Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
From ‘The Turmoil’
By Booth Tarkington (1869–1946)
Chapter I
THERE is a midland city in the heart of fair, open country, a dirty and wonderful city nesting dingily in the fog of its own smoke. The stranger must feel the dirt before he feels the wonder, for the dirt will be upon him instantly. It will be upon him and within him, since he must breathe it, and he may care for no further proof that wealth is here better loved than cleanliness; but whether he cares or not, the negligently tended streets incessantly press home the point, and so do the flecked and grimy citizens. At a breeze he must smother in whirlpools of dust, and if he should decline at any time to inhale the smoke he has the meager alternative of suicide.  1
  The smoke is like the bad breath of a giant panting for more and more riches. He gets them and pants the fiercer, smelling and swelling prodigiously. He has a voice, a hoarse voice, hot and rapacious, trained to one tune: “Wealth! I will get Wealth! I will make Wealth! I will sell Wealth for more Wealth! My house shall be dirty, my garment shall be dirty, and I will foul my neighbor so that he cannot be clean—but I will get Wealth! There shall be no clean thing about me: my wife shall be dirty and my child shall be dirty, but I will get Wealth!” And yet it is not wealth that he is so greedy for: what the giant really wants is hasty riches. To get these he squanders wealth upon the four winds, for wealth is in the smoke.  2
  Not quite so long ago as a generation, there was no panting giant here, no heaving, grimy city; there was but a pleasant big town of neighborly people who had understanding of one another, being, on the whole, much of the same type. It was a leisurely and kindly place—“homelike,” it was called—and when the visitor had been taken through the State Asylum for the Insane and made to appreciate the view of the cemetery from a little hill, his host’s duty as Baedeker was done. The good burghers were given to jogging comfortably about in phaetons or in surreys for a family drive on Sunday. No one was very rich; few were poor; the air was clean, and there was time to live.  3
  But there was a spirit abroad in the land, and it was strong here as elsewhere—a spirit that had moved in the depths of the American soil and labored there, sweating, till it stirred the surface, rove the mountains, and emerged, tangible and monstrous, the god of all good American hearts—Bigness. And that god wrought the panting giant.  4
  In the souls of the burghers there had always been the profound longing for size. Year by year the longing increased until it became an accumulated force: We must Grow! We must be Big! We must be Bigger! Bigness means Money! And the thing began to happen; their longing became a mighty Will. We must be Bigger! Bigger! Bigger! Get people here! Coax them here! Bribe them! Swindle them into coming, if you must, but get them! Shout them into coming! Deafen them into coming! Any kind of people; all kinds of people! We must be Bigger! Blow! Boost! Brag! Kill the fault-finder! Scream and bellow to the Most High: Bigness is patriotism and honor! Bigness is love and life and happiness! Bigness is Money! We want Bigness!  5
  They got it. From all the states the people came; thinly at first and slowly, but faster and faster in thicker and thicker swarms as the quick years went by. White people came, and black people and brown people and yellow people; the negroes came from the South by the thousands and thousands, multiplying by other thousands and thousands faster than they could die. From the four quarters of the earth the people came, the broken and the unbroken, the tame and the wild—Germans, Irish, Italians, Hungarians, Scotch, Welsh, English, French, Swiss, Swedes, Norwegians, Greeks, Poles, Russian Jews, Dalmatians, Armenians, Rumanians, Bulgarians, Serbians, Persians, Syrians, Japanese, Chinese, Turks, and every hybrid that these could propagate. And if there were no Eskimos nor Patagonians, what other human strain that earth might furnish failed to swim and bubble in this crucible?  6
  With Bigness came the new machinery and the rush; the streets began to roar and rattle, the houses to tremble; the pavements were worn under the tread of hurrying multitudes. The old, leisurely, quizzical look of the faces was lost in something harder and warier: and a cockney type began to emerge discernibly—a cynical young mongrel, barbaric of feature, muscular and cunning; dressed in good fabrics fashioned apparently in imitation of the sketches drawn by newspaper comedians. The female of his kind came with him—a pale girl, shoddy and a little rouged; and they communicated in a nasal argot, mainly insolences and elisions. Nay, the common speech of the people showed change: in place of the old midland vernacular, irregular but clean, and not unwholesomely drawling, a jerky dialect of coined metaphors began to be heard, held together by gunnas and gottas and much fostered by the public journals.  7
  The city piled itself high in the centre, tower on tower for a nucleus, and spread itself out over the plain, mile after mile; and in its vitals, like benevolent bacilli contending with malevolent in the body of a man, missions and refuges offered what resistance they might to the saloons and all the hells that cities house and shelter. Temptation and ruin were ready commodities on the market for purchase by the venturesome; highwaymen walked the streets at night and sometimes killed; snatching thieves were busy everywhere in the dusk; while housebreakers were a common apprehension and frequent reality. Life itself was somewhat safer from intentional destruction than it was in mediæval Rome during a faction war—though the Roman murderer was more like to pay for his deed—but death or mutilation beneath the wheels lay in ambush at every crossing.  8
  The politicians let the people make all the laws they liked; it did not matter much, and the taxes went up, which is good for politicians. Law-making was a pastime of the people; nothing pleased them more. Singular fermentation of their humor, they even had laws forbidding dangerous speed. More marvelous still, they had a law forbidding smoke! They forbade chimneys to smoke and they forbade cigarettes to smoke. They made laws for all things and forgot them immediately; though sometimes they would remember after a while, and hurry to make new laws that the old laws should be enforced—and then forget both new and old. Wherever enforcement threatened Money or Votes—or whereever it was too much bother—it became a joke. Influence was the law.  9
  So the place grew. And it grew strong.  10
  Straightway when he came, each man fell to the same worship:
  Give me of thyself, O Bigness:
Power to get more power!
Riches to get more riches!
Give me of thy sweat that I may sweat more!
Give me Bigness to get more Bigness to myself,
O Bigness, for Thine is the Power and the Glory! And there is no end but Bigness, ever and for ever!
Chapter II
  THE SHERIDAN BUILDING was the biggest skyscraper; the Sheridan Trust Company was the biggest of its kind, and Sheridan himself had been the biggest builder and breaker and truster and buster under the smoke. He had come from a country cross-roads, at the beginning of the growth, and he had gone up and down in the booms and relapses of that period; but each time he went down he rebounded a little higher, until finally, after a year of overwork and anxiety—the latter not decreased by a chance, remote but possible, of recuperation from the former in the penitentiary—he found himself on top, with solid substance under his feet; and thereafter “played it safe.” But his hunger to get was unabated, for it was in the very bones of him and grew fiercer.
  He was the city incarnate. He loved it, calling it God’s country, as he called the smoke Prosperity, breathing the dingy cloud with relish. And when soot fell upon his cuff he chuckled; he could have kissed it. “It’s good! It’s good!” he said, and smacked his lips in gusto. “Good, clean soot; it’s our life blood, God bless it!” The smoke was one of his great enthusiasms; he laughed at a committee of plaintive housewives who called to beg his aid against it. “Smoke’s what brings your husbands’ money home on Saturday night,” he told them, jovially. “Smoke may hurt your little shrubberies in the front yard some, but it’s the catarrhal climate and the adenoids that starts your chuldern coughing. Smoke makes the climate better. Smoke means good health: it makes the people wash more. They have to wash so much they wash off the microbes. You go home and ask your husbands what smoke puts in their pockets out o’ the pay-roll—and you’ll come around next time to get me to turn out more smoke instead o’ chokin’ it off!”  13
  It was Narcissism in him to love the city so well; he saw his reflection in it; and, like it, he was grimy, big, careless, rich, strong, and unquenchably optimistic. From the deepest of his inside all the way out he believed it was the finest city in the world. “Finest” was his word. He thought of it as his city as he thought of his family as his family; and just as he profoundly believed his city to be the finest city in the world, so did he believe his family to be—in spite of his son Bibbs—the finest family in the world. As a matter of fact, he knew nothing worth knowing about either.  14
  Bibbs Sheridan was a musing sort of boy, poor in health, and considered the failure—the “odd one”—of the family. Born during that most dangerous and anxious of the early years, when the mother fretted and the father took his chance, he was an ill-nourished baby, and grew meagerly, only lengthwise, through a feeble childhood. At his christening he was committed for life to “Bibbs” mainly through lack of imagination on his mother’s part, for though it was her maiden name, she had no strong affection for it; but it was “her turn” to name the baby, and, as she explained later, she “couldn’t think of anything else she liked at all!” She offered this explanation one day when the sickly boy was nine and after a long fit of brooding had demanded some reason for his name’s being Bibbs. He requested then with unwonted vehemence to be allowed to exchange names with his older brother, Roscoe Conkling Sheridan, or with the oldest, James Sheridan, Junior, and upon being refused went down into the cellar and remained there the rest of that day. And the cook, descending toward dusk, reported that he had vanished; but a search revealed that he was in the coal-pile, completely covered and still burrowing. Removed by force and carried upstairs, he maintained a cryptic demeanor, refusing to utter a syllable of explanation, even under the lash. This obvious thing was wholly a mystery to both parents; the mother was nonplussed, failed to trace and connect; and the father regarded his son as a stubborn and mysterious fool, an impression not effaced as the years went by.  15
  At twenty-two Bibbs was physically no more than the outer scaffolding of a man, waiting for the building to begin inside—a long-shanked, long-faced, rickety youth, sallow and hollow and haggard, dark-haired and dark-eyed, with a peculiar expression of countenance; indeed, at first sight of Bibbs Sheridan a stranger might well be solicitous, for he seemed upon the point of tears. But to a slightly longer gaze, not grief, but mirth, was revealed as his emotion; while a more searching scrutiny was proportionately more puzzling—he seemed about to burst out crying or to burst out laughing, one or the other, inevitably, but it was impossible to decide which. And Bibbs never, on any occasion of his life, either laughed aloud or wept.  16
  He was a “disappointment” to his father. At least that was the parent’s word—a confirmed and established word after his first attempt to make a “business man” of the boy. He sent Bibbs to “begin at the bottom and learn from the ground up” in the machine-shop of the Sheridan Automatic Pump Works, and at the end of six months the family physician sent Bibbs to begin at the bottom and learn from the ground up in a sanitarium.  17
  “You needn’t worry, mamma,” Sheridan told his wife. “There’s nothin’ the matter with Bibbs except he hates work so much it makes him sick. I put him in the machine-shop, and I guess I know what I’m doin’ about as well as the next man. Ole Doc Gurney always was one o’ them nutty alarmists. Does he think I’d do anything ’d be bad for my own flesh and blood? He makes me tired!”  18
  Anything except perfectly definite health or perfectly definite disease was incomprehensible to Sheridan. He had a genuine conviction that lack of physical persistence in any task involving money must be due to some subtle weakness of character itself, to some profound shiftlessness or slyness. He understood typhoid fever, pneumonia, and appendicitis—one had them, and either died or got over them and went back to work—but when the word “nervous” appeared in a diagnosis he became honestly suspicious: he had the feeling that there was something contemptible about it, that there was a nigger in the wood-pile somewhere.  19
  “Look at me,” he said. “Look at what I did at his age! Why, when I was twenty years old, wasn’t I up every morning at four o’clock choppin’ wood—yes! and out in the dark and the snow—to build a fire in a country grocery store? And here Bibbs has to go and have a doctor because he can’t— Pho! it makes me tired! If he’d gone at it like a man he wouldn’t be sick.”  20
  He paced the bedroom—the usual setting for such parental discussions—in his nightgown, shaking his big, grizzled head and gesticulating to his bedded spouse. “My Lord!” he said. “If a little, teeny bit o’ work like this is too much for him, why, he ain’t fit for anything! It’s nine-tenths imagination, and the rest of it—well, I won’t say it’s deliberate, but I would like to know just how much of it’s put on!”  21
  “Bibbs didn’t want the doctor,” said Mrs. Sheridan. “It was when he was here to dinner that night, and noticed how he couldn’t eat anything. Honey, you better come to bed.”  22
  “Eat!” he snorted. “Eat! It’s work that makes men eat! And it’s imagination that keeps people from eatin’. Busy men don’t get time for that kind of imagination; and there’s another thing you’ll notice about good health, if you’ll take the trouble to look around you, Mrs. Sheridan: busy men haven’t got time to be sick and they don’t get sick. You just think it over and you’ll find that ninety-nine per cent. of the sick people you know are either women or loafers. Yes, ma’am!”  23
  “Honey,” she said again, drowsily, “you better come to bed.”  24
  “Look at the other boys,” her husband bade her. “Look at Jim and Roscoe. Look at how they work! There isn’t a shiftless bone in their bodies. Work never made Jim or Roscoe sick. Jim takes half the load off my shoulders already. Right now there isn’t a harder-workin’, brighter business man in this city than Jim. I’ve pushed him, but he give me something to push against. You can’t push ‘nervous dyspepsia’! And look at Roscoe; just look at what that boy’s done for himself, and barely twenty-seven years old—married, got a fine wife, and ready to build for himself with his own money, when I put up the New House for you and Edie.”  25
  “Papa, you’ll catch cold in your bare feet,” she murmured. “You better come to bed.”  26
  “And I’m just as proud of Edie, for a girl,” he continued, emphatically, “as I am of Jim and Roscoe for boys. She’ll make some man a mighty good wife when the time comes. She’s the prettiest; and talentedest girl in the United States! Look at that poem she wrote when she was in school and took the prize with; it’s the best poem I ever read in my life, and she’d never even tried to write one before. It’s the finest thing I ever read, and R. T. Bloss, said so, too; and I guess he’s a good enough literary judge for me—turns out more advertisin’ liter’cher than any man in this city. I tell you she’s smart. Look at the way she worked me to get me to promise the New House—and I guess you had your finger in that, too, mamma! This old shack’s good enough for me, but you and little Edie ’ll have to have your way. I’ll get behind her and push her same as I will Jim and Roscoe. I tell you I’m mighty proud o’ them three chuldern! But Bibbs—” He paused, shaking his head. “Honest, mamma, when I talk to men that got all their boys doin’ well and worth their salt, why, I have to keep my mind on Jim and Roscoe and forget about Bibbs.”  27
  Mrs. Sheridan tossed her head fretfully upon the pillow. “You did the best you could, papa,” she said, impatiently, “so come to bed and quit reproachin’ yourself for it.”  28
  He glared at her indignantly. “Reproachin’ myself!” he snorted. “I ain’t doin’ anything of the kind! What in the name o’ goodness would I want to reproach myself for? And it wasn’t the ‘best I could,’ either. It was the best anybody could! I was givin’ him a chance to show what was in him and make a man of himself—and here he goes and gets ‘nervous dyspepsia’ on me!”  29
  He went to the old-fashioned gas-fixture, turned out the light, and muttered his way morosely into bed.  30
  “What?” said his wife, crossly, bothered by a subsequent mumbling.  31
  “More like hook-worm, I said,” he explained, speaking louder. “I don’t know what to do with him!”  32

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