Bright flows the river, p.40

Bright Flows the River, page 40

 

Bright Flows the River
 



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  Guy looked at his weeping father, who had declared he was an atheist only two hours ago.

  Tom said, as if speaking to himself: “There is a poem—don’t remember it all—

  “The angels keep their ancient places;

  Turn but a stone, and start a wing!

  ’Tis ye, ’tis your estranged faces,

  That miss the many-splendored thing.”

  Tom halted the car. He was crying openly. “Damn it,” he said, “I’m not crying for someone who just died. I’m crying for somebody who never lived.”

  “And neither did I,” said Guy, aloud, in the blazing light that poured through the windows of the suite. “I didn’t have the courage.”

  James had been thinking of Emma. He was thinking of all the years of his love. He would hear from her tonight. Now he was startled to an awareness of where he was, and what he had heard. He said, almost roughly, “It’s not too late, old Jerry, to have courage.” (What in God’s name were they talking about?) He looked at Guy and saw his tormented face. “Not too late,” he repeated.

  But Guy had turned away, and eventually, seeing it was no use, James left the suite.

  “At least,” said Emil, later, “he admitted he had no courage. Not the courage to make a clean-cut choice. But he will, James, he will—he will have courage. And, I hope, before it is too late.”

  21

  James left word at the reception desk of the Old House that he was to be called to the telephone at any time, at any hour, and then he had dinner with Emil Grassner. Emil saw that his friend was distraught, preoccupied. Women, thought Emil, they make a hell of our lives but we’d rather have the hell with them than heaven without them. He saw James furtively glancing at his watch at frequent intervals. He said, “Calm down. Everything’s going to be all right.”

  “Mr. Macawber,” said James, sourly. At nine o’clock he excused himself and went to the desk, but was told that there had been no call for him as yet. He went upstairs, fuming, and sat down to wait. At half past nine, unable to wait any longer, he called Emma himself. Her personal maid answered, and reported that the ladyship was resting; she had a slight chill. Did Sir James particularly want to speak with her? Sir James did, emphatically. After a short interval Emma answered; her voice sounded dim and then she said, merrily, “You impatient rogue. I was going to call you in a few minutes. Today—let me see—it’s Sunday. No, still Saturday, where you are. Would it inconvenience you, Jimmy, love, if I arrived on Friday?”

  He had a rush of elation. “Friday! I’ll meet you in New York, ducks. Let me know your flight number and the time of your arrival.”

  “I’ll let you know. Jimmy? Don’t call me. I intend to visit Amanda in Torquay for a day or two. She isn’t at all well, you know, with her liver.”

  “I’ll call you there.”

  She hesitated. “Better not, love. You know old Amanda and telephones. She dithers at the sound of the bell. But I will call you myself. You do sound upset, Jimmy, and there’s nothing to be upset about. Oh, Jimmy, we’ll have such a fine time together, sightseeing and all.”

  Her voice trembled and all James’s alarm leapt up in him like the sound of clamoring bells. He cried, “Emma, there’s something wrong!”

  Now her voice sharpened. “Don’t be an ass, Jimmy. What on earth could be wrong, except that we’ve been separated for so long? Ages. But we’ll make up for it, I promise you. I sound tired? Well, I do have a bit of a chill. The weather has been foul in London, fog and all that, and my throat has never been too sturdy. I’m resorting to the old standby, lemon and honey and tea, and the devil with your antibiotics. I have a new char, by the way, a real sloven, but that is all you can get now in England.”

  “And in America, too. Emma? You will surely be here Friday?”

  Now her round voice became full of laughter. “I swear it. Jimmy, love? I love you with all my heart, I love you.”

  He could hardly speak for his emotion. “I love you, Emma. And we’ll be married, here in. America. We’ve put it off too long.”

  She laughed. “Living in sin is far more interesting, Jimmy. What is illegal is exciting; what is legal is boring. And I swore from the start that I would never bore you. Never.”

  James sat down after the telephone call. He felt shaken, but did not know why. He was not one to laugh too much at supranormal things; he had had some experience with the dark occult world, which no rationalizings could explain. He only knew that he felt undone and that there was a trembling in him. Emma. He could see her clearly now, as if she stood in the room with him. A tallish middle-aged woman, firm and solid of flesh, yet graceful—what was known as a fine figure of a woman. She had broad shoulders and a slender waist and full buttocks, and she was always deploring her weight. But her lusty appetite prevented her from becoming lissome. She had magnificent legs and delicate ankles and white slim hands, and she had immense style, charm and gusto, and a most endearing smile, and a splendid mind. If her face did indeed resemble an intelligent monkey’s, low of brow, small and wide of nose, long-lipped and broad of mouth, it was a most fascinating and changeful face, the large dark eyes brilliant and gay, the little white teeth flashing in almost constant mirth. Her curling hair was thick and the color of ripe chestnuts, and only slightly touched with gray. James, thinking of her and seeing her clearly, actually held out his hand to the empty chair opposite him, and he said, aloud, “Emma, my love, my dearest love.”

  He went downstairs and engaged a large suite for himself and Emma, and a room for Emma’s maid, Susan. The elderly clerk already knew him as Sir James, and was quite overwhelmed at the thought of “Lady Emma Godwin honoring us.” He added, inquisitively, “Your sister, Sir James?”

  James said, trying not to smile, “No. No connection at all. Just a friend, a very dear friend.” In America, he thought, it was quite easy to feel wicked. At the present time, in Cranston, there was a campaign going on against young ladies of the evening and their customers, something which James found not only deplorable but unreasonable. It was Lilith, the first female companion of Adam, who had established the “oldest profession,” and no doubt she had been a jolly wench. In comparison, Eve must have been most infernally dull, and it was to be hoped that Adam, in desperation, had availed himself of the happy company of the women of Nod.

  He went down to the lobby, where several games of chess were in progress. Emil was waiting for him. James informed him of the almost imminent arrival of Emma, and Emil looked at him with pleasure and interest. “You look like a high school kid on his first date, James,” he said. “I feel that way,” James admitted. “I must arrange something for Emma, a dinner, or some such festivity. But Cranston is not exactly festive, is it?”

  “But you’ll be leaving soon, won’t you, after you’ve shaken old Guy back into the world?”

  “Yes.” James thought of Beth Turner. The two women would get along beautifully together, they so much resembled each other in strong fortitude and generous serenity and common sense. James said, “I am beginning to wonder if old Jerry is good enough for Mrs. Turner.”

  James went alone to Mountain Valleys the next day, Sunday, for Emil had left for Philadelphia and his family and his other patients. James had a severe shock on arriving. He found Hugh Lippincott, Hugh’s wife, and Guy’s wife together near the reception desk. Hugh saluted him, gave him a wry smile, and lifted his blond eyebrows helplessly. The women greeted him with very evident coolness. Lucy’s vacant face had actually taken on an expression of distaste at the sight of him, and Louise Lippincott’s smile was malicious.

  “We’ve just heard, Dr. Meyer, that Guy spent a very restless night and was very noisy and profane,” said Louise.

  “Good,” said James. “That’s better than his old lethargy. I have great hopes for him.”

  “We don’t,” said Louise, shrugging. “Really. It’s too bad for all the family.”

  Lucy spoke in her high fluting voice: “I just don’t know—”

  “I do,”
said James. “I’m a psychiatrist, you know, after all.”

  Louise flared her huge teeth at him. “It’s not that we aren’t grateful, Doctor, for all the time you’ve been spending with poor Guy. Such devotion. But aren’t you neglecting your patients in England?”

  “Sometimes,” said James, “it’s most salubrious—for patients—when a doctor detaches himself from them for a while. They can then get their breath. Besides, I cleared up my most pressing cases before I came to America.”

  Lucy sighed. “Dr. Parkinson has been preparing us for the worst—”

  “Such as?”

  “He is recommending permanent institutionalization for Guy,” said Louise.

  “And is Dr. Grassner?”

  “No, of course not,” said Hugh.

  “‘Of course not,’” Louise mocked. “The fees of psychiatrists are enormous.”

  “Some quiet pretty place in the country, perhaps—” said Lucy.

