Bright flows the river, p.25

Bright Flows the River, page 25


Bright Flows the River

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  “If I’d accepted your option,” said Guy, “you’d have reported to me in a day or two that there was little if any indication of oil on my property. But by then you’d have the option in your pockets. And the option would be careful not to say anything about oil—just the sale of my land. For any purpose at all.” He shook his head with a sad pretense of regret at human manipulating. “I think we can cut this short. Excuse me for a few minutes and I’ll give you my answer.” He walked away, whistling, and they followed him with their eyes and then exchanged glances with each other and shrugged.

  Guy went into the house and called Mr. Prentice, who almost stuttered with eagerness when he heard Guy’s voice. Guy said, “I gave you first chance, Mr. Prentice. It’s now or never. I’m a fair man. One hundred thousand dollars for the whole parcel. Take it or leave it.… Oil? I don’t know. The men are here with their instruments, all nine of them. Even if there’s no oil, I want that money. That’s final. But, I can always do business with the Chandler people.”

  Mr. Prentice said with shrillness, “What’s the name of the outfit there?”

  “Random Geological Associates.”

  Guy heard a quick sharp gasp, and understood at once.

  “Well?” he said.

  “Let me call you back, in a few minutes—Guy,” said Mr. Prentice, and his voice was almost craven with pleading. “A few minutes, yes?”

  Guy returned to Mr. George Random. He saw that all the men were in a state of tense expectation. He smiled at them amiably and said, “I’ve just talked to Mr. Prentice. Prentice and Grace—you know? They’ve offered me one hundred thousand dollars for my property. I’ve taken it.”


  James Meyer was sitting in Guy Jerald’s suite, and he had been there for nearly an hour. During that time Guy had been pacing and muttering to himself. Sometimes he paused to stare blindly, and with a kind of fury, at James.

  “And that’s how it started,” he said at last.

  “What, Jerry?” James leaned forward and spoke gently.

  “My damned sweet, lovely, prosperous life,” said Guy. “The dolce vita.”

  “Oh,” said James.

  But Guy flung out his hand in enraged repudiation. He left the sitting room. James waited, and when Guy did not return he went to look for him in the bedroom. Guy had flung himself face down on the bed and was sleeping, clutching the satin bedspread in his fingers as a drowning man clutches at seaweed. James saw part of his face, contorted, twisted, as he slept. James waited an hour but Guy did not awaken. James looked in on him again. To his moved surprise he saw that the anguished profile was more peaceful and the breathing slower and more regular. But it was a desperately sick man who lay there, and James knew it. He went silently from the suite and reported to Emil Grassner.

  They were eating lunch together in the staff dining room, and Emil listened with profound attention. “Well,” he said, “we seem to be getting somewhere. At least he is speaking; at least he let you know he knows you and remembers you.” He sipped thoughtfully at his coffee. “‘La dolce vita.’ The sweet life. I wonder how many countless men in their middle years come to that point—hating their lives. Perhaps that’s the cause of all these coronaries, and perhaps, who knows, of cancer, too. And that reminds me. Before you came here I had consultations with Guy’s wife in her house, at her invitation. I was curious about Guy’s personal library. Do you know what I found? At least a score of books on cancer and cancer research, from ancient history to the present! And each of the books was stuffed with Guy’s scribbled notes and questions. Most of the pages were marked. Some of the notes were extremely perceptive, almost clinical. You’d have thought a cancer specialist had written them. Questions on the psychological aspects of cancer. Did those psychological states of depression and despair follow the cancer, or did they precede it? Which was the cause? Pathological from the start, or induced by emotional distress? That’s what Guy was asking.

  “He’d also questioned both. How did one explain cancer in the newborn? And in very young children? Both immune from emotional illness. He had even, with amusement at himself, questioned if it was really ‘karma,’ you know, the reincarnation business, which is absurd, of course.”

  “I’m not so sure,” said James.

  Emil smiled broadly. “And I’m not so sure I’m not so sure. Oh, come, you don’t believe that nonsense, do you?”

  James said, “Well, we all have our moments of déjà vu, don’t we? Yes, I know the explanation: a sudden subtle shift of the brain cells. The explanation is more weird than the possibility. And there’ve been times I’ve had vivid impressions of experiences I never experienced. Scenes I had never visited, people I’ve never known, emotions I’ve never felt, languages I’ve never heard. Call it half-dreams, hallucinations, whatever. I don’t know. Laugh at me if you wish.”

  But Emil was suddenly grave. “I know what you mean. I’ve gone through it often myself. I was visiting friends in East Hampton last summer. I was lounging on the lawn, alone, in a long, very comfortable chair, looking at the ocean. No one else was about. I’m positive I wasn’t asleep. In fact, I was thinking of a certain patient, who had, in self-defense against his family, gone into a catatonic state, though there were no evidences of overt schizophrenia, and never had been. Well. It was a very warm scented day; someone had just cut the grass, and the smell was sleepy, almost like an anesthetic. I don’t remember ever being so relaxed and contented as I was then. I could hear the ocean telling stories softly to itself—” He shook his head in deep marveling.

  “Then I opened my eyes. No, I hadn’t been asleep. Everything was as it had been moments before, warm and sunny and quiet and peaceful. But suddenly clearer; the air was purer and fresher, and hotter. I looked at the ocean and it had turned to a blue-purple mirror, as still as crystal, and it wasn’t ‘speaking.’ There was such a quiet, a quiet I’d never known before. Then I saw three tremendous sailing vessels, sails spread and shining with light, about two miles away. They were all gliding in single file, one after the other, like great white birds ruffling their wings. I knew at once they were on their way to the harbor. I sat up and looked at them. Four-masted vessels. Tremendous in size. Ornate, dignified—the most beautiful sight I’d ever seen. And I said to myself, ‘Here they are at last.’ I could even name one: the Dove, in the lead.

  “And I knew someone was on the Dove—the woman I loved and whom I was going to marry. I could see her face, radiant, resplendent, young, all warm olive and rose, with a rope of hair like black braided glass. She wore an archaic costume, green velvet with gold braid. It was as if I was within arm’s reach of her, and yet was two miles away. I even remember her name.”

  A strange pensive expression moved over his strong rustic face and his eyes were the eyes of a youth, glowing with love, and James kept very quiet, and waited. “Her name,” said Emil, “was Josefa. Spanish, probably. Or Portuguese. I don’t know. All I knew was that I must leave for the city at once. I didn’t seem to be in East Hampton at all, but somewhere else. In fact, remembering, there was a difference—I can’t explain it. Then the ships disappeared, the sound of the sea came to me, the scene shifted—and I was terribly alone, and really wild with grief and wanting.” He paused, and added, half inaudibly, “I’ve never forgotten her. Josefa. I sometimes have the feeling we shall meet again, somewhere.” He smiled as if with amusement at his dreams. “Do you know what I did? I had a well-known artist paint her portrait. Don’t laugh.”

  “I’m not laughing,” said James.

  “It took many sessions before he got it right. Now the portrait hangs in my bedroom at home, and it seems alive and promising, to me. I’m a widower, you know, with four adult children. They’ve always been curious about the subject. I never tell them, of course. Josefa doesn’t resemble their mother in the least.”

  James said nothing. Emil gently laughed. “I’ve looked everywhere for her, everywhere. I did find something out. There had actually been a sailing vessel, the
Dove, in 1793. Only it was called La Paloma, out of Portugal. It took me years to find out. Of course, La Paloma is a common name, a song—Still. I just don’t know. Was it only a dream, a delusion, and was I half asleep? I have the impression I was awake, keenly awake. I can see it all, even now. And it doesn’t get dimmer.”

  Emil looked at the silent James quizzically. “Now, what do you say to that?”

  “I don’t have any explanation.” He paused and played with his coffee spoon. “But something like that happened to me, twenty-five years ago. I was being driven in London to my offices on a particularly miserable day, rain and soot and cold, very dreary. I looked down the street, all teeming with umbrellas shining with that peculiar mercurial rainy light only England knows, and I was depressed. It’s very depressing for a psychiatrist to know that he really knows nothing, and that he’s not very much help to his patients except as a father confessor, the poor souls. Then, there was a blink—that’s the only way I can describe it—a blink. And I was in a carriage, on the same street but with lower buildings and little shops and crowding houses right on the pavement; I knew it was a familiar street. And I had a coachman.

