Alla inlägg den 9 maj 2011

Av lucyshanxu lucyshanxu - 9 maj 2011 07:31

Miles rose after two hours in bed. The hostel was alive with all the normal activity of morning. The wireless was playing; the sub-officials were coughing over their wash basins; the reek of State sausages frying in State grease filled the asbestos cubicle. He was slightly stiff after his long walk and slightly footsore, but his mind was as calm and empty as the sleep from which he had awoken. The scorched-earth policy had succeeded. He had made a desert in his imagination which he might call peace. Once before he had burned his childhood. Now his brief adult life lay in ashes; the enchantments that surrounded Clara were one with the splendours of Mountjoy; her great golden beard, one with the tongues of flame that had leaped and expired among the stars; her fans and pictures and scraps of old embroidery, one with the gilded cornices and silk hangings, black, cold and sodden. He ate his sausage with keen appetite and went to work. All was quiet too at the Department of Euthanasia. The first announcement of the Mountjoy disaster had been on the early news. Its proximity to Satellite City gave it a special poignancy there. “It is a significant phenomenon,” said Dr. Beamish, “that any bad news has an immediate effect on our service. You see it whenever there is an international crisis. Sometimes I think people only come to us when they have nothing to talk about. Have you looked at our queue today?” Miles turned to the periscope. Only one man waited outside, old Parsnip, a poet of the ’30s who came daily but was usually jostled to the back of the crowd. He was a comic character in the department, this veteran poet. Twice in Miles’s short term he had succeeded in gaining admission but on both occasions had suddenly taken fright and bolted. “It’s a lucky day for Parsnip,” said Miles. “Yes. He deserves some luck. I knew him well once, him and his friend Pimpernell. New Writing, the Left Book Club, they were all the rage. Pimpernell was one of my first patients. Hand Parsnip in and we’ll finish him off.” So old Parsnip was summoned and that day his nerve stood firm. He passed fairly calmly through the gas chamber on his way to rejoin Pimpernell. “We might as well knock off for the day,” said Dr. Beamish. “We shall be busy again soon when the excitement dies down.” But the politicians seemed determined to keep the excitement up. All the normal features of television were interrupted and curtailed to give place to Mountjoy. Survivors appeared on the screen, among them Soapy, who described how long practice as a cat burglar had enabled him to escape. Mr. Sweat, he remarked with respect, had got clear away. The ruins were surveyed by the apparatus. A sexual maniac with broken legs gave audience from his hospital bed. The Minister of Welfare, it was announced, would make a special appearance that evening to comment on the disaster. Miles dozed intermittently beside the hostel set and at dusk rose, still calm and free; so purged of emotion that he made his way once more to the hospital and called on Clara. She had spent the afternoon with looking glass and makeup box. The new substance of her face fulfilled all the surgeon’s promises. It took paint to perfection. Clara had given herself a full mask as though for the lights of the stage; an even creamy white with sudden high spots of crimson on the cheekbones, huge hard crimson lips, eyebrows extended and turned up catwise, the eyes shaded all round with ultramarine and dotted at the corners with crimson. “You’re the first to see me,” she said. “I was half-afraid you wouldn’t come. You seemed cross yesterday.” “I wanted to see the television,” said Miles. “It’s so crowded at the hostel.” “So dull today. Nothing except this prison that has been burned down.” “I was there myself. Don’t you remember? I often talked of it.” “Did you, Miles? Perhaps so. I’ve such a bad memory for things that don’t concern me. Do you really want to hear the Minister? It would be much cosier to talk.” “It’s him I’ve come for.” And presently the Minister appeared, open-necked as always but without his usual smile; grave to the verge of tears. He spoke for twenty minutes. “... The great experiment must go on ... the martyrs of maladjustment shall not have died in vain ... A greater, new Mountjoy shall rise from the ashes of the old ...” Eventually tears came—real tears for he held an invisible onion—and trickled down his cheeks. So the speech ended. “That’s all I came for,” said Miles, and left Clara to her cocoa-butter and face towel. Next day all the organs of public information were still piping the theme of Mountjoy. Two or three patients, already bored with the entertainment, presented themselves for extermination and were happily despatched. Then a message came from the Regional Director, official-in-chief of Satellite City. He required the immediate presence of Miles in his office. “I have a move order for you, Mr. Plastic. You are to report to the Ministers of Welfare and Rest and Culture. You will be issued with a Grade A hat, umbrella and briefcase for the journey. My congratulations.” Equipped with these insignia of sudden, dizzy promotion, Miles travelled to the capital leaving behind a domeful of sub-officials chattering with envy. At the terminus an official met him. Together in an official car they drove to Whitehall. “Let me carry your briefcase, Mr. Plastic.” “There’s nothing in it.” Miles’s escort laughed obsequiously at this risqué joke. At the Ministry the lifts were in working order. It was a new and alarming experience to enter the little cage and rise to the top of the great building.

