New York: late forties.
George Paul came to see the Deans, man and wife, soon after dinner. Tall, ample, muscular, blue eyes in a red boyish face, thick bronze hair in a brush cut, he was fifty years old; but walking like a young man from the exercises he did to keep fit; and energetic, a restless worker. He looked tired and anxious.
“No, no food, no drink. I am on a diet my Paris friend Bercovici gives me. Coffee, tea and wine keep me awake. I take them if I must sit up all night to finish an article, but they give me a headache. I always have headaches,” he murmured, looking towards Laura.
He sat down in an armchair, clutching the arms and looking about as if ready to jump up. He did jump up, and walked about.
“I told Martin,” he said to Laura, excusing himself, “I explained that it was a long story and if you hadn’t the time, I wouldn’t come at all. But I’m in trouble—and it’s one of those times when it’s better to tell someone. I’m in love, madly in love—with this girl Renee and I’m miserable, wretched; I don’t see a solution. She promised to marry me; but I’m afraid I can’t hold her. It’s this—woman—she’s living with; an invalid with the clutch of an invalid and an ugly woman. When an ugly woman gets hold of something, she sticks to it. You begin by pitying her; you’re lost. Every defect, every flaw and every weakness has its cunning. You know that?” he said violently. “We say the handsome use their looks. The ugly use their looks; and the sick use their sickness; and old age uses its age. Don’t pity anyone. I wake up every night at two or three o’clock. I think, I’ll do some work. I jump up, drink some milk and start to work. I never lie in bed and torture myself. I work. If there’s a solution, it will come to me while I’m working. But that’s enough! I must get back to normal. My friend Bercovici gave me some pills. He understands me. I take one of these pills; I feel better. I think. That’s it. It was nonsense; I’m out of it. I start my work. An hour later, my face feels wet, it’s like rain. The stars are out, it’s fine weather, the moon is up; it’s so bright that I can work by moonlight. The rain is tears. I’m crying for her without thinking of her at all. I can’t say to her. My mind’s breaking up—I’m wasting months—one word from you and I’d be well. I can’t ask for sympathy. Besides, I think she guesses; she says she suffers too. I can’t beg. I can’t do it to her.
“I woke up suddenly last night, after about two hours’ sleep. The sheet’s torn right down the middle. I mended it myself, but it keeps ripping. I tossed about pulling up the sheet, but I couldn’t make it come up; and I said to myself. There’s such a fighting in my heart. It came to me, out of my trouble. But isn’t that from Hamlet? Yes, but it came to me, in the silence. I live in silence; but with me there’s no real silence. Either I’m working out one of my stories; or I’m talking to her. I tell her everything. I explain everything to her. Everything she says starts up an idea in me, a complete idea; it spreads out on both sides, like a landscape. That’s the effect she has on me. And in silence, I explain all this to her. I talk to her in silence. I love her so deeply: in silence.
“No, it can’t go on,” he said, pulling out a handkerchief and wiping his eyes. “My eyes water. It’s an injection I had against tetanus. I go to places—there are dogs.” He put away the handkerchief. “I fought it for months. One day I said to myself. It’s love and I’ve loved her since the first time I saw her. I stopped short and thought about it. There’s a time when you do that. You stand at a signpost: Danger. After this, no going back.
“Sonne, Mond und Sterne lachen,
Und ich lache mit—und sterbe.”
“Heine,” said Martin.
“Yes,” cried George. He turned round, stood in front of the couple and smiled, “I was happy! I was happy. You know I’m irritable—I don’t like ugly old men and women. I hate old age. When I was a child, four, my grandfather and grandmother came to see me. I was a favorite child. They sat near me; bent over in dark clothes and they smelled of old clothes, old bodies, old hair, old snuff. They had red eyes, hands with brown spots, hairy nostrils. They tried to sing old songs to amuse me. My grandfather even had a fiddle with a thin squeak and he would caper; while my grandmother had a mannish laugh and wore starched white lace round her thick neck. They invited me to dinner and tied round my neck a stiff damask napkin that smelled of the cupboards and old oranges stuck with cloves they kept there; and their house, too, smelled of mold. I used to run out of the house and halloo, pretending to be a lively boy; and I ran in at the last moment to kiss their dry cheeks. When they died, I was relieved. I was not cruel. I was a kind boy. Well—last year I was kind to old men and women, and women who annoyed me, even to an aggressive waitress in a cafe I go to. I can’t stand her; I’m always rude to her. But last year I was nice to her, I was so happy. I didn’t ask anything of Renee at first. I was in love and I was thinking of all I could do to help her. And I thought, I have never been in love before, never with this sweet feeling of forgiveness and trying to understand everything.”
