Our Mr. Wrenn, by Sinclair Lewis

Chapter 1

Mr. Wrenn is Lonely

The ticket-taker of the Nickelorion Moving–Picture Show is a public personage, who stands out on Fourteenth Street, New York, wearing a gorgeous light-blue coat of numerous brass buttons. He nods to all the patrons, and his nod is the most cordial in town. Mr. Wrenn used to trot down to Fourteenth Street, passing ever so many other shows, just to get that cordial nod, because he had a lonely furnished room for evenings, and for daytime a tedious job that always made his head stuffy.

He stands out in the correspondence of the Souvenir and Art Novelty Company as “Our Mr. Wrenn,” who would be writing you directly and explaining everything most satisfactorily. At thirty-four Mr. Wrenn was the sales-entry clerk of the Souvenir Company. He was always bending over bills and columns of figures at a desk behind the stock-room. He was a meek little bachlor — a person of inconspicuous blue ready-made suits, and a small unsuccessful mustache.

To-day — historians have established the date as April 9, 1910 — there had been some confusing mixed orders from the Wisconsin retailers, and Mr. Wrenn had been “called down” by the office manager, Mr. Mortimer R. Guilfogle. He needed the friendly nod of the Nickelorion ticket-taker. He found Fourteenth Street, after office hours, swept by a dusty wind that whisked the skirts of countless plump Jewish girls, whose V-necked blouses showed soft throats of a warm brown. Under the elevated station he secretly made believe that he was in Paris, for here beautiful Italian boys swayed with trays of violets; a tramp displayed crimson mechanical rabbits, which squeaked, on silvery leading-strings; and a newsstand was heaped with the orange and green and gold of magazine covers.

“Gee!” inarticulated Mr. Wrenn. “Lots of colors. Hope I see foreign stuff like that in the moving pictures.”

He came primly up to the Nickelorion, feeling in his vest pockets for a nickel and peering around the booth at the friendly ticket-taker. But the latter was thinking about buying Johnny’s pants. Should he get them at the Fourteenth Street Store, or Siegel–Cooper’s, or over at Aronson’s, near home? So ruminating, he twiddled his wheel mechanically, and Mr. Wrenn’s pasteboard slip was indifferently received in the plate-glass gullet of the grinder without the taker’s even seeing the clerk’s bow and smile.

Mr. Wrenn trembled into the door of the Nickelorion. He wanted to turn back and rebuke this fellow, but was restrained by shyness. He had liked the man’s “Fine evenin’, sir “— rain or shine — but he wouldn’t stand for being cut. Wasn’t he making nineteen dollars a week, as against the ticket-taker’s ten or twelve? He shook his head with the defiance of a cornered mouse, fussed with his mustache, and regarded the moving pictures gloomily.

They helped him. After a Selig domestic drama came a stirring Vitagraph Western scene, “The Goat of the Rancho,” which depicted with much humor and tumult the revolt of a ranch cook, a Chinaman. Mr. Wrenn was really seeing, not cow-punchers and sage-brush, but himself, defying the office manager’s surliness and revolting against the ticket-man’s rudeness. Now he was ready for the nearly overpowering delight of travel-pictures. He bounced slightly as a Gaumont film presented Java.

He was a connoisseur of travel-pictures, for all his life he had been planning a great journey. Though he had done Staten Island and patronized an excursion to Bound Brook, neither of these was his grand tour. It was yet to be taken. In Mr. Wrenn, apparently fastened to New York like a domestic-minded barnacle, lay the possibilities of heroic roaming. He knew it. He, too, like the man who had taken the Gaumont pictures, would saunter among dusky Javan natives in “markets with tiles on the roofs and temples and — and — uh, well — places!” The scent of Oriental spices was in his broadened nostrils as he scampered out of the Nickelorion, without a look at the ticket-taker, and headed for “home”— for his third-floor-front on West Sixteenth Street. He wanted to prowl through his collection of steamship brochures for a description of Java. But, of course, when one’s landlady has both the sciatica and a case of Patient Suffering one stops in the basement dining-room to inquire how she is.

