Among the Daughters/Chapter 30
"ARE YOU THE ARTIST?"
"Where have you been, I've only seen you once since New Year's," Lucy said to Vida as she bit the finishing thread of a blue ribbon garter. "It's a good thing Mother doesn't see me do this, she says I'll chip a tooth. She's shopping. She can't resist January sales. I said go and see if that plain little Chanel beige crepe is still two hundred—it will look cute with your summer ermine I'm hoping—"
Vida sat scarely listening to Lucy chatting, relieved not to have to reply. How could she confess that after being told Rad Welford was another Carly she had been with him too often the past two weeks? His surprise phone call had come a few days after Christmas and she had accepted the dinner invitation because she was lonely and no one else had phoned. Rad could not have been nicer. They had gone to an Italian restaurant in the Village he thought she would like because he had heard it was quite a literary hangout. He had thought it more unusual than she had because he was not used to cheap places, and she had been touched by his enjoyment. He had been even nicer than at Figente's and flatteringly pleased to be with her. He was tall, blond, and very handsome, and she determined not to mention Lucy to make it a special evening without Lucy on her mind. But before long she had spoken of Lucy, and Rad had seemed completely disinterested. He had handed her a carnation from the vase on their table saying her cheeks were its pink and that she herself had the flower's fragrance. The night was beautiful with dry soft snowflakes and he had suggested, or was it her idea, that they walk back uptown. At Madison Square the big clock chimed the three-quarter hour and he said it was chilly and hailed a cab. The ride had been strained because she had worried about how to get out of inviting him upstairs. She had invented a silly story about a visiting cousin in town for the night and he left and she thought she would not see him again. Then the day after New Year's he phoned and they had dinner again and he had insisted on following up to the room. She had been scared, and embarrassed too, because he took it for granted she had done it before. She did not want him to make love to her even if she had, not then, not only because she didn't want to but because she didn't have on her best underthings, and she kept thinking how Lucy had said "You never can tell" when changing hers to go to Simone's. Lucy had said too that men often seemed more excited by underclothes than by what was underneath. At last she had had to put him out and had thought this surely would be the end. She had been sorry because it had been fun to be with him, and not so lonely because the one she had hoped would phone after Figente's party hadn't.
But her refusal had only made Rad more insistent. The next day he sent dozens of carnations and a sweet note of apology and said he hoped she would let him see her again. When he came, her impulse had been not to answer the bell but it seemed rude after the note and flowers. But when he had come up she had felt trapped because she didn't know how to get out of something she hadn't resisted enough. In a way she hadn't wanted to get out of it because it was something she had to face sooner or later. One had to be a woman sometime and not the only one of the girls she knew without experience. Besides she liked Rad and hadn't wanted to give him up. He had been so rough she could think of nothing but the pain and afterwards did not want to see him again but had felt sorry for him because he too seemed to suffer, as though she were an instrument of release for him and otherwise did not exist. But he did not exist for her either any more. It was over. Though he kept phoning she was determined not to see him again. Anyway, she had done it. That couldn't be love—it had nothing to do with what she felt for Paul Vermillion.
"Is it cold out?" Lucy was asking.
"No, but it's slushy. Ilona says you and Ranna can use her studio whenever it's free."
"Good! Rehearsal halls are hard to find, they're always busy. I decided to make the Laurencin number into a ballet. I have five girls. Two from the show, and three of Master's students. Wait until you see them. They're all cute and different. I'm going to make each one stand out because I always feel sorry for the good dancers who are stuck in a chorus line or group."
"He's lazy about working but I said to him if you don't want to work for the recital tell me and I'll get someone else. That made him jump. I never told you we had quite a fight after Figente's party because he wouldn't believe I didn't want to dance with Lyle."
"But you kissed and made up?"
"That's what bothers me. I can't figure out why I've changed because I thought he had everything I wanted. A partner who was interested in what I wanted to do and whom I admired and respected. At first I think I was more in love with him than he with me. Now it's turned around."
Cleo set a tray of steaming chocolate, muffins, bacon and eggs between them.
Pouring the chocolate, Lucy said, "Du Barry says she drank chocolate to make her be in love with Louis but from what I've read of him I probably would have run off with his tailor."
"You mean chocolate is an aphrodisiac?" Vida asked, salting her food absent-mindedly.
"Imagine you knowing a word like that! And so much salt! You must be in love." She was astonished to see Vida blush. "You are blushing, who's your beau? I always tell you about me, now you tell me your secrets."
"There's nothing to tell," Vida hedged.
