Driving slowly through New Haven, two of the young girls became alert. Josephine and Lillian darted soft frank glances into strolling groups of three or four undergraduates, into larger groups on corners, which swung about as one man to stare at their receding heads. Believing that they recognized an acquaintance in a solitary loiterer, they waved wildly, whereupon the youth’s mouth fell open, and as they turned the next corner he made a dazed dilatory gesture with his hand. They laughed. ‘We’ll send him a post card when we get back to school tonight, to see if it really was him.’
Adele Craw, sitting on one of the little seats, kept on talking to Miss Chambers, the chaperon. Glancing sideways at her, Lillian winked at Josephine without batting an eye, but Josephine had gone into a reverie.
This was New Haven — city of her adolescent dreams, of glittering proms where she would move on air among men as intangible as the tunes they danced to. City sacred as Mecca, shining as Paris, hidden as Timbuktu. Twice a year the life-blood of Chicago, her home, flowed into it, and twice a year flowed back, bringing Christmas or bringing summer. Bingo, bingo, bingo, that’s the lingo; love of mine, I pine for one of your glances; the darling boy on the left there; underneath the stars I wait.
Seeing it for the first time, she found herself surprisingly unmoved — the men they passed seemed young and rather bored with the possibilities of the day, glad of anything to stare at; seemed undynamic and purposeless against the background of bare elms, lakes of dirty snow and buildings crowded together under the February sky. A wisp of hope, a well-turned-out derby-crowned man, hurrying with stick and suitcase towards the station, caught her attention, but his reciprocal glance was too startled, too ingenuous. Josephine wondered at the extent of her own disillusionment.
She was exactly seventeen and she was blasé. Already she had been a sensation and a scandal; she had driven mature men to a state of disequilibrium; she had, it was said, killed her grandfather, but as he was over eighty at the time perhaps he just died. Here and there in the Middle West were discouraged little spots which upon inspection turned out to be the youths who had once looked full into her green and wistful eyes. But her love affair of last summer had ruined her faith in the all-sufficiency of men. She had grown bored with the waning September days — and it seemed as though it had happened once too often. Christmas with its provocative shortness, its travelling glee clubs, had brought no one new. There remained to her only a persistent, a physical hope; hope in her stomach that there was someone whom she would love more than he loved her.
They stopped at a sporting-goods store and Adele Craw, a pretty girl with clear honourable eyes and piano legs, purchased the sporting equipment which was the reason for their trip — they were the spring hockey committee for the school. Adele was in addition the president of the senior class and the school’s ideal girl. She had lately seen a change for the better in Josephine Perry — rather as an honest citizen might guilelessly approve a speculator retired on his profits. On the other hand, Adele was simply incomprehensible to Josephine — admirable, without doubt, but a member of another species. Yet with the charming adaptability that she had hitherto reserved for men, Josephine was trying hard not to disillusion her, trying to be honestly interested in the small, neat, organized politics of the school.
Two men who had stood with their backs to them at another counter turned to leave the store, when they caught sight of Miss Chambers and Adele. Immediately they came forward. The one who spoke to Miss Chambers was thin and rigid of face. Josephine recognized him as Miss Brereton’s nephew, a student at New Haven, who had spent several week-ends with his aunt at the school. The other man Josephine had never seen before. He was tall and broad, with blond curly hair and an open expression in which strength of purpose and a nice consideration were pleasantly mingled. It was not the sort of face that generally appealed to Josephine. The eyes were obviously without a secret, without a sidewise gambol, without a desperate flicker to show that they had a life of their own apart from the mouth’s speech. The mouth itself was large and masculine; its smile was an act of kindness and control. It was rather with curiosity as to the sort of man who would be attentive to Adele Craw that Josephine continued to look at him, for his voice that obviously couldn’t lie greeted Adele as if this meeting was the pleasant surprise of his day.
In a moment Josephine and Lillian were called over and introduced.
‘This is Mr Waterbury’ — that was Miss Brereton’s nephew — ‘and Mr Dudley Knowleton.’
Glancing at Adele, Josephine saw on her face an expression of tranquil pride, even of possession. Mr Knowleton spoke politely, but it was obvious that though he looked at the younger girls he did not quite see them. But since they were friends of Adele’s he made suitable remarks, eliciting the fact that they were both coming down to New Haven to their first prom the following week. Who were their hosts? Sophomores; he knew them slightly. Josephine thought that was unnecessarily superior. Why, they were the charter members of the Loving Brothers’ Association — Ridgeway Saunders and George Davey — and on the glee-club trip the girls they picked out to rush in each city considered themselves a sort of élite, second only to the girls they asked to New Haven.
