Brighton rock, p.24
Brighton Rock, p.24Graham Greene
‘The way I’ll manage things—’ he started agilely away from his dark suggestion. ‘You don’t want to leave me, do you?’
‘Never,’ Rose said.
‘That’s what I meant,’ he said. ‘You wrote it, didn’t you. Trust me, I’ll manage things if the worst comes to the worst—so it won’t hurt either of us. You can trust me,’ he went smoothly and rapidly on, while she watched him with the tricked expression of someone who has promised too much, too quickly. ‘I knew,’ he said, ‘you’d feel like that. About us never parting. What you wrote.’
She whispered with dread. ‘It’s a mortal. . . ’
‘Just one more,’ he said. ‘What difference does it make? You can’t be damned twice over, and we’re damned already—so they say. And anyway it’s only if the worst. . . if she finds out about Spicer.’
‘Spicer,’ Rose moaned, ‘you don’t mean Spicer too. . . ’
‘I only mean,’ he said, ‘if she finds out that I was here—in the house—but we don’t need to worry till she does.’
‘But Spicer. . . ’ Rose said.
‘I was here,’ he said, ‘when it happened, that’s all. I didn’t even see him fall, but my solicitor. . . ’
‘He was here too?’ Rose said.
‘I remember now,’ Rose said. ‘Of course I read the paper. They couldn’t believe, could they, that he’d cover up anything really wrong. A solicitor.’
‘Old Prewitt,’ the Boy said, ‘why—’ again the unused laugh came into rusty play. ‘He’s the Soul of Honour.’ He pressed her breast again and uttered his qualified encouragement. ‘Oh no, there’s no cause to worry till she finds out. Even then you see there’s that escape. But perhaps she never will. And if she doesn’t, why,’—his fingers touched her with secret revulsion—‘we’ll just go on, won’t we,’ and he tried to make the horror sound like love, ‘the way we are.’
But it was the Soul of Honour none the less who really worried him. If Cubitt had given that woman the idea that there was something wrong about Spicer’s death as well, who could she go to now but Mr Prewitt? She wouldn’t attempt anything with Dallow; but a man of law—when he was as clever as Prewitt was—was always frightened of the law. Prewitt was like a man who keeps a tame lion cub in his house. He could never be quite certain that the lion to whom he had taught so many tricks, to beg and eat out of his hand, might not one day unexpectedly mature and turn on him. Perhaps he might cut his cheek shaving—and the law would smell the blood.
In the early afternoon he couldn’t wait any longer; he set out for Prewitt’s house. First he told Dallow to keep an eye on the girl in case. . . More than ever yet he had the sense that he was being driven further and deeper than he’d ever meant to go. A curious and cruel pleasure touched him—he didn’t really care so very much—it was being decided for him, and all he had to do was to let himself easily go. He knew what the end might be—it didn’t horrify him: it was easier than life.
Mr Prewitt’s house was in a street parallel to the railway, beyond the terminus: it was shaken by shunting engines; the soot settled continuously on the glass and the brass plate. From the basement window a woman with tousled hair stared suspiciously up at him—she was always there watching visitors from a hard and bitter face. She was never explained: he had always thought she was the cook, but it appeared now she was the ‘spouse’—twenty-five years at the game. The door was opened by a girl with grey underground skin—an unfamiliar face. ‘Where’s Tilly?’ the Boy said.
‘Tell Prewitt, Pinkie’s here.’
‘He’s not seeing anyone,’ the girl said. ‘This is a Sunday, ain’t it?’
‘He’ll see me.’ The Boy walked into the hall, opened a door, sat down in a room lined with filing boxes: he knew the way. ‘Go on,’ he said, ‘tell him. I know he’s asleep. You wake him up.’
‘You seem to be at home here,’ the girl said.
‘I am.’ He knew what those filing boxes contained marked Rex v. Innes, Rex v. T. Collins—they contained just air. A train shunted and the empty boxes quivered on the shelves: the window was open only a crack, but the radio from next door came in—Radio Luxembourg.
‘Shut the window,’ he said. She shut it sullenly. It made no difference, the walls were so thin you could hear the neighbour move behind the shelves like a rat. He said, ‘Does that music always play?’
‘Unless it’s a talk,’ she said.
‘What are you waiting for? Go and wake him.’
‘He told me not to. He’s got indigestion.’
Again the room vibrated and the music wailed through the wall.
‘He’s always got it after lunch. Go on and wake him.’
‘It’s a Sunday.’
‘You’d better go quick.’ He obscurely threatened her, and she slammed the door on him—a little plaster fell.
Under his feet in the basement someone was moving the furniture about—the spouse, he thought. A train hooted and a smother of smoke fell into the street. Over his head Mr Prewitt began to speak—there was nothing anywhere to keep out sound. Then footsteps across the ceiling and on the stairs.
Mr Prewitt’s smile went on as the door opened. ‘What brings our young cavalier?’
‘I just wanted to see you,’ the Boy said. ‘See how you were getting along.’ A spasm of pain drove the smile from Mr Prewitt’s face, ‘You ought to eat more careful,’ the Boy said.
‘Nothing does it any good,’ Mr Prewitt said.
‘You drink too much.’
‘Eat, drink, for tomorrow. . . ’ Mr Prewitt writhed with his hand on his stomach.
‘You got an ulcer?’ the Boy said.
‘No, no, nothing like that.’
‘You ought to have your inside photographed.’
‘I don’t believe in the knife,’ Mr Prewitt said quickly and nervously, as if it were a suggestion constantly made for which he had to have the answer on the tongue.
‘Don’t that music ever stop?’
‘When I get tired of it,’ Mr Prewitt said, ‘I beat on the wall.’ He took a paper-weight off his desk and struck the wall twice: the music broke into a high oscillating wail and ceased. They could hear the neighbour move furiously behind the shelves. ‘How now? A rat?’ Mr Prewitt quoted. The house shook as a heavy engine pulled out. ‘Polonius,’ Mr Prewitt explained.
‘Polony? What polony?’
‘No, no,’ Mr Prewitt said. ‘The rank intruding fool, I mean. In Hamlet.’
‘Listen,’ the Boy said impatiently, ‘has a woman been round here asking questions?’
‘What sort of questions?’
Mr Prewitt said with sickly despair, ‘Are people asking questions?’ He sat down quickly and bent with indigestion. ‘I’ve just been waiting for this.’
‘There’s no need to get scared,’ the Boy said. ‘They can’t prove anything. You just stick to your story.’ He sat down opposite Mr Prewitt and regarded him with grim contempt. ‘You don’t want to ruin yourself,’ he said.
Mr Prewitt looked sharply up. ‘Ruin?’ he said. ‘I’m ruined now.’ He vibrated with the engines on his chair, and somebody in the basement slammed the floor beneath their feet. ‘What-ho! old mole,’ Mr Prewitt said. ‘The spouse—you’ve never met the spouse.’
‘I’ve seen her,’ the Boy said.
‘Twenty-five years. Then this.’ The smoke came down outside the window like a blind. ‘Has it ever occurred to you,’ Mr Prewitt said, ‘that you’re lucky? The worst that can happen to you is you’ll hang. But I can rot.’
‘What’s upsetting you?’ the Boy said. He was confused—as if a weak man had struck him back. He wasn’t used to this—the infringement of other people’s lives. Confession was an act one did—or didn’t do—oneself.
‘When I took on your work,’ Mr Prewitt said, ‘I lost the only other job I had. The Bakely Trust. And now I’ve lost you.’
‘There won’t be any more soon. Colleoni’s going to take over this place from you, and he’s got his lawyer. A man in London. A swell.’
‘I haven’t thrown my sponge in yet.’ He sniffed the air tainted with gasometers and said, ‘I know what’s wrong with you. You’re drunk.’
‘On Empire burgundy,’ Mr Prewitt said. ‘I want to tell you things. Pinkie, I want—’ the literary phrase came glibly out—‘to unburden myself.’
‘I don’t want to hear them. I’m not interested in your troubles.’
‘I married beneath me,’ Mr Prewitt said. ‘It was my tragic mistake. I was young. An affair of uncontrollable passion. I was a passionate man,’ he said wriggling with indigestion. ‘You should see her,’ he said, ‘now. My God.’ He leant forward and said in a whisper—‘I watch the little typists go by carrying their cases. I’m quite harmless. A man may watch. My God, how neat and trim.’ He broke off, his hand vibrating on the chair arm. ‘Listen to the old mole down there. She’s ruined me.’ His old lined face had taken a holiday—from bonhomie, from cunning, from the legal jest. It was a Sunday and it was itself. Mr Prewitt said, ‘You know what Mephistopheles said to Faustus when he asked where Hell was? He said, “Why, this is Hell, nor are we out of it”.’ The Boy watched him with fascination and fear.
‘She’s cleaning in the kitchen,’ Mr Prewitt said, ‘but she’ll be coming up later. You ought to meet her—it’d be a treat. The old hag. What a joke it would be, wouldn’t it, to tell her—everything. That I’m concerned in a murder. That people are asking questions. To pull down the whole damned house like Samson.’ He stretched his arms wide and contracted them in the pain of indigestion. ‘You’re right,’ he said, ‘I’ve got an ulcer. But I won’t have the knife. I’d rather die. I’m drunk, too. On Empire burgundy. Do you see that photo there—by the door? A school group. Lancaster College. Not one of the great schools perhaps, but you’ll find it in the Public Schools Year Book. You’ll see me there—cross-legged in the bottom row. In a straw hat.’ He said softly, ‘We had field days with Harrow. A rotten set they were. No esprit de corps.’
The Boy didn’t so much as turn his head to look. He had never known Prewitt like this before: it was a frightening and an entrancing exhibition. A man was coming alive before his eyes: he could see the nerves set to work in the agonized flesh, thought bloom in the transparent brain.
‘To think,’ Mr Prewitt said, ‘an old Lancaster boy—to be married to that mole in the cellarage down there and to have as only client—’ he gave his mouth an expression of fastidious disgust—‘you. What would old Manders say? A great Head.’
He had the bit between his teeth: he was like a man determined to live before he died; all the insults he had swallowed from police witnesses, the criticisms of magistrates, regurgitated from his tormented stomach. There was nothing he wouldn’t tell to anybody. An enormous self-importance was blossoming out of his humiliation; his wife, the Empire burgundy, the empty files and the vibration of locomotives on the line, they were the important landscape of his great drama.
‘You talk too easily,’ the Boy said.
‘Talk?’ Mr Prewitt said. ‘I could shake the world. Let them put me in the dock if they like. I’ll give them—revelation. I’ve sunk so deep I carry—’ he was shaken by an enormous windy self-esteem—he hiccupped twice—‘the secrets of the sewer.’
‘If I’d known you drank,’ the Boy said, ‘I wouldn’t have touched you.’
‘I drink—on Sundays. It’s the day of rest.’ He suddenly beat his foot upon the floor and screamed furiously, ‘Be quiet down there.’
‘You need a holiday,’ the Boy said.
‘I sit here and sit here—the bell rings, but it’s only the groceries—tinned salmon, she has a passion for tinned salmon. Then I ring the bell—and in comes that pasty stupid—I watch the typists going by. I could embrace their little portable machines.’
‘You’d be all right,’ the Boy said—nervous and shaken with the conception of another life growing in the brain—‘if you took a holiday.’
‘Sometimes,’ Mr Prewitt said, ‘I have an urge to expose myself—shamefully—in a park.’
‘I’ll give you money.’
‘No money can heal a mind diseased. This is Hell nor are we out of it. How much could you spare?’
‘It would go only a little way.’
‘Boulogne—why not slip across the Channel?’ the Boy asked with horrified disgust, ‘enjoy yourself,’ watching the grubby and bitten nails, the shaky hands which were the instruments of pleasure.
‘Could you spare some small sum like that, my boy? Don’t let me rob you. Though, of course, “I have done the state some service”.’
‘You can have it tomorrow—on conditions. You got to leave by the morning boat—stay away as long as you can. Maybe I’ll send you more.’ It was like fastening a leech on to the flesh—he felt weakness and disgust. ‘Let me know when it’s finished and I’ll see.’
‘I’ll go, Pinkie—when you say. And—you won’t tell my spouse?’
‘I keep my mouth shut.’
‘Of course. I trust you, Pinkie, and you can trust me. Recuperated by this holiday I shall return—’
‘Take a long one.’
‘Bullying police sergeants shall recognize my renewed astuteness. Defending the outcast.’
‘I’ll send the money first thing. Till then you don’t see anyone. You go back to bed. Your indigestion’s cruel. If anyone comes round you’re not in.’
‘As you say, Pinkie, as you say.’
It was the best he could do. He let himself out of the house and looking down met in the basement the hard suspicious gaze of Mr Prewitt’s spouse; she had a duster in her hand and she watched him like a bitter enemy from her cave, under the foundations. He crossed the road and took one more look at the villa, and there in an upper window half-concealed by the curtains stood Mr Prewitt. He wasn’t watching the Boy—he was just looking out—hopelessly, for what might turn up. But it was a Sunday and there weren’t any typists.
He said to Dallow. ‘You got to watch the place. I don’t trust him a yard. I can just see him looking out there, waiting for something, and seeing her. . . ’
‘He wouldn’t be such a fool.’
‘He’s drunk. He says he’s in Hell.’
Dallow laughed. ‘Hell. That’s good.’
‘You’re a fool, Dallow.’
‘I don’t believe in what my eyes don’t see.’
‘They don’t see much then,’ the Boy said. He left Dallow and went upstairs. But oh, if this was Hell, he thought, it wasn’t so bad: the old-fashioned telephone, the narrow stairs, the snug and dusty darkness—it wasn’t like Prewitt’s house, comfortless, shaken, with the old bitch in the basement. He opened the door of his room and there, he thought, was his enemy—he looked round with angry disappointment at his changed room—the position of everything a little altered and the whole place swept and clean and tidied. He condemned her, ‘I told you not to.’
‘I’ve only cleared up, Pinkie.’
It was her room now, not his: the wardrobe and the washstand shifted, and the bed—of course she hadn’t forgotten the bed. It was her Hell now if it was anybody’s—he disowned it. He felt driven out, but any change must be for the worse. He watched her, disguising his hatred, trying to read age into her face, how she would look one day staring up from his basement. He had come back wrapped in another person’s fate—a doubled darkness.
‘Don’t you like it, Pinkie?’
He wasn’t Prewitt: he’d got guts: he hadn’t lost his fight. He said, ‘Oh, this—it’s fine. It was just I wasn’t expecting it.’
She misread his constraint. ‘Bad news?’
‘Not yet. We got to be prepared, of course. I am prepared.’ He went to the window and stared out through a forest of wireless masts towards a cloudy peaceful Sunday sky
‘No,’ she passionately agreed. ‘It won’t, it can’t.’ Her enormous certainty had a curious effect on him—it was as if that plan of his too were being tidied, shifted, swept until he couldn’t recognize his own. He wanted to argue that it might happen: he discovered in himself an odd nostalgia for the darkest act of all.
She said, ‘I’m so happy. It can’t be so bad after all.’
‘What do you mean?’ he said. ‘Not bad? It’s mortal sin.’ He glanced with furious disgust at the made bed as if he contemplated a repetition of the act there and then—to thrust the lesson home.
‘I know,’ she said. ‘I know, but still—’
‘There’s only one thing worse,’ he said. It was as if she were escaping him: already she was domesticating their black alliance.
‘I’m happy,’ she argued bewilderedly. ‘You’re good to me.’
‘That doesn’t mean a thing.’
‘Listen,’ she said, ‘what’s that?’ A thin wailing came through the window.
‘The kid next door.’
‘Why doesn’t somebody quiet it?’
‘It’s a Sunday. Maybe they’re out,’ he said. ‘You want to do anything? The flickers?’
She wasn’t listening to him: the unhappy continuous cry absorbed her: she wore a look of responsibility and maturity. ‘Somebody ought to see what it wants,’ she said.
‘It’s just hungry or something.’
Brighton Rock by Graham Greene / Mystery & Detective / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes