WHAT A DIFFERENCE A COUPLE OF WEEKS MAKES
When we last saw the boy, he was packing up a pathetic handful of belongings in a shabby rooming house. Now, when Archer arrives at the Galton mansion he is greeted by Cassie Hildreth (the Passed Over Woman) who is positively bubbling about how everyone is so enchanted by John and how much he is enjoying the new Thunderbird Mrs. Galton bought him. Archer appreciates that Cassie has transferred her unrequited romantic love for Anthony into a quasi-material love for Anthony’s son. If that’s who he is.
The appearance of the boy has rejuvenated Mrs. Galton.
- She is feeling well enough to start manipulating and emasculating the boy in the same way she tried to break his father. What’s the line from Philip Larkin? “They fuck you up, your mum and dad.”
- Galton intends to squelch the budding romance with Sheila Howell by sending him on a lengthy tour of Europe. When he returns, Mrs. Galton will build him a repertory theater in Santa Teresa. Her unspoken assumption is that the long trip will make him forget Sheila and Mrs. Galton will then select a suitable bride for him.
Unaware of his fate, the boy arrives home in the new car, with Sheila as his passenger. He turns angry the moment he sees Archer and even tries to take a swing at him, Although it’s only mid-afternoon and the boy has been driving, it’s clear he’s been drinking. The alcohol has erased the party manners he displayed in the past.
The boy may be drunk and mean, but he’s not stupid. He realizes that if Archer is no longer working for Mrs. Galton, he must be working for Dr. Howell. When Archer refuses to comment, Mrs. Galton shows Archer the door.
The Ann Arbor Connection
Archer’s instinct about an apparent connection between the boy and Culligan is confirmed; Culligan was arrested crossing the border on January 7; two days later the boy registered in high school as “John Lindsay.”
The boy’s story has some basis in fact. Archer interviews several high school teachers who knew Mr. Lindsay; he was an older man who had lost a son in the war and the teachers were aware that Lindsay had taken the boy under his wing. They recall that the boy was devoted to Mr. Lindsay during his last illness. Archer locates the will the boy mentioned, which described John Lindsay as his “quasi-foster son.” Not a bad description, and one that fits the boy’s story.
Archer’s interviews at the University of Michigan confirm that the boy recently graduated with a Speech major and that he’d shown some acting talent in school plays. But the real nugget from Archer’s time at the university is the boy’s school address, a boarding house just off campus.
He goes to the last address listed for the boy in the University records and finds The Garrulous Landlady. Within a few pages he learns a lot.
- The boy was offered an unspecified acting job. The work was highly confidential, but a well-funded producer wanted to train the boy for a particular role. The last she heard, the boy had accepted it, although the exact nature of the work was a secret. If this doesn’t sound suspicious, you should pour another cup of coffee.
- She has no other details, but his “friend,” Ada Reicher, might know more.
- She strongly disapproved of the boy spending time with Ada because the woman was several years older and wealthy. Despite his landlady’s disapproval the boy was in contact with Ada, possibly dating her, for the last year before he disappeared.
- Even though the landlady has no use for Ada, she is able to provide Archer with her address.
At Last Archer Has a Truly Satisfying Interview
The landlady’s description of Ada is, “She’s pretty enough, if you like that slinky type.” As a happily married man who wants to keep it that way, I will refrain from comment.
Archer tracks Ada down at her summer place on the lake, across the border in Ontario. She is boating when Archer arrives. It’s not clear whether only the dock is the private property of her family, or the entire lake.
Ada Reicher is intelligent, lean, and intense, and Archer can’t help immediately liking her. Being in the presence of a well-adjusted person makes us realize what a sad crew of characters populate the novel.
Archer drops any pretense and tells her exactly why he’s there. She hesitates and then decides to trust him. She leads him into the garden and repays his candor in kind.
- John’s story is false, at least in part. There was no orphanage, burning or otherwise, although the part about being taken in by Mr. Lindsay is true.
- John’s real name is Theodore Fredericks.
- His mother is alive and runs a boardinghouse in a nasty section of Pitt, a Canadian town about sixty miles away. Ada has seen her, “a hideous fat pig of a woman with a voice like a kazoo.”
- The boy told her all this, and took her to Pitt, in reaction to her proposal of marriage. He wanted to show her that these were his roots and that he wasn’t good enough for her.
- She said she didn’t really believe him, but that he refused to discuss it thereafter. He even told her not to speak of this to anyone in case the authorities asked. The two had some limited contact after that but in March, he disappeared without a word.
- After he disappeared Ada went to Pitt and approached his mother. The woman was reluctant to talk but Ada paid for her story. Fredericks said she hadn’t seen her son in nearly six years. The boy had run away with one of her boarders and she hadn’t seen him since.
- Ada is an overly sensitive woman and blames herself for not being more understanding. She says that if she had reassured him that his humble origins didn’t matter, the two of them could have been together and this criminal charade wouldn’t be necessary. She says she’s the one who isn’t good for anything, not him.
- Archer is touched. He reassures her, “You’re worth five of him.” She initially rejects his words but it soon turns into an embrace. The chapter ends with them making love in the garden.