"Think so?" giggled his opponent, Mr. Dutchy Meisenberg. "Aw—fly sweet of you to say so, old thing." He tucked his unspeakable handkerchief up his cuff and coughed behind his palm. He turned to Giddy. "Excuse my not having my coat on, deah boy."
Just here Giddy might have done a number of things, all wrong. The game was ended. He walked to the table, and, using the offending stick as a cue, made a rather pretty shot that he had learned from Benoit in London. Then he ranged the cane neatly on the rack with the cues. He even grinned a little boyishly. "You win," he said. "My treat. What'll you have?"
Which was pretty sporting for a boy whose American training had been what Giddy's had been.
Giddy's father, on the death of old Gideon, proved himself much more expert at dispensing the paper mill money than at accumulating it. After old Madame Gory's death just one year following that of her husband, Winnebago saw less and less of the three remaining members of the royal family. The frame house on the river bluff would be closed for a year or more at a time. Giddy's father rather liked Winnebago and would have been content to spend six months of the year in the old Gory house, but Giddy's mother, who had been a Leyden, of New York, put that idea out of his head pretty effectively.
"Don't talk to me," she said, "about your duty toward the town that gave you your money and all that kind of feudal rot because you know you don't mean it. It bores you worse than it does me, really, but you like to think that the villagers are pulling a forelock when you walk down Normal Avenue. As a matter of fact they're not doing anything of the kind. They've got their thumbs to their noses, more likely."
Her husband protested rather weakly. "I don't care. I like the old shack. I know the heating apparatus is bum and that we get the smoke from the paper mills, but—I don't know—last year, when we had that punk pink palace at Cannes I kept thinking——"
Mrs. Gideon Gory raised the Leyden eyebrow. "Don't get sentimental, Gid, for God's sake! It's a shanty, and you know it. And you know that it needs everything from plumbing to linen. I don't see any sense in sinking thousands in making it livable when we don't want to live in it."
"But I do want to live in it—once in a while. I'm used to it. I was brought up in it. So was the kid. He likes it, too. Don't you, Giddy?" The boy was present, as usual, at this particular scene.
The boy worshipped his mother. But, also, he was honest. So, "Yeh, I like the ol' barn all right," he confessed.
Encouraged, his father went on: "Yesterday the kid was standing out there on the bluff-edge breathing like a whale, weren't you, Giddy? And when I asked him what he was puffing about he said he liked the smell of the sulphur and chemicals and stuff from the paper mills, didn't you, kid?"
Shame-facedly, "Yeh," said Giddy.
Betrayed thus by husband and adored son, the Leyden did battle. "You can both stay here, then," she retorted with more spleen than elegance, "and sniff sulphur until you're black in the face. I'm going to London in May."
They, too, went to London in May, of course, as she had known they would. She had not known, though, that in leading her husband to England in May she was leading him to his death as well.
"All Winnebago will be shocked and grieved to learn," said the Winnebago Courier to the extent of two columns and a cut, "of the sudden and violent death in England of her foremost citizen, Gideon Gory. Death was due to his being thrown from his horse while hunting."
... To being thrown from his horse while hunting. Shocked and grieved though it might or might not be, Winnebago still had the fortitude to savour this with relish. Winnebago had died deaths natural and unnatural. It had been run over by automobiles, and had its skull fractured at football, and been drowned in Lake Winnebago, and struck by lightning, and poisoned by mushrooms, and shot by burglars. But never had Winnebago citizen had the distinction of meeting death by being thrown from his horse while hunting. While hunting. Scarlet coats. Hounds in full cry. Baronial halls. Hunt breakfasts. Vogue. Vanity Fair.
Well! Winnebago was almost grateful for this final and most picturesque gesture of Gideon Gory the second.
The widowed Leyden did not even take the trouble personally to superintend the selling of the Gory place on the river bluff. It was sold by an agent while she and Giddy were in Italy, and if she was ever aware that the papers in the transaction stated that the house had been bought by Orson J. Hubbell she soon forgot the fact and the name. Giddy, leaning over her shoulder while she handled the papers, and signing on the line indicated by a legal forefinger, may have remarked:
"Hubbell. That's old Hubbell, the dray man. Must be money in the draying line."
Which was pretty stupid of him, because he should have known that the draying business was now developed into the motor truck business with great vans roaring their way between Winnebago and Kaukauna, Winnebago and Neenah, and even Winnebago and Oshkosh. He learned that later.
Just now Giddy wasn't learning much of anything, and, to do him credit, the fact distressed him not a little. His mother insisted that she needed him, and developed a bad heart whenever he rebelled and threatened to sever the apron-strings. They lived abroad entirely now. Mrs. Gory showed a talent for spending the Gory gold that must have set old Gideon to whirling in his Winnebago grave. Her spending of it was foolish enough, but her handling of it was criminal. She loved Europe. America bored her. She wanted to identify herself with foreigners, with foreign life. Against advice she sold her large and lucrative interest in the Winnebago paper mills and invested great sums in French stocks, in Russian enterprises, in German shares.
She liked to be mistaken for a French woman.
She and Gideon spoke the language like natives—or nearly.
She was vain of Gideon's un-American looks, and cross with him when, on their rare and brief visits to New York, he insisted that he liked American tailoring and American-made shoes. Once or twice, soon after his father's death, he had said, casually, "You didn't like Winnebago, did you? Living in it, I mean."
"Well, these English, I mean, and French—they sort of grow up in a place, and stay with it and belong to it, see what I mean? and it gives you a kind of permanent feeling. Not patriotic, exactly, but solid and native heathy and Scots-wha-hae-wi'-Wallace and all that kind of slop."
"Giddy darling, don't be silly."
Occasionally, too, he said, "Look here, Julia"—she liked this modern method of address—"look here, Julia, I ought to be getting busy. Doing something. Here I am, nineteen, and I can't do a thing except dance pretty well, but not as well as that South American eel we met last week; mix a cocktail pretty well, but not as good a one as Benny the bartender turns out at Voyot's; ride pretty well, but not as well as the English chaps; drive a car——"
She interrupted him there. "Drive a car better than even an Italian chauffeur. Had you there, Giddy darling."
She undoubtedly had Giddy darling there. His driving was little short of miraculous, and his feeling for the intricate inside of a motor engine was as delicate and unerring as that of a professional pianist for his pet pianoforte. They motored a good deal, with France as a permanent background and all Europe as a playground. They flitted about the continent, a whirl of glittering blue-and-cream enamel, tan leather coating, fur robes, air cushions, gold-topped flasks, and petrol. Giddy knew Como and Villa D'Este as the place where that pretty Hungarian widow had borrowed a thousand lires from him at the Casino roulette table and never paid him back; London as a pleasing potpourri of briar pipes, smart leather gloves, music-hall revues, and night clubs; Berlin as a rather stuffy hole where they tried to ape Paris and failed, but you had to hand it to Charlotte when it came to the skating at the Eis Palast. A pleasing existence, but unprofitable. No one saw the cloud gathering because of cloud there was none, even of the man's-hand size so often discerned as a portent.
When the storm broke (this must be hurriedly passed over because of the let's-not-talk-about-the-war-I'm-so-sick-of-it-aren't-you feeling) Giddy promptly went into the Lafayette Escadrille. Later he learned never to mention this to an American because the American was so likely to say, "There must have been about eleven million scrappers in that outfit. Every fella you meet's been in the Lafayette Escadrille. If all the guys were in it that say they were they could have licked the Germans the first day out. That outfit's worse than the old Floradora Sextette."
Mrs. Gory was tremendously proud of him, and not as worried as she should have been. She thought it all a rather smart game, and not at all serious. She wasn't even properly alarmed about her European money, at first. Giddy looked thrillingly distinguished and handsome in his aviation uniform. When she walked in the Paris streets with him she glowed like a girl with her lover. But after the first six months of it Mrs. Gory, grown rather drawn and haggard, didn't think the whole affair quite so delightful. She scarcely ever saw Giddy. She never heard the drum of an airplane without getting a sick, gone feeling at the pit of her stomach. She knew, now, that there was more to the air service than a becoming uniform. She was doing some war work herself in an incompetent, frenzied sort of way. With Giddy soaring high and her foreign stocks and bonds falling low she might well be excused for the panic that shook her from the time she opened her eyes in the morning until she tardily closed them at night.
"Let's go home, Giddy darling," like a scared child.
"Don't be cruel. America's the only safe place now."
"Too darned safe!" This was 1915.
By 1917 she was actually in need of money. But Giddy did not know much about this because Giddy had, roughly speaking, got his. He had the habit of soaring up into the sunset and sitting around in a large pink cloud like a kid bouncing on a feather bed. Then, one day, he soared higher and farther than he knew, having, perhaps, grown careless through over-confidence. He heard nothing above the roar of his own engine, and the two planes were upon him almost before he knew it. They were not French, or English, or American planes. He got one of them and would have got clean away if the other had not caught him in the arm. The right arm. His mechanician lay limp. Even then he might have managed a landing but the pursuing plane got in a final shot. There followed a period of time that seemed to cover, say, six years but that was actually only a matter of seconds. At the end of that period Giddy, together with a tangle of wire, silk, wood, and something that had been the mechanician, lay inside the German lines, and you would hardly have thought him worth the disentangling.
