Bright flows the river, p.35

Bright Flows the River, page 35

 

Bright Flows the River
 



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  After her first dismay, Lucy was enthusiastic about producing children. (Her dismay was the result of knowing that at this time, shortly after her honeymoon, the social season in Cranston and Philadelphia had just begun, and she was old-fashioned enough to believe that a pregnant woman should not “be seen in public.”) When the twins had been born Guy had told his wife he wanted no more children. She had more than hinted that she wanted four children, “at least.” But this time Guy prevented that culmination.

  Lucy was a “good” mother. She admitted that, coyly, herself. From the very first she had accused Guy of not being a “good” father. What she really meant was that a “good” father abandoned his own life, his own ambitions, his own very existence as a man, to “nurture” his children, to spend every free moment with them, with no individuality for himself. He willingly became “Daddy.” He was no longer John Jones, with a soul and a mind to be “nurtured,” too. He was Daddy, a surrogate Mom, constantly appeasing a temperamental wife who was constantly hysterical about her children, and uttered never-ending demands on her husband.

  Guy remembered how his mother had tried to subjugate and dominate her husband, and he remembered Tom’s amusedly contemptuous resistance. Guy also remembered his mother’s attempts to guide his own life into her narrow circle. He was determined that his own household would not be like that. But from the beginning Lucy, even before the birth of her children, seemed fiercely fixed on turning her husband into a sedulous servant for them.

  So Guy, who might have become a reasonably concerned father—but not a devoted one—resented his children from their birth. They had not been presented to him; they had been forced upon him by their mother. He fell back on the curse of his life: Duty. Responsibility. He avoided his children as much as possible, though he met all Lucy’s requests for money for them. (She was careful not to spend much of her own.) He did not find his children any delight. Marcy, from her birth, was stubborn and unyielding and entirely too active, and she certainly was not lovable or endearing. Her loud voice was always upraised in complaints, in her very cradle, though she was excessively healthy. William was more sly. He “chunnered,” as James would have called it, from the moment he was born, that is, he whined, half under his breath. He soon discovered that his mother doted on him, even more than she doted on Marcy, and he could manipulate her before he could even walk or talk. They were unruly from the start. Nursemaids could not endure them and their intransigence, which was their mother’s fault. She would not permit the slightest correction. She bought every “baby book” extant, and would quote them volubly to the bored and angered Guy.

  When Guy would arrive home, exhausted, longing for a little peace, Lucy would firmly take his arm and make him visit the “nursery.” He was incessantly bored. Lucy would force him into a chair and perch her children on his knee, while she used endless batches of film to catch the “beautiful picture.” The children, sensing his ennui and silent rebellion, would climb all over him, and, with malicious glee, would tweak his nose and pull his ears, laughing up into their mother’s maudlin face. Then, at night, he must visit them in their “adorable little beds for a good-night kiss.” He found this very distasteful, for, above all things, he was a man. Dinner conversation with Lucy was centered only on “the children.” If there were guests, the women would exchange photographs of their own offspring and go into ecstasies, while the men half slumbered in their chairs. The children’s bowel movements were more important, to the women, than their husbands’ own needs and wants. Cattle, Guy would think, but cattle, coming down to it, were more sensible. All animals were sensible; when the young were nearly grown the parents threw their progeny out of the nest to fend for themselves, after a severe training in survival.

  Guy recalled the children who had been his contemporaries. Girls and boys, in the earliest grades, hurried home to do chores, or to work on their fathers’ farms. They were valuable members of society as soon as they could toddle. Tom had put his son to work, at the age of three, mounding up potato hills, and Guy had enjoyed it, knowing he was earning his own importance. There was no juvenile delinquency then, or if infrequently discovered, it earned the most painful and remembered punishment. There was no idleness. There were books and study and work, and self-respect. The children received all their “physical education” in toil, and were proud of their accomplishments. They were obedient to authority and respectful. An obese child was a rarity, even among the rich. Recreation was strictly supervised. Children had no “difficulties” in school. The teacher had full rule over them, and her hand was hard. They learned. High school was a privilege; college must be earned one way or another.

  But modern children, their debased mothers declared, were “delicate blossoms.” The children—no fools they—took advantage of this situation and became loud, very often criminal, and endlessly demanding. Above all, they became sullen and discontented. Fathers had been forced to abdicate their authority by their women, or abdicated in hopeless despair, or, worse, became assistants in “nurturing.”

  They fled when they could bear no more. They fled into the arms of women who were childless, or who never mentioned children. They slept in those arms, for a brief peace. It was these women who saved, literally, the lives and sanity of the harried men, and gave them laughter and surcease.

  After a few years Guy made up his mind that he was not a servant to his children. He was their father. Lucy would either acknowledge his position as head of the household or he would, in more ways than one, abandon his children. But Lucy did not acknowledge his rightful place. So he lost all interest in Marcy and William, except to provide lavishly for them. He knew his “duty.”

  When Marcy showed evidence of being a “tomboy” Lucy did not rebuke her, except for the times she assaulted her little brother with her flying muscular arms. William affected a sly love for his mother, and would fill his sister’s bed with tacks and various loathsome objects, once even his own feces. The nursemaids were constantly in an uproar; when they attempted discipline they were immediately discharged by Lucy, who claimed they did not “love the children.” (Lucy found the children of other women inferior and repellent, and competed with other mothers with exaggerated tales of the intelligence, beauty, and cleverness of her own.) Mentally, Marcy was a dullard; she was purely physical. William was a little more intelligent, but not much; his wits were always engaged in finding advantages and rewards for himself. Both children, with justification, soon found their mother stupid. As for their father—they avoided him as much as possible, for, on occasion, he would slap vigorously and with dark anger, and shout curses. They soon set one parent against the other, knowing there was no love between them.

  But—Guy was dutiful. He found it easier to accede to Lucy’s requests for more and more for her children than to refuse them. Frequently he would tell himself that he should take some interest in his son, at least, but William skillfully subverted that. He would lavishly agree with everything Guy said, then do as he wished, knowing his mother would uphold him against his father. She was very vigilant. If Guy spoke shortly to his children she would sweep them into her arms and cry noisily with them “Daddy doesn’t understand. Only Mommy does. Mommy loves her little ones.” The implication was that Daddy did not. The children might not have been overly endowed with brains, but they were wily enough—an animal wiliness—to act in their own immediate interests.

  Hating to return to his family, Guy took to random faceless women. So long as his affections were not engaged he did not feel he was betraying Lucy. But he did need a little peace. After talking with men all day he needed the soft and laughing voice of a woman to restore his vitality. He dreaded his house, which seemed to possess a peculiar echoing emptiness, for all the presence of his wife and children, a nursemaid, a cook and a housekeeper and a maid. As she grew into girlhood Marcy became surly and querulous, reminding him of his mother. There was nothing of Tom in William, or of Guy, but he did have his mother’s fairness for all his brown w
atchful eyes. He was greedy, and Lucy bought him chocolates and meringues glacées and other dainties; in consequence, when he was only fourteen, he acquired a noticeable paunch which never left him. The children loved no one; they despised their mother, hated their father, and tormented each other and the domestics.

  They went to a private school, very expensive, in Cranston. The teachers reported to Lucy that Marcy “tried,” but was no scholar. She was more interested in wrestling with the boys and playing rough games with them. A teacher hinted she was very “manly.” William was “mischievous,” the poor teachers would imply tactfully, though he did fairly well in his classes. But he was not competitive, did not care for athletics, and had no friends. (Neither had his sister.) They were arrogant with those other children they considered less rich than themselves, and subservient to those whose parents had more money. In short, they were unpleasant young people. William did acquire a small amount of attractiveness as he grew into adolescence, but Marcy was frankly ugly, with her stiff short black hair, her narrow black eyes, her very large nose and petulant mouth, her brawny body.

  Lucy was never aware that her children lacked charm. She believed them to be exquisite. When she thought of Guy denying her more children she would become sullen. She carped only in a low pathetic voice, and Guy grew to detest the sound of it.

  He became more and more lonely. Was this all that would ever be in his life: the acquisition of money, which was now his sole interest, his family, his sardonic brother-in-law, Hugh Lippincott, the latter’s detestable wife, and the equally acquisitive men he met in his business? He had no friends. He was isolated as he had never been isolated in his life. If he found himself taking more than a casual interest in a woman he made sure he would never see her again. He had his “duty” to Lucy, with whom he had long ago ceased to have sexual relations. He could no longer read, for despite the emptiness of the house it had a strange and unheard vibration of turmoil. He had Duty as his barren companion.

  Marcy plodded through her school. William was expelled twice, and barely managed to graduate. Then he went on to the preparatory school in Philadelphia, which caused Lucy to weep copiously. He was expelled once. He was now eighteen years old. He had no ambitions except to enjoy himself, which he did thoroughly at his father’s expense.

  As Guy, tonight, paced his hotel room, he thought of all these things, and he felt, for the first time, a wish to die and have done with his life—his sterile life. He no longer had to fear poverty, as his mother feared it, but the imperative to make money did not leave him. In some mysterious fashion he now equated money with Duty. He had no friends, no intimates. If he thought of this at all it was with the conviction that they were unimportant. Yet, he was beset. He thought of Marian Kleinhorst, Hugh’s lovely mistress, and his resentment of the liaison. So long as Hugh was married to Louise he had a “duty” not to get “involved” permanently with another woman. A faceless woman, from time to time, was permissible. To love outside of marriage—no matter how loveless his, Guy’s life, was—was in some manner indecent. A quick memory of his father and Sal came to him, and he put it aside. His father never did have a sense of duty and responsibility. A reckless, useless life.

  He paced up and down for nearly two hours. He drank a little, and then some more. He smoked endlessly. He found himself hating his son for getting him, the father, into such a terrible predicament. But his agile mind was already at work, looking for an escape. He tried to tell himself that there was some way out of this horror. Money could buy all things. The sweet smell of money. No one could resist it. It was a corruption beyond all other corruptions.

  He lay down and slept for a few hours. When he awoke he was sluggish and sick and his body felt seventy-five years old. He could shave and dress only by the actual force of his will. He ate no breakfast. He was glad when it was time to leave for the airport. It was a damp dank day, still chill from winter for all it was Easter Sunday, and the towers of the city swirled with a wet mist and the wind was moist and heavy. The streets dully glistened as if it had recently rained. Crowds were entering churches, wrapped up closely against the chill. He thought of the wild daffodils on his father’s farm, the wild crocuses, purple and gold, and the new calves and the fire on the old hearth. But he put the thought aside. This was no time for sentimentality. Nostalgia was a liar.

  The sun was out in Cranston, a bitter blob of pale light. The airport was full of holiday people, all talking and laughing loudly. Hugh Lippincott met Guy, and his sarcastic face was grave. Guy felt sicker than ever. Hugh took his arm without speaking and led him outside to his car. Once inside and the car rolling towards home, Guy said, “Well, tell me.”

  “It’s one goddamned fucking mess,” said Hugh, who felt a mean thrill of satisfaction that his disliked brother-in-law—his ruthless brother-in-law—was confronting an enormously difficult and dirty situation. He glanced sideways at Guy’s profile, grim and pent, and at the streaks of gray at his temples and forehead. Thank God I have no children, thought Hugh, who believed in no God.

  “Bill’s out on bail, but Lucy said she had told you that.”

  Guy lit a cigarette. “What about the little whore?”

