The traffic lights turned green and they crossed the entrance of Bond Street, side by side. He could see Mr K. taking quick looks in the plate-glass windows at his companion, but he couldnt see — his eyes were spoilt by poverty and too much reading, and he daren’t speak directly. It was as if, so long as D. did not declare himself, he wasn’t D.
He suddenly turned into a doorway, into a dark passage, and almost ran towards the electric globe at the far end. The passage was somehow familiar; D. had been too absorbed to notice where they had come. He followed after Mr K.: an old lift was wheezing down towards his victim. Mr K. suddenly said, in a voice pitched so high to go up the lift shaft to the rooms above, ‘You are following me. Why are you following me?’
D. said gently, ‘Surely you ought to be speaking Entrenationo — to a pupil.’ He laid his hand confidingly on Mr K.’s sleeve. ‘I should never have believed a moustache made all that difference.’
Mr K. pulled the lift door open. He said, ‘I don't want any more to do with you.’
‘But we’re on the same side, surely?’
‘You were superseded.’
D. pushed him gently backwards and shut the lift gates. He said, ‘I forgot. This is the night of the soirée, isnt it?’
‘You ought to be on you way home by now.’
‘But Ive been prevented. You must know that.’ He touched the emergency button and they stopped between two floors.
Mr K. said, ‘Why did you do that?’ He leant against the lift wall, blinking, blinking behind the steel rims. Somebody was playing a piano upstairs rather badly.
D. said, ‘Did you ever read Goldthorb’s detective stories?’
‘Let me out of here,’ Mr K. said.
‘School-teachers generally read detective stories.’
‘I shall scream,’ Mr K. said, ‘I shall scream.’
‘It wouldn’t be good manners at a soirée. By the way, you’ve still got some of that paint on your coat. That’s not clever of you.’
‘What do you want?’
‘It was so lucky that Mr Muckerji found the woman who saw it happen — from the other window.’
‘I wasn’t there,’ Mr K. said. ‘I know nothing.’
‘Let me out.’
‘But I was telling you about Goldthorb’s detective story. One man killed another in a lift. Rang the lift down. Walked up the stairs. Rang the lift up and — before witnesses — discovered the body. Of course, luck was on his side. You have to have a fortunate hand for murder.’
‘You wouldn't dare.’
‘I was just telling you Goldthorb’s story.’
Mr K. said weakly, ‘There's no such man. The name’s absurd.’
‘He wrote in Entrenationo, you see.’
Mr K. said, ‘The police are looking for you. You’d better clear out — quickly.’
‘They have no picture and the description’s wrong.’ He said mildly, ‘If there were a way of dropping you down the lift-shaft. To make the punishment, you know, fit the crime . . .’
Suddenly the lift began to move upwards. Mr K. said triumphantly, ‘There. You see. You’d better run for it.’ It wheezed and shook very slowly beyond the second floor — the offices of Mental Health.
D. said, ‘I shouldn't speak if I were you. You read about the revolver.’
‘It’s not me you need be afraid of,’ Mr K. said. ‘I bear you no malice — but Miss Carpenter or Dr Bellows . . .’
There wasn’t time to finish; the lift stopped, and Dr Bellows came out of the big waiting-room to greet them; a faded woman in brown silk got into the lift, waving a hand thick with art jewellery like barnacles, squeaking a mysterious phrase which sounded like ‘Nougat’. Dr Bellows said, ‘Bona nuche. Bona nuche,’ and smiled at them happily.
Mr K. glared at him and waited. D. had his hand upon his pocket, but Dr Bellows seemed oblivious of anything wrong., He took a hand of each and shook them warmly. He said, ‘To a new pupil I may perhaps be allowed to speak a few words in English.’ He added in a slightly puzzled way, ‘You are a new pupil, surely. I thought I knew you . . .’
D. said, ‘You are looking for my moustache.’
‘Of course. That’s it.’
‘I told myself — for a new language a new face. Have you by any chance seen the evening paper?’
‘No,’ Dr Bellows said, ‘and please, please don’t tell me. I never read the daily press. I find that in a good weekly paper fact has been sifted from rumour. All the important news is there. And so much less distress.’
‘It’s an admirable idea.’
‘I recommend it. Miss Carpenter, my secretary — you know her — adopted it and has been so much happier ever since.’
‘It must make for everyone’s happiness,’ D. said. Mr K., he noticed, had slipped away. ‘I must speak to Miss Carpenter about it.’
‘You’ll find her presiding over the coffee. For these soirées rules are a little relaxed. We hope people will speak Entrenationo if possible — but the great thing is to get together.’ He led D. into the waiting-room. There was a big urn on the counter and plates of rock cakes. Miss Carpenter waved to him from behind the steam: she was still wearing her blue-wool jumper with the bobbles. ‘Bona nuche,’ she called to him, ‘bona nuche.’ A dozen faces turned to look at him; it was like one of those illustrations in a children’s encyclopaedia which show the races of the world. There were a good many orientals wearing glasses. Mr K. stood with a rock bun in his hand not eating.
‘I must introduce you,’ Dr Bellows said, ‘to our Siamese.’
He pressed D. gently onwards towards the far wall. ‘Hi es Mr D. — Dr Li.’
Dr Li looked at him inscrutably through very thick lenses. ‘Bona nuche.’
‘Bona nuche,’ D. said.
Conversation went on among the leather arm-chairs spasmodically; little bursts of conversation rose up in corners and then withered away for want of nourishment. Miss Carpenter poured out coffee, and Mr K. stared at his rock bun. Dr Bellows moved here and there erratically like love: smooth white hair, the weak and noble face.
D. said, ‘An idealist.’
‘I’m afraid,’ D. said, ‘I am a new pupil. I cannot yet speak much Entrenationo.’
‘Qua?’ Dr Li said sternly. He watched D. narrowly through the thick glasses like portholes as if he suspected him of rudeness. Mr K. began edging towards the door, still carrying his rock bun.
Dr Li said sharply, ‘Parla Entrenationo.’
‘No,’ Dr Li said firmly and angrily. ‘No parla.’
‘I am sorry,’ D. said. ‘Un momento.’ He crossed the room rapidly and took Mr K.’s arm. He said, ‘We mustn’t leave yet. It would look strange.’
Mr K. said, ‘Let me go. I implore you. I know nothing. I am feeling ill.’
Dr Bellows appeared again. He said, ‘How did you get on with Dr Li? He is a very influential man. A professor at Chulalankarana University. It gives me great hopes of Siam.’
‘I found it a little difficult,’ D. said. ‘He seems to speak no English.’ He kept his hand through Mr K.’s arm.
‘Oh,’ Dr Bellows said, ‘he speaks it perfectly. But he feels quite rightly, of course — that the only object of learning Entrenationo is to speak it. Like so many orientals he is a little intransigent.’ They all three looked at Dr Li, who stood in an island of silence with his eyes half closed. Dr Bellows went across to him and began to talk earnestly in Entrenationo. Silence spread around the room; it was a privilege to hear the inventor speak his own language. He gave the impression of gliding rapidly among the cases like a skater.
Mr K. said rapidly, ‘I can’t stand this. What are you trying to get out of me?’
‘A little justice,’ D. said gently. He felt no pity at all: the odd occasion — the surroundings of office — coffee and home-made cakes, of withered women in old-fashioned evening dresses which had had too little wear, and of orientals shrewd and commercial behind their glasses — only lifted Mr K. further out of the category of human beings who suffer pain and exact sympathy. Dr Bellows was back again. He said, ‘Dr Li asked me to say that he would be pleased to meet you another time — when you have learned rather more Entrenationo.’ He smiled feebly. ‘Such a firm character,’ he said. ‘I have not met such faith — no, not in all Israel.’
‘Mr K. and I,’ D. said, ‘were just regretting that it was nearly time for us to leave.’
