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Chapter 38


The last week in February Lucy returned early one morning—her skin was a deep apricot, her white silk suit rumpled and soiled.

"I didn't have time to change. I left in such a hurry, I threw all my other clothes in the suitcases. If anyone phones, say I'm not here," she said cryptically.

"You look marvelous," Vida admired.

"Wait until you see me later," she said and went to bathe while Vida prepared breakfast.

"Look," she said a half hour later, holding open her robe. She was as white as vanilla ice cream.

"I washed it off. It's a new liquid makeup. I never got out in the sun. You stay up all night down there. From now on though I'm going to lead a quiet life, disciplined."

Vida smiled at Lucy's adoption of the word reminiscent of Pergov but let it pass to tell her own news.

Lucy was astonished. "I don't understand. I think of you interested only in books and you land in a place like Hector's. Why do you waste your time there?"

"It's a secret, riddle it out for yourself."

"I'll bet there's a man in it."

"Oh Lucy, for heaven's sake, what a single-track mind."

"Well, I don't get it."

"There's a big bruise on your leg."

Lucy frowned, and then laughed nervously. "I must have bumped it on a suitcase on the train." She wrapped the robe around her and walked about smoking. "I met a man in Florida I like very much. He's very good for me, but he's very jealous. I don't want him to know I'm here just yet because I'm tired. I want a good sleep."

"Nat Merriman?"

Lucy looked at her wide-eyed. "Where did you hear about Nat? From Figente, I'll bet. No, it isn't Nat. He's another Lyle, but older. This man I like is English. He's crazy about flying. He was always taking me up in a friend's plane and if I showed I was scared he'd loop the loop."

"He must be a sadist."

"He says I'm a coward because I have no discipline. He's being transferred from the Palm Beach office of an English steamship company to be near me. His name is Hugh Wickham. He looks like the Prince of Wales but with curly hair."

This seemed to Vida a meager description as, except for the Broadway and sporting types who preferred the snappy Jimmy Walker style, most young men strove to resemble the royal model.

"I think he's flying up now, but I don't want him to know I'm here yet. The plane belongs to an English friend of his who married one of those rich girls from the best schools and families. She drinks like a fish. All those girls down there do. They try to play along with the men. Girls in show business take better care of themselves. Hugh says he and his friend are from very good English county families, and that American society is a big joke. He is very strict about what I do and punishes me if I don't toe the mark. I think that's probably what I need, and even that if I'm not in love with him I ought to try and make a go of it this time. I know he will help me because he believes in discipline. Nino would expect me to do it all by myself."

She paused uncertainly, seeing Vida expressionless.

"What I need most right now is a good long sleep," she concluded.

"And I have to get to work, I'll see you tonight," Vida said abruptly.

It was the first time, Lucy meditated unhappily, Vida had offered no opinion or consolation when I needed advice. She thinks I'm crazy. Not that I blame her. But I need someone to take me in hand and tell me what to do …

When Vida arrived home that night she found a note from Lucy saying that Hugh had come for her, and not to worry. She would phone in a day or two with her new address. Hugh wanted them to be alone for a few days.

Vida censured herself for having left that morning without exacting a promise from Lucy to make no quick decisions about Wickham whom, sight unseen, she disliked.

Three worried days of self-recrimination followed, and early the fourth morning Lucy hurried in to Hector's.

"I can't stay long. Hugh thinks I'm still asleep and he'll phone me from the office at ten thirty."

"Why didn't you at least phone?"

"I promised Hugh that for three days we'd be absolutely alone. And we were busy getting settled. We have an apartment on East 66th. We share the rent and expenses. He allows me to pay more than he does because he doesn't earn much, and I feel better doing it. After all, I can afford it. The only thing is, he doesn't like me to go out without him. I want you to meet him soon. But don't phone me. I'll phone you."

"All I want to know is, are you all right? I've been worried sick." "Yes, it's good to have a man interested in teaching you what to do for your own good," Lucy replied, a shade too earnestly, Vida thought.

