Rolling down the hill to the station through the falling snow, Manley Halliday crumpled against the seat said faintly, “Well, kid, I did it. Really loused it up for you. Christ, what luck! What luck! If only we hadn’t met Milgrim.”
“If.” Shep looked out the window at the dark pines heavy with snow. A gay sight, from the point of view of a window-seat in a fire-warmed fraternity house, cuddled up with your best girl. But a desolate landscape now as you drove away from the scene of the crime with a man too brave for suicide but unable to prevent the murder of himself.
Manley Halliday rolled his head against the back of the seat as if delirious. “Dizzy—I feel—oh …” His body started to shake with a dry laugh that was like a dry sob. “Brought me up to dignify his silly trip—prestige—a living classic—me …”
The laugh was a kind of gasp.
“’S his fault, you know. Hadda be such a damn in’ellectual show-off. If he’da listened t’ me an’ left me home t’ work on his damn story, neither one of us woulda been disgraced.”
“Hell, my fault too,” Shep said. “I’m no better than Milgrim. I wanted you to come. I urged you to. I wanted Webster to see me as a big-shot working with Manley Halliday. And that damn champagne. Oh, that goddam champagne.”
“Shoulda told you,” Manley Halliday mumbled. “Think I started to tell ya. But I felt so lousy, so tired, I thought—Lord, my foot. Like in a cast. Oh. Oh. God …”
There would be a train through in about an hour. There was only one other person in the waiting room, an elderly salesman sleeping beside his sample cases. The only sound was the occasional clicking of the telegraph key. The seats were hard; after half an hour even harder. Manley Halliday sat hunched over, half asleep, finding consciousness more bearable than the broken mosaic of his dreams.
Shep rose, sat, rose and paced the floor with an inexhaustible restlessness. He watched Manley Halliday anxiously and finally went over and said, “Manley, you okay? You asleep?”
“Still play our songs …” The weak smile was a show of strength for a man who could no longer remember where or when he was.
They heard the engine pound in.
“Manley, Manley, our train’s here!”
“Hafta—get—back—on—die—train—” Manley Halliday murmured “—’fore Victor finds out.”
The porter helped Shep pull him up the steps. The whistle screamed; the train moved on through the cold New England night.
Manley Halliday lay silent a long time on the lower berth, his eyes half closed. But each time Shep was sure he had given in to sleep, restless thoughts would break through.
“Really owe ’im that two thousand. Victor. Pay ’im back some time …” Whatever he went on muttering, Shep couldn’t be sure.
Shep said, “Shhhh. Try to sleep. Don’t think about it.”
He didn’t know what else to say. He was worried, worried and fidgety-nerved. It was good-bye job. Maybe good-bye, career. Back to his old man’s car-rental business? Some collaborator! Some foul-up artist!
Silence. Heavy breathing. What a damn racket the tracks made! Lousy B & M. Listen to him groan. Why the hell hadn’t he called a doctor to the Inn when Manley came up with that going-to-Jere routine? He wasn’t drunk; he was sick. With those shots all bollixed up. Hadn’t there been another shot before that crazy meal at the Coffee Shop? Oh, brother, what a rat-race. Maybe the sugar. Guess he’d better do the sugar.
He reached into Manley’s coat pocket. There were a few lumps left. He pushed them into Manley’s mouth. Manley began sucking on them automatically. The sweat was uncomfortable on Shep’s forehead. Jesus, everybody was so helpless. Too easy to push buttons, call doctors, have it done for you. Maybe he was killing Manley. Maybe with his silly pride and the champagneand the urging him on he had been murdering him by inches all week-end.
Manley Halliday looked up at him and talked quite distinctly. Maybe it was the sugar. Maybe it was—Shep still had a romantic notion about dying words.
“Don’ look at me that way, baby.”
“As if I’m all through. You think I’m all through.”
“No … no …”
The shadow of a smile drifted across the ashen face and was gone. “I c’n read your face. Oh, I know faces, baby. Well, lissen kiddo. My work’s ahead of me … I’m growing up. I know where I’m going, kiddo.”
“Sure. Sure, Manley. Now try and get some shut-eye.”
Manley Halliday stirred in anger.
“Damn it don’ say sure to me like that. Don’ patronize me, you young young …” It was epithet enough and with effort he went on:
“Don’ believe me do ya, kiddo?” Anger was a kind of insulin, reviving him. “You kids with your cubbyholes. The ruined writer of the Twenties. Oh, don’t think I can’t see it.”
Shep was too startled to say anything.
“Okay, you think I’m raving, poor old Manley Halliday. Well, just read—read the first three chapters—then tell me if I’m ruined.”
He struggled to sit up. “There—there—my inside pocket.”
“Thought I’d have li’l time to go over it with all this traveling. Still needs work. Still rough. Wasn’t going to show it to anyone …”
Shep reached in for the crumpled manuscript. Manley Halliday touched it lovingly. “Read this ’n see if I’m ruined. This is Halliday, kiddo.” He used the name like a talisman.
He held the manuscript to him slyly. “Let you read it if you buy me a drink.”
“A drink. I haven’t got a …”
“Don’ kid a kidder, baby. You sneaked that bottle of brandy out of my overcoat pocket into yours. Saw you back in the room.”
Well, the harm was done, the bridge was burned and could it be any worse? Shep handed him the bottle that still contained a couple of fingers of brandy.
“I’m cold. I’m still cold all over. My feet feel … Guess I caught a chill.”
He drank and went hhhhhhh, enjoying it. He sank back into the pillow. “Available,” he muttered. “Tell ’em—I’m available …” His mouth remained open in sleep.
In the upper berth, Shep smoothed out the manuscript. Folded between the fourth and fifth pages was the check Manley thought he had lost on the way up. Shep tucked it into his wallet and began to read the first eighty-three pages of Folly and Farewell, subtitled A Tragedy of Errors, though Manley Halliday must have thought better of this, for it had been lightly penciled out. On a page by itself was a list of Books by Manley Halliday, which struck Shep as strangely unprofessional and vain, for, after all, such flourishes are actually added by the editor just before sending the typescript to the printer. There was also a dedication: To A. L. My Seeing-Eye Dog; but again all but the initials had been scratched out.
Shep read the first page with skepticism. It wasn’t easy to shed his preconceptions. There was grace and a mature sweep to the opening, though. It was obviously the story of Jere, disguised as Jenny, and Manley, called Lee. Before he had finished the first chapter, Shep was admiring the style, the craftsmanship, surprised to find so much of the old Halliday. Jenny and Lee had begun to live a life of their own behind the words. This was not only a love story of exquisite delicacy, Shep was discovering (wondering for the first time in his life why the love story had gone out of fashion for serious novels), but an incisive picture of an era.
He hurried on through the second chapter into the third, amazed by the sharpness of the imagery, the fresh impact of the words. But the best Halliday had always had that. This had something more, Shep was beginning to see. A maturity, a wisdom about people and the fabric of their lives. A capacity not merely for feeling pain but for interpreting pain. Even the best of the old Halliday had been marred at times by a certain callowness, a naivete that seemed to confuse misbehavior with sophistication, a blurring of perspective. But this was the work of a sure hand, with the insight of the rare author who can appraise what he loves and love what he condemns.
By the time he had finished the last page, Shep was stunned. There was no cubbyhole in Shep’s convictions for this sign of growth over Halliday’s previous work. Methodically he went back to the beginning and read carefully, taking sentences apart, tapping passages of description and characterization to make sure they weren’t hollow, talking the dialogue out loud to hear if it was true. But once more the whole of it gripped him, these crazy beautiful mythical collapsible people of the moon carrying him on to the end of—only chapter three.
He looked down at the author motionless in sick-sleep. He had to finish this, not just another good novel, the promise of a milestone job. Then it hit him hard: how was it possible for Manley Halliday to write this well in 1939?
After all, Shep knew why Manley Halliday hadn’t published in nearly a decade: because he was defeatist, an escapist, cut off from “vital issues,” from “The People,” a disillusioned amanuensis of a dying order——oh, Shep hadn’t read his New Masses for nothing! Yet here were these eighty-three pages. My God, this was alive, while the writers who were not defeatist, not escapist, not bourgeois apologists and not “cut off from the main stream of humanity” were wooden and lifeless. Was it possible— and here heresy really struck deep—for an irresponsible individualist, hopelessly confused, to write a moving, maybe even profound, revelation of social breakdown? If poor old Halliday, aware of himself and of his own friends in their own neurotic little world, could do what he promised to do in this new work, wouldn’t Shep have to re-examine his own standards? Maybe ideology wasn’t the literary shibboleth he had believed in so dogmatically.
Terribly awake, he lay there retracing the reasoning that was leading him into these strange, uncharted waters.
What had Manley Halliday said, the process of growing up is that of continual disenchantment, of continually shedding the old enchantment for the new?
Lying awake through the night, with nerves that would not sleep, Shep was hardly ready to go this far. But that now he should be so impatient for Manley Halliday to finish a work that a few hours before he had known Manley Halliday could never write—this was a severe lesson in humility.
Shep’s long, wide-awake, nerve-twitching, mind-restless night was one of exhausted, open-mouthed sleep for Manley Halliday. He lay heavy with his legs apart, occasionally wetting his lips, a faint frown on his face, as if with some deep pain of subconsciousness that unconsciousness ignored. A number of times he spoke out indistinctly in the dark. Once Shep turned on the light to see if Manley had been awakened by his own cries. No, he was in deep sleep, far, far away on some snowy height of his own, for Shep heard him call out, “Jere—Jere—out of the way— I’m coming down …”