Mr. Welland Has a Bad Day
LESLIE GORDON BARNARD
A rich materialist meets a penniless dreamer—with astonishing results to both
MR. HENRY WELLAND, of Welland, Hotchkiss and Juniper, leaned across the glass-topped mahogany desk and poked one end of a goldrimmed pince-nez at the young man who sat on the edge of the purposely uncomfortable chair that was provided for those who sought interviews with the senior partner.
“I can give you two minutes.
Very busy this morning. Humph!
What is it?”
“About that policy, Mr. Welland.”
“Oh, yes, yes! You’re young Baridon who bothered me into taking out more life. Knew your father, didn't I? Well, I don’t thank your company for sending the doctor you did. Old fool; knew nothing of the value of time.
I suppose you want the initial payment now; your perquisite, heh? Well, let me see the policy.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Welland.
Afraid I have bad news for you.
The fact is, the company doesn’t care to issue a policy to you."
Young Baridon nodded.
"Turned down, sir. Means blacklisting, I’m afraid. I’m fearfully sorry.”
Henry Welland sat back in his chair. A little distress in the matter of breathing seemed to affect him even now. He’d rather noticed it lately. Said nothing about it. Thought nothing much of it. Once or twice, golfing— that kind of thing.
“Well, what is it, Baridon? Come out with it. I suppose I may share the secrets of my own interior?”
“It’s your heart, sir. I’ve a report here, if you’d care to glance at it—in confidence. Of course, we’re not done yet. We can fight the thing ...”
Henry Welland heard only the monotone of a meaningless voice, and, more important, the beating of his own heart. Humph! So nobody could say—with a heart like his .
He handed the letter back.
“All right, Baridon. We’ll just forget it. It’s not as if I really needed more protection. ’Morning!”
The door closed. Welland was alone. Alone with the luxurious efficiency of an office he had planned not to quit, say, until into the eighties. Just let down a bit; golf and what not, an older man’s pleasures. Alone with the unnecessary stridency of his heart. He got up and went to the open window. The top of an elm tree rose just above the sill. A green crown was coming on it. The square below, with its surrounding skyscrapers, its office buildings, hotels and shops, was bursting with spring. He smelt, for the first time from this elevation, the combined moist fragrance of earth and flowers after rain.
' I 'H RUSTIN G back under a paperweight some letters -*• he had purposed answering, Welland, as if in great urgency, struggled into hat and overcoat. Passing into the outer office full of the clack and hum of work, he nodded to his secretary.
“Going to lunch, Johnstone.”
About to say, “Why it’s barely eleven, Mr. Welland,” the secretary, having regard to discretion and moved perhaps to puzzlement at something in the senior partner’s face, coughed and made obeisance.
The square received Mr. Henry Welland with tender arms, with sprouting beauty, with an ineffable green, with that moist fragrance holding profundities of which in fifty-five years of life he had scarcely been aware. He strolled for a while, hardly conscious of those who shared with him this canopy of green upheld on trunks and splaying branches of brown and grey. On four sides, in the near distance, traffic ran its course. It seemed removed, unreal; an artificial life that might at any time end, if not rewound by a mechanically-minded humanity. Here, in the square, was life that not even asphalt or gravel could subdue; where the frosts of winter had cracked the pavements on which one strode, green was bursting in delicate but complete triumph.
All this was not for Mr. Henry Welland’s mind to analyze. Had it been law, of the kind he espoused, he could have put you right; dissecting this point and quoting that precedent, after proper reference, to a technical nicety; but this was a bit deep for him. He knew only two emotions - fear and a sense of temporary sanctuary. These moved out of profundity to an obvious place where he might taste and handle them.
Pulling down his hat over his eyes, lest Mr. Henry Welland be seen loitering in a public square in business hours, he explored the walks that formed an irregular netw'ork, then, enticed by the warm sunshine, seated himself on an empty bench.
Trying to concentrate on a sparrow bathing gaily in an overnight pool, he saw only a typed letter, coldly medical. Nobody could say . . . with a heart like his. Humph! Might snuff out just like that, eh? Must see Graydon. Graydon was no alarmist, though he’d give a straight, fair opinion. These insurance fellows! You never knew. Lots of people outlived their doleful pro-
phecies. Just impertinence, after all, this actuarial fiddlefaddle. There, he could feel his heart. Probably just nervousness, imagination, that accelerated it. Fiftyfive. No age at all. Good for twenty, thirty years, anyway.
“Excuse me, sir . . . ”
He turned startled eyes to a man who had seated himself on the bench.
“Could I—would it be possible—to help me with a little something, sir? I’m rather up against it.”
