Issue 203, Winter 2012
St. Patrick’s Day was sunny and unusually mild, men were in shirtsleeves and from the appearance of things work was ending at noon. The bars were full. Coming into one of them from out of the sunlight, Philip Bowman, his eyes blinded, could barely make out the faces along the bar but found a place to stand near the back where they were all shouting and calling to one another. The bartender brought his drink and he took it and looked around. There were men and women drinking, young women mostly, two of them—he never forgot this moment—standing near him to his right, one dark haired with dark brows and, when he could see her better, a faint down along her jawbone. The other was blonde with a bare, shining forehead and wide-set eyes, instantly compelling, even in some way coarse. He was so struck by her face that it was difﬁcult to look at her, she stood out so—on the other hand he could not keep himself from doing it. He was almost fearful of looking.
He raised his glass toward them.
“Happy St. Patrick’s,” he managed to say.
“Can’t hear you,” one of them cried.
He tried to introduce himself. The place was too noisy. It was like a raging party they were in the middle of.
“What’s your name?” he called.
“Vivian,” the blonde girl said.
He stepped closer. Louise was the dark-haired one. She already had a secondary role, but Bowman, trying not to be too direct, included her.
“Do you live around here?” he said.
Louise answered. She lived on Fifty-third Street. Vivian lived in Virginia.
“Virginia?” Bowman said, stupidly he felt, as if it were China.
“I live in Washington,” Vivian said.
He could not keep his eyes from her. Her face was as if, somehow, it was not completely ﬁnished, with smouldering features, a mouth not eager to smile, a riveting face that God had stamped with the simple answer to life. In proﬁle she was even more beautiful.
When they asked what he did—the noise had quieted a little—he replied he was an editor.
“Of what? Magazines?”
“Books,” he said. “I work at Braden and Baum.”
They had never heard of it.
“I was thinking of going to Clarke’s,” he said, “but there was all this noise in here, and I just came in to see what was going on. I’ll have to go back to work. What . . . what are you doing later?”
They were going to a movie.
“Want to come?” Louise said.
He suddenly liked, even loved her.
“I can’t. Can I meet you later? I’ll meet you here.”
“After work. Any time.”
They agreed to meet at six.
All afternoon he was almost giddy and found it hard to keep his mind on things. Time moved with a terrible slowness, but at a quarter to six, walking quickly, almost running, he went back. He was a few minutes early, they were not there. He waited impatiently until six-ﬁfteen, then six-thirty. They never appeared. With a sickening feeling he realized what he had done—he had let them go without asking for a telephone number or address, Fifty-third Street was all he knew and he would never see them, her, again. Hating his ineptness, he stayed for nearly an hour, toward the end striking up a conversation with the man next to him so that if by chance they did ﬁnally come, he would not seem foolish and doglike standing there.
What was it, he wondered, that had betrayed him and made them decide not to come back? Had they been approached by someone else after he left? He was miserable. He felt the terrible emptiness of men who are ruined, who see everything collapse in a single day. He went to work in the morning still feeling anguish. It was in him like a deep splinter together with a sense of failure.
“How are you this morning?” Baum said easily, the usual overture when he had nothing particular in mind.
They talked for a bit and had just ﬁnished when the secretary came over. “There’s someone on the phone for you.”
Bowman picked up his phone and said, somewhat curtly, “Hello.”
It was her. He felt a moment of insane happiness. She was apologizing. They had come back at six the night before but hadn’t been able to ﬁnd the bar, they couldn’t remember the street.
“Yes, of course,” Bowman said. “I’m so sorry, but that’s all right.”
“We even went to Clarke’s,” she said. “I remembered you said that.”
“I’m so glad you called.”
“I just wanted you to know. That we tried to come back and meet you.”
“No, no, that’s all right, that’s ﬁne. Look, give me your address, will you?”
She gave it and Louise’s as well. She was going back to Washington that afternoon, she said.
“Do you . . . what time is the train? Do you have time for lunch?”
Not really. The train was at one.
“That’s too bad. Maybe another time,” he said foolishly.
“Well, bye,” she said after a pause.
“Good-bye,” he somehow agreed.
But he had her address, he looked at it after hanging up. It was precious beyond words. He didn’t know her last name.
In the great vault of Penn Station with the light in wide blocks coming down through the glass and onto the crowd that was always waiting, Bowman made his way. He was nervous but then caught sight of her standing unaware.
