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The grandfather was Zebulun Dibble. He had a mustache like a horse’s mane; he wore a boiled shirt with no collar, and he manufactured oatmeal, very wholesome and tasteless. He moved from New Hampshire out to the city of Zenith in 1875, and in 1880 became the proud but irritated father of T. Jefferson Dibble.
T. Jefferson turned the dusty oatmeal factory into a lyric steel-and-glass establishment for the manufacture of Oatees, Barlenated Rice and Puffy Wuffles, whereby he garnered a million dollars and became cultured, along about 1905. This was the beginning of the American fashion in culture which has expanded now into lectures by poetic Grand Dukes and Symphonies on the radio.
T. Jefferson belonged to the Opera Festival Committee and the Batik Exposition Conference, and he was the chairman of the Lecture Committee of the Phoenix Club. Not that all this enervating culture kept him from burning up the sales manager from nine-thirty A.M. to five P.M. He felt that he had been betrayed; he felt that his staff, Congress, and the labor unions had bitten the hand that fed them, if the sale of Rye Yeasties (Vitaminized) did not annually increase four per cent.
But away from the office, he announced at every club and committee where he could wriggle into the chairman’s seat that America was the best country in the world, by heavens, and Zenith the best city in America, and how were we going to prove it? Not by any vulgar boasting and boosting! No, sir! By showing more culture than any other burg of equal size in the world! Give him ten years! He’d see that Zenith had more square feet of old masters, more fiddles in the symphony orchestra, and more marble statues per square mile than Munich!
T. Jefferson’s only son, Whitney, appeared in 1906. T. Jefferson winced every time the boys called him “Whit.” He winced pretty regularly. Whit showed more vocation for swimming, ringing the doorbells of timorous spinsters, and driving a flivver than for the life of culture. But T. Jefferson was determined.
Just as he bellowed, “By golly, you’ll sell Barley Gems to the wholesalers or get out!” in the daytime, so when he arrived at his neat slate-roofed English Manor Style residence in Floral Heights, he bellowed at Whit, “By golly, you’ll learn to play the piano or I’ll lam the everlasting daylights out of you! Ain’t you ASHAMED! Wanting to go skating! The idea!”
Whitney was taught — at least theoretically he was taught — the several arts of piano-playing, singing, drawing, water-color painting, fencing, and French. And through it all Whit remained ruddy, grinning, and irretrievably given to money-making. For years, without T. Jefferson’s ever discovering it, he conducted a lucrative trade in transporting empty gin bottles in his father’s spare sedan from the Zenith Athletic Club to the emporia of the bootleggers.
But he could draw. He sang like a crow, he fenced like a sculptor, but he could draw, and when he was sent to Yale he became the chief caricaturist of the Yale Record.
For the first time his father was delighted. He had Whit’s original drawings framed in heavy gold, and showed all of them to his friends and his committees before they could escape. When Whit sold a small sketch to Life, T. Jefferson sent him an autographed check for a hundred dollars, so that Whit, otherwise a decent youth, became a little vain about the world’s need of his art. At Christmas, senior year, T. Jefferson (with the solemn expression of a Father about to Give Good Advice to his Son) lured him into the library, and flowered in language:
“Now, Whitney, the time has come, my boy, when you must take thought and decide what rôle in this world’s — what rôle in the world — in fact, to what rôle you feel your talents are urging you, if you get what I mean.”
“You mean what job I’ll get after graduation?”
“No, no, no! The Dibbleses have had enough of jobs! I have money enough for all of us. I have had to toil and moil. But the Dibbleses are essentially an artistic family. Your grandfather loved to paint. It is true that circumstances were such that he was never able to paint anything but the barn, but he had a fine eye for color — he painted it blue and salmon-pink instead of red; and he was responsible for designing the old family mansion on Clay Street — I should never have given it up except that the bathrooms were antiquated — not a single colored tile in them.
“It was he who had the Moorish turret with the copper roof put on the mansion, when the architect wanted a square tower with a pagoda roof. And I myself, if I may say so, while I have not had the opportunity to develop my creative gifts, I was responsible for raising the fund of $267,800 to buy the Rembrandt for the Zenith Art Institute, and the fact that the Rembrandt later proved to be a fake, painted by a scoundrel named John J. Jones, was no fault of mine. So — in fact — if you understand me — how would you like to go to Paris, after graduation, and study art?”
Whit had never been abroad. He pictured Paris as a series of bars, interspersed with sloe-eyed girls (he wasn’t quite sure what sloe eyes were, but he was certain that the eyes of all Parisian cuties were sloe), palms blooming in January, and Bohemian studios where jolly artists and lively models lived on spaghetti, red wine, and a continuous singing of “Auprès de Ma Blonde.”
“Paris!” he said; and, “That would be elegant, sir!”
“My boy!” T. Jefferson put his puffy palm on Whit’s shoulder in a marvelous impersonation of a Father about to Send His Son Forth into the Maelstrom of Life, “I am proud of you.
“I hope I shall live to see you one of the world’s great pictorial artists, exhibiting in London, Rome, Zenith, and elsewhere, and whose pictures will carry a message of high ideals to all those who are dusty with striving, lifting their souls from the sordid struggle to the farther green places.
