"The Young Girl." by Katherine Mansfield (1888-1923)
IN her blue dress, with her cheeks lightly flushed, her blue, blue eyes, and her gold curls pinned up as though for the first time–pinned up to be out of the way for her flight–Mrs. Raddick's daughter might have just dropped from this radiant heaven. Mrs. Raddick's timid, faintly astonished, but deeply admiring glance looked as if she believed it, too; but the daughter didn't appear any too pleased–why should she?–to have alighted on the steps of the Casino. Indeed, she was bored–bored as though Heaven had been full of casinos with snuffy old saints for croupiers and crowns to play with.
"You don't mind taking Hennie?" said Mrs. Raddick. "Sure you don't? There's the car, and you'll have tea and we'll be back here on this step–right here–in an hour. You see, I want her to go in. She's not been before, and it's worth seeing. I feel it wouldn't be fair to her."
"Oh, shut up, mother," said she wearily. "Come along. Don't talk so much. And your bag's open; you'll be losing all your money again."
"I'm sorry, darling," said Mrs. Raddick.
"Oh, do come in! I want to make money," said the impatient voice. "It's all jolly well for you–but I'm broke!" [Page 131]
"Here–take fifty francs, darling, take a hundred!" I saw Mrs. Raddick pressing notes into her hand as they passed through the swing doors.
Hennie and I stood on the steps a minute, watching the people. He had a very broad, delighted smile.
"I say," he cried, "there's an English bulldog. Are they allowed to take dogs in there?"
"No, they're not."
"He's a ripping chap, isn't he? I wish I had one. They're such fun. They frighten people so, and they're never fierce with their–the people they belong to." Suddenly he squeezed my arm. "I say, do look at that old woman. Who is she? Why does she look like that? Is she a gambler?"
The ancient, withered creature, wearing a green satin dress, a black velvet cloak and a white hat with purple feathers, jerked slowly, slowly up the steps as though she were being drawn up on wires. She stared in front of her, she was laughing and nodding and cackling to herself; her claws clutched round what looked like a dirty boot-bag.
But just at that moment there was Mrs. Raddick again with–her –and another lady hovering in the background. Mrs. Raddick rushed at me. She was brightly flushed, gay, a different creature. She was like a woman who is saying "good-bye" to her friends on the station platform, with not a minute to spare before the train starts. [Page 132]
"Oh, you're here, still. Isn't that lucky! You've not gone. Isn't that fine! I've had the most dreadful time with–her," and she waved to her daughter, who stood absolutely still, disdainful, looking down, twiddling her foot on the step, miles away. "They won't let her in. I swore she was twenty-one. But they won't believe me. I showed the man my purse; I didn't dare do more. But it was no use. He simply scoffed. . . . And now I've just met Mrs. MacEwen from New York, and she just won thirteen thousand in the Salle Privée –and she wants me to go back with her while the luck lasts. Of course I can't leave–her. But if you'd–"
At that "she" looked up; she simply withered her mother. "Why can't you leave me?" she said furiously. "What utter rot! How dare you make a scene like this? This is the last time I'll come out with you. You really are too awful for words." She looked her mother up and down. "Calm yourself," she said superbly.
Mrs. Raddick was desperate, just desperate. She was "wild" to go back with Mrs. MacEwen, but at the same time . . .
I seized my courage. "Would you–do you care to come to tea with–us?"
"Yes, yes, she'll be delighted. That's just what I wanted, isn't it, darling? Mrs. MacEwen . . . I'll be back here in an hour . . . or less . . . I'll–" [Page 133]
Mrs. R. dashed up the steps. I saw her bag was open again.
So we three were left. But really it wasn't my fault. Hennie looked crushed to the earth, too. When the car was there she wrapped her dark coat round her–to escape contamination. Even her little feet looked as though they scorned to carry her down the steps to us.
"I am so awfully sorry," I murmured as the car started.
"Oh, I don't mind," said she. "I don't want to look twenty-one. Who would–if they were seventeen! It's"–and she gave a faint shudder–"the stupidity I loathe, and being stared at by old fat men. Beasts!"
Hennie gave her a quick look and then peered out of the window.
We drew up before an immense palace of pink-and-white marble with orange-trees outside the doors in gold-and-black tubs.
"Would you care to go in?" I suggested.
She hesitated, glanced, bit her lip, and resigned herself. "Oh well, there seems nowhere else," said she. "Get out, Hennie."
I went first–to find the table, of course–she followed. But the worst of it was having her little brother, who was only twelve, with us. That was the last, final straw–having that child, trailing at her heels.
There was one table. It had pink carnations [Page 134] and pink plates with little blue tea-napkins for sails.
"Shall we sit here?"
She put her hand wearily on the back of a white wicker chair.
"We may as well. Why not?" said she.
Hennie squeezed past her and wriggled on to a stool at the end. He felt awfully out of it. She didn't even take her gloves off. She lowered her eyes and drummed on the table. When a faint violin sounded she winced and bit her lip again. Silence.
The waitress appeared. I hardly dared to ask her. "Tea–coffee? China tea–or iced tea with lemon?"
Really she didn't mind. It was all the same to her. She didn't really want anything. Hennie whispered, "Chocolate!
But just as the waitress turned away she cried out carelessly, "Oh, you may as well bring me a chocolate, too."
While we waited she took out a little, gold powder-box with a mirror in the lid, shook the poor little puff as though she loathed it, and dabbed her lovely nose.
"Hennie," she said, "take those flowers away." She pointed with her puff to the carnations, and I heard her murmur, "I can't bear flowers on a table." They had evidently been giving her intense pain, for she positively closed her eyes as I moved them away. [Page 135]
The waitress came back with the chocolate and the tea. She put the big, frothing cups before them and pushed across my clear glass. Hennie buried his nose, emerged, with, for one dreadful moment, a little trembling blob of cream on the tip. But he hastily wiped it off like a little gentleman. I wondered if I should dare draw her attention to her cup. She didn't notice it–didn't see it–until suddenly, quite by chance, she took a sip. I watched anxiously; she faintly shuddered.
"Dreadfully sweet!" said she.
A tiny boy with a head like a raisin and a chocolate body came round with a tray of pastries–row upon row of little freaks, little inspirations, little melting dreams. He offered them to her. "Oh, I'm not at all hungry. Take them away."
He offered them to Hennie. Hennie gave me a swift look–it must have been satisfactory–for he took a chocolate cream, a coffee éclair, a meringue stuffed with chestnut and a tiny horn filled with fresh strawberries. She could hardly bear to watch him. But just as the boy swerved away she held up her plate.
"Oh well, give me one," said she.
The silver tongs dropped one, two, three–and a cherry tartlet. "I don't know why you're giving me all these," she said, and nearly smiled. "I shan't eat them; I couldn't!"
I felt much more comfortable. I sipped my tea, leaned back, and even asked if I might smoke. At [Page 136] that she paused, the fork in her hand, opened her eyes, and really did smile. "Of course," said she. "I always expect people to."
But at that moment a tragedy happened to Hennie. He speared his pastry horn too hard, and it flew in two, and one half spilled on the table. Ghastly affair! He turned crimson. Even his ears flared, and one ashamed hand crept across the table to take what was left of the body away.
"You utter little beast!" said she.
Good heavens! I had to fly to the rescue. I cried hastily, "Will you be abroad long?"
But she had already forgotten Hennie. I was forgotten, too. She was trying to remember something. . . . She was miles away.
"I–don't–know," she said slowly, from that far place.
"I suppose you prefer it to London. It's more–more–"
When I didn't go on she came back and looked at me, very puzzled. "More–?"
"Enfin –gayer," I cried, waving my cigarette.
But that took a whole cake to consider. Even then, "Oh well, that depends!" was all she could safely say.
Hennie had finished. He was still very warm.
I seized the butterfly list off the table. "I say–what about an ice, Hennie? What about tangerine and ginger? No, something cooler. What about a fresh pineapple cream?" [Page 137]
Hennie strongly approved. The waitress had her eye on us. The order was taken when she looked up from her crumbs.
"Did you say tangerine and ginger? I like ginger. You can bring me one." And then quickly, "I wish that orchestra wouldn't play things from the year One. We were dancing to that all last Christmas. It's too sickening!"
But it was a charming air. Now that I noticed it, it warmed me.
"I think this is rather a nice place, don't you, Hennie?" I said.
Hennie said: "Ripping!" He meant to say it very low, but it came out very high in a kind of squeak.
Nice? This place? Nice? For the first time she stared about her, trying to see what there was. . . . She blinked; her lovely eyes wondered. A very good-looking elderly man stared back at her through a monocle on a black ribbon. But him she simply couldn't see. There was a hole in the air where he was. She looked through and through him.
Finally the little flat spoons lay still on the glass plates. Hennie looked rather exhausted, but she pulled on her white gloves again. She had some trouble with her diamond wrist-watch; it got in her way. She tugged at it–tried to break the stupid little thing–it wouldn't break. Finally, she had to drag her glove over. I saw, after that, she [Page 138] couldn't stand this place a moment longer, and, indeed, she jumped up and turned away while I went through the vulgar act of paying for the tea.
And then we were outside again. It had grown dusky. The sky was sprinkled with small stars; the big lamps glowed. While we waited for the car to come up she stood on the step, just as before, twiddling her foot, looking down.
Hennie bounded forward to open the door and she got in and sank back with–oh–such a sigh!
"Tell him," she gasped, "to drive as fast as he can."
Hennie grinned at his friend the chauffeur. "Allie veet! " said he. Then he composed himself and sat on the small seat facing us.
The gold powder-box came out again. Again the poor little puff was shaken; again there was that swift, deadly-secret glance between her and the mirror.
We tore through the black-and-gold town like a pair of scissors tearing through brocade. Hennie had great difficulty not to look as though he were hanging on to something.
And when we reached the Casino, of course Mrs. Raddick wasn't there. There wasn't a sign of her on the steps–not a sign.
"Will you stay in the car while I go and look?"
But no–she wouldn't do that. Good heavens, no! Hennie could stay. She couldn't bear sitting in a car. She'd wait on the steps. [Page 139]
"But I scarcely like to leave you," I murmured. "I'd very much rather not leave you here."
At that she threw back her coat; she turned and faced me; her lips parted. "Good heavens–why! I–I don't mind it a bit. I–I like waiting." And suddenly her cheeks crimsoned, her eyes grew dark–for a moment I thought she was going to cry. "L–let me, please," she stammered, in a warm, eager voice. "I like it. I love waiting! Really–really I do! I'm always waiting–in all kinds of places. . . ."
Her dark coat fell open, and her white throat–all her soft young body in the blue dress–was like a flower that is just emerging from its dark bud.
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