Nina Wilcox Putnam wrote lighthearted comedy, gothic horror, romance, and western novels and short stories (in addition to her journalism) throughout the early 20th century. Putnam wrote the story that was adapted into The Mummy starring Boris Karloff, and she even drafted the first 1040 packet for the Bureau of Internal Revenue in 1914. Her 1919 story “Anything Once” follows a female film star and her mother on vacation in Atlantic City, where their class anxiety and self-delusion cause situational comedy amongst wartime tension. Rife with East Coast-showgirl dialect and occasional pathos, Putnam’s story showcases the transitional time of 1919 with a lively sense of culture and character.
CONTENT WARNING: racial slurs
Ain’t it funny the things that comes into a person’s head when they are rubbing cold cream onto their nose? All sorts of stuff, some of it good sense and some of it the bunk. But most of it pretty near O.K. If someone was to take down the ideas I get at such a sacred hour I’d be out of the dancing game and into the highbrow class just as quick as the printer got through his work.
It sure is a time when a woman’s true thoughts come to the surface along with the dust and last night’s make-up, and many a big resolve has been made owing to that cleanly habit. Wasn’t there some wise bird made up a quotation about cleanliness being next to goodness knows what? Well, believe you me, it’s the truth, for once a woman starts in with the cold cream all alone — and she sure does it at no other time — there is no telling what will come of it beside a clean pink face.
With me personally myself, that’s where most of my ideas about life come from — right out of the cold cream tube! And while indulging in this well-known womanly occupation the other evening I commenced thinking about rest and how important it is for us Americans — and of the way we go after it — like it was something we had to catch and catch quick or it would get away from us. Do you get me? If not leave me tell you what a friend of mine which has just been mustard out of the service says to me when I was checking up his experiences abroad while he was checking up what the waiter had put down.
“My idea of rest?” he says. “Why taking Belleau Wood after three restless weeks in the trenches,” he says.
Which sort of puts the nut in the shell, as the saying is. And also at the same time reminds me of the rest I just recently took.
Not that I generally need one any more than any other thoroughly successful star, for heaven knows the best-known parlor dancing act in the world and Broadway, which mine undoubtedly is, don’t need to rest because the managers theirselves always come after me, and resting I leave to the booking-agency hounds. But this time it was bonea fido, and come about in a sort of peculiar way.
To commence at the start it begun with me falling for the movies, which goodness knows I only done it for the money, there being no art in it, and they having hounded me into them for a special fillum. And of course many well-known girls like Mary Garden and Nazimova go into pictures, and even myself, but it’s simply because of being hounded, as I say. But once in you earn your money, believe you me, and I have stood round waiting for the sun like Moses, or whoever it was, until my feet nearly froze to the Palisades before jumping off; only of course it was a dummy they threw after I had made the original motions of the leap to death.
And the worst part is once you are signed up on one of these “payment to be made whether the party of the first part” — that’s me — “is working or not” you got to do like they say, and a whole lot of the “not working” means plain standing round waiting for the director or the camera man or the rain to quit, and what us public favorites suffers when on the job is enough to make the photographer’s Favorite of Granger, Wyoming, abandon the career she might of had in favor of domestic service or something like that where she’d get a little time to herself.
Well anyways my judgment having slipped to the extent of having signed my sense of humor away for six months at twenty-two hundred a week I was in the very middle of a fillum called the Bridge to Berlin when one day, just as a big brute of a German officer by the name of O’Flarety had me by the throat in a French chateau, the studio manager comes in and says the armistice is signed and the war is over, and we was to quit as who would releaze a war fillum now and we was to start on something entirely different, only he didn’t know what the hell it was to be and here was eight thousand feet wasted. And believe you me I was sore myself, for we had shot that strangling scene six times by then and my marcelle wave was completely ruined by it, and I would of liked to of had something to show for it.
But anyways orders was to quit and so me and ma and the two fool dogs and Musette left the wilds of Jersey and after a stormy voyage across the Hudson come safely home to our modest little apartment on the Drive, there not to work at twenty-two hundred a week until Goldringer got the studio manager to get the scenario editor to get me a new story, which at the price was not of long duration, for while they don’t care how long a person stands round waiting to be shot they just naturally hate to pay you for doing the same thing at home in comfort.
Well anyways the bunk that scenario editor picked out was something fierce. I wouldn’t of been screened dead in it. But it just happened I had a idea for a scenario myself, which come about through somebody having give me a book for Christmas, and one night, the boy having forgot to bring the papers, I read it. And was it a cute book? It was! I had a real good cry over it, and while it wasn’t exactly a book for a dancer I could see that there was good stuff in it. So finally me and ma stopped into Goldringer’s office after he had twice telephoned for me and handed him a little surprise along with the volume.
“I got a idea for a picture, Al,” I says, “and here’s the book of it.”
“Well, Miss LaTour, what’s the name of it and idea?” says he, chewing on his cigar strong and not even looking at the book but throwing it to the stenographer, which is a general rule always in the picture’ game and one reason we don’t see such a crowd of swell fillums.
“The name is Oliver Twist,” I says. “It’s a juvinile lead the way it stands, but I want it changed a little, with me as Olivette Twist — the editor can fix it so’s that will be all right. It’s really a swell part. I could wear boy’s clothes some of the time.”
