BEFORE he was thirty he discovered that there was no one to play with him. Though the wealth of three toilsome generations stood to his account, though his tastes in the matter of books, bindings, rugs, swords, bronzes, lacquer, pictures, plate, statuary, horses, conservatories, and agriculture were educated and catholic, the public opinion of his country wanted to know why he did not go to office daily, as his father had before him.
So he fled, and they howled behind him that he was an unpatriotic Anglomaniac, born to consume fruits, one totally lacking in public spirit. He wore an eye-glass; he had built a wall round his country house, with a high gate that shut, instead of inviting America to sit on his flower-beds; he ordered his clothes from England; and the press of his abiding city cursed him, from his eye-glass to his trousers, for two consecutive days.
When he rose to light again, it was where nothing less than the tents of an invading army in Piccadilly would make any difference to anybody. If he had money and leisure, England stood ready to give him all that money and leisure could buy. That price paid, she would ask no questions. He took his cheque-book and accumulated things — warily at first, for he remembered that in America things own the man. To his delight, he discovered that in England he could put his belongings under his feet; for classes, ranks, and denominations of people rose, as it were, from the earth, and silently and discreetly took charge of his possessions. They had been born and bred for that sole purpose — servants of the cheque-book. When that was at an end they would depart as mysteriously as they had come.
The impenetrability of this regulated life irritated him, and he strove to learn something of the human side of these people. He retired baffled, to be trained by his menials. In America, the native demoralizes the English servant. In England, the servant educates the master. Wilton Sargent strove to learn all they taught as ardently as his father had striven to wreck, before capture, the railways of his native land; and it must have been some touch of the old bandit railway blood that bade him buy, for a song, Holt Hangers, whose forty-acre lawn, as every one knows, sweeps down in velvet to the quadruple tracks of the Great Buchonian Railway. Their trains flew by almost continuously, with a bee-like drone in the day and a flutter of strong wings at night. The son of Merton Sargent had good right to be interested in them. He owned controlling interests in several thousand miles of track — not permanent-way — built on altogether different plans, where locomotives eternally whistled for grade-crossings, and parlour-cars of fabulous expense and unrestful design skated round curves that the Great Buchonian would have condemned as unsafe in a construction-line. From the edge of his lawn he could trace the chaired metals falling away, rigid as a bowstring, into the valley of the Prest, studded with the long perspective of the block-signals, buttressed with stone, and carried, high above all possible risk, on a forty-foot embankment.
Left to himself, he would have builded a private car, and kept it at the nearest railway station, Amberley Royal, five miles away. But those into whose hands he had committed himself for his English training had little knowledge of railways and less of private cars. The one they knew as something that existed in the scheme of things for their convenience. The other they held to be ‘distinctly American’; and, with the versatility of his race, Wilton Sargent had set out to be just a little more English than the English.
He succeeded to admiration. He learned not to redecorate Holt Hangers, though he warmed it; to leave his guests alone; to refrain from superfluous introductions; to abandon manners, of which he had great store, and to hold fast by manner which can after labour be acquired. He learned to let other people, hired for the purpose, attend to the duties for which they were paid. He learned — this he got from a ditcher on the estate — that every man with whom he came in contact had a decreed position in the fabric of the realm, which position Wilton would do well to consult. Last mystery of all, he learned to golf — well; and when an American knows the innermost meaning of ‘Don’t press, slow back, and keep your eye on the ball,’ he is, for practical purposes, denationalised.
His other education proceeded on the pleasantest lines. Was he interested in any conceivable thing in heaven above, or the earth. beneath, or the waters under the earth? Forthwith appeared at his table, guided by those safe hands into which he had fallen, the very men who had best said, done, written, explored, excavated, built, launched, created, or studied that one thing — herders of books and prints in the British Museum; specialists in scarabs, cartouches, and dynasties Egyptian; rovers and raiders from the heart of unknown lands; toxicologists; orchid-hunters; monographers on flint implements, carpets, prehistoric man, or early Renaissance music. They came, and they played with him. They asked no questions; they cared not so much as a pin who or what he was. They demanded only that he should be able to talk and listen courteously. Their work was done elsewhere and out of his sight.
