Chapter Four: Underwood’s Estate
Underwood shoved his head around my bedroom door: ”We’re leaving immediately. I’ve thanked Iris and Hal for their hospitality. We’ll breakfast en route.”
Although hardly light, the sun had already warmed the air.
In khaki pants and short-sleeved shirt, he led the way to our car as if to defend what’s left of the British Empire.
Two servants trailed us with our luggage like native bearers.
There was no mention of last night’s party, though the chauffeur’s face was eloquent, matching his gray-green uniform. He’d obviously been well oiled in the servants’ quarters, and drove cautiously through empty streets as if the car had the hangover.
“Where is everyone?” I asked Underwood, who had dumped his fattening brief case between us, and taken out some of the papers.
“On various film sets or TV studios. They’re very early risers. When they work they don’t work nine to five, you know. More like five to nine. Others are on vacation. Or on locations abroad.”
“But how about their staff?”
“All inside the houses polishing the furniture or polishing off the whisky.”
After a few miles of fantasy land, we entered the twilight zone--of gas stations, stray dogs, thin cats, pigeons, and people.
A billboard warning that THE WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH was conveniently near a drug store, where the sinner could stave off the ultimate with tranquilizers.
As if to emphasize the hazards of human existence, our air-conditioner failed and within seconds you could have ripened tomatoes in the car.
To cool off, we quickly opened all the windows and the chauffeur put on a burst of speed.
The subsequent hurricane gave Underwood’s notes on Blake hysteria.
“Christ almighty!” he protested, grabbing some of the pages and sitting on them, a human paper-weight.
After the chauffeur reduced speed, and we drove through dusty and potholed streets, Underwood gave the notes to me, a fistful at a time, to stuff back into his briefcase.
As I got hotter, I first took off my jacket, then my old school tie, and finally opened my shirt at the collar. Infra dig in England, except in mid summer.
Dressing so casually was almost like giving up my British passport.
The chauffeur came to life at a coffee stall where short-skirted girls fluttered to and from customers’ cars, bringing back on plastic trays freshly-squeezed-orange
juice, bagels and cream cheese, and coffee in paper cups. “Thanks, sweetheart,” the chauffeur said, giving his passable imitation of Humphrey Bogart. “Any movies being shot around here?”
“Only some TV junk.”
When she’d gone, he turned to Underwood, ”Notice how these girls are all clones of the latest heartthrobs?”
Underwood did not respond. After finishing his orange juice and tasting his coffee, he took a quick breath and used it to clean his dark glasses. I admired his ability to ignore rhetorical questions, not even replying to the chauffeur with a grunt, slight nod, or raised eyebrows. “Hauteur,” my brother, David, would have called it, in his crippled cockney imitation, ridiculing my pretensions, in his eyes, either to be “one of the ’aughty haristocrats!’” Or, at least, to emulate them. I wasn’t sure that he was wrong.
After refueling, we drove west until we hit the coastal highway and then headed in the general direction of Alaska, screeching along a wild S-bend, to test our nerves, I guess. Steep cliffs on our right kept us in cooling shadow for a bit. Once, when the car swerved into the wrong lane—I still wasn’t used to traffic on the wrong side of the road--I saw the Pacific ocean sharply below just waiting for us to drop in.
“Take is easy,” Underwood said evenly.
After a few mile of silence, the chauffeur said, “Hearst Castle is midway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Now state property. About two hundred and fifty miles. We’re about midway between Los Angeles and Hearst Castle. About a hundred and forty.”
Two hours later we turned inland into hill country, where Underwood pointed out our destination, an immense, spectacular place on even higher ground, red roofs, light gray stone walls, Spanish influence. Like several houses cemented together in a hexagon.
“Pentagon,” Underwood corrected me.
“Was it ever a monastery?”
“Parts of it were. The material is imported from Europe and several hundred years old. I had the structure built seventeen years ago.”
“How many rooms?”
“Forty two. But most are closed except when there are conferences here.”
“And eighteen bathrooms,” the chauffeur added.
I’d never seen anything like it, not even in Country Life, Architectural Digest, or my dreams, and speculated that the architect was a native American inspired by the tales of White men under attack who deployed their wagons in a circle.
“The interior courtyard is more than an acre,” the chauffeur said. “Enough room for a cricket field.”
Underwood chuckled. “He knows that because he once cut the grass there when the gardeners were sick or on vacation.” The subject spurred him to reach into his grab bag of odd but interesting facts.
“It’s about the size of Lords or the Oval in South London. The Oval’s my favorite. Converted from a cabbage patch and leased from the Duchy of Cornwall. In 1882 the visiting Australian team beat the English by seven wickets. And one English supporter was so tense during the match that he bit through the handle of his umbrella. It was the first time the English team had ever lost a home game. I’d love to have seen it.”
There were fields and gardens around the building, all surrounded by a high thick hedge, and a guard in the gatehouse who let us through with the touch of a switch.
Underwood’s entire estate was over fourteen hundred acres and included hills, valleys, woods and several streams, a lake and river.
A woman stood outside the front door who, even from a distance, was vaguely familiar.
“Your secretary awaits you,” I guessed.
He grunted. “Not my secretary. My wife, Pamela.“
For some reason I had assumed that he was a widower. Strange that he’d never mentioned her before. She wasn’t easily overlooked.
From fifty feet away, tall, tawny, slim but shapely. Taller and slimmer than Iris. From a car length, an oval face and genuine smile. Stunning in an understated way, her eyes half-closed in the midday sun. She moved to Underwood with the assured, loose-limbed stride of a ballet dancer but without the Charlie-Chaplin splayed feet some dancers have.
“Terrible trip,” he grumbled. “Air conditioner went on the fritz.”
“Too bad, but it’s cool inside. Just arrived myself,” she said, embracing him. I thought I had heard her voice before. Incongruously, although deep, almost masculine it made her seemed more feminine and vulnerable, as if she had a sore throat.
“Well, here he is,” Underwood said, in the manner of an expert appraising a painting of doubtful authenticity. “The good news is that Huxley may join our Blake project.”
Her hand was cool and her grip warm. I followed her through the massive door along a blessedly cool corridor, the chauffeur, with my luggage, in close pursuit. We briefly surveyed my sunny room. “Hope you’ll be happy here,” she said. “Anything you need, just ask.”
The chauffeur waited until she was out of earshot. “Smashing, isn’t she? Every home should have one.”
“Where have I seen her before?”
“In your dreams.”
“Her voice seems familiar.”
“Shows how much you know about showbiz, professor.
She’s a fairly well-known actress. Played in Streetcar on tour last year. Better than Vivien Leigh, according to the critics. She’s been in about twenty movies. What the hell did you stuff in those fucking bags? Think I’ve emasculated myself.”
“For you, no doubt, a fate worse than death. You didn’t have any trouble at the airport.”
“Didn’t have to walk a mile with them then, did I, sport? Now I’ve got to fix the car’s fucking air conditioner.” Still, he walked off whistling, apparently happy to be here, too.
Though my room had large double windows, the view was obscured by a grapevine which tamed the now fierce sun to a mellow glow, Beyond the vine, I glimpsed space and trees and, in the distance, the high, thick hedge. Trees hid the ten-car garage above which, I assumed, the servants, chauffeur included, lived.
My room was beautifully proportioned, with wide plank flooring, white walls, and a wood-beamed ceiling. My cherry wood desk had three drawers either side and a shallow central drawer, and a six-tiered bookcase alongside overflowed with William Blake biographies, one subtitled, “Prophet of Universal Brotherhood.” But the most provocative titles were, “A Stranger From Paradise,” and “Fearful Symmetry.” There was a book of his art work, several of his poetry, a thesaurus, and histories of the London and the politics of his time, the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
I sat in the captain’s chair on a red-Moroccan-leather cushion, hand on a scarlet phone, ready to snatch it up at first peep, eager to get to work after so much hanging around. I checked. There was a dial tone.
