The suite they entered was so large and lavish it seemed to Shep that Victor Milgrim must have brought it with him. It was of a piece with his rooms at the Waldorf Towers, his office, the accommodations he had on the Normandie—anywhere he happened to be. A great bay window provided a magnificent view —a swell angle, Hutch had said—of the heroic-sized ice sculpture that dominated the campus.
Victor Milgrim sat in the center of a half-circle of chairs that had been arranged by Peggy and Hutch. On his left sat Prof. Connolly and Mrs. Connolly, a pretty woman with gray-blue hair who had once played a few parts with minor road companies and who gradually had come to be identified as a former Broadway leading lady. “Never quite a star,” Theresa Connolly would acknowledge with appealing modesty. On Milgrim’s left was the Dean and the Secretary in charge of public relations. Definitely making a production of it, Shep thought.
In addition to the V.I.P.s there were Peggy, Hutch, Gannon, the cameraman, and Prinz, the production manager, who looked sickly, perhaps because he worried so much about production costs.
Milgrim could not hide his misgivings when he saw that the appearance of his writers had been in no way improved. But he would do his best to charm his way through. “You understand, of course, our story is just in its uh experimental stage,” he explained to his guests. “But I thought you might be interested in seeing how we develop what we call the line. It’s pretty much a trial-and-error process, not so different from your physics professors in the lab; sometimes when we pour the contents of one test tube into another we even find the whole thing blows up in our face.” Hutchinson was still laughing when the polite laughter of thecollege guests had trailed away. “Boss, I gotta remember that one,” he said.
Milgrim frowned at him. Hutchinson was a good second-unit man but he laid the yessing on a little thick. Or did the sycophancy only seem more pronounced in this Ivy League setting? This idea of bringing Manley Halliday had seemed so right, such good thinking. And now, look at him. What were these College people thinking? How desperately he wanted that honorary degree! Victor Milgrim, Doctor of Humanities, for his outstanding contribution to inter-American and international understanding in the field of the cinema, something like that. He would have had one of his writers prepare him a simple, dignified acceptance speech, Hollywood’s Growing up to Its Responsibilities, that sort of thing. Ned Glassman, his publicity man, could probably place it as a front-page feature for the New York Times drama section … He stopped frowning at Halliday and forced a professional smile.
“Well, Manley, I knew you’ve been—er—awfully rushed—not even time to clean up—but why don’t you just give us what you have, not in too much detail, just the main characters and the continuity?”
“Victor, I know thish isn’t a very ’riginal way to begin …” Manley Halliday started to say.
“Go ahead, Manley, after all, how many plots are there supposed to be—” he looked around at Prof. Connolly for approval “—in the entire history of the drama? Isn’t it nine?”
“… but I c’d use a li’l drink.”
There was Scotch and soda on a small table near the window. Milgrim hesitated, pushing his lower lip out in suppressed disapproval. When he said “Hutch” and nodded toward the table, Hutchinson sprang to mix the highball. “We don’t usually drink at story conferences, gentlemen,” Milgrim felt he had to explain, “but this has been a pretty strenuous trip, working on the train all night and…”
Prof. Connolly just smiled, as if he too were a man of the world. The Dean waited stolidly. The Secretary stared at Halliday as if he were some out-of-the-way animal brought back alive. He was being careful to conceal his feelings, however, inthe hope that Mr. Milgrim might be induced to make a considerable contribution to the college funds.
“How ’bout a drink for Shep?” Manley Halliday said when Hutchinson placed a glass in his hands.
Shep would have said no, but this reflex loyalty to his companion warned him that Manley would seem too conspicuous drinking alone.
“I’ll have a short one,” Shep said.
Milgrim was forced to offer drinks all around. Prof. Connolly thought he might have one “very much on the mild side.” The Dean and the Secretary said thank you, no. Milgrim was being meticulously careful of his own behavior. Joe Gannon, the cameraman, said, “You can hit me with a shot,” but Hutchinson was in charge there and he said, “Listen, Joe, you got a camera to focus this P.M., so don’t start going out of focus on me now.” It was said in a dry workmanlike voice that made everyone laugh because of tension.
Milgrim looked at his elaborate gold watch. “We all have to be out at the ski jump at two o’clock. Why don’t you get started, Manley?”
At this moment Shep, without even knowing he was going to do it, rose to his feet and, in a way he had never been able to do before, took command of the room. Liquor, exhaustion, benzedrine, nerves, fear and a boy-scout determination to pull Manley Halliday through had lent him a feverish verve.
