An American Tragedy Chapter 6

The room which Clyde secured this same day with the aid of Mrs. Braley, was in Thorpe Street, a thoroughfare enormously removed in quality if not in distance from that in which his uncle resided. Indeed the difference was sufficient to decidedly qualify his mounting notions of himself as one who, after all, was connected with him. The commonplace brown or gray or tan colored houses, rather smoked or decayed, which fronted it—the leafless and winter harried trees which in spite of smoke and dust seemed to give promise of the newer life so near at hand—the leaves and flowers of May. Yet as he walked into it with Mrs. Braley, many drab and commonplace figures of men and girls, and elderly spinsters resembling Mrs. Braley in kind, were making their way home from the several factories beyond the river. And at the door Mrs. Braley and himself were received by a none-too-polished woman in a clean gingham apron over a dark brown dress, who led the way to a second floor room, not too small or uncomfortably furnished—which she assured him he could have for four dollars without board or seven and one-half dollars with—a proposition which, seeing that he was advised by Mrs. Braley that this was somewhat better than he would get in most places for the same amount, he decided to take. And here, after thanking Mrs. Braley, he decided to remain—later sitting down to dinner with a small group of mill-town store and factory employees, such as partially he had been accustomed to in Paulina Street in Chicago, before moving to the better atmosphere of the Union League. And after dinner he made his way out into the principal thoroughfares of Lycurgus, only to observe such a crowd of nondescript mill-workers as, judging these streets by day, he would not have fancied swarmed here by night—girls and boys, men and women of various nationalities, and types—Americans, Poles, Hungarians, French, English—and for the most part—if not entirely touched with a peculiar something—ignorance or thickness of mind or body, or with a certain lack of taste and alertness or daring, which seemed to mark them one and all as of the basement world which he had seen only this afternoon. Yet in some streets and stores, particularly those nearer Wykeagy Avenue, a better type of girl and young man who might have been and no doubt were of the various office groups of the different companies over the river—neat and active.

And Clyde, walking to and fro, from eight until ten, when as though by pre-arrangement, the crowd in the more congested streets seemed suddenly to fade away, leaving them quite vacant. And throughout this time contrasting it all with Chicago and Kansas City. (What would Ratterer think if he could see him now—his uncle’s great house and factory?) And perhaps because of its smallness, liking it—the Lycurgus Hotel, neat and bright and with a brisk local life seeming to center about it. And the post-office and a handsomely spired church, together with an old and interesting graveyard, cheek by jowl with an automobile salesroom. And a new moving picture theater just around the corner in a side street. And various boys and girls, men and women, walking here and there, some of them flirting as Clyde could see. And with a suggestion somehow hovering over it all of hope and zest and youth—the hope and zest and youth that is at the bottom of all the constructive energy of the world everywhere. And finally returning to his room in Thorpe Street with the conclusion that he did like the place and would like to stay here. That beautiful Wykeagy Avenue! His uncle’s great factory! The many pretty and eager girls he had seen hurrying to and fro!


In the meantime, in so far as Gilbert Griffiths was concerned, and in the absence of his father, who was in New York at the time (a fact which Clyde did not know and of which Gilbert did not trouble to inform him) he had conveyed to his mother and sisters that he had met Clyde, and if he were not the dullest, certainly he was not the most interesting person in the world, either. Encountering Myra, as he first entered at five-thirty, the same day that Clyde had appeared, he troubled to observe: “Well, that Chicago cousin of ours blew in to-day.”

“Yes!” commented Myra. “What’s he like?” The fact that her father had described Clyde as gentlemanly and intelligent had interested her, although knowing Lycurgus and the nature of the mill life here and its opportunities for those who worked in factories such as her father owned, she had wondered why Clyde had bothered to come.

“Well, I can’t see that he’s so much,” replied Gilbert. “He’s fairly intelligent and not bad-looking, but he admits that he’s never had any business training of any kind. He’s like all those young fellows who work for hotels. He thinks clothes are the whole thing, I guess. He had on a light brown suit and a brown tie and hat to match and brown shoes. His tie was too bright and he had on one of those bright pink striped shirts like they used to wear three or four years ago. Besides his clothes aren’t cut right. I didn’t want to say anything because he’s just come on, and we don’t know whether he’ll hold out or not. But if he does, and he’s going to pose around as a relative of ours, he’d better tone down, or I’d advise the governor to have a few words with him. Outside of that I guess he’ll do well enough in one of the departments after a while, as foreman or something. He might even be made into a salesman later on, I suppose. But what he sees in all that to make it worth while to come here is more than I can guess. As a matter of fact, I don’t think the governor made it clear to him just how few the chances are here for any one who isn’t really a wizard or something.”

He stood with his back to the large open fireplace.

“Oh, well, you know what Mother was saying the other day about his father. She thinks Daddy feels that he’s never had a chance in some way. He’ll probably do something for him whether he wants to keep him in the mill or not. She told me that she thought that Dad felt that his father hadn’t been treated just right by their father.”

Myra paused, and Gilbert, who had had this same hint from his mother before now, chose to ignore the implication of it.

“Oh, well, it’s not my funeral,” he went on. “If the governor wants to keep him on here whether he’s fitted for anything special or not, that’s his look-out. Only he’s the one that’s always talking about efficiency in every department and cutting and keeping out dead timber.”

Meeting his mother and Bella later, he volunteered the same news and much the same ideas. Mrs. Griffiths sighed; for after all, in a place like Lycurgus and established as they were, any one related to them and having their name ought to be most circumspect and have careful manners and taste and judgment. It was not wise for her husband to bring on any one who was not all of that and more.

On the other hand, Bella was by no means satisfied with the accuracy of her brother’s picture of Clyde. She did not know Clyde, but she did know Gilbert, and as she knew he could decide very swiftly that this or that person was lacking in almost every way, when, as a matter of fact, they might not be at all as she saw it.

“Oh, well,” she finally observed, after hearing Gilbert comment on more of Clyde’s peculiarities at dinner, “if Daddy wants him, I presume he’ll keep him, or do something with him eventually.” At which Gilbert winced internally for this was a direct slap at his assumed authority in the mill under his father, which authority he was eager to make more and more effective in every direction, as his younger sister well knew.

In the meanwhile on the following morning, Clyde, returning to the mill, found that the name, or appearance, or both perhaps—his resemblance to Mr. Gilbert Griffiths—was of some peculiar advantage to him which he could not quite sufficiently estimate at present. For on reaching number one entrance, the doorman on guard there looked as though startled.

“Oh, you’re Mr. Clyde Griffiths?” he queried. “You’re goin’ to work under Mr. Kemerer? Yes, I know. Well, that man there will have your key,” and he pointed to a stodgy, stuffy old man whom later Clyde came to know as “Old Jeff,” the time-clock guard, who, at a stand farther along this same hall, furnished and reclaimed all keys between seven-thirty and seven-forty.

When Clyde approached him and said: “My name’s Clyde Griffiths and I’m to work downstairs with Mr. Kemerer,” he too started and then said: “Sure, that’s right. Yes, sir. Here you are, Mr. Griffiths. Mr. Kemerer spoke to me about you yesterday. Number seventy-one is to be yours. I’m giving you Mr. Duveny’s old key.” When Clyde had gone down the stairs into the shrinking department, he turned to the doorman who had drawn near and exclaimed: “Don’t it beat all how much that fellow looks like Mr. Gilbert Griffiths? Why, he’s almost his spittin’ image. What is he, do you suppose, a brother or a cousin, or what?”

“Don’t ask me,” replied the doorman. “I never saw him before. But he’s certainly related to the family all right. When I seen him first, I thought it was Mr. Gilbert. I was just about to tip my hat to him when I saw it wasn’t.”

