Fresh as the morning I went up to see him a week later. Or so I thought; when Wylie called for me I had gotten into riding clothes to give the impression I’d been out in the dew since early morning.
“I’m going to throw myself under the wheel of Stahr’s car, this morning,” I said.
“How about this car,” he suggested. “It’s one of the best cars Mort Flieshacker ever sold second hand.”
“Not on your flowing veil,” I answered like a book. “You have a wife in the East.”
“She’s the past,” he said. “You’ve got one great card, Celia—your valuation of yourself. Do you think anybody would look at you if you weren’t Pat Brady’s daughter?”
We don’t take abuse like our mothers would have. Nothing—no remark from a contemporary means much. They tell you to be smart they’re marrying you for your money or you tell them. Everything’s simpler. Or is it? as we used to say.
But as I turned on the radio and the car raced up Laurel Canyon to “The Thundering Beat of My Heart,” I didn’t believe he was right. I had good features except my face was too round and a skin they seemed to love to touch and good legs and I didn’t have to wear a brassiere. I haven’t a sweet nature but who was Wylie to reproach me for that.
“Don’t you think I’m smart to go in the morning?” I asked.
“Yeah. To the busiest man in California. He’ll appreciate it. Why didn’t you wake him up at four?”
“That’s just it. At night he’s tired. He’s been looking at people all day and some of them not bad. I come in in the morning and start a tram of thought.”
“I don’t like it. It’s brazen.”
“What have you got to offer? And don’t be rough.”
“I love you,” he said without much conviction. “I love you more than I love your money and that’s plenty. Maybe your father would make me a supervisor.”
“I could marry the last man tapped for Bones this year and live in Southampton.”
I turned the dial and got either “Gone” or “Lost”—there were good songs that year. The music was getting better again. When I was young during the Depression it wasn’t so hot and the best numbers were from the twenties like Benny Goodman playing “Blue Heaven” or Paul Whiteman with “When Day Is Done.” There were only the bands to listen to. But now I liked almost everything except Father singing “Little Girl, You’ve Had a Busy Day” to try to create a sentimental father-and-daughter feeling.
“Lost” and “Gone” were the wrong mood so I turned again and
got “Lovely To Look At” which was my kind of poetry. I looked back as we crossed the crest of the foothills—with the air so clear you could see the leaves on Sunset Mountain two miles away. It’s startling to you sometimes—just air, unobstructed, uncomplicated air.
“Lovely to look at-de-lightful to know-w-w,” I sang.
“Are you going to sing for Stahr?” Wylie said. “If you do, get in a line about my being a good supervisor.”
“Oh, this’ll be only Stahr and me,” I said. “He’s going to look at me and think ’I’ve never really seen her before.’”
“We don’t use that line this year,” he said.
“—Then he’ll say ’Little Celia’ like he did the night of the earthquake. He’ll say he never noticed I have become a woman.”
“You won’t have to do a thing.”
“I’ll stand there and bloom. After he kisses me as you would a child—”
“That’s all in my script,” complained Wylie. “And I’ve got to show it to him tomorrow.”
“—he’ll sit down and put his face in his hands and say he never thought of me like that.”
“You mean you get in a little fast work during the kiss.”
“I bloom, I told you. How often do I have to tell you I bloom.”
“It’s beginning to sound pretty randy to me,” said Wylie. “How about laying off—I’ve got to work this morning.”
“Then he says it seems as if he was always meant to be this way.”
“Right in the industry. Producer’s blood.” He pretended to shiver. “I’d hate to have a transfusion of that.”
“Then he says—”
“I know all his lines,” said Wylie. “What I want to know is what you say.”
“Somebody comes in,” I went on.
“And you jump up quickly off the casting couch smoothing your skirts.”
“Do you want me to walk out and get home?”
We were in Beverly Hills, getting very beautiful now with the tall Hawaiian pines. Hollywood is a perfectly zoned city so you know exactly what kind of people economically live in each section from executives and directors, through technicians in their bungalows right down to extras. This was the executive section and a very fancy lot of pastry. It wasn’t as romantic as the dingiest village of Virginia or New Hampshire but it looked nice this morning.
“They asked me how I knew,” sang the radio, “—my true love was true.”
My heart was fire and smoke was in my eyes and everything but I figured my chance at about fifty-fifty. I would walk right up to him as if I was either going to walk through him or kiss him in the mouth—and stop a bare foot away and say Hello with disarming understatement.
And I did—though of course it wasn’t like I expected. Stahr’s beautiful dark eyes looking back into mine, knowing I am dead sure everything I was thinking—and not a bit embarrassed. I stood there an hour, I think, without moving and all he did was twitch the side of his mouth and put his hands in his pockets.
“Will you go with me to the ball tonight?” I asked.
“The screen-writers’ ball down at the Ambassador.”
“Oh yes.” He considered. “I can’t go with you. I might just come in late. We’ve got a sneak preview in Glendale.”
How different it all was than what you’ve planned. When he sat down I went over and put my head among his telephones like a sort of desk appendage and looked at him and his dark eyes looked back so kind and nothing. Men don’t often know those times when a girl could be had for nothing. All I succeeded in putting into his head was:
“Why don’t you get married, Celia?”
Maybe he’d bring up Robby again, try to make a match there.
“What could I do to interest an interesting man?” I asked him.
“Tell him you’re in love with him.”
“Should I chase him?”
“Yes,” he said smiling.
“I don’t know. If it isn’t there it isn’t there.”
“I’d marry you,” he said unexpectedly. “I’m lonesome as hell. But I’m too old and tired to undertake anything.”
I went around the desk and stood beside him.
He looked up in surprise, understanding for the first time that I was in deadly earnest.
“Oh no,” he said. He looked almost miserable for a minute. “Pictures are my girl. I haven’t got much time—” He corrected himself quickly, “I mean any time. It’d be like marrying a doctor.”
“You couldn’t love me.”
“It’s not that,” he said and—right out of my dream but with a difference, “I never thought of you that way, Celia. I’ve known you so long. Somebody told me you were going to marry Wylie White.”
“And you had—no reaction.”
“Yes, I did. I was going to speak to you about it. Wait till he’s been sober for two years.”
“I’m not even considering it, Monroe.”
We were way off the track, and just as in my day-dream somebody came in—only I was quite sure Stahr had pressed a concealed button.
I’ll always think of that moment, when I felt Miss Doolan behind me with her pad, as the end of childhood, the end of the time when you cut out pictures. What I was looking at wasn’t Stahr but a picture of him I cut out over and over: the eyes that flashed a sophisticated understanding at you and then darted up too soon into his wide brow with its ten thousand plots and plans; the face that was ageing from within, so that there were no casual furrows of worry and vexation but a drawn asceticism as if from a silent self—set struggle—or a long illness. It was handsomer to me than all the rosy tan from Coronado to Del Monte. He was my picture, as sure as if he was pasted on the inside of my old locker in school. That’s what I told Wylie White and when a girl tells the man she likes second best about the other one—then she’s in love.
I noticed the girl long before Stahr arrived at the dance. Not a pretty girl, for there are none of those in Los Angeles—one girl can be pretty but a dozen are only a chorus. Nor yet a professional beauty—they do all the breathing for everyone and finally even the men have to go outside for air. Just a girl, with the skin of one of Raphael’s corner angels and a style that made you look back twice to see if it were something she had on.
I noticed her and forgot her. She was sitting back behind the pillars at a table whose ornament was a faded semi-star who, in hopes of being noticed and getting a bit, rose and danced regularly with some scarecrow males. It reminded me shamefully of my first party where Mother made me dance over and over with the same boy to keep in the spotlight. The semi-star spoke to several people at our table but we were busy being Cafe Society and she got nowhere at all.
From our angle it appeared that they all wanted something.
“You’re expected to fling it around,” said Wylie, “—like in the old days. When they find out you’re hanging on to it they get discouraged. That’s what all this brave gloom is about—the only way to keep their self respect is to be Hemingway characters. But underneath they hate you in a mournful way and you know it.”
He was right—I knew that since 1933 the rich could only be happy alone together.
I saw Stahr come into the half-light at the top of the wide steps and stand there with his hands in his pockets looking around. It was late and the lights seemed to have burned a little lower, though they were the same. The floor show was finished except for a man who still wore a placard which said that at midnight in the Hollywood Bowl Sonja Henie was going to skate on hot soup. You could see the sign as he danced becoming less and less funny on his back. A few years before there would have been drunks around. The faded actress seemed to be looking for them hopefully over her partner’s shoulder. I followed her with my eyes when she went back to her table—
—and there, to my surprise, was Stahr talking to the other girl. They were smiling at each other as if this was the beginning of the world.
Stahr had expected nothing like this when he stood at the head of the steps a few minutes earlier. The sneak preview had disappointe him and afterwards he had had a scene with Jaques La Borwits right in front of the theatre for which he was now sorry. He had started toward the Brady party when he saw Kathleen sitting in the middle of a long white table alone.
Immediately things changed. As he walked toward her the people shrank back against the walls till they were only murals; the white table lengthened and became an altar where the priestess sat alone. Vitality welled up in him and he could have stood a long time across the table from her, looking and smiling.
The incumbents of the table were crawling back—Stahr and Kathleen danced.
When she came close his several visions of her blurred; she was momentarily unreal. Usually a girl’s skull made her real but not this time—Stahr continued to be dazzled as they danced out along the floor—to the last edge, where they stepped through a mirror into another dance with new dancers whose faces were familiar but nothing more. In this new region he talked, fast and urgently.
“What’s your name?”
“Kathleen Moore,” he repeated.
“I have no telephone, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“When will you come to the studio?”
“It’s not possible. Truly.”
“Why isn’t it? Are you married?”
“You’re not married?”
“No, nor never have been. But then I may be.”
“Someone there at the table.”
“No.” She laughed. “What curiosity!”
But she was deep in it with him, no matter what the words were. Her eyes invited him to a romantic communion of unbelievable intensity. As if she realized this she said, frightened:
“I must go back now. I promised this dance.”
