The Tide by Stewart Edward White
The third generation of the Gates family consisted of two girls and a boy. They were brought up as to their early childhood in what may be called moderate circumstances. A small home near the little mill town, a single Chinese servant, a setter dog, and plenty of horses formed their entourage. When Charles, Jr., was eleven, and his sisters six and eight, however, the family moved to a pretentious "mansion" on Nob Hill in San Francisco. The environment of childhood became a memory: the reality of life was comprised in the super-luxurious existence on Nob Hill.
It was not a particularly wise existence. Whims were too easily realized, consequences too lightly avoided, discipline too capricious. The children were sent to private schools where they met only their own kind; they were specifically forbidden to mingle with the "hoodlums" in the next street; they became accustomed to being sent here and there in carriages with two servants, or later, in motor cars; they had always spending money for the asking.
"I know what it is like to scrimp and save, and my children are going to be spared that!" was Mrs. Gates's creed in the matter.
The little girls were always dressed alike in elaborately simple clothes, with frilly, starched underpinnies, silk stockings, high boots buttoned up slim legs; and across their shoulders, from beneath wonderful lingerie hats, hung shining curls. The latter were not natural, but had each day to be elaborately constructed. They made a dainty and charming picture.
"Did you ever see anything so sweet in all your life!" was the invariable feminine exclamation.
Clara and Ethel-May always heard these remarks. They conducted themselves with the poise and savoir faire of grown women. Before they were twelve they could "handle" servants, conduct polite conversations in a correctly artificial accent, and adapt their manners to another's station in life.
Charley Junior's development was sharply divided into two periods, with the second of which alone we have to do. The first, briefly, was repressive. He was not allowed to play with certain boys, he was not permitted to stray beyond certain bounds, he was kept clean and dressed-up, he was taught his manners. In short, Mrs. Gates tried--without knowing what she was doing--to use the same formula on him as she had on Ethel-May and Clara.
In the second period, he was a grief to his family. Roughly speaking, this period commenced about the time he began to be known as "Chuck" instead of Charley.
There was no real harm in the boy. He was high spirited, full of life, strong as a horse, and curious. Possessed of the patrician haughty good looks we breed so easily from shirtsleeves, free with his money, known as the son of his powerful father, a good boxer, knowing no fear, he speedily became a familiar popular figure around town. It delighted him to play the prince, either incognito or in person; to "blow off the crowd," to battle joyously with longshoremen; to "rough house" the semi-respectable restaurants. The Barbary Coast knew him, Taits, Zinkands, the Poodle Dog, the Cliff House, Franks, and many other resorts not to be spoken of so openly. He even got into the police courts once or twice; and nonchalantly paid a fine, with a joke at the judge and a tip to the policeman who had arrested him. There was too much drinking, too much gambling, too loose a companionship, altogether too much spending; but in this case the life was redeemed from its usual significance by a fantastic spirit of play, a generosity of soul, a regard for the unfortunate, a courtliness toward all the world, a refusal to believe in meanness or sordidness or cruelty. Chuck Gates was inbred with the spirit of noblesse oblige.
As soon as motor cars came in Chuck had the raciest possible. With it he managed to frighten a good many people half out of their wits. He had no accidents, partly because he was a very good heady driver, and partly because those whom he encountered were quick witted. One day while touring in the south he came down grade around a bend squarely upon a car ascending. Chuck's car was going too fast to be stopped. He tried desperately to wrench it from the road, but perceived at once that this was impossible without a fatal skid. Fortunately the only turnout for a half mile happened to be just at that spot. The other man managed to jump his car out on this little side ledge and to jam on his brakes at the very brink, just as Chuck flashed by. His mud guards slipped under those at the rear of the other car.
"Close," observed Chuck to Joe Merrill his companion, "I was going a little too fast," and thought no more of it.
But the other man, being angry, turned around and followed him into town. At the garage he sought Chuck out.
"Didn't you pass me on the grade five miles back?" he inquired.
"I may have done so," replied Chuck, courteously.
"Don't you realize that you were going altogether too fast for a mountain grade? that you were completely out of control?"
"I'm afraid I'll have to admit that that is so."
"Well," said the other man, with difficulty suppressing his anger. "What do you suppose would have happened if I hadn't just been able to pull out?"
"Why," replied Chuck, blandly, "I suppose I'd have had to pay heavily; that's all."
"Pay!" cried the man, then checked himself with an effort, "so you imagine you are privileged to the road, do whatever damage you please--and pay! I'll just take your number."
"That is unnecessary. My name is Charles Gates," replied Chuck, "of San Francisco."
The man appeared never to have heard of this potent cognomen. A month later the trial came off. It was most inconvenient. Chuck was in Oregon, hunting. He had to travel many hundreds of miles, to pay an expensive lawyer. In the end he was fined. The whole affair disgusted him, but he went through with it well, testified without attempt at evasion. It was a pity; but evidently the other man was no gentleman.
"I acknowledged I was wrong," he told Joe Merrill. He honestly felt that this would have been sufficient had the cases been reversed. In answer to a question as to whether he considered it fair to place the burden of safety on the other man, he replied:
"Among motorists it is customary to exchange the courtesies of the road--and sometimes the discourtesies," he added with a faint scorn.
The earthquake and fire of 1906 caught him in town. During three days and nights he ran his car for the benefit of the sufferers; going practically without food or sleep, exercising the utmost audacity and ingenuity in getting supplies, running fearlessly many dangers.
For the rest he played polo well, shot excellently at the traps, was good at tennis, golf, bridge. Naturally he belonged to the best clubs both city and country. He sailed a yacht expertly, was a keen fisherman, hunted. Also he played poker a good deal and was noted for his accurate taste in dress.
His mother firmly believed that he caused her much sorrow; his sisters looked up to him with a little awe; his father down on him with a fiercely tolerant contempt.
For Chuck had had his turn in the offices. His mind was a good one; his education both formal and informal, had trained it fairly well; yet he could not quite make good. Energetic, ambitious, keen young men, clambering upward from the ruck, gave him points at the game and then beat him. It was humiliating to the old man. He could not see the perfectly normal reason. These young men were striving keenly for what they had never had. Chuck was asked merely to add to what he already had more than enough of by means of a game that itself did not interest him.
Late one evening Chuck and some friends were dining at the Cliff House. They had been cruising up toward Tomales Bay, and had had themselves put ashore here. No one knew of their whereabouts. Thus it was that Chuck first learned of his father's death from apoplexy in the scareheads of an evening paper handed him by the majordomo. He read the article through carefully, then went alone to the beach below. It had been the usual sensational article; and but two sentences clung to Chuck's memory: "This fortunate young man's income will actually amount to about ten dollars a minute. What a significance have now his days--and nights!"
He looked out to sea whence the waves, in ordered rank, cast themselves on the shore, seethed upward along the sands, poised, and receded. His thoughts were many, but they always returned to the same point. Ten dollars a minute--roughly speaking, seven thousand a day! What would he do with it? "What a significance have now his days--and nights!"
His best friend, Joe Merrill, came down the path to him, and stood silently by his side.
"I'm sorry about your governor, old man," he ventured; and then, after a long time:
"You're the richest man in the West."
Chuck Gates arose. A wave larger than the rest thundered and ran hissing up to their feet.
"I wonder if the tide is coming in or going out," said Chuck, vaguely.