Lily was hot and cranky.
She shoved her damp, limp hair back under her wilted summer straw hat and closed her eyes for a moment. She was wearing her last pair of undarned silk stockings, which on such a blistering day had been an awful mistake. The taxicab, which was really just an old black Ford with TAXI inexpertly stenciled on the driver’s door, kept lurching along the steep, tree-encroached tunnel of a road, tossing her around annoyingly. And if her brother Robert didn’t soon stop that tuneless whistling, she’d have to consider throwing herself out the door and ending it all.
Or perhaps she’d just shove Robert out into the shrubbery.
They’d arrived by train from New York City in Voorburg-on-Hudson at noon on a steamy Saturday, and had taken a quick look around the attractive little pre-Revolutionary town. They’d waited for a taxicab quite a while before finding out that the town had only the one and the stationmaster had to locate the driver for them.
“He’s usually here to meet the noon train,“ the stationmaster had said, “but he might still be at Mabel’s Cafe.”
Robert had laughed heartily at this. “In hard times, it’s good to know there really is a Mabel’s Cafe somewhere.“
“Tired, darlin’ Lil?“ Robert asked later, as the taxi driver took a sharp turn, flinging them about in the backseat like dice in a cup.
“Tired and hot.“
“But it’s much nicer here than in the city today,“ Robert said.
She opened her eyes and glared at him. He looked as cool as an iced drink in a crystal glass. Sometimes she hated her brother. Especially when he was right. It was August and New York City was so hot that sometimes she feared her lungs would scald if she took another breath, and her feet would fry from the searing pavements. For the last week all she’d wanted in life was to be alone and stand dripping wet and naked in front of the squeaky electric fan she and Robert had in their tiny two-room apartment in the tenement in the Lower East Side.
But instead, she’d dragged herself off every weekday morning at eight and walked the twelve blocks to her dreary, menial job at the Chase National Bank where she sat on a high backless stool at a big table all day with seven other women and sorted checks into tidy piles. A comfortable chair and interesting conversation would have made the job more tolerable, but Lily had so little in common with the other women that they might as well have been speaking different languages. In fact, English wasn’t the native language of several of them.
By the time she reached home at six, Robert had usually fixed her a light supper and was dressing for his evening of earning his living, such as it was. The jobs changed—sometimes he was a bartender in the more socially acceptable speakeasies, sometimes he hired himself out as a dancing partner and escort to elderly ladies who fawned over him and introduced him to their friends as their favorite nephew.
His ‘dear old biddies,’ he called them privately.
Occasionally he substituted for the maitre d’ at the Cafe Savarin, Fraunces Tavern, Luchow’s or the Algonquin—restaurants that catered to those who had, against all odds, held onto their wealth. Lily often thought it must be humiliating for him to come down to being an employee rather than a customer, but he had never complained.
The only things Robert’s jobs all had in common was that he had to look spectacularly handsome, speak well and own a tux.
This was good, because playing a fair game of polo, looking and acting top-drawer, and being relentlessly cheerful were Robert’s only skills, highly developed as they were.
“We didn’t have to come all the way up here, you know. It was all your idea,“ Robert said amiably. Robert was almost always amiable.
Lily wondered if she could reach the door handle on his side of the taxi before he could become aware of her intentions.
“And miss something that might help us crawl out of dire poverty?“ she asked. “Attorneys don’t put ads in the papers asking specific people to contact them for news to their advantage for no reason.“
“I still think it’s a con,“ Robert said cheerfully. “Some rumrunner is going to meet us at this cottage and tell us we can make a fortune with just a few illegal trips across the Canadian border. Still, it’s a lark and gets us out of town for a day. Dear God, Lily, everything’s so damned rural here, just a
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