Mrs. Zapp was a fat landlady. When she sat down there was a straight line from her chin to her knees. She was usually sitting down. When she moved she groaned, and her apparel creaked. She groaned and creaked from bed to breakfast, and ate five griddle-cakes, two helpin’s of scrapple, an egg, some rump steak, and three cups of coffee, slowly and resentfully. She creaked and groaned from breakfast to her rocking-chair, and sat about wondering why Providence had inflicted upon her a weak digestion. Mr. Wrenn also wondered why, sympathetically, but Mrs. Zapp was too conscientiously dolorous to be much cheered by the sympathy of a nigger-lovin’ Yankee, who couldn’t appreciate the subtle sorrows of a Zapp of Zapp’s Bog, allied to all the First Families of Virginia.

Mr. Wrenn did nothing more presumptuous than sit still, in the stuffy furniture-crowded basement room, which smelled of dead food and deader pride in a race that had never existed. He sat still because the chair was broken. It had been broken now for four years.

For the hundred and twenty-ninth time in those years Mrs. Zapp said, in her rich corruption of Southern negro dialect, which can only be indicated here, “Ah been meaning to get that chair mended, Mist’ Wrenn.” He looked gratified and gazed upon the crayon enlargements of Lee Theresa, the older Zapp daughter (who was forewoman in a factory), and of Godiva. Godiva Zapp was usually called “Goaty,” and many times a day was she called by Mrs. Zapp. A tamed child drudge was Goaty, with adenoids, which Mrs. Zapp had been meanin’ to have removed, and which she would continue to have benevolent meanin’s about till it should be too late, and she should discover that Providence never would let Goaty go to school.

“Yes, Mist’ Wrenn, Ah told Goaty she was to see the man about getting that chair fixed, but she nev’ does nothing Ah tell her.”

In the kitchen was the noise of Goaty, ungovernable Goaty, aged eight, still snivelingly washing, though not cleaning, the incredible pile of dinner dishes. With a trail of hesitating remarks on the sadness of sciatica and windy evenings Mr. Wrenn sneaked forth from the august presence of Mrs. Zapp and mounted to paradise — his third-floor-front.

It was an abjectly respectable room — the bedspread patched; no two pieces of furniture from the same family; half-tones from the magazines pinned on the wall. But on the old marble mantelpiece lived his friends, books from wanderland. Other friends the room had rarely known. It was hard enough for Mr. Wrenn to get acquainted with people, anyway, and Mrs. Zapp did not expect her gennulman lodgers to entertain. So Mr. Wrenn had given up asking even Charley Carpenter, the assistant bookkeeper at the Souvenir Company, to call. That left him the books, which he now caressed with small eager finger-tips. He picked out a P. & O. circular, and hastily left for fairyland.

The April skies glowed with benevolence this Saturday morning. The Metropolitan Tower was singing, bright ivory tipped with gold, uplifted and intensely glad of the morning. The buildings walling in Madison Square were jubilant; the honest red-brick fronts, radiant; the new marble, witty. The sparrows in the middle of Fifth Avenue were all talking at once, scandalously but cleverly. The polished brass of limousines threw off teethy smiles. At least so Mr. Wrenn fancied as he whisked up Fifth Avenue, the skirts of his small blue double-breasted coat wagging. He was going blocks out of his way to the office; ready to defy time and eternity, yes, and even the office manager. He had awakened with Defiance as his bedfellow, and throughout breakfast at the hustler Dairy Lunch sunshine had flickered over the dirty tessellated floor.