Welland bristled. He might have known this fellow would try that on. Just impudence! What were the police about?
“If you’re in need, try the charities.” Mr. Henry Welland gave to these every year quite liberally. If you gave five hundred or more, your name got in the specials, and that put it decently in the top section of the list published in the newspapers. W was a bad letter in the ordinary course, down near the bottom. Not fair, this alphabetical handling. But suddenly, before he quite got his sentence out, Welland’s mind dealt with an idea whose very entrance into his thoughts showed the morbid point to which they had come. If that confounded doctor was right, at any moment he might have to face—well, a place where there were no newspapers and where public spirit might be differently evaluated.
Mr. Welland did then a most remarkable thing, surprising himself into indignation.
“Here you are,” he said, even the first natural questions unasked. And then, still more amazed at himself, he added: “Good luck to you!”
The chap took the money unbelievingly, almost reverently. It was a five-doliar bill. The first bill offering itself to Mr. Henry Welland’s fingers! It was while he was watching with annoyance the phenomenon of delight on the fellow’s face that he made his discovery. The recipient was scarcely more than a boy; a young Apollo fallen on hard times, he might have thought, only he’d pushed everything mythical so far back into the refuse heap of unwanted knowledge that it is doubtful if even this simple likeness would occur to him. If one ever required suitable allusions for some forensic utterance, there were always the reference books, or the brains of men more recently in contact with those childhood fields.
“That’s fearfully good of you,” said the boy.
Henry Welland grunted; then softened the grunt,
fearing lest it might impair the credit of the charity that covers a multitude of sins.
Conscious that the lad was still sitting there in possession of the largess he had so rashly tossed at him, Welland moved uncomfortably, and would no doubt have left if the youth had not spoken. There was an alacrity in the voice that made his listener aware again of an undeniable fascination. Like the vivid and imperious green of the square—suggested if not yet fully realized—here were youth and vigor in full blossom. The cheeks glowed with a clear delicacy that made Henry Welland’s carefully groomed face a thing of sallow age. One felt that, beneath the shabby and ill-fitting suit—he wore no overcoat—there resided the litheness and muscular perfection of a racehorse. The eyes were peculiarly alive, meeting those of Mr. Welland—when the latter chose to raise his—like the blaze of new electrics against the smoky inferiority of ancient oil lamps in a country station.
YOU must have guessed,” said the lad, with enthusiasm that left Henry Welland cold, “how badly I needed this. I don’t go in for this kind of thing, but I was up against it, and when I saw you sit down here I decided you were the one, sir. Lost all my wad—not much—in a dosshouse last night.”
“Doss ... ?” began Mr.
Welland, with raised brows.
Dossier he knew, but . . .
“A cheap lodging-house down town,” grinned the boy.
Henry Welland felt a moral urge to resent the grin. There were places one could go; places appointed by constituted authority and subsidized out of taxes paid by Welland, Hotchkiss and Juniper, individually and collectively. He ventured to suggest as much.
“Yes.” The boy whistled.
“One night before I was bang up against it and went to your municipal place. Ever been there?”
Mr. Welland bridled.
“I understand it is efficiently run.”
“It is, sir. But it’s only for the absolutely flat.”
“Broke, sir. If you have any coin you hide it in your mouth.”
“Microbes,” thought Mr.
“Why?” he asked sharply.
“Because they don’t leave you anywhere else to hide it. Nature doesn’t provide pockets in the pelt.”
“Moral turpitude,” thought Henry Welland. He said though, curiously:
“They take away your clothes?”
“Every stitch, sir. Personal belongings, if any, in one bag. Clothes, for fumigation, in t’other bag. Both with your number. You have a number, you see, no name. Then you have a bath.”
“It Is. Nice clean towel.
Afterward, you line up—a few dozen—and the doc gives you the once over.
He knows most of the regulars. If you’re a new one— like me—he gets you out of line and prods you and asks questions. The rest look on and . . . and . . make remarks, sir.”
“Quite intimate, sir. Discuss your points . . . and your ancestry. Like a horse.”
A queer thought came to Henry Welland that he should like to see this boy that way.
“Afterthat, a nightie. Bought wholesale, and all toa size.” The boy grinned confidentially at Mr. Welland. “If you’re six feet, it'3 a kilt, sir. If you’re five, you hold up the drapes to keep your tootsies from walking on it.
I’m not blaming ’em, you know, sir. The things are clean at least. But it is a bit awful to see grown men tucked into bed at seven-thirty on a spring evening, sir.”
