The love story of a Hollywood daughter whose mother refused to grow old
NAN RANDOLPH, from the window of her mother's bedroom, watched the bright waves crashing on an abandoned shore. She would have an hour of swimming before the sun went down, a wonderful hour that generally had to be spent with Cicely. Well, that was all right, of course. Appearing in public was accepted by them both as part of Cicely's build-up.
Today Cicely was going to have tea in the Rose Room with some new friends of hers.
“People, called Henderson,” she explained. “They have something to do with coal, it seems. And naive! I don’t suppose they’d ever met anyone in pictures. They were positively wide-eyed, darling.”
Nan was grateful to the Hendersons. She was always grateful to people who remembered Cicely as she had been in the far-off days of the silent screen. Too often they did not remember.
Cicely Randolph was at that moment putting on her hat—a wide-brimmed hat which carefully revealed a smooth, shining ripple of ash-blond hair. Now she was considering the reflection of a smile—the smile of a shy young girl entranced by the thought of her first rendezvous. She was an altogether lovely and doll-like little person, and she did not lo k forty-four years old.
Nan shoved back a heap of silk trifles and sat on the edge of the bed. She looked at her mother quizzically.
“You know,” she said, “you’re going to knock the breath right out of these Hendersons.”
“Oh—well,” said Cicely with a deprecating shrug. “I couldn’t let the poor things down, could I?”
“Of course not,” said Nan. “It’s your good deed for the day.”
Cicely laughed, and blew a kiss to her daughter. Then she was gone. Nan got up and sent a casual glance about the room. Cicely would have forgotten something. She had. Nan closed the open jewel case and locked it in the trunk.
Nan left the room and went on down to that part of the beach which was almost always deserted at this time of day. Reaching the sand, she ran to the water’s edge, pulling a rubber cap tight about her ears. She had a beautiful bronzed body, and she wore a scrap of blue jersey that was no impediment to her lightning grace. The sand was warm and shining, and the blue water flashed with lights of gold. She felt wonderful; and, feeling wonderful, she shot over the crest of the first breaker, screwed her eyes shut and dived headlong into a hard object floating half-submerged in her immediate vicinity.
“I’m so sorry!” gasped Nan.
THEY WERE both laughing, although the man was still trying to get his breath. But it was difficult to laugh and swim at the same time. They both turned back to the beach and, sobering, Nan looked anx-
iously at a very good-looking individual of thirty or thereabouts. He was strangling slightly, and she gave him a few good whacks on the back.
“Are you all right?” she demanded. “Are you sure you’re all right?”
"Of course. I was only a little—astonished. But how about you? Did you think I was some new kind of fish?”
“Oh, no.” She smiled at him. “Fish don’t swear.”
He pulled a package of cigarettes from the pocket of his bathrobe ; cigarettes were an excuse for staying out of the water. They sat cross-legged on the sand, and surveyed each other with pleased and candid eyes.
“This was a break for me,” he said. “I was feeling rather alone and sorry for myself. By the way, my name’s Steven Benedict."
“Yes. Tactful of you to know that.” “You’ve got to lx* tactful with theatre |x*ople; they’ve got easily hurt feelings.” “Now that’s a sound bit of observation perhaps you’re in the profession yourself?”
“Oh, no,” she said, blushing a little. "I’m nolxxly of any importance. I’m Nan Randolph.”
"You you aren't married?”
“That’s g;xxl,” he said. “I wouldn’t have liked your husband. As a matter of fact, I’d have loathed the man.”
“He’d have been very nice,” she said indignantly. "You’d have been pals.” They argued about that for a while, and laughed. Then she pulled off the rubber cap and let the breeze play through her shining brown hair. It was g;x)d to be alive on a day like this. Yes, it was a beautiful world. She found that thin thread of blue which divided sky and water, and she lay on her back and stared at the drifting, frost-white clouds. And all the time she was conscious of her companion’s admiration, like warmth and light upon her.
“Nan,” he said, "will you have dinner with me tonight?”
“I’d like to.”
"Fine ! Then we’ll have a large evening —a very large evening,” he said.
He propped himself up on one elbow and looked at her earnestly. She resisted a surprising impulse to smooth down his rumpled hair. She smiled at his earnestness, and felt suddenly immeasurably older than he was. That, her instinct warned her, was a bad sign.
“I think we’ll begin very formally,” he went on. “First the Rose Room —”
"Oh !” said Nan, staring at him. “What's the matter? Have you got a phobia about rose rooms? Or what?” “No,” she said, frowning a little. “Only I’d completely forgotten Cicely." "Who’s she?”
“You don’t need to worry about that,” he said at once. “I pride myself on being gcxxl with mothers. It's a talent. You should see me. I bound all over the place, picking up shawls.”
“Shawls,” said Nan faintly. “But mv
mother isn’t like that. As a matter of fact, my mother is Cicely Randolph.”
He looked at her in some perturbation.
"Oh. lord, I’ve muffed it. Is she is she very well known?”
"Cicely.” said Nan severely, "was one of the most famous stars of the silent screen. I should think you d have known that haven’t you written for the pictures?” "No,” he said. "I’ve confined my remarkable talents to Broadway.”
Nan sighed. Cicely wasn’t interested in Broadway.
She would undoubtedly be difficult about a Broadway playwright. Cicely had never objected to Nan’s friends when those friends had been amusing, high-spirited boys, still slightly imintded by the awkwardness of youth. These youngsters left Cicely secure in the conviction that she was a young mother, a very young mother. But there was nothing of the awkward boy in Steven Benedict. Nan stole another glance at him. Every time she looked at him she felt a little shock of pleasure; and when he smiled at her, or when his hand grazed hers, she felt almost a sense of panic. No, he wasn't any clumsy, amusing Ixjy for Cicely to patronize.
He was a man.
Nan blushed suddenly. Then she sprang to her feet. "Come on!” she saicl. “We have time for a swim before the sun goes down.”
THAT EVENING, before dinner, she looked into the mirror and was astonished. It was like seeing somebody else. But there wasn’t any doubt about it; she had glamor. She wondered suddenly if Cicely would notice.
Cicely, fortunately, was having dinner with the precious coal people But afterward she came into the Rose Room so that Nan might introduce Steven. Cicely was not in a good humor. She regarded Steven rather coldly.
"Nice of you.” she said, "to dance with my child.”
Nan flushed. Then she reminded herself that Cicely always thought of her as a child. Cicely had to think of her as a child.
But Steven was laughing.
"Well,” he said, "it wasn’t pure philanthropy, Mrs. Randolph.”
Cicely wasn’t pleased. Naturally, thought Nan, Cicely wouldn’t be pleased. Then. too. Steven accepted Cicely’s departure a shade too readily as young men always accept the departure of dowagers.
Nan sighed. There was trouble ahead. She felt it in her bones. But everything should have been so perfect.
She was dancing with Steven and he was smiling down into her eyes. The orchestra was playing a new song from Cuba, and in every pause was the lazy murmur of an untroubled sea. When the dance was over, they went out on the terrace. The palm trees were dark and fantastic against a sky glittering with stars.
"It doesn't seem real.” Nan said. "It doesn’t seem that anything that happened here could be real.”
"Oh, this is real enough,” he said. “For a prologue. Maybe we ll get the sleet and slush and snow in the second act.” lie paused then, and looked at her in sudden anxiety. "What’s bothering you. Nan?”
"Nothing.” She smiled at him. “I'm morbid, I supixrse. I 'ín talking like somebody in a Russian novel.”
He stared down at his cigarette.
"Tell me,” he said, "where do you and your mother live when you’re not vacationing?”
"But we're always vacationing. Home, officially, is Hollywood. And when Cicely makes her comeback "Oh. Is that in the cards?”
“It's in our cards.”
She hesitated a moment. It would be such a relief, she thought, to tell him about Cicely. But there were only certain carefully edited parts of the story that she could tell, in loyalty.
Their relationship was curiously reversed. Nan, hv the time she was twelve, had learned to take life on its own terms. Cicely had never learned. Cicely’s rise to fame had been meteoric. That sort of fame had come about rather frequently in Hollywtxxl's early days. So. even in the beginning, Cicely Randolph had not learned the discipline of struggle. She had simply found herself, almost overnight, a marvellous being whose least gesture was flung to the ends of the earth.
The advent of the talking pictures had not dismayed her. She had not even been seriously worried when tier first sound tests had been unsuccessful. She had worked diligently with a teacher of diction and thought, witli gentle indulgence, of a public anxiously waiting to hear her voice.
But when she was ready to speak to them, they were not ready to hear.
She had never accepted the truth. Her public, she thought, still wanted her. She was the victim of some malicious conspiracy in the studios, or jxirhaps of some monstrous mistake on the part of the producers. Ah, they could say what they pleased, she was still Cicely Randolph ' Nan, revealing a little of this story, looked gravely at Steven.
"You see.” she said, “it's always been a sort of partnership Cicely’s Comeback. Incorporated.”
"Do you mean,” he asked slowly, "that it’s your life too? That it stands in the way of — everything else?”
"But I’ve told you I’ve never had any ambition . . .”
She broke off, disconcerted by the note of doubt in her own protest. Before tonight, it would have been true enough. Insensibly she had fallen into Cicely’s way of thinking there was all the time in the world for Nan to fall in love, for Nan to marry and make a life of her own.
“Well.” she said, a little embarrassed, "we’re being terribly serious.”
"Why not? You know the people in my plays are never serious. It’s a tremendous strain on them and me. Life bounded by wisecracks . . . Hello,” he added. “Here’s the outside world.”
Nan turned quickly. A deferent little page boy was standing at her elbow’.
“It’s Mrs. Randolph,” he explained. “She phoned down, Miss Randolph; said to tell you she had a headache.”
CICELY lay in a darkened room, an ice pack over her brow.
“I’m sorry, darling. I hated to bother you. But it’s been terrible. All these maids are so clumsy.”
“You’ve been crying,” Nan said gently.
“Yes; and it makes my eyes so old. Nan, rub my head.”
Nan put the ice pack away, and began to stroke her mother’s forehead with cool, steady fingers. The episode would end either in gentle tears and a childlike slumber or in one of Cicely’s tantrums, so celebrated in the studios fifteen years ago.
"It's this place,” said Cicely suddenly. "It’s getting dreadfully on my nerves. Nan. We’ve got to get away; I think we’d better go back to California.”
Nan fought down a swift tide of rebellion. She knew quite well what was in her mother’s mind. It was Steven. Steven must be left in Palm Beach and forgotten.
"I thought you were having a good time.” she ventured timidly. “I’d I’d rather hoped we could stay.”
"There’s no reason to stay.” said Cicely. “Oh ! My head is aching so ...”
Nan could hardly plead an interest in a man she had met that day; the fabric of their relationship was still too fragile. Miserably she imagined how Cicely’s delicate, knife-edged scorn would tear it to shreds.
The following morning. Cicely made reservations on the plane leaving for California. Nan tipped everybody, and paid the hotel bill. They were ready to go.
Stex’en, of course, saw them off at the airport. Cicely
was charming to him. That, Nan thought ruefully, was because she was saying good-by. Steven chatted pleasantly with Cicely, while Nan looked on with a fixed bright smile. He hadn’t said another word about Hollywood. He was behaving as if this farewell were of small consequence.
Cicely left them only two minutes together. Someone was already shouting, “All aboard !”
Nan gave Steven her hand.
/‘Good-bv,” she said rather stiffly.
“Good-by, Nan,” he said in a casual tone. “Do you know where the Trocadero is? ’
She stared at him.
“In Hollywood? Why, yes.”
“Do you know when Thursday is?”
“It’s the day after tomorrow,” she said, beginning to smile.
“Then,” he said, “all you’ve got to remember is twelve o’clock.”
The plane took off, without effort, for California.
NOW’,” said Steven, “we can begin where we left off.” They were in the Trocadero. They were completely absorbed in each other; in a place where everyone else was peering desperately about for celebrities.
“Well,” said Nan, “not exactly where we left off.”
She looked at him with troubled eyes. She had not told Cicely that Steven had taken the next plane after them. In fact, she had guiltily avoided any mention of Steven.
“You see,” she went on, choosing her words carefully, “Cicely’s in a terribly nervous state just now. The least thing is likely to upset her.”
“The least thing meaning me.”
“But, why, for heaven’s sake? I’m such a respectable bloke, really.”
“Oh, it’s not that,” said Nan. “I know you’re as respectable as a -as a church.”
That made them laugh. All sorts of foolish things made them laugh. When she was with Steven, Nan was always convinced that everything would be all right. Reasonable arguments formed in her mind, arguments to present to Cicely.
But it was too bad they had chosen the Trocadero. As they were walking out of the place—arm in arm, smiling blissfully into each othei’s eyes—they were snapped by a wandering cameraman who had recognized them both.
Yes, it was really too bad. The picture appeared that night in one of the leading newspapers, the caption hinting discreetly of a romance between Steven Benedict, distinguished playwright, and Nan Randolph, charming daughter of Cicely Randolph, former screen favorite. And, as ill luck would have it, not one of the evening papers had run a story about Cicely’s return.
“Just -just this awful insult!” cried Cicely in helpless rage. She hurled the papiers on the floor, flung herself on the sofa and wept.
“I’m sorry,” faltered Nan. “I really was going to tell you that Steven was here. Cicely, you can't have anything against him.”
“A man you met three days ago !”
“I can’t help it,” said Nan in desperation. "That’s the way it hit me.”
Cicely sat up.
“Apparently you’ve missed the point,” she said in honest amazement. “Why, Nan, don't you see what thi* sort of publicity is going to do to me? It puts me so awfully in the background, darling. It makes me nothing but your mother, and this this smirking idiot’s mother-in-law. Oh ! I wish I were dead !”
“No,” said Nan patiently. “No, he doesn’t smirk. You’re not his mother-in-law. And you don't wish you were dead.” “Please !” said Cicely. “Please don't be so unreasonable, darling. You know perfectly well what my career means to me. Everything! What else have we lived for? What else have we been working for all these years? And now, just when I have my chance—”
“Your chance, Cicely?”
“Yes. I didn’t tell you—wanted to surprise you but I’m dickering right now for a very important contract with —with an agent here in Hollywood.”
Nan knew the “agents” lier mother sought out so wistfully. They were the less reputable sort who made prodigious promises and exacted sums for vaguely stipulated “expenses” from fallen stars like Cicely. But nothing ever came of their promises.
Cicely was going on doggedly.
“Don’t you see,” she said, “how the least false move could wreck me at a time like this? You and this man—being seen everywhere, even having your picture taken. It’s the worst sort of publicity, Nan.” She concluded with an infinitely pathetic little gesture.
Nan looked at her anxiously. The trouble was, Cicely was so little, so frail, so brave in the face of cruel misunderstanding. It was impossible not to be moved by her final gesture. In the old days, when Cicely had been a star, tenderhearted women had often left the theatre with tears in their eyes . . .
SO WE can’t be married,” Steven said slowly. “We can’t be engaged. We can’t even see each other unless it’s in some grubby hole-in-the-wall.” He sent a savage glance about the Western Avenue restaurant and turned back to Nan incredulously. “It doesn’t make sense.”
“Maybe not,” said Nan, “but it makes Ho'.lywixxl’s kind of sense.”
For two weeks they had been meeting in the Western Avenue restaurant. And even these meetings had been infrequent. Cicely needed Nan almost hourly. There had been endless conferences with the newest agent, a sharpeyed little man in whom Cicely had put all her faith. Thenhad been stormy sessions with Cicely’s couturier. Thenhad been hours and hours of black depression, during which Cicely had clung to Nan as desperately as a feverish child (lings to its nurse. And there had been very little time left for Steven. He would not have been human if he had not resented that; resented, more particularly, the atmosphere of secrecy and guilt which always attended their meetings.
Soon he’d have to go back to NewYork. Nothing would be settled. He’d have, even in the thought of her, the memory of frustration. They hadn't had a chance to build their relationship on any sound foundation. The whole thing was hopeless, she thought.
“There’s something different about this coffee,” she said in a bright, unnatural voice. “I wonder how they do it. I think it w-as made generations ago and handed down from father to son—”
‘‘The meeting. ’’ he said sternl y, “will please come to order.”
She looked at him helplessly. “Oh, what’s the use, Steven? We don’t get anywhere.”
“It’s a spot,” he admitted, “but you can see for yourself it’s a ridiculous spot. So we’ll do something about it.”
“What?” she demanded.
It was amazing the way he could lighten the gkxim, even with a smile, a wave of the hand. He was smiling now.
“Well, lady, if you’ll look closely, you’ll see I have a card up my sleeve. Now if you’ll give me your entire attention and not sit there thinking of something else ”
“Well, don’t count on it too much. Nan. It may just be one of those things. It’s about Max Kronin.”
“Yes. Odd what his name does to people out here. A rather commonplace old chap with indigestion.”
“But he’s ”
“The czar of the screen. The Fuehrer of the films. Yes, I know.”
"You’ve actually met him?”
"Certainly 1 've met him. I le wanted me to write a script for him and I turned him down. ‘Not for all your swimming ixxils,’ said I in fine contempt. But he’s still hopeful. I kept him hopeful so that I could bring him to call on you and Cicely.”
Steven grinned. “Don’t go on breathing the man’s name like that. He’s only a human being.” “So was Napolann,” she said. “So was Alexander the Great.”
“Yes . . . Well, I’m having a game of golf with this personage on Saturday. Afterward, I’m bringing him to call on you. You understand, he doesn’t know of any crafty design on my part. He simply thinks lie’s going to meet my heart’s delight and the mother of my heart’s delight.” Steven assumed an air of importance. “All these big deals— they’re generally put over while somebody’s brushing their teeth or something.”
' I 'HE OBJECT of Nan’s reverence was not, at casual glance, an individual in any way out of the ordinary. He greeted Nan and Cicely good-humoredly enough, and settled himself automatically in the room’s most comfortable chair. I íe waved aside the proffered cocktail and asked if he might have a teasjxion of sodium bicarbonate in a small glass of water. For a long time he told them, in detail, of the things he could and could not eat. Everybody listened very rcsjx-ctfully. Cicely's radiant eyes might have been rewarding wit of the highest order; and Nan observed, her heart beating wildly, that the great film magnate seemed much drawn to Cicely.
Nan herself had said scarcely a word. She had been careful to make herself as young as possible. “I'm going to look,” she had explained to Steven, “as il I Vi just dashed in from a gixxl romp in the back yard. 1 can do it. I've done it before." Just the same, he had a gleeful glint in his eye when he saw her. She was wearing a crew-neck sweatir, a brief flannel skirt, and stout woollen socks rolled down over brown brogues. 11er hair was slightly tousled and her cheeks were naturally Hushed. She hx>ked about fifteen.
Cicely, on the other hand, looked too young to be the mother of a fifteen-year-old hoyden. Cioily had gone to bed early the night before, with complicated straps about, her brow and chin. A competent Swedish masseuse had arrived in the morning, followed by a hairdresser, a face s]x-cialist and a manicurist. All that day there had been a sort of solemn silence in the apartment. Even the manicurist had been impressed. "Kronin!” she had said. "Gee!” No one dared mention motion pictures until quite suddenly Kronin himself sjxike of Cicely’s most successful performance.
“No, sir, I never forgot that picture. The little flower girl and the Ruritanian prince or whatever he was. Remember?”
“Of course I remember. I was Sari. And Leonard Hastings was the prince . .
She faltered. Leonard i Listings was now playing character bits in Kronin’s own studio indulgent fathers and testy, middle-aged lawyers. But apparently that slip hadn’t mattered. Kronin was smiling reminiscently.
“The little flower girl,” he said. “By golly, you were cute !”
“I’d like to play Sari all over again,” said Cicely daringly. “I I don't think I've changed very much.”
There was a rather terrifying pause.
"Oh, well, it’s this way,” Kronin said at last. “They maybe wouldn’t like Sari again. It’s a funny thing—maybe I’m kind of superstitious, as you might say but I’ve never had any luck reviving those old hits.”
Cicely took the matter bravely in hand, though her voice trembleJ a little, try as she would to sound casual.
'Oh, 1 really haven’t my heart set on Sari,” she told him. “I'veoften thought I'd like a stneght romantic comedy for for my comeback, Mr. Kronin.”
The great man sipped his soda and water, and eyed the bottom of his glass. Nan felt her own fa;nt smile of courteous interest freezing on her face. I fere was the mome it for which she and Cicely had waited so long; the niomi nt which held all their hopes and all their fears in perilous balance.
“You’re a lucky woman. Mrs. Randolph.” Kronin said, chuckling a little. “You’re one of the sensible ones. I take it; salted away your money and haven't a worry in the world for the rest of your life. Leave the romantic comedy
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to the young folks and take it easy. If more of the old-timers could have had your sense ...” He broke off, his eye falling on Nan. “But how about you, Miss Randolph? Why don’t you come down to the studio for a screen test? That little outfit you have on now -you look like a million dollars. We’re going to do a college story. You’d fit right into it. maybe.”
