Direktlänk till inlägg 9 maj 2011

I expect we shall find it

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?”


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