She looked around and then saw him.
“Oh. It’s you. What a surprise. What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to say good-bye,” he said and added, “I brought you a book I thought you might like.”
Vivian had had books as a child, she and her sister, children’s books, they had even fought over them. She had read Nancy Drew and some others, but to be honest, she said, she didn’t read that much. Forever Amber. Her skin was luminous.
“Well, thank you.”
“It’s one of ours,” he said.
She read the title. It was very sweet of him. It was not something she would ever expect or that boys she knew would do or even grown-ups. She was twenty years old but not yet ready to think of herself as a woman, probably because she was still largely supported by her father and because of her devotion to him. She had gone to junior college and gotten a job. The women she knew were known for their style, their riding ability, and their husbands. Also their nerve. She had an aunt who had been robbed in her home at gunpoint by two black men and had said to them cooly, “We’ve been too good to you people.”
The Virginia of Vivian Amussen was Anglo, privileged, and inbred. It was made up of rolling, wooded country, beautiful country, rich at heart, with low stone walls and narrow roads that had preserved it. By the straight, two-lane blacktop it was less than an hour’s drive to Washington and the downtown section where Vivian worked. Her job was more or less a formality, she was a receptionist in a title ofﬁce, and on weekends she went home, to the races or thoroughbred sales or hunts through the countryside. The hunts were like clubs, to belong to the best one, the one she and her father were members of, you had to own at least ﬁfty acres. The master of that hunt was a judge, John Stump, a ﬁgure out of Dickens, stout and choleric, with an incurable fondness for women that had once led him to attempt suicide upon being rejected by a woman he loved. He threw himself from a window in passion but landed in some bushes. He had been married three times, each time, it was observed, to a woman with bigger breasts. The divorces were because of his drinking, which beﬁtted his image as a squire, but as master of the hunt he was resolute and demanded perfect etiquette, one time halting the ﬁeld when they’d done something wrong and giving them a ferocious dressing-down until someone spoke out,
“Look, I didn’t get up at six o’clock to listen to a lecture.”
“Dismount!” Stump cried. “Dismount at once and return to the stables!”
Later he apologized.
Judge Stump was a friend of Vivian’s father, George Amussen, who had manners and was always polite but also particular regarding those he might call a friend. The judge was his lawyer and Anna Wayne, the judge’s ﬁrst wife, who was narrow chested but a very ﬁne rider, had for a time before her marriage gone with Amussen, and it was generally believed that she accepted the judge when she was convinced that Amussen would not marry her.
Judge Stump pursued women, but George Amussen did not—they pursued him. He was elegant and reserved and also much admired for having done well buying and selling property in Washington and in the country. Even tempered and patient, he had seen, earlier than others, how Washington was changing, and over the years had bought, sometimes in partnerships, apartment buildings in the northwest part of the city and an ofﬁce building on Wisconsin Avenue. He was discreet about what he owned and refrained from talking about it. He drove an ordinary car and dressed casually, without ostentation, usually in a sport jacket and well-made pants, and a suit when it was called for.
He had fair hair into which the gray blended and an easy walk that seemed to embody strength and even a kind of principle, to stand for things as they should be. A gentleman and a ﬁgure of country clubs, he knew all the black waiters by name and they knew him. At Christmas every year he gave them a double tip.
Washington was a Southern city, lethargic and not really that big. It had atrocious weather, damp and cold in the winter and in the summers ﬁercely hot, the heat of the Delta. It had its institutions apart from the government, the old, favored hotels including the Wardman, familiarly called the riding academy because of the many mistresses who were kept there; the Riggs Bank, which was the bank of choice; the established downtown department stores.
The war changed it all. The hordes of military and naval personnel, government employees, young women who were drawn to the city by the demand for secretaries—in two or three years the sleepy, provincial town was gone. In some respects it clung to its ways, but the old days were vanishing. Vivian had come of age during that time. Though she appeared at the club in shorts that were in her father’s opinion a little too brief and wore high heels too soon, her notions were really all from the world she had been a girl in.
Bowman wrote to her, and almost to his disbelief she wrote back. Her letters were friendly and open. She came to New York several times that spring and early summer, staying with Louise and even sharing the bed with her, laughing, in pajamas. She had not yet told her father about her boyfriend. The ones she had in Washington worked at State or in the trust department at Riggs and were in many ways replicas of their parents. She did not think of herself as a replica. She was daring, in fact, taking the train up to see a man she had met in a bar, whose background she did not know but who seemed to have depth and originality. They went to Luchow’s, where the waiter said guten Abend and Bowman talked to him for a moment in German.
“I didn’t know you spoke German.”
“Well, until recently it wasn’t a great thing to do,” Bowman said.
He had taken German at Harvard, he explained.
“At the time I thought I wanted to be a scientist. I went back and forth between a number of things. I thought for a while I might teach. I still have a certain yearning for teaching. Then I decided to be a journalist, but I wasn’t able to get a job as one. I heard about a job as a reader then. It was pure luck or maybe destiny. What do you think of the idea of destiny?”
“Hadn’t thought about it,” she said casually.
He liked talking to her and the occasional smile that made her forehead shine. She was wearing a sleeveless dress and the roundness of her small shoulders gleamed. Her little ﬁnger was curled and held apart as she ate a bite of bread. Gestures, facial expressions, way of dressing—these were the revealing things. He was imagining places where they might go together, where no one knew them and he would have her to himself for days on end, though he was uncertain of how it might happen.
“New York’s a wonderful place, isn’t it?” he said.
“Yes. I like coming here.”
“How do you know Louise?”
“We were in boarding school, in the same class. The ﬁrst thing she ever said to me was a dirty joke. Well, not exactly dirty but . . . you know.”
He told her about the time the letters ES on the big sign above the Essex House had gone out and there it was, forty stories up, shining in the night. He went no further. He didn’t want to seem coarse.
At the end of the evening, at the front door, he was prepared to say good night but she acted as if he were not there, unlocking the door and saying nothing. Louise was gone for the weekend to visit her parents. Vivian was nervous, though she did not want to show it. He went upstairs with her.
“Would you like a cup of coffee?” she asked.
“Yes, that would be . . . No,” he said, “not really.”
They sat for a few moments in silence and then she simply leaned forward and kissed him. The kiss was light but ardent.
“Do you want to?” she asked.
She did not take everything off—shoes, stockings, and skirt, that was all. She was not prepared for more. They kissed and whispered. As she slid from her white panties, a white that seemed sacred, he barely breathed. The ﬁneness of her, the blondish ﬂeece. He could not believe they were doing this.
“I don’t . . . have anything,” he whispered. There was no answer.
He was inexperienced, but it was natural and overwhelming. Also too quick, he couldn’t help it. He felt embarrassed. Her face was close to his.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I couldn’t stop it.”
She said nothing, she had almost no way to judge it.
She went into the bathroom and Bowman lay back in awe at what had happened and feeling intoxicated by a world that had suddenly opened wide to the greatest pleasure, pleasure beyond knowing. He knew of the joy that might lie ahead.
Vivian was thinking along less heady lines. There was the chance of her becoming pg though she had, in truth, only an inexact idea of how likely that was. At school there had been a lot of talk, but it was only talk and vague. Still, there were stories of girls who got that way the ﬁrst time. It would be just her luck, she thought. Of course, it hadn’t been entirely the ﬁrst time.
“You make me think of a pony,” he said lovingly.
“A pony? Why?”
“You’re just beautiful. And free.”
“I don’t see how that’s like a pony,” she said. “Besides, ponies bite. Mine did.”
She nestled against him and he tried to think along her lines. Whatever might happen, they had done it. He felt only exaltation.
They spent the night together when he came to Washington that month and drove to the country the next day to have lunch with her father. He had a four-hundred-acre farm called Gallops, mostly given over to grazing. The main house was ﬁeldstone and sat on top of a rise. Vivian showed him around, the grounds and ﬁrst ﬂoor, as if introducing him to it and, in a way, to her. The house was lightly furnished in a manner that was indifferent to style. Behind a couch in the living room Bowman noticed, as in seventeenth-century palaces, were some dried dog turds.
Lunch was served by a black maid toward whom Amussen behaved with complete familiarity. Her name was Mattie and the main course came in on a silver tray.
“Vivian says you work in publishing,” Amussen said.
“Yes, sir. I’m an editor.”
“It’s a small house,” Bowman went on, “but with quite a good literary reputation.”
Amussen, picking at something near his incisor with his little ﬁnger, said,
“What do you mean by literary?”