“That’s what I often tell my sales manager, Mr. Mountgins — he ought to get away from mere thoughts of commerce and refresh himself at the Art Institute — and the stubborn jackass, he simply won’t increase the sale of Korn Krumbles in southern Michigan! But as I was saying, I don’t want you to approach Paris in any spirit of frivolity, but earnestly, as an opportunity of making a bigger and better — no, no, I mean a bigger and — a bigger — I mean a better world! I give you my blessings.”
“Great! Watch me, Dad!”
When, after Christmas, Whit’s classmates reveled in the great Senior Year pastime of wondering what they would do after graduation, Whit was offensively smug.
“I got an idea,” said his classmate, Stuyvesant Wescott, who also came from Zenith. “Of course it’s swell to go into law or bond selling — good for a hundred thou. a year — and a fellow oughtn’t to waste his education and opportunities by going out for lower ideals. Think of that poor fish Ted Page, planning to teach in a prep school — associate with a lot of dirty kids and never make more’n five thou. a year! But the bond game is pretty well jammed. What do you think of getting in early on television? Millions in it!”
Mr. Whitney Dibble languidly rose, drew a six-inch scarlet cigarette holder from his pocket, lighted a cigarette and flicked the ash off it with a disdainful forefinger. The cigarette holder, the languor, the disdain, and the flicking habit were all strictly new to him, and they were extremely disapproved of by his kind.
“I am not,” he breathed, “at all interested in your lowbrow plans. I am going to Paris to study art. In five years from now I shall be exhibiting in-in all those galleries you exhibit in. I hope you have success with your money-grubbing and your golf. Drop in to see me at my petit château when you’re abroad. I must dot out now and do a bit of sketching.”
Whitney Dibble, riding a Pullman to greatness, arrived in Paris on an October day of pearl and amber. When he had dropped his baggage at his hotel, Whit walked out exultantly. The Place de la Concorde seemed to him a royal courtyard; Gabriel’s twin buildings of the Marine Ministry were the residences of emperors themselves. They seemed taller than the most pushing skyscraper of New York, taller and nobler and more wise.
All Paris spoke to him of a life at once more vivid and more demanding, less hospitable to intrusive strangers, than any he had known. He felt young and provincial, yet hotly ambitious.
Quivering with quiet exultation, he sat on a balcony that evening, watching the lights fret the ancient Seine, and next morning he scampered to the atelier of Monsieur Cyprien Schoelkopf, where he was immediately to be recognized as a genius.
He was not disappointed. Monsieur Schoelkopf (he was of the celebrated Breton family of Schoelkopf, he explained) had a studio right out of fiction; very long, very filthy, with a naked model on the throne. The girls wore smocks baggy at the throat, and the men wore corduroy jackets.
Monsieur Schoelkopf was delighted to accept Whit, also his ten thousand francs in advance.
Whit longed to be seated at an easel, whanging immortal paint onto a taut canvas. He’d catch the model’s very soul, make it speak through her eyes, with her mere body just indicated. . . . Great if his very first picture should be a salon piece!
But before leaping into grandeur he had to have a Bohemian background, and he went uneasily over the Left Bank looking for an apartment. (To live in comfort on the Right Bank would be bourgeois and even American.)
He rented an apartment ‘way out on the Avenue Félix-Faure. It was quiet and light — and Whit was tired.
That evening he went to the famous Café Fanfaron, on the Boulevard Raspail, of which he had heard as the international (i. e., American) headquarters for everything that was newest and most shocking in painting, poetry, and devastating criticism in little magazines.
In front of the café the sidewalk was jammed with tables at which sat hundreds of young people, most of them laughing, most of them noticeable — girls in slinksy dresses, very low, young men with jaunty tweed jackets, curly hair and keen eyes; large men (and they seemed the most youthful of all) with huge beards that looked false.
Whit was waved to a table with a group of Americans. In half an hour he had made a date to go walking in the Bois de Boulogne with a large-eyed young lady named Isadora, he had been reassured that Paris was the one place in the world for a person with Creative Hormones, and he had been invited to a studio party by a lively man who was twenty-four as far up as the pouches beneath his eyes, and sixty-four above.
It was a good party.
They sat on the floor and drank cognac and shouted. The host, with no great urging, showed a few score of his paintings. In them, the houses staggered and the hills looked like garbage heaps, so Whit knew they were the genuine advanced things, and he was proud and happy.
From that night on, Whit was in a joyous turmoil of artistic adventure. He was the real thing — except, perhaps, during the hours at Monsieur Schoelkopf’s, when he tried to paint.
Like most active young Americans, he discovered the extreme difficulty of going slow. During a fifty-minute class in Yale he had been able to draw twenty caricatures, all amusing, all vivid. That was the trouble with him! It was infinitely harder to spend fifty minutes on a square inch of painting.
Whit was reasonably honest. He snarled at himself that his pictures had about as much depth and significance as a croquis for a dressmakers’ magazine.
And Monsieur Schoelkopf told him all about it. He stood tickling the back of Whit’s neck with his beard, and observed “Huh!” And when Monsieur Schoelkopf said “Huh!” Whit wanted to go off and dig sewers.
So Whit fled from that morgue to the Café Fanfaron, and to Isadora, whom he had met his first night in Paris.
Isadora was not a painter. She wrote. She carried a brief case, of course. Once it snapped open, and in it Whit saw a bottle of vermouth, some blank paper, lovely pencils all red and blue and green and purple, a handkerchief and a pair of silk stockings. Yet he was not shocked when, later in the evening, Isadora announced that she was carrying in that brief case the manuscript of her novel.
