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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Metropolis - Chapter 8
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The Metropolis - Chapter 8 Post by :ValerieC Category :Long Stories Author :Upton Sinclair Date :May 2012 Read :1000

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The Metropolis - Chapter 8


The Horse Show was held in Madison Square Garden, a building occupying a whole city block. It seemed to Montague that during the four days he attended he was introduced to enough people to fill it to the doors. Each one of the exquisite ladies and gentlemen extended to him a delicately gloved hand, and remarked what perfect weather they were having, and asked him how long he had been in New York, and what he thought of it. Then they would talk about the horses, and about the people who were present, and what they had on.

He saw little of his brother, who was squiring the Walling ladies most of the time; and Alice, too, was generally separated from him and taken care of by others. Yet he was never alone--there was always some young matron ready to lead him to her carriage and whisk him away to lunch or dinner.

Many times he wondered why people should be so kind to him, a stranger, and one who could do nothing for them in return. Mrs. Billy Alden undertook to explain it to him, one afternoon, as he sat in her box. There had to be some people to enjoy, it appeared, or there would be no fun in the game. "Everything is new and strange to you," said she, "and you're delicious and refreshing; you make these women think perhaps they oughtn't to be so bored after all! Here's a woman who's bought a great painting; she's told that it's great, but she doesn't understand it herself--all she knows is that it cost her a hundred thousand dollars. And now you come along, and to you it's really a painting--and don't you see how gratifying that is to her?"

"Oliver is always telling me it's bad form to admire," said the man, laughing.

"Yes?" said the other. "Well, don't you let that brother of yours spoil you. There are more than enough of blase people in town--you be yourself."

He appreciated the compliment, but added, "I'm afraid that when the novelty is worn off, people will be tired of me."

"You'll find your place," said Mrs. Alden--"the people you like and who like you." And she went on to explain that here he was being passed about among a number of very different "sets," with different people and different tastes. Society had become split up in that manner of late--each set being jealous and contemptuous of all the other sets. Because of the fact that they overlapped a little at the edges, it was possible for him to meet here a great many people who never met each other, and were even unaware of each other's existence.

And Mrs. Alden went on to set forth the difference between these "sets"; they ran from the most exclusive down to the most "yellow," where they shaded off into the disreputable rich--of whom, it seemed, there were hordes in the city. These included "sporting" and theatrical and political people, some of whom were very rich indeed; and these sets in turn shaded off into the criminals and the demi-monde--who might also easily be rich. "Some day," said Mrs. Alden "you should get my brother to tell you about all these people. He's been in politics, you know, and he has a racing-stable."

And Mrs. Alden told him about the subtle little differences in the conventions of these various sets of Society. There was the matter of women smoking, for instance. All women smoked, nowadays; but some would do it only in their own apartments, with their women friends; and some would retire to an out-of-the-way corner to do it; while others would smoke in their own dining-rooms, or wherever the men smoked. All agreed however, in never smoking "in public"--that is, where they would be seen by people not of their own set. Such, at any rate, had always been the rule, though a few daring ones were beginning to defy even that.

Such rules were very rigid, but they were purely conventional, they had nothing to do with right or wrong: a fact which Mrs. Alden set forth with her usual incisiveness. A woman, married or unmarried, might travel with a man all over Europe, and every one might know that she did it, but it would make no difference, so long as she did not do it in America. There was one young matron whom Montague would meet, a raging beauty, who regularly got drunk at dinner parties, and had to be escorted to her carriage by the butler. She moved in the most exclusive circles, and every one treated it as a joke. Unpleasant things like this did not hurt a person unless they got "out"--that is, unless they became a scandal in the courts or the newspapers. Mrs. Alden herself had a cousin (whom she cordially hated) who had gotten a divorce from her husband and married her lover forthwith and had for this been ostracized by Society. Once when she came to some semi-public affair, fifty women had risen at once and left the room! She might have lived with her lover, both before and after the divorce, and every one might have known it, and no one would have cared; but the convenances declared that she should not marry him until a year had elapsed after the divorce.

