Direktlänk till inlägg 4 maj 2011

Flesh beside him

Av lucyshanxu lucyshanxu - 4 maj 2011 06:27

Well, perhaps I should like to be quite English. I should feel more comfortable in my scorn of these regimental ladies if I thought they could find no reason to look down on me." "I don't think they look down on you." "Oh, don't they? They despise and loathe me." "When you were ill, they did all they could for you." "Foolish creature! Don't you know that to do good to your enemy is the very best way of showing your contempt." And so James could go on, questioning, replying, putting little jests into her mouth, or half-cynical repartees. Sometimes he spoke aloud, and then Mrs. Wallace's voice sounded in his ears, clear and rich and passionate, as though she were really standing in the flesh beside him. But always he finished by taking her in his arms and kissing her lips and her closed eyes, the lids transparent like the finest alabaster. He knew no pleasure greater than to place his hands on that lustrous hair. What could it matter now? He was not bound to Mary; he could do no harm to Mrs. Wallace, ten thousand miles away. * * * But Colonel Parsons broke into the charming dream. Bent and weary, he came across the lawn to find his son. The wan, pathetic figure brought back to James all the present bitterness. He sighed, and advanced to meet him. "You're very reckless to come out without a hat, father. I'll fetch you one, shall I?" "No, I'm not going to stay." The Colonel could summon up no answering smile to his boy's kind words. "I only came to tell you that Mrs. Jackson is in the drawing-room, and would like to see you." "What does she want?" "She'll explain herself. She has asked to see you alone." Jamie's face darkened, as some notion of Mrs. Jackson's object dawned upon him. "I don't know what she can have to talk to me about alone." "Please listen to her, Jamie. She's a very clever woman, and you can't fail to benefit by her advice." The Colonel never had an unfriendly word to say of anyone, and even for Mrs. Jackson's unwarrantable interferences could always find a good-natured justification. He was one of those deprecatory men who, in every difference of opinion, are convinced that they are certainly in the wrong. He would have borne with the most cheerful submission any rebuke of his own conduct, and been, indeed, vastly grateful to the Vicar's wife for pointing out his error. James found Mrs. Jackson sitting bolt upright on a straight-backed chair, convinced, such was her admirable sense of propriety, that a lounging attitude was incompatible with the performance of a duty. She held her hands on her lap, gently clasped; and her tight lips expressed as plainly as possible her conviction that though the way of righteousness was hard, she, thank God! had strength to walk it. "How d'you do, Mrs. Jackson?" "Good morning," she replied, with a stiff bow. James, though there was no fire, went over to the mantelpiece and leant against it, waiting for the lady to speak. "Captain Parsons, I have a very painful duty to perform." Those were her words, but it must have been a dense person who failed to perceive that Mrs. Jackson found her duty anything but painful. There was just that hard resonance in her voice that an inquisitor might have in condemning to the stake a Jew to whom he owed much money. "I suppose you will call me a busybody?" "Oh, I'm sure you would never interfere with what does not concern you," replied James, slowly. "Certainly not!" said Mrs. Jackson. "I come here because my conscience tells me to. What I wish to talk to you about concerns us all." "Shall I call my people? I'm sure they'd be interested." "I asked to see you alone, Captain Parsons," answered Mrs. Jackson, frigidly. "And it was for your sake. When one has to tell a person home-truths, he generally prefers that there should be no audience." "So you're going to tell me some home-truths, Mrs. Jackson?" said James, with a laugh. "You must think me very good-natured. How long have I had the pleasure of your acquaintance?" Mrs. Jackson's grimness did not relax. "One learns a good deal about people in a week." "D'you think so? I have an idea that ten years is a short time to get to know them. You must be very quick." "Actions often speak." "Actions are the most lying things in the world. They are due mostly to adventitious circumstances which have nothing to do with the character of the agent. I would never judge a man by his actions." "I didn't come here to discuss abstract things with you, Captain Parsons." "Why not? The abstract is so much more entertaining than the concrete. It affords opportunities for generalisation, which is the salt of conversation." "I'm a very busy woman," retorted Mrs. Jackson sharply, thinking that James was not treating her with proper seriousness. He was not so easy to tackle as she had imagined. "It's very good of you, then, to spare time to come and have a little chat with me," said James. "I did not come for that purpose, Captain Parsons." "Oh, I forgot--home-truths, wasn't it? I was thinking of Shakespeare and the musical glasses!" "Would you kindly remember that I am a clergyman's wife, Captain Parsons? I daresay you are not used to the society of such." "Pardon me, I even know an archdeacon quite well. He has a great gift of humour; a man wants it when he wears a silk apron." "Captain Parsons," said Mrs. Jackson, sternly, "there are some things over which it is unbecoming to jest. I wish to be as gentle as possible with you, but I may remind you that flippancy is not the best course for you to pursue."

