The Cliff-Dwellers A Novel
HENRY B. FULLER
ILLUSTRATED BY T. DE THULSTRUP
THE GREGG PRESS / RIDGEWOOD, N. J.
Between the former site of old Fort Dearborn and the present siteof our newest Board of Trade there lies a restricted yet tumultuousterritory through which, during the course of the last fifty years, therushing streams of commerce have worn many a deep and rugged chasm.These great canons—conduits, in fact, for the leaping volume of anever-increasing prosperity—cross each other with a sort of systematicrectangularity, and in deference to the practical directness of localrequirements they are in general called simply—streets. Each of thesecanons is closed in by a long frontage of towering cliffs, and thesesoaring walls of brick and limestone and granite rise higher and higherwith each succeeding year, according as the work of erosion at theirbases goes onward—the work of that seething flood of carts, carriages,omnibuses, cabs, cars, messengers, shoppers, clerks, and capitalists,which surges with increasing violence for every passing day. Thiserosion, proceeding with a sort of fateful regularity, has come to bea matter of constant and growing interest. Means have been found tomeasure its progress—just as a scale has been arranged to measure therising of the Nile or to gauge the draught of an ocean liner. In thiscase the unit of measurement is called the "story." Ten years ago themost rushing and irrepressible of the torrents which devastate Chicagohad not worn its bed to a greater depth than that indicated seven ofthese "stories." This depth has since increased to eight—to ten—tofourteen—to sixteen, until some of the leading avenues of activitypromise soon to become little more than mere obscure trails half lostbetween the bases of perpendicular precipices.
High above this architectural upheaval rise yet other structures incrag-like isolation. El Capitan is duplicated time and again both inbulk and in stature, and around him the floating spray of the BridalVeil is woven by the breezes of lake and prairie from the warp ofsoot-flakes and the woof of damp-drenched smoke.
The explorer who has climbed to the shoulder of one of these greatcaptains and has found one of the thinnest folds in the veil mayreadily make out the nature of the surrounding country. The ruggedand erratic plateau of the Bad Lands lies before him in all itshideousness and impracticability. It is a wild tract full of suddenfalls, unexpected rises, precipitous dislocations. The high and thelow are met together. The big and the little alternate in a rapid andillogical succession. Its perilous trails are followed successfullyby but few—by a lineman, perhaps, who is balanced on a cornice, bya roofer astride some dizzy gable, by a youth here and there whoseearly apprehension of the main chance and the multiplication table hasstood him in good stead. This country is a treeless country—if weoverlook the "forest of chimneys" comprised in a bird's-eye view ofany great city, and if we are unable to detect any botanical analogiesin the lofty articulated iron funnels whose ramifying cables reachout wherever they can, to fasten wherever they may. It is a shrublesscountry—if we give no heed to the gnarled carpentry of the awkwardframe-works which carry the telegraph, and which are set askew onsuch dizzy corners as the course of the wires may compel. It is anarid country—if we overlook the numberless tanks that squat on thehigh angles of alley walls, or if we fail to see the little pools oftar and gravel that ooze and shimmer in the summer sun on the roofsof old-fashioned buildings of the humbler sort. It is an airlesscountry—if by air we mean the mere combination of oxygen and nitrogenwhich is commonly indicated by that name. For here the medium ofsight, sound, light, and life becomes largely carbonaceous, and theremoter peaks of this mighty yet unprepossessing landscape loom upgrandly, but vaguely, through swathing mists of coal-smoke.
From such conditions as these—along with the Tacoma, the Monadnock,and a great host of other modern monsters—towers the Clifton. Fromthe beer-hall in its basement to the barber-shop just under itsroof the Clifton stands full eighteen stories tall. Its hundreds ofwindows glitter with multitudinous letterings in gold and in silver,and on summer afternoons its awnings flutter score on score in thetepid breezes that sometimes come up from Indiana. Four ladder-likeconstructions which rise skyward stage by stage promote the agility ofthe clambering hordes that swarm within it, and ten elevators—devicesunknown to the real, aboriginal inhabitants—ameliorate the dailycliff-climbing for the frail of physique and the pressed for time.
The tribe inhabiting the Clifton is large and rather heterogeneous.All told, it numbers about four thousand souls. It includes bankers,capitalists, lawyers, "promoters"; brokers in bonds, stocks, pork,oil, mortgages; real-estate people and railroad people and insurancepeople—life, fire, marine, accident; a host of principals, agents,middlemen, clerks, cashiers, stenographers, and errand-boys; and thenecessary force of engineers, janitors, scrub-women, and elevator-hands.
