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Volume 5037

P. J. Monahan: Girl from Hollywood - FP same as DJAce edition: Boris Vallejo cover art: January 1976
 by Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Part 17: Chapters 29 - 31
“Her mind is Tiffany twisted, she got the Mercedes bends
She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys she calls friends
How they dance in the courtyard, sweet summer sweat.
Some dance to remember, some dance to forget.”
– The Eagles, “Hotel California”

So here we are on the Rancho del Ganado waiting for the great Hollywood director Wilson Crumb to come onto the property and make a Western, fulfilling Eva’s dream of maybe appearing in a picture.  She has twisted the arm of her father to allow the studio permission, for he was steadfastly against it.  What do you think Shannon will do when she finds out?  Will Guy get to Grace in time to save her?  And what is Custer to do now that his fiancé has flown the coup?

        The six months that has just passed had been months of indecision and sadness for Shannon Burke.  Constantly moved by the conviction that she should leave the vicinity of Ganado and the Penningtons, she was held there by a force that she had not the power to overcome.
        Never before since she had left her mother’s home in the Middle West had she experienced the peace and content and happiness that her little orchard on the highway imparted to her life.  The friendship of the Penningtons had meant more to her than anything that had hitherto entered her life; and to be near them, even if she saw them but seldom, constituted a constant bulwark against the assaults of her old enemy, which still occasionally assailed the ramparts of her will.
Do you remember Custer’s rant: “What did he know about her?  What did anyone know about her?”  We know that she had a mother, and now we learn where she was from: the Middle West.  What did her mother do?  What about her father?  Did she finish high school?  She never talks about her old life in the Middle West, so to be honest, everything about the Girl from a Hollywood is a total mystery.  I mean, were her father and mother even married?  Was she a love child?
        Never, in the hills, could her mind dwell upon depressing thoughts.  Only the cheerful reflections were her companions of those hours of solitude.  She thought of the love that had come into her life, of the beauty of it, and of all that it had done to make life more worth the living; of the Penningtons and the example of red-blooded cleanliness that they set – decency without prudery; of her little orchard and the saving problems it had brought to occupy her mind and hands; of her horse and her horsemanship, two never-failing sources of companionship and pleasure which the Penningtons had taught her to love and enjoy.
        On the morning after Custer’s return, Guy started early for Los Angeles, while Custer – Shannon not having joined them on their morning ride – resaddled the Apache after breakfast and rode down to her bungalow.  He both longed to see her and dreaded the meeting; for, regardless of Grace’s attitude and the repulse she had given him, his honor bound him to her.
        Custer had realized, in that brief interview of the day before, that Grace was not herself.  What was the cause of her change he could not guess, since he was entirely unacquainted with the symptoms of narcotics.  Even had a suspicion of the truth entered his mind, he would have discarded it as a vile slander upon the girl, as he had rejected the involuntary suggestion that she might have been drinking.  His position was distressing for a man to whom honor was a fetish, since he knew that he still loved Grace, while at the same time realizing greater love for Shannon.
Kind of reminds one of the song by the Lovin’ Spoonful, “Did you ever have to make up your mind?”  I have a feeling that his love for Grace is considerably less than his new love for Shannon, especially after six months in the cooler!  And, hopefully, his sacrifice for Guy will have paid off and Eva can have a wonderful marriage.
        She saw him coming and came down the driveway to meet him, her face radiant with the joy of his return, and with that expression of love that is always patent to all but the object of its concern.
        “Oh, Custer!” she cried.  “I am so glad that you are home again!  It has seemed years and years, rather than months, to all of us.”
        “I am glad to be home, Shannon.  I have missed you, too.  I have missed you all – everything – the hills, the valley, every horse and cow and little pig, the clear air, the smell of flowers and sage – all that is Ganado.”
“You like it better than the city?”