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James felt no relief. He had looked forward to a sensation of freedom such as a man might feel when he had escaped from some tyrannous servitude, and was at liberty again to breathe the buoyant air of heaven. He imagined that his depression would vanish like an evil spirit exorcised so soon as ever he got from Mary his release; but instead it sat more heavily upon him. Unconvinced even yet that he had acted rightly, he went over the conversation word for word. It seemed singularly ineffectual. Wishing to show Mary that he did not break with her from caprice or frivolous reason, but with sorrowful reluctance, and full knowledge of her suffering, he had succeeded only in being futile and commonplace. He walked slowly towards Primpton House. He had before him the announcement to his mother and father; and he tried to order his thoughts. Mrs. Parsons, her household work finished, was knitting the inevitable socks; while the Colonel sat at the table, putting new stamps into his album. He chattered delightedly over his treasures, getting up now and then gravely to ask his wife some question or to point out a surcharge; she, good woman, showed interest by appropriate rejoinders. "There's no one in Tunbridge Wells who has such a fine collection as I have." "General Newsmith showed me his the other day, but it's not nearly so good as yours, Richmond." "I'm glad of that. I suppose his Mauritius are fine?" replied the Colonel, with some envy, for the general had lived several years on the island. "They're fair," said Mrs. Parsons, reassuringly; "but not so good as one would expect." "It takes a clever man to get together a good collection of stamps, although I shouldn't say it." They looked up when James entered. "I've just been putting in those Free States you brought me, Jamie. They look very well." The Colonel leant back to view them, with the satisfied look with which he might have examined an old master. "It was very thoughtful of Jamie to bring them," said Mrs. Parsons. "Ah, I knew he wouldn't forget his old father. Don't you remember, Frances, I said to you, 'I'll be bound the boy will bring some stamps with him.' They'll be valuable in a year or two. That's what I always say with regard to postage stamps; you can't waste your money. Now jewellery, for instance, gets old-fashioned, and china breaks; but you run no risk with stamps. When I buy stamps, I really feel that I'm as good as investing my money in consols." "Well, how's Mary this morning?" "I've been having a long talk with her." "Settled the day yet?" asked the Colonel, with a knowing little laugh. "No!" "Upon my word, Frances, I think we shall have to settle it for them. Things weren't like this when we were young. Why, Jamie, your mother and I got married six weeks after I was introduced to her at a croquet party." "We were married in haste, Richmond," said Mrs. Parsons, laughing. "Well, we've taken a long time to repent of it, my dear. It's over thirty years." "I fancy it's too late now." The Colonel took her hand and patted it. "If you get such a good wife as I have, Jamie, I don't think you'll have reason to complain. Will he, my dear?" "It's not for me to say, Richmond," replied Mrs. Parsons, smiling contentedly. "Do you want me to get married very much, father?" "Of course I do. I've set my heart upon it. I want to see what the new generations of Parsons are like before I die." "Listen, Richmond, Jamie has something to tell us." Mrs. Parsons had been looking at her son, and was struck at last by the agony of his expression. "What is it, Jamie?" she asked. "I'm afraid you'll be dreadfully disappointed. I'm so sorry--Mary and I are no longer engaged to be married." For a minute there was silence in the room. The old Colonel looked helplessly from wife to son. "What does he mean, Frances?" he said at last. Mrs. Parsons did not answer, and he turned to James.

 
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