Shortly thereafter Lucy brought Wickham to Hector's and introduced him with pathetic eagerness. The description of him had been apt except for belligerent grey eyes and a vain tight mouth. He leaned casually on a walking stick, keeping a distance as if to avoid fraternization with a shopgirl.

The exchange was strained and Vida thought best to put an end to it. "Please excuse me, we're very rushed, I have to take a look at an order for Norma Shearer before it is sent."

The incident apparently had disturbed Lucy for she returned the next morning apologetic and close to tears.

"You see," she explained anxiously, "Hugh didn't realize you are my best friend that I always talk about until he heard your name. He is very particular about the people he knows and wants me only to have his friends, because he says they are real. He has very high standards. I don't want to marry him until I am sure, but I do want our relationship to last because he is good for me. He disciplines me, and it really is very good to be told what to do and not to have to think for myself. I may not be able to see you much now but I think if I obey him he will reward me with more freedom. Just now he doesn't even want me to dance, so I don't know yet how to fill my time after the apartment is cleaned."

"Haven't you a maid?"

"No. You see, Hugh doesn't think I should have one yet. He thinks it is a kind of purification to keep one's own house clean."

"He sounds to me like a disciple of Pergov," said Vida, nodding recognition of Hector's signal indicating a waiting important client.

"Yes. He admires Pergov very much. He says Pergov understands better than anyone what women want. But I mustn't keep you—I'll try and see you soon."

"What's the matter with Claudel," Hector asked Vida later, "aren't things going well? One doesn't see her around any more. She seems out of it."

"She's fine," Vida said. "She's only been back from Palm Beach a few days and she caught a germ of some kind there."

"I'm glad to hear that's all it is," Hector said, but she did not think him convinced. Those who catered to individuals in the public eye were quick to sense ups and downs; Hector, especially, was uncanny in that regard.

It was a penetrating wet cold as she rode down on the top of the crowded bus to have dinner with Figente. Were it not for that gnawing worry about Lucy everything would have been wonderful, not counting that other preoccupation, finding one's own true love. At the busy going home hour, when all bustle seemed eager preparation for the night, New York itself was a lover. The days at Hector's teemed with learning that made her wonder whether one ever could truly see oneself. There, misshapen old women surveyed their bedecked heads in the mirror, with faces softened at the beauty only they beheld, oblivious that often Hector could see their pants because of the way they sat, legs apart. His success was due to the confidence they felt in his half-man, half-woman judgment. Nature, she thought, is most cooperative. And also in teaching women the value of disguise depending upon the wish of men. A fascinating perpetual masquerade changing with whatever fashion of women was in demand. The demure; the cuddly; the extremely "smart"; the pal; the little girl; the "enigmatic"; the remote glamorous woman; the "lost soul"; and of course the current Green-Hat idol, dying for love, purity, pour le sport. But somewhere there must be a man who sees through all that and wants a friend as well as a mistress.

Figente was exasperated when she explained why Lucy hadn't been to see him. "You can't mean that clerk—pushing himself up in Palm Beach, that hallroom boy!" he snorted disdainfully.

"You're really a horrible snob," she protested in Lucy's defense, with a premonition that his description of Hugh Wickham was exact.

"Quite correct, I am. I think it too dreary of her to waste herself on a county offshoot when she could have had Nino or Nat Meiriman."

"She says she likes him because he is a disciplinarian, and she believes that is what she needs. I wonder whether I am not to blame." She looked at him stricken with what had occurred to her. "It was my idea to go see the Pergov demonstration last spring and I remember being surprised by her favorable reaction."

Figente's eyes glinted knowingly. "There are many ways to delight the flesh—and spirit. The multiplicities of pain—not only of the actual lash, but the imprisonment of—and then release of—desire by an imposed outer discipline—can become the most gratifying pleasure of all in those who have experienced only routine satisfactions."

"I don't believe that's it at all!" She refused the implication angrily.