He walked up and down. “And now! What I have been through! What I have suspected her of! And it’s I who suffer. She has her own troubles. Too many to think of me. Then I spend days forgiving her for what she never did, for the insults and mean things I invented in my trouble. I shall go mad; I believe I shall go mad. I go on inventing things about her—why she stays away from me, why she hesitates. And the situation is simple. I know what it is. I told you it was a long story. Do you mind ? I can go.
The couple, a short dark man and a middle-sized fair woman, were about George Paul’s age and they had met years before. George Paul took a deep breath, then said, “What is it, I wonder? A deep breath is like drinking the lake, it gives you happiness. I was so happy last year, like a boy—but as a boy,” he said angrily, “I was not happy. Now I have had a year of torment. My head thumps, the nerves in my brain are on fire; I can feel where they run and see them, thin red hot wires. I know where they go, I can see the pattern, I can see their fiery tracks. I sleep an hour and wake up to feel them burning all round my brain. Perhaps I’m on the verge of brain-fever? I have been so bad for six months, up half the night, working in the day time; and she doesn’t get in touch with me or write to me, she puts me off. She says, I’ll see you in two weeks. I jump and I shout, Two weeks! I’m angry and stamp off. Next time I see her, she says, I’ll see you in two weeks, and watches me to see what I will do. I smile. Yes, all right. I go back home and smile. I fooled her. I didn’t stamp and shout. I am quite happy and calm. Then I begin to suffer. I suffer horribly. It goes on and on, week after week, month after month. I can’t afford it. I had grippe. I got well. I had grippe again. It took me longer to get well and I am weak. Look at me,” he said turning to them, “I look strong? I’m weak. My work’s slipping. I have too much to do and everyone wants work or money from me.”
“But why does she torture you?” asked Laura.
“She doesn’t know she’s torturing me. She’s only a girl. She’s being tortured too. She sent me a letter—that’s why I came—I have it, I brought it. I suppose the woman has been at her. See what she says.”
He gave Laura the letter and took a few steps away and back, ruffling his hair with one hand.
It was a small sheet of linen-grained paper on which the words were written in an imposing girls’ school script.
The woman who married you would be a miserable wife. You have been married before. You never made a woman happy. Where’s the hope? I’m sorry. I’m not happy now, but what have you to offer me? I couldn’t bear any more wandering. That’s over for me. I have a home and a job. It’s over.
“Those are not her words,” said George. “And now I have to go through the whole thing again, argue with her, argue her out of her fears, tear her away from that vulture. Again and again. I don’t mind. At least I see her, talk to her and win her. But as soon as I go away, she turns from me. I’m exhausted. It’s her goodness. She’s sorry for that invalid. I never could endure invalids. They live on others. They’re not ashamed of anything; they beg, lie, cheat, fake; and everyone is taken in. Because,” he shouted, “because we have an instinct. Look after the weak, an instinct which betrays us to them. She is being betrayed into a life of degrading servitude, a bondwoman. She’ll regret it. She’ll end in suicide. She never had anything. Her mother was selfish. Renee says she led a selfish life and now she wants to be of use, and she doesn’t mind if it’s degrading servitude. It’s abominable. I can’t stand a domestic drudge. Renee wants to do everything for the woman. She cleans up after her. I saw a spoiled carpet—Renee tried to wash it. I ran out of the house. She says to me, I can’t live for myself, as my mother and I did before. If I could have a child, children, she says, she’d be happy. If she could have children without marrying, she’d just bring them up, she says; and she might be happy. If I could forget myself, entirely, have no future myself. That is what has been talked into her. I won’t have children. It’s the big illusion of every woman. As soon as she has a child she lives only for it; the husband doesn’t count. I said. If you have children, you won’t love me as much, you won’t love me at all. She said. Oh, what a terrible life, what a terribly empty life. If she loves me why does she want children? If she can live for this warped invalid, why not for me? It’s these formulas women learn; obey your parents, a woman can love only one man, a woman must have children. I won’t have it, I told her. The night is for work or love or talk, not for squealing brats. And I am sure no charming refined girl like her how could she want disorder and wet laundry everywhere? Marriage is different; marriage is passion, it’s between a man and a woman. If a woman wants children, she doesn’t love the man.”
“There’s truth in that,” said Martin Dean.
“She loves me, she said so,” said George.
He stood in front of them again, searching their faces. “I must tell you everything; it has come to the point where I must or go mad. I’ve waited months and months, seven months, a cruel tease, a tease,” he said vehemently, “and she doesn’t mean it, I know, although I accuse her to myself. What am I to do ? What can I do ? She promises and promises and then they get her—it is like someone calling out from a wood; a trapped girl. She calls, she comes half out, she is called back again. And she is in the wood, this mythical wood, with that woman. I need you, the woman says. Her name’s Ray. I have nothing, Ray says; all my life I have been a burden. I had infantile paralysis and I wish my parents had let me die. You are all I ever had. It disgusts Renee; but it calls her back.”
“Is the woman perverse?”
“Yes, but Renee doesn’t know it. She doesn’t know. She has a pure good heart. I wouldn’t mention it to her. There’s enough wrong in the world. I won’t corrupt her.”
“There’s a danger.”
“That’s why I can’t leave,” he said walking up and down. “I have to go to Paris, Vienna, other places. I meant to take her with me. She gave me a date; and now see what she writes!”
He talked about her. Her father was in business in the Middle West. He married a rich woman, himself made money. He was injured in his sex in the war and could procreate but not satisfy women. He had a son before the war and a daughter afterwards; this was Renee. The mother, named Lilian, soon told the father she needed men and she meant to leave him. The father agreed to a separation; and Lilian traveled all over Europe, and put the girl in good European schools, where she learned languages, music, drawing and architecture.
Lilian, the mother, went to all the fashionable places spending money and doing as she liked, living with different men. The son stayed at home near his father, lived near his father, married.
“Renee is pretty, she has appeal, too; and she is like her mother, so that the mother never looked at her without saying. You’re exactly like me; you’ll go like me. But Renee is honest. She is chic, sensitive. She talks in a fetching way and has sweet manners. But she became morbidly fanciful and made up her mind, when she was fourteen, never to marry. The sexual relation shocked her. It seemed to her that legal marriage gave men and women a terrible indecent power over each other; they were like master and slave, brute and trainer; it brutalized them towards each other and towards other people. The mother would show Renee a picture of her father that she had cut out of the hometown newspaper; she would point to his almost hairless head, scream with laughter, make offensive jokes.
“Renee lived with her mother most of the time and men were about. Her mother told her all her experiences; You’re like me, you’ll be like me, you may as well know. And her mother at this time was getting letters from the father’s friend. This woman, Gail, often wrote to Renee’s mother. She said. Sex is not everything; I had a man before and I know what physical love is; but I love your husband for what he is, his character, his courage, his wonderful mind. The wife wrote back terrible letters, coarse, dirty letters, the letters of a spiteful old harlot. Renee read all the letters.
“At last Lilian went home, went down south and found a place that suited her; and then the quarrel between mother and daughter became too bitter and Renee left to earn her living in New York. She met a man, became pregnant, would not marry him, and would not let him pay for the abortion. It took all she had, five hundred dollars. Abortionists were on the run then. There was a police crusade against them. They had gone mostly to New Jersey. But she found one uptown. She was well again, working, when one evening there was a knock at the door and there were two huskies, plain-clothes men, who told her to come along as a material witness, an abortionist was being charged. She went; but she would not speak. They tried every form of verbal coercion, everything that would frighten and shock a girl; and at last they told her they would make her speak. They put on a master record of her own voice on the telephone making an appointment with the go-between; and they showed her a photograph of herself coming out of the office, being helped by a woman. It was hopeless. They told her if she would give the details, they would destroy the records, and give the abortionist a break; they only wanted to frighten him. She gave the evidence; the man was charged and died by suicide. One of her friends telephoned her and said to her, You spoke and you are the cause of his death.
“Her experiences made her lose faith in people. If she saw a policeman at a distance, she’d go round by another street. Her heart thumped when the doorbell rang. It began in Europe, when she and her mother were living in cheap hotels, when her mother was running through her money. There was a police raid once in a hotel in the rue Delambre. The mother knew, though Renee did not, that it was a maison de passe, a hotel under suspicion. The first floor was let out to streetwalkers; the rest of the hotel was rented to students and tourists. The police came in about five in the morning and at first doubted that they were mother and daughter. Renee could not understand it; she never understood it. It was then that she told her mother they must return home.
“After the suicide Renee moved to another address; and not to be alone, she looked for a companion, a woman. The friend I mentioned, who telephoned her and told her she was guilty of the doctor’s death, brought her a woman who was an invalid, a middle-aged woman who was living with her parents and wanted to get away from them. This was Ray. She was pathetic, limping, thin and worn, with a childish smile and a low voice, almost deaf.
