The Couple
by F. Scott Fitzgerald


The culmination of the tragedy took place on the great wide comfortable sofa which was almost the oldest possession of their married life.

“All right,” said young Pawling, very serious and sad, “let it go at that. We can’t agree and so we’d better separate. We’ve tried it for a year and we’ve just played the devil with each other’s lives.”

Carrol nodded.

“You mean you’ve played the devil with my life,” she amended.

“No, I don’t. But let it go at that. Let it go anyway. I’m not going to argue any more. You don’t love me and the only thing I don’t understand is why you didn’t find it out before we were married. Now—” Pawling hesitated. “When shall we actually—actually—”

The night air of early May was cool in the room and Carrol crossed over gracefully and stood before the open fire.

“I’d like to stay here until Mother gets back from Europe,” she said. “That’ll be two weeks and I can be packing up. Of course I can go tomorrow if you like but I’ve no place special to go.”

“Don’t think of going,” said Pawling hastily. “Stay right here. I’ll get out myself, first thing in the morning.”

“No. If that’s the way you feel I’ll do the getting out. I just thought if it didn’t annoy you to have me here—”

“Annoy me! Not a bit. Why—” He bit his lip. The whole reason for the separation was just that. Everything he did annoyed her terribly. He had given up the struggle to try to please her, several weeks ago.

“Of course you can stay here,” he continued formally. “I’ll move my junk out of the big room tonight.”

“It’s just for two weeks, you see.”

“Why, I’ll be de—” Again he broke off. He had been about to say delighted but he realized that it was not the right phrase. Nevertheless it would have been somewhere near the truth—his mind clutched at the thought of her staying here, if only for a fortnight. The separation was necessary, of course—but this brief interval when it was settled and yet not consummated would make the parting less harsh and violent at the end.

“Another thing,” said his wife. “Two things. First, I’ve invited some people for dinner tomorrow night—”

“All right.”

“—and second about the servants. Esther and Hilda are leaving in the morning and we’ll have to have somebody until—until Mother comes home. So I got a couple in town today.”

“Two. Naturally.”

“No, I mean a couple. It’s different. It’s a man and his wife. She cooks and he acts as butler and helps her with the housework. This couple look very good—he’s English and she’s Irish. I wouldn’t have taken them at all if I’d been sure we were separating—but since they’re coming—”

Her voice faded off and her eyes focussed on a spot in the center of the carpet.

“Of course,” muttered Pawling, looking at the same spot. He scarcely realized that she had stopped speaking and that there was silence in the room. He was thinking that in a few minutes he must go upstairs and, not in anger but only with what dignity was left to him, take his things out of the big front room—his brush and comb, the little box with his studs and cuff- buttons, the miscellaneous papers in his desk. Then his marriage would be over. Something would happen during the night when they each lay in their separate rooms, which would destroy forever the slim, mysterious hold they had had on each other, the intangible and half-vanished marriage of their hearts that had kept them from splitting up long before. In the morning they would each open their eyes upon a different world, conscious of having been apart and able to be apart forever.

Pawling got to his feet.

“I think I’ll go up now,” he said coolly.

“All right. I’ll lock the door.”

Half an hour later he turned out the light in the guest room and slipped into bed. Outside, the May night, cool and clear, brought back the memory of another Spring, a memory scratched and smeared in the recent months but in itself still a lovely and idyllic thing. He wondered if love ever came again with that intensity, with that gay magic of first love or if that was squandered now [and irrevocable] forever.

By and by he heard Carrol moving about below. The lights snapped and her footsteps fell on the stair. She walked very slowly as if she were tired and when she reached the top she rested for a minute just at the threshold of his room. Then she went into the big front chamber and closed the door after her and a heavy silence seemed to come in the window with the night air and settle through the house.

II

In the morning Pawling drove down to the station for the new servants, picking them out immediately from the crowd which disembarked from the ten o’clock train.

“Reynolds?”

The man, a middle-aged Briton with a long neck and a bland Cockney face, nodded profusely.

“Yes, sir—Reynolds.”

He turned to a large lady of Irish extraction who stood immediately behind him.