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Santa-Claus-tide was near. Shops were full of shoddy little dolls. Children in the schools sang old ditties about peace and goodwill. Strikers went back to work in order to qualify for their seasonal bonus. Electric bulbs were hung in the conifers and the furnaces in the Dome of Security roared again. Miles had been promoted. He now sat beside the assistant registrar and helped stamp and file the documents of the dead. It was harder work than he was used to and Miles was hungry for Clara’s company. The lights were going out in the Dome and on the Goodwill Tree in the car park. He walked the half-mile of hutments to Clara’s quarters. Other girls were waiting for their consorts or setting out to find them in the Recreatorium, but Clara’s door was locked. A note, pinned to it, read: Miles, Going away for a bit. C. Angry and puzzled he returned to his hostel. Clara, unlike himself, had uncles and cousins scattered about the country. Since her operation she had been shy of visiting them. Now, Miles supposed, she was taking cover among them. It was the manner of her flight, so unlike her gentle ways, that tortured him. For a busy week he thought of nothing else. His reproaches sang in his head as the undertone to all the activities of the day and at night he lay sleepless, repeating in his mind every word spoken between them and every act of intimacy. After a week the thought of her became spasmodic and regular. The subject bored him unendurably. He strove to keep it out of his mind as a man might strive to control an attack of hiccups, and as impotently. Spasmodically, mechanically, the thought of Clara returned. He timed it and found that it came every seven and one-half minutes. He went to sleep thinking of her, he woke up thinking of her. But between times he slept. He consulted the departmental psychiatrist who told him that he was burdened by the responsibility of parentage. But it was not Clara the mother who haunted him, but Clara the betrayer. Next week he thought of her every twenty minutes. The week after that he thought of her irregularly, though often; only when something outside himself reminded him of her. He began to look at other girls and considered himself cured. He looked hard at other girls as he passed them in the dim corridors of the Dome and they looked boldly back at him. Then one of them stopped him and said: “I’ve seen you before with Clara” and at the mention of her name all interest in the other girl ceased in pain. “I went to visit her yesterday.” “Where?” “In hospital, of course. Didn’t you know?” “What’s the matter with her?” “She won’t say. Nor will anyone else at the hospital. She’s top secret. If you ask me she’s been in an accident and there’s some politician involved. I can’t think of any other reason for all the fuss. She’s covered in bandages and gay as a lark.” Next day, December 25th, was Santa Claus Day; no holiday in the department of Euthanasia, which was an essential service. At dusk Miles walked to the hospital, one of the unfinished edifices, all concrete and steel and glass in front and a jumble of huts behind. The hall porter was engrossed in the television, which was performing an old obscure folk play which past generations had performed on Santa Claus Day, and was now revived and revised as a matter of historical interest. It was of professional interest to the porter for it dealt with maternity services before the days of Welfare. He gave the number of Clara’s room without glancing up from the strange spectacle of an ox and an ass, an old man with a lantern, and a young mother. “People here are always complaining,” he said. “They ought to realize what things were like before Progress.” The corridors were loud with relayed music. Miles found the hut he sought. It was marked “Experimental Surgery. Health Officers Only.” He found the cubicle. He found Clara sleeping, the sheet pulled up to her eyes, her hair loose on the pillow. She had brought some of her property with her. An old shawl lay across the bed table. A painted fan stood against the television set. She awoke, her eyes full of frank welcome, and pulled the sheet higher, speaking through it. “Darling, you shouldn’t have come. I was keeping it for a surprise.” Miles sat by the bed and thought of nothing to say except: “How are you?” “Wonderful. They’ve taken the bandages off today. They won’t let me have a looking glass yet but they say everything has been a tremendous success. I’m something very special, Miles—a new chapter in surgical progress.” “But what has happened to you? Is it something to do with the baby?” “Oh no. At least, it was. That was the first operation. But that’s all over now.” “You mean our child?” “Yes, that had to go. I should never have been able to dance afterwards. I told you all about it. That was why I had the Klugmann operation, don’t you remember?” “But you gave up dancing.” “That’s where they’ve been so clever. Didn’t I tell you about the sweet, clever new medical director? He’s cured all that.” “Your dear beard.” “Quite gone. An operation the new director invented himself. It’s going to be named after him or even perhaps after me. He’s so unselfish he wants to call it the Clara operation. He’s taken off all the skin and put on a wonderful new substance, a sort of synthetic rubber that takes grease-paint perfectly. He says the colour isn’t perfect but that it will never show on the stage. Look, feel it.” She sat up in bed, joyful and proud. Her eyes and brow were all that was left of the loved face. Below it something quite inhuman, a tight, slippery mask, salmon pink. Miles stared. In the television screen by the bed further characters had appeared—Food Production Workers. They seemed to declare a sudden strike, left their sheep and ran off at the bidding of some kind of shop-steward in fantastic dress. The machine by the bedside broke into song, an old, forgotten ditty: “O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy, O tidings of comfort and joy.” Miles retched unobtrusively. The ghastly face regarded him with fondness and pride. At length the right words came to him; the trite, the traditional sentence uttered by countless lips of generations of baffled and impassioned Englishmen: “I think I shall go for a short walk.” But first he walked only as far as his hostel. There he lay down until the moon moved to his window and fell across his sleepless face. Then he set out, walking far into the fields, out of sight of the Dome of Security, for two hours until the moon was near setting. He had travelled at random but now the white rays fell on a signpost and he read: “Mountjoy 3/4.” He strode on with only the stars to light his way till he came to the Castle gates. They stood open as always, gracious symbol of the new penology. He followed the drive. The whole lightless face of the old house stared at him silently, without rebuke. He knew now what was needed. He carried in his pocket a cigarette lighter which often worked. It worked for him now. No need for oil here. The dry old silk of the drawing-room curtains lit like paper. Paint and panelling, plaster and tapestry and gilding bowed to the embrace of the leaping flames. He stepped outside. Soon it was too hot on the terrace and he retreated further, to the marble temple at the end of the long walk. The murderers were leaping from the first-storey windows but the sexual offenders, trapped above, set up a wail of terror. He heard the chandeliers fall and saw the boiling lead cascading from the roof. This was something altogether finer than the strangulation of a few peacocks. He watched exultant as minute by minute the scene disclosed fresh wonders. Great timbers crashed within; outside, the lily pond hissed with falling brands; a vast ceiling of smoke shut out the stars and under it tongues of flame floated away into the treetops. Two hours later when the first engine arrived, the force of the fiery storm was already spent. Miles rose from his marble throne and began the long walk home. But he was no longer at all fatigued. He strode out cheerfully with his shadow, cast by the dying blaze, stretching before him along the lane. On the main road a motorist stopped him and asked: “What’s that over there? A house on fire?” “It was,” said Miles. “It’s almost out now.” “Looks like a big place. Only Government property, I suppose?” “That’s all,” said Miles. “Well hop in if you want a lift.” “Thanks,” said Miles, “I’m walking for pleasure.”

