Gatsby girls, p.20

Gatsby Girls, page 20

 

Gatsby Girls
 


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  “After a certain degree of prettiness, one pretty girl is as pretty as another,” said Scott argumentatively. “Yes, I suppose so.”

  Mrs. Rogers’ voice drifted off on an indefinite note. She had never in her life compassed a generality until it had fallen familiarly on her ear from constant repetition.

  “Let’s talk her over,” Scott suggested.

  With a mock reproachful smile Mrs. Rogers lent herself agreeably to slander. An encore was just beginning. The orchestra trickled a light overflow of music into the pleasant green-latticed room and the two score couples who for the evening comprised the local younger set moved placidly into time with its beat.

  Only a few apathetic stags gathered one by one in the doorways, and to a close observer it was apparent that the scene did not attain the gayety which was its aspiration. These girls and men had known each other from childhood; and though there were marriages incipient upon the floor tonight, they were marriages of environment, of resignation, or even of boredom.

  Their trappings lacked the sparkle of the seventeen-year-old affairs that took place through the short and radiant holidays. On such occasions as this, thought Scott as his eyes still sought casually for Yanci, occurred the matings of the leftovers, the plainer, the duller, the poorer of the social world; matings actuated by the same urge toward perhaps a more glamorous destiny, yet, for all that, less beautiful and less young. Scott himself was feeling very old.

  But there was one face in the crowd to which his generalization did not apply. When his eyes found Yanci Bowman among the dancers he felt much younger. She was the incarnation of all in which the dance failed—graceful youth, arrogant, languid freshness and beauty that was sad and perishable as a memory in a dream. Her partner, a young man with one of those fresh red complexions ribbed with white streaks, as though he had been slapped on a cold day, did not appear to be holding her interest, and her glance fell here and there upon a group, a face, a garment, with a far-away and oblivious melancholy.

  “Dark-blue eyes,” said Scott to Mrs. Rogers. “I don’t know that they mean anything except that they’re beautiful, but that nose and upper lip and chin are certainly aristocratic—if there is any such thing,” he added apologetically.

  “Oh, she’s very aristocratic,” agreed Mrs. Rogers. “Her grandfather was a senator or governor or something in one of the Southern States. Her father’s very aristocratic looking too. Oh, yes, they’re very aristocratic; they’re aristocratic people.”

  “She looks lazy.”

  Scott was watching the yellow gown drift and submerge among the dancers.

  “She doesn’t like to move. It’s a-wonder she dances so well. Is she engaged? Who is the man who keeps cutting in on her, the one who tucks his tie under his collar so rakishly and affects the remarkable slanting pockets?”

  He was annoyed at the young man’s persistence, and his sarcasm lacked the ring of detachment.

  “Oh, that’s “—Mrs. Rogers bent forward, the tip of her tongue just visible between her lips—”that’s the O’Rourke boy. He’s quite devoted, I believe.”

  “I believe,” Scott said suddenly, “that I’ll get you to introduce me if she’s near when the music stops.”

  They arose and stood looking for Yanci—Mrs. Rogers, small, stoutening, nervous, and Scott Kimberly, her husband’s cousin, dark and just below medium height. Scott was an orphan with half a million of his own, and he was in this city for no more reason than that he had missed a train. They looked for several minutes, and in vain. Yanci, in her yellow dress, no longer moved with slow loveliness among the dancers.

  The clock stood at half past ten.

  II

  Good evening,” her father was saying to her at that moment in syllables faintly slurred. “This seems to be getting to be a habit.”

  They were standing near a side stairs, and over his shoulder through a glass door Yanci could see a party of half a dozen men sitting in familiar joviality about a round table.

  “Don’t you want to come out and watch for a while?” she suggested, smiling arid affecting a casualness she did not feel.

  “Not tonight, thanks.”

  Her father’s dignity was a bit too emphasized to be convincing.

  “Just come out and take a look,” she urged him. “Everybody’s here, and I want to ask you what you think of somebody.”

  This was not so good, but it was the best that occurred to her.

  “I doubt very strongly if I’d find anything to interest me out there,” said Tom Bowman emphatically. “I observe that f’some insane reason I’m always taken out and aged on the wood for half an hour as though I was irresponsible.”

