The Women | Chapter 36 of 41

Author: T. Coraghessan Boyle | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 10560 Views | Add a Review

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It was the same old conundrum: how to build what he saw in his mind’s eye, how to raise a thing of beauty from the earth so that people would look at it and marvel for a century to come, without first raising the money to see it to fruition. Money. It was always a question of money. He’d borrowed from Sullivan to buy the lot for the Oak Park place all those years ago,153 and while he couldn’t very well sell it out from under Catherine, he’d already hit on the expedient of remodeling the place so she could rent out half of it and at least have a reliable income. He would provide for her and the children too, that was his responsibility and he would meet it—no one could say he was neglectful there, though they might whip him over Mamah all they wanted, pinching their noses and crossing the street to avoid him as if he were a leper. And he’d just have to find a means of raising money, not only for the remodeling, but for the new house that was already taking shape in his dreams and his waking hours too, a place away from all this confusion, a place where he could live and work in peace till it all blew over.
And that was something he just couldn’t understand, the way the whole community had gone after him as if he were an axe-murderer or Kropotkinite or some such. He’d left a prosperous practice a year ago to go off to Europe and improve himself and now he had nothing, and how was he to get work if no one would negotiate with him in good faith or even look him in the eye for fear of catching his moral contagion? How did they expect him to live, these moral paragons trapped in their own miserable little lives and marriages as dead and loveless as the rugs on the floors of the insipid boxes they called home? There was no Christian charity—a sad joke, that was all it was—and no forgiveness either. He hadn’t been home three days when the Reverend George M. Luccock of the First Presbyterian Church, a man he scarcely knew, preached a sermon against him, which was, of course, duly reported in the papers. He still had it seared in his memory—When a man leaves his wife and family and goes over to this other woman, such a man has lost all sense of morality and religion and is damnably to be blamed—though he’d crumpled up the paper and tossed it in the fire like the rag it was. Damnably to be blamed. Why couldn’t they leave him alone to live his life as he saw fit? Who made the rules to contain him? Rules were for other people, ordinary people, people who had neither insight nor originality or any sense of the world but what they’d been force-fed by the Reverend Luccocks and their ilk.
Well, he’d played out the charade in Oak Park as long as he could stand it, the loving father and repentant husband come home to his family, manfully unfurling the Christmas tree, splitting wood for the hearth, throttling the goose and gathering his children to his bosom, but he saw much further than any of them could ever imagine. And as the year turned and he put out inquiries everywhere for work, commissions or outright loans and his mother’s house went up for sale and Kitty burned and the newspapers flapped away over some fresh scandal, he could think of nothing but that property in Wisconsin, the hill there, his vantage and his refuge. He’d roamed its flanks as a boy, sat atop the crest of it to contemplate the valley spread out below him while the clouds ran across the sun and the insects chirred and deer slipped out of the shadows to browse in the long grass at the edge of the woods. It was a magical place, as serene and uncluttered and pure as the open skies above and the glacial till underfoot, with views to the Wisconsin River on one side and the far end of Paradise on the other. And it was set squarely in the middle of the valley his grand-parents had settled, just over the slope from his aunts’ school and the home he’d built for his sister, the most perfect site in all the world for the house and farm and workshop he saw rising there, a place of native wood and amber stucco and stone, yellow dolomite limestone laid rough, just as it had come from nature. A place to catch the light. To surround with orchards and gardens. To dwell in as if it had been there forever.
Darwin, good old Darwin, had come up with the money—a loan, that is, secured by a trust deed on the Oak Park property. Twenty-five thousand dollars’ worth, enough to redeem the print collection he’d left with Little,154 pay for the work in Oak Park, buy back the American rights for the Wasmuth portfolio and free him to break ground at Hillside. On the house for his mother. Or that was what he told Darwin, at any rate. And he swore too to give up Mamah, because Darwin was every bit as condemning as the rest of them, though he should have known better. Still, he was a fine and generous man and good-hearted too. And he recognized genius when he saw it.
