I stayed with the Clarion another two years, until I was just over twenty-one, and by then I was getting offers from the Nationals, from the Express and the Mail, and it seemed to me it was time to get out of S.W.3 and into the world. I was still living with Susan. She had got a job with the Foreign Office in something called “Communications,” about which she was very secretive, and she had a boy-friend from the same department, and I knew it wouldn’t be long before they got engaged and she would want the whole flat. My own private life was a vacuum-a business of drifting friendships and semi-flirtations from which I always recoiled, and I was in danger of becoming a hard, if successful, little career girl, smoking too many cigarettes and drinking too many vodkas and tonics and eating alone out of tins. My gods, or rather goddesses (Katharine Whitehorne and Penelope Gilliatt were outside my orbit), were Drusilla Beyfus, Veronica Papworth, Jean Campbell, Shirley Lord, Barbara Griggs, and Anne Sharpley-the top women journalists-and I only wanted to be as
good as any of them and nothing else in the world.
And then, at a press show in aid of a Baroque Festival in Munich, I met Kurt Rainer of the V.W.Z.
Five: A Bird With a Wing Down
THE rain was still crashing down, its violence unchanged. The eight-o’clock news continued its talk of havoc and disaster-a multiple crash on Route 9, railway tracks flooded at Schenectady, traffic at a standstill in Troy, heavy rain likely to continue for several hours. American life is completely dislocated by storms and snow and hurricanes. When American automobiles can’t move, life comes to a halt, and when their famous schedules can’t be met they panic and go into a kind of paroxysm of frustration, besieging railway stations, jamming the long-distance wires, keeping their radios permanently switched on for any crumb of comfort. I could imagine
the chaos on the roads and in the cities, and I hugged my cozy solitude to me.
My drink was nearly dead. I kept it just alive with some more ice cubes, lit another cigarette, and settled down again in my chair while a disk jockey announced half an hour of Dixieland jazz.
Kurt hadn’t liked jazz. He thought it decadent. He also stopped me smoking and drinking and using lipstick, and life became a serious business of art galleries and concerts and lecture halls. As a contrast to my meaningless, rather empty life, it was a welcome change and I dare say the diet of Teutonism appealed to the rather heavy seriousness that underlies the Canadian character.
V.W.Z., the Verband Westdeutscher Zeitungen, was an independent news agency financed by a cooperative of West German newspapers rather on the lines of Reuter’s. Kurt Rainer was its first representative in London and when I met him he was on the lookout for an English Number Two to read the papers and weeklies for items of German interest while he did the high-level diplomatic stuff and covered outside assignments. He took me out to dinner that night, to Schmidt’s in Charlotte Street, and was rather charmingly serious about the importance of his job and how much it might mean for Anglo-German relationships. He was a powerfully built, outdoor type of young man whose bright fair hair and candid blue eyes made him look younger than his thirty years. He told me that he came from Augsburg, near Munich, and that he was an only child of parents who were both doctors and had both been rescued from a concentration camp by the Americans. They had been informed on and arrested for listening to the Allied radio and for preventing young Kurt from joining the Hitler Youth Movement. He had been educated at Munich High School and at the University, and had then gone into journalism, graduating to Die Welt, the leading West German newspaper, from which he had been chosen for this London job because of his good English. He asked me what I did, and the next day I went round to his two-room office in Chancery Lane and showed him some of my work. With typical thoroughness he had already checked up on me through friends at the Press Club, and a week later I found myself installed in the room next to his with the P.A./Reuter and the Exchange Telegraph tickers chattering beside my desk. My salary was wonderful-thirty pounds a week- and I soon got to love the work, particularly operating the Telex with our Zentrale in Hamburg, and the twice-daily rush to catch the morning and evening deadlines of the German papers. My lack of German was only a slight handicap, for, apart from Kurt’s copy, which he put over by telephone, all my stuff went over the Telex in English and was translated at the other end, and the Telex operators in Hamburg had enough English to chatter with me when I was on the machine. It was rather a mechanical job, but you had to be quick and accurate and it was fun judging the success or failure of what I sent by the German cuttings that came in a few days later. Soon Kurt had enough confidence to leave me alone in charge of the office, and there were exciting little emergencies I had to handle by myself with the thrill of knowing that twenty editors in Germany were depending on me to be fast and right. It all seemed so much more important and responsible than the parochial trivialities of the Clarion, and I enjoyed the authority of Kurt’s directions and decisions, combined with the constant smell of urgency that goes with news agency work.
In due course Susan got married and I moved out to furnished rooms in Bloomsbury Square in the same building as Kurt. I had wondered if this was a good idea, but he was so korrekt and our relationship was so kameradschaftlich-words which he constantly employed about social situations-that I thought I was being at least adequately sensible. It was very silly of me. Apart from the fact that Kurt probably misunderstood my easy acceptance of his suggestion that I find a place in his building, it now became natural that we should walk home together from the nearby office. Dinners together became more frequent and, later, to spare the expense, he would bring his gramophone up to my sitting-room and I would cook something for both of us. Of course, I saw the danger and I invented several friends to spend the evening with. But this meant sitting by myself in some cinema after a lonely meal with all the nuisance of men trying to pick one up. And Kurt remained so korrekt and our relationship on such a straightforward and even highminded level that my apprehensions came to seem idiotic, and more and more I accepted a comradely way of life that seemed not only totally respectable but also adult in the modern fashion. I was all the more confident because, after about three months of this peaceful existence, Kurt, on his return from a visit to Germany, told me that he had become engaged. She was a childhood friend called Trude and, from all he told me, they were ideally suited. She was the daughter of a Heidelberg professor of philosophy, and the placid eyes that stared out of the snapshots he showed me, and the gleaming braided hair and trim dirndl, were a living advertisement for “Kinder, Kirche, Kьche.”
Kurt involved me closely in the whole affair, translating Trade’s letters to me, discussing the number of children they would have, and asking my advice on the decoration of the flat they planned to buy in Hamburg when he had finished his three years’ stint in London and had saved enough money for marriage. I became a sort of universal aunt to the two of them, and I would have found the role ridiculous if it hadn’t all seemed quite natural and rather fun-like having two big dolls to play at “weddings” with. Kurt had even planned their sex life minutely and the details, which he insisted, rather perversely, on sharing with me, were at first embarrassing and then, because he was so clinical about the whole subject, highly educative. On the honeymoon in Venice (all Germans go to Italy for their honeymoons) they would of course do it every night because, Kurt said, it was most important that “the act” should be technically perfect and, to achieve this, much practice was necessary. To this end, they would have a light dinner, because a full stomach was not desirable, and they would retire not later than eleven o’clock because it was important to have at least eight hours’ sleep “to recharge the batteries.” Trade, he said, was unawakened and inclined to be kьhl sexually, while he was of a passionate temperament. So there would have to be much preliminary sex-play to bring the curve of her passion up to his. This would need restraint on his part, and in this matter he would have to be firm with himself, for, as he told me, it was essential to a happy marriage that the climax should be reached simultaneously by the partners. Only thus could the thrilling summits of Ekstase become the equal property of both. After the honeymoon they would 湖南长沙桑拿论坛 sleep together on Wednesdays and Saturdays. To do it more often would weaken his “batteries” and might reduce his efficiency at the Bьro. All this Kurt illustrated with a wealth of most explicit scientific words and even with diagrams and drawings done on the tablecloth with a fork. The lectures, for such they were, convinced me that Kurt was a lover of quite exceptional finesse, and I admit I was fascinated and rather envious of the well-regulated and thoroughly hygienic delights that were being prepared for Trude. There were many nights when I longed for these experiences to be mine, and for someone to play upon me also like, as Kurt put it, “a great violinist playing upon his instrument.” And it was inevitable, I suppose, that in my dreams it was Kurt who came to me in that role-so safe, so gentle, so deeply understanding 长沙桑拿可以选 of a woman’s physical needs.
