Among the Daughters/Chapter 17

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Chapter 17


Carly did not telephone. For two months she accompanied Lyle to other parties, to Piselli's exclusive speakeasy, or supper dances at the Hotel Athenée, where Scotch from Lyle's silver hip-flask had to be poured into coffee cups held beneath the damask tablecloth. Sometimes she thought she saw Carly but it never was. And then, after about six weeks, though she knew you mustn't mention another man to the man you're with, she could not help asking Lyle, casually she hoped, where Carly was. Lyle had said coldly, "No idea—Virginia, I suppose—excuse me a moment!" And to punish her left her sitting alone while he went to speak to friends of his own crowd a few tables away. So that was that. No more Carly. Now she would tell Lyle she couldn't go out every night after the show because she was missing too many lessons at Master's. After all, ballet was the important thing in life. Besides any day now the time was coming, as it always did with every boy or man she'd gone out with, when Lyle wasn't going to be just satisfied with taking her to parties and good-night kisses. He already had brought up the subject and when she said quickly "I'm only fifteen," his eyes had been scared. Peggy Watson had said "You're jailbait!" Of course you always had to kiss a man who took you out. Lyle's lips were too full and smooth, like a balloon. The trouble was that Mother was crazy about him. That was one nice thing about Lyle, he always treated Mother so nice, bringing her flowers too when he came with orchids, and boxes of those Huyler's assorted chocolates she likes. Not the chewy ones bad for her fillings.

In July Lyle Bigelow, chafing at his equivocal role of unrewarded lover and disturbed at finding himself bewitched by the first girl in his experience who could not be bought, cajoled or forced, went to spend the summer at his mother's house in Newport hoping Lucy would miss him.

In a way she did. While she refused furs and jewels, except for a seed pearl bird with which to fasten orchids, as florist's pins scratched, he had given her what she considered gifts of far greater value. She would have bought the pin anyway, and could buy herself modest furs and jewels with no strings attached. But what she could not have done by herself, or as well through any other man, was Lyle's gift of the best possible view of that gay world come to life from the photographic pages of Mode. And he had given her a friend, Figente. Moreover, through Lyle's persistence in taking her everywhere she had attained an enviable social position on Broadway as its No. One Mistress. No one dreamed, not even Peggy Watson would believe, that she wasn't. Out of sporting loyalty to Lyle she did not disillusion Broadway. It wasn't important she wasn't his mistress, except to herself. All up-to-date girls were learning fast, even the society girls at Figente's, that free love wasn't only for men. Tessie Soler had said one night as they waited for cue in the wings, "Here's one for the book—my niece in Oswego wrote and asked me if I knew any new tricks she could try!"

Figente too was in Newport at his sister's. She had asked him about Carly and had been told he was playing polo in the Argentine.

"My goodness," she had asked in wonderment, "don't any of those boys have to work?"

"I'm all tired out. It seems if you go to one big party you have to keep going to others, like those long bunches of little red firecrackers you can't stop," Lucy told Peggy Watson, whom she had not seen for several weeks, as they walked to Master's.

"I don't expect to see much of you from now on, you're in the big time now," Peggy said stiffly.

"That's not nice. You know I invited you to Figente's one afternoon. He's crazy, but you'd like him."

"Not me—I don't know how to act in Society."

"For heaven's sake! You act as you always do. They're like everybody else. Except Figente. You should see his bedroom. The ceiling all mirrors with animals peeping down painted on. And beautiful lacquer cages, black, gold, and red reeds against jungle wallpaper. Colored birds and monkeys in the cages. They make an awful racket and you can smell them even through a perfume called Pikaki he imports from Hawaii. You never saw such a big bed, so high you almost need a ladder, it's on a platform and with a draw curtain of gorgeous red silk brocade. I said, 'It looks like a stage, it's big enough to give shows on," and he said, 'I do, my dear! But principally, like pious Queen Anne of France, I have it for my handmaidens so they all can sleep together and keep from mischief.' So I said, 'I'm surprised you don't build one of those pretty cages around, it wouldn't be so stuffy as with a curtain' and he said he would do it if I would lie on it on a pink marabou cover. I said, 'Don't you know red and pink don't go together?' And he said, 'Ah, my child, it is evident you have not seen the Ballet Russe or you would not utter such sacrilege against the great Bakst.' He talks like that. He has another bedroom for himself, narrow and whitewashed, with only a hard cot and prayer stool. On the prayer stool is a book in old cream leather with gold letters called Dante. It's in Italian. I never read it."

"How could you, you're not a Dago."

"Well, I'm sure it's in English too because I have a very dear friend in Congress who told me about it, and she isn't Italian. It's all about Dante's love for some girl named Beatrice and he goes to hell."

"Some love story—anyway, I should worry about poets—they're nutty."

That was the trouble with Peggy Watson, one could learn fast what she knew. Vida would be interested in Figente.

"Well, of course, you never read anything."

"I do too—I read Variety from cover to cover every week."

"I guess you'd like the other parties better. They're always in apartments or those new penthouses—awfully windy up there—or in speakeasies. I've never been inside another whole house in New York but I'd love to see the inside of a big Fifth Avenue house."

"Ask Lyle to take you to his mother's."

"I couldn't do that."

"I see what you mean."

"That's not nice, Peggy—you always see a double meaning. Lyle hasn't made love to me and is very sweet to Mother and brings her flowers."

"What—no diamonds!"

"I don't like your attitude," Lucy snapped. Why is Peggy being so mean, not wanting to believe Lyle hasn't made love to me? It isn't important but if she's my friend she ought to believe what I tell her. It's as if she can't be happy unless I admit I'm a gold-digger when all I want is Carly. She changed the subject.

"If you'll pardon me for being frank, I think you ought to begin doing some serious work," said Lucy. "You say yourself you're too tall for ballet. Even though I know your technique is good, better than mine, you're more the type for acrobatic dancing, especially because your knees are double-jointed. Or how about ballroom dancing? Why don't you get a partner and work out an exhibition ballroom routine. You know, he in full dress and you in a long skirt, then both of you in man's full dress and top hats with canes. You'd look good in men's clothes. Then you could get a steady job."

"Well, I like that!" exclaimed Peggy angrily.

The remainder of their walk was silent. Some nerve that Lucy Claudel had telling her she wasn't an artist.

That wasn't a nice thing to say to Peggy but it's true, she would be better off with a ballroom partner, and anyway I feel like a good fight today, and she made me mad talking as if I'd let Lyle make love to me for old diamonds, Lucy thought feeling miserable. I guess that bathtub gin last night made me cross too. And it's such a nice fresh sunny day when you ought to be feeling good.

Master had greeted her appearance at class with heavy sarcasm.

"So—you have decide to give us few minutes of your—walubel——time?"

It was embarrassing to be scolded in front of the class. You'd think from their expressions they never missed a lesson.

"I had a cold," she said meekly.

"Ha!—a cold. So you cannot practice and out of it sweat like everyone?" He glared at gigglers and wagged irascibly with his stick. "All right—all right—everybody positions—petits battementsone, two, one two."

There was no accompaniment from the piano.

"Stop!" he screamed and, turning, made a low mocking bow to a large sad-faced woman in a shabby brown suit at the piano. "If you please, would too much to be asking from you to play?"

A young girl with curly orange hair giggled.

"Werry funnya, werry funnya," he said, and subdued them into serious application. After the petits battements came the grands battements.

"Out, turn out, Claudel, let me see the sole of foot—what are you, a Duncan dancer?" It was one of Master's most contemptuous insults.

Certainly picking on me today. He's too bossy. But a different bossy than Carly. Discipline is good for you. She was dripping and practice had only begun. I must get more sleep the night before class, and no more gin.