But Mamah. Give up Mamah? No one could begin to understand what existed between him and Mamah, certainly not Darwin Martin staring blearily across the dining room table at his all but extinguished hausfrau, or Kitty, whose concept of marriage never seemed to rise above the kitchen and the laundry and the children’s clothes and looks and moods. All the while he was back he missed her with an ache that was irremediable, a steady burn of regret as omnipresent and physical as the loss of a limb—he couldn’t step outside the door or breathe the air without thinking of her, longing for her, worrying over her—and as soon as he had the money in hand he fled back to Germany to be with her. Of course, he couldn’t admit this to Darwin or Kitty or anyone else for that matter—he was returning to Berlin to shepherd the portfolio into print, a purely onerous task but absolutely necessary if a whole year’s work wasn’t going to go up in smoke, and God knew how he detested ocean travel . . .
This time they were discreet. He met her in a hotel near the Tiergarten that was as unfashionable and private as the Adlon was chic and public. It took him the better part of an hour even to find the place, stopping passersby to ask directions in his tortured and rapidly dwindling German while the rank animal odor seeped down the alleys and various creatures chirped and howled in the distance, and when he finally arrived, when he marched into the lobby and announced himself at the desk, he was so wrought up, so impatient and angry with himself—and lustful, mad for the touch of her—that he had to take a minute to collect himself before following the bellman up the three flights of stairs to her door. To lift his hand and knock, to fumble with the unfamiliar currency and grease the man’s palm—what was the fool staring at and why the sick parody of a grin, or was it a grimace?—was nearly impossible. But he did it. And the door opened. And she was there.
“Frank,” she said, and he said her name too, but there was a moment’s hesitation before he took her in his arms, a strangeness they both felt, an airiness, as if there were no walls to the building and the wind was blowing right through it and the sky shifting crazily overhead—she looked different, so different, her color high, her hair lighter than he’d remembered it . . . All the way across the Atlantic he’d pictured this moment, the scent and feel of her, the look of her face and the way she tilted her head back when she laughed, how he’d lead her to bed, straight to bed, but that wasn’t the way it was. He felt disoriented, uncertain of himself. A shudder of suspicion ran through him—she’d been seeing somebody else, of course she had, an attractive woman, a sensuous woman, alone in a European capital and flying the banner of free love . . .
What did she say, what was the first thing? It’s good to see you, yes, of course. I’ve missed you. How I’ve missed you. Sure, likewise. But then, out of nowhere, she said, “I’ve been learning Swedish.”
They were standing awkwardly in the middle of the room, still holding on to each other, but now she led him to the couch and the low table there, where she’d arranged flowers, sandwiches, a bottle of wine, though he wasn’t thirsty and he didn’t drink, or hardly ever. “Swedish?” he echoed. And then it hit him: “For Ellen Key?”
Her eyes shone. “I’ve met her. And she’s the most astonishing—did I tell you she’s calling me her American daughter? Can you imagine that?”
It was dusk when he’d arrived, the gray weathered city grayer yet under a winter sky, and the darkness of night crept gradually over the room until she had to get up and turn on the lamps. She came and sat beside him on the couch then and took his hand in hers and they talked about the small things, catching up, keeping all the rest at bay. Free love had been convenient for him, hadn’t it, but if it was convenient for him, why not for some other man, some Lothar or Henning or Heinrich?
She was laughing her rich laugh over a story he’d been telling her about his mother and her ongoing feud with Kitty and Kitty’s mother and even her grandmother, her throat thrown back and her eyes rolling with the pleasure of it, when he said, “You haven’t been seeing anyone, have you?”
Her face went cold. “What are you talking about? Seeing who? Who do you expect me to see? I go from my rooms to the library and back. I see my students. The concierge—Frau Eisermann, did you notice her? The little woman with the mustache?”
“I didn’t mean that. I meant—”
Men? ”
“No,” he said, “no. I was just—inquiring. After your social life. You must be lonely. I worry about you.”
