This story of Faustian bargains happened in Paris in the 1950s. Using any means necessary to get to the top with her talent, Kathleen Ingersoll reached the far edge of possibility as a classical pianist. With the higher music establishment in the background, her story is neither about music nor about Paris. It is about a woman and the cost of extreme ambition, about love and other dangers, and about time and the river.
Events on streets and in neighborhoods that were never in Paris are in this book the same way that Poe’s murders happened in the Rue Morgue. Persons who existed in the past—for example, Josephine Baker—are images in a distorted mirror. The world in this book and the one we call real happen inches apart. Whether Kathleen Ingersoll’s bargains with an imaginary or true devil could actually have happened somewhere, sometime, the author leaves to his many coauthors, the readers. They necessarily will see the story as different from what the author saw in telling it.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.46(d)|
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The Applause Of The Gods, A Novel
By Warren R. B. Dixon
XlibrisCopyright © 2016 Warren Dixon
All rights reserved.
THE QUEEN OF THE OCEAN
The woman with the singing hands looked into the gray eyes of Flora Glee and wondered what she saw there. It was one of those moments across a crowded room, only this was the Observation Bar of a great liner and Flora was neither beautiful nor young and had a squat masculine look. Instead, the most beautiful woman in the room sat across the table from Kathleen Ingersoll, whose singing hands were quiet now, one curved around a wine glass, the other still as a stone on the linen.
"Who is she, Jessie, that woman at the bar by herself?"
Without looking to see, Jessica White said, "The ugly one? That's Flora Glee."
At the beginning of autumn in the year 1951, Kathleen and Jessica were on the third day out from America aboard RMS Queen Elizabeth. This Queen was the first one, the troopship from the war, a luxury liner then in its salad days on the Atlantic. Jessica White, across the table sipping champagne, dressed all in white in her roseate and supple twenties, blue of eye and blond of hair, white as her name, said archly of Flora Glee, "She's rich, that one. So rich she makes me feel poor."
"Poor? You?" Kathleen offered a one-second laugh, meant to be sardonic.
"Compared to her, yes. She is a moneybag. Besides, my money belongs to Daddy, not me." With her polished fingers drumming and her eyes talking, she began to sing a pop song from the Depression years, almost in a whisper, "We're in the money. We're in the money. We got a lot of what it takes to get along!"
"I come from a niggertown shack and you know it."
Jessica put her finger to her lips. "Shhh! Hush."
"It's no secret." She was out of Africa by a high yellow mother and blue-eyed Swede for a father.
"It is a secret on this ship. I told moneybags over there that you are from Pozzuoli."
"Why would you tell her that? And where's Pozzuoli?"
"It's Sophia Loren's hometown in Italy." Or so Jessica had read in a magazine.
Kathleen frowned. "Don't start airbrushing me for people we meet on the Queen." For an instant she thought of her Anglo-Saxon husband back in Cincinnati, telling people she was Italian. Under her breath she muttered a one-syllable expletive and her eyes flashed.
"Frankly, Kathy, nobody thinks you're from the Belgian Congo. For God's sake you got green eyes. Go with the flow. You are one of us."
"Like hell I am. Don't try keeping me a secret."
"Speaking of secrets, your money is a secret even from me." Jessica waited a moment, then said as a tease, "How much do you have?"
"I told you I have enough. The wind shook the money tree just once and just enough, that's all." Kathleen had never explained to Jessica how much money had come from out of the blue, or perhaps more accurately from out of the white, from out of the Kentucky Endicotts, Nordic and wealthy. That family had given her the strange green eyes, auburn hair, complexion the color of Spain, and enough money for France and music. It would do for years, but she was not rich. She had the thought, even as she was boarding the great ship, that she could not have afforded a Stradivarius if she had been a violinist. Everything was the piano and there would always be one waiting for her.
She turned the subject away from Jessica's curiosity about her money by asking, "What do you know about her?"
"The rich woman who keeps looking my way."
"Oh, that one. While you were up on the promenade this morning, I struck up an hour with Flora Glee at breakfast."
"You discussed her bank account?"
"It is common knowledge that she's a walking pocketbook. But get this. She has connections with Leibowitz and she owns some kind of recording company. Maybe you should know her." Jessica had just dropped a famous name in French music. Leibowitz.
"You found all that out in one breakfast?"
