Brighton rock, p.4
Brighton Rock, p.4Graham Greene
‘They freeze me.’
‘You’re sensitive, that’s what it is,’ the Boy said, ‘like me.’ He said abruptly, ‘I suppose you wouldn’t recognize that newspaper man again? I mean, he may be still about.’
‘Oh, yes,’ she said, ‘I’d know him. I’ve got a memory for faces.’
The Boy’s cheek twitched. He said, ‘I see you and I’ve got a bit in common. We ought to get together one evening. What’s your name?’
He put a coin on the table and got up. ‘But your tea,’ she said.
‘Here we been talking, and I had an appointment at two sharp.’
‘Oh, I’m so sorry,’ Rose said. ‘You should’ve stopped me.’
‘That’s all right,’ the Boy said. ‘I liked it. It’s only ten-past anyway—by your clock. When do you get off of an evening?’
‘We don’t close till half-past ten except on Sundays.’
‘I’ll be seeing you,’ the Boy said. ‘You an’ me have things in common.’
Ida Arnold broke her way across the Strand; she couldn’t be bothered to wait for the signals, and she didn’t trust the Belisha beacons. She made her way under the radiators of the buses; the drivers ground their brakes and glared at her, and she grinned back at them. She was always a little flushed as the clock struck eleven and she reached Henekey’s, as if she had emerged from some adventure which had given her a better opinion of herself. But she wasn’t the first in Henekey’s. ‘Hullo, you old ghost,’ she said, and the sombre thin man in black with a bowler hat sitting beside a wine barrel said, ‘Oh, forget it, Ida. Forget it.’
‘You in mourning for yourself?’ Ida asked, cocking her hat at a better angle in a mirror which advertised White Horse: she didn’t look a day over forty.
‘My wife’s dead. Have a Guinness, Ida?’
‘Yes. I’ll have a Guinness. I didn’t even know you had a wife.’
‘We don’t know much about each other, that’s what it is, Ida,’ he said. ‘Why, I don’t even know how you live or how many husbands you’ve had.’
‘Oh, there’s only been one Tom,’ Ida said.
‘There’s been more than Tom in your life.’
‘You ought to know,’ Ida said.
‘Give me a glass of Ruby,’ the sombre man said. ‘I was just thinking when you came in, Ida, why shouldn’t we two come together again?’
‘You and Tom always want to start again,’ Ida said. ‘Why don’t you keep tight hold when you’ve got a girl?’
‘What with my little bit of money and yours—’
‘I like to start something fresh,’ Ida said. ‘Not off with the new and on with the old.’
‘But you’ve a kind heart, Ida.’
‘That’s what you call it,’ Ida said, and in the dark depth of her Guinness kindness winked up at her, a bit sly, a bit earthy, having a good time. ‘Do you ever have a bit on the horses?’ she asked.
‘I don’t believe in betting. It’s a mug’s game.’
‘That’s it,’ Ida said. ‘A mug’s game. You never know whether you’ll be up or down. I like it,’ she said with passion, looking across the wine barrel at the thin pale man, her face more flushed than ever, more young, more kind. ‘Black Boy,’ she said softly.
‘Eh, what’s that?’ the ghost said sharply, snatching a glance at his face in the White Horse mirror.
‘It’s the name of a horse,’ she said, ‘that’s all. A fellow gave it me at Brighton. I was wondering if maybe I’d see him at the races. He got lost somehow. I liked him. You didn’t know whatever he’d be saying next. I owe him money, too.’
‘You saw about this Kolley Kibber at Brighton the other day?’
‘Found him dead, didn’t they? I saw a poster.’
‘They’ve had the inquest.’
‘Did he kill himself?’
‘Oh, no. Just his heart. The heat knocked him over. But the paper’s paid the prize to the man who found him. Ten guineas,’ the ghost said, ‘for finding a corpse.’ He laid the paper bitterly down on the wine barrel. ‘Give me another Ruby.’
‘Why,’ Ida said. ‘Is that picture the man who found him? The little rat. That’s where he went to. No wonder he didn’t need his money back.’
‘No, no, that’s not him,’ the ghost said. ‘That’s Kolley Kibber.’ He took a little wooden pick out of a paper packet and began to scrape his teeth.
‘Oh,’ Ida said. It was like a blow. ‘Then he wasn’t trying it on,’ she said. ‘He was sick.’ She remembered how his hand had shaken in the taxi and how he had implored her not to leave him, just as if he had known he was going to die before she came back. But he hadn’t made a scene. ‘He was a gentleman,’ she said gently. He must have fallen there by the turnstile as soon as she had turned her back, and she had gone on down without knowing into the ladies. A sense of tears came to her now in Henekey’s; she measured those polished white steps down to the wash-basins as if they were the slow stages of a tragedy.
‘Ah well,’ the ghost said gloomily, ‘we’ve all got to die.’
‘Yes,’ Ida said, ‘but he wouldn’t’ve wanted to die any more than I want to die.’ She began to read and exclaimed almost at once: ‘What made him walk all that way in that heat?’ For he hadn’t dropped at the turnstile: he’d gone back all the way they’d come, sat in a shelter. . .
‘He’d got his job to do.’
‘He didn’t say anything to me about a job. He said, “I’ll be here. I’ll stay right here by this turnstile.” He said, “Be quick, Ida. I’ll be just here,”’ and as she repeated what she could remember of his words she had a feeling that later, in an hour or two, when things got straightened out, she would want to cry a bit for the death of that scared passionate bag of bones who called himself—
‘Why,’ she said, ‘whatever do they mean? Read here.’
‘What about it?’ the man said.
‘The bitches,’ Ida said, ‘what would they go and tell a lie like that for?’
‘What lie? Have another Guinness. You don’t want to fuss about that.’
‘I don’t mind if I do,’ Ida said, but when she had taken a long draught she returned to the paper. She had instincts, and now her instincts told her there was something odd, something which didn’t smell right. ‘These girls,’ she said, ‘he tried to pick up, they say a man came along who called him “Fred”, and he said he wasn’t Fred and he didn’t know the man.’
‘What about it? Listen, Ida, let’s go to the pictures.’
‘But he was Fred. He told me he was Fred.’
‘He was Charles. You can read it there. Charles Hale.’
‘That don’t signify,’ Ida said. ‘A man always has a different name for strangers. You aren’t telling me your real name’s Clarence. And a man don’t have a different name for every girl. He’d get confused. You know you always stick to Clarence. You can’t tell me much about men I don’t know.’
‘It don’t mean anything. You can read how it was. They just happened to mention it. Nobody took any notice of that.’
She said sadly, ‘Nobody’s taken any notice of anything. You can read it here. He hadn’t got any folks to make a fuss. “The Coroner asked if any relation of the deceased was present, and the police witness stated that they could trace no relations other than a second cousin in Middlesbrough.” It sounds sort of lonely,’ she said. ‘Nobody there to ask questions.’
‘I know what loneliness is, Ida,’ the sombre man said. ‘I’ve been alone a month now.’
She took no notice of him: she was back at Brighton on Whit Monday, thinking how while she waited there, he must have been dying, walking along the front to Hove, dying, and the cheap drama and pathos of the thought weakened her heart towards him. She was of the people, she cried in cinemas at David Copperfield, when she was drunk all the old ballads her mother had known came easily to her lips, her homely heart was touched by the word ‘tragedy’. ‘The second cousin in Middlesbrough—he was represent
‘I suppose if this Kolly Kibber hasn’t left a will, he gets any money there is. He wouldn’t want any talk of suicide because of the life assurance.’
‘He didn’t ask any questions.’
‘There wasn’t any need. No one made out he’d killed himself.’
‘Perhaps he did all the same,’ Ida said. ‘There was something queer about him. I’d like to ’ave asked some questions.’
‘What about? It’s plain enough.’
A man in plus-fours and a striped tie came to the bar. ‘Hullo, Ida,’ he called.
‘Hullo, Harry,’ she said sadly, staring at the paper.
‘Have a drink?’
‘I’ve got a drink, thank you.’
‘Swallow it down and have another.’
‘No, I don’t want any more, thank you,’ she said. ‘If I’d been there—’
‘What’d have been the good?’ the sombre man said.
‘I could’ve asked questions.’
‘Questions, questions,’ he said irritably. ‘You keep on saying questions. What about beats me.’
‘Why he said he wasn’t Fred.’
‘He wasn’t Fred. He was Charles.’
‘It’s not natural.’ The more she thought about it the more she wished she had been there: it was like a pain in the heart, the thought that no one at the inquest was interested, the second cousin stayed in Middlesbrough, his counsel asked no questions, and Fred’s own paper only gave him half a column. On the front page was another photograph—the new Kolley Kibber: he was going to be at Bournemouth tomorrow. They might have waited, she thought, a week. It would have shown respect.
‘I’d like to have asked them why he left me like that, to go scampering down the front in that sun.’
‘He had his job to do. He had to leave those cards.’
‘Why did he tell me he’d wait?’
‘Ah,’ the sombre man said, ‘you’d have to ask him that,’ and at the words it was almost as if he was trying to answer her, answer her in his own kind of hieroglyphics, in the obscure pain, speaking in her nerves as a ghost would have to speak. Ida believed in ghosts.
‘There’s a lot he’d say if he could,’ she said. She took up the paper again and read slowly. ‘He did his job to the end,’ she said tenderly. She liked men who did their jobs: there was a kind of vitality about it. He’d dropped his cards all the way down the front: they’d come back to the office: from under a boat, from a litter-basket, a child’s pail. He had only a few left when ‘Mr Alfred Jefferson, described as a chief clerk, of Clapham’ found him. ‘If he did kill himself,’ she said (she was the only counsel to represent the dead), ‘he did his job first.’
‘But he didn’t kill himself,’ Clarence said. ‘You’ve only got to read. They cut him up and they say he died natural.’
‘That’s queer.’ Ida said. ‘He went and left one in a restaurant. I knew he was hungry. He kept on wanting to eat, but whatever made him slip away like that all by himself and leave me waiting. It sounds crazy.’
‘I suppose he changed his mind about you, Ida.’
‘I don’t like it,’ Ida said. ‘It sounds strange to me. I wish I’d been there. I’d have asked ’em a few questions.’
‘What about you and me going across to the flickers, Ida?’
‘I’m not in the mood,’ Ida said. ‘It’s not every day you lose a friend. And you oughtn’t to be in the mood either with your wife just dead.’
“She’s been gone a month now,’ Clarence said. ‘You can’t expect anyone to go on mourning for ever.’
‘A month’s not so long,’ Ida said sadly, brooding over the paper. A day, she thought, that’s all he’s been gone, and I dare say there’s not another soul but me thinking about him: just someone he picked up for a drink and a cuddle, and again the easy pathos touched her friendly and popular heart. She wouldn’t have given it all another thought if there had been other relations, besides the second cousin in Middlesbrough, if he hadn’t been so alone as well as dead. But there was something fishy to her nose, though there was nothing she could put her finger on except that ‘Fred’—and everyone would say the same: ‘He wasn’t Fred. You’ve only to read. Charles Hale.’
‘You oughtn’t to fuss about that, Ida. It’s none of your business.’
‘I know,’ she said. ‘It’s none of mine.’ But it’s none of anybody’s, her heart repeated to her: that was the trouble: no one but her to ask questions. She knew a woman once who’d seen her husband after he was dead standing by the wireless set trying to twiddle the knob: she twiddled the way he wanted and he disappeared and immediately she heard an announcer say on Midland Regional: ‘Gale Warning in the Channel.’ She had been thinking of taking one of the Sunday trips to Calais, that was the point. It just showed: you couldn’t laugh at the idea of ghosts. And if Fred, she thought, wanted to tell someone something, it wouldn’t be to his second cousin in Middlesbrough that he’d go; why shouldn’t he come to me? He had left her waiting there; she had waited nearly half an hour: perhaps he wanted to tell her why. ‘He was a gentleman,’ she said aloud, and with bolder resolution she cocked her hat and smoothed her hair and rose from the wine barrel. ‘I’ve got to be going,’ she said. ‘So long, Clarence.’
‘Where to? I’ve never known you in such a hurry, Ida,’ he complained bitterly over the Guinness.
Ida put her finger on the paper. ‘Someone ought to be there,’ she said, ‘even if second cousins aren’t.’
‘He won’t care who’s putting him in the ground.’
‘You never know,’ Ida said, remembering the ghost by the radio set. ‘It shows respect. Besides—I like a funeral.’
But he wasn’t exactly being put in the ground in the bright new flowery suburb where he had lodged. There were no unhygienic buryings in that place. Two brick towers like those of a Scandinavian town hall, cloisters with little plaques along the walls like school war memorials, a bare cold secular chapel which could be adapted quietly and conveniently to any creed: no cemetery, wax flowers, impoverished jam-pots of wilting wild flowers. Ida was late. Hesitating a moment outside the door for fear the place might be full of Fred’s friends, she thought someone had turned on the National Programme. She knew that cultured inexpressive voice, but when she opened the door, a man, not a machine, stood up in a black cassock saying ‘Heaven’. There was nobody there but someone who looked like a landlady, a servant who had parked a pram outside, two men impatiently whispering.
‘Our belief in heaven,’ the clergyman went on, ‘is not qualified by our disbelief in the old medieval hell. We believe,’ he said, glancing swiftly along the smooth polished slipway towards the New Art doors through which the coffin would be launched into the flames, ‘we believe that this our brother is already at one with the One.’ He stamped his words like little pats of butter with his personal mark. ‘He has attained unity. We do not know what that One is with whom (or with which) he is now at one. We do not retain the old medieval beliefs in glassy seas and golden crowns. Truth is beauty and there is more beauty for us, a truth-loving generation, in the certainty that our brother is at this moment re-absorbed in the universal spirit.’ He touched a little buzzer, the New Art doors opened, the flames flapped and the coffin slid smoothly down into the fiery sea. The doors closed, the nurse rose and made for the door, the clergyman smiled gently from behind the slipway, like a conjurer who has produced his nine hundred and fortieth rabbit without a hitch.
It was all over. Ida squeezed out with difficulty a last tear into a handkerchief scented with Californian Poppy. She liked a funeral—but it was with horror—as other people like a ghost story. Death shocked her, life was so important. She wasn’t religious. She didn’t believe in heaven or hell, only in ghosts, ouija boards, tables which rapped and little inept voices speaking plaintively of flowers. Let Papists treat death with flippancy: life wasn’t so important perhaps to them as what came after: but to her death was the end
Flowers, Ida thought scornfully; that wasn’t life. Life was sunlight on brass bedposts, Ruby port, the leap of the heart when the outsider you have backed passes the post and the colours go bobbing up. Life was poor Fred’s mouth pressed down on hers in the taxi, vibrating with the engine along the parade. What was the sense of dying if it made you babble of flowers? Fred didn’t want flowers, he wanted—and the enjoyable distress she had felt in Henekey’s returned. She took life with a deadly seriousness: she was prepared to cause any amount of unhappiness to anyone in order to defend the only thing she believed in. To lose your lover—‘broken hearts,’ she would say, ‘always mend,’ to be maimed or blinded—‘lucky,’ she’d tell you, ‘to be alive at all.’ There was something dangerous and remorseless in her optimism, whether she was laughing in Henekey’s or weeping at a funeral or a marriage.
She came out of the crematorium, and there from the twin towers above her head fumed the very last of Fred, a thin stream of grey smoke from the ovens. People passing up the flowery suburban road looked up and noted the smoke; it had been a busy day at the furnaces. Fred dropped in indistinguishable grey ash on the pink blossoms: he became part of the smoke nuisance over London, and Ida wept.
But while she wept a determination grew; it grew all the way to the tram lines which would lead her back to her familiar territory, to the bars and the electric signs and the variety theatres. Man is made by the places in which he lives, and Ida’s mind worked with the simplicity and the regularity of a sky sign: the ever-tipping glass, the ever-revolving wheel, the plain question flashing on and off: ‘Do You Use Forhams for the Gums?’ I’d do as much for Tom, she thought, for Clarence, that old deceitful ghost in Henekey’s, for Harry. It’s the least you can do for anyone—ask questions, questions at inquests, questions at séances. Somebody had made Fred unhappy, and somebody was going to be made unhappy in turn. An eye for an eye. If you believed in God, you might leave vengeance to him, but you couldn’t trust the One, the universal spirit. Vengeance was Ida’s, just as much as reward was Ida’s, the soft gluey mouth affixed in taxis, the warm handclasp in cinemas, the only reward there was. And vengeance and reward—they both were fun.
Brighton Rock by Graham Greene / Mystery & Detective / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes