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Chapter 5

V.

"You see," Fulkerson explained, "I find that the old man has got an idea of his own about that banquet, and I guess there's some sense in it. He wants to have a preliminary little dinner, where we can talk the thing up first-half a dozen of us; and he wants to give us the dinner at his house. Well, that's no harm. I don't believe the old man ever gave a dinner, and he'd like to show off a little; there's a good deal of human nature in the old man, after all. He thought of you, of course, and Colonel Woodburn, and Beaton, and me at the foot of the table; and Conrad; and I suggested Kendricks: he's such a nice little chap; and the old man himself brought up the idea of Lindau. He said you told him something about him, and he asked why couldn't we have him, too; and I jumped at it."

"Have Lindau to dinner?" asked March.

"Certainly; why not? Father Dryfoos has a notion of paying the old fellow a compliment for what he done for the country. There won't be any trouble about it. You can sit alongside of him, and cut up his meat for him, and help him to things—"

"Yes, but it won't do, Fulkerson! I don't believe Lindau ever had on a dress-coat in his life, and I don't believe his 'brincibles' would let him wear one."

"Well, neither had Dryfoos, for the matter of that. He's as high-principled as old Pan-Electric himself, when it comes to a dress-coat," said Fulkerson. "We're all going to go in business dress; the old man stipulated for that.

"It isn't the dress-coat alone," March resumed. "Lindau and Dryfoos wouldn't get on. You know they're opposite poles in everything. You mustn't do it. Dryfoos will be sure to say something to outrage Lindau's 'brincibles,' and there'll be an explosion. It's all well enough for Dryfoos to feel grateful to Lindau, and his wish to honor him does him credit; but to have Lindau to dinner isn't the way. At the best, the old fellow would be very unhappy in such a house; he would have a bad conscience; and I should be sorry to have him feel that he'd been recreant to his 'brincibles'; they're about all he's got, and whatever we think of them, we're bound to respect his fidelity to them." March warmed toward Lindau in taking this view of him. "I should feel ashamed if I didn't protest against his being put in a false position. After all, he's my old friend, and I shouldn't like to have him do himself injustice if he is a crank."

"Of course," said Fulkerson, with some trouble in his face. "I appreciate your feeling. But there ain't any danger," he added, buoyantly. "Anyhow, you spoke too late, as the Irishman said to the chicken when he swallowed him in a fresh egg. I've asked Lindau, and he's accepted with blayzure; that's what he says."

March made no other comment than a shrug.

"You'll see," Fulkerson continued, "it 'll go off all right. I'll engage to make it, and I won't hold anybody else responsible."

In the course of his married life March had learned not to censure the irretrievable; but this was just what his wife had not learned; and she poured out so much astonishment at what Fulkerson had done, and so much disapproval, that March began to palliate the situation a little.

"After all, it isn't a question of life and death; and, if it were, I don't see how it's to be helped now."

"Oh, it's not to be helped now. But I am surprised at Mr. Fulkerson."

"Well, Fulkerson has his moments of being merely human, too."

Mrs. March would not deign a direct defence of her favorite. "Well, I'm glad there are not to be ladies."

"I don't know. Dryfoos thought of having ladies, but it seems your infallible Fulkerson overruled him. Their presence might have kept Lindau and our host in bounds."

It had become part of the Marches' conjugal joke for him to pretend that she could allow nothing wrong in Fulkerson, and he now laughed with a mocking air of having expected it when she said: "Well, then, if Mr. Fulkerson says he will see that it all comes out right, I suppose you must trust his tact. I wouldn't trust yours, Basil. The first wrong step was taken when Mr. Lindau was asked to help on the magazine."

"Well, it was your infallible Fulkerson that took the step, or at least suggested it. I'm happy to say I had totally forgotten my early friend."

Mrs. March was daunted and silenced for a moment. Then she said: "Oh, pshaw! You know well enough he did it to please you."

"I'm very glad he didn't do it to please you, Isabel," said her husband, with affected seriousness. "Though perhaps he did."

He began to look at the humorous aspect of the affair, which it certainly had, and to comment on the singular incongruities which 'Every Other Week' was destined to involve at every moment of its career. "I wonder if I'm mistaken in supposing that no other periodical was ever like it. Perhaps all periodicals are like it. But I don't believe there's another publication in New York that could bring together, in honor of itself, a fraternity and equality crank like poor old Lindau, and a belated sociological crank like Woodburn, and a truculent speculator like old Dryfoos, and a humanitarian dreamer like young Dryfoos, and a sentimentalist like me, and a nondescript like Beaton, and a pure advertising essence like Fulkerson, and a society spirit like Kendricks. If we could only allow one another to talk uninterruptedly all the time, the dinner would be the greatest success in the world, and we should come home full of the highest mutual respect. But I suspect we can't manage that—even your infallible Fulkerson couldn't work it—and I'm afraid that there'll be some listening that 'll spoil the pleasure of the time."

March was so well pleased with this view of the case that he suggested the idea involved to Fulkerson. Fulkerson was too good a fellow not to laugh at another man's joke, but he laughed a little ruefully, and he seemed worn with more than one kind of care in the interval that passed between the present time and the night of the dinner.

Dryfoos necessarily depended upon him for advice concerning the scope and nature of the dinner, but he received the advice suspiciously, and contested points of obvious propriety with pertinacious stupidity. Fulkerson said that when it came to the point he would rather have had the thing, as he called it, at Delmonico's or some other restaurant; but when he found that Dryfoos's pride was bound up in having it at his own house, he gave way to him. Dryfoos also wanted his woman-cook to prepare the dinner, but Fulkerson persuaded him that this would not do; he must have it from a caterer. Then Dryfoos wanted his maids to wait at table, but Fulkerson convinced him that this would be incongruous at a man's dinner. It was decided that the dinner should be sent in from Frescobaldi's, and Dryfoos went with Fulkerson to discuss it with the caterer. He insisted upon having everything explained to him, and the reason for having it, and not something else in its place; and he treated Fulkerson and Frescobaldi as if they were in league to impose upon him. There were moments when Fulkerson saw the varnish of professional politeness cracking on the Neapolitan's volcanic surface, and caught a glimpse of the lava fires of the cook's nature beneath; he trembled for Dryfoos, who was walking rough-shod over him in the security of an American who had known how to make his money, and must know how to spend it; but he got him safely away at last, and gave Frescobaldi a wink of sympathy for his shrug of exhaustion as they turned to leave him.

It was at first a relief and then an anxiety with Fulkerson that Lindau did not come about after accepting the invitation to dinner, until he appeared at Dryfoos's house, prompt to the hour. There was, to be sure, nothing to bring him; but Fulkerson was uneasily aware that Dryfoos expected to meet him at the office, and perhaps receive some verbal acknowledgment of the honor done him. Dryfoos, he could see, thought he was doing all his invited guests a favor; and while he stood in a certain awe of them as people of much greater social experience than himself, regarded them with a kind of contempt, as people who were going to have a better dinner at his house than they could ever afford to have at their own. He had finally not spared expense upon it; after pushing Frescobaldi to the point of eruption with his misgivings and suspicions at the first interview, he had gone to him a second time alone, and told him not to let the money stand between him and anything he would like to do. In the absence of Frescobaldi's fellow-conspirator he restored himself in the caterer's esteem by adding whatever he suggested; and Fulkerson, after trembling for the old man's niggardliness, was now afraid of a fantastic profusion in the feast. Dryfoos had reduced the scale of the banquet as regarded the number of guests, but a confusing remembrance of what Fulkerson had wished to do remained with him in part, and up to the day of the dinner he dropped in at Frescobaldi's and ordered more dishes and more of them. He impressed the Italian as an American original of a novel kind; and when he asked Fulkerson how Dryfoos had made his money, and learned that it was primarily in natural gas, he made note of some of his eccentric tastes as peculiarities that were to be caressed in any future natural-gas millionaire who might fall into his hands. He did not begrudge the time he had to give in explaining to Dryfoos the relation of the different wines to the different dishes; Dryfoos was apt to substitute a costlier wine where he could for a cheaper one, and he gave Frescobaldi carte blanche for the decoration of the table with pieces of artistic confectionery. Among these the caterer designed one for a surprise to his patron and a delicate recognition of the source of his wealth, which he found Dryfoos very willing to talk about, when he intimated that he knew what it was.