One thing to which Mrs. Alden could testify, as a result of a lifetime's observation, was the rapid rate at which these conventions, even the most essential of them, were giving way, and being replaced by a general "do as you please." Anyone could see that the power of women like Mrs. Devon, who represented the old regime, and were dignified and austere and exclusive, was yielding before the onslaught of new people, who were bizarre and fantastic and promiscuous and loud. And the younger sets cared no more about anyone--nor about anything under heaven, save to have a good time in their own harum-scarum ways. In the old days one always received a neatly-written or engraved invitation to dinner, worded in impersonal and formal style; but the other day Mrs. Alden had found a message which had been taken from the telephone: "Please come to dinner, but don't come unless you can bring a man, or we'll be thirteen at the table."

And along with this went a perfectly incredible increase in luxury and extravagance. "You are surprised at what you see here to-day," said she--"but take my word for it, if you were to come back five years later, you'd find all our present standards antiquated, and our present pace-makers sent to the rear. You'd find new hotels and theatres opening, and food and clothing and furniture that cost twice as much as they cost now. Not so long ago a private car was a luxury; now it's as much a necessity as an opera-box or a private ball-room, and people who really count have private trains. I can remember when our girls wore pretty muslin gowns in summer, and sent them to wash; now they wear what they call lingerie gowns, dimity en princesse, with silk embroidery and real lace and ribbons, that cost a thousand dollars apiece and won't wash. Years ago when I gave a dinner, I invited a dozen friends, and my own chef cooked it and my own servants served it. Now I have to pay my steward ten thousand a year, and nothing that I have is good enough. I have to ask forty or fifty people, and I call in a caterer, and he brings everything of his own, and my servants go off and get drunk. You used to get a good dinner for ten dollars a plate, and fifteen was something special; but now you hear of dinners that cost a thousand a plate! And it's not enough to have beautiful flowers on the table--you have to have 'scenery'; there must be a rural landscape for a background, and goldfish in the finger-bowls, and five thousand dollars' worth of Florida orchids on the table, and floral favours of roses that cost a hundred and fifty dollars a dozen. I attended a dinner at the Waldorf last year that had cost fifty thousand dollars; and when I ask those people to see me, I have to give them as good as I got. The other day I paid a thousand dollars for a tablecloth!"

"Why do you do it?" asked Montague, abruptly.

"God knows," said the other; "I don't. I sometimes wonder myself. I guess it's because I've nothing else to do. It's like the story they tell about my brother--he was losing money in a gambling-place in Saratoga, and some one said to him, 'Davy, why do you go there--don't you know the game is crooked?' 'Of course it's crooked,' said he, 'but, damn it, it's the only game in town!'"

"The pressure is more than anyone can stand," said Mrs. Alden, after a moment's thought. "It's like trying to swim against a current. You have to float, and do what every one expects you to do--your children and your friends and your servants and your tradespeople. All the world is in a conspiracy against you."

"It's appalling to me," said the man.

"Yes," said the other, "and there's never any end to it. You think you know it all, but you find you really know very little. Just think of the number of people there are trying to go the pace! They say there are seven thousand millionaires in this country, but I say there are twenty thousand in New York alone--or if they don't own a million, they're spending the income of it, which amounts to the same thing. You can figure that a man who pays ten thousand a year for rent is paying fifty thousand to live; and there's Fifth Avenue--two miles of it, if you count the uptown and downtown parts; and there's Madison Avenue, and half a dozen houses adjoining on every side street; and then there are the hotels and apartment houses, to say nothing of the West Side and Riverside Drive. And you meet these mobs of people in the shops and the hotels and the theatres, and they all want to be better dressed than you. I saw a woman here to-day that I never saw in my life before, and I heard her say she'd paid two thousand dollars for a lace handkerchief; and it might have been true, for I've been asked to pay ten thousand for a lace shawl at a bargain. It's a common enough thing to see a woman walking on Fifth Avenue with twenty or thirty thousand dollars' worth of furs on her. Fifty thousand is often paid for a coat of sable, and I know of one that cost two hundred thousand. I know women who have a dozen sets of furs--ermine, chinchilla, black fox, baby lamb, and mink and sable; and I know a man whose chauffeur quit him because he wouldn't buy him a ten-thousand-dollar fur coat! And once people used to pack their furs away and take care of them; but now they wear them about the street, or at the sea-shore, and you can fairly see them fade. Or else their cut goes out of fashion, and so they have to have new ones!"

All that was material for thought. It was all true--there was no question about that. It seemed to be the rule that whenever you questioned a tale of the extravagances of New York, you would hear the next day of something several times more startling. Montague was staggered at the idea of a two-hundred-thousand-dollar fur coat; and yet not long afterward there arrived in the city a titled Englishwoman, who owned a coat worth a million dollars, which hard-headed insurance companies had insured for half a million. It was made of the soft plumage of rare Hawaiian birds, and had taken twenty years to make; each feather was crescent-shaped, and there were wonderful designs in crimson and gold and black. Every day in the casual conversation of your acquaintances you heard of similar incredible things; a tiny antique Persian rug, which could be folded into an overcoat pocket, for ten thousand dollars; a set of five "art fans," each blade painted by a famous artist and costing forty-three thousand dollars; a crystal cup for eighty thousand; an edition de luxe of the works of Dickens for a hundred thousand; a ruby, the size of a pigeon's egg, for three hundred thousand. In some of these great New York palaces there were fountains which cost a hundred dollars a minute to run; and in the harbour there were yachts which cost twenty thousand a month to keep in commission.

And that same day, as it chanced, he learned of a brand-new kind of squandering. He went home to lunch with Mrs. Winnie Duval, and there met Mrs. Caroline Smythe, with whom he had talked at Castle Havens. Mrs. Smythe, whose husband had been a well-known Wall Street plunger, was soft and mushy, and very gushing in manner; and she asked him to come home to dinner with her, adding, "I'll introduce you to my babies."

From what Montague had so far seen, he judged that babies played a very small part in the lives of the women of Society; and so he was interested, and asked, "How many have you?"

"Only two, in town," said Mrs. Smythe. "I've just come up, you see."

"How old are they?" he inquired politely; and when the lady added, "About two years," he asked, "Won't they be in bed by dinner time?"

"Oh my, no!" said Mrs. Smythe. "The dear little lambs wait up for me. I always find them scratching at my chamber door and wagging their little tails."

Then Mrs. Winnie laughed merrily and said, "Why do you fool him?" and went on to inform Montague that Caroline's "babies" were griffons Bruxelloises. Griffons suggested to him vague ideas of dragons and unicorns and gargoyles; but he said nothing more, save to accept the invitation, and that evening he discovered that griffons Bruxelloises were tiny dogs, long-haired, yellow, and fluffy; and that for her two priceless treasures Mrs. Smythe had an expert nurse, to whom she paid a hundred dollars a month, and also a footman, and a special cuisine in which their complicated food was prepared. They had a regular dentist, and a physician, and gold plate to eat from. Mrs. Smythe also owned two long-haired St. Bernards of a very rare breed, and a fierce Great Dane, and a very fat Boston bull pup--the last having been trained to go for an airing all alone in her carriage, with a solemn coachman and footman to drive him.

Montague, deftly keeping the conversation upon the subject of pets, learned that all this was quite common. Many women in Society artificially made themselves barren, because of the inconvenience incidental to pregnancy and motherhood; and instead they lavished their affections upon cats and dogs. Some of these animals had elaborate costumes, rivalling in expensiveness those of their step-mothers. They wore tiny boots, which cost eight dollars a pair--house boots, and street boots lacing up to the knees; they had house-coats, walking-coats, dusters, sweaters, coats lined with ermine, and automobile coats with head and chest-protectors and hoods and goggles--and each coat fitted with a pocket for its tiny handkerchief of fine linen or lace! And they had collars set with rubies and pearls and diamonds--one had a collar that cost ten thousand dollars! Sometimes there would be a coat to match every gown of the owner. There were dog nurseries and resting-rooms, in which they might be left temporarily; and manicure parlours for cats, with a physician in charge. When these pets died, there was an expensive cemetery in Brooklyn especially for their interment; and they would be duly embalmed and buried in plush-lined casket, and would have costly marble monuments. When one of Mrs. Smythe's best loved pugs had fallen ill of congestion of the liver, she had had tan-bark put upon the street in front of her house; and when in spite of this the dog died, she had sent out cards edged in black, inviting her friends to a "memorial service." Also she showed Montague a number of books with very costly bindings, in which were demonstrated the unity, simplicity, and immortality of the souls of cats and dogs.

Apparently the sentimental Mrs. Smythe was willing to talk about these pets all through dinner; and so was her aunt, a thin and angular spinster, who sat on Montague's other side. And he was willing to listen--he wanted to know it all. There were umbrellas for dogs, to be fastened over their backs in wet weather; there were manicure and toilet sets, and silver medicine-chests, and jewel-studded whips. There were sets of engraved visiting-cards; there were wheel-chairs in which invalid cats and dogs might be taken for an airing. There were shows for cats and dogs, with pedigrees and prizes, and nearly as great crowds as the Horse Show; Mrs. Smythe's St. Bernards were worth seven thousand dollars apiece, and there were bull-dogs worth twice that. There was a woman who had come all the way from the Pacific coast to have a specialist perform an operation upon the throat of her Yorkshire terrier! There was another who had built for her dog a tiny Queen Anne cottage, with rooms papered and carpeted and hung with lace curtains! Once a young man of fashion had come to the Waldorf and registered himself and "Miss Elsie Cochrane"; and when the clerk made the usual inquiries as to the relationship of the young lady, it transpired that Miss Elsie was a dog, arrayed in a prim little tea-gown, and requiring a room to herself. And then there was a tale of a cat which had inherited a life-pension from a forty-thousand-dollar estate; it had a two-floor apartment and several attendants, and sat at table and ate shrimps and Italian chestnuts, and had a velvet couch for naps, and a fur-lined basket for sleeping at night!

Four days of horses were enough for Montague, and on Friday morning, when Siegfried Harvey called him up and asked if he and Alice would come out to "The Roost" for the week-end, he accepted gladly. Charlie Carter was going, and volunteered to take them in his car; and so again they crossed the Williamsburg Bridge--"the Jewish passover," as Charlie called it--and went out on Long Island.

Montague was very anxious to get a "line" on Charlie Carter; for he had not been prepared for the startling promptness with which this young man had fallen at Alice's feet. It was so obvious, that everybody was smiling over it--he was with her every minute that he could arrange it, and he turned up at every place to which she was invited. Both Mrs. Winnie and Oliver were quite evidently complacent, but Montague was by no means the same. Charlie had struck him as a good-natured but rather weak youth, inclined to melancholy; he was never without a cigarette in his fingers, and there had been signs that he was not quite proof against the pitfalls which Society set about him in the shape of decanters and wine-cups: though in a world where the fragrance of spirits was never out of one's nostrils, and where people drank with such perplexing frequency, it was hard to know where to draw a line.

"You won't find my place like Havens's," Siegfried Harvey had said. "It is real country." Montague found it the most attractive of all the homes he had seen so far. It was a big rambling house, all in rustic style, with great hewn logs outside, and rafters within, and a winding oak stairway, and any number of dens and cosy corners, and broad window-seats with mountains of pillows. Everything here was built for comfort--there was a billiard-room and a smoking-room, and a real library with readable bogles and great chairs in which one sank out of sight. There were log fires blazing everywhere, and pictures on the walls that told of sport, and no end of guns and antlers and trophies of all sorts. But you were not to suppose that all this elaborate rusticity would be any excuse for the absence of attendants in livery, and a chef who boasted the cordon bleu, and a dinner-table resplendent with crystal and silver and orchids and ferns. After all, though the host called it a "small" place, he had invited twenty guests, and he had a hunter in his stables for each one of them.

But the most wonderful thing about "The Roost" was the fact that, at a touch of a button, all the walls of the lower rooms vanished into the second story, and there was one huge, log-lighted room, with violins tuning up and calling to one's feet. They set a fast pace here--the dancing lasted until three o'clock, and at dawn again they were dressed and mounted, and following the pink-coated grooms and the hounds across the frost-covered fields.

Montague was half prepared for a tame fox, but this was pared him. There was a real game, it seemed; and soon the pack gave tongue, and away went the hunt. It was the wildest ride that Montague ever had taken--over ditches and streams and innumerable rail-fences, and through thick coverts and densely populated barnyards; but he was in at the death, and Alice was only a few yards behind, to the immense delight of the company. This seemed to Montague the first real life he had met, and he thought to himself that these full-blooded and high-spirited men and women made a "set" into which he would have been glad to fit--save only that he had to earn his living, and they did not.