He pranced up to the Souvenir Company’s brick building, on Twenty-eighth Street near Sixth Avenue. In the office he chuckled at his ink-well and the untorn blotters on his orderly desk. Though he sat under the weary unnatural brilliance of a mercury-vapor light, he dashed into his work, and was too keen about this business of living merrily to be much flustered by the bustle of the lady buyer’s superior “Good morning.” Even up to ten-thirty he was still slamming down papers on his desk. Just let any one try to stop his course, his readiness for snapping fingers at The Job; just let them try it, that was all he wanted!

Then he was shot out of his chair and four feet along the corridor, in reflex response to the surly “Bur-r-r-r-r” of the buzzer. Mr. Mortimer R. Guilfogle, the manager, desired to see him. He scampered along the corridor and slid decorously through the manager’s doorway into the long sun-bright room, ornate with rugs and souvenirs. Seven Novelties glittered on the desk alone, including a large rococo Shakespeare-style glass ink-well containing cloves and a small iron Pittsburg-style one containing ink. Mr. Wrenn blinked like a noon-roused owlet in the brilliance. The manager dropped his fist on the desk, glared, smoothed his flowered prairie of waistcoat, and growled, his red jowls quivering:

“Look here, Wrenn, what’s the matter with you? The Bronx Emporium order for May Day novelties was filled twice, they write me.”

“They ordered twice, sir. By ‘phone,” smiled Mr. Wrenn, in an agony of politeness.

“They ordered hell, sir! Twice — the same order?”

“Yes, sir; their buyer was prob —”

“They say they’ve looked it up. Anyway, they won’t pay twice. I know, em. We’ll have to crawl down graceful, and all because you — I want to know why you ain’t more careful!”

The announcement that Mr. Wrenn twice wriggled his head, and once tossed it, would not half denote his wrath. At last! It was here — the time for revolt, when he was going to be defiant. He had been careful; old Goglefogle was only barking; but why should he be barked at? With his voice palpitating and his heart thudding so that he felt sick he declared:

“I’m sure, sir, about that order. I looked it up. Their buyer was drunk!”

It was done. And now would he be discharged? The manager was speaking:

“Probably. You looked it up, eh? Um! Send me in the two order-records. Well. But, anyway, I want you to be more careful after this, Wrenn. You’re pretty sloppy. Now get out. Expect me to make firms pay twice for the same order, cause of your carelessness?”

Mr. Wrenn found himself outside in the dark corridor. The manager hadn’t seemed much impressed by his revolt.

The manager wasn’t. He called a stenographer and dictated:

“Bronx Emporium:

“GENTLEMEN:— Our Mr. Wrenn has again (underline that ‘again,’ Miss Blaustein), again looked up your order for May Day novelties. As we wrote before, order certainly was duplicated by ‘phone. Our Mr. Wrenn is thoroughly reliable, and we have his records of these two orders. We shall therefore have to push collection on both —”

After all, Mr. Wrenn was thinking, the crafty manager might be merely concealing his hand. Perhaps he had understood the defiance. That gladdened him till after lunch. But at three, when his head was again foggy with work and he had forgotten whether there was still April anywhere, he began to dread what the manager might do to him. Suppose he lost his job; The Job! He worked unnecessarily late, hoping that the manager would learn of it. As he wavered home, drunk with weariness, his fear of losing The Job was almost equal to his desire to resign from The Job.

He had worked so late that when he awoke on Sunday morning he was still in a whirl of figures. As he went out to his breakfast of coffee and whisked wheat at the Hustler Lunch the lines between the blocks of the cement walk, radiant in a white flare of sunshine, irritatingly recalled the cross-lines of order-lists, with the narrow cement blocks at the curb standing for unfilled column-headings. Even the ridges of the Hustler Lunch’s imitation steel ceiling, running in parallel lines, jeered down at him that he was a prosaic man whose path was a ruler.

He went clear up to the branch post-office after breakfast to get the Sunday mail, but the mail was a disappointment. He was awaiting a wonderful fully illustrated guide to the Land of the Midnight Sun, a suggestion of possible and coyly improbable trips, whereas he got only a letter from his oldest acquaintance — Cousin John, of Parthenon, New York, the boy-who-comes-to-play of Mr. Wrenn’s back-yard days in Parthenon. Without opening the letter Mr. Wrenn tucked it into his inside coat pocket, threw away his toothpick, and turned to Sunday wayfaring.

