Here Lies Virginia
The love story of a lady who was too nice to be hard-boiled and too hard-boiled to be slow
SHE was quite small and a bit fragile, and she was standing at seven in the morning on the wet deck of a ferryboat heading for a penitentiary. No—it is not a nice place to find her. It would be better to meet Ginger Lee—Miss Virginia La Telle Lee she had once been—in a garden, looking her most enchanting self, feeding cake to the peacocks.
But Ginger Lee had no garden and no peacocks. She took her place quietly in the shadow of the bridge, and she wondered if the young man who had just come aboard could possibly be as honest and open as a grandfather’s clock, which was the way he looked; a large, masculine person such as almost any clever girl can wind neatly around one small finger with almost no effort at all.
And Ginger Lee was cleverer than anybody knew but herself, with honey-colored eyes and a sweet and martyred look.
At first she felt almost as if she couldn’t do this. And then she glanced in her purse to be sure her admittance card was still there. And she remembered the Pesky’s face when he had given it to her the night before, with that satisfied expression a man wears when he has just made a woman do something she vowed she wouldn’t.
“Remember,” he had said impressively, “you’re just a reed for every wind to blow upon.”
This was not original. It was Stevenson, though naturally Ginger had not told him that she knew it.
“And whatever you do, don’t cry,” the Pesky had continued. “Just one snuffle and out you go, bag and baggage.”
Ginger Lee had taken it calmly, standing very still on the worn spot by the side of his desk. “I never cry except in the dead of the night with the covers over my head,” she had informed him gently. “But I don’t like penitentiaries. And I don’t like murderers. Can’t you give me just a nice thug for gravy?”
The Pesky had dropped his glasses. “Whoever asked you what you liked?” he had smiled up at her. “You’re getting choosey. And besides it's not a murderer. It’s a murderess.”
“Would you let your daughter do this?” Ginger had asked as a last resort.
The Pesky had leaned back in his swivel chair and given the classic reply of all editors over fifty. “No daughter of mine would work on a newspaper.” Slowly, that it might sink in.
So here she was—a reed ready for the sordid tune of Sadie Quayle; at least she had been until the young man had walked on to the ferryboat.
GINGER LEE surveyed him carefully and sighed.
Such a nice young man, and so unsuspecting! Put together with a fine eye for detail. She was sure that Virginia La Telle would never do this. Virginia would have cried into her lace handkerchief, and the Pesky would have melted and sent her to cover a banquet, where she would be sure of fried chicken and nothing to write but compliments.
But why think of that? She was Virginia no longer. She was Ginger Lee, neither flesh, fish, nor fowl, as the Pesky was forever telling her. She, who had thought she could beat this game. “I’m never going to let it get me,” she had promised herself those first months. And during those early morning hours, when the desks were cleared and the crowd had gathered in the back of some all-night grill for one of its festivities, she had always been, as somebody jokingly insisted, “Two quarts behind.”
The ferryboat was heading out across the bay. Ginger Lee stopped feeling sorry for herself and jerked her hat to a little more stylish angle. There was nothing to do but undertake the business at hand—namely the young man.
Unlike the other passengers he didn’t sequester himself carefully behind the glassed doors of the cabin, or bury his nose—it was straight and not too large—in the depths of the Stock Exchange.
He took a reef in an overcoat that bespoke three figures at some smart Post Street shop and he marched up to the top deck.
After him marched Ginger Lee. No, march is not the word. She walked up slowly, like a young college girl who had just been expelled and was going home in disgrace. And she took her place some twenty feet distant, and looked dolefully down on the cold, grey water. She had begun to concentrate.
That corner of the eye which sees so much in life while appearing to see so little told her that the young man soon noticed her, and was watching her out of a pair of quizzical blue eyes.
And now she looked sadder than ever, like a young mother whose baby had diphtheria. In eight and a half minutes by the watch the young man approached.
“If you’re going to jump,” he said, quite matter-offact, “jump now.”
• Even Ginger Lee was surprised. She hadn’t expected anything like this.
“Jump where?” she asked politely. “Why, jump overboard,” he laughed. “Somebody is forever choosing this ferryboat to jump overboard. It’s a positive nuisance if you live on the other side of the bay and go back and forth every day. I’ve fished out two people myself. Now when I see someone with the look in his eye, I just walk off and leave him to the crew.”