“Well, books of quality, essentially. Books that might have a long life. Of course, that’s the top end. We publish other books, to make money or try to.”
“Can we have some coffee, Mattie?” Amussen said to the maid. “Would you like some coffee, Mr. Bowman?”
As they drank coffee, Bowman made a last attempt to cast himself favorably as an editor, but Amussen turned the subject to the navy, Bowman had been in the navy, was that right? There was a neighbor down the road, Royce Cromwell, who had gone to Annapolis and been in the same class as Charlie McVay, the captain of the Indianapolis. Bowman hadn’t run into him in the navy, by any chance?
“No, I don’t think so. I was only a junior ofﬁcer. Was he in the Paciﬁc?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, there was a big Atlantic ﬂeet, too, for the convoys, the invasion, and all that. Hundreds of ships.”
“I wouldn’t know. You’d have to ask him.”
Almost without effort he had made Bowman feel as if he were prying. The lunch had been one of those meals when the sound of a knife or fork on a plate or a glass being set down only marks the silence.
Outside, as they walked to the car, Bowman saw something moving slowly with undulant curves into the ivy bed along the driveway.
“There’s a snake, I think.”
“There. Just going into the ivy.”
“Damn it,” Vivian said, “that’s just where the dogs like to sleep. Was it big?”
It had not been a small snake, it was thick as a hose.
“Pretty good-sized,” Bowman said.
Vivian, looking around, found a rake and began furiously running the handle of it back and forth through the ivy. The snake was gone, however.
“What was it? Was it a rattler?”
“I don’t know. It was big. Do they have rattlesnakes around here?”
“They sure do.”
“You’d better come out of there.”
She was not afraid. She ran the handle through the dark, shiny leaves a ﬁnal time.
“Damned thing,” she said.
She went to tell her father. Bowman stood looking at the thick ivy, watching for any movement. She had stepped right into it.
Driving back that day, Bowman felt they were leaving a place where not even his language was understood. He was about to say it, but Vivian commented,
“Don’t mind Daddy,” she said. “He’s like that sometimes. It wasn’t you.”
“I don’t think I made a very good impression.”
“Oh, you should see him with Bryan, my sister’s husband. Daddy calls him Whyan, why in hell did she pick him? Can’t even ride, he says.”
“You aren’t making me feel much better. I can sail,” he added. “Can your father sail?”
“He’s sailed to the Bahamas.”
She seemed ready to defend him, and Bowman felt he should not go further. She sat looking out of the window on her side, somewhat removed, but in her leather skirt, hair pulled back, face wide, with a thin gold chain looped around her neck, she was the image of desirability. She turned back toward him.
“It’s like that,” she commented. “You sort of have to go through the mud room ﬁrst.”
“Is your mother anything like that?”
“My mother? No.”
“What’s she like?”
“She’s a drunk,” Vivian said. “That’s the reason they got divorced.”
“Where does she live? In Middleburg?”
“No, she has an apartment in Washington near Dupont Circle. You’ll meet her.”
Her mother had been beautiful but you couldn’t tell it now, Vivian added. She started in the morning with vodka and rarely got dressed until afternoon.
“Daddy really raised us. We’re his two girls. He had to protect us.”
They drove for a while in silence and near Centerville somewhere he glanced over and saw that she was asleep.
Freely, as they sat or ate OR WALKED he shared with her his thoughts and ideas about life, history, and art. He told her everything. He knew she didn’t think about these things, but she understood and could learn. He loved her for not only what she was but what she might be, the idea that she might be otherwise did not occur to him or did not matter. Why would it occur? When you love you see a future according to your dreams.
In Summit, where he wanted his mother to meet Vivian, to see and approve of her, he took her ﬁrst to a diner across from City Hall that had been there for years. It had actually been a railroad car with windows all along the side facing the avenue. Inside, the ﬂoor was tile and the ceiling pale wood that curved down into the wall. A counter where customers sat—there were always one or two—ran the length of the place. It was more crowded in the morning; the railroad station, the Morris and Essex line that went to the city, was just down the street. The tracks were low and out of sight. At night the lights of the diner were the only lights along the street. You entered by a door opposite the counter and there was another door at one end.
It was here that Hemingway placed his story “The Killers,” Bowman said.
“Right here, in this diner. The counter, everything. Do you know the story? It’s marvelous. Fabulously written. If you never read another word of his, you’d know right away what a great writer he is. It’s in the evening. Nobody’s in the place, there are no customers, it’s empty, and two men in tight black overcoats come in and sit down at the counter. They look at the menu and order, and one of them says to the counterman, This is some town, what’s the name of this place? And the counterman, who’s frightened of course, says, Summit. It’s right there in the story, Summit, and when the food comes they eat with their gloves on. They’re there to kill a Swede, they tell the counterman. They know the Swede always comes there. He’s an ex-ﬁghter named Ole Andreson who double-crossed the mob somehow. One of them takes a sawed-off shotgun from beneath his coat and goes into the kitchen to hide and wait.”
“Did this actually happen?”
“No, no. He wrote it in Spain.”
“It’s just made up.”
“You don’t believe it’s made up, reading it. That’s what’s so incredible, you absolutely believe it.”
“And they kill him?”
“It’s better than that. They don’t kill him because he doesn’t show up, but he knows they’re after him, they’ll come again. He’s big, he was a boxer, but whatever he did, they’re going to kill him. He just lies in bed in the rooming house, looking at the wall.”
They began to read the menu.
“What are you going to have?” Vivian asked.
“I think I’ll have eggs with Taylor ham.”
“What’s Taylor ham?” she said.
“It’s a kind of ham they have around here. I’ve never really asked.”
“All right, I’ll have it, too.”
He liked being with her. He liked having her with him. There were only a few other people in the diner, but how colorless they seemed compared to her. They were all aware of her presence. It was impossible not to be.
“I’d like to meet Hemingway,” he said. “Go down to Cuba and meet him. Maybe we could go together.”
“Well, I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe.”
“You have to read him,” he said.
Beatrice Bowman had been eager to meet Vivian and was also struck by her looks, though in a different way, the freshness and naked, animal statement. How much one knows from the ﬁrst! She had bought ﬂowers and set the table in the dining room where they seldom ate, usually using a table in the kitchen, one end of which was against the wall. The kitchen with shelves but no cabinets was the real heart of the house together with a sitting room where they often sat in front of the ﬁreplace talking and having a drink. Now there was this girl with somewhat stiff manners. She was from Virginia, and Beatrice asked what part, Middleburg?
“We really live nearer to Upperville,” Vivian replied.
Upperville. It sounded rural and small. It was, in fact, small, there was one place to eat but no town water or sewage. Nothing had changed there for a hundred years and people there liked it that way whether they lived in an old house without heat or on a thousand acres. Upperville in the country and beyond, was an exalted name, the emblem of a proud, parochial class of which Vivian was a member. You could not stay there, you had to live there.
“It’s beautiful country,” Bowman said.
Beatrice said, “I’d love to see it. What does your family do there?”
“Farm,” Vivian said. “Well, my father farms some but also he puts his ﬁelds up for grazing.”
“It must be big.”
“It’s not terribly big, it’s about four hundred acres.”
“That’s so interesting. Apart from farming, what is there to do?”
“Daddy always says there’s lots to do. He means looking after the horses.”
It was not that she was difﬁcult to talk to, but you immediately felt the limits. Vivian had gone to junior college, probably at the suggestion of her father to keep her out of mischief. She had a certain conﬁdence, based on the things she absolutely knew and which had proved to be enough. Like all mothers though, Beatrice hoped for a girl like herself, with whom she could speak easily and whose view of life could almost perfectly be combined with her own. Among her pupils, she could think of girls who were like that, good students with natural charm that you admired and were drawn to, but there were also others not so easily understood and whose fate you were not meant to know.
“Didn’t Liz Bohannon come from Middleburg?” Beatrice asked, bringing up a name, a horse and society ﬁgure of the thirties, always photographed with her husband aboard some ship sailing to Europe or in their box at Saratoga.
“Yes, she has a big place. She’s a friend of my father’s.”
“She’s still around?”
“Oh, very much around.”
There were a lot of stories about her, Vivian said. When they ﬁrst bought their place, Longtree—that was the name then—she used to ride in from the hunt and let the dogs come right into the house. They’d jump up on the table and eat everything. After she got divorced, she calmed down a bit.
“Oh, you must know her, then?”
Vivian was eating somewhat carefully, not like a girl with a genuine appetite. The flowers, which Beatrice had moved to the side, were a lush backdrop for her, some young pagan goddess who had cast a spell over her son.