  James lost patience. “Like a graveyard—perhaps?”

  The women stared at him, and Hugh chuckled. Both Louise and Lucy were almost smothered in sables; they regarded James with affront. James, feeling anger, continued: “I think Guy is partly suffering from enormous boredom. Boredom, you know, is a killer in itself. More men have died from ennui than actual disease, or it has precipitated disease. Man was not made for peace and quiet and the sweet tranquil life—not for long, anyway. He was made for rude combat, for strife, for competition, for color and variety and adventure, for crude ferocity. He is, essentially, the great beast, but an intelligent beast and an active one.”

  “And for war, too?” said Louise, with an arch look.

  James nodded. “And for war. As I’ve said before, no government ever gave a war and nobody came. Of course, there are substitutes for war, and we’d better find them before the last holocaust arrives with banners and bombs and burning cities. The nature of man can be restrained only so long—”

  During this conversation they had removed themselves a distance from the reception desk, where the nurses were too curious. Louise suddenly exclaimed, with exuberant glee, “Well, look who just got off the elevator!”

  They all turned. Beth Turner, her face absent, was approaching the desk. She did not see them, for people were moving back and forth around them, on their Sunday visits. Louise said, “There’s that awful woman I told you about, Hugh.” Still grinning, she clapped her hand over her mouth and her malevolent eyes danced above her glove. “Guy’s—er—acquaintance.”

  “Who? What?” asked Lucy, staring at Beth, who was making her usual inquiries concerning Guy at the desk.

  What a bloody contretemps, thought James, most uncomfortable. He saw that Hugh was staring at Beth, and his expression indicated that he found her less than entrancing. “You must be mistaken,” said Hugh. “Old Guy wouldn’t look at—”

  “What is it?” asked Lucy. “Is it someone from one of Guy’s offices?”

  “Hardly,” said Louise, and James had a passionate desire to slap her. “She’s a friend of Guy’s.”

  Lucy was vaguely incredulous. “A friend? I never met her. Some poor woman—from her clothes? He has so many charities, you know. At least, he sends checks, through me. Should I speak to her? What is she doing here?”

  “I think,” said Louise, “that she’s asking about Guy.”

  “Why on earth should she?” asked Lucy, faintly.

  At that moment Beth turned from the desk and saw James, and her plain face became beautiful with her smile. She came to him at once, holding out her hand. The others stared, as James took that hand; he was getting very ruddy in the face. Beth said, “How nice to see you, James. Have you seen Guy today?”

  “Not yet, Beth.” He felt completely helpless and he saw that Hugh was laughing silently, and he cursed him inwardly. “But almost immediately.” He hesitated. How in hell was he to manage this? He saw that the others were waiting, Louise with surprised and happy spitefulness, Hugh with anticipation, and Lucy with her empty stare. He did the best he could. “Mrs. Turner, Mrs. Lippincott, Mrs. Jerald, Mr. Lippincott.”

  Only Hugh held out his hand; the women merely nodded. Beth’s pale transparent cheeks had flushed. She said, “I know Mr. Jerald. He bought some land from me. I heard he was ill, and decided to stop in to ask about him.”

  The two women, Lucy with her pretty tinted face and untenanted eyes, and Beth with her ardent lips and dignity, confronted each other. The wife and the mistress. The one who had almost killed, the one who would save, by the grace of God.

  Lucy, the always formal, said, “It’s very nice of you, I’m sure, Mrs. Turner.” Her eyes strayed over Beth’s country clothing, the rough tweed coat, the knitted green cap, the sensible shoes, and the green knitted gloves and simple purse. Her expression became haughty and disdainful. “Do you work for my husband, Mrs. Turner?”

  “No,” said Beth. Her color was fading. Now her eyes deepened with amusement. “We are just friends.”

  “I can’t imagine Guy having friends I don’t know,” said Lucy. “He hasn’t many friends, and I know what few he has. They are my friends also.”

  Louise, with a large look of innocence, said, “I think I saw you once, Mrs. Turner, with Mr. Jerald, in a restaurant in Philadelphia.”