“If you don’t get in line by seven, you’re out of luck. The doors close. Well, there are tiers of bunks, and the blankets are clean. After a slice of dry bread and a cup of coffee, you climb in. You lie there—no talk allowed — and watch the daylight fade; and, if you’re given that way, you think over your life.”
The boy was silent. Mr. Henry Welland was silent, too. He felt that he was lying, in alien nightwear, staring into fading daylight, considering his comings and goings in the earth.
Fifty-five years. And success. Always success. A good start, of course—family money, family influence— but he’d kept his nose to it. School. University. None of that folly for him that you heard of nowadays. Perhaps times changed, or else he’d kept out of the contemporary drift that way. What was that song the students of today sang along the streets, doing snake dances after a football victory, and holding up traffic?
But to raise heck all the year!”
Humph! And then they wondered . . . Shouldn’t be surprised if this young fellow was a college man; he had an educated tongue. A man must stick to it to make a success. Look at himself, Henry Welland; not brilliant, perhaps, he’d confess that, but doggedly, everlastingly
“It is not for knowledge that we go to college,
at it. Called to the bar at aJi early age; a decent number of good briefs; family influence to some extent, but not altogether; partnership; crown prosecutor; lecturer; and now in a place of undisputed seniority with Welland, Hotchkiss and Juniper. At fifty-five—comparative youth. Good for years—Mr. Henry Welland felt suddenly an uneasiness in the pit of his stomach. His hand crept inside his piped waistcoat to assess the flutterings of his newly discovered heart.
HE SAID, so abruptly that he startled his companion: “Humph ! Well, what were you thinking about?” “Now?”
“No. Then. In the bunk.”
“Well, I thought of life; and that thing Shakespeare says ...” He glanced a little timidly at Henry Welland. “Goon.”
“You probably know it, sir:
‘Life’s but a walking shadow—a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
“You feel like that sometimes, don’t you, sir? I mean ... all those fellows .. . lined up; grown men tucked into bed by daylight. Gone to seed, most of ’em. Good family, quite a few . . . you could tell that. You wonder what got twisted inside, and how. And then the rotters; you should have heard some of the remarks, sir . . . and the misfits, and everything.”
Mr. Henry Welland felt the time had come for the question direct. He said drily:
“And how about you, young man?”
“Me? That’s a fair question. Well, I'm included in the idiot’s tale, sir. Hadn’t a penny when I got my education paid for, so I’m bumming my way around the world. I want to know life first-hand, sir. This is my stop-over, number one. When I get enough in hand I’ll push through to the West, work my way across the Pacific, live, if I can, the life of the Orient . . . and soon.” He paused. The glow in his eyes impressed Mr. Welland again with an irritating sense of disparity.
Henry Welland said, abruptly:
“That’s all very fine. But you can’t go on that way. It’s nonsensical; madness. What’ll you do for a living?” “Do? But I am living. And I want to find out why.”
“Heh?” For some reason Mr. Welland felt himself in deep water; as if he’d like to grip the first rational straw he could get hold of. Finding none at hand, he snapped out: “And when you find it, what’ll you do with it, eh? What’ll you do with it?”
“Express it, sir, if I can.” “Express it?”
"Poetry, sir. I’ve done a bit. Nothing much yet. If you’d care to see ...” Henry Welland was horrified. The fellow took a worn notebook out of his shabby pocket and was thumbing it eagerly. Henry Welland had a well-stocked poetry section in his library, but he mistrusted all but the covers—in uniform editions, of the best class, very decorative, making a room look furnished. Occasionally, too, one could impress a jury—in the old days when he was in active harness that way—with a quotation from a quotation book that was indexed topically—murder, justice, love, pity, patriotism—anything one could want.
Continued on page 52
Mr. Welland Has a Bad Day
Continued from page 13
When delivered with a certain emotional cadence it influenced any jury that was pliable.
The notebook was in his hands. The writing, he saw, was neat but distinctive. As for the boy’s poetry:
“Let me live on ; though life seem meaningless,
It offers vast adventure to the soul;
If soul there be and not mere essence,
A ghost of cosmic breath caught in illusion
(If matter be but that), yet gifted
With yearnings, strivings, questing so sublime
That one would live, if only to endure!”
Henry Welland thought: "Now what the dickens is all that about?” It made him feel uncomfortable, as if he were being prodded by agencies beyond his ken. He handed back the book.
“I guess it’s all right. I’m no judge of poetry.” A suspicion smote him. He grunted: “Sure that’s your own?”
“Why, yes, sir.”
"Well, all right. All right. I’m sorry.”
He figured he’d be getting along. In fifty-five years he’d never experienced until today anything like this. He, Henry Welland, of Welland, Hotchkiss and Juniper, sitting, of a business morning, on a bench in a public square, where he might at any moment be apprehended by acquaintances, listening to an impoverished young fly-by-night who wrote a meaningless but uncomfortable jargon of poetic fiddle-faddle.
"Must be going,” he said hastily, consulting his watch and having no idea of what the hands said. “Good morning.”
He felt as if he were fleeing from some impalpable but baleful influence; baleful because mysterious. He disliked mysterious things. He preferred those which could be arithmetically proved, or technically dissected and docketed, or, by whatsoever method you might desire, put in their proper places and subdued. He reached the curb. Traffic wheeled by, glinting in the noonday blaze of a sun still mellow with a moist vapor.
A hand touched him.
“Just a moment, sir. Could I have your card?”
Henry Welland was annoyed at being followed, but there was a certain chaste pleasure in handing to a down-at-the-heel youngster like this an engraved pasteboard bearing his own name and that of Welland, Hotchkiss and Juniper. His pockets yielding none, he was obliged to consummate the matter by word of mouth, pointing out from where he stood the building that housed the firm.
“Thank you, sir. I’d like to return the loan as soon as possible.”
Henry Welland grunted once again. He knew, of course, how to assess this gesture. These ne’er-do-well drifters had as much idea of returning money as he had of dying poor. But he nodded, with a civility that surprised and did not displease him. It was odd how a suspicion of one’s heart, of possible deplorable contingencies ahead, of a limited span, changed one. It brought out, he hoped, one’s true colors, revealed one’s inner self. He was glad he had given that impulsive lad five dollars. It warmed him. Not that he expected to get anything back. Henry Welland was nobody’s fool. He’d kissed, as the slangy moderns would say, the fiver good-by. But there was that thing in the Scriptures about hoping for nothing again. Feeling very scriptural and comforted, he began to cross the street.
ORDINARILY most cautious, crossing only at proper intersections and on signal, Mr. Henry Welland was today experiencing new emotions and discretion fell from him. For perhaps the first time
in an orderly life he was guilty of jaywalking.
He heard a shout: “Look out there!” He saw death, immediate and irrevocable, looming up in the guise of a truck. Paralyzed, he was incapable. His wits could not decide this way or that. The same instant he was catapulted by some tremendous but, he realized, human agency into the middle of the street. Everywhere brakes ground; there was a crash, somebody cried out, several people caught up the sound of the cry; then Mr. Henry Welland, to his own amazement and relief, and through a perfect maze of halted traffic, reached the farther side.
Certainly nothing like this had happened to Mr. Welland in such of his fifty-five years as Nature gave him knowledge of. The propulsion from behind had saved him; he took it to be the fortuitous but happily timed leap toward safety of some fellow human; but the method of it left him at once outraged, breathless and shocked. His head span, and instantly he remembered the condition of his heart. No man with a heart for which the medical world would not vouch could sustain such shocks as that.
The traffic behind him was still embroiled. That people should be more interested in it than in him who had escaped from death under its wheels, infuriated him even while he desired no publicity. Feeling very ill, he staggered around the corner into a backwash, where a taxidriver, seeing his plight, scented business and opened a door to him.
Henry Welland gave an address. He would go and see Graydon at once. Disliking to put the thing to issue further, but remembering that many a judgment is thrown out by a higher court, he determined on this appeal.
Two blocks away their progress was suspended for a moment to give rightof-way to an ambulance that added its clanging voice to the morning’s chorus of mutability. His taxi moved on, achieving the quiet elegance of that residential street where Dr. Graydon had dealt out hope and despair to many people for many years. Dismissing the car, he climbed the steps. Dr. Graydon was not in. He was expected. Would Mr. Welland wait? Mr. Welland would.
Nursing his hat, which by a miracle he had retained through the narrowness of his escape, Henry Welland considered the unostentatious luxury of Graydon’s anterooms and felt a sense of suffocation. The place, he decided, was like a morgue: the etchings, he shouldn’t doubt, were properly expensive and well if not aptly chosen, being unhappy in their inclination toward the sombre. They tended toward imagination and atmosphere rather than a dependable forthrightness that would be better fitted to a place like this. The magazines were either too broadly hum-
orous and mocking to a man in ill-health, or popular, of a type that Mr. Welland caustically supposed would appeal to women clients; or stolid quarterlies on subjects of abstruse literary and political interest. He sought for something on law, or business, or even golf, and drew blanks. So he sat staring at a window too heavily draped, and at the spring sunshine on a green-flecked tree outside, and at one or two patients who entered and took chairs in that ghastly silence peculiar to doctors’ offices. Concerning them, Mr. Welland allowed himself some morbid speculations; as to whether the blonde was dieting under the doctor’s care, or whether the plaintive child with the straggle-haired mother was a victim of adenoids that made it look like a puppy that should have been drowned at birth.
