Dandy Rykert: A ROMANCE WITH A BUSINESS SETTING
J. E. MIDDLETON
ARCHITECTURE was at low tide, Commissions were lamentably scarce. The money squeeze of war had embarrassed many business men and house building was postponed. Yet Rykert got a job. He had a way with him. He walked into our office, removed his hat nonchalantly and said with some indifference: “I am the best architectural draftsman in this country. I planned and supervised St. Peter’s Church, Montreal, under McGregor and Barton. You can have me for $100 a month.”
Mr. Leonard had seen St. Peter’s. More still, he looked into a pair of compelling, self-assured brown eyes. “Why did you leave McGregor?” he asked.
The applicant was ready. “I did not ask why you fired your last draftsman.” The Chief grunted. “That would be a long story,” he replied.
“Mine is a short one,” said Rykert, putting on his hat, “but I have no time to tell it.” He turned toward the door.
“Don’t go,” said the Chief, smiling. “Come around to-morrow and show me what you can do. If you are competent —well, I shall ask no questions.”
SO came David Rykert. Next morning he was established. By noon he was an institution. The progress seemed a bit rapid to me, Redfern Holloway, bald, steady and mediocre. By slow degrees, by more and more, I had won the place of general office man at Leonard and Leonard’s. The vagaries of artists always æemed to me inexplicable, if not uncanny. Rykert differed from some draftsmen I had known. He had ivory-handled instruments, but he called them tools. He never mentioned his art, nor his profession. It was his job. Yet he could draw a circle freehand which would shame most designers. His lines were not only straight, but even. Without the “T” square he could erect a right angle which “proved.” His sketching was like the finished drawing of other men and he borrowed a quarter from me for cigarettes. He had the spirit of art, without the name thereof.
Smoking in the office was prohibited. Mr. Leonard would have protested, but he saw Rykert’s drawing and was discreet. No one else dared to smoke. The new man’s very calmness was fascinating as he sat by the window and threw the butts into the street. Two lean fingers were saffron stained. His face was dark, alert and almost handsome. His hair was short, his brow broad, his nostrils wide, his chin square, but his lips were full and sensuous. His eyes were brown gimlets, designed originally for a professor of hypnotism, but by some mischance of nature bestowed upon an architect, surveyor and civil engineer with a taste for change.
“Really, I don’t know what there is for you to do,” said the Chief, a little embarrassed.
“Something will turn up,” said Rykert. “It is my luck.”
THAT very afternoon Mrs. Ted Markham called. For an hour she was in the private office. Kitty King, the stenographer, said she brought a big commission. Pressed for details, Kitty was vague. “She has a blue velvet suit, with white fur trimming,” said Kitty, “and the sweetest hat! I think it is a sin.” Rykert looked up inquiringly. Then it was explained that Mrs. Markham’s widowhood was comparatively recent. Scarcely two years had passed since Ted’s motor had skidded. “I don’t think she ever loved him,” said Kitty.
Rykert lit another cigarette. “Wealthy?” he asked. We nodded. “How much?” I said that the succession dues on the estate were $90,000. “She must have loved him,” was the cynical judgment. “A girl would love any one with half a million.”
“It’s not true,” said Kitty stoutly. She was a romantic little thing, and “kept company” with a High School teacher; which, perhaps, is the final test of disinterested affection.
“She has a fine car,” said Rykert, staring out of the window carelessly. “Wonder what she wants.”
It was a Muskoka home. She owned an island and desired something special— in cobblestone. So said the Chief as he turned over the instructions to Rykert and suggested a rough plan and a sketch.
“She wants eighteen closets for sure,” said Mr. Leonard, “and as many ‘cubby holes’ as you can work in.”
Rykert sniffed. “Cobblestones?” he said disdainfully. “An island of pink Laurentian granite under her nose, and she wants cobblestones!”
“I suppose it can be done,” said Mr. Leonard.
“All right. You do it,” returned Rykert. It seemed bold.
“Some artistic things have been done with cobblestones.” ventured the Chief, with surprising mildness.
“Huh,” was the re'oinder. “Common sense is a better guide. If a woman hqs diamond ear drops, you don’t buy her coral ones.”
“You will do the sketch, Mr. Rykert?” inquired the Chief.
“I’ll try her with granite and limestone,” was the reply.
