PEOPLE used to say of the two Oliphant brothers that Harlan Oliphant looked as if he lived in the Oliphants’ house, but Dan didn’t. This was a poor sort of information to any one who had never seen the house, but of course the supposition was that everybody had seen it and was familiar with its significance. It stood in a great, fine yard, in that row of great, fine yards at the upper end of National Avenue, before the avenue swung off obliquely and changed its name to Amberson Boulevard. The houses in the long row were such houses as are built no more; bricklayers worked for a dollar a day and the workman’s day was ten hours long when National Avenue grew into its glory. Those houses were of a big-walled solidity to withstand time, fire, and tornado, but they found another assailant not to be resisted by anything: this conqueror, called Progress, being the growth of the city. Until the growth came they were indomitable and fit for the centuries.
Moreover, they were of a dignified spaciousness not now to be accomplished except by millionaires with wives content to spend their days getting new servants. The New Yorker, admitted to these interiors upon a visit westward, discovered an amplitude with which he had little familiarity at home, where the brownstone fronts and squeezed apartments showed him no such suites of big rooms; for, of all the million people in New York, only a dozen families could have houses comparable in size or stateliness. “Stately” was the word, though here some little care must be taken, of course, with an eye to those who will not admit that anything short of Blenheim or the Luxembourg is stately. The stateliness of the Oliphants’ house was precisely the point in that popular discrimination between the two young men who lived there: Harlan Oliphant, like the house, was supposed to partake of this high quality, but stateliness was the last thing any one ever thought of in connection with Dan.
The youth of the brothers, in the happy and comfortable nineties of the last century, is well remembered in their city, where the Christmas holidays could never be thought really begun till the two Oliphants had arrived from college and their broad-shouldered, long-tailed coats and incredibly high white collars were seen officially moving in the figures of a cotillion. They usually arrived on the same day, though often not by the same train; but this was the mark of no disagreement or avoidance of each other, yet bore some significance upon the difference between them. It was the fashion to say of them that never were two brothers so alike yet so unlike; and although both were tall, with blue eyes, brown hair, and features of pleasant contour decisively outlined in what is called a family likeness, people who knew them well found it a satisfying and insoluble puzzle that they were the offspring of the same father and mother.
The contrast appeared in childhood and was manifest to even the casual onlooker when Dan Oliphant was eleven or twelve years old and Harlan ten or eleven. At that age Harlan was already an aristocrat, and, what is more remarkable, kept himself always immaculate. If his collar rumpled or was soiled he went immediately to his room and got a fresh one; he washed his hands three or four times a day without parental suggestion and he brushed his hair almost every time he washed his hands. He was fastidious in his choice of companions, had no taste for chance acquaintances, and on a school holiday could most frequently be found in the library at home, reading a book beyond his years. The lively Daniel, on the contrary, disported himself about the neighbourhood—or about other neighbourhoods, for that matter—in whatever society offered him any prospect of gayety. He played marbles “for keeps” with ragtag and bobtail on every vacant lot in town; he never washed his hands or face, or brushed his hair, except upon repeated command, yet loved water well enough to “run off swimming” and dive through a film of ice upon an early Saturday in March. He regaled himself with horseplay up and down the alleys and had long talks with negro coachmen in their stables, acquiring strange wisdom of them; he learned how to swear with some intricacy, how to smoke almost anything not fireproof, how to “inhale,” how to gamble with implements more sophisticated than marbles, and how to keep all these accomplishments from the knowledge of his parents. He kept them from Harlan’s knowledge, also, though not out of any fear that Harlan would “tell.”
At some time in their early childhood the brothers had made the discovery that they were uncongenial. This is not to say that they were unamiable together, but that they had assumed a relation not wholly unknown among brothers. They spoke to each other when it was necessary; but usually, if they happened to find themselves together, they were silent, each apparently unconscious of the other’s presence. Sometimes, though rarely, they had a short argument, seldom upon a subject of great importance; and only once did a difference between them attain the dimensions of a quarrel.
This was on a summer day of feverish temperature, and the heat may have had something to do with the emotion displayed by young Daniel, then aged twelve. He was engaged, that afternoon, with a business friend, Master Sam Kohn, and they were importantly busy in a latticed summer-house, an ornament of the commodious lawn. They had entered into a partnership for the sale of “Fancy Brackets and Fittings,” which they manufactured out of old cigar boxes, with the aid of glue, a jig-saw, and blue paint. The computed profits were already enormous, though no sales had been attempted, since the glue was slow to harden on such a hot day; and the partners worked diligently, glad to shed their perspiration for the steadily increasing means to obtain riches.
At five o’clock Harlan dropped lightly from the big stone-trimmed bay window of the library, crossed the lawn, where the grass was being gilded now by the westering sun, and halted before the entrance of the summer-house. He was the picture of a cool young gentleman, perfect in white linen; his coat and trousers of this pleasant material were unflawed by wrinkle or stain; his patent-leather pumps, unmarred by the slightest crack, glittered among the short green blades of grass; his small black satin tie was as smooth as his brown hair.
To this perfection the busy partners within the summer-house were a sufficient contrast. Soiled blue upon every available surface, they continued their labours, paying no visible attention to the cold-eyed young observer, but consulting each other perhaps the more importantly because of the presence of an audience, however skeptical. Master Kohn, swarthy, bow-legged, and somewhat undersized for his thirteen years, was in fact pleased to be associated with the superior Harlan, even so tenuously. He was pleased, also, to be a partner of Dan’s, though this was no great distinction, because Dan, as the boys’ world knew, would willingly be friendly (or even intimate) with anybody, and consequently no social advancement was to be obtained through him. That commodity is to be had of only those who decline to deal in it, and thus Sam Kohn felt that he was becoming imbued with a certain amount of superiority because Harlan Oliphant had come to look on at the work.
Sam decided to make a suggestion. “Look at your brother,” he said to Dan. “Maybe he’d like to git into our partnership. We could give him a share, if he starts in fresh and works hard.”
“Thanks!” Harlan said with cold sarcasm, and addressed his brother: “Do you know what time it is and what the family is supposed to do this evening?”
“Yes,” Dan answered, not looking up from his jig-saw. “We’re goin’ to dinner at grandma Savage’s.”
“Mother sent me to tell you it’s time for you to come in and wash yourself and dress up,” said Harlan. “The mess you’ve got yourself in, it’ll take you till after six o’clock, and we’re supposed to be there then.”
“Sam and I got some pretty important jobs to finish,” Dan returned carelessly. “I got plenty time to change my clo’es and get washed up.”
“No, you haven’t. You quit playing with that boy and those dirty things and go in the house.”
Upon this, Dan stopped the operation of the jig-saw and looked at his brother in a puzzled way. “What you mean callin’ our brackets and fittin’s ‘dirty things?’ ” he inquired. “I expect you don’t hardly realize Sam Kohn and I got a regular factory here, Harlan.”
“A ‘factory,’ is it?” said Harlan, and laughed in the manner of a contemptuous adult. “Well, you close up your old factory and come in the house and get ready.”
“I can’t for a while,” Dan returned, beginning his work with the jig-saw again. “I told you we got lots to do before we quit to-night.”
“You stop playing with that silly little saw,” Harlan said sharply, for he had begun to feel some irritation. “You come in the house right this instant.”
“No; I can’t yet, Harlan. Sam and I got to——”
“Never mind!” Harlan interrupted. “You come in the house and let this boy go home.”
There was a frosty sharpness in his way of saying “let this boy go home” that caused Dan to stop his work again and stare at his brother challengingly. “Here!” he exclaimed. “This is as much my father and mother’s yard as it is yours, and you got no business hintin’ at any friend of mine to go home.”
“Haven’t I?” Harlan inquired, adopting a light mockery. “So this is a friend of yours, is it?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Oh, a friend?” Harlan mocked. “Oh, excuse me! I didn’t understand!”
This proved to be intolerably provocative;—Dan abandoned the jig-saw and stepped out of the summer-house to confront his brother frowningly. “You shut up, Harlan Oliphant,” he said. “This is Sam Kohn’s and my factory, and he’s got a right here. You quit your talkin’ so much around here.”
“You quit your own talking,” Harlan retorted. “You do what mother sent me to tell you to, and let that dirty little Jew go home!”
“What?” Dan cried.
“You better!” Harlan said, standing his ground, though Dan lifted his hand threateningly. “We don’t want any dirty little Jews on our premises.”
Dan gulped. “It isn’t his fault he’s a Jew. You take that back!”
“I won’t,” said Harlan. “He is little and he is dirty and he’s a Jew. How you going to deny it?”
Flushed with anger and greatly perplexed, Dan glanced over his shoulder at Master Kohn, who looked on with an inscrutable expression. “Well, what if I can’t?” Dan said desperately, after this glance at his guest and partner. “You got no right to insult him.”
“It isn’t an insult if it’s true, is it?”
“Yes, it is; and you ought to be ashamed of yourself. I got a notion—I got a notion——”
“What notion have you got?” Harlan asked scornfully, as his brother paused, swallowing heavily.
“I got a notion to make you ashamed!”
“How would you do it?”
“ ‘How?’ I’ll show you how!” And again Dan’s clenched right hand lowered threateningly. The brothers stood eye to eye, and both faces were red.
“Go on,” said Harlan. “Hit me!”
Dan’s fist, like his expression, wavered for a moment, then he said: “Well, I wish you weren’t my brother; but you are, and I won’t hit you.”
“I thought you wouldn’t,” Harlan retorted, turning toward the house. “I guess I’ll have to tell mother you won’t wash yourself and dress until she comes and sends this dirty little Jew out of our yard.”
Thus, having discovered the tender spot in his opponent’s sensibilities, he avenged himself for the threat, and went on. His brother moved impulsively, as if to follow and punish, but Mrs. Oliphant had long ago impressed her sons heavily with the story of Cain and Abel, and he halted, while Harlan went on coolly and disappeared into the house by a side entrance.
“Doggone you!” Dan muttered; then turned back to the factory, where Master Kohn, his head down and his hands in his pockets, was scuffing sawdust meditatively with the soles of his shoes. Dan likewise scuffed sawdust for a time.
“Well,” Sam Kohn said finally, “I guess I better go on home before your mamma comes to turn me out.”
“I don’t guess she would,” Dan said, not looking at him, but keeping his gaze upon his own scuffing shoe. “She’s got a good deal o’ politeness about her, and I don’t guess she would. You got a right to stay here long as you want, Sammy. It’s half your factory.”
“Not if your family puts me out, it ain’t.”
“He had no business to call you that, Sammy.”
“To call me which?”
“A—a Jew,” said Dan, still keeping his eyes upon the ground.
“Why, I am a Jew.”
“Well, maybe; but——” Dan paused uncomfortably, then continued: “Well, he didn’t have any right to call you one.”
“Yes, he had,” Sam returned, to his friend’s surprise. “He could call me a Jew just the same I could call you English.”
“English? I’m not English.”
“Well, you’re from English.”
“No,” Dan protested mildly. “Not for a couple o’ hundred years, anyway.”
“Well, I ain’t from Jews a couple thousand years, maybe.”
“But I’m full-blooded American,” said Dan.
“So’m I,” Sam insisted. “You’re American from English, and I’m American from Jews. He’s got a right to call me a Jew.”
Dan stared at him incredulously. “Don’t you mind it?”
“Yes,” Sam admitted, “I do when he says it for a insult. He’s got a right to call me a Jew, but he hasn’t got no right to call me a Jew for a insult.”
“Well, he did,” Dan remarked gloomily. “He meant it the way you might call somebody ‘Irish’ or ‘Dutchy’ or ‘Nigger.’ ”
“I know it. He called me dirty and little, too. Well, I am little, but I ain’t no dirtier than what you are, Dan, and you’re his own brother.”
“Well, then, you oughtn’t to mind his callin’ you dirty, Sam.”
“He wouldn’t call you dirty the same way he would me,” Sam returned shrewdly; and then, after a momentary pause, he sighed and turned to go.
But that sigh of his, which had in it the quality of patience, strongly affected Dan’s sympathies, for a reason he could not have explained. “Don’t go, Sammy,” he said. “You don’t have to go just because he——”
“Yeh, I better,” Sam said, not looking back, but continuing to move toward the distant gate. “I better go before your mamma comes to put me out.”
Dan protested again, but Sam shook his head and went on across the lawn, his hands in his pockets, his head down. The high iron fence, painted white, culminated in an elaborate gateway, and, when Sam passed out to the sidewalk there, the iron gateposts rose far above him. Plodding out between these high white posts, the shabby little figure did not lack pathos; nor was pathos absent from it as it went doggedly down the street in the thinning gold of the late afternoon sunshine. Sam looked back not once; but Dan watched him until he was out of sight, then returned to the interior of the summer-house, sat down, and stared broodingly at the littered floor. The floor was not what he saw, however, for his actual eyes were without vision just then, and it was his mind’s eye that was busy. It dwelt upon the picture of the exiled Sam Kohn departing forlornly, and the longer it thus dwelt the warmer and more threatening grew a painful feeling that seemed to locate itself in Dan’s upper chest, not far below his collar bone.
