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From Doubting Castle
By Rebecca Kavaler
|Haughtiness was not hers by nature, it
had been painfully acquired.
"A lady does not attract attention, I hope you will remember, Ada."
The occasion for that bit of advice from Mama was their first glimpse of the pretty Mrs. Deventer causing a veritable traffic jam along the Promenade des Anglais at Nice. (Pretty was the epithet then applied to Jack Deventer's bride. It was some years later, when fully authenticated as a femme fatale by the more lurid elements of the press, that she became the ravishing Mrs. Deventer, the enchanting Mrs.Deventer, the exquisite Mrs. Deventer, Mrs. Deventer the nonpareil.)
In Ada's memory, the pretty face had long ago dissolved into a vague radiance. All she clearly recalled was the sashaying walk; the billowing froth of flounces, ruffles, ribbons and lace; the twirling parasol of bespangled chiffon; a long golden curl snaking down a white neck. Mama's stiff-backed disapproval was registered, if not understood, as was the hiss of whispered gossip--the plumed bonnets of Mama and Mrs. Carlisle meeting above her head--the subject as usual some scandalous conduct of Mad Jack Deventer, constrained after the latest casino incident to remain on his yacht at the polite requrest of the local authorities.
The child was more interested in the magnificant white-and-gold steam yacht than in those you-know-who and you-know-what comments about its owner. Night and day it was surrounded by a swarm of small bobbing boats, like pilot fish attendant upon a shark. At any moment Mad Jack himself might appear on deck and toss overboard a slop bucket of gold coins. Better than a circus, Ada thought (as presumably did Mad Jack). Having once witnessed such a scene, she longed to see again the scrambling divers, the wild scrimmaging in water, the spluttering mayhem as men struggled with men and olive-skinned boys eluded them all.
"Demimonde?" Mama's answer to her new English friend had been preambled by a scornful laugh. "My dear Mrs. Carlisle, for her that would be a step up. An actress of the cheapest sort, who did her best work off stage, if you catch my meaning." The voices momentarily lowered to an indistinguishable buzz."...and it's not as if the Deventers were new money, they're Knickerbocker to the core. No one will receive her in New York, which is why this honeymoon trip to Europe has been so protracted. Mad Jack? Oh no, my dear, the marriage merely confirms the name. I'm afraid he had fully earned it before."
All that was before Papa had come down
from Vienna to join them on their Mediterranean vacation. Before the pretty
Mrs. Deventer, suffering from some ill- defined complaint, had sought out
the services of the suddenly available American doctor, preferring to place
herself in a compatriot's hands. Or so she said. From the beginning, Mama
had been suspicious of those urgent summons from the yacht, those professional
visits occurring more and more often, lasting longer and longer. Papa's
stay was no vacation at all, she complained. Had he abandoned a growing
practice back home, on the pretext of needing further study abroad, simply
to take on a single disreputable patient in Nice? In delicate health? In
her distress, Mama rose almost to the level of wit. "If so, that is the
only thing delicate about her."