Artist: Lou Rogers

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Among the voices: The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold: A conversation piece by Evelyn Waugh (1957)



My Evelyn Waugh itinerary

The first Waugh novel I read, in 1982, was Brideshead Revisited (1945). I stayed home "sick" from high school two days to get the job done. I was inspired to take the plunge after watching the UK miniseries in PBS's Great Performances (introduced by that triumph of the embalmer's art, William F. Buckley Jr.)

I bought a few Waugh titles after that, but they remained unread at home while I left for the wide world.

At Christmas 1991 my first wife gave me every Waugh novel excerpt Pinfold and Helena. I read Decline and Fall, Vile Bodies, Scoop, Men At Arms, Officers and Gentlemen, and Unconditional Surrender before 1992 began. I sat every day at the left end of our living room sofa, reading and smoking Borkum-Riff in a meerschaum pipe while my partner read Marge Piercy and Margaret Atwood.

In the summer of 2004, after reading all Highsmith's Ripley novels and re-reading Gore Vidal's self-styled "Chronicles of Empire" heptalogy, I read The Loved One And re-read Vile Bodies.

In February 2017, tired of the anti-Trump hysteria dominating left/liberal political news and discussion, I returned to reading fiction and began a non-political blog.

By July 2017, I was back to Waugh. This time I began with the short stories, trying to limber-up and do my stretching. I then decided to tackle Pinfold, a very un-Waugh Waugh. 



Come and go mad

Pinfold is my age, fifty. Like me, he is feeling it.

Unhappy, restless, and zonked from over-indulgence in liquor and prescription and non-prescribed pills and “sleeping draughts,” he slowly loses touch with sanity.

Frigid winter weather sends him on a stupefied quest to Ceylon on a passenger ship, the Caliban . On the ship his physical aches and pains cease, but an endless series of aural hallucinations begin.

Pinfold thinks his cabin has been wired so that occupants are made unwilling eavesdroppers on horrific and scandalous events around the ship. And horrific they are: he hears the captain torture a seaman, and a gaggle of upper crust passengers conspiring against him.

Waugh subtitled the book “A conversation piece.” Pinfold only ever hears his enemies, and each chapter unfolds a conspiratorial plot entirely in dialogue.

Days and long, confused nights of the soul proceed. Pinfold tries interrogating actual passengers, leering and smiling at them knowingly while dining at the captain's table.

By the final chapter, Pinfold bests these enemies on his own terms, and begins to realize the psychological breakdown also had many characteristics of a spiritual battle. A spiritual battle in which his hard harsh faith gave him, in the end, the upper hand.

Normally my taste in shipboard horror runs to William Hope Hodgson or F. Marion Crawford's “The Upper Berth.” Waugh is giving me existential horror, to be sure. Horror piled on horror, reeking with the banality of everyday human madness.

I would not want to walk a mile in Gilbert Pinfold’s shoes. Or spend a week hallucinating on a cruise ship. But Pinfold's triumph thrilled me: his confidence in himself, at the crucial moment, risking his eternal soul.

Jay
16 July 2017

*

A few excerpts I highlighted on my e-reader:

Chapter One: Portrait of the Artist in Middle-Age
….His strongest tastes were negative. He abhorred plastics, Picasso, sunbathing, and jazz—everything in fact that had happened in his own lifetime. The tiny kindling of charity which came to him through his religion sufficed only to temper his disgust and change it to boredom. There was a phrase in the thirties: “It is later than you think,” which was designed to cause uneasiness. It was never later than Mr. Pinfold thought. At intervals during the day and night he would look at his watch and learn always with disappointment how little of his life was past, how much there was still ahead of him. He wished no one ill, but he looked at the world sub specie aeternitatis and he found it flat as a map; except when, rather often, personal annoyance intruded. Then he would come tumbling from his exalted point of observation. Shocked by a bad bottle of wine, an impertinent stranger, or a fault in syntax, his mind like a cinema camera trucked furiously forward to confront the offending object close-up with glaring lens; with the eyes of a drill sergeant inspecting an awkward squad, bulging with wrath that was half-facetious, and with half-simulated incredulity; like a drill sergeant he was absurd to many but to some rather formidable.