They did disentangle him, though, and even patched him up pretty expertly, but not so expertly, perhaps, as they might have, being enemy surgeons and rather busy with the patching of their own injured. The bone, for example, in the lower right arm, knitted promptly and properly, being a young and healthy bone, but they rather over-looked the matter of arm nerves and muscles, so that later, though it looked a perfectly proper arm, it couldn't lift four pounds. His head had emerged slowly, month by month, from swathings of gauze. What had been quite a crevasse in his skull became only a scarlet scar that his hair pretty well hid when he brushed it over the bad place. But the surgeon, perhaps being overly busy, or having no real way of knowing that Giddy's nose had been a distinguished and aristocratically hooked Gory nose, had remoulded that wrecked feature into a pure Greek line at first sight of which Giddy stood staring weakly into the mirror; reeling a little with surprise and horror and unbelief and general misery. "Can this be I?" he thought, feeling like the old man of the bramble bush in the Mother Goose rhyme. A well-made and becoming nose, but not so fine looking as the original feature had been, as worn by Giddy.
"Look here!" he protested to the surgeon, months too late. "Look here, this isn't my nose."
"Be glad," replied that practical Prussian person, "that you have any."
With his knowledge of French and English and German Giddy acted as interpreter during the months of his invalidism and later internment, and things were not so bad with him. He had no news of his mother, though, and no way of knowing whether she had news of him. With 1918, and the Armistice and his release, he hurried to Paris and there got the full impact of the past year's events.
Julia Gory was dead and the Gory money nonexistent.
Out of the ruins—a jewel or two and some paper not quite worthless—he managed a few thousand francs and went to Nice. There he walked in the sunshine, and sat in the sunshine, and even danced in the sunshine, a dazed young thing together with hundreds of other dazed young things, not thinking, not planning, not hoping. Existing only in a state of semi-consciousness like one recovering from a blinding blow. The francs dribbled away. Sometimes he played baccarat and won; oftener he played baccarat and lost. He moved in a sort of trance, feeling nothing. Vaguely he knew that there was a sort of Conference going on in Paris. Sometimes he thought of Winnebago, recalling it remotely, dimly, as one is occasionally conscious of a former unknown existence. Twice he went to Paris for periods of some months, but he was unhappy there and even strangely bewildered, like a child. He was still sick in mind and body, though he did not know it. Driftwood, like thousands of others, tossed up on the shore after the storm; lying there bleached and useless and battered.
Then, one day in Nice, there was no money. Not a franc. Not a centime. He knew hunger. He knew terror. He knew desperation. It was out of this period that there emerged Giddy, the gigolo. Now, though, the name bristled with accent marks, thus: Gedeon Gore.
This Gedeon Gore, of the Nice dansants, did not even remotely resemble Gideon Gory of Winnebago, Wisconsin. This Gedeon Gore wore French clothes of the kind that Giddy Gory had always despised. A slim, sallow, sleek, sad-eyed gigolo in tight French garments, the pants rather flappy at the ankle; effeminate French shoes with fawn-coloured uppers and patent-leather eyelets and vamps, most despicable; a slim cane; hair with a magnificent natural wave that looked artificially marcelled and that was worn with a strip growing down from the temples on either side in the sort of cut used only by French dandies and English stage butlers. No, this was not Giddy Gory. The real Giddy Gory lay in a smart but battered suitcase under the narrow bed in his lodgings. The suitcase contained:
Item; one grey tweed suit with name of a London tailor inside.
Item; one pair Russia calf oxfords of American make.
Item; one French aviation uniform with leather coat, helmet, and gloves all bearing stiff and curious splotches of brown or rust-colour which you might not recognize as dried blood stains.
Item; one handful assorted medals, ribbons, orders, etc.
All Europe was dancing. It seemed a death dance, grotesque, convulsive, hideous. Paris, Nice, Berlin, Budapest, Rome, Vienna, London writhed and twisted and turned and jiggled. St. Vitus himself never imagined contortions such as these. In the narrow side-street dance rooms of Florence, and in the great avenue restaurants of Paris they were performing exactly the same gyrations—wiggle, squirm, shake. And over all the American jazz music boomed and whanged its syncopation. On the music racks of violinists who had meant to be Elmans or Kreislers were sheets entitled Jazz Baby Fox Trot. Drums, horns, cymbals, castanets, sandpaper. So the mannequins and marionettes of Europe tried to whirl themselves into forgetfulness.
The Americans thought Giddy was a Frenchman. The French knew him for an American, dress as he would. Dancing became with him a profession—no, a trade. He danced flawlessly, holding and guiding his partner impersonally, firmly, expertly in spite of the weak right arm—it served well enough. Gideon Gory had always been a naturally rhythmic dancer. Then, too, he had been fond of dancing. Years of practise had perfected him. He adopted now the manner and position of the professional. As he danced he held his head rather stiffly to one side, and a little down, the chin jutting out just a trifle. The effect was at the same time stiff and chic. His footwork was infallible. The intricate and imbecilic steps of the day he performed in flawless sequence. Under his masterly guidance the feet of the least rhythmic were suddenly endowed with deftness and grace. One swayed with him as naturally as with an elemental force. He danced politely and almost wordlessly unless first addressed, according to the code of his kind. His touch was firm, yet remote. The dance concluded, he conducted his partner to her seat, bowed stiffly from the waist, heels together, and departed. For these services he was handed ten francs, twenty francs, thirty francs, or more, if lucky, depending on the number of times he was called upon to dance with a partner during the evening. Thus was dancing, the most spontaneous and unartificial of the Muses, vulgarized, commercialized, prostituted. Lower than Gideon Gory, of Winnebago, Wisconsin, had fallen, could no man fall.
Sometimes he danced in Paris. During the high season he danced in Nice. Afternoon and evening found him busy in the hot, perfumed, overcrowded dance salons. The Negresco, the Ruhl, Maxim's, Belle Meuniere, the Casina Municipale. He learned to make his face go a perfect blank—pale, cryptic, expressionless. Between himself and the other boys of his ilk there was little or no professional comradeship. A weird lot they were, young, though their faces were strangely lacking in the look of youth. All of them had been in the war. Most of them had been injured. There was Aubin, the Frenchman. The right side of Aubin's face was rather startlingly handsome in its Greek perfection. It was like a profile chiselled. The left side was another face—the same, and yet not the same. It was as though you saw the left side out of drawing, or blurred, or out of focus. It puzzled you—shocked you. The left side of Aubin's face had been done over by an army surgeon who, though deft and scientific, had not had a hand expert as that of the Original Sculptor. Then there was Mazzetti, the Roman. He parted his hair on the wrong side, and under the black wing of it was a deep groove into which you could lay a forefinger. A piece of shell had plowed it neatly. The Russian boy who called himself Orloff had the look in his eyes of one who has seen things upon which eyes never should have looked. He smoked constantly and ate, apparently, not at all. Among these there existed a certain unwritten code and certain unwritten signals.
You did not take away the paying partner of a fellow gigolo. If in too great demand you turned your surplus partners over to gigolos unemployed. You did not accept less than ten francs (they all broke this rule). Sometimes Gedeon Gore made ten francs a day, sometimes twenty, sometimes fifty, infrequently a hundred. Sometimes not enough to pay for his one decent meal a day. At first he tried to keep fit by walking a certain number of miles daily along the ocean front. But usually he was too weary to persist in this. He did not think at all. He felt nothing. Sometimes, down deep, deep in a long-forgotten part of his being a voice called feebly, plaintively to the man who had been Giddy Gory. But he shut his ears and mind and consciousness and would not listen.
The American girls were best, the gigolos all agreed, and they paid well, though they talked too much. Gedeon Gore was a favourite among them. They thought he was so foreign looking, and kind of sad and stern and everything. His French, fluent, colloquial, and bewildering, awed them. They would attempt to speak to him in halting and hackneyed phrases acquired during three years at Miss Pence's Select School at Hastings-on-the-Hudson. At the cost of about a thousand dollars a word they would enunciate, painfully:
"Je pense que—um—que Nice est le plus belle—uh—ville de France."
Giddy, listening courteously, his head inclined as though unwilling to miss one conversational pearl falling from the pretty American's lips, would appear to consider this gravely. Then, sometimes in an unexpected burst of pure mischief, he would answer:
"You said something! Some burg, I'm telling the world."
The girl, startled, would almost leap back from the confines of his arms only to find his face stern, immobile, his eyes sombre and reflective.
"Why! Where did you pick that up?"
His eyebrows would go up. His face would express complete lack of comprehension. "Pardon?"
