After the party was over a top-lofty Stevens Duryea and two 1909 Maxwells waited with a single victoria at the curb—the boys watched as the Stevens filled with a jovial load of little girls and roared away. Then they strung down the street in threes and fours, some of them riotous, others silent and thoughtful. Even for the always surprised ages of ten and eleven when the processes of assimilation race hard to keep abreast of life, it had been a notable afternoon.
So thought Terrence R. Tipton, by occupation actor, athlete, scholar, philatelist and collector of cigar bands. He was so exalted that all his life he would remember vividly coming out of the house, the feel of the spring evening, the way that Dolly Bartlett walked to the auto and looked back at him, pert exultant and glowing. What he felt was like fright—appropriately enough for one of the major compulsions had just taken its place in his life. Fool for love was Terrence from now, and not just at a distance but as one who had been summoned and embraced, one who had tasted with a piercing delight and had become an addict within an hour. Two questions were in his mind as he approached his house—how long had this been going on, and when was he liable to encounter it again?
His mother greeted a rather pale, tow-headed little boy with the greenest of eyes and thin keen features. How was he? He was all right. Did he have a good time at the Gilrays'? It was all right. Would he tell her about it? There was nothing to tell.
“Wouldn't you like to have a party, Terrence?” she suggested. “You've been to so many.”
“No, I wouldn't, Mother.”
“Just think—ten boys and ten little girls, and ice-cream and cake and games.”
“What games?” he asked, not faintly considering a party but from reflex action to the word.
“Oh, euchre or hearts or authors.”
“They don't have that.”
“What do they have?”
“Oh, they just fool around. But I don't want to have a party.”
Yet suddenly the patent disadvantages of having girls in his own house and bringing into contact the worlds within and without, like indelicately tearing down the front wall—were challenged by his desire to be close to Dolly Bartlett again.
“Could we just be alone without anybody around?” he asked.
“Why, I wouldn't bother you,” said Mrs. Tipton. “I'd simply get things started, then leave you.”
“That's the way they all do.” But Terrence remembered that seveeral ladies had been there all afternoon, and it would be absolutely unthinkable if his mother were anywhere at hand.
At dinner the subject came up again.
“Tell Father what you did at the Gilrays',” his mother said. “You must remember.”
“Of course I do, but—”
“I'm beginning to think you played kissing games,” Mr. Tipton guessed casually.
“Oh, they had a crazy game they called Clap-in-and-clap-out,” said Terrence indiscreetly.
“Well, all the boys go out and they say somebody has a letter. No, that's post-office. Anyhow they have to come in and guess who sent for them.” Hating himself for the disloyalty to the great experience, he tried to end with: “—and then they kneel down and if he's wrong they clap him out of the room. Can I have some more gravy please?”
“But what if he's right?”
“Oh, he's supposed to hug them,” Terrence mumbled. It sounded so shameful—it had been so lovely.
“All of them?”
“No, only one.”
“So that's the kind of party you wanted,” said his mother, somewhat shocked. “Oh Terrence.”
“I did not,” he protested, “I didn't say I wanted that.”
“But you didn't want me to be there.”
“I've met Gilray downtown,” said Mr. Tipton. “A rather ordinary fellow from upstate.”
This sniffishness toward a diversion that had been popular in Washington's day at Mount Vernon was the urban attitude toward the folkways of rural America. As Mr. Tipton intended, it had an effect on Terrence, but not the effect counted on. It caused Terrence, who suddenly needed a pliable collaborator, to decide upon a boy named Joe Schoonover, whose family were newcomers in the city. He bicycled over to Joe's house immediately after dinner.
His proposition was that Joe ought to give a parry right away and, instead of having just a few kissing games, have them steadily all afternoon, scarcely pausing for a bite to eat. Terrence painted the orgy in brutal but glowing colors:
“Of course you can have Gladys. And then when you get tired of her you can ask for Kitty or anybody you want, and they'll ask for you too. Oh, it'll be wonderful!”
“Supposing somebody else asked for Dolly Bartlett.”
“Oh, don't be a poor fool.”
“I'll bet you'd just go jump in the lake and drown yourself.”
“I would not.”
“You would too.”
This was poignant talk but there was the practical matter of asking Mrs. Schoonover. Terrence waited outside in the dusk till Joe returned.
“Mother says all right.”
“Say, she won't care what we do, will she?”
“Why should she?” asked Joe innocently, “I told her about it this afternoon and she just laughed.”
Terrence's schooling was at Mrs. Cary's Academy, where he idled through interminable dull grey hours. He guessed that there was little to learn there and his resentment frequently broke forth in insolence, but on the morning of Joe Schoonover's party he was simply a quiet lunatic at his desk, asking only to be undisturbed.
“So the capitol of America is Washington,” said Miss Cole, “and the capitol of Canada is Ottawa—and the capitol of Central America--
“—is Mexico City,” someone guessed.
“Hasn't any,” said Terrence absently.
“Oh, it must have a capitol,” said Miss Cole looking at her map.
“Well, it doesn't happen to have one.”
“That'll do, Terrence. Put down Mexico City for the capitol of Central America. Now that leaves South America.”
“There's no use teaching us wrong,” he suggested.
Ten minutes later, somewhat frightened, he reported to the principal's office where all the forces of injustice were confusingly arrayed against him.
“What you think doesn't matter,” said Mrs. Cary. “Miss Cole is your teacher and you were impertinent. Your parents would want to hear about it.”
He was glad his father was away, but if Mrs. Cary telephoned, his mother would quite possibly keep him home from the party. With this wretched fate hanging over him he left the school gate at noon and was assailed by the voice of Albert Moore, son of his mother's best friend, and thus a likely enemy.
Albert enlarged upon the visit to the principal and the probable consequences at home. Terrence thereupon remarked that Albert, due to his spectacles, possessed four visual organs. Albert retorted as to Terrence's pretention to universal wisdom. Brusque references to terrified felines and huge paranoiacs enlivened the conversation and presently there was violent weaving and waving during which Terrence quite accidentally butted into Albert's nose. Blood flowed— Albert howled with anguish and terror, believing that his life blood was dripping down over his yellow tie. Terrence started away, stopped, pulled out his handkerchief and threw it toward Albert as a literal sop, then resumed his departure from the horrid scene, up back alleys and over fences, running from his crime. Half an hour later he appeared at Joe Schoonover's back door and had the cook announce him.
“What's the matter?” asked Joe.
“I didn't go home. I had a fight with Albert Moore.”
“Gosh. Did he take off his glasses?”
“It's a penitentiary offense to hit anybody with glasses. Say, I've got to finish lunch.”
Terrence sat wretchedly on a box in the alley until Joe appeared, with news appropriate to a darkening world.
“I don't know about the kissing games,” he said. “Mother said it was silly.”
With difficulty Terrence wrested his mind from the spectre of reform school.
“I wish she'd get sick,” he said absently.
“Don't you say that about my mother.”
“I mean I wish her sister would get sick,” he corrected himself. “Then she couldn't come to the party.”
“I wish that too,” reflected Joe. “Not very sick though.”
“Why don't you call her up and tell her her sister is sick.”
“She lives in Tonawanda. She'd send a telegram—she did once.”
“Let's go ask Fats Palmer about a telegram.”
Fats Palmer, son of the block's janitor, was a messenger boy, several years older than themselves, a cigarette smoker and a blasphemer. He refused to deliver a forged telegram because he might lose his job but for a quarter he would furnish a blank and get one of his small sisters to deliver it. Cash down in advance.
“I think I can get it,” said Terrence thoughtfully.
They waited for him outside an apartment house a few squares away. He was gone ten minutes—when he came out he wore a fatigued expression and after showing a quarter in his palm sat on the curbstone for a moment, his mouth tightly shut, and waved them silent.
“Who gave it to you, Terrence?”
“My aunt,” he muttered faintly, and then: “It was an egg.”
“Did you sell some eggs?” demanded Fats Palmer. “Say, I know where you can get eggs——”
“I had to eat it raw. She's a health fiend.”
“Why, that's the easiest money I ever heard of,” said Fats, “I've sucked eggs——”
“Don't!” begged Terrence, but it was too late. That was an egg without therapeutic value—an egg sacrificed for love.
This is the telegram Terrence wrote:
Am sick but not so badly could you come at once please
Your loving sister
By four o'clock Terrence still knew academically that he had a family but they lived a long way off in a distant past. He knew also that he had sinned, and for a time he had walked an alley saying “Now I lay me's” over and over for worldly mercy in the matter of Albert Moore's spectacles. The rest could wait until he was found out, preferably after death.
