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- Linda Condon - 1/31 -
THE WORKS OF JOSEPH HERGESHEIMER
THE LAY ANTHONY
THE THREE BLACK PENNYS
GOLD AND IRON
THE HAPPY END
_To_ CARL VAN VECHTEN
_This, Linda Condon's Gravest Bow._
A black bang was, but not ultimately, the most notable feature of her uncommon personality--straight and severe and dense across her clear pale brow and eyes. Her eyes were the last thing to remember and wonder about; in shade blue, they had a velvet richness, a poignant intensity of lovely color, that surprised the heart. Aside from that she was slim, perhaps ten years old, and graver than gay.
Her mother was gay for them both, and, therefore, for the entire family. No father was in evidence; he was dead and never spoken of, and Linda was the only child. Linda's dresses, those significant trivialities, plainly showed two tendencies--the gaiety of her mother and her own always formal gravity. If Linda appeared at dinner, in the massive Renaissance materialism of the hotel dining-room, with a preposterous magenta hair-ribbon on her shapely head, her mother had succeeded in expressing her sense of the appropriately decorative; while if Linda wore an unornamented but equally "unsuitable" frock of dark velvet, she, in her turn, had been vindicated.
Again, but far more rarely, the child's selection was evident on the woman. As a rule Mrs. Condon garbed her flamboyant body in large and expensive patterns or extremely tailored suits; and of the two, the evening satins and powdered arms barely retaining an admissible line, and the suits, the latter were the most, well--spectacular.
She was not dark in color but brightly golden; a gold, it must be said in all honesty, her own, a metallic gold crisply and solidly marcelled; with hazel-brown eyes, and a mouth which, set against her daughter's deep-blue gaze, was her particular attraction. It was rouged to a nicety, the under lip a little full and never quite against the upper. If Linda's effect was cool and remote, Mrs. Condon, thanks to her mouth, was reassuringly imminent. She was, too, friendly; she talked to women--in her not overfrequent opportunities--in a rapid warm inaccurate confession of almost everything they desired to hear. The women, of course, were continually hampered by the unfortunate fact that the questions nearest their hearts, or curiosity, were entirely inadmissible.
Viewed objectively, they all, with the exception of Linda, seemed alike; but that might have been due to their common impressive setting. The Boscombe, in its way, was as lavish as Mrs. Condon's dresses. The main place of congregation, for instance, was a great space of white marble columns, Turkey-red carpet and growing palms. It was lighted at night indirectly by alabaster bowls hanging on gilded chains--a soft bright flood of radiance falling on the seated or slowly promenading women with bare shoulders.
Usually they were going with a restrained sharp eagerness toward the dining-room or leaving it in a more languid flushed repletion. There were, among them, men; but somehow the men never seemed to be of the least account. It was a women's paradise. The glow from above always emphasized the gowns, the gowns like orchids and tea-roses and the leaves of magnolias. It sparkled in the red and green and crystal jewels like exotic dew scattered over the exotic human flowers. Very occasionally there was a complacent or irritable masculine utterance, and then it was immediately lost in the dominant feminine sibilance.
Other children than Linda sped in the manner of brilliant fretful tops literally on the elaborate outskirts of the throng; but they were as different from her as she was from the elders. Indeed Linda resembled the latter, rather than her proper age, remarkably. She had an air of responsibility, sometimes expressed in a troubled frown, and again by the way she hurried sedately through drifting figures toward a definite purpose and end.
Usually it was in the service of one of her mother's small innumerable requests or necessities; if the latter were sitting with a gentleman on the open hotel promenade that overlooked the sea and needed a heavier wrap, Linda returned immediately with a furred cloak on her arm; if the elder, going out after dinner, had brought down the wrong gloves, Linda knew the exact wanted pair in the long perfumed box; while countless trifles were needed from the convenient drug-store.
The latter was a place of white mosaic floor and glittering glass, with a marble counter heaped with vivid fruit and silver-covered bowls of sirups and creams with chopped nuts. Linda often found time to stop here for a delectable glass of assorted sweet compounds. She was on terms of intimacy with the colored man in a crisp linen coat who presided over the refreshments, and he invariably gave her an extra spoonful of the marron paste she preferred. When at lunch, it might be, she cared for very little, her mother would complain absently:
"You must stop eating those sickening mixtures. They'd ruin any skin." At this she invariably found the diminutive mirror in the bag on her lap and glanced at her own slightly improved color. The burden of the feminine conversations in which Mrs. Condon was privileged to join, Linda discovered, was directed toward these overwhelming considerations of appearance. And their importance, communicated to her, resulted in a struggle between the desire to preserve her skin from ruin and the seductions of marron paste and maple chocolates.
Now, with an uncomfortable sense of impending disaster, she would hastily consume one or the other; again, supported by a beginning self-imposed inflexibility, she would turn steadily away from temptation. In the end the latter triumphed; and her normal appetite, always moderate, was unimpaired.
This spirit of resolution, it sometimes happened, was a cause of humorous dismay to her mother. "I declare, Linda," she would observe with an air of helplessness, "you make me feel like the giddy one and as if you were mama. It's the way you look, so disapproving. I have to remind myself you're only--just how old are you? I keep forgetting." Linda would inform her exactly and the other sigh:
"The years slip around disgustingly. It seems only yesterday I was at my first party." Usually, in spite of Linda's eagerness to hear of that time when her mother was a girl, the elder would stop abruptly. On rare occasions solitary facts emerged from the recalled existence of a small town in the country. There were such details as buggy-riding and prayer-meetings and excursions to a Boiling Springs where the dancing-floor, open among the trees, was splendid. At these memories Mrs. Condon had been known to cry.
But she would recover shortly. Her emotions were like that--easily roused, highly colored and soon forgotten. She forgot, Linda realized leniently, a great deal. It wasn't safe to rely on her promises. However, if she neglected a particular desire of Linda's, she continually brought back unexpected gifts of candy, boxes of silk stockings, or lovely half-wilted flowers.
The flowers, they discovered, although they stayed fresh for a long while pinned to Linda's slim waist, died almost at once if worn by her mother. "It's my warm nature, I am certain," the latter proclaimed to her daughter; "while you are a little refrigerator. I must say it's wonderful how you keep your clothes the same. Neat as a pin." Somehow, with this commendation, she managed to include a slight uncomplimentary impatience. Linda didn't specially want to resemble a pin, a disagreeable object with a sharp point. She considered this in the long periods when, partly by preference, she was alone.
Seated, perhaps, in the elaborate marble and deep red of the Boscombe's reception-rooms, isolated in the brilliant expensive throng, she would speculate over what passed in the light of her own special problems. But nothing, really, came out to her satisfaction. There was, notably, no one she might ask. Her mother, approached seriously, declared that Linda gave her the creeps; while others made it plain that it was their duty to repress the forwardness inevitable from the scandalous neglect of her upbringing.
They, the women of the Boscombe, glancing at their finger-nails stained and buffed to a shining pale vermilion, lightly rubbing their rings on the dry palm of a hand, wondered pessimistically within Linda's hearing what could come out of such an association. That term, she vaguely gathered, referred to her mother. The latter evidently interested them tremendously; because, she explained, they had no affairs of their own to attend to. This was perfectly clear to Linda until Mrs. Condon further characterized them as "busy."
The women, stopped by conventions from really satisfactory investigation at the source, drew her on occasion into a laboriously light inquisition. How long would Linda and her mama stay at the
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