Had a stranger seen Elsa Merriam sitting at the piano in her drawing-room at dusk on this spring evening, with the lamplight falling on her cheek and her golden hair, he might have guessed her ten years younger than her actual age; but had he told her of his guess she would not have thought him sincere, for it was a part of Elsa’s charm that when people spoke admiringly of her girlish figure, the fine texture of her skin, the delicacy of her coloring, or when on meeting her with the stupendous Lindsay they voiced amazement that she could be his mother, she saw in their utterances only efforts to be tactful.
Her fingers touched the keys softly; she was listening not so much to her playing as for the sound of the front door, for the Easter holidays were here, and Lindsay was coming home this afternoon from college, bringing a friend with him.
“Chet Pollard’s family’s in Europe or some place,” her son had written, “so he can’t go home this vacation. He’s a good egg, terribly smooth and talented musically.
“When presently from the hall below came the dull sound of the front door closing, she stopped playing and rose from the piano, but on hearing a sedate tread upon the stairs sat down again. The step was not Lindsay’s, but her husband’s.
“Hello, dear,” he said on reaching the doorway. “Lindsay not home yet?”
“No, but I’ve sent the car to the station.”
Her husband came in, kissed her on the cheek, and having performed this customary rite, turned to leave the room.
“Been playing?” he asked casually over his shoulder as he moved away.
“Yes, I’ve found a Grieg sonata with a nice cello part for Lindsay, and I’ve been brushing up on some of our old Beethoven duets.”
“H’m, he likes Grieg and Beethoven, does he?” he inquired vaguely, heading for the stairs.
She was smiling as she resumed her playing. It seemed impossible that Hobart Merriam should not know that his son liked Grieg and Beethoven.
Again the sound of the front door, but this time a distinct concussion followed by a tumult of voices, boyish laughter, the noise of something scraping the banisters, then as she was halfway across the room, Lindsay in the doorway, wearing the shy affectionate grin with which he always greeted her. He let his suitcase fall with a thud to the floor, but with a second piece of baggage was more careful, depositing it gently upon the carpet; then taking his mother by the shoulders he leaned far down and kissed her, while she marveled, as she always did when he reappeared after an absence, that this gigantic college creature was identical with the helpless infant of a few years ago.
“Mother,” he said as he straightened up again, “I want you to meet — I mean, this is my friend Mr. Pollard.”
Mr. Pollard was a handsome youth almost as tall as Lindsay, with brilliant dark eyes and a complexion like a dairymaid’s. Why, Elsa wondered, were the young people of this generation so much taller? Certainly in her girlhood, boys of this height were exceptions.
As she welcomed her son’s classmate his manner was that of one overtaken by mirthful recollections.
“Huh-huh! I’m sure it was very kind of you — huhhuh — to invite me here for the vacation, Mrs. Merriam.”
Lindsay also began, to laugh in the same nervous manner; the two stood chuckling together as if at a secret jest. Desiring to help them regain their composure she spoke gravely of practical affairs. Had their train been on time? Had the chauffeur found them without difficulty? But though Lindsay became calmer his friend continued to laugh his replies. Trying to pacify him was like trying to haul down a captive balloon in a high wind.
“Lindsay tells me you’re fond of music,” she said.
The young man chuckled that he was, and she turned to her son.
“I didn’t have time to write about it,” she told him, “but there’s a splendid symphony concert tonight with Lazlof playing the cello part of a Grieg sonata I’ve just bought for us to do. I got three tickets on the chance that you and Mr. Pollard would be able to go with me.”
Abruptly the laughter ceased; a profound solemnity overtook the two boys; they stared at each other, evidently exchanging wireless messages which resulted in the nomination of Lindsay to be spokesman.
“Look, mother,” he began, “it certainly was good of you. We certainly appreciate it and everything. But now look — Chet thought — at least there’s a girl — I mean a couple of girls — they were down at the prom — and this girl’s mother is a friend of Chet’s mother, and she wanted him to be nice to her when he came to New York, so we kind of arranged to take them to the theater tonight — only we haven’t called up yet, so of course they might not be able to go, and —”
Here Pollard seemed to think best to break in.
“Oh, they’ll be able to go all right,” he said with the air of one sure of his women.
Mrs. Merriam was quick to help them out of their embarrassment.
“I thought it likely you’d have an engagement,” she said, “but I got tickets on the off chance. I’ll probably be able to get Cousin Ellen and Aunt Fannie to go with me.”
“Gosh!” said Lindsay sympathetically.
“I admit I wish Dorothy Hallock were at home,” said his mother.
“We went to lots of concerts last year. I always have a fine time with Dorothy, she’s such a sweet girl.”
“Yes,” her son replied, “sweet’s the word; sweet means dopeless.”
“Indeed? And what does dopeless mean?”
“Just what Dorothy is — unsophisticated.”
“I should hope so!” she said with a little baffled sigh. “Well, dear, hadn’t you better be seeing about your theater seats?”
“I’ll call up Bea and Midge,” Pollard said, and Lindsay forthwith led him to the telephone closet in the hall.
Mrs. Merriam was at the piano when her son returned alone to the room.
“Here’s that Grieg sonata,” she said. “Bring your cello and we’ll run through it before dinner.”
“Look, mother,” he answered uneasily, “I didn’t bring my cello this time. You see, the vacation’s so short, and it’s such a job lugging it around.”
It was the first time he had failed to bring his cello home, and she was keenly disappointed; perhaps he read her disappointment in her face, for he went on: “I would of brought it, mother, but it’s so darn bulky and I had two other things to carry.”
“I suppose you couldn’t, then,” she said.
From early childhood Lindsay had loved good music and she prized the taste as his most valuable inheritance from her. As a girl she had dreamed of becoming a professional pianist; at fifteen she was sufficiently advanced to study under a great master; two years later, however, her mother had died, and just then, when she felt so alone, she had met Hobart Merriam and married him. At the time there was some talk of a resumption of her studies, but it was prevented first by Hobart’s complete indifference to music, then by the birth of Lindsay. Lindsay more than made up to her for the loss of her career; he was worth a thousand girlish dreams; deep down in her heart she acknowledged to herself that, good and kind though Hobart was, her real companion was her son.
Early she had begun to give him rudimentary musical instruction; at seven he had a little cello, and within a few years he had so far progressed that she began to harbor visions in which her early ambitions for herself came to fruition in him; visions in which she saw him seated with his cello on a stage, playing to a hushed audience.
Because of the boy’s talent she would have preferred to keep him at school in New York, where he could continue his musical education under the best teachers, but his father had other plans for him. His own parents had been poor, and he was determined to give Lindsay the advantages of boarding school and college, which he had been denied. Elsa fought off the selection of a school as long as she could, and when compelled to decide, chose one in which the head master was musical. Occasionally she would go up and hear the school orchestra, in which Lindsay played, and all through the school year she looked forward to the summer vacation at Westfield, in the Berkshire Hills, where they had time to play together a great deal, working up difficult duets, and also trios — for Dorothy Hallock often joined them with her violin.
