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LEMON IN THE BASKET

Charlotte Armstrong

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1

The under sides of the trees were awash in light. All around the terrace fat yellow candles burned under hurricane hoods, sending off subtle fumes to charm the insects away. Within the magic circle, the summer table was daintily spread; white-webbed chairs were comfortable and cool. The eight people gathered here seemed, on the whole (one of them was thinking), very handsome and civilized, and worthy of paradise.

They were just the family. Here sat a man and his wife, their three grown sons, and the women those sons had married. All here were Tylers, and here were all the adult Tylers. Tamsen, the youngest and newest of them, who had been Mrs. Duncan Tyler for just a half a year and was not quite yet completely out from under the halo of her wedding veil, was seeing the scene and sensing the whole with an especial delight. She thought it was none the less paradise for being a private one.

When the Judge, her father-in-law, rose to his feet, down at the other end of the table, she corrected herself. He isn’t handsome at all, she thought fondly, but he is certainly civilized. William Rufus Tyler (who was not, in fact, a judge anymore) had a tall gangly set of bones. His high sloping shoulders were silhouetted against the glimmers on the surface of the pool that lay behind him, in the dark reaches of the lawn. His white brows, raised to ask for attention, were bushy crescents on his long, tanned forehead. The candlelight was kind to the small half-moons of flesh that sagged under his steady eyes and were complemented by the double roll that made a ruff under his long chin. It’s a clown face, thought Tamsen (the artist), and yet it isn’t comical, nor is it pathetic. It is … she captured the word she wanted … endearing!

The Judge was going to be ceremonious. He lifted his goblet of light wine. “As you may know,” he began, his deep voice easy on the quiet air, “there is being built in the new Cultural Center a theatre of some magnificence. It is my pleasure to announce its newly chosen name. Shall we toast the Maggie Mitchel Theatre? Or shall we toast Maggie?”

It was the family custom to applaud in a mere pitter-patter, not loud, and in a quick light rhythm. All, applauding, now turned their faces toward the woman at the other end of the table, who was their mother, and yet also, in her own right, “the incomparable Maggie Mitchel,” and still a first lady of the American Theatre, although she had not been on a stage for years. Tamsen, pattering away with the rest, watched Maggie take her bow with her own skillful perfection. Just right, thought Tamsen approvingly. None of this phony surprise, or “Who, little me?” stuff. Nor does she look too solemn, as if she took herself awfully awfully seriously. Now, how does she do that?

Maggie Mitchel Tyler was not a large woman. Her flesh was still compact. She was not a pretty woman and never had been, but she could be beautiful, if she liked, or anything else, for that matter. It isn’t a rubber face, thought Tamsen, who had long ago despaired of ever painting Maggie’s portrait. Still, Maggie knew how to manage so that one saw through her face to whatever she wished to seem to be thinking. Tamsen felt close to her mother-in-law. She and Maggie were in the arts and although they were not in the same art, there was a communication.

“Good going, Maggie,” said her oldest son. His wife, Phillida, said gaily, “For whom else should they name a theatre of some magnificence?”

“Wonderful,” said the middle son. And Lurlene, his wife, cried, “Say, Maggie, that’s really something!”

Tamsen put in shy congratulations and her husband, the youngest brother, said, “Well, well, after all those fragile little old light bulbs, now they are going to carve your name in stone, eh, Maggie?”

Maggie’s voice was, of course, a trained instrument. “In marble, on my gilded monument,” she said with a touch of mischievous ham.

They drank. As the Judge sat down, Maggie, who was sixty-two years old, contrived to flow to her feet and Tamsen, aware that all arts have their techniques, thought to herself, Now, how does she do that?

“However,” said Maggie, “since we are just the family—” (This was a code phrase and meant “don’t tell.”) “I think we must put a make-believe past behind and drink to something real and present. There is soon to be created a Fact Finding Committee, to which the President of the United States intends to appoint, and appoint to act as the head of it, a certain William Rufus Tyler. Your father, children, will be shooting trouble of some size.” Maggie, lifting her glass, looked the very image of the proud little wife who does not really know what her husband does in his business, but is sure that he does it very well.

The pattering exploded. Duncan said, “Facts, eh? Otherwise, knocking stubborn heads together in a fatherly sort of way?” In spite of his teasing tone, his broad and boyish face was radiating pride.

What a pair they are, thought Tamsen, as proud as he. Maggie and the Judge! She thought of something and wailed, suddenly, “You’ll be going away to Washington?”

“Washington!” said Lurlene with a startled look, as if the connection President-Washington had not occurred to her.

“Ah, well,” said the Judge, “Maggie is being a bit premature. Shall we say that the real-and-present fact is, I seem to be considered for the job?”

“But just to be considered,” said Rufus, the middle son, rather solemnly, “that’s quite an honor, Dad.”

“Indeed it is,” said the Judge agreeably.

“And quite a chore, if P.S. he gets the job,” said Phillida in her blithe way. “But speaking of honors …”

Now Phillida Tyler was up. She was a tall slim woman, always perfectly groomed, with a handsome face that seemed to reflect a composure in her mind. She and Maggie, Tamsen thought, are both strong, or even dominating, women, but so differently. Maggie dominates because if she speaks or even just walks into a room, you are compelled to look and listen, and there is no telling how she does that. But Phillida operates behind the scenes. People do what she wants them to do, but she doesn’t especially want them to realize that. It is just that what she wants them to do is the best way to accomplish some good purpose. Tamsen and Phillida had, so far, gone their separate ways, but with great goodwill and admiration for each other, just the same.

“Shall we drink to Dr. Mitchel Tyler,” said Phillida in her clear crisp voice, “for whom a new operating theatre and a whole floor of the new wing has been designated to provide a place where he is to perform and to teach a certain surgical technique already known in the trade as the ‘Mitchel Tyler’?” She wound up, not even breathless.

Before the applause was over, the oldest Tyler son stood up, as Tamsen had somehow known he would. She began to squirm with the knowledge that here, at this not unusual family Sunday night supper, on the east terrace of the Tyler house in San Marino, California, on a night in August—this time, something was ballooning. An inflation was happening. Eight people on a summer evening, and among them Maggie, whom the world called “incomparable,” and the Judge, whom the world trusted, and Dr. Mitchel Tyler, who had earned a clearing of his path toward an even greater contribution to the world. All these honors and more to come! More to come!

“If we are naming names,” the Doctor began a little gruffly. Mitchel Tyler was not short, but burly enough to seem shorter than his five-eleven. His face, however, was thin, and his dark good looks gave a sharp effect as if he were destined to become wizened, and not too long hence. Tamsen thought he was both clever and brave and she was glad he was alive.

“In the wall of the new Free Clinic for Handicapped Children, in the Valley,” Phillida’s husband said, “there will be embedded a bronze plaque in praise of Phillida Tyler.”

“Who worked very hard.” The Judge beamed, when another spate of lively pattering was fading.

“Who scampered about, raising the money,” said Phillida impudently. “Oh, it’s money that counts, you know.”

“My goodness,” said Lurlene weakly, “everybody’s names!”

Rufus said, “Well, well, well. A Tyler here and a …”

But Tamsen had gathered up her nerve. Was it her turn? Yes, surely it was her turn now. So she stood up, abruptly, before she should lose the nerve to do this, a small girl, small and dainty enough to seem more of a child than she was, at twenty-five. She had pinned her long dark hair up neatly for this occasion. Her brilliant eyes were looking frightened in her small face, and her voice, ordinarily soft and low, came out too shrilly, she feared, in her effort to give it volume. And too soon, because it cut off Rufus.

“Shall we toast—” she said. “Oh, excuse me, Rufus.”

“… and a Tyler there,” he finished lamely and fell silent.

“Shall we toast,” Tamsen began again, “Professor Duncan Tyler, who has just been appointed Vice-Chancellor of the University’s newest branch, to take office in January?”

She did not feel that she had put her news as gracefully as the others had known how to do, so she sat down in a fluster. But the pitter-patter of hands rose even faster than before. This made five out of the eight of them that the world was choosing to honor.

Duncan was saying, “And don’t tell me I’m too young, because that’s been said.”

“Of course you are not too young,” said Maggie, making her face as fierce as a terrier’s. “What has age to do with it?”

“Never fear,” said Phillida. “That job will age him rapidly.”

“Good going, Duncan,” said the Doctor. “That is, if you want administration.”

Duncan was answering that he did, and why, when Tamsen saw that Lurlene was licking her lips and looking lost. “Vice-Chancellor just means … well … sub-chief,” she said because Lurlene might not know. Tamsen felt a rustling beside her. She turned. “Wouldn’t you say, Rufus?” It was her impulse to defer to him, in some way.

Duncan, abandoning his own exchanges, said, “Hey, if it weren’t for old Rufus, pretty soon all Chiefs, no Indians.”

Tamsen winced, but to her surprise Rufus answered cheerfully. “Fewer Indians every day. How about some more firewater for us Indians, eh Tamsen?”

