On the Stairs
by Henry B. Fuller
ON THE STAIRS
by Henry B. Fuller
Author of Lines Long and Short
BOSTON AND NEW YORK HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY
The Riverside Press Cambridge
COPYRIGHT, 1918, BY HENRY B. FULLER
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Published March 1918
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
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
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.
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 topor 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 bottomor 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.
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 neighborhooda triumphant record of
early fortunesput 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
contractoror his architect, if one had been employedhad 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 spokeindeed seldom metunless 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 sisterone on the pursuit of some slight dolein 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
Yet a fresh young shoot budding from a gnarled old trunk would
afford a piquant contrasthas 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 possessingor from wanting to possessa
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 boxin
stone, however, and not in brick. It had its mortgage. If this mortgage
was ever paid up, another came latera 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
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
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
His father told him he was working too hard and too latethat 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 Adeleas yetany 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
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 Agesthough
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
participationdirect, even though inconspicuousof 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
initialwhich may be Wuntil the middle of the book (in some
documentary connection, perhaps), shall I not be doing the thing
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 discretionto make an
instancein 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 involvedor, rather, the awkwardnessescan 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 usedsuch 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 houseeven above a stablemost 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
movedthat 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 speculatednever 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 footballprincipally 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
uswhen 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 stablebut 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
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 uncomfortablewas 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 roomone 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 menwith his
father, particularly; and when his father died, a few years later, he
was the chief heirand he never added much to what he had received. To
him fell the propertyand 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 mustachea 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 beforea 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
Just as you please, I replied, patient then, as ever after, in the
face of the arts.
Nothing much seemed to have happenednothing 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
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
misfortuneor, at least, a disadvantagewhich 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,
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
quarterand 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-penone of the early half-failureswith 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
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
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.
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 mesuch 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
responsemeaning, 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
businessesthings 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 interestand at
several otherswith 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
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.
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 usall 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
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 otherwisemany 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 doof 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 awayif 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 ita schottische? I never tried it before in my life!
Learn by doingsuch might have been the motto of the town in
those early, untutored days. And Johnny McComas emphatically made this
motto his own.
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,
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 herehelped, 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
Perhaps it was some such discontent as this that led him in the
direction of musical compositionor 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 daysa 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 harmonysounds 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
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 storiesstill 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 fairiesgood only to the pitch of
velleitybuzzed and brushed, like muses, or pseudo-muses, about his
brows. All this unsettled himand 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
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-seekersin the
jargon of the tradewere 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 countryor, 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 Sundaysomebody's sick or missing. But they won't, he
continued darkly. It was a threat, we felta 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 westif you can see itis 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 cottagedomus, a, um. Not quite right? Well, no great
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.
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 circleit
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 chooseto attempt consciously
the fabrication of a social environmentand 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 suggestand 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 homefor 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 obviousindeed, almost
imperceptiblehis 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 keyboardespecially when improvising in a
secure inarticulatenesswas 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 lifewhether good or
badin 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 wentall the fellows and all the
Gertrudes and Adeleswith no sense of malaise, and postponing,
or setting aside, in the miraculous American fashion, all sexual
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 oursfrom his, as it
had once been. One evening I ventured to bring him round. He developed
an obstreperous baritoneit 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
Why, you're quite an addition! commented one of the girls, in
surprisealmost in consternation.
He is, indeed,if he doesn't drown us all out! muttered one of
the fellows, behind his back.
Yes, Johnny was vociferousso long as the singing went on. But he
developed, besides an obstreperous voice, an obstreperous interest in
one of our Adelesa 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.
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
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 elbowprobably 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 skirtsGertrudes 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
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
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
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!
Raymond stayed on at the bank, thoughif one might judge by his
words and actionswith 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
tripor of making a sojournabroad.