“Why don’t you then?” asked Ginger Lee calmly.
The young man stared. “You were looking so downhearted,” he explained flatly. “And besides, I’ve got on my old clothes.”
“Well, I haven’t. I’ve got on my best Whatchamaycallums and it would ruin them. The fact is I was just a little blue because I ... I ... ”
“Because your husband wouldn’t give you the diamond bangle,” suggested the young man wisely.
“It’s not a husband,” Ginger Lee told him gently . “It's an editor.” And the young man looked very much surprised and said, “Of course,” as if this explained everything.
They were getting out into the middle of the bay now, and the wind was beginning to blow in through the Gate, so naturally they stepped back in the protection of the deck. And the first thing you know Ginger Lee was telling him all about it. All about the Pesky, and the hardness of this game that looked as if it were going to drag out just one murderer after another.
When she reached Sadie Quayle, Peter Carmody— yes, he had introduced himself by this time—said quietly. “Do you mean to say that old goat has sent you over to a penitentiary to interview a common murderess—a girl like you?”
“And do you mean to say,” he continued, “that when you told him you preferred not to go, he insisted?”
“He most certainly did,” replied Ginger Lee, trying very hard to be brave about this.
There was quite a long silence. “Never mind,” he announced finally. “I’ll go for you.”
“To think,” sighed Ginger, “that you would suggest that!”
YES—it was just that easy. There was only one slip.
How could you expect a young man who admitted he was doing research for a big chemistry company on “The Viscosity of Aqueous Solutions of Some Alkali Halides,” —he had to say that twice before she got it—how could you expect such a person to know the psychological approach to Sadie Quayle?
How could you expect him to know that you couldn’t walk right up to her and say, “Sadie, you’re getting out after fifteen years.
What are you going to do first? How are you going to pick up the old threads of your broken life and go on?”
Ginger Lee would have done it beautifully as only she could do such things.
She might have found Sadie Quayle sullen, hard and resentful, but she would have found also some deft way to break her indifference. She and Sadie would have discussed the current shows, the styles, and the most efficient methods of finding work. She would have caught all the color that was packed into that slim chapter of human irony— caught it and put it into words.
Ginger Lee told Peter Carmody just what questions to ask as they were going by bus from the ferry to the penitentiary.
And she waited outside while he went through the big gates.
“Did you see her?” she asked anxiously, when he came out some forty-five minutes later.
“I did,” said Peter Carmody. “A guard brought her into a reception room.” “Fine,” enthused Ginger Lee. “What kind of a room was it?”
“Oh,” said Peter Carmody. “Just a room. Just a big,good-sized room. With a table in it. And some chairs.”
“Think,” urged Ginger Lee. “Did it have curtains?” Peter Carmody showed plainly that he couldn’t see what curtains had to do with Sadie Quayle.
“I haven’t the slightest notion,” he replied. “But I can tell you all about Sadie. I noticed her particularly. And Pm glad I went. She’s no type for a girl like you to interview. The fact is she’s a little prognathous and she’s brachycephalic to boot. But that isn’t all. You don’t need to put this down, but I think she’s an introvert. Terrible things—introverts.”
He was very affable about it, and he smiled at Ginger engagingly.
“Thanks,” she said, a little weakly. “Did you ask her what she’s going to do when she gets out?”
“Yes, I did. I remembered every one of those questions. I wrote them down on a piece of paper when I was waiting for her, and I asked them right off, one after another. But you know ...”
“You know—I don’t believe she wanted to tell me. In fact she as much as said so.”
“Just what did she say?” begged Ginger Lee.
“She said it was none of my . . . And furthermore, she insisted that she didn’t kill him. Her husband, I mean. And that if I thought for a minute I could come over there and . . Peter’s voice went off into a mumble.
“Go on,” persisted Ginger Lee.
“I will not,” he answered flatly. “And there’s no use teasing. You’re too much of a lady. Let’s hunt out a fish wharf restaurant, and pick out a nice lively crab and watch him cook. The man drops them in a big vat of boiling water alive, and they wiggle.”
And so they did.
Once, just once during luncheon, Ginger Lee tried to leave the business at hand and go back to Sadie. She tried to pin him down as to Sadie’s eyes, and her voice. But Peter only dangled a crab’s foreleg in a pat of butter, and made some unintelligible remark about honeycolored eyes, and was she busy every evening?
And right then she realized it was quite useless. Even Peter Carmody must have guessed it. “I’m afraid I didn’t get much for you,” he apologized. “I’m afraid I have no nose for news. But suppose I did, how could I tell you all about that place, and that woman. You don’t belong there. It’s sordid, and ugly and pitiful. Your’s isn’t the kind of a nose that can go poling into such places.”
That hit. This man whom she had never seen before, whom she had worked deliberately, wanted to protect her. -Wanted to—quite obviously, not bothering to be ashamed of it.
What a novelty! It appalled her. It fascinated her. It caught her and wouldn’t let her go. Virginia must live. Peter Carmody had seen her.
She let him put her on the return ferryboat, and she told him good-by. And she sat on the upper deck, a silent little figure, all the way home.
AT A quarter of five, Ginger Lee walked up the alley to the office. Up the dusty saggy stairs marked “Reportorial Rooms.” Through the hall, with the office boy going over a late mailbag.
The late afternoon rush was on. Newspapers covered the floor. Compositors in their shirtsleeves passed in and out with fistfulls of damp proofs. Over the telephone the society editor was trying to pacify some woman whose baby’s picture didn’t make the first page of the club section.
When the Pesky found out what she had done, there would be another worn spot on the carpet by the side of his desk. But what did it matter now? What did any of the old hurt matter now?
She sat down at her shabby little desk, ran a piece of copy paper neatly into the barrel, and began the story of Sadie Quayle.
“A drab little woman sits in her cell at State’s prison, seeking a happiness that can never come back, saying again and again, ‘I didn’t kill him.’ ”
But Ginger Lee was not thinking of Sadie Quayle. She was thinking of Peter Carmodjy going over and over that strange episode.
She was still thinking of him when the Pesky called her into his office the next morning. She stood squarely on the worn spot, and she waited for the blow.
“Your story was bully,” he told her. “It beats the World’s all hollow.” And then in a lower voice. “Tell me, was she as pitiful as all that?”
“I don’t know,” said Ginger Lee. “You see I made it all up.”
“You did what?” demanded the Pesky.
“I picked out a young man on the ferryboat, and worked on him an hour to go for me. But he didn’t get a thing. He had no nose for news. He said ...” and Ginger had on one of those faraway looks that passed over the Pesky’s head, “he said that I was too much of a lady to know about Sadie anyway.”
The Pesky was near apoplexy, and Ginger was in a pinch. She looked right back at him, and she laughed. “I don’t know what you’re going to say, but I agree with you,” she said softly. “It was worth it. I’d do it right over again. Oh Pesky ... he was so sweet.”
There was an ominous silence. Why didn’t he say something? Why didn’t he get it over with quickly?
“I’m an old man and I haven’t any daughters of my own,” said the Pesky, with a peculiar voice. “My old assistant’s leaving the game. How would you like to move into her little room and entertain me?” And that’s how Virginia La Telle came back to earth, and got her name on the door in big, bold letters. A breathless Virginia, not quite understanding just how it had happened.
It is possible that no one in the office really noticed the change. Perhaps the Pesky with that inner vision of an editor sensed wnat had happened. But he said nothing, and if he sometimes longed for a little more Ginger and a little less Virginia, he kept it to himself.
TN THE old days when Ginger had gone down to the composing room and the man on the bank refused to take a proof because it was one minute and a half after the union said stop—which meant that Ginger would have to wait one hour and a half until he came back from lunch—she would have curled up her nose and said, “Trot along, Ump, I’ll run off a proof myself.” Ump protesting that this was against the rules, and if the foreman ever saw her!!!
But Virginia La Telle never deigned to dirty her fingers smudging ink on an oldfashioned roller. No, sir. Virginia said: “Very well, Mr. Wilson,” and walked up the stairs, gently, gracefully, and waited the time, lady to the last.
And when the publisher came in, a dignified gentleman with a Van Dyke, whom Virginia thought very imposing, but Ginger thought looked exactly like a billy goat—and he said to the Pesky: “That was a fine little editorial you wrote this morning,” and the Pesky said modestly, ‘Tm glad you liked it,” Virginia, who had written that editorial while the Pesky played golf, sat in refined and delicate silence. Ginger would have made a little clatter with her scissors until the Pesky looked around, and then she would have flashed him a sweet look that would have sent the pink creeping up his neck.
Yes—times had changed. Not completely, you understand. There were still moments when Ginger persisted in coming royally to the fore.
Once Peter Carmody had left “The Viscosity of Halides” long enough to take Virginia to a symphony. It was outdoors in the Woodland theatre, and all the society people were there. In the intermission Ginger had come to life to lean over and pinch Peter on the arm. She was going to say: “See the Hippopotamae,” looking at two especially gorgeous fat women in $20,000 worth of dark fur.
But Virginia stepped on her. Virginia pretended she had just bumped Peter by accident. “Bach,” said Virginia softly. “Bach is so satisfying.”
And once Peter had taken Virginia to an art exhibit. They had stood quite a long time before a picture called, “Psyche At the Well.” Just in that moment Ginger had stepped right out in front and was about to say, “Please, Peter, which is Psyche and which is the well?” But she didn’t say it, because Peter was standing with his head on one side. “What perspective,” he had exclaimed. “Just look at it.”
It scared Virginia. She was falling in love with Peter Carmody, and Peter Carmody was falling in love with her. Just suppose that Ginger bobbed up at the wrong time and shocked him to death, and scared him away.
She was more determined than ever to snub this barbarian. Peterwas never going to know of her existence.
Peter sent her magazines full of woodcuts, and took her to chamber-music concerts, and sent her white violets. Treated her like a lovely bit of china, like a flower that might bruise too easily. But all the time she knew that Ginger still lived. She didn’t know how thoroughly, until one day in July when Peter Carmody drove Virginia Lee in his trim roadster up Mount Belvedere.
That was nice of Peter. Anybody else would have wanted to go to the Tanforan races, to be chugged in among a mass of howling, yelling humanity. And brag about the money he won or lost. Not that Ginger didn’t like horse races. Last year she had won the office pool and bought a new hat.
“You know, Virginia, you’re too delicate a thing to be in the newspaper game. You don’t like it, do you?” Peter had asked when they were well up the mountain roads.
“No, indeed,” Virginia had answered hastily.
“And you do think it's no place for a woman.”
“Yes, I do, Peter.”
“Then let me take you away from it. I’ll never let you work, and I’ll put you in a little house all your own. You can fuss with prints and etchings, and go to the exhibits, and have a China boy in the kitchen,” Peter was saying.
“I would love to,” said Virginia, oh, so sweetly.
But all the time Ginger was sitting impudently in the background. “Yes, you would,” she thought. “You’d just be one of these awful fussy, idle women with nothing to do. Another entry in that silly race to keep young, going from this ism to that, putting in time.”
“Of course,” Peter continued. “You’d have plenty to do. There would be managing the house, and you could study music or do social work. There’re all kinds of that in a city.”
“For people who don’t want charity but jobs,” thought Ginger.
“And when I’m not too busy in the office, we’ll go to concerts, and I’ll buy you a season ticket to the symphony. All the things you like, Virginia.”
A season ticket. Ginger had always been terribly thrilled to grab a seat in the back balcony on her night off.
“And I’ll protect you all the rest of your life,” Peter was saying.
Through Virginia’s head passed the old jingle:
Peter, Peter, pumpkin eater,
Had a wife and couldn’t keep her. Put her in a pumpkin shell,
And there he kept her very well.
But who wants to be put in a pumpkin shell? Of course she had always complained of it fearfully., but hadn’t it been rather fun sometimes to go home late at night alone, feeling quite able to take care of herself, thank you?
Peter had stopped and seemed to expect her to say something, so Virginia said the only thing she could think of. “You’re awfully sweet,” she said softly. “Peter, you’re awfully good to me.”
He had stopped his car by the road. They were nearing the top of the mountain now. Below them some miles was the ranger’s cabin, only house on the mountain side—except for the tiny tavern on the top, ten miles beyond.
They could look far below over the Valley of the Moon, over the bay with its summer fog rolling in through the Gate.
' A queer toy-like little train carried two open cars of tourists up the mountain side on a track full of curves. They watched the engine puffing around the bends, pulling its play train up the grades.
And suddenly, exactly as if it were part of a moving picture and not real at all, the last car became loose and rolled down the track.
“We’d better go back,” said Peter, hastily starting the car. “You can stay here, but I must see if I can help.”
Help ! Here was a scoop, and he didn’t even know it. She must get to that ranger’s cabin and flash her paper.
Just once more she was Ginger. Just once. Maybe then she could settle down to being put under a pumpkin shell and kept there all her life.
Drat Peter! Why couldn’t he hurry? Seventeen times on the ride down to the scene of the accident, Ginger wanted to shake him and tell him please for heaven’s sake to drive faster. Virginia, however, sat there, pale and ladylike, “I do hope nobody was hurt,” said Virginia.
“Seven killed and twelve injured when Belvedere tourist car plunges down mountain,” wrote Ginger in her mind.
Soon they were as near the accident as the road permitted. Down the bank some hundred feet lay that little car.
“It’s awful to bring you here,” Peter declared. “But I must go down, dear. Don’t budge. I’ll be right back.”
“Can’t I go with you?” asked Virginia.
“Go with me? Do you think for a minute I’d let you go down there. There’ll be enough hysterical women already.”
Hysterical women ! Ginger waited until he disappeared. She got out of the car, not even waiting to open the door. She was ashamed of how eagerly she started down the road toward the ranger’s cabin. In the back of her mind was the hope that she could pick up some facts about the story on the way, and get back before Peter hunted for her. Then she could get the details from him and send them in later.
She met the ranger on the way. “Anybody hurt,” she asked him, trying to keep the eagerness out of her voice..
“One woman badly hurt and an unidentified Japanese killed. They jumped. Otherwise just a few cuts and bruises,” he told her.
“Who was the woman?” asked Ginger.
“She was Mrs. Harry Dobbs, wife of a prominent San Francisco banker.”
“Can I use your telephone?” Ginger asked him. “I want to get the story in to my paper?”
“Sure,” he told her. “You passed the trail. It’s back there about a hundred yards. Go right in. It’s in the hall.”
What a chance ! What an opportunity ! On their time too, and on a Monday. A really picturesque, unusual accident full of color.
GINGER LEE used up all her breath going up the trail, and when she reached the ranger’s cabin she had to stop a moment before going in.
Then she saw to her amazement that someone was there before her. And that' the someone was Peter Carmody. Probably he was ’phoning for help. Well— there was no use. She would have to drop Virginia now and beg him to let her get the news through to her paper.
But his voice stopped her.
“Hello, World,” he was saying. “Pete Newlin speaking. Got an accident story for you. Last car of Belvedere tourist train broke loose and rolled 200 feet down the track and into a bank. An unidentified Jap jumped and was killed, and Mrs. Harry Dobbs, the banker’s wife, jumped and broke her leg. Ten others scratched up. Yes—Dobbs. D for dollar, 0 for onion, B for bum. Got it . . . ?”
Ginger Lee didn’t wait for the rest. She didn’t even wait to get mad. There would be plenty of time for that later. She didn’t even get the whole significance. All she heard thoroughly and completely was that he was Pete Newlin. All she understood was that Pete Newlin was a news-service man, who occasionally wrote specials for the city World.
She ran down the trail, across the road, over the bank.
There was no psychological approach necessary to this sort of thing. She had lost her hat, and her hair was sadly over one ear. She had a smudge on her cheek, and she had torn her dress. If only there was something in this story that Pete Newlin hadn’t found. Something to make Ginger Lee’s better than his.
She found the engineer and got his version of the accident, checking up on what he said about a broken coupling.
In a few moments she had a fairly accurate and detailed account, but nothing to raise it above the level of Peter’s. There was just one chance. She went over to the spot where a group of men were gathered around something on the ground.
“Who was the Japanese?” asked Ginger Lee.
“We don’t know,” said one of the men. “Probably an orchardist from the valley taking in a little sightseeing. No one on the train knew him. There’re some papers in his wallet, but nobody can read them.”
“There’s a name on the wallet and the same name on an envelope,” said another man. “Inju Igashaki.”
“Are you sure?” asked Ginger “Look again.”
“Inju Igashaki, that’s what it says. See.” He held out the wallet, a slender piece of brown leather with peculiar hand work.
“Thanks,” said Ginger Lee. “That’s all I want.”
Ten minutes later she walked down the trail from the ranger’s cabin to the road. Slowly now. Eyes blazing. About half way down she met Peter Carmody.
“Why, Virginia,” said Peter. “How did you get up here? I’ve been looking all over for you.”
“Tell me something,” demanded Ginger Lee. “Were you on that ferry boat going over to San Quentin for the World to interview Sadie Quayle the day I met you?”
“And did you work me for my admittance card deliberately?”
“Not exactly. I didn’t have an admittance card, and I was wondering how I could see her when you came along and offered me yours.”
“Why didn’t you tell me who you were. Why didn’t you tell me?” she hurled at him.
“How could I,” said Peter Newlin. “Especially after you spent an hour telling me how much you hated newspaper men?”
“And did you try to keep me up the road in your car while you got the story in first?” she demanded. She was mad now, and so was he.
“Well,” he answered. “I got mine in, didn’t I?”
“Yes,” she admitted, smiling at him. “But you forgot just one thing. You forgot to mention that the Japanese who was killed was the goodwill ambassador. I recognized his wallet. I interviewed him last week on 'Friendship on the Pacific.’ ”
Peter started to run up the trail toward the telephone. Ginger Lee walked down to the road and got into Peter’s car. Then she started the engine and put it in gear. She waited until Péter came in sight.
“You little devil,” he yelled at her. “What did you do to that telephone?” Then she started down the road. “Come back,” he called. “The train’s gone and I’ll have to walk home.” She didn’t even look back.
At the bend of the road he thought she waved an impudent hand. He stood there quite a long while, still watching the swirl of her dust clear down the road.
r"PHE city editor was sitting at his desk adjusting his black alpaca sleeveprotectors when Ginger came in. The evening rush was on. Somebody was yelling over the telephone, and the office boy was paddling from one desk to another delivering mail. There was a pleasant hum about the big room. It was real at least. And alive—a sort of goodhumored sieve through which life passed, the big grains sticking.
Ginger Lee went on into her tiny office and hung her felt upon its hook.
“Hello?” said the Pesky, “You back?”
“With my wings clipped,” said Ginger Lee. She was glad to be back. It wasn’t that. She belonged here. There were parts of this game she would never like, but she had strength, didn’t she? And reserve? And courage? And humor? If only . . . And suddenly she began to cry.
The Pesky looked quite surprised, and took out his handkerchief, unfolding it carefully. “Don’t cry,” he said gently, wiping away her tears. “No man’s worth crying about.”
“I hate him,” said Virginia in her, speaking for the last time. “I simply hate him.”
But Ginger smiled a little. “Liar,” she thought to herself. “You know perfectly well you’ll be sitting here for the next three hours with one ear set for his step on the stairs.”
And sure enough, almost at closing time a bedraggled Peter Carmody limped in. He sank down in the extra chair.
There was a long and frigid silence. “Where is Virginia?” asked Peter.
“She’s dead.” Ginger Lee expected him to be quite sick about it. She hoped at least he would look disappointed. But Peter took it with amazing cheer.
“How nice,” he muttered. “I’m tired of trying to please her anyway. I hate chamber music. I despise art galleries. I loathe woodcuts. Where’s Ginger?”
“She’s busy,” said Ginger Lee.
Peter was one of those young men who never take no for an answer. He stood up and walked over slowly—he had a blister on each heel—and he leaned over her desk and took both her small hands in his big ones. And. then, at that precise moment, the Pesky looked in the door.
Across his brow came the awful look. The office boy saw it, and went into the big room and stood Webster’s Unabridged on end—the recognized storm signal for the whole force.
The copy desk suddenly became very busy, heads down, pencils moving. The city editor bobbed from sight, fumbling for papers in his bottom drawer. The proof reader disappeared down the back stairs. And the advertising man, about to beg a little more space for a Sunday lay-out, decided tomorrow would do just as well.
The Pesky stormed into the outer office. “We’ll never have another woman on this paper,” he boomed at the city editor. “You just get them where they’re worth something, and off they go and get married.”
There was more, too, but Peter and Ginger Lee didn’t hear it. Ginger had made a headstone out of a piece of copy paper.
And on it she had printed carefully:
HERE LIES VIRGINIA - Nitwit -
TOO DUMB TO LIVE