Chapter 1: A Welcome to England
My beloved James and I lived through two atrocious wars. We were officers in the first one and nervous witnesses in the second one, never missing a line from American newspapers or any spoken word on the radio. Peace has settled down on Earth now. Watching mankind slowly transcend into an era full of new-found wealth is both invigorating and depressing. The next generations will only know the old world from tales handed down by those who saw it, and yet young men and women will be the ones vouching for peace and safety in the years to come.
I am fifty-four going on fifty-five now, an old man unable to boast contribution to the new age of assembly-line motor cars, hamburger joints and the restoration of war-stricken Europe.
I’ve written all I could about the tour de monde James and I made in 1926 and 1927. We literally traveled around the globe, starting in Newark where our good friends Maurice Hall and Alec Scudder saw us off on a southbound train and ending in New York almost a year later with Alec loyally waiting in his van outside the port to take us and our luggage home to West Egg, Long Island.
After months of traveling the American deserts, tropical islands in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, of extensive sightseeing from Ceylon all the way up to the Mediterranean, after visiting any ancient Roman town between Naples and Milan, after suffering stifling heat in New Mexico and bitter cold in the Alps, after getting a taste of either lavish or plain European culture in Switzerland, France, Belgium and Holland, we set foot on English soil at the port of Harwich in April 1927.
James, who has been my lover for nearly twenty-six years now, said the most remarkable thing the other day.
‘We went around the globe with the objective to visit many countries, but in fact we took the long way to England.’
Clive drove a magnificent Sunbeam. It had very little boot space. Nick said that he, being of the lower orders, would ride in the back seat and look after the suitcases that were neatly piled up so that I could sit next to Clive in the front.
Our original plan had been to travel straight to Osmington by train where one of the Durhams would pick us up. But some unexpected events had made Clive decide to drive all the way from Penge up to Harwich to save us a trip. ‘Anne had to travel to Bristol to attend the funeral of her best boarding school friend’s father…And my mother came down with a cold. She’s feeling much better now but I believe it’s best to postpone your arrival by one day.’
Clive himself was due in court at the Old Bailey the next day. He had thought it more sensible to take us to London first. We and our host would spend the night at his flat in Kensington.
The moist, sunny landscape sped by, dotted with fluffy white sheep, ancient stone fencings, modest hamlets surrounding strict-looking churches until the quiet gradually made way to the suburbs of London.
‘I always take the train to the City,’ Clive said as we slowly moved down a boulevard along the Thames in a string of cars. ‘I never drive here. It’s enough to give the most valiant of warriors a heart attack.’
The streets were narrower and busier than in Manhattan, but the air was not polluted by caterwauling horns or cab drivers shouting abuse in fifty languages. We reached the apartment building shortly after noon. Clive told the concierge’s son to take in our luggage and to drive the car into a garage three blocks away.
Nick and I had lived in hotels and cottages for eight months. This was the first homely place we set foot in after what now felt like a lifetime of vagrancy.
Clive’s mother had bought her son this apartment in 1911 while he was still at Cambridge studying for his bar exams. She had wanted to give him a safe haven while he observed an internship with a London law firm before graduating. It was here where he had given Maurice a room of his own to stay, even though Maurice still lived with his mother in Alfriston Gardens, which lay about ten miles west of Kensington. Old Mrs. Durham had never known that Clive and Maurice had been more than friends since 1909. The apartment she had given her son only served as a refuge for two lovers until Clive got engaged to Anne in April 1913.
The whole place had remained unchanged, Clive now told us. The wallpaper and the furniture looked so hideously old-fashioned that it was lovely. It was a bachelor’s den in a building full of students from affluent families and married gentlemen who kept mistresses in the City.
‘No one gives a damn so the two of you can be as noisy as you like,’ Clive said, and he showed us the room Nick and I would spend the night in.
Maurice’s room. The host even kept Maurice’s old college suits, shoes and books in the wardrobe, as if his friend could walk in any moment after a day of strenuous work at the office on Chancery Lane.
Chapter 2: From London to Penge
Our couple spend a night at Clive's apartment in London. Now there's a recipe for trouble...
James and I made love under white sheets and a midnight-blue brocade cover that night, sending our cries of joy into the warm air that permeated the apartment. It was only here where we could be blissfully naked and free, even though a hard-working lawyer was sleeping in the next room.
We lay relaxed and smoking in the dark afterwards, talking softly and listening to the noise of traffic and night buses outside. Then we drifted off, only to be startled by a hard rap on the door when Maurice’s old alarm clock on the nightstand showed half past six.
James and I were both naked, but he quickly drew up the covers to our chins and then hoarsely called out: ‘Come in!’
Clive walked in wearing a tatty flannel dressing gown over ridiculously striped college pyjamas. His dark hair stood out in every direction and he was wearing old glasses.
I had to stifle a laugh.
‘Good morning,’ he smiled. ‘Did you sleep well?’
We nodded and watched him sit down on James’s side of the bed. He told us he had to leave for court at eight and that he hoped to be back by noon. We would leave straight for Penge after that.
‘Sorry to rush you like that,’ he said. ‘But I’d like to be home by tea time. Anne will be back from Bristol by then. So please have your suitcases ready before I return from the Old Bailey.’
He handed us a spare key. ‘There you go…there’s barely any food in the house, but there’s a deli outside Temple that sells lovely sandwiches.’
‘A deli?’ James echoed.
Clive nodded. ‘Yes, that’s what the owners call it. It’s supposed to be very American, but they don’t sell bagels there…It’s not kosher either.’
James smiled. ‘That’s O.K., old sport. You know I don’t observe those laws.’
Clive laughed. ‘Keep the key until you leave England. Treat this place like a hotel, even when I’m not here….’
Then his eyes met mine. ‘I say, old sport, are you all right?’ he asked worriedly. ‘You must still be exhausted from your jolly days in Holland and the crossing.’
‘I’m O.K.’ I muttered.
He nodded and then, thank God, got up from the bed and left the room.
Only when we heard him splashing and whistling in the bathroom did I relax and sink back into the pillows.
James moved closer to me to kiss me, but he stopped mid-way.
‘Sweet Jesus, what’s wrong with you, Nick?’
'What's wrong with you?'
We both had monumental erections.
‘Let’s deal with this first and then we’ll have breakfast,’ he whispered, after which he slid under the sheets to give me his delicious mouth.
A row of smiling and waving people awaited us on the front porch when Clive pulled up outside the flagstone steps to the main entrance of the manor.
We were greeted by those we had never met in person before but who had already become dear friends to us. There was old Mrs. Durham, Clive’s mother, a lady in her seventies with elaborately done-up dark-red hair, Lady Pippa, Clive’s older sister, tall, thin and very blond, and Lord Archie London, Pippa’s husband, a balding, fifty-two-year-old man.
‘Do feel most welcome, gentlemen,’ Mrs. Durham said. ‘You must be Mr. Gatsby…How do you do?’
‘I am well, thank you,’ I smiled. ‘I was sorry to hear about your health. I hope you are feeling better now.’
She nodded happily and then shook hands with Nick. We did so with the others and then they made way for the lady of the house. Anne Durham.
We had last seen her in New York in 1923 and it surprised me how little she had changed. Black was the predominant color in her appearance – her curly hair, even though the first silver threads of old age were showing in it, her modern, silk dress, the shades under her brown eyes that told me she’d had a strenuous drive back from Bristol. Her ivory bracelets clicked when she drew me and Nick to her to kiss us. She smelled of dried rose-petals and something Oriental. Even though she wore no make-up, her likeness to Daisy Fay was striking.
Nick and I had met Daisy, his cousin once removed from Louisville, in France a few weeks ago. She had divorced her husband Tom, left her little daughter Pammy with her parents in Louisville and moved to Paris to write smutty novels that were widely read in spite of because of their being on every national index marked as harmful to young or female readers.
Anne, who ran a literary reading circle on this estate, had come across Daisy’s work and surprisingly enjoyed her stories. She kept a correspondence with the writer and had even invited her to come and visit.
I wondered what she would say when she learned that this Bohemian lady actually was related to Nick.
We had moved inside to allow Mrs. Durham to cross-examine her daughter Pippa and her son-in-law Archie about the accommodation for the two guests from America.
‘I had the Blue Room, the little library and the former school room prepared for Mr. Gatsby and Mr. Carraway,’ Pippa said. ‘I thought some extra space with a typewriter and a phone extension would be convenient for the gentlemen, since they are in England on business.’
‘The Blue Room?’ Mrs. Durham frowned.
Clive laughed. ‘Yes, Mama, the one with the smoking fireplace. I doubt whether it will be to their liking, but…’
‘It sounds marvelous,’ I reassured him.
Clive summoned a houseboy to carry up our luggage and beckoned for us to follow him.
The rooms turned out to be located in a deserted wing of the house. They were all connected and the bathroom was right across from them.
Our host waited until the boy had left and then flew to us to kiss us each on the cheek. ‘There!’ he said happily. ‘Now I have officially bid you welcome.’
He led us to the bay window of the library and pointed at the enormous, quiet garden outside.
‘You can shoot gamekeepers from here,’ he smirked. ‘No one will notice. We deliberately let you have these rooms so that you can have some privacy. I’m afraid they’re none like the beautiful suite Anne and I stayed in at your house on West Egg…But then again, you’ll often be out in London or sightseeing, I suppose. We’ve got five cars in the garage we barely use, so feel free to borrow them.’
He then showed us the Russet Room across the corridor. This was to be Maurice’s domain for the duration of his stay. ‘You’ll have to share the bathroom with him, but I’m sure you won’t mind,’ Clive grinned.
The ablutions had an enamel tub, a standard sink and a turn-of-the-century water closet. Stacks of fluffy towels, rows of little flasks and a display of shaving gear were on display to mask the fact that Penge was nothing like the luxurious hotels we’d seen on our journey.
But I was moved at the efforts our hosts had made. Everybody with the exception of old Mrs. Durham and the servants knew that James and I were lovers. These arrangements would allow us to live comfortably and undisturbed. We’d have to contend with Maurice’s presence soon, but Maurice was like us and not given to prying. Still the thought of him being only yards away from us in the Russet Room gave me unpleasant shivers.
‘I’ll leave you to unpack,’ Clive said. ‘If you need anything, just ring the electric bell in the office.’
Chapter 3: An Evening on Penge
Our friends find themselves facing a perfect Supernanny exhibit. At supper, Mrs. Durham gets up on her high horse again but is successfully shot down by James, yee-haw!
My head ran wild with thoughts as Nick and I headed downstairs to join the family in the parlor for afternoon tea.
It was quite a list: (1) under no circumstances was any allusion to the true relationship between Nick and me to be made, (2) the same went for the fact that I was German, (3) if the subject of Daisy Fay ever came up, it would only be safe to say something as soon as her pen name was mentioned – ‘Marguerite? Yes, she’s a writer, someone told me about her once,’ – , (4) if there was any talk about Maurice, we had to stick to the tale that he and I had met as officers in the war and that he happened to live two miles down the road from my house on West Egg, and (5) Alec Scudder, if he was mentioned at all, would have to be depicted as the fellow who serviced Maurice’s car and that the two of them had become friends, since no one was ever to find out that they were lovers, and (5) if there were any prying questions about Scudder’s private life, we were to tell everybody he was indeed considering marrying his housekeeper, Mrs. Martirio Gonzalez, a young widow with two little sons.
Having to remember all this put me in a foul mood, because it seemed too much like homework, and I had always hated school.
As we sat enjoying a meal of tea and light refreshments, the Durhams asked James and me many questions about our journey. I was relieved to find good answers that were not too risqué.
There’s nothing wrong with tales about guided tours in Ceylon, the up-scale harbor clubs in Australia and descriptions of lovely holiday resorts in Hawaii.
Penge was awash with visitors from the city during the hunting season in the fall, people full of tales of their vast travels, and so I thought it safe to tell how James and I had each had a cottage without any servants in Oahu. We had had to get our own victuals. ‘The coconuts were so high up in the trees that we had no choice but to shoot them down,’ I said, which caused the Durhams to chortle for minutes.
‘How horrid,’ Archie sniveled. ‘Those poor coconuts! But it sounds like an adventure all the same. I say, I do envy you.’
They were all still giggling when the maid came in announcing a Miss Stapleton and the young master. Her lips trembled mockingly as she spoke.
Presently a little boy came bounding in, followed by his nanny who admonished him for his wild behavior.
Anne held out her arms and cried: ‘Bles-sed pre-cious, do come to Auntie and give her a kiss!’
The boy hopped into her lap and left sloppy marks on her cheeks. ‘My dream, my absolute dream,’ Anne cooed. ‘How is my dearest Charlie today? Did you have tea with Nanny…? Oh, did wicked Auntie leave some of her powder on your hair?’
Pippa smiled. ‘That’s all right, Anne…Come to Mama, Charlie, so she can brush it off…’
She did, probably to make her son, for this was surely her son even though I could not remember him ever being mentioned in Anne’s or Clive’s letters, look presentable for the visitors.
The boy must be about five years old, an age at which no child will greet strangers of its own accord. I expected Pippa to tell him to shake hands with James and me and say how-de-do, but before she could, he had run to James, who was sitting beside me, and crawled into his lap.
‘Who are you?’ he squealed enthusiastically. ‘I’m Lord Charlie London…Are you the man from America?’ He then pointed at me. ‘And this man, is he from America, too?’
Pippa, Anne, Mrs. Durham and the nanny went out of their way to remind Charlie of good manners. ‘Shake hands, don’t point at people and say ‘sir’…Good heavens…’
‘Well, hello Lord Charlie,’ James smiled. ‘I’m honored to meet you. My name is Mr. Gatsby and the gentleman beside me is Mr. Carraway.’
The boy gripped the lapels of James’s jacket and looked him in the eyes.
‘Did you bring me a gift?’ he piped. ‘All the other people from America do, you know.’
I cringed. We had bought an array of toys and trinkets at a bazaar in Jeddah, but they were stowed away in our trunks which had not turned up yet. I wondered if some wicked port clerk had ordered to have them sent back to Rotterdam.
James knew. ‘Well…er…’ he began. ‘I’ve got something for you, I’m sure, but it may take some time until the rest of my luggage…’
‘Then buy me a cowboy suit in London,’ the boy demanded with a grin. ‘All those people from America only bring wind-up cars and plush animals…I want a cowboy suit with a hat and two pistols – pow pow!’
‘Enough already,’ Archie said. ‘Come and sit next to Papa, my boy…And don’t let your boots touch Mr. Gatsby’s suit.’
James was enraptured by the little creature. He smiled beautifully and told the boy in a musical voice that he would see if cowboys’ attire was to be had in London.
We only got rid of Charlie when Clive lured him with a scone. ‘Take this, and then go into the school room with Nanny to have your milk.’
The boy devoured his treat and then jumped into Clive’s arms. Clive giggled, rocked him and then put him back on the floor.
‘Run along now,’ our host said gently. ‘We don’t want to keep Nanny waiting, do we?’ And so the boy rushed out. I pretended to stifle a sneeze in my handkerchief to hide a sigh of relief when he had left.
Mrs. Durham was seated next to me at dinner. The first course was turtle soup. I could not help but wonder if the flesh counted as kosher, but it tasted delicious.
Nick was sitting between Pippa and Archie and delivering a tale about the mobile Dutch organs we had seen in the streets of Batavia and Amsterdam. ‘The men operating them jangle cans full of change to the rhythm of the songs for tips,’ I heard him say. ‘And the machines have mechanical puppets playing chimes or triangles…There’s something very cute about it.’
‘Mr. Carraway’s company is delightful,’ Mrs. Durham smiled at me. ‘And he is well-read. A man like him is very valuable for an accomplished entrepreneur like you, Mr. Gatsby.’
‘He is,’ I nodded proudly. ‘He was educated at Yale.’ I hoped fervently she would not ask where I had obtained my college degree. I had none, since I had left school at fifteen, and my usual lie about a diploma from an institution in St. Paul, Minnesota would seem to obvious to this intelligent lady.
‘Clive went to Eton and then to Cambridge,’ she said. ‘He never stood out much in the academic sense of the word.’
This was nonsense. Clive had indeed belonged to the indifferent low-grade team in school but he had graduated with honors as a lawyer.
‘I always wanted Clive to travel,’ she went on. ‘When he was at Cambridge, I insisted that he complete his third year and then devote himself to lessons that cannot be learned at any university. In my opinion, a fourth year at college would not have benefited a yokel like Clive. I wanted him to see the colonies and America…Yes, America first and foremost.’
‘And the Continent?’ I asked, hoping she would not take my question as ironic. Clive had seen the Continent a few years after graduating, that is France as an infantry lieutenant in the war. Not a very jolly holiday.
‘Why, of course!’ she cried. ‘Holland and Belgium because their business spirit is so inspiring. After all, Clive was preparing to become the master of Penge…Switzerland because of its magnificent Alps, and Italy for its wonderful architecture…When he was in his third year, his friend Mr. Hall came to visit…Well, you know Mr. Hall, he’s straight-minded and not given to sentimental musings about olden times and cultures…I hoped back then that Mr. Hall would accompany Clive on a journey to keep him safe, as odd as that may seem…’
I swallowed. You’re on to Maurice and Clive and soon you’ll find out about Nick and me too, I thought, …oh sweet Lord…
‘Are you all right?’ she asked worriedly. I nodded.
‘I told Mr. Hall I would be delighted if he traveled with Clive,’ she said. ‘And I was very determined about one thing. Clive would have to see many countries, but not Greece. One only visits Greece for pleasure, not for educational purposes.’
‘Greece sounds out of repair to me,’ I remarked, happy to omit any conversation of the country where so-called unspeakable vices were believed to have originated.
‘But it never came to pass,’ Mrs. Durham murmured sadly. ‘Clive completed his fourth year at Cambridge. He and Mr. Hall never traveled, and in the end Clive and Anne saw all of Greece twice.’ She took a sip of wine and then repeated: ‘Twice.’
Then her kind face lit up. She told me how happy she was that Clive had seen America after all in 1923 and that he had met me and Nick. ‘Mr. Carraway and you are businessmen,’ she smiled. ‘Just the kind of people I want my son to associate with.’
‘The time Clive and Anne spent with me was of a private nature,’ I said. ‘It was lovely to entertain them at my house on West Egg. It was sad, however, that they were absent so often because Clive had to see eye doctors in many cities…They hired cars and took trains and I could never convince them to borrow one of my limousines.’
The latter unintentionally stalled her. Not only had I failed to act as Clive’s mentor to lick him into whatever shape she wished him to have, but it had also become clear that I was more affluent than her family.
Chapter 4: The Countryside
Clive makes a grotesque announcement, James writes letters to his family and Anne takes Nick out in her car,
The Durhams knew we had taken some precious gems from Antwerp. The little office between our bedrooms had a safe, but our hosts were very understanding about our wish to keep the doors to the corridor locked at all times. It was a custom that visitors got their morning tea served in their rooms, but we explained that this was never done in America and that we preferred having breakfast with the family.
The first meal of the day was elaborate. There were scrambled eggs, bacon, kidneys, toast, fried tomatoes and mushrooms and several jams made of fruit from the estate.
‘Isn’t Charlie joining us?’ I asked Pippa and Archie. They shook their heads and told me the boy always had breakfast with his nanny in the school room. This struck me as both old-fashioned and pleasant. The three girls – Pippa’s and Archie’s two daughters and Helen, Anne’s and Clive’s ward – would not be home from boarding school until shortly before Easter, thank goodness.
Simcox, the butler who had taken his uncle’s position after his death, came in with a tray full of mail and newspapers. There was a letter from my parents for me. James’s mother and father had remembered their son as well. He stuffed the envelope in his pocket. His parents always wrote to him in German, which he did not want to disclose to our hosts so as not to offend Mrs. Durham.
‘Thank heavens,’ Clive cried, tapping on a section of a newspaper. ‘I just read that the SS Washington ported at Belfast last night.’
The family were clueless. ‘Maurice is on board of the ship,’ Clive clarified. ‘She will stop at Dublin and then cross over to Liverpool. Maurice will disembark there and travel straight to London by train.’
‘He won’t be here for some time yet,’ Anne remarked sadly. ‘Of course he wants to be with his mother and his sisters…’
‘But he made it safely across the Atlantic,’ I said. ‘I was worried…Icebergs, spring hurricanes…but the vessel is sailing according to schedule…so nothing happened, thank goodness.’
The puzzled look James gave me made me realize how stupid I was for saying anything in our friend’s favor, as if James himself was not looking forward to meeting him on Penge soon either.
After breakfast I asked to be excused to go upstairs and write some letters. ‘I won’t need you to type, old sport,’ I said to Nick. He understood. And he did not know German anyway.
Anne got an idea. The weather outside was lovely and she knew Nick was aching to see some towns in Somerset where his family originated from. She offered to take him there in the car. It would be bad form if I offered to accompany him on a tour that mainly involved graveyards where his ancestors lay, because he was still my assistant in Mrs. Durham’s eyes and not a very close friend in need of my comfort.
‘I’d be honored,’ Nick said to Anne. ‘And do let me treat you to luncheon on the way.’
And so I found myself in the little office upstairs staring at a blank sheet in the typewriter. I was sure my family in Homburg could not read my American handwriting, and my father’s eyesight had declined of late.
I smoked, looked out of the window and paced up and down the room until I could not stand it anymore and set to hammering words into the keyboard.
Dear Mutti and Vati, I hope this finds you in the best of health…Thank you very much for the letter you sent to Penge…I talked to our family in Homburg, but I failed to convince them to leave Germany…I will go out of my way to make them change their minds…Please forgive me for not fulfilling the task you consider so important, but I won’t give up...
Then I wrote Dear Uncle Siegfried, dear Aunt Hilde, it was a blessing to meet you…I am writing to you on behalf of my parents as well…Please reconsider...
Anne walked beside me dressed in a black tweed hunting costume with a wide skirt and a collarless white blouse under a raincoat. Her boots made squishy sounds on the muddy paths that ran past rows of sagging tombstones.
I stopped when I saw my last name on one of them. Nicolas Ralph Albert Carraway, 1767 – 1829. ‘Look,’ I whispered at Anne. ‘My great-great-grandfather.’
‘And there,’ I said, pointing at the next stone with Elizabeth Carraway-Thornton, 1770 – 1842 on it. ‘She was his wife. She cried when her eldest son announced his emigration to America. She felt she’d never see him again, and she was right.’
Anne squeezed my arm in comfort. Then she silently handed me a bunch of Bengal roses Clive had cut for me in the little greenhouse on Penge before we left. Was this a suitable gift for the male head of the Carraway family? I decided to put it on my great-great-grandmother’s grave instead.
There must be more relatives resting in this place, but most of the stones were so worn that the names had become illegible.
‘Let’s move on,’ Anne said.
She drove fast, violently changing gears and overtaking vans and cyclists on the way to the next village where another part of my family had lived. The car came to a grinding halt outside a church surrounded by a well-kept lawn. We got out and entered the cemetery that lay behind a row of fir trees. We roamed around for minutes and found no stone with Carraway or Thornton on it.
Then we saw a little park that harbored two sandstone monuments. The first one, darkened with age, bore the names of all the men in the village who had fallen in the Boer War, among them John Carraway who had died at the age of twenty.
I found more on the next monument, which was fairly new. Several relatives had perished in European trenches. They had died young as well, and without military ranks. My family had never stood out much.
Anne always kept a box of silk poppies in her car to use on any appropriate occasion. She now handed some to me and watched respectfully as I clumsily arranged them among wreaths left by other visitors. Then I stepped back and gave a military salute.
‘Would you like to pray?’ she asked me.
‘No,’ I said. ‘I’m an atheist.’
Chapter 5: Outside
James meets a nice young feller and takes him to Coney Island (not). Anne and Nick fly to Amsterdam and smoke weed (not).
I felt relieved when I finally put the letters in envelopes and went down to Clive’s study to see if he could spare any stamps.
Clive happily handed me some, watched me stick them on and then invited me for a stroll outside.
We went down into the garden, lit cigarettes and talked.
Presently a young man in worn corduroy turned up. He stopped when he saw us and politely touched his cap. ‘Ah, Scudder,’ Clive said pleasantly. ‘Have you been to check on the young birds?’
‘I have, sir,’ the boy answered. ‘But I believe the foxes have been at them eggs again. We ought to shoot ‘em.’
‘That’s up to me to decide,’ Clive retorted smugly.
I felt sorry for the gamekeeper, so I spoke. ‘You must be Joe Scudder,’ I said. ‘My name is Gatsby and I’m from New York. Your uncle Alec services my assistant’s car at his garage on Long Island.’
‘I know,’ the boy said indifferently.
‘I know, sir,’ Clive corrected him. ‘Your uncle would be appalled if he knew how you display bad manners here.’
‘He sends you his regards,’ I soothed the boy.
Young Scudder was not impressed. It amazed me how he put up with Clive’s demeanor. Yet I wanted to save him.
‘Would it be all right if I asked young Scudder to post my letters?’ I asked my host.
Clive nodded and so I handed the two envelopes to the boy. Only when he had put them in his grimy game bag did I realize that he would see that one envelope had an address in Germany on it. This would be the talk in the servants’ quarters by the end of the day. It was too late now.
I dug into my pockets and produced two shillings. ‘Here you go,’ I said to Scudder. ‘And thank you very much.’
The boy touched his cap again and walked off, probably to the stable to get his bicycle.
‘You should not tip him so lavishly,’ Clive said kindly to me. ‘You’ll only make him want more.’
‘That’s what his uncle Alec warned me about,’ I grinned.
Clive burst out in a delightful laugh, igniting a fire within me. There was just no way one could find fault with this arrogant man.
By the time Anne and I were back at the car outside the church premises I was hungry. I offered again to buy her lunch. She went pale.
‘That’s sweet of you, but I’d like to talk to you first. It won’t take long, but when I’m done you will probably wish you’d never set foot on Penge.’
I staggered on my feet. Old Mrs. Durham found out about James and me, I thought.
Anne grabbed my wrists. ‘Dear, no…I’m not intending to criticize you…It’s so wonderful that you came to stay…I’ve got a favor to ask of you.’
As she drove out of town I sat beside her frantically contemplating the probabilities. Some advice about American stock business, a request to arrange a migrant scholarship for some poor nephew or niece, or maybe to have a pretty hat or scarf sent to her from a boutique on Fifth Avenue.
If so, then what she was doing now made no sense. She had left the main road and was now skillfully dodging puddles and potholes on a track that led into a dense forest. The sunlight was absorbed by the tree branches and even though we were inside her car with the top up, I could feel the temperature was dropping dramatically.
She stopped at a clearing and switched off the engine. We got out and looked around. ‘Let’s walk,’ she said. ‘Did you remember to bring your cigarettes?’
The area must be very familiar to her because she led the way, climbing effortlessly over felled trunks and jumping over protruding roots. ‘Did you go on hikes as a child?’ I asked, feeling amused.
‘I did,’ she cried without looking over her shoulder. ‘Watch out, the place is full of coyotes and rattlesnakes.’ This made me laugh.
She stopped at a small clearing. In its center was a stump large enough for two people to sit on.
I wiped the surface with my handkerchief, which made her smirk. Then we settled down and produced our cigarette cases. She accepted my light with an appreciative nod, blew out a plume of smoke and stretched her legs.
'Finally,’ she sighed. ‘I’ve been wanting to smoke for hours, but it’s bad form to do so in holy places…And here there’s no risk of causing bush fires like in good old Australia, mate. Thank heavens for soggy Somerset, eh?’
We puffed in silence for minutes listening to the sounds of the forest – a blackbird singing, the leaves on branches rustling as squirrels ran along them hunting for food and the rattle of a woodpecker.
‘You know why Clive and I came to America nearly for years ago, don’t you?’ she then asked, her soft voice sounding like thunder.
‘I do. You had to attend your boarding school friend’s wedding in New Haven and Clive had to see oculists.’
She snorted with amusement. ‘Yes, those were the official objectives he and I used with our families…Of course I wanted to see my friend being married to Professor Hartman, but did you never think it odd how Clive had to go to America for a condition that could just as easily be dealt with in London? By the way, his eyesight is fine, he can drive and ride horses and read without difficulty.’
She uttered a sigh and then lit another cigarette so quickly that I had no time to produce my lighter.
‘It surprises me that you never guessed,’ she went on. ‘Clive and I both traveled far and wide, up to Montreal and Ottawa and down to Atlanta and New Orleans because we both needed to see specialists.’
‘Dear me,’ I said. ‘Nothing serious, I hope?’
‘No,’ she muttered. ‘And…yes…Good heavens, Nick, have you still no clue? Ah, that’s because you’re not married. I don’t mean that as an insult…Clive and I never had any children.’
‘I know that,’ I said. ‘And I feel very sorry for you. It must be hard on him and you.’
Her eyes grew soft and moist. She was about to cry.
‘So you and Clive saw specialists to seek a cure,’ I observed, feeling incredibly stupid.
‘We did,’ she nodded. ‘The outcome was that I’m O.K. and that…well…Clive may have something that keeps us from having a child. He could not bring himself so far as to have himself examined to the full extent.’
I did not know anything about such procedures and assumed Clive had refused point blank to have his sex organs X-rayed or to produce a sample that could be studied under a microscope. If so, then I did not blame him. There was a limit to what a man was willing to do.
‘You wanted to ask me a favor,’ I reminded Anne. ‘Please tell me.’ I had to hear it from her, even though I sensed right then and there what she wanted from me.
Chapter 6: An Unexpected Proposal
James cheers up Pippa while Nick hears of Anne's plans.
I had luncheon with Clive and Pippa. Lord Archie had gone to Osmington on business and would not return until late in the afternoon. Again, little Charlie was not present.
‘He never has his meals with us,’ Pippa explained. ‘He can’t behave properly around visitors, as you saw yesterday.’
‘Well,’ I remarked, ‘Charlie is very young. He’s a nice fellow and five-year-olds still have a lot to learn, I presume.’
Both Clive and Pippa went pale. I was wondering if I had said something that was considered too American and therefore inappropriate in a British environment.
‘Charlie is eight,’ Pippa said sadly. ‘I thought you knew.’
I did not, which prompted her to tell a bit more.
The boy’s growth was stunted for some unknown reason, and so was his intellect. ‘We have a lovely tutor in four times a week,’ she said. ‘A very accomplished young lady with a degree from Oxford. She goes out of her way to teach him the alphabet and some simple arithmetic, but he’s not receptive to any kind of learning. He’s clever in a way, he likes climbing trees and fishing for tadpoles in the pond and he can draw airplanes and motor cars in great detail, but he can’t go beyond that.’
I then got some information about Pippa’s daughters and Helen, Anne’s niece who was Clive’s and Anne’s ward. They all performed outstandingly at boarding school and were destined to move on to college after that.
‘Charlie will develop yet,’ I said, feeling sad for Pippa. ‘I never got good grades at school, I only managed to get a college diploma by the skin of my teeth, and I was not the only one. It only proves that girls are more likely to study hard than boys, but they all come out all right in the end.’
Pippa gave me the sweetest smile. It had taken a few words spoken by a citizen from the world’s most progressive nation to nourish the hope that her youngest child would eventually amount to something.
Anne and I were still sitting on the tree stump. The ground at our feet gradually got littered with cigarette ends. It seemed that smoking was the only sensible thing to do now.
‘I’d like to apologize for the way I would sometimes stare at you when I was in America,’ she said. ‘Clive and I were in and out of doctors’ practices and hospitals and I knew nothing would come from that, so it got me thinking already then…Your hair is black like mine, your eyes and mine are brown, you’ve got a delicate build quite like Clive, so…’
‘You want me to father your child,’ I concluded.
She nodded. ‘I do. You’re the only one who qualifies. I’d have a son or daughter looking rather like myself and my husband.’
‘There are hundreds of men who would be more than willing to help you.’
‘Yes, but you live across the pond, not in England. No one would ever make a connection between you and my child, because you wouldn't be around to instill any idea of evidence.’
It was a well-known story, a path trodden by armies of desperate couples. Still I wondered why it was me Anne had addressed on this, and why she had not made any allusions when she was staying in America. Her wish was not unique. It had been echoed in literature and even more in books that were sold under the counter.
‘You got the idea from Daisy Fay, didn’t you?’ I asked, feeling amused.
She dropped her cigarette and gasped. ‘Daisy…How?...How would you know?’
I grinned. ‘In fact, Daisy is my cousin once removed. James and I visited her in Paris a few weeks ago. She told me about her correspondence with you…’
Anne was looking positively ill now. ‘Thank heavens I only mentioned I would have friends from America over for a visit, but not any names. I never mention any names. Nor does she for that matter.’
Anne now told me how she had read a story of Daisy’s about a couple desperate to have a child. The husband is suffering from all kinds of ailments and his wife wants nothing more than to give him a son or a daughter. She ends up sleeping with a friend of her husband’s and then a lovely girl is born who will never know that her Papa is not her real daddy.
‘I never told Daisy about Clive’s and my problem,' Anne went on, 'but I did discuss her story with her. It was she who pointed out to me that all is fair in love and war.
She referred to another event, which is actually true. Do you know Lady Constance Chatterley from Wragby, Nottinghamshire? You don’t? Well, her husband returned from the trenches paralyzed from the waist down so he could not sire any children. He wanted an heir and agreed to her sleeping with the gamekeeper and she had a baby.’
She grinned now. ‘But what happened then was not what Sir Clifford wanted. Constance divorced him, married the gamekeeper and they’re now living in Tallahassee. That’s why I thought you might have heard of her. She even had her memoirs published, in France of course because no American editor would take the risk…I would never leave Clive, though. Clive is my husband, my only husband, and he will remain so until kingdom come.’
‘You want an heir.’
She hissed with indignation. ‘Not an heir. Why would he or I care? Pippa has three children. Little Charlie, bless him, what will become of him? He’s eight and still afraid to use the water closet so he wets the bed and worse…he can only write his own name and nothing more, he is unaware of the social graces my nieces accepted at the age of three…’
‘Sounds like you want an heir after all.’
‘We’ve got those…Well, not Helen. Clive and I raise her but her maternal grandmother is still alive and would never consent to him and me adopting her grandchild…And it does not signify anyway. Pippa’s daughters will be entitled to run the estate after our deaths, but I doubt whether that will come to pass. They’re very academic, just like our little girl, and we won’t stand in their way if they choose to pursue careers in the City. You don’t need a university degree to run bloody Penge, my dear.’
‘Why do you want a child then? You’ve got Helen and you love her. If Clive and you had a baby of your own, she would always come in second. She’d feel neglected.’
Anne grinned. ‘You’re an only child, eh? Well, that’s typical. You can always share, you know.’
Then her face sank. ‘What Clive wants, what I want, is a baby we can call our own…It’s our fondest wish. We don’t want an heir. We want a child.’
‘I could never grant you your wish, Anne. You know how I am.’
She laughed. ‘I do. I would refrain from asking a married man because then his wife would kill me. That’s how women are. They are unwilling to share.’
‘So you just turn to a homosexual to have him do it.’
She nodded again with eyes full of light.
‘Does Clive know about your ideas?’
She laughed. ‘Of course he does. He very much wants to be a father. Of course he was reluctant when I first brought up the subject years ago, but he said yes. It relieved him of the burden he carried with him for years.’
Anne playfully slapped my wrist. ‘You are so deliciously playing ignorant, and you’re so bad at it. You know. Clive was Maurice’s lover in college. He told me before we got married so I was not uninformed. He battled feelings of guilt towards me over it for so long…By agreeing to have me conceive in a rather unorthodox fashion he found a way to make it up to me – even though I found nothing wrong with his love for Maurice. Maurice is a sweet, decent man.’
I saw the pinkness of her lips and the shimmer of her perfect teeth as she spoke the name, and that is when I clasped my arms around her and kissed her.
Anne refers to Lady Chatterley, the heroine from D.H. Lawrence's famous novel, which was published in 1928. By the way, it has been suggested that Lawrence took the inspiration for his story from Forster's manuscript for 'Maurice' in 1914, since both works describe relationships between members of the higher classes and gamekeepers.
Anne, however, is on to something Lawrence did not know: Lady Chatterley and her second husband moved to Tallahassee...now that's weird!
Chapter 7: Rain
Oh my goodness, Nick...
Mrs. Durham, Clive and I were having tea and refreshments. Pippa was upstairs to see to it that little Charlie made his lessons with his tutor.
It was going on five and the sunny weather had made way to a torrential downpour of rain.
‘I say, dear Anne and Mr. Carraway are late,’ Mrs. Durham said to Clive. ‘What might be taking them so long?’
The old lady clearly felt ill at ease at the idea that her son’s wife was roaming the countryside with Nick in her black roadster.
‘They went to Harewood and from there to Scanlon, I presume,’ Clive said sweetly. ‘It’s a twenty-mile drive from here. Not very far, but perhaps they ran into a relative of Mr. Carraway’s.’
Nick had never mentioned a wish to look up his kin in Somerset. Anne had taken him to visit a few graveyards where his ancestors lay. And of course they would have luncheon somewhere. Not a lengthy business anyway. But he was still with Anne. I shivered.
‘You look worried, dear Mr. Gatsby,’ Mr. Durham said in a motherly fashion. ‘I’m sure Mr. Carraway is all right.’
‘He didn’t take an umbrella,’ I stammered as the roar of the rain outside got louder.
Anne was leaning against the trunk of a fir, her black hair streaming over her forehead in the violent rain. Her mouth never escaped mine and she shivered with pleasure as I ran my fingers over her wet neck to the rim of her blouse.
Her brown eyes flashed under her glistening lashes. She giggled when I softly bit her lip.
I moved closer to her and felt her hands travel down my jacket to my waist. ‘Is it O.K.?’ she whispered and then we both laughed.
She unbuttoned the front of my pants and presently touched my turgid sex through the fabric of my drawers. I felt the elastic band snap and then her hand cupped my bare manhood. Slowly rocking back and forth to allow her to caress me I undid the buttons of her blouse.
I moaned with grief when she let go of me to unfasten the hooks of her bodice. The drops that ran down her neck tasted sweet and my tongue explored her wildly. As soon as she had bared her breasts her hand went down to my groin again. Her lily-white skin was covered in little pearls of water. I kissed her large, brown nipples and then suckled gently, gently while she pleasured me. There were no more inhibitions when my eyes met hers which were half-hidden under a sheet of black hair.
Her skirt had ridden up and while my tongue teased her beautiful aureolae, my hand slid up her stockings and a soft, silk undergarment and then slowly pulled down fabric and explored a soft patch of warm hair. She spread her legs a little further to allow my fingers to meet her most intimate parts.
Her clitoris shivered under my caresses until she froze and then cried out. I erupted in her hand. My fluids ran down her wrist and up her sleeve.
She laughed and kissed me wildly, out of breath and proud and happy. ‘I’d better clean up,’ I mumbled as she hooked up her bodice while still shaking with mirth.
‘I never expected you to give in,’ she whispered when we walked back to her car a little later.
‘Neither did I,’ I said. ‘I think it’s because you have such lovely black hair.’
Nick made love to me that night with an eagerness that astounded me. His arms were around me like tentacles, he kissed me ardently until I almost bled and implored me to penetrate him more deeply than ever before.
A man’s love spot is located somewhere deep in the pelvis and it is not always easy to reach, but I managed and moved back and forth almost unnoticeably, sending currents through his body until he cried out with bliss and lust, dragging me along until we met again in paradise.
It took us ages to recover after that. Eventually I lay beside him, smoking and watching him doze with a glow on his cheeks in the soft sheen of the bedside light, my beautiful Nick whom I loved more than anything else in the world.
We could not help but exchange furtive, infatuated glances at the breakfast table the next morning. Only Pippa noticed. She smiled and gave us a wink. Yes, we were among friends here.
Clive invited us to go out riding. It was springtime now and no season to hunt, but we would take along rifles in case we came across an ailing animal that had best be put out of its misery by a well-aimed shot. Besides, it was never wrong to fire at random to scare off the foxes who came down to feast on birds’ eggs or chicks.
Simcox came to deliver the mail. I got a letter from my office manager in Manhattan and a few more items. An envelope with a French postage stamp drew my attention.
Anne went through her mail, muttering: ‘I say, what’s this? An encyclopedia? Some people are just too fond of writing.’
‘That’s nice, dear,’ Clive said, never taking his eyes off his newspaper, the very stereotype of the man who grows tired of his missus’s talking as soon as he gets home from work. Then he looked up at us with glittering eyes.
‘The SS Washington ported at Dublin last night,’ he said. ‘Maurice will be in Liverpool tomorrow morning, God willing.’
‘That’s nice,’ I said, feeling the French envelope burn in my hands. ‘I’m afraid I won’t be able to ride with you. An urgent business matter.’
Chapter 8: Friends and Relatives
Some distressing news reaches Penge, in fact so distressing that only Nick has luncheon, a perfect occasion for romance with Reverend Borenius (not).
The little caravan threaded its way from the fields into the woods outside Penge Park. At its head was Clive, riding majestically on King Arthur, his favorite Arabian gelding. I followed on a brown mare. Joe Scudder was right behind me, listlessly holding the reins of an old Holsteiner and constantly looking over his shoulder to see what Archie was up to.
Clive’s brother-in-law had mounted a horse that took more interest in stopping to look around, to relieve itself or to crop grass. Needless to say Archie was in a rather irritable mood. The blasts we heard told all. He fired away at rabbits and hares even though he was not supposed to, since the animals had to tend to their young.
Eventually he came riding into the woods to catch up with us, spurring the horse and cursing under his breath.
‘Did you hit some, sir?’ Joe Scudder asked.
‘No, I didn’t. They’re too damned quick.’
‘They always are, sir. Can’t be helped.’
‘I suppose he thinks it’s our fault,’ Archie whispered to me, loud enough for Scudder to hear.
We rode on in a world of trees that were home to squirrels and nesting birds, with eagles darting overhead, none of them a potential prey for four men with rifles.
An hour later, we were back in the park, riding slowly towards the stables. ‘Pardon me, gentlemen,’ Scudder said as the house came into sight. ‘I believe Mr. Simcox wants me.’
He spurred the Holsteiner and raced it halfway down the lawn, where he dismounted and led the horse towards the porch. We saw him exchange some words with the butler.
Clive, Archie and I were still dozens of yards away, so Scudder decided to ride back to us.
‘Pardon me, sir,’ he said to me, panting. ‘It’s Mr. Gatsby wishes to see you, sir. It’s urgent, sir.’
This was not like James. This was not like James at all. Then I remembered both he and I had parents who were well over sixty and across the Atlantic. Something must be wrong and perhaps a dreadful message had reached us too late.
‘Ride up and then dismount outside the porch,’ Clive said kindly. ‘I’ll lead your horse to the stables…And don’t worry, old sport. I’m sure it’s just a minor crisis.’
Nick walked into my office out of breath and wearing riding breeches and boots. He offered to get changed first, but I motioned him to sit down at the desk.
‘I read this just now,’ I said, pushing Daisy’s letter towards him. ‘Now you read it and then tell me what you think.’ Nick grabbed the pages and went through the elegantly written lines, mumbling, frowning and then stopping.
‘No,’ he said. ‘This is nonsense. Daisy’s lying.’
I should have told you in person while you were in Paris she had written to me. But I just couldn’t. You love Nick, so this will be hard on you. The fact is that Nick slept with me the day before you arrived from Germany. It was the natural consequence of years of unspoken infatuation between us.
Please don’t blame him for it, but it is obvious that he does take an interest in the female sex, contrary to what you assumed. Nick loves you, but there is something down-to-earth about him that will make him turn to women in the end.
‘No,’ he said. ‘I never slept with Daisy. Why would I? If I had wanted that, I would have started an affair with her in New York years ago.’
‘Then please tell me how she came to know all those intimate details,’ I said. ‘She described them too accurately.’
If you don’t believe me, James, then read below what I observed. Nick has a little scar on his left shoulder blade and a larger, deeper one on his left upper arm. There’s an oval, cent-sized mole on his right hip and a tiny light-brown one about half an inch from the rim of his foreskin.
Nick smiled. ‘Well, she did see me naked. I was in a dressing-gown waiting for Bente to come so that I could pose for the portrait. Daisy wanted to see all of me and walked around me like a tourist admiring a statue. But that was all.’
I did not believe him. Nick, ever so chaste, had never had so much as a dalliance with a woman apart from his harmless flirt with Jordan Baker.
The fact that he had chosen his cousin Daisy to be the first woman who was allowed to see all of him proved that he was too shy to meet and court any lady of his liking and so desperate for intimacy from the other sex that he had gratefully accepted the admiring, lecherous looks and more from a relative.
What I had suspected all along had now become the inevitable truth. Like Clive, Nick was not a full men’s man after all.
I changed into my day suit and left my room. Mrs. Durham, Pippa and Archie were the only ones present at luncheon. I stand corrected – they had another visitor, Reverend Borenius.
‘He’s come to scold Clive about the tenants’ housing on the estate,’ Pippa had whispered to me before his arrival. ‘He wants Clive to be the best friend of the poor people.’
‘What’s the use?’ I murmured. ‘The poor have different interests at heart. They don’t suffer as we would in their stead.’
Women are more aware of social matters by nature than men, so I half expected her to punch me in the face for my snotty Upper Manhattan remark. But she smiled approvingly.
‘That is so,’ she said. ‘We all have different crosses to bear.’
Those were wise words spoken by a lady whose son was an imbecile who could not be cured for all the money in the world. But it did little to alleviate my own suffering.
‘Let’s not make a big deal out of this, old sport,’ James had said to me in the office. ‘I’m not coming down to luncheon. Please relay my excuses to our friends…And don’t worry, Nick. I still love you, but I think it would be best if you and I were only friends from now on.’
Mr. Borenius was seated next to me at the table. He expressed regrets over not getting to meet Mr. and Mrs. Durham. Clive’s mother told him they were both not feeling well and resting in their rooms.
The reverend then was very sorry that Mr. Gatsby was not in the best of health either.
‘But I am honored to make your acquaintance, Mr. Carraway,’ he smiled. ‘It’s so seldom one gets to talk to a gentleman from America around here.’
As I ate I did my best to depict my home turf as a place full of skyscrapers, A trains, people rushing to and from work and the beneficial spirit that permeated the country ever since the Prohibition had put an end to the immoral habit of drinking.
‘And I’ve heard Mr. Hall will be coming to stay, too,’ the old man remarked happily. ‘I last had the pleasure of meeting him before the war, long ago…A gentleman of sound mind and morals. He must be doing remarkably well in New York.’
Chapter 9: Parted
Nick and James both realize they cannot go on like they used to.
At dinner, Nick’s loose, relaxed demeanor told me he had already accepted the fact that he and I would only be business partners and good friends from now on. Anne caught his happy mood and cast him a few sweet glances over the table. Only Clive sensed my sadness. I could read it in his crystal-blue eyes.
‘I say, are you really feeling better now, old sport?’ he asked. ‘We might ring a doctor in the morning.’
‘No, I’m all right,’ I smiled. He did not believe me until little Charlie came bounding into the room to bid the grown-ups goodnight. He jumped into my lap again and asked me when I would be off to London to buy him a cowboy suit. ‘Tomorrow,’ I said. ‘And I won’t come back until I’ve found one, with pistols, a hat, a kerchief and a sheriff’s badge.’
None of the grown-ups contradicted me because my compliance did not fool them as it did the little boy who rushed out of the room making pow-pow noises and riding an imaginary horse.
‘He will pester you with it until you give in,’ Clive unnecessarily remarked. ‘That’s characteristic of children like him. They know nothing but they remember all.’
We went to the parlor and had coffee. Nick was sitting next to Mrs. Durham and suddenly came to life.
‘Speaking of remembering,’ he said softly, in a voice that nearly made me cry. ‘I’ve got something here.’ He rose, walked up to me and pulled an envelope from his inside breast pocket. ‘I made a draft of the contract for Whitestone Ltd. in Wembley,’ he smiled. ‘You might want to go over it and when it’s all O.K. I’ll type it up tomorrow.’
He then asked everybody to be excused because he was tired.
‘Well, early to bed is the rule here,’ Anne remarked. ‘It’s time we turned in as well, isn’t it, Clive?’
They bade us goodnight and shortly after that, Pippa and Archie left the room too.
‘I shall keep you company,’ Mrs. Durham said to me. ‘Shall I ring for some brandy?’
When the drink was provided, we sipped and talked about London. The envelope was burning inside my jacket.
‘Oh, do excuse me,’ I said to her. ‘But I’d like to go over the contract so that I can make corrections before Mr. Carraway can type it up first thing tomorrow morning.’
She nodded and got out her embroidery.
I read Nick’s text. It was not a contract. Not a business contract anyway. It was a declaration of independence telling me how he had emancipated himself from me even before Daisy had dropped her bomb on Penge.
I read and read it over again, incredulous and yet completely unsurprised, seeing all I had feared when Anne and Nick had taken forever to come home the day before confirmed in writing.
I lay awake in my double bed in the Blue Room, listening to the sounds of the night, reciting the lines I had written and waiting for James to come up and shoot me.
Dearest James, my love, since I cannot express face to face what has happened I have no choice but to relate this on paper.
When we vowed to stay together forever in 1923 we also promised never to keep secrets from one another, and so I won’t now either.
Anne drove me to Somerset yesterday to show me the sites where I could pay my respects to my defunct relatives. This was a good thing since I was never able to track down any living kinfolk in the district.
But Anne wanted to talk after that. We found a place in the woods. Quite like you expected, she and Clive did not go to America four years ago only to attend a wedding and to see oculists (no pun intended). They sought treatment because they can’t have any children. Nothing proved to be successful.
The only way for Anne to conceive is to sleep with another man. She made me a proposal and promised secrecy and discretion. She and Clive are so desperate to have children that they will resort to anything, even this.
I solemnly swear I will never do it, even though I pity them both for being denied what they so ardently want. I told her this and before I knew it we were kissing.
I also solemnly swear I made love to her while she was leaning against a tree trunk, but I did not perform the full coital act. We only fooled around in the rain and we enjoyed it.
You would not believe me when I said I had never slept with Daisy in Paris, so I am sure you won’t believe that my encounter with Anne was rather chaste either. Proving one’s innocence in relation to something one did not do is harder than lying to cover up a deed one actually committed. It’s a cynical fact of life I have not come to terms with yet.
I was never unfaithful to you in the true sense of the word, but I won’t stop you from acting on what has overcome us. Rest assured that I love you deeply and purely and that you mean the world to me.
I won’t ask for your forgiveness, but I will go out of my way to remain the best of friends with you.
With all my heartfelt love and tenderness – your Nick.
I drifted in and out of sleep and heard James enter the office next to the Blue Room. All went quiet after five minutes. He was in his own bed now, without the intention to shoot me, whereas it might have been him pulling the trigger on me when I was floating in his swimming pool in 1922, his unjust punishment to me for another thing I had not done. I had not stolen Maurice from him.
Chapter 10: Apart
James goes to London for the day, leaving Nick to spend some quality time with Anne.
The next day saw me walking two miles to the little station and taking the train to London. I had an appointment with my tailor on Bond Street to have my measurements taken for the summer collection. I also wanted to meet a jeweler and commission him to have some of my diamonds fitted into necklaces. And of course, I wanted to get little Charlie his cowboy suit.
Nick was not with me. He needed some time to think. I assumed he was riding on the estate.
As I was standing on a pedestal in the tailor’s fitting room wearing nothing but an undershirt and drawers while a pimply assistant with halitosis annoyingly crept up and down my limbs to take my measurements, it dawned on me.
Nudity or at least exposure of skin was the natural state. Clothes were an invention to keep warm and had then evolved into fashion items. The very core of man was still primordial and keeping sex organs covered at all times was a rule imposed by religion.
I remembered Maurice’s letter I had received in Colombo. He had written about how he’d met Jordan Leblond, née Baker in Manhattan, the girl who had once been in love with Nick. She was a widow now.
I had burned the letter before Nick had gotten the chance to read it, with one objective only: he was never to know that the woman he had fancied was available again. She would come with benefits, that is three children.
The destruction of the letter had been futile. Nick’s episode with Anne in the woods of Somerset proved that he was aware of how he could become a father without the burden of acknowledging his children as fruits of his own loins.
I was in the little greenhouse admiring a profusion of Bengal roses and snapdragons. Their smell reminded me of the afternoon in 1922 when I had hosted a tea party for Maurice in order for my neighbor James to meet him after for years. My modest cottage had been full of flowers then.
It had happened in my age of innocence. I had loved both men without them knowing, one of them had eventually become my lover, but that belonged to the past now.
The glass door creaked annoyingly and then I heard dainty heels clicking on the wooden planks.
‘Hello!’ Anne said. ‘I’ve been looking all over for you.’
I could not flee and she knew.
‘No, I won’t start on that again,’ she smiled wanly. ‘But still, can we talk?’
I wondered what was wrong now. She had probably confessed her transgression to Clive and he had repaid her by announcing he’d divorce her. A man could take much, but not the prospect of raising another child he had not sired.
‘Let’s go out and smoke then,’ I said.
We left the greenhouse and walked past the sundial, up a hill and then down a slope that bordered a cricket pitch. There were some wooden benches intended for audiences. We sat down on one of them and lit cigarettes.
‘I got a letter from Daisy two days ago,’ Anne said. ‘It reads like a list of instructions.’
She drew a bundle of sheets from her pocket and handed them to me.
I have learned that you will soon be entertaining Jay Gatsby and my cousin Nick Carraway on your estate Daisy wrote. Nick is a kind, decent man, slightly naïve but the salt of the earth. It’s his lover I ought to warn you about. Jay Gatsby is affluent, but every cent he has he earned unfairly. He made a fortune bootlegging and swindling savings out of people for non-existent oil projects. As your husband is an attorney, I am sure that Jay will use him to expand his empire in England. After all, the Old Bailey is the place to go if you want to find out who your friends and who your enemies are.
Another element to consider harmful is Mr. Maurice Hall. This man courted my husband to an extent that it ended our marriage. Maurice is a homosexual of the bad kind: he does not care if the man he likes is married. He just stalks his idols until they give in. I’ve been told that he was best friends with your husband Clive in college. It goes without saying that he will be likely to make a pass at Clive. Quite obviously, Clive will not entertain mutual feelings, but Maurice will cause a stir that could mean the end of your husband’s reputation as a squire, a lawyer and a father.
Since Maurice has become enormously wealthy over the past few years, it’s logical to assume that he can travel to England and therefore to Penge more often. You are free to dismiss these lines as nonsense or another literary experiment, dear Anne, but I do hope you take my words to heart.
Daisy rambled on like this for pages. By the time I had read all, the sun was setting over the treetops.
‘What do you think of all this?’ Anne asked me. ‘You know her, you’re her cousin.’
‘Lies, nothing but lies,’ I said. ‘James was her sweetheart in the war. She wants to exact revenge on him for not keeping his promise to marry her before he left for the trenches. She wants to destroy Maurice for allegedly seducing her husband. It was actually Tom Buchanan who was after Maurice. She hates Maurice because Tom saw more in him than in her. Funny, actually…She divorced Tom because of the homosexual tendencies he’d always had, and she’s free now, so why would she still be sore about it?’
Anne smiled enigmatically. ‘Ah, you don’t understand, dear. A woman always wants to have and to keep, even things or people that don’t benefit her.’
It was Pippa who picked me up from the station in her A-Ford. She scolded me good-humoredly for getting Charlie a present and asked me if my engagements in London had been successful.
‘Nick is sulking in the garden,’ she said as we sped along a gravel road. ‘I’m sure he misses you.’
I had a lot of parcels, so Simcox had to summon a maid to get Joe Scudder. The boy arrived presently and took my things from the boot and carried them inside the house.
He must have been busy all day because he looked very tired. I pitied him and handed him five shillings. He looked at the coins but made no move to accept them.
‘Why, is this not enough?’ I asked, feeling irritated. Alec had been right about his nephew. The boy was spoiled. He gave me a crooked smile and walked off.
‘You should have told him to boil his own head,’ Pippa whispered to me.
Charlie was still studying in the school room and so I asked her if I could interrupt the lessons by handing him his present. She nodded and we went upstairs.
The little boy flung down his pencil and his notebook when he saw me. He rushed to me and jumped at the parcel. ‘Is that my present, Uncle?’ he squealed. Yes, I was an uncle to him now, and a generous one, the American stereotype.
He tugged at the paper and the string, tore open the box, pulled out its contents – and burst into tears.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked. ‘Don’t you like it?’
He shook his head and wailed louder. In between sobs he said that this was not a cowboy suit.
I studied the things I had painstakingly selected in an up-scale toy shop outside Piccadilly Circus.
‘But it is,’ I said, kneeling down next to him and holding up one item after another. ‘Look…a red kerchief to tie around your neck, wide trousers and a belt with a buckle, and a vest with a sheriff badge on it…’
‘Cowboys don’t wear those things,’ Charlie roared. ‘They wear leather jackets with long sleeves and beads and frills, and headbands.’
‘Indians do,’ I said. ‘But you wanted a cow - …’
He screamed out in sorrow.
‘Well,’ I tried. ‘Look at these fine pistols here. There’s some kind of powder in them that makes them go pow-pow! That’s nice, isn’t it?’
He shook his head. ‘Indians have rifles, not silly little pistols…You promised me you would get me what I wanted…You’re a wicked uncle and I don’t like you.’
‘No more lessons today,’ the tutor suggested demurely. ‘Whenever he’s like this he won’t calm down for hours.’
‘Fair enough,’ Pippa said to her. ‘I shall drive you to the station then.’
Chapter 11: Friends and Children
Nick gets a gift, Clive gets a grotesque phone call and James decides to leave for London.
The Durhams were not to find out that the two Americans at their tables were no longer lovers.
We all laughed as James told us how he had hauled endless parcels in the pouring rain like an errand boy. ‘I simply forgot to just order a taxi to Paddington Station,’ he said. ‘It would have been so much easier.’
He was clearly distracted. Well, I thought, that’s what you get for breaking up with your lover just like that. But I’m not to be taken for granted, my dear. I’ve got a college degree and I am apparently an attractive man, for why else would Daisy and Anne have fallen for me?
The rain had stopped by the time we had finished coffee. ‘Let’s go outside to smoke, old sport,’ he said to me.
As we paced up and down the flagstones, he told about the tragedy in the school room. It made me laugh.
‘Speaking of presents,’ he then remembered, ‘I got you something too.’
We went up to a window from which electric light shone and he dug up a little parcel from his pocket. It contained a cigarette case quite like the one I used. ‘This one is gilded,’ he said. ‘I thought it might match any outfit on which silver does not look as nice…And I had it engraved.’
Amicita vincit omnia it said in elegant italics on the flap. The first word was spelled wrong. James had never learned Latin and must have jotted it down from an encyclopedia and then handed the scrap of paper to a shop assistant more ignorant than him.
‘Thanks,’ I said, stuffing the case into my pocket. I did not want his placative gifts.
If he had still cared for me, he would have said: ‘Let bygones be bygones, my love. Let’s share a bed tonight.’ But he said nothing, looking deliciously displeased at my horrid lack of gratitude.
Someone wailed loudly into the garden. Whoever made such a noise had worse manners than the rest of us put together.
We then heard restless steps on the flagstones. ‘Good heavens, here you are,’ Clive panted. ‘I’ve been calling you for the longest time but I got no answer.’
‘I thought you’d gone to bed,’ James said coldly.
‘Mmm-mmm,’ he hummed, shaking his head. ‘Please come into my study. I’ve a surprise.’
‘Can’t it wait until tomorrow?’
‘Hurry up,’ he summoned us, ever the squire with the horsewhip. And so we followed him along the porch and through double doors into his study. He rushed to his desk and picked up the receiver of the phone from a stack of papers. ‘Sorry,’ he breathed to the caller. ‘I had to drag them in from the garden…Well, here they are!’
He handed the receiver to James. ‘Hello,’ James said listlessly. ‘Oh, Maurice…Are you in London now…? I see…Did you have a good trip…? That’s nice…I’ll put Nick on now…See you anon, old sport…Bye.’
‘Nick?’ I then heard from London. ‘Is that absolutely you, my dear?’
‘It is,’ I answered. ‘Are you at your mother’s house now? How is she? How are your sisters?’
‘Fine,’ Maurice said. ‘I counted the hours until my mother and Kitty and the maids finally went to bed so that I could make a phone call undisturbed…I say…’ (he suppressed a yawn) ‘…I am feeling jolly tired now…Slept badly on the ship last night, the Irish Sea was rough…’
‘Good heavens, who died, pray tell? Both you and James sound as attentive as clay bricks…Oh well, can I speak to Clive again?’
And so I handed the receiver to Clive, who silently pursed his lips and made an elegant motion telling James and me to beat it so that he could talk to his travel-weary friend in London alone.
The girls got home from boarding school on the Thursday preceding Easter. Sixteen-year-old Mathilda, Tilly in short, was Archie’s and Pippa’s eldest daughter. Her sister Maggie (Margaret, named after old Mrs. Durham) was fourteen and wore leg braces. She had had polio at five.
Both girls took after their father. They had Archie’s black eyes, sandy-blond hair and square jaw.
Helen, Anne’s orphaned niece and a ward of the Durham couple since her earliest childhood, had a delicate complexion, stunning green eyes and a profusion of precious ginger ringlets. She was twelve and already developing into a young lady.
Nick and I had always pictured Penge as a house full of children who were still learning to write ‘the cat sat on the mat’ in the school room. We had ignored how Clive and Anne had written to us about them attending boarding school and studying advanced subjects. All we had bought the little female members of the family at the Arabian bazaars were cloth dolls and miniature tea sets.
The girls loved their gifts, though. ‘We shall put them on display in our rooms, Mr. Gatsby,’ Tilly said. ‘It will look so nice!’
I was moved. Tilly, who would get her first driving lessons from her father on the estate after the summer term, was completely enraptured by the cups and saucers that were more suitable for five-year-olds.
Assuming that the family wanted to devote time to the children, I decided to spend Easter in London and urged Nick to come along. ‘No, thanks, I’m fine,’ he smiled. ‘I’ve got lots of good books and I might borrow Anne’s car to do some sightseeing.’
The holy days commemorating the Resurrection coincided with Passover that year. A very valid excuse to flee to London, as there were no temples in this country district.
Dear Clive had done some research before Nick and I had come to stay.
‘You can go to Beth El in Pimlico or Kfar ha Shalom in Wembley,’ he said. ‘You’ll meet Americans and Continentals there…And there’s the B’nai Yerushalaim in Kennington, but they’re Hasidic and I suppose you’d feel more comfortable among reformed people…Have you got the key to my flat? You can stay there.’
Amicitia vincit omnia - an adaptation of Virgil's 'Omnia vincit amor' ('Love conquers all.')
Amicitia means 'friendship', but the stupid engraver in London got it wrong and omitted the last i, as James failed to notice.
Chapter 12: Darkness
Nick socializes with the Durhams' daughters. James is reflecting on his life at Clive's apartment in London.
In spite of what the reader might think I’m an intrinsically bad man. I did all I could to avoid running into little Charlie, even though the boy paid little attention to me. With the wisdom only slow-minded people can lay claim on, he saw in James the American Uncle and in me the pointy-eared elf, Santa’s helper who dragged the gifts and who deserved no credit for his donkey work.
Maybe it’s because I grew up without siblings, but I have never acknowledged the exalted status grown-ups granted children.
The prospect of having to meet three more young members of the Durham-London clan did not unsettle me. The girls were twelve, fourteen and sixteen, and at that age you don’t talk to anyone over eighteen unless you absolutely have to.
Apart from well-educated, I’m horrendously stupid as well. I had forgotten that adolescents flee adults at any given occasion to avoid probing questions about grades and classmates, and sermons about the vices of smoking, liquor and bad novels.
I had also failed to remember that those who never ask things like ‘Are you a good student?’ or ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ are actually held in high esteem by the suffering youth of the planet.
We met in the parlor at teatime. It was very refreshing to have them call me ‘sir’. I asked them about the trip they had made from Wales by train with the family’s nanny.
They told some things, laughed demurely and then Maggie asked Archie: ‘Papa, may we ask Mr. Carraway some questions, please?’ The father nodded smilingly and before I knew I was engaged in a very lively conversation with Tilly, Maggie and Helen.
Good Friday, the day on which Jesus died on the Cross, is not a holiday in most countries, but in England it’s the lively start of the longed-for spring break from school or college. I took the eight o’clock train to the City. The Bridgwater – Victoria Station line had no first-class carriages so I had to sit on wooden benches among noisy vacationing families until I got off at Paddington and traveled to Temple by underground.
It was only a five-minute walk from there to Clive’s apartment. The concierge opened the main door and eyed me in the condescending way characteristic of women who guarded other people’s dwellings. ‘I’m a guest of Mr. Durham’s on Penge and he has graciously allowed me the use of his apartment while I’m in London on business,’ I explained, wondering if I should tip her, either for her non-existent service or to win her favor. She nodded and pointed to the elevator.
I had spent one night at Clive’s place after landing in Harwich, but only now did I notice what a pigsty it was. The kitchen sink was full of plates, there were used towels on the bathroom floor and gold-buckled shoes, office folders and rubber collars were scattered everywhere. I picked them up and left them either on the hall table or in a box outside his bedroom door. Then I washed the dishes and put a kettle on for tea.
Clive had told me to use Maurice’s room. It was unbelievably neat and clean. I opened the wardrobe and gasped when I found several suits hanging from the rack inside. Maurice had last worn them before the war. I could tell from the sizes that he had been considerably slimmer then. The jackets were double-breasted, the waistcoats almost went up to the chin and the lace-up boots on the shelf below were grey with mold. I thought of current Maurice, the man from West Egg, who had his suits tailored on Park Avenue and who wore shiny loafers that clicked so alluringly on my flagstone porch.
He was a different man now, and seeing the pathetic display of old-fashioned clothes felt like the young student and the aspiring stockbroker had long been dead and buried.
Maurice’s old alarm clock was ticking annoyingly on the nightstand. I now saw a framed picture next to it. It had been taken by a street photographer on Coney Island in the summer of 1923. It showed Anne wearing one of her floppy black hats and a shapeless cotton gown. She was looking at Nick beside her, her gloved hand resting on his forearm. He was smiling at her, deliciously young and sweet and holding a cigarette in his right hand. A silly balloon was tied to his wrist.
To her left was Alec, wearing his cap askew, with bulging cheeks and looking into a paper bag from which he dug roasted peanuts or chocolates. I presumed Maurice, Clive and I, who were not in the picture, had been standing next to the photographer wondering aloud if this image could ever be shown to our families. We must have laughed a great deal, but four years on I sat on a bed in Kensington staring at Nick – at Nick and Anne. He was beautiful even in this silly pose holding a balloon with bunny ears.
My love, you fancied her even then, didn’t you, I thought. Whatever you and Daisy did in Paris in my absence is despicable. Imagine a cultured, intelligent man engaging in an act that has been the typical Northern joke about the alleged Southern custom to only bed and marry relatives.
Your tryst with Anne makes more sense. She is an intellectual like you, she stems from a noble family, definitely a better match for a Yale graduate. And she wants a child. I cannot find fault with any of that.
Your episode with Daisy proves that you are attracted to women, but the sequel with Anne shows that I don’t qualify as your lover. After all, I’m a son of Midwestern shopkeepers, I’m German, I dropped out of school at fifteen, I have been known as the worst crook in New York State since my bootlegging days, and I could never give you a son or a daughter to love.
Yes, it’s over now, but I am happy to remain best friends with you. I still love you more than life itself, but I’ve been dumped before and I’ll manage.
I went to the kitchen, made tea and drank it leaning against the couter. Then I put on my coat and went out.
Soon the world would commemorate the time of day at which Christ had died on the cross. Nick had records of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Passion of Matthew at home. I had read the text of he libretto in a booklet that had come with them.
Und von der sechsten Stunde an ward eine Finsternis über das ganze Land bis zu der neunten Stunde.
I had been forsaken. The only relief lay in the fact that it would be Sabbath after sundown, a period that had to be observed with joy and serenity, even in the darkest of times.
'Und von der sechsten Stunde an ward eine Finsternis über das ganze Land bis zu der neunten Stunde' - a part of the aforesaid libretto, sung by the Evangelist, meaning: 'And as of the sixth hour, all of the country grew dark until the ninth hour.'
Chapter 13: At Your Service
Nick has an encounter with Joe Scudder at the boathouse. James visits a synagogue in Pimlico.
True to the spirit of Good Friday, the sky over Penge grew dark by mid-afternoon. I had left the house with a picnic basket to stay outside until dinnertime. James had been right. It was only polite to give the Durhams as much time as possible with the children.
To this very day I don’t know who had graciously allowed me to use his or her bicycle. I had last ridden on two wheels in college, on the paved streets of New Haven. Penge Park and its surroundings were a maze of muddy paths full of potholes and dead branches.
I was wearing an outdoor tweed jacket, riding breeches and boots which were absolutely filthy after I had skidded and fallen off countless times. The basket kept dropping from under the straps of the luggage rack. Sandwiches, cakes, apples and bottles of lemonade left a tell-tale trail like the breadcrumbs in Hansel and Gretel.
When I had reached the border fencing of the estate, I discovered that the back tire was flat. It took me the best part of an hour to walk back to the garden pushing the bicycle. By the time the boathouse on the pond came in to sight I felt too tired to take another step. I wheeled the vehicle onto the jetty, put it up against a wall and went to stand under an awning to light a cigarette.
Presently I heard the boards creak under the heavy thuds of hunting boots. And there was Joe Scudder, Alec’s nephew, wearing his dingy cap askew and carrying an old game bag.
‘Pardon me, sir,’ he muttered, ‘Simcox sent me to look for you. It may start raining any minute now.’
‘That’s all right, Scudder,’ I smiled. ‘I only had some trouble with the bicycle.’
He examined the tire and bit his lip. ‘Probably a rip in the inner tube,’ he muttered.
Then he turned around and gave me a hangdog look.
‘Sir, I’m sorry if my service has not been to Mr. Gatsby’s and your satisfaction, sir.’
I remembered how he had cheekily refused James’s and my tips, a thing unheard of in America. But this was England.
‘That’s all right, Scudder.’
He promised demurely to fix the tire after teatime. And still you want no payment for it, I thought. Why? After all you’ve got big plans.
‘Will you have one?’ I said, holding my gilded case under his nose. This must be utter sacrilege. A gentleman never offers his host’s servant a cigarette.
‘Yes, please sir.’ He bent down with unexpected elegance to light a Lucky Strike with my fuel lighter.
We smoked in silence watching coots and wigans bob despondently on the pond.
His ambitions had intrigued me ever since I had read Alec’s letter in Brussels. It seemed wise not to refer to tell Joe that his uncle kept a correspondence with James and me. A mechanic never wrote to a gentleman whose car he serviced.
‘I’ve heard you’re intending to emigrate to Argentina.’
He smiled. ‘That’s the idea, sir.’
‘It’s very far away.’
He nodded. ‘It is. It’s a peculiar notion, really…Have you visited it yourself, sir?’
I laughed. ‘No…America for me.’ This was nonsense. I was on a journey around the world. My own attitude annoyed me.
‘And what will you do there?’
‘Don’t know yet, sir. Anyroad work at my uncle Fred’s meat packing factory outside Buenos Aires, I reckon, to save up, and then start me own business.’
‘A bicycle repair shop?’
We both chortled. ‘Perhaps, yes, sir,’ he said good-humoredly. ‘But I’d fancy a hardware shop or a garage, just like me uncle Alec on Long Island.’
He had softened to an extent where he no longer bothered to omit his Wiltshire dialect. He would not be offended at my next question.
‘If so, why do you refuse tips? I suppose they might come in handy for your savings to buy a passage to Argentina.’
He trembled. ‘I’m sorry if I offended you and Mr. Gatsby, sir. It’s just that it’s…um…bad form to take large tips from gentlemen…I believe that’s how all servants in England think.’
He had blatantly chastised James and me for our American ways. And he had come to me to protest, not to James. I was of the lower orders, an assistant, and so I had to convey Joe’s message to my master. Mr. Gatsby, sir, wor a gentleman and not the one to be bothered directly with servants’ woes.
As I watched Joe Scudder wheel the bike down the jetty I thought how right Alec had been about his nephew. The boy could not behave and he was smart.
By the time I got off the bus outside Warwick Square it was raining. I opened my umbrella and walked to Beth El. It was very late now and almost closing time, because Sabbath is to be celebrated at home.
To my surprise I found the synagogue still open with men milling about and discussing seating arrangements for Passover service. I was greeted merrily and when I told a young man I was in London on business, he instantly escorted me to the shul.
‘Hello, sir,’ another man said. ‘Nice of you to stop by. I’m Rabbi Isaac Green.’ This amazed me. A man of the cloth had addressed me in a very secular way.
I was ushered to a table, introduced to everyone present and was offered tea and cookies.
‘How very English,’ I could not help but remark, which elicited chortles from some fellow Americans.
‘Well, Mr. Gatz, we are commemorating the end of our people’s journey across the desert. Would you join us? We’d be honored.’
And so we sang When Israel left Egypt with me blundering through the lines again even though I knew them by heart.
Our people had left the Pharaoh’s country apparently laden with riches but with one objective that money could not by. They wanted to go to Judea, even though most of them had been born and raised in Egypt. Moses, once saved as an infant in a wicker basket by an Egyptian princess, had led the way and summoned the Red Sea to part.
The story held many implications. The beautiful girl belonged to a different people but she had pitied the babe with universal motherly love, the only force to guarantee the existence of mankind. Moses had grown up an Egyptian and yet he had learned about his ancestors’ home soil. The Master of the Universe had endowed him with supernatural powers. A few pious words had produced a path through the sea into Judea.
I had roamed the earth in considerable luxury and was on my way to America. I was laden with riches but had lost all. Nick had endlessly chattered with the Dutch lady as we sailed the Indian Ocean. He had danced with two South-African women in our steamer cabin. He had eyed Bente’s pregnant nude model with adoration in Paris. He had succumbed to Daisy’s and Anne’s charms. He had taken an instant liking to Pippa’s daughters and Clive’s ward on Penge.
Like the helpless babe in the wicker basket, he had been saved from me by sweetness, comfort and the prospect of true family life that only women can provide.
Clive was standing on the porch outside the dining room smoking and fiddling his cufflinks.
When he saw me, he burst out laughing. ‘I say,’ he hiccupped, ‘you’re looking like you’ve been held hostage by the aggressive roe buck that has been wreaking havoc in my woods for months.’
‘I had a puncture,’ I rather snapped than said. ‘And I lost my basket lunch on the way too.’
Clive smiled unaffected and then decided to take me into his study. I was dirty, but not too dirty to refrain from sitting on an upholstered chair. ‘Let’s get you some brandy to warm you up before you get changed,’ he said.
We sat down, lit cigarettes and smoked. He sweetly deplored James’s absence because it showed all too clearly that it wasn’t doing me any good. When the phone rang, a shock went through him.
‘Ah, the horns of Jericho,’ he cried. ‘Some people have an uncanny sense for the right occasions.’ It must be James calling from London.
‘Clive Durham speaking…I say, Maurice, is it you? How are you…? No, dear, you’re not calling at an inconvenient time…Yes, Anne is well, and so are the others…You’ll never guess who’s sitting across my desk looking like he had a scrap with a gang of coyotes…No, James went to London for the weekend, obviously to attend a Passover service…’
He lowered the receiver and said to me: ‘Maurice would like to speak to you.’
I shook my head and whispered that I was not feeling well.
‘I’m sorry,’ Clive then said to Maurice. ‘Our absolute rose has been in a foul mood ever since James left…What…? How lovely! Do give her my regards, will you?’
Our host talked some more, bid his friend goodbye and hung up.
Who was this ‘her’? It was none of my business. I felt a surge of unrelenting anger.
‘Maurice is going to Dartford in the morning to stay at his sister Ada’s house,’ Clive explained. ‘He’s aching to see her oldest boy, his godson and name-bearer.’
Chapter 14: Social Duties
James meets a young man in need of help and Nick acts the teacher at the Osmington spring fair.
The congregation dispersed shortly after five to rush home to have Sabbath dinner. I had noticed a young blond man with a small mustache and sporting two crutches, sitting apart from the main table in the shul. When I had stepped outside, I stopped to light a cigarette and he came clumping past me.
‘Do you need any help?’ I asked.
He shook his head. ‘No, thanks, I can manage…So you are the gentleman from America? I’m afraid I never caught your name.’
‘I’m James Gatz, how do you do?’
‘I’m Timothy Hay. Pleased to meet you.’ We shook hands.
‘Are you a member of the Beth El community?’
‘No, I’m afraid I’m not. Mr. Rosenbaum invited me to come. He’s ever so nice.’
Not knowing what to say and feeling sorry for the man who looked all but attractive, I only nodded.
‘It’s this, you see,’ Hay went on. ‘Mr. Rosenbaum’s daughter Edith and I have been friends for years, but my parents don’t approve of it. I’m a Catholic.’
It was a well-known story. Hay probably wanted to marry the girl and his parents would only give their consent if she converted or at least signed a contract stating that her future children would be raised in the Christian faith.
All this proved to be the case. ‘I was born with a club foot and I had a bicycle accident when I was in college,’ Hay said. ‘I was all but run over by a lorry. They broke my bones and set them and then broke them again at the hospital because they never got it right. Well, perhaps it’s for the best that I can never marry Miss Rosenbaum. I wouldn’t want her to have a crippled husband.’
‘Would her family object to her marrying a gentile?’ I asked. He shook his head, now with some enthusiasm.
‘But I need some help,’ he said. ‘Have you got time to spare?’
By the time we had reached a taxi stand, he had expressed his gratitude at my accepting his plea.
He was an invalid and qualified for a medical visa for America. It would involve him marrying his beloved in a civil ceremony at the registrar’s office so that he could take her with him. He would be able to start a family without any social or religious hindrances in the United States. All he needed was someone who could act as a guarantor, and funds to emigrate.
This was to be the only successful operation I conducted during my journey to aid people to get access to America. Timothy Hay and Edith Rosenbaum married in November 1927. I booked them passages to Baltimore and they settled in Pittsburgh. They named their first-born James after me.
The boy is in college now and doing well. It makes me so happy.
Of course I knew none of this yet on that rainy evening in April 1927, but I dashed to Clive’s apartment feeling like a man strong enough to cause any sea to part. Without taking off my coat I sat down at his desk in the lounge and requested the number of the Hall residence in Alfriston Gardens.
‘Is it really you, Mr. Gatsby?’ Kitty said in a voice so much like her brother’s. ‘Of course I remember you. You came to tea in May 1919. Would you do my dear mother and me the honor and visit…? It would be so delightful to see you again…Yes, Maurice happens to be in England too, but he’s just gone out to dine with some friends and he’ll be leaving for Dartford tomorrow to stay with my sister Ada…’
We exchanged some pleasantries. Then I hung up and looked around the room, feeling the apartment’s dreariness and a vast void opening up before me. Maurice would not be able to stop by for a drink anytime soon.
The annual Osmington spring fair on Easter Saturday is an extensive business. Attractions from all over England line the main street and the football field outside the station. The air is full of cries, drunken songs and tantalizing smells from the food stalls where everything from toffee to fried fish is sold.
Clive and Archie insisted that I come along and so we set off in two cars packed with children.
Poor Archie took it upon him to never let little Charlie out of sight. As expected, the boy completely blew up with energy on the fairground, fueled by too many sugary treats.
I offered Tilly, Maggie and Helen candied apples and we strolled along munching happily until we came to a display of cars. Their bonnets were up and men were peering inside to marvel at the latest technology.
‘I haven’t the foggiest notion about these things,’ Tilly remarked sadly. ‘If only I knew how they worked.’
The men present gave me frowns as we walked up to a mouth-watering Packard. ‘Why – this is not for girls, sir.’
‘It is in America,’ I retorted smugly.
They left sulking, granting me space and time to explain the little I knew about combustion engines to my admiring pupils.
After my lecture we moved on to meet Archie and Charlie and to see if there was any lemonade to be had. We found a stall where Joe Scudder was devouring candy from a bag, stuffing treats into the mouths of two wretchedly ugly girls and taking sips from their bottles. They laughed as he produced a sound that indicated he’d had a dinner with lots of cabbage and onions the previous night.
‘Yer stink is enough to kill all of Wiltshire,’ one girl chastised him. ‘Damn you, Joe, even that gentleman over there is watching.’
‘Hello, Scudder,’ I said. ‘Are you having a good time? Do let me treat you and the lovely ladies to some lemonade.’
I ordered drinks for my three friends first and then for Joe and his flowers. ‘Thank you, sir,’ I heard all around, the boy’s words muffled by the candy in his mouth.
As I stood sipping I concluded with some amusement that young Scudder was the spitting image of his dear uncle and deliciously bad-mannered as well, but with the distinction that he was definitely no member of the wrong team.
Chapter 15: At the Boathouse
James returns to Penge. Soon he and Nick will be presented with a wonderful surprise!
Miss Kitty Hall and her mother received me with due honors. Maurice’s sister, who had eyed me with unspoken hope when I had visited wearing my major’s uniform in 1919, had aged. She was going on thirty-five now and her golden-blond hair had faded to mousy brown.She worked as an attorney’s secretary in London and was obviously still far from being engaged.
I pitied this sweet girl who would make any worldly man such a wonderful wife with her unrelentingly good mood and moderate cynicism so much like Maurice’s.
'My brother lives in West Egg and I’m still under my dear Mama’s roof in good old Buckinghamshire,’ she remarked. ‘And yet I live the American dream like he does. We’re both lone rangers with nothing but professional progress in mind. We roam the earth with arms full of air.’’
The deeper meaning of her words was not lost on me. Maurice had a lover, but he could never marry this man, and she probably lacked suitors on account of her life as a working woman and her age.
‘That’s enough, Kitty,’ her mother admonished. The old lady did not and would never know that her son had joined the wrong team ever since he had met Clive at Cambridge. Kitty knew all this, though, and even became friends with Alec when she came to America on a visit in 1932.
I left promising I’d remain in touch and expressing the hope to see the ladies before I would leave for Ireland.
My stay in London had definitely been fruitful. I had made friends there, which pleasantly distracted me from thoughts of Nick in daytime.
The nights were different. I lay in Maurice’s bed in Clive’s apartment, burying my head in the pillows to catch a whiff of Maurice’s sandalwood soap but the cotton had been laundered too many times and smelled of chemicals, I committed the act with myself trying to conjure Nick’s image but all I saw was a dark-haired man who looked like him but whose eyes had a different color.
James returned to Penge in a good mood on the Tuesday after Easter. He had written some drafts for requests to the American embassy in London and asked me to go over them and then type up the final versions.
‘Thank goodness,’ I remarked as I got some sheets and sat down at the typewriter in the office next to the Blue Room. ‘You finally got to do what you wished for. I’m happy for you.’
He walked up to me and hugged me from behind and then kissed the top of my head.
‘I’m happy too, old sport,’ he murmured. ‘And whatever would I do without you? You are Nicolina Carraway, my loyal secretary from Wall Street…While we’re on the subject, would you most kindly of your goodness give the kitchen staff downstairs a jangle to get us some coffee?’
I playfully fought him off. ‘Get some yerself, pal,’ I smirked. ‘I’m not yer Nicky-do-this and Nicky-do-that…Besides, it’s bleedin’ tea as is drunk ‘ere. This ain’t America, Mr. Gatsby, sir.’
When in Rome, do as the Romans do is a well-known saying. I had nailed it. It was fun being a Wiltshire lad.
Nick and I spent the following days traveling to London and back. For some reason staying at Clive’s apartment to save railway fare did not seem all that sensible. We met Mr. Hay and his lovely girlfriend Miss Rosenbaum in modest tearooms in the East End. I deposited three hundred pounds with the young man’s attorney in Wembley to give the couple a nest egg to finance their wedding and the journey to America.
Nick called at a few branches of Swiss banks to see how my funds in Zurich were doing. All was fine, and I still thank my stars for his actions. It saved me after the collapse of the financial market in 1929.
We were given Clive’s old T-ford to get to the station outside Penge and back. It was Nick’s first experience at driving on the left, and he royally bungled it at first, nearly running into unsuspecting cyclists or dodging oncoming traffic at the very last moment. It earned us shouts of abuse and furious horn signals, but nothing happened, because he turned out to be as marvelous at the wheel as he was in America.
We always got home very late, after supper, because we felt the family should spend as much time as possible with the children. It wasn’t until about ten days after Easter when we found out by chance that the girls had returned to their boarding school in Wales.
The Durham and London couples had usually turned in for the night by the time we arrived, but old Mrs. Durham always sat up late to wait for us.
The sweet lady fussed over us like the stereotypical Yiddische Mama. ‘I say, you look tired, gentlemen, and it’s cold outside. Do have some tea and brandy…London is always so crowded and beastly, and there’s barely any time for a decent meal. Shall I ring the maid for some sandwiches? Or some fruit? You ought to eat well, or else you will fall ill…You’re shivering, I shall have a fire lit in the parlor.’
It amused me. She reminded me of my mother.
Nick felt the same. ‘Mrs. Durham is like Minnie but for her speech. My former nanny would say: ‘Good Lord, baby, what they’ve been feedin’ you up in London? I got coffee and pecan pie waitin’ in the kitchen.”
Minnie was the head servant at Nick’s parents’ house. She was black and originally from the South.
The sweet woman died in 1934, but he still refers to her as the only real mother he has ever had.
The thoughts of her made me slightly attentive on a night at Penge when we were picking at the treats old Mrs. Durham had provided for us.
‘Have your engagements in London proved to be successful today?’ she asked me.
‘They have indeed,’ I answered. ‘I have managed to submit a request to the American embassy. It’s for the benefit of a young man who wants to seek treatment for a serious medical condition in New York. I met him at a synagogue in Pimlico.’
I realized too late that I had conveyed something I had chosen to hide. Jewish culture was not very well-known with British gentiles. Most of them only knew Shylock, the fictitious Venetian merchant from Shakespeare’s play, and Benjamin Disraeli, Queen Victoria’s loyal confidant, who had both converted to Christianism.
Mrs. Durham now knew I was Jewish. ‘You are very helpful,’ she remarked. ‘You performed an act of faith. How I admire that!’
I felt relieved. She accepted me. Penge felt like home now.
Our business in London ended about ten days after Easter. James and I spent time at our office outside the Blue Room to go over some contracts with mining companies in the north and inquiring on the progress at the jewelers’ workshops on Bond Street where some of James’s Belgian diamonds were being fitted into necklaces and bracelets.
All this took little time, so we devoted our afternoons to exploring Penge Park on horseback or on foot. I had vowed never to ride a bicycle again.
The temperature had risen a bit but the skies were still overcast and we had to don our winter coats to keep warm.
The boathouse on the pond became our refuge since it had a porch with an awning where we could hide and smoke fairly undisturbed. Clive was preparing to go to London to attend court sessions at the Old Bailey, Anne was busy preparing for the next meeting of her ladies’ reading circle and Mrs. Durham, saddened after her granddaughters had returned to boarding school, was trying to establish a new bond with Charlie.
James had ordered Indian attire from an expensive toy shop near Piccadilly Circus and ever since the boy had gotten his frilly leather jacket, a matching headband and, alas, a bow and an arrow, he had transformed into a creature too exalted to associate with anyone else, even his beloved grandmother.
The boathouse on the pond had once been Alec’s favorite spot when he was the estate’s gamekeeper before the war. He had spent hours there smoking, musing and writing to Mr. Hall, the gentleman he had met. He had believed then that what he hoped for would never come to pass, because the Londoner whom he had grown to covet had seemed too far out of reach.
Things were quite different now. His nephew Joe stepped onto the jetty many times to inquire if the gentlemen would be shooting the next day or if they wanted him to bail out the boat.
‘It’s all right, Scudder, we can manage,’ James said to him on an afternoon when the sun was hesitantly battling the ever-dominant rainclouds.
The boy stayed put, probably thinking we couldn’t do anything without his assistance.
‘Which part of ‘we can manage’ don’t you understand?’ James now snapped. He never behaved like this towards his own staff on West Egg.
‘If you’re so keen on serving us,’ he went on, ‘then go to the pantry and polish Mr. Carraway’s riding boots…There you go, take this for your trouble.’
Joe Scudder accepted the gift of two shillings with a meaningless expression, only nodding towards the dinghies that were bobbing near the inside jetty of the boathouse.
‘We can bail them out ourselves,’ James explained. ‘I’ve got a hydroplane on my private beach on Long Island and I never need assistance when I want to use it…So off you go, boy. Shine up Mr. Carraway’s boots until he can use them as mirrors.’
Maybe James had seen who was walking towards us now, anyhow I was clueless and watched Joe Scudder shuffle away towards the big house and touching his cap when he met the gentleman coming his way.
The gentleman nodded curtly and then walked on briskly, the heels of his calf leather shoes from Park Avenue clicking even though the ground consisted of gravel, he was dressed in rough tweed suited for traveling, he must just have gotten off the train from London, he wore different glasses and his jet-black hair had gone more visibly gray since we had last met on West Egg, he was in his own country now and yet he was not because he had lived in America for almost eight years, the man whose smiles and cries of joy made both James and me flourish anew, for this was Maurice.
Chapter 16: Fruits of True Faith
Reverend Borenius as we know him...enjoy!
After nearly nine months of separation Nick and I finally beheld the lovely man we had missed so much. All three of us united in an embrace, drifted apart to admire one another’s appearances and then melted together again. Maurice took off his glasses to wipe away tears of joy, looked around and remarked that it was surprising how little the boathouse had changed.
‘I spent some wonderful hours with Alec over there in 1913,’ he said, pointing at a part on the long side of the building. ‘We lay on horse blankets and old sofa cushions and discussed our future…He was short of tearing up his boat ticket to the Argentine and to flee to Scotland with me…Well, that never happened and I suppose that’s for the best, but…I say, that young lad I just saw looks uncannily like him…’
‘That’s his nephew Joe,’ Nick smiled. ‘He’s a bit of a pain in the neck, to be honest.’
I frowned at him. ‘That’s not a very nice thing to say, old sport.’
Maurice gave me a puzzled look. He was used to me calling Nick love, darling or husband in his presence.
‘Well, let’s have some peace and quiet before tonight’s show,’ Maurice then said, producing a pouch of tobacco and an ebony pipe from his pocket. It was odd that he had picked up an old wartime habit. Nick and I exchanged amused glances.
‘What show?’ Nick then asked, taking a cigarette from his case and politely refusing my light with a hand gesture.
Maurice then told us that Reverend Borenius would come to supper. That man really qualified as a pain in the neck. Our friend dreaded the prospect of having to talk to him fourteen years after they had last met on Penge.
‘Clive sent me down to inform you of the Reverend’s visit,’ Maurice said, stuffing some tobacco into his pipe and striking a match. ‘I was hoping to spend a quiet evening with the two of you to hear all your wonderful stories, but that won’t happen tonight.’
He lit his pipe and then looked at us with sad eyes. ‘And to add insult to injury, Clive is going to be in London for days to come even though he promised to be here with us. He’s being a royal rotter and Anne agrees with me…Oh well, it’s the Old Bailey calling…can’t be helped.’
To my astonishment, swapping seats to converse with as many people as possible during a lengthy supper was a habit in England as well.
Reverend Borenius sat next to old Mrs. Durham through the first course, which was cream of parsnip soup. He asked her all about her eldest daughter Margaret, who was married to a clergyman and lived in Norfolk. The lady went into details about Margaret’s charitable activities and the way she ran a Sunday school for the children from laborers’ families.
When we were having breaded carp in red-wine and shallot sauce, the Reverend took a seat next to Clive and told him that the workers’ dwellings needed more tending to. Clive only nodded and smiled, so the man turned to Anne and listened to her stories about her ward Helen.
Over roast lamb and assorted vegetables, it was Archie who had to deliver his views on the state of the world, and then Pippa who provided him with updates on her daughters’ scholastic achievements.
James, Maurice and I had played the musical chairs game like the rest, hoping to be spared a boring conversation, but as luck would have it Borenius sat down next to Maurice when dessert was served, with James and me on the opposite side.
The old man was very happy to be among men from America. Maurice painted a vivid picture of ever-busy Wall Street with people heading to or from their offices in throngs and his lovely little house on Long Island.
‘I’ve heard you have your motor car serviced at Mr. Scudder’s garage,’ the old man smiled at Maurice. ‘It’s such a coincidence! Mr. Scudder was an under-gamekeeper on this very estate before the war. The world is but a hamlet.’
‘It is,’ Maurice said. ‘We met again by chance. I was very happy to see how well Scudder was doing. He is quite successful and a very reliable mechanic.’
Simcox stopped behind Borenius’s chair and gingerly held out a dish of strawberries. It was early May now and still very cold, so the fact that these fruits were already available astonished me.
The reverend served himself a very large portion until there was barely anything left. He then poured a more than generous amount of cream from a pitcher over his dessert. Maurice bit his lip, obviously to stifle a remark about how someone destined to preach modesty now behaved like a hungry cab driver in a cheap diner.
‘I am glad we get to address the topic of Mr. Scudder now,’ Borenius said as he dusted his strawberries lavishly with sugar from a silver shaker. ‘He has been doing well, his dear mother told me so, but one thing leaves me worried.’
‘Pardon me, gentlemen,’ Simcox said demurely. ‘I shall have another dish sent up from the kitchen to serve you.’
‘It has been brought to my attention,’ Borenius went on, ‘that Mr. Scudder intends to marry a young widow who is in his service.’
‘That is so,' I said kindly. ‘She has two little sons. A very amiable and industrious woman.’
The clergyman nodded. ‘I take it you know her then, Mr. Carraway…So you also know that this woman is Mexican…well, that does not signify…she is a Roman Catholic…Nothing should stand in the way of two good people joining in holy matrimony, but Mr. Scudder was never confirmed…The bishop of our church in…oh, I can’t quite remember...’
‘In Flatbush,’ Maurice helped him.
‘In Flatbush,’ Borenius echoed. ‘The bishop, Mr. Hightree, a good friend of mine from our college years in Canterbury, has written to me that he can always be prevailed upon to have Mr. Scudder confirmed in time…The young woman, however, is a different matter. We hope to convince her to convert before the wedding, but it would still take months before she would be accepted as a member of our church.’
Simcox returned with another dish of strawberries. Maurice helped himself to a small portion without any cream. When I was carefully handling the silver spoon, the butler told me in a low voice that the under-gamekeeper wished to know if I had any orders about bailing out a boat or saddling the horses the next day. ‘No, thank you,’ I murmured. ‘I already spoke to him this afternoon.’
‘Would that be young Joseph Scudder?’ Borenius asked, using his entitlement as a holy man to interrupt any conversation. ‘Oh, Simcox, would you please tell him that I wish to speak to him later?’
The butler nodded and left. Some minutes passed as we savored the strawberries.
‘But, Reverend,’ I then said. ‘What if Mr. Scudder’s fiancée refuses to convert? Would you require her to sign a contract promising that the children she and Mr. Scudder might have are raised in the Anglican faith? She has got two sons by her late husband. Would they have to convert, too?’
Borenius smiled adorably. ‘Ah, Mr. Carraway, that is a very valuable observation…Of course I would never ask that of two little boys, that would be too far a cry…But if their mother does not object, they will be accepted as members as well…'
Then he looked at James. He had all but finished his heap of strawberries and I believed he envied James because there were still some on his plate.
‘I am very sorry, Mr. Gatsby,’ he said. ‘I only remembered just now that Mr. Carraway is in your service and that I ought to have run my request by you first.’
‘What kind of request would that be, Reverend?’
Borenius remembered something. ‘Oh well, I see now how I should have addressed Mr. Hall.’
He gave Maurice a kind look. ‘After all, Mr. Hall, you are an Englishman, like Scudder, and a member of the Anglican church.’
This was Maurice’s moment. ‘I am grateful for the trust you put in me, Reverend,’ he smiled. ‘But I’m afraid I’m rather unfit to bear your message to Scudder. I’m only a customer of his. By the way, I drive Chrysler, one hundred horsepower, a convertible. Not a car one is likely to see in England. It’s magnificent….’
His wonderful eyes lit up now. ‘And another thing. I’m not an observing Christian anymore. New York is so full of different creeds and cultures that one’s own religious background does not signify any longer. In fact, I consider myself an agnostic.’
We were having supper as guests of members of British gentry. Not the moment for Borenius to pelt Maurice with strawberries or to strangle him with his bow tie, but the look in the old man’s cold, gray eyes told me he would have loved to do so.
He resorted to milder warfare and looked at James and me.
‘I’m sorry, Reverend,’ James said. ‘I make it a point never to interfere with other people’s religions. By the way, I’m Jewish.’
Borenius nodded, albeit slightly incredulously. A blond man with the build of an American farm worker could never be Jewish. All was not lost yet, because I was still there. Borenius remarked how I was a customer of Scudder’s too and how he would very much appreciate it if I made some suggestions to the mechanic.
‘I don’t see Mr. Scudder very often,’ I smiled. ‘After all, our bond consists only of my car being serviced at his garage. Mr. Gatsby’s aren’t. His three Rolls Royces are looked after by a licensed dealer in Queens.’
Maurice batted his eyelashes at me. I could tell he had great difficulty not to explode with laughter.
Poor Borenius dropped the subject and then rose from the table to leave the dining room. He had surrendered upon hearing that the three gentlemen from America were far too wordly and wealthy to help him carry out his plan.
He was off to the kitchen or the pantry now, probably to grab young Joe Scudder and have him accept his Savior at gunpoint before he would leave for Argentina.
Chapter 17: Good Friends
Nick's state of despair does not go unnoticed by Clive, Anne and Maurice. In between, Maurice shows some musical skills.
After Borenius had gone home, old Mrs. Durham went to bed. Anne and Pippa invited James and me to play cards. I declined politely because I was prone to bungling even the simplest game. James was rather good at it. He had gathered his first fortune at a poker table in Milwaukee before the war.
I stepped into the garden, strolled past the greenhouse to the sundial up the hill where I stopped to light a cigarette. The night was fresh and humid and the only light came from a few stars that managed to peek through the clouds.
‘Peek-a-boo,’ a musical voice sounded. I froze. Jordan Baker had always scared people out of their wits in the dark like that. I had not even heard any footsteps.
‘There you are,’ Clive said, his words bearing a trace of a smile. ‘All alone. Are you all right?’
He went to stand beside me and lit a cigarette. His face was ghostly in the brief orange glare from his lighter. He was going on thirty-nine but he looked sixty.
‘My dear,’ he said. ‘You’re far from all right…I’ve a feeling all is not to well between you and James now.’
It muted me. My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. All I could do was cough.
We smoked in silence, staring at our shoes or the sundial. An owl hooted in the distant woods. Even further away a train whistle screeched.
Clive crushed out his cigarette and put his arm through mine. ‘I know,’ he whispered. ‘It’s because of Anne, isn’t it?’
It wasn’t Anne. It could never be Anne. To explain this to Clive would be futile. He would not believe me.
‘She appreciates how you took it,’ he said. ‘She’s not blaming you for anything, nor am I, for that matter.’
This provided no relief, so I strolled along numbly until I stopped halfway between the hilltop and the greenhouse. I felt Clive’s arms around me and his cheek against mine. He smelled of lavender.
We stood there for some time, breathing and musing in the quiet song of nocturnal birds and train engines until we heard the crunch of gravel under heavy boots.
A dark figure raised an arm, probably to touch his cap.
‘Ah, Scudder,’ Clive said, drifting away from me. ‘What are you doing up so late?’
‘I’m making my night round, sir.’
‘How did you get on with the weasels today?’
‘Trapped two of ‘em, sir. But there’s more out in the woods.’
Clive laughed softly and told him to go to bed.
We watched him disappear behind the trees and then Clive’s face lit up. ‘Now look who’s there, Nick…Your best friend. She worries about you, too.’
Anne’s rippling figure drew closer until I could detect her scent of rose-petals and feel her cold fingers on my cheek.
‘Oh, goodness, Nick, you’re in a muddle…I’m so sorry for ever asking such a thing of you…But never mind…Maurice is here now and he’s your best friend. He’s our best friend too. For some reason things always fall into place when he’s around.’
‘True,’ Clive said. Then he and I each took her by an arm and walked back to the house.
I have always been an early riser, but the next morning I had a shock when I woke and saw the time on my alarm clock. It was a quarter past nine.
It took me forever to rouse Nick in the other room. He eventually opened his eyes and gave me a drowsy look. ‘Lemme slee,’ he muttered. He was right. There was no work to be done. We were both waiting for news from the American embassy in London, and red tape was always crossed slowly.
Nick and I eventually stood in the office with the desk between us. We both wanted to wash and dress as quickly as possible in order to leave the house, in whose car we didn’t know and where to we didn’t know either.
This was what living in a college dorm must be like. Nick knew, I didn’t. We had to share the bathroom with Maurice. Our friend was in there now while Nick and I were outside the door shivering in our dressing gowns and jumpy because we were aching to empty our bladders. The old plumbing made screeching and whining noises as Maurice ran the taps of the tub. A faint smell of shaving cream and sandalwood soap drifted out. Maurice was singing as he washed, his melodious baritone voice filling the voids between the nineteenth-century walls.
‘Molly be damned smote Jimmy the harp with a horrid little pistol and a lariat…She got to git behind the mule in the mornin’ and plow…’ A Southern song he must have picked up at a speakeasy in the darkest part of Harlem or in New Orleans.
‘Choppity-chop goes the axe in the woods, you gotta meet me by the fall down tree…Got to git behind the mule in the mornin’ and plow…’
His voice bore no traces of soft English meadows or ancient Tudor mansions but evoked cotton fields, jumping catfish and sweet tea drunk on porches. He had turned into more of an American than Nick or me.
We did not hear Pippa walk up to us carrying a teapot and a cup on a tray, so when she spoke we had to dig the heels of our slippers into the Persian hall carpet to stop ourselves from fleeing.
‘Good morning, dear friends,’ she smiled. ‘Are you waiting to get in?’ She nodded towards the stairwell. ‘If it’s urgent, you’re welcome to use the bathroom in the east wing.’
She put the tray on a side table and roared: ‘Maurice…! Dear, I brought you some tea!’ at the closed mahogany door.
‘Lovely!’ Maurice hollered back. ‘I shan’t be long.’ And then he resumed his chain gang song.
‘I’m digging all the way to China with a silver spoon, while the hangman fumbles with the noose, boys…’
She stopped and listened to his singing. ‘I say, is that a spiritual?’ she asked us innocently.
‘Probably,’ I murmured, while Nick’s skin under his dark stubble went white as a sheet.
Maurice and I came down so late that we found the dining room empty. James was still in the bathroom upstairs. A pot of coffee, cold toast and blackberry jam were waiting for us.
Simcox brought in the mail and asked me if Mr. Gatsby had any orders for the under-gamekeeper.
‘No, thank you,’ I said. ‘We are not rowing or riding today.’
Joe Scudder must have gotten the sermon of a lifetime either from Clive or Borenius and was now being overzealous to make up for his bad behavior. When I opened up a slightly smudged envelope addressed to me and read some clumsily written pencil lines, I decided the boy was a nuisance.
Mr. Carraway, sir, would you please be so kind as to meet me at the boathouse at noon. Yours sincerely, Joseph Scudder, under-gamekeeper to Mr. Clive Durham Esq.
Since the family was not around, I showed it to Maurice, who rolled his eyes.
‘The lad does take after his uncle….I say, I believe James has fallen asleep in the tub, so why don’t we let him snore there in peace while you and I go for a stroll around the pond?’
We went into the parlor to bid Clive and Anne good morning and then left the house.
‘Something is bothering you, Nick,’ Maurice said when we reached the path that ran along the shore. ‘You’re welcome to open up your heart to me, old sport.’
We walked on as I talked. He distractedly picked some early forget-me-nots and sorrel from the grassy banks. By the time we had reached a clump of oak trees at the edge, he was shaking his head and cursing.
‘Sweet Lord, holy tap-dancing Jesus, de profundis, damn it…You’re not prone to lying, Nick, but fucking hell…Listen, you’re not intending to follow through with it, are you?’
‘Anne and Clive are desperate.’
He made an annoyed sound.
‘I know, dear, I know…They never told me, but I guessed it all the same. They love their little Helen more than life itself, but the girl is no substitute for a child of one’s own blood. Don’t I know it!
I went to see my sister Ada and her family in Dartford. Her eldest one is called Maurice after me, Morrie in short. I’m his godfather. The boy is twelve now and I had last seen him as an infant when I held him at his christening ceremony in 1917. He’s ten now and I had expected an unnervingly sweet little rascal, you know, one of those boys who take pleasure in putting salt in their sisters’ porridge and releasing frogs in the school refectory and competing at breaking wind with his friends…’
I laughed. He did not join in but drew his pipe from his pocket and filled it.
‘Little Morrie wets the bed and wears glasses thick as jam jars and he’s the first of his form in Latin and arithmetic. A professor in the making. I could never stand having such a child. It would outshine me intellectually before it got to high school.’
‘But that will never happen,’ I consoled him. ‘You’re with the wrong team.’
He laughed now. ‘I am. Always have been…However, I’ve always had slight doubts about you.’
‘You too, Maurice?’
He lit his pipe, clenched it between his teeth and grabbed my hands.
‘Yes, dear. The trouble with most men is that they never stick to their ways for a lifetime.’
As we walked on he said he understood why James and I had grown apart like two flowers, one leaning towards the light of the sun, the other towards the moon.
The temperature had risen and the ground was pleasantly dry. We slumped down among the ferns, the spot where he and Clive had lain in their college days, where they had even made love, defying the risks of being seen by passing estate workers.
Maurice’s eyes rested sadly and softly on me while he drew from his pipe and breathed in my stories of two naked lovers uniting in the surf on a beach in Oahu, a happy couple playing house in a holiday bungalow in the Ceylonese hills, a luxurious honeymoon at an overpriced hotel suite in Brussels.
We forgot to return to the house for luncheon and just lay there watching the first butterflies dart over the ferns. At some point he grew weary of my tales and softly started singing another speakeasy or juke joint song.
'I can hear the couple fighting right next door. Their angry words sound clear through these thin walls. Around midnight I heard him shout: ‘unfaithful one’, and I knew right then the axe was gonna fall…’
Bloodshed seemed to be Maurice’s specialty. Someone had shot at me in James’s garden in the summer of 1922. It might have been the man who was now lying next to me with his tie loosened and his waistcoat unbuttoned, his thick eyelids closed behind his glasses, a smile playing on his lips as if he held the key to wisdom.
Maurice had been a friend for years now, but he was no good whenever one was in real trouble.
Maurice displays the remarkable gift of being able to live in the remote future. The story is set in 1927, but the songs he sings are 'Get behind the Mule' by Tom Waits (Mule Variations, 1999) and 'Right Next Door' by Robert Cray (Strong Persuader, 1986). The lyrics absolutely hammer home what is going on inside Nick.
Chapter 18: Messages
Joe Scudder keeps sending letters to James and Nick. Maurice faces tragedy.
After my bath I decided not to go down for breakfast and had coffee sent up to my office. Simcox had asked me to leave the doors to mine and Nick’s three rooms unlocked because the maid had to come in to dust and to change the bedding.
Presently the girl came in carrying a basket full of cleaning paraphernalia - and a letter.
The envelope bore no stamp and was addressed to Mr. Gatsby Esq., Penge Park, Wiltshire, as if it had still been forwarded by the Royal Mail.
Dear Mr. Gatsby sir, I read, would you please do me the honour and meet me at the boathouse at noon. Yours faithfully, J.G. Scudder, under-gamekeeper to Mr. C. Durham Esq.
This was a very unusual request. I decided not to reply and set to reading some contracts Nick had typed up and then a newspaper.
The maid dusted and scoured and polished around me as I sat drinking coffee and smoking. There were diamonds from Antwerp in the safe and for some reason I felt distrust against the industrious girl.
She left at one o’clock to have lunch and returned half an hour later with clean linen and another letter.
Sir, was you taken ill that you won’t come to see me. Yours sincerely, J.G. Scudder.
I wondered if I should talk to Clive about this. But Clive was in his study downstairs talking on the phone and presumably going through court files.
At three o’clock the maid told me she was done and asked if I needed anything. I shook my head and handed her three shillings, and only then did I notice she was wretchedly ugly.
She opened the bay window of the office, curtsied and left. Some time later I could hear footsteps on the porch below and two men laughing merrily. Nick and Maurice.
Old Mrs. Durham and Archie had gone straight to bed after supper. Maurice held a cigarette clenched between his teeth and was alternately chasing Pippa and Anne around the pool table.
He fired away with his queue, scoring points like crazy and earning all kinds of good-humored abuse from the two luckless women.
Clive was reclining in a chair and drawing from his pipe. He felt calm and let the ice cubes in his whiskey glass tinkle. I was sitting on a sofa and leafing through a book.
Maurice could perform many tasks simultaneously and vented his indignation over Anne’s revelations in a polite manner. She had read parts of Daisy’s letter to him.
‘It makes no sense,’ he said. ‘Whatever possessed her to judge me? After all, I only met her twice.’ He took a long swig from a glass of whiskey and repeated: ‘Twice.’
Pippa kept shaking her head and remarked that a woman scorned could go great lengths, but dear Daisy was overdoing it royally. After all, Maurice had never coveted Tom in any way.
‘Perhaps any letter, regardless if it contains the truth or not, is a literary experiment,’ Clive mused.
‘You’re preaching to the converts, dear,’ Maurice said, producing a slightly worn slip of paper from his breast pocket.
He looked at it and then put it back.
The phone call came quite unexpectedly. The American embassy in London had gone through my request on Timothy Hay’s behalf and found it lacked urgency. I said I would be more than happy to explain the matter in person, and inwardly added that I was willing and able to slip a few hundred pounds into a civil servant’s hand to speed up the procedure.
Nick wanted to go with me. ‘I can manage on my own, dear,’ I said. ‘Without me around you get to spend more time with Maurice.’
Clive had no urgent engagements in London so I traveled to the City alone, feeling relieved that Nick seemed to have overcome his inexplicable aversion of Maurice. Yes, I was going to London.
James was supposed to stay in London for one night, but when he phoned from Clive’s apartment on the evening of the second day and told me he needed more time to bend the American authorities into the shape he wished them to have, I knew he was as relentless as ever.
More letters from Joe Scudder came. He also wrote to James, whose private mail I was allowed to read at all times since I had full power of attorney to run his business whenever he couldn’t.
Dear Sir, it is a very urgent matter. Please come and see me. – Dear Mr. Gatsby, this is an honest plea. Please have Mr. Carraway see me if you can’t.
Simcox relayed no questions about possible orders to saddle horses or bail out boats or to fix bicycles. When I asked the butler why he had no more messages from the under-gamekeeper, the man said demurely that Scudder had been taken ill, albeit not very seriously.
‘We all get a touch of hay fever here,’ Archie remarked between two bouts of sneezing. ‘It’s the season. The boy will be all right in a few days.’
Feeling free from Joe Scudder’s web, I drove old Mrs. Durham to a few houses in the village where needy people lived. She brought them clothes and sweets for the children and paid women to buy groceries and cook meals for those who were sick.
When we got home, I had lunch with the old lady and Anne. Archie and Pippa were out visiting friends and Clive had locked himself up in his office claiming he was too busy to attend. I wondered aloud why Maurice didn’t join us either. ‘I believe he’s in a muddle,’ Anne said sadly. ‘He wouldn’t talk to me just now.’
I left the dining room after dessert and set out for the boathouse. The sun was shining and the air was full of birdsong. A million shards of light were reflected by the water. Dragonflies darted over the refreshing waves.
I walked across the jetty to the pier facing the pond and found Maurice on a bench, shivering and crying.
I sat down and tried to look him in the eyes but he hid his face in his hands, tears running through his fingers.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked softly.
I had to repeat my question many times until he showed me a square of brown paper soggy with tears. My heart stopped. Another letter. I wanted to shoot Joe Scudder then and there.
But this was not a ruled sheet and it bore a Royal Mail emblem. It was a wire.
I unfolded it and read the location from which it had been sent. North Sound Post Office, Ocean Drive, Sea Point County, N.Y., United States of America.
Documents arrived stop congratulations stop all o.k. stop alec scudder stop the message read.
‘Documents?’ I asked. ‘What documents?’
Maurice drew a few shuddering breaths, put his glasses back on and looked at me with swollen eyes.
‘Alec always picks up my mail when I’m not home,’ he said. ‘He’s got power of attorney over my private affairs…He sent me this wire to tell me that the state court has officially granted me American citizenship.’
‘Congratulations,’ I murmured. It sounded like: ‘My condolences.’ Maurice was looking as if he had received a mourning card announcing the demise of a beloved person.
‘So this is it,’ he went on. ‘I went up to Albany in December to apply officially. I pledged allegiance to the Flag, I solemnly vowed to take up arms and defend the United States of America if the call came. So it’s all official now.’
I held up my gilded cigarette case but he shook his head politely.
‘As soon as I’m back in New York I shall go to the Sea Point civic bureau in West Egg to pick up my American identity document and then turn in my British passport at the embassy in Manhattan,’ he said.
He had worked hard to get to where he was now. His grief made no sense to me.
The wire had arrived at Penge the previous night and Simcox had forgotten to hand it to him right away. Maurice had read it after breakfast and had burst into Clive’s study weeping for joy.
Clive had instantly been seized by a fit of anger. He had called Maurice a selfish traitor who had nothing but American dollars on his mind, a disgrace to Britain who would no longer be welcome on Penge.
Maurice had issued a declaration of war on his country of birth and was to leave it laden with scorn and shame.
‘My mother always hoped I would return to England and continue my career at my late father’s stockbroking company in London,’ Maurice said. ‘Her motives are purely financial. She’s well-off but she feels she needs a man around the house to pay the bills. She also wants me to settle in the City and marry an English girl who will give her the grandchildren she so ardently wishes for, as if Ada’s four bloody brats weren’t enough.’
He sighed. ‘Clive had actually hoped I would come back, too so that I could be near him. The very fact that I have obtained American citizenship strikes him as definite and irrevocable. He told me that he felt cheated on, more by this move than by my being Alec’s lover.’
I was dumbfounded by the two-sided hammer that had just struck me. I had never expected Clive to act like an abandoned husband, much less to wish to banish Maurice for good. Yet Maurice’s victory was unbelievably soothing. He would still be two miles down the road from my house in West Egg.
Maurice got up and crouched down at the edge of the pier. He held his handkerchief in the water, wrung it out and dabbed his face with it. ‘Let’s go back to the house to see if Mrs. Durham has any tea left in the pot,’ he grinned.
When we got to the porch on the short side of the villa to go in through the side entrance, the roar of an engine could be heard from the drive. Thinking James had returned from London chauffeured from the station by Anne, I ran to the front of the house and watched Clive’s Sunbeam speed away and send up dust and gravel.
‘Clive had to go to London to attend to a court case,’ his mother said when we sat down in the parlor.
Chapter 19: Settling Scores
Y'all asked for some dirty stuff? If not, at least I did. Yuck.
The weather was sunny when I returned from the American embassy. I decided to go back to Clive’s apartment on foot and start packing right away. I intended to have dinner at a restaurant at Paddington Station and then get on the train back to Penge.
Just when I closed my suitcase a key creaked in the lock of the front door. ‘Hello, anybody home?’ I heard. It was a ferocious-sounding voice, but it must be Clive’s.
I stepped from Maurice’s room into the hall, said: ‘Hello, old sport…Well this is an unexpected surprise’, but then I noticed Clive’s murderous eyes and the basket full of bottles he was holding.
He did not want me to leave right away. He wanted to sit down in the lounge and talk.
We poured drinks, lit cigarettes and settled on the sofa.
‘Good Lord,’ I said half an hour later when I was finally able to interrupt his story. ‘Now listen, Clive, you already knew that Maurice was applying for American citizenship. I really can’t see why you’re acting like a sore loser over this. Is he no longer your friend now? Why would a different passport change the way you feel about him?’
He shrugged his shoulders.
‘I have hoped for years that he would return to England,’ he then said. ‘I very selfishly omitted taking Alec Scudder into account. I wanted Maurice to be near me again.’
He gave me a scornful laugh the way Europeans do whenever they believe an American got it all wrong again.
‘Why, you ask…? Oh, good heavens, James, don’t play ignorant with me…You know full well that Maurice and I are still lovers.’
I remembered that Saturday afternoon at the Plaza in 1923 when Maurice had gone to visit Clive before Nick and I would arrive. The two men had looked as if they had just stepped out of bed, which was in fact what they had done without needing to explain.
Clive laughed now. ‘Maurice would pop in at the hotel after work when Anne was out shopping or visiting museums…Good God, and do you remember that afternoon when Anne and I were staying at your house on West Egg? Maurice and Alec came to luncheon and then Alec decided to take her and Nick to see the sights of Spanish Harlem…You were in your study downstairs, I believe you had Detroit or Tulsa on the phone…You gave us such a lovely guest room…Well, it was there were Maurice slept with me too.’ He giggled. ‘We even had a bath in your bathroom afterwards. Don’t tell me you never noticed…Our hair was barely dry by the time Anne, Nick and Alec got back.’
It was none of my business. It had nothing to do with me. I’d had guests behave in a much worse way at my house, splashing in the fountain fully clothed and fornicating in the plane hangar on the beach.
It was none of my business indeed, and that was what irked me even through the slight haze of intoxication that had developed around me now.
I had expected James to be back from London before supper, but when there were still no messages from him by the time coffee was served, I phoned Clive’s apartment and got no answer.
‘I suppose he’s taken James out to dinner,’ Maurice said indifferently.
We all went to bed at ten. I slept until eight, went down to breakfast and then left the house to go for a stroll in the park with Maurice. The place felt deliciously deserted without the prying eyes of Joe Scudder, who was supposedly still down with hay fever.
Maurice was still visibly upset, but calmer now and full of attention. ‘You’re not looking well, old sport,’ he said when we had reached the woods. ‘You might go back to the house and lie down a bit. I’ll tell Simcox to have your luncheon sent up.’
I was not hungry – not for food, that is. James and Clive were in London.
Maurice said that he and I were brothers in arms now. We had both been abandoned, as idiotic as this assumption might seem.
In arms – those words were open to several semantic interpretations. We sat on a felled tree holding hands and watching jays and woodpeckers fly to and from their nests.
Maurice drew me closer to him and moved my face with gentle fingers so as to have me look into his eyes.
‘Nick, dear Nick,’ he whispered. ‘We’ve been friends for years and still I can’t get over the fact that I hurt you after we first met.’
‘You didn’t,’ I objected, battling the image of a person holding a purse-sized pistol in James’s garden.
‘It doesn’t signify anyway,’ I said.
He rose and pulled me up by my hands. No words were spoken when we walked back to the house.
I woke in Maurice’s room the next morning with no recollection of how I had gotten into bed the previous night. Clive and I had talked and drunk well into the wee hours, arguing at first and then laughing and with him apologizing profusely to the absent Maurice.
The old alarm clock showed me it was going on ten. Clive must have some appointments at court or his office in Westminster. We had both royally overslept like college kids on spring break.
I put on my dressing gown and went to the kitchen. And there was Clive, wearing a similar garment, unshaven and with tousled hair and wearing his old glasses.
‘Good morning,’ he said in a cheerful, hoarse voice. ‘Would you like to have some coffee with me, old sport? It’ll be ready in a jiffy.’
We drank and smoked our first cigarettes of the day. Clive had no intention to leave the apartment. He never mentioned going home either, even though he had come to London in his car.
We were far from Penge. We were all alone now. The stubble on his cheeks and his drowsy morning smell aroused me.
Fair enough, I thought, this is the moment, and he knows. Well, Clive Durham, lord of Penge, Lion of the Old Bailey, the time of reckoning has come. You haunted Maurice’s dreams while he was my lover in the war. You chased me out of your park like a rowdy dog when I came to look for Maurice in 1919. I was in uniform then, you insulted an American officer.
You still keep Maurice chained to you and reward him with lust. What am I to you then, eh? A Yank who’s good enough to open up his home to you, and you repaid me by sleeping with Maurice under my own goddamned roof.
But I have taken the long way from America to England with one purpose only - to exact my revenge. Presently you will get a prime example of good old solid Midwestern lovemaking until you bleed.
It was then that I flew up from my chair, dashed around the kitchen table, drew Clive up by the lapels of his dressing gown and pushed him against a cupboard, causing some crockery inside to break and his glasses to fall to the floor as our mouths clashed.
Dear James always saw to it that I wanted for nothing while I was in the office. He had brought whiskey, brandy and wine and even chocolates from Osmington.
‘I’ll lock the door,’ Maurice said when we went into the room. ‘I don’t want any servant to see us together here.’
We sat down at the desk. I lit a cigarette and Maurice held a burning match into his pipe.
He pushed the paperwork aside and bent over to look me in the eyes. His words floated across the room in clouds of fragrant tobacco. He promised me that James would come around in time. After all, James and I were inseparable. In spite of that, Maurice felt my loneliness, quite ardently so because it matched his.
Clive was unpredictable. The two men would no longer be friends, or only superficially so as not to severe the amicable ties Maurice had established with Anne, Pippa and Archie.
All of this was insignificant now. Clive was a married man. He had Anne to love and cherish.
‘Now that it’s all over, I finally have time to devote to you, dear,’ Maurice said to me. ‘Let me make up for once being so beastly to you…Do you know that when I first met you outside Wilson’s petrol station I thought you a very good-looking man? It took me ages to realize that I was a tad in love with you. And what did I do? I only flirted with you and never acknowledged that you longed for me…By the way, I thought even then that you’re in dire need of a good pair of glasses. Whatever do you see in me? I’m old and fat.’
We laughed and then I reassured him he was beautiful. I had finally said it.
He took my hands and kissed them. ‘Silly Nick, my resilient, ever-cheerful Nick…Would you do me the honor and…share with me?’
I looked into his midnight-blue eyes with the dark shades under them. They had fascinated me from the very beginning as had the grayish shimmer on his jet-black hair, his amber skin, the delicious pink lips and his strong, square jaw.
He needed no reassurance in words from me to guess my thoughts. He simply put his pipe in the ashtray, got up from his chair, walked around the desk and gently drew me up. Then he kissed me deeply, lifted me in his arms and carried me to my bedroom.
Chapter 20: Flesh, Blood and Water
O.K., so this is what we've all been waiting for. It's starting to smell real bad in here.
Clive fought me off laughing hoarsely as I dragged him to his bed. I pushed him down and tore off his garments. Buttons popped off loudly, then elastic bands snapped. He called me an old idiot while he undid the belt of my dressing gown and when he set to unbuttoning my pyjama jacket I told him not to touch me.
I fell down unto him like a dead weight, pushing him deep into the mattress and stifling his cries with my mouth. He must keep some lubricating substance in his nightstand but I didn’t care and thrust into him without any preliminaries. My sweat gushed from my face unto his while I moved hard within him. When he uttered a loud wail I only growled: ‘Shut up or do you want to wake up the whole fucking building?’ which made no sense because it was going on eleven and all the other dwellers must have been up and industrious for hours already.
We were a hammer and an ambush now, he was completely defeated but at some point I felt his arms creep over my back and shortly after that he moaned languidly, eventually bursting into a fit of laughter and producing some wetness between us. I erupted and withdrew dumbstruck.
I lay down on my side and watched him lying on his back with his eyes closed, breathing heavily and mumbling.
‘Oh good heavens, sweet Lord, holy Jesus…Thank you, o Zeus, dear gods…that was fantastic.’
I got up and walked into the kitchen naked to get my cigarette case. Then I crawled into bed again, offered him a Lucky Strike and a light and relaxed as we watched one another through delicate wads of smoke.
‘You are really losing it, aren’t you, old sport?’ I asked.
Clive only nodded happily, his crystal eyes full of light.
Maurice talked softly while he undressed me. He admired the silk of my shirt and the lining of my waistcoat and my topaz cufflinks, saying that I had impeccable taste like James. All I saw was the rough cotton of his short-sleeved American undershirt and his drawers.
When he had taken off my shirt and revealed a sleeveless singlet, he gasped.
‘Dear me, oh Nick, poor Nick…who did this to you?’
He had seen the scar on my left upper arm, on the spot where the bullet from an anonymous marksman had penetrated the flesh. There was a pink, star-shaped mark now that hurt whenever a change of weather was imminent.
‘Someone fired at me when I was dozing on my porch on West Egg,’ I said tonelessly. ‘I never found out who did it.’
It might have been you, I thought, but the sweet look in his eyes dismissed all.
‘Poor dear,’ he sighed. ‘Are you sure you want this now?’
I nodded and then he quickly shed his undergarments before taking off mine.
We slid under the cool sheets and I crept into his arms. His skin was soft. He kissed me again, slowly giving me his tongue and trailing his fingers through my hair.
He whispered as he explored me, asking me why I was so beautiful and admiring my ivory skin and the silky hair on my chest and my pubic area. He said that my ears were so lovely and elegant, like sea shells and that my eyes were the most gorgeous he’d ever seen, brown like warm ebony.
His fingers were gently stroking my sex now, but I was still too shy to look at his. I longed to pleasure him and slid my thumbs over his dark-brown nipples. He shivered when he felt my mouth on his rose buds, sucking and tickling and making them peak.
‘Can I?’ I asked demurely, nodding towards his lower body. He answered with a long, indulgent kiss.
I slid down and cupped his large sex and his pouch with one hand and buried my nose in his silky pubic hair that smelled of spicy, masculine lust. I showered his member with kisses, all the way up from the base to the tip and then took it in my mouth. He groaned with a sound I would have killed or died for and uttered soft cries when my fingers drew circles on his perineum. His hips went up and down gently, gently, I sucked until he wailed and released his fluid. Then he collapsed, panting and suppressing sobs.
‘Did you swallow?’ he asked me after a few minutes.
‘God, that’s horrid…If I were you I’d have some chartreuse or brandy to get rid of the aftertaste…But dear me, it was amazing. I felt like I was dying.’
I hopped out of bed and walked to the office naked to get a bottle, two snifters and my cigarettes.
‘Want your pipe?’ I called out.
There was wild laughter. ‘Are you crazy? A naked man smoking a pipe? Good heavens, you wouldn’t even see that at the most rotten of erotic shows in Paris…I’ll have one of your Luckies, O.K.?’
I put the things on the nightstand and then he pulled me into bed again and started caressing my sex until it was hard. ‘Lie down, relax,’ he muttered, gently pushing me onto my back. ‘Let me pleasure you the way you pleasured me, my beauty.’
Clive and I were crouching in the tub, facing one another and waiting for the water level to rise so that we could wash. We talked like nothing had happened.
‘Have you got any engagements today?’
‘No. I’m not leaving the flat. You’re welcome to stay with me.’
He soaped up a flannel and ran it over my body.
‘And you? Any appointments at the embassy?’
‘No. I just slipped an envelope into a civil servant’s hand and he promised me to have the papers sorted before I leave for Ireland.’
‘I’m a solicitor, I ought not to condone this, but, damn it, you were right in doing so. Let the poor couple have a future in America.’
Now it was me washing him, his shoulders, his armpits, his chest with its two delicate pink nipples.
‘Will Anne be O.K.?’
‘She will. Her ladies’ reading circle is meeting tonight. She loves it so…What about Nick?’
‘He’ll be O.K. too. Maurice is with him. They’re the best of friends.’
‘Yes, lovely Maurice. No one can open up people’s hearts quite like him. And that goes for Nick as well.’
‘Are you hurting?’
‘I say…what? Oh no, I’m fine. I can take a beating.’
Chapter 21: Open Windows
Nick and Maurice are still in bed on Penge, and so are James and Clive in London.
‘The church has struck four, my love. Hadn’t I best be going?’
I must have dozed with Maurice curled up around me. His soft, musical voice gave me a start.
‘No, please don’t go…unless you have to, of course.’
He kissed the sensitive spot under my ear and nuzzled into the short hair on the back of my neck.
‘I figured I might be keeping you off your work, my absolute rose. The afternoon mail will be in and it will be tea time in half an hour. Perhaps there’s a message from James for you.’
I turned around, took Maurice in my arms and kissed him.
‘No, I don’t think so. Something must be up at the embassy…Let’s not talk about this now, dear.’
He laughed, stretched luxuriously, exposing his gorgeous armpit hair, and crawled out of bed. He shamelessly walked across the room naked, opened the curtains a bit and then the window.
‘Let’s let in some fresh air before everybody complains that the Blue Room stinks up the house.’
I felt no inclination to go down and have tea with the family, but I had not had anything to eat since breakfast. Then I remembered the chocolates James had left on the safe. I got them and put them on the nightstand. Maurice crawled back into bed and soon I was in his arms again.
We lit cigarettes and sipped brandy, both finding to our delight that dark Belgian chocolate went very well with it.
‘Have you any petroleum jelly?’ Maurice asked as he accepted a second glass.
I shook my head, reached into the drawer of the nightstand and produced an elegant jar with a beautifully crafted lid. The print with the address of the shop was clearly legible for Maurice, even though he was not wearing his glasses.
He let out a low whistle. ‘Madame Duhanel’s beauty parlor on Fifth Avenue. It’s cold cream, isn’t it?’
He laughed merrily. ‘Stuff that ladies rub onto their faces to get the wrinkles out…That’s James all right. He’s the classiest man I ever met…Damn it, whenever I run out of petroleum jelly at home I have to use engine grease on Alec. He never complains, though…Careful, don’t drop that jar!’
I was shaking with laughter.
A little later I watched him rub some cream onto his sex. His sensual movements aroused me. I stroked my own member. ‘God, that’s so wonderful,’ he whispered. ‘The sight of a man pleasuring himself…it shows you don’t feel any shame around me…Come to me…Shall I slip inside you? I’ll be very gentle. James told me how you love tenderness.’
He sat down on his knees and shoved a pillow under my buttocks, all the while massaging cream into my perineum and my opening. Then he kissed his way up from my navel to my chin and crawled closer to me, licking into my mouth and moving his slippery member until he found his destination.
Every part of my body was deliciously on fire and helpless with pleasure. He kissed and nipped any sensitive spot, discovering new ones as he did, he inhaled and exhaled deeply, moving inside me and tantalizingly only getting near but not onto the secret area in my pelvis that held the pinnacle of bliss.
He cleverly kept us both from exploding into orgasms to soon, Penge was forgotten, even the Blue Room that glimmered again long after he had loved Clive in this very bed when they were still in college, the world disappeared into nothingness until I finally gave in weeping and laughing, dragging him along while he smothered a loud moan in my shoulder.
We lay deep in each other’s arms after that, breathing in our smells of sweat and men and the sweet perfume of the garden that came in through the window, our hearts beating restlessly and then gradually calming down.
A powerful contraction of fragrant muscles around me startled me. ‘Oh no,’ Maurice whispered.
Someone was knocking on the door of his room opposite this one.
‘Shit…It’s the maid with the afternoon mail,’ he murmured.
The knocking sounded again and I expected whoever needed Maurice would remember me as well, but no one came to the door of the office.
We waited to see if any more people came to check on us, but all went quiet again. Maurice poured some more brandy, lit a cigarette and stuffed a Belgian chocolate between my lips.
Voices could now be heard from the porch under the window.
‘C’mon, boy, gimme one o’ yer fags.’
‘Oh, fuck you, Jenny.’
‘I’ll repay you. You know how, eh?’
‘You won’t have to show me the goodness under yer skirt if ye can get me some o’ them grapes from the green ‘ouse.’
‘And have old Mrs. Durham scold me?’
‘Fair deal. You git me them grapes, then ye get ter ‘ave two o’ me cigarettes. And don’t worry about the ol’ bitch. Mr. Durham ain’t home and I’ve got somethin’ to scare the knickers off ‘er.’
There was laughter.
‘Sounds like our beloved Joe Scudder has recovered,’ Maurice mumbled.
Soft afternoon light shone through the bedroom window. After our bath, Clive and I had dried one another off and had gotten under the warm sheets again.
He was dozing in my arms now, breathing calmly and his eyelashes occasionally twitching. His coloring amazed me – the glossy walnut-brown of his hair with very little gray in it, the warm ivory of his skin, his pinkish lips and rose-colored nipples. The tiny mole on his collarbone drove me mad with longing. He reminded me of Nick in so many ways, even though his chest was smooth where Nick had a haze of silky black hair and his eyes were spring-blue, whereas Nick’s were of the loveliest ebony brown.
I had wanted to defeat Clive and make him suffer for his selfishness and condescending ways, but I had failed and quite rightly so, because I was consciously in love with him, maybe I had been since I had first seen him riding a horse in Penge Park in 1919.
I felt happy that the battle was over now and that he reciprocated my feelings.
When I could no longer stand it, I shifted and kissed him on the mouth.
‘Hello there,’ I whispered. ‘How are you?’
He stretched, coughed and batted his eyelashes. ‘I’m feeling wonderful,’ he smiled.
We lit cigarettes, talked, kissed and decided not to go out to dinner yet. We wanted to make love.
I smirked when he handed me a tin of petroleum jelly. Dear me, that was rather like Maurice, who preferred this but always found it missing at his home on West Egg so that he had no choice but to use some vegetable oil, or even shaving cream on one occasion, which had given him and Alec the rash of a lifetime.
I applied some stuff from the tin onto my sex and Clive’s most intimate parts, still unsure if I would not unintentionally rip him in half later on.
‘Don’t worry,’ Clive said, kissing me longingly. ‘You are like Maurice – well, size-wize, in the largest sense of the word.’
We laughed and then I slept with him, gently, tenderly, enjoying the feel of his soft, moist body under mine and the sight of the rosy glow on his cheeks in the warm, golden afternoon light.
Chapter 22: Men, Women and Ladies
Dinner is served! There's some crap for dessert, though.
No questions were asked when I went down to have an apéritif with Anne, Pippa, Archie and Mrs. Durham. The family never insisted on their guests being around all the time.
Sherry, port and savory biscuits were provided and then a few ladies from Anne’s circle joined us.
I was introduced to Mrs. Catherine Whigley, who was married to the squire from the estate that bordered Penge, Mrs. Charlotte Snyder, the mayor’s widowed sister-in-law originally from Winnipeg, and Miss Eva Poortvliet, who was a writer herself and worked as a translator in London.
This young woman was born to an English mother and a Dutch father. I told her some stories about my days in Holland and how I had enjoyed the afternoon when the steamer for Colombo had ported at Batavia.
The maid offered us more drinks, giving me a shy look as if she thought it odd that I was able to mingle with anyone other than the hosts.
Maurice and I had been determined not to go downstairs together and he was playing his part majestically. He entered the parlor an hour after me wearing a splendid tux, matching pants with velvet piping, a white bow tie and patent-leather shoes.
I could not help but eye him in awe, for I knew now what he looked like under his magnificent Park Avenue attire. His eyes met mine, briefly, full of bashful infatuation. Only Pippa noticed. She smiled at me from behind her glass of sherry, blinking her eyes in the direction of old Mrs. Durham who was sitting next to her, as if to say: I know. It’s O.K.
No reading or discussing was to be done that night, so the guests enjoyed a lengthy four-course dinner with mature French wines.
The women were modern and blatantly ignored any seating arrangements, so at dessert Miss Poortvliet slumped down next to me and engaged me in conversation.
Maurice was sitting at the other end of the table, masking his boredom masterfully as he alternately listened to the talk of Mrs. Whigley and old Mrs. Durham.
When the maid stopped behind our chairs to serve crème brulée from a silver dish, Miss Poortvliet pointed at Maurice with her spoon.
‘What’s that gentleman’s name again?’
His eyes met mine as he heard his name and he gave me a smile that stopped the world.
‘I’ve never seen anyone quite like him,’ the young lady said. ‘Is it true that he lives in the same village as you? You are so lucky, Mr. Carraway. Did you meet at a party or something?’
‘We did,’ I said, feeling safe. ‘And we’ve become friends.’
The maid stepped back to take the pudding dish to Archie.
‘Mr. Hall is marvelous,’ Miss Poortvliet said. ‘Will he be staying on Penge long, you reckon?’
‘I’m afraid I don’t know that, Miss. He is a very busy man.’
‘I’ll ask him myself then.’
To distract her, I escorted her to the lounge for coffee after the meal and questioned her about Dutch folk music.
I had heard some tunes played on mobile organs. She blushed and said she knew next to nothing about these things but she might recognize some melodies. ‘Just whistle, Mr. Carraway.’
And so I did, out of old Mrs. Durham’s earshot. Anything to keep the thought at bay that what Maurice and I had done that afternoon would become known.
Miss Poortvliet doubled up laughing. ‘I say…that one? I know that one…I’ll sing the lyrics…Hoeperdepoep zat op de stoep, komt laten wij vrolijk wezen…’
‘Sounds like Humpty Dumpty,’ I tried.
She all but roared with glee. ‘It can’t be translated properly, it’s utter nonsense, almost Dadaist in a way, but it means something like: ‘Hoopsy Poopsy was sitting on the pavement, oh let us make merry now…’
It was then that a maid offered us marzipan cakes from a silver dish. The look in her eyes told us she had already adopted too many snotty airs in the Durhams’ service to condone an outburst of bathroom humor.
The restaurant on Grosvenor Square was pleasantly packed with gentlemen dressed in tuxes and smoking cigars, and ladies wearing gowns cut low in a fashion that would make even the most daring female socialite in New York cringe.
‘Are you O.K.?’ I whispered at Clive, who was fondling a napkin.
He gave me a distracted look and then grinned. ‘Yes, I’m O.K. I can sit. The rest doesn’t signify.’
I bit my lip to suppress a laugh. Poor Clive had accepted my heavy ministrations so diligently in bed and we had both enjoyed it.
‘It’s odd how you got no answer when you tried to ring Nick before we left,’ he remarked. ‘Whom did you speak to?’
‘Simcox, I suppose. He put the call through to our office…Oh well, Nick must have been outside with Maurice.’
A waiter poured a good white burgundy while his assistant put two dishes of soup on our table.
Clive wished me bon appétit, I did the same, then inwardly said a blessing for the food and picked up my silver spoon.
The evening was so balmy that Anne decided to get a breath of fresh air outside. Maurice, Miss Poortvliet and I joined her. We walked to the greenhouse to admire the roses and the fruit.
‘Damn it,’ Anne said, pointing at a mess of spat-out seeds and skins on the wooden floor. ‘Have you been at the grapes again, Maurice?’
We all laughed and then walked up to the sundial on the hill. From here we had a vast view of the cricket field and the boathouse beyond. I offered Anne a cigarette and then one to Miss Poortvliet, who curtly remarked that she didn’t smoke. Then she turned to Maurice again, who stuffed his pipe as she rambled on in German, a language she had studied besides English at a teaching college in Amsterdam.
He laughed a few times but the awkward undertone of the sound was not lost on me.
I stood next to Anne breathing in the warm darkness when a black figure detached itself from the walls of the boathouse and slowly walked into our direction.
The only lights to see by came from the rooms on the ground floor of the mansion, but the boy’s movements as he touched his cap were fairly discernible.
‘Well, Scudder, making a night round?’ Anne asked pleasantly. ‘I say, you’re doing enough as it is in daytime. Please go to bed soon, you’re looking tired.’
‘Thank you, ma’am,’ we heard. ‘I was only wondering if the gentlemen need me tomorrow.’
We did not need him. It must irk him.
‘It’s all right, Scudder,’ I said. ‘Goodnight.’
The boy didn’t move. ‘Goodnight,’ Anne echoed.
‘You ought to teach him some manners,’ Miss Poortvliet said to her. ‘Even your little nephew behaves better than he does.’
Maurice came to the rescue holding out two shillings to him.
‘There you go, boy. You polished my shoes yesterday. Here’s something for your trouble.’
‘No thank you sir, goodnight sir.’
‘I wonder if he’s a commie,’ Miss Poortvliet remarked as we watched him walk off. ‘And while we’re on the subject, here comes another.’
It was the houseboy asking her to come in and join Mrs. Whigley, for she was leaving in her car and intended to give the young miss a ride home.
‘Bye-bye, sweethearts!’ we then heard, and soon she was nothing but a rippling, silk figure marching to the front porch.
‘Sweet Jesus,’ Maurice muttered drawing from his pipe. ‘She claims to have learned German in college. Good Lord, I’ve met bullfrogs that speak the language better than she does.’
The song sung by Miss Poortvliet is this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M_qkorVzzRE
If you want some real toilet humor, just spend the day with someone from Holland!
Chapter 23: Night
Some pillow talk.
Clive and I were in bed naked, smoking and sipping tea. The room breathed a pleasant atmosphere of nursery drowsiness, a sweet story and a prayer and a kiss before the final night-night.
‘Tell me, old sport,’ he said. ‘What’s Nick like?’
He smiled when I described my beloved, a man who was so wonderfully demure in daytime, hard and unrelenting when business was conducted but like a young bride whenever he was in my arms, forever twenty even though he was thirty-four now. His silky chest hair, the mole on his hip and the one on his foreskin. A man who bared his deepest feelings of joy and sorrow so like my own to me.
‘He had never had a lover, male nor female, when our courtship began,’ I said. ‘I was thirty-seven and he was thirty, and I would not believe for a minute he could be in love with someone much older…And yet he chose me to be his first one…I took his virginity.’
Clive crept closer to me, put his head on my shoulder and stroked my chest.
‘You love him,’ he said. ‘You still do. The two of you never quite broke up. It’s just some rain in a sunny season. It will pass soon and then you’ll be together again.’
‘I know,’ I said, feeling very sure of this. ‘But while we’re still here, shall I give you some more sweet love?’
He nodded, rolled onto his back and received me again.
Maurice carelessly flung off his bathrobe and his pyjamas in the Blue Room. I watched him from the bed in awe. During my journey around the world I had hated him and wished him to vanish into thin air, only in order to ward off the thoughts of him that had haunted me at night, images, sounds and smells that had told me I had never stopped wanting him.
It was all over now, the sun was shining even though it was dark outside and I felt I had finally cast off my unbearable burden of five years.
He slid under the sheets, took me in his arms, teasingly ran his tongue over my lips and stroked my buttocks. I could feel his sex harden against mine.
‘Do tell me,’ he whispered. ‘Is it true that James is…how shall I put it…the man with you?’
‘He is,’ I said. ‘How about you and Alec?’
‘Same thing,’ he grinned. ‘I get to do it to him and we both adore it. I’m very sure, though, James is not only the man, but also a gentleman with you.’
‘He’s courteous and tender and surrounds me with all I need.’
Maurice stroked my chin. His eyes were sparkling.
‘Alec is different,’ he then said. ‘He’ll undress and then fall onto his stomach into the bed, look over his shoulder as I am wriggling out of my clothes and hunting for lubricant, and yell: ‘Hurry up, mate, mount me and drill me real good, eh?’'
We burst out laughing. Then we remembered that the window was open, and shut up.
‘You love James,’ Maurice then said softly. ‘But what’s always puzzled me is why you never really strove to enhance your sexual experience, apart from this business with Daisy and Anne. It’s completely normal. A break from routine.’
I was unsure of what to say, and so he went on: ‘For instance, have James and you ever tried it the other way around?’
‘Have you and Alec?’
‘Once. He thought it was disgusting, bless him.’
It was always James who penetrated me. He was heavier, his sex was considerably larger than mine so the fact that I had survived bodily unharmed so far was amazing.
Maurice was a man of ideas. When he had found out that I was in love with James, it was he who had encouraged me to open up myself to carnal love.
‘Listen, Nick,’ Maurice now said. ‘You know full well about me and Clive.’
‘Oh yes, when James and I came to visit him at the Plaza and you were already there.’
‘That was not the only time, dear. He stayed in America for three months and we made love like mad whenever we were alone. Even in your lovely guest room on West Egg when you and Anne and Alec had gone to Harlem for the afternoon and James was wooing his no-good bootlegger friends on the phone in his study.’
This was absolutely hilarious. I pictured Anne in a dingy apron with her hair done up in curlers and with a hand rolled cigarette in her mouth and sporting a rolling pin, waiting for Clive to come home from work so that she could beat the shit out of him for his adulterous ways.
I had pleasured Anne in the woods, not completely, but it had left us both breathless with bliss.
Maurice was right. I had been a damned fool denying myself some fun outside the master bedroom.
This insight gave me the next idea.
‘Can I take you?’ I asked Maurice.
He smiled and reached over me to pick up the jar of cold cream from the night stand, his armpit hair tickling my chest.
He assumed the right position diligently with a pillow under his buttocks and his legs wide apart, I entered him and felt nothing down below, but his enthusiastic kisses, licks and bites and sweet words told me he enjoyed it all the same or rather enjoyed watching me experience a new aspect of my intimate life.
‘Sweet, beautiful Nick,’ he whispered in the darkness. ‘My precious flower, my dearest rose…crazy bastard having a marvelous time with his lover’s former paramour…Yes, it’s all right to fall in love every now and then, it happens to everyone…You’re a find in a thousand and James is the luckiest man on earth having you for a husband…The church is striking four now, I must go and sleep in my own bed for a few hours before Simcox comes in with my morning tea…Won’t you kiss your silly, happy Maurice before he goes? Sleep now, my love, sleep now, there, I’ll cover you up and then you’ll dream of James…’
Chapter 24: War of Words
James returns to Penge. What happens then is to be expected.
As soon as we were back on Penge Clive went to have coffee with Anne in his study. Pippa and Archie were out and Charlie was having a temper tantrum in the school room. Old Mrs. Durham was nowhere to be seen.
I decided not to get changed and left the house through the side entrance. The weather was almost unpleasantly warm. I could feel the heat from the gravel path through the soles of my shoes when I walked down to the cool, calm boathouse, the place where Maurice had been happy with Alec at a time when I still slept in blissful Midwestern ignorance as a drugstore owner in Milwaukee.
It was Maurice I wanted to see now, the only one who could offer me some degree of normalcy in the crazy world I had woken up in.
He was there, with one foot on a board in the fence of the jetty and talking to Nick.
Maurice’s face became a mask when he saw me. ‘Why, old sport, are you back?’ he asked. ‘Have you been all right in London?’
‘Hello James,’ Nick said. He smiled. He smiled at me – he had wanted me to come.
‘I’ll leave the two of you alone now,’ Maurice said. ‘I’ve got some correspondence to attend to in the Russet Room. See you anon, gentlemen.’
Nick and I watched him walk up the path to the front porch until he disappeared into the dining room.
Nick and I were alone now. I was took a gift I had bought him on Carnaby Street from my pocket when he made a declining gesture.
‘We’ve got to talk,’ he said. ‘But not here. Anne gave me the keys to her car. Let’s go.’
He stepped on the pedal as soon as a gardener had closed the gates behind us. He turned into the main road and headed south in the direction of Yeovil instead of Osmington, which lay north.
He had said he knew of a place we could talk, but it was clear he had never been there. Maybe he just wanted the feel of Anne’s car around him, rest his flesh on the seat where she usually sat.
Presently he found a deserted football pitch and pointed to a worn bench in a dugout.
We left the car, sat down and lit cigarettes.
‘Any bad news from the embassy?’ I inquired.
He shook his head and smiled. ‘No. It’s far worse, actually.’
I did not understand.
Then he took my hand and looked me in the eyes.
‘I slept with Maurice.’
James got up from the bench and started pacing up and down the rabbit-bitten field, kicking up pebbles and rusty crown caps with his pointy Bond Street shoes.
‘I am offering to travel straight to America in a few days,’ he said. ‘You can stay here if you wish and sail to Dublin and then to New York with Maurice as planned…You need some time and space to think and I don’t want to be in your way.’
I had expected him to fire me and cancel my rental agreement as a tenant in his house. There would only be one place to go for me – my parents’ house in Pine Hills, Wisconsin.
The diplomatic thing is not to completely dismiss someone else’s plans right away. It’s vital to show appreciation for the other person’s private motives.
‘Leave for America if you must,’ I said. ‘But not because of me. You are never in the way.’
He stopped and eyed me with disbelief.
‘You will want me gone after I’ve told you what I did in London,’ he said.
‘What did you do then?’
‘I slept with Clive.’
When we were back at Anne’s car it was me who got behind the wheel. I started the engine ferociously, let it howl in neutral while Nick got into the passenger seat and made a violent turn before he had quite had time to close the door.
The car was a Chrysler, American through and through, designed for broad tarmac roads and not for this ever-winding English pothole misery.
I was boiling with anger, not with Nick, who was sitting next to me and palpably aching to get out as soon as he could.
I was mad at myself to an extent where I would gladly have dropped him off safely along the way and then would have steered the vehicle into the next ditch and died from a broken neck.
For months I had believed Nick had been reaching out to women to feel feminine softness and comfort, the natural state that allowed procreation.
Any man of the wrong kind lives in perennial fear that his lover will leave him for a woman. This had not happened to us. Nick had slept with Maurice. If he had struck up an affair with a woman, I would have considered it natural and irrevocable, but his tryst with Maurice proved that he was a men’s man after all and likely to cheat on me, a thing I had never considered possible.
What made me sick with volcanic ire that I had lost every right to blame Nick. I was as bad as he was, because I had shared a bed with Clive. There was no way I could blame Maurice either. He would not be mad at me for bedding his lover and point out that he himself was no better, because he had done the same with Nick.
Nick and I were even. Maurice and I were even. If one can’t fight fire with fire, it will end up burning oneself to ashes.
Maybe it was Daisy’s spirit guiding me. My first thought was: it’s over now because the man I love has succumbed to someone else to pay me back for my adulterous ways. Loyalty was like taking a bath every morning. It was considered wholesome and sensible, but occasionally omitting daily ablutions did not entail sickness and death.
The literary part consisted of the discovery of what could be done besides waking up next to the same lover every day and the despair that could catch hold of one as soon as a collapse was imminent, instilling unknown powers into the soul to fight on both fronts to get the best of both worlds.
Another aspect that has accounted for the success of many professional writers is the recognition of letters. Words conveyed unspoken but on paper bore evidence and revealed more than they should by the way the writer had jotted them down.
Mr. Gatsby, sir, I hope your stay in London was successful. I should like to ask pardon for being forward but Mr. Carraway has behaved in a way with a lady friend of young Mrs. Durham’s that will not be to your liking as he is in your service.
Dear Mr. Carraway, sir, I would like to remind you that I come from a respectable family. My cousin has taken over my late grandfather’s butcher shop up in Osmington, my uncle Fred owns a meat packing plant down in the Argentine and my uncle and godfather Alec runs a garage in America as you know. So why would you treat me the way you did when you were at the sundial with Mr. Hall and the ladies? Please come and see me at the boathouse so I won’t need to notify your master Mr. Gatsby. Yours sincerely, J. Scudder. P.S. Something has been brought to my attention.
Dear Mr. Hall, it is out of goodness and pity that I warn you. There is talk among the servants because you spend much time with Mr. Carraway. A gentleman ought not to put his name at risk, especially when Mr. Durham Esq. is up in London on business and trusting you to be a decent visitor. Please come and see me so that I can explain more because it is my duty as Mr. Durham’s faithful servant to do so. Yours respectfully, Joseph Scudder. P.S. I know something.
James, Maurice and I were sitting in our office. The air was cloyed with smoke. To my surprise, James had lit a pipe, a habit he had given up after leaving the army. It looked shiny and new, as did his elegant tobacco pouch. He must have bought them in London.
‘What does Joe Scudder pretend to know?’ I asked Maurice.
‘Some tales that have circulated in the servants’ quarters for years,’ Maurice said. ‘About Clive and me when we were in college. The older people were already in the family’s service then. And those who joined later were all to eager to pick up any sordid allusion about the estate’s owner, the man who feeds and clothes them.’
‘We ought to tell Clive,’ James said calmly, drawing from his pipe and looking majestic in his navy-blue suit.
‘Let’s leave him out of this,’ Maurice said. ‘Joe Scudder probably cooked up some bullshit to spite Clive. Clive is a good employer, but he is little appreciated by his staff. And if his mother so much as hears one word of Scudder’s actions she’ll literally fall ill. She was hospitalized with a heart condition last year…Come to think of it, it would be harmful to Anne, too. I suppose she’s still trying to conceive and a shock like this would bring on…well, I wouldn’t even dare to think of that.’
The three of us were sitting there, none of us too eager to really be of any value to our good friend Clive.
‘I’ll go down and see Joe Scudder,’ I said. ‘I’ll send him a note first.’
It earned me indignant objections. The whole thing was none of my business.
‘Maurice is a gentleman from Wall Street,’ I said. ‘And you, James, are the most affluent man on Long Island…Clive is a squire from an old patrician family. Compared to you and him I am of the lower orders. The man who acts. Now go and try and stop me from seeing Joe. Wish me luck and if I don’t make it back alive, please see to it that I am buried on the beach outside James’s house where I can see the green light.’
Chapter 25: An Accomplished Writer
The three friends confront Joe Scudder at the boathouse - or is it the other way around?
After supper, Nick politely declined the offer of coffee and told our hosts that he would go down to the boathouse to discuss the use of the right rifles with Joe Scudder because he wanted to do some shooting the next day.
‘But it’s dark,’ old Mrs. Durham objected. ‘And it’s raining. You might catch cold.’
‘I’d rather go now,’ Nick said sweetly. ‘Scudder will be too busy in the morning.’
Maurice said he wanted to shoot as well and that this was the perfect time to give orders about the right horses to saddle. ‘Then I’m going too,’ I added. ‘I am very particular about horses.’
We put on raincoats and hats and hurried down the path to the boathouse.
It wasn’t long until we saw a dot of light floating towards us and then stopping a few yards from the jetty.
‘It’s O.K., Scudder,’ Nick called out softly. ‘I brought my friends. They wish to see you as well.’
The boy reluctantly stepped onto the deck and put down his oil lamp. The hesitant flame cast ghostly shadows on our faces.
‘I read your letter and I liked it,’ Maurice began. ‘You write very nicely.’
‘You do, Scudder,’ Nick said. ‘Always to the point and very honest. You’re a credit to your family.’
The boy understood we were winding him up. It left him speechless.
‘What Mr. Gatsby, Mr. Hall and I want to know,’ Nick went on, ‘is what it is you want to see us about. It must be something quite distressing to you and we want to do all we can to help you.’
The boy accepted a cigarette from Maurice, lit up and looked around.
‘I know what I know,’ he said ceremoniously. ‘And I’m losing sleep over it. Especially since the maids and me seed things wi’ our own eyes. It’s just that I’d like to warn you.’
He had seen Maurice, Nick and me embracing on that afternoon Maurice had come down from London. A very peculiar thing that would certainly not be to Mr. Durham’s liking. One of the gardeners had told how he had seen the gentleman from America and the one from London lying among the ferns across the pond quite like that same Englishman and Mr. Durham had done years ago.
‘Perhaps that’s normal in America but here it’s not,’ Scudder remarked smugly. ‘And perhaps it’s not strange for Mr. Durham to go to London in the car, even though he usually takes the train. It’s strange, though, that he came back with Mr. Gatsby in the passenger seat, especially since I’ve learned a thing or two.’
The boy had coaxed one of the housemaids into borrowing Anne’s notebook and writing down the phone number of the concierge who took care of Clive’s apartment. He had called this woman pretending to want to speak to me about a business matter. The concierge had told him I was indeed staying at the apartment, but if it was about business he was to ring Mr. Durham directly.
Maurice kept a straight face. He must know now.
‘And then another thing, Mr. Hall,’ the boy went on. ‘You are staying in the Russet Room but Jenny and me could hear your voice from the Blue Room, that’s Mr. Carraway’s room she told me. You were in there for hours.’
Maurice’s face revealed nothing. He knew that I knew about Nick and him too. I could only guess at what Scudder and his girlfriend had heard from inside – laughter and probably cries of lust.
‘You are a born writer,’ Nick said to Scudder. ‘You’re apt to take some harmless events and turn them into fantastic stories.’
‘’Cept they’s all true,’ the boy said with a grin.
‘Any human being wants to believe what he believes to be true,’ Nick went on. ‘So you and I agree that this is all still nonsense. If so, why not apply at a movie theater? Why waste your time and ours with your letters?’
‘I want to go to America,’ Scudder said.
James had had many servants over the years, most of them being too shy or too indifferent to care about what he did. He had all hired him through friends from illicit sources and so they were all sworn to secrecy anyway. Clean, pure England seemed to employ staff that were too outspoken and too astute to let themselves be fooled by the fact that work is work and pay is pay.
Scudder wanted to go to America. He knew that immigration was impossible, but there were means and ways around this. There were plenty of men up in London who could draw up any forged medical report or fake marriage certificate that would get people visa. Such documents cost horrendous sums and then there was boat fare to consider, not to mention money to live on until a job was found.
‘You said you wanted to go to Argentina,’ I remarked.
He laughed. ‘That was just a red herring to shut up my family and my friends. Whatever would I do there? It’s all happening in America and I’m too daft to learn Spanish anyroad.’
‘How much?’ I asked. Maurice froze, but James’s face relaxed. In James’s world this was a trigger question intended to check a person’s degree of determination.
‘Five grand,’ Joe Scudder said. ‘To be paid in cash within a week from now.’
It was a ludicrously high sum, the equivalent of ten years’ pay for a working man.
‘What if we don’t?’ James asked.
If we didn’t, the boy would tell old Mrs. Durham, who liked him, what went on between the visitors on Penge, moreover, what her own son had done with Mr. Hall in his younger years.
That bastard Borenius was hounding Joe to have him confirmed before he’d leave the country, but Joe was determined to strike up a deal with him: no confirmation and a lavish donation and a juicy story in return. Not having a parishioner commit himself to his Savior was a small price to pay if the reward was a revelation about the sordid things that had been going on at Penge for years.
‘So why did you never extend your business proposal to Mr. Durham himself?’ I asked.
The boy laughed. ‘I’d be really daft if I did that, would I? He’s a solicitor and I need a written reference from him to apply for a job in America.’
‘We could sue you for what you’re doing now,’ I discovered. ‘The three of us would testify in court. It would cost us hundreds of pounds but we’ve got them and the police always back our sort against yours.’
‘Not in my case,’ Scudder said triumphantly. ‘What could they possibly do to me? I’m seventeen, so I’m still underage. A child is always innocent. If I tell the judge you gentlemen forced me to do dirty things to you, everybody would believe me, even though it’s a lie. Suffer onto me the little nippers – you gentlemen wouldn’t stand a cat in hell’s chance unless you wanted yerselves to go to ruins. No more toff jobs on Wall Street, no more business on Long Island, no more handling court cases at the stinking Old Bailey. And people would believe you least of all, Mr. Gatsby. You’re a German and nobody takes to Germans one bit in this country. People say you were a spy in the war. They also say you killed a man once. Oh yes, and they say you’re a nephew or a cousin of the Kaiser’s. I don’t believe that. Anyone can say he’s related to the Kaiser.
Five grand and ye’re clear. It’s only pennies to you. Five grand in cash and we’ll all go on pretending this never happened. The ball is in your court now, gentlemen.’
‘Let’s go inside now,’ Maurice said to James and me. ‘It’s time we turned in. Goodnight, Scudder.’
Chapter 26: The Squire
Clive gets rushed out of bed to get the fright of a lifetime.
Only Pippa was still up when we entered the parlor. I told her I needed to see Clive very urgently about an unfortunate matter on the estate. She led us into his study and rushed upstairs to get him.
He came presently, already very ready for bed with his waistcoat unbuttoned and wearing old glasses and slippers.
He sat down at his desk, offered cigarettes and whiskey and lit his pipe. ‘Do tell me,’ he said. ‘I’m all ears.’
We produced Scudder’s letters and told him. He nodded, grinned at the clumsily written lines on the cheap ruled sheets and leaned back in shock when we came across the scene under the bedroom window.
He knew now that his lover Maurice had been in there with me.
‘Jesus Christ,’ he said, rather defeated than upset. ‘Why, Maurice, why?’
‘Well, I slept with you in London, Clive,’ James rescued Maurice.
‘Yes, but why, Maurice?’
‘Because I felt like it,’ Maurice said, filling his pipe with the serenity of a sadhu. ‘And because Nick felt like it.’
‘And I felt like it when I was with you in London, Clive,’ James added. ‘And you felt like it too.’
‘All that must be tomorrow,’ Clive then decided. ‘We’ve got a far worse matter to deal with now.’
He got out Scudder’s file and listened to us while he tapped his pencil on the cover.
He spoke about blackmail, a criminal offence, about how some young men indeed succeeded in ruining lives in court by lying about being molested. There was only one solution. Scudder had to be dismissed with immediate effect.
I thought this a tad too harsh. After all, the boy was only seventeen and too young to realize what he had done.
Clive leafed through the file and then gasped. ‘He’s not…not anymore…Here’s his date of birth…He turned eighteen last week. He blackmailed you tonight not as a minor, but as a man who is of age. Thank goodness, at least he’ll get a good punishment, not some useless time in juvenile detention.’
I was unsure about the righteousness of Clive’s statement and pointed out that the boy had done wrong but not out of spite, rather out of despair. Scudder wanted to go to America.
James then related his own underpaid years as a laborer on fishing boats, the scorn directed at anyone who had no college degree or no money to afford a forged diploma. He had swindled his way out of poverty, he had collaborated with the worst of criminals and if he had not done so he would still be the owner of one drugstore in Milwaukee who saved his Friday pocket money for a movie and ice-cream on Sunday.
‘I won’t tell you what to do, old sport,’ Maurice gently said to Clive. ‘After all, Scudder is in your service. If you told me how to run my office on Wall Street I would not appreciate it either.’
‘Thank you,’ Clive said with a trace of a smile, but it was of no significance to James and me, because he and I had bonded sharing rather similar opinions.
Ever since Nick and I have reached this stage of our story it has become increasingly difficult to write in our respective studies for hours on end. He constantly walks into my room with some excuse about borrowing pencils or having to help himself from my cigarette case. I go to his room pretending to need matches or paper and usually find him standing at the window overlooking Central Park, smoking, fondling his reading glasses and engrossed in thoughts.
We cling to one another now hoping to find some fresh air to breathe. Whenever we address a topic that is not related to our story, such as how our new maid, whom we hired to assist our loyal Adelina, is a sweetheart that can cook like any Cordon Bleu chef or how the garage in the basement of this building is growing more cramped while people won’t stop buying cars, we quickly grow tired of discussing everyday humdrum facts and always reach out to what happened on Penge after the night we had talked to Clive. We can still hear our own voices and those of our dear friends and conjure the consequent thoughts and actions.
Clive – He was indeed a good employer, always determined to treat his staff justly, even though he could not help bungling at times. He defined Scudder’s attack as a display of scorn towards the rich, and the young man’s allegations as wicked, since he had not used them to punish three gentlemen for being so-called buggers, but to get a bag of money. ‘You can’t expect our standards of honesty in servants,’ Clive said to us.
Myself – ‘The fact that some people can only rise in the world by being dishonest is as old as mankind itself,’ I retorted. ‘May I remind you how I suggested to my relatives in Homburg, who are all in the best of health, that I would get them forged medical certificates so that they would get visas for America?’
Nick – He’s descended from Scots and Englishmen, and since British settlers were the most prominent in our country and since his own parents had been born in the United States, he’s more American than I am. He told Clive how people would kill or die to set foot on Ellis Island and leave poverty, misery and lack of opportunities behind them.
Maurice – He never said much because he was averse to kicking up a stink that would make matters worse than they already were. His Wall Street discretion never wavered.
Anne – She never forgave herself for forcing herself on Nick in the woods – that is how she still puts it. Back then, she would only shrug her shoulders and say that she and Clive had to come to terms with the idea that they would never have a child of their own.
They have accepted this sad aspect of their lives now, but their unspoken grief never leaves them, and as I remember this I quickly dismiss my dismal, compassionate feelings with thoughts about the many good things that happened, and so does my beloved Nick.
Chapter 27: The Later Years
Nick gives a brief overview of what happened to the people involved in this part of the story.
The only thing that gets me to sit down and write again is the good news that we got when we stayed on Penge and in the years that came after that.
After our revelations towards Clive with Joe Scudder’s letters that served as evidence, the squire said he needed some time to think.
He acted quickly, however. The next morning he went to the head gamekeeper’s cottage where Joe had a room and literally pulled him out of bed. Clive handed him a written message that told him he would be suspended from his duties with immediate effect due to his inability to fully live up to his master’s expectations. The real reasons were not mentioned in the document.
Joe Scudder left to stay at his grandma’s house to await further news. Clive dismissed him observing the legal requirement to grant him a full months’ notice and provided him with a written reference.
