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   Chapter 7 No.7

Overlooked By Maurice Baring Characters: 9857

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


It was the morning after the conversation I had with Mrs. Summer that I received a message from Miss Brandon. She wanted to speak to me. Could I be, about five o'clock, at the end of the alley? I was punctual at the rendezvous.

"I wanted to have a talk," she said, "to-day, if possible, because to-morrow Aunt Netty has organized an expedition to the lakes, and the day after we are all going to the races, so I didn't know when I should see you again."

"But you are not going away yet, are you?" I asked.

No, they were not going away, they would very likely stay on till the end of July. Then there was an idea of Switzerland; or perhaps the Mozart festival at Munich, followed by a week at Bayreuth. Mr. Rudd was going to Bayreuth, and had convinced Mrs. Lennox that she was a Wagnerite.

"I thought you couldn't be going away yet-but one never knows, here people disappear so suddenly, and I wanted to see you so particularly and at once. You are going to finish your cure?"

I said my time limit was another fortnight. After that I was going back to my villa at Cadenabbia.

"Shall you come here next year?"

I said it depended on my doctor. I asked her her plans.

"I don't think I shall come back next year."

There was a slight note of suppressed exultation in her voice. I asked whether Mrs. Lennox was tired of Haréville.

"Aunt Netty loves it, better than ever. Mr. Rudd has promised her to come too."

There was a long pause.

"I can't bear it any longer," she said at last.

"Haréville?"

"Haréville and all of it-everything."

There was another long pause. She broke it.

"You talked to Mabel Summer yesterday?"

I said we had had a long talk.

"I'm sure you liked her?"

I said I had found her delightful.

"She's my oldest friend, although she's older than I am. Poor Mabel, she's had a very unhappy life."

I said one felt in her the sympathy that came from experience.

"Oh yes, she's so brave; she's wonderful."

I said I supposed she'd had great disappointments.

"More than that. Tragedies. One thing after another."

I asked whether she had any children.

"Her two little girls both died when they were babies. But it wasn't that. She'll tell you all about it, perhaps, some day."

I said I doubted whether we would ever meet again.

"Mabel always keeps up with everybody she makes friends with. She doesn't often make new friends. She told me she had made two new friends here. You and Kranitski."

"She likes him?" I said.

"She likes him very much. She's very fastidious, very hard to please, very critical."

I said everyone seemed to like Kranitski.

"Aunt Netty says he's commonplace, but that's because Mr. Rudd said he was commonplace."

I said Rudd always had theories about people.

"You like Mr. Rudd?" she asked.

I said I did, and reminded her that she had told me she did.

"If you want to know the truth," she said, "I don't. I think he's awful." She laughed. "Isn't it funny? A week ago I would have rather died than admit this to you, but now I don't care. Of course I know he's a good writer and clever and subtle, and all that-but I've come to the conclusion--"

"To what conclusion?"

"Well, that I don't-that I like the other sort of people better."

"The stupid people?"

"No."

"The clever people?"

"No."

"What people?"

"I don't know. Nice people."

"People like--"

"People like Mabel Summer and Princess Kouragine," she interrupted.

"They are both very clever, I think," I said.

"Yes, but it's not that that matters."

I said I thought intelligence mattered a great deal.

"When it's natural," she said.

"Do you think people can become religious if they're not?" she asked suddenly.

I said that I didn't feel that I could, but it certainly did happen to some people.

"I'm afraid it will never happen to me," she said. "I used to hope it might never happen, but now I hope the opposite. Last night, after you went in, Aunt Netty took us to the café, and we all sat there: Mr. Rudd, Mabel, a Frenchman whose name I don't know, and M. Kranitski. The Frenchman was talking about China, and said he had stayed with a French priest there. The priest had asked him why he didn't go to Mass. The Frenchman said he had no faith. The priest had said it was quite simple, he had only to pray to the Sainte Vierge for faith, Mon enfant, c'est bien simple: il faut demander la foi à la Sainte Vierge. He said this, imitating the priest, in a falsetto voice. They all laughed except M. Kranitski, who said, seriously, 'Of course, you should ask the Sainte Vierge.' When the Frenchman and M. Kranitski went away, Mr. Rudd said that in matters of religion Russians were childish, and that M. Kranitski has a simpliste mind."

I said that Kranitski was obviously religious.

"Yes," she said, "but to be like that, one must be born like that."

I said that curious explosions o

ften happened to people. I had heard people talk of divine dynamite.

"Yes, but not to the people who want them to happen."

I said perhaps the method of the French priest in China was the best.

"Yes, if only one could do it-I can't."

I said that I felt as she did about these things.

"I know so many people who are just in the same state," she said. "Perhaps it's like wishing to be musical when one isn't. But after all one does change, doesn't one?"

I said some people did, certainly. When one was in one frame of mind one couldn't imagine what it would be like to be in another.

"Yes," she said, "but I suppose there's a difference between being in one frame of mind and not wishing ever to be in another, and in being in the same frame of mind but longing to be in another."

I asked if she knew how long Kranitski was going to stay at Haréville.

"Oh, I don't know," she said, "it all depends."

"On his health?"

"I don't think so. He's quite well."

"Religion must be all or nothing," I said, going back to the topic.

"Yes, of course."

"If I was religious I should--"

She interrupted me in the middle of my sentence.

"Mr. Rudd is writing a book," she said. "Aunt Netty asked him what it was about, and he said it was going to be a private book, a book that he would only write in his holidays for his own amusement. She asked him whether he had begun it. He said he was only planning it, but he had got an idea. He doesn't like Mabel Summer. He thinks she is laughing at him. She isn't really, but she sees through him. I don't mean he pretends to be anything he isn't, but she sees all there is to see, and no more. He likes one to see more. Aunt Netty sees a great deal more. I see less probably. I'm unfair to him, I know. I know I'm very intolerant. You are so tolerant."

I said I wasn't really, but kept my intolerances to myself out of policy. It was a prudent policy for one in my position.

"Mr. Rudd adores you," she said. "He says you are so acute, so sensitive and so sensible."

I said I was a good listener.

"Has he told you about his book?"

I said that he had told me what he had told them.

"M. Kranitski has such a funny idea about it," she said.

I asked what the idea was.

"He thinks he is writing a book about all of us."

"Who is the heroine?" I asked.

"Mabel-I think," she said. "She's so pretty. Mr. Rudd admires her. He said she was like a Tanagra, and I can see she puzzles him. He's afraid of her."

"And who is the hero?" I asked.

"I can't imagine," she said. "I expect he has invented one."

"Why is the book private?"

"Because it's about real people."

"Then we may all of us be in it?"

"Yes."

"What made Kranitski think that?" I asked.

"The way he discusses all our characters. Each person who isn't there with all the others who are there. For instance, he discusses Princess Kouragine with Aunt Netty, and Mabel with Princess Kouragine, and you with all of us; and M. Kranitski says he talks about people like a stage manager settling what actors must be cast for a particular play. He checks what one person tells him with what the others say. I have noticed it myself. He talked to me for hours about Mabel one day, and after he had discussed Princess Kouragine with us, he asked Mabel what she thought of her. That is to say, he told her what he thought, and then asked her if she agreed. I don't think he listened to what she said. He hardly ever listens. He talks in monologues. But there must be someone there to listen."

"You have left out one of the characters," I said.

"Have I?"

"The most important one."

"The hero?"

"And the heroine."

"He's sure to invent those."

"I'm not so sure, I think you have left out the most important character."

"I don't think so."

"I mean yourself."

"Oh no, that's nonsense; he never pays any attention to me at all. He doesn't talk about me to Aunt Netty or to the others."

"Perhaps he has made up his mind."

"Yes," she said slowly, "that's just it. He has made up his mind. He thinks I'm a-well, just a lay figure."

I said I was certain she would not be left out if he was writing that kind of book.

She laughed happily-so happily that I imagined her looking radiant and felt that the lamp was lit. I asked her why she was laughing.

"I'm laughing," she said, "because in one sense my novel is over-with the ordinary happy, conventional ending-the reason I wanted to talk to you to-day was to tell you--"

At that moment Mrs. Lennox joined us. Miss Brandon's voice passed quite naturally into another key, as she said:

"Here is Aunt Netty."

"I have been looking for you everywhere," said Mrs. Lennox, "I've got a headache, and we've so many letters to write. When we've done them you can watch me doing my patience."

She said these last words as if she was conferring an undeserved reward on a truant child.

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