Av lucyshanxu lucyshanxu - 9 maj 2011 07:17

This novel was a spectacular success even in Britain -- where a bigger war than the Spanish struggle which the book is about was occupying people's minds. In the year of publication it sold 360,000 copies in the United States alone. Such success turned the literary critics against Hemingway: Edmund Wilson spoke of commercialization, concessions, selling out. The fact was that the "popular" novel of the American thirties had already absorbed so many Hemingwayesque elements that what had once been experimental was now part of every second-rate novelist's technical inventory. Hemingway here had not overtaken himself, nor his imitators: the earlier novels still strike the reader with a sense of freshness and original power; For Whom the Bell Tolls has merely the expected stylistic felicities. For any other writer it would have been a great masterpiece. As it is, it is the best fictional report on the Spanish Civil War that we possess. The strength lies in the literary style -- clean, simple, with dialogue that catches the Spanish idiom. Certain scenes and symbols have a classic ring -- Maria and Robert Jordan's night of love, when the earth can be felt moving beneath their "alliance against death"; the "solid flung metal grace" of the bridge, which is the one link between the opposed forces and also, in a wider view, the way by which the new age of mechanical regimentation will overtake the old pastoral world of simple needs and loyalties. Robert Jordan, the American professor of Spanish who fights for the Loyalists, an intellectual who seems ignorant of Marxist ideology, only just convinces; Maria, raped and shorn by the fascists, is not quite as compelling as Tolstoy's Natasha, despite Hemingway's ambition and boast, but she and the formidable Pilar are the best-made of all Hemingway's female characters. The dignity of the author's aim -- to speak the truth about love and pain and courage in the traditional high romantic manner -- has to be applauded. Hemingway avoids the temptation to turn his book into Loyalist propaganda: the left wing is no exemplification of incorrupt and shining chivalry. Like all art, the book is complex, even ambivalent. It taught millions to love or hate Spain, but it could not leave them indifferent.

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This long and difficult work represents for many the end of the period which began in 1922 with T.S Eliot's The Waste Land and Joyce's own Ulysses. That was the age of Modernism -- a movement in literature which rejected the late nineteenth-century concept of Liberal Man and presented (as in Ernest Hemingway and D.H Lawrence) Natural Man, and (in Eliot, Joyce and, later, Evelyn Waugh and Graham Greene) Imperfect Man. To eliminate all traces of Victorian and Edwardian optimism, literary style had to change from the orotund to the spare, ironic, experimental. There was also a franker realism than known in the old days. The frank realism of Ulysses earned moral censure, and the experimental prose caused difficulties for the ordinary reader. These difficulties were, however, nothing in comparison with those to be encountered in Finnegans Wake. While Ulysses is a book of the sunlight, depicting the events of an ordinary day in Dublin in 1904, Finnegans Wake is a work of the dark. It presents, with no concessions to waking sense, a dream in a specially invented dream language. The hero is a publican in Chapelizod, just outside Dublin, and, while his waking name is probably Mr Porter, his dream name is Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker. He has a wife, Ann, a daughter, Isabel, and twin sons named Kevin and Jerry. Earwicker is the eternal builder of cities, while his wife is all the rivers on which cities are built, but all cities become Dublin and all rivers flow into the Liffey. Isabel becomes the eternal temptress who brings great men low, and the twin boys become all the rival males of myth and history, from Cain and Abel to Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney. Earwicker's long dream is really a mammoth comedy in which his household and the customers of his pub play all the roles. The theme of the play is simple: the father is a builder, but his creative gift is an aspect of sexual sin (no erection without an erection). His sons are most typically presented as a poetic dreamer and a political demagogue. They fight to take over the role of their father, but, as each is only one half of the creative egg (Earwicker often appears as Humpty Dumpty, author of his own great fall), they lack the power and skill to depose him. The great paternal creator is thrust underground, but he always rises again. One of the parts he plays is that of the god-giant Finnegan, who, like Christ, may be killed and eaten and drunk but is indestructible. The action of the dream takes place in 1132 AD, a symbolic year which combines figures of falling and rising -- bodies fall at the rate of 32 feet per second per second; when we have counted on our ten fingers we start again with the number 11. Meanwhile the wifely motherly river -- who never dies -- flows on quietly beneath the turbulent city which is her husband. Some say that this fantasy is not really a novel. In that it has distinguishable characters -- always changing their shapes and names but always brilliantly delineated -- and that there is a summarizable plot and a fixed mise en scène -- the master bedroom over the pub -- it is difficult to deny that it belongs to the genre. We had to wait for the war in order to begin to understand it (it was in many an intellectual fighting man's kitbag), but it is the post-war age that has produced a horde of Joyce scholars dedicated to dragging it further into the light. Janus-faced, it looks back to the twenties but also to the indefinite future: no writer of the contemporary period has been able to ignore it, though most writers have succeeded in not being influenced by it. Flann O'Brien was an Irish journalist, Gaelic scholar and dedicated drinker whose real name was Brian O'Nolan. Of his very few books, The Hard Life and The Dalkey Archive are slight but funny, and The Third Policeman is a vision of hell which does not quite come off, but At Swim-Two-Birds is probably a