If you are a philosopher you can do this thing: you can go to the top
of a high building, look down upon your fellow-men 300 feet below, and
despise them as insects. Like the irresponsible black waterbugs on
summer ponds, they crawl and circle and hustle about idiotically without
aim or purpose. They do not even move with the admirable intelligence
of ants, for ants always know when they are going home. The ant is of
a lowly station, but he will often reach home and get his slippers on
while you are left at your elevated station.
Man, then, to the housetopped philosopher, appears to be but a creeping,
contemptible beetle. Brokers, poets, millionaires, bootblacks, beauties,
hod-carriers and politicians become little black specks dodging bigger
black specks in streets no wider than your thumb.
From this high view the city itself becomes degraded to an
unintelligible mass of distorted buildings and impossible perspectives;
the revered ocean is a duck pond; the earth itself a lost golf ball. All
the minutiae of life are gone. The philosopher gazes into the infinite
heavens above him, and allows his soul to expand to the influence of
his new view. He feels that he is the heir to Eternity and the child of
Time. Space, too, should be his by the right of his immortal heritage,
and he thrills at the thought that some day his kind shall traverse
those mysterious aerial roads between planet and planet. The tiny world
beneath his feet upon which this towering structure of steel rests as a
speck of dust upon a Himalayan mountain--it is but one of a countless
number of such whirling atoms. What are the ambitions, the achievements,
the paltry conquests and loves of those restless black insects below
compared with the serene and awful immensity of the universe that lies
above and around their insignificant city?
It is guaranteed that the philosopher will have these thoughts. They
have been expressly compiled from the philosophies of the world and set
down with the proper interrogation point at the end of them to represent
the invariable musings of deep thinkers on high places. And when the
philosopher takes the elevator down his mind is broader, his heart is at
peace, and his conception of the cosmogony of creation is as wide as the
buckle of Orion's summer belt.
But if your name happened to be Daisy, and you worked in an Eighth
Avenue candy store and lived in a little cold hall bedroom, five feet
by eight, and earned $6 per week, and ate ten-cent lunches and were
nineteen years old, and got up at 6.30 and worked till 9, and never had
studied philosophy, maybe things wouldn't look that way to you from the
top of a skyscraper.
Two sighed for the hand of Daisy, the unphilosophical. One was Joe, who
kept the smallest store in New York. It was about the size of a tool-box
of the D. P. W., and was stuck like a swallow's nest against a corner
of a down-town skyscraper. Its stock consisted of fruit, candies,
newspapers, song books, cigarettes, and lemonade in season. When stern
winter shook his congealed locks and Joe had to move himself and the
fruit inside, there was exactly room in the store for the proprietor,
his wares, a stove the size of a vinegar cruet, and one customer.
Joe was not of the nation that keeps us forever in a furore with fugues
and fruit. He was a capable American youth who was laying by money, and
wanted Daisy to help him spend it. Three times he had asked her.
"I got money saved up, Daisy," was his love song; "and you know how bad
I want you. That store of mine ain't very big, but--"
"Oh, ain't it?" would be the antiphony of the unphilosophical one. "Why,
I heard Wanamaker's was trying to get you to sublet part of your floor
space to them for next year."
Daisy passed Joe's corner every morning and evening.
"Hello, Two-by-Four!" was her usual greeting. "Seems to me your store
looks emptier. You must have sold a pack of chewing gum."
"Ain't much room in here, sure," Joe would answer, with his slow grin,
"except for you, Daise. Me and the store are waitin' for you whenever
you'll take us. Don't you think you might before long?"
"Store!"--a fine scorn was expressed by Daisy's uptilted nose--"sardine
box! Waitin' for me, you say? Gee! you'd have to throw out about a
hundred pounds of candy before I could get inside of it, Joe."
"I wouldn't mind an even swap like that," said Joe, complimentary.
