Brighton rock, p.14
Brighton Rock, p.14Graham Greene
The Boy nodded to him without getting up, sitting on the bed. ‘Evening, Mr Prewitt,’ and Mr Prewitt smiled sympathetically, put his portfolio on the floor, and sat down on the hard chair by the dressing-table. ‘It’s a lovely night,’ he said. ‘O dear, O dear, you’ve been in the wars.’ The sympathy didn’t belong; it could be peeled off his eyes like an auction ticket from an ancient flint instrument.
‘It’s not that I want to see you about,’ the Boy said. ‘You needn’t be scared. I just want information.’
‘No trouble, I hope?’ Mr Prewitt asked.
‘I want to avoid trouble. If I wanted to get married, what’d I do?’
‘Wait a few years,’ Mr Prewitt said promptly, as if he were calling a hand in cards.
‘Next week,’ the Boy said.
‘The trouble is,’ Mr Prewitt thoughtfully remarked, ‘you’re under age.’
‘That’s why I’ve called you in.’
‘There are cases,’ Mr Prewitt said, ‘of people who give their ages wrong. I’m not suggesting it, mind you. What age is the girl?’
‘You’re sure of that? Because if she was under sixteen you could be married in Canterbury Cathedral by the Archbishop himself, and it wouldn’t be legal.’
‘That’s all right,’ the Boy said. ‘But if we give our ages wrong, are we married all right—legally?’
‘Hard and fast.’
‘The police wouldn’t be able to call the girl—’
‘In evidence against you? Not without her consent. Of course you’d have committed a misdemeanour. You could be sent to prison. And then—there are other difficulties.’ Mr Prewitt leant back against the washstand, his grey neat legal hair brushing the ewer and eyed the Boy.
‘You know I pay,’ the Boy said.
‘First,’ Mr Prewitt said, ‘you’ve got to remember it takes time.’
‘It mustn’t take long.’
‘Do you want to be married in a church?’
‘Of course I don’t,’ the Boy said. ‘This won’t be a real marriage.’
‘Not real like when the priest says it.’
‘Your religious feelings do you credit,’ Mr Prewitt said. ‘This I take it then will be a civil marriage. You could get a licence—fifteen days’ residence—you qualify for that—and one day’s notice. As far as that’s concerned you could be married the day after tomorrow—in your own district. Then comes the next difficulty. A marriage of a minor’s not easy.’
‘Go on. I’ll pay.’
‘It’s no good just saying you’re twenty-one. No one would believe you. But if you said you were eighteen you could be married provided you had your parents’ or your guardian’s consent. Are your parents alive?’
‘Who’s your guardian?’
‘I don’t know what you mean.’
Mr Prewitt said thoughtfully, ‘We might arrange a guardian. It’s risky though. It might be better if you’d lost touch. He’d gone to South Africa and left you. We might make quite a good thing out of that,’ Mr Prewitt added softly. ‘Flung on the world at an early age you’ve bravely made your own way.’ His eyes shifted from bedball to bedball. ‘We’d ask for the discretion of the registrar.’
‘I never knew it was all that difficult,’ the Boy said. ‘Maybe I can manage some other way.’
‘Given time,’ Mr Prewitt said, ‘anything can be managed.’ He showed his tartar-coated teeth in a fatherly smile. ‘Give the word, my boy, and I’ll see you married. Trust me.’ He stood up, his striped trousers were like a wedding guest’s, hired for the day at Moss’s; when he crossed the room, yellowly smiling, he might have been about to kiss the bride. ‘If you’ll let me have a guinea now for the consultation, there are one or two little purchases—for the spouse. . . ’
‘Are you married?’ the Boy asked with sudden eagerness. It had never occurred to him that Prewitt. . . He gazed at the smile, the yellow teeth, the lined and wasted and unreliable face as if there possibly he might learn. . .
‘It’s my silver wedding next year,’ Mr Prewitt said. Twenty-five years at the game. Cubitt put his head in at the door and said, ‘I’m going out for a turn.’ He grinned. ‘How’s the marriage?’
‘Progressing,’ Mr Prewitt said, ‘progressing,’ patting the portfolio as if it had been the plump cheek of a promising infant. ‘We shall see our young friend spliced yet.’
Just till it all blows over, the Boy thought, leaning back on the grey pillow, resting one shoe on the mauve eiderdown: not a real marriage, just something to keep her mouth shut for a time. ‘So long,’ Cubitt said, giggling at the bed end. Rose, the small devoted cockney face, the sweet taste of human skin, emotion in the dark room by the bin of harvest Burgundy: lying on the bed he wanted to protest ‘not yet’ and ‘not with her’. If it had to come some time, if he had to follow everyone else into the brutish game, let it be when he was old, with nothing else to gain, and with someone other men could envy him. Not someone immature, simple, as ignorant as himself.
‘You’ve only to give the word,’ Mr Prewitt said. ‘We’ll fix it together.’ Cubitt had gone. The Boy said, ‘You’ll find a nicker on the washstand.’
‘I don’t see one,’ Mr Prewitt said anxiously, shifting a toothbrush.
‘In the soap-dish—under the cover.’
Dallow put his head into the room. ‘Evening,’ he said to Mr Prewitt. He said to the Boy, ‘What’s up with Spicer?’
‘It was Colleoni. They got him on the course,’ the Boy said. ‘They nearly got me too,’ and he raised his bandaged hand to his scarred neck.
‘But Spicer’s in his room now. I heard him.’
‘Heard?’ the Boy said. ‘You’re imagining things.’ He was afraid for the second time that day: a dim globe lit the passage and the stairs: the walls were unevenly splashed with walnut paint. He felt the skin of his face contract as if something repulsive had touched him. He wanted to ask whether you could do more than hear this Spicer, if he was sensible to the sight and the touch. He stood up: it had to be faced whatever it was: passed Dallow without another word. The door of Spicer’s room swung in a draught to and fro. He couldn’t see inside. It was a tiny room; they had all had tiny rooms but Kite, and he had inherited that. That was why his room was the common room for them all. In Spicer’s there would be space for no one but himself—and Spicer. He could hear little creaking leathery movements as the door swung. The words ‘Dona nobis pacem’ came again to mind; for the second time he felt a faint nostalgia, as if for something he had lost or forgotten or rejected.
He walked down the passage and into Spicer’s room. His first feeling when he saw Spicer bent and tightening the straps of his suitcase was relief—that it was undoubtedly the living Spicer, whom you could touch and scare and command. A long stripe of sticking-plaster lined Spicer’s cheek. The Boy watched it from the doorway with a rising cruelty: he wanted to tear it away and see the skin break. Spicer looked up, put down the suitcase, shifted uneasily towards the wall. He said, ‘I thought—I was afraid—Colleoni had got you.’ His fear gave away his knowledge. The Boy said nothing, watching him from the door. As if he were apologizing for being alive at all Spicer explained, ‘I got away. . . ’ His words wilted out like a line of seaweed, along the edge of the Boy’s silence, indifference and purpose.
Down the passage came the voice of Mr Prewitt, ‘In the soap-dish. He said it was in the soap-dish,’ and the clatter of china noisily moved about.
‘I’m going to work on that kid every hour of the day until I get something.’ She rose formidably and moved across the restaurant, like a warship going into action, a warship on the right side in a war to end wars, the signal flags proclaiming that every man would do his duty. Her big breasts, which had never suckled a child of her own, felt a merciless compassion. Rose fled at the sight of her, but Ida moved relentlessly towards the service door. Everything now was in train, she had begun t
‘Good evening, Rose,’ she said, standing in the kitchen doorway, blocking it. Rose put down a tray and turned with all the fear, obstinacy, incomprehension of a wild animal who will not recognize kindness.
‘You again,’ she said. ‘I’m busy. I can’t talk to you.’
‘But the manageress, dear, has given me leave.’
‘We can’t talk here.’
‘Where can we talk?’
‘In my room if you’ll let me out.’
Rose went ahead up the stairs behind the restaurant to the little linoleumed landing. ‘They do you well here, don’t they?’ Ida said. ‘I once lived in at a public, that was before I met Tom—Tom’s my husband,’ she patiently, sweetly, implacably explained to Rose’s back. ‘They didn’t do you so well there. Flowers on the landing,’ she exclaimed with pleasure at the withered bunch on a deal table, pulling at the petals, when a door slammed. Rose had shut her out, and as she gently knocked she heard an obstinate whisper, ‘Go away. I don’t want to talk to you.’
‘It’s serious. Very serious.’ The stout which Ida had been drinking returned a little: she put her hand up to her mouth and said mechanically, ‘Pardon,’ belching towards the closed door.
‘I can’t help you. I don’t know anything.’
‘Let me in, dear, and I’ll explain. I can’t shout things on the landing.’
‘Why should you care about me?’
‘I don’t want the Innocent to suffer.’
‘As if you knew,’ the soft voice accused her, ‘who was innocent.’
‘Open the door, dear.’ She began, but only a little, to lose her patience: her patience was almost as deep as her good will. She felt the handle and pushed; she knew that waitresses were not allowed keys, but a chair had been wedged under the handle. She said with irritation, ‘You won’t escape me this way.’ She put her weight against the door and the chair creaked and shifted, the door opened a crack.
‘I’m going to make you listen,’ Ida said. When you were life-saving you must never hesitate, so they taught you, to stun the one you rescued. She put her hand in and detached the chair, then went in through the open door. Three iron bedsteads, a chest of drawers, two chairs and a couple of cheap mirrors: she took it all in and Rose against the wall as far as she could get, watching the door with terror through her innocent and experienced eyes, as if there was nothing which mightn’t come through.
‘Don’t be silly now,’ Ida said. ‘I’m your friend. I only want to save you from that boy. You’re crazy about him, aren’t you? But don’t you understand—he’s wicked.’ She sat down on the bed and went gently and mercilessly on.
Rose whispered, ‘You don’t know a thing.’
‘I’ve got my evidence.’
‘I don’t mean that,’ the child said.
‘He doesn’t care for you,’ Ida said. ‘Listen, I’m human. You can take my word I’ve loved a boy or two in my time. Why, it’s natural. It’s like breathing. Only you don’t want to get all worked up about it. There’s not one who’s worth it—leave alone him. He’s wicked. I’m not a Puritan, mind. I’ve done a thing or two in my time—that’s natural. Why,’ she said, extending towards the child her plump and patronizing paw, ‘it’s in my hand: the girdle of Venus. But I’ve always been on the side of Right. You’re young. You’ll have plenty of boys before you’ve finished. You’ll have plenty of fun—if you don’t let them get a grip on you. It’s natural. Like breathing. Don’t take away the notion I’m against Love. I should say not. Me. Ida Arnold. They’d laugh.’ The stout came back up her throat again and she put a hand before her mouth. ‘Pardon, dear. You see we can get along all right when we are together. I’ve never had a child of my own and somehow I’ve taken to you. You’re a sweet little thing.’ She suddenly barked, ‘Come away from that wall and act sensible. He doesn’t love you.’
‘I don’t care,’ the childish voice stubbornly murmured.
‘What do you mean, you don’t care.’
‘I love him.’
‘You’re acting morbid,’ Ida said. ‘If I was your mother I’d give you a good hiding. What’d your father and mother say if they knew?’
‘They wouldn’t care.’
‘And how do you think it will all end?’
‘I don’t know.’
‘You’re young. That’s what it is,’ Ida said, ‘romantic. I was like you once. You’ll grow out of it. All you need is a bit of experience.’ The Nelson Place eyes stared back at her without understanding. Driven to her hole the small animal peered out at the bright and breezy world; in the hole were murder, copulation, extreme poverty, fidelity and the love and fear of God, but the small animal had not the knowledge to deny that only in the glare and open world outside was something which people called experience.
The Boy looked down at the body, spread-eagled like Prometheus, at the bottom of Frank’s stairs. ‘Good God,’ Mr Prewitt said, ‘how did it happen?’
