Rizzie's Uncle Jordan
A gay tale of a histrionic flapper and her unconventional cavalier
LESLIE GORDON BARNARD
IT WAS dusk on a Friday afternoon in November when Rizzie — christened Rachel Elizabeth—took an abrupt departure from Edward, and set her face toward the bearding of her Uncle Jordan.
“Edward,” she told herself through clenched teeth. “Edward takes too much for granted!
If he wants to lecture me after marriage . . .
She had to unclench her teeth, then to bite her lip. There was no assurance that she was going to marry Edward.
He was two degrees farther from that state than when they had set out for the football field where two class teams indulged in mild carnage before a vociferous crowd of the embryonic intelligentsia. When they started it had been:
“Isn’t this the life,
Eddie?” When the argument was on it was:
“My dear Ed, don’t be ridiculous!” And when she left him just now, it was “Good-by, Edward, and thank you so much for taking me!” Let it slip one point farther to “Mr. Winthrop” and where would he be?
She lifted her head in the air, and at that moment caught sight of
the number she was looking for. Keeping her nose still elevated she advanced and rang the bell.
Immediately afterward she noticed the sign “Please walk in.” Having rung, however, she waited. Eventually a maid came, cap tilted over the left eye, and a gleam of suds on the right hand.
“I wish to see Mr. Jordan Wells,” said Rizzie. She held out a small engraved card.
The girl regarded it stonily.
“You don’t need no card,” she said in flat, dispassionate tones. “First floor front. You goes right up and turns right!”
She began to fade into that vague gloom whence she had come. She turned; for the first time the ordinary mobility of humanity fleetingly touched her features. “You could ’a come in and gone up without ringing no bell !”
Rizzie was shaken. Was this the place where her rich and notorious Uncle Jordan was even temporarily housed? Edward might say what he liked about her being mercenary enough to toady to an uncle with whom the family had had a silly break, long, long ago, but money was useful. When she and Edward marriedin event, that was, of Rizzie marrying anyone—it would be useful to have money in the family. And if anyone could bring it in, Rizzie could. For some reason Uncle Jordan had taken a fancy to her, though he had never seen her. He had even written her a letter on his arrival. She had it with her in a handbag that Edward had given her a year ago at Christmas. A potty little bag! Really she only carried it ever because there was that thing about gift horses. She delved in the scented depths of the bag, powdered her nose by guesswork, and
moving forward with what she conceived to be a graceful Parisian glide, lifted the little knocker on the middle panel and knocked.
When you have heard of a person all your life, yet only by indirect remarks, oblique sayings, vague innuendos, it is a bit exciting to be separated from the legendary figure only by the thickness of a door. Even this barrier ceased to intervene; footsteps approached, the door was thrown open, and she was for once, in a life not entirely unpractised, thrown into a state of terror at being the recipient of two or three volatile kisses, the while a voice chanted: “So—you have come? That is good of you! Forgive my impulsiveness. I am a lonely old man. How well you look! Take off your hat! No? Your coat? Well, at least the fur? No? Perhaps it is best; it becomes you well. I am glad to see you. Very glad. Have a chair.”
rT'HE room, she saw, was one in which a dealer in -*• antiques might find material of interest. It was not of one period, but of many periods. Yet Rizzie was properly awed. She had always felt that her own home was too shockingly modern. Not that Rizzie knew the first thing about it. She thought that Sheraton was a general in the Civil War, that the Tudor rose was a brand Edward might buy at any florist’s, and that the Ming dynasty was some nasty preparation you had to
eat with wooden spoons.
So now, properly impressed, she tucked away a mental phrase or two for later use: “But, my dears, what a room ! Simply too adorable! And the bed, my dears— a four-poster with a canopy. And Unk might easily have been Louis-the-Something himself. You know he’s lived in Paris most of his life. Too beautifully Parisian for words, my dear. And so gallant! My dears, I promise you, even if he was only an Unk, it made me feel quite too deliciously improper and French, sitting there in the room with that Louis-theSomething canopy right behind me!”
For private use, she thought: “What a dreadfully queer old dear he is!”
