CHAPTER 1. Amory, Son of Beatrice-2

1916 Words
Thursday evening. Faithfully, Amory Blaine. On Thursday, therefore, he walked pensively along the slippery, shovel-scraped sidewalks, and came in sight of Myra’s house, on the half-hour after five, a lateness which he fancied his mother would have favored. He waited on the door-step with his eyes nonchalantly half-closed, and planned his entrance with precision. He would cross the floor, not too hastily, to Mrs. St. Claire, and say with exactly the correct modulation: “My dear Mrs. St. Claire, I’m frightfully sorry to be late, but my maid”—he paused there and realized he would be quoting—“but my uncle and I had to see a fella—Yes, I’ve met your enchanting daughter at dancing-school.” Then he would shake hands, using that slight, half-foreign bow, with all the starchy little females, and nod to the fellas who would be standing ’round, paralyzed into rigid groups for mutual protection. A butler (one of the three in Minneapolis) swung open the door. Amory stepped inside and divested himself of cap and coat. He was mildly surprised not to hear the shrill squawk of conversation from the next room, and he decided it must be quite formal. He approved of that—as he approved of the butler. “Miss Myra,” he said. To his surprise the butler grinned horribly. “Oh, yeah,” he declared, “she’s here.” He was unaware that his failure to be cockney was ruining his standing. Amory considered him coldly. “But,” continued the butler, his voice rising unnecessarily, “she’s the only one what is here. The party’s gone.” Amory gasped in sudden horror. “What?” “She’s been waitin’ for Amory Blaine. That’s you, ain’t it? Her mother says that if you showed up by five-thirty you two was to go after ’em in the Packard.” Amory’s despair was crystallized by the appearance of Myra herself, bundled to the ears in a polo coat, her face plainly sulky, her voice pleasant only with difficulty. “’Lo, Amory.” “’Lo, Myra.” He had described the state of his vitality. “Well—you got here, anyways.” “Well—I’ll tell you. I guess you don’t know about the auto accident,” he romanced. Myra’s eyes opened wide. “Who was it to?” “Well,” he continued desperately, “uncle ’n aunt ’n I.” “Was any one killed?” Amory paused and then nodded. “Your uncle?”—alarm. “Oh, no just a horse—a sorta gray horse.” At this point the Erse butler snickered. “Probably killed the engine,” he suggested. Amory would have put him on the rack without a scruple. “We’ll go now,” said Myra coolly. “You see, Amory, the bobs were ordered for five and everybody was here, so we couldn’t wait—” “Well, I couldn’t help it, could I?” “So mama said for me to wait till ha’past five. We’ll catch the bobs before it gets to the Minnehaha Club, Amory.” Amory’s shredded poise dropped from him. He pictured the happy party jingling along snowy streets, the appearance of the limousine, the horrible public descent of him and Myra before sixty reproachful eyes, his apology—a real one this time. He sighed aloud. “What?” inquired Myra. “Nothing. I was just yawning. Are we going to surely catch up with ’em before they get there?” He was encouraging a faint hope that they might slip into the Minnehaha Club and meet the others there, be found in blasé seclusion before the fire and quite regain his lost attitude. “Oh, sure Mike, we’ll catch ’em all right—let’s hurry.” He became conscious of his stomach. As they stepped into the machine he hurriedly slapped the paint of diplomacy over a rather box-like plan he had conceived. It was based upon some “trade-lasts” gleaned at dancing-school, to the effect that he was “awful good-looking and English, sort of.” “Myra,” he said, lowering his voice and choosing his words carefully, “I beg a thousand pardons. Can you ever forgive me?” She regarded him gravely, his intent green eyes, his mouth, that to her thirteen-year-old, arrow-collar taste was the quintessence of romance. Yes, Myra could forgive him very easily. “Why—yes—sure.” He looked at her again, and then dropped his eyes. He had lashes. “I’m awful,” he said sadly. “I’m diff’runt. I don’t know why I make faux pas. ’Cause I don’t care, I s’pose.” Then, recklessly: “I been smoking too much. I’ve got t’bacca heart.” Myra pictured an all-night tobacco debauch, with Amory pale and reeling from the effect of nicotined lungs. She gave a little gasp. “Oh, Amory, don’t smoke. You’ll stunt your growth!” “I don’t care,” he persisted gloomily. “I gotta. I got the habit. I’ve done a lot of things that if my fambly knew”—he hesitated, giving her imagination time to picture dark horrors—“I went to the burlesque show last week.” Myra was quite overcome. He turned the green eyes on her again. “You’re the only girl in town I like much,” he exclaimed in a rush of sentiment. “You’re simpatico.” Myra was not sure that she was, but it sounded stylish though vaguely improper. Thick dusk had descended outside, and as the limousine made a sudden turn she was jolted against him; their hands touched. “You shouldn’t smoke, Amory,” she whispered. “Don’t you know that?” He shook his head. “Nobody cares.” Myra hesitated. “I care.” Something stirred within Amory. “Oh, yes, you do! You got a crush on Froggy Parker. I guess everybody knows that.” “No, I haven’t,” very slowly. A silence, while Amory thrilled. There was something fascinating about Myra, shut away here cosily from the dim, chill air. Myra, a little bundle of clothes, with strands of yellow hair curling out from under her skating cap. “Because I’ve got a crush, too—” He paused, for he heard in the distance the sound of young laughter, and, peering through the frosted glass along the lamp-lit street, he made out the dark outline of the bobbing party. He must act quickly. He reached over