I was silent.
“Instead of starting my career in college, I started in jail,” he went on, apparently ignoring any effect he may have produced. So subtly, so dispassionately indeed was he delivering himself of these remarks that it was impossible to tell whether he meant their application to be personal, to me, or general, to my associates. “I went to jail when I was fourteen because I wanted a knife to make kite sticks, and I stole a razor from a barber. I was bitter when they steered me into a lockup in Hickory Street. It was full of bugs and crooks, and they put me in the same cell with an old-timer named ‘Red’ Waters; who was one of the slickest safe-blowers around in those days. Red took a shine to me, found out I had a head piece, and said their gang could use a clever boy. If I’d go in with him, I could make all kinds of money. I guess I might have joined the gang if Red hadn’t kept talking—about how the boss of his district named Gallagher would come down and get him out,—and sure enough Gallagher did come down and get him out. I thought I’d rather be Gallagher than Red—Red had to serve time once in a while. Soon as he got out I went down to Gallagher’s saloon, and there was Red leaning over the bar. ’Here’s a smart kid! he says, ’He and me were room-mates over in Hickory Street.’ He got to gassing me, and telling me I’d better come along with him, when Gallagher came in. ’What is it ye’d like to be, my son?’ says he. A politician, I told him. I was through going to jail. Gallagher had a laugh you could hear all over the place. He took me on as a kind of handy boy around the establishment, and by and by I began to run errands and find out things for him. I was boss of that ward myself when I was twenty-six.... How’d you like that cigar?”
I praised it.
“It ought to have been a good one,” he declared. “Well, I don’t want to keep you here all afternoon telling you my life story.”
I assured him I had been deeply interested.
“Pretty slick idea of yours, that dummy company, Mr. Paret. Go ahead and organize it.” He rose, which was contrary to his custom on the departure of a visitor. “Drop in again. We’ll talk about the books."...
I walked slowly back reflecting on this conversation, upon the motives impelling Mr. Jason to become thus confidential; nor was it the most comforting thought in the world that the artist in me had appealed to the artist in him, that he had hailed me as a breather. But for the grace of God I might have been Mr. Jason and he Mr. Paret: undoubtedly that was what he had meant to imply... And I was forced to admit that he had succeeded—deliberately or not—in making the respectable Mr. Paret just a trifle uncomfortable.
In the marble vestibule of the Corn National Bank I ran into Tallant, holding his brown straw hat in his hand and looking a little more moth-eaten than usual.
“Hello, Paret,” he said “how is that telephone business getting along?”