The Suburb De Luxe

AUTOMOBILES are streaming in from all sides to the station, and are engaged at the platform in their everlasting business of disgorging well-dressed and highly polished men and women for the nine o’clock train.

Newspapers are selling fast. It is the beginning of another day, and a most auspicious beginning, because the day begins in Toppington. If you can begin your day in Toppington, you have begun it right; and if you can end it there also, in a Tuxedo, you can fill it up with anything, and it must be a profitable day.

There is an air of glad well-being on the platform; shoes have been polished in basements by the man who does the shoes; clothes have been taken from closets full of very well-pressed and very recent clothes; and breakfast has been of the ritualistic sort — with the crusts trimmed off the toast, the cream particularly rich, the cantaloupes especially luscious, the coffee in extra large cups, the omelette souffléd.

The children have come in with the governess, made their morning salutations, been kissed and jollied, and taken their seats at a side table. There have been gracious remarks and inquiries as to how everybody slept, and plans hurriedly suggested for golf or other engagements in the afternoon.

Everybody is very sure that this is the height of family life, and that here the foundations of society are laid in the concrete of good form.

The motor whirls up to the front door, and amid hurried messages, kisses, and cigarette smoke, the males briskly enter the shiny car and buzz away to the train.

‘Good morning, good morning; beautiful day! How is Natalie this morning? Oh, so glad to know she is better. And now you will be leaving soon for California. We go in January, but to Florida. No, the links in Florida are inferior, but Kate demands that Gulf air and the early tomatoes and strawberries.’

‘ What do you think of Wilson’s drool this morning? Going to the smoker? Well, so long, old top.’

Or — ‘Hello, Joe — back again, eh? How long at a time do you pretend to live a serious life? You certainly are a bum. Where were you? Well, French Lick’s the only place for you brokers. Did you see Sam there? He made a big killing, I hear, and is fixed for life. Bully for him! And I am especially glad for Mary and the kiddies, who have been down to brass tacks lately — only two servants, and Sam fixing his own furnace and blacking his own boots.’

Or, — from Bob, very highly dressed and very twitchy and jerky about the head, with roving eyes and a flannel mouth, — ‘My dear boy, where the hell have you been? Oh, you’re the predatory rich, all right! But see here, for God’s sake, what about that gas stock? Sh! Come here, man; I’m going to talk to you.’

From a bright and natty lady: ‘ Good morning, doctor. I did so want to see you after church yesterday — to thank you for that beautiful sermon.’

The doctor smiles, — a smile as old as Toppington — a smile that represents the worst that Toppington can do to a man, — and the doctor says, —

‘ I had you in mind — and that sweet family of yours. How is Rosalie this morning? Give her my love; she’s a dear, dear child, and very close to all our hearts.

‘No, my suggestion to the House Committee regarding whiskey at the Golf Club was — was — well, I actually think they resented it, and so, of course, I dropped the matter. For it is furthest from my desire to offend anyone in this dear place.

‘Is that Caroline? Dear me, did she really move to Roseville? I have often wondered how her father and mother survived that. And they do look older, don’t you think so? But Mary, Rose, and Catherine are a great comfort. They are maintaining the fine old Toppington tradition: they are very dear girls, very dear girls, very close to all our hearts.

‘Yes, I go in town Mondays to look over our mission parish. Really, I regret the fact that our Toppington people take so casual an interest in this beautiful charity. I am sometimes afraid I do not quite fulfill my obligation here by pointing out a little more clearly the disparity between some of my friends here and some of them there, as regards — income.’

‘Yes, but, doctor, nothing could be done about it, of course: it is just one of those things, you know, that happen to be so, don’t you think?’

‘Oh, yes, I know it, I think so; but those people are a little too much forgotten, perhaps, and I frequently have cause to think that they may remind us of their presence some day in an embarrassing manner. Did you ever think of that? And, you know, nothing is so embarrassing as to be confronted with an importunate widow, for instance, who kicks on the door and keeps screaming, “Justice!”

‘But, my dear, I must n’t worry you with my doubts. My best wishes for you always. Good-bye.’