“We open with what we think is a cute little scene in a diner,” Shep began, dispensing with all the maybe’s and what-ifs and how-abouts that had been bogging them down for days. In a rapid and convincing voice he followed the waitress to the Mardi Gras, at the same time (somehow tying together all the random threads they had tried) using Manley’s meeting of the Lone Skier and the Girl in the Open Touring Car to introduce Florine and Joe. In the same way that water adheres to the bottom of a pail if the pail is swung around rapidly enough, somehow this story hung together as Shep found himself turning into one of those glib elocutionists who electrify story conferences with their artificial lightning.
“When Joe takes first place in the slalom, Florine moves in,because the ski champion is to have the honor of choosing the Queen of the Mardi Gras.”
Shep paused to look around. They actually seemed interested. He went on with his show of confidence. Wildly ad-libbing, he could feel the relief of Milgrim, the admiration of Peggy Dillon, the interest of the college officials, the grinning approval of Hutchinson and the adding-machine affirmation of pale Mr. Prinz. When Shep paused to catch his breath there was a hush all over the room and he knew he had them and hurried on.
“In love with Joe now, and feeling she’s made a botch of her last Mardi Gras, Sally goes out skiing alone and follows an abandoned trail through the Green Mountains. Suddenly this trail falls away to a steep incline and she finds herself plunging downward, faster and faster, fifty, sixty miles an hour, through the tall pines that race by her, threatening to smash her to pulp …”
“I can get that effect for you,” Hutchinson broke in.
“Now we cut back to Joe,” Shep went on. “It’s growing dark. Time for the Mardi Gras Icecapade over which he and Florine are to preside as King and Queen. But he hears that nobody has seen Sally for hours, that she’s gone off on skis. He says he can’t go through with his part of the show until he finds out for himself what’s happened to Sally. The entire ski team backs him up and they all go to the rescue.
“Now we finish with a tremendous chase on skis, Sally racing down the mountain side toward a treacherous ravine, Joe and the Webster team racing after her. They pick up her ski tracks, realize what she’s heading for—and oh by the way they all carry the torches they were to use in the skiing exhibition …”
“Nice touch,” Milgrim murmured.
“We’ll get that for you,” Hutchinson said.
“With their torches lighting the way, they start down. They know a short cut to head Sally off. She’s closer and closer to the precipice. She’ll be dashed to pieces. Joe is gaining on her. The short cut may be fatally littered with boulders but he leans forward into the night wind. She’s only fifty feet from the edge, thirty, ten, five, when suddenly he comes swooping in from nowhere, grabs her and they plunge into a tree.
“For a tag we pick Joe up in the infirmary. His head is bandaged. Sally comes in, bringing him a hamburger, just as she did at the diner at the opening. ’I’m getting kinda used to having you wait on me,’ he says. ’Maybe we oughta get married.’”
Shep took a deep breath. “Well, of course, it’s still a little rough, but …”
But everyone was talking at once.
“By God, you’ve licked it!” Milgrim said. “Sounds terrific. Really terrific.”
“I must say it held me right to the end of your little epilogue,” Prof. Connolly added.
“I’m glad you made all the Webster men good fellows,” the Dean put in. “We were a little afraid you might …”
“As you see, the real hero of our picture is the Webster Ski Team.” Milgrim was beginning to expand. “Or should I say, the Webster Spirit?”
“It’s going to be tough stuff to get, that ski chase,’but, damn it, when we do get it we’ll really have something,” Hutchinson said. “Okay Joe, let’s start lining up at the ski jump.”
“I’ll see you out there,” Milgrim said. “I’m driving over with President Sellmer.” He turned to his writers with a bright smile. “Looks like you came through, just when I was afraid it was you who might go over that precipice.”
He patted Manley Halliday’s shoulder condescendingly. “Now go up and change your clothes. And remember, no more drinking.” He started toward the door, then returned and picked up the bottle of Scotch. “Better put this away,” he told Peggy Dillon.
“Lissen, Victor, don’ patronize me. Too old to be patronized.”
“Now, for Christ sake, Manley. Behave.”
“Victor, be senshible. You don’ really need me out there at the ski jump.”
“This is what you’re up here for. To get the color, the feel of it. And a little air won’t do you any harm.”
