Jim Powell was a Jelly-bean. Much as I desire to make him an appealing
character, I feel that it would be unscrupulous to deceive you on that
point. He was a bred-in-the-bone, dyed-in-the-wool, ninety-nine
three-quarters per cent Jelly-bean and he grew lazily all during
Jelly-bean season, which is every season, down in the land of the
Jelly-beans well below the Mason-Dixon line.
Now if you call a Memphis man a Jelly-bean he will quite possibly pull
a long sinewy rope from his hip pocket and hang you to a convenient
telegraph-pole. If you Call a New Orleans man a Jelly-bean he will
probably grin and ask you who is taking your girl to the Mardi Gras
ball. The particular Jelly-bean patch which produced the protagonist
of this history lies somewhere between the two--a little city of forty
thousand that has dozed sleepily for forty thousand years in southern
Georgia occasionally stirring in its slumbers and muttering something
about a war that took place sometime, somewhere, and that everyone
else has forgotten long ago.
Jim was a Jelly-bean. I write that again because it has such a
pleasant sound--rather like the beginning of a fairy story--as if Jim
were nice. It somehow gives me a picture of him with a round,
appetizing face and all sort of leaves and vegetables growing out of
his cap. But Jim was long and thin and bent at the waist from stooping
over pool-tables, and he was what might have been known in the
indiscriminating North as a corner loafer. "Jelly-bean" is the name
throughout the undissolved Confederacy for one who spends his life
conjugating the verb to idle in the first person singular--I am
idling, I have idled, I will idle.
Jim was born in a white house on a green corner, It had four
weather-beaten pillars in front and a great amount of lattice-work in
the rear that made a cheerful criss-cross background for a flowery
sun-drenched lawn. Originally the dwellers in the white house had
owned the ground next door and next door to that and next door to
that, but this had been so long ago that even Jim's father, scarcely
remembered it. He had, in fact, thought it a matter of so little
moment that when he was dying from a pistol wound got in a brawl he
neglected even to tell little Jim, who was five years old and
miserably frightened. The white house became a boarding-house run by a
tight-lipped lady from Macon, whom Jim called Aunt Mamie and detested
with all his soul.
He became fifteen, went to high school, wore his hair in black snarls,
and was afraid of girls. He hated his home where four women and one
old man prolonged an interminable chatter from summer to summer about
what lots the Powell place had originally included and what sorts of
flowers would be out next. Sometimes the parents of little girls in
town, remembering Jim's. mother and fancying a resemblance in the dark
eyes and hair, invited him to parties, but parties made him shy and he
much preferred sitting on a disconnected axle in Tilly's Garage,
rolling the bones or exploring his mouth endlessly with a long straw.
For pocket money, he picked up odd jobs, and it was due to this that
he stopped going to parties. At his third party little Marjorie Haight
had whispered indiscreetly and within hearing distance that he was a
boy who brought the groceries sometimes. So instead of the two-step
and polka, Jim had learned to throw, any number he desired on the dice
and had listened to spicy tales of all the shootings that had occurred
in the surrounding country during the past fifty years.
He became eighteen. The war broke out and he enlisted as a gob and
polished brass in the Charleston Navy-yard for a year. Then, by way of
variety, he went North and polished brass in the Brooklyn Navy-yard
for a year.
When the war was over he came home, He was twenty-one, has trousers
were too short and too tight. His buttoned shoes were long and narrow.
His tie was an alarming conspiracy of purple and pink marvellously
scrolled, and over it were two blue eyes faded like a piece of very
good old cloth, long exposed to the sun.
In the twilight of one April evening when a soft gray had drifted down
along the cottonfields and over the sultry town, he was a vague figure
leaning against a board fence, whistling and gazing at the moon's rim
above the lights of Jackson Street. His mind was working persistently
on a problem that had held his attention for an. The Jelly-bean had
been invited to a party.
Back in the days when all the boys had detested all the girls, Clark
Darrow and Jim had sat side by side in school. But, while Jim's social
aspirations had died in the oily air of the garage, Clark had
alternately fallen in and out of love, gone to college, taken to
drink, given it up, and, in short, become one of the best beaux of the
town. Nevertheless Clark and Jim had retained a friendship that,
though casual, was perfectly definite. That afternoon Clark's ancient
Ford had slowed up beside Jim, who was on the sidewalk and, out of a
clear sky, Clark invited him to a party at the country club. The
impulse that made him do this was no stranger than the impulse which
made Jim accept. The latter was probably an unconscious ennui, a
half-frightened sense of adventure. And now Jim was soberly thinking
He began to sing, drumming his long foot idly on a stone block in the
sidewalk till it wobbled up and down in time to the low throaty tune:
"One smile from Home in Jelly-bean town,
Lives Jeanne, the Jelly-bean Queen.
She loves her dice and treats 'em nice;
No dice would treat her mean."
He broke off and agitated the sidewalk to a bumpy gallop.
"Daggone!" he muttered, half aloud. They would all be there--the old
crowd, the crowd to which, by right of the white house, sold long
since, and the portrait of the officer in gray over the mantel, Jim
should have belonged. But that crowd had grown up together into a
tight little set as gradually as the girls' dresses had lengthened
inch by inch, as definitely as the boys' trousers had dropped suddenly
to their ankles. And to that society of first names and dead puppy
loves Jim was an outsider--a running mate of poor whites. Most of the
men knew him, condescendingly; he tipped his hat to three or four
girls. That was all.
When the dusk had thickened into a blue setting for the moon, he
walked through the hot, pleasantly pungent town to Jackson Street. The
stores were closing and the last shoppers were drifting homeward, as
if borne on the dreamy revolution of a slow merry-go-round. A
street-fair farther down a brilliant alley of varicolored booths and
contributed a blend of music to the night--an oriental dance on a
calliope, a melancholy bugle in front of a freak show, a cheerful
rendition of "Back Home in Tennessee" on a hand-organ.
The Jelly-bean stopped in a store and bought a collar. Then he
sauntered along toward Soda Sam's, where he found the usual three or
four cars of a summer evening parked in front and the little darkies
running back and forth with sundaes and lemonades.
It was a voice at his elbow--Joe Ewing sitting in an automobile with
Marylyn Wade. Nancy Lamar and a strange man were in the back seat.
The Jelly-bean tipped his hat quickly.
"Hi Ben--" then, after an almost imperceptible pause--"How y' all?"
Passing, he ambled on toward the garage where he had a room up-stairs.
His "How y'all" had been said to Nancy Lamar, to whom he had not
spoken in fifteen years.
Nancy had a mouth like a remembered kiss and shadowy eyes and
blue-black hair inherited from her mother who had been born in
Budapest. Jim passed her often on the street, walking small-boy
fashion with her hands in her pockets and he knew that with her
inseparable Sally Carrol Hopper she had left a trail of broken hearts
from Atlanta to New Orleans.
For a few fleeting moments Jim wished he could dance. Then he laughed
and as he reached his door began to sing softly to himself:
"Her Jelly Roll can twist your soul,
Her eyes are big and brown,
She's the Queen of the Queens of the Jelly-beans--
My Jeanne of Jelly-bean Town."
At nine-thirty, Jim and Clark met in front of Soda Sam's and started
for the Country Club in Clark's Ford. "Jim," asked Clark casually, as
they rattled through the jasmine-scented night, "how do you keep
The Jelly-bean paused, considered.
"Well," he said finally, "I got a room over Tilly's garage. I help him
some with the cars in the afternoon an' he gives it to me free.
Sometimes I drive one of his taxies and pick up a little thataway. I
get fed up doin' that regular though."
"Well, when there's a lot of work I help him by the day--Saturdays
usually--and then there's one main source of revenue I don't generally
mention. Maybe you don't recollect I'm about the champion crap-shooter
of this town. They make me shoot from a cup now because once I get the
feel of a pair of dice they just roll for me."
Clark grinned appreciatively,
"I never could learn to set 'em so's they'd do what I wanted. Wish
you'd shoot with Nancy Lamar some day and take all her money away from
her. She will roll 'em with the boys and she loses more than her daddy
can afford to give her. I happen to know she sold a good ring last
month to pay a debt."
The Jelly-bean was noncommittal.
"The white house on Elm Street still belong to you?"
Jim shook his head.
"Sold. Got a pretty good price, seein' it wasn't in a good part of
town no more. Lawyer told me to put it into Liberty bonds. But Aunt
Mamie got so she didn't have no sense, so it takes all the interest to
keep her up at Great Farms Sanitarium.
"I got an old uncle up-state an' I reckin I kin go up there if ever I
get sure enough pore. Nice farm, but not enough niggers around to work
it. He's asked me to come up and help him, but I don't guess I'd take
much to it. Too doggone lonesome--" He broke off suddenly. "Clark, I
want to tell you I'm much obliged to you for askin' me out, but I'd be
a lot happier if you'd just stop the car right here an' let me walk
back into town."
"Shucks!" Clark grunted. "Do you good to step out. You don't have to
dance--just get out there on the floor and shake."
"Hold on," exclaimed. Jim uneasily, "Don't you go leadin' me up to any
girls and leavin' me there so I'll have to dance with 'em."
"'Cause," continued Jim desperately, "without you swear you won't do
that I'm agoin' to get out right here an' my good legs goin' carry me
back to Jackson street."
They agreed after some argument that Jim, unmolested by females, was
to view the spectacle from a secluded settee in the corner where Clark
would join him whenever he wasn't dancing.
So ten o'clock found the Jelly-bean with his legs crossed and his arms
conservatively folded, trying to look casually at home and politely
uninterested in the dancers. At heart he was torn between overwhelming
self-consciousness and an intense curiosity as to all that went on
around him. He saw the girls emerge one by one from the dressing-room,
stretching and pluming themselves like bright birds, smiling over
their powdered shoulders at the chaperones, casting a quick glance
around to take in the room and, simultaneously, the room's reaction to
their entrance--and then, again like birds, alighting and nestling in
the sober arms of their waiting escorts. Sally Carrol Hopper, blonde
and lazy-eyed, appeared clad in her favorite pink and blinking like an
awakened rose. Marjorie Haight, Marylyn Wade, Harriet Cary, all the
girls he had seen loitering down Jackson Street by noon, now, curled
and brilliantined and delicately tinted for the overhead lights, were
miraculously strange Dresden figures of pink and blue and red and
gold, fresh from the shop and not yet fully dried.
He had been there half an hour, totally uncheered by Clark's jovial
visits which were each one accompanied by a "Hello, old boy, how you
making out?" and a slap at his knee. A dozen males had spoken to him
or stopped for a moment beside him, but he knew that they were each
one surprised at finding him there and fancied that one or two were
even slightly resentful. But at half past ten his embarrassment
suddenly left him and a pull of breathless interest took him
completely out of himself--Nancy Lamar had come out of the
She was dressed in yellow organdie, a costume of a hundred cool
corners, with three tiers of ruffles and a big bow in back until she
shed black and yellow around her in a sort of phosphorescent lustre.
The Jelly-bean's eyes opened wide and a lump arose in his throat. For
she stood beside the door until her partner hurried up. Jim recognized
him as the stranger who had been with her in Joe Ewing's car that
afternoon. He saw her set her arms akimbo and say something in a low
voice, and laugh. The man laughed too and Jim experienced the quick
pang of a weird new kind of pain. Some ray had passed between the
pair, a shaft of beauty from that sun that had warmed him a moment
since. The Jelly-bean felt suddenly like a weed in a shadow.
A minute later Clark approached him, bright-eyed and glowing.
"Hi, old man" he cried with some lack of originality. "How you making
Jim replied that he was making out as well as could be expected.
"You come along with me," commanded Clark. "I've got something that'll
put an edge on the evening."
Jim followed him awkwardly across the floor and up the stairs to the
locker-room where Clark produced a flask of nameless yellow liquid.
"Good old corn."
Ginger ale arrived on a tray. Such potent nectar as "good old corn"
needed some disguise beyond seltzer.
"Say, boy," exclaimed Clark breathlessly, "doesn't Nancy Lamar look
"Mighty beautiful," he agreed.
"She's all dolled up to a fare-you-well to-night," continued Clark.
"Notice that fellow she's with?"
"Big fella? White pants?"
"Yeah. Well, that's Ogden Merritt from Savannah. Old man Merritt makes
the Merritt safety razors. This fella's crazy about her. Been chasing,
after her all year.
"She's a wild baby," continued Clark, "but I like her. So does
everybody. But she sure does do crazy stunts. She usually gets out
alive, but she's got scars all over her reputation from one thing or
another she's done."
"That so?" Jim passed over his glass. "That's good corn."
"Not so bad. Oh, she's a wild one. Shoot craps, say, boy! And she do
like her high-balls. Promised I'd give her one later on."
"She in love with this--Merritt?"
"Damned if I know. Seems like all the best girls around here marry
fellas and go off somewhere."
He poured himself one more drink and carefully corked the bottle.
"Listen, Jim, I got to go dance and I'd be much obliged if you just
stick this corn right on your hip as long as you're not dancing. If a
man notices I've had a drink he'll come up and ask me and before I
know it it's all gone and somebody else is having my good time."
So Nancy Lamar was going to marry. This toast of a town was to become
the private property of an individual in white trousers--and all
because white trousers' father had made a better razor than his
neighbor. As they descended the stairs Jim found the idea inexplicably
depressing. For the first time in his life he felt a vague and
romantic yearning. A picture of her began to form in his
imagination--Nancy walking boylike and debonnaire along the street,
taking an orange as tithe from a worshipful fruit-dealer, charging a
dope on a mythical account, at Soda Sam's, assembling a convoy of
beaux and then driving off in triumphal state for an afternoon of
splashing and singing.
The Jelly-bean walked out on the porch to a deserted corner, dark
between the moon on the lawn and the single lighted door of the
ballroom. There he found a chair and, lighting a cigarette, drifted
into the thoughtless reverie that was his usual mood. Yet now it was a
reverie made sensuous by the night and by the hot smell of damp powder
puffs, tucked in the fronts of low dresses and distilling a thousand
rich scents, to float out through the open door. The music itself,
blurred by a loud trombone, became hot and shadowy, a languorous
overtone to the scraping of many shoes and slippers.
Suddenly the square of yellow light that fell through the door was
obscured by a dark figure. A girl had come out of the dressing-room
and was standing on the porch not more than ten feet away. Jim heard a
low-breathed "doggone" and then she turned and saw him. It was Nancy
Jim rose to his feet.
"Hello--" she paused, hesitated and then approached. "Oh, it's--Jim
He bowed slightly, tried to think of a casual remark.
"Do you suppose," she began quickly, "I mean--do you know anything
"What?" "I've got gum on my shoe. Some utter ass left his or her gum
on the floor and of course I stepped in it."
Jim blushed, inappropriately.
"Do you know how to get it off?" she demanded petulantly. "I've tried
a knife. I've tried every damn thing in the dressing-room. I've tried
soap and water--and even perfume and I've ruined my powder-puff trying
to make it stick to that."
Jim considered the question in some agitation.
"Why--I think maybe gasolene--"
The words had scarcely left his lips when she grasped his hand and
pulled him at a run off the low veranda, over a flower bed and at a
gallop toward a group of cars parked in the moonlight by the first
hole of the golf course.
"Turn on the gasolene," she commanded breathlessly.
"For the gum of course. I've got to get it off. I can't dance with gum
Obediently Jim turned to the cars and began inspecting them with a
view to obtaining the desired solvent. Had she demanded a cylinder he
would have done his best to wrench one out.
"Here," he said after a moment's search. "'Here's one that's easy. Got
"It's up-stairs wet. I used it for the soap and water."
Jim laboriously explored his pockets.
"Don't believe I got one either."
"Doggone it! Well, we can turn it on and let it run on the ground."
He turned the spout; a dripping began.
He turned it on fuller. The dripping became a flow and formed an oily
pool that glistened brightly, reflecting a dozen tremulous moons on
its quivering bosom.
"Ah," she sighed contentedly, "let it all out. The only thing to do is
to wade in it."
In desperation he turned on the tap full and the pool suddenly widened
sending tiny rivers and trickles in all directions.
"That's fine. That's something like."
Raising her skirts she stepped gracefully in.
"I know this'll take it off," she murmured.
"There's lots more cars."
She stepped daintily out of the gasolene and began scraping her
slippers, side and bottom, on the running-board of the automobile. The
jelly-bean contained himself no longer. He bent double with explosive
laughter and after a second she joined in.
"You're here with Clark Darrow, aren't you?" she asked as they walked
back toward the veranda.
"You know where he is now?"
"Out dancin', I reckin."
"The deuce. He promised me a highball."
"Well," said Jim, "I guess that'll be all right. I got his bottle right
here in my pocket."
She smiled at him radiantly.
"I guess maybe you'll need ginger ale though," he added.
"Not me. Just the bottle."
She laughed scornfully.
"Try me. I can drink anything any man can. Let's sit down."
She perched herself on the side of a table and he dropped into one of
the wicker chairs beside her. Taking out the cork she held the flask
to her lips and took a long drink. He watched her fascinated.
She shook her head breathlessly.
"No, but I like the way it makes me feel. I think most people are that
"My daddy liked it too well. It got him."
"American men," said Nancy gravely, "don't know how to drink."
"What?" Jim was startled.
"In fact," she went on carelessly, "they don't know how to do anything
very well. The one thing I regret in my life is that I wasn't born in
"Yes. It's the one regret of my life that I wasn't."
"Do you like it over there?" "Yes. Immensely. I've never been there in
person, but I've met a lot of Englishmen who were over here in the
army, Oxford and Cambridge men--you know, that's like Sewanee and
University of Georgia are here--and of course I've read a lot of
Jim was interested, amazed.
"D' you ever hear of Lady Diana Manner?" she asked earnestly.
No, Jim had not.
"Well, she's what I'd like to be. Dark, you know, like me, and wild as
sin. She's the girl who rode her horse up the steps of some cathedral
or church or something and all the novelists made their heroines do it
Jim nodded politely. He was out of his depths.
"Pass the bottle," suggested Nancy. "I'm going to take another little
one. A little drink wouldn't hurt a baby.
"You see," she continued, again breathless after a draught. "People
over there have style, Nobody has style here. I mean the boys here
aren't really worth dressing up for or doing sensational things for.
Don't you know?"
"I suppose so--I mean I suppose not," murmured Jim.
"And I'd like to do 'em an' all. I'm really the only girl in town that
She stretched, out her arms and yawned pleasantly.
"Sure is," agreed Jim.
"Like to have boat" she suggested dreamily. "Like to sail out on a
silver lake, say the Thames, for instance. Have champagne and caviare
sandwiches along. Have about eight people. And one of the men would
jump overboard to amuse the party, and get drowned like a man did with
Lady Diana Manners once."
"Did he do it to please her?" "Didn't mean drown himself to please
her. He just meant to jump overboard and make everybody laugh,"
"I reckin they just died laughin' when he drowned."
"Oh, I suppose they laughed a little," she admitted. "I imagine she
did, anyway. She's pretty hard, I guess--like I am."
"Like nails." She yawned again and added, "Give me a little more from
Jim hesitated but she held out her hand defiantly, "Don't treat me
like a girl;" she warned him. "I'm not like any girl _you_ ever
saw," She considered. "Still, perhaps you're right. You got--you got
old head on young shoulders."
She jumped to her feet and moved toward the door. The Jelly-bean rose
"Good-bye," she said politely, "good-bye. Thanks, Jelly-bean."
Then she stepped inside and left him wide-eyed upon the porch.
At twelve o'clock a procession of cloaks issued single file from the
women's dressing-room and, each one pairing with a coated beau like
dancers meeting in a cotillion figure, drifted through the door with
sleepy happy laughter--through the door into the dark where autos
backed and snorted and parties called to one another and gathered
around the water-cooler.
Jim, sitting in his corner, rose to look for Clark. They had met at
eleven; then Clark had gone in to dance. So, seeking him, Jim wandered
into the soft-drink stand that had once been a bar. The room was
deserted except for a sleepy negro dozing behind the counter and two
boys lazily fingering a pair of dice at one of the tables. Jim was
about to leave when he saw Clark coming in. At the same moment Clark
"Hi, Jim" he commanded. "C'mon over and help us with this bottle. I
guess there's not much left, but there's one all around."
Nancy, the man from Savannah, Marylyn Wade, and Joe Ewing were lolling
and laughing in the doorway. Nancy caught Jim's eye and winked at him
They drifted over to a table and arranging themselves around it waited
for the waiter to bring ginger ale. Jim, faintly ill at ease, turned
his eyes on Nancy, who had drifted into a nickel crap game with the
two boys at the next table.
"Bring them over here," suggested Clark.
Joe looked around.
"We don't want to draw a crowd. It's against club rules.
"Nobody's around," insisted Clark, "except Mr. Taylor. He's walking up
and down, like a wild-man trying find out who let all the gasolene out
of his car."
There was a general laugh.
"I bet a million Nancy got something on her shoe again. You can't park
when she's around."
"O Nancy, Mr. Taylor's looking for you!"
Nancy's cheeks were glowing with excitement over the game. "I haven't
seen his silly little flivver in two weeks."
Jim felt a sudden silence. He turned and saw an individual of
uncertain age standing in the doorway.
Clark's voice punctuated the embarrassment.
"Won't you join us Mr. Taylor?"
Mr. Taylor spread his unwelcome presence over a chair. "Have to, I
guess. I'm waiting till they dig me up some gasolene. Somebody got
funny with my car."
His eyes narrowed and he looked quickly from one to the other. Jim
wondered what he had heard from the doorway--tried to remember what
had been said.
"I'm right to-night," Nancy sang out, "and my four bits is in the
"Faded!" snapped Taylor suddenly.
"Why, Mr. Taylor, I didn't know you shot craps!" Nancy was overjoyed
to find that he had seated himself and instantly covered her bet. They
had openly disliked each other since the night she had definitely
discouraged a series of rather pointed advances.
"All right, babies, do it for your mamma. Just one little seven."
Nancy was _cooing_ to the dice. She rattled them with a brave
underhand flourish, and rolled them out on the table.
"Ah-h! I suspected it. And now again with the dollar up."
Five passes to her credit found Taylor a bad loser. She was making it
personal, and after each success Jim watched triumph flutter across
her face. She was doubling with each throw--such luck could scarcely
last. "Better go easy," he cautioned her timidly.
"Ah, but watch this one," she whispered. It was eight on the dice and
she called her number.
"Little Ada, this time we're going South."
Ada from Decatur rolled over the table. Nancy was flushed and
half-hysterical, but her luck was holding.
She drove the pot up and up, refusing to drag. Taylor was drumming
with his fingers on the table but he was in to stay.
Then Nancy tried for a ten and lost the dice. Taylor seized them
avidly. He shot in silence, and in the hush of excitement the clatter
of one pass after another on the table was the only sound.
Now Nancy had the dice again, but her luck had broken. An hour passed.
Back and forth it went. Taylor had been at it again--and again and
again. They were even at last--Nancy lost her ultimate five dollars.
"Will you take my check," she said quickly, "for fifty, and we'll
shoot it all?" Her voice was a little unsteady and her hand shook as
she reached to the money.
Clark exchanged an uncertain but alarmed glance with Joe Ewing. Taylor
shot again. He had Nancy's check.
"How 'bout another?" she said wildly. "Jes' any bank'll do--money
everywhere as a matter of fact."
Jim understood---the "good old corn" he had given her--the "good old
corn" she had taken since. He wished he dared interfere--a girl of
that age and position would hardly have two bank accounts. When the
clock struck two he contained himself no longer.
"May I--can't you let me roll 'em for you?" he suggested, his low,
lazy voice a little strained.
Suddenly sleepy and listless, Nancy flung the dice down before him.
"All right--old boy! As Lady Diana Manners says, 'Shoot 'em,
Jelly-bean'--My luck's gone."
"Mr. Taylor," said Jim, carelessly, "we'll shoot for one of those
there checks against the cash."
Half an hour later Nancy swayed forward and clapped him on the back.
"Stole my luck, you did." She was nodding her head sagely.
Jim swept up the last check and putting it with the others tore them
into confetti and scattered them on the floor. Someone started singing
and Nancy kicking her chair backward rose to her feet.
"Ladies and gentlemen," she announced, "Ladies--that's you Marylyn. I
want to tell the world that Mr. Jim Powell, who is a well-known
Jelly-bean of this city, is an exception to the great rule--'lucky in
dice--unlucky in love.' He's lucky in dice, and as matter of fact I--I
_love_ him. Ladies and gentlemen, Nancy Lamar, famous dark-haired
beauty often featured in the _Herald_ as one the most popular
members of younger set as other girls are often featured in this
particular case; Wish to announce--wish to announce, anyway,
Gentlemen--" She tipped suddenly. Clark caught her and restored her
"My error," she laughed, "she--stoops to--stoops to--anyways--We'll
drink to Jelly-bean ... Mr. Jim Powell, King of the Jelly-beans."
And a few minutes later as Jim waited hat in hand for Clark in the
darkness of that same corner of the porch where she had come searching
for gasolene, she appeared suddenly beside him.
"Jelly-bean," she said, "are you here, Jelly-bean? I think--" and her
slight unsteadiness seemed part of an enchanted dream--"I think you
deserve one of my sweetest kisses for that, Jelly-bean."
For an instant her arms were around his neck--her lips were pressed to
"I'm a wild part of the world, Jelly-bean, but you did me a good
Then she was gone, down the porch, over the cricket-loud lawn. Jim saw
Merritt come out the front door and say something to her angrily--saw
her laugh and, turning away, walk with averted eyes to his car.
Marylyn and Joe followed, singing a drowsy song about a Jazz baby.
Clark came out and joined Jim on the steps. "All pretty lit, I guess,"
he yawned. "Merritt's in a mean mood. He's certainly off Nancy."
Over east along the golf course a faint rug of gray spread itself
across the feet of the night. The party in the car began to chant a
chorus as the engine warmed up.
"Good-night everybody," called Clark.
There was a pause, and then a soft, happy voice added,
The car drove off to a burst of singing. A rooster on a farm across
the way took up a solitary mournful crow, and behind them, a last
negro waiter turned out the porch light, Jim and Clark strolled over
toward the Ford, their, shoes crunching raucously on the gravel drive.
"Oh boy!" sighed Clark softly, "how you can set those dice!"
It was still too dark for him to see the flush on Jim's thin
cheeks--or to know that it was a flush of unfamiliar shame.
Over Tilly's garage a bleak room echoed all day to the rumble and
snorting down-stairs and the singing of the negro washers as they
turned the hose on the cars outside. It was a cheerless square of a
room, punctuated with a bed and a battered table on which lay half a
dozen books--Joe Miller's "Slow Train thru Arkansas," "Lucille," in an
old edition very much annotated in an old-fashioned hand; "The Eyes of
the World," by Harold Bell Wright, and an ancient prayer-book of the
Church of England with the name Alice Powell and the date 1831 written
on the fly-leaf.
The East, gray when Jelly-bean entered the garage, became a rich and
vivid blue as he turned on his solitary electric light. He snapped it
out again, and going to the window rested his elbows on the sill and
stared into the deepening morning. With the awakening of his emotions,
his first perception was a sense of futility, a dull ache at the utter
grayness of his life. A wall had sprung up suddenly around him hedging
him in, a wall as definite and tangible as the white wall of his bare
room. And with his perception of this wall all that had been the
romance of his existence, the casualness, the light-hearted
improvidence, the miraculous open-handedness of life faded out. The
Jelly-bean strolling up Jackson Street humming a lazy song, known at
every shop and street stand, cropful of easy greeting and local wit,
sad sometimes for only the sake of sadness and the flight of
time--that Jelly-bean was suddenly vanished. The very name was a
reproach, a triviality. With a flood of insight he knew that Merritt
must despise him, that even Nancy's kiss in the dawn would have
awakened not jealousy but only a contempt for Nancy's so lowering
herself. And on his part the Jelly-bean had used for her a dingy
subterfuge learned from the garage. He had been her moral laundry; the
stains were his.
As the gray became blue, brightened and filled the room, he crossed to
his bed and threw himself down on it, gripping the edges fiercely.
"I love her," he cried aloud, "God!"
As he said this something gave way within him like a lump melting in
his throat. The air cleared and became radiant with dawn, and turning
over on his face he began to sob dully into the pillow.
In the sunshine of three o'clock Clark Darrow chugging painfully along
Jackson Street was hailed by the Jelly-bean, who stood on the curb
with his fingers in his vest pockets.
"Hi!" called Clark, bringing his Ford to an astonishing stop
alongside. "Just get up?"
The Jelly-bean shook his head.
"Never did go to bed. Felt sorta restless, so I took a long walk this
morning out in the country. Just got into town this minute."
"Should think you _would_ feel restless. I been feeling thataway
"I'm thinkin' of leavin' town" continued the Jelly-bean, absorbed by
his own thoughts. "Been thinkin' of goin' up on the farm, and takin' a
little that work off Uncle Dun. Reckin I been bummin' too long."
Clark was silent and the Jelly-bean continued:
"I reckin maybe after Aunt Mamie dies I could sink that money of mine
in the farm and make somethin' out of it. All my people originally
came from that part up there. Had a big place."
Clark looked at him curiously.
"That's funny," he said. "This--this sort of affected me the same
The Jelly-bean hesitated.
"I don't know," he began slowly, "somethin' about--about that girl
last night talkin' about a lady named Diana Manners--an English lady,
sorta got me thinkin'!" He drew himself up and looked oddly at Clark,
"I had a family once," he said defiantly.
"And I'm the last of 'em," continued the Jelly-bean his voice rising
slightly, "and I ain't worth shucks. Name they call me by means
jelly--weak and wobbly like. People who weren't nothin' when my folks
was a lot turn up their noses when they pass me on the street."
Again Clark was silent.
"So I'm through, I'm goin' to-day. And when I come back to this town
it's going to be like a gentleman."
Clark took out his handkerchief and wiped his damp brow.
"Reckon you're not the only one it shook up," he admitted gloomily.
"All this thing of girls going round like they do is going to stop
right quick. Too bad, too, but everybody'll have to see it thataway."
"Do you mean," demanded Jim in surprise, "that all that's leaked out?"
"Leaked out? How on earth could they keep it secret. It'll be
announced in the papers to-night. Doctor Lamar's got to save his name
Jim put his hands on the sides of the car and tightened his long
fingers on the metal.
"Do you mean Taylor investigated those checks?"
It was Clark's turn to be surprised.
"Haven't you heard what happened?"
Jim's startled eyes were answer enough.
"Why," announced Clark dramatically, "those four got another bottle of
corn, got tight and decided to shock the town--so Nancy and that fella
Merritt were married in Rockville at seven o'clock this morning."
A tiny indentation appeared in the metal under the Jelly-bean's
"Sure enough. Nancy sobered up and rushed back into town, crying and
frightened to death--claimed it'd all been a mistake. First Doctor
Lamar went wild and was going to kill Merritt, but finally they got it
patched up some way, and Nancy and Merritt went to Savannah on the
Jim closed his eyes and with an effort overcame a sudden sickness.
"It's too bad," said Clark philosophically. "I don't mean the
wedding--reckon that's all right, though I don't guess Nancy cared a
darn about him. But it's a crime for a nice girl like that to hurt her
family that way."
The Jelly-bean let go the car and turned away. Again something was
going on inside him, some inexplicable but almost chemical change.
"Where you going?" asked Clark.
The Jelly-bean turned and looked dully back over his shoulder.
"Got to go," he muttered. "Been up too long; feelin' right sick."
* * * * *
The street was hot at three and hotter still at four, the April dust
seeming to enmesh the sun and give it forth again as a world-old joke
forever played on an eternity of afternoons. But at half past four a
first layer of quiet fell and the shades lengthened under the awnings
and heavy foliaged trees. In this heat nothing mattered. All life was
weather, a waiting through the hot where events had no significance
for the cool that was soft and caressing like a woman's hand on a
tired forehead. Down in Georgia there is a feeling--perhaps
inarticulate--that this is the greatest wisdom of the South--so after
a while the Jelly-bean turned into a poolhall on Jackson Street where
he was sure to find a congenial crowd who would make all the old
jokes--the ones he knew.
Fitzgerald's short story: The Jelly-Bean _
Read next: My Last Flappers: The Camel's Back
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