Afterward, at home, in Toledo or Kansas City or Los Angeles, the girl would tell about it. "I suppose some American girl taught it to him, just for fun. It sounded too queer—because his French was so wonderful. He danced divinely. A Frenchman, and so aristocratic! Think of his being a professional partner. They have them over there, you know. Everybody's dancing in Europe. And gay! Why, you'd never know there'd been a war."
Mary Hubbell, of the Winnebago Hubbells, did not find it so altogether gay. Mary Hubbell, with her father, Orson J. Hubbell, and her mother, Bee Hubbell, together with what appeared to be practically the entire white population of the United States, came to Europe early in 1922, there to travel, to play, to rest, to behold, and to turn their good hard American dollars into cordwood-size bundles of German marks, Austrian kronen, Italian lires, and French francs. Most of the men regarded Europe as a wine list. In their mental geography Rheims, Rhine, Moselle, Bordeaux, Champagne, or Wuerzburg were not localities but libations. The women, for the most part, went in for tortoise-shell combs, fringed silk shawls, jade earrings, beaded bags, and coral neck chains. Up and down the famous thoroughfare of Europe went the absurd pale blue tweed tailleurs and the lavender tweed cape suits of America's wives and daughters. Usually, after the first month or two, they shed these respectable, middle-class habiliments for what they fondly believed to be smart Paris costumes; and you could almost invariably tell a good, moral, church-going matron of the Middle West by the fact that she was got up like a demimondaine of the second class, in the naive belief that she looked French and chic.
The three Hubbells were thoroughly nice people. Mary Hubbell was more than thoroughly nice. She was a darb. She had done a completely good job during the 1918-1918 period, including the expert driving of a wild and unbroken Ford up and down the shell-torn roads of France. One of those small-town girls with a big-town outlook, a well-trained mind, a slim boyish body, a good clear skin, and a steady eye that saw. Mary Hubbell wasn't a beauty by a good many measurements, but she had her points, as witness the number of bouquets, bundles, books, and bon-bons piled in her cabin when she sailed.
The well-trained mind and the steady seeing eye enabled Mary Hubbell to discover that Europe wasn't so gay as it seemed to the blind; and she didn't write home to the effect that you'd never know there'd been war.
The Hubbells had the best that Europe could afford. Orson J. Hubbell, a mild-mannered, grey-haired man with a nice flat waist-line and a good keen eye (hence Mary's) adored his women-folk and spoiled them. During the first years of his married life he had been Hubbell, the drayman, as Giddy Gory had said. He had driven one of his three drays himself, standing sturdily in the front of the red-painted wooden two-horse wagon as it rattled up and down the main business thoroughfare of Winnebago. But the war and the soaring freight-rates had dealt generously with Orson Hubbell. As railroad and shipping difficulties increased the Hubbell draying business waxed prosperous. Factories, warehouses, and wholesale business firms could be assured that their goods would arrive promptly, safely, and cheaply when conveyed by a Hubbell van. So now the three red-painted wooden horse-driven drays were magically transformed into a great fleet of monster motor vans that plied up and down the state of Wisconsin and even into Michigan and Illinois and Indiana. The Orson J. Hubbell Transportation Company, you read. And below, in yellow lettering on the red background:
Have HUBBELL Do Your HAULING.
There was actually a million in it, and more to come. The buying of the old Gory house on the river bluff had been one of the least of Orson's feats. And now that house was honeycombed with sleeping porches and linen closets and enamel fittings and bathrooms white and glittering as an operating auditorium. And there were shower baths, and blue rugs, and great soft fuzzy bath towels and little white innocent guest towels embroidered with curly H's whose tails writhed at you from all corners.
Orson J. and Mrs. Hubbell had never been in Europe before, and they enjoyed themselves enormously. That is to say, Mrs. Orson J. did, and Orson, seeing her happy, enjoyed himself vicariously. His hand slid in and out of his inexhaustible pocket almost automatically now. And "How much?" was his favourite locution. They went everywhere, did everything. Mary boasted a pretty fair French. Mrs. Hubbell conversed in the various languages of Europe by speaking pidgin English very loud, and omitting all verbs, articles, adverbs, and other cumbersome superfluities. Thus, to the fille de chambre.
"Me out now you beds." The red-cheeked one from the provinces understood, in some miraculous way, that Mrs. Hubbell was now going out and that the beds could be made and the rooms tidied.
They reached Nice in February and plunged into its gaieties. "Just think!" exclaimed Mrs. Hubbell rapturously, "only three francs for a facial or a manicure and two for a marcel. It's like finding them."
"If the Mediterranean gets any bluer," said Mary, "I don't think I can stand it, it's so lovely."
Mrs. Hubbell, at tea, expressed a desire to dance. Mary, at tea, desired to dance but didn't express it. Orson J. loathed tea; and the early draying business had somewhat unfitted his sturdy legs for the lighter movements of the dance. But he wanted only their happiness. So he looked about a bit, and asked some questions, and came back.
"Seems there's a lot of young chaps who make a business of dancing with the women-folks who haven't dancing men along. Hotel hires 'em. Funny to us but I guess it's all right, and quite the thing around here. You pay 'em so much a dance, or so much an afternoon. You girls want to try it?"
"I do," said Mrs. Orson J. Hubbell. "It doesn't sound respectable. Then that's what all those thin little chaps are who have been dancing with those pretty American girls. They're sort of ratty looking, aren't they? What do they call 'em? That's a nice-looking one, over there—no, no!—dancing with the girl in grey, I mean. If that's one I'd like to dance with him, Orson. Good land, what would the Winnebago ladies say! What do they call 'em, I wonder."
Mary had been gazing very intently at the nice-looking one over there who was dancing with the girl in grey. She answered her mother's question, still gazing at him. "They call them gigolos," she said, slowly. Then, "Get that one Dad, will you, if you can? You dance with him first, Mother, and then I'll——"
"I can get two," volunteered Orson J.
"No," said Mary Hubbell, sharply.
The nice-looking gigolo seemed to be in great demand, but Orson J. succeeded in capturing him after the third dance. It turned out to be a tango, and though Mrs. Hubbell, pretty well scared, declared that she didn't know it and couldn't dance it, the nice-looking gigolo assured her, through the medium of Mary's interpretation, that Mrs. Hubbell had only to follow his guidance. It was quite simple. He did not seem to look directly at Mary, or at Orson J. or at Mrs. Hubbell, as he spoke. The dance concluded, Mrs. Hubbell came back breathless, but enchanted.
"He has beautiful manners," she said, aloud, in English. "And dance! You feel like a swan when you're dancing with him. Try him, Mary." The gigolo's face, as he bowed before her, was impassive, inscrutable.
But, "Sh!" said Mary.
"Nonsense! Doesn't understand a word."
Mary danced the next dance with him. They danced wordlessly until the dance was half over. Then, abruptly, Mary said in English, "What's your name?"
Close against him she felt a sudden little sharp contraction of the gigolo's diaphragm—the contraction that reacts to surprise or alarm. But he said, in French, "Pardon?"
So, "What's your name?" said Mary, in French this time.
The gigolo with the beautiful manners hesitated longer than really beautiful manners should permit. But finally, "Je m'appelle Gedeon Gore." He pronounced it in his most nasal, perfect Paris French. It didn't sound even remotely like Gideon Gory.
"My name's Hubbell," said Mary, in her pretty fair French. "Mary Hubbell. I come from a little town called Winnebago."
The Gore eyebrow expressed polite disinterestedness.
"That's in Wisconsin," continued Mary, "and I love it."
"Naturellement," agreed the gigolo, stiffly.
They finished the dance without further conversation. Mrs. Hubbell had the next dance. Mary the next. They spent the afternoon dancing, until dinner time. Orson J.'s fee, as he handed it to the gigolo, was the kind that mounted grandly into dollars instead of mere francs. The gigolo's face, as he took it, was not more inscrutable than Mary's as she watched him take it.
From that afternoon, throughout the next two weeks, if any girl as thoroughly fine as Mary Hubbell could be said to run after any man, Mary ran after that gigolo. At the same time one could almost have said that he tried to avoid her. Mary took a course of tango lessons, and urged her mother to do the same. Even Orson J. noticed it.
"Look here," he said, in kindly protest. "Aren't you getting pretty thick with this jigger?"
"Sociological study, Dad. I'm all right."
"Yeh, you're all right. But how about him?"
"He's all right, too."
The gigolo resisted Mary's unmaidenly advances, and yet, when he was with her, he seemed sometimes to forget to look sombre and blank and remote. They seemed to have a lot to say to each other. Mary talked about America a good deal. About her home town ... "and big elms and maples and oaks in the yard ... the Fox River valley ... Middle West ... Normal Avenue ... Cass Street ... Fox River paper mills...."
She talked in French and English. The gigolo confessed, one day, to understanding some English, though he seemed to speak none. After that Mary, when very much in earnest, or when enthusiastic, spoke in her native tongue altogether. She claimed an intense interest in European after-war conditions, in reconstruction, in the attitude toward life of those millions of young men who had actually participated in the conflict. She asked questions that might have been considered impertinent, not to say nervy.
"Now you," she said, brutally, "are a person of some education, refinement, and background. Yet you are content to dance around in these—these—well, back home a chap might wash dishes in a cheap restaurant or run an elevator in an east side New York loft building, but he'd never——"
A very faint dull red crept suddenly over the pallor of the gigolo's face. They were sitting out on a bench on the promenade, facing the ocean (in direct defiance on Mary's part of all rules of conduct of respectable girls toward gigolos). Mary Hubbell had said rather brusque things before. But now, for the first time, the young man defended himself faintly.
"For us," he replied in his exquisite French, "it is finished. For us there is nothing. This generation, it is no good. I am no good. They are no good." He waved a hand in a gesture that included the promenaders, the musicians in the cafes, the dancers, the crowds eating and drinking at the little tables lining the walk.
"What rot!" said Mary Hubbell, briskly. "They probably said exactly the same thing in Asia after Alexander had got through with 'em. I suppose there was such dancing and general devilment in Macedonia that every one said the younger generation had gone to the dogs since the war, and the world would never amount to anything again. But it seemed to pick up, didn't it?"
The boy turned and looked at her squarely for the first time, his eyes meeting hers. Mary looked at him. She even swayed toward him a little, her lips parted. There was about her a breathlessness, an expectancy. So they sat for a moment, and between them the air was electric, vibrant. Then, slowly, he relaxed, sat back, slumped a little on the bench. Over his face, that for a moment had been alight with something vital, there crept again the look of defeat, of sombre indifference. At sight of that look Mary Hubbell's jaw set. She leaned forward. She clasped her fine large hands tight. She did not look at the gigolo, but out, across the blue Mediterranean, and beyond it. Her voice was low and a little tremulous and she spoke in English only.
"It isn't finished here—here in Europe. But it's sick. Back home, in America, though, it's alive. Alive! And growing. I wish I could make you understand what it's like there. It's all new, and crude, maybe, and ugly, but it's so darned healthy and sort of clean. I love it. I love every bit of it. I know I sound like a flag-waver but I don't care. I mean it. And I know it's sentimental, but I'm proud of it. The kind of thing I feel about the United States is the kind of thing Mencken sneers at. You don't know who Mencken is. He's a critic who pretends to despise everything because he's really a sentimentalist and afraid somebody'll find it out. I don't say I don't appreciate the beauty of all this Italy and France and England and Germany. But it doesn't get me the way just the mention of a name will get me back home. This trip, for example. Why, last summer four of us—three other girls and I—motored from Wisconsin to California, and we drove every inch of the way ourselves. The Santa Fe Trail! The Ocean-to-Ocean Highway! The Lincoln Highway! The Dixie Highway! The Yellowstone Trail! The very sound of those words gives me a sort of prickly feeling. They mean something so big and vital and new. I get a thrill out of them that I haven't had once over here. Why even this," she threw out a hand that included and dismissed the whole sparkling panorama before her, "this doesn't begin to give the jolt that I got out of Walla Walla, and Butte, and Missoula, and Spokane, and Seattle, and Albuquerque. We drove all day, and ate ham and eggs at some little hotel or lunch-counter at night, and outside the hotel the drummers would be sitting, talking and smoking; and there were Western men, very tanned and tall and lean, in those big two-gallon hats and khaki pants and puttees. And there were sunsets, and sand, and cactus and mountains, and campers and Fords. I can smell the Kansas corn fields and I can see the Iowa farms and the ugly little raw American towns, and the big thin American men, and the grain elevators near the railroad stations, and I know those towns weren't the way towns ought to look. They were ugly and crude and new. Maybe it wasn't all beautiful, but gosh! it was real, and growing, and big and alive! Alive!"
Mary Hubbell was crying. There, on the bench along the promenade in the sunshine at Nice, she was crying.
The boy beside her suddenly rose, uttered a little inarticulate sound, and left her there on the bench in the sunshine. Vanished, completely, in the crowd.
For three days the Orson J. Hubbells did not see their favourite gigolo. If Mary was disturbed she did not look it, though her eye was alert in the throng. During the three days of their gigolo's absence Mrs. Hubbell and Mary availed themselves of the professional services of the Italian gigolo Mazzetti. Mrs. Hubbell said she thought his dancing was, if anything, more nearly perfect than that What's-his-name, but his manner wasn't so nice and she didn't like his eyes. Sort of sneaky. Mary said she thought so, too.
Nevertheless she was undoubtedly affable toward him, and talked (in French) and laughed and even walked with him, apparently in complete ignorance of the fact that these things were not done. Mazzetti spoke frequently of his colleague, Gore, and always in terms of disparagement. A low fellow. A clumsy dancer. One unworthy of Mary's swanlike grace. Unfit to receive Orson J. Hubbell's generous fees.
Late one evening, during the mid-week after-dinner dance, Gore appeared suddenly in the doorway. It was ten o'clock. The Hubbells were dallying with their after-dinner coffee at one of the small tables about the dance floor.
Mary, keen-eyed, saw him first. She beckoned Mazzetti who stood in attendance beside Mrs. Hubbell's chair. She snatched up the wrap that lay at hand and rose. "It's stifling in here. I'm going out on the Promenade for a breath of air. Come on." She plucked at Mazzetti's sleeve and actually propelled him through the crowd and out of the room. She saw Gore's startled eyes follow them.
She even saw him crossing swiftly to where her mother and father sat. Then she vanished into the darkness with Mazzetti. And the Mazzettis put but one interpretation upon a young woman who strolls into the soft darkness of the Promenade with a gigolo.
And Mary Hubbell knew this.
Gedeon Gore stood before Mr. and Mrs. Orson J. Hubbell. "Where is your daughter?" he demanded, in French.
"Oh, howdy-do," chirped Mrs. Hubbell. "Well, it's Mr. Gore! We missed you. I hope you haven't been sick."
"Where is your daughter?" demanded Gedeon Gore, in French. "Where is Mary?"
Mrs. Hubbell caught the word Mary. "Oh, Mary. Why, she's gone out for a walk with Mr. Mazzetti."
"Good God!" said Gedeon Gore, in perfectly plain English. And vanished.
Orson J. Hubbell sat a moment, thinking. Then, "Why, say, he talked English. That young French fella talked English."
The young French fella, hatless, was skimming down the Promenade des Anglais, looking intently ahead, and behind, and to the side, and all around in the darkness. He seemed to be following a certain trail, however. At one side of the great wide walk, facing the ocean, was a canopied bandstand. In its dim shadow, he discerned a wisp of white. He made for it, swiftly, silently. Mazzetti's voice low, eager, insistent. Mazzetti's voice hoarse, ugly, importunate. The figure in white rose. Gore stood before the two. The girl took a step toward him, but Mazzetti took two steps and snarled like a villain in a movie, if a villain in a movie could be heard to snarl.
"Get out of here!" said Mazzetti, in French, to Gore. "You pig! Swine! To intrude when I talk with a lady. You are finished. Now she belongs to me."
"The hell she does!" said Giddy Gory in perfectly plain American and swung for Mazzetti with his bad right arm. Mazzetti, after the fashion of his kind, let fly in most unsportsmanlike fashion with his feet, kicking at Giddy's stomach and trying to bite with his small sharp yellow teeth. And then Giddy's left, that had learned some neat tricks of boxing in the days of the Gory greatness, landed fairly on the Mazzetti nose. And with a howl of pain and rage and terror the Mazzetti, a hand clapped to that bleeding feature, fled in the darkness.
And, "O, Giddy!" said Mary, "I thought you'd never come."
"Mary. Mary Hubbell. Did you know all the time? You did, didn't you? You think I'm a bum, don't you? Don't you?"
Her hand on his shoulder. "Giddy, I've been stuck on you since I was nine years old, in Winnebago. I kept track of you all through the war, though I never once saw you. Then I lost you. Giddy, when I was a kid I used to look at you from the sidewalk through the hedge of the house on Cass. Honestly. Honestly, Giddy."
"But look at me now. Why, Mary, I'm—I'm no good. Why, I don't see how you ever knew——"
"It takes more than a new Greek nose and French clothes and a bum arm to fool me, Gid. Do you know, there were a lot of photographs of you left up in the attic of the Cass Street house when we bought it. I know them all by heart, Giddy. By heart.... Come on home, Giddy. Let's go home."
NOT A DAY OVER TWENTY-ONE
Any one old enough to read this is old enough to remember that favourite heroine of fiction who used to start her day by rising from her couch, flinging wide her casement, leaning out and breathing deep the perfumed morning air. You will recall, too, the pure white rose clambering at the side of the casement, all jewelled with the dew of dawn. This the lady plucked carolling. Daily she plucked it. A hardy perennial if ever there was one. Subsequently, pressing it to her lips, she flung it into the garden below, where stood her lover (likewise an early riser).
Romantic proceeding this, but unhygienic when you consider that her rush for the closed casement was doubtless due to the fact that her bedroom, hermetically sealed during the night, must have grown pretty stuffy by morning. Her complexion was probably bad.
No such idyllic course marked the matin of our heroine. Her day's beginning differed from the above in practically every detail. Thus:
A—When Harrietta rose from her couch (cream enamel, full-sized bed with double hair mattress and box springs) she closed her casement with a bang, having slept in a gale that swept her two-room-and-kitchenette apartment on the eleventh floor in Fifty-sixth Street.
B—She never leaned out except, perhaps, to flap a dust rag, because lean as she might, defying the laws of gravity and the house superintendent, she could have viewed nothing more than roofs and sky and chimneys where already roofs and sky and chimneys filled the eye (unless you consider that by screwing around and flattening one ear and the side of your jaw against the window jamb you could almost get a glimpse of distant green prominently mentioned in the agent's ad as "unexcelled view of Park").
C—The morning air wasn't perfumed for purposes of breathing deep, being New York morning air, richly laden with the smell of warm asphalt, smoke, gas, and, when the wind was right, the glue factory on the Jersey shore across the river.
D—She didn't pluck a rose, carolling, because even if, by some magic Burbankian process, Jack's bean-stalk had been made rose-bearing it would have been hard put to it to reach this skyscraper home.
E—If she had flung it, it probably would have ended its eleven-story flight in the hand cart of Messinger's butcher boy, who usually made his first Fifty-sixth Street delivery at about that time.
F—The white rose would not have been jewelled and sparkling with the dews of dawn, anyway, as at Harrietta's rising hour (between 10.30 and 11.30 A. M.) the New York City dews, if any, have left for the day.
Spartans who rise regularly at the chaste hour of seven will now regard Harrietta with disapproval. These should be told that Harrietta never got to bed before twelve-thirty nor to sleep before two-thirty, which, on an eight-hour sleep count, should even things up somewhat in their minds. They must know, too, that in one corner of her white-and-blue bathroom reposed a pair of wooden dumb-bells, their ankles neatly crossed. She used them daily. Also she bathed, massaged, exercised, took facial and electric treatments; worked like a slave; lived like an athlete in training in order to preserve her hair, skin, teeth, and figure; almost never ate what she wanted nor as much as she liked.
That earlier lady of the closed casement and the white rose probably never even heard of a dentifrice or a cold shower.
The result of Harrietta's rigours was that now, at thirty-seven, she could pass for twenty-seven on Fifth Avenue at five o'clock (flesh-pink, single-mesh face veil); twenty-five at a small dinner (rose-coloured shades over the candles), and twenty-two, easily, behind the amber footlights.
You will have guessed that Harrietta, the Heroine, is none other than Harrietta Fuller, deftest of comediennes, whom you have seen in one or all of those slim little plays in which she has made a name but no money to speak of, being handicapped for the American stage by her intelligence and her humour sense, and, as she would tell you, by her very name itself.
"Harrietta Fuller! Don't you see what I mean?" she would say. "In the first place, it's hard to remember. And it lacks force. Or maybe rhythm. It doesn't clink. It sort of humps in the middle. A name should flow. Take a name like Barrymore—or Bernhardt—or Duse—you can't forget them. Oh, I'm not comparing myself to them. Don't be funny. I just mean—why, take Harrietta alone. It's deadly. A Thackeray miss, all black silk mitts and white cotton stockings. Long ago, in the beginning, I thought of shortening it. But Harriet Fuller sounds like a school-teacher, doesn't it? And Hattie Fuller makes me think, somehow, of a burlesque actress. You know. 'Hattie Fuller and Her Bouncing Belles.'"
At thirty-seven Harrietta Fuller had been fifteen years on the stage. She had little money, a small stanch following, an exquisite technique, and her fur coat was beginning to look gnawed around the edges. People even said maddeningly: "Harrietta Fuller? I saw her when I was a kid, years ago. Why, she must be le'see—ten—twelve—why, she must be going on pretty close to forty."
A worshipper would defend her. "You're crazy! I saw her last month when she was playing in Cincinnati, and she doesn't look a day over twenty-one. That's a cute play she's in—There and Back. Not much to it, but she's so kind and natural. Made me think of Jen a little."
That was part of Harrietta's art—making people think of Jen. Watching her, they would whisper: "Look! Isn't that Jen all over? The way she sits there and looks up at him while she's sewing."
Harrietta Fuller could take lines that were stilted and shoddy and speak them in a way to make them sound natural and distinctive and real. She was a clear blonde, but her speaking voice had in it a contralto note that usually accompanies brunette colouring.
It surprised and gratified you, that tone, as does mellow wine when you have expected cider. She could walk on to one of those stage library sets that reek of the storehouse and the property carpenter, seat herself, take up a book or a piece of handiwork, and instantly the absurd room became a human, livable place. She had a knack of sitting, not as an actress ordinarily seats herself in a drawing room—feet carefully strained to show the high arch, body posed to form a "line"—but easily, as a woman sits in her own house. If you saw her in the supper scene of My Mistake, you will remember how she twisted her feet about the rungs of the straight little chair in which she sat. Her back was toward the audience throughout the scene, according to stage directions, yet she managed to convey embarrassment, fright, terror, determination, decision in the agonized twisting of those expressive feet.
Authors generally claimed these bits of business as having originated with them. For that matter, she was a favourite with playwrights, as well she might be, considering the vitality which she injected into their hackneyed situations. Every little while some young writer, fired by an inflection in her voice or a nuance in her comedy, would rush back stage to tell her that she never had had a part worthy of her, and that he would now come to her rescue. Sometimes he kept his word, and Harrietta, six months later, would look up from the manuscript to say: "This is delightful! It's what I've been looking for for years. The deftness of the comedy. And that little scene with the gardener!"
But always, after the managers had finished suggesting bits that would brighten it up, and changes that would put it over with the Western buyers, Harrietta would regard the mutilated manuscript sorrowingly. "But I can't play this now, you know. It isn't the same part at all. It's—forgive me—vulgar."
Then some little red-haired ingenue would get it, and it would run a solid year on Broadway and two seasons on the road, and in all that time Harrietta would have played six months, perhaps, in three different plays, in all of which she would score what is known as a "personal success." A personal success usually means bad business at the box office.
Now this is immensely significant. In the advertisements of the play in which Harrietta Fuller might be appearing you never read:
HARRIETTA FULLER In Thus and So
No. It was always:
THUS AND SO With Harrietta Fuller
Between those two prepositions lies a whole theatrical world of difference. The "In" means stardom; the "With" that the play is considered more important than the cast.
Don't feel sorry for Harrietta Fuller. Thousands of women have envied her; thousands of men admired, and several have loved her devotedly, including her father, the Rev. H. John Scoville (deceased). The H. stands for Harry. She was named for him, of course. When he entered the church he was advised to drop his first name and use his second as being more fitting in his position. But the outward change did not affect his inner self. He remained more Harry than John to the last. It was from him Harrietta got her acting sense, her humour, her intelligence, and her bad luck.
When Harry Scoville was eighteen he wanted to go on the stage. At twenty he entered the ministry. It was the natural outlet for his suppressed talents. In his day and family and environment young men did not go on the stage. The Scovilles were Illinois pioneers and lived in Evanston, and Mrs. Scoville (Harrietta's grandmother, you understand, though Harrietta had not yet appeared) had a good deal to say as to whether coleslaw or cucumber pickles should be served at the Presbyterian church suppers, along with the veal loaf and the scalloped oysters. And when she decided on coleslaw, coleslaw it was. A firm tread had Mother Scoville, a light hand with pastry, and a will that was adamant. She it was who misdirected Harry's gifts toward the pulpit instead of the stage. He never forgave her for it, though he made a great success of his calling and she died unsuspecting his rancour. The women of his congregation shivered deliciously when the Rev. H. John Scoville stood on his tiptoes at the apex of some fiery period and hurled the force of his eloquence at them. He, the minister, was unconsciously dramatizing himself as a minister.
The dramatic method had not then come into use in the pulpit. His method of delivery was more restrained than that of the old-time revivalist; less analytical and detached than that of the present-day religious lecturer.
Presbyterian Evanston wending its way home to Sunday roast and ice cream would say: "Wasn't Reverend Scoville powerful to-day! My!" They never guessed how Reverend Scoville had had to restrain himself from delivering Mark Antony's address to the Romans. He often did it in his study when his gentle wife thought he was rehearsing next Sunday's sermon.
As he grew older he overcame these boyish weaknesses, but he never got over his feeling for the stage. There were certain ill-natured gossips who claimed to have recognized the fine, upright figure and the mobile face with hair greying at the temples as having occupied a seat in the third row of the balcony in the old Grand Opera House during the run of Erminie. The elders put it down as spite talk and declared that, personally, they didn't believe a word of it. The Rev. H. John did rather startle them when he discarded the ministerial black broadcloth for a natty Oxford suit of almost business cut. He was a pioneer in this among the clergy. The congregation soon became accustomed to it; in time, boasted of it as marking their progressiveness.