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 workan Italian dictionaryand 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 sawsaw 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 whilea 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
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 circleso 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 onnot 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
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 grandmotherat 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-lawa
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-estatea 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 himtemporarily and for a specific
purposesome 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 onlyhe 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
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 distinctionjust 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 fiancéewho, 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
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.
While Raymond was taking his course abroad, Johnny McComas was
shaping his course at home. A colorless, unbiased statementas 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 likingsnot
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,
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
homethat, 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
suburbone 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
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
I guess you know George Waite, Johnny said to him; and I guess he
We shook hands, under Johnny's direction, and said that he was
right. His father's handrough and with a broken nail or twowas 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.
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 adventuresif 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 trackand to understand, if possible, his heart, however
peculiar and bafflingI 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
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
continuethe 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 sightsto 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 lifehe
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
towerthe 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.
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
I know. Buttalking 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 herHow do they say it? I'm
herenvelopment, 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?
Why, Prince; when he was in Paris. Didn't you read it to me?
Do you know, he went on, I've been straight as a stringever
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
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?
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.
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 Englandthe only quarter of the Old World I ever cared forhe 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 literaturethrough 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 Americanismthe possible consequence of
inexperiencesometimes 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.
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
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
thisthough 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
countrythe home of political but not of social democracyare 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 uppercab or no cab. I glaredas
well and as coldly as I could. The fellow was only a year or so older
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
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
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.
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 measureit 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 thereto 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 ExchangeI for Liverpool and he for
CalaisI 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 newspapersleast 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 Europeas it
once was, to usdeserves a brighter and higher note. I will attempt,
just here, a purple patch.
Europe, then,the beacon, hope, and cynosure of our fresh,
ingenuous youththe 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.
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
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 monitorone 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 inpeople from the farms, villages and
country-towns of the Middle regionand 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 remainedto Raymonda 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 spotthe 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 livingjust as he had principally lived
abroadon his father's bounty. His contributions to the presswhether
a daily, or, of late, a monthlybrought 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 setnoisy and assertive out of proportion to its
numbersgave him no consolation, still less anything like edification.
They were au premier plan; they possessed no background; they
were without atmospherewithout 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'sprobably 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,
dissatisfiedmerely 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.
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 dena 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 twinsboys; 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 bachelorand probably a tactless, even a brutal,
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 toothey'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
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
officeor in the other man's office. In fact, home and business were
Johnny's two sources of interest and pleasurethe warp and woof of his
lifeand he was determined on getting the utmost out of each. His
interest in his home circle may somewhat have declinedor at least
have moderatedwith advancing years, but it was incandescent now. His
interest in the outside worldthat oyster-bin awaiting his
knifenever 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
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 wifewho came down, during a lull, at the last
momentI 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
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
schoolslooking 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.
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
boughtat a bargaina 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 worriedand worried outthrough 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 susceptibleunduly, abnormally soto 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 himthey 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
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 otherand prejudicialinterests: 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 dayshe never attempted to improve
himself: it was enough to follow the gifts with which he had been
natively endowed. Precept, example, opportunityall these went for
naught. To the end of his days he viewed the American business man as
a portentous and inexplicable phenomenonone to be regarded with
distaste and wonder. He persisted in thinking of the type as a juvenile
onean 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 standconvicted 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
He came down one morning, as administrator of his mother's estate,
to consider the appraisal of the personal propertymany 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.
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-auctionsoccasions neither numerous nor important. He lived on
alone in his father's houseexpensively; too expensively, of course,
for it was an exacting place to keep up.
He was coming to be known in a small circlebut an influential
oneas 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
accountor 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 assumptionwhich would have
seemed remote and fantastic indeedthat 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 onesfor 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 fieldone
concerned chiefly with but the outward flourishesthe 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 citizenthe man who is unable to command and unwilling
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
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
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
stairwaythe 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 wifeI suppose it was his
wife, said Raymondwas 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
There we werestuck 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.