Daisy's existence was limited in every way. She had to walk sideways
between the counter and the shelves in the candy store. In her own hall
bedroom coziness had been carried close to cohesiveness. The walls were
so near to one another that the paper on them made a perfect Babel of
noise. She could light the gas with one hand and close the door with the
other without taking her eyes off the reflection of her brown pompadour
in the mirror. She had Joe's picture in a gilt frame on the dresser, and
sometimes--but her next thought would always be of Joe's funny little
store tacked like a soap box to the corner of that great building, and
away would go her sentiment in a breeze of laughter.
Daisy's other suitor followed Joe by several months. He came to board
in the house where she lived. His name was Dabster, and he was a
philosopher. Though young, attainments stood out upon him like
continental labels on a Passaic (N. J.) suit-case. Knowledge he had
kidnapped from cyclopedias and handbooks of useful information; but as
for wisdom, when she passed he was left sniffling in the road without
so much as the number of her motor car. He could and would tell you the
proportion of water and muscle-making properties of peas and veal, the
shortest verse in the Bible, the number of pounds of shingle nails
required to fasten 256 shingles laid four inches to the weather, the
population of Kankakee, Ill., the theories of Spinoza, the name of Mr.
H. McKay Twombly's second hall footman, the length of the Hoosac Tunnel,
the best time to set a hen, the salary of the railway post-office
messenger between Driftwood and Red Bank Furnace, Pa., and the number
of bones in the foreleg of a cat.
The weight of learning was no handicap to Dabster. His statistics were
the sprigs of parsley with which he garnished the feast of small talk
that he would set before you if he conceived that to be your taste. And
again he used them as breastworks in foraging at the boardinghouse.
Firing at you a volley of figures concerning the weight of a lineal
foot of bar-iron 5 x 2 3/4 inches, and the average annual rainfall at
Fort Snelling, Minn., he would transfix with his fork the best piece of
chicken on the dish while you were trying to rally sufficiently to ask
him weakly why does a hen cross the road.
Thus, brightly armed, and further equipped with a measure of good looks,
of a hair-oily, shopping-district-at-three-in-the-afternoon kind, it
seems that Joe, of the Lilliputian emporium, had a rival worthy of his
steel. But Joe carried no steel. There wouldn't have been room in his
store to draw it if he had.
One Saturday afternoon, about four o'clock, Daisy and Mr. Dabster
stopped before Joe's booth. Dabster wore a silk hat, and--well, Daisy
was a woman, and that hat had no chance to get back in its box until Joe
had seen it. A stick of pineapple chewing gum was the ostensible object
of the call. Joe supplied it through the open side of his store. He did
not pale or falter at sight of the hat.
"Mr. Dabster's going to take me on top of the building to observe the
view," said Daisy, after she had introduced her admirers. "I never was
on a skyscraper. I guess it must be awfully nice and funny up there."
"H'm!" said Joe.
"The panorama," said Mr. Dabster, "exposed to the gaze from the top of
a lofty building is not only sublime, but instructive. Miss Daisy has
a decided pleasure in store for her."
"It's windy up there, too, as well as here," said Joe. "Are you dressed
warm enough, Daise?"
"Sure thing! I'm all lined," said Daisy, smiling slyly at his clouded
brow. "You look just like a mummy in a case, Joe. Ain't you just put in
an invoice of a pint of peanuts or another apple? Your stock looks awful
Daisy giggled at her favorite joke; and Joe had to smile with her.
"Your quarters are somewhat limited, Mr.--er--er," remarked Dabster,
"in comparison with the size of this building. I understand the area
of its side to be about 340 by 100 feet. That would make you occupy
a proportionate space as if half of Beloochistan were placed upon a
territory as large as the United States east of the Rocky Mountains,
with the Province of Ontario and Belgium added."
"Is that so, sport?" said Joe, genially. "You are Weisenheimer on
figures, all right. How many square pounds of baled hay do you think
a jackass could eat if he stopped brayin' long enough to keep still a
minute and five eighths?"
A few minutes later Daisy and Mr. Dabster stepped from an elevator to
the top floor of the skyscraper. Then up a short, steep stairway and out
upon the roof. Dabster led her to the parapet so she could look down at
the black dots moving in the street below.