“I met Renee through the police. They are co-operative with me. I was doing some research on a case, when I saw Renee’s records. They had not been destroyed. I went to see her, explained everything to her frankly, told her I was a free-lance journalist, working on stories of missing girls. She will listen to anyone; she’s intelligent and charming. But she found it hard to understand that I was not connected with the police. I said I’m a crime writer. They help me and I help them. If I find any of these lost girls, I’ll tell them, for example. I sometimes happen on things. I once saved a girl’s life, by telling the police about an advertisement that kept appearing every few months: an old man advertising for a young housekeeper. He had buried others in a corner of his field.
“Renee was very lonely. Her housemate was deaf and odd and tiresome. Renee’s mother died and no one condoled with her because they thought, Good riddance. But Ray said, I’m so sorry dear; it’s a bad thing to lose a mother. You’re very lonely now. These commonplace remarks touched Renee. She said, Ray is the only person who understands that I do not hate my mother.
“I fell in love when I first saw Renee. I was soon in love, madly in love, with all the obsession of real love. I asked her to marry me as soon as I was divorced from Barby. She said she would. The lame woman made trouble; but at last two weeks ago, when the final decree came through, Renee promised me that she would get out of it. Ray made scenes and went home to her parents. She stayed away three or four days, then sent a message that she was very ill with stomach upset, that she was vomiting hour after hour some greenish stuff and had not strength to move. Probably Ray had taken something. Renee did not see what she could do. She stayed in her room, going to work and seeing me in the evenings. We arranged everything. Then the lame woman came back to prevent her leaving, for she had guessed. Of course, she looked ill, tragic; and then, every day, there were scenes. Renee was afraid of her. Renee wrote to her brother to come and help her; and now the sister-in-law is there; and this letter she wrote must be the advice she has given.”
He sat down, tired and serious. “What am I to do? I have to go away; and now there are two of them in this mythical wood, holding her back.”
Martin said, “I don’t want to use the voice of common sense, George, but that girl is trouble. I knew a girl like that; my first wife. She couldn’t help it; and your girl can’t help it.”
George said, “I know; but I love her. I really love her. There are times when I just want to stand by, to save her from any more torture; but that’s impossible. I can’t stay here as long as another month.”
He pondered, looking down. “I loved a few girls and I married them. I would never spoil a girl. In the work I do, you see too much trouble, too much horror. I see girls’ bodies in terrible conditions. I hear stories that it would be hard for people to believe. It’s impossible to write the whole truth. The stories I write for the magazines, the very worst—they’re not the worst. The police have the worst on file; and I have seen them.”
Martin said, “But you loved other girls, George, didn’t you? The others.”
George walked about the room. “You love each girl differently, to suit her nature. That is how you can love many women; each is different and the love is different. You see her reality, her difference—her charm. I loved those girls. I still do, in a way, even those—those little harpies,” he said, his face changing. “And this started in the same way. I thought. There is a girl I like. And it was all unexpected. I was looking for a girl. And Renee seemed sweet; and she had been ill-treated and deceived. But this is stronger than any of the others. It is so strong. And this is why I have loved so many women; so that I can know now that this is real love.
“What will I do if it breaks up?” he asked, in a despairing voice. “I could go on; but what is the use? I couldn’t take it. I’ve never despaired. I’m not the type. So I’d rather die. I don’t want to go out of my mind. I’d rather die. And there she is! She could get me out of this with just one act—stepping out of that house. And I can’t hang around waiting. I ought to take a plane next week.”
“What do you think you’ll do, George?”
“What am I to do, Laura? I’m worn out. Waiting and arguing and suppressing my feelings, waiting out of consideration and pride; and working through the terrible tension: and telling no one. And my work to do and the wives, all the wives wanting their alimony.”
“How many wives is it, George?”
“Three,” he sang out, “three in this country. When I was a boy they introduced me to a rich girl. She was pretty and the daughter of a silversmith. Everyone wanted her; but she liked me. I married her and they wanted me to give up teaching at the university and become a country gentleman. I had a horse. I went riding every day; I galloped. I was angry, furious. I caught fish in the river and roasted them, so as not to go home to lunch. My father-in-law wore white trousers and a straw hat and jingled the money in his pockets. I wanted to travel; I got my passport. With this you travel far and wide, my boy, he said, jingling the money in his pocket.” George noisily jingled the money in his pocket, fiercely, with a philistine laugh. “This is your passport. Make this and you need no more. My father-in-law went to business late, and as soon as he got there, he telephoned home. What is there for lunch? If they changed the menu, they called him back. My wife was charming. She played the piano well, she painted portraits. I couldn’t stand it. I explained to her: You are charming, but I don’t want to be married. I left. I have a son twenty-four years old,” he said with some pride. “And I have one somewhere in France, fifteen years old—if he is alive. I have two sons. I don’t know where they are. My wife divorced me. The second time I was not married.” This embarrassed him. “I came here before the war and I was fascinated by the American girl, so free, so frank, like a boy, delicious and earning her own living, saying what she liked: her independence was charming. The old ones are conventional, stupid. I married an old one first, that was Alice, she was twenty-five. She behaved best. She got married again and never bothered me. Then that little angel-face, that campus queen, that little brat who knew nothing. Sully: her name was Sullivan. Sully knew nothing. Whenever I said the most ordinary thing, remarks you can find in Ricardo or Adam Smith, she thought it was communist. She denounced me as a Red, when it became the fashion, because of her stupid ignorance and because she fell for my agent,” he said, suddenly rolling his r’s. “And then Barby. I am only just divorced from Barby. You see, I can marry Renee. She can have me when she wants me.”
“I wish I could help,” said Martin, somewhat drily, “but I can’t.”
“Women think I can take anything,” complained George, “I look so healthy, no one believes I’m in trouble. I keep wondering if I’m very ill but the doctor says I’m well. The women pile up their troubles and unload them on to me. And Barby! Barby thinks I’m just there to be r-robbed, a big golden plough-ox to be kept at work. The sort of ox that soon earns a farm for the farmer and his wife; but he must be kept at work. There are two wives living off me now, and I’m so strong it does not matter. Serves me right, the women think. He wanted all those wives, the men think. But that isn’t it. I didn’t. I wanted to get married. I fell in love with each; and each one,” he said, getting red and shouting, “did not love me; or only as children love. Marriage was an outing. Papa would buy the candy and the ride on the loop-the-loops. I can pay. Don’t worry about my health. And look too,” he said bending his large’ bronze-red head, “I have open scratches on my scalp, behind my ear and another somewhere and they won’t heal. They came in Lausanne. I thought it was the lack of iodine in the lake water. I wrote to my friend Bercovici who sent me an infallible ointment which worked for everyone else, not for me. I tried sulfa drugs and penicillin: everything is bad for me. I’m a drug rejector. At first they work; then they don’t. I don’t do all the work I should. I’m exhausted. And I look like a prize-fighter. What do you think, Laura?” he said on a gentle touching note.
“You don’t eat enough.”
Presently he sat down and ate something, though he worried about his diet through the meal. After eating he became calmer and began to discuss some economic questions in which he and Martin were interested. He paused and said to Laura, “You don’t use that other room, do you? I see there’s a bed in it.”
“No. You mean, get Renee here?”
Martin said, looking uneasy, “How do you know the lame friend won’t come after her?”
“Yes,” said George, “it is too much to ask. I must solve it myself She would come at once if I would have children. I told her she’s ignorant. She’s just a wax doll made by a hundred hands. Do you want to start out and make another wax doll? I said. Young women, girls want children because they haven’t forgotten their dolls. The old women talk it into them; they’re cunning and spiteful. Wait till you have the troubles I had. Barby was the same. I wouldn’t let her. It would have turned her into a drudge, a char, a babysitter. I will not live in the house with a char. I can’t have that; I must work. I can’t even stop for regular meals or regular sleep.”
He thrust his hands through his hair and began pulling his curls. “They immediately subordinate your life to the needs of a feeble little idiot, who can’t walk or talk or think or listen or love, and can scarcely eat.” He shrugged. “That is the worst of these young girls: they do such crazy things, they’re ignorant of life; and I have not time to argue with them. I get married; and then I must work.”
The telephone rang. It was Barbara, George’s third American wife. “Is George there?” she demanded.
“What’s he doing there?”
“Talking to Martin.”
“Who else is there?”
“I know what he’s doing, he’s telling you about me, inventing lies, hundreds of crazy lies, he’s complaining about me.
“No, he isn’t, Barby.”
“Tell him to come to the phone.”
George had an angry conversation with Barby, then turned, “Barby says she’s coming over with a crowd.”
“You’d better go, George. I’ve had such a day—I don’t know what there is about the Ides of March. People came all day and I had to go out. Let me talk to her.”
Laura, who feared scenes, asked Barby not to come. “George is going out for a coffee with Martin.”
