Monday, January 14, 2008
October 28, 1931
I doubt there will ever be anything like seeing Park Avenue for the first time. At 8:49 AM I stepped up to the heavily gilded door of an opulent building numbered 519. When I rang the bell, a valet appeared immediately asking if I was Ms. Graydon. I said yes and he let me into a large flower-filled foyer. White lilies everywhere. At the top of the stairs was a woman in a plain black dress donning large pearls around her neck. She also had the earrings to match. Around her neck, resting over the pearls, was a thin chain with a pair of spectacles at the end. I did not assume it was Mrs. Vanderford. For some reason I expected her to be more lavish.
She descended the stairs. "You are early, Ms. Graydon. A very admirable quality. One Professor Loockersmans told me to expect of you. And one I thank you for."
"My pleasure, Mrs. Vanderford," Although I was nervous in these surroundings, once I heard her voice I was at ease. She was a calm presence amidst the stuffy wealth around her.
"I've been told this is your first assignment."
"Yes ma'am, it is."
"I apologize that your first task is so dull. I assure you, there will be more interesting things to be done." She motioned toward two large doors on our left and we walked in that direction. A striking young gentlemen opened the doors. "Would you enjoy a cup of tea, Ms. Graydon?"
"Good, I would as well." She nodded to the gentleman at the door. He closed it behind us and she offered me a seat opposite her petite desk. "I'm glad you are here." She smiled. "We so need someone young in our numbers."
I smiled not knowing what she meant.
"You haven't met the others yet have you?"
"No ma'am, I have not."
"And Professor Loockersmans hasn't informed you who you work for?"
"I was assuming it was him, ma'am."
She sat back in her chair staring out the large window that overlooked Park Avenue. I noticed her forehead gathering over her brow. "No, Ms. Graydon. He found you, but you do not work for him." She averted her gaze to the near-bare desk and picked up the lone fountain pen that rested on it. She began twirling it slowly. "I am not at liberty to say anything more, Ms. Graydon. You must meet Mr. Rapalje. He will tell you more." The tall gentleman walked into the room with the tea. I was shocked at the speed of the delivery. The service was of course silver. "Thank you, Robert. Ms. Graydon how do you take your tea?
He placed the service on the desk and began to pour into the china cups. "One sugar." He fixed one with two sugars and a dash of milk and handed it to Mrs. Vanderford who promptly placed the pen down on the desk.
"Thank you, Robert."
He went ahead and placed one sugar in my cup and handed it to me.
"Thank you." I said sheepishly.
"Robert is a musician, Ms. Graydon. Well, when he isn't here slaving over me." She smiled. "He plays the trumpet. Isn't that right, Robert?"
His face became rosy. He looked a bit embarrassed. "Yes, Mrs. Vanderford." I noticed the slightest hint of an accent. It was Anglo in nature but I couldn't immediately place it.
"I asked him to play for me, but he said it wouldn't be proper. Then I asked where he plays and said it wouldn't be proper for a lady of my standing to attend. So it's a pinch really. Perhaps Ms. Graydon can go and report back to me."
I felt my face go red with embarressment. Robert simply smiled.
"Thank you, Robert." He nodded his head and left the room.
"He plays that jazz that everyone loves up in Harlem. He's parents came over from Scotland when he was six. His father manages my stables up in the Bronx."
I decided not to contribute that my father had a ranch in Saratoga. I made it my business not to become too friendly. I would be courteous and professional.
"Well Ms. Graydon, I'll take my package now."
"Oh, yes." I opened up my green satchel which I purchased especially for the job. I took out the envelope and handed it to her carefully.
After placing the spectacles to her eyes, she opened the document, took the pen and signed the front sheet. "That's that, then. It is done." I so wanted to ask what, but I didn't. "Your next duty will be to see this safely delivered to Mr. John Rapalje of Henry Street, Brooklyn. Unfortunately he will not be in town until next Friday. Thus I will keep the document and you can return it then." She smiled and then sipped her tea. "Seems like such a waste, all this running about for signatures."
I said nothing but sipped my tea politely.
"You'll see it all clearly, Ms. Graydon. The pieces will fit together nicely some day."
She kept telling me it was important work that I was doing. I just kept thinking that I had no idea what I had gotten myself into.