There were also women.
‘Never,’ said Wilton Sargent to himself, ‘has an American seen England as I’m seeing it’; and he thought, blushing beneath the bedclothes, of the unregenerate and blatant days when he would steam to office, down the Hudson, in his twelve-hundred-ton ocean-going steam-yacht, and arrive by gradations, at Bleecker Street, hanging on to a leather strap between an Irish washerwoman and a German anarchist. If any of his guests had seen him then they would have said, ‘How distinctly American!’ and — Wilton did not care for that tone. He had schooled himself to an English walk, and, so long as he did not raise it, an English voice. He did not gesticulate with his hands; he sat down on most of his enthusiasms, but he could not rid himself of The Shibboleth. He would ask for the Worcestershire sauce. Even Howard, his immaculate butler, could not break him of this.
It was decreed that he should complete his education in a wild and wonderful manner, and that I should be in at that death.
Wilton had more than once asked me to Holt Hangers, for the purpose of showing how well the new life fitted him; and each time I had declared it creaseless. His third invitation was more informal than the others, and he hinted of some matter in which he was anxious for my sympathy or counsel, or both. There is room for an infinity of mistakes when a man begins to take liberties with his nationality; and I went down expecting things. A seven-foot dog-cart and a groom in the black Holt Hangers livery met me at Amberley Royal. At Holt Hangers I was received by a person of elegance and true reserve, and piloted to my luxurious chamber. There were no other guests in the house, and this set me thinking.
Wilton came into my room about half-an-hour before dinner, and though his face was masked with a drop-curtain of highly embroidered indifference, I could see that he was not at ease. In time, for he was then almost as difficult to move as one of my own countrymen, I extracted the tale — simple in its extravagance, extravagant in its simplicity. It seemed that Hackman of the British Museum had been staying with him about ten days before, boasting of scarabs. Hackman has a way of carrying really priceless antiquities on his tie-ring and in his trouser pockets. Apparently, he had intercepted something on its way to the Boulak Museum which, he said, was ‘a genuine Amen-Hotep — a queen’s scarab of the Fourth Dynasty.’ Now Wilton had bought from Cassavetti, whose reputation is not above suspicion, a scarab of much the same scarabeousness, and had left it in his London chambers. Hackman at a venture, but knowing Cassavetti, pronounced it an imposition. There was long discussion — savant versus millionaire, one saying: ‘But I know it cannot be’; and the other: ‘But I can and will prove it.’ Wilton found it necessary for his soul’s satisfaction to go up to town, then and there — a forty-mile run — and bring back the scarab before dinner. It was at this point that he began to cut corners with disastrous results. Amberley Royal station being five miles away, and the putting in of horses a matter of time, Wilton had told Howard, the immaculate butler, to signal the next train to stop; and Howard, who was more of a man of resource than his master gave him credit for, had, with the red flag of the ninth hole of the links which crossed the bottom of the lawn, signalled vehemently to the first up-train, and it had stopped. Here Wilton’s account became confused. He attempted; it seems, to get into that highly indignant express, and a guard restrained him with more or less force — hauled him, in fact, backwards from the window of a locked carriage. Wilton must have struck the gravel with some vehemence, for the consequences, he admitted, were a free fight on the line, in which he lost his hat, and was at last dragged into the guard’s van and set down breathless.
He had pressed money upon the man, and very foolishly had explained everything but his name. This he clung to, for he had a vision of tall headlines in the New York papers, and well knew no son of Merton Sargent could expect mercy that side the water. The guard, to Wilton’s amazement, refused the money on the grounds that this was a matter for the Company to attend to. Wilton insisted on his incognito, and, therefore, found two policemen waiting for him at St. Botolph terminus. When he expressed a wish to buy a new hat and telegraph to his friends, both policemen with one voice warned him that whatever he said would be used as evidence against him; and this had impressed Wilton tremendously.
‘They were so infernally polite,’ he said. ‘If they had clubbed me I wouldn’t have cared; but it was, “Step this way, sir,” and, “Up those stairs, please, sir,” till they jailed me — jailed me like a common drunk, and I had to stay in a filthy little cubby-hole of a cell all night.’