Barby became very suspicious. She heckled Laura for a moment; and then said, “I’m here with a gang and I’m bringing them over with me. I’m not letting George stay there and tell lies about me. We’ll make him come out of there. We’re all coming over.” She spoke to the friends; and the noise of drunken hilarious men was heard. “He won’t get away with it; neither will you.”
“I don’t want you, Barby; now don’t come.”
“I’m coming and we’ll rough up the place if you don’t let George go.”
Laura telephoned the hall porter saying that a crowd was coming, intending to make trouble. “Don’t open the doors for them.” Before a visitor could reach their corridor, the hall porter had to operate two switches, opening two sets of doors.
“You’re going abroad,” said George, looking at the large trunk, half-full, which Laura had been packing. “I’ve got to go abroad, not only for my work but to get away from Barby. She’s the worst of all. I’ll do better over there; I’ll get in first on the big crime stories that break over there. I must get a fast car like the one Barby and I had in Washington. We scooped everybody. I know four or five languages, I can take good photographs and I know some of the police. I don’t depend on sleepy ten-dollar hacks like other journalists. I’ve posted my story by ten in the morning.”
He paused, pulled anxiously at his hair. “That little tramp Barby is after me to divide up everything; that means give her everything because she needs it. My second wife Sully is going round telling all the agents and editors that I’m a Red. I said to her, Don’t you want me to make money ? She’s dedicated! What a beautiful girl she was! One long fair curl hanging over her shoulder, braided trousers and a little white mess jacket, and a soft peach face. Barby is collaborating with her in secret; though Barby is not such a fool. It’s to annoy me,” he shouted. He sprang up, “My God, in this country some schoolgirl only has to say so, some peach-faced all-American child. I worked for the government in the war, I did real service. For her, that makes me an undercover agent. Why am I a Red? I speak Russian for one thing. It’s easy for a Bulgarian to speak Russian. I did translations of documents for the information service; some of them were secret. I went with the US Army to concentration camps and spoke to Russian prisoners. And now she says I’m a Red. That makes it very difficult for me. I must go abroad anyway. You never saw such a girl,” he said with regret, “a lovely soda shop date-queen, cute and earnest and womanly, who knows nothing, no-thing! If you say the welfare state is a good thing, it keeps the people quiet, she doesn’t hear the second part; and you are a Red. My God! She has it in for me. Alice was good to me. But these others, these little tramps, they divorce me and they are out to get me. Why? Why is that? They owe it to themselves. If I get away too easily, they’re not standing up for the rights of American women; I must be punished. And I am good to them. I give them all my money. I have to work day and night—my mother has money in Switzerland; it’s there but I can’t get it. I’ve got to go there and see a man. And I must go to Sofia. I’ve been there, I had no trouble. That makes me a Red, too.”
“Well, what is all this about being a Red?”
“It’s poppycock, malarkey,” he said furiously. “They’re making themselves important; it’s vengeance. Sully and Barb are doing it for the money and the excitement, and the vengeance. They’re rivals but they’re combining to r-ruin me. American girls are bloodthirsty. Their honor is in sucking a man dry; then they throw out the corpse. Why I have known women here who destroy a man’s happiness and faith in himself, ruin his career, divorce him, turn his children against him, blacken his name to all his friends, suck him dry and then marry him again to show they own him.”
He stood with his head, back and shoulders straight. He murmured, “Of course, they are beautiful; but only beautiful to work their game. And Barby is a spiteful lying vengeful little thief—she has just taken my typewriter and chair and my rugs. All the sweet young girls in the American high school plays are cute little cheats and liars, getting round everyone. They’re taught it. It’s in their mothers’ milk. Barby is delicious,” he cried out in rage. “Delightful! Winning! But only to torture and curse you. I loathe her. And if she finds out about Renee she will rush right over there and tell Renee disgusting lies and turn her against me. She is on the trail now; she knows there is something. She is a little devil, a little gold headed fiend.”
He turned to Martin and said forcibly, “In Europe I won’t be pestered and nagged by this swarm of little-girl gadflies. I have nowhere here to live. I have this apartment on University Place, up four flights, a walk-up, but a good roomy apartment at the top, where I have worked for three years; and now Barby is there. I won’t stay there with her. I told her, We’re divorced; you have no right to stay here. She said, I want a place to stay; I am doing business in New York. I said. Go away. She said, I’ll sleep on the divan, I don’t want to sleep with you. And the next evening she came in late, she turned up with a reverend she is running round with and they slept there in my bed, while I was still finishing my work; and I had to get out. I walked the streets, and I had more work to do. She is there now—” he waved his arms and flushed. “I ought to call the police. She is stealing everything, taking all my photographs—”
“You know the room I had, under lock and key, the double room downstairs, dug in the ground, with a darkroom. It was full of crime photographs from my cases. I brought them here, and she is stealing them. They’re dynamite, not for the public, and they’re valuable. Some of them are police photographs. I haven’t insured them and I can’t call the police.”
