The Man in Lower Ten
28. Alison's Story
She told her story evenly, with her eyes on the water, only now and then, when I, too, sat
looking seaward, I thought she glanced at me furtively. And once, in the middle of it, she
"You don't realize it, probably," she protested, "but you look like a - a war god. Your face
"I will turn my back, if it will help any," I said stormily, "but if you expect me to look
anything but murderous, why, you don't know what I am going through with. That's all."
The story of her meeting with the Curtis woman was brief enough. They had met in
Rome first, where Alison and her mother had taken a villa for a year. Mrs. Curtis had
hovered on the ragged edges of society there, pleading the poverty of the south since the
war as a reason for not going out more. There was talk of a brother, but Alison had not
seen him, and after a scandal which implicated Mrs. Curtis and a young attache of the
Austrian embassy, Alison had been forbidden to see the woman.
"The women had never liked her, anyhow," she said. "She did unconventional things, and
they are very conventional there. And they said she did not always pay her - her gambling
debts. I didn't like them. I thought they didn't like her because she was poor - and
popular. Then - we came home, and I almost forgot her, but last spring, when mother was
not well - she had taken grandfather to the Riviera, and it always uses her up - we went to
Virginia Hot Springs, and we met them there, the brother, too, this time. His name was
Sullivan, Harry Pinckney Sullivan."
"I know. Go on."
"Mother had a nurse, and I was alone a great deal, and they were very kind to me. I - I
saw a lot of them. The brother rather attracted me, partly - partly because he did not make
love to me. He even seemed to avoid me, and I was piqued. I had been spoiled, I suppose.
Most of the other men I knew had - had - "
"I know that, too," I said bitterly, and moved away from her a trifle. I was brutal, but the
whole story was a long torture. I think she knew what I was suffering, for she showed no
"It was early and there were few people around - none that I cared about. And mother and
the nurse played cribbage eternally, until I felt as though the little pegs were driven into
my brain. And when Mrs. Curtis arranged drives and picnics, I - I slipped away and went.
I suppose you won't believe me, but I had never done that kind of thing before, and I -
well, I have paid up, I think."