Among the Daughters/Chapter 39
THE TOAST OF THE TOWN
On a stifling July night Vida Bertrand wrote in her notebook.
July 22, 1926
The play is one in which a misty double, who represents her other self, reads and sings the lines behind a gauze curtain, in front of which Lucy enacts each scene. To me it is a "stunt" play, dependent more on effects than words, but it is a sensational success with all sorts of meanings read into Lucy's character as she moves through her part in a well-rehearsed dream state—which, incidentally, she seems unable to shake offstage.
It must be said that Beman has imaginatively dovetailed Lucy's Laurencin ballet into the play.
She is now "The Toast of the Town." All variety of things are named after her, from coiffures and clothes to a sandwich at Reuben's. She was photographed with the Mayor at a big charitable function; extravagant suppers are given for her which the Mayor also attends.
She moved into a larger suite at the Athenée, which she now considers her "lucky" hotel, and is under the vigilant care of Mae, who returned in response to my phone call, and Cleo.
She has an unnatural calm that worries me.
On a burning noon toward the end of July Lucy, in a sky-blue dressing gown, lay on the chaise longue.
She pointed to a Mode photograph of herself in a spangled evening gown and blazing with jewels. "All I need is an elephant and I could ride in a circus," she said to Vida and Mae. "To tell you the truth," she continued, "I don't care for below the hip waistlines and knee-length skirts. I like skirts a little longer and the waist where it is. I'd rather dress like Madame Récamier."
"Imagine the Charleston in a dress like that," Vida commented.
"Oh, the Charleston! High yallers are the only ones who can do the Charleston and sing fifty-five choruses of 'All Alone' at the same time."
"I think it's a beautiful photograph, Pussy," Mae said contentedly from a chair overlooking the Park.
"It's a pity you can't have that necklace Cartier's loaned for the picture," Vida said.
"I'd be all dressed up and no place to go," she said indifferently.
"I've just read The Private Life of Helen of Troy. Beman ought to have it made into a musical for your next show," Vida said.
"My next show! This one's only six weeks old, and Beman says it'll run two years. I still can't believe it. What tickles me most is the success of the Laurencin ballet. I wonder whether Vermillion would like it now that the harps are only props and the boys are dancers and there is other music. I liked the first ballet better, but I suppose it wasn't for Broadway. It's the hit tune so maybe he'll hear it in Paris. I guess I never gave Beman credit enough. I never thought he would take a chance with his own money—and on me!"
"Oh—I forgot, Lucy," Mae interrupted. "Peggy Watson phoned before you were awake, she's only in town for today and said to tell you how thrilled she was seeing your name on the marquee."
"I wish you'd waked me. I'm sorry not to see her, I want Vida to meet her. She got me my first chance on Broadway and was a big help in other ways," Lucy said gazing out the window.
"She's going to phone the next time she gets to town."
"What are you smiling at, Vida?" asked Lucy.
"Lying there, you look as you did when I first saw you on Aunt Mabel's porch with that blue bow under your chin."
"I hope I've learned a lot since then and that it shows," Lucy said wryly.
"Only for the better," Vida said.
"Yes," Mae said with a pleased smile. "If she'll only eat and keep up her weight. Why, she was only bones when I came. Now I'm going to leave you two girls to have lunch without me because I'm not hungry and I'm going to a nice cool movie."
"When Vida goes back to work I'm going to Figente's," Lucy said.
"What beautiful orchids," Vida remarked after Mae left.
"You'll never guess who sent them. Semy!"
"And that reminds me," Lucy said. "I had lunch with Tessie yesterday and she was all excited about signing with Biggens to do the Cravenes play in pictures for five a week."
"But she gets more than five hundred on Broadway."
"Five thousand—she only gets two here. Besides Biggens is crazy about her—in person, as they say in the movies. She said that she may let the Allwood girl take over her part the last few weeks before closing but I'll bet she'll never quit until the last curtain because she knows Allwood is dying for a chance and has made quite a hit in her part. No matter what one thinks of Allwood personally, she didn't have to learn how to eat like a lady for the part. What I wanted to tell you was that Tessie said that Semy—Klug she calls him like plug, not Kloog—tried to get her to let him make love to her and said it was he who got Biggens interested. She nearly died laughing because she did it all herself the week Beman was in the hospital for his ulcer. Poor Semy, he didn't even get to hold Tessie's hand."
"Obviously, he should have held Beman's hand."
"Semy phoned me too, and said he was bringing Mr. Biggens backstage last night. I knew Biggens was coming because Beman told me the day before. You should have seen Semy making up to Biggens. Kowtowing and at the same time showing what a smart guy he is. And making up to me, how he'd always thought me a natural for movies. I thought all of a sudden of the word that describes him—Cocotte."
"The nail on the head. But what did Biggens want?"
"He offered me a Hollywood contract. But I don't think I'd ever be an actress, even though Biggens says they could teach me. Besides, I don't want to go so far from New York. Don't you think I'm right?"
"If he wants you now, he'll want you even more a year from now."
"Well, at last I've got star billing. Some people have to wait much longer. It's funny, but I feel the same except when I see the difference it makes—I mean, how people treat you. I don't even feel anything when I see my name in lights."
"Perhaps because it all happened so fast. Has Hugh been around?"
"Sure. He carried on. I thought I'd be afraid to see him—but do you know what?—he was the scared one. Yes, everybody has shown up. I felt sort of sorry for Herbert so I let him take me to the Chennonceaux. That poor boy couldn't afford it so I slipped some money in his pocket and said, 'This has to be my treat, Herbert, for putting you out in the cold New Year's Eve.'" A rueful smile pulled down the corners of her mouth. "Anyhow, he's engaged to a girl in Ohio and I hope he'll be very happy. But the Chennonceaux isn't the same since Piselli was shot. Marcoudi is too gangstery to run a place in style. But all the night places are getting wilder. Maybe it's that I don't enjoy going out any more."
