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But Mrs. Eddy is even at the moment writhing under like pangs of guilt. Both ladies cover their embarra.s.sment with an almost hysterical cordiality, and rush into an embrace, crying in chorus, "My dear, I don't know what you must think of me! I've been meaning and meaning to call you up, but I simply haven't had a minute!"
Before they part, Mrs. Grew has got it over with, and the Eddys are pledged to come to dinner the very next week. Mrs. Grew also vows to get Mr. and Mrs. Rinse, so that our own crowd may be reunited in full.
When she telephones Mrs. Rinse, Mrs. Grew is not able to protest that she does not know what Mrs. Rinse must think of her before Mrs. Rinse herself has got off the line. It also comes out that Mrs. Rinse's intention to get in touch with the rest of our own crowd has seldom been off her mind, but what with one thing and another she has absolutely not had a minute in which to go about it.
She cordially accepts the invitation to the reunion, declaring that it will be almost like being up at the Pebbly Point House once again.
But the trick to it is that it isn't. Before her guests arrive on the big night, Mrs. Grew has a shivery presentiment that the party is going to be a complete dud. She even expresses to Mr. Grew her wish that it were over, which gets no argument out of him.
The fraternal spirit of our own crowd seems to go utterly democratic during the winter. The members, so bubbling with mirth and camaraderie on the porch, are curiously diffident and constrained in the Grews' living room. The boys, in particular, have all the ease of manner of those wanted by the police. The ladies size up one another's costumes with the cold and wary gaze suggestive of the mien of strange dogs meeting for the first time.
The crowd's members even look odd to one another's unaccustomed eyes. There is something strange, not to say bizarre, about Mrs. Eddy's silhouette which never was apparent at the Pebbly Point House. There is something just a bit off about her dress, too, and it escapes the attention of neither of the other two ladies that she has evidently not yet got around to taking her jewels out of the safe-deposit vault. Mrs. Rinse, so fluffy and appealing amid rural surroundings, goes, somehow, a little sour in city clothes. The boys, so many gla.s.ses of fashion on the hotel porch, have a peculiar look about the collar and the line of the haircut.
Gathered at the dinner table, our own crowd cracks perceptibly under the strain of thinking up something to say. The boys ask one another with great heartiness if they have been getting any golf lately; but as none of them have, that closes that up tight. Mr. Grew tries out a few jokes here and there, but they cause scarcely a ripple. The ladies inquire brightly as to one another's health during the time they have been separated; but that topic, even with Mrs. Rinse's recent case of grippe, cannot be stretched out over more than twenty minutes. The snappiest they can do in the line of conversation is to give reports on the plays they have seen and agree on the distressing condition of the weather.
After dinner things go from bad to something terrible. Mr. Grew abandons all effort, and Mr. Eddy sits in impressive silence, breathing not a word of the business situation. Mr. Rinse, cajoled by his hostess, does render "d.i.n.kelspiel at the Telephone" for old sake's sake; but, away from the salt air, it seems to have lost its tang. Even he gets the idea, and does not give an encore.
Seeing that the party is about to sink into a decline, Mrs. Grew, in a desperate effort, brings out the alb.u.m with the word "Snapshots" burned into its leather cover. It is crammed with photographs of interesting events at the Pebbly Point House, which ought to do much in the way of bringing up jolly reminiscences. There are those snapped on the beach, slightly groggy in effect owing to too bright a sun, of groups of toweled young ladies drying their hair and mounds of athletic young men stacked in human pyramids. There are the tennis-court groups, with the princ.i.p.al humorist looking c.o.c.k-eyed at the camera through the mesh of his racquet. There are the views taken on that day when the spirit of carnival was rife, and the men dressed up in women's clothes and took on the girls at baseball. There are close-ups of the man who has charge of the rowboats-there's a character!-and of Mr. Armbruster holding aloft a freshly caught snapper, and of the winners in the water sports being presented by Mr. Blatch with suitably engraved silver eye cups.
The guests gather about the alb.u.m and examine each snapshot dutifully. But when the photographs were taken each family of our own crowd had a set of prints made from the films, so any element of surprise is rather apt to be missing.
