Professor's Progress. V: A Novel of Contemporaneous Adventure
ON the third day of his sojourn in Fairview, at three o’clock in the afternoon, Latimer found himself. With the cure, there came a sudden onset of homesickness which would immediately have put him on board a train for the city, in utter disregard of the state of his wardrobe and sister Harriet’s feelings, if Hartmann had not interposed a plea. The two others had departed the day before for points south and west, but the doctor still had several wearisome truths to impress on a Board of Health which was ‘ audomatically ' impervious to common sense. If Latimer would wait over night, they could go down to the city together in Foreman’s car, which the magnate had left at Hartmann’s disposal. The harrowing picture of Hartmann on a lonely trip to New York, depicted by that good man almost with tears in his eyes, was more than Latimer could bear. He would wait.
And another reason was that Latimer felt the need of atonement. Of the three days in Fairview, to Hartmann’s chagrin, Latimer had devoted just two hours to the new model town. Try as he would, his interest in the architect’s plans for the great Social Hall and the Foreman Hospital would not bubble. After he had several times failed to distinguish between the blue prints for the drainage and those for the watermains system, Hartmann sorrowfully abandoned him. Thereupon Latimer joyfully turned his back on the Elizabethan town on the hill, and spent his hours until far into the night in the streets of that other Fairview which in another six months would be no more, but which drew him poignantly to its malodorous, unsanitary self.
It was precisely the difference between life and a blue-print that held him. He knew it was unjust to Foreman and his collaborators that he should be thinking of them as tinkering upon a new kind of machine; yet there was the feeling. Even Hartmann, for all the humane sentiment that drove his bulky frame to action, was engaged upon a project, a problem, and therefore a formula. The pity of it, that, as soon as you have more than one man to face, you are no longer dealing with souls, but with problems.
There were no problems in the unkempt streets of the old town on the edge of the flats; that is, to the people who lived amid the landscaped family wash and gossiped from windows, or gave utterance to sententious truths from around slow-burning corn-cobs. They were to themselves an end in themselves. They were neither classconscious, nor church-conscious, nor conscious of anything but the regular beat of an ancient routine. The sense of depression which attacked Lorimer during that first walk with Filbert had vanished overnight. He felt no need to idealize these people as the vanguard of a cleanlier and more prosperous generation. They were sufficient for the day, without the apology of galvanic cabbage-patch humor and sunshinealley sentiment. They were ultimate and serene.
‘Blessed are the poor,’ thought Latimer, ‘for they shall not keep up appearances. Neither must they read the books that are written about them.’
On the third morning of his stay at Fairview he was escorted through the Intercontinental shops by Bauer himself. Latimer had hitherto thought of Labor in terms of Meunier and Pennell: of half-naked men sweating in the heat of blast furnaces, or strained out of human semblance under enormous weights and masses. What he really saw in this particular factory were the long cathedral aisles of machinery. He heard singing wheels and the drone of belting. And here or there was a worker bending over his tool-bench in scholarly contemplation of a nondescript bit of metal, like Carrel over his test-tubes.
Latimer recalled the wonder that always possessed him at home, when he stopped to peer down into excavations where men groped about in a crazy network of mains and conduits, or when he looked up to the steel girders swinging into place on the new skyscrapers. Only now and then would he catch sight of a heavy sledge in play, or the heave of muscles. As a rule men moved about in the tangle of cloaca as if engaged in an elaborate minuet. He saw men poised on the end of a steel beam go through a graceful calisthenics, with a measured wave of the arm, now this way, now that way, thirty stories above the sidewalk. Yet the subways got themselves dug, and the pavements were laid, — and torn up again, — and the skyscraper grew a couple of stories overnight. He wondered at the serenity of labor.
They stopped to watch a middleaged man in overalls filing away at a longish piece of steel which for the life of him Latimer could not identify. Bauer told him that it was part of the mechanism of a field-gun, which would be put through an indefinite number of processes here at Fairview, and then would be shipped somewhere else for justification, and would then go by water and part by rail somewhere else, where the gun would be assembled; after which the gun would be tested, approved, checked up, and shipped— somewhere else.