‘That comes of not giving your name and not wiring your lawyer,’ I replied. ‘What did you get? ‘
‘Forty shillings or a month,’ said Wilton, promptly — ‘next morning bright and early. They were working us off, three a minute. A girl in a pink hat — she was brought in at three in the morning — got ten days. I suppose, I was lucky. I must have knocked his senses out of the guard. He told the old duck on the bench that I had told him I was a sergeant in the army, and that I was gathering beetles on the track. That comes of trying to explain to an Englishman.’
‘Oh, I said nothing. I wanted to get out. I paid my fine, and bought a new hat, and came up here before noon next morning. There were a lot of people in the house, and I told ’em I’d been unavoidably detained, and then they began to recollect engagements elsewhere. Hackman must have seen the fight on the track and made a story of it. I suppose they thought it was distinctly American — confound ’em! It’s the only time in my life that I’ve ever flagged a train, and I wouldn’t have done it but for that scarab. ’Twouldn’t hurt their old trains to be held up once in a while.’
‘Well, it’s all over now,’ I said, choking a little. ‘And your name didn’t get into the papers. It is rather transatlantic when you come to think of it.’
‘Over!’ Wilton grunted savagely. ‘It’s only just begun. That trouble with the guard was just common, ordinary assault — merely a little criminal business. The flagging of the train is civil, and means something quite different. They’re after me for that now.’
‘The Great Buchonian. There was a man in court watching the case on behalf of the Company. I gave him my name in a quiet corner before I bought my hat, and — come to dinner now; I’ll show you the results afterwards.’
The telling of his wrongs had worked Wilton Sargent into a very fine temper, and I do not think that my conversation soothed him. In, the course of the dinner, prompted by a devil of pure mischief, I dwelt with loving insistence on certain smells and sounds of New York which go straight to the heart of the native in foreign parts; and Wilton began to ask. many questions about his associates aforetime — men of the New York Yacht Club, Storm King, or the Restigouche, owners of rivers, ranches, and shipping in their playtime, lords of railways, kerosene, wheat and cattle in their offices. When the green mint came, I gave him a peculiarly oily and atrocious cigar, of the brand they sell in the tessellated, electric-lighted, with-expensive-pictures-of-the-nude-adorned bar of the Pandemonium, and Wilton chewed the end for several minutes ere he lit it. The butler left us alone, and the chimney of the oak-panelled dining-room began to smoke.
‘That’s another! ‘said he, poking the fire savagely, and I knew what he meant. One cannot put steam-heat, in houses where Queen Elizabeth slept. The steady beat of a night-mail, whirling down the valley, recalled me to business. ‘What about the Great Buchonian? ‘I said.
‘Come into my study. That’s all — as yet.
It was a pile of Seidlitz-powders-coloured correspondence, perhaps nine inches high, and it looked very businesslike.
‘You can go through it,’ said Wilton. ‘Now I could take a chair and a red flag and go into Hyde Park and say the most atrocious things about your Queen, and preach anarchy and all that, y’ know, till I was hoarse, and no one would take any notice. The Police — damn’ em! — would protect me if I got into trouble. But for a little thing like flagging a dirty little sawed-off train — running through my own grounds, too — I get the whole British Constitution down on me as if I sold bombs. I don’t understand it.’
‘No more does the Great Buchonian — apparently.’ I was turning over the letters. ‘Here’s the traffic superintendent writing that it’s utterly incomprehensible that any man should . . . Good heavens, Wilton, you have done it!’ I giggled, as I read on.
‘What’s funny now?’ said my host.
‘It seems that you, or Howard for you, stopped the three-forty Northern up.’
‘I ought to know that! They all had their knife into me, from the engine-driver up.’
‘But it’s the three-forty — the “Induna”— surely you’ve heard of the Great Buchonian’s “Induna”?’
‘How the deuce am I to know, one train from another? They come along about every two minutes.’
