(Continuing the narrative which began here.)
Chapter 3: In Which a Little More of Dr. Boli’s Town House Reveals Itself.
INSTEAD OF TURNING back toward the right, we turned left at the main hall, which went on for some distance before coming to an end at a perpendicular hallway. Here we turned right, and suddenly we were in what appeared to be a late-Victorian shopping arcade. On both sides of the hall, tidy storefronts bore neatly lettered signs: “Geo. Bruce, Typefounder”; “Wm. Bartram, Travel Agent”; “J. Reynolds, Portraits & Still Lives”; “Parson Brown’s Tropical Fruits”; “Heyser Pianos & Reed Organs.”
“Dr. Boli believers in maintaining a close relationship with his tradesmen,” the bowler man explained. “As the maintenance of this house requires a considerable staff, Dr. Boli has found it more convenient to induce his favorite tradesmen and artisans to remove their establishments to his house, where the large staff alone provides them with considerable patronage, and Dr. Boli’s own orders have made a number of them comparatively wealthy.”
The hall was not quite as busy as one of the city arcades, but there was a lot of traffic in it. Even the type foundry appeared to have two or three customers. We walked past a number of shops until we came to one marked “B. Brummel, Tailor.” We went in the door and were greeted by the most ostentatiously obsequious man I’ve ever met.
“Good afternoon, sir,” he said to me, “and a particularly good afternoon to you, sir” to the bowler man. “How may we be of assistance?”
I looked around, but there was only the one of him.
“Mr. Higgins is the new undersecretary,” the bowler man said, indicating me with an elegant wave of his hand. “He requires a wardrobe commensurate with his position.”
“Oh, indubitably, sir. And may we say, sir” (he turned to me) “how honored we are to be of service to a new member of the A. C.”
“Thank you,” I said distractedly. I was still looking for another person to account for the “we.”
“Now, what” (he turned back to the bowler man, and began to talk about me as if I were a piece of furniture) “would Mr. Higgins require of us?”
The bowler man gave him a list of specifications that meant nothing to me; but they must have been clear enough to the first-person-plural man, who kept nodding and saying “We understand perfectly, sir.” In an hour or two I was dressed in a dark suit with a matching bowler and umbrella.
“Oh, yes, sir,” the first-person-plural man said, addressing me for the first time since he’d begun dressing me. “A remarkable improvement, if we may say so. You look every inch the perfect gentleman’s gentleman’s gentleman.”
“Not quite every inch,” the bowler man replied. “There is still the question of Mr. Higgins’ shoes to be addressed.”
“True, sir. We had not mentioned the shoes, sir, because that—alas!—is beyond the reach of our influence. We can, however, recommend Mr. Romanov just down the way. Mr. Romanov, sir, is reliable. ‘Reliable’ is precisely the word that always springs to mind when we think of Mr. Romanov.”
A visit to Nikolai Davidovich Romanov, The Finest Shoes in the Entire Boli Mansion, ended with a pair of shoes on my feet that Prince Edward might have envied. They were exactly the same as the shoes the bowler man was wearing. I had become a bowler man myself.
“And now,” said the original bowler man, “one thing more is requisite, I believe. You must learn to make the proper use of your newly acquired appearance. The finishing touch, as it were, is deportment.”
A few doors down from Mr. Romanov’s shop was a shop whose elaborately scribbled sign read “M. Broadwood, Specialist in Deportment Education.”
“Deportment,” Mr. Broadwood told me, “is, as it were, the finishing touch.” He spoke in perfectly formed syllables, and I had the feeling you couldn’t get the man drunk enough to slur a single consonant. “We cannot learn it in a day, or in a year. A lifetime is not sufficient. We can only approach closer to the ideal, which is ever out of our reach. However, if you will give me an hour of your time, I can assure you that at the end of that hour you will no longer be so easily mistaken for a chimpanzee.”
Well, I told him, that was reassuring.
He began by showing me how to walk. All these years I thought I knew how to walk, but I was wrong. It was all in the shoulders, as Mr. Broadwood explained to me. True, some attention must be given to the feet, and to laying down the heel with quiet authority, and then rolling smoothly over the ball of the foot until finally the toe leaves the ground and the foot is brought forward for the next step. But it is the shoulders that carry the head, and it is the head that is always the focus of attention. It must not bob up and down like a cork in a typhoon, Mr. Broadwood said. It must be carried straight and level, so that if one could see only the head, one would assume that the rest of the body was on wheels rather than on legs. I practiced walking with my shoulders in the approved positions until Mr. Broadwood pronounced himself satisfied.
Then we moved on to hats. I learned when one may wear a hat, when one may not, when one raises the hat, when one touches the brim, how one holds the hat when one is not wearing it, and how to judge whether the hat was on the head at precisely the correct angle.
After hats, umbrellas; and there was certainly as much to learn about them as there was about hats. One held the umbrella, not by the handle, but just above the midpoint; one must be careful that the umbrella swings in a narrow arc as one is walking, so that one does not impale passing pedestrians; one must keep the point in front, never behind, where it might get itself into trouble.
After an hour in the care of Mr. Broadwood, I might not have been a real bowler man, but I had to admit that I felt much more comfortable in the suit.
“And now,” said the bowler man, “I believe you are ready to be introduced to the Club. Dr. Boli has kindly allowed us the use of his Ausitn, if you will follow me to the garage.”
Dr. Boli’s garage must have covered about an acre; it was filled with automobiles from every era, and a few carriages as well. Every vehicle looked new, although some of them, like the Stanley, must have been a hundred years old. We passed one luxurious car after another, until we finally came to the Austin.
It wasn’t quite what I had expected. In most respects it looked like a typical car from the early 1930s, except that the scale was all wrong. It was about half the size of an ordinary car.
“This is it?” I asked with a contemptuous wave of my umbrella.
“The Austin Bantam,” the bowler man said, “is one of Dr. Boli’s favorite automobiles. It appeals to his regard for efficiency. Dr. Boli prefers to use as little fuel as possible, except on formal occasions.”
So we crawled into the little car, with the bowler man driving. I’d like to be able to tell you that it was surprisingly roomy inside, but it wasn’t. It was just as tiny inside as it was outside.
We drove through Shaler, Sharpsburg, Sheraden, Squirrel Hill, and Stowe, in alphabetical order, until we finally came to a neighborhood I didn’t remember ever having seen before. We were on a street lined with fine buildings, and many of them bore brass plaques identifying them as clubs or associations. We passed the Lempriere Society, the Blythe Fellows’ Convivial Association, the Circle of Fifths, the Merry Steamfitters, the Grave & Sober Steamfitters, the Young Women’s Cartesian Athletic Association, and the Opium Eaters’ Temperance Union before we finally came to the Amanuenses’ Club, which was neither the grandest nor the most modest of the lot, but somewhere tastefully in the middle.
Proceed to Chapter 4.