Latimer shook with impatience at the deliberate, precise arm-motions of the man at the bench. ‘Out there,’ he saw little groups of weird mannikins, in a smear of fog and mud and blood, clawing into the sides of a crater under the counter-barrage of the Prussians, and praying for the guns which they had outrun. But the guns were stuck fast in the Flanders slime, and the crew were breaking their backs under the wheelhubs, and the drivers were lashing away at the horses.
‘For God’s sake, hurry!’ Latimer cried out in an inward agony, as the Fairview worker picked up a wad of cotton waste and studiously polished off the metal joint he was dallying with. One, two, three; one, two, three — while the sweat was on Latimer’s face.
And then, in a moment, he understood that this man was working while he, Latimer, was only rasping the nervestrings of his own soul. Why, of course: the gun crew in Flanders was probably standing about quietly debating the best way of getting the wheels out of the mud. A man was hurrying across fields for a plank. The second lieutenant was simultaneously trying to establish telephone communications with battery headquarters and to borrow a cigarette. And this gun now in the making at Fairview would be six months in reaching the front. Latimer saw the machinist reach for a gauge of some sort and adjust it with infinite contemplation; and there came to him a great calm.
‘I am cured,’ he said aloud.
‘I beg pardon?’ Bauer wondered.
‘I was saying that I shall probably take the night train for New York,’ said Latimer. ‘This has been supremely instructive.’
But as we have seen, Hartmann prevailed with him to wait till the following morning, whereupon Latimer telegraphed notice of his imminent return to his wife, and his excuses to sister Harriet. But to Manning and the promised visit he held himself pledged. Manning lay on the direct road to the city, and it would be only decent to drop in for a moment to explain.
Hartmann’s professed lack of interest in the ‘meganism’ of the automobile had no relation whatever to his ability in the driver’s seat or a pretty taste for eating up the road. Probably it was the rebound from the strain of three days’ negotiations with the Fairview Board of Health, made up exclusively of ‘ unmidigated tonkeys.’
Only twenty-four hours ago the needle on the speedometer would have caused Latimer intense anxiety. Now, in the flush of new-found health that was coursing in him, he was inclined to regard Hartmann as an unnecessarily timid driver. At intervals he burst into song; whereat Hartmann sneered bitterly, until such a time as a succession of clear stretches of roadway permitted him to join in with a dreadful howl which, he explained to Latimer, was the first verse of Gaudeamus. In the course of the next two hours he sang that first verse thirteen times, but, he told Latimer, by no means as well as he used to do it thirty years ago.
For some time Latimer had been expectantly studying the countryside, and there it was: an ugly iron bridge, a willow by the roadside not far from the river-bank, a flat rock jutting out into the water, a white church steeple — they were entering Westville, to be sure.
‘Hartmann,’ he said, ‘do you mind stopping for a quarter of an hour?’
‘Stretch your legs, hey? All right. I think I can recall the second verse.’
‘There is a sick woman here. Will you look at her?’
Hartmann threw up his hands.
‘How can I? Without being asked?’
‘Unquestionably you can satisfy yourself without a formal examination. To that purpose I have devised the necessary fiction,’ said Latimer. And from his pocket he drew a box of chocolates which he had purchased at Fairview. ‘ We stop off merely to leave this for the little girl, with whom I am on established terms. You accompany me reluctantly. If you need a little more time for consideration, we may ask for a glass of milk.’
They found the family around the kitchen-steps. The woman was rinsing clothes between two tubs. The husband was dreamily improvising over the repair of an intricate piece of fishing-gear, with the little one at his side. The three severally responded to the unexpected visitors. In the woman’s eyes there was wonder. In the little one’s, a bright scrutiny which searched Latimer’s person and settled with a triumph of intuition upon the candy-box in his hand. The man saw in Hartmann the longed-for purchaser of this country home that he hated; he saw release and town again.
‘As we came by it occurred to me,’ said Latimer; and he developed his lie with sufficient manfulness; nevertheless the conversation dragged.
‘The little one should be at school,’ he said.
‘ Teacher’s sick,’ announced the child gleefully.
‘Such a school as it is,’ said the woman, with the first sign of discontent that Latimer recalled in her. Pause; and they all turned to watch the child in her tour of exploration through the candy-box.
‘You can give us a glass of milk,’ said Hartmann, ‘right where we are?’
‘Sam,’ she said. And the man, buoyed up by a great hope, started off with unwonted energy toward the spring where the milk was cooling. His wife went into the kitchen to wipe her dripping arms.
‘You find the symptoms?’ whispered Latimer, hoping against knowledge.
‘The most consbicuous symptom, yes,’ said Hartmann sullenly. He nodded toward the man crouching over the spring. ‘What is one to do?’
‘There should be a regular job for him at Fairview,’ said Latimer. ‘And for her, one of your new houses. They could let this place. It would pay them to abandon it.’
‘You are a disindegrating sendimentalist, friend Latimer,’ grumbled the other. ‘Make the offer. I will see to it.’
But the woman shook her head. ‘Sam is not strong enough for a factory.’ What she was thinking, of course, was that her man was not strong enough for the temptations of town. ‘We came out here because it was better for me.’ Again she was lying.
‘Much beddcr for you, a glean small house with windows and a good kitchen,’ burst out Hartmann. ‘You should not work.’
She shook her head, and Latimer despaired. Then an inspiration came.
‘ For the little one there will be an ideal school, playgrounds, a swimming pool, games, theatricals.’ He tried to speak with the nonchalance of a wellbred catalogue.
‘A good school?’ she said, looking up in haste.
‘ Equal to the best private schools in the country,’ said Hartmann.
She looked back toward her husband, stared down at the child, and yielded.
‘ We ’ll be ready for you in another month,’ Hartmann urged.
‘ We will come,’ she said; and of her own initiative held out her hand to Latimer. ‘Thank you,’ she said; and her eyelids trembled.
What more natural than the warm afterglow of self-approval which descended upon our two travelers as they climbed back into the car? To Latimer’s suggestion that Hartmann now ‘let her out,’ the reply was a shrug of resentment at superfluous advice, followed by a silent, ‘Watch me!’ The motor sang like a telegraph wire in the wind. They reconstructed the second verse of Gaudeamus out of their joint and fragmentary memories, and shouted it to the flying landscape. Between spasms of harmony Latimer lit two cigarettes, keeping one for his own use and inserting the other, after a few preliminary puffs, between Hartmann’s lips. As the wind and the sun poured into his veins, Latimer removed his golf-cap and put it on again with the peak on the nape of his neck, like the pictures of Barney Oldfield in the Sunday Supplement. He was seized with a vast pity for the proletariat of the fourcylinder cars whom they overtook and passed with a swirl and an occasional ironic wave of the hand. He found his thoughts running to roadsters, sedans, town cars. He pumped oil with more ardor than precision.
With this result: that, having flashed by a sign-post announcing the town limits of Greensborough and made a sudden corner, Hartmann had to throw all his weight into the brakes to avert collision with a uniformed figure in the middle of the road waving the conventional open palm.
‘What’s wrong?’ said Hartmann, as innocently as a German chancellor on Belgium.
‘ Thirty-five miles an hour’s the matter,’ said the constable.
Hartmann shouted, —
‘At dirty-five miles an hour I should have been through your tinky liddle town before I had endered it. This is an oudrage!’
‘You can explain that to the jedge,’ said the officer. ‘That is, if he ain’t away for his dinner. Give me a lift an’ I’ll show you where we turn in.’
The subsequent colloquy was futile. Greensborough’s court-house occupied one wing of an imposing pile of municipal brickwork which their captor designated as the town workhouse. Granted the authentic signs of a progressive community spirit revealed in well-paved and‘cleanly streets, ornamental lamp-posts, plate-glass store fronts on Main Street, and three moving-picture theatres within two blocks, it was still a wonder why so small a place as Greensborough should stand in need of such elaborate prison facilities.
