In the first place, gigolo is slang. In the second place (with no desire to appear patronizing, but one's French conversation class does not include the argot), it is French slang. In the third place, the gig is pronounced zhig, and the whole is not a respectable word. Finally, it is a term of utter contempt.
A gigolo, generally speaking, is a man who lives off women's money. In the mad year 1922 A. W., a gigolo, definitely speaking, designated one of those incredible and pathetic male creatures, born of the war, who, for ten francs or more or even less, would dance with any woman wishing to dance on the crowded floors of public tea rooms, dinner or supper rooms in the cafés, hotels, and restaurants of France. Lean, sallow, handsome, expert, and unwholesome, one saw them everywhere, their slim waists and sleek heads in juxtaposition to plump, respectable American matrons and slender, respectable American flappers. For that matter, feminine respectability of almost every nationality (except the French) yielded itself to the skilful guidance of the genus gigolo in the tango or fox-trot. Naturally, no decent French girl would have been allowed for a single moment to dance with a gigolo. But America, touring Europe like mad after years of enforced absence, outnumbered all other nations atravel ten to one.
By no feat of fancy could one imagine Gideon Gory, of the Winnebago, Wisconsin, Gorys, employed daily and nightly as a gigolo in the gilt and marble restaurants that try to outsparkle the Mediterranean along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Gideon Gory, of Winnebago, Wisconsin! Why any one knows that the Gorys were to Winnebago what the Romanoffs were to Russia—royal, remote, omnipotent. Yet the Romanoffs went in the cataclysm, and so, too, did the Gorys. To appreciate the depths to which the boy Gideon had fallen one must have known the Gorys in their glory. It happened something like this:
The Gorys lived for years in the great, ugly, sprawling, luxurious old frame house on Cass Street. It was high up on the bluff overlooking the Fox River and, incidentally, the huge pulp and paper mills across the river in which the Gory money had been made. The Gorys were so rich and influential (for Winnebago, Wisconsin) that they didn't bother to tear down the old frame house and build a stone one, or to cover its faded front with cosmetics of stucco. In most things the Gorys led where Winnebago could not follow. They disdained to follow where Winnebago led. The Gorys had an automobile when those vehicles were entered from the rear and when Winnebago roads were a wallow of mud in the spring and fall and a snow-lined trench in the winter. The family was of the town, and yet apart from it. The Gorys knew about golf, and played it in far foreign playgrounds when the rest of us thought of it, if we thought of it at all, as something vaguely Scotch, like haggis. They had oriental rugs and hardwood floors when the town still stepped on carpets; and by the time the rest of the town had caught up on rugs the Gorys had gone back to carpets, neutral tinted. They had fireplaces in bedrooms, and used them, like characters in an English novel. Old Madame Gory had a slim patent leather foot, with a buckle, and carried a sunshade when she visited the flowers in the garden. Old Gideon was rumoured to have wine with his dinner. Gideon Junior (father of Giddy) smoked cigarettes with his monogram on them. Shroeder's grocery ordered endive for them, all blanched and delicate in a wicker basket from France or Belgium, when we had just become accustomed to head-lettuce.
Every prosperous small American town has its Gory family. Every small town newspaper relishes the savoury tid-bits that fall from the rich table of the family life. Thus you saw that Mr. and Mrs. Gideon Gory, Jr., have returned from California where Mr. Gory had gone for the polo. Mr. and Mrs. Gideon Gory, Jr., announce the birth, in New York, of a son, Gideon III (our, in a manner of speaking, hero). Mr. and Mrs. Gideon Gory, Jr., and son Gideon III, left to-day for England and the continent. It is understood that Gideon III will be placed at school in England. Mr. and Mrs. Gideon Gory, accompanied by Madame Gory, have gone to Chicago for a week of the grand opera.
Born of all this, you would have thought that young Giddy would grow up a somewhat objectionable young man; and so, in fact, he did, though not nearly so objectionable as he might well have been, considering things in general and his mother in particular. At sixteen, for example, Giddy was driving his own car—a car so exaggerated and low-slung and with such a long predatory and glittering nose that one marvelled at the expertness with which he swung its slim length around the corners of our narrow tree-shaded streets. He was a real Gory, was Giddy, with his thick waving black hair (which he tried for vain years to train into docility), his lean swart face, and his slightly hooked Gory nose. In appearance Winnebago pronounced him foreign looking—an attribute which helater turned into a doubtful asset in Nice. On the rare occasions when Giddy graced Winnebago with his presence you were likely to find him pursuing the pleasures that occupied other Winnebago boys of his age, if not station. In some miraculous way he had escaped being a snob. Still, training and travel combined to lead him into many innocent errors. When he dropped into Fetzer's pool shack carrying a malacca cane, for example. He had carried a cane every day for six months in Paris, whence he had just returned. Now it was as much a part of his street attire as his hat—more, to be exact, for the hatless head had just then become the street mode. There was a good game of Kelly in progress. Giddy, leaning slightly on his stick, stood watching it. Suddenly he was aware that all about the dim smoky little room players and loungers were standing in attitudes of exaggerated elegance. Each was leaning on a cue, his elbow crooked in as near an imitation of Giddy's position as the stick's length would permit. The figure was curved so that it stuck out behind and before; the expression on each face was as asinine as its owner's knowledge of the comic-weekly swell could make it; the little finger of the free hand was extravagantly bent. The players themselves walked with a mincing step about the table. And: "My deah fellah, what a pretty play. Mean to say, neat, don't you know," came incongruously from the lips of Reddy Lennigan, whose father ran the Lennigan House on Outagamie Street. He spatted his large hands delicately together in further expression of approval.
"Think so?" giggled his opponent, Mr. Dutchy Meisenberg. "Aw—fly sweet of you to say so, old thing." He tucked his unspeakable handkerchief up his cuff and coughed behind his palm. He turned to Giddy. "Excuse my not having my coat on, deah boy."
Just here Giddy might have done a number of things, all wrong. The game was ended. He walked to the table, and, using the offending stick as a cue, made a rather pretty shot that he had learned from Benoit in London. Then he ranged the cane neatly on the rack with the cues. He even grinned a little boyishly. "You win," he said. "My treat. What'll you have?"
Which was pretty sporting for a boy whose American training had been what Giddy's had been.
Giddy's father, on the death of old Gideon, proved himself much more expert at dispensing the paper mill money than at accumulating it. After old Madame Gory's death just one year following that of her husband, Winnebago saw less and less of the three remaining members of the royal family. The frame house on the river bluff would be closed for a year or more at a time. Giddy's father rather liked Winnebago and would have been content to spend six months of the year in the old Gory house, but Giddy's mother, who had been a Leyden, of New York, put that idea out of his head pretty effectively.
"Don't talk to me," she said, "about your duty toward the town that gave you your money and all that kind of feudal rot because you know you don't mean it. It bores you worse than it does me, really, but you like to think that the villagers are pulling a forelock when you walk down Normal Avenue. As a matter of fact they're not doing anything of the kind. They've got their thumbs to their noses, more likely."
Her husband protested rather weakly. "I don't care. I like the old shack. I know the heating apparatus is bum and that we get the smoke from the paper mills, but—I don't know—last year, when we had that punk pink palace at Cannes I kept thinking——"
Mrs. Gideon Gory raised the Leyden eyebrow. "Don't get sentimental, Gid, for God's sake! It's a shanty, and you know it. And you know that it needs everything from plumbing to linen. I don't see any sense in sinking thousands in making it livable when we don't want to live in it."
"But I do want to live in it—once in a while. I'm used to it. I was brought up in it. So was the kid. He likes it, too. Don't you, Giddy?" The boy was present, as usual, at this particular scene.
The boy worshipped his mother. But, also, he was honest. So, "Yeh, I like the ol' barn all right," he confessed.
Encouraged, his father went on: "Yesterday the kid was standing out there on the bluff-edge breathing like a whale, weren't you, Giddy? And when I asked him what he was puffing about he said he liked the smell of the sulphur and chemicals and stuff from the paper mills, didn't you, kid?"
Shame-facedly, "Yeh," said Giddy.
Betrayed thus by husband and adored son, the Leyden did battle. "You can both stay here, then," she retorted with more spleen than elegance, "and sniff sulphur until you're black in the face. I'm going to London in May."
They, too, went to London in May, of course, as she had known they would. She had not known, though, that in leading her husband to England in May she was leading him to his death as well.
"All Winnebago will be shocked and grieved to learn," said the Winnebago Courier to the extent of two columns and a cut, "of the sudden and violent death in England of her foremost citizen, Gideon Gory. Death was due to his being thrown from his horse while hunting."
… To being thrown from his horse while hunting. Shocked and grieved though it might or might not be, Winnebago still had the fortitude to savour this with relish. Winnebago had died deaths natural and unnatural. It had been run over by automobiles, and had its skull fractured at football, and been drowned in Lake Winnebago, and struck by lightning, and poisoned by mushrooms, and shot by burglars. But never had Winnebago citizen had the distinction of meeting death by being thrown from his horse while hunting. While hunting. Scarlet coats. Hounds in full cry. Baronial halls. Hunt breakfasts. Vogue. Vanity Fair.
Well! Winnebago was almost grateful for this final and most picturesque gesture of Gideon Gory the second.
The widowed Leyden did not even take the trouble personally to superintend the selling of the Gory place on the river bluff. It was sold by an agent while she and Giddy were in Italy, and if she was ever aware that the papers in the transaction stated that the house had been bought by Orson J. Hubbell she soon forgot the fact and the name. Giddy, leaning over her shoulder while she handled the papers, and signing on the line indicated by a legal forefinger, may have remarked:
"Hubbell. That's old Hubbell, the dray man. Must be money in the draying line."
Which was pretty stupid of him, because he should have known that the draying business was now developed into the motor truck business with great vans roaring their way between Winnebago and Kaukauna, Winnebago and Neenah, and even Winnebago and Oshkosh. He learned that later.
Just now Giddy wasn't learning much of anything, and, to do him credit, the fact distressed him not a little. His mother insisted that she needed him, and developed a bad heart whenever he rebelled and threatened to sever the apron-strings. They lived abroad entirely now. Mrs. Gory showed a talent for spending the Gory gold that must have set old Gideon to whirling in his Winnebago grave. Her spending of it was foolish enough, but her handling of it was criminal. She loved Europe. America bored her. She wanted to identify herself with foreigners, with foreign life. Against advice she sold her large and lucrative interest in the Winnebago paper mills and invested great sums in French stocks, in Russian enterprises, in German shares.
She liked to be mistaken for a French woman.
She and Gideon spoke the language like natives—or nearly.
She was vain of Gideon's un-American looks, and cross with him when, on their rare and brief visits to New York, he insisted that he liked American tailoring and American-made shoes. Once or twice, soon after his father's death, he had said, casually, "You didn't like Winnebago, did you? Living in it, I mean."
"Well, these English, I mean, and French—they sort of grow up in a place, and stay with it and belong to it, see what I mean? and it gives you a kind of permanent feeling. Not patriotic, exactly, but solid and native heathy and Scots-wha-hae-wi'-Wallace and all that kind of slop."
"Giddy darling, don't be silly."
Occasionally, too, he said, "Look here, Julia"—she liked this modern method of address—"look here, Julia, I ought to be getting busy. Doing something. Here I am, nineteen, and I can't do a thing except dance pretty well, but not as well as that South American eel we met last week; mix a cocktail pretty well, but not as good a one as Benny the bartender turns out at Voyot's; ride pretty well, but not as well as the English chaps; drive a car——"
She interrupted him there. "Drive a car better than even an Italian chauffeur. Had you there, Giddy darling."
She undoubtedly had Giddy darling there. His driving was little short of miraculous, and his feeling for the intricate inside of a motor engine was as delicate and unerring as that of a professional pianist for his pet pianoforte. They motored a good deal, with France as a permanent background and all Europe as a playground. They flitted about the continent, a whirl of glittering blue-and-cream enamel, tan leather coating, fur robes, air cushions, gold-topped flasks, and petrol. Giddy knew Como and Villa D'Este as the place where that pretty Hungarian widow had borrowed a thousand lires from him at the Casino roulette table and never paid him back; London as a pleasing potpourri of briar pipes, smart leather gloves, music-hall revues, and night clubs; Berlin as a rather stuffy hole where they tried to ape Paris and failed, but you had to hand it to Charlotte when it came to the skating at the Eis Palast. A pleasing existence, but unprofitable. No one saw the cloud gathering because of cloud there was none, even of the man's-hand size so often discerned as a portent.
When the storm broke (this must be hurriedly passed over because of the let's-not-talk-about-the-war-I'm-so-sick-of-it-aren't-you feeling) Giddy promptly went into the Lafayette Escadrille. Later he learned never to mention this to an American because the American was so likely to say, "There must have been about eleven million scrappers in that outfit. Every fella you meet's been in the Lafayette Escadrille. If all the guys were in it that say they were they could have licked the Germans the first day out. That outfit's worse than the old Floradora Sextette."
Mrs. Gory was tremendously proud of him, and not as worried as she should have been. She thought it all a rather smart game, and not at all serious. She wasn't even properly alarmed about her European money, at first. Giddy looked thrillingly distinguished and handsome in his aviation uniform. When she walked in the Paris streets with him she glowed like a girl with her lover. But after the first six months of it Mrs. Gory, grown rather drawn and haggard, didn't think the whole affair quite so delightful. She scarcely ever saw Giddy. She never heard the drum of an airplane without getting a sick, gone feeling at the pit of her stomach. She knew, now, that there was more to the air service than a becoming uniform. She was doing some war work herself in an incompetent, frenzied sort of way. With Giddy soaring high and her foreign stocks and bonds falling low she might well be excused for the panic that shook her from the time she opened her eyes in the morning until she tardily closed them at night.
"Let's go home, Giddy darling," like a scared child.
"Don't be cruel. America's the only safe place now."
"Too darned safe!" This was 1915.
By 1917 she was actually in need of money. But Giddy did not know much about this because Giddy had, roughly speaking, got his. He had the habit of soaring up into the sunset and sitting around in a large pink cloud like a kid bouncing on a feather bed. Then, one day, he soared higher and farther than he knew, having, perhaps, grown careless through over-confidence. He heard nothing above the roar of his own engine, and the two planes were upon him almost before he knew it. They were not French, or English, or American planes. He got one of them and would have got clean away if the other had not caught him in the arm. The right arm. His mechanician lay limp. Even then he might have managed a landing but the pursuing plane got in a final shot. There followed a period of time that seemed to cover, say, six years but that was actually only a matter of seconds. At the end of that period Giddy, together with a tangle of wire, silk, wood, and something that had been the mechanician, lay inside the German lines, and you would hardly have thought him worth the disentangling.
They did disentangle him, though, and even patched him up pretty expertly, but not so expertly, perhaps, as they might have, being enemy surgeons and rather busy with the patching of their own injured. The bone, for example, in the lower right arm, knitted promptly and properly, being a young and healthy bone, but they rather over-looked the matter of arm nerves and muscles, so that later, though it looked a perfectly proper arm, it couldn't lift four pounds. His head had emerged slowly, month by month, from swathings of gauze. What had been quite a crevasse in his skull became only a scarlet scar that his hair pretty well hid when he brushed it over the bad place. But the surgeon, perhaps being overly busy, or having no real way of knowing that Giddy's nose had been a distinguished and aristocratically hooked Gory nose, had remoulded that wrecked feature into a pure Greek line at first sight of which Giddy stood staring weakly into the mirror; reeling a little with surprise and horror and unbelief and general misery. "Can this be I?" he thought, feeling like the old man of the bramble bush in the Mother Goose rhyme. A well-made and becoming nose, but not so fine looking as the original feature had been, as worn by Giddy.
"Look here!" he protested to the surgeon, months too late. "Look here, this isn't my nose."
"Be glad," replied that practical Prussian person, "that you have any."
With his knowledge of French and English and German Giddy acted as interpreter during the months of his invalidism and later internment, and things were not so bad with him. He had no news of his mother, though, and no way of knowing whether she had news of him. With 1918, and the Armistice and his release, he hurried to Paris and there got the full impact of the past year's events.
Julia Gory was dead and the Gory money nonexistent.
Out of the ruins—a jewel or two and some paper not quite worthless—he managed a few thousand francs and went to Nice. There he walked in the sunshine, and sat in the sunshine, and even danced in the sunshine, a dazed young thing together with hundreds of other dazed young things, not thinking, not planning, not hoping. Existing only in a state of semi-consciousness like one recovering from a blinding blow. The francs dribbled away. Sometimes he played baccarat and won; oftener he played baccarat and lost. He moved in a sort of trance, feeling nothing. Vaguely he knew that there was a sort of Conference going on in Paris. Sometimes he thought of Winnebago, recalling it remotely, dimly, as one is occasionally conscious of a former unknown existence. Twice he went to Paris for periods of some months, but he was unhappy there and even strangely bewildered, like a child. He was still sick in mind and body, though he did not know it. Driftwood, like thousands of others, tossed up on the shore after the storm; lying there bleached and useless and battered.
Then, one day in Nice, there was no money. Not a franc. Not a centime. He knew hunger. He knew terror. He knew desperation. It was out of this period that there emerged Giddy, the gigolo. Now, though, the name bristled with accent marks, thus: Gédéon Goré.
This Gédéon Goré, of the Nice dansants, did not even remotely resemble Gideon Gory of Winnebago, Wisconsin. This Gédéon Goré wore French clothes of the kind that Giddy Gory had always despised. A slim, sallow, sleek, sad-eyed gigolo in tight French garments, the pants rather flappy at the ankle; effeminate French shoes with fawn-coloured uppers and patent-leather eyelets and vamps, most despicable; a slim cane; hair with a magnificent natural wave that looked artificially marcelled and that was worn with a strip growing down from the temples on either side in the sort of cut used only by French dandies and English stage butlers. No, this was not Giddy Gory. The real Giddy Gory lay in a smart but battered suitcase under the narrow bed in his lodgings. The suitcase contained:
Item; one grey tweed suit with name of a London tailor inside.
Item; one pair Russia calf oxfords of American make.
Item; one French aviation uniform with leather coat, helmet, and gloves all bearing stiff and curious splotches of brown or rust-colour which you might not recognize as dried blood stains.
Item; one handful assorted medals, ribbons, orders, etc.
All Europe was dancing. It seemed a death dance, grotesque, convulsive, hideous. Paris, Nice, Berlin, Budapest, Rome, Vienna, London writhed and twisted and turned and jiggled. St. Vitus himself never imagined contortions such as these. In the narrow side-street dance rooms of Florence, and in the great avenue restaurants of Paris they were performing exactly the same gyrations—wiggle, squirm, shake. And over all the American jazz music boomed and whanged its syncopation. On the music racks of violinists who had meant to be Elmans or Kreislers were sheets entitled Jazz Baby Fox Trot. Drums, horns, cymbals, castanets, sandpaper. So the mannequins and marionettes of Europe tried to whirl themselves into forgetfulness.
The Americans thought Giddy was a Frenchman. The French knew him for an American, dress as he would. Dancing became with him a profession—no, a trade. He danced flawlessly, holding and guiding his partner impersonally, firmly, expertly in spite of the weak right arm—it served well enough. Gideon Gory had always been a naturally rhythmic dancer. Then, too, he had been fond of dancing. Years of practise had perfected him. He adopted now the manner and position of the professional. As he danced he held his head rather stiffly to one side, and a little down, the chin jutting out just a trifle. The effect was at the same time stiff and chic. His footwork was infallible. The intricate and imbecilic steps of the day he performed in flawless sequence. Under his masterly guidance the feet of the least rhythmic were suddenly endowed with deftness and grace. One swayed with him as naturally as with an elemental force. He danced politely and almost wordlessly unless first addressed, according to the code of his kind. His touch was firm, yet remote. The dance concluded, he conducted his partner to her seat, bowed stiffly from the waist, heels together, and departed. For these services he was handed ten francs, twenty francs, thirty francs, or more, if lucky, depending on the number of times he was called upon to dance with a partner during the evening. Thus was dancing, the most spontaneous and unartificial of the Muses, vulgarized, commercialized, prostituted. Lower than Gideon Gory, of Winnebago, Wisconsin, had fallen, could no man fall.
