The Second Generation
By David Graham Phillips
Public Domain Books
Chapter II - Of Somebodies and Nobodies
At the second turning Arthur rounded the tandem out of Jefferson Street into Willow with a skill that delighted both him and his sister. “But why go that way?” said she. “Why not through Monroe street? I’m sure the horses would behave.”
“Better not risk it,” replied Arthur, showing that he, too, had had, but had rejected, the temptation to parade the crowded part of town. “Even if the horses didn’t act up, the people might, they’re such jays.”
Adelaide’s estimate of what she and her brother had acquired in the East was as high as was his, and she had the same unflattering opinion of those who lacked it. But it ruffled her to hear him call the home folks jays–just as it would have ruffled him had she been the one to make the slighting remark. “If you invite people’s opinion,” said she, “you’ve no right to sneer at them because they don’t say what you wanted.”
“But I’m not driving for show if you are,” he retorted, with a testiness that was confession.
“Don’t be silly,” was her answer. “You know you wouldn’t take all this trouble on a desert island.”
“Of course not,” he admitted, “but I don’t care for the opinion of any but those capable of appreciating.”
“And those capable of appreciating are only those who approve,” teased Adelaide. “Why drive tandem among these ’jays?’”
“To keep my hand in,” replied he; and his adroit escape restored his good humor.
“I wish I were as free from vanity as you are, Arthur, dear,” said she.
“You’re just as fond of making a sensation as I am,” replied he. “And, my eye, Del! but you do know how.” This with an admiring glance at her most becoming hat with its great, gracefully draped chiffon veil, and at her dazzling white dust-coat with its deep blue facings that matched her eyes.
She laughed. “Just wait till you see my new dresses–and hats.”
“Another shock for your poor father.”
“Shock of joy.”
“Yes,” assented Arthur, rather glumly; “he’ll take anything off you. But when I–”
“It’s no compliment to me,” she cut in, the prompter to admit the truth because it would make him feel better. “He thinks I’m ’only a woman,’ fit for nothing but to look pretty as long as I’m a girl, and then to devote myself to a husband and children, without any life or even ideas of my own.”
“Mother always seems cheerful enough,” said Arthur. His content with the changed conditions which the prosperity and easy-going generosity of the elder generation were making for the younger generation ended at his own sex. The new woman–idle and frivolous, ignorant of all useful things, fit only for the show side of life and caring only for it, discontented with everybody but her own selfish self–Arthur had a reputation among his friends for his gloomy view of the American woman and for his courage in expressing it.
“You are so narrow-minded, Artie!” his sister exclaimed impatiently. “Mother was brought up very differently from the way she and father have brought me up–”
“Have let you bring yourself up.”
“No matter; I am different.”
“But what would you do? What can a woman do?”
“I don’t know,” she admitted. “But I do know I hate a humdrum life." There was the glint of the Ranger will in her eyes as she added: “Furthermore, I shan’t stand for it.”
He looked at her enviously. “You’ll be free in another year,” he said. “You and Ross Whitney will marry, and you’ll have a big house in Chicago and can do what you please and go where you please.”
“Not if Ross should turn out to be the sort of man you are.”
He laughed. “I can see Ross–or any man–trying to manage you! You’ve got too much of father in you.”
“But I’ll be dependent until–” Adelaide paused, then added a satisfactorily vague, “for a long time. Father won’t give me anything. How furious he’d be at the very suggestion of dowry. Parents out here don’t appreciate that conditions have changed and that it’s necessary nowadays for a woman to be independent of her husband.”
Arthur compressed his lips, to help him refrain from comment. But he felt so strongly on the subject that he couldn’t let her remarks pass unchallenged. “I don’t know about that, Del,” he said. “It depends on the woman. Personally, I’d hate to be married to a woman I couldn’t control if necessary.”
“You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” cried Del, indignant. “Is thatyour idea of control–to make a woman mercenary and hypocritical? You’d better change your way of thinking if you don’t want Janet to be very unhappy, and yourself, too.”
“That sounds well,” he retorted, “but you know better. Take our case, for instance. Is it altogether love and affection that make us so cautious about offending father?”
“Speak for yourself,” said Adelaide. ’I’m not cautious.”
“Do try to argue fair, even if you are a woman. You’re as cautious in your way as I am in mine.”
Adelaide felt that he was offended, and justly. “I didn’t mean quite what I said, Artie. You are cautious, in a way, and sometimes. But often you’re reckless. I’m frightened every once in a while by it, and I’m haunted by the dread that there’ll be a collision between father and you. You’re so much alike, and you understand each other less and less, all the time.”
After a silence Arthur said, thoughtfully: “I think I understand him. There are two distinct persons inside of me. There’s the one that was made by inheritance and by my surroundings as a boy–the one that’s like him, the one that enables me to understand him. Then, there’s this other that’s been made since–in the East, and going round among people that either never knew the sort of life we had as children or have grown away from it. The problem is how to reconcile those two persons so that they’ll stop wrangling and shaming each other. That’s my problem, I mean. Father’s problem–He doesn’t know he has one. I must do as he wishes or I’ll not be at all, so far as he is concerned.”
Another and longer silence; then Adelaide, after an uneasy, affectionate look at his serious profile, said: “I’m often ashamed of myself, Artie–about father; I don’t think I’m a hypocrite, for I do love him dearly. Who could help it, when he is so indulgent and when even in his anger he’s kind? But you–Oh, Artie, even though you are less, much less, uncandid with him than I am, still isn’t it more–more–less manly in you? After all, I’m a woman and helpless; and, if I seriously offend him, what would become of me? But you’re a man. The world was made for men; they can make their own way. And it seems unworthy of you to be afraid to be yourself before anybody. And I’m sure it’s demoralizing.”
She spoke so sincerely that he could not have resented it, even had her words raised a far feebler echo within him. “I don’t honestly believe, Del, that my caution with father is from fear of his shutting down on me, any more than yours is,” he replied. “I know he cares for me. And often I don’t let him see me as I am simply because it’d hurt him if he knew how differently I think and feel about a lot of things.”
“But are you right?–or is he?”
Arthur did not answer immediately. He had forgotten his horses; they were jogging along, heads down and “form” gone. “What do you think?” he finally asked.
“I–I can’t quite make up my mind.”
“Do you think I ought to drudge and slave, as he has? Do you think I ought to spend my life in making money, in dealing in flour? Isn’t there something better than that?”
“I don’t think it’s what a man deals in; I think it’s how he deals. And I don’t believe there’s any sort of man finer and better than father, Arthur.”
“That’s true,” he assented warmly. “I used to envy the boys at college–some of them–because their fathers and mothers had so much culture and knowledge of the world. But when I came to know their parents better–and them, too–I saw how really ignorant and vulgar–yes, vulgar–they were, under their veneer of talk and manner which they thought was everything. ’They may be fit to stand before kings’ I said to myself, ’but my father is a king–and of a sort they ain’t fit to stand before.’”
The color was high in Del’s cheeks and her eyes were brilliant. “You’ll come out all right, Artie,” said she. “I don’t know just how, but you’ll do something, and do it well.”
“I’d much rather do nothing–well,” said he lightly, as if not sure whether he was in earnest or not. “It’s so much nicer to dream than to do.” He looked at her with good-humored satire. “And you–what’s the matter with your practising some of the things you preach? Why don’t you marry–say, Dory Hargrave, instead of Ross?”
She made a failure of a stout attempt to meet his eyes and to smile easily. “Because I don’t love Dory Hargrave,” she said.
“But you wouldn’t let yourself if you could–would you, now?”
“It’s a poor love that lags for let,” she replied. “Besides, why talk about me? I’m ’only a woman.’ I haven’t any career, or any chance to make one.”
“But you might help some man,” he teased.
“Then you’d like me to marry Dory–if I could?”
“I’m just showing you how vain your theorizing is,” was his not altogether frank reply. “You urge me to despise money when you yourself–”
“That isn’t fair, Arthur. If I didn’t care for Ross I shouldn’t think of marrying him, and you know it.”
“He’s so like father!” mocked Arthur.
“No, but he’s so like you,” she retorted. “You know he was your ideal for years. It was your praising him that–that first made me glad to do as father and mother wished. You know father approves of him.”
Arthur grinned, and Del colored. “A lot father knows about Ross as he really is,” said he. “Oh, he’s clever about what he lets father see. However, you do admit there’s some other ideal of man than successful workingman.”
“Of course!” said Adelaide. “I’m not so silly and narrow as you try to make out. Only, I prefer a combination of the two. And I think Ross is that, and I hope and believe he’ll be more so–afterwards.”
Adelaide’s tone was so judicial that Arthur thought it discreet not to discuss his friend and future brother-in-law further. “He isn’t good enough for Del,” he said to himself. “But, then, who is? And he’ll help her to the sort of setting she’s best fitted for. What side they’ll put on, once they get going! She’ll set a new pace–and it’ll be a grand one.”
At the top of the last curve in the steep road up from Deer Creek the horses halted of themselves to rest; Arthur and his sister gazed out upon the vast, dreamy vision–miles on miles of winding river shimmering through its veil of silver mist, stately hills draped in gauziest blue. It was such uplifting vistas that inspired the human imagination, in the days of its youth, to breathe a soul into the universe and make it a living thing, palpitant with love and hope; it was an outlook that would have moved the narrowest, the smallest, to think in the wide and the large. Wherever the hills were not based close to the water’s edge or rose less abruptly, there were cultivated fields; and in each field, far or near, men were at work. These broad-hatted, blue-shirted toilers in the ardent sun determined the turn of Adelaide’s thoughts.
“It doesn’t seem right, does it,” said she, “that so many–almost everybody–should have to work so hard just to get enough to eat and to wear and a place to sleep, when there’s so much of everything in the world–and when a few like us don’t have to work at all and have much more than they need, simply because one happened to be born in such or such conditions. I suppose it’s got to be so, but it certainly looks unjust–and silly.”
“I’m not sure the workers haven’t the best of it,” replied Arthur. “They have the dinner; we have only the dessert; and I guess one gets tired of only desserts, no matter how great the variety.”
“It’s a stupid world in lots of ways, isn’t it?”
“Not so stupid as it used to be, when everybody said and thought it was as good as possible,” replied he. “You see, it’s the people in the world that make it stupid. For instance, do you suppose you and I, or anybody, would care for idling about and doing all sorts of things our better judgment tells us are inane, if it weren’t that most of our fellow-beings are stupid enough to admire and envy that sort of thing, and that we are stupid enough to want to be admired and envied by stupid people?”
“Did you notice the Sandys’s English butler?” asked Adelaide.
“Did I? I’ll bet he keeps every one in the Sandys family up to the mark.”
“That’s it,” continued Adelaide. “He’s a poor creature, dumb and ignorant. He knows only one thing–snobbishness. Yet every one of us was in terror of his opinion. No doubt kings feel the same way about the people around them. Always what’s expected of us–and by whom? Why, by people who have little sense and less knowledge. They run the world, don’t they?”
“As Dory Hargrave says,” said her brother, “the only scheme for making things better that’s worth talking about is raising the standards of the masses because their standards are ours. We’ll be fools and unjust as long as they’ll let us. And they’ll let us as long as they’re ignorant.”
By inheritance Arthur and Adelaide had excellent minds, shrewd and with that cast of humor which makes for justice of judgment by mocking at the solemn frauds of interest and prejudice. But, as is often the case with the children of the rich and the well-to-do, there had been no necessity for either to use intellect; their parents and hirelings of various degrees, paid with their father’s generously given money, had done their thinking for them. The whole of animate creation is as lazy as it dares be, and man is no exception. Thus, the Ranger children, like all other normal children of luxury, rarely made what would have been, for their fallow minds, the arduous exertion of real thinking. When their minds were not on pastimes or personalities they were either rattling round in their heads or exchanging the ideas, real and reputed, that happened to be drifting about, at the moment, in their “set.” Those ideas they and their friends received, and stored up or passed on with never a thought as to whether they were true or false, much as they used coins or notes they took in and paid out. Arthur and Adelaide soon wearied of their groping about in the mystery of human society–how little direct interest it had for them then! They drove on; the vision which had stimulated them to think vanished; they took up again those personalities about friends, acquaintances and social life that are to thinking somewhat as massage is to exercise–all the motions of real activity, but none of its spirit. They stopped for two calls and tea on the fashionable Bluffs.