“Very well, but I warn you, Mrs. Ted is a determined woman.” Mr. Leonard sighed and withdrew to his room.
THE office boy, also a first year apprentice, ventured the sotto voce comment that this new guy had his nerve with him. The fact was undoubted. The reason for the Chief’s mildness was not made clear to me until I met Briggs one day at lunch. He was with the Stopford firm, our chief rival. “I hear that Dandy Rykert is in your office,” he began.
Then came a flood of narration concern-
ing Rykert’s career. He had the reputation^ of going straight for months at a time and then blowing up. His temperament when on a “tear” was unique. He was credited with swimming St. Mary’s current at Montreal, destroying a piano because the upper B flat jingled, and preaching on a street corner. All these and other tales, rich in imagery and not lacking in charm, were told by a chuckling and sometimes profane Briggs.
I was inclined to think them exaggerations. Rykert, I believed, was too careful about his boots, too anxious over the creases in his trousers to display such primordial and hot-brained instincts. Yet many and frequent had been his jobs. Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, Butte, Omaha, Chicago, Buffalo, Winnipeg—he knew every office in each of these cities and a dozen more. He let drop no hint of the high lights on his architectural experience, but his anecdotes were varied and cosmopolitan. “Don’t call this an art,” he would say. “It is a trade and an infernally poor one. It is a business, with customers coming behind the counters and messing up the stock.” He growled at the five orders which stand like five little tin gods in every architect’s office. He hooted at the modern idea of copying the Pantheon and calling the result a bank.
Mrs. Markham’s trial sketch grew rapidly. Ground plan, elevations and a dashing water-color were soon completed. The Chief did not say much, merely shook his head and smiled. The sketch was superb.
“It is like this, Red,” Rykert remarked one day;—we were familiar now—“cobblestones are for meadow lands, farmhouses and country clubs. Rock for the north, brick for the city. A stone office in a brick yard would be as stupid as cobblestones in Muskoka.” “I hope you can convince her,” I said. He merely whistled.
SHE came at noon when Kitty and the office boy were at lunch and when I was revising a specification. The cold observation of a matured bachelor has convinced me that a widow who takes an interest in life is the noblest work of God. Mrs. Markham was a true blonde. She dressed, as the prophets of Baal called upon their god, with complete devotion to the business in hand. She walked in full confidence of her position. Ted had been in politics—up to the neck. A few seasons at Ottawa had polished his nerve and given his wife the carriage of a Countess. Here she was, approaching the age of supreme excellence, a young girl of thirty with a figure—which she knew all about—with slight curls on her forehead, and with eyes to be adored.
The Chief brought her in and Rykert was presented, suddenly, and before he had obtained a private view. A flare of crimson leaped to his dark cheek and his
sharp eyes glinted with enthusiasm. After the commonplaces of conversation he spread the plans before the lovely client and awaited her verdict.
“I think I said cobblestones,” she said, before Rykert was ready. “At least I meant cobblestones. They are too delici-
“I am so bold as to believe that quarry stone would be better,” said Rykert, pointing to his water-color, “but if you prefer cobblestones-”
“Oh, oh!” she gasped. “I never dreamed of anything so sweet.”
“This is a boathouse,” explained Rykert, “and this a shelter bridge. It will make a good lee pool for the motor boat or yacht. All the rooms have a southern exposure. This is an open air dormitory.”
“But the cost?”
“Thirty thousand will do it,” said the Chief.
“Can I have all the closets I want?”
Mr. Leonard laughed. “My dear Mrs. Markham,” he said, “you can not. But you can have all you need.” She pouted.
Rykert with a young man’s gallantry came to the rescue. “Say how many you want. I will put them in.”
“Settle it yourselves,” said the Chief, smiling with singular sweetness as he went to answer a telephone call.
“I have some ideas for decoration,” said Rykert, “which might please you. If you could give me some time I would like to explain the plan more fully.” It seemed to me that he was less composed than usual.
Mrs. Ted had the confidential manner brought to high perfection. She almost, cooed as she looked into Dandy’s eyes. “That would be so sweet of you. Dine with us to-morrow evening at seven.”