‘And oh, I’ve got some bad news for you,’ Knowleton said to Adele. ‘You may be leading the prom. Jack Coe went to the infirmary with appendicitis, and against my better judgement I’m the provisional chairman.’ He looked apologetic. ‘Being one of those stone-age dancers, the two-step king, I don’t see how I ever got on the committee at all.’
When the car was on its way back to Miss Brereton’s school, Josephine and Lillian bombarded Adele with questions.
‘He’s an old friend from Cincinnati,’ she explained demurely. ‘He’s captain of the baseball team and he was last man for Skull and Bones.’
‘You’re going to the prom with him?’
‘Yes. You see, I’ve known him all my life.’
Was there a faint implication in this remark that only those who had known Adele all her life knew her at her true worth?
‘Are you engaged?’ Lillian demanded.
Adele laughed. ‘Mercy, I don’t think of such matters! It doesn’t seem to be time for that sort of thing yet, does it?’ (‘Yes,’ interpolated Josephine silently.)’ We’re just good friends. I think there can be a perfectly healthy friendship between a man and a girl without a lot of —’
‘Mush,’ supplied Lillian helpfully.
‘Well, yes, but I don’t like that word. I was going to say without a lot of sentimental romantic things that ought to come later.’
‘Bravo, Adele!’ said Miss Chambers somewhat perfunctorily.
But Josephine’s curiosity was unappeased.
‘Doesn’t he say he’s in love with you, and all that sort of thing?’
‘Mercy, no! Dud doesn’t believe in such stuff any more than I do. He’s got enough to do at New Haven, serving on the committees and the team.’
‘Oh!’ said Josephine.
She was oddly interested. That two people who were attracted to each other should never even say anything about it but be content to ‘not believe in such stuff’, was something new in her experience. She had known girls who had no beaux, others who seemed to have no emotions, and still others who lied about what they thought and did; but here was a girl who spoke of the attentions of the last man tapped for Skull and Bones as if they were two of the limestone gargoyles that Miss Chambers had pointed out on the just completed Harkness Hall. Yet Adele seemed happy — happier than Josephine, who had always believed that boys and girls were made for nothing but each other, and as soon as possible.
In the light of his popularity and achievements, Knowleton seemed more attractive. Josephine wondered if he would remember her and dance with her at the prom, or if that depended on how well he knew her escort, Ridgeway Saunders. She tried to remember whether she had smiled at him when he was looking at her. If she had really smiled he would remember her and dance with her. She was still trying to be sure of that over her two French irregular verbs and her ten stanzas of the Ancient Mariner that night; but she was still uncertain when she fell asleep.
Three gay young sophomores, the founders of the Loving Brothers’ Association, took a house together for Josephine, Lillian and a girl from Farmington and their three mothers. For the girls it was a first prom, and they arrived at New Haven with all the nervousness of the condemned; but a Sheffield fraternity tea in the afternoon yielded up such a plethora of boys from home, and boys who had visited there and friends of those boys, and new boys with unknown possibilities but obvious eagerness, that they were glowing with self-confidence as they poured into the glittering crowd that thronged the armoury at ten.
It was impressive; for the first time Josephine was at a function run by men upon men’s standards — an outward projection of the New Haven world from which women were excluded and which went on mysteriously behind the scenes. She perceived that their three escorts, who had once seemed the very embodiments of worldliness, were modest fry in this relentless microcosm of accomplishment and success. A man’s world! Looking around her at the glee-club concert, Josephine had felt a grudging admiration for the good fellowship, the good feeling. She envied Adele Craw, barely glimpsed in the dressing-room, for the position she automatically occupied by being Dudley Knowleton’s girl tonight. She envied her more stepping off under the draped bunting through a gateway of hydrangeas at the head of the grand march, very demure and faintly unpowdered in a plain white dress. She was temporarily the centre of all attention, and at the sight something that had long lain dormant in Josephine awakened — her sense of a problem, a scarcely defined possibility.
