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Little Albert's babyhood kept his mother a good deal at home--and by "home" I mean the house in which he had been born. His father's lessened interest in Europe (and his diminished deference for it) kept his mother at home completely--and by "home" I now mean the town in which Albert had been born. Father, mother, and offspring filled the big house as well as they could--the big, old house as it was sometimes called by those who cherished a chronology that was purely American; and Albert was more than a year and a half along in life before his grandmother came across to see him and to inspect the distant ménage. She brought her water-waves and her sharpened critical sense, and went back leaving the impression that she was artificial and exacting.
"She missed her Paris," said Raymond, "and her drive in the Bois."
"H'm!" said I, recalling that the town's recent chief executive had pronounced us, not many years back, the equal of Paris in civic beauty.
"We have no Bois, as yet," he added, thoughtfully. "Do you think we ever shall have one?"
He was revolving the Bois, not as a definite tract of park land, but as a social institution.
"I think," said I, "that we had better be satisfied with developing according to our own nature and needs."
"Yes," he returned; "there was the Frenchman at the fox-hunt: 'No band, no promenade, no nossing.' Well, we must go on our own tack, as soon as we discover it."
It need not be imagined that his mother-in-law's look-in of a month made his wife more contented. She kept on wishing for her new friends in another quarter, and (more strongly) for the familiar scenes of the other side. Raymond did not wish the expense involved in either move. His affairs were now going but tolerably. So far as the bank was concerned--a bank that had once been almost a "family" institution--his influence was naught. He was only a stockholder, and a smaller stockholder than once. His interest, in any sense, was but a brief, periodical interest in dividends. These were coming with a commendable regularity still. His rentals came in fairly too; but most of them were now derived from properties on the edge of the business district--properties with no special future and likely only to hold their own however favorable general conditions might continue. Travel? No. A man travels best in his youth, when he is foot-free, care-free, fancy-free. Go traveling too late, or once too often, and there is a difference. The final checking-off of something one has "always meant to see" may result in the most ashen disappointment of all: even intuition, without the pains of actual experience, should suffice to warn. Besides, as Raymond said,--
"We've both had a good deal of it. Let's stay at home."
His wife cast about her. There is a mood in which a deprivation of high comedy may drive one to low-down farce. To-day people are even going farther. A worthy stage is dead, they say; and they patronize, somewhat willfully and contemptuously (or with a loose, slack tolerance that is worse), the moving pictures. Perhaps it was in some such mood that Raymond's wife took up with Mrs. Johnny McComas. They were but three streets apart. Mrs. McComas was lively, energetic, determined to drive on; and her ability to assimilate rapidly and light-handedly her growing opulence made it seem by no means a mere vulgar external adornment. She knew how to move among the remarkable furnishings with which she had surrounded herself in that old-new house, and how to make the momentum gained there serve her ends in the world outside.
"It will be a short life here," her husband had told her on their taking possession; "then, a quick sale--at a good figure--to some manufacturing concern, and on we go."
"If it's to be short, let's make it merry," she had rejoined; and nothing had been spared that could give liveliness to their stately old interiors, while those interiors lasted.
Mrs. Raymond Prince vaguely pronounced their house "amusing." It had, like Adele McComas herself, a provocative dash which fell in with her present mood, and it pleased her that its châtelaine was inclined to dress up to its wayward sofas and hangings. She even went with Mrs. Johnny on shopping tours and abetted her as her fancies, desires and expenditures ran riot. It was a mood of irresponsibility--almost of defiant irresponsibility.
Now was the nascent day of the country club. Several of these welcome institutions had lately set themselves up in a modest, tentative way. Acceptance was complete, and all they had to do was to grow. With one of these McComas cast his lot. At the start it was a simple enough affair; but Johnny must have sensed its potentialities and savored its affinities, its coming congruity with himself. It was to become, shortly, a club for the suddenly, violently rich, the flushed with dollars, the congested with prosperity--for newcomers who had met Success and beaten her at her own game. Stir on all hands, the reek of sudden felicity in the air. In later years people with access to better things of similar sort were known to become indignant when asked to associate themselves with it. "Why should I want to join that?" was the question they put. But it pleased Johnny McComas, both by its present manifestations and its latent possibilities. It was richly in unison with his own nature, and I believe he had a ravishing vision of its magnificent futurities.
Last year my wife and I were taken to a Sunday afternoon concert out there. We found a place of towers and arcades, of endless corridors planted with columns and numberless chairs in numberless varieties, of fountained courts, of ball-rooms, of concert-halls, of gay apparel and cool drinks. We heard of fairs, horse-shows, tournaments in golf and tennis. The restaurant, with its acre of tables, glassed and naperied; the ranges of telephone booths, all going it together; the cellars, a vast subterrene, with dusky avenues of lockers, each cluttered with beverages of individual predilection--though I suppose that, after all, they were a good deal alike....
Well, it was too much for us; and my Elsie, who is essentially the lady, if woman ever was, came away feeling a little dowdy and a good deal out of date.
At that earlier period, however, it was still simple; the germ was there, but the development of its possibilities had only begun. When Mrs. McComas invited Mrs. Prince to drive out with her and see some tennis, Mrs. Prince was quite ready to accept.
I do not know just what mode of locomotion they employed. It was in the early days of the automobile and Johnny McComas was one of the first men in town to have one. I recall, in fact, some of his initial experiences with it. On a Sunday afternoon I encountered him in one of these still relatively unstudied contraptions on a frequented driveway. Another man was sitting beside him patiently. The conveyance was making no progress at all. Fortunately it had stopped close enough to the curb not to interfere with the progress of other and more familiar equipages.
"We're stuck," said Johnny, jovially, as he caught sight of me. "Ran for three or four miles slick as a whistle--and look at us now!" It entertained him--a kink in a new toy. And he enjoyed the interest of the people collected about.
"You're gummed up, I expect," said I. In those days nobody knew much about the new creature and its habits, and one man's guess was as good as another's. Two or three bystanders eyed me deferentially, as a probable expert.
"Likely enough," he agreed--and that made me an expert beyond doubt. "But this will do for to-day. We've been here twenty minutes."
He had the car pushed to a near-by stable, amidst the mixed emotions of the little crowd, and next day he had it hauled home.
"You were right," he said, when I met him out again in it, a week later. "It was gummed up, so to speak; but it's working like a charm to-day. Get in and I'll take you a few miles. That other fellow got an awful grouch."
It may have been by this machine, or by some more familiar mode of locomotion, that the two women reached the country club and its tennis tournament. Gertrude Prince strolled through its grounds and galleries with the aloof and amused air of one touring through a foreign town--a town never seen before and likely to be left behind altogether within an hour or two. It was at once semi-smart and semi-simple. She took it lightly, even condescendingly; and when Johnny McComas himself appeared somewhat later and set them down at a little marble table near a fountain-jet and offered cocktails as a preliminary to a variety of sandwiches, she decided, after looking about and seeing a few other ladies with glasses before them on other little marble tables, to accept. It was a lark in some town of the provinces--Meaux or Melun; what difference did it make?
They formed a little group altogether to Johnny's liking. His wife was dressed dashingly; his wife's guest made a very fair second; he himself, although he never lifted a racquet, was in the tennis garb of that day.
"You both look ripping," he declared with hearty satisfaction. To look thus, before competing items in the throng, was the object of the place, the reason for its developing mise en scène.
Johnny himself looked ripping--cool, confident, content, and at the top of his days.
"It was amusing...." said Gertrude to me, with an upward inflection, a week later.
And she asked me for more about Johnny McComas.
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