A Day With Banners
Let cynical Oldsters call it calf love if they will, but youth, at sixteen, will always find it a terrifyingly painful pleasure
BEATRICE AND WILLIAM REDPATH
ON THE peaceful air of a warm October afternoon the voices of the women gathered around Mrs. Green’s bridge table reached as far as the hammock where a gray-clad figure reclined.
By the expression on Richard Green’s face, by the passion with which he struck at an inoffensive cushion with a clenched fist, it was apparent that the conversation was distasteful.
“Dickie is so killing about girls. He’s so shy. The way he blushes. Oh, you should really see him—”
Such an opportunity might have been afforded them at that instant, though the color that overrode Richard’s features was the product, not of anger, but shyness. How he hated this continual talk about himself; how often had he not protested against that detestable contraction of his name!
He was about to escape beyond reach of those lively voices when curiosity held him.
“My dear,” came another voice, “you should hear my funny Freddie talk about girls. He thinks he’s so sophisticated. We nearly die listening to him.”
Laughter intervened. A look of unrestrained mirth crossed Richard’s face. Then an instantaneous stiffening of his jaw as his own name was mentioned again.
“He’s so terrified of girls. The other day little Sally Manders was coming down her steps and Dickie dragged me right across the road in front of a motor.”
The cushion this time received a blow that made it quiver like a jelly; a quick succession of blows. Voices reaching him from the street at this moment mercifully drew his attention away from the bridge party. And glancing over the edge of the hammock, Richard saw two slight figures approaching and heard more musical mirth. Immediately he dodged lower until he was completely hidden from the street. Fixing an eye to an aperture in the canvas he had an unobstructed view of two girls strolling arm in arm down the long quiet street.
One of them was familiar. It was in fact the same Sally Manders whose name had been mentioned by the bridge party. But the other was the one to capture Richard’s attention. He decided that she must be Daphne Shorey who was visiting Sally. She was small and exquisite and her eyes, large and brown, were turned curiously in the direction of the verandah while Sally’s shrill tones floated high on the still air.
“That’s where Dickie Green lives. Good-looking but how he hates girls. Runs if he sees one coming. He’s a perfect shout.” Brown eyes gazed toward the verandah and Richard had a perfect view of a small oval face delicately colored, a round mouth and a distracting glint of gold beneath a funny little green hat. Richard’s heart began to hammer against his ribs while the entire street seemed filled with a blinding radiance which made everything that was commonplace seem touched with a peculiar glamor.
“You won’t meet him,” went on Sally’s fresh young tones. “He wouldn’t go to a dance for anything in the world.”
There was a mounting interest evident in the brown eyes as they lingered upon the house. And all the while that extraordinary radiance broadened and widened.
“How interesting,” said the most musical voice Richard had ever heard, a voice so musical that it did not seem as though it could possibly issue from human lips. “How very interesting!”
“He might be interesting if any one could get him into a conversation and really get to know him.”
The two little figures passed on down the street and Richard drew himself up slowly from his huddled position just as the lady with the brown eyes turned and gave a rapid glance over her shoulder. Color flooded Richard’s face; a very faint smile tugged at the corners of a round mouth.
ry'HAT same evening there was a surprise in store for Mrs.
“Whatever is Dickie doing?”she enquired curiously of her husband for the fifth time, as from upstairs came the sound of doors opening and shutting, of water gushing from the bathroom, of cupboard doors slamming, of feet passing to and fro.
As if in answer a voice came from the top of the stairs, a voice that was curiously agitated: “Where in thunder are my patent leather shoes—oh, where in thunder?”
“Patent leather shoes?” echoed Mrs. Green. “What do you want them for?”
“I want them,” came the cryptic answer.
“Surely,” exclaimed Mrs. Green, as much for her own as her husband’s benefit, “surely, Dickie isn’t going to a dance!”
“Where are they? Where are they? Can’t you tell me where they are?”
“I’m coming,” cried Mrs. Green, hastily putting down her book, “I’m just coming.”
Upstairs in Richard’s large pleasant room a hurricane had passed through leaving chaos in its trail. A gray suit had been discarded; a blue suit was apparently under consideration; a pair of much creased flannel trousers appeared to be gaining in favor. Shirts were tossed on the bed; socks sprawled on the floor. Richard himself was standing before the mirror, a look of stern and anxious concern on his face as he fastened a collar. Then for some unknown reason he took it off and tossed it aside. The top of the bureau was littered with collars that had met a similar fate.
