“I remember your coming to me in despair when Josephine was about three!” cried Mrs. Bray. “George was furious because he couldn’t decide what to go to work at, so he used to spank little Josephine.”
“I remember,” said Josephine’s mother.
“And so this is Josephine.”
This was, indeed, Josephine. She looked at Mrs. Bray and smiled, and Mrs. Bray’s eyes hardened imperceptibly. Josephine kept on smiling.
“How old are you, Josephine?”
“Oh-h. I would have said you were older.”
At the first opportunity Josephine asked Mrs. Perry, “Can I go to the movies with Lillian this afternoon?”
“No, dear; you have to study.” She turned to Mrs. Bray as if the matter were dismissed—but: “You darn fool,” muttered Josephine audibly.
Mrs. Bray said some words to cover the situation, but, of course, Mrs. Perry could not let it pass unreproved.
“What did you call mother, Josephine?”
“I don’t see why I can’t go to the movies with Lillian.”
Her mother was content to let it go at this.
“Because you’ve got to study. You go somewhere every day, and your father wants it to stop.”
“How crazy!”, said Josephine, and she added vehemently, “How utterly insane! Father’s got to be a maniac I think. Next thing he’ll start tearing his hair and think he’s Napoleon or something.”
“No,” interposed Mrs. Bray jovially as Mrs. Perry grew rosy. “Perhaps she’s right. Maybe George is crazy—I’m sure my husband’s crazy. It’s this war.”
But she was not really amused; she thought Josephine ought to be beaten with sticks.
They were talking about Anthony Harker, a contemporary of Josephine’s older sister.
“He’s divine,” Josephine interposed—not rudely, for, despite the foregoing, she was not rude; it was seldom even that she appeared to talk too much, though she lost her temper, and swore sometimes when people were unreasonable. “He’s perfectly—”
“He’s very popular. Personally, I don’t see very much to him. He seems rather superficial.”
“Oh, no, mother,” said Josephine. “He’s far from it. Everybody says he has a great deal of personality—which is more than you can say of most of these jakes. Any girl would be glad to get their hands on him. I’d marry him in a minute.”
She had never thought of this before; in fact the phrase had been invented to express her feeling for Travis de Coppet. When, presently, tea was served, she excused herself and went to her room.
It was a new house, but the Perrys were far from being new people. They were Chicago Society, and almost very rich, and not uncultured as things went thereabouts in 1914. But Josephine was an unconscious pioneer of the generation that was destined to “get out of hand.”
In her room she dressed herself for going to Lillian’s house, thinking meanwhile of Travis de Coppet and of riding home from the Davidsons’ dance last night. Over his tuxedo, Travis had worn a loose blue cape inherited from an old-fashioned uncle. He was tall and thin, an exquisite dancer, and his eyes had often been described by female contemporaries as ‘very dark’—to an adult it appeared that he had two black eyes in the collisional sense, and that probably they were justifiably renewed every night; the area surrounding them was so purple, or brown, or crimson, that they were the first thing you noticed about his face, and, save for his white teeth, the last. Like Josephine, he was also something new. There were a lot of new things in Chicago then, but lest the interest of this narrative be divided, it should be remarked that Josephine was the newest of all.
Dressed, she went down the stairs and through a softly opening side door, out into the street. It was October and a harsh breeze blew her along under trees without leaves, past houses with cold corners, past caves of the wind that were the mouths of residential streets. From that time until April, Chicago is an indoor city, where entering by a door is like going into another world, for the cold of the lake is unfriendly and not like real northern cold—it serves only to accentuate the things that go on inside. There is no music outdoors, or love-making, and even in prosperous times the wealth that rolls by in limousines is less glamorous than embittering to those on the sidewalk. But in the houses there is a deep, warm quiet, or else an excited, singing noise, as if those within were inventing things like new dances. That is part of what people mean when they say they love Chicago.
Josephine was going to meet her friend Lillian Hammell, but their plan did not include attending the movies. In comparison to it, their mothers would have preferred the most objectionable, the most lurid movie. It was no less than to go for a long auto ride with Travis de Coppet and Howard Page, in the course of which they would kiss not once but a lot. The four of them had been planning this since the previous Saturday, when unkind circumstances had combined to prevent its fulfilment.
