Paradise Garden: The Satirical Narrative of a Great Experiment
George Gibbs

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Paradise Garden: The Satirical Narrative of a Great Experiment
George Gibbs

George Gibbs

Paradise Garden: The Satirical Narrative of a Great Experiment

I have considered well his loss of time
And how he cannot be a perfect man
Not being tried and tutored in the world.


"'Love!' he sneered … 'I thought you'd say that.'" (#x2_x_2_i267)



It might be better if Jerry Benham wrote his own memoir, for no matter how veracious, this history must be more or less colored by the point of view of one irrevocably committed to an ideal, a point of view which Jerry at least would insist was warped by scholarship and stodgy by habit. But Jerry, of course, would not write it and couldn't if he would, for no man, unless lacking in sensibility, can write a true autobiography, and least of all could Jerry do it. To commit him to such a task would be much like asking an artist to paint himself into his own landscape. Jerry could have painted nothing but impressions of externals, leaving out perforce the portrait of himself which is the only thing that matters. So I, Roger Canby, bookworm, pedagogue and student of philosophy, now recite the history of the Great Experiment and what came of it.

It is said that Solomon and Job have best spoken of the misery of man, the former the most fortunate, the latter the most unfortunate of creatures. And yet it seems strange to me that John Benham, the millionaire, Jerry's father, cynic and misogynist, and Roger Canby, bookworm and pauper, should each have arrived, through different mental processes, at the same ideal and philosophy of life. We both disliked women, not only disliked but feared and distrusted them, seeing in the changed social order a menace to the peace of the State and the home. The difference between us was merely one of condition; for while I kept my philosophy secret, being by nature reticent and unassertive, John Benham had both the means and the courage to put his idealism into practice.

Life seldom makes rapid adjustments to provide for its mistakes, and surely only the happiest kind of accident could have thrown me into the breach when old John Benham died, for I take little credit to myself in saying that there are few persons who could have fitted so admirably into a difficult situation.

Curiously enough this happy accident had come from the most unexpected source. I had tried and failed at many things since leaving the University. I had corrected proofs in a publishing office, I had prepared backward youths for their exams, and after attempting life in a broker's office downtown, for which I was as little fitted as I should have been for the conquest of the Polar regions, I found myself one fine morning down to my last few dollars, walking the streets with an imminent prospect of speedy starvation. The fact of death, as an alternative to the apparently actual, did not disconcert me. I shouldn't have minded dying in the least, were it not for the fact that I had hoped before that event to have expounded for modern consumption certain theories of mine upon the dialectics of Hegel. As my money dwindled I was reduced to quite necessary economies, and while not what may be called a heavy eater, I am willing to admit that there were times when I felt distinctly empty. Curiously enough, my philosophy did little to relieve me of that physical condition, for as someone has said, "Philosophy is a good horse in the stable, but an arrant jade on a journey."

But it seems that the journeying of my jade was near its ending. For upon this morning, fortune threw me into the way of a fellow who had been in my class at the University, who was to be my deus ex machina. No two persons in the world could have been more dissimilar than "Jack" Ballard and I, and yet, perhaps for that reason, there had always been a kind of affinity between us. He was one of the wealthiest men in my class and was now, as he gleefully informed me, busily engaged clipping coupons in his father's office, "with office hours from two to three some Thursdays." Of course, that was his idea of a joke, for it seems quite obvious that a person who gave so little time to his business had better have kept no hours at all. He greeted me warmly and led me into his club, which happened to be near by, where over the lunch table he finally succeeded in eliciting the fact that I was down to my last dollar with prospects far from encouraging.

"Good old Pope!" he cried, clapping me on the back. "Pope" was my pseudonym at the University, conferred in a jocular moment by Ballard himself on account of a fancied resemblance to Urban the Eighth. "Just the man! Wonder why I didn't think of you before!" And while I wondered what he was coming at, "How would, you like to make a neat five thousand a year?"

I laughed him off, not sure that this wasn't a sample of the Ballard humor.