When he told his mother he hoped to marry her, Beatrice, though afraid it would prove nothing, protested how unalike the two of them were, how little they had in common. They had a great deal in common, Bowman a little deﬁantly said. What they had in common was more vital than similar interests—it was wordless understanding and accord.
It was love, the furnace into which everything is dropped.
In New York at a restaurant called El Faro where the prices were low, in back, beneath the darkened walls, Vivian said, “Louise would love this. She’s mad about Spain.”
“Has she been there?”
“No. She’s never even been to Mexico. She was in Boston last weekend with her boyfriend.”
“His name’s Ted. They went to some hotel and never got out of bed the whole time.”
“I didn’t know she was like that.”
“She was so sore she could hardly walk.”
The place was full, there was a crowd at the bar. Beyond the single window, across the street were second and third ﬂoors with large, lighted rooms where a couple might live. Vivian was drinking a second glass of wine. The waiter was squeezing past tables with their order on a tray.
“What is this? Is this the paella?” she asked.
“What’s in it?” she said.
“Sausage, rice, clams, everything.”
She began to eat.
“It’s good,” she said.
The crowded tables and talk around them gave it an intimacy. He knew it was the time, he must say it somehow.
“I love it when you come up here.”
“Me, too,” she said automatically.
“Yes,” she said and his heart began wildly.
“What would you think,” he said, “about living here? I mean, we’d be married, of course.”
She paused in her eating. He couldn’t tell what her reaction was. Had he misstated something?
“There’s so much noise in here,” she said.
“Yes, it’s noisy.”
“Was that a proposal?”
“It was pitiful, wasn’t it? Yes, it’s a proposal. I love you,” he said. “I need you. I’d do anything for you.”
He’d said it, just as he meant to.
“Will you marry me?” he said.
“We’ll have to get Daddy’s permission,” she said.
An immense happiness ﬁlled him.
“Of course. Is that really necessary?”
“Yes,” she said.
The lunch was at George Amussen’s CLUB in Washington. Amussen was already seated when the steward showed Bowman in. Across a number of tables he could see his prospective father-in-law reading something. Sitting alone, hair combed straight back, at his ease, he looked at that moment like a ﬁgure from the war, even someone who had been on the other side, some commander or Luftwaffe pilot. It was noon and the tables were just ﬁlling up.
“Good morning,” Bowman said as a greeting.
“Good morning. Nice to see you,” Amussen replied. “I’m just looking at the menu here. Sit down. I see they have shad roe.”
Bowman picked up the menu himself, and they each ordered a drink.
The waiter came to take their order.
“How is the shad roe, Edward?” Amussen asked.
“Jus’ ﬁne, Mistuh Amussen.”
“Do you have two orders of it?” he asked. “If you’d like to have it,” he said to his guest.
Bowman assumed it was a Southern dish.
“Do you do any ﬁshing?” Amussen said. “Shad is bony, generally too bony to bother with. The roe is the best part.”
“Yes, I’ll have it. How do they make it?”
“In a pan with some bacon. They brown it. That’s right, isn’t it, Edward?”
It was at the end of lunch, when they were being served coffee, that Bowman said, “You know, I’m in love with Vivian.”
Amussen continued stirring his coffee as if he had not heard.
“And I think she’s in love with me,” Bowman went on. “We would like to get married.”
Still Amussen showed no emotion. He was as calm as if he were alone.
“I’ve come to ask for your permission, sir,” Bowman said.
The “sir” seemed a little courtly but he felt it was appropriate. Amussen was still occupied with stirring.
“Vivian’s a nice girl,” Amussen ﬁnally said. “She was raised in the country. I don’t know how she’d take to city life. She’s not one of those people.”
He then looked up.
“How do you plan on providing for her?” he said.
“Well, as you know, I have a good job. I like my work, I have a career. I earn enough to support us at this point, and whatever I have is hers. I’ll make sure she’s comfortable.”
“She’s not a city girl,” Amussen said again. “You know, from the time she was just a little thing, she’s had her own horse.”
“We haven’t talked about that. I suppose we could always make room for a horse,” Bowman said lightly.
Amussen seemed not to hear him.
“We love one another,” Bowman said. “I’ll do everything in my power to make her happy.”
Amussen nodded slightly.