"I really admire you because you are so interested in your work," Lucy said earnestly.
Vida averted her gaze, unable to confess that since the past week she no longer was a virgin but a modern girl.
"If I were a man," Lucy continued, thinking Vida certainly was shy about men, "you would be my type because you are so feminine. I will feel sorry if you ever fall in love because you are so romantic you'll never get over it if you are disappointed."
"Stop talking foolishness," Vida said heatedly to put an end to the subject. "I have news. Figente wants me to do some work for him. He has boxes and boxes of books, firsts and limited editions, in storage and is thinking of making his studio a library. He wants me to arrange and catalog. If I do, I can give up the job at Ilona's. He says I could work afternoons or evenings, as I wish. It would give me time to try and write."
Lucy made a moue of disappointment. "That's grand. But I was counting on you to help with the recital, though I know you aren't interested in it."
"Of course I am. The Figente job won't affect that at all. And anyway I can't leave Ilona until she finds someone else."
"I feel better about the recital, knowing you're going to help. Ranna thinks we should dance at Cornwallis's ball, but I can't stand that woman."
"You don't have to do anything you don't want to."
"I know. I've said I wouldn't three times, but she doesn't take no for an answer. That woman scares me. I don't know why she won't leave me alone. She even got Beman to pressure me."
"I remember now I had something to tell you. Irving, Ilona's pupil, told me Tessie is studying dancing at Karanova's. She told him she may dance in a new show."
"Beman's play about a dancer?" Lucy asked dismayed.
"I have no idea. The only other gossip I know is that Hal told me Maxine gave Simone an enormous emerald for Christmas and that he is trying to get Figente to give him an apartment. He thinks he will practice more in his own place but I'm not saying what I think."
"You oughta seen," contributed Cleo, "the jewels a lady I had had from her gentleman. One day this lady say, 'Cleo, we gotta go to Philadelphia. You go to the Penn and get a compartment. We'll take two quarts Scotch, one for me, one for you.' We got on the train and took us a little drink an' she says, 'Cleo, let's drink it all—they's more where this come from.' So we drunk it all before we got to Broad Street."
"She just thinks she did," Lucy scoffed as Cleo went for more muffins.
"I gather you are a disappointment."
"She keeps hinting I ought to be kept."
Cleo returned in a talkative mood. "This lady's teeth was white as snow. She brushed on something in a bottle. One night I had a date at the Savoy Ballroom so I brush on this stuff with her little brush and my teeth they turn brown. I scrub and scrub but it wouldn't get off. Next day I tell her what I done an' she say, 'Cleo, you damn fool, that's iodine for false teeth. You got to wash it off before it dry.' Sometimes she had D.T.'s and I had to sleep with her, but she pay extra for that."
"Don't pay any attention to her, she's crazy." Lucy giggled, as Cleo shuffled out grinning. "I fire her when she takes advantage of me but I always ask her to come back. Well, if we're going to get to Clem's exhibition we'd better get started. I hope he has a crowd, I've asked everyone I know."
"You know," she chatted as they passed the Athen£e, "when I read about this place in Mode in Denver I thought it was a special place for special people. Sort of a Buckingham Palace, White House, Taj Mahal, and you had to have an invitation from Mrs. Astor or Mrs Vanderbilt or the President or Prince of Wales or Marie Antoinette to get in."
"Marie Antoinette had her head chopped off years ago."
"I know now, but I was all mixed up then, anybody important was sort of historical and yet still around. Now I know that kind of special means people with money and manners, or people with just money like Horta Cornwallis, or money and family enough not to have manners, like Figente."
"Figente has manners when he feels like it."
"That's what I mean."
I think I am perceptive but it takes Lucy to hit the nail on the head, Vida thought, recalling how one day at lunch when she was eating, Congress-fashion, fork upturned in right hand, he had screamed, "Boswell, for God's sake, you'll stab yourself!"
In last-minute rebellion Clem had taken off the New York custom-tailored suit and put on a Congress readymade, the casual note to flaunt at the Francophile bastards of the metropolitan art world. He took, too, the old cane in his clammy hands in case his leg bothered him, as it often did when he was nervous. His heart sank when he saw the gallery empty, though it was still early for those invited. If only a crowd would show up to impress Vedder who as yet had made no comment on his work, too obviously awaiting the judgment of critics and collectors. Glimpsing the room again since last night's hanging, he was troubled by the hard monotonous aspect of the canvases which in Congress had appeared extreme and wished Vedder had taken down the lush 19th century French paintings in the entrance gallery and the Renoir. Perhaps old masters when new had appeared hard-bright before mellowing. Sure, his would mellow well, as he had been careful to use only the most lasting pigments. His paintings would never crack from impasto or cheap colors or darken as did canvases of those who gave little thought to the chemistry of painting, Whistler, for example. He looked with satisfaction to the coming ages when his workmanship would stand fast above the decomposing rags of many famous works of the last fifty years.
He was irritated to discover that Vedder had rehung the "Hepaticas," giving it the place of honor, so that this inconsequential painting detracted from the two important works it separated. Vedder wasn't around, though it was almost three, and he decided to let it go. Ma would be tickled if she could see her painting so importantly presented.
He stood alone awkwardly as people dribbled in. Painters, examining his method closely; supercilious art students from the League down the street with portfolios under arms, who judged according to class formulas; fashionable women glancing hastily and retreating to linger before familiar names in the entrance gallery. "Monet has such enchanting color."—"Yes, isn't this Renoir sweet."—"Yes, but I don't care for his red nudes, they're so—fat. I do think though that Gauguin is intriguing. Did you know …" Whispers. "Yes, how do you stand on Rouault?"—"I haven't made up my mind, but I do think Picasso is divine. I don't know what it is, but I feel he is saying something profound. By the way, I'm thinking of doing over the dining room in that new chrome furniture and getting a Kandinsky—don't you think that would be divine?"—"Simply divine!"
Yap! Yap! Yap! Clem chafed to himself.
"Are you the artist?" The question was asked by a friendly middle-aged man, neat, with sensitive square hands, and shellrimmed glasses.
"I like your paintings very much. Especially that one of Senator Lauter. It's remarkable how you got his physical condition."
"I am a physician. Morris Baumstein. Your painting is a diagnosis. Dyspepsia. High blood pressure. Probably a heart condition. I too paint sometimes on Sundays. You are from Nebraska?"
"It must be quiet, restful there, judging by the normalcy in your work. There's no normalcy in cities, especially in New York which is abnormal. If you ever have time I wish you would come to dinner. My wife's a wonderful cook, and I'd like your opinion of my work. I'm only an amateur, but painting is my release. I'm late for the clinic now, or I'd stay longer. Here is my card. Thank you, and good luck."
Clem felt better, the guy was like home, and here at last was a friendly face.
Cynski, resplendent with a lump of red glass hanging from one ear, a cubistic red and purple print scarf knotted about his enormous head, had with him Mary Doyle, rattling with New Mexican silver and turquoise jewelry. After a cursory glance round, Cynski boomed, "You have the spirit of modern primitivism. You are the douanier Rousseau of Nebraska."
Vida, who had come in alone, could not help smiling at Cynski's reserving of universal primitivism for himself.
"Lucy and the Marqués will be here in a minute. We met him outside and they are talking but I wanted to get a good look before it gets crowded."
"Do that," Clem said, relieved at increasing signs of a turnout.
How was it, Vida asked herself, that for all Clem's speechifying of love for his native state the results became meticulously drawn, lifeless people, stark houses and varnish-yellow fields? Congress and its people were not so eroded by prairie winds. And the corn, apples, and pumpkins she had enjoyed so were not juiceless as on the white-clothed table in the foreground of his mother's kitchen. A design more than a painting. A mechanical perfection, which made one focus on that rather than on the subjects. It was as if he were saying to himself every minute be careful not to make a mistake. She thought of Van Gogh's lumpy black figure hunched by cold trudging toward a dingy café, symbol of chilling dreariness; the greenish light cast from the French café was in retrospect more inspiring than Clem's formulized glorification of midweek prayer meeting. Van Gogh and Sherwood Anderson saw people as living beings, individuals, not patterns; their commentaries, even when wry or bitter, came from the heart. That was it, Clem had no love, no real interest in his people, only for the perfection of a pattern. Except in the "Hepaticas"; his one painting with that sweet hesitancy which made one's heart break for him.
An attendant set an impressive um of roses on the center table where lay the catalogs, and the redness warmed the room.
"I'm bowled over by the amount of work!" Vida said.
Accepting this as enthusiastic approval Clem, touched also by the floral gift, said, "I wonder who sent those, it makes me feel like a prima donna."
"Those must be Lucy's. You are the star today. Here come Semy and Mrs. Cornwallis."
"I wonder where he's been all day. He lit out at the crack of dawn. Fact is, our Semy's been mighty mysterious lately." He must ask Semy to get Mrs. Cornwallis to pose, she was striking, and one could underplay the repulsiveness without prettying up as Alveg Dahl did. It impressed people if you showed portraits of well knowns, as had happened with Lauter.
"I'll take Horta for a look around," Semy said with a broad grin. The bastard was on first-name terms already. Something sure was up from the way he smirked.
Semanter Klug had returned from Washington with a Christmas present from the Senator—Pop's job as managing editor of the Husker-Sun. Congress, the Senator had said, was growing fast, industries were springing up all over the state because of its strategic railroad facilities, and the newspaper needed a bright young feller who could grow with industry. "Pop's too set in his newspaper ideas and don't know how to cooperate with business," the Senator said. Herold, whom he had coached to pass on the information that Pop thought Lauter as a senator was a joke, an invention of Semy's, certainly had turned the trick. Semy had asked for a month to think it over, a request which greatly impressed the Senator who didn't like his employees to be impulsive. "Think Before You Leap—And Then Think Again"—a favorite slogan—was ornately framed above his desk. In the five-hour ride to New York Semy had wondered if he had been smart to put off saying yes, as old horseface might change his mind. No, the Senator needed him to keep nitwit Herold in line, and Pop had made it too apparent he couldn't bear to have "Junior," as he referred to him, around. Hadn't the Senator said, "You and Herold work good together"? In a month's time anything could happen. He'd been stuck in Congress long enough. Suppose Lauter did promote him to Omaha. Then what? The old buzzard had made no move to keep him in Washington. Look what happened to Lucy in New York, and she knew a lot of important people. And that Mrs. Doyle had influential contacts. Even Vida, in solid with Figente. Mrs. Doyle had told him that scarecrow Cornwallis had an in everywhere, knew Hollywood people, society, and Broadway too, and could do a lot for anyone she was interested in. He'd concentrate on her.
He had used all his resources, including points learned in the Senator's campaign, for his attack on Cornwallis, and it had paid off. He had noted her friendship with J. L. Biggens, of Biggens Pictures, and decided to steer her to get him a picture job without his having to suggest it. In newspaper city rooms he'd heard Biggens was planning to expand his New York office. Cornwallis had not noticed that the only resemblance between herself and the crude woodcut Empress Theodosia was a braid coronet and the long throat-wound pearls, and had been comically responsive to his shy intimations that he found her fascinating. Imagine an old crow like her taken in by flattery about her looks! And she'd fallen for his line of not wanting anything but the privilege of her company in the short time left to him in New York. He'd taken her to lunches, dinners, and the theatre on the Senator's expense account as he still was studying New York newspaper methods. At the theatre he casually had murmured now and then that pictures needed not only sophisticated Broadway plays but down to earth stories of American life, as he knew from observing audiences as a movie critic in a small town. He never mentioned Biggens. Late one afternoon, bearing Parma violets, he had told Horta sadly the time had come to say goodbye as he had to return to his very good job or he would lose it, though he had to confess he dreaded going back to a small town, a prospect even more dismal now because he would be deprived of her friendship.
She had risen to the bait of his leavetaking. The nice young boy had whetted an appetite for flattery she never had known she possessed; and besides, he was a convenient escort to openings. "You mustn't waste yourself in a hick town. Let me see what I can do first."
It developed that J. L. Biggens owed her a favor for introducing his wife Sophie and himself to Riviera society. J.L. had been thinking of having a New York book scout full time, as his brother Sol, who sized up Broadway shows, had no time for reading. Horta's recommendation, and his job as managing editor and movie critic with the Husker-Sun, had helped; but what really had put him across was the sample one-page digests of books, and the clincher of pointing out that he knew of books in the public domain which wouldn't cost J.L. a cent.
The contract had been signed just before he came to Clem's, six months with options at twice what Lauter would have paid. A position, Semy had thought gleefully as he walked up Fifth Avenue, to make writers who wanted to sell to pictures take deferential notice of Semanter Klug, even that snotty Kevin Doyle. And Lucy certainly would be impressed, and all those actresses, like Tessie Soler, who wanted to get into pictures. Pop sure is lucky, he sniggered, anyway for six months if the Biggens thing doesn't work out.
"There's Bernard Genlis, the critic, with Paul Vermillion," Vedder said to Vida with surprise. "I wonder how he happened to come? Critics rarely show up at openings, especially Genlis who usually goes through a show so fast he meets himself coming in."
He left her quickly to give Genlis a catalog, presenting it as if to visiting royalty. "I thought you were going to bring me some canvases," he said to Vermillion, further impressed at seeing the young painter in the company of the difficult critic.
"I'll see," hedged Vermillion uncomfortably.
"See what you can do with him," Veddcr said ingratiatingly to Genlis and withdrew, as mention of the current show would be tactless.
"What goes on?" Genlis asked.
"Nothing. He smells business because I know Figente and you."
"Has he seen anything?"
"A small canvas."
"You're holding out on me."
"You said it," Vermillion said shortly to Genlis whom he had met in pre-Paris newspaper days, a friendship continued in Paris.
"What did you want to bring me here for when we could have achieved more stimulation at Bleeck's. This stuff is like those chromos on butcher and grocer calendars we used to get at Christmas."
"Bleeck's old-fashioneds are no excuse to make a flip crack. Don't dismiss in one minute what it took five years of hard work to paint. At least he hasn't stuck newspaper, bits of wood, a few pants' buttons, on a board and offered it as painting—or art criticism, for that matter."
Genlis grinned. "Pants' criticism—buttoned or unbuttoned?"
"You could unbutton a little to see he's painting his version of the U.S. He has a theory about painting America as an American." "He must have put his paint through a wringer so there'd be no juice left. Makes me thirsty."
"Look—this man is an able painter. Technically, he's the best of the younger men here about. He's riding a theory now, I'll admit, but he's capable, with a sense of design. That's a basis for development."
"It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing. I grant his technical accomplishment. I'm surprised though to hear you extol technique as an end. You actually like these paintings?"
"No, but that doesn't mean anything except that it is hard for me, or any painter, to see a contemporary's work. I see mostly what I would have done, better or worse, had I painted it. I am probably more conscious of influences too than those that may creep into my own work even when I think I'm most free. Then too, painters can always spot when there has been trouble in drawing or handling a medium. Today there's an epidemic of no-can-do drawing and painting passed off as intentional. I've read a lot of twelve-dollar critical words about backgrounds that any painter worthy of the name knows damned well is unresolved fumbling. No wonder some painters decide it's easier to be what is called 'childlike' and 'primitive.' Brush, however, knows how to handle a brush and paint, and this is only his first show."
"I see how hard he worked—and that's against him in my book, because I don't like to be aware of a painter's, any artist's—mechanics. Also he has looked imitatively at European painters for his socalled American painting. Dürer, and Breughel especially. But his version is limited to craftsmanship, and you know it. Probably won a prize at school—and he'll win a lot more. He's got nothing to worry about—he'll be a big success."
Vermillion felt depressed. It was disturbing to observe that hairbreadth miss, the almost invisible ash from a spark that had smoldred without flaring—the miss that one too might make. Only in the blue flowers had Brush's spark flamed.
"Look at the 'Hepaticas'—good in every way, plus the freshness of a spring woods."
"Yes, the flowers are fine."
"I take it that's official." Vermillion pinned him down.
"Be seeing you," Genlis said when Vermillion declined to leave with him for a drink.
"Who was that with you?" Clem asked Vermillion, anxious to learn what the critic had said.
"Bernard Genlis. He's the only one you can't be sure of—though he liked the 'Hepaticas' and will say so. Even if he didn't, the town is ripe for you. I'm going to take another turn around."
Clem was exultant. Success was success, no matter which painting was singled out by a critic.
As if in affirmation Lucy came up, a perfumed nimbus of pastel tints and rolls of ash-grey fur and hepatica eyes.
"I'm dressed to kill for your show," she laughed, her sparkling glance circling the room and lighting on Vermillion. "I'm going to look," she said, and went to join him.
"Mitsuoko is just what we need," he said.
"I spilled it when I opened the bottle. No, that's a lie, I always put on too much because I am so used to it I can't smell it any more."
"How is the recital coming?" It was extraordinary, he thought, how in any group she stood out as though alone.
"Fine, but it's a lot of work. I decided the Marie Laurencin number would be better with more girls so I have five. They are cute, wait till you see them."
"What will you call it?" he asked, the hinge of the painter's name disturbing him.
"I never thought of a title," she admitted, "but I suppose I have to have one."
"How about 'Precocious Girls at Play'?"
"That's it—but in French," she cried delighted.
"'Les Jeux des Filles Méchantes' perhaps? It isn't exact translation but it is to the point."
"I can't get over you being the one to tell me what to do," she marveled.
"You don't mind, Miss Claudel, it I speak privately with Paul for a minute?" asked Jacques.
She left them and went to look at the paintings. The only familiar painting was the basket of hepaticas, which gave her a jolt. I certainly was a foolish kid, thinking Clem knew everything because he was older and had lived in Paris France. Oh well!
First the worst,
Second the same,
Last the best,
Of all the game.
But how can you tell when he will be the last? The other paintings were what you saw in Congress or bread and ears of corn and things that had been on Aunt Mabel's kitchen table, but in the paintings not looking so good to eat. But then, she thought, I don't know a thing about it, and I'm too excited about the title for the Laurencin number to care. It gives me all sorts of new ideas …
Vermillion observed Jacques's nervousness. What the hell was Simone up to now! "Well, what's happened?"
"She will tell you she returns to Paris next week and that I am deserting her. The truth is I like America and wish to remain. She has had an offer of a revue on Broadway which she has refused. Please persuade her to accept."
"You know no one can change her mind about these things."
"No one but you."
"She is lonely in New York."
"So," Jacques said, "it is like that."
"Yes," Vermillion said briefly.
"You appreciate my situation," Jacques persisted. "I love her dearly but after so many years is it too much to ask a little security? 1 have had an offer of a Hollywood studio to make arrangements, and such offers do not come often. I am no longer young and have nothing but what she pays me, and cannot indefinitely run in search of her each time she disappears. Besides, I have come to love this new young country. You think I am disloyal?"
"No, but it's hard to see her without you on whom she has counted these many years. Where will she find someone who understands so well how to play for her?"
"Oh, as to that," Jacques said wryly, "I can reassure you. She is bent on having that young harpist play for her also."
"Yes. I agree he is a talented boy and would look better than old Jacques, but would he take care of her? I say this only to you, but I feel she thinks that with him on the stage she would appear younger."
Vermillion smiled. "What does Figente say?"
"He has not been told. I must go before she arrives. I do not wish her to know I told you."
"Perhaps between us we can still influence her to take the revue offer. I would worry if she returned to France without me or you."
"No one must influence another against his bent."
"You will not hold it against me?"
"How can I, of all people?"
They shook hands and Jacques hurried away.
Seeing him alone Lucy rejoined Vermillion and saw, over his shoulder, Simone arrive, narrow as a boy in rumpled grey tweeds, a beret, a green scarf, a ratty fur coat over her arm, and Hal.
And here was Tessie rushing up. Oh shoot!
"I can only stay a moment," Tessie gushed, with a provocative eye on Vermillion. "I do love your paintings."
"He's another artist, come and meet Clem Brush who painted these," Lucy said, taking her firmly by the arm to save Vermillion from anyone so flighty. "I hear you are taking dancing lessons."
"Yes, and I'm also taking dramatic lessons from a divine Russian who teaches you how to scream and cry the way they do in the Moscow Art Theatre."
"But you are an actress."
"Thank you, darling, but I feel an actress should enlarge herself. I would love to do something as a serious artist."
Well, for heaven's sake, Tessie too! Everybody wants something else, Lucy reflected wonderingly.
The static landscapes with small figures and still lifes were not what Simone had expected from the shy rough-finished American, but her vocabulary of professional civility was always ready.
"You are indeed the Breughel of America," she said, and went to Paul who was at last alone. "As one can reach you so rarely I am happy to find you here as I should not want to leave America without seeing you," she rattled in taut cold monotone, her face parchment white.
She was not drugged so there would be no scene, he saw relieved. "When are you leaving?" he asked gently, pretending not to notice the complaint.
"Next week in the Berengaria."
"You'll be glad to get back to Paris."
"I have had an offer of a Broadway revue. Jacques believes I should accept but I do not think so."
She was asking him to decide. "After all, it's for you to decide." "Naturally, but Jacques refuses to leave," she said, her eyes filling at Paul's callousness too.
"That will make it difficult for you."
"Not at all. I shall be glad to change. There are other accompanists. His long face was getting on my nerves."
"That is unkind."
"A reproach of unkindness does not come well from you," she said tartly.
"Simone, I don't know how to say it. Even if I knew how, it wouldn't be an explanation. It is my feeling, as you have your feeling. Thus anything I say will seem without feeling. But it isn't so. I know what you have meant—and mean—to me. Words would never tell you that. It's that we have—or rather that I have—got between ourselves. It's that—I need to be alone."
She knew that at last it was over and, closing her eyes, wished she were in the black womb of an empty nave kneeling on hard dark stone weeping herself dry. That was the best way to sing, when one had no feeling left. If only that day soon would come releasing her to peaceful middle-age, content with singing and past all love of this man.
"Never mind," she said harshly, "I am not yet a corpse. You will come to see me if you come to Paris?"
They stood wordlessly.
How could one love and then not love? Or rather not love as he had, the best feeling for another human being he had had in his life. The memory of it was still present, but not the feeling. It always would be part of him. But her feeling for him had changed too. She no longer wanted the easiness and sharing they first had had, but someone to cling to who would keep on exorcising her obsession about age, someone who had no other life but hers.
He could not but admire the manner in which she drew on her theatre training to regain composure.
"Excuse me, but I must speak to Nino," she said with a blank smile, and as she turned from him he escaped into the icy twilight …
Vida was disappointed not to have an opportunity to talk with Vermillion about Clem's paintings, or anything, but it was impossible to get away from Kevin Doyle who kept pressing his rough Irish tweed against her knee. She was torn between admiration of what he said in his attractive brogue and fear of being alone with the bearded satyr, as he kept suggesting. At the moment he was saying that he found little of interest in contemporary American writing, a point of view with which she did not agree.
"It never gets beyond juvenile itch," contributed Semy, who had been boning up on Doyle's writings preparatory to calling on the Doyles at Mary's invitation.
Doyle glanced at a sly but admiring face.
"I quote you," said Semy. "You certainly murdered contemporary American fiction."
"That's a palpable imprecision, as the corpse keeps on reproducing," said Doyle, never interested in male admirers, and returned his attention to Vida.
Horta Cornwallis found Mary Doyle informative. "That's Jackson Stanley, the actor, Lucy Claudel is with. There isn't a man in town who hasn't had her."
"Present company excluded," said Kevin Doyle overhearing. He was really quite nice, Vida decided.
"Go on, buy a painting, Jack, a little culture will be good for you," Lucy said to the actor she had told to come so Clem would have a crowd. Paul Vermillion was the limit, leaving without saying goodbye.
"I'd rather buy you."
"You can't afford me."
"You're so mercenary," he said with mock sadness.
"You said it."
"Who is this guy, and what's he to you, Hecuba?"
"Hecuba? Is that some more of Shakespeare you're always spouting? Nothing the way you mean. He's just a famous artist. I might even get him to paint your portrait."
"Like that!" He pointed to the portrait of Senator Lauter. "Nothing doing. I'm a juvenile, remember?"
"I'll tell him to paint you pretty."
*** "I would like to have the basket of flowers, but the painting is not for sale," said the Marqués who had thought of the "Hepaticas" as a gift for Lucy.
"Really?" said Horta Cornwallis, not understanding anything not being for sale.
"It belongs to his mother," Semy confirmed.
She had no interest in the paintings, which reminded her of the dreary days on her father's farm. But Nino's interest spurred her to business. She had a right to expect Semy to get the blue flowers for her, after which she would sell them to Nino, though that would only be a drop in the bucket to what Nino owed her for fixing up the Piselli deal. "I'd love to have the painting myself. Why can't he paint his mother another one?" she asked, looking at Semy significantly.
"I'll talk to him later," Semy promised.
She gathered her draperies and skins and stopped on the way out to say to Lucy, "Don't forget, my dear, Nino and I are counting on you for the ball."
"I forgot to tell you," Lucy said, "I won't be able to make it, but Ranna will."
"What a pity!" said Horta, her china teeth clinking.
If looks could kill I'd be dead on the spot. Anyway, I'm rid of her, Lucy thought relieved.
The last straggler left. Clem, exhausted and depressed, leaned on his cane. Not one painting sold. Not that he needed sales but it would have been a sign. Some important people had been there. Ma would be thrilled that her "Hepaticas" had been the favorite.
Vedder was pasting a red star on the frame of the sliced loaf of bread.
"Sold?" Clem asked stunned.
"Yes, to Lucy Claudel. Now we'll have to wait and see what the press says."
The evening of the exhibition's closing the paintings were returned to Clem.
"That's that!" he said ruefully to Semy. "That sure was a short two weeks after five years' hard work, but worth it. Vedder thinks I've made a good start with four sales and the reviews. Even Genlis said I'd sell. I think it's a healthy sign that Americans recognize American art. Vedder's keeping a few on hand, says it always takes a while to soak in and that people keep coming in for weeks thinking the show still on."
"Four? I thought only two?" said Semy, struggling with the button of his dress shirt collar.
"Two more were clinched today. Dr. Baumstein, a nice fellow, who is paying in three installments. White, a Minneapolis flour man, bought the wheatfields. He told Vedder he's going to reproduce it full color in the big magazine ads of his mills. Mrs. Stonington, who only buys American painting, finally decided on Ma's kitchen table though she wanted Lucy's loaf of bread one."