‘Josephine,’ Ridgeway Saunders began, ‘you can’t realize how happy I am now that it’s come true. I’ve looked forward to this so long, and dreamed about it —’
She smiled up at him automatically, but her mind was elsewhere, and as the dance progressed the idea continued to obsess her. She was rushed from the beginning; to the men from the tea were added a dozen new faces, a dozen confident or timid voices, until, like all the more popular girls, she had her own queue trailing her about the room. Yet all this had happened to her before, and there was something missing. One might have ten men to Adele’s two, but Josephine was abruptly aware that here a girl took on the importance of the man who had brought her.
She was discomforted by the unfairness of it. A girl earned her popularity by being beautiful and charming. The more beautiful and charming she was, the more she could afford to disregard public opinion. It seemed absurd that simply because Adele had managed to attach a baseball captain, who mightn’t know anything about girls at all, or be able to judge their attractions, she should be thus elevated in spite of her thick ankles, her rather too pinkish face.
Josephine was dancing with Ed Bement from Chicago. He was her earliest beau, a flame of pigtail days in dancing school when one wore white cotton stockings, lace drawers with a waist attached and ruffled dresses with the inevitable sash.
‘What’s the matter with me?’ she asked Ed, thinking aloud. ‘For months I’ve felt as if I were a hundred years old, and I’m just seventeen and that party was only seven years ago.’
‘You’ve been in love a lot since then,’ Ed said.
‘I haven’t,’ she protested indignantly. ‘I’ve had a lot of silly stories started about me, without any foundation, usually by girls who were jealous.’
‘Jealous of what?’
‘Don’t get fresh,’ she said tartly. ‘Dance me near Lillian.’
Dudley Knowleton had just cut in on Lillian. Josephine spoke to her friend; then waiting until their turns would bring them face to face over a space of seconds, she smiled at Knowleton. This time she made sure that smile intersected as well as met glance, that he passed beside the circumference of her fragrant charm. If this had been named like French perfume of a later day it might have been called ‘Please’. He bowed and smiled back; a minute later he cut in on her.
It was in an eddy in a corner of the room and she danced slower so that he adapted himself, and for a moment they went around in a slow circle.
‘You looked so sweet leading the march with Adele,’ she told him. ‘You seemed so serious and kind, as if the others were a lot of children. Adele looked sweet, too.’ And she added on an inspiration, ‘At school I’ve taken her for a model.’
‘You have!’ She saw him conceal his sharp surprise as he said, ‘I’ll have to tell her that.’
He was handsomer than she had thought, and behind his cordial good manners there was a sort of authority. Though he was correctly attentive to her, she saw his eyes search the room quickly to see if all went well; he spoke quietly, in passing, to the orchestra leader, who came down deferentially to the edge of his dais. Last man for Bones. Josephine knew what that meant — her father had been Bones. Ridgeway Saunders and the rest of the Loving Brothers’ Association would certainly not be Bones. She wondered, if there had been a Bones for girls, whether she would be tapped — or Adele Craw with her ankles, symbol of solidity.
Come on o-ver here.
Want to have you near;
Get a wel-come heart-y.
Come on join the part-y.
‘I wonder how many boys here have taken you for a model,’ she said. ‘If I were a boy you’d be exactly what I’d like to be. Except I’d be terribly bothered having girls falling in love with me all the time.’
‘They don’t,’ he said simply. ‘They never have.’
‘Oh yes — but they hide it because they’re so impressed with you, and they’re afraid of Adele.’
‘Adele wouldn’t object.’ And he added hastily, ‘— if it ever happened. Adele doesn’t believe in being serious about such things.’
‘Are you engaged to her?’
He stiffened a little. ‘I don’t believe in being engaged till the right time comes.’
‘Neither do I,’ agreed Josephine readily. ‘I’d rather have one good friend than a hundred people hanging around being mushy all the time.’
‘Is that what that crowd does that keeps following you around tonight?’
‘What crowd?’ she asked innocently.
‘The fifty per cent of the sophomore class that’s rushing you.’
‘A lot of parlour snakes,’ she said ungratefully.
