LESLIE GORDON BARNARD
An amusing tale of a sexless saxophonist, a lover who left at midnight and a girl who didn't know her own mind
THERE was a restlessness about the night. Kay felt it as she dressed. Fat green buds were tossing just outside in the scented dusk: the wind, however, was soft and warm and its voice a sigh. By the shadows she knew that the moon was already up.
There was a tap at the door. Amarantha said, her devoted black face alive with delight:
“Moh flowahs, Miss Kay.”
Kay opened the box, snatching from among the blooms a card, on the reverse of which she read in characteristic scrawl:
“This had to be done. They beckoned me from a window. The old gag goes with ’em: ‘Wear these for my sake tonight.’ You’re not Mrs. Cinderella yet. Yours: Goo-Goo.”
A little flush burned in Kay’s cheeks. She caught the roses up, sniffing them. Such deep, fragrant red. Dear old Goo-Goo.
“Miss Kay, please! Mistah George is at the doah with de car.”
Amarantha, retiring again, seemed to remove some solidity from the room. Wind stirred the curtains. In a jar rimed with silver moistness, were George’s liliesof-the-valley.
In the car, Kay said:
“Thanks for the flowers, old dear.”
“Right,” said George Bennett, threading his car into traffic. “I hope the lilies are in order tonight.” He glanced down. “Hullo, they put a rase in. I didn’t tell them to do that.”
“I like it,” said Kay quickly.
“So will Goo-Goo," she thought. George mustn’t knowthat. He disliked Goo-Goo. It was Goo-Goo who
had given George the name that, however good-humoredly he endured it, must have annoyed him immensely.
Curiously, the name that had been fastened upon George was the thing that brought them together. She could remember, vividly, that night at the Weston’s. It was her first sight of George. He wras not of their set. Older, of course, or at least more mature. Philippa Weston had dug him out from somewhere. She had exhibited him rather in the nature of a prize. He had a square chin, a serious mouth, and clear eyes that met yours as if he were accustomed to assess people. “As if,” giggled Fanny Rhodes, “he were thinking of hiring you as his stenographer and was mentally figuring out your brain-power.” Essentially a business man.
And then, something pleasing him, he smiled. Kay could still remember the first time she got in the way of that smile. It was like turning on a light inside him Fanny said later: “My dear, have you seen his smile?” They admitted common ground there for a moment of ecstatic jealousy. “My dear,” sighed Fanny, “if he could only be jazzed up a bit!” Later still Fanny said, pretending to snarl, and finding it easy: “Little brute! How did you do it?”
Goo-Goo confirmed this:
“Kay, you’ve got that gloww’orm bottled. I’d be jealous if women were in my line. But you know your Goo-Goo. The sexless saxophonist! On your way, little one. But don’t goad poppa too far.”
CHE saw that Goo-Goo was hurt. You couldn’t help ^ feeling complimented by such injury. Goo-Goo’s life history was a string of romances. When he played the saxophone which he did at every opportunity—his big body swaying, and his fairish hair gleaming and tossing, the least susceptible languished. They sat absorbing him, with eyes soft and melting.
It was close to midnight when the unforgettable thing had happened.
Goo-Goo was busy with his saxophone, making out with Jimmy Finck on a new hit. They were wailing most effectively, Jimmy supplying the words, when i; was observed that Mr. George Bennett had slipped out, had secured his hat and coat, and was saying good night to his hostess. Everybody turned to observe this phenomenon, so much so that Goo-Goo and Jimmy, finding themselves abandoned, deserted their musical calisthenics and gawped along with the rest, and in the silence thus suddenly at hand George Bennett’s voice was heard:
“I’m sorry, but I make it a rule. I never stay anywhere later than twelve. It ruins my work the next day.”
The thing, of course, was staggering. Jimmy looked at Goo-Goo and gave vent to little moans. Nobody had ever heard of such a thing. And then, with a sense perhaps both of outrage and, on the part of the girls, of loss at thought of George’s going, they found their feet and their voices, crowding around, joining theirs to Philippa’s protests.
“What?” they chorused. “Quit at twelve o’clock? Why the party’s just getting steam up.”
And then Goo-Goo made his famous pronouncement:
“Good gosh!” he howled. “He’s Mr. Cinderella!”
