by CRARY MOORE
I HEARD a thump on the carpet. Then the quilt slithered off and a sudden weight paralyzed my chilly feet. My sister Emily, of course, wide-awake, itching to tell me about a prom or a big weekend, or the ineffable charms of Amory Standish. The thump meant a suitcase, and the barbarous hour meant that she was just off the midnight train from Boston. Emily often came up to 80th Street, to confide and giggle, before taking the local back to college, where she is a freshman. She looks like a young Siamese cat: small dark head, immense blue eyes — and usually, after raiding Harvard, that cat is full of cream. It is no small thing for a debutante to be the mascot and treasure of Amo and Harry and Joey, those nonpareils; but on a February Monday all gaiety seems repellent, even Emily’s. I did not open my eyes.
“Please, Betsy,” said a tentative voice. “I did shut the window . . . please wake up. I’m so miserable.”
Startled into coöperation, I said, “Good Lord. You look it.” My room was a cold gray limbo behind Emily’s huddled silhouette, as she sat tailorfashion on the bed. Her thin square shoulders were slumped and her face wan. “Have you been to Harvard to look at the king?”
“Not Amo,” she said. “Chub Porter—the ‘baboon’ one, remember?” She meant Brinley Tosie Porter III, two years older than her crowd and their least prepossessing satellite. He said to me once that a man like Amo Standish could tell anybody to go to hell; it was Chub’s highest compliment. He was ashamed of coming from Tulsa. “He called up Friday night at one o’clock, and I had to wake up the Resident and get special permission. Right then — he couldn’t wait. He said he was drinking at Cronin’s with Amo and Harry and Joey; and Bets, I thought he was tight, but I couldn’t say no. Could I?”
“To Chub? Why not? You always have.”
“You don’t understand,” she said impatiently. “He was on his last leave. Before Korea.”
“Good grief . . . somebody did say, in June, Chub was headed for the Air Corps. I’d forgotten all about it.”
“He flunked the physical,” Em said, “and got commissioned in the Infantry. No fun, I guess.” She ran nervous fingers through her hair. “Oh Bets, I hope I was right ... I didn’t think, you know, Friday night; he was on the line; so I just tore up and asked Mrs. Broome. She was so sweet, she said she understood perfectly.”
“Academic biddies,” I said, shaking mv head, “very sentimental. I understand perfectly: he was putting you on the spot. What was he doing in Boston anyway? I’ want to be at home.
“He hates it there, you know it. He never went home on vacations. He said he was staying at the Ritz — imagine! — seeing his old friends. He called them that.”
“Awkward for them,” I said. “And why you? Hasn’t he got a girl by now ? Or has he always had a secret squash on you?”
“I don’t know. They say Chub hasn’t had a girl since he was a sophomore. She embarrassed him or something, with some club people. Remember, he didn’t make any final club? He thought that was why; and he never risked another girl.” She plainly hated admitting it. The sad little expediencies of hopeful snobs at Harvard have always seemed pitiful to me, but Emily’s pristine naïveté is a bit uncompromising.
“And spoiled his own fun,” I said. “Poor silly mutt.”
“That’s what Amo called him. I phoned, to say Hi, when I got to Beacon Street. Uncle Dick put me up. Amo said Chub had been tight for three days and rousing up everybody in the middle of the night. When I said Chub had roused me up, on Friday, Amo called him a mutt. Only then he was sorry he had. I think he was a bit jealous; you know how Amo flies off sometimes. It’s the middle of exams anyway, and he ought to be cramming. But Chub had been pestering him to go out and drink beer all the time, and he’d had to be decent about it. He was fed up and sorry all at once. I said, ‘It’s different and special, Amo,’ and he said he guessed I was right to come, but for heaven’s sake to be careful.”
“Amo took over where Mam’selle left off,”I said laughing. “He looks like a god and acts like a governess. D’he scare you?”