Josephine was radiantly happy now as she turned beautifully through the newly enchanted hall in the arms of the chairman of the prom committee. Even this extra time with him she owed to the awe which he inspired in her entourage; but a man cut in eventually and there was a sharp fall in her elation. The man was impressed that Dudley Knowleton had danced with her; he was more respectful, and his modulated admiration bored her. In a little while, she hoped, Dudley Knowleton would cut back, but as midnight passed, dragging on another hour with it, she wondered if after all it had only been a courtesy to a girl from Adele’s school. Since then Adele had probably painted him a neat little landscape of Josephine’s past. When finally he approached her she grew tense and watchful, a state which made her exteriorly pliant and tender and quiet. But instead of dancing he drew her into the edge of a row of boxes.
‘Adele had an accident on the cloakroom steps. She turned her ankle a little and tore her stocking on a nail. She’d like to borrow a pair from you because you’re staying near here and we’re way out at the Lawn Club.’
‘I’ll run over with you — I have a car outside.’
‘But you’re busy; you mustn’t bother.’
‘Of course I’ll go with you.’
There was thaw in the air; a hint of thin and lucid spring hovered delicately around the elms and cornices of buildings whose bareness and coldness had so depressed her the week before. The night had a quality of asceticism, as if the essence of masculine struggle were seeping everywhere through the little city where men of three centuries had brought their energies and aspirations for winnowing. And Dudley Knowleton sitting beside her, dynamic and capable, was symbolic of it all. It seemed that she had never met a man before.
‘Come in, please,’ she said as he went up the steps of the house with her. ‘They’ve made it very comfortable.’
There was an open fire burning in the dark parlour. When she came downstairs with the stockings she went in and stood beside him, very still for a moment, watching it with him. Then she looked up, still silent, looked down, looked at him again.
‘Did you get the stockings?’ he asked, moving a little.
‘Yes,’ she said breathlessly. ‘Kiss me for being so quick.’
He laughed as if she said something witty and moved towards the door. She was smiling and her disappointment was deeply hidden as they got into the car.
‘It’s been wonderful meeting you,’ she told him. ‘I can’t tell you how many ideas I’ve gotten from what you said.’
‘But I haven’t any ideas.’
‘You have. All that about not getting engaged till the proper time comes. I haven’t had much opportunity to talk to a man like you. Otherwise my ideas would be different, I guess. I’ve just realized that I’ve been wrong about a lot of things. I used to want to be exciting. Now I want to help people.’
‘Yes,’ he agreed, ‘that’s very nice.’
He seemed about to say more when they arrived at the armoury. In their absence supper had begun; and crossing the great floor by his side, conscious of many eyes regarding them, Josephine wondered if people thought that they had been up to something.
‘We’re late,’ said Knowleton when Adele went off to put on the stockings. ‘The man you’re with has probably given you up long ago. You’d better let me get you something here.’
‘That would be too divine.’
Afterwards, back on the floor again, she moved in a sweet aura of abstraction. The followers of several departed belles merged with hers until now no girl on the floor was cut in on with such frequency. Even Miss Brereton’s nephew, Ernest Waterbury, danced with her in stiff approval. Danced? With a tentative change of pace she simply swung from man to man in a sort of hands-right-and-left around the floor. She felt a sudden need to relax, and as if in answer to her mood a new man was presented, a tall, sleek Southerner with a persuasive note:
‘You lovely creacha. I been strainin my eyes watchin your cameo face floatin round. You stand out above all these othuz like an Amehken Beauty Rose over a lot of field daisies.’
Dancing with him a second time, Josephine hearkened to his pleadings.
‘All right. Let’s go outside.’
‘It wasn’t outdaws I was considering,’ he explained as they left the floor. ‘I happen to have a mortgage on a nook right hee in the building.’
Book Chaffee, of Alabama, led the way through the cloak-room, through a passage to an inconspicuous door.
‘This is the private apartment of my friend Sergeant Boone, instructa of the battery. He wanted to be particularly sure it’d be used as a nook tonight and not a readin room or anything like that.’
Opening the door he turned on a dim light; she came in and shut it behind her, and they faced each other.
‘Mighty sweet,’ he murmured. His tall face came down, his long arms wrapped around her tenderly, and very slowly so that their eyes met for quite a long time, he drew her up to him. Josephine kept thinking that she had never kissed a Southern boy before.
They started apart at the sudden sound of a key turning in the lock outside. Then there was a muffed snicker followed by retreating footsteps, and Book sprang for the door and wrenched at the handle just as Josephine noticed that this was not only Sergeant Boone’s parlour; it was his bedroom as well.
‘Who was it?’ she demanded. ‘Why did they lock us in?’
