I have often wondered what would have become of me had Elizabeth Waggoner not appeared at the door of her chalet on Pinehurst heights that day. Apart from the care she took of me during the weeks I lay on her porch with a lesioned lung—that night of indiscretion cost me a serious relapse—she put heart into me to face this new adversity of inactivity and helplessness, for the spiritual fortitude to overcome inaction was mine in a very small degree. To stare, uncomplaining, ceilingward day in, day out, thumb-twiddling, counting, reciting mentally all we have learned by heart requires a degree of Gautamal or Islamic serenity that I had not then. Elizabeth was born with it; and, childless, she gave me the care she might have bestowed upon a brood of children. When I was able to sit up in bed she brought me charcoal and paints, and I set to work to paint panels for the big screen on her porch. On each of them I painted a fighting plane. By the time the job was finished there were Spads, S.E.5's, Bristol Fighters, Camels, Neuports and Fokkers engaged in aerial combat from one end of the screen to the other.
One day a latter came that had been following me from one camp to another for the better part of six months. I had written G.B. from Deseronto, but had never received a reply to my letter. This one was from his widow: mine had arrived a week after his death. He had often talked about me, she said, and wondered why he had not heard from me for so long....With sorrow I recalled that I had put off writing to him many times.
Some three years before this I had met a San Francisco woman with a delightful sense of humor. Her first name was Rose. To the flying camps she periodically sent me cigarettes of a brand so far beyond my means that I only shared them with my flight and squadron commanders, who came back regularly for more. A case of pre-war Scotch, ordered by mail from a Toronto agent, reached me at Leaside and was responsible for my passing my artillery observation tests in record time. Rose also knitted me a sweater which I wore when flying until it was annexed. She suffered from chronic asthma, an incurable malady. The best doctors could only give her temporary relief. Every year she came to pass a couple of months at Pasadena, and this time, hearing that I was back and ill, she drove over to see me. When I was able to be up and around again she often took me for long drives in her big open car. They did me a power of good, and I always felt better after an afternoon spent in her company. In spite of her suffering she never lost her cheery ironical angle on life, perhaps because her own was devoted to the care of an exigent invalid father, much less ailing than herself.
Jesse Lasky had bought himself a Packard chassis with a twin-six motor. He asked me to design a sport body for it and supervise the body-building job at the Earl C. Anthony shops. When the job, which took more than a month, was finished, Jesse gave me a leather coat.
As yet there was no sign of work anywhere, though from the moment I was on my feet again I kept Elizabeth's phone busy calling the different studios.
One day Rose found me in a pretty glum mood. I had just received notice from a storage warehouse in New York that some antique furniture I had in storage there, Spanish leather-backed chairs, a XVI century vargueño and a couple of refactory tables, would be sold at public auction unless I paid my storage dues before the end of the month. The bill was $17. Before she left she said to me:
"Where did you buy that leather coat? I want to get one like it for motoring."
I told her I did not know where it had been bought, but I would ask Jesse Lasky, who had given it to me.
"I'd like to buy one this afternoon," she said. "I'm driving back to San Francisco in the morning. You wouldn't like to sell me that one and get another yourself?"
"Sure," I said. "Take it."
"How much do you want for it?" she asked.
"I'd give it to you, Rose," I said, "if it wasn't for that $17. bill from the storage warehouse. I hate to lose my Spanish furniture, it's all I have and it's worth quite a bit."
When Rose left I had $25. in my pocket and she had the coat.
Three months later she died. I got a letter from the nurse who attended her, saying that the last thing Miss Walter had asked her to do was return a leather coat she had borrowed from me....It was being forwarded to me the same day.
I often wondered what had become of the girl with the wide eyes who played the ukulele on the bench outside the studio lunchroom in my pre-flying corps days: Alice Taaffe. I had sent her a couple of postcards from camp but had never heard from her. A mutual friend gave me her telephone number and I called her up. I asked her to guess who it was, but she did not recognize my voice and said she had no patience with anonymous callers. I gave my name and asked when I could see her. She said she was working in a picture with Uncle George Melford and would not be finished for a week, but I could see her then....
"What did you want to see me about?" asked Miss Taaffe, getting off the street car at the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and Highland Avenue.
"If you weren't sure, why did you come?" I asked.
"I thought it would be nice to see how you had changed," she said. "And you have. That uniform is cute."
"There's some thing about it that attracts," I said. "The other day when I went to the Clark Hotel people were handing me hats and coats. Unfortunately I had to pass them on to the cloakroom attendant."
"Too bad," she said. "Opportunity knocks on the door so seldom. It hasn't even noticed mine yet."
"It has," I said, "but it didn't knock, it rang... the day I phoned you."
She began to laugh.
"If you've got nothing special to do, I'd like to make a few sketches of your head," I said. "I'm staying up here on Pinehurst Road."
She came along. But after a look at my drawing she glanced in the mirror and decided she preferred her reflection. I said art was an expression of nature, not mere reproduction. She replied that she was all for nature. I drew her attention to the makeup on her lips and eyes. She said that was just habit. I said chewing tobacco was a habit too....
When we got as far as the gate I kissed her. She became very dignified at once. I told her not to try and upstage me.
"I came here to be drawn," she said. "Not kissed."
"It's not the first time I've kissed you," I said.
"The first time I was taken by surprise," she said.
"You mean, this time you saw I was going to, and let me do it?"
"I'm not coming to pose for you again," she said.
As I put her on the street car I asked when I would see her next. She shrugged.
"I'll call you up!" I called after her.
After that, whenever I telephoned, her mother or her sister answered and said she was out.