The months passed, and gradually the tone and frequency of Trude’s letters began to change. It was I who noticed it first, but I said nothing. There were more frequent and sharper complaints about the length of the waiting period, the tender passages became more perfunctory, and the pleasures of a summer holiday on the Tegernsee, where Trude had met up with a “happy group,” after a first ecstatic description, were, significantly, I thought, not mentioned again. And then, after three weeks of silence from Trude, Kurt came up to my rooms one evening, his face pale and wet with tears. I was lying on the sofa, reading, and he fell on his knees beside me and buried his head on my breast. It was all over, he said between sobs. She had met another man, at the Tegernsee of course, a doctor from Munich, a 长沙桑拿预约 widower. He had proposed to her and she had accepted. It had been love at first sight. Kurt must understand that such a thing only happened once in a girl’s lifetime. He must forgive her and forget her. She was not good enough for him. (Ah! That shabby phrase again!) They must remain honorable friends. The marriage was to take place next month. Kurt must try and wish her well. Farewell, your abject Trude.
Kurt’s arms were round me and he was holding me desperately. “Now I have only you,” he said through his sobs. “You must be kind. You must give me comfort.”
I smoothed his hair as maternally as I could, wondering how to escape from his embrace, yet at the same time being melted by the despair of this strong man and by his dependence on me. I tried to make my voice sound matter-of-fact. “Well, if you ask me, it was a lucky 长沙桑拿场子推荐 escape. Any girl as changeable as that would not have made you a good wife. There are many other better girls in Germany. Come on, Kurt,” I struggled to sit up. “We’ll go out to dinner and a cinema. It will take your mind off things. It’s no good crying over spilt milk. Come on!” I freed myself rather breathlessly and we both got to our feet.
Kurt hung his head. “Ah, but you are good to me, Viv. You are a real friend in need-eine echte Kameradin. And you are right. I must not behave like a weakling. You will be ashamed of me. And that I could not bear.” He gave me a tortured smile and went to the door and let himself out.
Only two weeks later we were lovers. It was somehow inevitable. I had half known it would be, and I did nothing to dodge my fate. I was not in love with him, and yet we had grown so close in so many other ways that the next step of sleeping together was bound, inexorably, to follow. The details were really quite dull. The occasional friendly kiss on the cheek, as if to a sister, came by degrees closer to my mouth and one day was on it. There was a pause in the campaign while I came to take this kind of kiss for granted, then came the soft assault on my breasts and then on my body, all so pleasurable, so calm, so lacking in drama, and then, one evening in my sitting-room, the slow stripping of my body “because I must see how beautiful you are,” the feeble, almost languorous protests, and then the scientific operation that had been prepared for Trude. And how delicious it was, in the wonderful privacy of my own room! How safe, how unhurried, how reassuring the precautions! And how strong and gentle Kurt was, and, of all things to associate with love-making, how divinely polite! A single flower after each time, the room tidied after each passionate ecstasy, studious correctness in the office and before other people, never a rough or even a dirty word-it was like a series of exquisite operations by a surgeon with the best bedside manners in the world. Of course, it was all rather impersonal. But I liked that. It was sex without involvement or danger, a delicious heightening of the day’s routine which each time left me sleek and glowing like a pampered cat.
I might have realized, or at any rate guessed, that, at least among amateur women as opposed to prostitutes, there is no physical love without emotional involvement-over a long period, that is. Physical intimacy is halfway to love, and enslavement is much of the other half. Admittedly my mind and much of my instincts didn’t enter into our relationship. They remained dormant, happily dormant. But my days and my nights were so full of this man, I was so dependent on him for so much of the twenty-four hours, that it would have been almost inhuman not to have fallen into some sort of love with him. I kept on telling myself that he was humorless, impersonal, un-funloving, wooden, and, finally, most excessively German, but that didn’t alter the fact that I listened for his step on the stairs, worshiped the warmth and authority of his body, and was happy at all times to cook and mend and work for him. I admitted to myself that I was becoming a vegetable, a docile Hausfrau, walking, in my mind, six paces behind him on the street like some native bearer, but I also had to admit that I was happy, contented, and carefree, and that I didn’t really yearn for any other kind of life. There were moments when I wanted to break out of the douce, ordered cycle of the days, shout and sing and generally create hell, but I told myself that these impulses were basically antisocial, unfeminine, chaotic, and psychologically unbalanced. Kurt had made me understand these things. For him, symmetry, the even tempo, the right thing in the right place, the calm voice, the measured opinion, love on Wednesdays and Saturdays (after a light dinner!) were the way to happiness and away from what he described as “The Anarchic Syndrome”-i.e., smoking and drinking, phenobarbital, jazz, promiscuous sleeping-about, fast cars, slimming, Negroes and their new republics, homosexuality, the abolition of the death penalty, and a host of other deviations from what he described as Naturmenschlichkeit, or, in more words but shorter ones, a way of life more like the ants and the bees. Well, that was all right with me. I had been brought up to the simple life and I was very happy to be back in it after my brief taste of the rackety round of Chelsea pubs and gimcrack journalism, not to mention my drama-fraught affair with Derek, and I did quietly fall into some sort of love with Kurt.