“I promise you that. We’re hoping for your permission, then. Your blessing, sir.”
There was a pause.
“I don’t think I can give you that,” Amussen said. “Not and be honest with you.”
“I don’t think it would work. I think it would be a mistake.”
“But I won’t stand in Vivian’s way,” her father said.
Bowman left feeling disappointed but deﬁant. It would be a kind of morganatic marriage then, politely tolerated. He was not sure what attitude to take about it, but when he told Vivian what her father had said, she was not disturbed.
“That’s just Daddy,” she said.
The minister was a tall man in his seventies with silvery hair who couldn’t hear very well, having fallen from a horse. Age had taken the edge from his voice, which was silken but thin. At the prenuptial meeting he said he would ask them three questions, the ones he always asked couples. He wanted to know if they were in love. Next, did they want to be married in the church? And lastly, would the marriage last?
“We can deﬁnitely answer yes to the ﬁrst two,” Bowman replied.
“Ah,” the minister said, “yes.” He was absentminded and had forgotten the order of the questions. “I don’t suppose it’s so important to be in love,” he admitted.
He hadn’t shaved, Bowman noticed, there was a white stubble on his face, but he was more presentable at the wedding. Vivian’s family was there, her mother, sister, brother-in-law, and some others Bowman had never met and also friends. There were fewer on the groom’s side. It was a bright, cool morning, then afternoon, passing in an excitement that made it hard to remember. He was with his mother beforehand and could see her during the ceremony. He watched with a sense of victory as Amussen brought Vivian down the aisle. He put any misgivings aside, it was like a scene from a play. During the vows he saw only his bride, her face clear and shining, and in back of her Louise smiling, too, as he heard himself say, With this ring, I thee wed. I thee wed.
Beatrice had wept at the church. She had embraced Vivian and in return felt a dutiful response. It had all been like that, dutiful, restrained, with only smiles and polite talk.
She was bidding good-bye to her son. She had a chance to embrace him and to say with all her heart,
“Be good to one another. Love one another,” she said.
Vivian was happy. She was wearing a white wedding gown, she had yet to change, and though she was not yet used to the idea, she was a married woman. She’d married at home, with her father’s blessing, more or less. It had happened, she had done it.
Bowman was happy or felt he was, she was his, a beautiful woman or girl. He saw life ahead in regular terms, with someone who would be beside him. In the presence of her family and friends he realized that he knew only one side of her, a side that attracted him but that was not her entire or essential self. Behind her as he looked was her unyielding father. Across the room, smiling and alcoholic, was her mother. Vivian caught his eye and perhaps his thoughts and smiled at him, it seemed understandingly. The unsettled feeling disappeared. Her smile was loving, sincere. We’ll leave soon, it said. That night though, having driven to the Hay-Adams Hotel in Washington, wearied by the events of the day and unaccustomed to being a wedded couple, they simply went to sleep.
It snowed before Christmas but then turned cold. The sky was pale. The country lay silent, the ﬁelds dusted white with the hard furrows showing where they had been plowed. All was still. The foxes were in their dens, the deer bedded down. Route 50 from Washington, the road that had been originally laid out in almost a straight line by George Washington when he was a surveyor, was empty of trafﬁc. On the back roads an early car with its headlights came along. First the trees, half-frosted, were lit, then the road itself, and ﬁnally the sound as the car passed.
They had Christmas at George Amussen’s, and the next day was to be dinner at Longtree, Longtree Farm, more than a thousand acres running almost to the Blue Ridge. Liz Bohannon had gotten Longtree in the divorce. The house, that had burned down and been rebuilt, was named Ha Ha.
Late in the afternoon they drove through the iron gates that were posted with a warning that only one car at a time could pass through. The long driveway led upward with evenly spaced trees on either side. At last the house appeared, a vast facade with many windows, every one of them lit as if the house were a huge toy. When Amussen knocked at the door there was a sudden barking of dogs.
“Rollo! Slipper!” a voice inside cried and then began cursing.
In a mauve, ﬂowered gown that bared one plump shoulder and impa- tiently kicking at the dogs, Liz Bohannon opened the door. She had been a deity once and was still beautiful. As Amussen kissed her, she said, “Darling, I thought it was you.” To Vivian and her new husband, she said, “I’m so glad you could come.”
To Bowman she held out a surprisingly small hand that bore a large emerald ring.