“My shoes,” he appealed anxiously, without turning from the mirror as he heard his mother come into the room, “Oh, where are my shoes?”
The shoes were discovered in their usual place in the cupboard. Mrs. Green stared around the room. Its disorder appalled her.
“I suppose you’re going to the dance at the tennis club?” she hazarded, her eyes fixed upon Richard in amazement. “But, darling,” as she caught sight of the white flannel trousers, “you’re never going to wear white flannels at this time of year?”
Richard still wrestling with the collar, dejectedly responded: “Then I don’t know what I’m going to wear.” “Your blue suit, darling. It’s the right thing for a boy of sixteen.”
Richard squirmed at this reference to his age. Another collar strewed the bureau.
“Whatever is the matter with your collars?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Too tight, I guess, or too big. Oh, I give up,” and he flung himself into a chair and clasped his head dramatically with both hands. “I give up. There’s not a thing right.” He looked dismally down at the rug between his feet. “I give up.”
Mrs. Green gazed at him in alarm. She had never seen anything like this before. Dickie—who cared so little about appearances that she was forever having to plead with him to brush his hair; to change his collar; to shine his shoes—and now this. The tragedy in his tones worried her. The appearance of the room and his state of dejection made her wonder whatever had come over him.
“I give up,” came the sombre voice, and she looked at him more and more nervously. “I simply give up,” he repeated.
“But, Dickie, darling, I’m sure your collars are all right. You’re just imagining,” and she tugged open a drawer and rummaged through it until she produced another, then offered it to him persuasively. “Try this one. Do. It really looks all right.”
He got to his feet, with an air of a boy scout tackling his daily good deed. “There’s my shirts,” he went on, “they’re too small or the buttons are. Every time I puff out my chest, they come undone.”
“I’ll put on new buttons.”
“I don’t want to give you all that trouble. Oh, I think I had better give up.”
“But it’s no trouble, darling. I want you to go to the dance. I won’t be a minute fixing the buttons.” While Richard was making a further effort with his collar, Mrs. Green was despatched downstairs on an errand. She flew into the sitting room where Mr. Green was still reading, quite unmoved by the frenzied scene being enacted upstairs. “Quick, Jim,” she cried, “give me your cuff links. Dickie wants them.”
Mr. Green slowly looked up from his paper. “Wants my cuff links? Whatever for? Hasn’t he cuff links of his own?”
“Of course. But there’s something wrong with them. I don’t remember what he said. But, anyway, he wants yours.”
“Well, he’s not going to have them.”
“Oh, Jim, dear, don’t be tiresome,” and her quick fingers seized on a cuff and cleverly extracted a unk, “Please don’t argue,” she went on, as he seemed about to withdraw his other arm from her reach. “I promised Dickie. He can’t go to the dance, he says, unless he has them. Now the other arm, dear.”
“I say he can’t have them,” objected Mr. Green helplessly, one cuff already dangling, “I say he can’t have them. Great Heavens! You’d snatch the last stitch away from me to give to that boy. He can’t have my cuff links!”
“There!” cried Mrs. Green, with satisfaction, as she secured what she wanted. “Thanks, dear old thing, for lending them to him!” With a quick pat that was meant to be soothing she ran from the room.
Upstairs drawers went on slamming; cupboards banging; steps hastened to and fro. And then, finally, Mrs. Green appeared downstairs, glancing anxiously at the clock; “Heavens! I’m afraid he’s going to be awfully late. I've been changing the buttons on his shirt. We couldn’t find just the right size, so we had to cut some buttons off one of yours.”
“Seems to me you’ve both gone crazy,” exclaimed a very much exasperated man. “I’ve never heard anything like it. The buttons off my shirt—”
“There he is,” broke in Mrs. Green with relief as there came the sound of feet rushing down the stairs. And then the gramophone started up in the room across the hall. Mrs. Green walked softly to the door and stood looking at Richard who was dancing around and around the room, a look of serious preoccupation on his face.
“Come and look at him,” she whispered to Jim, “do come and look at him. He’s trying to see if he can dance. You see he has never danced since he went to that dancing class when he was just a little boy. Darling,” she said in surprise and reproach, “aren’t you the least bit interested? It’s his first dance.”
“Well, I only hope he’s never going to another,” growled Mr. Green.
Mrs. Green paid no attention—it was doubtful whether she heard him. “I wonder—I wonder, and an amused smile broke over her pretty face. “Jim, do you think—do you suppose—?”
“I suppose he’ll lose or break my cuff links,” put in Mr. Green, not to be diverted from the thought of his grievance, “and it’s the only pair I possess. I’ll look fine going down to the office to-morrow morning like this. I don’t see, for the life of me, my dear, why you encourage all this nonsense.”
“But, Jim, dear— his first dance!”
AN HOUR later Richard was standing in a small room off the main dancing room at the club, leaning against a table, his arms folded, and a blank expression on his face. At least it was blank at intervals, but there were moments when the blankness was dispelled and a look of rapture took its place. And those moments coincided with the crossing of his line of vision by a small figure in pink with brown eyes. And yet at times, even during such moments, muttered exclamations could be heard passing his lips. “Fat old Freddy.” “Silly owl.” “That nut.” Which concise statements were obviously aimed at the dancing partner of the lady in pink.
And then something absolutely unprecedented occurred. In the doorway of that small and inconspicuous room stood the very lady whom he had been watching, alone, unpartnered. She entered, smiling.
“I’m looking everywhere for my partner,” she said, in a soft little voice that was almost a lisp. “I wonder if you’ve seen him anywhere?” and so saying, she sank down on the sofa.
“I don’t see him,” Richard replied, gazing around the bare small room. “No, I don’t seem to see him anywhere.”
“Neither do I,” and she smoothed down her skirt so that it would reach to her silken knees, and then gazed at Richard with a very evident curiosity. “What are you doing in here all by yourself? You’ve been in here for an hour.”
“Oh, just thinking,” replied Richard, a warm color creeping up over the edge of his collar.
“Oh, just things.”
“But what things? Tell me what things.”
Richard uncrossed his arms and then crossed them again, while he stared meditatively at the toes of his patent leather shoes.
“Well, things like—like, for instance—like, whether the Kellogg Treaty will really put a stop to war— whether they’ll ever be able to stop the dole evil in England—and then—there’s Italy to consider, isn’t there? Yes,” he insisted, lifting his blue eyes to the small pink apparition on the sofa, “I was just wondering about Italy—”
He came to a pause as though this matter required further consideration before he could quite put his thoughts into words. And the brown eyes opened wider and wider; the round mouth opened, too, and remained open while she stared and stared at this perfectly astonishing youth.
“Do you always think about these sorts of things?” she enquired.
“What else is there to think about? I don’t know of anything else, do you?”
A spark shone in the brown eyes.
“Were you thinking about Italy this afternoon? I mean when you were in the hammock. You know, just when we were passing your house. All the time that Sally was talking about you.”
Deeper color swept his face.
“I don’t know, but I suppose I must have been.” And then, in more interested tones. “How did you know I was in the hammock?”
“I saw you—saw you before we ever came near the house; and then I saw you duck down so that you ccnld watch us without being seen. Did you hear all Sally said?”
“I wasn’t,” he denied vehemently, “at least I may have been—I mean by that that I may have seen y'u —but I wasn’t doing what you thought I was doing—by that I mean that I wasn’t really looking—I mean if I was, I was only happening to see you—”
It was quite too difficult to explain what he had been doing with that pair of bright eyes turned so searchingly on him. He abandoned the attempt. And, fortunately, at that moment a gay jazz tune started and distracted her attention from his very lucid explanation. Her little slippered feet tapped the floor appreciatively, “Oh, that’s ‘Sweethearts,’ ” she cried, “aren’t you crazy about it? I am.”
Richard’s look brightened. “Yes, it’s not half bad,” he admitted. “I had the record on the gramophone just before I came.”
“It’s a marvelous foxtrot,” she commented wistfully, gazing toward the dancing room which was rap..uy filling. “I wonder,” she cried, “oh, I do wonder where that old partner of mine has gone to anyway. I really do wonder where he’s gone.”
“I don’t see him. I don’t see him at all,” said Richard.
“Neither do I. I just don’t see him anywhere.”
A silence fell upon the room, that is a silence of words, for the air was pierced and beaten upon by the recurrent rhythm of the jazz. The small person on the sofa moved restlessly, gazing appealingly at the other dancers, while Richard folded and unfolded his arms, with a distant look in his blue eyes. It would seem as though the fate of Europe was again in jeopardy when the small pink person jumped to her feet.
“Come on,” she cried, “come on. Suppose we don’t wait another instant for that silly old partner of mine. Suppose we go and dance this. Suppose we do?”
And for the next few moments at least Richard floated on a rosy cloud; his feet scarcely touched the floor; his arms barely seemed to hold that small and fairylike creature who nestled so comfortably within them. This, he told himself rapturously, was Love. A look of rapture overspread his good-looking face; his eyes shone; his lips moved as though he were murmuring endearments, although it was only the words of the music he was repeating. Occasionally he caught sight of a soft pink cheek pressed against his shoulder; saw a downward sweep of eyelashes; and his heart beat so that he was afraid she would notice. And then a voice, raucous, rude, even violent, broke in upon him. Fat old Freddy arrested their progress around the room, blocking their way determinedly.
“Here, Daphne. What do you mean sneaking away from your partner like this?”
They were forced to stop. “I didn’t,” protested the small pink person growing pinker, “I didn’t.”
“Yes, you did. Sent me for a glass of water and then you sneak away—leave a fellow standing around with a glass of water—feeling like all sorts of a fool holding a glass of water, while you go off and hunt down another fellow—” his eyes lit savagely on Richard who was obviously embarrassed—“a fellow who hates girls. A fellow who doesn’t want to dance with you at all,” Freddy finished with demoniac cleverness.
A gasp of horror issued from the small round mouth.
“That’s not true,” she cried furiously; “it’s not true, and you know it, fat old Freddy!”
“It is true,” stubbornly repeated that infuriated youth, his voice rising above the music. “Doesn’t everyone know that Dick Green hates girls. Then, what would he want to dance with you for?”
“He does want to dance with me. He does. I know he does. So there!”
“I tell you he doesn’t,” repeated Freddy maddeningly.
“He hates girls. He simply loathes them. You ask him. Dick Green, don’t you hate girls?”
“You don’t, do you? Say you don’t. Tell him you wanted to dance with me. Tell him.”
But this was altogether too much for Richard. It seemed to him as though the entire room had become an awful staring pair of eyes; a wide-mouthed grin. And it was all directed toward him, standing between those two combatants. It made no difference that no one was looking; that everyone was far too much interested in more personal matters. He backed hastily away, utmost confusion evident in his face. “You go with Freddy,” he said quickly; “you better go with Freddy. You really had better,” he repeated, his face growing redder and redder as he became every instant more conscious of that dreadful roomful of people.
No one was looking at him except one small person in pink, and she was staring at him with eyes big with reproach; a mouth that quivered; cheeks stained with pink.
“Oh,” she gasped, “Oh,” before Freddy seized her and bore her off with energy and determination, leaving Richard to make his way back to the solitary little room and further brooding over the unsettled state of Europe. And there he remained unmolested for the remainder of the evening.
IT WAS unfortunate that the following afternoon as Richard came out on the football field he should have allowed his gaze to wander for a moment to the sidelines. Usually he was only vaguely aware that the sidelines were thronged with young girls—such as Sally and her friends. But that afternoon his eye caught the bright green of a funny little hat which belonged to a small person with brown eyes.
It was doubly unfortunate that the occasion should have been the big game of the year. It meant the championship for the winning team and Richard was the backbone of his team.
Overhead the blue October sky was clear of clouds, burnished and bright; the sun beat dazzlingly down on the field; the trees were livid gold and scarlet. Pennants waved; horns blared; crowds cheered. It was a day for youth as much as any day in the springtime of the year; for youth bold, gay, triumphant.
And Richard, walking to the centre of the field, after that quick recognizing glance, was completely out of tune with such a day. He felt neither bold nor triumphant. Hot and cold waves raced down his body; his face was much the color of his bright sweater; his legs and arms were but unwieldy adjuncts of that body. That Daphne was standing there on the sidelines, watching his every movement, made him feel weak.
And although the hot blush gradually died down, what remained was far more deadly, far more fatal to the prompt and accurate carrying out of football tactics. His knees had developed an extraordinary tendency to wilt; it seemed as though they couldn’t support the weight of his body; his muscles had grown soft.
The crowds along the sidelines; the waving pennants; the field dotted with sturdy figures in blue or scarlet; the gold line of the trees in the background, all were blurred and indistinct. There remained only ’-efore his vision a small and intently watching person wearing a funny little green hat.
“17-19-86-74-22—” came the peremptory tones of the captain and the ball carne hurtling toward Richard. It twisted out of his grasp and the groan that went up from the crowd completed his demoralization. From that moment he was a perfectly useless member of his team. Mutters, and even the most frenzied exclamations from his team mates only increased his distress.
It was in the second quarter of the game, with the score piling up against them that a scrimmage took place near the sidelines. From the tangle of struggling forms battling for the possession of the ball, Richard heard a musical voice speak just beside him. The ^ words reached him with extraordinary distinctness through the shouts and the general uproar, and somehow Richard felt that they reached him alone. Otherwise the effect produced on him might have been a very different one.
They were incredible words; they were
I words, too, that could only have been T intended for him. When the whistle blew and he struggled to his feet, he stood for a moment with those words beating into his brain. And now again they were repeated; and again. Clearly; insistently.
It would have seemed impossible that a few words even spoken in the most musical of voices could have had the effect which those words had on Richard. But, then, is it ever possible to gauge effects?
His eyes steadied; his head went up; his mouth grew firm with determination, while his heart beat quickly. The next moment he was in a mass of struggling blue and scarlet figures; somehow he managed to emerge with the ball. He was off; hurdling, twisting, leaping, fighting off tackles, he got clear away. Pandemonium broke out from the sidelines. Just as he crossed the enemy goal line he was pulled down and a wave of players submerged him.
Pennants waved; motor horns blared; and one small person in a funny little green hat ran quite crazily up and down the field, frantically flourishing a pennant and shouting out those incredible words, shouting them again and again until the musical voice was hoarse and toneless.
The trees flamed with their gold and scarlet; the sun shone down from a clear sky; snatches of song; cheers and glad cries rent the air. Oh, assuredly it was a day for youth; for youth gay, bold, triumphant. For one or perhaps for two persons on that field, it was a day with banners.
THAT evening Sally Manders gave a small dance to celebrate the victory. This time Richard was not standing in any small room alone. Instead he was dancing with a small person with brown eyes and that small person was gazing at him in a manner that brought forth a growl from Freddy, standing in a melancholy attitude in the doorway.
“Look at them,” he explained to . another lonely member of the stag line. “What’s happened to Dick Green? That’s what I want to know. I thought he was too shy to dance with a girl. What’s cóme over him? Can you tell me that? He looks—he looks—as though—” but Freddy’s speech was altogether inadequate.
“He looks to me as though he didn’t know what it was to be shy,” returned the other melancholy individual. “He came right up and snatched Daphne away when we had only started to dance. I’ve" watched him do the same thing a dozen times this evening. Cutting in’s all right but he might give the other fellow a chance—”.
“What’s happened to him, anyway?” persisted Freddy; “he’s got no right to behave in this way. Dick Green is supposed to be shy. Well then, why doesn’t he stay shy? That’s what I want to know. Why doesn’t he stay the way he’s supposed to be?”
“Search me,” remarked the other gloomily.
And meanwhile the small person in pink circling the room in Richard’s arms was gazing up at him and murmuring: “I’m coming back next year—and the next—and the next—”
“And by that time I’ll be nineteen,” remarked Richard. “People get engaged when they’re nineteen,” he went on without a blush; “lots of them do.”
It was the small person in pink who blushed and again her round mouth lisped those incredible words: “Richardthe-Lion-Hearted . . . Richard-the-LionHearted.”
Richard’s heart soared. Bold, gay, triumphant, he looked down into her little oval face, drawing her toward a curtain that swayed before an open window. For, as he heard that small round mouth lisp those incredible words, he knew that in anticipation of a faraway event he was going to do a braver thing than he had ever done.