XII. THE FRIEND OF THE FAMILY
by Henry Van Dyke
“Eastridge, June 3, 1907.
“To Gerrit Wendell, The Universe Club, New York:
“Do you remember promise? Come now, if
possible. Much needed.
This was the telegram that Peter handed me as I came out of the coat-room at the Universe and stood under the lofty gilded ceiling of the great hall, trying to find myself at home again in the democratic simplicity of the United States. For two years I had been travelling in the effete, luxurious Orient as a peace correspondent for a famous newspaper; sleeping under canvas in Syria, in mud houses in Persia, in paper cottages in Japan; riding on camel-hump through Arabia, on horseback through Afghanistan, in palankeen through China, and faring on such food as it pleased Providence to send. The necessity of putting my next book through the press (The Setting Splendors of the East) had recalled me to the land of the free and the home of the brave. Two hours after I had landed from the steamship, thirty seconds after I had entered the club, there was Peter, in his green coat and brass buttons, standing in the vast, cool hall among the immense columns of verd-antique, with my telegram on a silver tray, which he presented to me with a discreet expression of welcome in his well-trained face, as if he hesitated to inquire where I had been, but ventured to hope that I had enjoyed my holiday and that there was no bad news in my despatch. The perfection of the whole thing brought me back with a mild surprise to my inheritance as an American, and made me dimly conscious of the point to which New York has carried republicanism and the simple life.
But the telegram—read hastily in the hall, and considered at leisure while I took a late breakfast at my favorite table in the long, stately, oak-panelled dining-room, high above the diminished roar of Fifth Avenue—the telegram carried me out to Eastridge, that self-complacent overgrown village among the New York hills, where people still lived in villas with rubber-plants in the front windows, and had dinner in the middle of the day, and attended church sociables, and listened to Fourth-of-July orations. It was there that I had gone, green from college, to take the assistant-editorship of that flapping sheet The Eastridge Banner; and there I had found Cyrus Talbert beginning his work in the plated-ware factory—the cleanest, warmest, biggest heart of a man that I have known yet, with a good-nature that covered the bed-rock of his conscience like an apple orchard on a limestone ridge. In the give-and-take of every day he was easy-going, kindly, a lover of laughter; but when you struck down to a question of right and wrong, or, rather, when he conceived that he heard the divine voice of duty, he became absolutely immovable—firm, you would call it if you agreed with him, obstinate if you differed.