Authors: Gwen Bristow
“Miss Bristow has the true gift of storytelling.”
“This absorbing story giving a thrilling picture of the foundation on which our West was built is heartily recommended.”
“An exciting tale of love and war in the tradition of
Gone with the Wind
â¦ The kind of story that keeps readers tingling.”
“Absorbing and swift-paced, well written â¦ The situations are historically authentic, the characterizations rigorous, well formed and definite. The âyou-are-thereness' is complete.”
The Christian Science Monitor
“Historical romance with all the thrills [and] a vivid sense of the historical personages and events of the time.”
New York Herald Tribune
“A grand job of storytelling, a story of enthralling swiftness.”
The New York Times
“Miss Bristow belongs among those Southern novelists who are trying to interpret the South and its past in critical terms. It may be that historians will alter some of the details of her picture. But no doubt life in a small river town in Louisiana during the years 1859-1885 was like the life revealed in
The Handsome Road
The New York Times
Again, for Bruce
lizabeth Herlong looked across the coffee-cups at her husband. “Feel better, Spratt?”
He began to laugh. “Yes, I do. Talking to you is such a relief. You're good to drop everything and drive all the way here just to listen to me.”
“You know it's no bother,” said Elizabeth. “I rather enjoy being a wastebasket for you to toss your troubles into.”
“Call it that if you like,” said Spratt. “Anyway, you're always there when I want you.”
They smiled intimately at each other. They had been through this a hundred times in the past twenty years, since long before Spratt Herlong became a major producer of pictures at Vertex Studio. It was always the same, with minor variationsâa picture that simply would not get itself made, actors who quarreled with the cameraman, writers who couldn't write, directors who antagonized everybody on the set, unexpected costs straining the budget, release dates creeping maddeningly closer, and Spratt desperately grabbing the telephone. “Elizabeth, if I don't get out of this place and see a reasonable human being I'm going wild. Meet me for lunch, can't you, and let me talk?”
She always responded. Since gasoline rationing began she had taken care to keep a few coupons in reserve, riding her bicycle on errands to the village, so she could always drive out to meet Spratt at the studio gates when he called her. She could rarely offer any concrete advice, for he knew his business a good deal better than she did, but she had a sympathetic ear and a sense of humor, and she knew how to keep silent about what he told her. She had, in fact, exactly what he needed. Spratt remarked,
“Now that I've got it off my chest to you, I'm beginning to see daylight. This new German writer ought to be a help. He's starting out like a pretty smart fellow.”
“Can he write English dialogue?”
“Oh yes, funny expressions sometimes, but any competent collaborator can fix those. He's been in this country two or three years, in the New York office awhile and then on pictures here. I gave him this script to read and he's coming in this afternoon to tell me what he can do with it. Tough story. Also some scenes about motherhood that can be good if they're right and awful if they're wrong.”
Elizabeth's eyes twinkled across at him as she sipped her coffee. “Don't expect any suggestions from me, darling. If you want somebody to get romantic about motherhood, ask a man who's never changed a diaper.”
“I don't want him to get romantic,” Spratt retorted, “and as for youâ”
“âas for me, I'm no help whatever.” Her attention caught by a sudden clatter of china, Elizabeth began to chuckle. “Spratt, on the way here I noticed a shop with the sign âHenry K. Dishington.'”
“What's that got to do with anything?” Spratt inquired.
“Nothing, except that I amused myself all the rest of the way by thinking what fun it would be to find a partnership, especially a restaurant, called Washington and Dishington.”
Spratt laughed again. “You've never learned anything about pictures, but you do take my mind off them.”
“Let's hope the German writer is more sympathetic. Oh, how do you do, Mrs. Farnsworth,” Elizabeth broke off brightly, as Spratt sent her a Good-Lord-what-have-I-done-to-deserve-this look and the cushiony wife of one of the Vertex directors billowed down upon them. Spratt got up, trying to hide his annoyance, while Mrs. Farnsworth began telling them they simply must come to a party she was having at her house for the benefit of the Greek War Relief.
keep standing up, Mr. Herlong, I'll just sit down a minute and tell you about it,” she exclaimed, spreading herself over an extra chair the waitress had left at their table. Spratt sat down again, politely assuring the lady that he expected to be working the night of her party.
“Oh, but don't you, either of you, want to do
for the war?” she persisted plaintively, ignoring that they both wore silver buttons indicative of their having given three pints of blood apiece.
“I'm sorry, Mrs. Farnsworth,” answered Spratt. “Of course I understand the Greek War Relief is a deserving cause, in fact, I've already made a contribution to it. It isn't necessary for me to attend a party to appreciate the need.”
“But that's not quite the idea,” urged the worthy creature. “It's what your
will do for the cause, don't you understand? We want prominent
to be there. And it will be a very good partyâfirst-class bartenders, and professional entertainersâ” She paused expectantly.
“Why don't you just give the war relief all it will cost for the liquor and entertainment?” Elizabeth inquired. She knew it was a useless question. But she was not always as good as Spratt about being polite to bores.
Aggrieved, Mrs. Farnsworth exclaimed, “But you don't understand!”âwhich Elizabeth reflected was quite true. She did not understand people who got drunk for the sake of the starving Greeks. Before she could say anything else, Spratt interrupted suavely.
“I'll tell you what I'll do, Mrs. Farnsworth. I can't come to your party, since I'm close to a shooting date and have to spend a great many evenings at the studio. But I'll be glad to give youâ” he took out his walletâ“twenty dollars to be added to the funds raised by your entertainment.”
“Why thank you, Mr. Herlong, how good of you!” she cried beaming, accepting the bill he handed her. “I knew you'd understand the need when I explained it to you. And if it happens you don't have to work, I do hope you will come, you and Mrs. Herlong too. And couldn't you bring that dear boy of yours? We'll need some young men for the dancing, and it's so hard to be sure of service men these days, and anyway, you don't know
you might be getting,” she added in a lower voice. “You know, it's all right at the USO, but when you invite them to your
it's different. Couldn't you bring your boy?”
“I'm afraid Dick is rather young for late parties,” Elizabeth demurred. “He's only seventeen, you know, and he has to be up early to go to school.”
“Only seventeen? Really? He looks older than that, because he's tall, I suppose. I'd wondered why he wasn't in the army. Does he still go to school? Seems almost useless, don't you think, when he'll be in the service so soon anyway. Where does he go?”
Elizabeth told her Dick had matriculated this fall at the University of California at Los Angeles.
“Oh, I see,” said the fat lady dubiously. “Does he
“Why yes, he likes it very much. Why shouldn't he?”
“Oh yes, it's a
school, I've no doubt of that,” their tormentor conceded. “But the student bodyâoh, I know a good many
boys and girls go there, but so many othersâdo you really think it's wise for him to mix up with all those people?”
“Why, what people?” asked Elizabeth. “They get good and bad in any big university, I suppose.”
“Oh yes, but at UCLAâyou know, all those
, andâ” again she lowered her voiceâ“I'm told the place is simply brimming with Jews. And when it comes to the colored students, they tell me that at UCLA they simply
the white students to treat themâwell, you know, as equalsâthey insist it's democratic, and all thatâ”
She left her sentence hanging in the air, ominously.
She had touched Spratt at a point where he no longer felt it necessary to be suave. “Frankly, Mrs. Farnsworth,” he said tersely, “I should not like to think my son was ashamed to be courteous to anybody God Almighty was not ashamed to create. I'm afraid we must leave you nowâit's late, and I have to get back to work.” He stood up.
“Oh, if you must. It's been such a pleasure to see you, and do come to the party if you can. Goodby now, Mrs. Herlong. Now that our husbands are in the same studio you and I will be seeing a
of each other.”
Elizabeth nearly answered, “Not if I can help it,” but she lied brightly and said she hoped so, and added no, she couldn't possibly drive back to town with Mrs. Farnsworth, because she had called for Spratt at the studio and had to drive him back there. Spratt put a bill on the table to pay the check, and without waiting for change he and Elizabeth got out to their car.
“Oh Lord!” he groaned as he sank into it. “Haven't I got enough to put up with without having to run into fools like that?”
Elizabeth got in under the wheel. “I was wondering,” she remarked, “when you said Dick shouldn't be ashamed to be courteous to anybody, if we shouldn't be ashamed to be courteous to her. This town really has more than its share of overfed imbeciles. What sort of man is her husband?”
“A very good director, thanks to her,” Spratt returned. “He works himself to death to keep from having to go home. That's why she'll believe any yarn about night work.”
“Why on earth is he married to her?” Elizabeth wondered.
“God knows. Maybe she was cute and cuddly when she was eighteen, and now she's so excessively virtuous he can't get rid of her. And she cost me twenty dollars.”
“It's not quite lost if any of it gets to the Greeks.”
“It won't,” said Spratt. “It will go to buy Scotch for her party. Don't you know how those things are run? They pay for the liquor out of the contributions, and if anything is left over it goes to the cause.”
Elizabeth began to laugh. “Forget it, Spratt. Twenty dollars is a small price to get away from her. My Aunt Grace was like that. Right now she's probably having a lovely time in heaven, organizing a campaign to get brighter haloes for the lesser angels. Do you still feel better about the picture?”
“Yes, in spite of that nitwit.” He grinned at her as she guided the car along the boulevard. “Maybe I need a brush with some dame like that once in awhile to appreciate my own good fortune.”
“That's a left-handed compliment, but thank you. I'll keep my fingers crossed for your refugee to have an inspiration.”
“I rather think he will. He's a good fellow. You should meet him sometime.”
“Bring him to dinner.”
“I will, one of these days. I imagine poor Kessler could use a little amusement. He's a crippleâcan hardly walk, and only one hand.”
“What a shame. Did the Nazis do that to him?”
“I don't know. I suspect they did. He doesn't say so, but he turns a sort of furious greenish white whenever anybody mentions them. Anyway, he does have ideas. I hope he has one today.” Spratt turned toward her and repeated, “And thanks for coming out.”
“You know you're welcome.”
She took her eyes from the traffic for an instant to give him a comradely smile. Spratt smiled back.
“We do have a pretty good time, don't we?” she said, looking down the road again.
“Yes we do. In spite of war, meat shortage and bores. Elizabeth.”
“You aren't worried about Dick, are you?”
“I try not to be,” she returned briefly.
“Don't be. He's got to go next year when he's eighteen, you know.”
“I'm trying not to think about it until then.”
“That's all right. Just remember this. He's had a good life, he's a mighty decent kid, we never did expect to keep him at home forever. Besides, the war
“Yes, it is,” she answered in a low voice. “But I'm not going to pretend it doesn't hurt. I wish Cherry had been the oldest, so both the boys would be under age. That's cowardly, isn't it? I've had a good life too, and one reason I've had it is that I happened to be born in the United States. I ought to be willing to give something back to my country. Butâwell, I think I can promise that when it happens I won't be a weeping little mother, but you know how it is.”
“Sure I know. I feel like that myself. But we might as well figure it this way. Nothing we can give up to win this war can be compared to what we'll give up if we lose it. Don't forget that.”
“I won't. I really don't think about it very much, Spratt. I don't want to. It isn't necessary yet. I'll face it when I have to.”
“Okay,” Spratt said understandingly. “One day at a time. That's enough.”
They were passing the high wall that surrounded the studio lot. Elizabeth turned the car in at the gate, stepped on the brake and changed gears while she paused a moment for the officer on guard to recognize them. He glanced into the car. “Oh, I see, Mr. Herlong. How are you?”
“Fine, Kennedy,” said Spratt. “How's the baby?”
“All right again. Just a cold. Nothing to worry about. You all right, Mrs. Herlong?”
“Never better,” answered Elizabeth, and started the car again. She drove into the lot, turned to the left and went along a street of bungalows, each occupied by a suite of offices, until she came to the one with “R. Spratt Herlong” printed on the door. Spratt got out, and standing on the gravel drive he turned back to look at her as she sat behind the wheel. She saw his eyes going over her, appreciatively. Spratt had gray eyes, cold as fog until they looked at something that stirred a luminous warmth within them, when they had the gentle grayness of olive leaves. Spratt looked over the glistening car and over Elizabeth, trim and alert behind the wheel in her dark green autumn dress and mink jacket. He looked at her well-brushed hair, her face, lean and clean-cut with its healthy skin, her still excellent figure, her hands in brown leather gloves resting competently on the wheel. Spratt smiled, taking her in with the same comprehensive grasp of detail that enabled him to spot one incongruous cigarette box in a studio set containing a hundred items. He nodded with satisfied appraisal.