“Öh, no!” Nan cried desperately. “I’m not ambitious, Mr. Kronin. It’s my mother who’s the talented one.”
“Well,” he agreed, “you’re right about that. Your mother was certainly a great little star in her day-and, believe me, those were the days.”
He rose then, and reluctantly Steven rose with him. Nan could not bear to look at her mother. But she heard Cicely murmuring some banality of farewell. Then Steven and Max Kronin were going down the steps.
NAN MET Steven next day in the familiar booth of their Western Avenue restaurant. They dealt in commonplaces until the waiter had brought their coffee and a china ash tray.
“Now,” he said a bit grimly, “for the worst. I suppose it’s been pretty bad?” She nodded.
“Yes. You see, Cicely had banked so much on Kronin’s visit, and now ...”
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“We all have disappointments,” he said.
"It’s more than a disappointment for her. It’s like a death sentence.”
But even Steven could not understand, she told herself miserably. She was reliving the hours that had followed Kronin's departure. The tears; the hysterical threats; the long night, ridden with torment. And then, that morning, the physician’s solemn pronouncement.
She turned back to Steven.
“Dr. O’Connor says that Cicely’s been under a severe strain. I know you think it’s all play-acting, Steven. But this man realizes that Cicely’s whole life is playacting.”
“Yes—a Hollywood doctor,” he put in, rather ironically.
“Steven, don’t you understand? She’s making herself ill. really ill. She sees herself as Kronin saw her an old woman, nibbling on memories. Oh, nothing more must happen to her. She really must be humored. Dr. O'Connor says.” She kxiked at him in despair. “Steven, there just isn’t any way out for us.”
“At the worst,” he objected, “it’s only a question of time.”
“But time that’s the most important thing of all! When people are kept apart, they’re naturally going to lind other interests.” She paused then, and drew a long breath. “I’m not free to marry you, Steven, and I’m not asking you to wait for me.”
“Now we’ve come to it.” he said slowly. “You’re trying to tell me you're going away.”
Nan lowered her eyes.
“Yes,” she admitted. “Cicely says she’s got to get away from Hollywood. She's talking of England—the studios over there.”
“Well, that’s all right. We could all go. Six months or so in jolly old Albion ...”
“Oh, Steven—no! She—she resents you more than ever. This humiliation over Kronin ...”
“She shouldn’t have felt humiliated,” he put in with a rather rueful smile. “Kronin was keen about her. He told me so. Oh. he didn't see her as a glamorous screen star. But he’d somehow got the idea that your mother had sacrificed her career for your sake, Nan. He went on at great length
about mother love—I gathered, of course, that it was the lace-mitten school of mother love.”
‘Tm glad he didn’t say anything like that to Cicely—she’d have had a fit . . . Oh, there’s no good going on about it. You’re going back to New York. I’m going to England—to the Riviera—heaven knows where!”
“No. I’ll think of something.” He smiled at her. “If you’d only have a little faith in me, my girl ...”
The smile infuriated her.
“I'm sorry,” she said. “I really can’t joke about it, Steven.”
He stared at her.
“Did you think I was joking?” he demanded savagely.
“No,” she said, “but I think you’ll get over it. You’ll go back to New York and —that will be that.”
“I repeat,” he said coldly. “You certainly don’t seem to have very much faith in me.”
“What’s the good of talking about it? We may as well say good-by right now.” She rose quickly. “You see,” she added, as a final word, “it’s all so hopeless.”
rT'HE DAYS of the next week passed haltingly. There was no word from Steven. Nan reminded herself doggedly that she’d have had very little time for Steven, in any case. Dr. O’Connor had been explicit.
“With women of Mrs. Randolph’s temperament . . . ” he said.
“I know,” Nan assented slowly. “Do you think they care about things more than other people? Or—”
“Oh! A girl like yourself, for example. Thwarted in any desire, you’d have a certain fortitude to fall back upon. I’d not have to waste many calls on you, young woman. But your mother ...” He paused, and looked at her with a slight, enigmatic smile. “Your mother has very little to fall back on.”
Cicely was feeling better.
“They’ll give me my chance in England,” she announced. “They don’t get tired of people over there. Think of Ellen Terry.”
Nan sighed. She wondered if her mother had any real faith in this particular venture. Actually, it was only another retreat from Hollywood. They’d come back.
The days were full of last-minute preparations for departure. Cicely was already feeling her way into her new role. Cicely was being the beloved American star, who had finally consented to lend her talent and grace to the cinema across the sea. It was a very successful performance. Nan could not bear to think of how drearily it would end, with the English producers polite but indifferent.
Nan returned from the bank late one afternoon, with a stack of travellers’ cheques in her handbag. That had been one of the last errands before sailing. These practical matters always fell into Nan’s hands. Travelling with Cicely was like travelling with an irresponsible child.
With this thought still lingering in her mind, she was the more bewildered by Cicely’s greeting. Nan had closed the door and come into the room. Cicely had looked up with a little whimsical smile. Nan stood still, as sensitive as a cat to some subtle change in the atmosphere. Then she had it. It seemed to her that there was something definitely maternal in Cicely’s manner. There was also something different in Cicely’s appearance. She was wearing her hair high, the curls sternly pinned out of sight. The coiffure lent her height and a new dignity.
“You monkey.” said Cicely, laughing a little. “Don’t look so worried.”
“Has anything happened?” Nan asked slowly.
Cicely smiled over her secret, held it and cherished it as long as she could. But there was nothing of the childish imp about her.
She was a gracious woman of the world, amused by the ingenuous curiosity of youth.
“We aren’t going to England,” she announced. “We’re going to stay right here in Hollywood.”
“Mr. Kronin has been here. You remember—Max Kronin . . . My dear child, I don’t see why you look so surprised.”
“Because I am surprised,” said Nan, staring. “What did he say to you, Cicely?” Cicely frowned.
“My dear,” she said, “from now on I think you should call me mother. I’m sure it would look better in the publicity.”
“All right,” said Nan. “Just let me go crazy.”
“Darling, I’m so sorry. I have so many things whirling around in my mind . . . Nan, it’s the most wonderful story in the world and I’m starring in it !”
Cicely beamed on her daughter. Then she strolled over to the mirror and tried out a gentle maternal smile.
“It’s more or less my own story, as Mr. Kronin says,” she added complacently. “Yourown story!”
“Yes. All about a beautiful woman, idolized by the world, who sacrifices her career for the sake of her daughter. And the name of the picture.” added Cicely, “is ‘Mother o’ Mine !’ "
Nan struggled in vain for words.
“We’ll have thousands of pictures taken together,” said Cicely suddenly, patting her hand. “Very simple ones, darling, in our own home, with huge bunches of flowers and a cat lying on the rug.”
“We haven’t a cat,” Nan protested faintly.
“Well, we can rent one . . . There’s a telegram over there. It’s for you, dear child. I opened it because I thought it might be important. But it wasn’t. It was some sort of joke.”
“Yes. It was from Steven ... He really is a nice young man, darling. I do think you should see more of him.”
Nan caught her breath.
“Cicely! What did it say in that telegram?”
“Just two words,” said Cicely indulgently. “It said, ‘Western Avenue.’ ”
CTEVEN was waiting for her in that ^ wonderful booth. And while Steven took her into his arms and kissed her as if he hadn’t seen her for twenty years, their usual waiter tactfully polished off an ash tray with the corner of his apron.
Nan drew back.
“Steven!” she said. “You’re looking ghastly. Your eyes so burnt out—”
“Wait a minute. I know what you’re thinking. But I haven’t been going to the dogs, darling. I’ve only been getting along with no sleep—turning out such a nice little script for Max Kronin.”
“A script! But you wouldn’t write for the movies.”
“So I said. That was before I got this staggering idea. Old Kronin was sold on it right away. But I held out, of course, for the star I had to have . . . You’re getting it, my foxy one. It’s a really wonderful story, Nan. And, as Kronin says, so true to life.”
“Oh, Steven! It’s—it’s ‘Mother o’
Mine !’ ”
"Oh, darling,” she said, beginning to laugh. “Oh, darling!”
The waiter stepped back. He had done what he could with the ash tray. Now he began to cough diplomatically. But the two young people paid no attention. The girl was in the young man’s arms again ... If Mr. Papadopoulos, the proprietor, had been here, he wouldn’t have allowed it. But Mr. Papadopoulos was not here, and the waiter tiptoed into the kitchen. He would come back, he thought, in five minutes.