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It was good to be home. Lord Edward Corinth lay in his bath splashing himself contentedly with an enormous yellow sponge. Now and again he put it on his head and let the water dribble over his eyes and ears to lubricate his brain, which felt arid and infertile after the transatlantic crossing. He had disembarked from the Normandie at Southampton, along with the other English passengers, at seven o'clock the previous morning, and reached his rooms in Albany six hours later. His man, Fenton had grilled him a chop, which he washed down with half a bottle of Perrier-Jouet and then, overcome with lassitude, he had strolled round to the hammam in Jermyn Street. Steamed, scrubbed and massaged within an inch of his life, he had slept in his cubicle for an hour. Then, feeling a little restored but as weak as a newborn lamb, he had tottered round to his club in St James's. There, he hid himself away in a corner unable to face social intercourse and had Barney, the smoking-room waiter, bring him potted shrimps, scrambled eggs, angels on horseback, along with a weak whisky and soda. After which he had snoozed in his chair for half an hour and then crawled back home. He toyed with a pile of letters which lay on his desk but could not face opening any of them and was in bed not much after nine.
This morning he had awoken refreshed but still curiously reluctant to face the world, despite having looked forward for so long to seeing his old friends and revisiting old haunts. In the six months he had been away, an era had ended with the death of the King on January 20th. The new King, Edward VIII, with hisfilm-star good looks and easy charm, was hugely popular, to judge from what he read in the papers, but he was mistrusted by the 'old guard' who suspected he lacked his father's sense of duty. They did not like his friends either. In New York, Edward had heard disquieting rumours concerning his lady friend, Mrs Simpson, a divorcée of dubious morals. It looked as though 1936 would prove to be an interesting year.
He submerged himself in the rapidly cooling water until only his aquiline nose showed above the surface like the periscope of a submarine. He suspected that Dr Freud, whose works he had been perusing on the boat coming over, might mutter something to the effect that his bath provided a womb into which he could retreat when in need of comfort and reassurance, and it was true that just the sight of this huge, ornate iron bath, standing four-square in the centre of the room on massive gilt claws, had always aroused in him a most profound sense of well-being. The United States — well, New York — seemed to assume its denizens preferred showering to lying in a soup of bath salts and soap, and the Normandie — beyond criticism in every other respect — boasted baths which, to be enjoyed, demanded amputation at the knees. Luxurious though that great ship was, the next time he crossed the Atlantic he promised himself a berth on the Queen Mary, which was about to set out on her maiden voyage. All the talk on the Normandie had been of this new Cunard liner whose launch demonstrated that the economic depression was at last raising its dead hand from British industry. Among the passengers wagers were given and taken on whether or not it would wrest the Blue Riband from the Normandie which, ever since it had made its first transatlantic crossing the previous year, had been hailed as a miracle of engineering and the acme of luxury.
Edward supposed the first-class passengers were, for the most part, good enough people but, to his jaundiced eye, they appeared a seedy set — American millionaires, their women decorated like Christmas trees, and every kind of mountebank and charlatan. He recognised one South American card-sharp he had punched in the face on a railway train out of Valparaíso three years before. Edward watched him playing poker with a Hollywood producer and his girlfriend and, as he was pondering whether or not to warn them that they were about to be fleeced, the man caught his eye and had the gall to give him a wink. Edward supposed he ought to advise the company that there were sharks on board even if there were none in the ocean, but how to distinguish the predators from their victims? He decided he did not care enough to work it out. One evening, at dinner in the art deco glory of the first-class Café Grill, a little actress, her hair unnaturally blonde and her lips coated in vermilion — attached, he thought, to a German businessman of quite staggering corpulence — offered herself to him for dessert and he had suddenly felt disgusted with himself and the company he was keeping.
Yes, it was good to be home. He loved New York. It invigorated him; the skyscrapers, the noise, the bustle, even the sight of the policemen, dressed up to look like postmen, gave him an electrical charge. Each evening, as he walked down Fifth Avenue in the direction of Broadway, he found himself whistling. He had made a host of friends there. He had been elected an honorary member of the Knickerbocker, the city's most exclusive club, which he privately thought was even duller and more hidebound than the Athenaeum, but it was in the night-clubs, long after working New Yorkers had taken to their beds, that he and Amy dined and danced till there was light in the sky. Amy Pageant, the girl on his arm, was Broadway's newest, brightest star, and the couple had been feted in a manner which would have turned him into a conceited ass if he had not realised that their popularity, pleasant though it was, was so much hooey.
The dream could not last. Six months after Amy had flung herself into his arms in her dressing-room at the Alvin Theatre, they had regretfully come to the conclusion that they were not, after all, in love with one another. There had been nothing so tacky as his finding her in flagrante delicto with her leading man, but he was wise enough to see that she was indeed on the point of falling for a wealthy sprig of New York society. Better to bow out gracefully than be ejected from her apartment after some slanging match in which both parties said things they did not mean but which left genuine hurt. No, Edward had kissed her, told her she would always have a place in his heart — that they would share some very special memories. She, for her part, had wept, whispered tender regrets in his ear but, in the end, had not tried to shake him in his resolve to return to England and find something to do which might stretch him.
'I'm not cut out to be a lotus-eater, darling,' he had told Amy. 'I'm getting lazy and that turns me into a dull dog. You are already a great star, but you still have a world to conquer and it wouldn't be right for me to hang on your coat-tails like some stage-door johnny until we hated the sight of each other.'
'Never that!' she exclaimed. 'You and I discovered each other before any of this ...' She waved her arms vaguely at the bed with its pink silk sheets, the champagne bobbing in the silver ice bucket, the vases of flowers that bedecked every available surface — the evidence of a glorious 'first night' when she had glittered in a Gershwin musical which looked set to run as long as she was prepared to star in it. 'You and I will always be ... a part of one another.'
But she had not begged him to stay and so they had parted, still a little in love with one another, basking in a relationship from which both had drawn strength. Though Amy would not have said it or even thought it out with cold, deliberate logic, it had helped her career to be seen with the wealthy, good-looking brother of an English duke. It had given her glamour and status — made her invulnerable to the sneers of society matrons and eased her passage into the centre of what Edward called 'Vanderbilt City'. She acknowledged in her heart that he gave her much more than status: he was older than she, for one thing — almost thirty-five — and absolutely at ease with his own place in society. She had been brought up by two elderly aunts on Canada's new frontier and seen nothing of the world until she had come to London to meet the father who had abandoned her almost at birth. A few months later, she had been whisked off to New York by a theatrical agent who had been taken to see her singing in a Soho night-club and had recognised star-quality when he saw it.
It could be lonely on the Great White Way, even frightening. So much was expected of her and, when she delivered, they expected more and, inevitably, success brought enemies. The society gossip columnists had interspersed adulation with little spiteful dagger-thrusts of speculation and rumour. She was the daughter of the Canadian press lord, Joseph Weaver, but there was something mysterious there. She had appeared from nowhere. Was she his illegitimate child by a mistress he had turned away when he was quite a young man? There was certainly no word of any mother. Amy was able to brush off the innuendoes and the spite but there were evenings when she would read some lie about herself and run and bury her face in Edward's shoulder and sob as if she were still a lonely, abandoned child.
Now, back in London, lying in his bath in his spacious if rather spartan rooms, Edward hummed contentedly to himself one of his favourite songs from Girl Crazy: 'Boy! What Love Has Done To Me!' Amy had sung it in the show and it still sent shivers down his spine. He could hear Fenton in the little kitchen preparing his breakfast. Unexpectedly, Fenton had adored New York and had been reluctant to leave it. Edward had heard that he had been offered a position as butler to one of the city's 'royal families' and had been touched that he had in the end decided to stay as his gentleman's personal gentleman. Nothing was ever said between the two of them about the temptation which had been resisted but Edward noticed that Fenton would on occasion drop American phrases into his conversation and his breakfast eggs might be offered him 'easy-over' or 'sunny-side up'.
Edward resurfaced and made a determined effort not to think of Amy. He was content to be back in London. Or rather he was not content yet, but he was determined to find a cure for his restlessness. While he had been in New York, he had received a letter from an old Eton and Cambridge friend with a high, if ill-defined, position in the Foreign Office, offering him what sounded very much like a job. Basil Thoroughgood was too canny to commit to paper a form of words which might be construed as anything quite as definite but there was certainly the offer of lunch and 'a chat'. Edward had cabled that he expected to be in London on February 18th and had been surprised to receive a 'wireless' half-way across the Atlantic which set one o'clock at Brooks's — the club of which they were both members — on the 19th, only his second day back in the metropolis. It hinted at urgency on Thoroughgood's part but Edward could scarcely believe it. Unless Thoroughgood was a different young man from the slouching, half-asleep character he remembered from the university, he would have laid odds on 'urgent' not being a word in his vocabulary.
His musings were interrupted by the muffled sound of knocking and then the noise of Fenton opening the door to the apartment and exchanging some sort of greeting. Edward stopped soaping himself and tried to make out who this unreasonably early visitor could possibly be. Confound it all, he thought irritably, couldn't he even get dressed and have his breakfast in peace? In any case, as far as he was aware, no one, except Thoroughgood, knew he was back in London, and none of his friends — if they had, in some magical way, discovered he was back in town — would have dreamed of calling on him before ten o'clock at the earliest and he knew for a fact that it was only a little after nine.
After a few more moments of puzzlement, he heard Fenton's respectful knock on the bathroom door.
'What is it? Did I hear someone at the door, Fenton?'
'Yes, my lord, there is a lady who wishes to speak with you.'
'A lady? But I am in my bath. Did you tell her I was in my bath, Fenton?'
'I did, my lord, and she said she would wait.'
Edward splashed angrily and yanked at the chain with the plug attached to it. All the pleasure of the bath leaked away with the water and, as he towelled himself, he called, 'You haven't told me who it is, Fenton, who breaks in upon my ablutions at this ridiculously early hour.'
There was something cold and wet in the pit of his stomach — not the sponge lying abandoned on the wooden bath mat — which warned that he knew perfectly well the identity of his unexpected guest. There was only one among his many female friends and acquaintances who would have the nerve to visit a young man in his rooms without prior appointment and before that young man had got outside eggs and bacon, and that was a girl who ought to be in Spain.
'It is Miss Browne, my lord.'
'Verity! I knew it!'
'Yes, my lord.'
Edward was almost sure he heard Fenton add under his breath, 'I am afraid to say.' Fenton did not approve of Verity. It wasn't just that she exhibited a contempt for the tried and tested conventions of good society which he held to be sacred. It wasn't even because she had a job — she was a journalist, a foreign correspondent no less, for Lord Weaver's New Gazette — when she should have been content with a husband, babies and a string of pearls. What shocked Fenton to the core of his being was that Verity Browne was an avowed communist, communism being a political philosophy of which Fenton had the greatest suspicion. What right had girls — that is to say nicely brought-up young ladies and Verity Browne was certainly one of these — to have political opinions at all? In short, in Fenton's view, Verity Browne, though in many ways a charming young lady, was not someone whom he could ever esteem. She was pretty — he could admit that. She was plucky — he had direct evidence of her fighting spirit. She had money; she dressed and spoke like a lady, so it made it all the more inexcusable that she did not behave like one.
'Tell her I will be out in a jiffy,' Edward called as he stropped his razor and stirred up a storm in his soap tin with his badger-hair shaving brush.
'Very good, my lord,' said Fenton gloomily.
'Oh, and ply her with coffee and kippers, will you.'
When Edward burst into the dining-room ten minutes later — partially clothed, his tow-coloured hair not yet laid low by his ivory-backed hairbrushes — he was full of questions and complaints but these died on his lips unuttered. He was brought up short by Verity's appearance. The merry, plump-faced child he had sparred with six months earlier had become a woman. She had cut her hair short as a boy's. Her face, if not actually gaunt, was thin and spoke of poor food and too little of it. Her skin was pale and the smudges under her eyes indicated that she was under considerable strain and not sleeping properly. He hesitated — for only a moment — before going over and kissing her on the cheek but she had seen his surprise — no doubt had anticipated it — and said, with a wry smile, 'As bad as that?'
'No! I mean, of course not, Verity. It is splendid to see you after so long. I just thought ... I just thought you looked too thin. How long are you going to be in London? Have I got time and permission to fatten you up?'
Verity smiled and put her head on one side and was once again the light-hearted bird of a girl he had ... he had almost ... no, damn it! the girl he had loved the previous summer when they had joined forces to discover the killer of one of the Duke of Mersham's guests — the Duke being Edward's elder brother.
'No, I'm sorry,' she said. 'At least, not here. I have to be back in Madrid the day after tomorrow.'
'So I won't see you again?'
'Well, that was why I came here. I was hoping you would come with me.'
'To Spain!' he said in amazement. 'Why? What has happened?'
Verity laughed — a little guiltily, he thought. 'Maybe I just wanted your company ... but no,' she said, her face clouding over. 'You're right. Something has happened.'
'To David?' inquired Edward with a flash of understanding.
'How did you guess?' said Verity rather bitterly. 'Yes, something has happened to David.'
Edward drew Verity down into a chair and watched her closely as Fenton provided her with black coffee. She waved away his offer of eggs and bacon but asked for a cigarette. Edward proffered his gold cigarette case and was concerned to see her hand was shaking so much that she had some difficulty in extracting one. He lit it for her and she inhaled gratefully. 'That's good. It's hard to get American cigarettes in Madrid.'
'I didn't even know you smoked.'
'I do now,' she said shortly.
'Tell me what has happened and how I can help,' he said calmly, studiously avoiding any hint of 'lean-on-my-shoulder-little-woman', which he knew she would detest.
'You've not seen anything in the papers then?'
'The English papers? No, what have I missed? You see, I only returned from New York yesterday and ...'
'Oh, of course,' said Verity drily. 'And how is Amy? I gather she is quite a star now.'
There was something so sour about the way Verity said this that Edward gazed at her with surprise and hurt.
'I'm sorry,' said Verity, seeing the look on his face. She put out a hand and timidly laid it on his. 'I mean, I am delighted ... really pleased ... for you both.'
'Oh, as for that, there's no "both" about it. We're just chums, don't you know.' Edward got up and went over to the coffee tray on the table and refilled his cup, anxious that Verity should not see his face and guess at his real feelings. He felt something on his cheek and rubbed at it with his fingers. He was surprised to see it was a fleck of blood. He must have nicked himself shaving. He turned to Verity and showed her his hand. 'Love lies bleeding.' If it was a joke, neither of them laughed. 'Tell me about David,' he said more firmly. 'Is he in danger or what?'
David Griffiths-Jones was the man Verity respected most in the world. He had been her lover — Edward knew that for a fact — and still was as far as he was aware, but he was a cold fish and Verity certainly did not have the look of a woman in the middle of a love affair. He and Griffiths-Jones were natural enemies; they had been at Cambridge together but while Griffiths-Jones had become a committed Communist Party worker, Edward had come to hate everything the Party stood for and not just because 'social justice' seemed to involve hanging people like him from lamp-posts or at least curtailing their personal liberty 'in the interests of the proletariat'.
Edward believed passionately in personal liberty, although he accepted it did not mean much if one were a slave to poverty. He regarded with suspicion any political party — on the right or the left — which claimed to be acting in the interests of the working class. Everything he had seen of Fascism disgusted him but he was convinced that one did not have to espouse communism to be anti-Fascist. He had listened to David Griffiths-Jones and Verity go on about 'the proletariat' and 'the working classes' as though working people were little better than sheep needing a shepherd. If the shepherds were going to be of Griffiths-Jones' persuasion, he foresaw they would 'fold' their charges into the abattoir.
He distinguished, however, between genuinely good-hearted idealists such as Verity, misguided though they might be, and cold, calculating ideologues, such as Griffiths-Jones, obsessed with 'the masses', a meaningless class definition in his view. But, if Edward were honest with himself, his political differences with David Griffiths-Jones were exacerbated by their locking of horns over Verity. No word of love had ever been spoken between Verity and himself, but there was some sort of understanding between them which probably neither of them would have been able or indeed willing to define. As far as Edward could see, Verity was completely in the other man's thrall. He had commanded her to go to Spain with him and she had obeyed. She was to promote the communist cause by writing for Lord Weaver's New Gazette, and for the Daily Worker, the official organ of the Communist Party, describing the political struggle in Spain in terms of communism — good — against Fascism — evil — when even Edward knew it was something much more complicated. To be fair to Verity, the three or four reports of hers he had read in the New Gazette had seemed honest attempts to report the truth of the situation, so maybe she had too much integrity to toe the Party line as closely as Griffiths-Jones would like.
'He's in gaol,' she said bluntly.
Edward took a breath and said coolly, 'What is he supposed to have done?'
'He's done nothing!' She looked at him accusingly, as if he would automatically disbelieve her.
'Yes, I expect not, but what do they say he's done?' he said, rubbing his forehead, which he always did when he was surprised.
Verity stuck out her chin. 'Oh, it's all nonsense. He hasn't done anything, I tell you.'
'Yes,' said Edward patiently, 'but what's he accused of?'
'They say he killed a man,' she said reluctantly. 'They say he's a murderer.'
Verity blurted out the word 'murderer' as if she could still hardly credit it. Edward was not quite as shocked as perhaps he ought to have been. He had always considered David Griffiths-Jones to be one of the most dangerous men he knew and was reasonably certain that, if the Party required it of him, he could kill — might already have done so. Edward had the faintest suspicion that, deep down, Verity thought so too but this was clearly not a good moment to explore the idea.
'So tell me about it,' he said, leaning back in his chair. 'Who is he supposed to have killed, and when did it happen?'
'Over a month ago. He was arrested on January 10th.'
'And when is his trial?' He spoke with studied neutrality. He could sense that she wanted to hit out at someone and, if he gave any sign of pitying her, her carefully prepared defences might crumble. She would hate herself and him if she burst into tears. It must have taken some courage, or maybe sheer desperation, for her to come to him. She knew how he felt about David, the Party, and her rushing off to Spain, but she had trusted him enough to come to him at this moment of crisis. He tried not to feel pleased. At all costs he must not seem to be taking advantage of her.
'Oh, he has been tried,' she said airily. 'He's going to be shot next week unless you can think of something to make them change their mind.'
'Or garrotted — no, shot. Spain has joined the twentieth century.'
Edward gulped. If what Verity said was true, there was absolutely nothing he or anyone else could do to save the man. If Griffiths-Jones had been tried by a Spanish court and convicted of murder, how could Verity possibly think he might be able to do anything about it? It was absurd.
'Oh gosh, Verity, that's awful but ... but what can I do? I mean, I don't suppose even the Prime Minister could do anything,' he said weakly.
Excerpted from Bones of the Buried by David Roberts. Copyright © 2001 by David Roberts. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Copyright © 1996 Boxing Cat Productions, Inc. All rights reserved.
Posted October 14, 2012
No text was provided for this review.