He had a neat ankle, had the Reverend Scoville, in fine black lisle; a merry eye; a rather grim look about the mouth, as has a man whose life is a secret disappointment. His little daughter worshipped him. He called her Harry. When Harrietta was eleven she was reading Lever and Dickens and Dumas, while other little girls were absorbed in the Elsie Series and The Wide, Wide World. Her father used to deliver his sermons to her in private rehearsal, and her eager mobile face reflected his every written mood.
"Oh, Rev!" she cried one day (it is to be regretted, but that is what she always called him). "Oh, Rev, you should have been an actor!"
He looked at her queerly. "What makes you think so?"
"You're too thrilling for a minister." She searched about in her agile mind for fuller means of making her thought clear. "It's like when Mother cooks rose geranium leaves in her grape jell. She says they gives it a finer flavour, but they don't really. You can't taste them for the grapes, so they're just wasted when they're so darling and perfumy and just right in the garden." Her face was pink with earnestness.
"D'you see what I mean, Rev?"
"Yes, I think I see, Harry."
Then she surprised him. "I'm going on the stage," she said, "and be a great actress when I'm grown up."
His heart gave a leap and a lurch. "Why do you say that?"
"Because I want to. And because you didn't. It'll be as if you had been an actor instead of a minister—only it'll be me."
A bewildering enough statement to any one but the one who made it and the one to whom it was made. She was trying to say that here was the law of compensation working. But she didn't know this. She had never heard of the law of compensation.
Her gentle mother fought her decision with all the savagery of the gentle.
"You'll have to run away, Harry," her father said, sadly. And at twenty-two Harrietta ran. Her objective was New York. Her father did not burden her with advice. He credited her with the intelligence she possessed, but he did overlook her emotionalism, which was where he made his mistake. Just before she left he said: "Now listen, Harry. You're a good-looking girl, and young. You'll keep your looks for a long time. You're not the kind of blonde who'll get wishy-washy or fat. You've got quite a good deal of brunette in you. It crops out in your voice. It'll help preserve your looks. Don't marry the first man who asks you or the first man who says he'll die if you don't. You've got lots of time."
That kind of advice is a good thing for the young. Two weeks later Harrietta married a man she had met on the train between Evanston and New York. His name was Lawrence Fuller, and Harrietta had gone to school with him in Evanston. She had lost track of him later. She remembered, vaguely, people had said he had gone to New York and was pretty wild. Young as she was and inexperienced, there still was something about his face that warned her. It was pathological, but she knew nothing of pathology. He talked of her and looked at her and spoke, masterfully and yet shyly, of being with her in New York. Harrietta loved the way his hair sprang away from his brow and temples in a clean line. She shoved the thought of his chin out of her mind. His hands touched her a good deal—her shoulder, her knee, her wrist—but so lightly that she couldn't resent it even if she had wanted to. When they did this, queer little stinging flashes darted through her veins. He said he would die if she did not marry him.
They had two frightful years together and eight years apart before he died, horribly, in the sanatorium whose enormous fees she paid weekly. They had regularly swallowed her earnings at a gulp.
Naturally a life like this develops the comedy sense. You can't play tragedy while you're living it. Harrietta served her probation in stock, road companies, one-night stands before she achieved Broadway. In five years her deft comedy method had become distinctive; in ten it was unique. Yet success—as the stage measures it in size of following and dollars of salary—had never been hers.
Harrietta knew she wasn't a success. She saw actresses younger, older, less adroit, lacking her charm, minus her beauty, featured, starred, heralded. Perhaps she gave her audiences credit for more intelligence than they possessed, and they, unconsciously, resented this. Perhaps if she had read the Elsie Series at eleven, instead of Dickens, she might have been willing to play in that million-dollar success called Gossip. It was offered her. The lead was one of those saccharine parts, vulgar, false, and slyly carnal. She didn't in the least object to it on the ground of immorality, but the bad writing bothered her. There was, for example, a line in which she was supposed to beat her breast and say: "He's my mate! He's my man! And I'm his woman!! I love him, I tell you I—love him!"
"People don't talk like that," she told the author, in a quiet aside, during rehearsal. "Especially women. They couldn't. They use quite commonplace idiom when they're excited."
"Thanks," said the author, elaborately polite. "That's the big scene in the play. It'll be a knockout."
When Harrietta tried to speak these lines in rehearsal she began to giggle and ended in throwing up the ridiculous part. They gave it to that little Frankie Langdon, and the playwright's prophecy came true. The breast-beating scene was a knockout. It ran for two years in New York alone. Langdon's sables, chinchillas, ermines, and jewels were always sticking out from the pages of Vanity Fair and Vogue. When she took curtain calls, Langdon stood with her legs far apart, boyishly, and tossed her head and looked up from beneath her lowered lids and acted surprised and sort of gasped like a fish and bit her lip and mumbled to herself as if overcome. The audience said wasn't she a shy, young, bewildered darling!
A hard little rip if ever there was one—Langdon—and as shy as a man-eating crocodile.
This sort of sham made Harrietta sick. She, whose very art was that of pretending, hated pretense, affectation, "coy stuff." This was, perhaps, unfortunate. Your Fatigued Financier prefers the comedy form in which a spade is not only called a spade but a slab of iron for digging up dirt. Harrietta never even pretended to have a cough on an opening night so that the critics, should the play prove a failure, might say: "Harrietta Fuller, though handicapped by a severe cold, still gave her usual brilliant and finished performance in a part not quite worthy of her talents." No. The plaintive smothered cough, the quick turn aside, the heaving shoulder, the wispy handkerchief were clumsy tools beneath her notice.
There often were long periods of idleness when her soul sickened and her purse grew lean. Long hot summers in New York when awnings, window boxes geranium filled, drinks iced and acidulous, and Ken's motor car for cooling drives to the beaches failed to soothe the terror in her. Thirty ... thirty-two ... thirty-four ... thirty-six....
She refused to say it. She refused to think of it. She put the number out of her mind and slammed the door on it—on that hideous number beginning with f. At such times she was given to contemplation of her own photographs—and was reassured. Her intelligence told her that retouching varnish, pumice stone, hard pencil, and etching knife had all gone into the photographer's version of this clear-eyed, fresh-lipped blooming creature gazing back at her so limpidly. But, then, who didn't need a lot of retouching? Even the youngest of them.
All this. Yet she loved it. The very routine of it appealed to her orderly nature: a routine that, were it widely known, would shatter all those ideas about the large, loose life of the actress. Harrietta Fuller liked to know that at such and such an hour she would be in her dressing room; at such and such an hour on the stage; precisely at another hour she would again be in her dressing room preparing to go home. Then the stage would be darkened. They would be putting the scenery away. She would be crossing the bare stage on her way home. Then she would be home, undressing, getting ready for bed, reading. She liked a cup of clear broth at night, or a drink of hot cocoa. It soothed and rested her. Besides, one is hungry after two and a half hours of high-tensioned, nerve-exhausting work. She was in bed usually by twelve-thirty.
"But you can't fall asleep like a dewy babe in my kind of job," she used to explain. "People wonder why actresses lie in bed until noon, or nearly. They have to, to get as much sleep as a stenographer or a clerk or a book-keeper. At midnight I'm all keyed up and over-stimulated, and as wide awake as an all-night taxi driver. It takes two solid hours of reading to send me bye-bye."
The world did not interest itself in that phase of Harrietta's life. Neither did it find fascination in her domestic side. Harrietta did a good deal of tidying and dusting and redding up in her own two-room apartment, so high and bright and spotless. She liked to cook, too, and was expert at it. Not for her those fake pictures of actresses and opera stars in chiffon tea gowns and satin slippers and diamond chains cooking "their favourite dish of spaghetti and creamed mushrooms," and staring out at you bright-eyed and palpably unable to tell the difference between salt and paprika. Harrietta liked the ticking of a clock in a quiet room; oven smells; concocting new egg dishes; washing out lacy things in warm soapsuds. A throw-back, probably, to her grandmother Scoville.
The worst feature of a person like Harrietta is, as you already have discovered with some impatience, that one goes on and on, talking about her. And the listener at last breaks out with: "This is all very interesting, but I feel as if I know her now. What then?"
Then the thing to do is to go serenely on telling, for example, how the young thing in Harrietta Fuller's company invariably came up to her at the first rehearsal and said tremulously: "Miss Fuller, I—you won't mind—I just want to tell you how proud I am to be one of your company. Playing with you. You've been my ideal ever since I was a little g—" then, warned by a certain icy mask slipping slowly over the brightness of Harrietta's features—"ever so long, but I never even hoped——"
These young things always learned an amazing lot from watching the deft, sure strokes of Harrietta's craftsmanship. She was kind to them, too. Encouraged them. Never hogged a scene that belonged to them. Never cut their lines. Never patronized them. They usually played ingenue parts, and their big line was that uttered on coming into a room looking for Harrietta. It was: "Ah, there you are!"