What I took for a clothes cupboard was a small, immaculate, white-tiled bathroom, brightened with random colorful Mexican tiles, a shower with frosted glass sliding doors, gray and scarlet towels thick as carpets and soft as puppies, and several bars of scented transparent soap.
After a quick shower I tried the no frills bed for size, head to the wall, feet towards the windows, room for one and a half adults, or two thin kids. And woke from a dream of roller-skating with the Pope to find a woman using my leg as a bell-rope.
“Lunch is ready and I have to do your room.” She was so round that in my sleepy state I thought of bowling her.
Instead of walking across the courtyard to the dining room diagonally opposite, I took the long way along a corridor with French windows at frequent intervals opening on to the courtyard. It meant skirting the great hall in the main entrance, the living room with Spanish-style furniture of dark woods, leather and copper. All so well-kept and highly polished they had the air of overindulged pets. Underwood’s study door was open and the library beyond it through which I glimpsed a greenhouse. I wondered how much work-time he wasted to enjoy the flowers. Then a sharp left turn up a flight of stairs took me to the dining room.
“Oh, there you are,” Underwood said. “On time.”
Although not excluding me from their animated conversation, naturally, after two months apart, they had lots of news to exchange. She had returned from making a film in Canada, was free for a few weeks and then faced several weeks of filming on the fringes of Los Angeles. After that there was the chance of another movie with locations in the rainforests of South America. The chauffeur had been badgering her to get him a part, not only in her current film, but in Underwood’s projected William Blake movie.
“I’ll talk to him,” Underwood said decisively, as if to say, “I’ll shut him up.”
I gathered that he and several other servants lived in rooms above the six-car garage, separate from the main building but within easy reach.
Underwood’s quick changes of mood and topic still caught me by surprise. We had been discussing what I had noticed, the sudden signs of poverty after the affluence of Beverly Hills. “In London, for example,” I said, “the river Thames creates a distinct buffer between the rich and poor. And the City, the business district, separates the affluent West Enders and the less affluent East Enders.”
“True enough,” Underwood said. Then, “Iris took quite a shine to our young friend, here. Hal even suspected that she was making a play for him. ”
“She really is the limit,” Pamela said, indulgently, as if Iris was a favorite sister.
Underwood had work to do, and Pamela offered to show me the garden we’d been admiring during lunch. Glancing back, after a few minutes I caught Underwood watching us, before he quickly moved out of sight.
Although it was still winter, there were enough plants showing signs of life to see that he had, as in England, painstakingly replicated the scene of a French painting. This was Monet’s garden.
Blake wanted to build a new Jerusalem in England’s “green and pleasant land.” Maybe this was Underwood’s American version of the same idea.
“Charles didn’t depend on photographs or the painting. He sent landscape gardeners to France to get exact measurements.” She laughed. “It’s an understatement to call him a perfectionist.”
I thought that he must have kicked himself for missing out on buying London Bridge, when the real thing was on the market. When I mentioned this to Pamela, she replied, ”That’s the last thing he would have wanted. It went to an Arizona oil executive at auction for two and a half million dollars and he had it rebuilt piece by piece. And now it’s the second most popular tourist attraction in Arizona after the Grand Canyon. He loves this place because it’s so far from the crowds.”
I toyed with the idea that Underwood’s replications had not stopped at gardens. Pamela at first sight might have been a double for Shirley McLaine. But now, as I noticed her unique intonations, gestures, at times her
wistful smile, and the way she lowered her head slightly to think something over, I realized that she was no one’s replica. She obviously admired and loved Underwood.
We strolled from Monet’s twin garden, across two fields into a pine and birch wood penetrated by shafts of sunlight, joining a lively, musical bird population. When panels of light ahead indicated that we were approaching the far end of the wood, she touched my arm and said, “Charles wouldn’t want us to go any further.”
