Direktlänk till inlägg 23 maj 2011

all he said was false

Av debbyhanxu debbyhanxu - 23 maj 2011 04:22

He made advances, in short?” “You must understand we talked always in French. Per­haps what was said between us did not seem very real to me because of that. I have never been to France, my knowledge of the spoken tongue is not good. Very often I did not comprehend perfectly what he was saying. The blame is not all his. Perhaps I heard what he did not mean. He would mock me. But it seemed without offense.” She hesitated a moment. “I ... I took pleasure in it. He called me cruel when I would not let him kiss my hand. A day came when I thought myself cruel as well.” “And you were no longer cruel.” “Yes.” A crow floated close overhead, its black feathers gleaming, splintering hesitantly in the breeze before it slipped away in sudden alarm. “I understand.” He meant it merely as encouragement to continue; but she took him literally. “You cannot, Mr. Smithson. Because you are not a wom­an. Because you are not a woman who was born to be a farmer’s wife but educated to be something ... better. My hand has been several times asked in marriage. When I was in Dorchester, a rich grazier—but that is nothing. You were not born a woman with a natural respect, a love of intelli­gence, beauty, learning ... I don’t know how to say it, I have no right to desire these things, but my heart craves them and I cannot believe it is all vanity ...” She was silent a moment. “And you were not ever a governess, Mr. Smithson, a young woman without children paid to look after children. You cannot know that the sweeter they are the more intolerable the pain is. You must not think I speak of mere envy. I loved little Paul and Virginia, I feel for Mrs. Talbot nothing but gratitude and affection—I would die for her or her children. But to live each day in scenes of domestic happiness, the closest spectator of a happy marriage, home, adorable chil­dren.” She paused. “Mrs. Talbot is my own age exactly.” She paused again. “It came to seem to me as if I were allowed to live in paradise, but forbidden to enjoy it.” “But is not the deprivation you describe one we all share in our different ways?” She shook her head with a surprising vehemence. He realized he had touched some deep emotion in her. “I meant only to suggest that social privilege does not necessarily bring happiness.” “There is no likeness between a situation where happiness is at least possible and one where ...” again she shook her head. “But you surely can’t pretend that all governesses are unhappy—or remain unmarried?” “All like myself.” He left a silence, then said, “I interrupted your story. Forgive me.” “And you will believe I speak not from envy?” She turned then, her eyes intense, and he nodded. Plucking a little spray of milkwort from the bank beside her, blue flowers like microscopic cherubs’ genitals, she went on. “Varguennes recovered. It came to within a week of the time when he should take his leave. By then he had declared his attachment to me.” “He asked you to marry him?” She found difficulty in answering. “There was talk of marriage. He told me he was to be promoted captain of a wine ship when he returned to France. That he had expecta­tions of recovering the patrimony he and his brother had lost.” She hesitated, then came out with it. “He wished me to go with him back to France.” “Mrs. Talbot was aware of this?” “She is the kindest of women. And the most innocent. If Captain Talbot had been there ... but he was not. I was ashamed to tell her in the beginning. And afraid, at the end.” She added, “Afraid of the advice I knew she must give me.” She began to defoliate the milkwort. “Varguennes became insistent. He made me believe that his whole happiness de­pended on my accompanying him when he left—more than that, that my happiness depended on it as well. He had found out much about me. How my father had died in a lunatic asylum. How I was without means, without close relatives. How for many years I had felt myself in some mysterious way condemned—and I knew not why—to solitude.” She laid the milkwort aside, and clenched her fingers on her lap. “My life has been steeped in loneliness, Mr. Smithson. As if it has been ordained that I shall never form a friendship with an equal, never inhabit my own home, never see the world except as the generality to which I must be the exception. Four years ago my father was declared bankrupt. All our possessions were sold. Ever since then I have suffered from the illusion that even things—mere chairs, tables, mirrors— conspire to increase my solitude. You will never own us, they say, we shall never be yours. But always someone else’s. I know this is madness, I know in the manufacturing cities poverties and solitude exist in comparison to which I live in comfort and luxury. But when I read of the Unionists’ wild acts of revenge, part of me understands. Almost envies them, for they know where and how to wreak their revenge. And I am powerless.” Something new had crept into her voice, an intensity of feeling that in part denied her last sentence. She added, more quietly, “I fear I don’t explain myself well.” “I’m not sure that I can condone your feelings. But I understand them perfectly.”

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So he parried Sarah’s accusing look. “I am rich by chance, you are poor by chance. I think we are not to stand on such ceremony.” This indeed was his plan: to be sympathetic to Sarah, but to establish a distance, to remind her of their difference of station . . . though lightly, of course, with an unpretentious irony. “They are all I have to give.” “There is no reason why you should give me anything.” “You have come.” He found her meekness almost as disconcerting as her pride. “I have come because I have satisfied myself that you do indeed need help. And although I still don’t understand why you should have honored me by interesting me in your ...” he faltered here, for he was about to say “case,” which would have betrayed that he was playing the doctor as well as the gentleman: “...Your predicament, I have come prepared to listen to what you wished me ... did you not? ... to hear.” She looked up at him again then. He felt flattered. She gestured timidly towards the sunlight. “I know a secluded place nearby. May we go there?” He indicated willingness, and she moved out into the sun and across the stony clearing where Charles had been search­ing when she first came upon him. She walked lightly and surely, her skirt gathered up a few inches by one hand, while the other held the ribbons of her black bonnet. Following her, far less nimbly, Charles noted the darns in the heels of her black stockings, the worndown backs of her shoes; and also the red sheen in her dark hair. He guessed it was beautiful hair when fully loose; rich and luxuriant; and though it was drawn tightly back inside the collar of her coat, he wondered whether it was not a vanity that made her so often carry her bonnet in her hand. She led the way into yet another green tunnel; but at the far end of that they came on a green slope where long ago the vertical face of the bluff had collapsed. Tussocks of grass provided foothold; and she picked her way carefully, in zigzag fashion, to the top. Laboring behind her, he glimpsed the white-ribboned bottoms of her pantalettes, which came down to just above her ankles; a lady would have mounted behind, not ahead of him. Sarah waited above for Charles to catch up. He walked after her then along the top of the bluff. The ground sloped sharply up to yet another bluff some hundred yards above them; for these were the huge subsident “steps” that could be glimpsed from the Cobb two miles away. Their traverse brought them to a steeper shoulder. It seemed to Charles dangerously angled; a slip, and within a few feet one would have slithered helplessly over the edge of the bluff below. By himself he might have hesitated. But Sarah passed quietly on and over, as if unaware of the danger. On the far side of this shoulder the land flattened for a few yards, and there was her “secluded place.” It was a little south-facing dell, surrounded by dense thickets of brambles and dogwood; a kind of minute green amphitheater. A stunted thorn grew towards the back of its arena, if one can use that term of a space not fifteen feet across, and someone—plainly not Sarah—had once heaved a great flat-topped block of flint against the tree’s stem, making a rustic throne that commanded a magnificent view of the treetops below and the sea beyond them. Charles, panting slightly in his flannel suit and more than slightly perspiring, looked round him. The banks of the dell were carpeted with primroses and violets, and the white stars of wild strawberry. Poised in the sky, cradled to the afternoon sun, it was charming, in all ways protected. “I must congratulate you. You have a genius for finding eyries.” “For finding solitude.” She offered the flint seat beneath the little thorn tree. “I am sure that is your chair.” But she turned and sat quickly and gracefully sideways on a hummock several feet in front of the tree, so that she faced the sea; and so, as Charles found when he took the better seat, that her face was half hidden from him—and yet again, by some ingenuous coquetry, so that he must take note of her hair. She sat very upright, yet with head bowed, occupied in an implausible adjustment to her bonnet. Charles watched her, with a smile in his mind, if not on his lips. He could see that she was at a loss how to begin; and yet the situation was too al fresco, too informally youthful, as if they were a boy and his sister, for the shy formality she betrayed. She put the bonnet aside, and loosened her coat, and sat with her hands folded; but still she did not speak. Something about the coat’s high collar and cut, especially from the back, was masculine—it gave her a touch of the air of a girl coachman, a female soldier—a touch only, and which the hair effortlessly contradicted. With a kind of surprise Charles realized how shabby clothes did not detract from her; in some way even suited her, and more than finer clothes might have done. The last five years had seen a great emancipation in women’s fashions, at least in London. The first artificial aids to a well-shaped bosom had begun to be commonly worn; eyelashes and eyebrows were painted, lips salved, hair “dusted” and tinted ... and by most fashionable women, not just those of the demi-monde. Now with Sarah there was none of all this. She seemed totally indifferent to fashion; and survived in spite of it, just as the simple primroses at Charles’s feet survived all the competition of exotic conserva­tory plants. So Charles sat silent, a little regal with this strange suppli­cant at his feet; and not overmuch inclined to help her. But she would not speak. Perhaps it was out of a timid modesty, yet he began very distinctly to sense that he was being challenged to coax the mystery out of her; and finally he surrendered. “Miss Woodruff, I detest immorality. But morality without mercy I detest rather more. I promise not to be too severe a judge.” She made a little movement of her head. But still she hesitated. Then, with something of the abruptness of a disin­clined bather who hovers at the brink, she plunged into her confession. “His name was Varguennes. He was brought to Captain Talbot’s after the wreck of his ship. All but two of the others were drowned. But you have been told this?” “The mere circumstance. Not what he was like.” “The first thing I admired in him was his courage. I did not then know that men can be both very brave and very false.” She stared out to sea, as if that was the listener, not Charles behind her. “His wound was most dreadful. His flesh was torn from his hip to his knee. If gangrene had inter­vened, he would have lost his leg. He was in great pain, those first days. Yet he never cried. Not the smallest groan. When the doctor dressed his wound he would clench my hand. So hard that one day I nearly fainted.” “He spoke no English?” “A few words. Mrs. Talbot knew French no better than he did English. And Captain Talbot was called away on duty soon after he first came. He told us he came from Bordeau. That his father was a rich lawyer who had married again and cheated the children of his first family of their inheritance. Varguennes had gone to sea in the wine commerce. At the time of his wreck he said he was first officer. But all he said was false. I don’t know who he really was. He seemed a gentleman. That is all.” She spoke as one unaccustomed to sustained expression, with odd small pauses between each clipped, tentative sen­tence; whether to allow herself to think ahead or to allow him to interrupt, Charles could not tell. He murmured, “I understand.” “Sometimes I think he had nothing to do with the ship­wreck. He was the devil in the guise of a sailor.” She looked down at her hands. “He was very handsome. No man had ever paid me the kind of attentions that he did—I speak of when he was mending. He had no time for books. He was worse than a child. He must have conversation, people about him, people to listen to him. He told me foolish things about myself. That he could not understand why I was not married. Such things. I foolishly believed him.”


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