“Huh! Olivette Twist,” says Goldringer, taking back the book and looking at the cover of it. “Always thought it was a breakfast food! But if you say it’s O.K. we’d better get it. Where is this feller Dickens? We’ll wire him for the rights. Friend of yours?”
You see if anybody brings scenarios personally, a star in particular, it’s generally a friend’s.
“No,” I says. “It was sent me by Jim along with a letter which shows the bird is well known,” I says, “and is in Westminster Abbey, London, England, which Jim says proves his class.”
“Must be a swell apartment,” says Goldringer. “All right, we’ll send a cable to him and see if the picture rights is gone or not. If the boy is so well known he may stick out for a big price. This is Thursday. We may hear from him by Monday or Tuesday, and we’ll get a scenario ready anyways so’s we can begin to shoot not later than a week from today. Until then,” he says, “run along and amuse yourself and don’t do anything I wouldn’t.”
Well, me and ma was shown out then, and down on Broadway ma seen some saltwater taffy in a drug store and wanted to go in and buy it, which I had to prevent because outside of ma being in no need of nourishment she weighing considerable over the heavyweight requirements already and if she was to have went back into the circus it would no longer be on the trapeeze, and a certain party in the sideshow would have a strong competitor for her job and it wouldn’t be the human skeleton either. But leaving off these considerations how would it look for us to go up the avenue in my new wine-colored limousine — which I earned myself and no one can say different with truth — and eating stuff like that out of a folded paper box?
Ma certainly has my health well in hand and heart, and it’s seldom we quarrel over any little thing, but she certainly has no class instinct, or instinct for class — do you get me? And when I try to make her see that them little refinements is what makes me the big success I am she sometimes kicks, and if it’s hunger it’s got to be met immediately; if not one way — why, then another. So in lieu, as the poet says, of the taffy, I had to take her to the Ritz and watch her put away six vanilla eclairs at two bits each, and a quart of cocoa; not that I begrudge the money, only believe you me the way all hotels charges nowadays is rapidly making Bolsheviki out of even we capitalists. Do you get me? You do! But of course in my line you got to keep before the public in the right way.
Well anyways ma complained over the loss of that taffy the whole way through the six eclairs, which it was certainly a little hard on me to have to sit there and watch her while for professional reasons eating only one of these tomato surprises which never surprise but the once, on my figure’s account, and certainly it’s a fact that the two of us was doing the next best thing to what we wanted instead of the thing itself, which is one of the prices of success. So, as is also often the case at such times, I was a little mean to ma on account of having been mean already — do you get me?
“Mamma,” I says, “you certainly are getting heavier. It’s a crime for you to wear these narrow skirts!”
Ma give me a searching look the same as used to lead up to castor oil when I was a kid, and then took the half of a eclair at one bite before replying.
“Now, Mary Gilligan, you needn’t take out your artistic temperament or any other ailment on me!” she says as firmly as the eclair would permit. “Just because Jim is in France yet, sand your moleskin dolman was a failure and you ain’t been occupied daily for a week or more, and slipped up on doing your setting-up exercises this morning, which I wouldn’t of mentioned only you started it,” she says. “It’s no excuse for picking on me,” she says. “What if I am a little plump? Ain’t I earned the right to be? What with three kids and your pa to bring up, and on the center trapeeze in the circus right through it all except when absolutely necessary? You don’t know what a woman can go through!”
“Don’t I, just!” I snapped; for ain’t it the truth every woman has the very worst troubles that any woman ever had? And she sure gets sore when another woman sets up to go them one better!
“No you don’t!” retorts ma with that maddening air of being older than me which she uses to squelch me every time she can’t get me any other way. “No you don’t!” she says. “You never brought up three kids without a nurse girl while on the trapeeze; you never brought up a thing but two fool dogs, and you even leave them to the carelessness of a personal maid,” she says. “Poor dears, goodness knows what will become of their little canine minds and morals.”
“Now ma!” I begged, because she oughter know that is a sore point with me, and she had me on the raw.
“Well then!” she says. “You got a swell job and no troubles only maybe a sluggish liver, and you ain’t the only woman in America which General Pershing can’t yet spare the husband of,” she says. “And maybe I do need to reduce a little.” Which was her way of apologizing.
And just as this lull occurred who should come into sight but Maison Rosabelle, her which runs the shop where myself and all the most chic professionals get their clothes. She was all dressed up like a plush horse with real sables, part of which must of come off them simple refined little gowns I had made for the Bridge to Berlin that was ruined by the armistice. Her hair had just been rehennered and her face was as fresh as a tea rose straight from the fragrant facial massage. She smiled and sailed down on the two of us, which we welcomed with the usual relief of a family quarreling when neither sees the way to win out and have got to go on living together. In other words she automatically buried the hatchet for us, as the schoolbooks say.
“So pleased to of run into you, dearies!” she says. “For I’m goin’ to Atlantic City tomorrow for a little rest.”
No sooner was them words out from between her lip rouge than I see a vision of saltwater taffy arising in ma’s eyes. Believe you me, ma is certainly hard to pry loose from anything she has once set her mind on! And Maison had to continue in that cordial manner.
“Why don’t you run down for a few days?” she says. “It’ll do you good. You’re looking kinda pulled down, Mrs. Gilligan!” she says. And of course ma fell for that.
