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A White Heron
THE TWO BROWNS.
Sarah Orne Jewett
Brown left his chair by the fire somewhat impatiently, and dropped his newspaper on the rug; he crossed the dining-room to the bay-window, and stood with his back to his wife, looking out at the weather. Women were such persistent geese! He had a vague idea that she might take some notice of the disagreeable sleet and wind, and relent a little about hinting that he had better be at his office. She had already asked him to renew her subscription to the church newspaper (he would have to leave the stage and walk a block and a half), and had said that he must look in at her brother Bob's counting-room some time during the day to ask for his wife's health. She had furthermore given him two letters to post, and had reminded him three times that he must not forget them.
"I believe that I will not go to the office to-day," Brown announced presently, with considerable dignity and even sternness, as if he would not brook the idea of being contradicted in any shape. His wife said nothing to this, which was a great disappointment; and after growing more and more disturbed for a minute or two he turned and offered his explanations. Mrs. Brown was devoting herself to the baby, while the nursery-maid was busy up-stairs in the baby's luxurious quarters. Brown was usually neither too proud nor too much occupied to devote himself to his daughter, also, but now he walked stiffly back to the big chair by the fire, and took no notice of the little hands that were put out to him. The baby's mother flushed suddenly with something like anger, very unusual in her gentle face.
"It is such an abominable day," said Brown. "I don't feel very energetic. There won't be a soul inside the office door, unless it's a book agent. I am going to make myself comfortable at home, and see something of you and -- yes, you little pink!"
He had come so near to neglecting the baby that his better nature could submit no longer, and he caught the smiling child, and went prancing round the breakfast table until she shrieked with delight, and family harmony was restored. Mrs. Brown smiled, too, - they were a happy household; but she looked serious again directly, and returned to the charge.
"Ben, dear," she said, "I don't like to have you neglect your profession."
Brown stopped his capering, and the cups and plates gave a final jingle. "When you know perfectly well how it neglects me!" he responded solemnly, with a twinkling eye.
Even in the presence of the baby Mrs. Brown did not like to have such confessions made, and she looked up reproachfully. She kept up with great care the fiction of her husband's having already a fair law practice for a young man of his age, and a very promising outlook. Brown had no imagination; he made no complaint; he knew plenty of fellows in the same box, and was not going to shoulder the whole shame of paying rent for a clientless office. He had begun to get tired of spending his days there altogether, even with the resource of taking all the time he liked for an elaborate and social luncheon. His wife had been growing a trifle anxious lately because it was so difficult to tempt his appetite at dinner-time, and Gales, the wit of the luncheon club, had said in his affected little drawling voice only the day before, "Shall have to cut this sort of thing, you know; getting too stout, and always hated eating my dinner in the middle of the day. Could do it with one client, but to-morrow I'm expecting another." Brown suddenly remembered this, and smiled, because he had a quick, amusing fear lest the bad weather might keep Gales's client at home. Then he gave a sigh, and gently deposited the baby in her mother's lap. "I will go, you hard-hearted monsters," he said, kissing them both, "but why I ever let myself be coaxed into studying law is the puzzle of my life. If I had something to do I would work like a beaver. I've got it in me, fast enough, but I hate this make-believe business. So would you."
"I do feel sorry about it; you know I do," answered Lucy, with great tenderness and sympathy. "I should be perfectly unhappy. But you have your studies, Ben, dear."
"I begin to hate those old yellow books," said Ben. "Now, if my father had let me study engineering, as I wished, I should have been in the middle of things by this time."
"You never would have broken the chain?" asked Lucy, with unfeigned anxiety roused by such treason. She had been so proud of Brown's being the fourth lawyer of his line and of his precocious scholarship. He was only twenty-eight years and two months old at that moment, beside, and it was much too soon to lose all hope about his future.
Brown went manfully out into the sleet a few minutes later, and his wife and the baby watched him from the window. He was a handsome, good-natured young man, and it was impossible not to be proud of him, or to feel sorry at his temporary discomfort as he slipped and plodded along the incumbered sidewalk. When he had paused for a moment at the corner to throw a last kiss to the baby and wave his hand, old Mr. Grandison, who stood at his own window opposite, nodded his head in sage approval. "Good fellow," he grumbled, with his chin plunged deep in his old-fashioned black silk stock. "Comes of a good family, and is sharp after his business." The damp air blew in at the window, and the spectator of Brown's departure was obliged to turn away and seek his fireside again. He would have been perfectly thankful to change places with the young man, and go down town to do a stiff day's work, as he used twenty years ago.
Lucy Brown had turned aside from her window, also, and begun an eager morning's work. She had been dreadfully afraid that Ben would insist upon staying at home, and she felt hard-hearted in very truth. But when she had waked up that morning to find it snowing, she had resolved to have the books in the library thoroughly cleaned. Nobody would come in, and she would muster the household force, and of course attend to Ben's private desk and papers herself. She was still excited by her narrow escape from complete disappointment, but she hoped she had not seemed anything but kind and affectionate in urging her husband that day of all others to go to his office.
Mr. John Benedict Brown had an uneventful journey to his place of business. He liked the bad weather, on the whole, - he had so few things ordinarily to match his youthful energy against, - and he met two or three companions in misery, if one had any right to call these briefless barristers by such a hard name. Each carried his green bag, but Brown's friend Gales unconsciously held his in such a way that the shape of a box of cigars was displayed unmistakably as its only contents. Gales's office was farther down the street, and Brown remembered his promise about the subscription just in time not to pass the office of the paper. He would have sent a note to the publisher, to do his errand, but Lucy was very strenuous upon his settling the matter in person. She had paid for a year in advance, and the bill had been rendered again. She was most dependent upon this particular publication, and seemed absurdly anxious to stand well in the publisher's estimation. There was only one other man in the office beside the clerk, when Brown entered. This other man stood with his back to the door, looking over a file of newspapers, and until the small matter was settled, in a general and impersonal fashion that would have wounded Mrs. Brown, he gave no sign of consciousness of Brown's presence.
Then he laid down the newspapers and approached our friend. "Snooks, old boy, how are you?" he inquired affectionately, and a little timidly too, as if not quite certain of his reception.
The very name of Snooks was sufficient; it had been Brown's nickname at the school where he had fitted for college. Anybody who called him Snooks had a right to favor after the space of at least a dozen years since those happy days when he had heard it often. This schoolmate had not followed the class to college, but he had been a good crony in his day, and a lad of some cleverness and an erratic habit of mind. Only a few days before, Gales, who had also been at the school, had asked our hero what had become of Checkley. Old Shekels they used to call him, for the inconsequent reason that he never had two cents in his pocket. He was kept at his studies by some kind and charitable friend, who forgot to an aggravating extent to supply the minor comforts of life. Checkley had developed an amazing gift for maintaining himself by an ingenious system of barter, like those savages who have not got so far in civilization as any sort of exchequer or strictly financial arrangements.
The old brotherliness of the past quickly filled Brown's heart. Checkley looked hungry, as usual, but he would take him to the office and make him a welcome companion that dull morning, and by and by they would have a bit of luncheon together. After all, the day promised well; he had feared a very special lack of entertainment.
"Come round to my office," said Brown, warmly. "I've nothing in the world to do this morning. Tell me what you have been about all this time. I'll send for Gales presently; he was asking for you a day or two ago. We're both in the law; lots of time to call our own, too," he added, with a cheerful honesty which his wife would have inwardly lamented and tried to explain.
Checkley was out that day protected by a melancholy fall overcoat and no umbrella, but he took Brown's umbrella, and carried it over both their heads with careful impartiality, as if it were his own. He looked as if he were growing old, which seemed premature in a man of thirty. Brown could not help a suspicion that Checkley had made himself up for some secret purpose. He always used to say that he meant to be a detective, and had been considered immensely clever in some boyish plays and pantomimes. However, another stolen glance made Brown feel certain that this appearance was Checkley as Himself, An Unsuccessful Man, and that the gray hairs which sprinkled his thin, straight, brownish hair were quite genuine. The thinness and lankness of his boyhood had never fulfilled their promise of a robust frame, but appeared to have suffered from exposure and neglect, like an unfinished building which has had time to let its timbers get rain-blackened and look poor.
But the same spirit and shrewd determination twinkled from Checkley's eyes, and he kept step manfully with his well-clothed and well-fed acquaintance. This was a most fortunate meeting. Nothing had ever played better into his hands. Snooks Brown was always a good fellow, and luck was sure to turn.
"You aren't in the Parishioner's War-Cry office as a permanent thing, I imagine?" asked Brown, with friendly desire to keep up the conversation, just as they stepped into the elevator. "Odd that we should have happened to find each other there. I never was inside that place before."
"No," said Checkley. "Truth is, it looked quiet and secluded, and I put into harbor there to dry off a little and get my wits together. Temporary asylum. I was paying that clerk the compliment of looking over his newspapers, but I think he was just beginning to suspect that I held them upside down. I had a kind of revenge on him when you came in. It looked as if we had an appointment, you know, and you were always so thundering respectable."
Brown laughed with unaffected pleasure. He was not so far from boyhood as a stranger might imagine. There was something delightful about Checkley's turning up that wet February morning, and telling the most mortifying facts about himself with honest sincerity. He took the wet, thin overcoat and put it away with his own, and would have insisted upon his guest's occupying the best chair in the office, if he had not promptly taken it without any invitation. There was an open wood fire, and Checkley stretched out a pair of very shabby shoes to dry with an air of comfort and satisfaction. He was a schemer, a dreamer, a curious plotter of insignificant things, but he never had been a toady or a beggar, and there was a golden thread of good humor and unselfishness through his unprofitable character.
Brown had taken up a not very ponderous mail that lay on his desk, - two or three bills, as many circulars, and an invitation to make further subscription to the Art Club. He gravely looked these over, and put them in an orderly heap at the further edge of the blotter. Old Shekels's shoes were beginning to steam at the toes, and his host noticed that they looked about the size of his own shoes. At any rate, there was an extra pair of arctics in the office closet that could be offered before they went out to luncheon. Brown felt a glow of kind-heartedness spread itself over him, as he resolved to dress Checkley in comfortable fashion before they parted again. "You look just as you did when we used to stay up after hours, and sit before the fire and tell stories," he said, jovially, to his guest. "I dare say you could spin as good a midnight yarn as ever."
"You rich fellows see the world from a different angle," responded Checkley, who grew more luxurious every moment. "Now it really makes no difference how long you have to wait for practice; it's sure to come, if only when you begin to settle up the family estates. There are half a dozen good round ones; and they never would like to choose any one else, all those good old aunties of yours. If you had been out of school when your father died, you would have gone on with at least a third of his business, and that was enough for you to handle. It is only a question of time, and you're rich any way. I don't like to see all your first-rate abilities rusting out, nevertheless. I always said there was more good stuff in you than in any of the fellows, - more hold on and push too, if you had anything to push, and got your energy well roused. I should just like to see you in a Western railroad office, making things spin. Now a poor dog like me, thrown out neck and heels into the water to get to land as best I can by myself, - why, it's a good thing to meet a floating plank to rest a paw on now and then;" and he turned to look Brown full in the eyes with a plaintive, doglike appeal, as if he unconsciously identified himself with his figure of speech.
"What have you been doing, old boy? Can't I lend you a hand, somehow?" asked the sympathetic host. He began to feel that the minus Shekels was driving at something definite, and he did not believe that he should make a fool of himself; but this was the first time that one of his boyhood friends had turned up, looking as if the world had used him badly. There ought to be something done about it.
"Look here," said Checkley, with an air of secrecy; and he held out a sheaf of papers, which were produced from his breast-pocket as if the hand knew its way to them. "I dare say," the owner remarked proudly, "that you wouldn't believe that there is an enormous fortune in that small space?"
Brown tried to look interested, but his doubtfulness showed through.
"It is the surest thing alive," continued Checkley. "Have you got ten thousand dollars you could put your hand on?"
The listener nodded slowly; to tell the truth, he had a little more than that lying idle in the bank, because he really did not know how to reinvest it. The bulk of his property was in the hands of trustees to whom his father had consigned it, but this was some money that had been left him by an old relative, long ago, in his own right. He had a vague idea of putting it into a country place, some day or other. He had a sentiment about keeping it by itself, and he wanted a nice old-fashioned farm by and by. For the present he and his wife spent their summers with Lucy's mother, who would else have been alone in her great house at Newport. He could say neither yes nor no to such a question, or rather such a questioner, as this; yet a curiosity took possession of him to hear more, and Checkley saw his advantage.
"Now, my boy," he said, pulling his big chair close to Brown's side at the desk, "I helped work this out, and I twisted things round so that I have the right in my own hands. I simply haven't a cent, and I don't know where I can get it, unless you give it to me, to carry out the thing one step more. I need capital," he ended persuasively, and gave another doglike look at Brown.
The situation was growing commonplace. Brown felt for the first time a little bored, and began to wonder how he should get out of it. He also noticed that Old Shekels had singed those confounded old shoes of his. It was becoming doubtful if the arctic overshoes and the luncheon even would be considered a handsome conclusion to their renewed acquaintance.
"Now look here," said Shekels, with a cheerful smile. "You are thinking how you can ever get rid of me, and that you have heard this sort of story before. I'll tell you the rest of it in fifteen minutes, and then you can say that your business claims your time, and I'll disappear like the juggler's rabbit in the hat."
"In the shoes," Brown mentally corrected him, and tried to look resigned, and even pleased; but he played impatiently with his paper-knife. He felt provokingly young and helpless in Checkley's hands.
Brown's legal ancestry and the traditions of his education had not prevented the love of his profession from being largely an acquired taste. He was equal to being a good lawyer by and by, but his head was naturally fitted for affairs; and if there was one thing that he understood more easily than another, it was mechanical intricacies. Checkley did not use his whole fifteen minutes in making sure of this ally.
"I do see it. Do you take me for a blind man?" exclaimed the listener, springing to his feet, and marching across to the window, where he stood with his back to Checkley, just as he had looked out at the storm once before that day. "It is a great temptation, but I can't throw up my law prospects. My career is cut out for me already. But I'll give you a lift, Old Shekels, - hang me if I don't!"
Checkley grew calm as his friend became excited. "Nonsense," said he. "I don't want much of your time; it's your money I'm after. You can keep your law business going, - all the better for you. We are likely to have suits, but nobody can touch us. I don't ask you to decide now. Think it over, and think me over. I've no security to give you but my plan itself."
"Do you smoke?" inquired Brown, amicably, and Checkley answered that he did.
As the story of this day cannot be suffered to grow any longer, the reader must be content to know that these former schoolmates passed a most agreeable morning, that they had a capital luncheon together, - early, lest Checkley might not have breakfasted well, - and that Checkley accepted the overshoes and all other favors with generous lack of protest or false shame.
A year from the time when he met his old playfellow, Brown was inclined to repent his whole indulgence in affectionate civilities to a roving schemer. He assured himself that it had been an expensive lesson, but one that he probably needed. A year later Brown was triumphant, and began to flatter himself that he knew a man and likewise a promising enterprise when he saw them. He was doing very well in his law business. The family reputation for clearness of legal vision and successful pleading was gaining new laurels, and young J. Benedict Brown was everywhere spoken of as the most promising man of his age at the New York bar. Detractors hinted that there were dozens of brighter men, but that nobody could help picking up some crumbs of business with such a father and grandfathers behind him. Mrs. Brown led the company of her husband's admirers, and already indulged in dreams of his appearance in the gloomy but noble garb of a chief justice. He was very busy in these days; long ago he had been obliged to take his breakfast at eight o'clock instead of half-past nine, and he was rarely at home until after six o'clock at night, while it was not uncommon that their seven o'clock dinner was considerably delayed. Lucy watched him with increasing anxiety, for fear that he would break himself down with overwork, but he never had seemed in such good health and spirits. The year before he had been so gloomy and despondent for a few weeks that she was always fearing a return, but at present there was no sign of any. To outward view the Benedict Browns were the most prosperous young people in the city. Fortune, position, everything that the social heart desired, seemed to be heaped upon them. A few croaking voices had begun to figure Brown's probable expenses, and to insinuate that he must be living a good way beyond his income. Brown did not look like a debtor, however; he had an older and more determined appearance, as if he had weighty affairs on his mind and a high principle of conduct in regard to them.
One morning early in March the hero of this tale hurried away from his breakfast table, with a quick kiss on the top of his three-year-old daughter's curly warm little head. They had been breakfasting alone together in a delightfully social way, and before Brown put on his overcoat he ran up-stairs, two steps at a time, to give another kiss to his wife and a young son some three weeks of age. Mrs. Brown already spoke of the unconscious morsel of humanity with proud respect as Benedict, but Brown himself was provokingly fond of calling him Johnny. He appeared to have a secret satisfaction and deep sense of pride and amusement in denying his son the family name. Who knew whether this might not be the most illustrious of all the five Benedict Browns? At present he was a very important and welcome person indeed in his own family.
"I am in an uncommon hurry this morning," said the father, turning back for one word more as he went out. "I have a business meeting to go to at nine."
Lucy was one of those delightful women who rarely demand particular explanations and are contented with general assurances, and she kindly advised Brown not to get too tired, and to be sure to come home by half-past five if he could; she missed him so much more now that she was not busy herself and had to spend the whole day up-stairs. She had a vague desire to know about her husband's business, - it seemed to interest him so much; but she did not like to expose her total ignorance of affairs, and had a theory, besides, that it was better for Ben to shake off his cares when he was at home.
As Ben went down-stairs again, he was attacked by a sense of guilt more uncomfortable than usual, and said to himself that he must really tell Lucy all about the Planter Company. There was no fear of any catastrophe, it was far beyond the realm of experiments, and she was sure to hear of it from somebody else, and to feel hurt at his silence. The wonder was that he had hidden his head in the sand of his first name so long.
The office of J. Benedict Brown, counselor at law, was unvisited, except by its faithful clerk and copyist, until some three hours later in the day. When the young lawyer reached a certain point on Broadway, he turned quickly to the right and went down a side street, as if he were well accustomed to such a course, and knew the shortest cut toward a dingy brick building which bore a clamorous sort of sign, "The Farmer's Right-Hand Man: The Electric Automatic Potato Planter. Brown & Checkley, Manufacturers." The doorway was blockaded with large packing-cases, and, early as it still was for the business world, there were several men in the counting-room toward which Brown went at once. The workmen near by gave our friend a cheerful morning greeting, and Mr. Checkley, who sat behind his desk, rose soberly, and presented the new-comer to the counting-room audience as "Our head of the firm, gentlemen, Mr. John B. Brown; and now we will proceed to business at once." Brown established himself at another desk, well stocked with papers, and began to hunt for something in a lower drawer, the key of which he had taken from his own pocket. This was evidently not an occasional thing, this business interview; he took on, even to the most indifferent observer's eye, an air of relationship to the place.
"The only thing that seems to be imperative this morning, Mr. Brown," said Checkley, placidly, in a voice directed to the other listeners, "is a decision on our part in regard to the increase of our circular, almanac, and agent departments. We came to no conclusion yesterday. You have the figures before you on that sheet of blue paper. I think the least increase that we can manage is to quadruple the number of circulars and almanacs over that of last year."
Checkley was in the habit of trying to give casual strangers as large an idea as possible of the magnitude of the Planter Company's business, so Brown listened respectfully, and waited for further information.
"These gentlemen," continued Mr. Checkley, "are ready with an offer to make an extensive additional contract for the wood-work of the machines, and we will listen to them. In our liability to meet extraordinary orders at short notice, we are of course obliged to defend ourselves against any possible inability of theirs to furnish supplies. We find that the business grows with such rapidity that it is most difficult to make provision against surprise. You can easily understand" (addressing the small audience) "that an article like ours is invaluable to every man who cultivates over three acres of land. Indispensable, I may say, since it saves the hiring of labor, saves time, and saves strength. Such an article is one no farmer will be without when he once sees it work."
Checkley was unusually fluent of speech this morning, and the interview went on prosperously. Somehow, the familiar place and familiar arguments struck Brown with a fresh vividness and air of reality. His thoughts wandered away to his law business for a few minutes, and then he found himself again listening to another account of the electric automatic potato planter which Checkley was giving to a new-comer, a Western man, who was evidently a large dealer in agricultural supplies. There was a row of clerks behind a screen, and their pens were scratching diligently. Brown could see the high stacks of almanacs through the dusty glass walls that fenced the counting-room, - bright red almanacs, which combined a good selection of family reading with meteorological statistics and the praises of the potato planter judiciously arranged on every page. It looked as if there were almanacs enough already for every man, woman, and child in America, but Checkley knew what he was about. Brown had thought that almanacs were a step too low; he was conscious of a shameful wish now and then that he had embarked on any sort of business rather than a patent potato planter. The pride of the J. Benedict Browns, judges and famous pleaders at the bar, had revolted more than once in the beginning against such a sordid enterprise. But as for John B. Brown, this enterprising manufacturer and distributer of an article that no farmer could do without, he felt an increasing pride in his success. He had merely made use of a little capital that was lying idle, and his own superfluous and unemployed energy. He believed that his legal affairs had been helped rather than hindered by this side issue of his, and he and Checkley had fought some amazing fights with the world in the course of their short but successful alliance. Brown lazily opened a directory near at hand, and looked among the B's. It was a new copy, and he nearly laughed aloud at the discovery that he figured twice on the page: Brown, J. Benedict lawyer, Broadway; h. 38th St., and Brown, John B., B. & Checkley machinists, 9th Ave; h. Jersey City. Here was a general masquerade! Checkley lived in Jersey City, and one of the clerks must have given wrong information, or else the directory agent had confused what was told him. Nobody knew where he lived, very likely. They called him The Boss, in the establishment, because he dressed well and had a less brotherly and companionable manner than Checkley. It was surprising, the way a man could hide himself in such a huge city as this. Yes, he must certainly tell Lucy that very night. They would have a capital laugh over it, and he could tease her about making Johnny a partner instead of the fifth at the bar. Lucy was very fond of a joke, and she had no idea how rich they were going to be if affairs went on at this pace. Brown had felt very dishonest for a long time whenever he saw their advertisements in the papers, and had been nearly ready to confess and be forgiven once the summer before, when he and Lucy took a little journey together up the Connecticut River, and Lucy had writhed in contemptuous agony over Checkley's desecration of natural scenery. "Use Brown & Checkley's Electric Automatic Potato Planter, and Save Ten Years of Life," was displayed on rocks and fences everywhere. Checkley himself had used his short summer holiday in leading a gang of letterers into the rural districts, and this was the result. Could a man of ordinary courage confess at such a moment that the name of Brown was in reality her own property, and that she was unconsciously responsible for such vandalism?
Checkley was rushing things this morning; he eagerly assured his guests that they had made the planter pay her own bills after the first six months, and had advertised only as fast as they gained the means. It was the first application of electricity to farming. "Brown and I had little capital to start with, but we knew we had hold of a sure thing. I am not sure that there is anything that corresponds to it in the world of inventions," Checkley continued proudly. "I have been an inventor all my life. Here you have a light-wheeled vehicle that one horse can drag all day and an intelligent child can control. You only need to plow and harrow and manure your ground: then the planter is driven to and fro; it stops itself at proper distances, a revolving harrow loosens the ground within a space twelve inches in diameter, this harrow is drawn up, the shovel throws the earth out at one side, the hopper lets fall sufficient seed, a second shovel arrangement covers it in, and a weight falls twice and banks it down, the horse steps on between the furrows. My dear sir, in the time I have consumed in telling you, four hills of potatoes are planted as well as if you had done each one separately with your own hoe; the average time is only three fifths of a minute. A horse soon learns the trick, for the brake is self-acting and stops him in the proper place. The only thing that troubled us in the beginning was the complaint of patrons that the horses gave trouble, and the hills went zigzagging all over the field. This new improvement makes a field as regular as a checker-board. With the brake that stops the planter instantly, the horse learns to anticipate, and makes his four steps forward and stops of his own accord. It is less fatiguing for the horse than a plow or harrow, and a treadmill is barbarous beside it. Then think of the heat of planting time and the waste of human energy! We are now perfecting a re-hoer and digger, but our present enterprise is more than we can handle with ease. You have, no doubt, read our testimonials. Hear this: a ten-acre field planted in a half a day, with some help from a neighbor, - read for yourself, sir!
"You need to be very careful of the gauges and setting your brakes properly," Checkley confided honestly. "Electricity is a terrible force; there has been one bad accident through such carelessness. The shovel arrangement was not set as it should be, and the machine went on digging straight down, and would have carried the horse with it, if the harness hadn't been so old that he freed himself, and scrambled out of the pit. My dear sir, this will show you the power of that machine; it went down forty feet, right through gravel, rotten rock, and everything, until it struck a solid ledge, and that stopped it at last. The whole neighborhood collected, and they got alarmed, - thought she might be boring for a volcano or something; and they rolled a big bowlder out of a pasture near by, and let it drop right down on the planter; but that only damaged the wood-work and partly disabled the running-work, for she kept tossing up splinters for a day or two. The man hadn't a word to say, for it was a springy field, and the planter had struck water somewhere and made him a first-rate well. He had been intending to dig one thereabouts for a good while."
"I want to know!" exclaimed the wide-eyed listener. Brown heard this flow of Checkley's eloquence, and was amused at the response. It seemed that the listener, a worthy, well-to-do Connecticut farmer, had an idea of introducing the automatic potato planter to his neighborhood, and was trying to obtain one on trial at reduced price, with a promise of wide influence in its behalf and cordial recommendation. Checkley believed in favoring the farmers, and the affair was presently concluded. Brown was amazed to hear his companion say that he, Brown, had been thinking that he should like to pay a visit to that neighborhood at country-fair time, and speak to the folks on agricultural topics. Checkley liked his jokes, and Brown smiled, but he turned a little cold, and wondered if they were not going a trifle too fast. There might not be enough of him for two Browns, at this rate! But it was something to find himself a busy, prosperous man instead of an idle, overgrown boy, and among the new firms of its class none stood better than Brown & Checkley.
There was little time left for serious business conference, but Checkley had great executive ability, and so had Mr. John B. Brown of Jersey City, for that matter. Checkley was thin yet and not very well dressed, but he had a buoyant, confident air. "How well he knows human nature, and what a good fellow he is!" thought Brown as they parted. "Snooks is more of a man than the dandy I met in that newspaper office," reflected Checkley. "I never have lost a cent for him, either, but hang me if we haven't had some narrow escapes. I got him in pretty deep once, when he had the worst doubts of me he ever had. Snooks looked solemn, but he never flung at me, or did anything but shoulder half the blame and the worry, like a man."
In the neighborhood of the company's office Brown met several business acquaintances, who gave him a friendly good-morning. He had gathered a whole new circle of associates, in his character of senior partner of Brown & Checkley. He had indulged in bad lunches with these friends, and already figured largely in the agricultural-implement world; he would have been deeply gratified if he had heard somebody say, as he went by, "That's Brown, of the Planter Company. Those fellows are sweeping everything before them this spring. They've got hold of as big a thing as the McCormick reaper."
It was ten or fifteen minutes' walk between the two offices, and when J. Benedict Brown, Esq., seated himself at his desk he was still thinking about his other business, which he usually insisted upon putting out of his mind. He never had looked at it so entirely from the outside. He was at heart a most conservative person. He was more fettered than he knew by his family pride and traditions, and he had become persuaded of his ability to follow the law in a way that he never used to expect. He felt it in him to make his influence recognized at the bar, and to handle heavy pieces of business. Now that Checkley was so well established he could slip out, and hold only a silent partnership, if he pleased. Yet an opposing judgment in his own mind at the moment prevented him from cordially accepting such an idea. There were some things, and he knew it, that Checkley could not have planned nor have carried without him, and the concern might easily fall to pieces even now. There was his own boy, however, who must inherit as fair a name from him as he had from his father. There had never yet been a dishonored man of his name. Checkley had counted upon the value of the family reputation at first; he insisted that they were throwing away a great advantage by not adding the prefix of J. Benedict to the plain Brown & Checkley. J. Benedict Brown was a name of historical renown. Checkley did not begin to understand yet that John B. Brown was as utterly unknown to the friends of the J. Benedict Browns as if he and his potato planter had never existed. He simply knew that Snooks was old-maidishly eager to keep his two occupations apart, and that only from half-past eight to ten and from three o'clock until dinner-time he was the steady shaft-horse of Brown & Checkley.
Brown sat in the Broadway office, busy at his work, having finished his reflections without coming to any new decisions. He was working up a law case that he took great pride in. All his inherited cleverness and a new love for such a puzzle delighted him; he never had felt a keener sense of his own power, and the planter was utterly forgotten.
Some one entered the office, and gave a chair one aggressive pull across the polished wood floor. It sounded as if the caster had left a damaging scratch, and Brown looked round with not a little annoyance. He felt a strange suspicion that one of his Planter Company associates had at last hunted him down. There was an inner room for purposes of private consultation, and Brown signified, after a proper interval, that the stranger might go there. It was a darkish place, where he had once tried to have his own desk; but it was much too gloomy, especially in the days when there was nothing to do. Except when he was at court, or at his other business, he was very faithful to his post, and the stranger need not have been so unreasonably glad to find him at his office.
"I see that you're your father's own son," the client began, in an asthmatic voice. He looked like a cross old fellow, and Brown had an instant sense of relief because the first words had not been suggestive of the other place of business. "I knew your father and grandfather before you," said Mr. Grandison, "and I've been out of lawyers' hands these twenty years, more or less; but I've got some fight left, and when I got my blood up yesterday about some infringements, I thought over to whom I could give the case, and I decided that I would come round and look you over, to see if I could trust you with such a piece of work. I don't know whether you're not too young now, but it'll be a feather for you if you can handle it. I'm ready to pay what the work's worth, - I'll tell you that to begin with."
The word "infringements" had an unpleasant sound, but Brown waited patiently. He had some knowledge of this man, for whom hs father had gained a famous case. Grandison was an inventor. On the whole, he could recall the case perfectly; he had tried to make himself familiar with it, for future use; but there was no possibility of those questions being reopened.
"My factories go on like clock-work, and have these thirty years," said the old man. Brown began to feel a personal dislike. "I thought I had disposed of all opponents and rivals long ago. Jenks and Rowley are our regular lawyers, but now they're getting old, and they don't own me, any way. You see there are a couple of jackasses, over on Ninth Avenue, who have started up an electric potato planter, - a capital good thing it is, too, - that runs so close to that cog-wheel arrangement in the steam harrow we make that I'm going to stop them short, if I can; or, if I can't do that, I'll buy 'em out, if it costs a million to do it. You can't afford to let such a business as mine scatter itself, and I mean to hold it together as long as I am here to do it."
Brown felt a dampness gather on his forehead; then his manhood arose triumphant, and his courage declared itself equal to this emergency. He was not caught stealing, neither had he done anything dishonorable. There was no real incongruity in a Benedict Brown's being interested in a potato planter; it had all been a fair, above-board business. He was ready to stand up for it.
"I've been living in Thirty-Eighth Street," said the client, "and I have often watched you come and go. I like to see a lad diligent and right after his business, as you are, and ready to go down town an hour or two earlier in the morning than the fashion is. I've had my eye on you for a year or two. I started in life a poor boy, and never had the backing up that was ready for you; but I keep the run of my affairs, I can tell you. I don't get down town every day, by any means, but a thing like this that I want to consult you about fires me all up."
"Will you give me an idea of the case, Mr. Grandison?" asked Brown, politely. He was afraid he might be taking an unfair advantage, but the words were out, and the old manufacturer, with much detail, laid the grievance before him.
"They're smart young men," he ended. "I don't know their match. I hear they had a small capital, and laid it out mostly in advertising. One of them got hold of a half-worked-out notion and completed it, and bought out the owner's right; and there was a small manufactory over in Jersey that had been swamped, and they got that for a song, too; and the minute the machine was on the market it went like wildfire. In spite of constant extensions, they have been able to meet their obligations right along. I don't want to harm 'em if they'll treat me fairly. I'll give 'em a handsome sum down to sell out quietly, or I'll fight 'em all to pieces."
"Perhaps they can stand a fight, and can prove that their machine is no infringement on anybody's," suggested the lawyer, with a good deal of spirit.
Mr. Grandison gave him a shrewd glance. "This Brown is no relation to you, I hope?" he said, doubtfully; but Brown flushed quickly, and made a little joke about the name's not being at all uncommon. The client thought he was not pleased at being associated with a firm of machinists, and was sorry he had spoken. The boy felt older than he looked, no doubt.
When the interview was ended, Brown, who had been very inexpressive of his opinions all the way through, assured his visitor that there were some reasons why he would not give any answer then about undertaking the case, and would ask his leave to defer a direct reply until the next day. "I shall be very glad to stop as I go up town in the afternoon," said our friend. The elder man thanked him, and said he should count it a great favor, if the weather were no better than at present, and went limping away. Poor old soul! it was late for him to be taking pleasure in quarrels with his fellow-men.
Checkley was going over to the works that afternoon, and there was no hope of seeing him until the next morning, so Brown gave all his mind that he possibly could to being J. Benedict, the rising lawyer. He had some perplexing business upon which he tried hard to fix his attention, but the affairs of John B. Brown and the potato planter kept rising before him in an uneasy, ghostlike way that was most disagreeable. He had put more of his thoughts into those side interests than he had been aware. The two years had gone by like a dream, but they had left a good many permanent evidences of their presence. There was one of the teamsters, who had broken his leg early in the winter, and whom Brown had visited in the hospital, besides looking after the patient's family. He had built up his own business reputation, and had grown ambitious about the success of the firm. He had determined at first to say nothing, even to his wife, until he knew whether he had made a fool of himself or not, but he was perfectly aware now that he had not made a fool of himself. He was evolving plans for giving all their workmen some share in the business, and was increasingly glad that he had a chance to work out some experiments in the puzzling social questions of the day. He was ready now to be something of a statesman. He was willing to believe that he had got hold of the right thread of the snarled skein that linked labor with capital. His wife knew that he had some business interests apart from his law reports and his practice, and none of his friends would be surprised that he had been speculating a little. Gales would have got at the whole story, and told it, too; but he had gone abroad months before, and relinquished his profession altogether, for the time being. Perhaps the time had come to choose between the two Browns; it would be hard to play both characters, if the cares of either should double, for instance, and he was, perhaps, fated to be J. Benedict, after all. This was a melancholy thought, and the old wish returned that his other enterprise had concerned anything but an automatic potato planter. It might give him a nickname, and he never would be able to live the silly story down. Checkley was sure to project something new, and yet he was truly proud of the firm of Brown & Checkley, and would not see it cheated.
Next day, Checkley happened to be alone in the office, and his partner beckoned him out into an empty corner of their place of business, where they were well removed from the clerks and their scratching pens. Checkley laughed and shouted, and was at first unable to give any answer. "Wants you to bring a suit of infringement against yourself, does he?" he gasped at length. "Go ahead, my boy; nobody'll know the difference. It will advertise us enormously. I have told you a dozen times that nothing would do us so much good as a rousing lawsuit. Now don't put on your best J. Benedict manners, but listen to me. I'm not going to work myself to death. We have laid by something handsome already; if the old fellow will add to it, I am perfectly willing to sell out, if you are, just to make his last days happy. I've got my head full of new electric notions, and I want to go to France and experiment. You tell him the whole story; he will be glad to get hold of the planter, and I shall be glad to let it go. I meant to go roving this summer. I'll let it all drop. We have had a run of luck, and luck is apt to turn. We're young yet, you know, J. Benedict Brown, so I put this business into you hands. You're lawyer for the firm."
Brown turned away mournfully; he was convinced more entirely than ever before of the erratic nature of his partner: yesterday with his whole soul bent on furthering the success of the planter; to-day ready to throw it aside, and to wander away and spend all the money he had earned. Brown mentally resolved that it really was not safe to risk his good name any longer in such keeping, but that he should insist upon being made trustee of a share of his partner's funds, so that Checkley might never come to the ground again.
Checkley called him back in great excitement, when he was leaving the office, a little later. "Look here," said he. "I was going to put this picture into our next almanac as your portrait. I was in the patent-medicine business once, and this was old Dr. Parkins, who made the Spring Bitters. I was going to start him again as John B. Brown, the Pennsylvania farmer and inventor."
"I think it would have been beneath our dignity," responded Brown, severely. "What became of your patent-medicine business? I never heard of that."
"Because it fell through," said Old Shekels, cheerfully. "This was the only thing that never did. You're spoiling a first-class business man for a doubtful lawyer." But Brown laughed, and straightened himself proudly as he went toward Broadway and his other office, which bore the shining brass door-plate with his honored name of J. Benedict Brown.
That evening he confessed all to his wife. It was great shock, but she bore it bravely. She knew little about business, but she believed with all her heart in respecting the traditions of one's family. Though, after all, one Brown had kindly made money for the other.
"The Two Browns" first appeared in Atlantic Monthly (58: 196-209) in August 1886. This text is from a reprinting of the 1914 edition of A White Heron & Other Stories. Where I have noticed probable errors in a text, I have added a correction and indicated the change with brackets. If you see items needing correction or annotation, please contact the site manager.
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a book agent: one who solicits orders for books, usually books published in installments.
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black silk stock: a large, wide, stiff cravat.
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Parishioner's War-Cry: This appears to be a fictional religious newspaper, perhaps something like The Congregationalist, a well-known Congregational Church weekly to which Jewett contributed several stories and essays in the early 1880s. Her title for this paper echoes, however, the title of the Salvation Army's weekly newspaper published in the United States and England, among other countries, during this period: War Cry and Only Official Gazette of the Salvation Army.
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pair of arctics: warmly lined, waterproof overshoes.
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the minus Shekels: This is how the phrase appears in both the Atlantic and present texts. It appears that Jewett is using "minus" in the colloquial sense of being deprived; hence she may intend a pun on Checkley's nickname, which refers to Hebrew currency in the Bible and colloquially to coins.
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Newport: Newport is on the southern tip of the state of Rhode Island at the mouth of Narragansett Bay. It has long been a fashionable summer residence for well-off New Englanders.
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Connecticut River: "The Connecticut River, which is 655 km (407 mi) long, is the longest river in New England. It rises in the Connecticut Lakes in northern New Hampshire, near the Canadian border, and flows south. The river marks the boundary between New Hampshire and Vermont, crosses central Massachusetts and Connecticut, and enters Long Island Sound." (Source: Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia)
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McCormick reaper: "Son of a Virginia farmer, Cyrus Hall McCormick, b. Rockbridge County, Va., Feb. 15, 1809, d. May 13, 1884, developed a mechanical reaper in 1831 and made a fortune with it through his business talents and mass-production methods." (Source: Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia)
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Dr. Parkins ... Spring Bitters: "Bitters are alcoholic extracts of bitter roots and barks flavored with herbs and spices. They are often used to give a finishing touch to dry drinks such as aquavit or to cocktails. They are considered aids to digestion by stimulating the secretion of various digestive juices. The bitter taste is supplied by orange peel, gentian root, rhubarb root, cinchona, quinine, and quassia, and the flavor is supplied by caraway, anise, juniper, camomile, cloves, and other herbs and spices." (Source: Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia). It appears that Dr. Parkins may be fictional, but such products were regularly advertized - often with portraits of their respectable inventors - in popular newspapers and magazines.
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Edited and annotated by Terry Heller, Coe college
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Contents: A White Heron