        “I shall never long for the city again,” he said.  “Cities are wonderful, of course, with their great buildings, their parks and boulevards, their fine residences, their lawns and gardens.  The things that men have accomplished there fill a fellow with admiration; but how pitiful they really are compared with the magnificence that is ours!”  He turned and pointed toward the mountains.  “Just think of those hills, Shannon, and the infinite, unthinkable power that uplifted such mighty monuments.  Think of the countless ages that they have endured, and then compare with them the puny efforts of man.  Compare the range of vision of the city dweller with ours.  He can see across the street, and to the top of some tall buildings, which may look imposing; but place it beside one of our hills, and see what becomes of it.  Place it in a ravine in the high Sierras, and you would have difficulty in finding it; and you cannot even think of it in connection with a mountain fifteen or twenty thousand feet in height.  And yet the city man patronizes us country people, deploring the necessity that compels us to pursue our circumscribed existence.”
        “Pity him,” laughed Shannon.  “He is as narrow as his streets.  His ideals can reach no higher than the pall of smoke that hangs over the roofs of his buildings.  I am so glad, Custer, that you have given up the idea of leaving the country for the city!”
For awhile, ERB lived in Oak Park, a rich suburb of Chicago, where Ernest Hemingway grew up.  When asked about the residents of Oak Park, Hemingway said their minds were as narrow and their lawns were broad.  I found it interesting that he shared the same view as Shannon.
        “I never intended to,” he replied.  “I couldn’t have left on father’s account; but now I can remain on my own as well as his, and with a greater degree of contentment.  You see that my recent experience was a blessing in disguise.”
        “I am glad if some good came out of it; but it was a wicked injustice, and there were others as innocent as you who suffered fully as much – Eva especially.”
        “I know,” he said.  “She has been very lonely since I left, with Grace away, too: and they tell me that you have constantly avoided them.  Why?  I cannot understand it.”
        He had dismounted and tied the Apache, and they were walking toward the porch.  She stopped, and turned to look at Custer squarely in the eyes.
        “How could I have done otherwise?” she asked.
        “I do not understand,” he replied.
        She could not hold her eyes to his as she explained, but looked down, her expression changing from happiness to one of shame and sadness.
        “I am sorry, Custer.  I would not hurt them.  I love them all; but I thought I was doing the thing that you wished.  There was so much that you did not understand – that you can never understand – and you were away where you couldn’t know what was going on; so it seemed disloyal to do the thing I thought you would rather I didn’t do.”
        “It’s all over now,” he said.  “Let’s start over again, forgetting all that has happened in the last six months and a half.”
        Again, as his hand lay upon her arm, he was seized with almost uncontrollable desire to crush her to him.  Two things deterred him – his loyalty to Grace, and the belief that his love would be unwelcome to Shannon.
Boy, what a predicament!  Custer is in love with two beautiful Hollywood starlets.  We all should be so unlucky.

    Guy Evans swept over the broad smooth highway at a rate that would have won him ten days in the jail at Santa Ana had his course led him through that village.  The impression that Custer’s words had implanted in his mind was that Grace was ill, for Pennnington had not gone into the details of his unhappy interview with the girl, choosing to leave to her brother a realization of her changed condition, which would have been incredible to him even from the lips of so trusted a friend as Custer.
    And so it was that when he approached the bungalow on Circle Terrace, and saw a coupe standing at the curb, he guessed what it portended; for though there were doubtless hundreds of similar cars in the city, there was that about this one which suggested the profession of its owner.
    There was no response to his ring, and as the inner door was open he entered.  A door on the opposite side of the living room was ajar.  As Guy approached it, a man appeared in the doorway, and beyond him the visitor could see Grace lying, very white and still, upon a bed.
    “Who are you – this woman’s husband?” demanded the man in curt tones.
    “I am her brother.  What is the matter?  Is she very ill?”
    “Did you know of her condition?”
    “I heard last night that she was not well, and I hurried up here.  I live in the country.  Who are you?  What has happened?  She is not – my God, she is not –” “Not yet.  Perhaps we can save her.  I am a doctor.  I was called by a Japanese, who said that he was a servant here.  He must have left after he called me, for I have not seen him.  Her condition is serious, and requires an immediate operation – an operation of such a nature that I must learn the name of her own physician and have him present.  Where is her husband?”
Are you getting the implications that the doctor believes Grace has a husband?  Perhaps it will become more clear.
        “Husband!  My sister is not –”  Guy ceased speaking, and went suddenly white.  “My God, doctor, you don’t mean that she – that my sister – Oh no, not that!”
        “She had a fall night before last, and an immediate operation is imperative. Her condition is such that we cannot even take the risk of removing her to a hospital.  I have my instruments in the my car, but I should have help.  Who is her doctor?”
        “I do not know.”
        “I’ll get one.  I have given her something to quiet her.”
        The doctor stepped to the telephone and gave a number.  Evans entered the room where his sister lay.  She was moving about restlessly and moaning, though it was evident that she was still unconscious.
Changed!  Guy wondered that he had known her at all, now that he was closer to her.  Her face was pinched and drawn.  Her beauty was gone – every vestige of it.  She looked old and tired and haggard, and there were terrible lines upon her face that stilled her brother’s heart and brought the tears to his eyes.
        He heard the doctor summoning an assistant and directing him to bring ether. Then he heard him go out of the house by the front door – to get his instruments, doubtless.  The brother knelt by the girl’s bed.
        “Grace!” he whispered, and threw an arm about her.
        Her lids fluttered, and she opened her eyes.
        She recognized him – she was conscious. “Who did this? he demanded.  “What is his name?” She shook her head.
        “What is the use?” she asked.  “It is done.”
        “Tell me!”
        “You would kill him – and be punished.  It would only make it worse – for you – and mother.  Let it die with me!”
        “You are not going to die.  Tell me, who is he?  Do you love him?”
        “I hate him!”
        “How were you injured?”
        “He threw me – against – a table.”
        Her voice was growing weaker.  Choking back tears of grief and anger, the young man rose and stood beside her.
        “Grace, I command you to tell me!”
        Her eyes moved to something beyond the foot of the bed, back to his, and back again to whatever she had been looking at, as if she sought to direct his attention to something in that part of the room.  He followed the direction of her gaze.  There was a dressing table there, and on it a photograph of a man in a silver frame.  Guy stepped to the table and picked up the picture.
        “This is he?”  His eyes demanded an answer.  Her lips moved soundlessly, and weakly she nodded an affirmative.  “What is his name?”
        She was too weak to answer him.  She gasped, and her breath came flutteringly.  The brother threw himself upon his knees beside the bed, and took her in his arms.  His tears mingled with his kisses on her cheek.  The doctor came then and drew him away.
        “She is dead!” said the boy, turning away and covering his face with his hands.
        “No,” said the doctor, after a brief examination.  “She is not dead.  Get into the kitchen, and get some water to boiling.  I’ll be getting things ready in here.  Another doctor will be here in a few minutes.”
        A moment later the doctor came in.  He had removed his coat and vest and rolled up his sleeves.  He placed his instruments in the pan of water on the stove, and then he went to the sink and washed his hands.  While he scrubbed, he talked. He was an efficient-looking, business-like person, and he inspired Guy with confidence and hope.
        “She has a fighting chance,” he said.  “I’ve seen worse cases pull through. She’s had a bad time, though.  She must have been lying here for pretty close to twenty-four hours without any attention.  I found her fully dressed except for what clothes she’s torn off in pain.  If some one had called a doctor yesterday at this time, it might have been all right.  It may be all right even now.  We’ll do the best we can.”
        The bell rang.
        “That’s the doctor.  Let him in, please.”
        Guy went to the door and admitted the second physician, who removed his coat and vest and went directly to the kitchen.  The first doctor was entering the room where Grace lay.  He turned and spoke to his colleague, greeting him; then he disappeared within the adjoining room.  The second doctor busied himself about the sink sterilizing his hands.  Guy lighted another burner and put on another vessel with water in it.
        A moment later the first doctor returned to the kitchen.
        “It will not be necessary to operate, doctor,” he said.  “We were too late!”
        His tone and manner were still very businesslike and efficient, but there was an expression of compassion in his eyes as he crossed the room and put his arm about Guy’s shoulders.
I know, you likely thought that she was going to live after all that prologue.  But like I said this is a tragedy at heart.  Personally, I believe ERB wanted her to live, but by having her die at this stage, he freed the honor of Custer from his vow.  And how about that comment that if someone had called a doctor twenty-four hours earlier, things wouldn’t have gotten as bad as they were now.  Remember, that’s when Custer had visited her, and she had turned on him.
“Come into the other room, my boy.  I want to talk to you,” he said.
