RITE DE PASSAGE
"Now, Luiza, let's get this right -so
that there will be no misunderstanding", Professor Fish, the history department
chairman said, trying to keep a straight face. "You're saying Mr. de la
Vega isn't sufficiently fluent in Spanish to do research in his field.
"Right", Dr. Gomez replied. Her face
was impassive. Her eyes darted back and forth from him to Prof. Victor
E. Shrine, the Western European history specialist. They were sitting in
Prof. Fish's office during lunch on August 2, 1986. The conversation was
a spin-off from the interdisciplinary committee meeting on Hispanic studies
on the Pasadena University campus which had just taken place. It was, of
course, in the greater Los Angeles area. The meeting had taken place in
one of the departmental lecture rooms. The committee was one of a number
to which Luiza as a member of the staff in the Faculty of Arts was obliged
to belong. She was a newly tenured member of the sociology department.
Her main interest was recent Latino emigration in the USA. Next to Prof.
Shrine sat Dr. Lance Sampson de la Vega, a specialist in American colonial
history. An associate professor in the department, he was a cousin to the
second degree of the applicant, Harry de la Vega. The latter, who was a
lecturer at a San Bernardino area community college, was aiming for a one
year contract to teach in Prof. Fish's department. Lance was a tenured
member of staff, there. He was plainly apathetic about the issue though
he tried to give the appearance of being interested. As a cloud of rose
tinted smoke was emitted from Nelson J. Fish's pipe, he breathed in deeply.
How he savoured that aroma ! At the same time, Prof. Shrine looked at Luiza
with mild mystification.
A brief moment of silence passed while
Prof. Fish puffed at his pipe several times in succession. Lance's head
swooned. How he savored the aroma ! Then the chairman asked,
"Anything you care to add, Luiza ?"
"Those recommendations on your desk
"- they're the result of a long campaign
of special pleading and flattery on the part of the applicant".
"I know that for a fact. He himself
boasts about it",
Luiza replied with a smirk.
Prof. Shrine's eyes met those of Prof.
Fish. Then they rested on Luiza. She continued to describe Harry's tactics
in detail. He had badgered one man by claiming he would take his own life
if no position were found. He had stated his whole future lay in the balance
and he had nowhere else to turn. He also had said he was in debt up to
his ears. He needed the post to pay it off. The man had become so concerned
it seemed Harry had succeeded in making him feel guilty. In the end, Luiza
continued, he had got his recommendation. More, the man had taken the unusual
step of reading it out for Harry's benefit. She concluded,
"Frankly, my opinion of him is he's
third rate. He's just a hack. And a rank opportunist". Then she looked
at her watch and said,
"Gracious. I'm late. I promised to
meet a student at three thirty about his dissertation. Got to run".
After a brief exchange of words with
both her colleagues, she rushed out.
The two looked at her in amazement.
A moment later, Prof. Shrine turned to Lance and asked,
"What do you make of all this ?"
There was a silence. Lance who had
been day-dreaming, realized he was being addressed.
"Ah -precisely about what ?"
"Luiza's claims about this applicant".
"Well, one would have to know more
about the circumstances. It's difficult to play the judge".
"Well, yes -"
"I've never been on that campus, for
"By the way, are you related to the
"In a sort of way".
"You are then ?"
"As it were".
"How well do you know him ?"
"Hardly at all. We met perhaps once
or twice in our lifetimes. Something like that".
"We might be second cousins. I'm not
"Ah. Still close, relatively speaking.
Wouldn't you say so, Victor ?"
Prof. Shrine only smiled in response.
"Do you have anything to add to this?
"As you know, Luiza is a person of
sound moral character".
"Of course, without a doubt but -"
"She has earned our respect and admiration
during her short stay here".
"Quite", Lance added. "Is there any
reason why she should suddenly be inventing stories ?".
Both Nelson J. Fish and Victor E. Shrine
sat up in surprise. What was Lance implying ? This impelled the latter
to enter the conversation.
"That story about Dr. Breck -"
"You mean the department head at what's
the name of that college ... San Bernardino ... ?"
"Yes. That story is downright ridiculous".
"Oh, I agree", the chairman interjected.
"I've known Breck for years. And his wife before she married. Fine woman.
Something like this could never happen in a million years. Not with Breck."
"Still", Lance said, "We all have our
weaknesses. Who knows what his are ?"
The three academics turned their attention
to the question of Harry's lack of proficiency in written Spanish. He had
wisely supplied them with a couple of essays in that tongue one of which
was to be published in a historical journal in Mexico City. Prof. Fish
and Prof. Shrine agreed Luiza's comments were probably motivated by personal
considerations. A case of professional rivalries, they concluded.
"If she tries this sort of thing again
-" Prof. Shrine added.
"Let's just agree she never said anything.
I'm sure it won't be repeated", Prof. Fish interjected. "If it will, I
think I know how to handle her".
"You hope you do" his interlocutor
Lance reacted with a smirk.
Nelson J. Fish was closer to the truth
than he was aware. Prior to her arrival at Pasadena, Luiza Gomez had lived
and studied in San Bernardino. A few years older than Harry, she had been
an assistant there while completing a doctorate while he was enrolled in
a MA degree in Spanish American history. An initial acquaintanceship led
to friendship. Preoccupied with his studies and the prospect of a brilliant
career, Harry was not entirely aware Luiza had invested a greater emotional
commitment to this relationship than he. In fact, she took it for granted
he would sooner or later pop the question. But suddenly, he dumped her
in favor of a younger and prettier coed whom he had met initially quite
by chance at the campus bookstore. It was pure coincidence, as it were,
she happened to be the daughter of a member of the board of trustees of
the college. Luiza reacted to this about-face with understandable shock
and surprise. This led to rage and contempt.
Her reactions were explainable, of course.
Cuban born, she had arrived in the USA with her parents in the mid 1970's.
Her father, a diplomat, had defected and had passed on to the CIA important
papers on various and sundry communist guerrilla movements in Latin America.
He had initially backed the Castro regime like many idealistic left wing
intellectuals. But he became increasingly disillusioned over a period of
six years. As far as Luiza's mother was concerned, she had had property
confiscated but for her family's sake, she had kept her resentment towards
the regime a secret while her husband was a communist diplomat.
A few moments later, Lance excused himself
saying he had a backlog of work to catch up on. He had to write a review
of a newly published biography on Benedict Arnold for the American Historical
"Curious", Prof. Shrine murmured as
he watched Lance disappear around the corner in the hall.
"Hm ?" Prof. Fish pricked up his ears.
He always enjoyed his colleague's observations on people.
"Curious he didn't rally to his cousin's
"Well, he did say he barely knows him".
"Still, you know the saying: blood
is thicker than water. They're both historians, too. That should have stirred
something inside him".
"But no. He's curiously diffident.
Almost bordering on haughty disregard. To the point, well, of jealousy
? Something funny... Anyhow !"
"Yes. Be that as it may", Prof. Fish
replied, looking at his wrist watch. He then stood up.
"Quite". Prof. Shrine took his cue
and stood up as well. As the pair headed for the exit, he added, "Be that
as it may".
Prof. Fish's department finally offered
Harry the contract. In August, he said goodbye to everyone he knew at San
Bernardino College and left for Pasadena. While fulfilling his duties as
a lecturer, he thought, he would complete his doctoral thesis. It was on
the dispute between the foreign oil companies and Venustiano Carranza,
the president of Mexico during the years l9l7-l920.
It was a cloudy and sultry Monday morning
on August 21st when Harry presented himself at the office of the chairman.
To be on the safe side, he had arrived early. Pamela Huxley, the departmental
secretary, was on hand to receive him. On the face of it, he was singularly
unprepossessing. Small, with black horn-rimmed glasses with an intense
countenance, he had dark brown hair and a small oval face. What she found
attractive was his intelligence, his easy going charm and unaffected manner.