  Even Hugh was shocked at this expression and for some reason he felt anger and disgust. “Whore?” he said. “She’s only ten years old, for Christ’s sake. Ten years old!”

  “Lucy implied her mother was a prostitute.”

  “Lucy is not only a damned fool but she is a damned liar, if she said that. Mrs. Clancy is a decent hard-working waitress, a widow, a young widow, who is supporting herself and her child on a miserable wage and meager tips. A self-respecting young woman. She’s almost out of her mind now. And the little girl, Julie, is in the hospital.” Hugh paused. “The surgeons say she’ll never have any children, which I’m convinced is a damned good stroke of fortune. Children!”

  “Surgeons?” Guy felt a prostrating chill.

  “Yes. The girl is so young, and apparently she struggled. She was terribly torn. I repeat, terribly torn. Your son—Bill—seems to have beaten her into submission. The child had to have blood transfusions, too. I’ve been to the hospital. I’ve seen the kid. If she were a child of mine I’d kill your son with my bare fists. She’s only semiconscious. The mother is frantic. She won’t leave the kid. They’ve put her under sedation, too. I got a private room for them.”

  Guy said, “Now, that’s a fine admission of guilt, from a lawyer.”

  Hugh had often thought, with relish, of fighting Guy to a battered pulp. He thought of it again. “Can’t you understand, Jerald, that if the kid dies your son will be charged with murder? Yes, it’s that bad.”

  “You mean the girl might die?”

  “Yes.”

  “Jesus Christ.” Guy tried to breathe in the warm moisture of the heated car. He was fighting savagely in himself. He thought of the banks, of his business. He thought, with hatred, of his son, no longer because of the crime he had committed but what publicity would do to his father’s affairs. He said, “The newspapers?”

  “Oh,” said Hugh, detesting him, and in a heavy jocular voice, “I used quite a lot of money to keep it off the front page. Quite a lot. Remind yourself to repay me. I told the reporters that it might be a ‘mistake.’ One of the boys got a little obstreperous, so I had to lean on him, as the police call it. And—I’ve talked to my friend the Chief of Police. It’ll all be kept as quiet as possible unless the child dies. If so, then all hell will break loose and your son will spend many a year in prison,” where he properly belongs, thought Hugh.

  “Thanks,” said Guy, in an expressionless empty tone.

  Hugh shrugged. “It’s the least I could do for my sister’s son, or rather my sister, or rather the business.” His voice was even heavier with somber irony. “And as your son is my nephew, this is no fiesta for me, either. My nephew.”

  “What can we do?” asked Guy. “Christ, there must be something we can do!”

  “If he were my son I’d let h
im take the consequences. Perhaps. What can we do? The mother, Mrs. Clancy, is very poor. We can offer her a lot of money, which will take care of her and the child the rest of their lives, if well invested. A lot of money. For her silence, for her not pressing charges. For leaving the city with that damned poor suffering kid. And more money—well, it can be hushed up. I’m a lawyer, you know. We can use more money.”

  He sighed. “We can say it was all a mistake. That your son took the kid home, and then when he was leaving some thug came in and raped little Julie. Bill returned, and fought the thug, who ran away, just as the mother came in. A lot of money. What good will it do Mrs. Clancy if your son is sent up for, say, twenty years? She’s had a hard life. She, too, knows what money is. It’s a chance, but a slim chance. That is, if the child does not die.”

  “Have you tried coaching the mother?”

  “Not yet. There’s no use until the kid is out of danger.”

  “In the meantime, you’ve practically admitted Bill’s guilt by getting that private room for the—the girl.”

  “Oh, that’s taken care of! I said it was just a charitable gesture, out of pity, and because your son, falsely accused, is so concerned for the poor little thing. I had one doctor and a nurse practically weeping on my shoulder.”

  Guy put his hands over his face. “God, I’m sick.”

  “So is everyone else,” said Hugh, without pity. “Louise is practically tearing her hair out. She’s thinking of her nieces, as always.”

 

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