Summer residents were wont to speak of Westfield as unspoiled, by which they meant that the same families occupied the same houses every season, that the country club was simple, and that there was no flamboyant hotel to attract social gypsies. The automobile, of course, did tend to bring to the country-club dances young people from the smarter settlements nearby, giving Westfield occasional glimpses of the genus flapper, but such glimpses served only to heighten local conservatism.
The Hallocks were typical of the place; old New Yorkers whose residences in the city and the country dated from an era of architectural ugliness; but they were spacious homelike houses, and their owner and his wife were old-fashioned enough to be attached to them, and moreover to have a family large enough to keep them comfortably filled. With her music and her quick intelligence, Dorothy, the youngest of the Hallock children, seemed to Elsa the most attractive girl in Westfield, and it flattered her that despite the difference in their ages Dorothy so evidently enjoyed being with her. It was nearly a year now since Dorothy had gone to school in Paris, and the elder woman had genuinely missed her.
Lindsay, too, had missed Dorothy, Elsa thought; for during the summer of her absence he spoke often of their need of a violin, and showed a restlessness she had never seen in him before. Until that summer he had always been satisfied to stay in Westfield, but he now began to take nocturnal motor trips to dances at neighboring resorts. Of course, though, he was at the restless age.
Often when they were playing she spoke of Dorothy.
“Sure I miss her,” he once told her. “She’s an awfully nice kid, but I wish they’d get some new girls in this place.”
“Why, Dorothy isn’t a kid. She’s only a year younger than you are.”
“Nearly two years,” he corrected. “She’s sixteen.”
“She’ll be seventeen this summer.”
“Well, anyhow,” he said, “I couldn’t get interested in her; we know each other too well. Look, mother, can I have the motor tonight? There’s a dance over at Arlington. And I need twenty-five dollars.”
A little after that he left for college, and she was overjoyed when presently he wrote that he had made the college orchestra. During his Christmas holidays they played but little, most of his time having been given to social activities. She supposed it was only natural that a college boy should want a lively vacation, and she prized the more such odd moments as he spent with her.
And now, after what seemed a trifling interval, the Easter holidays were here. Time went faster and faster. After another little interval it would be summer and they would go again to Westfield. Before long he would be out of college; then presently he would marry and she would lose him. She must make the most of the few remaining years. Ah, how she wished that he had brought his cello home!
Chet Pollard was still at the telephone when Mr. Merriam came downstairs.
“Well, Lindsay,” was his greeting to his son, and the two shook hands, Lindsay giving a jerky little half bow. He always seemed a trifle ill at ease when he greeted his father; Elsa believed it was because both were conscious of the fact that two or three years ago they would have kissed.
“I believe you’re taller than ever,” Mr. Merriam said.
“No, I’ve stopped growing but I’m putting on some weight. If I can put on about twelve pounds I’ve got a chance for the crew.”
The father made no comment upon this, but remarked: “Your mother and I were pleased that you passed your uniform tests.”
“Believe me, I was pleased!” said Lindsay, grinning. “I was half expecting to get on pro. Spanish and French saved me; they’re gut courses.”
“They’re what?” his mother asked.
“Gut — soft — easy,” he elucidated.
“H’m,” said his father. “Better have your bags taken upstairs. I tripped over one of them in the hall.”
“You did?” Lindsay looked agitated. “You didn’t trip over that long black one, did you? Gosh! I wouldn’t have anybody trip over that!”
“It might be a good idea, then, not to leave it in the center of the hall.”
“Gosh! Did I leave it there? Well, I’ll take it up to my room right now!”
He started for the door, but his mother interposed.
“Just ring for Wilkes,” she said. “He’ll take them up.”
“Not on your life!” Lindsay answered with great earnestness, as he picked up the suitcase and the long black box. “Not this thing. I’ll carry this myself.”
“What you got in it you’re so particular about?” his father asked.
“Well,” replied the boy obscurely as he started for the stairs, “it’s something I can’t afford to have broken.”
“But look here,” persisted his father, “why are you so careful about that box? What you got that’s so breakable?”
Lindsay, who was now halfway up the stairs, stopped, and looking over the balustrade laughed down at the anxious upturned faces of his parents.
“Oh, it’s not hooch — if that’s what you mean. No, dad, nothing like that. It’s just something — something that I — well, I wanted to ease it to mother, but I guess I might as well show it to you now.”
He descended, let the leather bag plump to the floor again, and carried the mysterious black case to the drawing-room, where he placed it carefully upon a couch. Then without moving to open it he turned and earnestly addressed his parents.
“Now look,” he said, “in the first place I want you to realize I got this thing at a wonderful bargain. Probably you could go from one end of this country to the other and you’d never see a bargain like it again. Probably there aren’t five others like this one I’ve got here, in the whole country. I want you to realize, mother, what a perfectly unprecedented —”
“You haven’t told us what it is, yet,” his father broke in.
“I was just going to tell you,” the boy returned, “but first I want to make absolutely sure you understand what a wonderful bargain I’ve got.”
“It seems to me,” remarked his father dryly, “that you have succeeded in impressing that point upon us. What is it?”
“But first,” continued Lindsay —” first you must realize that it’s quadruple gold plate over triple silver plate. If you understood about these — these things, why, you’d know they don’t make ’em that way — not except when they get a special order. And even then you’d have to wait weeks and weeks before you’d —”
“What you got?” demanded his father in the tone of one whose patience is being worn thin.
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you,” answered the youth, going to the box and undoing a catch at one end.
But instead of releasing the other catches and opening the box he turned and with all the impressiveness he could command delivered a final word.
“It cost two hundred and seventy-five new,” he declared, “and what do you think I paid for it? Only one hundred and fifty dollars! That’s all! Yes, sir, only one hundred and fifty! Why, if I hadn’t of bought it, it would of been a crime! Nothing less than a crime! I want you to keep that fact in mind, dad, because —”
“For heaven’s sake!” cried Mr. Merriam, “what — you — got — in that — box?”
Dramatically Lindsay threw back the lid, revealing in a velvet recess a shining, tubular, twisted, bell-mouthed something, scaffolded with metal bars and disks.
“Oh, Lindsay!” cried his mother in an anguished voice.
“Quadruple gold plate over triple silver plate!” her son reiterated.
“You haven’t mentioned what it is — not even yet!” commented Mr. Merriam with abysmal cynicism. “Is it a fire extinguisher, or a home-brew outfit?”
“No — home blew,” replied his son.
Seizing the gilded instrument and holding it as if to play, he began to shuffle, undulating his body in a negroid manner and singing:
“When I blow those home-brew blues
On my sexy saxophone,
I can get any gal I choose —
Come, ma baby, youse ma own!
Briny yo’ bottle, baby dear;
Fill it full of gin or beer;
Come and lap the home-made booze,
While I blow those home-brew —
Hear me blow those home-brew —
Having finished his song he blew upon the instrument, evoking from its golden throat sounds resembling ribald laughter, ending on a dissonant note.