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 desiredsuch 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
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
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
whateverlet some one else find the name. It was cut close, and it was
cut low; too close and too lowshe 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 essencethe thing in itselfand 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 voicea 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.
Raymond had expected, of course, to give his wife her own way at the
beginningat the very beginning, that is; and he had expected,
equally, to have her make a definite impression on the circle awaiting
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....
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 tristethe 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 interestsintellectual interests he called thembegan 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 Albertpoor tad!changed the current
of his wife's own interests and helped to place one more rather vital
matter in abeyance. He was to livefor a while, anywayin his present
home; and he was to pursuefor a while, anywaysome 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.
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 womenEasternerswhom, 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.
Little Albert's babyhood kept his mother a good deal at homeand 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 completelyand 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 couldthe 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
concerneda bank that had once been almost a family institutionhis
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
districtproperties 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 saleat a good figureto 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 irresponsibilityalmost of
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 prosperityfor 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 predilectionthough 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
We're stuck, said Johnny, jovially, as he caught sight of me. Ran
for three or four miles slick as a whistleand look at us now! It
entertained hima 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
Likely enough, he agreedand 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 towna
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 provincesMeaux 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
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 rippingcool, 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.
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 centreorganizations 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
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 organizationthe
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 suma large penny-in-the-slotmight produce quick and
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 eveningshe belonged to a literary club, a musical
society, and so onit 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 originsat 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 toWell, 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 wifea 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 lottheirs,
hersonly a hundred yards from the other. But she could not respond to
old Jehiel and Beulahthough 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.
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 stonein 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 mothersso 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 recognizedlet
him only be regarded as hors concoursand 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 fellowsfor 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 artistbut 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 whichfor a new club, as for a new vasehave 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 gayor 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 prouda
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 himan open road to others.
One day she gave a lunch at the clubplaces 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 appearfor 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
beenit 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 meeyes
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 gayperhaps
gayerand 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
I take, on the whole, a tempered viewby which I mean, a favorable
viewof 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. Iwhether for good or illwas not one of
these. They named namesnames 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.
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 housesone 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 hornsdancing 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 airit 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.
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 wifeof 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
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 knowledgeknowledge 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 proceedingssuch 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
oneoffice-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 ruledwith a shading, however. Albert
might spend with his mother one month every summerand 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!
His domestic difficulty left behind, Raymond settled down to a
middle-aged life of dignity and leisureor 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
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 himblamed him for an
unbending, self-satisfied prig who would have driven almost any
spirited young woman to desperation. These disparaged him;
sometimesnot always covertlythey ridiculed him. That hurt not only
his dignity, but his pride.
Some of you have perhaps been looking for a generalized expression
of general ideasfor 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 requiredeven 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 motherprompted probably by
her own motherwrote 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
consideredin 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
alcovethose 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
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 peoplewhether 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 timeeven at this timewould
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 nowshe 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
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 Albertor rather, let him play with themif 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 emphaticallytoo
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 campaignpawns 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.
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 resortand 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
plagedoubtless 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 banksyou 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 waynot 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 bonfireor its equivalentwith 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
There she goes again! exclaimed the exacerbated father. A matter
with which, by hard-and-fast agreement, she has absolutely nothing to
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 thinkingwell, 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 schoolin
another year. But the school will be a good deal more than forty miles
from hereno continual week-end trips. And it will not be in a town
that has an endurable hotelthat 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 atent? he queried sardonically.
To some mothers the blue tent of heaven would alone suffice, I
Rubbish! he ejaculated; and I felt that a word fitly spokenor
perhaps unfittinglywas rebuked.
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
quicklya 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 visita 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 funeralor, 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. Afterme!
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 theythose twoare put in the right, he went on, I
suppose I am put in the wrongand 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.
