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   Chapter 30 No.30

Everyman's Land By A. M. Williamson Characters: 9985

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Padre, my mind is like a thermometer exposed every minute to a different temperature, but always high or low-never normal.

To tell, or not to tell, Father Beckett what the man I didn't see said about Jim-or rather, what Julian O'Farrell said that he said! This has been the constant question; but the thermometer invariably flies up or down, far from the answer-point.

When our men came back to Amiens, I almost hoped that Puck would do his worst-carry out his threat and "give me away" to Father Beckett. In that case I should at least have been relieved from responsibility. But Puck didn't. In my heart I had known all along that he would not.

If I could have felt for a whole minute at a time that it would be fair to wake hopes which mightn't be fulfilled, out would have burst the secret. But whenever I'd screwed up my courage to speak, Something would remind me: "Herter sent word that there might be a message from Switzerland. Better wait till it comes, for he wasn't sure of his facts. He may have been misled." Or, when I'd decided not to speak, another Something would say: "Jim is alive. You know he is alive! Herter is helping him to escape. Don't let these dear old people suffer a minute longer than they need."

But-well-so far I have waited. A week has passed since I wrote at Amiens. We have arrived at Jim's chateau-the little, quaint, old Chateau d'Andelle, with thick stone walls, black-beamed ceilings, and amusing towers, set in the midst of an enchanted forest of Normandy. No wonder he fell in love with the place before the war, and wanted to live there! It must have seemed an impossible dream at the time, for the owners (the chateau has been in the same family for generations) had money in those days, and wouldn't have let their home to strangers. The war has made all the difference. They couldn't afford to keep up the place, and were eager to let. Beckett money is a boon to them, so everyone is satisfied. The agents in Paris secured two or three extra servants to help the old pair left in the house as caretakers; and there is a jewel of a maid for Mother Beckett-a Belgian refugette. I shall give her some training as a nurse, and by and by I shall be able to fade away in peace. Already I'm beginning to prepare my dear lady's mind for a parting. I talk of my hospital work, and drop hints that I'm only on leave-that Brian's hopes and Father Beckett's splendid new-born plan for him, will permit me to take up duty again soon.

The plan developed on the trip: but I'm sure the first inspiration came from Mother Beckett. While she was ill, she did nothing but lie and think of things to do for other people. And she was determined to make it possible for Brian to have a love story of his own, provided he wanted one. It only needed Father Beckett's practical brain and unlimited purse to turn her vague suggestion into a full-grown plan. A whole block of buildings on the outskirts of Paris, let as apartment houses, is to be bought by Mr. Beckett, for the use of blinded soldiers. Already his agents have got the refusal of the property for him; and with a few changes such as knocking down inner walls and putting in doors where doors don't exist, the houses will become one big mansion, to accommodate five or six hundred men. Each will have his own bedroom or cubicle. There'll be a gymnasium, with a Swedish instructor, and every trade or profession in which a blind man could possibly engage will be taught by experts. There will be a big dining hall with a musicians' gallery, and a theatre. The library will be supplied with quantities of books for the blind. There'll be a garden where the men will be taught to grow flowers and vegetables. They will have a resident doctor, and two superintendents. One of these two will himself be a blind man taught by his own experience how to teach others. Of course, Padre, you know that this blind teacher is already chosen, and that the whole scheme centers round him!

In a way Brian realizes that, if it were not for him, it would never have been thought of. In a way. But-it is his way. He doesn't torture himself, as I probably should in his place, by thinking: "All these immense sums of money being spent as an excuse to provide for me in life! Ought I to let it be done? Ought I to accept?"

Brian's way is not that. He says: "Now I understand why I lost my eyesight, and it's worth it a thousand times. This wonderful chance is to be given me to help others, as I never could have helped if I hadn't been blind. If sight comes back, I shall know what it is to be blind, and I can give counsel and courage to others. I am glad, glad to be blind. It's a privilege and a mission. Even if I never see again, except with my spirit's eyes, I shall still be glad!"

