It was almost two when they went into the dining-room. Back and forth over the deserted tables a heavy pattern of beams and shadows swayed with the motion of the pines outside. Two waiters, piling plates and talking loud Italian, fell silent when they came in and brought them a tired version of the table d’hôte luncheon.
“I fell in love on the beach,” said Rosemary.
“First with a whole lot of people who looked nice. Then with one man.”
“Did you talk to him?”
“Just a little. Very handsome. With reddish hair.” She was eating, ravenously. “He’s married though — it’s usually the way.”
Her mother was her best friend and had put every last possibility into the guiding of her, not so rare a thing in the theatrical profession, but rather special in that Mrs. Elsie Speers was not recompensing herself for a defeat of her own. She had no personal bitterness or resentments about life — twice satisfactorily married and twice widowed, her cheerful stoicism had each time deepened. One of her husbands had been a cavalry officer and one an army doctor, and they both left something to her that she tried to present intact to Rosemary. By not sparing Rosemary she had made her hard — by not sparing her own labor and devotion she had cultivated an idealism in Rosemary, which at present was directed toward herself and saw the world through her eyes. So that while Rosemary was a “simple” child she was protected by a double sheath of her mother’s armor and her own — she had a mature distrust of the trivial, the facile and the vulgar. However, with Rosemary’s sudden success in pictures Mrs. Speers felt that it was time she were spiritually weaned; it would please rather than pain her if this somewhat bouncing, breathless and exigent idealism would focus on something except herself.
“Then you like it here?” she asked.
“It might be fun if we knew those people. There were some other people, but they weren’t nice. They recognized me — no matter where we go everybody’s seen ‘Daddy’s Girl.’”
Mrs. Speers waited for the glow of egotism to subside; then she said in a matter-of-fact way: “That reminds me, when are you going to see Earl Brady?”
“I thought we might go this afternoon — if you’re rested.”
“You go — I’m not going.”
“We’ll wait till to-morrow then.”
“I want you to go alone. It’s only a short way — it isn’t as if you didn’t speak French.”
“Mother — aren’t there some things I don’t have to do?”
“Oh, well then go later — but some day before we leave.”
“All right, Mother.”
After lunch they were both overwhelmed by the sudden flatness that comes over American travellers in quiet foreign places. No stimuli worked upon them, no voices called them from without, no fragments of their own thoughts came suddenly from the minds of others, and missing the clamor of Empire they felt that life was not continuing here.
“Let’s only stay three days, Mother,” Rosemary said when they were back in their rooms. Outside a light wind blew the heat around, straining it through the trees and sending little hot gusts through the shutters.
“How about the man you fell in love with on the beach?”
“I don’t love anybody but you, Mother, darling.”
Rosemary stopped in the lobby and spoke to Gausse père about trains. The concierge, lounging in light-brown khaki by the desk, stared at her rigidly, then suddenly remembered the manners of his métier. She took the bus and rode with a pair of obsequious waiters to the station, embarrassed by their deferential silence, wanting to urge them: “Go on, talk, enjoy yourselves. It doesn’t bother me.”
The first-class compartment was stifling; the vivid advertising cards of the railroad companies — The Pont du Gard at Arles, the Amphitheatre at Orange, winter sports at Chamonix — were fresher than the long motionless sea outside. Unlike American trains that were absorbed in an intense destiny of their own, and scornful of people on another world less swift and breathless, this train was part of the country through which it passed. Its breath stirred the dust from the palm leaves, the cinders mingled with the dry dung in the gardens. Rosemary was sure she could lean from the window and pull flowers with her hand.
A dozen cabbies slept in their hacks outside the Cannes station. Over on the promenade the Casino, the smart shops, and the great hotels turned blank iron masks to the summer sea. It was unbelievable that there could ever have been a “season,” and Rosemary, half in the grip of fashion, became a little self- conscious, as though she were displaying an unhealthy taste for the moribund; as though people were wondering why she was here in the lull between the gaiety of last winter and next winter, while up north the true world thundered by.
As she came out of a drug store with a bottle of cocoanut oil, a woman, whom she recognized as Mrs. Diver, crossed her path with arms full of sofa cushions, and went to a car parked down the street. A long, low black dog barked at her, a dozing chauffeur woke with a start. She sat in the car, her lovely face set, controlled, her eyes brave and watchful, looking straight ahead toward nothing. Her dress was bright red and her brown legs were bare. She had thick, dark, gold hair like a chow’s.
With half an hour to wait for her train Rosemary sat down in the Café des Alliés on the Croisette, where the trees made a green twilight over the tables and an orchestra wooed an imaginary public of cosmopolites with the Nice Carnival Song and last year’s American tune. She had bought Le Temps and The Saturday Evening Post for her mother, and as she drank her citronade she opened the latter at the memoirs of a Russian princess, finding the dim conventions of the nineties realer and nearer than the headlines of the French paper. It was the same feeling that had oppressed her at the hotel — accustomed to seeing the starkest grotesqueries of a continent heavily underlined as comedy or tragedy, untrained to the task of separating out the essential for herself, she now began to feel that French life was empty and stale. This feeling was surcharged by listening to the sad tunes of the orchestra, reminiscent of the melancholy music played for acrobats in vaudeville. She was glad to go back to Gausse’s Hotel.
Her shoulders were too burned to swim with the next day, so she and her mother hired a car — after much haggling, for Rosemary had formed her valuations of money in France — and drove along the Riviera, the delta of many rivers. The chauffeur, a Russian Czar of the period of Ivan the Terrible, was a self-appointed guide, and the resplendent names — Cannes, Nice, Monte Carlo — began to glow through their torpid camouflage, whispering of old kings come here to dine or die, of rajahs tossing Buddha’s eyes to English ballerinas, of Russian princes turning the weeks into Baltic twilights in the lost caviare days. Most of all, there was the scent of the Russians along the coast — their closed book shops and grocery stores. Ten years ago, when the season ended in April, the doors of the Orthodox Church were locked, and the sweet champagnes they favored were put away until their return. “We’ll be back next season,” they said, but this was premature, for they were never coming back any more.
It was pleasant to drive back to the hotel in the late afternoon, above a sea as mysteriously colored as the agates and cornelians of childhood, green as green milk, blue as laundry water, wine dark. It was pleasant to pass people eating outside their doors, and to hear the fierce mechanical pianos behind the vines of country estaminets. When they turned off the Corniche d’Or and down to Gausse’s Hotel through the darkening banks of trees, set one behind another in many greens, the moon already hovered over the ruins of the aqueducts . . . .
Somewhere in the hills behind the hotel there was a dance, and Rosemary listened to the music through the ghostly moonshine of her mosquito net, realizing that there was gaiety too somewhere about, and she thought of the nice people on the beach. She thought she might meet them in the morning, but they obviously formed a self- sufficient little group, and once their umbrellas, bamboo rugs, dogs, and children were set out in place the part of the plage was literally fenced in. She resolved in any case not to spend her last two mornings with the other ones.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08