Isadora came from Omaha, Nebraska, and she liked to be kissed.
They picnicked in the Forest of Fontainebleau, Isadora and he. Whit was certain that all his life he had longed for just this; to lunch on bread and cheese and cherries and Burgundy, then to lie under the fretwork of oak boughs, stripped by October, holding the hand of a girl who knew everything and who would certainly, in a year or two, drive Edith Wharton and Willa Cather off the map; to have with her a relationship as innocent as children, and, withal, romantic as the steeple-hatted princesses who had once hallooed to the hunt in this same royal forest.
“I think your water-color sketch of Notre Dame is wonderful!” said Isadora.
“I’m glad you like it,” said Whitney.
“So original in concept!”
“Well, I tried to give it a new concept.”
“That’s the thing! The new! We must get away from the old-fashioned Cubists and Expressionists. It’s so old-fashioned now to be crazy! We must have restraint.”
“That’s so. Austerity. That’s the stuff. . . . Gee, doggone it, I wish there was some more of that wine left,” said Whit.
“You’re a darling!”
She leaned on her elbow to kiss him, she sprang up and fled through the woodland aisle. And he gamboled after her in a rapture which endured even through a bus ride back to the Fontainebleau station with a mess of tourists who admired all the wrong things.
The Fanfaron school of wisdom had a magnificent show window but not much on the shelves. It was a high-class evening’s entertainment to listen to Miles O’Sullivan, the celebrated Irish critic from South Brooklyn, on the beauties of Proust. But when, for the fifth time, Whit had heard O’Sullivan gasp in a drowning voice, “I remember dear old Marcel saying to me, ‘Miles, mon petit, you alone understand that exteriority can be expressed only by inferiority,’” then Whit was stirred to taxi defiantly over to the Anglo–American Pharmacy and do the most American thing a man can do — buy a package of chewing gum.
Chewing gum was not the only American vice which was in low repute at the Fanfaron. In fact, the exiles agreed that with the possible exceptions of Poland, Guatemala, and mid-Victorian England, the United States was the dumbest country that had ever existed. They were equally strong about the inferiority of American skyscrapers, pork and beans, Chicago, hired girls, jazz, Reno, evening-jacket lapels, Tom Thumb golf courses, aviation records, tooth paste, bungalows, kitchenettes, dinettes, diswashettes, eating tobacco, cafeterias, Booth Tarkington, corn flakes, flivvers, incinerators, corn on the cob, Coney Island, Rotarians, cement roads, trial marriages, Fundamentalism, preachers who talk on the radio, drugstore sandwiches, letters dictated but not read, noisy streets, noiseless typewriters, Mutt and Jeff, eye shades, mauve-and-crocus-yellow golf stockings, chile con carne, the Chrysler Building, Jimmy Walker, Hollywood, all the Ruths in Congress, Boy Scouts, Tourists–Welcome camps, hot dogs, Admiral Byrd, flagpole sitters, safety razors, the Chautauqua, and President Hoover.
The exiles unanimously declared that they were waiting to join the Foreign Legion of whatever country should first wipe out the United States in war.
For three months Whit was able to agree with all of this indictment, but a week after his picnic with Isadora he went suddenly democratic. Miles O’Sullivan had denounced the puerility of American fried chicken.
Now it was before dinner, and Miles was an excellent reporter. The more Whit listened, the more he longed for the crisp, crunching taste of fried chicken, with corn fritters and maple sirup, candied sweet potatoes, and all the other vulgarities loathed by the artistic American exiles who were brought up on them.
Whit sprang up, muttering “Urghhg,” which Miles took as a tribute to his wit.
Whit fled down the Boulevard Raspail. He had often noted, with low cultured sneers, a horribly American restaurant called “Cabin Mammy’s Grill.” He plunged into it now. In a voice of restrained hysteria he ordered fried chicken, candied sweets and corn fritters with sirup.
Now, to be fair on all sides — which is an impossibility — the chicken was dry, the corn fritters were soggy, the fried sweets were poisonous and the sirup had never seen Vermont. Yet Whit enjoyed that meal more than any of the superior food he had discovered in Paris.
The taste of it brought back everything that was native in him. . . . Return home for Christmas vacation in his freshman year; the good smell of the midwestern snow; the girls whom he had loved as a brat; the boys with whom he had played. A dinner down at Momauguin in senior year, and the kindly tragedy of parting.
They had been good days; cool and realistic and decent.
So Whit came out of Cabin Mammy’s Grill thinking of snow on Chapel Street and the New Haven Green — and he was buffeted by the first snow of the Paris winter, and that wasn’t so good.
Although he was a college graduate, Whitney had learned a little about geography, and he shouldn’t have expected Paris to be tropical. Yet he had confusedly felt that this capital of the world could never conceivably be cold and grim. He turned up the collar of his light topcoat and started for — oh, for Nowhere.
After ten blocks, he was exhilarated by the snow and the blasty cold which had first dismayed him. From time to time he muttered something like a sketch for future thoughts:
“I can’t paint! I’d be all right drawing machinery for a catalogue. That’s about all! Paris! More beautiful than any town in America. But I’m not part of it. Have nothing to do with it. I’ve never met a real Frenchman, except my landlady, and that hired girl at the apartment and a few waiters and a few cops and the French literary gents that hang around the Fanfaron because we give ’em more of a hand than their own people would.
“Poor old T. Jefferson! He wants me to be a Genius! I guess you have to have a little genius to be a Genius. Gosh, I’d like to see Stuyvy Wescott tonight. With him, it would be fun to have a drink!”
Without being quite conscious of it, Whit drifted from the sacred Left Bank to the bourgeois Right. Instead of returning to the Fanfaron and Isadora, he took refuge at the Café de la Paix.
Just inside the door was a round-faced, spectacled American, perhaps fifty years old, looking wistfully about for company.
Whit could never have told by what long and involved process of thought he decided to pick up this Babbitt. He flopped down at the stranger’s table, and muttered, “Mind ‘f I sit here?”
“No, son, tickled to death! American?”
“Well, say, it certainly is good to talk to a white man again! Living here?”
“I’m studying art.”
“Well, well, is that a fact!”
“Sometimes I wonder if it is! I’m pretty bad.”
“Well, what the deuce! You’ll have a swell time here while you’re a kid, and I guess prob’ly you’ll learn a lot, and then you can go back to the States and start something. Easterner, ain’t you?”
“No; I was born in Zenith.”
“Well, is that a fact! Folks live there?”
“Yes. My father is T. Jefferson Dibble of the Small Grain Products Company.”
“Well, I’m a son-of-a-gun! Why, say, I know your dad. My name’s Titus — Buffalo Grain Forwarding Corp. — why, I’ve had a lot of dealings with your dad. Golly! Think of meeting somebody you know in THIS town! I’m leaving tomorrow, and this is the first time I’ve had a shot at any home-grown conversation. Say, son, I’d be honored if you’d come out and bust the town loose with me this evening.”
They went to the Exhibit of the Two Hemispheres, which Miles O’Sullivan had recommended as the dirtiest show in Europe. Whit was shocked. He tried to enjoy it. He told himself that otherwise he would prove himself a provincial, a lowbrow — in fact, an American. But he was increasingly uncomfortable at the antics of the ladies at the Exhibit. He peeped at Mr. Titus, and discovered that he was nervously twirling a glass and clearing his throat.
“I don’t care so much for this,” muttered Whit.
“Neither do I, son! Let’s beat it!”
They drove to the New Orleans bar and had a whisky-soda. They drove to the Kansas City bar and had a highball. They drove to the El Paso bar and had a rock and rye. They drove to the Virginia bar, and by now Mr. Titus was full of friendliness and manly joy.
Leaning against the bar, discoursing to a gentleman from South Dakota, Mr. Titus observed:
“I come from Buffalo. Name’s Titus.”
“I come from Yankton. Smith is my name.”
“Well, well, so you’re this fellow Smith I’ve heard so much about!”
“Ha, ha, ha, that’s right.”
“Just passing through on the train.”
“Well, now, I want to make you a bet that Buffalo will increase in pop’lation not less than twenty-seven per cent this decade.”
“Have one on me.”
“Well, let’s toss for it.”
“That’s the idea. We’ll toss for it. . . . Hey, Billy, got any galloping dominoes?”
When they had gambled for the drink, Mr. Titus bellowed, “Say, you haven’t met my young friend Whinney Dibble.”
“Glad meet you.”
“He’s an artist!”
“Yessir, great artist. Sells pictures everywhere. London and Fort Worth and Cop’nagen and everywhere. Thousands and thousands dollars. His dad’s pal of mine. Wish I could see good old Dibble! Wish he were here tonight!”
And Mr. Titus wept, quietly, and Whit took him home.
Next morning, at a time when he should have been in the atelier of Monsieur Schoelkopf, Whit saw Mr. Titus off at the Gare St.-Lazare, and he was melancholy. There were so many pretty American girls taking the boat train; girls with whom he would have liked to play deck tennis.
So it chanced that Whit fell into the lowest vice any American can show in Paris. He constantly picked up beefy and lonesome Americans and took them to precisely those places in Paris, like the Eiffel Tower, which were most taboo to the brave lads of the Fanfaron.
He tried frenziedly to paint one good picture at Monsieur Schoelkopf’s; tried to rid himself of facility. He produced a decoration in purple and stony reds which he felt to be far from his neat photography.
And looking upon it, for once Monsieur Schoelkopf spoke: “You will be, some time, a good banker.”
The day before Whit sailed for summer in Zenith, he took Isadora to the little glassed-in restaurant that from the shoulder of Montmartre looks over all Paris. She dropped her flowery airs. With both hands she held his, and besought him:
“Whit! Lover! You are going back to your poisonous Middle West. Your people will try to alienate you from Paris and all the freedom, all the impetus to creation, all the strange and lovely things that will exist here long after machines have been scrapped. Darling, don’t let them get you, with their efficiency and their promise of millions!”
“Silly! Of course! I hate business. And next year I’ll be back here with you!”
He had told the Fanfaron initiates not to see him off at the train. Feeling a little bleak, a little disregarded by this humming city of Paris, he went alone to the station, and he looked for no one as he wretchedly followed the porter to a seat in the boat train.
Suddenly he was overwhelmed by the shouts of a dozen familiars from the Fanfaron. It wasn’t so important — though improbable — that they should have paid fifty centimes each for a billet de quai, for that they should have arisen before nine o’clock to see him off was astounding.
