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Title: On the Stairs
Author: Fuller, Henry B.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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ON THE STAIRS

by
Henry B. Fuller

Author of _Lines Long and Short_

BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY

The Riverside Press Cambridge

1918

------------------------------------------------------------------------

COPYRIGHT, 1918, BY HENRY B. FULLER

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

_Published March 1918_

------------------------------------------------------------------------

AUTHOR'S NOTE

This volume may seem less a Novel than a Sketch of a Novel or a Study
for a Novel. It might easily be amplified; but, like other recent work
of mine, it was written in the conviction that story-telling, whatever
form it take, can be done within limits narrower than those now
generally employed.

------------------------------------------------------------------------



ON THE STAIRS

PART I

I


In the year 1873--

No, do not turn away from such an opening; I shall reach our own day
within a paragraph or so.

In the year 1873, then, Johnny McComas was perfectly willing to stand to
one side while Raymond Prince, surrounded by several of the fellows,
came down, in his own negligent and self-assured way, the main stairway
of Grant's Private Academy. For Johnny was newer there; Johnny was
younger in this world by a year or two, at an age when a year or two
makes a difference; and Johnny had but lately left behind what might be
described as a condition of servitude. So Johnny yielded the right of
way. He lowered his little snub nose by a few degrees, took some of the
gay smile out of his twinkling blue eyes, and waited with an upward
glance of friendly yet deferential sobriety until Raymond should have
passed.

"How are you, Johnny?" asked Raymond carelessly.

"I'm pretty well," replied Johnny, in all modesty.

In the year 1916--

Yes, I told you we should reach our own times presently.

In the year 1916, then, Raymond Prince was standing to one side, whether
willing or not, while John W. McComas, attended by several men who would
make their cares his own, came down the big marble stairway of the
Mid-Continent National Bank. Raymond, who had his cares too, would
gladly have been included in the company (or, rather, have replaced it
altogether); but he saw clearly that the time was not propitious.
McComas looked out through this swarm of lesser people, half-saw Prince
as in a mist, and gave him unsmilingly an abstracted half-bow.

"How do you do?" he mumbled impersonally.

"I'm pretty well," returned Prince, in a toneless voice. But he was far
from that, whether in mind or estate.

Between these two dates and these two incidents lies most of my story.
Be quite sure that I shall tell it in my own fashion.


II

First, however, this: I do not intend to magnify the Academy and its
stairway. The Academy did very well in its day, and it happened to be
within easy distance of James Prince's residence. If its big green doors
were flanked on one side by a grocery and on the other by a laundry, and
if its stairway was worn untidily by other feet than those of Dr.
Grant's boys, I shall simply point out that this was all in the day of
small things and that Fastidiousness was still upon her way. Should this
not satisfy you, I will state that, in the year following, the Academy
moved into other quarters: it lodged itself in a near-by private
residence whose owner, in real estate, sensed down-heeled Decadence
stealing that way a few years before any of his neighbors felt it, and
who made his shifts accordingly. If even this does not satisfy you, I
might sketch the entrance and stairway, somewhere in Massachusetts,
which are to know the footfalls of Lawrence D. McComas, aged ten,
grandson of Johnny; but such a step would perhaps take us too far afield
as well as slightly into the future. One does not pass a lad through
_that_ gateway on the spur of the moment.

Nor ought I to magnify, on the other hand, the marble stairway of the
Mid-Continent. This was not one of the town's greater banks; and the
stairway was at the disposal not only of the bank's clientèle, but at
that of sixteen tiers of tenants. However, it represented some advanced
architect's ideal of grandeur, and it served to make the bank's
president seem haughty when in truth he was only preoccupied.

As you may now surmise, this story, even at its highest, will not throw
millions on the habituated and indifferent air; nor, at its most
distended, will it push the pride of life too far. That has been done
already in sufficing measure by many others. Let us ride here an even
keel and keep well within rule and reason.

I am simply to tell you how, as the years moved on, John McComas climbed
the stairs of life from the bottom to the top--or so, at least, he was
commonly considered to have done; and how, through the same years,
Raymond Prince passed slowly and reluctantly along the same stairs from
top to bottom--or so his critics usually regarded his course. Nor
without some color of justice, I presume that they will pass each other
somewhere near the middle of my volume.


III

In 1873 James Prince was living in a small, choice residential district
near the Lake. Its choiceness was great, but was not duly guarded. The
very smallness of the neighborhood--a triumphant record of early
fortunes--put it upon a precarious basis: there was all too slight a
margin against encroachments. And, besides, the discovery came to be
made, some years later, that it was upon the wrong side of the river
altogether. But it held up well in 1873; and it continued to do so
through the eighties. Perhaps it was not until the middle or later
nineties that the real exodus began. Some of the early magnates had
died; some had evaporated financially; others had come to perceive,
either for themselves or through their children, that the road to social
consideration now ran another way. In due course a congeries of bulky
and grandiose edifices, built lavishly in the best taste of their own
day, remained to stare vacantly at the infrequent passer-by, or to
tremble before the imminent prospect of sinking to unworthy uses: odd,
old-time megatheriums stranded ineptly in their mortgage-mud. But
through the seventies the neighborhood held up its head and people came
from far to see it.

James Prince lived in one of these houses; and, around the corner, old
Jehiel Prince lingered on in another.

James was, of course, Raymond's father. Jehiel was his grandfather.
Raymond, when we take him up, was at the age of thirteen. And Johnny
McComas, if you care to know, was close on twelve.

Jehiel Prince was of remote New England origin, and had come West by way
of York State. He had been born somewhere between Utica and Rochester.
He put up his house on no basis of domestic sociability; it was designed
as a sort of monument to his personal success. He had not left the East
to be a failure, or to remain inconspicuous. His contractor--or his
architect, if one had been employed--had imagined a heavy, square affair
of dull-red brick, with brown-stone trimmings in heavy courses. Items: a
high basement, an undecorated mansard in slate; a big, clumsy pair of
doors, set in the middle of all, at the top of a heavily balustraded
flight of brown-stone steps; one vast window on the right of the doors
to light the "parlor," and another like it, on the left, to light the
"library": a façade reared before any allegiance to "periods," and in a
style best denominated local or indigenous. Jehiel was called a
capitalist and had a supplementary office in the high front basement;
and here he was fretting by himself, off and on, in 1873; and here he
continued to fret by himself, off and on, until 1880, when he fretted
himself from earth. He was an unhappy man, with no essential mastery of
life. His wife existed somewhere upstairs. They seldom spoke--indeed
seldom met--unless papers to shift the units of a perplexed estate were
up for consideration. Sometimes her relatives stole into the house to
see her and hoped, with fearfulness, not to meet her husband in some
passageway. He himself had plenty of relatives, by blood as well as by
marriage; too many of these were rascals, and they kept him busy. The
town, in the seventies, was at the adventurous, formative stage; almost
everybody was leaving the gravel walks of Probity to take a short cut
across the fair lawns of Success, and the social landscape was a good
deal cut up and disfigured.

"Poor relations!"--such was Jehiel's brief, scornful rating of the less
capable among these supernumeraries. A poor relation represented, to
him, the lowest form of animal life.

And when the chicane and intrigue of the more clever among them roused
his indignation he would exclaim: "They're putting me through the
smut-machine!"--an ignominious, exasperating treatment which he refused
to undergo without loud protests. These protests often reduced his wife
to trembling and to tears. At such times she might hide an elder
sister--one on the pursuit of some slight dole--in a small back bedroom,
far from sight and hearing.

An ugly house, inhabited by unhappy people. Perhaps I should brighten
things by bringing forward, just here, Elsie, Jehiel's beautiful
granddaughter. But he had no granddaughter. We must let Elsie pass.

Yet a fresh young shoot budding from a gnarled old trunk would afford a
piquant contrast--has done so hundreds of times. Jehiel Prince
undoubtedly _was_ gnarled and old and tough; a charming granddaughter to
cajole or wheedle him in the library, or to relax his indignant tension
over young men during their summer attendance on swing or hammock, would
have her uses. Yet a swing or a hammock would suggest, rather than the
bleak stateliness of Jehiel's urban environment, some fair, remote
domain with lawns and gardens; and Jehiel was far from possessing--or
from wanting to possess--a country-house. Elsie may be revived, if
necessary; but I can promise nothing. I rather think you have heard the
last of her.

James lived a few hundred yards from his father; his house bulked to
much the same effect. It was another symmetrical, indigenous box--in
stone, however, and not in brick. It had its mortgage. If this mortgage
was ever paid up, another came later--a mortgage which passed through
various renewals and which, as values were falling, was always renewed
for a lesser amount and was always demanding ready money to meet the
difference. In later years Raymond, with this formidable weight still
pressing upon him, received finally an offer of relief and liberation;
some prosperous upstart, with plans of his own, said he would chance the
property, mortgage and all, if paid a substantial bonus for doing so.

The premises included a stable. I mention the stable on account of
Johnny McComas. He lived in it. Downstairs, the landau and the two
horses, and another horse, and a buggy and phaeton, and sometimes a cow;
upstairs, Johnny and his father and mother. Johnny could look out
through a crumpled dimity curtain across the back yard and could see his
father freezing ice-cream on a Sunday forenoon on the back kitchen
porch; and he could also look into one of Raymond's windows on the floor
above.

Every so often he would beg:--

"Oh, father, let me do it,--please!"

Then he would lose the double prospect and get, instead, a plate of
vanilla with a tin spoon in it.

Raymond, who had no mastering passion for games, sat a good deal in his
room, sometimes at one of the side windows; occasionally at the back
one, in which case Johnny was quite welcome to look. Raymond had more
desks than one, and books everywhere on the walls between them. He had a
strong bent toward study, and was even beginning to dip into literary
composition. He studied when he might better have been at play, and he
kept up his diary under a student lamp into all hours of the night. He
had been reading lately about Paris, and he was piecing out the
elementary instruction of the Academy by getting together a collection
of French grammars and dictionaries. He had about decided that sometime
he would go to live on that island in the Seine near Notre Dame.

His father told him he was working too hard and too late--that it would
hurt his health and probably injure his eyes. His mother made no comment
and gave no advice. She was an invalid and thus had absorbing interests
of her own. Raymond kept on reading and writing.

Perhaps I should begin to sketch, just about here, his awakening regard
for some Gertrude or Adele, and his young rivalry with Johnny McComas
for her favor; telling how Johnny won over Raymond the privilege of
carrying her books to school, and how, in the end, he won Gertrude or
Adele herself from Raymond, and married her. Fiddlesticks! Please put
all such conventional procedures out of your head, and take what I am
prepared to give you. The school was a boys' school. There was no
Gertrude or Adele--as yet--any more than there was an Elsie. Raymond
kept to his books and indulged in no juvenile philanderings. Forget all
such foolish stereotypings of fancy.

As for the romance and the rivalry: when that came, it came with a vast
difference.


IV

Jehiel Prince was a capitalist. So was James: a capitalist, and the son
of a capitalist. They had some interests in common, and others apart.
There was a bank, and there were several large downtown business-blocks
whose tenants required a lot of bookkeeping, and there was a horse-car
line. There was a bus-line, too, between the railroad depots and the
hotels. James destined Raymond for the bank. He would hardly go to
college, but at seventeen or so would begin on the collection-register
or some such matter; later he might come to be a receiving-teller;
pretty soon he might rise to an apprehension of banking as a science
and have a line as an official in the _Bankers' Gazette_. Beyond that he
might go as far as he was able. James thought that, thus favored in
early years, the boy might go far.

But Raymond had just taken on Rome, and was finding it even more
interesting than Paris. The Academy's professor of ancient history began
to regard him as a prodigy. Then, somehow or other, Raymond got hold of
Gregorovius, with his "City of Rome in the Middle Ages"--though his
teacher did not know of this, and would have been sure to consider it an
undesirable deviation from the straight and necessary path; and
thenceforth the dozens of ordinary boys about him counted, I feel sure,
for less than ever.

Do you know what I'm going to do? I'm going to put myself into the story
as one of the characters. Then the many I's will no longer refer to the
author named on the title-page, but will represent the direct
participation--direct, even though inconspicuous--of a person whose
name, status, and general nature will be made manifest, incidentally
and gradually, as we proceed. You object that though one's status and
general nature may be revealed "gradually," such can scarcely be the
case as regards one's name? But if I tell you that my Christian name is,
let us say, Oliver, and then intimate in some succeeding section that my
surname is Ormsby, and then do not disclose my middle initial--which may
be W--until the middle of the book (in some documentary connection,
perhaps), shall I not be doing the thing "gradually"?

Oliver W. Ormsby. H'm! I'm not so sure that I like it. Well, my name may
turn out, after all, to be something quite different. And possibly I may
be found to be without any middle initial whatever.

But to return to the method itself. You will find it pursued in many
good novels and in many bad ones; with admirable discretion--to make an
instance--in "The Way of All Flesh"; and the procedure may be humbly
copied here. It will involve, of course, a rather close attendance on
both Raymond and Johnny through a long term of years; but perhaps the
difficulties involved--or, rather, the awkwardnesses--can be got round
in one way or another.

At the Academy we like Raymond well enough, on the whole--

You see at once how the method applies: I make myself an attendant
there, and I place my age midway between the ages of the other two.

As I say, we liked Raymond well enough, yet did not quite feel that he
coalesced. "Coalesced" was hardly the word we used--such verbal
grandeurs were reserved for our "compositions"; but you know what I
mean. Another point to be made clear without delay is this: that when
Johnny appeared at the Academy, he had lately left behind him the
previous condition of servitude involved in a lodgment above the landau,
the phaeton, and sometimes the cow. His father and mother, as I saw them
and remember them, appeared to be rather nice people. Perhaps they had
lately come from some small country town and had not been able, at
first, to realize themselves and their abilities to the best advantage
in the city. Assuredly his father knew how to drive horses and to care
for them; and he had an intuitive knack for safeguarding his
self-respect. And Johnny's mother was perfectly competent to cook and to
keep house--even above a stable--most neatly. If Johnny's curtain was
rumpled, that was Johnny's own incorrigible fault. The window-sill was a
wide one, and Johnny, I found, used it as a catch-all. He kept there a
few boxes of "bugs," as we called his pinned-down specimens, and an
album of postage-stamps that was always in a state of metamorphosis. He
had some loose stamps too, and sometimes, late in the afternoon or on
Saturdays, we "traded." Johnny's mother was likely to caution us about
her freshly scrubbed floors, and sometimes gave me a cooky on my
leaving. I never heard of Raymond's having been there.

But presently the trading stopped, and the "bugs," however firmly pinned
down, took their flight. Johnny's father and mother "moved"--that was
the brief, unadorned, sufficing formula. It was all accepted as
inevitable; hardly for a boy a little past twelve, like myself, to
question the movements of Olympian elders; nor even, in fact, to feel an
abiding interest in them when I had seen them but three or four times in
all. I never speculated--never asked where they had come from; never
considered the nature of their tenure (not wondering how much Johnny's
father may have been paid for driving the two bays and washing the
parlor and bedroom windows and milking the cow, when there was one, and
not figuring the reduction in wages due to the renting value of the
three or four small rooms they occupied); nor did I much concern myself
as to whither they might have gone. Probably opportunity had opened up a
more promising path. However, the path did not lead far; for Johnny, a
month or two later, made his first appearance at the Academy, on the
opening of the fall term. During the preceding year he had been going to
a public school "across the tracks" and had played with a boisterous
crowd in a big cindered yard.

Therefore, when Raymond, surrounded by half a dozen other boys, took
occasion, on the stairs, to say:--

"How are you, Johnny?"--

And Johnny, with his back to the wall of the landing, replied:--

"I'm pretty well,"--

Johnny may have meant that, despite the novelty and the strangeness of
his situation, he was very well, indeed; feeling, doubtless, that he was
finally where he had a right to be and that his alert face was turned
the proper way.

The boys about Raymond were asking him to take part in a football game.
It was not that Raymond was especially popular; but he could run. In
that simple day football was football--principally a matter of running
and of straightforward kicking; and Raymond could do both better than
any other boy in the school. He could also outjump any of us--when he
would take the trouble to try. In fact, his physical faculties were in
his legs; his arms were nowhere. He was never able to throw either far
or straight. Some of his early attempts at throwing were met with
shouts of ridicule, and he never tried the thing further. If he fell
upon the ill luck of finding a ball in his hands, he would toss it to
somebody else with an air of facetious negligence. To stand, as Johnny
McComas could stand, and throw a ball straight up for seventy-five feet
and then catch it without stirring a foot from the spot where he was
planted, would have been an utter impossibility for him. In fact,
Raymond simply cultivated his obviously natural gifts; he never exerted
himself systematically to make good any of his deficiencies. He was so
as a boy; and he remained so always.

In those early days we had no special playgrounds. We commonly used the
streets. There was little traffic. Pedestrians took their chances on the
sidewalks with leapfrog and the like, and we took ours, in turn, in the
wide roadway with "pom-pom-peel-away" and similar games. Football,
however, would take us to a vacant corner lot, some two streets away.
Some absentee owner in the East was doubtless paying taxes on it with
hopes of finally recouping himself through the unearned increment.
Meanwhile it ran somewhat to rubbish and tin cans, to bare spots from
which adjoining homemakers had removed irregular squares of turf, and to
holes in the dry, brown earth where potatoes had been baked with a
minimum of success and a maximum of wood ashes and acrid smoke. It was
on the way to this frequented tract that Raymond carelessly let fall a
word about Johnny McComas. Perhaps he need not have said that Johnny had
lately been living above his father's stable--but he spoke without
special animus. A few of the boys thought Johnny's intrusion odd, even
cheeky; but most of them, employing the social assimilability of
youth,--especially that of youth in the Middle West,--laid little stress
upon it. Johnny made his place, in due time and on his own merits. Or
shall I say, rather, by his own powers?


V

You are not to suppose that while I was free to visit Johnny in the
stable, I was not free to visit Raymond in the house. Though my people
lived rather modestly on a side street, the interior of the Prince
residence was not unknown to me. On one occasion Raymond took me up to
his room so that I might hear some of his writings. He had been to
Milwaukee or to Indianapolis, and had found himself moved to set down an
account of his three days away from home. He led me through several big
rooms downstairs before we got to his own particular quarters above. The
furnishing of these rooms impressed me at the time; but I know, now,
that they were heavy and clumsy when they were meant to be rich and
massive, and were meretricious when they were meant to be elegant. It
was all of the Second Empire, qualified by an erratic, exaggerated touch
that was natively American. I am afraid I found it rather superb and was
made uncomfortable--was even intimidated by it; all the more so that
Raymond took it completely for granted. One room contained a big
orchestrion with many pipes in tiers, like an organ's. On one occasion I
heard it play the overture to "William Tell," and it managed the
"Storm" very handily. There was a large, three-cornered piano in the
same room--one of the sort I never could feel at home with; and this
instrument, more than the other, I suppose, gave Raymond his futile and
disadvantageous start toward music. Travel; art; anything but the bank.

I have no idea at what time of day he introduced me into the house, but
it was an hour at which the men, as well as the women, were at home. In
one part or another of the hall I met his mother. She was dark and lean;
without being tall, she looked gaunt. She seemed occupied with herself,
as she moved out of one shadow into another, and she gave scant
attention to a casual boy. Raymond was really no more hospitable than
any young and growing organism must be; but perhaps she was thankful
that it was only one boy, instead of three or four.

In another room, somewhere on the first floor, I had a glimpse of his
father. I remember him as a sedate man who did not insist. If he set a
boy right, it was done but verbally; the boy was left to see the
justness of the point and to act on it for himself. I gathered, later,
that James Prince had done little, unaided, for himself; whatever he had
accomplished had been in conjunction with other men--with his father,
particularly; and when his father died, a few years later, he was the
chief heir--and he never added much to what he had received. To him fell
the property--and its worries. The worries, I surmise, were the greater
part of it all. Everything has to be paid for, and James Prince's easily
gained success was paid for, through the ensuing years, with
considerable anxieties and perturbations.

It was his father, I presume, who was with him as I passed the library
door: a bent, gray man, with a square head and a yellow face. A third
man was between them; a tall, dry, cold fellow with iron-gray beard and
no mustache--a face in the old New England tradition. This man was, of
course, their lawyer, and I judge that he gave them little comfort. I
felt him as chill and slow, as enjoying the tying and untying of
legalities with a stiff, clammy hand, and as unlikely to be hurried on
account of any temperament possessed by himself or manifested by his
clients. Fire, in a wide sweep, had overtaken the town a year or two
before--a community owned by the Eastern seaboard and mortgaged to its
eyebrows; and the Princes, as I learned years later, had been building
extensively on borrowed capital just before the fire-doom came. Probably
too great a part of the funds employed came from their own bank.

Raymond, once the second floor was reached, showed me his desks and
bookcases; also a new sort of pen which he had thought to be able to
use, but which he had cast aside. And he offered to read me his account
of the three days in Milwaukee, or wherever.

"If you would like to hear...?" he said, with a sort of bashful
determination.

"Just as you please," I replied, patient then, as ever after, in the
face of the arts.

Nothing much seemed to have happened--nothing that I, at least, should
have taken the trouble to set down; but a good part of his fifteen
pages, as he read them, seemed interesting and even important. I suppose
this came from the way he did it. As early as thirteen he had the
knack; then, and always after, he enjoyed writing for its own sake. I
feel sure that his father did not quite approve this taste. His
grandfather, who had had a lesser education and felt an exaggerated
respect for learning, may have had more patience. He talked for years
about endowing some college, but never did it; when the time finally
came, he was far too deep in his financial worries.

James Prince, as I have noted, occasionally mentioned to Raymond his
conviction that he was wasting his time with all this scribbling, and
that so much work by artificial light was imperiling his eyesight.

"What good is it all going to do you?" I once heard him ask. His tone
was resigned, as if he had put the question several times before. "I
don't think I'd write quite so much, if I were you."

Raymond looked at him in silence. "Not write?" he seemed to say. "You
might as well ask me not to breathe."

"At least do it by daylight," his father suggested, or
counseled,--scarcely urged. "You won't have any eyes at all by the time
you're thirty."

But Raymond liked his double student-lamp with green shades. He liked
the quiet and retirement of late hours. I believe he liked even the
smell and smear of the oil.

His father spoke, as I have reported; but he never took away the pen or
put the light out. The boy seemingly had too strong a "slant": a
misfortune--or, at least, a disadvantage--which a concerned parent must
somehow endure. But he did take a more decided tack later on: he never
said a word about Raymond's going to college, and Raymond, as a fact,
never went. He fed his own intellectual furnace, and fed it in his own
way. He learned an immense number of useless and unrelated things. In
time they came to cumber him. Perhaps college would have been better,
after all.

I never knew Raymond to show any affection for either of his parents;
and he had no brothers and sisters. His father was an essentially kind,
just man, and might have welcomed an occasional little manifestation of
feeling. One day he told Raymond he had no heart. That was as far as
emotion and the expression of emotion could carry him. Raymond's mother
might have been kindly too, if she had not had herself. But a new
doctor, a new remedy, a new draught from a new quarter--and her boy was
instantly nowhere. Raymond's own position seemed to be that life in
families was the ordained thing and was to be accepted. Well, this was
the family ordained for him, and he would put up with it as best he
might. But I kept on developing my own impression of him; and I see now
just what that impression was going to be. Raymond, almost from the
start, felt himself as an independent, detached, isolated individual,
and he must have his little zone of quiet round him. Why in the world he
should ever have married...!

I never knew him to show gratitude for anything given him by his
parents. On the other hand, I never heard him ask them for anything. He
possessed none of the little ingenuities by which boys sometimes secure
a bit of pocket-money. If he wanted anything, he went without it until
it was offered. Frankly, he seldom had to wait long.

Not that what came was always the right thing. He showed me his
fountain-pen--one of the early half-failures--with some disdain. He
always carried a number of things in his pocket, but never the pen. I
myself tried it one day, and it went well enough; I should have been
glad to have it for my own. But steel pens sufficed him; save once, when
I saw him, in a high mood, experimenting fantastically with a quill one.

He cared no more about his clothes than any of the rest of us. He never
laid any real stress on them at any time of life. He developed early a
notion of the sufficiency of interior furnishings; mere external
upholstery never quite secured his interest. I heard his father once or
twice complain of his looking careless and shabby. He waited with
equanimity until his father could take him to the clothier's. He asked
but one thing; that there should be no indulgence in sartorial
novelties at his expense. And I never met a sedater taste in neckties.

Three or four were hanging over the gas-jet, close to the window; they
were all dark blues or grays, and most of them frayed. He expected a new
one about Christmas; no hurry.

From that window, across the back yard, we saw Johnny McComas, in a
bright new red tie, busy at his own window. I waved my hand, and he
waved back. Raymond looked at him, but made no special sign. Johnny was
packing up his specimens and his postage-stamps, preparatory to the
family hegira, though neither of us knew.


VI

Raymond, who might have asked for almost anything, asked for nothing.
Johnny, who was in position to ask for next to nothing, asked for almost
everything. He was constantly teasing his parents, so far as my
observation went; and his teasing was a form of criticism. "You are not
doing the right thing by me"--such might have seemed his plaint. He was
beginning to spread, to reach out: acquisitiveness and assimilativeness
were to be his two watchwords. He hankered after the externalities; he
wanted "things." If it was only a new stamp-album, he wanted it hard,
and he said so. I shall not go so far as to say that he hectored his
parents into sending him to our school. They were probably feeling, on
their own account, that they had come to town for better things than
they had been getting; and likely enough they met his demands halfway.
There was usually a certain element of cheeriness in his nagging; but
the cheeriness was quite secondary to the insistence.

"Oh, come, mother!" or, "Oh, father, now!" was commonly Johnny's opening
formula, employed with a smile, wheedling or protesting, as the occasion
seemed to require.

And, "Oh, well...!" was commonly the opening formula for the
response--meaning, in completed form, "Well, if we must, we must."

However, his parents were probably ready to meet with an open mind the
scorings of their young, sole critic, thinking that his urgency might
advance themselves no less than him. Well, in the autumn Johnny turned
up at the Academy with an equipment that included everything approved
and needed; and he was not long in letting us know that his father was
manager in the supply-yard of a large firm of contractors and builders.
His father had spent his earlier married years, it transpired, about the
grounds of a small-town "depot," and knew a good deal in regard to
lumber and cement.

