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Authors: Paul Ableman

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“Goddamm it, Lady Slippery, I saw it!”

She looked puzzled at that, Horace, and I could tell she was genuinely puzzled and a lot of my anger dissolved. She asked me what I meant and I told her what I’d seen. Then she shook her head incredulously:

“You’re making this nightmare scene because Manuel Carmine squeezed—and squeezed is different from held—my hand this afternoon?”

“That’s right. And if I thought there was any more to it, I’d turn his club into something that would make the battle of the Little Big Horn look like a garden party.”

“Titch! You’re an idiot.”

She came over to me then, Horace, and took my hand between both of hers and squeezed it in the way that made my innards melt with love. I hung my head in shame, asking:

“How do you mean?”

“Because—don’t you know—oh!”

“What is it, Nat?”

She was somewhat angry herself by now, Horace, and I felt a mite alarmed.

“Men! I’m not naturally a suffragette or a fierce militant girl but—oh! Your schemes and projects and comets of power and—have you any idea what kind of world you’ve woven for us?”

“How do you mean, Nat?”

“You just happen to have seen—just by chance—Manuel Carmine squeeze my hand? And that’s the first time you’ve ever seen a man touch me, is it, Tornado? You’re just not very
observant
. For instance, that cocktail party we went to last night, did you notice anything there? No? Well, for the quarter of an hour we were chatting with him, Judge Mendelsohn stroked my bottom. Delicately, almost absently, but quite definitely, while we were pressed together by the crowd in the corner and you were asking him about the law and airplanes. What should I have done? Made a fuss? Appealed to you to put a stop to the nuisance? Would you really have been delighted, Tornado, to have had that kind of scene just then? If I really wanted to avoid all male attention I’d have to walk around spraying vinegar from my eyes. And you wouldn’t really like me like that, would you? After we’d talked to Judge Mendelsohn, you went off with Bob Kransky to look at some rude books or something and for the next hour at least four men made some kind of pass at me. One kissed me, two put their arms round me and hugged me and one quaint and endearing old chap actually pinched my bottom. Tornado, for every woman this is a permanent and inescapable part of life.”

I asked sheepishly:

“How about Carmine?”

“How about him?”

“Do you like him?”

“Very much. He’s an excellent raconteur, a widely-travelled and thoughtful man, as well as being a magnificent tennis player. If you mean do I like him fumbling with any portion of my anatomy that happens to swing within range—well, I must be careful to answer honestly. Women inevitably find that kind of thing
flattering
. The counterpart of male lust is female narcissism. But I also find it a confounded nuisance since I am in no way physically drawn to Manuel any more than to the dozens of other men who paw hopefully.”

“Why not?”

“I suppose I’m just not promiscuous like you.”

I was somewhat taken aback by this, Horace, since I had made no move of that kind in all the two years we’d been married, so, with some bitterness, I asked her what she meant.

“Did you think I hadn’t noticed? Perhaps you yourself haven’t really noticed. Perhaps you’ve really managed to convince yourself that because you love me well, and I know how well you do love me, you are indifferent to all other women on the earth? Poor Tornado! Poor chained whirlwind. But I’ve lived with you for a long time now and I probably know the currents of your flesh better than you do. I’ve seen the tiny flashing at your nerve ends when a woman starts transmitting her appeal. Sometimes, my love, I’ve noticed your helpless eye track the path of a passing woman. Well, that’s how it is. That’s how we’re made. And, Tornado, if you always come back to me, if you never stay away too long, well you can pursue a glancing star sometimes.”

It made me ashamed, Horace, this tender magnanimity but I accepted her noble offer and, over the following six years, I exercised the freedom she had granted me five or six times. I would go off with a girl for a few days or a week and, although it would be incorrect to say she didn’t mind, my incomparable Nat never reproached me or attempted to generate crummy guilt
feelings
in my mind.

P
RATT’S
P
EAK

It would probably be true to say, Horace, that I achieved my peak of power and wealth in the years just preceding the slump. Round about nineteen twenty-eight I was one of the richest men in America. I was always being pestered to serve in an advisory capacity on this or that organization. Often at fat retainers but I
already had far more money than I needed. I liked spending the stuff but who needs two yachts?

