Thursday, April 3, 2014

AUTISM In London in 1900: A Novel (pt 4)

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

At about 12:15 PM the same day, Terrence Spilman came to call on Frederick Fontaine in Victoria Street. He hurried past the butler because he known the miserable man disliked him, felt that Spilman's entire existence was an affront to him and his cherished career of keeping people like Spilman out of that place; paused one flight up to exchange warm smiles with a much friendlier maid; then continued up.

The double doors to Fontaine's office were wide open. Spilman took the notebook from his pocket which he'd just finished filling with notes on the comings and goings and meetings and habits and other activities of a few of their adversaries. He'd been tossing the notebooks from farther and farther away toward that bare patch of Fontaine's desk, hadn't missed yet. Fontaine was seated behind the desk, absorbed in writing something. Before he was within two full paces of the double doors, Spilman flicked his wrist and let fly the notebook, and bang! it landed full in the middle of the bare patch of desk, a good six inches from the edge.

Fontaine looked up from his work and stood and smiled and cried, "Terry!" But before the smile had begun there'd been something else, and Spilman had seen it and been filled with understanding. Fontaine give him a quizzical look. "Is something wrong?" he asked.

Spilman closed the double doors behind him and asked, "Freddy, why are we here? Why are we so busily engaged in all of this skullduggery and snooping about?"

"Well, we want better wages for laborers -- "

"That's part of it."

"We want to better living conditions for the less fortunate, see to it that they're not so egregiously exploited -- "

"That's part of it, Freddy! We are here to try to overcome class barriers. We have agreed that the two of us, you and I, have much to teach each other about habits and tic and peculiarities and damned well absurdities which are class-based, because we come from two very different social classes, and things which are ingrained and unconscious in each of us are quite obvious to the other. We have already helped each other quite a bit by telling each other about each other, have we not?"

"We have."

"Learned quite a bit each about his own class and the other's, simply by telling each other what we see in each other which doesn't exist in our own class. And I've already mentioned a few instances of your damnable class-based reluctance to express annoyance. You people buck up and carry on and are terribly embarrassed by your own feelings, and you all expect other people to read your minds, and so you've become quite good at reading each other's minds, so that when one of you realizes that he's been doing something every day for fifty years which bothers another one of you, you're terribly embarrassed and you stop doing it, and isn't that wonderful, it only took fifty years, and you keep so much bottled up behind those terrible stiff upper lips, and it gives you heart attacks and epileptic fits and constipation and god know what all else."

"Terry, why don't you tell me what you're talking about?"

"Oh, that's a good one! Why don't I tell you about how I've just realized I've been doing something twice a week or so for months which bothers you ever so much? Why don't you tell me, Freddy? That's the whole point. I suppose I'm going to have to tell you. You may actually not even know what I'm talking about. That stiff upper lip may really be that much of an automatic habit. Alright, I'll say it: today, when you were absorbed in your work and I tossed a notebook onto your desk beside you where it landed with a round full 'smack,' today, in a split-second before you rose to greet me with a smile, I saw you give a start and a grimace which you very, very quickly squelched, and your smile is distinctly stiff-upper-lipped. It gives you a great start when my presence is announced by something smacking onto your desk-top, and almost certainly the start has been getting worse each time I've come in that way, and it aggravates you more and more, and probably you've actually lost some sleep being aggravated about it, and if there's been someone in bed next to you and she asks you if you're all right, you assure her that there isn't with a stiff upper lip, and if she's from your class she says well good I guess I'm imagining things or some other lie like that and her own upper lips stiffens and you both lie there in completely unnecessary agony which you barely even notice anymore because it's been in you since you've been four or five years old, just lie there giving yourselves and each other ulcers out of politeness. I can see that I'm annoying you by saying all this, yes I am, yes I am, don't even bother trying to deny it, because I see it. And it pains me to annoy you, because I love you -- that's right, I love you, you big silly stiff-arsed man, and annoying you for a moment now doesn't distress me as much as the thought of you dropping dead of a stroke in the middle of a cocktail party years before your time because you never resolved this... neurosis!"

"All right, all right! Yes, I wish you wouldn't toss the notebooks that way!"

"Well, I'm glad you said so, Freddy! I'll never do it again. So. From now on, if I come in and you're absorbed in your work and don't notice my approach, I'll -- what? Give a soft knock on the door-frame, like this?" Spilman knock twice on the door.

"Yes, yes, fine."

"Or perhaps just softly saying, 'Hello, Freddy' would be better."

"Now you're the one who's being silly."

"Nevertheless. Tell me what you'd prefer."

"Just say hello."

"So shall it be."

"And I... I... love you too."

"I know. Ah, that's great! Two major unstiffenings of the lip within a minute. Isn't that just like two big stones taken off of your chest."

"It is. Thank you so much."

"You're so very welcome."

"Well... While we're at it here... Might as well take off a third stone... You see, it would be a he."