“I do feel a little low,” she says, finishing off her cocoa. “And Mary — Marie here — is waiting until they get a answer to a cable which was sent to England by the studio. I understand we may have quite a wait, so I really believe we might go along.”
Now as I looked at ma it come over me that maybe she had the right dope. When people that live together, especially if not friends but relations, commence to get a little on each other’s nerves, going away on a trip is good for what ails them. The only trouble is that in the case of females they generally go together. Still, with the whole bunch of new and different stuff it gives them to fight over — railroad tickets, and who wired for these horrid rooms, and I told you to bring a heavier coat, and etc. — they generally get straightened out quite a lot. Even the idea of going along with Maison didn’t worry me then, I having been on tower many a time when the Number One Company went out, and ma the same for years, and we generally speak, even to the publicity man, no matter if we have made Rochester, Buffalo and Chicago in a quick jump, playing matinees as well.
So I am without the wholesome and well-founded fear of taking a pleasure trip with friends which is the bitter fruit of most persons’ experience of the same. Besides, I sort of like Maison, which of course her real name is Masie Brady, and her funny little husband, which is also still in France, she not being dependent any more than myself nor would she hold him back from serving his country only I don’t hardly believe she urged him to go for quite the patriotic reasons I did, he having been a traveling man and so when he retired on her income she didn’t feel as natural and affectionate and homelike and all that as when he was away most of the time. But at any rate I and she were both war widows and old friends from the time her mother was lady lion tamer and mine on the trapeeze, and so in spite of the bills she charges me she has more refinement than most people and so I says all right, we’ll go to Atlantic City and we’ll be on the one-twenty train tomorrow.
“That’s sweet, dearie!” says Maison. “We’ll get a swell rest!”
Then she set sail, and was off with a gentleman friend, which had been waiting at the entrance all this time with a gardenia in his buttonhole. And ma and me called for the check and dogs and limousine and hitched our way homeward through the traffic to our quiet little apartment with seven windows and a beautiful outlook of the river and the railroad tracks and etc.
Then while Musette packed only three trunks and my gold-fitted dressing case and a couple of hat boxes and my specially designed jewelry box and the traveling hamper for the dogs, we having decided to travel light and probably not stay over three or four days, ma went into the all-tiled kitchen and commenced getting up a little snack of cold beef and potato salad and fried-cheese sandwiches and coffee and a few hot biscuits and honey so’s we wouldn’t have to go out and eat, which ma certainly loves to do, and no cook ever stands it for more than a week and the current cook’s week was up that morning before we went downtown.
Well anyway while she was doing this I went into the drawing-room, which is all fitted up in handsome gold furniture — that the dealer said was one of the Louis periods. Louis Cohen, I guess; I never remember quite. And I put a record on the phonograph in the case I had especially built in the same style at fifty dollars extra and all the installments paid, and streached out as good as I could manage to on the chaise lounge, which is a sort of house-broken steamer chair, and while John McCormick’s own voice sang My Little Gray Home in the West to me in the privacy of my own home I thought dreamingly about Jim and how much I was missing him and how swell we danced together and how kind and loving and brave he was and how refined, and believe me he’s about the only theatrical male that don’t murder a dress suit, and how horrible it was to be seperated from him after being married only two weeks and what fools we was to have danced together in every first class theater in America and only got married so recent, for if only we’d been married sooner maybe the pain of seperation wouldn’t of been so great by now, who knows?
And believe you me it was some pain, and I had myself crying before I knew it. For I sure am stuck on that poor simp and my only war work ain’t been done on the screen, when I give him up to whatever the Allies was fighting for, which if it don’t turn out to be as represented, believe you me, myself and a whole lot of other girls is going to want to know why!
Well anyways before ma had the biscuits baked and I had run Jada Jada and Sing Me to Sleep I was wild to get away to the pure country ocean air and some healthy outdoor exercise which would help me forget my loneliness. And a lot of quiet and rest and sleep, with the ocean pounding me to the pillow and all that.
I had only a sort of twenty-minute small-time sketch of a idea of what Atlantic City was like on account of me having been there for openings only and getting in at four-forty-five with the show beginning at eight-fifteen and the wash-up you need after the trip and ma always insisting on me doing a twenty-minute practice in my room and underwear before every opening, which is perfectly correct and one of the principal things which has made my handsprings what they are, and getting dinner far enough in advance to do the handsprings in time.
So I knew little or nothing of what Jim calls the Coney Island that went to finishing school except that there is swimming and horseback riding and a boardwalk that anyone without French heels to catch in the cracks can have a elegant walk on. What little sniff of air I had outside the theater and my bedroom at the hotel give me a appatite for more, which up to now I never had the opportunity to get because of always being with a high-class show that went right back to New York Sunday to open on Broadway. But now I was going like a regular Amercan lady citizen to rest and get full of health and do as the regular resorters did. And I was glad. I was so anxious to keep myself in a pure atmosphere for Jim’s sake, and the studio wasn’t exactly the farm — do you get me? You do! And a rest in the country was the very thing. I got quite excited thinking about it; dried my tears, stopped the phonograph and made sure that Musette put in my riding suit, bathing ditto and walking boots. And when this was done I felt better already as the saying is, and fully able to take some of the nourishment ma had got up.