Joe got a twenty-pound bonus as a reward for his good service and went to London to be apprenticed as a car mechanic. He ended up being hired by a garage owner and he has worked at this place for years now. He still occasionally writes to his uncle Alec on Long Island and we are very happy to relate a tale of someone who survived the war. The quarter he lived in was all but destroyed in the first Blitz in September 1940, but he reached an air raid shelter in time. He is in his late thirties now and he never married. He never established his own business but is quite content living with a landlady and saving his Friday pocket money for a movie and a pint with his mates on Sundays.
Old Mrs. Durham passed away in 1935. She went to Heaven leaving all of us ignorant about what she might have found out about her son and his friends, probably more than we dared to imagine.
‘You teach your child to talk, your child will teach you to keep silent’ is a well-known saying in Holland. Mothers will defend their sons and daughters even if they come home confessing murder.
The sweet old lady is sorely missed, but Clive and his sisters are happy that she lived to an old age.
Archie’s and Pippa’s daughters Tilly and Maggie graduated from secondary school and attended college in London. They both earned degrees with honors and became teachers. They married but only Tilly gave her parents the grandchildren they so craved.
We knew even in 1927 that life could never hold such things in store for poor Charlie. The boy was exempt from mandatory schooling due to his restricted intellectual capacities and is still living on Penge. He can read and write a bit and drive a car provided that his mother is in the passenger seat ready to grab the wheel whenever he’s about to bungle.
Little Helen, who was twelve when we first met her, was Anne’s niece once removed and her and Clive’s ward. The girl’s grandmother never gave her consent for adoption. This eventually came to pass in 1933 when Helen became of age and agreed to the procedure herself. She attended college in England and France and graduated before the war broke out. She never married, never even so much as had flirts with fellow students and she lives on her own, very determined to visit America soon. She will be staying with us, of course, and we will show her all of Manhattan. Maybe she still has hopes.
This is the odd thing about the Durhams that strikes us. Procreation does not seem to come to them like it does to other families. They have the remarkable gift of being able to live without it.
It matches the one thing Clive once said so well, somewhere in the course of the weeks between Scudder’s saga and our departure for Ireland.
But I still can’t find it in myself to write down Clive’s words.
Chapter 28: Going to Town
Enough sadness. Let's have some fun now!
Old Mrs. Durham knew I had briefly attended college in Oxford after the armistice and had spent much time in London then. It made her wonder why I never thought of taking Nick to the City to show him all the sights. Nick had traveled Britain after the war before his return to America as well, by rail from the southern coast all the way up to Edinburgh where he had boarded a ship to Quebec.
‘You ought to see the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace,’ the lady said to him. ‘And the Tower Bridge, the monument on Trafalgar Square and Hyde Park…Not Soho, though. One only visits Soho for amusement unsuitable for a gentleman. Mr. Hall is a Londoner. He knows exactly where to go and where not to go.’
Maurice was indeed born in London, in a maternity clinic because these facilities were not available in the quiet commuting town in nearby Buckinghamshire where he grew up and lived (with the exception of his years at boarding school and Cambridge, and his time as a soldier) until he emigrated to America in 1919.
The very fact that the capital of Britain would be on every of his personal documents as his place of birth until his dying day entitled him to act the guide with his two American friends, especially since Clive was again being horribly busy at the Old Bailey.
The arrangements were hilarious, made after our host had spoken the words we still can’t write down.
We told Pippa and Archie that Maurice would be staying at Clive’s apartment in Kensington and that Nick and I had booked rooms at a nearby hotel so that the four of us could at least occasionally meet for luncheon, tea or supper.
Their smirks told me they were on to us. ‘Have fun, dear friends,’ Pippa giggled, which old Mrs. Durham took as an encouragement. ‘Why yes, you are young, and London is full of amusement a deserted manor like Penge can’t offer – concerts and museums for instance.’
The poor soul never knew no hotel rooms were booked. Maurice spent his nights at Clive’s side in Clive’s room. Nick and I shared a bed in Maurice’s room.
We would wake up in the dead of night from Clive’s loud moans of pleasure and Maurice’s gleeful, triumphant laughter.
‘Damn it,’ Nick once said. ‘Can’t we get any decent sleep even here?’ Well, he might have said it once. Or twice. Yes, maybe twice, but certainly not more often.
The nocturnal noises were just too inspiring, they aroused him and me equally and he was like a flower in my arms, opening up to me to expose his stems and his sweet, sweet nectar, groaning with bliss in a deep voice because he was delicate, but very much a man. The images of him walking Penge Park in breeches and riding boots, his wonderful stamina and the self-assuredness with which he aimed a gun at some moving creature from horseback, the long-forgotten fact that he had served as a lieutenant with an artillery division in the war, his laughter, the stubble on his cheeks when we exchanged our first kisses of the day after a warm night – all this made me glow with love.
I was unaware then that I had forgiven him, more unaware still that there was nothing he had done that needed my forgiveness.
Our stay in London was like a crazy dream interrupted by more serious tasks, and even those went down in stupid remarks and silly, drunken giggles, without Clive in the mornings and with him in the afternoons when his hard work at his office was done.
We saw the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace. The resilience of the men who must be horribly uncomfortable in their large fur hats in the stifling heat amazed me.
Maurice explained how these men had been drilled into utter physical compliance, the swings they made when they threw up their legs while marching being measured to a millimeter’s accuracy at training sessions. They could stand stiff and still in a fashion that they could hold pennies between their shins or their knees for hours without a single coin dropping.
‘We’re not like that, eh?’ Maurice whispered. ‘We tend to wrap our tentacles around bodies without a care in the world.’
‘Don’t be sordid, old sport,’ James smiled.
Of course we attended a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, a treat from James to Maurice, Clive and me because he knew how we loved Mahler’s symphonies. This did not stop us from acting like school boys when we were sitting in the theatre waiting for the orchestra to enter the stage.
‘Will there be a clown? Or at least an ugly lady performing tricks with Pekingese dogs?’
‘Shut up, Nick. Why, we’re not at Chez Maurice in Paris, are we, old sport?’
‘This has a Coney Island feel to it. I should have remembered to bring roast peanuts and lemonade.’
‘Yes, and then get horribly sick on the Ferris wheel, James. Just wait until we get to Claridge’s afterwards. You’ll get a rotten head from the cocktails.’
‘I say, Clive, are you all right? You’ve been working awfully hard lately.’
‘Don’t nanny me, Maurice, get me a pint and some pretzels from the concession stand. Oh, wait a minute, this is not America, is it?’
‘No, it’s not, and I shall give you some genuine British evidence when we get home.’
‘Can’t wait to undergo that.’
‘Ssssh, the musicians are coming.’
‘For heaven’s sake, Nick, don’t spoil the fun.’
‘Don’t insult my financial manager, old sport.’
‘I shall old-sport you royally when I get the chance. We’ve done it before.’
‘Oh, I’m sorry, madam, were we again a noise?’
‘You were, sir. We’re in England here….’
And then we were enveloped in Mahler’s fourth symphony, with James flipping through the program and mumbling the lyrics. He did not like this kind of music, but he was very proud to attend the performance of a work composed by a Jewish man from a German-speaking country.
The Tower Bridge Museum was a shock. We saw the block of wood on display on which Anne Boleyn, King Henry VIII’s second wife, had lain her head so that it could be chopped off. He had issued this verdict on her for cheating on him and failing to bear him sons. Anne – the name was ominous.
‘I wonder if her lover was a nice man,’ I said to Clive.
‘He was,’ Clive smiled. ‘Rumor has it that he lived on West Egg and had a degree from Yale. An outstanding fellow, not the kind of underpaid valet succumbing to his lady’s whims.’
The Tower Bridge had been a shock to James and me, but not to Clive and Maurice, two men who were born in a country that had seen ages of wrath and bloodshed in their rulers’ families.
In later years, we would pity poor King Edward’s fate as a consequence. He had had to abdicate to marry Wallis Simpson, a divorced woman from America. We then admired his will to choose his own happiness over his responsibilities as a monarch. But we would never understand how he had disgraced his ancestors by being on very cordial terms with Adolf Hitler.
A lot of shopping had to be done. James, Maurice and I wanted to get parting gifts for our hosts and some things we knew our loved ones in America wanted. Maurice brought boxes and boxes of cigarettes for Alec and a book for his German neighbor on West Egg.
We all but cleaned out the sweet shops buying dainty little tins of chocolates for the ladies on Penge.
Too much was drunk in the evenings, even at the modest dinner we were treated to by Mr. Timothy Hay and his soon-to-be wife Edith Rosenbaum. The boy had little money and so we met in a pub in Walthamstow, one of those places where fish and chips, bread and butter and potted beef or steak and kidney pie were available around the clock.
Clive and Maurice shed tears of beer-fueled emotion over the young couple’s luck. ‘You’ll have many children in America, may God bless your family,’ the squire sniveled.
‘And do come and visit,’ Maurice burbled. ‘I shall get you the best position on Wall Street, Mr. Hay. You and your lovely betrothed are the future of the world’s greatest nation.’
Chapter 29: Suffer onto Me
Party time on Penge!
We traveled back to Penge to attend the festivities around old Mrs. Durham’s birthday. She was seventy-three and thought it monstrous to celebrate the completion of another year with a reception and all that came with it.
But Pippa and Clive would not take no for an answer. Their mother had been on the brink of death a year earlier, and so they all wanted her to have a wonderful day and show her their gratitude for the fact that she was strong and still among the living.
Tilly, Maggie and Helen were made to skip school to attend the festivities, the oldest Durham daughter Margaret and her husband arrived with more pomp than one would expect from a clergyman and his pious wife, many friends from all over Wiltshire flocked to the garden to enjoy an enormous tea session. It reminded me of the parties I had once thrown at my own house on West Egg, with the distinction that no one present on Penge would take to splashing in the fountain, smoking opium in the restrooms or fornicating in the stables.
My parents both died in 1943 deploring the fact that I, their only child, had never given them grandchildren. I remember crying beside their hospital beds asking forgiveness, which they granted me by stating that my destiny had been given to me by God. They knew Nick in person, but they left the Earth to meet the Master of the Universe not knowing about the true nature of my relationship with him.
But it was still 1927 when I sat at one of the elaborately decorated tables in the garden of Penge Park watching old Mrs. Durham’s grandchildren, seven in total, including Helen, paying tributes to their beloved grandmother.
The girls among them sang a song composed by a musical friend of the family while Archie played the piano. He had been badly wounded in the war and he walked with a slight limp, and it amazed me how he managed to work the pedals so well.
After that, Margaret’s two boys staged a small play inspired on a hilarious scene from P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster, which had the audience in pleats.
Little Charlie was the last to perform, on his own, by reciting a poem, the only thing Pippa and Archie had considered feasible for him.
The boy stood before his grandmother, burbled a few lines, bit his nails and then a dark patch appeared on the fabric of his plus-four pants. A maid rushed to the rescue and took him into the house to have him cleaned up. He had wet himself out of nervousness over his grand task, and everybody pitied him.
The next day, with all the visitors gone and the garden a right royal mess that was dealt with by the estate workers, I was enjoying some peace and quiet with Nick and Maurice on the jetty of the boathouse. The weather was so warm now that we discussed the possibility of going for a swim.
‘I didn’t bring my swimsuit,’ Maurice said. ‘And how about you? I take it you never used any on your journey…You spent your days on the beach in Oahu naked. As much as I condone that, let me tell you that you can’t do such things here.’
Well, there were always the nights. Apparently swimming in the nude was sometimes done on Penge, that is by visitors and always in the dark when the gamekeeper was asleep.
Nick, who was unsure if this was suitable, pointed out that we could do it like Archie, who was known to dive ‘splack’ into the water lilies wearing his cricket attire between innings at the yearly estate versus the village match.
Maurice lit his pipe and shook his head. That was not a good example to follow. One either swam wearing the proper gear, in the nude or not at all. I clenched my own pipe between my teeth, eyeing him with amusement through delicate veils of tobacco smoke and enjoying how crazy he, Nick and I had become.
I can still recall the sound we heard then – ssshhhhh - the rush of air as something flew past us at the speed of light, ending in a fierce thwack.
The impressions hit us then – a bamboo arrow with a metal edge sticking from a beam in the wall of the boathouse, still quivering with a hideous tail of dyed plumes at its edge, and my pipe lying at my feet of the floor, split in half as if by a hatchet.
‘Are you all right?’ Maurice yelled at me. ‘Jesus Christ, who did this? Talk to me, James, speak to me!’
I did not respond because I only had eyes for Nick who was standing beside him and now swaying on his feet.
‘Are you going to faint?’ Maurice cried, gripping him by the waist.
Nick collapsed against him and stood in his arms, drawing ragged breaths and clenching his fists, until Maurice had manoeuvered him to the bench.
Clive came rushing to us across the cricket field, nearly stumbling over his own feet and crying out.
He jumped onto the jetty and fired a hundred questions at us.
‘I wanted to drag Charlie along so that he could apologize to you,’ he said.
‘It’s O.K.,’ I reassured him.
‘It’s not!’ Clive erupted. ‘His arrow flew past you so closely that it knocked the pipe out of your mouth. He missed you by a few inches…’
‘I’ll give the little bastard a good thrashing,’ Nick said tonelessly.
‘Good heavens,’ Clive gasped. ‘You’re talking! Thank God.’
‘I’ll teach him some manners,’ Nick went on.
‘Those who live by the sword shall…’ Maurice began, but Clive interrupted him fiercely.
‘Come on now, Charlie’s just a kid. He doesn’t know what he’s doing. And besides, it’s no good trying to look for him now. He’s probably hiding in the bushes with his bow and his case of arrows waiting to strike again.’
‘I take it you’ll probably tell him he’s been very naughty,’ Maurice remarked. ‘And his parents will punish him by denying him sweets at teatime this afternoon…Know what? When I was younger, I would often deplore the fact that I would never sire any children. That’s long gone now. If it were still so, your dear Charlie’s action would have been enough to render me irreversibly sterile.’
‘One of the reasons why I love James so much,’ Nick said, with a lilt of happiness in his voice, ‘is that he can perform any imaginable marital duty on me which in itself is marvelous, but another good thing is that our bedroom gymnastics will never produce any offspring…Neither of us would be strong or patient or forgiving enough to face the task of raising children.’
‘No, you wouldn’t,’ Clive smiled. ‘It takes a certain kind of character none of you were born with. You all shine in a different way – and I can’t help but envy you at times, my friends.’
Chapter 30: Dorm Mates
Back to London!
I was wicked enough to seek genuine motives behind Charlie’s action. The boy was too underdeveloped to read, write or cipher, but he had shown the makings of an outstanding marksman by aiming so well at James.
He must have chosen James as a target to punish him for failing to get him the presents he had wished for at first. Quite ironically, Charlie had exacted his revenge using the things James had bought him in London and which he liked.
It was unacceptable to think thus. I knew full well the boy could not help being what he was, even though his near-perfect attack would make even the most accomplished of fusiliers cringe with envy.
Archie’s and Pippa’s embarrassment and bashfulness at the discovery of the event suited me just fine to announce to the family that I very much wished to return to London.
And so I did, the next day, with Clive and Maurice, by train.
Our crazy apartment life was resumed. It was all I had wanted to come to London for.
Clive had no urgent engagements and slept late while Maurice left after breakfast to spend time with his mother in Alfriston Gardens. He always returned after supper, and that was when craziness started. James and I ignored the noise he and Clive made in their bedroom by performing our own show that was possibly even louder.
One of the moments that changed the coloring of my mind, manners and taste for good occurred very late one night – rather at dawn because there was already some light coming in from the windows.
James and I had been making love for hours. I had clasped my legs around his waist and then laid them on his shoulders to give him more access into me. He had mumbled words of love and occasionally suppressed cries of joy. After that I had done something I had never even dreamt of doing. I had kissed and licked his soft perineum and stroked his opening, slipping in my index finger to tickle him and that was when he had completely lost it. He had howled and wailed with pleasure for the longest time and then lain in silence shivering and sobbing. I had never seen him like this before, it almost scared me, but he blew me kisses and told me he loved me, only me.
I got up, put on my dressing gown and went to the bathroom. The hallway was dark. My hand was stopped by someone else’s as I reached for the light switch. There was Clive.
‘Hello, old sport,’ he murmured.
We both stood blinking in the glaring electric light until my eyes saw him – all of him.
I was a visitor at this apartment and therefore correctly dressed. He owned the place and he was naked. His face without the glasses was soft and juvenile. His shoulders were pleasantly sculpted and there was a coquettish mole on his left collarbone.
‘Do you want to use the lavatory?’ he asked. ‘Go in first, I can wait.’
But I wouldn’t move. His hips were straight and between them was a dark patch that contrasted with his smooth torso. His small, limp sex was the size of mine, and just as unlikely to make an impression.
His whole physique was relaxed after hours of love with Maurice. Good heavens, Maurice who was so powerfully built all over that he must have ripped Clive in half.
‘I hope James and I didn’t wake you,’ I said sheepishly.
‘No, you didn’t,’ he half yawned, half laughed. ‘Maurice and I were not asleep anyway.’
‘I know,’ I nodded. ‘The two of you had a good time.’
‘Well, go and tinkle-tinkle, you rotter,’ he said good-humoredly. ‘And then get some sleep before breakfast, my dear.’
I went tinkle-tinkle (the very expression still makes me holler with laughter after so many years), washed a bit and returned to the bedroom.
James held up the sheets and then warmed me with his glorious, heavy body.
‘Did you run into Clive?’ he whispered.
‘I did,’ I said. ‘He was not wearing any underwear or anything…Good Lord, how could you fancy him? He looks nice, but he doesn’t exactly incite any carnal feelings in me. He looks too much like me and I never liked my own physique.’
‘I like how you are,’ James said. ‘I always have…Moreover, I simply love how you are.’
Nick and I discussed this chapter this afternoon. He finally accepted my elaboration on the subject.
I had first met Clive in May 1919 when I was trespassing on his estate to look for Maurice.
Clive had been thirty-one then and hauntingly beautiful riding his Arabian gelding, but his eyes had radiated anger and disgust at the sight of the American officer who had no business entering his premises. I had left Penge with the idea that this man could and would never show any feelings of glee and merriment.
Three years later, I met Nick at one of my parties in my garden on West Egg. I had taken an instant liking to him. He was good-looking, a tad less tall than me, dark-haired and fair-skinned. He was an American Clive, a Clive who could actually smile and laugh and who stemmed from a fairly wealthy, but in no way remarkable family.
Nick and I both agree now that if it hadn’t been for my meeting Clive shortly after the war, we would never have gotten where we are today. I had amassed a fortune believing this was the only way to win Maurice back. After all, Maurice had been the lover of a wealthy estate owner.
Maurice would never be mine again, but what I had gained enabled me eventually to give Nick a warm nest where we could both live in love and undisturbed.
All in all, I can say that it was Clive who sowed the seeds after the war and my watering the garden has earned me armfuls of precious flowers – my friendship with Maurice and Alec, with the Durhams, and the most beautiful of all – my amazing Nick.
Chapter 31: Two Cars
Nick, James and Maurice leave Penge.
We went back to Penge. I supervised the men who loaded our and Maurice’s trunks into a van. They would be in New York before us if all went according to plan.
What lay before us was a week we would spend in Ireland with Maurice. And after that we’d go home.
Home – the word had a new meaning now. It was something worth fighting and enduring any kind of hardship for. Home and the German word Heimat had the same connotation in James’s mind.
The farewells were said the evening before we would leave. Mrs. Durham and Pippa sniveled, Archie implored us to come back soon.
And we would. We would visit Penge every year after that until the outbreak of the war and Clive and Anne spent a few months with us again in 1938. That was the last time we saw them.
James is sixty-two now and I’m going on fifty-five. Maurice is fifty-eight and determined to travel to England to be with his family. Old Mrs. Hall died from a heart condition in the war, but Kitty and Ada are still alive and well.
Our official goodbyes had to be said in the parlor before bedtime, because the Londons and old Mrs. Durham would not be awake by the time we left the next morning.
Anne and Clive had insisted on driving us to Swindon in two cars so that we could get on an express train to Birmingham right away. It would be a forty-mile journey on the road and then a two-hundred-mile one by rail. We had to cover the distance to Liverpool in one day because the SS Dundalk would sail at midnight. James and I had taken things at leisure for over ten months now, so this sounded like a monstrous, hectic undertaking.
We had breakfast at six and then left in the first hesitant light of day. Clive led the way in his old T-Ford that held most of our suitcases. James was in the passenger seat and I rode in the back.
Anne followed closely in her husband’s Sunbeam with Maurice beside her.
Poor Clive held the wheel with one hand and dabbed away his tears with the other. He blinked constantly and missed a protruding mound of moss and grass by inches.
‘Let me drive, old sport,’ James suggested softly.
‘Thank you,’ Clive sighed. ‘But that won’t alter the fact that you and Nick and Maurice are leaving us. God knows how long it will take until we meet again…Oh well, I’ll manage.’
We have always been amazed at the way he and his wife could read one another’s feelings, even when they were not together. A few minutes after the near-accident, the rearview mirror reflected a myriad of headlight signals. She indicated that she wanted to stop.
It made no sense. We only had twenty more miles to go to Swindon and if Maurice had to go to the bathroom, he could easily wait a bit longer until we got to the station.
We stopped by the side of the road and got out. Maurice was standing on one side of the car scanning the landscape, probably for a tree to do his business on.
‘Do you have to go tinkle-tinkle?’ I asked him to humor him because his face was sad. ‘You had three cups of coffee this morning. Not a good idea.’
He grinned. ‘No, I just went.’
‘What?’ Clive yelped. ‘In my car?’
We all burst out laughing. ‘I wanted to smoke,’ Anne then said. ‘We can, because we’re quite ahead of schedule. It’s seven now and that train is not leaving until a quarter to nine.’
It sounded like an excuse. She might have waited to light up when she got to Swindon. She wanted to check on Clive, whose eyelids were swollen. He sweetly reassured her that he was O.K.
Anne had her personal matters too. She told us how she had wanted to ride with Maurice to discuss something in private with him.
You want him to father her child, I thought. Well, it’s too late now and it would never work. What if the baby has his midnight-blue eyes? You’d become the laughingstock of the district, dear.
It turned out that she had wanted to learn his opinion on a different topic: Daisy Fay.
‘I invited her to come and visit on Penge a few months ago,’ Anne explained. ‘But after that slanderous letter she wrote me about James’s and Maurice’s so-called vices, I would very much like to call the whole thing off. No one is to insult Clive’s and my friends like that.’
She drew from her cigarette and shook her head with a pitiful grin. ‘And in such matters, Maurice is really the last person to turn to. All he said was that it was my affair and that he was in no position to give any advice.’
‘Quite so,’ Maurice said. ‘Even though I appreciate your concern, Anne. Daisy is a nice lady but she’s not prone to tactful behavior, I suppose.’
‘And I won’t interfere either,’ Clive added. ‘The ladies’ reading circle is strictly your turf, Anne dear. I will stand behind any decision you make.’
‘Don’t do it, Anne,’ I pleaded. ‘Daisy will win favor with your mother-in-law and I can’t even think of what will happen then. She’ll expose us all.’
‘Daisy actually offered to accommodate my relatives from Homburg if they decide to leave Germany after all,’ James remarked. ‘That’s magnificent, but still I would not dream of convincing or dissuading you from receiving her.’
Clive lit a cigarette with an unexpected vigor. ‘God, I forgot about that just now, James. How good of you to remind me…Daisy must be a very good person, albeit with a few rather unorthodox streaks.’
‘She’s mean,’ I said.
Clive shook his head. ‘That’s your opinion, Nick. I respect that. But let’s face it, all five of us here, haven’t we proven that we’re the meanest of species that even walked the earth? What we did to one another does not bear thinking about, and yet we did it – and not out of spite, rather out of longing and despair. And all the while loyalty stood out like a pillar. We’re a mob sworn to secrecy…And we have tons of fun as we go along.’
‘Jesus Christ, Clive,’ Maurice gasped.
‘It all started with you at Cambridge, dear,’ Clive said happily. ‘But that is no longer relevant. We’re still friends – more than that.’
‘Good Lord,’ James muttered.
Clive patted his arm. ‘Don’t worry, old sport. Anne knows. And she doesn’t mind.’
‘If I did, I wouldn’t be here now,’ Anne added.
‘The point is,’ Clive went on, ‘that one can study the classic and Shakespearean dramas and cinematic monstrosities and smutty lecture until the cows come home, but what permeates almost every work of art or literature holds one very simple piece of wisdom. One single phrase.’
He paused for dramatic effect, looking around at our dumbfounded faces.
‘Well, can none of you guess? I’ve said it before…We are never going to survive unless we get a little crazy.’
There. Nick wrote it down. The very pinnacle of wisdom that will never appear on any coat of arms or in any sermon.
Clive had said it on a few occasions, that is true, but it only sank in when we were by the side of the road talking and smoking as the morning mists gradually gave way to sunlight.
What happened then made me swallow awkwardly. Clive suggested that we swap drivers’ seats and created a commotion. Anne was unsure if she could handle the T-Ford because of its tricky clutch, Maurice had barely driven during his stay and believed he had grown unaccustomed to British traffic rules.
‘Rubbish,’ Clive said. ‘You’ll always remain an Englishman at heart. Please, do us the honor and drive either of these fine vehicles to Swindon.’
Maurice walked briskly to the Ford. ‘I shall git behind the wheel then,’ he announced, a two-headed creature that was Albion and America. In the mornin’ and plow, I thought, diggin’ all the way to China with a silver spoon.
‘Shall I drive the Sunbeam?’ Nick suggested sweetly. ‘Who will ride with me?’
‘I will,’ Clive said. ‘You’ve been in love with my car ever since you first saw it, haven’t you?’
We got in and drove off. Maurice cursed at the Ford’s spongy clutch but eventually sped on happily with Anne beside him and me in the back.
Nick is a careful driver, but there are always exceptions. The road was winding and we could barely see far enough ahead to look out for oncoming traffic. But a few miles out of Swindon he gave us headlight signals, sounded the horn, overtook us and adjusted his speed to ours as he got next to us. Maurice lowered the window and waited for Clive to speak.
‘Parking near the station can be tricky….I suggest that we meet on Victoria Road so that we can leave the Sunbeam there…Is it O.K. with you?’
‘Fine with me, old sport,’ Maurice roared back. ‘Have you any more accurate coordinates?’
‘No,’ Nick shouted back. ‘You’ll see us easily from the sidewalk…’
‘Just look out for me!’ Clive added. ‘I’ll be the man wearing orange pyjamas and a Prussian helmet and smoking two pipes.’
They both laughed, so did we, and then Nick stepped on the pedal and disappeared into the distance. We found him, Clive and the Sunbeam on Victoria Road. They climbed into the Ford and we went to the station.
The five of us paced up and down the platform, smoking again and exchanging silly talk. When the rumble of the approaching train could be heard, Clive hugged us all. I wondered if this was sensible since we were in public, but he remarked breezily that no one knew him in Swindon. Both he and Anne wept when our luggage was loaded into the train. All five of us held hands and then we drifted apart, three travelers on their way to Liverpool, Dublin and New York and a couple that would return to Penge in two cars.
It is Clive who jumps ahead in time in this chapter. His words of wisdom are taken from Seal's 'Crazy' (1991).
Chapter 32: The Green Island
The three friends bring up social-economic and historic facts as they explore the city of Dublin.
James, Maurice and I dozed in a first class compartment until we reached Birmingham at noon. Our connecting train for Liverpool was due an hour and a half later, so we had time for luncheon at the station’s restaurant.
We were in the North now, a country where green pastures alternated with industrial towns. A different dialect was spoken here and the meals on the menu were frugal. Steak and kidney pie, sausages and mashed potatoes, beef stew. Maurice warned us that ordering coffee would earn us funny looks, so we had tea instead, which was deliciously strong.
