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   Chapter 4 No.4

Overlooked By Maurice Baring Characters: 9853

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04

Life begins very early in the morning here. The water-drinkers and the bathers begin their day at half-past six. My day does not begin till half-past seven, as I don't drink many glasses of the water.

At seven o'clock the village bell rings for Mass.

It was some days after the conversations I recorded in my last chapter I woke one morning early at half-past six and got up. I asked my servant, Henry, to lead me to the village church. I went in and sat down at the bottom of the aisle. Early Mass had not yet begun. The church seemed to me empty. But from a corner I heard the whispered mutter of a confession. Presently two people walked past me, the priest and the penitent, I surmised. Someone walked upstairs. A boy's footsteps then clattered past me. The church bell was rung. Someone walked downstairs and up the aisle; the priest again, I thought. Then Mass began. Towards the end someone again walked up the aisle. I remained sitting till the end.

At the door, outside the church, someone greeted me. It was Kranitski. He walked back with me to the hotel. He asked me whether I was a Catholic. I told him that Catholic churches attracted me, but that I was an agnostic. He seemed slightly astonished at this; astonished at the attraction in my case, I supposed. He said something which indicated surprise.

I told him I could not explain it. It was certainly not the exterior panoply and trappings of the church which attracted me, for of those I saw nothing. Nor was it the music, for although I was not a musician, my long blindness had made me acutely sensitive to sound, and the sounds in churches were often, I found, painful.

I asked him if he was a Catholic.

"I was born a Catholic," he said, "but for years I have not been pratiquant, until I came here. Not for seven years."

"You have not been inside a church for seven years?" I said.

"Oh yes," he said, "inside a church very often."

I said most people lost their faith as young men. Sometimes it came back.

"I was not like that," he said, "I never lost my faith, not for a day, not for an hour."

I said I didn't understand.

"There were reasons-an obstacle," he said. "But now they are not there any more. Now I am once more inside."

"Inside what?" I asked.

"The church. During those seven years I was outside."

"But as you went to church when you liked," I said, "I do not see the difference."

"I cannot explain it to you," he said. "You would not understand. At least, you would understand if you knew and I could explain, only it would be too long. But as it was it was like knowing you couldn't have a bath if you wanted one-like feeling always starved. You see I am naturally believing. If I had not been, it would have been no matter. I cannot help believing. Many times I should have liked not to believe. Many times I was envying people who feel you go out like a candle when you die. I am not mystique or anything like that; but something at the back of my mind is keeping on saying to me: 'You know it is true,' just as in some people there is something inside them which is keeping on saying: 'You know it is not true.' And yet I couldn't do otherwise. That is to say, I resolved not to do otherwise. Life is complicated. Things are so mixed up sometimes. One has to sacrifice what one most cares for. At least, I had to. I was caring for my religion more than I can describe, but I had to give it up. No, that is wrong, I didn't have to, but I gave it up. It was all very embarrassing. But now the obstacle is not there. I am free. It is a relief."

"But if you never lost your faith and went on going to church, and could go to church whenever you liked, I cannot see what you had to give up. I don't see what the obstacle prevented."

"To explain you that I should have to tell too long a story," he said. "I will tell you some day if you have patience to listen. Not now."

We had got back to the park. I went into the pavilion to drink the water. I asked Kranitski if he was going to have a glass.

"No," he said, "I do not need any waters or any cure. I am cured already, but I need a long rest to forget it all. You know sometimes after illness you regret the maladie, and I am still a little bit dizzy. After you have had a tooth out, in spite of the relief from pain you mind the hole."

He went into the hotel.

Later in the morning I met Princess Kouragine.

She asked me how Rudd's novel was getting on. I said I had not seen him, and had had no talk with him about it. I told her I had made the acquaintance of Kranitski.

"I too," she said. "I like him. I never knew him before, but I know a little of his history. He has been in love a very long time with someone I knew-and still know, I won't say her name. I don't want to rake up old scandals, but she was Russian, and she lived, a long time ago, in Rome, and she was unhappy with her husband, whom I always liked,

and thought extremely comme il faut, but they were not suited."