The quaint thing is, Horace, that at this period when I was being courted by all the rich, and would-be-rich, of America to impart to them my secret, and perhaps give them a little practical help with their own growth activities, I had, for all intents and purposes, retired from business. All my companies had good managers. Harvey kept an eye on accounts. I was available for emergency consultations, but these were few, and for routine meetings which I kept down to one a month. The whole empire was self-perpetuating and it amused me to note that for a period of some years I was credited with titanic influence and Machiavellian cunning when, in fact, I did practically nothing.

This was the time of projects. Looking back, I can see clearly that, in spite of my great love for Nat, I was discontented. I wanted something to do, to exercise myself upon. I’d read a biography of Alexander the Great and I could not help thinking of myself afterwards not exactly as a reincarnation of the Macedonian adventurer, because I had no belief in reincarnation, but as the bearer of his spirit in a more prosaic age. But how could anyone conquer the whole known world in the twentieth century? Anyway, what would be the point since one could travel all about it with great ease and see what there was to see. I wasn’t consumed with lust for power but then, it seems, neither was Alexander. He wanted to live to the fullest and so did I. But how? For a time I collected sculpture and painting and built up a pretty good collection. But this was a somewhat static activity. I wrote a book—and I
sometimes
wonder, Horace, if you ever came across it? It was called:
The
Pioneer
and it was a romance, a novel, about a self-made millionaire based on—you guessed it! Well, it got a few kind mentions and it sold three thousand copies and I made five hundred bucks out of that book which had taken me eight months to write! That was pretty lousy pay when you consider I could normally make five hundred bucks in the time it takes to have a piss. If I’d felt I could be a great writer—or painter or any damn thing in the arts—why I might have stuck to it but I knew I couldn’t. No, what I was was a businessman and now that I’d reached the pinnacle of my profession at the age of thirty, it seemed there was nothing left for me to do. Alarmed at this prospect, I combatted it by dreaming up projects the whole time. After all, if I was Alexander then I must be a twentieth-century Alexander and find my
adventure
in business.

“How about whaling?” I asked Harvey.

“How about it?”

“You think we ought to go into whaling?”

I think we had this conversation in Cincinnati. There was a factory in Cincinnati which turned out rubber aprons, rubber boots, garden hose and stuff like that. Harvey and I had flown into Cincinnati to inspect the factory, found that it was inefficient and unexhilarating, declined to purchase it, or even prop it up, and stepped out to the best joint in Cincinnati for a slap-up dinner. I was proud of us. It seemed to me we were doing a great job and I ordered bootleg wine with our dinner. We drank two bottles of bootleg claret, the colour of shoe polish and the flavour of carrots, and it went to my head. That’s when I asked Harvey about whaling. He nodded reflectively:

“It might be a very good idea.”

“You think so, Harvey?”

“Well, let’s see, if we went into whaling we would assure
ourselves
a steady supply of whales. I’m not absolutely sure what we’d do with them but doubtless you’d come up with something.”

“There’s a big market for whale oil, Harvey, especially sperm oil.”

“There’s certainly a market for sperm oil, Tornado, but I was under the impression that it was a small, specialized market. In order to whale successfully, you need an enormous capital
investment
. You have to buy whaling ships and shore installations. If you have a bad year, you run up fantastic debts. Then again it’s becoming an archaic industry. The world is running out of whales and into petroleum. Might I ask, Tornado, what commended the idea of whaling to you?”

“Ty Lipkowicz makes a buck or two out of whaling.”

“Ty Lipkowicz probably makes one buck in a thousand out of whaling. He inherited his whaling fleet and it was the basis of his fortune. But I very much doubt if Ty Lipkowicz, were he starting now from scratch, would invest his money in a blubber hunt.
Anyway
, Tornado, take my word for it, you couldn’t handle a harpoon—”

“Sure I could, Harvey—”

Then I stopped, Horace, and grinned, for I saw how Harvey had trapped me. He continued:

“That’s it, isn’t it, old sport? It’s not the shrewd business brain of Tycoon Pratt talking, is it? It’s the frustrated hero, imagining himself poised like Hercules in the prow of a pitching boat ready to
match cunning and strength with the monsters of the deep. Well, there’s nothing wrong with a yearning for adventure, Tornado, but there’s everything wrong with confusing it with good old honest greed.”

