver. I’m here all alone.”

“Your father and mother are living, I presume.”

“Yes, sir. They’re both alive.”

“Still connected with religious work, is he—your father?”

“Well, yes, sir,” answered Clyde, a little dubiously, for he was still convinced that the form of religious work his father essayed was of all forms the poorest and most inconsequential socially. “Only the church he has now,” he went on, “has a lodging house connected with it. About forty rooms, I believe. He and my mother run that and the mission too.”

“Oh, I see.”

He was so anxious to make a better impression on his uncle than the situation seemed to warrant that he was quite willing to exaggerate a little.

“Well, I’m glad they’re doing so well,” continued Samuel Griffiths, rather impressed with the trim and vigorous appearance of Clyde. “You like this kind of work, I suppose?”

“Well, not exactly. No, Mr. Griffiths, I don’t,” replied Clyde quickly, alive at once to the possibilities of this query. “It pays well enough. But I don’t like the way you have to make the money you get here. It isn’t my idea of a salary at all. But I got in this because I didn’t have a chance to study any particular work or get in with some company where there was a real chance to work up and make something of myself. My mother wanted me to write you once and ask whether there was any chance in your company for me to begin and work up, but I was afraid maybe that you might not like that exactly, and so I never did.”

He paused, smiling, and yet with an inquiring look in his eye.

His uncle looked solemnly at him for a moment, pleased by his looks and his general manner of approach in this instance, and then replied: “Well, that is very interesting. You should have written, if you wanted to—” Then, as was his custom in all matters, he cautiously paused. Clyde noted that he was hesitating to encourage him.

“I don’t suppose there is anything in your company that you would let me do?” he ventured boldly, after a moment.

Samuel Griffiths merely stared at him thoughtfully. He liked and he did not like this direct request. However, Clyde appeared at least a very adaptable person for the purpose. He seemed bright and ambitious—so much like his own son, and he might readily fit into some department as head or assistant under his son, once he had acquired a knowledge of the various manufacturing processes. At any rate he might let him try it. There could be no real harm in that. Besides, there was his younger brother, to whom, perhaps, both he and his older brother Allen owed some form of obligation, if not exactly restitution.

“Well,” he said, after a moment, “that is something I would have to think over a little. I wouldn’t be able to say, off-hand, whether there is or not. We wouldn’t be able to pay you as much as you make here to begin with,” he warned.

“Oh, that’s all right,” exclaimed Clyde, who was far more fascinated by the thought of connecting himself with his uncle than anything else. “I wouldn’t expect very much until I was able to earn it, of course.”

“Besides, it might be that you would find that you didn’t like the collar business once you got into it, or we might find we didn’t like you. Not every one is suited to it by a long way.”

“Well, all you’d have to do then would be to discharge me,” assured Clyde. “I’ve always thought I would be, though, ever since I heard of you and your big company.”

This last remark pleased Samuel Griffiths. Plainly he and his achievements had stood in the nature of an ideal to this youth.

“Very well,” he said. “I won’t be able to give any more time to this now. But I’ll be here for a day or two more, anyhow, and I’ll think it over. It may be that I will be able to do something for you. I can’t say now.” And he turned quite abruptly to his letters.

And Clyde, feeling that he had made as good an impression as could be expected under the circumstances and that something might come of it, thanked him profusely and beat a hasty retreat.

The next day, having thought it over and deciding that Clyde, because of his briskness and intelligence, was likely to prove as useful as another, Samuel Griffiths, after due deliberation as to the situation at home, informed Clyde that in case any small opening in the home factory occurred he would be glad to notify him. But he would not even go so far as to guarantee him that an opening would immediately be forthcoming. He must wait.

Accordingly Clyde was left to speculate as to how soon, if ever, a place in his uncle’s factory would be made for him.

In the meanwhile Samuel Griffiths had returned to Lycurgus. And after a later conference with his son, he decided that Clyde might be inducted into the very bottom of the business at least—the basement of the Griffiths plant, where the shrinking of all fabrics used in connection with the manufacture of collars was brought about, and where beginners in this industry who really desired to acquire the technique of it were placed, for it was his idea that Clyde by degrees was to be taught the business from top to bottom. And since he must support himself in some form not absolutely incompatible with the standing of the Griffiths family here in Lycurgus, it was decided to pay him the munificent sum of fifteen dollars to begin.

For while Samuel Griffiths, as well as his son Gilbert, realized that this was small pay (not for an ordinary apprentice but for Clyde, since he was a relative) yet so inclined were both toward the practical rather than the charitable in connection with all those who worked for them, that the nearer the beginner in this factory was to the clear mark of necessity and compulsion, the better. Neither could tolerate the socialistic theory relative to capitalistic exploitation. As both saw it, there had to be higher and higher social orders to which the lower social classes could aspire. One had to have castes. One was foolishly interfering with and disrupting necessary and unavoidable social standards when one tried to unduly favor any one—even a relative. It was necessary when dealing with the classes and intelligences below one, commercially or financially, to handle them according to the standards to which they were accustomed. And the best of these standards were those which held these lower individuals to a clear realization of how difficult it was to come by money—to an understanding of how very necessary it was for all who were engaged in what both considered the only really important constructive work of the world—that of material manufacture—to understand how very essential it was to be drilled, and that sharply and systematically, in all the details and processes which comprise that constructive work. And so to become inured to a narrow and abstemious life in so doing. It was good for their characters. It informed and strengthened the minds and spirits of those who were destined to rise. And those who were not should be kept right where they were.

Accordingly, about a week after that, the nature of Clyde’s work having been finally decided upon, a letter was dispatched to him to Chicago by Samuel Griffiths himself in which he set forth that if he chose he might present himself any time now within the next few weeks. But he must give due notice in writing of at least ten days in advance of his appearance in order that he might be properly arranged for. And upon his arrival he was to seek out Mr. Gilbert Griffiths at the office of the mill, who would look after him.

And upon receipt of this Clyde was very much thrilled and at once wrote to his mother that he had actually secured a place with his uncle and was going to Lycurgus. Also that he was going to try to achieve a real success now. Whereupon she wrote him a long letter, urging him to be, oh, so careful of his conduct and associates. Bad companionship was at the root of nearly all of the errors and failures that befell an ambitious youth such as he. If he would only avoid evil-minded or foolish and headstrong boys and girls, all would be well. It was so easy for a young man of his looks and character to be led astray by an evil woman. He had seen what had befallen him in Kansas City. But now he was still young and he was going to work for a man who was very rich and who could do so much for him, if he would. And he was to write her frequently as to the outcome of his efforts here.

And so, after having notified his uncle as he had requested, Clyde finally took his departure for Lycurgus. But on his arrival there, since his original notification from his uncle had called for no special hour at which to call at the factory, he did not go at once, but instead sought out the important hotel of Lycurgus, the Lycurgus House.

Then finding himself with ample time on his hands, and very curious about the character of this city in which he was to work, and his uncle’s position in it, he set forth to look it over, his thought being that once he reported and began work he might not soon have the time again. He now ambled out into Central Avenue, the very heart of Lycurgus, which in this section was crossed by several business streets, which together with Central Avenue for a few blocks on either side, appeared to constitute the business center—all there was to the life and gayety of Lycurgus.