with a violent, jerky effort, and clutched Myra’s hand—her thumb, to be exact. “Tell him to go to the Minnehaha straight,” he whispered. “I wanta talk to you—I got to talk to you.” Myra made out the party ahead, had an instant vision of her mother, and then—alas for convention—glanced into the eyes beside. “Turn down this side street, Richard, and drive straight to the Minnehaha Club!” she cried through the speaking tube. Amory sank back against the cushions with a sigh of relief. “I can kiss her,” he thought. “I’ll bet I can. I’ll bet I can!” Overhead the sky was half crystalline, half misty, and the night around was chill and vibrant with rich tension. From the Country Club steps the roads stretched away, dark creases on the white blanket; huge heaps of snow lining the sides like the tracks of giant moles. They lingered for a moment on the steps, and watched the white holiday moon. “Pale moons like that one”—Amory made a vague gesture—“make people mysterieuse. You look like a young witch with her cap off and her hair sorta mussed”—her hands clutched at her hair—“Oh, leave it, it looks good.” They drifted up the stairs and Myra led the way into the little den of his dreams, where a cosy fire was burning before a big sink-down couch. A few years later this was to be a great stage for Amory, a cradle for many an emotional crisis. Now they talked for a moment about bobbing parties. “There’s always a bunch of shy fellas,” he commented, “sitting at the tail of the bob, sorta lurkin’ an’ whisperin’ an’ pushin’ each other off. Then there’s always some crazy cross-eyed girl”—he gave a terrifying imitation—“she’s always talkin’ hard, sorta, to the chaperon.” “You’re such a funny boy,” puzzled Myra. “How d’y’ mean?” Amory gave immediate attention, on his own ground at last. “Oh—always talking about crazy things. Why don’t you come ski-ing with Marylyn and I to-morrow?” “I don’t like girls in the daytime,” he said shortly, and then, thinking this a bit abrupt, he added: “But I like you.” He cleared his throat. “I like you first and second and third.” Myra’s eyes became dreamy. What a story this would make to tell Marylyn! Here on the couch with this wonderful-looking boy—the little fire—the sense that they were alone in the great building— Myra capitulated. The atmosphere was too appropriate. “I like you the first twenty-five,” she confessed, her voice trembling, “and Froggy Parker twenty-sixth.” Froggy had fallen twenty-five places in one hour. As yet he had not even noticed it. But Amory, being on the spot, leaned over quickly and kissed Myra’s cheek. He had never kissed a girl before, and he tasted his lips curiously, as if he had munched some new fruit. Then their lips brushed like young wild flowers in the wind. “We’re awful,” rejoiced Myra gently. She slipped her hand into his, her head drooped against his shoulder. Sudden revulsion seized Amory, disgust, loathing for the whole incident. He desired frantically to be away, never to see Myra again, never to kiss any one; he became conscious of his face and hers, of their clinging hands, and he wanted to creep out of his body and hide somewhere safe out of sight, up in the corner of his mind. “Kiss me again.” Her voice came out of a great void. “I don’t want to,” he heard himself saying. There was another pause. “I don’t want to!” he repeated passionately. Myra sprang up, her cheeks pink with bruised vanity, the great bow on the back of her head trembling sympathetically. “I hate you!” she cried. “Don’t you ever dare to speak to me again!” “What?” stammered Amory. “I’ll tell mama you kissed me! I will too! I will too! I’ll tell mama, and she won’t let me play with you!” Amory rose and stared at her helplessly, as though she were a new animal of whose presence on the earth he had not heretofore been aware. The door opened suddenly, and Myra’s mother appeared on the threshold, fumbling with her lorgnette. “Well,” she began, adjusting it benignantly, “the man at the desk told me you two children were up here—How do you do, Amory.” Amory watched Myra and waited for the crash—but none came. The pout faded, the high pink subsided, and Myra’s voice was placid as a summer lake when she answered her mother. “Oh, we started so late, mama, that I thought we might as well—” He heard from below the shrieks of laughter, and smelled the vapid odor of hot chocolate and tea-cakes as he silently followed mother and daughter down-stairs. The sound of the graphophone mingled with the voices of many girls humming the air, and a faint glow was born and spread over him: “Casey-Jones—mounted to the cab-un Casey-Jones—’th his orders in his hand. Casey-Jones—mounted to the cab-un Took his farewell journey to the prom-ised land.” SNAPSHOTS OF THE YOUNG EGOTIST Amory spent nearly two years in Minneapolis. The first winter he wore moccasins that were born yellow, but after many applications of oil and dirt assumed their mature color, a dirty, greenish brown; he wore a gray plaid mackinaw coat, and a red toboggan cap. His dog, Count Del Monte, ate the red cap, so his uncle gave him a gray one that pulled down over his face. The trouble with this one was that you breathed into it and your breath froze; one day the darn thing froze his cheek. He rubbed snow on his cheek, but it turned bluish-black just the same. The Count Del Monte ate a box of bluing once, but it didn’t hurt him. Later, however, he lost his mind and ran madly up the street, bumping into fences, rolling in gutters, and pursuing his eccentric course out of Amory’s life. Amory cried on his bed. “Poor little Count,” he cried. “Oh, poor little Count!” After several months he suspected Count of a fine piece of emotional acting.
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