Chapter 13

Eyes on the Universe

 

Yerkes felt a rush when he saw the girl. His gaze followed the curves of her body up to the reddish- brown curls at her neck. His eyes met the malachite striations in her eyes. Such eyes as hers would call forth floods of cliches from the so-called poets of Chicago. What would that sodden poet, Eugene Field, over at the Cliff Dwellers' Club call those eyes? Green limpid pools. . .Except that her eyes were not limpid. Her eyes snapped with barely restrained vitality. He felt a current flowing between them. He recalled that this girl had told him her name that day when he toured her around the World's Fair. . .Emily? No. Emma.

She turned her back to him and walked with the other woman down the hall. Yerkes felt a few mild aftershocks. Their eyes had connected them. He saw recognition in those green eyes of hers. More than recognition. Desire, confusion, perhaps fear. Yerkes had no trouble reading women's eyes. And he always knew when that spark was present which promised much pleasanter things to come. The energy between them made Yerkes picture the miniature lightning which had shot out of Nikola Tesla's coil over in the Westinghouse exhibit in the Electricity Building. God, what a place that Columbian Exposition was! Snapping and crackling—you could feel the charge in the air.He felt that charge now with Emma.

When he felt this elan vital, life force, or whatever, Yerkes moved with the flow. He was powerless against the passion which periodically swept over him. As powerless as those who attempted to resist his financial manipulations. Yes. Resistance was futile. She would be drawn to him, if he wished. He watched her retreat down the hall. Yerkes felt a minor swelling at the sight of her back, swaying down that dank hallway at Hull House, a hallway like that in the Pennsylvania prison where Yerkes had spent his two most unhappy years. But prison or not, she was locked into his magnetic pull now. All he had to do was reel her in.

The other two men with Yerkes were discussing the potential for building a Hull House annex woth a lot of bluster in their voices, so that these Hull House women here should know what important men they truly were. One of them rolled out a long parchment covered with figures and drawings.

Emma could hear the men's voices reverberating down the hall. Words like Health Department inspections for fire safety and zoning variance caught her ears. Emma was still under the influence of Yerkes's dark blue, mellifluous eyes. Like a river, his eyes had flowed into hers. And she could only respond with what she truly felt. She had no way to hide her feelings or to disguise her glances. In this, Emma was a total innocent.

Yerkes waited for Emma to walk back his way on some errand. He took her aside while the other two businessmen promoted the annex idea to Miss Addams.

"It must be very hard work here, among the poor," Yerkes started off with a smile.

Emma nodded slightly, not knowing what was up, but suspecting that she was out of her league. "Well, they are the people I have lived with, since we came here. And, believe me, Mister Yerkes, they work much, much harder than anyone should have to!" Emma sucked in a breath and pulled down the corners of her mouth. She didn't want to get this very wealthy man angry with her. She looked around, ready to slip away on some excuse.

"Hold on, girlie, I was just making some conversation. You seem all agitated. . .about something. Don't misunderstand." Yerkes looked into Emma's eyes and lied gracefully. "I like poor people. After all, my own father was. . .an ice man!" His father was a Quaker banking executive, but no need to put too fine a point on the matter. For now, ice man would do.

Emma seemed to relax a bit and Yerkes dove right in. "Yes, you see, with Fath. . .Dad being an ice man and all, I have learned the value of days off in the country for children. We were stuck in the city every summer and I think that is a crime. No, by George, children need to have field days!" Yerkes swept an arm indicating the broad expanses of gloaming and woodland glade. His eyes sparkled. One could almost see rustic landscapes reflected in their luminous depths. "Ah, don't you agree, Miss. . .Miss. . .?"

"Klimova," said Emma. My name is Emma Klimova.

"I recalled that it was Emma, Miss, but I didn't wish to take liberties. . ." Emma wasn't following. Her mind was fixed upon field days to the countryside. These words were, of course, music to Emma's ears and exactly the sort of thing that Miss Jane was endlessly, tirelessly, preaching. "I'm sorry," she said. "Did you have something in mind?"

Indeed, Yerkes had something in mind. He spoke quickly of the Observatory and how he wanted so much to share with the children here. A couple little girls came squealing down the hall and Yerkes tried not to grimace, but to beam at them in an avuncular fashion. "Yes, those two would certainly benefit from a day's outing to my place at Lake Geneva." Emma nodded furiously. When was he thinking of doing it? she asked. Yerkes suggested that they walk over to Miss Jane and set the date.