How can you really know Harrietta unless you realize the deference with which she was treated in her own little sphere? If the world at large did not acclaim her, there was no lack of appreciation on the part of her fellow workers. They knew artistry when they saw it. Though she had never attained stardom, she still had the distinction that usually comes only to a star back stage. Unless she actually was playing in support of a first-magnitude star, her dressing room was marked "A." Other members of the company did not drop into her dressing room except by invitation. That room was neat to the point of primness. A square of white coarse sheeting was spread on the floor, under the chair before her dressing table, to gather up dust and powder. It was regularly shaken or changed. There were always flowers—often a single fine rose in a slender vase. On her dressing table, in a corner, you were likely to find three or four volumes—perhaps The Amenities of Book-Collecting; something or other of Max Beerbohm's; a book of verse (not Amy Lowell's).
These were not props designed to impress the dramatic critic who might drop in for one of those personal little theatrical calls to be used in next Sunday's "Chats in the Wings." They were there because Harrietta liked them and read them between acts. She had a pretty wit of her own. The critics liked to talk with her. Even George Jean Hathem, whose favourite pastime was to mangle the American stage with his pen and hold its bleeding, gaping fragments up for the edification of Budapest, Petrograd, Vienna, London, Berlin, Paris, and Stevens Point, Wis., said that five minutes of Harrietta Fuller's conversation was worth a lifetime of New York stage dialogue. For that matter I think that Mr. Beerbohm himself would not have found a talk with her altogether dull or profitless.
The leading man generally made love to her in an expert, unaggressive way. A good many men had tried to make love to her at one time or another. They didn't get on very well. Harrietta never went to late suppers. Some of them complained: "When you try to make love to her she laughs at you!" She wasn't really laughing at them. She was laughing at what she knew about life. Occasionally men now married, and living dully content in the prim suburban smugness of Pelham or New Rochelle, boasted of past friendship with her, wagging their heads doggishly. "Little Fuller! I used to know her well."
Not that she didn't count among her friends many men. She dined with them and they with her. They were writers and critics, lawyers and doctors, engineers and painters. Actors almost never. They sent her books and flowers; valued her opinion, delighted in her conversation, wished she wouldn't sometimes look at them so quizzically. And if they didn't always comprehend her wit, they never failed to appreciate the contour of her face, where the thoughtful brow was contradicted by the lovely little nose, and both were drowned in the twin wells of the wide-apart, misleadingly limpid eyes that lay ensnaringly between.
"Your eyes!" these gentlemen sometimes stammered, "the lashes are reflected in them like ferns edging a pool."
"Yes. The mascara's good for them. You'd think all that black sticky stuff I have put on, would hurt them, but it really makes them grow, I believe. Sometimes I even use a burnt match, and yet it——"
"Damn your burnt matches! I'm talking about your lashes."
"So am I." She would open her eyes wide in surprise, and the lashes could almost be said to wave at him tantalizingly, like fairy fans. (He probably wished he could have thought of that.)
Ken never talked to her about her lashes. Ken thought she was the most beauteous, witty, intelligent woman in the world, but he had never told her so, and she found herself wishing he would. Ken was forty-one and Knew About Etchings. He knew about a lot of other things, too. Difficult, complex things like Harrietta Fuller, for example. He had to do with some intricate machine or other that was vital to printing, and he was perfecting something connected with it or connecting something needed for its perfection that would revolutionize the thing the machine now did (whatever it was). Harrietta refused to call him an inventor. She said it sounded so impecunious. They had known each other for six years. When she didn't feel like talking he didn't say: "What's the matter?" He never told her that women had no business monkeying with stocks or asked her what they called that stuff her dress was made of, or telephoned before noon. Twice a year he asked her to marry him, presenting excellent reasons. His name was Carrigan. You'd like him.
"When I marry," Harrietta would announce, "which will be never, it will be the only son of a rich iron king from Duluth, Minnesota. And I'll go there to live in an eighteen-room mansion and pluck roses for the breakfast room."
"There are few roses in Duluth," said Ken, "to speak of. And no breakfast rooms. You breakfast in the dining room, and in the winter you wear flannel underwear and galoshes."
"California, then. And he can be the son of a fruit king. I'm not narrow."
Harrietta was thirty-seven and a half when there came upon her a great fear. It had been a wretchedly bad season. Two failures. The rent on her two-room apartment in Fifty-sixth Street jumped from one hundred and twenty-five, which she could afford, to two hundred a month, which she couldn't. Mary—Irish Mary—her personal maid, left her in January. Personal maids are one of the superstitions of the theatrical profession, and an actress of standing is supposed to go hungry rather than maidless.
"Why don't you fire Irish Mary?" Ken had asked Harrietta during a period of stringency.
"I can't afford to."
Ken understood, but you may not. Harrietta would have made it clear. "Any actress who earns more than a hundred a week is supposed to have a maid in her dressing room. No one knows why, but it's true. I remember in The Small-Town Girl I wore the same gingham dress throughout three acts, but I was paying Mary twenty a week just the same. If I hadn't some one in the company would have told some one in another company that Harrietta Fuller was broke. It would have seeped through the director to the manager, and next time they offered me a part they'd cut my salary. It's absurd, but there it is. A vicious circle."
Irish Mary's reason for leaving Harrietta was a good one. It would have to be, for she was of that almost extinct species, the devoted retainer. Irish Mary wasn't the kind of maid one usually encounters back stage. No dapper, slim, black-and-white pert miss, with a wisp of apron and a knowledgeous eye. An ample, big-hipped, broad-bosomed woman with an apron like a drop curtain and a needle knack that kept Harrietta mended, be-ribboned, beruffled, and exquisite from her garters to her coat hangers. She had been around the theatre for twenty-five years, and her thick, deft fingers had served a long line of illustrious ladies—Corinne Foster, Gertrude Bennett, Lucille Varney. She knew all the shades of grease paint from Flesh to Sallow Old Age, and if you gained an ounce she warned you.
Her last name was Lesom, but nobody remembered it until she brought forward a daughter of fifteen with the request that she be given a job; anything—walk-on, extra, chorus. Lyddy, she called her. The girl seldom spoke. She was extremely stupid, but a marvellous mimic, and pretty beyond belief; fragile, and yet with something common about her even in her fragility. Her wrists had a certain flat angularity that bespoke a peasant ancestry, but she had a singular freshness and youthful bloom. The line of her side face from the eye socket to the chin was a delicious thing that curved with the grace of a wing. The high cheekbone sloped down so that the outline was heart-shaped. There were little indentations at the corners of her mouth. She had eyes singularly clear, like a child's, and a voice so nasal, so strident, so dreadful that when she parted her pretty lips and spoke, the sound shocked you like a peacock's raucous screech.
Harrietta had managed to get a bit for her here, a bit for her there, until by the time she was eighteen she was giving a fairly creditable performance in practically speechless parts. It was dangerous to trust her even with an "Ah, there you are!" line. The audience, startled, was so likely to laugh.
At about this point she vanished, bound for Hollywood and the movies. "She's the little fool, just," said Irish Mary. "What'll she be wantin' with the movies, then, an' her mother connected with the theayter for years an' all, and her you might say brought up in it?"
But she hadn't been out there a year before the world knew her as Lydia Lissome. Starting as an extra girl earning twenty-five a week or less, she had managed, somehow, to get the part of Betty in the screen version of The Magician, probably because she struck the director as being the type; or perhaps her gift of mimicry had something to do with it, and the youth glow that was in her face. At any rate, when the picture was finished and released, no one was more surprised than Lyddy at the result. They offered her three thousand a week on a three-year contract. She wired her mother, but Irish Mary wired back: "I don't believe a word of it hold out for five am coming." She left for the Coast. Incidentally, she got the five for Lyddy. Lyddy signed her name to the contract—Lydia Lissome—in a hand that would have done discredit to an eleven-year-old.
Harrietta told Ken about it, not without some bitterness: "Which only proves one can't be too careful about picking one's parents. If my father had been a hod carrier instead of a minister of the Gospel and a darling old dreamer, I'd be earning five thousand a week, too."
They were dining together in Harrietta's little sitting room so high up and quiet and bright with its cream enamel and its log fire. Almost one entire wall of that room was window, facing south, and framing such an Arabian Nights panorama as only a New York eleventh-story window, facing south, can offer.
Ken lifted his right eyebrow, which was a way he had when being quizzical. "What would you do with five thousand a week, just supposing?"
"I'd do all the vulgar things that other people do who have five thousand a week."
"You wouldn't enjoy them. You don't care for small dogs or paradise aigrettes or Italian villas in Connecticut or diamond-studded cigarette holders or plush limousines or butlers." He glanced comprehensively about the little room—at the baby grand whose top was pleasantly littered with photographs and bonbon dishes and flower vases; at the smart little fire snapping in the grate; at the cheerful reds and blues and ochres and sombre blues and purples and greens of the books in the open bookshelves; at the squat clock on the mantelshelf; at the gorgeous splashes of black and gold glimpsed through the many-paned window. "You've got everything you really want right here"—his gesture seemed, somehow, to include himself—"if you only knew it."
