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his imagination aglow and off on some new and erratic theme.
He was not ballasted with sufficient moral fiber for his emotional rigging. Helpless as a child in the throes of shadowy impulse, he had the necessary equipment for a splendid fight but not enough for victory.
In the guise of Nick Carter, the adventurer tilted at the tawdry windmills on the backdrop of fancy, and never grew tired. When the "great detective," single-handed, worsted a score of malevolent adversaries, it is easy to picture the Colonel rising from his writing table, tingling to his toes with the reaction of conflict.
In passing it may not be amiss to record that in the five million words -or was it fifty million?-in which Nick Carter's exploits were wrapped, there wasn't an unclean word or suggestion. Nick was as wholesome as a breath from the pines. In all the years of his variegated career, the "famous detective" was never guilty of an unworthy deed.
Hundreds of thousands of men and women to-day, deep in the entanglements of the mid-course of life, can recall the hours when the big, comfortable and all-embracing covers of their "jographies" were shields for the multi-colored, paper-back chronicles from the pen of Colonel Frederick Van Rensselaer Dey-Nick Carter, who was a stocky lad with broad shoulders, sturdy limbs, a square chin, a derby hat-a clearskinned, level-eyed athlete who never smoked, chewed, drank, swore or sneered at the power o' love; whose tact looked like luck because it was simple and direct as a thunderbolt;
Nick Carter, who all his life fought for honest folk who had been placed hopelessly in the wrong, and who could back his ideals with a pair of trained and ready fists either of which packed a punch with the potency of a mule's left hind leg in full bloom.
It was Dey's tremendous imagination that lay at the back of the success of Nick Carter. When the Colonel wanted to create a thrill, he created a thrill worth talking about. It had real plebeian pungency to it. His sensationalism called for moral courage in his hero. His own spiritual acreage may have been a tangle of briers and brambles; but it was different with Nick Carter. To understand Nick Carter rightly you must first have known Colonel Dey. The Colonel was the key to all Nick's adventures.
The Colonel with his fantastic intrusions and naïve pretenses was a sore trial to the practical, mercantile side of the soul of his publisher. Say, for example, that the weekly "copy" was due on Wednesday. Tuesday afternoon the thin face of the Colonel would suddenly appear in the doorway of MacLean's office:
Was it, eh-that is, could Brother MacLean possibly see his way clear to advance the Colonel ten dollars. on this week's guarantee? .
That sort of thing annoys a practical man; but as I say, one end of MacLean's soul is steel while the other is tipped with feathers. He liked the Colonel, recognized the value of his work and, it may be, entertained an honest doubt of the adequacy of the scribbler's weekly compensation. So, while MacLean
And the next time the Colonel entered the office to "query for ten," MacLean referred him to Dreiser who swung round in his chair and
"And your copy, Colonel?" the with eyes blazing under knit brows, editor would inquire. told the Colonel what he thought of a man who drew in advance on his weekly wage.
"This is Tuesday," Dey would make answer with tremendous dignity-the prospect of an immediate ten dollars opening to his vision boundless vistas that carried instant rehabilitation of morale-"this is Tuesday and-"
He would pause scanning the dial of his watch with meticulous attention.
always registered annoyance and threatened to shut down on the practice, he invariably let Dey have the money.
"At exactly seventeen minutes past one o'clock to-morrow afternoon," he would add, "or perhaps we'd better make it eighteen and a half minutes past, I shall be here, God willing, and deliver, personally, what I may confidently state is the masterpiece of the series."
And sure enough, at the fraction of the minute appointed he was on hand with his story, making no mention of his punctuality. Never, if he could avoid it, did Dey rob a situation of whatever dignity, no matter how infinitesimal, it may have had.
In those days a young writer named Dreiser held down some sort of job with the publishing house that gave Nick Carter to the world. There were probably no two men on earth more ill equipped for encounter than Dey and Dreiser. One was finedrawn, polished and weak, the other broad-shouldered and heavy.
"You're doing Dey an injustice by making him those weekly advances,' Dreiser said to MacLean one day. "Why don't you shut down on him?" "Suppose you try it," suggested
"What you need," said Dreiser, "is a hearty kick in the place it will do you the most good!"
"I judge by your attitude that you feel competent to administer such treatment," replied the Colonel, his tone and poise of manner undisturbed.
And without further ado he deposited his hat, stick and gloves on a chair, removed his coat and calmly proceeded to roll his cuffs back over his blue-veined skinny wrists.
"Come ahead," he said finally with a smile of calm confidence.
Dreiser said, afterward:
"I surrendered then and there, tendered him an apology and got him an order for ten dollars. What else could I do? If I had left my chair and raised my hands he'd have licked me sure as the sky bends above us. It wouldn't have been Colonel Frederick Van Rensselaer Dey I was facing, but Nick Carter, himself, the hero of countless contests."
One afternoon on Broadway, Dey encountered an official of the Wabash Railroad. They shook hands, the railroad man pausing long enough to inquire after Mrs. Dey. The meeting couldn't possibly have exceeded half a minute's duration.
That evening the Colonel invited a friend to break bread with him at the Hoffman House-and when you ate with Colonel Dey you dined with
him. The Colonel hadn't a cent to pay the dinner check but a minor consideration of that character was unworthy of thought. Bending over his soup, the end of the dinner was as far off as candle-lightin' time to the youngster who awakens on a sun-lit Saturday morning in spring.
Half way through the meal Dey confided to his friend that he was about to assume an important post with the Wabash Railroad. It was at the earnest solicitation of a multimillionaire official of the system, with whom he had conferred no later than that very afternoon, that he had determined to accept the proposition, within a week at the latest.
From there on Colonel Dey forgot all about himself in voluble insistence on his dinner companion's taking up railroading. He painted its countless channels for the outlet of initiative. He stressed its glories, inducements, its well-nigh unbounded and engaging attributes—and came within an ace of selling the idea. While his guest was paying the dinner bill the Colonel was still struggling in the web of his railroad dream.
If he ran across a steamship official he was at once laying plans to assume the duties of shipper. There can be no estimate of the numerous occasions on which Colonel Dey formulated plans to start life anew; and invariably accompanying the plan was his assurance to some friend, not fixed in life as well as he'd like to be, of a lucrative position the very instant the Colonel got a foothold in the newest endeavor.
He was the splendid static boy, "The boy who remains a boy through a thousand volumes and a thousand years." He wrote of heroes under a
score of different names and lived a hundred lives himself, in a house of mirrors, under one name. Where did he get the "Colonel" that was tacked to his name?
He rehearsed the story a score of times, each narrative treated with distinctive and fascinating embellishment. And countless yarns he spun on how he first came to write Nick Carter. Each was true, as were all his stories. He would have laid down his life defending the eternal verity of the least of them, had his word been challenged.
Along toward the end, in a sudden flash he got probably the first real look at himself he had ever had; and with the fleeting glimpse of that cruel caricature, came a realization of the fatuity of his years of fantastic masquerading. It was unfortunate because the old gentleman was wholly unfitted to grapple with himself singlehanded. He had always slurred his "gray yesterdays." They had never counted. All that really mattered were his "regal to-morrows." And there he was at the end of it all, the melodramatic excitement of makebelieve snatched from him, and with that gone, the world of his endeavors and hopes quite dead.
On a Saturday afternoon in April, five years ago, he signed in on the register of a little side-wheel hotel in the melancholy environs of Madison Square. He hadn't a nickel to his name. Several days before, they had foreclosed a mortgage on a modest place in the Hudson River town, an hour's ride from New York, that he and Mrs. Dey called "home." That closed the last chapter.
He sat in the hotel room all after
noon writing letters. One was addressed to his wife. He told her his "motor had stalled in mid-air," and he couldn't see a landing-place. Another was indited to a boyhood friend to whom he explained that the burden of life had become too great.
“Please forgive me," he said in the letter, "and please help my wife. I can't stand the gaff and I'm going out. Everything's gone to smash and me along with it. I think it's for the best. I can't stand the thought of growing old and becoming a burden."
Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph Faurot received a similar letter, and hastened up-town to the hotel. Inquiry revealed that no one by the name of Dey was registered there, whereupon Faurot drew a word-picture of the Colonel.
"That's funny," said the clerk, "your description is an exact picture of a gentleman up on the seventh floor-Mr. Disbrow-but," he added with a smile, "I can assure you he is not thinking of suicide. He's a wealthy fruit-grower from California. Last night, just before he went up to his room, he offered me a position out on his fruit-ranch."
The hotel clerk was probably the last human being the Colonel spoke to on this earth. He had just posted his letters wherein he had written that "everything had gone to smash." On the way back to his room he had paused at the desk to rekindle the cold end of his final cigar and to tell the clerk good-night.
It was late and the lobby of the little hotel was deserted. And in that final instant of human contact, the old habit of a lifetime came surging back and engulfed him. Lacking the wherewithal to discharge the indebtedness for his dismal room, he nevertheless found it in his soul to proffer the white-faced, air-starved young man, back of the hotel desk, a chance out in the sunlight on the breezy reaches of a dream fruit-farm in California.
They forced an entrance to his room and found him dead. A bullet hole through his head bore testimony to the fact that Nick Carter, at the last, had found courage sufficient to do what he thought was "for the best."
With so much that was excellent as against so little that was not, "On "He's the man I'm looking for," him be peace and the blessing, for he said Faurot.
THE MORAL EQUIVALENT OF WHISKY
Ecstasy Is What a Man Lives For
HEY took whisky away from us in the spirit of a determined dentist. We were assured that once the first shock was over, we should feel better, brighter and more limber in the joints. Conscious of a great relief, we should look at each other and ask, "Why didn't we have it out long ago?"
But the dentist got the first shock. After prohibition many people who had never drunk whisky, began right away. A thing forbidden is a thing advertised. The saloon-keeper was tolerated only on the fringe of society. The bootlegger is the great American institution.
The second shock is just making itself felt. From caution or cowardice or conscience, people are beginning to take prohibition in good faith. Yet prohibition is not an institution. It is a gap. If we seriously quit drinking, what are we to do instead? For man is essentially a doing animal. Civilization is strongest on its positive side. Set a man to write a book or to bridge a river, and the very difficulty of the undertaking becomes the greatest incentive. Mankind groans under tasks too heavy for its powers, and then accomplishes them with something over for good measure. It is only the damming up of energy that produces rebellion and breakdown.
Form is always satisfactory. To give form is always delightful. In business no less than in art, in domestic life as in national policy, our success is measured by the pattern we can read into chaos. But the generous, achieving, aspiring side of man's nature is balked by reform. At its best, reform is simply throwing away an outworn fact or fiction. The positive, interesting effort is still to follow. At its worst, reform is spoiling something. We may cease to worship a heathen god with a hundred hands, but if we hack off ninetyeight of them, we spoil its significance without bringing it closer to another ideal of beauty.
The drinking of alcohol was once taken for granted, and the habit crystallized in our speech. We have the positive sonorous word “drunk,” and against it the feeble negative "sober." Yet it is the feeble negative that is significant. Other languages lack that precise negative. Only in English speaking English speaking countries is it considered a matter for remark when a man is sober.
The evils of heavy drinking are apparent enough. It fills a man with toxins and it wastes his money. It interferes with the rational conduct of life and with positive achievement. But against its manifest evil