  “I only ask you to stay a little while.”

  “Very considerate, I’m sure. But tonight I happ’n be interested in a discussion that’s taking place in here.”

  “Come on, father.”

  Yanci put her arm through his ingratiatingly; but he released it by the simple expedient of raising his own arm and letting hers drop.

  “I’m afraid not.”

  “I’ll tell you,” she suggested lightly, concealing her annoyance at this unusually protracted argument, “you come in and look, just once, and then if it bores you you can go right back.”

  He shook his head.

  “No, thanks.”

  Then without another word he turned suddenly and reentered the bar. Yanci went back to the ballroom. She glanced easily at the stag line as she passed, and making a quick selection murmured to a man near her, “Dance with me, will you, Carty? I’ve lost my partner.”

  “Glad to,” answered Carty truthfully.

  “Awfully sweet of you.”

  “Sweet of me? Of you, you mean.”

  She looked up at him absently. She was furiously annoyed at her father. Next morning at breakfast she would radiate a consuming chill, but for tonight she could only wait, hoping that if the worst happened he would at least remain in the bar until the dance was over.

  Mrs. Rogers, who lived next door to the Bowmans, appeared suddenly at her elbow with a strange young man.

  “Yanci,” Mrs. Rogers was saying with a social smile. “I want to introduce Mr. Kimberly. Mr. Kimberly’s spending the weekend with us, and I particularly wanted him to meet you.”

  “How perfectly slick!” drawled Yanci with lazy formality.

  Mr. Kimberly suggested to Miss Bowman that they dance, to which proposal Miss Bowman dispassionately acquiesced. They mingled their arms in the gesture prevalent and stepped into time with the beat of the drum. Simultaneously it seemed to Scott that the room and the couples who danced up and down upon it converted themselves into a background behind her. The commonplace lamps, the rhythm of the music playing some paraphrase of a paraphrase, the faces of many girls, pretty, undistinguished or absurd, assumed a certain solidity as though they had grouped themselves in a retinue for Yanci’s languid eyes and dancing feet.

  “I’ve been watching you,” said Scott simply. “You look rather bored this evening.”

  “Do I?” Her dark-blue eyes exposed a borderland of fragile iris as they opened in a delicate burlesque of interest. “How perfectly killing !” she added.

  Scott laughed. She had used the exaggerated phrase without smiling, indeed without any attempt to give it verisimilitude. He had heard the adjectives of the year —” “hectic,” “marvelous” and “slick “—delivered casually, but never before without the faintest meaning. In this lackadaisical young beauty it was inexpressibly charming.

  The dance ended. Yanci and Scott strolled toward a lounge set against the wall, but before they could take possession there was a shriek of laughter and a brawny damsel dragging an embarrassed boy in her wake skidded by them and plumped down upon it.

  “How rude!” observed Yanci.

  “I suppose it’s her privilege.”

  “A girl with ankles like that has no privileges.”

  They seated themselves uncomfortably on two stiff chairs.

  “Where
do you come from?” she asked of Scott with polite disinterest.

  “New York.”

  This having transpired, Yanci deigned to fix her eyes on him for the best part of ten seconds.

  “Who was the gentleman with the invisible tie,” Scott asked rudely, in order to make her look at him again, “who was giving you such a rush? I found it impossible to keep my eyes off him. Is his personality as diverting as his haberdashery?”

  “I don’t know,” she drawled; “I’ve only been engaged to him for a week.”

  “My Lord!” exclaimed Scott, perspiring suddenly under his eyes. “I beg your pardon. I didn’t —”

  “I was only joking,” she interrupted with a sighing laugh. “I thought I’d see what you’d say to that.”

  Then they both laughed, and Yanci continued, “I’m not engaged to anyone. I’m too horribly unpopular.” Still the same key, her languorous voice humorously contradicting the content of her remark. “No one’ll ever marry me.”

  “How pathetic!”

  “Really,” she murmured; “because I have to have compliments all the time, in order to live, and no one thinks I’m attractive any more, so no one ever gives them to me.”

  Seldom had Scott been so amused.

  “Why, you beautiful child,” he cried, “I’ll bet you never hear anything else from morning till night !”

  “Oh, yes I do,” she responded, obviously pleased. “I never get compliments unless I fish for them.”

  “Everything’s the same,” she was thinking as she gazed around her in a peculiar mood of pessimism. Same boys sober and same boys tight; same old women sitting by the walls—and one or two girls sitting with them who were dancing this time last year.

  Yanci had reached the stage where these country-club dances seemed little more than a display of sheer idiocy. From being an enchanted carnival where jeweled and immaculate maidens rouged to the pinkest propriety displayed themselves to strange and fascinating men, the picture had faded to a medium-sized hall where was an almost indecent display of unclothed motives and obvious failures. So much for several years! And the dance had changed scarcely by a ruffle in the fashions or a new flip in a figure of speech.

  Yanci was ready to be married.

  Meanwhile the dozen remarks rushing to Scott Kimberly’s lips were interrupted by the apologetic appearance of Mrs. Rogers.

  “Yanci,” the older woman was saying, “the chauffeur’s just telephoned to say that the car’s broken down. I wonder if you and your father have room for us going home. If it’s the slightest inconvenience don’t hesitate to tell----”

  “I know he’ll be terribly glad to. He’s got loads of room, because I came out with someone else.”

  She was wondering if her father would be presentable at twelve.

  He could always drive at any rate—and, besides, people who asked for a lift could take what they got.

  “That’ll be lovely. Thank you so much,” said Mrs. Rogers.

  Then, as she had just passed the kittenish late thirties when women still think they are persona grata with the young and entered upon the early forties when their children convey to them tactfully that they no longer are, Mrs. Rogers obliterated herself from the scene. At that moment the music started and the unfortunate young man with white streaks in his red complexion appeared in front of Yanci.

  Just before the end of the end of the next dance Scott Kimberly cut in on her again.

  “I’ve come back,” he began, “to tell you how beautiful you are.”

  “I’m not, really,” she answered. “And, besides, you tell everyone that.”

  The music gathered gusto for its finale, and they sat dawn upon the comfortable lounge.

  “I’ve told no one that for three years,” said Scott.

  There was no reason why he should have made it three years, yet somehow it sounded convincing to both of them. Her curiosity was stirred. She began finding out about him. She put him to a lazy questionnaire which began with his relationship to the Rogerses and ended, he knew not by what steps, with a detailed description of his apartment in New York.

  “I want to live in New York,” she told him; “on Park Avenue, in one of those beautiful white buildings that have twelve big rooms in each apartment and cost a fortune to rent.”

  “That’s what I’d want, too, if I were married. Park Avenue—it’s one of the most beautiful streets in the world, I think, perhaps chiefly because it hasn’t any leprous park trying to give it an artificial suburbanity.”

  “Whatever that is,” agreed Yanci. “Anyway, father and I go to New York about three times a year. We always go to the Ritz.”

  This was not precisely true. Once a year she generally pried her father from his placid and not unbeneficent existence that she might spend a week lolling by the Fifth Avenue shop windows, lunching or having tea with some former school friend from Farmover, and occasionally going to dinner and the theater with boys who came up from Yale or Princeton for the occasion. These had been pleasant adventures—not one but was filled to the brim with colorful hours—dancing at Mont Martre, dining at the Ritz, with some movie star or supereminent society woman at the next table, or else dreaming of what she might buy at Hempel’s or Waxe’s or Thrumble’s if her father’s income had but one additional naught on the happy side of the decimal. She adored New York with a great impersonal affection—adored it as only a Middle Western or Southern girl can. In its gaudy bazaars she felt her soul transported with turbulent delight, for to her eyes it held nothing ugly, nothing sordid, nothing plain.

  She had stayed once at the Ritz—once only. The Manhattan, where they usually registered, had been torn down. She knew that she could never induce her father to afford the Ritz again.

  After a moment she borrowed a pencil and paper and scribbled a notification “To Mr. Bowman in the grill” that he was expected to drive Mrs. Rogers and her guest home, “by request “—this last underlined. She hoped that he would be able to do so with dignity. This note she sent by a waiter to her father. Before the next dance began it was returned to her with a scrawled 0. K. and her father’s initials.

  The remainder of the evening passed quickly. Scott Kimberly cut in on her as often as time permitted, giving her those comforting assurances of her enduring beauty which not without a whimsical pathos she craved. He laughed at her also, and she was not so sure that she liked that. In common with all vague people, she was unaware that she was vague. She did not entirely comprehend when Scott Kimberly told her that her personality would endure long after she was too old to care whether it endured or not.

  She liked best to talk about New York, and each of their interrupted conversations gave her a picture or a memory of the metropolis on which she speculated as she looked over the shoulder of Jerry O’Rourke or Carty Braden or some other beau, to whom, as to all of them, she was comfortably anesthetic. At midnight she sent another note to her father, saying that Mrs. Rogers and Mrs. Rogers’ guest would meet him immediately on the porch by the main driveway. Then, hoping for the best, she walked out into the starry night and was assisted by Jerry O’Rourke into his roadster.

  III

  GOOD night, Yanci.” With her late escort she was standing on the curbstone in front of the rented stucco house where she lived. Mr. O’Rourke was attempting to put significance into his lingering rendition of her name. For weeks he had been straining to boost their relations almost forcibly onto a sentimental plane; but Yanci, with her vague impassivity, which was a defense against almost anything, had brought to naught his efforts. Jerry O’Rourke was an old story. His family had money; but he—he worked in a brokerage house along with most of the rest of his young generation. He sold bonds—bonds were now the thing; real estate was once the thing—in the days of the boom; then automobiles were the thing. Bonds were the thing now. Young men sold them who had nothing else to go into.

  “Don’t bother to come up, please.” Then as he put his car into gear, “Call me up soon!”

  A m
inute later he turned the corner of the moonlit street and disappeared, his cutout resounding voluminously through the night as it declared that the rest of two dozen weary inhabitants was of no concern to his gay meanderings.

  Yanci sat down thoughtfully upon the porch steps. She had no key and must wait for her father’s arrival. Five minutes later a roadster turned into the street, and approaching with an exaggerated caution stopped in front of the Rogers’ large house next door. Relieved, Yanci arose and strolled slowly down the walk. The door of the car had swung open and Mrs. Rogers, assisted by Scott Kimberly, had alighted safely upon the sidewalk; but to Yanci’s surprise Scott Kimberly, after escorting Mrs. Rogers to her steps, returned to the car. Yanci was close enough to notice that he took the driver’s seat. As he drew up at the Bowman’s curbstone Yanci saw that her father was occupying the far corner, fighting with ludicrous dignity against a sleep that had come upon him. She groaned. The fatal last hour had done its work—Tom Bowman was once more hors de combat.

  “Hello,” cried Yanci as she reached the curb.

  “Yanci,” muttered her parent, simulating, unsuccessfully, a brisk welcome. His lips were curved in an ingratiating grin.

  “Your father wasn’t feeling quite fit, so he let me drive home,” explained Scott cheerfully as he got himself out and came up to her.

  “Nice little car. Had it long?”

  Yanci laughed, but without humor.

  “Is he paralyzed?”

  “Is who paralyze’?” demanded the figure in the car with an offended sigh.

  Scott was standing by the car.

  “Can I help you out, sir?”

  “I c’n get out. I c’n get out,” insisted Mr. Bowman. “Just step a li’l’ out my way. Someone must have given me some stremely bad wisk’.”

  “You mean a lot of people must have given you some,” retorted Yanci in cold unsympathy. Mr. Bowman reached the curb with astonishing ease; but this was a deceitful success, for almost immediately he clutched at a handle of air perceptible only to himself, and was saved by Scott’s quickly proffered arm. Followed by the two men, Yanci walked toward the house in a furor of embarrassment. Would the young man think that such scenes went on every night? It was chiefly her own presence that made it humiliating for Yanci. Had her father been carried to bed by two butlers each evening she might even have been proud of the fact that he could afford such dissipation; but to have it thought that she assisted, that she was burdened with the worry and the care! And finally she was annoyed with Scott Kimberly for being there, and for his officiousness in helping to bring her father into the house.

 
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