The Hothouse by the East River

The Hothouse by the East River by Muriel Spark Read Free Book Online

Book: The Hothouse by the East River by Muriel Spark Read Free Book Online
Authors: Muriel Spark
rolling big eyes to indicate Delia and the fact
that his duty lies there.
    ‘Always
too hot,’ Garven says, frantically, now pulling at the knot of his tie, and
anxiously looking around the room for guidance. Paul stands peering at the
soles of the shoes.
    ‘My
name,’ Garven informs the Princess, ‘is Bey, spelt B - E - Y. My surname.’
    ‘Oh, I
thought you were a Mr Garven. Garven is your Christian name, is it?’
    ‘My
pre-name. These goddam old apartments —’
    ‘Lousy
language, your doctor,’ shouts Delia, who now starts up from the sofa. ‘All
lousy, here. What you done for Mrs Hazlett all the lousy money she spent on
you? What you ever done for her?’
    After
which Delia runs out of the room, and her footsteps can be heard along the
corridor to the kitchen. From there her voice can still be heard, but not her
words.
    ‘New
York is changing,’ says Princess Xavier. ‘What did you want to bring me here
for?’ Garven says. ‘This is a madhouse. Why me?’
    ‘Have
you got your reading spectacles, Poppy?’ says Paul impatiently, indicating her
bag with one of the shoes. ‘This is important,’ he says. ‘I want you to see.’
    The
front doorbell rings. Garven looks at his watch, takes out his handkerchief and
pats his forehead. The front door can be heard being opened. ‘A madhouse,’
Garven says and looks again at his watch.
    The
Princess fetches her glasses out of her bag and takes her time to put them on
properly. ‘Let us see,’ she says soothingly. ‘Sit down, Mr Garven, there’s no hurry.’
    ‘I’m a
busy man,’ Garven says.
    The
Princess is peering closely at one of the shoes. Then she holds it at arm’s
length, to study it. She says to Garven, ‘Now I must concentrate on this. Sit
down. Elsa has your Institute of Guidance at heart. Be patient.’
    Whereupon
Garven sits down.
    ‘I
see,’ says the Princess, ‘the words, “Melinda’s, New York, Chicago.” which is
only the name of the store.’ She looks towards the door of the room. ‘Isn’t
that Katerina I hear?’ she says. ‘Katerina must have stopped by. How nice.’
    ‘And
underneath?’ Paul says. ‘Below that, what do you see?’
    ‘I
can’t make it out. Impossible,’ says the Princess. ‘Elsa will have to wear them
some more, then one will be able to see more clearly. If I were you, Paul, I
shouldn’t worry.’ She turns to Garven with an approving smile, apparently
because he has been good and sat down when told. And as if to humour him
further she loosens the clasp of her shawls. ‘Yes, it really is very hot in
here,’ she says, exposing a large expanse of flesh under her low-cut beady
afternoon dress.
    Katerina
comes in with her mother. Delia, growling and dressed for the street, follows.
    Garven
screams. His eyes are on the Princess’s bosom. He screams. Under the protective
folds of her breasts the Princess, this very morning, has concealed for warmth
and fear of the frost a precious new consignment of mulberry leaves bearing
numerous eggs of silk-worms. These have hatched in the heat. The worms
themselves now celebrate life by wriggling upon Princess Xavier’s breast and
causing Garven to scream.
    ‘Lousy
doctor,’ shouts Delia. ‘I go home now thank you very much.’ She leaves with a
long, loud run and a crash of the front door.
    ‘Katerina,
my dear,’ says the Princess, ‘fetch me a paper bag. My worms!’
    ‘Don’t
panic,’ says Garven to Paul. ‘Don’t panic,’ he says to Elsa.
    Katerina
takes a small packet of face-tissues from her bag and tosses them on to the
Princess’s lap. ‘Wipe them off with these,’ she says. ‘Whatever’s wrong? — Did
you catch some complaint?’
    ‘My
little worms,’ says the Princess, carefully extricating the mulberry leaves
from under her lapping breasts, and delicately picking the worms from her skin.
She wraps them carefully in the leaves and face tissues and then, after a
little hesitation, places them inside her gloves which she arranges

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