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- Average Jones - 1/52 -
E-text prepared by Sean Pobuda (email@example.com)
By Samuel Hopkins Adams
THE B-FLAT TROMBONE
Three men sat in the Cosmic Club discussing the question: "What's the matter with Jones?" Waldemar, the oldest of the conferees, was the owner, and at times the operator, of an important and decent newspaper. His heavy face wore the expression of good-humored power, characteristic of the experienced and successful journalist. Beside him sat Robert Bertram, the club idler, slender and languidly elegant. The third member of the conference was Jones himself.
Average Jones had come by his nickname inevitably. His parents had foredoomed him to it when they furnished him with the initials A. V. R. E. as preface to his birthright of J for Jones. His character apparently justified the chance concomitance. He was, so to speak, a composite photograph of any thousand well-conditioned, clean-living Americans between the ages of twenty-five and thirty. Happily, his otherwise commonplace face was relieved by the one unfailing characteristic of composite photographs, large, deep-set and thoughtful eyes. Otherwise he would have passed in any crowd, and nobody would have noticed him pass. Now, at twenty-seven, he looked back over the five years since his graduation from college and wondered what he had done with them; and at the four previous years of undergraduate life and wondered how he had done so well with those and why he had not in some manner justified the parting words of his favorite professor.
"You have one rare faculty, Jones. You can, when you choose, sharpen the pencil of your mind to a very fine point. Specialize, my boy, specialize."
If the recipient of this admonition had specialized in anything, it was in life. Having twenty-five thousand a year of his own he might have continued in that path indefinitely, but for two influences. One was an irruptive craving within him to take some part in the dynamic activities of the surrounding world. The other was the "freak" will of his late and little-lamented uncle, from whom he had his present income, and his future expectations of some ten millions. Adrian Van Reypen Egerton had, as Waldemar once put it, "--one into the mayor's chair with a good name and come out with a block of ice stock." In a will whose cynical humor was the topic of its day, Mr. Egerton jeered posthumously at the public which he had despoiled, and promised restitution, of a sort, through his heir.
"Therefore," he had written, "I give and bequeath to the said Adrian Van Reypen Egerton Jones, the residue of my property, the principal to be taken over by him at such time as he shall have completed five years of continuous residence in New York City. After such time the virus of the metropolis will have worked through his entire being. He will squander his unearned and undeserved fortune, thus completing the vicious circle, and returning the millions acquired by my political activities, in a poisoned shower upon the city, for which, having bossed, bullied and looted it, I feel no sentiment other than contempt."
"And now," remarked Waldemar in his heavy, rumbling voice, "you aspire to disappoint that good old man."
"It's only human nature, you know," said Average Jones. "When a man puts a ten-million-dollar curse on you and suggests that you haven't the backbone of a shrimp, you--you--"
"--naturally yearn to prove him a liar," supplied Bertram.
"Exactly. Anyway, I've no taste for dissipation, either moral or financial. I want action; something to do. I'm bored in this infernal city."
"The wail of the unslaked romanticist," commented Bertram.
"Romanticist nothing!" protested the other. "My ambitions are practical enough if I could only get 'em stirred up."
"Exactly. Boredom is simply romanticism with a morning-after thirst. You're panting for romance, for something bizarre. Egypt and St. Petersburg and Buenos Ayres and Samoa have all become commonplace to you. You've overdone them. That's why you're back here in New York waiting with stretched nerves for the Adventure of Life to cat-creep up from behind and toss the lariat of rainbow dreams over your shoulders."
Waldemar laughed. "Not a bad diagnosis. Why don't you take up a hobby, Mr. Jones?"
"What kind of a hobby?"
"Any kind. The club is full of hobby-riders. Of all people that I know, they have the keenest appetite for life. Look at old Denechaud; he was a misanthrope until he took to gathering scarabs. Fenton, over there, has the finest collection of circus posters in the world. Bellerding's house is a museum of obsolete musical instruments. De Gay collects venomous insects from all over the world; no harmless ones need apply. Terriberry has a mania for old railroad tickets. Some are really very curious. I've often wished I had the time to be a crank. It's a happy life."
"What line would you choose?" asked Bertram languidly.
"Nobody has gone in for queer advertisements yet, I believe," replied the older man. "If one could take the time to follow them up---but it would mean all one's leisure."
"Would it be so demanding a career?" said Average Jones, smiling.
"Decidedly. I once knew a man who gave away twenty dollars daily on clues from the day's news. He wasn't bored for lack of occupation."
"But the ordinary run of advertising is nothing more than an effort to sell something by yelling in print," objected Average Jones.
"Is it? Well perhaps you don't look in the right place."
Waldemar reached for the morning's copy of the Universal and ran his eye down the columns of "classified" matter. "Hark to this," he said, and read:
"Is there any work on God's green earth for a man who has just got to have it?"
"WANTED--A venerable looking man with white beard and medical degree. Good pay to right applicant."
"What's that?" asked Average Jones with awakened interest.
"Only a quack medical concern looking for a stall to impress their come-ons," explained Waldemar.
Average Jones leaned over to scan the paper in his turn.
"Here's one," said he, and read:
WANTED--Performer on B-flat trombone. Can use at once. Apply with instrument, after 1 p. m. 300 East 100th Street.
"That seems ordinary enough," said Waldemar.
"What's it doing in a daily paper? There must be--er--technical publications--er--journals, you know, for this sort of demand."
"When Average's words come slow, you've got him interested," commented Bertram. "Sure sign."
"Nevertheless, he's right," said Waldemar. "It is rather misplaced."
"How is this for one that says what it means?" said Bertram.
WANTED--At once, a brass howitzer and a man who isn't afraid to handle it. Mrs. Anne Cullen, Pier 49 1/2 East River.
"The woman who is fighting the barge combine," explained Waldemar. "Not so good as it looks. She's bluffing."
"Anyway, I'd like a shy at this business," declared Average Jones with sudden conviction. "It looks to me like something to do."
"Make it a business, then," advised Waldemar. "If you care really to go in for it, my newspaper would be glad to pay for information such as you might collect. We haven't time, for example, to trace down fraudulent advertisers. If you could start an enterprise of that sort, you'd certainly find it amusing, and, at times, perhaps, even adventurous."
"I wouldn't know how to establish it," objected Average Jones.
The newspaper owner drew a rough diagram on a sheet of paper and filled it in with writing, crossing out and revising liberally. Divided, upon his pattern, into lines, the final draft read:
HAVE YOU BEEN STUNG?
Thousands have. Thousands will be. They're Laying for You.
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