Among the Daughters/Chapter 11
THE BLUE HEPATICAS
A small square basket of twisted shavings—Made in Japan stamped purple on its bottom—held a bouquet of blue hepaticas. A May Day gift from Clem to Lucy. Her eyes were the deep pure cobalt at the end of the flowers' harmonic scale.
"I never knew," she said, sniffing the woody freshness, "you're supposed to give spring flowers May first."
In Denver boys didn't give you presents on certain days, just wanted to kiss you any day. A present from you to them. Perhaps Miss Shaver knew about May Day because one day there was a glass of these same blue flowers on her desk. She could have found out a lot from Miss Shaver if that woman with the cat's eyes hadn't been there. How weak these flowers were at the end of their thin long stems. Weak the way boys liked girls to be. Blow on them and they bend over.
A playful puff nodded the heads in delicate agreement.
"They're pretty and have such nice juicy stems—stronger, I'll bet, than they look."
"Yes." Why was it that up to now he had focused only on the blooms? Lucy's legs were not the bunchy solids of Degas's girls. How about painting her as a flower? People would think he was crazy. A phalanx of cubists, futurists, surrealists, lined up to jeer. What a horrible fate to be ostracized as a Romantic! Perhaps, he thought, I know her too well. I can't get beyond her physical beauty. If I painted her as I see her instead of as a composition in forms it would look like any conventional representational portrait. Or maybe, and here self-doubt overwhelmed him, a slick magazine cover. The great ones painted beauties of course—Rubens, Botticelli, Renoir. But what makes the difference between a good literal painting and a work of art? There must be a key somewhere. Depression hit bottom and its thud made rebound inevitable. Perhaps I don't see what I do and my painting is better than I think.
"You must know a lot of artists besides that Raymond Figente in New York," Lucy was saying.
This wasn't the time to ask Clem about herself because he was busy working. That he did know artists in the magic city was assurance he could help when the time came.
How is it that not until this moment have I grasped her proper style? Botticelli—nonsense! Modigliani. A delicate clamshell face with outlined eyes and a pansy mouth. She will like such a portrait because of its childlike directness. Well, not exactly childlike but simple, essential form. Ma will like it too. That would be funny—Ma approving modern art. He shouldn't have forgotten to hang a May basket on the front door this morning. It would have tickled her.
"When I was a little boy," he returned from his thoughts, "the day before May Day we kids went to the woods on the other side of the river and picked spring flowers—hepaticas, violets, anemones, trillium, cowslips, jack-in-the-pulpit. Early the next morning I'd hang baskets on the doorknobs of neighbors and on our own front door to surprise Ma. Then I'd ring the doorbell and run away. It's an old custom from Europe. I thought everyone knew about it."
"That's nicer than Easter when you only buy something new to wear yourself. It's so—friendly. I've never been in a woods. In Denver I went to a school picnic in a park. The teachers came along to chaperon, but it was all right."
On the other side of the river ran the road along which the sleigh-ride party had jingled. A ghostly area frozen in memory. The prickle of the blanket under her skin and scratch of hay on her bottom and between her legs because of the struggles to defeat the forays of Harry's thick red hands. The horsy smell tingled frostily through the passages of her nose to excite the inside of her head. The clammy aftermath of the cold automobile seat and on the glass-crusted snow at the side of the house. It was like magic that in those same woods spring's warmth released these fragile blue beauties.
No more boys. They're too wild. I can pay now for movies and my own strawberry sodas. These little flowers aren't sweet, like perfume in bottles, but there is something exciting about them. Sort of horsy. Sounds crazy, but it's true.
"How would you like to go on a picnic one of these days? When it's too nice to stay indoors. We could take a lunch." Clem noticed her frown and looked down. The hepaticas were the color of the veins through her transparent skin. Perhaps she was hesitating because of the money he paid her for posing. "I'd take my sketch box and we'd work there instead of here."