I wasn’t too happy about Harvey seeing through me like that and I guess I became a mite silent. Then I suddenly remembered an occasion when, at the age of about eleven, I’d broken through some underbrush and come upon a little, deserted cabin. At first glance it had seemed perfect, complete with roof and windows and a little vegetable garden planted in neat rows. I glanced about to see if the owner was nearby and then, when I glanced back, I got a big shock. The cabin was derelict, roof bare to the joists, windows broken and nothing but a tangle of weeds in front. I gaped at it open mouthed, scared because I thought I must have seen
something
supernatural—and I still don’t know how it happened. But sitting with Harvey in Cincinnati, twenty years later, I realized that I’d never once thought of that eerie moment since and I searched in my mind to discover what had suddenly activated that long-lost molecule of time. But I couldn’t locate anything that might have triggered the memory. Meanwhile Harvey went on talking and, by the time I tuned in again, I found I’d missed a good deal of what he was saying.

“—which would really be quite a lark.”

Hoping to find out what I’d missed, I asked.

“How’s that?”

“Good Lord, Tornado, think of it!—to imprint yourself on the world forever.”

“What would I have to do, Harvey?”

“Well, you’ve got the energy—there’s no doubt about that—and the capacity for work, and probably the magnetism, the
demagoguery
, sadly indispensable, and the courage and—actually, there’s probably only one thing you lack.

I was beginning to get his drift and it stirred me.

“What do I lack, Harvey?”

“Knowledge, Tornado. Oh, you’re not a raw country boy any more. You can hold your own in most circles but for that—”

“I’d need to know a whole lot more, eh?”

“It’s not so much quantity as kind. You’d have to steep yourself in the history and philosophy of government, starting with Plato and going on through the ancient world, the Renaissance, the rise of democracy in the modern sense and so forth. You’d have to
master the theory and practice of government. After all, Alexander himself was tutored by Aristotle.”

I still hadn’t firmly established what Harvey was driving at, Horace, but my heart was leaping like a bird in a net when I asked:

“And at the end of it all, Harvey, what would I be?”

“Why Prince of the World, Tornado, who would make a garden of the earth. I believe you’d achieve it by the age of forty or not at all. Would that be adventure enough for you? I’ll help—
discreetly
—from the shadows.”

Of course, it was crazy, Horace. I knew it and I knew that Harvey knew it. It was just one of the wild gags with which we often diverted each other when we travelled together. And yet, as I gazed into Harvey’s twinkling blue eyes, strangely bright under his faded hair, and as I grinned back at him I wondered if beneath the clowning we were making a pact to rule the planet.

Anyway, I started reading politics and the history of politics. Naturally, what I concentrated on was the history and the
constitution
of the USA. Pretty soon I knew a good deal about these things and in the evenings Harvey and I would have debates and
disputations
. Harvey was well-informed about most things but I soon out-distanced him in American studies. But Harvey was
knowledgeable
about the constitution and history of England, particularly since his family was a living part of it. A remote ancestor of his had been one of the heavies at Runnymede; another had been hacked down by Cromwell.

We had teasing contests during which I would insist that England was an old lobster, sluggish because of its heavy plates of armour, while America was a salmon that could range the world and find its way home again. Then again, Harvey would claim that England was a bear, slow to anger but irresistible when roused and I would claim that America was a bee that could madden the bear by buzzing at its nose. Harvey maintained that England was an oak tree with a thousand rings to its trunk and I vaunted the superiority of an ear of corn. We had more serious arguments in which we tried, for example, to assign Napoleon’s achievements to a particular aspect of his character. Then, glancing at Nat, who’d be reading most likely, we’d elaborate our original gag with remarks like:

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