Four o'clock found him with Joe in the Schoonover's pantry where they had chosen to pass the last half hour, deriving a sense of protection from the servant's presence in the kitchen. Mrs. Schoonover had gone, the guests were due—and as at a signal agreed upon the doorbell and the phone pealed out together.
“There they are,” Joe whispered.
“If it's my family,” said Terrence hoarsely, “tell them I'm not here.”
“It's not your family—it's the people for the party.”
“The phone I mean.”
“You'd better answer it.” Joe opened the door to the kitchen, “Didn't you hear the doorbell, Irma?”
“There's cake dough on my hands and Essie's too. You go Joe.”
“No, I certainly will not.”
“Then they'll have to wait. Can't you two boys walk?”
Once again the double summons, emphatic and alarming rang through the house.
“Joe, you got to tell my family I'm not here,” said Terrence tensely. “I can't say I'm not here, can I? It'll only take a minute to tell them. Just say I'm not here.”
“We've got to go to the door. Do you want all the people to go home?”
“No, I don't. But you simply got to——”
Irma came out of the kitchen wiping her hands.
“My sakes alive,” she said, “why don't you tend the door before the children get away?”
They both talked at once, utterly confused. Irma broke the deadlock by picking up the phone.
“Hello,” she said. “Keep quiet Terrence, I can't hear. Hello— hello… Nobody's on that phone now. You better brush your hair, Terrence—and look at your hands!”
Terrence rushed for the sink and worked hastily with the kitchen soap.
“Where's a comb?” he yelled. “Joe, where's your comb?”
“Upstairs, of course.”
Still wet Terrence dashed up the back stairs, realizing only at the mirror that he looked exactly like a boy who had spent most of the day in the alley. Hurriedly he dug for a clean shirt of Joe's; as he buttoned it a wail floated up the front stairs——
“Terrence, they've gone. There's nobody at the door—they've gone home.”
Overwhelmed the boys rushed out on the porch. Far down the street two small figures receded. Cupping their hands Terrence and Joe shouted. The figures stopped, turned around—then suddenly they were joined by other figures, a lot of figures: a victoria drove around the corner and clopped up to the house. The party had begun.
At the sight of Dolly Bartlett Terrence's heart rose chokingly and he wanted to be away. She was not anyone he knew, certainly not the girl about whom he put his arms a week ago. He stared as at a spectre. He had never known what she looked like, perceiving her almost as an essence of time and weather—if there was frost and elation in the air she was frost and elation, if there was a mystery in yellow windows on a summer night she was that mystery, if there was music that could inspire or sadden or excite she was that music, she was “Red Wing” and “Alice Where art thou going?” and the “Light of the Silvery Moon.”
To cooler observers Dollys hair was child's gold in knotted pigtails, her face was as regular and as cute as a kitten's and her legs were neatly crossed at the ankles or dangled helplessly from a chair. She was so complete at ten, so confident and alive that she was many boys' girl—a precocious mistress of the long look, the sustained smile, the private voice and the delicate touch, devices of the generations.
With the other guests Dolly looked about for the hostess and finding none infiltrated into the drawing room to stand about whispering and laughing in nervous chorus. The boys also grouped for protection, save two unselfconscious minims of eight who took advantage of their elders' shyness to show off, with dashings about and raucous laughter. Minutes passed and nothing happened; Joe and Terrence communicated in hissing whispers, their lips scarcely moving.
“You ought to start it,” muttered Terrence.
“You start it. It was your scheme.”
“It's your party, and we might just as well go home as stand around here all afternoon. Why don't you just say we're going to play it and then choose somebody to go out of the room.”
Joe stared at him incredulously.
“Big chance! Let's get one of the girls to start it. You ask Dolly.”
“I will not.”
“How about Martha Robbie?”
Martha was a tomboy who had no terrors for them, and no charm; it was like asking a sister. They took her aside.
“Martha, look, would you tell the girls that we're going to play post-office?”
Martha drew herself away in a violent manner.
“Why, I certainly will not,” she cried sternly. “I most certainly won't do any such thing.”
To prove it she ran back to the girls and set about telling them.
“Dolly, what do you think Terrence asked me. He wanted to——”
“Shut up!” Terrence begged her.