        Guy, dry-eyed, and walking as one in a trance, accompanied him to the little living room.’
        “You have had a hard blow,” said the doctor.  “What I am going to tell you may make it harder; but if she had been my sister I should have wanted to know about it.  She is better off.  The chances are that she didn’t want to live.  She certainly made no fight for life – not since I was called.”
        “Why would she want to die?” Guy asked dully.  “We would have forgiven her.  No one would have ever known about it but me.”
        “There was something else – she was a drug addict.  That was probably the reason why she didn’t want to live.  The morphine I had to give her to quiet her would have killed three ordinary men.”
        And so Guy Evans came to know the terrible fate that had robbed his sister of her dreams, of her ambition, and finally of her life.  He placed the full responsibility upon the man whose picture had stood in its silver frame upon the girl’s dressing table.  As he knelt beside the dead girl, he swore to search until he had learned the identity of that man, and found him, and forced from him the only explanation that could satisfy the honor of a brother.
Poor Mrs. Evans.  What did she do in her raising of Grace that made her so susceptible to Wilson Crumb’s web of deceit?  Did she love Grace too much?  Probably.  But she still has Guy, right?

        The death of Grace had, of course, its naturally depressing effect upon the circle of relatives and friends at Ganado; but her absence of more than a year, the infrequency of her letters, and the fact that they had already come to feel that she was lost to them, mitigated to some degree the keenness of their grief and lessened its outward manifestations.  It was Guy who suffered most, for hugged to his breast was the gnawing secret of the truth of his sister’s life and death.  He had told them that Grace had died of pneumonia, and they had not gone behind his assertion to search the records for the truth.
Yes, Guy lies to everyone at Ganado because he believes the truth is too horrible for them to take, just like his sister lied about her life.  Let’s see now: how many liars do we have in Ganado now.  Custer lied to keep Guy out of prison.  Shannon has lied to everyone about her past, and especially lied to Custer about her stealth rides into the hills.  We’ve already dealt with Grace.  What about Eva?  Has the lying bug got to her yet?  Hasn’t anyone figured out yet that lying only makes matters worse?
        He did not, however, give up his search.  He went often to Hollywood, where he haunted public places and the entrance to studios, in the hope that some day he would find the man he sought; but as the passing months brought no success, and the duties of his ranch and his literary work demanded more and more of his time, he was gradually compelled to push the furtherance of his vengeance into the background, though without any lessening of his determination to compass it eventually.
ERB is really pushing the envelope of believability on this one.  I mean, just showing Crumb’s picture to someone guarding the gates at a studio should have gotten him a positive response; unless, of course, he didn’t take the picture with him.  But as we shall see, it was necessary to keep Guy in the dark at this period in our story.
        To Custer, the direct effect of Grace’s death was to revive the habit of drinking more than was good for him – a habit from which he had drifted away during the past year.  That it had ever been habit he would, of course, have been the last to admit.  He was one of those men who could drink, or leave it alone. The world is full of them, and so are the cemeteries.
        Shannon recognized the change in Custer.  She attributed it to his grief, and to his increased drinking, which she had sensed almost immediately, as love does sense the slightest change in its object, however little apparent to another. She did not realize that he was purposely avoiding her.  She was more than ever with Eva now, for Guy, having settled down to the serious occupations of man’s estate, no longer had so much leisure to devote to play.
She still occasionally rode at night, for the daytime rides with Custer were less frequent now.  Much of his time was occupied closer in around the ranch, with the conditioning of the show herds for the coming autumn – an activity which gave him a plausible excuse for foregoing his rides with Shannon.
        May, June, and July had come and gone – it was August again.  Guy’s futile visits to Los Angeles were now infrequent.  The life of Ganado had again assumed the cheerfulness of the past.  The youth of the foothills and valley, reinforced by weekend visitors from the city, filled the old house with laughter and happiness.  Shannon was always of these parties, for they would not let her remain away.
        It was upon the occasion of one of them, early in August, that Eva announced the date of her wedding to Guy.
        “The 2nd of September,” she told them.  “It comes on a Saturday.  We’re going to motor to –”
        “Hold on!” cautioned Guy.  “That’s a secret!”
        “And when we come back we’re going to start building on Hill Thirteen.”
        “That’s a cow pasture,” said Custer
        “Well, it won’t be any more.  You must find another cow pasture.”
        “Certainly, little one,” replied her brother.  “We’ll bring the cows up here in the ballroom.  With five thousand acres to pick from, you can’t find a bungalow site anywhere except in the best dairy cow pasturre on Ganado!”
        “Put on a fox trot, some one,” cried Guy.  “Dance with your sister, Cus, and you’ll let her build bungalows all over Ganado.  No one can refuse her anything when they dance with her.”
No wonder Slick Allen called Custer a fox-trottin’ dude!  You must imagine a handcranked phonograph machine for the music.  And, yes, Custer is in a classic state of denial, at least under an AA analysis.  Of course any drinking at all qualifies under AA.  And I’d still like to know what kinds of stories Guy writes.  He should be a better writer now, for tragedy almost always deepens a writer’s take on life.
        It was later in the evening, after a dance, that Shannon and Custer walked out on the driveway along the north side of the ballroom, and stood looking out over the moon-enchanted valley – a vista of loveliness glimpsed between masses of feathery foliage in an opening through the trees on the hillside just below them. They looked out across that acacias and cedars of lower hill toward the lights of a little village twinkling between two dome-like hills at the upper end of the valley.
        It was an unusually warm evening, almost too warm to dance.
        “I think we’d get a little of the ocean breeze,” said Custer, “if we were on the other side of the hill.  Let’s walk over to the water gardens.  There is usually a breeze there, but the building cuts us off from it here.”
Side by side, in silence, they walked around the front of the building and along the south drive to the steps leading down through the water gardens to the stables.  The steps were narrow and Custer went ahead – which is always the custom of men in countries where there are rattlesnakes.
Joan Didion, in her classic book, The White Album, tells a story of one morning going out to her driveway somewhere in L.A., it might have been Malibu, and finding herself confronted by a rattlesnake.  I remember once when I was a kid up in the Sierras for a a big family gathering with all of the relatives, being confronted by a rattlesnake.  It wasn’t really harming anyone, but it wouldn’t leave either.  So one of the young men in the group killed it with a boulder.  I remember him cutting off the rattlesnake’s tail and counting the the number of rattles to determine its age.

An attorney friend of mine, while mountain bike riding with his dog, was bitten by a rattlesnake and was in the hospital for a few days.  He survived, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience.

        As Shannon stepped from the cement steps to the gravel walk above the first pool, her foot came down upon a round stone, turning her ankle and throwing her against Custer.  For support she grasped his arm.  Upon such insignificant trifles may the fate of lives depend.  It might have been a lizard, a toad, a mouse, or even a rattlesnake that precipitated the moment which, for countless aeons, creation had been preparing; but it was none of these.  It was just a little round pebble – and it threw Shannon Burke against Custer Pennington, causing her to seize his arm.  He felt the contact of those fingers, and the warmth of her body, and her cheek near his shoulder.  He threw an arm about her to support her. Almost instantly she had regained her footing.  Laughingly, she drew away.  “I stepped on a stone,” she said in explanation; “but I didn’t hurt my ankle.”
        But still he kept his arm about her.  At first Shannon did not understand, and, supposing that he still thought her unable to stand alone, she again explained that she was unhurt.
        He stood looking down into her face, which was turned up to his.  The moon, almost full, revealed her features as clearly as sunlight – how beautiful they were, and how close.  She had not yet fully realized the significance of his attitude when he suddenly threw his other arm about her and crushed her to him; and then before she could prevent, he had bent his lips to hers and kissed her full upon the mouth.
        With a startled cry she pushed him away.
        “Custer!” she said.  “What have you done?  This is not like you.  I do not understand!”
        She was terrified – terrified at the thought that he might have kissed her without love – terrified that he might have kissed her with love.  She did not know which would be the greater catastrophe.
        “I couldn’t help it, Shannon,” he said.  “Blame the pebble, blame the moonlight, blame me – it won’t make any difference.  I couldn’t help it; this is all there is to it.  I”ve fought against it for months.  I knew you didn’t love me; but, oh, Shannon, I love you!  I had to tell you.”
        He had not let her go.  They still stood there – his arms about her.  “Please don’t be angry, Shannon,” he begged.  “You may not want my love, but there’s no disgrace in it.  Maybe I shouldn’t have kissed you, but I couldn’t help it, and I’m glad I did.  I have that to remember as long as I live.  Please don’t be angry!”
        She closed her eyes and turned away her head, and for just an instant she dreamed her beautiful dream.  Why not?  Why not?  There could be no better wife than she, for there could be no greater love than hers.  He noticed that she no longer drew away.  There had been no look of anger in her eyes – only startled questioning; and her face was still so near.  Again his arms closed about her, and again his lips found hers.
        This time she did not deny him.  She was only human – only a woman – and her love, growing, steadily in power for many months, had suddenly burst forth in a consuming fire beneath his burning kisses.  He felt her lips move in a fluttering sob beneath his, and then her dear arms stole up about his neck and pressed him closer in complete surrender.
        “Shannon!  You love me?”
        “Ah, dear boy, always!”  He drew her to the lower end of a pool, where a rustic seat stood half concealed by the foliage of a drooping umbrella tree.
        They did not know how long they had sat there – to them it seemed but a moment – when they heard voices calling their names from above.
I know, you are wondering how many bases Custer achieved past first.  ERB knew how to set a love scene up, but left it up to the reader’s imagination beyond that.  Pretty steamy, though, for the times, wouldn’t you say?  Too bad they had to break apart.  I mean, what could be so important?
        “Shannon!  Custer!  Where are you?”  It was Eva calling.
        “I suppose we’ll have to go,” he said.  “Just one more kiss!”
        He took a dozen; and then they rose and walked up the steps to the south drive.
        “Shall I tell them?” he asked.
        “Not yet, please.”
        She was not sure that it would last.  Such happiness was too sweet to endure.
        Eva spied them.
        “Where in the world have you two been?” she demanded.  “We’ve been hunting all over for you, and shouting until I’m hoarse.”
        “We’ve been right down there by the upper pool, trying to cool off,” replied Custer.  “It’s too beastly hot to dance.”
        Eva came closer.  “Shannon, you’d better go and straighten your hair before any one else sees you.”  She laughed and pinched the other’s arm.  “I’d love it,” she whispered in Shannon’s ear, “if it were true!  You’ll tell me, won’t you?”
        “If it ever comes true, dear” – Shannon returned the whisper – “you shall be the first to know about it.”
        “Scrumptious!  But say, I’ve got the divinest news – what do you think? Popsy has known it all day and never mentioned it – forgot all about it, he said, until just before he and mother trotted off to bed.  Why, the K.K.S. company is coming on Monday, and Wilson Crumb is coming with them!”
        Shannon staggered almost as from the force of a physical blow.  Wilson Crumb coming!  Coming to Ganado!  Short indeed had been her sweet happiness!
        “What’s the matter, Shannon?” asked Custer solicitously.  The girl steadied herself quickly.
        “Oh, it’s nothing,” she said, with a nervous laugh. “I just felt a little dizzy for a moment.”
Well, that’s a fine mess ERB has gotten his characters into.  What will happen if Crumb meets Shannon?  What will happen when Guy realizes he is the guy in the picture?  You can see, there is still much more drama to come.

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Read The Girl From Hollywood Text in ERBzine
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 by Woodrow Edgar Nichols, Jr.
Pt. I: Ch. 1 Pt. II: Ch. 2 Pt. III: Ch. 3/4 Pt. IV: Ch. 5 Pt. V: Ch. 6/7 Pt. VI: Ch. 8/9/10 Pt. VII: Ch. 11/12
Pt. VIII: Ch. 13/14 Pt. IX: Ch. 15 Pt. X: Ch. 16 Pt. XI: Ch. 17/18 Pt. XII: Ch. 19/20 Pt. XIII: Ch. 21 Pt. XIV: Ch. 22/23
Pt. XV: Ch. 24/25 Pt. XVI: Ch. 26/27/28 Pt. XVII: Ch. 29/30/31 Pt. XVIII: Ch. 32/33 Pt. XIX: Ch. 34 Pt. XX: Ch. 35 Pt. XXI: Ch. 36/37


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