“I’m not supposed to have them. They slipped them to me—or to Barby—out there, not here. We were working together. We were married and she wouldn’t let me say we were married. There was a police officer crazy about her and she worked on him. They hated me. I had to pass as her bodyguard. That was reasonable, with the places she had to go and the hours she worked. The little wicked thief claims they are all hers; and she always snuggles up to anyone; she gets people on her side. And the police would confiscate them anyway. If not, she wants me to pay her for them; and she wants everything, prints, serialization, second and third rights—she will ruin me. And she says she needs money for her business; that is why she is doing it; but I know she wants it for her uncle who is hiding from the police because he is involved in some deal about fake art masterpieces. She is always keeping some lame duck.”
The telephone rang, and George said, “Don’t answer it; it’s Barby.”
Barby’s sharp voice said, “Laura, is George still there? I’m coming over. I’m not having him tell lies about me. Is Martin there, or are you alone? Are you alone with George? I’m coming over. I’ve got a big bunch of friends here, we’re at Elgar Mancando’s and I’m bringing them all over. They were all in Washington when George was running around there with the blonds and they want to see I get justice.”
“I have nothing here, Barby, no whiskey, no food, nothing. George and Martin are just going out.”
“They’re not going out! We’re coming over!”
Laura telephoned the doorman again to keep them out. “Yes,” he said.
George Paul was sitting with a stubborn confused face. His face cleared, became gentler. He said plaintively, “I was walking along the beach in California; and I was furious. I had a furious quarrel with Sully and I told her I was leaving her. She was working for my agent; then she fell for him and stole my story and said it was his. She looked like milk and honey. And as soon as she falls for him she goes into court and swears, swear-rs on the Bible in which she believes, as cool as a cucumber, that she was with him when he wrote it and helped him. It was a quiet day, a weekday, hardly anyone on the beach. I saw a big sports car rolling along the beach; blue. It stopped and a little girl got out of it with a long dog. At first I thought it was a boy. She wore a little loose-fitting denim suit and had short yellow hair. And she began to run towards me exercising the dog, which had long hair like feathers and a bow back, and loped along lamely. It could hardly run—a wolfhound. I stopped and looked and could not take my eyes off this beautiful little boy-girl. When she came near me, I saw she was crying. She was running crying, and the dog was loping along behind very weakly, trembling and dropping on its haunches; and getting up again.
“I said to her. Isn’t your dog too sick to run? She ran past me blubbering, and as I turned after her, she pushed me away with her arm and ran on. I sat down. Presently she came walking back, helping the dog, and when she came up to me she dropped down in the sand, made a smooth patch in the sand and began drawing the dog which was lying on its side, panting; and she told me about it. You know the stars and starlets want pets for photographs; and usually dogs. They don’t know what to do with them; it’s only for the newspapers. Then if they flop or they move or go away, back to their gas station or hometown or up to the top, they leave the dog behind, sometimes in the backyard. There was a scandal, a grisly tale. They said there was a wolf about that ate things at night. It was one of these dogs, an Alsatian, that had been left behind.
“Barby was living with Elgar Mancando, in his little house in one of the glens; and sleeping with him although he was engaged to Miriam Green and waiting for his divorce to marry Miriam. He had one or two other girls then. That is why she was crying. She wanted to marry him. He is still unmarried and she believes in him still. Barb was miserable and wanted a pet, a monkey; and she heard of this place where you could get abandoned pets cheap. She went there, a little storefront, a dark store. The man said he had a monkey in the backyard. They went through a narrow dark passage with tiers of animal cages on both sides; and as they went through one of the piles of cages fell over, and she saw a starved dog in the bottom cage. It was a large dog curled round to fit in the cage; and it just lay there. Don’t you feed the animals? she asked the man. Then the man told her how the dogs and other pets were left there by the stars. Sometimes they paid a few weeks ahead, sometimes only one week and said they were coming back; but he knew he would never get any more. If someone wants them, I sell them cheap, he said.
“Barby couldn’t bear to see the dog, so she bought it instead of the monkey, though the man said it was dying. She brought it home to Mancando’s in her car; and she took it out every day to exercise it; or she gave it to the writer Billy Exmouth. She and Mancando were keeping Billy Exmouth then; he was living with anyone. No one believed in him, but Barby. He had a manuscript written in sewer language which he sold and which made him rich. Barby still believes in him. Barby gave him food, and he took the dog out every day for exercise and no one could say who was the more miserable.
