The Gray Dawn by Stewart Edward White
Keith's first plunge into the teeming life of the place had to suffice him for all the rest of that week. There seemed so many pressing things to do at home. The Boyle house was only partly furnished. Each morning he and Nan went downtown and prospected for things needed. This was Nan's first experience of the sort; and she confessed to a ludicrous surprise over the fact that pots, pans, brooms, kitchen utensils, and such homely matters had to be thought of and bought.
"I had a sort of notion they grew on the premises," she said.
Mrs. Sherwood gave them much valuable advice, particularly as to auctions. In the Keiths limited experience auctions generally had meant cheap or second-hand articles, but out here the reverse was the case. A madness possessed otherwise conservative Eastern merchants--especially of the staid city of Boston--to send out on speculation immense cargoes of all sorts of goods. These were the despair of consignees. Heavy freights, high interest charges, tremendous warehouse rates, speedily ate up whatever chance of profits a fresh consignment might have. The only solution was to sell out as promptly as possible; and the quickest method was the auction. Therefore, auctions were everywhere in progress, and the professional auctioneers were a large, influential, and skilful class of people. Their advertisements made the bulk of the newspapers. They dressed well, carried an air of consequence, furnished refreshments, brass bands, or other entertainments to their patrons. The era of fabulous prices was at an end, but the era of wild speculation as to what the public was going to want was in full tide. Keith and Nan found these auctions great fun, and piece by piece they accumulated the items of their house furnishing. It was slow work, but amusing. At times Mrs. Sherwood accompanied them, but not often. Her advice was always good.
As to Mrs. Sherwood, Nan Keith found her attitude very vague. There was no doubt that she liked her personally, admired her slow, purposeful, half- indolent movements, the poise of her small, patrician head, the unconscious, easy grace of her body, the direct commonsense quality of her mind. One met her face to face; there were no frills and furbelows of the spirit. Also, Nan was grateful for the other woman's first kindness and real sympathy, and she wanted to "play the game." But, on the other hand, all her social training and her instinct of formalism tended to hold her aloof. She blamed herself intellectually for this feeling; but since it was a feeling, and had nothing to do with intellect, it persisted.
In the auction rooms, also, she seemed to meet--be formally introduced to-- a bewildering number of people, most of whom she could not place at all. There seemed to be no reason for meeting them; certainly she would not have met them in the East. Nevertheless, they all shook her by the hand, and bowed to her whenever subsequently they passed her on the street. Keith told her this was all usual and proper in this new and mixed social order; and she was perfectly willing to make the effort. She was really charming to everybody. The consciousness that she was successfully adapting herself to their primitive provincial scope, and her very gracious condescension to all types, filled her with respect for her democracy and breadth of mind.
The afternoon they spent at the house receiving boxes and packages. Keith worked busily, happily, feverishly, in his shirt sleeves. He attacked the job on the principle of a whirlwind campaign, hammering, ripping, throwing papers down, deciding instantly where this or that chair or table was to stand, tearing on to the next, enjoying himself dustily and hugely.
Nan was more leisurely. She found time to gossip with the drayman who brought up the goods, actually came to a liking and a warm friendly feeling for him as a person. This was a new experience for Nan, and she explored it curiously.
John McGlynn was a teamster, but likewise a thoroughly independent and capable citizen. He was of the lank, hewn, lean-faced, hawk-nosed type, deliberate in movement and speech, with a twinkling, contemplative, appraising eye, and an unhurried drawl. He told Nan he had come out in '49.
"No, ma'am," he disclaimed vigorously, "I didn't go to the mines. I am a teamster, and I always did teaming." He did not add, as he might have done, that in those days of the individual he had been an important influence.
His great pride was his team and wagon, and that pride was justified. The wagon was a heavy flat affair, gayly decorated, and on the sides of the box were paintings of landscapes. The horses were great, magnificent creatures, with arching thick necks, long wavy manes and forelocks, soft, intelligent eyes, and with great hoofs and hairy fetlocks. They carried themselves in conscious pride, Their harness was heavy with silver and with many white and coloured rings. In colour they were dapple gray.
"That team," said John McGlynn, "is a perfect match. Took me two years to get them together. Wuth a mint of money. That Kate, there, is a regular character. You'd be surprised how cute she is. I often wonder who Kate is. She must be some very famous woman."
John McGlynn was a very wonderful and very accommodating person, Nan thought. He would help carry things in, and was willing to unpack or to carry out the mess Keith's mad career left behind, it. Also he cast an eye on the garden possibilities, and issued friendly, expert advice to which Nan listened, breathless. They held long intimate consultations as to the treatment of the soil.
"A few posies does sort of brighten things up; they're wuth while," quoth John.
Without previous consultation, he appeared one day accompanied by a rotund, bland, gorgeous Chinaman, perched beside him on his elevated seat.
"This is Wing Woh, a friend of mine," he announced. "You got to have a Chink, of course. You can't run that sized house without help. Wing knows all the Chinks in town, and bosses about half of them."
Wing Woh descended and without a word walked into the house. He was a very ornate person, dressed in a skull cap with a red coral button atop, a brocaded pale lavendar tunic of silk, baggy pale green trousers tied close around the ankles, snow-white socks and the typical shoe. Gravely, solemnly, methodically he went over the entire house; then returned and clambered up beside John.
"All light," he vouchsafed to the astonished Nan.
Next morning she found waiting on the veranda a smiling "china boy" dressed all in clean white. A small cloth bundle lay at his feet.
"My name Wing Sam," he announced; "I wo'k you thi'ty dolla' month. Where you keep him bloom?"
That day John McGlynn stopped after unloading his boxes to give a little advice.
"Chinks are queer," said he. "When you show this fellow how to do anything, be sure to show him right, because that's the way he's going to do it forever after. You can't change him. And show him; don't tell him. And let him do things his own way as much as you can, instead of insisting on your way."
McGlynn also advised Keith as to where he could to the best advantage hire a horse and buggy by the month.
"You want a good safe animal, so Mrs. Keith can drive him; but you don't want a cow. Jump aboard and I'll take you around. Never mind your coat," he told Keith, "it's warm."
So they "jumped aboard" and drove down the street. Nan gurgled with amusement over the episode. She sat on the high seat beside John McGlynn's lank figure, above the broad backs of the great horses; and Keith in his shirtsleeves, his hair every which way, a smudge of black across his nose, balanced in the flat dray body behind. Nan tried to imagine the sensation they would create in Baltimore, and laughed aloud.
"Is sort of funny," commented John McGlynn sympathetically. "But everything goes out here."
Nan, aghast at the uncanny perspicacity of the man, choked silently. In her world there had always been a sort of vague, unexpressed feeling that the "lower classes" were dull.
They used the horse and buggy a great deal. It was delivered at the hotel door every morning and taken from the same place every evening. Innumerable errands downtown for things forgotten kept it busy. At night they returned to the hotel pretty well tired out. It was a tremendous task, much as they might be enjoying it.
"Seems to me the more we do the worse it gets," said Keith. "Let's dig some sort of a hole and move in anyway."
"In a few days," agreed Nan, who as general-in-chief had a much clearer idea of the actual state of affairs than the dusty private.