To most of us fathers were fathers and businesses were
businesses--things to be accepted without comment or criticism. Our own
youthfulness, and the social tone of the day and region, discouraged
either. If I thought anything about it, I must have thought, as I think
still, that it was a manly and satisfying matter to come to grips with
the serviceable actualities of the building trades. Construction, in its
various phases, still seems to me a more useful and more tonic concern
than brokerage, for example, and similar forms of office life.

Johnny soon suggested that I go with him, some Saturday afternoon, to
the "yard." I asked Raymond to join us. Raymond had just come on Gothic
architecture and was studying its historical phases. He was picking up
points about the English cathedrals and was making drawings to
illustrate the development of buttresses and of window tracery. The yard
was only a mile and a half away and the three of us frolicked loosely
along the streets until we got there. Johnny's father was going about
the place in an admirable pair of new blue overalls, and carried a
thick, blunt pencil behind one ear. He showed an independent, breezy
manner that had not been very marked before. He was loud and clear and
authoritative, and kept a dozen or more stout fellows pretty busy. Once
an elderly man in a high silk hat passed through the yard on his way to
its little office. He stopped, and he and Johnny's father had some talk
together. "Yes, sir!" said Johnny's father, with considerable emphasis
and momentum. I enjoyed his "Yes, sir!" It was pleasant to find him so
hearty and so well-mannered. He seemed to have escaped from something
and to be glad of it. The man in the high hat hardly tried to stand up
against him. As he turned away he smiled in a curious fashion; and I
thought I heard him say to himself, as he moved back toward the door of
the shed that had the sign "Office" on it: "I wonder whether I'm going
to run him, or whether he's going to run me?"

Johnny was all eyes for a tall stack of lathing in bundles and for a
pile of sacks filled with hair from cows' hides, which last was to go
into plaster. Raymond looked at these objects of interest--and at
several others--with some degree of abstractedness. The English
cathedrals, as I was told later, had not been plastered. Raymond had
already developed some faculty for entertaining a concept freed from
clogging and qualifying detail; and this faculty grew as he grew. He
liked his ideal _net_; facts, practical facts, never had much charm for
him. I remember his once saying, when about twenty-three, that he should
have liked to be an architect, but that plumbing and speaking-tubes had
turned him away. If he could have drawn façades and stopped there, I
think he might have been quite happy and successful in the profession.

Johnny pulled a lath for each of us out of one of the bundles, and we
used them in our tour of the yard as alpenstocks. We found a glacier in
the shape of a mortar bed and were using the laths to sound its depths,
when Johnny's father appeared from round the corner of a lumber pile. He
clapped his hands with a loud report.

"Here! that won't do!" he said; and none of us thought it remotely
possible to withstand him. "Enough for one morning," he added, and he
waved both arms with a broad scoop to motion us toward the street gate.

"Oh, father, now!" began Johnny (with no smile at all), conscious of his
position as host.

"No more, to-day," said his father. "School six days a week would be
about my idea."

Raymond said nothing, but drew up his mouth to one side and himself led
us toward the street.


VII

I would not seem to stress either the saliency or the significance of
these incidents. I simply put them down, after many years, just as they
return to my memory. Memory is sporadic; memory is capricious; memory is
inconsequent, sometimes forgetting the large thing to record the little.
And memory may again prove itself all these, and more, if I attempt to
rescue from the past a children's party.

It was my young sister who "gave" it, as our expression was; parents in
the background, providing the funds and engineering the mechanism, were
not allowed greatly to count. The party was given for my sister's
visitor, a little girl from some small interior town whose name (whether
child's or town's) I have long since forgotten. Raymond was invited, of
course;--"though he isn't very nice to us," as my sister ruefully
observed; and some prompting toward fair play (as I vaguely termed it to
myself) made me suggest Johnny McComas. He came.

There must have been some twenty-five of us--all that our small house
would hold. There were more games than dances; and the games were
largely "kissing" games: "post-office," "clap-in, clap-out," "drop the
handkerchief," and such-like innocent infantilities. Some of us thought
ourselves too old for this sort of thing, and would willingly have left
it to the younger children; but the eager lady from next door, who was
"helping," insisted that we all take part. This is the place for the
Gertrudes and the Adeles, and they were there in good measure, be-bowed
and be-sashed and fluttering about (or romping about) flushed and happy.
And this would be pre-eminently the place for Elsie, Jehiel's
granddaughter and Raymond's cousin. Elsie would naturally be, in the
general scheme, my childhood sweetheart; later, my fiancée; and
ultimately my wife. Such a relationship would help me, of course, to
keep tab more easily on Raymond during the long course of his life. For
instance, at this very party I see her doing a polka with Johnny
McComas, while Raymond (who had been sent to dancing-school, but had
steadfastly refused to "learn") views Johnny with a mixture of envy and
contempt. A year or two later, I see Elsie seated in the twilight at the
head of her grandfather's grandiose front steps, surrounded by boys of
seventeen or eighteen, while Raymond, sent on some errand to his
grandfather's house, picks his way through the crowd to say to himself,
censoriously, in the vestibule: "Well, if I can't talk any better at
that age than they do...!" Yes, Elsie would undeniably have been an
aid; but she never existed, and we must dispense with her for once and
for all.

Raymond could always make himself difficult, and he usually did so at
parties. To be difficult was to be choice, and to be choice was to be
desirable. Therefore he got more of the kisses than he might have got
otherwise--many more, in fact, than he cared for. But on this occasion a
good part of his talent for making himself difficult was reserved until
refreshment time. Most of the boys and girls had paired instinctively to
make a prompt raid on the dining-room table, with Johnny McComas
unabashedly to the fore; but Raymond lingered behind. My mother
presently found him moping alone in the parlor, where he was looking
with an over-emphatic care at the pictures.

"Why, Raymond dear! Why aren't you out with the others? Don't you want
anything to eat?"

No; Raymond didn't want anything.

"But you do--of course you do. Come."

Then Raymond, thus urged and escorted,--and, above all,
individualized,--allowed himself to be led out to the refreshments; and,
to do him justice, he ate as much and as happily as any one else. Johnny
McComas, with his mouth full, and with Gertrudes and Adeles all around
him, welcomed him with the high sign of jovial _camaraderie_.

Yes, Johnny took his full share of the ice-cream and macaroons; he got
his full quota of letters from the "post-office"; the handkerchief was
dropped behind him every third or fourth time, and he always caught the
attentive little girl who was whisking away--if he wanted to. He even
took a manful part in the dancing.

"What a good schottische!" exclaimed one of the Adeles, as the
industrious lady from next door, after a final bang, withdrew her hands
from the keyboard. "And how well you dance!"

"Gee!" exclaimed Johnny, with his most open-faced smile; "is that what
you call it--a schottische? I never tried it before in my life!"

"Learn by doing"--such might have been the motto of the town in those
early, untutored days. And Johnny McComas emphatically made this motto
his own.



PART II

I


Raymond went into the bank; not in due course, but rather more than a
year later. After seeing some of his more advanced schoolfellows depart
for Eastern colleges, after indulging a year of desultory study at home,
and after passing a summer and autumn among the Wisconsin lakes, he was
formally claimed by Finance. There was no Franciscan ardor to clasp her
close, as others have clasped Poverty and Obedience. He began his
business career, as men have been recommended to begin their matrimonial
career, with a slight aversion. However, his aversion never brought him
any future good.

His year at home, so far as I could make out, was taken up largely with
æsthetics and music. He read the "Seven Lamps of Architecture" and they
lighted him along a road that led far, far from the constructional
practicalities of the yard where we had spent a Saturday forenoon, some
five years before. He had begun to collect books on the brickwork of
Piacenza and Cremona, and these too led him farther along the general
path of æstheticism. During our years at the Academy the town, after an
unprecedentedly thorough sweep by fire, had been rebuilding itself; and
on more than one Saturday forenoon of that period we had tramped
together through the devastated district, rejoicing in the restorative
activities on every hand and honestly admiring the fantasies and
ingenuities of the "architects" of the day. But Raymond had now emerged
from that innocent stage; summoning forth from some interior reservoir
of taste an inspirational code of his own, he condemned these crudities
and aberrations as severely as they probably deserved, and cultivated a
confident belief that somewhere or other he was to find things which
should square better with his likings and should respond more kindly to
his mounting sensibilities.

"Not going to cut us?" I once asked. "Just as we're picking up, too?"

But Raymond looked abstractedly into the distance and undertook no
definite reply. Possibly he had responded to Ruskin; more probably to
some divine young sense of truth and fitness such as forms the natural
endowment, by no means uncommon, of right-minded youth. Or it may be
that he had simply reached the "critical" age, when Idealism calls the
Daily Practicalities to its bar and delivers its harsh, imperious
judgments; when it puts the world, if but for a few brief months, "where
it belongs." His natural tendency toward generalization helped him
here--helped, perhaps, too much. He passed judgment not only on his
parents, whom he had been finding very unsatisfactory, and on most of
his associates (myself, for example, whenever I happened to speak an
appreciative word for his essentially admirable father), but on the
community as such. A filmy visitant from Elsewhere had grazed his
forehead and whispered in his ear that the town allotted to him by
destiny was crude, alike in its deficiencies and in its affirmations,
and that complete satisfaction for him lay altogether in another and
riper quarter.

Perhaps it was some such discontent as this that led him in the
direction of musical composition--or toward attempts at it. He had no
adequate preparation for it, nor, so far as I could perceive, any
justificatory call. He had once taken a few terms on the piano; and he
had on his shelves a few elementary works on harmony; and he had in his
fingertips a certain limited knack for improvisation; and he had once
sketched out, rather haltingly, a few simple songs. Yet, all the same,
another reservoir, one of uncertain depth and capacity, was opening up
for him at an age when opening-up was the continuing and dominating
feature of one's days--a muse was stirring the vibrant air about him;
and I gathered, after two or three certain visits to his house, that he
had embarked on some composition or other of an ambitious and
comprehensive nature: a cantata, possibly, or even some higher flight.
As he had never domesticated musical theory and musical notation in his
brain, most of his composing had to be carried on at the keyboard
itself. The big piano in the big open drawing-room resounded with his
strumming experiments in melody and harmony--sounds intelligible, often
enough, to no ears but his own, and not always agreeable to them. I am
sure he tried his parents' patience cruelly. His reiterated phrases and
harmonizings were audible throughout a good part of the house. They did
nothing toward relieving his mother's headaches, nothing toward raising
his father's hopes that, pretty soon, he would come to grips with the
elements of Loans and Discounts. Even the servants, setting the table,
now and again closed the dining-room door.

"Oh, Raymond, Raymond; _not_ to-day!" his mother would sometimes plead.

I presume that, during this period, the diary was still going on; and no
one with such a gift for writing will stop short at a diary. In fact,
Raymond tried his hand at a few short stories--still another muse was
fluttering about his temples. Most of these stories came back; but a few
of them got printed obscurely in mangled form, and the failure of the
venturesome periodicals sometimes deprived him of the honorarium (as
pay was then pompously called) which would have given the last
convincing touch to his claims on authorship. He spoke of these stories
freely enough to me, but disclaimed all attempts at poetry: short of
that field, I believe, he really did stay his hand.

Well, perhaps too many good fairies--good only to the pitch of
velleity--buzzed and brushed, like muses, or pseudo-muses, about his
brows. All this unsettled him--and sometimes annoyed his daily
associates. But how, without these instinctive young passes at Art,
could the unceasing, glamorous and needful rebirth of the world get
itself accomplished?


II

As for Johnny McComas, he found one year of our Academy enough. It was
the getting in, not the staying in, that provoked his young powers. Our
school, moreover, was explicitly classical in a day when the old
classical ideal still ruled respected everywhere; and Johnny, much as he
liked being with us and of us, could not see the world in terms of
Latin paradigms. He wanted to be "doing something"; he wanted to be "in
business." During the summer following his year at Dr. Grant's I heard
of him as somebody's office-boy somewhere downtown, and then quite lost
sight of him for the five years that succeeded.

It occurred to me that Johnny must be doing just the right thing for
himself; he would make the sort of office-boy that "business men" would
contend for: easy to imagine the manoeuvres, even the feuds, that
would enliven business blocks in the downtown district for the
possession of Johnny's confident smile and dashing, forthright way. I
learned, in due season, that Johnny had cast in his lot with a
real-estate operator, and had been cherished, through periods harried by
competition, as a pearl of price.

The city was emphatically still in the "real-estate" stage. Anybody
arriving without profession or training straightway began to sell lots.
Nothing lay more openly abundant than land; the town had but to
propagate itself automatically over the wide prairies. The wild flowers
waved only to welcome the surveyor's gang; and new home-seekers--in the
jargon of the trade--were ever hurrying to rasp themselves upon the
ragged edges of the outskirts.

One Sunday morning in May, Raymond and I determined on an excursion to
the country--or, at all events, to some of the remoter suburbs. The bank
would not claim his thoughts for twenty-four hours, nor the law-school
mine. We left the train at a promising point and prepared to scuffle
over a half-mile splotched with vervain and yarrow, yet to bloom, toward
a long, thin range of trees that seemed to mark the course of some small
stream. But between us and that possible stream there soon developed
much besides the sprinkling of prairie flowers. We began to notice
rough-ploughed strips of land that seemed to mean streets for some new
subdivision; piles of lumber, here and there, which should serve to
realize the ideals of the "home-seekers"; and presently a gay,
improvised little shack with a disproportionate sign to blazon the
hopes and ambitions of a well-known firm back in town. And in the
doorway of the shack stood Johnny McComas.

He was as ruddy as ever, and his blue eyes were a bit sharper. He was
slightly heavier than either of us, but no taller. He knew us as quickly
as we knew him. For some reason he did not seem particularly glad to see
us. He made the reason clear at once.

"They had me out here last Sunday," he said, looking about his chaotic
domain disparagingly, "and they say they may have to have me out here
next Sunday--somebody's sick or missing. But they won't," he continued
darkly. It was a threat, we felt--a threat that would make some
presumptuous superior cower and conform. "I really belong at our branch
in Dellwood Park, where there _is_ something; not out here, beyond the
last of everything." And he said more to indicate that his energies and
abilities were temporarily going to waste.

But having put himself right in his own eyes and in ours, he began to
give rein to his fundamental good nature. Emerging from the cloud that
was just now darkening his merits and his future, he asked, interestedly
enough, what we ourselves were doing.

I had to confess that I was still a student. Raymond mentioned briefly
and reluctantly the bank. It was nothing to him that he, no less than
Johnny, was now a man on a salary.

"Bank, eh?" said Johnny. "That's good. We're thinking of starting a bank
next year at our Dellwood branch. It's far enough in, and it's far
enough out. Plenty of good little businesses all around there. And I'm
going to make them let me have a hand in managing it."

This warm ray of hope from the immediate future quite illumined Johnny.
He told us genially about the prospects of the venture in the midst of
which he was encamped, and ended by feigning us as a young bridal couple
that had come out to look for a "home."

"There may be one or two along pretty soon, if the day holds fair; so I
might as well keep myself in practice." Then he jocularly let himself
loose on transportation, and part payments down, and street
improvements "in," and healthful country air for young children. He was
very fluent and somewhat cynical, and turned the seamy side of his trade
a little too clearly to view.

He explained how the spring had been exceptionally wet in that
region,--"which, after all, _is_ low," he acknowledged,--and how his
firm, by digging a few trenches in well-considered directions, had
drained all its standing water to adjoining acres still lower, the
property of a prospective rival. Recalling this smart trick made Johnny
think better of the people who would maroon him for a succession of
Sundays, and he became more genially communicative still.

"That gray streak off to the west--if you can see it--is our water
drying up. Better be drying there than here. You can put a solid foot on
every yard of our ground to-day. Come along with me and I'll show you
your cottage--_domus, a, um_. Not quite right? Well, no great matter."

He pointed toward a yellow pile of two-by-fours, siding, and shingles.
"Be sure you make your last payment before you find yourselves warped
out of shape."

We followed. Johnny seemed much more expert and worldly-wise than either
of us. We held our innocent excursion in abeyance and bowed with a
certain embarrassed awe to Johnny's demonstration of his aptitude for
taking the world as it was and to his light-handed, care-free way of
handling so serious a matter, to most men, as the founding of a home. As
we continued our jaunt, I began to feel that I now liked Johnny a little
less than I could have wished.


III

At about this time Raymond and I found ourselves members of a little
circle that expressed itself chiefly through choral music. It was almost
a neighborhood circle, and almost a self-made circle--it gradually
evolved itself, with no special guidance or intention, until, finally,
there it was. I, at that period, may have felt that it would verge on
the presumptuous to pick and choose--to attempt consciously the
fabrication of a social environment--and so I adopted with docility the
one which presented itself. Raymond, on the other hand, may have felt
that even the best which was available was unlikely to be good enough
and have accepted fatalistically anything which could possibly be made
to do.

Just why our little group of a dozen or so should have united on a
musical basis and have expressed itself in a weekly "sing" I might find
it hard to explain. None of us fellows was especially blessed with a
voice; and the various Gertrudes and Adeles that met with us were
assuredly without any marked sanction to vocalize. Possibly the "sing"
was the mere outcome of youthful exuberance and of the tendency of young
and eager molecules to crystallize into what came, later, to be termed a
"bunch."

As for Raymond himself, he never sang at all. "Oh, come, Rayme; join
in!" the other fellows would suggest--and suggest in vain.

"I'm doing _my_ part," he would return, giving the piano-stool a nearer
hitch to the keyboard.

In fact, it was his specific function to preside at the Chickering, the
Weber, the Steinway, according to the facilities offered by the
particular home--for we moved about in rotation. This service, which we
presently came to consider sufficient in itself, dispensed him from
exhibiting his nature in so articulate a thing as actual vocal
utterance. This he was quite opposed to: he would never even try a hymn
in church. But he could accompany; he could improvise; he could
modulate; he could transpose any simple air. The ease and readiness with
which he did all this made less obvious--indeed, almost
imperceptible--his fundamental unwillingness to abandon himself before
others (especially if members of his own circle) to any manifestation
that might be taxed with even a remote emotionalism. And yet, at that
very time, he was laying the foundations of a claim to be that broad and
vague thing called an "artist." Even as early as this, apparently, he
was troubled by two contradictory impulses: he wanted to be an artist
and give himself out; and he wanted to be a gentleman and hold himself
in. An entangling, ruinous paradox.

This comment on Raymond's musical inclinations and musical services may
require a bit of shading: I believe that, after all, he never quite
cared for music unless he had, in all literalness, his "hand" in it. He
never liked to hear any one else play the piano, still less the violin;
concerts of all sorts were likely to bore him; and he never really rose
to an understanding of the more recondite and elaborate musical forms:
to have his fingers on the keyboard--especially when improvising in a
secure inarticulateness--was his great desideratum.

In our little group we ran from seventeen to nineteen; some of us just
finishing high school, others just on the edge of college, others (like
myself) engaged in professional studies, and still others making a début
in business as clerks. We sang mostly the innocent old songs, American
or English, of an earlier day, and sometimes the decorous numbers from
the self-respecting operetta recently established in London. No
contributions from a new and dubious foreign element had yet come to
cheapen our taste, to disturb our nervous systems, or to throw upon the
negro, the Hawaiian, or the Argentine the onus of a crass passion that
one was more desirous of expressing than of acknowledging. No; there was
assuredly no excess of emotional life--whether good or bad--in the body
of music we favored. Perhaps what our little circle really desired was
simply good-fellowship and a high degree of harmonious clamor. Certainly
all our doings, whether on Friday evening, or on the other forenoons,
afternoons, and evenings of the week, were quite devoid of an
embarrassing sex-consciousness. We "trained together," as the expression
went--all the fellows and all the Gertrudes and Adeles--with no sense of
_malaise_, and postponing, or setting aside, in the miraculous American
fashion, all sexual considerations whatsoever.

I hardly know just why I should have thought that Johnny McComas could
be introduced successfully into this circle. Johnny, as he had told us
in his suburb, had cut loose from his parents. He was now living on his
own, in a neighborhood not far from ours--from his, as it had once been.
One evening I ventured to bring him round. He developed an obstreperous
baritone--it was the same voice, now more specifically in action, that I
had first heard on the devastated prairie; and he made himself rather
preponderant, whether he happened to know the song or not.

"Why, you're quite an addition!" commented one of the girls, in
surprise--almost in consternation.

"He is, indeed,--if he doesn't drown us all out!" muttered one of the
fellows, behind his back.

Yes, Johnny was vociferous--so long as the singing went on. But he
developed, besides an obstreperous voice, an obstreperous interest in
one of our Adeles--a piercing soprano who was our mainstay; and he
showed some tendency to defeat the occasion by segregating her in a bay
window. Segregation was the last of our aims, and Johnny did not quite
please. Furthermore, Johnny seemed to feel himself among a lot of boys
who were yet to make their "start," overlooking the fact that Raymond
was in the bank, and ignorant of the further fact that one of our
fellows was just beginning to be a salesman in a bond house. Johnny
became violently communicative about the attractions of Dellwood Park
and seemed to want to figure demonstratively in the eyes of Gertrude and
Adele as an up-and-coming paladin of the business world. To most of us
he seemed too self-assertive, too self-assured. He knew too clearly what
he wanted, and showed it too clearly. Indeed it became apparent to me
that while a boy of twelve may be accepted easily (at least in an early,
simple society), a youth of eighteen cannot altogether escape the issues
of caste. It was borne in on me presently that Johnny might as well have
remained away. In fact--

"We shan't need him again," said the brother of the soprano to me, as
the evening broke up.

And Raymond himself remarked to me a day later:--

"Don't push him; he'll get along without your help."


IV

While the rankness of new elements in a new era had not penetrated our
homes, it had begun to make itself manifest in public places. The town,
within sixty years, had risen from a population of nearly _nil_ to a
population of some five or six hundred thousand; and it was only in due
course, perhaps, that "vice" now raised its head and that a "criminal
class" came into effective, unabashed functioning. It was to be many
years before the better elements learned how to combine for an efficient
opposition to impudent evils. A heterogeneous populace, newly arrived,
was still willing to elect mayors of native blood; but one of these,
elected and reëlected to the town's lasting harm, might as well have
been of the newer, and wholly exterior, tradition: a genial,
loose-lipped demagogue who saw an opportunity to weld the miscellany of
discrepant elements into a compact engine for the furtherance of his own
coarse ambitions, and who allowed his supporters such a measure of
license as was needed to make their support continuing. A shameless new
quarter suddenly obtruded itself with an ugly emphasis; unclassifiables,
male and female, began to assert and disport themselves more daringly
than dreamt of heretofore; and many good citizens who would crowd the
town forward to a population of a million and to a status undeniably
metropolitan came to stroll these tawdry, noisy new streets with a
curiosity of mind at once disturbed, titillated, and somehow gratified.
Said some: "This is a new thing; do we quite like it?" Said others: "The
town is certainly moving ahead; we don't know but that we do."

Yes, a good many social observers set forth to see for themselves the
new phenomena and to appraise the value of them in the coming political
and social life of the community. Of course, many of these observers
were too young and heedless to draw inferences from the sudden flood of
new bars and bright lights and crass tunes and youthful creatures in
short skirts who seemed not quite to know whether their proper element
was the stage above or the range of tables below; in fact, these
observers waived all attempt at speculative thought and became
participants.

Raymond and I had heard comments on the new developments from our
elders; we were not without our own curiosity (though we had enough
fastidiousness not to graze things very close, still less to wade into
them very deep), and we decided one evening that we would look into two
or three of these new and notable places of public entertainment.

The first of them offered little. The second of them developed Johnny
McComas. He sat at a table, talking too familiarly, or at least too
forbearingly, with a rubicund, hard-faced man in shirt-sleeves standing
at his elbow--probably the head of the place, or his first aide; and he
was buying obviously unnecessary glasses of things for two of the young
creatures in short skirts--Gertrudes and Adeles of that particular
stratum, or Katies and Maggies, if preferred. Johnny sat there happy
enough: an early example of the young business warrior diverting himself
after the fray. Years afterward the scene came back to me when I met
with a showy painting in the resonant new lobby of one of the greater
hotels. It showed a terrace overlooking some placid Greek sea; the happy
warrior standing ungirt and uncasqued, with a beautiful maiden of
indeterminate status seated beside him; a graceful attendant holding a
wreath above each happy and prosperous head, and a group of sandaled
dancing-girls lightly footing it for the pleasure of the fortunate pair;
the whole scene illuminated by the supreme, smiling self-satisfaction of
the relaxed soldier amid the pipings of peace. So Johnny; he had earned
the money and won the right to spend it in pleasure; his, too, the duty
of refreshing himself for the strenuous morrow.

He saw us and nodded. "Life!"--that was what he seemed to say. He made a
feint to interest us in his companions; but they were poor things, as we
knew, and as he must have known too. He left them without much regret
and without much ceremony, and took us on to the next place.

"It's life, isn't it?" he said in so many words.

Raymond's nose went up disdainfully. "Life!" Some such manifestations,
if properly handled and framed, might be life in Paris, perhaps; but he
could not accept them as life here at home, within a mile or two of his
own study. What this evening offered him seemed to require a
considerable touch of refining before it could reach acceptance. It was
all only an imperfectly specious substitute for life, only a coarse
parody on life. The town, he told me the next day, made him think of a
pumpkin: it was big and sudden and coarse-textured. "I've had enough of
it," he added; "I want something different, and something a lot better."

Johnny, as I say, took us to the next place; we might not have known how
to take ourselves there. Johnny honestly liked the glare, the noise, the
uproarious music, and the human press both on the sidewalks and in the
packed, panting interiors. I liked it all, too,--for once in a way; but
I soon saw that, for Raymond, even once in a way was once too often. In
this last place a girl with a hand too familiarly laid on his arm gave
the finishing touch; it was a coarse, dingy little hand, with some
tawdry rings. Raymond never liked close quarters; neither in those days,
nor ever after, did he care to come decisively to grips with actual
life. "Keep off!" was what his look said to the offender. The poor,
puzzled little débutante quickly stepped back, and we all regained the
street. Raymond was trembling with embarrassment and vexation.

"Why, you were making a hit," said Johnny.

"Let's get home," said Raymond to me, ignoring Johnny. "This is enough,
and more than enough. What a hole this town is coming to be!"


V

Raymond stayed on at the bank, though--if one might judge by his words
and actions--with no enthusiasm in the present and no hopefulness for
the future. He did what he had to do, and did it fairly well; but there
was no sign that he was looking forward, and there remained scant
likelihood that he would meet the expectations of his father and
grandfather by mastering the business. On the contrary, I think he
actually set his face against it: he seemed as resolute not to learn
banking as he had been resolute not to learn dancing. Professor Baltique
and the little girls in light-soled shoes and bright-colored sashes had
given him up in the waltz; and it looked as if James B. Prince must
presently renounce all hope of his ever learning how to turn the
collective spare cash of many depositors to profit. I recall the day
when the chief little light of the dancing-class, after some moments of
completely static tramplings by Raymond in the midst of the floor,
suddenly began to pout and to frown, and then left him in the midst of
the dance and of the company and came to tears before she could reach an
elder sister by the side wall. Raymond accepted the incident without
comment. If his demeanor expressed anything, it expressed his
satisfaction at carrying a point.

But he did not wait until a vexed and disappointed bank left him high
and dry. Though he must have known that many young clerks in the office
envied him his billet and that many young fellows outside it would have
been glad to get in on any terms whatever, he never gave a sign that he
valued his opportunity; and when he finally pulled out it was with no
regard to any possible successor.

The younger men in the bank were a rather trim lot, and were expected to
be. They did wonders, in the way of dressing, on their sixty or
seventy-five dollars a month. Raymond's own dressing, for some little
time past, had grown somewhat slack and careless. I did him the
injustice of supposing that he felt himself to be himself, and _hors
concours_ so far as the general body of clerklings was concerned; but he
had other reasons.

He had given up buying books and periodicals; no new volumes to be seen
in his room except works of travel (preferably guide-books) and grammars
and dictionaries of foreign languages. For all such works of general
uplift and inspiration as the intending tourist in Europe might expect
to profit by, he depended on circulating libraries or the shelves of
friends. I myself lent him a book of travels in the Dolomites, and
scarcely know, now, whether I did well or ill. Raymond, in short, was
silently, doggedly saving, with the intention of taking a trip--or of
making a sojourn--abroad.

The cleavage came in James Prince's front parlor, one Sunday afternoon,
and I happened to be present. A very few words sufficed. Raymond's
father had picked up a thick little book from the centre-table, the only
book in the room, and was looking back and forth between this work--an
Italian dictionary--and Raymond himself.

"What do you expect to get out of this?" he asked.

"I expect to learn some Italian," Raymond replied.

"Wouldn't French be more useful?"

"I know all the French I need."

"Where do you expect to use your Italian?"

"In Italy. I didn't go to college."

Impossible to depict the quality of Raymond's tone in speaking these
five words. There was no color, no emphasis, no seeming presentation of
a case. It was the cool, level statement of a fact; nor did he try to
make the fact too pertinent, too cogent. An hour-long oration would not
have been more effective. He had calmly taken off a lid and had
permitted a look within. His father saw--saw that whatever Raymond, by
plus or by minus, might be, he was no longer a boy.

"I know," said James Prince, slowly. He was looking past us both and was
opening and shutting the covers of the book unconsciously.

A day or two later, Raymond gave me the rest. His father had asked him
how much money he had. Out of his sixty or seventy-five a month Raymond
had set aside several hundreds; "and I said I could make the rest by
corresponding for some newspaper," he continued. This was in the simple
day when travel-letters from Europe were still printed and read in the
newspapers, and even "remunerated" by editors. Incredible, perhaps, in
this day; yet true for that.

His father had asked him how long he intended to be away. Raymond was
non-committal. He might travel for a year, or he might try "living" there
for a while--a long while. A matter of funds and of luck, it seemed. His
father, without pressing him closely, offered to double whatever sum he
had saved up. He appeared neither pleased nor displeased by Raymond's
course. He felt I suppose, that the bank would hardly suffer, and that
Raymond (whom he did not understand) might get some profit. Fathers have
their own opinions of sons, which opinions range, I dare say, all the
way from charitableness to desperation. In the case of my own son, I am
glad to say, a very slight degree of charitableness was all the tax laid
upon me. There were some distressing months of angularity, both in
physique and in manners, at seventeen; then a quick and miraculous
escape into trimness and grace. And my grandson, now at nine, promises
to be, I am glad to state, even more of a success and a pleasure. As for
Raymond, he had developed unevenly: his growth had gone athwart.
Possibly the "world," that vast, vague entity of which his father's
knowledge was restricted almost to one narrow field, might aid in
straightening the boy out.

"Well, try it for a year," his father said, not unkindly, and almost
wistfully.


VI

When Johnny McComas heard of Raymond's resolve, he drew up his round
face into a grimace. He thought the step queer, and he said so. But,
"Oh, well, if a fellow can afford it!" he added. And he did not explain
just what meaning he attached to the word "afford."

But Johnny could see no valid reason for a fellow's giving the town the
go-by at nineteen and at just that stage of the town's development.
Johnny was so made that the community which housed him was necessarily
the centre of the cosmos; he himself, howsoever placed, was necessarily
at the centre of the circle--so why leave the central dot for some vague
situation on the circumference? And take this particular town: what a
present! what a future! what a wide extension over the limitless prairie
with every passing month!--a prairie which merely needed to be cut up
into small checkers and sold to hopeful newcomers; a prairie which
produced profits as freely as it produced goldenrod and asters; a
prairie upon which home-seekers might settle down under agents whose
wide range, running from helpful coöperation to absolute flimflam, need
leave no competent "operator" other than rich.

"What are you going to get out of it?" asked Johnny earnestly.

Raymond attempted no set reply. Johnny, he recognized, was out for
positive results, for tangible returns; his idea was to get on in the
world by definite and unmistakable stages. Raymond never welcomed the
idea of "getting on"--not at least in the sense in which his own day and
place used the expression. To do so was but to acknowledge some early
inferiority. Raymond was not conscious of any inferiority to be
overcome. Johnny might, of course, on this particular point, feel as he
chose.

About this time old Jehiel Prince began to come more frequently to his
son's house. He was yellower and grayer, and he was getting testy and
irascible. He sometimes brought his lawyer with him, and the pair made
James Prince an active participant in their concerns. However, Jehiel
was perhaps less unhappy here than in his own home. When there, he sat
moodily alone, of evenings, in his basement office; and Raymond, who was
sometimes sent over with documents or with messages, impatiently
reported him to me as "glum."

"Poor old fellow! he doesn't know how to live!" said Raymond in
complacent pity. He himself, of course, had but to assemble all the
bright-hued elements that awaited him a few months ahead to make his own
life a poem, a song.

"I can do that," he once said, in a moment when exaltation had briefly
made him confidential.

Raymond never saw his grandmother--at least he never cared to see her.
Here, if nowhere else, he was willing to take a cue, and he took it from
the head of the family. He thought that so many years of town life might
have made her a little less rustic in the end: the York State of 1835 or
of 1840 need not have remained York State so immitigably. And if there
was a domestic blight on the house he was willing to believe that she
was two thirds to blame: behind the old soul was a pack of poor
relations. Particularly a brother-in-law--a bilious, cadaverous fellow,
whom I saw once, and once was enough. He had been an itinerant preacher
farther East, and he lived in a woeful little cottage along one of
Jehiel's horse-car routes. His mournful-eyed wife was always asking
help. He too had "gone into real-estate," and unsuccessfully. He was the
dull reverse of that victorious obverse upon which Johnny McComas was
beginning to shine.

Another of her relatives, a niece, had married a small-town sharper. He
had brought her to the larger town, and his sharpness had taken on a
keener edge. He, too, had gone into real-estate--a lean, wiry little
man, incredibly arid and energetic, and carrying a preposterously large
mustache. There was trouble with him after Jehiel's death. It developed
that one of the documents which old Beulah Prince had been cajoled or
hectored into signing had deeded to him--temporarily and for a specific
purpose--some forty acres of purple and yellow prairie flowers,
delightful blossoms nodding and swaying in the wind, and that he had
refused to deed more than half of them back: his services at that
particular juncture were "worth something," he said. Well, life (as may
have been remarked previously) would be quite tolerable without one's
relatives. Meanwhile the summer flowers bloomed and nodded on, under the
windy blue sky, all unaware of their disgrace.

A month after Raymond's decision, flowers (of the sort favored in
cemeteries) were trying to bloom over old Jehiel. Some stroke, some
lesion, had put a period to the unhappy career of this grim old man.
Raymond set to one side, for a few weeks, his new trunk and portmanteau;
for a few weeks only--he had no notion of making, ultimately, any great
change in his plans. It was obvious that James Prince was looking
forward to a year or two of harassing procedure in the courts, for old
Jehiel's estate was unlikely to smooth out with celerity; but Raymond
was clearly of no use at home, even as a mere source of sympathy. A
fortnight after his grandfather's funeral he was off.

The singing-class would have given him good-bye in a special session;
but his eyes were now on brighter matters and the vocalizing Gertrudes
and Adeles were dim. He got out of it. Besides, the affair might come to
involve something like ceremony; and he was always desirous of avoiding
(save in the arts) the ceremonial side of life. When he came back from
his first sojourn on the Continent he was a young man of mark, as things
went in our particular town and time; or, rather, he might have been
such, had he but chosen. The family fortunes were then merely at the
stage of worry and still far from that of impending disaster. Raymond
came back with money, position, and a certain aureole of personal
distinction--just the sort of young man who would be asked to act as
usher at a wedding. He _was_ asked repeatedly; but he never acted, and
his excuses and subterfuges for avoiding such a service almost became
one of the comedies of the day. He had no relish for seeing himself
walking ceremonially up a church aisle under the eyes of hundreds, and
I knew better than to ask him to walk up any aisle for me. He never did
the thing but once, and that was under the inescapable compulsion of his
fiancée--who, for her part, insisted on eyes and plenty of them. A man
may never cease to be astonished at the workings of feminine preferences
on such an occasion, but can hardly escape accommodating himself to
them. Gertrudes are Gertrudes.

But the wedding is years ahead, while the departure for Europe is
imminent. Raymond had a tepid, awkward parting with his mother, whose
headaches would not allow her to go to the train; and he shook hands
rather coldly and constrainedly with his father, who would have
welcomed, as I guess, some slight show of filial warmth, and he threw an
embarrassedly facetious word to me about the weight of his portmanteau,
and so was off. And it was years, rather than months, before he came
back.



PART III

I


While Raymond was taking his course abroad, Johnny McComas was shaping
his course at home. A colorless, unbiased statement--as it was meant to
be; one which, despite the slight difference between "taking" and
"shaping," has no slant and displays no animus. Colorless, yes; too
colorless, perhaps you will object. If so, I will reword the matter.
While Raymond, then, was in Europe cultivating his gentler faculties,
Johnny remained in America, strengthening certain specific powers. Or,
again: while Raymond was preparing, or so he thought, for a desirably
decorative place in the "world" (the world at large), Johnny was
qualifying himself, as he felt sure, for an important and remunerative
position in that particular section of the world to which he had decided
to confine his endeavors. And if you ask me, after I have colored a
colorless statement, to bias an unbiased one, I shall refuse. I am not
taking sides. Each of them was following his own likings--not the worst
of rules for a growing and avid organism.

Raymond wrote, of course,--it was impossible that he should not; and I
think I showed one or two of his early letters to Johnny. Johnny was not
exactly interested; vistas were opened for which he had no eyes and
which possessed no appositeness to his own aims.

"Still over there, eh?" he asked, on my producing a second letter.
"These are the years that count," he added. He was probably implying
that the final score would make a better showing for the man who spent
those years in his native and proper environment.

He disregarded the general drift of the letters, but hit upon one or two
novel expressions, and repeated them, half-quizzical, half-intrigue.

"Still over there," I echoed. A developing nature, I felt, must reach
out for whatever it needs; and, in simpler form, I said so.

"Well, I'm no misfit," he rejoined briefly. To "feel at home" at
home--that, I presume, was the advantage he was asserting.

Johnny, "at home," was not long in outgrowing the opportunities of
Dellwood Park. Though he did not make, quite yet, the central district,
a year or two later found him in an older and more important suburb--one
that had passed the first acuteness of speculation and had pretty well
settled down to a regulated life. It was not a suburb of the first rank,
nor even perhaps of the second; but it suited his tastes and his present
purposes. The new business combined banking and real-estate, and the
banking department even maintained a small safety-deposit vault. There
was also some insurance; and a little of mortgage-broking. Johnny was a
highly prized element in this business and was pleased from the start
with the outlook.

"A fellow," he said, "can pick up more experience out there in a month
than he could in one of these big downtown offices in a year."

Nearly two years passed before I was to see him in his new environment.
There came up a bit of business for a suburban client of mine which
could as well be settled at Johnny's place as at another. It needed no
more than a glance to perceive that Johnny was the dominant factor of
the little institution. His was the biggest roller-top seen through a
maze of gilt letters on a vast sheet of plate glass by commuters turning
the corner morning and evening. His, too, chiefly, the deference of
clerks and office-boy. He was ruddy and robust, and seemed likely to
impose himself anywhere, when the time came. Thus far, a small Forum,
perhaps; but he was the Cæsar in it. He did not disdain to attend to my
affair himself; he even showed an emphatic, if not ponderous,
_bonhomie_.

Just as I was getting up to leave, a man of forty-five or more, with the
general aspect of a contractor's foreman, put in his head. It was
Johnny's father.

"I guess you know George Waite," Johnny said to him; "and I guess he
knows you."

We shook hands, under Johnny's direction, and said that he was right.
His father's hand--rough and with a broken nail or two--was that of a
superintendent who on occasion helped with a plank or a mortarboard. He
had an open face and a pleasant manner; he was not at all the dominant
personage I remembered meeting in that "yard," years ago. Johnny, it
seemed, was putting up a row of small houses on the suburb's edge, and
his father was supervising the job. Johnny was pretty direct in saying
what he wanted done, or not done, in connection with this work; and if
his father made a suggestion it was as likely as not to be overruled. He
was only one of the senators in Johnny's little curia, and probably far
from the most important of them.

Johnny's father got away, after all, before I did. Johnny asked me to
stay for a little, and there was not much for a young professional man
to do after catching the 4.52 into town. We sat for a while talking of
indifferent matters. Johnny, surrounded by his own prosperity, asked
with a show of interest, and without condescension, about my progress in
the law, and I was replying with the cautious vagueness of one whose
practice is not yet all he hopes it will be. During this time I had
noticed, through the maze of gilt lettering, a limousine standing just
round the corner. Its curtains were drawn: "an odd circumstance," I had
commented inwardly. All of a sudden the street-door of the bank burst
open, and three masked men, brandishing revolvers, rushed in.

"You cover the cashier!" cried one; "we'll take care of the vault!"

Johnny McComas flung open a drawer, seized a revolver of his own, sprang
to his feet--

Pardon me, dear reader. The simple fact is, I have suddenly been struck
by my lack of drama. You see how awkwardly I provide it, when I try.
What bank robbers, I ask you, would undertake such an adventure at
half-past four in the afternoon? I cannot compete with the films. As a
matter of fact, the vault stood locked, the tellers were gone, even the
office-boy had stolen away, and Johnny and I were left alone together,
exchanging rather feebly, and with increasing feebleness, some faint and
unimportant boyhood reminiscences.... I feel abysmally abashed; let us
open a new section.


II

As I have said, Raymond wrote. He wrote, for example, with a voluminous
duteousness, to his parents. His letters to them, so far as they came to
my notice, were curious; probably he meant that they should be saved and
should become a sort of journal of his travels. They were almost
completely impersonal. There was plenty of straight description; but
beyond some slight indications of his own movements, past or intended,
there was no narration. He never mentioned people he met; he never
described his adventures--if he had any. He seemed to be saying to
Europe, as Rastignac said to Paris, "_À nous deux, maintenant!_" He was
at grips with the Old World, and that sufficed.

His letters to me, however, were not devoid of personal reactions. These
commonly took an æsthetic turn. An early letter from Rome had a good
deal to say about the Baroque. He met it everywhere; it was an
abomination; it tried his soul. Fontana and Maderna, the Gog and Magog
of architecture, had flanked the portals of art and had let through a
hideous throng of artificialities and corruptions.... The word "Baroque"
was new to me, and I looked it up. I learned that it described, not a
current movement, as I had supposed, but an influence which had
exhausted itself nearly three hundred years ago. But it was still recent
and real to Raymond. And I learned, further, that this style had modern
champions who could say a good word for it. In any event, it might be
accepted calmly as a valuable and characteristic link in the general
historic chain.

In another letter he was ecstatic over the Gothic brickwork of Cremona.
It was so beautiful, he said in as many words, that it made his heart
ache; not often did Raymond let himself go like that. Eager to follow
his track--and to understand, if possible, his heart, however peculiar
and baffling--I looked up, in turn, North Italian brickwork. This was
twice three hundred years old. But it had stirred other modern hearts
than Raymond's; for an English æsthete had tried (and almost succeeded)
to impose it on his country as a living mode. "Very well," I said;
"Italian brickwork may reasonably be accepted as a modern interest."

Raymond, before descending to Italy, had spent some months in Paris.
Circumstances had enabled him to frequent a few studios, and his first
letter to me from that city had been rather technical and "viewy."
Incidentally, he had seen something of the students, and had found
little to approve, either in their manners or their morals. He left
Paris without reporting any moral infractions of his own and settled
down for some stay in Florence. He was studying the language further, he
reported: a language, he said, which was easy to begin, but hard to
continue--the longer you studied the less you really knew. However, he
knew enough for daily practical purposes. His _pension_ was pleasant;
small, and the few visitors were mostly English.

But there were one or two Americans in the house, and they came home a
few months later with their account of Raymond and his ways. It was
needed; for the three or four letters that he had printed in one of our
newspapers contained little beyond descriptions of set sights--to think
we should have continued to welcome that sort of thing so long! Well,
these people reported him as conscientiously busy, for his hour each
day, with grammar and dictionary. He was also getting his hand in
painting; and he had "taken on" musical composition, even to
instrumentation. "Too many irons!" commented my lively young informant.
"And I think I should get my painting in Paris and my music in Germany."
She also said that Raymond had next to no social life--he showed hardly
the slightest desire to make acquaintances.

"An old Frenchman came to the place for a few days," she continued; "and
as he was leaving he said your friend was living in an ivory tower--the
windows few, the door narrow, and the key thrown away. 'Ivory tower'--do
you understand what that means?"

"No," I said. But of course I understand now.


III

As a consequence of my call at Johnny McComas's office (or as a probable
consequence), I received, some six months later, an invitation to his
wedding. You will expect to hear that I was present, and perhaps acted
as usher, or even as best man. Nothing of the sort was the case,
however; I was absent at the time in the East. Nor are you to imagine me
as continually following, at close range, the vicissitudes, major and
minor, which made up his life, or made up Raymond's. An exact, perpetual
attendance of fifty years is completely out of the question. Don't
expect it.

Johnny married, I was told, a young woman living in his own suburb, the
daughter of a manufacturer of some means. I met him about two months
after his great step. He was still full of the new life, and full of the
new wife.

"She's fine!" he declared. "Not too fine, but fine enough for me."

He cocked his hat to one side.

"Do you know, I talk to her just as I would to a man."

"Johnny!" I began, almost gasping.

"Well, what's wrong? Ever said anything much out of the way to you? Ever
heard me say anything to any other fellow?"

"Why, no...." I was obliged to acknowledge.

"Then why the row? It's all easy as an old shoe. _She_ likes it."

"I know. But--talking with a woman ... It isn't quite like...."

"Don't make any mistake. Just have the big things right, and they'll
overlook lots of the little ones."

"H'm," I said doubtfully. "I supposed it was just the other way. Lay a
lot of stress on certain little things, and larger shortcomings won't
bother them. Bring her a bunch of flowers to-day, and she'll help you
deed away the house and lot to-morrow."

"Fudge!" said Johnny. "I mean the really big things. There's only two.
Ground to stand on and air to breathe."

"That is to say...?"

"A platform under her feet and an atmosphere about her. Well, she's got
me to stand on and to surround her. She understands it. She likes it.
Nothing else matters much."

"Ah!" said I.

"I'm her bedrock, and I'm her--How do they say it? I'm her--envelopment,
as those painting fellows put it."

"See here, Johnny," I protested; "Don't get anachronistic. We are only
in 1884. That expression won't reach America for ten or fifteen years.
Have some regard for dates."

"It won't? Wasn't it in your friend's letter?"

"What friend?"

"Why, Prince; when he was in Paris. Didn't you read it to me?"

I remembered.

"Do you know," he went on, "I've been straight as a string--ever since.
And I'm going to keep so."

"I should hope so, indeed."

"Whatever I may have been before. But I think it's better for a young
fellow to dash in and find out than to keep standing on the edge and
just wonder."

"Well, I don't know, Johnny," I returned soberly. "I'm going to be
married myself, next month. And I expect to go to my bride just as
pure--"

"No preaching," said Johnny. "The slate's wiped clean. Adele's all right
for me, and I'm all right to her."

He adjusted his hat, making the two sides of the brim level.

"We're going to move shortly," he stated. "The business can go on where
it is, for a while, but we're going to live somewhere else."

Perhaps in the city itself, it appeared; perhaps in some suburb toward
the north. But no longer in one to the west. Johnny was developing some
such scent for social values and some such feeling for impending
topographical changes as had begun to stir the great houses that were
grouped about the Princes.

"So you're the next one?" he said presently. "It's the only life. Good
luck to you. And who's going to see you through? Prince?"

"Yes--'my friend.' I'm glad you remember him."

"Oh yes; I can remember him when I try. But I don't try very hard or
very often. Back in this country?"

"He is."

"What's he doing?" Johnny fixed his hard blue eyes firmly on me.

I was sorry to have no very definite answer. "He has been in the East
lately. He'll be back here in time for me."

"Well," said Johnny darkly; and that was all.


IV

Raymond's "tower" was not static, but peripatetic. Early in his second
summer abroad it was standing among the Dutch windmills for a brief
season; and when he learned that I was to have a short vacation in
England--the only quarter of the Old World I ever cared for--he left it
altogether for a fortnight and came across from Flushing to see me.

Two points immediately made themselves clear. Firstly, he was viewing
the world through literature--through works of fiction in some cases,
through guide-books in more. Everything was a spectacle, with himself
quite outside as an onlooker; and nothing was a spectacle until it had
been ranged and appraised in print. Secondly, if he was outside of
things, America was still farther outside; it existed as a remote
province not yet drawn into the activities and interests of the "world."
He seemed willing, even anxious, to make himself secondary, subordinate.
However he may have been on the Continent, here in England his desire to
conform made him appear subservient and almost abject. My own unabashed
and unconscious Americanism--the possible consequence of
inexperience--sometimes embarrassed him, and he occasionally undertook
to edit my dealings with members of the older half of our race, even
with waiters and cabmen. As for the more boastful, aggressive,
self-assertive sort of Americanism, _that_ would make him tremble with
anger and blush for shame.

I will say this in his behalf, however: he did not like England and was
not at home there.

"The little differences," he observed, one day, "made more trouble than
the big ones. A minor seventh is all right, while a minor second is
distressing. I am happier among the Latins."

Yet I am sure that even among his Latins he took the purely objective
view and valued their objects of interest according as they were starred
and double-starred, or left unmarked in the comparative neglect of small
print.

We saw together Canterbury and Cambridge and Brighton and a few other
approved places. Through all these he walked with a meticulous
circumspection, wondering what people thought, asking inwardly if he
were squaring with their ideas of what conduct should be. Only once did
I find him fully competent and sufficiently assertive. The incident
occurred on a late afternoon, in a small side street just off the
Strand, while I was casting about for one of those letter-pillars.
Raymond was approached, as was proper to the locality and the time of
day, by a young woman of thirty who had a hard, determined face and who
was clothed on with a rustling black dress that jingled with jet. I was
near enough to hear.

"Good-afternoon," she said.

"Good-afternoon."

"Where," with marked expressiveness, "are you going?"

"I'm going to stand right here."

"Give me a drink."

"Couldn't think of it."

"Stand," she said, with sudden viciousness, "stand and rot!"

Raymond, after an instant's surprise, made a response in his unstudied
vernacular. "Yes, _I'll_ stand; but you skip. Shoo!"

She was preparing some retort, but he waved both his hands, wide out, as
if starting a ruffled, vindictive hen across a highway. At the same time
he caught sight of a constable on the corner, and let her see that he
saw--

"Constable!"--why, I am as bad as Raymond himself: I mean, of course,
policeman.

But the London police are sometimes chary in the exercise of their
functions. What really started the woman on her way was his next brief
remark, accompanied by the hands, as before, though with a more decided
shade of propulsion.

"Scoot!" She went, without words.

These were the only American observations I heard from Raymond during
that fortnight.

I wish he had been as successful on the night of our arrival in London
when we encountered, in the court behind the big gilded grille of the
Grand Metropole, the porter of that grandiose establishment. We had come
together from Harwich and did not reach this hotel until half an hour
before midnight. We had had our things put on the pavement and had
dismissed the cab, and the porter, with an airy, tentative insolence,
now reported the place full.

"_I_ don't know who ordered your luggage down, sir; _I_ didn't," he said
with a smile that was an experiment in disrespect.

Raymond looked as if he were for immediately adjusting himself to
this--though I could hardly imagine his ever having done the like in
Paris or in Florence. He was quite willing to confess himself in the
wrong: yes, he ought to have remembered that the "season" was beginning;
he ought to have known that this particular season, though young, had
set in with uncommon vigor; he ought to have known that all the hotels,
even the largest, were likely to be crowded and have sent on a wire. The
porter, emboldened by the departure of the cab, and by my companion's
contrite silence, began to embroider the theme.

Now a single week in England had taught me that no two men in that
country--the home of political but not of social democracy--are likely
to talk long on even terms. One man must almost necessarily take the
upper hand and leave to the other the lower, and the relation must be
reached early. I resolved on the upper--cab or no cab. I glared--as well
and as coldly as I could. The fellow was only a year or so older than I.

"You are too chatty," I said. "Fewer words and more action. If you are
full, call somebody to take us and our baggage to some hotel near by
that is not full."

The fellow sobered down and gave us his first look resembling respect.

"Very good, sir. I will, sir. Thank you, sir,"--though he had nothing to
thank me for, and though he well knew there was to be nothing.

Raymond looked at me as one looks at a friend who surprises by the
sudden disclosure of some unexpected talent or power.

"But you said 'baggage,'" he commented.

"Indeed I did," said I.