Travis and Howard were already there—not sitting down, but still in their overcoats, like symbols of action, hurrying the girls breathlessly into the future. Travis wore a fur collar on his overcoat and carried a gold-headed cane; he kissed Josephine’s hand facetiously yet seriously, and she said, ‘Hello, Travis!’ with the warm affection of a politician greeting a prospective vote. But for a minute the two girls exchanged news aside.
“I saw him,” Lillian whispered, “just now.”
Their eyes blazed and fused together.
“Isn’t he divine?” said Josephine.
They were referring to Mr Anthony Harker, who was twenty-two, and unconscious of their existence, save that in the Perry house he occasionally recognized Josephine as Constance’s younger sister.
“He has the most beautiful nose,” cried Lillian, suddenly laughing. “It’s—” She drew it on the air with her finger and they both became hilarious. But Josephine’s face composed itself as Travis’s black eyes, conspicuous as if they had been freshly made the previous night, peered in from the hall.
“Well!” he said tensely.
The four young people went out, passed through fifty bitter feet of wind and entered Page’s car. They were all very confident and knew exactly what they wanted. Both girls were expressly disobeying their parents, but they had no more sense of guilt about it than a soldier escaping from an enemy prison camp. In the back seat, Josephine and Travis looked at each other; she wailed as he burned darkly.
“Look,” he said to his hand; it was trembling. “Up till five this morning. Girls from the ‘Follies.’”
“Oh, Travis!” she cried automatically, but for the first time a communication such as this failed to thrill her. She took his hand, wondering what the matter was inside herself.
It was quite dark, and he bent over her suddenly, but as suddenly she turned her face away. Annoyed, he made cynical nods with his head and lay back in the corner of the car. He became engaged in cherishing his dark secret—the secret that always made her yearn towards him. She could see it come into his eyes and fill them, down to the cheek bones and up to the brows, but she could not concentrate on him. The romantic mystery of the world had moved into another man.
Travis waited ten minutes for her capitulation; then he tried again, and with this second approach she saw him plain for the first time. It was enough. Josephine’s imagination and her desires were easily exploited up to a certain point, but after that her very impulsiveness protected her. Now, suddenly, she found something real against Travis, and her voice was modulated with lowly sorrow.
“I heard what you did last night. I heard very well.”
“What’s the matter?”
“You told Ed Bement you were in for a big time because you were going to take me home in your car.”
“Who told you that?” he demanded, guilty but belittling.
“Ed Bement did, and he told me he almost hit you in the face when you said it. He could hardly keep restraining himself.”
Once more Travis retired to his corner of the seat. He accepted this as the reason for her coolness, as in a measure it was. In view of Doctor Jung’s theory that innumerable male voices argue in the subconscious of a woman, and even speak through her lips, then the absent Ed Bement was probably speaking through Josephine at that moment.
“I’ve decided not to kiss any more boys, because I won’t have anything left to give the man I really love.”
“Bull!” replied Travis.
“It’s true. There’s been too much talk around Chicago about me. A man certainly doesn’t respect a girl he can kiss whenever he wants to, and I want to be respected by the man I’m going to marry some day.”
Ed Bement would have been overwhelmed had he realized the extent of his dominance over her that afternoon.
Walking from the corner, where the youths discreetly left her, to her house, Josephine felt that agreeable lightness which comes with the end of a piece of work. She would be a good girl now forever, see less of boys, as her parents wished, try to be what Miss Benbower’s school denominated ‘An Ideal Benbower Girl’. Then next year, at Brearley, she could be an ‘Ideal Brearley Girl’. But the first stars were out over Lake Shore Drive, and all about her she could feel Chicago swinging around its circle at a hundred miles an hour, and Josephine knew that she only wanted to want such wants for her soul’s sake. Actually, she had no desire for achievement. Her grandfather had had that, her parents had had the consciousness of it, but Josephine accepted the proud world into which she was born. This was easy in Chicago, which, unlike New York, was a city state, where the old families formed a caste—intellect was represented by the university professors, and there were no ramifications, save that even the Perrys had to be nice to half a dozen families even richer and more important than themselves. Josephine loved to dance, but the field of feminine glory, the ballroom floor, was something you slipped away from with a man.
As Josephine came to the iron gate of her house, she saw her sister shivering on the top steps with a departing young man; then the front door closed and the man came down the walk. She knew who he was.
He was abstracted, but he recognized her for just a moment in passing.
“Oh, hello,” he said.
She turned all the way round so that he could see her face by the street lamp; she lifted her face full out of her fur collar and towards him, and then smiled.
“Hello,” she said modestly.
They passed. She drew in her head like a turtle.
“Well, now he knows what I look like, anyhow,” she told herself excitedly, as she went on into the house.
Several days later Constance Perry spoke to her mother in a serious tone:
“Josephine is so conceited that I really think she’s a little crazy.”
“She’s very conceited,” admitted Mrs. Perry. “Father and I were talking and we decided that after the first of the year she should go East to school. But you don’t say a word about it until we know more definitely.”
“Heavens, mother, it’s none too soon! She and that terrible Travis de Coppet running around with his cloak, as if they were about a thousand years old. They came into the Blackstone last week and my spine crawled. They looked just like two maniacs—Travis slinking along, and Josephine twisting her mouth around as if she had St. Vitus dance. Honestly—”
“What did you begin to say about Anthony Harker?” interrupted Mrs. Perry.
“That she’s got a crush on him, and he’s about old enough to be her grandfather.”
“Mother, he’s twenty-two and she’s sixteen. Every time Jo and Lillian go by him, they giggle and stare—”
“Come here, Josephine,” said Mrs. Perry.
Josephine came into the room slowly and leaned her backbone against the edge of the opened door, teetering upon it calmly.
“Dear, you don’t want to be laughed at, do you?”
Josephine turned sulkily to her sister. “Who laughs at me? You do, I guess. You’re the only one that does.”
“You’re so conceited that you don’t see it. When you and Travis de Coppet came into the Blackstone that afternoon, my spine crawled. Everybody at our table and most of the other tables laughed—the ones that weren’t shocked.”
“I guess they were more shocked,” guessed Josephine complacently.
“You’ll have a fine reputation by the time you come out.”
“Oh, shut your mouth!” said Josephine.
There was a moment’s silence. Then Mrs. Perry whispered solemnly, “I’ll have to tell your father about this as soon as he comes home.”
“Go on, tell him.” Suddenly Josephine began to cry. “Oh, why can’t anybody ever leave me alone? I wish I was dead.”
Her mother stood with her arm around her, saying, “Josephine—now, Josephine”; but Josephine went on with deep, broken sobs that seemed to come from the bottom of her heart.
“Just a lot—of—of ugly and jealous girls who get mad when anybody looks at m-me, and make up all sorts of stories that are absolutely untrue, just because I can get anybody I want. I suppose that Constance is mad about it because I went in and sat for five minutes with Anthony Harker while he was waiting last night.”
“Yes, I was terribly jealous! I sat up and cried all night about it. Especially because he comes to talk to me about Marice Whaley. Why!—you got him so crazy about you in that five minutes that he couldn’t stop laughing all the way to the Warrens.”
Josephine drew in her breath in one last gasp, and stopped crying. “If you want to know, I’ve decided to give him up.”
“Ha-ha!” Constance exploded. “Listen to that, mother! She’s going to give him up—as if he ever looked at her or knew she was alive! Of all the conceited—”
But Mrs. Perry could stand no more. She put her arm around Josephine and hurried her to her room down the hall.
“All your sister meant was that she didn’t like to see you laughed at,” she explained.
“Well, I’ve given him up,” said Josephine gloomily.
She had given him up, renouncing a thousand kisses she had never had, a hundred long, thrilling dances in his arms, a hundred evenings not to be recaptured. She did not mention the letter she had written him last night—and had not sent, and now would never send.
“You mustn’t think about such things at your age,” said Mrs. Perry. “You’re just a child.”
Josephine got up and went to the mirror.
“I promised Lillian to come over to her house. I’m late now.”
Back in her room, Mrs. Perry thought: “Two months to February.” She was a pretty woman who wanted to be loved by everyone around her; there was no power of governing in her. She tied up her mind like a neat package and put it in the post office, with Josephine inside it safely addressed to the Brearley School.
An hour later, in the tea room at the Blackstone Hotel, Anthony Harker and another young man lingered at table. Anthony was a happy fellow, lazy, rich enough, pleased with his current popularity. After a brief career in an Eastern university, he had gone to a famous college in Virginia and in its less exigent shadow completed his education; at least, he had absorbed certain courtesies and mannerisms that Chicago girls found charming.
“There’s that guy Travis de Coppet,” his companion had just remarked. “What’s he think he is, anyhow?”
Anthony looked remotely at the young people across the room, recognizing the little Perry girl and other young females whom he seemed to have encountered frequently in the street of late. Although obviously much at home, they seemed silly and loud; presently his eyes left them and searched the room for the party he was due to join for dancing, but he was still sitting there when the room—it had a twilight quality, in spite of the lights within and the full dark outside—woke up to confident and exciting music. A thickening parade drifted past him. The men in sack-suits, as though they had just come from portentous affairs, and the women in hats that seemed about to take flight, gave a special impermanence to the scene. This implication that this gathering, a little more than uncalculated, a little less clandestine, would shortly be broken into formal series, made him anxious to seize its last minutes, and he looked more and more intently into the crowd for the face of anyone he knew.
One face emerged suddenly around a man’s upper arm not five feet away, and for a moment Anthony was the object of the saddest and most tragic regard that had ever been directed upon him. It was a smile and not a smile—two big grey eyes with bright triangles of colour underneath, and a mouth twisted into a universal sympathy that seemed to include both him and herself—yet withal, the expression not of a victim, but rather of the very demon of tender melancholy—and for the first time Anthony really saw Josephine.
His immediate instinct was to see with whom she was dancing. It was a young man he knew, and with this assurance he was on his feet giving a quick tug to his coat, and then out upon the floor.
“May I cut in, please?”
Josephine came close to him as they started, looked up into his eyes for an instant, and then down and away. She said nothing. Realizing that she could not possibly be more than sixteen, Anthony hoped that the party he was to join would not arrive in the middle of the dance.
When that was over, she raised eyes to him again; a sense of having been mistaken, of her being older than he had thought, possessed him. Just before he left her at her table, he was moved to say:
“Couldn’t I have another later?”
She united her eyes with his, every glint a spike—perhaps from the railroads on which their family fortunes were founded, and upon which they depended. Anthony was disconcerted as he went back to his table.
One hour later, they left the Blackstone together in his car.
This had simply happened—Josephine’s statement, at the end of their second dance, that she must leave, then her request, and his own extreme self-consciousness as he walked beside her across the empty floor. It was a favour to her sister to take her home—but he had that unmistakable feeling of expectation.
Nevertheless, once outside and shocked into reconsideration by the bitter cold, he tried again to allocate his responsibilities in the matter. This was hard going with Josephine’s insistent dark and ivory youth pressed up against him. As they got in the car he tried to dominate the situation with a masculine stare, but her eyes, shining as if with fever, melted down his bogus austerity in a whittled second.
Idly he patted her hand—then suddenly he was inside the radius of her perfume and kissing her breathlessly.
“So that’s that,” she whispered after a moment. Startled, he wondered if he had forgotten something—something he had said to her before.
“What a cruel remark,” he said, “just when I was getting interested.”
“I only meant that any minute with you may be the last one,” she said miserably. “The family are going to send me away to school—they think I haven’t found that out yet.”
“— and today they got together—and tried to tell me that you didn’t know I was alive!”
After a long pause, Anthony contributed feebly. “I hope you didn’t let them convince you.”
She laughed shortly. “I just laughed and came down here.”
Her hand burrowed its way into his; when he pressed it, her eyes, bright now, not dark, rose until they were as high as his, and came towards him. A minute later he thought to himself: “This is a rotten trick I’m doing.”
He was sure he was doing it.
“You’re so sweet,” she said.
“You’re a dear child.”
“I hate jealousy worse than anything in the world,” Josephine broke forth, “and I have to suffer from it. And my own sister worse than all the rest.”
“Oh, no!” he protested.
“I couldn’t help it if I fell in love with you. I tried to help it. I used to go out of the house when I knew you were coming.”
The force of her lies came from her sincerity and from her simple and superb confidence that whomsoever she loved must love her in return. Josephine was never either ashamed or plaintive. She was in the world of being alone with a male, a world through which she had moved surely since she was eight years old. She did not plan; she merely let herself go, and the overwhelming life in her did the rest. It is only when youth is gone and experience has given us a sort of cheap courage that most of us realize how simple such things are.
“But you couldn’t be in love with me,” Anthony wanted to say, and couldn’t. He fought with a desire to kiss her again, even tenderly, and began to tell her that she was being unwise, but before he got really started at his handsome project, she was in his arms again, and whispering something that he had to accept, since it was wrapped up in a kiss. Then he was alone, driving away from her door.
What had he agreed to? All they had said rang and beat in his ear like an unexpected temperature—tomorrow at four o’clock on that corner.
“Good God!” he thought uneasily. “All that stuff about giving me up. She’s a crazy kid, she’ll get into trouble if somebody looking for trouble comes along. Big chance of my meeting her tomorrow!”
And neither at dinner nor at the dance that he went to that night could Anthony get the episode out of his mind; he kept looking around the ballroom regretfully, as if he missed someone who should be there.
Two weeks later, waiting for Marice Whaley in a meagre, indefinable downstairs ‘sitting-room,’ Anthony reached in his pocket for some half-forgotten mail. Three letters he replaced; the other—after a moment of listening—he opened quickly and read with his back to the door. It was the third of a series—for one had followed each of his meetings with Josephine—and it was exactly like the others—the letter of a child. Whatever maturity of emotion could accumulate in her expression, when once she set pen to paper was snowed under by ineptitude. There was much about “your feeling for me” and “my feeling for you,” and sentences began, “Yes, I know I am sentimental,” or more gawkily, “I have always been sort of pash, and I can’t help that,” and inevitably much quoting of lines from current popular songs, as if they expressed the writer’s state of mind more fully than verbal struggles of her own.
The letter disturbed Anthony. As he reached the postscript, which coolly made a rendezvous for five o’clock this afternoon, he heard Marice coming downstairs, and put it back in his pocket.
Marice hummed and moved about the room. Anthony smoked.
“I saw you Tuesday afternoon,” she said suddenly. “You seemed to be having a fine time.”
“Tuesday,” he repeated, as if thinking. “Oh, yeah. I ran into some kids and we went to a tea dance. It was amusing.”
“You were almost alone when I saw you.”
“What are you getting at?”
Marice hummed again. “Let’s go out. Let’s go to a matinee.”
On the way Anthony explained how he had happened to be with Connie’s little sister; the necessity of the explanation somehow angered him. When he had done, Marice said crisply:
“If you wanted to rob the cradle, why did you have to pick out that little devil? Her reputation’s so bad already that Mrs. McRae didn’t want to invite her to dancing class this year—she only did it on account of Constance.”
“Why is she so awful?” asked Anthony, disturbed.
“I’d rather not discuss it.”
His five o’clock engagement was on his mind throughout the matinee. Though Marice’s remarks served only to make him dangerously sorry for Josephine, he was nevertheless determined that this meeting should be the last. It was embarrassing to have been remarked in her company, even though he had tried honestly to avoid it. The matter could very easily develop into a rather dangerous little mess, with no benefit either to Josephine or to himself. About Marice’s indignation he did not care; she had been his for the asking all autumn, but Anthony did not want to get married; did not want to get involved with anybody at all.
It was dark when he was free at 5:30, and turned his car towards the new Philanthropological Building in the maze of reconstruction in Grant Park. The bleakness of place and time depressed him, gave a further painfulness to the affair. Getting out of his car, he walked past a young man in a waiting roadster—a young man whom he seemed to recognize—and found Josephine in the half darkness of the little chamber that the storm doors formed.
With an indefinable sound of greeting, she walked determinedly into his arms, putting up her face.
“I can only stay for a sec,” she protested, just as if he had begged her to come. “I’m supposed to go to a wedding with sister, but I had to see you.”
When Anthony spoke, his voice froze into a white mist, obvious in the darkness. He said things he had said to her before but this time firmly and finally. It was easier, because he could scarcely see her face and because somewhere in the middle she irritated him by starting to cry.
“I knew you were supposed to be fickle,” she whispered, “but I didn’t expect this. Anyhow, I’ve got enough pride not to bother you any further.” She hesitated. “But I wish we could meet just once more to try and arrive at a more different settlement.”