And in the shrinking room when he entered, as on the day before, he found Kemerer as respectful and evasive as ever. For, like Whiggam before him, Kemerer had not as yet been able to decide what Clyde’s true position with this company was likely to be. For, as Whiggam had informed Kemerer the day before, Mr. Gilbert had said no least thing which tended to make Mr. Whiggam believe that things were to be made especially easy for him, nor yet hard, either. On the contrary, Mr. Gilbert had said: “He’s to be treated like all the other employees as to time and work. No different.” Yet in introducing Clyde he had said: “This is my cousin, and he’s going to try to learn this business,” which would indicate that as time went on Clyde was to be transferred from department to department until he had surveyed the entire manufacturing end of the business.

Whiggam, for this reason, after Clyde had gone, whispered to Kemerer as well as to several others, that Clyde might readily prove to be some one who was a protégé of the chief—and therefore they determined to “watch their step,” at least until they knew what his standing here was to be. And Clyde, noticing this, was quite set up by it, for he could not help but feel that this in itself, and apart from whatever his cousin Gilbert might either think or wish to do, might easily presage some favor on the part of his uncle that might lead to some good for him. So when Kemerer proceeded to explain to him that he was not to think that the work was so very hard or that there was so very much to do for the present, Clyde took it with a slight air of condescension. And in consequence Kemerer was all the more respectful.

“Just hang up your hat and coat over there in one of those lockers,” he proceeded mildly and ingratiatingly even. “Then you can take one of those crate trucks back there and go up to the next floor and bring down some webs. They’ll show you where to get them.”

The days that followed were diverting and yet troublesome enough to Clyde, who to begin with was puzzled and disturbed at times by the peculiar social and workaday worlds and position in which he found himself. For one thing, those by whom now he found himself immediately surrounded at the factory were not such individuals as he would ordinarily select for companions—far below bell-boys or drivers or clerks anywhere. They were, one and all, as he could now clearly see, meaty or stodgy mentally and physically. They wore such clothes as only the most common laborers would wear—such clothes as are usually worn by those who count their personal appearance among the least of their troubles—their work and their heavy material existence being all. In addition, not knowing just what Clyde was, or what his coming might mean to their separate and individual positions, they were inclined to be dubious and suspicious.

After a week or two, however, coming to understand that Clyde was a nephew of the president, a cousin of the secretary of the company, and hence not likely to remain here long in any menial capacity, they grew more friendly, but inclined in the face of the sense of subserviency which this inspired in them, to become jealous and suspicious of him in another way. For, after all, Clyde was not one of them, and under such circumstances could not be. He might smile and be civil enough—yet he would always be in touch with those who were above them, would he not—or so they thought. He was, as they saw it, part of the rich and superior class and every poor man knew what that meant. The poor must stand together everywhere.

For his part, however, and sitting about for the first few days in this particular room eating his lunch, he wondered how these men could interest themselves in what were to him such dull and uninteresting items—the quality of the cloth that was coming down in the webs—some minute flaws in the matter of weight or weave—the last twenty webs hadn’t looked so closely shrunk as the preceding sixteen; or the Cranston Wickwire Company was not carrying as many men as it had the month before—or the Anthony Woodenware Company had posted a notice that the Saturday half-holiday would not begin before June first this year as opposed to the middle of May last year. They all appeared to be lost in the humdrum and routine of their work.

In consequence his mind went back to happier scenes. He wished at times he were back in Chicago or Kansas City. He though of Ratterer, Hegglund, Higby, Louise Ratterer, Larry Doyle, Mr. Squires, Hortense—all of the young and thoughtless company of which he had been a part, and wondered what they were doing. What had become of Hortense? She had got that fur coat after all—probably from that cigar clerk and then had gone away with him after she had protested so much feeling for him—the little beast. After she had gotten all that money out of him. The mere thought of her and all that she might have meant to him if things had not turned as they had, made him a little sick at times. To whom was she being nice now? How had she found things since leaving Kansas City? And what would she think if she saw him here now or knew of his present high connections? Gee! That would cool her a little. But she would not think much of his present position. That was true. But she might respect him more if she could see his uncle and his cousin and this factory and their big house. It would be like her then to try to be nice to him. Well, he would show her, if he ever ran into her again—snub her, of course, as no doubt he very well could by then.