THESE are the days for the spreading abroad and flourishing of the real-estate man. You would not think it, perhaps, but he is an idealist. He tells you so himself. It is lovely to think that there is so much of that sort of thing abroad in the business world to-day. We had feared that the eclipse of the life-insurance man had robbed us of our last source of supply.
He sends you a free ticket to come out and view the property. He incloses a ticket for your wife or lady friend. He would not forget the little ones, if you told him you had them.
Upon this instigation you board the ferry and embark for a strange land. Then you push your way through a crowd and clamber up the steps of a train that looks as if it had always been traveling on Long Island. After an interval there comes a hissing and sputtering of steam underneath, a slamming of doors, a series of premonitory jerks, and you are off for the Island Eldorado, — in short, for Mapledell, the City of Homes, the Paradise of the Overworked.
“Free at last from the omnipresent noise and dirt of the Metropolis, ” — you know the rest, and the pictures of the schoolhouse and the church. At present your outlook embraces power houses, gas plants, brick walls, and chimneys. This is the portal through which you pass into the happy land beyond. It takes considerable time to pass. It is surprising how many power houses, gas plants, brick walls, and chimneys can be encamped on one piece of landscape.
After a while, nevertheless, you emerge into what you take to be a transitional region, the link between city and country. Goats, shanties, and saloons, flamboyant with gilt signs, occupy it. Soiled children sit on tumbledown doorsteps. Ward politicians of the future smoke cigarette stubs. Fat housewives with rolled-up sleeves empty pails of dishwater into the gutter.
You turn from the scene with some relief to glance again at Mapledell Picturesque.
“On the next corner,” — so reads that dainty specimen of the bookman’s art, — “where Cedarleaf Avenue debouches upon Ferncliff Place, John P. Waterwell, Esq., President of the Smith & Waterwell Novelty Company of London and New York, is erecting a beautiful mansion, of which the accompanying photogravure can give but a faint conception.”
It occurs to you that some of the people in the car with you must be inhabitants of Mapledell. You take a look about. It should be easy to recognize the dwellers in that Elysium where both mansion and cottage — in the real-estate man’s vocabulary every dwelling-house is one or the other—are, first of all, homes.
There is a small, self-effacing man huddled into the corner of the seat across the aisle. He is reading a booklet elegantly bound in enamel boards with a gold stamp, and tied with a light blue ribbon. You recognize it: it is Random Ramblings in Mapledell, Home of the Home-lover. That was the first book they sent you. Long since you have got beyond that.
The other people in the car do not much attract you. They do net look like home-lovers. The two men who occupy the seat in front have red faces and projecting noses. They are talking one with the other in voices that do not seem domestic.
“I tells you, it’s dis way; nudding else,” says one. “If dey’ll put me up a house as goot as Vatervell’s, I lets ’em do it. Odervise, nuddings. Dat’s all.”
“D’ ye think they’ll do that?” queries the other.
“What for won’t dey?” comes the scornful reply. “What iss Schmidt und Vatervell? Iss it any much to the AllFavorite Garment-Fastener Company ? Donnervetter! If dey don’ do it, dey be ”— You hear no more, for the train comes to a stop with a jerk and a rumble of brakes. Some one slams open the door and yells, “ Willowbrook Heights.” It is a pretty name.
Outside you observe an expanse of sooty flats, speckled with a litter of diseased-looking, two-story frame houses, and with multitudinous billboards. Your eye falls upon the lines, —
The most Desirable high-class Suburb of New York
Prices that will Fit you Absolutely Easy Installments
There is something further, but you have not time to read it, for the train bumps onward. You turn to your booklet once more.
“Snugly ensconced on the corner of Eglantine Lane and Cottage Avenue, nestles the pride of Mapledell, its schoolhouse; while across the street the homelike little church points its mute finger upward to the Source of all that is Truly Good.”
The train stops more often now, and gives you a chance to observe in rapid succession the towns of Woodyhyrst, Sunnycrest, and Clovermead. Somehow they all seem curiously alike. There is the same spawn of two-story square houses, once painted in various pinks and yellows, standing in sad and staring lines amid much flat and neglected ground where stakes, that you can just see through the overgrowth of dead weeds, indicate the lots that may still be had upon payments that will suit. Well, you are approaching Mapledell, and there things will be different. They are.
