The comedians, p.1
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       The Comedians, p.1

           Graham Greene
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The Comedians


  Contents

  Cover

  About the Author

  Also by Graham Greene

  Title Page

  Epigraph

  To A. S. Frere

  Part One

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Part Two

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Part Three

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  History of Vintage

  Copyright

  About the Author

  Graham Greene was born in 1904. On coming down from Balliol College, Oxford, he worked for four years as sub-editor on The Times. He established his reputation with his fourth novel, Stamboul Train. In 1935 he made a journey across Liberia, described in Journey Without Maps, and on his return was appointed film critic of the Spectator. In 1926 he had been received into the Roman Catholic Church and visited Mexico in 1938 to report on the religious persecution there. As a result he wrote The Lawless Roads and, later, his famous novel The Power and the Glory. Brighton Rock was published in 1938 and in 1940 he became literary editor of the Spectator. The next year he undertook work for the Foreign Office and was stationed in Sierra Leone from 1941 to 1943. This later produced the novel, The Heart of the Matter, set in West Africa.

  As well as his many novels, Graham Greene wrote several collections of short stories, four travel books, six plays, three books of autobiography – A Sort of Life, Ways of Escape and A World of My Own (published posthumously) – two of biography and four books for children. He also wrote hundreds of essays, and film and book reviews, some of which appear in the collections Reflections and Mornings in the Dark. Many of his novels and short stories have been filmed and The Third Man was written as a film treatment. Graham Greene was a member of the Order of Merit and a Companion of Honour. He died in 1991.

  ALSO BY GRAHAM GREENE

  Novels

  The Man Within

  It’s a Battlefield

  A Gun for Sale

  The Confidential Agent

  The Ministry of Fear

  The Third Man

  The End of the Affair

  The Quiet American

  A Burnt-Out Case

  Travels with my Aunt

  Dr Fischer of Geneva or

  The Bomb Party

  The Tenth Man

  Stamboul Train

  England Made Me

  Brighton Rock

  The Power and the Glory

  The Heart of the Matter

  The Fallen Idol

  Loser Takes All

  Our Man in Havana

  The Honorary Consul

  The Human Factor

  Monsignor Quixote

  The Captain and the Enemy

  Short Stories

  Collected Stories

  The Last Word and Other Stories

  Travel

  Journey Without Maps

  The Lawless Roads

  In Search of a Character

  Getting to Know the General

  Essays

  Collected Essays

  Yours etc.

  Reflections

  Mornings in the Dark

  Plays

  Collected Plays

  Autobiography

  A Sort of Life

  Ways of Escape

  Fragments of an Autobiography

  A World of my Own

  Biography

  Lord Rochester’s Monkey

  An Impossible Woman

  Children’s Books

  The Little Train

  The Little Horse-Bus

  The Little Steamroller

  The Little Fire Engine

  GRAHAM GREENE

  The Comedians

  VINTAGE BOOKS

  London

  ‘. . . Aspects are within us,

  and who seems

  Mostly kingly is the King.’

  Thomas Hardy

  [TO A. S. FRERE]

  Dear Frere,

  When you were the head of a great publishing firm I was one of your most devoted authors, and, when you ceased to be a publisher, I, like many other writers on your list, felt it was time to find another home. This is the first novel I have written since then, and I want to offer it to you in memory of more than thirty years of association – a cold word to represent all the advice (which you never expected me to take), all the encouragement (which you never realized I needed), all the affection and fun of the years we shared.

  A word about the characters of The Comedians. I am unlikely to bring an action for libel against myself with any success, yet I want to make it clear that the narrator of this tale, though his name is Brown, is not Greene. Many readers assume – I know it from experience – that an ‘I’ is always the author. So in my time I have been considered the murderer of a friend, the jealous lover of a civil servant’s wife, and an obsessive player at roulette. I don’t wish to add to my chameleon-nature the characteristics belonging to the cuckolder of a South American diplomat, a possibly illegitimate birth and an education by the Jesuits. Ah, it may be said, Brown is a Catholic and so, we know, is Greene . . . It is often forgotten that, even in the case of a novel laid in England, the story, when it contains more than ten characters, would lack verisimilitude if at least one of them were not a Catholic. Ignorance of this fact of social statistics sometimes gives the English novel a provincial air.

  ‘I’ is not the only imaginary character: none of the others, from such minor players as the British chargé to the principals, has ever existed. A physical trait taken here, a habit of speech, an anecdote – they are boiled up in the kitchen of the unconscious and emerge unrecognizable even to the cook in most cases.

  Poor Haiti itself and the character of Doctor Duvalier’s rule are not invented, the latter not even blackened for dramatic effect. Impossible to deepen that night. The Tontons Macoute are full of men more evil than Concasseur; the interrupted funeral is drawn from fact; many a Joseph limps the streets of Port-au-Prince after his spell of torture, and, though I have never met the young Philipot, I have met guerrillas as courageous and as ill-trained in that former lunatic asylum near Santo Domingo. Only in Santo Domingo have things changed since I began this book – for the worse.

  Affectionately,

  Graham Greene

  PART ONE

  CHAPTER 1

  I

  WHEN I think of all the grey memorials erected in London to equestrian generals, the heroes of old colonial wars, and to frock-coated politicians who are even more deeply forgotten, I can find no reason to mock the modest stone that commemorates Jones on the far side of the international road which he failed to cross in a country far from home, though I am not to this day absolutely sure of where, geographically speaking, Jones’s home lay. At least he paid for the monument – however unwillingly – with his life, while the generals as a rule came home safe and paid, if at all, with the blood of their men, and as for the politicians – who cares for dead politicians sufficiently to remember with what issues they were identified? Free Trade is less interesting than an Ashanti war, though the London pigeons do not distinguish between the two. Exegi monumentum. Whenever my rather bizarre business takes me north to Monte Cristi and I pass the stone, I feel a certain pride that my action helped to raise it.

  There is a point of no return unremarked at the time in most lives. Neither Jones nor I knew of it when it came, although, like the pilots of the old pre-jet air-liners, we should have been trained by the nature of our two careers to better observance. Certainly I was quite unaware of the moment when it receded one sullen August morning on the Atlantic i
n the wake of the Medea, a cargo-ship of the Royal Netherlands Steamship Company, bound for Haiti and Port-au-Prince from Philadelphia and New York. At that period of my life I still regarded my future seriously – even the future of my empty hotel and of a love-affair which was almost as empty. I was not involved, so far as I could tell, with either Jones or Smith, they were fellow passengers, that was all, and I had no idea of the pompes funèbres they were preparing for me in the parlours of Mr Fernandez. If I had been told I would have laughed, as I laugh now on my better days.

  The level of the pink gin in my glass shifted with the movement of the boat, as though the glass were an instrument made to record the shock of the waves, as Mr Smith said firmly in reply to Jones, ‘I’ve never suffered from mal de mer, no sir. It’s the effect of acidity. Eating meat gives you acidity, drinking alcohol does the same.’ He was one of the Smiths of Wisconsin, but I had thought of him from the very first as the Presidential Candidate because, before I even knew his surname, his wife had so referred to him, as we leant over the rail our first hour at sea. She made a jerking movement with her strong chin as she spoke which seemed to indicate that, if there were another presidential candidate on board, he was not the one she intended. She said, ‘I mean my husband there, Mr Smith – he was Presidential Candidate in 1948. He’s an idealist. Of course, for that very reason, he stood no chance.’ What could we have been talking about to lead her to that statement? We were idly watching the flat grey sea which seemed to lie within the three-mile-limit like an animal passive and ominous in a cage waiting to show what it can do outside. I may have spoken to her of an acquaintance who played the piano and perhaps her mind leapt to Truman’s daughter and thus to politics – she was far more politically conscious than her husband. I think she believed that, as a candidate, she would have stood a better chance than he, and, following the pointer of her protruding chin, I could well imagine it possible. Mr Smith, who wore a shabby raincoat turned up to guard his large innocent hairy ears, was pacing the deck behind us, one lock of white hair standing up like a television aerial in the wind, and a travelling-rug carried over his arm. I could imagine him a homespun poet or perhaps the dean of an obscure college, but never a politician. I tried to remember who Truman’s opponent had been in that election year – surely it had been Dewey, not Smith, while the wind from the Atlantic took away her next sentence. I thought she said something about vegetables, but the word seemed an unlikely one to me then.

  Jones I met a little later under embarrassing circumstances, for he was engaged in trying to bribe the bedroom steward to swop our cabins. He stood in the doorway of mine with a suitcase in one hand and two five-dollar bills in the other. He was saying, ‘He hasn’t been down yet. He won’t make a fuss. He’s not that kind of a chap. Even if he notices the difference.’ He spoke as if he knew me.

  ‘But Mr Jones . . .’ the steward began to argue.

  Jones was a small man, very tidily dressed in a pale grey suit with a double-breasted waistcoat, which somehow looked out of place away from lifts, office crowds, the clatter of typewriters – it was the only one of its kind in our scrubby cargo-ship peddling the sullen sea. He never changed it, I noticed later, not even on the night of the ship’s concert, and I began to wonder whether perhaps his suitcases contained no other clothes at all. I thought of him as someone who, having packed in a hurry, had brought the wrong uniform, for he certainly did not mean to be conspicuous. With the little black moustache and the dark Pekinese eyes I would have taken him for a Frenchman – perhaps someone on the Bourse – and it was quite a surprise to me when I learnt that his name was Jones.

  ‘Major Jones,’ he replied to the steward with a note of reproof.

  I was almost as embarrassed as he was. On a cargo-steamer there are few passengers and it is uncomfortable to nourish a resentment. The steward with his hands folded said to him righteously, ‘There’s really nothing I can do, sir. The cabin was reserved for this gentleman. For Mr Brown.’ Smith, Jones and Brown – the situation was improbable. I had a half-right to my drab name, but had he? I smiled at his predicament, but Jones’s sense of humour, as I was to find, was of a simpler order. He looked at me with grave attention and said, ‘This is really your cabin, sir?’

  ‘I have an idea it is.’

  ‘Someone told me it was unoccupied.’ He shifted slightly so that his back was turned to my too obvious cabin-trunk standing just inside. The bills had disappeared, perhaps up his sleeve, for I had seen no movement towards his pocket.

  ‘Have they given you a bad cabin?’ I asked.

  ‘Oh, it’s only that I prefer the starboard side.’

  ‘Yes, so do I, on this particular run. One can leave the porthole open,’ and as though to emphasize the truth of what I said the boat began a slow roll as it moved further into the open sea.

  ‘Time for a pink gin,’ Jones said promptly, and we went upstairs together to find the small saloon and the black steward who took the first opportunity as he added water to my gin to whisper in my ear, ‘I’m a British subject, sah.’ I noticed that he made no such claim to Jones.

  The door of the saloon swung open and the Presidential Candidate appeared, an impressive figure in spite of the innocent ears: he had to lower his head in the doorway. Then he looked all round the saloon before he stood aside so that his wife could enter under the arch of his arm, like a bride under a sword. It was as though he wanted to satisfy himself first that there was no unsuitable company present. His eyes were of clear washed blue and he had homely sprouts of grey hair from his nose and ears. He was a genuine article, if ever there was one, a complete contrast to Mr Jones. If I had troubled to think of them then at all, I would have thought that they could mix together no better than oil and water.

  ‘Come in,’ Mr Jones said (I somehow couldn’t bring myself to think of him as Major Jones), ‘come in and take a snifter.’ His slang, I was to find, was always a little out of date as though he had studied it in a dictionary of popular usage, but not in the latest edition.

  ‘You must forgive me,’ Mr Smith replied with courtesy, ‘but I don’t touch alcohol.’

  ‘I don’t touch it myself,’ Jones said, ‘I drink it,’ and he suited the action to the words. ‘The name is Jones,’ he added, ‘Major Jones.’

  ‘Pleased to meet you, Major. My name’s Smith. William Abel Smith. My wife, Major Jones.’ He looked at me inquiringly, and I realized that somehow I had lagged behind in the introductions.