It was not that he was a failure sartorially. He was, on the contrary, rather too complete a success. Rizzie had seen a picture of Uncle Jordan Wells, but it was of him as a very young man, clean shaven, and, if anything, it had misled her. He was a man now of probably sixty-five, and his hirsute appointments put him in a class by himself. Uncle Jordan evidently preferred hair
to barbers. Long white mustache ends ran out in flying wedges on either side under his nose, which itself was a promontory with a beacon light at the end. His hair, slightly thinning at the top, poured in a gray glory down the back of his head. The eyebrows were darker, and the left one inclined to cock a bit in the middle, which, with a carefully-trimmed beard—an almost startling concession to scissors—gave Uncle Jordan the air of a confirmed and flirtatious dandy. Otherwise, he might have passed for something let loose from the Chamber of Deputies, or a rather bibulous actor of the older school. His neck, fortified first by a high, stiff collar, was girded about and almost lost in a massive tie of a rich blue with white polka dots, brought to a careful bow in front, and thus crowning the base of an inverted triangle of purple shirt-front, whose ornamental endeavors were successfully taken up and carried lower by a pearl-gray vest with orange flowers. The coat itself, built on tuxedo lines, was a medium gray, its lapel graced with a pink carnation, and the trousers, of a sufficient width to compel the eye, held their own in the general scheme by virtue of their sandy-gray basis wrought over with distinct stripes in checker-board pattern.
He was more Parisian than she had expected. Once she had read a French novel called something, by somebody who wrote French novels, and Uncle Jordan seemed to belong in it. She felt quite like—well, like a woman in a French novel.
Leaning forward sinuously, she rested her chin on her. hand and spoke in low tones:
“After Paris you must find it intolerably dull here?” “Until you came!” he said gallantly.
Rizzie was thrilled. His glance, too, from under those darkish eyebrows, one cocked wickedly, was splendid.
She shrugged. Mademoiselle Cloisette, in the French novel, was always shrugging. She said quickly, to make conversation:
“You are not uncomfortable here?”
“The house,” he told her, “is well recommended. It is run by a Frenchwoman. Its fame is known in Paris.” A clock struck six. Instantly he sprang up.
“Fool! You will be famished!” With three amazingly agile strides he had reached a hatrack, produced a gray top ha-t with a black band and slightly curling rim, and had her by the arm. “Come. We will eat. You shall say where. Price is nothing. It is an occasion. No, no, I insist!”
Rizzie’s mental reaction was terrific. She had foreseen nothing like this. She would almost as soon have walked the streets with a trained bear. She tried to protest. No words would come. Her knees threatened to perform an involuntary Charleston. What if she met anybody she knew? Where in the world was it safest to take this flirtatious old fop?
"DOR the early November dusk, Rizzie gave thanks "*■ with an almost apostolic fervor. In it the Uncle seemed less preposterous and more romantic. Rizzie discounted romance in books or conversation. It was too puerile and sentimental for a mature young woman of nearly seventeen. But when an autumnal night enfolds you, and a figure of wealth and almost legendary importance has you by the arm, you can’t be too particular about consistency.
They passed, regrettably, into an area where lights shone to better purpose. Some people who passed giggled! She tilted her profile.
“He looks,” said Rizzie, in desperate self-communion, “like something off the stage that should be on, but what can you do when an Unk has money to burn?”
She fastened on the financial consideration. She could see among the presents that she and Ed—that would be sent if she ever married—an envelope marked “Cheque.” Uncle Jordan would undoubtedly do something very handsome. The growing stares of passersby made her feel how very handsome it ought to be.
Panic, long overdue, seized Rizzie with all the suddenness of an attack of cramps. In the room at the boarding-house he had an antique background into which to fit; on ill-lighted streets he had darkness; but here, in this extravagant glare, he had nothing. Rizzie did not stop to catalogue the curiously vested and pantalooned sheiks, and their carmine-lipped, whitefaced, purple-nosed, eye-plucked shebas who barged about them, winking and giggling.
With the abandon of despair she caught his arm. They were passing a restaurant. What kind didn’t matter. It was a place of escape. She drew him in.
He raised protesting hands.
“But, my dear, is it a mortuary?”
“No. It’s where we eat. Come along. You said I might choose.”
Diners were staring at them. She got him behind a table at the rear, relieved him of his hat and gloves, and sank down exhausted, her flaming face turned from the grinning herd of diners. Behind the table he didn’t look so terrible. She felt that she had been lacking in poise. Elevating her chin she turned deliberately and swept the crowd.
Then, being healthily hungry, she addressed herself to food.
His absorption of food, at least, was impeccable. They spoke of many things. He told her of Paris. Her imagination allowed her to describe her own interesting existence. Without intent to exaggerate, she became surprised at the colorful life she led.
“But come,” quizzed Uncle Jordan, “all these young gentlemen who, not unnaturally, flock about you— there is none that presumes?” His eyebrows lifted.
“There was one!” said Rizzie, tight-lipped, and wishing she could get a glimpse in the mirror opposite of her expression.
“I have broken with him,” announced Rizzie tragically. “I have put him out of my life.”
“For ever!” said Rizzie palely. If she shifted a little she might see in that mirror. There! Her eyes suddenly lost their soft velvet tragedy.
Two tables back, Edward was very calmly raising soup to his lips!
He, too, had adjusted his place and person so as to have the use of the mirror. Their eyes in this indirect but terrific way met. Edward’s left eyelid went down and up again in one portentous wink.
Rizzie, to say the least, was outraged. Edward here ! And Edward with that diabolical sense of humor in full play! The complete little beast ! Her food choked her. Edward would never, never let her hear the end of this. Not even when they were married!
“The beast!” she breathed. “The little horrid snooping beast!” She blinked. Uncle Jordan with old-fashioned gallantry had taken from his pocket a new atrocity and was offering it.
“Teardrops!” said Uncle Jordan sentimentally, “and in such charming eyes! Allow me. Honor my handkerchief!”
Rizzie stared. The handkerchief held her. It would have made a respectable child’s bedspread. But its respectability ended there. Uncle Jordan undoubtedly had an eye for color, and in this there were few combinations of the spectrum that had not been used. People nearby were attracted inevitably by its flaming majesty. The mirror assured her that Edward was not untouched by it. Their eyes again met. He raised his own cambric.
Rizzie sprang up, her mouth set. Just so much she could stand. She told Uncle Jordan she wasn’t feeling well; she must go home. No, he must not accompany her. Please! When should he see her again? Tomorrow? She promised something vaguely to get rid of him. If she stayed a moment longer she would smash some of the crockery. She tried to think how Mademoiselle Cloisette would carry off a situation, but she was thrown out of rôle by the fact that Edward was no longer at his table. He was getting his change at the cashier’s desk. He stepped out ahead of her, holding open the door. She could not retreat, especially as she had an awful feeling the cashier was going to call the manager or somebody to arrest her. Edward had her arm in his. She was too paralyzed with anger to shake loose.
A wave of amusement swept him, leaving him red and gasping.
“Rizzie, what a joy! Not Uncle Jordan? Oh my
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hat! Oh my hat! Oh my hat!” No words would come to Rizzie. “And what a place to take you!” snorted Edward, breathing more easily. “Like Childs, without being childish!” The injustice smote something deep in Rizzie.
With presence of mind she had led him up a side street.
“You beast!” she said. “I hate you! I hate you! Go ’way! Leave me! I— I h—hope I n—never—n—never— see you again!”
“After my standing guard, keeping an eye out for you, all this time?” He tried to make it sound funny, Rizzie could see, but she knew he was sobered. “Look, kiddo—I say, Rizzie—you know, old dear—Rizzie, dear . . .”
“I n—never want to speak to you a— again,” she sobbed. “I hate you! I’d never marry you if—if you were the 1—1—last m—m—m—man on earth!” She swung around and darted away from him. After a little while she wondered if he weren’t following. He wasn’t. She was shaken.
A moon had come up and rode well above the elms; big old houses loomed darkly; there were lighted windows; cars outside doorways; sounds of youth and laughter; the whisper of leaves underfoot. Slowly there stole into her a not unpleasant sense of martyrdom. Sorrow had entered her life. She had renounced a man’s devotion. After all, Mademoiselle Cloisette could hardly have conducted herself better.
Rizzie, on arrival home, returned calmly dispassionate answers to questions from her family, with tragic languor pleaded “headache and fatigue,” and going to her room enjoyed her melancholy solitude.
RIZZIE must have slept, because it was the sunshine of day that awakened
Her lips parted in a contented yawn. It was Saturday, and there was no need for haste. She started to pull up the coverlet, and her clutching fingers stiffened.
There would be no football game for her today! Ed—Edward was cast out of her life. He would probably take Maimie Rodgers. She’d always suspected him of casting traitorous glances that way. And Maimie was a flirt, if
ever. One of those horrible, demure flirts, whose victims to the very end would defend her against such accusation. She pretended a holy reticence, a maidenly reserve, and in reality, as Rizzie could have told them, she was throwing herself at them. Rizzie despised that kind of thing; she wasn’t a bit successful at it herself.
She got up and looked out of the window. A glorious autumn day! Crisp, golden, leaf-scattered, smoke-fragrant day. Perfect for football. And by all odds the biggest game of the year! Yesterday’s interclass match was skim-milk to this cream.
And Edward—with the tickets—was cast out. Only last night she had told him she would never speak to him again, and it was a little early to telephone him yet. Seizing a book from an obscure shelf in the bookcase, she returned to bed. Propping the pillows up behind her, she reached out a hand to the bedside table for Edward’s last box of chocolates, a meagre thing of only a pound, and hard centres rather than creams—she shouldn’t be surprised if that redheaded Rodgers flirt was a hard-centre type—she began to spoil her breakfast with vanilla-flavored sweetness and her eyes with a small close type in a papercovered novel, that once had to be devoured surreptitiously, but now was kept out of sight because it was a little
bit passé, if girl friends called. She
opened the book:
“Reclining luxuriously in the silken comfort of her bed, Mademoiselle Cloisette gave some attention to the events of the night before. That they amused rather than chagrined her, one could see by the faint lidding of her exquisite eyes, after the manner she had when she smiled. She thought of the amorous protestations of Rene with tolerance; but remembrance of Paul’s blundering interference whipped her scorn into activity once more. Paul Daulac!
—so he gave himself airs of dominaation, as if betrothal or even marriage could bind a spirit like hers!
‘Dolt!! she said aloud.
From the dressing room the maid appeared.
‘You called me, Mademoiselle?’
‘No. But yes, Marie; should Monsieur Daulac call, I am not at home to him.’
‘But certainly, Mademoiselle.’ ’!
She bit deeply into another chocolate and sighed. Lying back, she lidded her eyes exquisitely.
Out in the hallway she could hear the housemaid dusting. The door was slightly ajar. She called softly:
A capped head was thrust around her door; a truculent face regarded her uncompromisingly, and the voice of one of the world’s workers regarding a parasite in silken luxury demanded:
“If Mr. Winthrop should phone, Mary,” said Rizzie in an elevated voice, “tell him I am not at home to him.” “My gosh and garters!” said Mary. Rizzie’s mental effort was pronounced. At school French translation had entailed an intensity of preoccupation that was trying in the extreme, but it was nothing to this. “My gosh and garters!” . . . “But certainly, Ma’mselle!” The sound of a dust-broom at work along the hall told her this atmospheric menace had been removed by duty—she could wish it had been by discharge, if not by death.
“Mademoiselle Cloisette lay back again. Her tapering fingers, seizing on the silken fringes of her coverlet, twisted them a little grimly. So, for two sous she would twist Paul from life, uproot him as an unwanted vine. Why should she endure his entwining virtues? She must not be trammelled by him, or by the conventional rigors of her own family. The world might dub her . . .”
A sharp ringing echoed through the house. Rizzie dropped her book. She’d bet that was Edward. Wait until she tamed him with a few well-chosen words ! She’d really refuse to speak to him but for the fact that football tickets were so scarce. Suddenly her jaw dropped. Mary was answering it—in—those—words !
Panic held Rizzie. The sub-moron! Didn’t she know Rizzie hadn’t meant it—really? Didn’t she know there was
a game on today?
Dull footsteps sounded. The truculent head was thrust in again.
“That was yer feller!” said Mary unnecessarily. “I told him what you said.” “Yes,” agreed Rizzie meekly. “W— what did he s—say?”
“He said to tell you, if you felt like that, you needn’t never be at home to him.”
“Oh!” said Rizzie faintly.
“And to tell you, too,” said Mary, “that o’ course the football’s all off today
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then, unless you want to phone him!” Rizzie commanded her voice.
“Very good, Mary. That will do.” “Do,” grinned Mary, “I should think it would!”
She withdrew triumphantly. Rizzie felt sick. That perfect little beast! So she could telephone him? Not—not if death were at the very door for her. She lay back and wished dumbly that it were. Mademoiselle Cloisette had slipped down on the coverlet; Rizzie’s foot under the spreads caused her to rise in her yellowed paper and describe a graceful arc to the floor, where she lay, as Rizzie lay on the bed, shamefully tossed aside and neglected.
VOICE spoke at the door:
“Rizzie, aren’t you getting up for breakfast?”
“Are you sick?”
She said, with sad patience, “For the love of glory, dad, on my only lazy morning, can’t you . . .”
“Oh, all right! All right! Funny business, fine morning like this. Where were you last night?”
“Why didn’t he see you home, then? Sure you were with him all evening?” Her eyes opened in wide innocence. “Dad!”
He was not impressed, the paternal brute !
“You haven’t answered me. Straight now!”
All right, if he would have it; if he was looking for trouble.
“I went to see Uncle Jordan!”
He stared at her.
“Humph! I thought as much. Your mother told me you’d had a letter from him and that he was in town.” She closed her eyes and lay like a sleeping angel waiting for the storm to break. He only said gruffly: “What’s the old boy like, anyway?”
Hot waves ran over her.
“Well—a bit old-fashioned, dad!” “Humph! Flashy fellow, your uncle used to be. One of the bloods even before he went to Paris. No account fellow!” “He made money!” defended Rizzie stoutly.
“Inherited! Rabbit’s feet all over him !”
“Better than crow’s feet,” said Rizzie. “You’ll be sorry,” she said calmly, “when he leaves it all to me!”
“Humph! What’s that on the floor?” “Wh—where?”
“Humph. Yellow-backed stuff. French, eh? Did he lend it to you?”
“Well, it s not the kind of stuff for your age to be feeding on!” ,
Rizzie sighed. Would he never grow up? He flung the thing on a table and stumped out. She could hear his voice downstairs, rumbling among the dining room furniture. Her mother was hearing it all now. One’s mother was useful as a buffer state.
She went over calmly and picked up Mademoiselle Cloisette. Her spirits demanded defiance.
“—nor by the conventional rigors of her own family. The world might dub her a fool, but they would avidly enjoy her as a sensation.
Mademoiselle Cloisette lidded her tranquil eyes and smiled.
T shall do it,’ she murmured to the Pomeranian beside her. ‘And let the world talk !’ She snapped her fingers. T defy them !’ She yawned.
‘It requires,’ she mused, ‘only an unbreakable savoir faire to defeat the silly multitude. If I desired to appear on the streets in extreme décolleté at ten in the morning, leading a pet monkey similarly attired, the natural ridicule of the populace
would last only so long. Regard them as stupid, as dirt beneath one, and in time one becomes the sensation— the toast of the hour!’ ”
Rizzie did not turn the page. She read it again. Here was the philosophy of life she needed. Sufficient savoir faire— and one might become a sensation! In plain English, nerve! Had you that, you had everything. You would be a sensation: the woman who dared! Suppose one—well, suppose, for instance, one dared go to a football match with— with Uncle Jordan . . .
The thought made her dizzy, faint, and a little sickish. But she lay back and repeated:
“Regard them as stupid! As dirt!
The difficulty would be, not to get Uncle Jordan, but the tickets. Edward was unapproachable in the matter. In all likelihood he would presently be telephoning Maimie Rodgers, the red-haired snip! It must be managed. The thing had hold of her now. She saw herself floating on the gracious arm of Uncle Jordan. Watch people stare! They’d be inclined to laugh, maybe, until she swept them with her calm, assured eyes.
Tickets? She snapped her fingers, reached for her dressing-gown, and fled for the upstairs telephone. Jimmy, the moon-faced kid! How one did overlook the obvious! Almost every Saturday he telephoned, quite late, his voice sheepishly enquiring: “I—ah—I say, Rizzie —I—ah—you don’t happen to not be going to the match today? Because I’ve got tickets—and—uh—
He usually arrived in the end with something on his arm that you would pick up at the last minute.
It must be terrible to be inarticulate because a girl telephoned you. Had he by any chance two tickets? Yes? “No, Jimmy dear, not for you and me!” Uncle from Paris in town, simply wild to take him to see the game. “Oh, Jimmy, what a dear you are—you’ll go in the rooters? Thanks, Jimmy, if I see you with the rooters, I’ll wave. You’ll bring them around? And some other time . . .” She hung up, a little breathless. She glanced at her clock. Ten—already!
Eleven, twelve, one, two! Four ho urs; she must in that time run around and book Uncle Jordan, and decide upon what outfit she would wear for the subjection of the stands.
DY TWO O’CLOCK she knew herself L) to be in perfect form for the event. Her clothes were right. A studied effect in black and white; any fool could startle the public with color. The mirror told her that her ensemble was perfect. Her mother, regrettably, told her otherwise.
“Rizzie! Why the costume?
“Scandalous—at your age!”
Rizzie smiled. That was as good as anyone else saying it was a knock-out.
“Rizzie, where are you going in that rig?”
She could have handled her mother, but to have her father thrust in an oar was a rotten break.
“If I were Ed,” said her father, “I should prop you up against a barber’s door and leave you.”
Rizzie was provoked into indiscretion: “I’m not going with Edward.”
She couldn’t help it. If she had given them a whiff of chloroform they couldn’t have been more groggy. Before they came out of it, she had made her getaway. The postman detained her for a dangerous instant, handing her two missives out of the family mail. She thrust the letters into her bag and hurried on in as great haste as dignity and very high
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heels would permit. All the way along people eyed her thrillingly. Uncle Jordan fell in line.
“But exquisite, my dear—exquisite! I am honored!” That was quite a relief from Edward’s everlasting: “You look like a million dollars from the mint, kid !” One could stand only so much.
They took a taxi—at Rizzie’s suggestion. She had intended it from the first, but was confirmed in it when she had him out on the pavement in broad daylight. To protect himself against the exposure to two hours of cold, he had donned a cape. It was no ordinary cape; it was the kind Uncle Jordan would wear. It had not even the benefit of concealing the super-Solomon touches beneath.
An awful feeling invaded Rizzie that she was playing a leading rôle in a nightmare of the kind where you appear in public places privately garbed, but she girded her courage to her. She smiled a little timidly at him. He returned it with an almost leering interest. The cock of his eyebrow was mephistophelian.
Rizzie sniffed. What was that smell? She’d noticed it, but less strongly last night. Maybe he used bay rum for his hair !
They were now jammed in with football-bound traffic. The sounds seemed to excite Uncle Jordan. Once or twice he took off his hat and waved it at the passing young people. “Gay old dog!” thought Rizzie.
A policeman had his hand on the doorhandle. They must get out. Rizzie’s heart stopped beating. Her moment had come. Savoir faire. Savoir faire, to beat the silly multitude.
She helped him out solicitously. She was conscious that a queer awed silence had fallen in her immediate vicinity. It threatened to be broken derisively. She turned and swept the crowd with her eyes, and took Uncle Jordan by the arm.
„“Come, uncle,” she said in a clear, girlish, elevated voice.
They made way. Triumph swept her.
“Hey, how about my fare!”
Rizzie went hot and cold. She glanced at Uncle Jordan. He seemed to be dazed by the crowd. Quickly she went back and paid the man; when she turned, her horror was complete. In the very midst of the milling throng, a space of honor had been accorded to Uncle Jordan. People were crying: “Move on there.
Get on. Hurry up in front!”—but the sight of Uncle Jordan had created a human vacuum in front. A desire either to cry, or to kill somebody, preferably Uncle Jordan, possessed Rizzie. She ran, however, to his defense, fighting through, taking his arm. She swept the crowd again with eyes that said: “Stupid ! Dirt ! Canaille!” Mademoiselle Cloisette had used that word more than once; she wished she dared take it on her lips to them. The pressure of the crowd now, and anticipation of the game, did more to shield her. She was feeling a sense of respite, when a voice smote her ear and unbalanced her:
It was Edward.
rT'HE red-headed, hard-centred chit was with him. Rizzie felt gone inside. She hung on to Uncle Jordan’s arm as the crowd swept them along. It did not, however, offer any escape; behind Edward and the Rogers red-head, she could see Chuck Winters and his girl, and Dolly Rainsford with the better-looking of the Crabbe twins. All her crowd. All, she made no doubt, only feebly repressing the most idiotic grins. At the top of the rise, where the panorama of field and fast-filling stands spread out before them, she curbed a desire to hurry on, now that the press was less terrible. Savoir faire! She waited, smiling in her elevated way, for them to join her.
“Hullo, everybody. Meet my Uncle Jordan! Mr. Jordan Wells, of Paris, France!”
That held them. Uncle Jordan bowed romantically, and they all grinned—a bit sheepishly!
Rizzie moved on, then.
There remained the ordeal of getting him into the stand. She handed the usher the tickets, and followed. People nearby started; people farther away began rising; people still farther on craned their necks. Rizzie felt suddenly the importance of the thing. Mademoiselle Cloisette was right. They might laugh at Uncle Jordan—but not while he had an escort queening it in black and white.
She found the seat, adjusted a rug, then suddenly realized that the whistle was blowing, that the game was on, that even she was secondary.
Uncle Jordan seemed at first to be rather dazed by the game, by the blare of the band, by the vast cheering of the student body, led by a gyroscopic personage with a gift for improvised dancing. Then gradually, a curious change came over him. The pinkish complexion which distinguished him became redder; he joined at times in the popular waves of cheering, got excited over several dashing plays without respect to sides; and a mottled purple had reached out to cover every spot the hair could not conceal. His bibulous nose stood out like a beacon.
Rizzie could give him scant attention. Matters on the field were tense. The score, starting auspiciously for the local pride, had been gradually smothered, and was now overtaken and passed. Pained optimism struggled in the vast sea of faces; then suddenly, a wave of new life came, culminating in a dashing play or two, a brilliant end run—and a touchdown, with the half-time whistle on the very heels of the play.
The stand went wild. The band, rising as one man, fell into rank and started a triumphal procession. The crowd, satiated at last with cheering, subsided. And at that moment Rizzie, staggering back into her seat, was horrified to find the seat beside her deserted.
Uncle Jordan, indeed, was headed down the steps for the field! His hat was crumpled in, his tie had risen like a hangman’s knot, his face was purple with excitement. Rizzie, horrified, could only stare. She tried to close her eyes and pretend it wasn’t so, and that Uncle Jordan, as he descended, was not making the most peculiar gestures of authority to any who chanced to halt his progress. Like the guilty owner, pretending to have no acquaintance with a dog in church, Rizzie sought distraction. She opened her bag and tried coolly to powder her nose. Two letters rose up at her as she crumpled the open bag. One seemed to leap to her notice. A queer, unstable feeling moved through her.
Panicky, she jerked it open.
“My dear Niece:
It is a great disappointment to have to leave town without seeing you after all; almost immediately after I had booked my room for a month’s stay, I received an urgent wire to return. I would have telephoned, but felt it might be considered presumptuous . . .”
The signature at the end fascinated her most: “Affectionately yours, Uncle Jordan.”
Then—that man down there, that awful freak she had announced as Uncle Jordan—who was he? Where was he
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anyway? Rizzie shrank into herself. At the head of the band marched Uncle Jordan. His right hand, upraised, moved in unison with the music. The band leader pranced delightedly beside, Uncle Jordan’s battered gray hat supported on his baton. As the awful procession neared Rizzie’s section, Uncle Jordan signalled them to wheel, to march forward, to halt. The band leader grinning, fell in line with the idea. Uncle Jordan, leading vigorously, saw the piece through to the end, then turned, smiled right up at Rizzie, placed his hand on his heart, and bowed.
