Mr. Edwards carried on his business of whoremaster in an orderly and unemotional way. He maintained his wife and his two well-mannered children in a good house in a good
Boston. The children, two boys, were entered on the books at Groton when they were infants.
Mrs. Edwards kept a
dustless house and controlled her servants. There were of
course many times when Mr. Edwards had to be away from home on business, but he managed to live an amazingly domestic life and to spend more evenings at home than you could imagine. He ran his business
accountant’s neatness and accuracy. He was a large and powerful man, running a little to fat in his late forties, and yet in surprisingly good condition for a time when a man wanted to be fat if only to prove he was a success.
He had invented his business—the circuit route through the small towns, the
short stay of each girl, the discipline, the percentages. He felt his way along and made few mistakes. He never sent his girls into the cities.
He could handle the hungry constables of the villages, but he had respect for the experienced and voracious big city police. His ideal stand was a small town with a mortgaged hotel and no amusements, one where his only competition came from wives and an occasional wayward girl. At this time he had ten units. Before he died at sixty-seven of strangulation on a chicken bone, he had groups of four girls in each of thirty-three small towns in New England. He was better
than well fixed—he was rich; and the manner of his death was in itself symbolic of success and well-being.
At the present time the institution of the whorehouse seems to a certain extent to be dying out. Scholars have various reasons to give. Some say that the decay of morality among girls has dealt the whorehouse its deathblow.
Others, perhaps more
idealistic, maintain that police supervision on an increased scale is driving the houses out of existence. In the late days of the last century and the early part of this one, the whorehouse was an accepted
institution. It was said that its existence protected decent women. An unmarried man could go to one of these houses and evacuate the sexual energy which was making him uneasy and at the same
time maintain the
popular attitudes about the purity and loveliness of women. It was a mystery, but then
there are many
mysterious things in our social thinking.
These houses ranged
from palaces filled with gold and velvet to the crummiest cribs where the stench would drive a pig away. Every once in a while a story would start about how young girls were stolen and enslaved by the controllers of the industry, and perhaps many of the stories were true. But the great majority of whores drifted into their profession through
stupidity. In the houses they had no responsibility. They were fed and clothed and taken care of until they were
too old, and then they were kicked out. This ending was no deterrent. No one who is young is ever going to be old.
Now and then a smart
girl came into the profession, but she usually moved up to better things. She got a house of her own or worked successfully at blackmail or married a rich man. There was even a special name for the smart ones. They were grandly called courtesans.
Mr. Edwards had no
trouble either in recruiting or in controlling his girls. If a girl was not properly stupid, he threw her out. He did not want very pretty girls either. Some local young man might fall in love with a pretty
whore and there would be hell to pay. When any of his girls became pregnant they had the choice of leaving or of being aborted so brutally that a fair proportion died. In spite of this the girls usually chose abortion.
It was not
always smooth sailing for
Edwards. He did have his problems. At the time of which I am telling you he had been subjected to a series of misfortunes. A train wreck had killed off two units of
four girls each. Another of his units he lost to conversion when a small-town preacher suddenly caught fire and began igniting the townsfolk with
swelling congregation had to move out of the church and into the fields. Then, as happens
so often, the
preacher turned over his hole-card, the sure-fire card. He predicted the date of the end
of the world, and the whole county moved bleating in on him. Mr. Edwards went to the town, took the heavy quirt
suitcase, and whipped the
girls unmercifully; instead
seeing the thing his way, the girls
begged for more
whipping to wipe out their fancied sins. He gave up in disgust, took their clothes, and went back to Boston. The girls
prominence when they went naked to the camp meeting to confess and testify. That is how Mr. Edwards happened to
be interviewing and
recruiting numbers of girls instead of picking one up here and there. He had three units to rebuild from the ground.
I don’t know how Cathy Ames
heard about Mr.
Edwards. Perhaps a hack driver told her. The word got around when a girl really wanted
to know. Mr.
Edwards had not had a good morning when she came into his office. The pain in his stomach he ascribed to a halibut chowder his wife had given him for supper the night before. He had been up all night. The chowder had blown both ways and he still felt weak and crampy.
