The season of irresponsibility is at hand. Come, let us twine round
our brows wreaths of poison ivy (that is for idiocy), and wander hand
in hand with sociology in the summer fields.
Likely as not the world is flat. The wise men have tried to prove
that it is round, with indifferent success. They pointed out to us a
ship going to sea, and bade us observe that, at length, the convexity
of the earth hid from our view all but the vessel's topmast. But we
picked up a telescope and looked, and saw the decks and hull again.
Then the wise men said: "Oh, pshaw! anyhow, the variation of the
intersection of the equator and the ecliptic proves it." We could not
see this through our telescope, so we remained silent. But it stands
to reason that, if the world were round, the queues of Chinamen
would stand straight up from their heads instead of hanging down their
backs, as travellers assure us they do.
Another hot-weather corroboration of the flat theory is the fact that
all of life, as we know it, moves in little, unavailing circles.
More justly than to anything else, it can be likened to the game
of baseball. Crack! we hit the ball, and away we go. If we earn a
run (in life we call it success) we get back to the home plate and
sit upon a bench. If we are thrown out, we walk back to the home
plate--and sit upon a bench.
The circumnavigators of the alleged globe may have sailed the rim of a
watery circle back to the same port again. The truly great return at
the high tide of their attainments to the simplicity of a child. The
billionaire sits down at his mahogany to his bowl of bread and milk.
When you reach the end of your career, just take down the sign "Goal"
and look at the other side of it. You will find "Beginning Point"
there. It has been reversed while you were going around the track.
But this is humour, and must be stopped. Let us get back to the
serious questions that arise whenever Sociology turns summer boarder.
You are invited to consider the scene of the story--wild, Atlantic
waves, thundering against a wooded and rock-bound shore--in the
Greater City of New York.
The town of Fishampton, on the south shore of Long Island, is noted
for its clam fritters and the summer residence of the Van Plushvelts.
The Van Plushvelts have a hundred million dollars, and their name is a
household word with tradesmen and photographers.
On the fifteenth of June the Van Plushvelts boarded up the front door
of their city house, carefully deposited their cat on the sidewalk,
instructed the caretaker not to allow it to eat any of the ivy on the
walls, and whizzed away in a 40-horse-power to Fishampton to stray
alone in the shade--Amaryllis not being in their class. If you are a
subscriber to the _Toadies' Magazine_, you have often--You say you are
not? Well, you buy it at a news-stand, thinking that the newsdealer
is not wise to you. But he knows about it all. HE knows--HE knows!
I say that you have often seen in the _Toadies' Magazine_ pictures of
the Van Plushvelts' summer home; so it will not be described here.
Our business is with young Haywood Van Plushvelt, sixteen years old,
heir to the century of millions, darling of the financial gods and
great grandson of Peter Van Plushvelt, former owner of a particularly
fine cabbage patch that has been ruined by an intrusive lot of
One afternoon young Haywood Van Plushvelt strolled out between the
granite gate posts of "Dolce far Niente"--that's what they called
the place; and it was an improvement on dolce Far Rockaway, I can
Haywood walked down into the village. He was human, after all, and
his prospective millions weighed upon him. Wealth had wreaked upon
him its direfullest. He was the product of private tutors. Even under
his first hobby-horse had tan bark been strewn. He had been born with
a gold spoon, lobster fork and fish-set in his mouth. For which I
hope, later, to submit justification, I must ask your consideration of
his haberdashery and tailoring.
Young Fortunatus was dressed in a neat suit of dark blue serge, a
neat, white straw hat, neat low-cut tan shoes, of the well-known
"immaculate" trade mark, a neat, narrow four-in-hand tie, and carried
a slender, neat, bamboo cane.
Down Persimmon Street (there's never tree north of Hagerstown, Md.)
came from the village "Smoky" Dodson, fifteen and a half, worst boy in
Fishampton. "Smoky" was dressed in a ragged red sweater, wrecked and
weather-worn golf cap, run-over shoes, and trousers of the
"serviceable" brand. Dust, clinging to the moisture induced by free
exercise, darkened wide areas of his face. "Smoky" carried a baseball
bat, and a league ball that advertised itself in the rotundity of his
trousers pocket. Haywood stopped and passed the time of day.
"Going to play ball?" he asked.