He might paint himself into the composition, beard, for all the world, except the black felt hats, like Manet's "Déjeuner sur l'Herbe." There, in the woods, he would capture and hold her with himself for all time on the island of a white luncheon cloth. How disappointing, she was shaking her head.
"I can't. You know I graduate and I wouldn't want to miss a day before exams."
He had forgotten she was still a school kid. Was it possible! A relief to be reminded. It would keep his mind on work. "Well, how about Saturday?"
"I can't because Mother and I go shopping Saturday afternoons and to a show. But I could Sunday because there isn't anything to do and Mother has to visit with Aunt Mabel. My aunt wouldn't care because she's mad at me every Sunday anyway because I don't go to church."
Aunt Mabel was a joke between them. To Clem she was a shadow trailing the grey image of his mother. Two gaunt figures whose pattern was a composite portrait of Congress' morality.
When old Pastor Richards had waylayed him to ask accusingly whether he did not intend resuming attendance at church he had not had the courage to say no to the angular recording saint of his boyhood, because he knew his mother had pleaded with the neighborhood shepherd to bring the prodigal truly home. What explanation could pierce the wall of Jerusalem in those fixed unseeing eyes without offending Ma? Who were these men who took upon themselves the burden—was it a burden?—of telling others what to believe? The rosy, black-frocked priests, bloated like pregnant women, one saw dining where food was best in Rome, Venice, Paris, New York, and the Bohemian Cellar of Congress. Or the dour Protestants against Rome. St. Cecilia's Cathedral, largest and richest in Congress, was therefore held to be the most beautiful, even by those who worshiped in stark Protestant structures. Clem had accepted this celebration of St. Cecilia's as unarguable. The grey wooden box with the cone on top where he had gone to Sunday school now was a large grey stone box with a higher cone set on a pedestal, but it still did not approach St. Cecilia's in grandeur or height, though now he knew that the twin gothic spires of the Cathedral, or New York's St. Patrick's, were clumsy copies of wonders he had seen.
The Dome of St. Peter's, embraced by a semicircle of columns, two arms curved in adoration of the marvels therein, Michelangelo giants looming majestic and remote within their sepia lines, surveying the comings and goings of the pious, blessed by a bored ecclesiastical hand while, in a choir stall, a singsong chanter paused to suck a Sicilian orange.
Or within San Marco, where Venetian sunlight tantalized curiosity with tentative high lights on golden moldings and dark fresco saints.
Or Chartres. Name all the precious jewels and still not suggest the breath-taking glow of its windows. Or their miraculous patterns. Or of its two spires, the oldest growing from the core of the earth pointing in its line the path to Heaven. And the sculptures. How could the classic line have found its way through the Dark Ages to that Touraine plain?
Art, wealth, Latin, and incense certainly were dramatically more conducive to mystical acceptance of man's poor lot than the bleak austerity of the Reformation. However, for him any Sabbath edifice, Protestant or Catholic, was a barricade between his mother and himself.
One Sunday he could not erase his mother's gaze as she left for church alone. He knew what it would have meant to have her son beside her in full view of the Lutheran congregation. At the studio, trying to draw her in Sunday dress as a recompensing gift, he was horrified to discover he could not remember her, only a reproachful gaze, in composite the expression of Congress looking at him.
"Fine," he said to Lucy, "we'll plan on next Sunday if it's a sunny day. I'll come for you."
She didn't want him coming to Aunt Mabel's and having to answer her nosy questions. And Vida hanging around for their usual Sunday afternoon walk. "I'll meet you here."
Her eyes lightened to May-sky blue. It was the nicest date she'd ever had to look forward to. Even better than the lunch at the Brown Palace with Miss Shaver …
Lucy went to dress. The basket of hepaticas was on a stump of a table amid a forest of chair spokes, easels and brushes.
Perhaps, thought Clem, the florist will have some left to take to Ma. She'll be hurt if I'm not home for Sunday dinner.