Just then Jane Addams's voice rose in pitch. "Am I to understand, sir, that this building is some sort of a bribe?" Owens and Root tried to explain to her that they meant nothing like that, but they really wouldn't back off their terms. Owens stated in a flat tone that a thirty-thousand-dollar building was certainly worth the eviction of a few of the more. . .well. . . unsavory lecturers who had been visiting Hull House.

That did it for Jane Addams. She pointed to the door and told the gentlemen that their interview was over. A sudden sinking feeling at the pit of her stomach made Jane wonder why men like these sought her out for bribes. In all his years in public her father had never even been approached! Was it something lacking in her own character? Something that they sensed and tried to take advantage of? They started out and she turned to see if Yerkes were following. He stood his ground, and shrugged. "Actually, Miss Addams, I was no part of that offer. They just happened along right at the time I arrived."

"I see," Jane said. "Well, what is your business here, Mister Yerkes?"

Emma jumped in before Yerkes could say a thing. Mister Yerkes had made the most wonderful offer for the Hull House children's clubs! she exclaimed. And she told Jane in a rapid, breathless way all about the fabulous Yerkes Observatory and how much fun the trip would be. Miss Jane had only to say the word and a date would be set. . .

Jane Addams raised her glasses on her ribbon and didn't mind a bit whether Yerkes took offense that she looked him up and down. "I must ask you whether you will expect anything in retrun, Mister Yerkes." Yerkes insisted that Jane call him Charles. Jane just stopped using his name at all. No, nothing of the sort was Yerkes's answer. He would not expect any voting power on any project that Hull House was or would be carrying out, on any choice of speakers. . .nothing like that. He was. . .ashamed of Misters Owens and Root for their attempt to gain undue influence, he said, opening his eyes wide.

Jane listened, feeling like Alice in Wonderland. Things kept coming at her and she didn't know what she was to make of them. She had been in Chicago long enough—a couple of years—to know what a barracuda Mister Yerkes was in his business transactions, so his shock at the other two was hardly convincing. Still Jane wanted that trip for the children. It wasn't such a big favor for a man like Yerkes. Perhaps it was just one of those little ways that a man such as Yerkes tried to balance accounts with his conscience. She sighed. She named a date. Yerkes jumped at the plan and requested that Miss Klumpoff, here. . .

"Klimova," said Emma.

". . .That Miss Klimova accompany the children, since she seemed to be so very well-read on astronomy." Emma wondered if Yerkes had taken up mind reading, since she hadn't told him any such thing. Luckily, it was partially true. She had read all that the encyclopedia said about the planets and constellations. She could even find some of those on clear nights. But how did he know?

"Is that right, Emma? You have been reading up on astronomy?"

"Oh, yes," Emma said. Jane seemed satisfied and marked her down as one of the guardians for the children.

Yerkes pulled out his pocket watch and said that he needed to meet with the Board of Managers of the World's Fair. "Have you heard all the fuss about the Sunday closings? Well, I think you will be glad to know that I uphold the sanctity of the Sabbath and. . ."

Jane looked Yerkes in the eye and said, "Of course, I oppose the Sunday closing of the Fair. Sunday is the only day that most of the sweatshop workers have to relax with their families."

"Oh, yes! But that was just the point I was going to make, Yerkes resumed. Although the Sabbath should always be respected, there is nothing in the educational nature of this fair to disturb even the most strait-laced. I, too, am going to come out in favor of Sunday openings." Yerkes tipped his hat to the women and strode out the front door.

Jane looked at Emma for a moment and decided to put three of the most experienced residents on the field trip with her, with certain special instructions. . ."Go see if Alzina is ready to show me the latest maps of the neighborhood, my dear," Jane said. "You'll find her perched in the library. Our publisher needs them this afternoon to run some trial color separations. Remind her!" Emma went running off down the hall.

Jane watched two little girls playing hop-scotch in the courtyard out front and wondered if the children really needed the field trip that badly. She took off her spectacles and polished them on her linen apron. Yes, they needed a field trip that badly. . .whatever Yerkes had in mind.

Emma watched the day tumble down the branches of the cool emerald Wisconsin firs. The dawn started by painting a rusty orange glow to the very tips of the trees and then progressed to bathe one branch and then the next lower branch with a paler, more yellow light. They had packed the children into the special reserved cars on the train before daybreak. Emma looked forward to exploring Lake Geneva and the surrounding woods for some time before lunch.

As they all got off the train, Emma, Alzina, and the other adults shouted a few cautionary words. Yes, you all can look around, but do not go too far into the woods! They're dangerous!

"Are we really in Wisconsin, now?" said one freckled, little five-year-old girl who had never before crossed the Illinois state line. Alzina answered that this was very near the border with Illinois, but really was Wisconsin. Then a little boy asked if there would be bears. Alzina answered that if they stayed close by and didn't go 'way off into the forest, there would be no bears, but if they did, there might be bears! And big ones, at that! Alzina held out her arms indicating the size of the bears. The children's eyes widened.

"Do you think we should frighten them so much?" Emma, who was standing close by, whispered. She was afraid that one of the children would soil its pants.

"Better they are a little afraid now, than later, somewhere they should not be!" Alzina had strong ideas about things. She wasn't at her best with children, and she knew it. To her, children were slightly defective, little adults. Sometimes you had to shout at them a bit, as with a deaf person.

Emma watched the way that Alzina handled the children, making a few mental notes of her own. Suddenly her thoughts were interrupted by a dull ripping noise behind her.

"Zlobis! Zlobis!" she hoarsely whispered to a six-year-old boy who spoke only Czech, and who had just been ripping some of the stuffings from the back of the train seat, from what had initially been a tiny rip in the caned backing. The words meaning something like "you bad, uncivilized brat" slowed the boy down momentarily. Emma rushed over and pushed the straw excelsior back into the woven seat. "What on earth possessed you to do that?" She scowled down at the round little face. "If you want something to do, Albert, you can come and help me to hand out the name tags. . ." Always give the active misbehavers something to do, Emma told herself.

"Miss, why did you call that boy a slow beast?" A voice behind Emma protested. "He an' me are friends. Albert's not slow. . ." Emma turned and tried to explain to little Joey that children must learn to respect the property of others. Albert was not respecting. . ."Anyway, that's good that you and Albert are friends. Try to help him with his English, Joey. I think if Albert could speak to people more he wouldn't be getting into so much mischief! And zlobis just means that he's a bad-behaving boy."

"Oh," said Joey. He went over to sit with Albert, who was looking down wretchedly at his scuffy boots and wiping at one of his eyes.

After the name tags had been put on all the children, they were divided into little groups by Alzina. As they walked up the long gravel path to the observatory, which was made of a butter- colored stone, the building seemed to loom larger than life

Albert pointed up at a gargoyle and yelled, "Vidis! Look!" There in the corner of the masonry was a gargoyle to which the boy was pointing a dirty finger. "To je osklivy drak! It's an ugly dragon!" Like so many children, Albert ran a running bulingual dialog with himself.

Emma corrected Albert from the heights of her architectural wisdom, "To je osklivy gargoyle!" She noticed that the gargoyle held before itself a shield bearing the letter "y". Of course, that stood for Mister Yerkes himself. How like some of the buildings one could see in the old world. Even the gargoyle. Emma was very impressed.

At the high-arched entrance way, they were met by Yerkes's private secretary, Mister Bowers, a tall, thin man with receding blonde hair. Mister Bowers told Alzina that Yerkes himself would join their group shortly, but for now they must just look around the main hall, where various exhibit cases with bits of meteorites and models of the solar system were in place. He went through the displays, explaining just where Mister Yerkes had picked up each object. The large oil painting of Yerkes had just been installed above the stairs and it beamed down silently at them when they went up to crowd around the inside walls of the dome where engineers were busy battening down the last screws and bolts on the marvelous, 40-inch refracting telescope. The children marvelled at the many little steering wheels near the eyepiece of the telescope. This type of telescope, Mister Bowers told the children in an impassioned voice, was going to bring the planets and stars within easy reach! Many of the finest details, which the earth's atmospheric soup had hidden from earlier generations of seekers, would now open up to the Yerkes instrument! Mister Bowers clasped his hands together, fairly licking his chops at the prospect of things to come.

Emma sighed and found her mind wandering often to the man himself who had pulled all these marvels together, rather than the displays which Mister Bowers was describing. Bowers's voice trailed on, describing the natural objects with genuine interest, since he was an amateur astronomer himself. To Emma, however, the voice just faded in and out. She occasionally had to pull a child back by the collar from trying to climb up the staircase in front of the telescope. All those little gears and wheels were driving the children wild. The astronomical equipment and the explanations were all over the children's heads, even though the man did try to "bring it down" for them with little jokes. The midsummer. Wisconsin day was stuffy, hot, and still. Mister Owen's voice was a reedy monotone, like the whine of a colossal mosquito. No breath of air stirred in the main hall. In order to distract herself from the stuffy air, Emma followed the lines of the room with her eyes, noting the many stylish touches in the tilework. All the little extra flutings, hatchings, and ric-rac. Tile like this would have impressed her brother Anton. She marveled at the sensitive treatment of this interior, which was not unlike the vestry of the Tyn Cathedral or Chartres in France.

