When Dick got out of the elevator he followed a tortuous corridor and turned at length toward a distant voice outside a lighted door. Rosemary was in black pajamas; a luncheon table was still in the room; she was having coffee.
“You’re still beautiful,” he said. “A little more beautiful than ever.”
“Do you want coffee, youngster?”
“I’m sorry I was so unpresentable this morning.”
“You didn’t look well — you all right now? Want coffee?”
“You’re fine again, I was scared this morning. Mother’s coming over next month, if the company stays. She always asks me if I’ve seen you over here, as if she thought we were living next door. Mother always liked you — she always felt you were some one I ought to know.”
“Well, I’m glad she still thinks of me.”
“Oh, she does,” Rosemary reassured him. “A very great deal.”
“I’ve seen you here and there in pictures,” said Dick. “Once I had Daddy’s Girl run off just for myself!”
“I have a good part in this one if it isn’t cut.”
She crossed behind him, touching his shoulder as she passed. She phoned for the table to be taken away and settled in a big chair.
“I was just a little girl when I met you, Dick. Now I’m a woman.”
“I want to hear everything about you.”
“How is Nicole — and Lanier and Topsy?”
“They’re fine. They often speak of you —”
The phone rang. While she answered it Dick examined two novels — one by Edna Ferber, one by Albert McKisco. The waiter came for the table; bereft of its presence Rosemary seemed more alone in her black pajamas.
“ . . . I have a caller. . . . No, not very well. I’ve got to go to the costumer’s for a long fitting. . . . No, not now . . .”
As though with the disappearance of the table she felt released, Rosemary smiled at Dick — that smile as if they two together had managed to get rid of all the trouble in the world and were now at peace in their own heaven . . .
“That’s done,” she said. “Do you realize I’ve spent the last hour getting ready for you?”
But again the phone called her. Dick got up to change his hat from the bed to the luggage stand, and in alarm Rosemary put her hand over the mouthpiece of the phone. “You’re not going!”
When the communication was over he tried to drag the afternoon together saying: “I expect some nourishment from people now.”
“Me too,” Rosemary agreed. “The man that just phoned me once knew a second cousin of mine. Imagine calling anybody up for a reason like that!”
Now she lowered the lights for love. Why else should she want to shut off his view of her? He sent his words to her like letters, as though they left him some time before they reached her.
“Hard to sit here and be close to you, and not kiss you.” Then they kissed passionately in the centre of the floor. She pressed against him, and went back to her chair.
It could not go on being merely pleasant in the room. Forward or backward; when the phone rang once more he strolled into the bedchamber and lay down on her bed, opening Albert McKisco’s novel. Presently Rosemary came in and sat beside him.
“You have the longest eyelashes,” she remarked.
“We are now back at the Junior Prom. Among those present are Miss Rosemary Hoyt, the eyelash fancier —”
She kissed him and he pulled her down so that they lay side by side, and then they kissed till they were both breathless. Her breathing was young and eager and exciting. Her lips were faintly chapped but soft in the corners.
When they were still limbs and feet and clothes, struggles of his arms and back, and her throat and breasts, she whispered, “No, not now — those things are rhythmic.”
Disciplined he crushed his passion into a corner of his mind, but bearing up her fragility on his arms until she was poised half a foot above him, he said lightly:
“Darling — that doesn’t matter.”
Her face had changed with his looking up at it; there was the eternal moonlight in it.
“That would be poetic justice if it should be you,” she said. She twisted away from him, walked to the mirror, and boxed her disarranged hair with her hands. Presently she drew a chair close to the bed and stroked his cheek.
“Tell me the truth about you,” he demanded.
“I always have.”
“In a way — but nothing hangs together.”
They both laughed but he pursued.
“Are you actually a virgin?”
“No-o-o!” she sang. “I’ve slept with six hundred and forty men — if that’s the answer you want.”
“It’s none of my business.”
“Do you want me for a case in psychology?”
“Looking at you as a perfectly normal girl of twenty-two, living in the year nineteen twenty-eight, I guess you’ve taken a few shots at love.”
“It’s all been — abortive,” she said.
Dick couldn’t believe her. He could not decide whether she was deliberately building a barrier between them or whether this was intended to make an eventual surrender more significant.
“Let’s go walk in the Pincio,” he suggested.
He shook himself straight in his clothes and smoothed his hair. A moment had come and somehow passed. For three years Dick had been the ideal by which Rosemary measured other men and inevitably his stature had increased to heroic size. She did not want him to be like other men, yet here were the same exigent demands, as if he wanted to take some of herself away, carry it off in his pocket.
Walking on the greensward between cherubs and philosophers, fauns and falling water, she took his arm snugly, settling into it with a series of little readjustments, as if she wanted it to be right because it was going to be there forever. She plucked a twig and broke it, but she found no spring in it. Suddenly seeing what she wanted in Dick’s face she took his gloved hand and kissed it. Then she cavorted childishly for him until he smiled and she laughed and they began having a good time.
“I can’t go out with you to-night, darling, because I promised some people a long time ago. But if you’ll get up early I’ll take you out to the set to-morrow.”
He dined alone at the hotel, went to bed early, and met Rosemary in the lobby at half-past six. Beside him in the car she glowed away fresh and new in the morning sunshine. They went out through the Porta San Sebastiano and along the Appian Way until they came to the huge set of the forum, larger than the forum itself. Rosemary turned him over to a man who led him about the great props; the arches and tiers of seats and the sanded arena. She was working on a stage which represented a guard-room for Christian prisoners, and presently they went there and watched Nicotera, one of many hopeful Valentinos, strut and pose before a dozen female “captives,” their eyes melancholy and startling with mascara.
Rosemary appeared in a knee-length tunic.
“Watch this,” she whispered to Dick. “I want your opinion. Everybody that’s seen the rushes says —”
“What are the rushes?”
“When they run off what they took the day before. They say it’s the first thing I’ve had sex appeal in.”
“I don’t notice it.”
“You wouldn’t! But I have.”
Nicotera in his leopard skin talked attentively to Rosemary while the electrician discussed something with the director, meanwhile leaning on him. Finally the director pushed his hand off roughly and wiped a sweating forehead, and Dick’s guide remarked: “He’s on the hop again, and how!”
“Who?” asked Dick, but before the man could answer the director walked swiftly over to them.
“Who’s on the hop — you’re on the hop yourself.” He spoke vehemently to Dick, as if to a jury. “When he’s on the hop he always thinks everybody else is, and how!” He glared at the guide a moment longer, then he clapped his hands: “All right — everybody on the set.”
It was like visiting a great turbulent family. An actress approached Dick and talked to him for five minutes under the impression that he was an actor recently arrived from London. Discovering her mistake she scuttled away in panic. The majority of the company felt either sharply superior or sharply inferior to the world outside, but the former feeling prevailed. They were people of bravery and industry; they were risen to a position of prominence in a nation that for a decade had wanted only to be entertained.
The session ended as the light grew misty — a fine light for painters, but, for the camera, not to be compared with the clear California air. Nicotera followed Rosemary to the car and whispered something to her — she looked at him without smiling as she said good-by.
Dick and Rosemary had luncheon at the Castelli dei Cæsari, a splendid restaurant in a high-terraced villa overlooking the ruined forum of an undetermined period of the decadence. Rosemary took a cocktail and a little wine, and Dick took enough so that his feeling of dissatisfaction left him. Afterward they drove back to the hotel, all flushed and happy, in a sort of exalted quiet. She wanted to be taken and she was, and what had begun with a childish infatuation on a beach was accomplished at last.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54