He jogged down Twenty-third Street to the North River ferries afoot. Trolleys took money, and of course one saves up for future great traveling. Over him the April clouds were fetterless vagabonds whose gaiety made him shrug with excitement and take a curb with a frisk as gambolsome as a Central Park lamb. There was no hint of sales-lists in the clouds, at least. And with them Mr. Wrenn’s soul swept along, while his half-soled Cum–Fee-Best $3.80 shoes were ambling past warehouses. Only once did he condescend to being really on Twenty-third Street. At the Ninth Avenue corner, under the grimy Elevated, he sighted two blocks down to the General Theological Seminary’s brick Gothic and found in a pointed doorway suggestions of alien beauty.

But his real object was to loll on a West and South Railroad in luxury, and go sailing out into the foam and perilous seas of North River. He passed through the smoking-cabin. He didn’t smoke — the habit used up travel-money. Once seated on the upper deck, he knew that at last he was outward-bound on a liner. True, there was no great motion, but Mr. Wrenn was inclined to let realism off easily in this feature of his voyage. At least there were undoubted life-preservers in the white racks overhead; and everywhere the world, to his certain witnessing, was turned to crusading, to setting forth in great ships as if it were again in the brisk morning of history when the joy of adventure possessed the Argonauts.

He wasn’t excited over the liners they passed. He was so experienced in all of travel, save the traveling, as to have gained a calm interested knowledge. He knew the Campagnia three docks away, and explained to a Harlem grocer her fine points, speaking earnestly of stacks and sticks, tonnage and knots.

Not excited, but — where couldn’t he go if he were pulling out for Arcady on the Campagnia! Gee! What were even the building-block towers of the Metropolitan and Singer buildings and the Times’s cream-stick compared with some old shrine in a cathedral close that was misted with centuries!

All this he felt and hummed to himself, though not in words. He had never heard of Arcady, though for many years he had been a citizen of that demesne.

Sure, he declared to himself, he was on the liner now; he was sliding up the muddy Mersey (see the W. S. Travel Notes for the source of his visions); he was off to St. George’s Square for an organ-recital (see the English Baedeker); then an express for London and — Gee!

The ferryboat was entering her slip. Mr. Wrenn trotted toward the bow to thrill over the bump of the boat’s snub nose against the lofty swaying piles and the swash of the brown waves heaped before her as she sidled into place. He was carried by the herd on into the station.

He did not notice the individual people in his exultation as he heard the great chords of the station’s paean. The vast roof roared as the iron coursers stamped titanic hoofs of scorn at the little stay-at-home.

That is a washed-out hint of how the poets might describe Mr. Wrenn’s passion. What he said was “Gee!”

He strolled by the lists of destinations hung on the track gates. Chicago (the plains! the Rockies! sunset over mining-camps!), Washington, and the magic Southland — thither the iron horses would be galloping, their swarthy smoke manes whipped back by the whirlwind, pounding out with clamorous strong hoofs their sixty miles an hour. Very well. In time he also would mount upon the iron coursers and charge upon Chicago and the Southland; just as soon as he got ready.

Then he headed for Cortlandt Street; for Long Island, City. finally, the Navy Yard. Along his way were the docks of the tramp steamers where he might ship as steward in the all-promising Sometime. He had never done anything so reckless as actually to ask a skipper for the chance to go a-sailing, but he had once gone into a mission society’s free shipping-office on West Street where a disapproving elder had grumped at him, “Are you a sailor? No? Can’t do anything for you, my friend. Are you saved?” He wasn’t going to risk another horror like that, yet when the golden morning of Sometime dawned he certainly was going to go cruising off to palm-bordered lagoons.