“ Yes,” she said. “I couldn’t think what was coming off, anyway, and I wanted to do right by Chub; but I hoped he’d been tight when he called, so he’d forget about the whole thing.” She sighed. “If he had, I could have gone to the Pudding dance with the boys. I had my red silk, you know, in case Chub wanted it to be an Occasion.” She looked like a Christmas taper in that dress. Emily has “line.” Chub must have seemed a bull calf beside her. No taller than she, he is twice as broad, with batwing muscles at the back of his thick neck, a softish mouth, and busy brown eyes. He is the sort of boy whose mildest anecdote is somehow terribly sly and offensive; and he is so elaborate about things: saying May I Present, and lighting cigarettes (with a thing like a gold ingot). And his clothes! All costumes: Country Tweeds, or Impeccable Evening Attire, or Casual Flannels.
“Come on, Em,” I said. She was fiddling with a gold link-bracelet that made her wrist look reedy. “You stalling or something?”
She turned her head aside, and the brown hair swung in a bell to mask her cheek. Then she got up and opened the window, letting in a dank wind and the sound of a bus gasping to a stop on Park. It must have been a school bus, perhaps even the Chapin one. I can remember Emily roller-skating, all legs and pigtails, to meet it at our corner. With a white mouse snug in her pocket.
“Here,” she said, still not looking at me, and threw me my bed jacket.
“Spit it out.” Her sudden reticence made me apprehensive.
“Betsy!” Her eyes shot wide open, round as blue marbles. “He got drunk, and he said, ‘You’re probably the last white woman I’ll ever be this close to.’” Her throat showed a strained V against her pearls.
“Oaf! I understand now,” I said. “Em,dear . . . tell you what, let’s go down and get breakfast, how would that be?”
She laughed shortly". “Oh, relax. You ‘understand’ too much.” She sat down again. “Poor Chub, he tried so hard. He came to pick me up at Uncle Dick’s, and he said was I braced for a really game evening. He was swanking a little, you know, in his uniform.” I visualized a broad, but tensely military, khaki bottom. “Uncle Dick saw how it was, and said to give his regards to Tokyo; and that reminded Chub of some ghastly joke about geishas. So then I had to hurry him out. It was snowy, and awfully cold — you know how Boston gets, sort of godforsaken — and the car had been balky. He said, ‘These boats won’t start up North,’ and dived under the hood; it was that blue Jaguar. So I opened the door for myself, and he was embarrassed at forgetting. There was a great marvelous bunch of orchids on the seat for me, white ones and little pink ones, and he was worried about whether they’d go with my dress.”
“He was just trying to snow you.”
“Well, no. He wanted to please me, Bets. It was like a puppy bringing you something he’d dug up.”
“He’s more like a bull than a puppy. That way his hair curls.” I was still trying hard to picture Chub as a menace.
“Well, he was a bull, at first. He barged into the Ritz ahead of me and said, ‘Table for Lieutenant Porter?’ and there was a delay. He got very hot. under the collar and shoved money in the man’s hand, and then he was mad when the champagne wasn’t cold enough. So he sent for another bottle, and said, ‘Go ahead and drink that one’ to the waiter, in the sniffiest voice.”
“Oh no! Well, what else did he ply you with?”
“Caviar, lots of it, and he ate his like a Dagwood sandwich, all messed up with egg and onion and stuff. He said, ‘The condemned man ate a hearty breakfast.’ He just gobbled, Bets, and got red in the face and perspired. And he drank champagne with his mouth full,” Em said priggishly". “ He looked so . . . primitive, you know?”
“Sure,” I said, picturing that agreeable room, curtained against the sedate Boston evening, peopled with minikin ladies in flippy hats, twittering at impassive pin-striped men. Family parties discreetly banished to the corners, and a general tinkle of blue glass and dove-colored conversation. With Chub in the middle, hunched, gorging, his tunic aching-tight over his shoulders.