At that point the train grinds to a halt, with a resolute expression of taking into New York a group of people who add all the salt to that otherwise tasteless stew. Very important gentlemen, saying very important things and thinking priceless thoughts, take their seats and open their papers, and even more important ladies — on their way to Lord and Taylor’s or leaving for a little change in Lakewood or Asheville — settle into places, and talk about nothing with great animation.

Two men in spats and gloves, and with the ‘club-car’ faces of commerce, after looking over the paper, hurriedly begin to discuss the situation.

‘ One would suppose, now the war is over and the necessity for improvements and extensions is very great, the railroads would begin buying; but they don’t seem to want to begin, for some reason.’

‘Why, don’t you see,’ says the other pink-faced worshiper of Baal, ‘it’s this way: the railroads, and the other interests too, for that matter, don’t propose to do anything to promote employment until the labor-world comes to its senses on wages. They propose to show labor where it gets off at.’

‘Well, that sounds reasonable to me. I only hope they don’t show us first. You know I sometimes say to my wife: “Carrie, what would you do now if we busted higher than a kite — if we had to come to living on $5000 a year, say — about a tenth of what it costs us now?”

‘“Where would we live?” she asks.

“‘Well, suppose we had to move to Newark or Jersey City?”

‘“Don’t talk utter nonsense,” she says, “and be sure to engage two staterooms on the Limited to Santa Barbara for Friday, the 20th.”

‘But I can’t help thinking of folks in Petrograd these days who used to do about the same thing we do — but are doing something very different now: standing hours in line for black bread. Two staterooms to Santa Barbara on the Limited!’

One of the wives in front, overhearing this outburst, turns about and with a flashing eye says to her husband’s friend, —

‘John is n’t the sport he used to be, is he? What’s the matter with him, anyhow? I think it was that book by Jane Addams about children and the city streets. I’ve had a lot of trouble with him since that. Brace up, John; just because you are virtuous, or dyspeptic, or senile, or something, do you expect me to join the Christian Endeavor society?’

And so the conversation develops, indicating on the part of the men a certain faint-hearted respect for history, and especially very modern history, in spite of their repugnance for change; but revealing the women as defiant, and unchastened by any least appreciation of what is taking place in the world.

The entire package of humanity, done up in several yellow steel cars, is injected into New York and ejected from New York daily. It stays long enough to move the little levers that divert a great deal of the wealth earned by thousands of poor folks into the channels that irrigate Toppington and sustain its beaming countenance. It is a nickel-in-the-slot machine raised to its highest power.

In the club car forward, groups of absorbed gentlemen, shrouded in tobacco smoke, play cards while the train rushes through more and more inferior suburbs as it approaches the city. They never look out of the windows. They might get a hint from Greenwood Cemetery as it flies past, making hideous gestures with its obelisks and granite deformities. They are polished people, operating in polished grooves — things outside have no interest and excite no curiosity. A man from Roseville may meet a man from Toppington on business, or through mutual friends; he may get a word on that occasion; but it is the only occasion on which he will. Thereafter he will get the fishy eye or the far-away gaze of the preoccupied man.

For Toppington is very much preoccupied; its engagements are imperative. It has an intense sense of its responsibilities. It is part of the two per cent who own sixty per cent of the wealth of the country. Its idol is ability — ability to maintain about that proportion of ownership. It is actually reptilian in its hissing anger against the opponent of orthodoxy. It is capable, with complete complacency, of defeating every effort to make this war anything but a frightful catastrophe with no actual moral value. It is draped in all sorts of flowing sentimentalism; and beneath that drapery is a hardness and selfishness beyond belief.

It poisons its own children with the insidious sense of caste — of the low value of real work and the high value of mental dexterity and sleight-of-hand. It produces mental invalids full of the immorality of self-pity and the vulgarity of parade.

If this war means anything, it means that the Toppingtons of this country will be left by the tide, and will dry up, like stranded jelly-fish, in the sun of a new adjustment which will appraise people according to their actual contribution to the wealth and welfare of the nation.