“This is my wife, sir. Her name is Katy.”

It seemed that there was a trunk. Reynolds went to inquire about it while Pawling and the large lady engaged in conversation upon the station platform—that is, Pawling remarked that it was a short trip out, and Katy nodded her head up and down in genial vibration.

“Been in this country long?” asked Pawling as they drove away from the station.

Reynolds nodded.

“Not very long,” Katy disagreed. “Maybe two months.”

“Work in New York?”

“No, we worked in Philadelphia—oh, for some very fine gentlemen there. Maybe you know them—Mr. Marbleton and Mr. Shafter?”

No, Pawling did not know them. He nodded understandingly, though, as if he knew how nice they must be.

Arrived at the house Pawling showed them the kitchen and hinted delicately that their rooms were just above. Then he left them to their own devices and strolled out on the front porch.

It was his vacation, this three weeks, the first in a year. It was convenient, of course, that his vacation should come now when the catastrophe of a divorce had overtaken him, yet he wished, in a way, that he had work to do. The melancholy of the affair would be accentuated by his inactivity—he could only sit through the soft May weather watching the days drift by that marked the ending of the unrepeatable adventure. He was glad of course that the last word had been said. Carrol’s arrogance, her coldness, her growing dislike for him, had been beyond endurance. He was short- tempered himself and many times in the last month their disputes had hovered on the verge of physical violence.

“Lou.”

He looked up to see her outside the porch screen in the bright sunshine.

“Hello,” he said, rising to let her in, “your couple came all right. They’re in the kitchen.”

“Thanks,” she said coolly, stepping up on the porch, her arms full of flowers. “I’ll go right back and see them.”

She was wearing, he noticed, a stiff starched dress of palest blue that she had not worn since the summer before. He looked at her closely to find signs of sleeplessness around her eyes, as he knew there were around his own, but she was as fresh and pink as the flowers in her arms.

“I’ve cut them for dinner,” she said. “Aren’t they lovely?

“Very.”

Without looking at him she went into the house.

[They had luncheon at one and as he sat down he told himself that this must be his last luncheon with her. He must find some way of passing the days in town. He had no taste for a series of meals eaten in silence with downcast eyes.]

Luncheon was scrappy and unappetizing. It would be, of course—the new couple had not had time to get used to the kitchen. But he wondered whether Reynolds’s footsteps around the table were not unnaturally loud.

“They’re new,” said Carrol. “Everything’s mixed up back there. It’ll be different tonight.”

The dessert arrived, sliced peaches—in a sauce dish.

“This is all right for now, Reynolds,” said Carrol, “but for tonight of course I want the dessert served from a bowl.”

“What, Madam?”

“I say I want the dessert served from a bowl—you know, the blancmange I told you about.”

Reynolds nodded comprehendingly. He hesitated.

“Oh, and do you want me to cut the grass this afternoon?

Carrol looked up in surprise.

“Why, yes—if you will. That is, perhaps you’d better wait till tomorrow.”

“What?”

“I say perhaps you’d better wait till tomorrow,” said Carrol in a slightly louder voice. “You’ll be pretty busy this afternoon, you know.”

Reynolds nodded and clumped into the pantry.

“He must be used to cutting the grass,” said Carrol. “That must be one of the duties couples have.” And she added in a low voice, “He seems to be a little deaf. I guess that’s why he’s so noisy when he walks.”

Their guests that night were three, the Harold Gays from Portchester, whom they knew only slightly, and Roderick Barker, an old beau of Carrol’s from New York.

Pawling found himself wondering if Barker, now when Carrol was free, would renew the courtship that his own had interrupted. He hoped not—not Barker at any rate; the idea of Carrol going places with Barker, of flirting with Barker, kissing Barker, appalled him—with an effort he drove the consideration from his mind.

“How’s Twine?” asked Barker.

Twine was a minute poodle with scanty wool and the eyes of one far gone in drink who was alternately dear and repugnant to Carrol’s heart.

“Twine’s great,” she answered, “He almost bit the new butler today. Oh, I forgot to tell you we have a butler now—aren’t we grand.”

“Well, this is absolutely the last word,” exclaimed Barker enthusiastically.