A man wearing a checked suit greets you unctuously as you alight. He greets the small, self-effacing man, whose name you learn to be Higgins, with equal unction. There are other gentlemen in checked suits upon the platform, who seem as if by instinct to single out their quarry among the new arrivals. You notice the champion of the All-Favorite Garment-Fastener already packed conspicuously into a driving-cart, and being driven rapidly away.
The man with the cigar leads you and Higgins to a smart two-seater, and you climb in. The coachman sits as straight and inviolate as a hitching-post, while the check-suited one turns half round, familiarly, and entertains you with a welloiled, sparkling commentary upon the beauties and prospects of Mapledell.
“To be sure,” he concedes, with a suave wave of his hand, which shows you at once that he does not wish to pervert facts, “the land right here by the station is not especially desirable. It was promoted several years ago by an unscrupulous management,— a mere speculation,— and has been developed absolutely without that sense of responsibility to the purchasers that an honorable firm should show. It is the curse of the soulless corporation. Now our ideal is a personal one, — but here we are at the entrance.”
You have arrived at a pair of stone posts which bear the gilt legend, “Mapledell Improvement Company,” and underneath, “Sans-Souci Court.”
You look through the portal into the Paradise of the Overworked. You are glad that you cannot mistake it. At first sight it resembles a barren plain, — curiously flat and without trees. By careful observation, however, you discern long lines of timid, toothpick-like twigs stuck along the margins of what remind you of the squares of an enormous checkerboard.
At each corner of each square is a stone post, similar to the ones you have just passed; and straggling in a thin, self-distrustful line between the posts is, so you are informed, a beautiful hedge of imported California privet, very choice.
“This,” — says the idealist,— “this is Mapledell. To understand the full meaning of what you see, gentlemen, let me ask you to project yourselves ten years or so into the future. Think of it as it will appear then, gentlemen, — these pretty little trees, even now lendin’ an air of distinction to our streets, then grown to giant elms, whose branches meet in a Gothic arch overhead.
“These broad streets and avenoos lined with homes, and echoin’ with the shouts of happy children playin’ tag, — ain’t it easy to think of it ? But even without resortin’ to the imagination, you can see much already that enthralls the attention and admiration of all our visitors. ”
He then proceeds to point out the macadamized roads already constructed, “over which we are now drivin’ as easy as on a billiard table;” in the distance he indicates the schoolhouse, standing in the conspicuousness of isolation beside the mute-fingered church.
“And what a peaceful, country-like view it is, ain’t it, after the noise and turmoil of the city ? Do you wonder that a man of the wealth and social prominence of John P. Waterwell, President of the Smith & Waterwell Novelty Company of London and New York, has concluded, after carefully lookin’ into all the real estate openin’s in the vicinity of the city, to come to Mapledell ?
“ And over there in that kerridge, — yes, now I think of it, he come on the very train with you, — is the Honorable Otto Budweiser of the All-Favorite GarmentFastener Company, — of course you have heard of him before, — who is on the point, if he has not already decided, of building a mansion on one of our lots. Gentlemen, they are goin’ like free beers. The public grabs at such a opportunity as the one we are now offerin’.”
You venture the remark, somewhat timidly, that you do not observe quite so many houses on the property as you had expected to see.
“Well, you understand,” he explains, condescendingly, “that this is a very bad fall for building, — the strikes, you know, and all that, — so we were compelled, in gettin’ out our little booklets, to resort in some cases to the architects’ drawin’s. As I have tried to impress on you already, sir, to appreciate Mapledell you must look forward.
“ It is the future, sir, that we are livin’ and workin’ for. It is to make Mapledell a city of homes, a place where a nice man will be proud to live, a place for him to bring up his children, — that’s why we have made the enormous sacrifices necessary in order to get the land into shape. It has been a tremenjus undertakin’; it’s took brains an’ brawn; but, gentlemen, we’ve been workin’ toward a ideal.”
Let us rejoice that the day of the idealist is not yet over. They may talk to us about the materialization of our society: about the lack of a high sense of honor in business transactions: as for me, I point to the real-estate man, and assert that while he remains we shall not lack some one to talk to us of fundamental principles, of ideals, and social responsibility.