Eventually Mrs. Eddy glances at the clock and with an extravagant start of surprise declares they simply must run if they are to catch the 10:40. Mrs. Rinse also is overcome by the flight of time, and the only thing she can do about it is to make plans for immediate departure, explaining that if they don't make the 10:17 they may have to wait twenty minutes for the next one. Mr. Rinse backs her up by remarking that that's the way it is when you live on Long Island.
Mrs. Grew implores them not to think of going for hours to come, rising as she does so to lead the way to her bedroom for the ladies to get their wraps. It is there settled by Mrs. Eddy that our own crowd must get together the next week at her house. The news is pa.s.sed on to the boys, who notably refrain from throwing their hats up in the air about it.
On their way to their trains Mrs. Eddy and Mrs. Rinse can find but sparing praise for the taste in which the Grews' apartment is decorated, and they agree that the dessert at dinner was a sharp disappointment to them.
It is somewhat difficult to get Mr. Grew into the spirit of the thing on the day of the Eddys' dinner, but he eventually listens to reason, and they embark for the Oranges in the evening. Our own crowd, they find, has not turned out in full force for the occasion. That afternoon Mrs. Rinse has telephoned that she is just about devastated at the incident, but an old school friend of hers, whom she hasn't seen for she doesn't know how many years, has dropped in to stay with her, and she cannot see any way out but for her and Mr. Rinse to forgo the reunion.
The evening whirls by almost exactly as did the one dedicated to the Grews' festival, even to the poring over the collection of snapshots. The Grews tear themselves away in time to catch the 9:26 back to town, explaining that they have been up late so much recently. Mrs. Eddy prays them to stay over for another two or three trains, but she is, after all, fairly reasonable about taking no for an answer.
It is while they are waiting at the station that Mrs. Grew announces to her husband that before she'd let herself get as fat as Ethel Eddy she doesn't know what she would do. Mr. Grew confines himself to asking, purely for the rhetorical effect, why the h.e.l.l people who live in the suburbs think it's any treat to you to tramp out there to dinner.
This fete does not entirely clean up our own crowd's winter schedule. Still another get-together meet is held, this time at the Rinses'. But owing to the roughest kind of luck, the Grews find themselves unable to attend. Mrs. Grew telephones Mrs. Rinse the day before to tell, with a break in her voice, how a man has come on from Mr. Grew's firm's Chicago office, and they simply cannot get out of dining with him and his wife. The only thing that consoles her, she adds, is the confidence that Mrs. Rinse understands how those things are.
The crowd's winter sessions having closed, things get pretty well back to normalcy again, and the days roll by until, as is no more than to be expected, summer comes around. Somehow, the crowd's spirit of camaraderie seems to be closely tied up with the warm weather. Like the stirring of the sap, if you don't mind something rather radical in the way of a simile, is the feeling of tender warmth for the Eddys and the Rinses that rises in the Grews with the first balmy days of June. As the time approaches for them to leave the city it seems as if they could hardly wait to get up to the Pebbly Point House and join up with the right set once again.
And our own crowd never disappoints, once it is established on the porch. Seen there, Mrs. Eddy again becomes a striking figure of a woman; Mrs. Rinse and Mrs. Grew hurry to tell her how simply great she looks with her face fuller. Mrs. Rinse is as frilled and as frolicsome as ever; her friends are amazed at the ladylike strides she has made in her singing. Mrs. Grew's sports costumes are even more dashing; the other two ladies simply can't say enough in favor of them.
Mr. Grew and Mr. Rinse resume their places as undisputed screams, and Mr. Eddy sprinkles words of hope about the future of the financial world.
Even at the first moment of the first meeting of the summer it is just as though the members of our own crowd had never been parted. They go right on with their badinage from where they left off, and it seems to go over bigger every season. Really, so close do they go as the summer dashes by that when the day after Labor Day arrives it doesn't seem as if they could rip themselves apart.
Indeed, they probably couldn't, and still live, if they did not hold tight to the annual thought of the practically countless times that they would get together during the winter.
