Moonbeams From the Larger Lunacy by Stephen Leacock
I.--Spoof. A Thousand-Guinea Novel. New! Fascinating! Perplexing!
Limits of space forbid the insertion of the whole of this chapter. Its opening contains one of the most vivid word-pictures of the inside of an American customs house ever pictured in words. From the customs wharf de Vere is driven in a taxi to the Belmont. Here he engages a room; here, too, he sleeps; here also, though cautiously at first, he eats. All this is so admirably described that only those who have driven in a taxi to an hotel and slept there can hope to appreciate it.
Limits of space also forbid our describing in full de Vere's vain quest in New York of the beautiful creature whom he had met on the steamer and whom he had lost from sight in the aigrette department of the customs house. A thousand times he cursed his folly in not having asked her name.
Meanwhile no word comes from her, till suddenly, mysteriously, unexpectedly, on the fourth day a note is handed to de Vere by the Third Assistant Head Waiter of the Belmont. It is addressed in a lady's hand. He tears it open. It contains only the written words, "Call on Mr. J. Superman Overgold. He is a multimillionaire. He expects you."
To leap into a taxi (from the third story of the Belmont) was the work of a moment. To drive to the office of Mr. Overgold was less. The portion of the novel which follows is perhaps the most notable part of it. It is this part of the chapter which the Hibbert Journal declares to be the best piece of psychological analysis that appears in any novel of the season. We reproduce it here.
"Exactly, exactly," said de Vere, writing rapidly in his note-book as he sat in one of the deep leather armchairs of the luxurious office of Mr. Overgold. "So you sometimes feel as if the whole thing were not worth while."
"I do," said Mr. Overgold. "I can't help asking myself what it all means. Is life, after all, merely a series of immaterial phenomena, self-developing and based solely on sensation and reaction, or is it something else?"
He paused for a moment to sign a cheque for $10,000 and throw it out of the window, and then went on, speaking still with the terse brevity of a man of business.
"Is sensation everywhere or is there perception too? On what grounds, if any, may the hypothesis of a self-explanatory consciousness be rejected? In how far are we warranted in supposing that innate ideas are inconsistent with pure materialism?"
De Vere listened, fascinated. Fortunately for himself, he was a University man, fresh from the examination halls of his Alma Mater. He was able to respond at once.
"I think," he said modestly, "I grasp your thought. You mean--to what extent are we prepared to endorse Hegel's dictum of immaterial evolution?"
"Exactly," said Mr. Overgold. "How far, if at all, do we substantiate the Kantian hypothesis of the transcendental?"
"Precisely," said de Vere eagerly. "And for what reasons [naming them] must we reject Spencer's theory of the unknowable?"
"Entirely so," continued Mr. Overgold. "And why, if at all, does Bergsonian illusionism differ from pure nothingness?"
They both paused.
Mr. Overgold had risen. There was great weariness in his manner.
"It saddens one, does it not?" he said.
He had picked up a bundle of Panama two per cent. gold bonds and was looking at them in contempt.
"The emptiness of it all!" he muttered. He extended the bonds to de Vere.
"Do you want them," he said, "or shall I throw them away?"
"Give them to me," said de Vere quietly; "they are not worth the throwing."
"No, no," said Mr. Overgold, speaking half to himself, as he replaced the bonds in his desk. "It is a burden that I must carry alone. I have no right to ask any one to share it. But come," he continued, "I fear I am sadly lacking in the duties of international hospitality. I am forgetting what I owe to Anglo-American courtesy. I am neglecting the new obligations of our common Indo-Chinese policy. My motor is at the door. Pray let me take you to my house to lunch."
De Vere assented readily, telephoned to the Belmont not to keep lunch waiting for him, and in a moment was speeding up the magnificent Riverside Drive towards Mr. Overgold's home. On the way Mr. Overgold pointed out various objects of interest,--Grant's tomb, Lincoln's tomb, Edgar Allan Poe's grave, the ticket office of the New York Subway, and various other points of historic importance.
On arriving at the house, de Vere was ushered up a flight of broad marble steps to a hall fitted on every side with almost priceless objets d'art and others, ushered to the cloak-room and out of it, butlered into the lunch-room and footmanned to a chair.
As they entered, a lady already seated at the table turned to meet them.
One glance was enough--plenty.
It was she--the object of de Vere's impassioned quest. A rich lunch-gown was girdled about her with a twelve-o'clock band of pearls.
She reached out her hand, smiling.
"Dorothea," said the multimillionaire, "this is Mr. de Vere. Mr. de Vere--my wife."