“Shut up! We didn't want anything of the sort.”
There was an arrival. Up the veranda steps came a wheel chair, hoisted by a chauffeur, and in it sat Carpenter Moore, elder brother of that Albert Moore from whom Terrence had drawn blood this morning. Once inside Carpenter dismissed the chauffeur and rolled himself deftly into the party looking about him arrogantly. His handicap had made him a tyrant and fostered a singular bad temper.
“Greetings and salutations, everybody,” he said. “How are you, Joe, boy?”
In a minute his eye fell on Terrence, and changing the direction of his chair he rolled up beside him.
“You hit my brother on the nose,” he said in a lowered voice. “You wait till my mother sees your father.”
His expression changed; he laughed and struck Terrence as if playfully with his cane.
“Well, what are you doing around here? Everybody looks as if their cat just died.”
“Terrence wants to play Clap-in-and-clap-out.”
“Not me,” denied Terrence, and somewhat rashly added, “Joe wanted to play it. It's his party.”
“I did not,” said Joe heatedly. “Terrence did.”
“Where's your mother?” Carpenter asked Joe. “Does she know about this?”
Joe tried to extricate himself from the menace.
“She doesn't care—I mean she said we could play anything we wanted.”
“I'll bet she didn't. And I'll bet most of the parents here wouldn't let them play that disgusting stuff.”
“I just thought if there was nothing else to do——” he said feebly.
“You did, did you?” cried Carpenter. “Well just answer me this— haven't you ever been to a party before?”
“I've been to——”
“Just answer me this—if you've ever been to any parties before— which I doubt, which I very seriously doubt—you know what people do. All except the ones who don't behave like a gentleman.”
“Oh, I wish you'd go jump in the lake.”
There was a shocked silence, for since Carpenter was crippled from the waist down and could not jump even in a hypothetical lake, it fell on every ear like a taunt. Carpenter raised his cane, and then lowered it, as Mrs. Schoonover came into the room.
“What are you playing?” she asked mildly, “Clap-in-and-clap-out?”
Carpenter's stick descended to his lap. But he was by no means the most confused—Joe and Terrence had assumed that the telegram had taken effect, and now they could only suppose that Mrs. Schoonover had detected the ruse and come back. But there was no sign of wrath or perturbation on her face.
Carpenter recovered himself quickly.
“Yes, we were, Mrs. Schoonover. We were just beginning. Terrence is ‘It.’”
“I've forgotten how,” said Mrs. Schoonover simply, “but isn't someone supposed to play the piano? I can do that anyhow.”
“That's fine,” exclaimed Carpenter. “Now Terrence has to take a pillow and go into the hall.”
“I don't want to,” said Terrence quickly suspecting a trap. “Somebody else be It.”
“You're It,” Carpenter insisted fiercely. “Now we'll push all the sofas and chairs into a row.”
Among the few who disliked the turn of affairs was Dolly Bartlett. She had been constructed with great cunning and startling intent for the purpose of arousing emotion and all her mechanism winced at the afternoon's rebuff. She felt cheated and disappointed, but there was little she could do save wait for some male to assert himself. Whoever this might be something in Dolly would eagerly respond and she kept hoping it would be Terrence, who in the role of lone wolf possessed a romantic appeal for her. She took her place in the row with ill will while Mrs. Schoonover at the piano began to play “Every Little Movement has a Meaning all its Own.”
When Terrence had been urged forcibly into the hall Carpenter Moore explained his plan. The fact that he himself had never participated in such games did not keep him from knowing the rules, but what he proposed was unorthodox.
“We'll say some girl has a message for Terrence, but that girl won't be anybody but the girl next to you, see? So whoever he kneels to or bows to we'll just say it isn't her, because we're thinking of the girl next to her, understand?” He raised his voice, “Come in, Terrence!”
There was no response and looking into the hall they found that Terrence had disappeared. He had not gone out either door and they scattered through the house searching, into the kitchen up the stairs and in the attic. Only Carpenter remained in the hall poking tentatively at a row of coats in a closet. Suddenly his chair was seized from behind and propelled quickly into the closet. A key turned in the lock.
For a moment Terrence stood in silent triumph. Dolly Bartlett, coming downstairs, brightened at the sight of his dusty, truculent face.
“Terrence, where were you?”