THUS many things began. One swift impulse! One unmeasured word! Yet Mrs. Markham was not a promiscuous person. A long training in the calm, semi-English society of Canada made her sparing in entertainment and choice in the selection of guests. Political friends, school friends, fellow regents of the Infants’ Orphanage, and musicians were her intimates. These, with her brother Denzil Howe, the lawyer, and the Hon. Jerry Duffy, her husband’s executor, made her social circle. And Rykert was among the chosen.
He was not properly impressed with the honor. Next day he did not even mention the dinner. But he went to the Markham home again, and yet again. Kitty began recording telephone messages, “Ask Mr. Rykert to speak,” or “Will Mr. Rykert call this afternoon at the tea hour?” It seemed to me that, while the detail drawings were in progress, Rykert was a consulting architect, visiting clients at their homes. The situation was entertaining. The drafting room became a nest of humorists, all making sly remarks about widows and deserving architects. I, as an elder brother at the office, ventured one day to whistle four bars of the Mendelssohn wedding march.
“You are a lot of prize bidders, aren’t you?” said Dandy with a patronizing smile. But then he sighed—so quietly that I alone discerned it.
X/l RS. TED thought he ought to visit the Island. The summer was young and the lake transportation as yet imperfect. He planned to go on Friday night so as to catch the infrequent boat which made the round trip possible on a Saturday, but impossible on any other day. As Mr. Leonard had some fag ends of surveying to be done in the mining country farther north, Rykert undertook the task and prepared for a week’s absence. He packed chain and theodolite. Chainmen, he thought, could be picked up at Cobalt, where languid genius in various forms perpetually awaits recognition.
On Friday afternoon, an hour before train time, the office door was successively filled by two obtrusive personalities. Mr. Denzil Howe, clean shaven, prosperous and dignified, was followed by the more unctuous Jerry Duffy. We had a counter a foot wide where a draftsman could meet a visitor. Kitty and the rest of the staff had gone for the day.
“Mr. Rykert,” said Howe. “We want a consultation on a private matter. Perhaps this gentleman-”
“Certainly,” I said, and started for the hall door.
“Don’t go, Red,” said Dandy. “Stick around.”
“AhI said a private matter,” re-
peated Mr. Howe, who had a belligerent eye.
“Then what does Mr. Duffy want?” returned Rykert. There was some latent hostility in my friend’s manner.
“Mr. Duffy is associated with me,” snapped Mr. Howe, after clearing his legal throat.
“And Mr. Holloway is associated with me,” rejoined Rykert with a smile. “Fire ahead.”
Twice the lawyer coughed in minatory manner. “Sir,” he began, “I am here to say, with regret, that your persistent attentions to a certain lady are causing remark. It is necessary that they cease.”
There was a cold silence. Rykert’s lips were tightly pressed.
“I need scarcely add,” continued Mr. Howe with great dependence upon, the forensic manner, “that the lady is too highly placed to be made the subject of vulgar gossip or club slander. As her only defender I feel impelled to say that no common adventurer will have any success in deceiving me or the executor of the estate.” He glanced at Mr. Duffy, who fixed his eye-teeth more firmly into a fat cigar and heaved a regretful sigh.
RYKERT’S eyes were half shut. With his right hand he held the back of a chair, and I noticed the gleaming whiteness of his knuckles. “Anything more?” he asked sharply.
“You have had an interesting career, Mr. Rykert. I have taken the trouble to look it up. I deeply regret to say that I have records of a conviction in Moose Jaw for disorderly conduct. There was something off color in Port Arthur, too, assault, I believe.”
“Yes,” said Rykert, “I hit a lawyer with a plum bob.” His voice grated on my ear. It was tense and unlike him.
“Of course,” the lawyer continued with a satirical bow, “the facts have been laid
before the lady, and while, naturally, she is blinded by your talen-”
The lady’s name had not been mentioned so far. Rykert was less discreet. “Did Mrs. Markham send you here to-day, or did.you come of your own motion?”
“Well—ah-” began Howe.
“Don’t lie, if you can avoid it,” said Rykert through his teeth.
“I was about to say that I am here as her next friend.”
“At her request?” persisted the drafts-
“Not at her direct request, perhaps,” admitted Howe.
Rykert turned swiftly to Duffy. “How about you?” he asked. “Are you here on spec, too?” He had startled Mr. Duffy, and that statesman had jarred an inch of white ash from his cigar.
“Well—not to put too fine a point on it —yes.”
“She is her own mistress,” said Rykert.