Emma's eyes dropped to the level of the long passage and she saw Yerkes. He was standing far down the hall, giving a last bit of advice to one of the engineers who was installing the telescope. He was leaning back against the wall, arms crossed, one foot stuck out. Emma turned her head away quickly, before he looked in her direction. Mister Bowers heard his boss's voice and exclaimed to the children that here was Mister Yerkes himself, come to tell them a few things about the stars!

While not the smoothest storyteller, Yerkes did not do badly. He retold the Greek myth of Orion and the story of the Andromeda, with humorous faces and exaggerated gestures. The children loved it, if only because Yerkes's delivery was an improvement over Mister Bowers'. Also, Yerkes was equipped with some cartoons, made up by the staff artist. They showed a funny paper view of the constellations. Yerkes even did a few sound effects for the animal constellations. This was a new side of the man-shark. Even Mister Bowers's mouth dropped wide open in astonishment. But the surprise was unwarranted. What was every show-down that Yerkes had with his stockholders or business rivals but a challenging job of acting? Now, to impress this girl, he had to act the avuncular storyteller. A few fast glances told Yerkes that he was succeeding.

Yerkes suggested that the children take a break for lunch, which was to be served out on the lawn. He walked over to Emma and asked her to accompany him to the kitchen. The other women assumed that this was just some catering arrangement. Emma looked after Yerkes uncertainly. He half-turned and motioned her to follow. They walked up a flight of marble stairs and Yerkes walked behind a desk and sat down. He told Emma to have a seat. She asked about the kitchen. . .the arrangements. What did he want? Yerkes smiled.

"Is that all you can say?" Said Yerkes, in a rather hurt tone. "I have thought of you, my dear, since we were parted in such sordid surroundings. . .Now I am pleased to find you, once again. You certainly do get around for such a young thing." Yerkes looked Emma up and down and she blushed.

"Please, let us go to the kitchen!" Emma entreated Yerkes, who was in no big rush to uproot himself from his marshmallow- deep, claret colored chair. "I am sorry that I caused you some trouble," he said, beating the fingers of his two hands together and looking earnestly up at Emma from under his long eyelashes. He went on. "I see that you have employment and a place to stay, but—surely—for a girl with your quick wits, that won't be enough challenge for long."

"What do you mean?" Emma asked, involuntarily curious. She was surprised to hear the words come out of her mouth. Her startled look amused Yerkes, who realized that he was a few steps ahead of her and could pretty-well guess her responses.

"I mean that I have just bought the old Inter Ocean. It will do to give my side to the public when people such as Altgeld launch their scurrilous attacks against my character. I need a few more angles, though." Yerkes smiled, "And one of those angles would be to show that I support the new women. I mean to make women's concerns a regular feature. Now, the idea occurs to me that we should have a woman on the spot there in South Chicago, right in Packingtown, to report regularly on the doings at Hull House and the work with the poor. Do you think that you might be up to that challenge, Emma?"

"Me? Work on a newspaper?" Emma stammered.

"You know, my dear, you really must get over that annoying, lower class habit of responding to perfectly ordinary things as though they were—I don't know what—miracles, or something. You have told me of your awards in the English classes, you have a facility with three or four languages," Yerkes held up three fingers, "and now a connection at Hull House, that's all. Think about this offer and let me know by midday tomorrow. By the way, I am prepared to offer you a beginning salary of twenty-five dollars a week."

Emma started to stammer the part about twenty-five dollars, but she bit her lip. He didn't care for her to be too amazed at his offer, so she could keep it to herself. Yerkes asked Emma to come to see him at his office at four the next day, whichever decision she had reached. Emma agreed.

Nothing more could be accomplished on this meeting, Yerkes decided, so he lead her to the kitchen and allowed Emma to oversee the distribution of the lunches to the children. In the back of her mind, as Emma dished up scoops of potato salad and green beans, she knew that there was something just beyond her attention, something which stood at the corner of her mind. Yerkes's voice and all the friendship that he seemed to offer her had a strange fog shrouded around it like the mists which rose at the corners of the White City that night she had been together with Yerkes. Those mists had taken a bite out the solid foundations of the buildings and held them aloft, a floating, cloud city.

There in the observatory office, Yerkes told Emma that he looked forward to their meeting the next day. Emma wasn't sure whether she looked forward to it or not. That night she dreamed endlessly of fog and saw herself running along a beach, where waves boomed and rolled. Two eyes seemed to follow her every move. She felt them, rather than saw them, in that dream, yet she knew whose eyes they were.

The next afternoon she had, after a series of indecisions, made up her mind. She set off to see Yerkes at the appointed hour at his Michigan Avenue office.


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