She asked him whether he had ever been in the city before. He replied,
yes, he had. He had been born in Los Angeles but had left when eight years
old. During the intervening years, he had visited the city for a variety
of reasons, both for business and pleasure. Pamela and Harry chatted for
another ten minutes before he was summoned to see Prof. Fish. She agreed
to Harry's suggestion to meet for lunch the same day.
At half past twelve, Harry returned
to escort his date to the university staff cafeteria. During lunch, Pamela
grew to like Harry more and more. She became increasingly at ease in his
presence and lighthearted during the second half of their rendezvous. Her
laughter made him less intense and serious. The muscles of his face relaxed.
He was surprised with himself that he was laughing along with her.
He admired her straightforward and uncluttered
mind. He liked gazing at her lively and intelligent face, her expressive,
wide brown eyes, her shiny black hair and her lovely broad cheeks. What
luck, he thought, to have found such a nice girl in his new surroundings
within such a short space of time. They agreed to meet during the evening.
After parting with Pamela, Harry sauntered
across the quadrangle towards the Frederic Stevens Administration Building.
Just as he was about to climb the steps, who should he unexpectedly see
hurriedly leaving the building but Luiza Gomez.
"It's me, Harry", he said. He felt
he had to remind her after three years who he was. He had changed, of course.
At San Bernardino, he had sported a short flat-topped brushcut which now
had grown to a more normal length.
"Great to see you. How are you these
"As you see, bearing up". She tried
to hide her hostility as best she could by putting on an air of normalcy.
"I'm teaching here this year, as you
probably know. In the history department. Just arrived."
"Very good. What courses, exactly ?"
As if she didn't know.
"Spanish colonial history, for one".
"I've just met Prof. Fish. He's one
swell guy . A real gent".
Harry went on to prattle on about his
impression of the department and of the university in general and gave
her a short description of his courses. He explained where he was living
and how it came about he had found his accommodation. When, in the middle
of his meandering monologue, he paused, perforce, to cough, she took her
chance and interjected,
"I've got to go". Then she nervously
looked at her watch and added, "I have a session with an MA student".
"Oh. Sorry to go on so", he replied.
"Say, how about getting together for lunch sometime ? At the staff cafeteria.
We'll talk about old times, eh ?"
"Perhaps. I'm very busy these days,
"We have a lot to catch up on. ...
Wow ! What luck to have you teaching here".
"Yes, well -"
"How about it ?"
"I'm all booked up till the end of
the month, unfortunately,
"Oh. Then why not meet just for a coffee
at lunch hour ?
He continued, "Say, what a snazzy campus
this is. By the way, do you know my cousin, Lance ?"
At that name, Luiza betrayed a fright.
But Harry, preoccupied by the novelty of being at Pasadena, noticed nothing.
"Yes, of course. Fine man". She then
turned to one side and said curtly, "I really must go now. Goodbye". With
that, she briskly hurried away in the direction of the quadrangle.
"Right", he replied. "Great seeing
you again. We'll be in touch. Bye".
He seemed oblivious to the fact she
had no desire to remain in his presence a second longer. As she raced across
the park, she muttered to herself, "No change. Ego and all".
Just before his interview with Prof.
Fish, Harry discovered the `Sierra Madre' restaurant three blocks from
the campus. During supper with Pamela, she asked him whether there was
any connection between Lance and himself.
"Yes", he replied with a smirk. "I'm
from the poor branch of his family".
"Oh, no !" she laughed. "I didn't ask
because of that".
He continued, "Actually, we were one
of the original Spanish land grant families. A mixture of carelessness
and plain stupidity almost put us out of business".
"I see. What about Lance's branch ?"
"Our grandfathers were brothers ...
w-well, actually half-brothers. In contrast to the rest of the De la Vegas
- there are lots of them, you see - our great-grandfather managed to stay
on top. He married a railroad heiress from Scranton, Pennsylvania".
"Yes. Her father was Ledyard Joseph
Sampson. He along with a few other east coast tycoons bought the election
of, I think, Chester Arthur - no, it was Rutherfurd B. Hayes ... no, that
can't be right ... "
It doesn't really matter, Harry. Go
on with the story".
"Anyhow, one of one of those Reconstruction
"I see. Why ?"
"In order to get a hold of government
land for his railroad to California".
"Now, his daughter, the one who married
your great-grandfather, and Lance's too, was called ... "
"Clemie. Clementine Dorothea Sampson.
That was her full name".
"Right. Lance showed me her portrait,
once. It's in a roundel in his study at his home in San Marino".
"Oh", Harry replied. "Well, she was
Juan de la Vega's first wife. His father-in-law's money went to the senior
branch. We're the junior one".
"So your great-grandfather must have
had two wives".
"That's right". Harry continued, "With
the railroad heiress, he had two sons. After a decade, she jilted him and
remarried. This time to a banker -and an old bachelor".
Pamela smiled. He went on.
"They had no children. Lucky for Lance.
"What do you mean ?"
"Her fortune wasn't further subdivided.
Lance's family got the banker's loot as well".
"Oh ! Okay", she laughed. "And your
great-grandmother. How did she enter the picture ?"
"About five years after greatgranddad's
divorce, he married my greatgrandmother. She was a school teacher. No money
there. They had three children. My grandfather, his brother and my grandaunt,
Ines". He added, "You've seen his house, haven't you ?"
"Lance's. In San Marino".
"Oh, yes. I've been there".
"You've been there !"
"Yes. On a number of occasions".
Pamela explained she had initiated her
relationship with Lance a month before she first began working for the
"He put in a good word for me with
Though Lance's intervention did help,
she said, she probably would have been hired anyhow. Probably, Harry mumbled.
Pamela wanted to get away from the subject of Lance. She received unpleasant
vibrations every time his name cropped up. She talked about the university
and its students. He was an eager listener. Later, he began to compare
the two institutions: San Bernardino and Pasadena. The pair moved on to
other topics. After an hour, she suggested they adjourn for dessert in
Pamela lived in a three storey stucco
building ten minutes walking distance from her office. She had a balcony
which faced the mountains and a public park immediately below. She loved
panoramic views particularly in large cities such as Los Angeles. She claimed
to be very visual which made her partial for example to landscape paintings.
Harry felt completely at ease with her.
He was confident he could always express his mind and in turn receive a
kindly sympathetic response. He wondered why he hadn't met someone so without
guile and frank as her before. Was it because of late he had spent too
much time secluded in his work and hadn't developed a balanced social life.
Harry projected the image of a devoted
academic and intellectual. And a struggler against adversity. She admired
what he described as his tenacity in attaining the post at Pasadena. When
a boy, he had not done well at school. In fact, for lack of parental attention,
he was forced to repeat two classes. He had floundered at Sacramento State
College. It had been a bad decision to go there in the first place. But
then he had had no proper guidance. Finally, after wasting three precious
years, he decided to change institutions. San Bernardino College may not
have been Ivy League but it gave him sound, well rounded courses by dedicated
teachers. They may not have been world class producers of books but they
had a firm grasp of their subjects. That was for certain.
He had had a good supervisor for his
doctoral dissertation for which, he added, he would always be grateful.
He was sorry, in one sense, to leave his old college. On the other hand,
Los Angeles being a metropolis with its many institutes, universities and
was for him a welcome change.
When they arrived at her apartment,
they both felt a need to be together.
Later, Pamela had her story to tell.
She was the daughter of a failed hardware store owner in Drabble Creek,
Illinois, a man who had tried one venture after another and in the process
had seen his fragile wife waste away from bone cancer. Pamela could barely
remember this, she was four years old at the time. Being a depressive by
nature, her father hardly had any time for her. Harry felt a well of sympathy
when he heard this. The stepmother who entered Pamela's life three years
later was too preoccupied with propping up the father and trying to run
a successful catering firm so the girl became priority number three -way,
way down the list. Harry asked how she had survived such a childhood. She
replied her maternal grandparents first took her under their wing after
the mother's death. Later, her father's sister regularly looked into the
family home and gave her those much needed rays of sunshine. She even paid
for Pamela's month long trip to Europe five years before.
Harry felt saddened by this story. At
the same time, he was glad she had not become embittered as a result. He
was convinced, though, her emotional scars had to be there. They were well
embedded, so deep, in fact, even she wasn't aware of how serious they were.
If love is the result of a fusion between
passion and pity, it was just so with Harry that evening. As far as Pamela
was concerned, she was glad to be adored and comforted by one so strong
and understanding. During that intimate experience when the personality
of one seemed to blend with the other, she felt if only for a moment a
protective armor had covered her. She felt soothed, warm and secure. It
was nirvana for her.
It was sheer delight for him as well.
He had, all for himself, a woman who was the quintessence of beauty, charm,
understanding and grace. What a lucky man he was.
The rite of passage was over. After
a few minutes, Pamela rolled over on top of him. She pressed herself against
his chest. How blissful that felt, he thought. A while later, he recollected
their discussion about his cousin.
"You told me you were at Lance's a
number of times", he asked.
"Were you in love with him ?"
"Oh, Harry. Really".
"Harry !" she laughed gleefully. He
felt embarrassed. A moment passed before he dared to sally forth.
"I'm not jealous, you know".
"No". She laughed again.
"Oh, forget it !"
Pamela thought awhile. Then she asked
why he wanted to know. Just curious, he replied. After all, he had bedded
her that evening and Lance was a relatively close cousin. What did she
think of him ? Pamela withdrew into herself and answered evasively. Lance,
she said, often appeared to be phlegmatic and indifferent to things and
people around him. But deep down, he was capable of being nice to people.
"Anything else ?" he inquired.
"Sometimes, he seems on edge, unsure".
"Yes. As if the ground under him is
about to swallow him up".
"Never noticed that".
No, she added. In the beginning of their
relationship, she didn't either. But later, on two occasions, she noticed
he would go through a brief period of panic and would simply stop eating.
"Incredible", Harry said, looking amazed.
"I never would have imagined something like that could happen to him. To
someone who has everything".
"On the face of it", she observed,
"it may seem so. But, have you ever been close to him ?"
"Why is that ?"
"Well ... it's part of the family history
I told you".
Her mind remained fixed on Lance. There
was another matter she wished to discuss.
"Harry ?" she murmured into his ear.
"I think you should know something about your application".
"My application ? What about it ?"
"And Lance ?"
"He doesn't like the idea of your being
in the department".
"He doesn't, eh. Hah-hah-hah. Now,
that's a laugh". Harry added with a smirk. "He'll just have to get used
to it, that's all".
Pamela decided to continue.
"What I meant was, he told Prof. Fish
"Just what ? What did he say, exactly
"Word for word ? I don't know, Harry.
I wasn't in the room".
"No. But you do hear about certain
"From time to time. Depending".
"What did my cousin Lance say ?" Harry
"He doesn't really think you're sufficiently
"Not qualified. Me ! The nerve of the
guy. What else did he say ? Specifically ?"
"Nothing more ?"
The wrangling continued. She began to
regret letting so much out. How would Lance react to this indiscretion
of hers ? All she knew was what she had heard from Leonora Craxi, the other
secretary who had overheard most of the conversation.
"Besides", she added, "I can't always
rely on what she says. You know, between you and me and the door, she has
a big mouth". She concluded, "Anyhow, all that is past history".
"He's now reconciled himself to the
situation -I mean your being in the department".
"But he still thinks you won't be able
to cope. He calls you a workaholic. He thinks you'll crack up by mid term.
Nervous breakdown or something. The effect will be he'll look silly in
"Why should he look silly ? What does
it got to do with
"You see, he's all wrapped up with
that family of yours".
She gave him a knowing look. But he
didn't take her hint. His mind was on a different track. One part of him
still felt the pain. The other had an exhilarating sense of being flattered.
"So, he's wrapped up with us, eh ?"
"Is he ever !"
Pamela was enjoying this. She had detected
a flaw in him, the dear boy and what a comical one it was at that.
"Wrapped up enough to try to screw
up my application. Hm-m".
She decided not to contradict him. Fascinated
by the workings of his mind and the De la Vega family rivalry, she waited
for him to continue.
"They've always, always, been a stuck
up bunch -that crowd. `Sampson de la Vega' they call themselves. Hah !
Snooty, they are, downright snooty".
"Snooty ? You mean snobbish ?"
"Yeah. Snobbish, stuck-up. Same difference."
He added, "Just because they have big fat bank accounts".
"And more besides", she replied, provocatively.
"Anyhow". She burst out laughing.
She continued giggling.
"Oh, go to hell", he sulked.
"Harry, really !" The laughter did
not abate. He felt he was being derided. Finally he could not take it anymore.
"That's enough", he shouted. He banged
the bedside table with his fist sending a tin ashtray crashing on to the
"Oh, sorry !" Harry cried. He blushed.
"That's quite all right". She went
on laughing. Finally she said,
"You do have a temper".
"Harry", she added. "You shouldn't
be so sensitive".
"I can't help it. I just am".
"Look -forget Lance and his bunch.
It's you that's important. Who you are, what you've done -and what you're
capable of. Above all, that".
"You think so ?"
"I know so, you silly man".
That was nice to hear, he thought.
At the same time, she had discovered something amusing about him. The Sampson
de la Vegas were a powerful attraction to him. That she found titillating.
When the academic year began in mid
September, 1986, Harry was uncertain how everything would turn out. This
was something new. True, he had lectured but on a part time basis in college
in southern California. He also had dealings with students as a teaching
assistant. He had conducted seminars and had marked essays and tests.
By the end of the first week of term,
he felt much more confident. He began to settle in and his surroundings
became as familiar to him as his old haunts in San Bernardino.
In mid October, as the dust, as it were,
began to settle, his thoughts turned to the idea of getting to know as
many fellow colleagues as possible. Quite naturally, the person of Luiza
Gomez came to mind. Prior to his 2nd year morning seminar on Wednesday,
October l6, he picked up his telephone and dialed her extension. He heard
three rings after which his call was redirected to the departmental secretary.
She picked up the receiver instantaneously. He announced himself. Then
he decided to leave a message for Luiza asking her to return his call.
A week, two weeks passed; there was
no return call. He tried again. She wasn't in. He again left a message
suggesting a time for a rendezvous at the staff restaurant. She chose once
more to ignore his request. She hoped, by then, he would get the message
she wasn't interested. By the end of the month, to her relief, he let the
matter drop, his preoccupied mind having gone on to other concerns.
One such concern, as a dabbler in the
mysteries of genealogy, were the Sampson de la Vegas. Harry was curious
as to how Lance would greet him. He wondered whether Pamela had intentionally
minimized their differences for her own ends. That first week was so chaotic
he scarcely had time to think the matter through. In fact, he hadn't seen
his cousin around at all on campus. Lance returned from his mother's ranch
near Santa Barbara to Pasadena the night before the beginning of term.
He thought it best to act the gentleman under the circumstances. He could
hardly do otherwise. He would invite Harry for lunch at the staff restaurant.
He brought Pamela along, as well.
Lance had met her when she first arrived
in Los Angeles a year and a half before. She began to work on campus initially
as a part time cashier at the university bookshop. That was where she had
caught his roving eye. "The patrician intellectual" was what the bookshop
manager had called him once when within her earshot. That impressed her
not because she was a social climber but because it created an aura of
the polite, urbane gentleman of the Old School -the sort she had encountered
in old novels and films.
She was swept off her feet when he presented
her with a batch of red and white roses the first time they had a chance
to speak outside working hours. That led to a meal at the academic staff
cafeteria which she felt to be an honor. Lance followed this up by a dinner
and dancing date at a supper club he frequently attended. From then onwards
during a period lasting between four to five months, the relationship became
He was attracted by her sensitivity,
sense of decency and a balanced approach towards the world around her.
In fact, it was those qualities which fitted his image of the whole woman
which paradoxically made him retreat from her. Farmed out as he had been
by his parents to a rearing brigade of nannies and governesses, Lance for
the most part found it difficult to relate to the opposite sex in any meaningful
sense. His emotions were tied in knots. His spasmodic bursts of romantic
enthusiasm gave some people the impression that here was a committed man.
The emotional vacuum of his childhood which led him to search for fulfillment
in the elixirs of prestige, status and consumer goods also made him view
women as objects of pleasure and pride. This kind of life style plus his
dislike of over involvement made him pursue a conscious policy, after the
initial courtship, of seeing her on an irregular basis.
Naturally, Pamela felt let down by this
new regime of his. But, because her view of Lance remained the same and
because she had made an emotional commitment to him, she decided to hang
about hoping he would revert to a more regular relationship. While she
waited, no change took place. That did not change her feelings towards
him. She still dreamt of marriage.
In this ambiguous situation although
she had voluntarily walked into it, a partial void was created. When doubts
arose about his goals, feelings and loyalties, she took on other admirers.
But she never committed herself heart and soul to them. That was because
all of a sudden a shower of presents or other impressive gestures of affection
would make her swerve back to Lance, the gentleman scholar.
Often she would try to unravel the riddle
why he acted in that mysterious and maddeningly elusive way. But strive
as she did, she was unsuccessful in understanding what made him tick. All
sorts of notions went through her mind. Was it, she asked herself, that
he simply didn't care for her, deep, deep down ? Was it because he was
unsure of his own feelings towards her ? Was it based on a sense of inborn
irresolution which made him shy away from making enduring commitments ?
Or did he have a secret love ? Perhaps some well heeled, privately schooled,
globe trotting sophisticate from Los Angeles, Santa Barbara or San Francisco
high society into whose world she could never dream of entering ? Deep
down, she shirked the effort of discovering whether such a woman existed.
It was too terrible a possibility to face.
In this emotional twilight zone, Harry
entered the stage. To complicate matters, he was unaware of the situation.
This, Pamela reasoned, suited her fine. For the time being, anyhow.
It was a warm, sunny afternoon when
the threesome sat down for lunch in the staff restaurant.
"Good to see you, Harry. At last. How
long has it been -two, three years -no more".
"Last year, at your father's funeral".
"Ah, yes. Daddy's funeral. Time does
fly, doesn't it", he said, leaning over to his cousin.
"It certainly does".
"You were at the funeral too, weren't
you, Pamela ?" Lance asked.
"Me ? No. I didn't know you that well,
"No. Hm-m". Lance then raised his head
"What have you been doing with yourself,
Harry, all this time ? Beavering away, as usual ? Hm-m ?"
"You know me", Harry replied calmly,
smiling. "I never let up".
"No", Lance said turning to Pamela.
"He certainly doesn't. He's known as the power horse of the clan. Isn't
that so, Harry ?"
"If you say so, Lance".
"Oh, I do. I do, indeed. Most assuredly.
Mother agrees with me one hundred percent".
"She does ?"
"Why, of course", Lance continued, looking
at Pamela. "As a matter of fact, she was talking about you just last week.
In the most glowing terms. You've been up to Santa Barbara, haven't you
"N-No. N-Not that I recall".
"We must have you around. As soon as
"That would be nice", Harry said, blushing
"It'll be fun for both of you, Lance",
Pamela came in then and with a charming smile. The sort that guaranteed
male acquiescence to female requests.
"Y-Yes", Lance replied, feeling slightly
awkward all of a sudden. "I must raise it with Mother dearest when we all
have a free moment. Definitely." He added, "Do you know, Harry, we still
have a lot of the old heirlooms over there".
"Yes, I know". Harry felt a slight
pang in his heart. He had never seen them, of course.
"How old are they" Pamela asked.
"The 1820s. Isn't that so, Harry ?
The 1820s ?"
"I guess so". The poor relation refrained
from biting his lip.
Lance went on and asked how Harry was
finding things at Pasadena. Everything was progressing without a hitch.
Marvellous, the associate professor replied. He always knew his cousin
was the man for the job. He had told the chairman so on many an occasion.
"We were batting for you all the way,
Harry", the rich relation rambled on. "We told Fishy you were the only
man for the job. I knew he'd see the light about you -and he did, by God.
You're off and running. You should get that extension next year. It should
be a cinch".
Pamela then interjected, "Sure. Why
shouldn't you !"
Indeed, Harry thought, why not. All
things being equal. Lance went on to prattle on about his courses. Harry
exchanged opinions about who he liked to call his `prize students' and
the quality of the history collection in the library. The banter continued
for another half an hour. Finally, Lance was convinced all was well amongst
them. He had shown particularly to Pamela he was capable of treating the
average individual, especially his cousin - or more correctly, his half-cousin
- on an equal basis.
The Friday after this rendezvous, Lance
invited Pamela to a supper club in town. He arranged to pick her up. The
club was restricted to members and their guests. A famous impersonator
was the featured artist for the evening. He had just come over after completing
a successful stint at `The Sands' club in Las Vegas.
Lance had on his favorite black suit
with a string tie, white shirt with frills and two gold rings, one on each
hand. He arrived at her doorstep in his silver blue Porsche.
Twenty minutes later, they were sitting
in a cozy little alcove. Lance dived into his sirloin immediately. It had
been a particularly gruelling day. He was hungry.
Pamela observed her table companion.
She admired his suave, sedately cosmopolitan manner, his air of confidence
and savoir-faire. He was so full of impressions of far off exotic places,
intrepid globe trotter that he was. She enjoyed listening to his incisive
observations about people and places. He almost always spent not less than
two weeks in a given country. No `Tuesday, It Was Belgium' man was he !
His travelogues, she thought, could fill volumes.
She was attracted by his mellowness
and mellifluence. He would become that way, she noticed, particularly during
the evenings spent together. It was then, she was convinced, the kind streak
he had would surface or in other words would take its natural place in
his being. It was then, when his mind was far away from the hustle and
bustle of the hives of Pasadena academe, the equilibrium inside him would
assume its natural dominance. That is how she liked to see him.
But Harry was on her mind that evening.
There was something which needed ironing out. She waited till he finished
the main course and a description of his summer meanderings in Scandinavia.
She then related the story Lenora Craxi had told her about Lance's character
assassination of Harry in the beginning of August. The table companion
twitched his lips in mild irritation. He didn't have a vivid recollection
of the conversation, As a result, he couldn't remember exactly what he
had said or had not said or with what points he had agreed or had disagreed
with Dr. Gomez. He replied defensively and in as much an unruffled manner
"As usual, that old gossip has twisted
things out of all proportions"
"Believe me, Pam. She has".
There was a brief but fruitless exchange
which Lance quickly terminated. Because he didn't know how he could convince
her entirely, he hit upon an idea he thought would smooth over the matter.
"Pam. Listen, darling".
"What is it ?"
"I'll arrange to have Harry invited
to my sister's wedding. I'm sure he'll enjoy it. In fact, I know he will.
What do you think ? A good idea ?"
"Yes ... Okay".
To his relief, harmony between them
was restored. Lance was relieved. His convenient life style was left undisturbed.
Consuelo Sampson de la Vega was Lance's
youngest sibling. He had two sisters as well as two elder brothers, the
younger of whom -Vincent - was senior vice president of a big Los Angeles
bank. The other, Ernest, was a broker with some major west coast oil and
gas concerns. Lance was the only member outside, what the rest of his family
called, `the real world'.
Aside from being the youngest child,
Consuelo was the worldliest and the most attractive. Her wedding, which
was to take place on October 3rd, was planned as the society event of the
year. It was to be attended by no less than six hundred guests............