As he walked through Long Island City he contrived conversations with the sailors he passed. It would have surprised a Norwegian bos’un’s mate to learn that he was really a gun-runner, and that, as a matter of fact, he was now telling yarns of the Spanish Main to the man who slid deprecatingly by him.

Mr. Wrenn envied the jackies on the training-ship and carelessly went to sea as the President’s guest in the admiral’s barge and was frightened by the stare of a sauntering shop-girl and arrived home before dusk, to Mrs. Zapp’s straitened approval.

Dusk made incantations in his third-floor-front. Pleasantly fagged in those slight neat legs, after his walk, Mr. Wrenn sat in the wicker rocker by the window, patting his scrubby tan mustache and reviewing the day’s wandering. When the gas was lighted he yearned over pictures in a geographical magazine for a happy hour, then yawned to himself, “Well-l-l, Willum, guess it’s time to crawl into the downy.”

He undressed and smoothed his ready-made suit on the rocking-chair back. Sitting on the edge of his bed, quaint in his cotton night-gown, like a rare little bird of dull plumage, he rubbed his head sleepily. Um-m-m-m-m! How tired he was! He went to open the window. Then his tamed heart leaped into a waltz, and he forgot third-floor-fronts and sleepiness.

Through the window came the chorus of fog-horns on North River. “Boom-m-m!” That must be a giant liner, battling up through the fog. (It was a ferry.) A liner! She’d be roaring just like that if she were off the Banks! If he were only off the Banks! “Toot! Toot!” That was a tug. “Whawn-n-n!” Another liner. The tumultuous chorus repeated to him all the adventures of the day.

He dropped upon the bed again and stared absently at his clothes. Out of the inside coat pocket stuck the unopened letter from Cousin John.

He read a paragraph of it. He sprang from the bed and danced a tarantella, pranced in his cottony nightgown like a drunken Yaqui. The letter announced that the flinty farm at Parthenon, left to Mr. Wrenn by his father, had been sold. Its location on a river bluff had made it valuable to the Parthenon Chautauqua Association. There was now to his credit in the Parthenon National Bank nine hundred and forty dollars!

He was wealthy, then. He had enough to stalk up and down the earth for many venturesome (but economical) months, till he should learn the trade of wandering, and its mysterious trick of living without a job or a salary.

He crushed his pillow with burrowing head and sobbed excitedly, with a terrible stomach-sinking and a chill shaking. Then he laughed and wanted to — but didn’t — rush into the adjacent hall room and tell the total stranger there of this world-changing news. He listened in the hall to learn whether the Zapps were up, but heard nothing; returned and cantered up and down, gloating on a map of the world.

“Gee! It’s happened. I could travel all the time. I guess I won’t be — very much — afraid of wrecks and stuff . . . . Things like that. . . . Gee! If I don’t get to bed I’ll be late at the office in the morning!”

Mr. Wrenn lay awake till three o’clock. Monday morning he felt rather ashamed of having done so eccentric a thing. But he got to the office on time. He was worried with the cares of wealth, with having to decide when to leave for his world-wanderings, but he was also very much aware that office managers are disagreeable if one isn’t on time. All morning he did nothing more reckless than balance his new fortune, plus his savings, against steamship fares on a waste half-sheet of paper.

The noon-hour was not The Job’s, but his, for exploration of the parlous lands of romance that lie hard by Twenty-eighth Street and Sixth Avenue. But he had to go out to lunch with Charley Carpenter, the assistant bookkeeper, that he might tell the news. As for Charley, He needed frequently to have a confidant who knew personally the tyrannous ways of the office manager, Mr. Guilfogle.

Mr. Wrenn and Charley chose (that is to say, Charley chose) a table at Drubel’s Eating House. Mr. Wrenn timidly hinted, “I’ve got some big news to tell you.”

But Charley interrupted, “Say, did you hear old Goglefogle light into me this morning? I won’t stand for it. Say, did you hear him — the old —”

“What was the trouble, Charley?”