"You talk," snapped Harrietta, "as the Rev. H. John Scoville used to." She had never said a thing like that before. "I'm sick of what they call being true to my art. I'm tired of having last year's suit relined, even if it is smart enough to be good this year. I'm sick of having the critics call me an intelligent comedienne who is unfortunate in her choice of plays. Some day"—a little flash of fright was there—"I'll pick up the Times and see myself referred to as 'that sterling actress.' Then I'll know I'm through."
"Tell me I'm young, Ken. Tell me I'm young and beautiful and bewitching."
"You're young and beautiful and bewitching."
"Ugh! And yet they say the Irish have the golden tongues."
Two months later Harrietta had an offer to go into pictures. It wasn't her first, but it undeniably was the best. The sum offered per week was what she might usually expect to get per month in a successful stage play. To accept the offer meant the Coast. She found herself having a test picture taken and trying to believe the director who said it was good; found herself expatiating on the brightness, quietness, and general desirability of the eleventh-floor apartment in Fifty-sixth Street to an acquaintance who was seeking a six months' city haven for the summer.
"She'll probably ruin my enamel dressing table with toilet water and ring my piano top with wet glasses and spatter grease on the kitchenette wall. But I'll be earning a million," Harrietta announced, recklessly, "or thereabouts. Why should I care?"
She did care, though, as a naturally neat and thrifty woman cares for her household goods which have, through years of care of them and association with them, become her household gods. The clock on the mantel wasn't a clock, but a plump friend with a white smiling face and a soothing tongue; the low, ample davenport wasn't a davenport only, but a soft bosom that pillowed her; that which lay spread shimmering beneath her window was not New York alone—it was her View. To a woman like this, letting her apartment furnished is like farming out her child to strangers.
She had told her lessee about her laundress and her cleaning woman and how to handle the balky faucet that controlled the shower. She had said good-bye to Ken entirely surrounded by his books, magazines, fruit, and flowers. She was occupying a Pullman drawing room paid for by the free-handed filmers. She was crossing farm lands, plains, desert. She was wondering if all those pink sweaters and white flannel trousers outside the Hollywood Hotel were there for the same reason that she was. She was surveying a rather warm little room shaded by a dense tree whose name she did not know. She was thinking it felt a lot like her old trouping days, when her telephone tinkled and a voice announced Mrs. Lissome. Lissome? Lesam. Irish Mary, of course. Harrietta's maid, engaged for the trip, had failed her at the last moment. Now her glance rested on the two massive trunks and the litter of smart, glittering bags that strewed the room. A relieved look crept into her eyes. A knock at the door. A resplendent figure was revealed at its opening. The look in Harrietta's eyes vanished.
Irish Mary looked like the mother of a girl who was earning five thousand a week. She was marcelled, silk-clad, rustling, gold-meshed, and, oh, how real in spite of it all as she beamed upon the dazzled Harrietta.
"Out with ye!" trumpeted this figure, brushing aside Harrietta's proffered chair. "There'll be no stayin' here for you. You're coming along with me, then, bag and baggage." She glanced sharply about. "Where's your maid, dearie?"
"Disappointed me at the last minute. I'll have to get someone——"
"We've plenty. You're coming up to our place."
"But, Mary, I can't. I couldn't. I'm tired. This room——"
"A hole. Wait till you see The Place. Gardens and breakfast rooms and statues and fountains and them Jap boys runnin' up and down like mice. We rented it for a year from that Goya Ciro. She's gone back East. How she ever made good in pictures I don't know, and her face like a hot-water bag for expression. Lyddy's going to build next year. They're drawin' up the plans now. The Place'll be nothin' compared to it when it's finished. Put on your hat. The boys'll see to your stuff here."
"I can't. I couldn't. You're awfully kind, Mary dear——"
Mary dear was at the telephone. "Mrs. Lissome. That's who. Send up that Jap boy for the bags."
Mrs. Lissome's name and Mrs. Lissome's commands apparently carried heavily in Hollywood. A uniformed Jap appeared immediately as though summoned by a genie. The bags seemed to spring to him, so quickly was he enveloped by their glittering surfaces. He was off with the burdens, invisible except for his gnomelike face and his sturdy bow legs in their footman's boots.
"I can't," said Harrietta, feebly, for the last time. It was her introduction to the topsy-turvy world into which she had come. She felt herself propelled down the stairs by Irish Mary, who wasn't Irish Mary any more, but a Force whose orders were obeyed. In the curved drive outside the Hollywood Hotel the little Jap was stowing the last of the bags into the great blue car whose length from nose to tail seemed to span the hotel frontage. At the wheel, rigid, sat a replica of the footman.
Irish Mary with a Japanese chauffeur. Irish Mary with a Japanese footman. Irish Mary with a great glittering car that was as commodious as the average theatre dressing room.
"Get in, dearie. Lyddy's using the big car to-day. They're out on location. Shootin' the last of Devils and Men."
Harrietta was saying to herself: "Don't be a nasty snob, Harry. This is a different world. Think of the rotten time Alice would have had in Wonderland if she hadn't been broad-minded. Take it as it comes."
Irish Mary was talking as they sped along through the hot white Hollywood sunshine.... "Stay right with us as long as you like, dearie, but if after you're workin' you want a place of your own, I know of just the thing you can rent furnished, and a Jap gardener and house man and cook right on the places besides——"
"But I'm not signed for five thousand a week, like Lydia," put in Harrietta.
"I know what you're signed for. 'Twas me put 'em up to it, an' who else! 'Easy money,' I says, 'an' why shouldn't she be gettin' some of it?' Lyddy spoke to Gans about it. What Lyddy says goes. She's a good girl, Lyddy is, an' would you believe the money an' all hasn't gone to her brains, though what with workin' like a horse an' me to steady her, an' shrewder than the lawyers themself, if I do say it, she ain't had much chance. And here's The Place."
And here was The Place. Sundials, rose gardens, gravel paths, dwarf trees, giant trees, fountains, swimming pools, tennis courts, goldfish, statues, verandas, sleeping porches, awnings, bird baths, pergolas.
Inside more Japs. Maids. Rooms furnished like the interior of movie sets that Harrietta remembered having seen. A bedroom, sitting room, dressing room, and bath all her own in one wing of the great white palace, only one of thousands of great white palaces scattered through the hills of Hollywood. The closet for dresses, silk-lined and scented, could have swallowed whole her New York bedroom.
"Lay down," said Irish Mary, "an' get easy. Lyddy won't be home till six if she's early, an' she'll prob'bly be in bed by nine now they're rushin' the end of the picture, an' she's got to be on the lot made up by nine or sooner."
"Nine—in the morning!"
"Well, sure! You soon get used to it. They've got to get all the daylight they can, an' times the fog's low earlier, or they'd likely start at seven or eight. You look a little beat, dearie. Lay down. I'll have you unpacked while we're eatin'."
But Harrietta did not lie down. She went to the window. Below a small army of pigmy gardeners were doing expert things to flower beds and bushes that already seemed almost shamelessly prolific. Harrietta thought, suddenly, of her green-painted flower boxes outside the eleventh-story south window in the New York flat. Outside her window here a great scarlet hibiscus stuck its tongue out at her. Harrietta stuck her tongue out at it, childishly, and turned away. She liked a certain reticence in flowers, as in everything else. She sat down at the desk, took up a sheet of lavender and gold paper and the great lavender plumed pen. The note she wrote to Ken was the kind of note that only Ken would understand, unless you've got into the way of reading it once a year or so, too:
Ken, dear, I almost wish I hadn't gone down that rabbit hole, and yet—and yet—it's rather curious, you know, this sort of life.
Two weeks later, when she had begun to get used to her new work, her new life, the strange hours, people, jargon, she wrote him another cryptic note:
Alice—"Well, in our country you'd generally get to somewhere else—if you ran very fast for a long time, as I've been doing."
Red Queen—"Here it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place."
In those two weeks things had happened rather breathlessly. Harrietta had moved from the splendours of The Place to her own rose-embowered bungalow. Here, had she wanted to do any casement work with a white rose, like that earlier heroine, she could easily have managed it had not the early morning been so feverishly occupied in reaching the lot in time to be made up by nine. She soon learned the jargon. "The lot" meant the studio in which she was working, and its environs. "We're going to shoot you this morning," meant that she would be needed in to-day's scenes. Often she was in bed by eight at night, so tired that she could not sleep. She wondered what the picture was about. She couldn't make head or tail of it.
They were filming J. N. Gardner's novel, Romance of Arcady, but they had renamed it Let's Get a Husband. The heroine in the novel was the young wife of twenty-seven who had been married five years. This was Harrietta's part. In the book there had been a young girl, too—a saccharine miss of seventeen who was the minor love interest. This was Lydia Lissome's part. Slowly it dawned on Harrietta that things had been nightmarishly tampered with in the film version, and that the change in name was the least of the indignities to which the novel had been subjected.