"One never can be that certain, my dear Boswell, of anyone's predilections. I wash my hands of her. Now—do tell me all the gossip at Hector's."

"You seem to me extremely worldly in your interests as yet for one who is about to be taken into the arms of the Faith," she said caustically.

"Not at all—if you had listened carefully to my observation concerning the multiplicities of pain you would have comprehended that I am preparing myself properly—besides, I must have something to confess. I adore the ceremony of absolution."

At three o'clock on a bleak March afternoon Lucy pulled a plain black felt cloche over her ears, arranging her hair to cover an inflamed burn on her cheek. When she was ready to leave she sat in the bedroom, lighted a cigarette with trembling fingers, and planned an excuse to give the new English maid, Lily.

"If Mr. Wickham calls," she said, trying to seem calm, "I've gone to have a prescription filled, and then to Bloomingdale's for gloves and one or two things. I'll be back at five sharp."

"Certainly, madame," Lily said, with her sly doubting smile.

She set off quickly in the direction of the drugstore because she knew Hugh was paying Lily to spy on her. Out of sight of Lily's eyes she got into a cab and went to Hector's.

"Let's go to the washroom, I don't want anyone to see me here. I can only stay a minute," she said urgently to Vida.

"What's the trouble?" Vida asked frightened, seeing what looked like a bad cigarette burn on Lucy's ashen cheek.

"Nothing, I'm fine," Lucy brushed aside the question. "I just came to ask you not to phone any more. Hugh is so jealous he has hired an English maid to tell him everything I do. He never believes me when I say where I've been so I almost never go out. I'm doing a lot of reading though to kill time. I can get through a Maupassant story in French now if I use my French lesson books and dictionary, but right now I'm reading Pepys' Diary. I've been trying to write too to pass the time. I think up all sorts of stories but they never look the same on paper. It's hard, isn't it? I don't blame you for giving up writing."

Lucy kept looking at her watch nervously as Vida, rankled at the assumption that she had abandoned writing, sought frantically for some speech to bring her friend to her senses. Was Lucy losing her mind to subject herself to this brutality by an obvious sadist? Wickham undoubtedly had burned the beautiful cheek in a jealous rage. But Lucy spoke before Vida could think of anything to say.

"I have to watch the time because I have to stop at Bloomingdale's and the drugstore on the way back. I just have to be home when Hugh gets in. He's so interested in my welfare—but he's very jealous and so we have terrible fights."

"But, Lucy, the relationship doesn't make sense if it has this effect. You look and sound ill. And Figente says about Hugh—"

"I don't want to hear what Figente says. You shouldn't have told him about Hugh. I know what I'm doing. Hugh says I've always had my own way but he said the other day he thinks I've improved. What I want more than anything is to make a relationship last because before I've always walked out when I felt like it. You'll see, I'll work it out somehow, only don't phone," she babbled frenetically.

"I won't—if you promise you will when you have a chance," Vida promised and helplessly watched her rush away.

A week later Lucy sat in the bedroom fearful of going into the living room because of Lily. Suppose Lily refused to let her go out? What would she do then? Hugh and Lily were against her, watching every step she took. And if she didn't obey, Hugh struck her. Just the same, she had to get out for some air.

"I've been reading so much I'm just going out for a walk," she apologized, holding her breath but resigned not to insist if Lily objected.

"Certainly, madame," Lily said with that awful smile.

She walked over and into the Park where it began to snow softly.

"You know," she said out loud to the phantom of Paul Vermillion as she hastened to keep up with him, "I'm terribly mixed up. I wish you would tell me what to do. I'm going to give a concert with Ranna but all he wants to do is to make love. And I really am grateful for what Hugh is trying to do for me with his discipline but he doesn't seem to want me to do anything, not dance, just sit home and wait for him. It's as though he wants me to be nothing. Is that what you would want too?"

But Vermillion was walking so fast she couldn't catch up and she slipped and fell.

"You all right, miss?" asked the big policeman.

"I'm just fine, but I haven't been very well. Could you walk with me as far as a taxi?"

The next day she took a sleeping pill as soon as Hugh went to work and slept all day, awakening refreshed. She asked Lily to have Hugh's favorite dish, thick mutton chops broiled with mushrooms and little sausages, for dinner, and was over an hour making herself attractive for him. A good sleep, she thought, was all she had needed, and when he came home she met him gaily and gave him a resounding smack on his cold cheek.

"I hear you've been out," he said, too casually, as she lit his favorite English cigarette for him.

"I have not," she denied indignantly, "ask Lily. I've been in all day."

"I'm not speaking of today," he said icily. "I ran into Jeffers and he said he saw you hot-footing it somewhere yesterday."

"I was tired of reading and I went for a walk in the Park for fresh air. I've been cooped up a whole week."

"That's as good a phony alibi as any," he said, sneering. "He also told me you were very pal-sy with the Lorna Smith set. Perhaps I'm not up to your price, and you need a little extra cash. Tell me, how much do you charge an hour?"

She looked at him unbelievingly, turned and went into the bedroom.

"Don't think you can get away with that stuff with me," he said, following and, slapping her hard, knocked her down.

He would not believe she meant to leave when she put on her hat and coat. "Some chap I know?" he jeered. But at the door he barred the way.

"I'll scream, and the police will come, and think of your county reputation at the steamship company," she taunted.

He tried to kiss her but, kicking his shins, she managed to open the door and stumble down the steps of the high brown stoop. She ran to the corner where, out of breath, she faltered. Where could she go. Not to Vida. She couldn't face her now. Who else was there? Figente. He'd laugh. Who else? Nobody. She walked and walked and every man looked like Hugh and each time she began to run.

She was out of breath and wanted to sit down somewhere outside so that if Hugh came after her she would have a chance to see him first and get away. On top of the Fifth Avenue bus she saw that the night was starry and remembered about the new fortuneteller who read the stars. Tessie said she was wonderful. She went to the woman, who did arithmetic about her for a long time and it seemed silly. If the woman really knew what was going to happen she would rule the world and not have to do arithmetic at ten dollars a person. She walked all the way back to Fifth Avenue and didn't know where to go next. The broad low steps of St. Patrick's led to a wide open door and women were going in so she did too and the church quiet and incense soothed her. So many people were praying it seemed too much to ask God to pay special attention to someone who never went to church, but she felt cleaner from sitting there. Being in the church made her think of Simone, who was very religious. If only she had some of that stuff Simone had to make her feel better. There was that writer in Greenwich Village she had met who knew all about such things. Maybe the thing to do was get her mind off trouble and everything and she might get a good idea of how to start over again on Broadway. The writer seemed nice and friendly over the phone and said he wished she'd come right down. She took a taxi and when she got there he gave her a few drinks and then some hashish. She lay on a couch and flies as big as human beings crawled around the ceiling molding. That was all. Except that the writer began to bother her so she left and it was four o'clock in the morning and a policeman gave her a look and luckily there was a taxi and she got in and went to the Athenée where they knew her and let her in and it was clean and quiet and she could sleep.

But she couldn't sleep. Every time she heard a man's or woman's voice in the hall it was Hugh's or his spy Lily's and once when she dozed for a minute the door opened and Horta, Hugh, and Lily walked in and she woke up screaming. Then she was sick in the bathroom.

Later she telephoned the druggist who had her prescription to send the sleeping pills. When the bellboy came with them she told him to leave the package outside because it might be a trick of Hugh's to get in. Two capsules didn't work, so she took another.

The next morning she tried to make up her mind about ordering coffee. If she did, the waiter would be a man. She would wait until the chambermaid came and could bring in the tray from outside the door.

On the third morning, the chambermaid asked, "Are you feeling all right, Miss Claudel? You look very sick."

"I'm just fine," Lucy replied fretfully, "I'm just resting after the flu."

An hour later there was a tap on the door and, as Lucy did not answer, a key was fitted into the lock. Lucy jumped from bed and clutched the telephone. If it was Hugh, she'd scream.

"Excuse me, Miss Claudel," the housekeeper said soothingly, "I was checking the linens and cleaning. Are you all right? Would you like me to ask the hotel doctor to come and see you? I understand you're not feeling well."

The chambermaid must have told. "I've had the flu, and I'm resting where people won't know where I am and I won't be disturbed," she said resentfully.

The thing to do was to phone Vida but not let on everything; wasn't just fine.

"Where are you, I can hardly hear you," Vida said brusquely.

"I'm out of jail, I'm at the Athenée, come over now."

"It's the busiest time, I can't."

She could tell Vida thought her a nuisance. "Come at lunchtime,"she begged.

"I will if I can. I can hardly hear you, it's a bad connection."

"Try, try and come," she pleaded and hung up.

"I'll have a newspaper sent up to kill time," Lucy said out loud to herself. Funny how less alone you seemed, or was it more alone? when you spoke to yourself out loud.

When the newspaper came, she turned the pages back and forth and back mechanically. On the theatre page she saw Beman's name and stopped to read. It was an item stating his decision to go into production of an unusual play concerning a dancer immediately following the opening of a new Cravenes comedy next week.

She sat stunned by the loss of the last hope for the role she had craved. When she looked at her watch it was almost three. Vida was not coming. She went to the dressing table for a cigarette and a strange yellow face with lank hair stared at her from the mirror over half a glass of water and a bottle of sleeping pills.

She nodded to the poor stranger and said, "You take some. Enough for a long sleep. Then maybe you won't have to scream."

After a lunchless day of coping with women demanding chameleon changes of her mood for each special requirement, Vida looked forward to seeing Lucy after finishing work, relieved by the vague information that she had left Hugh. Then, just before closing, Beman came in with a young woman she recognized as the debutante at Figente's Christmas party.

"You take them, dear, I'm exhausted," Hector said.

She put on her professional expression of welcome and exchanged preliminary greetings with Beman, who was surprised to find her there.

"Miss Allwood is going to be in the Cravenes' new play and I want something spectacular for her to wear in the first and third acts, but nothing to clash with Tessie."

With a fixed smile she watched Miss Allwood, a passable reddish blonde who acted as though she were a great beauty, comb her hair, pull on or toss away Hector's creations as if they were Woolworth's crepe-paper souvenirs. It was Beman, she knew, who had started an increasing trend in the theatre, to have society girls, untrained in the craft of acting, enact in their well-bred college manner the most decadent roles.

"By the way, how is Lucy?" Beman asked idly while they were waiting.

"Lucy who?" asked Miss Allwood abstractedly.

"Claudel, the première in my last show. No, I don't think that beige will do, and you'd better have a platinum bleach," Beman said, thinking of Tessie's red hair.

Their combined indifference infuriated Vida. "Lucy is wonderful. She had a terrific success in Palm Beach at the new club, The Crocodile. She's just back and trying to catch up on rest." She remembered Lucy said "resting" meant no job. "In fact," she extemporized, "when she's rested, she may go to Paris. She has had an offer to star in a show there from that big French manager, I can't remember his name, who saw the Laurencin ballet. He wants her to do it in his new revue."

She could see Beman's fish eyes open at "Palm Beach" and pop at "Paris."


"Yes. I thought you knew her recital was merely a tryout for 'Les Jeux des Filles Méchantes.' Did you see Mark Gordon's review?" she said, casually.

"I prefer to rely on my own judgment. I thought her ballet extremely good but I didn't quite have a spot for it. Where is she staying?"

It was as if she had pulled a puppet string. Figente and Lucy were correct. You had to act big, hard to get. What a world!

"At the Athenée, of course."

She could hardly wait to phone Lucy and tell her about Beman. A chambermaid answered.

"The lady's asleep, but if you're a friend maybe you'd better come right over because she's breathin' awful hard. I was just goin' to call the manager."

"Don't call anyone, I'll be right over."

