Pride and a Clarinet
A story of swing, of a boy on the way up and a man on the way down — and a girl who loved them both
WOULD THAT be a slip horn you have there?” Henry Whitman ceased the contemplation of his feet and looked up at the bleary individual who stood uncertainly before him. reddish of face and unshaven. The man's eyes were glittering, and his hair was black and mussed.
Henry gaped at him.
“Well,” said the man, “is it?”
“A what?” asked Henry.
"Slip horn—slush pump—trombone. Is it?”
"Well, haul it out of that case and let’s get going,” the man said roughly.
Henry hesitated, for this was a most unusual request, or command, to receive on the open sidewalks from a total stranger. When he had arrived in the city just a short hour ago, his purjxrse had been to find work with a band and to make his living by means of a regular pay cheque—not by the largess of those who would be w illing to dump dimes and nickels out the window to a street player.
The man barked at him again, “Go on. haul it out. Make it quick, and make it good, too. I got to eat soon.”
Henry glanced up the street to his left and saw only one stray pedestrian, plus a nursemaid sitting by a baby carriage. He glanced down the street to his right and saw directly in front of him, and apparently part and parcel of the overbearing man, one girl, very beautiful. In fact she was far and away the most beautiful girl he had ever so much as even imagined.
She was short and tiny and her face was open. Her eyes were brown and, at the moment, worried. She, like the man, had no hat, and her hair was black too.
' She w'as hefting a guitar cast?, and Henry saw, also, that the man had an instrument case. The girl reached her free hand out and plucked the man’s elbow.
"Come on. pop,” she said wearily, mechanically as if she did not expect him to come.
The man turned and snapped at her. “And you get that guitar out, and shut up.”
She shrugged her shoulders and smiled wanly at Henry. Then she bent over and produced her guitar, and the man fetched out a clarinet. Henry watched them and made no move, but when the man turned hard eyes on him, he took out his trombone.
Which was how Henry Whitman, fresh from the country and ambitious of big things, started his musical career in the city.
HENRY’S hot licks were the cause of it all, and particularly one he had let go in the middle of the band concert of the village of Minton. It had all but scorched the grass under the children romping in the park. Also it made the question of Henry’s artistic integrity so acute he had no choice but to leave town.
Henry was just fresh into twenty-three. On the tall side and slightly on the thin side, he had mild blue eyes and red hair that never quite got into place. Likewise, he had within him a musical strain that was pure gutbucket.
He liked to sit beside the radio with his trombone and throw mean notes back at the rattle of a jazz band coming from the loud-speaker. This was very much deplored by his Aunt Agatha, with whom he lived.
“I told your parents,” she would say to him, “that if you were ever left alone and I had your bringing up, I would bring you up the right way. And the right way has nothing to do with that funny music you are trying to play.” When he tried to pester Winthrop Hammond, the leader of the village band, into letting him get off a bit with something really solid, he was put firmly in his place.
"I’ve told you plenty of times we don’t want that nonsense in the band concert, Henry,” he was told very firmly.
So I lenry held his stuff and gave it to them straight until the night of “Chinatown.” Everything was going as always on band concert night, with the musicians sawing away at the tune, the audience in their automobiles grouped around the park, and the children fiddling on the grass. “Chinatown” had been brought to the place where a quiet boom boom was in order, and right in that place a great boop diddly oodle boop ripjxxl from Henry’s trombone. He could not help it. It sort of blew itself out.
The music stopped. Even the children gave over on their romping. Winthrop Hammond turned and snarled at Henry:
“Get off this bandstand. If you can’t play our way, you can’t play with us.”
And then right out clear and loud before the whole community, his Aunt Agatha shrieked. “Henry Whitman, you come right down from there. You have made a disgrace of yourself.”
Which was an overdose of public humiliation for Henry. He rose to his feet and looked out at the automobiles with their w indows reflecting the light from the bandstand, and made them all a speech the purjx>rt of which was that Minton and Mintonians did not know good music when they heard it and for all of him the town and the inhabitants thereof could jump into the West River, and good riddance.
He then took his trombone and went off home to his
Aunt Agatha’s. When she came in and knocked on his door he feigned sleep, because he knew what she would have to say and he did not want to hear it.
Henry faced the dawn reluctantly as he lay in his bed next morning and looked out at the trees of the orchard and heard the uproar of the early birds. The fact that Aunt Agatha had not been able to speak to him last night a fewr hundred words of admonition, only meant that come a little later in the morning she would make up for lost time.