The Sat.u.r.day Evening Post, October 21, 1922
If you want to take home to the folks some of the real inside stuff about this younger generation that has been breaking into the news so much lately, you owe it to yourself to start the thing off right by meeting Tommy Clegg. He is just the boy to come stealing down the winding staircase and let you in on the ground floor. For Tommy is one of the charter members of the Younger Generation, Inc.
Now, I shouldn't want you to go away with the notion that Tommy is the boy who invented youth. He himself would laughingly deny it if you were to walk up to him on the street and ask him to tell you flatly, one way or the other, did he or didn't he.
But he was well up in the van when it came to cashing in on the idea. Tommy and his little playmates don't regard being young as just one of those things that are likely to happen to anybody. They make a business of it.
And Tommy Clegg did much to put the current younger generation on a business basis. He is in a practically perfect position to do some invaluable work in the way of getting the firm's name before the public. As a sort of side line to his regular job of being just a kiddie, Tommy is engaged in giving literature a series of shoves in the right direction. It was but three or four short years ago that he first toddled to his little desk, seized his pen in his chubby fist and proceeded to knock American letters for a row of cloth-covered volumes of Louisa M. Alcott. And just take a look at him today-one of the leading boy authors, hailed alike by friends and relatives as the thirty-one-year-old child wonder.
Perhaps you have read his collected works, that celebrated five-inch shelf. As is no more than fair, his books-Annabelle Takes to Heroin, Gloria's Neckings, and Suzanne Sobers Up-deal with the glamorous adventures of our young folks. Even if you haven't read them, though, there is no need for you to go all hot and red with nervous embarra.s.sment when you are presented to their author. Tommy will take care of all that for you. He has the nicest, most rea.s.suring way of taking it all cozily for granted that not a man or a woman and but few children in these loosely United States could have missed a word that he has written. It grinds the ice practically to powder the moment you meet him.
HOW TOMMY PREPARES FOR EMERGENCIES.
Probably you have it all worked out by this time that Tommy is not his official t.i.tle. You seldom said a truer word. He signs his works in full-almost to repletion, in fact-Thomas Warmington Clegg, Junior.
But he wants all the world to think of him as just Tommy. He presses you to try to be a child again, along with him, and go ahead. He bucks you up by explaining that everybody calls him just Tommy-and when he says "everybody" you get a more than fair idea that it is no mere figure of speech. There is a largeness about it that hints pretty strongly to you that he includes such people as Gloria Swanson and Secretary Hughes and all the severely crowned heads of Europe. You have to fight hard to keep the tears back when you realize that there he is, urging you to string right along with the big boys and call him Tommy too.
But democratic-that's Tommy all over. Scarcely 85 per cent of his success has gone to his head. He doesn't take any more credit for what he has done than if he were Thackeray.
There is a pleasingly boyish sound about "Tommy" that makes it, really, more a trade-mark than a name. And Tommy Clegg, who has one of the best little business heads you ever saw in your life, isn't the boy to overlook that. Youth, as we got to saying only about five minutes ago, is his dish. It was a rough day for him when he found it was no longer practicable for him to go about in rompers and carry a pail and shovel.
He can hardly keep from breaking down and taking a good laugh, he tells you, every time he thinks how funny it is for a child like him to be sending belles-lettres for a loop, the way he does. But you mustn't think he takes it too personally. He simply sets it down as additional proof of what the present younger generation can do, once it gets into its stride. Perhaps at the moment you may not be able to recall ever having seen any pictures of Keats with a long white beard, either; but that, as Pat said to Mike while they were walking down the street one day, is neither here nor there. I'm not quite sure if it was Tommy that started it, but there seems to be a pretty persistent rumor going the rounds of our boys and girls that nothing was ever written prior to a couple of years ago.
You will find it rather uphill work, at first, to draw Tommy out about himself and his achievements. He may even wait to be introduced to you before he tells you, with an almost fanatical regard for detail, who he is, what he does and how much he gets for it. From there he will go on and show you a full line of samples, just so there will be no chance of your getting any wrong ideas about his work.