V

Our new hotel, we discovered next morning, was duplicated in name by
another, four doors down the street. During the day we heard the reason
for this. A domestic difficulty had overtaken husband and wife and the
two had separated, each keeping an interest in the serviceable name and
a frontage on the familiar street. We were in the husband's hotel, under
the very discreet ministrations of the young woman who had caused the
break. "Do you quite like this?" Raymond had asked me. But he became
reassured on seeing in the guest-book the names of two or three
well-known and sufficiently respected compatriots. By the next day he
was able to cast on Miss Brough, as she flitted (still discreetly)
through her functions, the eye of a qualified idealization. I am sure he
would never have viewed indulgently any such situation at home. But the
poor, patient, cautious girl helped him toward realizing the
sophistications and corruptions of European society, and so he welcomed
her. But I believe he avoided speaking to her. She may have been hurt,
or she may have been amused; or neither. Yet, after all, this
_contretemps_ was for him, I felt, but a prosaic substitute for
something richer. A similar situation in Naples, say, taken at close
range, might have quickened his interest considerably.

Next day there was something different for him to report. He had gone
into a courtyard off Holborn, drawn by the sound of a hurdy-gurdy. Four
or five little girls were dancing, and some older women stood looking
on. For a few moments he looked on too, probably with an effect of aloof
and amused patronage. But patronage was not for that court.

Presently one of the younger women, who wore a hat full of messy plumes
and carried a small fish in each hand by the tail, stepped up and
invited him to trip a measure with her. "Trip a measure"--it has a fine
Elizabethan or Jacobean sound, whether she used the precise expression
or not. But Raymond demurred; at first politely; later, perhaps not so
politely. But he was whisked into the dance and made to take several
turns. He was so embarrassed that he called it all an "adventure."
Possibly it was meant for a lesson in manners.

Thus Raymond in England. As he said, he liked the Continent better. I
hope he showed to better advantage there, and I should have liked to see
him there--to be with him there. For he rather put a brake on any
measure of exuberance and momentum which I might have brought to
England with me, and I could only trust that his strait-jacket was
partly unlaced among the French and Italians. I think that likely, for
with them he was, of course, an acknowledged and unmistakable foreigner.
But my fortnight with him was cramped and uncomfortable; and when we
parted at the American Exchange--I for Liverpool and he for Calais--I
confess I had a slight feeling of relief. I felt, too, that my conduct,
however native and unstudied, had pleased the Island quite as well as
his.

At the Exchange itself he never read American newspapers--least of all,
one from his own town. I believe, too, he avoided them on the Continent.
Living a very special life, he meant to keep himself integral,
uncontaminate. And behind us both was the other world, his own, all
vital and astir.

Yes, I am aware that my prose is pedestrian, and that Europe--as it once
was, to us--deserves a brighter and higher note. I will attempt, just
here, a purple patch.

Europe, then,--the beacon, hope, and cynosure of our fresh, ingenuous
youth--the glamorous realm afar which drew to itself from across the sea
our eager artist-bands, pilgrims to the Old, the Stately, and the Fair;
Europe, which reared above our dull horizon the towers of Oxford and of
Notre Dame, sent up into our pale, empty sky the shimmering mirage of
Venice, and cast across our workaday way the grave and noble shadow of
Rome; Europe, which gave out through the varying voices of Correggio,
Canova, Hugo, and Wagner the cry, so lofty and so piercing-sweet, of
Art; Europe, which with titles and insignia and social grandeurs, once
dazzled and bemused our inexperienced senses ... and so on.

Easy!

But worth while?

I shall not attempt to decide.

To-day Europe seems not all we once found it; and we, on the other hand,
have come to be more than some of us at least once figured ourselves. We
are beginning to have glamours and importances of our own.


VI

Raymond lingered on for a year or more in Italy, and came home, as I
have implied, in time for my wedding. He found his native city more
uncouth and unkempt than ever. Such it was, absolutely; and such it was,
relatively, after his years under a more careful and self-respecting
régime. The population was still advancing by leaps and bounds, and
hopeful spirits had formed a One-Million Club. A few others, even more
ardent, said that the population was already a million, or close upon
it, and busied themselves to start a Two-Million Club. They had their
eyes wide open to the advantage of numbers, and tightly closed to the
palpable fact that the community was unable properly to house and
administer the numbers it already had. The city seemed to cry: "I need a
friendly monitor--one who will point me out the decencies and compel me
to adopt them." The demagogue who had ruled and misruled before had been
reëlected once or twice, and the newspapers were still indulging their
familiar strain of irresponsible and ineffective criticism. The dark
world behind him had become more populous and bold, and the forces for
good still seemed unable to organize and coöperate toward making
betterment an actuality. But new people were always flocking in--people
from the farms, villages and country-towns of the Middle region--and
bringing with them the uncontaminated rustic ideals of rightness and
decorum: a clean stream pouring into a turbid pool, and the time was to
come when it would make itself felt. Meanwhile, the city remained--to
Raymond--a gross, sharp village, one full of folk who, whether from the
Middle West or from Middle Europe, had never come within ten leagues of
gentility, and who, one and all, were absorbedly and unabashedly bent on
the object which had suddenly assembled them at this one favored
spot--the pushing of their individual fortunes. A hauptstadt-to-be,
perhaps; but, so far, an immensely inchoate and repellent miscellany.

Raymond's father gave him a sober welcome. His mother attempted a brief,
spasmodic display of affection; but it was too much, and only a maid
and her pillows saw her for the next few days. His father seemed older,
much older; tired, careworn, worried. The trouble of settling old
Jehiel's estate had been all that could have been expected, and more.
There were claims, complications, lawsuits, what not; and through all
this maze James Prince had to put up with the inherited help of the dry,
dismal old fellow whom I had seen in earlier days at the house. I had
come, now, to a better professional knowledge of him. He was a man of
probity, and of some ability, but a deliberate; impossible to hurry, and
not easy, as it seemed, even to interest. Under him matters dragged
dully through the courts, and others' nerves were worn to shreds. I
remember how surprised I was one day on hearing that he had picked up
enough resolution to die.

Raymond did not much concern himself about his father's burdens. He
assumed, I suppose, that such taxes on a man's brain and general
vitality were proper enough to middle age and to the business life of a
large city. However, he was living--just as he had principally lived
abroad--on his father's bounty. His contributions to the press--whether
a daily, or, of late, a monthly--brought in no significant sums; and a
bequest of some size from his grandfather was slow in finding its way
into his hands.

As I have said, Raymond might have taken an advantageous position in
home society. He made no effort, and I sometimes caught myself wondering
if his attitude might be that there was "nobody here." He might have
joined his father's club; but the older men principally played billiards
and talked their business affairs between. However, he did not care for
billiards, nor had their affairs any affinity with his. A younger
set--noisy and assertive out of proportion to its numbers--gave him no
consolation, still less anything like edification. They were _au
premier plan_; they possessed no background; they were without
atmosphere--without envelopment, as Johnny McComas might have amended it
(though no such lack would have been noted or resented by Johnny
himself). _Bref_, he knew what they all were without going to see. And
as for "society," it rustled flimsily, like tissue-paper; bright, in a
way, but still thin and crackling.

I wonder how he found such society as attended my wedding. I shall not
describe it; I did not describe Johnny's--probably the more important
event of the two for the purposes of this calm narrative. Yet, if you
will permit me, I shall touch on two points.

I wish, first, to say that, in my ears and to my eyes, the name "Elsie"
is just as dear and charming as it ever was. Perhaps, at one period of
my courtship, I wondered if the name would wear. No name more delightful
and suitable for a gay, arch, sweet young girl of twenty; but how, I
asked myself, will the name sit on a woman of forty, or on one of sixty?
Well, I will confess that, at forty, a certain strain of incongruity
appeared; but it marvelously vanished during the following score of
years, and the name now seems utterly right for the dainty figure and
gentle face of my lifelong companion. And though our eldest daughter is
unmarried and thirty-five, we have never regretted passing on this
beautiful name to her.

My second point must deal with Raymond's attitude toward me on my
wedding-day and on the days preceding it. He was stiff, constrained,
dissatisfied--merely courteous toward my Elsie, and not at all cordial
to me. I wondered whether he blamed me for thus bringing him back home;
but the real reason, as I came to understand later, was quite different.
He regarded the marriage of a friend as a personal deprivation, and the
bride as the chief figure in the conspiracy. After my defection, or
misappropriation, he solaced himself by trying to make one or two other
friendships. When these friends married in turn, like process produced
like results. These men, however, he threw overboard completely; in my
case, he showed, after a while, some relenting, and ultimately even
forgiveness. By the time he came to marry on his own account, the last
of his very few bachelor friends had "gone off"; so there was no chance
of inflicting on anybody that displeasure which others had several
times inflicted on him.

He sent Elsie a suitable present, and stood beside me through the
ceremony as graciously as he was able.

"I wish you both great joy," he said firmly, at the end; and it was six
weeks before we saw him in our little home.



PART IV

I


Johnny McComas was still carrying on his business life and his home life
in the suburb where he had married, when I came, finally, to make my
first call on the domestic group of which he was the nub. Still in the
future was the day when he was to move into town, and to have also a
summer home on the North Shore, and to make some of his father-in-law's
spare funds yield profitable results, and to arouse among wistful clerks
and unsuccessful "operators" an admiring wonder as the youngest
bank-president in the "Loop."

I looked in on him one evening in late November. I found a house too
emphatically furnished and a wife too concerned about making an
impression. I did not consider myself a young man of prime consequence
and did not relish the expenditure of so much effort: after all,
Johnny's standing, Johnny's wife, Johnny's domestic _entourage_ were
not before a judgment-bar. It was plain to see that for Mrs. John W.
McComas complete social comfort had not yet been reached, and I wondered
if the next move might not show it as farther away than ever.

Johnny himself was bluff and direct, and took things as a matter of
course. Much had been done, but more remained to be done; meanwhile all
was well and good. After a little, his wife was content to leave us
alone together, and we drifted to Johnny's "den"--a word new at that
time, and descriptive of the only feature of his home on which he laid
the slightest self-conscious emphasis.

I had heard that there were twins--boys; and soon, as the evening was
still young, I heard the twins themselves. They had reached the age of
ten months, and consequently had developed wants, but no articulate
means for making those wants known. Therefore they howled, and they
began howling in unison now. Perhaps it was for them that a foresighted
mother had left us alone together.

"Great little hollerers!" said Johnny placidly, pulling at his pipe.

I was still a bachelor. "Might shut the door?" I proposed.

"If you like," said Johnny, without enthusiasm. "They wake me every
morning at five," he added.

Yes, I was still a bachelor--and probably a tactless, even a brutal,
one.

"Might move them to another bedroom, farther away?" I suggested. The
house seemed big enough for such an arrangement.

"Don't want to," declared Johnny. He began pulling at his pipe again,
and there was a little silence during which I might meditate on the curt
nobility of his remark.

The fact was, of course, that Johnny loved life; he embraced it with
gusto, with both arms outspread. No sidestepping its advances; no
dodging its sharp angles; no feeble mitigating of a situation for which
he was himself responsible; no paltry deadening of domestic uproar
merely because he himself happened to be within the domestic
environment. "If Adele stands it, I will too--they're mine as well as
hers,"--such I conceive to have been his attitude. Johnny had no nerves,
and only a minimum of sensibility. The sound-waves broke on his
sensorium as ripples break on a granite coast. Perhaps they pleased him;
perhaps they even soothed him. Why, bless you! these children were
_his_! They were facts as great and as unescapable as the ebb and flow
of the tides, as dawn and twilight, as the morning and evening stars.
And the evening stars were singing together. Great may have been the
jubilation for Johnny's ears, boundless the content in Johnny's heart.

I really think that Johnny felt through the din some of the exhilaration
that often came to him with a good brisk scrap in his office--or in the
other man's office. In fact, home and business were Johnny's two sources
of interest and pleasure--the warp and woof of his life--and he was
determined on getting the utmost out of each. His interest in his home
circle may somewhat have declined--or at least have moderated--with
advancing years, but it was incandescent now. His interest in the
outside world--that oyster-bin awaiting his knife--never slackened, not
even when the futility of piling up the empty shells became
daylight-clear, and when higher things strove perseveringly, even
unmistakably, to beckon him on. Never, in fact, throughout his life did
he exhibit more than two essential concerns: one for his family and
clan; and one for the great outside mass of mediocre individuals through
whose ineptitudes he justly expected to profit.

Well, the door of the den remained open, and our talk went on to the
rising and falling of infant voices. At last, thinking that my good-bye
must be to Johnny only, I rose to go. You might reasonably ask for a
clearer impression of his home and a more definite account of his wife.
But what can I say when the primary address was so disconcertingly to
the ear? Of his wife--who came down, during a lull, at the last
moment--I can only say that she seemed too _empressée_ at the beginning
and too casual at the end. Perhaps she had decided that, after all, I
was no more than I myself claimed to be. Perhaps the infant hurricane
was still ruffling the surface of her mind, or even disturbing its
depths.

"I won't ask you to call again," she said, as we shook hands for a
good-night: "we shall be moving in the spring." She spoke with a
satisfied air of self-recognized _finesse_, and as in the confident hope
of completing very promptly some well-planned little programme; but--

"Visit us there," said Johnny, with a quick cordiality which prevented
his wife from redeeming herself.

"There" had been the chief topic in the den. Many neighborhoods had been
brought forward, with their attendant advantages and disadvantages.
Johnny told me what he thought, and let me say what I thought. When I
listened, it was as a man who might soon have a similar problem to
consider. When I spoke it was to utter banalities sedately; any
neighborhood might do, I said, that had good air; yes, and good
schools--looking toward the future. And any house, I felt, would serve,
if it had a nursery that was sealed, sound proof, remote....

"Well, best luck in your search for your roof-tree," I said earnestly to
them both.

"'Roof-tree'!" echoed Johnny. And, in fact, my observation did seem
rather artificial and insincere.


II

By the time Raymond reached home, Johnny McComas had turned his informal
suburban enterprise into a "state" bank, with his father-in-law as
president and himself as cashier. The father-in-law lent his name and
furnished most of the capital; Johnny himself provided the driving
power. And by the time Raymond had become, through his father's death,
the head of the family and the controller of the family funds, Johnny
had turned his state bank into a national bank, with its offices in the
city and with himself as president; and he had bought--at a bargain--a
satisfactory house on the edge of the neighborhood where we first met
him. The street was marked for business advance more promptly and more
unmistakably than the precise quarter of the Princes. It would do as a
home for a few years. The transaction appealed both to McComas's thrift
and his pride. The coming of his new little bank, with its modest
capital, made no particular stir in the "street"; and the great group of
houses to the eastward were so apprehensive of open outrage, in one form
or another, that his approach, in a guise still social, provoked but
scant concern.

James Prince died when Raymond was about thirty. A careful, plodding man
who had never brought any direct difficulties upon himself, but who had
been worried--and worried out--through troubles left him by others. On
the whole, he had found life an unrewarding thing; and he passed along,
at fifty-five, with no great regrets. The tangle of family affairs had
finally been straightened out in considerable measure, though Raymond
found enough detail still left to make him realize what a five years his
father had passed through; and when, the year following, his mother
died, with the settlement of her estate almost overlapping the
settlement of his father's, he acquired a new sense of the grinding,
taxing possibilities of business. I speak from his own viewpoint; he was
susceptible--unduly, abnormally so--to the grind and the tax. After a
few months of clammy old Brand and his methods, he suddenly cut loose
from him (without waiting for him to die, as he did a little later); and
he told me that I was the man to wind up these tedious affairs. They
were not nearly so difficult and complicated as they seemed to him--they
were now largely routine matters, in fact; and I hope I carried things
along at a tempo which satisfied him. This is not to deny that Raymond
seemed to have days when he found even me dilatory and exasperating; but
old Brand would probably have driven him mad.

Well, the prospects of his estate were not too brilliant. The lawsuits
had been expensive and sometimes unsuccessful; the bank had passed a
dividend, and the old houses, which had meant a lot of money in their
day, meant less now and even loss in a near future. The time was fast
coming when this circumscribed and unprotected neighborhood was to
admit other--and prejudicial--interests: boarding-houses, of course; and
refined homes for inebriates; and correspondence-schools for engineers;
and one of the Prince houses became eventually the seat of a
publishing-firm which needed a little distinction more than it needed a
wide spread of glass close to the sidewalk.

Whatever the state of Raymond's fortunes, it was easy to see that they
were not likely to improve in his hands. He detested business, both _en
gros_ and _en détail_. Despite his ancestry, he seemed to have been born
with no faculty for money-making, and he never tried to make up his
deficiency. It was all of a piece with the stone-throwing of his boyhood
days--he never attempted to improve himself: it was enough to follow the
gifts with which he had been natively endowed. Precept, example,
opportunity--all these went for naught. To the end of his days he viewed
the American "business man" as a portentous and inexplicable
phenomenon--one to be regarded with distaste and wonder. He persisted
in thinking of the type as a juvenile one--an energetic and clever boy,
who was immensely active and immensely productive of results (in an
immensely limited field), but who was incapable of anything like an
_aperçu_ or a _Weltanschauung_ (oh, he had plenty of words for it!), and
who was essentially booked to lose much more than he gained. He disliked
"offices" and abominated "hours." I think that even my own modest
professional applications sometimes became a puzzle to him....

And here I stand--convicted of having perpetrated another section
without one short paragraph and without a single line of conversation.
Let me hasten to bring Raymond to my suite and my desk-side, and make
him speak.

He came down one morning, as administrator of his mother's estate, to
consider the appraisal of the personal property--many familiar items,
and some discouraging ones.

"Do you _have_ to do this?" he asked me, with the paper in his hand. "Do
you _like_ to do it?"

"The world's work," I rejoined temperately. "It's got to be done."

"H'm!" he returned. "The world's a varied place. And its work is varied
too. This blessed town must be taught that."

Was he girding himself to be one of its teachers?

From that time on I resolved to take him patiently and good-humoredly: a
friend must bear a friend's infirmities.


III

I did not know, with precision, what phases of the world's work were
engaging Raymond's attention. I suppose he was adventuring, rather
vaguely, among the "liberal arts," though he probably saw, by this time,
that a full professional exercise of any of them was beyond his reach.
He was heard of as writing short essays and reviews for one or two
genteel publications, as making water-color tours through the none too
alluring suburbs, as composing minor pieces for a little musical society
which he had joined and which he wished to advance, and so on.
Acquaintances reported him at architectural exhibits and at
book-auctions--occasions neither numerous nor important. He lived on
alone in his father's house--expensively; too expensively, of course,
for it was an exacting place to keep up.

He was coming to be known in a small circle--but an influential one--as
a young man of wealth, culture, and good-will. But his wealth was less
than supposed, his culture was self-centred, and his good-will was
neither broad nor zealous.

However, the new day was coming when he could be turned to account--or
when, at least, people made the attempt.

This, however, does not mean philanthropy. That was barely dawning as a
social necessity. The few who were supporting charitable institutions
and were working in the recently evolved slums were neither conspicuous
nor fashionable. Nor does it mean political betterment. No efforts had
yet been successful in substituting for the city's executive incubus a
man of worthier type, nor was there yet any effective organization
founded on the assumption--which would have seemed remote and fantastic
indeed--that a city council could be improved. Parlor lectures on civics
were of course still farther in the future. Poor government was simply a
permanent disability, like weather, or lameness, or the fashions; folk
must get along as best they could in spite of it. The town remained a
chaos of maladministration and of non-administration; but when the
decencies are, for the time being, despaired of, one may still try for
the luxuries. So the city girded itself for a great festival; the nation
approved and coöperated, and a vast congeries of white palaces began to
rise on our far edge.

The detailed execution of this immense undertaking was largely local, of
course. Though the work was initiated by older heads (some of them were
too old and were dropped), there were places on the innumerable
committees for younger ones--for men in their early thirties; their
vigor, enthusiasm, and even initiative (within understood limits) would
greatly further the cause. There were (among others) committees on
entertainment to engage the services of young men of position, leisure,
and social experience. There were many foreign dignitaries to be
received and guided; there must be lively and presentable youths to help
manoeuvre them. Raymond, who was supposed to have mingled in European
society (instead of having viewed it from afar, in detachment), was
asked to serve in this field.

There were equally good opportunities for brisk, aggressive young men on
finance committees and such-like bodies, wherein prominent sexagenarians
did the heavily ornamental and allowed good scope for younger men who
had begun to get a record and who wished to confirm ability in
influential eyes. This opened a road for John W. McComas, who made a
record, indeed, in the matter of gathering local subscriptions. He
dented the consciousness of several important men in his own field, and
got praised in the press for his indefatigability and his powers of
persuasion. Before the six months of festivity were half over, our
Johnny had become a "prominent citizen" and his new bank almost a
household word.

Raymond did less well. The great organization was an executive
hierarchy: ranks and rows of officials, with due heed not only to
coördination but to subordination. Some men do their best under such
conditions; others, their worst. Raymond, a strong individualist, a
pronounced egoist, could not "fall in." Even in his simple field--one
concerned chiefly with but the outward flourishes--the big machine irked
and embarrassed him. He withdrew. When an imperial prince was publicly
"received," with ceremonies that mingled old-world formalities (however
lamely followed) and local inspirations (however poorly disciplined),
the moving event went off with no help of his: I believe he even smiled
at it all from a balcony.

It was here that Raymond began to make clear his true type. He was
Goethe's "bad citizen"--the man who is unable to command and unwilling
to obey.

After a particularly flamboyant appreciation of McComas's services in a
Sunday newspaper, I ventured to touch on our Johnny's rise in Raymond's
hearing. The two had not met for years; and Johnny had probably no
greater place in Raymond's mind than Raymond, as I remembered once
finding, had in Johnny's. But Raymond did not yet pretend to overlook or
to forget or to ignore him; nor did he yet allow himself to mention
Johnny as a one-time dweller in his father's stable.

"Why, yes," said Raymond; "he seems to be coming on fast. Climbing like
anything."

This, I felt, was disapproval, slightly tinctured with contempt. But
there are two kinds of progress on a ladder or a stairway. There is the
climbing up, and there is (as we sometimes let ourselves say) the
climbing down.

It was at the imperial reception that Raymond and Johnny finally met.
Let us figure Raymond as descending from his satirical balcony, and
Johnny, with his wife, as earnestly working his way up the great
stairway--the _scalone_, as Italy had taught Raymond to call it. This
was an ample affair with an elaborate handrail, whose function was
nullified by potted plants, and with a commodious landing, whose corners
contained many thickset palms. A crowd swarmed up; a crowd swarmed down;
the hundreds were congested among the palms. Johnny, with his wife on
his arm, was robust and hearty, and smiled on things in general as he
fought their way up. He took the occasion as he took any other occasion:
much for granted, but with a certain air of richly belonging and of
worthily fitting in. His wife--"I suppose it was his wife," said
Raymond--was elaborately gowned and in high feather: a successful
delegate of luxury. Obviously an occasion of this sort was precisely
what she had long been waiting for. Despite the press about her, she
made her costume and her carriage tell for all they might. A triumphing
couple, even Raymond was obliged to concede. The acme of team work....

"There we were--stuck in the crowd," said Raymond, whose one desire
seemed to have been to gain the street. "Not too close, fortunately. I
had to bow, but I didn't have to speak; and I didn't have to be
'presented.' He gave me quite a nod."

And no great exercise of imagination was required for me to see how
distant and reserved was Raymond's bow in return.


IV

That autumn, after the festal flags had ceased their flaunting and fire
had made a wide sweep over the white palaces, Raymond suddenly went
abroad. It was to be a stay of three or four months. He first wrote me
from Paris.

He wrote again in December, also from Paris, and told me _tout court_
that he was engaged to be married. I give this news to you as suddenly
as he gave it to me.

You can supply motives as easily as I. His parents were gone and his
family life was _nil_. The old house was large and lonely. You may
believe him influenced, if you like, by his last view of Johnny McComas
and by Johnny's amazing effect of completeness and content. You may
fancy him as visited by compunctions and mortifications due to his
consciousness of his own futility. Or you may fall back upon the simple
and general promptings that are smoothly current in the minds of us all.
My own notion, however, is this: he never would have married at home;
only an insidious whiff of romance, encountered in France or Italy,
could have accomplished his undoing.

Raymond's own advices were meagre. "Your emotional participation not
particularly desired"--such seemed to be the message that lay invisible
between his few lines. But other correspondents supplied the _lacunæ_.
He was to marry a girl whose family formed part of the American colony
in the French capital. At least, the feminine members of the family were
there: the mother, and an elder sister. The father, according to a
custom that still provoked Gallic comment, was elsewhere: he was
following the markets in America. The bride-to-be was between nineteen
and twenty. Raymond himself was thirty-three.

He advised me, later, that the wedding would take place at the end of
February and requested me to obtain and forward some of the quaint
documents demanded at such a juncture by the French authorities. He
added that he hoped for a honeymoon in Italy, but that his fiancée
favored Biarritz and Pau.

The wedding came off at one of the American churches in Paris. It was a
sumptuous ceremonial, aided by a bishop (who was on his travels, but who
had not forgotten to bring along his vestments) and by the attendance of
half the colony. Raymond was obliged to put up with all this pomp and
show, much as it ran counter to his tastes and inclinations. But
fortunately he was made even less of than most young men on such an
occasion; he had few connections on either side of the water, so the
bride's connections dominated the day and made her the chief figure
still more completely than is commonly the case. And the honeymoon was
spent, not in the north of Italy, but in the south of France.

There are times when a young girl must have her way. And there are times
when a young husband (but not so young) will determine to have his. I
knew Raymond.

The couple were in no haste to get home. The four months ran to almost a
year. I first met the new wife at a reception in the early autumn.

"Gertrude," said Raymond, "let me present to you my old friend--" H'm!
let me see: what _is_ my name?--Oh, yes: "Gertrude, let me present to
you my old friend, George Waite."

Can a young bride, dressed in black, and dressed rather simply too, look
almost wicked? Well, this one contrived to.

The effect was not due to her face, which had an expression of naïve
sophistication, or of sophisticated naïveté, not at all likely to
mislead the mature; nor to her carriage, which, though slightly
self-conscious, was modest enough, and not a bit too demure. It was due
to her dress, which, after all, was not quite so simple, either in
intention or in execution, as it seemed. It was black, and black only;
and it was trimmed with black jet or spangles or passementerie or
whatever--let some one else find the name. It was cut close, and it was
cut low; too close and too low--she was the young married woman with a
vengeance. It took a tone and bespoke a tradition to which most of us
were as yet strangers, and our initiation into a new and equivocal realm
had been too sudden for our powers of adjustment. It was Paris in its
essence--the thing in itself--and it had all come unedited through the
hands of a mother and a sister who were so rapt or so subservient as to
be incapable of offering opposition to the full pungency of the Parisian
evangel, and of hushing down an emphatic text for acceptance in a more
quiet environment. I can only say that several nice young chaps looked
once and then looked away. Raymond himself was inconvenienced. Nor did
matters mend when, within a week or so, Mrs. Raymond Prince began to
rate the women of her new circle as "homespun."