Lucy was breathing spasmodically.

"It's all right, I know all about these asthma attacks," was the first thing she could think of to say to the suspicious chambermaid.

Alone with Lucy, she looked wildly about the room and saw the familiar but almost empty bottle of sleeping pills on the dressing table. I must bring her to, she thought, terrified of calling a doctor and the inevitable newspaper scandal.

She threw open the windows and, remembering vaguely of how drowning people were resuscitated, tore off the covers, turned Lucy over and pumped her chest up and down to no avail. She splashed cold water on her, slapped her face frantically, and massaged the region of her heart. When faint breath escaped the blue lips she screamed into her ear and took her by the shoulders and shook her, thinking as she did that it was a kind of dance against death.

Exhausted, she paused for breath, deciding to call the doctor.

Lucy moved slightly, and sucked in a long sobbing breath.

"Get up, get up!" Vida screamed, and dragging her to her feet, placed Lucy's flaccid arm around her shoulder.

"Walk, walk, don't you dare stop walking," she sobbed and with extra-human strength dragged her up and down the room and then rolled her into the bathtub and turned on the cold shower.

Lucy started and shivered and she pulled her out of the tub, rolling her over the floor and up into the bed. And then Lucy's eyelids quivered and opened.

"Don't you dare close your eyes!" Vida shrieked, and phoned Room Service for coffee.

"If I can keep this up, I can do it," Vida told herself aloud.

A tinge of blood showed in the blue face and Vida took each slender arm in turn, waving it ruthlessly as if in a kind of mad ballet until with a shuddering deep sigh the rigid body slowly unbent.

"I'll take it," she said to the waiter through a crack in the door, shoving him a few uncounted bills.

"Drink it," she coaxed, her arm in back of Lucy's head as the wan lips opened and received chokingly the drops. Then Lucy began to suck at the cup in the rhythm of a baby at breast and opened her eyes.

"You make me sick, what do you mean getting into a state like this?" Vida scolded.

The only answer was a determined rap on the door.

"Miss Claudel is fine," she told the suspicious manager. "She's just had a relapse, she's been very sick, you know, but she's fine now. I'll take her home as soon as she feels up to it."

She rubbed and slapped and at length was able to move her to the chaise longue and put the bedding to dry on the radiator.

"Do you want to be a story on the front page of a tabloid with one of those cosmograph photos?" she scolded.

"You didn't come and I just wanted to sleep and sleep," Lucy mumbled.

"You're crazy," Vida said brusquely and later, when she was fit to listen, told her about Beman.

"It doesn't mean a thing," she said indifferently. "You don't realize it, Vida, because you don't know show business—I'm finished. Beman will never want me for a show. I started almost at the top too soon. Beginning is easy. It's keeping up that kills you unless you're tough as nails, and don't care about anything else. Even yourself. Only success. It's different with you. You're an artist. Or will be. I'm not. I don't know why, and I don't care. Not any more."

"That's nonsense! We're only twenty, and it takes a long time to become an artist," Vida protested on her own behalf as well.

The next morning at eleven Vida was still with Lucy. Though awake, Lucy was encased in an impenetrable armor of lethargy. Vida was about to send for a doctor when the telephone rang.

"Mr. Beman would like Miss Claudel to lunch with him tomorrow at Sardi's," said a brisk secretary.

"I'm so sorry," replied secretary Bertrand, "but Miss Claudel has an engagement—but she could lunch day after tomorrow, shall we say here at the Athenée?"

There was a pause at the other end. "The day after tomorrow at the Athenée," the secretary said.

"You see!" Vida said triumphantly.

"You've become awfully bossy," Lucy said, smiling faintly.

"It's easier to do things for other people than for yourself," Vida catechized, "and if I don't get to work I'll lose my job. Remember now, you're not at all enthusiastic about accepting his offer because you'd rather go to Paris. I'll call you every hour, and stay with you tonight, and tomorrow night. Tomorrow and tomorrow. You don't know how to take care of yourself."