Among the Daughters/Chapter 40
LAST THE BEST
From her window in the Ritz maroon snub-nosed taxis jerked, tooting, an erratic merry-go-round a column wound like a Maypole with sculptured ribbon to its top where a small figure gazed over the aged squat circle sagging into its foundations and clareted in the dying sun. By the Mode-familiar names in gold along lacy iron balconies—jewelers, perfumers, furriers, couturiers and, opposite from home, Morgan et Cie.—she knew it was not an impregnable castle as she herself was in it. Yet the feeling persisted that this was the world of Nino, Simone, and Vermillion, a world at whose door you would have to knock like a beggar to even glimpse its meaning in three short days.
Maybe everyone feels like this about Paris at first, an outsider.
She pulled her fingers down the thick folds of the window's darkgold brocade drapes and then along the patina of curved bergères and table legs. She examined the worn medallioned grey-blue silk upholstery, the flower-striped chintz walls, the marble mantelpiece, and a brass clock duplicating in arabesques the gilded chandeliers and candelabra. A room so much more intimate and richer than those at the Athenée.
A setting for love. No place to be by yourself. What was Vermillion's room like?
"Monsieur would like Mademoiselle to join him in the bar," the femme de chambre said discreetly.
She thinks Beman my lover! The only love affair he's ever had is with his stomach. All that grumbling about how "dull" the train trip was, and how he couldn't wait until "one can fly." Lunch in New York, dinner in Paris, and call a prince by his first name—what no nickname!—that's Beman's ideal. I'm mean. But who cares only about "chic" restaurants, shows, and dressmakers?
The bar sparkled, the restaurant shone, the night clubs glittered. Not so different from home but more lush and of course real French, which meant worse in some ways, better in others.
"I'm tired, I want to sleep," she protested when Beman hinted at peephole spectacles. "It's no thrill to me to watch others make love, I'm a big girl now."
Her head swam as she sank into feathers. Vagrant taxis tooted, a carriage rattled over cobbles, two muffled but outraged voices rose and faded into endless debate through drawn curtains. I never knew anything could be as soft as this bed.
But ancient humors ghouled the room and she sprang from the bed, shaking. After switching the light on and off she returned to bed to lie sleepless.
In a room like this he had loved Simone. Maybe this very minute, or they were lying exhausted side by side. Could he, walking out on Simone as he had in New York, make love to her again? And would Simone let him? Yes. As she herself had let Hugh make love after he beat her. Anyway, bodies are more or less the same, outward things, and didn't always have to do with how you felt about someone. A woman has to feel a man knows love is the life of a man and woman together. A man can't take a woman and then after his performance imply Ethel Barrymore's "That's all there is, there isn't any more." There must be more meaning to it all. New York was like a man, perhaps that's why its women were hectic, dissatisfied. From a glimpse, Paris was more like a woman, but women here in the restaurants, bars, the night clubs, eyed each other jealously too, as if each one were thinking maybe the man with the other woman was better.
Leaving a vaporous finger in its wake, the fetid ghost of many pasts recessed home into the Seine and a splinter of dawn silvered the center edge of the drawn curtains. She jumped up, relieved that night was over, pulled the cord, and stood watching the alchemy of the rising sun.
An eon of time passed until at six thirty the last transient rosy cupids melted into the bluing sky. She dressed quickly and ran down the velvety steps, and the night concierge yawned as it was yet a few minutes before relief from mad Américaines coming and going all hours.
An American playwright of "folk" fables, who celebrated America's pioneer health and simple religious faith in his inspirational plays, was at the entrance, arriving from a house of vicarious erotica.
"Lucy darling, I had no idea you were in Paris—Beman didn't tell me. He'll be along in a minute."
The sky was pearly blue. She stood irresolute at the curb. He probably lived a long distance, and this was her only free time. The taxi driver was a grumpy bundle with a walrus mustache, and grumbled when he heard the address, it must be out of the way. It was easier reading French than understanding Parisians. The only people out were men with blue smocks and wooden shoes, one carrying a basket of lettuce. And a few old women in black looking in garbage cans.
To her astonishment the address was only a half dozen blocks along an arcaded avenue and across was a park with a high iron grill fence. Opposite Vermillion's number was a dark building, blocks long, with prison-barred windows.
A fat black witch wouldn't let her go upstairs until "Monsieur" was notified.
What if he isn't in, or with Simone, or is just polite?
He came running down the stairs, scarcely awake.
"Hello," she said uncertainly. "I thought I'd say hello from Figente early because I'm only here for three days and have to go to Lanvin's early."
"A qui se leve matin, Dieu prête la main," insinuated a workingman in blue clattering past in sabots, and winked leeringly at Vermillion who laughed.
"What did he say?" Lucy asked suspiciously.
"He said—roughly—'the early bird catches the worm.'"
"I never thought a Frenchman in wooden shoes would be the first to make me feel at home in Paris." Vermillion hadn't seemed pleased to see her.
"Frenchmen—with or without shoes—always are prepared to make a girl feel at home."
"That's what I like," she said pointedly.
He led her to a side-street café. Aping other early breakfasters she dipped the buttery croissant in the "white" coffee. "This is good."
He nodded. "I heard the show is a big success, especially you."
"You did! Who told you?" It was so hard to look directly at him: if she did he could see how she felt.
"Paris isn't that far from New York."
"Seems awfully far away to me."
He smiled. "New York seems far away to me, too, sometimes—but home is where the hat is."
"That's my home too—it depends on whom you're with, doesn't it?"
He wouldn't take the hint. You come thousands of miles, and then talk about Vida! "Fine! Figente gave her Hal's apartment and she's working at Hector's, the milliner."
"So she wrote, but it's hard to picture her at a milliner's."
"You'd be surprised."
He was startled by the irritated inflection and they sat, silent, watching the awakening city.
She was sorry she had looked him up. It had been a crazy idea. The night did strange things to you, but in the morning you have to face the same old thing. He didn't want her.
"What time do shops open? I must go to Lanvin's early."
"That's an idiotic way of spending a few days in Paris."
"That's w'hat I think. After Lanvin's at eleven, I haven't a thing to do until I meet Beman at Prunier's at one."
"What are you laughing at?" she demanded, thinking he was making fun of her.
"I was thinking of how you fitted in the drawing of a late 17th century stage set I was looking at the other day. A drawing of the palace of Versailles as it was then with a contraption for letting down Venus from the clouds."
"Oh! Did they have such big productions then?" she said, taken unaware by the compliment.
"Max Reinhardt and Ziegfeld aren't in it by comparison." There had been a curious change in her. She was too joyless in her success. As though, and this was surely only imagination, she had gone through a subduing revelation, weighting her spirit.
"I wish I could see Versailles—but I guess I won't have time."
"There's an outdoor theatre there that would be perfect for you. It's made of shells."
"I'd love to see that at least before I go back. Is Versailles far from here?"
"An hour by bus, if you had the time."
"I have to be at Lanvin's at eleven. Maybe I can go tomorrow, I'd just like to walk around now and see something of Paris."
"This is one of the best times of the day. In a few hours it will be hot and noisy. So, if you like, why don't we walk now?"
He was trying to get rid of her. "I wouldn't want to take you from your work," she said.
"I'd like nothing better than to be taken from work by you." A surge of happiness enveloped her. "Let's," she said.
"I'll keep an eye on the time," he said with a lightness he hadn't felt in years.
"Oh that!" she said recklessly.
Dark-red shutters rumbled up disclosing the meanings of Librairie—Pâtisserie—Epicerie—Chausseur—Loterie Nationale—cubbyholes catering to tenants above in the flat old plaster buildings.
"Look at that little boy dragging a loaf of that good-looking bread on the sidewalk, and that woman in the flapping slippers. Don't they know that's unsanitary?"
"The sun heals."
"Are you going to stay here forever?"
"I don't know. I came for a cure and I'm afraid of a relapse." He was never serious at the right time. "I wish you'd speak English," she said tartly.
They strolled through an archway of the prisonlike building and came into a cobbled courtyard with a duplicate opening ahead and to the right.
"What's this?" she asked astonished.
"From the street it looks like a prison."
"In a sense that part is—it's the Ministry of Finance."
"What's that to do with art?"
"There is a connection—but it's too early in the morning to establish it sensibly."
"What's that off there?" she pointed.
"Did you ever paint it?"
"Never—but I've drawn it from every angle."
"Looks more like Balzac's stories than Hugo. As if he were writing now but saw it from way back. You see I've been reading a lot. Paris looks that way to me, though I've hardly seen it. As if every stone has been alive for ages. I want to put my ear against a stone and let it tell me why I do the things I do. I'll bet they know why."
The morning sun shed its veils and danced on the ochre Seine. They walked up the Left Bank and recrossed to the Concorde where he pointed to a first glimpse of the Arc de Triomphe at the end of the Elysian Fields.
Then he led her back to the great halls of the Louvre where she told what she liked and did not.
He watched her, smiling, as she examined the Botticellis she resembled and surpassed. She thought them languid, and said she would rather look like Titian's reclining nudes or Delacroix's Odalisques.
"You'd have to fatten up."
She stood a long time before the Du Barry and Louis XV portraits and decided privately she wouldn't want that king to make love to her; no wonder his mistress needed aphrodisiacs.
She pointed to a figure in a black doublet and white ruff under a young long arrogant head. "You'd look good in that costume. He was the man to paint you."
"Veronese," he said, but missed what she said because he made a remarkable discovery about the painting in the detail of the sleeve that had escaped his notice before.
He came to when he heard her saying, "I'll bet most of the people look more interesting than they were because the artists were interesting themselves. I mean the painters were so great it rubbed off on the people they painted."
They came to a halt before Manet's "Olympia."
"She's my idea of a fascinating woman," she said, staring intently at the reclining nude and, sighing almost imperceptibly, turned away. "She looks so sure of herself, and satisfied. I don't think women look like that—her face, and the way she is relaxed—any more. I think it's wonderful to be so satisfied. I suppose those Titian nudes make every painter want to paint a woman lying nude. Or maybe it's only some woman."
The view over the green Seine fascinated her and he related a little of the history of the palace and its residents.
"You talk as if they are personal friends."
They left the museum and walked along graveled walks between lagoon and urns and greeneries where mothers and nurses were taking children toward the shaded Tuileries.
He had almost forgotten the time. "It's eleven, but you can make it to Lanvin's in ten minutes in a taxi."
"It's a shame to go indoors on such a nice day," she said. Indoors, or outdoors, she didn't want to leave him.
"But your appointments?" he said, hoping she would abandon them.
"I'll telephone and postpone it. I'd love to see Versailles. I might never have another chance."
"You don't know French telephones, but we'll try."
She felt better than she ever had except once during the walk with him in Central Park, and then that night up Fifth Avenue. She mustn't forget though, she cautioned herself, that this is only for today.
After a quick mental tabulation of the francs he had with him, he said, "I have to make a stop first" and took her back to the Place Vendôme where at Morgan et Cie he reduced further his negligible funds.
"I want to ride in a bus," she stated to save him money and prolong the time.
Versailles, palace and gardens, amazed her. "I feel right at home. In the theatre we have a gelatine called Du Barry pink, it's very flattering, but this place doesn't need it."
"You don't need Du Barry's or anyone else's pink."
"Nobody can look that good without it on the stage. Versailles certainly makes those 5th Avenue chateaux look fake. But wouldn't you think that with all this luxury they would have thought up something better for bathrooms? I read all the people smelled to high heaven. You'd never think it from the paintings—like the Watteaus. That's what I mean about artists making everything look better than what they are."
"Not all painters—Lautrec, for instance."
"Why did he paint prostitutes so much?"
"Oh, painters always have done that—Titian, and others. No fuss about posing nude. And perhaps they find them less demanding than most people."
They ate sandwiches at a small café in a hollow down the park, and Lucy thought she never had enjoyed a meal so much, even the bitter coffee.
"Now, we'll go to your theatre," he told her.
They strolled between a guard of nymphs on pedestals who observed their tête-à-tête with benevolent approval. He touched her elbow to turn her down a narrow shaded path and then she saw, between two giant gilded unlit torches, a small amphitheatre backed by a green trellis over which the darker green of the forest beyond was spangled here and there with sun patches. Urns with clipped box stood at intervals at the head of narrow shell-studded cascades segmenting the terraced rows of seats down to the mossy stone arena, small as a stage, empty and waiting for the play to begin.
"This is what you always dream is how it should be," she cried, spellbound. "That woodsy freshness and elegance all in one. I can see now things here and there I could have done with the ballet after you gave me the idea, but I guess only an artist would know it from scratch."
"No one can start from scratch unless he is born in a desert and grows up alone without ever having heard, seen, or read what has happened. If you've been born in our world, even if you only draw a cube, there is always in the back of your head what has been accomplished. Perhaps now you can see ways to improve your ballet, but it was good to begin with."
"But it's awfully hard when you remember all the mistakes you made while you are trying to learn."
"Everyone makes mistakes."
"Just the same, it makes you sick of yourself when you think of how foolish you've been."
They were talking, she thought, of two different things. Who cares about mistakes in the arts!
The sun went into its repertoire from orange to winy red, and they started back into the melee of the home bound. Steel shutters clanged and moons of lemon light flooded café tables.
"Paris smells old, like a moldy makeup box," she remarked as they sat in a café near the Arch.
She sat exhausted, turning her ankles to cool her soles. It was the most she'd walked in her life. If she mentioned it he'd hustle her back to the Ritz.
"Well," she said finally in case he wanted to get rid of her, as he sat saying nothing, "I suppose I ought to go back to the hotel."
"I'll walk you down," Vermillion said cheerfully.
She wondered whether she could stand the burning pain of her feet but was afraid to intimate it for fear of shortening the time by riding. They started down the Champs Elysees, branching off through quiet streets to follow the Seine. The disturbing night odor of the river tantalized and more of the myriad moons of the city beckoned shimmeringly from between the plane trees.
"The houses are so dark. The people shut themselves in at night, don't they?" she said, feeling lonely.
"People who live here are still in the country or at the seashore."
The first dry chestnut leaves of late summer crunched under their feet.
"Sounds like autumn." She shook her head to dispel the mournful sound.
"Chestnuts live hard and fast. Wear themselves out early."
"You mustn't say that."
"You sound like Vida. I told her when you're dead, you're dead."
"How do you know?"
When they reached the Concorde she was limping badly and scanned the vast Place wondering if she could make it.
"Oh no, but I must admit high heels aren't for walking."
"It isn't much further. This is the rue de Rivoli, your hotel is only beyond that short street. See, there's the column."
"We just passed one."
"That's an obelisk, a gift from Egypt. There's one like it back of the Metropolitan."
"On 7th Avenue?"
"The Museum—not the Opera."
"Oh yes. Vida told me. You two have a lot in common."
"I like her."
"Well, for heaven's sake, so do I!" She felt irritable. Always talking about Vida. I hate people who don't come right out and say what they are thinking, she thought unhappily. A vexed taxi tooted agreement.
The Castiglioni was a dark alley. Then a flurry of light and movement signifying the Ritz. She gave him her hand stiffly. "Thank you for a lovely day. I suppose I won't see you again."
"When do you leave exactly?"
He wants to be rid of me, she thought close to tears. "The boat train leaves at noon the day after the day after tomorrow."
"I'm glad you found me, I'll come and say goodbye."
"Don't bother about me please. I wouldn't want you to go out of your way."
He leaned toward her, and they kissed quickly with guarded closed lips and parted.
"Monsieur Beman has been trying to reach Mademoiselle," the concierge said as he handed her the key.
She threw off her clothes helterskelter in rage.
It's absolutely the last time! Never again! He makes me sick! Vida too!
She pulled off her stocking and the scab on her bleeding toe came with it. That made her cry.
"Nobody loves me!" She wept aloud.
Silken folds of drawn curtains, the broad open bed, and, worst of all, the gilt clock on the mantelpiece recalling Simone's apartment in New York mocked her. I'll bet he went right to Simone or maybe someone else. She bathed, determined to wash herself back to normal. What was that white basin? Oh yes, Figente had one in his bathroom, a bidet! I never want to see a man again. Let the phone ring! Better answer—it might be—
"Where've you been, I've been trying to reach you all day?" Beman asked. "I'm at the Chantilly with Lady Sickham and Max Kleger."
Max Kleger was Europe's biggest producer but who cared.
"I'm in bed."
"Get dressed, and I'll pick you up in half an hour. Lanvin said you—"
"Elysée quatre vingt dix sept? Monsieur Jacques?" injected the telephone operator.
"Pardonnez moi. Elysée quatre vingt dix sept? Monsieur Jacques?"
The operator's nasal coloratura entangled exchange hopelessly. Alone was no way for a Broadway star to spend a night in Paris. Paris was full of men. Tomorrow she'd phone Nino in Madrid.
"All right," she said and hung up.
She took Beman's arm in the taxi. "I had an awful day, what I want is a nice big glass of real French champagne."
"What happened? You sound all in."
Her voice wavered. "I got lost."
It was easy to tell the French from Americans. The Americans were all drunk and cutting up like college kids, even old men. Wine at Piselli's never had this dry bloom. Distant sniffing glances of the French.
"The French do things with éclat," Lady Sickham said, trying to pretend she didn't come from Chicago. Figente was right, the French women talked a lot. It gave them sinewy necks and mouths. They aren't as pretty as American girls. New York was just as nice as Paris. Better.
The evening wound up someplace where the champagne was more like that in New York, and an exhibition was put on by men and men, and men and women, and women and women. Going nowhere fast.
