Gatsby Girls, page 12
“It’s been awfully kind of you—but nobody’s ever talked to me like this before, and I feel sort of startled.”
Marjorie made no answer but gazed pensively at her own image in the mirror.
“You’re a peach to help me,” continued Bernice.
Still Marjorie did not answer, and Bernice thought she had seemed too grateful.
“I know you don’t like sentiment,” she said timidly.
Marjorie turned to her quickly.
“Oh, I wasn’t thinking about that. I was considering whether we hadn’t better bob your hair.”
Bernice collapsed backward upon the bed.
On the following Wednesday evening there was a dinner dance at the country club. When the guests strolled in Bernice found her place card with a light feeling of irritation. Though at her right sat G. Reece Stoddard, a most desirable and distinguished young bachelor, the all-important left held only Charley Paulson. Charley lacked height, beauty and social shrewdness, and in her new enlightenment Bernice decided that his only qualification to be her partner was that he had never been stuck with her. But this feeling of irritation left with the last of the soup plates, and Marjorie’s specific instruction came to her. Swallowing her pride she turned to Charley Paulson and plunged.
“Do you think I ought to bob my hair, Mr. Charley Paulson?”
Charley looked up in surprise.
“Because I’m considering it. It’s such a sure and easy way of attracting attention.”
Charley smiled pleasantly. He could not know this had been rehearsed. He replied that he didn’t know much about bobbed hair. But Bernice was there to tell him.
“I want to be a society vampire, you see,” she announced coolly, and went on to inform him that bobbed hair was the necessary prelude. She added that she wanted to ask his advice, because she had heard he was so critical about girls.
Charley, who knew as much about the psychology of women as he did of the mental states of Buddhist contemplatives, felt vaguely flattered.
“So I’ve decided,” she continued, her voice rising slightly, “that early next week I’m going down to the Sevier Hotel barber shop, sit in the first chair and get my hair bobbed.” She faltered, noticing that the people near her had paused in their conversation and were listening; but after a confused second Marjorie’s coaching told, and she finished her paragraph to the vicinity at large. “Of course I’m charging admission, but if you’ll all come down and encourage me I’ll issue passes for the inside seats.”
There was a ripple of appreciative laughter, and under cover of it G. Reece Stoddard leaned over quickly and said close to her ear: “I’ll take a box right now.”
She met his eyes and smiled as if he had said something surpassingly brilliant.
“Do you believe in bobbed hair?” asked G. Reece in the same undertone.
“I think it’s unmoral,” affirmed Bernice gravely. “But, of course, you’ve either got to amuse people or feed ‘em or shock ‘em.” Marjorie had culled this from Oscar Wilde. It was greeted with a ripple of laughter from the men and a series of quick, intent looks from the girls. And then as though she had said nothing of wit or moment Bernice turned again to Charley and spoke confidentially in his ear.
“I want to ask you your opinion of several people. I imagine you’re a wonderful judge of character.”
Charley thrilled faintly—paid her a subtle compliment by overturning her water.
Two hours later, while Warren McIntyre was standing passively in the stag line abstractedly watching the dancers and wondering whither and with whom Marjorie had disappeared, an unrelated perception began to creep slowly upon him—a perception that Bernice, cousin to Marjorie, had been cut in on several times in the past five minutes. He closed his eyes, opened them and looked again. Several minutes back she had been dancing with a visiting boy, a matter easily accounted for; a visiting boy would know no better. But now she was dancing with someone else, and there was Charley Paulson headed for her with enthusiastic determination in his eye. Funny—Charley seldom danced with more than three girls an evening.
Warren was distinctly surprised when—the exchange having been affected—the man relieved proved to be none other than G. Reece Stoddard himself. And G. Reece seemed not at all jubilant at being relieved. Next time Bernice danced near, Warren regarded her intently. Yes, she was pretty, distinctly pretty; and tonight her face seemed really vivacious. She had that look that no woman, however histrionically proficient, can successfully counterfeit—she looked as if she were having a good time. He liked the way she had her hair arranged, wondered if it was brilliantine that made it glisten so. And that dress was becoming—a dark red that set off her shadowy eyes and high coloring. He remembered that he had thought her pretty when she first came to town, before he had realized that she was dull. Too bad she was dull—dull girls unbearable—certainly pretty though.
His thoughts zigzagged back to Marjorie. This disappearance would be like other disappearances. When she reappeared he would demand where she had been—would be told emphatically that it was none of his business. What a pity she was so sure of him! She basked in the knowledge that no other girl in town interested him; she defied him to fall in love with Genevieve or Roberta.
Warren sighed. The way to Marjorie’s affections was a labyrinth indeed. He looked up. Bernice was again dancing with the visiting boy. Half unconsciously he took a step out from the stag line in her direction, and hesitated. Then he said to himself that it was charity. He walked toward her—collided suddenly with G. Reece Stoddard.
“Pardon me,” said Warren.
But G. Reece had not stopped to apologize. He had again cut in on Bernice.
