Bernice did not fully realize the outrageous trap that had been set for her until she met her aunt's amazed glance just before dinner.
"I've bobbed it, Aunt Josephine."
"Do you like it?"
"I suppose I've shocked you."
"No, but what'll Mrs. Deyo think tomorrow night? Bernice, you should have waited until after the Deyo's dance—you should have waited if you wanted to do that."
"It was sudden, Aunt Josephine. Anyway, why does it matter to Mrs. Deyo particularly?"
"Why child," cried Mrs. Harvey, "in her paper on 'The Foibles of the Younger Generation' that she read at the last meeting of the Thursday Club she devoted fifteen minutes to bobbed hair. It's her pet abomination. And the dance is for you and Marjorie!"
"Oh, Bernice, what'll your mother say? She'll think I let you do it."
Dinner was an agony. She had made a hasty attempt with a curling-iron, and burned her finger and much hair. She could see that her aunt was both worried and grieved, and her uncle kept saying, "Well, I'll be darned!" over and over in a hurt and faintly hostile torte. And Marjorie sat very quietly, intrenched behind a faint smile, a faintly mocking smile.
Somehow she got through the evening. Three boy's called; Marjorie disappeared with one of them, and Bernice made a listless unsuccessful attempt to entertain the two others—sighed thankfully as she climbed the stairs to her room at half past ten. What a day!
When she had undressed for the night the door opened and Marjorie came in.
"Bernice," she said "I'm awfully sorry about the Deyo dance. I'll give you my word of honor I'd forgotten all about it."
"'Sall right," said Bernice shortly. Standing before the mirror she passed her comb slowly through her short hair.
"I'll take you down-town to-morrow," continued Marjorie, "and the hairdresser'll fix it so you'll look slick. I didn't imagine you'd go through with it. I'm really mighty sorry."
"Oh, 'sall right!"
"Still it's your last night, so I suppose it won't matter much."
Then Bernice winced as Marjorie tossed her own hair over her shoulders and began to twist it slowly into two long blond braids until in her cream-colored negligée she looked like a delicate painting of some Saxon princess. Fascinated, Bernice watched the braids grow. Heavy and luxurious they were moving under the supple fingers like restive snakes—and to Bernice remained this relic and the curling-iron and a to-morrow full of eyes. She could see G. Reece Stoddard, who liked her, assuming his Harvard manner and telling his dinner partner that Bernice shouldn't have been allowed to go to the movies so much; she could see Draycott Deyo exchanging glances with his mother and then being conscientiously charitable to her. But then perhaps by to-morrow Mrs. Deyo would have heard the news; would send round an icy little note requesting that she fail to appear—and behind her back they would all laugh and know that Marjorie had made a fool of her; that her chance at beauty had been sacrificed to the jealous whim of a selfish girl. She sat down suddenly before the mirror, biting the inside of her cheek.
"I like it," she said with an effort. "I think it'll be becoming."
"It looks all right. For heaven's sake, don't let it worry you!"
"Good night Bernice."
But as the door closed something snapped within Bernice. She sprang dynamically to her feet, clinching her hands, then swiftly and noiseless crossed over to her bed and from underneath it dragged out her suitcase. Into it she tossed toilet articles and a change of clothing, Then she turned to her trunk and quickly dumped in two drawerfulls of lingerie and stammer dresses. She moved quietly, but deadly efficiency, and in three-quarters of an hour her trunk was locked and strapped and she was fully dressed in a becoming new travelling suit that Marjorie had helped her pick out.
Sitting down at her desk she wrote a short note to Mrs. Harvey, in which she briefly outlined her reasons for going. She sealed it, addressed it, and laid it on her pillow. She glanced at her watch. The train left at one, and she knew that if she walked down to the Marborough Hotel two blocks away she could easily get a taxicab.
Suddenly she drew in her breath sharply and an expression flashed into her eyes that a practiced character reader might have connected vaguely with the set look she had worn in the barber's chair—somehow a development of it. It was quite a new look for Bernice—and it carried consequences.
She went stealthily to the bureau, picked up an article that lay there, and turning out all the lights stood quietly until her eyes became accustomed to the darkness. Softly she pushed open the door to Marjorie's room. She heard the quiet, even breathing of an untroubled conscience asleep.
She was by the bedside now, very deliberate and calm. She acted swiftly. Bending over she found one of the braids of Marjorie's hair, followed it up with her hand to the point nearest the head, and then holding it a little slack so that the sleeper would feel no pull, she reached down with the shears and severed it. With the pigtail in her hand she held her breath. Marjorie had muttered something in her sleep. Bernice deftly amputated the other braid, paused for an instant, and then flitted swiftly and silently back to her own room.
Down-stairs she opened the big front door, closed it carefully behind her, and feeling oddly happy and exuberant stepped off the porch into the moonlight, swinging her heavy grip like a shopping-bag. After a minute's brisk walk she discovered that her left hand still held the two blond braids. She laughed unexpectedly—had to shut her mouth hard to keep from emitting an absolute peal. She was passing Warren's house now, and on the impulse she set down her baggage, and swinging the braids like piece of rope flung them at the wooden porch, where they landed with a slight thud. She laughed again, no longer restraining herself.
"Huh," she giggled wildly. "Scalp the selfish thing!"
Then picking up her staircase she set off at a half-run down the moonlit street.
— Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
The verb “scalp” means to cut or tear the scalp and hair off of a person’s head. It is generally associated with victory or done when someone claims victory in battle over an enemy. Bernice’s final statement about Marjorie shows that she has won in this battle against Marjorie and rejected the society for which Marjorie stands.
— Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
While the narrator suggests that beauty is the only thing that can grant social power to women—especially in Marjorie’s understanding of the world—the “set look” that Bernice has in the chair becomes her means to power. A “new look” can be a physical style that one adopts or it can refer to the “look” in Bernice’s eyes. In this way, Bernice’s mental resolve usurps her physical appearance and gives her access to power and self possession.
— Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
Notice that Bernice focuses on beauty as the opportunity that she has lost rather than status, connections, or identity. Beauty is singled out as the mechanism through which women obtain social power in this period. Marjorie destroyed Bernice’s chances by causing her to cut her hair.
— Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
Mrs. Harvey’s reaction to Bernice’s haircut once again shows the disconnect between the younger and older generations. The older generations see the haircut as an unseemly sign of a young girl’s lack of propriety. Notice the language surrounding this admonishment. Mrs. Harvey is clearly part of high society clubs that pass judgement on social trends of the time. These clubs, papers, and opinions are all indicative of a passe older generation.