Clergymen were in a pitiable condition for lack of fees and teas; the marriage license bureau was open only Mondays and Saturdays; the social columns of the newspapers were abolished. All over the Union young men were finding time hanging heavy on their hands after business hours because there was little to do now that every town had its Franchise Clubs magnificently fitted with every requisite that a rapidly advancing sex could possibly demand.
The pressure upon the men of the Republic was becoming tremendous; but, as everybody knows, they held out with a courage worthy, perhaps, of a better cause, and women were still denied the franchise in the face of impending national disaster.
But the Central Federation of Amalgamated Females was to deliver a more deadly blow at man than any yet attempted, a blow that for cruelty and audacity remains unparalleled in the annals of that restless sex.
As everybody now knows, this terrible policy was to be inaugurated in secret; a trial was to be made of the idea in New York State; neither the state nor federal governments had the faintest suspicion of what impended; not a single newspaper had any inkling.
Even Augustus Melnor, owner and editor of that greatest of New York daily newspapers, the Morning Star, continued to pay overwhelming attention to his personal appearance, confident that the great feminine revolt was on its last shapely legs, and that once more womankind would be kind to any kind of mankind, and flirt and frivol and marry, and provide progeny, and rock the cradle as in the good old days of yore.
"Shotover! Shotover!" rang the far cry along the cars; and an absent-minded young man in the Pullman pocketed the uncut magazine he had been dreaming over and, picking up gun case and valise, followed a line of fellow-passengers to the open air, where one by one they were engulfed and lost to view amid the gay confusion on the platform.
The absent-minded young man, however, did not seem to know exactly where he was bound for. He stood hesitating, leisurely inspecting the flashing ranks of vehicles—depot wagons, omnibusses, and motor cars already eddying around a dusty gravel drive centred by the conventional railroad flower bed and fountain.
Sunshine blazed on foliage plants arranged geometrically, on scarlet stars composed of geraniums, on thickets of tall flame-tinted cannas. And around this triumph of landscape gardening, phaeton, Tilbury, Mercedes, and Toledo backed, circled, tooted; gaily gowned women, whips aslant, horses dancing, greeted expected guests; laughing young men climbed into dog-carts and took the reins from nimble grooms; young girls, extravagantly veiled, made room in comfortable touring-cars for feminine guests whose extravagant veils were yet to be unpacked; slim young men in leather trappings, caps adorned with elaborate masks or goggles, manipulated rakish steering-gears; preoccupied machinists were fussing with valve and radiator or were cranking up; and, through the jolly tumult, the melancholy bell of the locomotive sounded, and the long train moved out through the September sunshine amid clouds of snowy steam.
And all this time the young man, gun case in one hand, suit case in the other, looked about him in his good-humoured, leisurely manner for anybody or any vehicle which might be waiting for him. His amiable inspection presently brought a bustling baggage-master within range of vision; and he spoke to this official, mentioning his host's name.
He had never earned a penny; he had not the vaguest idea of how people made money. To do something, however, was absolutely necessary.
He wasted some time in finding out just how much aid he might expect from his late father's friends, but when he understood the attitude of society toward a knocked-out gentleman he wisely ceased to annoy society, and turned to the business world.
Here he wasted some more time. Perhaps the time was not absolutely wasted, for during that period he learned that he could use nobody who could not use him; and as he appeared to be perfectly useless, except for ornament, and as a business house is not a kindergarten, and furthermore, as he had neither time nor money to attend any school where anybody could teach him anything, it occurred to him to take a day off for minute and thorough self-examination concerning his qualifications and even his right to occupy a few feet of space upon the earth's surface.
Four years at Harvard, two more in postgraduate courses, two more in Europe to perfect himself in electrical engineering, and a year at home attempting to invent a wireless apparatus for intercepting and transmitting psychical waves had left him pitifully unfit for wage earning.
There remained his accomplishments; but the market was overstocked with assorted time-killers.
His last asset was a trivial though unusual talent--a natural manual dexterity cultivated since childhood to amuse himself--something he never took seriously. This, and a curious control over animals, had, as the pleasant years flowed by, become an astonishing skill which was much more than sleight of hand; and he, always as good-humored as well-bred, had never refused to amuse the frivolous, of which he was also one, by picking silver dollars out of space and causing the proper card to fall fluttering from the ceiling.
Day by day, as the little money left him melted away, he continued his vigorous mental examination, until the alarming shrinkage in his funds left him staring fixedly at his last asset. Could he use it? Was it an asset, after all? How clever was he? Could he face an audience and perform the usual magician tricks without bungling? A slip by a careless, laughing, fashionable young amateur amusing his social equals at a house party is excusable; a bungle by a hired professional meant an end to hope in that direction.