‘Some funny boy. I’d like to get my hands on him.’
‘Will he come back?’
Book sat down on the bed to think. ‘I couldn’t say. Don’t even know who it was. But if somebody on the committee came along it wouldn’t look too good, would it?’
Seeing her expression change, he came over and put his arm around her. ‘Don’t you worry, honey. We’ll fix it.’
She returned his kiss, briefly but without distraction. Then she broke away and went into the next apartment, which was hung with boots, uniform coats and various military equipment.
‘There’s a window up here,’ she said. It was high in the wall and had not been opened for a long time. Book mounted on a chair and forced it ajar.
‘About ten feet down,’ he reported, after a moment, ‘but there’s a big pile of snow just underneath. You might get a nasty fall and you’ll sure soak your shoes and stockin’s.’
‘We’ve got to get out,’ Josephine said sharply.
‘We’d better wait and give this funny man a chance —’
‘I won’t wait. I want to get out. Look — throw out all the blankets from the bed and I’ll jump on that: or you jump first and spread them over the pile of snow.’
After that it was merely exciting. Carefully Book Chaffee wiped the dust from the window to protect her dress; then they were struck silent by a footstep that approached — and passed the outer door. Book jumped, and she heard him kicking profanely as he waded out of the soft drift below. He spread the blankets. At the moment when Josephine swung her legs out the window, there was the sound of voices outside the door and the key turned again in the lock. She landed softly, reaching for his hand, and convulsed with laughter they ran and skidded down the half block towards the corner, and reaching the entrance to the armoury, they stood panting for a moment, breathing in the fresh night. Book was reluctant to go inside.
‘Why don’t you let me conduct you where you’re stayin? We can sit around and sort of recuperate.’
She hesitated, drawn towards him by the community of their late predicament; but something was calling her inside, as if the fulfilment of her elation awaited her there.
‘No,’ she decided.
As they went in she collided with a man in a great hurry, and looked up to recognize Dudley Knowleton.
‘So sorry,’ he said. ‘Oh hello —’
‘Won’t you dance me over to my box?’ she begged him impulsively. ‘I’ve torn my dress.’
As they started off he said abstractedly: ‘The fact is, a little mischief has come up and the buck has been passed to me. I was going along to see about it.’
Her heart raced wildly and she felt the need of being another sort of person immediately.
‘I can’t tell you how much it’s meant meeting you. It would be wonderful to have one friend I could be serious with without being all mushy and sentimental. Would you mind if I wrote you a letter — I mean, would Adele mind?’
‘Lord, no!’ His smile had become utterly unfathomable to her. As they reached the box she thought of one more thing:
‘Is it true that the baseball team is training at Hot Springs during Easter?’
‘Yes. You going there?’
‘Yes. Good night, Mr Knowleton.’
But she was destined to see him once more. It was outside the men’s coat room, where she waited among a crowd of other pale survivors and their paler mothers, whose wrinkles had doubled and tripled with the passing night. He was explaining something to Adele, and Josephine heard the phrase, ‘The door was locked, and the window open —’
Suddenly it occurred to Josephine that, meeting her coming in damp and breathless, he must have guessed at the truth — and Adele would doubtless confirm his suspicion. Once again the spectre of her old enemy, the plain and jealous girl, arose before her. Shutting her mouth tight together she turned away.
But they had seen her, and Adele called to her in her cheerful ringing voice:
‘Come say good night. You were so sweet about the stockings. Here’s a girl you won’t find doing shoddy, silly things, Dudley.’ Impulsively she leaned and kissed Josephine on the cheek. ‘You’ll see I’m right, Dudley — next year she’ll be the most respected girl in school.’
As things go in the interminable days of early March, what happened next happened quickly. The annual senior dance at Miss Brereton’s school came on a night soaked through with spring, and all the junior girls lay awake listening to the sighing tunes from the gymnasium. Between the numbers, when boys up from New Haven and Princeton wandered about the grounds, cloistered glances looked down from dark open windows upon the vague figures.
Not Josephine, though she lay awake like the others. Such vicarious diversions had no place in the sober patterns she was spinning now from day to day; yet she might as well have been in the forefront of those who called down to the men and threw notes and entered into conversations, for destiny had suddenly turned against her and was spinning a dark web of its own.
