Proving once again that a rhapsody by moonlight is not necessarily a joy forever
HER name is Clarissa,” said Barry. "She’s beautiful, mother.” “Clarissa what, dear?” “Clarissa Baumhauser.”
Mrs. Little winced. She was a worshipper of background and family. The very thought of a possible Little-Baumhauser alliance alarmed her. She said :
“Is she-—are they nice people, Barry'?”
“Why, mother!" said Barry. “Of course.”
Mrs. Little made a mental note to look them up at the first opportunity. She could see from the flickering light in Barry’s eyes, as he thought about this winsome Baumhäuser, that no satisfaction on the subject of her lineage could be got from him.
"I’d like awfully to have her over to visit us some time,” said Barry. “She lives just over the Sound at Bar Haven.”
“When would you like to have her come,
"Any old time. How about this weekend?”
“But, Barry, the Parsons’ dance is this week-end. You’ve got to go to that.”
“Í know,” said Barry. “That’s one reason I thought it would be nice to have Clarissa over. 1 think she’d enjoy it.”
What he meant was he thought she’d be impressed by his getting her asked to it.
“I'm sure she would,” said Mrs. Little.
She meant, “Baumhäuser should lx tickled to death to get in on a party at the Parsons.” But she was very fond of this tall young son of hers, and she had always felt she would rather face danger in the flesh than at a distance. She said :
“I’ll write to her mother now, if you like!”
“Oh. will you?" Barry beamed at her. Then he got up from his chair and kissed lier. “I do want you to like her, mother.”
He left the room and went to sit on the lawn. He wanted to be alone, where he could better dream about his meeting with Clarissa at the Bar Haven beach party. He wanted to go over again the sensation of looking at her in the kindly moonlight and kissing her. and to recollect the day that they’d spent together, when he was too far gone to notice that by daylight her eyes were not sapphire but looked like a green desk set. and her hair was not shot with copper lights but dun-colored, and her ivory skin sallow. In his moon blindness he never noticed these things.
WHILE he dreamed on the lawn, Mrs. Little went into the den and sat herself on the arm of her husband’s chair. She said:
“Barry's got it again, dad."
“Oh, my goodness!” said Mr. Little. “I hope she’s white.” “Her name is Baumhauser,” said Mrs. Little. “She’s coming to stay here over next week-end.”
“Baumhauser.” said Mr. Little. “I Iere over the week-end. Moonings around. Calf look in his eyes. House upset. Oh, my!” He rattled his paper and decided it wasn't only the women who suffered when children were brought into the world.
With a heavy heart Mrs. Little took ¡xn in hand. Throughout the remainder of that week Barry lived in a state of constant excitement. At the beach, at the club, at Randall's, in fact, wherever he was and whomever he was with, he sang paeans of praise about Clarissa. He went to three dinner parties. At each of them, whenever a semi-silence fell over the board. Barry could be heard getting off some bon mot that he said Clarissa had uttered or recounting her startlingly trite views on the Deeper Things of Life, or maybe merely saying in response to an anecdote. “By George! You must tell that to Clarissa when she comes. She loves that sort of thing!”
Movie actresses, circuses and prize fighters pay large weekly salaries to glib gentlemen who cry the superexcellence of their patrons to the world far less successfully than Barry press-agented Clarissa. Such was his sincere enthusiasm in his theme that by Friday afternoon she had
become almost a legend in Barton’s Bay. Her witless comments, uttered from the mouth of Barry, seemed to sparkle. Her beauty and charm were accepted without question. The Parsons asked Barry to bring her to their dance. The Straight invited her to their dinner before they met her. She was to be included in a very select young crowd that was dining at the club and then going to Randall’s to dance on Friday.
VWTIILE Barry was laying this red carpet for her across vv the Sound, Clarissa nervously awaited the week-end. She was thrilled at the idea of it, but she was desperately afraid that it would be the end of Barry for her. She had managed to keep him buffaloed for that night and day when he had been at Bar Haven, but common sense told her that in the course of a whole week-end he couldn’t help finding out that at dances people got stuck with her, that pretty girls were apt to take her atout with them for a foil, and that all the beaux she’d ever had could lx counted on the fingers of a man who had got his hand in a mangle.
But the prestige that Mrs. Little’s invitation gave her in Bar Haven kept up her courage. At four o’clock on Friday she boarded the dumpy, rickety ferry that ran across the Sound. At five she walked down the gangplank, suitcase in hand. At five-five she was nestled in the front seat of Barry Little's car, wondering why the two young men and
the girl in the tonneau laughed every time she said anything, and hung over the edge of her seat, and breathed amiably down her neck, and seemed unable to take their eyes off her.
At five-thirty, in the midst of tea at the club, where the group had been augmented by a few more curious potential admirers, it dawned on Clarissa that she possessed the chance of a lifetime. For some reason she was utterly unable to understand these people were making much of her, and she had personally experienced enough of the cruelty of the young to know it wasn't simply because they wanted to be nice.
At the tea. Barry hovered about her with the pleased expression and bearing of an inventor who watchec a crowd admiring his patented article in a shop window. He didn’t mind the attentions the young men bestowed on Clarissa. They were flattering to his judgment, and he knew that in a little while this utterly adorable creature would be confined safely behind the walls of his own house, where he would have her quite to himself. He didn’t even mind Jack Howard kissing her hand when he said good-by to her, and Jack had been the most attentive of all since her arrival.
On the drive home, when they were alone for the first
time since Clarissa came, Barry took her hand. He wasn’t conscious of the fact that, although she allowed him to retain it, no answering pressure was granted him, nor did she seem inclined to talk. He said:
“It’s great having you here, Clarissa. I’ve been planning about it all week. I wanted you to meet my crowd here and my mother.”
“Yes,” said Clarissa. “I want to.”
“I hope you liked those people at tea. Of course, they’re not terribly clever or anything like that, or distinguished at all, really. But they’re a nice crowd.”
From the way he spoke, Clarissa felt he was apologizing for not having the local member of parliament there to meet her. Such was the effect on hei of the adulation of the small multitude at the tea, that she saw nothing unusual about his apologizing to her for introducing her to a group of people whom she had always hoped to meet. She laughed pleasantly.
“Why Barry,” she said, "I thought they were all awfully nice—particularly Jack Howard. He was just sweet to me.” Barry didn’t know that the Howaro millions were as wellknown in Bar Haven as they were .n Barton’s Bay. Coming of well-to-do stock nimself, it had never occurred to him how handsome a background of gleaming gold can make the picture of an ordinarily Attractive voung scion. He spoke again :
"It was wonderful of you to come.”
“I liked coming,” said Clarissa.
They turned in between two grey gateposts and rolled up the broad bluestone drive of the Little place. The bluestone drive was .ike a well-bred, polite river cunning through a park. It wound itself artistically along, and finally curved itself under a huge porte cochère. Clarissa looked pleased. Barry saw the look and beamed His mother heard them coming and went to the hall to welcome them. She, too, saw Clarissa’s look and she
did not beam. Even the fatuous countenance of her beloved son did not make her beam.
“Mother,” said Barry, gracefully holding open the door for the deified lady to step out of the car. “this is Clarissa.”
"How do you do. Miss Baumhäuser,” said Mrs. Little. The name, somehow, the way she said it. didn’t sound as sibilant and liquidly suggestive of loveliness as Barry had been pretending to himself it did.
“Oh, Mrs. Little !” said Clarissa. “It was so sweet of you to want me for this week-end!”
Mrs. Little couldn’t say, “My heavens, / didn’t want you. Miss Baumhauser,” and that was all she could think of. so she contented herself with smiling and saying nothing. The procession filed into the vast living room.
Here Clarissa was presented to Mr. Little, and the four of them sat about for a while until it should be time for Clarissa and Barry to dress for the dinner at the club. Mrs. Little had been anxious that there should be such a period of idle sitting about in the family circle. She wanted to see how Clarissa stacked up in it; whether her being there made the conversation strange, or whether they would all joke and laugh and be happy and natural together.
Barry, as it turned out, did most of the talking. Mr. Little eyed Clarissa and ventured a comment or two about Bar Haven, and threw in an anecdote that went so far over her head that he gave up. Mrs. Little tried hard to engage her in talk about plays, books and music, but without success. The conversation was strained almost to the point of awkwardness, and even Barry was glad when it came time for dressing. It puzzled him that here in his own home Clarissa didn’t seem quite as wonderful as she had, say, at the club.
While he was dressing he pondered it. He decided it was his mother’s antipathy, or natural womanly jealousy toward any girl who might take him away from home, that was responsible for this feeling. When he met Clarissa half an hour later at the head of the stairs, with her face made up to go with her evening gown, which improved her customarily lustreless complexion, and her hair which no 'onger was dun now that the electric lights shone on it, the vague haunting feeling of depression passed from him like a cloak of darkness.
The word was wrung from him. One’s flame always seems so infinitely more desirable in evening clothes—possibly because fashion demands that they be more revealingly intimate. She stood for a moment smiling at him. His heart wilted anew and his eyes grew ovine. He took a halting step forward, bent and kissed her.
“No, don’t Barry !” said Clarissa. “You’ll muss me.”