In the afternoon there was more riding, and walks in the crisp November air; and indoors, bridge and rackets and ping-pong, and a fast and furious game of roulette, with the host as banker. "Do I look much like a professional gambler?" he asked of Montague; and when the other replied that he had not yet met any New York gamblers, young Harvey went on to tell how he had gone to buy this apparatus (the sale of which was forbidden by law) and had been asked by the dealer how "strong" he wanted it!

Then in the evening there was more dancing, and on Sunday another hunt. That night a gambling mood seemed to seize the company--there were two bridge tables, and in another room the most reckless game of poker that Montague had ever sat in. It broke up at three in the morning, and one of the company wrote him a cheque for sixty-five hundred dollars; but even that could not entirely smooth his conscience, nor reconcile him to the fever that was in his blood.

Most important to him, however, was the fact that during the game he at last got to know Charlie Carter. Charlie did not play, for the reason that he was drunk, and one of the company told him so and refused to play with him; which left poor Charlie nothing to do but get drunker. This he did, and came and hung over the shoulders of the players, and told the company all about himself.

Montague was prepared to allow for the "wild oats" of a youngster with unlimited money, but never in his life had he heard or dreamed of anything like this boy. For half an hour he wandered about the table, and poured out a steady stream of obscenities; his mind was like a swamp, in which dwelt loathsome and hideous serpents which came to the surface at night and showed their flat heads and their slimy coils. In the heavens above or the earth beneath there was nothing sacred to him; there was nothing too revolting to be spewed out. And the company accepted the performance as an old story--the men would laugh, and push the boy away, and say, "Oh, Charlie, go to the devil!"

After it was all over, Montague took one of the company aside and asked him what it meant; to which the man replied: "Good God! Do you mean that nobody has told you about Charlie Carter?"

It appeared that Charlie was one of the "gilded youths" of the Tenderloin, whose exploits had been celebrated in the papers. And after the attendants had bundled him off to bed, several of the men gathered about the fire and sipped hot punch, and rehearsed for Montague's benefit some of his leading exploits.

Charlie was only twenty-three, it seemed; and when he was ten his father had died and left eight or ten millions in trust for him, in the care of a poor, foolish aunt whom he twisted about his ringer. At the age of twelve he was a cigarette fiend, and had the run of the wine-cellar. When he went to a rich private school he took whole trunks full of cigarettes with him, and finally ran away to Europe, to acquire the learning of the brothels of Paris. And then he came home and struck the Tenderloin; and at three o'clock one morning he walked through a plate-glass window, and so the newspapers took him up. That had suddenly opened a new vista in life for Charlie--he became a devotee of fame; everywhere he went he was followed by newspaper reporters and a staring crowd. He carried wads as big round as his arm, and gave away hundred-dollar tips to bootblacks, and lost forty thousand dollars in a game of poker. He gave a fete to the demi-monde, with a jewelled Christmas tree in midsummer, and fifty thousand dollars' worth of splendour. But the greatest stroke of all was the announcement that he was going to build a submarine yacht and fill it with chorus-girls!--Now Charlie had sunk out of public attention, and his friends would not see him for days; he would be lying in a "sporting house" literally wallowing in champagne.

And all this, Montague realized, his brother must have known! And he had said not a word about it--because of the eight or ten millions which Charlie would have when he was twenty-five!

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The Metropolis - Chapter 9 The Metropolis - Chapter 9

The Metropolis - Chapter 9
CHAPTER IXIn the morning they went home with others of the party by train. They could not wait for Charlie and his automobile, because Monday was the opening night of the Opera, and no one could miss that. Here Society would appear in its most gorgeous raiment, and, there would be a show of jewellery such as could be seen nowhere else in the world.General Prentice and his wife had opened their town-house, and had invited them to dinner and to share their box; and so at about half-past nine o'clock Montague found himself seated in a great balcony of the

The Metropolis - Chapter 7 The Metropolis - Chapter 7

The Metropolis - Chapter 7
CHAPTER VIIIt was quite futile to attempt to induce anyone to talk about serious matters just now--for the coming week all Society belonged to the horse. The parties which went to church on Sunday morning talked about horses on the way, and the crowds that gathered in front of the church door to watch them descend from their automobiles, and to get "points" on their conspicuous costumes--these would read about horses all afternoon in the Sunday papers, and about the gowns which the women would wear at the show.Some of the party went up on Sunday evening; Montague went with the