  “Did you?” said Beth. She frowned slightly. “Are you certain? I rarely go to Philadelphia. I haven’t been there for a long time.”

  “Oh, I’m sure it was you. And Guy.” Louise almost hugged herself in her enjoyment.

  Hugh said, “Do you live in town, Mrs. Turner?”

  She turned to him with a thoughtful look, and he suddenly decided she was a most attractive woman and that she had a most sensual mouth. “No, I live ten miles out in the country. I sold Mr. Jerald a piece of my property—some time ago. We had quite a discussion about it, at the time.”

  “Oh, really?” said Louise. “Was that what you were discussing so deeply in Philadelphia?”

  Lucy was looking confused. But Beth was regarding Louise with cold understanding and patrician contempt, as for an inferior, an impudent and vicious inferior. Under that steady regard Louise’s glaring grin faded somewhat, and she licked her teeth, but her malign stare did not waver.

  Beth turned to James without answering the other woman, and again they shook hands. Now he saw alarm in her eyes, and he understood. She was afraid that Guy’s relatives would mention her to him, and he must not know that she had been here. Then to his most enormous relief Hugh said, “We’ve just been visiting your—friend—Mrs. Turner. He had a bad night, they tell me, and he wasn’t exactly pleasant when we saw him. But he recognized us, all right. I don’t think we were welcome.”

  “I’m sorry,” said Beth. She put on her gloves. She glanced at James, and he saw her tremendous relief also, but also her anxiety. He nodded almost imperceptibly. She nodded distantly to the others and walked towards the elevators. They watched her go. Lucy said, “I can’t imagine—such a dowdy woman—of course, he bought the land—”

  “I noticed something,” said Louise. “She had a beautiful gold bracelet on her wrist, yellow gold, with lots of diamonds, a whole band of them. Very expensive.” She gave James her malevolent look as if she suspected a conspiracy.

  “Then she isn’t poor,” said Lucy, in a tone of such relief that Hugh laughed. Hugh saw that James was giving him a slight signal, and the two men moved off together. James spoke almost inaudibly. “He mustn’t know she was here, Hugh.”

  “I see,” said Hugh. “Well, well. And that Puritan hounding me about not divorcing Louise, and talking to me about my damned ‘duty’! On looking her over, she’s quite a woman, and he’s got unexpected taste. I suppose he gave her that bracelet.”

  James smiled. “How is it possible for me to know?”

  Hugh cocked his head at him. “How come she called you James? Are you two old friends?”

  “We’ve met.”

  “Here, I assume. Well, well. What do you know about old Guy!” He seemed del
ighted.

  “Manage it, some way, but keep your wife from telling Jerry about Beth. As for Mrs. Jerald, I’m sure nothing remains in her skull.”

  “I’ll manage it, even if I have to jam Louise’s big teeth down her throat,” said Hugh, kindly. “By the way, Marian Kleinhorst was asking for you last week. How about having dinner with us tonight?”

  James accepted gratefully. Another Sunday night in Cranston, alone, did not lure him. He went down the hall to Guy’s suite, thinking of Hugh and liking him. He found Guy, not in his chair near the windows, but standing in the center of the room. It was evident that he had been pacing up and down, for he had paused in mid-step when he saw James.

  He looked at James with rage. He shouted, “Why did you let them come in here?”

  James spoke with mildness. “Who?”

  “My—wife! Lippincott! And that damned Louise!”

  “Oh. Well, they’re your relatives, aren’t they?”

  Guy uttered a very foul obscenity, and James was pleased. He felt quite heartened. “If you don’t want to see them anymore, you have only to tell Dr. Grassner, you know.”

  “I will.” Guy’s voice was vengeful. He lit a cigarette; his fingers were trembling, and very attenuated. James sat down and lit his cigar. Good God, he thought, and it was so short a time ago that he was sunken in his deadly apathy! I couldn’t be happier. Yes, things were brightening. On Friday, Emma would be here. If Jerry continues this improvement she and I will soon be able to leave this benighted town.

  “Why don’t you go home, Jimmy?” Guy’s voice was strident.

  “I will, on the very day when you tell me you’ve made up your mind about something, and are ready to leave here.”

 

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