Among the Daughters/Chapter 26
FROM KASHMIR TO LUCY
Tuesday morning the chink of Vida's coffee cup awakened Lucy. She had not seen Vida since Sunday. When she returned from Simone's Vida was not home and she had pretended to be asleep when Vida came in; to talk about Simone would be a betrayal. Simone had had too much gin, which made anyone do unhappy things, especially if unhappy. It was right not to talk about Simone but it was wrong not to have phoned Vida about staying to dinner. On Monday night Vida had been asleep when she returned from the show.
"Hey, what time is it?"
"Nine! For heaven's sake, what am I awake for at this hour? I'm lonesome. Bring your coffee in here, bring me some too."
Vida brought a tray.
Lucy moved over and sat up. "Sit next to me, we'll put the tray across both of us. Mad at me?"
"You might at least have phoned."
"I did, there wasn't any answer."
"About seven or eight."
"You lie," Vida said laughing and got onto the bed.
"To tell you the truth, I really couldn't. We were talking and then it was late and I thought you'd know I couldn't make it. I didn't know I was invited to dinner."
"Never mind, I know you're a procrastinator."
"I am not, I almost always tell the truth."
"That's a prevaricator."
"This is fun having breakfast together in bed. I'll bet if anyone saw us they'd think we were Lesbians."
Vida was shocked. "How awful!" Then, reproving herself for being narrow-minded, laughed louder than Lucy.
"'I will put you to rest on soft cushions—'"
"That's good," admired Lucy.
"That's Sappho," corrected Vida, "'you golden chickpea growing on the seashore.'"
They toyed with the notion of wearing mannish suits and strolling up Fifth Avenue arm in arm to shock the conventional, and debated who would wear a monocle and who would carry a cane.
"I think an air of gallantry is attractive in a woman," Lucy said, suddenly serious. "I think Iris March in The Green Hat is fascinating, the way she talks, looks, acts, and loves. I get awfully sick of my type."
Vida examined Lucy's face. She wasn't joking. "I think she's a book-woman invented by a man as his ideal. I'll bet she's more fascinating in a book than if she were real. All that gush about 'for purity.'"
"I should think you'd be just the person to understand her, you're so intense about things."
"I am not," Vida denied, knowing it was true. "Do you mean commit suicide for love?"
"No, I can't imagine that. I think it's the other way around. Suicide for not being in love."
"You're crazy. Sometimes you give me the shivers. The trouble with you is every man who looks at you falls in love."
"Not every man."
"What was Simone like?"
"It was a very interesting afternoon. I like her a lot. I learned something too."
"Oh, things. I'll tell you some other time. She told me how she developed her style of singing. She said when she was young she used to sing that Annette folksong in a single high line. When she was older, and lost her voice, she realized what the words meant—it was as if the words talked to her, telling her things she knew and other things she didn't know until the music and words told her. Like the line 'Mon ami Pierre, laisse ma main'—that means 'My friend Pierre, let go my hand.'"
"I know, don't forget I had French in high school—"
"She knew then that friend meant lover from whom she longed to release herself. She said that movement of her hand means withdrawal, not only from a man but from the world and her hope of happiness. Why are you crying?"
"It's so beautiful. How much one would have to write to explain all that. I wish I'd been there."
"I thought it interesting too. Of course it isn't the sort of thing you can do in ballet, unless maybe with a partner. But I think the dance should be pure movement, without meaning, don't you?"
"I hope you're not going to let Ilona influence you. Take my word for it, she has misread a book she has on abstract painting. The abstract forms of painting aren't intended to be imitated by the human body."
"You might as well admit you aren't interested in dancing," said Lucy.
"I love to watch you dance."
Lucy was not flattered. "I'd like to do something more artistic too. I'm as far as I can get doing specialties. I'll never get a show all my own, like Marilyn Miller, unless I sing and act. People, critics, and managers are queer. If you are the première danseuse in a concert ballet you are an artist, but in a revue a première danseuse is just one up from a hoofer. I think audiences prefer hoofers. I'd like to be an artist, people take you more seriously."
"Perhaps you need a new beau."
"I think you've got something there." Lucy laughed ruefully. "Tell me, do you believe Figente will do the Arabian Nights?"
"No—that was big talk to amuse himself."
"I think so too. I must get dressed. I've been thinking about my black ensemble, the one I almost wore Sunday. It isn't becoming to me. Black is better for brunettes, so I'm giving it to you."
"But it cost a fortune!"
"It didn't cost a thing—I charged it."
"You're the limit. You'd better think it over. There comes Mam'selle with the mail." She returned quickly. "Five for you, one for me."
"Who's yours from?"
"Here's one from Mother. I'll save hers to read last. Here's a card from Peggy Watson. She and Salvado are playing the Orpheum circuit. Her writing is terrible, I can't make it out. The rest are ads. That means I'll have three more of the same ads at the theatre. I always get two of each. Mother says she and Aunt Mabel have been on a cleaning spree. They painted the kitchen cream like this bedroom. This week she's making curtains with red dots for it. And a brown wool crepe for Mabel. She's going to get her an electric cake mixer and oh! she's coming home Saturday. I'm glad. I was afraid she'd want to stay in Congress. She says your family is fine but they miss you."
"I suppose I ought to write oftener, but when I do my mother writes that I'm leading a fast life and complains because I'm not home yet and I feel guilty because I know I'll never go home to stay."
"I'd miss you."
"Not as much as I'd miss you."
They put their cheeks together in a sudden awkward gesture of affection.
"I'm going to call the superintendent to take out that sofa and bring in a studio couch. You can have half of my bureau," Lucy planned.
"Not now, I have to be at Ilona's at ten thirty, and it's ten now," Vida said hastily. She read her letter. "What do you know—Clem's coming to have an exhibition. He'll be here the fifteenth of November."
"Well, good for Clem," Lucy said unenthusiastically.
"I should think you'd be more pleased. After all you were very good friends."
"I know, but it seems such a long time ago. For your sake, I'm glad he's coming."
"Stop shoving him off on me, though I do like him and I'll be glad to see him. And that reminds me. I'll be finished at Ilona's at four. Come along to see the Kandinsky exhibition."
"I'd love to, but I've a date. If I don't see you before, come to the theatre. We'll go dancing with two of the boys after. Wear the black."
"I'll see. So long."
"Tell Mam'selle I'm asleep. I don't want her in here. I wish Cleo were back."
Alone, Lucy contemplated going to the eleven o'clock class at Master's. She decided instead to relax and read Vida's Yeats poetry to get into the proper mood for the visit to Ranna that afternoon.
From Kashmir to Paris, Ranna had floated with silken grace on a magic carpet of five-pound notes given him in homage of his accomplishments in dance and lovemaking by a titled Englishwoman visiting India. In the City of Light, Lady Crest could not resist showing off the beautiful boy and unwisely chose the 17th century drawing room of Madame La Comtesse de Nuage, an occasional patroness of the arts—preferably of her own paintings, only one of which she modestly permitted to be hung in her salon flanked by a Goya and a Picasso. There Ranna's rhythmically erotic movements had mesmerized Lady Duckworth, once of Plumbago, Ohio, Plumbing Equipments, Inc., who provided a richer magic carpet of ten-pound notes to her London salon, and boudoir. Then she in turn lost him to a compatriot, Mrs. Custerd of Boston and Marblehead, Mass., who with the even greater magic of dollars had whisked him across the Atlantic as easily as a cash basket on a department store wire. Of course she did not whisk him to Boston where art and love are separately practiced, and where son and daughter-in-law cherished their inheritance equally with her. Except however to have him dance at an afternoon musicale for the ladies of the Colony, clearly as impossible as taking him home to Boston, commandeering the midtown studio apartment of a Wellesley classmate now painting in Fiesole, and having him dance for Raymond Figente, who was known to go in for protégés, Mrs. Custerd was unable to think of another thing to present her idol to the American public. Ranna even had had to remind her that the spirit required not only housing but sustenance before she thought to open an account for him at a Fifth Avenue bank which had such pretty wallpaper—and a Congregational God-only-knows-what extravagances New York might have witnessed if Mrs. Custerd's son and daughter-in-law had not stepped in to rescue their inheritance.
