Among the Daughters/Chapter 41

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Chapter 41


Through the wide flung open shutters of her room in the Grand Hotel Terminus, Vida Bertrand looked down at the milling throngs at the entrance of the Gare St. Lazare.

Railroad stations, she thought, were the beginning as well as the end of journeys. What made this room well chosen was not its chintz walls, marble fireplace, brass bed with lace-edged pillowcases and pink silk down covers, but its location near where the rues d'Amsterdam, Rome, Madrid, Londres, Lisbonne, Constantinople, Milan, Athènes, Moscou, webbed the trains coming and going. Sounds of music came up through toots and venders' street cries, and people were dancing in the streets.

The sultry day purpled in apoplectic festivity and a relief femme de chambre, sighing and muttering self-commiseratingly, hurriedly turned down the bed and changed towels because it was July 14th. The streetlights came up one by one and the effluvium of the sweating streets wafted up mingled with the erotic scent that was Paris.

She took off her dress and, disdaining the mosquitoes, turned on the lamp at the window desk and to the cacophony of mingled café music, wrote:

Paris, July 14, 1927

Figente ailed all summer of 1926, deflating slowly like a pricked balloon. His conversion which he hoped would ease his fear of dying had the opposite effect. He became impossible with cantankerous demands and cruel jibes. He could not abide his Father Confessor and finally refused to see him. He thought nothing of calling me to come at any hour of the night to sit with him and read to him from the Marquis de Sade or Dante or Abelard.

Lucy went to see him as often as she could after she returned from Paris and cheered him with fabrications about Hal's continued success, and how he was going to return. We both felt safe in telling him this because we knew the end would be at any time.

One day in October, when he was alone with Denis, he suddenly sat up in bed, tears streaming down his cheeks, and, pointing his finger at something, said "I really cannot permit it!" and died. There was an enormous funeral at St. Patrick's, though toward the end he talked about Grace Church where he had received his First Communion. His mother who couldn't abide his father had brought him from Italy for it.

I always thought I disliked him, or perhaps I should say disapproved of him, and did the many chores he demanded only out of gratitude for the library work and apartment. But at the service I was grief-stricken when I realized I never would see him again. To this day, I cannot believe he is not holding court in his house.

His will was calculated to astonish everyone. Hal was not mentioned. Denis received an income for life, the old Rolls Royce, and the ermine cover of Figente's bed. Lucy received a valuable early copy of Brantôme's Femmes Galantes with a gold filigreed and jeweled cover. The jewels turned out to be rubies, diamonds and pearls. Vermillion was bequeathed three of his best French impressionist paintings, and five drawings—a Watteau sanguine, a Constantin Guys, two Degas, and a Gericault.

I received a third of his library, the Venetian mirrors from the Fragonard Room which once belonged to Madame Pompadour, the apartment furniture, and $5,000.

Everything else went to his sister, Mrs. Perry.

I thought my inheritance must be a mistake or a grisly joke, but his sister, and the executors, assured me that that was what he wanted. He had made a special point of discussing it with her, Mrs. Peny said.

When word got round about my inheritance I was deluged with requests, mailed and telephoned, from people I scarcely knew—and salesmen. My father's cousin wrote that the cost of living was high and that even though I sent them money for Pa, all the neighbors had automobiles and didn't have to take the bus.

Lucy was as upset as I about Figente's death. She was changed when she returned from Paris. She was calmer than I ever had known her to be and this gave her more assurance on the stage. I no longer had the feeling that she was going through her part as a well-rehearsed pupil. Another change in Lucy was that she was concerned about being undressed if one of the men from the show came into her dressing room.

She brought me a greeting from Vermillion and said she had seen him a few times. But that was all.

I was certain she was keeping his real message from me. Knowing Lucy, I had accepted as inevitable that they might make love while she was in Paris. But my feeling for him surmounted such momentary passion. Apart from correspondence about mutual interest in the arts I had respected his fetish concerning privacy and, without asking return, had told only of my own personal news. Then Figente's death and will necessitated many letters back and forth until I wrote that when Lucy's show closed in July she and I would come to Paris. He replied how happy he was we were coming and he would meet us if he could. Again I could tell, I thought, from the tone of his letter, this time signed "love," that it was me he meant, and debated how to tell Lucy. But there were many details to attend to before we sailed.

I had thought it ironic that Figente had left money to me rather than to Vermillion, but then it occurred to me that he was really leaving it to Vermillion and me for I knew he sensed from our frequent talks about Paul how I felt about him. Of course, he could sell the paintings left to him but Figente knew it would make Paul feel terrible to have to do that.

Hector didn't want me to leave but said I could come back any time. The lease was up on the apartment, and with Paul saying he would meet me, it seemed an omen to put everything in storage and go to Paris with Lucy. She had to return for another play Beman had for her in the autumn.

Mae did not want to come with us but went to Congress instead. Lucy said, "When you're her age you like to feel at home somewhere." For the first time I had the strange feeling Lucy didn't want Mae with her.

We saw Mae off to Congress in a drawing room filled with presents for Aunt Mabel, and at midnight we sailed in the S.S. Paris. A crowd, including Cleo and Hector, saw us off and our stateroom was jammed with hatboxes because Hector said we were to be his ambassadresses, as he thought he might open a Paris branch.

We were both champagne happy. Lucy's insistence that I go to Paris with her was a further omen to me that there was nothing between Paul and herself.

The crossing was beautiful with dancing every night and on the last night it seemed to me I didn't even doze, but all of a sudden the vibration stopped and there was an unnatural calm. I looked out the porthole and could see nothing in the dark. I lay there and with the first light of dawn heard the screeching of the gulls and I looked out again and saw Le Havre, a toy port with soft green hills across a still expanse of grey water.

The ship's throbbing started, like heartbeats, and the tugs came, and we watched the flat grey shuttered buildings come nearer, and from then on there was the bedlam of landing. I leaned over the rail and looked for Paul but could not see him. Then the gangplank was down and Lucy said, "What are you looking for? Let's go."

We walked down the gangplank and my coat button caught on the purse of the woman ahead and I stopped to detach it. When I looked up, Lucy had pushed ahead and was running toward him. He caught her in his arms and I saw love as inevitable as the majestic pavane of the sun and moon around the throneroom of heaven. And in the light they generated I saw that the interests I thought drew Vermillion and myself together were what had to keep us apart.

I felt I was dead and, as the train sped to Paris, I fixed my eyes on the countryside but saw nothing. I loved them both, separately, but seeing them together was more than I could bear until yesterday.

And so this is how I have learned that the poets are right, and I feel that maybe, somewhere, it may happen to me again. Perhaps Vermillion is not all that Lucy and I see in him. Perhaps we indulge his failings and magnify his attributes because he is the only one we have met who approximates what we seek in a man. Figente called him an incorrigible incorruptible.

Now that I know what it was that Lucy was seeking, I can begin to write her story, which may lead to some resolution of my own. I know, too, how it will begin:

"Mother, what is the man doing to the lady?"

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