When they reached home, content with tandem, drive, themselves, their friends, and life in general, they found Hiram Ranger returned from work, though it was only half-past five, and stretched on the sofa in the sitting room, with his eyes shut. At this unprecedented spectacle of inactivity they looked at each other in vague alarm; they were stealing away, when he called: “I’m not asleep.”
His expression made Adelaide impulsively kneel beside him and gaze anxiously into his face. He smiled, roused himself to a sitting posture, well concealing the effort the exertion cost him.
“Your father’s getting old,” he said, hiding his tragedy of aching body and aching heart and impending doom in a hypocrisy of cheerfulness that would have passed muster even had he not been above suspicion. “I’m not up to the mark of the last generation. Your grandfather was fifty when I was born, and he didn’t die till I was fifty.”
His face shadowed; Adelaide, glancing round for the cause, saw Simeon, half-sitting, half-standing in the doorway, humble apology on his weazened, whiskered face. He looked so like her memory-picture of her grandfather that she burst out laughing. “Don’t be hard on the poor old gentleman, father,” she cried. “How can you resist that appeal? Tell him to come in and make himself at home.”
As her father did not answer, she glanced at him. He had not heard her; he was staring straight ahead with an expression of fathomless melancholy. The smile faded from her face, from her heart, as the light fades before the oncoming shadow of night. Presently he was absent-mindedly but tenderly stroking her hair, as if he were thinking of her so intensely that he had become unconscious of her physical presence. The apparition of Simeon had set him to gathering in gloomy assembly a vast number of circumstances about his two children; each circumstance was so trivial in itself that by itself it seemed foolishly inconsequential; yet, in the mass, they bore upon his heart, upon his conscience, so heavily that his very shoulders stooped with the weight. “Put your house in order,” the newcomer within him was solemnly warning; and Hiram was puzzling over his meaning, was dreading what that meaning might presently reveal itself to be. “Put my house in order?” muttered Hiram, an inquiring echo of that voice within.
“What did you say, father?” asked Adelaide, timidly laying her hand on his arm. Though she knew he was simple, she felt the vastness in him that was awe-inspiring–just as a mountain or an ocean, a mere aggregation of simple matter, is in the total majestic and incomprehensible. Beside him, the complex little individualities among her acquaintances seemed like the acrostics of a children’s puzzle column.
“Leave me with your brother awhile,” he said.
She glanced quickly, furtively at Arthur and admired his self-possession–for she knew his heart must be heavier than her own. She rose from her knees, laid her hand lingeringly, appealingly upon her father’s broad shoulder, then slowly left the room. Simeon, forgotten, looked up at her and scratched his head; he turned in behind her, caught the edge of her skirt and bore it like a queen’s page.
The son watched the father, whose powerful features were set in an expression that seemed stern only because his eyes were hid, gazing steadily at the floor. It was the father who broke the silence. “What do you calculate to do–now?”
“Tutor this summer and have another go at those exams in September. I’ll have no trouble in rejoining my class. I sailed just a little too close to the wind–that’s all.”
“What does that mean?” inquired the father. College was a mystery to him, a deeply respected mystery. He had been the youngest of four sons. Their mother’s dream was the dream of all the mothers of those pioneer and frontier days–to send her sons to college. Each son in turn had, with her assistance, tried to get together the sum–so small, yet so hugely large–necessary to make the start. But fate, now as sickness, now as crop failure, now as flood, and again as war, had been too strong for them. Hiram had come nearest, and his defeat had broken his mother’s heart and almost broken his own. It was therefore with a sense of prying into hallowed mysteries that he began to investigate his son’s college career.
“Well, you know,” Arthur proceeded to explain; “there are five grades–A, B, C, D, and E. I aimed for C, but several things came up–interfered–and I–just missed D.”
“Is C the highest?”
Arthur smiled faintly. “Well–not in one sense. It’s what’s called the gentleman’s grade. All the fellows that are the right sort are in it–or in D.”
“And what did you get?”
“I got E. That means I have to try again.”
Hiram began to understand. So this was the hallowed mystery of higher education. He was sitting motionless, his elbows on his knees, his big chest and shoulders inclined forward, his gaze fixed upon a wreath of red roses in the pattern of the moquette carpet–that carpet upon which Adelaide, backed by Arthur, had waged vain war as the worst of the many, to cultured nerves, trying exhibitions of “primitive taste” in Ellen’s best rooms. When Hiram spoke his lips barely opened and his voice had no expression. His next question was: “What does A mean?”
“The A men are those that keep their noses in their books. They’re a narrow set–have no ideas–think the book side is the only side of a college education.”
“Then you don’t go to college to learn what’s in the books?”
“Oh, of course, the books are part of it. But the real thing is association–the friendships one makes, the knowledge of human nature and of–of life.”
“What does that mean?”
Arthur had been answering Hiram’s questions in a flurry, though he had been glib enough. He had had no fear that his father would appreciate that he was getting half-truths, or, rather, truths prepared skillfully for paternal consumption; his flurry had come from a sense that he was himself not doing quite the manly, the courageous thing. Now, however, something in the tone of the last question, or, perhaps, some element that was lacking, roused in him a suspicion of depth in his simple unworldly father; and swift upon this awakening came a realization that he was floundering in that depth–and in grave danger of submersion. He shifted nervously when his father, without looking up and without putting any expression into his voice, repeated: “What do you mean by associations–and life–and–all that?”
“I can’t explain exactly,” replied Arthur. “It would take a long time.”
“I haven’t asked you to be brief.”
“I can’t put it into words.”
“You would misunderstand.”
Arthur made no reply.
“Then you can’t tell me what you go to college for?”
Again the young man looked perplexedly at his father. There was no anger in that tone–no emotion of any kind. But what was the meaning of the look, the look of a sorrow that was tragic?
“I know you think I’ve disgraced you, father, and myself,” said Arthur. “But it isn’t so–really, it isn’t. No one, not even the faculty, thinks the less of me. This sort of thing often occurs in our set.”
“Among the fellows I travel with. They’re the nicest men in Harvard. They’re in all the best clubs–and lead in supporting the athletics and–and–their fathers are among the richest, the most distinguished men in the country. There are only about twenty or thirty of us, and we make the pace for the whole show–the whole university, I mean. Everybody admires and envies us–wants to be in our set. Even the grinds look up to us, and imitate us as far as they can. We give the tone to the university!”
“What is ’the tone’?”
Again Arthur shifted uneasily. “It’s hard to explain that sort of thing. It’s a sort of–of manner. It’s knowing how to do the–the right sort of thing.”
“What is the right sort of thing?”
“I can’t put it into words. It’s what makes you look at one man and say, ’He’s a gentleman’; and look at another and see that he isn’t.”
“What is a ’gentleman’–at Harvard?”
“Just what it is anywhere.”
“What is it anywhere?”
Again Arthur was silent.
“Then there are only twenty or thirty gentlemen at Harvard? And the catalogue says there are three thousand or more students.”
“Oh–of course,” began Arthur. But he stopped short.
How could he make his father, ignorant of “the world” and dominated by primitive ideas, understand the Harvard ideal? So subtle and evanescent, so much a matter of the most delicate shadings was this ideal that he himself often found the distinction quite hazy between it and that which looked disquietingly like “tommy rot.”
“And these gentlemen–these here friends of yours–your ’set,’ as you call ’em–what are they aiming for?”
Arthur did not answer. It would be hopeless to try to make Hiram Ranger understand, still less tolerate, an ideal of life that was elegant leisure, the patronage of literature and art, music, the drama, the turf, and the pursuit of culture and polite extravagance, wholly aloof from the frenzied and vulgar jostling of the market place.
With a mighty heave of the shoulders which, if it had found outward relief, would have been a sigh, Hiram Ranger advanced to the hard part of the first task which the mandate, “Put your house in order,” had set for him. He took from the inside pocket of his coat a small bundle of papers, the records of Arthur’s college expenses. The idea of accounts with his children had been abhorrent to him. The absolute necessity of business method had forced him to make some records, and these he had expected to destroy without anyone but himself knowing of their existence. But in the new circumstances he felt he must not let his own false shame push the young man still farther from the right course. Arthur watched him open each paper in the bundle slowly, spread it out and, to put off the hateful moment for speech, pretend to peruse it deliberately before laying it on his knee; and, dim though the boy’s conception of his father was, he did not misjudge the feelings behind that painful reluctance. Hiram held the last paper in a hand that trembled. He coughed, made several attempts to speak, finally began: “Your first year at Harvard, you spent seventeen hundred dollars. Your second year, you spent fifty-three hundred. Last year–Are all your bills in?”
“There are a few–” murmured Arthur.
He flushed hotly.
“Don’t you know?” With this question his father lifted his eyes without lifting his shaggy eyebrows.
“About four or five thousand–in all–including the tailors and other tradespeople.”
A pink spot appeared in the left cheek of the old man–very bright against the gray-white of his skin. Somehow, he did not like that word “tradespeople,” though it seemed harmless enough. “This last year, the total was,” said he, still monotonously, “ninety-eight hundred odd–if the bills I haven’t got yet ain’t more than five thousand.”
“A dozen men spend several times that much,” protested Arthur.
“What for?” inquired Hiram.
“Not for dissipation, father,” replied the young man, eagerly. “Dissipation is considered bad form in our set.”
“What do you mean by dissipation?”
“Drinking–and–all that sort of thing,” Arthur replied. “It’s considered ungentlemanly, nowadays–drinking to excess, I mean.”
“What do you spend the money for?”
“For good quarters and pictures, and patronizing the sports, and club dues, and entertainments, and things to drive in–for living as a man should.”
“You’ve spent a thousand, three hundred dollars for tutoring since you’ve been there.”
“Everybody has to do tutoring–more or less.”
“What did you do with the money you made?”
“What money, father?”
“The money you made tutoring. You said everybody had to do tutoring. I suppose you did your share.”
Arthur did not smile at this “ignorance of the world"; he grew red, and stammered: “Oh, I meant everybody in our set employs tutors.”
“Then who does the tutoring? Who’re the nobodies that tutor the everybodies?”
Arthur grew cold, then hot. He was cornered, therefore roused. He stood, leaned against the table, faced his father defiantly. “I see what you’re driving at, father,” he said. “You feel I’ve wasted time and money at college, because I haven’t lived like a dog and grubbed in books day in and day out, and filled my head with musty stuff; because I’ve tried to get what I believe to be the broadest knowledge and experience; because I’ve associated with the best men, the fellows that come from the good families. You accept the bluff the faculty puts up of pretending the A fellows are really the A fellows, when, in fact, everybody there and all the graduates and everyone everywhere who knows the world knows that the fellows in our set are the ones the university is proud of–the fellows with manners and appearance and–”
“The gentlemen,” interjected the father, who had not changed either his position or his expression.
“Yes–the gentlemen!” exclaimed Arthur. “There are other ideals of life besides buying and selling.”
“And working?” suggested Hiram.
“Yes–and what you call working,” retorted Arthur, angry through and through. “You sent me East to college to get the education of a man in my position.”
“What is your position?” inquired Hiram–simply an inquiry.
“Your son,” replied the young man; “trying to make the best use of the opportunities you’ve worked so hard to get for me. I’m not you, father. You’d despise me if I didn’t have a character, an individuality, of my own. Yet, because I can’t see life as you see it, you are angry with me.”
For answer Hiram only heaved his great shoulders in another suppressed sigh. He knew profoundly that he was right, yet his son’s plausibilities–they could only be plausibilities–put him clearly in the wrong. “We’ll see,” he said; “we’ll see. You’re wrong in thinking I’m angry, boy.” He was looking at his son now, and his eyes made his son’s passion vanish. He got up and went to the young man and laid his hand on his shoulder in a gesture of affection that moved the son the more profoundly because it was unprecedented. “If there’s been any wrong done,” said the old man–and he looked very, very old now–"I’ve done it. I’m to blame–not you.”
A moment after Hiram left the room, Adelaide hurried in. A glance at her brother reassured her. They stood at the window watching their father as he walked up and down the garden, his hands behind his back, his shoulders stooped, his powerful head bent.
“Was he very angry?” asked Del.
“He wasn’t angry at all,” her brother replied. “I’d much rather he had been.” Then, after a pause, he added: “I thought the trouble between us was that, while I understood him, he didn’t understand me. Now I know that he has understood me but that I don’t understand him"–and, after a pause–"or myself.”