“I don’t want to lose you. Couldn’t we have lunch or dinner?”
“It’s impossible.” But her expression helplessly amended the words to “It’s just possible. The door is still open by a chink if you could squeeze past. But quickly—so little time.”
“I must go back,” she repeated aloud. Then she dropped her arms, stopped dancing and looked at him, a laughing wanton.
“When I’m with you I don’t breathe quite right,” she said.
She turned, picked up her long dress, and stepped back through the mirror. Stahr followed until she stopped near her table.
“Thank you for the dance,” she said. “And now really, good night.”
Then she nearly ran.
Stahr went to the table where he was expected and sat down with the Cafe Society group—from Wall Street, Grand Street, Loudoun County Virginia, and Odessa Russia. They were all talking with enthusiasm about a horse that had run very fast and Mr. Marcus was the most enthusiastic of all. Stahr guessed that Jews had taken over the worship of horses as a super-symbol—for years it had been the Cossacks mounted and the Jews on foot. Now the Jews had horses and it gave them a sense of extraordinary well-being and power. Stahr sat pretending to listen and even nodding when something was referred to him, but all the time watching the table behind the pillars. If everything had not happened as it had, even to his connecting the silver belt with the wrong girl, he might have thought it was some elaborate frame-up. But the elusiveness was beyond suspicion. For there in a moment he saw that she was escaping again—the pantomime at the table indicated good bye. She was leaving, she was gone.
“There—” said Wylie White with malice, “—goes Cinderella. Simply bring the slipper to the Regal Shoe Co., 812 South Broadway.”
Stahr overtook her in the long upper lobby where middle-aged women sat behind a roped-off space, watching the ballroom entrance.
“Am I responsible for this?” he asked.
“I was going anyhow.” But she added almost resentfully, “They talked as if I’d been dancing with the Prince of Wales. They all stared at me. One of the men wanted to draw my picture and another one wanted to see me tomorrow.”
“That’s just what I want,” said Stahr gently. “But I want to see you much more than he does.”
“You insist so,” she said wearily. “One reason I left England was that men always wanted their own way. I thought it was different here. Isn’t it enough that I don’t want to see you?”
“Ordinarily,” agreed Stahr. “Please believe me, I’m way out of my depth already. I feel like a fool. But I must see you again and talk to you.”
“There’s no reason for feeling like a fool,” she said. “You’re too good a man to feel like a fool. But you should see this for what it is.”
“What is it?”
“You’ve fallen for me—completely. You’ve got me in your dreams.”
“I’d forgotten you,” he declared, “—till the moment I walked in that door.”
“Forgotten me with your head perhaps. But I knew the first time I saw you that you were the kind that likes me—”
She stopped herself. Near them a man and woman from the party were saying good bye: “Tell her hello—tell her I love her dearly,” said the woman, “you both—all of you—the children.” Stahr could not talk like that, the way everyone talked now. He could think of nothing further to say as they walked toward the elevator except:
“I suppose you’re perfectly right.”
“Oh, you admit it?”
“No, I don’t,” he retracted. “It’s just the whole way you’re made. What you say—how you walk—the way you look right this minute—” He saw she had melted a little and his hopes rose. “Tomorrow is Sunday and usually I work on Sunday but if there’s anything you’re curious about in Hollywood, any person you want to meet or see, please let me arrange it.”
They were standing by the elevator. It opened but she let it go.
“You’re very modest,” she said. “You always talk about showing me the studio and taking me around. Don’t you ever stay alone?”
“Tomorrow I’ll feel very much alone.”
“Oh, the poor man—I could weep for him. He could have all the stars jumping around him and he chooses me.”
He smiled—he had laid himself open to that one.
The elevator came again. She signalled for it to wait.
“I’m a weak woman,” she said. “If I meet you tomorrow will you leave me in peace? No, you won’t. You’ll make it worse. It wouldn’t do any good but harm so I’ll say no and thank you.”
She got into the elevator. Stahr got in too and they smiled as they dropped two floors to the hall cross-sectioned with small shops. Down at the end, held back by police was the crowd, their heads and shoulders leaning forward to look down the alley. Kathleen shivered.
“They looked so strange when I came in,” she said, “—as if they were furious at me for not being someone famous.”
“I know another way out,” said Stahr.
They went through a drug store, down an alley and came out into the clear cool California night beside the car park. He felt detached from the dance now and she did too.
“A lot of picture people used to live down here,” he said. “John Barrymore and Pola Negri in those bungalows. And Connie Talmadge lived in that tall thin apartment house over the way.”
“Doesn’t anybody live here now?”
“The studios moved out into the country,” he said. “What used to be the country. I had some good times around here though.”
He did not mention that ten years ago Minna and her mother had lived in another apartment over the way.
“How old are you?” she asked suddenly.
“I’ve lost track—almost thirty-five I think.”
“They said at the table you were the boy wonder.”
“I’ll be that when I’m sixty,” he said grimly. “You will meet me tomorrow, won’t you?”
“I’ll meet you,” she said. “Where?”
Suddenly there was no place to meet. She would not go to a party at anyone’s house, nor to the country, nor swimming though she hesitated, nor to a well-known restaurant. She seemed hard to please but he knew there was some reason. He would find out in time. It occurred to him that she might be the sister or daughter of someone well-known, who was pledged to keep in the background. He suggested that he come for her and they could decide.
“That wouldn’t do,” she said. “What about right here—the same spot.”
He nodded—pointing up at the arch under which they stood. He put her into her car which would have brought eighty dollars from any kindly dealer, and watched it rasp away. Down by the entrance a cheer went up as a favorite emerged, and Stahr wondered whether to show himself and say good night.
This is Cecelia taking up the narrative in person. Stahr came back finally—it was about half past three—and asked me to dance.
“How are you?” he asked me, just as if he hadn’t seen me that morning. “I got involved in a long conversation with a man.”
It was secret too—he cared that much about it.
“I took him to ride,” he went on innocently. “I didn’t realize how much this part of Hollywood had changed.”
“Has it changed?”
“Oh yes,” he said. “Changed completely. Unrecognizable. I couldn’t tell you exactly but it’s all changed—everything. It’s like a new city.” After a moment he amplified, “I had no idea how much it had changed.”
“Who was the man?” I ventured.
“An old friend,” he said vaguely. “Someone I knew a long time ago.”
I had made Wylie try to find out quietly who she was. He had gone over and the ex-star had asked him excitedly to sit down. No—she didn’t know who the girl was—a friend of a friend of someone—even the man who had brought her didn’t know.
So Stahr and I danced to the beautiful music of Glenn Miller playing “I’m on a See-saw.” It was good dancing now with plenty of room. But it was lonely—lonelier than before the girl had gone. For me, as well as for Stahr, she took the evening with her, took along the stabbing pain I had felt—left the great ball-room empty and without emotion. Now it was nothing and I was dancing with an absent minded man who told me how much Los Angeles had changed.
They met, next afternoon, as strangers in an unfamiliar country. Last night was gone, the girl he had danced with was gone. A misty rose-and-blue hat with a trifling veil came along the terrace to him and paused, searching his face. Stahr was strange too in a brown suit and black tie that blocked him out more tangibly than a formal dinner coat, or when he was simply a face and voice in the darkness when they first met.
He was the first to be sure it was the same person as before—the upper half of the face that was Minna’s, luminous, with creamy temples and opalescent brow—the coco-colored curly hair. He could have put his arm around her and pulled her close with an almost family familiarity—already he knew the down on her neck, the very set of her backbone, the corners of her eyes and how she breathed—the very texture of the clothes that she would wear.
“Did you wait here all night?” she said, in a voice that was like a whisper.
“I didn’t move—didn’t stir.”
Still a problem remained, the same one—there was no special place to go.
“I’d like tea,” she suggested, “—if it’s some place you’re not known.”
“That sounds as if one of us had a bad reputation.”
“Doesn’t it?” she laughed.
“We’ll go to the shore,” Stahr suggested. “There’s a place there where I got out once and was chased by a trained seal.”
“Do you think the seal could make tea?”
“Well—he’s trained. And I don’t think he’ll talk—I don’t think his training got that far. What in hell are you trying to hide?”
After a moment she said lightly, “Perhaps the future,” in a way that might mean anything or nothing at all.
As they drove away she pointed at her jalopy in the parking lot.
“Do you think it’s safe?”
“I doubt it. I noticed some black-bearded foreigners snooping around.”
Kathleen looked at him alarmed.
“Really?” She saw he was smiling. “I believe everything you say,” she said. “You’ve got such a gentle way about you that I don’t see why they’re all so afraid of you.” She examined him with approval—fretting a little about his pallor, which was accentuated by the bright afternoon. “Do you work very hard? Do you really always work on Sundays?”
He responded to her interest—impersonal yet not perfunctory.
“Not always. Once we had—we had a house with a pool and all—and people came on Sunday. I played tennis and swam. I don’t swim any more.”
“Why not? It’s good for you. I thought all Americans swam.”
“My legs got very thin—a few years ago and it embarrassed me. There were other things I used to do—lots of things. I used to play handball when I was a kid, and sometimes out here—I had a court that was washed away in a storm.”
“You have a good build,” she said in formal compliment, meaning only that he was made with thin grace.
He rejected this with a shake of his head.
“I enjoy working most,” he said. “My work is very congenial.”
“Did you always want to be in movies?”
“No. When I was young I wanted to be a chief clerk—the one who knew where everything was.”
“That’s odd. And now you’re much more than that.”
“No, I’m still a chief clerk,” Stahr said. “That’s my gift, if I have one. Only when I got to be it I found out that no one knew where anything was. And I found out that you had to know why it was where it was, and whether it should be left there. They began throwing it all at me and it was a very complex office. Pretty soon I had all the keys. And they wouldn’t have remembered what locks they fitted if I gave them back.”
They stopped for a red light and a newsboy bleated at them: “Mickey Mouse Murdered! Randolph Hearst declares war on China!”
“We’ll have to buy his paper,” she said.
As they drove on she straightened her hat and preened herself. Seeing him looking at her she smiled.
She was alert and calm—qualities that were currently at a premium. There was lassitude in plenty—California was filling up with weary desperadoes. And there were tense young men and women who lived back East in spirit while they carried on a losing battle against the climate. But it was everyone’s secret that sustained effort was difficult here—a secret that Stahr scarcely admitted to himself. But he knew that people from other places spurted a pure rill of new energy for a while.
They were very friendly now. She had not made a move or a gesture that was out of keeping with her beauty, that pressed it out of its contour one way or another. It was all proper to itself. He judged her as he would a shot in a picture. She was not trash, she was not confused but clear—in his special meaning of the word which implied balance, delicacy and proportion, she was “nice.”
They reached Santa Monica where there were the stately houses of a dozen picture stars, penned in the middle of a crawling Coney Island. They turned down hill into the wide blue sky and sea and went on along the sea till the beach slid out again from under the bathers in a widening and narrowing yellow strand.
“I’m building a house out here,” Stahr said. “Much further on. I don’t know why I’m building it.”
“Perhaps it’s for me,” she said.
“Maybe it is.”
“I think it’s splendid for you to build a big house for me without even knowing what I looked like.”
“It isn’t so big. And it hasn’t any roof. I didn’t know what kind of roof you wanted.”
“We don’t want a roof. They told me it never rained here. It—”
She stopped so suddenly that he knew she was reminded of something.
“Just something that’s past,” she said.
“What was it?” he demanded. “Another house without a roof?”
“Yes. Another house without a roof.”
“Were you happy there?”
“I lived with a man,” she said. “A long, long time—too long. It was one of those awful mistakes people make. I lived with him a long time after I wanted to get out but he couldn’t let me go. He’d try but he couldn’t. So finally I ran away.”
He was listening, weighing but not judging. Nothing changed under the rose-and-blue hat. She was twenty-five or so. It would have been a waste if she had not loved and been loved.
“We were too close,” she said. “We should probably have had children—to stand between us. But you can’t have children when there’s no roof to the house.”
All right, he knew something of her. It would not be like last night when something kept saying, as in a story conference: “We know nothing about the girl. We don’t have to know much—but we have to know something.” A vague background spread behind her, something more tangible than the head of Siva in the moonlight.
They came to the restaurant, forbidding with many Sunday automobiles. When they got out the trained seal growled reminiscently at Stahr. The man who owned it said that the seal would never ride in the back seat of his car but always climbed over the back and up in front. It was plain that the man was in bondage to the seal, though he had not yet acknowledged it to himself.
“I’d like to see the house you’re building,” said Kathleen. “I don’t want tea—tea is the past.”
Kathleen drank a Coke instead and they drove on ten miles into a sun so bright that he took out two pairs of cheaters from a compartment. Five miles further on they turned down a small promontory and came to the fuselage of Stahr’s house.
A headwind blowing out of the sun threw spray up the rocks and over the car. Concrete mixers, raw yellow wood and builders’ rubble waited, an open wound in the sea-scape, for Sunday to be over. They walked around front where great boulders rose to what would be the terrace.
She looked at the feeble hills behind and winced faintly at the barren glitter, and Stahr saw—
“No use looking for what’s not here,” he said cheerfully. “Think of it as if you were standing on one of those globes with a map on it—I always wanted one when I was a boy.”
“I understand,” she said after a minute. “When you do that you can feel the earth turn, can’t you.”
“Yes. Otherwise it’s all just manana—waiting for the morning or the moon.”
They went in under the scaffolding. One room, which was to be the chief salon, was completed even to the built-in book shelves and the curtain rods and the trap in the floor for the motion picture projection machine. And, to her surprise, this opened out to a porch with cushioned chairs in place and a ping-pong table. There was another ping-pong table on the newly laid turf beyond.
“Last week I gave a premature luncheon,” he admitted. “I had some props brought out—some grass and things. I wanted to see how the place felt.”
She laughed suddenly.
“Isn’t that real grass?”
“Oh yes—it’s grass.”
Beyond the strip of anticipatory lawn was the excavation for a swimming pool, patronized now by a crowd of seagulls who saw them and took flight.
“Are you going to live here all alone?” she asked him. “Not even dancing girls?”
“Probably. I used to make plans but not any more. I thought this would be a nice place to read scripts. The studio is really home.”
“That’s what I’ve heard about American business men.”
He caught a lilt of criticism in her voice.
“You do what you’re born to do,” he said gently. “About once a month somebody tries to reform me, tells me what a barren old age I’ll have when I can’t work any more. But it’s not so simple.”
The wind was rising. It was time to go and he had his car keys out of his pocket, absent mindedly jingling them in his hand. There was the silvery “Hey!” of a telephone, coming from somewhere across the sunshine.
It was not from the house and they hurried here and there around the garden like children playing warmer and colder—closing in finally on a tool shack by the tennis court. The phone, irked with delay, barked at them suspiciously from the wall. Stahr hesitated.
“Shall I let the damn thing ring?”
“I couldn’t. Unless I was sure who it was.”
“Either it’s for somebody else or they’ve made a wild guess.”
He picked up the receiver.
“Hello…. Long distance from where? Yes, this is Mr. Stahr.”
His manner changed perceptibly. She saw what few people had seen for a decade—Stahr impressed. It was not discordant because he often pretended to be impressed but it made him momentarily a little younger.
“It’s the President,” he said to her, almost stiffly.
“Of your company?”
“No, of the United States.”
He was trying to be casual for her benefit but his voice was eager.
“All right, I’ll wait,” he said into the phone, and then to Kathleen, “I’ve talked to him before.”
She watched. He smiled at her and winked as an evidence that while he must give this his best attention he had not forgotten her.
“Hello,” he said presently. He listened. Then he said “Hello” again. He frowned.
“Can you talk a little louder,” he said politely, and then “Who?… What’s that?”
She saw a disgusted look come into his face.
“I don’t want to talk to him,” he said. “No!”
He turned to Kathleen.
“Believe it or not, it’s an orang-outang.”
He waited while something was explained to him at length; then he repeated:
“I don’t want to talk to it, Lew. I haven’t got anything to say that would interest an orang-outang.”
He beckoned to Kathleen and when she came close to the phone he held the receiver so that she heard odd breathing and a gruff growl. Then a voice:
“This is no phoney, Monroe. It can talk and it’s a dead ringer for McKinley. Mr. Horace Wickersham is with me here with a picture of McKinley in his hand—”
Stahr listened patiently.
“We’ve got a chimp,” he said after a minute. “He bit a chunk out of John Gilbert last year…. All right, put him on again.”
He spoke formally as if to a child.
His face changed and he turned to Kathleen.
“He said hello.”
“Ask him his name,” suggested Kathleen.
“Hello Orang-outang-God, what a thing to be!—Do you know your name?… He doesn’t seem to know his name…. Listen, Lew. We’re not making anything like ’King Kong’ and there is no monkey in ’The Hairy Ape.’… Of course I’m sure. I’m sorry, Lew, good bye.”
He was annoyed with Lew because he had thought it was the President and changed his manner acting as if it were. He felt a little ridiculous but Kathleen felt sorry and liked him better because it had been an orang-outang.
They started back along the shore with the sun behind them. The house seemed kindlier when they left it, as if warmed by their visit—the hard glitter of the place was more endurable if they were not bound there like people on the shiny surface of a moon. Looking back from a curve of the shore, they saw the sky growing pink behind the indecisive structure and the point of land seemed a friendly island, not without promise of fine hours on a further day.
Past Malibu with its gaudy shacks and fishing barges they came into the range of human kind again, the cars stacked and piled along the road, the beaches like ant hills without a pattern, save for the dark drowned heads that sprinkled the sea.
Goods from the city were increasing in sight—blankets, matting, umbrellas, cookstoves, reticules full of clothing—the prisoners had laid out their shackles beside them on this sand. It was Stahr’s sea if he wanted it, or knew what to do with it—only by sufferance did these others wet their feet and fingers in the wild cool reservoirs of man’s world.
Stahr turned off the road by the sea and up a canyon and along a hill road and the people dropped away. The hill became the outskirts of the city. Stopping for gasoline he stood beside the car.
“We could have dinner,” he said almost anxiously.
“You have work you could do.”
“No—I haven’t planned anything. Couldn’t we have dinner?”
He knew that she had nothing to do either—no planned evening or special place to go.
“Do you want to get something in that drug store across the street?”
He looked at it tentatively.
“Is that really what you want?”
“I like to eat in American drug stores. It seems so queer and strange.”
They sat on high stools and had tomato broth and hot sandwiches. It was more intimate than anything they had done and they both felt a dangerous sort of loneliness and felt it in each other. They shared in varied scents of the drug store, bitter and sweet and sour, and the mystery of the waitress with only the outer part of her hair dyed and black beneath, and when it was over, the still life of their empty plates—a sliver of potato, a sliced pickle and an olive stone.
It was dusk in the street, it seemed nothing to smile at him now when they got into the car.
“Thank you so much. It’s been a nice afternoon.”
It was not far from her house. They felt the beginning of the hill and the louder sound of the car in second was the beginning of the end. Lights were on in the climbing bungalows—he turned on the headlights of the car. Stahr felt heavy in the pit of his stomach.
“We’ll go out again.”
“No,” she said quickly as if she had been expecting this. “I’ll write you a letter. I’m sorry I’ve been so mysterious—it was really a compliment because I like you so much. You should try not to work so hard. You ought to marry again.”
“Oh, that isn’t what you should say,” he broke out protestingly. “This has been you and me today. I may have meant nothing to you—it meant a lot to me. I’d like time to tell you about it.”
But if he were to take time it must be in her house for they were there and she was shaking her head as the car drew up to the door.
“I must go now. I do have an engagement. I didn’t tell you.”
“That’s not true. But it’s all right.”
He walked to the door with her and stood in his own footsteps of that other night while she felt in her bag for the key.
“Have you got it?”
“I’ve got it,” she said.
