Between the news of the murder on Monday, and the revelation of its nature and its cause on Thursday, University authorities had lavished much praise on the character of Urky; a devoted teacher, a great scholar, a man of fine character and irreproachable conduct, a loss to the academic community never to be replaced — he was given the works, in a variety of distinguished styles. There was great speculation about The Demon Knitter who had slain the blameless scholar and grossly interfered with his body by stuffing him with velvet ribbon. This was a relief from the bread-and-butter murders with guns and hammers upon obscure and uninteresting victims, with which the press has to do the best it can. This came to an abrupt stop when the real story broke; the plans that had been going forward for a splendid memorial service in Convocation Hall were abandoned. Murray Brown spoke in the Legislature, pointing out that the education of the young was in dubious hands and something like a purge of the whole University community would not be amiss. And of course the news about Parlabane’s book galvanized the publishers. The telephone began to ring.
Who was there to answer it but myself? I had been mentioned in Parlabane’s letter as one of the two people who had access to the complete typescript, and Hollier could not be reached. He was still cosy, lucky man, in his bed at his mother’s house and could not speak on the telephone, his mother said. So I temporized, and evaded direct questions and commitments, and refused to see people, and then was forced to see them when they pushed through the door of Hollier’s rooms. Unwillingly I was photographed by newspapermen who lay in wait outside Spook, and hounded by literary agents who wanted to free me from tedious cares; I experienced all the delights of unsought notoriety. I was offered a lot of money for my story, John Parlabane as I Knew Him, and the services of a ghost to write it up from my verbal confession. (It was assumed that, as a student, I would not be capable of coherent expression.) I was invited to appear on TV. Hollier’s mother was outraged by the newspaper publicity and suspected, by the sixth sense given to mothers, that I had designs on her innocent son, and seemed convinced that the whole thing was my fault. After someone had attempted a clumsy robbery in Hollier’s rooms I put the typescript of Be Not Another in the vault at Spook — and attempted to have the telephone disconnected, but that took several days to accomplish. O tohubohu and brouhaha! —
Another thing for which I had cause to thank the spirit of Parlabane was that in none of his letters to police or newspapers had he mentioned the Gryphius Portfolio. Where it was now I had no idea. But late on the Friday of the second week of this siege by newspapers and publishers I was sitting in Hollier’s outer room, trying to get on with some of my own work, and not managing to do so, when there came a knock at the door.
Go away, I shouted.
The knock was repeated, more powerfully.
Bugger off! I called, in something like a roar.
But I had not locked the door, and now it opened and Arthur Cornish poked his head around it, grinning.
That’s no way to speak to an old friend, Maria.
Oh, it’s you! If you’re an old friend, why didn’t you come sooner?
I assumed you would be busy. I’ve been reading about you in the papers, and they all said you were closeted with publishers for twelve hours a day, making juicy terms about your friend’s book, over magnums of champagne.
It’s all very well for you to be facetious; I’ve been living like a hunted animal.
Do you dare to come out with me for dinner? If you wear a heavy veil, nobody will recognize you. A veil and perhaps a pillow under the back of your coat. I’ll say you are an unpresentable aunt; a Veiled Hunchback. Anyhow, I’d thought of going to a nice dark place.
I was not in the mood to be teased, but I was very much in a mood to be fed. I had not dared to eat in a restaurant since the trouble began, and I was sick of Mamusia’s grim meals. He took me to a very good place, sat in a dark corner, and ordered a very good meal. It was deeply soothing to the spirit — a far cry from The Rude Plenty in the company of Parlabane. Of course we talked about the murder, the excitement, and the trouble I had been having. There was no pretence of rising above the most interesting thing either of us knew about at the moment, but it was possible, in these circumstances, to see it in a different light.
So Hollier has taken to his bed and left you holding the bag?
The loss of the Gryphius Portfolio was the last straw. He simply couldn’t believe Darcourt would take it. Where is it now?
I have it. Darcourt was evasive about how he came by it, but I gathered it had something to do with McVarish.
What are you going to do with it?
I’d rather thought of giving it as a wedding present.
Why, to you and Hollier, of course. You are marrying him, aren’t you?
No, I’m not.
Then I am mistaken.
You never thought any such thing.
But you and he were so absorbed in your work. You were so very much his disciple. What did the murderer-monk call you — his sorer mystica.
You’re being very objectionable.
Not intentionally; I only want to get things straight.
I wouldn’t marry him even if he asked me. Which he won’t. His mother wouldn’t let him.
Really? Is he under her thumb, then?
That’s not fair. He lives for his work. People do, you know, in the University. But when I saw him in his mother’s house, I knew that was where his emotions live still. His mother is on to me.
When she looks at me I see a balloon coming out of her head with Gypsy Bitch written in it, like somebody in the comics.
Not Bitch, surely.
To people like her all Gypsy girls are bitches.
That’s a shame. I looked forward to giving you that Portfolio as a wedding present. Well, when you decide to marry somebody else, it’s yours.
Oh, please don’t say that. Please give it to the University library, because Hollier wants it more than you can guess.
You forget that it is mine. It was not included in the gifts to the University, and in fact I paid the bill for it less than a month ago; those dealers in rare manuscripts are slow with their bills, you know. Perhaps because they are ashamed of the prices they ask. I feel no yearning to oblige Professor Hollier; I once told you I’m a man of remarkable taste; I don’t like a man who doesn’t know a good thing when he sees it.
Meaning you. I think he’s treated you shabbily.
But you wouldn’t expect him to marry me just to get the Gryphius, would you? Do you think I’d say yes to such a proposal?
Don’t tempt me to give you an answer to either of those questions.
You think very poorly of me, I see.
I think the world of you, Maria. So let’s stop this foolishness and talk to the point. Will you marry me?
Why should I marry you?
That would take a long time to answer, but I’ll give you the best reason: because I think we have become very good friends, and could go on to be splendid friends, and would be very likely to be wonderful friends forever.
What’s wrong with being friends?
When people talk about marriage, they generally use stronger words than that.
Do they? I don’t know. I’ve never asked anyone to marry me before.
You mean you’ve never been in love?
Certainly I’ve been in love. More times than I can count. I’ve had two or three affairs with girls I loved. But I knew very well that they weren’t friends.
You put friendship above love?
Doesn’t everybody? No, that’s a foolish question; of course they don’t. They talk about love to people with whom they are infatuated, and sometimes involved to the point of devotion. I’ve nothing against love. Most enjoyable. But I’m talking to you about marriage.
Marriage. But you don’t love me?
Of course I love you, fathead, but I’m serious about marriage, and marriage with anyone whom I do not think the most splendid friend I’ve ever had doesn’t interest me. Love and sex are very fine but they won’t last. Friendship — the kind of friendship I am talking about — is charity and loving-kindness more than it’s sex and it lasts as long as life. What’s more, it grows, and sex dwindles: has to. So — will you marry me and be friends? We’ll have love and we’ll have sex, but we won’t build on those alone. You don’t have to answer now. But I wish you’d think very seriously about it, because if you say no —