In Vienna, broad steps to the Albertina Museum led to a small drawing of violets by Albrecht Dürer. Dürer sure drew everything in sight. Lucky Dürer to have lived before the age when a painter had to be preoccupied with geometries. The small flowers' deep green fat heart leaves had not looked particularly impressive, yet there they were, unabashedly violets and reproduced in books and postcards, immortally. To get to the florist's before closing meant stopping work now and he felt like working, Ma probably would like a little drawing of hepaticas just as well. A pencil drawing with a wash of color on that Italian paper. That sure w'as a nice little shop in Venice near the Rezanico where he'd bought the Fabriano paper, the sort Diirer might have used. Anything would look good on such paper.
Lucy leaned over his shoulder as he drew. "I love that. How pretty the blue is on the paper. So nice and wet."
It is, he thought wryly, her first wholehearted approval of work by me. Not that she's a judge. Still, if she likes it Ma will too. "It's for my mother."
"I bet she'll be tickled. It's going to look awfully cute framed. Can I have my flowers now to take home?"
He was inordinately pleased as she went off. He found a small frame that would do by adding a narrow mat and for once went home unafraid to meet his mother's fond perplexed gaze.
On the streetcar people smiled at the hepaticas. The woman next to Lucy leaned over to smell them and the faded violets on her hat flopped over.
My goodness, flowers make people awfully friendly. I wonder if they'd make Aunt Mabel cheerful?
She nodded acknowledgment of the friendly glances and, crossing her fingers, hoped the coast would be clear so she could hang the basket on the front door. Oh, for heaven's sake, there's Vida when I don't want to see her. I'll bet she'll ask where I got them.
"Where did you get the May basket?" Vida demanded. Who would have thought Lucy would be interested in such kid stuff?
"Oh, downtown." It wasn't really a lie because the studio was downtown.
"Kind of wilted, aren't they? I know where we could get fresh ones. A great big bunch. Over in the river woods. We could go Sunday."
"I can't go anywhere Sunday, I have to work."
"Work!—for that artist!—on Sunday!"
"I have to practice Sundays. It's the only whole afternoon I have. Don't forget I'm a dancer."
"How can anyone be a dancer in Congress?"
"Who said anything about Congress?"
That was the trouble with Lucy Claudel. Always going off somewhere. You never could pin her down. Who gave her the hepaticas? Harry? The artist? Or some new boy? "Listen, Lucy, I want that library book—it's overdue."
"I'll give it back in the morning. I have a couple of more pages. I want to find out what happens about that necklace—don't tell me! Imagine spoiling your whole life because of an old necklace!"
"Want to go to a movie tonight?"
"I still have some homework."
"You can copy mine—I'm finished."
Dismissed, Vida watched Lucy disappear. Matilda's self-sacrifice in replacing the necklace in Maupassant's story had appealed to her. A noble gesture she wouldn't mind performing herself. For Lucy.
Lucy walked close to the house's side until Vida reluctantly disappeared and, making certain Mae was not yet in sight, tiptoed up the front steps, hung the basket on the doorknob and ran to the back door.
"My, that smells good, Aunt Mabel."
"Set the table, your mother will be here any minute." The undercurrent in Lucy's voice was signal she was up to no good. God only knew what went on at that artist's. Well, everyone had a cross to bear.
"Let's have India relish. I like it with hamburgers too—with practically everything. I'll bet you make good strawberry shortcake. Mother and I used to make a whole meal of it in Denver. It's good at Childs', but their biscuits aren't as good as yours."
Trying to get around me for something. A flirt, like her mother. I could have had men chasing me too if I'd lowered myself. Lot of good it did Mae.
Small feet clattered sixteenth notes on the weathered boardwalk and three-quarter notes up the steps leading to the kitchen. "Look what was hanging on the front door for you, Lucy!"
Held-in excitement exploded in a geyser of laughter. "It's a May basket for you and Aunt Mabel."
Aunt Mabel's defensive mask cracked into fissures. The child might not be so bad if not for her shiftless mother. If only it was not so hard to say something pleasant. She probably had been included only for politeness' sake.
"Pussy, they're beautiful. Remember, Mabel, when we used to go to the river woods to pick flowers for May baskets?"
Tire dank river woods had only a few late sunspots because it was after school when she and Mae had gone for May flowers. One had to push aside wet brown leaves and matted pine needles to find, entangled in moss and sprouting fern, a sprinkle of blue stars sprung upright on pale stems. But when the flowers were gathered and she and Mae emerged from the secret woods into the lonely twilight that sense of separation returned. Was she actually plainer than Mae, or was it her pride and sense of right that hid from men the inner beauty she possessed? How unseeing men were, and how brazen seemingly delicate Mae who did not hesitate to show her love to Charles. It had been sickening to witness his physical eagerness. Filthy sniffing animals.
I'm glad I said they were for poor Aunt Mabel too. It must be awful to be an old maid.
Mae moved the clump of assorted condiments from the center of the china-white oilcloth for the hepaticas.
It was difficult for Mabel to remain aloof in the festive atmosphere and, lest they discover her naked of her grim façade, she went into the pantry for the rhubarb pie which, not to be beholden to them, she put into the oven to heat instead of serving cold as she first had planned.
Sated with the delicious lingering savor of liver, pickles, and rhubarb pie, smoothed together with mashed potatoes and gravy, Lucy leaned back and patted her stomach. "That was the best meal I ever had in my whole life. I'm thirsty but I don't want to spoil the taste in my mouth."
"If you ate right at every meal you wouldn't be so skinny," lectured Mabel to conceal her pleasure, adding, since she had gone too far in showing herself pleased, "and now I suppose you are going gallivanting."
"No, I'm not. I'm just going to be still and read."
"Not before you do the dishes."
"No, Lucy, you go and do your homework. I'll wash and your Aunt Mabel can dry. I feel like standing after being bent over sewing all day," Mae said, eager to prolong the nostalgic reunion of their childhood with her sister. Congress at this moment was so nice and homey.
Lucy pulled down the shade as a signal to Vida not to call to her.
That's a funny ending. Maupassant doesn't say if Matilda's friend gave her back the real necklace. She should have. It's only fair. I hate unfinished stories. Maybe the next one has a better end.
The excursion of Madame Tellier and her girls from the house where they sold love for money was only partially satisfy ing.
Trouble with the writers of books Vida reads is you have to guess what they mean. It'd be better if Maupassant told more about Madame Tellier's house than all that stuff about visiting a relative. Imagine a house like a girls' school with no lessons but only parties. I mean, lessons you get in school. She giggled. Lessons are good because you learn things. I know what Mr. Bertrand wants. And dirty old Mr. Brady. And Harry. And slippery Semy. Why doesn't Maupassant say what those men wanted in Madame Tellier's house and the difference between the upstairs and downstairs? The funny thing is that Vida reads stories like this. Madame Tellier's girls and the horrid ones in the next room at the Crofter Hotel. Those disgusting sounds, and Mother shaking and vomiting. I was scared even though the door was locked. And then that voice of the woman—Horta—on the phone for those girls. I'll never forget that Halloween witch voice. But the French girls, and Madame Tellier, are so nice and gay. Not at all like the Crofter girls and their Madam, Horta.
For a succession of Sundays it poured spitefully, the weather conniving with Vida, Lucy decided, to keep her home. No sooner was it Saturday than the blue sky would leaden, drizzle, then gathering momentum rain steadily through Sunday afternoon.
Isn't that the limit! Lucy stood provoked at the parlor window and watched the gutter's muddy current through the waterfall on the windowpane. It isn't the picnic I mind as not being able to go to the studio to practice. Only Aunt Mabel, who grumbled about everything, didn't mind the wet dreary Sunday and baked cake for afternoon coffee. A fungus damp permeated the house, and the quick growing leaves on the dripping elms outside overcast the parlor.
"One good thing about Sundays," Lucy said to Mae in their room, "when we count our money after payday there's more in our box. How much must we have before we can go to New York City?"
"Four hundred dollars, because it costs a hundred to get there, and enough for a couple of months to give me a chance to find work."
"How much have we now?"
"Two hundred and three dollars and seventy-six cents."
"My goodness, that means we can't go before August because we didn't start saving until January."
"Not so loud, dear, I don't want Mabel to hear."
"Maybe. Put this dress on and show Mabel. Isn't it chick?"
"How do you like my graduation dress, Aunt Mabel? Isn't it chick?"
"Looks more like a wedding dress."
"Oh no, this is the very latest thing, with this sort of clinging skirt and tighter belt. Of course I ought to have some white slippers and long silk gloves to match, but they're so expensive I guess I'll just have to wear my old patent leathers even if the other girls are all in white."
Lucy looked reflectively at her aunt, wondering if she would take the hint. Aunt Mabel gave no sign. But she didn't say no, either.
"I'm glad to see you are learning the value of money," was her only contribution.
"I'm glad," Lucy said to Mae in their room, "I'm not going to waste time in high school. Why, I'd be eighteen when I graduated and too old to begin being a dancer. School is all right but you learn from library books—and look at all the things I learned from Clem. When I'm rich I'm going to buy me a private teacher to tell me all I want to know. If one can take private dance lessons, there must be teachers for all sorts of things. I think I'll have a man teacher. One who's been all around the world, like Paris France. Men know more than women, don't you think so? Maybe I'll go to Paris France too."
"Now wait, Pussy, you're not in New York City yet."
"Well, practically—August is only two months away."
Clem was nettled by the recurrent rains. You sure were caught when it rained in Congress. In Paris you could sit in a café killing time with a Pernod or wander through the Louvre. Sunday was bad enough in Congress, but rain on top of it was unbearable. Luckily he had put off telling his mother he wouldn't be home for Sunday dinner.
Mrs. Brush had been so excessively grateful and touched by the painting of hepaticas that Clem was ashamed. Except for the "Washington Square" it was the only thing he had given her after years of painting. When he said it had been made for her bedroom, she refused to "belittle" it by "hiding it" and hung it in the parlor. She had switched on the light in the imitation alabaster bowl and Clem went to pull down the shades.
"Leave the shades be, Clem, we have nothing to hide."
He rarely went into the parlor since his return home because of a boyhood habit of going straight ahead into the dining room from the entrance hall. The suspended light, installed when he was in the 7th grade and their house, like others on Pawnee Street, got electricity, was the only change as far back as he could remember. The heavy oak armchairs, adaptations of William Morris's aesthetic functionalism, the dark cherry and walnut pieces from his grandmother on his mother's side, stood rooted in the same places. Watching his mother hang the painting, he felt as if it were he who was being nailed into the drear room; it was a feeling of dazed sickish fear, as if awakening from an idyllic dream in which an artist—born and bred in a world fashioned in Paris—he now found himself hurled back, rejected, into the inescapable reality of his fundamental self. Usually, evenings at home, he sat with his mother at the big round dining-room table exchanging laconically items of local news read in the Husker-Sun in light cast by a hanging dome of crude leaded red and green glass fringed with beads. What else could they talk about?
Against the slate-blue patterned wallpaper the hepaticas were colorless. The spot Mrs. Brush chose was faded when she had taken down the tinted photograph of a leafy lane. She cocked her head at connoisseur angle.
"I should have this room repapered."
Clem hugged her in a burst of affection. She had liberated him from the gloomy thoughts the parlor had produced.
"So you think your son is an artist," he joshed. "I'll reframe it if you want to hang it here. And Ma, do me a favor, take down that thing I painted in high school."
"Oh Clem, it's real pretty. Let me enjoy those flowers before you take them away."