….Physically, in his late forties, he had become lazy. Time was, he rode to hounds, went for long walks, dug his garden, felled small trees. Now he spent most of the day in an armchair. He ate less, drank more, and grew corpulent. He was very seldom so ill as to spend a day in bed. He suffered intermittently from various twinges and brief bouts of pain in his joints and muscles—arthritis, gout, rheumatism, fibrositis; they were not dignified by any scientific name. Mr. Pinfold seldom consulted his doctor. When he did so it was as a “private patient.” His children availed themselves of the National Health Act but Mr. Pinfold was reluctant to disturb a relationship which had been formed in his first years at Lychpole. Dr. Drake, Mr. Pinfold’s medical attendant, had inherited the practice from his father and had been there before the Pinfolds came to Lychpole. Lean, horsy, and weather-beaten in appearance, he had deep roots and wide ramifications in the countryside, being brother of the local auctioneer, brother-in-law of the solicitor and cousin of three neighboring rectors. His recreations were sporting. He was not a man of high technical pretensions but he suited Mr. Pinfold well. He too suffered, more sharply, from Mr. Pinfold’s troubles and when consulted remarked that Mr. Pinfold must expect these things at his age, that the whole district was afflicted in this way and that Lychpole was notoriously the worst spot in it. Mr. Pinfold also slept badly. It was a trouble of long standing. For twenty-five years he had used various sedatives, for the last ten years a single specific, bromide and chloral which, unknown to Dr. Drake, he bought on an old prescription in London. There were periods of literary composition when he would find the sentences he had written during the day running in his head, the words shifting and changing color kaleidoscopically, so that he would again and again climb out of bed, pad down to the library, make a minute correction, return to his room, lie in the dark dazzled by the pattern of vocables until obliged once more to descend to the manuscript. But those days and nights of obsession, of what might without vainglory be called “creative” work, were a small part of his year. On most nights he was neither fretful nor apprehensive. He was merely bored. After even the idlest day he demanded six or seven hours of insensibility. With them behind him, with them to look forward to, he could face another idle day with something approaching jauntiness; and these his doses unfailingly provided.

Chapter Two: Collapse of Elderly Party
....Winter set in sharp at the end of October. The central-heating plant at Lychpole was ancient and voracious. It had not been used since the days of fuel shortage. With most of the children away at school Mr. and Mrs. Pinfold withdrew into two rooms, heaped the fires with such coal as they could procure, and sheltered from draughts behind screens and sandbags. Mr. Pinfold’s spirits sank, he began to talk of the West Indies and felt the need of longer periods of sleep.

The composition of his sleeping-draught, as originally prescribed, was largely of water. He suggested to his chemist that it would save trouble to have the essential ingredients in full strength and to dilute them himself. Their taste was bitter and after various experiments he found they were most palatable in crème de menthe. He was not scrupulous in measuring the dose. He splashed into the glass as much as his mood suggested and if he took too little and woke in the small hours he would get out of bed and make unsteadily for the bottles and a second swig. Thus he passed many hours in welcome unconsciousness; but all was not well with him. Whether from too much strong medicine or from some other cause, he felt decidedly seedy by the middle of November. He found himself disagreeably flushed, particularly after drinking his normal, not illiberal, quantity of wine and brandy. Crimson blotches appeared on the backs of his hands.

....The children’s holidays were a time when Mr. Pinfold felt a special need for unconsciousness at night and for stimulated geniality by day. Christmas was always the worst season. During that dread week he made copious use of wine and narcotics and his inflamed face shone like the florid squireens depicted in the cards that littered the house. Once catching sight of himself in the looking-glass, thus empurpled and wearing a paper crown, he took fright at what he saw.

....At length the holidays came to an end. Nuns and monks received their returning charges and Lychpole was left in peace save for rare intrusions from the nursery. And now just when Mr. Pinfold was gathering himself as it were for a strenuous effort at reformation, he was struck down by the most severe attack of his “aches” which he had yet suffered. Every joint, but especially feet, ankles, and knees, agonized him. Dr. Drake again advocated a warm climate and prescribed some pills which he said were “something new and pretty powerful.” They were large and drab, reminding Mr. Pinfold of the pellets of blotting-paper which used to be rolled at his private school. Mr. Pinfold added them to his bromide and chloral and crème de menthe, his wine and gin and brandy, and to a new sleeping-draught which his doctor, ignorant of the existence of his other bottle, also supplied.

And now his mind became much overcast. One great thought excluded all others, the need to escape. He, who even in this extremity eschewed the telephone, telegraphed to the travel-agency with whom he dealt: Kindly arrange immediate passage West Indies, East Indies, Africa, India, anywhere hot, luxury preferred, private bath, outside single cabin essential, and anxiously awaited the reply. When it came it comprised a large envelope full of decorative folders and a note saying they awaited his further instructions.

Mr. Pinfold became frantic. He knew one of the directors of the firm. He thought he had met others. It came to him in his daze quite erroneously that he had lately read somewhere that a lady of his acquaintance had joined the board. To all of them at their private addresses he dispatched peremptory telegrams: Kindly investigate wanton inefficiency your office. Pinfold.

The director whom he really knew took action. There was little choice at that moment. Mr. Pinfold was lucky to secure a passage in the Caliban, a one-class ship sailing in three days for Ceylon.

During the time of waiting Mr. Pinfold’s frenzy subsided. He became instead intermittently comatose. When lucid he was in pain.

Mrs. Pinfold said, as she had often said before: “You’re doped, darling, up to the eyes.”

“Yes. It’s those rheumatism pills. Drake said they were very strong.”

....When he reached the hotel he returned to bed and ordered another bottle of champagne. He dozed again. Mrs. Pinfold sat quietly reading a paper-covered detective story. He awoke and ordered a rather elaborate dinner, but by the time it came his appetite was gone. Mrs. Pinfold ate well, but sadly. When the table was wheeled out, Mr. Pinfold hobbled to the bathroom and took his blue-gray pills. Three a day was the number prescribed. He had a dozen left. He took a big dose of his sleeping-draught; the bottle was half full.

“I’m taking too much,” he said, not for the first time. “I’ll finish what I’ve got and never order any more.” He looked at himself in the glass. He looked at the backs of his hands which were again mottled with large crimson patches. “I’m sure it’s not really good for me,” he said, and felt his way to bed, tumbled in, and fell heavily asleep.

His train was at ten next day. The funereal limousine was ordered. Mr. Pinfold dressed laboriously and, without shaving, went to the station. Mrs. Pinfold came with him. He needed help to find a porter and to find his seat. He dropped his ticket and his sticks on the platform.

“I don’t believe you ought to be going alone,” said Mrs. Pinfold. “Wait for another ship and I’ll come too.”

“No, no. I shall be all right.”

But some hours later when he reached the docks Mr. Pinfold did not feel so hopeful. He had slept most of the way, now and then waking to light a cigar and let it fall from his fingers after a few puffs. His aches seemed sharper than ever as he climbed out of the carriage. Snow was falling. The distance from the train to the ship seemed enormous. The other passengers stepped out briskly. Mr. Pinfold moved slowly. On the quay a telegraph boy was taking messages. Mrs. Pinfold would be back at Lychpole by now. Mr. Pinfold with great difficulty wrote: Safely embarked. All love. Then he moved to the gangway and painfully climbed aboard....

Chapter Three: An Unhappy Ship
….Perhaps he dreamed. He forgot on the instant whatever had happened in the hours between. It was dark. He was awake and there was a very curious scene being played near him; under his feet, it seemed. He heard distinctly a clergyman conducting a religious meeting. Mr. Pinfold had no first-hand acquaintance with evangelical practice. His home and his schools had professed a broad-to-high anglicanism. His ideas of nonconformity derived from literature, from Mr. Chadband and Philip Henry Gosse, from charades and from back numbers of Punch. The sermon, which was just rising to its peroration, was plainly an expression of that kind of faith, scriptural in diction, emotional in appeal. It was addressed presumably to members of the crew. Male voices sang a hymn which Mr. Pinfold remembered from his nursery where his nanny, like almost all nannies, had been Calvinist: “Pull for the shore, sailor. Pull for the shore.”

“I want to see Billy alone after you dismiss,” said the clergyman. There followed an extempore, rather perfunctory prayer, then a great shuffling of feet and pushing about of chairs; then a hush; then the clergyman, very earnestly: “Well, Billy, what have you got to say to me?” and the unmistakable sound of sobbing.

Mr. Pinfold began to feel uneasy. This was something that was not meant to be overheard.

“Billy, you must tell me yourself. I am not accusing you of anything. I am not putting words into your mouth.”

Silence except for sobbing.

“Billy, you know what we talked about last time. Have you done it again? Have you been impure, Billy?”

“Yes, sir, I can’t help it, sir.”

“God never tempts us beyond our strength, Billy. I’ve told you that, haven’t I? Do you suppose I do not feel these temptations, too, Billy? Very strongly at times. But I resist, don’t I? You know I resist, don’t I, Billy?”

Mr. Pinfold was horror-struck. He was being drawn into participation in a scene of gruesome indecency. His sticks lay by the bunk. He took the blackthorn and beat strongly on the floor.

“Did you hear anything then, Billy? A knocking. That is God knocking at the door of your soul. He can’t come and help you unless you are pure, like me.”


Chapter Four: The Hooligans
….“He’s gone to bed,” said Fosker.

“We’ll soon get him out,” said the pleasant well-bred voice.

“Music.”

“Music.”

“I’m Gilbert, the filbert,
The knut with the K,
The pride of Piccadilly,
The blasé roué.

Oh Hades, the ladies
Who leave their wooden huts
For Gilbert, the filbert,
The Colonel of the Knuts.”

“Come on, Gilbert, Time to leave your wooden hut.”
Damned impudence, thought Mr. Pinfold. Oafs, bores.

“D’you think he’s enjoying this?”

“He’s got a most peculiar sense of humor. He’s a most peculiar man. Queer, aren’t you, Gilbert? Come out of your wooden hut, you old queer.”

Mr. Pinfold drew the wooden shutter across his window but the noise outside was undiminished.

“He thinks that’ll keep us out. It won’t, Gilbert. We aren’t going to climb through the window, you know. We shall come in at the door and then, by God, you’re going to cop it. Now he’s locked the door.” Mr. Pinfold had done no such thing. “Not very brave, is he? Locking himself in. Gilbert doesn’t want to be whipped.”

“But he’s going to be whipped.”

“Oh yes, he’s going to be whipped all right.”

Mr. Pinfold decided on action. He put on his dressing-gown, took his blackthorn, and left his cabin. The door which led out to the deck was some way down the corridor. The voices of the two hooligans followed him as he went to it. He thought he knew the Fosker type, the aggressive underdog, vainglorious in drink, very easily put in his place. He pushed open the heavy door and stepped resolutely into the wind. The deck was quite empty. For the length of the ship the damp planks shone in the lamp-light. From above came shrieks of laughter.

“No, no, Gilbert, you can’t catch us that way. Go back to your little hut, Gilbert. We’ll come for you when we want you. Better lock the door.”

Mr. Pinfold returned to his cabin. He did not lock the door. He sat, stick in hand, listening.

The two young men conferred.

“We’d better wait till he goes to sleep.”

“Then we’ll pounce.”

“He doesn’t seem very sleepy.”

“Let’s get the girls to sing him to sleep. Come on, Margaret, give Gilbert a song.”

“Aren’t you being rather beastly?” The girl’s voice was clear and sober.

“No, of course not. It’s all a joke. Gilbert’s a sport. Gilbert’s enjoying it as much as we are. He often did this sort of thing when he was our age—singing ridiculous songs outside men’s rooms at Oxford. He made a row outside the Dean’s rooms. That’s why he got sent down. He accused the Dean of the most disgusting practices. It was all a great joke.”

Chapter Five: The International Incident
….Mr. Pinfold finished his drink and returned to his listening post. He was curious to know more of the Captain’s plan. He had no sooner settled in his chair and attuned his ear to the paneling than he heard the Captain; he was in his cabin addressing the officers.

“… all questions of international law and convention apart,” he was saying, “there is a particular reason why we cannot allow this ship to be searched. You all know we have an extra man on board. He’s not a passenger. He’s not one of the crew. He doesn’t appear on any list. He’s got no ticket or papers. I don’t even know his name myself. I daresay you’ve noticed him sitting alone in the dining-saloon. All I’ve been told is that he’s very important indeed to H.M.G. He’s on a special mission. That’s why he’s travelling with us instead of on one of the routes that are watched. It’s him, of course, that the Spaniards are after. All this talk about territorial waters and right of search is pure bluff. We’ve got to see that that man gets through.”

“How are you going to manage that, skipper?”

“I don’t know yet. But I’ve got an idea. I think I shall have to take the passengers into my confidence—not all of them, of course, and not fully into my confidence. But I’m going to collect half a dozen of the more responsible men and put them into the picture—into a bit of the picture anyway. I’ll ask them up here, casually, after dinner. With their help the plan may work.”

The generals received their invitation early and were not deceived by its casual form. They were discussing it while Mr. Pinfold dressed for dinner.

“It looks as though he’s decided to put up a fight.”

“We’ll all stand by him.”

“Can we trust those Burmese?”

“That’s a question to raise at the meeting tonight.”

“Wouldn’t trust ’em myself. Yellow-bellies.”

“The Norwegians?”

“They seem sound enough but this is a British affair.”

“Always happier on our own, eh?”

It did not occur to Mr. Pinfold that he might be omitted from the Captain’s cadre. But no invitation reached him although in various other parts of the ship he heard confidential messages…“the Captain’s compliments and he would be grateful if you could find it convenient to come to his cabin for a few minutes after dinner…”

At table Captain Steerforth carried his anxieties with splendid composure. Mrs. Scarfield actually asked him: “When do we go through the straits?” and he replied without any perceptible nuance: “Early tomorrow morning.”

“It ought to get warmer then?”

“Not at this time of year,” he answered nonchalantly. “You must wait for the Red Sea before you go into whites.”


Chapter Six: The Human Touch
….“Gilbert,” said Margaret. “Gilbert. Why don’t you speak to me? You passed quite close to me on deck and you never looked at me. I haven’t offended you, have I? You know it isn’t me who’s saying all these beastly things, don’t you? Answer me, Gilbert. I can hear you.”

So Mr. Pinfold, not uttering the words but pronouncing them in his mind, said: “Where are you? I don’t even know you by sight. Why don’t we meet, now? Come and have a cocktail with me.”

“Oh, Gilbert, darling, you know that’s not possible. The Rules.”

“What rules? Whose? Do you mean your father won’t let you?”

“No, Gilbert, not his rules, the Rules. Don’t you understand? It’s against the Rules for us to meet. I can talk to you now and then but we must never meet.”

“What do you look like?”

“I mustn’t tell you that. You must find out for yourself. That’s one of the Rules.”

“You talk as though we were playing some kind of game.”

“That’s all we are doing—playing a kind of game. I must go now. But there’s one thing I’d like to say.”

“Well?”

“You won’t be offended?”

“I don’t expect so.”

“Are you sure, darling?”

“What is it?”

“Shall I tell you? Dare I? You won’t be offended? Well…” Margaret paused and then in a thrilling whisper said: “Get your hair cut.”

“Well, I’ll be damned,” said Mr. Pinfold; but Margaret was gone and did not hear him.

He looked in the glass. Yes, his hair was rather long. He would get it cut. Then he pondered the new problem: how had Margaret heard his soundless words? That could not be explained on any theory of frayed and crossed wires. As he considered the matter Margaret briefly returned to say: “Not wires, darling. Wireless,” and then was gone again.

That perhaps should have given him the clue he sought; should have dispelled the mystery that enveloped him. He would learn in good time; at that moment Mr. Pinfold was baffled, almost stupefied, by the occurrences of the morning and he went down to luncheon at the summons of the gong thinking vaguely in terms of telepathy, a subject on which he was ill-informed.

Chapter Seven: The Villains Unmasked—But Not Foiled
….Mr. Pinfold was never able to give a completely coherent account either to himself or to anyone else of how he finally unraveled the mystery. He heard so much, directly and indirectly; he reasoned so closely; he followed so many false clues and reached so many absurd conclusions; but at length he was satisfied that he knew the truth. He then sat down and wrote about it at length to his wife.


Darling,

As I said in my telegram I am quite cured of my aches and pains. In that way the trip has been a success but this has not proved a happy ship and I have decided to get off at Port Said and go on by aeroplane.

Do you remember the tick with a beard who came to Lychpole from the B.B.C. He is on board with a team bound for Aden. They are going to make recordings of Arab dance music. The tick is called Angel. He has shaved his beard. That is why I didn’t spot him at first. He has some of his family with him—rather a nice sister—travelling I suppose for pleasure. They seem to be cousins of a lot of our neighbors. You might inquire. These B.B.C. people have made themselves a great nuisance to me on board. They have got a lot of apparatus with them, most of it new and experimental. They have something which is really a glorified form of Reggie Upton’s Box. I shall never laugh at the poor Bruiser again. There is a great deal in it. More in fact than he imagines. Angel’s Box is able to speak and to hear. In fact I spend most of my days and nights carrying on conversations with people I never see. They are trying to psycho-analyze me. I know this sounds absurd. The Germans at the end of the war were developing this Box for the examination of prisoners. The Russians have perfected it. They don’t need any of the old physical means of persuasion. They can see into the minds of the most obdurate. The Existentialists in Paris first started using it for psycho-analyzing people who would not voluntarily submit to treatment. They first break the patient’s nerve by acting all sorts of violent scenes which he thinks are really happening. They confuse him until he doesn’t distinguish between natural sounds and those they induce. They make all kinds of preposterous accusations against him. Then when they get him in a receptive mood they start on their psycho-analysis. As you can imagine it’s a hellish invention in the wrong hands. Angel’s are very much the wrong hands. He’s an amateur and a conceited ass. That young man who came to the hotel with my tickets was there to measure my “life-waves.” I should have thought they could equally well have got them on board. Perhaps there is some particular gadget they have to get in London for each person. I don’t know. There is still a good deal about the whole business I don’t know. When I get back I will make inquiries. I’m not the first person they’ve tried it on. They drove an actor to suicide. I rather suspect they’ve been at work on poor Roger Stillingfleet. In fact I think we shall find a number of our friends who have behaved oddly lately have suffered from Angel.

Anyway they have had no success with me. I’ve seen through them. All they have done is to stop my working. So I am leaving them. I shall go straight to the Galleface in Colombo and look round from there for a quiet place in the hills. I’ll telegraph when I arrive which should be about the time you get this letter.

All love

G.


“Gilbert,” said Angel, “you can’t send that letter.”

“I am certainly going to—by air mail from Port Said.”

“It’s going to make trouble.”

“I hope so.”

“You don’t understand the importance of the work we’re doing. Did you see the Cocktail Party? Do you remember the second act? We are like the people in that, a little band doing good, sworn to secrecy, working behind the scenes everywhere—”

“You’re a pretentious busy-body.”

“Look here, Gilbert—”

“And who the devil said you might use my Christian name?”

“Gilbert.”

“Mr. Pinfold to you.”

Chapter Eight: Pinfold Regained

....On Tuesday he spent another ineffably tedious night at Bombay. On Wednesday night at Karachi he changed back into winter clothes. Somewhere on the sea they may have passed the Caliban. They steered far clear of Aden. Across the Moslem world the voices of hate pursued Mr. Pinfold. It was when they reached Christendom that Angel changed his tune. At breakfast at Rome Mr. Pinfold addressed the waiter, who spoke rather good English, in rather bad Italian. It was an affectation which Goneril was quick to exploit.

“No spikka da Eenglish,” she jeered. “Kissa da monk. Dolce far niente.”

“Shut up,” said Angel sharply. “We’ve had enough of that. I’ve got to talk to Gilbert seriously. Listen, Gilbert, I’ve got a proposition to make.”

But Mr. Pinfold would not answer.

Intermittently throughout the flight to Paris Angel attempted to open a discussion.

“Gilbert, do listen to me. We’ve got to come to some arrangement. Time’s getting short. Gilbert, old boy, do be reasonable.”

His tone changed from friendliness to cajolery, at length to a whine; the voice which had been so well-bred was now the underdog’s voice which Mr. Pinfold remembered from their brief meeting at Lychpole.

“Do speak to him, Gilbert,” Margaret pleaded. “He’s really very worried.”

“So he should be. If your miserable brother wants me to reply he can address me properly, as “Mr. Pinfold”, or “Sir”.”

“Very well, Mr. Pinfold, sir,” said Angel.

“That’s better. Now what have you to say?”

“I want to apologize. I’ve made a mess of the whole Plan.”

“You certainly have.”

“It was a serious scientific experiment. Then I let personal malice interfere. I’m sorry, Mr. Pinfold.”

“Well, keep quiet then.”

“That’s just what I was going to suggest. Look here, Gil—Mr. Pinfold, sir—let’s do a deal. I’ll switch off the apparatus. I promise on my honor we’ll none of us ever worry you again. All we ask in return is that you don’t say anything to anyone in England about us. It could ruin our whole work if it got talked about. Just say nothing, and you’ll never hear from us again. Tell your wife you had noises in the head through taking those gray pills. Tell her anything you like but tell her it’s all over. She’ll believe you. She’ll be delighted to hear it.”

“I’ll think it over,” said Mr. Pinfold.

He thought it over. There were strong attractions in the bargain. Could Angel be trusted? He was in a panic now at the prospect of getting into trouble with the B.B.C.—

“Not the B.B.C., darling,” said Margaret. “It isn’t them that worry him. They know all about his experiments. It’s Reggie Graves-Upton. He must never know. He’s a sort of cousin, you see, and he would tell our aunt and father and mother and everyone. It would cause the most frightful complications. Gilbert, you must never tell anyone, promise, especially not cousin Reggie.”

“And you, Meg,” said Mr. Pinfold in bantering but fond tones, “are you going to leave me alone too?”

“Oh, Gilbert, dearest, it’s not a thing to joke about. I’ve so loved being with you. I shall miss you more than anyone I’ve ever known in my life. I shall never forget you. If my brother switches off it will be a kind of death for me. But I know I have to suffer. I’ll be brave. You must accept the offer, Gilbert.”

“I’ll let you know before I reach London,” said Mr. Pinfold.

Presently they were over England.

“Well,” said Angel, “what’s your answer?”

“I said “London”.”

Later they were over London airport. “Fasten your belts please. No smoking.”

“Here we are,” said Angel. “Speak up. Is it a deal?”

“I don’t call this London,” said Mr. Pinfold.

