Authors: Mary. Astor
The Incredible Charlie Carewe
BY MARY ASTOR:
Mary Astor: My Story
The Incredible Charlie Carewe
Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York
All of the characters in this book are fictitious,
and any resemblance to actual persons,
living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 60-11373
Copyright © 1960 by Mary Astor
All Rights Reserved
Digitized in the United States of America
First E-Book Edition
The Incredible Charlie Carewe
M. F. T. M.
awoke as the clean, pelting drops of the summer rain slapped his stubbled jaw. The wetness slipped down the cleft in his chin, joining the spittle which had oozed from his slackened mouth. He grunted painfully as he raised his head from the leather back rest of the open convertible. His neck was stiff, his tailored tweeds were sodden. There were pools of water in the seat of the car mixed with rye whisky, the last from the bottle, which he still clutched in long strong fingers.
There was a small sound of splintering glass as his feet slipped down over the instrument panel and he pushed himself erect. He tossed the empty pint over the windshield. Bouncing from the gleaming black hood, it ricocheted off the fender and slid to join other broken companions in the mud.
Charlie was swearing. Soft and low, complete and obscene. The gas tank was empty. The engine “wah-wah-wahed” and whined once more into silence. “Stupid jerk!” Charlie finished mildly.
The car was tilted at an angle, and without bothering to open the door, Charlie swung his long legs over the side. From the rear compartment he withdrew a canvas zippered bag and a black raincoat. Shedding his tweed jacket, he slipped into the raincoat and buttoned it up high. As he wadded the soaked smelly jacket into the bag he surveyed his surroundings to orient himself. The big T-bird was headed north. There were skid marks from the road where it Y-ed a little farther on, going east to the right through Mercer’s woods, the highway straight ahead to Nelson. The sign indicated, “20 mi.” Charlie ran his fingers through his hair, flattening down the curliness the rain had caused. He lunged up the side of the ditch and headed south.
The huge elms of the woods on his left shook their fists at the yellow sky, which muttered back at them. The leaves threw heavy drops of water into Charlie’s face, the wind whipped the raincoat around his knees. Whistling softly through his teeth, he walked quickly, staying off the highway, ready to duck if a car came along. His watch had stopped and he could not guess the time; the sky was overcast. It could be morning or evening or noon. After about two miles he stopped, looked in both directions, and walked out into plain view on the highway. There he turned and retraced his steps, north, slowly, occasionally walking backward. A small truck appeared, and Charlie stuck out a thumb.
“Some rain!” He smiled as he slid in beside his rescuer. “Sure do appreciate you picking me up.”
“Have a breakdown?”
“Going through Nelson?” Charlie countered, and did some quick calculation as the driver went on about the state of the weather and what it would do to the corn. The clock on the dashboard said four, straight up. “That clock right?” he said, with enough amusement in his voice that he could make some quick remark in case it had stopped at four.
“ ’Bout that—maybe fi’ minutes slow.”
“Boy, I’m really slowed up,” said Charlie as he set his watch and wound it. “Mine says quarter to——” He grabbed at the driver’s arm and said, “Hey—you see that? Car off in the ditch. Just passed it.” The truck shivered to a stop and then reversed its direction.
“You sure got eyes. I never spotted it, down so far like that.”
“Let’s see if anybody’s hurt,” said Charlie, and he and the other man climbed out of the cab of the truck.
There were no dead or injured bodies in or around the T-bird. The right rear wheel was sunk in mud up to the hubcap, and the tire looked soft. Charlie peered at the identification on the steering column and exclaimed, “Whadda y’know! It’s ole Garry Wynn’s job. Thought I recognized it.” The single key was still in the ignition and they attempted to raise the top, but the mechanism was jammed.
“You know the guy?” asked the truck driver.
“Yeah. Lives down the hill from us. Drunk lot of the time. Must’ve been on a tear last night. Boy, I hope he’s okay.” He shook his head worriedly. “Got a grease pencil? Something you mark your crates with?” The driver obliged with a thick stub. “I’ll call Garry soon as you drop me in town. You needn’t bother about it.”
“I could stop at the highway patrol between Nelson and Lesterton after——”
Charlie interrupted, “Listen, that floor pad’s soaked with booze; for Garry’s sake, I don’t want to get the patrol boys in on this.”
The truck driver wiped the drops of rain from his nose. “You
coming from the other direction, wasn’t you?”
Charlie wrote with the grease pencil on the windshield, “Driver notified,” before he replied, smiling into the suspicious face of the driver, “Yeah, from the Tam o’ Shanter Inn. I play the traps in the band there; very late do last night, so I stayed over.” They were clambering back up the side of the ditch. Puffing a little, he opened the door of the truck, and they slid into the seat. Charlie said, “It was such a beautiful day when I started out this morning, I thought I’d hike it back home; one of the guys was going to drive me, but I——”
It’s been pourin’ like this off and on since five
“Well, man, don’t you call rain beautiful?”
The old Carewe house stood proudly on a bluff overlooking the Ainsford River, from a point where the river made its last turn to the sea. The sky rolled up its clouds and piled them high and white, and the late afternoon sun danced and glittered in the dripping ivy that clothed the walls surrounding the house. The great trees, the shrubs of viburnum and spiraea grown rank and unpruned, stretched themselves protectively, hiding the house from the aggressive highway and its slick new developments. The house itself stood still in time, like some great lady withdrawn from the world. The veranda was close and tight and screened with vines which wrapped around the house like an arm protecting the heart. About the place was an air of ancient elegance which had ceased to care. A stillness of fatigue, weary of grief.
Smitty snuffled and whined softly at the screen door, working at the scarred edge with her soft black paw. As it gave she stuck her nose around it and wriggled her long body through the opening, yelping when it smacked her behind.
Her nails tick-ticked over the hardwood floor and then were muffled as she reached the staircase. In her mind Smitty was “bounding” up the steps to the extent that her age and her breed allowed. There was caked mud in the carpeting. Not much, but enough to be noticed by Doreen, the housekeeper, with a sniff of annoyance; and to Smitty, with a sniff of delight. For the mud contained the wonderful, personal odor of shoes that belonged to someone Smitty adored.
The upper hall was full of his voice. The heavy worn carpeting, the yellow damask drapes at the landing, the staid row of Broughton and Carewe ancestors hanging on the wall muted the resonance but not the volume of the laughter coming from Charlie’s room.
. . . . Listen, what are you
about! I said, I think you’re a very funny man! . . . You just never remember what you say when you’re drunk. . . . The crack to Joe was great, just great, is all I’m saying. . . .”
Smitty entered, panting happily. Charlie was pacing around the room in his bare feet, manipulating the long phone cord over the four-poster bed to where he could sprawl on the window seat. Smitty seized a corner of his terry robe and tugged, growling her prettiest.
At the doorway was Charlie’s sister. She stood tall, relaxed, her hands clasped loosely in front of her dark dress.
Charlie gave her a wave and went on talking.
“Charles, Mum’s resting—you’ll disturb her with——”
“Shut up, Smitty,” he shouted and gathered the dachshund up onto the window seat beside him. He cupped the mouthpiece of the phone, nodding toward a little portable bar beside the doorway.
“Fix me a snort, will you, Virgie love—I’m dry as a bone.” Virginia hesitated only a beat, then put ice cubes in a glass and poured a good dollop from a cut-glass container labeled “Rye.”
Charlie grinned his thanks as she came over to hand the drink to him, and went on talking. “Well, what am I supposed to do about it? Pay for the job, just because you think
borrowed your damned heap?” He cupped the phone again and whispered, “Garry Wynn. Thinks I stole his car last night!”
Virginia turned halfway as she was leaving the room and, more to herself than to the man, said softly, “Well, didn’t you, Charlie?” She closed the door against the interminable, childish argument.
At forty-five, Virginia Shelley was still a great beauty—a fact which she did not recognize or dispute. It simply didn’t matter. She was tall, tall as a pine. Her posture slumped slightly, either from accommodating to the height of others or from the apathy in her heart. With increasing age, she would probably turn gaunt, and the lily skin would draw more tightly over the prominent cheekbones. The fine rich mouth would thin out and become more tucked into the corners. There were shadows under the deep eyes, the clean brow swept back to meet strong dark hair which showed an occasional silver strand within its depths.
She walked quietly into her parents’ bedroom. Her mother was sleeping soundly in the chaise longue, snoring, twitching a coverlet with mottled delicate hands. Virginia carefully wiped the drops of perspiration from the pale forehead, straightened the coverlet, and walked to her own quarters.
Her room was more than a bedroom. It was her whole home, bedroom, living room, library, workshop—and museum. It was not particularly feminine or fussy. The bed was heavy, ancient, canopied. On each side were modern combination table and bookshelves. The original pair, more suited to the bed, had been carried up to the attic along with the night lamps with their crystal pendants. On the tables was the only disorder in the room. Books, periodicals, writing material, a small short-wave radio, and more books. Over the headboard was fastened a reading lamp. Virginia had made friends with insomnia.
On the walnut dresser with its silver-backed, unused “toilet set” were photographs, framed montages of snapshots, and a delicate miniature of an equally delicate little girl of four, with blonde, wispy hair and her mother’s cheekbones. Upon another table near the curve of the bay window were more photographs, hiding each other in their profusion. There were portraits of the family showing a tall dark girl and a boy who might have been her twin, and a smaller round-cheeked girl perched on her father’s lap. There were graduation pictures, pictures of Virginia and Charlie and Elsie on show horses, each holding a ribbon in a chubby gloved hand. There was a wedding picture of Virginia and Jeff, young, glowing, and solemn. Near the back was an enlarged snapshot of Jeff, with blanketed legs, in a wheel chair, Virginia smiling down at him almost obscured by the fall of dark hair around her face. A smaller, drop-leaf table against the wall showed two portraits of Virginia and Jeff, both in graduation cap and gown, and above, simply framed, were the acknowledgments that in the judgment of certain persons they were qualified and had received the degree of Master of Arts. In a small recess of shelves were several gold cups, a miniature sailing craft in bronze, a pair of crossed fencing foils, and an uncarved piece of white jade.
Virginia ran a thumb over the soft cool side of the jade, picked it up, and blew gently at some non-existent dust. Carrying it between her palms caressingly, she moved toward the recessed bay window. The setting sun cast crimson and gold reflections on the river, and the eastern sky, full of the departing storm clouds, was the color of lilacs. The slow four-note syncopation of a mourning dove accented the silence, and Virginia whispered the childhood imitation of its song: “I—mourn—my love.” To the right, and below the high Point with its crown of scrub pine, the ebb tide drew the river to the sea, welcomed it and made it belong. It was a time of day when Virginia could yield to memories of grief. Everything was in harmony, for a small interval of time. There was nothing to urge her to “forget, forget”—to be up and about—“life must go on.” Obligations to live, to work at living, could be suspended in a dreamlike unemotional surveyal. She could look at the distant silver of ocean and share its knowledge of the bodies of her husband and child. The image of a night on the rocky beach with searchlights and the wind-torn shreds of shouting came back with less intensity of sound than the dove’s repeated “I—mourn—my love.”