Thus it was, with his doting dotaged patroness all but incarcerated in Marblehead, that Ranna, while assured for the time being of his Italianate apartment, was becoming uneasy about his future in America. With the help of Alveg Dahl, the painter, there were a few women of a certain age eager to pay for instruction in the mysteries of the East. Yogi words, and the religious positions of lovemaking as illustrated by him from the sacred writings of the Kamasutra of Vatsayama, had an open sesame effect.
But the golden Lucy Claudel was in a different category. She was worth the exertion of teaching the dance of the East as prelude to that other dance so constantly in his thought since first seeing her. And so, in preparation for her visit, he bestirred himself and draped staircase, balcony, carven furniture, and couch with mirror-twinkling India silks from his trunk, and put on a stiff white satin gold-braided robe, deciding against incense as too obvious, as she was of the theatre.
Hearing staccato steps on the mosaic hall floor, he went quickly to pour boiling water on the tea and set the tray on a tabouret.
She came in wrapped in silver karacul on grey suede sandals cross-laced to above her flesh-silk ankles. Her now familiar musky scent enveloped him.
"Br-r-r, winter's coming but it's nice and warm here," she said, relinquishing her coat, and turning, a spray of chiffon shell tints washed around her knees.
"I am so pleased you did not forget."
"I'm only fifteen minutes late, and that's prompt for me," she said, her all-seeing eyes taking in the mustard-yellow, pomegranate, and robin's-egg-blue silks. From them hundreds of imbedded mirror fragments winked like so many opera glasses at the theatre.
He led her to a chair, seated himself cross-legged on the divan opposite, the tea service and a plate of chocolate leaves between them.
He knew darn well I wouldn't forget, she thought, noting the tea waiting. She looked at him approvingly, his stiff robe falling in sculptured folds, his coffee-cream head thrust to the side as in his dance as he poured the tea. The silk-hung room had an intimate Arabian Nights atmosphere that put one in the mood to learn about art.
"You will have to learn to sit as I do, in this Lotus position. The lotus is the talismanic flower of my people and land. The iris too. You make me think of the iris in the pleasure gardens of Kashmir."
He was looking at her as all men did. "What's Kashmir?" she asked to deflect him.
"It is a valley paradise protected by mountains whose tips are breasts of golden snow—and iris watched by lotus floating dreamily in softly running rivers."
She had never known a man who spoke of breasts so soon and over a tea table at that. "This is a beautiful studio, but do you have room to practice?" she said, so he wouldn't know she had noticed the word.
"Sufficient. I can move the chairs. Practice is but a matter of the will to do realized in the mind," he explained, omitting the detail that he had not given the matter a thought since his arrival in New York.
Lucy was impressed. "You mean you can do a movement or a whole dance if you just think about it?"
"Certainly. One can do whatever one wills. I say to myself I shall leap so and balance thus and then that is what I do."
"You mean you've never had any training—with the body?"
"Of course, as a boy. But once one reaches the physical state for which one aims, the body then becomes the instrument of will."
"Is that so!" she marveled. "Well, that is certainly an original way of looking at it. I must try that at Master's, but I don't think it will work. In ballet you have to practice or you're stiff."
"First, I will teach you prana, first principle of life. Then, with my help, you will become a true artist of the dance."
"That's why I want to study with you. I didn't bring a practice costume today because I didn't know what kind you liked. But this dress is full, I can do anything in it."
Ranna smiled indulgently. "I thought perhaps today we would converse. To achieve a communion of spirit first. Time is static for those who meet in its elasticity, thus there is no need to rush."
"I'm glad you feel that way," Lucy confided, "because I've never done barefoot dancing and I don't think I could get up and start right off." She tried to sound businesslike because the way Ranna looked at her was anything but. "A singer, a great artist, told me," she said, pretending not to notice, "that when she sang it was as if the words were telling her how to sing them. Do you think dancing is like that? Does the music tell you what to do?"
"Not at all. The music is but a necklace, a chain between oneself and the audience or, to put it literally, a telegram."
"Now that I think of it, that's the way ballet music is."