That was the moment to go in but she wanted to see him once more and she leaned her head to the left, then to the right trying to catch his face against the last twilight. She leaned too far and too long and it was natural when his hand touched the back of her upper arm and shoulder and pressed her forward into the darkness of his throat. She shut her eyes feeling the bevel of the key in her tight clutched hand. She said “Oh” in an expiring sigh and then “Oh” again as he pulled her in close and his chin pushed her cheek around gently. They were both smiling just faintly and she was frowning too as the inch between them melted into darkness.
When they were apart she shook her head still but more in wonder than in denial. It came like this then, it was your own fault, how far back, when was the moment. It came like this and every instant the burden of tearing herself away from them together, from it, was heavier and more unimaginable. He was exultant; she resented and could not blame him but she would not be part of his exultation for it was a defeat. So far it was a defeat. And then she thought that if she stopped it being a defeat, broke off and went inside, it was still not a victory. Then it was just nothing.
“This was not my idea,” she said. “Not at all my idea.”
“Can I come in?”
“Then let’s jump in the car and drive somewhere.”
With relief she caught at the exact phrasing—to get away from here immediately, that was accomplishment or sounded like one—as if she were fleeing from the spot of a crime. Then they were in the car going down hill with the breeze cool in their faces and she came slowly to herself. Now it was all clear in black and white.
“We’ll go back to your house on the beach,” she said.
“Yes—we’ll go back to your house. Don’t let’s talk. I just want to ride.”
When they got to the coast again the sky was grey and at Santa Monica a sudden gust of rain bounced over them. Stahr halted beside the road, put on a raincoat and lifted the canvas top. “We’ve got a roof,” he said.
The windshield wiper ticked domestically as a grandfather clock. Sullen cars were leaving the wet beaches and starting back into the city. Further on they ran into fog—the road lost its boundaries on either side and the lights of cars coming toward them were stationary until just before they flared past.
They had left a part of themselves behind, and they felt light and free in the car. Fog fizzed in at a chink and Kathleen took off the rose-and-blue hat in a calm, slow way that made him watch tensely, and put it under a strip of canvas in the back seat. She shook out her hair and, when she saw that Stahr was looking at her, she smiled.
The trained seal’s restaurant was only a sheen of light off toward the ocean. Stahr cranked down a window and looked for landmarks but after a few more miles the fog fell away and just ahead of them the road turned off that led to his house. Out here a moon showed behind the clouds. There was still a shifting light over the sea.
The house had dissolved a little back into its elements. They found the dripping beams of a doorway and groped over mysterious waist-high obstacles to the single finished room, odorous of sawdust and wet wood. When he took her in his arms they could just see each other’s eyes in the half darkness. Presently his raincoat dropped to the floor.
“Wait,” she said.
She needed a minute. She did not see how any good could come from this and though this did not prevent her from being happy and desirous she needed a minute to think how it was, to go back an hour and know how it had happened. She waited in his arms, moving her head a little from side to side as she had before, only more slowly, and never taking her eyes from his. Then she discovered that he was trembling.
He discovered it at the same time and his arms relaxed. Immediately she spoke to him coarsely and provocatively and pulled his face down to hers. Then, with her knees she struggled out of something, still standing up and holding him with one arm, and kicked it off beside the coat. He was not trembling now and he held her again as they knelt down together and slid to the raincoat on the floor.
Afterwards they lay without speaking and then he was full of such tender love for her that he held her tight till a stitch tore in her dress. The small sound brought them to reality.
“I’ll help you up,” he said, taking her hands.
“Not just yet. I was thinking of something.”
She lay in the darkness thinking irrationally that it would be such a bright, indefatigable baby, but presently she let him help her up…. When she came back into the room, the room was lit from a single electric fixture.
“A one—bulb lighting system,” he said. “Shall I turn it off?”
“No. It’s very nice. I want to see you.”
They sat in the wooden frame of the window seat with the soles of shoes touching.
“You seem far away,” she said.
“So do you.”
“Are you surprised?”
“That we’re two people again. Don’t you always think—hope that you’ll be one person and then find you’re still two?”
“I feel very close to you.”
“So do I to you,” she said.
“Is this what you wanted?” she asked. “I mean last night.”
“I wonder when it was settled,” she brooded. “There’s a moment when you needn’t and then there’s another moment when you know nothing in the world could keep it from happening.”
This had an experienced ring and to his surprise he liked her even more. In his mood which was passionately to repeat yet not recapitulate the past it was right that it should be that way.
“I am rather a trollop,” she said following his thoughts. “I suppose that’s why I didn’t get on to Edna.”
“Who is Edna?”
“The girl you thought was me. The one you phoned to—who lived across the road. She’s moved to Santa Barbara.”
“You mean she was a tart?”
“So it seems. She went to what you call call-houses.”
“If she had been English I’d have known right away. But she seemed like everyone else. She only told me just before she went away.”
He saw her shiver and got up, putting the raincoat around her shoulders. He opened a closet and a pile of pillows and beach mattresses fell out on the floor. There was a box of candles and he lit them around the room, attaching the electric heater where the bulb had been.
“Why was Edna afraid of me?” he asked suddenly.
“Because you were a producer. She had some awful experience or a friend of hers did. Also I think she was extremely stupid.”
“How did you happen to know her?”
“She came over. Maybe she thought I was a fallen sister. She seemed quite pleasant. She said ’Call me Edna’ all the time. ’Please call me Edna’—so finally I called her Edna and we were friends.”
She got off the window seat so he could lay pillows along it and behind her.
“What can I do?” she said. “I’m a parasite.”
“No, you’re not.” He put his arms around her. “Be still. Get warm.”
They sat for a while quiet.
“I know why you liked me at first,” she said. “Edna told me.”
“What did she tell you?”
“That I looked like—Minna Davis. Several people have told me that.”
He leaned away from her and nodded.
“It’s here,” she said, putting her hands on her cheekbones and distorting her cheeks slightly. “Here and here.”
“Yes,” said Stahr. “It was very strange. You look more like she actually looked than how she was on the screen.”
She got up, changing the subject with her gesture as if she were afraid of it.
“I’m warm now,” she said. She went to the closet and peered in, came back wearing a little apron with a crystalline pattern like a snowfall. She stared around critically.
“Of course we’ve just moved in,” she said, “—and there’s a sort of echo.”
She opened the door of the verandah and pulled in two wicker chairs, drying them off. He watched her move, intently yet half afraid that her body would fail somewhere and break the spell. He had watched women in screen tests and seen their beauty vanish second by second as if a lovely statue had begun to walk with meagre joints of a paper doll. But Kathleen was ruggedly set on the balls of her feet—the fragility was, as it should be, an illusion.
“It’s stopped raining,” she said. “It rained the day I came. Such an awful rain—so loud—like horses weeing.”
“You’ll like it. Especially if you’ve got to stay here. Are you going to stay here? Can’t you tell me now? What’s the mystery?”
She shook her head.
“Not now—it’s not worth telling.”
“Come here then.”
She came over and stood near him and he pressed his cheek against the cool fabric of the apron.
“You’re a tired man,” she said putting her hand in his hair.
“Not that way.”
“I didn’t mean that way,” she said hastily. “I meant you’ll work yourself sick.”
“Don’t be a mother,” he said.
“All right. What shall I be?”
Be a trollop, he thought. He wanted the pattern of his life broken. If he was going to die soon, like the two doctors said, he wanted to stop being Stahr for a while and hunt for love like men who had no gifts to give, like young nameless men who looked along the streets in the dark.
“You’ve taken off my apron,” she said gently.
“Would anyone be passing along the beach? Shall we put out the candles?”
“No, don’t put out the candles.”
Afterwards she lay half on a white cushion and smiled up at him.
“I feel like Venus on the half shell,” she said.
“What made you think of that?”
“Look at me. Isn’t it Botticelli?”
“I don’t know,” he said smiling. “It is if you say so.”
“I’ve had such a good time. And I’m very fond of you.”
“You know a lot, don’t you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, from little things you’ve said. Or perhaps the way you say them.”
“Not much,” she said. “I never went to a university if that’s what you mean. But the man I told you about knew everything and he had a passion for educating me. He made out schedules and made me take courses at the Sorbonne and go to museums. I picked up a little.”
“What was he?”
“He was a painter of sorts and a hell-cat. And a lot besides. He wanted me to read Spengler—everything was for that. All the history and philosphy and harmony was all so I could read Spengler and then I left him before we got to Spengler. At the end I think that was the chief reason he didn’t want me to go.”
“Who was Spengler?”
“I tell you we didn’t get to him,” she laughed. “And now I’m forgetting everything very patiently because it isn’t likely I’ll ever meet anyone like him again.”
“Oh, but you shouldn’t forget it,” said Stahr shocked. He had an intense respect for learning, a racial memory of the old shuls. “You shouldn’t forget.”
“It was just in place of babies.”
“You could teach your babies,” he said.
“Sure you could. You could give it to them while they were young. When I want to know anything I’ve got to ask some drunken writer. Don’t throw it away.”
“All right,” she said getting up, “I’ll tell it to my children. But it’s so endless—the more you know the more there is just beyond and it keeps on coming. This man could have been anything if he hadn’t been a coward and a fool.”
“But you were in love with him.”
“Oh yes—with all my heart.” She looked through the window, shading her eyes. “It’s light out there. Let’s go down to the beach.”
He jumped up exclaiming:
“Why, I think it’s the grunion!”
“It’s tonight. It’s in all the papers.” He hurried out the door and she heard him open the door of the car. Presently he returned with a newspaper.
“It’s at ten-sixteen. That’s five minutes.”
“An eclipse or something?”
“Very punctual fish,” he said. “Leave your shoes and stockings and come with me.”
It was a fine blue night. The tide was at the turn and the little silver fish rocked off shore waiting for 10: 16. A few seconds after the time they came swarming in with the tide and Stahr and Kathleen stepped over them barefoot as they flicked slip-slop in the sand. A Negro man came along the shore toward them collecting the grunion quickly like twigs into two pails. They came in twos and threes and platoons and companies, relentless and exalted and scornful around the great bare feet of the intruders, as they had come before Sir Francis Drake had nailed his plaque to the boulder on the shore.
“I wish for another pail,” the Negro man said, resting a moment.
“You’ve come a long way out,” said Stahr.
“I used to go to Malibu but they don’t like it those moving picture people.”
A wave came in and forced them back, receded swiftly leaving the sand alive again.
“Is it worth the trip?” Stahr asked.
“I don’t figure it that way. I really come out to read some Emerson. Have you ever read him?”
“I have,” said Kathleen. “Some.”
“I’ve got him inside my shirt. I got some Rosicrucian literature with me too but I’m fed up with them.”
The wind had changed a little—the waves were stronger further down and they walked along the foaming edge of the water.
“What’s your work?” the Negro asked Stahr.
“I work for the pictures.”
“Oh.” After a moment he added, “I never go to movies.”
“Why not?” asked Stahr sharply.
“There’s no profit. I never let my children go.”
Stahr watched him and Kathleen watched Stahr protectively.
“Some of them are good,” she said, against a wave of spray, but he did not hear her. She felt she could contradict him and said it again and this time he looked at her indifferently.
“Are the Rosicrucian brotherhood against pictures?” asked Stahr.
“Seems as if they don’t know what they are for. One week they for one thing and next week for another.”
Only the little fish were certain. Half an hour had gone and still they came. The Negro’s two pails were full and finally he went off over the beach toward the road, unaware that he had rocked an industry.
Stahr and Kathleen walked back to the house and she thought how to drive his momentary blues away.
“Poor old Sambo,” she said.
“Don’t you call them poor old Sambo?”
“We don’t call them anything especially.” After a moment he said, “They have pictures of their own.”
In the house she drew on her shoes and stockings before the heater.
“I like California better,” she said deliberately. “I think I was a bit sex-starved.”
“That wasn’t quite all was it?”
“You know it wasn’t.”
“It’s nice to be near you.”
She gave a little sigh as she stood up so small that he did not notice it.
“I don’t want to lose you now,” he said. “I don’t know what you think of me or whether you think of me at all. As you’ve probably guessed my heart’s in the grave—” He hesitated, wondering if this was quite true, “—but you’re the most attractive woman I’ve met since I don’t know when. I can’t stop looking at you. I don’t know now exactly the color of your eyes but they make me sorry for everyone in the world—”
“Stop it, stop it!” she cried laughing. “You’ll have me looking in the mirror for weeks. My eyes aren’t any color—they’re just eyes to see with and I’m just as ordinary as I can be. I have nice teeth for an English girl—”
“You have beautiful teeth.”
“—but I couldn’t hold a candle to these girls I see here—” “You stop it,” he said. “What I said is true and I’m a cautious man.”
She stood motionless a moment—thinking. She looked at him, then she looked back into herself, then at him again—then she gave up her thought.
“We must go,” she said.
Now they were different people as they started back. Four times they had driven along the shore road today, each time a different pair. Curiosity, sadness and desire were behind them now; this was a true returning—to themselves and all their past and future and the encroaching presence of tomorrow. He asked her to sit close in the car and she did but they did not seem close because for that you have to seem to be growing closer. Nothing stands still. It was on his tongue to ask her to come to the house he rented and sleep there tonight—but he felt that it would make him sound lonely. As the car climbed the hill to her house Kathleen looked for something behind the seat cushion. “What have you lost?”
“It might have fallen out,” she said, feeling through her purse in the darkness. “What was it?” “An envelope.” “Was it important?” “No.”
But when they got to her house and Stahr turned on the dashboard light she helped take the cushions out and look again.
“It doesn’t matter,” she said as they walked to the door. “What’s your address where you really live?” “Just Bel-Air. There’s no number.” “Where is Bel-Air?”
“It’s a sort of development near Santa Monica. But you’d better call me at the studio.”
“All right… good night, Mr. Stahr.” “Mister Stahr,” he repeated, astonished. She corrected herself gently. “Well then, good night, Stahr. Is that better?” He felt as though he had been pushed away a little. “As you like,” he said. He refused to let the aloofness communicate itself. He kept looking at her and moved his head from side to side in her own gesture, saying without words “you know what’s happened to me.” She sighed. Then she came into his arms and for a moment was his again completely. Before anything could change Stahr whispered good night and turned away and went to his car.
Winding down the hill he listened inside himself as if something by an unknown composer, powerful and strange and strong, was about to be played for the first time. The theme would be stated presently but because the composer was always new, he would not recognize it as the theme right away. It would come in some such guise as the auto-horns from the technicolor boulevards below or be barely audible, a tattoo on the muffled drum of the moon. He strained to hear it, knowing only that music was beginning, new music that he liked and did not understand. It was hard to react to what one could entirely compass—this was new and confusing, nothing one could shut off in the middle and supply the rest from an old score.
Also, and persistently, and bound up with the other, there was the Negro on the sand. He was waiting at home for Stahr with his pails of silver fish, and he would be waiting at the studio in the morning. He had said that he did not allow his children to listen to Stahr’s story. He was prejudiced and wrong and he must be shown somehow, some way. A picture, many pictures, a decade of pictures, must be made to show him he was wrong. Since he had spoken, Stahr had thrown four pictures out of his plans—one that was going into production this week. They were borderline pictures in point of interest but at least he submitted the borderline pictures to the Negro and found them trash. And he put back on his list a difficult picture that he had tossed to the wolves, to Brady and Marcus and the rest, to get his way on something else. He rescued it for the Negro man.
When he drove up to his door the porch lights went on and his Filipino came down the steps to put away the car. In the library Stahr found a list of phone calls.
The Filipino came into the room with a letter. “This fell out of the car,” he said.
“Thanks,” said Stahr, “I was looking for it.”
“Will you be running a picture tonight, Mr. Stahr?”
“No thanks—you can go to bed.”
The letter, to his surprise, was addressed to Monroe Stahr, Esq. He started to open it—then it occurred to him that she had wanted to recapture it, and possibly to withdraw it. If she had had a phone he would have called her for permission before opening it. He held it for a moment. It had been written before they met—it was odd to think that whatever it said was now invalidated; it possessed the interest of a souvenir by representing a mood that was gone.
Still he did not like to read it without asking her. He put it down beside a pile of scripts and sat down with the top script in his lap. He was proud of resisting his first impulse to open the letter. It seemed to prove that he was not “losing his head.” He had never lost his head about Minna even in the beginning—it had been the most appropriate and regal match imaginable. She had loved him always and just before she died all unwilling and surprised his tenderness had burst and surged toward her and he had been in love with her. In love with Minna and death together—with the world into which she looked so alone that he wanted to go with her there.
But “falling for dames” had never been an obsession—his brother had gone to pieces over a dame, or rather over dame after dame after dame. But Stahr, in his younger days, had them once and never more than once—like one drink. He had quite another sort of adventure reserved for his mind—something better than a series of emotional sprees. Like many brilliant men he had grown up dead cold. Beginning at about twelve probably with the total rejection common to those of extraordinary mental powers, the “see here—this is all wrong—a mess—all a lie—and a sham—” he swept it all away, everything, as men of his type do and then instead of being a son-of-a-bitch as most of them are he looked around at the barrenness that was left and said to himself “This will never do.” And so he had learned tolerance, kindness, forbearance, and even affection like lessons.
The Filipino boy brought in a carafe of water and bowls of nuts and fruit and said good night. Stahr opened the first script and began to read.
He read for three hours—stopping from time to time, editing without a pencil. Sometimes he looked up, warm from some vague happy thought that was not in the script, and it took him a minute each time to remember what it was. Then he knew it was Kathleen and looked at the letter—it was nice to have a letter.
It was three o’clock when a vein began to bump in the back of his hand signalling that it was time to quit. Kathleen was really far away now with the waning night—the different aspects of her telescoped into the memory of a single thrilling stranger bound to him only by a few slender hours. It seemed perfectly all right to open the letter.
Dear Mr. Stahr:
In half an hour I will be keeping my date with you. When we say good bye I will hand you this letter. It is to tell you that I am to be married soon and that I won’t be able to see you after today.
I should have told you last night but it didn’t seem to concern you. And it would seem silly to spend this beautiful afternoon telling you about it and watching your interest fade. Let it fade all at once—now. I will have told you enough to convince you that I am Nobody’s Prize Potato. (I have] just learned that expression—from my hostess of last night who called and stayed an hour. She seems to believe that everyone is Nobody’s Prize Potato—except you. I think I am supposed to tell you she thinks this, so give her a job if you can.)
I am very flattered that anyone who sees so many lovely women I can’t finish this sentence but you know what I mean. And I will be late if I don’t go to meet you right now.
With All Good Wishes
Stahr’s first feeling was like fear; his first thought was that the letter was invalidated—she had even tried to retrieve it. But then he remembered “Mister Stahr” just at the end, and that she had asked him his address—she had probably already written him another letter, which would also say good bye. Illogically he was shocked by the letter’s indifference to what had happened later. He read it again realizing that it foresaw nothing. Yet in front of the house she had decided to let it stand, belittling everything that had happened, curving her mind away from the fact that there had been no other man in her consciousness that afternoon. But he could not even believe this now and the whole adventure began to peel away even as he recapitulated it searchingly to himself. The car, the hill, the hat, the music, the letter itself blew off like the scraps of tar paper from the rubble of his house. And Kathleen departed, packing up her remembered gestures, her softly moving head, her sturdy eager body, her bare feet in the wet swirling sand. The skies paled and faded—the wind and rain turned dreary, washing the silver fish back to sea. It was only one more day, and nothing was left except the pile of scripts upon the table.
He went upstairs. Minna died again on the first landing and he forgot her lingeringly and miserably again, step by step to the top. The empty floor stretched around him—the doors with no one sleeping behind. In his room Stahr took off his tie, untied his shoes and sat on the side of his bed. It was all closed out except for something that he could not remember; then he remembered, her car was still down in the parking lot of the hotel. He set his clock to give him six hours’ sleep.
This is Cecelia taking up the story. I think it would be most interesting to follow my own movements at this point, as this is a time in my life that I am ashamed of. What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story.
When I sent Wylie White over to Martha Dodd’s table he had no success in finding out who the girl was, but it had suddenly become my chief interest in life. Also I guessed—correctly—that it would be Martha Dodd’s: to have had at your table a girl who is admired by royalty, who may be tagged for a coronet in our little feudal system—and not even know her name.
I had only a speaking acquaintance with Martha and it would be too obvious to approach her directly, but I went out to the studio Monday and dropped in on Rose Meloney.
Rose Meloney was quite a friend of mine. I thought of her rather as a child thinks of a family dependent. I knew she was a writer but I grew up thinking that writer and secretary were the same except that a writer usually smelled of cocktails and came more often to meals. They were spoken of the same way when they were not around—except for a species called playwrights who came from the East. These were treated with respect if they did not stay long—if they did they sank with the others into the white collar class.
Rose’s office was in the “old writers’ building.” There was one on every lot, a row of iron maidens left over from silent days and still resounding the dull moans of cloistered hacks and bums. There was the story of the new producer who had gone down the line one day and then reported excitedly to the head office.
“Who are those men?”
“They’re supposed to be writers.”
“I thought so. Well, I watched them for ten minutes and there were two of them that didn’t write a line.”
Rose was at her typewriter about to break off for lunch. I told her frankly that I had a rival.
“It’s a dark horse,” I said. “I can’t even find out her name.”
“Oh,” said Rose. “Well, maybe I know something about that. I heard something from somebody.”
The somebody, of course, was her nephew Ned Sollinger, Stahr’s office boy. He had been her pride and hope. She had sent him through New York University where he played on the football team. Then in his first year at medical school after a girl turned him down he dissected out the least publicized section of a lady corpse and sent it to the girl. Don’t ask me why. In disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes he had begun life at the bottom again, and was still there.
“What do you know?” I asked.
“It was the night of the earthquake. She fell into the lake on the back lot and he dove in and saved her life. Someone else told me it was his balcony she jumped off of and broke her arm.”
“Who was she?”
“Well, that’s funny too—”
Her phone rang and I waited restlessly during a long conversation she had with Joe Rienmund. He seemed to be trying to find out over the phone how good she was or whether she had ever written any pictures at all. And she was reputed to have been on the set the day Griffith invented the close-up! While he talked she groaned silently, writhed, made faces into the receiver, held it all in her lap so that the voice reached her faintly—and kept up a side chatter to me.
“What is he doing—killing time between appointments?… He’s asked me every one of these questions ten times… that’s all on a memorandum I sent him….”
And into the phone: “If this goes up to Monroe it won’t be my doing. I want to go right through to the end.”
She shut her eyes in agony again.
“Now he’s casting it… he’s casting the minor characters… he’s going to have Buddy Ebsen…. My God he just hasn’t anything to do… now he’s on Harry Davenport—he means Donald Crisp… he’s got a big casting directory open in his lap and I can hear him turn the pages… he’s a big important man this morning, a second Stahr, and for Christ sake I’ve got two scenes to do before lunch.”
Rienmund quit finally or was interrupted at his end. A waiter came in from the commissary with Rose’s luncheon and a Coca-Cola for me—I wasn’t lunching that summer. Rose wrote down one sentence on her typewriter before she ate. It interested me the way she wrote. One day I was there when she and a young man had just lifted a story out of “The Saturday Evening Post”—changing the characters and all. Then they began to write it making each line answer the line before it, and of course it sounded just like people do in life when they’re straining to be anything—funny or gentle or brave. I always wanted to see that one on the screen but I missed it somehow.
I found her as lovable as a cheap old toy. She made three thousand a week, and her husbands all drank and beat her nearly to death. But today I had an axe to grind.
“You don’t know her name?” I persisted.
“Oh—” said Rose “—that. Well, he kept calling her up afterwards and he told Katy Doolan it was the wrong name after all.”
“I think he found her,” I said. “Do you know Martha Dodd?”
“Hasn’t that little girl had a tough break though!” she exclaimed
with ready theatrical sympathy.
“Could you possibly invite her to lunch tomorrow?”
“Oh, I think she gets enough to eat all right. There’s a Mexican—”
I explained that my motives were not charitable. Rose agreed to cooperate. She called Martha Dodd.
We had lunch next day at the Bev Brown Derby, a languid restaurant patronized for its food by clients who always look as if they’d like to lie down. There is some animation at lunch where the women put on a show for the first five minutes after they eat but we were a tepid threesome. I should have come right out with my curiosity. Martha Dodd was an agricultural girl who had never quite understood what had happened to her and had nothing to show for it except a washed out look about the eyes. She still believed that the life she had tasted was reality and this was only a long waiting.
“I had a beautiful place in 1928,” she told us. “Thirty acres, with a miniature golf course and a pool and a gorgeous view. All spring I was up to my ass in daisies.”
I ended by asking her to come over and meet Father. This was pure penance for having had “a mixed motive” and being ashamed of it. One doesn’t mix motives in Hollywood—it is confusing. Everybody understands, and the climate wears you down. A mixed motive is conspicuous waste.
Rose left us at the studio gate, disgusted by my cowardice. Martha had worked up inside to a pitch about her career—not a very high pitch because of seven years of neglect but a sort of nervous acquiescence and I was going to speak strongly to Father. They never did anything for people like Martha who had made them so much money at one time. They let them slip away into misery eked out with extra work—it would have been kinder to ship them out of town. And Father was being so proud of me this summer. I had to keep him from telling everybody) just how I was brought up to produce such a perfect jewel. And Bennington—oh what an exclusive—dear God my heart. I assured him there was the usual proportion of natural born skivies and biddies tastefully concealed by throw overs from Sex, Fifth Avenue; but Father had worked himself up to practically an alumnus. “You’ve had everything,” he used to say happily. Everything included roughly the two years in Florence where I managed against heavy odds to be the only virgin in school, and the courtesy debut in Boston, Massachusetts. I was a veritable flower of the fine old cost-and-gross aristocracy.
So I knew he would do something for Martha Dodd and as we went into his office I had great dreams of doing something for Johnny Swanson the cowboy too and Evelyn Brent and all sorts of discarded flowers. Father was a charming and sympathetic man—except for that time I had seen him unexpectedly in New York—and there was something touching about his being my father. After all he was my father—he would do anything in the world for me.
Only Rosemary Schmiel was in the outer office and she was on Birdy Peters’ phone. She waved for me to sit down but I was full of my plans and telling Martha to take it easy I pressed the clicker under Rosemary’s desk and went toward the opened door.
“Your father’s in conference,” Rosemary called. “Not in conference but I ought to—”
By this time I was through the door and a little vestibule and another door and caught Father in his shirt sleeves, very sweaty and trying to open a window. It was a hot day but I hadn’t realized it was that hot and thought he was ill.
“No, I’m all right,” he said. “What is it?”
I told him. I told him the whole theory of people like Martha Dodd, walking up and down his office. How he could use them and guarantee them regular employment. He seemed to take me up excitedly and kept nodding and agreeing, and I felt closer to him than I had for a long time. I came close and kissed him on his cheek. He was trembling and his shirt was soaked through.
“You’re not well,” I said. “Or you’re in some sort of stew.”
“No, I’m not at all.”
“What is it?”
“Oh it’s Monroe,” he said. “That God damn little Vine Street Jesus! He’s in my hair night and day!”
“What’s happened?” I asked, very much cooler.
“Oh, he sits like a little God damn priest or rabbi and says what he’ll do and he won’t do. I can’t tell you now—I’m half crazy. Why don’t you go along.”
“I won’t have you like this.”
“Go along I tell you!” I sniffed but he never drank.
“Go and brush your hair,” I said. “I want you to see Martha Dodd.”
“In here! I’d never get rid of her.”
“Out there then. Go wash up first. Put on another shirt.”
With an exaggerated gesture of despair he went into the little bathroom adjoining. It was hot in the office as if it had been closed for hours and maybe that was making him sick so I opened two more windows.
“You go along,” Father called from behind the closed door of the bathroom. “I’ll be there presently.”
“Be awfully nice to her,” I said. “No charity.”
As if it were Martha speaking for herself a long low moan came from somewhere in the room. I was startled—then transfixed as it came again not from the bathroom where Father was, not from outside but from a closet in the wall across from me. How I was brave enough I don’t know but I ran across to it and opened it and Father’s secretary Birdy Peters tumbled out stark naked—just like a corpse in the movies. With her came a gust of stifling, stuffy air. She flopped sideways on the floor with the one hand still clutching some clothes and lay on the floor bathed in sweat—just as Father came in from the bathroom. I could feel him standing behind me and without turning I knew exactly how he looked, for I had surprised him before.
“Cover her up,” I said, covering her up myself with a rug from the couch. “Cover her up!”
I left the office. Rosemary Schmiel saw my face as I came out and responded with a terrified expression. I never saw her again or Birdy Peters either. As Martha and I went out Martha asked “What’s the matter dear?”—and when I didn’t say anything, “You did your best. Probably it was the wrong time. I’ll tell you what I’ll do. I’ll take you to see a very nice English girl. Did you see the girl that Stahr danced with at our table the other night?”
So at the price of a little immersion in the family drains I had what I wanted.
I don’t remember much about our call. She wasn’t at home was one reason. The screen door of her house was unlocked and Martha went in calling “Kathleen” with bright familiarity. The room we saw was bare and formal as a hotel; there were flowers about but they did not look like sent flowers. Also Martha found a note on the table which said, “Leave the dress. Have gone looking for a job. Will drop by tomorrow.”
Martha read it twice but it didn’t seem to be for Stahr, and we waited five minutes. People’s houses are very still when they are gone. Not that I expect them to be jumping around but I leave the observation for what it’s worth. Very still. Prim almost with just a fly holding down the place and paying no attention to you, and the corner of a curtain blowing.
“I wonder what kind of a job,” said Martha. “Last Sunday she went somewhere with Stahr.”
But I was no longer interested. It seemed awful to be here—producer’s blood, I thought in horror. And in quick panic I pulled her out into the placid sunshine. It was no use—I felt just black and awful. I had always been proud of my body—I had a way of thinking of it as geometric which made everything it did seem all right and there was probably not any kind of place, including churches and offices and shrines, where people had not embraced—but no one had ever stuffed me naked into a hole in the wall in the middle of a business day.
“If you were in a drug store,” said Stahr “—having a prescription filled—”
“You mean a chemist?” Boxley asked.
“If you were in a chemist’s,” conceded Stahr, “and you were getting a prescription for some member of your family who was very sick—”
“—Very ill?” queried Boxley.
“Very ill. Then whatever caught your attention through the window, whatever distracted you and held you would probably be material for pictures.”
“A murder outside the window, you mean.”
“There you go,” said Stahr smiling. “It might be a spider working on the pane.”
“Of course—I see.”
“I’m afraid you don’t, Mr. Boxley. You see it for your medium but not for ours. You keep the spiders for yourself and you try to pin the murders on us.”
“I might as well leave,” said Boxley. “I’m no good to you. I’ve been here three weeks and I’ve accomplished nothing. I make suggestions but no one writes them down.”
“I want you to stay. Something in you doesn’t like pictures, doesn’t like telling a story this way—”
“It’s such a damned bother,” exploded Boxley. “You can’t let yourself go—”
He checked himself. He knew that Stahr, the helmsman, was finding time for him in the middle of a constant stiff blow—that they were talking in the always creaking rigging of a ship sailing in great awkward tacks along an open sea. Or else—it seemed at times—they were in a huge quarry where even the newly cut marble bore the tracery of old pediments, half obliterated inscriptions of the past.
“I keep wishing you could start over,” Boxley said. “It’s this mass production.”
“That’s the condition,” said Stahr. “There’s always some lousy condition. We’re making a life of Rubens—suppose I asked you to do portraits of rich dopes like Pat Brady and me and Gary Cooper and Marcus when you wanted to paint Jesus Christ! Wouldn’t you feel you had a condition? Our condition is that we have to take people’s own favorite folklore and dress it up and give it back to them. Anything beyond that is sugar. So won’t you give us some sugar, Mr. Boxley?”
Boxley knew he could sit with Wylie White tonight at the Troc raging at Stahr, but he had been reading Lord Charnwood and he recognized that Stahr like Lincoln was a leader carrying on a long war on many fronts; almost single—handed he had moved pictures sharply forward through a decade, to a point where the content of the “A productions” was wider and richer than that of the stage. Stahr was an artist only as Mr. Lincoln was a general, perforce and as a layman.
“Come down to La Borwits’ office with me,” said Stahr. “They sure need some sugar there.”
In La Borwits’ office two writers, a shorthand secretary and a supervisor sat in a tense smokey stalemate where Stahr had left them three hours before. He looked at the faces one after another and found nothing. La Borwits spoke with awed reverence for his defeat.
“We’ve just got too many characters, Monroe.” Stahr snorted affably. “That’s the principal idea of the picture.” He took some change out of his pocket, looked up at the suspended light and tossed up half a dollar which clanked into the bowl. He looked at the coins in his hands and selected a quarter.
La Borwits watched miserably; he knew this was a favorite idea of Stahr’s and he saw the sands running out. At the moment everyone’s back was toward him. Suddenly he brought up his hands from their placid position under the desk and threw them high in the air, so high that they seemed to leave his wrists—and then he caught them neatly as they were descending. After that he felt better. He was in control.
One of the writers had taken out some coins also and presently rules were defined. “You have to toss your coin through the chains without hitting them. Whatever falls into the light is the kitty.”
They played for half an hour—all except Boxley who sat aside and dug into the script, and the secretary who kept tally. She calculated the cost of the four men’s time, arriving at a figure of sixteen hundred dollars. At the end La Borwits was winner by $5.50 and a janitor brought in a step-ladder to take the money out of the light.
Boxley spoke up suddenly.
“You have the stuffings of a tuhkey here,” he said.
“It’s not pictures.”
They looked at him in astonishment. Stahr concealed a smile.
“So we’ve got a real picture man here!” exclaimed La Borwits.
“A lot of beautiful speeches,” said Boxley boldly. “But no situations. After all, you know, it’s not going to be a novel: and it’s too long. I can’t exactly describe how I feel but it’s not quite right. And it leaves me cold.”
He was giving them back what had been handed him for three weeks. Stahr turned away, watching the others out of he corner of his eye.
“We don’t need less characters,” said Boxley. “We need more. As I see it that’s the idea.”
“That’s the idea,” said the writers.
“Yes—that’s the idea,” said La Borwits.
Boxley was inspired by the attention he had created.
“Let each character see himself in the other’s place,” he said. “The policeman is about to arrest the thief when he sees that the thief actually has his face. I mean show it that way. You could almost call the thing ’Put Yourself in My Place.’”
Suddenly they were at work again—taking up this new theme in turn like hepcats in a swing band and going to town with it. They might throw it out again tomorrow but life had come back for a moment. Pitching the coins had done it as much as Boxley. Stahr had recreated the proper atmosphere—never consenting to be a driver of the driven, but feeling like and acting like and sometimes even looking like a small boy getting up a show.
He left them, touching Boxley on the shoulder in passing—a deliberate accolade—he didn’t want them to gang up on him and break his spirit in an hour.
Doctor Baer was waiting in his inner office. With him was a colored man with a portable cardiograph like a huge suitcase. Stahr called it the lie detector. He stripped to the waist and the weekly examination began.
“How’ve you been feeling?”
“Oh—the usual,” said Stahr.
“Been hard at it? Getting any sleep?”
“No—about five hours. If I go to bed early I just lie there.”
“Take the sleeping pills.”
“The yellow one gives me a hangover.”
“Take two red ones then.”
“That’s a nightmare.”
“Take one of each—the yellow first.”
“All right—I’ll try. How’ve you been?”
“Say—I take care of myself, Monroe. I save myself.”
“The hell you do—you’re up all night sometimes.”
“Then I sleep all next day.”
After ten minutes Baer said:
“Seems O. K. The blood pressure’s up five points.”
“Good,” said Stahr. “That’s good isn’t it?”
“That’s good. I’ll develop the cardiograms tonight. When are you coming away with me?”
“Oh, some time,” said Stahr lightly. “In about six weeks things’ll ease up.”
Baer looked at him with a genuine looking that had grown over three years.
“You got better in thirty-three when you laid up,” he said. “Even for three weeks.”
“I will again.”
No he wouldn’t, Baer thought. With Minna’s help he had enforced a few short rests years ago and lately he had hinted around trying to find who Stahr considered his closest friends. Who could take him away and keep him away. It would almost surely be useless. He was due to die very soon now. Within six months one could say definitely. What was the use of developing the cardiograms? You couldn’t persuade a man like Stahr to stop and lie down and look at the sky for six months. He would much rather die. He said differently but what it added up to was the definite urge toward total exhaustion that he had run into before. Fatigue was a drug as well as a poison and Stahr apparently derived some rare almost physical pleasure from working lightheaded with weariness. It was a perversion of the life force he had seen before but he had almost stopped trying to interfere with it. He had cured a man or so—a hollow triumph of killing and preserving the shell.
“You hold your own,” he said.
They exchanged a glance. Did Stahr know? Probably. But he did not know when—he did not know how soon now.
“If I hold my own I can’t ask more,” said Stahr.
The colored man had finished packing the apparatus.
“Next week same time?”
“O. K., Bill,” said Stahr. “Good bye.”
As the door closed Stahr switched open the Dictograph. Miss Doolan’s voice came through immediately.
“Do you know a Miss Kathleen Moore?”
“What do you mean?” he asked startled.
“A Miss Kathleen Moore is on the line. She said you asked her to call.”
“Well, my God!” he exclaimed. He was swept with indignant rapture. It had been five days—this would never do at all.
“She’s on now?”
“Well, all right then.”
In a moment he heard the voice up close to him.
“Are you married?” he asked, low and surly.
“No, not yet.”
His memory blocked out her face and form—as he sat down she seemed to lean down to his desk keeping level with his eyes.
“What’s on your mind?” he asked in the same surly voice. It was hard to talk that way.
“You did find the letter?” she asked.
“Yes. It turned up that night.”
“That’s what I want to speak to you about.”
He found an attitude at length—he was outraged.
“What is there to talk about?” he demanded.
“I tried to write you another letter but it wouldn’t write.”
“I know that too.”
There was a pause.
“Oh cheer up!” she said surprisingly. “This doesn’t sound like you. It is Stahr, isn’t it? That very nice Mr. Stahr?”
“I feel a little outraged,” he said almost pompously. “I don’t see the use of this. I had at least a pleasant memory of you.”
“I don’t believe it’s you,” she said. “Next thing you’ll wish me luck.” Suddenly she laughed. “Is this what you planned to say? I know how awful it gets when you plan to say anything—”
“I never expected to hear from you again,” he said with dignity; but it was no use, she laughed again—a woman’s laugh that is like a child’s, just one syllable, a crow and a cry of delight.
“Do you know how you make me feel?” she demanded. “Like one day in London during a caterpillar plague when a hot furry thing dropped in my mouth.”
“Oh please wake up,” she begged. “I want to see you. I can’t explain things on the phone. It was no fun for me either, you understand.”
“I’m very busy. There’s a sneak preview in Glendale tonight.”
“Is that an invitation?”
“George Boxley, the English writer, is going with me.” He surprised himself. “Do you want to come along?”
“How could we talk?”
She considered. “Why don’t you call for me afterwards,” she suggested. “We could ride around.”
Miss Doolan on the huge Dictograph was trying to cut in a shooting director—the only interruption ever permitted. He flipped the button and called “wait” impatiently into the machine.
“About eleven?” Kathleen was saying confidently. The idea of “Riding around” seemed so unwise that if he could have thought of the words to refuse her he would have spoken them but he did not want to be the caterpillar. Suddenly he had no attitude left except the sense that the day, at least, was complete. It had an evening—a beginning, a middle and an end.
He rapped on the screen door, heard her call from inside, and stood waiting where the level fell away. From below came the whir of a lawn mower—a man was cutting his grass at midnight. The moon was so bright that Stahr could see him plainly a hundred feet off and down as he stopped and rested on the handle before pushing it back across his garden. There was a midsummer restlessness abroad—early August with imprudent loves and impulsive crimes. With little more to expect from summer one tried anxiously to live in the present—or, if there was no present, to invent one.
She came at last. She was all different and delighted. She wore a suit with a skirt that she kept hitching up as they walked down to the car with a brave gay, stimulating reckless air of “Tighten up your belt, baby. Let’s get going—to any pole.” Stahr had brought his limousine with the chauffeur, and the intimacy of the four walls whisking them along a new curve in the dark took away any strangeness at once. In its way the little trip they made was one of the best times he had ever had in life. It was certainly one of the times when, if he knew he was going to die, it was not tonight.
She told him her story. She sat beside him cool and gleaming for a while, spinning on excitedly, carrying him to far places with her, meeting and knowing the people she had known. The story was vague at first. “This Man” was the one she had loved and lived with. “This American” was the one who had rescued her when she was sinking into a quicksand.
“Who is he—the American?”
Oh, names—what did they matter? No one important like Stahr, not rich. He had lived in London and now they would live out here. She was going to be a good wife, a real person. He was getting a divorce—not just on account of her—but that was the delay.
“But the first man?” asked Stahr. “How did you get into that?”
Oh, that was a blessing at first. From sixteen to twenty-one the thing was to eat. The day her stepmother presented her at Court they had one shilling to eat with so as not to feel faint. Sixpence apiece but the stepmother watched while she ate. After a few months the stepmother died and she would have sold out for that shilling but she was too weak to go into the streets. London can be harsh—oh quite.
Was there nobody?
There were friends in Ireland who sent butter. There was a soup kitchen. There was a visit to an uncle who made advances to her when she had a full stomach, and she held out and got fifty pounds out of him for not telling his wife.
“Couldn’t you work?” Stahr asked.
“I worked. I sold cars. Once I sold a car.”
“But couldn’t you get a regular job?”
“It’s hard—it’s different. There was a feeling that people like me forced other people out of jobs. A woman struck me when I tried to get a job as chambermaid in a hotel.”
“But you were presented at Court?”
“That was my stepmother who did that—on an off chance. I was nobody. My father was shot by the Black and Tans in twenty-two when I was a child. He wrote a book called ’Last Blessing.’ Did you ever read it?”
“I don’t read.”
“I wish you’d buy it for the movies. It’s a good little book. I still get a royalty from it—ten shillings a year.”
Then she met “The Man” and they travelled the world around. She had been to all the places that Stahr made movies of, and lived in cities whose names he had never heard. Then The Man went to seed, drinking and sleeping with the housemaids and trying to force her off on his friends. They all tried to make her stick with him. They said she had saved him and should cleave to him longer now, indefinitely, to the end. It was her duty. They brought enormous pressure to bear. But she had met The American, and so finally she ran away.
“You should have run away before.”
“Well, you see it was difficult.” She hesitated, and plunged. “You see I ran away from a king.”
His moralities somehow collapsed—she had managed to top him. A confusion of thoughts raced through his head—one of them a faint old credo that all royalty was diseased.
“It wasn’t the King of England,” she said. “My king was out of job as he used to say. There are lots of kings in London.” She laughed—then added almost defiantly, “He was very attractive until he began drinking and raising hell.”
“What was he king of?”
She told him—and Stahr visualized the face out of old newsreels.
“He was a very learned man,” she said. “He could have taught all sorts of subjects. But he wasn’t much like a king. Not nearly as much as you. None of them were.”
This time Stahr laughed.
“They were the standard article,” he said.
“You know what I mean. They all felt old fashioned. Most of them tried so hard to keep up with things. They were always advised to keep up with things. One was a Syndicalist for instance. And one used to carry around a couple of clippings about a tennis tournament when he was in the semi-finals. I saw those clippings a dozen times.”
They rode through Griffith Park and out past the dark studios of Burbank, past the airports and along the way to Pasadena past the neon signs of roadside cabarets. Up in his head he wanted her but it was late and just the ride was an overwhelming joy. They held hands and once she came close in to his arms saying, “Oh you’re so nice. I do like to be with you.” But her mind was divided—this was not his night as the Sunday afternoon had been his. She was absorbed in herself, stung into excitement by telling of her own adventures; he could not help wondering if he was getting the story she had saved up for The American.
“How long have you known The American?” he asked.
“Oh I knew him for several months. We used to meet. We understand each other. He used to say ’It looks like a cinch from now on.’”
“Then why did you call me up?”
“I wanted to see you once more. Then too—he was supposed to arrive today but last night he wired that he’d be another week. I wanted to talk to a friend—after all you are my friend.”
He wanted her very much now but one part of his mind was cold and kept saying: she wants to see if I’m in love with her, if I want to marry her. Then she’d consider whether or not to throw this man over. She won’t consider it till I’ve committed myself. “Are you in love with The American?” he asked. “Oh yes. It’s absolutely arranged. He saved my life and my reason. He’s moving half way around the world for me. I insisted on that.”
“But are you in love with him?” “Oh yes, I’m in love with him.”
The “Oh yes” told him she was not—told him to speak for himself—that she would see. He took her in his arms and kissed her deliberately on the mouth and held her for a long time. It was so warm.
“Not tonight,” she whispered.
They passed over suicide bridge with the high new wire.
“I know what it is,” she said, “but how stupid. English people don’t kill themselves when they don’t get what they want.”
They turned around in the driveway of a hotel and started back. It was a dark night with no moon. The wave of desire had passed and neither spoke for a while. Her talk of kings had carried him oddly back in flashes to the pearly White Way of Main Street in Erie, Pennsylvania when he was fifteen. There was a restaurant with lobsters in the window and green weeds and bright light on a shell cavern and behind a red curtain the terribly strange brooding mystery of people and violin music. That was just before he left for New York. This girl reminded him of the fresh iced fish and lobsters in the window. She was Beautiful Doll. Minna had never been Beautiful Doll.
They looked at each other and her eyes asked “Shall I marry The American?” He did not answer. After a while he said:
“Let’s go somewhere for the week-end.”
“Are you talking about tomorrow?”
“I’m afraid I am.”
“Well, I’ll tell you tomorrow,” she said.
“Tell me tonight. I’d be afraid—”
“—find a note in the car?” she laughed. “No there’s no note in the car. You know almost everything now.”
“Yes—almost. A few little things.”
He would have to know what they were. She would tell him tomorrow. He doubted—or he wanted to doubt—if there had been a maze of philandering—a fixation had held her to The Man, the king, firmly and long. Three years of a highly anomalous position—one foot in the Palace and one in the background. “You had to laugh a lot,” she said. “I learned to laugh a lot.”
“He could have married you—like Mrs. Simpson,” Stahr said in protest.
“Oh, he was married. And he wasn’t a romantic.” She stopped herself.
“Yes,” she said unwillingly, as if she were laying down a trump. “Part of you is. You’re three or four different men but each of them out in the open. Like all Americans.”
“Don’t start trusting Americans too implicitly,” he said, smiling. “They may be out in the open but they change very fast.”
She looked concerned.
“Very fast and all at once,” he said. “And nothing ever changes them back.”
“You frighten me. I always had a great sense of security with Americans.”
She seemed suddenly so alone that he took her hand.
“Where will we go tomorrow?” he said. “Maybe up in the mountains. I’ve got everything to do tomorrow but I won’t do any of it. We can start at four and get there by afternoon.”
“I’m not sure. I seem to be a little mixed up. This doesn’t seem to be quite the girl who came out to California for a new life.”
He could have said it then, said “It is a new life” for he knew it was, he knew he could not let her go now, but something else said to sleep on it as an adult, no romantic. And tell her tomorrow. Still she was looking at him her eyes wandering from his forehead to his chin and back again, and then up and down once more with that odd slowly waving motion of her head.
… It is your chance, Stahr. Better take it now. This is your girl. She can save you, she can worry you back to life. She will take looking after and you will grow strong to do it. But take her now—tell her and take her away. Neither of you knows it but far away over the night The American has changed his plans. At this moment his train is speeding through Albuquerque; the schedule is accurate. The engineer is on time. In the morning he will be here.
… The chauffeur turned up the hill to Kathleen’s house. It seemed warm even in darkness—wherever he had been near her was by way of being enchanted place for Stahr: this limousine—the rising house at the beach, the very distances they had already covered together over the sprawled city. The hill they climbed now gave forth a sort of glow, a sustained sound that struck his soul alert with delight.
As he said good bye he felt again that it was impossible to leave her, even for a few hours. There was only ten years between them but he felt that madness about it akin to the love of an ageing man for a young girl. It was a deep and desperate time-need, a clock ticking with his heart, and it urged him against the whole logic of his life to walk past her into the house now—and say “This is forever.”
Kathleen waited, irresolute herself—pink and silver frost waiting to melt with spring. She was a European, humble in the face of power, but there was a fierce self—respect that would only let her go so far. She had no illusions about the considerations that swayed princes.
“We’ll go to the mountains tomorrow,” said Stahr. Many thousands of people depended on his balanced judgement—you can suddenly blunt a quality you have lived by for twenty years.
He was very busy the next morning, Saturday. At two o’clock when he came from luncheon there was a stack of telegrams—a company ship was lost in the Arctic, a star was in disgrace, a writer was sueing for one million dollars, Jews were dead miserably beyond the sea. The last telegram stared up at him:
I WAS MARRIED AT NOON TODAY GOODBYE, and on a sticker attached “Send your answer by Western Union Telegram.”