For Tommy never runs the risk of going out without taking along a few ma.n.u.scripts; an author never knows, these days, when somebody is going to rush up to him in the Subway or on Forty-second Street or up at the Polo Grounds and ask him to give a reading. And it doesn't do any harm to be prepared, so that he can start right off, the minute anybody drops a hat. In case of any tie he usually slips a couple of photographs in his pocket, too, for he might run into Jeritza or Queen Mary or Peggy Hopkins Joyce any time, on a ferry or at the movies, and there they would be, begging him for some little keepsake, and how would he feel if he had to confess that he had gone and left his photographs in his other clothes?
They are pretty striking, too, these pictures of Tommy. Taken in profile, they are, and so that there won't be any confusion in the beholder's mind he is shown holding a pen and bending musingly over a fair, broad sheet of paper-just as a barber, say, might be photographed dreamily regarding a razor and strop.
As special correspondent from the front line of the younger generation, Tommy naturally strives to give the public-his public, he calls it tenderly-a good all-round view of the boys and girls. Sometimes his stories show them as clear-eyed young rebels-Tommy loves that one-facing life with sparkling eyes, their shining eyes undimmed by mists of sentiment and conventionality. He intimates pretty definitely that they are so many white hopes, and now that they have come along to take hold of things it's going to be just the dandiest of all perfectly corking little worlds. Tommy uses these tales of his to get into circulation some of his more revolutionary ideas. It makes you stop and give a hearty gasp when you realize how daring is the viewpoint of these young ones of today. Looking facts squarely in the face isn't the half of it. These clear-eyed heroes and heroines as good as come right out and say that there are two s.e.xes, that youth is not apt to last a lifetime, that parents are occasionally slightly out of touch with the activities of their children, that spring is one of the pleasantest of the seasons and that there have been several known cases where love did not endure after the first forty or fifty years. It gives all the old theories rather a nasty shake-up, that's what it does.
But startling as these stories are, there doesn't seem to be any noticeable clamor for the moving-picture rights to them. As publicity for the younger set they are all very well, of course, as far as they go, but they don't catch the out-of-town trade. There isn't, as you might say, a headache in a barrelful of them.
THE GOINGS-ON OF THE YOUNGER SET.
Tommy, who has his lighter side, too, is better able to show some of his real stuff when he writes, not of clear-eyed young rebels but of c.o.c.k-eyed ones. There are few that can tie him when it comes to describing night life in the country clubs and the merry romps of the light-hearted girls and boys, so full of mischief and gin. You get the impression from these works that an evening with the younger generation is like something between a Roman bath and one of King Alphonso's little vacations at Deauville. Rouge flows like water in Tommy's pages, and cigarettes and c.o.c.ktails circulate as freely as hard-boiled eggs at brookside picnics. Things, according to the author, look pretty black; he broadcasts the grim warning that conditions are getting no better rapidly and that decadence, as those outside the younger generation know of it, is still in its infancy.
And as the farmer said when his wife, who had long been subject to deathlike epileptic seizures, finally died during one of them, "That's more like it." That's the stuff that got the boys and girls before the public. Those are the stories that have done much to make it common gossip that you never saw your mother behaving herself that way when she was a girl.
Tommy Clegg, being, as you might put it, one of the members of the firm, knows what he is talking about when he tells of the goings-on of the younger set. As soon as you meet some of his friends you can see that his characters are drawn practically from life.
He has several playmates who are carving out quite a name for themselves as lost souls. With the engaging frankness so characteristic of the modern young, they sit right down and tell you all about themselves without so much as a flinch; it just seems as if they couldn't bear to think of your going along from day to day without knowing the worst about them. They are too far gone to conceal their shame. It is almost as if they wore on their chests a large placard with "Look at me-I'm terrible" lettered upon it.
You cannot conscientiously feel that you have any working knowledge of what life among the Apaches is like until you have heard these boys repeat a few of their favorite selections. It comes out that one orgy after another is bogey for them and their regular bedtime is all hours, at the earliest. They confide that you could count on the thumbs of one hand the number of sober breaths that they have drawn since they got out of grammar school. Rather uncomfortably blood-chilling are the tales they tell of the crimes that they have committed when the beast in them was unleashed by the Haig boys; how they paid a hansom driver to let them climb up in his seat and take the reins, or went right up to a policeman and asked him how he got that way, or drove around and around the park in an open taxicab, singing "Lord Geoffrey Amherst" in harmony close to the point of stuffiness. You gather from the general trend of the conversation that the next step for them will be the gutter. It seems to be a hospitably wide-open secret that if it wasn't for them, bootlegging in America would be on the rocks today.
