Herzog by Saul Bellow


  "Moses!" said Ramona, on the telephone. "You got my message. How lovely you're in your place. Everybody in Barrington says if you want things done in Ludeyville, call Tuttle."

  "Hello, Ramona. Didn't my wire from Chicago reach you?"

  "Yes, Moses. It was very considerate. But I didn't think you'd stay away long, and I had a feeling about your house in the country. Anyway, I had to visit old friends in Barrington, so I drove up."

  "Really?" said Herzog. "What day of the week is this?"

  Ramona laughed. "How typical. No wonder women lose their heads over you. It's Saturday.

  I'm staying with Myra and Eduardo Misseli."

  "Oh, the fiddler. I only know him to nod to at the supermarket."

  "He's a charming man. Did you know he's studying the art of violin-making? I've been in his shop all morning. And I thought I must have a look at the Herzog estate."

  "My brother is with me-W."

  "Oh, splendid," said Ramona, in her lifted voice. "Is he staying with you?"

  "No, he's passing through."

  "I'd love to meet him. The Misselis are giving a little party for me. After dinner."

  Will stood beside the booth, listening. Earnest, worried, his dark eyes discreetly appealed to Moses to make no more mistakes. I can't promise that, thought Moses. I can only tell him that I don't contemplate putting myself in the hands of Ramona or any woman, at this time. Will's gaze held a family look, a brown light as clear as any word.

  "No, thank you," said Herzog. "No parties.

  I'm not up to them. But look, Ramona..."

  "Should I run up?" said Ramona. "It's silly, being on the phone like this. You're only eight minutes away."

  "Well, perhaps," said Herzog. "It occurs to me I have to come down to Barrington anyway, to shop, and to have my phone reconnected."

  "Oh, you're planning to stay awhile in Ludeyville?"

  "Yes. Marco'll be joining me. Just a moment, Ramona." Herzog put a hand over the instrument and said to Will, "Can you take me into Barrington?" Will of course said yes.

  Ramona was waiting, smiling, a few minutes later. She stood beside her black Mercedes in shorts and sandals. She wore a Mexican blouse with coin buttons.

  Her hair glittered, and she looked flushed. The anxiety of the moment threatened her self-control.

  "Ramona," said Moses, "this is W."

  "Oh, Mr. Herzog, what a pleasure to meet Moses' brother."

  Will, though wary of her, was courteous nevertheless. He had a quiet, tidy social manner. Herzog was grateful to him for the charming reserve of his courtesy to Ramona. Will's glance was sympathetic. He smiled, but not too much.

  Obviously he found Ramona impressively attractive. "He must have been expecting a dog," thought Herzog.

  "Why, Moses," said Ramona, "you've cut yourself shaving. And badly. Your whole jaw is scraped."

  "Ah?" He touched himself with vague concern.

  "You look so much like your brother, Mr. Herzog.

  The same fine head, and those soft hazel eyes.

  You're not staying?"

  "I'm on my way to Boston."

  "And I simply had to get out of New York.

  Aren't the Berkshires marvelous? Such green!"

  Love-bandit, the tabloids used to print over such dark heads. In the twenties. Indeed, Ramona did look like those figures of sex and swagger. But there was something intensely touching about her, too. She struggled, she fought. She needed extraordinary courage to hold this poise. In this world, to be a woman who took matters into her own hands! And this courage of hers was unsteady. At times it trembled. She pretended to look for something in her purse because her cheek quivered. The perfume of her shoulders reached his nostrils. And, as almost always, he heard the deep, the cosmic, the idiotic masculine response- quack.

  The progenitive, the lustful quacking in the depths.

  Quack. Quack.

  "You won't come to the party then?" said Ramona. "And when am I going to see your house?"

  "Why, I'm having it cleaned up a little," said Herzog.

  "Then can't we... Why don't we have dinner together?" she said. "You, too, Mr. Herzog.

  Moses can tell you that my shrimp remoulade is rather good."

  "It's better than that. I never ate better. But Will has to go on, and you're on a holiday, Ramona, we can't have you cooking for three. Why don't you come Out and have dinner with me?"

  "Ohea8sd Ramona with a new rise of gaiety.

  "You want to entertain me?"

  "Well, why not? I'll get a couple of swordfish steaks."

  Will looked at him with his uncertain smile.

  "Wonderful. I'll bring a bottle of wine," said Ramona.

  "You'll do nothing of the sort. Come up at six.

  We'll eat at seven and you can still get back to your party in plenty of time."

  Musically (was it a deliberate effect?

  Moses could not decide), Ramona said to Will, "Then good-by, Mr. Herzog. I hope we shall meet again." Turning to get into her Mercedes, she put her hand momentarily on Moses' shoulder. "I expect a good dinner...."

  She wanted Will to be aware of their intimacy, and Moses saw no reason to deny her this. He pressed his face to hers.

  "Shall we say good-by here, too?" said Moses as she drove off. "I can take a cab back. I don't want to make you late."

  "No, no, I'll run you up to Ludeyville."

  "I'll go in here and get my swordfish. Some lemon, too. Butter. Coffee."

  They were on the last slope before Ludeyville when Will said, "Am I leaving you in good hands, Mose?"

  "Is it safe to go, you mean? I think you can, with confidence. Ramona's not so bad."

  "Bad? What do you mean? She's stunning.

  But so was Madeleine."

  "I'm not being left in anyone's hands."

  With a mild, soft look of irony, sad and affectionate, Will said, "Amen. But what about this ideology. Doesn't she have some?"

  "This will do, here, in front of Tuttle's. They'll take me in the pickup, bike and all. Yes, I think she has some. About sex. She's pretty fanatical about it. But I don't mind that."

  "I'll get out and make certain of the directions," said W.

  Tuttle, as they walked slowly past him, told Moses, "I think we'll have that current onto your house in a few minutes."

  "Thanks... Here, Will, take a little of this arbor-vitae to chew. It's a very pleasant taste."

  "Don't decide anything now. You can't afford any more mistakes."

  "I've asked her to dinner. Only that. She goes back to the party at Misseli's-I'm not going with her. Tomorrow is Sunday. She's got a business in New York, and she can't stay. I won't elope with her. Or she with me, as you see it."

  "You have a strange influence on people," said W.

  "Well, good-by, Mose. Maybe Muriel and I will stop by on our way west."

  "You'll find me unmarried."

  "If you didn't give a goddamn, it wouldn't matter. You could marry five more wives. But with your intense way of doing everything... and your talent for making a fatal choice."

  "Will, you can go with an easy mind. I tell you...

  I promise. Nothing like that will happen. Not a chance.

  Good-by, and thanks. And as for the house..."

  "I'll be thinking about that. Do you need money?"

  "No."

  "You're sure? You're telling the truth?

  Remember, you're talking to your brother."

  "I know whom I'm talking to." He took Will by the shoulders and kissed him on the cheek.

  "Good-bye, W. Take the first right as you leave town. You'll see the turnpike sign."

  When Will had gone, Moses waited for Mrs.

  Tuttle in the seat by the arborvitae, having his first leisurely look at the village.

  Everywhere on earth, the model of natural creation seems to be the ocean. The mountains certainly look that way, glossy, plunging, and that haughty blue color. And even these scrappy lawns.

 
What keeps these red brick houses from collapse on these billows is their inner stale-ness. I smell it yawning through the screens. The odor of souls is a brace to the walls. Otherwise the wrinkling of the hills would make them crumble.

  "You got a gorgeous old place here, Mr.

  Herzog," said Mrs. Tuttle as they drove in her old car up the hill. "It must've cost you a penny to improve it. It's a shame you don't use it more."

  "We've got to get the kitchen cleaned up so I can cook a meal. I'll find you the brooms and pails and such."

  He was groping in the dark pantry when the lights went on. Tuttle is a miracle man, he thought. I asked him at about two. It must be four-thirty, five.

  Mrs. Tuttle, a cigarette in her mouth, tied her head up in a bandanna. Beneath the hem of her dress the peach nylon of her nightgown nearly touched the floor. In the stone cellar Herzog found the pump switch. At once he heard the water rising, washing into the empty pressure tank. He connected the range. He turned on the refrigerator; it would take a while to get cold. Then it occurred to him to chill the wine in the spring. After that, he took up the scythe to clear the yard, so that Ramona would have a better view of the house. But after he had cut a few swathes his ribs began to ache. He didn't feel well enough for this sort of work. He lay stretched in the lawn chair, facing south. As soon as the sun lost its main strength the hermit thrushes began, and while they sang their sweet fierce music threatening trespassers, the blackbirds would begin to gather in flocks for the night, and just toward sunset they would break from these trees in waves, wave after wave, three or four miles in one flight to their waterside nests.

  To have Ramona coming troubled him slightly, it was true. But they would eat. She would help him with the dishes, and then he'd see her to her car.

  I will do no more to enact the peculiarities of life.

  This is done well enough without my special assistance.

  Now on one side the hills lost the sun and began to put on a more intense blue color; on the other they were still white and green. The birds were very loud.

  Anyway, can I pretend I have much choice? I look at myself and see chest, thighs, feet a head. This strange organization, I know it will die. And inside - something, something, happiness... "Thou movest me."

  That leaves no choice. Something produces intensity, a holy feeling, as oranges produce orange, as grass green, as birds heat. Some hearts put out more love and some less of it, presumably. Does it signify anything? There are those who say this product of hearts is knowledge.

  "Je sens mon caeur et je connais les hommes."

  But his mind now detached itself also from its French. I couldn't say that, for sure. My face too blind, my mind too limited, my instincts too narrow. But this intensity, doesn't it mean anything? Is it an idiot joy that makes this animal, the most peculiar animal of all, exclaim something? And he thinks this reaction a sign, a proof, of eternity? And he has it in his breast? But I have no arguments to make about it. "Thou movest me."

  "But what do you want, Herzog?"

  "But that's just it - not a solitary thing .1 am pretty well satisfied to be, to be just as it is willed, and for as long as I may remain in occupancy."

  Then he thought he'd light candles at dinner, because Ramona was fond of them. There might be a candle or two in the fuse box. But now it was time to get those bottles from the spring. The labels had washed off, but the glass was well chilled. He took pleasure in the vivid cold of the water.

  Coming back from the woods, he picked some flowers for the table. He wondered whether there was a corkscrew in the drawer. Had Madeleine taken it to Chicago?

  Well, maybe Ramona had a corkscrew in her Mercedes. An unreasonable thought. A nail could be used, if it came to that. Or you could break the neck of the bottle as they did in old movies.

  Meanwhile, he filled his hat from the rambler vine, the one that clutched the rain pipe. The spines were still too green to hurt much. By the cistern there were yellow day lilies. He took some of these, too, but they wilted instantly. And, back in the darker garden, he looked for peonies; perhaps some had survived.

  But then it struck him that he might be making a mistake, and he stopped, listening to Mrs.

  Tuttle's sweeping, the rhythm of bristles.

  Picking flowers? He was being thoughtful, being lovable. How would it be interpreted? (he smiled slightly.) Still, he need only know his own mind, and the flowers couldn't be used; no, they couldn't be turned against him. So he did not throw them away.

  He turned his dark face toward the house again. He went around and entered from the front, wondering what further evidence of his sanity, besides refusing to go to the hospital, he could show. Perhaps he'd stop writing letters. Yes, that was what was coming, in fact. The knowledge that he was done with these letters. Whatever had come over him during these last months, the spell, really seemed to be passing, really going. He set down his hat, with the roses and day lilies, on the half-painted piano, and went into his study, carrying the wine bottles in one hand like a pair of Indian clubs.

  Walking over notes and papers, he lay down on his Recamier couch. As he stretched out, he took a long breath, and then he lay, looking at the mesh of the screen, pulled loose by vines, and listening to the steady scratching of Mrs.

  Tuttle's broom. He wanted to tell her to sprinkle the floor. She was raising too much dust. In a few minutes he would call down to her, "Damp it down, Mrs. Tuttle. There's water in the sink." But not just yet. At this time he had no messages for anyone. Nothing. Not a single word.

  The End

 


 

  Saul Bellow, Herzog

 


 

 
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