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THE SPECTACLES OF MR. CAGLIOSTRO Volume 1
MR. MIDDLETON OF MELBOURNE
One hundred and twenty miles more—two hours at the most—and he would be in Chicago, at the end of this strangest of all journeys that had carried him exactly half around the terrestrial globe. Jerry Middleton, late of Melbourne, Australia, seated on the observation platform of the San Francisco-Chicago Limited, gazed with never flagging interest at the continually changing panorama of American countryside that flashed past the roaring train. And for the thousandth time since starting for this land where Money was Emperor, and Might was Right, he found himself speculating curiously as to the size of that estate which was now to be his. For that Digby Middleton, his father, had been wealthy was beyond dispute.
He smiled grimly as he realised the strange paradox he presented, gawking at every farmer, at every pigsty, at every child who waved at the flashing train. For, though he had been born in America, of an American father, and though once before in his life he had travelled clear across the American continent, he had never, until he had dismounted from the Australian liner at San Francisco three days before, seen so much as even a blade of grass belonging to Uncle Sam’s domain!
The train was perhaps yet an hour out from Chicago when he first glimpsed the words which emphasized once more that the key to success in America consisted of thundering forth one’s story from every factory-side and signboard. And that glimpse caused him to sit up with a decided shock, for, for the first time in his life, he saw his own family name emblazoned forth in gigantic letters—the very heart of an American advertisement.
The train had slowed down to a crawl to pass over a bridge. And there this advertisement was, perhaps one hundred and fifty yards across the fields, its huge letters of snow-white on a background of jet-black, the whole occupying the entire side of a gigantic factory building, literally screaming forth its message for the travelling public to read:
He read its every word as the train crawled slowly out on the trestle, and commenced to pick up its speed.
Australian as he was by upbringing, he could only realise dimly as the giant sign with its letters of white on their background of jet disappeared in the back of the accelerating train that it must be a pure Americanism—a part of the tongue spoken in this Land of Heart’s Desire.
Lotsapep! And he was to be the owner of Lotsapep. What would it be like to be rich, comfortable, lionised in a land where wealth counts for all, yet a land which was strange to him, its people and its customs unknown—but withal his own land, his own country?
And musing seriously on the train of thoughts led by this meaningless ward—Lotsapep, he saw the great factories which always cluster on the outskirts of a big city become more and more frequent, more and more massed into groups. Signboards announcing Chicago hostelries flashed by in myriad colours. Smoking chimneys marked the passing of the farmer’s domain. Again he passed a great factory whose entire side next the railroad, leased no doubt by his father, had been completely blocked in by painters who seemed as flies on their tiny scaffolding, and upon whose jet surface now the white outlines of the letters which were to spell the name of the founder of the Middleton estate stood out, waiting to be blocked in solidly with their gleaming white pigment.
DIGBY MIDDLETON’S NEWEST OFFERING
This was all they had completed; and the huge announcement, in that form, seemed symbolic of the incompletion of Digby Middleton’s last venture in his successful gold-creating business of making and selling drugless proprietary remedies.
Back yards and via ducts now began to weld together factories and chimneys into a metropolitan whole. Streets—American streets!—with autos, wagons, always briskly-walking people, flowed past the train with monotonous succession. And of a sudden, almost before he realised it, the train ground into a great darkened train shed and Jerry Middleton was in the Land of Heart’s Desire.
He threaded his way out of the train, and thence into the waiting-room. There he stood undecidedly, ill-at-ease for the first time, travelling-bag in one hand, walking-stick in the other. A redcoat, perceiving in an instant that this tall, erect young man with firm jaw, honest brown eyes, close-cropped hair and rather serious face was a stranger in a strange land, as betokened by his very English derby, his tie of sombre black, his slim fitting suit of English cut with rolling lapels and cutaway coat, and that anomaly—a stick!—darted forward as a hawk descends upon a plump fowl. But here Jerry Middleton glimpsed Fortescue.