Now, for the first time since then, they were going to Philippa Weston’s again. Philippa had been away for most of the two months, being companionable and helpful to an elderly aunt with a travelling complex. It was rather an occasion to be going to Philippa’s again. And it caused Kay to think.
Just two months and a few days, and here she was sitting in George’s car as if she were a permanent part of the furnishings, himself placidly happy and assured in his first mortgage on her time and interest, and nothing to tell anybody otherwise—except Goo-Goo’s rose.
She liked George Bennett. That had started, of course, by her taking his part when the others howled, in echo of Goo-Goo, their chorus of “Mr. Cinderella.” She’d said, taking his part fiercely:
“Shut up, you boobs! He’s the only sensible one of the lot of us. I’ve a notion to call it a night myself. I’ve things to do of some importance to the world tomorrow, and these small-hour festivals leave me like a discarded dish-mop!” And she had smiled at George encouragingly, without the least thought of his saying:
“Well if you’re going now, Miss Dalton, my car’s down there.”
The girls had been furious. Goo-Goo had tried to be funny and lost out. It had taken her three weeks of explaining to convince herself they’d never believe. So, partly in defiance, she continued to put a little fence, deftly constructed, around George, with a sign, “No Trespassing.” It wasn’t to keep George in. He seemed quite ready to stay put. It was to keep others out. She woke up, as it were, to find herself all but engaged to George. She couldn’t very well tell George all the fine points of her position. And she liked him. There were moments when she almost betrayed herself into believing she loved him. Even that first night, in his car, with a sleet storm battering against the windshield, when she had said:
“You know I think it’s perfectly splendid of you— standing up for a principle like that.”
A wonder he hadn’t chucked her out into the sleet for being a prig. But he had said soberly:
“I’ve made it a point right along. Architecture is a jealous mistress.” ,
She’d thought that awfully fine. Most of the boys she knew thought business was something a misanthrope had invented in a sour moment to take the joy from life. Goo-Goo, it is true, picked up pin money joyfully now and again by adding his saxophonic fervors to the cacophony of a jazz orchestra, but his father paid for his car and clothes and food and things like that. Once he’d had Goo-Goo on the family carpet, and put it to his son and heir that there were one or two other ways of being a Big Noise in life besides wailing on a saxophone.
Goo-Goo, so report had it, looked at his father with the sorrowful eyes of a misunderstood artist, removed himself from the room, and was heard making melodic lamentation for an hour afterward in the sun parlor.
Yes, she had thought that, “Architecture is a jealous mistress,” was a thrilling phrase to use. She’d lost a bit of the first fine glow. Several times, with hostesses who djdn’t quite get the point right, George had made himself —and her—look ridiculous with his insistence on the twelve o’clock standard. When she put it to him he said, crisply, cheerfully: “I always make that a condition of acceptance, Kay. It’s an agreement, why should they renege on it?”
It never seemed to occur to the man that a hostess at the moment of invitation is pliable. He’d made Kay feel awfully cheap once or twice. Hostesses looked at Kay as though George were her property, and surely she could do something. She’d tried all right. He was adamant, in a nice way.
Too nice a way. He didn’t even leave slack enough to pick a quarrel.
She liked George, all right. She liked him in spite of his profession. She liked him because of it when he showed her plans of a grey house in native stone, with dormer windows and a curving flagged walk.
“Some day,” he said, eagerly — that quiet, restrained eagerness typical of George — “I want to build like that.
On the heights. With a view for miles three ways.”
She saw herself mistress of such a place, showing guests around, saying, casually: “Yes, we built it for ourselves. My husband’s own design. We rather like it.
And the view—you’ve seen it perhaps?”
'“THE car drew up to the curb. Kay was jerked into the present. She blinked at the lights aglow in all of Philippa’s windows.
Another car drew up ahead, spilling out its human contents in a gay flood. Goo-Goo’s voice was heard in the night. His face appeared at their own car window.
Hail! Hail!” cried Goo-Goo joyfully.
“The gang’s all here!” In a swift undertone he added, winking at her: “Has big Mr.
Cinderella brought his slipper? And will it
spank ’urns little Kay with it if it stays a single minute after twelve?”
Philippa met them at the door of her apartment, greeting people with that gay little air of hers, and smelling faintly of an extravagant foreign perfume she had cheerfully smuggled through the customs.
Her apartment was like Philippa herself; not very large and you thought you saw it all at a glance, but it was always revealing itself in new aspects. Tonight the arrangement of lights lent subtlety. Beyond the immediate rooms was a solarium, influenced by some infiltration of light into a mystic gloom more tangible than darkness. There was a tropical smell of plants and earth in it whose source was not easily discoverable. The windows were wide open to a night full of fragrance, pregnant with spring, lit with a pale moon and the dust of aloof but pervasive stars.
Somebody was playing softly in the gentle light of a restrained piano lamp; a thing typical of Philippa’s choice. A figure of whom Epstein might approve, naked as a Greek athlete, strained forward from a marble base to hold out a ball of light whose main radiance fell on the keys.
Kay, coming from the babble of Philippa’s bedroom, was caught first by this figure and then by the music for which it lent light. She recognized Megan Jones as the player. Kay could see only the back of her head—a pretty nape crowned by brown with an irresistible glint of rust. She forgot, then, everything but the music born of the keys and Megan’s fingers, and pervaded, as it uncannily seemed, by the haunting light bearer on his marble stand.
If Kay could be the gayest of butterflies, she could feel also those emotions which, granted to a butterfly in its faint limits of life, would make it of all created creatures the most tragic. And just now Kay was conscious of the Welsh hills of Megan’s conception and birth; felt and saw the compact beauty of a land of detailed and unfailing loveliness chastened and lent immensity and strength by the wash of the ocean on its coasts and by the rugged power of its hills.
At that instant Megan stopped with a crash of discordant sound.
George said in Kay’s ear: “Oh, here you are!”
He took her arm possessively. She felt suddenly secure and safe, drawn to him by invisible cords. Instantly she snapped them. Probably George, like Megan, would fail if she abandoned herself to him as she had to Megan’s music.
Goo-Goo’s voice came to her:
“Out of the way, women. Room for the sexless saxophonist. Up with the rugs. On with the dance; let joy be unrefined !”
Good old Goo-Goo. He was always the life of the party. She felt with equal suddenness that his was the secret of defeating life. The gay abandon caught her. Jimmy was at the piano and Goo-Goo at the saxophone.
George turned to her half uncertainly. He had the look of a man who refused to dance to Goo-Goo’s piping. Irritation took possession of her. What had George against a dear like Goo-Goo? Kay turned away, saw Freddie Holmestead heading toward Philippa, and gathered him in with a flirt of her head and a flash of her eyes.
“Wanta dance?” asked Freddie under the impression the initiative was his.
“You said it,” breathed Kay.
C^OO-GOO had invented a theme song for the evening.
It had a frank resemblance to something you could hear in the sound-equipped theatre circuits, but the words were Goo-Goo’s own. Goo-Goo said the theme song was one of the great spontaneous expressions of the modern soul. He said it lent a fine unity to any production. He was determined now to lend a fine unity to Philippa’s evening. Nobody objected but the neighbors, who telephoned twice, the first time politely, the second time to know what about it. Goo-Goo said to tell them the Information Booth was closed, and to call first thing in the morning. Philippa, in a voice like honey, got the same idea across but in less imaginative language.
“The idea,” complained Philippa, turning from the instrument. “This place has been like a tomb for over two months.”
"Let her go again, Jimmy," ordered Goo-Goo. “Philippa’s home; we have to make the welcome ring!”
Sometimes Jimmy sang the words; sometimes GooGoo’s saxophone took up the refrain with almost as human an effect. GooGoo was not tied to any musical base. He threaded the floor among the dancers, and, as the mood served him, filched a partner from the arms of another, and saxophone balanced amazingly behind the lady’s back— had his share of the terpsichorean festivities. Thrice he cut in on George Bennett when Kay was his partner, making a great play of smelling the rose that George blissfully thought to be his debt to the florist he patronized. And the third time, Kay, smiling up at him, saw his eyes fixed on something at a distance.
She asked: “Why the concentration, Goo-Goo?”
“The clock is about to strike twelve,” he said. “Will ’ums ’ittle horsies become young rodents again, and it’s nice ’ittle dwess be all wags?” Kay halted him physically and verbally.