"Why didn't she divorce him?" I asked.

"The children," she said; "three children, two boys and a girl, and she adored them, so did the father, and he would never have let them go, nor would she have left them for anyone in the world."

"If she lived at Rome, I may have met her," I said.

"It is quite possible," said the Princess. "My friend was a charming person, a little vague, very gentle, very graceful, very musical, very attractive."

"Is the husband still alive?" I asked.

"Yes, he is alive. They do not live at Rome any more, but in the Caucasus, and at Paris in the winter. I saw them both in Paris this winter."

I asked if the Kranitski episode was still going on.

"It is evidently over," said Princess Kouragine.

"Why?" I asked.

"Because he is happy. Il n'a plus des yeux qui regardent au delà."

"Was he very much in love with her?" I asked.

"Yes, very much. And she too. He will be a character for Mr. Rudd," she went on, "I saw him talking to him yesterday, with Mrs. Lennox and Jean. Jean likes him. She looks better these last two days."

I said I had noticed she seemed more lively.

"Ah, but physically she looks different. That child wants admiration and love."

"Love?" I said. "Won't it be rather unfortunate if she looks for love in that quarter? He won't love again, will he? Or not so soon as this."

"You are like the people who think one can only have measles once," she said. "One can have it over and over again, and the worse you have it once, the worse you may get it again. He is just in the most susceptible state of all."

I said they both seemed to me in the same position. They were both of them bound by old ties.

"That is just what will make it easier."

I asked whether there would be any other obstacles to a marriage between them, such as money. Princess Kouragine said that Kranitski ought to be quite well off.

"There was no obstacle of that kind," she said. "He is a Catholic, but I do not suppose that will make any difference."

"Not to Miss Brandon," I said, "nor really to her aunt: Mrs. Lennox might, I think, look upon it as a kind of obstacle; but a little more an obstacle than if he was a radical and a little less of one than if he was socialist."

She said she did not think that Mrs. Lennox would like her niece to marry anyone.

"But if they want to get married nothing will stop them. That girl has a character of iron."

"And he?" I asked.

"He has got some character."

"Would the other person mind-the lady at Rome?"

"She probably will mind, but she would not prevent it. Elle est foncièrement bonne. Besides which she knows that it is over, there is nothing more to be said or done. She is philosophe too. A sensible woman. She insisted on marrying her husband. She was in love with him directly she came out, and they were married at once. He would have been an excellent husband for almost anyone else except for her, and if she had only waited two years she would have known this herself. As it was, she married him, and found she had married someone else. The inevitable happened. She is far too sensible to complain now. She knows she has made a gachis of her life, and that she only has herself to thank. As it is, she has her children and she is devoted to them. She will not want to make a gachis of Kranitski's life as well as of her own, and she nearly did that too. If he marries and is happy she ought to be pleased, and she will be."

"And what about the young man who was engaged to Miss Brandon?" I asked.

"I do not give that story a thought," said the Princess. "They were probably in the same situation towards each other as the Russian couple I told you of were before they were married, only Jean had the good fortune to do nothing in a hurry. She is probably now profoundly grateful. How can a girl of eighteen know life? How can she even know her own mind?"

"It depends on the young man," I said. "We know nothing about him."

"Yes, we know nothing about him; but that probably shows there is nothing to know. If there were something to know we should know it by now. It was all so long ago. They are both different people now, and they probably know it."

I said I would not like to speculate or even hazard a guess on such a matter. It might be as she said, but the contrary might just as well be true. I did not think Miss Brandon was a person who would change her mind in a hurry. I thought she was one of the rare people who did know her own mind. I could imagine her waiting for years if it was necessary.

As I was saying this, Princess Kouragine said to me:

"She is walking across the park now with Kranitski. They have sat down on a seat near the music kiosk. They are talking hard. The lamp is being lit-she looks ten years younger than she did last week, and she has got on a new hat."

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