"Say, that's pretty good. Maybe Vedder can get her to let us see her things. You know what, I bet you and Lucy get together again."
"You sure are stepping out these days. Where tonight?" Clem asked, avoiding comment on the wish uppermost in his thoughts. Ever since learning about Lucy's purchase he had been wondering whether it signified what he hoped. And now, with the pretty fair reviews, except for that smart aleck Genlis, Lucy might be impressed with him all over again.
"I have to take in an opening. J.L. thinks this play may do for Dorothy Destine. I have to dress because I'm taking Sophie Biggens—J.L. and his brother Sol have a big poker date."
His smugness made Clem grin. "Sophie! I must hand it to you. You're a fast worker."
"I wouldn't do that to J.L." Semy smirked.
"The hell you wouldn't."
"She's no chicken. Anyway, I did you a good turn. She has to get J.L. a birthday present. She was going to have Tiffany's make a swell frame for a photo of his mother—he's nuts about her—and I told Sophie she ought to let you make a painting from the photo instead. I gave you a big buildup. Showed her the reviews."
"For Christ's sake! I don't copy photographs."
"I know—but I made her think you'd do her a big favor if you accepted. I said I might get you to do it for five hundred bucks."
"Only five hundred! It would take me a month, maybe more. I don't slop them out like Alveg Dahl and he gets twenty-five hundred at least. And don't forget I have to give Vedder one-third."
"Why tell him about it? They'd hang it in an important place, and all the movie big shots would see it. The photo is quite nice. It was taken when she was young and it's sort of Corot-ish. So far, Sophie says, they've only bought old masters."
He went for his tie. When he returned Clem had reconsidered. "Maybe it isn't a bad idea at that. I'll see. Thanks anyway. Guess I'd better stack these paintings in Herold's room—lucky he left or there'd be no space."
"Why not hang up a few? Someone might see them and want to buy. I'll be bringing people in because I'll have to throw some parties."
"That's an idea—though I'm kind of sick of seeing them. I have an idea for an entirely new kind of show for my next. I'll show that s.o.b. Genlis whether I'm limited. I'll have to send back Ma's 'Hepaticas.' I wrote her her painting made a big hit."
This was the right moment, Semy thought, and he walked over and took the small painting in his hands. "It sure did. If it were for sale I'd scrape the price together to buy it myself," he said reverently.
Why was it everyone picked out a small basket of watery flowers? Clem thought irritably. He owed Semy a painting but Ma would be upset not to get her damn flowers. He forced a smile. "Get out! You know I wouldn't let you buy a painting, but I'll give you one of the others if you want one."
"That's certainly generous of you, Clem. I'd like one some day when I have a good place to hang it. I was thinking of something else though when I mentioned wanting the 'Hepaticas.' To be frank, I owe Horta Cornwallis something for introducing me to Biggens and I've been looking around for a present I can afford. I don't want to give her just anything but something she really wants. The only thing I can offer is this—she talks about your 'Hepaticas' all the time."
"Ma would be disappointed if I didn't return it. You know that."
"Oh, I know, I know," Semy said, adding self-commiseratingly, "it's tough though because I can't afford a brooch from Tiffany's. What with sending money home to Ruth and having to get evening clothes and a couple of suits I'm strapped. Yet when people do things for you, you have to do something impressive in return."
"Perhaps Mrs. Cornwallis would like another, more important, painting?" Clem said uncomfortably.
Semy sighed, placed the "Hepaticas" carefully on the table and said apologetically, "No, I couldn't let you do that. Thanks just the same. I only thought that since this is a little water color, maybe you could make another for your mother. Forget it—I shouldn't have asked."
It was embarrassing to see him so upset about having asked. "I guess I can make her another. Take it," Clem said reluctantly.
"I can't tell you what this means to me. Believe me, I wouldn't think of accepting it but I honestly think that from your viewpoint it is a good idea for Horta to have it. She goes to town for anyone she likes and sure will for you if she owns one of your paintings. She'll make you the fashion. I think I'll talk her into getting her friends to let you do their portraits instead of Alveg Dahl, tell her she ought to encourage American art instead of foreigners."
"That's damned decent of you. But I'm afraid I'm not what you'd call a fashionable portrait painter."
"Listen, if you do portraits of fashionable people, you're a fashionable portrait painter. Anyway, what do you care, so long as they talk about you, and cough up? The thing is to get in."
Good old Semy, a friend one could count on, Clem thought.