Among the Daughters/Chapter 4
THE GIRLS IN THE NEXT ROOM
The luxury of a room with private bath was worth every bit of three dollars for two. Oblivious of the surface-clean drab-pattemed shoddiness of the room, Lucy poked about discovering delightedly unexpected extras.
"Look, a telephone! Who can we call up? Maybe I'll call Miss Klemper later, or Miss Shaver. Wouldn't she be surprised! Look at these cute bars of soap and four towels. For goodness sake, look at this writing paper. Let's see, who can I write a letter to? Let's take the paper and soap with us—here's a bottle opener and a spittoon. What's this book? A Bible! Why do they have that here? I think that's funny, don't you?"
Lucy's remark twinged Mae's conscience. Lucy shouldn't say that about the Bible. It might even be bad luck. Perhaps she should have done something about Lucy's religious training. But on Sundays she was so tired and, what with sewing, washing, and ironing—besides, she didn't need a preacher's help to tell Lucy right from wrong. Look at her sister Mabel, with all her religiousness she hated everyone and was so grudging.
"Well, dear, it's nice of them to put a Bible in the room, people might like to read it sometimes."
"Of course. I went to church when I lived in Congress. I always meant to take you to Sunday school when you were little. Get undressed, so we can go to sleep."
Lucy peeked into the keyhole of a door in the center of the room. "This door's locked, I can't see what's in there."
"It's a door into the next room. Hurry up, dearest."
"I'm going to try that bathtub first."
At last they drew the shades and lay magically secure on the hard clean bed.
Just after four that afternoon they awoke and smiled at each other. Lucy rubbed the palm of her hand on her stomach.
"I'm hungry. I wish I had some of those good sandwiches from last night. Let's go and see if any are left."
The old janitor rolled happily out of the men's room where he had been draining the last bootleg dregs.
"I came to see whether I left a comb," lied Mae.
Nice l'il woman, nice l'il girl. "How about a l'il drink?"
"My goodness," said Mae, "let's have a little air in here first."
He obeyed with alacrity, delighted at having company. A drowned bottle of pop was rescued from a tub of melted ice for Lucy, and Mae had warm near beer.
"These are the best sandwiches I ever ate, they're not even very stale." Lucy closed her eyes to concentrate delight.
Mae nodded, hungrily eating one of the sandwiches she had been offered the night before.
"Do they have a lot of parties here?" she asked the janitor.
"Not from now on," said the little grizzled man happily. "There won't be nothing doing for coupla weeks."
Lucy yawned. "I'm tired all over again. I could sleep and sleep. Let's go back to the hotel."
In the hard light of the hotel room Lucy looked pale. Blue shadows circled her eyes. I'll have to get busy about a job, anything, first thing tomorrow, Mae worried.
Deep soothing slumber.
A key rattle in a lock and sound of a door opening.
Mae jumped in fright and, relieved, saw light line the bottom edge of the door connecting the next room. Thumping of bags. Laughter of two men. One man said something to the porter.
"Yes, suh, I kin get you anything you want. You want something else sides gin 'n' ice? San'wiches?"
A confidential voice asked an inaudible question.
"Sure thing. You jus' call this numbah and say Cee-dric—thass me—tol' you. Horta, she'll take care you good."
A voice conferred with another voice and then made a phone call.
"I wish," grumbled awakened Lucy, "they'd talk loud enough for me to hear or keep quiet. I was sound asleep."
"S-sh, don't listen, try and sleep, dear!" Mae said tensely.
Grunts, groans, shoes dropping, water running, matches struck. They could smell the tobacco. "Ah-ah! these slippers feel better," said a voice. "Christ, the wife's sure going to be sore because I didn't get home. It's her birthday." The two men laughed.
Mae dozed fitfully. The proximity of the men frightened her. It was almost as if they were in the room. There was something sneaking about them, boys doing what they shouldn't.
Clink of glasses, drinks being poured.
"Something else you want, jus' call, ahm on all night."
Desultory talk, then a light tap, door opening, and rustle.
"Why how do you do, girls, come right in," said one man.
Two girl voices, soft and high, almost like Lucy's. Mae cowered under the cover. Lucy was all ears.
"My friend and I were just having a little sociable drink, won't you join us?"
It was all hesitantly polite and formal until after the third or fourth drink. Ugly thick male voices made bewildering demands. Lucy was puzzled. Then the girls said, "Nothing doing until we see money, mister." Slobbering incoherent men pleading, but mockingly calm businesslike women. Then silence.
"Hurry up," Lucy heard one of the girls say roughly. "I can't stay here all night."
Then the men began to yell words Lucy had heard boys shout and the girls yelled them back. Some words she never had heard. What did they mean? Lucy was afraid to move. She heard Mother retching in the bathroom. She, too, felt sick but was too afraid to move.
The telephone next to the bed blared and she bit her tongue, frightened. Who could be calling them? She tremblingly picked up the receiver and answered hello in a faint scared voice.
"What's the matter over there—are you falling in love! You've been with those johns hours," screeched an awful voice. A woman's voice beginning like a man's and ending in a high whistling dying train-whistle screech.
"You have the wrong room, lady," Lucy said, her teeth chattering.
The telephone jangled in the next room and a girl answered right away, and hung up saying, "That was Horta, we got to get back, pay up the bonus, you bastards."
Horta—I'll never forget that voice or name. Or this night.
After a while the men snored. Mother, trembling, held her close, saying, "Go to sleep, dearest."
Lucy could not sleep. There was that bad word boys said when they thought girls weren't listening. Or words girls scratched on metal partitions of toilets at school. You'd think it was bad to go to the toilet. Mother said one word meant something bad men did to girls. Something dangerous. Lucy had to admit she had an idea it had to do with—that—but what could it have to do with love? "Are you falling in love?" that scary Horta had screeched. Those men and those girls sounded like dogs on the street. Frank's hair was almost as stiff as a fox terrier's.
When Lucy awoke, Mae was kneeling on the floor ironing dry last night's wash with a tiny flatiron heated over a Sterno.
"Get dressed quick, dear, so we can get out of here."
Mae scrubbed the bathtub, neatened the room, and reluctantly decided not to take any towels.
Blue Monday. Skyblue Monday. Denver no longer was a mist-isolated plateau. Distant peaks were near, jagged with lightning-struck black lines. On the pavements early workers rushed, heads up, in the bracing air.
"If we find a diamond ring, we'll sell it right away and go to another hotel."
Lucy scanned sidewalks and gutters to the railroad station, running back several times to take a second look at pieces of glittering trash. They breakfasted at the station lunch counter on doughnuts, coffee for Mae, milk for Lucy. Twenty cents, no tip. Mae read the Help Wanted Female list and tore out possibilities. They stood undecided in front of the baggage check counter. It cost ten cents to check each parcel.
"The janitor said Bison Hall wasn't going to be used now because it's summer, why don't we leave them there?" suggested Lucy.
"Why didn't I think of that? You know, that place isn't so bad when clean."
"Yes, and I could practice in the hall. I must go and tell Miss Klemper about last night because she's leaving tomorrow for her vacation in New York. If I could study in New York like her I wouldn't come back to Denver, would you?"
"Well, dear, everybody doesn't care for the same thing. I think Denver is very nice." If only things were as simple as Pussy made them seem. But it was a good idea, leaving everything at Bison Hall for a while.
The janitor acted glad to see them again. Mae gave Lucy a quarter for lunch and said to meet her at the hall at six thirty.
Lucy started toward the Empire but went back to the hall. It would never do to see Mr. Brady without makeup and high heels. She frizzed her hair and looked at herself critically. No, it wouldn't look good to have on quite so much makeup as Saturday night. She rubbed some off. Something was missing. A little blue around the eyes, cascara—no, mascara, and lipstick. Well, a little eyebrow pencil too. Easy to tighten her belt into a new notch because she was thinner since last week.
A rouged girl with coarse skin and a big pasty red mouth came out of Mr. Brady's office and glanced with instinctive antagonism at Lucy. Lucy stared back. The rouge didn't look good but the soft black felt hat pulled rakishly over a mop of brown curls, and the hat's red quill, seemed the essence of professionalism. Lucy looked at the brunette admiringly. My goodness, she must know a lot. Three straps collared the bony ankles of the dancer's sinewy legs and on each inner ankle was a black smudge where she rubbed them as she minced along.
The typist motioned Lucy toward the private office.
The bags under Mr. Brady's eyes were accentuated by the artificial light. The lines and jowls of his face had sunk into customary channels after daily contortions in front of the shaving mirror. But the daily resurrection of his spirits had yet to be sparked. He was irritated rather than stimulated by the muscular stretchings of the acrobatic dancer who had just left after complaining about sharing a dressing room with a stuck-up soprano. The soprano was stuck-up. The nerve of her, telling him she was married, as if that had anything to do with it. She had shown him everything, and then—nothing doing. Teasers, that's what they all are.
He looked up and saw Lucy and it was as if a follow-spot had caught at the top of a stage staircase a tantalizing nymph. Resurrection of Mr. Brady's jaded spirits began. He took in the makeup, the eager golden tendrils, and the tight belt. And she had come to him by herself, without the mother.
"Well, well—how's Pavlova this morning!"
The big pupils of Lucy's delphinium eyes measured him intently and her expression was solemn. He was more friendly than she had expected. She laughed suddenly and came forward with coquettish small steps, wobbling a little on the high heels. He laughed too, almost boyishly.
My goodness, I wonder whether he ever brushes those green teeth?
Mr. Brady felt young. This kid did things to him.
"I guess you'd like to see the show, huh?"
He would take her down into the theatre by way of the backstage stairs. He could tell there how far to go.
She drew her breath, as a singer preparing for a phrase. "Thank you, Mr. Brady, that isn't what I came for. What I want is a chance to dance in one of your acts, chorus or anything."
She watched his smile dissolve. "Well now, girlie, I don't know—I get my acts from New York."
"I know, but I heard you hire extra girls from Denver sometimes."
It was true. There were certain fill-ins who took places at a moment's notice in the perpetually changing chorus line. Fill-ins whose ambition for the bigtime was past and who alternated locally between vaudeville and burlesque. This kid could be on the way up. She sure had the boys panting Saturday night. Sure he could give her a job, but let her work for it. These teasers always expect jobs for nothing. This kid might know the score though, making up like that. He whistled softly between his dark teeth.
Lucy had a wild impulse to giggle. Frank whistled like that before he began trying to kiss her.
"Now, let's see—you want to be a dancer, huh?"
"Yes, sir. I can dance better than Saturday night. That floor was too slippery."
She kicked off her shoes and refreshed his memory with a few movements copied from an Empire dancer. The flashes of soft young thighs stirred Mr. Brady's flabby flesh.
"This is the routine Florinda did in your show three weeks ago." He nodded weakly. The itch was unbearable. He rose heavily and moved toward her as she slipped back into her slippers. He took her by the shoulders with what at first seemed paternal approbation. His heavy grip tightened and he pulled her close, leaning over her, his liver-red lips open, his breath reeking. She leaned back until she thought her back would snap. Then as he slobbered over her she pulled away and let go with a sharp kick in his shins.
"Get the hell outa here," he howled, "you little bitch."
But she was already gone.
Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the breath of dirty old Mr. Brady.
The idea! The idea! An important man like him acting like dirty old Mr. Schmidt. Each step of her high heels impaled Mr. Brady.
Now she never would dance at the Empire. The next time she danced it would be on a stage. Maybe Gus would play for her. He was nice. That drummer was cute too.
What's the matter with men, always acting like that?
She had a ten-cent malted for lunch and went to say goodbye to Miss Klemper.
"A woman just was here looking for you."
So Mrs. Murphy was out to get them.
Bradys to the left of them,
Murphys to the right of them,
Rode the six hundred—
Boy!—Some narrow escape!
Miss Klemper was busy putting away hoops, scarves, tambourines, and other aids of the art of the dance used by young neophytes, preparatory to her leaving for a summer of study in New York.
As Lucy told of her solo and the slippery floor Ilona Klemper felt the disappointment of a cook whose cake has fallen. But the aplomb with which the mishap had been remedied made her nod approvingly. Approval salted with envy. She wondered whether she could have improvised. Heretofore she had frowned on Lucy's irrepressible spurts of stage dancing before class. Ballet, she had warned gravely, was a serious art, not to be coarsened with that cheap jazz. But now, listening to Lucy, she decided that a dancer should be versatile, considering how popular stage dancing was. She would take a course with Ned Wayburn in New York to keep up with the times. Now that the Empire manager had seen Lucy, her pupil, she would have the excuse to approach him. That was all she needed to put her on the map, one talented pupil. And he ought to encourage local talent anyway.
Lucy looked at her solemnly. It was hard to think of a man kissing Miss Klemper. She decided not to mention her latest interview with Mr. Brady.
"How many days do you ride on the train to New York?"
"Three days and two nights. It's a long trip, with a change in Chicago."
Chicago, and New York. New York was Mode and Broadway. She knew about Broadway because Empire actors always talked about it. Broadway! At the Bison Hall the comic had put on a straw hat and swung a stick and had pretended he was George M. Cohan giving "Regards to Broadway." It was hard to think Miss Klemper actually would walk on that street. She wished again she could find a diamond bracelet.