Peepholers are excited by looking because they know nobody wants to love them. Poor things. Semy would enjoy this. Vida would be shocked. Very unpoetical! Better take Beman home before he has a stroke.
The telephone was ringing. Where was the receiver? Oh yes, this wasn't home, it was Paris France.
The same mixup of the operator calling someone else. How many people missed something important this way? Beman ought to let her sleep.
"Lucy? Vermillion. It's a beautiful afternoon—how about a picnic?"
She came alive.
"That's just what I need."
"I'll come in fifteen minutes."
At the foot of a chestnut tree in the woods she kicked off her slippers, rolled off her stockings, and, holding out her legs, flexed her arches. My feet still ache, don't let on.
His eyes clouded to keep him from following the line beyond the pink ring left by her garters. Her first two toes were the same length, flattened, hard-tipped; from standing on them probably. A small platform, base of the plumb line of balance beginning at the neck. Perhaps the builders of Chartres had been ballet dancers, therefore the incredible balance of stone on stone. An ugly bruise marred each big toe at the instep. Some ballet exercise, no doubt.
She glanced at him sidelong and drew her feet under her. Maybe he thought her too bold. She felt safe and unsafe, which didn't make sense. She didn't want him to think her forward. Or ask about the blisters.
The little stream burbled around a rock disturbing its peace. The sky was blue crepe de Chine.
"I guess butterflies are the same all over," she said, grasping for one. "I feel like that picture in the Louvre, you know the artists and models on a picnic. Tell me, do you walk around making drawings of people and things?"
"Sometimes—but mostly I take a good look. Occasionally something happens to what I see in my memory, and it remembers only what I should have seen. The trouble is the eye can see too much. Then something behind the eye cuts most of the excess away, or forgets what isn't necessary. Sometimes the part you don't try to remember, that you don't think is important, is all you do remember. It becomes the clue, as if what goes in one eye comes out the other entirely different."
"You mean that's what happens when you look at someone?"
"Not always." lie smiled. "Sometimes you prefer to see something in a certain manner. My difficulty is that my memory doesn't always cooperate with my intentions."
"You sound like those 'now you see it, now you don't' vaudeville magicians."
"Unfortunately, that's it—only there's no sleight of hand in painting. That's one field in which even practice doesn't automatically make perfect. Hungry?"
Two legs of bread split with pink.
"We forgot all about dinner last night."
"Yes." He thought guiltily of how he'd stopped for a sandwich, suddenly ravenous after he had left her.
"Ham sandwiches are my favorite. I get tired of almost everything else, but never of ham sandwiches, or strawberries. This is the best sandwich I ever ate. My dentist says every September he has patients who broke their teeth on French bread."
"Why don't you take a nap?"
The dense late-summer leaves stood discreetly still, each green leaf confined by its outline. Patches of sunlight lay here and there, like yellow paint in a forest scene on the stage. Only brighter. The merest slit in her left eye told her he was making a drawing of her and, as he looked up, she squeezed it shut so he would not see her peeking. She struggled to remain asleep, dreaming he was with her because if she opened her eyes she might see Clem sitting across the white cloth with the tumbled store fruit between them and she'd have to go all through those years again. She moved restlessly to free herself and heard his voice.
"Sleepy. I went out last night after you left and didn't get in until five."
He placed his notebook in his pocket. The accusing specter of Simone harassed him with an image of their twilight drifting in one of the many little rowboats festooned with Japanese lanterns. That same day at noon a couple of years ago Simone and he had picnicked as today. Memory of what followed was enough to scare any man who wanted to paint from the additional problem of perpetual fealty to one woman.
"Round this bend we can get a boat and row to the end of the lagoon. Would you like that?"
She pulled on her stockings, slippers and, standing, teetered on the uneven earth and he moved into her outstretched arms. She placed her head on his breast.
"You're like the trunk of a tree, hold me close just once before we go so I can get my balance."
A thread of nodding lanterns, stretched from bow to stern, lighted them through a maze of waxen lilies on the amethyst lagoon.
This would never happen again, and she trailed her finger in the darkening water to mark her passage while the oarlocks creaked. At the boathouse she glanced apprehensively at the pebble road. He'll want to walk all that distance again, but she'd be with him that much longer.
"I think you should have at least one carriage ride through the Bois."
"Toot-foot," encouraged a taxi.
The carriage branched off below the Arch in a different direction from the one they had walked last night. Less romantic streets. He was in a hurry to get her back to the hotel, Lucy thought bleakly.
"Toot-toot," confirmed a petulant taxi.
"What's that Greek temple?"
"A church—the Madeleine. We turn here at the rue Royale. You'll be at your hotel in a few minutes." It seemed to him essential to get it over quickly.
She sat looking glumly ahead. Why look right and left at a lot of old dark buildings?
"Toot-toot!" complained a taxi because their carriage was in its path.
There was the same flurry at the Ritz entrance.
"Thank you for a lovely day. I suppose I won't see you again?" She repeated the words of last night.
"You'll probably be busy with dressmakers tomorrow, but I'll phone and say goodbye on the chance you're in."
"What a beautiful night!" she said desperately. "I hate to go in. What's that street down there?"
"The rue de la Paix."
"Imagine, and right on my corner. It looks so small and unimportant."
He smiled. Suddenly he didn't want to leave her. It might be my last glimpse of her, he thought.
"Why not have a look? We can walk along the Grands Boulevards and dine at a restaurant where Offenbach, Lautrec, Edward the Seventh when he was Prince of Wales, and Cleo de Merode used to eat."
"Cleo de Merode! I have her necklace. I'd love to go but you must let me pay, I have a big roll of francs I haven't spent."
"We can go into that later. That's the Opéra straight ahead."
"One of the girls at Master's danced there a season. I think she paid to get in. She said their ballet isn't much."
"Do you think it was better when Degas made his drawings?"
"I doubt it. I think, as you put it in the Louvre yesterday, his genius rubbed off onto his models."
"Well, his ballet girls certainly have perfect positions, better than most dancers. Sometimes when I look at myself in the mirror while practicing I ask myself do I look like his dancers?"
"I should say not."
She laughed happily. "That isn't what I mean. It helps to look at the drawings. Of course I'm not really a great ballerina. I didn't work hard enough when I was young and now I'm too old."
"Aren't you exaggerating?"
"Well, I feel old. I started when I was twelve, some start younger."
"In Degas's day, I think the younger dancers at the Opéra were called 'rats.'"
"I guess because of their scurrying about."
"I don't like that. I'll bet a man thought that up. It's mean. They probably were being chased."
He grinned. "No doubt. But rats do a little chasing too. The inference was that ballet rats came from the sewer world of Paris."
"Maybe they had to make a living."
That rush of sympathetic concern! But it wasn't a living with her. Threw over Bigelow, and how many others after? An invidious rage seized him and darkened his face at visualizing the unending parade of shadows who were her firsthand teachers. Trouble was she let—lets—too many catch up with her. Momentary pleasure couldn't be much for her to go from that one to this one. Point was, he wanted her around—but not making the rounds. No time for jealousy of boys—and girls. Simone probably lied. Feeds on the torment of jealousy.
She looked at him sidelong. Those long silences of his! He was angry about something. He did that often, not saying anything when you said something, as if walking alone.
The crowds on the Boulevards were extras in a play to make it a big production. Red, green, white, posters with black lettering diagonal or straight across, large and small. Sacha Guitry. A.B.C. Mistinguette. Odeon. Rachmaninoff. Cecile Sorel. Empire. Cirque Medrano. Fr&res Frattelini.
"Beman wants to bring our show to Paris."
"You'd be a sensation here."
"Oh, New York is good enough for me. But maybe I will. I'm very different in this show than when you saw me."
"I hope not."
That was better, but he might have gone farther.
He stopped her before a small dimly lighted window in which reposed several ancient wine bottles thick with greenish dust.
He must be awfully poor to bring me to this rundown place, she thought.
A tripled moon lowered by brass cherubs lighted a dozen round tables. The disintegrating silver on the backs of the mirrors and tarnished gilt fleur de lys on terra cotta walls gave the room a hazy bloom. But there was nothing dingy about the napery or the battery of copper and silver chafing dishes, presses, and services; and there was an unmistakable air of contentment in the habitues celebrating culinary rites.
At their entrance, hands stopped in passage and eyes turned unbelieving to see what gave the impression of a goldwasser flake having floated in. Two graybeards in evening dress lost the thread of their conversation and separately decided to remain for a second demitasse and fine. A man with a grey clipped mustache and wearing a mourning band on his sleeve pretended he was in someone's way and shifted his chair for a better look.
"This is 1900—the clientele have a nostalgia for the 'good old days' here—but they're not above keeping up-to-date in business or politics. The one with the red carnation is the Foreign Affairs Minister. The brunette with him is not foreign to affairs. Those two short pudgy ones with the redhaired woman are deputies from the Chamber. She's a member of the Théâtre Franfais, and mistress of the one across from her."
"Was she a 'rat'?"
"Possibly—but everyone in the Chamber knows her fat boy friend is. The woman in black with the thin mouth and fat pearls is not the mother but the wife of the man to her left. She's from one of the richest families in France."
"How do you know all this?"
"Paris is a small town in here, I come occasionally with a newspaperman who brought me here first. Or the waiter tells you, and so on. I've made a painting of this room."
"You never see women with high collars in New York but the Bittner Sisters, where Mother worked in Congress, dress like that. Without pearls of course."
A solitary diner caught Lucy's inquisitive eye and raised his glass in what easily could have been mistaken for a toast. Vermillion, catching the exchange, glowered and the gallant cleared his throat and changed the direction of his glass and glance.
Lucy's eyes sparkled at this unexpected sign from Vermillion. "I've made a conquest," she said delightedly. "I'll bet he's been doing that for years."
At her effervescent laugh the woman in black and the hennaed one raised their eyebrows, uniting forces against the foreigner.
"You've made no conquest of the women."
"Oh well, poor things, they're not young any more."
"I thought you said you were old."
"Not that old! Is she a good actress?"
"So so, but she has style on the stage."
"I've been trying to figure out what that word means. I know it when I see it but I don't know why. Maybe it's what we call personality in show business."
"In the sense that the performer radiates something uncommon, and which cannot be imitated because it is unique."
But because they were looking at each other when he said it she heard not a word. It was as though there was a wonderful secret only they knew and he was part of her and she of him. He kept telling her things and every once in a while she ate a bit of this and that and looked at his nose, mouth, ears, hands, but was afraid to look at his eyes again until after the last drop of cognac.
The balmy air outside isolated them from other strollers.
"We'd better go this way." He touched her arm gently and they moved across the Boulevard down the rue de Richelieu to the river and up the me de Rivoli into a doorway opposite the Louvre.
A presence awakened her from dreamless sleep and, across a ray of sun, she shimmered a moist smile up at him, dressed and standing there with two steaming cups.
She sat up, an obedient child, and surveyed him over the thick china rim, uncertain what was expected of her now.
He opened the shutters wider and let in all the sun and she saw the old stones of the Louvre minding their own business.
The room was a clutter of papers and canvases and paraphernalia of painting. All a secret from her, but what did that matter? The night had not been as violent as some she had known but one thing she knew, after this nothing in life would be beyond it. This must be the way people feel in church. Giving to him was love, even though he might never ask her again. Why should he? She could never give him what he had given her, a life-giving inside her, with tenderness beyond the act of love. He had made her truly a part of him, it was like being reborn and nothing that had happened with others existed any more. The pull she had felt toward him had been true, and that was why all those other men had made her want to die. He was the childhood sweetheart the fortuneteller meant, and even if he let her go now she had learned that there really was such a thing as love the way Vida and her poets said. If you once felt it, you had been alive. If only he would let her stay and take care of him forever in return.
"It's past ten, don't you think you should phone Beman? He'll have the Surete after you."
"In some ways you're not romantic."
"Well, what's all this about how you must get to Lanvin's before the train."
"Oh, who cares!"
"You'll be disappointed when you get back to New York without some French gowns."
"In other words, you want me to go."
"There's nothing I want less."
"I'm sick of that show, I have a good understudy."
"You can't walk out on what you've worked for so hard, I won't let you."
He was trying to let her off easy. He didn't want her. She looked at his grave unrelenting face. Was he thinking of himself or her? Or had he been disappointed? Could that be? He was the answer to her search. It was strange and beautiful being born all over again. Making love was only part of it. She loved him even though he might never touch her again, or only her hand, or looked at her, or let her look at him. Together, or apart. This was her first and last love and there was nothing she could do about it, only let him alone to find what she had found. She did not know how to tell him. Maybe the poets had words for it, but she didn't. But another thing she had learned, you must let a man—him—tell himself.
"I guess you're right, I really should go to Lanvin's and not disappoint Beman," she said, since that was what Paul wanted. "My goodness!" she exclaimed, realizing the short time, "I still must get presents for everyone and I have a letter to write and Figente asked me to be sure and find out whether Hal is all right."
"Paris can't be swallowed all in one dose. Its sewers run wide under the city."
"What do you mean?"
"It happened about two weeks ago. Hal had been playing brilliantly, improvising from night to night on Simone's songs until it got to the point where she became sometimes only an accompaniment to his playing. But you can't control someone who takes dope, and one night he didn't show up for a performance, and then he did it several times again so I got Jacques to come back from Germany as she had to sing in London. They are there now. I hated to do it but Jacques is the only one who knows how to take care of her."