The minute we set down to the table I see that she had also been making good resolutions, and waited till she got ready to confess. It come after the seventh tea biscuit and honey. On her part, I mean, I only taking cold meat and salad and things I don’t like much, for reasons before stated.
“Mary Gilligan I —” she says. “I believe I’m getting heavier,” she says, just as if it occurred to her for the first time. “And I have decided that while I am away to Atlantic City I won’t eat to amount to anything and reduce in other ways the whole time I’m there!”
“You don’t say!” I says, without batting an eye. “Do you really think you need to?”
“I do!” she says.” This is my last real meal. And you needn’t try to persuade me out of it.”
I didn’t. And next morning right after breakfast we caught the one-twenty, bags, dogs, Musette and all, and met up with Maison Rosabelle, which was dressed in a simple little trotter costume of chiffon and ermine which looked like it had been made in Babylon. I mean B.C., not L.I. And with her was a little surprise in the way of the same gentleman, Mr. Freddy Mayer, with another gardenia on him and a fine line of plausible explanations,
“Ain’t it a co-c — strange, Freddy just happens to be going our way!” cooed Maisie with all the innocence of a New York livery-stable pigeon.
“Yes, I’m taking a special offering of champagne to a special friend in the hotel business there,” says Mr. Freddy. “And with three such beautiful lady companions it’s no hardship to leave Manhattan behind, nor the Bronx,” says he gayly. “Though when we come back we may find the aldermen has decided to change both names after July first,” says the humorous dog.
“Will you please kindly open this window a little?” I interrupted him. “The air in here ain’t so good as it was.” I don’t know did this get over, but believe you me I didn’t care for that well washed young wine seller at all, nor for his company. And it was a relief when he done as I asked and him and Maison found their seats was at the other end of the car. In a way I can understand her liking traveling men but not up to the point of traveling with one, even by semi-accident. And so opening the Motion Picture World to look at the double-page spread of myself, “who has at length been lured by the artistic possibilities of the picture world,” and keeping a eye on ma to see would she stop the candy boy, I settled down to the soothing sound of Maison’s laugh, and begun my quiet little trip to healthland.
There is a large variety of ladies which have husbands still in the Army, but believe you me they certainly got one thing in common, or else no looks at all. And that is the temptation to take up with other company to some degree. Because of course while the war was holding the stage a husband’s absence could be stood, but what with this peace-hyphen in the fighting and everything, you can’t help but commence wondering what kind of a girl is detaining him over there and feel inclined to have a understudy kind of waiting off stage in self-defense. For believe you me, there seems to be something sort of attractive about a war widow, and the ones which ignores the fact and minds their own affairs is the real patriotic women of America.
Not that I want to say a word about Maison, and what happened to me after the end of that train ride on which I was sitting so superior-minded taught me a lesson; because it’s a cinch to be good when you want to be. A person which has suffered themselves is slow to bawl out the other fellow so quick next time. Do you get me? Not yet.
Well, after we had rolled by the lovely scenery and read the handsome ad signs on either hand, not to mention the pipe line, and got the invigorating smell of low tide in our eager nostrils we come out on that quiet little country railroad-station platform, our destination, to be greeted by only several hundred busses and a thousand or so taxicabs, each yelling at the top of their voices. As we got off the train Maison rushes up to us and pipes a cheering little question.
“Where are we going, dearie?” she said blithely.
“Where are we going?” I says. “Maisie Brady, do you mean to say you didn’t wire no place for rooms?”
“Why, no!” says Maison. “Didn’t you?”
“Certainly not!” I says. “I never wired for rooms in my whole life. The advance agent always done that for me.”
“Well, Mary Gilligan, I’m not your advance agent!” she snapped, and then she kind of looked at Mr. Freddy in a sweet, helpless womanly fashion, expecting him to fork up a little help. But it seems Mr. Freddy was one of these birds that only think to take care of his own comfort. He had a room all right all right at the Traymore. And he meant to keep it!
“We’ll take the bus to there,” he suggested. “I’m sure there’ll be lots of room.”
But no bus for me on account of professional reasons. So we took one taxi for him and us and another for Musette and the dogs and the bags, and then commenced a round of seeking for shelter as the poet says, which had the Two Orphans skun a mile.
We went to six hotels, and not a room among them. Believe you me, there is just one person can make you feel cheaper than a Atlantic City hotel clerk when he says “No reservations?” and lifts his arched brows, and that is the head waiter when he says “Nothing to drink?” and you say “Yes, nothing!” Well, that’s one thing Prohibition will prohibit.
Well anyways we tried six hotels until at last we come to a place where the young feller at the desk give his reluctant consent to our admission. It was a simple little place done quietly in red plush and gold and marble columns, very restful with not over a hundred people sitting about in the lobby, listening not to the sad sea waves but to a jazz orchestra and inhaling the nice fresh tobacco smoke of which the air was full.
Well, Mr. Freddy give a gasp of relief and bid us goodbye, after dating up Maisie for dinner, and a flock of bell hops hopped upon our stuff and we commenced a walking tower to our rooms. As we started off down the alleyway Maison give me a nudge.