"You imagined a scenario in which someone in bed with me would ask me if something was wrong. You said she would ask me if something was wrong. Well, it would be a he. In fact, for the past three years it would be Benjamin."

"Benjamin! Really."

"You didn't know I was...'

"I had no idea."

"It doesn't bother you?"

"Why on Earth would it bother me?"

"Well then. And of course, you'll be discreet?"

"Why on Earth would I gossip about you?"

"Thank you."

"Benjamin. I would've guessed it was most likely Alice."

"Alice is a dear friend."

"And a very convenient shield against gossip, I imagine."

"Priceless, in that regard. We may even get married, eventually, for the sake of gossip."

"I have no problem with that. And does Alice..."

"Prefer women? Yes, she does. What?"

"I'd always found her very charming. Do I have no chance?"

"Never say never, my good man! but in this case, say almost certainly not."

"Well! I don't know about you, Freddy, but I'm exhausted and happy." Fontaine laughed. "It's been too long since I've heard you laugh, Freddy."

"I haven't felt so relaxed in some time."

"Well! What say we talk about our friend the MP? About half of that notebook contains observations about him." They sat. "We were right, he's attempting to organize a repeal of Factory and Workshop."

"It's not just a suspicion anymore?" Fontaine asked.

"It's certain."

"And do you know how he's going about organizing this effort."

"Bloody great bribes, for one thing." It was unusual for Spilman to use slang terms like "bloody" except when he was very angry, although he'd spoken like the Cockney he had been when Fontaine met him years ago. His speech had changed entirely since then. Although he no longer sounded anything like Cockney, he also didn't mimic the speech of other classes, as some ex-Cockneys did, some quite skillfully. Spilman truly did not aspire to join the middle classes. His speech was unique, as far as Fontaine's experience went. Classless.

"He's made bribes already?" Fontaine asked.


"To other MP's?" Fontaine asked as he opened the notebook and began to thumb through it.


"You're certain?"

"Absolutely certain."

"If we could prove this to the public -- "

"And exactly how would we prove something like that?" Spilman asked. They both were silent for some time. Then Spilman asked, "Perhaps some of the policemen on our side... ?"

"Perhaps. I'll talk to Raymond. You've met Inspector Raymond, haven't you?"

"Yes I have," Spilman said. Then he took a watch from pocket inside his jacket, looked at it and said, "Damn it!"

"What's wrong?"

"This watch is an unreliable piece of... Oh, it's aggravating. I've a long history of problems with unreliable cheap watches."

"And is it due to some lingering neurosis typical of the Cockney class that this is the first I've heard of these problems?"

Spilman sighed: "Yes, perhaps."

"Well then." Fontaine opened a desk drawer, took out a watch and held it out to Spilman. "Go on, take it. It's very accurate, very reliable, daresay you could drop it twenty feet onto concrete and it'd still run for a couple of days, long enough for you to get it to a repairman. I'm telling you, this is a very, very, very good watch."

But Spilman wasn't reaching out to take it. "It may very well be all you say," he said. "It's also platinum, and there are some real diamonds on the hands."

"You can tell that from looking six feet away?"

"Yes I can, and more to the point, so could many of the thieves I rub elbows with in the course of my work. These are men and women who will stoop to stealing a penny when the opportunity presents itself. I'm big and scary-looking enough to make them think twice about trying to take a watch off me they might get six shillings for. They'd be filled with much more courage and purpose if they saw me check the time on a watch that's worth... I'm afraid to even guess."

"Afraid to even guess! It cost three hundred pounds new two years ago."

"Jesus in heaven!"

"Now there is a Cockney neurosis showing! Shuddering at the mere mention of the price of a watch! But I see your point. You need a watch that keeps good time -- very, very good time if possible -- and that's tough enough you don't have to carry it like a raw egg, but that doesn't look like it's worth a pound."

"That's what I need. Is there any such thing?"

"I've no idea. But I happen to know someone who would know. As a matter of fact, it's someone who could make such a watch, if they don't already exist. Just a moment." Fontaine picked up the telephone. "Operator, would you connect me to the Latham Watch Company, please? ...Yes, in Lambeth, that's the one. Thank you." Fontaine covered the mouthpiece and said to Spilman, "Don't worry a bit. This man's a phenomenal genius when it comes to watches... Hello, Mr Latham! How are you, Sir? ...Swimmingly, as a matter of fact. ...I need to talk to Albert, if I can. ...I see. ...Yes. Can you hold on for a moment?" "Fontaine covered the mouthpiece and said to Spilman, "Our man's busy at the moment. D'you want to stay for lunch and talk about this awful mess in Parliament, and wait for him?"


"Brilliant. Mr Latham? Would you get a message to Albert, ask him to come round as soon as he can? Thanks so much. ...Yes. Thank you." Fontaine hung up and said, "An uncanny genius when it comes to watches, as I said. And he's one of us. As is his father, the owner of the plant. The rest of the family, we're unsure of."

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