“What’s all this rubbish of Jack’s, Harry, about Jerry having a square chin. Do you think he’ll be difficult to manage?”
Henry Ballard smiled.
“Jack can’t resist his little joke. I’m afraid I’ve spoiled that boy outrageously.”
“Yes, I rather think you have,” said the other dryly.
In hearing from Jack Ballard’s own lips the story of Jerry Benham’s first appearance in Broadway I was forcibly reminded of the opening cantos of the Divine Comedy where Dante follows the shade of Virgil into the abyss of hell. I had not let Jerry know of my presence in New York, for I believed that he would have wanted me with him and did not care to be placed in a position to refuse him. Indeed I can give no reason for my visit except the very plausible one that, my work going badly, I felt the need of a change. Jack was much amused at my sudden appearance one morning at his apartments, but welcomed me warmly enough, giving the pledge of secrecy I demanded.
“Oh, it’s been perfectly ripping,” he said, when we were seated, fairly bubbling over with delectable reminiscences. “He’s like a newly-hatched chicken, all fluffy and clean, a little batty-eyed and groggy but intensely curious about everything.”
“Has he asked any questions?”
“Millions of ’em, like balls from a Roman candle. He shoots ’em at every angle and some of ’em hit.”
“You’ve taken him about?” I asked.
“Yes, but he doesn’t exactly comprehend the meaning and purposes of his clubs. I took him in one of them, the most select, on several afternoons. The same fellows were always sitting around a window looking out, others, older ones, were asleep in armchairs. I didn’t offer him anything to drink and we sat there, watching the chaps in the window and listening to their talk. The conversation was not brilliant.”
“‘Do these gentlemen do this all the time?’ asked Jerry softly.
“‘Yes, almost all the time.’
“‘Don’t they ever get tired of looking out of the window?’
“‘They don’t seem to. It’s restful to watch other people working.’
“‘But don’t they do anything else?’
“‘Not much. They’re rich.’
“’And the others, the old gentlemen asleep in the chairs, are they rich too?’
“‘Yes, rich too, but tired.’
“‘Tired of being rich?’
“He was quiet for a long while and then: ’What a horrible waste of opportunity!’
“I thought this was the psychological moment to put in my brief for the governor.
“‘It certainly is. Luckily you’ve got a career waiting for you.’
“’But if riches only lead to this, Uncle Jack, I’m pretty sure I’d much rather be poor.’
“‘There isn’t much chance of your getting that wish,’ I laughed.