Crossing Broadway to reach Fourth Avenue, Selwyn could not repress a smile at the stricken glory of the great Midway. The illuminated signs that had searched the secret crevices of the mind, and had aided the iridescent foam seen from the harbour, looked tawdry and vulgar, like a circus on a rainy morning. Even the theatres, with their sign-borne superlatives, were garish and illusion-shattering. There was almost an apologetic air about the bill-boards proclaiming their nightly offering to be the ‘biggest ever.’
Selwyn began to resent that word ‘biggest.’ One of the sad things about America is that she started out to make language her slave—only to find that it is becoming her master.
Entering a great office-building, he consulted the directory-board, and was swooped up to the twenty-fourth floor in a non-stop elevator. Finding the room of his literary agent, he went in, but a young lady told him Mr. Lyons was in Chicago.
‘It doesn’t matter,’ said Selwyn. ’I shall see him when he returns. But I want a couple of addresses. Have you the file of letters to me? Austin Selwyn is my name.’
The young lady was gratifyingly flustered at the announcement, and by her haste to produce the required letters indicated the esteem in which her employer held the author.
‘It was early last September,’ said he. ’Mr. Lyons mentioned two names: a Mr. Schneider, who purchased the foreign rights of my stuff; and some one who wanted me to lecture—yes, that is the letter. Could you give me the addresses of these gentlemen?’
She wrote them on a card and gave it to him. ‘Mr. J. V. Schneider,’ she said, ’is in the Standard Exchange Building, just one block below here; and Mr. C. B. Benjamin is on 28th Street, in the United Manufacturing Corporation.’
Thanking her for her courtesy, Selwyn left the office, and going directly to Mr. Schneider’s place of business, sent in his card. He was ushered through a large room where a dozen typewriters were clicking noisily, and reaching the private office of Mr. Schneider, found himself in the presence of a small, crafty-faced man, whose oily smile and air of deference did not harmonise with his eyes, which were as shifty and gleaming as those of a rat. He shook hands with his visitor, and then clawed at the papers on his desk with moist fingers that were abnormally long.
‘Vell, Mister Selvyn,’ said Mr. Schneider gutturally, ’to vot do I attribute dis honour? Have a cigar—sit down.’
‘May I break the rule of your office?’ said the author, indicating a sign on the wall which read: ‘NIX ON THE WAR.’ ’If you will be so kind, I want to speak of matters not far removed from that subject.’
Mr. Schneider shifted his cigar to the corner of his mouth, and laughed immoderately.
‘Ha, ha, ha!’ he roared, leaning forward, and thrusting a long, dirty finger into Selwyn’s chest. ’That is vot I call mine adjustable creed. For most peoples vot gom’ here—Nix. But for fine fellers like you’——