He had cabled to his wife from Rome that he would go straight to the hotel they always used. He did not wait for the other passengers to board the bus. Instead he hired a car. Not until they were in the borough of Acton did he reply to Angel. Then he said:

“The answer is: no.”

“You can’t mean it.” Angel was unaffectedly aghast. “Why, Mr. Pinfold, sir? Why?”

“First, because I don’t accept your word of honor. You don’t know what honor is. Secondly, I thoroughly dislike you and your revolting wife. You have been extremely offensive to me and I intend to make you suffer for it. Thirdly, I think your plans, your work as you call it, highly dangerous. You’ve driven one man to suicide, perhaps others too, that I don’t know about. You tried to drive me. Heaven knows what you’ve done to Roger Stillingfleet. Heaven knows who you may attack next. Apart from any private resentment I feel, I regard you as a public menace that has got to be silenced.”

“All right, Gilbert, if that’s the way you want it—”

“Don’t call me “Gilbert” and don’t talk like a film gangster.”

“All right, Gilbert. You’ll pay for this.”

But there was no confidence to his threats. Angel was a beaten man and knew it.


….The hard frost had given place to fog and intermittent sleet. The house was as cold as ever but Mr. Pinfold was content to sit over the fire and, like a warrior returned from a hard fought victory, relive his trials, endurances and achievements. No sound troubled him from that other half-world into which he had stumbled but there was nothing dreamlike about his memories. They remained undiminished and unobscured, as sharp and hard as any event of his waking life. “What I can’t understand is this,” he said: “If I was supplying all the information to the Angels, why did I tell them such a lot of rot? I mean to say, if I wanted to draw up an indictment of myself I could make a far blacker and more plausible case than they did. I can’t understand.”

Mr. Pinfold never has understood this; nor has anyone been able to suggest a satisfactory explanation.

“You know,” he said, some evenings later, “I was very near accepting Angel’s offer. Supposing I had, and the voices had stopped just as they have done now, I should have believed that that infernal Box existed. All my life I should have lived in the fear that at any moment the whole thing might start up again. Or for all I knew they might just have been listening all the time and not saying anything. It would have been an awful situation.”

“It was very brave of you to turn down the offer,” said Mrs. Pinfold.

“It was sheer bad temper,” said Mr. Pinfold quite truthfully.

“All the same, I think you ought to see a doctor. There must have been something the matter with you.”

“Just those pills,” said Mr. Pinfold.

They were his last illusion. When finally Dr. Drake came Mr. Pinfold said: “Those gray pills you gave me. They were pretty strong.”

“They seem to have worked,” said Dr. Drake.

“Could they have made me hear voices?”

“Good heavens, no.”

“Not if they were mixed with bromide and chloral?”

“There wasn’t any chloral in the mixture I gave you.”

“No, But to tell you the truth I had a bottle of my own.”

Dr. Drake did not seem shocked by the revelation. “That is always the trouble with patients,” he said. “One never knows what else they’re taking on the quiet. I’ve known people make themselves thoroughly ill.”

“I was thoroughly ill. I heard voices for nearly a fortnight.”

“And they’ve stopped now?”

“Yes.”

“And you’ve stopped the bromide and chloral?”

“Yes.”

“Then I don’t think we have far to look. I should keep off that mixture if I were you. It can’t be the right thing for you. I’ll send something else. Those voices were pretty offensive, I suppose?”

“Abominable. How did you know?”

“They always are. Lots of people hear voices from time to time—nearly always offensive.”

“You don’t think he ought to see a psychologist?” asked Mrs. Pinfold.

“He can if he likes, of course, but it sounds like a perfectly simple case of poisoning to me.”

“That’s a relief,” said Mrs. Pinfold, but Mr. Pinfold accepted this diagnosis less eagerly. He knew, and the others did not know—not even his wife, least of all his medical adviser—that he had endured a great ordeal, and unaided, had emerged the victor. There was a triumph to be celebrated, even if a mocking slave stood always beside him in his chariot reminding him of mortality….



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