“True,” Howe replied,” but our joint advice is of great weight, great weight, sir. Bear that in mind.”
“You want an answer, I suppose,” mused my friend. “I’ll give you one. You can go to hell—and shut the door after you.”
'p HE resultant spluttering soon ended -*• and the prominent citizens were upon the street. The angry howl of their motor echoed far. Rykert clapped me on the shoulder and smiled. He was far less concerned than I.
“Red,” he breathed. “Not a word of this!”
“Of course not,” I said.
“Look,” he continued. “Here is my card. As soon as I am gone, send two dozen roses to Mrs. Markham—in my name. From this minute I am a candidate, d’ye hear, a candidate. When I get back, my boy, I’ll show you some speed.”
And away he went, his joyous head uplifted to the June clouds.
Mrs. Ted called once—with a letter for my friend. She must have been apprehensive of interference to bring it herself. There was also a decision in her demeanor which did not invite confidence. I locked the letter in my desk and promised to give it to Dandy as soon as he returned.
The week lengthened into nine days. Then came a telegram from our Hailevbury agent. “Your man Rykert celebrating. Raising Cain.”
The Chief was bitterly disappointed. “There is no knowing how far he will go,” he said. “His reputation amongst the architects does not give me much 'hope. You had better go north.” So I was sent to assemble our instruments and, if possible, snatch a brand from the fires.
I FOUND my man asleep in a Haileybury barber shop. While I got shaved the barber recounted an Odyssey. Rykert and an American mining engineer from Nevada had armed a solemn Swede miner, seven feet high, with a pick, and appointed him special guard. Thus immune from attack they tore through the town from the Methodist prayer meeting to the town council, and from the Haileybury Club to the Ladies’ Red Cross Guild. With the
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theodolite, Rykert had taken observations of each of these institutions while the mining engineer had made a record. If it were decided that the persons observed were on the level they were invited to buy a drink. If they refused, the official record was gravely expunged. There were other stories, humorous to those who think a drunken man is amusing, tragic to me. I assembled our property and then roused Rykert. Only by long coaxing could I get him to the station.
Next day on the train he told how he had exulted in the prospect of happiness. It was love. For the first time the passion had flamed in his soul. The anxiety of Howe had brought hope, and after reflection, certainty. Rykert’s quick instinct had shown him that the lawyer’s anger was based on some expression of preference which Mrs. Markham must have dropped unwittingly. He believed
that the Grand Prix was his for the asking.
Inspecting her Island, lonely and solemn in the June day, my friend’s thoughts had taken another turn. His own unworthiness came home. He recalled the shame of twenty riotous years, the folly of clowning for all America. He experienced the bitterness of every man’s discovery —that he is forced to live with himself continuously. A sudden wave of selfcontempt engulfed him, and that was the end.
\XT E came back to Toronto. I left him ' ' at the boarding house and that was my last sight of him. Without message or warning he disappeared. No instructions were left with his landlady. All Mr. Leonard’s inquiries failed. The Markham plans were practically complete. We were not inconvenienced on that account. Yet the Chief hesitated to notify his client. Some gleam of understanding made him
Then there was no need. Mrs. Ted came to the office. Her manner was strained and uneasy as she showed me a letter, undated and without address. It ran thus: “My dear Mrs. Markham. Owing to your insistence upon the insertion of a small square window in the linen closet—a window out of place in the facade and false to the spirit of Norman architecture, I must withdraw from further professional relations with you. Mr. Holloway, I am sure, will complete the work, and merit every confidence. I thank you deeply for a thousand courtesies. David Rykert.”
“There was no mention of such a window,” she said with trembling lips. “He could not have received my letter.”
Shamefaced, I opened the desk and handed the letter to her with speechless apology and silent regret. “I am sorry,” she said. “It was important.” The glint of a tear was in her eye.
The following items appeared in recent issues of a Toronto newspaper :
(a) Casualties. Royal Canadian Engineers, Lieut. David Rykert. wounded.
(b) Social and Personal. Mrs. Edward Markham is leaving on Saturday for Eng-
Ottawa, Ont., June 23rd, 1916.
You are giving the Canadian public clean, wholesome, entertaining and educative reading. You have succeeded in securing the best Canadian-born authors.
William H. E. Lepine, B.C.L.
Toronto, June 13th, 1916.
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