“He’s only part of a couple,” confessed Carrol, “but he’s straight from England, and you’ll have to admit that’s something.”

In a minute the gentleman referred to appeared in the doorway and announced in a loud singsong voice:

“Dinner is ready!”

All eyes turned toward him. The tone of the interruption was somewhat startling and everyone rose precipitately as if they had been summarily ordered from one room into the other. Carrol made a mental note to speak to him about his voice tomorrow.

“I’m going to send him out and have it lowered,” she remarked with an insincere facetiousness as they strolled in.

“Charming,” murmured Barker, smiling.

A dozen times during dinner remarks were made, careless, casual things that made Pawling aware that everything was changed. Someone’s divorce was discussed in detail, what “she” had said and how cruel “he” had been, a recital which included the details as to who the parties to the divorce “were going with now.”

“They say you two set an extraordinary example in Rye,” said Mrs. Gay genially, “You’re the only known couple who never quarrel in public under any conditions.”

“That’s the most dangerous kind,” remarked Barker, “It means they quarrel at home. It’s a vice like secret drinking. If married people don’t quarrel in public it’s because they can’t get the full flavor of brutality out of it unless they’re alone.

Pawling and Carrol were both red as fire—the other three seemed to guess that something inept had been said and the subject shifted uneasily to golf.

The roast had been served according to Carrol’s instructions, already carved in the kitchen, and as dinner progressed, she rang the bell for the second serving. Dreading Reynolds’ resounding “What?” she caught his eye and nodded at her own plate. He nodded back and before she realized what he was doing he snatched it up and disappeared into the pantry. There was a faint, almost imperceptible lull in the conversation—one of those moments that might mean anything or nothing. Carrol saw Mrs. Gay’s eyes fall curiously upon her empty place.

Then the pantry door burst open and Reynolds stamped eagerly in. He was bringing back her plate. He had heaped it with roast and vegetables and he set it down with a sort of flourish before her as if to say:

“There. Look what I did for you.”

There was no hoping that this would pass unnoticed. Carrol was pink with embarrassment and her ears were privy to a short, repressed snicker to which each of the three men contributed a part.

“Serve everything again, Reynolds,” she said impatiently.

“What?” He craned his long neck; his mouth was ajar in polite inquiry.

“Serve everything again.”

Her one thought now was to get through dinner with as little emphasis as possible upon the service.

“Please find us a house in Portchester,” she said quickly to Mrs. Gay. “We’re going to live there next summer.”

She met her husband’s eyes over the table and the inexpediency of her remark appalled her but she rambled nervously on—“At least perhaps we are and perhaps we’ll go to Europe and perhaps we’ll be dead.”

Luckily or unluckily Reynolds was excited now at his former blunder and determined at this point to make up for it by seeing that everyone had enough to eat.

“What?” he remarked to Mrs. Gay. “No asparagus?”

The irrepressible and, to Carrol, faintly ghastly laughter which ensued fell inaudibly upon his ears.

The man was apparently deaf as a post. Clump! Clump! Clump! went his footsteps, around the table and in and out of the pantry, interrupting the conversation, giving the impression, somehow, that pans were clanking and hammering was going on and china was continually crashing on the floor.

After luncheon Carrol had explained to him in detail about the dessert.

He must take a dessert plate, she said, and on it place a doily and a finger bowl. The person served would himself remove the doily and the finger bowl.

All this had become very confused in Reynolds’ mind. He knew how the plate and doily and finger bowl should look upon the table and he had a confused impression that something was going to be removed. How or why he did not know. But he was a resourceful man.

Just when the conversation had regained a certain animation he entered with the blancmange, advanced upon Carrol and after a moment’s hesitation reached down and snatched away her finger-bowl. Then before she realized his intention he had spooned a large “order” of blancmange onto the linen doily. Without tarrying he stamped around to Barker and repeated the performance. Mrs. Gay with great presence of mind managed to remove the doily from her plate—the others gazed down in awe upon the vision of a wet linen dessert.

“If anyone wants anymore,” said Reynolds to his mistress in a confidential shout, “there’s a lot of this in the kitchen.”

III

The time was so short, twelve days now, that they decided next morning not to let the couple go. Once the dinner guests had departed it seemed to Pawling a vastly unimportant matter in comparison with the imminence of their separation. Not that he had ceased to desire the separation—far from it—he was more reconciled to it than he had been when it was agreed upon, but set in the cool tranquility which succeeded the passionate quarrels of the last three months it seemed a grave and consequent matter.

Pawling went up to town early and spent the day at the Yale Club, feeling out of place among the younger men there, feeling older even than his classmates and already a little smirched in the light of his coming divorce.

He looked forward in a way to his freedom. He could read and travel more, he would be away from the pressure of Carrol’s high-strung, nervous temperament—but he could never be a bachelor again in quite the same way. It would be almost indecent of him to consider himself absolutely free.

When evening came he saw no reason why he should go back to the country. He could sleep at the Club and spend another day in town. But as the time drew near for the last afternoon train he knew he would go. The notion of Carrol alone in the house with two strange servants made him uneasy.

His presentiment was justified. As he let himself in he saw her sitting on the sofa with Twine in her lap, staring straight in front of her with angry eyes.

“You’ll have to let these people go,” she said immediately. “They’re awful. We couldn’t possibly stand them for two weeks.”

“Why? What have they done now?”

“Well, in the first place they gave me an awful lunch and when I went in the kitchen and started to complain, that woman gave me an awful look as if she was going to bang me over the head with the saucepan. I was sort of afraid to say anything. The man’s even worse.”

“I’ll speak to them.”

“Something else too—they whipped Twine.”

“Whipped Twine?” he asked incredulously. “What for?”

“Nothing. They said he bit the man—‘Mr. Reynolds,’ his wife calls him—but if he did they must have started it because Twine never bites anybody. Anyways I caught them beating him.”

“What did you do?”

“I was afraid to do anything. That woman kept muttering around so and Reynolds was stamping up and down in the kitchen as if he’d been attacked by a grizzly bear. I picked up Twine and walked right in here and I’ve been in here ever since.”

“Hm!” ejaculated Pawling. “I’ll fire them right after dinner.”

Dinner was uneatable. Carrol sat with her elbows on the table and her face in her hands and shook her head curdy whenever a dish was offered her. When dinner was over Pawling pushed open the pantry door.

“Reynolds!” he called.

“Yes, sir.”

As if he had been waiting for the call Reynolds burst out of the kitchen with aggressive alacrity.

“Reynolds, I’m afraid we don’t suit each other and we’d better not try it any longer.”

Reynolds looked at him blankly. Obviously he had not heard a word.

“I said,” repeated Pawling, “that perhaps we don’t suit each other and we better not try this any longer.”

Reynolds nodded.

“Oh, you suit us all right,” he announced, craning his long neck and looking down fatuously at Pawling.

“But you don’t suit us,” went on Pawling impatiently, “And I think we’d better—”

“What’s the matter with me?” Reynolds demanded. “Has the madam been complaining of me?”

“We’ll leave the madam out of this.”

“Why don’t we suit you?”

“Because we want an experienced butler. We’re paying you a big salary and we want someone who’s trained.”

“They can’t even make the beds,” said Carrol. She had come into the dining room and was standing at his elbow. “I looked at mine this afternoon and it was just pulled back, nothing but wrinkles—I had to make it all over again.”

Reynolds had been glaring at them with an outraged expression in his pale eyes.

“I've never failed to give satisfaction before,” he burst out. “When we were with those two gentlemen in Philadelphia they—they couldn’t do enough for us.”

His tone implied that the two gentlemen in Philadelphia had bathed them in tender emotion.

“I'm John Bull himself, I am,” he went on, defiantly, “and if I’ve done wrong I want to know. Why doesn’t your lady there tell me when I do wrong instead of raising all this trouble?”

“Because this isn’t a training school,” shouted Pawling. “You’re supposed to be an efficient butler when you come here. You told my wife you were.”

Reynolds took refuge behind his previous statement.

“I’ve never had any complaints before.”

“The food’s no good,” shouted Carrol.

“What?” He looked at her incredulously. “Why, my wife and I ran a restaurant in England for ten years.”

“Look here, I don’t want to argue about this,” cried Pawling. “Your way of serving and cooking may be all right but it isn’t our way and that’s all there is to it. So good night.”

They came back to the living room.

“Why didn’t you tell them to get out tomorrow?” demanded Carrol.

“I didn’t have the heart. This is evidently their second job in America and it’ll take a couple of hours to get it through his noodle that he’s fired.”

Carrol took a moving picture magazine from the table and went upstairs.

A few minutes later, clumping violently, Reynolds came into the living room.

“Well,” asked Pawling, “what can I do for you?”

“I’d like to ask you for a recommendation.”

At this surprising demand Pawling sat up on the sofa.

“A recommendation! Why, you’ve only been here three days.”

“Yes,” Reynolds agreed, “but we came all the way from Philadelphia.”

“What’s that got to do with it?”

Oblivious to this question Reynolds continued.

“You see we’ve only got one recommendation and it’s awfully hard to get a position unless you’ve got two.”

“Well,” said Pawling hesitantly, “I suppose I can write you out something.” He went to the desk in the corner.

“What did you do before you were a butler?” he shouted.

“Oh, we kept a restaurant and then I was a postman in Devonshire.” Pawling began writing.

“Listen,” he said in a moment. “I’ll read it to you.”

TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:
THIS IS TO CERTIFY THAT JAMES REYNOLDS AND HIS WIFE HAVE BEEN IN MY EMPLOY AND HAVE SHOWN THEMSELVES TO BE WILLING AND HONEST. HE HAS BEEN A LETTER CARRIER AND HAS ALSO EXPERIENCE AS A RESTAURANT MAN AND A BUTLER.

“How does that suit you? I’m afraid I can’t say anything more.”

Reynolds read over the letter, folded it slowly.

“And so you want to give me my months’ notice,” he remarked.

“Months’ notice!” cried Pawling. “I want you to get out Saturday.”

Reynolds’ head shot forward like a duck’s.

“Saturday?”

“Of course. We don’t give any month’s notice here.”

Reynolds considered with deep melancholy.

“Very good,” he said reluctantly. “You pay me my month’s wages and we’ll get out.”

“Look here, man, I’m not going to pay you a month’s wages! I’ll give you two weeks’ wages; why, you’ve only been here three days!”

“I can’t agree to that.”

Pawling reached up and plucked the letter of recommendation from Reynolds’ hand.

“I’m not going to give you this,” he said, “if you argue any more.”

He felt a sort of pity toward the man and his incompetent helplessness but when, in the morning, the argument was resumed he lost patience. It seemed that Katy was very much hurt and disappointed indeed.

Pawling had his coat on and was starting for New York.

“See here,” he said, “you can’t argue me into changing my mind. If you’ve got anything to say you’d better take it up with Mrs. Pawling.”

Paying no attention to Reynolds’ importunate “Wait a minute,” Pawling put his hat on and hurried out the door.

He was glad when the week was over. After breakfast on Saturday he opened the pantry door and called Reynolds into the dining room.

“I want to pay you your money whenever you’re ready.”

“What?”

“Your money.”

Reynolds waved his hand airily.

“Oh, you can wait till the day we go.”

“The day you go!” exclaimed Pawling. “This is the day you go. This is Saturday.”

“We’re going Wednesday,” announced Reynolds placidly. “Mrs. Pawling said we could stay till Wednesday.”

The pantry door had opened half a foot and from the aperture two angry black eyes were regarding Pawling over Reynolds’ shoulder.

“That’s what she said,” spoke up Katy menacingly. “I talked to her myself.”

When Carrol came downstairs Pawling approached her cynically. “Did you tell them they could stay till Wednesday?”

She hesitated.

“Yes, I did.”

“Why?”

“That woman—that Katy—” she said unevenly. “She came upstairs the other day after you went to town, and made me.”

Made you? How could she—”

“Well, she did. She came upstairs muttering and saying that I’d got her here with the promise of a job and then gone to you behind their back. She was all excited and talking loud and Reynolds was stamping up and down the hall like the British army so I got afraid and told them they could stay till Wednesday. Besides I was sorry for them—she said they had no place to go”

“Hm.”

“It’s only for a few days,” she added. “I got a Marconi from Mother yesterday. She gets here Thursday on the Mauretania.”

That afternoon, fatigued with the sleeplessness of three nights, Pawling lay down on the porch settee and dropped off into a hot doze. The hours slipped away, scarred with fretful dreams. At five he awoke suddenly to find Carrol standing over him sobbing out something in a terrified voice.

“What's the matter,” he muttered, starting up.

“It's Twine,” she cried. “They’ve killed him. I knew they would. He’s been missing since this morning and I just saw a revolver on the kitchen table.”

IV

Pawling jumped to his feet.

“What? Are you sure?”

“Positive. I heard the shot half an hour ago and a sort of yelp. Oh, to kill a poor helpless little dog—”

“Wait right here,” said Pawling. “I’ll find out about this.”

“He’ll shoot you,” cried Carrol. “If I were you I wouldn’t go in there without your pistol. They’re raving crazy maniacs, that’s what I think.”

He found Katy alone in the kitchen, involved in a mass of dough which covered her large, muscular arms to the elbow.

“Where’s Reynolds?” he asked abruptly.

“Mr. Reynolds is out.”

“Where is he?”

She shrugged her shoulders heavily.

“Hasn’t he got a right to go out and walk once in a while?”

This was a checkmate. Pawling’s eyes roved quickly around the kitchen.

“Have you seen the dog?” he demanded in a more casual voice.

“The dog,” Katy’s eyes followed his around the room. “Yes, I’ve seen the dog. He’s in and out here all the time. But I don’t see him now. I don’t like dogs,” she added ominously.

“My wife wants to know where the dog is.”

Katy pounded the dough up and down angrily.

“I didn’t go into service in order to watch over a dog,” she answered. “It’s bad enough to have the smelly beast in the kitchen.”

“It isn’t smelly.”

“It’s smelly,” said Katy definitely.

Again the conversation seemed to have reached an impasse. He tried a new tack.

“My wife tells me she saw a revolver in the kitchen.”

Katy nodded unconcernedly.

“It belongs to Mr. Reynolds. He was cleaning it. He shot a burglar over in Philadelphia.”

At this point the kitchen door opened and Reynolds came in. From his hand dangled a leather thong which Pawling instantly recognized as Twine’s lead rope.

“Where have you been?” he demanded.

“Did what?” asked Reynolds.

I say, where have you been?”

“I've been walking,” said Reynolds calmly, tossing the lead onto the kitchen table.

“What are you doing with that?” Pawling pointed to the table.

“That? Oh, that’s for the dog. I was going to take the thing for a walk.”

“Did you?”

“I wasn’t able to find it.”

“Hm.” Pawling wondered what this meant. If he had killed Twine in the yard he would scarcely have used the lead.

“What were you doing with a revolver?”

Reynolds’ neck elongated with indignation.

“I’ll carry a revolver any time I want to, and what do you think of that?”

“I think you’re an idiot!” answered Pawling hotly.

Reynolds stepped forward suddenly and laid his hand on Pawling’s shoulder.

“Look here, Pawling—” he began but got no further. Pawling stepped back angrily and the hand dropped.

“Watch out!” cried Pawling. “You’re a servant here.”

“I’m a servant,” answered Reynolds haughtily, “but I’m John—”

“I don’t care,” interrupted Pawling. “At present you’re taking my money as a servant and you keep your hands to yourself. You’re going out of this house in the morning.”

“I may be a servant,” bleated Reynolds, “but Pm John Bull himself.”

Pawling was torn between anger at the man’s stupidity and amusement at his identification of himself with the British Empire.

“I've worked better places than this,” went on Reynolds. “Why, those two gentlemen in Philadelphia, Mr. Marbleton and Mr. Shafter—”

“They couldn’t do enough for us,” shouted his wife.

Pawling rushed wildly from the kitchen. Outdoors he spent an hour combing the neighborhood for a newly made grave, peering into tall grass and even exploring into back yards. He was barked at by numerous police dogs but he was unable to find any trace of Twine. If the poodle had been done away with the murder had evidently been committed near home.