Out of this vortex of thought and speculation came remembrance—which Mr. Welland had all this while fought against —of the queer specimen he had run into. Uncomfortable fellow. He supposed maybe the chap was a genius. He’d always been told they were like that, but fortunately he had had little experience with the type. He preferred that sounder estimate concerning the infinite capacity for taking pains. On such a basis he, Henry Welland, might almost qualify, had modesty not withheld the claim. Those cranks were useless; set people by the ears and got no one anywhere.
He supposed Shakespeare was essentially a sound fellow. But it gave you a turn to hear him echoed by a down-at-heel fellow on a park bench. Some of the words actually stuck:
“It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
You couldn’t do anything with that kind of thing. And then trotting out his own stuff; naively, one must confess; there was a saving grace of boyish modesty about it. Well, it had cost Henry Welland a good five-dollar bill. He found a pawky humor in that for a moment. He had become, in a new way, a patron of the arts.
An instant later he remembered the charity that covers sins and, shifting a little uncomfortably on his chair and frowning at the plaintive child who seemed disposed to make adenoidish faces at him, he tried to think thoughts more in keeping with a man whose ordinary span of life has been interfered with by the medical mercenary of an insurance concern.
“Dr. Graydon will see you now, sir.”
HIS heart fluttering noticeably, Mr.
Henry Welland girded his courage about him and followed on.
Graydon, with cold and unnerving efficiency, went about his inspection, and
out of an inexorable silence brought forth his judgment.
"Nothing to worry about, Welland. Go a little easy, that’s all. These insurance people play safe, you know. Don’t overwork, don’t overplay; but there’s all the years in you, barring accident, that a man should ask of life. And don’t think too much about yourself.”
Henry Welland, in quick, tremulous gratitude, paid the fee in gladness. Only when he was out once more in the spring air did he reflect that Graydon did himself well at ten dollars a whack.
Fifteen dollars since he left the office! Ten dollars reposing in Graydon’s pocket, five for that folly in the square.
A clock somewhere was striking two. Three hours wasted on a busy day! He felt more than a little of a fool. In the midst of his relief he was annoyed. Graydon was probably laughing up his sleeve to see his friend Welland with the wind up. Well, he was good for years yet. He’d still be sought out and consulted in big affairs. Welland, of Welland, Hotchkiss and Juniper. A figure about town. Known as a sound man. No fiddle-faddle. Gad, if anyone found out about the aberration of this morning, though ! Sniffing flowers and what-not in a public square on a busy morning. Squandering five dollars on a young fly-by-night on a park bench, who thought it was soul adventure to go— What was his phrase?—bumming his way around the world and writing meaningless poetry en route!
Five dollars! It worried him. It was a blemish on an impeccable life.
He bought the two o’clock edition. He did not read it. He must hurry back to the office; lunch would have to go by the board today. He thrust the folded paper into his overcoat pocket. Headlines, that he did not see, stuck out.
UNIDENTIFIED YOUNG MAN AUTO VICTIM
Fatally Injured In Trying To Save
Elderly Gentleman Also Unknown
There was reference in the text to a notebook bearing no name or address but containing scraps of probably original verse. The reporter, indeed, struck by one entry, had incorporated it, thus bringing it to the eye of a harassed city editor.
"Let me live on; though life seem meaningless
It offers vast adventure to the soul . . ’*
Wearily the city editor struck his blue pencil through it. Maybe it was all right, but there wasn’t space; and that report of the Travellers’ weekly luncheon had to stand.
All this Mr. Henry Welland, hurrying officeward, could not know. Life for him was sound again, save for recurrent irritation over that five-dollar bill. He couldn’t conceive what had got into him. A loan? Heh! To be paid back? Gammon! That was five dollars for which Henry Welland would get no value. And he liked to get full value for his money.
At the office he set the paper aside, unread. The evening edition, when he had time for it, gave such smaH space to an incident of a busy day in the city that one naturally passed it by; turning, with a shifting of feet in carpet slippers and of one’s body more comfortably in the chair before the fire—the window being open, it was pleasant to have a blaze— to the financial page and the daily news of doings in the courts of law. A spring wind, capricious above the city, inclined toward branching tree outside the window and moved it to a sighing murmur. Mr. Henry Welland, feeling the draught slightly, and having not quite recovered from his solicitude for his own good health, went and closed the window tightly down.