And it is little short of devastating to see how bitterly hardened they are to the effects of strong drink. You never in your life saw an uglier crack tendered than the old one about its taking more than one swallow to make a snootful. One high ball, and the boys get right up and do impersonations of Charlie Chaplin; two, and they have to be held back from going out and taking over the railroads. The person who got up the line about not knowing where the younger generation is coming to certainly worked the whole thing into a nut-sh.e.l.l.
Some of the young ladies of Tommy's circle, too, make it their whole career to drive home to you the startling truth that things are not what they used to be when grandma was a girl. "Daring" is no word for them. You can't steal a look at them any time of the day but what they are being just as daring and modern and unconventional as it is possible to be and still stay out of Bedford. And just as unconscious of the effect they are creating as if they were doing it all before a camera too.
GIRLS WILL BE GIRLS.
The funny thing is that if you took only a quick glance at them you would think they were nothing more than regular girls. They may run a bit to trick earrings, and it is evident that much of this talk about rouge and lip sticks has its foundation in fact; but there is nothing, really, that you wouldn't see right in your own home. They seem to be coming along pretty nicely with their inhaling, yet it isn't anything to write to the papers about. It has been several years since there was any cause for any grave alarm about tobacco's stunting their growth.
It is in their conversation that the girls get in some of their snappiest work. Bright as a dollar bill, they are, every one of them; and frank-well, there isn't a slang phrase that they would stop at. It is pointed out at some length in many modern literary works that there are few things sweeter and more wholesome than the girl of today's att.i.tude toward s.e.x. She just looks unflinchingly at the thing with those widely advertised clear eyes of hers, remarks, in effect, "So that's what all the fuss is about!" and calls it a day. And you can see from these friends of Tommy's that the rumor has not been exaggerated in the least. There is no unwholesome mystery about s.e.x to them; in fact so healthy, so buxom almost is their att.i.tude toward it that they seldom if ever talk about anything else. If s.e.x should suddenly be abolished the girls could never make another sapient crack.
They just work those little curly heads of theirs to the bone striving to get a shock into every sentence. It is rough going, this living up to all their press notices, but the girls never fall down on the job. They are conscientious to a somewhat grave fault about giving their audience its money's worth in thrills; but then, it's in one of the finest little causes in the world.
So they do their stuff valiantly, running on just the way the heroines do in the prom-girl school of fiction-for, after all, who are they that they should make a liar out of literature? It is rather evident that for all their appearance of fresh-to put it mildly-youth, there are some pretty fairly sable pasts attached to them. They let fall with many an ugly thud hints of hands held and dances cut, and they don't mind how far out of their way it takes them if they can bring it to your attention that they have plumbed life right to the depths and are fully able to fill in the missing letters in the word "d--n." They watch hopefully for any signs of grogginess that their unconventionalities may cause in the listener, pausing eloquently after each of their most telling nifties, as who should say, "Hear that one? Pretty snappy work, eh?" It is more fun to listen to them chattering away so freely and frankly; it is all just as impromptu as the Pa.s.sion Play.
If you want to be as good as hand in glove with the intellectual side of things, too, Tommy can give you the chance of a lifetime to take a look at the younger intelligentsia. He counts any number of clear-eyed young rebels among his intimates.
NOTHING LEFT BUT THE RIVER.
But I shouldn't, if I were you, go in expecting them to turn out to be regular little b.a.l.l.s of fire. If at any time you entertained the idea of painting your district red they aren't really the boys that you would call in to help you out with the job. They are scarcely the logical persons that you would select for the post of trying out new steps on the table or holding up any silk hats to be kicked. They seem to be always rather low in their minds, and there is a general air about them as if the chambermaid had neglected to dust that morning. The farthest that they go in the way of whooping things up is to give an occasional short laugh of quiet contempt.
For you might just as well be all set, before you meet them, to find them pretty seriously displeased with the way things are being done. It is all very well for you to be apologetic and to beg them to give the world just one more chance to try to be a better boy, but it's no use. They are definitely off everything, and that's flat. You are given the choice between taking it and letting it alone, reading from left to right.