masterpiece. Philip Toynbee, the novelist and critic, once said: "If I were cultural dictator. . . I would make At Swim-Two-Birds compulsory reading in all our universities." Joyce said of Flann O'Brien: "There's a real writer with the true comic spirit." This book owes something to Joyce, but this may mean merely that both Joyce and O'Brien were Irish. The book is sometimes difficult, but it is no literary heavyweight. It is even, which Joyce's work is not, whimsical. The narrator is an Irish student who, when not lying in bed or pub-crawling, is writing a novel about a man named Trellis who is writing a book about his enemies who, in revenge, are writing a book about him. The book is a book about writing a book about writing a book. This is very modern (compare the Argentine Borges) in that it does not pretend that literature is reality. The student-narrator is interested not merely in literature but in Irish mythology, which enables him to bring in Finn MacCool (Joyce's Finnegan) and indulge in comic-heroic language which sounds as though it is translated from the Erse: "The knees and calves to him, swealed and swathed with soogawns and Thomond weed-ropes, were smutted with dungs and dirt-daubs. . ." Flann O'Brien discovered a way of counterpointing myth, fiction and actuality through the device of a sort of writer's commonplace-book. There is no sense of recession, of one order of reality -- myth or novel or narration -- lying behind another: all are on the same level of importance, and this is what gives the contrapuntal effect. The scope of fiction is both extended and limited -- limited as to action (not much happens, though plenty is heard about) but extended as to technique. It is a very Irish book and very funny. But it still awaits the popularity it deserves. In the USA this novel was entitled Labyrinthine Ways, which suggests pursuit by the Hound of Heaven. No title could be more inept. Greene's hero, the "whisky priest", is, despite all his massive human faults, the incarnation of God's power and glory, which are blotted out by the atheistic positivism of the Mexican dictatorship which puts priests high on the list of enemies of the state. Nowhere in his many novels has Greene better conveyed the torrid decay of tropical townships, where the carious ruins are metaphors for a world without God. His priest is pursued by the hounds of repression, but he clings fast to his vocation, administering the sacraments, giving sermons in jungle clearings and pueblos, looking for wine that he may say mass. The state is not merely atheistical, it is prohibitionist: the outlawing of wine, which can be turned into Christ's blood, is, in Greene's symbolism, the ultimate oppression. The most harrowing scene occurs when the priest has, by good luck, found a bottle of wine but has to suffer its being consumed in his presence by a corrupt state official. Though, at the end, he dies, another priest appears from nowhere: the ministry goes on, the power and the glory will not be denied. This book comes early in the list of those novels of Greene (most of them) which deal specifically with the place of the Catholic in a secular world and present priests who, carrying the referred glory and the actual power, can afford to be imperfect human beings. It seems to many now to be too Greenean to take seriously (early works often look, with the curse of hindsight, like self-parody), but it is distinguished and serious art even when we have ceased to be affected by its theology.

Av lucyshanxu lucyshanxu - 9 maj 2011 07:14

It was a small stone building on the very edge of the cliff, built a century or so ago for defensive purposes, converted to a private house in the years of peace, taken again by the Navy during the war as a signal station, now once more reverting to gentler uses. Some coils of rusty wire, a mast, the concrete foundations of a hut, gave evidence of its former masters. They carried their things into the house and paid the taxi. “A woman comes up every morning from the village. I said we shouldn’t want her this evening. I see she’s left us some oil for the lamps. She’s got a fire going, too, bless her, and plenty of wood. Oh, and look what I’ve got as a present from father. I promised not to tell you until we arrived. A bottle of whisky. Wasn’t it sweet of him. He’s been hoarding his ration for three months ...” Elizabeth talked brightly as she began to arrange the luggage. “There’s a room for each of us. This is the only proper living room, but there’s a study in case you feel like doing any work. I believe we shall be quite comfortable ...” The living room was built with two stout bays, each with a french window opening on a balcony which overhung the sea. John opened one and the sea-wind filled the room. He stepped out, breathed deeply, and then said suddenly: “Hullo, this is dangerous.” At one place, between the windows, the cast-iron balustrade had broken away and the stone ledge lay open over the cliff. He looked at the gap and at the foaming rocks below, momentarily puzzled. The irregular polyhedron of memory rolled uncertainly and came to rest. He had been here before, a few weeks ago, on the gallery of the lighthouse in that swiftly forgotten film. He stood there, looking down. It was exactly thus that the waves had come swirling over the rocks, had broken and dropped back with the spray falling about them. This was the sound they had made; this was the broken ironwork and the sheer edge. Elizabeth was still talking in the room, her voice drowned by wind and sea. John returned to the room, shut and fastened the door. In the quiet she was saying “... only got the furniture out of store last week. He left the woman from the village to arrange it. She’s got some queer ideas, I must say. Just look where she put ...” “What did you say this house was called?” “Good Hope.” “A good name.” That evening John drank a glass of his father-in-law’s whisky, smoked a pipe and planned. He had been a good tactician. He made a leisurely, mental “appreciation of the situation.” Object: murder. When they rose to go to bed he asked: “You packed the tablets?” “Yes, a new tube. But I am sure I shan’t want any tonight.” “Neither shall I,” said John, “the air is wonderful.” During the following days he considered the tactical