The effect of the painting of hepaticas on the neighbors was immediately and gratifyingly apparent. At the grocer's Mrs. Brush with transparent casualness mentioned that her son had made her a painting for May Day. This led naturally to invitations for afternoon coffee when neighbors expressed interest in seeing the hand-painted picture. Though the painting was not as large as her prideful tone had led them to anticipate, nonetheless they were impressed with the delicate contours and veins admirably reproduced by hand, almost as real as a photo, and more than one neighbor suggested to a daughter that she paint some pretty flowers to hang in the parlor. Clem too noticed the difference in the greetings of the matrons and young ladies of Pawnee Street.
"That's a real pretty picture you painted for your Ma, Clem. I wouldn't mind having one like that myself," hinted Mrs. Baumbach.
At first, he was inclined to view these compliments as droll commentary on local taste but, thinking about it, he concluded it was no crime to use subject-matter representationally if the presentation was modern. It was no sin to give enjoyment. People liked things they recognized. Look at Breughel, and now the vogue of Rousseau. If primitive French painting was O.K., why not primitive American? How about painting recognizable local scenes in flat simple forms? Perhaps off-perspective, perhaps not.
For example, the grey wooden church, a box with a cone on top. A cornfield under an El Greco storm cloud. Or a low surrealist horizon with a tin lizzie disappearing along a dusty prairie road. And on the horizon of his mental picture stood the inevitable distant red barn, strategically placed. The more he thought about it the more valid his hunch about an indigenous American art seemed. To hell with the inter-appreciation clique of rootless foreigners in the School of Paris.
Clem Brush had come home.
Leaving his beret hanging on the hall rack he put on an old grey felt of his father's. There was now warmth between neighbors and himself as he set out for the studio. Passing the gift shop next to the Women's Exchange on Brick Street he heard taps on the window and saw Widow Doremus beckoning excitedly.
"Oh, Mr. Brush, you're such an artist I want to show you something I know you'll enjoy. A little thing I just finished."
Planted before him and transfixing him, ardor glowing in brown eyes, she held against her palpitating bosom a painting slightly larger than his of the hepaticas under his arm.
A glazed black-blue vase holding a single half-blown pink rose had been drawn, erased, scrubbed into paper with panting short strokes, squeezed dry of any freshness by the fervor of the Widow Doremus in trying literally to capture the elusive contours of each petal.
"Pretty," Clem said lamely, mentally kicking himself for cowardice in withholding his actual opinion. Premonition of what his new style of painting might let him in for, even with Henkel and Larson, glazed his eyes.
But Widow Doremus read only admiration in his glassy stare. "I just knew you'd like it. You must show me some more of your paintings one of these days, we artists have to stick together."
What in hell brought that on! The woman's presumption was humiliating. Curious, she had kept her distance when he wore the beret.
In the close familiar dust of the studio, and despite the Widow Doremus, Clem's excitement returned the more he thought of what he was now certain was his discovery of an American way of painting. It was the first time he had entered the studio without uncertainty as to the value of the work of the day before.
Standing on a chair he pushed open with a yardstick a pane of the skylight to let out the stale smoke. Then he put on water for coffee as his repatriation to America did not excommunicate the Franco-Italian-South-American brew. Placing an 18 x 24 canvas on the easel the broad way he stepped back to scan its blank surface for a sign of the focal point at which to set the grey box with the cone on top. An uneven weaving in the canvas decided him. With a pencil, instead of the usual charcoal, and with T-square and right-angle, he made a replica of the exact drawing in his mind. Boy—simple! This was it. Geometric unity. Modern. And American!
The red barn was more difficult to place, so he left it until the background was in. He scraped the fusion of colors from yesterday's palette and, in clinical order, mixed and placed buttery mounds of preconceived hues around its edge. Carefully, with a flat sable brush, he laid in the sky. This, clear cerulean, with zinc white and a touch of cobalt—lighten and green it more toward the horizon.
Then, the fields. Green in spring and early summer, but somehow one always thought of them in harvest colors. Ochre, cadmium yellow medium, zinc white and a faint tinge of veridian. Might not be warm enough—could tell later. Now the church. Cadmium red, cadmium yellow, veridian, zinc white. Neutral grey and keep it thin.
The fundamental plan was good, but crude. In the next coat, the prairie should have a tinge of cadmium red instead of veridian. Also soften the horizon.
He rinsed the brush in turpentine, dried it, and drew it across the horizon in a gentle wave to blend earth and sky. Was it possible Breughel painted as simply as this? He scraped off the front of the church and repainted it, adding white and cadmium yellow because that was where the sun hit it.
The water had boiled off and his hand shook as he filled the dish again. He lit a cigarette and waited until the water boiled, pacing up and down studying the canvas. He poured the water through the rich Rembrandt-brown powder. The heady aroma and then the taste evoked a kaleidoscope of the world's treasures. Passionately he brushed in a Tintoretto storm cloud with the church grey. Again the edges must be softened, deepened. A small cadmium-red oblong near the horizon indicated where the barn would be. The composition lacked something. Lines. Exact clapboard lines in the structure of the church, perhaps even fence lines? And the patina of varnish. Defining details to come later when the paint had set.
He heard a slow familiar step and quickly put away the canvas lest Semy see it before it was finished.
"What are you doing here so early?"
"Just handed in my review of the sheriff's funeral—he was made up to kill."
Clem laid the painting of hepaticas on the table and looked for pliers to pull the nails from the frame. Semy glanced at the painting, then took it up for closer inspection. The direct unaffected drawing, different from the variety of new and incomprehensible techniques, appeared to have been done too representationally to merit his avant-garde attention. Actually he liked the drawing and, had he seen it without benefit of his new verbal knowledge of the latest in painting, would have said so. But seeing the hepaticas in the studio, work of a man he knew, he said, "Very pretty."
There was not, Clem observed irritatedly, admiration in Semy's tone. It might have been himself being polite to Widow Doremus. Who the hell was Klug to use a patronizing tone?
"I see you don't go for Morbeau's concept of art," Semy said blandly.
Semy's expression was one of astonished indulgence. "Why, don't you know—Morbeau—the French critic. He says art to be pure must be stripped of sentimentality. I agree."
"What the hell do you know about it?" Clem challenged pugnaciously.
Semy shrugged and laughed, having no intention of being caught in a defense of Morbeau, considering that he'd only read the first two paragraphs of the statement quoted in a New York paper, and was just passing on what he'd read.
That's Semy, always sliding from under. Clem could not remember any Morbeau. But Clem was not prepared to drop the subject of Morbeau versus his hepaticas.
"All right," he said. "Is it up to the critic, or to the artist, to say what is art, and how does the critic know unless the artist tells him? By example. That is, when the artist makes art. I'll paint as I damn please. That's why I came home. I'm not a Frenchman, a European, I'm an American. I'm interested in American painting."
But as he spoke Clem felt the theories as such were not disposed of by his assertion that he was an American. He hoped Semy would not see through his groping indecisions. You come back to Congress and those Parisian bastards haunt you through a small-town showoff like Klug. The main thing was not to be put off the track.
Semy, though relishing Clem's obvious disturbance, was unprepared to become involved in an aesthetic discussion with the painter. Nevertheless, Clem's immemorial antagonism of the artist to criticism, save when applausive, rankled. One day he would be an authority on painting and get even with Clem for that crack about what did he know about it. By authority Semy did not mean a study of painting but immersing himself in the reservoir of informative books by critics of that art. One could read up on anything, he felt. It was like writing an obituary from clips in the Husker-Sun morgue. But obviously Morbeau had been a bum steer because Clem was rattling off a list of styles in painting for which the French critic had not prepared American critic Semanter Klug.
"I think," he said, "your point about American painting is one hundred per cent correct."