He searched his own yard next and every cranny of the garage, finally descending into the cellar and looking behind boxes and under the coal and into the cold furnace. It was no use. Twine had effectually disappeared.

They had dinner at the golf club, very coldly and formally and when they got home Carrol went upstairs to begin her packing. He knew miserably that in her heart she blamed him for the loss of her dog too—as though it were some last revenge he was taking on her for leaving him.

In his dreams that night he saw Reynolds set down Twine—Twine cooked a la maitre de Hotel—before Carrol’s mother on the Mauretania.

“I’m John Bull himself,” said Reynolds as he covered the steaming dog with thick gravy.

“Good,” answered Carrol’s mother. “I’m going back to take my daughter away.”

“Fine,” said Reynolds, “I’ll introduce your daughter to those two gentlemen in Philadelphia.”

Pawling awoke, his body jerking nervously upright. The knob of his door had turned slightly, the door pushed slowly open.

“Who’s there?” he said sharply.

“Lou.” It was Carrol’s voice in a frightened whisper. “There’s someone downstairs.”

Pawling got out of bed and slipping quickly into his dressing gown joined her in the hall.

“I think it’s Reynolds,” she whispered. “Whoever it is he’s trying to walk softly.”

“Hello,” he muttered, looking down the stairs, “he’s got the light on.”

“Hadn’t you better shout down at him?

He shook his head.

Pistol in hand he descended the steps softly, traversed the short hall and put his head around the corner of the living room.

Reynolds, luxuriously attired in a flowered dressing gown, was kneeling before the desk, his fingers moving cautiously along the carving on the side as if trying to locate a secret spring. The desk drawers were open and the floor was littered with the paper they had contained.

He was not alone. Katy, also in a negligee was moving about the room, looking into jars and cigar boxes, behind books and along the mantelpieces with eager penetrating eyes. From time to time they exchanged a look and both shook their heads in unison, as if so far their search had yielded nothing of value.

Pawling stepped briskly into the room.

“Hands up!” he commanded, levelling the revolver at Reynolds.

The man was so startled that letting go his hold upon the desk he fell to a sitting position on the floor whence he regarded the pistol with mute alarm. With a little cry Katy raised her hands toward the ceiling.

“What’s the idea?” asked Pawling.

Reynolds looked dumbly at his wife.

“We’re poor people,” she cried in a scared voice.

“You’re dishonest people,” snapped Pawling. “What’s more, you’re going to jail.”

“Oh, no,” Katy burst into tears, “Don’t say that. We have such a hard time, sir, such a hard time. Mr. Reynolds’ deafness is so bad that there isn’t much we can do to get a living. We never done any harm.”

“Just having some innocent fun, hah?”

“We had to do it!” cried Katie, “We’re in America and we’ve got to live, so we made up our minds it was the only thing to do. I persuaded him into it, honestly I did, sir. This is the only thing of this kind we’ve ever done before.”

Reynolds’ mouth moved convulsively.

“You had it and we wanted it, that’s all,” he said.

“There’s no harm done,” repeated Katy tearfully. “It wasn’t any good to you. We didn’t think you’d mind.”

“Not mind!” exclaimed Pawling. “Not mind your trying to burglarize my house!”

“Oh, good heavens,” sobbed Katy, “if you’d only given it to us this wouldn’t have happened.”

“Why should I give you my money?”

“Money?” Reynolds and Katie exchanged a look.

“We don’t want your money,” said Reynolds with dignity, “except what you owe us.”

“Then what the devil are you looking for?”

“I'm looking for my letter of recommendation.”

“Your letter—”

“The one you almost gave me. I consider it by rights my property.”

Pawling lowered his gun slowly.

“Do you mean to say that’s what you came here for at this time of night?”

“Yes, sir,” admitted Katy.

Reynolds got up stiffly from the floor.

“I'm John Bull himself,” he said irrelevantly.

“Well, you go and be John Bull in your own bedroom. I ought to have you both arrested.”

“It’s just trouble ever since we came here,” wept Katy. “I’m sure Mr. Reynolds and I aren’t responsible. It’s Mrs. Pawling that makes all the trouble. She just lies around all day and keeps a-crying and carrying on as if something was breaking her heart—”

“What?”

Pawling was so astonished that the gun missed his pocket and tumbled to the floor.

“And how does she think I can get the wrinkles out of the sheets,” went on Katy, “when she tosses around all night long until it’s a wonder she doesn’t wear them out entirely?”

“My God!” cried Pawling. “Are you telling me the truth?”

“The truth? Why should I lie—”

“Make yourself at home,” he broke out wildly. “Cigars on the table! Stay here all night!” Turning he rushed ecstatically from the living room and up the stairs two at a time.

“Carrol,” he called, “Oh, Carrol!”

She was waiting on the top landing and she came down two steps to meet him. They melted together in the great square of silver which came in the open window, fresh from the full moon.

V

At ten o’clock next morning Mr. Reynolds, swathed in a brilliant blue ulster and drawing on suede gloves, appeared in the living room with Mrs. Reynolds by his side. When they came in they both bent a somewhat supercilious glance upon the plain morning clothes which the Pawlings had seen fit to put on.

“We are now leaving,” announced Reynolds. We have a taxi for the ten- thirty train. It’s a very wet day.”

Pawling went to his desk and after some rummaging around among last night’s disarranged papers discovered his check book.

“And as man to man,” added Reynolds, sniffing a little, “I want to ask you if you will kindly give us our recommendation.”

When Pawling had written the check he reached in his coat pocket and pulling out a paper examined it with a frown.

“I forgot to sign it,” he said suddenly.

He bent over it with the pen; then folding it around the check he handed it to Reynolds.

Nodding and smiling pleasantly Katy opened the door.

“Goodbye,” said Pawling. “I wish you luck.”

“Goodbye,” called Carrol cheerfully.

“Goodbye, sir. Goodbye, Madam.” Reynolds paused with his hand on the open door. “I just want to say this one thing. My only hope for you both that if you find yourself in a strange country you’ll never be turned out into the cold on a day like this.”

His effect was somewhat spoiled by the fact that the sun chose this very moment to appear. Nevertheless Reynolds turned up his coat collar dramatically, and pushing his wife before him walked out into what he evidently imagined to be a raging storm.

“Why, they’re gone,” said Pawling, shutting the door and turning around. “They’re gone—and we’re alone in the house.”

She held out her arms and he went over and knelt down beside her.

***

“One thing,” she said after a long while, “What did you do to that letter of recommendation? I saw you write something on it besides your name.”

“I just changed one word.” He began to laugh, a little at first and then hilariously until it became infectious and she laughed too. “I gave them a check for two hundred dollars,” he said, “but I’m afraid they’ll never be able to use that letter of recommendation. ”

“What did you change?” she demanded. “Tell me quick!”

“Why, there was a line in it that says he was a letter-carrier. I changed the word ‘letter’ to the word ‘typhoid’.”

“A typhoid carrier?” she repeated, puzzled.

Then she understood and suddenly they both began to laugh again, happily and irrepressibly—laughter that floated upstairs and into the bedrooms and baths and curled around through the dining room into the pantry and back again to where they sat. The whole house was full of sunshine now, and as the fresh breeze blew the garden odors in at the window life seemed to begin all over again as life has a way of doing.

***

At twelve o’clock noon, a small baldish poodle dog, with the eyes of one far gone in drink, might have been seen rounding a corner and approaching the Pawling house. Reaching the kitchen door he apparently realized where he was for he visibly started and made a hasty retreat. Traversing a wide, suspicious circle he approached the front door, where he announced his presence with a discreet cough.

[“Hey,” he barked, “I’m home.”]

It was some time before he was able to obtain any attention. He had been noticing the drift of things and he feared for a moment that the place was deserted. But he was wrong: one couple, the couple he dreaded, had gone away, but there was still another couple in the house.


The manuscript is not dated (it was created late 1930's). It is stored at The University of South Carolina.


Перевод на русский язык: Пара (А. Б. Руднев)

Яндекс.Метрика