“Barby told me all this and took me back to her car. She was cooking Mancando all the exotic dishes he liked, but she did not believe he would marry her. So she had made up her mind to marry Billy Exmouth, though she had read the manuscript, all smut and excrement. I mean it,” he shouted, “that is what it was. I prevented her. She married me.”
He said seriously, “You see, even at that age, sixteen, she was earning big money doing sensation stories. California’s full of them. An undertaker left a shed full of unburied corpses and went out to California on the money. A retired man knocked off his wife’s head somewhere in New Mexico on the way out, because he calculated there wasn’t enough money for both. There was a man who could live without air and who burrowed holes under the buildings in a business block in Los Angeles, and lived on the food and the cash registers. There was another man who fished ties with a fishing rod through the mailboxes in men’s stores, and sold them. There are plenty of stories; and there’s a market for them. You must have something extra, get there first, have a fast car, be a good photographer, have good shock photographs; and you must be friendly with the police who may tip you off.
“Barby had all that, but she needed a good photographer, so she took me in. I was a teacher in Sofia, but a good amateur photographer; I won prizes. I was a newcomer here, so I developed my sideline. I thought I could work in the studios; I had special cameras; but they didn’t want art photography. So I went out on my own. She let me use her car. But she stipulated that our marriage must be secret. First she said her parents would not like me; then she admitted that she had admirers in the police. I noticed that. She was dainty and dare devil; and some of them were wild about her. So I had to sit there at the wheel, while they pawed her and eyed her. The police did not like me at all, even incognito, as her partner; but going where she went at all hours, they knew she needed a strong-arm man. It made me furious. They’d stop us anywhere to give her some information and look at me with contempt. I wasn’t always at the wheel. She drove that big car like a racing-driver. So I sat there. In the end they got used to me; I even got on with them. That was how we got the big stories; the tip-off and racing with the fast car, and the photographs. The police gave us some photographs too; most you couldn’t use and they weren’t the sort to show young girls; but they took a pleasure and a pride in their rare specimens and they thought of Barby as one of them. They respected Barby more and more for her work and for liking them. I had this chamber of horrors; no one was allowed to enter. You remember I wouldn’t let you in? I had to promise that no one would ever see them. When I came to New York I burned some, gave some back and brought the others. Barby came with me; but she couldn’t work in with the New York police; and she wanted to write. So now when she’s desperate, lending money to the reverend and trying to keep up with Mancando, who’s wasting an inheritance his aunt left him, she wants the photographs and the typewriter for her stories. And I suspect her,” he said indignantly, “there are cranks who pay anything for that sort of photograph.”
At this moment the doorman spoke on the house phone and said a lot of people were coming up. “Don’t, don’t, John; I asked you not to,” but before Laura had finished speaking there was a loud noise of voices and the grinding of feet in the stone corridor. “They’ve got in,” said Laura, frightened.
Martin gave a timid grin; George sat flushing.
The bell rang. Laura opened the door. A wedge-shaped group of men stood there, with a small fair girl in front, head lowered, fists doubled. Of the men, Laura knew only Mancando, a tall fair personable man-about-town.
“You can’t come in,” said Laura. “I have no room and no food and I’m packing.”
Barby, head lowered, started forward and led the men into the room. There was a small square entry. Barby and the men choked their way through, all pushing together; Laura retreating before them; and they flowed through the archway into the room beyond where, without greeting anyone, the men began laughing, passing remarks, fingering things, lounging against tables and walls, and surveying the Italian-style courtyard from the windows.
“How long have you been here telling lies about me. Pie-otter?” squealed Barby, running forward and facing George, who had gotten up and was standing by the table, half turned from the room, his handsome rosy face composed now.
“I have not been talking about you, Barby; and telling no lies. What did you come for? I am going out with Martin. Why did you bring these people here?” he continued, with more heat. He looked across at Elgar Mancando, who had seated himself by Laura. His large pale soft hands lay loosely on his thighs, drawing attention to them; and the hand nearer Laura began to move towards her. Mancando’s face began to lower towards her with obsequious insulting flattery. Laura got up and handed round glasses of California red wine from a gallon jar. “No scotch?” said one of the men. “Go out and get some,” and taking a ten-dollar bill from his billfold he handed it to her. Laura laughed and pushed it back. The man was puzzled. The others looked on in silence, as if waiting for a scene to begin.