problem. It was entirely simple. He had the “staff-solution” already. He considered it in the words and form he had used in the army. “... Courses open to the enemy ... achievement of surprise ... consolidation of success.” The staff-solution was exemplary. At the beginning of the first week, he began to put it into execution. Already, by easy stages, he had made himself known in the village. Elizabeth was a friend of the owner; he the returned hero, still a little strange in civvy street. “The first holiday my wife and I have had together for six years,” he told them in the golf club and, growing more confidential at the bar, hinted that they were thinking of making up for lost time and starting a family. On another evening he spoke of war-strain, of how in this war the civilians had had a worse time of it than the services. His wife, for instance; stuck it all through the blitz; office work all day, bombs at night. She ought to get right away, alone somewhere for a long stretch; her nerves had suffered; nothing serious, but to tell the truth he wasn’t quite happy about it. As a matter of fact, he had found her walking in her sleep once or twice in London. His companions knew of similar cases; nothing to worry about, but it wanted watching; didn’t want it to develop into anything worse. Had she seen a doctor? Not yet, John said. In fact she didn’t know she had been sleep-walking. He had got her back to bed without waking her. He hoped the sea air would do her good. In fact, she seemed much better already. If she showed any more signs of the trouble when they got home, he knew a very good man to take her to. The golf club was full of sympathy. John asked if there was a good doctor in the neighbourhood. Yes, they said, old Mackenzie in the village, a first-class man, wasted in a little place like that; not at all a stick-in-the-mud. Read the latest books; psychology and all that. They couldn’t think why Old Mack had never specialized and made a name for himself. “I think I might go and talk to Old Mack about it,” said John.

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“You aren’t looking well, John,” said his aunt. “You and Elizabeth ought to get away for a bit. She is due for leave at Easter.” “The State is granting her a supplementary ration of her husband’s company, you mean. Are we sure she has filled in all the correct forms? Or are commissars of her rank above such things?” Uncle and aunt laughed uneasily. John made his little jokes with such an air of weariness, with such a droop of the eyelids that they sometimes struck chill in that family circle. Elizabeth regarded him gravely and silently. John was far from well. His leg was in constant pain so that he no longer stood in queues. He slept badly; as also, for the first time in her life, did Elizabeth. They shared a room now, for the winter rains had brought down ceilings in many parts of the shaken house and the upper rooms were thought to be unsafe. They had twin beds on the ground floor in what had once been her father’s library. In the first days of his homecoming John had been amorous. Now he never approached her. They lay night after night six feet apart in the darkness. Once when John had been awake for two hours he turned on the lamp that stood on the table between them. Elizabeth was lying with her eyes wide open staring at the ceiling. “I’m sorry. Did I wake you?” “I haven’t been asleep.” “I thought I’d read for a bit. Will it disturb you?” “Not at all.” She turned away. John read for an hour. He did not know whether she was awake or asleep when he turned off the light. Often after that he longed to put on the light, but was afraid to find her awake and staring. Instead he lay, as others lie in a luxurious rapture of love, hating her. It did not occur to him to leave her; or, rather, it did occur from time to time, but he hopelessly dismissed the thought. Her life was bound tight to his; her family was his family; their finances were intertangled and their expectations lay together in the same quarters. To leave her would be to start fresh, alone and naked in a strange world; and lame and weary at the age of thirty-eight, John Verney had not the heart to move. He loved no one else. He had nowhere to go, nothing to do. Moreover he suspected, of late, that it would not hurt her if he went. And, above all, the single steadfast desire left to him was to do her ill. “I wish she were dead,” he said to himself as he lay awake at night. “I wish she were dead.” Sometimes they went out together. As the winter passed, John took to dining once or twice a week at his club. He assumed that on these occasions she stayed at home, but one morning it transpired that she too had dined out the evening before. He did not ask with whom, but his aunt did, and Elizabeth replied, “Just someone from the office.” “The Jew?” John asked. “As a matter of fact, it was.” “I hope you enjoyed it.” “Quite. A beastly dinner, of course, but he’s very amusing.” One night when he returned from his club, after a dismal little dinner and two crowded Tube journeys, he found Elizabeth in bed and deeply asleep. She did not stir when he entered. Unlike her normal habit, she was snoring. He stood for a minute, fascinated by this new and unlovely aspect of her, her head thrown back, her mouth open and slightly dribbling at the corner. Then he shook her. She muttered something, turned over and slept heavily and soundlessly. Half an hour later, as he was striving to compose himself for sleep, she began to snore again. He turned on the light, looked at her more closely and noticed with surprise, which suddenly changed to joyous hope, that there was a tube of unfamiliar pills, half empty, beside her on the bed table. He examined it. “24 Comprimés narcotiques, hypnotiques,” he read, and then in large, scarlet letters, “NE PAS DEPASSER DEUX.” He counted those which were left. Eleven. With tremulous butterfly wings Hope began to flutter in his heart, became a certainty. He felt a fire kindle and spread inside him until he was deliciously suffused in every limb and organ. He lay, listening to the snores, with the pure excitement of a child on Christmas Eve. “I shall wake up tomorrow and find her dead,” he told himself, as once he had felt the flaccid stocking at the foot of his bed and told