Mrs. Little, passing through the hall on her way to dinner, heard and shuddered. Mr.
Little leaned over and whispered in her ear:
“If she were in love with him she’d want to be mussed.”
"You wanted to be,” said Mr. Little.
'“THE drive to the club through the daylight -*■ saving sunlight was pleasant, and Clarissa Allowed Barry to hold her hand. When they urned the corner on to the shore road, and he magic of the sunset faced them, she said: ‘Oh, Barry, it’s like a lovely picture, isn’t t?”
At the club. Jack Howard, who was giving the dinner in Clarissa’s honor, was at the door to receive them. When Clarissa w-ent up to the dressing room to prink, he said to Barry: “She’s wonderful, old boy!”
Barry glowed and thought hard about that kiss at che head of the stairs.
“I told you she was.”
“You didn’t say half enough,” said Jack. “How long is she going to stay?”
Jack Howard seemed to be thinking out loud. He said: “Today’s Friday—Saturday—Sunday.”
“I’m running her back in the boat Sunday afternoon.” “Oh,” said Jack.
Clarissa came down and they went, into the big lounge, where the five others who were to make up the party were already waiting. There was a silence as they entered, as though the conversation had been abruptly cut off because of their entrance. Clarissa, with the assured air of a musical comedy heroine whose popularity has been guaranteed by the author, waved a greeting. One half expected to hear the opening chord of, “Summer Skies—Reprise. Clarissa and Girls.”
Had it been a musical comedy, the star might have suggested to the director that the girls could be a little more enthusiastic in their greeting, but there was no denying the effectiveness of the entrance on the waiting males. It was, after all, what they were waiting for.
The dinner passed off pleasantly. Clarissa was, of course on Howard’s right and Barry was next to her. Later at Randall’s, which is called a roadhouse because it is in the country, the same order of seating maintained. Barry watched Clarissa dancing with the others. It gave him a pleasant feeling. He felt that she knew that he was responsible for her being entertained this way, and that the better time she had, the higher hè would rise in her opinion. He was grateful to Jack Howard for giving the party and for rushing Clarissa. He had asked Jack to help him see that she had a good time at Barton’s Bay. Barry only danced with Clarissa twice the whole evening, and then, because he was in love with her, they didn’t really dance but just stood around shuffling their feet and
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talking like people in a marathon dance contest. At two o’clock the party broke up and made its way to its various cars.
Barry, as soon as they got out of Randall’s driveway, headed for the beach. He had ideas about sitting on the sand and watching the moon come up and holding Clarissa quite close to him and pretending again that they were shipwrecked on a desert island, the way they had at the beach party. He drove a little way and slipped his arm around her. She pulled away and said :
Barry looked at her, surprised. A minute or two later she said:
“Is this the way home, Barry?”
He laughed. “Why go home,” he said, “when there’s a beach, and a moon and water for it to shine on?”
“I—I’d rather go home, Barry, if you don’t mind.”
Barry looked at her again, his brow wrinkled now in a worried frown like a police dog’s. With an angry gesture he skidded the car around a corner and headed back. He didn’t try to put his arm around her again.
“Look here, Clarissa, what have I done?” “You haven’t done anything. I just don’t feel like necking.”
Barry flushed and put on more speed. He didn’t like her to use that word, personally. Pie didn’t mind the word as applied to other people, but it seemed to make things coarse when applied to them.
“I mean why are you so—cold?”
“Yes, cold. Why, anyone would think there wasn’t ar understanding between us.” “'Would they?”
“Yes, they would. Aren’t you having a good time here?”
Clarissa laughed. The laugh sounded out of place and rasped on Barry’s nerves. She said:
“Yes, I’m having a swell time.”
Barry said: “Look here, don’t you care anything about me at all?”
“Oh, Barry, let’s not fight.”
“I’m not fighting. You’ve made me unhappy, that’s all.”
Barry realized then that he was stepping out of character. He liked to think of himself ahvays as the strong man, the conqueror who handled women with the careless expertness of a hot-rivet catcher. He pulled himself up short.
“I’m sorry, Clarissa,” he said. “I—I
forgot. You’re tired, of course. It was rotten of me to pick on you and try and keep you out.”
Barry was being sweet. When he was sweet he was almost irresistible. Clarissa put her hand over his—they were just turning into the Little drive—and said: “You’re a dear, Barry.”
He kissed her good night outside the door of her room, and promptly swooned off again into the dreamy haze he’d been in since the night of their first meeting.
The haze hung about Barry through the night and well into the morning until, just as he was finishing his eggs, the telephone rang. “Hello, that you, Barry? This is Jack.” “flello, old boy. Nice party last night, thanks.”