She leaned away from him as if to get a better look. “I have no social life.” He watched her lift the wineglass to her lips, take a sip of the pale yellow liquid—it was a Johannisberger, she’d said, a special wine for a special occasion, though it was all the same to him—and set it down again. “I’m waiting for my divorce, if that’s what you mean,” she said, measuring out each word. “And for you.” She held him with her eyes. “Only you.”155
“I don’t want you to wait, not here, anyway.” He leaned forward in his seat. Now was the time for affirmation, now was the time to kiss her, but he held back. “I want you to come home. As soon as possible.”
Her smile was fragmentary, bitter round the edges. She dropped her voice. “Have you seen my children?”
“No. I can’t bring myself even to drive past the street—”
“They don’t answer my letters. It’s Edwin. He’s turned them against me. I’m sure of it.” She looked off into space a moment, then came back to him. “And where am I to go when I do come back? I can’t—I’ll never set foot in Oak Park again, I’ll swear to it.”
“I’ve taken care of that,” he heard himself say, and suddenly it was all right—it was a building problem, that was all, salvaged by design, materials, plans. “That hill in Wisconsin? It’s ours. Two hundred acres, free and clear. I’m building for you—a place that’ll put to shame anything I’ve done to this point. Something new, entirely new.”
“I miss them. The little one especially, little Martha. I keep asking myself what they must be thinking—that I’m in prison or something? Or dead? That I don’t love them anymore?”
He had the solution, all the solutions. “Bring them to Hillside. Anytime you want.”
“Edwin wouldn’t allow it. Never. He’d die first. I know him.”
“For school vacations. For the summer. They’ll adore it there—and you will too.”
There was a silence. No one was going anywhere. Everything was in stasis, and the moment—their reunion—began to sag under the weight of it. He felt lost all over again. Two weeks across on the boat and two weeks back for these few days, these precious minutes that were slipping away and Mamah all but a stranger to him. It was hopeless. The room shrank. He didn’t know what to say. But then—and it was the strangest thing, a thing he’d remember all his life with a mixture of gratitude and wonder—a lion began to roar from the grounds of the Tiergarten, a furious belligerent racketing noise that tore through the night in defiance of walls, bars, cages and all the safe people sitting down to dinner in their safe apartments along the tree-hung boulevard. Truth against the world. “Mamah,” he said, and all at once he felt supercharged with energy, with power—and love, love too. “Think of it, think of how it’ll be, the two of us together again . . .” His hands spun before him, as if he were trying to capture the image before it fluttered away.
“Listen to me,” he said, insistent now. “Think of the Villa Medici in Fiesole. Remember how the walls looked as if they’d grown up out of the ground like the trees and the feeling we had there, the contentment, the way the light struck them and everywhere you looked there were vistas, and they were different through each turning of the sun, eleven o’clock a miracle, three o’clock, six in the evening? That’s what I’m going to give you. That’s your refuge. With me. And who gives a damn what anybody says.” He was trembling, burning up with it, the vision of that place to come rising before him in a luminous shimmer of conception. “I want you back,” he said, and if his tone was sharp and peremptory it was because he wasn’t pleading anymore, wasn’t making excuses—excuses were for little people, frightened people, people without command or direction. “This is ridiculous, this separation. I want you there. Soon. As soon as the roof’s up. Promise me. Enough of this.”
She didn’t answer. She just stared at him a long moment. Then she rose, took him by the hand and led him into the bedroom.
Two and a half weeks later he was back in Oak Park, back to the charade, and nothing and everything had changed. Kitty was as furious as ever, rattling things in the kitchen, squaring her shoulders when she came through the door like a boxer stepping into the ring, scalding him with one look or another—a whole repertoire of frowns and scowls and visual crucifixions—and berating him every chance she got. Why had he had to go back to Germany? Were the problems so insurmountable that Herr Wasmuth couldn’t have handled them on his own, because he was the publisher, after all, wasn’t he? Was she there? Had he run to her, slept with her, made her promises? And where was the money for the bills? Could he even begin to imagine the humiliation she had to go through just to put food on the table? And then there were the children with their needs and demands and their incessant clomping up and down the stairs, the whole mad cart-wheeling circus, creditors popping up like so many jacks-in-the-box, no work coming in, nothing.
All that, yes, but it was worth it, it was endurable, because he was sure of Mamah now, sure she was coming back to him, and he was only waiting for the snow to recede and the ground to thaw so that he could do what he lived to do: build. In the meanwhile, he oversaw the work at Oak Park, petitioned for clients, mollified his mother and avoided Kitty as much as possible, taking long walks with only his stick for company, riding horseback, driving the streets like a daredevil and not giving two damns whether anybody got out of the way of him or not. And, of course, he drew—sketches, elevations, sections, floor plans—until the house, his and Mamah’s house, began to disclose its form. He looked out the window on the gray streets, snow giving way to sleet and then a cold rain that fell through the end of March and into April, mud, the season of mud, but then the wind shifted to the north and the snow fell again and every trace of spring was obliterated.
He’d begun to think a new ice age had come to haunt him—he even joked about it with Billy Little, the carpenter he brought up to Spring Green with him to contemplate the snow fields—but finally the days began to stretch out, the birds came back, the trees flamed with buds and the crocuses pushed up out of the tatters of the receding snow. He let it be known that he was assembling a crew to build a modest little house—for his mother, strictly for his mother, because if word got out the press would be all over him, suspecting the truth of the matter, and God only knew but that the community would rise up into the bargain—and he hired an Irish-man, Johnnie Vaughn, as chief carpenter. Johnnie had the ability to talk, chew and swing a hammer for hours on end without appearing to draw breath—and while a talker rarely made a good worker,156 Johnnie was the exception, a brilliant organizer who worked without stint and knew every artisan and laborer within a twenty-mile radius. He brought in Ben Davis, the single most creative cusser the world has ever known, to oversee the stonework and the wagons to haul the slabs from the quarry, and Ben in turn recommended the two best men in the county, old Dad Signola, the Czech, and Father Larsen, the Norwegian, and no one could say which was the older. Their fingers were splayed and bludgeoned, their backs stooped, their hair a pure patriarchal white. Dad and Father. They knew stone, knew nothing but, and they were unerring and true, and Frank felt lucky to have them. Good men, good men all, and day by day the camaraderie of purpose growing into the joy and mission of the work.
It was June, the foundations laid and the stone running on up into the chimneys and walling off the four courtyards so that the skeleton of the house was visible, all stone, nothing but stone, Druidic, antediluvian, organic in the best and original sense, and he worked right alongside the men, singing the body electric and as full of joy as he’d ever been. This was what he was born for. This was what made sense. The only thing.
He was directing the man from the lumberyard one early morning, the cart overloaded and the horses fighting for traction on the muddy slope up from the road, unable for the life of him to fathom why they couldn’t have hired somebody at least halfway competent to sit there and hold on to the reins and watch the big sweating fly-speckled rumps do the work for him, when there was a tap at his shoulder and he swung round to see Johnnie Vaughn standing there, grinning wide, and another man beside him. This second man looked to be about thirty or so, tall and round-shouldered, with the brim of his porkpie hat pulled down over the frames of his spectacles and his arm in a sling and a white plaster cast projecting from it like a ramrod. “Mr. Wright,” Johnnie was saying, “Boss, I want you to meet the new man, best carpenter in the state of Wisconsin, better than me even, better than anybody. Wait till you see the way he goes at it. Right? Right, Billy? ”
You had to trust your instincts—that was what he always told himself and told everybody else too. He’d hired and fired and goaded and pleaded with and laid down the law to a thousand men over the years, and he prided himself on taking in a man at a single glance. He liked what he saw, the worn overalls washed till the fibers showed through, the flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up and the cotton undershirt showing white at the collar, everything about him neat and clean, even the sling, even the cast. But how could the man expect to work with his arm broken? He wanted to ask, but instead he grinned and said, “Another Billy?”
The man reached out his hand—the left—for an awkward handshake and flicked his chin so that the brim of the hat rode up and his eyes, as gray as the water in the cistern, glanced out from behind the spectacles. “Billy Weston,” he said, and then added, “master carpenter.”
“I know what you’re thinking, Mr. Wright,” Johnnie put in. “But the cast comes off in two weeks and I’ll swear to you Billy’ll outwork any man on this place with one arm tied behind him—or, well, you know what I mean. He’s a good man. I’m vouching for him.”
Just then, Ben Davis, who’d started down the hill to castigate the idiot in the wagon, let out a string of polysyllabic curses questioning the fellow’s sanity, his mother’s mores and his grip on the concept of delivering his cargo to where it was needed—“On the motherfucking top of the motherfucking fucking hill!”—and the man responded in kind.
“Ease off there!” Frank heard himself call out. “You—take that wagon back down and make another run at it—there, where we’ve laid the gravel. And if that doesn’t work, unload it at the bottom.” He paused to give him a significant look. “No sense in killing those animals over a load of lumber.”
When he turned back round, the two men were still standing there patiently beside him, but Billy had removed his hat and held it down at his side, clutched in his good hand. “He’s equal with either hand, Mr. Wright,” Johnnie went on as if there had been no interruption, “—what they call ambi, uh, ambi—”
“Yup, that’s right. That’s what he is. Hell, he’ll drive nails with a hammer in both hands, bang-bang-bang.”
The wagon slid back with an abrasive squeal and Ben Davis let out another skein of curses. The horses stood rigid. Very slowly, an inch at a time, the teamster eased them back until the weight of the wagon rocked the wheels free of the ruts and got them moving forward again.
“You think you can work with that arm?” Frank asked, addressing Billy for the first time.
Billy looked down at the toe of his boot and traced a pattern in the wet earth. “I can manage.”157
It took a day or two to appreciate how much an understatement that was. Billy worked as hard as any two men—every time you looked up, there he was, the plaster arm flashing in the sun, hauling lumber, juggling tools, lending a hand wherever it was needed. He tossed the sling aside the first day and by the end of the week the cast seemed as much a natural extension of his body as the arm it contained and the strong sure hand and fingers sprouting from the end of it. Every saw cut he made and every nail he drove passed muster—left-handed, no less—and he worked with such an intensity of concentration it was hard to get him to sit down for lunch or even a coffee break and when he did sit down it wasn’t for long. He’d fidget and shuffle his feet and stare off across the yard to where the frame had begun to rise above the floor joists as if he could see the whole thing complete and wouldn’t rest till it was done. And he’d climb like an acrobat, his tool belt dangling in the air, the cast hooked over one stud while he hammered home another. He was the first one there in the morning and the last to leave at night, and after a while Frank asked him if his wife didn’t miss him, and Billy, looking down at the toe of his shoe rotating in the sawdust, said, “Not much. I guess.”
By the end of the month, there were all sorts of people coming round to look at the place—Frank’s bungalow, they were calling it—and Frank tried to accommodate them all because he was going to have to live here amongst them and, of course, his reputation had preceded him. He supposed they expected him to breathe fire and speak with a cloven tongue after what the newspapers had said about him and certainly the local farmers and their wives had come to sit in judgment, but they would have reacted the same no matter who was buying up two hundred acres in their midst and putting up a house and barn and expecting to farm the place and make a living out of it. That he was one of the Lloyd Joneses, Anna’s boy, the nephew of James and Jenkin and the rest, cut him no slack. If anything, it made matters worse because they were going to hold him to a higher standard—he could see it in their eyes as he squired one hidebound old Welsh farmer after another round the place, explaining as patiently as he could the theory behind the design and painting the hills full of orchards and gardens and pastures. And what did they have to say once he’d walked them through the place and expended all the breath he could draw? “Awful big for just your mother, ain’t it?” And: “Must be costin’ a fortune.”
Snooping. Endless snooping. He was a public figure and this was a public undertaking, no matter how much he tried to keep it quiet. The workmen went home to their wives at night. They talked at the lumberyard, at the quarry, at the feed store, the grocer’s and the church. The truth was that the whole community knew what he was up to whether he liked it or not and though no one mentioned Mamah—no one would dare—the rumor of her settled over the place in a vast glutinous web spun by every busybody in the county and all of them tugging simultaneously at the threads. It was only a matter of time before the first reporter came slinking around.
He happened to be beneath the house, in the basement room where the boiler would be set in place to provide hot water and steam heat for the winter, listening to the metronomic tap-tap-tap of Billy Weston’s hammer just above him and giving the place a final look-over, when the moment came. Footsteps on the floor. A man’s voice insinuating itself in the interregna between the beats of the hammer. “Hello, there . . . Say, hello!”
The hammer paused. “Yeah?”
“I’m just here to, well, I’m from the Trib. Name’s Adler. You work here, for Wright?”
“Well, it’s a pretty elaborate place, isn’t it? Kind of a bohemian design, wouldn’t you say? What would you call this, modern architecture, is that it?”
No response. Frank could hear the hammers of the other carpenters at work, a sound as multi-voiced and steady as a driving rain. There was the smell of the earth, of the stone, of boards fresh-cut.
“Seems like Wright has big plans for the place.” A pause. “He ever mention the Cheney woman?”
No response.
“But if he did, you wouldn’t tell me, would you?”
“Can’t say as I would.”
“Well, what’s it cost, you think? So far, I mean? Must be a pretty fair piece of change.” Silence. Banging aloft. “I don’t guess I’ve ever seen so much stone for one little house—or such a mob of workmen. You’d think he was building one of those Chicago skyscrapers here, wouldn’t you?”
“I wouldn’t think that, not especially.”
“What would you think then?”
There was another silence, then the steady beat of Billy Weston’s hammer, speaking for him: tap-tap, tap-tap-tap.
Frank never spoke with the man—no one did, as far as he knew. And if he found anybody opening his mouth—and he let them all know it, from Ben Davis and Johnnie Vaughn right on down to the casual laborers hired to haul things up the hill and fetch on demand—then that man would be looking for another job. No excuses. He expected loyalty, absolute and unwavering, and loyalty meant keeping your mouth shut, just like Billy Weston. Still—and it goaded him the way they goaded the Brahma bulls in the chute at the rodeo—the newspaper came out the next day with a page-one story under the header ARCHITECT WRIGHT BUILDING LOVE NEST FOR MRS. CHENEY.
It always amazed him how fast the days swept by when a job was going right, the mornings coming sweet and hot, the sun arching overhead by degrees to bake them all the color of mulattoes, thunderstorms rolling in of a late afternoon to drench the studs and make soup of the earth and all the while the house fleshing out over its ribs and growing into the snug low roofs and cantilevered eaves that would hang thick with icicles once winter came. He’d never needed much sleep to sustain him—five or six hours a night and leave the rest to the slugabeds—and he found himself up at first light, pacing the hillside, getting the feel and the smell of the place, eager to get going and Sundays off a kind of deprivation. He listened to the crows, the jays, the orioles, bent to the earth and sifted it through his fingers, picturing the flower gardens he’d plant in the spring, the cherries and peaches and apples, asparagus, rhubarb, melons.
As often as not Billy Weston was there to greet him with a laconic “Mornin’,” his stoop-shouldered figure emerging from the mist of the fields, the cast gone now and his right arm tanning and strengthening under the sun, the tool belt dangling from his left hand and his hat cocked down over his spectacles. They talked quietly over coffee and fresh-baked rolls until the others began to file in—or he talked and Billy listened—and it was the best sort of talk, the kind that freed his mind to see, and it wasn’t long before Billy began to see too. Taliesin was rising and it wasn’t just for him and his mother and Mamah but for Billy and all the rest of the community, a thing of beauty that would tip the balance sheet of the great buildings of the world and make people line up and marvel for years to come. He looked out over the misted fields and felt his own genius wrap round him like a cloak. He was the world’s greatest architect. He was.158
The major part of the exterior was finished—or at least as finished as it was going to be for a work in progress—by the time Mamah’s divorce came through at the end of the first week of August. The roof was up, the shinglers pounding away. The two Billys climbed like monkeys. The men shouted and joked and Johnnie Vaughn kept up a running patter over the curses of Ben Davis down below. Somebody produced the newspaper, which he declined even to glance at—more lies, innuendo, character assassination—and he had a few round things to say about the press at lunch that noon to the amusement of Billy Weston and some of the others, but after everyone had gone home he couldn’t help unfolding the thing and at least taking in the page at a glance. And there was Mamah, in profile, with some sort of amateurish Valentine’s heart sketched into the upper corner of the photo above a cameo of Edwin with his drawn mouth and scalped bulbous head. Her Spiritual Hegira Ends in His Divorce, the article announced, and then went on with all the authority of a blind seer to assure the diligent and disinterested reader that Mamah’s “affinity” had grown tired of her even as he’d vindicated his wife’s faith in him and returned happily to the bosom of his family.
He took dinner that night at Tan-y-deri with his sister and he never mentioned a word about it, nor did she. Dinner was exceptionally good and Jennie was good too—good company—and her husband, Andrew, as well, the conversation leapfrogging delightfully from one subject to another, just the way he loved it, repartee, thesis and antithesis, easy smiles and strong opinions, and the view of Taliesin on the ridge opposite was as fine a thing as he’d ever seen. But the newspaper was claptrap and the thought of it flared inside him like a bout of heartburn and he wanted to thrash the men who made their living sorting through people’s dirty laundry, these so-called journalists, because they were nothing more than panders. The cretins. They knew nothing and never would.
The painful thing was the thought of what it did to Mamah and her reputation—or whatever they’d left of it intact. Bad enough that they should drag her through the mud over her divorce, but to make it seem as if she’d been nothing more than a passing fancy to him was just plain cruel. And false, false to the core. For a moment, sitting there on the porch of Jennie’s place and looking out over the hills draped in shadow, he entertained the idea of hiring an attorney—one of these real balls of fire—and suing them for defamation. Let them crawl to him. Let them writhe and suffer and wring their hands. Let them print a retraction, tell the truth for a change. Of course, Mamah insisted that it meant nothing to her, that she—and he—stood so far above the gossipmongers it was as if they didn’t exist at all, but still he could hear the hurt and uncertainty in her voice when they spoke on the telephone on a line open all the way to Chicago. (And if the mighty men of the press were so prescient and all-seeing, how could they not have known she was there, a mere two hundred miles from him? Being discreet. And private. And biding her time.)
Three weeks later he left Taliesin and went into Chicago in the roadster, alone, maneuvering round the streets as inconspicuously as he could, given the coloration of the automobile and the way the tires seemed to cry out in surprise every time he negotiated a turn. He’d tried to dress inconspicuously as well, leaving the cape and jodhpurs at home and selecting the sort of narrow-brimmed hat and constricting tie he imagined any American Joe would have worn to a baseball game or fireworks display, but still he glanced round guiltily every time he had to stop for a pedestrian and twice he reversed direction for fear he was being followed. Eventually, after a series of evasive moves, he found his way to a nameless little boardinghouse where he was certain no one would recognize him—or the former Mrs. Cheney, who was registered there under her maiden name.
The street was all but deserted. A big soapy white cloud danced over the roof, sparrows clung to various appurtenances and a pair of rubber plants peeped out from behind the ground-floor windowpanes. If the house itself was a tricked-out eyesore that should have gone down in the great fire and the world a better place for it, he didn’t care about that, not today. He even whistled a little song to himself as he went up the walk, and he was the most discreet and innocuous man alive as he loaded her bags into the car, escorted her out the door and settled her into the seat beside him. Then he put the machine in gear and drove with elaborate care through the familiar grid of streets, as restrained and circumspect as a judge—until he reached the city limits, that is, when he opened the throttle wide and let the Yellow Devil live up to its reputation all the way back to Wisconsin.


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Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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