All these thousands gather daily around their own great camp-fire. Thisfire heats the four big boilers under the pavement of the court whichlies just behind, and it sends aloft a vast plume of smoke to minglewith those of other like communities that are settled round about.These same thousands may also gather—in instalments—at their tribalfeast, for the Clifton has its own lunch-counter just off one corner ofthe grand court, as well as a restaurant several floors higher up. Themembers of the tribe may also smoke the pipe of peace among themselveswhenever so minded, for the Clifton has its own cigar-stand just withinthe principal entrance. Newspapers and periodicals, too, are sold atthe same place. The warriors may also communicate their messages,hostile or friendly, to chiefs more or less remote; for there is atelegraph office in the corridor and a squad of messenger-boys in waitclose by.
In a word, the Clifton aims to be complete within itself, and it willbe unnecessary for us to go afield either far or frequently duringthe present simple succession of brief episodes in the lives of theCliff-dwellers.
On the tenth floor of the Clifton is the office of the MassachusettsBrass Company.
Those whose minds are attuned to an appreciation of upholsteryand kindred matters pronounce this little suite the gem of thewhole establishment. Even many who are not adepts in the matter ofhouse-furnishing, and who are much too rushed and preoccupied to becomesuch, have been known to pause in their course through the Clifton'slong corridors, on occasions when the ribbed glass door of the BrassCompany happened to be standing ajar, and to say to themselves, withcertain home offices in mind,
"Now, why can't our people do as much for us?"
Indeed, there is cause enough for envy in that small square of velvetyAxminster, in the harmonious tinting of the walls, in the paddedleather backs of the swivel chairs, in the polished brightness ofthe cherry desk-tops, in the fresh blotting-pads and the immaculateinkstands. To sit in this pleasant little apartment for half an hour isto receive quite a new impression of the possible luxury of business,the ultimate elegance of trade. This may be managed as easily asnot if you happen to have any dealings with "D. Walworth Floyd,Agt."—according to the legend on the translucent pane of the door—whois quite unlikely to hurry you out before you have finished.
"Don't be in such a drive," he will perhaps say to you; "stay and smokea cigar."
For business is not too exacting a consideration with the westernbranch of the Massachusetts Brass Company. It is less a hive ofindustry than a social exchange. The hours are easy, and the habituesare as frequently callers as customers. They are often Jacks or Toms,whose fathers are social pillars in Boston and large land-owners inWyoming and Dakota, and Jack and Tom—birds of passage in Scotchcheviots and billycock hats—are given to alighting for a briefbreathing-spell on this lofty perch, where they reproach the slipshoddress and careless, speech of their friend's small office force by thetrim neatness of their own clothes and conversation.
It may be guessed that this snug haven of refuge has been establishedand maintained less to extend the Company's trade than to provide aplace for the Company's Walworth. I say Company's Walworth, forin this case "company" and "family" are interchangeable terms. TheMassachusetts Brass Company is the Floyd family, and the Floyd familyis the Massachusetts Brass Company. The Company pays no dividends, butit is very generous in its salaries. It is liberal with Hosea G. Floyd,who is its president, and with Winthrop C. Floyd, who is its treasurer,and with H. Lovell Floyd, who is its New York agent, and withCadwallader P. Floyd, who looks after the Philadelphia interests; nordoes it quite forget D. Walworth Floyd, who holds up one end more orless effectively in the West. But Walworth is the last and the youngestof the Floyds; his marriage was not to the complete satisfaction ofhis family, and his single independent venture before leaving home,in the direction of coffee and spices, compelled his brothers to puttheir hands into their pockets rather deeply. So, while the rest of theFloyds think that, all considered, they have rather done the fair thingby Walworth, yet Walworth, on the other hand, regards his assignment tothe West as a mild form of punishment and exile.
"It does give me a little elbow-room, though."
This is the silent acknowledgment that Walworth sometimes makes tohimself—but grudgingly.
Walworth Floyd is a sleek, well-fed, prosperous-looking fellow ofthirty. His figure is a trifle too short and dumpy to be pronouncedabsolutely good; but it is always strikingly well-dressed—for he haslived in the West hardly a year as yet. His face is not handsome, butit is gentlemanly quite. One might, indeed, complain of the retreatinglines of his forehead, and regret, too, that his chin, once perfect,now shows leanings towards the duplex; but, on the other hand, hiswell-bridged nose, you are sure, has been figuring in family portraitsfor the last hundred years, and his plump hands, by reason of the finetexture of the skin and the shapeliness of the nails, form a point thatis distinctly aristocratic. Yet penmanship, under his manipulations,becomes a very crabbed and laborious affair, and this light species ofmanual labor is usually performed, so far as he is concerned, by otherhands. He has a sort of general clerk, and he shares the services of astenographer with two or three of his neighbors. He employs, too, anoffice-boy, who would idle away a good deal of time if Walworth werenot in the habit of sending frequent communications to the stewardof his club. Walworth, garmented in his plump placidity, has beenaccustomed to fare sumptuously every day, and to worry his head aboutas few things as possible. His dining he does for himself; his thinkinghe has somebody else do for him: His book-keeping and auditing and