“ ’Sail right. Listen, is Clarissa there?” This wasn’t so good. All very well for Jack to help him give her a nice time, but there was a limit.
“She’s still in bed,” he said. He lingered over the sentence. It gave him a thrill to be able to say it.
“Oh,” said Jack. “Listen, Barry. I was wondering if she’d like to fly this afternoon —do you know?”
“I thought your ship was busted.”
“I got it fixed,” said Jack.
Barry thought. He knew that Clarissa’s friends in Bar Plaven had no winged horses to command. He could tell her he’d arranged for Jack to take her up. It would probably make a tremendous hit. He said :
“Sure, Jack. I’ll bring her over to the field after lunch.”
“Swell,” said Jack.
“Thanks again for last night.”
“Don’t mention it,” said Jack. “G’by.” After this, Barry paced the living room, with a frightful sense of time wasted that could never be regained, waiting for Clarissa to appear. At twelve she woke up and had breakfast in bed. At a quarter to two she arrived downstairs for a one-thirty lunch. It did not endear her to Mrs. Little.
Barry greeted her enthusiastically, so Mrs. Little’s disapproval passed over her. He said:
“I’ve arranged for Jack to take you up in his plane this afternoon. Thought you might enjoy it.”
“Did you?” said Clarissa. It was the best she could do in the way of daytime repartee.
Mr. Little laughed. Barry scowled at him. Luncheon was not a delightful meal. In fact, it was with a sense of escape that Barry stowed Clarissa in his little car and headed for the flying field. She didn’t seem to get on too well with the family. Barry wondered about it.
At the flying field, Jack was already waiting, goggled and suited, with his ship out on the line warming itself up. He had an extra helmet in his hand and gave it to Clarissa. Barry said:
“You look like a diver, Jack.”
Jack laughed and buttoned the flap of a helmet under Clarissa’s chin. Then he helped her into the plane, roared the motor for a second, waved his hand to his mechanic. The chocks were snapped from before the wheels, and with a spraying of dust and a thunderous racket the ship moved off. Presently it was a speck in the distant blue, and then Barry, watching his angel disappearing into the proper sphere of angels, could see’ it no more. He went into the clubhouse at the edge of the field, sat down and ordered himself a bottle of soda which he charged to Jack.
An hour passed. Two more bottles of soda passed with it. Some of the young crowd came into the clubhouse and saw Barry and made wisecracks about his being a sky widower. Another hour passed, and he began to worry and picture to himself the plane lying wfith its wings crushed and its nose buried in the soft earth, and its occupants very, very dead.
He was in the middle of one of these vivid imaginings when the red and gold plane slid down out of the sky and taxied up to the clubhouse. Barry rushed outside, and in his thoughtlessness just missed sudden decapitation from the whirling propeller. He saw Clarissa’s face, flushed, happy, excited. Her eyes, normally dull, were sparkling. He wondered why, then he remembered Jack’s saying that flying always made girls look like that. He remembered it because after he’d said that Jack had christened his plane Belladonna.
He said: “Judas, Clarissa, where did you go? I was worried sick about you.”
“We went—a long way,” she said. Then, in her little moment of triumph, all the cruelty that she had ever known from young men who left her flat at dances and made her feel her plainness, did something to her. She looked down into Barry’s adoring eyes and said:
“I didn’t want to come back at all. Jack said we had to come back to tell you.”
“Tell me?” said Barry. He had the premonition of a horror that he wanted to hear and didn’t want to hear. “Tell me what?”
“That we were married—”
“I’m sorry, Barry,” said Jack. “I’m awfully sorry—honestly, old boy—but we just couldn’t help it.”
For a small second Barry forgot himself. His face worked up and down and his mouth trembled. He hoped he wasn’t going to cry. Then he got control and looked up at the two faces hanging over the side of the ship.
“Oh, yeah!” he said, and walked off to where his little car, like a patient friend, awaited him.
HE TOLD his mother about it when he got home, and she told his father, and I his father gave him a drink which, since it i was the first time this had ever happened, went a long way toward restoring him. Then, too, it warmed him up and made him feel romantically gloomy, in a pleasant, mellow way. When he went upstairs, Mr. Little turned to his wife. He said: “Barry’s chosen his profession.”
Mrs. Little was torn between joy at her
son’s bereavement and grief over his sorrow.
“You mean,” she said, “a matrimonial agent?”
“No; press agent.”
Upstairs the “press agent” was telephoning Elinor Smith and asking if he could stop for her and take lier to the Straights’ dinner party. Young men, like babies, fall hard and often. But their bones are soft; they don’t break easily.