‘Now if it were a loonadic asylum, I could understand,’ remarked Hartmann with vicious intent; ‘but a chail-'
They found the court-room deserted. The ‘jedge,’ then, was at dinner, unless, it occurred to the constable, the jedge might be in the ’labbertory.’ He pronounced the word with unmistakable pride in his mastery of the term and equal contempt for the thing it described.
‘ Laboratory? ’ said Hartmann. ‘ Lead the way.’
They marched through a confusion of wainscoted corridors and stopped before the open door of what Latimer might easily have accepted for the psychological experimentation room at his old college, except that everything was varnish-new and the sunlight came in cheerily through the window. A grayhaired young man, bending over a desk, raised his head and smiled inquiringly, a little innocently, Latimer thought, through horn-rimmed spectacles.
‘Dr. Wheeling,’ said the constable, with a semi-military curtness which was at the same time a salute and an introduction.
Latimer hastened to explain.
‘We are in search of the officiating magistrate, having been apprehended on the absurd charge of violating the traffic regulations by an official whose zeal we can commend more easily than his intelligence.’
Dr. Wheeling was sympathetic. ‘Justice Horner will not be back for some time, I regret to say.’
‘He takes dinner at home, of course?' ‘To be precise, no,’ replied the prison doctor. ‘The fact is, His Honor at this moment is some distance out in the country inspecting a prize milchcow with a view to purchase.’
‘That would be A1 Thomas’s Jersey,’observed the constable.
‘ Exactly,’ said Wheeling. ‘ Won’t you be seated?’
‘But that is imbossible,’ shouted Hartmann; and to their captor, ‘Come along and help us hunt up your judge. I’ll make it worth your while.’
The constable hesitated, and Latimer, to bridge the pause, did the polite thing.
‘ You have here an admirably equipped institution,’ he remarked. His tone was the connoisseur’s.
Wheeling beamed at him through his goggles. ‘It’s a very decent plant for a town of our size.’
‘It is my surmise,’ said Latimer,
* that this very impressive penal establishment has been built around your laboratory, Dr. Wheeling, and not the other way about.’
The doctor stared in amazement. ‘How could you have guessed?’
‘Shall we call it intuition?’ smiled Latimer. ‘When I am in the presence of the scientific spirit I know it. My name is Latimer.’
Wheeling came forth from behind the desk and shook hands.
‘May I suggest that your plan of hunting up the justice is a feasible one? ’ he addressed Hartmann. ‘In the mean time, if Mr. Latimer is interested in our work I should be delighted—’
And when Hartmann and his turnkey were gone, ‘Your surmise, Mr. Latimer, as to the origin of this institution touches me particularly, because it is largely through my efforts that the thing has taken form; if I may say it without boasting. My interests have always run in the direction of mental research, especially of the criminal type. I have written for the scientific journals. It was difficult work converting the local authorities to my plans; a special bond issue was necessary. Even then, as a straight penitentiary, this plant would never have been erected; but as an experiment station in criminal psychology it had decided publicity value. The argument appealed to our Chamber of Commerce. Without boasting, we have put Greensborough on the map. Only —' he sighed — ‘ the material is not as abundant as one might wish.’
‘Greensborough is too law-abiding,’ ventured Latimer.
‘Unfortunately, yes. Our cells are often quite empty. That is why I have been compelled to resort to volunteers. The great majority of our citizens have subjected themselves to my tests, out of a commendable public spirit. But the population of Greensborough is limited.’
Latimer glanced about the room. ‘Strictly speaking,’ he said, ‘I am not yet within the grasp of the law. Nevertheless, until my companion’s return, if I can contribute to your stock of data — ’
Wheeling went pink with delight. ‘This is generous, Mr. Latimer. I hardly — ’
’Not at all. Shall we proceed?’ ‘Immediately,’ cried Wheeling. ‘Allow me to place your chair in the full light. That’s it.’
From drawers and shelves he brought out the simple materials of his business, and sat down before his desk, from top to toe the tingling professional.
‘I trust, Mr. Latimer, that you approach this examination in the candid and impersonal spirit in which it is attempted,’ said Wheeling. ‘It is in the interest of science, of course. A sympathetic attitude on your part is essential to the validity of the tests we are about to undertake, even when these may seem superfluous or meaningless.’
‘Does that frequently happen?’ said Latimer, with the kindly intention of expressing interest.
But it brought up Wheeling with a start. His formula of introduction was really a sort of hypnotic chant intended to reduce the subject to the proper passive state. He looked at Latimer and wondered whether it had been necessary in the present instance.
’We will begin,’ he said, ‘with a simple experiment in visual observation. I shall pick up a black piece of paper with one hand and a white piece of paper with the other. You will tell me as soon as you are certain of your facts, which hand holds which. Close your eyes, please. Now!’
Latimer assigned the proper slip to the proper hand.
‘Five seconds,’ said Wheeling, in a tone of surprise, as he jotted down the answer on a prepared form. ‘May I ask, Mr. Latimer, whether you have ever been tested for color-perception before this?’
‘No,’ said Latimer. ‘Am I at all out of the normal?’
’More than twice the average reaction time,’ said Wheeling. ‘ We will try again — this time with red and blue. Close your eyes, please. Now!’
Latimer made the correct distinction.
‘Extraordinary!' exclaimed Wheeling. ‘Three seconds. Normal vision should distinguish blue from red more slowly than black from white. You have reversed the process.'
‘Perhaps this may be the reason,’ said Latimer. ‘In the first instance I immediately distinguished the black from the white, but it took me some time to recall that, sitting opposite me, your right hand corresponded to my left and vice versa. In the second experiment I had fixed the identity of your right hand and your left. If you had asked me simply to point out the red and the blue and the black and the white, the results would probably have been different. It might be worth while to repeat the test.’
‘Do you think so?’ said Wheeling.
‘I am convinced of it,’ said Latimer.
They went through the test again, and it was as Latimer had foretold. The revised figures showed that Latimer was slightly above the average in colorperception for the ordinary type of prison inmate. Wheeling was delighted.
‘Rapidity of concentration next,’ he said. ‘Take this paper and pencil and hold yourself ready to begin writing when I give the order. Ready? Write the names of seven common garden vegetables.’
‘Spinach, tomatoes, potatoes,’ wrote Latimer. ‘A simple soul,’ he thought, as he lifted his eye momentarily to catch the fleeting vision of the next vegetable, and saw Wheeling peering at him with that kindly, meaningless smile through the thick lenses of his horn-rimmed spectacles. ‘A simple soul, eager for the truth. Always the same goal; the difference is only in the method of approach. Truth! Men have sought her through the clouds that cover the awful light of the face of the gods, in the torture of their own flesh, in the eyes of women, in the Arctic silences of their own thoughts, in the forests, in the mountains, in the deserts, in cloisters and catacombs — Cucumbers, lettuce, parsley, beans,’ he wrote hastily; and then as he caught Wheeling’s astonished yet patient gaze, ‘I believe I could do it faster than that. My mind wandered.’
‘But that is just the point,’ said Wheeling. ‘As an index of mental coordination it is the first, unrehearsed attempt that counts. As such, the exceptional length of time you have taken is of the very highest significance. Excuse me while I set down a special remark that does not come under any of my schedules. Or, better still, while I am writing, I give you this sheet of paper on which you will kindly draw, without unduly hurrying yourself, the outlines of a pig, a tree, and a house.’
Here indeed was a task that called for the utmost concentration. Outside of the geometrical figures which he had drawn for some forty years on the college blackboard, Latimer was helpless with pencil in hand. The elements of perspective were a mystery to him; and expression was utterly beyond his powers. He succeeded in drawing the rough two-dimensional house which is the favorite of infancy, with curly smoke coming out of the chimney and a flight of steps hanging several feet below the ground level. He did a little worse on his tree, which was only a telegraph pole with arms projecting at acute angles. Recognizable both, perhaps; but the pig was a complete disaster.
‘That is pretty poor, is n’t it?’ he said; and there was no pretense in the anxious query.
‘It is not a question of good or poor,’ said Wheeling, ‘but of the age-class in which your technical execution would place you. From that point of view the drawings are certainly extraordinary. Somewhere between six and seven years, I should say.’
‘You mean a child of six or seven would be expected to do as well as this? ’ said Latimer, flushing scarlet.
‘The average child,’ said Wheeling. ‘Twenty-three children in a hundred of that age-class would do better. So much for manual coordination. Now tell me as fast as you can how much is three times four?’
‘Twelve,’ Latimer shot at him before he had finished.
‘Good! Eight times seven?’
‘Fifty-six,’ said Latimer with the same precipitation.
Wheeling flushed with excitement. ‘We are on the track of what is evidently a special aptitude. Thirteen times thirteen?’
‘One hundred and sixty-nine.’
‘Twenty-four times twenty-four?’
‘Five hundred and seventy-six.’
Wheeling’s eyes were agleam. What a case! The doubly abnormal mind! In many instances below the median, in one instance rising far above it; how far above, he trembled to think. Then he took the plunge.
‘One hundred and eleven times one hundred and eleven?’
‘Twelve thousand, three hundred and twenty-one,’ said Latimer.
‘Two hundred and thirteen times two hundred and thirteen?’
‘Forty-five thousand, three hundred and sixty-nine,’ said Latimer.
‘Amazing!’ said Wheeling; and upon Latimer’s soul, still writhing under the humiliation of that subnormal pig, the word fell like balm. In the upswing of spirits, self-confidence returned, and he felt prepared to meet Wheeling on a footing of human equality.
‘Let us go back for a moment to a simple reaction test,’ said Wheeling. ‘That is essential if we are to strike the balance for the mental account. I will read out to you a string of numbers among which will occur the numeral four. As soon as you hear that number you will tap with your finger on the table. It may occur once or several times. You will tap every time. That is plain ? ’
‘Quite,’ said Latimer.
‘Three, six, seven, six, six, three, eight, nine, six, five, eleven, nine,’ began Wheeling.
‘Undoubtedly a simple soul,’ said Latimer to himself, his mind swimming lazily on the droning rhythm of Wheeling’s notation. ‘No trace of originality, I should say, but susceptible to guidance from above. A loyal private in the army of science, his not to make reply, but only to follow where others lead. Upon the minds of one hundred thousand such men the true mind of science builds its generalizations. The true mind glimpses the vision and flings it out for a hundred thousand common men to prove or disprove with their life’s work. — Four!’ He smote the table with both his fists as the signal number pierced to his brain.
‘That is the third time I mentioned four. You don’t mind my saying that you present the very interesting example of an exceptionable faculty rising above a low level of general mental coordination.’
‘Not at all,’ said Latimer.
‘Of course I should want to look my data over carefully,’ said Wheeling. ‘But at a venture I should say that you belong,’ — he hesitated, — ‘I speak impersonally, of course, — in the thirteenor fourteen-year class.’
‘Allowing for the arithmetical exercises?’ said Latimer.
‘Yes, that would be the weighted average. To make the test complete I should have to take your cranial measurements.’
’You suspect—?’ said Latimer.
‘Characteristic criminal stigmata? I should hardly say that. But I can see peculiarities — the lobar formation —’
‘Tell me this, Dr. Wheeling,’ said Latimer, breathing heavily. It was a sign of rising steam in the boiler of his temperament. ‘Your system consists in testing my mental capacities by the standard of the child?’
‘But you have n’t asked me to skip a rope.’
‘That is not part of our regulation test,’ he said.
‘And yet it is plain,’ sputtered Latimer, ‘that at skipping a rope I should probably be inferior to a child of eight. I should likewise be very low down in the scale at going down a banister, or creeping under a gate, or walking on my hands. And if it came to screaming myself red in the face and getting my toe into my mouth, I should be set very low in the scale of infantilism.’
‘But our tests,’said poor Dr. Wheeling.
‘I mean,’ shouted Latimer and caught himself on the edge of an explosion—
(To be concluded)