The Third Man

  "One of those bad days?" he asked.

  "It's always bad about this time." She explained: "He used to look in, and when I heard your ring, just for a moment, I thought..." She sat down on a hard chair opposite him and said, "Please talk. You knew him. Just tell me anything."

  And so he talked. The sky blackened outside the window while he talked. He noticed after a while that their hands had met. He said to me, "I never meant to fall in love, not with Harry's girl."

  "When did it happen?" I asked him.

  "It was very cold and I got up to close the window curtains. I only noticed my hand was on hers when I took it away. As I stood up I looked down at her face and she was looking up. It wasn't a beautiful face—that was the trouble. It was a face to live with, day in, day out. A face for wear. I felt as though I'd come into a new country where I couldn't speak the language. I had always thought it was beauty one loved in a woman. I stood there at the curtains, waiting to pull them, looking out. I couldn't see anything but my own face, looking back into the room, looking for her. She said, 'And what did Harry do that time?' and I wanted to say, 'Damn Harry. He's dead. We both loved him, but he's dead. The dead are made to be forgotten.' Instead of course all I said was, What do you think? He just whistled his old tune as if nothing was the matter,' and I whistled it to her as well as I could. I heard her catch her breath, and I looked round and before I could think is this the right way, the right card, the right gambit?—I'd already said, 'He's dead. You can't go on remembering him for ever.'"

  She said, "I know, but perhaps something will happen first."

  "What do you mean—something happen?"

  "Oh, I mean, perhaps there'll be another way, or I'll die, or something."

  "You'll forget him in time. You'll fall in love again."

  "I know, but I don't want to. Don't you see I don't want to."

  So Rollo Martins came back from the window and sat down on the divan again. When he had risen half a minute before he had been the friend of Harry comforting Harry's girl: now he was a man in love with Anna Schmidt who had been in love with a man they had both once known called Harry Lime. He didn't speak again that evening about the past. Instead he began to tell her of the people he had seen. "I can believe anything of Winkler," he told her, "but Cooler—I liked Cooler. He was the only one of his friends who stood up for Harry. The trouble is, if Cooler's right, then Koch is wrong, and I really thought I had something there."

  "Who's Koch?"

  He explained how he had returned to Harry's flat and he described his interview with Koch, the story of the third man.

  "If it's true," she said, "it's very important."

  "It doesn't prove anything. After all, Koch backed out of the inquest, so might this stranger."

  "That's not the point," she said. "It means that they lied. Kurtz and Cooler."

  "They might have lied so as not to inconvenience this fellow—if he was a friend."

  "Yet another friend—on the spot. And where's your Cooler's honesty then?"

  "What do we do? He clamped down like an oyster and turned me out of his flat."

  "He won't turn me out," she said, "or his Ilse won't."

  They walked up the long road to the flat together: the snow clogged on their shoes and made them move slowly like convicts weighed down by irons. Anna Schmidt said, "Is it far?"

  "Not very far now. Do you see that knot of people up the road? It's somewhere about there." The group of people up the road was like a splash of ink on the whiteness that flowed, changed shape, spread out. When they came a little nearer Martins said, "I think that is his block. What do you suppose this is, a political demonstration?"

  Anna Schmidt stopped: she said, "Who else have you told about Koch?"

  "Only you and Cooler. Why?"

  "I'm frightened. It reminds me..." She had her eyes fixed on the crowd and he never knew what memory out of her confused past had risen to warn her. "Let's go away," she implored him.

  "You're crazy. We're on to something here, something big..."

  "I'll wait for you."

  "But you're going to talk to him."

  "Find out first what all those people..." She said strangely for one who worked behind the footlights, "I hate crowds."

  He walked slowly on alone, the snow caking on his heels. It wasn't a political meeting for no one was making a speech. He had the impression of heads turning to watch him come, as though he were somebody who was expected. When he reached the fringe of the little crowd, he knew for certain that it was the house. A man looked hard at him and said, "Are you another of them?"

  "What do you mean?"