It had been four years since he had seen Luther Fortescue, his father’s secretary, and that meeting had been in Melbourne. Two years prior to that they had met in London, and still two years before this, when he himself had been only a stripling of sixteen, they had become acquainted for the first time in Australia. And he marvelled how Luther Fortescue seemed to remain the same. Clad immaculately, almost dudishly, in a suit of extremely conventional cut, but of cloth whose vivid longitudinal stripes were of a daring green, his hair a raven black with a touch of grey at the ears, his tie of lavender with emerald stickpin neatly centred in it, his shirt of gleaming white, and eyes of nondescript colour that nevertheless held in them the keen light of the successful business man, in age perhaps forty, he suggested two contradictory men combined in one—the shrewd efficient assistant he had been to Digby Middleton, and the pleasureloving man-about-town.
He came forward, a smile on his face, his gloved hand extended, the other waving back the importunate redcoat.
“And so you’re here, Jerry,” he said, gazing up and down Jerome Middleton’s person. “Well—it seems good to see you—and yet—I do surely hate to see you under such circumstances. Your father”—he shook his head—“your father would have gloried in having seen you once more before—” He allowed the sentence to go unfinished.
Jerry Middleton did not smile. “I wonder,” he said, taking the other’s outstretched hand, considerable bitterness in his voice. “God knows I tried to persuade him to let me come to his country—my own country—but always the same refusal. Always the same. It seems a shame that only by his death could I come to the land of my birth.” He gazed about him at the throngs surging back and forth in the waiting-room. “At any rate, here I am, ready to shoulder the burden of the business. But how are you, Fortescue? I hope your afternoon is quite free. I want to ask you many questions.”
Fortescue motioned to a near-by seat. They dropped down on it. “I have no doubt,” the older man said, “that there is much that you want to know—much that it was not possible for me to include in the cable I sent you. So just go ahead and ask what you like. When we’re finished we’ll go straight to Lockwood’s for a reading of your father’s will.”
“There are one or two questions that I want to ask now,” replied the younger man. “For I did considerable thinking on that long interminable journey from the other side of the earth.” He paused. “First, just what was the cause of father’s dying so suddenly after the operation? And did he have any inkling that such an operation would be fatal?”
“Well,” was Fortescue’s response, “it was on August the 6th, just about a month and eleven days ago, you see, that the surgeons’ consultation brought in a verdict that your father would have to be operated upon, the sooner the better. And so he decided to go it at once—at least within a week, although he realised that the outcome was far from certain.”
“But while the operation was successful—his heart gave out on him?” put in the younger man. “So I gathered from your cable .”
The older man assented. “Yes. Precisely. He was operated upon exactly a week after the surgeons’ conference. He seemed to rally for two days and a half, but then took a sudden turn for the worse and sank rapidly from the old heart trouble he had. He died late on the afternoon of the day I cabled you.”
“Were his business affairs put into shape by him during his last days?” asked the younger man.
“He was very busy,” replied Luther Fortescue, “during those last days before he went into the hospital. For one thing, he made many advertising contracts and went ahead with his newest remedy, Lotsapep, just as though he expected to boom it himself—to be here always. He was a man, you see, who never gave up till the game was over. He also drew up his will with attorney Lockwood—you know Lockwood, of course?—you met him in London.”
“Yes, I remember him well,” remarked the younger man.
“I think you have about the whole story,” said Fortescue. “I really saw less of your father after the surgeons decided he had to go under the knife than I did in any like period during all the months preceding.”
A pause followed. Then Jerry Middleton broke it.
“And now tell me, Fortescue, just what is the extent of father’s estate?”
The older man looked, curiously startled, down at the younger. “You’re joking with me, are you not, Jerry? You don’t mean to say you don’t know?”
“I do not know,” responded the other quite seriously. “I gather that he was very rich. But that is a term that can mean much or little—to a son kept ten thousand miles away.” And his voice was just a bit bitter once more.
“Well, Jerry, I didn’t dream that you did not know the extent of his fortune.” He paused. “Well—to sum it all up—your father—well—was worth about ten million dollars.” He was silent.
Jerome Middleton’s eyes opened in startled amazement. “Ten million dollars, Fortescue? Over two million pounds? Why—I did not dream—that the figure was anything like that. I knew that I was to come into great wealth—that my future would never be a question to me again. Yet the actual figures dazzle me.”