So Henry made his great decision. He got up and dressed, and he packed his fewr things into his suitcase. Then he fished in the back of his bureau drawer, under the paper; t;x>k out his savings from a summer of doing odd jobs—twenty-three dollars—and departed quietly for the railroad station. Clutched in one hand was the suitcase. Clutched in the other was his trombone. Henry was going to where a man with music in him could give of his best, free from criticism by the unknowing.
Three hours on the train gave him plenty of time to figure out where he would go. whom he would see and what he would do. Three hours also gave him time to come to the conclusion that he did not know w here to go, did not know whom to see, and did not know what to do.
The conclusion was made all the sterner when he stepped from the station onto the busy, pushing sidewalks of New York. Henry was frightened. People who bopped into his suitcase, or his music case, or into his own befuddled self, muttered at him and shoved him, and Henry grew more frightened.
Young men at the age of twenty-three do their best under adversity and strangeness, and pretend to themselves that emotion is something that no real man has. But even twenty-three, whether aware of it or not, gives in one way or another to emotion. Henry took the way of leaning against a building and standing all disconsolate, with his eyes fixed solemnly upon the toes of his shoes. The time had come, he told himself, to think. He had a career to get on with.
Actually his thinking was not about a career. It was confined to a certain dull feeling that maybe, and in spite of the artistic limitations, he should never have left Minton at all. Which was where he was stuck when the wavery man burst upon him.
Only this dark intimidating man seemed to brighten a bit when he got his clarinet in his hand. He stroked it gently and unconsciously, and the glitter in his eyes dimmed a bit, and what was more, his wavering seemed to cease.
“Okay boy.” he said almost mildly to Henry standing there with his trombone uncertainly in his hand, “what will it be?”
“I—I—” Henry could not think of what to say.
“Come, come.” the man said. “Name it.”
“ ‘China’—‘Chinatown.’ ” Henry stammered.
The man nodded. “Let her go,” he said.
So Henry put his trombone up. right out there on the city street, and let her go.
He played it straight or sweet, because he was too
bewildered to do anything else and the man was too overpowering for him to want to do anything else. All he could hope was that the tune would be over soon and the man would go away—except that meant the girl would go too.
She was banging away on her guitar, giving a nice even beat for the song, and the man was making “Chinatown” come out of the clarinet very true and clear. When they finished the man said quickly, “Again—and give this time.”
With that he let go. and Henry, as he carried along, had never heard a clarinet do what the clarinet was doing. It played with the tune. It frisked with unexpected rhythms and gave out notes the song did not know' it had.
Henry was entranced. This was what he had come to the city for, and he fell so hard to listening that he forgot to blow', and held his trombone down by his side.
A passer-by came up and held out a quarter. Henry looked at him in amazement.
“Take it,” the girl said quickly, and Henry took it.
More people came up to them and stood listening. The man ended his song and snapped to Henry.
“Get in this.”
Henry got into it. He began on “Chinatown” again, and this time, what with the man and the clarinet and the girl w'hanging away on that brisk rhythm, he was able to do w'hat he had always wanted to do out in public. He dropped in the boodly iddly oops right and left and full of flavor.
Four or five men stood on the sidew'alk w'atching and listening to them, and when the tune was ended the man put his clarinet away from his lips and looked expectantly at them. Nobody moved, nobody put out their hand.
The man snorted. “Two bits—two bits for the best clarinet playing you ever heard in your life.” He paused
and glared. “And what’s more,” he went on, “you ever will hear.” He turned his glare on Henry. “And we give ’em a trombone, too, and still it’s only two bits.” He passed his arm over his brow. “Well, that’s that.”
He broke his clarinet and put it back in the case, and motioned to Henry to do the same with his trombone. The bystanders walked away, one by one. The man who had given the twenty-five cents said sourly:
“And what I got w'as two-bit music,” and he walked off, too.
When their instruments were stored aw'ay the man said to Henry glumly, “Come with us while I get the quarter changed. Ten cents of it is yours.”
“But—” Henry started.
“Shut up,” the man said.
He started down the street to another street with an elevated railroad over it. The girl shrugged her shoulders and trailed after him, and Henry watched her go. Then he followed along. He didn’t know why, but he followed. The girl looked trim and pert as she walked in front of him.