Tamsen dimpled at such wit. “Oh, us Indians …”

But there was Duncan, getting to his feet.

“Oh, gosh,” said Tamsen under her breath. (More to come!) She felt Maggie’s quick supporting sympathy as Maggie caught her shyness and then threw it away from them both. Even Maggie was riding above herself, as they all were. Or almost all.

“You may conclude,” said Duncan in his most pompous lecturer’s voice, that he didn’t often use on Sundays, “that we must be, on the whole, Very Important People, with our names, one way or another, on their way into the history books. But if you would care to consider immortality, you must include the fact that Tamsen Tyler has been hung!”

“Oh, ho!” cried Maggie, as her fingers pattered.

“Is that so?” beamed the Judge, inane with pleasure.

“What do you mean, hung?” said Lurlene in a startled whine.

“Twenty by twenty-five inches, County Art Museum,” said Duncan, losing his professorial pose and looking even younger than his chronological age of thirty-three. “One oil.” He thumped down.

“Darned good going, Tamsen.” That was Mitch.

Phillida leaned around to cry, “I’m hanging on to my original.”

Lurlene said, “But I mean, hung?

“Oh, well, that’s a phrase they use in the trade. It means …” Duncan began to translate, kindly.

Maggie picked up her little bell to summon Hilde and the shrimp, because the balloon had gone as far as it could go.

But Tamsen, who was often painfully aware of all kinds of invisible currents, heard herself saying to Rufus Tyler, the second son, “I’m just lucky, you know. It doesn’t take too many brains …” She caught her breath and hurtled on. “I only keep thinking how my children are going to be proud. It is a wonderful thing just to belong to this family!”

The she felt like dying. She had sinned; she had gushed.

He didn’t answer. His large eyes rolled in her direction, briefly. He was thirty-four years old and already getting bald. His round face pinched in at the bottom to a tiny pointed chin. His full lips did not move.

But Lurlene was gushing responsively, “It certainly is, Tamsen. It’s like too much! I mean, how lucky can you—”

Maggie came in, stepping on that line, to say, “Oh, did I tell you? I’ve had another letter from Alice Foster.”

The talk must turn. It was right and proper for the family to toast those of its members who had been honored by the world. Six out of eight! And to enjoy all this in concert. It was right and proper to celebrate each individual’s achievement, but the Tylers were not going into a long session of group-gloating. Not if Maggie could help it, and she could. Tamsen approved.

Maggie had chosen a good subject to swing this supper party into another mood and another pattern. Tamsen knew all about it.

Duncan said quickly, “No. What’s up in Alalaf?”

But Tamsen, for a moment, only half listened. She was ashamed to have been so clumsy, that her intention to be tactful had come out insultingly. She didn’t look at Rufus but watched Lurlene, who had presentably fine features, a straight nose, well-shaped eyes, a good enough chin, but whose hairdo had emerged from some neighborhood beauty parlor and bore no relation to her face or personality; whose body, at not much more than thirty, was slopping into too many soft lumps, whose dress was too busy with too many printed flowers and did not flatter the body, whose basically well-cut mouth was wearing a twist on it.

Or was Tamsen imagining? When that mouth opened too wide to receive too large a portion of the shrimp cocktail, and a bright fingernail came up to push in a spot of sauce at the mouth’s corner, Tamsen turned her eyes. She had never yet had what could be called a conversation with Lurlene Tyler. Tamsen sighed and began to pay attention.

“Alice, and Jaylia too, are really pushing, and it doesn’t do to underestimate them, you know,” Maggie was saying. She became a Sybil, with veils. “It will happen.”

“What will happen?” Rufus rumbled.

Tamsen knew what Maggie expected to happen. A little boy’s life was going to be saved. And the fact that this little boy was a member of the royal family in a small country all the way around at the other side of the earth would make no difference. The Tylers would save him. Tamsen couldn’t help agreeing with Maggie. She felt a mystic certainty, tonight, that anything the Tylers proposed to achieve would be achieved. Oh, there were complications and impediments, but no matter.

This Alice Foster was a woman with whom Maggie had gone to school, long ago. A person, Tamsen had gathered, of some force, who, although seldom seen, had retained, as some people know how to do, her status as an old chum, forever loyal. Alice Foster’s only daughter had married a young man who was a prince, and however small his country, he was not only rightfully a prince, he had been in line to become a king.

But this prince was dead; he had been killed in a spectacular accident. His little boy was now, by several strokes of fate, in line to become the King of Alalaf, when the present monarch, the child’s aging grandfather, should die, or as soon thereafter as the boy himself came of age.

The question was, would he ever become of age? The little prince had a very serious physical defect. Tamsen knew it had to do, somehow, with his heart. This condition was expected to end his life fairly soon unless something drastic was done about it.

It was Duncan who had discovered all this and involved the Tylers. A year ago, Duncan the college professor had, through the channels of the old friendship between Maggie and Alice Foster, been invited to the tiny kingdom of Alalaf, to visit the new university which the fabulously wealthy old king had very recently caused to be built in his capital city. Once there, Duncan had, of course, been entertained at the Palace and he had then heard about the child’s condition. So Duncan had bethought himself of his brother, Dr. Mitchel Tyler, and his brother’s position as the pioneering expert in the field.

At last, at last, and only last week, the Doctor had been invited and implored to come and see. So Mitch had flown to Alalaf, where in conference with the doctors there and by what examination he was able to make on the spot, he had held out hope that if the boy could be brought to Mitch in his own hospital, where he had his batteries of instruments and aides, perhaps he could, as Mitch would put it, be patched up.

This was progress, of a sort, but evidently there were still complications and impediments. Had the Prince been a Pauper, Tamsen surmised rather sadly, he would have come long ago.

“Will it be awkward for you, Judge, if this happens?” Phillida was saying with bright devotion. She must mean politically.

“No, no,” said the Judge. “Can’t have that.”

“Why?” said Rufus. “What’s awkward?” His gaze rolled all around the table and lit on Tamsen, finally.

He seemed to have no clue to the conversation, so Tamsen said, “You all go so fast.” She made herself plaintive. “Some of us can’t follow. Please?”

“Well, you see, honey …” Duncan began to explain. He knew that Tamsen could follow well enough and was only trying to be kind. But Duncan was with her. Tamsen sent him her sparkling gratitude. “There’s politics,” said Duncan flatly. “The old King of Alalaf—Al Asad is the handiest of his names—is not only notoriously anti-American as well as, parenthetically, anti-everybody else, but it so happens that Americans are pretty anti-him at the moment.” Duncan couldn’t help this racing along. “Ever since he clonked twenty-eight American professors into the hoosegow, according to his royal whim, last week.”

“Oh,” said Rufus, “that’s right. I heard it on TV. I see what you mean.”

Tamsen thought, No, he doesn’t.

And to her shock, the Doctor said, “No, you don’t, Rufus, old boy. Just sit tight.”

Tamsen began to rephrase what Duncan had said, in her own mind. The King of Alalaf has just arrested twenty-eight Americans on suspicion of espionage, and Americans don’t like that. Therefore, Alalaf is, at the moment, in the bad graces of the news-conscious people of this country. Therefore …

“That does make everything a little awkward,” said Maggie and glided smoothly on. “Did you meet those men at the University there, Duncan?”

“I met some of them, sure,” Duncan said. “Just a bunch of poor-but-honest schoolteachers trying to get along. Not obviously the cloaks-and-daggers that Al Asad, may his tribe increase, is saying he thinks they are. Of course, who knows?”

“Our government is going to have something to say about this, eh, Dad?” said Rufus smugly. “I’ll bet there’s pressure on.”

Rufus wants to play inside-dopester, thought Tamsen as she watched the Judge move his shoulders, refusing to state what inside dope he might really know. The Judge had long ago given up the bench, so Duncan had told her, for the exercise of his native talent, which was that of negotiation, the art of the possible, or compromise. How could he give a wise and seasoned answer to a question so … well … inept?

Phillida answered. “Now, Rufus,” she chided in her gay and somewhat mocking manner, “you’ve seen by the papers that we are definitely frowning.” Then she said to the Judge, “But if Mitch is going to take the knife to the heir to the throne and the idol of the people of Alalaf, and Maggie takes his mama in, here, as I suppose she will—”

“Of course,” said Maggie. “Of course, for pity’s sake! Alice Foster’s daughter!”

“But won’t that seem pro-Alalaf, at a bad time?”

“No, no,” said the Judge. “I can blame my wife’s compassionate heart and transcend politics, can’t I?”

“Pretty All-American, that,” said Duncan. “And All-American Mitch had better be right, I suppose.”

Tamsen, who was following all this, knew that not everyone here could follow and it made her uneasy.

“If Mitch says that the poor little fellow will benefit from the operation, then, of course, he will,” proclaimed Maggie.

“I say he may,” Mitch corrected. “I’ll need him here a while before I add up the chances.”

“Say … uh … whose little fellow is this?” said Lurlene. “Excuse me, but you all go so fast.” Her eyes thanked Tamsen for the phrase and Tamsen smiled at her.

“The King’s grandson,” said Duncan kindly. “The heir to the throne. Eleven years old. Saiph, they call him. Al Saiph, I guess it should be.”

“For heaven’s sakes,” said Lurlene rather skeptically.

“So you’d better be right, eh, Mitch?” Rufus repeated Duncan’s phrase just as if it were new and his own. But he was catching on, now.

“You’re damned right, I’d better be right,” said the Doctor genially, “and, if asked, I expect to be. Cool it, everybody.”

“And thanks a lot, Duncan,” said Phillida merrily, “for getting Mitch into this one.”

“Who, me?” drawled Duncan. “Can I help it if I’m there to look at the old King’s shiny new University and Alice Foster and the Princess Jaylia happen to mention that the boy’s got this trouble and I just happen to have a brother who happens to be the only wizard extant? Taken them a year to do anything about it,” he grumbled. He was a man who liked things done.

“Alice Foster’s grandson is not my patient yet,” said Mitch.

“Wait a minute,” Rufus said. “Alice Foster’s grandson has got to be half American. So how can the King be anti-American?”

“The child is a quarter, Rufus,” said Maggie gently. “Alice married an Australian. Not long after we were graduated, her daddy gave her a trip around the world. Do you know,” Maggie squinted thoughtfully, “Alice may have gone into orbit. She seems to have been going around the world ever since.”

“Great old gal, Alice,” said Duncan comfortably.

“So what’s-her-name, the daughter …” Rufus was poor at names.

“Jaylia,” Maggie prompted.

“Isn’t she the one who married the Playboy Prince, what’s-his-name?”

“Aljedi was his nickname,” the Judge prompted.

“A prince of what?” said Lurlene. Tamsen opened her mouth to tell her but Rufus kept right on. Lurlene was just too far behind.

“Wait a minute,” Rufus said, “I remember now. He was the Playboy Prince who burned himself up in a racing car crash. Right?”

“Yes, he did,” said Maggie gravely.

“Kind of thoughtless, wasn’t that?” said Rufus. He smacked his lips together.

“Of whom?” said the Judge politely.

“Of what’s-his-name, the Playboy Prince.” Rufus made a grand gesture and Tamsen had to duck it slightly. “This boy’s father. I mean, here is a chap supposed to get to be the king of this piddling little country. Shouldn’t he have thought of that before he goes in for one of the most dangerous sports in the world? Especially when all he’s got to leave behind him is the one child, didn’t you say, Maggie?”

“Just the one,” said Maggie quietly.

“And he’s not quite right, at that,” said Rufus sharply.

Tamsen noticed that Lurlene was watching her own husband with a certain resentful sullenness, as if he had begun to speak in a foreign tongue, and she was not only lost but spited.

“No, no,” Rufus went on, as if the silence around the table had disputed him, “there is such a thing as responsibility to the people. Why did this Playboy Prince have to see how fast he could drive a car? Pretty childish. Oil money, they’ve got, haven’t they? But could he afford that?”

Rufus was sounding painfully righteous, but Tamsen said in her soft voice, “I certainly think you have a point, Rufus.”

The Judge said, in an offhand way, “I believe the King had other sons.”

“One killed in a plane,” said Maggie, “and one in battle, and one who just seems to have died. But Aljedi was the favorite of the people and now they worship Saiph, so Alice says. Oh there is another heir, a nephew, you see.”

“Ah, lots of characters in that country who wouldn’t mind being King, either,” said Duncan easily. “Don’t worry about it, Rufus.”

Maggie rang her little bell.

“Yes,” said Rufus loudly, “but wouldn’t you think this particular idiot prince ought to have watched himself?” He turned his gaze on Tamsen suddenly. “What do you say, Chief?”

“I don’t know,” she said feebly.

“There may be,” cut in Maggie, “a great many things we don’t know. But we do seem to know that Alice Foster’s grandson (and the King’s, too, of course)”—Maggie dismissed kings as mere in-laws—“cannot live very long unless an operation can help him.”

“Well, that’s too bad, naturally,” said Rufus.

The Judge had switched Phillida to the subject of her pet projects for helping unfortunate children, when Rufus burst out again.

“But if that’s so,” he said, as if no one had spoken since his own last sentence, “it looks to me as if Mitch has got a little pressure. What if Mitch says to the King, what’s-his-name, ‘See here, I am an American and I’m not going to operate on your grandson until you let those Americans out of your jail.’ How about that?” Rufus was looking crafty. He expected praise.

“How about that?” said his brother Mitch mildly.

“Well, the way their minds work …”

“The trouble is, Rufus, old boy,” said Duncan, “I spent a whole week there, a year ago, and even I, child-prodigy that I am, haven’t the slightest idea how their minds work.”

“I was there a whole day, a week ago,” Mitch said, “and I haven’t, either.”

“But you couldn’t,” gasped Tamsen belatedly, “use a little boy’s life …” For pressure, her thought continued, or for blackmail!

“Kinda mess up the image of the All-American compassionate heart. Wouldn’t it, just?” drawled Duncan, sending her his smile.

“Oh, say,” said Lurlene, who by now had caught on to some of this, “you got to have reverence for life. I mean, don’t you? Especially of a little child.”

And now Rufus was staring at his wife.

“Sure you do, Lurlene.” Duncan was the quickest and he broke the somewhat wincing silence. “Mitch is in that business, so don’t you worry.” Then he called the table’s length, “Hey, Maggie, are you going to have to dedicate this dump they are naming after you?”

“Alas,” said Maggie, becoming tragically weary of her worldly burdens, “since I am still alive, I suppose I must.”

“Oh go on,” said Phillida. “You’ll love every minute—”

“Of course,” said Maggie in the same tragic tones, “and so will my audience.”

Her children laughed at her, as (Tamsen realized) they had been intended to do.

2

Tamsen, savoring the evening behind them, was quiet for the first part of their long ride home. Duncan Tyler didn’t mind, having other things to think about. He was startled when she said, suddenly, “What does your brother Rufus feel?”

“Feel? Oh, you mean because he didn’t have his pretty wreath to lay on the family altar?” Duncan had expected this to come up, sooner or later. “Don’t worry, honey. He’s used to that.”

“Is he? Really?”

Duncan knew the shades of her soft voice. He began to declaim, being free to do so with his bride of six months, and enjoying the exercise of the privilege. “Rufus,” he said, “was born what you might call one of the untalented of this world. Nice fellow, but … well … not bright. The folks had to squeak him through the easiest college courses known to man, and it took persistence, believe me. On their part, that is. Well, of course, he couldn’t qualify for medical. Dad did wangle him into law school, where he washed out almost immediately. In fact, I think it was immediately. As for science, since I doubt he realizes firmly that two and two will usually make four—”

“Oh, Duncan!”

“No, no,” he said, wondering if she could have been hearing meanness in what he thought of as his humorous vein. “Honey, an IQ is an IQ, rough measure though that may be. Everybody knows it’s not his fault.”

“But if it’s not his fault …”

“Then nobody blames him,” Duncan finished for her.

They were trundling through the western section of the city. Duncan was thinking it was hard for Tamsen to understand the family attitude. He must, he supposed, teach her.

“What has he done?” she asked in another moment.

“Well, Rufus thought he’d start at the bottom in industry and work up. Turned out it takes some yeasty kind of thing to rise, and he didn’t have it. So he dropped that and thought he’d be a salesman and make a wad, which is respectable, you know. But there seemed to be some kind of self-starting energy involved there that he doesn’t have, either. They lived with, or on, Lurlene’s mother for years.”

“He just keeps on failing?” Tamsen said, in mourning tones.

“Well, no. I think he’s just stopped trying,” said Duncan cheerfully. “After all, why should he pursue that will-o’-the-wisp, security, when he’s got about as much of it as humans get. He’s got the family. He’s got some comfortable friends of his own, I presume. And of course, he’s got Lurlene, and he is devoted to her. Well, she never has, and still doesn’t, demand too much intellectual brilliance, would you say? So Rufus may be a whole lot happier than any of us miserable strivers.”

“I don’t think so,” Tamsen said.

“My love, my little bleeding heart,” said Duncan, “mind, when you empathize, that you allow for the fact that the other fellow isn’t just like you.”

“But he has to feel accepted,” she said stubbornly.

“As what and by whom?” said Duncan, who had known that he must come bluntly to this, sooner or later. “Must he be accepted as what he isn’t, by people pretending to be what they are not? Which is to say, as uninformed and unintelligent as he?”

“Oh, Duncan, that’s cruel,” she cried, bending forward in pain. “I think that’s cruel!”

“We do, too,” he said, deliberately misunderstanding her.

They went along silently for a while.

“Wait a minute. You didn’t get fooled, did you?” Duncan asked her, suddenly.

“What?”