“I was in the study, paying bills. Is it going to snow? It feels like it. How was your Christmas?” she asked Amussen.
She continued pushing away the importuning dogs, one small and white, the other a Dalmatian.
“Ours was quiet,” she went on. “You haven’t been here before, have you?” she said to Bowman. “The house was built originally in 1838, but it’s burned down twice, the last time in the middle of the night while I was sleeping.”
She held Bowman’s hand. He felt a kind of thrill. “What shall I call you? Philip? Phil?”
She had beautiful features, now a little small for the face that for years had allowed her to say and do whatever she liked, that and the money. She was loved, derided, and known as the most dishonest horsewoman in the business, banned at Saratoga where she had once bought back two of her own horses at auction, which was strictly prohibited. Keeping Bowman’s hand in hers, she led the way in as she talked, speaking to Amussen.
“I was paying bills. My God, this place costs a fortune to run. It costs more to run when I’m away than when I’m here, can you believe that? No one to watch. I’ve just about made up my mind to sell it.”
“Sell it?” said Amussen.
“Move to Florida,” she said. “Live with the Jews. Vivian, you look so beautiful.”
They went into the study, where the walls were a dark green and cov- ered with pictures of horses, paintings and photographs.
“This is my favorite room,” she said. “Don’t you like these pictures? That one there,” she said pointing, “is Khartoum—I loved that horse—I wouldn’t part with it for anything. When the house burned in 1944, I ran out in the middle of the night with nothing but my mink coat and that painting. That was all I had.”
“Woody won’t eat!” a voice called from another room.
A man with his hair combed in a careful wave came to the doorway. He was wearing a V-neck sweater and lizard shoes. He had a look of feigned concern on his face.
“Go tell Willa,” Liz said.
“She’s the one who told me.”
“Travis, you don’t know these people. This is my husband, Travis,” Liz said. “I married someone from the backyard. Everybody knows you shouldn’t, but you do it anyway, don’t you, sweetheart?” she said lovingly.
“You mean I didn’t come from a rich family?”
“That’s for certain.”
“Perfection pays off,” he said with a practiced smile.
Travis Gates was a lieutenant colonel in the air force but with something vaguely fraudulent about him. He’d been in China during the war and liked to use Chinese expressions, Ding hao, he would say. He was her third husband. The ﬁrst, Ted Bohannon, had been rich, his family owned newspapers and copper mines. Liz had been twenty, careless and sure of herself, the marriage was the event of the year. They had already slept together at a friend’s house in Georgetown and were wildly in love. They were invited and traveled everywhere, to California, Europe, the Far East. It was during the Depression and photographs of them in the papers, on shipboard or at the track, were an anodyne, a reminder of life as it had been and might be. They also went a number of times to Silver Hill to visit Laura, Liz’s younger sister, who worked as a club singer, usually on a small stage in a white or beaded dress, and was also an alcoholic. She took the cure at Silver Hill every few years.
One night during the war, the three of them were stranded in New York when there was trouble with the car. The hotels were all full but because Ted knew the manager they were able to get a room at the Westbury. They had to sleep three in the bed. In the middle of the night Liz woke up to ﬁnd her husband doing something with her sister who had the nightgown up under her armpits. It was the tenth year of the marriage that had begun to be stale anyway, and that night marked the end.
Meanwhile the telephone was ringing.
“Shall I get that, Bun?” Travis said.
“Willa will get it. I don’t want to talk to anyone.”
She had picked up Slipper and was holding her cradled against her breasts as she showed Bowman the view from the window, the Blue Ridge Mountains far off with only one or two other houses in sight.
“It’s starting to snow again,” she commented. “Willa! Who was that?”
There was no response. She called again.
“Who was that on the phone? What are you, going deaf?”
A lean black woman appeared in the doorway.
“I’m not going deaf,” she stated. “That was Mrs. Pry.”
“What did she say? Are they coming?”
“She say Mr. Pry afraid of coming out in this weather.”
“Is Monroe back there in the kitchen? Tell him to bring out some ice. Come on,” she said to Bowman and Vivian, “I’ll show you some of the house.”
In the kitchen she paused to try to coax words out of a mynah bird that was missing some tail feathers. It was in a big bamboo cage where it had made a kind of hammock for itself. Monroe was working at an unhurried pace. Liz took an all-weather coat from a hook.