“Some jealous girl has been talking to you about me.”
“No.” Then, in despair, he struck at her heart. “I’m not fickle. I’ve never loved you and I never told you I did.”
Guessing at the forlorn expression that would come into her face, Anthony turned away and took a purposeless step; when he wheeled nervously about, the storm door had just shut—she was gone.
“Josephine!” he shouted in helpless pity, but there was no answer. He waited, heart in his boots, until presently he heard a car drive away.
At home, Josephine thanked Ed Bement, whom she had used, with a tartlet of hope, went in by a side door and up to her room. The window was open and, as she dressed hurriedly for the wedding she stood close to it so that she would catch cold and die.
Seeing her face in the bathroom mirror, she broke down and sat on the edge of the tub, making a small choking sound like a struggle with a cough, and cleaning her finger nails. Later she could cry all night in bed when everyone else was asleep, but now it was still afternoon.
The two sisters and their mother stood side by side at the wedding of Mary Jackson and Jackson Dillon. It was a sad and sentimental wedding—an end to the fine, glamorous youth of a girl who was universally admired and loved. Perhaps to no onlooker there were its details symbolical of the end of a period, yet from the vantage point of a decade, certain things that happened are already powdered with yesterday’s ridiculousness, and even tinted with the lavender of the day before. The bride raised her veil, smiling that grave sweet smile that made her “adored,” but with tears pouring down her cheeks, and faced dozens of friends hands outheld as if embracing all of them for the last time. Then she turned to a husband as serious and immaculate as herself, at him as if to say, “That’s done. All this that I am is yours forever and ever.”
In her pew, Constance, who had been at school with Mary Jackson, was frankly weeping, from a heart that was a ringing vault. But the face of Josephine beside her was a more intricate study. Once or twice, though Josephine’s eyes lost none of their level straight intensity, an isolated tear escaped, and, as if startled by the feel of it, the face hardened slightly and the mouth remained in defiant immobility, like a child well warned against making a disturbance. Only once did she move; hearing a voice behind her say: “That’s the little Perry girl. Isn’t she lovely-looking?” she turned presently and gazed at a stained-glass window lest her unknown admirers miss the sight of the side face.
Josephine’s family went on to the reception, so she dined alone—or rather with her little brother and his nurse, which was the same thing.
She felt empty. Tonight Anthony Harker, “so deeply lovable—so sweetly lovable—so deeply, sweetly lovable,” was making love to someone new, kissing her ugly, jealous face; soon he would have disappeared forever, together with all the men of his generation, into a loveless matrimony, leaving only a world of Travis de Coppet and Ed Bements—people so easy as to scarcely be worth the effort of a smile.
Up in her room, she was excited again by the sight of herself in the bathroom mirror. Oh, what if she should die in her sleep tonight?
“Oh, what a shame!” she whispered.
She opened the window, and holding her only souvenir of Anthony, a big initialed linen handkerchief, crept desolately into bed. While the sheets were still cold, there was a knock at the door.
“Special delivery letter,” said the maid.
Putting on the light, Josephine opened it, turned to the signature, then back again, her breast rising and falling quickly under her nightgown.
DARLING LITTLE JOSEPHINE:
It’s no use. I can’t help it, I can’t lie about it. I’m desperately, terribly in love with you. When you went away this afternoon, it all rushed over me, and I knew I couldn’t give you up. I drove home, and I couldn’t eat or sit still, but only walk up and down thinking of your darling face and your darling tears, there in that vestibule. And now I sit writing this letter—
It was four pages long. Somewhere it disposed of their disparate ages as unimportant, and the last words were:
I know how miserable you must be, and I would give ten years of my life to be there to kiss your sweet lips good night.
When she had read it through, Josephine sat motionless for some minutes; grief was suddenly gone, and for a moment she was so overwhelmed that she supposed joy had come in its stead. On her face was a twinkling frown.
“Gosh!” she said to herself. She read over the letter once more.