“You do realize, for instance, that Maggie knows she couldn’t make it in the modern theatre? That the Judge is not licking his chops over this ‘honor’? He gets asked to do what he still can do, but he is tired. As for Mitch, he hasn’t even scratched the surface of what he intends to accomplish before he’s through. And Phillida gave up her own career, years ago, to be a pretty darned good wife and mother. If she has energy left over and does these charity things, it’s not her name she wants in bronze. And look at me, the bright young educator. Believe me, I am one who knows better than most how terrifyingly ignorant I really am. And I guess you don’t consider yourself on top of the world of art, eh?”

“It bothers me to pieces,” said Tamsen promptly, “that the one they chose to hang is not the one I like the best.”

“All right,” Duncan chuckled. “Granted, Rufus seems to have fallen into fast company. Also granted, it did seem on the sore-thumbish side tonight. But, as the Chinese used to say, ‘No blame.’ And we were not beating him down, for the fun of it. He’s one of us.”

They began the descent into the canyon, where they lived in a brown-shingled house of mad design that delighted them both for its charming unorthodoxy. Duncan parked the car where it must stand, beside Tamsen’s Volkswagen, because there was no garage. He went around and took her out, into his arms.

“Do you and I,” he said, into her sweet-scented hair, “make ourselves miserable because Mitch, our brother, has his marvelous skill to save that little foreign prince? Ah, no! Rejoice! Rejoice!”

“I do,” Tamsen said into his shoulder. “I do.”

Dr. Mitchel Tyler was a fast driver; he liked the freeways. Phillida said, as they sped the long way, in order to get home sooner, “Lurlene! Lurlene! How she does get herself up!” Phillida had begun life as a dress designer and now shuddered. “Has science discovered whether good taste is hereditary or environmental?”

“What Foundation has cared enough?” said her husband. “I don’t know what the dickens Rufus is doing these days. Not making any money, I’d imagine.”

“It doesn’t take money,” said Phillida, “to eschew orange roses on chiffon, plus rhinestones, for a Sunday night on the terrace.”

The Doctor pursued his own thoughts. “I tried to find old Rufus something to do, but if he won’t sink in his teeth or persevere …”

“No room in my business, either,” she agreed. “Even a do-gooder has to be good at it.” She, too, had once tried to find Rufus a job.

“Oh, he’ll never be a charity case. The family sees to that.”

“Maybe he’s been overprivileged.”

“Oh, come on.” There was no such thing, in the Doctor’s opinion.

“Of course, he early made his bed by marrying Lurlene when he was what … twenty?”

“No accounting for tastes.” The Doctor grinned. “That’s not been researched.”

“It wasn’t shotgun, either,” mused Phillida, without malice. “Or where’s the evidence?” (Rufus and Lurlene had no children.)

“Oh, Rufus is all right, I suppose.” The Doctor turned his head. “When shall we go ahead and have our fourth, Phillida?”

“Whenever you have time, dear,” said his wife cheerfully.

They swooped down into the underground garage and left the car, and rode in a deep and comfortable silence up to their very modern and spacious apartment in one of the newest high-rise buildings in the City of Los Angeles.

“Is Rufus all right, William?” asked Maggie suddenly.

The Judge regarded her fondly, where she sat in negligee, cozily near, in the corner of his own huge bedroom where it was their habit to share a nightcap. “I should think so, Maggie darling. He didn’t mention money.”

“But then, I suppose in all the excitement we forgot to ask if he needed any.” Maggie sighed and then said the opposite of what she was thinking. “What a perfect triumph of a Tyler evening.”

He answered her thoughts. “Not everybody needs a career, Maggie darling. Nor would relish the bother of it.”

“I wish he could find at least a hobby that … would engross him, you know?”

“Not the sort of thing that can be found for him.”

“But oh, I wish I could have told them …”

The Judge, who was used to skipping along beside her, waited patiently to know where her thoughts had gone this time.

“I didn’t much like hearing poor young Aljedi so unhappily misunderstood.”

The Judge made the jump. “The Playboy Prince? Condemned under that cliché? It was a state secret, Maggie darling, and not ours to tell.” The Judge thought that Rufus was not to blame, this time. Some secrets made for misunderstanding.

“Not even our state,” Maggie agreed. “William, do you suppose he flirted, poor afflicted fellow, with that flaming death because he knew he hadn’t long to live in any case?”

“I see that you suppose so,” said the Judge, amused at Maggie’s way of stating her answer as if it were the question. “Perhaps it was his hobby to risk a life that wasn’t going anywhere.”

“I would, too,” she said darkly.

“Same defect the little boy has, wasn’t it? Late diagnosis, and no known cure. I’d say that Mitch thinks there is a chance for the lad, in these latter days.”

“It’s if they can wiggle things around so that it can be ‘politically wise’ to send him to America and an American. Of all the idiocy!” Maggie’s voice condemned politics. “Never mind,” she said, as if it had been the Judge who had mentioned politics. “Alice Foster is a very strong-minded character.”

“I had heard that the King of Alalaf was an Absolute Monarch,” he teased her.

“Oh, there’s always some woman modifying all that,” said Maggie airily.

The house was one-story and, although newly painted, old-fashioned. It sat on an unhandy triangle of land, too near a commercial street. The most desirable thing about it was its postal address. It lay on the very fringe of Beverly Hills. Lurlene had been wild to have it, a year and a half ago.

Rufus let her out at the front. She used her key and put up the light in what she still thought of as the “front room.” She stepped out of her shoes at once and padded through to open the back door for him. Then she took a can of beer out of the refrigerator, went back to the front room and sat down rather heavily in her upholstered rocking chair.

The front room was furnished well enough. She kept it scupulously clean. None of the furniture was shabby. She usually felt the effect to be fine. But it’s another world, she thought, remembering the terrace scene. Yah, if you have money …

She had her bra unhooked and was sitting there, with her stout legs apart, when Rufus came through, bearing a can of beer of his own. He sat down in his accustomed place, angled away from the cold fireplace toward the television set.

“Um, boy,” said Lurlene, weary of trying to watch her speech all evening, “that Tamsen sure thinks she’s pretty cute. I see she had her hair up, at least. How come a grown woman goes around most of the time with her hair hanging down her back?”

He didn’t speak, but Lurlene somehow knew it was perfectly safe, tonight, to attack Tamsen. “What kind of stuff does she get ‘hung’? Those fried-egg-looking messes, I suppose. I mean, who needs them? And listen,” she continued, “how come Phillida has to go around getting money out of other people? Why don’t she just give out some of her own? I guess your brother makes plenty, right?”

Sometimes, when she got off like this on the subject of his family, he’d start laughing and tell her to just relax. Sometimes, he’d look a little bit sad and tell her she didn’t know them like he did. Tonight he didn’t say anything.

“They sure are some bunch of high-flyers,” she muttered. “Pretty fancy.”

Rufus got up and turned on the TV. It was a talk program. The M.C. was wrangling with some inarticulate volunteer, and cruelly, for entertainment values, preventing the poor soul from making his point.

Lurlene didn’t bother to try to follow the argument. She surmised, with some shrewdness, that Rufus didn’t want to talk, and TV gave the sense of life and noise that relieved you of that responsibility whether you paid attention to the tube or not.

Lurlene herself couldn’t help feeling low, or like gypped, or something. Every time they went to one of these family deals at Maggie’s, Maggie always put on all that dog. Lurlene always went to a lot of trouble to gussy herself up, and usually left her house feeling some self-confidence. And then ended up by coming home with this lousy feeling that she had been off-base again.

What do I do? She was brooding, now. Didn’t do one damn thing I shouldn’t have. I was well-dressed. I was polite.

The man on TV was shouting, “And the criminal, he not only gets off, but he’s the one who gets his name in the papers.”

“What is your point, sir?” snapped the M.C. “If you’ve got a point, kindly come to it, unless it’s on the top of your head.”

“I’m only saying—”

“You’re not saying anything, pardon me. Next questioner, please.”

“They talk so damn fast,” said Lurlene aloud. “Tamsen was right about that. You sure can’t catch on to what the hell they’re talking about. And I don’t think that’s very polite.”

“Tamsen,” said Rufus, in a funny way.

On the screen, the next questioner had begun to drone, entangling himself in so many clauses that all hope of a sentence was soon gone.

Lurlene said, gloomily, “Even her name’s getting in the papers, I suppose. Um, boy, like I say … It don’t mean that much,” she added sourly. “So what is it, to get famous or something? So long as you lead a decent life and raise up some decent …” She stopped.

“Who needs fame?” Rufus rolled his eyes.

“What I mean!” Lurlene settled down to souring the grapes, pleased to think that he was with her. “You want your name in the papers, what the heck, all you got to do is go ahead, be a criminal, like the man just said.”

“Steal a million dollars?” Rufus said, with a saucy quirk of his lips. “Blow off the Statue of Liberty’s head?” He seemed to be pleased and relaxed by this fancy.

“Hey!” Lurlene admired his imagination. “Or you take a big gangster,” she continued.

“Sell top secrets to the enemy?”

“Or even you get in death row,” said Lurlene cheerily, “like who was this killer? In the headlines for twelve years, already? Some world.” She sighed luxuriously over the sins of everybody else. “No place to raise a kid, I’m telling you. I’m just as glad.”