You Can't Go Home Again, by Thomas Wolfe

33. Enter Mr. Lloyd McHarg

During the late autumn and early winter of that year occurred an event which added to Webber’s chronicle the adventure of an extraordinary experience. He had received no news from America for several weeks when, suddenly in November, he began to get excited letters from his friends, informing him of a recent incident that bore directly on his own career.

The American novelist, Mr. Lloyd McHarg, had just published a new book which had been instantly and universally acclaimed as a monument of national significance, as well as the crowning achievement in McHarg’s brilliant literary career. George had read in the English press brief accounts of the book’s tremendous success, but now he began to receive enlargements on the news from his friends at home. Mr. McHarg, it seemed, had given an interview to reporters, and to the astonishment of everyone had begun to talk, not about his own book, but about Webber’s. Cuttings of the interview were sent to George. He read them with astonishment, and with the deepest and most earnest gratitude.

George had never met Mr. Lloyd McHarg. He had never had occasion to communicate with him in any way. He knew him only through his books. He was, of course, one of the chief figures in American letters, and now, at the zenith of his career, when he had won the greatest ovation one could win, he had seized the occasion, which most men would have employed for purposes of self-congratulation, to praise enthusiastically the work of an obscure young writer who was a total stranger to him and who had written only one book.

It seemed to George then, as it seemed to him ever afterwards, one of the most generous acts he had ever known, and when he had somewhat recovered from the astonishment and joy which this unexpected news had produced in him, he sat down and wrote to Mr. McHarg and told him how he felt. In a short time he had an answer from him — a brief note, written from New York. Mr. McHarg said that he had spoken as he had because he felt that way about Webber’s book, and that he was happy to have had the opportunity of giving public acknowledgment to his feeling. He said that he was about to be awarded an honorary degree by one of America’s leading universities — an event which, he confessed with pardonable pride, pleased him all the more because the award was to be made out of season, in special recognition of his last book, and because the ceremony attending it was not to be part of the usual performance of trained seals at commencement time. He said that he was sailing for Europe immediately afterwards and would spend some time on the Continent, that he would be in England a little later, and that he hoped to see Webber then. George wrote back and told him he was looking forward to their meeting, gave him his address, and there for a time the matter rested.

Mrs. Purvis was a party to George’s elation, which was so exultant that he could not have kept the reason a secret from her if he had tried. She was almost as excited about his impending meeting with Mr. McHarg as he was. Together they would scan the papers for news of Mr. McHarg. One morning she brought the “nice ‘ot cup” of Ovaltine, rattled the pages of her tabloid paper, and said:

“I see where ‘e is on ‘is way. ‘E’s sailed already from New York.”

A few days later George smacked the crisp sheets of The Times and cried: “He’s there! He’s landed! He’s in Europe! It won’t be long now!”

Then came the never-to-beforgotten morning when she brought the usual papers, and with them the day’s mail, and in the mail a letter from Fox Edwards, enclosing a long clipping from The New York Times. This was a full account of the ceremonies at which Mr. McHarg had been awarded his honorary degree. Before a distinguished gathering at the great university Mr. McHarg had made a speech, and the clipping contained an extended quotation of what he had had to say. George had not foreseen it. He had not imagined it could happen. His name shot up at him from the serried columns of close print and exploded in his eyes like shrapnel. A hard knot gathered in his throat and choked him. His heart leaped, skipped, hammered at his ribs. McHarg had put Webber in his speech, had spoken of him there at half a column’s length. He had hailed the younger man as a future spokesman of his country’s spirit, an evidence of a fruition that had come, of a continent that had been discovered. He called Webber a man of genius, and held his name before the mighty of the earth as a pledge of what America was, and a token of where it would go.

And suddenly George remembered who he was, and saw the journey he had come. He remembered Locust Street in Old Catawba twenty years before and Nebraska, Randy, and the Potterhams, Aunt Maw and Uncle Mark, his father and the little boy that he had been, with the hills closing in round him, and at night the whistles wailing northward towards the world. And now his name, whose name was nameless, had become a shining thing, and a boy who once had waited tongueless in the South had, through his language, opened golden gateways to the Earth.

Mrs. Purvis felt it almost as much as he did. He pointed speechless to the clipping. He tapped the shining passages with trembling hand. He thrust the clipping at her. She read it, flushed crimson in the face, turned suddenly, and went away.

