Introducing Pat Boone In Bernardine
In Sneaky Falls, Idaho, by the banks of the Itching River, there exists a dream place for young men. There, mothers have to coax their sons for spending money and ask permission to stay out late. There, every girl is Bernardine and the word ‘No’ is never spoken.”
There were four “Shamrocks” gathered around Arthur Beaumont as he spoke; four who were no longer boys and not yet men. They had reached that wonderful and terrible age, seventeen, when they wanted all the world, yet felt the world did not want them. Not to be permitted to drink beer was the worst insult; not to have a date positively calamitous.
They were seated in the back room of the Shamrock, a hamburger and beer joint which they adopted as their after-school headquarters. Here they spoke of such weighty subjects as girls, boats and their cars or “goats” as they called them, and listened to such weighty music as bongo-calypso. As they listened to Beau the walls of their haunt, papered with signs swiped from elsewhere by generations of Shamrock habitués: THIS POOL FOR USE OF HOTEL GUESTS ONLY, HALF MILE TO SKI JUMP, DO NOT DISTURB, THIS WAY TO THE ZOO, etc., literally disappeared for them. Instead, they saw the banks of the Itching River, with a beautiful girl sitting by its waters, the breeze stirring her long blond hair.
Beau himself had never been more carried away by the sound of his own words. He spoke in his usual soft tones, his smile dreamy and faraway, as if unaware that the news he was imparting could change the lives of his comrades and, in fact, of all young men the world over. For Beau this was quite typical.
He was, to quote one fellow’s mother, “A sensitive, delicate youth with elegantly weary mannerisms.” The raising of an eyebrow, the flick of a finger could, and usually did, send the other boys off to do his bidding. Yet he had none of the outward toughness usually found in a leader. One of the boys, Morgan Olson, who wouldn’t lower himself even to comb his hair, had this toughness in his manner. And George Friedelhauser, an intelligent, upstanding all-American type fellow, had it in his build; he played football.
Beau had a far more dangerous quality than toughness; he had charm. Nobody knew quite what was happening when Beau got hold of him. Without half trying, sometimes without even meaning to, he wheedled his way around parents and teachers alike and arbitrated the sharpest differences among the Shamrocks. He was their undisputed leader and voice of authority.
“Sneaky Falls . Sneaky Falls, Idaho,” whispered Sanford Wilson, the rebel among them, to whom any place other than home seemed romantic.
“By the banks of the Itching River,” murmured Friedelhauser.
“Where every girl is Bernardine,” Beau reminded them.
Even ladies’ man Marvin Griner, with a line that had half the girls in Wingate High hooked, forgot them all as he thought of a girl who never said “no.”
“Bernardine,” they each said softly, as if afraid she could hear if they spoke too loud. And one of them began to hum a tune, thereafter known as Bernardine.
Up until Beau’s inspiring talk, the day had been going badly for Wilson, but that was nothing particularly new for him. He was an impulsive character, constantly in hot water which his fierce moods got him into and his friends got him out of.
An then this morning. Mason had brought him the bad news. Mason was not a bad Joe, considering the fact he was a teacher. But they’d been in the high-school locker room, getting dressed for gym, when Mason came in. “I’ve just come from a faculty meeting,” he said, “and you, Wilson, are flunking practically every subject. What’s the matter, too many girls?”
That was a good one, Sanford thought. He never had the problem of getting rid of a girl because he didn’t have a girl to get rid of.
Beau, who’d been with him, interposed. Sometimes Beau could be helpful. “This is a clean-living man, Mr. Mason,” he’d said. “He gave up girls a long time ago.”
Mr. Mason attacked Wilson’s other main reason for being. “Then, what is it? Boat racing?”
Caught for a quick reply, Beau answered for him again. “That’s what keeps him sane, Mr. Mason. Mental hygiene, that’s what it is.”
Unimpressed, Mason warned, “Well, the mailman will hand your mother a nasty shock Monday morning, Wilson. Mr. Dykers wrote her a note.”