himself, “Tomorrow I shall wake up and find it full.” Like a child, he longed to sleep to hasten the morning and, like a child, he was wildly, ecstatically sleepless. Presently he swallowed two of the pills himself and almost at once was unconscious. Elizabeth always rose first to make breakfast for the family. She was at the dressing table when sharply, without drowsiness, his memory stereoscopically clear about the incidents of the night before, John awoke. “You’ve been snoring,” she said. Disappointment was so intense that at first he could not speak. Then he said, “You snored, too, last night.” “It must be the sleeping tablet I took. I must say it gave me a good night.” “Only one?” “Yes, two’s the most that’s safe.” “Where did you get them?” “A friend at the office—the one you called the Jew. He has them prescribed by a doctor for when he’s working too hard. I told him I wasn’t sleeping, so he gave me half a bottle.” “Could he get me some?” “I expect so. He can do most things like that.” So he and Elizabeth began to drug themselves regularly and passed long, vacuous nights. But often John delayed, letting the beatific pill lie beside his glass of water, while, knowing the vigil was terminable at will, he postponed the joy of unconsciousness, heard Elizabeth’s snores, and hated her sumptuously. One evening while the plans for the holiday were still under discussion, John and Elizabeth went to the cinema. The film was a murder story of no great ingenuity but with showy scenery. A bride murdered her husband by throwing him out of a window, down a cliff. Things were made easy for her by his taking a lonely lighthouse for their honeymoon. He was very rich and she wanted his money. All she had to do was confide in the local doctor and a few neighbours that her husband frightened her by walking in his sleep; she doped his coffee, dragged him from the bed to the balcony—a feat of some strength—where she had already broken away a yard of balustrade, and rolled him over. Then she went back to bed, gave the alarm next morning, and wept over the mangled body which was presently discovered half awash on the rocks. Retribution overtook her later, but at the time the thing was a complete success. “I wish it were as easy as that,” thought John, and in a few hours the whole tale had floated away in those lightless attics of the mind where films and dreams and funny stories lie spider-shrouded for a lifetime unless, as sometimes happens, an intruder brings them to light. Such a thing happened a few weeks later when John and Elizabeth went for their holiday. Elizabeth found the place. It belonged to someone in her office. It was named Good Hope Fort, and stood on the Cornish coast. “It’s only just been derequisitioned,” she said: “I expect we shall find it in pretty bad condition.” “We’re used to that,” said John. It did not occur to him that she should spend her leave anywhere but with him. She was as much part of him as his maimed and aching leg. They arrived on a gusty April afternoon after a train journey of normal discomfort. A taxi drove them eight miles from the station, through deep Cornish lanes, past granite cottages and disused, archaic tin-workings. They reached the village which gave the house its postal address, passed through it and out along a track which suddenly emerged from its high banks into open grazing land on the cliff’s edge, high, swift clouds and sea-birds wheeling overhead, the turf at their feet alive with fluttering wild flowers, salt in the air, below them the roar of the Atlantic breaking on the rocks, a middle-distance of indigo and white tumbled waters and beyond it the serene arc of the horizon. Here was the house. “Your father,” said John, “would now say, ‘Your castle hath a pleasant seat.’” “Well, it has rather, hasn’t it?”

Av lucyshanxu lucyshanxu - 9 maj 2011 07:12

The statue, when at last after many ineffective tugs at the controlling cord it was undraped and stood clear, stonily, insolently unabashed under the fierce Neutralian sun, while the populace huzzaed and, according to their custom, threw firecrackers under the feet of the notables, as the pigeons fluttered above in high alarm and the full weight of the band followed the opening trumpets—the statue was appalling. There are no contemporary portraits of Bellorius still extant. In their absence some sharp business had been done in the Ministry of Rest and Culture. The figure now so frankly brought to view had lain long years in a mason’s yard. It had been commissioned in an age of free enterprise for the tomb of a commercial magnate whose estate, on his death, had proved to be illusory. It was not Bellorius; it was not the fraudulent merchant prince; it was not even unambiguously male; it was scarcely human; it represented perhaps one of the virtues. Scott-King stood aghast at the outrage he had unwittingly committed on that gracious square. But he had already spoken and his speech had been a success. He had spoken in Latin; he had spoken from the heart. He had said that a torn and embittered world was that day united in dedicating itself to the majestic concept of Bellorius, in rebuilding itself first in Neutralia, then among all the yearning peoples of the West, on the foundations Bellorius had so securely laid. He had said that they were lighting a candle that day which by the Grace of God should never be put out. And after the oration came a prodigious luncheon at the University. And after the luncheon he was invested with a Doctorate of International Law. And after the investiture he was put into a bus and driven with Dr. Fe, Dr. Antonic and the Poet, back to Bellacita. By the direct road the journey took barely five hours. It was not yet midnight when they drove down the brilliant boulevard of the capital city. Little had been said on the road. When they drew up at the Ministry, Dr. Fe said: “So our little expedition is over. I can only hope, Professor, that you have enjoyed it a particle as much as we.” He held out his hand and smiled under the arc-lamps. Dr. Antonic and the Poet collected their modest luggage. “Good-night,” they said. “Good-night. We shall walk from here. The taxis are so expensive—the double fare operates after nine o’clock.” They walked. Dr. Fe ascended the steps of the Ministry. “Back to work,” he said. “I have had an urgent summons to report to my chief. We work late in the New Neutralia.” There was nothing furtive about his ascent but it was swift. Scott-King caught him as he was about to enter a lift. “But, I say, where am I to go?” “Professor, our humble town is yours. Where would you like to go?” “Well, I suppose I must go to an hotel. We were at the Ritz before.” “I am sure you will be comfortable there. Tell the porter to get you a taxi and see he does not try to overcharge you. Double fare but not more.” “But I shall see you tomorrow?” “I hope very often.” Dr. Fe bowed and the doors of the lift shut upon his bow and his smile. There was in his manner something more than the reserve proper to a man of delicate feeling who had in emotion revealed too much of himself. IV Officially,” said Mr. Horace Smudge, “we don’t even know you’re here.” He gazed at Scott-King through hexagonal spectacles across the Pending Tray and twiddled a new-fangled fountain pen; a multiplicity of pencils protruding from his breast pocket and his face seemed to suggest that he expected one of the telephones on his desk to ring at any moment with a message about something far more important than the matter under discussion; he was for all the world, Scott-King thought, like the clerk in the food office at Granchester. Scott-King’s life had been lived far from chanceries, but once, very many years ago at Stockholm, he had been asked to luncheon, by mistake for someone else, at the British Embassy. Sir Samson Courtenay had been chargé d’affaires at the time and Scott-King gratefully recalled the air of nonchalant benevolence with which he had received a callow undergraduate where he had expected a Cabinet Minister. Sir Samson had not gone far in his profession but for one man at least, for Scott-King, he remained the fixed type of English diplomat. Smudge was not as Sir Samson; he was the child of sterner circumstances and a more recent theory of public service; no uncle had put in a bland word for Smudge in high places; honest toil, a clear head in the examination room, a genuine enthusiasm for Commercial Geography, had brought him to his present position as second secretary at Bellacita. “You’ve no conception,” said Smudge, “what a time we have with Priorities. I’ve had to put the Ambassadress off the plane twice, at the last moment, to make room for I.C.I men. As it is I have four electrical engineers, two British Council lecturers and a trades unionist all wanting passages. Officially we have not heard of Bellorius. The Neutralians brought you here. It’s their business to get you back.”

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They drove out of the town into the land of cork-oak and almond. After an hour they were stopped and an escort of armoured cars formed up before and behind them. “A little token of our esteem,” said Dr. Fe. “It is for fear of the partisans,” whispered Dr. Antonic. Dust from the military enveloped the bus and hid the landscape. After two hours they halted. Here on a bare hillock stood the National Memorial. Like all modern state-architecture it was a loveless, unadorned object saved from insignificance only by its bulk; a great truncated pyramid of stone. A squad of soldiers were at work seeking lethargically to expunge a message daubed across the inscribed face in red paint: “Death to the Marshal.” Dr. Fe ignored their activities and led his party to the further side which was innocent of any legend, patriotic or subversive. Here under a fierce sun they left their wreaths, Scott-King stepping forward, when called, to represent Great Britain. The poet-journalist crouched and snapped with his camera. The escort cheered. The fatigue-men came round with their mops to see what was going on. Dr. Fe said a few words in Neutralian. The ceremony was over. They had luncheon in a neighbouring town at what seemed to be a kind of barrack-canteen, a bare room decorated only by a large photograph of the Marshal; a substantial but far from sumptuous meal eaten at narrow tables on thick earthenware plates. Scott-King drank several glasses of the heavy, purplish wine. The bus had stood long in the sun and was scorching hot. The wine and the thick stew induced sleep, and Scott-King lolled away the hours of the return journey unconscious of the jungle-whispering which prevailed around him in that tropic air. Whispering, however, there was, and it found full voice when at length the party returned to Simona. Scott-King awoke to it as he entered the hotel. “We must call a meeting,” the American professor was saying. “We must vote a resolution.” “We want a showdown,” said Miss Bombaum. “Not here,” she added, taking stock of the stamp collectors who still squatted in the public rooms. “Upstairs.” It would be tedious in the extreme to recount all that was said in Miss Bombaum’s bedroom after the expulsion of two philatelists who had taken refuge there. It was tedious to sit there, thought Scott-King, while the fountains were splashing in the square and the breeze stirring among the orange leaves on the city walls. Speeches were made, repeated, translated and mis-translated; there were calls for order and small private explosions of ill-temper. Not all the delegates were present. The Swiss Professor and the Chinese could not be found; the Peruvian and Argentine students refused to come, but there were six savants in the little bedroom besides Miss Bombaum, all of them, except Scott-King, very indignant about something. The cause of offence emerged through many words and the haze of tobacco smoke. In brief it was this: the Bellorius Association had been made dupes of the politicians. But for Miss Bombaum’s insatiable curiosity nothing need ever have been known of it. She had nosed out the grim truth like a truffle and the fact was plain. The National Monument was nothing more or less than a fetish of civil strife. It commemorated the massacre, execution, liquidation —what you will—ten years back on that sunny spot of some fifty leaders of the now dominant Neutralian party by those then dominant. The delegates of the Bellorius Association had been tricked into leaving wreaths there and, worse than this, had been photographed in the act. Miss Bombaum’s picture was at that moment, she said, being rushed out to the newspapers of the world. More than this they had lunched at the party Headquarters at the very tables where the ruffians of the party were wont to refresh themselves after their orgies of terrorization. What was more, Miss Bombaum said, she had just learned from a book in her possession that Bellorius had never had any connection with Neutralia at all; he had been a Byzantine general. Scott-King petulantly joined issue on this point. Strong words were used of him. “Fascist beast.”