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As it happened, we made a poor start. Turning the corner into Broadway, we found ourselves caught in the jam of the theatre traffic, and our car was brought to a halt in front of the "Empire Varieties." If you have been on any Broadway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, you can imagine the sight; the flaring electric signs, the pictures of the head line artists, the people waiting to buy tickets, and the crowds on the sidewalk pushing past. There was one additional feature, a crowd of "rah-rah boys," with yellow and purple flags in their hands, and the glory of battle in their eyes. As our car halted, the cheer-leader gave a signal, and a hundred throats let out in unison:
"Rickety zim, rickety zam, Brickety, stickety, slickety slam! Wallybaloo! Billybazoo! We are the boys for a hullabaloo--Western City!"
It sounded all the more deafening, because Bertie, in the front seat, had joined in.
"Hello!" said I. "We must have won the ball-game!"
"You bet we did!" said Bertie, in his voice of bursting self-importance.
"Ball-game?" asked Carpenter.
"Foot-ball," said I. "Western City played Union Tech today. Wonder what the score was."
The cheer leader seemed to take the words out of my mouth. Again the hundred voices roared:
"What was the score? Seventeen to four! Who got it in the neck? Union Tech! Who took the kitty? Western City!"
Then more waving of flags, and yells for our prize captain and our agile quarter-back: "Rah, rah, rah, Jerry Wilson! Rah, rah, rah, Harriman! Western City, Western City, Western City! W-E-S-T-E-R-N-C-I-T-Y! Western City!"
You have heard college yells, no doubt, and can imagine the tempo of these cries, the cumulative rush of the spelled out letters, the booming roar at the end. The voice of Bertie beat back from the wind-shield with devastating effect upon our ears; and then our car rolled on, and the clamor died away, and I answered the questions of Carpenter. "They are College boys. They have won a game with another college, and are celebrating the victory."
"But," said the other, "how do they manage to shout all together that way?"
"Oh, they've practiced that, of course."
"You mean--they gather and practice making those noises?"
"They make them in cold blood?"
I laughed. "Well, the blood of youth is seldom entirely cold. They imagine the victory while they rehearse, no doubt."
When Carpenter spoke again, it was half to himself. "You make your children into mobs! You train them for it!"
"It really isn't that bad," I replied. "It's all in good temper--it's their play."
"Yes, yes! But what is play but practice for reality? And how shall love be learned in savage war-dances?"
They tell us that we have a new generation of young people since the war; a generation which thinks for itself, and has its own way. I was an advocate of this idea in the abstract, but I must admit that I was startled by the concrete case which I now encountered. Bertie suddenly looked round from his place in the driver's seat. "Say," he demanded, in a grating voice, "where was that guy raised?"
"Bertie dear!" cried his mother. "Don't be rude!"
"I'm not being rude," replied the other. "I just want to know where he got his nut ideas."
"Bertie dear!" cried the mother, again; and you knew that for eighteen or nineteen years she had been crying "Bertie dear!"--in a tone in which rebuke was tempered by fatuous maternal admiration. And all the time, Bertie had gone on doing what he pleased, knowing that in her secret heart his mother was smiling with admiration of his masterfulness, taking it as one more symptom of the greatness of the Stebbins line. I could see him in early childhood, stamping on the floor and commanding his governess to bring him a handkerchief--and throwing his shoe at her when she delayed!
Presently it was Luanda's turn. Lucinda, you understand, was in revolt against the social indignity which her mother had inflicted upon her. When Carpenter had entered the car, she had looked at him once, with a deliberate stare, then lifted her chin, ignoring my effort to introduce him to her. Since then she had sat silent, cold, and proud. But now she spoke. "Mother, tell me, do we have to meet those horrid fat old Jews again?"
Mrs. Stebbins wisely decided that this was not a good time to explore the soul of a possible Eastern potentate. Instead, she elected to talk for a minute or two about a lawn fete she was planning to give next week for the benefit of the Polish relief. "Poland is the World's Bulwark against Bolshevism," she explained; and then added: "Bertie dear, aren't you driving recklessly?"
Bertie turned his head. "Didn't you hear me tell that old sheeny I was going to beat him to it?"
"But, Bertie dear, this street is crowded!"
"Well, let them look out for themselves!"
But a few seconds later it appeared as if the son and heir of the Stebbins family had decided to take his mother's advice. The car suddenly slowed up--so suddenly as to slide us out of our seats. There was a grinding of brakes, and a bump of something under the wheels; then a wild stream from the sidewalk, and a half-stifled cry from the chauffeur. Mrs. Stebbins gasped, "Oh, my God!" and put her hands over her face; and Lucinda exclaimed, in outraged irritation, "Mamma!" Carpenter looked at me, puzzled, and asked, "What is the matter?"
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