"Of course not. Shar-lee talks a lot, and he should know." Shar-lee was Charles Arceneau, Jessica's shipboard flirtation, a middle-aged, pipe-smoking Frenchman, trim and good-looking. He was a cousin to the gray-eyed woman at the bar. Jessica said that he was also Flora's traveling companion, secretary, and general gopher.
"I dislike him."
"At least you did not say that in French. No more pourquoi pas please."
"We are on our way to Paris, Jess. You plan to get by for a year without French? As for Shar-lee, he is always posing with that pretentious pipe of his."
"It's a meerschaum."
"Yeah, sure. He lights it with his Zippo lighter with a picture of the ship on it." Kathleen was quitting cigarettes and was nervous about it.
Jessica shrugged. "He passes the time for me. His accent is charming.
Makes me think of Charles Boyer the way he talks. Anyway I hear she's a butch."
"Maybe that too. Rumor says there's a Glee Club. Flora Glee and her coterie from the isle of Lesbos. She's one manly woman." Jessica watched the look on Kathleen's face, enjoying the moment. Then she laughed. "No, Kathy, that is not why she is looking at you. She is also a patron of the arts. I told her you were a virtuoso and a protégé of Eugene Goossens."
"A half-truth is a lie." In the half that was true, a man with a luminous name had thought she had the right stuff.
"And a half-lie can be a truth. You're good enough for Goossens and you know it. Even he thought so."
"Well, I never went to Australia with him when he left Cincinnati."
"That was your big mistake and my good luck."
To get it straight about Kathleen Ingersoll, one had to know that she was a keyboard genius, exceedingly gifted even among the few who are the best. We make a mistake to think that her attention-grabbing vocation made her an interesting person, for many an artistic bonfire may flourish in a tedious human. Not so for Kathleen. Quite apart from the piano, she was the kind of woman who, if read about in a novel, would sound made up, a rabbit out of the writer's hat, so startling she was. Kathleen, however, was real as an alarm clock going off in the morning. When her hands were not singing, she had a life as a woman. She did not have to wait until she was old to wear purple; she wore it in her twenties, at least as behavior. She was a gingersnap, carrying some of her childhood into maturity. Kathleen managed to be always just enough unpredictable and undisciplined to be wide alive. In music she accepted stern living and bittersweet toil. "Without discipline there is no life," she would say. Outside the eighty-eight keys, she had sparkle. She could be angry and headlong and kind and tender. She had courage and ability to love like a storm and to hate like a banshee. These traits would show up to be tested in her Paris years and be illustrated in the narrative that lay before her that afternoon at sea in a lounge of a luxury liner. Hers is not a story about a piano or even about music. It is a story about a woman.
* * *
Kathleen stood at a railing in the evening as the Queen ran away from the sunset. It brought the tears to her eyes just enough to make the sunset colors quaver. That is how beautiful she found the goodbye sun, but she was thinking of other goodbyes. She had left her husband in Cincinnati, whether forever she did not know. She had left her lover, a dark cousin, in a Kentucky churchyard with I have spoken carved on a stone above him. That parting she knew would be forever.
Her husband had been named for the bloodiest county in Kentucky. Referring to his other woman, she had asked him, "How's your bed buddy, Harlan?"
"Please don't leave me," he had said, looking sad.
"Surely the kisses of her bought red mouth were sweet." She offered that line of poetry as sarcasm for the Jewish American Princess he was sleeping with.
"She's not the whore, Kathy. I am. She's got plenty of money. I'm broke."
"When were you not?"
"Well, at least you have money now. He's gone, your black cousin, but he shook the money tree in the white man's backyard. Now you have honky money from the white side of your family." She recalled the bitterness in his voice. To shake the money out of her wealthy white family had taken Kathleen's hammer of a cousin, big, black, bright, strange, and now unbelievably no longer anywhere except in her heart. How could anything as alive as Bucko Ingersoll no longer exist? That was another story, lived out in the Cincinnati rain, gone now like the day that was dying on the sea.
"I'm tired of this," she had said to her husband. She was remembering that last conversation in faraway Cincinnati.
Suddenly Charles Arceneau stood beside her. She quickly brushed away the tears.
"You are sad?" he asked.
"The sun was in my eyes, that's all. What is it you want, Shar-lee?" She did not like him. Charles was handsome and not yet old in his fifties, gray at the temples, dignified, sophisticated, smooth, wifeless, and still male enough to be on the make. Kathleen's curtness caused him to hesitate.
"Nothing, chéri," he said in a subdued tone.
"Well, I can give you that. Shouldn't you go looking for Jessica?"
While Kathleen saw Charles vaguely without caring, aware of the quality of his Fifth Avenue jacket flaked with red points among quiet gray and the matching ascot at his throat, noting the glint of cuff links at his wrists when he removed the meerschaum pipe to knock out the ashes on the railing, she thought of him only as a man on the make for Jessica. He was a Frenchman of that certain age, good-looking to be sure in the way of maturity won from a fading youth. She ignored his charm. She only felt intruded upon. The encounter appeared differently to Charles. He saw Kathleen in a soft way that surprised him. Until that moment, he had not known she had eyes like a cat. Earlier, he would have said her eyes were indefinite-colored had anyone asked him. He saw for the first time that her eyes were green, the color that does not announce itself boldly like blue or black or blazing gray. While Kathleen spoke to him, she absently turned her silver bracelet over and over. The dying sunlight caught at her throat, softening a clavicle, lighting up her auburn hair, the crispy short sauciness of it. Or so he thought of it as a hint of lyrical emotion caught him off guard. She stopped turning her bracelet and the sunlight fell pale on her pale hands curved on the railing. That was how Charles saw her. That was the moment perhaps that Charles Arceneau began a long devotion to Kathleen in the Paris time that lay ahead of them. Rejection has its sting but also its attraction.
"I am just a messenger," he said softly.
"Messenger? Oh, you are the gopher for that woman, whosit, with all the money."
"Her financial advisor, secretary, and nearest relative. Flora Glee — I think you know her. Jessica said so. Anyway she is having dinner in her suite. She wants you and Jess to join her."
"I did not know dinner in your room was even a choice. Why would she want me there?"
Charles asked, "Pourquoi pas?"
Language creates unintended consequences, sometime small and unnoticeable, sometimes tragic. People have been killed because of a word. The French phrase was one she had used often playfully in her Cincinnati life. For a moment she thought of her husband as his face passed vaguely through her mind. She had often used pourquoi pas to him when she was annoyed.
"Why not? I don't know why not, Shar-lee. I'm curious about one thing. They say she owns a recording company."
"They say wrong. She does own a talent agency. We sell geniuses to the world."
"I'm not a casual employee."
"So they tell me."
"They? You mean Jessica, don't you?"
"Jessica also tells me your boss is a butch."
Charles leaned his back on the rail, turning against the sunset colors on the sea, looking instead at Kathleen's profile. The dying sun glowed on his jacket and the wind fingered his hair, still dark but for the gray at the temples.
"A butch? Une lesbienne?"
"Of a certain kind. A dyke. Isn't there a French word for it?" Asking the question, she turned to look him in the eye. In those days one could speak of departures from yin and yang as the well of loneliness, of the love that dares not speak its name.
Charles shrugged. "Femme aux allures masculines? Ah chéri, that has nothing to do with either you or —." He caught his mistake and stopped. He could see that Kathleen thought he was referring to Jessica and her as practitioners. He waited as she retreated toward silent contempt. A quarter of a minute can be a long time. Finally, Charles continued.
"Flora has heard that you play the piano like an angel. Do you?"
"I play it like a devil. That's even better."
* * *
Before Charles talked to Kathleen at the railing above the sea, he had spent an hour in Flora Glee's queenly quarters on the Queen. Their conversation was in French, which we follow freely translated into English subtitles. He paced the floor as he spoke to Flora while she sat at a desk making notes, her heavy body overweighting the stylish chair that had been made to be looked at by fat people and sat in by the thin ones. Charles Arceneau noted as much. The comical image of the chair giving way and dumping her on the floor flickered a moment like a smile in the dark. He viewed Flora Glee with the same tolerance he always had for obesity with money, particularly the cousin from whom all blessings had been flowing for years. The money conduit would have been a far narrower pipeline had it not been for Charles. He had the mind of a financial engineer, fortunately for Flora Glee who, like a late generation Buddenbrooks lacked the ruthless skills of the earlier ones. She spilled buckets of money on people in the arts. She owned a spendthrift agency for promoting artists. She was famous among the moochers of the higher trades in music and colored canvases and manuscripts of imagination. More often than not, Flora backed up one of the talented losers that breed like dandelions. The exceptions justified her biography of a moneybag full of thousand-dollar nickels dispersed as though it were a throw from a Mardi Gras float.