“But I’ve seen ski jumping. Right here. In Fifteen. Stu Anderson from Dartmouth won it. Remember? I’m the man with the memory. If Stu hadn’t been killed in the war …” He caught himself. “Victor, believe me I’ve seen all this. Do I have to swallow a whole ocean to describe salt water?”
“Manley, I’m in a hurry. Be out there. It’s what I’m paying you for.”
He turned away and quickly left them. Manley Halliday started to grin at Shep and then he threw his arms around him and hugged him. “Baby, you were inspired. You saved our lives.”
“I didn’t even know what I was saying,” Shep confessed. “All of a sudden I just went crazy.”
“Well, it was inshpired, inshpired. We’ve got ’em right here.” Manley Halliday extended the palm of his hand.
“Only trouble is, what’ve we really got? Same crap we had before, just dressed up a little. Let’s not kid ourselves. It only sounded good because for once I told it like an old pro.”
“Hell with it. Least we’re not fired. Takes a little pressure off us for a few hours anyway. How the hell’d you do it ? Shep, I’m proud of you. I could’ve kissed you.”
“Well, let’s push on to the ski jump.”
“Not sure I c’n make it. Tell you a little secret, Shep. I hate snow. An’ my feet still feel frozen from last night.”
“He’ll be looking for us, Manley. I think we’d better try.”
Back in their attic room, Shep brought out his galoshes. All Manley Halliday had were rubbers. And a worn overcoat. And a shapeless gray hat that had once been a fashionable Stetson.
Coming out of the elevator into the lobby, Manley Halliday said “Oh, forgot something, be right down,” and disappeared for a few minutes.
Driving out to the point nearest the ski jump he slipped a bottle from his overcoat pocket. It was the Scotch from Milgrim’s room.
“How the hell’d you get that?”
“Got the bellboy to let me in. Said I left my script in his room. Important lesson in life, Shep. With the possible ’ception of murder, almos’ nothing a bellboy won’t do for a buck. Comes in very handy sometimes.”
He took a long swig from the bottle. It felt so good inside that he laughed out loud. “Mmm, warms you up. I’d’ve died up here without this.” He handed the bottle to Shep. “Drink hearty, my young silver-tongued collab’rator. Ah. I’m feeling better. Say, Imay live through this yet!” It struck him funny. He raised the bottle to his lips again.
When they got out of the cab, Manley Halliday insisted on offering the driver a drink from the bottle. Then they had to walk at least a quarter of a mile through the snow to the crowd gathered in an enormous U around the lip of the jump. In his gray coat and battered hat, with the cold biting into his face, Manley Halliday looked more like a discouraged ghost than a holiday spectator at one of the highlight events of the Mardi Gras. He walked slowly, his footing uncertain, feeling club-footed from the numbing cold. A group of young people came up behind and a youth who showed his indifference to the elements by wearing only his letter sweater above his ski pants went beep-beef like an auto horn and shoved Manley Halliday aside to hurry on with his laughing friends.
“That roommate of mine’s a real screwball,” the letterman said.
“You mean a meat-ball,” said his girl and everyone guffawed. Manley Halliday sank down into the snow-bank. “Secret o’ laughter,” he said. “Huh?”
“Didn’ I ever tell you about the secret o’ laughter?” “No.”
“Secret o’ laughter’s—poise, ’ats why they laugh, those kids, they’re running over with poise. Me, I useta have it but I lost it at the Astor. Poise I mean, ’ts like hair, when you have it you pay no ’tendon to it. Only when you lose it. Ain’t gonna have poise no more no more, all I got is this jug.”
“Get up, Manley, you’ll catch cold.”
“Catch cold. I’ll need an ice pick to take my shoes off.” As Shep reached down and started pulling him to his feet, another youthful foursome came by.
“Don’t give up the battle, Pop,” one of the young men called and the girls giggled.
Manley Halliday trudged after them, his mind shuttling unclearly between a tragic and a comic view. The show must go on, the mail must get through, the script must be finished, the ski jump must be seen, the vanity of Victor Milgrim must besatisfied, the destiny of Manley Halliday must be fulfilled. Finally reaching the youthful spectators assembled to watch their teams he was aware of bright colors of ski and stocking caps and scarfs and lips. Oh Lord to be young again to be able to laugh that way as if every remark were unbearably witty. Swoosh the jumper bending forward from his skis stood in the air with his arms working like wings sailing down down—ooh how graceful —until slap his skis came down to meet the steep runway and he went gliding on along the flat while the next contestant appeared as an incredible dot away up there on the take-off platform.