“Never mind. I heard what you were going to do.”
“It wasn't me, Terrence.” She came close to him. “It was Carpenter. I'd just as soon really play.”
“No, you wouldn't.”
“I bet I would.”
It was suddenly breathless there in the hall. And then on an impulse as she opened her arms and their heads bent together, muffled cries began to issue from the closet together with a tattoo on the door. Simultaneously Martha Robbie spoke from the stairs.
“You better kiss her, Terrence,” she said tartly. “I never saw anything so disgusting in all my life. I know what I'm going to do right now.”
The party swarmed back downstairs, Carpenter was liberated. And to the strains of Honey Boy from the piano the assault on Terrence was renewed. He had laid hands on a cripple or at least on a cripple's chair and he was back at dodging around the room again, followed by the juggernaut, wheeled now by willing hands.
There was activity at the front door. Martha Robbie, on the tele, phone, had located her mother on a neighboring porch in conference with several other mothers. The burden of Martha's message was that all the little boys were trying to embrace all the little girls by brute force, that there was no effective supervision and that the only boy who had acted like a gentleman had been brutally imprisoned in a closet. She added the realistic detail that Mrs. Schoonover was even then playing “I Wonder Who's Kissing Her Now” on the piano, and she accounted for her remaining at such an orgy by implying that she herself was under duress.
Eight excited heels struck the porch, eight anxious eyes confronted Mrs. Schoonover, who had previously only encountered these ladies in church. Behind her the disturbance around Terrence reached its climax. Two boys were trying to hold him and he had grabbed Carpenter's cane; attached by this to the wheelchair the struggle swayed back and forth wildly, then the chair rocked, rose startlingly on its side and tipped over, spilling Carpenter on the floor.
The mothers, Carpenter's among them, stood transfixed. The girls cried out, the boys around the chair shrank back hurriedly. Then an amazing thing happened. Carpenter gave an extraordinary twist to his body, grasped at the chair and with his over-developed arms pulled himself up steadily until he was standing, his weight resting for the first time in five years upon his feet.
He did not realize this—at the moment he had no thought for himself. Even as he stood there with the whole room breathless, he roared, “I'll fix you, confound it,” and hobbled a step and then another step in Terrence's direction. As Mrs. Moore gave a little yelp and collapsed the room was suddenly full of wild exclamations:
“Carpenter Moore can walk! Carpenter Moore can walk!”
Alleys and kitchens, kitchens and alleys—such had been Terrence's via doloroso all day. It was by the back door that he left the Schoonovers', knowing that he would be somehow blamed for Carpenter's miraculous recovery; it was through the kitchen that he entered his own home ten minutes later, after a few hasty Our Father's in the alley.
Helen, the cook, attired in her going-out dress, was in the kitchen.
“Carpenter Moore can walk,” he announced, stalling for time. And he added crypticly, “I don't know what they're going to do about it. Supper ready?”
“No supper tonight except for you, and it's on the table. Your mother got called away to your aunt's, Mrs. Lapham. She left a letter for you.”
This was a piece of luck surely and his heart began to beat again. It was odd that his aunt was sick on the day they had invented an illness for Joe's aunt.
I hate to leave you like this but Charlotte is ill and I'm catching the trolley to Lockport. She says it's not very bad but when she sends a telegram it may mean anything. I worried when you didn't come to lunch, but Aunt Georgie, who is going with me, says you stopped by and ate a raw egg so I know you're all right.
He read no further as the knowledge of the awful truth came to him. The telegram had been delivered, but to the wrong door.
“And you're to hurry and eat your supper so I can see you get to Moores',” said Helen. “I've got to lock up after you.”
“Me go to the Moores?” he said incredulously.
The phone rang and his immediate instinct was to retreat out the door into the alley.
“It's Dolly Bartlett,” Helen said.
“What does she want?”
“How should I know.”
Suspiciously he went to the phone.
“Terrence, can you come over to our house for supper?”
“Mother wants you to come to supper.”
In return for a promise to Helen that he would never again call her a Kitchen Mechanic, the slight change of schedule was arranged. It was time things went better. In one day he had committed insolence and forgery and assaulted both the crippled and the blind. His punishment obviously was to be in this life. But for the moment it did not seem important—anything might happen in one blessed hour.
Published in The Princeton University Library Chronicle, XII (Summer 1951).