Find your next favorite book

Become a member today and read free for 30 days
Mandrake Root

Mandrake Root

Read preview

Mandrake Root

269 pages
4 hours
Jul 31, 2017


This is the story of two journeys. The first is the cruise of the sailing yacht Cybele. The second is the journey into a woman’s past. After ten years of marriage, Roger and Emily Stratton decide on a second honeymoon. He is a writer and has bought a tiny sailing yacht for a Caribbean cruise.

A few days out of port they are anchored off an uninhabited island when the scheme begins to rumble around in Roger’s mind: Perhaps, even after ten years of marriage, there is a way, some way, to make his and Emily’s love what he has always dreamed it would be.

Three days later they go ashore and Roger broaches his plan to Emily:

“Suppose you and I pledge each other to tell the complete and utter truth, including all our past, good, bad or heretofore unspeakable,” he said. “Suppose we spend the rest of this cruise prying and probing into every past act no matter how matter how hurtful or deadly or disgusting it seems at the time....If we really do a full job, in complete honesty with each other, I believe with all my heart that we can build ourselves the finest love any couple could want.”

Emily agrees. She believes her behaviour has been no better or worse than that of any of the other women in her circle who pride themselves on their civilized sophistication. Nor does she have any idea of just how much she has to hide, or of what she will finally be driven to reveal. In her innocence, she adds to Roger’s plan with the suggestion that their confessions will be wonderful material for his next novel.

In MANDRAKE ROOT, Frederic Wakeman tells a story which reaches to the heart of many, many marriages. His novel is a mature and painstaking consideration of what went wrong in a marriage and how two people tried to save their failure.

“Why anyone would read the Kinsey Report when this is available passes understanding.”—Pasadena Star-News
Jul 31, 2017

About the author

Frederic E. Wakeman (December 26, 1909 - October 26, 1998) was an American novelist, writer and director. He was the father of Frederic E. Wakeman, Jr. (1937-2006), a prominent American scholar of East Asian history and Professor of History at University of California, Berkeley. Wakeman began his career in the advertising industry and left Lord & Thomas (today FCB, one of the largest global advertising agency networks) to serve in the United States Navy in the Pacific from 1942-1943. Whilst recovering in a Naval Hospital, he wrote his first novel, Shore Leave (1944), basing the character of Andy Crewson on an actual decorated Naviator. In 1945, the recently discharged Luther Davis acquired the rights to the novel and turned it into a play titled Kiss Them for Me. It ran for 110 performances from March 20, 1945 to June 23, 1945, featuring Richard Widmark as Crewson and Judy Holliday as Alice, and the success of the novel and play led Wakeman to a seven-year writer contract with MGM. The novel and play were also eventually made into the 1957 film Kiss Them for Me, starring Cary Grant and Jayne Mansfield. Whilst at MGM, Wakeman wrote his second novel, The Hucksters (1947), which was released as a film the same year by MGM and starred Clark Gable and Deborah Kerr. His third novel, The Saxon Charm (1947), was made also filmed in 1948 and starred Robert Montgomery and Susan Hayward in the leading roles. Wakeman also wrote and directed the 1968 Greek film One Day, My Daddy (original title: Mia mera, o pateras mou), starring Ellie Lambeti, Roger Browne and John Turner. His other notable literary works include The Wastrel (1949); The Fabulous Train (1955); Mandrake Root (1953); Deluxe Tour (1956); Verginia Q (1959); The Fault of the Apple (1960); and The Flute Across the Pond (1966). He passed away in 1998 in Stuart, Martin County, Florida, at the age of 88.

Book Preview

Mandrake Root - Frederic Wakeman

This edition is published by Valmy Publishing –

To join our mailing list for new titles or for issues with our books –

Or on Facebook

Text originally published in 1953 under the same title.

© Valmy Publishing 2017, all rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted by any means, electrical, mechanical or otherwise without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Publisher’s Note

Although in most cases we have retained the Author’s original spelling and grammar to authentically reproduce the work of the Author and the original intent of such material, some additional notes and clarifications have been added for the modern reader’s benefit.