“Oh, Lindsay!” cried Mrs. Merriam again.
“That’s a nice refined song!” said his father caustically. “I suppose that’s what they teach you in college.”
At this juncture Chet Pollard came from the telephone closet.
“I had an awful time getting ’em,” he said. “They had to page ’em all over the hotel. It’s a darn nuisance!”
“Can they go?” Lindsay demanded.
“Naturally,” replied Pollard.
Lindsay introduced him to his father; then: “We want to get theater seats for tonight, dad,” he said. “I was wondering if you’d work your drag at the club.”
“It would be nice if you could get seats for the new Shaw play,” said Mrs. Merriam.
Again she sensed an exchange of wireless messages between the two young men.
“But look, mother —”
Pollard, however, cut Lindsay short.
“That’s so, Mrs. Merriam,” he declared. “I understand the Shaw play is very — very clever. In my opinion Shaw is one of the cleverest playwrights there is; but you see, these girls we’re going to take are musical — uh — they’re very musical, and uh — they thought they’d like to go to something — uh — something musical this time.”
“There’s a lovely little operetta called Mignonette,” the mother suggested. “Quite the daintiest thing I’ve seen in years. If you — “
“But look, mother,” Lindsay broke in, “we were planning — “
Here, however, the more adroit Pollard again took matters into his own hands.
“Yes, indeed, Mrs. Merriam,” said he, “I hear Mignonette’s awfully dainty. But I guess these girls must of — uh — must of seen it, or something. Anyway they were speaking of another musical show they hadn’t seen, and —”
“So we thought —” began Lindsay.
“What’s the name of it?” Mrs. Merriam asked.
“It’s at the Apollo,” answered the guest.
“I don’t remember what’s at the Apollo,” she said, and turning to her husband, who had begun to read the evening paper, asked him to look it up.
At that, however, Pollard spoke up quickly.
“Oh, yes,” he said, as if the name had just come to him. “It’s called Jazbo.”
Mr. Merriam now became interested. “Jazbo?” he repeated. “Isn’t that the name of the show the police were — “
“It’s quite all right now, though,” his son interposed hastily.
“Who says so?”
“I was reading in the paper where they made those girls put on different costumes.”
“Costumes?” said his father. “Was there trouble about costumes too? I understood it was the dancing of this woman, What’s-her-name, that — “
“Khiva,” said Pollard. “But they say her manager paid the police to make a row, Mr. Merriam.”
“Yes, just an advertising dodge,” quickly supplemented Lindsay.
“The advertising dodge seems to have worked so far as you two boys are concerned,” his father commented.
But this elicited immediate protests.
“No, sir, that’s not it!” declared Pollard righteously.
“No, I should say not!” Lindsay added. “Why, dad, the music in this show’s a knock-out. Three big fox-trot hits in one show: My Raggedy Rose, Sweet Cookie and You Gorilla-Man. And besides, if you invite a lady to go to the theater, and she expresses a desire to see some particular show, and you — “
“And they have Joe Eckstein and his Saxophone Six,” urged Pollard.
At this Mr. Merriam became still more interested.
“Oh, those fellows?” he said. “They must be the ones I heard last year. They’re very good.” He smiled at the memory; then looking with dawning curiosity at his son’s new treasure lying in the open case he asked: “Is that the same sort of thing they play?”
“Sure,” replied the collegian; “a saxophone — but this one’s quadruple gold plate over triple silver plate.”
“Let’s hear you play it, then.”
Lindsay took it up, put the mouthpiece to his lips and blew a stream of bubbling bursting notes.
“Can’t you play us a tune?”
But the saxophonist shook his head.
“Needs other instruments — a piano anyhow,” he answered.
“There’s your mother — she’ll play for you.”
But Lindsay shook his head again. “Oh, mother can’t play jazz,” he said.
“Your mother can’t?” exclaimed Mr. Merriam. “I guess your mother can play anything anybody else can!” He looked questioningly at his wife, but she remained silent.
“No,” said Lindsay, “jazz isn’t like other music. It’s a trick by itself. Maybe, if you’d like, we can get somebody in to play before vacation ends. Chet, here, has got his clarinet with him, and he’s great on it.”
Having won his father over to his instrument he now exhibited it in detail, showing how the stops worked.
“Gosh, I was lucky to get this one!” he said. “I never would have got it if Len Spinney hadn’t been dropped out of college. You remember Len, mother?”
She nodded. “You say he’s been dropped? That’s too bad.”
“Yes, and he didn’t need to be. But he kept going to New York to see a girl, and he took too many cuts. He didn’t mind much, though. He’d been thinking of marrying her anyway, so when he got dropped he decided to do it; but he hadn’t any money and that’s how I came to get it so cheap. He had to have a hundred and fifty dollars.”
“A classmate of yours — married?” cried his mother.
“On a hundred and fifty dollars?” demanded Mr. Merriam.
“Uh-huh,” replied Lindsay with a nonchalance that both his parents found ghastly. “That was all he really needed right away. His wife couldn’t go on a wedding trip. She has to stay in town because she’s in the Follies.”
Mrs. Merriam stared at her son, thunderstruck, but the father was vocal for them both.
“My God!” he exclaimed.
“Well,” said Lindsay, “she’s knock-out for looks and a wonderful dancer, and a fellow has to marry sometime, doesn’t he? By the way, dad, I need twenty-five dollars and — Oh, I tell you who we could have in to jazz up the piano — Bea Morris — eh, Chet?”
“None better,” said the other youth.
“Who’s Bea Morris?” Mrs. Merriam inquired.
“Girl ‘t’s going to the theater with us tonight. Say, dad, would you mind phoning for those seats?”
“How many?” asked his father, moving toward the door.
“Aren’t these girls to have a chaperon?” Mrs. Merriam asked.
An expression of pain came over the boy’s face. “Gosh, mother!” he sighed. “Where you been all this time? If a girl’s so dopeless she has to have a chaperon she doesn’t get asked — that’s all.”
“Well, I’m thankful we haven’t a daughter to bring up, the way things are,” she said.
“Oh, I don’t know,” returned her son. “Just because there’s no chaperon it doesn’t necessarily mean necking.”
“That’s a comfort,” Mr. Merriam said. “Then it’s four, is it?”
“But really, Hobart,” pursued his wife, “do you think it’s proper for these boys to take young ladies to see a musical comedy the police were going to close?”
Again the look of pain swept over her son’s face.
“Oh, mother!” he protested. “Don’t be a flat tire! You’d call the Hallocks proper enough, wouldn’t you?”
“Well, Mrs. Hallock took Bobby and a lot of young people to see Jazbo — a big theater party, and a lot of subdebs at that.”
“I could telephone and ask her what she thought of it.”
“Mother! What kind of a position would that put me in? Asking people what shows I’d ought to see or not! You seem to forget I’m practically twenty.”
“It can’t hurt to ask her what sort of show it is,” his mother contended, “if I don’t tell her — “
“Well,” he said, still protesting, “I don’t say she’d exactly recommend this show. Maybe she didn’t know about the police and everything, but she took ’em, all the same. One of the girls came down to the prom, and she told me. She said she was kind of disappointed in the show, herself, after so much talk; said it wasn’t so very rancid — just a little sour in spots.”
“I’m not worrying about you,” said his mother, “but about where you take these young girls.”
But Pollard hastened to reassure her. “Oh, don’t worry about that, Mrs. Merriam,” said he. “They’re not young. Both of them are over twenty.”
“But what will their mothers think if I — “
“As far as that goes,” he told her, “their mothers won’t know anything about it. Midge hasn’t got any mother, and Bea’s mother is in White Sulphur or some place. And anyhow, Mrs. Merriam, she’s a very broad-minded woman — she lets Bea do just whatever she pleases.”
“What do you think, Hobart?” the mother asked.
“Oh,” said her husband, “I’d let ’em go. These girls aren’t our daughters, and from what I hear, it’s the way all of ’em are now.” And as she interposed no further objections he went to telephone for the theater seats.
Immediately after dinner the two boys, slim and clean-looking in their tucs, rushed away in a taxi, and a little later Mrs. Merriam, having been unable to find anyone to accept her belated invitation, left her husband reading in his library and departed alone in her limousine for the concert.
But tonight the music, whirling in great somber currents through the auditorium, made only a background for her thoughts. Her mind was full of Lindsay. She was troubled about him; he had not only left his cello at college but had brought home what an instrument instead! A saxophone! And it had belonged to a boy who had been dropped from college and had married a chorus girl.
Who were these girls Lindsay was with? What had come over her son that he wished to take them to a tawdry show? She thought of her incessant efforts to develop in him a fastidiousness not only in music but in other things which should be his esthetic and moral safeguard. And was this to be the outcome? During the intermission she found friends to talk with; then the orchestra reassembled and she was left alone again. Lazlof, the great cellist, entered at one side, carrying his instrument, and amid applause made his way to a chair at the center of the stage; the choir of stringed instruments softly played the prelude, Lazlof lifted his slender bow, and the miracle began.
The sound of the cello added poignancy to her thoughts of her son. How often she had secretly visioned him playing to just such a hushed audience as this! But alas, that dream, like so many others, must be relinquished.
“Did you hear those boys come in this morning?” her husband asked at breakfast.
“Did you notice the time?”
“Yes; I didn’t sleep very well.”
“Nearly seven!” he said, and she had a wanly humorous sense of his looking at her accusingly, as though the lateness of their home-coming were in some way her fault.
“I went into Lindsay’s room before I came down,” he continued gloomily. “I could have set off a bomb in there for all they’d have known! Room in horrible disorder — clothes all over the place. I stepped on a watch — don’t know which of them it belongs to. What condition do you suppose they came home in?”
“Lindsay has always thrown his things around,” she said.
“What could they have been doing?” he went on. “Do nice girls stay out with boys all night?”
“I don’t know,” she answered. “I don’t believe I understand these young people.”
“Well, I’ve been reading a book about them,” he declared, “a novel some young fellow’s written. If they’re what he says they are they’re a pretty queer lot.”
“What’s the name of the book?”
“I don’t remember. If you want to look at it you’ll find it on the table by my bed; it’s got a red cover. Do you know anything about these two girls?”
“I wouldn’t be surprised if they were chorus girls,” said he.
“Oh, no!” It was as much a prayer as a denial.
“Why not? Didn’t Lindsay say a classmate of theirs married a chorus girl? Didn’t he seem to approve of it?”
“Oh, I can’t believe he was thinking of that side of it,” said she. “I think he was just glad to get the boy’s saxophone.”
“Well,” he said in a sinister tone as he left the room, “you just read that book!”
Having the morning to herself she did read some of it and skimmed the rest. The publisher’s announcement on the paper jacket proclaimed it A Passionate Tale of Youth in Revolt, and described the author as A Fearless Young Iconoclast, Impatient of Literary Shackles. Except one drunken middle-aged woman, there were in the world with which the story dealt no grown-up people. It was a world of flappers, gin and familiarities.
When about noon the boys came down to breakfast she looked apprehensively for signs of dissipation, and was infinitely relieved to find them clear-eyed and in high spirits. Lindsay, kissing her, did not smell of gin, but of the sticky oily stuff that made his hair so shiny.
“Did you have a good time?” she asked as she poured their coffee.
“Did we! Do you know what time we got in? It was darn near seven.”
“How was Jazbo?”
“Pretty peppy, and great music. We just naturally had to go around to the Prowlers’ Club afterwards, and dance all night.”
“Not a real club; just a restaurant — the joint where they have the best music in town. Gosh, I can hear Sinzy yet, whanging out that You Gorilla-Man!” He began to hum, bouncing in his chair.
“Yes,” said her son; and as she looked blank he continued: “Mean to say you’ve never heard of Sinzy? Why, he’s one of the greatest characters in this town. He’s got a face like bad news from home, but I guess he’s the best jazz piano player in the world.”
“And the young ladies didn’t get tired?”
“If they had their way we wouldn’t be home yet, would we, Chet?”
“No,” and he explained: “You see, Mrs. Merriam, these girls are a couple of the busiest little pep artists this side of Cayenne.”
“They both dance well?”
“A girl’s got to dance well to make the grade these days,” her son informed her. “She’s got to be practically as good as a professional.”
“Then these girls aren’t professionals?” she asked quickly.
“For heaven sakes!” returned her son. “What would we be doing with professional dancers?”
“Professionals look good on the floor,” said Pollard, “but they try to lead you too much. But you take Midge “— he was speaking now to Lindsay —” did you ever dance with anybody as light as she is?”
“I sure did!” the other answered almost indignantly. “Bea’s every bit as light as Midge — except maybe above the ears.”
“Oh,” retorted his friend, “you think so ’cause Bea falls for you harder! She sure was handing you a heavy line last night.”
“Aw, what you talking about! She was not!”
“Sure she was! Didn’t I hear her saying how you were so cynical and everything.”
“I guess you’re sore because she didn’t shoot you a line,” Lindsay returned. “Next thing, I s’pose, you’ll say she’s got a wooden leg or something. Why don’t you say that too? Why don’t you say she can’t bang the box?”
“No, I wouldn’t say that,” conceded Pollard. “I got to admit she’s some jazz baby.”
“You just ought to hear her, mother!” Lindsay said.
“I should like to. Do you expect to see her again this vacation?”
“Do we? We’re going to see ’em this afternoon.”
“And again tonight,” Pollard added.
“And that reminds me, mother — I’d like the car if you’re not going to use it; and I need twenty-five dollars.”
“What’s on tonight?” she asked.
“But this is Good Friday, dear!”