Her first instinct was to call up Lillian, but she thought better of it. The image of the bride at the wedding popped out at her—the reproachless bride, unsullied, beloved and holy with a sweet glow. An adolescence of uprightness, a host of friends, then the appearance of the perfect lover, the Ideal. With an effort, she recalled her drifting mind to the present occasion. Certainly Mary Jackson would never have kept such a letter. Getting out of bed, Josephine tore it into little pieces and, with some difficulty, caused by an unexpected amount of smoke, burned it on a glass-topped table. No well-brought up girl would have answered such a letter; the proper thing was to simply ignore it.
She wiped up the table top with the man’s linen handkerchief she held in her hand, threw it absently into a laundry basket and crept into bed. She suddenly was very sleepy.
For what ensued, no one, not even Constance, blamed Josephine. If a man of twenty-two should so debase himself as to pay frantic court to a girl of sixteen against the wishes of her parents and herself, there was only one answer—he was a person who shouldn’t be received by decent people. When Travis de Coppet made a controversial remark on the affair at a dance, Ed Bement beat him into what was described as “a pulp,” down in the washroom, and Josephine’s reputation rose to normal and stayed there. Accounts of how Anthony had called time and time again at the house, each time denied admittance, how he had threatened Mr Perry, how he had tried to bribe a maid to deliver letters, how he had attempted to waylay Josephine on her way back from school—these things pointed to the fact that he was a little mad. It was Anthony Harker’s own family who insisted that he should go West.
All this was a trying time for Josephine. She saw how close she had come to disaster, and by constant consideration and implicit obedience tried to make up to her parents for the trouble she had unwittingly caused. At first she decided she didn’t want to go to any Christmas dances, but she was persuaded by her mother, who hoped she would be distracted by boys and girls home from school for the holidays. Mrs. Perry was taking her East to the Brearley School early in January, and in the buying of clothes and uniforms mother and daughter were much together, and Mrs. Perry was delighted at Josephine’s new feeling of responsibility and maturity.
As a matter of fact, it was sincere, and only once did Josephine do anything that she could not have told the world. The day after New Year’s she put on her new travelling suit and her new fur coat and went out by her familiar egress, the side door, and walked down the block to the waiting car of Ed Bement. Downtown she left Ed waiting at a corner and entered a drug store opposite the old Union Station on LaSalle Street. A man with an unhappy mouth and desperate, baffled eyes was waiting for her there.
“Thank you for coming,” he said miserably.
She didn’t answer. Her face was grave and polite.
“Here’s what I want—just one thing,” he said quickly: “Why did you change? What did I do that made you change so suddenly? Was it something that happened, something I did? Was it what I said in the vestibule that night?”
Still looking at him, she tried to think, but she could only think how unattractive and rather terrible she found him now, and try not to let him see it. There would have been no use saying the simple truth—that she could not help what she had done, that great beauty has a need, almost an obligation, of trying itself, that her ample cup of emotion had spilled over of its own accord, and it was an accident that it had destroyed him and not her. The eyes of pity might follow Anthony Harker in his journey West, but most certainly the eyes of destiny followed Josephine as she crossed the street through the falling snow to Ed Bement’s car.
She sat quiet for a minute as they drove away, relieved and yet full of awe. Anthony Harker was twenty-two, handsome, popular and sought after—and how he had loved her—so much that he had to go away. She was as impressed as if they had been two other people.
Taking her silence for depression, Ed Bement said:
“Well, it did one thing anyhow—it stopped that other story they had around about you.”
She turned to him quickly: “What story?”
“Oh, just some crazy story.”
“What was it?” she demanded.
“Oh, nothing much,” he said hesitantly, “but there was a story around last August that you and Travis de Coppet were married.”
“Why, how perfectly terrible!” she exclaimed. “Why, I never heard of such a lie. It—” She stopped herself short of saying the truth—that though she and Travis had adventurously driven twenty miles to New Ulm, they had been unable to find a minister willing to marry them. It all seemed ages behind her, childish, forgotten.
“Oh, how perfectly terrible!” she repeated. “That’s the kind of story that gets started by jealous girls.”
“I know,” agreed Ed. “I’d just like to hear any boy try to repeat it to me. Nobody believed it anyhow.”
It was the work of ugly and jealous girls. Ed Bement, aware of her body next to him, and of her face shining like fire through the half darkness, knew that nobody so beautiful could ever do anything really wrong.
Published in The Saturday Evening Post (5 April 1930).
Illustrations by H. R. Balliges ?