“Look at that sweet young officer! Ain’t he handsome?” she whispers only just loud enough for him to hear. And before I thought I turned my head and he certainly was easy to look at. He looked, in fact, like a cross between a clothing ad and a leading juvinile with a touch of bearcat in him to make a regular he-man out of him. He was a captain, though so young, and had a cute little mustache and had that blue-blooded air — you know — like a Boston accent even without hearing him speak. And he was sitting all alone under a big poster advertising a entertainment for the benefit of blind soldiers or something.
Of course I didn’t notice him at all, because I being a perfect lady I don’t do them things. But I couldn’t help seeing that he didn’t blush at what Masie said, though I knew he heard it, but a sort of crinkly expression come up round his nice blue eyes as if he thought us comic or something. It made me just boil, because my clothes is nothing if not refined and I never wear anything but a little powder on my nose when off the stage, and if it’s one thing gets my goat it is to be taken for a show girl, which undoubtedly he thought the two of us was, and they not in his class, for even with the passing glance I had taken I could see he was used to the Vanderbilts and all that set and had never had to be taught to take his daily tub. Do you get me?
So I walked like I hadn’t looked, and of course I really hadn’t, and proceeded to the before-the-war section of the hotel and the handsome suite all fitted in real varnished pine and carpets just like a Rochester boarding house when I was on the small time before I made my big success, and it made me feel quite at home, or would of only for what I knew the difference in price was going to be. I guessed it just as soon as I heard ma gasping over the hotel rules which she was reading. I went over and looked at them, too, and at first I couldn’t see nothing unusual about them. There was the usual bunk about the management not being responsible for the guest in any way, and Gawd knows how could they be and I don’t blame them. And then, a little ways down I see what had got ma stirred up. It seems dogs was ten dollars a week per each, and of course we had two of them, and ma never has cared for my two anyways.
“Well, I hope the sea air will be good for the poor little lambs,” she says very sarcastic. “Maybe it’ll make ‘em grow into police dogs or something useful!”
Well, I see by this that the salt air had not yet got to ma, though the troublesome journey had. And so I put on a simple little suit of English tweed and low-heeled shoes and a walking hat, which seemed to me the right thing for the country, and went out to pry off a little health before dinner.
The outdoors was something grand. The air was as good a cocktail as a person would want, and the lights along the boardwalk was coming out like dandelion blossoms. There was hardly anybody round — just a few here and there; and the surf of that wide and cruel ocean which Jim was the other side of was breaking close to the rail in big white ostrich plumes. Overhead the sky was as clear and high as a circular drop with the violet lights on it, and a few clean stars was coming out. It was just cold enough to make a person want to walk fast until the blood got singing through you and you wanted to shout and run, only of course no lady would. But just the same, I commenced to feel glad I hadn’t died when I had the measles, and that I loved everybody and had a great career before me and — and — oh that grand yearning happy feeling which comes out of being young and full of strength and a good bank account. Do you get me? You do!
Well anyways here I was walking like I had money on it and huming a tune to myself, when along comes a man the other way, walking two to my one, and huming the same tune — How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning, it was. When he heard me and I heard him we both sort of half stopped out of surprise, and I got a good look at him. It was the young captain from the hotel!
He also give a start of surprise when he seen me, showing he recognized me just as good as I did him. Only it was a real, genuine start, as if he realized something more than the fact he had seen me at the hotel. Then he smiled — a smile which would of done any dental ad proud — and passed along, looking back over his shoulder — once. While I went along minding my own business and only know he looked back on account of my happening to look back to see how far I had gone. I went a mile further and somehow that smile of his stuck in my mind and made me sort of happy for no reason, and at the same time awful extra lonesome for Jim. I made up my mind I would get Jim a new car for a surprise when he come home and I would send him a extra box of eats this week and some of them cigarettes he likes so well, and a whole lot of stuff like that, the way a woman does at such a time. Do you get me? Probably.
Well anyways I walked myself into a terrible enthusiasm over Jim, and then come back to the hotel. Which, by the way, it’s a strange thing how much further it is coming back to a Atlantic City hotel than walking away from it. And there at the door was ma with the two dogs. A real strange sight, for I never knew her to take them out before, and it looked like a guilty conscience, for she give me a peek out of the corner of her eye for some reason and then hastily explained how she had thought she’d take them herself this time instead of Musette. Well, we got rid of the dogs and then come down to dinner, where Maison sailed down upon us all dressed up and no place to go, for it seems this Mr. Freddy had stood her up on the dinner, having telephoned he’d be over later with a friend or two but business prevented him paying for her meal, or at least that’s what I expect he meant. And Maison was wild. But she had to eat dinner with us, and register a bunch of complaints between bowing to friends and so forth.
“The luck I have!” she says. “That guy Freddy doesn’t think any more of a nickel than he does of his right arm! And with all the conventions which is held at this town of course we would have to pick on the date the Methodist ministers was here! It’s a fact. The clerk told me. And what is more if there ain’t Ruby Roselle and Goldringer, and will you look at that wine and it twelve a quart without the tax! Well, of all things!”
And there sure enough was Ruby across the room with Goldringer, which he evidently had come down to wait for the answer to that cable in the fresh air, and I suppose Ruby was a accident, the same as Freddy, for goodness knows I wouldn’t say a thing against her even behind her back — and a good deal could be said behind what shows of it when in costume. But I wouldn’t say it anyhow, because even if it was the truth that woman would sue a person for liable if only to get her name in the paper. And if she happened to be taking dinner with Goldringer it’s a comparatively free country and he’s her manager as well as mine, and it’s a good thing to assume it’s only business whenever possible, as thinking the best of people never hurt anybody yet.
Also across the room all by himself was that young captain, and he looked over twice but of course I pretended it was the picture on the wall over his head which had took my eye.
Altogether that strange dining room wasn’t much more lonesome to us than the Ritz or Astor for tea would of been. But the most remarkable part of the meal was ma. Because she didn’t touch it! Actually, and it the American plan, which would tempt one of these asthetics if for no other reason but that you have to pay for it anyway. And all she took was a piece of meat about the size of a dime and a leaf of salad.
“I’m going to stick by what I said if only because you said I wouldn’t!” she says, looking me square in the eye. “Diet is my middle name.”
Well, I mentally give her until tomorrow on that but said nothing at the time. And we went out into the lounge where Mr. Freddy and three friends was already lounging and after they had joined us Goldringer and Ruby did the same, and the drinks commenced to flow with that frantic haste like unto a river at the edge of the ocean as the poet says, meaning because it’s near its finish. While I, never using any alcohol myself except to remove my make-up, sat there flushed with lemonade, and couldn’t help noticing the way the captain, which he was still all alone, looked over at the menagerie, and it made me boil, for how could I help that piker Freddy and his cheap friends and the rest, and believe you me there are many perfect ladies in pictures and on the stage, only the public don’t often recognize them because they are swamped with a bunch of roughnecks which all are popularly supposed to be.
It was a big relief when the captain got up and went away about nine, and left us to a endurance contest as to which could sit up the longest in that refreshing atmosphere of cigarette smoke and drinks and ten-dollar perfume with the sad sea waves beating vainly outside the carefully glass-inclosed veranda until one o’clock — when I personally went to bed leaving them to their fate.
I give the telephone operator a terrible shock by leaving a call for seven-thirty, and when it come I put on my riding suit, which I had left from a dance called The Call to Hounds which Jim and me done at the Palace just before he enlisted, and went out into the keen morning air. And it was some air! Then I commenced to look round for horses but had great difficulty in finding the same, for it seems the Atlantic City horses don’t get up any earlier than most of the visitors, and believe you me I and a few coons which were picking up scraps and so forth off the boardwalk was the only birds in sight at that hour.
Well anyways I walked along breathing in that sweet air at about fifty cents per breath by the hotel rates, but feeling pretty good in spite of it, when I actually found a place where the horses was up — or maybe they had been all night. I got a horse which looked considerable like a moth-eaten property one but could go pretty good, and commenced to ride gently along what seemed to be my private ocean, when all of a sudden who would I see but the young captain riding very good indeed. He come up to me on high and then tried to put on the brakes when he seen who it was, but the horse had its mind on something else and wouldn’t, so he got by me but not without a “Good morning!” Which I thought fairly safe to smile at, seeing we was so rapidly going in opposite directions. But it seems he must of spoke roughly to his steed, for he come up behind me and spoke with just that grand refined big-time drawing-room-air accent I knew by his little mustache he would have.
“I say! What luck!” he says. “You are Miss Marie LaTour, are you not?” Was I sore? I was. Any lady would be and of course after the company he seen me in at the hotel what could I expect but to be picked up? But more particularly as he had my name and it with a good reputation, and no one can say different with truth, I simply had to show him where he got off.
“Sir!” I says, just like a play. “Sir! I do not know you. Please beat it at once!”
“I know, but really!” he begged, flashing that white smile, “I’m not trying to be impertinent. Let me explain.”
“Explain nothing!” I says very haughty.
“But I’m not doing what you think!” he cries out. “Please wait until you hear — ”
“I’ve heard that ‘please listen’ stuff before,” I says. “Goodbye!”
And then I done the bravest act of my life, not being really acquainted with horses, especially Atlantic City ones. I give the horse a lash, and off we went, I trying hard to give the impression of a good rider and not looking back because I dasn’t with that animal headed for the steel pier full clip. But I heard the captain’s remarks just the same.
“By jove, I’ll make you listen to me — just for that!” he says. And I heard no more, for the bird which keeps the horses come out and rescued me just before we hit the pier and I got off and started for the hotel, boiling with rage. Treated like a common chorus girl! Me, once the best-known parlor dancing act in the world, and now even more so on the motion-picture screen, and a lady or dead! I wouldn’t of looked at that guy again on a bet. I made up my mind right then and there to show him his mistake and that if my accent wasn’t as good as his my morals was better and no attempt on his part could get me to speak to him again.
Well in this state of mind I run into ma before I reached the hotel which she was hurrying to just ahead of me, and believe you me I was sure surprised because I never knew her out so early though she generally is up by seven, but with her curlpapers still on and a kimona, and that’s different from coming out in public.
“I’ve been taking my exercise!” she says before I could speak. “And I’m glad to see you do the same,” she says.
And I certainly had to hand it to her strength of mind because after being out so early and all she eat was only tea and dry toast for breakfast.
After which we stopped by the office and just before we got there I see the captain give a note to the clerk and walk away. When we asked for mail that note was the first thing the clerk handed me.
