excerpt The Darts of Cupid  
The Darts of Cupid


There is a kind of woman, rich and looking it, climacteric, widowed or divorced, who when faced with an empty afternoon panders to her gnawing malice and dissatisfaction by going on a fake expedition in the nearest well-to-do shopping district. There she will enter one or two opulent shops dealing in jewels or dresses. She will pretend to be searching for one particular item. She will be ingenious in telling the sales staff why a piece is "almost what I had in mind, but-," and leave, after half an hour or more. She will call this sport "turning their heads" or "giving them a runaround," adding, "There's no harm in it, is there? That's what they're here for, aren't they? After all?"

I have always despised women like that. I hate being teased or teasing. There was once a time when I did enter into this kind of game, though. And when I did, I was first curious, then touched, then hooked, then trapped, then dragged along, and finally brought to realize that my husband was really dead-that my marriage no longer existed and that he was not absent, as I had been feeling, but gone forever.

I must plead the excuse that in my case the game playing was not premeditated. I was drawn into it by chance, and I played it conversely, not pretending a wish to buy but a desire to sell. Outwardly I was well suited to play the game. I was rich, I was widowed, I was fifty-two, the sand in my hourglass running short, with ever-scantier bloodstains marking the passage of each month. I had been widowed after a marriage of some twenty years. But though the marriage had gone, I did not feel that it was finished. I still brushed and aired my husband's suits with more care than I gave to my own garments. I never sat at his desk, I never sat in his favorite chair, and in the winter, instead of using my eiderdown, I huddled in the heavy brown striped dressing gown of Turkish toweling which he had conuinually worn indoors during the last year of his life. And I never took a decision without asking for what I imagined might be his approval.

I had not, as people thought (considering that he was old enough to be my father), married him because he was rich. I did not know that he was rich when I met him. Nor did I know it during our marriage. I only found out after his death. What I did know, as soon as I met him, and what did not fail to fill me with admiration forever after, was his distinction.

I have the conceit that an admiral or a held marshal may be bottle-nosed, paunchy, or knock-kneed, but he must have such an air of command that he could walk stark naked out on deck, or stand that way facing a platoon, and still be obeyed and venerated for what he is. My husband, who was a physician, possessed this air of indubitable, unquesuioned authority, no matter whether his slight body was draped in a bath towel or disguised by the discreet elegance of his Savile Row suits. This rare quality, as mysterious as it was impressive, seemed to me, who was not English, the acme of English distinction, and it shone through even in trite circumstances. Thus he could say to a servant, "I'll have to engage another maid to walk behind you and switch off the lights you have left on," and this would be received with a deferenuial smile. If I had made the same remark, using those very same words, the maid would have given notice.

There is this young woman in Hampstead, the story goes, who visits her doctor for a checkup. The doctor says, "And how are you feeling?" She says, "I feel well, really. Only, as you know, I am a widow. I have no love life." He says, "What do you want-you're in the same boat as all the married women in Hampstead." I learned the truth of the story, without regret, when my husband said to me after the first few years of our life together, "You bore me in bed. You are too passive. And you have no sense of humor." I didn't even ask him where the sense of humor came in.

How could I be hurt by his utterance, with Gordon ever present in my mind? Gordon had locked me up in his heart, had thrown the key away, and had walked off into suicide. He had broken with me suddenly, without my being prepared for it. He said, "It's got to finish. I shan't see you anymore."

I said, "You have another girl, have you?"

He said, "Yes, I have, and I'll be sick to death of her in six weeks' time. But that is not the point."

I said, "What's the point?"

He said, "Sexually I'd never tire of you-I could go on with you forever. But it's got to end."

I said, "Why?"

He said, "Because I'm afraid of what I might do to you. Look what I've done to you already. You are enslaved to me-you can't take a single step without me. I don't want to get rid of you, but I must." And then, forcing a jovial air, he added, "I've been eating you and drinking you and sleeping you. I have pleasured you. I have listened to your girlish babble-I, a highly qualified man. Have you anything to complain of?"