Ranna frowned, obviously displeased by the comparison. "No, no, there is no similarity. Ballet is artificial, geometric. It is not a sincere art. It has no soul. In the dance of India every gesture and movement has its meaning, especially in those dances which are symbolizations of love. In our dance the whole body speaks its own language—"
"Do you mean those Oriental belly dancers are artists? In our theatre ballet is supposed to be the most artistic."
"That is because you do not know the true art of the East. What you have seen in your Western theatre is a corruption of the true dance of India, a vulgarization of the nautch dance," he said coldly.
"I don't think it's artistic myself. It certainly isn't like what you do," she apologized. You had to be careful of what you said to artists, Simone had been touchy too.
"Thank you," he said, permitting himself to be mollified. She was an elusive one, difficult to enclose in a mystic mood of art which became love. Nuances were ignored by her, or rather she reduced them to a concrete literalness.
"I get awfully sick of doing the show routine over and over. What I really want is to be a concert dancer like you. Will you be giving a recital? In a theatre, I mean."
"I doubt whether I could bring myself to dance on a hideous glue-stinking Broadway stage," he said loftily.
Lucy looked at him astonished. It never had occurred to her anyone could think of a stage as stinking. To an audience the stage was an illusion; to her the rubbery heat of spotlights, the odors of glue, hemp ropes and acrid fireproofed scenery, the sandbags, the resilient canvased floor, all that was reality. It was not to abandon the stage that she wished to give a recital, but to increase her stature on it, so that Beman, for example, would see her as the star for the play about a dancer he kept talking about. She must have misunderstood.
"You mean you prefer Carnegie Hall?"
"Not that barn!"
"I don't know of any other place except Aeolian Hall, where they have concerts of modern music."
He shuddered delicately.
Disappointed, she turned away and saw him watching her in a mirror and, as their eyes met in the glass, he smiled caressingly, came to her and with his slender coffee-cream fingers brushed back a hair tendril from her cheek.
"In Kashmir," he intoned dreamily, "I would have a temple of my own, but here I am content to dance for friends in my studio."
"But you were interested when Figente spoke of doing Arabian Nights in that rundown Manhattan Opera House!"
"Quite different. The audience would have sat on silken cushions and only those who could achieve the Lotus position would have been permitted to attend."
"I don't think you are very practical."
He took her hand between his trembling two and from his relaxed lower lip she knew not dancing or India was in his thoughts. Again their eyes met and they laughed simultaneously.
She was determined to keep herself from being deflected. "You see," she explained, as if to someone unable to understand her language, "I thought that later, after I've studied with you and you think me ready, I would give a recital. If you wished to share the program all you would have to do—is dance. I'd get someone, a manager, to attend to the details. It would give New York a chance to see your art."
"We shall see, we shall see," he repeated vaguely.
Lucy removed her hand.
It was apparent he would have to make a literal promise. For this one, golden as a princess, dreamed of but never encountered in Mrs. Custerd's world, he would pull himself from sweet lethargy and submit to the exertion of work. Nothing less, he calculated, would achieve possession of her.
"Come, let us begin then," he said suddenly, flexing his arms and dancing with spontaneous playfulness.
Artist of dance. Artist of love. She knew what would happen if she as much as moved in his direction. I'm not going to rush into it this time, she decided firmly. Not until I'm sure and after I've worked with him a while. He's too attractive. Maybe I'll get him to work at Ilona's, its easier to keep your mind on work there.
"Not now, I have to go. It takes me an hour to make up for the show."
"Time—time—the prison the West makes of living. You will see how I will release you from time," he said, sighing. With this one, it would not do to be insistent.
My goodness, he's sulking. "I can come Friday," she said cheerily.
"Well, you said time doesn't matter," she reminded. "Anyway, it's only the day after tomorrow."
Well, everything's just fine, if I just don't get disappointed all over again, Lucy thought in the taxi.
She was dressed and warming up earlier than usual. She felt good.
"Yo' sure hoppin' tonight, Miss Lucy!"
"Cleo! What are you doing here?"
"Dressin' Miss Soler, Phronie is visitin' in Detroit. I may take her place if she don't come back."
"Well, I like that! I think you ought to come back to me."
"I hears you got a French maid now. Yo' too high class fo' me."
"Oh, get out. You come back where you belong."