  ‘Brown,’ I said shyly. I felt as though I were making a bad joke, but neither of them saw the point.

  ‘Ring the bell again,’ Jones said, ‘there’s a good chap.’ I had already graduated into the position of the old friend, and, although Mr Smith was nearer the bell, I crossed the saloon to touch it; in any case he was busy wrapping the travelling-rug around his wife’s knees, though the saloon was well enough warmed (perhaps it was a marital habit). It was then, in reply to Jones’s affirmation that there was nothing like a pink gin to keep away sea-sickness, Mr Smith made his statement of faith. ‘I’ve never suffered from mal de mer, no sir . . . I’ve been a vegetarian all my life,’ and his wife capped it. ‘We campaigned on that issue.’

  ‘Campaigned?’ Jones asked sharply as though the word had woken the major within him.

  ‘In the Presidential Election of 1948.’

  ‘You were a candidate?’

  ‘I’m afraid,’ Mr Smith said with a gentle smile, ‘that I stood very little chance. The two great parties . . .’

  ‘It was a gesture,’ his wife interrupted fiercely. ‘We showed our flag.’

  Jones was silent. Perhaps he was impressed, or perhaps like myself he was trying to recall who the main contestants had been. Then he tried the phrase over on his tongue as though he liked the taste of it: ‘Presidential Candidate in ’48.’ He added, ‘I’m very proud to meet you.’

  ‘We had no organization,’ Mrs Smith said. ‘We couldn’t afford it. But all the same we polled more than ten thousand votes.


  ‘I never anticipated so much support,’ the Presidential Candidate said.

  ‘We were not at the bottom of the poll. There was a candidate – something to do with agriculture, dear?’

  ‘Yes, I have forgotten the exact name of his party. He was a disciple of Henry George, I think.’

  ‘I must admit,’ I said, ‘that I thought the only candidates were Republican and Democrat – oh, and there was a Socialist too, wasn’t there?’

  ‘The Conventions attract all the publicity,’ Mrs Smith said, ‘vulgar rodeos though they are. Can you see Mr Smith with a lot of drum majorettes?’

  ‘Anyone can run for President,’ the Candidate explained with gentleness and humility. ‘That is the pride of our democracy. I can tell you, it was a great experience for me. A great experience. One that I shall never forget.’

  II

  Ours was a very small boat. I believe that a full complement of passengers would have numbered only fourteen, and the Medea was by no means full. This was not the tourist season, and in any case the island to which we were bound was no longer an attraction for tourists.

  There was a spick-and-span negro with a very high white collar and starched cuffs and gold-rimmed glasses who was bound for Santo Domingo; he kept very much to himself, and at table he answered politely and ambiguously in monosyllables. For instance when I asked him what was the principal cargo that the captain was likely to take aboard in Trujillo – I corrected myself, ‘I’m sorry. I mean Santo Domingo,’ he nodded gravely and said, ‘Yes.’ He never himself asked a question and his discretion seemed to rebuke our own idle curiosity. There was also a traveller for a firm of pharmaceutical manufacturers – I have forgotten the reason he gave for not travelling by air. I felt sure that it was not the correct reason, and that he suffered from a heart trouble which he kept to himself. His face had a tight papery look, above a body too big for the head, and he lay long hours in his berth.

  My own reason for taking the boat – and I sometimes suspected that it might be Jones’s too – was prudence. In an airport one is so swiftly separated on the tarmac from the crew of the plane; in a harbour one feels the safety of foreign boards under the feet – I counted as a citizen of Holland so long as I stayed on the Medea. I had booked my passage through to Santo Domingo and I told myself, however unconvincingly, that I had no intention of leaving the ship before I received certain assurances from the British chargé – or from Martha. The hotel which I owned on the hills above the capital had done without me for three months; it would certainly be void of clients, and I valued my life more highly than an empty bar and a corridor of empty bedrooms and a future empty of promise. As for the Smiths, I really think it was love of the sea which had brought them on board, but it was quite a while before I learnt why they had chosen to visit the republic of Haiti.

 
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