Clem stood the painting of hepaticas reframed against the wall. "Yes," approved Semy pontifically, "that's better, you've given it a perfect setting, reminds me of Shelley's 'Like a star of heaven in broad daylight—'"
"Yes," said Clem, pleased, "as a kid I loved to look at veins in flowers, leaves, and dragon fly wings, but I never said anything because you know how kids are about sissies. I hadn't thought about it for years until I drew these."
Lucy stopped halfway up the stairs to hear what men talk about when no girls are around. Clem's nostalgic account of boyhood made her feel like she did when a dance band played "Underneath The Stars." If Clem were alone I'd go straight over and hug him. The men had stopped talking and not to be thought an eavesdropper she continued upstairs in a mounting crescendo to simulate having come straight up.
"Well, look who's here," she said with feigned surprise and, with her encompassing glance which took in everything, spied the painting of hepaticas. "Isn't that a darling painting, Semy?"
The men laughed at the adjective.
Semy looked at the hepaticas once more, his manner one of respectful admiration. "I was just thinking I might be able to talk Pop into reproducing your hepaticas in the special flowers' section next Saturday. Good publicity for you."
"You know," Clem said to Lucy when they were alone, "Semy is a good guy. That's a nice thing for him to think of."
"Is it? I'll bet he just wants to show off to his boss that he knows a famous artist. Semy's always doing favors that don't cost him anything, like free tickets to the Orpheum. I'll bet there's a word that describes him—but I don't know what it is yet."
"That's not nice to say about a friend."
"Well, I guess I'm being mean, but I just don't think of Semy Klug as anyone's friend," said Lucy, unchastened.
When Lucy discovered graduation meant that another exchange of gifts with Vida was regrettably in order, she reluctantly tapped the going-to-New-York fund and bought an identical "memory bracelet" substituting her own name. This grudging token Vida wore in simple probity as a symbol of undying friendship. She had planned giving Lucy an enamel bluebird pin for luck but at the last moment saw a woman making gold-wire pins in Lapworth's and ordered one, Lucy's name to be entwined with hers.
"Know what," Lucy said to Mae, "I think we ought to have given each other a pair of those new light-tan silk stockings. They're beautiful the way they make the legs look bare. Maybe we can dye my graduation stockings and my old white silk so we look up to date in New York City."
Aunt Mabel had taken the hint about the white gloves and slip pers.
After supper the day Lucy received her diploma in silk-gloved fingers, she wrote to Miss Shaver and Miss Klemper. Miss Shaver did not answer but Miss Klemper did.
Ilona Klemper's School of The Dance, flourishing, now boasted an assistant for beginners. But Ilona, no nearer fulfillment of her dream of organizing a professional group, was feeling bitter about her wasted talents when Lucy's letter arrived with its two important items of information. Lucy had been posing for a famous artist from Paris France, with artist friends in New York City, and was going to New York to continue her study of dancing. She had practiced all winter what Miss Klemper had taught her because there were no good teachers in Congress. Reading this tribute, Ilona Klemper's spirits rose. Why not leave unappreciative Denver and start a school in New York? Lucy could be her first pupil and who knew how many important people could be met through Lucy's artist friend, Clem Brush. Luckily Aunt Annie's will, now being settled, left her money in addition to Uncle Erwin's. She wrote to Lucy immediately that she too expected to be in New York soon and Lucy should be sure to keep in touch with her.
This letter gave Lucy her first actual sense of New York as a tangible reality. She was disappointed Miss Shaver did not reply and wondered suspiciously whether the fluff with the cat's eyes had intercepted her letter.
On the school platform, while classmates had wallowed in sentimental regret at breaking lifelong ties until high school next September, Lucy had beamed happily, holding the beribboned scroll, passport to being a dancer in New York City.
"For heaven's sake, why are you crying?" she demanded impatiently of weeping Vida. "I should think you'd be glad to graduate with A's in almost everything."
Vida sniffed lugubriously. "I guess it's hearing the kids sing the school song for the last time, and then—I don't know what's going to happen to me."
"Well, for goodness' sake, cheer up. You'll grow up like everyone else—what's so awful about that?"