Lit-tle lady, don’t be depressed and blue,
After all, we’re both in the same can-noo —
Dudley Knowleton was over in the gymnasium fifty yards away, but proximity to a man did not thrill her as it would have done a year ago — not, at least, in the same way. Life, she saw now, was a serious matter, and in the modest darkness a line of a novel ceaselessly recurred to her: ‘He is a man fit to be the father of my children’. What were the seductive graces, the fast lines of a hundred parlour snakes compared to such realities. One couldn’t go on forever kissing comparative strangers behind half-closed doors.
Under her pillow now were two letters, answers to her letters. They spoke in a bold round hand of the beginning of baseball practice; they were glad Josephine felt as she did about things; and the writer certainly looked forward to seeing her at Easter. Of all the letters she had ever received they were the most difficult from which to squeeze a single drop of heart’s blood — one couldn’t even read the ‘Yours’ of the subscription as ‘Your’ — but Josephine knew them by heart. They were precious because he had taken the time to write them; they were eloquent in the very postage stamp because he used so few.
She was restless in her bed — the music had begun again in the gymnasium:
Oh, my love, I’ve waited so long for you,
Oh, my love, I’m singing this song for you —
From the next room there was light laughter, and then from below a male voice, and a long interchange of comic whispers. Josephine recognized Lillian’s laugh and the voices of two other girls. She could imagine them as they lay across the window in their nightgowns, their heads just showing from the open window. ‘Come right down,’ one boy kept saying. ‘Don’t be formal — come, just as you are.’
There was a sudden silence, then a quick crunching of footsteps on gravel, a suppressed snicker and a scurry, and the sharp, protesting groan of several beds in the next room and the banging of a door down the hall. Trouble for somebody, maybe. A few minutes later Josephine’s door half opened, she caught a glimpse of Miss Kwain against the dim corridor light, and then the door closed.
The next afternoon Josephine and four other girls, all of whom denied having breathed so much as a word into the night, were placed on probation. There was absolutely nothing to do about it. Miss Kwain had recognized their faces in the window and they were all from two rooms. It was an injustice, but it was nothing compared to what happened next. One week before Easter vacation the school motored off on a one-day trip to inspect a milk farm — all save the ones on probation. Miss Chambers, who sympathized with Josephine’s misfortune, enlisted her services in entertaining Mr Ernest Waterbury, who was spending a week-end with his aunt. This was only vaguely better than nothing, for Mr Waterbury was a very dull, very priggish young man. He was so dull and so priggish that the following morning Josephine was expelled from school.
It happened like this: they had strolled in the grounds, they had sat down at a garden table and had tea. Ernest Waterbury had expressed a desire to see something in the chapel, just a few minutes before his aunt’s car rolled up the drive. The chapel was reached by descending winding mock-medieval stairs; and, her shoes still wet from the garden, Josephine had slipped on the top step and fallen five feet directly into Mr Waterbury’s unwilling arms, where she lay helpless, convulsed with irresistible laughter. It was in this position that Miss Brereton and the visiting trustee had found them.
‘But I had nothing to do with it!’ declared the ungallant Mr Waterbury. Flustered and outraged, he was packed back to New Haven, and Miss Brereton, connecting this with last week’s sin, proceeded to lose her head. Josephine, humiliated and furious, lost hers, and Mr Perry, who happened to be in New York, arrived at the school the same night. At his passionate indignation, Miss Brereton collapsed and retracted, but the damage was done, and Josephine packed her trunk. Unexpectedly, monstrously, just as it had begun to mean something, her school life was over.
For the moment all her feelings were directed against Miss Brereton, and the only tears she shed at leaving were of anger and resentment. Riding with her father up to New York, she saw that while at first he had instinctively and whole-heartedly taken her part, he felt also a certain annoyance with her misfortune.
‘We’ll all survive,’ he said. ‘Unfortunately, even that old idiot Miss Brereton will survive. She ought to be running a reform school.’ He brooded for a moment. ‘Anyhow, your mother arrives tomorrow and you and she go down to Hot Springs as you planned.’
‘Hot Springs!’ Josephine cried, in a choked voice. ‘Oh, no!’
‘Why not?’ he demanded in surprise. ‘It seems the best thing to do. Give it a chance to blow over before you go back to Chicago.’
‘I’d rather go to Chicago,’ said Josephine breathlessly. ‘Daddy, I’d much rather go to Chicago.’