"Smoky's" eyes and countenance confronted him with a frank
"Me?" he said, with deadly mildness; "sure not. Can't you see I've
got a divin' suit on? I'm goin' up in a submarine balloon to catch
butterflies with a two-inch auger.
"Excuse me," said Haywood, with the insulting politeness of his
caste, "for mistaking you for a gentleman. I might have known
"How might you have known better if you thought I was one?" said
"Smoky," unconsciously a logician.
"By your appearance," said Haywood. "No gentleman is dirty, ragged
and a liar."
"Smoky" hooted once like a ferry-boat, spat on his hand, got a firm
grip on his baseball bat and then dropped it against the fence.
"Say," said he, "I knows you. You're the pup that belongs in that
swell private summer sanitarium for city-guys over there. I seen you
come out of the gate. You can't bluff nobody because you're rich.
And because you got on swell clothes. Arabella! Yah!"
"Ragamuffin!" said Haywood.
"Smoky" picked up a fence-rail splinter and laid it on his shoulder.
"Dare you to knock it off," he challenged.
"I wouldn't soil my hands with you," said the aristocrat.
"'Fraid," said "Smoky" concisely. "Youse city-ducks ain't got the I
sand. I kin lick you with one-hand."
"I don't wish to have any trouble with you," said Haywood. "I asked
you a civil question; and you replied, like a--like a--a cad."
"Wot's a cad?" asked "Smoky."
"A cad is a disagreeable person," answered Haywood, "who lacks manners
and doesn't know his place. They sometimes play baseball."
"I can tell you what a mollycoddle is," said "Smoky." "It's a monkey
dressed up by its mother and sent out to pick daisies on the lawn."
"When you have the honour to refer to the members of my family," said
Haywood, with some dim ideas of a code in his mind, "you'd better
leave the ladies out of your remarks."
"Ho! ladies!" mocked the rude one. "I say ladies! I know what them
rich women in the city does. They, drink cocktails and swear and give
parties to gorillas. The papers say so."
Then Haywood knew that it must be. He took off his coat, folded it
neatly and laid it on the roadside grass, placed his hat upon it and
began to unknot his blue silk tie.
"Hadn't yer better ring fer yer maid, Arabella?" taunted "Smoky."
"Wot yer going to do--go to bed?"
"I'm going to give you a good trouncing," said the hero. He did not
hesitate, although the enemy was far beneath him socially. He
remembered that his father once thrashed a cabman, and the papers gave
it two columns, first page. And the _Toadies' Magazine_ had a special
article on Upper Cuts by the Upper Classes, and ran new pictures of
the Van Plushvelt country seat, at Fishampton.
"Wot's trouncing?" asked "Smoky," suspiciously. "I don't want your
old clothes. I'm no--oh, you mean to scrap! My, my! I won't do a
thing to mamma's pet. Criminy! I'd hate to be a hand-laundered thing
"Smoky" waited with some awkwardness for his adversary to prepare for
battle. His own decks were always clear for action. When he should
spit upon the palm of his terrible right it was equivalent to "You may
fire now, Gridley."
The hated patrician advanced, with his shirt sleeves neatly rolled up.
"Smoky" waited, in an attitude of ease, expecting the affair to be
conducted according to Fishampton's rules of war. These allowed
combat to be prefaced by stigma, recrimination, epithet, abuse and
insult gradually increasing in emphasis and degree. After a round of
these "you're anothers" would come the chip knocked from the shoulder,
or the advance across the "dare" line drawn with a toe on the ground.
Next light taps given and taken, these also increasing in force until
finally the blood was up and fists going at their best.
But Haywood did not know Fishampton's rules. Noblesse oblige kept a
faint smile on his face as he walked slowly up to "Smoky" and said:
"Going to play ball?"
"Smoky" quickly understood this to be a putting of the previous
question, giving him the chance to make practical apology by answering
it with civility and relevance.
"Listen this time," said he. "I'm goin' skatin' on the river. Don't
you see me automobile with Chinese lanterns on it standin' and waitin'
Haywood knocked him down.
"Smoky" felt wronged. To thus deprive him of preliminary wrangle and
objurgation was to send an armoured knight full tilt against a
crashing lance without permitting him first to caracole around the
list to the flourish of trumpets. But he scrambled up and fell upon
his foe, head, feet and fists.
The fight lasted one round of an hour and ten minutes. It was
lengthened until it was more like a war or a family feud than a fight.
Haywood had learned some of the science of boxing and wrestling from
his tutors, but these he discarded for the more instinctive methods of
battle handed down by the cave-dwelling Van Plushvelts.
So, when he found himself, during the melee, seated upon the kicking
and roaring "Smoky's" chest, he improved the opportunity by vigorously
kneading handfuls of sand and soil into his adversary's ears, eyes
and mouth, and when "Smoky" got the proper leg hold and "turned" him,
he fastened both hands in the Plushvelt hair and pounded the Plushvelt
head against the lap of mother earth. Of course, the strife was not
incessantly active. There were seasons when one sat upon the other,
holding him down, while each blew like a grampus, spat out the more
inconveniently large sections of gravel and earth and strove to subdue
the spirit of his opponent with a frightful and soul-paralyzing glare.
At last, it seemed that in the language of the ring, their efforts
lacked steam. They broke away, and each disappeared in a cloud as he
brushed away the dust of the conflict. As soon as his breath
permitted, Haywood walked close to "Smoky" and said:
"Going to play ball?"
"Smoky" looked pensively at the sky, at his bat lying on the ground,
and at the "leaguer" rounding his pocket.
"Sure," he said, offhandedly. "The 'Yellowjackets' plays the 'Long
Islands.' I'm cap'n of the 'Long Islands.'"
"I guess I didn't mean to say you were ragged," said Haywood. "But
you are dirty, you know."
"Sure," said "Smoky." "Yer get that way knockin' around. Say, I
don't believe them New York papers about ladies drinkin' and havin'
monkeys dinin' at the table with 'em. I guess they're lies, like they
print about people eatin' out of silver plates, and ownin' dogs that
"Certainly," said Haywood. "What do you play on your team?"
"Ketcher. Ever play any?"
"Never in my life," said Haywood. "I've never known any fellows
except one or two of my cousins."
"Jer like to learn? We're goin' to have a practice-game before the
match. Wanter come along? I'll put yer in left-field, and yer won't
be long ketchin' on."
"I'd like it bully," said Haywood. "I've always wanted to play
The ladies' maids of New York and the families of Western mine owners
with social ambitions will remember well the sensation that was
created by the report that the young multi-millionaire, Haywood Van
Plushvelt, was playing ball with the village youths of Fishampton. It
was conceded that the millennium of democracy had come. Reporters and
photographers swarmed to the island. The papers printed half-page
pictures of him as short-stop stopping a hot grounder. The _Toadies'
Magazine_ got out a Bat and Ball number that covered the subject
historically, beginning with the vampire bat and ending with the
Patriarchs' ball--illustrated with interior views of the Van
Plushvelt country seat. Ministers, educators and sociologists
everywhere hailed the event as the tocsin call that proclaimed the
universal brotherhood of man.
One afternoon I was reclining under the trees near the shore at
Fishampton in the esteemed company of an eminent, bald-headed young
sociologist. By way of note it may be inserted that all sociologists
are more or less bald, and exactly thirty-two. Look 'em over.
The sociologist was citing the Van Plushvelt case as the most
important "uplift" symptom of a generation, and as an excuse for his
Immediately before us were the village baseball grounds. And now came
the sportive youth of Fishampton and distributed themselves, shouting,
about the diamond.
"There," said the sociologist, pointing, "there is young Van
I raised myself (so far a cosycophant with Mary Ann) and gazed.
Young Van Plushvelt sat upon the ground. He was dressed in a ragged
red sweater, wrecked and weather-worn golf cap, run-over shoes, and
trousers of the "serviceable" brand. Dust clinging to the moisture
induced by free exercise, darkened wide areas of his face.
"That is he," repeated the sociologist. If he had said "him" I could
have been less vindictive.
On a bench, with an air, sat the young millionaire's chum.
He was dressed in a neat suit of dark blue serge, a neat white straw
hat, neat low-cut tan shoes, linen of the well-known "immaculate"
trade mark, a neat, narrow four-in-hand tie, and carried a slender,
neat bamboo cane.
I laughed loudly and vulgarly.
"What you want to do," said I to the sociologist, "is to establish a
reformatory for the Logical Vicious Circle. Or else I've got wheels.
It looks to me as if things are running round and round in circles
instead of getting anywhere."
"What do you mean?" asked the man of progress.
"Why, look what he has done to 'Smoky'," I replied.
"You will always be a fool," said my friend, the sociologist,
getting up and walking away.