Old Dykers and his note. The fellows had rallied ’round him in sympathy and elected to call an emergency executive session at the Shamrock. Beau had taken his favorite spot at the window; Griner hadn’t come with them, some doll was dropping him off in her convertible. Friedelhauser and Olson stood in critical attention at the juke box, listening to a trumpet solo and nursing their Cokes. Wilson just sat alone, slumped over a table in gloom, finding the activity around him an added irritant. He brooded over his troubles, one at a time: Not only was there the prospect of flunking, but he had to have a date for a shindig at the Black Cow that night and where was a girl to come from?
Meanwhile, Friedelhauser and Olson, who were discussing the trumpeter, gave him his opportunity to raise his problems. Friedelhauser thought the artist stank but Beau was of Olson’s opinion. “Listen to that noise—that cool, cool noise,” Beau said.
“Friedelhauser is right,” said Wilson. “That guy’s strictly O.T.L.—Out to Lunch.” Casually he broached his subject. “Mister Bongo opens at the Black Cow tonight.”
They looked at him warily. Olson spoke: “If this means a bite, my allowance is four week’s overdrawn.”
“And I’m clean,” said Friedelhauser. “However, to show you I have a forgiving heart, I’ll give you Mister Bongo on record.” He pressed a button on the juke box and put in his coin. Out poured Bongo’s latest hit.
“Out of a box!” sneered Wilson. “You got to see Bongo to know him.” He illustrated on a couple of tables Bongo’s rhythmic technique, producing such a racket that Ruby McDuff, the manager of the Shamrock, appeared glowering in the doorway. “What’s goin’ on?” she demanded. Dead quiet descended.
Beau turned on the charm and pacified her. Wilson took a swig of Coke to calm his nerves. “Anyway,” he boasted, “I’m going to the Black Cow tonight. And for the benefit of you bankrupts, I’m loaded.”
His statement had the desired effect. They gathered ’round, all but Beau.
“But I’m going with a girl,” Wilson added. “Get Christine, Beau, to find me a girl and we’ll double-date. Ill pick up the tab.”
“What girl, Wilson?” Beau looked up disgustedly. “Name me one girl who would date you—just one?”
Griner’s entrance saved Wilson from the embarrassment of answering. But he was no help.
“What?” Griner glared. “I’ve told you, Wilson, don’t come to me for spare parts any more. I fixed you up with four different girls and I’m still living down your reputation. Your technique stinks.”
“What time do I get for technique?” Wilson answered. “You blind-date me with a girl ten miles out of town—I get there at eight-thirty and have to be home by ten. Where’s the time for technique when you got a mother like mine waiting up for you? I’m just out of practice.”
Beau patted Wilson on the back. “Don’t worry, Fofo. Remember there’s a dream place for guys like us. In Sneaky Falls, Idaho. . . .”
Abruptly Wilson dug into his pocket for a coin, walked over to the phone booth and, looking at the boys as if something great were about to happen, dialed long distance. They exchanged worried glances. “This is Vice-Commodore Bidnut of the Shamrock Yacht Club,” they heard him say into the phone in an altered bass voice. “I want to talk person-to-person to Sneaky Falls, Idaho. A Miss Bernardine Mudd—Mudd, with a double ‘d’, please.”
A blank expression suddenly came over his face as he turned to his buddies. “She’s getting the routing,” he said with wonder.
“Must be a new girl,” said Olson.
The others listened open-mouthed at Wilson’s next words. “I’ll verify that, operator. If you give me your number I’ll call you back.”
“Cute voice—must be a cute girl,” he said more to himself than the guys. In alarm they saw what he was up to as he stepped out of the booth. “Operator Twenty-Two,” he whispered. “Think of it, a new girl in town! And she won’t know a thing about my reputation which I don’t even deserve.”
As Wilson hurried down to the phone exchange to get a gander at Operator Twenty-Two, the others silently emptied their pockets for his bail.
Arriving at the phone exchange, Wilson parked in front of the building. Beau’s parting remarks kept ringing in his ears. “I just want to leave you with one thought for the day—the password for success,” he said, dropping it like a pearl: “Technique! My boy, you’ve got none! Absolutely none.”
Wilson shook off this awful thought, and straightened up once inside the reception room, explaining to the clerk that he had trouble getting an Idaho number, and came down to investigate. “I can’t dial it again,” he said, “because my pet monkey ate the piece of paper it was written on. But I got the operator’s number—Twenty-Two, I think it was.”
The clerk, a bit bewildered, but still unsuspecting, called Jean Cantrick, Operator Twenty-Two, to come out with her toll ticket on the Idaho call. Wilson, who had been keeping up a line of chatter, stopped dead as she came in sight. Jean Cantrick was blonde, five-foot-two, with eyes of blue. a delight to look at, and just the right size for his arms. The gang’s Bernardine theme song filled his head, his mouth felt parched, his legs weak and queazy, but it was a nice queaziness, not the kind that came upon him at exam time.
“Sneaky Falls?” he heard the clerk say. “Curious name.”
“It certainly is!” said the superintendent, suddenly interrupting and reading the rest of the ticket. She scowled nastily. “Mr. Bidnut, there is no Sneaky Falls. Ill count three, then blow the police whistle!”
Outside the building Mr. Bidnut stood pat—having found Bernardine, he refused to give her up. He scarcely knew how long he waited, twenty minutes or two hours. till he saw her come out of the building. He singled her out almost immediately from the stream of homebound employees and made his way to her side. But all she did when he offered to drive her home was look right through him, just what he needed to divest him of any semblance of technique. “I’m really a solid guy, Miss Cantrick,” he stammered. “Ask Ruby McDuff at the Shamrock or anybody at Wingate High—”
Her lack of response was disconcerting and the fact that her bus was coming didn’t help matters. “I can’t tell you my life story standing here,” he said in desperation. “There’s a bongo-calypso deal at the Black Cow tonight. . . .”
She didn’t give him so much as a backward look as she boarded her bus in the middle of his sentence. There was only one thing to do, he reasoned: follow in his goat.
When he rang the bell of the boarding house he saw her enter, she opened the door, all ready to let him have it. Seeing the woebegone expression on his face, however, she smiled despite herself. After a while, she conceded: “What time do they start to rock and roll tonight?”
Wilson didn’t drive home; he floated, going by sheer instinct like a horse who has lost his driver. He couldn’t wait to call Beau. “I got it made, Beau—the most gorgeous custom job you ever saw in your life,” he explained over the phone.
“Is this a boat, a goat, or a girl?” Beau questioned.
“I have found Bernardine. Wait till you see her! Griner—that wolf—and Friedelhauser and Olson! They don’t have to do me favors any more with blind dates and spare parts.”
“You’re bragging, Fofo. Just give me a true report. Did you meet the girl? No elaborating. Just facts.”
“Meet her? We’re in love. If you don’t believe me, come in at the Black Cow later and take a glimpse at her. I repeat, glimpse!”
Later, as he sat in the Black Cow with Jean, he was in such ecstasy looking at her over their Cokes that he hardly heard Mister Bongo, though the noise was deafening. One by one the boys sneaked in to get a look at the new girl. Beau went first to get his promised glimpse and for once wore an expression of complete surprise on his face. “Men,” he reported to the fellows who were still waiting outside diffdently for their turn. “Fofo has found the original Bernardine!”
“And gentlemen, get it straight,” he warned as Olson vaulted over the side of the car and headed for the Cow. “That captive bird is the exclusive property of Vice-Commodore Bidnut. And whomsoever shall try to poach will answer to the Committee.”
Olson returned and climbed back in as Friedelhauser said smugly, “Nobody will have to poach. Considering Wilson’s outstanding record with women, this captive bird will have flown the coop by midnight. Tomorrow I’ll get a haircut, an executive modified flat top.”
But this time the fellows were wrong. Wilson had evidently changed the course of his history with women and Jean even came to watch him boat race that Sunday. Wilson won the race but was disqualified because he wouldn’t obey orders to come in and have his boat inspected. Drunk with happiness and inspiration, he kept circling the course, doing figure eights.
