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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Metropolis - Chapter 3
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The Metropolis - Chapter 3 Post by :rucanunes Category :Long Stories Author :Upton Sinclair Date :May 2012 Read :976

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The Metropolis - Chapter 3


Oliver was not rooming with them; he had his own quarters at the club, which he did not wish to leave. But the next morning, about twenty minutes after the hour he had named, he was at the door, and Montague went down.

Oliver's car was an imported French racer. It had only two seats, open in front, with a rumble behind for the mechanic. It was long and low and rakish, a most wicked-looking object; whenever it stopped on the street a crowd gathered to stare at it. Oliver was clad in a black bearskin coat, covering his feet, and with cap and gloves to match; he wore goggles, pushed up over his forehead. A similar costume lay ready in his brother's seat.

The suits of clothing had come, and were borne in his grips by his valet. "We can't carry them with us," said Oliver. "He'll have to take them down by train." And while his brother was buttoning up the coat, he gave the address; then Montague clambered in, and after a quick glance over his shoulder, Oliver pressed a lever and threw over the steering-wheel, and they whirled about and sped down the street.

Sometimes, at home in Mississippi, one would meet automobiling parties, generally to the damage of one's harness and temper. But until the day before, when he had stepped off the ferry, Montague had never ridden in a motor-car. Riding in this one was like travelling in a dream--it slid along without a sound, or the slightest trace of vibration; it shot forward, it darted to right or to left, it slowed up, it stopped, as if of its own will--the driver seemed to do nothing. Such things as car tracks had no effect upon it at all, and serious defects in the pavement caused only the faintest swelling motion; it was only when it leaped ahead like a living thing that one felt the power of it, by the pressure upon his back.

They went at what seemed to Montague a breakneck pace through the city streets, dodging among trucks .and carriages, grazing cars, whirling round corners, taking the wildest of chances. Oliver seemed always to know what the other fellow would do; but the thought that he might do something different kept his companion's heart pounding in a painful way. Once the latter cried out as a man leapt for his life; Oliver laughed, and said, without turning his head, "You'll get used to it by and by."

They went down Fourth Avenue and turned into the Bowery. Elevated trains pounded overhead, and a maze of gin-shops, dime-museums, cheap lodging-houses, and clothing-stores sped past them. Once or twice Oliver's hawk-like glance detected a blue uniform ahead, and then they slowed down to a decorous pace, and the other got a chance to observe the miserable population of the neighbourhood. It was a cold November day, and an "out of work" time, and wretched outcast men walked with shoulders drawn forward and hands in their pockets.

"Where in the world are we going?" Montague asked.

"To Long Island," said the other. "It's a beastly ride--this part of it--but it's the only way. Some day we'll have an overhead speedway of our own, and we won't have to drive through this mess."

They turned off at the approach to the Williamsburg Bridge, and found the street closed for repairs. They had to make a detour of a block, and they turned with a vicious sweep and plunged into the very heart of the tenement district. Narrow, filthy streets, with huge, canon-like blocks of buildings, covered with rusty iron fire-escapes and decorated with soap-boxes and pails and laundry and babies; narrow stoops, crowded with playing children; grocery-shops, clothing-shops, saloons; and a maze of placards and signs in English and German and Yiddish. Through the throngs Oliver drove, his brows knitted with impatience and his horn honking angrily. "Take it easy,"--protested Montague; but the other answered, "Bah!" Children screamed and darted out of the way, and men and women started back, scowling and muttering; when a blockade of wagons and push-carts forced them to stop, the children gathered about and jeered, and a group of hoodlums loafing by a saloon flung ribaldry at them; but Oliver never turned his eyes from the road ahead.

And at last they were out on the bridger. "Slow vehicles keep to the right," ran the sign, and so there was a lane for them to the left. They sped up the slope, the cold air beating upon them like a hurricane. Far below lay the river, with tugs and ferry-boats ploughing the wind-beaten grey water, and a city spread out on either bank--a wilderness of roofs, with chimneys sticking up and white jets of steam spouting everywhere. Then they sped down the farther slope, and into Brooklyn.

There was an asphalted avenue, lined with little residences. There was block upon block of them, mile after mile of them--Montague had never, seen so many houses in his life before, and nearly all poured out of the same mould.

Many other automobiles were speeding out by this avenue, and they raced with one another. The one which was passed the most frequently got the dust and smell; and so the universal rule was that when you were behind you watched for a clear track, and then put on speed, and went to the front; but then just when you had struck a comfortable pace, there was a whirring and a puffing at your left, and your rival came stealing past you. If you were ugly, you put on speed yourself, and forced him to fall back, or to run the risk of trouble with vehicles coming the other way. For Oliver there seemed to be but one rule,--pass everything.

They came to the great Ocean Driveway. Here were many automobiles, nearly all going one way, and nearly all racing. There were two which stuck to Oliver and would not be left behind--one, two, three --one, two, three--they passed and repassed. Their dust was blinding, and the continual odour was sickening; and so Oliver set his lips tight, and the little dial on the indicator began to creep ahead, and they whirled away down the drive. "Catch us this time!" he muttered.

A few seconds later Oliver gave a sudden exclamation, as a policeman, concealed behind a bush at the roadside, sprang out and hailed them. The policeman had a motor-cycle, and Oliver shouted to the mechanic, "Pull the cord!" His brother turned, alarmed and perplexed, and saw the man reach down to the floor of the car. He saw the policeman leap upon the cycle and start to follow. Then he lost sight of him in the clouds of dust.

For perhaps five minutes they tore on, tense and silent, at a pace that Montague had never equalled in an express train. Vehicles coming the other way would leap into sight, charging straight at them, it seemed, and shooting past a hand's breadth away. Montague had just about made up his mind that one such ride would last him for a lifetime, when he noticed that they were slacking up. "You can let go the cord," said Oliver. "He'll never catch us now."

"What is the cord?" asked the other.

"It's tied to the tag with our number on, in back. It swings it up so it can't be seen."

They were turning off into a country road, and Montague sank back and laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks. "Is that a common trick?" he asked.

"Quite," said the other. "Mrs. Robbie has a trough of mud in their garage, and her driver sprinkles the tag every time before she goes out. You have to do something, you know, or you'd be taken up all the time."

"Have you ever been arrested?"

"I've only been in court once," said Oliver. "I've been stopped a dozen times."

"What did they do the other times--warn you?"

"Warn me?" laughed Oliver. "What they did was to get in with me and ride a block or two, out of sight of the crowd; and then I slipped them a ten-dollar bill and they got out."

To which Montague responded, "Oh, I see!"

They turned into a broad macadamized road, and here were more autos, and more dust, and more racing. Now and then they crossed a trolley or a railroad track, and here was always a warning sign; but Oliver must have had some occult way of knowing that the track was clear, for he never seemed to slow up. Now and then they came to villages, and did reduce speed; but from the pace at which they went through, the villagers could not have suspected it.

And then came another adventure. The road was in repair, and was very bad, and they were picking their way, when suddenly a young man who had been walking on a side path stepped out before them, and drew a red handkerchief from his pocket, and faced them, waving it. Oliver muttered an oath.

"What's the matter?" cried his brother.

"We're arrested!" he exclaimed.

"What!" gasped the other. "Why, we were not going at all."

"I know," said Oliver; "but they've got us all the same."

He must have made up his mind at one glance that the case was hopeless, for he made no attempt to put on speed, but let the young man step aboard as they reached him.

"What is it?" Oliver demanded.

"I have been sent out by the Automobile Association," said the stranger, "to warn you that they have a trap set in the next town. So watch out."

And Oliver gave a gasp, and said, "Oh! Thank you!" The young man stepped off, and they went ahead, and he lay back in his seat and shook with laughter.

"Is that common?" his brother asked, between laughs.

"It happened to me once before," said Oliver. "But I'd forgotten it completely."

They proceeded very slowly; and when they came to the outskirts of the village they went at a funereal pace, while the car throbbed in protest. In front of a country store they saw a group of loungers watching them, and Oliver said, "There's the first part of the trap. They have a telephone, and somewhere beyond is a man with another telephone, and beyond that a man to stretch a rope across the road."

"What would they do with you?" asked the other.

"Haul you up before a justice of the peace, and fine you anywhere from fifty to two hundred and fifty dollars. It's regular highway robbery--there are some places that boast of never levying taxes; they get all their money out of us!"

Oliver pulled out his watch. "We're going to be late to lunch, thanks to these delays," he said. He added that they were to meet at the "Hawk's Nest," which he said was an "automobile joint."

Outside of the town they "hit it up" again; and half an hour later they came to a huge sign, "To the Hawk's Nest," and turned off. They ran up a hill, and came suddenly out of a pine-forest into view of a hostelry, perched upon the edge of a bluff overlooking the Sound. There was a broad yard in front, in which automobiles wheeled and sputtered, and a long shed that was lined with them.

Half a dozen attendants ran to meet them as they drew up at the steps. They all know Oliver, and two fell to brushing his coat, and one got his cap, while the mechanic took the car to the shed. Oliver had a tip for each of them; one of the things that Montague observed was that in New York you had to carry a pocketful of change, and scatter it about wherever you went. They tipped the man who carried their coats and the boy who opened the door. In the washrooms they tipped the boys who filled the basins for them and those who gave them a second brushing.

The piazzas of the inn were crowded with automobiling parties, in all sorts of strange costumes. It seemed to Montague that most of them were flashy people--the men had red faces and the women had loud voices; he saw one in a sky-blue coat with bright scarlet facing. It occurred to him that if these women had not worn such large hats, they would not have needed quite such a supply of the bright-coloured veiling which they wound over the hats and tied under their chins, or left to float about in the breeze.

The dining-room seemed to have been built in sections, rambling about on the summit of the cliff. The side of it facing the water was all glass, and could be taken down. The ceiling was a maze of streamers and Japanese lanterns, and here and there were orange-trees and palms and artificial streams and fountains. Every table was crowded, it seemed; one was half-deafened by the clatter of plates, the voices and laughter, and the uproar of a negro orchestra of banjos, mandolins, and guitars. Negro waiters flew here and there, and a huge, stout head-waiter, who was pirouetting and strutting, suddenly espied Oliver, and made for him with smiles of welcome.

"Yes, sir--just come in, sir," he said, and led the way down the room, to where, in a corner, a table had been set for sixteen or eighteen people. There was a shout, "Here's Ollie!"--and a pounding of glasses and a chorus of welcome--"Hello, Ollie! You're late, Ollie! What's the matter--car broke down?"

Of the party, about half were men and half women. Montague braced himself for the painful ordeal of being introduced to sixteen people in succession, but this was considerately spared him. He shook hands with Robbie Walling, a tall and rather hollow-chested young man, with slight yellow moustaches; and with Mrs. Robbie, who bade him welcome, and presented him with the freedom of the company.

Then he found himself seated between two young ladies, with a waiter leaning over him to take his order for the drinks. He said, a little hesitatingly, that he would like some whisky, as he was about frozen, upon which the girl on his right, remarked, "You'd better try a champagne cocktail--you'll get your results quicker." She added, to the waiter, "Bring a couple of them, and be quick about it."

"You had a cold ride, no doubt, in that low car," she went on, to Montague. "What made you late?"

"We had some delays," he answered. "Once we thought we were arrested."

"Arrested!" she exclaimed; and others took up the word, crying, "Oh, Ollie! tell us about it!"

Oliver told the tale, and meantime his brother had a chance to look about him. All of the party were young--he judged that he was the oldest person there. They were not of the flashily dressed sort, but no one would have had to look twice to know that there was money in the crowd. They had had their first round of drinks, and started in to enjoy themselves. They were all intimates, calling each other by their first names. Montague noticed that these names always ended in "ie,"--there was Robbie and Freddie and Auggie and Clarrie and Bertie and Chappie; if their names could not be made to end properly, they had nicknames instead.

"Ollie" told how they had distanced the policeman; and Clarrie Mason (one of the younger sons of the once mighty railroad king) told of a similar feat which his car had performed. And then the young lady who sat beside him told how a fat Irish woman had skipped out of their way as they rounded a corner, and stood and cursed them from the vantage-point of the sidewalk.

The waiter came with the liquor, and Montague thanked his neighbour, Miss Price. Anabel Price was her name, and they called her "Billy"; she was a tall and splendidly formed creature, and he learned in due time that she was a famous athlete. She must have divined that he would feel a little lost in this crowd of intimates, and set to work to make him feel at home--an attempt in which she was not altogether successful.

They were bound for a shooting-lodge, and so she asked him if he were fond of shooting. He replied that he was; in answer to a further question he said that he had hunted chiefly deer and wild turkey. "Ah, then you are a real hunter!" said Miss Price. "I'm afraid you'll scorn our way."

"What do you do?" he inquired.

"Wait and you'll see," replied she; and added, casually, "When you get to be pally with us, you'll conclude we don't furnish."