And then, inevitably, it happened.
Soon after we started making regular love, Kurt had steered me toward a reliable woman doctor who gave me a homely lecture about contraception and fixed me up. But she warned that even these precautions could go wrong. And they did. At first, hoping for the best, I said nothing to Kurt, but then, from many motives-not wanting to carry the secret alone, the faint hope that he might be pleased and ask me to marry him, and a genuine fear about my condition-I told him. I had no idea what his reaction might be, but of course I expected tenderness, sympathy, and at least a show of love. We were standing by the door of my bedroom, preparatory to saying good night. I hadn’t a stitch of clothes on, while he was fully dressed. When 1 had finished telling him, he quietly disengaged my arms from round his neck, looked my body up and down with what I can only call a mixture of anger and contempt, and reached for the door handle. Then he looked me coldly in the eyes, said very softly, “So?” and walked out of the room and shut the door quietly behind him.
. I went and sat down on the edge of my bed and stared at the wall. What had I done? What had I said wrong? What did Kurt’s behavior mean? Then, weak with foreboding, I got into bed and cried myself to sleep.
I was right to cry. The next morning, when I called for him downstairs for our usual walk to the office, he had already gone out. When I got to the office, the communicating door with mine was closed, and when, after a quarter of an hour or so, he opened the door and said we must have a talk, his face was icily cold. I went into his office and sat down with the desk between us: an employee being interviewed by the boss-being sacked, as it turned out.
The burden of his speech, delivered in matter-of-fact, impersonal tones, was this. In a comradely liaison such as we had enjoyed, and it had indeed been most enjoyable, it was essential that matters should run smoothly, in an orderly fashion. We had been (yes, “had been”) good friends, but I would agree that there had never been any talk of marriage, of anything more permanent than a satisfactory understanding between comrades (that word again!). It had indeed been a most pleasant relationship, but now, through the fault of one of the partners (me alone, I suppose!), this had happened, and now a radical solution must be found for a problem that contained elements of embarrassment and even of danger for our life-paths. Marriage-alas, for he had an excellent opinion of my qualities and above all of my physical beauty-was out of the question. Apart from other considerations, he had inherited strong views about mixed blood (Heil Hitler!) and when he married, it would be into the Teutonic strain. Accordingly, and with sincere regret, he had come to certain decisions. The most important was that I must have an immediate operation. Three months was already a dangerous delay. This would be a simple matter. I would fly to Zьrich and stay at one of the hotels near the Hauptbahnhof. Any taxi driver would take me there from the airport. I would ask the concierge for the name of the hotel doctor-there were excellent doctors in Zьrich- and I would consult him. He would understand the situation. All Swiss doctors did. He would suggest that my blood pressure was too high or too low, or that my nerves were not in a fit state to support the strain of childbirth. He would speak to a gynecologist-there were superb gynecologists in Zьrich-and I would visit this man, who would confirm what the doctor had said and sign a paper to that effect. The gynecologist would make a reservation at a clinic, and the whole matter would be solved inside a week. There would be complete discretion. The procedure was perfectly legal in Switzerland, and I would not even have to show my passport. I could give any name I chose-a married name, naturally. The cost would, however, be high. Perhaps as much as one hundred, or even one hundred and fifty pounds. That also he had seen to. He reached into the drawer of his desk, took out an envelope, and slid it across the table. It would be reasonable, after nearly two years’ excellent service, for me to receive one month’s salary in lieu of notice. That was one hundred and twenty pounds. Out of his own pocket he had taken the liberty of adding fifty pounds to cover the air fare, tourist class, and leave something over for emergencies. The whole sum was in Reichsmarks to avoid any problem over the exchange.
Kurt smiled tentatively, waiting for my thanks and congratulations for his efficiency and generosity. He must have been put out by the expression of blank horror on my face, because he hurried on. Above all, I must not worry. These unfortunate things happened in life. They were painful and untidy. He himself was most distressed that so happy a relationship, one of the happiest in his experience, should come to an end. As, alas, it had to. He added finally that he hoped I understood.
I nodded and got to my feet. I picked up the envelope, took one last look at the golden hair, the mouth I had loved, the strong shoulders, and, feeling the tears coming, I walked quickly out of the room and shut the door softly behind me.
Before 1 met Kurt, I had been a bird with a wing down. Now I had been shot in the other.
Six: Go West, Young Woman
AT the end of August, when all this happened, Zьrich was as gay as this sullen city can be. The clear, glacier water of the lake was bright with sailing-boats and water skiers, the public beaches were thronged with golden bathers, and the glum Bahnhofplatz, and the Bahnhofstrasse that is the pride of the town, clattered with ruck-sacked Jugend who had business with the mountains. The healthy, well-ordered carnival atmosphere rasped on my raw nerves and filled my sick heart with mixed anguish. This was the Kurt’s-eye view of life-Naturfreude, the simple existence of simple animals. He and I had shared such a life, and on the surface it had been good. But blond hair and clear eyes and sunburn are no thicker than the paint on a woman’s face. They are just another kind of gloss. A trite reflection, of course, but I had now been let down both by the worldliness of Derek and by the homespun of Kurt, and I was prepared to lose confidence in every man. It wasn’t that I had expected Kurt to marry me, or Derek. I had just expected them to be kind and to behave like that idiotic word “gentlemen”-to be gentle with me, as I, I thought, had been gentle with them. That, of course, had been the trouble. I had been too gentle, too accommodating. I had had the desire to please (and to take pleasure, but that had been secondary), and that had marked me as easy meat, expendable. Well, that was the end of that! From now on I would take and not give. The world had shown me its teeth. I would show mine. I had been wet behind the ears. Now I was dry. I stuck my chin out like a good little Canadian (well, a fairly good little Canadian!), and, having learned to take it, decided for a change to dish it out.
The business of my abortion, not to mince words, was good training for my new role. The concierge at my hotel looked at me with the world-weary eyes of all concierges and said that the hotel doctor was on holiday but that there was another who was equally proficient. (Did he know? Did he guess?) Dr. Sьsskind examined me and asked if I had enough money. When I said I had, he seemed disappointed. The gynecologist was more explicit. It seemed that he had a chalet. Hotels in Zьrich were so expensive. Would I not care to have a period of rest before the operation? I looked at him with stony eyes and said that the British Consul, who was my uncle, had invited me to recuperate with his family and I would be glad if I could enter the clinic without any delay. It was he who had recommended Dr. Sьsskind. No doubt Herr Doktor Braunschweig knew the Consul?
My hocus-pocus was just good enough. It had been delivered with my new decisive manner, and the gambit had been thought out beforehand. The bifocals registered shock. There were coolly fervent explanations and a hasty telephone call to the clinic. Yes, indeed. Tomorrow afternoon. Just with my overnight things.
It was as mentally distressing but as physically painless as I had expected, and three days later I was back in my hotel. My mind was made up. I flew back to England, stayed at the new circular Ariel Hotel near London Airport until I had got rid of my few small belongings and paid my bills, and then I made an appointment with the nearest Vespa dealer, in Hammersmith, and went to see him.
My plan was to go off on my own, for at least a year, and see the other half of the world. I had had London. Life there had hit me with a hard left and right, and I was groggy on my feet. I decided that I just didn’t belong to the place. I didn’t understand Derek’s sophisticated world, and I didn’t know how to manage the clinical, cold-eyed, modern “love” that Kurt had offered me. I told myself that it was because I had too much “heart.” Neither of these men had wanted my heart; they had just wanted my body. The fact that I fell back on this age-old moan of the discarded woman to explain my failure to hold either of these men, was, I later decided, a more important clue to my failure than this business of “heart.” The truth of the matter was that I was just too simple to survive in the big-town jungle. I was easy prey for the predators. I was altogether too “Canadian” to compete with Europe. So be it! I was simple, so I would go back to the simple lands. But not to sit and mope and vegetate. I would go there to explore, to adventure. I would follow the fall right down through America, working my way as waitress, baby-sitter, receptionist, until I got to Florida, and there I would get a job on a newspaper and sit in the sunshine until the spring. And then I would think again.
Once I had made up my mind, the details of my plan absorbed me, driving out my misery, or at least keeping it at bay, and anesthetizing my sense of sin and shame and failure. I went to the American Automobile Association in Pall Mall, joined it and got the maps I needed, and talked to them about transport. The prices of secondhand cars in America were too high, as were the running costs, and I suddenly fell in love with the idea of a motor scooter. At first it seemed ridiculous, the idea of taking on the great transcontinental highways with such a tiny machine, but the thought of being out in the open air, doing around a hundred miles to the gallon, not having to worry about garages, traveling light and, let’s admit it, being something of a sensation wherever I went, made up my mind, and the Hammersmith dealer did the rest.
I knew something about machinery-every North American child is brought up with motor cars-and I weighed up the attractions of the little 125-c.c. model and of the sturdier, faster 150-c.c. Gran Sport. Of course, I plumped for the sporty one with its marvelous acceleration and a top speed of nearly sixty. It would only do around eighty miles to the gallon, compared with the smaller one’s hundred, but I told myself that gas was cheap in America and that I must have the speed or I would take months to get south. The dealer was enthusiastic. He pointed out that in bad weather, or if I got tired, I could just put the thing on a train for a stretch. He could get about thirty pounds’ purchase tax off the price of one hundred and ninety pounds by delivering it to a ship that would get it over to Canada in ten days. That would give me extra money to spend on spares and deluxe accessories. I didn’t need any pressuring. We did one or two runs up and down the bypass, with the dealer sitting on the back, and the Vespa went like a bird and was as easy to drive as a bicycle. So I signed up for it, bought a leopard-skin cover for the seat and spare wheel, racy-looking deluxe wheel-trims, a rear mirror, a luggage rack, white saddlebags that went beautifully with the silver finish of the body, a Perspex sports windscreen, and a white crash helmet that made me feel like Pat Moss. The dealer gave me some good ideas about clothes, and I went to a store and bought white overalls with plenty of zips, some big goggles with soft fur round the edges, and a rather dashing pair of lined black kid motorcycling gloves. After this I sat down in my hotel with the maps and planned my route for the first stage down from Quebec. Then I booked myself on the cheapest Trans-Canada flight to Montreal, cabled Aunt Florence, and, on a beautiful first-of-September morning, I was off.
It was strange and lovely to be back after nearly six years. My aunt said she could hardly recognize me, and I was certainly surprised by Quebec. When I had left it, the fortress had seemed vast and majestic. Now it seemed like a large toy edifice out of Disneyland. Where it had been awesome, I found, irreverently, that it looked made out of papier-mвchй. And the giant battles between the faiths, in which I had once thought myself to be on the point of being crushed, and the deep schisms between the Canadiennes and the rest, were now reduced, with my new perspective, to parish-pump squabbling. Half ashamed, I found myself contemptuous of the screaming provincialism of the town, of the dowdy peasants who lived in it, and of the all-pervading fog of snobbery and petit bourgeoisie. No wonder, a child of all this, that I had been ill equipped for the great world outside! The marvel was that I had survived at all.
I was careful to keep these thoughts from my aunt, though 1 suspect that she was just as startled and perhaps shocked by the gloss that my “finishing” in Europe had achieved. She must have found me very much the town mouse, however gangling and simple I might feel inside, and she plied me with questions to discover how the gloss went, how much I had been sullied by the fast life I must have led. She would have fainted at the truth, and I was careful to say that, while there had been flirtations, I had returned unharmed and heart-whole from the scarlet cities across the water. No, there had not even been a temporary engagement. No lord, not even a commoner, I could truthfully say, had proposed to me, and I had left no boy-friend behind. I don’t think she believed this. She was complimentary about my looks. I had become “une belle fille.” It seemed that I had developed “beaucoup de tempйrament”-a French euphemism for “sex appeal”-or at any rate the appearance of it, and it seemed incredible to her that at twenty-three there was no man in my life. She was horrified at my plans and painted a doomful picture of the dangers that awaited me on the road. America was full of gangsters. I would be knocked down on the highway and “ravagйe.” Anyway it was unladylike to travel on a scooter. She hoped that I would be careful to ride sidesaddle. I explained that my Vespa was a most respectable machine and, when I went to Montreal and, thrilling with every mile, rode it back to the house, in my full regalia, she was slightly mollified, while commenting dubiously that I would “faire sensation.”
And then, on September the fifteenth, I drew a thousand dollars in American Express travelers’ checks from my small bank balance, scientifically packed my saddlebags with what I thought would be a minimum wardrobe, kissed Aunt Florence good-by, and set off down the Saint Lawrence on Route 2.
Route 2 from Quebec southward to Montreal could be one of the most beautiful roads in the world if it weren’t for the clutter of villas and bathing huts that have mushroomed along it since the war. It follows the great river exactly, clinging to the north bank, and I knew it well from bathing picnics as a child. But the Saint Lawrence Seaway had been opened since then, and the steady stream of big ships with their thudding engines and haunting sirens and whistles were a new thrill.
The Vespa hummed happily along at about forty. I had decided to stick to an average daily run of between a hundred and fifty and two hundred miles, or about six hours’ actual driving, but I had no intention of being bound by any schedule. I wanted to see everything. If there was an intriguing side road, I would go up it, and, if I came to a beautiful or interesting place, I would stop and look at it.
A good invention in Canada and the northern part of the States is the “picnic area”-clearings carved out of the forest or beside a lake or river, with plenty of isolated rough-hewn benches and tables tucked away among the trees for privacy. I proposed to use these for luncheon every day when it wasn’t raining, not buying expensive foods at stores, but making egg-and-bacon sandwiches on toast before I left each night’s motel. They, with fruit and a Thermos of coffee, would be my midday meal and I would make up each evening with a good dinner. I budgeted for a daily expenditure of fifteen dollars. Most motels cost eight dollars single, but there are state taxes added, so I made it nine plus coffee and a roll for breakfast. Gas would not be more than a dollar a day, and that left five for luncheon and dinner, an occasional drink, and the few cigarettes I smoked. I wanted to try and keep inside this. The Esso map and route I had, and the A.A.A. literature, listed countless sights to see after I had crossed the border-I would be going right through the Indian country of Fennimore Cooper, and then across some of the great battlefields of the American Revolution, for instance-and many of them cost around a dollar entrance fee. But I thought I would get by, and if on some days I didn’t, I would eat less on others.
The Vespa was far more stable than I had expected and wonderfully easy to run. As I got better at the twist-grip gears, I began really to drive the little machine instead of just riding on it. The acceleration-up to fifty in twenty seconds-was good enough to give the ordinary American sedan quite a shock, and I soared up hills like a bird with the exhaust purring sweetly under my tail. Of course I had to put up with a good deal of wolf-whistling from the young, and grinning and handwaving from the old, but I’m afraid I rather enjoyed being something of the sensation my aunt had predicted, and I smiled with varying sweetness at all and sundry. The shoulders of most North American roads are bad, and I had been afraid that people would crowd my tiny machine and that I would be in constant trouble with potholes, but I suppose I looked such a fragile little outfit that other drivers gave me a wide berth, and I usually had the whole of the inside lane of the highway to myself.
Things went so well that first day that I managed to get through Montreal before nightfall and twenty miles on down Route 9 that would take me over the border into New York State the next morning. I put up at a place called The Southern Trail Motel, where I was treated as if I was Amelia Earhart or Amy Mollison-a rather pleasurable routine that I became accustomed to-and, after a square meal in the cafeteria and the shy acceptance of one drink with the proprietor, I retired to bed feeling excited and happy. It had been a long and wonderful day. The Vespa was a dream, and my whole plan was working out fine.
I had taken one day to do the first two hundred miles. I took nearly two weeks to cover the next two hundred and fifty. There was no mystery about it. Once over the American border, I began to wander around the Adirondacks as if I was on a late summer holiday. I won’t go into details since this is not a travelogue, but there was hardly an old fort, museum, waterfall, cave, or high mountain I didn’t visit-not to mention the dreadful “Storylands,” “Adventure Towns,” and mock “Indian Reservations” that got my dollar. I just went on a kind of sightseeing splurge that was part genuine curiosity but mostly wanting to put off the day when I would have to leave these lakes and rivers and forests and hurry on south to the harsh Eldollarado of the superhighways, the hot-dog stands, and the ribboning lights of neon.
It was at the end of these two weeks that I found myself at Lake George, the dreadful hub of tourism in the Adirondacks that has somehow managed to turn the history and the forests and the wildlife into honkytonk. Apart from the rather imposing stockade fort and the harmless steamers that ply up to Fort Ticonderoga and back, the rest is a gimcrack nightmare of concrete gnomes, Bambi deer and toadstools, shoddy food stalls selling “Big Chief Hamburgers” and “Minnehaha Candy Floss,” and “Attractions” such as “Animal Land” (“Visitors may hold and photograph costumed chimps”), “Gaslight Village” (“Genuine 1890 gas-lighting), and “Storytown USA ” a terrifying babyland nightmare which I need not describe. It was here that I fled away from the horrible mainstream that Route 9 had become, and took to the dusty side road through the forest that was to lead me to The Dreamy Pines Motor Court and to the armchair where i have been sitting remembering just exactly how I happened to get here.
Part Two: Them Seven: “Come into My Parlor…”
THE rain was hammering down just as hard, its steady roar providing a background to the gurgling torrents from the downspouts at the four corners of the building. I looked forward to bed. How soundly I would sleep between the sheets in the spotless little cabin-those percale sheets that featured in the advertisements for the motel! How luxurious the Elliott Frey beds, Magee custom-designed carpets, Philco television and air-conditioning, Icemagic ice-makers, Acrilan blankets and Simmons Vivant furniture. (“Our phenolic laminate tops and drawers are immune to cigarette burns, alcohol stains”)-in fact all these refinements of modern motel luxury down to Acrylite shower enclosures, Olsonite Pearlescent toilet seats, and Delsey “bathroom tissue,” otherwise toilet paper (“in modern colors to harmonize with contemporary decor”) that would be mine, and mine alone, tonight!
Despite all these gracious trimmings, plus a beautiful site, it seemed that The Dreamy Pines was in a bad way, and, when I had come upon it two weeks before, there were only two overnighters in the whole place and not a single reservation for the last fortnight of the season.
Mrs. Phancey, an iron-gray woman with bitter, mistrustful eyes and a grim slit of a mouth, was at the desk when I came in that evening. She had looked sharply at me, a lone girl, and at my meager saddlebags, and, when I pushed the Vespa over to Number 9, she followed me with my card in her hand to check that I had not entered a false vehicle license. Her husband, Jed, was more genial, but I soon understood why when the back of his hand brushed against my breast as, later in the cafeteria, he put the coffee in front of me. Apparently he doubled as handyman and short-order cook and, while his pale brown eyes moved over me like slugs, he complained whiningly about how much there was to do around the place getting it ready for closing date and constantly being called away from some job to fry eggs for parties of transients. It seemed they were the managers for the owner. He lived in Troy. A Mr. Sanguinetti. “Big shot. Owns plenty property down on Cohoes Road. Riverfront property. And the Trojan Horse-roadhouse on Route 9, outside Albany. Maybe you know the joint?” When I said I didn’t, Mr. Phancey looked sly. “You ever want some fun, you go along to The Horse. Better not go alone, though. Pretty gal like you could get herself roughed up. After the fifteenth, when I get away from here, you could give me a call. Phancey’s the name. In the phone book. Be glad to escort you, show you a good time.” I thanked him, but said I was just passing through the district on my way south. Could I have a couple of fried eggs, sunny-side up, and bacon?
But Mr. Phancey wouldn’t leave me alone. While I ate, he came and sat at my little table and told me some of his dull life-story and, in between episodes, slipped in questions about me and my plans-what parents I had, didn’t I mind being so far from home, did I have any friends in the States? and so on-innocuous questions, put, it seemed to me, with normal curiosity. He was after all around forty-five, old enough to be my father, and though he was obviously a duty old man, they were a common enough breed, and anyway Mrs. Phancey was keeping an eye on us from the desk at the other end of the room.