I waited for her to get the double entende, sharpened by recalling the sight of Underwood at the window, but she didn’t.
We took a slightly different return route through the wood and emerged onto grounds giving us a low-flying-birds-eye-view of Underwood’s incredible estate. Almost everything visible in every direction was his.
Pamela pointed out the public highway three miles from the edge of the estate and the weaving rhododendron-sheltered drive—not unlike the one in Wiltshire—leading from the gatehouse to pass the garage, a small mansion in itself, and end at the circular drive in front of the house.
“Someone compared it to a huge monastery,” she said.
“Where the monks broke their vows of poverty.”
During our walk she asked me about Oxford and Orpington, amused by my embroidered account of frustrating encounters with Lord George Teddington.
“Yet you seem at ease with Charles.”
“He doesn’t think that King Lear’s a comedy. That’s only a slight exaggeration of Teddington’s view,” I conceded, adding, “Perhaps if they’d had a course in genuflecting, his being a lord would have been less of a problem.”
“Didn’t anyone tell you?” she asked.
“Tell me what?”
She lowered her head. “I’ll think about it,” she said. I guessed it was something to do with Underwood’s reputed connection with the royal family.
She questioned me about London theater directors and performers. My ignorance of show business surprised her. Her expression implied, “You’re a freak but refreshing.” At least, that’s how I took it.
“I had heard of Garbo, of course,” I said. “ My mother will be thrilled to know I saw her even from a distance, and our neighbor, Mrs. Willett, will treat me like a celebrity because of it.”
I denied her lighthearted comment that the English summer lasted one day in contrast to the almost perpetual California sunshine. “Though I do think the English character has been molded by generations of boys playing cricket in pelting rain. Teaches you to keep going, even if you’re miserable at what you’re doing. Empire building and all that.”
“Americans think you must be masochists to play that game.” She laughed. “Perhaps you are. But now you’ve almost lost your Empire, will you give up cricket?”
“Never. We’ll fight to regain our Empire rather than do that.”
She pointed northwest, saying, “Carmel, Big Sur and the Pacific Ocean are over there. But I’m afraid you won’t see any of them until the work’s finished. It’s not indentured servitude but you may think so. Still it’s under very comfortable conditions.”
“Suits me,” I said. “I’m really looking forward to it. That homecoming party will last me for months.”
She smiled. “That good, was it?”
A mug of hot coffee, two reams of typing paper, and a tape recorder, were waiting on my desk. I sat, sipped, and pressed Play.
Underwood spoke: “In this first tape I’m giving a rough, cursory blueprint, an attempt to circumscribe the object. I’m playing this back to make sure I’m recording. Okay. I don’t intend to show God looking through Blake’s window, like a Peeping Tom, nor angel-bearing trees. Nor will I try to make his visionary or poetic experiences, tangible, in an attempt to render them plausible and so please or placate skeptics. Although, it is to be a film of the imagination, the inflamed subconscious or visionary mind, I want to avoid any resemblance to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Jekyll and Hyde, The Enchanted Cottage, ghost scenes in Olivier’s Hamlet, and the Scandinavian school of the supernatural. There is no model. I hope this will be unique. Ask Huxley and the American Film Institute if they know of anything similar to our Blake project. Tell them it will be nothing like Cocteau’s Orpheus, though I like his remark that myths die if they are not adapted to the times. And contact London’s Tate Gallery for their view on his most representative paintings. . (A long pause.] I don’t want to see too far ahead. Some perceptive person described creative writing as like driving a car at night. At any moment you can only see as far as the car’s headlights. But, eventually, if you’re lucky, you make the whole journey. The setting will be Blake’s eighteenth century London, transformed by his imagination into The Promised Land, where he walked, at times in a poetic trance—some would say hallucinating—-once with tigers at his side. He conjured up the dead to chat with Dante, Moses, Shakespeare, Isaiah, Milton, and Voltaire. And, glancing up at a tree, saw in its branches, not birds--but angels. Although nothing is set in stone, for such scenes I would suggest rather than show, hint rather than state, be oblique rather than emphatic. The idea being that we are not insisting that this is what REALLY happened, but what Blake THOUGHT happened. Difficult to achieve? Sure is. Let’s find the answers. Don’t forget his close friends, some of the great revolutionary thinkers of the time, Thomas Paine, whose life he may have saved by warning him that the police were after him, and the feminist-writer, Mary Shelley’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Mary’s husband, philosopher William Godwin—all Utopian idealists, I believe. Criticism is welcome, Elliot.”