‘Quite so. But this happens to be the “Induna,” the one train of the whole line. She’s timed for fifty-seven miles an hour. She was put on early in the Sixties, and she has never been stopped ——’
‘I know! Since William the Conqueror came over, or King Charles hid in her smoke-stack. You’re as bad as the rest of these Britishers. If she’s been run all that while, it’s time she was flagged once or twice.’
The American was beginning to ooze out all over Wilton, and his small-boned hands were moving, restlessly.
‘Suppose you flagged the Empire State Express, or the Western Cyclone?’
‘Suppose I did. I know Otis Harvey — or used to. I’d send him a wire, and he’d understand it was a ground-hog case with me. That’s exactly what I told this British fossil company here.’
‘Have you been answering their letters without legal advice, then?’
‘Of course I have.’
‘Oh, my sainted Country! Go ahead, Wilton.’
‘I wrote ’em that I’d be very happy to see their president and explain to him in three words all about it; but that wouldn’t do. ’Seems their president must be a god. He was too busy, and — well, you can read for yourself — they wanted explanations. The stationmaster at Amberley Royal — and he grovels before me, as a rule — wanted an explanation, and quick, too. The head sachem at St. Botolph’s wanted three or four, and the Lord High Mukkamuk that oils the locomotives, wanted one every fine day. I told ’em-— I’ve told ’em about fifty times — I stopped their holy and sacred train because I wanted to board her. Did they think I wanted to feel her pulse?’
‘You didn’t say that?’
‘“Feel her pulse” Of course not.’
‘No. “Board her.”’
‘What else could I say?’
‘My dear Wilton, what is the use of Mrs. Sherborne, and the Clays, and all that lot working over you for four years to make an Englishman out of you, if the very first time you’re rattled you go back to the vernacular?’
‘I’m through with Mrs. Sherborne and the rest of the crowd. America’s good enough for me. What ought I to have said? “Please,” or “Thanks awf’ly,” or how?’
There was no chance now of mistaking the man’s nationality. Speech, gesture, and step, so carefully drilled into him, had gone away with the borrowed mask of indifference. It was a lawful son of the Youngest People, whose predecessors were the Red Indian. His voice had risen to the high, throaty crow of his breed when they labour under excitement. His close-set eyes showed by turns unnecessary fear, annoyance beyond reason, rapid and purposeless flights of thought, the child’s lust for immediate revenge, and the child’s pathetic bewilderment, who knocks his head against the bad, wicked table. And on the other side, I knew, stood the Company, as unable as Wilton to understand.
‘And I could buy their old road three times over,’ he muttered, playing with a paper-knife, and moving restlessly to and fro.
‘You didn’t tell ’em that, I hope!’
There was no answer; but as I went through the letters, I felt that Wilton must have told them many surprising things. The Great Buchonian had first asked for an explanation of the stoppage of their Induna, and had found a certain levity in the explanation tendered. It then advised ‘Mr. W. Sargent’ to refer his solicitor to their solicitor, or whatever the legal phrase is.
‘And you didn’t?’ I said, looking up.
‘No. They were treating me exactly as if I had been a kid playing on the cable-tracks. There was not the least necessity for any solicitor. Five minutes quiet talk would have settled everything.’
I returned to the correspondence. The Great Buchonian regretted that owing to pressure of business none of their directors could accept Mr. W. Sargent’s invitation to run down and discuss the difficulty. The Great Buchonian was careful to point out that no animus underlay their action, nor was money their object. Their duty was to protect the interests of their line, and these interests could not be protected if a precedent were established whereby any of the Queen’s subjects could stop a train in mid-career. Again (this was another branch of the correspondence, not more than five heads of departments being concerned), the Company admitted that there was some reasonable doubt as to the duties of express-trains in all crises, and the matter was open to settlement by process of law till an authoritative ruling was obtained — from the House of Lords, if necessary.
‘That broke me all up,’ said Wilton, who was reading over my shoulder. ‘I knew I’d struck the British Constitution at last. The House of Lords — my Lord! And, anyway, I’m not one of the Queen’s subjects.’
‘Why, I had a notion that you’d got yourself naturalised.’
Wilton blushed hotly as he explained that very many things must happen to the British Constitution ere he took out his papers.
‘How does it all strike you?’ he said. ‘Isn’t the Great Buchonian crazy?’
‘I don’t know. You’ve done something that no one ever thought of doing before, and the Company don’t know what to make of it. I see they offer to send down their solicitor and another official of the Company to talk things over informally. Then here’s another letter suggesting that you put up a fourteen-foot wall, crowned with bottle-glass, at the bottom of the garden.’
‘Talk of British insolence! The man who recommends that (he’s another bloated functionary) says that I shall “derive great pleasure from watching the wall going up day by day”! Did you ever dream of such gall? I’ve offered ’em money enough to buy a new set of cars and pension the driver for three generations; but that doesn’t seem to be what they want. They expect me to go to the House of Lords and get a ruling, and build walls between times. Are they all stark, raving mad? One ’ud think I made a profession of flagging trains. How in Tophet was I to know their old Induna from a way-train? I took the first that came along, and I’ve been jailed and fined for that once already.’
‘That was for slugging the guard.’
‘He had no right to haul me out when I was half-way through a window.’
‘What are you going to do about it?’
‘Their lawyer and the other official (can’t they trust their men unless they send ’em in pairs?) are coming here to-night. I told ’em I was busy, as a rule, till after dinner, but they might send along the entire directorate if it eased ’em any.’
Now, after-dinner visiting, for business or pleasure, is the custom of the smaller American town, and not that of England, where the end of the day is sacred to the owner. Verily, Wilton Sargent had hoisted the striped flag of rebellion
‘Isn’t it time that the humour of the situation began to strike you, Wilton?’ I asked.
‘Where’s the humour of baiting an American citizen just because he happens to be a millionaire — poor devil!’ He was silent for a little time, and then went on: ‘Of course. Now I see!’ He spun round and faced me excitedly. ‘It’s as plain as mud. These ducks are laying their pipes to skin me.’
‘They say explicitly they don’t want money!’
‘That’s all a blind. So’s their addressing me as W. Sargent. They know well enough who I am. They know I’m the old man’s son. Why didn’t I think of that before?’
‘One minute, Wilton. If you climbed to the top of the dome of St. Paul’s and offered a reward to any Englishman who could tell you who or what Merton Sargent had been, there wouldn’t be twenty men in all London to claim it.’
‘That’s their insular provincialism, then. I don’t care a cent. The old man would have wrecked the Great Buchonian before breakfast for a pipe-opener. My God, I’ll do it in dead earnest! I’ll show ’em that they can’t bulldose a foreigner for flagging one of their little tin-pot trains, and — I’ve spent fifty thousand a year here, at least, for the last four years.’
I was glad I was not his lawyer. I re-read the correspondence, notably the letter which recommended him — almost tenderly, I fancied — to build a fourteen-foot brick wall at the end of his garden, and half-way through it a thought struck me which filled me with pure joy.
The footman ushered in two men, frock-coated, gray-trousered, smooth-shaven, heavy of speech and gait. It was nearly nine o’clock, but they looked as newly come from a bath. I could not understand why the elder and taller of the pair glanced at me as though we had an understanding, nor why he shook hands with an unEnglish warmth.
‘This simplifies the situation,’ he said in an undertone, and, as I stared, he whispered to his companion: ‘I fear I shall be of very little service at present. Perhaps, Mr. Folsom had better talk over the affair with Mr. Sargent.’
‘That is what I am here for,’ said Wilton.
The man of law smiled pleasantly, and said that he saw no reason why the difficulty should not be arranged in two minutes’ quiet talk. His air, as he sat down opposite Wilton, was soothing to the last degree. His companion drew me upstage. The mystery was deepening, but I followed meekly, and heard Wilton say, with an uneasy laugh:
‘I’ve had insomnia over this affair, Mr. Folsom. Let’s settle it one way or the other, for heaven’s sake!’
‘Ah! Has he suffered much from this lately?’ said my man, with a preliminary cough.
‘I really can’t say,’ I replied.
‘Then I suppose you have only lately taken charge here?’
‘I came this evening. I am not exactly in charge of anything.’
‘I see. Merely to observe the course of events — in case ——’ He nodded.
