类型:奇幻地区:莫桑比克剧发布:2021-02-26 15:03:13


She had watched him come down the path, and when he was some ten paces from her, she rose. She had no word, it would seem, for him, nor he for her, and they stood in silence opposite{312} each other. But the clear glance shone on him, steady and quiet and complete. Then, as by some common impulse, her hands and his were clasped together.‘Well then, there’s a reason the more for asking him to Brighton,’ said Mrs Keeling, now quite out of sight of her tact, ‘I know very well what all his attentions to you mean. I’ve never seen a man so devoted, for I’m sure your father never made such a fuss over me as that. You’ve got to meet a man half-way, dear; it’s only right to show him that you are not indifferent to him (or do I mean that he’s not indifferent to you? some words are so puzzling). He wants a wife, I can see that, and you may trust me that it’s you he wants. I shall invite him to Brighton, and if you only behave sensibly, he’ll ask you before we’re even thinking of coming back.’‘You must allow it was very odd that your secretary should appear in the middle of my dinner-party,’ she said, ‘and simply stroll across to your room. I had been talking of your room half dinner-time with Mr Fyson, saying that none of us was allowed there. And then, in came this girl——’

Late as it was when Keeling went upstairs, he found a jubilant and wakeful wife waiting for him, with a positive cargo of questions and impressions which she had to unload at once. Her elation took a condescending and critical form, and she neither wanted nor paused for answers.She had his letters opened for him with her usual speed, but as she worked he could see by the soft creased line between her eyebrows, even as he{158} had seen it yesterday morning, when she was anxious about her brother, that something troubled her. To-day, however, he did not question her: she might tell him if she felt disposed, and guessing that it was connected with the events of last night, his instinct told him that it was for her to speak or be silent. Then, when she had opened the letters, she placed them by him, and without a word, took up her writing-block and pencil for the shorthand dictation. But still her brow did not clear, the smudge of shadow lay perpendicularly between her eye-brows, as fixed as if it was some soft pencil mark on the skin.

While he waited for the completion of her work, he occupied himself with businesses that demanded his scrutiny, but all the while his ear was pricked to listen to the sound of her typewriting machine, or rather to listen for the silence of its cessation, for that would mean that Norah would presently come in with the letters for his signature. There was nothing in his work that demanded a close grip of his mind, and beneath the mechanical attention that he gave it, memory like some deep-water undertow was flowing on its own course past the hidden subaqueous landscape. There was a whole stretch of scenery there out of sight of the surface of his life. Till she had come into it, there was no man who possessed less of a secret history: he had his hobby of books as all the world knew, his blameless domestic conduct, his hard{254} Puritan morality and religion, his integrity and success in money-making and keen business faculty. That was all there was to him. But now he had dived below that, yet without making any break in the surface. All that he had done and been before continued its uninterrupted course; his life beneath the deep waters did not make itself known by as much as a bubble coming to the surface.

The conference lasted some time. Keeling was but learning now, through this one channel of books, that attitude of mind which through instinct, whetted and primed by education, came naturally to the younger man, and it was just this that made these talks the very essence of the secret garden. Propert, for all that he was but an employee at a few pounds a week,{43} was gardener there; he knew the names of the flowers, and what was more, he had that comprehension and love of them which belongs to the true gardener and not the specimen grower or florist only. It was that which Keeling sought to acquire, and among the prosperous family friends, who were associated with him in the management of civic affairs, or in business relationships, he found no opportunity of coming in contact with a similar mind. But Propert was freeborn in this republic of art and letters, and Keeling was eager to acquire at any cost the sense of native, unconscious citizenship. He felt he belonged there, but he had to win his way back there.... He must have learned the language in some psychically dim epoch of his existence, for exploration among these alleys in his garden had to him the thrill not of discovery, but the more delicate sense of recollection, of revisiting forgotten scenes which were remembered as soon as they disentangled themselves again from the jungle of materialistic interests that absorbed him all the week. Mr Keeling had very likely hardly heard of the theory of reincarnation, and had some modern Pythagoras spoken to him of beans, he would undoubtedly have considered it great nonsense. But he would have confessed to the illusion (the fancy he would have called it) of having known something of all this before when Propert, with his handsome face{44} aglow and his eyes alight, sat and turned over books with him thus, forgetting, as his own absorption increased, to interject his sentences with the respectful ‘sir’ of their ordinary week-day intercourse. Keeling ceased to be the proprietor and master of the universal stores, he ceased even to be the proprietor of his own books. They and their pictures and their binding and their aroma of the kingdom of intellect and beauty, were common possessions of all who chose to claim them, and belonged to neither of them individually any more than the French language belongs to the teacher who instructs and the pupil who learns.‘Why should I give up the catalogue?’ she said. ‘I have no intention of doing so unless you tell me to. My business is to finish it.’

‘But poor parson’s going to be lonely again, isn’t he?’ he went on. ‘Didn’t ickle bird tell him that Helper was going to spread wings and fly away to Brighton for a fortnight? He mustn’t be selfish, mustn’t poor parson, but only be glad to think of Helper sitting in the sun, and drinking in life and health again.’

Alice did not pursue the subject, and since there was now no chance of Mr Silverdale’s coming in again, she put on her spectacles, which enabled her to see the lines of the pomegranate foliage with far greater distinctness. Never before had she had so vivid an interest in life as during these last two months; indeed the greater part of the female section of the congregation at St Thomas’s had experienced a similar quickening of their emotions, and a ‘livelier iris’ burnished up the doves of the villas in Alfred Road. The iris in question, of course, was the effect of the personality of Cuthbert Silverdale, and if he was not, as he averred, being spoiled, the blame did not lie with his parishioners. They had discovered, as he no doubt meant them to do, that a soldier-saint had come among them, a missioner, a crusader, and they vied with each other in adoring and decorative obedience, making banners and embroideries for his church (for he allowed neither slippers nor neckties for himself) and in flocking to his discourses, and working under his guidance in the parish. There had been frantic discussions and quarrels over rites and doctrines; households had{107} been divided among themselves, and, as at The Cedars, sections of families had left St Thomas’s altogether and attached themselves to places of simpler ceremonial. The Bishop had been appealed to on the subject of lights, with the effect that the halo of a martyr had encircled Mr Silverdale’s head, without any of the inconveniences that generally attach to martyrdom, since the Bishop had not felt himself called upon to take any steps in the matter. Even a protesting round-robin, rather sparsely attested, had been sent him, in counterblast to which Alice Keeling with other enthusiastic young ladies had forwarded within a couple of days a far more voluminously signed document, quoting the prayer-book of Edward VI. in support of their pastor, according to their pastor’s interpretation of it at his Wednesday lectures on the history of the English Church.

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