“Captain Raymond just left this for you, Miss LaTour,” he says.
I didn’t even open it.
“Kindly return it,” I says, very dignified, giving it back, and looked over my other mail. But no letter from my husband, which is always the way on a day a woman most needs one. So I went upstairs very low in my mind and sort of glad that even if Jim couldn’t think to write there was others would be glad enough to if they was let. And then I went and got Maison out of bed, which she was taking her breakfast in.
“You come down here for your health and look what you do to it!” I says, and made her go for a boardwalk, on which she held out for about half an hour and no wonder with the heels she wears, and then stopped me with a gasp.
“Dearie, you surely must be the one that put the hell in health,” she says. “For heaven’s sakes leave us sit down!”
Well we did, and in about five minutes along comes Mr. Freddy with a friend, Mr. Sternberger, and it was remarkable how quick Maison recovered her strength, with the result that we spent a quiet little morning and about fifty dollars of Mr. Sternberger’s money on shooting galleries and throwing rings and carousels and a Japanese auction and other restful seaside sports, and ended at a quiet little cafe simply done in paper roses and rubber palm trees where the drinks was only seventy-five cents per each, and I had to sit and watch them again, ma having gone off to exercise and not appearing to want rile along with her.
Well anyways I was sort of relieved over not having to eat lunch with Captain Raymond looking on, back at the hotel, and was just thinking of it when who would come into that café but the captain himself, alone except for another officer, a lieutenant with his arm in a sling, and caught sight of me the very minute he sat down.
Well of course I didn’t look over at him but I couldn’t help noticing he called a waiter and wrote a note on a piece of paper and that the waiter brought it over to me.
And Maison seen it too, and her gentleman friends the same, and did they kid me? They did! But I kept the bird which had brought the note over while I tore it in two without reading it and sent it back again that way, and believe you me that got over, because I could see Captain Raymond turn red all the way across the noisy room.
Well I thought that had settled it and spent a mournful if busy afternoon in another café where there was lots of smoke and a jazz band and dancing and Maison was really happy because she had finally got Mr. Freddy to spend a nickel and a half. But I was lower than ever in my mind thinking how much more often some soldiers seemed able to write than others.
Well after we had taken a nice walk in the fresh air nearly three blocks long, I got back to the hotel to find that Goldringer was giving a party that night beginning with dinner, and of course ma and me was booked for it and no escape because of my contract with him. And it was some party and at twelve o’clock that night I dragged my weary bones down the corridor after the second day of my rest, feeling that I would pass out any minute. A person certainly does need their strength to enjoy a American health resort.
The next morning I didn’t even attempt to get up for any Wild West exhibit. I hadn’t the pep for one thing; and the captain was another reason of course. And when I finally come downstairs and see ma eat practically nothing I let her set off right away after breakfast without me, for exercise was nothing in my life. I strolled round the lobby waiting for Maison Rosabelle according to her request and there I seen a big poster which I had noticed before, the one about the entertainment for the benefit of blind soldiers which the captain had been sitting under the first time I — he saw me, and I went over and read it, and the entertainment was to come off that very night. And while I was reading it the second time, the way a person does in a hotel lobby, up comes Captain Raymond and actually speaks right there where a scene would of proved me no lady.
“Please, Miss LaTour,” he says. “It’s so important.”
“Kindly do not force me to call for assistance,” I says, low and quiet. “You are a stranger to me.”
“But you don’t understand!” he says, flushing up red, the attractive way he had for all he was so fresh.
“Indeed I do,” I says. “I haven’t been in the theatrical world since three generations for nothing,” I says. “Kindly go away!”
“If you would only listen for five minutes I’d prove how mistaken you are!” he says. “Won’t you give me a chance?”
“No!” I says.
“By heavens, I’ll make you!” he says, half laughing. “I’ve never seen anything so absurd! Why, my dear lady — ”
Right then up come Maison in a simple little Xmas tree of a dress in green and gold and red, and I broke away and took her arm, and hurried her out through the front door, leaving the captain staring after us, and rather against Maison’s will.
“Why didn’t you introduce me, dearie?” she says. “I kinda thought you’d pick up that bird!”
“I didn’t pick him up. I turned him down!” I snapped. But Maison kidded me the whole three hours while we was in the beauty parlors getting waived and manicured.
Then we had a nice wholesome little lunch lasting only three hours and comparatively quiet and by ourselves, seeing there was only Goldringer and Ruby Roselle and Maison and Freddy and O’Flarety, our leading juvinile, who had turned up, and Mr. Sternberger and a friend of ma’s which used to be in the circus with her, and ma and myself. And all the way through I watched ma kind of anxiously, for she only toyed with a little salad and passed up everything else. I was by this time really scared she would be haggard or something, but she looked fine, and not a word of complaint out of her, only toward four o’clock she got kind of restless, and so did I, so we excused ourselves and walked to the door together.
“You needn’t come along with me, Mary Gilligan,” she says. “I want to walk real fast.”
I looked at her sort of surprised at that, but at the time the queerness didn’t really sink in. And I was so wore out I was actually glad to let her go alone, and personally myself I took one of those overgrown baby carriages or rolling chairs which I thought a healthy young person like myself would never come to, and sank into it like the poor weary soul I was, and let the coon tuck me in like a six-months-old, and off we went as fast as a snail.