After that they waited daily for McHarg’s coming. Week lengthened into week. They searched the papers every morning for news of him. He seemed to be making a tour of Europe, and everywhere he went he was entertained and feted and interviewed and photographed in the company of other famous men. Now he was in Copenhagen. Now he was staying in Berlin a week or two. Later he had gone to Baden–Baden for a cure.

“Oh Lord!” George groaned dismally. “How long does that take?”

Again he was in Amsterdam; and then silence. Christmas came.

“I should ‘ave thought,” said Mrs. Purvis, “‘e’d be ’ere by now.”

New Year’s came, and still there was no word from Lloyd McHarg.

One morning about the middle of January, after George had worked all night, and now, in bed, was carrying on his usual chat with Mrs. Purvis, he had just spoken of McHarg’s long-deferred arrival rather hopelessly — when the phone rang. Mrs. Purvis went into the sitting-room and answered it. George could hear her saying formally:

“Yes. Who shall I say? Who’s callin’, please?” A waiting silence. Then, rather quickly: “Just a moment, sir.” She entered George’s room, her face flushed, and said: “Mr. Lloyd Mc’Arg is on the wire.”

To say that George got out of bed would be to give a hopelessly inadequate description of a movement which hurled him into the air, bedclothes and all, as if he had been shot out of a cannon. He landed squarely in his bedroom slippers, and in two strides, still shedding bedclothes as he went, he was through the door, into the sitting-room, and had the receiver in his hand.

“Hello, hello, hello!” he stammered. “Who — what — is that?”

McHarg was even quicker. His voice, rapid, feverish, somewhat nasal and high-pitched, unmistakably American, stabbed nervously across the wire and said:

“Hello, hello. Is that you, George?” He called him by his first name immediately. “How are you, son? How are you, boy? How are they ‘treating you?”

“Fine, Mr. McHarg!” George yelled. “It is Mr. McHarg, isn’t it? Say, Mr. McHarg ———”

“Now take it easy! Take it easy!” he cried feverishly. “Don’t shout so loud!” he yelled. “I’m not in New York, you know!”

“I know you’re not,” George screamed. “That’s what I was just about to say!”— laughing idiotically. “Say, Mr. McHarg, when can we ——”

“Now wait a minute, wait a minute! Let me do the talking. Don’t get so excited. Now listen, George!” His voice had the staccato rapidity of a telegraph ticker. Even though one bad never seen him, one would have got instantly an accurate impression of his feverishly nervous vitality, wire-taut tension, and incessant activity. “Now listen!” he barked. “I want to see you and talk to you. We’ll have lunch together and talk things over.”

“Fine! F-fine!” George stuttered. “I’ll be delighted! Any time you say. I know you’re busy. I can meet you tomorrow, next day, Friday — next week if that suits you better.”

“Next week, hell 1” he rasped. “How much time do you think I’ve got to wait around for lunch? You’re coming here for lunch today. Come on! Get busy! Get a move on you!” he cried irritably. “How long will it take you to get here, anyway?”

George asked him where he was staying, and he gave an address on one of the streets near St. James’s and Piccadilly. It was only a ten-minute ride in a taxi, but since it was not yet ten o’clock in the morning George suggested that he arrive there around noon.

“What? Two hours? For Christ’s sake!” McHarg cried in a high-pitched, irritated voice. “Where the hell do you live anyway? In the north of Scotland?”

George told him no, that he was only ten minutes away, but that he thought he might want to wait two or three hours before he had his lunch.

“Wait two or three hours?” he shouted. “Say, what the hell is this, anyway? How long do you expect me to wait for lunch? You don’t keep people waiting two or three hours every time you have lunch with them, do you, George?” he said, in a milder but distinctly aggrieved tone of voice. “Christ, man! A guy’d starve to death if he had to wait on you!”

George was getting more and more bewildered, and wondered if it was the custom of famous writers to have lunch at ten o’clock in the morning, but he stammered hastily:

“No, no, certainly not, Mr. McHarg. I can come any time you say. It will only take me t y minutes or half an hour.”

“I thought you said you were only ten minutes away?”

“I know, but I’ve got to dress and shave first.”

“Dress! Shaver” McHarg yelled. “For Christ’s sake, you mean to tell me you’re not out of bed yet? What do you do? Sleep till noon every day? How in the name of God do you ever get any work done?”

By this time George felt so crushed that he did not dare tell McHarg that he was not only not out of bed, but that he’d hardly been to bed yet; somehow it seemed impossible to confess that he had worked all night. He did not know what new explosion of derision or annoyance this might produce, so he compromised and mumbled some lame excuse about having worked late the night before.

“Well, come on, then!” he cried impatiently, before the words were out of George’s mouth. “Snap out of it! Hop into a taxi and come on up here as soon as you can. Don’t stop to shave,” he said curtly. “I’ve been with a Dutchman for the last three days and I’m hungry as hell!”

With these cryptic words he banged the receiver up in George’s eat, leaving him to wonder, in a state of stunned bewilderment, just why being with a Dutchman for three days should make anyone hungry as hell.

Mrs. Purvis already had a clean shirt and his best suit of clothes laid out for him by the time he returned to his room. While he put them on she got out the brush and the shoe polish, took his best pair of shoes just beyond the open door into the sitting-room, and went right down on her knees and got to work on them. And while she laboured on them she called in to him, a trifle wistfully:

“I do ‘ope ‘e gives you a good lunch. We was ‘avin’ gammon and peas again today. Ah-h, a prime bit, too. I ‘ad just put ’em on when ‘e called.”

“Well, I hate to miss them, Mrs. Purvis,” George called back, as he struggled into his trousers. “But you go on and eat them, and don’t worry about me. I’ll get a good lunch.”

“‘E’ll take you to the Ritz, no doubt,” she called again a trifle loftily.

“Oh,” George answered easily as he pulled on his shirt, “I don’t think he likes those places. People of that sort,” he shouted with great assurance, as if he were on intimate terms with “people of that sort”—“they don’t go in for swank as a rule. He’s probably bored stiff with it, particularly after all he’s been through these past few weeks. He’d probably much rather go to some simple place.”

“Um. Shouldn’t wonder,” said Mrs. Purvis reflectively. “Meetin’ all them artists and members of the nobility. Probably fed up with it, I should think,” she said. “I know I should be,” which meant that she would have given only her right eye for the opportunity. “You might take ’im to Simpson’s, you know,” she said in the offhand manner that usually accompanied her most important contributions.

“There’s an idea,” George cried. “Or to Stone’s Chop House in Panton Street.”

“Ah yes,” she said. “That’s just off the ‘Ay Market, isn’t it?”

“Yes, runs between the Hay Market and Leicester Square,” George said, tying his tie. “An old place, you know, two hundred years or more, not quite so fancy as Simpson’s, but he might like it better on that account. They don’t let women in,” he added with a certain air of satisfaction, as if this in itself would probably recommend the place to his distinguished host.

“Yes, and their ale, they say, is grand,” said Mrs. Purvis.

“It’s the colour of mahogany,” George said, throwing on his coat, “and it goes down like velvet. I’ve tried it, Mrs. Purvis. They bring it to you in a silver tankard. And after two of them you’d send flowers to your own mother-inlaw.”

She laughed suddenly and heartily and came bustling in with the shoes, her pleasant face suffused with pink colour.

“Excuse me, sir,” she said, setting the shoes down. “But you do ‘ave a way of puffin’ things. I ‘ave to larf sometimes . . . 1 Still, in Simpson’s — you won’t go wrong in Simpson’s, you know,” said Mrs. Purvis, who had never seen any of these places in her whole life. “If ‘e likes mutton — ah-h, I tell you what,” she said with satisfaction, “you do get a prime bit of mutton there.”

He put on his shoes and noted that only ten minutes had passed since Mr. McHarg hung up. He was now dressed and ready, so he started out the door and down the stairs, flinging on lovercoat as he descended. Despite the early hour, his appetite ad been whetted by his conversation, and he felt that he would be able to do full justice to his lunch. He had reached the street and was hailing a taxi when Mrs. Purvis came running after him, waving a clean handkerchief, which she put neatly in the breast-pocket of his coat. He thanked her and signalled again to the taxi.

It was one of those old, black, hearselike contraptions with a baggage rack on top which, to an American, used to the gaudy, purring thunderbolts of the New York streets, seem like Victorian relics, and which are often, indeed, driven by elderly Jehus with walrus moustaches who were driving hansom cabs at the time of Queen Victoria’s jubilee. This ancient vehicle now rolled sedately towards him, on the wrong side of the street as usual — which is to say, on the right side for the English.

George opened the door, gave the walrus the address, and told him to make haste, that the occasion was pressing. He said: “Very good, sir,” with courteous formality, wheeled the old crate round, and rolled sedately up the street again at exactly the same pace, which was about twelve miles an hour. They passed the grounds of Buckingham Palace, wheeled into the Mall, turned up past St. James’s Palace into Pall Mall, thence into St. James’s Street, and in a moment more drew up before McHarg’s address.