This feeling remained there while he dressed; and it was still there when he sat down at his grandmother’s table for dinner. In fact, it so increased in poignancy that he could not eat with his customary heartiness; and his lack of appetite, though he made play with seemingly busy fork and spoon to cover it, fell under the sharp eye of the lady at the head of the table. She was a handsome, dominant old woman, with high colour in her cheeks at seventy-eight, and thick hair, darker than it was gray, under her lace cap. She sat straight upright in her stiff chair, for she detested easy-chairs and had never in all her life lounged in one or sat with her knees crossed; such things were done not by ladies, but by hoodlums, she said. Her husband, a gentle, submissive old man, was frail and bent with his years, though they had brought him great worldly prosperity; and the grandchildren of this couple never spoke of the house as “Grandpa Savage’s,” but always as “Grandma Savage’s,” an intuitive discrimination that revealed the rulership. Mrs. Savage ruled by means of a talent she had for destructive criticism, which several times prevented her optimistic husband from venturing into ruin, and had established her as the voice of wisdom.
“Daniel,” she said presently;—“you’re not eating.”
“Yes, I am, grandma.”
“No. Ever since you came to the table, you’ve been sitting there with your head bent down like that and moving your hands to pretend you’re eating, but not eating. What’s the matter with you?”
“Nothin’,” he muttered, not lifting his head. “I’m all right.”
“Adelaide,” Mrs. Savage said to his mother;—“has his appetite been failing lately?”
“Why, no, mamma,” Mrs. Oliphant answered. She was a pretty woman, quietly cheerful and little given to alarms or anxieties. “Not seriously,” she added, smiling. “He did very well at lunch, at least.”
“He looks sickish,” said Mrs. Savage grimly. “He looks as if he were beginning a serious illness. Well people don’t sit with their heads down like that. What is the matter with you, Daniel?”
“Nothin’,” he said. “I told you I’m all right.”
“He isn’t though,” Mrs. Savage insisted, addressing the others. “Do you know what’s the matter with him, Harlan?”
“Too much glue, I expect.”
“Too much glue,” Harlan repeated. “He was playing with a lot of nasty glue and paint all afternoon, and I expect the smell’s made him sick. Too much glue and too much Jew.”
“Jew?” his grandmother inquired. “What do you mean by ‘too much Jew,’ Harlan?”
“He had a dirty little bow-legged Jew playing with him.”
“See here!” Dan said huskily, but he did not look up. “You be careful!”
“Careful of what?” Harlan inquired scornfully.
“Careful of what you say.”
“Daniel, were you playing with a Jew?” his grandmother asked.
“Yes, I was.”
He still did not look up, but his voice had a tone, plaintive and badgered, that attracted the attention of his grandfather, and the old gentleman interposed soothingly: “Don’t let ’em fret you, Dannie. It wasn’t particularly wicked of you to play with a Jew, I expect.”
“No,” said Dan’s father. “I don’t believe I’d let myself be much worried over that, if I were you, Dan.”
“No?” said Mrs. Savage, and inquired further, somewhat formidably: “You don’t prefer your sons to choose companions from their own circle, Henry Oliphant?”
“Oh, yes, I do, ma’am,” he returned amiably. “As a general thing I believe it’s better for them to be intimate with the children of their mother’s and father’s old family friends; but at the same time I hope Dan and Harlan won’t forget that we live in a country founded on democratic principles. The population seems to me to begin to show signs of altering with emigration from Europe; and it’s no harm for the boys to know something of the new elements, though for that matter we’ve always had Jews, and they’re certainly not bad citizens. I don’t see any great harm in Dan’s playing a little with a Jewish boy, if he wants to.”
“I wasn’t playin’,” Dan said.
“Weren’t you?” his father asked. “What were you doing?”
“We were—we were manufacturing. We were manufacturing useful articles.”
“What were they?”
“Ornamental brackets to nail on walls and put things on. We were goin’ to make good money out of it.”
“Well, that was all right,” Mr. Oliphant said genially. “Not a bad idea at all. You’re all right, Dannie.”
Unfortunately, a word of sympathy often undermines the composure of the recipient; and upon this Dan’s lower lip began to quiver, though he inclined his head still farther to conceal the new tokens of his agitation.
He was not aided by his coolly observant young brother. “Going to cry about it?” Harlan asked, quietly amused.
“You let Dannie alone,” said the grandfather; whereupon Harlan laughed. “You ought to see what he and his little Jew partner called brackets!” he said. “Dan’s always thinking he’s making something, and it’s always something just awful. What he and that Sam Kohn were really making to-day was a horrible mess of our summer-house. It’ll take a week’s work for somebody to get it cleaned up, and he got mad at me and was going to hit me because mamma sent me to tell him to come in the house and get ready for dinner.”
“I did not,” Dan muttered.
“You didn’t? Didn’t you act like you were going to hit me?”
“Yes,” Dan said. “But it wasn’t because what you say. It was because you called Sam names.”
“You did!” And now Dan looked up, showing eyes that glistened along the lower lids. “You—you hurt his feelings.”
Harlan had the air of a self-contained person who begins to be exasperated by a persistent injustice, and he appealed to the company. “I told him time and again mamma wanted him to come in and get ready to come here for dinner, and he simply wouldn’t do it.”
Mrs. Savage shook her head. “I’ve always told you,” she said to her daughter, “you’ll repent bitterly some day for your lack of discipline with your children. You’re not raising them the way I raised mine, and some day——”
But Harlan had not finished his explanation. “So, after I waited and waited,” he continued, “and they just went on messing up our summer-house, I told him he’d better come in and let the dirty little Jew boy go home. That’s all I said, and he was going to hit me for it.”
“You—you hurt his fuf-feelings,” Dan stammered, as his emotion increased. “I told you, you hurt his feelings!”
“Pooh!” Harlan returned lightly. “What feelings has he got? He wouldn’t be around where he doesn’t belong if he had any.”
“I asked him there,” Dan said, the tears in his eyes overflowing as he spoke; and he began to grope hurriedly through his various pockets for a handkerchief. “He had a right to be where he was invited, didn’t he? You—you called him——”
“I said he was just exactly what he is, and if he ever comes around our yard again, I’ll say it again.”
“No, you won’t!”
“Oh, yes, I will,” Harlan said with perfect composure; and this evidence that he believed himself in the right and would certainly carry out his promise was too much for the suffering Dan, who startled his relatives by unexpectedly sobbing aloud.
“You dog-gone old thing!” he cried, his shoulders heaving and his voice choked with the half-swallowed tears in his throat. “I will hit you now!” He rose, making blind sweeps with both arms in the direction of Harlan, and, in a kind of anguish, gurgling out imprecations and epithets that shocked his family; but Mr. Oliphant caught the flailing hands, took the boy by the shoulders and impelled him from the room, going with him. A moment or two later the passionate voice ceased to be coherent; plaintive sounds were heard, growing fainter with increasing distance; and Mr. Oliphant, slightly flushed, returned to finish his dinner.
“I sent him home,” he explained. “He’ll probably feel better, out in the dark alone.”
“And may I inquire, Henry Oliphant,” said the old lady at the head of the table;—“is that all you intend to do about it?”
“Well, I might talk to him after he cools off a little.”
“Yes, I suppose that will be all!” Mrs. Savage returned with a short laugh, emphatically one of disapproval. “It’s a fine generation you modern people are raising. When I was fifteen I was supposed to be a woman, but my father whipped me for a slight expression of irreverence on Sunday.”
“I’m sorry to hear it, ma’am,” her son-in-law said genially.
“I’m not sorry it happened,” she informed him, not relaxing. “Such things were part of a discipline that made a strong people.”
“Yes, ma’am; I’ve no doubt it’s to your generation we owe what the country is to-day.”
“And it’s your generation that’s going to let it go to the dogs!” the old lady retorted sharply. “May I ask what you intend to do to protect Harlan when you go home and his brother attacks him?”
But at this Oliphant laughed. “Dan won’t attack him. By the time we get home Dan will probably be in bed.”
“Then he’ll attack Harlan to-morrow.”
“No, he won’t, ma’am. I don’t say Dan won’t sleep on a damp pillow to-night, the way he was going on, but by to-morrow he’ll have forgotten all about it.”
“He won’t,” she declared. “A child can’t have a passion like that, with its parents doing nothing to discipline it, and then just forget. Harlan only did his duty, but Dan will attack him again the first chance he gets. You’ll see!”
Oliphant was content to let her have the last word—perhaps because he knew she would have it in any event—so he laughed again, placatively, and began to talk with his father-in-law of Mr. Blaine’s chances at the approaching national convention; while Mrs. Savage shook her gloomy, handsome head and made evident her strong opinion that the episode was anything but closed. There would always henceforth be hatred between the two brothers, she declared to her daughter, whom she succeeded in somewhat depressing.
But as a prophet she appeared before long to have failed, at least in regard to the predicted feeling between her two grandsons. Dan may have slept on his wrath, but he did not cherish it; and the next day his relations with Harlan were as usual. The unarmed neutrality, which was not precisely a mutual ignoring, was resumed and continued. It continued, indeed, throughout the youth of the brothers; and prevailed with them during their attendance at the university at New Haven, whither they went in imitation of their father before them. The studious Harlan matriculated in company with his older brother; they were classmates, though not roommates; and peace was still prevalent between them when they graduated. Nevertheless, in considering and comprehending the career of a man like Daniel Oliphant, certain boyhood episodes appear to shed a light, and the conflict over little Sammy Kohn bears some significance.