Montague's jaw dropped just a little. He recovered himself, however, and said that he presumed so, or that he trusted not; afterward, when he had made inquiries and found out what he should have said, he had completely forgotten what he HAD said.--Down in a hotel in Natchez there was an old head-waiter, to whom Montague had once appealed to seat him next to a friend. At the next meal, learning that the request had been granted, he said to the old man, "I'm afraid you have shown me partiality"; to which the reply came, "I always tries to show it as much as I kin." Montague always thought of this whenever he recalled his first encounter with "Billy" Price.

The young lady on the other side of him now remarked that Robbie was ordering another "topsy-turvy lunch." He inquired what sort of a lunch that was; she told him that Robbie called it a "digestion exercise." That was the only remark that Miss de Millo addressed to him during the meal (Miss Gladys de Mille, the banker's daughter, known as "Baby" to her intimates). She was a stout and round-faced girl, who devoted herself strictly to the business of lunching; and Montague noticed at the end that she was breathing rather hard, and that her big round eyes seemed bigger than ever.

Conversation was general about the table, but it was not easy conversation to follow. It consisted mostly of what is known as "joshing," and involved acquaintance with intimate details of personalities and past events. Also, there was a great deal of slang used, which kept a stranger's wits on the jump. However, Montague concluded that all his deficiencies were made up for by his brother, whose sallies were the cause of the loudest laughter. Just now he seemed to the other more like the Oliver he had known of old--for Montague had already noted a change in him. At home there had never been any end to his gaiety and fun, and it was hard to get him to take anything seriously; but now he kept all his jokes for company, and when he was alone he was in deadly earnest. Apparently he was working hard over his pleasures.

Montague could understand how this was possible. Some one, for instance, had worked hard over the ordering of the lunch--to secure the maximum of explosive effect. It began with ice-cream, moulded in fancy shapes and then buried in white of egg and baked brown. Then there was a turtle soup, thick and green and greasy; and then--horror of horrors--a great steaming plum-pudding. It was served in a strange phenomenon of a platter, with six long, silver legs; and the waiter set it in front of Robbie Walling and lifted the cover with a sweeping gesture--and then removed it and served it himself. Montague had about made up his mind that this was the end, and begun to fill up on bread-and-butter, when there appeared cold asparagus, served in individual silver holders resembling andirons. Then--appetite now being sufficiently whetted--there came quail, in piping hot little casseroles--; and then half a grape-fruit set in a block of ice and filled with wine; and then little squab ducklings, bursting fat, and an artichoke; and then a cafe parfait; and then--as if to crown the audacity--huge thick slices of roast beef! Montague had given up long ago--he could keep no track of the deluge of food which poured forth. And between all the courses there were wines of precious brands, tumbled helter-skelter,--sherry and port, champagne and claret and liqueur. Montague watched poor "Baby" de Mille out of the corner of his eye, and pitied her; for it was evident that she could not resist the impulse to eat whatever was put before her, and she was visibly suffering. He wondered whether he might not manage to divert her by conversation, but he lacked the courage to make the attempt.

The meal was over at four o'clock. By that time most of the other parties were far on their way to New York, and the inn was deserted. They possessed themselves of their belongings, and one by one their cars whirled away toward "Black Forest."

Montague had been told that it was a "shooting-lodge." He had a vision of some kind of a rustic shack, and wondered dimly how so many people would be stowed away. When they turned off the main road, and his brother remarked, "Here we are," he was surprised to see a rather large building of granite, with an archway spanning the road. He was still more surprised when they whizzed through and went on.

"Where are we going?" he asked.

"To 'Black Forest,'" said Oliver.

"And what was that we passed?"

"That was the gate-keeper's lodge," was Oliver's reply.

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CHAPTER IVThey ran for about three miles upon a broad macadamized avenue, laid straight as an arrow's flight through the forest; and then the sound of the sea came to them, and before them was a mighty granite pile, looming grim in the twilight, with a draw-bridge and moat, and four great castellated towers. "Black Forest" was built in imitation of a famous old fortress in Provence--only the fortress had forty small rooms, and its modern prototype had seventy large ones, and now every window was blazing with lights. A man does not let himself be caught twice in such a

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CHAPTER IIAllan Momtague's father had died about five years before. A couple of years later his younger brother, Oliver, had announced his intention of seeking a career in New York. He had no profession, and no definite plans; but his father's friends were men of influence and wealth, and the doors were open to him. So he had turned his share of the estate into cash and departed.Oliver was a gay and pleasure-loving boy, with all the material of a prodigal son in him; his brother had more than half expected to see him come back in a year or two