No. 18

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The Bishop, in conclave with the elders, decreed architecture for No. 18, in the belief that neither stammering nor left-handedness would impede a boy who was to spend his days over a drawing board. He had chosen literature for No. 17, who stammered too, and whose eyes were weak; neither an architect nor a poet needs the same vision or fluency as a coal and iron man. Through the rest of their long lives, these youngest two, No. 17 and No. 18, were to remain closer comrades than any other pair in the Bishop’s brood.

From Lehigh, No. 18 went to Massachusetts Tech, and No. 17 to the Harvard Graduate School. They roomed together on Mt. Vernon Street in Boston. Their landlady seated the two stammerers apart, to spare them the titters of the table d’hôte. One day she led a new boarder over to their corner. The brothers scrambled to their feet, and stammered their how-do-you do’s. The newcomer held up three fingers, said simply, “th-th-three,” and sat down beside them.

When No. 18 was graduated from architectural school, a classmate proposed a partnership in New York. But No. 18 told him, “I’d rather be a big frog in a small puddle than a small frog in a big one.”

“Well,” said his friend, “why not be a big frog in a big puddle, as I shall be?”

And he was; but No. 18 chose to stay in his birthplace. He started as a draughtsman for three dollars a week, at an office in Providence, eighteen miles away. He commuted by electric train, and continued the same routine for fifty years, until automobiles put the trains out of business. By the time he was twenty-nine he had saved enough to be married. He fell in love with the prettiest girl in town. The girls wore corsets then; he used to boast that he could—and often did—encircle her waist with his two hands. She was the only child of the Episcopal minister. Since her mother had died when she was only six, she depended on her widowed father, and he on her. She was a popular girl at clambakes and Germans—so popular that her father feared he would lose her and be left alone in the rectory. He was glad when she chose the young architect; and the Bishop, who was twice a widower himself, was glad too.

They were married in 1897 by her father in his own church, when she was twenty-one. No. 17, the favorite brother, was best man. The groom fainted at the rail, somehow without the knowledge of anyone but No. 17. When the Rector put the question, “Wilt thou have this Woman to thy wedded wife …” and when the answer came back, “I w-w-will,” he never noticed that it was the best man, not the groom, who had answered—or if he did, he never let on.

Married life began in the rectory. When the first child was born, the young father was so fretful at the childbed that the mother shooed him away. When the second child came, he lolled at the window with pipe and novel. “Brute!” his wife gasped, “what are you reading?”

“The Iron Woman,” said No. 18, “by Margaret Deland.”

Neither his left-handedness nor his stammering did impede his work or his happiness. Once he fell down the empty hoistway of an elevator, breaking his left wrist.

“Damned fool that I am,” he scolded himself. “I just didn’t look.”

But he learned to draw with his right hand, and was ambidextrous thereafter. At the age of eighty-seven he drew, at 1/16″ to the foot, a sheet of the ancient buildings in his beloved home town. It was a present for her 275th birthday, and it would honor a draughtsman of any age. He loved his trade.

His humor! Once he was visited by a client who proved to be stone deaf. When he had left, one of his draughtsmen asked him how the interview had gone.

“W-w-well,” he stammered, “a team can get along with a no-good catcher or a no-good pitcher. Not with both. Now he can’t catch and I can’t pitch. But we got the job anyway.”

When he sang, he ceased to stammer—whether it was Mandalay at the piano, or the Offertory with the choir, or just a hymn with his morning shower. There, his favorite was:

New every morning is the love /Our wakening and uprising prove; /Through sleep and darkness safely brought, /Restored to life, and power, and thought.

In the bathroom was a framed certificate that the Bishop “Having Contributed to the Pennsylvania Training School for Feeble-Minded Children the Amount Required by Law,” was a “Member of said Corporation for Life.” The family used to ask No. 18 whether the certificate meant an amount of money or an amount of feeble minded children; he would laugh and say that he wasn’t sure himself.

Again, a client was describing to him a color she wanted: “gray and pink, but not really either, because it must have light in it.”

“I know exactly,” he told her. “The color of the inside of an elephant’s ear by moonlight.”

There was a builder in town whose initials were C. I. The trade always nicknamed him Cast Iron. His son’s initials were E. H. “ They ,” said No. 18, “stand for Even Harder.”