A brazen minx I had once thought her, but tonight in her plain white frock and sober conventional surroundings she seemed to show something of the quiet poise of a nurse or a nun. She seemed to exemplify the thought that the ideal woman is both wood-nymph and madonna. By contrast to the Nietzschian intriguer I had left that morning at Briar Hills, she was a paragon of all virtues. Nietzsche! The philosopher of the sty! Freud, his runt!
When, the following morning, I found Jack Ballard in his apartment at eleven (as usual fastening his cravat) I told him of the unfortunate end to my ventures, but he only laughed at me.
“My dear Pope,” he said, “you are suffering from a severe attack of paternomania. If you don’t mind my saying so, you’re making a prodigious ass of yourself and of Jerry. If I were the boy, I’d pack you out bag and baggage. Imagine it! Put yourself in his place. Would you like any meddling in your little affairs of gallantry?” And he laughed aloud at his joke. I scowled at him, but passed the absurd remark in dignified silence.
“If it were an affair of gallantry!” I said at last, “I could forgive him that, and her. But this—it’s mere milk and water and he thinks it’s the nectar of the gods. The pity of it!”
“A pity, yes. But who is responsible? Not Jerry, surely. He’s what you’ve made him,” Jack paused expressively. “Does he—?” he began and paused. I read his meaning.
“No,” I said.
“Um! Knowledge will come like a thunderclap to Jerry. Then—look out!”
I agreed with him.
“But Jerry’s amatory ventures are none of your business, Pope,” he went on. “Let the boy go the limit. He has got to do it. It won’t hurt him. I told you that Marcia would help him cut his eye-teeth. She’s doing it in approved modern fashion, without instruments or gas. He’ll recover. Let ’em alone. I’ll tell you what to do. Just put your precious dialectics in cold storage awhile—they’ll keep; nobody’ll thaw ’em out unless you do—and take a trip to ’Frisco.”
“Frisco or not, I meddle no more.”
“Frankenstein!” he laughed again. “The monster is getting away from you.”
“If you’re going to be facetious—”
“There are times when nothing else is possible. This is one of ’em. Brace up, old boy. All’s lost but hope and that’s going soon. You go home and take a pill. You’re yellow. Perhaps I’ll come up for the week-end for Marcia’s party, you know,—if you’ll promise to have the beds well-aired. I’m sure they’re reminiscent of Jerry’s pugs. Going? Oh, very well. Love to Jerry. And remember, old top, that a man is as heaven made him and sometimes a great deal worse.”
This was the comforting reflection I took with me to the train that afternoon. But I was now resigned. I had done what I could and failed. The only thing left, it seemed, was to reconcile myself to the situation, seek a friendship with Marcia and await the debacle.