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Raymond, who might have asked for almost anything, asked for nothing. Johnny, who was in position to ask for next to nothing, asked for almost everything. He was constantly teasing his parents, so far as my observation went; and his teasing was a form of criticism. "You are not doing the right thing by me"--such might have seemed his plaint. He was beginning to spread, to reach out: acquisitiveness and assimilativeness were to be his two watchwords. He hankered after the externalities; he wanted "things." If it was only a new stamp-album, he wanted it hard, and he said so. I shall not go so far as to say that he hectored his parents into sending him to our school. They were probably feeling, on their own account, that they had come to town for better things than they had been getting; and likely enough they met his demands halfway. There was usually a certain element of cheeriness in his nagging; but the cheeriness was quite secondary to the insistence.
"Oh, come, mother!" or, "Oh, father, now!" was commonly Johnny's opening formula, employed with a smile, wheedling or protesting, as the occasion seemed to require.
And, "Oh, well...!" was commonly the opening formula for the response--meaning, in completed form, "Well, if we must, we must."
However, his parents were probably ready to meet with an open mind the scorings of their young, sole critic, thinking that his urgency might advance themselves no less than him. Well, in the autumn Johnny turned up at the Academy with an equipment that included everything approved and needed; and he was not long in letting us know that his father was manager in the supply-yard of a large firm of contractors and builders. His father had spent his earlier married years, it transpired, about the grounds of a small-town "depot," and knew a good deal in regard to lumber and cement.
To most of us fathers were fathers and businesses were businesses--things to be accepted without comment or criticism. Our own youthfulness, and the social tone of the day and region, discouraged either. If I thought anything about it, I must have thought, as I think still, that it was a manly and satisfying matter to come to grips with the serviceable actualities of the building trades. Construction, in its various phases, still seems to me a more useful and more tonic concern than brokerage, for example, and similar forms of office life.
Johnny soon suggested that I go with him, some Saturday afternoon, to the "yard." I asked Raymond to join us. Raymond had just come on Gothic architecture and was studying its historical phases. He was picking up points about the English cathedrals and was making drawings to illustrate the development of buttresses and of window tracery. The yard was only a mile and a half away and the three of us frolicked loosely along the streets until we got there. Johnny's father was going about the place in an admirable pair of new blue overalls, and carried a thick, blunt pencil behind one ear. He showed an independent, breezy manner that had not been very marked before. He was loud and clear and authoritative, and kept a dozen or more stout fellows pretty busy. Once an elderly man in a high silk hat passed through the yard on his way to its little office. He stopped, and he and Johnny's father had some talk together. "Yes, sir!" said Johnny's father, with considerable emphasis and momentum. I enjoyed his "Yes, sir!" It was pleasant to find him so hearty and so well-mannered. He seemed to have escaped from something and to be glad of it. The man in the high hat hardly tried to stand up against him. As he turned away he smiled in a curious fashion; and I thought I heard him say to himself, as he moved back toward the door of the shed that had the sign "Office" on it: "I wonder whether I'm going to run him, or whether he's going to run me?"
Johnny was all eyes for a tall stack of lathing in bundles and for a pile of sacks filled with hair from cows' hides, which last was to go into plaster. Raymond looked at these objects of interest--and at several others--with some degree of abstractedness. The English cathedrals, as I was told later, had not been plastered. Raymond had already developed some faculty for entertaining a concept freed from clogging and qualifying detail; and this faculty grew as he grew. He liked his ideal net; facts, practical facts, never had much charm for him. I remember his once saying, when about twenty-three, that he should have liked to be an architect, but that plumbing and speaking-tubes had turned him away. If he could have drawn fašades and stopped there, I think he might have been quite happy and successful in the profession.
Johnny pulled a lath for each of us out of one of the bundles, and we used them in our tour of the yard as alpenstocks. We found a glacier in the shape of a mortar bed and were using the laths to sound its depths, when Johnny's father appeared from round the corner of a lumber pile. He clapped his hands with a loud report.
"Here! that won't do!" he said; and none of us thought it remotely possible to withstand him. "Enough for one morning," he added, and he waved both arms with a broad scoop to motion us toward the street gate.
"Oh, father, now!" began Johnny (with no smile at all), conscious of his position as host.
"No more, to-day," said his father. "School six days a week would be about my idea."
Raymond said nothing, but drew up his mouth to one side and himself led us toward the street.
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