A tall dark girl with skinny arms and legs kept on working during rest period, her face screwed in earnest effort. As the dancers were about to resume she raised her hand.

"Yes, Dolores?"

"Master, when I do my grands battements—do I turn out my left too far?"

That Dolores la Verne, what a showoff, always wasting Master's time for special attention, Lucy fumed. She knew she wasn't doing well today and Master was punishing her by ignoring her. Betty Lou, the thirteen-year-old kid, could do 36 fouettés so fast one could see only a whir-r-r as she whipped into each toplike turn around the studio. Makes me feel too old to become a great dancer. I started too late.

Mae was lying on the sofa when Lucy got home.

"Stay away from me so you don't catch this cold. I've phoned Sam to get you a dresser for tonight because I'm not equal to going to the theatre."

"You just rest and take good care of yourself. You can read your continued story. I brought you a box of chocolate cherries. Sam wouldn't mind hooking me up himself," Lucy added dryly, as an afterthought, remembering the stage manager's passes.

"How was school?"

"I was terrible today. Master was awfully mad at me," she said dolefully.

"Maybe your diet isn't right. You'd better have an extra ounce of malted milk tonight. Weigh yourself, you look thin."

Lucy's food was planned daily according to a caloric chart except, of course, the sandwiches and salads from that good delicatessen brought home after the show.

"My hips are a quarter inch smaller but I think that's because I'm all dried out from practice," she called from the bathroom where the tape measure hung over the scale.

She scarcely could muster energy to put on her makeup. Same old show night after night. Mother was glad to stay home. I wish I had a girl friend I could talk to. Peggy is nice but repeats the same things. I wish Vida lived in New York. I ought to write to her.

"Why so mopey, Claudel, disappointed in love?" teased Kel Moyle in the wings.

"Maybe Lyle let her down," Dorinda Fay volunteered.

"Lay-ed her down, you mean," said Kel Moyle, quick as a flash on the ad-lib uptake.

Lucy stuck out her tongue. "You'll never do it," she said, and felt slightly better.

The show jogged along, everyone backstage hating the summer tourist audiences who sat on their hands. At intermission there was an unfamiliar sharp knock on her dressing-room door. There was Carly, just as she remembered him, except that his sunburn was darker and his wavy brown hair was cut short.

"What do you mean by not phoning me?" were his first words.

Trembling with pleasure she remembered to frown. "What do you mean—I never called up any man in my life!"

"I'm not any man and you know I've been waiting for you to phone or write."

"Of all the conceit!"

"You're going out with me tonight."

"Who said so?"

"I'll drag you if necessary', you beautiful thing you."

Well what do you know about that, she asked herself, feeling good for the first time in months.

They sat in a dark corner at Piselli's speakeasy. "I thought you were Lyle's girl."

"I'm not anyone's girl."

"That's what you think."

And when he told her that Saturday night they would drive out to Long Island for the week end, an icy shiver slid down her spine. Was love and danger the same feeling and which was which? Being with Carly was exciting, like being afraid and happy the same minute, and safe too, because he decided everything without asking and you wanted him to.

She could not sleep all night but was up early and refreshed.

At the eleven-o'clock class at Master's she worked hard and well.

"That's better," Master said, "but not good enough."

"I know, but I'm going to work harder from now on."

"As long as you don't need me tonight I'll stay home so my cold is gone by Monday. I'm glad you're going to spend the week end on Long Island but be sure and wear a wrap if you go in an open car," Mae said when Lucy left for the theatre on Saturday.

Alone in her dressing room she was made up except for mascara beading of her eyelashes. This always awaited drawing on the opera-length pink stockings so as not to smudge her cheeks in looking down. She pulled on one stocking and stood, smoothing it taut, absorbed in the perfection of its fit, when a possessive rap on the door sent a flood of recognition to every capillary.

Through a champagne dizziness she saw his dark handsome face, heard the lock click, felt herself roughly swept onto the couch and savagely stripped, except for the one pink stocking.

It was wonderful not to have to decide, as with Clem, and be taken without invitation, though she could not help but laugh while Carly was making love because Sam knocked and called "fifteen minutes." She was surprised at how angrily Carly bit her lip because she laughed; she thought Sam's calling "fifteen minutes" made it more fun, and was sorry she had laughed because her lip hurt so that that was all she could feel.

He wanted her so much she tried as hard as she could to do what he wanted. Afterwards she did not want to get away from him as she had with Clem. This must be love.

The next afternoon at the hotel on the Sound they rolled up the shades and watched the little yachts bobbing in the harbor. He would stop her with a kiss if she asked a question the least bit serious so that by the time they drove back to the city she felt that while they had made love many times, it was like always starting over and over without getting any farther. They seemed to stay at the same point, but then it probably took a long time to feel close to someone. Though she could not help thinking that all those words he wanted her to say over and over were silly even if they excited him so.

She was glad to get home Monday afternoon. Mother said, "I'm glad you had a good time. You look much better. It did you good to get away."

Now that's funny, Lucy reflected, why do I look better? I do feel better, but I don't feel different because Carly made love to me.

Trying to be in love with Carly made Lucy serious. She decided it was like dancing, you had to work hard at it. She liked being with him, especially dancing with him; but in lovemaking he was rough and seemed to forget about her, as though any girl would do. And as though he hated her. Yet before and afterwards he always said he loved her. It was puzzling because while it was exciting to be wanted so hard she never looked forward to the next time, though she didn't mind it, except that some of the things he wanted her to do still seemed silly. He never wanted to talk about his family or how he spent his time away from her. He hardly talked about anything except polo—he was something called a 7-goal man. He told stories about his old colored Mammy or Uncle Reb. He wasn't interested in ballet, and you couldn't get him to talk about books which was queer because he was a college man. He didn't tell her as much about Europe as Lyle, or Clem who knew more than both of them together. He didn't want to ride on top of a bus or go for a walk or do anything except make love. But she was sure she was in love because it was such fun being with him. The way love ought to be and not at all like how Vida's poets wrote, because she never felt sad as though she would die if she never saw him again.

She was touched by his consideration in taking her to the cosy apartment of his friend now in Europe so she wouldn't be embarrassed by having to go to a hotel with him. In her turn she was considerate too, and when he was drunk and wanted to elope to Greenwich she always talked him out of it. That was no way to get married.

At the theatre while they teased her about Carly everyone was friendlier than when she had been going with Lyle. Even Tessie who was too old for Carly but not for Lyle. Lyle was the big catch even though Carly was handsomer and rich too. Piselli, who Lyle had told her was a big shot in New York rackets and politics, treated Carly almost as friendly as Lyle at his speakeasy. It was Peggy, who always knew who was who, who told her he was heir to a tobacco fortune, and a member of the Racquet Club. Carly never mentioned either to her. She knew about the Racquet Club because Figente had told her how high up it was, and Lyle had said he always could be reached in a hurry through it because they would always know where he was.

The show closed the end of August and Joe Samuels asked her to go on the road with it but she refused. She had been in New York a year and her role in the show was small but, because of Lyle Bigelow, Lucy Claudel already was a Broadway name which explained, said Peggy Watson, echoing Broadway, why Beman, impressed by her society friends, engaged her as première danseuse for his revue Loves of 1922, starting rehearsals in November.

Lester Beman's greatest satisfaction was indeed in being on first-name relationship with members of the Social Register and using it as his personal address book even though his name was not in it. A shrewd showman, he knew which composers, designers, directors and cast would give a trite musical comedy style and a semblance of being up-to-date and artistic to attract the carriage trade, and those impressed by it. The photographs of his players appeared most often in Mode. Because of Lyle Bigelow, from whom he wanted backing as well as friendship, he decided to give Lucy the role of première danseuse in his new show instead of another dancer of whose technical talent he was more certain.

The engagement was exactly what Lucy wanted. Not only was it a decided step up on Broadway but another advantage was that rehearsals were not to begin until November as Beman was still trying to coax the French singer Simone Calvette away from her lover.

From August until the end of October Lucy was with Carly almost continuously except for work at Master's and when he had to be out at Meadowbrook with his polo friends. It was a perfect existence and she was glad that being in love was not at all like the poets said. Far from being unhappy when he was away, it was a welcome break to rest and see Peggy and catch up on winter fashions. Mother too was happy Lucy was having such a good time so long as she ate and rested properly.

If I were a poet, Lucy thought, I'd write about October because that's when the city wakes up and you can feel the tickly champagne air and it's time to throw away wilted summer dresses and step out in new fashions. Of course all legs don't look good with mid-calf skirts, and wraparound coats pull up and show them even higher. You have to be careful too to sit with your legs together.

The end of October she became worried and thought she ought to tell Carly. He probably would insist they ought to get married because when he was drunk he always was begging her to elope to Greenwich.

She told him at a tea dance.

"You ought to know what to do, after all I'm not the first," he said angrily, his face hardening.

She stared at him. He must be frightened for her, that's why he acted so angry.

"For heaven's sake, don't look so mad. I'll be all right." Here she was trying to soothe him when he ought to be reassuring her. "I feel squeamish. Let's go to Piselli's and have a glass of champagne while we think of something."

"I'm late as it is for a Benedict dinner."

She waited a day, then telephoned his club leaving word. Two days later she received an unsigned note from Virginia saying he had been called home by his father's illness. Enclosed were three one-hundred-dollar bills, but no word of endearment or solicitude or anything.

She was dazed and frightened not of what she had to face physically but at the revelation of how he felt about her. As though she were the beggar when he had done all the begging. You couldn't blame him if he didn't love her, she wasn't sure either, but at least you expected him to be friendly. It wasn't nice to treat her as a gold-digger when if she'd wanted to she could have married him all the times he asked her when drunk. And she'd never let him give her anything but flowers and now sending her three hundred dollars, as if she were a call-girl, when all she wanted from him was to be a friend. Who needed his dirty three hundred dollars? Well, I guess the joke's on me.

*** "What, again!" Peggy Watson said and gave her a list of doctors.

Afterwards she lay on a sticky plush couch in an alcove behind a dirty brown portiere. How could one have been in such pain, live, and now not feel a thing? The doctor hadn't cared how he hurt. And this one sure got other thrills out of his business.

Her hands were still gloved because she didn't have a wedding ring and she stifled an hysterical impulse to laugh at the spectacle of herself on the doctor's table with her gloves on as Mrs. John Battenberg. Aunt Mabel's parlor table's Battenberg lace cover was her husband.

Peggy Watson met her in a lunchroom at the corner.

"Gee, kid, you must feel awful. Lucky you don't have to go on the same night like the girls in the chorus do after they go through it the same day. What did he charge?"

"Three hundred and fifty dollars," she said. Lucky, she thought, I could draw on that thousand I've been saving on the side to buy a fur coat for Mother to surprise her at Christmas. I can make it up when Beman starts paying me that six hundred a week.

"I guess you looked too expensive. Did you tell your Mother?"

"I wouldn't worry her."

"Well anyway, it's over. Say, that was a good idea of yours about the ballroom routine. Salvado and I are working on a tango and a jazzed waltz. What shall I wear for the tryout?"

"You'll have to wear a swell dress because those producers have no imagination. They have to see you exactly in character. Anyway, it was my idea, and after all you got me my first job, and now it's my turn, and I've got three hundred dollars to burn, so I'll buy the dress."

It was wonderful to be clean of Carly's money, and Carly.

Never never never again! I'm going to work hard and get somewhere.