He doesn't worry at all because carrying out the plan will cost Father Beckett one or more of his millions. What is money for, except to be spent? What pleasure is like spending to do good? He finds it quite natur

al that Father Beckett wants to do this thing; and though he's immensely grateful, he takes it blithely for granted that the benefactor should be happy and proud.

Travelling back from Ypres to Amiens they seem to have settled all the details between them, though they told us their adventures before even mentioning the Plan. Brian is to be guide, philosopher, and friend to the inmates and students of the James Wyndham Beckett College for the Blind. Also he is to give lectures on art and various other subjects. If he can learn to paint his blind impressions (as he believes he can, with Dierdre's promised help) he will be able to teach other blind artists to follow his example. And he is to have a salary for his services-not the big one Father Beckett wished: Brian wouldn't hear of that-but enough to live on. And Dierdre and Julian are offered official positions and salaries too. It's suggested that they should take a flat near by the College, within easy walking distance. Dierdre is to entertain the blind men with recitations, and teach the art of reciting to those who wish to learn. Julian is to sing and play for the men in the house-theatre, once or twice a week, as he can spare time from his work with De Letzski. Also he will give one lesson a week in singing and voice production.

Both the O'Farrells are to be well paid (no trouble in persuading Julian to accept generous proposals for himself and his sister; for him the labourer is indeed worthy of his hire): and with American dash and money the scheme is expected to be in working order by next June. It's now well into November. But after seeing how other schemes have worked, and how this Chateau d'Andelle business has been rushed through, I have the most sublime faith in Beckett miracles.

They are astonishing, these Becketts! Father, the simplest, kindest man, with the air of liking his fireside better than any adventure: Mother, a slip of a creature-"a flower in a vase to be kept by her menfolk on a high shelf," as I told myself when I first saw her. Yet what adventures they have had, and what they have accomplished since the day Brian proposed this pilgrimage, two months ago! Not a town on our route that, after the war won't have cause to bless them and the son in whose name their good works have been done-cause to bless Beckett kindness, Beckett money for generations in the future! Yet now they have added this most ambitious plan of all to the list, and I know it will be carried out to perfection.

You see now, Padre, from what I've told you, how easy it is being made for me to slip out of this circle. Brian, beaming with happiness, and on the point of opening his heart to Dierdre's almost worshipping love: Mother Beckett slowly getting back a measure of frail, flower-like health, in this lovely place which she calls Jim's: Father Beckett more at ease about her, and intensely interested in his scheme: the small, neat Belgian refugette likely to prove at least a ministering mouse if not a ministering angel: above all, hope if not certainty that Jim will one day return-not only in spirit but in body-to his chateau and his family. If I am needed anywhere on earth, it isn't here, but down in the south at my poor H?pital des épidémies. Would it be cowardly in me to fly, as soon as I've persuaded the Becketts to spare me, and throw the responsibility I haven't dared decide to take, upon my brave, blind Brian?

Ah, I don't mean telling him about myself and my sins. I shouldn't have the courage for that, I fear! I mean, shall I tell him about Doctor Paul's message-or supposed message? It has just occurred to me that I might do this, and let Brian decide whether Father Beckett ought to know, even if no further news comes through Switzerland. You see, if I were gone, and Jim came, I could trust the new Dierdre to do her best for me with Brian. He could never respect me, never love me in the old way-but he might forgive, because of Dierdre herself-and because of the great Plan. Hasn't my wickedness given them both to him?

Writing all this to you has done me good, Padre. I see more clearly ahead. I shall decide before morning what to do. I feel I shall this time! And I think it a good idea to speak to Brian. He will agree, though he doesn't know my secret need to escape, that it's right for me to take up hospital work again. But, Padre, I can't go-I won't go-until I've helped Mother Beckett arrange Jim's treasures in the room to be called his "den." She has been living for that, striving to grow strong enough for that. And I-oh, Padre!-I want to be the one to unpack his things and to touch each one with my hands. I want to leave something of myself in that room where, if he's dead, his spirit will surely come: where, if he lives, his body will come. If I leave behind me thoughts of love, won't they linger between those walls like the scent of roses in a vase? Mayn't those thoughts influence Jim Beckett not to detest me as I deserve?

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