An altogether charming story of the sorrows and horrors of clarinet tooting and the trials and triumphs of adolescent love
FREDERIC F. VAN de WATER
MRS. HENRY HODGES flinched as she opened her son’s bedroom door and the unpent tumult rolled over her to fill the dwelling. In the living room below, Eunice Maxwell and Stephen Ware gasped and momentarily suspended their dispute. The uproar invaded the chamber where Henry Hodges lay late abed. He writhed and muttered. His tone was prayerful, yet he spoke no orison even though many of the words he used were hallowed.
“Sinclair,” Mrs. Hodges cried through dissonance that resembled a musical hog killing, “stop. Stop this instant.” Her only child was perched cross-legged upon his bed, in the immensely angular attitude of sixteen. He lowered his clarinet, and half the strident racket ceased. Griselda Ware, sitting beside the portable phonograph, observed Mrs. Hodges’ expression and hastily lifted the needle from the record. The intruder found herself needlessly shouting in sudden silence.
“Can’t you find—” she vociferated, gulped and pursued in a more moderate tone: “Can’t you find something less —awful to do?”
Sinclair’s sigh was a blighting comment on adult perversity. He answered in the tone of one whom the world chronically misjudged:
“I was only showing Grisly how to swing ‘Hot Squat.’ ” “He’s swell,” Griselda blurted. She was a thin, grave child who looked less than her fifteen years. The unscrupulous admiration in her grey eyes irked Mrs. Hodges, who spoke crisply to her son.
“Your father was trying to sleep, and Eunice has a guest downstairs. Really, you might be more considerate.” Sinclair sat straighter at mention of his cousin’s name. “A guest? Stephen Ware again, I’ll bet. That darned ham.”
He glared at Griselda as though she treacherously had smuggled her young uncle into the house. Ten years of intimacy had inured the girl to such injustice. She said calmly:
“He is not a ham, either. He’s a good actor.”
“Clarry!” The disputants looked up into Mrs. Hodges’ disapproving face with honest surprise. The woman regarded her gawky son and the unformed girl uncertainly. The solidarity that underlay their perpetual bickerings was a constant bewilderment to her. She said at last: “That isn’t a—a pleasant way to speak.”
Her husband called her, and she retreated, almost gratefully.
Mr. Hodges accepted from his wife with a martyred air the shirt that he had been unable to find. He said as he struggled into it:
“I’m getting old, Helen—old and feeble-minded. Oh, yes, I am. Otherwise, I never would have given my son that blasted clarinet in the first place. The world isn’t so filled with peace, anyway, that a sane man goes deliberately out of his way to destroy it.”
“He didn’t mean to disturb you. Really he didn’t,” she defended.
“I don’t think,” he said in a feeble voice, “that I dare argue until I’ve had my breakfast.”
He moved toward the door.
“Henry,” she cried. “You can’t go downstairs like that. Stephen Ware is with Eunice in the living room.”
“Oh,” he said, and swallowed loudly. “Oh, I see. Just another holiday blessing, eh? Doesn’t he ever go home?” “Henry. Hush. They’ll hear you.”
“Let ’em,” he retorted, but nevertheless he lowered his voice. Its hushed tone made his utterance additionally poisonous.
“I’m a greatly blessed man, Helen. I am indeed. A son who blows what brains he has into a clarinet, and your niece and her young man underfoot day and night.”
“Henry,” his wife begged, “be reasonable. You urged me to invite Eunice here for a month. You know you did. She’s leaving next week.”
He did not seem to hear, but continued to mutter to himself while he stood before his bureau and furiously brushed his hair. Neither he nor his wife realized how closely, though secretly, linked were his chief current afflictions—his son’s abhorrent tootling and the presence in the household of pretty Eunice Maxwell.
SINCLAIR disentangled his legs, got off the bed and laid down his clarinet with a loud sigh. Obscurely, the knowledge that young Ware again was distracting Eunice’s attention made relinquishment easier. The passion and the vigor of the boy’s recent phonograph-accompanied performance had been, actually, oblique wooing of a lady some seven years older than he.
Mrs. Hodges’ niece was lavishly supplied with the predatory equipment of a marriageable young womanalluring face and figure, fair raiment and a provocative manner. She had overwhelmed Sinclair, who had been familiar only with the green and insipid charms of his contemporaries. She might have become conscious of his rapt surrender had she not been so immensely occupied with the subjugation of Stephen Ware, a personable young man with a dramatic school diploma and no other material assets.
Eunice’s presence in the Hodges’ home was adventure and progressive mania for Sinclair. He worshipped ardently, yet from afar. Tongue-tied and clumsy in her presence, he strove to make himself worthier of her notice by furious addiction to his clarinet, celebrating her perfection with what, to his ears, were sweet and seemly sounds. So shy is adolescence, so destitute of technique, that he and he alone was conscious of the scope and temperature of his passion.
Even Griselda, ancient playmate and current intimate, who regarded him with a difficult combination of servitude and proprietorship, was not wholly aware of his affliction. She knew only that her comrade was definitely abnormal She watched him soberly now as he laid the clarinet aside. “You mad at me about something, Clarry?” she asked. “Mad? What for?”
“I don’t know. You act funny, sort of.”
He feared lest her gravely observant eyes discover his cherished secret. She had become through years of study the world’s leading authority on Sinclair Hodges.
“I’m glad you aren’t,” she said at last. “I sort of wondered.”
He grunted and prowled restlessly about the room. She spoke explosively, suddenly releasing a question she had tried for an hour to utter.
“You going to the country club party tonight?” Knowledge that Griselda’s young uncle was squiring Eunice thither embittered Sinclair’s voice.
“I am like fun. I wouldn’t be found dead there.”
“Oh.” she said, and became so silent that he asked: “You goin’?”
“No. Mother says I’m too young, and besides I’m goin’
with her and daddy to Bannertown this afternoon for dinner with Aunt Lucy, unless—”
She left the sentence dangling so obviously that he prodded :
Her eyes were eager; her voice anxious. “Mother says I could go on a canoe picnic up the river, if you wanted to, instead of to Bannertown. How about it, Clarry?”
He scowled at her.
“I’d fix us a swell supper. I’d put it up myself,” she told him.
“I guess I can,” he said ungraciously at last.
“Hot dog.” For an instant glee made her face almost pretty. “That’s swell. We’ll have fun, eh, Clarry?”
She stood up, faintly abashed by her own enthusiasm. He continued to glower. The slight person in the rumpled blue dress and the atrociously twisted stockings did not seem to belong to the sex of which Eunice Maxwell was the crowning jewel. Griselda said hastily, as though she feared her associate might change his mind:
“Five o’clock, eh? Okay, Clarry G’by now.”
She clattered from the room and down the stairs. He brooded over the project in which she had enlisted him and found some merit in it. A picnic with her would be better than a lonely vigil at home while the detested Stephen Ware revelled at the country club with Eunice.
Thwarted passion, welling up in Sinclair, found utterance in a low moan. He reached for his appeasing clarinet. Its sound invaded the living room. Had he himself entered as invisibly at that moment, he might have been less downhearted. The quarrel between Eunice and her suitor had reached apogee.
C TEPHEN WARE stood up. He was a dark and polished ^ young man who now considered his beloved with what dramatic training told him was the proper air of righteous indignation. He asked:
“Are you trying to be unpleasant?”
The girl’s fair face was flushed. Her laughter was mirthless and light.
“It’s no effort—none at all, I assure you. Do you expect me to thank you for — for discarding me at the last minute?”
He kept his pose, but his voice shook.
“I’ve explained to you seven times that Waterman has telegraphed and that I’ve got to see him.”
Anger, heightening her color, turning her blue eyes still more brilliant, made her unendurably lovely. Upstairs, Sinclair’s clarinet uttered a mocking squawk.
“What you need,” Stephen Ware said with pent vehemence, “is a spanking.”
She caught her breath and favored him with a bleak smile.
“Always the courteous gentleman, aren’t you?”
The clarinet’s unsure voice slid from one note to a still more atrocious.
“Just tell me this,” Ware begged, holding fast to himself. “Do you want me to ignore Waterman’s wire and stay here? Is that it?”
“I don’t flatter myself that you’re at all interested in
what I want. You could see Waterman tomorrow, and you know it!”
Ware blinked as Sinclair’s safety valve released a lacerating and piggish squeal.
“I could—and probably lose the engagement.” ‘
“You had an engagement with me for tonight—or maybe I was mistaken.”
The clarinet bleated like an insane sheep. Ware ran his hands through thick dark hair with an eloquent, if unplanned gesture. His voice, incautiously released, had some of the sour stridency of the ghastly instrument upstairs.
“I keep telling you that I’ll try to see Waterman and get back here in time. I’ll phone, anyway.”
His anguish pleased Eunice. She said lightly:
“I see. I’m just to sit here and wait for you, ignoring all the other invitations I’ve had.”
That stung him. He demanded: “Other invitations? Prom whom?”
“Oh, I shan’t tell you.”
“Very well,” said Stephen Ware in an odd voice. She was startled to see how wholly angry he had become. “Very well, I advise you to accept one of them then. I don’t want to interfere with your pleasure. You’ve shown me how important that is to you.”’
He wheeled and strode quickly toward the door. Whatever satisfaction his exit line might have afforded was curdled by a flatulent blast of derision from the clarinet. This ceased abruptly. Ware slammed the portal behind him.
“Steve,” the girl called in an alarmed voice. She ran to the front door. He was halfway to the neighboring Ware dwelling by the time she reached the porch steps. He walked with furious, lunging strides, and though she called again, he did not check his pace nor turn his head. Eunice went slowly back into the house. There was dismay within her that anger could not quite abolish. In the upstairs hall, voices clashed. The girl fled from them, through the kitchen and the vegetable garden toward solitude offered by the line of trees along the distant river bank.
Sinclair, siphoning woe from a curdled spirit through his clarinet, looked up and saw in his doorway not the object of his hopeless passion, but a somewhat dishevelled and undeniably frantic middle-aged man. Twice Mr. Hodges started to speak, and twice he swallowed loudly before he asked :
His words’ baleful mildness awed his son.
“What, sir?” he faltered. There was a dangerous glitter in the paternal eye.
“Must you,” Mr. Hodges enquired, “keepon at whatever it is you think you’re doing—poisoning the atmosphere; wrecking a home; ruining a so-called holiday?"
“Gee gosh, dad,” the son protested, “I was just practicing.”
“I wondered,” his father said bleakly. Sinclair summoned a shaky defense.
“If 1 don’t practice I won’t ever get to be any good.”
“That, in itself, isn’t a bad idea. Now listen to me.” For an instant, the man’s emotions threatened to overwhelm him. He gulped before he pursued;
“Don’t blow that devilish thing in the house again today. Don’t blow it anywhere near the house. Is that, clear? I've suffered more than enough already for giving it to you. If you’ve really become an addict and can’t live without making such sounds, go far away somewhere. Go down by the river. Practice there, if you must. Fish, I believe, are deaf.”
His passionate speech, the intemperate gestures that accompanied it, warned Sinclair of further argument’s vanity.
“Yessir,” he said huskily.
MR. HODGES went away. His son, after a little, wandered downstairs. His air was ostensibly careless. He even hummed a little tune, but actually no bloodhound ever was more dedicated. The living room was empty, and Sinclair's heart sank. It went still lower when he failed to find Eunice in the dining room, kitchen, on the porch, or in the guest chamber upstairs. Clearly, she and Stephen Ware had gone somewhere together. Sinclair’s spirit filled with familiar but more than normally unbearable anguish. Automatically, he picked up his clarinet and recalled his father’s warning just in time. Memory thereof sent him trudging moodily through the backyard and down to the river bank with the instrument of solace under one arm.
Sun dwelt pleasantly upon the stream, and swallows wheeled and dipped over its placid flow. Sinclair ignored the combination icehouse and summerhouse where a hammock hung, and cast himself down in a willow’s shade. The nœntide’s fairness, the calm solitude, increased his distress. He fingered the clarinet, placed it to his lips and relieved his soul with an excruciating blast.
“Goodness!” a voice cried close at hand. He stared stupidly at the summerhouse and Eunice, who now sat upright and alarmed in the hammock.
“Oh,” she said. “Oh. I didn’t know what it was.”
He scrambled up and invaded the summerhouse in ungainly haste.
“Hello,” he said inanely, and added, “What’s the matter. Eunice?”
She turned her tear-stained face away quickly and dabbed at it with a handkerchief.
“Oh, nothing,” she said in a falsely light voice. “I’m just a little fool,
“You’re not,” he blurted. “You’re swell. You’re—”
His clumsy fervor touched her. She smiled up at him and squeezed his hand. He blinked and gasped. She needed sorely at the moment someone’s, anyone’s, flattering worship.
She told him; “You’re a sweet lad,
Clarry,” and for an instant he strangled.
“You’re—the tops,” he answered at last. “Is there anything I can do, Eunice?”
She shook her head and patted the hammock space beside her. “Sit down and talk to me. This is just one of the days when everything goes wrong.”
He sat, but immense internal disorganization kept him from speech. Eunice considered his gawky figure, his still oversize hands and feet, his humbly adoring face, for a long instant while she weighed a sudden half-vindictive thought.
Sinclair’s obvious partisanship soothed her. Though she had wept over her quarrel with Ware, she still was not wholly penitent. Steve should pay for the distress he had caused her. Steve must never think that she had stayed away from the country club because he had not squired her. Eunice made up her mind.
“What are you doing this evening, Clarry?”
He shrugged. “Nothin’ much. Guess maybe I’ll go canoeing with Grisly.”
“Oh,” she said, and he asked:
“Why? Is there anything—”
“Steve,” Eunice said in a carefully indifferent voice, “was going to take me to the club party tonight, but he’s had to go to town instead. I just thought you might care to go with me in his place, but—”
“Gee,” Sinclair gasped. “Gee gosh !”
He could say no more. The incredible proposal scattered his senses. He could only gape at his cousin.
His rapture was so intense that it troubled Eunice. Perhaps it wasn’t fair to use so guileless an instrument for reprisal; perhaps after all, Steve might, come back in time, contrite and appealing. Eunice said:
“It was just an idea, Clarry. Steve may phone from the city. Then I’ll go with him because—well, I promised.” Sinclair’s spirit had soared tœ far for any difficulty to oppress it now. In his exaltation, her objections seemed inconsiderable trifles.
“Sure,” he babbled. “I won’t mind if he does. That’ll be all right.”
“But there’s your date. Griselda.”
“Shucks, I can call that off. I was just going because I hadn’t anything else to do.”
So complete was his intoxication he was not even conscious of his perfidy. Eunice rose from beside him.
“Let’s go,” she suggested, “and talk it over with Aunt Helen and Uncle Henry.”
SINCLAIR’S ecstatic stupor continued to envelop him during the subsequent family caucus. He, physically, was present but took no part in the debate, so sure was he of its result. Nothing so tremendous and uplifting as this prospect could be offered and still not come to pass. He heard his parents’ final and favorable judgment, almost indifferently. It had been bound to happen. He was to be Eunice’s substitute escort, in Ware’s continued absence.
He had small knowledge of what he ate for lunch. Already he moved through the Babylonian glories of the country club supper and dance. Eunice’s hand clasped his. About her delectable waist was his arm, and her head, ineffably fair, rested upon his shoulder. Their dancing was
motion’s purest poetry. He heard, not the lunch table talk, but heavenly music and admiring exclamations.
“What a perfect couple! Obviously, they are deeply in love. How graceful that young man is; so debonair, so distinguished—and his partner, how lovely!”
He savored, tœ, subsequent high privileges. Hereafter, he would speak to contemporaries, world wearily, of a social sphere from which their age and station barred them :
“Heard a good one at the country club the other night ... I was talking to Judge Curtis at the club and he told me ...”
He was aware that his mother addressed him in what seemed to him an unduly loud voice.
“I asked you, Clarry, if you weren’t going to eat your dessert. It’s cherry pie, dear.”
He blinked at her dazedly. “Who? Me?”
He lingered in the living room, still in a semi-comatose condition, while Eunice tarried. He did not interpret the frequent appealing looks she gave the resolutely mute telephone. When, at length, the girl went upstairs, he followed, and in his own chamber began a census of his wardrobe. He found, to his mounting horror, that none of his neglected raiment was worthy of the high purpose to which he would dedicate it.
As inspection progressed, woe waxed into frenzy. Presently his entire room—chairs, bed, and even the floor —was littered with rejected clothing, and through the wreckage he moved, destitute, occasionally moaning, feeling the same shame and wretchedness that the Biblical foolish virgins had known.
Mrs. Hodges, entering her son’s chamber toward mid-afternoon, gasped and momentarily forgot her mission. The bureau had been disembowelled, the closet thoroughly ransacked, and, amid the ruins, her distracted son glared at her.
“Mercy, Clarry ! What’s the matter?”
“Matter?” His gesture was violent; his voice broke into piercing falsetto. “Matter? Oh, nothing; nothing at all. I just haven’t anything decent to wear. That’s all.”
“You’ve a blue coat and white flannels,” she told him. “They’ll be entirely proper.”
“Oh, will they?” He rummaged among the litter and held up two garments. “I.xx>k at them; that’s all I ask. Look.”
“Don’t take on so, Clarry. I’ll sponge and press them for you, if you’re really going with Eunice.”
“Going?” He repeated the word as though she had spoken gaudy blasphemy. “Going?”
“Clarry,” said his mother. “Griselda came over just now to borrow some butter. Didn’t you promise to go on a picnic with her?”
Sinclair gaped. Excess pressure had driven that pledge completely from his mind.
“Absolutely not,” he half-shouted, and momentarily believed his words. “I just told her—well, I said maybe I would. That’s all.”
His mother did not press the subject tœ far. The durable intimacy between her son and her neighbor’s daughter frequently irked her.
“Well,” she surrendered, “Griselda certainly thinks you are going with her. If you aren’t, you must let her know at once.”
“You bet I will,” he fumed, and stormed from the room with a fine display of indignation. This ebbed as he ran downstairs and had vanished completely when he reached the lower floor. He paused, thinking of the obstinate dissent his rebuff would rouse in Griselda; the truly monumental stubbornness and persistence it would evoke. Once committed, no one in the world, as he well knew, was harder to dismiss than she. It would, he resolved suddenly, be wiser to telephone.
“Grisly?” His throat was dry.
“Hi, Clarry.” Her cheery voice troubled him.
“Look,” he said with husky rapidity, “I can’t go on the picnic after all. I’m gonna, that is I gotta, take Eunice to the country club tonight.” The wire sang in his ear. He could almost see her shocked face.
“Clarry Hodges, you said you’d—” “I know. I just can’t, that’s all.” “But I”—her tone hurt him—“but I got our supper all fixed up. It’s a nice supper, Clarry, and Mom and Pop have gone, on account of I told them—”
“Listen,” he said, and found that he was sweating, “you can get someone else to go.”
“Clarry, I don’t want anyone else,” she pleaded. “You said—”
“Aw, skij) it. I’m just telling you I can’t go.”
T-JK HUNG up. breathing hard, filled with an odd commingling of relief and shame. The telephone bell rang. For an instant he did not answer it, so sure was he that it was Griselda with further argument. Then he was aware that if he did not respond. the phone would go on ringing. He snatched the receiver.
It was the operator who addressed him. He gave a satisfied sigh and mopped his face. The wire buzzed, clicked. Someone said, “All ready,” and Sinclair’s heart turned over as he recognized Stephen Ware’s voice.
“Hello. Is that you, Clarry? I want to speak to Eunice.”
Disaster loomed above him, ominous, paralyzing. He said, desperately:
“She isn’t here right now.”
Young Ware’s voice was urgent. “Will you give her a message? I’ve got to catch the five o’clock train. Tell Eunice that I’ll be late, but that if she'll wait. I want to take her to the country club tonight. Say that I’ve got something very important to tell her. Got that? Good boy.”
Sinclair stepped back and stood, looking at the telephone. He felt sick. Even an adult could not have been dropped so swiftly and so far without internal disarrangement. His mind moved with stricken deliberation. It was gone now— all the bright expectation and the greater glories beyond. His throat hurt as he slowly climbed the stairs with Ware’s message.
He scowled, thinking of the usurper. Jealousy thawed his mind. Ware wanted Eunice to go to the country club with him, and Sinclair felt sure that his cousin, if she received the plea, would cancel current plans and wait for her suitor.
Sinclair lingered an instant in the upper hall. He looked at the closed door of Eunice’s room. Then he wheeled about and tiptoed away from it to his own chamber.
Mrs. Hodges, reassembling her son’s strewn raiment, looked up as he entered.
“Well,” she asked briskly, “is everything all right?”
“What?” he asked in so guilty a voice that she stared.
“Was Griselda very disappointed?”
“Griselda?” She had gone completely out of his mind. “I guess not. I just said I couldn’t go.”
“You lookqueer,” his mother said, considering him narrowly. Sinclair felt queer, too, but he did not reply.
T_TE WAS astoundingly punctual that -*■ evening. His mother, coming from the kitchen to warn her constitutionally tardy son that the hour for departure was at hand, found him already waiting, scrubbed, sleek and nervous at the foot of the stairs.
He fretted until Eunice came down and then, obviously ignoring her flagrant charms, hurried her out to the car. Not until he had tumbled in beside her and had driven away from his home, could he relax. Even then, he was so thoroughly disorganized that he did not even see, as he drove past the Ware house, a slim figure, squatting disconsolate and alone on the porch steps.
“Slow'er, Clarry,” Eunice begged. “My hair ! Don’t you care how your girl looks?”
Her arch implication of surrender took away his breath. He slowed the car and for the first time observed her with actually seeing eyes.
“You look—swell,” he told her and felt, for an exalted moment, that the wages of sin were more than adequate.
Stephen Ware, an hour later, leaped
from the taxicab that had halted in the dusk, before the darkened Ware home. He ran up the walk, and beside the steps wheeled to stare at the Hodges’ dwelling. He found favorable augury in its lighted windows. A mild voice said behind him: “Hi, Steve; I’m glad you’ve come, sort of.”
He did not heed the relief in Griselda’s tone or the apathetic pose in which she sat upon the top porch step.
“Honey,” he urged, “do a good deed for your old uncle. Call up the Hodges and tell Eunice that I’m already in the tub and that in ten short minutes, not a second more. I’ll—”
Griselda said, “She isn’t there. She went to the country club quite a while ago with—with Clarry.”
“Oh,” said Ware.
After a little he added slowly, “I see,” and sat down beside the girl.
They squatted, silent and desolate, together. Presently Ware gave a short little laugh. At the sound, Griselda stirred. She ventured:
“I’m glad you’re here, anyway, Steve. It’s getting kinda dark, and Mom and Pop went over to Bannertown and—well, I’m glad you’re home.”
“Why didn’t you go, too?” he asked absently, and Griselda who had cherished her grief uncontrollably long, told him. While her small voice recited the tale of the projected picnic and Sinclair’s perfidy, he listened with waxing attention. She ended so suddenly that he knew how close she was to tears. In the darkness, he found her hand and patted it. Her fingers clung to his. I íe said at last:
“The young so and so!”
The disparagement roused Griselda. “No, he isn’t. I guess it was that Miss Maxwell’s fault. I guess she kinda made him take her.”
“I shouldn’t be at all surprised,” Ware said bitterly.
He saw it all clearly now. Eunice was vindictive, intent on reprisal. Wrath was flowing into his recently vacant mind. He still held Griselda’s hand, and they continued to sit side by side in common disillusion. Ware roused himself at last.
“Well,” he said with shallow cheerfulness. “What about something to eat? If Clarry won’t use the lunch you made, I’ll bet I can.”
“It’s—it’s in the garbage can,” Griselda confessed. “I threw it there when he said he wouldn’t go. I was mad, sort of.”
The mild voice smote Ware. Pity for his defrauded niece, mounting anger toward Eunice, were ingredients of the plan that suddenly lifted itself, vivid and daring, in his mind.
He considered it with increasing satisfaction as he asked :
“Isn’t there anything in the icebox? We’ll need our supper.”
“Milk,” the girl reported, “and eggs.” “Swell.” He drew her to her feet by the hand he still gripped. His voice was gay. “Come on.”
In the glare of the hall light that he switched on, he considered his blinking and woebegone companion with attention. “Now listen,” he bade at last, and there was a lilt to his voice. “We’ll have scrambled eggs and milk. I’ll see to them. You go up and get into your party dress— the pretty blue one, and do up your hair. You’ll have to work that out for yourself, but’’—he surveyed her dismal face again— “you must bring it down over your ears and wear it low on your neck, about here.” 11er grey eyes stared at him in complete bewilderment.
“What for, Steve?”
“What for?” he repeated with a hard grin. “You and I are going to have fun. I’m taking you to the country club dance.”
“Steve!” Vivid color transformed her face and fortified her uncle’s resolution. “Absolutely. Now get dressed.”
The radiance died. Griselda said:
“But I’m just—just a kid. They wouldn’t want to have me.”.
He was thinking too intently to heed her. Darken the eyebrows, lightly mascara the lashes; stress the really lovely eyes with delicate pencil strokes beneath them; enrich the sensitive mouth and barely touch the thin cheeks with rouge.
“When you and I have finished with you,” he told her confidently, “you’ll be the belle of the ball. Now hurry.” Obediently, she started up the stair. Midway, she paused and looked back at him. She seemed at last to have comprehended his purpose. “Oh, gee!” she exclaimed in pure delight, and rushed up the remaining steps.
The car that bore Griselda and Ware turned into the country club driveway. Windows shone unsteadily as dark figures continually whirled past them. Music sounded. Ware took the hand of the slim, still figure beside him. It was shockingly cold.
“Some,” she whispered.
“Honey, think. Remember how you looked in the mirror.”
“Yes; pretty—kind of.”
“More than ‘kind of,’ my dear. You’re a knockout. Don’t forget that an instant. Here we are.”
/fUSlC beat in Sinclair Hodges’ ears.
Eunice rested, lightly, compliantly, in his arms as he danced with her. Music and love and sudden social acceptance by one’s elders form a heady draft for adolescence. Sinclair was non-alcoholically drunk. He moved, elated, taut, through a dream’s fulfillment. Qualms that earlier had afflicted him—uneasy recollections of the deserted Griselda, the betrayed Ware—had been swept away on a strong tide of excitement. His voice and color were high. Older folks observed him with outward amusement that was really envy. Sinclair was having the time of his life.
His rapture was not contagious. The revel was proceeding less satisfactorily for his partner. She kept resolutely gay, but she had discovered that her escort’s devotion lacked flavor. Her attempt to discipline her lover had succeeded thus far in thoroughly punishing herself. She was thinking of Ware so wistfully and intensely that, when he whirled by with a slim young thing in his arms, Eunice gasped as though she had seen a ghost.
She reeled and lost step. She and her paitner achieved the difficult feat of stepping on each other at once.
“My fault,” Sinclair said bravely and tried to recapture the music’s beat. Eunice did not assist him. She stood, staring, but the apparition has vanished among the eddying dancers. She dreaded its reappearance for no clear reason.
“Clarry,” she muttered, “it’s hot. Let’s sit out for a while.”
Eunice stcxxl by the rail of the clubhouse’s long balcony and watched shadows of the dancers disturb the panels of light that lay upon the lawn below. At her shoulder, Sinclair breathed loudly and ardently. The sound irked her.
“Would you get me a drink?” she asked in a careful voice.
“Sure.” The boy departed. So rapt was
his state that, skirting the dance floor, he did not recognize the slight figure in blue that passed close by him. Ware’s former partner was now in the arms of elderly Judge Curtis.
Griselda Ware scarcely recognized herself. The terror that had shaken her was gone. When she had entered this adult hall of wonder, only her uncle’s strong hand upon her arm had kept her from headlong flight. Then, music had set he blood to tingling, and the greetings of her elders had abolished fear, replacing it with a new emotion, perilously sweet.
“Griselda, my dear,” old Mrs. Warburton had told her. “How sweet you look. Why child, you’re actually pretty.” Music drenched and warmed her. While she and Ware danced, men looked at her in an unfamiliar, immensely exciting way. Their regard brought a more brilliant hue to her delicately rouged cheeks. Admiration from a hitherto wholly indifferent sex gave her a delicious sense of power. She grinned up into Ware’s attentive face. “Atta girl,” he said. “I told you so.”
A hand touched his shoulder. A voice asked: “May I cut in?” Griselda was
dancing with Montague Swift, a young blood who until now had never acknowledged her existence.
“Griselda,” he asked, “when did you grow up?”
She laughed softly. After a little, her uncle cut in. They had taken only a few steps when she felt him stiffen. He said in a determinedly light voice:
“There’s your perfidious boy friend,” but though she stared, startled yet eager, she did not see Sinclair. Judge Curtis, portly yet buoyant, intervened. Ware surrendered his niece, watched for an instant with a creator’s pride while she danced away and then went quickly out upon the balcony.
“Having fun?” he asked in Eunice’s ear. She whirled about with a startled intake of breath.
“Oh,” she said. “Oh, I thought it was— Clarry.”
“I thought possibly you’d sent him home to bed. It’s late for children to be up.” “You brought Griselda, didn’t you? She’s younger than—”
“She’s cute, isn’t she?” he broke in. “I did it with my little make-up box. The kid rated a good time. Your ratty young cousin ditched her to go with you. Always bring out the best in everyone, don’t you?” “Stephen Ware,” she said in an odd voice, “I waited all afternoon for word from you. You said you’d' telephone.” “And I did telephone. I—”
“Oh, Steve, don’t lie.”
“I phoned, if it’s of any possible interest to you, to say that Waterman had given me the juvenile lead in the ‘Hidden Ways’ road company and that I’d be back—late —to bring you here if you cared to wait.” “You never did.” There was anguish in her denial. A reedy voice behind her asked suddenly:
“Is this man annoying you?”
TT WAS the over-elated Sinclair who spoke. He stood glowering, a filled punch glass in his hand. The distress in his cousin’s speech had stung him. Infatuated past all discretion, he had—like most mortals so confronted—uttered an approximate quotation from some book he had read. He had not recognized Eunice’s companion. Now Ware turned and faced him.
Valor drained rapidly from Miss Maxwell’s brave young squire. It seemed to be leaking from his feet, so cold were they. The shock of guilt, confronted unaware, palsied Sinclair’s body and mind. Some still functioning remnant of intelligence fatuously assured him that this was a nightmare from which he presently must wake. He could not speak. He stood stiff and gaping while Ware glowered, and his stricken expression was so excruciating that the older man felt an illogical pang of pity.
“Whether,” Ware said, “I’m annoying Eunice or not is debatable, but I am about to annoy you. I telephoned you a message for your cousin this afternoon, didn’t I?” “Yes,” Sinclair gulped. “Yessir.” “Clarry,” Eunice cried, “you—you—” Her truncated denunciation was the final ignominy. Under her wrathful regard, Sinclair quailed and felt a great passion shrivel and die.
“Why didn’t you deliver my message?” Ware asked, without mercy.
“I—I—” Sinclair began. He tried to say that he had forgotten, but the falsehood seemed too shabby for utterance.
“I’ve got a fhir idea why you didn’t,” his erstwhile rival told him. “Now, go away—and don’t come back.”
Mutely, Sinclair obeyed. All was lost, including honor, but a remnant of pride sustained him. It quelled his impulse to flee in panic. He walked away. Music’s blithe voice derided him as he re-entered the ballroom. It ceased while he edged along the wall. Ensuing babble and laughter were like the crackling of thorns. He dodged toward the stair through the dispersing dancers, with a resolute smirk that he intended for an expression of careless gaiety.
His dull eyes caught a girl’s sudden gesture. A familiar voice halted him. He stood for an instant, staring at a slim figure in blue at the dance floor’s edge. So dazed and disorganized was he, that for an instant he did not recognize her. She looked like Griselda’s older and far prettier relative. He gaped. It was indeed Griselda. Radiant, incongruously alluring, his dupe stood with Judge and Mrs. Curtis, supreme arbiters of local aristocracy. The bizarre, the incredible spectacle completed Sinclair’s abasement.
He saw Griselda’s eyes widen and felt his own expression had startled her. He did not tarry but rushed for the stairs, plunged down and fled into the concealing and comforting night.
Griselda took a quick step forward. Judge Curtis told his wife jovially:
“Old people mustn’t bore a lovely young lady.”
“No, oh, no, you aren’t,” the girl answered vaguely. She had seen her uncle returning from the balcony. Eunice had been with him, but now she tarried at a distance. Griselda’s eyes moved to the stairway down which Sinclair had fled.
Ware stood beside her. He spoke to the Curtises in an oddly gleeful voice. Then he said to the girl:
“Forgive me for deserting. Are you thirsty? Can I get you some ice cream?”
“Maybe,” Griselda said, and let him lead her out of earshot of the judge and his wife. She halted then and asked:
“Steve, Clarry’s gone. I saw him. He looked—queer, sort of.”
“Retribution,” Ware said grimly and told her of his interview on the balcony. Music began as he finished. He grinned and asked: “Shall we?”
He held out his hands. She shook her head. For an instant she looked about her, matching this unwonted glory against a waxing inner compulsion.
“Steve, I think maybe I’d like to go.”
She endured his searching regard. He said: “Cinderella, get hold of yourself.
Where’s your pride, girl? That no-account deliberately—”
The face on which he had spent transforming skill was troubled. Something was present that he had not placed there, a fidelity, a fondness almost maternal. She told him, simply:
“He didn’t mean to, I guess. He didn’t think. Clarry is like that and he feels pretty awful now.”
He looked at her in a singular fashion. She gave an abashed smile.
“Would you mind very much if I went to find Clarry?”
“Wait one single moment,” he bade, and strode swiftly to the balcony window where Eunice still lingered.
“I’ll be back, darling,” Ware told his newly betrothed, “just as soon as I can. I’m taking a lady—a rather great lady— home.”