He was still riding high the next morning. Cleo, the Wilsons’ maid, was the first to notice the tremendous change that had come over him. “That boy took a shower this morning,” she told his mother, “with real water! That boy’s in love!”
“Cleo, how can you? Sanford’s only a boy—in love with his schoolmates and his boat.” She couldn’t believe her son was growing up, almost didn’t want him to. Yet he came down and sat across the table from her, immersed in dreams that were definitely not about boats nor schoolmates.
He thudded back to his schoolday world when Cleo delivered the mail with Dyker’s note. He watched his mother’s face stiffen. Then she cried, “Fullerton Weldy was right! We do need a man in the house.”
Horror dawned upon him. “What do you mean?” he sputtered. “That old square.”
“For your information, Mr. Weldy asked me to marry him—last week.”
“That sneak! That last word in nothing!”
“Mr. Weldy was right.” His mother’s lip trembled. “I haven’t the weight and authority to prevent you from wasting your life—to keep you out of the Shamrock—to make you study so you can graduate. You need a father!”
“You’d marry Fullerton Weldy just to see that I graduate?” Wilson asked unbelievingly.
“It’s one good reason.”
It was then that Wilson decided he had to grow up fast. This was a man- sized problem. “That’s crazy. All I got to do is crack a book,” he promised. “Beginning tomorrow, you’ll see—I’ll stay in every night and study till I pass those exams. Starting tomorrow.”
“It’s always tomorrow, Sanford.”
His mind raced ahead. “Tonight I got a very important date.”
Like a general he laid his plans out at school, letting Beau in on them. He would have to sew things up with Jean, get her to wait for him during the two weeks he’d be holed in. Their date this evening would have to be something special, memorable. “I want to drive somewhere nice—with dancing. The Blue Grotto, maybe.”
As usual, reliable Beau grasped the situation. “I’m beginning to see. It’s Paris. You have a twenty-four hour pass. In the dawn you leave for the front to rejoin your regiment.”
“I’m with you, Fofo. Tonight you’ll order everything wrapped in a towel! Just leave it to me.”
If he had been a girl Wilson would have flung his arms around Beau’s neck in gratitude. “How are you going to do it, Beau?”
“Wait for a bulletin at the Shamrock.” Beau made a little circle with his forefinger, signifying all would be well.
Beau hurried home to execute his plans, taking Friedelhauser and Olson along as accessories. They headed for the garage where, hidden under a tarpaulin, he showed them a sports runabout of breathtaking beauty. The wheels were on blocks, the batteries on a work bench. The fellows gasped. This was no goat, it was a gazelle. “It’s Bernardine on wheels!” said Olson.
“It’s a car,” said Beau. “My brother is not using it at the moment. He’s in an Air Force igloo in Alaska.”
“This goat will impress Bernardine all right,” said Friedelhauser, “but it still won’t get Wilson into the Blue Grotto.”
Wordlessly Beau flashed his brother’s draft card. The two were duly impressed. “Get this thing air-borne,” he instructed. “Ill go in and tackle Mother.”
Mrs. Beaumont was a trusting woman who still believed in her sons. Still, when the younger one came in with his latest bit of news, she was rather startled. “Mom, I dreamt that Lee was home on leave. I have extrasensory super-nuclear perception, you know.”
“I’m so sure he’s on his way that I would like to do something nice as a surprise. Even a little thing like putting his car in shape. Take my word, he’s coming, Mom.”
Mrs. Beaumont clasped her hands in wonderment. “Then do it, Arthur, do it!”
The car job took the boys three hours of solid toil. And no sooner were they out of sight and on their way to the Shamrock, when a taxi drew up in front of the Beaumont home with a returning native inside—a handsome, strapping young man of twenty-four—Lieutenant Langley Beaumont, home on a wing, and to any girl, a dream. His father, who had just been hearing about the extrasensory perception from Mrs. Beaumont, shook his head unbelievingly, and looked on spellbound as his long-absent son bounded into the living room.
“Where’s Beau?” he asked, looking around.
“At the Shamrock—where else?” said his father in a hardly enthusiastic tone.
Like a homing pigeon, Langley followed the flock. There he interrupted a truly touching scene in the parking lot. The fellows were gathered around Wilson who was studying his passport to the Grotto—the Lieutenant’s draft card. “Remember, Fofo,” they were telling him, “technique.”
Without a word, and with perfect timing, the Lieutenant plucked the card from Wilson’s hand, and was off before the guys could say “Bernardine.”
Necessity made Wilson ingenious. “Since the Blue Grotto is so crowded,” he said to Jean, “let’s try eating under the stars.” Accordingly, he left her in the car and stopped at the Greasy Spoon for hamburgers and Cokes, then drove to a roadside rest on a cozy country road. He cut into a spot with a picnic table, turned up the volume on his radio, and parked. “Want to dance first or eat?” he asked.
They spread their banquet on the table and the girl attacked her hamburger ravenously while Wilson watched, lovesick, the thought of not seeing her for two weeks making him tense and anxious. His hand stole over, just to touch her, when Beau’s voice came, as if from outer space: “Technique, Fofo, technique.”
“Sure, I’ll remember.”
“Remember what?” asked Joan.
“Nothing, nothing. You know, you’re very beautiful, even eating. Do you have a picture I could keep?”
Opening her handbag, she provided one from a strip of snapshots, photo vending machine variety. Her preparedness miffed him, but he had no time for non-essentials and grasping her hand, upset a Coke bottle. A few drops spilled on her dress and as he rubbed the spot, embarrassed at his clumsiness, Beau’s voice came to him again, sadly this time. “Poor technique, Fofo, very poor. . . .”
Unfortunately his feelings were too strong to listen to any voice. He snatched the burger from the girl’s hand and slapped it on the table. “Jean, I’m sorry if you’re still hungry but time is running out. We have to make the most of tonight.”
He crushed her to him savagely. “Jean—my Bernardine!”
Startled, she repulsed him. “Sanford Wilson! I am not your Bernardine!”
“You don’t understand. It’s our last night together for a long time to come.”
“I’m positive of it,” she said, picking up her handbag and vanishing.
Dazed, it took Wilson a few minutes to run after her. By that time Jean had fumbled her way in the darkness, along the lonely road and disappeared. What had happened was that a car slowed down alongside her, a Thunderbird with a Lieutenant. “Any trouble, young lady?” he asked politely, and offered to drive her to town.
“Thank you, I’ll manage.”
“At least let me drive you to the Blue Grotto. You can phone for a cab from there.”
She sized him up and got into the car. Once inside the Grotto, they started to dance.
Wilson, in the meantime, sought out Beau and consolation. “To think,” said Beau, “if you had only let her finish that burger, it might have changed the course of your whole life.”
“I know, I know,” he mumbled, and picked up the phone for the tenth time. “I just have to know if she got home,” he explained his nervousness, then sagged with relief when he heard the girl’s voice. At the end of the conversation he reported, all smiles: “She said she’d wait for me until after exams.”
Then a terrible thought seized him. If he holed in for two weeks, every wolf in town would be after Jean. And if he didn’t, he’d wind up with Fullerton Weldy for a stepfather. Again, he slumped in despair.
“I have it!” said Beau, suddenly snapping his fingers. “I’ll post a schedule at the Shamrock. Griner will take Jean out three times. Friedelhauser a couple times, and—”
“No! I don’t trust those characters! They’re smooth operators. They would let Jean finish a hundred burgers. You’re the only one I would trust, Beau.”
Beau reminded him that he’d never get a clearance from Christine. A large thought took hold in his brain as he heard his brother’s Thunderbird pull up. His voice filled with awe, he said, “Can it be that Providence has sent us brother Lee for this purpose?”
Wilson was electrified.
Beau called him the next morning early to report success with the Lieutenant. “Your troubles are practically over,” he promised. “The Lieutenant will do it.”
Later that day, overwhelmed by his good luck, Wilson boasted to his mother. “Mom,” he said, “those exams. They’re in the bag.”
But Mrs. Wilson, not having quite the optimism of her son was not convinced, and decided, then and there, to take action of her own. She would get Vernon Kinswood to study with Sanford.
Vernon was different from the other boys; this she knew, he read books. Beau called him “a morbid type who would unfortunately get somewhere.” Vernon had obnoxious habits like wearing knitted socks, and going to the bank every Friday to add to his savings account. The way to his mind, Mrs. Wilson knew, was through his bank account, and she had no trouble at all securing his services for a promised check.
When she broke the news to Wilson, he wasn’t enthusiastic, but that afternoon found the two boys holed up in Sanford’s room—a routine established for the rest of the week, at the end of which, Wilson, unable to take his tutor any longer, dumped him at the public library one night and slipped off to the Shamrock. Here he noticed a startling innovation: Olson cracking a book. Olson was not so deep in intellectual pursuits, however, that he couldn’t look up and offer a devastating comment: “That chick of yours is a dream floating by in that Thunderbird. I just saw her going by with Langley.”
“She’ll have expensive tastes when you get her back,” Friedelhauser put in. “She won’t go for burgers in a basket any more. And what a comedown to rattle around in that old wood-burning goat of yours.”
Sanford hadn’t thought of that. One trouble not even over when a new one was on the way—that’s life, he complained. There was nothing to do but get another car, that was for sure. “I’ll sell my boat,” he said, finally, with his jaw set in mansize determination.
His declaration produced a sensation among the boys for it was a Bernardine of boats, but unhappily none had money. “Maybe you could form a syndicate,” Wilson offered.
Before anyone could answer, a voice, bitter and denunciatory, was heard in the doorway. It was Kinswood, looking for his charge.
Surprisingly, Beau greeted him like a Shamrock brother. “You’ve never seen our clubroom have you, old Kinswood?” he asked in dulcet tones. “Abiding friendships have been sealed in this room.”
Kinswood, the smart one, was taken in. “I have never rejected any sincere overtures of friendship.”
“Gentlemen, a drink for Kinswood.”
Olson got him a Coke.
“We have a little fund for entertaining prospective members.” Beau leaned forward, as though addressing a board meeting. “Gentlemen, I make a motion that we desist calling our friend Vernon Kinswood a slob.”
“You are not a slob any longer,” said Friedelhauser.
Kinswood looked almost human, he was so full of gratitude.
“The next step,” Beau continued, “is positive integration against negative segregation. Every Shamrock has to be a specialist. Wilson is a great boat racer and Griner is a great operator with the girls. And since you don’t care much for girls, your classification is boat owner.”
“But that takes money!”
“Do you mean you have no money in that bank where you drop in every Friday afternoon?”
Gone was the bonhommie as Kinswood looked into a sea of hostile faces. Thus, for the slight fee of seven hundred dollars, Vernon Kinswood found himself owner of the boat, BERNARDINE MUDD II, and a brother Shamrock.
Through the last weary days of exams the fellows suffered with Wilson, calling for his sleepless body and driving it to school. Beau conned Mr. Mason into giving him advance notice as to whether Wilson passed. “He’ll turn gray over the week end,” he pleaded. When Wilson heard the good word, he fainted—almost. He wasn’t used to anything nice.
Recouping his strength, Wilson felt a new sense of power and raced home to prepare to tell his mother. He smiled inscrutably and spoke in a low controlled voice. “What if it turns out that I flunked, Mom?” he played with her like cat and mouse.
“We’ll have to speak to Fullerton Weldy and see about summer school, was all she could answer.
“Fullerton Weldy. Summer school. You have no faith in me, Mom.” And acting his age, he crossed to the sideboard with its assortment of liquor bottles and poured himself a green liquid.
“Mom, the next time you have the urge to serve créme de menthe, remember that I’m the man around here.”
His mother stared unbelieving, “Sanford, don’t tell me! You’ve passed?”
Was there any doubt of that?” he replied in bored tones. “The morning you got that note about me, didn’t we make a bargain?”
Mrs. Wilson embraced him and fumbled for a handkerchief. “This calls for a celebration. I’ll call Fullerton Weldy to take us to dinner.”
Her son recoiled. “Fullerton Weldy, you said! That isn’t the bargain we made. I passed those exams to show you we didn’t need any guy in this house.”
“Sanford, a wild statement like that means we made a bargain between us?”
“It was! You promised to throw him out if I passed!”
“Why, Sanford, I never . . .” she stopped and fumbled for words. “Now that you have passed and are going to college, you might try to be an adult, not a child who just consults his own likes and dislikes.”
He looked at her harshly, feeling betrayed. “I took a big gamble locking myself up for two weeks,” he said bitterly. “A chance you don’t even know about—that could have affected my entire life and happiness. But I did it for you and now you welsh on me. Well, I’m only glad that every woman isn’t like you.” He finally tore out of the living room, leaving his mother in tears. He went to the other woman in his life.
Waiting outside the phone exchange in the new goat he had bought on Bernardine’s account, Sanford came. to an important conclusion. When he at last saw her, he ran up: “It’s been a hundred years, Bernardine,” he said. “Get aboard, we’re taking off for Sneaky Falls, Idaho.”
“What are you doing here, Sanford? What’s Sneaky Falls? I can’t go. I have a date,” and she waved to Langley’s car which just rolled up. “So long, Sanford.”
Sanford couldn’t believe it, he just couldn’t believe it. Something was wrong. He didn’t know what to do nor where to go till he found himself headed toward the Shamrock. Griner greeted him cordially, but Beau was enveloped in a strange silence.
He tried to appear casual as he went up to Beau. “Did you say you fired the lieutenant last night?”
“That’s right, Fofo.”
“Did your brother understand you?”
“He understood all right.” Beau’s face was a mask. How was he going to tell his best friend the news that had set him back on his ears just a half hour ago? He, Beau, who had always thought he could get anything in the world merely by talking? At last he summoned the courage. “Fofo,” he said gently, “the lieutenant is going to marry Jean.”
There was a long low whistle from every one. Wilson sat down slowly, his face white. “But how could he when I’m in love with her?”
“Serves you right!” Friedelhauser said. “We would have dated her gladly. But you wouldn’t trust your friends—you had to get outside talent.”
“I didn’t get outside talent. I got my friend, my pal to fix it up for me. He did fix it, too—for his brother. That’s what this dirty double-crosser did!” He caught Beau with a blow under the chin that sent him sprawling. The boys roared at Wilson but Beau said quietly, “Let him alone.”
Wilson left the den alone and got into his new goat. There was no place to go; not home, last place, he said to himself. His mother, his friend. all were against him. Whom could he believe in? What was left in life now? he asked himself. As if he’d find the answer there, he headed for the open country. So deep in thought that he noticed the skunk which ran across the road in front of his car too late. Swerving to avoid it, his car ran into an irrigation ditch, turning over. Luckily Wilson was unhurt and climbed from under the wreckage only to find that his goat was demolished.
It was Weldy who accompanied Mrs. Wilson to the police station when they reported the finding of the overturned car, then went home with her to wait for news from the boy who was nowhere to be found. Cleo greeted the pair. “He just walked in,” she said quietly, “and he’s all right.”
Weldy immediately took charge. “I think Ruth. that a little heart to heart talk is indicated. Want to come with me. or would you rather I went alone?”
“No, please, I’d rather you waited down here.” She hurried up the stairs where she found her son packing his suitcase. He had joined the Army, had his physical and been accepted within the space of a few hours. He was leaving that night.
It took Mrs. Wilson a while to find her voice. “All right I won’t marry Fullerton Weldy.”
She waited, expecting her son to fling himself into her arms. But nothing happened.
“Weldy?” he said in a far-off voice. “I don’t care about that any more.”
She didn’t understand. His only other problem had been getting through school, she thought. What could be bothering him? She turned away and got the answer as her eyes took in the little snapshot of Jean Cantrick stuck in the dresser mirror. She studied it, then looked at her son in a different manner. He turned his back to hide his torment, but she saw. She wanted to take him in her arms, but wisely said. “We’ll talk when you come downstairs.”
There she found J. Fullerton Weldy busy tallying up figures of the cost of the accident. “You must reduce the weekly allowance to this boy—restrict the use of the car. You must—”
She fixed him with a weary smile. “Fullerton, this boy, as you keep calling him, has joined the Army. He’s leaving tonight on the ten o’clock train.”
He stared at her in dumb amazement. But nothing nonplussed this man. He would straighten everything out in the morning he concluded—he knew the general.
“No, please,” interrupted Mrs. Wilson, “this is a decision a man has taken. It’s not for you nor me to reverse it.
“We mothers think that nothing in creation is good enough for our sons. We don’t want them to live the way we’ve lived, love the way we’ve loved, or die the way we’ll die. We want the miracle! We want them to walk into the future a brand new way—over a bridge of rainbows!” She turned directly at Weldy. “And we go about it with balance sheets, petty punishments and restrictions until one day—like now—they suddenly find themselves in the valley of adulthood.”
During the months that passed, Sanford wrote often and it was with delight that Mrs. Wilson learned he’d be home for the holidays. It was nearly Christmas—six months since she’s seen him— when Weldy escorted her to the station to meet Sanford and welcome him home on his first furlough. The older man, having learned his lesson, kept a discreet distance behind Mrs. Wilson as the train pulled in. He waited with a tentative smile—and some apprehension —while Sanford kissed his mother and gave her a hug that practically lifted her off her feet, Then suddenly aware of Weldy, he impulsively walked over and offered his hand to his erstwhile enemy. “Glad to see you, Weldy,” he added, while his mother brimmed over with gratitude.
By the time they reached home, Cleo had prepared biscuits and coffee, but walking over to the sideboard Sanford said. “Thanks, I’d rather have a drink if it’s all right. Créme de menthe still a favorite around here?”
Mrs. Wilson started nervously, then braced herself and answered as calmly as she could, “Still a favorite.”
The young man grinned at his mother and Weldy, breaking the unspoken tension in the room. He went to the sideboard and served them. “To us,” he said. “To all of us.”
“I hope you’ll have a good time,” his mother said a little later. “The boys are home from college.”
“I don’t want to see any of them,” Sanford turned, answering savagely. Then, recovered his humor: “What I meant was—I didn’t come home to waste my time with a bunch of strangers.”
“Strangers? Your. best friends?” interrupted Weldy quietly.
“Well—yeah—school friends. Somehow things change when you’re in the Army.” He put out his cigarette. striving to give the impression of great peace and contentment. “Think I’ll go up and unpack—if you don’t mind.” He gave them all a warm smile and started up the stairs with his coat and bag.
“I do hope our surprise will work,” said Mrs. Wilson to Weldy.
“Don’t worry, my dear, don’t worry.”
At the entrance of his room, Wilson could go no further. There in his favorite chair, with the dreamy, faraway familiar smile that Wilson had grown to hate in his thoughts. sat Arthur Beaumont. He acknowledged Wilson’s appearance with that barely perceptible elevation of an eyebrow.
It was a ghastly moment for Wilson. He closed the door and leaned against it, tried to say something but couldn’t. The tears mounted. Nothing stirred in the room. Then Beau gave a happy cry, leapt from his chair and planted his fist in Wilson’s face, knocking him into a bass drum—the one that Wilson had carefully preserved for years.
Working himself loose from his uncomfortable new quarters, Wilson started for Beau in a fury. But before he could lift a finger, he stopped dead. From outside his window, floating up and filling the room came the voice of the Shamrocks. They were singing ‘Bernardine!’
Wilson was laughing now. Spontaneously he clapped Beau on the shoulder and together they joined in the chorus: “By the banks of the Itching River . . .” There were other Bernardines, Wilson thought.
It is a quote. PHOTOPLAY MAGAZINE JULY 1957