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Charles had moved much of Flora's lazy French investments into ownership of low-priced oil resources in America and otherwise diversified her holdings away from France into the United States and Canada. He had even put Flora's money into the American cereal bowl, not enough to make her on par with Marjorie Merriweather Post, but enough that the Post Toasties empress knew Flora's name. Charles had the high-roller spirit and loved making money. He had spent a Depression year in Texas buddying with wildcats in oil. Even now he had Flora in a sleeping partnership with an oil entrepreneur, known to the public as Charlie Horse Channing, half as lucky and almost as enterprising as the young Paul Getty. During that pacing hour in Flora's premium quarters on the Queen's hundredth crossing, Charles had told her that Charlie Horse desperately wanted to kick his sleeping partner out of bed. "The offer is worth it, Flora," the more trusted Charles assured her, fondling his dead meerschaum idly. He knocked the pipe empty into an ashtray stamped with the ship's emblem. She had replied laconically, "OK." She had seen the figures and was not sure. In such cases she relied on her cousin. Keeping her rich was Charles Arceneau's affair, well done but dull compared to the music and color of art patronage. Between the wars, Flora came to own large tracts of land in southern California where now cities were moving toward them and into them. She even owned dozens of acres in Malibu. Her American holdings had made a lot of difference when the German Army marched up the Champs-Élysées. Charles also protected Flora from her passion for collecting art. She had the enchanted vision of the collector, but her financial manager had the attitude of the art dealer. Between the two great wars, Charles had brought off a number of coups in fine art purchases for Flora. She had been excited at the art itself, but Charles looked at art with the eyes of a certified public accountant. Charles talked money that day at sea as he paced to and fro in Flora's quarters on the Queen. Flora's art collection was major league. Charles was telling her of a purchase for her of a picture by a Cincinnati painter named Lincoln Bell. "He's the new Duveneck in Cincinnati, Flora. Also the man is black magic, your first Negro painter. The prices will go up. Trust me."
Flora twisted in the chair, giving it a creaking noise. Her lips pouted. She screwed up her face, making it even more like wrinkled pudding. "I always trust you about finances, Charles. You are my financial right hand that never forgets its cunning."
"And I'm not even Jewish."
"But as good. I pay you plenty for that. Just don't pick art I have not even seen."
"It's a portrait."
"I'm not crazy about portraits."
"This one maybe. It has turned out to be a surprise, even for me."
Flora waited until annoyed. "Well?"
"I think it is a portrait of that one you call Tuscany, the woman with Jessica that you are wondering about. They are from Cincinnati and must have known the artist."
Excerpted from The Applause Of The Gods, A Novel by Warren R. B. Dixon. Copyright © 2016 Warren Dixon. Excerpted by permission of Xlibris.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Author's Note, xiii,
Cast of Active Characters, xv,
Chapter One: The Queen of the Ocean, 1,
Chapter Two: Start-up Costs, 21,
Chapter Three: A Cot of Thorns, 54,
Chapter Four: Love and Other Dangers, 79,
Chapter Five: Only the Dead Know Paris, 97,
Chapter Six: By Any Means Necessary, 124,
Chapter Seven: Waiting for Godowsky, 143,
Chapter Eight: Knocking on the Door, 162,
Chapter Nine: Three Is Company, Four Is a Crowd, 196,
Chapter Ten: A Couple of Phase Changes, 227,
Chapter Eleven: Fruit Trees without Flowers, 256,
Chapter Twelve: French Lessons, 283,
Chapter Thirteen: Shauna's Secret, 312,
Chapter Fourteen: A Taste of Honey, 351,
Chapter Fifteen: The Price of Salt, 376,
Chapter Sixteen: The Clock That Ran Backward, 394,
Chapter Seventeen: The Road Less Traveled By, 424,
Chapter Eighteen: A Finger Exercise, 449,
Chapter Nineteen: The Thirteenth Time Around, 470,
Chapter Twenty: Ici, cest la France, 493,
Chapter Twenty-one: Far Pavilions, 516,
Chapter Twenty-two: Pyrrhic Victory, 546,
Chapter Twenty-three: Pyrrhic Defeat, 567,
Chapter Twenty-four: And Yet God Has Not Said a Word, 590,
Chapter Twenty-five: Memories Waiting to Happen, 614,