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 businessnow his businessesand
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 upor 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 itat least it simplified some
teasing problems. He employed a direct, bluff, hearty kindness; but
strength underlay the kindness, and came firstcame uppermostif
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
approvedand insisted upona 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
Gossip had long since faded away to nothingness. If anybody had
wondered at Johnny's coursea course that had run through possible
dubiousness to hard-and-fast finalitythe 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 concernedthose who met the new pairappeared 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 buildor remodela 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 companythough less
stress was laid on its roster than on the list of guarantorswent
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!
McComasreally caring nothing for the evening's entertainment
either waycould 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.
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 infectedque 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 herperhaps.
So she descended on the old, familiar interiorfamiliar and
distastefuland 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 purgatoryor 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 daringfor 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-roomyes, 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 menuhad 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 wirelessjust then coming into 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
Fate's irony! he himself would sometimes say inwardly, with a
sidelong glance at Albert, preoccupied with knockabouts or trained
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
doorat 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, ifwith a half-sobhe 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 motherdon't you,
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
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 uplifthowever slight,
essentiallyhad 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 Altheaa nice enough childfor a
Let me get Albert away from all this smoke and grime, his mother
pleadedor arguedor 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
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 upbuildingthat, 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 McComasa roof, to
Raymond's exacerbated sense, gleaming but heavy. Its tileshe had not
seen them, but he readily visualized thembore him down. He was not
obliged, as yet, to meet McComas himself. That came later.
Albert recovered in due seasona 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 fashiona 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 matterson
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 trainingor his lack of it.
Briefly, he assumed that age in itself brought knowledge, and that
young men in their twentieseven their late twentieswere 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 specialistshowever youngin their own field. He was now engaged
in a general recasting of his affairs, and they came to him in
numbersbright, 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 improvementone
that continually promised to eventuate yet continually held offhad
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
taxesmore through rising rates than increased valuationswent up.
And those two big old houses! Raymond still lived, too expensively in
one, and paid interest on a cumbering old mortgage. The otherold
Jehiel'swas rented, at no great advantage, to a kind of
correspondence school which conducted dubious courses and was
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: disasteror at least disillusionmentfor 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 loseonions
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
schemesbolder and more numerousout of town. Some of these had the
support of McComas and his crowd, and turned out advantageously
enough, for those on the insideto 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
If you would only consult me! more than once I had occasion to
remonstrate. Who are these people? What organization have they
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 heador 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 suspecteven to
realizethat 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.
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 weeksmarry
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 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 parentsan inevitable loss which he had duly
recorded in public. That record had yet to receive another nameand
His wife, who had seemed to begin by bracing herself to stand
against him, now seemed to have braced herself to stand with
himperhaps 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
herthe 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 leantrained, even
trained down. As the wife of Raymond, she would probably have lapsed by
now into pinguitude and slothunless discontent and exasperation had
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 clubone of the best of its kindfrom 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 ensuemeanwhile 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 soan 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 wipedif
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 placeswitness Johnny's own
brood. Gertrude McComas was now a self-assured though careful
matroncareful, 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 strainand
enabled her to keep the lithe slenderness of her early figure.
We came back to townthe three of usby train. Both of my Elsies
were thoughtful. Certainly we were playing a less brilliant part than
the family we had just left.
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
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 toleranceat 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 shemaking an exception to her
rulepassed 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
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 caresin
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 itselfthe 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 continuethe
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.
It is tiresome, I know, to read about municipal reform; most of us
want the results and not the processand 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 attachedamong them that of John W. McComas, though not
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
housetoo 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
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
supposeand never will.
I found him fairly appreciative of it.
Possiblyas a financial achievement brought about by his own
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 expensesand Mrs.
McComas was assuredly paying Albert's way through mid-summer, as well
as eternally buying him clothes. I think that what Raymond wantedand
wanted but rather weaklywas his own will, whether there was any
advantage in it or not, and wanted that will without payments, charges,
I disliked his grudging way, or rather, his balking way, as regarded
a recognition of the liberality of his former wife's husbandfor 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
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 thinghere I used the
large page of ornamental letter-press as word-saveris this a thing
for an ordinary investor?
Ordinary investorthat 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 manor men. Several of us expect to do pretty well out
'Several'? How about the rank outsider?
Anybody that you know sniffing?
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.
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
themin 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
I say it without bitterness. The beauties of naturethose trifles
that make the great differencesare 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 lookedobviously 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 wemy wife and Ibecame suddenly, poignantly, even bitterly
aware that our Elsie, beside us in her tailor-made, had never been on a
horse in her lifeand was now perhaps too old to make a good
After a little while Althea was carried away for her entry or
event, or whatever they properly call itfor I am no sportsman. Some
small section of the crowd interested itself about the same timeat
least got between us and the proceedings. We saw little or
nothingjust heads, hats and parasols. All I know is that, in a few
moments, Althea reappearedI 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
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.
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?
Yesnext 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.
Don't hurry to thank God. Perhaps you will want to thank the
Raymond's face fell. You don't mean that heon top of
everything elsehas 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 mortgagebut he asked a bonus of five thousand dollars for doing
The scoundrel! groaned Raymond, his face twisted by contemptuous
rage. The impudent scoundrel!
Possibly so. But that is his offerand the only one. And it is his
Raymond sat with his eyes on the floor. He was afraid to let me see
his face. He hated the houseit 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 handsand every hope of a
spare dollar had gone with it.
His mother writes began Raymond.
She tells meWell, 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
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 hershe would snatch it
Listen, Raymond, I said; you had better let me help you
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 thembut 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 waya 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 stairwayit 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 progressin
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 McComasa decent, a civil. Come and talk
things overthat 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.
Before leaving his house for good and all, Raymond spent a dismal
fortnight in going over old papersout-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 billsamong 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
compositionshis 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 oncenear 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
vicinitya 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 theman
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 bachelorone 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 restlessI 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
I searched my mind for some non-committal response.
Well, Raymond burst out, he needn't respect me if he
doesn't admire him!
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-ladstraight-speaking, if none too readywas
sounding an atavistic note caught from his great-grandfather back in
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 himintermittentlyfor 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 teamput 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 vigorbusiness,
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 advanceas he had done
once beforeand enrolled in a college-unit for service abroad.
Raymond gave his consenta 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
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 scrutinypart 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 fightall 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 familiartheir sometimes
over-familiaratmosphere. He confused, he perturbed her: he was so
like, yet so different; so close, yet so remote. Was he a relative, of
sortsa 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.
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
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 thoroughfarea
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 dawninga 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 parksa
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
runcould 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.
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
rebelliousalmost of blasphemousprotest. 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
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, indeedfor 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 hateone 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
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?
You want to amount to something? continued McComas, pausing on the
edge of an invidious bit of characterization.
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.
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 offas to another war.
Finallyperhaps 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 Albertit was
two or three letters, in fact.
He says he is going to marry 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 successas a young
He started so well, said his father. 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 yourHe knows thethe 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, abouthis mother. He must have
understoodsomething. He must knowby 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 matteras well rectified as society and
its usages can manage, and best left alone.
Well, it'sit'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
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 losteverything.
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 pridethe 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, asas
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 mothernow. Living togethergoing 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 marrybut here are
two strains absolutely different.... Have you, I asked, have you
brought up this point withAlbert?
Raymond glanced at the letters.
You have! And he says what I say!
Raymond put the letters away.
Albert had doubtless said much moreand said it with the vigor of
At a wedding the father of the bridegroom need not be
conspicuousleast 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
weddingsand so has our Elsie.
It came in June. The church was the churchthe 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 courseat 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 whitemy 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 sedatenessthough
a gladwhich 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
shoulderthe one with the stain; and I hope he did. It was the hand of
the stronger, taking possession. My prop, my future mainstay! said
And it was as an unregarded and negligible spectatornow his
permanent rôlethat Raymond Prince took the slow train back to town.
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