“Trouble? Nothing was the trouble. Except with old Goglefogle. I made one little break in my accounts. Why, if old Gogie had to keep track of seventy-‘leven accounts and watch every single last movement of a fool girl that can’t even run the adding-machine, why, he’d get green around the gills. He’d never do anything but make mistakes! Well, I guess the old codger must have had a bum breakfast this morning. Wanted some exercise to digest it. Me, I was the exercise — I was the goat. He calls me in, and he calls me down, and me — well, just lemme tell you, Wrenn, I calls his bluff!”

Charley Carpenter stopped his rapid tirade, delivered with quick head-shakes like those of palsy, to raise his smelly cigarette to his mouth. Midway in this slow gesture the memory of his wrongs again overpowered him. He flung his right hand back on the table, scattering cigarette ashes, jerked back his head with the irritated patience of a nervous martyr, then waved both hands about spasmodically, while he snarled, with his cheaply handsome smooth face more flushed than usual:

“Sure! You can just bet your bottom dollar I let him see from the way I looked at him that I wasn’t going to stand for no more monkey business. You bet I did! . . . I’ll fix him, I will. You just watch me. (Hey, Drubel, got any lemon merang? Bring me a hunk, will yuh?) Why, Wrenn, that cross-eyed double-jointed fat old slob, I’ll slam him in the slats so hard some day — I will, you just watch my smoke. If it wasn’t for that messy wife of mine — I ought to desert her, and I will some day, and —”

“Yuh.” Mr. Wrenn was curt for a second. . . . “I know how it is, Charley. But you’ll get over it, honest you will. Say, I’ve got some news. Some land that my dad left me has sold for nearly a thousand plunks. By the way, this lunch is on me. Let me pay for it, Charley.”

Charley promised to let him pay, quite readily. And, expanding, said:

“Great, Wrenn! Great! Lemme congratulate you. Don’t know anybody I’d rather’ve had this happen to. You’re a meek little baa-lamb, but you’ve got lots of stuff in you, old Wrennski. Oh say, by the way, could. you let me have fifty cents till Saturday? Thanks. I’ll pay it back sure. By golly! you’re the only man around the office that ‘preciates what a double duck-lined old fiend old Goglefogle is, the old —”

“Aw, gee, Charley, I wish you wouldn’t jump on Guilfogle so hard. He’s always treated me square.”

“Gogie — square? Yuh, he’s square just like a hoop. You know it, too, Wrenn. Now that you’ve got enough money so’s you don’t need to be scared about the job you’ll realize it, and you’ll want to soak him, same’s I do. Say!“ The impulse of a great idea made him gleefully shake his fist sidewise. “Say! Why don’t you soak him? They bank on you at the Souvenir Company. Darn’ sight more than you realize, lemme tell you. Why, you do about half the stock-keeper’s work, sides your own. Tell you what you do. You go to old Goglefogle and tell him you want a raise to twenty-five, and want it right now. Yes, by golly, thirty! You’re worth that, or pretty darn’ near it, but ‘course old Goglefogle’ll never give it to you. He’ll threaten to fire you if you say a thing more about it. You can tell him to go ahead, and then where’ll he be? Guess that’ll call his bluff some!”

“Yes, but, Charley, then if Guilfogle feels he can’t pay me that much — you know he’s responsible to the directors; he can’t do everything he wants to — why, he’ll just have to fire me, after I’ve talked to him like that, whether he wants to or not. And that’d leave us — that’d leave them — without a sales clerk, right in the busy season.”

“Why, sure, Wrenn; that’s what we want to do. If you go it ‘d leave ’em without just about two men. Bother ’em like the deuce. It ‘d bother Mr. Mortimer X. Y. Guglefugle most of all, thank the Lord. He wouldn’t know where he was at — trying to break in a man right in the busy season. Here’s your chance. Come on, kid; don’t pass it up.”