  “A carriage passed mine, in another direction, and a lady, alone, was sitting in it, with a black-and-wine bonnet and scarlet ribbons, and she was buxom and her face was full of zest and laughter, and she was about thirty years old. She seemed to have a delight in life; I saw that even in those few moments. She wasn’t a pretty woman; but she was fascinating, dressed in black velvet. She wore diamond earrings, drops. She looked into my face as we passed, and she smiled at me, the most beautiful smile, and she nodded, as if we knew each other. Her name”—and James dropped his head a little—“was Emmaline. I knew that immediately.”

  Emil said, “So you have a lost love, too.”

  “Not lost,” said James. “I found her twenty years ago, at a friend’s house. A widow. We recognized each other at once. Her name is Emma Godwin. It was five years ago when I mentioned having ‘known’ her before, and she said, ‘But I knew from the start, when we met in Edward’s house.’ We became lovers only a week after we had met. She had been married, and had a little son and daughter, and a stockbroker husband. They were drowned, the three of them, on the Thames, when a sudden storm came up. That was twenty-two years ago. We’ve never married. We’re afraid something will be spoiled for us if we marry. I don’t know what it is. I’m a very happy man, Emil, with my Emma.”

  A sudden sadness came to them both, a nameless melancholy. “Perhaps,” said Emil, “I’ll find my Josefa somewhere, sometime, as you found your Emma. If not now, then perhaps in another life.”

  James involuntarily shivered. “I should not want to be reborn in the world that is almost upon us now. The Age of Tyrants. Emma and I often talk about it. Tyrants worse than Hitler and Stalin, et al. Chaos: Doomsday. The onset of a new Dark Age. You can see and smell it even now. A horror. No, if we live again I hope it’ll be somewhere else, on another world.”

  He shook his whole body, as if throwing some awful portent from him. “Let’s get back to Jerry. It’s very interesting that you found those medical books on cancer, and Jerry’s notes. I think his wife mentioned that his father had died of cancer. That often makes a survivor vindictive against disease, and fate. I’ve seen that happen before. Many physicians I know were impelled into their particular specialty because someone close to them had died of a particular disease. One of my friends specializes in cardiovascular disease. His wife died of it twenty years ago, and she was only thirty. He pursues his specialty as if on a vendetta. And he probably is. He’s fanatical.

  “As I’ve told you before, I always suspected Jerry wanted to become a physician. What turned him from it I don’t know. But I think it is part of the picture. Cancer. The great mystery, known through all the ages. We’re no nearer an understanding of the cause and the cure than were physicians in ancient Egypt.”

  “There may be a modern reason for that,” said Emil, and his face darkened with anger. “My wife died of it. Just recently I was in a different city, where they have a renowned cancer clinic, to which patients come from all over the world. Millions pour into their research laboratories, millions. Federal grants, drives, and all that. Well, I was conducted through one of their several laboratories. Huge, glaring with light, tubes, burners, cages of mice and rats, every piece of equipment you can imagine. Never saw such concentration and bustling and milling of researchers, young and old, all in white coats and rushing as if every second was precious, and making voluminous notes on counters, and scurrying to telephones, and talking in quietly excited voices.

  “I said to the scientist who was taking me about; ‘Perhaps today, or tomorrow, they’ll find something very important, a cure, perhaps, or the cause of the devil. That would be wonderful news for the world.’” Emil was silent a moment. “Do you know what the scientist said? He looked about the big place, with all those men and women scuttling around, and he seemed uneasy. He said, ‘But what will happen to all these specialists and researchers and doctors, then, who are devoting their lives to this work? They’ll be unnecessary, redundant. One has to think of that, you know.’ Isn’t that incredible?”

  “In short,” said James, “let’s not really find a cure and a cause. There’re too many people who need their jobs. Yes, incredible, but quite human. The selfishness and innate cruelty of the human primate always amazes me, no matter how often I encounter it. It really did in a lot of specialists in infectious diseases when penicillin was discovered. It wiped out many of their specialties, and no doubt they resented it, and cursed Fleming. I’m sure if they could have suppressed penicillin they would have done so, and all the other antibiotics, and all with a feeling of righteousness. I’m also sure a lot of specialists in poliomyelitis detest Salk and Sabin. I’ve even heard some of those lads speak contemptuously of them and call them ‘those Jews’! No wonder discoverers were usually persecuted, hated and driven out and ostracized and even had their licenses lifted when they found a cure for a terrible disease. Look whose livelihoods they had destroyed.”

  “Our government is hand in hand with all this,” said. Emil. “It’s always ‘tests and tests’ for years and years, when a scientist and/or physician comes up with some unique idea about cancer and its cure. Sometimes it’s a perfectly harmless procedure even if it might not be effective. But—tests and tests and tests, and the patients die. I know of at least three substances in Europe, now being used for cancer, with some promising results here and there, but Washington insists on endless years of testing before admitting them to the United States. They learned a lesson from penicillin. It will be far worse when somewhere some obscure doctor or scientist will actually, in this country, find the cause and possibly the cure for cancer. After all, there are all those multitudes engaged in profitable research, all the pallid grim women in glasses and in white coats, and their brothers, flying about with test tubes. They’ll all be out of jobs. Indeed, ‘think of it.’”

  “It makes one think,” said James. “And when you think on it you decide the human race isn’t worth saving after all, and it would be a nicer world if we were all wiped out. God, it is said, made all the innocent animals first and blessed them, and then He made man, which I think was an unpardonable error.”

  The next morning when James arrived at the floor of Guy’s suite, he saw the red-haired lady he had encountered before with Dr. Grassner. She was speaking earnestly at the desk to the two nurses. She started when James said, “Good morning.” She looked at him with her warm Tokay-colored eyes, and after a moment she smiled faintly with recognition. But her face remained grave and distressed. This time she had put a well-worn piece of anonymous fur over her brown tweed coat, and more and more James approved of her. Authentic county. She reminded him of Emma. He had a thought and he said, “Miss Turner, I am about to go to the staff room for a cup of coffee. Would you join me?”

  She hesitated. Then she said, “Thank you, Dr.—?”

Meyer.” Her rather deep and resonant voice pleased his ear. They went down to the staff room, which she regarded with interest. She said, “Those poor patients. Do psychiatrists really cure them?”

  “Possibly not. No one can ‘cure’ mental or emotional illnesses. The most we can do is to help the patient to get an insight into his problems and let him make his own decision as to what to do. I am not speaking of psychotic illnesses, which, I believe, are more or less pathological, not psychological, though many of my too enthusiastic colleagues disagree with me. They’d like to make the whole world into one mental hospital! Where, of course, they would be kings. Many of us look enviously at Russia, where the psychiatrists have enormous power—especially over dissenters. Nineteen eighty-four isn’t far off, Miss Turner. As we say in England, ‘Who will guard the city when madmen are the guards?’ And most of us psychiatrists are definitely mad, you know, otherwise we’d not be so fascinated by madness. A mutual disease makes brothers of us all.”

  She listened with total absorption, her beautiful eyes widening. An intrepid woman, James thought, a noble woman, for all she is no beauty and is not young. A waitress came to the table and James said, “Miss Turner?”

  “Mrs. Beth Turner,” she said. “I really should like some muffins and marmalade and coffee. I had a sketchy breakfast and I’ve discovered I’m hungry.”

  When the waitress had left, James said, “You are Mrs. Turner? Is your husband also a friend of Mr. Jerald’s?”

  She smiled at his attempt at subtlety. “No, I’m a widow. My husband was killed in Korea. A childless widow, and I am glad I am childless. I’ve been a teacher, you know. Now I’m retired.”

  He raised his eyebrows and she added, with gentle amusement, “I have a very small farm, really not quite a farm, about ten miles from Cranston, and I receive a widow’s pension because of Keith, and I inherited some money from my father, and my wants are not extravagant, and I saved money all the twenty unfortunate years I taught.”

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