We had another first-class compartment to ourselves on the next train. And that is when we talked.
Our stay on Penge had held its challenges, but it had been liberating through and through. Every crazy thing had happened, except one, as the astute reader may have guessed.
‘So you never had any amorous moments with Clive?’ Maurice asked me. ‘Are you sure?’
‘Very sure,’ I answered. ‘He’s enormously attractive, but I never felt any desire for him.’
‘Why not?’ James wanted to know.
‘Because I fancy powerfully built men, my dear.’
The SS Dundalk sailed at midnight. It takes about six hours to cross over from Liverpool to Dublin. The journey is so short that the amenities of ocean cruisers are not offered. Moreover, since this line is mainly used by traveling salesmen, students and sports teams, no one really cares if you book a cabin for three men who are not related.
As we would not get to sleep very long, we decided not to change into pyjamas and just lie on our bunks with our jackets and our shoes off.
Nick, the youngest and the lightest of us, was relegated to a top bed while Maurice and I each claimed one at the bottom. Nick wanted the one over Maurice’s, and when I asked him why, he said that he could see me from there.
There were no first-class cabins and we traveled steerage, very close to the noisy engines, but we managed to doze until we were woken at five by a steward rapping on our door.
An easier start of the day we never saw. We moistened a towel under a small tap over a sink, rubbed our faces, put on our shoes and jackets, combed our hair and were ready to go.
We had tea in a rather crowded restaurant and then went to the deck. The coast of Ireland lay before us, greyish blue at first but then gradually changing into the black, brown and white of the buildings and the green of the fields beyond them.
Maurice was standing beside me, one foot on a bar in the railing and holding a cigarette like I had seen him do on the jetty of the boathouse many times. The expression on his face was mild and the breeze blew his hair into all directions. I had watched him in this pose many times over the years on the ferries to Staten Island, on his way to a place where fun was to be had but which was not very spectacular.
‘This must stir up something within you,’ I said. ‘You’re about so set foot on the soil your grandmother was born on. It must have some Heimat feel to it.’
He smiled and shook his head. ‘I’ve no living kinfolk in Ireland to consider,’ he said. ‘And besides, I’ve been here before. Once, on a family vacation when I was a boy…Or, no…twice. Yes, twice.’
It was me who had done all the preliminary bookings for our journey around the world. I had managed quite brilliantly so far, but being human I am prone to making mistakes too.
Maurice had insisted on staying at the Metropole on O’Connell Street, so I had requested two rooms there as well. The booking had been confirmed but I had failed to send a reminder on time and when I finally did, the rooms were no longer available.
All I had managed to find after that was a small hotel that lay about a mile north of the Metropole.
We would no longer be able to hop across the corridor to see Maurice. I don’t know why this annoyed me. After all, we were practically neighbors on West Egg.
By seven, we had gone through customs and found a taxi. Our first stop was at the Metropole, where Maurice got off, and then James and I went on to our hotel.
Our accommodation had the coziness we had seen at the villa in Sydney. We had to share a bathroom with other guests, which, again, had a fluffy carpet that ran from the door to the toilet bowl.
We found pitchers of water and basins in our rooms. There were bright quilts on the beds and everything was spotlessly clean. ‘Very nice,’ James said. ‘I’d be bored in one of those fancy main street hotels anyway.’
As the three of us had barely slept during the crossing we had agreed not to meet until teatime so that we could rest a bit.
There were no phone extensions in our rooms, so we had to call Maurice from the reception desk downstairs. It was half past four. He sounded drowsy and distracted but he still invited us to come down to have an apéritif before dinner.
People sometimes call me a miser, a very disrespectful referral to the Jewish proficiency in financial matters. The fact is that those of my race were denied the possession of farmland and government positions during the ages of our diaspora. Making a living as self-employed men who very often knew a thing or two about investment banking was the only alternative granted by the gentiles.
I was born into a none to affluent family in the Midwest and I still remember Vati scolding me for cutting classes and working as a farmhand instead and both Vati and Mutti expressing joy when I brought home the cents I’d earned, because those would allow us to have a course of gefilte fish besides meat for Sabbath dinner. They never lost their worries over my academic development, though, and that is why they decided to send me to military school when I was fifteen because my bad grades would never get me a college scholarship. It was then when I ran away to Lake Superior to become a fisherman. The rest of the story, including my years as Mr. Dan Cody’s grateful pupil and protegee, is already well-known with the reader, so I won’t elaborate on that.
The truth is that I always preferred public transport over taking a cab even after having obtained enough funds to buy three Rolls Royces I barely drove. Taking the train into Manhattan instead of hunting for a space to park is the easiest way.
Riding buses, streetcars or the underground has another advantage. It will connect you with people who can’t afford cars.
The bus Nick and I took downtown stopped at any given street corner, discharging or taking on passengers dressed in modest woolen coats and caps and carrying meal tins. On one occasion the driver slammed the brakes at a junction to give way to a horse-drawn hearse adorned with wreaths.
The passengers rose from their seats and made the sign of the cross, as did the people on the sidewalks, the men taking off their headdress and the women reciting prayers either in English, Irish or Latin. Nick and I removed our hats but refrained from any pious gestures. This was a Catholic country and we were unaware of the rites.
‘Must be a wee child that died,’ a woman beside me murmured. ‘Ye can tell by the white flowers on that carriage. ‘Tis the consumption or typhoid fever as takes ‘em in this country, wisha.’
‘It’s in Heaven now,’ I said, at which she nodded with a smile.
I was dressed in English clothes as usual. Maybe she still knew I was American, a citizen from a country everyone in Ireland strove to reach. I was not wearing a kippah and would not do so until I came across a temple in the port quarters of Dublin.
And a few minutes later, we met Maurice in the lobby of the Metropole. The color on his cheeks told us he’d already had some sherry. ‘Do join me,’ he said with a smile. ‘What are you having? Not this Spanish stuff, I know Americans don’t like that, but perhaps some gin and tonic to revive your stay in the tropics? No Prohibition here, I say, I love Ireland!’
We sat down in comfortable chairs and lit cigarettes. We were Maurice’s guests now so he ordered the drinks when the waiter turned up.
‘Would you get them here gentlemen some o’ya fine gin, tonic and ice? And some more sweet sherry for me, please. That’s wonderful stuff…Thank you, boy.’
He had used a distinct New York accent as if he had been born in our country.
We toasted, drank and leafed through issues of the Washington Post and the Herald Tribune other guests had left lying about. ‘Damn, I’m so hungry I could eat a horse,’ Maurice said after an hour or so. ‘Let’s go out and look for a diner. I’m buying.’
The diner turned out to be a restaurant two blocks away, full of people who were obviously tourists or members of the Dublin upper crust.
The menu was very French. Maurice ordered the dishes and insisted that his steak be served rare.
When James softly remarked that we were not in Brooklyn, our host’s face turned pale under the ruddy glow the sherry and the wine had given him.
‘I don’t want to profile myself as too English here,’ he whispered. ‘These people suffered under the rule of mine for eight centuries. The Brits took their land and their homes and treated them as slaves who even had to serve in wars of which the origins they had no part in – the Boer War, the Great War.’
‘The staff at the hotel saw your British passport,’ I remarked.
Maurice grinned awkwardly. ‘They did, but it was issued at the embassy in New York. And the clothes I wear are visibly American.’
‘So you want to be an American here,’ I concluded.
‘I do,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to be a nuisance to the good people of Ireland.’
Chapter 33: The Ferns
The three friends explore the countryside.
Maurice showed up shortly after lunch this afternoon. He is still one of the board members at Swift, Feinman & Hall but no longer travels to his office every day. This saddens him, but after some fretting and scolding himself for being a no-good freeloader, he has chosen to comply with his doctor’s orders.
He was in hospital in Queens because of cardiac problems last year. It is likely that he suffered one or two heart attacks without noticing. He is fifty-eight now and has ignored the obvious warnings from his physicians for years. ‘You’re overweight, Mr. Hall, you smoke too much and you drink, too.’ He always laughed at them and still does. Like many men of our generation he derives entitlement from the fact that he lived through two wars and served in the first one. ‘These youngsters straight out of college with their silver-plated telescopes, what do they know? We know – for instance that at times one just needs roast beef, tobacco and booze.’
I had told him on the phone that Nick and I spent days writing the story about our journey around the world, but I had omitted the details. It was therefore not surprising that Maurice let out a low whistle when he saw my stack of typed sheets on the desk in my study.
Nick had gone out to have lunch with some business associates and had not returned yet. For some reason I refrained from getting Nick’s work from his study for Maurice to read.
I asked Adelina to provide tea and some refreshments and invited my guest to sit down.
We lit cigarettes – pipes definitely belonged to the ancient past now – and talked as he scanned the pages I’d written.
He mumbled as he drew from his cigarette, absently thanked Adelina when she poured him a cup of tea and rubbed his cheeks.
‘So it still tortures you,’ he said after twenty minutes. ‘Your episode with the American on the ship to Colombo…Nick being unfaithful to you…Good heavens, I still dream of those days. I’m to blame for this too.’
I had forgiven Maurice the instant I had learned he had slept with Nick on Penge, thus depriving myself of the possibility to develop the righteous anger of a deceived husband.
‘It doesn’t matter,’ I said. ‘If it had, I would have ended our friendship long ago.’
He nodded as if he knew dissecting the subject would not improve things. Then he started talking about what he had read in the newspapers. The turmoil and the suffering in Palestine were a special point of interest to him. The British mandate had started as a concept to ensure stability and peace, but it seemed that it could only bring on the opposite. Ships full of Jewish refugees from Europe being forced to go no further than Cyprus. Attacks on British office buildings, retaliation from the authorities.
‘My people are creating suffering and confusion,’ Maurice said to me. ‘I want to apologize to you, James, on behalf of all those who abhor violence.’
Maurice had been an American citizen since 1927. Twenty years on he still felt English enough to experience embarrassment and sadness over the actions of the people he was born to. And since we have been friends for nearly thirty years now, we have long gone past sparing each other.
‘How odd that you do not keep up with the news of the world, old sport,’ he said.
‘I’ve been too busy writing,’ I retorted demurely. ‘And I’m not much of a theorist as you know. I want peace as much as you do, but what can I do to contribute? I want my people to have an independent nation they can call their own, I have donated to Zionist communities in Manhattan, but I won’t go any further.’
‘And your thoughts are somewhere else now anyway,’ Maurice smiled. ‘I just came across the part you wrote about our stay in Ireland. Let me read it more attentively before Nick comes bounding in.’
We took the train to Maynooth and had a long walk across the lovely old town. After a delicious lunch of roast lamb and mashed potatoes we decided to explore the fields.
Maurice suggested that we rent bicycles and reacted rather sourly when James and I laughed at this. ‘Fair enough, we shall walk then,’ he sighed. ‘I must have worn out a hundred pairs of boots since I left New York.’
The three of us had grown atrociously unaccustomed even to moderate bodily exercise. Half an hour into our trek we made a nest among ferns near a pond and lay down.
The weather was warm with a faint hint of an upcoming thunderstorm in the air. Dragonflies darted over the water, ducks fought noisily and swallows screeched as they sailed across the azure sky.
Maurice rolled onto his stomach and pointed at a ruin on the other side of the pond. It had once been a part of Maynooth Castle that had been destroyed in the Eleven Years’ War in the seventeenth century, a battle between the English and the Irish people and thus one between two faiths.
I had read the biography of Elizabeth, the empress of Austria who had died in 1898. She had been an avid horse rider in her younger years who preferred English and Irish grounds to those in her own country.
James eyed me listlessly as I told him and Maurice all this. He was proud of my college degree but prone to despairing over my knowledge of things that had no relevance to the modern world.
‘Elizabeth and her team raced the finest horses in this district,’ I said. ‘And she was fearless. She jumped over stacks of wood or fences. Once she flew over the wall of the monastery we just saw and nearly landed on the head of a monk in the garden…She apologized profusely after that and made a large donation to the convent…In fact, the Irish people, who had suffered under English rule for so long, regarded her as someone who was on their side. She was an empress originally from Bavaria, but she spoke English fluently, she was a Roman Catholic and smug enough to decline Queen Victoria’s invitations to visit on Osborne. Wherever she went she would drop little silver pins with her initials on them or daintily embroidered handkerchiefs. These things can be still found in many Irish households all over the island.’
‘I wonder if she ever flew a hydroplane, old sport,’ Maurice said to James, cuffing him playfully.
‘Ouch!’ James winced. ‘Oh well, I suppose she did.’
This was and still is Maurice’s forte. Whenever things get too serious, he will make a bullshit remark and has everyone in pleats, thus restoring peace in a split second.
The sun was so hot that we became drowsy and light-headed. We lay down again and before I knew I had dozed off in James’s arms while he stroked my hair.
Maurice and I were lying on our sides with the sleeping Nick wedged between us. Nick’s hair was tousled and slightly dusted with pollen. He had had a shave that morning but warm weather makes hair grow twice as quickly. By now the dark shadows on his chin and cheeks were very visible. I could hear his soft breathing and even the faint murmur of his stomach.
‘He’s so incredibly sweet,’ Maurice whispered. ‘And he’s yours, James, all yours.’
‘I sometimes doubt that.’
Maurice’s eyes almost went black with sadness. He shook his head.
‘But I bear him no grudge, none whatsoever,’ I went on.
‘That’s not enough. The thing is to close the chapter and to never look back.’
‘The past tends to repeat itself.’
‘Thank fuck it does. Sometimes memories need reviving.’
The trouble with Maurice is that he’s too damned clever. I can never find arguments to contradict him.
Only one thing could be done now, if only to prove to him that I was my own man and far more solid than he was.
I took my wallet from my breast pocket and got out the ring I had taken off my finger on arriving in England. Maurice’s eyes grew large as I put it back on.
‘I say, that’s beautiful,’ he said. ‘I take it someone special gave it to you?’
‘I bought two of these in Zurich. Nick has the other one. Yes, it’s a gift to me, I mean, the fact that he accepted his.’
Nick had taken off his ring upon landing in Harwich too out of solidarity. If old Mrs. Durham was to see none on me, she would not see any on him either.
‘We were married in Geneva early in March,’ I said to Maurice. ‘We said our vows on a boulevard with the lake and the snowy mountains as witnesses.’
A shiver went through Maurice’s body, causing Nick to stir in his sleep.
Presently Maurice was handling his handkerchief with his glasses off, sobbing softly and murmuring: ‘Wonderful, oh, that’s wonderful…’
Nick moved again, opened his eyes, let out a smoky cough and sat up.
‘I’m hungry,’ he complained. Then he saw our looks.
‘Oh Jesus,’ he sighed. ‘And what the fuck is wrong now, pray tell?’
Chapter 34: The Atlantic
The three friends reminisce about their stay in Ireland.
When I entered the apartment this afternoon my heart jumped at the sound of two baritone voices from the lounge. Without taking off my hat I rushed in and embraced Maurice, feeling happy because I had not seen him in two weeks, and sad as well because the unnatural redness of his face told me his blood pressure was sky high again.
I sat down and heard him and James tell me how they had both discussed our writing. Maurice was very eager to see my side of the story so I got my file from my study.
‘That part about the three of us in Maynooth was so sweet,’ Maurice said. ‘I remember. You were asleep between us without a care in the world while James and I talked.’
‘It was sweet to me until I woke up,’ I grinned. ‘The first thing I saw was you, James, with a look of triumph on your face as if you had defeated a whole army, and the second thing was you, Maurice, crying like a man who had lost all…Well, that only lasted a minute, and then all hell let loose.’
My latest chapter, still a hand-written draft, described what happened next, so now I’ll take the reader back to that summer afternoon in Ireland, to the spot where three men were lying among the ferns.
Maurice embraced me wildly and then included James until we were one mass of fabric, limbs and laughs.
‘Mazel tov, old sport,’ Maurice said to James. ‘Mazel tov from the bottom of my heart. May you and Nick live forever.’ Then he stroked my face. ‘And you, my happily married man, you have the best husband in the world…Do put your ring back on. Mrs. Durham’s not here.’
I had left it in my vanity bag, wondering if I would ever wear it again. My own sloppiness drove me mad with anger, fueled by a warm sea of love.
But I was hungry too. What’s the thing to do in Ireland in such cases? Well – head for the next fish and chips shop.
Any pub in Ireland has people singing and playing instruments at all hours. As I ate and sipped porter I gradually imbibed the lyrics sung by a man who provided the rhythm with a drum.
The song was about a gentleman who stopped at a well and asked a young maiden for a drink of water. The girl said there was none and the man said she would have given him his fill if he had been her love.
But she said she'd never had a love, which he revealed as a lie. He knew she had borne many children, two by her brother, two by her uncle and two by her own father. The babies all lay buried close by. And all the while a lily would grow green at the well below the valley, even if the girl would be put to death for murder. Forgiveness would be found at Our Lady’s bosom in Heaven.
I thought it preposterous at first and wondered why the church had never banned this song.
A local then explained to me that it was probably an altered version of Mary Magdalen’s story, not to be regarded as lip service to sin but as a warning to stay pure.
It was bloodshed all over again to me as I ate, gitting behind a mule and plough, the couple fighting right next door, the bullet fired at me in James’s garden.
‘Go easy on that porter, old sport,’ Maurice said kindly, but the look in my eyes told him otherwise and so he grinned. ‘Aw hell, man, I’ll have the waiter draw you another pint.’
I calmed down as I dug into my second glass, even though I didn’t know why or how.
There was a nervous streak about Nick during the whole week of our stay in Ireland. I knew him too well now to define his state as exhaustion after a fifteen-thousand mile journey or longing to go home.
The reader may have concluded that I had developed some religious tendencies on the way. I had visited temples and shuls more often than I had ever done before, but after my return to New York I went back to being your stereotypical modern man who attends services twice a year.
Some habits I had been taught as a child were restored, such as inwardly saying a blessing for every meal or snack I was about to eat and lighting seven candles in the dining room at Hanukkah.
It was in Dublin where I first experienced a deeper layer of my own conscience, where the idea lay that things were not to be taken too seriously unless they were a threat to my own life or of that of anyone I loved. Man is basically made to establish his own empire, which I had done already, and to amuse himself, which I now gradually grew to accept.
Berating Nick and Maurice for doing what they had done on Penge would only mean that I would lose them both. The only way to punish myself for my dalliance with Clive would be parting with the congregation of friends and lovers that had become my very breath of life.
And so I watched Nick and Maurice together sitting in pubs smoking and listening to music, visiting second-hand book shops and, on a few occasions, kissing under my eyes in Maurice’s hotel room.
Maurice was simply impossible to live with, but it was even more impossible without him. Nick was strong and intelligent and fully aware of this duplicity. His ability to love the man who still meant the world to me made me cherish him all the more.
And Maurice, dear Maurice, never forgot to give me my share as well. His lips tasted like they had always done, but now with a hint of Nick on them. This amused me.
The evening after our outing to Maynooth Nick slipped his ring back on his finger. ‘You and I belong together,’ he said to me.
And that was maybe the closing link in the chain of madness. I had illicitly married a man and was deeply happy. My world had turned into an endless Coney Island with fun rides and delicious treats. Being crazy was the only way to find survival and to water the garden full of Life’s wonderful flowers.
The SS Weserland, a German vessel originating from Bremerhaven, took us from Dublin to New York. She had ported at Rotterdam, Southampton and Cherbourg, so we had a multitude of nationalities on board.
James and I shared a first-class suite. Maurice’s cabin was a few doors down the corridor. We were happy to be so close to each other again.
If one is not all that enthused about the entertainment on cruise liners one’s waking hours consist of eating enormous quantities of food five times a day and desperately seeking places to relax in between meals. Summer was upon us now and palpably hot even in the Atlantic breeze, and sitting on chairs under awnings on the first-class deck would only mean delivering obligatory small-talk to strangers. We wanted to be left alone.
The crew were German and very respectful, because they refrained from knocking when they saw a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the doors. Making love on a single bunk bed was still too risky, but James and I spent hours half sitting, half lying on the sheets naked and teasing and tasting each other.
James is a clever man who always wants to ascertain if the odds will work in his favor.
‘Poor Maurice is sulking in his cabin,’ he said to me on an afternoon when we were halfway between Europe and America. ‘Why don’t you look him up, old sport? He’ll like that.’
I did and was received with due honors. Maurice was all but glum but he always welcomed company.
He poured wine and served up some cheese he had bought in Dublin.
We toasted, drank and kissed. His lips were to die for.
‘Will you stay a bit longer?’ he whispered in my ear. ‘I’ll be all yours if you want to…I love your dark hair…Why are dark-haired men – not me of course, yuck! - so beautiful?’
‘You loved a blond man once,’ I remarked.
He laughed delightfully. ‘Yes, there are always exceptions to the rule.’
We melted together again and then I said: ‘No…I’m sorry.’
Maybe James had told him what to do to put me to the test. But he need not have.
‘I’m with James, dear. I won’t ever cheat on him again.’
This was my first implicit apology to the absent man I loved.
Maurice filled the glasses and nodded.
‘I know, my rose. And guess who will be waiting for us when we disembark…? Oh, the very thought of it…He will be there with his rickety lorry, yes, he will…I do wish that ship would pick up a few knots, I can’t wait to see him again.’
The song played in the pub is this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WxXFs8EL35o
Chapter 35: America
Home incredibly sweet home.
Maurice stayed for dinner at our apartment tonight. He was in good spirits, but a tad too weak to walk to the underground and go home. ‘You can spend the night here,’ I said. ‘Under one condition…that you phone Alec.’
Maurice did and got Alec’s blessing. Then our loyal friend wanted to speak to me.
‘Perhaps it’s for the best, mate. Poor Maurice is wearing himself out in New York. Put him to bed after tea and feed him some brandy. I’d rather know he’s safe with you than have him travel back to West Egg. And no carnal sin in your guest room, ye hear? I want him back in one piece tomorrow.’
This was Alec very much being Alec, like he had been when we met again in New York in July 1927.
He had taken Maurice’s two-months absence with the braveness of those who know that separation would turn into reunion. Our dear, wonderful Alec.
Adelina and our new maid Topsy made a feast tonight. Chicken soup, filet mignon, green asparagus and buttered potatoes and fresh strawberries and cream for dessert.
Of course Maurice would not go straight to bed after dinner. James coaxed him into borrowing a pair of his pyjamas and his dressing gown. They are the same size.
Maurice changed into these night clothes and then joined us in the lounge for coffee and brandy.
I watched the two men, astounded as always at their likeness even though one was blond and green-eyed and the other dark and blue-eyed.
‘You read my chapter about us on the SS Weserland tonight,’ I said to Maurice. ‘Did you catch the unveiling of the secret like I did?’
Maurice shook his head. ‘A reader’s view may differ from that of the writer’s,’ he said.
This was a very astute observation because it went for every book in the world. But I explained anyway, knowing his opinion would match mine.
‘When we were having wine and cheese at your cabin,’ I said, ‘you told me how you loved dark-haired men.’
‘Oh God,’ James sighed.
‘No, no!’ I laughed. ‘Maurice always loved your honey-blond hair, my beauty.’
‘Thank heavens,’ James smiled.
‘But it’s this,’ I went on. ‘You, Maurice, were attracted to me, even though you wore glasses so you might had a better look at me. I’m a scarecrow…Anyway, you coveted me because my hair is dark, like Alec’s and Clive’s.’
‘Your eyes and Alec’s are brown, Nick,’ Maurice said. ‘Clive’s are blue. Ever thought of that? You are very much like Alec. I missed him when I was in England. But you were there. And we both enjoyed it.’
‘And you,’ I said to James. ‘You slept with another dark-haired man too. I do hope you did so because Clive reminded you of me in a fashion.’
‘He did, he still does,’ James said. ‘In fact, I would not have shared a bed with him if he had been a blonde or a redhead. I never fancied those colors.’
‘You never did,’ I said. ‘Daisy has black hair and brown eyes too.’
‘So has Anne,’ Maurice pointed out. Then he slapped his forehead and made an annoyed sound. ‘Listen, this is too confusing. If your book ever makes it into the literary canon and reading lists at colleges, it will cause students to fail exams. You can’t do that, it would be monstrous.’
We laughed until Maurice wheezed alarmingly. He was prone to spells of shortness of breath, but he overcame his sickness quickly enough to have another glass of brandy and a cigarette.
The evening wore on as we talked, allowing our beloved guest many breaks to restore himself.
We went to bed agreeing that our story was too intricate to ever provide a plot clear enough to be of any value to readers.
Maurice was looking better this morning. He phoned Alec again, bathed, shaved, got dressed and had a vast breakfast with us.
‘I’ve been thinking,’ he said.
‘You haven’t!’ Nick cried. ‘You promised us to go straight to sleep last night.’
‘Calm down,’ Maurice grinned. ‘It didn’t take much time…Well, now that the war is over and traveling has become possible again, why don’t we all go to England to visit Clive and Anne? Alec should come with us. His head mechanic can run the garage.’
Nick and I protested. It would be to strenuous on Maurice, even if we chose to travel by sea instead of by air.
‘Please,’ Maurice begged. ‘Let’s all go while we still can. I’m fifty-eight, Alec is fifty-six, we’re not that old yet.’
We agreed. Soon we would be to old to cross the Atlantic indeed. It made me wonder why Maurice had brought up the idea now.
‘Because of the way we set foot on American soil again in 1927,’ he said. ‘It reconciled us with all we had been through and told us that being crazy is the spice of life…Have either of you gotten to that part yet?’
‘No,’ Nick said. ‘But I remember that day too. Thank you, you gave me inspiration for the last bit.’
My beautiful James, colored like mountain springs and beach sand and wild honey, has graciously allowed me to write about the very last day of our journey.
The seagulls were already sailing over our heads at the same speed of the vessel long before any land came into sight.
We were standing on the first-class deck, hatless and shielding our cigarettes from the wind that bore the smells of concrete and gas from the city.
I’ll spare the reader a description of the first sight of the New York skyline dominated by the Statue of Liberty, of what we felt then. So many writers have painted this picture.
Only when we went down the gangway much later did we notice that summer had struck in full force. It was unbelievably hot, close to one hundred degrees.
We hurried to the office to turn in documents in order to retrieve our trunks that had arrived on another ship a few days before us. Then we went through customs. It would be the last time Maurice had to show a British passport.
Alec had written to us while we were still in England. He had even very meticulously indicated where we could find him. This enabled us to have the trunks carted to this spot so that they could be loaded into his van.
We crossed a road and found a row of cabs with drivers loudly offering rides. Then we entered the car park, a sea of metal and dusty canvas covers.
A weak horn wailed. Once. Twice. We walked on.
‘Hel-loooo!’ we then heard. ‘Hiii-yaa…I’m over here, you tosspots!’
And then we saw Alec leaning against his Overland sounding the horn with one hand and waving with the other. Next to the car was his faithful, rickety van with his junior mechanic dozing at the wheel.
Alec was all smiles and laughs and shook hands with us. This was all he could do since we were in public. The boy would drive the van. Alec would take us home in the car. I knew he would kiss us as soon as we had gotten to the safety of Maurice’s house on West Egg.
‘Let’s wait until the bloody trunks turn up,’ Alec said lighting a cigarette. ‘Blimey, it is too hot.’
‘How have you been?’ Maurice asked.
Alec smiled. ‘Fine! Got me a cracking DeSoto to repair and sell the other day.’
He forgot about our journey and quickly gave us a list of other cars he had come across. Business was booming.
‘And yerselves?’ he suddenly interrupted his story. ‘Have you been all right? Done anything interesting?’
‘Not a lot,’ I said, producing a pack of Lucky Strikes from my pocket. ‘We’ve just grown a bit older, that’s all.’