Isn't it funny, I feel sort of lonesome because Miss Klemper is going away. Maybe I should have told her about Mother and me living at Bison Hall. I'll bet she'd have let us stay at the studio. I'd just hate to let her know we didn't have a place to live. Mother says it's nobody's business what we do.
Prospect of the long afternoon stretched interminably to the time when she would be with Mae. In the hard sunlight a warm friendly face recalled an invitation. I think I'll go and call on Miss Shaver.
She scanned names in the grey marble lobby of a red brick apartment house and pressed a button, but there was no answer. Disappointed, she was turning away when the door clicked. A puzzle of doors and steps confused her until she heard a door open on the second floor and ran up expecting to see Miss Shaver.
Instead, peeking out of a barely opened door, she saw a slender young woman in a soft pink flowered dressing gown, with the round pointed-lipped face of a kitten. Large grey eyes observed her with hostility.
"Oh," breathed Lucy apologetically, "I'm looking for Miss Shaver."
The woman hesitated, put a plump small hand to rumpled nondescript hair, and petulantly surveyed the girl from golden tip to patent leather toe.
"What is it, dearest?" a familiar voice called lazily.
"Someone to see you, Ted," the kitten with claws in her voice said, as she flung open the door.
A waft of incense enveloped Lucy. Behind a table sat a beautiful strange boy.
"Why Lucy!" said the boy. And then Lucy saw it wasn't a boy but Miss Shaver in a man's suit, hair bobbed and slicked down behind her ears.
"Lucy, child, what a surprise! Diana, this is Lucy, one of my girls at school."
My goodness, thought Lucy, smiling at Diana, she might scratch me any second.
"I just thought I'd come and call. I just came from Miss Klemper, my dancing teacher, she's going to New York, and I thought I'd come and call," she repeated, adding lamely, "like you asked me to."
Kitten gave Miss Shaver a sidelong glance as if she had found out something. Miss Shaver looked away guiltily.
Oh dear, thought Lucy, I guess she didn't really mean it.
"Why yes, of course—how nice, my dear."
Lucy sat gingerly on the edge of a chair and the two women looked at each other, that Diana as if mad about something, and Miss Shaver as if apologizing. As no one said anything, Lucy felt she should say something.
"You know those ballet slippers you drew the pattern for around my feet"—Kitten's eyes narrowed—"well I wore them Saturday night at the Bison Hall. I did a solo—I just stopped in to tell you."
"Did you, dear?" Miss Shaver said, but looking at Kitten.
"Well," Lucy said, standing up, "I just stopped in to tell you."
Miss Shaver followed her to the door and put her hand on Lucy's cheek. "I'm so glad you came, come again, but do telephone me before you come—because I want to hear all about it."
That was the funniest thing I ever saw, reflected Lucy. Miss Shaver looks cute with her hair bobbed, just like Rudolph Valentino. I guess she didn't ask me to stay because she was waiting for her friend to go.
Twilight. The peaks were tents stretched for the night.
The cloakroom of Bison Hall was cozy. Lucy told Mother about her encounter with Mr. Brady and she agreed it had been right to kick him in the shins. Her encounters with the Misses Klemper and Shaver were more sketchily detailed.
Lucy laughed gleefully. "Oh boy, I'll bet Mr. Brady'd be mad if he knew we were living here."
Mae frowned. If nothing better turned up tomorrow she would take that dishwashing job.
Lucy finished supper of potato salad, cereal and milk. She swallowed twice. "My throat's scratchy."
Mae looked at her anxiously. "Open your mouth, dear."
Under the light she peered down an inflamed passage. Oh God, she thought wildly, what if she gets sick?
Before morning Lucy, burning with fever, had a racking deep dry cough. Mae was frantic. She saw the letters T.B. in a nightmare of panic. Oh God, and no money. The doctors will put her in an institution, say we are vagrants, and take her away from me.
As soon as a drugstore opened she bought with the last of their money some gargle and cough medicine. Then, instructing Lucy to keep warm and to use the gargle every hour, she went to the restaurant which had offered her a dollar and food to wash dishes. After a terrifying week the fever and cough were getting better but the janitor was scared. The party had been one thing but he did not want to get in wrong with the Bisons, so he stayed away until cleanup time for the monthly meeting, then told them firmly they must leave.
At last what Mae feared most was upon them. She would have to ask Mabel for help. At least Lucy would have a place to get better. She smoothed a sheet of Crofter Hotel paper and wrote her sister. A doctor said Denver altitude was too high and Lucy needed the climate in Congress, Nebraska.