“Look here, Goo-Goo,” she threatened him. “I’m not Mrs. Cinderella or any member of that family, and if you pull that stuff again I’ll break your lute over your brainless head!”
And at that moment, George Bennett chose to appear.
"Twelve o’clock, Kay,” he said. “Shall we flit along and leave the intelligentsia to their revels?”
She wished he hadn't smiled at her that way. His eyes were deep-set and dark, and these caverns lit up magically when he smiled. But with his smile was another element. He was waiting, supremely assured, for her to go with him, as if there could be in her not the slightest thought of doing otherwise, of protesting it was childish and stupid to go at such an hour, that to make a fetish of this twelve o’clock business was to nurse an obsession, and that, after all, who was he to tacitly suppose she was at his beck and call? Goo-Goo, slightly withdrawn, was gazing aloft as if entranced with the
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balloons tethered to Philippa’s chandelier.
Suddenly Kay said impulsively but in a small voice:
“I’m not ready to go yet, George.” Goo-Goo’s face was the face of an angel, removed from the affairs of life. But Kay had never felt his presence or mockery more. George said nothing, just looked his surprise, his hurt.
Kay snapped out:
“Oh, run along yourself, George. I’m fed up with this old-maidish twelve o’clock business. Goo-Goo’ll see me home in time for breakfast.”
George’s glance moved to Goo-Goo and back to Kay. He just nodded and moved off. Goo-Goo's glance dropped from the balloons to Kay. Kay said desperately: “For heaven’s sake, play something!” Goo-Goo lifted his instrument in an obliging wail, and the room was filled with the blues he conjured up.
Kay saw George, hatted and coated, taking his farewell in the vestibule. The telephone rang. Philippa excused herself, lifting up the ballet dancer who concealed the instrument and little else. Y ou spoke through the dancer’s mouth. Philippa paused to yell:
“Soft pedal there, Goo-Goo. For the love of life, how can a person hear? Hullo? Hullo? Oh !” After a moment she slammed the receiver, which was the dancer’s arm, on to the trunk.
“Well, what do you know?” she appealed. “Who invented neighbors anyway? If we don’t call it a night, they’ll throw a bomb—via the landlord. And I hate moving. I’m on probation now; the last letter was really nasty. I can’t understand some people, can you?”
Goo-Goo called out:
“Better move us than the furniture. Folks, if we stay here we’ll bust a lease. Squad, dismiss! Kay and I are making a little twosome. I’ve discovered the merriest madhouse in the metropolis, and we’re going to paint it red.”
Kay stared. Then she heard the outer door shut decisively, and knew that George had heard. Something in her gave a queer little drop; then she turned with an acquiescent flirt of her head to GooGoo. Her eyes felt hot; a febrile excitement ran through her. She had a feeling that tonight a thousand restless imps were prodding her, and wherever their impish pitchforks struck she was infected with a namelass desire.
Goo-Goo’s car was outside; orange red with a tasty green stripe, only a runabout but it would hold Goo-Goo, a girl and a saxophone. He headed it eastward, with a snarling rush, into the restless night.
“It’s a hot night, honey,” he chortled. “And most of the speed dicks’ll be in bed.”
SPRING found its way in to them in little gusts. Kay knew what Goo-Goo meant by a hot night. It was his way of saying he was experiencing what she was. Once or twice the rush of sweet-scented moistness made her catch her breath and think of George, but renewed irritation set him at a distance and made her spirit more abandoned to the rush of Goo-Goo’s car and the irresponsibility of Goo-Goo’s chatter.
Out of the night shone the sober lights
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of sedate but unsleeping entities of the city’s life. Less sober, more flashy brilliance, burst upon them and went by. The nose of the car plunged with renewed anticipations into the darker streets beyond; there were more trees in which the restless wind could move.
Presently Kay was pitched forward by the emphasis of the brakes.
“Almost overshot it,” said Goo-Goo. “Only been here once. We’ll park and go in.”
Subdued lights showed in a dim stone building. A commissionaire in uniform halted them.
“This lady with you, sir? Tickets to the left there, cloakrooms right.”
Goo-Goo bought tickets.
“We'll cling to our garments,” he told Kay. “I never trust ’em away from me in these places.”
“Goo-Goo, I’m scared!”
“Aren’t we all?” cried Goo-Goo mockingly.
A large, dim rotunda received them. In a false sunlight, amidst tropical greens, canaries were lured into song. Brightplumaged birds swung on perches in the trees, agitated by a power as artificial as themselves, for they were stuffed, GooGoo said. Equally bright-plumaged ladies with sentimental smirks and hard eyes, regarded Kay and her escort as they passed. Kay felt uncomfortable and hot in a new sense, as if she were under an inimical appraisement.
A huge negro in livery bowed their tickets from them, and produced with a wave of the hand a tiny edition of himself who slid open silently-moving doors. A diamond dazzle made Kay blink and catch her breath. The huge room was lit only by the reflection of cunningly secreted lights on prisms. The effect was that of chipped moonlight, scattered in careless beauty. Around an immense dancing space, like a frozen lake or a mirror, impervious to the click of dancing heels, were tables, festooned into secretiveness by subtly connected lattice, vine covered. On each table bloomed a single flower, whose centre or heart was electric. Waiters hovered, unobstrusively solicitous.
“Moon child,” said Goo-Goo earnestly, “name your dishes.”
Kay picked several indigestibles. “Now,” said Goo-Goo,“ while Big Boy ' rustles the rations, on with the dance.” ( He laid her evening wrap carefully over his own overcoat on a chair in a corner of their bower. “Moon child,” cried GooGoo, “that orchestra’s almost as good as I am. My feet are tickling me.” They circled the dancing space under a shower of chipped moonlight. “What a place,” breathed Goo-Goo. “Pipe the flame coming in the door.”
Kay looked. One of the bright supercilious ladies from the rotunda had just entered, a male escort behind her. Kay saw at first only Goo-Goo’s “flame.” The description was apt. She seemed, in that ; dress, to burn with a brittle, compelling 1 intensity in the colder bluish white that j was predominant in the moonlight. Kay’s eyes followed her as she moved toward a table; and only then fastened on the girl’s escort.
Goo-Goo said it for her. His voice, halfshocked, half-amused, reached her:
“Sweet William!” he gasped. “If it isn’t Mr. Cinderella! So that’s his little; after-midnight racket!”
GOO-GOO could not repress a chortle.
“Oh dear, oh dear,” he moaned, “who can we trust any more? Our little Georgie; our respectable little Georgie. Support me someone.” Kay’s pale face moved before him in entreaty and despair. “Kay,” cried Goo-Goo, “I’m sorry, kiddo. But forget it. Jast forget it. It’s well to find out, isn’t it? Want to go? Or shall we dance it out of our systems?”
Kay nodded, mutely. Her lips threatened her. Goo-Goo, taking another look, swept her into the fierce undulations of a barbaric fox-trot. Kay matched her movements to the perfections of GooGoo’s intricate dancing, but the prismatic moonlight was full of disastrous spectres. And the focal point was Megan Jones, turning from Celtic beauty to crashing discordance. The night had been like that all through; full of a restless beauty that hurt with its magic, full of disillusionments that flung themselves, cruelly barbed, into your heart.
Gyrating madly with Goo-Goo, she caught glimpses of George in his green alcove, buying food for the girl who was a flame. Goo-Goo’s words were unescapable: “His little after-midnight racket.” Could it be that her earlier premonition was correct, that George’s solidity was an j illusion?
Did he come to places like this to buy food for flame girls?
If he had come alone tonight, she might have thought he had followed Goo-Goo and her. She tried to think it. But she saw only flame. Out of her hurt anger flared. Let him go. Let him singe himself at that flame. She’d dance with GooGoo and let everything else go hang! Goo-Goo was wound up now. He was dancing like one possessed.
Goo-Goo finally swung her, breathless, back into the chair at their table.
“Rations,” said Goo-Goo. “Who wants to eat yet?”
“Sit down,” urged Kay. “What are you going to do?”
Goo-Goo regarded her from inspired heights. Then he hauled from under her cloak and his overcoat a black object which, opened, revealed a silver one.
“Smuggled it in,” grinned Goo-Goo. “How about givin’ ’em my theme song, Moon child?”
Kay sprang up to stop him. But Goo! Goo’s eyes were already dreamily vacant.
¡ The saxophone was at his mouth; out of their green bower, into the hum of conversation punctuating the interlude, came the wailing expression of Goo-Goo’s genius.
Kay could only stare. At Goo-Goo, eyes half-closed, lost in his art; at the faces that everywhere turned to focus upon him; at the figures that, two by two, seemed to be called out of their green retreats by the wailing lure wrung by Goo-Goo from his precious instrument. Goo-Goo, breathless, perspiring, made an end. A shattering roar of approval, of applause, of demand, shivered the moonlight.
Goo-Goo bowed professionally and winked at Kay.
“I’m a wow, Moon child! I’m made! I shouldn’t wonder if they offer me—but the public must first be served.”
Raising the saxophone to his lips again, Goo-Goo sent fresh wails of despair into the night, an amazing improvisation of the blues. Kay, looking round, called an urgent warning. In the same moment, Goo-Goo’s saxophone was pushed from his lips, and he found himself staring into a face full of a fierce indignation. The face belonged to the sallow, wiry leader of the outraged orchestra, his body wriggling with suppressed but pregnant protest.
Goo-Goo paled, but waved an arm in humorous disapproval.
“Go ’way!” said Goo-Goo simply. “I don’t want to talk to you. Go ’way and count a hundred in a corner.”
The storm-bent body of the musician moved with suddenness. Goo-Goo’s saxophone was wrenched from him, upraised in two hands, and brought down with a crash on the floor.
Goo-Goo gave a little wailing cry that might almost have come from the maltreated instrument itself; then, with the look of a cub-robbed lioness, leaped forward. His left hand performed a decisive uppercut, which connected with the exact point of his antagonist’s chin, spilling him out on the polished floor. Goo-Goo dusted his hands gently together, picked up his saxophone, caressing it and smiling.
Then suddenly he paled. Kay’s statuesque tension broke with a little cry. From the orchestra stand men came streaming, imprecations on their lips and murder in their eyes.
Somebody from the audience cried: “Leave the kid alone! Serves Antonio right !”
Others took it up. Milling figures began to merge and to break in upon the avengers. Pandemonium broke out. The manager’s voice howled ineffectually above it. A woman screamed, “Police! Police!”
Instantly the lights went out. Kay felt a surge of bodies about, and was carried bruisingly out into the maelstrom. Suddenly she felt herself lifted and used almost as a battering ram to force a passage. She cried out. A voice said in her ear:
“Be quiet, will you!”
She subsided, tears of panic and of anger with difficulty suppressed. But when George spoke like that you did what he said.
There was a certain comfort to George’s shoulder, even if one felt a bit like a sack carried that way, through gloom into the moonlit, star-dusted night, and the sweet smell of spring air. Then Kay remembered anger through comfort, and struggled.
“Be quiet,” said George again. “My car’s quite a piece up. I’ll take you right there.”
“You won’t!” said Kay fiercely. “Go back to your—your flame girl!”
“What?” cried George, making her struggles futile by an amazing strength of arms. “You idiot! They won’t let anyone into that place on a single ticket. Either you take a lady along or you are supplied with one. It’s a pretty graft.” She found herself dumped rather unceremoniously into George’s car. She felt that dignity demanded further struggle, but the seat was so comfortable and safe.
“Now you stay there!” said George imperiously. “I’ve wasted enough time already. I’ve lost two hours sleep, and got a summons for furious driving trying to follow you two young idiots and keep you out of trouble, and I shouldn’t be surprised if my eye will be black for a week. The flame lady gave me a lovely one when she got a half-nelson on me as the lights went out, and I had to push her off to get to you.”
Kay was shaking all over; a process of shivering that was half left-over panic and half ecstasy. And before George’s sternness she felt like a naughty child. She clung to his arm.
“Let go," ordered George. “I’ve got to go, can’t you understand?”
“George!” cried Kay in pathetic appeal. “Where?”
“To rescue the sexless saxophonist,” said George, chuckling. “The world can ill spare its great artists.”
He was gone. Kay, relaxing, suddenly sobbed, letting her tears drip down George’s upholstery.
“It’s safe to marry him,” she sobbed happily. “He’s human, and he’s got a sense of humor.” She banged the insentient upholstery with ecstatic fists. “Do you hear me,” she demanded, “he’s got a sense of humor after all.”