They are in an especially depressed state about America. They stack right up with its severest pals and best critics. The country has turned out to be a practically total loss-no art, no literature, no folk dancing, no James Joyce, no appreciation, no native basketry, nothing; just so much real estate, inhabited by a lot of people who follow the comic strips, present automobiles to baseball players and keep conscientious track of what film will be shown at the local Bijou Dream the week after next.
The boys can't even drag much hope out of the thought that their brave little band of youthful cognoscenti will put the country on its feet. After all they are but a thin red line; and Babbitts multiply so rapidly. It looks really as if there were nothing much left but the river.
Almost any night you can see the young intelligentsia gathered up at Tommy's, a sort of intellectual Kiddies' Klub, you might call it. There they all are, tots in their waning twenties and early thirties-the cunningest age, I often say it is; just the time when they're into everything-kidding back and forth about poetry and art and s.e.x until it's long past the time for the sandman to come. And you will find things will work out considerably prettier for you if, when they get fairly started interchanging good ones, you don't even attempt to put up your glove and intercept the talk. Just let it whistle on over your head, and maybe if you sit quiet you will be able to pick up something rather snappy to take home to the family.
And the kiddies seldom fail to toss off a few ideas that are guaranteed to knock you, if not cold, at least pretty uncomfortably chilly. They usually start off in lighter vein with some comical cracks at the aged. There is not much in this life that can win a snicker from them, but they do have to indulge in a rousing smile when they think of those poor old souls of forty-five and forty-seven trying to stagger along in the wake of progress. Yet they are a bit worked up over it, too, even though they are the first to see its humorous side. You gather that growing old is something that people do just to be mean.
Some of the boys, in fact, take the thing so much to heart that they come right out and say their highest hope is that someone will be public-spirited enough to come along and shoot them before they reach forty. And it looks from here like a pretty good ten-to-three bet that they will get their wish.
But it is when they cease bantering and get down to the really deep stuff that they will open your eyes for you. Many a night will you spend tossing on a hot pillow after these little ones have shown up life to you as it really is. Disillusioned is no name for them; you might just as well go right ahead and call them cynical, for short.
It all comes out with a rush, once they get started. They come clean with the news that war is a horrible thing, that injustice still exists in many parts of the globe even to this day, that the very rich are apt to sit appreciably prettier than the very poor. Even the tenderer matters are not smeared over with romance for them. They have taken a calm look at this marriage thing and they are there to report that it is not always a lifelong trip to Niagara Falls. You will be barely able to stagger when the evening is over. In fact, once you have heard the boys settling things it will be no surprise to you if any day now one of them works it all out that there is nothing to this Santa Claus idea.
What with keeping up with the Hollywood society notes and with remembering to feed Fluff and Chum, the family brace of goldfish, I don't, myself, have much time for sitting and dreaming in the candle-lit gloaming. But when I do get a moment to myself I lavish it upon wondering what people used to get excited about before the present younger generation came along. Maybe it is not safe to trust in memories of departed youth, yet it seems that all this about things being so different from what they were when grandma was a girl is something of an overstatement. Where the boys and girls of grandma's day made their big mistake was in using the wrong kind of advertising. If ever a man deserved firing it was their press agent.
I don't know who it was that started the nation-wide publicity campaign for our present young folks. But you couldn't ask to see a sweeter job, no matter who did it. And all novel stuff too. Not a milk bath or a jewel robbery in the lot.
GETTING THEMSELVES CONDEMNED.
The commercial genius who began the grand work of selling this younger generation to the public went right ahead on the principle that, after all, there is but one sure way to get people talking-simply give them something to talk about; and then you can retire to the country estate and go in for raising double petunias, comfortably sure that your work will be carried right along for you.