  "The police."

  "No. What are they doing?"

  "They've been in and out all day."

  "What's everybody waiting for?"

  "They want to see him brought out."


  "Herr Koch." It occurred vaguely to Martins that somebody besides himself had discovered Herr Koch's failure to give evidence, though that was hardly a police matter. He said, "What's he done?"

  "Nobody knows that yet. They can't make their minds up in there—it might be suicide, you see, and it might be murder."

  "Herr Koch?"

  "Of course."

  A small child came up to his informant and pulled at his hand, "Papa, Papa." He wore a wool cap on his head like a gnome, and his face was pinched and blue with cold.

  "Yes, my dear, what is it?"

  "I heard them talking through the grating, Papa."

  "Oh, you cunning little one. Tell us what you heard, H? nsel?"

  "I heard Frau Koch crying, Papa."

  "Was that all, H? nsel?"

  "No. I heard the big man talking, Papa."

  "Ah, you cunning little H? nsel. Tell Papa what he said."

  "He said, 'Can you tell me, Frau Koch, what the foreigner looked like?'"

  "Ha, ha, you see they think it's murder. And who's to say they are wrong. Why should Herr Koch cut his own throat in the basement?"

  "Papa, Papa."

  "Yes, little H? nsel?"

  "When I looked through the grating, I could see some blood on the coke."

  "What a child you are. How could you tell it was blood? The snow leaks everywhere." The man turned to Martins and said, "The child has such an imagination. Maybe he will be a writer when he grows up."

  The pinched face stared solemnly up at Martins. The child said, "Papa."

  "Yes, H? nsel?"

  "He's a foreigner too."

  The man gave a big laugh that caused a dozen heads to turn. "Listen to him, sir, listen," he said proudly. "He thinks you did it just because you are a foreigner. As though there weren't more foreigners here these days than Viennese."

  "Papa, Papa."

  "Yes, H? nsel?"

  "They are coming out."

  A knot of police surrounded the covered stretcher which they lowered carefully down the steps for fear of sliding on the trodden snow. The man said, "They can't get an ambulance into this street because of the ruins. They have to carry it round the corner." Frau Koch came out at the tail of the procession: she had a shawl over her head and an old sackcloth coat. Her thick shape looked like a snowman as she sank in a drift at the pavement edge. Someone gave her a hand and she looked round with a lost hopeless gaze at this crowd of strangers. If there were friends there she did not recognise them looking from face to face. Martins bent as she passed, fumbling at his shoelace, but looking up from the ground he saw at his own eyes' level the scrutinising cold-blooded gnome gaze of little H? nsel.

  Walking back down the street towards Anna, he looked back once. The child was pulling at his father's hand and he could see the lips forming round those syllables like the refrain of a grim ballad, "Papa, Papa."

  He said to Anna: "Koch has been murdered. Come away from here." He walked as rapidly as the snow would let him, turning this corner and that. The child's suspicion and alertness seemed to spread like a cloud over the city—they could not walk fast enough
to evade its shadow. He paid no attention when Anna said to him, "Then what Koch said was true. There was a third man," nor a little later when she said, "It must have been murder. You don't kill a man to hide anything less."

  The tram cars flashed like icicles at the end of the street: they were back at the Ring. Martins said, "You had better go home alone. I'll keep away from you awhile till things have sorted out."

  "But nobody can suspect you."

  "They are asking about the foreigner who called on Koch yesterday. There may be some unpleasantness for a while."

  "Why don't you go to the police?"

  "They are so stupid. I don't trust them. See what they've pinned on Harry. And then I tried to hit this man Callaghan. They'll have it in for me. The least they'll do is send me away from Vienna. But if I stay quiet... there's only one person who can give me away. Cooler."

  "And he won't want to."

  "Not if he's guilty. But then I can't believe he's guilty."

  Before she left him, she said, "Be careful. Koch knew so very little and they murdered him. You know as much as Koch."

  The warning stayed in his brain all the way to Sacher's: after nine o'clock the streets are very empty, and he would turn his head at every padding step coming up the street behind him, as though that third man whom they had protected so ruthlessly was following him like an executioner. The Russian sentry outside the Grand Hotel looked rigid with the cold, but he was human, he had a face, an honest peasant face with Mongol eyes. The third man had no face: only the top of a head seen from a window. At Sacher's Mr. Schmidt said, "Colonel Calloway has been in, asking after you, sir. I think you'll find him in the bar."

  "Back in a moment," Martins said and walked straight out of the hotel again: he wanted time to think. But immediately he stepped outside a man came forward, touched his cap and said firmly, "Please, sir." He flung open the door of a khaki painted truck with a union jack on the windscreen and firmly urged Martins within. He surrendered without protest; sooner or later he felt sure inquiries would be made: he had only pretended optimism to Anna Schmidt.

  The driver drove too fast for safety on the frozen road, and Martins protested. All he got in reply was a sullen grunt and a muttered sentence containing the word "orders."

  "Gave you orders to kill me?" Martins said and got no reply at all. He caught sight of the Titans on the Hofburg balancing great globes of snow above their heads, and then they plunged into ill-lit streets beyond where he lost all sense of direction.

  "Is it far?" But the driver paid him no attention at all. At least, Martins thought, I am not under arrest: they have not sent a guard; I am being invited, wasn't that the word they used? to visit the station to make a statement.

  The car drew up and the driver led the way up two nights of stairs: he rang the bell of a great double door, and Martins was aware beyond it of many voices. He turned sharply to the driver and said, "Where the hell...? " but the driver was already halfway down the stairs, and already the door was opening. His eyes were dazzled from the darkness by the lights inside: he heard but he could hardly see the advance of Crabbin. "Oh, Mr. Dexter, we have been so anxious, but better late than never. Let me introduce you to Miss Wilbraham and the Gr? fin von Meyersdorf."

  A buffet laden with coffee cups: an urn steamed: a woman's face shiny with exertion: two young men with the happy intelligent faces of sixth formers, and huddled in the background, like faces in a family album, a multitude of the old-fashioned, the dingy, the earnest and cheery features of constant readers. Martins looked behind him, but the door had closed.

  He said desperately to Mr. Crabbin, "I'm sorry, but..."

  "Don't think any more about it," Mr. Crabbin said. "One cup of coffee and then let's go on to the discussion. We have a very good gathering tonight. They'll put you on your mettle, Mr. Dexter." One of the young men placed a cup in his hand, the other shovelled in sugar before he could say he preferred his coffee unsweetened. The youngest man breathed into his ear, "Afterwards would you mind signing one of your books, Mr. Dexter? " A large woman in black silk bore down upon him and said, "I don't mind if the Gr? fin does hear me, Mr. Dexter, but I don't like your books, I don't approve of them. I think a novel should tell a good story."

  "So do I," Martins said hopelessly.

  "Now Mrs. Bannock, wait for question time."

  "I know I'm downright, but I'm sure Mr. Dexter values honest criticism."

  An old lady, who he supposed was the Gr? fin, said, "I do not read many English books, Mr. Dexter, but I am told that yours..."

  "Do you mind drinking up?" Crabbin said and hustled him through into an inner room where a number of elderly people were sitting on a semi-circle of chairs with an air of sad patience.

  Martins was not able to tell me very much about the meeting: his mind was still dazed with the death: when he looked up he expected to see at any moment the child H? nsel and hear that persistent informative refrain, "Papa, Papa." Apparently Crabbin opened the proceedings, and knowing Crabbin I am sure that it was a very lucid, very fair and unbiased picture of the contemporary English novel. I have heard him give that talk so often, varied only by the emphasis given to the work of the particular English visitor. He would have touched lightly on various problems of technique—the point of view, the passage of time, and then he would have declared the meeting open for questions and discussions.

  Martins missed the first question altogether, but luckily Crabbin filled the gap and answered it satisfactorily. A woman wearing a brown hat and a piece of fur round her throat said with passionate interest: "May I ask Mr. Dexter if he is engaged on a new work?"

  "Oh yes... Yes."

  "May I ask the title?"

  "The Third Man," Martins said and gained a spurious confidence as the result of taking that hurdle.

  "Mr. Dexter, could you tell us what author has chiefly influenced you?"

  Martins without thinking said, "Grey." He meant of course the author of Riders of the Purple Sage, and he was pleased to find his reply gave general satisfaction—to all save an elderly Austrian who asked, "Grey. What Grey? I do not know the name."

  Martins felt he was safe now and said, "Zane Grey—I don't know any other," and was mystified at the low subservient laughter from the English colony.

  Crabbin interposed quickly for the sake of the Austrians: "That is a little joke of Mr. Dexter's. He meant the poet Gray—a gentle, mild subtle genius—one can see the affinity."

  "And he is called Zane Grey?"

  "That was Mr. Dexter's joke. Zane Grey wrote what we call Westerns—cheap popular novelettes about bandits and cowboys."

  "He is not a greater writer?"

  "No, no. Far from it," Mr. Crabbin said. "In the strict sense I would not call him a writer at all." Martins told me that he felt the first stirrings of revolt at that statement. He had never regarded himself before as a writer, but Crabbin's self-confidence irritated him—even the way the light flashed back from Crabbin's spectacles seemed an added cause of vexation. Crabbin said, "He was just a popular entertainer."

  "Why the hell not?" Martins said fiercely.

  "Oh well, I merely meant..."

  "What was Shakespeare?"

  Somebody with great daring said, "A poet."

  "Have you ever read Zane Grey?"

  "No, I can't say..."

  "Then you don't know what you are talking about."

  One of the young men tried to come to Crabbin's rescue. "And James Joyce, where would you put James Joyce, Mr. Dexter?"

  "What do you mean put? I don't want to put anybody anywhere," Martins said. It had been a very full day: he had drunk too much with Cooler: he had fallen in love: a man had been murdered—and now he had the quite unjust feeling that he was being got at. Zane Grey was one of his heroes: he was damned if he was going to stand any nonsense.

  "I mean would you put him among the really great?"

  "If you want to know, I've never heard of him. What did he write?"

  He didn't real
ise it, but he was making an enormous impression. Only a great writer could have taken so arrogant, so original a line: several people wrote Zane Grey's name on the backs of envelopes and the Gr? fin whispered hoarsely to Crabbin, "How do you spell Zane?"

  "To tell you the truth, I'm not quite sure." A number of names were simultaneously flung at Martins—little sharp pointed names like Stein, round pebbles like Woolf. A young Austrian with an ardent intellectual black forelock called out "Daphne du Maurier," and Mr. Crabbin winced and looked sideways at Martins. He said in an undertone, "Be kind to them."

  A gentle kind faced woman in a hand-knitted jumper said wistfully, "Don't you agree, Mr. Dexter, that no one, no one has written about feelings so poetically as Virginia Woolf? in prose I mean."

  Crabbin whispered, "You might say something about the stream of consciousness."

  "Stream of what?"

  A note of despair came into Crabbin's voice, "Please, Mr. Dexter, these people are your genuine admirers. They want to hear your views. If you knew how they have besieged the Society."

  An elderly Austrian said, "Is there any writer in England today of the stature of the late John Galsworthy?"

  There was an outburst of angry twittering in which the names of Du Maurier, Priestley and somebody called Layman were flung to and fro. Martins sat gloomily back and saw again the snow, the stretcher, the desperate face of Frau Koch. He thought: if I had never returned, if I had never asked questions, would that little man still be alive? How had he benefited Harry by supplying another victim—a victim to assuage the fear of whom, Herr Kurtz, Cooler (he could not believe that), Dr. Winkler? Not one of them seemed adequate to the drab gruesome crime in the basement: he could hear the child saying: "I saw the blood on the coke," and somebody turned towards him a blank face without features, a grey plasticine egg, the third man.

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