He was developing a new idea in banking, and it had been gratifyingly approved by Mr. Prutt and Cashier S. Ashiel Denver.
He was establishing a Veterans’ Advisory Center where, as they were discharged from the Army or Navy, Neil’s former companions in arms could come for information about finding jobs and renting houses, about Government compensation and educational grants — and it would be all right if they started new accounts in the Second National, or took out wholesome mortgages.
Neil was to be in charge, with a salary increase to three hundred and fifty a month, and if the Center grew enough, he was to have an assistant. Now, in that Northern April that was not spring but a dilution of winter, he was certain that the war in Germany would be over in a few months, and he hastened to get ready the Center’s corner, which resembled a handsome mahogany horse-stall, with Neil’s desk and two velvet chairs and a considerably less velvety bench, all fit for heroes.
He bustled all day and bubbled every evening. Vestal was pleased with his achievement and his advancement, and Biddy started a bank of her own, in which her cousin Ruby, Uncle Robert’s daughter, deposited six pins, the very first day, and Prince a damaged dog-biscuit. This bank came to no good, however, because Ruby, whose ethics were not up to Prutt banking standards, managed to withdraw eleven out of her six pins, and Biddy, after counsel from Uncle Oliver Beehouse, declared bankruptcy.
Mr. Prutt was cautious in his hopes for the Veterans’ Center, but Neil saw no limits to it, and late in April he went by train to St. Paul and Minneapolis, to consult bankers, state officials, and the heads of the American Legion and the other organizations of veterans.
As a banking expert, he took the chair-car Borup.
To the chronic globe-trotters of Grand Republic and Duluth, the Borup had for many years been an ambulatory home. It was so old that its familiars insisted it was not constructed of steel but of wood hardened by winter storms and the prairie July, when the thermometer goes to a hundred and ten. Its interior was decorated with inlaid woods, olive-green and rose and gray. It had been laid out with such pleasant irregularity that you might have known it for years before you opened a door and discovered another compartment with a table for card-players and four aged chairs covered with prickly green hair-shirting.
On the Borup Old Mr. Sparrock, Hiram Sparrock, Dr. Henry’s father, still alive though somewhat retired at ninety-four, keeps spare sets of his five pills and three tonics and two dentures, with a comb and a stick of mustache-brilliantine. Hiram, that genial old cutthroat who knew John D. Rockefeller, Sr., and Cecil Rhodes, still has, despite the properties he made over to his son, a million acres of land in the United States, and his holdings in Mexico are measured not by miles but by airplane time. It is generally believed in Grand Republic that Hiram is richer even than the Wargates or the Eisenherzes, but he invariably talks about his poverty, and he never gives Mac, the colored porter on the Borup, more than a quarter.
His son, Dr. Henry Sparrock, keeps on the Borup a Modern Library edition of Karl Marx, which for five years he has been trying to read, in the hope that he will find out “what all these leftwing congressmen and these radical labor leaders are up to,” but for five years an invitation to play bridge has always interrupted him just as he has started to read page two again.
And on the Borup, Madge Dedrick keeps her pack of monogrammed cards for solitaire, and Oliver Beehouse a crossword puzzle book, and Diantha Marl a book on psycho-analysis, a book on etiquette, and a bottle of brandy.
Mac the porter, fat and very dark and nearly seventy and professionally genial, knows all of them. He shepherds the college-going daughters of couples whose wedding journey he remembers, and calls them “Miss,” even though all through younger years he has known them as “Toots” or “Kay.” He finds their lost compacts and candy-boxes, and tries to keep them from being too chummy with handsome strangers met on the train. He knows which husbands say farewell to which wives at one end of the run, and which husbands meet and kiss them at the other.
Mac is the Almanach de Gotha, the sexless maid-valet, the fichuless chaperon of Duluth and Grand Republic and all the towns along the D. & T. C.; it were better socially to be cut by Dr. Sparrock and ignored by Mrs. Dedrick than to be unrecognized by Mac; and to call him “George” instead of “Mac” is to be admittedly an outer barbarian; and so far as Neil or his friends had ever known, he has no surname.
He greeted Neil with, “Mighty nice to have you traveling with us, Captain Kingsblood, sir. I hope to hear your injured limb is ameliorating, sir.”
“Yes, thanks, it’s a lot better, Mac.”
— Kind of flattering to have Mac remember me. Mustn’t forget to tip him two bits.
“Would you like to see the Minneapolis morning paper, Captain, sir?”
“Oh, thank you, Mac.”
— No, four bits. There’s an old darky that knows his place. Why can’t these young fools like Belfreda be considerate that way? Be just too bad if I hand Mac fifty or even seventy-five cents!
— And of course it would go on my expense-account.
At the end of the journey, when Mac had brushed him off as though he was brushing him off, and had caressed him with, “Hope we’re going to have the honor of having you with us on your return trip, Captain, sir,” Neil solemnly handed him a dollar.
Farther down the car, as they came into the station, Old Hiram Sparrock growled at Mac, “Hey, you Machiavellian bastard, aren’t you going to hope you’ll have the honor of my riding back with you?”
“No, SIR, General. You always make too much trouble — you and those ole pills.”
“Why, you gold-digging, uncle-tomming, old, black he-courtesan! Here’s a quarter, and you’re mighty lucky to get it.”
“I sure am, General. Big lot of money for doing nothing but look at you. Usually ain’t but fifteen cents. You make another stock-market killing, General?”
“None of your damn intrusive business. How many newspapers do you spy for?”
“All of ’em, General. See you soon.”
Neither of them mentioned the fact that Old Hiram gave Old Mac fifty dollars every Christmas. The two relics of the lumber-land-iron feudalism of 1900 grinned at each other, and young Neil Kingsblood looked approvingly at their stock-company performance.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11