One hearty look back at the way things were done in grandma's day convinced the publicity agent for the modern young that that was no way to crash into the news. It may have been all very well, but it never set people to gathering in little knots on street corners, talking the matter over in hushed voices. Then, according to popular folklore, girls were gentle and low-voiced, ready to faint at the drop of a garter, unable to feel really themselves without their flannel petticoats, given to modest white muslin dresses, with perhaps a bunch of daisies at the belt if they wanted to go in strong for s.e.x appeal. The young men of the period were honest and n.o.ble and true, kind to the antique and the bedridden, and lips that touched lip stick should never touch theirs. Nothing could have been sweeter of course in its way, but it never accomplished anything notable toward getting them into the contemporary topics of the day.
Once it was seen where the boys and girls of ye olden daye fell down it was virtually no trouble at all to get the current young out of the amateur cla.s.s. All they had to do was to capitalize their goings-on instead of their virtues, and the thing was done. As soon as they could get themselves condemned by press and pulpit they would be all set. The only things they needed were a snappy trade name-"flapper" fixed half of that up fairly well, though they never did do the right thing by way of the male clients-and a couple of good catchy slogans, such as, "Well, I don't know what the young people are coming to, I'm sure" and "What on earth can their fathers and mothers be thinking of?"
There was nothing more to it. The business of being young ranked in American industries right after automobile manufacture.
And no one knows better than you yourself how prettily the drive worked. There has been nothing like it since the gold rush.
In the first place the news broke just at the right time. It was an off season, as you might say. Laddie Boy had barely come to his decision to take up a political career. There was nothing really worth while in the way of a war on the engagement pad-just a few bush-league events in the Balkans and the regular Turkish daily dozen. Hollywood was still regarded as one of those quaint little Western towns where men were men and women were women. The public was just about ripe for something to talk about after the children had gone upstairs to bed.
Then the incoming fashions helped the young people's cause along. Bobbed hair and short skirts were news items, and the you-just-know-she-doesn't-wear-them movement was budding into vogue. Rolled stockings appeared on every hand-there isn't the slightest need for being silly about it; you know perfectly well what I mean.
Women's clubs all over the country pa.s.sed resolutions stating that they never in all their lives had seen anything like it, they declared they hadn't. People with a gift for looking on the bright side of things ascribed it to the general clutter left by the war and promised that everything would be all right as soon as business was able to come downstairs and sit up in an easy-chair propped up with pillows again.
SOFT FOR THE TIRED AUTHORS.
And all the tired authors regarded the news about the younger set as being sent to them direct from heaven by special a.s.signment. The market was all clogged up with stories about young A.E.F. lieutenants and beautiful Y.W.C.A. girls; stories full of such racy bits of army slang as "buddies" and "Sammies" and "Come on, men, it's the zero hour, so let's go over the top with the best of luck"; stories crowded with realistic word pictures of kindly old French peasants who refused to accept money from the grateful Yankee boys, and of privates who went about imploring a chance to die for their superior officers. It was like a day in the country for the overworked writers to fall on a nice timely topic, rough enough to have a widespread appeal, yet safely out of the asterisk cla.s.s.
It is no news to you to say that they made the most of it. You couldn't pick up a magazine without finding a minimum of three stories founded on the scandalous doings of the modern young, all pointing the moral that things are not what they used to be when Madison Square was considered uptown.
As publicity it was so much velvet for the younger generation. And you have to admit that Tommy Clegg and his friends stood up under all the talk pretty gamely. They shrank from the blinding glare of the limelight much as Miss Pola Negri shudders back from it. If they felt from time to time that the service was beginning to slack up a bit they rushed right in just like one of the family and helped out by providing a little more advertising copy for the firm. You couldn't have wanted to see a nicer spirit of cooperation.
Even Constant Readers and Pro Bono Publicos got the idea of the thing and wrote indignant letters to their favorite papers, demanding that immediate steps be taken to do something about our boys and girls-put them out to sea in an open boat, say, or call out the militia and turn machine guns on them or give them some little hint like that.
The lurid doings of the younger set got into the circulating libraries, reached the footlights, eventually were taken up by the moving-picture scenario fitters. Unfortunately, by the time a national evil gets taken up by the movies in a serious way it is but tepid dog so far as its news interest is concerned. That is just the next step before it belongs to the ages.
But don't, whatever you do, utter any words of condolence to Tommy and his playmates on that score. For they still regard themselves and their activities as authentic front-page stuff.
The Sat.u.r.day Evening Post, April 28, 1923.