‘Exactly.’ Observation, after all, is my trade.
He coughed again slightly, and then came to business.
‘Now — I am asking solely for information’s sake — do you find the delusions persistent?’
‘They are variable, then. That is distinctly curious, because — but do I understand that the type of the delusion varies? For example, Mr. Sargent believes that he can buy the Great Buchonian.’
‘Did he write you that?’
‘He made the offer to the Company — on a half-sheet of note-paper. Now, has he by chance gone to the other extreme, and believed that he is in danger of becoming a pauper? The curious economy in the use of a half-sheet of paper shows that some idea of that kind might have flashed through his mind; and the two delusions can coexist, but it is not common. As you must know, the delusion of vast wealth — the folly of grandeurs, I believe our friends the French call it — is, as a rule, persistent, to the exclusion of all others.’
Then I heard Wilton’s best English voice at the end of the study
‘My dear sir, I have explained twenty times already, I wanted to get that scarab in time for dinner. Suppose you had left an important legal document in the same way?’
‘That touch of cunning is very significant,’ my fellow — practitioner-since he insisted on it — muttered.
‘I am very happy, of course, to meet you; but if you had only sent your president down to dinner here, I could have settled the thing in half a minute. Why, I could have bought the Buchonian from him while your clerks were sending me this.’ Wilton dropped his hand heavily on the blue and white correspondence, and the lawyer started.
‘But, speaking frankly,’ the lawyer replied, ‘it is, if I may say so, perfectly inconceivable, even in the case of the most important legal documents, that any one should stop the three-forty express — the Induna — our Induna, my dear sir.’
‘Absolutely!’ my companion echoed; then to me in a lower tone: ‘You notice, again, the persistent delusion of wealth. I was called in when he wrote us that. You can see it is utterly im possible for the Company to continue to run their trains through the property of a man who may at any moment fancy himself divinely commissioned to stop all traffic. If he had only referred us to his lawyer — but, naturally, that he would not do under the circumstances. A pity — a great pity. He is so young. By the way, it is curious, is it not, to note the absolute conviction in the voice of those who are similarly afflicted — heart-rending, I might say — and the inability to follow a chain of connected thought.’
‘I can’t see what you want,’ Wilton was saying to the lawyer.
‘It need not be more than fourteen feet high — a really desirable structure, and it would be possible to grow pear-trees on the sunny side.’ The lawyer was speaking in an unprofessional voice. ‘There are few things pleasanter than to watch, so to say, one’s own vine and fig-tree in full bearing. Consider the profit and amusement you would derive from it. If you could see your way to doing this, we could arrange all the details with your lawyer, and it is possible that the Company might bear some of the cost. I have put the matter, I trust, in a nutshell. If you, my dear sir, will interest yourself in building that wall, and will kindly give us the name of your lawyers, I dare assure you that you will hear no more from the Great Buchonian.’
‘But why am I to disfigure my lawn with a new brick wall?’
‘Gray flint is extremely picturesque.’
‘Gray flint, then, if you put it that way. Why the dickens must I go building towers of Babylon just because I have held up one of your trains — once?’
‘The expression he used in his third letter was that he wished to “board her,”’ said my companion in my ear. ‘That was very curious — a marine delusion impinging, as it were, upon a land one. What a marvellous world he must move in — and will before the curtain falls. So young, too — so very young!’
‘Well, if you want the plain English of it, I’m damned if I go wall-building to your order. You can fight it all along the line, into the House of Lords and out again, and get your rulings by the running foot if you like,’ said Wilton, hotly. ‘Great Heavens, man, I only did it once!’
‘We have at present no guarantee that you may not do it again; and, with our traffic, we must, in justice to our passengers, demand some form of guarantee. It must not serve as a precedent. All this might have been saved if you had only referred us to your legal representative.’ The lawyer looked appealingly around the room. The deadlock was complete.
‘Wilton,’ I asked, ‘may I try my hand now?’
‘Anything you like,’ said Wilton. ‘It seems I can’t talk English. I won’t build any wall, though.’ He threw himself back in his chair.
‘Gentlemen,’ I said deliberately, for I perceived that the doctor’s mind would turn slowly, ‘Mr. Sargent has very large interests in the chief railway systems of his own country.’
‘His own country?’ said the lawyer.
‘At that age? ‘said the doctor.
‘Certainly. He inherited them from his father, Mr. Sargent, who is an American.’
‘And proud of it,’ said Wilton, as though he had been a Western Senator let loose on the Continent for the first time.
‘My dear sir,’ said the lawyer, half rising, ‘why did you not acquaint the Company with this fact — this vital fact — early in our correspondence? We should have understood. We should have made allowances.’
‘Allowances be damned! Am I a Red Indian or a lunatic?’
The two men looked guilty.
‘If Mr. Sargent’s friend had told us as much in the beginning,’ said the doctor, very severely, ‘much might have been saved.’ Alas! I had made a life’s enemy of that doctor.
‘I hadn’t a chance,’ I replied. ‘Now, of course, you can see that a man who owns several thousand miles of line, as Mr. Sargent does, would be apt to treat railways a shade more casually than other people.’
‘Of course; of course. He is an American; that accounts. Still, it was the Induna; but I can quite understand that the customs of our cousins across the water differ in these particulars from ours. And do you always stop trains in this way in the States, Mr. Sargent?’
‘I should if occasion ever arose; but I’ve never had to yet. Are you going to make an international complication of the business?’
‘You need give yourself no further concern whatever in the matter. We see that there is no likelihood of this action of yours establishing a precedent, which was the only thing we were afraid of. Now that you understand that we cannot reconcile our system to any sudden stoppages, we feel quite sure that ——’
‘I shan’t be staying long enough to flag another train,’ Wilton said pensively.
‘You are returning, then, to our fellow-kinsmen across the — ah — big pond, you call it?’
‘No, sir. The ocean — the North Atlantic Ocean. It’s three thousand miles broad, and three miles deep in places. I wish it were ten thousand.’
‘I am not so fond of sea-travel myself; but I think it is every Englishman’s duty once in his life to study the great branch of our Anglo-Saxon race across the ocean,’ said the lawyer.
‘If ever you come over, and care to flag any train on my system, I’ll — I’ll see you through,’ said Wilton.
‘Thank you — ah, thank you. You’re very kind. I’m sure I should enjoy myself immensely.’
‘We have overlooked the fact,’ the doctor whispered to me, ‘that your friend proposed to buy the Great Buchonian.’
‘He is worth anything from twenty to thirty million dollars — four to five million pounds,’ I answered, knowing that it would be hopeless to explain.
‘Really! That is enormous wealth, but the Great Buchonian is not in the market.’
‘Perhaps he does not want to buy it now.’
‘It would be impossible under any circumstances,’ said the doctor.
‘How characteristic!’ murmured the lawyer, reviewing matters in his mind. ‘I always understood from books that your countrymen were in a hurry. And so you would have gone forty miles to town and back — before dinner — to get a scarab? How intensely American! But you talk exactly like an Englishman, Mr. Sargent.’
‘That is a fault that can be remedied. There’s only one question I’d like to ask you. You said it was inconceivable that any man should stop a train on your system?’
‘And so it is — absolutely inconceivable.’
‘Any sane man, that is?’
‘That is what I meant, of course. I mean, with. excep ——’
The two men departed. Wilton checked himself as he was about to fill a pipe, took one of my cigars instead, and was silent for fifteen minutes.
Then said he: ‘Have you got a list of the Southampton sailings on you?’
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Far away from the greystone wings, the dark cedars, the faultless gravel drives, and the mint-sauce lawns of Holt Hangers runs a river called the Hudson, whose unkempt banks are covered with the palaces of those wealthy beyond the dreams of avarice. Here, where the hoot of the Haverstraw brick-barge-tug answers the howl of the locomotive on either shore, you shall find, with a complete installation of electric light, nickel-plated binnacles; and a calliope attachment to her steam-whistle, the twelve-hundred-ton ocean-going steam-yacht Columbia, lying at her private pier, to take to his office, at an average speed of seventeen knots — and the barges can look out for theme selves — Wilton Sargent, American.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:10