‘So soon? And I did so much want to introduce you to a Rumanian lady — oh, I see that she is talking to Dr Li.’ He smiled across the room at them as if they were a young couple whose timid courtship he was encouraging and superintending. He said, ‘There! That is what I mean. Communication instead of misunderstanding, strife . . .’ It seemed unlikely, D. thought, that Rumania and Siam were ever likely to come into serious conflict . . . But Dr Bellows was already off again, forging his links between the most unlikely countries, and Miss Carpenter stood behind the coffee urn and smiled and smiled.
D. said, ‘It's time for us to move.’
‘I won't move. I am going to see Miss Carpenter home.’
D. said, ‘I can wait.’
He went over to the window and looked down: the buses moved slowly along Oxford Street like gigantic beetles. Across the top of the opposite building a sky-sign spelt out slowly the rudimentary news: 2 goals to one. Far away, foreshortened on the pavement, a squad of police moved in single file towards Marlborough Street. What next? The news petered out and began again. ‘Another advance reported . . . 5,000 refugees . . . four air raids . . .’ It was like a series of signals from his own country — what are you doing here? Why are you wasting time? When are you coming back? He felt homesick for the dust after the explosion, the noise of engines in the sky. You have to love your home for something — if only for its pain and violence. Had L. come to terms, he wondered, with Benditch? The deal was closed to him; no credentials would avail him now in this respectable country — a man wanted on suspicion of murder. He thought of the child screaming at the window, scratching with her nails at the paint, breaking through the fog, smashed on the pavement: she was one of thousands. It was as if by the act of death she had become naturalized, to his own land — a countrywoman. His territory was death: he could love the dead and the dying better than the living. Dr Bellows, Miss Carpenter — they were robbed of reality by their complacent safety. They must die before he could take them seriously.
He moved away from the window and said to Miss Carpenter, ‘Is there a telephone I could use?’
‘Oh, certainly. In Dr Bellows’s office.’
He said, ‘I hear Mr K. is seeing you home?’
‘Oh, but that’s sweet of you, Mr K. You really oughtn’t to bother. It’s such a long way to Morden.’
‘No trouble,’ Mr K. muttered; he still held the rock bun like an identification disc — they would be able to recognize his body by it.
D. opened the door of the office and quickly apologized. A middle-aged man with a shaven Teutonic skull was sitting out with an angular girl on Dr Bellows’s desk. There was a slight smell of onions — one of them must have been eating steak. ‘I am so sorry. I came to telephone.’ The angular girl giggled; she was singularly unattractive, with a large wrist-watch and a lapel-pin in the shape of an Aberdeen dog.
‘Not at all. Not at all,’ the German said. ‘Come, Winifred.’ He bowed stiffly to D. from the doorway. ‘Korda,’ he said. ‘Korda.’
‘Entrenationo — for the heart.’
‘Ah yes, yes.’
‘I have a great passion,’ the German frankly explained, ‘for the English girls.’
‘Yes?’ The German kept Winifred’s bony hand in a tight grip; she had bad teeth and mouse-coloured hair — she carried with her a background of blackboards and chalk and children asking permission to leave the room, and Sunday walks in ruined fields with dogs.
‘They have so much innocence,’ the German said and bowed again and closed the door.
D. rang up Lord Benditch’s house. He said, ‘Is Miss Cullen there?’
‘Miss Cullen doesn’t live here.’ Luck favoured him; it was a woman — not the manservant, who might have remembered his voice. He said, I can’t find her in the telephone book. Would you give me her number?’
‘Oh, I don't know that I can do that.’
‘I am a very old friend. Only over in England for a day or two.’
‘Well . . .’
‘She will be very disappointed . . .’
‘Well . . .’
‘She particularly asked . . .’
‘It's Mayfair 3012.’
He dialled again and waited. He had to trust Miss Carpenter to keep a grip on Mr K.; he knew very well how convention can be stronger than fear — especially when the fear is still a little vague and unbelievable: you have to learn to fear successfully. He said, ‘Is Miss Cullen there?’
‘I don't think so. Hold on.’ Even if he couldn't get the coal himself, there must be some way of stopping L. If only he could prove that the murder . . . was a murder . . .
Rose’s voice suddenly said, ‘Who's that?’
He said, ‘The name is Glover.’
‘What do you want? I don't know a Glover.’
‘I live,’ he said, ‘at 3, Chester Gardens — nearly next door to the Embassy.’
There was silence at the other end. He said, ‘Of course, if you believe that story — of the suicide pact — you can send the police round tonight. Or if you believe that I am not D. at all.’
She made no reply. Had she rung off? He said, ‘Of course, the girl was murdered. It was ingenious, wasn’t it?’
She replied suddenly in a tone of fury, ‘Is that all you care?’
He said, ‘I shall kill whoever did it . . . I am not sure yet . . . I want the right person. One can’t afford to kill more than one . . .’
‘You're crazy. Can’t you get out of the country, go home?’
‘They would probably shoot me. Not that that matters. But I shouldn't like L. . . .’
She said, ‘You're too late. They signed.’
‘I was afraid . . .’ He said, ‘Do you know what the contract is? I don't see how they can hope to get the coal out of the ports. There’s the neutrality agreement.’
She said, ‘I’ll ask Furt.’
‘Has he signed, too?’
‘Yes, he’s signed.’ Somebody was playing the piano again and singing; it seemed to be an Entrenationo song: the word korda, korda came in a lot. Presently she said, ‘He couldn't do anything else.’ She excused him, ‘When all the others signed . . . the shareholders . . .’
‘Of course.’ He felt an odd prick of jealousy because she had taken the trouble to defend Forbes. It was like sensation painfully returning to a frozen hand. He didn’t love, he was incapable of loving anyone alive, but nevertheless the prick was there.
She said, ‘Where are you? I keep on hearing the oddest sounds . . .’
‘At a soirée,’ he said. ‘That’s what they call it. Of the Entrenationo School.’
‘You’re such a fool,’ she said despairingly. ‘Don't you realize there’s a warrant out for you? Resisting arrest. Forged passport. God knows what else.’
He said, ‘It seems safe here. We are eating rock buns.’
‘Why be such a fool?’ she said. ‘You're old enough — aren't you — to look after yourself.’
He said, ‘Will you find out for me — from Forbes?’
‘You didn't mean that, did you, about killing . . .?’
‘Yes, I meant that.’
The voice came fiercely and vividly out of the vulcanite: she might have been standing at his elbow, accusing him. ‘So you did love the little bitch?’
‘No,’ he said. ‘Not more than all the others. There have been four raids today. I daresay they’ve killed fifty children besides her . . . one has to get one’s own back a little.’ He suddenly realized how absurd it all was. He was a confidential agent employed in an important coal deal on which the fate of a country might depend; she was a young woman, the daughter of a peer whose coal he wanted, and the beloved, apparently, of a Mr Forbes who also controlled several mines and kept a mistress in Shepherd’s Market (that was irrelevant); a child had been murdered by the manageress or Mr K. — acting, presumably, on behalf of the rebels, although they were employed by his own people. That was the situation: a strategical and political — and criminal — one. Yet here they were talking to each other down the telephone like human beings, jealous of each other, as if they were in love, as if they had a world at peace to move about in, and the whole of time.
She said, ‘I don't believe it. You must have loved her.’
‘She was only fourteen I should think.’
‘Oh, I daresay you've reached the age when you like them young.’
‘But you can’t do anything of that kind here — killing, I mean — don’t you understand? They’ll hang you. Only the Irish try that on here — and they are always hanged.’
‘Oh well . . .’ he said vaguely.
‘Oh God,’ she said. ‘The door’s been open all the time.’ There was silence; then she said, ‘I’ve probably given you away. They’ll have guessed — after the newspapers. Probably Scotland Yard’s listening in now. They could have dialled 999 on the downstairs phone.’
‘Who are they?’
‘Oh, the maid or my friend. You can’t trust anyone. Get away from there — wherever you are.’
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘It's time to move on. Bona nuche.’
‘What on earth’s that?’
‘Entrenationo,’ he said and rang off.
He opened the door into the waiting-room — there were fewer people about, less buns, the coffee was cooling in the urn. Mr K. stood against the counter grasped firmly in the conversation of Miss Carpenter. D. made for them and Mr K. wilted — it occurred to D. that he didn’t look like the kind of man you killed. On the other hand he was a traitor and somebody had got to die. It was unsporting, perhaps, but Mr K. might be the easiest — he would be a warning to other traitors. He said to Miss Carpenter, ‘I'm afraid I’ve got to tear away your escort,’ drawing on a pair of gloves he must be careful not to take off again.
‘I won't go,’ Mr K. said, and Miss Carpenter pouted delightedly and set a wool bobble swinging.
‘It’s really important,’ D. said, ‘or, of course, I would never take him.’
‘I don’t see,’ Miss Carpenter said playfully, ‘that it could be so important.’
‘I have been on to my Embassy,’ D. said. His imagination was unbridled, he feared nobody: it was his turn to be feared, and he felt exhilaration like hiughter in his brain. ‘We have been discussing the possibility of setting up an Entrenationo centre at home.’
‘What's that?’ Dr Bellows asked. He appeared at the buffet with a dark middle‑aged woman in pink cretonne. The mild eyes gleamed excitedly. ‘But how — in the middle of a war?’
‘It's no good fighting,’ D. said, ‘for a particular civilization if we don’t — at the same time —keep it alive behind the lines.’ He felt a very slight horror at his own appalling fluency, a very little regret at the extravagant hopes he had aroused beside the coffee urn, in the dingy office. The old liberal eyes were full of tears. Dr Bellows said, ‘Then some good may come of all the anguish.’
‘So you’ll understand if I and my countryman here — we must rush away.’ It was the wildest story, but no story is too wild for a man who hopes . . . Everyone in this room lived in an atmosphere of unreality: high up above Oxford Street in an ivory tower, waiting for miracles. Dr Bellows said, ‘I never thought when I got up this morning . . . so many years . . . this is the birthday of my life. That was what one of our poetesses wrote.’ He held D.’s hand: everybody was watching: Miss Carpenter wiped the corner of her eye. He said, ‘God bless you, all of you.’
Mr K. said, ‘I will not go. I will not go,’ but nobody paid him any attention. He was hustled out beside D. towards the lift by the lady in cretonne, hauled on his road . . . In his fear he lost his English altogether — he began to beseech them all to wait and listen in a language only D. could understand. He looked ill, beaten . . . he sought in Entrenationo to express something, anything. He said, ‘Mi korda, Mi korda,’ white about the lips, but nobody else was talking Entrenationo now, and then they were together in the lift going down. Dr Bellows’ face disappeared: his waistcoat buttons: his boots — he wore boots. Mr K. said, ‘There’s nothing you can do. Nothing.’
D. said, ‘You've got nothing to fear if you weren’t concerned in her death. Keep close beside me. Don’t forget I have that revolver.’ They walked side by side into Oxford Street: suddenly Mr K. side-stepped, somebody came in between: they were separated by shop-window gazers. Mr K. began to dart down the pavement, zig-zagging. He was a small man and agile, but short‑sighted; he bumped into people and went on without apology. D. let him go: it was no good pursuing him through the crowd. He called a taxi and said to the driver, ‘Go as slow as you can. There’s a drunk friend of mine just in front — I’ve lost him in the crowd. He needs a lift before he gets in any trouble.’ Through the window he could watch Mr K.: he was wearing himself down: it all helped.
SOURCE: Greene, Graham. The Confidential Agent: An Entertainment (Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, 1971), pp. 123-133. (Original editions: William Heinemann Ltd., 1939; New York, The Viking Press, 1939.)
Graham Greenes Entrenationo (1)
Graham Greenes Entrenationo (3)
Esperanto & Interlinguistics Study Guide / Esperanto-Gvidilo
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