“He didn’t talk much,” she said, “until he was stuffed with beef and winter asparagus and all that, and between courses he made bread pellets, and piled them up in a little cone, and poked at it with a matchstick. He said, ‘Eat up, everything’s free’ and ‘Don’t, you like caviar?’ I said, well, I didn’t, have it very often, and he said, ‘What? A princess like you?‘ And, when he was full, he began telling me about how he’d gone up to Mont Tremblant for part of his leave, and won a maple leaf in a time trial. He kept saying, ‘You always skied okay, Em, but it’s all a matter of guts. Hell, we only live once.‘”
“How Hemingway,”I said.
“I never read any,”said Em. “I know I’d hate bullfights. But if you ever saw Chub ski . . . well, he must have been forcing it, that’s all.”
“Did you run into anybody? ”
“No. He insisted on going in the bar and looking around for people. There wasn’t anybody we knew there, and he kept saying, ‘Times have changed,’and he finally went up and asked the barman if Mr. Standish and his friends ever showed up any more. I reminded him they were cramming, and I told him Amo hardly ever went to the Ritz, but he kept acting as if he didn’t hear me. After all, hI’d just seen the boys the night before, and he knew, but he acted as if they were really just around the corner, somehow. And during dinner, whenever anybody came in, hI’d look up, chewing with his mouth open, and staring with those poppy brown eyes. Once he waved, and it turned out to be a perfect stranger.”
Emily’s eyes were washed out and enormous. I considered dragooning her downstairs to breakfast and family morning-noises. She says thin toast and proper silver are a comfort, after college, and her pet particular honeypot with a bee on it. But she had to talk herself out. “I wish I were a man,”she said abruptly. “Just to find out.”
“If I were brave. And how to feel about things.” She gazed out at our drab, familiar view of other people’s back windows. Somebody’s housemaid opened one, to shake a mop in the watery sunlight. “Well,” Emily said, rousing herself. “Anyway. Then we went on the most enormous what he called pub-crawl. Gosh. I think we went to every bar and night club in Boston. Even some of those awful places. You know.”
“Yes,” I said. “Ugh.”
“All full of sailors, and horrid women with those peculiar heels to their stockings. Aren’t they funny ? I bet they call every body Baby, and have china kittens with ivy in them. . . . I mean, besides being wicked, of course. Chub drank a lot, and stared, and he saved all his swizzle sticks. He said he was going to collect them on his travels, and did I think that was ‘amusing’? In a quite nasty voice.”
“He wanted to provoke you.”
“Oh? What for? How piggish. Anyway, I just said, ‘Why no.’ And then, Bets, he stood up and threw money on the table, way too much, and said, ‘This isn’t the sort of place for you, Snow White. Let’s go uptown.’ So, when we went out, there were a lot of East Bostonish children poking at his Jaguar. I thought hI’d be mad, but he said, ‘Nice wagon, huh? Well, kids, break it up, break it up,’ and we simply roared away, the show-off.”
“I think that’s kind of touching.”
“Well, he was nice part of the time. Only, he was talking about when he was still at Harvard, and he was funny and all that—like about when they stole the streetcar, remember? But he said he’d put them up to it, and actually it was Joey’s idea. And the time Caleb Perkins charmed the fake snake in the middle of Mass. Avenue? We all heard about it, and I know it was Caleb; but Chub told the story as if he’d done it.”
Still trying too hard, I thought. Trying to tailor his shadow. “Did you set him right?”
“Of course,” said Em blankly. “And he insisted, and got all upset.” She can be pretty obtuse. “So I told him about coming out, when the boys made me a ‘tarara’ out of paper clips and sent it in a box marked ‘Crown Jewels. High Class Mail.‘”
“You should have changed the subject.”
“I did then, he looked so depressed. I tried asking him what hI’d do when he got home from Korea for good. But he hadn’t the least idea. He said he couldn’t bear to stay down in Oklahoma or wherever it is and be a grubby oilman like his father. I’d love it, wouldn’t you? So I said, ‘What about office work in New York?‘ and he said there was nothing real about cities. But then he asked if I thought Harry’s father’s firm would take him in. I said I supposed they couldn’t tell till after Law School, if he wanted to go, but I was sure he’d make a wonderful lawyer.”
“He might at that,” I said. “He can be sharp as a tack. Except he’s a tanglefoot.”
“But he said, ‘You know, I’m twenty-three now,‘” said Emily, forging on, “and he said, ‘New York is a damned fraud.’ I was so sorry then; you have to be awfully low to feel like that. I have, just sometimes. And later on, when we were dancing at one of those roof-places over the Charles, he dragged me over to a window and said, ‘Look at that petty little town! Stewing in its own juice.’”
“Poor Chub. What did you say?”
“Well, if was lovely, you know, the lights over in Cambridge, and the snow, and the sky all violet.
I said, ‘Chub, don’t be an old sorehead.’ And then he looked as if I’d hit him, and said that was the trouble with him, hI’d always been a sorehead with a chip on his shoulder.”
“Was he tight by then?”
“Awfully. But I said that was nonsense, Amo and the others liked him because he was so goodhumored and obliging. He was, you know, he was always getting stuck with Joey’s awful cousin from Goucher. The one who liked square dances.”
“’Liked’ him? Well, good for you.”
“No. It was all wrong to say. He said, sure, he was their tame dancing bear, he knew it, and so did I, damn it, and that he was only good for providing liquor they couldn’t afford.”
“Nonsense, they always pay back; they hate being obligated.”
“That’s what I said, and he said, ‘Obligated to strangers, you mean.’ I couldn’t seem to say anything right, and Bets, he never stopped talking, even when we were dancing, and he held me so tight I thought my ribI’d crack, and he stepped on my toes, just staggering around. And usually, you know, he’s so fancy about his dancing— I bet he used to practice walking like an Indian. He breathed down my neck, and he kept saying, ‘My God, you’re lovely. They get all the lovely women.’ I couldn’t stand dancing with him, so I’d say, ‘Let’s sit down and have a real talk, Chub.’ Then, when we did sit down, there were those big fat drippy candles on the tables, and hI’d pull the wax off in red strips, not looking at me, and say he supposed I was going to marry Amo and live happily ever after, and have my picture in Vogue with beautiful children in frilly bloomers. He was very grim. That’s not how people propose, is it?” she said, in sudden panic.
“ Well, I didn’t think so. But he was so wound up it might have been anything. He isn’t open the way the others are. Anyway, I just said I wouldn’t marry anybody for ages, and if I did, it would probably be a trapeze artist or something.”
“How too funny,” I said.
“Yes, only it wasn’t any help, it made him wince. And he said, ‘Well, take your time. You’ve got plenty of it.’ I asked him if Amo and Harry and Joey had given him a nice time on his leave, and he said, oh sure, theI’d been absolute ‘princes,’ got him in on some really game parties.”
“ I should hope so.”
“But he said he couldn’t talk to them the way he could to me. It made me feel ashamed. Do you think I was any help? Everything just let go,” she went on, not waiting for my answer, “and he said, ‘I talked to Standish about going to Korea,’ and I said, ‘Yes.’ Then he said, ‘And I asked him what his philosophy was, about all that, and he wouldn’t give. So there I was with my neck stuck out. But I told him, live for the minute when your turn comes, and Standish just laughed, droopy-eyed, the way he can, and said, “Chub, old man, have a good minute while you’re at it!”’
“I said that Amo always made a joke of everything,” Emily went on, “it was just his way, especially when it’s a hard question to answer. But Chub said I knew, didn’t I, he was no straphanger, but a man needed to know who his friends were.”
“It was pretty flip of Amo.”
“I know, Betsy. But I know just how he felt. Chub’s such a clown. Anyway, I said not to be so silly, that Amo had always been his friend. I lied. And Chub said, ‘Standish never took me seriously.’ And then his face got the most awful sly look, squinty, and he said, ‘Or you either.’ I didn’t say anything but I fell pretty funny, so he must have seen something. He said ‘Damn!’ and rammed his fist into his other hand, and said, ‘There I go again, lousing it up. I was kidding, to make you jealous. Just for a joke, damn it.’ Of course I wasn’t jealous, only upset by his being horrid. So I said Phooey, Amo wasn’t my properly and I wasn’t Amo’s.”