Isadora’s kind arms were around him, and she was wailing, “You won’t forget us; darling, you won’t forget me!”
Miles O’Sullivan was wringing his hand and crying, “Whit, lad, don’t let the dollars get you!”
All the rest were clamoring that they would feverishly await his return.
As the train banged out, he leaned out waving to them, and he was conscious that whatever affectations and egotism they had shown in their drool at the Fanfaron, all pretentiousness was wiped now from their faces, and that he loved them.
He would come back to them.
All the way to Cherbourg he fretted over the things he had not seen in Paris. He had been in the Louvre only three times. He had never gone to Moret or to the battlemented walls of Provins.
Whit ran into the living room at Floral Heights, patted T. Jefferson on the shoulder, kissed his mother and muttered:
“Gee, it certainly is grand to be back!”
“Oh, you can speak to us in French, if you want to,” said T. Jefferson Dibble, “we’ve been studying it so we can return to Paris with you some time. Avez vous oo un temps charmant cette — uh — year?”
“Oh, sure, oui. Say, you’ve redecorated the breakfast room. That red-and-yellow tiling certainly is swell.”
“Now écoutez —écoute, moh fis. It’s not necessary for you, Whitney, now that you have become a man of the world, to spare our feelings. I know, and you know, that that red-and-yellow tiling is vulgar. But to return to pleasanter topics, I long for your impressions of Paris. How many times did you go to the Louvre?”
“Oh. Oh, the Louvre! Well, a lot.”
“I’m sure of it. By the way, a funny thing happened, Whitney. A vulgarian by the name of Titus, from Buffalo, if I remember, wrote to me that he met you in Paris. A shame that such a man, under pretense of friendship with me, should have disturbed you.”
“I thought he was a fine old coot, Dad.”
“Mon père! No, my boy, you are again being conciliatory and trying to spare my feelings. This Titus is a man for whom I have neither esteem nor — in fact, we have nothing in common. Besides, the old hellion, he did me out of eleven hundred and seventy dollars on a grain deal sixteen years ago! But as I say, your impressions of Paris! It must seem like a dream wreathed with the vapors of golden memory.
“Now, I believe, you intend to stay here for two months. I have been making plans. Even in this wretched mid-western town, I think that, with my aid, you will be able to avoid the banalities of the young men with whom you were reared. There is a splendid new Little Theater under process of organization, and perhaps you will wish to paint the scenery and act and even design the costumes.
“Then we are planning to raise a fund to get the E. Heez Flemming Finnish Grand Opera Company here for a week. That will help to occupy you. You’ll be able to give these hicks your trained European view of Finnish Grand Opera. So, to start with this evening, I thought we might drop in on the lecture by Professor Gilfillan at the Walter Peter Club on ‘Traces of Mechanistic Culture in the Coptic.’”
“That would be splendid, sir, but unfortunately — On the way I received a wire from Stuyv Wescott asking me to the dance at the country club this evening. I thought I’d dine with you and Mother, and then skip out there. Hate like the dickens to hurt their feelings.”
“Of course, of course, my boy. A gentleman, especially when he is also a man of culture, must always think of noblesse oblige. I mean, you understand, of the duties of a gentleman. But don’t let these vulgarians like Wescott impose on you. You see, my idea of it is like this . . .”
As he drove his father’s smaller six to the country club, Whit was angry. He was thinking of what his friends — ex-friends — at the club would do in the way of boisterous “kidding.” He could hear them — Stuyv Wescott, his roommate in Yale, Gilbert Scott, Tim Clark (Princeton ‘28) and all the rest — mocking:
“Why, it’s our little Alphonse Gauguin!”
“Where’s the corduroy pants?”
“I don’t suppose you’d condescend to take a drink with a poor dumb Babbitt that’s been selling hardware while you’ve been associating with the counts and jukes and highbrows and highbrowesses!”
And, sniggering shamefacedly, “Say, how’s the little midinettes and the je ne sais quoi’s in Paris?”
He determined to tell them all to go to hell, to speak with quiet affection of Isadora and Miles O’Sullivan, and to hustle back to Paris as soon as possible. Stick in this provincial town, when there on Boulevard Raspail were inspiration and his friends?
Stay here? What an idea!
He came sulkily into the lounge of the country club, cleared now for dancing. Stuyvy Wescott, tangoing with a girl who glittered like a Christmas tree, saw him glowering at the door, chucked the girl into the ragbag, dashed over and grunted, “Whit, you old hound, I’m glad to see you! Let’s duck the bunch and sneak down to the locker room. The trusty gin awaits!”
On the way, Stuyv nipped Gil Scott and Tim Clark out of the group.
Whit croaked — Youth, so self-conscious, so conservative, so little “flaming,” so afraid of what it most desires and admires! — he croaked, “Well, let’s get the razzing over! I s’pose you babies are ready to pan me good for being a loafer while you’ve been saving the country by discounting notes!”
The other three looked at him with mild, fond wonder.
Stuyv said meekly, “Why, what a low idea! Listen, Whit, we’re tickled to death you’ve had a chance to do something besides keep the pot boiling. Must have been swell to have a chance at the real Europe and art. We’ve all done pretty well, but I guess any one of us would give his left leg to be able to sit down on the Champs Élysées and take time to figure out what it’s all about.”