"Except you," Lucy said with resignation.
"She's not well either," he said gently, "she needs whatever friends she has."
So that's the way it was, Lucy thought.
"Goodbye," she told him, and bethought herself of manners. "I can't tell you what these days have meant to me. Remember me to Simone when you see her."
"You mustn't leave this way," he said, suddenly desolate at losing her. But what could he do, he was unequal to taking care of her, assuming she wanted to remain.
"Hold me tight once more," she asked, and afterwards went to write Nino in Madrid as best she could a long letter of farewell.
She shook her head at the hostile vendeuse. "Tangerine makes me look washed out."
"But Mademoiselle has given us no time. She must comprehend one has not the sufficient time to make a robe. This model had a grand success at our showing last week. Mademoiselle would be the first to introduce Madame's latest color in New York."
Lucy waggled out of the gown. "No," she said positively. "I thought you would have more of a selection to choose from."
"Mademoiselle does not comprehend—our creations are made to order," the vendeuse said icily.
"I know, but I thought maybe you'd have something ready I could use," Lucy said blandly.
There was a hasty conference behind a screen and the vendeuse appeared with a pleated chiffon of the pale blue of the costume for the Bison Ball! A crinoline held out the skirts, and the same small roses festooned its bodice.
"I could use that, it's like a long ballet skirt, and that color I can wear."
"It has just been completed for someone else—but since Mademoiselle is leaving in such haste—"
"I'll take it," Lucy said.
A querulous voice was heard and the saleswoman spluttered about a "scandale formidable"—and flew the gown out of the room.
"I am so sorry, Madame," another voice lied, "but the blue chiffon had a flaw. It will be but a week before Madame can have the robe. Madame would not wish a robe which was not perfect."
"Are you ready to leave, Opal?" squawked the voice of Horta Cornwallis in the next room.
"No, I just came. It's too tiresome, my dress isn't finished. Did you see Bernet?"
"Yes. He has had an answer from Nick's lawyer and thinks he can work it out very well. I must hand it to him, he really is the best lawyer in Paris."
The two laughed.
"I told Prince Karabarzoff we'd join him when you've finished here," Horta croaked.
"I want to see about a suit, but I should be through in an hour," Opal said.
I just can't wait that long, I'll miss my train, Lucy thought, and went through the concealing curtains.
"Well, if it isn't Lucy Claudel! How nice to see you," gabbled Horta Cornwallis, as though Nino's party never had happened.
How could I ever have been afraid of that old woman, Lucy thought, and said to them both, "Hello, I'm just leaving, goodbye."
"I don't want the gown at all," Opal told the dressmaker, feeling very sorry for herself at being caught at having ordered a dress so much like the one Lucy had worn at the Bison Ball, and solaced only by the thought that, with Horta's aid, and Nick Allwood being considerate, she soon would be a princess.
Vermillion saw Lucy off at the train and for a wild moment as they kissed she determined not to go.
His voice had faltered after the toy whistle warned departure, and as Beman, on the step of the compartment, fussed.
"Don't stay away too long," Paul said,—but not "don't go," she thought mournfully. He wasn't sure about her, just as she never used to be sure. But she was sure now. But how could she tell him? She couldn't. He'd have to tell her, for himself to be sure. Now isn't this the craziest thing, to come to Paris and find out that if you are in love you feel like a mother and mistress at the same time for the man who makes you feel he is your father, brother, lover, and friend?
A sense of loss numbed Vermillion as she drew in her head and disappeared. What an idiot! He looked about him angrily. Everyone and everything was empty. What had happened to the essence that fooled people into believing Paris the ideal mistress? It was nothing but a grubby conglomeration rotting away in its filthy history. He went back to his room and opened the window to air out the torment of her perfume and, as the Seine's night vapors took its place, tried to get her back, at least on paper. But she eluded him because his desire for her and image of her beauty tightened his line in the fear that he might omit some nuance of her being. Scarcely a way to draw, being afraid to make a mistake! Or a way to live, for that matter. Rules for living for nitwits, and he was No. 1. Was it vanity of being merely another in her procession, or the doubts left by the acrid aftermath of Simone? Or was it fear of the responsibility of taking on another life when he couldn't even manage to support his own?
Restless in his room, he returned to the same restaurant for dinner and ordered the night before's identical menu.
"How are you, Vermillion?" an acquaintance hailed.
"Soft in the head."