Dryfoos left it to Fulkerson to invite the guests, and he found ready acceptance of his politeness from Kendricks, who rightly regarded the dinner as a part of the 'Every Other Week' business, and was too sweet and kind-hearted, anyway, not to seem very glad to come. March was a matter of course; but in Colonel Woodburn, Fulkerson encountered a reluctance which embarrassed him the more because he was conscious of having, for motives of his own, rather strained a point in suggesting the colonel to Dryfoos as a fit subject for invitation. There had been only one of the colonel's articles printed as yet, and though it had made a sensation in its way, and started the talk about that number, still it did not fairly constitute him a member of the staff, or even entitle him to recognition as a regular contributor. Fulkerson felt so sure of pleasing him with Dryfoos's message that he delivered it in full family council at the widow's. His daughter received it with all the enthusiasm that Fulkerson had hoped for, but the colonel said, stiffly, "I have not the pleasure of knowing Mr. Dryfoos." Miss Woodburn appeared ready to fall upon him at this, but controlled herself, as if aware that filial authority had its limits, and pressed her lips together without saying anything.

"Yes, I know," Fulkerson admitted. "But it isn't a usual case. Mr. Dryfoos don't go in much for the conventionalities; I reckon he don't know much about 'em, come to boil it down; and he hoped"—here Fulkerson felt the necessity of inventing a little—"that you would excuse any want of ceremony; it's to be such an informal affair, anyway; we're all going in business dress, and there ain't going to be any ladies. He'd have come himself to ask you, but he's a kind of a bashful old fellow. It's all right, Colonel Woodburn."

"I take it that it is, sir," said the colonel, courteously, but with unabated state, "coming from you. But in these matters we have no right to burden our friends with our decisions."

"Of course, of course," said Fulkerson, feeling that he had been delicately told to mind his own business.

"I understand," the colonel went on, "the relation that Mr. Dryfoos bears to the periodical in which you have done me the honor to print my papah, but this is a question of passing the bounds of a purely business connection, and of eating the salt of a man whom you do not definitely know to be a gentleman."

"Mah goodness!" his daughter broke in. "If you bah your own salt with his money—"

"It is supposed that I earn his money before I buy my salt with it," returned her father, severely. "And in these times, when money is got in heaps, through the natural decay of our nefarious commercialism, it behooves a gentleman to be scrupulous that the hospitality offered him is not the profusion of a thief with his booty. I don't say that Mr. Dryfoos's good-fortune is not honest. I simply say that I know nothing about it, and that I should prefer to know something before I sat down at his board."

"You're all right, colonel," said Fulkerson, "and so is Mr. Dryfoos. I give you my word that there are no flies on his personal integrity, if that's what you mean. He's hard, and he'd push an advantage, but I don't believe he would take an unfair one. He's speculated and made money every time, but I never heard of his wrecking a railroad or belonging to any swindling company or any grinding monopoly. He does chance it in stocks, but he's always played on the square, if you call stocks gambling."

"May I, think this over till morning?" asked the colonel.

"Oh, certainly, certainly," said Fulkerson, eagerly. "I don't know as there's any hurry."

Miss Woodburn found a chance to murmur to him before he went: "He'll come. And Ah'm so much oblahged, Mr. Fulkerson. Ah jost know it's all you' doing, and it will give papa a chance to toak to some new people, and get away from us evahlastin' women for once."

"I don't see why any one should want to do that," said Fulkerson, with grateful gallantry. "But I'll be dogged," he said to March when he told him about this odd experience, "if I ever expected to find Colonel Woodburn on old Lindau's ground. He did come round handsomely this morning at breakfast and apologized for taking time to think the invitation over before he accepted. 'You understand,' he says, 'that if it had been to the table of some friend not so prosperous as Mr. Dryfoos—your friend Mr. March, for instance—it would have been sufficient to know that he was your friend. But in these days it is a duty that a gentleman owes himself to consider whether he wishes to know a rich man or not. The chances of making money disreputably are so great that the chances are against a man who has made money if he's made a great deal of it.'"

March listened with a face of ironical insinuation. "That was very good; and he seems to have had a good deal of confidence in your patience and in your sense of his importance to the occasion—"

"No, no," Fulkerson protested, "there's none of that kind of thing about the colonel. I told him to take time to think it over; he's the simplest-hearted old fellow in the world."

"I should say so. After all, he didn't give any reason he had for accepting. But perhaps the young lady had the reason."

"Pshaw, March!" said Fulkerson.

William Dean Howells