The Anniversary and Other Stories

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Crisscrossing a tumultuous century, these stories evoke lives both blessed and cursed by good fortune and reveal the quotidian conflicts of a wonderfully rich milieu. In the title story, a clergyman prepares a toast for his twenty-fifth wedding anniversary but gets stuck when it comes to his wife's five-year affair. The narrator in "DeCicco v. Schweizer" imagines the lives of the plaintiff and defendant and spins a wicked tale about a 1902 marriage born more of convenience than of love. And in "The Last of the ...
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Overview

Crisscrossing a tumultuous century, these stories evoke lives both blessed and cursed by good fortune and reveal the quotidian conflicts of a wonderfully rich milieu. In the title story, a clergyman prepares a toast for his twenty-fifth wedding anniversary but gets stuck when it comes to his wife's five-year affair. The narrator in "DeCicco v. Schweizer" imagines the lives of the plaintiff and defendant and spins a wicked tale about a 1902 marriage born more of convenience than of love. And in "The Last of the Great Courtesans," we meet the unforgettable Milly Marion, born in 1917, who has bewitched everyone she has encountered in her long, colorful life. Whether these stories concern an anxious draft dodger, a repentant headmaster, or a mischievous writer who ill-advisedly draws on her own family for her fiction, they offer soulful glimpses into an uncommon world, preserved in our past and yet also surprisingly close to our hearts.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
These nine previously unpublished stories feature the author's usual preoccupations: the WASP aristocracy confronting moral dilemmas in the boardrooms, prep schools and churches of Manhattan, Westchester and Newport from the Gilded Age to the present. The husbands wrestle with the infidelity of their lovely, penitent wives "The Interlude," "The Anniversary"; with sexual improprieties at a posh prep school "The Devil and Guy Lansing"; with reconciling the urge to follow one's muse as poet or to serve one's country in battle "Man of Renaissance". The author pays overt homage to James and Wharton, who explored similar themes with inimitable grace and subtlety. Here, however, the characters verge on banal, the dialogue is stilted and the snobbery oppressive. The intrusion of real-life figures--Henry James is one character's cousin; Frank Lloyd Wright designs a house for patrician newlyweds, and Julia Ward Howe appears in the last story, "The Veteran," ready to recite her "Battle Hymn of the Republic" to an elite audience in Newport--points up the insubstantiality of Auchincloss's characterizations. The prose is arch, stagy, sometimes risible. One narrator admits, "In the tumultuous fury of my mind in the next few days I must have waxed almost irrational"; a Yale-educated painter asks the glittering opportunist sitting for her portrait, "Wasn't Paul a perfectly competent lover?" The reply: "He was. Very male. But with Eric I was in the hands of a master." Theodore Roosevelt himself, advising a gifted poet to seriously turn his attention to politics, concedes, "Poetry is bully!" While his early novels The Rector of Justin and previous story collections are certain to assure Auchincloss a preeminent place in American letters, this later short fiction may strike a young audience as already dated. July Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
This is Auchincloss's 16th volume of short fiction, and his mastery is apparent throughout. The stories focus primarily on the lives of strong-willed, well-intentioned, affluent New Yorkers who struggle to find happiness in the rarefied, treacherous, and often amoral social world of aristocratic "old" New York. Reminiscent of the work of Henry James and Edith Wharton, the stories mostly take place in (or look back nostalgically at) the early years of this century. The conflicts Auchincloss explores are those that both James and Wharton also found compelling--affairs of the heart complicated by the rigid social conventions related to wealth and social status. The protagonists are courageous men and women who must make significant compromises, but in the end they achieve a kind of triumph over their circumstances that is both honorable and, in some very real ways, heroic. Recommended for all libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 3/1/99.]--Patrick Sullivan, Manchester Community-Technical Coll., CT Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Emily Barton
...[A]t their best, the stories in The Anniversary make use of their quiet, unruffled atmosphere to delve into reflection, and to offer insight into the seemingly ''ordered and bordered'' world of the upper crust..... It takes effort to get past the twittering dialogue to the emotional core of these stories; yet that core is undeniably present, however much it may become obscured beneath a glittering surface.
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Auchincloss's 16th collection is comprised of 9 published stories about the moneyed upper crust, whose complex mores have for over 40 years been memorably delineated in the prolific author's impressive oeuvre (more than 50 books and counting). An autumnal mood suffuses these supremely literate tales of social-climbing and conflict, most of which are recollected in a kind of wry tranquility, and all of which display learned literary and cultural allusions and patiently constructed Jamesian periodic sentences. James is a clear influence on several stories that contrast Americans and Europeans (he even appears in "The Virginia Redbird" as a frequent visitor to the London home of the impecunious beauty who is, as she realizes, her snobbish husband's prize possession). By comparison, other stories feel underimagined ("DeCicco v. Schweizer," for example, a perhaps semiautobiographical meditation on its narrator's twin passions for the law and literature) or overfamiliar (the title story's bland exploration of a marriage endangered, then redeemed by adultery and its aftershocks; and the smug "The Last of the Great Courtesans," both reading like warmed-over John O'Hara). But there are also several gems. In a densely packed 20 pages, "The Devil and Guy Lansing" records the spiritual odyssey and rueful self-discovery of a prep school headmaster-clergyman who "became a priest without being a Christian," and "The Veterans" reaches back to the Civil War to examine the hearts and minds of two Americans in Paris, exempted from military service but not from the pressures of their respective consciences. And "Man of the Renaissance" superbly portrays the emotions of a sophisticate raised among Italy'scultural wonders who understands too late that his accomplished young son was, unlike himself, much more than an "appreciat[or] of beautiful things." It's a story the author of "The Beast in the Jungle" would have admired. Vintage Auchincloss: suave, skillfully crafted, amusing, dependably entertaining stories from a master who, now in his ninth decade, remains one of the essential American writers.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780395970744
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 7/1/1999
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.86 (w) x 8.65 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


The Interlude


* * *


1.


THERE WAS NO QUESTION in Angelica Brooks's mind as to what had altered her life from a freely flowing river to a sluggish tidal area losing its force and impetus in soggy marshland. It was her resignation in 1952, three years before, from the Wall Street law firm that bore her father's name and of which her husband, Sidney, was the brightest and most up-and-coming of the junior partners. She had been just thirty at the time and an associate in the trust and estates department — admittedly a minor, almost an "accommodation," section of a corporation firm — but she had been hoping against hope that her good record and the changing times might override what was still the prejudice in the larger houses against making female partners, when her father had taken her out to lunch to enlighten her. It had not been an easy thing, for who but he had urged her to go to law school in the first place? His tone was heavy, and his great shaggy head had shaken in regretful nods.

    "Having a junior partner and an associate who are married to each other has already been frowned at in the firm," he told her, "but I have been able to control that. Having two partners who are mates I might not be able to, let alone the die-hard attitude of a few old stick-in-the-muds about having a woman partner at all. You may well ask, if that be the case, why I let you come into the firm. The truth is, I thought the training would be valuable for you in whatever you did afterwards, and I assumed thatanyone as brilliant and charming as yourself would soon be married and too busy raising a family to bother with our dusty old books and cases downtown."

    "Do you imply, Daddy, that I have been neglecting Tim and Elly?"

    "In no way, my dear. They're wonderful kids and doing splendidly in nursery school, and I know how conscientiously you spend your nights and weekends with them. Indeed, your mother and I have even worried about the effect on your social life. But the fact remains that here in the office you may be on a dead-end street. As far as partnership goes, that is. You can always command the highest going salary rate for your age as an associate. But I know that's not what you want. Still, you should count your blessings, my precious girl! You have a successful and utterly devoted husband, two great children, no financial worries, plenty of friends and outside interests, a first-class brain and all the charm anyone could ask. Honey, the world's your oyster!"

    "What world?"


* * *


Sidney was much better about it than her father when he came home late that night. He was working on a hideously tangled corporate reorganization and was pale from his hours of toil, but paleness was becoming to his slightly haggard dark good looks. As always he gave his most serious attention to anything that concerned her.

    "I don't want you to stay on, darling, if you can't be a partner, and your father has finally convinced me that we haven't the votes. You could get a job in another firm fast enough, and some of the smaller ones are getting much less stuffy about making woman partners, but I've been wondering if you wouldn't do better to take a year off and think over what you'd really like. Forgive me if I've sometimes doubted your total dedication to the law. I'm not, mind you, in the least questioning your expertise."

    "Well, there's a limit, it's true, to my adoration of wills and estates. Sometimes I feel like an undertaker." She felt the least bit depressed, as sometimes happened, at his eternal reasonableness. He was always so fair, so balanced, so devoted. He could never see there were moments when she just wanted to spit in the eye of the world. And she was uncomfortably aware that her own amusement in putting together the jigsaw puzzle of an estate plan that would least benefit Uncle Sam was a pale simulacrum of the "hard, gemlike flame" of his passion for the legal machinery that turned the wheels of industrial competition. The practice of law to Sidney was an art to which everything else came second. Even herself, even the children! But she couldn't complain about that. It had been the thing that had first intrigued her about him.

    "I can see you in a lot of other things," he went on. "In politics, for example. You speak so well, and you have a way with people. And you care about causes. How about getting involved with the Democratic party organization?"

    He really was thinking about what she should best do. Had her father ever, really? Even when he had gone along with her desire to be a lawyer, in his image, hadn't he been flattered by the vision of an adoring daughter, adoring and adored, turning into a kind of lovely Portia? Hadn't it been a fantasy?

    Ethan Drury had filled the heaven and earth of her childhood and adolescence. He had been the sky, whether fair or stormy, over the sober, the sometimes God-fearing commuting community of Gulls Cove on Long Island; his small, riveting eyes, sometimes glinting with a kindness almost akin to love, but never missing a slip or a tumble, had penetrated to her boarding school, to Vassar, to Columbia Law, and even in the great gray city where so many of his grinding hours were spent, they swept the narrow dark streets of the financial district and reached to the escape vents of Times Square and the parks. Daddy's power was felt by the family, by his firm, by his great corporate clients and by the Plattsburg camps for officers' training that he had helped to organize in both wars and by the thousands of men who had been conscripted by the draft laws for whose passage he had so passionately and powerfully lobbied. He was male, incorruptibly male, the incarnation of his sex; he believed in war, holy war, and might even have been grateful for the existence of the Hun to keep Mars alive and kicking.

    He was appropriately large and heavy and strong with a high brow and bushy gray hair, and although he had a habit of nervous twitches and rather stertorous breathing, his grave stare created an atmosphere of awesome stillness like a chamber of justice in which anything but the truth was unthinkable to tell. Drury represented great companies in their strife, and Angelica was too well educated to be unaware that bad things went on in that strife, yet her father's reputation for honesty and integrity somehow towered over the nefarious doings of his partners and clerks. She sometimes thought of him as a saintly pope presiding over a wily college of Italian cardinals. Was it possible that they kept certain things from him? If so, they had to be inordinately clever.

    Angelica had never been jealous of her mother or of her three younger sisters. The latter were giggly, boy-crazy, party-loving, amiable creatures, greedy for the prizes then accorded to their sex and spoiled and coddled by a conventionally doting sire. Their mother played the tart, realistic ("no fancy pants") part of the good plain wife who keeps her seer of a spouse from being lost in the ether of his high thoughts, but this was a veil to cover her almost servile subjection to his every whim and wish. If she was a good-tempered Fricka and the sisters obedient if rather shrill Valkyries, to Angelica was left the function of the best beloved, Brunhilde, the intimate and confidante of Wotan.

    But of course Wotan had wanted a son. How could he not? What would he be, in the end, in the twilight, without a Siegmund, a Siegfried? And hadn't he almost had one in the most devoted of clerks, the lean sleek hound ever at his heels with eyes upturned for the least command, Sidney Brooks, his master's right hand, whose subtler and more imaginative mind superbly complemented the older man's and made their joint effort a masterpiece? Sidney had spent his weekends with the Drurys in the big airy shingle mansion in Gulls Cove and when he was not working with Daddy, he was sailing or playing tennis with Angelica. With whom could she more properly fall in love than with Sidney? And with whom could he than with her? Did it really matter that both were in love with her father? And that father, had he ever been in love? How could he have been? Let him, like his hero, Theodore Roosevelt, stand at Armageddon and battle for the Lord!

    "The world is changing," her father had told her one winter night during the war at their hotel in Washington where he had invited her to accompany him on one of his lobbying missions to the capital. "And the war is bound to speed that up. Your mind, my dear, is too fine not to be trained like a man's. You've been as much help to me in drafting memoranda to this Senate committee as any of the young men from my office. I think you ought to go to law school next year."

    She was elated. Wotan had praised her for bringing a dead hero to Valhalla! And the following fall found her enrolled in the first-year class at Columbia Law.

    The final seal of paternal approval had been placed on her in one of her courses. As a distinguished graduate of the law school, her father had been invited to take over a class in criminal law. He had started his own career in the district attorney's office and had never lost his interest in the prosecution of felony. Angelica thrilled with pride as she watched the large, rumpled, grizzled figure of her father amble slowly to the rostrum to address the class.

    "Rape!" he exclaimed throatily. "I see rape is the felony on your schedule for today. Well, let us see what we can make of this repellent but persistent vice in our afflicted society. Will someone offer me a definition of rape?" As no one volunteered, he consulted a class list of names and addresses. "Let me call on a gentleman from one of our southern states: Mr. Darlin, of Atlanta. Mr. Darlin, will you favor us with such a definition?"

    Mr. Darlin's deep drawl amused the class. "I think I might call it the violation of the chastity of a young lady."

    "Well, you've got some pretty good Victorian terms there. And I don't, by any means, wish to knock Victorianism, as many are too prone to do these days. But I'm afraid your definition is subject to the same criticism as Voltaire offered to that of the Holy Roman Empire when he said it was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire. Your victim, I must point out, Mr. Darlin, need not be young nor chaste nor a lady, whatever that latter term is construed to mean."

    The class roared, and poor Mr. Darlin blushed furiously. Angelica raised her hand, and her father immediately pointed to her.

    "It's the penetration by force of a woman's vagina by the penis of a male."

    "Very good, Miss Drury!" He did not hesitate to show that he knew her. "Your definition unhappily is not exclusive, as there seem, alas, to be other forms of penetration, but it will do excellently for a start. And tell me, how far must this intruding male organ penetrate?" Here he stretched out his right arm to make it seem the instrument described. "This far?" With his left hand he grasped his wrist. "This far?" He shifted his grasp to his elbow. "This far?" Now he clasped his right shoulder. "Or this far?"

    Angelica smiled. "Any amount. The least fraction of an inch will do."

    "Right, Miss Drury! Very good! Any amount."

    And she felt at last the excitement of being on equal terms with him! Together they had bridged the gulf of sex and reticence. However much in the future he orated about the duty of men to kill and of women to bear children, they would have firm ground in common.


2.


As she looked back, retracing the steps of her life which she had once sought to liken to the slow but steady rise of an escalator but which she now found more to resemble a moving beltway crossing a dull level from one drab gateway to another, it seemed to her that that brief moment in the criminal law class had really been the last in which she and her father had been as one. Ever afterwards had she not been gently but very firmly molded to fit the role which he, however much the benevolent father, had deemed, in his greater wisdom, to be the most appropriate one, to be perhaps the only one that her circumstances would allow? It must have been clear to so keen an observer of the times as Ethan Drury, to a man who had foreseen wars and victories, that women were not going to accept forever the Rough Rider's concept of the babe-in-arms wife stoically waving her man off to the front lines of carnage. No, modifications had certainly to be made, and who knew better how to make them than such an old gray practitioner at the bar? Women had to be given the appearance of lawyers.

    And so, on graduation from law school among the highest in her class she had been given a job in the paternal firm, but not as a litigator, which had been her first choice, or in corporation law, her second, but in trusts and estates, her father explaining that it was a good place for a woman to start, as some of the rich female clients might be inclined to favor the advice of their own sex in threading the tortuous path between the impact of estate taxes and the welfare of their nearest and dearest and particularly in confiding any doubts they might have as to the financial capacity or trustworthiness of certain male members of their clan. That it was not the straightest path to partnership was clear — only two of the sacred thirty were in that work — but there was no rule that one had to stay permanently in any one field of the firm's practice, and Angelica had bowed to the wishes of her parent and boss.

    And somehow, of course, she did remain where she had started, becoming — oh, yes — skilled and respected in the preparation and administration of wills. And then Sidney Brooks returned to the firm after four years of naval sea duty, resuming his place in corporate mergers and reorganizations as her father's right hand, with the halo of an incipient partnership shining on his handsome brow. The weekends at Gulls Cove were resumed and the long Saturday nights working over registration statements with the boss, but so were the tennis and sailing with Angelica. She could not fault Sidney's devotion to the boss's eldest daughter nor attribute it to self-interest, so assured, with or without her aid, was his future in the firm.

    Yet it took him a good year to win her. She told her mother, who, of course, favored his suit, that it would be a question of turning herself from Daddy's daughter into Daddy's daughter-in-law. "Sidney is his real child," she would complain, almost with a will to be bitter, and she would liken the pair to a gruff old bear and a lithe, lean hound, incongruously hunting together. And yet there were moments, and rather wonderful ones, when she was almost awed by the single-minded devotion that she seemed to have inspired in this remarkable young man. Her sisters found him romantic and her hesitation idiotic; it was their silly theory that he was Byronic under his unaccountable feeling for anything as dull as the law, that he was aflame beneath his too sober exterior, that he had never been in love before and never would be again.

    However grave and quiet and concentrated, he yet took an intelligent interest in many things outside the law. If he embarked on a new field at her suggestion, as with the games of bridge and croquet, he rapidly mastered their techniques. Nor did he ever seem to lose his temper; if something did make him angry, he was very still. He never boasted about his war record, but her father made it clear to everyone that he had earned a Silver Star. It was impossible, in short, not to return some of the love that he so stubbornly yet discreetly offered. How could one not marry a man so supremely eligible?

    She did and was almost smothered in the congratulations of family and friends. Would it have been better if the course of true love had not flowed quite so smoothly? They were married in Gulls Cove, with the entire firm attending; they settled in the charmingly converted two upper stories of a brownstone on the East Side, with the weekend use of a gardener's cottage on the family place. The right number of children, a boy and a girl, were born in rapid succession, and in due course, as has been seen, Sidney was raised to partnership and Angelica gave up the law to become a full-time wife and mother.

    As she had a full-time nurse, however, and a part-time cook, she immediately found that she had time on her hands, and, after a brief but competent survey of the charitable opportunities available, she agreed to join the board of an old and worthy settlement house. "Your being a lawyer, my dear," the director assured her, "will come in so handy." Angelica knew that this would not be true and that the house counsel was quite adequate for any legal problems arising. She perfectly understood that fundraising was the almost sole function of any charitable organization's board, and to fundraising she directed all her skill and imagination.

    In the course of only two seasons she made a name for herself as the creative genius of the charity ball. She learned not only who was who in the different spectra of New York society; she learned, even more importantly, which ladies would work on a given task and which would only say they would, and her committees became models of efficiency. She was soon in demand from other charities, hospitals and museums and schools, to act as chairman or co-chairman of one of their annual events. She knew the perils of a bad table seating and how to devise an appetizing but rapidly served dinner; she perfected the art of successfully soliciting free liquor, free decorations and even free music, and she almost put a stop to the stealing of cases of wine by caterers' staff.

    Her most valuable ally, and one that she soon used exclusively, even making its retention a condition for her taking on a job, was Posh Inc., a public relations firm that handled anything from a bar mitzvah to a state funeral, and the representative she always asked to work with her was a young man called Chub Perry. He looked indeed even younger than his thirty-odd years; he was diminutive and blond and blue-eyed, with an amiable mild lisp and a gaze of seeming innocence, which had nothing to do with his extreme shrewdness, his wildly inventive imagination and his down-to-earth realism. He was also a scandalmonger of the most salacious type, and he would entrance the committee ladies with whom he worked by interspersing their labors with spicy stories about people they knew or hoped to know and applauding his own wit with oddly infectious screeches of laughter. Angelica's initial distancing of herself from the gossipy side of this new associate was soon overcome by what she could not wholly misread as his sincere admiration. Chub fully appreciated the value of her work, and he seemed to offer what struck her as a more genuine friendship than that which he casually tossed to the other ladies.

    She made the mistake of inviting him for dinner one night as a needed extra man at a party for one of her husband's clients. Two of Sidney's slightly older partners and their wives were present: the finest types the firm could offer, she had to admit. The men were of wide, general interests, polite, concise, logical, almost as ready to listen as to talk, certainly so if the speaker was an important, older man and a client. Their wives, who had been pretty, and still could have been had they been as cosmetically industrious as the fashionably svelte society types at whom they quite honestly sniffed, verged now ever so slightly on the dowdy but were still serene in their confidence in their happy homes, their civic duties and the fundamental rightness of a world whose inequalities and injustices they were yet too intelligent to underestimate.

    And Chub didn't fit in at all, as he clearly saw, poor boy, in the polite chill that followed one of his awful stories. Angelica felt that she might as well have invited an Australian aborigine; indeed, that would have interested them far more. She supposed, miserably, that the table was correct in its judgment of Chub and his anecdotes — if not, what was her whole life but a farce? Yet if it was a farce, didn't she belong up there before the footlights on the vaudeville stage, swapping crude jokes with the top banana and not in the dark, unresponding, mirthless pit? She yearned for the curtain to drop.

    Afterwards, alone with Sidney, she took the unusual step of pouring herself a stiff nightcap. He watched her without comment. He did not join her.

    "Of course, you've crossed him off as a fairy," Angelica said.

    "A homosexual? I prefer the term to your pejorative one. Should I cross him off for that?"

    "Oh, you're always so damn reasonable! I know I can never catch you out in a prejudice. But you despise him just the same."

    "I don't despise him at all. It's true that I thought him too free in his stories about clients. I realize that he may not be bound by the same rules of discretion that govern the bar, but even so I couldn't quite —"

    "Oh, I know, he's awful," she interrupted impatiently. "He has no business talking out of school like that. Forgive me. I'm tired and cross. I've had a long day."

    "Come to bed, dear."

    There was no point trying to pick a fight with Sidney; she was bound to lose. But she was more and more uncomfortably aware of the widening rift in her life between her home and her work. The children, four and three, were delightful when they were delightful; her father was as benign as ever, if inclined to be a bit sarcastic about her charity balls; and Sidney, of course, so genuinely interested in anything she did, so anxious to help, was sometimes even able to solve a problem that baffled Chub, though his mind, she knew, was always shadowed by his basic preoccupation with some corporate problem. And her own mind, did it not constantly return to the pleasant lunches at fine restaurants that often followed their committee meetings, when the ladies would take Chub along to enliven the meal, and they all would explode with mirth over a particularly nasty story and a second cocktail?

    It was as if, having been relegated to a woman's world of the nineteen fifties, she was taking a perverse delight in undermining the one from which she had been ousted, by outraging its shibboleths. The society of women who supported the lavish entertainments that raised the money for charitable causes was opulent and worldly. It was, as Angelica saw it, a society of the wives of the clients, or of the sort of clients, for whom her husband and father toiled. But these women made short shrift of the little idealisms of the downtown bar; they took the money that their husbands made and blew it on clothes and jewels and splendid homes; they lived while their men merely existed. Angelica began even to wonder if women were wise to fight for a world where they would wear the same shackles as the other sex. In her fevered fantasies she thought of herself as a triumphant courtesan in ancient Alexandria, Thaïs in her palace of pleasure, and Sidney as the fanatical monk in the desert, Paphnutius, who could only pray that her revels would not spread to engulf his monastery.

    The time came soon enough when it was not wholly fantasy.

    The committee meeting for the January ball had not been scheduled for the usual conference chamber in the Settlement House, which was being repainted, but, at Chub's suggestion, at his own exquisite boîte of an apartment on Bank Street in the Village. And the ladies were delighted to pay a visit to his three high-ceilinged rooms on the piano nobile of a Federal-style house, redolent of incense and crammed with papier-mâché furniture, scarlet curtains, needlepoint cushions, and vivid photographs of luscious nudes of both sexes. Chub offered them every sort of drink, cheese and cracker; he was the most charming and accommodating of hosts, and when the brief business of the day had been accomplished, the five women stayed on to drink and gossip. All were in an easy and confidential mood; husbands and children and daily cares were laid aside; the world for the moment was reduced to the enchanting irresponsibility of Chub's perfumed interior.

    As the hour drew on towards dinnertime the ladies began to take their leave. Chub offered to cook eggs for any who cared to stay, but none availed themselves of his invitation, looking at their watches and exclaiming about their scanted obligations. Angelica, leaning back on the sofa with her third martini, announced suddenly, somewhat to her own surprise, that Sidney was in Washington for a couple of days, that the children were at a birthday party with their nurse, and that she could think of nothing pleasanter than to linger at Chub's for a dish of scrambled eggs.

    The ladies were mildly surprised, but no eyebrows were raised. She knew what they all thought of Chub.

    "It's a good time for Chub and me to work out the seating for the party," she threw in as an explanatory dividend.

    "Oh, if you'll do that, my dear ..." And, pleased to have that chore off their hands, they departed before Angelica could change her mind.

    Alone with her host, she told him more about her life and her doubts than she had ever told anyone before, and he listened, charmingly. Then he told her about his own life: how impossible his father was and had always been, sneering at his job, his friends, his apartment, always trying to lure him back into the family insurance business, where he had briefly started and from which he had fled, and how dear his pretty loving little mother was, despite her constant and intrusive silly suggestions and ideas. He went on to tell her of his ambition one day to write a wonderful novel about New York and all the events he had helped to organize, and the jealousies and backbiting he had had to witness. She watched him while he got out the scraps for the beautiful Siamese cat; she broke the eggs into the pan for him to cook; she nodded when he held up for her approval a bottle of champagne. Two glasses on top of the gin she had consumed gave her a dreamy sense of utter freedom from the world beyond the red curtains that he had now pulled, a feeling more delightful and relaxing than anything she could remember having previously experienced.

    When he suggested, after their little supper, that they make love, it was as if he were simply offering to crown their evening with a rare old brandy reserved for some special occasion. She was not in the least put off or shocked. She simply smiled.

    "So you do go in for the girls."

    "People take one so for granted," he retorted, with only a mild pique. "They like to stick everyone into cubbyholes. Queer or straight? Which are you? Well, choose, damn you! To me it's all a question of when. A man is committing a homosexual or heterosexual act at a particular point of time. Why eternalize it? Am I an alcoholic if I drink a cocktail?" He had moved to the bar table and was indeed now opening an old bottle of brandy, his back to her. It emphasized the casualness of the scene and the occasion. "I'm not going to talk about what I've done or not done in the past. I'm interested in the present. I should be very pleased to make love to you, my dear, and there wouldn't have to be any consequences. There wouldn't even have to be a tomorrow. I have no wish to interfere with that handsome husband of yours or to have anything at all to do with your marriage. But I have an idea that you and I could give each other a very nice time tonight. If we both wanted to."

    The fact that he made no offer to touch her, to embrace her, even to approach her, she found very attractive. The bottle he was opening struck her as a proffered, civilized alternative to what she might decide to decline. When he turned to her, he was smiling, but it was a serious smile. He wished to be accepted precisely on his terms or not at all. He seemed suddenly more mature, more — she was almost ashamed to observe it — of a man.

    "Give me some brandy," she said.

    When she had sipped it, she felt a delicious humming in her head. Everything he had said seemed entirely logical and true. He was not interfering with anything in her life unless she chose to see it so.

    "Chub, dear, will you turn off the lights?"

    "Puritan! You shut God out so He won't see us. But neither will you see the ivory skin of which I'm so proud."

    "Do as you're told, dear boy. It's not God I'm shutting out. I want to be in Never-Never Land."

    He chuckled as he went to the switch. "How true. It's Peter Pan you want. Very well. Peter Pan you'll have."


* * *


It was like nothing that had ever happened to her. It was all very well to say it was natural, but it was natural, natural and easy as it had never quite been for her before. It had nothing to do with Sidney, or with the children, or even with Daddy; and it flashed across her mind that Sidney would be wrong to be jealous. She had an absurd vision of a large marble group she had seen in some museum, a sugary Victorian concept of the babes in the woods, sleeping enclasped in each other's arms on the floor of the forest primeval.

    Chub's tact did not end with their union. Afterwards, as they dressed, he was silent, not speaking until he insisted on seeing her home in a taxi. At her house he waited to be sure she had her key; he didn't get out.

    "Remember, my dear" began his last words of the evening. "When you wake up in the morning, you may have a slight hangover. But that is all. Last night? It didn't happen. Because it didn't have to."

    It was kind of him, very kind. But it wasn't true. It had happened.

    Sidney was still in Washington, so she was alone in her bedroom when she awakened the next morning. Chub had been quite right; she did have a hangover. It was only to have been expected that she should be thinking about him, but she was surprised that her train of thought should be so free of emotion. She certainly did not "love" her last night's lover; she did not even feel a wish to repeat the experience. It was something that had happened to her, all right, but it was a happening that did not seem to have any necessary relation to the rest of her life; it was as if she had taken an unexpected spin into space on a rocket and landed back in the ocean with a surprisingly small splash. And no one had noticed that she had left.

    The same mood continued in the following week. Sidney returned and did not seem to see any change in her. The children were just as dear, just as cheerful, just as trying. And at the next meeting of her committee, in the now repainted conference chamber of the Settlement House, Chub's behavior was perfect. He called her "darling" and "my dear" as he did the other ladies, but without the slightest change of inflection, nor did he once try to catch her eye, or seek, after the meeting, to have a word with her alone. He might have sensed what was going on in her mind and wished to leave her the full liberty of working it out. Or he might have simply thought it wiser to stay clear of any possible emotional involvement. Who knows, he might have asked himself, what strange storms may wrack the heart of a suddenly awakened woman in her thirties? Had such not been known to reach for a gun?

    But Angelica knew that he was quite safe. Whatever storm was coming — and she was pretty sure that one was on the way — there would be no danger of violence. She understood now that Chub was only a minor player in her drama, that what she had done with him was everything, that he himself was the smallest part of it. It was not that he would be killed and eaten after copulation, as in the case of some male insects; he could get away and play his role, exactly as before, in the party planning part of her charitable work. What she had to face was what she had done to herself: she was now a woman who had hardly hesitated to place an act of the grossest carnal delight in the very center of the broad fair avenue of her spousal, maternal and filial duties.

    And had she not justified every precaution the other sex had taken through the ages to put bars between the woman and her lust: the convents in which European fathers had locked up their teenage daughters, the chaperons so rigidly required on all occasions where the sexes mingled, the flowing robes and veils in which Eastern men smothered their women?

    But that was not what was now most haunting her, growing rapidly to a near obsession. It was not the folly of men in not allowing women to be just as they were; it was the fact that she was no longer the person that the men and women of her acquaintance thought her. At dinner parties now with her husband's and father's partners and clients, and, of course, their presumably virtuous spouses, she would always be faced with the idea of how very differently they might judge her should there loom in their minds a picture of her rolling naked on a divan in the company of a naked pansy, fairy, faggot — or whatever they had the malice to dub him — and crying out, squealing, with pleasure!

    Or was she exaggerating their reactions? Wasn't there a dirty side to even the cleanest of minds? And who knew, who really knew, what they themselves had been up to? But even if she could dismiss them and what they might be thinking — and she thought that in time she might — how could she live with a wrong image of herself in the minds of the two men around whom she had built her life?

    And she decided at last that she could not.


3.


She had selected, following their lunch, her father's office as the stage for the little drama that might, she feared, have smacked a bit of masochism. Was it like shouting heresy before the altar of a cathedral? But it was certainly a sober side of her project to place the confrontation of her acts and her supposed ideals in the inner sanctum of the philosophy of life that she had most cultivated. The room was large, oblong and paneled, with scant heavy mahogany furniture and old prints of British judges. The great table desk in one corner was clear of ornaments and papers except for a neatly stacked little pile of the latter in the center of the blotter which would presumably become the object of the occupant's burning attention as soon as she had departed.

    "Very well," her father told her, glancing at his watch, "I am all ready for your `confession.'" He allowed himself a wink to show how little he expected anything really bad. "I can give you twenty minutes."

    "I shall need no more than five. Let me put it right on the carpet. I have committed an act of adultery."

    The full extent of his shock was evident in the quick drop of his jaw and the way his hands rose from the desk as if to ward off anything further. His eyes would not meet hers. He looked away.

    "One act?" Oh, the lawyer! How quickly he reached for an extenuation.

    "I suppose you'd call it one. There was a single meeting."

    "And do you intend to repeat it?"

    "No. I don't think I do."

    "Who knows about this?"

    "The partner to it. The young man I've been working with at the Settlement House. And now you."

    "Not Sidney?"

    "No, he doesn't dream it."

    "Then, my dear, it doesn't exist!" He rose now and walked to a window, his broad back somehow defiantly confronting her.

    "But it does exist, Daddy. Because it's a part of me. And now I want it to be a part of you. And I have every intention of making it a part of Sidney."

    "Even if he divorces you?" He did not turn.

    "Even so. But I don't think he will."

    At this he did turn, his eyes burning with exasperation. "In God's name, why, Angelica, must you inflict this on us? Why can't you make your own silent atonement for what you have so inexplicably and uncharacteristically done and let us all go on about our business in peace?"

    "Because what I did was neither inexplicable nor uncharacteristic. It was me, Daddy, part of a real me, and I want the two men who have been my mainstay to know it!"

    "They'll be more your mainstay if you keep it to yourself!"

    "Daddy, you're not helping me!"

    "I'm trying to! How can you dignify one moment of aberration, a solitary instance, something which you don't even wish to repeat, by making it an integral part of yourself? It's as if ..." Here he turned back to the window. "As if — pardon my language — you'd made a vulgar noise, all right, broken wind, in a room by yourself, and no one was there to hear it. Like the proverbial tree falling in the lonely forest. Was there a noise?"

    "I don't like your image at all. But I guess I was afraid that you would see it that way. It's been a part of my world that you always might see it that way. Anyway, it helps me now to see that we must see things — certain things at least — differently."

    At this he returned to his desk. She was shocked by the pain in the face before her. "How do you see the thing you say is a part of you? As a part you approve of? As something that's part of a marriage? Part of a good and decent and lasting marriage, as yours, in my perhaps too sentimental view, has always been?"

    "It has nothing to do with my marriage. It has to do with me."

    "And you used to call me a puritan! Could anything be more innately Protestant, more Calvinistic? Maybe we should never have left Rome. Our Catholic friends at least have that advantage over us. They can always blame the devil at work in them and not themselves. And the devil is always there, in everyone, so they needn't feel especially heinous. Confess, and you're pure again! Become a Catholic, if you like, my girl. Anything to get this absurd, this ridiculous, this irrelevant thing off your too tender conscience!"

    How he grasped for a theory! The lawyer again, always, reaching for the question that will stump the suddenly difficult, the oddly recalcitrant witness. She rose to go.

    "And so I might even become Daddy's girl again."

    "You've never not been, baby."

    "Perhaps that's been my trouble."

    With that she left. He knew her too well to protest further.

    When Sidney came home that night at the unusually early hour of six and greeted her with a novel gravity, she knew that something had happened. Without even going to their room to wash, he went straight to the bar table in the living room and mixed two cocktails. Silently, he handed her one and they both sat down.

    "Your father has told me. He thought I had to be prepared. He was afraid I might do something stupid or violent."

    As she stared into his grave unblinking eyes and took in the oddly relaxed rigidity of his pale features, she wondered in a strange blank moment if she had ever really known this man.

    "Father judged you by himself," she said.

    "I don't think he judged me at all. He was too upset."

    "Well, he certainly judged me. I was in little doubt of that. And how about you, Sidney? Do you judge me?"

    "Oh, Angelica. I only seek to understand you. Of course, I got hot under the collar when your father told me. Would you have wanted me not to?"

    She paused, half in surprise. "No, I suppose not."

    "And do you know what my second reaction was? I wanted to make a date with that little bastard. I wanted to get him drunk and drag him back to his scented flat and bugger the hell out of him!"

    "Sidney!" She was aghast. "You wanted to do that!"

    "I wanted to do what you had done! I wanted to be in your boat. I wanted there to be nothing I could hold against you! I wanted us to be together in sin or lust or whatever damned or damnable thing you choose to call it!"

    As she continued to stare at this man whom she indeed had not known before, she had the flash of a view of herself, like her father, groping for a rebuttal. A lawyer herself now, she was losing the oral argument. But who, she wondered, with an odd ruefulness, could win against such an opponent as this?

    "Oh, Sidney" was all she could mutter.

    "The important thing is that we do something about your life. I've been aware of that for quite some time now, only I hadn't come up with the right alternative. But only yesterday, lunching with Ralph Parsons of CBS, I learned of a spot in news analysis that might interest you. It involved ..."

    As he talked on, concisely, interestingly, sympathetically, Chub and his scented (she had forgotten she had told him that) flat and the feverish excitement of their encounter faded away before the cool and specific items of career alternatives. She knew that Sidney would never so much as by a hint refer again to her and Chub. No, not even to gain a point in the most violent of domestic quarrels — in the unlikely hypothesis of there being any. The sea of life lay before her, glittering but calm. With something like a sigh she took in the bountiful extent of her blessings. She had better start swimming.

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Table of Contents

DeCicco v. Schweizer 1
The Interlude 21
The Anniversary 44
Man of the Renaissance 58
The Last of the Great Courtesans 82
The Devil and Guy Lansing 98
The Facts of Fiction 119
The Virginia Redbird 139
The Veterans 164
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