That night at one o’clock Marjorie, with one hand on the electric-light switch in the hall, turned to take a last look at Bernice’s sparkling eyes.
“So it worked?”
“Oh, Marjorie, yes!” cried Bernice.
“I saw you were having a gay time.”
“I did! The only trouble was that about midnight I ran short of talk. I had to repeat myself—with different men of course. I hope they won’t compare notes.”
“Men don’t,” said Marjorie, yawning, “and it wouldn’t matter if they did—they’d think you were even trickier.”
She snapped out the light, and as they started up the stairs Bernice grasped the banister thankfully. For the first time in her life she had been danced tired.
“You see,” said Marjorie at the top of the stairs, “one man sees another man cut in and he thinks there must be something there. Well, we’ll fix up some new stuff tomorrow. Good night.”
As Bernice took down her hair she passed the evening before her in review. She had followed instructions exactly. Even when Charley Paulson cut in for the eighth time she had simulated delight and had apparently been both interested and flattered. She had not talked about the weather or Eau Claire or automobiles or her school, but had confined her conversation to me, you and us.
But a few minutes before she fell asleep a rebellious thought was churning drowsily in her brain—after all, it was she who had done it. Marjorie, to be sure, had given her conversation, but then Marjorie got much of her conversation out of things she read. Bernice had bought the red dress, though she had never valued it highly before—and her own voice had said the words, her own lips had smiled, her own feet had danced. Marjorie nice girl—vain, though —nice evening —nice boys —like Warren —Warren —Warren—what’s - his-name—Warren -
She fell asleep.
To Bernice the next week was a revelation. With the feeling that people really enjoyed looking at her and listening to her came the foundation of self-confidence. Of course there were numerous mistakes at first. She did not know, for instance, that Draycott Deyo was studying for the ministry; she was unaware that he had cut in on her because he thought she was a quiet,
Though Draycott Deyo was in the throes of difficulties concerning baptism by immersion and might possibly have seen a connection, it must be admitted that he did not. He considered feminine bathing an immoral subject, and gave her some of his ideas on the depravity of modern society.
But to offset that unfortunate occurrence Bernice had several signal successes to her credit. Little Otis Ormonde pleaded off from a trip East and elected instead to follow her with a puppy-like devotion, to the amusement of his crowd and to the irritation of G. Reece Stoddard, several of whose afternoon calls Otis completely ruined by the disgusting tenderness of the glances he bent on Bernice. He even told her the story of the two-by-four and the dressing room to show her how frightfully mistaken he and everyone else had been in their first judgment of her. Bernice laughed off that incident with a slight sinking sensation.
Of all Bernice’s conversation perhaps the best known and most universally approved was the line about the bobbing of her hair.
“Oh, Bernice, when you goin’ to get the hair bobbed?”
“Day after to-morrow maybe,” she would reply, laughing. “Will you come and see me? Because I’m counting on you, you know.”
“Will we? You know! But you better hurry up.”
Bernice, whose tonsorial intentions were strictly dishonorable, would laugh again.
“Pretty soon now. You’d be surprised.”
But perhaps the most significant symbol of her success was the gray car of the hypercritical Warren McIntyre, parked daily in front of the Harvey house. At first the parlor maid was distinctly startled when he asked for Bernice instead of Marjorie; after a week of it she told the cook that Miss Bernice had gotta holda Miss Marjorie’s best fella.
And Miss Bernice had. Perhaps it began with Warren’s desire to rouse jealousy in Marjorie; perhaps it was the familiar though unrecognized strain of Marjorie in Bernice’s conversation; perhaps it was both of these and something of sincere attraction besides. But somehow the collective mind of the younger set knew within a week that Marjorie’s most reliable beau had made an amazing face-about and was giving an indisputable rush to Marjorie’s guest. The question of the moment was how Marjorie would take it. Warren called Bernice on the phone twice a day, sent her notes, and they were frequently seen together in his roadster, obviously engrossed in one of those tense, significant conversations as to whether or not he was sincere.
Marjorie on being twitted only laughed. She said she was mighty glad that Warren had at last found someone who appreciated him. So the younger set laughed, too, and guessed that Marjorie didn’t care and let it go at that.
One afternoon when there were only three days left of her visit Bernice was waiting in the hall for Warren, with whom she was going to a bridge party. She was in rather a blissful mood, and when Marjorie—also bound for the party—appeared beside her and began casually to adjust her hat in the mirror Bernice was utterly unprepared for anything in the nature of a clash. Marjorie did her work very coldly and succinctly in three sentences.
“You may as well get Warren out of your head,” she said coldly.
“What?” Bernice was utterly astounded.
“You may as well stop making a fool of yourself over Warren McIntyre. He doesn’t care a snap of his fingers about you.”
For a tense moment they regarded each other—Marjorie scornfully aloof; Bernice astounded, half angry, half afraid. Then two cars drove up in front or the house and there was a riotous honking. Both of them gasped faintly, turned, and side by side hurried out.
All through the bridge party Bernice strove in vain to master a rising uneasiness. She had offended Marjorie, the sphinx of sphinxes. With the most wholesome and innocent intentions in the world she had stolen Marjorie’s property. She felt suddenly and horribly guilty. After the bridge game, when they sat in an informal circle and the conversation became general, the storm gradually broke. Little Otis Ormonde inadvertently precipitated it.
“When you going back to kindergarten, Otis?” someone had asked.
“Me? Day Bernice gets her hair bobbed.”
“Then your education’s over,” said Marjorie quickly. “That’s only a bluff of hers. I should think you’d have realized.”
“That a fact?” demanded Otis, giving Bernice a reproachful glance.
Bernice’s ears burned as she tried to think up an effectual come-back. In the face of this direct attack her imagination was paralyzed.
“There’s a lot of bluffs in the world,” continued Marjorie quite pleasantly. “I should think you’d be young enough to know that, Otis.”
“Well,” said Otis, “maybe so. But gee! With a line like Bernice’s—”
“Really?” yawned Marjorie. “What’s her latest bon mot?”
No one seemed to know. In fact, Bernice, having trifled with her muse’s beau, had said nothing memorable of late.
“Was that really all a line?” asked Roberta curiously.
Bernice hesitated. She felt that wit in some form was demanded of her, but under her cousin’s suddenly frigid eyes she was completely incapacitated.
“I don’t know,” she stalled.
“Splush!” said Marjorie. “Admit it!”
Bernice saw that Warren’s eyes had left a ukulele he had been tinkering with and were fixed on her questioningly.
“Oh, I don’t know!” she repeated steadily. Her cheeks were glowing.
“Splush!” remarked Marjorie again.
“Come through, Bernice,” urged Otis. “Tell her where to get off.”
Bernice looked round again—she seemed unable to get away from Warren’s eyes.
“I like bobbed hair,” she said hurriedly, as if he had asked her a question, “and I intend to bob mine.”
“When?” demanded Marjorie.
“No time like the present,” suggested Roberta.
Otis jumped to his feet.
“Swell stuff!” he cried. “We’ll have a summer bobbing party. Sevier Hotel barber shop, I think you said.”
In an instant all were on their feet. Bernice’s heart throbbed violently.
“What?” she gasped.
Out of the group came Marjorie’s voice, very clear and contemptuous.
“Don’t worry—she’ll back out!”
“Come on, Bernice!” cried Otis, starting toward the door.
Four eyes—Warren’s and Marjorie’s—stared at her, challenged her, defied her. For another second she wavered wildly.
“All right,” she said swiftly, “I don’t care if I do.”
An eternity of minutes later, riding down town through the late afternoon beside Warren, the others following in Roberta’s car close behind, Bernice had all the sensations of Marie Antoinette bound for the guillotine in a tumbrel. Vaguely she wondered why she did not cry out that it was all a mistake. It was all she could do to keep from clutching her hair with both hands to protect it from the suddenly hostile world. Yet she did neither. Even the thought of her mother was no deterrent now. This was the test supreme of her sportsmanship; her right to walk unchallenged in the starry heaven of popular girls.
Warren was moodily silent, and when they came to the hotel he drew up at the curb and nodded to Bernice to precede him out. Roberta’s car emptied a laughing crowd into the shop, which presented two bold plate-glass windows to the street.
Bernice stood on the curb and looked at the sign, Sevier Barber Shop. It was a guillotine indeed, and the hangman was the first barber, who, attired in a white coat and smoking a cigarette, leaned nonchalantly against the first chair. He must have heard of her; he must have been w
“All right, Bernice,” said Warren quickly.
With her chin in the air she crossed the sidewalk, pushed open the swinging screen door, and giving not a glance to the uproarious, riotous row that occupied the waiting bench went up to the first barber.
“I want you to bob my hair.”
The first barber’s mouth slid somewhat open. His cigarette dropped to the floor.
“My hair—bob it!”
Refusing further preliminaries, Bernice took her seat on high. A man in the chair next to her turned on his side and gave her a glance, half lather, half amazement. One barber started and spoiled little Willy Schuneman’s monthly haircut. Mr. O’Reilly in the last chair grunted and swore musically in ancient Gaelic as a razor bit into his cheek. Two bootblacks became wide-eyed and rushed for her feet. No, Bernice didn’t care for a shine.
Outside a passer-by stopped and stared; a couple joined him; half a dozen small boys’ noses sprang into life, flattened against the glass; and snatches of conversation borne on the summer breeze drifted in through the screen door.
“Lookada long hair on a kid!”
“Where’d yuh get ‘at stuff? ‘At’s a bearded lady he just finished shavin’.”
But Bernice saw nothing, heard nothing. Her only living sense told her that this man in the white coat had removed one tortoiseshell comb and then another; that his fingers were fumbling clumsily with unfamiliar hairpins; that this hair, this wonderful hair of hers, was going—she would never again feel its long voluptuous pull as it hung in a dark-brown glory down her back. For a second she was near breaking down, and then the picture before her swam mechanically into her vision—Marjorie’s mouth curling in a faint ironic smile as if to say: