The Best of Everything
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Originally appeared in Screen Romances, August 1947, to accompany the Possessed fictionalization (below)
Joan Crawford must think that C is her lucky letter. Born Lucille Le Sueur, she changed her name to Joan Crawford when she got her first big movie break back in 1928 in “Our Dancing Daughters.” And, even though she’s met her ups and downs since, her name has, with the exception of one bad spell, been generally on the up-and-up –remember when some exhibitors included Joan in a list of stars called box-office poison? Well, imagine their faces when she won the coveted Oscar in 1945 for her magnificent portrayal in the title role of “Mildred Pierce.”
But, to get back to that lucky ‘C’, Miss Crawford now has adopted four children: Christina, aged eight; Christopher, four, and two new babies, Cathy and Cynthia. And lucky little C’s are they to find a movie star mother not content to be companioned only by fame and fortune. For, since the Academy Award, Miss Crawford can be as independent as she pleases. Grossing about $200,000 a film, she has more material security than ever before in her life and, of course, she hasn’t been exactly hungry during any of the exciting years. Hungry for food, that is. But man, it is said, does not live by bread alone. And when a vital, warm-hearted woman has seen the magic go out of three marriages –Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Franchot Tone, Phillip Terry– she’s bound to be disillusioned.
Disillusioned, Joan Crawford undoubtedly is. But not bitter. If she were bitter, there wouldn’t be those four adopted children romping through her beautiful, rambling home in Brentwood. And she wouldn’t support those eight beds in the Hollywood Hospital. Or be loved by so many for her many generosities. Or be voted by the press as the most cooperative of the stars. Joan’s famous, too, for her wardrobe. The hat she’s wearing on our cover is the perfect example of the glamour that’s synonymous with her name. The noted designer, Walter Florell, dreamed it up just for her. And Mr. Florell would be happy to tell you that ‘C’ also stands for chic!
(Thanks to Gustavo for sending.)
Pursuing her through the mist of her uncertainty, driving her to thoughts she dreaded, dreams of terrifying reality, was fear— the ghastly fear of being unwanted, unloved, possessed and chained by her bitter loneliness.
Adapted from the WARNER BROS. Production—Produced by JERRY WALD—Directed by CURTIS BERNHARDT—Screen Play by SILVIA RICHARDS and RANALD MacDOUGALL—Based on Story by RITA WEIMAN—Fictionized by JEAN FRANCIS WEBB
Louise Howell................ JOAN CRAWFORD
David Sutton. ................. VAN HEFLIN
Dean Graham................ RAYMOND MASSEY
Carol Graham................ GERALDINE BROOKS
Dr. H. Willard................ STANLEY RIDGES
Harker......................... JOHN RIDGELY
Dr. Ames...................... MORONI OLSEN
Pauline Graham.............. NANA BRYANT
Wynn Graham............... GERALD PERREAU
Elsie............................ LISA GOLM
Norris........................... MONTE BLUE
Dr. Craig...................... DON McGUIRE
They were talking about her. She could hear their voices far away and their words swirled toward her in a vague mist, a cloudy dream.
“Hypo active deep reflexes throughout, Dr. Willard. Catatonic posturing and waxy flexibility of the extremities.”
“Name unknown, eh? Medical history unknown? Age, education, profession, all unknown? Clothing bore labels from Washington, D. C., and a woman who saw her on the street said she kept asking for David?”
“David?” Louise whispered like an echo, her eyes opening.
She was looking up at a ceiling. A white ceiling. Then a man's face moved in across it. “I'm Dr. Willard, “ he said. “We're going to help you.” She stared at him. “Did you live in Washington?” She kept on staring. “This wedding ring. You're married? Your husband's named David?”
She lay still. It was easier that way. Easier not to answer.
“You can talk, you know. You just said `David' How do you feel?”
“I feel—“ But it was too much effort. “I feel—“
“You can't find words. You want to, yet you can't.” The doctor turned away briefly. “Marked thought blocking. Almost complete mutism. We'll try narco-synthesis. Seven and a half grains in ten c.c.'s of distilled water, Miss Rosen.”
Presently he turned back and there was a long bright needle in his hand. “This won't hurt.”
She didn't feel the needle. But after a moment light seemed to be clawing toward her through the mists. She began to move, to think, to wonder about they grey fog and the white ceiling and this man—this man.
“You feel better, now, much better. You're in a hospital.”
“A hospital?” Louise winced. “What hospital? Why?”
“You suddenly became very ill. In a restaurant. Your name is—?”
“Louise Howell.” Suddenly she gasped. “This is—is Los Angeles, isn't it? I came here because - but I won't tell you.”
“Tell me about David, then.” Could he see her begin to shake? “Who is David? Your husband?” The doctor bent forward. A key on his watchchain—a gold key—glittered as it swung. Back and forth, back and forth.
“David—“ Louise whispered, staring at the flickering gleam. Back and forth. And it was like sun gleaming on the lake. The lake where she had gone to nurse crazy, shrewish Pauline Graham. The lake—.
She could remember: that gleam on the lake. Even her tears had not dimmed it, the afternoon David had run her back to Dean Graham's place in his trim speedboat—after he'd told her he wouldn't seeing her again.
“You hang on to me too hard,” he had said. “Sometimes I feel like you're choking me to death. We're getting too involved, Louise.”
“I know it wasn't meant to go this far. But I've never had anything I Wanted—except you, David. I used to be cold and shut in like the lake on a foggy day. Nothing hurt me then. I wish you'd marry me!”
His eyes were not kind. “I won't be back this way. Ever.”
With David's unpitying, handsome face always there at the axis of her heart, at the core of her despair, it hadn't been easy to stand up under Pauline Graham's whining accusations. Poor, tormented Dean Graham! He was successful, important, rich; yet whit a shadow in his eyes always. His neurotic wife had poisoned his whole life with her hallucinations; with her rantings. “What's going on between you and my husband? I know you're up to something, Louise, and I must lie here helpless—all alone!”
The idea that anything could “go on” between herself and any man but David Sutton was so ridiculous that even a mad woman should have understood it. And certainly Dean Graham, with his quiet courtesy, would have been the last person alive to seek solace with his sick wife's nurse!
“I hope it isn't too difficult for you, Miss Howell,” he apologized, after the stormiest of those upstairs scenes. “My wife's rather vivid imagination has—has happened before. Many times before. If you can bring yourself to ignore these fancies of Mrs. Graham and stay on here---“
“I will,” Louise promised, recognizing a cry for help.
He was such a good man, Dean Graham. Good to his difficult wife, good to the servants in his house, good to the two children away at their schools good even to a young, ambitious opportunist like David Sutton.
Once he had satisfied himself that his young neighbour at the lake actually had a sound engineering background and the right kind of drive, it wasn't hard for David to wangle an appointment to the big oil field in Canada, the newest of the far-flung Graham enterprises.
And Louise, to her shame, knew about David's success at the very moment he achieved it. She had listening outside the library door while the two men had their talk. That was the sort of depth to which worship of David had plunged her. When he left, that day, she was waiting for him at the Graham pier. Her eyes were pleading as they clung to his.
“David, I've been thinking about us all night. I couldn't sleep. I'll do anything you say, as long as we're together. David—“
But there had been no mercy in his answering stare. “Don't hang on to me, Louise. You'll get hurt. I told you how I felt, yesterday.”
“You're in love with someone else!” she cried. “There's another woman, I know it! Why else should you suddenly decide to go to Canada?” There! It was out, and now he knew she had not stopped even at eavesdropping in her hunger for him! “You make me feel cheap—”
“I never thought we would end like this,” David said quietly. She watched him watched him walk away, the sun on his crisp hair, and there was no mistaking the definiteness of that departing step. He did not glance back. Not even when she moaned, “David! Take me with you! Don't leave me, David!”
“Be calm.” Dr- Willard was ordering with soft authority. “How did you feel when David left you? Tell me what you were thinking.”
Louise gasped a sudden rush of words. “He did it deliberately! He was trying to humiliate me! Dean, Pauline, the others, they did it!”
Voices again. Voices in the whirling mist. “This is where it began. Notice the beginnings' of the persecution complex, Dr. Craig?”
“She said herself, sir, that before she met him she never felt anything keenly. Lack of emotional response. Typical schizoid detachment.”
The face came back again. Smiling. “Feeling better? Like some water?” A nurse's hand appeared. It held a glass. Louise recoiled in panic.
“It was black!” she moaned. “It was black—then!”
Black water. It had been out of black water the men in the boats had dragged Pauline Graham's body. That awful night! That dark night they pulled her up out of the rank weeds, and found her slippers on the high rock where, she had left them!
The police had come that night. There was an inquest. Mere formality, the sheriff had called it. And mere formality it turned out to be. Death by accident, they all agreed.
Later Louise went up to her room, adjoining the one now so empty. She had almost finished packing her bags when she heard the voice. “Is that you, Miss Howell?”
But---Pauline Graham was dead! She couldn't be on the far side of that connecting door!
“Miss Howell is that you?”
Louise whirled to face the door. After a ghastly moment, she began to move through it—slowly, slowly. That figure on the bed—
Then Carol Graham, called home from school and crouching where her mother had lain, spoke again. “Accident? It wasn't an accident! Mother mentioned you in her letters, Miss Howell. I know a lot about you.” Young Carol's lips wee thin, bitter. “But it's over now. You're leaving.”
“Your father asked me to stay,” began Louise. “In Washington---“
“I don't want you!” Carol cried. She repeated Pauline's accusations then; evil, untrue.
It took her father, in the end, to quell her hysteria. He had to slap her face, and that must have hurt him cruelly. It was decided then that Carol would return to her school, instead of to the house in Washington. Obviously, she could not live under the same root with Louise Howell.
But young Wynn, luckily, did not share his sister's obsession. He was a quiet boy, eight years old. During those months in Washington which followed their hasty departure from the lake, Louise had grown quite fond of Dean's younger child. He was her job. Taking care of him was her bread and butter. But he meant more to her than that. Perhaps, if David never had come back from Canada--- had never mocked her again—.
“David!” she whimpered, staring into Dr. Willard's face. “David!”
The professionally, soft voice said, “It's always David, isn't it?”
“It's always David. Always.” She felt to sleepy, now. As she drifted off into the eddying greyness, she could hear them talking, talking.
“Enough for today, Craig. She's exhausted. Try again tomorrow.”
“This man David is a monomania with her, sir. At least we know now who she is. The papers have been full of it. She's been missing a month.”
“We'll have to notify him immediately. Send a telegram. Tell him it's urgent and he'd better come at once. He's her only chance.”
It must be another day. It was light, and Dr. Willard was bending over her bed again and once more he held the bright needle in his hand. He smiled and said, “This doesn't frighten you today, does it? Beginning to feel good again? Fine. We'll talk some more.”
“Yes, Louise said softly. It didn't sound like her own voice.
“You told me yesterday about Mrs. Graham dying. What happened after that? Washington? Tell me about Washington. Something happened in Washington that upset you very much. It made you ill.”
“Something in—Washington.” Her head moved on the pillow. “It made me ill. Like I am now. You don't forget things like that---“
No, you never forgot them never. Not things like the shock of coming home from a walk in the park with Wynn and finding David there. Finding him in Dean Graham's house, as handsome and compelling and cold and indifferent as ever. David—out of her dreams. David.
She had stayed on at her job, reality, less because of Dean's pleas than because she knew that, if she left the Graham employ, she might never see David again. She had waited and waited, week after week, even reading Dean Graham's mail when there was an envelope with a Canada postmark on it. Just to know about him—what he was doing, how he was, anything. She had thought as the months went by it would get better. It got worse.
An then—to be face to face with him! To have to remain smiling and impersonal while Dean Graham was watching them. To have to control the swirling emotions. And all the time to read in David's eyes that deadly indifference, that boredom!
It seemed forever until Dean left to read a promised bedtime story to Wynn. And when they were there in the handsome library, just the two of them, she no longer had to sit smiling and pretending.
“Oh, David! It's wonderful to see you! Aren't you going to kiss me?”
He shrugged. “I had no plans, one way or the other.”
“Do you know how long it's been since you've said I love you?”
“I love you is not a phrase you bandy about in Washington, D. C.”
She was tense now, shaking. “I see. You're a success now. You went to Canada, dug a hole, discovered oil—and now we're through!”
“Correction. We were through before I ever left for Canada.” He made for the door, quite determinedly. “I'm sorry, Louise. In love there are no relapses. Once you're out of it, the fever never comes back.”
“You're so self-sufficient!” she screamed in soft fury. “So sure of yourself, so certain of your own charm—“
The door closed firmly behind him, cutting her off. He was gone. Forever gone, never returning.
Dean Graham found her on the dark terrace, trying to fight sown the despair, the humiliation, That was where she told him she was leaving—immediately. That was where he told her he couldn't get along without her and asked her to marry him—to become Mrs. Graham.
Mrs. Dean Graham! The wife of one of the most important men in America! “It's very flattering” Louise murmured, turning away. “It feels wonderful to he wanted by someone. Something happens to a woman who isn't wanted.” Her voice caught on the words. “I'm grateful to you.”
“Which doesn't answer my question,” he pressed. “Will you marry me?”
“I'm not in love with you.”
He smiled. “I don't expect you to be. But I do know that I can make you happy. I'd do everything to see that you were.”
She stood there on his handsome terrace and looked at him. He was so kind. David never had been kind. Her eyes misted. “I've never had a great deal. It's—very tempting. And I think I can make you happy, if you love me very much and need me very much. I'll marry you, if you want me.”
There was one other “if,” one important thing which had to be taken care of first, however. The next day she drove to Carol's fashionable school to ask, the girl if she might marry Dean. She would not go ahead with it if it meant his losing his daughter.
Carol was cold and distant, at first, although in her pitiful young fashion she did try to be fair. She admitted that, since that day at now she knew it had been her mother's mind and not Miss Howell that was wrong. But she added. “As for getting married, though, it—it isn't necessary to have my approval.”
“It is, “ Louise said firmly. “Your father is lonely. But I can't marry him, if it would meant his losing you. And since there isn't any hope of your ever liking me, I'll do what you want. I'll go away.”
She was halfway down the hall before she heard Carol calling after her. “Miss Howell! Miss Howell!”
When she turned, Carol was racing after her with tears in her eyes, arms outstretched, understanding.
If only David had not come, uninvited, to the wedding!
It was a very nice wedding. Expensive but simple, smoothly run as a wedding backed by a fortune should be. Louise and Dean were in the drawing-room, surrounded by well-wishers, when she first glimpsed David's arrogant figure coming along the receiving line like a king's.
She went all cold inside. But then David was standing before them, laughing insultingly, or so it seemed to her, saying with an utter indifference, “Would it start a new trend if I shook hands with the bride and embraced the groom? You're a very lucky man, Dean. You're very lucky woman, Louise. Bless you both—and where are the hors d'oeuvres?”
On the terrace a huge buffet table had been set out. That must have been where David and Carol ran to each other. Dean told Louise, when she asked with great casualness, that Carol had been madly infatuated with David Sutton when she was eleven. To Louise's glazed eyes, it looked very much as though a relapse had occurred. Certainly, from the moment they joined forces by that table, David and Carol wewr inseparable.
She did her urgent best to break up that she saw was happening before it could actually get under way. She told David in so many words that he was no longer welcome in the Graham house. Yet, as the weeks went by, she got a growing conviction that Carol was still seeing him. He had not returned to Lac du Fonde. That much she knew.
She devoted herself to Carol, in an effort to gain the girl's real confidence. They began to be seen everywhere together; the beautiful new Mrs. Graham and her pretty stepdaughter. It was at a Philharmonic concert, finally, that it happened. The thing that had to happen. David.
“There's David Sutton!” Carol was saying eagerly, beside her, as they settled into their box. And then, shockingly, Carol called: “David!”
Louise stiffened. “He'll think you're inviting him here.”
“I am,” answered Carol, her eyes shining with joy.
And, horribly, David came. David, after whom she might have crawled to the end of the earth, came like an obedient lackey at the mere sound of Carol's fresh young voice. His eyes on Carol, he gave merely polite greeting to Carol's companion.
Louise glared at him “We don't want to keep you from your friends.”
“Yes, we do!” contradicted Carol, laughing softly, adoringly.
And David, with the most insolent of grins, said, “The fact is, Mrs. Graham, that I haven't a friend in the world.” He sat down at Carol's side.
The box was haunted after that. The concert had scarcely begun before Louise pleaded a headache and left the hall; left Carol and David together. All the way home, she heard a sound like rushing winds inside her head. Bleak winds that wailed a lost name. “David...David...”
She changed to a dressing-gown in her own room and lay down on the bed. The wind noise still howled about her. But now it carried another voice. Pauline's dead voice, crying softly: “Louise...Louise...”
The clock on her night table ticked louder, louder, louder She stared at it until the sound terrified her. She sprang up and backed away from it.
Rain tapped at her window. “Louise...”. Pauline was the rain. Pauline was rising out of the black waters.
Louise flung her hands over her face and crumpled against the wall. She still huddled there, much later, when she heard the car stop outside, then the click of Carol's key in the latch.
Woodenly, stiffly, she went outside and leaned across the railing of the upstairs hall. Her eyes were wide, staring downward. Seeing Carol kiss David goodnight. Hearing her laugh with him at some joke about poor old Louise. Then coming up the curved flight insolently, swaggeringly. Pausing to sneer, “I thought you were ill”
Louise had to answer. “Never mind that. I want to talk with you. Go into my room.”
But she had to force the girl to obey her, actually force her with a savage little push. When she closed the door, Carol was furious. But Louise was in no mood to care. “I saw you! I saw you kiss him, Carol!”
“What of it?” Carol's hard mouth curved contemptuously.
“Stay away from him, Carol. He's no good. If he said anything about me to you it's lies, all lies! I never had anything to do with him!”
“You're in love with him,” Carol accused. “He told me other things I hadn't known about my mother. You killed her. It was no accident.”
“Be quiet!” She was taut as a pulled wire. “Don't say that”
You killed her so you could marry my father! That way you thought you could make David come back to you. You killed my mother! It's true!”
“Yes!” Louise shrieked. “Yes, it's all true! Leave me alone!” But Carol was backing out of the room. She knew where Carol was going. To tell her father everything. And if Dean knew— With a cry, Louise snatched up her heavy silver hairbrush and followed. Carol was backing away. Carol was frightened now. The hairbrush flashed upward, gleaming. It hit the side of Carol's head. She crumpled, rolled down the stairs...
No wait. Carol was at the bottom of the stairs, all right. But she was a living Carol, humming happily, closing the door on David's polite goodnight. There had been no kiss, no knowing laughter—none of the rest of it. Louise was still standing at the railing looking down, and except in her mind none of the awful thing had happened.
She stumbled back into her room, rubbing her eyes dazedly, anxious not to be seen. Where was she? In her own room, of course. No in a strange white hospital room. With the face named Willard bent over her. No—not there, either. But it was a medical place. A doctor's office.
This doctor's name was Ames. He had just finished examining her thoroughly, and he was telling here that there was nothing physically wrong with her that would explain this dreadful not knowing whether a thing that had happened was real or a dream. He was telling her that her symptoms were those of neurasthenia and that she needed a psychiatrist.
“Inability to distinguish reality from unreality—there's a type of nervous disorder in which that happens, Mrs. Smith”. She had told him her name was Smith. She had travelled from Washington to New York to see him.) “We all had bad dreams. But when a person can't wake up from them—”
Louise had, after all, been a nurse for years. “You're describing schizophrenia, Dr. Ames. Is that what's wrong with me? Insanity?”
“Insanity is not a word we like to use, Mrs. Smith.”
She felt cold. Hideously cold. “There's nothing wrong with my mind!”
“You have a problem. But it's not insoluble. Problems never are. Whatever it is that's troubling you, put an end to it. Go and see the specialist whose name I'm going to give you—”
But she had not gone. She had torn up the card. A psychiatrist might have said she was crazy. Then they would have locked her up. David, Carol, Dean—they were all against her, all wanted to lock her up. No, they weren't going to do it. She'd make David help her...
So, back in Washington, she headed straight for David's hotel. She found him at home and she tried desperately to explain to him how sick she was, how she had dreams, haw she couldn't sleep. But David was indifferent and cynical, as he always was now with her at least.
“I need help!” Louise implored. “I need it desperately. I'm afraid, David. I'm all alone, and it´s too much for me. I need someone”
He yawned. “I didn't realize I had a medicinal value.”
“I know you're not in love with me.” Her voice sounded lost. “That doesn't matter now. It's gone beyond that. Oh, David, I wish I had never seen you again!”
He chose to pretend it was only a shoddy affair she was begging for. He yawned again. “I can´t afford to offend Dean. He´s my boss.”
“I'm going to divorce Dean, David. I can't live two lives. I've got to put an end to it. The doctor said that. Help me!”
He looked at her calculatingly for a moment, as if making up his mind to something.
“Louise, you may as well know. I've fallen in love. I didn't expect to, I did'nt want to—but it happened. I´m going to ask her to marry me.”
He was still saying those incredible words when Louise slammed his door behind her. Love? Marry? David?
She went straight to Dean's office and told him—fighting for control with every word—that she was leaving him. She didn't know where she was going. It didn't matter. All that mattered was that she had to have a divorce.
She tried to soften the blow. “It isn't you Dean. It isn't you.”
“Then what is it?” he demanded with bewildered tenderness.
“It's your wife”, she whispered. “Pauline. I can't forget her. I dream about her. Last night she was in my room. She called to me.”
“Stop it, Louise!” her husband commanded sharply. “I'm sorry we've never discussed Pauline before. All the unpleasant memories—I put them aside when you and I married. It was over then, for me. Not for you, I gather. We´ll fix that. I don't intend to lose you so easily.”
He marched straight to the office door and called through it to his secretary. Louise heard him ordering the car, instructing that the house be called and bags be packed for Mrs. Graham and himself. They would be out of town until Monday. Then, at last, he turned back to her.
“Louise,” he said gently. “I love you. Very much. I'm going to help you forget Pauline as I've forgotten her. You're going with me to the lake house. The only way to meet a problem is to face it.”
She stared back at him in terror. “I´m afraid! She calls me and I don't know what she wants! I'm afraid! She'll be there—“
“You'll see. Pauline is gone from our lives. She can't harm us.”
The lake was as she had remembered it—in her nightmares, not in that summer actually she once had known. It was not summer now. The water was cold as the boat which had met them sped across it The trees were not green. When she opened the door, while Dean made arrangements with their caretaker back at the pier, whistling wind stirred about her. She dared not go upstairs to that bedroom she knew so well dared not.
Mrs. Norris, the caretaker's wife, appeared from her hasty dusting to apologize because the place had not been put in perfect order due to the lack of notice. Them she bustled out, and Louise was alone, utterly alone. She listened fearfully. Yes, she could hear it. “Louise...”
It was nothing. Only the wind. She faltered forward to the bottom of the staircase and stared up it. Her eyes glittered. “Pauline?”
“Louise...” The wind? Only the wind? “Louise, come here...”
“I'm not afraid of you, Pauline! I'm not afraid!” And she was stumbling upward, staggering, almost running. She was bursting into the dim room where an invalid had lain, whining and accusing. She was wild, desperate, trembling. To words which had not been spoken—had they?—she cried shrilly, “I won't! Let me alone! You can't make me do it!”
Behind her, Dean spoke sharply. “Louise! What's the matter?”
“It's Pauline!” she wailed. “She wants me to kill myself—like she did. She wants me to drown. But I won't, I won't! She's alive, Dean—in this bed—she´s here! Listen! Kill yourself, Louise, drown yourself! Make her stop, make her stop!
Then as his hands closed on her shoulders firmly, she realized that the bed was empty. “She's gone? Gone, Dean?”
“She was never there,” his voice said, close above her, steady.
“She went away—back to the lake. She'll wait there for me. Why? Dean I don't know why she'll wait.” Then she remembered. “Dean! I had a bad dream, didn't I? I thought she spoke to me. But it wasn't real?”
“Of course it wasn't real, Louise.”
I can't tell the difference, any more. Dean, stay near me. Stay close! I'm afraid of Pauline—you don't know what I've done!”
Her eyes filled with tears and she cried out in anguish, “I killed her, Dean! I helped Pauline commit suicide! She asked me to take her to that rock. I helped her. It was very dark. I stood there and watched her—until her face was white in the water.”
He shook her. He must be shaking very hard. “Stop it!” he shouted. But, when he was certain of her attention, he didn't shout. He spoke slowly and very carefully. “This is all nonsense. I don't know why you think all this—but none of it is true. I know it isn't because I saw Pauline kill herself. I saw it happen. And you weren't there. She was all alone on the rock. I ran down the steps, but it was too late—there was nothing I could do. I didn't want the children to know, so I went back in the house and—waited. You weren't even there that night.”
“I wasn't?” Louise muttered dazedly. “You're not just lying? I didn't help her? I only imagined that?” Suddenly she was clinging to him, half-laughing and half-crying. “Thank you, Dean! For nearly a year now, I've been afraid to close my eyes at night. I could hear her calling me. But it's all right now! She´s gone. Pauline's gone—she can't return!”
They went back to Washington sooner than they had expected. Louise's mood had swerved from despair to reckless gaiety. She loved everyone and everything. To match her feverish happiness, Dean took her out to a night club for champagne and dancing. It was all wonderful. Wonderful like the inside of a vast rose-tinted bubble. Louise laughed and laughed.
Even when Carol and David showed up at their table—Carol and David out on a date together, Carol and David in love—she kept on laughing. It was wonderfully funny. Carol and Dean looked at her, as she chattered gaily on, as if they thought the champagne had gone to her head. But David didn't look that way. David was afraid of her, and his watchful eyes showed it. David was afraid she'd tell them too much. But she didn't. She just kept on pretending she was going to—kept on laughing...
Afterward, back at the house and alone in her room, she couldn't remember what in the world she had been laughing at. She didn't feel like laughing now. She felt sullen and heavy and angry. When Carol came in to borrow an orange stick, she stared at the girl with burning eyes.
“Carol, I didn't know you and Mr. Sutton were— such good friends.”
“I could eat him with a spoon!” the girl admitted, her eyes shining. “He´s going to ask me to marry him. I can tell from the way he breathes when I go near him. Louise—frankly, am I as attractive as David says?”
“You're very pretty,” Louise said tensely. “And wealthy. Money does appeal to David. Carol dear, I feel responsible for you. I've got to tell you about David. Carol, can't you see what he´s like?”
Carol stared back at her, wide-eyed. “What are you talking about?”
“He doesn't want to marry you. Everything he's said to you is a lie—a cruel, vicious lie. David is in love with me, Carol.” Yes, that was it. Everything seemed so clear now. “He uses you as an excuse to come here to this house—to see me.” Much better that Carol should know.
“It's not true!” The child cried it out as if she had been stabbed.
“I've begged him not to hurt you, Carol. I couldn't say anything to your father. He likes David so much. It would hurt him. But it's better that you should know what kind of man he is now than—later.”
Louise was still looking sagely at her reflection in the mirror when she heard the door close as a sobbing Carol crept away. Slowly she gathered herself together for a disagreeable duty. She must go to Dean at once. She must tell him the truth about David's being madly in love with her...
It was raining, next day. The sky was grey and the windows of the Graham house glistened. Louise was alone in the handsome living-room when David came. His face was white with rage as her maid showed him in.
“I've just been to see Dean, “ he said, the instant the maid was out of earshot. “What did you say to him, Louise?”
“About you?” If only she didn't feel so cold. “I told him you want to marry Carol.”
“What else? Don't lie to me, Louise. You told him the same stupid lies about me that you tried to palm off on Carol last night.”
“Carol told him!” she cried. Yes of course—Carol! “She's trying to ruin you, David. She´s not in love with you. She's tired of you and wants to get rid of you, so she told Dean. Don't you believe me?”
He was glaring at her. “You're lying. Just as you lied to Carol and Dean. You didn't used to be a liar, Louise.”
“Yes, I lied.” Her voice was like a wheel turning. “It was easy. And Dean believed me. What are you going to do about it?”
“Something naive and simple. Tell him the truth—about us.”
“He won't believe you!” Louise breathed. “He'll hate you. I told you once I'd do anything to keep you from leaving me—anything!”
“Any jailbreak is tough,” David answered stiffly. “But I'll make it.”
She cried all the grey afternoon, alone in her luxurious room. Dean came home early from the office, to find her still crying. He wanted to talk to her. David and Carol had come to see him, and he wanted to know why his wife had lied. But she refused to answer him. She wasn't well, she said plaintively, when he refused to leave her alone. She was ill.
“I've known that for some time,” Dean's gentle voice said. “That's why I've asked a doctor to come and see you.”
For the first time, her face turned toward him. “Doctor, Dean?”
“He'll be able to help you, Louise. He'll know what to do.”
“What kind of a doctor?” She was shouting at him suddenly. “Don't you think I know? You think there's something wrong with my mind! You want me put away!
Dean's eyes were haunted. “I love you. I want you to be well again. And you need help. That's all I'm trying to do—help you.”
She was very clever about Dean. Yes, amazingly clever. She quieted down and made herself smile and promised that she'd be good when his mental expert came for a quiet dinner. In the end, he was completely reassured about her. He left her alone to rest. And she could slip out of the house, then, like a shadow...
She went straight to David's hotel. When he opened the door, his distaste was clearly mirrored in his eyes. But she brushed past. His voice flicked at her. “Get out, Louise! Leave me alone!”
Her eyes were wide, fixed, as they turned toward him. “David, I'm sick. Very sick. You have to listen. I've done terrible things because of you. Now it's all over. I've lost you. I haven't anything. I'm alone.”
“Dean loves you,” David said coldly. “He said so this afternoon.”
“No. He wants to lock me up. In one of those places.” She was shaking. “I'm not what he says, David! He thinks I'm insane!”
“I think I'd better call Dean now,” he said, moving toward his telephone. “He'll take care of you, Louise. As I never could. As for me—I'm going away tonight. Carol and I are getting married.”
A voice said, “No, you're not.” It seemed to come from somewhere outside her, yet David was looking at her as if she had spoken. Had she? Was it she who sounded so cold and deadly? Was it her hand holding the gun—Dean's gun—the gun from his desk?
David tried to joke with whoever it was that was holding that gun. He tried to laugh. Then he turned frightened and began to beg. “Don't, Louise—don't!”
But there was a terrible noise in the room and began to crumple up like a rag doll. Someone was shooting—over and over.
He lay motionless at her feet. “I'm dreaming,” she muttered. “Just like all those other times. It's only a bad dream. I didn't kill him, not really.” But he still lay there. He didn't move or disappear. “I'll wake up in just a minute in my own room at home.”
Suddenly, she knew it wouldn't happen. Suddenly she knew. “David?” she whimpered. “David!” It rose to an awful scream, thin and high and wailing. “David! David!”
“Be calm. Go to sleep and forget.”
That was the new voice. The doctor's voice, what was his name—Willard? Pretty soon, talking to those others in the shadow, he was saying other words. “I could have prevented this, ten years ago—even two. It was there for any psychiatrist to see. All the classic symptoms. Then she met this man and all her emotions were centered on him—until it became a form of madness.”
A door somewhere opened. She could here the crack of it and the firm step coming closer and the new voice saying, “Dr. Willard? I'm Dean Graham. You telegraphed me about my wife. May I see her, please?”
“She won't recognize you, Mr. Graham. She's insane.” A slight pause then. “She can be cured. I intend to cure her. In a biblical sense, we may say that such a person as Mrs. Graham is possessed by devils. It is a psychiatrist who must cast them out. She can be restored.”
“Then—may I take her home?”
“Well—the police will have to be notified. There'll be a trial. I cannot predict its outcome. Whether a jury will understand that Louise is neither mentally nor morally responsible for the death of David Sutton is something over which I have little control. She needs you, Graham.”
“Whatever happens to her, I'll be there.”
Shuffling sounds like feet rearranging themselves seeped through the greyness. Then she felt a hand slip over hers. “Louise. I'm here, Louise.”
She caught onto the gentle, strong fingers of the hand and gripped them tightly. Lost. Not understanding. But somehow, though she could not see him, comprehending that rescue was here; that she need not be afraid.
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