We have also made every effort to include all maps and illustrations of the original edition the limitations of formatting do not allow of including larger maps, we will upload as many of these maps as possible.







1 5

2 8

3 13

4 23

5 39

6 57

7 66

8 78

9 88

10 97

11 107

12 117

13 126

14 135

15 146


 "Go and catch a falling star,

Get with child a mandrake root..."

—John Donne (1573-1631)


THEY FOUND THE pass at four o’clock, and dropped sail to motor in behind the key, which was the first of a long chain of small keys about three miles from the Cuban mainland.

The clear, turquoise water was about ten feet deep, but strewn with huge underwater boulders, plainly visible. There were no markers of any kind to define a channel, so Roger climbed to the crow’s nest and made directional signals to his wife Emily, who was at the wheel.

After a couple of miles of this, they were in position behind the tiny island. Roger climbed down to man the anchor, and Emily reversed the engine to stop the way of the Cybele.

The anchor bit in, Emily cut the engine and joined her husband on deck for her first good look at Cayo Paradiso.

It was a crescent-shaped key, about three hundred yards from tip to tip, and fifty yards from lagoon to ocean in its widest part, floating like a pink and sandy quarter-moon in the sky-blue waters.

No more than a dozen tall coconut palms dotted it, and a few small mangroves. Otherwise it was bare.

No dock, house or landing marred its uninhabited perfection. There was not even an empty bottle or beer can visible in the clear waters around them.

Cayo Paradiso, Roger said. The Rodriguezes didn’t exaggerate. It is a paradise.

I can’t understand, his practical wife said, why someone hasn’t grabbed this for a home.

Hurricanes. But he quickly left that thought and selected a happier one. One difference between this honeymoon and our first one, we couldn’t see any coconuts from that motel in Missouri.

There were, of course, a lot of other differences, including ten years. The Strattons had spent their first honeymoon in 1942 on the outskirts of an Army camp, and it had lasted from Saturday morning until Sunday afternoon, when the bride had gone back to college and the groom had returned to his OTC duties.

The only trouble with the first one, it was too short, she said. But we’ve certainly come a long way from that motel.

It had been far too short, their first honeymoon, and Roger now thought that, if the real truth were known, some of the distances traveled, always excepting the economic journey and the long, hard climb for writing recognition, represented loss rather than gain.

But it was a meteoric thought, which quickly burnt to nothing as it rocketed through the congenial atmosphere of the cruise.

Wouldn’t little Roger just love that beach? Emily said. I still wonder if we did the right thing, leaving him for the entire summer this way.

In the months of planning the cruise, they had gone into that one many, many times, and now her husband only said, Forlornly punching cows on his Uncle Dan’s ranch, just like Hopalong Cassidy. You know that ranch is his own dream come true, just as this cruise is ours. Besides, I still say eight is too dangerous an age for deepwater sailing, especially in a boat as small as ours.

I’m going below and see about dinner, Emily said. I may even celebrate and open a tin of whole roast chicken.

I’ll mix the highballs, Roger said.

By the time they were finished with dinner, the tropic sun had set, almost as quickly as it is described as doing in the adventure stories; and when they came back up on deck, a three-quarter moon turned the beach of Cayo Paradiso into a ribbon of whitest white.

Roger and Emily sat on deck in the fresh June nightwind, and talked a little, and both felt lucky at the prospect of three solid months of this kind of cruising, and glad to be at anchor after the long sail from Miami, and tired, really tired, with the sweet physical fatigue of their three days at sea, and in one word: fine.

Tomorrow, said Roger, we’ll lower the dinghy, catch ourselves some fish, explore some of the other islands, sleep, eat, drink, etcetera, etcetera and more etcetera. How about it?

But Emily was asleep in her deckchair, so Roger awakened her and they went below, where they hit the sack, as the sailors say, with no problems of insomnia.

* * * * *

Roger awakened as the Cybele swung on her anchor, with the turn of the tide.

Obligation always sleeps with the captain of any boat, large or small, and he instantly sat up, not yet awake enough to know why he sat up, until he finally understood that he must go on deck to make a routine check on the mooring line.

As he sat on the edge of their bunk (double-sized, for he loathed twin beds) the moon, now low in the west, shone through the porthole and lighted Emily’s face, as she lay sleeping, mouth slightly open, as was her custom, hut even so, a very pretty object, especially to Roger, who loved her now and had loved her for over ten years.

Raptly he studied her sleeping face in the moonlight, for some obscure reason deeply moved at the sight. Now, at thirty, she seemed even more beautiful to him than at nineteen, when he had first met her.

The boat shifted, and the moon passed off her face down along her nude body, and the salon became dark again. He rose and went up on deck to inspect the anchor.

Everything was as it should have been, and he had started to return to his bunk when something about the spectacular beauty of the tropic night stopped him in his tracks, almost in the same way that a hint of danger is able to stop a person on a darker night.

The beauty of everything made him want to call to Emily and he almost did, but then he remembered her honest fatigue and knew it was better to let her sleep.

He sat down on a hatch and let the idea of beauty play over him, as the moonlight had played over Emily.

Ten years ago, the knowledge that he loved Emily, and the discovery that he must have her had come over him as a trancelike state of exultation, which had sent him wandering through the streets for hours, not even knowing where he was; and now he sat on the deck in the bright moonlight in the same mystic state, transported by his love.

Always, he had felt that love should be like that; but it had not always turned out that way, to his fury and frustration; now he hoped with a great surge of leaping hope that there was still a chance that his dream of what love should be would somehow be fulfilled, that perhaps it was not too late for such a grand passion to develop.

He wondered if it were possible for a man who had treated marriage as he had, these past few years, to recoup himself.

His ecstasy turned into guilt, and he shivered with a deep, almost religious passion for atonement.

The desire to be clean and free from deceit possessed him.

With all his soul he wanted to go to Emily, now, this instant, and confess his sins, and ask her forgiveness for them, and offer her his sacred guarantee that the nasty, ignoble part of his life was all over, finished, done with forever.

But of course that was impossible. Emily’s love could not stand to be disillusioned with any shock as great as that. The old guilts must remain locked up inside him. Life was good enough as it was; he dared not disturb it.

But he could not get the idea of confession out of his mind, and he lay awake long after he had returned below decks, his brain laboring the notion, and weighing the dangers in it.

Despite the obvious drawbacks, and the old adages about sleeping dogs and letting well-enough alone, there was both fascination and excitement in the strange emotion that had attached itself to him so powerfully up there on the deck, swinging at anchor beside Cayo Paradiso....


WELL, HOW ABOUT it? Roger said. Has Paradiso started to bore you yet, or do you want to stay a few days longer?

I could stay forever, Emily said. But if we do, we should call the Rodriguezes in Havana on our radio-telephone and tell them not to leave their house open for us.

No point in that. Besides, we’re running out of ice, he said. What do you say we sail out of here first thing tomorrow?

They were on deck enjoying the moon, four days fuller than the one that had cast its enchantment on Roger their first night in Cayo Paradiso.

If we hoist the dinghy on deck now, Emily said, it’ll help us get an earlier start in the morning.

I’ve a better idea, he said. For some reason, I’m very restless tonight. Why don’t we go over to the island and spend an hour or two on solid ground, for a change?

You’ve been restless ever since we got here, Roger Stratton, she lectured. Cruises are supposed to be relaxing; this one seems to be working the opposite on you. Every day you get wound up a little tighter.

That’s true, he admitted. I hate to admit to temperament, but I must say I’m not quite my usual, easy-going self.

Don’t try to fool me, the way you fool everybody else, she said. What’s eating you now? Are you trying to give birth to a new novel?

No such luck. It’s just that, well, I’ve been engrossed, I suppose you’d call it, with some new ideas. The only reason I haven’t discussed them with you is that I hadn’t quite straightened them out. But now I think I can present them intelligently, and I’m dying to talk. If you’re not too tired, I thought perhaps tonight, on the island, we could....

Let’s take some beer and a beach robe over and do it up right. Usually, he was this way about a new book; gradually filling up with it until he was ready to spill over. But if it wasn’t a book this time, what could it be?

He brought the dinghy around, she jumped into it, and he sculled to the beach. The trade wind had died down and a gentle land breeze, cool and spicy-smelling, lightly brushed the island.

They chose to sit on the ocean side. Roger opened some beer. Emily smoked and waited for him to begin, but he remained silent, tense and withdrawn, as he had been for the past three days.

Finally, he threw his beer can far into the sea, and hoped it would not return to desecrate the virginity of the island.

He stood up and inspected the little key, so lovely in the moonlight. Alone on an island, he said. This is a perfect symbol of love, wild and filled with tropical passion, one of nature’s perfect boudoirs, perfectly designed and located for the complete expression of love between two lovers.

And with no neighbors to peek, added Emily, whose practical mind could only respond prosaically to Roger’s poetic moods. If you exclude our little friend, Domingo.

In their four days on the island, they had seen but one person, a ten-year old fisherboy named Domingo, who had, on their first morning, rowed all the way from the mainland to sell them morro crab and lobster, twenty-five for a dollar.

Thereafter he had awakened them at sunup, by peering through the porthole as he stood in his skiff, but their lovable little Peeping Tom of Cayo Paradiso did not annoy them; and Emily’s remark was only a joke.

Neighbors represent the world, Roger said, and the deficiency of this paradise is that one must not shut out that aspect of life. But how little the world actually means, if lovers are right with one another.

Then he added, So love leads to marriage and that’s what I’ve been brooding about, these past few days. A very depressing topic, marriage.

Nothing personal, I hope? Emily said, just for something light to toss into the conversation.

When I look around me, her husband continued, speaking with intense feeling, and see how the average couple lives, at least the average American couple, trapped in adolescence, lost in a fog of stupidity and unawareness, and worst of all, betrayals and deceits, it’s easy to agree with the wisecracker who said that marriage is a dull meal, which begins with the dessert. By God, he exclaimed fiercely, picking up a flat stone and throwing it far into the water, a peculiarly boyish action which, considering the maturity of his words, seemed completely anachronistic, we all fall into those marriage-destroying traps, we all foul up the idea, and lose the beauty of it in the process. I am not going to live that way. I’m thirty-three, you’re thirty. If our marriage has to turn out the same as Mr. and Mrs. Legion’s who live across the street from Mr. and Mrs. Blah, then I’d just as soon be dead. I won’t have it that way. Love, and passion and all the fine fierce beauty of life is lost if we allow ourselves to get on that typical, terrible American marriage toboggan.

Emily lit herself another cigarette and said nothing. For some reason, his reference to Mrs. Legion and Mrs. Blah had sounded like a criticism of her. Actually, although her husband considered himself far superior to any average person, Emily never thought of herself as being more than average. It had always been a source of conflict between them, and whenever he began to talk scornfully of the dreadful mediocrities of the world, she always resented it slightly, as if he were making a direct attack on her.

But as he continued talking, his boyish enthusiasm for this grown-up problem showed that he had no intention of criticizing her, so her slight resentment faded.

My mind keeps repeating the old saws of philosophy, he said earnestly. "Things like Know thyself, and Truth for truth’s sake; and, very insistently, Know the truth and the truth shall set you free."

Now she felt he would soon go out of her depth, as she was not, like him, an intellectual, and when things started to sound too deep, she just gave up and only pretended to listen.

Nobody pays any attention whatever to those old ideas, he said. "Nobody ever has. Who cares about Socrates? He took that old Delphic maxim, Know thyself, and made it the core of his life. I agree with him: self-knowledge is man’s only salvation. That’s all Freud claimed, too, in the last analysis. He provided some tools that helped liberate the force called self-knowledge, he showed us how we could expand our lives into something better than before.

So, I keep thinking: How about us? How about our trying to improve our own lives, our own marriage-state and love-state and life-state, with the liberating force called self-knowledge? Perhaps that’s really the salvation of marriage, who knows?

It all seems so abstract, Emily said.

At first, perhaps. But I’ve thought it through, Emily, and it can be made absolutely real and usable. First, stop considering you, Emily, and me, Roger, as two separate objects. Look upon us as one, joined by a partnership that makes you as surely a part of me, an extension of me, as this arm of mine.

That’s the way it should be, she said.

You’re damn right it is. So this one couple, this entity, is looking for genuine self-knowledge. That means complete and total knowledge about each other, also.

Yes, it would have to.

Next, as any fool knows, self-deceit, and deceiving the marriage partner, or any other partner for that matter, is poisonous. Deceit is the opposite of truth. So let us pledge each other to know the truth, and perhaps it will set us free.

I’m no deep thinker, Emily said, as you well know. But at least even I can see that deceit fouls anybody up. Just look how Roger, Junior, behaves when he’s keeping something from us. It completely alters his personality; he changes from an open, free spirit into a shifty-eyed, evasive creature.

You didn’t need to put Junior after Roger, he said. Deceit affects all of us that way, and I honestly think that if the deceit could be removed from the average marriage, it would be improved five hundred percent.

He lit a cigarette and sat down beside her. Emily had never seen him more excited about anything.

So, he said, here’s the plan I’ve been formulating these past three days. Suppose you and I really practised what these old philosophers have always preached? Suppose you and I pledge each other to tell the complete and utter truth, including all our past, good, bad or heretofore unspeakable? Suppose we spend the rest of this cruise, prying and probing into every past act, no matter how reprehensible? I say it’s time for us to dump the garbage out of our systems; haul it out and look at it, no matter how hurtful or deadly or disgusting it seems at the time.

Well, there’s not much for me to tell, Emily said. But if you think it will do any good to go into that kind of thing, I don’t see any reason why I....

It isn’t a question of how much or how little we have to tell, he said. Deceit can exist in attitudes, as well as actual deeds. Let’s face it, Emily, our marriage hasn’t stood up the way it should. Now has it, really?

She knew that he was talking about what was Topic A, in their home at least, and she had to agree with him.

I’m positive, he said solemnly, that if we do a really thorough job of digging up our deceits, and removing the little confidence games we play on each other and on ourselves; if we really do a full job, in complete honesty with each other, I believe with all my heart that we can build ourselves the finest love any couple could want; I believe we can become nobler persons, and I know that there have been times when I have been a very ignoble person, believe me. I tell you, Emily, it would affect every tiny corner of our lives and young Roger’s life, too; for deceit poisons everyone it touches.

You’re very persuasive tonight, she said. Are you sure this isn’t just a ruse to gather material for your next novel?

Don’t be silly. This is a ruse, if you want to call it that, to keep our marriage from getting duller and stupider and blaher, as the years pass by. He sat quiet for a few moments and said, You may be right, Emily. Perhaps this could make a good novel. A love story. A couple, you and I, struggling for self-knowledge. But writing a novel would merely be secondary, a by-product of a far more serious aim, to perfect and improve our marriage.

I’m sure it’s a wonderful idea for a book, Emily said. A man and his wife, after ten years of marriage, agree to tell each other everything. It’s a good plot; I can see that.

Are you willing to tell me the truth? he asked. All the truth?

Of course, she said. Why not?

Wonderful, he said. What a perfect time to do the job. It’ll add a fillip to the cruise; we have the leisure and the absolute privacy, and nothing but squalls to interrupt us. I think it’s just wonderful that we agree on it.

Agree, thought Emily, smiling in the darkness at her husband’s well-known ways. What could any wife say, to a husband who made such a request? A refusal, or even a negative attitude, would produce only one kind of response from him: What are you concealing that you cannot talk about it with me? No, Roger had wanted to do this job, so he had put her in a position where there was no other answer but yes. It really was too amusing, his acting as if she had any choice in the matter.

When would you start on the plan? she asked.

As soon as possible. Why not tomorrow, as soon as we get sail up on our way to Havana?

And will you write the book, as we go along?

"Oh, no. Not until we’ve ruthlessly explored the entire story, every last shred of it.

You've reached the end of this preview. Sign up to read more!
Page 1 of 1


What people think about Mandrake Root

0 ratings / 0 Reviews
What did you think?
Rating: 0 out of 5 stars

Reader reviews