"What are they?" she asked, trembling. She had never been on a height
like this before.
And then Dabster must needs play the philosopher on the tower, and
conduct her soul forth to meet the immensity of space.
"Bipeds," he said, solemnly. "See what they become even at the small
elevation of 340 feet--mere crawling insects going to and fro at
"Oh, they ain't anything of the kind," exclaimed Daisy,
suddenly--"they're folks! I saw an automobile. Oh, gee! are we that
"Walk over this way," said Dabster.
He showed her the great city lying like an orderly array of toys far
below, starred here and there, early as it was, by the first beacon
lights of the winter afternoon. And then the bay and sea to the south
and east vanishing mysteriously into the sky.
"I don't like it," declared Daisy, with troubled blue eyes. "Say we go
But the philosopher was not to be denied his opportunity. He would let
her behold the grandeur of his mind, the half-nelson he had on the
infinite, and the memory he had for statistics. And then she would
nevermore be content to buy chewing gum at the smallest store in New
York. And so he began to prate of the smallness of human affairs, and
how that even so slight a removal from earth made man and his works look
like one tenth part of a dollar thrice computed. And that one should
consider the sidereal system and the maxims of Epictetus and be
"You don't carry me with you," said Daisy. "Say, I think it's awful to
be up so high that folks look like fleas. One of them we saw might have
been Joe. Why, Jiminy! we might as well be in New Jersey! Say, I'm
afraid up here!"
The philosopher smiled fatuously.
"The earth," said he, "is itself only as a grain of wheat in space. Look
Daisy gazed upward apprehensively. The short day was spent and the stars
were coming out above.
"Yonder star," said Dabster, "is Venus, the evening star. She is
66,000,000 miles from the sun."
"Fudge!" said Daisy, with a brief flash of spirit, "where do you think
I come from--Brooklyn? Susie Price, in our store--her brother sent her
a ticket to go to San Francisco--that's only three thousand miles."
The philosopher smiled indulgently.
"Our world," he said, "is 91,000,000 miles from the sun. There are
eighteen stars of the first magnitude that are 211,000 times further
from us than the sun is. If one of them should be extinguished it would
be three years before we would see its light go out. There are six
thousand stars of the sixth magnitude. It takes thirty-six years for the
light of one of them to reach the earth. With an eighteen-foot telescope
we can see 43,000,000 stars, including those of the thirteenth
magnitude, whose light takes 2,700 years to reach us. Each of these
"You're lyin'," cried Daisy, angrily. "You're tryin' to scare me. And
you have; I want to go down!"
She stamped her foot.
"Arcturus--" began the philosopher, soothingly, but he was interrupted
by a demonstration out of the vastness of the nature that he was
endeavoring to portray with his memory instead of his heart. For to the
heart-expounder of nature the stars were set in the firmament expressly
to give soft light to lovers wandering happily beneath them; and if you
stand tiptoe some September night with your sweetheart on your arm you
can almost touch them with your hand. Three years for their light to
reach us, indeed!
Out of the west leaped a meteor, lighting the roof of the skyscraper
almost to midday. Its fiery parabola was limned against the sky toward
the east. It hissed as it went, and Daisy screamed.
"Take me down," she cried, vehemently, "you--you mental arithmetic!"
Dabster got her to the elevator, and inside of it. She was wild-eyed,
and she shuddered when the express made its debilitating drop.
Outside the revolving door of the skyscraper the philosopher lost her.
She vanished; and he stood, bewildered, without figures or statistics
to aid him.
Joe had a lull in trade, and by squirming among his stock succeeded in
lighting a cigarette and getting one cold foot against the attenuated
The door was burst open, and Daisy, laughing, crying, scattering fruit
and candies, tumbled into his arms.
"Oh, Joe, I've been up on the skyscraper. Ain't it cozy and warm and
homelike in here! I'm ready for you, Joe, whenever you want me."