Among the Daughters/Chapter 20

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Chapter 20


The painted dummies sporting Franklin & Co. wigs and transformations smiled welcome from across the street as she sat crosslegged on the hard mattress of the double bed in the Derby Hotel. Sophie's Corsets were for flatter figures this year, than for those fatties who tried to wear them. The Debutante Slouch. They would have gone to the Astor but Kel Moyle and some other men she didn't like stayed there. It was nice and private at the Derby. Nobody important, just Broadway types. Gamblers, bookies, small-time vaudevillians. No dope fiends: they were thrown right out. It was like starting all over, except now she was première danseuse. Beman, however, was distant because she had broken with Lyle, and avoided the subject of his new show when she brought it up. Might mean going back to a Samuels revue. That wouldn't be so bad except it wasn't art. Beman's shows were more high class.

Late in the autumn Mae said one night after the show, "I found a nice furnished apartment in a new apartment-hotel on Park Avenue, two rooms and kitchen, just what we need."

"That's grand, and let's hire that friend of Soler's maid. You know—Cleo. I'm going to buy a lot of books and study hard. I'll be a regular old maid."

"I think you ought to go out more and have some fun," Mae reproved, but Lucy shook her head.

She knew Mother hoped she would find another Lyle but the boys in the show were more fun. Figente was right, experience had only taught what love wasn't. There probably was no such thing as love the way one thought it should be anyway. Maybe it was always the same, like Frank in Denver, Harry and Clem in Congress, Carly, Lyle. Nothing but the act. Or like the tarlatan of a ballet skirt. Looks better from the audience. Vida and her old poets!

When they were settled in the apartment, the show went into its second year with unabated success. Lucy fell into a routine of dawdling in bed or about shops until it was time for Master's. Sporadically she attended Ilona Klemper's class. With Mae's approval, she rejected recurrent offers of roles in Hollywood, which seemed exile to them, saying she was a dancer not an actress. Then, paradoxically, she enrolled in a dramatic school so she could act when too old to dance.

"I might as well admit," she told Mae, "I'll never do thirty fouettés: those kids at Master's are like mosquitoes, they never get tired. But I'll never get a star part unless I can read lines. Just the same, I feel silly when Madame Clement makes me read Juliet in a stage voice. I could do it if she let me be natural. It's certainly hard work talking stage English like Ethel Barrymore. She talks like that offstage too. It comes from the diaphragm. Soler speaks that way too."

"But, darling, no one wants you to talk like Ethel Barrymore."

"Madame Clement does," Lucy said, and they laughed because it was such a joke.

At Figente's she announced to him and Vermillion, "Don't be surprised if I talk English the next time you see me. Like this. 'RRRomeo RRRomeo wheafoah aht thou RRRomeo?' Isn't that pretty good? At first I couldn't get it, then I made Cleo show me how. She's from South Carolina. You'd like her."

"She sounds absolutely fascinating." Figente was mock-solemn. "I must give a dinner for her."

"You're not her type." She laughed and, turning to Vermillion who was transforming a blob from a leaky fountain pen into a wicked drawing of Figente, asked, "How did you think I sounded?"

"I think Shakespeare would have approved of you as Juliet—any Romeo would."

She didn't know how to take this. "What do you know about poets—you're just an artist."

"That is the question." The poor joke was lost on her, he thought, wincing at having said the line. His drawing of Simone on Figente's mantelpiece caught his eye. The printer's ink flat black area confining the form of her black velvet gown was inadequate in suggesting the nuances of the hollow between her diaphragm and narrow flat belly. A sixteenth less at the left waist would have done it, with perhaps a balancing readjustment of the right shoulder. He knew her better now, at least calligraphically. The mat of Simone's skin, her narrow high shoulders, her characteristic poses, which were not calculated but a kind of period at the end of each high-strung sentencelike movement, made her easy to capture in line. Though one had to struggle to avoid relating her to the evocative exaggerations of Lautrec, or to the flat designs of the contemporary Paris school. But Lucy, now observing him solemnly with slanting inquisitive eyes, was another matter. One could draw her curve for curve and never achieve more than an approximation. One could capture a composite of Simone's many-sided yet related aspects by this and that exaggeration. But this beauty! Even the expert Fragonard would have been hard put to it to evoke the precocity of that face. The Sung Chinese knew how to suggest beauty with their understatements washed on silk. Pity this unbroken Nereid drenched in musky perfume would in time be housebroken into the stuffed-shirt world of Bigelow, who addressed the barman at Jack's as "my good man."

Lucy watched his pen sputter under the staccato pressure of his nervous fingers. "Why don't you draw something pretty?" she asked and wished she hadn't as he might think she was hinting.

With his left little finger he pulled a sputter into a toga and with the fingernail of his right drew a crown before he looked at her.

"To tell you the truth—because." He had been a little taken aback by her mind-reading. It delighted him to see her stare at him with childlike puzzlement because he had used her own repetitive phrase. Her humorlessness in contrast to the frequent piquancy of her remarks made her seem at the same time younger and older than Figente said she was, adding somehow an ageless provocative quality which made her more than just another beautiful girl.

"Besides," she defied his fresh reply, "I don't see why you dress him like a Greek king. He's too fat to wear a costume like that."

"I am not!" Figente protested. "A short tunic becomes me. My legs are very good."

"I was only improvising on the Shakespearean theme, a kind of Midsummer Night's Dream," Vermillion contributed mildly.

It made no sense to Lucy, though Figente seemed annoyed.

"He looks to me like the fatty who fiddled while Rome burned."

"Better to burn than marry," retorted waspishly Oberon-Figente to Vermillion.

The painter laughed at the twisting of St. Paul's admonition, and tore up the drawing which had been only the result of the suggestion of an ink blob on the back of an envelope while making note of a suddenly remembered errand.

"Let this be a lesson to you never to interrupt an artist. You have deprived me of a record of one of my many facets," Figente said reprovingly to Lucy.

"I must go," Vermillion said suddenly.

He always left this way, just when she was beginning to know him better, Lucy thought, provoked. "He looks very poor—that shabby old blue Norfolk," she remarked to Figente.

"Don't deride that Norfolk. He had it on the first time I saw him. He bought it from an English tailor in Gibraltar. The pockets attracted him."

"They're always jammed."

"Sketchbooks—and memoranda on scraps of paper he can't read later."

"But all those places he's been—he certainly gets around for someone poor."

"Works his way—he worked his passage to Europe on a cargo ship."

"With those hands! You know what, in some ways he seems very innocent. What does an experienced woman like that Simone see in him, he's so young?"

"My dear child, innocence can be very attractive. It was what attracted you to me. When you are a little older you will perceive its lure. Also that what one individual sees in another is an intangible. Sometimes a Galatea molds a Pygmalion to her needs. Simone therefore sees him, knowing herself."

"Maybe I'd better take another look."

"Leave him alone!" Figente said peremptorily.

"For heaven's sake, I won't bite him." She looked at him mischievously. "I think Hal is more my type. How would you like it if I stole Hal from you?"

"Hal doesn't like girls."

"How do you know?"

"You really are very naughty!"

"Yes, teacher." She kissed his drooping baby mouth. "Don't worry, I wouldn't do that to you."

Poor old Figente was lonesome too, she thought. He didn't trust Hal. He was her best friend.

In April, Mae, who had been ailing all winter, was sent to the hospital for a critical uterine operation which was followed by a much too slow convalescence.

Shaken by terrified imaginings and by the first separation from her mother, Lucy gave up work at Master's fearful of what could happen when she was not at the hospital. When at last the doctor recommended a long recuperation away from the city, Lucy said, "You're going to a nice hotel in Atlantic City. I'll come week ends, and when you're strong again you're going to have your hair bobbed and have some fun. I'll get along fine with Cleo."

Without Mother the apartment expanded into lonesomeness, though Cleo entertained her with hard-to-believe stories of Harlem. Women giving themselves to the Lawd at revival meetings by tearing off their clothes. Then there was that man who said he was a Mohammedan with a harem Cleo had been invited to join. "Ah has to be the only one," Cleo said.

When alone at night after the show, Lucy tried to read but found Black Oxen depressing. It reawakened her fears about the effect of the operation on Mother, and anyway why should she read about rejuvenating old women? Babbitt was interesting in a way, like reading about people you knew, but she didn't want to know any more about Congress. Why would Vida want to read such books, it was awful enough having to live in Congress. It was more interesting to go to Figente's. She found herself hoping Paul Vermillion would be there and disappointed when he wasn't. He rarely came, and then just for a little while.

Mae did not recuperate as fast as the doctor had predicted. The sea breeze even when warm made her shiver.

"I guess I'm used to that nice dry air in Congress. It's funny but I have a craving for Mabel's coffee cake."

"Maybe you're pregnant," Lucy said, remembering some information imparted by Peggy Watson, hoping it would make Mother laugh and show at the same time that she really didn't exactly know what the operation had been. But Mother didn't laugh and asked if she had heard from Vida. Mother wanted to hear about Congress.

Yes, there was Congress news from Vida who had graduated, and Mrs. Bertrand wanted her to be a teacher but Vida thought maybe she could get a job in Omaha or Chicago, anywhere but Congress, and Aunt Mabel had been asking had she heard from Lucy and how was Mae? Vida had written: Your Aunt Mabel is worried about your mother and would like to take care of her until she is better but thinks you both don't like her. She's changed and is very sweet. She's very nice to me, sticks up for me to my mother. We talk about you all the time.

"Would you like to go for a visit, Mother?"

"But if I went, you would be all alone. Unless Vida could come and stay with you."

Mother was homesick for Congress, Lucy thought unhappily. She'd known all along Mother didn't like New York but hadn't wanted to admit it. Well maybe she would get better faster in Congress, Aunt Mabel would be better than any hired nurse. After all she was Mother's only sister. Cleo was dressing her now at the theatre so Mother would be alone nights until after the show. It would be wonderful to see Vida, who was like a sister, her other best friend, better even than Figente.