Rizzie pretended she didn’t belong, but the gesture was useless. Uncle Jordan was pointing out, patiently, to the band leader, just who the acclaim was for. Eyes behind, eyes to the front, eyes from the sides, focussed on Rizzie. Had they had any doubts, her face would have told them. They included, she knew, the eyes of Chuck Winters and his girl, of Dolly Rainsford and the Crabbe twin, of Edward and the Rodgers redhead, all full of a misguided knowledge of Uncle Jordan.
Rizzie rose and fled.
She was conscious, in a queer oblique way, that Edward had left his seat; if he came near her she would strike him! People stared at her as she hurried on, pushing through the promenading crowd in an area nearer the gates, where stands and bleachers could meet and fraternize. At the gate a voice hailed her.
It was the moon-faced Jimmie. She could have wept on his shoulder. Instead, she said peremptorily:
“Take me home, Jimmy!”
His face became a glowing, beaming orb. His roadster had rarely known her presence. She thanked him at the door, dismissed him somehow, and went in.
SHE was afraid to face her mirror. She tore off the black and white, and slipping into a morning dress, slumped in a chair. Time passed; she stirred. Madame Cloisette greeted her from the table. Rizzie, pale-faced and haggard, stared at her. Then she caught her up, twisted her, flung her on the floor and stamped on her. Through the pale sunlight outside the open window the pungency of blue smoke rose from burning leaves. It seemed to choke her. Her world was in ruins, and that most suggestive of all autumn smells was the final touch. In a moment she would cry her eyes out. Instead she caught up Mademoiselle Cloisette and fled with her to the yard. The itinerant gardener was burning leaves and rubbish. He was raking up at a little distance; Rizzie had the fire to herself. With an awful deliberation she forced herself to tear the yellow pages one by one, crumple them into the faint but pursuing blaze. She would not cry.
A tear dripped down.
She turned on the second call.
“They told me you were out here,” said Edward. “Rizzie—how—how—
come?” His voice was choking, but not with tears. If he laughed she’d throw the core of Madame Cloisette in his face, and go and finish everything off in the bathtub! They’d find her body there with a suitable note.
“I steered the old boy out, Rizzie, and carted him off home to his boardinghouse,” said Edward. “He’s an old country Frenchman; that’s why he goes there, when he comes to town. They tell me he’s an eccentric, incurably romantic, goofy on the ladies! Some old johnnie, what? When he hits town and gets a snort or two, he’s ready for any adventure. It doesn’t take much to excite him then, I guess. But how—how come—Uncle Jordan, Rizzie? Were you really pulling a game on us—or . . .” A faint flicker of life moved in Rizzie. “Everybody on the stands figured it was a half-time stunt, all planned,” said
Edward’s voice, hastily trailing through her beaten mind.
Her heart sank. He was only making it easy. The stands thought that, maybe, but Ed—Edward knew better. She could tell by his face. He was sorry for her, but laughter, repressed, writhed in agony within him.
She faced him.
“I just had a—a—letter from Uncle Jordan. He—he had to leave.”
Now let him laugh!
“I—I thought it was Uncle Jordan. He must have taken Uncle Jordan’s room, that’s all. It wasn’t any game. You know it wasn’t!”
Now let him laugh!
She said: “If you laugh, Edward
Winthrop, I’ll shriek . . .” Two tears ran down one cheek now, and one down another. She was going to make a little fool of herself before him. There seemed to be a whole hot reservoir behind her eyes. There—he had choked his laughter back; he was being sorry for her. She didn’t want anybody to be sorry for her—least of all Ed—Edward Winthrop!
She said: “If you don’t laugh, Edward Winthrop, I’ll never speak . . .”
His mouth gaped. He tried to laugh now, but it had gone wrong.
“Rizzie! Nobody knows it wasn’t a game. All our crowd think you put one over. They want to know who dressed the part. We’ll let them guess!” “Edward Winthrop—is that true?” “Sure it’s true. Only you and I know. And that’s between us, Rizzie.”
“Edward! And not even that 1—little red-headed Rodgers?”
He smiled disloyally for loyalty’s sake. “I told her nothing. Didn’t I have to leave her while I looked after the old war-horse?”
“And you knocked ’em cold with that black and white outfit. Looked like a million dollars from the mint!”
“Don’t—don’t blub, dear!”
“It’s that smoke, Eddie. It—it kind of chokes you. I was burning some— old paper—on the fire!”