‘That’s absurd. Your mother’s started East and the arrangements are all made. At Hot Springs you can get out and ride and play golf and forget that old she-devil —’
‘Isn’t there another place in the East we could go? There’s people I know going to Hot Springs who’ll know all about this, people that I don’t want to meet — girls from school.’
‘Now, Jo, you keep your chin up — this is one of those times. Sorry I said that about letting it blow over in Chicago; if we hadn’t made other plans we’d go back and face every old shrew and gossip in town right away. When anybody slinks off in a corner they think you’ve been up to something bad. If anybody says anything to you, you tell them the truth — what I said to Miss Brereton. You tell them she said you could come back and I damn well wouldn’t let you go back.’
‘They won’t believe it.’
There would be, at all events, four days of respite at Hot Springs before the vacations of the schools. Josephine passed this time taking golf lessons from a professional so newly arrived from Scotland that he surely knew nothing of her misadventure; she even went riding with a young man one afternoon, feeling almost at home with him after his admission that he had flunked out of Princeton in February — a confidence, however, which she did not reciprocate in kind. But in the evenings, despite the young man’s importunity, she stayed with her mother, feeling nearer to her than she ever had before.
But one afternoon in the lobby Josephine saw by the desk two dozen good-looking young men waiting by a stack of hat cases and bags, and knew that what she dreaded was at hand. She ran upstairs and with an invented headache dined there that night, but after dinner she walked restlessly around their apartment. She was ashamed not only of her situation but of her reaction to it. She had never felt any pity for the unpopular girls who skulked in dressing-rooms because they could attract no partners on the floor, or for girls who were outsiders at Lake Forest, and now she was like them — hiding miserably out of life. Alarmed lest already the change was written in her face, she paused in front of the mirror, fascinated as ever by what she found there.
‘The darn fools!’ she said aloud. And as she said it her chin went up and the faint cloud about her eyes lifted. The phrases of the myriad love letters she had received passed before her eyes; behind her, after all, was the reassurance of a hundred lost and pleading faces, of innumerable tender and pleading voices. Her pride flooded back into her till she could see the warm blood rushing up into her cheeks.
There was a knock at the door — it was the Princeton boy.
‘How about slipping downstairs?’ he proposed. ‘There’s a dance. It’s full of E-lies, the whole Yale baseball team. I’ll pick up one of them and introduce you and you’ll have a big time. How about it?’
‘All right, but I don’t want to meet anybody. You’ll just have to dance with me all evening.’
‘You know that suits me.’
She hurried into a new spring evening dress of the frailest fairy blue. In the excitement of seeing herself in it, it seemed as if she had shed the old skin of winter and emerged a shining chrysalis with no stain; and going downstairs her feet fell softly just off the beat of the music from below. It was a tune from a play she had seen a week ago in New York, a tune with a future — ready for gaieties as yet unthought of, lovers not yet met. Dancing off, she was certain that life had innumerable beginnings. She had hardly gone ten steps when she was cut in upon by Dudley Knowleton.
‘Why, Josephine!’ He had never used her first name before — he stood holding her hand. ‘Why, I’m so glad to see you! I’ve been hoping and hoping you’d be here.’
She soared skyward on a rocket of surprise and delight. He was actually glad to see her — the expression on his face was obviously sincere. Could it be possible that he hadn’t heard?
‘Adele wrote me you might be here. She wasn’t sure.’
— Then he knew and didn’t care; he liked her anyhow.
‘I’m in sackcloth and ashes,’ she said.
‘Well, they’re very becoming to you.’
‘You know what happened —’ she ventured.
‘I do. I wasn’t going to say anything, but it’s generally agreed that Waterbury behaved like a fool — and it’s not going to be much help to him in the elections next month. Look — I want you to dance with some men who are just starving for a touch of beauty.’
Presently she was dancing with, it seemed to her, the entire team at once. Intermittently Dudley Knowleton cut back in, as well as the Princeton man, who was somewhat indignant at this unexpected competition. There were many girls from many schools in the room, but with an admirable team spirit the Yale men displayed a sharp prejudice in Josephine’s favour; already she was pointed out from the chairs along the wall.
But interiorly she was waiting for what was coming, for the moment when she would walk with Dudley Knowleton into the warm, Southern night. It came naturally, just at the end of a number, and they strolled along an avenue of early-blooming lilacs and turned a corner and another corner . . .
