Authors: Graham Masterton
Lady of Fortune
BREAD WITH TEARS
âWho never ate his bread with tears,
who never sat through the sorrowful
night, weeping upon his bed, does
not know you, O heavenly powers.'
Even at his wealthiest, George âSpats' Sabatini was only one-twentieth as rich as she was. But he spent his money on her like an emperor, like an Indian nizam, like Caligula running Barnum & Baileys with costumes by Lanvin and jewellery by Tiffany and music by the Chicago Footwarmers.
She would remember her days and nights with George long after she had forgotten what it was that the Duke of Windsor had said to her over cocktails at El Morocco; or why Tallulah Bankhead had stamped on Moss Hart's foot at La Hiff's Tavern.
George had once sent her, for no reason that she could think of, a thousand white roses, a thousand, carried in through the doors of her Long Island mansion like heaps of fragrant snow by twelve small black piccaninnies in powdered wigs and golden frock coats and white stockings. On her birthday, he hired a silver bi-plane to fly over her garden and write YOU ARE RAVISHING in the sky in pink smoke. â
!' exclaimed the gossip columnist George Ross, in the New York
The set-piece of their affair â the beginning, the crescendo, and the end â was on a hot heavy cloudy night in August, in 1927. On that night, George outdid himself, and Effie fell irrevocably in love with him, and Long Island dreamed a dream but woke up the next morning with nothing more than an uncomfortable feeling that
very grand and very peculiar had happened the night before, but the Lord only knew what.
George had sent a letter round by hand, saying that tonight was Versailles night, eighteenth-century night, for them alone, and could she please wear the costume which would arrive by special messenger after lunch. He had added, âI adore you. I'm crazy for you. Yours, Cyrano de Bergerac.'
The costume had arrived in a large box wrapped in pink
tissue paper and tied with a white silk ribbon, on the back seat of a sapphire-blue Hudson Great Eight tourer. The chauffeur had presented it to her âwith Mr Sabatini's admiration.' When her maid Louise had opened it, upstairs in her bedroom, she had found that it contained a black silk crinoline dress with deep pink roses and orange butterflies embroidered on it, and a deeply-cut bodice trimmed with pearls. The box also contained a high, powdered Pompadour wig, with upswept curls.
At dusk, when the fireflies began to whirl around the lanterns that lined the verandah, and a warm purplish mist settled across the lawns, the Hudson returned, this time with two cases of Dom Perignon champagne, âfor bathing purposes'. And while she splashed and laughed waist-deep in foaming vintage wine, her laughter echoing around her Byzantine marble bathroom, a sixty-piece orchestra, all dressed in periwigs and knee-britches, quietly assembled on her croquet-lawn, and then suddenly struck up with Handel's
Music for the Royal Fireworks
The scene, when she came down at last to the back of the house, was like an extraordinary decadent fantasy. The orchestra was playing a jazzed-up version of Viennese chamber-music, in a tinkly, syncopated rhythm, while sparkling paper lanterns swung from every tree. There were jugglers and dancers in costumes that nodded with ostrich plumes, and glittered with sequins. Incense smoke, reeking of burned roses and sandalwood, smoked on either side of the verandah in tall brass torchÃ¨res. Four or five naked boys, no younger than thirteen but no older than fifteen, their hair tied with gilded leaves, lolled on the grass, each one more graceful and pretty than his companions.
And through this fantasy, like a fantasy herself, Effie walked in her tall white wig and her wide black crinoline dress, amazed and amused. She reached the rail of the verandah, and stopped.
âWell,' said a rich, accented voice. âDo you like it?'
She could do nothing but slowly shake her head in disbelief. Out of the shadows stepped George Sabatini himself â a very tall, thin-faced man with immaculately polished hair and a handsome hooked nose. His eyes glistened like washed blackberries and his shirtfront was as white as a headache. âI saw it in a book,' he said. âIt was called “Versailles”. That's
all. I wasn't even sure what it meant but I knew that I liked it. So here it is, just for us. “Versailles.”'
âGeorge,' said Effie, âyou're crazy.'
He put his arm around her bare shoulders. Together, they watched a fire-eater sending up great roaring bursts of flame into the night sky. âIn my letter I told you I was crazy.'
âBut this must have cost a
. And who are those naked boys?'
âSearch me. I just told them to get naked boys, and they got naked boys. How should I know who they are? Maybe they're out-of-work tax-collectors.'
Effie laughed, and took George's hand. âYou do such stupendous things for me, George. I don't know why.'
âYou don't know why? Don't you understand what I feel about you? Didn't you read what that skywriter wrote?'
âGeorge, it can't be. You're making life into a dream. This isn't life, not even for me. This is like nothing I've ever come across before. And you're always doing it. Whenever I'm with you, I have to pinch myself to convince myself that I haven't fallen asleep, and that I'm just dreaming it.'
âIt's real, Effie. Listen â reach out and touch it. It's real. But what else can I do to impress you? You're the richest woman in the world. How can a man impress the richest woman in the world?'
Effie swished the hems of her crinoline and her petticoats over the grass. âI'm impressed, George. I have to admit it to you. But I'm not the richest woman in the world, not by a long way. And you don't
to impress me. Not this way.'
A black footman came over with a tray, on which there were two tulip-shaped glasses of champagne. George handed one to Effie, and said, âI hope you're not sick of this stuff, after bathing in it.'
Effie raised her glass to him. The champagne twinkled in the light from the paper lanterns. âYou're a marvellous man, George. One of life's characters.'
He took her by the arm and guided her down the curved steps which led down towards the lagoon. It was quieter here, and darker. The lagoon hung in the warm garden landscape like a magic entrance to another universe and another time.
He said, âYou think you're dreaming, Effie. But I'm the one who's dreaming. It's a dream, just to be standing here with
you. George Sabatini, from Monroe Street. That's the dream. My father couldn't buy me shoes until I was ten, and had to go to my first job. And now look.'
Effie said, âGeorge â¦ it doesn't matter what you were. It only matters what you are now.'
George raised his head, and wiped his hand across his mouth as if he couldn't find the words to tell her what he so desperately wanted to say. He said, âHey â¦' in smiling mockery at his own weakness.
âGeorge â' Effie began, but he raised one finger to silence her.
âDon't interrupt me,' he said. âWhat I have to say, it's very important. I've been, what do you call it, rehearsing it all day. In front of the looking-glass, you know? Over and over. Well, I don't want to forget a single thing I've been aiming on telling you.'
There was a burst of laughter from behind them. The fire-eater had set alight to a wide wooden hoop, and the naked boys were excitedly taking it in turns to leap through it. The orchestra was playing Vivaldi's Four Seasons, and a girl juggler was tossing live turtles into the air. From the direction of the maple trees, a girl in a silver-sewn leotard came cartwheeling across the grass, cartwheel after cartwheel.
âIt's fantastic,' said Effie, shaking her head. âNot exactly your ordinary average weekend thrash on Long Island, but it'll do.'
George frowned at her interruption, and thrust one hand into the pocket of his dress pants. With the other hand, he drew tight, frustrated circles in the air.
âI wasn't schooled, Effie, so this doesn't come out easy. But I'm a successful man, and my heart's exactly where it ought to be. I've made my way by working hard, and being good to the right people, and tough on the wrong people. Some people call me crazy. Well, sometimes you do, too. Maybe I am. But I've also got ambitions, you know? I want to do things that are more than just making money, and running an operation. I want to understand what it is that I'm making all this money for.'