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- Flappers and Philosophers - 30/46 -
"I've decided," began Bernice without preliminaries, "that maybe you're right about things--possibly not. But if you'll tell me why your friends aren't--aren't interested in me I'll see if I can do what you want me to."
Marjorie was at the mirror shaking down her hair.
"Do you mean it?"
"Without reservations? Will you do exactly what I say?"
"Well nothing! Will you do exactly as I say?"
"If they're sensible things."
"They're not! You're no case for sensible things."
"Are you going to make--to recommend---"
"Yes, everything. If I tell you to take boxing-lessons you'll have to do it. Write home and tell your mother you're going' to stay another two weeks.
"If you'll tell me---"
"All right--I'll just give you a few examples now. First you have no ease of manner. Why? Because you're never sure about your personal appearance. When a girl feels that she's perfectly groomed and dressed she can forget that part of her. That's charm. The more parts of yourself you can afford to forget the more charm you have."
"Don't I look all right?"
"No; for instance you never take care of your eyebrows. They're black and lustrous, but by leaving them straggly they're a blemish. They'd be beautiful if you'd take care of them in one-tenth the time you take doing nothing. You're going to brush them so that they'll grow straight."
Bernice raised the brows in question.
"Do you mean to say that men notice eyebrows?"
"Yes--subconsciously. And when you go home you ought to have your teeth straightened a little. It's almost imperceptible, still---"
"But I thought," interrupted Bernice in bewilderment, "that you despised little dainty feminine things like that."
"I hate dainty minds," answered Marjorie. "But a girl has to be dainty in person. If she looks like a million dollars she can talk about Russia, ping-pong, or the League of Nations and get away with it."
"Oh, I'm just beginning! There's your dancing."
"Don't I dance all right?"
"No, you don't--you lean on a man; yes, you do--ever so slightly. I noticed it when we were dancing together yesterday. And you dance standing up straight instead of bending over a little. Probably some old lady on the side-line once told you that you looked so dignified that way. But except with a very small girl it's much harder on the man, and he's the one that counts."
"Go on." Bernice's brain was reeling.
"Well, you've got to learn to be nice to men who are sad birds. You look as if you'd been insulted whenever you're thrown with any except the most popular boys. Why, Bernice, I'm cut in on every few feet--and who does most of it? Why, those very sad birds. No girl can afford to neglect them. They're the big part of any crowd. Young boys too shy to talk are the very best conversational practice. Clumsy boys are the best dancing practice. If you can follow them and yet look graceful you can follow a baby tank across a barb-wire sky-scraper."
Bernice sighed profoundly, but Marjorie was not through.
"If you go to a dance and really amuse, say, three sad birds that dance with you; if you talk so well to them that they forget they're stuck with you, you've done something. They'll come back next time, and gradually so many sad birds will dance with you that the attractive boys will see there's no danger of being stuck--then they'll dance with you."
"Yes," agreed Bernice faintly. "I think I begin to see."
"And finally," concluded Marjorie, "poise and charm will just come. You'll wake up some morning knowing you've attained it and men will know it too."
"It's been awfully kind of you--but nobody's ever talked to me like this before, and I feel sort of startled."
Marjorie made no answer but gazed pensively at her own image in the mirror.
"You're a peach to help me," continued Bernice.
Still Marjorie did not answer, and Bernice thought she had seemed too grateful.
"I know you don't like sentiment," she said timidly.
Marjorie turned to her quickly.
"Oh, I wasn't thinking about that. I was considering whether we hadn't better bob your hair."
Bernice collapsed backward upon the bed.
On the following Wednesday evening there was a dinner-dance at the country club. When the guests strolled in Bernice found her place-card with a slight feeling of irritation. Though at her right sat G. Reece Stoddard, a most desirable and distinguished young bachelor, the all-important left held only Charley Paulson. Charley lacked height, beauty, and social shrewdness, and in her new enlightenment Bernice decided that his only qualification to be her partner was that he had never been stuck with her. But this feeling of irritation left with the last of the soup-plates, and Marjorie's specific instruction came to her. Swallowing her pride she turned to Charley Paulson and plunged.
"Do you think I ought to bob my hair, Mr. Charley Paulson?"
Charley looked up in surprise.
"Because I'm considering it. It's such a sure and easy way of attracting attention."
Charley smiled pleasantly. He could not know this had been rehearsed. He replied that he didn't know much about bobbed hair. But Bernice was there to tell him.
"I want to be a society vampire, you see," she announced coolly, and went on to inform him that bobbed hair was the necessary prelude. She added that she wanted to ask his advice, because she had heard he was so critical about girls.
Charley, who knew as much about the psychology of women as he did of the mental states of Buddhist contemplatives, felt vaguely flattered.
"So I've decided," she continued, her voice rising slightly, "that early next week I'm going down to the Sevier Hotel barber-shop, sit in the first chair, and get my hair bobbed." She faltered noticing that the people near her had paused in their conversation and were listening; but after a confused second Marjorie's coaching told, and she finished her paragraph to the vicinity at large. "Of course I'm charging admission, but if you'll all come down and encourage me I'll issue passes for the inside seats."
There was a ripple of appreciative laughter, and under cover of it G. Reece Stoddard leaned over quickly and said close to her ear: "I'll take a box right now."
She met his eyes and smiled as if he had said something surprisingly brilliant.
"Do you believe in bobbed hair?" asked G. Reece in the same undertone.
"I think it's unmoral," affirmed Bernice gravely. "But, of course, you've either got to amuse people or feed 'em or shock 'em." Marjorie had culled this from Oscar Wilde. It was greeted with a ripple of laughter from the men and a series of quick, intent looks from the girls. And then as though she had said nothing of wit or moment Bernice turned again to Charley and spoke confidentially in his ear.
"I want to ask you your opinion of several people. I imagine you're a wonderful judge of character."
Charley thrilled faintly--paid her a subtle compliment by overturning her water.
Two hours later, while Warren McIntyre was standing passively in the stag line abstractedly watching the dancers and wondering whither and with whom Marjorie had disappeared, an unrelated perception began to creep slowly upon him--a perception that Bernice, cousin to Marjorie, had been cut in on several times in
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