Her little hand fell most heavily on these poor aborigines when two or
three members of Raymond's singing-class loyally came to one of her own
receptions. These Adeles and Gertrudes of the earlier day were now wives
and mothers, with the interests proper to such. They had shepherded
babies through croup and diphtheria, and were now seeing husky,
wholesome boys and girls of twelve and thirteen through the primary
schools. When among themselves, they talked of servants and husbands.
They had not married and gone West or East; they had married at home,
and they had stayed at home. They had had too many things on their hands
and minds to catch up much of the recent exoticism stirring about them
here in town, and they were far from able to cope with this recent
importation of exoticism from the Rue de la Paix.

Raymond came home, one afternoon, in time for the last half-hour of his
wife's last reception. Her dress, on this occasion, was quite as daring,
in its way, as on the other, and original to the point of the bizarre.
One of the early Adeles was leaving, but she stopped for a moment and
attempted speech. She was the particular Adele with the piercing soprano
voice--a voice which had since lowered itself to sing lullabies to three
successive infants.

"Well, Raymond--" she began hopefully, and stopped. She tried again, but
failed; and she passed on and out with her words unsaid.

"Well, Raymond--" Yes, I am afraid that that was the impression of more
early friends than one.


V

Raymond had expected, of course, to give his wife her own way at the
beginning--at the very beginning, that is; and he had expected, equally,
to have her make a definite impression on the circle awaiting her. But--

Well, he had intended to "take her in hand," and to do it soon. She was
to be formed, or re-formed; she was to be adjusted, both to things in
general and to himself especially. Besides being her husband, he was to
be her kindly elder brother, her monitor, patient but firm; she was to
enter upon a state of tutelage. He was pretty certain to be right in all
his views, opinions and practices; and she, if her views, opinions and
practices were at variance with his, was pretty certain to be in the
wrong. He assumed that, during those few years in Paris, she had learned
it all in one big lesson only. The time had been too short to confirm
all this sudden instruction into a reasoned and assimilated way of life;
by no means had that superficial miscellany been rubbed into the warp
and woof of her being. The Parisian top-dressing would be removed and
the essential subsoil be exposed and tilled....

H'm!

One of the strongest of her early impressions was naturally that of the
house in which she was to live. It was big and roomy; it was detached,
and thus open to light and air. But its elephantine woodwork repelled
her, for she had grown up amid the rococo exuberances of Paris
apartments. The heavy honesty of black-walnut depressed her after the
gilded stucco of her mother's salon. And that huge, portentous
orchestrion took up such an immensity of room!

I doubt if the neighborhood itself pleased her much better, though it
was homogeneous (in its way), and dignified, and enjoyed an exceptional
measure of quietude. Perhaps it was too quiet, after some years of a
balcony on a boulevard. And it is true that some of the big houses were
vacant, and that some of the families roundabout went away too often and
stayed away too long. An empty house is a dead house, and when doors and
windows are boarded up you may say the dead house is laid out. Things
were sometimes _triste_--the French for final condemnation. The exodus
so long foreshadowed seemed appreciably under way. This Gertrude became
increasingly conscious, as the months went on, that most of the people
she wanted to see and most of the houses she was prompted to frequent
were miles away, and that the flood-tide of business rolled between.

Of her reaction to the circle in which she first found herself I have
given you one or two indications. It would be easy, as it would be
customary, to give some other of her early social experiences in detail
and her reactions to them; but my interest is frankly in her husband and
in his reactions. It was of him, too, that I saw the most; and I have
never gone greatly into society.

At the end of a long and possibly somewhat dull winter his wife began to
hint the advantageousness of transferring themselves to that other part
of town. Raymond was not precisely in the position where he cared to pay
high rent for a small house, while a big house was standing empty and
unrealizable. Pouts; frowns.... But nature came to his aid. With a new
young life soon to appear above the horizon, now was no time to shift.
His son should be born in the house in which he ought to be born. A
reasonable view, on the whole; and it prevailed.

Raymond had said "son," and son it was. The baby was not named Raymond:
his father, however much of an egoist, was not willing to put himself
forward as such so obviously, nor for a period that promised to be
indefinitely long. Nor was the baby called Bartholomew, after his
maternal grandfather in the East: for who cared to inflict such an
old-fashioned, four-syllable name on such a small morsel of flesh? He
entered the battle under the neutral and not over-colorful pennon of
Albert: his mother could thus call him "Bertie," and think, not too
remotely, of her parent on the stock exchange.

Raymond was not long in discovering, after reaching home, what
sacrifices the new life was to involve. On the Continent, in the midst
of change and stir, these had not foretold themselves. Back in his own
house, his interests--"intellectual interests" he called them--began to
assert themselves in the old way. But he was no longer free to range the
fields of the mind and take shots at the arts as they rose. Least of all
was he to read in the evening. That was to neglect, to affront. However,
the arrival of little Albert--poor tad!--changed the current of his
wife's own interests and helped to place one more rather vital matter
in abeyance. He was to live--for a while, anyway--in his present home;
and he was to pursue--for a while, anyway--some of the accustomed
interests of his bachelor days. He expected that, before long, his wife
would accept his environment and the practices he had always followed
within it. She needed enlightenment on many points. He had already
communicated some of his views on dress, for example; and he had
readjusted her notions on the preparation of salads. He gave her, pretty
constantly, corrective glances through, or over, his eyeglasses,--for
his sight had begun to weaken early, as his father had foreseen,--and he
meant that such glances should count. She required to be edited; well,
the new manuscript was worth his pains, and would be highly creditable
in its revised version.


VI

If one advantage showed forth from a situation that seemed, in general,
not altogether promising, it was this: Raymond, hearing his native town
commented upon unfavorably by his wife,--who was keen and constant in
her criticisms,--began to defend it. It was one thing for the
native-born to pick flaws; it was another when that ungracious work was
attempted by a newcomer. And he meant not only to defend it, but to
remain in it, though his wife had married him partly on the strength of
his European predilections, and largely on the assumption that a good
part of their married life would be spent abroad. He even began to
wonder if he might not join in and help improve things. Like most of his
fellow-townsmen, he regarded the city's participation in the late
national festival as a great step in advance,--the first of many like
steps soon to follow. The day after the Fair was late; but better to be
late than never. Really, there was hope for the Big Black Botch. More
and more he felt inclined to lessen still further its lessening
enormity. After all, this town was the town of his birth: and a
fundamental egoism cried out that it should be more worthy of him. He
recalled a group of American women--Easterners--whom, during his first
trip abroad, he had caught poring over the guest-book of a hotel in
Sorrento. He was the last male arrival in a slow season; he seemed
interesting and promising; evidently they had had hopes. "But," asked
one of them, "how is it you are willing to register openly from such a
town as that?"--and Raymond had felt the sting. "Such nerve, such
bumptiousness!" he said to me in recalling that query some years later.
But he did not add that he had tried to deliver any _riposte_. Instead
he was now to make a belated return at home, where effort most counted.
The years immediately to come were to be full of new openings and
opportunities; in his own way, and under his peculiar handicaps, he was
to try to take some advantage of them.



PART V

I


Little Albert's babyhood kept his mother a good deal at home--and by
"home" I mean the house in which he had been born. His father's lessened
interest in Europe (and his diminished deference for it) kept his mother
at home completely--and by "home" I now mean the town in which Albert
had been born. Father, mother, and offspring filled the big house as
well as they could--the big, _old_ house as it was sometimes called by
those who cherished a chronology that was purely American; and Albert
was more than a year and a half along in life before his grandmother
came across to see him and to inspect the distant _ménage_. She brought
her water-waves and her sharpened critical sense, and went back leaving
the impression that she was artificial and exacting.

"She missed her Paris," said Raymond, "and her drive in the Bois."

"H'm!" said I, recalling that the town's recent chief executive had
pronounced us, not many years back, the equal of Paris in civic beauty.

"We have no Bois, as yet," he added, thoughtfully. "Do you think we ever
shall have one?"

He was revolving the Bois, not as a definite tract of park land, but as
a social institution.

"I think," said I, "that we had better be satisfied with developing
according to our own nature and needs."

"Yes," he returned; "there was the Frenchman at the fox-hunt: 'No band,
no promenade, no nossing.' Well, we must go on our own tack, as soon as
we discover it."

It need not be imagined that his mother-in-law's look-in of a month made
his wife more contented. She kept on wishing for her new friends in
another quarter, and (more strongly) for the familiar scenes of the
other side. Raymond did not wish the expense involved in either move.
His affairs were now going but tolerably. So far as the bank was
concerned--a bank that had once been almost a "family" institution--his
influence was naught. He was only a stockholder, and a smaller
stockholder than once. His interest, in any sense, was but a brief,
periodical interest in dividends. These were coming with a commendable
regularity still. His rentals came in fairly too; but most of them were
now derived from properties on the edge of the business
district--properties with no special future and likely only to hold
their own however favorable general conditions might continue. Travel?
No. A man travels best in his youth, when he is foot-free, care-free,
fancy-free. Go traveling too late, or once too often, and there is a
difference. The final checking-off of something one has "always meant to
see" may result in the most ashen disappointment of all: even intuition,
without the pains of actual experience, should suffice to warn. Besides,
as Raymond said,--

"We've both had a good deal of it. Let's stay at home."

His wife cast about her. There is a mood in which a deprivation of high
comedy may drive one to low-down farce. To-day people are even going
farther. A worthy stage is dead, they say; and they patronize, somewhat
willfully and contemptuously (or with a loose, slack tolerance that is
worse), the moving pictures. Perhaps it was in some such mood that
Raymond's wife took up with Mrs. Johnny McComas. They were but three
streets apart. Mrs. McComas was lively, energetic, determined to drive
on; and her ability to assimilate rapidly and light-handedly her growing
opulence made it seem by no means a mere vulgar external adornment. She
knew how to move among the remarkable furnishings with which she had
surrounded herself in that old-new house, and how to make the momentum
gained there serve her ends in the world outside.

"It will be a short life here," her husband had told her on their taking
possession; "then, a quick sale--at a good figure--to some manufacturing
concern, and on we go."

"If it's to be short, let's make it merry," she had rejoined; and
nothing had been spared that could give liveliness to their stately old
interiors, while those interiors lasted.

Mrs. Raymond Prince vaguely pronounced their house "amusing." It had,
like Adele McComas herself, a provocative dash which fell in with her
present mood, and it pleased her that its châtelaine was inclined to
dress up to its wayward sofas and hangings. She even went with Mrs.
Johnny on shopping tours and abetted her as her fancies, desires and
expenditures ran riot. It was a mood of irresponsibility--almost of
defiant irresponsibility.

Now was the nascent day of the country club. Several of these welcome
institutions had lately set themselves up in a modest, tentative way.
Acceptance was complete, and all they had to do was to grow. With one of
these McComas cast his lot. At the start it was a simple enough affair;
but Johnny must have sensed its potentialities and savored its
affinities, its coming congruity with himself. It was to become,
shortly, a club for the suddenly, violently rich, the flushed with
dollars, the congested with prosperity--for newcomers who had met
Success and beaten her at her own game. Stir on all hands, the reek of
sudden felicity in the air. In later years people with access to better
things of similar sort were known to become indignant when asked to
associate themselves with it. "Why should _I_ want to join _that_?" was
the question they put. But it pleased Johnny McComas, both by its
present manifestations and its latent possibilities. It was richly in
unison with his own nature, and I believe he had a ravishing vision of
its magnificent futurities.

Last year my wife and I were taken to a Sunday afternoon concert out
there. We found a place of towers and arcades, of endless corridors
planted with columns and numberless chairs in numberless varieties, of
fountained courts, of ball-rooms, of concert-halls, of gay apparel and
cool drinks. We heard of fairs, horse-shows, tournaments in golf and
tennis. The restaurant, with its acre of tables, glassed and naperied;
the ranges of telephone booths, all going it together; the cellars, a
vast subterrene, with dusky avenues of lockers, each cluttered with
beverages of individual predilection--though I suppose that, after all,
they were a good deal alike....

Well, it was too much for us; and my Elsie, who is essentially the lady,
if woman ever was, came away feeling a little dowdy and a good deal out
of date.

At that earlier period, however, it was still simple; the germ was
there, but the development of its possibilities had only begun. When
Mrs. McComas invited Mrs. Prince to drive out with her and see some
tennis, Mrs. Prince was quite ready to accept.

I do not know just what mode of locomotion they employed. It was in the
early days of the automobile and Johnny McComas was one of the first men
in town to have one. I recall, in fact, some of his initial experiences
with it. On a Sunday afternoon I encountered him in one of these still
relatively unstudied contraptions on a frequented driveway. Another man
was sitting beside him patiently. The conveyance was making no progress
at all. Fortunately it had stopped close enough to the curb not to
interfere with the progress of other and more familiar equipages.

"We're stuck," said Johnny, jovially, as he caught sight of me. "Ran for
three or four miles slick as a whistle--and look at us now!" It
entertained him--a kink in a new toy. And he enjoyed the interest of the
people collected about.

"You're gummed up, I expect," said I. In those days nobody knew much
about the new creature and its habits, and one man's guess was as good
as another's. Two or three bystanders eyed me deferentially, as a
probable expert.

"Likely enough," he agreed--and that made me an expert beyond doubt.
"But this will do for to-day. We've been here twenty minutes."

He had the car pushed to a near-by stable, amidst the mixed emotions of
the little crowd, and next day he had it hauled home.

"You were right," he said, when I met him out again in it, a week later.
"It _was_ gummed up, so to speak; but it's working like a charm to-day.
Get in and I'll take you a few miles. That other fellow got an awful
grouch."

It may have been by this machine, or by some more familiar mode of
locomotion, that the two women reached the country club and its tennis
tournament. Gertrude Prince strolled through its grounds and galleries
with the aloof and amused air of one touring through a foreign town--a
town never seen before and likely to be left behind altogether within an
hour or two. It was at once semi-smart and semi-simple. She took it
lightly, even condescendingly; and when Johnny McComas himself appeared
somewhat later and set them down at a little marble table near a
fountain-jet and offered cocktails as a preliminary to a variety of
sandwiches, she decided, after looking about and seeing a few other
ladies with glasses before them on other little marble tables, to
accept. It was a lark in some town of the provinces--Meaux or Melun;
what difference did it make?

They formed a little group altogether to Johnny's liking. His wife was
dressed dashingly; his wife's guest made a very fair second; he
himself, although he never lifted a racquet, was in the tennis garb of
that day.

"You both look ripping," he declared with hearty satisfaction. To look
thus, before competing items in the throng, was the object of the place,
the reason for its developing _mise en scène_.

Johnny himself looked ripping--cool, confident, content, and at the top
of his days.

"It was amusing...." said Gertrude to me, with an upward inflection, a
week later.

And she asked me for more about Johnny McComas.


II

If those were days when people began to combine for the pursuit of
pleasure, they were also days when people began to gather at the call of
public duty. If clubs were forming on the borders, other clubs, leagues,
societies were forming nearer the centre--organizations to make
effective the scattered good-will of the well-disposed and to gain some
betterment in the local political life. To initiate and conduct such
movements only a few were needed; but the many were expected to
contribute, if not their zeal and their time, at least their dollars. It
was patriotic righteousness made easy: a man had only to give his fifty
dollars or his five hundred to feel, without further personal exertion,
that he was a good citizen and was forwarding, as all good citizens
should, a worthy cause. This way of doing it fell in wonderfully well
with Raymond's temperament and abilities (or lack of them): the
liberality of his contributions did not remain unknown, and he was
sometimes held up as a favorable specimen of the American citizen.

Another movement was soon to engage his attention. If the prosperous
were to have their playgrounds beyond the city's outskirts, the less
prosperous should have theirs within the city's limits. The scheme of a
system of small parks and playgrounds quite took Raymond's fancy. It
contained, besides the idea of social amelioration, the even more
grateful idea of municipal beautification. In time, indeed, might not
this same notion, fortified by experience and given a wider
application, end by redeeming the town not merely in spots but in its
entirety?--a saved and graced whole, not only as to its heart, but as to
its liberal and varied borders of water, woodland and prairie.

"I should be proud of that," said Raymond heartily. The name of such a
city, following one's own name on any hotel-register, would indeed be a
matter for pride.

He attended several of the early meetings that were designed to get some
such project, in its simpler form, under way. He had friends among
professional men in the arts, and some acquaintances among newly formed
bodies of social workers. He was not slow in perceiving that the way was
likely to be tedious and hard. It called for organization--the
organization of hope, of patience, of hot, untiring zeal, of _finesse_
against political chicane, of persistence in the face of indifference
and selfishness. "It will take years of organized endeavor," he
confessed. He recognized his own ineffectiveness beyond the narrow pale
of hopeful suggestion, and wished that here too the giving of a
substantial sum--a large penny-in-the-slot--might produce quick and
facile results.

His wife, it is to be feared, looked upon these activities of his,
however slight, with a lack-lustre eye. She knew nothing of local
problems and local needs. She was conscious of a hortatory manner in
small matters and of indifference, which she almost made neglect, in
matters that appeared to her to be larger. If she asked for a fairer
share in his evenings--he belonged to a literary club, a musical
society, and so on--it was scant consolation to be told that he objected
to some of her own activities and associations. He did not much care,
for example, to have her "run" with the McComases and others of that
type or to have her dawdle over glasses, tall, broad, or short, in
places of general democratic assemblage; and he told her so. I believe
it was about here that she began to find him something of a prig and a
doctrinaire; and she was not incapable, under provocation, of mentioning
her impressions. It was about here, I suspect, that he told her
something of Johnny McComas and his origins--at least he once or twice
spoke of Johnny with a certain sharp scorn to me. He assuredly spoke of
other country clubs on the other side of town which were more desirable
for her and equally accessible, save in the material sense of mere
miles. Though he took no interest in athletics, nor even in the lighter
out-of-door sports, he was willing to join one of those clubs, if it was
required of him.

His reference to Johnny McComas was designed, no doubt, to repel her;
but the effect, as became perfectly apparent, was quite the contrary.
She was interested, even fascinated, by the rise of a man from so little
to so much. She found words and words to express her admiration of
Johnny's type, and when English words ran short she found words in
French. He was _gaillard_; he had _élan_. What wasn't he? What hadn't
he? Bits of bravado, I still incline to think.

No, the McComases were not to be left behind all of a sudden. One day
she made another excursion to the outskirts with them; and she reported
it to Raymond, with a little air of suppressed mockery, as a perfectly
unobjectionable jaunt. She had gone with them to the cemetery. Johnny's
mother had died the year before, and he had been putting up a monument
in Roselands. This structure, it developed, was no mere memorial to an
individual. It was a tall shaft, set in the middle of a large lot. I saw
it later myself: a lavish erection (with all its accessory features
taken into account)--one designed, as I felt, to show Johnny himself to
posterity as an ancestor, as the founder of a family line. Assuredly his
own name, aside from the tall obelisk itself, was the largest thing in
view.

Raymond took this account of Johnny's latest phase with an admirable
seriousness; he thought the better of him for it. He himself was
inclined to divide human-kind into two classes, those who had
cemetery-lots (with monuments), and those who had not. The latter, of
course, are in a majority everywhere. One thinks of Naples and of the
sad road that winds up past the Alhambra to--Well, yes; in a majority,
of course; and inevitably so in a large town suddenly thrown together
by a heaping up of fortuitous and miscellaneous elements. In later
years, when things were going rather badly with Raymond, and when
consideration seemed to fail, he could always comfort himself with
thoughts of the Princes' own monument in that same cemetery. This was
another tall shaft in a gray granite now no longer to be found, and had
been set up by old Jehiel on the occasion of the reinterment of some
infants by his first wife--a transaction carried out years before
Raymond was born. Some of the dates on the base of the monument went
back to the early thirties. Well, there it stood, with the subordinated
headstones of Jehiel and old Beulah, of his own parents, and of the
half-mythical babes who, if they had given nothing else to the world,
had furnished a future nephew with a social perspective. Raymond,
reconsidering Johnny's recent effort, now began to disparage that
improvised background, and led his wife to view his own lot--theirs,
hers--only a hundred yards from the other. But she could not respond to
old Jehiel and Beulah--though she tried to be properly sympathetic over
their son and his wife. Still less could she vitalize the infants who
had encountered an epidemic on the prairie frontier and had succumbed
more than three score years ago. If she thought of any child at all, she
thought doubtless of little Albert (now romping about in his first tweed
knickerbockers), who would not die for many years, perhaps, and who was
like enough to be buried in quite another spot.

But I think she thought, most of all, of the manly, cheerful sorrow of
Johnny McComas before the new monument in the other lot.


III

These were also days of panic. Banks went down and bank officials threw
themselves after. The city was thrilled, even charmed, to find that its
financial perturbations touched, however slightly, the nerves of London
and Paris. I myself was in Algeria that winter: my Elsie and I had
decided on three months along the Mediterranean. It was on the white,
glaring walls of the casino at Biskra that the news was first bulletined
for our eyes. It had a glare of its own, I assure you: for a few days
we knew little enough how we ourselves might be standing.

I thought of the Mid-Continent, with its cumbersome counters and
partitions done in walnut veneer and its old-fashioned pavement in
squares of black and white. I thought too of Johnny McComas's new
institution, with so many bright brass handrails and such a spread of
tasteful mosaics underfoot. How had they fared? Well, they had fared
quite differently. Why should a big, old bank go under, while a new,
little bank continues to float. I cannot tell you. I was far away at the
time. Perhaps I could not tell you even if I had been on the spot. And
to other questions, more important still, I may be unable to give, when
the pinch comes, a clearer answer. The Mid-Continent dashed, or drifted,
into the rocky hands of a receiver; and McComas's bank, after a
fortnight of wobbling, righted itself and kept on its way.

I saw Raymond again in March. The receivership was going on languidly.
Prospects were bright for nobody.

"All this puts an end to _one_ of my plans, anyhow," he said.

"What plan is that?" I asked.

I was reminded that these were also the days of a quickened interest in
education. This interest was expressing itself in large new
institutions, and these institutions were generously embodying
themselves in solid stone--in mullions, groins, gargoyles, finials, and
the whole volume of approved scholastic detail. Donors were grouping
themselves in "halls" and dormitories round a certain inchoate campus,
and were putting on the fronts of their buildings their own names, or
the names of deceased husbands or wives, fathers or mothers--so many
bids for a monumental immortality.

"I had hoped for a Prince Hall," said Raymond. And he explained that it
would have been in memory of his parents.

I must pause for a moment on this matter. I do not believe that Raymond
had ever thought, in seriousness, of any such gift. It must have been at
best an errant fancy, and if concerned with commemorating anybody
concerned with commemorating himself. But I will say this for him: he
never was disposed to try getting things out of people, for he hated
attempts at trickery almost as much as he detested the exercise of the
shrewdness involved in bargaining and dickering. Per contra, he often
showed himself not averse to giving things to other people; but the
basis for that giving must be clearly understood all round. He would not
compete; he would not struggle; he would not descend to a war of wits.
His to bestow, from some serene height; his the rôle, in fact, of the
kindly patron. Let but his own superiority be recognized--let him only
be regarded as _hors concours_--and he would sometimes deign to do the
most generous acts. These acts embraced, now and again, the
entertainment of writers and artists, either at his home or elsewhere:
his fellows--for he was a writer and an artist too. But it was all done
with the understanding that there was a difference: he was a writer and
an artist--but he was something more. Those who failed to feel the
difference were not always bidden a second time.

And his fancy for patronage was developing just at a time when patronage
was becoming more difficult, awkward, impracticable! But though "Prince
Hall" never saw the light, other and humbler forms of patronage came to
be accepted by him.

Toward the end of April Raymond and his wife joined one of the clubs
which he had brought to her notice. Though in a formative stage, like
others, it was good (we ourselves joined it some few years later); and
she made it her concern, through the summer, to give it some of those
shaping pats which--for a new club, as for a new vase--have the greater
value the earlier they are bestowed. She was active about the place, and
she became conspicuous.

It was soon seen that she was "gay"--or was inclined to be, under
favoring conditions. The conditions were most favoring, it began to be
felt, when her husband was not about. A good many thought him stiff, and
a few who used obsolete dictionary words pronounced him proud--a term
stately enough to constitute somehow a tribute, though a damnatory one.
It was soon seen, too, that just as he irked her, so she disparaged
him--an open road to others.

One day she gave a lunch at the club--places for a dozen. Johnny McComas
appeared there for the first time. It was a plainer place than his own,
but I credit him with perceiving that it was much more worth while.
Adele McComas did not appear--for a good reason. Those obstreperous
twins now had a little sister two weeks old. The wife was doubtless
better at home, but was the husband better at the club? If I had been a
member at that time, and present, I should have felt like following him
to some corner of the veranda and saying: "Oh, come, now, Johnny, will
this quite do?" Well, I know what his look would have been--it came
later. He would have turned that wide, round face on me, with the curly
hair about the temples which gave him somehow an expression of abiding
youth and frankness; and he would have directed those hard, bright blue
eyes of his to look straight ahead at me--eyes that seemed to hold back
nothing, yet really told nothing at all; and would have disclaimed any
wrong-doing or any intention of wrong-doing. And I should have felt
myself a foolish meddler.

Well, the innocent informalities of the summer were resumed by the same
set in town next winter. The memories and the methods of one season were
tided over to another. Gertrude was still "gay"--perhaps gayer--and a
little more openly impatient with her husband, and a little more openly
disdainful of him. Young men swarmed and fluttered, and those who had
"never tried it on" before seemed inclined to try it on now.

I take, on the whole, a tempered view--by which I mean, a favorable
view--of our society and its moral tone. I am assured, and I believe
from my own observations, that this is higher than in some other of our
large cities. I dislike scandal, and I have no desire to bear tales.
Either is far from being the object of these present pages. Nothing that
I present need be taken as typical, as tyrannously representative.

Raymond criticized, expostulated. Friends began to come to him with
impressions and reports. I--whether for good or ill--was not one of
these. They named names--names which I shall not record here. But it was
one of Raymond's own impressions, and a vivid one, which finally
prompted him to make a move.


IV

January found the social life of the town in full swing. We had
recovered from last year's financial jolt, and entertaining was
constant. Raymond and his wife were invited out a good deal. He was
bored by it all; but his wife remained interested and indefatigable.
Finally came a dance at one of the great houses. Raymond rebelled, and
refused point-blank to go: an evening in his library was his mood. His
wife protested, cajoled, and he finally found a reason for giving in.

As I say, they were bidden to one of the great houses--one of the few
that possessed an actual façade, a central court, and a big staircase:
it had too its galleries of paintings and of Oriental curios before
Oriental curios became too common. Its owner was also, with the rest, a
musical amateur. He was a man of forty-five, and like Raymond had a wife
too many years younger than himself for his own comfort. This lively
lady lived on fiddles and horns--dancing was an inexhaustible pleasure.
At her dancing-parties, of which she gave three or four a season, her
husband would show himself below for a few moments for civility's sake,
and then retire to a remote den on an upper floor, well shut out from
the sounds of his wife's frivolous measures, but accessible to a few
habitués of age and tastes approximating his own.

The question of music of another quality and to another purpose was in
the air--it was a matter of endowing and housing an orchestra. Informal
_pour-parlers_ were under way in various quarters, and Raymond felt
disposed, and even able, to contribute in a modest measure. It was his
pride to have been asked, and it was his pride, despite untoward
conditions, to put up a good front and do as much as he could. An hour's
confab over cigarettes in that retired little den might clarify one
atmosphere, if not another.

The court and its staircase were set with palms, as is the ineluctable
wont on such occasions and for such places; and people, between the
dances, or during them, were brushing the fronds aside as they thronged
the galleries round the court to see the Barbizon masters then in vogue
and the Chinese jades. As Raymond passed down the stairway, he met his
wife coming up on the arm of Johnny McComas.

"She looked self-conscious," Raymond said to me, a few days after. I
told him that he had seen only what he was expecting to see.

"And he looked too beastly self-satisfied." I told him that of late I
had seldom seen Johnny look any other way.

"Where was his wife?" he asked. I told him she might easily be in the
crowd on some other man's arm.

"Why were they there at all?" he demanded. And I did not tell him that
probably they were there through his own wife's good offices.

That meeting on the stairs!--he made a grievance of it, an injury. The
earlier meeting, with Johnny's own wife on his arm, had annoyed him as a
general assertion of prosperity. This present meeting, with Raymond
Prince's wife on Johnny's arm, exasperated him as a challenging
assertion of power and predominance.

"I shall act," Raymond declared.

"Nothing rash," said I. "Nothing unconsidered, I hope."

"I shall act," he repeated. And he set his jaw more decisively than a
strong man always finds necessary.


V

Raymond's mind was turning more and more to a set scene with McComas;
some meeting between them was, to his notion, a _scène à faire_. It
seemed demanded by a Gallic sense of form: it must be gone through with
as a requisite to his rôle of offended husband.

One difficulty was that Raymond fluctuated daily, almost hourly, in his
view of his wife--of _the_ wife, I may say. To-day he took the old
view: the wife was her husband's property and any attempt on her was a
deadly injury to him. To-morrow he took the newer view: the wife was an
individual human being and a free moral agent; therefore a lapse, while
it meant disgrace for her, was, for him, but an affront which he must
endure with dignified composure.

Meanwhile the pair saw little of each other, and Albert, puzzled, began
to enter upon his opportunity (a wide and lingering one it became) for
learning adjustment to awkward and disconcerting conditions.

Well, Raymond had his meeting. Imagine whether it was agreeable. Imagine
whether it was agreeable to me, in whose office it was held. Raymond had
the difficult part of one who must act because he has deliberately
committed himself to action, yet has no sure ground to act upon, and
therefore no line to take with real effect. It was here and now that
McComas turned his round face foursquare to his uncertain accuser, and
let loose a steady, unspeaking stare from those hard blue eyes, and
declared that nothing had occurred upon which an accusation could justly
be based. He was emphatic; and he was blunt; the son and grandson of a
rustic.

Nothing, he said. Had there really been nothing? You are entitled to
ask. And I might be inclined to answer, if I knew. I simply don't. I was
in position to know something, to know much; but everything?--no.

Think, if you please, of the many domestic situations which must pass
without the full light of detailed knowledge--knowledge that comes too
late, or never comes at all. Consider the simple, willful girl who
marries impulsively on the assumption that the new acquaintance is a
bachelor. Cases have been known where it developed that he was not.
Consider the phrase of the marriage service, "if any of you know just
cause or impediment": who can declare that, in a given instance, some
impediment, moral if not legal, might not be brought against either
contracting party, however trustful the other? Consider the story of the
anxious American mother who, alarmed by reports about a fascinating
scoundrel under whom her daughter was studying music somewhere in
mid-Europe, went abroad alone to investigate. Her letter to the awaiting
father, back home, ran for page after page on non-essentials and dealt
with the real point only in a brief, embarrassed, bewildered postscript
of one line: "Oh, William, _I don't know_!" Neither do I "know." But my
account of later events may help you to decide the question for
yourselves.

Raymond had set his mind on a divorce. If grounds could not be found in
one quarter, they must be found in another. If McComas, that prime
figure, was unable to bring aid, then there must be coöperation among
the other and lesser figures. Raymond revived and reviewed the tales
that had involved several younger men. The more he dwelt on them, the
more inflamed he became, and the more certain that he had been wronged.

I did not accompany him through his proceedings--such advice as I had
given him near the beginning was the advice simply of a friend. My own
part of the great field of the law is a relatively unimpassioned
one--office-work involving real-estate, conveyancing, loans, and the
like. I suggested to Raymond the proper counsel for the particular case,
and there, for a while, I left him.

His wife's parents came on from the East. The mother, after some years
abroad, had lately resumed her domestic duties in the land of her birth.
The father, who knew all of one subject, and nothing of any other,
detached himself for a week or two from the one worthy interest in life
and accompanied her. The "street" was still there when he returned. They
seemed experienced and worldly-wise in their respective fields and their
respective aspects, but they entered upon this new matter with a poor
grace. Here was another mother who did not quite "know," and another
father who waited, at a second remove, for definite knowledge that did
not quite come. First there were maladroit attempts to bring a
reconciliation; and afterwards, and more shrewdly, endeavors to gain as
much as possible for their daughter from the wreck.

Raymond was determined to keep possession of Albert. Mrs. McComas,
mother of three, stoutly declared that the mother should have her child.
Other women said the same, and maintained the point regardless of the
mother's course or conduct. Many women have said the same in many cases,
and perhaps they are right. Perhaps they are completely right in the
case of a boy of six, who surely needs a woman's care. But it is not
difficult, even when material is more abundant than definite, to throw
an atmosphere of dubiousness about a woman and to make it appear that
she is not a "proper person...." So it appeared to the judge in this
case, and so he ruled--with a shading, however. Albert might spend with
his mother one month every summer--and some financial concession on
Raymond's part helped make the time brief. However, she was to have
nothing to say about Albert's mode of life through the rest of the year,
and nothing (more specifically) about his education.

"That makes him mine," said Raymond.

And he set his lips firmly. He was one of those who set their lips
firmly after the event is determined.

I do not know whether Raymond had any real affection for Albert. I do
not know whether he realized what it was for a father to undertake,
single handed, the charge of a boy of six. I think that what moved him
chiefly was his determination to carry a point. However all this may be,
I remember what he said as, after the decree, he walked out with
Albert's hand in his.

"Well, it's over!"

Over!--as if a separation involving a child is ever "over"!



PART VI

I


His domestic difficulty left behind, Raymond settled down to a
middle-aged life of dignity and leisure--or attempted to. But the trial
had rather shaken the dignity, and the sole control of Albert ate into
the leisure. There followed, naturally, a period of restlessness and
discontent.

Those who imputed no blame to Raymond still felt it unfortunate, even
calamitous, that he should not have learned how to get on with a young
wife. But there were those that did blame him--blamed him for an
unbending, self-satisfied prig who would have driven almost any spirited
young woman to desperation. These disparaged him; sometimes--not always
covertly--they ridiculed him. That hurt not only his dignity, but his
pride.

Some of you have perhaps been looking for a generalized expression of
general ideas--for some observations on marriage and divorce which
should have the detachable and quotable quality of epigram. Yet suppose
I were to observe, just here, that Marriage makes a promise to the ear
and breaks it to the hope; or that Divorce is the martyr's crown after
the tortures of Incompatibility; or that Marriage is the Inferno, the
Divorce-Court the Purgatory, and Divorce itself the Paradiso of human
life? You would not be likely to think the better of me, and I should
certainly think less well of myself. Though I am conscious of a homespun
quality of thought and diction, I must keep within the limits set me by
nature, eschewing "brilliancy" and continuing to deal not in abstract
considerations but in concrete facts.

Little Albert spent a good part of his time in a condition of
bewilderment; he perceived early that he must not ask questions, that he
must not try to understand. At intervals he ran noisily through the big
house and made it seem emptier than ever. A nurse, or governess, or
attendant of some special qualifications was required--even for the
short time before he should begin his month with his mother, who was
spending some months with her parents in the East. Even the
preliminaries for this small event occasioned considerable thought and
provoked a reluctant correspondence. His mother--prompted probably by
her own mother--wrote on the subject of Albert's summer clothes. She
wished to buy most of them herself. The Eastern climate in summer had
its special points; also local usage in children's costuming must be
considered--in detailed appearance her child must conform measurably to
that particular juvenile society in which he was to appear. Then there
was the nurse, or governess. Should Albert be brought on by her? And
should she, once in the East, remain there to take him back; or...?

"Oh, the devil!" cried Raymond, in his library, as he turned page after
page of diffuse discourse. "How long is she going to run on? How many
more things is she going to think of?"

And she had felt impelled to address him, despite the cool tone of her
letter, as "Dear Raymond." And that seemed to put him under the
compulsion of addressing her, in turn, as "Dear Gertrude"! Truly, modes
of address were scanty, inadequate.

Well, Albert went East (wearing some of the disesteemed things he
already possessed) to be outfitted for the summer shores of New Jersey.
His governess took him as far as Philadelphia, where the Eastern
connection met him, and "poored" him, sent the woman back home, and took
him out on the shining sands. During the child's absence she made covers
for the drawing-room sofas and chairs; the house, bereft of Albert and
draped in pale Holland, became more dismal than ever.

Raymond, now left alone, was free to devise a way of life in single
harness. He liked it quite as well as the other way. He told himself,
and he told me, that he liked it even better. I believe he did; and I
believe he was relieved by the absence of Albert, whose little daily
regimen, even when directed by competent assistance, had begun to grind
into his father's consciousness. I even believe that the one serious
drawback in Raymond's comfortable summer was the need of studying over a
school for Albert in the fall.

Raymond spent much of his time among his books. He had long since given
up trying to "write anything"; less than ever was he in a mood to try
that sort of exercise now. He looked over his shelves and resolved that
he would make up a collection of books for the Art Museum. They were to
be books on architecture, of which he had many. The Museum library, with
hundreds of architectural students in and out, had few volumes in
architecture, or none. He visioned a Raymond Prince alcove--those boys
should be enabled to learn about the Byzantine buildings, just then
coming into their own; and about the Renaissance in all its varieties,
especially the Spanish Plateresque. He had a number of expensive and
elaborate publications which dealt with that period, and with others,
and he resolved to add new works from outside. He resumed his habit of
going to book-auctions (though little developed at them), dickered with
local dealers who limited themselves to a choice clientèle, and sent to
London for catalogues over which he studied endlessly. He would still
play the rôle of patron and benefactor. Perhaps he foresaw the time when
the Museum would recognize donors of a certain importance by bronze
memorial tablets set up in its entrance hall. Well, he would make his
alcove important enough for any measure of recognition. It was all a
work which interested him in its details and which was more in
correspondence than a larger one with his present means.


II

Before my wife and I left for an outing on the seaboard, news came from
that quarter about Gertrude and Albert. Intelligence even reached us,
through the same correspondent, regarding Mrs. Johnny McComas. Mrs.
Johnny, with her three children, was frequenting the same sands and the
same board walk. It was possible to imagine the arrangement as having
been suggested by Raymond's one-time wife. See it for yourself. Mrs.
Raymond and Mrs. Johnny slowly promenading back and forth together, or
seated side by side beneath their respective parasols or under some gay
awning shared in common, while their authentic children played about
them. What if people--whether friends, acquaintances, or
strangers--_did_ say, "She is divorced"? There she was, with her own son
plainly beside her and her closest woman friend giving her complete
countenance. If a separation, who to blame? The husband, doubtless. In
fact, there was already springing up in her Eastern circle, I was to
find, the tradition of a dour, stiff man, years too old, with whom it
was impossible to live.

It is unlikely that Gertrude, at any time--even at this time--would have
been willing to rank Mrs. Johnny as her closest friend. But Mrs. Johnny
had spoken a good word for her in a trying season, and at the present
juncture her friendly presence was invaluable. She could speak a good
word now--she was, so to say, a continuing witness. The two, I presume,
were seen together a good deal, along with the children, especially
Albert; and Mrs. Johnny, coöperating (if unconsciously) with Gertrude's
mother, did much to stabilize a somewhat uncertain situation.

It was the understanding that Mrs. Johnny was in rather poor health this
summer; the birth of her little daughter had left her a different woman,
and the tonic of the sea-air was needed to remake her into her
high-colored and energetic self. There was nothing especially reviving
in the Wisconsin lakes, to which (placid inland ponds) they had confined
their previous summer sojourns: and the vogue of the fresher resorts
farther north on the greater lakes had not yet reached them. This year
let the salt surf roll and the salt winds blow.

My wife and I, in our Eastern peregrinations, passed a few days at the
particular beach frequented by the two mothers. We really found in Mrs.
Johnny's aspect and carriage some justification for the incredible
legend of her poor health. She walked with less vigor than formerly and
was glad to sit down more frequently; and once or twice we saw her
taking the air at her bedroom window instead of on the broad walk before
the shops. Her boys played robustly on the sands, and would play with
Albert--or rather, let him play with them--if urged to. But, like most
twins, they were self-sufficing; besides, they were several years older.
To produce the full effect of team-work between the families required
some perseverance and a bit of manoeuvring. The little girl was hardly
two.

Gertrude and her mother welcomed us rather emphatically--too
emphatically, we felt. The latter offered us politic lunches in the
large dining-room of their hotel, and laid great stress upon our
_provenance_ when we met her friends on the promenade. We seemed to be
becoming a part of a general plan of campaign--pawns on the board. This
shortened our stay.

The day before we left, Johnny McComas himself appeared. He had found a
way to leave his widely ramifying interests for a few odd hours. A man
of the right temperament gains greatly by a temporary estival
transplantation; and if Johnny always contrived to seem dominant and
prosperous at home, he now seemed lordly and triumphant abroad. He
"dressed the part": he was almost as over-appropriately inappropriate as
little Albert himself. He played ostentatiously with his boys on the
sands, and did not mind Albert as one of their eye-drawing party. He,
whether his wife did or no, responded fully and immediately to the salt
waves and the salt winds.

"Immense! isn't it?" he said to me, throwing out his chest to the breeze
and teetering in his white shoes, out of sheer abundance of vitality, on
the planks beneath him.

There was only one drawback: his wife was really not well. And he
wondered audibly to me, while my own wife was having a few words near by
with Gertrude, how it was that a young woman could, within the first
year of her married life, bear twins with no hurt or harm, and yet
weaken, later, through the birth of a single child.

"She doesn't seem at all lively, that's a fact," he said, with a
possible touch of impatience. "But another two weeks will do wonders for
her," he added: "she'll go back all right."

Prepotent Johnny! No doubt it was a drain on vitality to live abreast of
such a man, to keep step with his robustious stride.

On the forenoon of the day we left, Johnny was walking with Gertrude and
her mother along the accepted promenade. His excess of vitality and of
action gave him an air of gallantry not altogether pleasing to see. His
wife sat at her window, looking down and waving her hand rather
languidly. The Johnny of her belief had come, in part, assuredly, for a
bit of enjoyment. She smiled unconcernedly.


III

Raymond waited back home for Albert, and Albert did not return. We
gathered from a newspaper published near the shores of Narragansett Bay
that Albert, as his mother's triumphant possession, was now being shown
at another resort--and a more important one, judging by his
grandmother's social affiliations; also, that Mrs. McComas, who had not
done any too well on the Jersey shore, was appearing at the new
_plage_--doubtless as the just and sympathetic friend (of social
prominence in her own community) who had stood stanch through
difficulties unjustly endured. Her husband himself had, of course,
returned to the West.

His business called him, even in mid-summer. He had his bank, but he had
more than his bank. There are banks and banks--you can divide them up in
several different ways. There are, of course,--as we have seen,--the
banks that fail, and the banks that do not. And there are the banks that
exist as an end in themselves, and the banks that exist as a means to
other things: those that function along methodically, without taking on
any extraneous features; and those that serve as a nucleus for
accumulating interests, as a fulcrum to move affairs through a wide and
varied range. Of this kind was McComas's. Johnny was not the man to
stand still and let routine take its way--not the man to mark time, even
through the vacation season. Nor could he have done so even if he had
wanted to. But all I need say, just here, is that he came back home
again after three or four days, all told, and that any threatened
embarassment was nullified, or at least postponed.

Raymond heard in silence my account of the doings on the Atlantic shore:
only a wry twist of the mouth and a flare of the nostrils. But as the
weeks went on, and still no Albert, his anger became articulate.

"I shall teach her that an agreement is an agreement," he declared. "She
will never try this again."

Albert finally came home, three weeks late; his mother brought him
herself. The governess transferred him from the hands of one parent to
those of the other; and Raymond had asked my presence for that moment,
as a sort of moral urge.

"Who knows," he asked, "what delay she may try for next?"

He gave one look at the picturesque, if not fantastic, toggery of his
restored child.

"Did you ever see anything like that?" he said scornfully; and I foresaw
a sacrificial bonfire--or its equivalent--with Albert presently clothed
in sane autumn garb.

Albert was followed, within a week, by a letter from his mother. This
was diffuse and circumlocutory, like the first. But its general sense
was clear. If Raymond was thinking of putting Albert into a
boarding-school....

"There she goes again!" exclaimed the exacerbated father. "A matter with
which, by hard-and-fast agreement, she has absolutely nothing to do!"

However, if he was thinking of a boarding-school....

"A child barely seven!" cried Raymond. "Why, half of them will hardly
consider one of eight!"

Still, if he was thinking--well, Mrs. McComas knew of a charming one, an
old-established one, one in which the head-master's wife, a delightful,
motherly soul.... And it was just within the Wisconsin line, not forty
miles from town....

"I see her camping at the gate!" said Raymond bitterly. "Or taking a
house there. Or spending months at a hotel near by. Constantly fussing
round the edge of things. Running in on every visitors' day...."

"Likely enough," I said. "A mother's a mother."

"Well," rejoined Raymond, "the boy _shall_ go to school--in another
year. But the school will be a good deal more than forty miles from
here--no continual week-end trips. And it will not be in a town that has
an endurable hotel--that ought to be easy to arrange, in this part of
the world. No, it won't be near any town at all. I don't suppose she
would take a--tent?" he queried sardonically.

"To some mothers the blue tent of heaven would alone suffice," I
said--perhaps unworthily.

"Rubbish!" he ejaculated; and I felt that a word fitly spoken--or
perhaps unfittingly--was rebuked.


IV

In due season, Albert went off to school, according to his father's
plans; and it was not the school which Adele McComas had hoped to see
Albert enter a little before her own boys should leave it. Raymond,
after another year of daily attentions to Albert's small daily concerns,
was glad to have him away. He did not see his boy's mother a frequent
visitor at this school, nor did he purpose being a frequent visitor
himself. The establishment was approved, well-recommended: let it do its
work unaided, unhindered.

No, Adele McComas never saw Albert at the school of her predilection;
indeed, it was not long after the choice had been made that she lost all
opportunity of seeing anything at all. She withered out, like a
high-colored, hardy-seeming flower that belies all promise, and died
when her little girl was months short of four.

Her name was on the new monument within six weeks. It was the third
name. That of Johnny's father had lately been placed above that of his
mother, and that of his wife was now clearly legible upon the opposite
side of the shaft's base. Some of Johnny's friends saw in this
promptitude a high mark of respect and affection; others felt a haste,
almost undue, to turn the new erection into a bulletin of "actualities";
and a few surmised that had the work not been done with promptitude it
might have come to be done in a leisurely fashion that spelled neglect:
if it were to be done, 't were well it were done quickly--a formal token
of regard checked off and disposed of.

During Albert's first year at his school his mother made two or three
appearances. She was exigent, and she showed herself to the school
authorities as fertile in blandishments. The last of her visits was made
in a high-powered touring-car. Raymond heard of this, and warned the
school head against a possible attempt at abduction.

The second year opened more quietly. One visit--a visit without
eagerness and obviously lacking in any fell intent, and that was all.
It was fair to surmise that this once-urgent, once-vehement mother had
developed a newer and more compelling interest.

She had made herself a figure at Adele McComas's funeral--or, at least,
others had made her a figure at it. She began to be seen here and there
in the company of the widower, and it was reported privately to me that
she had been perceived standing side by side with him in decorous
contemplation, as it were in a sort of transient, elegiac revery _à
deux_, before the monument. It was no surprise, therefore, when we
heard, two months later, that they had married.

"That stable-boy!" said Raymond. "After--me!"

The expression was strong, and I did not care to assent.

Instead, I began:--

"And now, whatever may or may not have been, everything is--"

"Everything is right, at last!" he concluded for me.

"And if they--those two--are put in the right," he went on, "I suppose I
am put in the wrong--and more in the wrong than ever!"

He stared forward, across his littered table, beyond his bookcases,
through his thick-lensed glasses, as if confronting the stiffening
legend of a husband too old, too dry, too unpliable; the victim,
finally, of a sudden turn that was peculiarly malapropos and
disrelishing, the head of a household tricked rather ridiculously before
the world.

Reserve now began to grow on him. He simplified relationships and saw
fewer people. Before these, and before the many at a greater remove, he
would maintain a cautious dignity as a detached and individual human
creature, as a man,--however much, in the world's eyes, he might have
seemed to fail as a husband.


V

John W. McComas, at forty-five, was in apogee. His bank, as I have said,
was coming to be more than a mere bank; it was now the focus of many
miscellaneous enterprises. Several of these were industrial companies;
prospectuses bearing his name and that of his institution constantly
came my way. Some of these undertakings were novel and daring, but most
of them went through; and he was more likely to use his associates than
they were to use him. As I have said, he possessed but two interests in
the world: his business--now his businesses--and his family; and he
concentrated on both. It might be said that he insisted on the most
which each would yield.

He concentrated on his new domestic life with peculiar intensity. His
boys were away at a preparatory school and were looking forward to
college. He centred on his daughter, a future hope, and on his wife, a
present reality and triumph. Over her, in particular, he bent like a
flame, a bright flame that dazzled and did not yet sear. He was able, by
this time, to coalesce with the general tradition in which she had been
brought up--or at least with the newer tradition to which she had
adjusted herself; and he was able to bring to bear a personal power the
application of which she had never experienced. She found herself
handled with decision. She almost liked it--at least it simplified some
teasing problems. He employed a direct, bluff, hearty kindness; but
strength underlay the kindness, and came first--came uppermost--if
occasion seriously required. Life with Raymond had been a laxative, when
not an irritant; life with Johnny McComas became a tonic. She had felt
somewhat loose and demoralized; now she felt braced.

Johnny was rich, and was getting richer yet. He was richer, much, than
he had been but a few years before; richer than Raymond Prince, whose
worldly fortunes seemed rather to dip. Johnny could give his wife
whatever she fancied; when she hesitated, things were urged upon her,
forced upon her. She, in her turn, was now a delegate of luxury. He
approved--and insisted upon--a showy, emphatic way of life, and a more
than liberal scale of expenditure. He wanted to show the world what he
could do for a fine woman; and I believe he wanted to show Raymond
Prince.

Gossip had long since faded away to nothingness. If anybody had wondered
at Johnny's course--a course that had run through possible dubiousness
to hard-and-fast finality--the wonder was now inaudible. If anybody felt
in him a lack of fastidiousness, the point was not pressed. The marriage
seemed a happy solution, on the whole; and the people most
concerned--those who met the new pair--appeared to feel that a problem
was off the board and glad to have it so.

Raymond, on the eve of the marriage, had softened things for himself by
leaving for a few months in Rome. Back, he began to cast about for some
means of occupation and some way of making a careful assertion of his
dignity. At this time "society" was beginning to sail more noticeably
about the edge of the arts, and an important coterie was feeling that
something might well be done to lift the drama from its state of
degradation. Why not build--or remodel--a theatre, they asked, form a
stock company, compose a repertory, and see together a series of such
performances as might be viewed without a total departure from taste and
intelligence?

The experiment ran its own quaint course. The remodeling of the hall
chosen introduced the sponsors of the movement to the fire-laws and
resulted in a vast, unlooked-for expense. A good company--though less
stress was laid on its roster than on the list of guarantors--went
astray in the hands of a succession of directors, not always competent.
The subscribers refused to occupy their boxes more than one night a
week, and, later on, not even that: the space was filled for a while
with servitors and domestic dependents, and presently by nobody....

Raymond went into the enterprise. He put in a goodly sum of money that
never came back to him; and if he coöperated but indifferently, or
worse, he was not more inept than some of his associates. He was
displeased to learn that the McComases had given enough to the
guarantee-fund to insure them a box. And it offended him that, on the
opening night, his former wife, one of a large and assertive party,
should make her voice heard during intermissions (and at some other
times too) quite across the small auditorium. The situation was
generally felt to be piquant, and at the end of the performance people
in the lobby were amused (save the few who had the affair greatly at
heart) to hear Johnny McComas's comment on the play. It was a
far-fetched problem-play from the German, and Raymond had been one of
those who favored it for an opening.

"Did you ever see such a play in your life?" queried Johnny. "What was
it all about? And wasn't _he_ the fool!"

McComas--really caring nothing for the evening's entertainment either
way--could easily afford a large amount for social prestige, and his
wife for general social consolidation. It was little to Johnny that his
thousands went up in exacting systems of ventilation and in salaries for
an expensive staff; but it was awkward for Raymond to lose a sum which,
while absolutely less, was relatively much greater. After a few months
the scheme was dropped; the expensive installation went to the advantage
of a vaudeville manager; Raymond felt poorer, even slightly crippled,
and the voice of the present Mrs. Johnny McComas ran till the end
across that tiny _salle_.

This, I am glad to say, was the last of Raymond's endeavors to patronize
the arts.


VI

Albert's last year at his distant school ended rather abruptly. He came
home, ailing, about a month before the close of the school year. He was
thin and languid. He may have been growing too fast; he may have been
studying too hard; he may have missed the "delightful motherly soul" who
would have brooded over him at the school first proposed; or the
drinking-water may have been infected--_que sais-je_? Well, Albert moped
during much of May through the big house, and his mother heard of his
return and his moping, made the most of it, and insisted on a
visitation.

The child-element, of late, had not been large in her life. Her two tall
stepsons were flourishing in absence; she had had no second child of her
own; little Althea was nice enough, and she liked her pretty well....
But there was her own flesh and blood crying for her--perhaps. So she
descended on the old, familiar interior--familiar and distasteful--and
resumed with zeal the rôle of mother.

Her presence was awkward, anomalous. The servants were disconcerted, and
scarcely knew how to take her fluttery yet imperious orders. For Raymond
himself, as any one could see, it was all purgatory--or worse. Every
room had its peculiar and disagreeable memories. There was the
chamber-threshold over which they had discussed her tendency to out-mode
the mode and to push every extreme of fashion to an extreme still more
daring--for that black gown with spangles, or whatever, had been but the
first of a long, flagrant line. There was the particular spot in the
front hall, before that monumental, old-fashioned, black-walnut
"hat-rack," where he had cautioned more care in her attitude toward
young bachelors, if only in consideration of his own dignity, his
"face." There was the dining-room--yes, she stayed to meals, of course,
and to many of them!--where (in the temporary absence of service) he
had criticized more than once the details of her housekeeping and of her
menu--had told her just how he "wanted things" and how he meant to have
them. And in each case she had pouted, or scoffed, and had contrived
somehow to circumvent him, to thwart him, and to get with well-cloaked,
or with uncloaked, insistence her own way. Heavenly recollections! He
felt, too, from her various glances and shrugs, that the house was more
of a horror to her than ever, and, above all, that abominable
orchestrion more hugely preposterous.

Albert kept mostly to his room. It was the same room which Raymond
himself had occupied as a boy. It had the same view of that window above
the stable at which Johnny McComas had sorted his insects and arranged
his stamps. The stable was now, of course, a garage; but the time was on
the way when both car and chauffeur would be dispensed with. Parallel
wires still stretched between house and garage, as an evidence of
Raymond's endeavor to fill in the remnant of Albert's previous vacation
with some entertaining novelty that might help wipe out his recollection
of the month lately spent with his mother. Albert was modern enough to
prefer wireless--just then coming in--to "bugs" and postage-stamps; but
the time remaining had been short. Besides, Albert liked the theatre
better; and Raymond, during those last weeks in August, had sat through
many woeful and stifling performances of vaudeville that he might regain
and keep his hold on his son. His presence at these functions was
observed and was commented upon by several persons who were aware of the
aid he was giving for a bettered stage.

"Fate's irony!" he himself would sometimes say inwardly, with a sidelong
glance at Albert, preoccupied with knockabouts or trained dogs.

Albert spent some of his daylight hours in bed; some in moving about the
room spiritlessly. He looked out with lack-lustre eyes at the sagging
wires, and seemed to be wondering how they could ever have interested
him. His mother, as soon as she saw him, put him at death's door--at
least she saw him headed straight for that dark portal. She began to
insist, after a few days, that he go home with her: he would be hers, by
right, within a fortnight, anyhow. Her new house, she declared, would be
an immensely better place for him, and would immensely help him to get
well, if--with a half-sob--he ever _was_ to get well.

She knew, of course, the early legend of Johnny McComas, and had no wish
to linger in its locale.

"You _do_ want to go with your own, own mother--don't you, dear?"

"Yes," replied Albert faintly.

The town-house of Johnny McComas, bought at an open-eyed bargain and on
a purely commercial basis, had some time since fulfilled its predestined
function. It had been taken over, at a very good price, by an automobile
company; the purchasers had begun to tear it down before the last load
of furniture was fairly out, and had quickly run up a big block in
russet brick and plate glass. Gertrude McComas had had no desire to
inherit memories of her predecessor; if she had not urged the promptest
action her husband's plan might have given him a still more gratifying
profit.

They had built their new house out on the North Shore. At one time the
society of that quarter had seemed, however desirable to the McComases,
somewhat inaccessible. But the second wife was more likely to help
Johnny thitherward than the first. Besides, the participation of the new
pair in the scheme of dramatic uplift--however slight, essentially--had
made the promised land nearer and brighter. They might now transplant
themselves to that desired field with a certainty of some few social
relations secured in advance.

They had a long-reaching, rough-cast house, in a semi-Spanish style,
high above the water. They had ten acres of lawn and thicket. They had
their own cow. And there was little Althea--a nice enough child--for a
playmate.

"Let me get Albert away from all this smoke and grime," his mother
pleaded--or argued--or demanded, dramatically. "Let me give him the
pure country air. Let me give him the right things to eat and drink. Let
me look after his poor little clothes,--if" (with another half-sob) "he
is ever to wear them again. Let me give him a real mother's real care.
You _would_ like that better, wouldn't you, dear?"

"Yes," said Albert faintly.

It is quite possible, of course, that his school really had scanted the
motherly touch.

"You see how it goes!" Raymond finally said to me, one evening, in the
shadow of the orchestrion. "And what she will dress him in _this_
time...!"

The whole situation wore on him horribly. There was a light play over
his cheeks and jaws: I almost heard his teeth grit.

A few days later Albert was transferred to his mother's place in the
country. Raymond consoled himself as best he might with the thought that
this sojourn was, after all, but preliminary, as Gertrude had herself
implied, to the coming month on the Maine coast or at Mackinac. A change
of air, a greater change of air, a change to an air immensely and
unmistakably and immediately tonic and upbuilding--that, as his mother
stated, with emphasis, was what Albert required.

So Albert, by way of introduction to his real summer, came to be
domiciled under the splendid new roof of Johnny McComas--a roof, to
Raymond's exacerbated sense, gleaming but heavy. Its tiles--he had not
seen them, but he readily visualized them--bore him down. He was not
obliged, as yet, to meet McComas himself. That came later.



PART VII

I


Albert recovered in due season--a little more rapidly, it may be, than
if he had stayed with his father, but not more completely. His education
progressed, entering another phase, and still with the unauthorized
coöperation of his mother. During his stay with her she had really
wrought no great havoc in his wardrobe, whatever she may have
accomplished on a previous occasion. In fact, Albert had reached the
point where he dressed in a manlier fashion--a fashion fortunately
standardized beyond a mother's whims. In his turn, as it had been with
his brothers by marriage, it was now the real preparatory school, with
college looming ahead.

By this time Raymond had completely made his belated adieux to æsthetic
concerns and had begun to concentrate on practical matters--on his own.
They needed his attention, even if he had not the right quality of
attention to give. I had my doubts, and they did not grow less as time
went on. Raymond was now within hail of fifty, and he added to his long
list of earlier mistakes a new mistake peculiar to his years and to his
training--or his lack of it.

Briefly, he assumed that age in itself brought knowledge, and that young
men in their twenties--even their late twenties--were but boys. The
disadvantage of holding this view became apparent when he began to do
business with them. He depended too much on his own vague fund of
experience, and did not realize how dangerous it might be to encounter
keen specialists--however young--in their own field. He was now engaged
in a general recasting of his affairs, and they came to him in
numbers--bright, boyish, young fellows, he called them. He tended to
patronize them, and he began to deal with them rather informally and
much too confidently.

The family bank, after languishing along for a liberal time under its
receiver, had been wound up, and the stockholders, among whom he was a
large one but far from the largest, accepted the results and turned wry
faces to new prospects elsewhere. The family holdings of real-estate, on
the edge of the central district rather than in it, did not share the
general and almost automatic advance in values, and an uncertain,
slow-moving scheme for a general public improvement--one that
continually promised to eventuate yet continually held off--had kept one
of his warehouses vacant for years: its only income was contributed by
an advertising company, which utilized part of its front as a
bulletin-board. Rents in this quarter kept down, though taxes--more
through rising rates than increased valuations--went up. And those two
big old houses! Raymond still lived, too expensively in one, and paid
interest on a cumbering old mortgage. The other--old Jehiel's--was
rented, at no great advantage, to a kind of correspondence school which
conducted dubious courses and was precarious pay.

In such circumstances Raymond began to lend an ear to offers of
"real-estate trades" and to suggestions for reinvestments. But
real-estate, in which almost everybody had once dabbled (with advantage
assumed and usually realized), had now become a game for experts.
Profits for the few: disaster--or at least disillusionment--for the
many. Raymond thought he could "exchange" to advantage, and the bright
young men (who knew what they were about much better than he did)
flocked to help him. Well, one man in a hundred exchanges with profit;
the ninety-and-nine, the further they go the more they lose--onions
peeled coat by coat. Thus Raymond, until I heard of some of his
operations and tried to stop them. One frank-faced, impudent young chap,
who thought he was secure in a contract, I had to frighten off; but
others had preceded him.

Investments were offered him too: schemes in town, and schemes--bolder
and more numerous--out of town. Some of these had the support of McComas
and his "crowd," and turned out advantageously enough, for those on the
"inside"--to continue the jargon of the day and its interests; but
Raymond sensitively, even fastidiously, stepped away from these, and
trusted himself, rather, to financial free lances who often were not
only without principle, but also without definite foothold.

"If you would only consult me!" more than once I had occasion to
remonstrate. "Who are these people? What organization have they
got--what responsibility?"

But though he would dicker with strangers, who took hours of his time
with their specious palaverings, he shrank more and more from his own
tenants and his own agents. One rather important lease had to be renewed
over his head--or behind his back. Still, I do not know that, on this
particular occasion, his interests greatly suffered.

Thus Raymond began to approach a permanent impairment of his affairs at
an age when recuperation for a man of his deficiencies was as good as
out of the question. Further on still he began to suspect--even to
realize--that he was unfitted to cope with adults. In his later fifties
he began to pat children on their heads in parks and to rub the noses
of horses in the streets. With the younger creatures of the human race
and with the gentler orders of the brute creation he felt he could trust
himself, and still escape disaster. If he found little girls sticking
rows of fallen catalpa-blossoms on the spikes of iron fences, he would
stop and praise their powers of design. He became susceptible to tiny
boys in brown sweaters or infinitesimal blue overalls, and he seldom
passed without a touch of sympathy the mild creatures that helped
deliver the laundry-bundles or the milk. Especially if they were white:
he was always sorry, he said, for white coats in a dirty town.

But such matters of advancing age are for the future.


II

As regards the affairs of McComas, I naturally had a lesser knowledge.
They were more numerous and more complicated; nor was I close to them. I
can only say that they went on prosperously, and continued to go on
prosperously: their success justified his concentration on them.

As regards his home and his domestic affairs, I can have more to say. My
wife and I called once or twice at their new house; with a daughter of
twenty-odd, there was no reason why we should not cultivate that
particular suburb, and every reason why we should.

Johnny's two sons were at home, briefly, as seniors who were soon to
graduate. They were tall, hearty lads, with some of their father's high
coloring. One of them was to be injured on the ball-field in his last
term, and to die at home a month later. The other, recovering some of
the individuality which a twin sometimes finds it none too easy to
assert, was to marry before he had been out of college six weeks--marry
young, like his father before him. The girl, young Althea, rather
resembling her mother,--her own mother,--was beginning to think less of
large hair-bows and more of longer dresses. Her father was quite wrapped
up in her and her stepmother seemed to take to her kindly.

Johnny, in conducting us over his house, laid great stress on her room.
On her suite, rather; or even on her wing. She had her own study, her
own bath, her own sleeping porch and sun-parlor. Everything had been
very delicately and richly done. And she had her own runabout in the
garage.

"The boys will go, of course," Johnny said to us, with his arm about his
daughter; "but our little Althea will be a good girl and not leave her
poor old father."

Ah, yes, girls sometimes have a way of lingering at home. Our own Elsie
has always remained faithful to her parents.

Johnny had chosen to call himself "old" and "poor." Of course he looked
neither. True, his chestnut hair was beginning to gray; but it made,
unless clipped closer than he always wore it, at least an intimation of
a florid aureole of crisp vigor; and his whole person gave an exudation
of power and prosperity. No sorrow had come to him beyond the death of
his parents--an inevitable loss which he had duly recorded in public.
That record had yet to receive another name--and yet another.

His wife, who had seemed to begin by bracing herself to stand against
him, now seemed to have braced herself to stand with him--perhaps a more
commendable wifely attitude. I mean that the discipline incident to a
life of success which was not without its rigors had become to her
almost a second nature. The order of the day was coöperation, team-work;
in the grand advance she was no straggler, no malingerer. It was a
matter of pride to keep step with him; she was now beyond the fear which
possibly for the first few years had troubled her--the fear that he, by
word, or look, or even by silence, might hint to her that she was not
fully "keeping up." Johnny himself was now rather heavy; for the regimen
which they were pursuing he had the strength that insured against any
loss of flesh through tax on the nerves. His wife, for her part, looked
rather lean--trained, even trained down. As the wife of Raymond, she
would probably have lapsed by now into pinguitude and sloth--unless
discontent and exasperation had prevented.

After showing us the private grandeurs of their own estate, they
motored us to the coördinated splendors of their club. It had been a
good club--one of the best of its kind--from the start, and now it had
grown bigger and better. Its arcaded porches and its verandas were wide;
its links showed the hand of the expert, yet also the sensitive touch of
the landscape gardener; an orchestra of greater size and merit than is
common in such heedless gatherings played for itself if not for the
gossiping, stirring throng; and people talked golf-jargon (for which I
don't care) and polo (of which I know even less). Though the day was one
in the relatively early spring, things were "going"; temporary backsets
would doubtless ensue--meanwhile get the good out of a clear, fair
afternoon, if but a single one.

Through all this gay stir the McComases contrived to make themselves
duly felt. Johnny himself was one of the governors, I gathered; as such
he took part in a small, hurried confab in the smoking-room. Whether or
not there was a point in dispute, I do not know; but when he rose and
led me forth with his curved palm under my elbow the matter had been
settled his way, and no ill-feeling left: rather, as I sensed it, a
feeling of relief that some one had promptly and energetically laid a
moot question for once and all.

His two tall boys I saw walking, with an amiable air of an habituated
understanding, around a billiard-table: "Can you beat them?" asked
Johnny proudly, as we passed the open window. His daughter circulated
confidently, as being almost a member in full and regular standing
herself. She seemed to know intimately any number of girls of her own
age, and even a few lads of seventeen or so--an advantage which our
Elsie, at that stage, never quite enjoyed, and which, due allowance made
for altered conditions, she was somewhat slow in gaining, later.

And about his wife? Well, the slate appeared to have been wiped--if
there really had been any definite marks upon it. Assuredly no smears
were left to show. Those of the younger generation of seven or eight
years before had used the time and arranged their futures, and the
still younger were pressing into their places--witness Johnny's own
brood. Gertrude McComas was now a self-assured though careful
matron--careful, I thought, not to ask too much of general society;
careful not to notice whether or no she received too little; careful,
most of all, not to let it appear that she _was_ careful. Perhaps it was
this care which made up a part of her general strain--and enabled her to
keep the lithe slenderness of her early figure.

We came back to town--the three of us--by train. Both of my Elsies were
thoughtful. Certainly we were playing a less brilliant part than the
family we had just left.


III

Meanwhile Albert pursued his studies. Though he had not so far to come
for a short vacation as the McComas young men, he spent the short
vacations at the school. He was at an awkward age, and Raymond, who
could see him with eyes not unduly clouded by affection, felt him to be
an unpromising cub. He was no adornment for any house, and no
satisfying companion for his father. So he passed the Easter week among
his teachers.

McComas too saw little of Albert. Those months with his mother were
usually worked off at some distant resort, which his stepfather was
often too busy to reach. Only once did he spend any of the allotted time
in McComas's house. This was a fortnight in that grandiose yet tawdry
fabric which had been sacrificed to business, and the occasion was an
illness in the family (not Albert's) which delayed the summer's outing.
McComas had accepted Albert with a large tolerance--at least he was not
annoyed. In fact, the boy's mother, however she may have harassed
Raymond, never (to do her justice) pushed Albert on her second husband.
So, when the juncture arrived,--

"Why, yes," Johnny had said, "have him here, of course; and let him stay
as long as you like. He doesn't bother _me_."

Well, Albert went ahead, doing his Latin, and groping farther into the
dusky penumbra of mathematics. "Why?" he asked; and they explained that
it was the necessary preparation for the university. Albert pondered. He
began to fear that he must continue learning things he didn't want or
need, so that he might go ahead toward learning other things he didn't
want or need. He took a plaintive, discouraged tone in a letter to his
mother; and she--making an exception to her rule--passed along the
protest to McComas. She felt, I suppose, that he would give an answering
note.

Johnny laughed. He himself cared nothing for study; and he was so
happily constituted, as well as so constantly occupied, that he never
had to take refuge in a book.

"Oh, well," he said, broadly, "he'll live through it all, and live it
down. I expect Tom and Joe to. The final gains will be in quite another
direction."

Raymond had heard the same plaint from Albert, and was less pleased. The
boy was clearly to be no student, still less a lover of the arts.
Raymond passed over all thought of old Jehiel, the ruthlessly
acquisitive, and placed the blame on the other grandfather, who was now
in an early dotage after a lifelong harnessing to the stock-ticker.

"_I_ don't know how he's coming out!" was Raymond's impatient remark,
over one of Albert's letters. "Who knows what _any_ boy is going to be?"

Albert accepted his school readily enough as a place of residence. He
did not now need, so much as before, his mother's small cares--in fact,
was glad to be relieved from them; nor was he quite advanced enough to
profit from a cautious father's hints and suggestions. I found myself
hoping that Raymond, at the coming stage of Albert's development, might
have as little trouble as I had had over my own boy (with whose early
career I shall not burden you). Yet, after all, fathers may
apprehensively exchange views and cautiously devise methods of approach
only to find their efforts superfluous: so many boys come through
perfectly well, after all. Simply consider, for example, those in our
old singing-class. The only one to occasion any inconvenience was Johnny
McComas, and he was not a member at all.

The one side of the matter that began to concern Raymond was the money
side. Albert cost at school, and was going to cost more at college. His
father began to economize. For instance, he cut off, this spring, the
contribution which he had been making for years in support of an
organization of reformers that had been working for civic betterment.
These men, considering their small number and their limited resources
had done wonders in raising the tone and quality of the local
administration. The city's reputation, outside, had become respectable.
But a sag had begun to show itself--the relapse that is pretty certain
to follow on an extreme and perhaps overstrained endeavor. The little
band needed money. Raymond was urged to reconsider and to continue--the
upgrade would soon be reached again. Raymond sent, reluctantly, a
smaller amount and asked why the net for contributions was not cast a
little wider. He even suggested a few names.

Whether he mentioned the name of John W. McComas I do not know, but
McComas was given an opportunity to help.

"See what they've sent me," he said to me one day on the street.

He smiled over the urgent, fervid phrases of the appeal. The world, so
far as he was concerned, was going very well. It didn't need
improvement; and if it did, he hadn't the time to improve it.

"They appear to be losing their grip," he added. "They didn't do very
well last election, anyhow."

I sensed his reluctance to be associated with a cause that seemed to be
a losing one.

"Well, I don't know," I said. "I'm giving something myself; and if I can
afford to, you can."

But he developed no interest. He sent a check absurdly disproportionate
to his capacity (he was embarrassed, I am glad to say, when he mentioned
later the amount); and I incline to think that even this bit was done
almost out of a personal regard for me.

Raymond cut a part of his own contribution out of Albert's allowance,
and there was better reason than ever why Albert should not take a long
trip for only four or five days at home.


IV

It is tiresome, I know, to read about municipal reform; most of us want
the results and not the process--and some of us not even the results.
And it is no less tiresome to read about investments, unless we are
dealing with some young knight of finance who strives successfully for
his lady's favor and who, successful, lives with her ever after in the
style to which her father has accustomed her. But in the case of a
maladroit man of fifty....

I had asked Raymond to call on me with any new scheme that was taking
his attention, and one forenoon he walked in.

He had an envelope of loose papers. He laid some of them on my desk and
thumbed a few others with an undecided expression.

"What do you think of this?" he asked. "I've got to have more money, and
here's something that may bring it in."

It was a speculative industrial affair in Upper Michigan. I saw some
familiar names attached--among them that of John W. McComas, though not
prominently.

"I'll find out for you," I said.

"I don't want you to find out from him."

"I'll find out."

Raymond fingered his envelope fussily: there was nothing left in it.

"It's all costing me too much. Extras at that school. That big
house--too big, too expensive. I can't lug it along any farther. Find me
some one to buy it."

"I'll see," I said.

I told him about our visit to the club, two or three months before. I
implied, in as delicate and circumambulatory a way as possible, that his
one-time wife, according to my own observations, taken under peculiarly
favorable, because exacting, conditions, was completely accepted.

"Oh yes," he replied, as if the matter had been settled years ago, and
as if he had long had that sense of it. Yes, he seemed to be saying, the
marriage had made it all right for her, and had soon begun to make it
better for him. Possibly not a "deceived" husband; and no longer so
rawly flagrant a failure as a human companion.

"Their house is good, I gather," he went on. "There were some plates of
it in the architectural journals. Just how good he doesn't know, I
suppose--and never will."

"I found him fairly appreciative of it."

"Possibly--as a financial achievement brought about by his own money."

"He's learning some of its good points," I declared.

"There was some talk of having Albert there, just before they went off
to the Yellowstone." He frowned. "Well, this can't go on so many more
years, now."

I did not quite get Raymond's attitude. He did not want the boy with him
at home. He did not want to meet any extra expenses--and Mrs. McComas
was assuredly paying Albert's way through mid-summer, as well as
eternally buying him clothes. I think that what Raymond wanted--and
wanted but rather weakly--was his own will, whether there was any
advantage in it or not, and wanted that will without payments, charges,
costs.

I disliked his grudging way, or rather, his balking way, as regarded a
recognition of the liberality of his former wife's husband--for that was
what it came to.

I returned his prospectus. "I'll look this up. How about that company in
Montana?" I continued.

"They've passed a dividend. I was counting on something from that
quarter."

"And how about the factory in Iowa?"

"That will bring me something next year."

"Well," I said, doubling back to the matter that had brought him in,
"I'll inquire about this and let you know."

In the course of a few days I called on McComas. Others were calling.
Others were always calling. If I wanted to see him I should have to
wait. I had expected to wait. I waited.

When I was finally admitted, he rose and came halfway through his
splendors of upholstery to give me an Olympian greeting.

"It's brass tacks," I said. "Three minutes will do."

"Four, if you like."

"Three. Frankly, very frankly, is this a thing"--here I used the large
page of ornamental letter-press as word-saver--"is this a thing for an
ordinary investor?"

"Ordinary investor"--that is what I called Raymond. Perhaps I flattered
him unduly.

"Why," responded McComas, with a grimace, "it's a right enough thing for
the right man--or men. Several of us expect to do pretty well out of
it."

"'Several'? How about the rank outsider?"

"Anybody that _you_ know sniffing?"

"Yes."

"Who?"

"Well--Prince."

"H'm." Johnny pondered; became magnanimous. "Well, it ain't for him.
Pull his nose away. I don't want his money."

He knew what he had taken. He may have had a prescience of what he was
yet to take. He could afford an interim of generosity.


V

A year or so went on, and we met the McComases at a horse-show. Once
more it had become distinguished to have horses, and to exhibit them--in
the right place. Althea was with her parents; so was the survivor of the
stalwart twins.

Johnny had taken the blow hard. That a son of his, one so strong and
robust, a youth on whom so much time and thought and care and money had
been lavished to fit him for the world, should go down and go out (and
in such a sudden, trivial fashion)--oh, it was more than he felt he
could endure. But he was built on a broad plan; his nature, when the
test came, opened a wide door to the assimilation of experiences and
offered a wide margin for adjustment to their jars. His other son, the
full equal of the lost one, still survived and was present to-day; and
Johnny, grandly reconciled, was himself again.

Althea had taken the interval to make sure about her hair-ribbon and her
skirts. The ribbons had been pronounced outgrown and superfluous, and
had been banished. The suitability of longer skirts had been felt, and
had been acted upon. Althea was now almost a young lady, and a very
pretty one.

I say it without bitterness. The beauties of nature--those trifles that
make the great differences--are indeed unequally distributed among human
creatures. Not all girls are pretty; not all attractive; not all
equipped to make their way. No.

You will assume for yourselves the greenery of grass and trees, the slow
cumuli in the afternoon sky, the lively, brightly dressed throngs on
lawns and verandas, and the horses; yes, even those were present,
somewhere or other.

Gertrude McComas was of the crowd; suitably dressed (or, perhaps,
attired), a little less spare than once, and somehow conveying the
impression, if unobtrusively, that her presence was necessary for the
completeness of the function. She was pleasant with Althea, who had a
horse on her mind and a number on her back.

Gertrude had returned from the North with Althea and Albert, a week
before Albert's allotted time with her was up, so that they might all be
a part of this occasion. Albert was now taller than his father, had
begun to gather up a little assertiveness on reaching the end of his
preparatory days, had taken his examinations, and was understood to be
within a month or so of college.

I cannot say that Althea's skirts, however much thought she had given
them, were long to-day. The only skirts she wore were the skirts of her
riding-coat. The rest of her was boots and trousers; and she carried a
little quirt with which she flecked the dust from her nethers, now and
again, rather smartly.

Albert looked--obviously envious, and obviously perturbed. His various
knockings from pillar to post had left him without horse and without
horsemanship. And here was a young feminine (almost a relative, in a
sense; well, was she, or was she not?) who was dressed as he (with some
slight differences) might have been dressed, and who was doing (or was
about to do) some of the things that he himself (as he was now keenly
conscious) had always hankered to do.... How was he to take it all?--the
difference, the likeness, the closeness, the distance....

And we--my wife and I--became suddenly, poignantly, even bitterly aware
that our Elsie, beside us in her tailor-made, had never been on a horse
in her life--and was now perhaps too old to make a good beginning.

After a little while Althea was carried away for her "entry" or "event,"
or whatever they properly call it--for I am no sportsman. Some small
section of the crowd interested itself about the same time--at least got
between us and the proceedings. We saw little or nothing--just heads,
hats and parasols. All I know is that, in a few moments, Althea
reappeared--I think she had leaped something. Her father was by her
side, vastly proud and happy. Her mother (as I shall say for short)
arrived from somewhere, with a gratified smile. Her big brother
presently drew up alongside on a polo-pony, and gave her a big,
flat-handed pat in the middle of her placard, and a handsome young
woman, who was pointed out to us as the wife he had married in February,
during our fortnight at Miami, reached up to her bridle-hand and gave it
a squeeze. And there was a deep fringe of miscellaneous friends,
acquaintances and rivals.