“Boy, what a jump!” Enthusiastic applause was muffled by heavy mittens. Shep was telling him about it, the tremendous leap of Webster’s young Norwegian star, and he realized he hadn’t been watching, not because his eyes hadn’t been looking in the right direction but because his mind hadn’t been there to record what was seen. A few minutes later it was announced that Rolaag’s winning jump set a new Webster record; the event was over. The large, good-natured crowd started moving in the direction of Red Robin Pond where the skating events had already begun.
Manley Halliday sneezed with a force that seemed to weaken him to the very joints of his knees. He felt as if he were sinking down into snow drifts. “Shep, now I’m really catching cold. My feet. But I think I’ll be all right if I c’n get back to the hotel.”
Just then Victor Milgrim caught sight of them and took command. “Wasn’t Rolaag terrific? We’re going to use that record jump for Joe and Rolaag’s going to work as a double for us. See what I mean now, Manley? You couldn’t write that without seeing it. And the color, the girls. Glad I found you. We’re all going over to the Skating Club balcony. Jean Tozzer’s giving an exhibition. I’d like to spot that somewhere. They say she’s sensational.”
It was no easy hike to the Club from the ski jump. Manley Halliday trudged along in constant dread of losing consciousness. “All right?” Shep asked once. “A little woozy but—all right,” he had answered. Secret nips from the bottle would temporarily revive him though he stood through the exhibition and the skating races without really seeing them. Then they all went on to the slalom hill.
By this time the snow was turning blue in the twilight and Manley Halliday could barely drag one benumbed foot after the other. The unflagging energy and enthusiasm of Victor Milgrim tore at his nerves like the uninterrupted blowing of a stuck automobile horn. Something inside him wanted to scream oh for God’s sake shut up leave me done let me lie down but he held on.
Somehow he got through to the end of the sports program. Milgrim reminded him that the evening torchlight skiing and crowning of the Queen would begin at 7:30. Of course Manley would have to see that. The President had asked them all to his house for dinner but Milgrim thought Manley would do better to go back to the Inn and rest. “And, Manley, for the fifth time, will you please try to clean up and shave, pull yourself together?”
There was a traffic jam of both pedestrians and autos going back to town. All the taxis were taken by the time they reached the road. They tried to hitch, but every car that passed was already overcrowded. By the time they had walked a half mile the darkness was almost complete. It was four above, they heard someone say. Several times Manley Halliday had to stop to catch his breath and when Shep saw his face in the glare of a street lamp it looked less ghostly than cadaverous. He began to go limp against the post and Shep supported him. This time Shep took out the bottle of Scotch, three-fourths empty now, and held it to Manley’s lips. Then he picked up some snow and rubbed it over his forehead.
Manley Halliday opened his eyes. “Hank Osborne,” he whispered.
“Frena mine. Hank Osborne. Teaches up here. Oughta see him. Le’s go see him.”
“You saw him, Manley.”
“Bes’ fren I had, Hank Osborne. Le’s go see him.”
“All right. He doesn’t live far down this road. Maybe he’ll drive us in.”
The Osbornes lived in a small white cottage on a knoll over-looking the road. When finally Shep managed to lead Manley to it and the door opened, the warmth and coziness of the interior, the sense of comfortable domesticity had such an effect on the young man that his eyes began to dampen in an unexpected overflow of emotion. Why, he wasn’t sure—possibly just the contrast of Manley’s sickly pallor and sagging figure to the ruddy complexion and well-fed waistline of Hank Osborne, who came to the door with a hot buttered rum in his hand. There was a crackling blaze in the fireplace behind him.
“Well, come on in, you two, come on over and get warm.”
Osborne’s voice was like the fire, warm and reassuring and good to be close to. “Just in time for hot buttered rum.”
With practiced discretion he overlooked Manley’s condition. But Shep said, “Thanks, Hank, but I’m afraid another drink’s in the hole-in-the-head department. That goes for both of us.”
“Not foolin’ me,” Manley accused Shep. “Don’ be so goddam noble. Take a drink if you wan’ it. I’m gonna have one anyway, Hank.”
“Coming up in a jiff,” Hank Osborne said, and going to the kitchen door he called, “Minnie—surprise—come and see who’s here.”
Mignon, no longer petite, with a face so French as to seem almost a caricature of the handsome Gallic housewife, came in with an apron around her plump waist. “Oh, goood, goood,” she said when she saw who it was and she hugged Manley energetically. “Well, Monley, thees is such a wonnerfool surprise.” She and Hank spoke French together and since she was not one of those faculty wives who visited other faculty wives, her heavy French accent never improved.