“Oh gee, Charley, I can’t do that. You wouldn’t want me to try to hurt the Souvenir Company after being there for — lemme see, it must be seven years.”

“Well, maybe you like to get your cute little nose rubbed on the grindstone! I suppose you’d like to stay on at nineteen per for the rest of your life.”

“Aw, Charley, don’t get sore; please don’t! I’d like to get off, all right — like to go traveling, and stuff like that. Gee! I’d like to wander round. But I can’t cut out right in the bus —”

“But can’t you see, you poor nut, you won’t be leaving ’em — they’ll either pay you what they ought to or lose you.”

“Oh, I don’t know about that, Charley.

“Charley was making up for some uncertainty as to his own logic by beaming persuasiveness, and Mr. Wrenn was afraid of being hypnotized. “No, no!” he throbbed, rising.

“Well, all right!” snarled Charley, “if you like to be Gogie’s goat. . . . Oh, you’re all right, Wrennski. I suppose you had ought to stay, if you feel you got to. . . . Well, so long. I’ve got to beat it over and buy a pair of socks before I go back.”

Mr. Wrenn crept out of Drubel’s behind him, very melancholy. Even Charley admitted that he “had ought to stay,” then; and what chance was there of persuading the dread Mr. Mortimer R. Guilfogle that he wished to be looked upon as one resigning? Where, then, any chance of globe-trotting; perhaps for months he would remain in slavery, and he had hoped just that morning — One dreadful quarter-hour with Mr. Guilfogle and he might be free. He grinned to himself as he admitted that this was like seeing Europe after merely swimming the mid-winter Atlantic.

Well, he had nine minutes more, by his two-dollar watch; nine minutes of vagabondage. He gazed across at a Greek restaurant with signs in real Greek letters like “ruins at — well, at Aythens.” A Chinese chop-suey den with a red-and-yellow carved dragon, and at an upper window a squat Chinaman who might easily be carrying a kris, “or whatever them Chink knives are,” as he observed for the hundredth time he had taken this journey. A rotisserie, before whose upright fender of scarlet coals whole ducks were happily roasting to a shiny brown. In a furrier’s window were Siberian foxes’ skins (Siberia! huts of “awful brave convicks”; the steely Northern Sea; guards in blouses, just as he’d seen them at an Academy of Music play) and a polar bear (meaning, to him, the Northern Lights, the long hike, and the igloo at night). And the florists! There were orchids that (though he only half knew it, and that all inarticulately) whispered to him of jungles where, in the hot hush, he saw the slumbering python and —“What was it in that poem, that, Mandalay, thing? was it about jungles? Anyway:

“‘Them garlicky smells, And the sunshine and the palms and the bells.’”

He had to hurry back to the office. He stopped only to pat the head of a florist’s delivery horse that looked wistfully at him from the curb. “Poor old fella. What you thinking about? Want to be a circus horse and wander? Le’s beat it together. You can’t, eh? Poor old fella!”

At three-thirty, the time when it seems to office persons that the day’s work never will end, even by a miracle, Mr. Wrenn was shaky about his duty to the firm. He was more so after an electrical interview with the manager, who spent a few minutes, which he happened to have free, in roaring “I want to know why” at Mr. Wrenn. There was no particular “why” that he wanted to know; he was merely getting scientific efficiency out of employees, a phrase which Mr. Guilfogle had taken from a business magazine that dilutes efficiency theories for inefficient employers.

At five-twenty the manager summoned him, complimented him on nothing in particular, and suggested that he stay late with Charley Carpenter and the stock-keeper to inventory a line of desk-clocks which they were closing out.

As Mr. Wrenn returned to his desk he stopped at a window on the corridor and coveted the bright late afternoon. The cornices of lofty buildings glistened; the sunset shone fierily through the glass-inclosed layer-like upper floors. He wanted to be out there in the streets with the shopping crowds. Old Goglefogle didn’t consider him; why should he consider the firm?

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38