"No," I said.

Gordon was a psychiatrist, which made him a highly qualified listener. When I first met him, he had recently left the navy and taken rooms and surgery in Queen Anne Street off Harley Street. Gordon was not a soldier. He was a sailor. He was not meat. He was fish. And just as fish is to be eaten on Fridays and as Lenten fare, when meat is not allowed, in days of penitence, so Gordon meant for me torture, but torture leading to salvation. He also meant my being forced to disclose myself to him, being accepted, and being taken to his bosom. Shortly before the break Gordon said to me, "I'll hold you forever. Because I'll always find new ways of torturing you."

It is my own torture, I suppose, to conuinue to ask myself how it came to be that the two most important men in my life were both doctors. I cannot say why, except that I am certain that, rather than the pale similarity of their profession, it was the difference between Gordon (who was dead) and my living husband-to-be that urged me to make the marriage. Gordon was an obscure psychiatrist with a long term of service in the navy, while my husband was a cardiologist of internauional standing, with much research and many publications to his credit. By choosing him, by going eagerly into the marriage that way, was I not telling myself that I did not regret Gordon's suicide, that I had replaced all that, that I felt-had forced myself to feel-I had risen above a past of such sorrow?

When the telephone rang at half past three one afternoon last January I almost didn't answer it. Living, as I did, on the Italian Riviera, with Monte Carlo less than an hour's drive away, across the frontier, none of the people I was friendly with would be likely to call at this hour. They were expatriates, as I was, mostly retired and at leisure, who rested after lunch and were not disposed to be affable until later in the afternoon. I took up the receiver, saying "Yes?" in a high, languid voice, ready to be annoyed. A man's voice said, "Mrs. Richardes?"

I did not know the voice. It was a full, hard baritone. I knew at once that here was an Englishman, ruling class, and no nonsense about it. I also knew he was precise and careful. He had not pronounced my name sloppily, as most people did, as "Richards," but had sounded the d and the s, giving the e between its full due.

I said, "Yes, speaking"-this time in a quite different voice.

He said, "I've got your letter in front of me. It was sent to me by our house in Paris."

I said, "Where are you?"

He said, "In Geneva."

I said, "But that costs so much."

He laughed faintly.

I recognized the laughter, indulgent, politely amused which I had not heard for-what was it?-nearly thirty years. Sitting on the edge of my bed, I put an elbow on the bedside table, resting my forehead on my free hand. I closed my eyes in a foolish attempt to shut out my present surroundings and to be flooded by a wave of the past.

A few heartbeats later he said, "I see here in your letter you say that your Odiot tea set is 1808. How do you know? Who told you that?"

I said, "Nobody told me, personally-no expert, that is. My husband told me."

He said, "Your husband was wrong. Because with Odiot you can never tell the year, not like with other hallmarkings. Your Odiot can just as well be 1815, for all you know."

"I see," I said, humbly. We were talking about silver. Odiot is the greatest silversmith in France. They started making silverware for Louis XIV, continued for Louis XV, and then for each succeeding reigning monarch, including Napoleon. They are stil1 the most celebrated manufacturers of their kind in France.

He said, "Is it white silver, or vermeil?"

And, pleased at having understood him, I said, "White silver." By now I not only had recognized his laughter but also knew exactly what he looked like. Besotted as I was by the sound of the smilingly indulgent voice, I found my reasoning perfectly logical. And following this same benighted line, I also knew that anything I were to tell him would be received with interest and without judgment; it would be the same as it had been with Gordon. If I had said that I had just been strangling my father with my mother's guts, he would have accepted the news with a mildly cheerful "Ah, yes."

"Those candlesticks, that pair," he said. "Nearly twenty pounds' weight between them-you are sure of that, are you?"