“Minnie, Minnie, my old girl,” Manley Halliday said.
Mignon saw that he was very drunk and that she would have to use her basic wisdom on him.
“Here, sit down.” She led him to the biggest, most comfortable chair. “You morst be veree tired—all that hiking in the snow.”
“Shixty three days across a continent of ice. Shtrong men cried when we hadda eat the lead dog.”
She laughed. “Ah, Monley, I see you are not so change-ed.”
“Who said I changed?”
Mignon saw she had said the wrong thing. She groped quickly for something more cheerful. “So what, everybodee change-ed. Look at my nice little waist. It eees gone with the weend.”
“Gone with the Wind, ’t’sall people c’n talk about any more. Rather read Mrs. Humphry Ward m’self.”
“Monley, you funnee boy, the book I did not mean …”
“ ’Book I did not mean.” ’F we talk French like that you laugh at us, jump down our throats. Yeah, I heard you kidding my French to Hank that Sunday driving back from Tessencourt. Made me damn sore.”
“Silly boy, that was—oh how awfool—sixteen years ago.”
Back with a tray of hot rums, Hank Osborne said, “Well, remember our old toast, ’here’s to us and what’s usn’s.’”
“Oh, so many goood times,” Mignon said.
Manley Halliday rose abruptly. “Well, I wanted to see you. Long time since Thirty-three. But I didn’ think this’d happen.”
The Osbornes looked at each other understandingly. “Think what’d happen, Man?”
“Aah, skip it skip it,” Manley Halliday muttered. “Hell with ya. Never did like Jere, did ya? Jealous of her, jealous of both of us. Well, now I suppose it’s turned out how you wanted. Jere in the flit academy an’ me going off the ski jump with no skis.”
Osborne’s voice was low and very kind. “Manley, try to hear this. No matter what you say to us, or what you think, we’re your friends.”
“You c’n go ta hell.”
He lurched toward the door.
Mignon said, “Ah, Monley, we laav you—please please be nice.”
“Hell with it. I don’ hafta stan’ here ’n be insulted.” He threw open the door and stumbled out.
Hank Osborne said, “He thinks it’s us but it’s really himself— that’s what he’s fighting.”
“Well, don’t talk about heem. Go help heem,” Mignon said.
They found him wandering down toward the road.
“I’ll drive you back to the Inn,” Hank said.
They got him into the car without a word. He was passive and pliant now, resigned to stupor. He had given up trying to talk.
They had reached the Inn. “I’ll take you to the side entrance,” Hank said. “No use giving everybody in the lobby a chance to gawk.” He helped Shep ease Manley Halliday from the car. “If you need me again, holler. I’ll do anything I can. Not so much for what he is, for what he was.”
“Aah, balls,” Manley Halliday said. He knew what he wanted to say, but he couldn’t say it.
“I think I’d better go down to the Coffee Shop and bring up a bite for us. What do you feel like eating?”
It was Shep’s voice, and they were back in the attic, though Manley Halliday could not remember how they got there. It had seemed to him that they were standing in the snow watching the ski jump.
“Oh, anything. Anything.”
“And if you’re going to eat, you’d better take your shot. Want me to help you?”
“No. I’ll do it. You go ahead.”
In the bathroom his hand was trembling so that he had to try to steady it with his other hand. Every time he hesitated he had to fight back an impulse to let go and cry. Ann Ann help me, and the thought actually did control him until at last he plunged the needle.
The hamburgers were only lukewarm by the time Shep brought them up.
“Manley, you’ve got to eat something.”
“You haven’t eaten in days.”
“Don’ feel too bad,” he said stubbornly.
Shep stared at him. “Look—the torchlight procession should be starting now. Why don’t I go while you take it easy? I’ll come back here right after it’s over.”
“No. I’ll finish. I’ll see it all.”
“Manley, you look like …”
“I know what I look like. I also know what Victor’ll say if hefinds I’m not there. Hell, I’ve come through this far—I don’ wanta be fired now.”
“Maybe if I talked to him. Now that he likes our line.”
“He’ll come up an’ find me here an’ say I’m drunk. Makes me furious, checking up on me like a Fifth Former.” Manley slung his coat over his shoulder. “Lead the way, my young friend. On to the next installment of ’Manley Halliday, Script-Writer in the Frozen North.’”