The man turned into a saloon, and the girl went right in after him. Henry hesitated a moment outside the doors. Saloons, he knew, were dangerous places. His Aunt Agatha had always been very insistent on that point.
But he went in. The man was standing at the bar and :he girl was alongside him. The bartender was drawing a glass of beer, and he put it before the man. Alter the quarter had been put across the bar and come back as fifteen cents, the man held out his hand with ten cents in it.
“Here,” he said.
Henry looked at it blankly.
“It’s yours." the girl told him.
Henry shook his head. “I don’t need it. I’ve got about twenty dollars.”
The man w-hirled around. “Dough,” he gasped. “Boy, you lend me five bucks right here and now'. Quick, get it up. I’m good for it. You ask anybody if Ted Malone isn’t good for five bucks any day, any time, anywhere. That is except right now. Just temporary.” His hand reached out, and it was trembling. “Five bucks,” Malone said again, and his voice was almost shaking.
Henry could see him pleading with his eyes, and he sawr the desperation behind the plea. He looked at the girl and he could not tell what was in her eyes. He could not tell whether she was eager, or angry, or ashamed, but he could see that five bucks was a fabulous figure at that moment to her, too.
He reached in his pocket, pulled out his small roll of bills and slipped five one-dollar bills off and held them out. The man reached for them, but the girl reached quicker. She snatched the money from Henry’s hand.
“Don’t give it to him,” she said. “You keep that money. You don’t look as if you had any too much yourself.” She stuffed the dollar bills into Henry’s pocket. “You w-on’t get paid back. He’s never paid anyone back. Beat it, kid, and take the money with you.”
THEN she started to cry. standing there before them.
Henry listened to her, and the bartender listened to her and Malone listened to her, and they just stood unmoving while she sobbed. Then Malone went alongside her and put his arm around her.
“Listen, honey,” he said gently. “Let me have the dough. Let me have just one drink, and then we’ll go get something to eat. I’ll pay the kid back. I’ll get along. You know that. You know Ted Malone can’t stay out of work. Not as long as I blow into that cob stick. You know all that, honey; but we got to have five bucks. We got to eat. You can’t do nothing when you ain’t—”
The girl stopped crying as he talked. She looked him squarely in the eyes and wrenched away from his protecting arm. She blazed in anger.
“Cob stick—cob stick. Who’s going to let you play clarinet anywhere? Nobody. Nobody. With good musicians walking the streets crying for jobs, you think that anybody is going to hire a drunken clarinetist just because he used to have a reputation.” She was almost sobbing from anger now. “You’ll pay the kid back. Yes, sure you will. You’ll take the five and you’ll drink every dollar of it, and I’ll still be hungry and the kid won’t ever have a chance of seeing the dough and you’ll still be talking about Ted Malone, the great clarinetist.”
Malone shook his head. “Please,” he said very low, “don’t talk like that. Don’t talk about your papa out in front of people like that—”
Her eyes still blazed. “What’s my papa got me out in front of people like this for? I’ll tell you why. I'll tell you. It’s because the great Ted Malone has gone so low he can’t even make a living playing in the street. Too much of an artist.”
Henry stepped up to her. “Take the five dollars,” he
said. “You take it.” He held the money out to her. ‘Twish you would,” he added.
She glanced at him, took the money from him.
“Okay,” she said. “Come on—we’ll all eat.”
She put her arm through her father’s and pulled him out of the bar, and she had her other arm through Henry’s as she pulled him. too. They walked a half block and turned into a small counter restaurant that, had some booths along the wall. She pushed the two men into a seat in one of them. Then she went to the counter and gave an order to the man behind it.
They sat. the three of them, all silent until ham and eggs were placed in front of them.
Henry was hungry, but he was only half through his meal when the other two were wiping their plates clean. They watched him as he finished.
“Now,” Malone asked him. “How about you? What’s your name? What about you?”
So Henry told them. When he finished, the girl reached across the table and patted his arm.
“You better get back to the farm, kid,” she said to him. “Even with its punk band and your Aunt what’s-hername. This isn’t the town for musicians. There’s no room for any more. You better go back.”
Henry shook his head, and his chin went out a mere trifle and he said, “I can’t go back now. I have to make good. And I will.”
She smiled at him, and the man put his hand on his shoulder.
“Listen, kid,” he said gently. “You better go back. If I’m down to playing in the street, you ain’t got a chance. That’s the first time I ever done that. The first time, and I wouldn’t have had the nerve if I hadn’t seen you standing there and I thought, okay, if that guy can, I can. So I asked you, only I couldn’t ask you too nice because I was afraid you wouldn’t—and I had to.”
Henry sighed. “If things are the way you say they are, maybe we’ll all have to again.” He hesitated a second. “And why not? It isn’t begging. We play music and people give us money for it, and if that is the only way for us to get money by playing music—why not do it?”
“But—” Malone started, and Agnes cut him off.
“No buts. We’ll do it. As the kid says, why not? It’ll give us coffee and cake money, and we can pay our board over in that place.”
Malone looked at her for a moment, lowered his eyes and nodded.
“Okay,” he said. “If that’s it, that’s it.”
The girl gave him a good big smile. “Come on, pop, cheer up. Everything will be copasetic yet.”
SO A BARG.AIN was struck. Henry moved into the cheap boardinghouse where the Malones lived. The three of them were to pool such money as came their W'ay, and Malone undertook to teach I lenry the nuances of hot trombone playing.
They started off the next afternoon on their first sortie. Malone was silent and mopy.
“We go up the Bronx," lie said. “I won’t play in Manhattan. Somebody might see me. I got my pride to look out for.”
When they left the subway, they walked to a street that was lined with apartment houses and that had a liberal sprinkling of mothers, baby carriages and loiterers along tlie sidew alks.
Malone stopfied in the middle of the block, looked around, took a deep breath and said, “Well, here goes.” They took a quick beat and started off loud, clear and torrid. The people on the block all turned and gazed at them, and then, even louder than they were, a baby started squalling in its carriage. The mother got up and rocked it, but the squall w'ent right on.
When they finished the piece, the mother, large and irate, walked over to Malone and shook His sleeve.
“Please to go away,” she said. “My baby does not like.” Malone gaped at her for a moment, then frowned. “Madam, that's no way to talk,” he said.
He went over to the baby carriage and got down on one knee beside it, and put his clarinet across the foot.
“Say, kid.” he said into the carriage at the red-faced child. “Shut up and get your mind on this.”
Then he put the clarinet to his lips and played “Rock A Bye Baby,” very soft, very low. Slowly the baby ceased its uproar, and when the song was ended, it was gurgling happily.
The mother smiled cheerfully at Malone as hë rose to his feet, and fumbled in her purse for a coin. Malone shook his head.
“Never mind that,” he told her. “If we wake ’em up, wfe make ’em like it.” He turned to Agnes and Henry. “Now that’s settled, let’s get into it again.”
So they started once more. Henry w'atched the mothers as they started rocking the carriages in time to the music, and saw' their shoes go up and down, pop-pop against the sidewalk, in time to the rhythm. The loiterers came alongside of them and looked as if for a little w'hile they had hold of something they liked in life. The children grouped around them staring, and finally began, one by one, to do
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Pride and a Clarinet
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; little dances, and I Ienry blew his trombone ! down at their feet to help them along.
Finally when they moved along for the next concert on another block, they had accomplished a fair exchange of nickels and dimes for their bright music And the w hole block seemed to have cheered up and become more alive. The children were playing a little more happily. The mothers were chattier, and the loiterers gave the impression of being willing to go some place if they could think of any place to go.
Even Malone was quite chippy as they moved away.
“Maybe music was meant for this,” he suggested. “Maybe it will be more fun to play in the street where you can see what music does to people, instead of puffing away in some trap for a lotof bad dancers.”
In fact so chippy did he get that, as the days wore on, he left the drink alone and seemed happy enough to play in the streets. Henry enjoyed playing away on the sidewalks. He liked to watch the people, and he liked to see Agnes standing alongside him plinking away on her guitar, the sun shining in her black hair and her eyes smiling at him, at her father, and at the onlookers.
While they walked between blocks she would tell Henry of the strange life of a girl brought up by Ted Malone, clarinetist. She told him of the cities she had been in, and the people she had met, and it was all new to the boy from the country town of Minton. Just as new as the stories he would tell of a quiet bringing up in a community where the only major problem, year after year, was the old impersonal farm problem of whether it would rain soon, or whether it would stop raining soon.
As the three of them exchanged experiences and viewpoints, Henry came to know the story of Malone. He came to know how Malone had thrived when jazz was the fashion; how when that passed and sweet playing came in he had difficulty getting work; how when swing came along he valued himself too high, and when he was ready to value himself low it was too late and nobody wanted him. His wife had died and left him alone with Agnes.
“That's where the drink came in.” Agnes explained to Henry. “He got afraid and discouraged. He lost his nerve and I guess 1 'm not old enough to pep him up the way mom used. His pride’s hurt."
Which led Henry to talk about his Aunt Agatha and how she had brought him up. and what a stern, but none the less kindly, lady she was.
“I wrote and told her I was in a band—I didn’t say where we played—and I told her that I had met two nice people, and that I am not lonely and for her not to worry about me, because you and Air. Malone have befriended me.”
Malone snorted. “Maybe it’s you who befriended us, boy.”
“Oh, no,” said Henry very sincerely, and Agnes patted him on the arm.
“Pop’s not far off.” she said.
MORNINGS and evenings they would scatter around and look for jobs, but no jobs came their way. Henry talked to every band leader in the city, or so it seemed to him. but he was a new man and nobody wanted him. Even auditions got him nowhere.
As for instance the time Slippy Silvers . leader of a hot group at the Ruby Club, said. “You're okay, kid, but I think I'll get along with somebody I know, somebody I’m sure can play trombone like 1 like it. But give me your address. If anything turns up—”
Which was in effect what they all said. “I’ll land some day, though,” he told I Agnes. ‘T came here to play with a band i —I mean—well, you know what I mean—
‘ and I’ll make it yet. People will be talking
about Henry Whitman, trombonist, before I get through with this city.”
“That they will,” Agnes assured him. “Pop says you have it in you. Pop says you are a great fellow. Pop says—”
Henry interrupted quite abruptly. “And what do you say?” he asked.
“Me? I say sure and more too. I say—” What she .said never got on the record because Malone joined them, and what he said was that he had found nothing that morning.
“I tell ’em,” he went on, “that I ain’t had a drink in a month, and they say what’s a month? And I say a month’s a month, ain’t it? If I can keep off the stuff that long, I can keep off it for as much longer as anyone has the right to ask me. Then I try to get some guys together because I hear there is a new spot opening, and the guys give me the same old business about drink. Great snakes, you might think a guy had no self-control.”
Then one night when Malone was out prowling around talking to his “guys” after a particularly good day, Henry and Agnes dipped into the till and took out enough to go to a cheap movie. It was a pleasant picture about young love and the blossoming of high hopes, and when they left the theatre they had forgotten completely about playing music in the streets to earn enough money for things like board and lodging.
On their way home the automobiles roared steadily past them, the bright red and green traffic lights flickered at them, and around them generally was the purring peace of the city. Which made it natural as they strolled along with Agnes’ arm through his, for Henry to say, “I love you, Agnes. W ill you marry me?”
She giggled a little. “Marry? Us?” “Why not?” he asked. “Could we be any worse off married? Do you love mo. Agnes?”
She gave his arm a squeeze, a nice forthright squeeze, and she said, “I love you, Henry.”
W ith that he put his arms around her and kissed her very quickly, but very surely. A taxi driver leaned out of his cab as he went by, and yelled, “Whee.”
And they yelled “Wheee,” back at him. So they told each other what nice people they were and how things had to turn out all right, because things always turned out all right for people in lové; and by the time they reached home they were sure of the fact that whether things turned this way or that it was all the" same to them.
Let s go up and see if pop is home yet. W e’ll tell him,” Agnes said.
They climbed up three flights of stairs to the topmost story, and went to the rear and smallest room of the story and knocked on the door. There was no answer. Agnes tried the handle and the door opened. The light was on and Pop was there, all right. But Pop had fallen off the wagon.
Clutched in his hand was a clipping from a newspaper. Henry reached down and took it. It was from a Broadway chatter column and a line of it read: “Ted Malone, greatest of all clarinet players, is playing in the streets now.”
That was all.
They lifted him onto the bed, put out the light and went downstairs, dismal and silent. They sat on the stoop and looked out at the traffic—taxi cabs, private cars, people walking slowly home in the late evening.
Agnes sighed, “Poor pop. That’s the end of him, I guess. I guess pride and a clarinet and drink don’t go together.” Henry did not say anything to that, but he did say, “How are we going to take care of him along with ourselves?”
She put her hand on his. “W’e aren’t darling. There isn't going to be any ’us.’ I
can't leave him. I can't marry you now.” Henry gaped at her. “Do you mean to say you aren’t going to marry me? Do you mean to say that you are going to let him spoil your life for you? Can you keep your love to yourself for a man like that?”
She nodded slowly. “He’s my father, Henry.”
The telephone jangled inside the house and they heard the landlady answer it. Then the door opened and she stuck her head out.
“For you, Whitman.” she said.
A quick voice said; “Say, Whitman, our trombone’s got took with appendicitis right between sets. Hurry over here— make it quick. We can’t get anybody else at this time of night. It’s lucky you’re home.”
“Who is this?” asked Henry.
“Slippy Silvers—over at the Ruby House—snap into it.”
THE Ruby House was one of those little places where hot bands play loud bewildered music for people who want to sit and listen and drink a drink. There is no dancing in such places because they are meant for the ear alone and not for the feet. Slippy Silver’s band was built around Slippy’s cornet, an instrument he played in the loud and raucous tradition, always ending his pieces with an attempt to get way up there with a high note like Louis Armstrong, and never quite making it. But he came close enough to convince people that he was by way of being an adept at the art of blowing a hot horn.
He was assisted by a few other young men, all accomplished on their instruments and all gifted in the improvisation known as swing. Henry joined with them without too much of the strain and stuffiness that must needs be with every man new to a band that has been together. A good band mellows with age. But Henry did all right because he had ability and the benefit of sound coaching from Ted Malone, clarinetist—and tops, drunk or sober.
This was what Henry had left Minton for. This was a band that did not mind stray biddlyoodle doops at all, and in fact encouraged them. This was a band that gave a man a solo and then let him do what he wanted with such notes and measures as were at his disposal. All that was asked was that he pay some attention to the tune at hand and that he give over in a reasonable time and let somebody else get a whack at it. Henry felt very fine indeed, because he had found Agnes and success all in one and the same evening.
When the night’s work was over. Slippy said to him, “You’ll do. Get back here tomorrow afternoon at two o’clock for rehearsal. We’ll give you a lot of that.”
, Henry said thanks, and hurried out and back to the boardinghouse. In his mailbox he found a note.
“You cannot carry us both,” it said. “I am taking pop away. Maybe some day we will be back, and maybe if we do come back you will still love me, because I will still love you. Agnes.”
He couldn’t find her nor could he hear any trace of Ted Malone. In the next few days he asked every musician he saw.
“Have you seen Ted Malone around?” he would ask, and the answer would always be:
“Haven’t seen him for weeks. Try the morgue.” Or, “That guy? Wish I had. He owes me ten bucks.” Or, “You’ll never lay eyes on him again. When they go his route they never come back.”
When he wasn’t rehearsing he scoured the town looking for Ted and Agnes on some sidewalk playing away, making a nickel here and a dime there. But he never found them, and the people of the neighborhoods he explored all said they had not seen or heard of a guy with a clarinet and a girl with a guitar.
At night, as he began to fit into the band, he was by way of making a name for himself little by little. Slippy gave him one solo, then two, then three, and finally featured him.
He tried to give himself over to his new life and his growing success, but try as he might he could not get out of his mind and his heart the girl, Agnes, even if she was equipped with a drunken clarinetist. The city, with its blatant attractions, did not ease him much, because Henry, success and all, was still and simply a country boy alone in the city.
Then came a night when a young couple entered the Ruby House and sat at a table in front of Henry. They did not listen to the band much and they did not look at it more than momentarily, for the simple reason that they were listening only to each other.
Henry watched them as the evening wore on, and the more he watched, the more he thought of Agnes. Come times for him to take a solo and ride it out, nothing much issued from his trombone but just routine stuff that almost anybody with a trombone could unload.
“Come on, get into it,” Slippy snapped at him, but into it he could not get, and what was more, he realized, into it he did not want to get.
By the end of the night’s work, Henry had come to the full conclusion that success and the achievement of ambition were all very well, but hardly worth the effort for a man saddled with his particular personal misery. So that very night he gave his notice.
“I’m going home,” he told Slippy. “I don’t like it here.”
With that, Slippy fell into a profusion of protestation and expostulation and even downright pleading, but to no avail. Henry was going home.
“I suppose,” said Slippy, “some dame is at the bottom of this. I wish you’d tell me who it is, so I could get my fingers on the pancake and tell her a few things. But if you must go, well then, go ahead, but make me one promise, Henry.”
“What is that?” asked Henry.
“Promise me that if you ever come back here with that gruntiron of yours, I get first whack at hiring you? Promise me that.”
Henry smiled. “Sure, Slippy, I promise.”
Henry stayed on a few days until Slippy got himself another man, and then he sent his Aunt Agatha a telegram that he was coming home that very night, arriving on the 8.37 and for her not to bother to come to the depot and fetch him. He could still walk. So he collected his few belongings and his trombone, and boarded the train in good time. At least he had the satisfaction of knowing that he was a good trombonist and that he could hold down a job in a good band if he wanted to. Which was, at best, cold comfort.
As the train clickety-clicked along toward Minton and home, the clicketyclick came into his head as AGnesMALone AGnesMALoneAGnesMALone. It gave him a rhythm to fasten his blue thoughts on and to make them swreet, not hot and gay the way he liked to fasten to a rhythm.
The train, in due time, rattled to a stop at Minton, and Henry got off. It was not often the late train stopped, but there was no one at the station to see the sight. He walked slowly up to tow n, a quarter mile away, in the fashion of villages that have failed to grow down to the tracks. As he climbed the hill he could hear music, and he remembered that this was Tuesday, or band concert night. He thought of that last band concert he had helped along and he thought of what had happened in the meantime, and he wished he had stayed at home blowing “Chinatown,” sweet and lowr, the wray folks wanted it.
The music came clearer now, and he could see the bandstand as he reached the top of the hill. Everything was the same. The automobiles grouped around, the children popping* up and down on the grass, the few people sitting on the benches. It was so much the same that the band was even playing “Chinatown—My Chinatown.”
It sounded better than it had early in the year, but then there had been time for the boys to get used to playing out in
public. They had sort of smoothed things out.
The first chorus came to an end, and then there was the bumbly-bumbly business while they felt around for the next chorus. Henry saw somebody stand up for a solo and then—
The best darned clarinet he had ever heard, short of that tootled by Ted Malone, came across the park at him. In fact as he listened, it was better than any clarinet he had ever heard played by Ted Malone, and what was more, it was hot, good round swing. There was something familiar about it, something going into those licks that he knew well, and what was more familiar was the plinky-plinky of a guitar in accompaniment with the rest of the hand.
He ran across to the bandstand and looked up at the player. It was Malone all right, giving out from the soles of his feet up. He looked down at Henry and turned the clarinet at him and played square into his face. And behind him was Agnes.
' I 'HE Y finished the piece, and when they did, Henry galloped up the steps of the stand and just about made the top step as Agnes did. At which point he became so engrossed in looking at her and patting her cheek that he did not have time to marvel that the automobile horns were tooting loudly in appreciation of the city-slicking music.
Then Malone grabbed his hand and he grabbed with a good strong scrunch. His cheeks were filled out and his dark eyes were gay and twinkling, and it was obvious to even a casual observer that here was a man who never touched the stuff.
“How was that, boy?” Malone roared. “I have got them taking it and liking it.
This town's got so if there isn’t a rideman to slip 'em those riffs they won’t come out to listen. And boy, oh, boy, Malone’s the guy to give it to ’em, because Malone’s the guy that taught ’em to like it.”
Then Henry felt his arm plucked, and there at his side was his Aunt Agatha. She gave him a peckish but hearty kiss on the cheek and said, ‘Tm glad you came back, Henry, and we are all glad you sent these friends of yours to visit me. Mr. Malone has taught us a lot about music.”
Henry looked at Agnes. She winked a tiny bit of a wink at him.
“I told your aunt, Henry, that after pop had his nervous breakdown, you recommended we come here to stay for a while. She has been very good to us. And I told pop that you said your aunt was the only woman in the world who could cure him.” “And boy, was she?” Malone bellowed. “Say, listen, Henry. I can weed a garden quicker and faster and cleaner than some guys who have been here all their lives. And what’s more, I ain’t had a—”
Agnes cut him short. “That’s right, pop.” She took Henry’s hand and started down off the bandstand, but Malone grabbed Henry’s other hand and hung on.
“You lovebirds can get at that later,” he said. “Henry is going to give this village a load of ‘Chinatown.’ They’ve learnt to appreciate him.”
And while Henry got off for fair, Agnes sat beside him whanging away on her guitar, and Malone gave him a lift with the clarinet and the members of the Minton band stood around, all silent, and listened in awe.
When he was through, the automobile horns raised such a great din of applause, nobody heard Agnes ask:
“Do you still love me, Henry?”
And no one heard Henry say, “I do.”