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These were also days of panic. Banks went down and bank officials threw themselves after. The city was thrilled, even charmed, to find that its financial perturbations touched, however slightly, the nerves of London and Paris. I myself was in Algeria that winter: my Elsie and I had decided on three months along the Mediterranean. It was on the white, glaring walls of the casino at Biskra that the news was first bulletined for our eyes. It had a glare of its own, I assure you: for a few days we knew little enough how we ourselves might be standing.
I thought of the Mid-Continent, with its cumbersome counters and partitions done in walnut veneer and its old-fashioned pavement in squares of black and white. I thought too of Johnny McComas's new institution, with so many bright brass handrails and such a spread of tasteful mosaics underfoot. How had they fared? Well, they had fared quite differently. Why should a big, old bank go under, while a new, little bank continues to float. I cannot tell you. I was far away at the time. Perhaps I could not tell you even if I had been on the spot. And to other questions, more important still, I may be unable to give, when the pinch comes, a clearer answer. The Mid-Continent dashed, or drifted, into the rocky hands of a receiver; and McComas's bank, after a fortnight of wobbling, righted itself and kept on its way.
I saw Raymond again in March. The receivership was going on languidly. Prospects were bright for nobody.
"All this puts an end to one of my plans, anyhow," he said.
"What plan is that?" I asked.
I was reminded that these were also the days of a quickened interest in education. This interest was expressing itself in large new institutions, and these institutions were generously embodying themselves in solid stone--in mullions, groins, gargoyles, finials, and the whole volume of approved scholastic detail. Donors were grouping themselves in "halls" and dormitories round a certain inchoate campus, and were putting on the fronts of their buildings their own names, or the names of deceased husbands or wives, fathers or mothers--so many bids for a monumental immortality.
"I had hoped for a Prince Hall," said Raymond. And he explained that it would have been in memory of his parents.
I must pause for a moment on this matter. I do not believe that Raymond had ever thought, in seriousness, of any such gift. It must have been at best an errant fancy, and if concerned with commemorating anybody concerned with commemorating himself. But I will say this for him: he never was disposed to try getting things out of people, for he hated attempts at trickery almost as much as he detested the exercise of the shrewdness involved in bargaining and dickering. Per contra, he often showed himself not averse to giving things to other people; but the basis for that giving must be clearly understood all round. He would not compete; he would not struggle; he would not descend to a war of wits. His to bestow, from some serene height; his the rôle, in fact, of the kindly patron. Let but his own superiority be recognized--let him only be regarded as hors concours--and he would sometimes deign to do the most generous acts. These acts embraced, now and again, the entertainment of writers and artists, either at his home or elsewhere: his fellows--for he was a writer and an artist too. But it was all done with the understanding that there was a difference: he was a writer and an artist--but he was something more. Those who failed to feel the difference were not always bidden a second time.
And his fancy for patronage was developing just at a time when patronage was becoming more difficult, awkward, impracticable! But though "Prince Hall" never saw the light, other and humbler forms of patronage came to be accepted by him.
Toward the end of April Raymond and his wife joined one of the clubs which he had brought to her notice. Though in a formative stage, like others, it was good (we ourselves joined it some few years later); and she made it her concern, through the summer, to give it some of those shaping pats which--for a new club, as for a new vase--have the greater value the earlier they are bestowed. She was active about the place, and she became conspicuous.
It was soon seen that she was "gay"--or was inclined to be, under favoring conditions. The conditions were most favoring, it began to be felt, when her husband was not about. A good many thought him stiff, and a few who used obsolete dictionary words pronounced him proud--a term stately enough to constitute somehow a tribute, though a damnatory one. It was soon seen, too, that just as he irked her, so she disparaged him--an open road to others.
One day she gave a lunch at the club--places for a dozen. Johnny McComas appeared there for the first time. It was a plainer place than his own, but I credit him with perceiving that it was much more worth while. Adele McComas did not appear--for a good reason. Those obstreperous twins now had a little sister two weeks old. The wife was doubtless better at home, but was the husband better at the club? If I had been a member at that time, and present, I should have felt like following him to some corner of the veranda and saying: "Oh, come, now, Johnny, will this quite do?" Well, I know what his look would have been--it came later. He would have turned that wide, round face on me, with the curly hair about the temples which gave him somehow an expression of abiding youth and frankness; and he would have directed those hard, bright blue eyes of his to look straight ahead at me--eyes that seemed to hold back nothing, yet really told nothing at all; and would have disclaimed any wrong-doing or any intention of wrong-doing. And I should have felt myself a foolish meddler.
Well, the innocent informalities of the summer were resumed by the same set in town next winter. The memories and the methods of one season were tided over to another. Gertrude was still "gay"--perhaps gayer--and a little more openly impatient with her husband, and a little more openly disdainful of him. Young men swarmed and fluttered, and those who had "never tried it on" before seemed inclined to try it on now.
I take, on the whole, a tempered view--by which I mean, a favorable view--of our society and its moral tone. I am assured, and I believe from my own observations, that this is higher than in some other of our large cities. I dislike scandal, and I have no desire to bear tales. Either is far from being the object of these present pages. Nothing that I present need be taken as typical, as tyrannously representative.
Raymond criticized, expostulated. Friends began to come to him with impressions and reports. I--whether for good or ill--was not one of these. They named names--names which I shall not record here. But it was one of Raymond's own impressions, and a vivid one, which finally prompted him to make a move.
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