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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Trail Of The Hawk - A Comedy Of The Seriousness Of Life - Part 3. The Adventure Of Love - Chapter 24
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The Trail Of The Hawk - A Comedy Of The Seriousness Of Life - Part 3. The Adventure Of Love - Chapter 24 Post by :stskelton Category :Long Stories Author :Sinclair Lewis Date :May 2012 Read :793

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The Trail Of The Hawk - A Comedy Of The Seriousness Of Life - Part 3. The Adventure Of Love - Chapter 24

PART III. THE ADVENTURE OF LOVE. CHAPTER XXIV
In October, 1912, a young man came with an enthusiastic letter from the president of the Aero Club to old Stephen VanZile, vice-president and general manager of the VanZile Motor Corporation of New York. The young man was quiet, self-possessed, an expert in regard to motors, used to meeting prominent men. He was immediately set to work at a tentative salary of $2,500 a year, to develop the plans of what he called the "Touricar"--an automobile with all camping accessories, which should enable motorists to travel independent of inns, add the joy of camping to the joy of touring, and--a feature of nearly all inventions--add money to the purse of the inventor.

The young man was Carl Ericson, whom Mr. VanZile had seen fly at New Orleans during the preceding February. Carl had got the idea of the Touricar while wandering by motor-cycle through Scandinavia and Russia.

He was, at this time, twenty-seven years old; not at all remarkable in appearance nor to be considered handsome, but so clean, so well bathed, so well set-up and evenly tanned, that one thought of the swimming, dancing, tennis-playing city men of good summer resorts, an impression enhanced by his sleek corn-silk hair and small, pale mustache. His clothes came from London, his watch-chain was a thin line of platinum and gold, his cigarette-case of silver engraved in inconspicuous bands--a modest and sophisticated cigarette-case, which he had possessed long enough to forget that he had it. He was apparently too much the easy, well-bred, rather inexperienced Yale or Princeton man (not Harvard; there was a tiny twang in his voice, and he sometimes murmured "Gee!") to know much about life or work, as yet, and his smooth, rosy cheeks made it absurdly evident that he had not been away from the college insulation for more than two years.

But when he got to work with draftsman and stenographers, when a curt kindliness filled his voice, he proved to be concentrated, unafraid of responsibility, able to keep many people busy; trained to something besides family tradition and the collegians' naive belief that it matters who wins the Next Game.

His hands would have given away the fact that he had done things. They were large, broad; the knuckles heavy; the palms calloused by something rougher than oar and tennis-racket. The microscopic traces of black grease did not for months quite come out of the cracks in his skin. And two of his well-kept but thick nails had obviously been smashed.

The men of the same rank as himself in the office, captains and first lieutenants of business, said that he "simply ate up work." They fancied, with the eager old-womanishness of office gossip, that he had a "secret sorrow," for, though he was pleasant enough, he kept very much to himself. The cause of his retirement from aviation was the theme of many romantic legends. They did not know precisely what it was he had done in the pre-historic period of a year before, but they treated him with reverence instead of the amused aloofness with which an office usually waits to see whether a new man will prove to be a fool or a "grouch," a clown or a good fellow. The stenographers and filing-girls and telephone-girls followed with yearning eyes the hero's straight back. The girl who discovered, in an old _New York Chronicle_ lining a bureau drawer, an interview with Carl, became very haughty over its possession and lent it only to her best lady friends. The older women, who knew that Carl had had a serious accident, whispered in cloak-room confidences, "Poor fellow, and so brave about it."

Yet all the while Carl's china-blue eyes showed no trace of pain nor sorrow nor that detestable appeal for sympathy called "being brave about his troubles."

* * * * *

There were many thoughtful features which fitted the Touricar for use in camping--extra-sized baggage-box whose triangular shape made the car more nearly streamline, special folding silk tents, folding aluminum cooking-utensils, electric stove run by current from the car, electric-battery light attached to a curtain-rod. But the distinctive feature, the one which Carl could patent, was the means by which a bed was made up inside the car as Pullman seats are turned into berths. The back of the front seat was hinged, and dropped back to horizontal. The upholstery back of the back seat could be taken out and also placed on the horizontal. With blankets spread on the level space thus provided, with the extra-heavy top and side curtains in place, and the electric light switched on, tourists had a refuge cleaner than a country hotel and safer than a tent....

The first Touricar was being built. Carl was circularizing a list of possible purchasers, and corresponding with makers of camping goods.

Because he was not office-broken he did not worry about the risks of the new enterprise. The stupid details of affairs had, for him, a soul--the Adventure of Business.

To be consulted by draftsmen and shop foremen; to feel that if he should not arrive at 8.30 A.M. to the second the most important part of all the world's business would be halted and stenographers loll in expensive idleness; to have the chief, old VanZile, politely anxious as to how things were going; to plan ways of making a million dollars and not have the plans seem fantastic--all these made it interesting to overwork, and hypnotized Carl into a feeling of responsibility which was less spectacular than flying before thousands, but more in accordance with the spirit of the time and place.

Inside the office--busy and reaching for success. Outside the office--frankly bored.

Carl was a dethroned prince. He had been accustomed to a more than royal court of admirers. Now he was a nobody the moment he went twenty feet from his desk. He was forgotten. He did not seek out the many people he had met when he was an aviator and a somebody. He believed, perhaps foolishly, that they liked him only as a personage, not as a person. He sat lonely at dinner, in cheap restaurants with stains on the table-cloths, for he had put much of his capital into the new Touricar Company, mothered by the VanZile Corporation; and aeroplanes, accessories, traveling-expenses, and the like had devoured much of his large earnings at aviation before he had left the game.

In his large, shabby, fairly expensive furnished room on Seventy-fifth Street he spent unwilling evenings, working on Touricar plans, or reading French--French technical motor literature, light novels, Balzac, anything.

He tried to keep in physical form, and, much though the routine and silly gestures of gymnasium exercises bored him, he took them three times a week. He could not explain the reason, but he kept his identity concealed at the gymnasium, giving his name as "O. Ericson."

Even at the Aero Club, where scores knew him by sight, he was a nobody. Aviation, like all pioneer arts, must look to the men who are doing new things or planning new things, not to heroes past. Carl was often alone at lunch at the club. Any group would have welcomed him, but he did not seek them out. For the first time he really saw the interior decorations of the club. In the old days he had been much too busy talking with active comrades to gaze about. But now he stared for five minutes together at the stamped-leather wall-covering of the dining-room. He noted, much too carefully for a happy man, the trophies of the lounging-room. But at one corner he never glanced. For here was a framed picture of the forgotten Hawk Ericson, landing on Governor's Island, winner of the flight from Chicago to New York.... Such a beautiful swoop!...

There is no doubt of the fact that he disliked the successful new aviators, and did so because he was jealous of them. He admitted the fact, but he could not put into his desire to be a good boy one-quarter of the force that inspired his resentment at being a lonely man and a nobody. But, since he knew he was envious, he was careful not to show it, not to inflict it upon others. He was gracious and added a wrinkle between his brows, and said "Gosh!" and "ain't" much less often.

He had few friends these days. Death had taken many; and he was wary of lion-hunters, who in dull seasons condescend to ex-lions and dethroned princes. But he was fond of a couple of Aero Club men, an automobile ex-racer who was a selling-agent for the VanZile Corporation, and Charley Forbes, the bright-eyed, curly-headed, busy, dissipated little reporter who had followed him from Chicago to New York for the _Chronicle_. Occasionally one of the men with whom he had flown--Hank Odell or Walter MacMonnies or Lieutenant Rutledge of the navy--came to town, and Carl felt natural again. As for women, the only girl whom he had known well in years, Istra Nash, the painter, had gone to California to keep house for her father till she should have an excuse to escape to New York or Europe again.

Inside the office--a hustling, optimistic young business man. For the rest of the time--a dethroned prince. Such was Carl Ericson in November, 1912, when a letter from Gertrude Cowles, which had pursued him all over America and Europe, finally caught him:

---- West 157th St.

NEW YORK.

CARL DEAR,--Oh such excitement, we have come to _New York_
to live! Ray has such a good position with a big NY real
estate co. & Mama & I are going to make a home for him
even if it's only just a flat (but it's quite a big one
& looks out on the duckiest old house that must have
been adorning Harlem for heaven knows how long,) & our
house has all modern conveniences, elevator & all.

Think, Carl, I'm going to study dancing at Madame
Vashkowska's school--she was with the Russian ballet
& really is almost as wonderful a dancer as Isadora
Duncan or Pavlova. Perhaps I'll teach all these ducky
new dances to children some day. I'm just terribly
excited to be here, like the silliest gushiest little
girl in the world. And I do hope so much you will be
able to come to NY & honor us with your presence at
dinner, famous aviator--our Carl & we are so _proud_
of you--if you will still remember simple people like
us do come _any time_. Wonder where you will be when
this reaches you.

I read in the papers that your accident isn't serious
but I am worried, oh Carl you must take care of yourself.

Yours as ever,


GERTIE.

P.S. Mama sends her best regards, so does Ray, he has
a black mustache now, we tease him about it dreadfully.

G.

One minute after reading the letter, in his room, Carl was standing on the chaste black-and-white tiles of the highly respectable white-arched hall down-stairs asking Information for the telephone number of ---- West 157th Street, while his landlord, a dry-bearded goat of a physician who had failed in the practise of medicine and was now failing in the practise of rooming-houses, listened from the front of the hall.

Glad to escape from the funereally genteel house, Carl hastily changed his collar and tie and, like the little boy Carl whom Gertie had known, dog-trotted to the subway, which was going to take him Home.
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