"Anything," I said, trying to smile, "short of murder—"

"Oh, I am not joking!" he went on with an encouraging flash of seriousness. "Five thousand a year cool, and no expenses—livin' on the fat of the land, with nothin' to do but—"

He broke off suddenly and grasped me by the arm.

"Did you ever hear of old John Benham, the multi-millionaire?" he asked. I remarked that my acquaintance with millionaires, until that moment, had not been large.

"Oh, of course," he laughed, "if I had mentioned Xenophon, you'd have pricked up your ears like an old war horse. But John Benham, as a name to conjure with, means nothing to you. You must know then that John Benham was for years the man of mystery of Wall Street. Queer old bird! Friend of the governor's, or at least as much of a friend of the governor's as he ever was of anybody. Made a pot of money in railroads. Millions! Of course, if you've never heard of Benham you've never heard of the Wall."

I hadn't.

"Well, the Benham Wall in Greene County is one of the wonders of the age. It's nine feet high, built of solid masonry and encloses five thousand acres of land."

Figures meant nothing to me and I told him so.

"The strange thing about it is that there's no mystery at all. The old man had no secrets except in business and no past that anybody could care about. But he was a cold-blooded proposition. No man ever had his confidence, no woman ever had his affection except his wife, and when she died all that was human in him was centered on his son, the sole heir to twenty millions. Lucky little beggar. What?"

"I'm not so sure," I put in slowly.

"Now this is where you come in," Ballard went on quickly. "It seems that inside his crusty shell old Benham was an idealist of sorts with queer ideas about the raising of children. His will is a wonder. He directs his executors (the governor's one of six, you know) to bring up his boy inside that stone wall at Horsham Manor, with no knowledge of the world except what can be gotten from an expurgated edition of the classics. He wants him brought to manhood as nearly as can be made, a perfect specimen of the human male animal without one thought of sex. It's a weird experiment, but I don't see why it shouldn't be interesting."

"Interesting!" I muttered, trying to conceal my amazement and delight.

"The executors must proceed at once. The boy is still under the care of a governess. On the twelfth of December he will be ten years of age. The woman is to go and a man takes her place. I think I can put you in. Will you take it?"

"I?" I said, a little bewildered. "What makes you think I'm qualified for such an undertaking?"

"Because you were the best scholar in the class, and because you're a blessed philosopher with leanings toward altruism. A poor helpless little millionaire with no one to lean on must certainly excite your pity. You're just the man for the job, I tell you. And if you said you'd do it, you'd put it over."

"And if I couldn't put it over?" I laughed. "A growing youth isn't a fifteen-pound shot or a football, Ballard."

"You could if you wanted to. Five thousand a year isn't to be sneezed at."

"I assure you that I've never felt less like sneezing in my life, but—"

"Think, man," he urged, "all expenses paid, a fine house, horses, motors, the life of a country gentleman. In short, your own rooms, time to read yourself stodgy if you like, and a fine young cub to build in your own image."

"Mine?" I gasped.

He laughed.

"Good Lord, Pope! You always did hate 'em, you know."

"Hate? Who?"


I felt myself frowning.

"Women! No, I do not love women and I have some reasons for believing that women do not love me. I have never had any money and my particular kind of pulchritude doesn't appeal to them. Hence their indifference. Hence mine. Like begets like, Jack."

He laughed.

"I have reasons for believing the antipathy is deeper than that."

I shrugged the matter off. It is one which I find little pleasure in discussing.

"You may draw whatever inference you please," I finished dryly.

He lighted a cigarette and inhaled it jubilantly.

"Don't you see," he said, "that it all goes to show that you're precisely the man the governor's looking for? What do you say?"

I hesitated, though every dictate of inclination urged. Here was an opportunity to put to the test a most important theory of the old Socratic doctrine, that true knowledge is to be elicited from within and is to be sought for in ideas and not in particulars of sense. What a chance! A growing youth in seclusion. Such a magnificent seclusion! Where I could try him in my own alembic! Still I hesitated. The imminence of such good fortune made me doubt my own efficiency.

"Suppose I was the wrong man," I quibbled for want of something better to say.
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