"What do you think of our daughter, now!" asked Johnny, loudly and
generally, as he lifted Althea down. He looked about as if to sweep
together the widest assemblage of praises and applause. Many flocked;
many congratulated; but still further tribute must be levied. McComas
caught sight of Albert. The young fellow stood on the edge of the thing,
staring, embarrassed, shaken to his centre.

"Here, you, Albert!" Johnny cried; "come over and shake hands with the
winner!"

And meanwhile, Raymond, off by himself somewhere or other, I suppose,
may have been studying how in the world he was ever going to put Albert
through Yale.


VI

Business once more!

It ought to be barred. I get enough of it in my daily routine without
having it intrude here. Business should do no more than provide the
platform and the scenic background for the display of young love, hope
and beauty. But here we have to deal with the affairs of a worried and
incompetent man half way through his fifties.

Raymond came in one morning, on my summons. His manner was depressed; it
was becoming habitually so. I tried to cheer him with indifferent
topics,--among them the horse-show, which I saw so unsatisfactorily and
which I have described so inadequately. He had already heard about it
from Albert, and he felt no relish for the friendliness Johnny McComas
had displayed on that occasion.

"Trying to get _him_, too?" was Raymond's comment.

"Oh, I wouldn't quite say _that_...."

"I have a letter from his mother. She wants to know about college."

"Well, how _are_ things?"

"Oh, I don't know; poor."

"That Iowa company?"

"Next year."

"Again?"

"Yes--next year; as usual."

"Well, I have news for you."

"Good?" he asked, picking up a little.

"That depends on how you look at it. I have a buyer for your house."

"Thank God!"

"Don't hurry to thank God. Perhaps you will want to thank the Devil."

Raymond's face fell. "You don't mean that _he_--on top of everything
else--has come forward to--?"

"My friend! my friend! It isn't that at all. 'He' has nothing to do with
it. Quite another party."

And it was. A Mr. Gluckstein, a sort of impresario made suddenly rich by
a few seasons with fiddlers and prima donnas, was the man. He was
willing, he said,--and I paid the news out as evenly and considerately
as I could,--he was willing to take the house and assume the
mortgage--but he asked a bonus of five thousand dollars for doing it.

"The scoundrel!" groaned Raymond, his face twisted by contemptuous rage.
"The impudent scoundrel!"

"Possibly so. But that is his offer--and the only one. And it is his
best."

Raymond sat with his eyes on the floor. He was afraid to let me see his
face. He hated the house--it was an incubus, a millstone; but--

He visibly despaired. "What shall I do about Albert's college, now?" he
muttered presently.

He seemed to have passed at a bound beyond the stage of sale and
transfer. The odious property was off his hands--and every hope of a
spare dollar had gone with it.

"His mother writes--" began Raymond.

"Yes?"

"She tells me--Well, her father died last month, it seems, and she is
expecting something out of his estate...."

"Estate? Is there one?"

"Who can say? A man in that business! There might be something; there
might be nothing or less. And it might take a year or more to get it."

"And if there is anything?"

"She says she will look after Albert's first year or two. I was about to
refuse, but I expect I shall have to listen now."

He was silent. Then he broke out:--

"But there won't be. That old woman with her water-waves and her
wrinkles is still hanging on; even if there should be anything, she
would be the one to get most of it. I know her--she would snatch it
all!"

"Listen, Raymond," I said; "you had better let _me_ help you here."

"I don't want you to. There must be some way to manage."

He fell into thought.

"I doubt if she can do anything, herself. Whatever she did would come
through him in the end. You say he likes Albert?" He was silent again.
"I don't want to meet either of them--but I would about as soon meet him
as her."

I saw that he was nerving himself for another _scène à faire_. Well, it
would be less trying than the first one. If his sense of form, his
_flair_ for fatalism, still persisted, ease was out of the question and
no surrogate could serve.

Perhaps, after all, there had been nothing between those two. Anyway, in
the general eye the marriage had made everything right. She was
accepted, certainly. And as certainly he had lived down, if he had ever
possessed it, the reputation of a hapless husband.

He wrote to her in a non-committal way--a letter which left loopholes,
room for accommodation. Her reply suggested that he call at the bank;
she would pass on the word. He told me he would try to do so. I saw the
impudent concert-monger was to have his house.

And so, one forenoon, at eleven or so, Raymond, after some
self-drivings, reached the bank; by appointment, as he understood.
Through the big doors; up the wide, balustraded stairway--it was the
first time he had ever been in the place. He was well on the way to the
broad, square landing, when some lively clerks or messengers, who had
been springing along behind him, all at once slackened their pace and
began to skirt the paneled marble walls. A number of prosperous
middle-aged and elderly men were coming down together in a compact
group. It seemed as if some directors' meeting was in progress--in
progress from one office, or one building, to another. In the middle of
the group was John W. McComas.

He was absorbed, abstracted. Raymond, like some of the other up-farers,
had gained the landing, and like them now stood a little to one side.
McComas looked out at him with no particular expression and indeed with
no markedness of attention.

"How do you do?" he said indifferently.

"I'm pretty well," said Raymond dispiritedly.

"And that was all!" he reported next day in a high state of indignation.
"Don't suppose I shall try it again!"

But a careless Gertrude had failed to inform her husband of the
appointment. She had been busy, or he had been away from home....

"Go once more," I counseled, I pleaded.

A note came to him from McComas--a decent, a civil. Come and talk things
over--that was its purport. He went.

McComas, as you can guess, was very bland, very expansive, very
magnanimous (to his own sense). "I _like_ Albert!" he declared heartily.
But he did little to cloak the fact that it was his own money which was
to carry the boy through college.

Raymond was in the depths for a month. After Gluckstein had got his deed
for the house and Albert had packed his trunk for the East, he felt that
now indeed he had lost wife, home and son.



PART VIII

I


Before leaving his house for good and all, Raymond spent a dismal
fortnight in going over old papers--out-of-date documents which once had
interested his father and grandfather, books, diaries and memoranda
which had occupied his own youthful days: the slowly deposited,
encumbering sediment of three generations, long in one place. There were
several faded agreements with the signature of the ineffable individual
who had married into the family, had received a quit-claim to those
suburban acres, and had then, at a point of stress, refused to give them
back. There were sheaves of old receipted bills--among them one for the
set of parlor furniture in the best (or the worst) style of the Second
Empire. There were drafts of Raymond's early compositions--his first
attempts at the essay and the short story; there was an ancient, heavily
annotated Virgil (only six books), and there was a sheepskin algebra in
which he had taken, by himself, a post-school course as a means of
intellectual tonic, with extra problems dexterously worked out and
inserted on bits of blue paper....

"I filled the furnace seven times," he said to me, laconically.

I myself felt the strain of it all. It is less wearing to move every two
or three years, as most of us do, than to move but once--near the end of
a long life, of a succession of lives.

I never asked what Mr. Gluckstein thought of the orchestrion.

Raymond went to live at a sort of private hotel. Here he read and wrote.
He carried with him a set of little red guide-books, long, long since
out of date, and he restudied Europe in the light of early memories. He
also subscribed to a branch of a public library in the vicinity--a
vicinity that seemed on the far edge of things. However, the tendency of
the town has always been centrifugal. Many of our worthies, if they have
held on to life long enough, have had to make the same disconcerting
trek.

From this retreat Raymond occasionally issued to concerts and
picture-exhibitions. I do not know that he was greatly concerned for
them; but they carried on a familiar tradition and gave employment still
to a failing momentum.

From this same retreat there would issue, about the Christmas season, a
few watercolors on Italian subjects. If they were faint and feeble, I
shall not say so. We ourselves have one of them--an indecisive view of
the ruins in the Roman Forum. It is not quite the Forum I recall; but
then, as we know, the Roman Forum, for the past half-century, has
altered almost from year to year.

Letters reached him occasionally from Albert the freshman. They might
well have come from Albert the sophomore. Raymond showed me one of them
on an evening when I had called to see him in his new quarters.

He was comfortable enough and snug. On the walls and shelves were books
and pictures that I remembered seeing in his boyhood bedroom.

"I like it here," he said emphatically. And in truth it was the den of a
born bachelor--one who had discovered himself too late.

Well, Raymond passed me Albert's letter. He showed it to me, not with
pride, but (as was evident from the questioning eye he kept on my face)
with a view to learning what I thought of it. He was asking a verdict,
yet shrinking from it.

Albert was rather cocky; also, rather restless--I wondered if he would
last to _be_ a sophomore. And he displayed little of the consideration
due a father. Clearly, Raymond, as a parent, had been weighed and found
wanting. Albert's ideal stood high in another quarter, and his life's
ambition might soon drive him in a direction the reverse of academic.

"How does it strike you?" asked Raymond, as I sat mulling over Albert's
sheets.

I searched my mind for some non-committal response.

"Well," Raymond burst out, "he needn't respect _me_ if he doesn't admire
_him_!"


II

Albert's response to McComas at the horse-show had not been noticeably
prompt or adroit, but he cast about manfully for words and presently was
able to voice his appreciation of Althea's feat (as it was regarded) and
to congratulate her upon it. Johnny McComas was not at all displeased.
Albert had not been light-handed and graceful, but he developed (under
this sudden stress) a sturdy, downright mode of speech which showed
sincerity if not dexterity. The square-standing, straight-speaking
farm-lad--straight-speaking, if none too ready--was sounding an
atavistic note caught from his great-grandfather back in York State.

"Stuff in him!" commented Johnny. "It's a wonder, but there is. Must be
his mother."

Albert made no particular impression, however, on Althea herself. A
dozen other young fellows had been more demonstrative and more fluent.
He simply slid over the surface of her mind and fell away again. She had
known him--intermittently--for years as a somewhat inexpressive boy;
now, as a potential gallant, he was negligible, as compared with others.
But Albert, speaking in a sense either specific or general, did not mean
to remain negligible.

He soon forgot most of the details of the day at the horse-show. He had
hardly a greater affinity for sport than his father had had. He began
his sophomore year with no interest in athletics. The compulsory
gymnasium-work bored him. He made no single team--put forth not the
least effort to make one. The football crowd, the baseball crowd, even
the tennis crowd, gave him up and left him alone.

Yet his bodily energies and his mental ambitions were waxing daily; his
passions too. There must be an outlet for all this vigor--business, or
matrimony, or war. In one short twelvemonth he compassed all three.

By the end of Albert's second year, the day had come when a
self-respecting young man of fortune and position found it hard if he
must confess: "I have taken all yet given nothing." The Great War waged
more furiously than ever, and came more close. The country had first
said, "You may," and, later, "You must." Albert did not wait for the
"must." He closed his year a month or so in advance--as he had done once
before--and enrolled in a college-unit for service abroad.

Raymond gave his consent--a matter of form, a futility. In fact, Albert
enrolled first and asked (or advised) later. His mother, of a mixed
mind, would have interposed an objection. McComas hushed her down. "Let
him go. He has the makings of a man. Don't cut off his best chance."

McComas had a right to speak. Tom McComas was going too, and going with
his father's warm approval. If he could leave a young wife and a
three-year-old boy, need a young bachelor student be held back?

Albert came West for a good-bye. His father held his hand and gave him a
long scrutiny--part of the time with eyes wide open, part of the time
with eyes closed to a fine, inquiring, studious line. But he never saw
what there was to see. In his own body there was not one drop of martial
blood; in his being not an iota of the bellicose spirit. Why men fight,
even why boys fight--all this had been a mystery which he must take on
faith, with little help from the fisticuffs and brawls of school-days,
or even from the gigantic, agonizing closing-in of whole peoples, now
under way.

Yet Albert understood, and meant to take his share.

Who, indeed, as Raymond had once asked petulantly, could know what a boy
was going to be?

When Althea saw Albert in khaki, she _saw_ him: this time no
indifference, no fusing him with the crowd, no letting him fade away
unnoticed. If he had shaken before her on her hurdle-taker, she now
shook before him in his brown regimentals. It was as if, in an instant, he
had bolted from their familiar--their sometimes over-familiar--atmosphere.
He confused, he perturbed her: he was so like, yet so different; so close,
yet so remote. Was he a relative, of sorts--a relative in some loose
sense; or was he a strange young hero, with his face set toward yet
stranger scenes...?

"Come," said her father, who was close by, between the horse-block and
the syringa-bushes, "Albert isn't the only soldier on the battle-field.
Look at Tom, here!"

Althea turned her eyes dutifully toward her stalwart brother, who
humorously put up his stiffened fingers to the stiff brim of his hat;
and then she looked back at Albert.


III

McComas's bank, like others, put its office-machinery at the disposal of
the Government, when the first war-loan was in the making. It seemed a
small matter, at the beginning, but administrative organization was
taxed and clerical labors piled up hugely as the big, slow event moved
along through its various stages. This work in itself came almost to
seem an adequate contribution to the cause; surely in the mere
percentage of interest offered there was little to appeal to the
financial public, except perhaps the depositors of savings banks.
McComas himself felt no promptings to subscribe to this loan; but his
directors thought that a reasonable degree of participation was
"indicated." The bank's name went down, with the names of some others;
and the clerks who had been working over hours on the new and exacting
minutiæ of the undertaking were given a chance to divert their savings
toward the novel securities. The bank displayed the Nation's flag, and
the flags of some of the allies. It all made a busy corner. McComas
thought of his son in khaki, and felt himself warming daily as a
patriot.

"We can do them up," he declared. The war, with him, was still largely a
matter of financial pressure. The pressure, even if exerted at long
range, was bound to tell. Many of "our boys" would never get "over
there" at all. They were learning how to safeguard our country's future
within our country itself.

His wife, who had been flitting from veranda to veranda in their
pleasant suburban environment, and been doing, with other ladies of her
circle, some desultory work for the wounded soldiers of the future, now
came down to the centre of the town and took up the work in good
earnest. She saw Tom McComas as a seasoned adult who could look after
himself, but her own Albert was still a boy. It was easy to see him
freezing, soaking, falling, lying in distress. She busied herself behind
a great plate-glass window on a frequented thoroughfare--a window heaped
with battered helmets and emptied shells that drew the idle curiosity or
the poignant interest of the passer-by. Bandages, sweaters, iodine-tubes
filled her thoughts and her hands. And Althea, in company with several
sprightly and entertaining young girls of her own set, began to pick up
some elementary notions in nursing.

"Why, it's the most delightfully absorbing thing I've ever done!" she
declared. A new world was dawning--a red world that not all of us have
been fated to meet so young.

Raymond Prince saw all these preparations and took them as a spectacle.
He was now frankly but an onlooker in life, and he gazed at big things
from their far rim. He had no spare funds to put into federal hands, and
felt by no means able to afford the conversion of any of his few
remaining investments with a loss of nearly half his present returns. He
viewed a patriotic parade or two from the curbstone and attended now
and then some patriotic meeting in the public parks--a flag-raising, for
example. On these occasions he preferred to stand at some remove, so
that it would be unnecessary to raise his hat: the requirement of a
formal salute made him distressingly self-conscious. Yet he was
displeased if other men, no nearer, failed to lift theirs; and he would
be indignant when young fellows, engaged in games near by, gave the
exercises no heed at all.

In one of the parades the flag of France went by. This was a picturesque
and semi-exotic event; it stirred some memories of early days abroad,
and Raymond, with an effort, did, stiffly and with an obvious (even an
obtrusive) self-consciousness, manage to get off his hat. A highly vocal
young man alongside looked at this cold and creaking manoeuvre with
disapproval, even disgust.

"Can't you holler?" he asked.

No, Raymond could not "holler." The dead hand of conscious propriety was
upon him, checking any momentum that might lead to a spontaneous
expression of patriotic feeling. The generous human juices could not
run--could not even get started. When he said good-bye to Albert, it was
not as to a son, nor even to a friend's son. Albert himself might have
objected to any emotional expression that was too clearly to be seen;
but he would have welcomed one which, cloaked in an unembarrassing
obscurity, might at least have been felt. Johnny McComas frankly let
himself "go," not only with Tom, but with Albert too. Albert could not
but think within himself that it was all somewhat overdone; he was a bit
abashed, even if not quite shamefaced. But the recollection of Johnny's
warm hand-clasp and vibrant voice sometimes came to comfort him, in camp
across the water, at times when the picture of his own father's chill
adieux brought little aid.


IV

A few brief months ended the foreign service of both our young men.
Albert came home invalided, and Tom McComas along with others, lay dead
between the opposing lines of trenches. His father would not, at first,
credit the news. His son's very strength and vigor had helped build up
his own exuberant optimism. It simply could not be; his son, his only
remaining son, a happy husband, a gratified parent.... But the truth
bore in, as the truth will, and McComas had his days of
rebellious--almost of blasphemous--protest. The proud monument at
Roselands was taking a cruel toll. His other son was commemorated on the
third side of its base; but though a fresh unfrayed flag waved for
months over turf below which no one lay, it was long before that great
granite block came to betray to the world this latest and cruelest
bereavement.

Albert, whose injuries had made him appear as likely to be a useless
piece on the board for longer than the army surgeons thought worth
while, was sent back home and made his convalescence under the care of
his mother; within her house, indeed--for his father had no quarters to
offer him. Among McComas's flower-beds and garden-paths he enjoyed the
ministrations of a physician other and better than any that practices on
those fields of hate--one who complemented the prosaic physical cares
required for the body with an affluent stream of healing directed toward
both mind and heart. He had come back to be a hero to Althea, with
evidences of his heroism graved on his own bruised form.

"Hasn't he been wonderful!" said Althea to her girl friends; and Albert
volunteered few concrete facts that might qualify or detract from her
ideal.

Those few months comprised his contribution to the cause. He mended more
rapidly than might have been expected, and soon began to feel the
resurgence of those belligerencies which are proper to the nature of the
healthy young male. But his belligerencies were not at all militaristic.
He had seen war at short range, knew what it was, and desired it no
more. He meant to let loose his energies, as soon as might be, in that
other warfare, business; it would be after the manner of a
great-grandfather of whom a tradition persisted, and after the close
pattern of a McComas still before his eyes. A hero, if they wished; but
a hero with money in his pocket.

Meanwhile, McComas looked at his grandson and writhed. So many openings,
so many things to be done; yet what future aid had he to count on for
carrying along his line and for reaping the opportunities in his field?
A child of four, in rompers, pushing a little wheelbarrow of pebbles
along garden-paths. The years dragged. It was all too great an irony.

He sent for Albert. Albert still limped a little, but it was not to be
for long.

"You've done enough for your country," he declared with blunt emphasis.
"Now do something for me. You're almost well?"

"I think so."

"You want to pitch in?"

"I do."

"You want to amount to something?" continued McComas, pausing on the
edge of an invidious bit of characterization.

"Of course."

"You would like to come with me?"

"Yes." Surely his own father could not help him to a future.

"Well, take your choice. What do you want? Bank?"

But Albert had heard something about banks. Bank clerks, in these
close-knit days, when anybody who fell out of the lock-step was lost,
were but a sort of financial militia. Even if he were pushed along with
the friendliest zeal, it might be years before he reached the place and
the end desired. Nor had he much more fondness for growing up under the
eye of McComas than under that of his own father.

"Bank?" repeated McComas.

"No."

McComas grinned. It was the grin he used when greatly pleased.

"One of those Western concerns?"

"Yes," said Albert; "send me West."

When Raymond heard that Albert had cast in his lot with McComas and
meant soon to leave for Colorado, he winced. Albert, to him, was still a
boy, and this term in the West but another kind of schooling. "Just as
his mother tried to influence him before," said Raymond to me bitterly,
"so McComas will influence him now." And I could not deny that McComas
had the whip hand. The unintermittency of business correspondence, the
cogency of a place on the payroll....

No, it was not to be denied that Raymond had lost Albert finally.

And Althea went to the train, to see him off--as to another war.


V

"Finally"--perhaps I have used the word too soon.

I dropped in on Raymond, one evening, at his private hotel. It was about
four months after Albert's departure for the West. His quarters seemed
as snugly comfortable as ever, and as completely adapted to his
ultimately discovered personality and its peculiar requirements. Raymond
master of a big house! Raymond leading a public life!

But he himself was perturbed. It was a letter from Albert--it was two or
three letters, in fact.

"He says he is going to marry her."

"Her?"

"Althea. Althea McComas."

Albert, in the West, had done well. He had taken hold immediately,
decisively. The initiative which would never have developed under his
father had been liberated during his war service and was now mounting to
a still higher pitch among the mountains.

"He is going to do," McComas had told me, after the second month. "He is
a wonder," he had said, later.

Be that as it may. McComas was doubtless inclined to the favorable view.
He had determined in advance that Albert was to succeed. Albert was
meeting, successfully, known expectations of success--as a young man
may.

"He started so well," said his father. "And now...."

"And now?"

"Now he wants to marry the daughter of a stable-boy!"

"Raymond," I said; "drop the 'stable-boy.' That was never true; and if
it were it would have no relevancy here and now."

"I should say not! Why, Albert--"

"You have told him? He knows your--He knows the--the legend?"

"He does. And as you see, it makes no difference to him."

"Why should it? Why should he care for early matters that were over and
past long years before he was born? He sees what he sees. He feels what
he feels."

"He feels McComas."

"Why shouldn't he? Who wouldn't?"

Raymond relapsed into a moody silence. I saw, presently, that he was
trying to break from it. He had another consideration to offer.

"And then," he began, "about--his mother. He must have
understood--something. He must know--by now."

"Know?" I returned. "If he does, he has the advantage over all the rest
of us. _I_ don't 'know.' _You_ don't 'know.' Neither does anybody else.
Another old matter--as well rectified as society and its usages can
manage, and best left alone."

"Well, it's--it's indelicate. Albert ought to feel that."

"Raymond!" I protested. "We must leave it to the young to smooth over
the rough old places and to salve the aching old sores. That's their
great use and function."

"Not Albert's," he said stubbornly. "I don't want him to do it, and I
don't want it done in that way."

Another silence. I could see that he was gathering force for still
another objection.

"It's a desertion," said the undying egoist. "It's a piece of treachery.
It's a going over to the enemy."

"If you mean McComas, Albert went over months ago. And he doesn't seem
to have lost anything by doing so," I ventured to add.

"This marriage would clinch it, would confirm it. I should lose him at
last, and completely, just as I have lost--everything."

"Raymond," I could scarcely keep from saying, "you deceive yourself. You
have really never cared for Albert at all. The only concern here is your
own pride--the futile working of a will that is too weak to get its own
way."

But I kept silence, and he continued the silence. Yet I felt that he
was gathering force for the greatest objection of all.

"I have heard them spoken of," he said, after a little, "as--as brother
and sister. For them to marry! It's unseemly."

"Raymond!" I protested again, with even more vigor than before. "Why
must you say a thing like that?"

"The same father and mother--now. Living together--going about together
as members of one family.... They did, you know."

"Yes, for a few weeks in the year. 'One family'? What is the mere label?
Nothing. What is the real situation? Everything. Of blood-relationship
not a trace. Why, even cousins marry--but here are two strains
absolutely different.... Have you," I asked, "have you brought up this
point with--Albert?"

Raymond glanced at the letters.

"You have! And he says what I say!"

Raymond put the letters away.

Albert had doubtless said much more--and said it with the vigor of
indignant youth.


VI

At a wedding the father of the bridegroom need not be conspicuous--least
of all when the wedding takes place in a church. He may avoid, better
than at a home wedding, too close contact with the various units of the
bridal party. In view of such considerations, Raymond Prince was able to
be present, with discomfort minimized, at his son's marriage.

We attended, too, of course. My wife has a woman's fondness for
weddings--and so has our Elsie.

It came in June. The church was _the_ church--the church with the elms
and ash-trees around it, the triangular lawn with the hydrangeas and
elderberry-bushes blossoming here and there, and the gardens and
plantations of private wealth looking across from all sides; the church
where everybody who is anybody gets married as a matter of course--at
that time of year; the church which has plenty of room for limousines on
both sides of its converging streets, and on a third cross-street close
by; the church which has the popular and sympathetic rector, who has
known you ever since you were a boy (or girl), the competent organist,
and the valiant surpliced choir (valiant though small); the church
which, under its broad squat tower and low spire, possesses, about its
altar-rail, room for many palms and rubber-plants and for as many
bridesmaids and ushers as the taste of the high contracting parties may
require:--a space reached by a broad flight of six or seven steps, and
wide enough for any deployment, high enough for the whole assemblage to
see, and grand enough (with its steps and all) to make a considerable
effect when the first notes of the Wedding March sound forth and the
newly wedded couple walk down and out into married life.

"Be married in your uniform!" Johnny McComas had said effusively.

"Well, I'm not in the service, now...." replied Albert.

"You have been, haven't you? Haven't you?" Johnny repeated, as if there
could be two answers.

"Why, I was only a private...." Albert submitted.

"So were lots of other good fellows."

"It's soiled," said Albert. "There's a stain on the shoulder."

"All the better. We've done something for the country. Let those people
know it."

So Albert walked down the aisle in khaki.

Althea was in white--my wife named the material expertly. She wore a
long veil. There were flower-girls, too,--my wife knew their names.

"She's the most beautiful bride I ever saw!" my wife declared. "This is
the most beautiful wedding I ever attended!" She always says that.

Johnny McComas was in white, too. As he stood beside the bridal pair he
seemed almost too festive, too estival, too ebullient for this poor
earth of ours. His wife, whose costume I will not describe and whose
state of mind I shall not explore, showed a subdued sedateness--though a
glad--which restored the balance.

Raymond Prince saw the ceremony from one of the back pews. If he
attended the out-of-door reception at the house, it must have been but
briefly: I quite missed him there. For him the wedding proper had been
less a ceremony than a parade. I can fancy how he resented the
organist's grand outburst and the triumphal descent (undeniably
effective) of the bridal party over those six or seven steps. Again he
was an unregarded and negligible spectator. I presume he missed Johnny's
hand in Albert's, and Johnny's pressure on Albert's shoulder--the one
with the stain; and I hope he did. It was the hand of the stronger,
taking possession. "My prop, my future mainstay!" said Johnny's action.

And it was as an unregarded and negligible spectator--now his permanent
rôle--that Raymond Prince took the slow train back to town.


THE END

------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Riverside Press
CAMBRIDGE · MASSACHUSETTS
U · S · A





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