"Probably because you're tired."
"I didn't want to say anything to you until I decided. Beman wants me to go to Paris with him for a week. He's going to look at a new play. Now that he knows the show's a hit he thinks I should get out of the heat for a few weeks and open fresh Labor Day. He thinks it would be good publicity to say I'd gone to Paris for a new wardrobe."
"That would be wonderful. I had a note from Vermillion last week—I forgot to tell you."
She didn't forget, she didn't want to tell me. It slipped out accidentally, Lucy thought, and sighed. "How is he?" she asked, trying to sound uninterested.
"He said how happy he was to read of your success and he sent me Simone's theatre program. Hal is playing for her," Vida recounted, hoping Lucy would not guess that his letter was one in response to hers, she having used Lucy's success as an excuse to write to him.
"Is he with Simone again?"
"He didn't say."
They sat moodily, gazing unseeingly at the heat-quivering city. "I'd like to go," Lucy said slowly, "but in a way I can't make up my mind because if I do go I must tell Nino one way or another. I thought I ought to write and tell him how I felt. He wrote back a sweet letter and said to let him know if I ever changed my mind and that he wished I would come and let him show me what Paris and Madrid are like. He is so kind and I like him so much I'm afraid if I go I might decide to phone him in Madrid. You never know what you will do if you're lonesome. One thing I know, I will never lose control over myself again, and if I do marry Nino it will be for forever. I keep Clem's 'Hepaticas' hanging where I can see them from my bed and think of what a good and dear friend Nino is." She rose suddenly and lighted a cigarette. "We forgot to order lunch."
"I don't want any, it's too hot. I have to get back to the shop. Hector isn't in this afternoon, so heaven knows what's going on." "Let's have supper here after the show."
"All right." She started to the door and saw the "Hepaticas" on the bedroom wall. "How refreshing the hepaticas look on a day like this. I think Clem is a little bitter about not making more of a splash in New York. He writes his new show with Vedder next year is going to be a new style of painting he's invented. He sees America as surrealist country in the abstract."
"I don't know what you are talking about."
"Neither do I."
When Vida had gone Lucy took a cold shower and lay naked under the cooling electric fan.
Cleo came in. "You shoulden do that, you'll catch col'," she scolded, and switched off the fan.
"Brush my hair, I'm going out."
Cleo combed the damp ringlets and rolled them on curlers to dry.
"I don't know what I'd do without you, Cleo. Are you still mad at me because I fired you last year?"
"No, but I'll sure be mad if you catch col'. Miss Mae'll blame me."
"Go and get me a chocolate malted."
"Diden you have lunch?"
"I'll order you up some chicken."
"I'd rather have a chocolate malted."
"Your mother says no mo' ice-cold malteds, it upsets yo stomach."
"You don't care a thing about my stomach. You're just too lazy to go and get it."
"You gonna eat chicken or a lamb chop."
"Chicken. Why don't you get some new stories to tell me? I've heard all your old ones. I'll bet you know some good ones and are too mean to tell."
"You said it. You gonna wear that lilac chiffon again? It's got a stain."
"You can't have it, you're too fat."
"Not with my new girdle."
That was one thing about Cleo, Lucy thought in the taxi to Figente's, you never felt blue when she was around.
"You look like a melted Swiss cheese," she said to Figente.
"That's how I feel."
"I made up my mind on the way down I will go to Paris with Beman."
"Good," he approved. "You will not see the Paris I could have shown you, but Beman will do. Don't let him make you stay at the Ritz—that's where the parvenus go. Stay at the Meurice or Crillon. You won't be there long enough for an apartment at the Venddme. Be sure to see Hal so you can tell me how he is. Vermillion writes that his playing for Simone has made him quite a success."
So he had written to Figente too. Everyone but me. So that was that.
"I hope you intend seeing Nino, and that you will make the right decision about that," he said gravely.
"I hope so too. I wish you were going, I'd rather go with you than with anyone," she said, wiping the perspiration from his forehead and kissing it.
"And if you see Vermillion, tell him his old Figente misses him."
"I don't think I'll see him, I'll be busy getting my clothes," she said evasively.
It was hard to say goodbye, he looked so old and lonely. "You see that you take care of yourself. I'll only be gone three weeks and next year you and I will go to Paris together."
"I hope so," he said wistfully.
"I think you always ought to have some flowers in here to make it more cheerful. I'll leave an order at Thorley's."
"No, they would convert it into a sickroom."
"I could lend you my 'Hepatica' painting."
"No, thank you. I doubt whether it would refresh me."
"Clem Brush is a very good artist. Mrs. Stonington bought one."
"I don't doubt it. She has an absolutely first-class collection of third-class art."
"I don't mind going now that I can see you are getting back to normal."
He cleared his throat and said with a spark of his old sauciness, "As this will be your first crossing you had better take a physic the night before sailing."
Two weeks later Lucy stood on the deck chattering to Beman as the ship eased from its slip into the noses of panting tugs.
"I feel as though I'm leaving New York forever the way we all cried, Mother, Vida and I. It was nice of the kids from the show to come, wasn't it? I wished I could take them all along. Figente sent two dozen white orchids!"
"It's almost time for dinner. We are at the Captain's table," Beman said, his thought on the Beluga caviar that were the bowels of a huge carved ice swan glimpsed on the hors d'oeuvres table."
Lucy clutched at her billowing cloud-blue coat. "I feel as though I'm in France already. My steward looks like an apache dancer. I think I'll go to my cabin. I want to practice my French on him."