“Oh, we won’t begin dancing till after midnight. We can start kind of late, and eat along, and go to a movie or something.”
She saw her opportunity and seized it.
“Why not ask them here to dinner? We can have some jazz afterwards.”
Again the wireless went to work between the boys.
“Why, I think that would be fine,” Pollard said in answer to his friend’s unspoken question.
“Yes, if we could get ’em,” Lindsay said, “but they might have a date for dinner or something. You know, mother, they’re about two of the most popular girls in New York.”
“Oh, we’ll get ’em all right,” declared Pollard.
“Hadn’t you better telephone and ask them?” suggested Mrs. Merriam.
“Way I look at it,” said Chet, “if I was doing it I wouldn’t ask ’em anything. Keep calling a girl up and you don’t have her guessing. These dopeless birds keep calling their girls up, ‘Can you do this?’ Can you do that?’ and so forth; so that girl isn’t guessing, ’cause she sees the bird’s dopeless. But my way would be, I’d wait till I saw ’em this afternoon, and then I’d tell ’em. I’d just say, ‘You’re coming to dinner, woman.”
“All right,” said Lindsay, impressed; “you handle it.”
“Well, I’ll expect them at eight,” Mrs. Merriam said. “If they can’t come telephone me.”
Without having definite knowledge of their plans she had supposed that the boys would return in time to dress for dinner, but when at eight they had not appeared she concluded that they would arrive with the young ladies.
In a few minutes, however, they came in alone, paused breathless in the drawing room door to tell her that the girls would be along presently, and rushed upstairs to dress; but when at half past eight that came down the guests had not arrived.
“Where’s dad?” asked Lindsay.
“He had to stay downtown on business. Where are the young ladies?”
“Oh, they’ll breeze in pretty soon,” said Pollard with the insouciance of one accustomed to hotel service.
“You asked them for eight?”
“Yes, but it was after eight when we broke away.”
It was nearly nine when the girls arrived. Though much of the slang she heard the boys use seemed meaningless, the term “breeze in” struck Elsa Merriam as describing very accurately the manner of Miss Bea Morris and Miss Midge Ayres. Their appearance fascinated her. Their figures were slight and supple, their necks and arms round and white like young birch trees, and their filmy little evening gowns, continually agitated as they flirted their bodies about, called to mind the cloudlike texture of springtime tree tops whipped by erratic April winds. She could hardly tell them apart. Their faces had a look of unreality, suggesting carved masks, very pretty and almost human in expression; eyebrows plucked to a narrow line, cheeks frankly tinted, lips like scarlet poppy petals, hair like a shock of yellow uncurled ostrich plumes. Shaking hands with them she heard a little clatter of gold boxes knocking against each other as they dangled from short chains attached to their wrists.
“Oh, Mrs. Merriam!” panted Bea, hardly waiting for Lindsay to introduce her, “we’ve had a perfectly fantastic time getting here!” She clutched her chest like an emotional actress.
“Simply revolting!” cried Midge.
Whereafter they ran on together in gasping broken sentences, noisily exclamatory, recounting the misadventures of the preceding hour. Mrs. Merriam gathered that they might, by implication, be apologizing for the tardiness of their arrival; at all events it was the nearest thing to an apology that she received. Stripped of dramatics, their story was a simple one. They seemed to wish her to understand that there had been difficulties with the shoulder straps of the new frock Bea was wearing, and that the chauffeur had driven them to a wrong address.
“These old shoulder straps! And just when I was trying to hurry! And that fantastic chauffeur! I told him West Forty-eighth as plain as could be, didn’t I, Midge? But he drove —”
“You don’t mean West Forty-eighth!” shrilled the other. “You mean East Forty-eighth. You told him — “
“Yes, that’s what I mean — East Forty-eighth! East Forty-eighth, I told him, as plain as could be! But he drove us to West Forty-eighth. Poor creature must be feeble-minded!”
“And he stopped in front of a tailor shop!” cried the other.
“Yes, fancy! A tailor shop!”
So they ran on, their arms, shoulders and fluffy bobbed locks continually in motion, while Elsa, bewildered, listened and watched.
Catching sight of her reflection in a mirror Bea turned suddenly and crossed the room, revealing that the back of her dress consisted, above the waist, of very little more than the shoulder straps, which were flesh-colored ribbon. Before the mirror she took from her hair a comb, with which she fluffed up her outstanding yellow mane. Midge followed suit; then the two flopped down together on a couch, crossing their knees, exhibiting the tops of rolled down stockings. Elsa had hardly convinced herself that she saw aright when the entrance of Wilkes, with the announcement that dinner was served, caused the girls to open the little gold boxes hanging from their wrists, and gazing into the mirrored covers, freshen the color on their already tinted lips.
“Did I tell you,” cried Bea to the boys as she took her chair at the dinner table, “that I’m going up to the prom at New Haven? I’m so thrilled I’m almost insane!”
“Huh — New Haven!” commented Chet; while Lindsay asked, “Who you going with?”
“Freddie Spencer.” And in response to a contemptuous snort from her host, she added, “Why, what you got against Freddie?”
“Sofa specialist,” said he.
“Oh, indeed! Well, a New Haven boy told me he was a wonderful athlete.”
“Cozy-corner athlete,” the boy muttered.
“Look, Bea,” put in Chet in a fatherly tone, “I wouldn’t advise any woman I cared about to go to a lot of proms.”
“Well, I like that!” she exclaimed. “Why, the prom at Princeton was the first one I ever went to in my whole life.”
“New Haven’s a very different matter,” Pollard declared.
“Oh, is it?”
“I’m only advising you f’ your own good,” Pollard went on. “A woman doesn’t want to get herself known as a prom trotter.”
“Specially with a bird like Freddie,” Lindsay put in quickly.
“Prom trotter!” she repeated pettishly. “Don’t be fantastic!” And to Lindsay: “I certainly wish I’d known you didn’t like Freddie, though, ’cause if I had I wouldn’t have invited him around.”
“Around here?” he repeated, surprised. “When?”
“Tonight, of course.”
“What you do that for?”
“We need somebody to drum, don’t we? Freddie drums like an angel.”
“Oh, we could of got along without drums.”
“Well anyway,” said Bea, “he wasn’t certain he could come. He was just starting out from the hotel when we met him — going to some putrid party — but he said he’d get away if he could.”
“He’s a knock-out dancer,” Midge put in.
“Yes,” said Bea, “and of course you’ve noticed how wonderfully his hair grows. I’ve never seen a boy with such divine hair.”
Whereat Pollard, who had been gazing at her, shook his head, exclaiming as if with reluctant admiration: “Oh, you woman! You woman, you!”
As Wilkes failed to pass cigarettes to the young ladies with the coffee, they produced them from their own cases, which, together with their make-up boxes, they had laid beside their plates on reaching the table; and the butler, thus prompted, hastily brought matches.
“I’ll have a cigar,” said Chet, and when Lindsay remarked at this deviation from custom he explained, “I’m off cigarettes — they’re too effeminate.”