For this reason he did
not take in all at once the girl who called herself Catherine Amesbury. She was far too pretty for his business. Her voice was low and throaty, she
delicate, and her skin was lovely. In a word she was not Mr. Edwards’ kind of girl at all. If he had not been weak he would have rejected her instantly. But while he did not look at her very closely during
questioning, mostly about relatives who might cause trouble, something in Mr. Edwards’ body began to feel her. Mr. Edwards was not a concupiscent
besides he never mixed his professional life with his private
reaction startled him. He looked up, puzzled, at the girl, and her eyelids dipped sweetly and mysteriously, and
there was just a
suggestion of a sway on her lightly padded hips. Her little mouth wore a cat smile. Mr. Edwards leaned forward at his desk, breathing heavily.
He realized that he wanted this one for his own.
“I can’t understand why
a girl like you—” he began, and fell right into the oldest conviction in the world—that
the girl you are in love with can’t possibly be anything but true and honest.
“My father is dead,”
Catherine said modestly.
“Before he died he had let things go to pieces. We didn’t know
money on the farm. And I can’t let the bank take it away from my mother. The shock would kill her.” Catherine’s eyes dimmed with tears. “I thought maybe I could make enough to keep up the interest.”
If ever Mr. Edwards had
a chance it was now. And indeed a little warning buzz did sound in his brain, but it was not loud enough. About eighty per cent of the girls who came to him needed money to pay off a mortgage. And Mr. Edwards made it an unvarying rule not to believe anything his girls said at any time, beyond what they had for
sometimes lied about that. And here he was, a big, fat, grown-up
leaning his stomach against his desk while his cheeks darkened with blood and
excited chills ran up his legs and thighs.
Mr. Edwards heard
himself saying, “Well now, my dear, let’s talk this over. Maybe we can figure some way for you to get the interest money.” And this to a girl who had simply asked for a job as a whore—or had she? 2
Mrs. Edwards was
persistently if not profoundly religious. She spent a great part of her time with the mechanics of her church, which did not leave her time for either its background or
its effects. To her, Mr. Edwards was in the importing business, and even if she had known—which she probably did—what business he was really in, she would not have believed it. And this is another mystery. Her husband had always been to her a coldly thoughtful man who made
few and dutiful
physical demands on her. If he had never been warm, he had never been cruel either. Her dramas and her emotions had to do with the boys, with the vestry, and with food. She was content with her life and thankful. When her husband’s
disintegrate, causing him to be restless and snappish, to sit staring and then to rush out of the house in a nervous rage, she ascribed it first to his stomach and then to business reverses. When by accident she came upon him in the bathroom, sitting on the toilet and crying softly to himself, she knew he was a sick man. He tried quickly to cover his red, brimming eyes from her scrutiny. When neither herb teas nor physics cured him she was helpless.
If in all the years Mr. Edwards had heard about anyone like himself he would
have laughed. For
Edwards, as cold-blooded a whoremaster as ever lived, had
fallen hopelessly, miserably in
rented a sweet little brick house for her and then gave it to her. He bought her every imaginable
overdecorated the house, kept
it overwarm. The carpeting was too deep and the walls were crowded with heavy framed pictures.
Mr. Edwards had never experienced such misery. As a matter of business he had learned
so much about
women that he did not trust one for a second. And since he deeply loved Catherine and love requires trust, he was
fragments by his emotion. He had to trust her and at the same time he did not trust
her. He tried to buy her loyalty with presents and with money. When he was away from her, he tortured himself with the thought of other men slipping into her house. He hated to leave Boston to check up on his units because this would leave Catherine alone. To a certain extent he began to neglect his business. It was his first experience with this kind of love and it nearly killed him.
One thing Mr. Edwards
did not know, and could not know
would not permit it, was that she was faithful to him in the sense that she did not receive
or visit other men. To Catherine, Mr. Edwards was as cold a business proposition as his units were to him. And as he had his techniques, so had she hers. Once she had him, which was very soon, she managed always to seem slightly dissatisfied. She gave him
an impression of
restlessness, as though she might take flight at any moment. When she knew he was going to visit her, she made it a point to be out and to come in glowing as from some incredible experience. She complained a good deal about the difficulties of
avoiding the lecherous looks and touches of men in the street who could not keep away from her. Several times she ran frightened into the house, having barely escaped a man who had followed her. When she would return in the late afternoon and find him waiting for her she would explain,
shopping. I have to go shopping, you know.” And she made it sound like a lie.
In their sexual relations she convinced him that the result
satisfactory to her, that if he were a better man he could release
a flood of
unbelievable reaction in her. Her method was to keep him continually off balance. She saw with satisfaction his nerves begin to go, his hands take to quivering, his loss of weight, and the wild glazed look in his eyes. And when she delicately sensed the near approach of insane, punishing rage, she sat in his lap and soothed him and made him believe for a moment in her innocence.
could convince him. Catherine wanted
money, and she set about getting it as quickly and as easily as she could. When she had successfully reduced him to a pulp, and Catherine knew exactly when the time had come, she began to steal from him. She went through his pockets and took any large bills she found. He didn’t dare accuse her for fear she would go away. The presents of jewelry he gave her disappeared, and although she said she had lost them he knew they had been sold. She padded the grocery bills, added to the prices of clothes.
He could not bring himself to stop it. She did not sell the house but she mortgaged it for every penny she could get.
One evening his key did not fit the lock of the front door.
She answered his
pounding after a long time. Yes, she had changed the locks because she had lost her key. She was afraid, living alone. Anyone could get in.
She would get him another key—but she never did. He always had to ring the bell after that, and sometimes it took a long time for her to answer, and at other times his
ring was not answered at all. There was no way for him to know whether she was at home or not. Mr. Edwards had her followed—and she did not know how often.
Mr. Edwards was
essentially a simple man, but even a simple man has complexities which are dark and twisted. Catherine was clever, but even a clever woman misses some of the strange corridors in a man.
She made only one bad slip, and she had tried to avoid that one. As was proper, Mr. Edwards had stocked the pretty little nest with champagne. Catherine
had from the first refused to touch it.
“It makes me sick,” she explained. “I’ve tried it and I can’t drink it.”
“Nonsense,” he said.
“Just have one glass. It can’t hurt you.”
“No, thank you. No. I can’t drink it.”
Mr. Edwards thought of
her reluctance as a delicate, a ladylike quality. He had never insisted until one evening when it occurred to him that he knew nothing about her.
Wine might loosen her
tongue. The more he thought of it, the better the idea
seemed to him.
“It’s not friendly of you
not to have a glass with me.” “I tell you, it doesn’t
agree with me.” “Nonsense.”
“I tell you I don’t want it.”
“This is silly,” he said.
“Do you want me to be angry with you?”
“Then drink a glass.” “I don’t want it.” “Drink it.” He held a glass for her, and she retreated from it. “You don’t know. It’s not good for me.” “Drink it.”
She took the glass and poured it down and stood
still, quivering, seeming to listen. The blood flowed to her
cheeks. She poured
another glass for herself and another. Her eyes became set and cold. Mr. Edwards felt a fear of her. Something was happening to her which neither she nor he could control.
“I didn’t want to do it. Remember that,” she said calmly.
“Maybe you’d better not have any more.”
She laughed and poured herself another glass. “It doesn’t matter now,” she said. “More won’t make
“It’s nice to have a glass or so,” he said uneasily. She spoke to him softly. “You fat slug,” she said. “What do you know about
me? Do you think I can’t read every rotten thought you ever had? Want me to tell you?
You wonder where a nice girl like me learned tricks. I’ll tell you. I learned them in cribs— you
worked in places you never even heard of—four years. Sailors brought me little tricks from Port Said. I know every nerve in your lousy body and I can use them.” “Catherine,”
protested, “you don’t know what you’re saying.”
“I could see it. You thought I would talk. Well, I’m talking.”
She advanced slowly
toward him, and Mr. Edwards overcame his impulse to edge away. He was afraid of her but he sat still. Directly in front of him she drank the last champagne in her glass, delicately struck the rim on the table, and jammed the ragged edge against his cheek.
And then he did run
from the house and he could hear her laughing as he went. 3
Love to a man like Mr.
a crippling emotion.
It ruined his
judgment, canceled his
knowledge, weakened him. He told himself that she was hysterical and tried to believe it, and it was made easier for him
outbreak had terrified her, and for a time she made every effort to restore his sweet
picture of her.
A man so painfully in
love is capable of self-torture beyond belief. Mr. Edwards wanted with all his heart to believe in her goodness, but he was forced not to, as much by his own particular devil as by her outbreak. Almost instinctively he went about learning the truth and at the same time disbelieved it. He knew, for instance, that she would not put her money in a bank. One of his employees, using a complicated set of mirrors, found out the place in the cellar of the little brick house where she did keep it. One day a clipping came from
employed. It was an old newspaper account of a fire from a small-town weekly. Mr. Edwards studied it. His chest and stomach turned to molten metal and a redness glowed in his head behind his eyes. There was real fear mixed up in his love, and the precipitate from the mixing of these two is cruelty. He staggered dizzily to his office couch and lay face down, his forehead against the cool black leather. For a time he hung
breathing. Gradually his brain cleared. His mouth tasted
salty, and there was a great ache
of anger in
shoulders. But he was calm and his mind cut its intention through time like the sharp beam of a searchlight through a dark room. He moved slowly, checking his suitcase just as he always did when he started out to inspect his units
—clean shirts and underwear, a nightgown and slippers, and the heavy quirt with the lash curving around the end of the suitcase.
He moved heavily up the little garden in front of the brick house and rang the bell.
Catherine answered it immediately. She had on her coat and hat.
“Oh!” she said. “What a shame! I must go out for a while.”
Mr. Edwards put down
his suitcase. “No,” he said.
She studied him.
Something was changed. He lumbered past her and went down into the cellar. “Where are you going?” Her voice was shrill.
He did not reply. In a moment he came up again, carrying a small oak box. He opened his suitcase and put the box inside.
“That’s mine,” she said
“What are you up to?” “I thought we’d go for a little trip.”
“Where? I can’t go.” “Little
Connecticut. I have some business there. You told me once you wanted to work.
You’re going to work.” “I don’t want to now.
You can’t make me. Why, I’ll call the police!”
He smiled so horribly
that she stepped back from him.
His temples were
thudding with blood. “Maybe you’d rather go to your home town,” he said. “They had a big fire there several years ago. Do you remember that fire?”
Her eyes probed and searched him, seeking a soft place, but his eyes were flat and hard. “What do you want me to do?” she asked quietly. “Just come for a little
trip with me. You said you wanted to work.”
She could think of only
one plan. She must go along with him and wait for a chance. A man couldn’t always watch. It would be dangerous to thwart him now
—best go along with it and wait. That always worked. It
always had. But his words had given Catherine real fear.
In the small town they got off the train at dusk, walked down its one dark street, and on out into the
country. Catherine was wary and watchful. She had no access to his plan. In her purse she had a thin-bladed knife.
Mr. Edwards thought he knew what he intended to do. He meant to whip her and put her in one of the rooms at the inn, whip her and move her to another town, and so on until she was of no use any more.
Then he would throw her out. The local constable would see to it that she did not run away. The knife did not
bother him. He knew about that.
The first thing he did when they stopped in a
private place between a stone wall and a fringe of cedars was to jerk the purse from her hand and throw it over the wall. That took care of the knife. But he didn’t know about himself, because in all his life he had never been in love with a woman. He thought he only meant to punish her. After two slashes the quirt was not enough. He dropped it on the ground and used his fists. His breathing came out in squealing whines.
Catherine did her best not to fall into panic. She
tried to duck his threshing
fists or at least to make them ineffective, but at last fear overcame her and she tried to run. He leaped at her and brought her down, and by then his fists were not enough. His frantic hand found a stone on the ground and his cold control was burst through with a red roaring wave.
Later he looked down on her beaten face. He listened for her heartbeat and could hear
nothing over the
thumping of his own. Two complete
thoughts ran in his mind. One said, “Have to bury her, have to dig a hole and put her in it.” And the other cried like a child, “I can’t stand it. I couldn’t bear to touch her.”
Then the sickness that
follows rage overwhelmed him. He ran from the place, leaving his suitcase, leaving the quirt, leaving the oak box of money. He blundered away in the dusk, wondering only where he could hide his sickness for a while.
No question was ever
asked of him. After a time of sickness to which his wife ministered tenderly, he went
back to his business and never again let the insanity of love come near him. A man who
can’t learn from
experience is a fool, he said. Always afterward he had a kind of fearful respect for himself. He had never known that the impulse to kill was in him.
That he had not killed Catherine was an accident.
Every blow had been
intended to crush her. She was a long time unconscious and
a long time
half-conscious. She realized her arm was broken and that she must find help if she wanted
to live. Wanting to live forced her to drag herself along the dark road, looking for help.
She turned in at a gate and almost made the steps of the house before she fainted. The roosters were crowing in the chickenhouse and a gray rim of dawn lay on the east.