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In a Brush with the Depraved

After his disappointments with women, Richard leads a "life almost monastic." He is introduced to a couple of performers whom he finds fascinating: Lily Farris "the perfect English Rose and the soft and oily Otto Mergen." (Lily is a singer of sentimental songs, and Mergen accompanies her on the piano.) Lily flagrantly flirts with Richard in front of her rich young beau Alfred and invites the young painter to do her portrait in her rooms. There, the eccentric woman makes bold sexual advances and suddenly without an explanation she throws him out physically. Next day, she sends Alfred to apologize for her. The sinister Mergen also intervenes inviting the "merely naive" Richard to a supper party at Lily's.

Richard attends the "wild" party with Cissie. There, he meets the young Phyllis Robinson and is propositioned by an older woman. Cissie is also harassed and they soon leave Lily's strange party.

Richard tries to paint Lily again "to capture the changeling and half-repellent quality of her personality." During the sitting, she tells a sob story of her childhood marred by poverty and alcoholism.

Upon his return to the theatre, Richard is handed a letter from South Africa. It is from Julie. In it, she apologizes for the way she left, and furthermore she explains "what happened at Plymouth and why Nancy didn't want to speak to you. It was all my fault, Richard dear. I behaved in the bitchiest fashion. I saw her when I went backstage after the Pantomime matinee and she told me she had to change in a hurry because she was meeting you for tea. I suppose out of jealousy or envy, I told her about us." The mystery of Nancy's departure is solved and, seeing a glimmer of hope, Richard writes to Nancy.

The next Empire spectacle is in Burrington, where conditions at the theatre are appalling and everything goes wrong, sending Uncle Nick into furious diatribes.

Otto Mergen invites Richard to an intimate evening of "nourishment and excitement" with Lily Farris and young Phyllis Robinson at the Imperial Hotel. It is an evening of drugs, booze, and opium. The perverted Otto and Lily get Richard and Phyllis drunk and then try to entice Richard to rape Phyllis in front of them.  Through a sheer act of will, Richard manages to awaken to the situation and leave: "It was not so much anger that I felt, not even disgust, though that was there. It was far deeper. It was a warning note echoing in my mind, the sound of an age perverted and deformed, the sound of that particular year: 1914."



 
 
 

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