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"What You Want"
by [?]

James Turner had his own conception of what happiness was, just as you and I have ours. Your delight is to gad about the world in yachts and motor-cars and to hurl ducats at wild fowl. Mine is to smoke a pipe at evenfall and watch a badger, a rattlesnake, and an owl go into their common prairie home one by one.

James Turner’s idea of bliss was different; but it was his. He would go directly to his boarding-house when his day’s work was done. After his supper of small steak, Bessemer potatoes, stooed (not stewed) apples and infusion of chicory, he would ascend to his fifth-floor-back hall room. Then he would take off his shoes and socks, place the soles of his burning feet against the cold bars of his iron bed, and read Clark Russell’s sea yarns. The delicious relief of the cool metal applied to his smarting soles was his nightly joy. His favorite novels never palled upon him; the sea and the adventures of its navigators were his sole intellectual passion. No millionaire was ever happier than James Turner taking his ease.

When James left the hat-cleaning shop he walked three blocks out of his way home to look over the goods of a second-hand bookstall. On the sidewalk stands he had more than once picked up a paper-covered volume of Clark Russell at half price.

While he was bending with a scholarly stoop over the marked-down miscellany of cast-off literature, old Tom the caliph sauntered by. His discerning eye, made keen by twenty years’ experience in the manufacture of laundry soap (save the wrappers!) recognized instantly the poor and discerning scholar, a worthy object of his caliphanous mood. He descended the two shallow stone steps that led from the sidewalk, and addressed without hesitation the object of his designed munificence. His first words were no worse than salutatory and tentative.

James Turner looked up coldly, with “Sartor Resartus” in one hand and “A Mad Marriage” in the other.

“Beat it,” said he. “I don’t want to buy any coat hangers or town lots in Hankipoo, New Jersey. Run along, now, and play with your Teddy bear.”

“Young man,” said the caliph, ignoring the flippancy of the hat cleaner, “I observe that you are of a studious disposition. Learning is one of the finest things in the world. I never had any of it worth mentioning, but I admire to see it in others. I come from the West, where we imagine nothing but facts. Maybe I couldn’t understand the poetry and allusions in them books you are picking over, but I like to see somebody else seem to know what they mean. I’m worth about $40,000,000, and I’m getting richer every day. I made the height of it manufacturing Aunt Patty’s Silver Soap. I invented the art of making it. I experimented for three years before I got just the right quantity of chloride of sodium solution and caustic potash mixture to curdle properly. And after I had taken some $9,000,000 out of the soap business I made the rest in corn and wheat futures. Now, you seem to have the literary and scholarly turn of character; and I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll pay for your education at the finest college in the world. I’ll pay the expense of your rummaging over Europe and the art galleries, and finally set you up in a good business. You needn’t make it soap if you have any objections. I see by your clothes and frazzled necktie that you are mighty poor; and you can’t afford to turn down the offer. Well, when do you want to begin?”

The hat cleaner turned upon old Tom the eye of the Big City, which is an eye expressive of cold and justifiable suspicion, of judgment suspended as high as Haman was hung, of self-preservation, of challenge, curiosity, defiance, cynicism, and, strange as you may think it, of a childlike yearning for friendliness and fellowship that must be hidden when one walks among the “stranger bands.” For in New Bagdad one, in order to survive, must suspect whosoever sits, dwells, drinks, rides, walks or sleeps in the adjacent chair, house, booth, seat, path or room.