Sometimes he danced in Paris. During the high season he danced in Nice. Afternoon and evening found him busy in the hot, perfumed, overcrowded dance salons. The Negresco, the Ruhl, Maxim's, Belle Meunière, the Casina Municipale. He learned to make his face go a perfect blank—pale, cryptic, expressionless. Between himself and the other boys of his ilk there was little or no professional comradeship. A weird lot they were, young, though their faces were strangely lacking in the look of youth. All of them had been in the war. Most of them had been injured. There was Aubin, the Frenchman. The right side of Aubin's face was rather startlingly handsome in its Greek perfection. It was like a profile chiselled. The left side was another face—the same, and yet not the same. It was as though you saw the left side out of drawing, or blurred, or out of focus. It puzzled you—shocked you. The left side of Aubin's face had been done over by an army surgeon who, though deft and scientific, had not had a hand expert as that of the Original Sculptor. Then there was Mazzetti, the Roman. He parted his hair on the wrong side, and under the black wing of it was a deep groove into which you could lay a forefinger. A piece of shell had plowed it neatly. The Russian boy who called himself Orloff had the look in his eyes of one who has seen things upon which eyes never should have looked. He smoked constantly and ate, apparently, not at all. Among these there existed a certain unwritten code and certain unwritten signals.
You did not take away the paying partner of a fellow gigolo. If in too great demand you turned your surplus partners over to gigolos unemployed. You did not accept less than ten francs (they all broke this rule). Sometimes Gédéon Goré made ten francs a day, sometimes twenty, sometimes fifty, infrequently a hundred. Sometimes not enough to pay for his one decent meal a day. At first he tried to keep fit by walking a certain number of miles daily along the ocean front. But usually he was too weary to persist in this. He did not think at all. He felt nothing. Sometimes, down deep, deep in a long-forgotten part of his being a voice called feebly, plaintively to the man who had been Giddy Gory. But he shut his ears and mind and consciousness and would not listen.
The American girls were best, the gigolos all agreed, and they paid well, though they talked too much. Gédéon Goré was a favourite among them. They thought he was so foreign looking, and kind of sad and stern and everything. His French, fluent, colloquial, and bewildering, awed them. They would attempt to speak to him in halting and hackneyed phrases acquired during three years at Miss Pence's Select School at Hastings-on-the-Hudson. At the cost of about a thousand dollars a word they would enunciate, painfully:
"Je pense que—um—que Nice est le plus belle—uh—ville de France."
Giddy, listening courteously, his head inclined as though unwilling to miss one conversational pearl falling from the pretty American's lips, would appear to consider this gravely. Then, sometimes in an unexpected burst of pure mischief, he would answer:
"You said something! Some burg, I'm telling the world."
The girl, startled, would almost leap back from the confines of his arms only to find his face stern, immobile, his eyes sombre and reflective.
"Why! Where did you pick that up?"
His eyebrows would go up. His face would express complete lack of comprehension. "Pardon?"
Afterward, at home, in Toledo or Kansas City or Los Angeles, the girl would tell about it. "I suppose some American girl taught it to him, just for fun. It sounded too queer—because his French was so wonderful. He danced divinely. A Frenchman, and so aristocratic! Think of his being a professional partner. They have them over there, you know. Everybody's dancing in Europe. And gay! Why, you'd never know there'd been a war."
Mary Hubbell, of the Winnebago Hubbells, did not find it so altogether gay. Mary Hubbell, with her father, Orson J. Hubbell, and her mother, Bee Hubbell, together with what appeared to be practically the entire white population of the United States, came to Europe early in 1922, there to travel, to play, to rest, to behold, and to turn their good hard American dollars into cordwood-size bundles of German marks, Austrian kronen, Italian lires, and French francs. Most of the men regarded Europe as a wine list. In their mental geography Rheims, Rhine, Moselle, Bordeaux, Champagne, or Würzburg were not localities but libations. The women, for the most part, went in for tortoise-shell combs, fringed silk shawls, jade earrings, beaded bags, and coral neck chains. Up and down the famous thoroughfare of Europe went the absurd pale blue tweed tailleurs and the lavender tweed cape suits of America's wives and daughters. Usually, after the first month or two, they shed these respectable, middle-class habiliments for what they fondly believed to be smart Paris costumes; and you could almost invariably tell a good, moral, church-going matron of the Middle West by the fact that she was got up like a demimondaine of the second class, in the naïve belief that she looked French and chic.
The three Hubbells were thoroughly nice people. Mary Hubbell was more than thoroughly nice. She was a darb. She had done a completely good job during the 1918-1918 period, including the expert driving of a wild and unbroken Ford up and down the shell-torn roads of France. One of those small-town girls with a big-town outlook, a well-trained mind, a slim boyish body, a good clear skin, and a steady eye that saw. Mary Hubbell wasn't a beauty by a good many measurements, but she had her points, as witness the number of bouquets, bundles, books, and bon-bons piled in her cabin when she sailed.
The well-trained mind and the steady seeing eye enabled Mary Hubbell to discover that Europe wasn't so gay as it seemed to the blind; and she didn't write home to the effect that you'd never know there'd been war.
The Hubbells had the best that Europe could afford. Orson J. Hubbell, a mild-mannered, grey-haired man with a nice flat waist-line and a good keen eye (hence Mary's) adored his women-folk and spoiled them. During the first years of his married life he had been Hubbell, the drayman, as Giddy Gory had said. He had driven one of his three drays himself, standing sturdily in the front of the red-painted wooden two-horse wagon as it rattled up and down the main business thoroughfare of Winnebago. But the war and the soaring freight-rates had dealt generously with Orson Hubbell. As railroad and shipping difficulties increased the Hubbell draying business waxed prosperous. Factories, warehouses, and wholesale business firms could be assured that their goods would arrive promptly, safely, and cheaply when conveyed by a Hubbell van. So now the three red-painted wooden horse-driven drays were magically transformed into a great fleet of monster motor vans that plied up and down the state of Wisconsin and even into Michigan and Illinois and Indiana. The Orson J. Hubbell Transportation Company, you read. And below, in yellow lettering on the red background:
Have HUBBELL Do Your HAULING.
There was actually a million in it, and more to come. The buying of the old Gory house on the river bluff had been one of the least of Orson's feats. And now that house was honeycombed with sleeping porches and linen closets and enamel fittings and bathrooms white and glittering as an operating auditorium. And there were shower baths, and blue rugs, and great soft fuzzy bath towels and little white innocent guest towels embroidered with curly H's whose tails writhed at you from all corners.
Orson J. and Mrs. Hubbell had never been in Europe before, and they enjoyed themselves enormously. That is to say, Mrs. Orson J. did, and Orson, seeing her happy, enjoyed himself vicariously. His hand slid in and out of his inexhaustible pocket almost automatically now. And "How much?" was his favourite locution. They went everywhere, did everything. Mary boasted a pretty fair French. Mrs. Hubbell conversed in the various languages of Europe by speaking pidgin English very loud, and omitting all verbs, articles, adverbs, and other cumbersome superfluities. Thus, to the fille de chambre.
"Me out now you beds." The red-cheeked one from the provinces understood, in some miraculous way, that Mrs. Hubbell was now going out and that the beds could be made and the rooms tidied.
They reached Nice in February and plunged into its gaieties. "Just think!" exclaimed Mrs. Hubbell rapturously, "only three francs for a facial or a manicure and two for a marcel. It's like finding them."
"If the Mediterranean gets any bluer," said Mary, "I don't think I can stand it, it's so lovely."
Mrs. Hubbell, at tea, expressed a desire to dance. Mary, at tea, desired to dance but didn't express it. Orson J. loathed tea; and the early draying business had somewhat unfitted his sturdy legs for the lighter movements of the dance. But he wanted only their happiness. So he looked about a bit, and asked some questions, and came back.
"Seems there's a lot of young chaps who make a business of dancing with the women-folks who haven't dancing men along. Hotel hires 'em. Funny to us but I guess it's all right, and quite the thing around here. You pay 'em so much a dance, or so much an afternoon. You girls want to try it?"
"I do," said Mrs. Orson J. Hubbell. "It doesn't sound respectable. Then that's what all those thin little chaps are who have been dancing with those pretty American girls. They're sort of ratty looking, aren't they? What do they call 'em? That's a nice-looking one, over there—no, no!—dancing with the girl in grey, I mean. If that's one I'd like to dance with him, Orson. Good land, what would the Winnebago ladies say! What do they call 'em, I wonder."
Mary had been gazing very intently at the nice-looking one over there who was dancing with the girl in grey. She answered her mother's question, still gazing at him. "They call them gigolos," she said, slowly. Then, "Get that one Dad, will you, if you can? You dance with him first, Mother, and then I'll——"
"I can get two," volunteered Orson J.
"No," said Mary Hubbell, sharply.
The nice-looking gigolo seemed to be in great demand, but Orson J. succeeded in capturing him after the third dance. It turned out to be a tango, and though Mrs. Hubbell, pretty well scared, declared that she didn't know it and couldn't dance it, the nice-looking gigolo assured her, through the medium of Mary's interpretation, that Mrs. Hubbell had only to follow his guidance. It was quite simple. He did not seem to look directly at Mary, or at Orson J. or at Mrs. Hubbell, as he spoke. The dance concluded, Mrs. Hubbell came back breathless, but enchanted.
"He has beautiful manners," she said, aloud, in English. "And dance! You feel like a swan when you're dancing with him. Try him, Mary." The gigolo's face, as he bowed before her, was impassive, inscrutable.
But, "Sh!" said Mary.
"Nonsense! Doesn't understand a word."
Mary danced the next dance with him. They danced wordlessly until the dance was half over. Then, abruptly, Mary said in English, "What's your name?"
Close against him she felt a sudden little sharp contraction of the gigolo's diaphragm—the contraction that reacts to surprise or alarm. But he said, in French, "Pardon?"
So, "What's your name?" said Mary, in French this time.
The gigolo with the beautiful manners hesitated longer than really beautiful manners should permit. But finally, "Je m'appelle Gédéon Goré." He pronounced it in his most nasal, perfect Paris French. It didn't sound even remotely like Gideon Gory.
"My name's Hubbell," said Mary, in her pretty fair French. "Mary Hubbell. I come from a little town called Winnebago."
The Goré eyebrow expressed polite disinterestedness.
"That's in Wisconsin," continued Mary, "and I love it."
"Naturellement," agreed the gigolo, stiffly.
They finished the dance without further conversation. Mrs. Hubbell had the next dance. Mary the next. They spent the afternoon dancing, until dinner time. Orson J.'s fee, as he handed it to the gigolo, was the kind that mounted grandly into dollars instead of mere francs. The gigolo's face, as he took it, was not more inscrutable than Mary's as she watched him take it.
From that afternoon, throughout the next two weeks, if any girl as thoroughly fine as Mary Hubbell could be said to run after any man, Mary ran after that gigolo. At the same time one could almost have said that he tried to avoid her. Mary took a course of tango lessons, and urged her mother to do the same. Even Orson J. noticed it.
"Look here," he said, in kindly protest. "Aren't you getting pretty thick with this jigger?"
"Sociological study, Dad. I'm all right."
"Yeh, you're all right. But how about him?"
"He's all right, too."
The gigolo resisted Mary's unmaidenly advances, and yet, when he was with her, he seemed sometimes to forget to look sombre and blank and remote. They seemed to have a lot to say to each other. Mary talked about America a good deal. About her home town … "and big elms and maples and oaks in the yard … the Fox River valley … Middle West … Normal Avenue … Cass Street … Fox River paper mills… ."
She talked in French and English. The gigolo confessed, one day, to understanding some English, though he seemed to speak none. After that Mary, when very much in earnest, or when enthusiastic, spoke in her native tongue altogether. She claimed an intense interest in European after-war conditions, in reconstruction, in the attitude toward life of those millions of young men who had actually participated in the conflict. She asked questions that might have been considered impertinent, not to say nervy.
"Now you," she said, brutally, "are a person of some education, refinement, and background. Yet you are content to dance around in these—these—well, back home a chap might wash dishes in a cheap restaurant or run an elevator in an east side New York loft building, but he'd never——"
A very faint dull red crept suddenly over the pallor of the gigolo's face. They were sitting out on a bench on the promenade, facing the ocean (in direct defiance on Mary's part of all rules of conduct of respectable girls toward gigolos). Mary Hubbell had said rather brusque things before. But now, for the first time, the young man defended himself faintly.
"For us," he replied in his exquisite French, "it is finished. For us there is nothing. This generation, it is no good. I am no good. They are no good." He waved a hand in a gesture that included the promenaders, the musicians in the cafés, the dancers, the crowds eating and drinking at the little tables lining the walk.
"What rot!" said Mary Hubbell, briskly. "They probably said exactly the same thing in Asia after Alexander had got through with 'em. I suppose there was such dancing and general devilment in Macedonia that every one said the younger generation had gone to the dogs since the war, and the world would never amount to anything again. But it seemed to pick up, didn't it?"
The boy turned and looked at her squarely for the first time, his eyes meeting hers. Mary looked at him. She even swayed toward him a little, her lips parted. There was about her a breathlessness, an expectancy. So they sat for a moment, and between them the air was electric, vibrant. Then, slowly, he relaxed, sat back, slumped a little on the bench. Over his face, that for a moment had beenalight with something vital, there crept again the look of defeat, of sombre indifference. At sight of that look Mary Hubbell's jaw set. She leaned forward. She clasped her fine large hands tight. She did not look at the gigolo, but out, across the blue Mediterranean, and beyond it. Her voice was low and a little tremulous and she spoke in English only.
"It isn't finished here—here in Europe. But it's sick. Back home, in America, though, it's alive. Alive! And growing. I wish I could make you understand what it's like there. It's all new, and crude, maybe, and ugly, but it's so darned healthy and sort of clean. I love it. I love every bit of it. I know I sound like a flag-waver but I don't care. I mean it. And I know it's sentimental, but I'm proud of it. The kind of thing I feel about the United States is the kind of thing Mencken sneers at. You don't know who Mencken is. He's a critic who pretends to despise everything because he's really a sentimentalist and afraid somebody'll find it out. I don't say I don't appreciate the beauty of all this Italy and France and England and Germany. But it doesn't get me the way just the mention of a name will get me back home. This trip, for example. Why, last summer four of us—three other girls and I—motored from Wisconsin to California, and we drove every inch of the way ourselves. The Santa Fé Trail! The Ocean-to-Ocean Highway! The Lincoln Highway! The Dixie Highway! The Yellowstone Trail! The very sound of those words gives me a sort of prickly feeling. They mean something so big and vital and new. I get a thrill out of them that I haven't had once over here. Why even this," she threw out a hand that included and dismissed the whole sparkling panorama before her, "this doesn't begin to give the jolt that I got out of Walla Walla, and Butte, and Missoula, and Spokane, and Seattle, and Albuquerque. We drove all day, and ate ham and eggs at some little hotel or lunch-counter at night, and outside the hotel the drummers would be sitting, talking and smoking; and there were Western men, very tanned and tall and lean, in those big two-gallon hats and khaki pants and puttees. And there were sunsets, and sand, and cactus and mountains, and campers and Fords. I can smell the Kansas corn fields and I can see the Iowa farms and the ugly little raw American towns, and the big thin American men, and the grain elevators near the railroad stations, and I know those towns weren't the way towns ought to look. They were ugly and crude and new. Maybe it wasn't all beautiful, but gosh! it was real, and growing, and big and alive! Alive!"
Mary Hubbell was crying. There, on the bench along the promenade in the sunshine at Nice, she was crying.
The boy beside her suddenly rose, uttered a little inarticulate sound, and left her there on the bench in the sunshine. Vanished, completely, in the crowd.
For three days the Orson J. Hubbells did not see their favourite gigolo. If Mary was disturbed she did not look it, though her eye was alert in the throng. During the three days of their gigolo's absence Mrs. Hubbell and Mary availed themselves of the professional services of the Italian gigolo Mazzetti. Mrs. Hubbell said she thought his dancing was, if anything, more nearly perfect than that What's-his-name, but his manner wasn't so nice and she didn't like his eyes. Sort of sneaky. Mary said she thought so, too.
Nevertheless she was undoubtedly affable toward him, and talked (in French) and laughed and even walked with him, apparently in complete ignorance of the fact that these things were not done. Mazzetti spoke frequently of his colleague, Goré, and always in terms of disparagement. A low fellow. A clumsy dancer. One unworthy of Mary's swanlike grace. Unfit to receive Orson J. Hubbell's generous fees.
Late one evening, during the mid-week after-dinner dance, Goré appeared suddenly in the doorway. It was ten o'clock. The Hubbells were dallying with their after-dinner coffee at one of the small tables about the dance floor.
Mary, keen-eyed, saw him first. She beckoned Mazzetti who stood in attendance beside Mrs. Hubbell's chair. She snatched up the wrap that lay at hand and rose. "It's stifling in here. I'm going out on the Promenade for a breath of air. Come on." She plucked at Mazzetti's sleeve and actually propelled him through the crowd and out of the room. She saw Goré's startled eyes follow them.
She even saw him crossing swiftly to where her mother and father sat. Then she vanished into the darkness with Mazzetti. And the Mazzettis put but one interpretation upon a young woman who strolls into the soft darkness of the Promenade with a gigolo.
And Mary Hubbell knew this.
Gédéon Goré stood before Mr. and Mrs. Orson J. Hubbell. "Where is your daughter?" he demanded, in French.
"Oh, howdy-do," chirped Mrs. Hubbell. "Well, it's Mr. Goré! We missed you. I hope you haven't been sick."
"Where is your daughter?" demanded Gédéon Goré, in French. "Where is Mary?"
Mrs. Hubbell caught the word Mary. "Oh, Mary. Why, she's gone out for a walk with Mr. Mazzetti."
"Good God!" said Gédéon Goré, in perfectly plain English. And vanished.
Orson J. Hubbell sat a moment, thinking. Then, "Why, say, he talked English. That young French fella talked English."
The young French fella, hatless, was skimming down the Promenade des Anglais, looking intently ahead, and behind, and to the side, and all around in the darkness. He seemed to be following a certain trail, however. At one side of the great wide walk, facing the ocean, was a canopied bandstand. In its dim shadow, he discerned a wisp of white. He made for it, swiftly, silently. Mazzetti's voice low, eager, insistent. Mazzetti's voice hoarse, ugly, importunate. The figure in white rose. Goré stood before the two. The girl took a step toward him, but Mazzetti took two steps and snarled like a villain in a movie, if a villain in a movie could be heard to snarl.
"Get out of here!" said Mazzetti, in French, to Goré. "You pig! Swine! To intrude when I talk with a lady. You are finished. Now she belongs to me."
"The hell she does!" said Giddy Gory in perfectly plain American and swung for Mazzetti with his bad right arm. Mazzetti, after the fashion of his kind, let fly in most unsportsmanlike fashion with his feet, kicking at Giddy's stomach and trying to bite with his small sharp yellow teeth. And then Giddy's left, that had learned some neat tricks of boxing in the days of the Gory greatness, landed fairly on the Mazzetti nose. And with a howl of pain and rage and terror the Mazzetti, a hand clapped to that bleeding feature, fled in the darkness.
And, "O, Giddy!" said Mary, "I thought you'd never come."
"Mary. Mary Hubbell. Did you know all the time? You did, didn't you? You think I'm a bum, don't you? Don't you?"
Her hand on his shoulder. "Giddy, I've been stuck on you since I was nine years old, in Winnebago. I kept track of you all through the war, though I never once saw you. Then I lost you. Giddy, when I was a kid I used to look at you from the sidewalk through the hedge of the house on Cass. Honestly. Honestly, Giddy."
"But look at me now. Why, Mary, I'm—I'm no good. Why, I don't see how you ever knew——"
"It takes more than a new Greek nose and French clothes and a bum arm to fool me, Gid. Do you know, there were a lot of photographs of you left up in the attic of the Cass Street house when we bought it. I know them all by heart, Giddy. By heart… . Come on home, Giddy. Let's go home."July 24, 2016, 6:13 p.m. 0 Report Embed 0
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