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"The beginning of knowledge is the discovery of something we do not understand."
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His father's answer was a blow he could not understand. At times he thought his father imagined he could get work to do in America without any trouble, and was minded to let him try it and cure himself of his radicalism by hard, cold, disenchanting experience. That seemed the most plausible theory, yet he could not content himself with it. A theory that pleased him better was, that this cablegram would be followed by another, of a gentler sort, requiring him to come home. Should he write and strike his flag, and ask for a ticket home? Oh, no, that he couldn't ever do. At least, not yet. That cablegram would come, it certainly would. So he went from one telegraph office to another every day for nearly a week, and asked if there was a cablegram for Howard Tracy. No, there wasn't any. So they answered him at first. Later, they said it before he had a chance to ask. Later still they merely shook their heads impatiently as soon as he came in sight. After that he was ashamed to go any more.
He was down in the lowest depths of despair, now; for the harder Barrow tried to find work for him the more hopeless the possibilities seemed to grow. At last he said to Barrow:
"Look here. I want to make a confession. I have got down, now, to where I am not only willing to acknowledge to myself that I am a shabby creature and full of false pride, but am willing to acknowledge it to you. Well, I've been allowing you to wear yourself out hunting for work for me when there's been a chance open to me all the time. Forgive my pride--what was left of it. It is all gone, now, and I've come to confess that if those ghastly artists want another confederate, I'm their man--for at last I am dead to shame."
"No? Really, can you paint?"
"Not as badly as they. No, I don't claim that, for I am not a genius; in fact, I am a very indifferent amateur, a slouchy dabster, a mere artistic sarcasm; but drunk or asleep I can beat those buccaneers."
"Shake! I want to shout! Oh, I tell you, I am immensely delighted and relieved. Oh, just to work--that is life! No matter what the work is-- that's of no consequence. Just work itself is bliss when a man's been starving for it. I've been there! Come right along; we'll hunt the old boys up. Don't you feel good? I tell you I do."
The freebooters were not at home. But their "works" were, displayed in profusion all about the little ratty studio. Cannon to the right of them, cannon to the left of them, cannon in front--it was Balaclava come again.
"Here's the uncontented hackman, Tracy. Buckle to--deepen the sea-green to turf, turn the ship into a hearse. Let the boys have a taste of your quality."
The artists arrived just as the last touch was put on. They stood transfixed with admiration.
"My souls but she's a stunner, that hearse! The hackman will just go all to pieces when he sees that won't he Andy?"
"Oh, it is sphlennid, sphlennid! Herr Tracy, why haf you not said you vas a so sublime aartist? Lob' Gott, of you had lif'd in Paris you would be a Pree de Rome, dot's votes de matter!"
The arrangements were soon made. Tracy was taken into full and equal partnership, and he went straight to work, with dash and energy, to reconstructing gems of art whose accessories had failed to satisfy. Under his hand, on that and succeeding days, artillery disappeared and the emblems of peace and commerce took its place--cats, hacks, sausages, tugs, fire engines, pianos, guitars, rocks, gardens, flower-pots, landscapes--whatever was wanted, he flung it in; and the more out of place and absurd the required object was, the more joy he got out of fabricating it. The pirates were delighted, the customers applauded, the sex began to flock in, great was the prosperity of the firm. Tracy was obliged to confess to himself that there was something about work,--even such grotesque and humble work as this--which most pleasantly satisfied a something in his nature which had never been satisfied before, and also gave him a strange new dignity in his own private view of himself.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
The Unqualified Member from Cherokee Strip was in a state of deep dejection. For a good while, now, he had been leading a sort of life which was calculated to kill; for it had consisted in regularly alternating days of brilliant hope and black disappointment. The brilliant hopes were created by the magician Sellers, and they always promised that now he had got the trick, sure, and would effectively influence that materialized cowboy to call at the Towers before night. The black disappointments consisted in the persistent and monotonous failure of these prophecies.
At the date which this history has now reached, Sellers was appalled to find that the usual remedy was inoperative, and that Hawkins's low spirits refused absolutely to lift. Something must be done, he reflected; it was heart-breaking, this woe, this smileless misery, this dull despair that looked out from his poor friend's face. Yes, he must be cheered up. He mused a while, then he saw his way. He said in his most conspicuously casual vein:
"Er--uh--by the way, Hawkins, we are feeling disappointed about this thing--the way the materializee is acting, I mean--we are disappointed; you concede that?"
"Concede it? Why, yes, if you like the term."
"Very well; so far, so good. Now for the basis of the feeling. It is not that your heart, your affections are concerned; that is to say, it is not that you want the materializee Itself. You concede that?"
"Yes, I concede that, too--cordially."
"Very well, again; we are making progress. To sum up: The feeling, it is conceded, is not engendered by the mere conduct of the materializee; it is conceded that it does not arise from any pang which the personality of the materializee could assuage. Now then," said the earl, with the light of triumph in his eye, "the inexorable logic of the situation narrows us down to this: our feeling has its source in the money-loss involved. Come--isn't that so?"
"Goodness knows I concede that, with all my heart."
"Very well. When you've found out the source of a disease, you've also found out what remedy is required--just as in this case. In this case money is required. And only money."
The old, old seduction was in that airy, confident tone and those significant words--usually called pregnant words in books. The old answering signs of faith and hope showed up in Hawkins's countenance, and he said:
"Only money? Do you mean that you know a way to--"
"Washington, have you the impression that I have no resources but those I allow the public and my intimate friends to know about?"
"Is it likely, do you think, that a man moved by nature and taught by experience to keep his affairs to himself and a cautious and reluctant tongue in his head, wouldn't be thoughtful enough to keep a few resources in reserve for a rainy day, when he's got as many as I have to select from?"
"Oh, you make me feel so much better already, Colonel!"
"Have you ever been in my laboratory?"
"That's it. You see you didn't even know that I had one. Come along. I've got a little trick there that I want to show you. I've kept it perfectly quiet, not fifty people know anything about it. But that's my way, always been my way. Wait till you're ready, that's the idea; and when you're ready, zzip!--let her go!"
"Well, Colonel, I've never seen a man that I've had such unbounded confidence in as you. When you say a thing right out, I always feel as if that ends it; as if that is evidence, and proof, and everything else."
The old earl was profoundly pleased and touched.
"I'm glad you believe in me, Washington; not everybody is so just."
"I always have believed in you; and I always shall as long as I live."
"Thank you, my boy. You shan't repent it. And you can't." Arrived in the "laboratory," the earl continued, "Now, cast your eye around this room--what do you see? Apparently a junk-shop; apparently a hospital connected with a patent office--in reality, the mines of Golconda in disguise! Look at that thing there. Now what would you take that thing to be?"
"I don't believe I could ever imagine."
"Of course you couldn't. It's my grand adaptation of the phonograph to the marine service. You store up profanity in it for use at sea. You know that sailors don't fly around worth a cent unless you swear at them--so the mate that can do the best job of swearing is the most valuable man. In great emergencies his talent saves the ship. But a ship is a large thing, and he can't be everywhere at once; so there have been times when one mate has lost a ship which could have been saved if they had had a hundred. Prodigious storms, you know. Well, a ship can't afford a hundred mates; but she can afford a hundred Cursing Phonographs, and distribute them all over the vessel--and there, you see, she's armed at every point. Imagine a big storm, and a hundred of my machines all cursing away at once--splendid spectacle, splendid!--you couldn't hear yourself think. Ship goes through that storm perfectly serene--she's just as safe as she'd be on shore."
"It's a wonderful idea. How do you prepare the thing?"
"Load it--simply load it."
"Why you just stand over it and swear into it."
"That loads it, does it?"
"Yes--because every word it collars, it keeps--keeps it forever. Never wears out. Any time you turn the crank, out it'll come. In times of great peril, you can reverse it, and it'll swear backwards. That makes a sailor hump himself!"
"O, I see. Who loads them?--the mate?"
"Yes, if he chooses. Or I'll furnish them already loaded. I can hire an expert for $75 a month who will load a hundred and fifty phonographs in 150 hours, and do it easy. And an expert can furnish a stronger article, of course, than the mere average uncultivated mate could. Then you see, all the ships of the world will buy them ready loaded--for I shall have them loaded in any language a customer wants. Hawkins, it will work the grandest moral reform of the 19th century. Five years from now, all the swearing will be done by machinery--you won't ever hear a profane word come from human lips on a ship. Millions of dollars have been spent by the churches, in the effort to abolish profanity in the commercial marine. Think of it--my name will live forever in the affections of good men as the man, who, solitary and alone, accomplished this noble and elevating reform."
"O, it is grand and beneficent and beautiful. How did you ever come to think of it? You have a wonderful mind. How did you say you loaded the machine?"
"O, it's no trouble--perfectly simple. If you want to load it up loud and strong, you stand right over it and shout. But if you leave it open and all set, it'll eavesdrop, so to speak--that is to say, it will load itself up with any sounds that are made within six feet of it. Now I'll show you how it works. I had an expert come and load this one up yesterday. Hello, it's been left open--it's too bad--still I reckon it hasn't had much chance to collect irrelevant stuff. All you do is to press this button in the floor--so."
The phonograph began to sing in a plaintive voice:
There is a boarding-house, far far away, Where they have ham and eggs, 3 times a day.
"Hang it, that ain't it. Somebody's been singing around here."
The plaintive song began again, mingled with a low, gradually rising wail of cats slowly warming up toward a fight;
O, how the boarders yell, When they hear that dinner bell They give that landlord--
(momentary outburst of terrific catfight which drowns out one word.)
Three times a day.
(Renewal of furious catfight for a moment. The plaintive voice on a high fierce key, "Scat, you devils"--and a racket as of flying missiles.)
"Well, never mind--let it go. I've got some sailor-profanity down in there somewhere, if I could get to it. But it isn't any matter; you see how the machine works."
Hawkins responded with enthusiasm:
"O, it works admirably! I know there's a hundred fortunes in it."
"And mind, the Hawkins family get their share, Washington."
"O, thanks, thanks; you are just as generous as ever. Ah, it's the grandest invention of the age!"
"Ah, well; we live in wonderful times. The elements are crowded full of beneficent forces--always have been--and ours is the first generation to turn them to account and make them work for us. Why Hawkins, everything is useful--nothing ought ever to be wasted. Now look at sewer gas, for instance. Sewer gas has always been wasted, heretofore; nobody tried to save up sewer-gas--you can't name me a man. Ain't that so? you know perfectly well it's so."
"Yes it is so--but I never--er--I don't quite see why a body--"
"Should want to save it up? Well, I'll tell you. Do you see this little invention here?--it's a decomposer--I call it a decomposer. I give you my word of honor that if you show me a house that produces a given quantity of sewer-gas in a day, I'll engage to set up my decomposer there and make that house produce a hundred times that quantity of sewer-gas in less than half an hour."
"Dear me, but why should you want to?"
"Want to? Listen, and you'll see. My boy, for illuminating purposes and economy combined, there's nothing in the world that begins with sewer-gas. And really, it don't cost a cent. You put in a good inferior article of plumbing,--such as you find everywhere--and add my decomposer, and there you are. Just use the ordinary gas pipes--and there your expense ends. Think of it. Why, Major, in five years from now you won't see a house lighted with anything but sewer-gas. Every physician I talk to, recommends it; and every plumber."
"But isn't it dangerous?"
"O, yes, more or less, but everything is--coal gas, candles, electricity --there isn't anything that ain't."
"It lights up well, does it?"
"Have you given it a good trial?"
"Well, no, not a first rate one. Polly's prejudiced, and she won't let me put it in here; but I'm playing my cards to get it adopted in the President's house, and then it'll go--don't you doubt it. I shall not need this one for the present, Washington; you may take it down to some boarding-house and give it a trial if you like."
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