He also wanted me to open the green folder on my desk, and to retype several of the enclosed copies of his own poems after amalgamating the penciled additions and corrections.
I needed the dictionary to check his spelling, because I too often trust words to look as they sound. Jooleus Seezer, for example. Well, not quite that bad. I think it’s inherited, like being color blind through the male line. I especially liked his rhyming “Phantasmagoria” and “The Waldorf Astoria.”
Dear Wage Slaves,
Everything’s more dazzling and emphatic here in California thanks to the dazzling sunshine. Manhattan is the coldest spot I’ve ever known. This is the hottest and its still officially winter. Deodorants, like hot dogs, hamburgers and coca colas are a must. Although Underwood and his adorable wife have classier tastes. EVERYTHING’S several times bigger here, insects, birds, meal portions, drinks, newspapers, and people. Their robin, for example, is three times the size of ours. The Sunday New York Times and Los Angeles Times would give the average Englishman hernia. Remember our hitchhiking weekend to Paris and we noticed that most Frenchmen were smaller than we are? It’s the opposite here. And many of them seem to wear the same clothes they slept in. It’s called casual.
Having spoken to Huxley at U’s homecoming shindig--hey there’s an odd word--I assume I am now part of literary history. Did we ever settle if he was part of the Bloomsbury Group, on the fringes, or part of a splinter group? I’ll ask him if we meet again. During our brief conversation, I had added to his encyclopedic knowledge with the news that Orde Wingate was Orpington’s claim to fame. He was frailer than I expected, had a higher voice, as we shook hands I thought “This hand touched H. G. Wells’ hand, who touched Bernard Shaw’s, who touched D. H. Lawrence’s.” It was also the hand that patted me on the back and spilled vodka on my shirt and your former jacket, Nobby.
I glimpsed Ava Gardner’s eyebrows, and the back of Greta Garbo’s head. They were mostly hidden and surrounded, by supplicants. Our hostess judged that I wouldn’t enhance their evening and whisked me away to meet mere mortals. It’s not that Hollywood legends are a different species, as I once thought through ages nine to fourteen, from the females we know, just a different breed. If they were birds, Mrs. Willet would be a starling, mother a chaffinch, and Garbo a thrush. Okay, I’d be a cuckoo. Aha! Beat you two guys to it.
Apart from Huxley, the guests glowed with wealth, or perhaps frequent massage therapy. Some women were ravishing, and would have you drooling, Nobby. In fact, as I was wearing your dinner jacket-—tuxedo here-—you can claim that you were there in suit if not in spirit. I drooled on your behalf. Their skin is so flawless, ditto their clothes, grooming, and posture, they looked untouchable, as if they would instantly and automatically repel foreign bodies, which, of course, included me.
Some of these super-rich of both sexes swore with the frequency and verve of your typical London dock worker (longshoremen). Of course, some may have been former London dock workers. The “shits:” and “fucks” were flying with the fervor of “Hallelujahs” at revival meetings.
My Dear Mother,
I met Aldous Huxley at a party for Underwood . Completely unpretentious with a slightly flutey voice. Do you remember when you had the flu and I read Huxley to you. He’s the one who quoted William Blake’s, ”If the doors of perception were cleaned everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.” And talking about that, tell Mrs. Willet that Huxley may have the solution to her eye troubles. Apparently, he did eye exercises that improved his vision. I’ll find out more about it. Also, tell Mrs. W. that Garbo and Gardner were also at U’s homecoming, but I only saw them from a distance, hot-house flowers hidden by the undergrowth. California itself seems a step on the way to a clearer view of everything, it’s so bright apart from the smog. In Britain, by contrast, except for a few days in the spring and fall, it’s as if we’d always been looking through smoked glass. And the glass clears on reaching the United States.
Iris, who came to meet us at the airport with her husband, was the hostess for U’s homecoming party and seems a warm and friendly kind. They both somehow work for U. I hope to see more of them.
Nobby’s dinner jacket helped me look like every other penguin at the party. Apart from Huxley, I spoke with George Cukor, who has directed Hepburn and Garbo, and U hopes to talk him into directing our Blake movie. I say “our,” not because I expect to be co-author of the script, but because I already feel part of the team. Blake would love it here in California, especially among one group of people who are having conversations with porpoises, or other groups who believe they can talk with the dead, like Sam Houston, at the tip of a table.
Nobby tells me that on their last visit, you gave them a Rachmaninoff recital. U hopes to get Shoshtakovith to do the Blake score. Pity Rachmaninoff isn’t alive. He’d be great.
U talks a lot about Huxley—perhaps his closest friend. You’ll love this, and it will give you a flavor of this part of the world: The great Aldous Huxley married his second wife—first died—in what’s called a drive-in wedding chapel, which doubled as a fast-food eatery. One witness for the ceremony was the ladies’ room attendant. Huxley came to California just before World War 2, was a guest of D.H. Lawrence’s widow in New Mexico when someone suggested that his novels would make great movies, so he moved here and stayed. He refused to make a screenplay from one of your favorites, a Galsworthy novel, but wrote the Madame Curie script, based on her daughter Eve’s biography. It paid him enough to live in splendor for a year. Garbo was meant to play Curie but Greer Garson did it instead. An Irish gal instead of a Swede to play a Pole!
According to Huxley’s brother, Julian, (remember? He was on the BBC’s Brains Trust program, and you used to gasp at his range and depth of knowledge) thinks that his brother, Aldous, is much brighter than he is and it gives him an inferiority complex.
I heard all this at lunch or dinner, from U himself, the master of unusual facts. Would you believe that Huxley, who is six feet four and a half inches tall, studied ballet for several years? And taught French to George Orwell.
According to the servants’ gossip, Underwood is the son, born out of wedlock to one of King Edward the Seventh’s many lady friends. You know the reputation of the randy regent, son of Victoria and Albert, don’t you?. Paradoxically, U is besotted with Blake, who supported the French Revolution until it got too bloody. Perhaps U is extolling Blake the anti-monarchist to hit back at his dad for not legitimizing him by royal decree. The chauffeur here says that U only claims to be the King’s godson to avoid being called “a right royal bastard.”
The sun is so bright, I’ve just had to pull the blinds. Marvelous. A buzzer. Must go.
In late January, news of the Blake Project leaked out–someone at the homecoming party probably—and was published in the entertainment sections of several newspapers. Scores of begging letters followed. One man, using double negatives and both sides of fifteen foolscap pages, introduced himself as the reincarnated William Blake. and volunteered to be technical advisor for ”the film of my life. I should also, of course, play the part, but I know Hollywood will demand a box-office star.”
The next morning, Pamela brought in about forty letters, followed by a houseboy with coffee, and laughed or gasped as she read out the most outrageous requests and proposals. The news reports having failed to mention that Underwood was married, a slew of women offered themselves to him with various promises of bliss, nutritious cooking, a good time, and lots of fun. The fun was guaranteed by the mother of five, who denied any interest in his money, but wanted her offspring brought up in an artistic milieu.
One correspondent mentioned a sex change without explaining from which to what.
As an actress wise to the wiles of the gutter press, Pamela believed that some letters were from reporters bent on exposing the depravities of the rich and famous, who hoped to trap Underwood into compromising replies. Others, she noted, from return addresses, came from prisons and one from a mental asylum.
Most, she believed, came from the kind of woman who advertised for a mate in personal columns. These, invariably, described themselves as statistical impossibilities. There surely weren’t that number of ”radiant,” “ravishing,” “red-hot,” creatures at large and unclaimed.
Few days passed without mail from lecture agents after his voice, fellow poets after his patronage, con artists—often in religious guise—after his cash, advertisers after his name, and biographers and Ph.D. candidates after his memories.
We junked all letters expecting Underwood to pay for a reply. Those who enclosed stamps got either, “Mr. Underwood thanks you for your letter. Unfortunately, he is unable to meet with your request.” or, “Mr. Underwood does not wish to resurrect the past, and sorry that he has to disappoint you.”
I had two piles of cards with these messages on my desk and the work simply involved glancing at the letters and stuffing the cards in the appropriate, already stamped and addressed envelopes.
This allowed me to spend most of my time typing out extracts from bought or borrowed books about Blake in the margins of which Underwood had marked in pencil what he wanted. After typing and erasing the pencil marks my desk appeared to have developed dandruff.
During the next few weeks, Underwood was in and out of my room several times a day, to make sure I was “on top of things.” One morning, Pamela tapped on my door, glanced at the work on my cluttered desk including a letter from Manhattan’s Ninety Second Street Y to read his poems and answer questions. “Tell them to try again next year,” she said.
Manuel, the Filipino servant, joined us with a radio and framed Van Gogh reproductions. “To enliven your walls,” said Pamela. The mail had just brought my own colorful contribution to the room, a parcel from mother wounded in transit. Despite her elaborate care, wrapping new white shirts and homemade raspberry jam in corrugated cardboard, cotton wool, and tissue paper, a jar had cracked and bloodied both shirts.
Pamela rested her hand on my shoulder. “Don’t worry, I’m sure we can rescue it.”
It was then that I realized how quietly Underwood moved around. He was in the room staring at Pamela’s hand on my shoulder then at me with a voodoo-look which had at least severe pins-and-needles pain in mind. She didn’t seem to
Manuel left with the splattered shirts and shattered jar and returned with crackers on which Pamela and I sampled splinter-free jam from the undamaged jar.
All I needed to feel like a billionaire—-I had the food and drink, the housing, and the services of a housemaid, housecleaner, houseboy, chef, and butler-—was Pamela, and a Silver Phantom Rolls. Oh, and lightweight jacket and pants.
That day’s mail was the usual fistful of begging letters, sale of men’s suits for fifteen hundred dollars apiece—-if I saved for a year I might be able to afford one sleeve—-Time magazine at eight cents a copy. I wavered, not enough time even to skim it. A chain letter threatening dire consequences should the recipient fail to send a dollar to five addresses found at random in the phone book. Not having five dollars to spare, I decided to face the consequences. Mr. Tomkins in the throes of a book about gifted but neglected poets would welcome my impressions of Underwood. Who gave him my name and Underwood’s address? Gwen? Iris? Mother? Huxley? Cukor? I noted the letter writer’s name and address while thinking, “Why give him Underwood? I’ll keep him for myself.”
Gwen phoned from England while Underwood was outside rallying the gardeners for another assault on the vagaries of nature, so I took the call. Though her voice was a whisper she had no trouble hearing mine and brightened when told that we’d made a good start on the Blake screenplay. “My instincts in hiring you were right after all,” she said. “Please tell Mr. Underwood I’ll be waiting for his call.” She sounded slightly worried.
He came in while I was leaving a note to that effect on his desk where everything was so neat it gave the false impression of never being used. It made me think how well he covered his tracks.
Ten minutes later he entered my room. “Elliot, I’m off to England for a week or two. Keep up the good work.”
”Lucky man,” Pamela said, “England’s wonderful in the spring.” Neither said why he was going.