It was a bachelors’ chambers, one of those quiet and sedate-looking places that one finds in England, and that are so wonderfully comfortable if one has the money. Inside, the appointments suggested a small and very exclusive club. George spoke to a man in the tiny office. He answered:

“Mr. McHarg? Of course, sir. He is expecting you . . . John,” to a young man in uniform and brass buttons, “take the gentleman up.”

They entered the lift. John closed the door carefully, gave a vigorous tug to the rope, and sedately they crept up, coming to a more or less accurate halt, after a few more manipulations of the rope, at one of the upper floors. John opened the door, stepped out with an “If you please, sir,” and led off down the hall to a door which stood partially open and from which there came a confused hum of voices. John rapped gently, entered in response to the summons, and said quietly:

“Mr. Webber calling, sir.”

There were three men in the room, but so astonishing was the sight of McHarg that at first George did not notice the other two. McHarg was standing in the middle of the floor with a glass in one hand and a bottle of Scotch whisky in the other, preparing to pour himself a drink. When he saw George he looked up quickly, put the bottle down, and advanced with his hand extended in greeting. There was something almost terrifying in his appearance. George recognised him instantly. He had seen McHarg’s pictures many times, but he now realised how beautifully unrevealing are the uses of photography. He was fantastically ugly, and to this ugliness was added a devastation of which George had never seen the equal.

The first and most violent impression was his astonishing redness. Everything about him was red — hair, large protuberant ears, eyebrows, eyelids, even his bony, freckled, knuckly hands. (As George noticed the hands he understood why everyone who knew him called him “Knuckles”.) Moreover, it was a most alarming redness. His face was so red that it seemed to throw off heat, and if at that moment smoke had begun to issue from his nostrils and he had burst out in flames all over, George would hardly have been surprised.

His face did not have that fleshy and high-coloured floridity that is often seen in men who have drunk too long and too earnestly. It was not like that at all. McHarg was thin to the point of emaciation. He was very tall, six feet two or three, and his excessive thinness and angularity made him seem even taller. George thought he looked ill and wasted. His face, which was naturally a wry, puckish sort of face — as one got to know it better, a pugnacious but very attractive kind of face, full of truculence, but also with an impish humour and a homely, Yankee, freckled kind of modesty that were wonderfully engaging — this face now looked as puckered up as if it were permanently about to swallow a half-green persimmon, and it also seemed to be all dried out and blistered by the fiery flames that burned in it. And out of this face peered two of the most remarkable-looking eyes in all the world. Their colour must originally have been light blue, but now they were so bleached and faded that they looked as if they had been poached.

He came towards George quickly, with his bony, knuckled hand extended in greeting, his lips twitching and bared nervously over his large teeth, his face turned wryly upwards and to one side in an expression that was at once truculent, nervously apprehensive, and yet movingly eloquent of something fiercely and permanently wounded, something dreadfully lacerated, something so tender and unarmed in the soul and spirit of the man that life had got in on him at a thousand points and slashed him to ribbons. He took George’s hand and shook it vigorously, at the same time bristling up to him with his wry and puckered face like a small boy to another before the fight begins, as if to say: “Go on, now, go on. Knock that chip off my shoulder. I dare and double-dare you.” This was precisely his manner now, except that he said:

“Why you — why you monkeyfied — why you monkeyfied bastard, you! Just look at him!” he cried suddenly in a high-pitched voice, half-turning to his companions. “Why you — who the hell ever told you you could write, anyway?” Then cordially: “George, how are you? Come on in, come on over here!”

And, still holding Webber’s hand in his bony grip, and taking his arm with his other hand, he led him across the room towards his other guests. Then, suddenly releasing him, and striking a pompous oratorical attitude, he began to declaim in the florid accents of an after-dinner speaker:

“Ladies and gentlemen, it is my peculiar privilege, and I may even say my distinguished honour, to present to the members of the Hog Head Hollow Ladies Leeterary, Arteestic, and Mutual Culshural Society our esteemed guest of honour — a man who writes books that are so God-damned long that few people can even pick ’em up. A man whose leeterary style is distinguished by such a command of beautiful English as she is wrote that he has rarely been known to use less than twenty-one adjectives where four would do.”

He changed abruptly, dropped his oratorical attitude, and laughed a sudden, nervous, dry, falsetto laugh, at the same time mauling Webber in the ribs with a bony finger. “How do you like that, George?” he said with immediate friendly warmth. “Does that get ’em? Is that the way they do it? Not bad, eh?” He was obviously pleased with his effort.

“George,” he now continued in a natural tone of voice, “I want you to meet two friends of mine. Mr. Bendien, of Amsterdam,” he said, presenting Webber to a heavy-set, red-faced, elderly Dutchman, who sat by the table within easy reaching distance of a tall brown crock of Holland gin, of which, to judge from his complexion, he had already consumed a considerable quantity.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” cried McHarg, striking another attitude, “allow me to introduce that stupendous, that death-defying, that thrill-packed wonder of the ages, that hair-raising and spine-tingling act which has thrilled most of the crowned heads of Europe and all of the deadheads of Amsterdam. Now appearing absolutely for the first time under the big tent. Ladies and gentlemen, I now take pleasure in introducing Mynheer Cornelius Bendien, the Dutch maestro, who will perform for you his celebrated act of balancing an eel on the end of his nose while he swallows in rapid succession, without pausing for breath, three — count ’em-three brown jugs of the finest imported Holland gin. Mr. Bendien, Mr. Webber . . . How was that, boy, how was that?” said McHarg, laughing his shrill falsetto, and turning and prodding Webber again with an eager finger.

Then, somewhat more curtly, he said: “You may have met Mr. Donald Stoat before. He tells me that he knows you.”

The other man looked out from underneath his heavy eyebrows and inclined his head pompously. “I believe,” he said, “I have had the honour of Mr. Webber’s acquaintance.”

George remembered him, although he had seen him only once or twice, and that some years before. Mr. Stoat was not the kind of man one easily forgets.

It was plain to see that McHarg was on edge, terribly nervous, and also irritated by Stoat’s presence. He turned away abruptly, muttering: “Too — too — too — much — too much.” And then, wheeling about suddenly: “All right, George. Have a drink. What’s it going to be?”

“My own experience,” said Mr. Stoat with unctuous pomposity, “is that the best drink in the morning”— he leered significantly with his bushy eyebrows —“a gentleman’s drink, if I may say so — is a glawss of dry sherry.” He had a “glawss” of this beverage in his hand at the moment, and, lifting it with an air of delicate connoisseurship, at the same time working his eyebrows appraisingly, he sniffed it — an action which seemed to irritate McHarg no end. “Allow me,” continued Mr. Stoat, with rotund deliberation, “to recommend it to your consideration.”

McHarg began to pace rapidly up and down. “Too much — too much,” he muttered. “All right, George,” he said irritably, “what’ll you have to drink — Scotch?”

Mynheer Bendien put in his oar at this point. Holding up his glass and leaning forward with a hand on one fat knee, he said with guttural solemnity: “You should trink chin. Vy don’t you try a trink of Holland chin?”

This advice also seemed to annoy Mr. McHarg. He glared at Bendien with his flaming face, then, throwing up his bony hands with a quick, spasmodic movement, he cried: “Oh, for God’s sake!” He turned and began to pace up and down again, muttering: “Too much — too much — too — too — too much.” Then abruptly, in a voice shrill with irritation: “Let him drink what he wants, for Christ’s sake! Go ahead, Georgie,” he said roughly. “Drink what you like. Pour yourself some Scotch.” And suddenly turning to Webber, his whole face lighting up with an impish smile, his lips flickering nervously above his teeth: “Isn’t it wonderful, Georgie? Isn’t it marvellous? K-k-k-k-k”— prodding Webber in the ribs with bony forefinger, and laughing a high, dry, feverish laugh —“Can you beat it?”

“I confess,” said Mr. Donald Stoat at this point, with rotund unction, “that I have not read our young friend’s opus, which, I believe”— unction here deepening visibly into rotund sarcasm —“which, I believe, has been hailed by certain of our cognoscenti as a masterpiece. After all, there are so many masterpieces nowadays, aren’t there? Scarcely a week goes by but what I pick up my copy of The Times— I refer, of course, to The Times of London, as distinguished from its younger and somewhat more immature colleague, The New York Times— to find that another of our young men has enriched English literature with another masterpiece of im-perish-able prose.”

All this was uttered in ponderous periods with leerings and twitchings of those misplaced moustaches that served the gentleman for eyebrows. McHarg was obviously becoming more and more annoyed, and kept pacing up and down, muttering to himself. Mr. Stoat, however, was too obtuse by nature, and too entranced by the rolling cadences of his own rhetoric, to observe the warning signals. After leering significantly with his eyebrows again, he went on:

“I can only hope, however, that our young friend here is a not too enthusiastic devotee of the masters of what I shall call The School of Bad Taste.”

“What are you talking about?” said McHarg, pausing suddenly, half-turning, and glaring fiercely. “I suppose you mean Hugh Walpole, and John Galsworthy, and other dangerous radicals of that sort, eh?”

“No, sir,” said Mr. Stoat deliberately. “I was not thinking of them. I was referring to that concocter of incoherent nonsense, that purveyor of filth, the master of obscenity, who wrote that book so few people can read, and no one can understand, but which some of our young men are hailing enthusiastically as the greatest masterpiece of the century.”

“What book are you talking about anyway?” McHarg said irritably. “Its name, I believe,” said Mr. Stoat pompously, “is Ulysses. Its author, I have heard, is an Irishman.”

“Oh,” cried McHarg with an air of enlightenment, and with an impish gleam in his eye that was quite lost on Mr. Stoat. “You’re speaking of George Moore, aren’t you?”

“That’s it! That’s it!” cried Mr. Stoat quickly, nodding his head with satisfaction. He was getting excited now. His eyebrows twitched more rapidly than ever. “That’s the fellow! And the book”— he sputtered —“pah!” He spat out the word as though it had been brought up by an emetic, and screwed the eyebrows round across his domy forehead in an expression of nausea. “I tried to read a few pages of it once,” he whispered sonorously and dramatically, “but I let it fall. I let it fall. As though I bad touched a tainted thing, I let it fall. And then,” he said hoarsely, “I washed my hands, with a very — strong — soap.”

“My dear sir,” cried McHarg suddenly, with an air of sincere conviction, at the same time being unable to keep his eye from gleaming more impishly than ever, “you are absolutely right. I absolutely agree with you.”

Mr. Stoat, who had been very much on his dignity up to now, thawed visibly under the seducing cajolery of this unexpected confrrmation of his literary judgment.

“You are positively and unanswerably correct,” said Knuckles, now standing in the middle of the room with his long legs spread wide apart, his bony hands hanging to the lapels of his coat. “You have hit the nail right smack — dead — square on the top of its head.” As he uttered these words, he jerked his wry face from side to side to give them added emphasis. “There has never been a dirtier — filthier — more putrid — and more corrupt writer than George Moore. And as for that book of his, Ulysses,” McHarg shouted, “that is unquestionably the vilest ——”

“— the rottenest ——” shouted Mr. Stoat ——

“— the most obscene ——” shrilled McHarg ——

“— the most vicious ——” panted Mr. Stoat ——

“— unadulterated ——”

“— piece of tripe ——” choked Mr. Stoat with rapturous agreement ——

“— tha t has ever polluted the pages, defiled the name, and besmirched the record ——”

“— of English literature!” gasped Mr. Stoat happily, and paused, panting for breath. “Yes,” he went on when he had recovered his power of speech, “and that other thing — that play of his — that rotten, vile, vicious, so-called tragedy in five acts — what was the name of that thing, anyway?”

“Oh,” cried McHarg with an air of sudden recognition “you mean The Importance of Being Earnest, don’t you?”

“No, no,” said Mr. Stoat impatiently. “Not that one. This one came later on.”

“Oh yes!” McHarg exclaimed, as if it had suddenly come to him. “You’re speaking of Mrs. Warren’s Profession, aren’t you?”

“That’s it, that’s it!” cried Mr. Stoat. “I took my wife to see it — I took my wife— my own wife ——”

“His own wife!” McHarg repeated, as if astounded, “Well I’ll be God-damned,” he said. “What do you know about that!”

“And would you believe it, sir?” Mr. Stoat’s voice again sank to a whisper of loathing and revulsion, and his eyebrows worked ominously about his face. “I was so ashamed — I was so ashamed— that I could not look at her. We got up and left, sir, before the end of the first act — before anyone could see us. I went away with head bowed, as one who had been forced to take part in some nasty thing.”

“Well what do you know about that?” said McHarg sympathetically. “Wasn’t that just too damned bad? I call it perfectly damned awful!” he shouted suddenly, and turned away, his jaw muscles working convulsively as he muttered again: “Too much — too much.” He halted abruptly in front of Webber with his puckered face aflame and his lips twitching nervously, and began to prod him in the ribs, laughing his high, falsetto laugh. “He’s a publisher,” he squeaked. “He publishes books. K-k-k-k-k — Can you beat it, Georgie?” he squeaked almost inaudibly. Then, jerking a bony thumb in the direction of the astonished Stoat, he shrieked: “In the name of Christ Almighty — a publisher!”— and resumed his infuriated pacing of the room.

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Last updated Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 12:30