I said, "Oh, quite. That's written down in an inventory I dug out. For the customs. That's when my husband sent them to Chiasso. I never set eyes on them-only photographs my husband took before the candlesticks were packed up for storage. Figures of a man and a woman. Ghastly ugly. Called 'Nymph and Faun.' Mind you, I know that beauty doesn't enter into it, when it's a case of rare silver. But I have a horrible feeling that they are not Renaissance at all. My husband thought they were Renaissance, by wishful thinking, but he never got an opinion on them. What if they are Victorian, of the most terrible period?"

He said, again with his caressingly indulgent laugh, "Don't worry. Even if they are Victorian, there is a market for them. A very decent market."

"Just as well," I said. "As long as they are sold. It's not the-I don't care. I'm not starving. It's just that I'm sick and hred of hanging on to something I've never even seen, and paying money for it year in, year out."

He said, "And it's stored in Chiasso, in customs-free deposit, is it?"

"Yes, it's been there for thirty years-that's to say for thirty-two years, really, but in the letter I wanted to give a round figure."

He said, "Ah, yes."

"They are stored in a crate," I went on. "I saw it once. I was in Lugano at that time, and I went to Rosecrans, in Chiasso. I just walked to Rosecrans from the stanon, and then we walked round to the free-bond office with one of the Rosecrans employees. That was in '72. Now we are in '90: how long ago is that?"

"Eighteen years," he said pleasantly.

I said, "You must be mad. No person in their right mind could tell this straight off."

"Go on," he said, laughing faintly.

I said, "The crate was brought out and put on the scales. The weight was right, sixty kilos, and the crate looked right,too-not interfered with, you know. And then it was shoved away again."

"How big is the crate?" he said.

I said, "When it's stood up it's about like me. I'm just five foot. And it's insured for fifty thousand francs, against fire and theft and whatever."

"Ah, yes," he said. "And the payments have been going on for thirty-two years now?"

"Yes, my husband said it must never be sold, ever, because it might be very valuable," I said. "He had this thing that the longer you keep something, the more valuable it gets. And to Rosecrans I pay twenty-five francs a year for their M~hewaltung do you know what that means?"

He said, "Indeed I do-it means that Rosecrans have the administrahon of it. Am I right?"

I felt gratified at this expertise of his, just as I had felt gratified before, when I mentioned the name of Rosecrans, the big international moving-and-storage firm, and he knew who was meant. He seemed to know, as well, that the Rosecrans office was in Chiasso, at the southern nip of Switzerland.

"But I have a problem," I went on.

He said, "Ah, yes, do tell me."

"The silver is in my husband's name. And my husband is dead, but they don't know it. What if they get sticky? What if they refuse to let go of it? You see, we've got a trust in Liechtenstein, of which I am the sole whatever-you-call-it. But what if my husband forgot to get the silver included in the trust? I have several last will and testaments-one made out in Lisbon, by an English lawyer there, and another one done in London, when my husband just happened to be there. They're all valid, with two witnesses, and they're all the same, leaving everything to me absolutely. Would I need to show them?"

"Tell me," he said. "These storage fees, how much are they?"

"Five hundred francs a year," I said.

"And ever since your husband's death, did you make those payments in your own name?"

I said, "Of course, though I'm afraid I have no receipts for them."

"There is no problem. You don't say anything, you just go to Chiasso and take the crate out. How long is it since your husband died?"

I said, "Three years."

He said, "That's perfect," and he laughed faintly.

"But there's another problem," I said. "There will be customs duty to pay once I take it out of bond."

He said, "You won't take it out of bond. I'll take it out of bond. I'll take everything out of your hands. Don't worry. I'll do the worrying."

I said, "But how can I get hold of you so that you can do the worrying for me?"

He said, "I'll write you a letter. I'll drop it in the post tonight."

I said, "Thank you," into a void. He had rung off.

I was again conscious of the beating of my heart, not as jumpy as before but slow and strong now, giving me signals of warning in the way that opinionated people do in serious conversation, putting a heavy accent on every word.

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Author

Excerpted from The Darts of Cupid by Edith Templeton. Copyright © 2002 by Edith Templeton. Excerpted by permission of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.