Then Whit knew that these were his own people. He blurted, “Honestly, Stuyv, you mean to say you’ve envied me? Well, it’s a grand town, Paris. And some great eggs there. And even some guys that can paint. But me, I’m no good!”
“Nonsense! Look, Whit, you have no idea what this money-grubbing is. Boy, you’re lucky! And don’t stay here! Don’t let the dollars get you! Don’t let all these babies with their promises of millions catch you! Beat it back to Paris. Culture, that’s the new note!”
“Urghhg!” observed Whit.
“You bet,” said Tim Clark.
Tim Clark had a sister, and the name of that sister was Betty.
Whit Dibble remembered her as a sub-flapper, always going off to be “finished” somewhere in the East. She was a Young Lady of twenty-odd now, and even to Whit’s professionally artistic eye it seemed that her hair, sleek as a new-polished range, was interesting. They danced together, and looked at each other with a fury of traditional dislike.
Midmost of that dance Whit observed, “Betty, Darlingest!”
“Let’s go out and sit on the lawn.”
“I want to find out why you hate me.”
“Hm. The lawn. I imagine it takes a training in Yale athletics and Paris artisticking to be so frank. Usually the kits start out with a suggestion of the club porch and the handsome modernist reed chairs and THEN they suggest the lawn and ‘Oh, Greta, so charmé to meet you’ afterwards!”
But during these intolerabilities Betty had swayed with him to the long high-pillared veranda, where they crouched together on a chintz-covered glider.
Whit tried to throw himself into what he conceived, largely from novels, to be Betty’s youthful era. He murmured: “Kiddo, where have you been all my life?”
From Betty’s end of the glider, a coolness like the long wet stretches of the golf course; a silence; then a very little voice:
“Whit, my child, you have been away too long! It’s a year now, at least, since anyone — I mean anyone you could know — has said ‘Where have you been all my life?’ Listen, dear! The worst thing about anybody’s going artistic, like you, is that they’re always so ashamed of it. Jiminy! Your revered father and the Onward and Upward Bookshop have grabbed off Culture for keeps in this town. And yet —
“Dear, I think that somewhere there must be people who do all these darn’ arts without either being ashamed of ’em — like you, you poor fish! — or thinking they make the nice gilded cornice on the skyscraper, like your dad. Dear, let’s us be US. Cultured or hoboes, or both. G’night!”
She had fled before he could spring up and be wise in the manner of Isadora and Miles O’Sullivan, or the more portentous manner of T. Jefferson Dibble.
Yet, irritably longing all the while for Betty Clark, he had a tremendous time that night at the country club, on the land where his grandfather had once grown corn.
What did they know, there in Paris? What did either Isadora or Miles O’Sullivan know of those deep provincialisms, smelling always of the cornfields, which were in him? For the first time since he had left Paris, Whit felt that in himself might be some greatness.
He danced that night with many girls.
He saw Betty Clark only now and then, and from afar. And the less he saw of her, the more important it seemed to him that she should take him seriously.
There had been a time when Whit had each morning heard the good, noisy, indignant call of T. Jefferson demanding, “Are you going to get up or ain’t you going to get up? Hey! Whit! If you don’t wanna come down for breakfast, you ain’t gonna have any breakfast!”
Indeed it slightly disturbed him, when he awoke at eleven of the morning, to find there had been no such splendid, infuriating, decent uproar from T. Jefferson.
He crawled out of bed and descended the stairs. In the lower hall he found his mother.
(It is unfortunate that in this earnest report of the turning of males in the United States of America toward culture, it is not possible to give any great attention to Mrs. T. Jefferson Dibble. Aside from the fact that she was a woman, kindly and rather beautiful, she has no existence here except as the wife of T. Jefferson and the mother of Whitney.)
“Oh, Whit! Dear! I do hope your father won’t be angry! He waited such a long while for you. But I am so glad, dearie, that he understands, at last, that possibly you may have just as much to do with all this Painting and Art and so on as he has! . . . But I mean to say: Your father is expecting you to join him at three this afternoon for the meeting of the Finnish Opera Furtherance Association. Oh, I guess it will be awfully interesting — it will be at the Thornleigh. Oh, Whit, dear, it’s lovely to have you back!”
The meeting of the Finnish Opera Furtherance Association at the Hotel Thornleigh was interesting.
It was more than interesting.
Mrs. Montgomery Zeiss said that the Finns put it all over the Germans and Italians at giving a real modernistic version of opera.
Mr. T. Jefferson Dibble said that as his son, Whitney, had been so fortunate as to obtain a rather authoritative knowledge of European music, he (Whitney) would now explain everything to them.
After a lot of explanation about how artistic opera was, and how unquestionably artistic Zenith was, Whit muttered that he had to beat it. And while T. Jefferson stared at him with a sorrowful face, Whit fled the room.
At five o’clock Whit was sitting on the dock of Stuyv Wescott’s bungalow on Lake Kennepoose, muttering, “Look, Stuyv, have you got a real job?”
“Yeah, I guess you’d call it a job.”
“D’you mind telling me what you are making a year now?”
“About three thou. I guess I’ll make six in a coupla years.”
“Hm! I’d like to make some money. By the way — it just occurs to me, and I hope that I am not being too rude in asking — what ARE you doing?”
“I am an insurance agent,” remarked Stuyv with a melancholy dignity.
“And you’re already making three thousand dollars a year?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
“I think I ought to be making some money. It’s funny. In Europe it’s the smart thing to live on money that somebody else made for you. I don’t know whether it’s good or bad, but fact is, somehow, most Americans feel lazy, feel useless, if they don’t make their own money.
“Prob’ly the Europeans are right. Prob’ly it’s because we’re restless. But anyway, I’ll be hanged if I’m going to live on the Old Man the rest of my life and pretend I’m a painter! The which I ain’t! Listen, Stuyv! D’yuh think I’d make a good insurance man?”
“You’re helpful. Everybody is helpful. Say! What’s this new idea that it’s disgraceful to make your own living?”
“Don’t be a fool, Whit. Nobody thinks it’s disgraceful, but you don’t get this new current of thought in the Middle West that we gotta have art.”
“Get it! Good heavens, I’ve got nothing else! I will say this for Paris — you can get away from people who believe in art just by going to the next café. Maybe I’ll have to live there in order to be allowed to be an insurance agent!”
Stuyv Wescott was called to the telephone, and for three minutes Whit sat alone on the dock, looking across that clear, that candid, that sun-iced lake, round which hung silver birches and delicate willows and solid spruce. Here, Whit felt, was a place in which an American might find again, even in these days of eighty-story buildings and one-story manners, the courage of his forefathers.
A hell-diver, forever at his old game of pretending to be a duck, bobbed out of the mirror of the lake, and Whitney Dibble at last knew that he was at home.
And not so unlike the hell-diver in her quickness and imperturbable complexity, Betty Clark ran down from the road behind the Wescott bungalow and profoundly remarked, “Oh! Hello!”
“I’m going to be an insurance man,” remarked Whit.
“You’re going to be an artist!”
“Sure I am. As an insurance man!”
“You make me sick.”
“Betty, my child, you have been away too long! It’s a year now, at least, since anyone — I mean anyone you could know — has said, ‘You make me sick!’”
“Oh — oh! You make me sick!”
T. Jefferson was extremely angry when Whit appeared for dinner. He said that Whit had no idea how he had offended the Opera Committee that afternoon. Consequently, Whit had to go through the gruesome ordeal of accompanying his father to an artistic reception in the evening. It was not until eleven that he could escape for a poker game in an obscure suite of the Hotel Thornleigh.
There were present here not only such raw collegians as Stuyv Wescott, Gil Scott, and Tim Clark, but also a couple of older and more hardened vulgarians, whereof one was a Mr. Seidel, who had made a million dollars by developing the new University Heights district of Zenith.
When they had played for two hours, they stopped for hot dogs; and Room Service was again drastically ordered to “hustle up with the White Rock and ice.”
Mr. Seidel, glass in hand, grumbled: “So you’re an artist, Dibble? In Paris?”
“And to think that a fella that could bluff me out of seven dollars on a pair of deuces should live over there, when he’d be an A-1 real-estate salesman.”
“Are you offering me a job?”
“Well, I hadn’t thought about it. . . . Sure I am!”
“Twenty-five a week and commissions.”
And the revolution was effected, save for the voice of Stuyv Wescott, wailing, “Don’t do it, Whit! Don’t let these babies get you with their promise of millions!”
Whit had never altogether lost his awe of T. Jefferson and he was unable to dig up the courage to tell his father of his treachery in becoming American again until eleven of the morning, when he called upon him at his office.
“Well, well, my boy, it’s nice to see you!” said T. Jefferson. “I’m sorry that there is nothing really interesting for us to do today. But tomorrow noon we are going to a luncheon of the Bibliophile Club.”
“That’s what I came to see you about, Dad. I’m sorry, but I shan’t be able to go tomorrow. I’ll be working.”
“Yes, sir. I’ve taken a job with the Seidel Development Company.”
“Well, that may be interesting for this summer. When you return to Paris —”
“I’m not going back to Paris. I can’t paint. I’m going to sell real estate.”
The sound that T. Jefferson now made was rather like a carload of steers arriving at the Chicago stockyards. In this restricted space it is possible to give only a hundredth of his observations on Life and Culture, but among many other things he said:
“I might have known! I might have known it! I’ve always suspected that you were your mother’s boy as much as mine. How sharper than a serpent’s tooth! Serpent in a fella’s own bosom!
“Here I’ve given up my life to manufacturing Puffy Wuffles, when all the time my longing was to be artistic, and now when I give you the chance — Serpent’s tooth! The old bard said it perfectly! Whit, my boy, I hope it isn’t that you feel I can’t afford it! In just a few days now, I’m going to start my schemes for extending the plant; going to get options on the five acres to the eastward. The production of Ritzy Rice will be doubled in the next year. And so, my boy . . . You’ll either stick to your art or I’ll disown you, sir! I mean, cut you off with a shilling! Yes, sir, a shilling! I’ll by thunder make you artistic, if it’s the last thing I do!”
On the same afternoon when he had, and very properly, been thrown out into the snowstorm with a shawl over his head, Whit borrowed five thousand from Stuyv Wescott’s father, with it obtained options on the five acres upon which his father planned to build, with them reported to Mr. Seidel, from that low realtor received the five thousand dollars to repay Mr. Wescott, plus a five-thousand-dollar commission for himself and spent twenty-five dollars in flowers, and with them appeared at the house of Betty Clark at six-fifteen.
Betty came down, so lovely, so cool, so refreshing in skirts that clipped her ankles; and so coolly and refreshingly she said: “Hey, Whit, my dear! What can I do for you?”