Well it was pleasanter than I had thought it would be and I got kind of drowsy and dreamy and somehow I couldn’t help but think of Captain Raymond and how refined and nice he was and how my fame and beauty had captured him to the extent that it had almost made him forget to act like a gentleman, and how he persisted like a regular story-book hero. And I wondered if he would shoot himself on my account, and that threw a awful scare into me, for handsome women have a terrible responsibility in the way they treat men. And I wondered was I really doing the right thing taking such a risk by treating him so severe and not speaking and here he was in the service of his country and all and I might be wrecking his whole life from then on. And furthermore I thought how hard it is to be refined and what a lot a person has to sacrifice to it, and that the roughnecks of this world seem to have most of the fun. And that it was certainly hard to be dignified but that my whole career was built on my refinement no less than my great talent, and I must respect my own position. Ah well, uneasy lies the tooth that wears a crown, as the poet says, or something!
And by this time the coon had got tired pushing me and turning my face seaward had gone to take a rest, and I took one too and actually fell asleep.
When I woke up I was moving again, going slow in the direction of the Inlet, and I felt quite refreshed and happy, and the whole of Atlantic City appeared to feel the same, for everybody I passed smiled and seemed to be enjoying themselves. And they all seemed to smile at me in such a sweet friendly way it made my heart feel awful good. I was even quite surprised; because though of course I am used to being recognized every place I go, but still, more people than ever was doing it this afternoon. I begun to think I must be looking pretty good and that my hat, about which I had had a few doubts, was a big success after all. It really was a sort of triumphal progress, as the saying is, and I had half a mind to turn round when we passed the last pier; but the ocean looked so beautiful and pink in the sunset and going the other way it would of been in my eyes, so I just let myself be rolled on and on until we was almost to the Inlet and not a soul in sight. Then the chair stopped and was turned against the rail.
“Now I’ve got you at last!” said a unexpected voice, and round from the back came — not the coon but Captain Raymond.
“Where did you come from?” I asked, hardly able to speak.
“I have had the honor of pushing you into this secluded corner of — of the ocean!” he said, his blue eyes twinkling.
“But how — how — ” I sputtered.
“I bought off the colored man while you were sleeping,” he said, “and have been your humble servant for almost an hour!”
Can you beat it? You can’t!
“Well, of all the nerve!” I began, remembering how people had smiled; and no wonder!
“What are you going to do about it?” he asked. “Walk home this minute!” I says, struggling with the rugs. But they had a will of their own and it was on his side and I just couldn’t seem to get free of them.
“Oh I say, don’t be so absurd!” he says smilingly.
“I’m not!” I says.
“Oh, but you are!” he insisted. “Just sit still and let me show you something!”
Well, there was nothing for me but to give in or look a utter fool, and he was so attractive! And — well anyways, I waited and he brought out a letter from his overcoat pocket and it was the very one he had wrote me first and I had returned it to the hotel clerk.
“Please just open it!” he begged; and I did and nearly fainted because inside was a letter in Jim’s handwriting addressed to me and introducing Captain Charles Raymond who was with him in France, only being gassed was now home on leave and would I show him every courtesy as he had been good to my ever-loving husband Jim!
“And really and truly I wouldn’t have been so persistent, Miss LaTour,” Captain Raymond was saying as I looked up. “I had intended using it when I got to New York of course. But when they put me in charge of this entertainment for the benefit of the blind, and I discovered you were here, I was simply determined to get you to take part in it. Couldn’t you do us just one little dance? It would be such a drawing card, your name would. That was all I wanted, really!”
Believe you me I didn’t know what to think or how I felt. Did I feel flat? I did! Did I feel relieved? I did! So it wasn’t a mash at all, and for a moment I felt a lonelier war widow than ever. Then I remembered how Jim said in the note to be nice to this bird, and I could see, now that I looked at him good, that he was the sort which it is perfectly safe to be nice to. Not that he didn’t admire me, either, but that he was just as refined as me and more so, and was Jim’s pal beside. So I says yes, of course I would dance, and we talked and talked, and the sun went down, and we got to be real friends and was it good to hear about Jim, first hand? It was!
And after a while we commenced to walk back toward the hotel, pushing the chair, and the lights was all lit along the walk like fairyland, and also in the shops so they was more like showcases than ever.
And then I got the second shock of the afternoon, because at ten past six, with dinner at seven, there was ma in the Ocean Lunch eating griddle cakes, fishballs, Salsbury stake and coffee, with a little strained honey and apple pie on the side! No wonder she could diet so good! And I take it to my credit that since she did not notice me I never let on that I seen her, not then nor at dinner when she refused everything but two dill pickles!
But it wasn’t until afterward when I was in the star dressing room at the Appollo Theater, putting on my makeup for the benefit, that the real blow came. I was just about ready to go on when in rushed Goldringer, all breathless, with a cablegram in his hand.
“It’s all right about Olivette Twist!” he puffed at me. “We’ll begin making that fillum Tuesday!” And he threw the message down on my dressing table. It was signed by our London manager and it read:
“Present location of Charles Dickens uncertain but material is uncopyrighted. Shoot.”
And so immediately after the show myself and ma went back to New York to get a twenty-four-hour rest before commencing work again.
Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now