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If those were days when people began to combine for the pursuit of pleasure, they were also days when people began to gather at the call of public duty. If clubs were forming on the borders, other clubs, leagues, societies were forming nearer the centre--organizations to make effective the scattered good-will of the well-disposed and to gain some betterment in the local political life. To initiate and conduct such movements only a few were needed; but the many were expected to contribute, if not their zeal and their time, at least their dollars. It was patriotic righteousness made easy: a man had only to give his fifty dollars or his five hundred to feel, without further personal exertion, that he was a good citizen and was forwarding, as all good citizens should, a worthy cause. This way of doing it fell in wonderfully well with Raymond's temperament and abilities (or lack of them): the liberality of his contributions did not remain unknown, and he was sometimes held up as a favorable specimen of the American citizen.
Another movement was soon to engage his attention. If the prosperous were to have their playgrounds beyond the city's outskirts, the less prosperous should have theirs within the city's limits. The scheme of a system of small parks and playgrounds quite took Raymond's fancy. It contained, besides the idea of social amelioration, the even more grateful idea of municipal beautification. In time, indeed, might not this same notion, fortified by experience and given a wider application, end by redeeming the town not merely in spots but in its entirety?--a saved and graced whole, not only as to its heart, but as to its liberal and varied borders of water, woodland and prairie.
"I should be proud of that," said Raymond heartily. The name of such a city, following one's own name on any hotel-register, would indeed be a matter for pride.
He attended several of the early meetings that were designed to get some such project, in its simpler form, under way. He had friends among professional men in the arts, and some acquaintances among newly formed bodies of social workers. He was not slow in perceiving that the way was likely to be tedious and hard. It called for organization--the organization of hope, of patience, of hot, untiring zeal, of finesse against political chicane, of persistence in the face of indifference and selfishness. "It will take years of organized endeavor," he confessed. He recognized his own ineffectiveness beyond the narrow pale of hopeful suggestion, and wished that here too the giving of a substantial sum--a large penny-in-the-slot--might produce quick and facile results.
His wife, it is to be feared, looked upon these activities of his, however slight, with a lack-lustre eye. She knew nothing of local problems and local needs. She was conscious of a hortatory manner in small matters and of indifference, which she almost made neglect, in matters that appeared to her to be larger. If she asked for a fairer share in his evenings--he belonged to a literary club, a musical society, and so on--it was scant consolation to be told that he objected to some of her own activities and associations. He did not much care, for example, to have her "run" with the McComases and others of that type or to have her dawdle over glasses, tall, broad, or short, in places of general democratic assemblage; and he told her so. I believe it was about here that she began to find him something of a prig and a doctrinaire; and she was not incapable, under provocation, of mentioning her impressions. It was about here, I suspect, that he told her something of Johnny McComas and his origins--at least he once or twice spoke of Johnny with a certain sharp scorn to me. He assuredly spoke of other country clubs on the other side of town which were more desirable for her and equally accessible, save in the material sense of mere miles. Though he took no interest in athletics, nor even in the lighter out-of-door sports, he was willing to join one of those clubs, if it was required of him.
His reference to Johnny McComas was designed, no doubt, to repel her; but the effect, as became perfectly apparent, was quite the contrary. She was interested, even fascinated, by the rise of a man from so little to so much. She found words and words to express her admiration of Johnny's type, and when English words ran short she found words in French. He was gaillard; he had Úlan. What wasn't he? What hadn't he? Bits of bravado, I still incline to think.
No, the McComases were not to be left behind all of a sudden. One day she made another excursion to the outskirts with them; and she reported it to Raymond, with a little air of suppressed mockery, as a perfectly unobjectionable jaunt. She had gone with them to the cemetery. Johnny's mother had died the year before, and he had been putting up a monument in Roselands. This structure, it developed, was no mere memorial to an individual. It was a tall shaft, set in the middle of a large lot. I saw it later myself: a lavish erection (with all its accessory features taken into account)--one designed, as I felt, to show Johnny himself to posterity as an ancestor, as the founder of a family line. Assuredly his own name, aside from the tall obelisk itself, was the largest thing in view.
Raymond took this account of Johnny's latest phase with an admirable seriousness; he thought the better of him for it. He himself was inclined to divide human-kind into two classes, those who had cemetery-lots (with monuments), and those who had not. The latter, of course, are in a majority everywhere. One thinks of Naples and of the sad road that winds up past the Alhambra to--Well, yes; in a majority, of course; and inevitably so in a large town suddenly thrown together by a heaping up of fortuitous and miscellaneous elements. In later years, when things were going rather badly with Raymond, and when consideration seemed to fail, he could always comfort himself with thoughts of the Princes' own monument in that same cemetery. This was another tall shaft in a gray granite now no longer to be found, and had been set up by old Jehiel on the occasion of the reinterment of some infants by his first wife--a transaction carried out years before Raymond was born. Some of the dates on the base of the monument went back to the early thirties. Well, there it stood, with the subordinated headstones of Jehiel and old Beulah, of his own parents, and of the half-mythical babes who, if they had given nothing else to the world, had furnished a future nephew with a social perspective. Raymond, reconsidering Johnny's recent effort, now began to disparage that improvised background, and led his wife to view his own lot--theirs, hers--only a hundred yards from the other. But she could not respond to old Jehiel and Beulah--though she tried to be properly sympathetic over their son and his wife. Still less could she vitalize the infants who had encountered an epidemic on the prairie frontier and had succumbed more than three score years ago. If she thought of any child at all, she thought doubtless of little Albert (now romping about in his first tweed knickerbockers), who would not die for many years, perhaps, and who was like enough to be buried in quite another spot.
But I think she thought, most of all, of the manly, cheerful sorrow of Johnny McComas before the new monument in the other lot.
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