She nodded righteously, and I could see her through Chub’s eyes, as she must have been. Rigid in her slim red dress, and flushed with pique. And awfully pretty.
“And then,” Emily said, “they closed the place down, and we went out to the car.”
“And out by the river?”
“Yes. I asked him please to take me home right away. And he said ‘Why?’ in the most hurt, suspicious voice. So I thought of saying I was tired, or I had a headache, or something, but it didn’t seem fair . . .”
“It would have been fairer. I bet.”
“Maybe. I don’t know. He said, ‘I need somebody to talk to, s’m not through yet,’ and I asked him to let me drive, because he was so tight and you can’t monkey with a Jaguar. He looked at me as if he thought I’d play him a trick, and said no. But he did drive out there very slowly.”
“Handsome of him.”
“Betsy, you just don’t understand,” she said, mistaking my tone. She sounded tearful, and her mouth was strained. “It wasn’t like a fresh boy, get that through your head. It was awfully serious.”
“I realize,” I said. “Sorry.”
“Anyway, we went out, near M.I.T., and sat. awhile looking at the lights through the snow, and the water going by. He said, ‘I used to scull out there, even in this weather. To get fit, have the jump on spring practice.’ He never did make Varsity, not even JV. But he always showed up at New London and talked very big. Then he said, ‘Well, all things come to an end,’ and kissed the palm of my hand. He turned on the lights, and I thought he was going to drive away. All I could feel was relief.”
“Don’t be ashamed, Em. You did fine.”
“Fine, oh sure, but not enough . . . maybe he’ll never see that river again, Bets,” she said shrilly, “but I didn’t think of that then. I just wanted to get home. And then he growled ‘Oh hell!’ in the most awful way, and turned off the lights again, and looked at me like something in the zoo, and . . . oh Bets, he’s so repulsive! — and I think he knows it, or he would have been, well, nicer somehow . . . but he was ghastly.” Her voice was rising still, spun thin. My room was in full sunlight now, glinting from the mirror to the bottles ranged below. Emily’s face was whiter than her pearls, her lipstick worn to a pale outline. “I shoved him away . . . unh,” she grunted, “like righting a great big chair. With my fists—I had to; and he cried. I keep thinking how hs’ll hate himself for good now. A boy, crying.”
“They do, you know.”
“It’s so awful, though. And that wasn’t the worst. He said, ‘What if I get shot?”
“Oh! Poor horrid Chub!”
“But Betsy, suppose he does? ... I am so ashamed. I said, ‘People still have to be decent.’ And he said, all worn out, sort of, ‘Okay, Snow White. Men are beasts.’ I said, ‘You’re nothing of the kind, and never were, and I feel like a pig, Chub.’ I wanted to make it better, somehow. I said what a fine evening it had been, and I said how everybody would miss him until he came back. He didn’t pay any attention, he just started driving home. And I wanted to say in Korea hI’d be doing the most worth-while thing a man could, but I couldn’t say it. I don’t believe it, do you?”
“ Ye-e-es. Not in my bones, though.”
“I keep thinking of next year, and Amo and Harry and Joey. And how decent they’ll be. All for nothing . . . anyway, I said I’d write him, if he liked. But he said not to bother. He said, ‘You’re a nice girl, Emily.’ And that was all he would say.”She was crying, perfectly quietly, sitting like a doll propped on a cotillion chair, her ankles primly crossed. Her face was blank and relaxed, while a thin stream of tears poured down either cheek. Her voice was not even thickened by her weeping. I have never seen Emily in such utter distress. “s’m sorry,” she said.
“Em, don’t!” It sounded so feeble. “He wasn’t a friend of yours, and he behaved very badly indeed.”
“I guess so. And I guess I was a very nice girl. And nobody could have helped him.” She blew her nose. “And maybe he was stupid to ask me to. Why did he, Bets? What did he want ?”
“ Things you couldn’t give him,” I said. “A shadow, to leave behind.”