“Listen,” said Bea, “if we’re going to play let’s go to it,” and though the hostess had not finished her coffee the two girls rose from the table.
“Hold on,” said her son. “Mother hasn’t finished.”
“Oh, don’t wait for me,” she said, whereupon the four young people left the room.
Nor was she greatly surprised at this, for with the exception of Lindsay, who had tried to include her in the conversation, they had ignored her throughout the meal.
When a little later she followed her guests to the drawing-room she saw no sign that her entrance was observed. Midge and the boys were standing at the piano watching Bea, who was beating out a syncopated tune with a rhythm that reminded Elsa of a mechanical piano. She sat down in a chair across the room and watched. A cigarette was dangling from the girl’s lower lip and as it burned shorter she threw her head back to keep the smoke out of her eyes.
“Give us an ash tray, somebody,” she said, blinking and addressing the room.
The boys began to look about for ash trays, but they were on a table near Elsa, so she carried one over and placed it on the shelf at the side of the music rack, receiving by way of acknowledgment a little nod from the girl.
Presently the music was interrupted by the arrival of the sleek Freddie Spencer with his two drum cases.
“Yay boy Freddie!” was Bea’s greeting. “Glad you made the grade.”
“Got in wrong doing it,” he said.
“Why, was she snooty to you?”
“She’s that way. She was snooty to me once too,” Bea told him. “I never get invited there anymore. I should lie awake nights!”
While Freddie adjusted his drums Lindsay ran upstairs for the saxophone and clarinet, and when he returned the little orchestra assembled around the piano.
“We’ll play Sweet Cookie,” announced Bea. “Everybody ready? Altogether now — let’s go!”
And with a crash they began; the piano, drums and cymbal beating out the rhythm, the saxophone belching the melody, the clarinet garnishing the composition with squealing arabesques. The music, moreover, was accompanied by physical activities. Bea at the piano and Freddie at the drums were dancing — if people sitting down may be said to dance; Chet, his body undulating, maneuvered in short steps upon the rug, while Lindsay swayed in what appeared to his mother to be a sort of negroid ecstasy, swinging his instrument about as he played, and occasionally throwing his head back like one drinking from a bottle.
With a feeling that Midge was temporarily left out, Elsa moved over and joined her on a couch where she was seated, but Midge had no intention of remaining in the background. As they finished Sweet Cookie she leaped to her feet shrieking a demand for You Gorilla-Man, and upon their complying, began to shuffle loose jointedly, her whole body shaking as if with palsy; and upon their reaching the refrain she added to the tumult by singing loudly through her nose:
Oh, you Gorilla-Man, I’m so in love with you!
Come catch me if you can! It won’t be hard to do!
Oh, swing me through the trees, beneath the moon serene.
You’re my Gorilla-Man, and I’m your Jungle Queen!
“But she doesn’t know what the words mean,” Mrs. Merriam reflected in extenuation; and as an afterthought she added: “Neither do I.”
Overwhelmed at first by the mere volume of barbaric sound she found herself after a time trying to analyze jazz. It seemed to her to be musical Bolshevism — a revolt against law and order in music. Apparently, too, the jazz Bolsheviks were looters, pillaging the treasure houses of music’s aristocracy. One piece was based upon a Chopin waltz, another was a distortion of an aria from Tosca, another had been filched from Strauss’ Rosenkavalier. Had something gone wrong with the mind of the world? Was there a connection between the various disturbing elements — free verse, futuristic painting, radicalism, crime waves, obstreperous youth, jazz music, jazz dancing, jazz thinking? She rose, crossed the room, and standing behind Bea, watched her hands upon the keyboard.
“How do you do that bass?” she asked the girl in an interval between pieces. “You seem to hit a lot of black notes with the flat of your hand.”
“That’s what a crash bass is,” said Bea over her shoulder.
“How did you learn it?”
“Just picked it up. But there are lots of basses I can do that are more difficult than that; take the Honky-tonk, for instance, or the Hoochy.” Nonchalantly she exhibited several of her left-handed accomplishments. “It’s a gift,” she explained. “One of the best jazz players I know can’t read a note — picked it up from listening to records and watching the keys go down on a mechanical piano. And they say Sinzy himself can’t read very well. Anyway, people that play classical music can’t play jazz; they ruin it trying to put expression in it.”
“Then,” said Elsa, “the idea of jazz is to —”
But she was cut short by Pollard, who had been wandering restlessly about, and who now, unable longer to control himself remarked, “It’s getting late. We’ve got to ease along pretty soon. Let’s play Tag, You’re It!”
“No, I can’t play anymore,” said Bea. “This fantastic shoulder strap’s cutting the arm off me.” She pulled the ribbon aside, exhibiting a red mark upon her flesh.
“If you’ll come up to my room,” invited Elsa, “I’ll try to fix it.”
“All right,” said the girl, and they went upstairs.
“I’ll have to take off my dress,” she said on reaching the bedroom. “Guess you better give me something to get into.”
Mrs. Merriam brought a peignoir; then she undid the few catches holding the dress together in the back, and Bea stepped out of it.
Hastily Mrs. Merriam looked away, holding the peignoir toward her.
“And he’s going to dance all night with this girl!” she thought.
During the three remaining days of the vacation Elsa saw Lindsay hardly at all. After their noontime breakfasts the boys would dash away, returning at nightfall to change into their tucs and disappear again.
On Monday night as he and Chet were leaving the house Lindsay said goodbye to her. “We’re going to take our bags to the station now,” he told her, “and dance till train time.”
“When does your train go?”
“You’re going out on a morning train in evening clothes?”
“Sure,” he returned debonairly; “and to an eight-o’clock class.”
“Then,” she said, too wise to let him see how the picture shocked her, “I hope it’s a gut course.”
As she kissed him goodbye at the front door she seemed to remember something.
“What’s the name of that jazz piano player at the Prowlers’ Club?”
“I thought that was it, but it’s not in the telephone book.”
He smiled, saying, “It’s short for Sinzenheimer.”
Restlessness was apparent in the first few letters Elsa Merriam received from Lindsay after his return to college, and she observed with concern that as the term progressed he frequently came to New York for weekends. Shortly before the beginning of the summer vacation he wrote:
Why do we always have to spend our summers in the same old place? I’m sick and tired of Westfield. Why can’t we take a house at Southampton, where there’s something doing? If we’ve got to go to Westfield I want to visit around. Bea’s invited Chet and me to spend a couple of weeks at their place in Southampton.
In her reply she suggested that instead of his going to Southampton, Bea and Chet come up to Westfield immediately after college closed. In her letter she said:
Westfield’s going to be quite gay in June and July. There’s the golf tournament, and I’ve already heard of several house parties. Dorothy Hallock will be coming back pretty soon, and they’re planning to have the amateur vaudeville at the country club soon after we get up there. You’ll be glad to know that I’ve engaged Sinzy’s orchestra to play for the dance afterwards.
She had barely finished writing when Wilkes announced the arrival of the instructor, an acknowledged leader in his special branch of the musical art, who since the Easter holidays had been giving her three lessons a week at a fabulous fee.
She found him in the drawing-room, a slight, dark, foreign-looking man, dressed in a black-and-white-striped suit, much cut in at the waist. His buttoned shoes had gray cloth tops and his haberdashery was obviously expensive, but his face, which was all nose and mouth, looked, as Elsa remembered hearing someone say, like bad news from home.
“Well,” he said genially as she entered, “how’s d’ little woman t’day?”
“Fine,” she answered, and congratulated herself on having made the appropriate reply.
“All right,” he said. “Go to it!” And she sat down and played The Spinning Mouse.
“Swell!” said her professor when she finished. “Take it from me, you won’t find nobody can play that piece like you can. They’re scared of it — it shows ’em up. All you gotta do now is keep on — agitate the ivories.”
She did keep on, in New York, and later in Westfield, until Lindsay came home, though after his arrival she was not able to practice when he was in the house. But he was not often in the house — particularly after Bea and Chet arrived from Southampton in Bea’s yellow roadster.
In the week that followed she found herself somewhat in the position of a roadhouse keeper, supplying meals to transient motorists who might arrive at any hour or might not arrive at all.
On the night of the vaudeville and dance she sent the three young people over to the country club for dinner, saying that she would dine quietly at home with Mr. Merriam, who had arrived from New York that afternoon.
“One thing’s sure,” Lindsay told her proudly before leaving, “Bea’s jazz is going to be a knock-out at the vaudeville. I told ’em they better put her at the end of the program, ’cause if she played early she’d kill the other acts.”
Outside the open door the yellow roadster was purring, and Bea in the driver’s seat was impatient.
“Snap it up!” she called in to Lindsay, whereupon he hastened out, and his mother went upstairs to dress.
Tonight it took her a long time. When she came down her husband was waiting, and from his expression she was immediately aware that her costume interested him.
“My goodness!” he chuckled. “Why, I’d hardly have known you. You look about eighteen. How did you get your hair like that?”
“It’s a wig.” She spun around, making the fluffy mass stand out.
“My goodness!” he exclaimed again.
When they reached the club she said, “You go out and sit in the audience. I’m going in the back way.”
As Mr. Merriam entered, the vaudeville was about to begin; the footlights were turned on the lights in the assembly room were dimmed, and those who had dined at the club were hastening to find seats.
In the half darkness Lindsay caught sight of his father.
“Where’s mother?” he asked.
“Oh, I guess she’s around some place,” answered Mr. Merriam, his eyes twinkling.
“Here’s three places!” Chet called, and Lindsay hastened on.
As he made his way between the rows of chairs, followed by Bea and Chet, he perceived that the Hallocks were seated in the same row, and that a young lady, evidently their guest, was in the chair next to his. She was talking to Bobby Hancock, and her face was turned away from him, but he liked the way her dark hair was piled up on her head, and it struck him that her gown had, somehow, a very fashionable look.
As usual there were no printed programs; the names of the performers were displayed successively on large cards placed at either side of the proscenium. The first card announced George M. Cohan, the second Uncle Remus, and the third Signora Wilsoni, who was additionally billed as The Sweet Singer of Hillside Road. But the members of the Westfield Country Club were much too astute to be deceived by the names upon the cards or the disguises worn by the performers. They recognized Ellen Niles, dressed in her brother’s clothes, which were much too large for her, flourishing a cane and singing nasally from the corner of her mouth; Bud Smith in blackface, feigning to hoe the stage while he gossiped humorously in negro dialect about various members of the club; and young Mrs. Templeton Wilson, singing ballads in a demure blue frock.
The cards for the fourth number announced The Painted Jazzabel, but when the curtains were drawn back the stage was empty, save for a grand piano and a bench. Almost at once, however, The Painted Jazzabel strolled on, and the manner in which she did so might accurately have been described as breezing in. Her figure was slight and supple, her neck and arms round and white like a birch tree, and her filmy little evening gown, continually agitated as she flirted her body about, might have made an onlooker think of the cloudlike texture of springtime tree tops whipped by erratic April winds. Her face had a look of unreality, suggesting a carved mask, very pretty and almost human in expression; eyebrows penciled to a narrow line, cheeks frankly tinted, lips like scarlet poppy petals, hair like a shock of yellow uncurled ostrich plumes.
“Gosh!” gasped Lindsay. “It’s mother!”
The note of burlesque in the costume was accentuated by two large tin boxes dangling at the end of dog chains wrapped around the wrist of The Painted Jazzabel. At the center of the stage she stopped, faced the audience, opened one of the tin boxes, took from it a large stick of crimson grease paint, and gazing into the mirrored interior of the lid, touched up her cheeks and lips. Then, closing the make-up box, she took from the other a cigarette, lighted it, and let it dangle from her lower lip as, with a gait suggesting a surcharge of vitality, she proceeded to the piano, her arms, shoulders and fluffy bobbed locks continually in motion.
As, after a moment, Elsa was generally recognized, there was amused whispering throughout the room; then laughter and applause — in which, however, her son did not participate.
“Gosh!” he muttered again when, in taking her seat at the piano, she momentarily revealed the fact that her stockings were rolled down.
“How perfectly fantastic!” Bea exclaimed. “What’s she going to do?”
“Darned if I know — in that get-up! She usually plays Chopin.”
But this time she did not play Chopin. Detaching the dog chains from her wrist she flung the two tin boxes with a clatter to the bench beside her, and with her cigarette still dangling, began in an extremely efficient manner to agitate the ivories, playing a composition which, despite embellishments, was instantly recognized by those familiar with the music of the moment as Booful Baboon Babe. The music, moreover, was accompanied by physical activities. Elsa was dancing — if a person sitting down may be said to dance.
Her final burst of pyrotechnics was met by a roar of applause, but she seemed unconscious of it. Putting down her cigarette she opened the tin make-up box, took out a comb, and gazing into the mirrored cover, fluffed up her bobbed locks, amid increasing laughter. Then after adjusting her shoulder straps and pulling up her stockings she played the eccentric fox trot Stub Your Toe, and modulated from that into The Spinning Mouse. This performance drew a comment from Bea, for The Spinning Mouse was notoriously difficult, and was seldom attempted by pianists because, to quote the words of an authority, “They’re scared of it — it shows ’em up.”
“Why, I didn’t know your mother could rag!” she said, during the tumult that followed.
“Neither did I, but she certainly can! I think she’s got Sinzy trimmed, don’t you?”
Bea did not answer his question, but remarked: “Well, I never could see that Spinning Mouse.”
Lindsay had his own views as to his mother’s appearance, and was planning to express them to her at the earliest possible moment; but for this new accomplishment of hers he had only admiration, and the criticism implied in Bea’s remark annoyed him.
“Do you mean you couldn’t see it, or you couldn’t play it?” he demanded.
“I mean,” she replied stiffly, “that it’s just a stunt to show off with.”
“Anybody that can play like my mother can,” he said, looking her pugnaciously in the eye, “has got a darn good right to show off.” And he added: “I don’t remember as I ever saw you showing off that way!”
She looked at him angrily, then turned away and spoke to Chet.
“It’s awfully stuffy in this place,” she said. “It’s given me a headache. Come on, let’s get the roadster.”
She rose and Chet followed.
“But look, Bea,” protested Lindsay; “you can’t go like that! They’re expecting you to play.”
“Then they’re going to get fooled,” she said scornfully. “They’ve got too much piano playing on their program. This whole place makes me sick abed anyway! Come on, Chet.”
And the two moved away.
Lindsay watched them to the door. All right, then! If Bea wanted to go like that, let her! He was pretty well fed up on Bea anyway — and Chet, too, for that matter! It was one thing to go out to dances with them, but quite another to have them visiting for days and days in your own house. What did he care whether Bea played tonight or not? It made no difference to him. All he’d have to do was notify the committee that she’d changed her mind — a simple enough matter, since Mrs. Hallock, the chairman, sat but a few seats away from him.
During the intermission he rose and informed her of Bea’s departure; whereupon the young lady beside whom he had been sitting smiled up at him and ventured a remark:
“I’m not surprised that your friend doesn’t want to play,” she said. “Your mother’s a perfect marvel.”
Lindsay’s eyes grew large as he looked back at her.
“Why, Dorothy,” he cried. “For heaven sakes! And I’ve been sitting right next you all this time!” He seized both her hands.
“I’ve been wondering how long it was going to take you to speak to me, she said.
“Believe me,” he answered, gazing at her appreciatively, “I wouldn’t have waited long if I’d recognized you; but how could’ I, in that grown-up dress, and with your hair done that way?”
“Do I look so much older? You know short skirts and bobbed hair aren’t considered smart any more. They’re vieux jeu.”
In Paris, you mean?” he asked her eagerly. “Are they? Well, I’m mighty glad to hear it! I’m fed up with flappers, with their short skirts and their stockings at half-mast. I like a woman to be dignified, and her hair done up.” He sank down in the chair beside her and continued: “You know, Dorothy, as a matter of fact, I don’t think much of modern girls. What can they do? Nothing but dance. Or if they play it’s only jazz. Their manners leave much to be desired and they haven’t got anything above the ears. In my opinion your father did a mighty good job to send you to a nice conservative place like Paris. I tell you, if I had a daughter —” But at this juncture, catching sight of his mother, still in that outrageous flapper make-up, he broke off. “Excuse me,” he said. “I’ve got to see about something. I’ll be back.”
As he paused on the margin of the group surrounding his mother one of the older men spoke to him.
“Well, Lindsay,” he said, “I didn’t know your mother was such a siren.”
“She isn’t!” he returned shortly, and began to elbow his way toward her.
The young men were around her too; they were congratulating her and she was handing them a line. He was beginning to feel a contempt for his own sex. You might think they were hoping she was going to keep on like this! Dumb-bells!
As he was about to speak to her he found himself cut off by a small, dark individual wearing a tight-waisted tue.
“Well, little woman,” Lindsay heard him say as he patted her on the arm, “you sure did put it across. I’ll tell the world you’re some jazz baby!”
Lindsay crowded in and put his arm roughly around her.
“Look, mother,” he said in a low, determined voice, “you come out of here!” And without regard for the maestro or the others he drew her toward the porch.
“What do you want, dear?”
“What do I want? I want you to go home and get some clothes on!”
“But I have to stay for the rest of the show, and the dance. I promised young Mr. Curtiss —”
Still with his arm around her he was propelling her down the porch toward the door of the ladies’ dressing room.
“Look here,” he said, “you don’t dance with young Mr. Curtiss, or young Mr. Anybody Else, till you get some more clothes on! The idea of your coming to a public place like that!”
“What you so snooty about?” she demanded.
“Well, don’t you want me to be up-to date? I haven’t had so much attention in years.”
“Up-to-date!” he repeated with vast superiority. “If you kept really up-to-date you’d be aware that short skirts and bobbed hair aren’t considered smart any more. They’re vieux jeu — that’s what they are!”
He thrust her through the door, planted himself outside, and waited until she reappeared in her light cloak; then taking her by the elbow he hurried her down the gravel drive and into the car, and drove her home. As they neared home they saw, disappearing down the road, the tail light of another car which had just left the house, and Lindsay thought he knew what car it was.
“Did Miss Morris and Mr. Pollard just drive away?” he asked Wilkes, who let them in.
“Yes, Mr. Lindsay. They came home and packed in a hurry — got Sarah and me to help them — and from what they said I don’t think they’re coming back.”
“Didn’t they leave any word?” asked Mrs. Merriam.
“No, madam; but they were saying how they would make Southampton in time for breakfast tomorrow morning.”
“Yes,” said Lindsay to his mother, “and they’ll stage a snappy entrance at Southampton — breezing in to breakfast in evening dress, and thinking they’re the hit of the piece. If you want to know what I think, I think that kind of a performance is pretty juvenile.”
“But they can’t have gone without leaving a message,” she said, incredulous. “That would be so rude.”
“They think it’s the thing to be rude,” he told her, “and there are lots more like ’em. Park in people’s houses, order their servants around, treat their hostess like a hotel keeper, and get up and go when they feel like it, without so much as saying thank you. There’s modern young people for you! Nothing above the ears. I tell you, mother, if I had a daughter you bet I’d get her out of all this kind of thing. I’d send her over to Paris, where it’s conservative.”
He had walked upstairs with her and they were standing at her bedroom door.
“Paris? Conservative?” she repeated, mystified.
“Yes. Now hurry, mother, will you, so we can get over to the club by the time the dancing begins? I told Dorothy I’d be back.”
“Ah!” she said to herself as she shut the door.
While she was dressing he paced the hall outside, occasionally shouting to her.
“Didn’t you think she looked wonderful?” he demanded at the top of his lungs.
“Who?” she called back, laughing silently.
“Of course,” she shouted. “Dorothy always looks well.” Then, with an amused sense of experimenting with words, she added: “And she’s such a sweet girl.”
This time he did not correct her, but heartily agreed, whereupon she asked: “You wouldn’t call her dopeless, would you?”
“I should say not! Not since Paris. She’s a very sophisticated woman. Look, mother, let’s get her over for some real music tomorrow afternoon.”
“All right!” Elsa called back happily.
When a little later she emerged from her room he surveyed her critically.
“That’s more like it,” he said.
They descended and got into the car, but after he had started the motor he thought of something and, setting the brake, jumped out again.
“Wait a second,” he said. “I want to get my saxophone to show to one of Sinzy’s men. I bet he’s never seen one that’s quadruple gold plate over triple silver plate. I think maybe I can sell it to him.”