‘You were glad to see me, weren’t you?’ Josephine said.
‘I was afraid at first. I was sorriest about what happened at school because of you. I’d been trying so hard to be different — because of you.’
‘You mustn’t think of that school business any more. Everybody that matters knows you got a bad deal. Forget it and start over.’
‘Yes,’ she agreed tranquilly. She was happy. The breeze and the scent of lilacs — that was she, lovely and intangible; the rustic bench where they sat and the trees — that was he, rugged and strong beside her, protecting her.
‘I’d thought so much of meeting you here,’ she said after a minute. ‘You’d been so good for me, that I thought maybe in a different way I could be good for you — I mean I know ways of having a good time that you don’t know. For instance, we’ve certainly got to go horseback riding by moonlight some night. That’ll be fun.’
He didn’t answer.
‘I can really be very nice when I like somebody — that’s really not often,’ she interpolated hastily, ‘not seriously. But I mean when I do feel seriously that a boy and I are really friends I don’t believe in having a whole mob of other boys hanging around taking up time. I like to be with him all the time, all day and all evening, don’t you?’
He stirred a little on the bench; he leaned forward with his elbows on his knees, looking at his strong hands. Her gently modulated voice sank a note lower.
‘When I like anyone I don’t even like dancing. It’s sweeter to be alone.’
Silence for a moment.
‘Well, you know’ — he hesitated, frowning — ‘as a matter of fact, I’m mixed up in a lot of engagements made some time ago with some people.’ He floundered about unhappily. ‘In fact, I won’t even be at the hotel after tomorrow. I’ll be at the house of some people down the valley — a sort of house party. As a matter of fact, Adele’s getting here tomorrow.’
Absorbed in her own thoughts, she hardly heard him at first, but at the name she caught her breath sharply.
‘We’re both to be at this house party while we’re here, and I imagine it’s more or less arranged what we’re going to do. Of course, in the daytime I’ll be here for baseball practice.’
‘I see.’ Her lips were quivering. ‘You won’t be — you’ll be with Adele.’
‘I think that — more or less — I will. She’ll — want to see you, of course.’
Another silence while he twisted his big fingers and she helplessly imitated the gesture.
‘You were just sorry for me,’ she said. ‘You like Adele — much better.’
‘Adele and I understand each other. She’s been more or less my ideal since we were children together.’
‘And I’m not your kind of girl?’ Josephine’s voice trembled with a sort of fright. ‘I suppose because I’ve kissed a lot of boys and got a reputation for speed and raised the deuce.’
‘It isn’t that.’
‘Yes, it is,’ she declared passionately. ‘I’m just paying for things.’ She stood up. ‘You’d better take me back inside so I can dance with the kind of boys that like me.’
She walked quickly down the path, tears of misery streaming from her eyes. He overtook her by the steps, but she only shook her head and said, ‘Excuse me for being so fresh. I’ll grow up — I got what was coming to me — it’s all right.’
A little later when she looked around the floor for him he had gone — and Josephine realized with a shock that for the first time in her life, she had tried for a man and failed. But, save in the very young, only love begets love, and from the moment Josephine had perceived that his interest in her was merely kindness she realized the wound was not in her heart but in her pride. She would forget him quickly, but she would never forget what she had learned from him. There were two kinds of men, those you played with and those you might marry. And as this passed through her mind, her restless eyes wandered casually over the group of stags, resting very lightly on Mr Gordon Tinsley, the current catch of Chicago, reputedly the richest young man in the Middle West. He had never paid any attention to young Josephine until tonight. Ten minutes ago he had asked her to go driving with him tomorrow.
But he did not attract her — and she decided to refuse. One mustn’t run through people, and, for the sake of a romantic half-hour, trade a possibility that might develop — quite seriously — later, at the proper time. She did not know that this was the first mature thought that she had ever had in her life, but it was.
The orchestra were packing their instruments and the Princeton man was still at her ear, still imploring her to walk out with him into the night. Josephine knew without cogitation which sort of man he was — and the moon was bright even on the windows. So with a certain sense of relaxation she took his arm and they strolled out to the pleasant bower she had so lately quitted, and their faces turned towards each other, like little moons under the great white ones which hovered high over the Blue Ridge; his arm dropped softly about her yielding shoulder.
‘Well?’ he whispered.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08