“I don’t think you can do anything besides help me spend the five thousand and twenty-five dollars I’ve made today. I spent the twenty-five for these flowers. They’re very nice, aren’t they?”
“They certainly are.”
“But do you think they’re worth twenty-five dollars?”
“Sure they are. Listen, darling! I’m so sorry that you wasted your time making five thousand dollars when you might have been painting. But of course an artist has to be an adventurer. I’m glad that you’ve tried it and that it’s all over. We’ll go back to Paris as soon as we’re married, and have a jolly li’l’ Bohemian flat there, and I’ll try so hard to make all of your artistic friends welcome.”
“Betty! Is your brother still here?”
“How should I know?”
“Would you mind finding out?”
“Why no? But why?”
“Dear Betty, you will understand what a scoundrel I am in a few minutes. Funny! I never meant to be a scoundrel. I never even meant to be a bad son. . . . Will you yell for Timmy, please?”
“Of course I will.” She yelled, very competently.
Tim came downstairs, beaming. “I hope it’s all over.”
“That’s the point,” said Whit. “I am trying to persuade T. Jefferson that I don’t want to be an artist. I’m trying — Lord knows what I’m trying!” With which childish statement Whit fled from the house.
He found a taxi and gave the driver the address of his boss, Mr. Seidel, at the Zenith Athletic Club.
In his room, sitting on the edge of his bed, Mr. Seidel was eating dinner. “Hello, boy, what’s the trouble?” he said.
“Will you let me pay for a telephone call if I make it here?”
“Sure I will.”
Whit remarked to the Athletic Club telephone girl, “I’d like to speak to Isadora at the Café Fanfaron, Paris.”
The voice of that unknown beauty answered, “Which state, please?”
“And what was the name, please?”
“What is the lady’s last name?”
“I don’t know. . . . Hey, get me Miles O’Sullivan, same address.”
“Just a moment, please. I will get the supervisor.”
A cool voice said, “To whom do you wish to speak, please?”
“I wish to speak, if I may, to Miles O’Sullivan at the Café Fanfaron. In Paris. . . . Right. Thank you very much. Will you call me as soon as you can?
“All right, thank you. . . . I am speaking from the Zenith Athletic Club and the bill is to be charged to Mr. Tiberius Seidel.”
When the telephone rang, it was the voice of the head waiter of the Fanfaron, a Russian, that answered.
He said, “Allo — allo!”
“May I speak to Miles O’Sullivan?” demanded Whit.
“Je ne comprends pas.”
“C’est Monsieur Dibble que parle — d’Amérique.”
“Oui, et je desire to talk to Monsieur Miles O’Sullivan, right away, tout suite.”
“Mais oui; je comprends. Vous desirez parler avec Monsieur Miles O’Sullivang?”
“That’s the idea. Make it snappy.”
“Oui, right away.”
Then O’Sullivan’s voice on the phone.
While Mr. Seidel smiled and watched the second hand of his watch, Whit bellowed into the telephone, “Miles! Listen! I want to speak to Isadora.”
That voice, coming across four thousand miles of rolling waves and laboring ships and darkness, mumbled, “Isadora WHO? Jones or Pater or Elgantine?”
“For heaven’s sake, Miles, this is Whitney Dibble speaking from America! I want to speak to Isadora. MY Isadora.”
“Oh, you want to speak to Isadora? Well, I think she’s out in front. Listen, laddie, I’ll try to find her.”
“Miles, this has already cost me more than a hundred dollars.”
“And you have been caught by the people who think about dollars?”
“You’re darned right I have! Will you please get Isadora quick?”
“You mean quickly, don’t you?”
“Yeah, quick or quickly, but please get Isadora.”
“Right you are, my lad.”
It was after only $16.75 more worth of conversation that Isadora was saying to him, “Hello, Whit darling, what is it?”
“Would you marry a real-estate man in Zenith, in the Middle West? Would you stand for my making ten thousand dollars a year?”
From four thousand miles away Isadora crowed, “Sure I will!”
“You may have to interrupt your creative work.”
“Oh, my darling, my darling, I’ll be so glad to quit four-flushing!”
Mr. Whitney Dibble looked at his chief and observed, “After I find out how much this long-distance call has cost, do you mind if I make a local call?”
Mr. Seidel observed, “Go as far as you like, but please give me a pension when you fire me out of the firm.”
Whit telephoned to the mansion of T. Jefferson Dibble.
T. Jefferson answered the telephone with a roar: “Yes, yes, yes, what do you want?”
“Dad, this is Whit. I tried to tell you this morning that I am engaged to a lovely intellectual author in Paris — Isadora.”
“Do you mean to tell me you don’t know who Isadora is?”
“Oh, ISADORA! The writer? Congratulations, my boy. I’m sorry I misunderstood you before.”
“Yes. Just talked to her, long-distance, and she’s promised to join me here.”
“That’s fine, boy! We’ll certainly have an artistic center here in Zenith.”
“Yeah, we certainly will.”
Mr. Seidel remarked, “That local call will cost you just five cents besides the eighty-seven fifty.”
“Fine, boss,” said Whitney Dibble. “Say, can I interest you in a bungalow on Lake Kennepoose? It has two baths, a lovely living room, and — Why do you waste your life in this stuffy club room, when you might have a real home?”
This web edition published by:
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