“I should think they would,” replied Luther Fortescue, “if, as you say and I believe, you were kept in ignorance of them. But there is no secret as to his wealth here in Chicago.” He paused. “Well, Jerry, I read something interesting about you in the papers since you left Australia—an announcement of your engagement to Miss Pamela Martindale of our city, who was returning to America on the same boat with you. I congratulate you—as much for your success in winning Miss Martindale as for the fact that had this announcement not been published here, a hundred anxious mammas would have been throwing forth their fishlines after it came out that the only offspring of Digby Middleton was in Chicago. You would have been the catch of the season.”
But Jerome Middleton appeared to be somewhat surprised by the information conveyed in Fortescue’s words.
“Well,” he stammered, blushing a bit, “ I did not know—that my engagement—”
But Fortescue interrupted him with a smile. “We Americans, Jerry, use the radio to receive society news as well as other kinds.” He paused. “But tell me about it yourself.”
Middleton smiled faintly for the first time. “I’ll tell you more about it later, Fortescue. At least I think I shall have, in Miss Martindale, a wife of whom a man may well be proud.” Whereupon he changed the subject abruptly. “But now tell me, Fortescue, what are your plans? Just what salary are you employed at now? As I am to take over the Middleton properties, I want to familiarise myself with the situation.”
“Ten thousand dollars a year was my salary,” replied the other man. “I flatter myself that I have been a very valuable man to your father. I am familiar with every item of the Middleton real estate holdings and every phase and detail of his proprietary medicine business. There is no angle of it all that I cannot handle. I had hoped that you would give yourself the advantage of some travel, some recreation, some enjoyment of this money which is now to be yours. And I had hoped—well, I presumed to hope—that I might anticipate being offered the general managership of your estate.
But the younger man shook his head firmly. “Twenty-five years, Fortescue, I have fooled around waiting—waiting—waiting for this inexplainable banishment that father imposed upon me to be swept away by him. Now that it was been so swept away—perhaps in an unexpected manner—and I have come into the business, I am going to turn all my efforts to managing it for the benefit of everybody. A general manager would cost—what?”
Fortescue shrugged his shoulders. “I think that you would be fortunate to secure one at fifty thousand dollars per year—considering the vast plants and real estate holdings of your father—and the many ramifications of his business. It would be but a small proportion of what the estate pays out in total salaries.”
“Well, fifty thousand dollars given to a general manager might as well be saved to the estate,” was the younger man’s decisive and prompt reply, “when I have youth and energy, a decent amount of capability, I believe, and all I require is to be taught the customs and methods employed in this country in conducting business. I am no idler, Fortescue. I am coming here to work as every American works. I see no reason why you and I may not work as father and you did—in teamwork—at the present salary you are receiving, namely ten thousand dollars a year. But the general managership and the general manager’s salary may as well—for instance—go to improving working conditions for everybody in the business.”
Fortescue bit his lip. It was plain to be seen that he was disappointed—that he had made calculations which had not worked out according to his speculations. He gazed unseeingly out of the tall windows of the waiting-room at the fronts of the unsightly hotels that clustered across the street from the depot, and said nothing for a few minutes. Then he shrugged his shoulders with the air of the man who considers that nothing is final until it has been actually worked out to a practical conclusion, and sighed a half sigh. He gazed at his watch. “Well, if you have no further questions, let’s be getting along to the lawyer’s,” He rose, and led the way outside to where a line of taxis stood waiting. They climbed into one.
“The First National Bank Building,” he told the driver, And they were off with a jerk.
Very little was said in the taxi, for the younger man’s last uttered dictum seemed to have brought a sullen silence into the demeanour of the former private secretary of Digby Middleton; while the younger man, on the other hand, was too engrossed with such peculiar details as street intersections, signboards, fronts of buildings, windows, conveyances, pedestrians, all of which trivial things, considering that he had been whirled straight from the boat at San Francisco directly aboard the waiting San Francisco-Chicago Limited, were his first intimate sights of a large American city. And thus they drew up in less than twenty minutes in the canyon of the downtown section, and were shortly entering the tall skyscraper that marked their destination.
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