—“Reactionary cannibal.”—“Bourgeois escapist.” Scott-King withdrew from the meeting. Dr. Fe was in the passage. He took Scott-King’s arm and silently led him downstairs and out into the arcaded street. “They are not content,” said Dr. Fe. “It is a tragedy of the first magnitude.” “You shouldn’t have done it, you know,” said Scott-King. “I should not have done it? My dear Professor, I wept when it was first suggested. I delayed our journey two days on the road precisely to avoid this. But would they listen? I said to the Minister of Popular Enlightenment: ‘Excellency, this is an international occasion. It is in the realm of pure scholarship. These great men have not come to Neutralia for political purposes.’ He replied coarsely: ‘They are eating and drinking at our expense. They should show their respect for the Régime. The Physical Training delegates have all saluted the Marshal in the Sports Stadium. The philatelists have been issued with the party badge and many of them wear it. The professors, too, must help the New Neutralia.’ What could I say? He is a person of no delicacy, of the lowest origins. It was he, I have no doubt, who induced the Ministry of Rest and Culture to delay sending the statue. Professor, you do not understand politics. I will be frank with you. It was all a plot.” “So Miss Bombaum says.” “A plot against me. For a long time now they have been plotting my downfall. I am not a party man. You think because I wear the badge and give the salute I am of the New Neutralia. Professor, I have six children, two of them girls of marriageable age. What can one do but seek one’s fortune? And now I think I am ruined.” “Is it as bad as that?” “I cannot express how bad it is. Professor, you must go back to that room and persuade them to be calm. You are English. You have great influence. I have remarked during our journey together how they have all respected you.” “They called me ‘a fascist beast.’ “Yes,” said Dr. Fe simply, “I heard it through the keyhole. They were very discontented.” After Miss Bombaum’s bedroom, the streets were cool and sweet; the touch of Dr. Fe’s fingers on Scott-King’s sleeve was light as a moth. They walked on in silence. At a dewy flower-stall Dr. Fe chose a buttonhole, haggled fiercely over the price, presented it with Arcadian grace to Scott-King and then resumed the sorrowful promenade. “You will not go back?” “It would do no good, you know.” “An Englishman admits himself beaten,” said Dr. Fe desperately. “It amounts to that.” “But you yourself will stay with us to the end?” “Oh certainly.” “Why, then, we have lost nothing of consequence. The celebrations can proceed.” He said it politely, gallantly, but he sighed as they parted. Scott-King climbed the worn steps of the ramparts and sat alone under the orange trees watching the sun set. The hotel was tranquil that evening. The philatelists had been collected and carted off; they left dumbly and glumly for an unknown destination like Displaced Persons swept up in the machinery of “social engineering.” The six dissident delegates went with them, in default of other transport. The Swiss, the Chinese, the Peruvian and the Argentine alone remained. They dined together, silently, lacking a common tongue, but in good humour. Dr. Fe, Dr. Antonic and the Poet dined at another table, also silent, but sorrowful. Next day the errant effigy arrived by lorry and the day following was fixed for the unveiling. Scott-King passed the time happily. He studied the daily papers, all of which, true to Miss Bombaum’s forecast, displayed large photographs of the ceremony at the National Monument. He pieced together the sense of a leading article on the subject, he ate, he dozed, he visited the cool and glowing churches of the town, he composed the speech which, he was told, was expected of him on the morrow. Dr. Fe, when they met, showed the reserve proper to a man of delicate feeling who had in emotion revealed too much of himself. It was a happy day for Scott-King. Not so for his colleagues. Two disasters befell them severally, while he was pottering around. The Swiss Professor and the Chinese went for a little drive together in the hills. Their companionship was grounded on economy rather than mutual liking. An importunate guide; insensibility to the contemplative pleasures of Western architecture; a seemingly advantageous price; the promise of cool breezes, a wide panorama, a little restaurant; these undid them. When at evening they had not returned, their fate was certain. “They should have consulted Dr. Fe,” said Dr. Antonic. “He would have chosen a more suitable road and found them an escort.” “What will become of them?” “With the partisans you cannot say. Many of them are worthy, old-fashioned fellows who will treat them hospitably and wait for a ransom. But some are occupied with politics. If our friends have fallen among those, I am afraid they will certainly be murdered.” “I did not like the Swiss.” “Nor I. A Calvinist. But the Ministry will not be pleased that he is murdered.” The fate of the South Americans was less romantic. The police took them off during luncheon. “It seems they were not Argentine or Peruvian,” said Dr. Antonic. “Not even students.” “What had they done?” “I suppose they were informed against.” “They certainly had a villainous appearance.” “Oh yes, I suppose they were desperate fellows—spies, bimetallists, who can say? Nowadays it is not what you do that counts, but who informs against you. I think someone very high up must have informed against that pair. Otherwise Dr. Fe could have had the business postponed until after our little ceremony. Or perhaps Dr. Fe’s influence is on the wane.” So in the end, as was indeed most fitting, one voice only was raised to honour Bellorius.


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