The Boy said, ‘These stairs have needed mending a long while. I’ve told Frank about it, but you can’t make the bastard spend money.’ He put his bound hand on the rail and pushed until it gave. The rotten wood lay across Spicer’s body, a walnut-stained eagle couched over the kidneys.
‘But that happened after he fell,’ Mr Prewitt protested; his legal voice was tremulous.
‘You’ve got it wrong,’ the Boy said. ‘You were here in the passage and you saw him lean his suitcase against the rail. He shouldn’t have done that. The case was too heavy.’
‘My God, you can’t mix me up in this,’ Mr Prewitt said. ‘I saw nothing. I was looking in the soap-dish, I was with Dallow.’
‘You both saw it,’ the Boy said. ‘That’s fine. It’s a good thing we have a respectable lawyer like you on the spot. Your word will do the trick.’
‘I’ll deny it,’ Mr Prewitt said. ‘I’m getting out of here. I’ll swear I was never in the house.’
‘Stay where you are,’ the Boy said. ‘We don’t want another accident. Dallow, go and telephone for the police—and a doctor, it looks well.’
‘You can keep me here,’ Mr Prewitt said, ‘but you can’t make me say—’
‘I only want you to say what you want to say. But it wouldn’t look good, would it, if I was taken up for killing Spicer, and you were here—looking in the soap-dish. It would be enough to ruin some lawyers.’
Mr Prewitt stared over the broken gap at the turn of the stairs where the body lay. He said slowly, ‘You’d better lift that body and put the wood under it. The police would have a lot to ask if they found it that way.’ He went back into the bedroom and sat down on the bed and put his head in his hands. ‘I’ve got a headache,’ he said, ‘I ought to be at home.’ Nobody paid him any attention. Spicer’s door rattled in the draught. ‘I’ve got a splitting headache,’ Mr Prewitt said.
Dallow came lugging the suitcase down the passage: the cord of Spicer’s pyjamas squeezed out of it like tooth-paste. ‘Where was he going?’ Dallow asked.
‘The “Blue Anchor”, Union Street, Nottingham,’ the Boy said. ‘We’d better wire them. They might want to send flowers.’
‘Be careful about finger-prints,’ Mr Prewitt implored them from the washstand without raising his aching head, but the Boy’s steps on the stairs made him look up. ‘Where are you going?’ he asked sharply. The Boy stared up at him from the turn in the stairs. ‘Out,’ he said.
‘You can’t go now,’ Mr Prewitt said.
‘I wasn’t here,’ the Boy said. ‘It was just you and Dallow. You were waiting for me to come in.’
‘You’ll be seen.’
‘That’s your risk,’ the Boy said. ‘I’ve got things to do.’
‘Don’t tell me,’ Mr Prewitt crie
‘We’ll have to fix that marriage,’ the Boy said sombrely. He gazed at Mr Prewitt for a moment—the spouse, twenty-five years at the game—with the air of someone who wanted to ask a question, almost as if he were prepared to accept advice from a man so much older, as if he expected a little human wisdom from the old shady legal mind.
‘It had better be soon,’ the Boy went softly and sadly on. He still watched Mr Prewitt’s face for some reflection of the wisdom the game must have given him in twenty-five years, but saw only a frightened face, boarded up like a store when a riot is on. He went on down the stairs, dropping into the dark well where Spicer’s body had fallen. He had made his decision; he had only to move towards his aim; he could feel his blood pumped from the heart and moving indifferently back along the arteries like trains on the inner circle. Every station was one nearer safety, and then one farther away, until the bend was turned and safety again approached, like Notting Hill, and afterwards receded. The middle-aged whore on Hove front never troubled to look round as he came up behind her: like electric trains moving on the same track there was no collision. They both had the same end in view, if you could talk of an end in connection with that circle. Outside the Norfolk bar two smart scarlet racing models lay along the kerb like twin beds. The Boy was not conscious of them, but their image passed automatically into his brain, released his secretion of envy.
Brighton Rock by Graham Greene / Mystery & Detective / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes