Enter the unexpected-and I dislike the unexpected, as the man said, unless I have had a chance to prepare for it. The fourth item I took out of my pocket was a postcard, closely written, and forwarded from our New York address of nine years ago. At the bottom of the hill, at the last edge of sun, in the small of crushed eucalyptus buttons, I stopped and read it.
How are you? It is so long a time! Just outside this village, which you know, I am living quite a quiet life. Mu husband did suffer a stroke and I moved him here to a house which Eigil gives us. He is like a child, he takes much care. The castle is as you saw it, no better-I see only Manon. But we have nothing and cannot choose. I had to sell even my little Elebacken cottage, which I loved. But here where I grew up it is also beautiful. I walk and paint. Last month I had an exhibition in Copenhagen and sold nearly all. Often I wonder about you, if you have found your safe place. I wish much happiness to you both.
I closed the notebook and laid it aside and went to the closet for my pajama. Ruth did not protest. She lay petting Catarrh, watching his hair lift with static. I was buttoning the pajama coat when she said, “It’s funny, you keep speaking of her as ‘the countess’”
“That’s what she was. I’m a plain American boy, Ii don’t go around calling the nobility by their first names. I’m like Minnie. Their status is what impresses me, not their names. That Eyetalian. The countess.”
“I called her by her first name after the first day or so.”
“Well, I didn’t, after two or three months. Ever. She called me Mr. Allston and I gave her back the full business. When I tried Danish, I didn’t Du her, I De-ed her.”
“Yes.” She handed me the limp cat.” Here, Catarrh had better go out. Put him out the front so he can get to the flower bed without getting wet.”
I carried him to the front door and set him out in the entry surrounded by the drip and splash of rain. He stood with his back humped and then made a bolt to get back in, but I blocked him with my foot. “Go on and do your business,” I said, “and when you’re done, come in the cat door even if you do have to wet your feet. Don’t stand around the bedroom door yowling.”
He looked up at me as if he hated my guts. His eyes were as blue as Erik Wredel-Krarup’s, and his lip was cleft. I shut the door on him.
In the bedroom Ruth had turned off the bed light and settled down. I snapped off the reading lamp by the chair and stood in the dark listing to the uninterrupted rain. Then I crawled into bed and put my arm around Ruth, soft and familiar, and without turning she laid her hand on my hand and squeezed, “Thanks, darling.”
“Hvorfor?” I said, bemused by what we have been remembering, and oddly dim in the sight from looking down some roads not taken.
There is feeling part of us that does not grow old at all. If we could peel off the callus, and wanted to, there we would be, untouched by time, unwithered, vulnerable, afflicted and volatile and blind to consequence, a set of twitches as beyond control as an adolescent’s erections. It is this feeling creature that Ruth keeps wistfully trying to expose in me. To have me admit to yearnings and anguishes, even if they threatened her, would allow her to forgive and pity me, and since she has trouble getting me to hold still for outward affection, forgiveness and pity are not unimportant. If she can do that small thing, after years of failing to make me over into what she wishes I were, she can devote herself unselfishly to me without fear that she is pounding sand down a rathole. Catching me with my feelings showing would give her power over me as surely as if she had collected my nail parings and tufts of my hair.
Is this unjust? Obviously. In protecting myself against circumstances, or against myself, I pretend to protect myself against her.
Ruth strikes a lot of people as a cute lively little lady, bright, cultivated, interested inpeople, a good listener and a chatterbox of a talker. Some of them overlook thePresbyterian missionary in her, some of them fail to see the Salvation Army lass, mostof them have never seen the shrew. They all know the warmth and sympathy she feelsfor all sorts of human misfortune or cussedness, but even Ben Alexander, until he hadacted as her doctor for a couple of years, failed to comprehend the anxious tensionthat both holds her together and threatens to warp her out of shape. And nobody butme knows the little girl of about six who is buried in her, as ineradicable as the uneasyadolescent who is buried in me. Tell me a story, Daddy. Tell about when you were ateenager of fifty. Tell about Denmark, where you were so sad.She was already in bed, without a book, waiting, when I came into the bedroom afterturning down the thermostats and switching off the lights. The storm had blown itselfout in the afternoon, but the clogged downspout was still dripping through whateverclogged it, and big regular drops thuhked against the turned tin at the bottom. She had me go out and stuff a washcloth into the spout to kill the noise, and when I came in she was all business." Well," she said. "Where were we?"
A good question.
I got into the chair and opened up the second notebook and found where we had left off the night before."I told you I'm a bum diarist,"I said. "There's nothing here for ten pages but quotations from the wise men."
"Read them. Isn't it important to know what you were thinking about?"
"Is it?It looks pretty gloomy from here."
"All right. Here's Thucydides:'Having done what men could, they suffered what men must. "'
She said doubtfully," I guess I don't. . .".
"Having lived as long as they could, they died. Having fought as long as they could, they were killed. We should all have it engraved on our tombstones. Maybe you'll like this one better. This is from Marcus Aurelius:
"And as for thy life, consider what it is;a wind;not one constant wind neither, but every moment of an hour let out, and sucked in again. . . And also what it is to die, and how if a man shall consider this妙itself alone, to die, and separate from it in his mind all those things which with it usually represent themselves unto us, he can conceive it no otherwise, than as a work of nature, and he that fears any work of nature is a very child. What art thou, that better and divine part excepted, but as Epictetus said well, a wretched soul, appointed to carry a carcass up and down?"
I flipped the page and glanced up. Ruth was staring at me, frowning." Why would you write down something as morbid as that?"
"What's morbid about it?" I said. "It isn't very cheerful, maybe, but it's wisdom. I suppose it struck me because I was a little tired of carrying the carcass up and down."
She continued to stare at me for what seemed a long time-four or five heartbeats, I suppose. Then she folded back the covers and jumped out of bed and wrapped her arms around me head, hugging my face into her breasts.
"Why, Ruthie," I said when she eased up and let me breathe.
"I didn't known you were that. . . I thought you were just tired out!"
"Well, I survived."I pulled her down in my lap and we had a little cuddle. The cheek I kissed was wet."Oh, now, come on,"I said.
"You ought to tell me more."
"I wonder. Look what even a hint does to you."
"But when I think of the d淤rence it might have made."
"Yes,"I said. "It might have made you so anxious about me you'd have driven me off the Knippelsbro. Now thy don't you hop back into bed before you get cold." The fact was, I had pulled her down on me when I was kinked, and my knee was twisted and my hip ready to pop out of joint. If she had been sorry for my another minute she'd have broken me up like a Tinker Toy.
Ah, me, the complexity of being married to a woman you dearly love and automatically resist. I inevitably evade her management. I even evade her sympathy and affection, or meet them with my guard up. Martial is the anagram for marital. The grapple is everything, and I don't mean the sex grapple that so obsesses the seventies. That is only the signature for something much more complicated.
"All right, that's better," I said when she was back under the covers." Ready for more gloomy wisdom?"
"Here's something from Kazantzakis: `When a Greek travels through Greece, his journey becomes converted...into a laborious search to find his duty."'
"That's you, for sure."
"Duty? Me? I follow pleasures and grails and lines of least resistance."
"Like fun. I never saw any body so set on finding his duty as you. You're somebody hunting for the key to his house that he's hidden somewhere when he comes home at night and can't get in."
"All right, if you say so. I never deny what I wish was true. So here's another one from Kazantzakis:' Cursed be he whose thirst is quenched."'
"I like those a lot better than Marcus Aurelius," Ruth said,"They're more like you, for one thing."
"Never disparage Marcus Aurelius," I said. "Did you know he was one of the earliest environmentalists? You could quote him to the Sierra Club. Here he says, `That which is not good for the beehive cannot be good for the bee,'and under that, in Allston's crabbed hand, is written," The world suffers from an increment of excrement, `which you might render into the vernacular as ‘The world is full of shit.’”
That dried up any excess sympathy that might have been yearning toward the surface. "You know I don't like that word,"she said. "Are there a lot more of these quotations?"
"What were you doing, making notes on everything in Penguin Books?"
"Looking for the house key. Want to skip the rest?"
"All right. I get the idea."
I flipped pages until I came to solid scribbling again." So. There's been a gap. It's now May 13. The Allstons have just returned from a ten-day automobile trip to escape the Danish rain. They have driven (in the rain) through Hamburg and Hannover, with one splendid evening in a wine cellar in celle. They have circumnavigated the East German border and traversed (in the rain) the Romantic Road though towns named Dinkelsbiihl and Rothenburg, with mottoes and scriptures on their gables and Riemenschneider altarpieces in their churches. They have driven (in the rain) through a lot of blossoming apple trees to Innsbruck, where the Inn was full. Remember that green glass river, and the way the streets were full of lilacs and horse chestmuts blown off by a storm? Remember the Munich company that was singing Cosi Fan Tutte in the opera house? Then back (in the rain) through the Rhine-Mosel country, a fine experience because 1953 had been one of the best vintage years in history, and even the dollar-a-liter grocery store wine was marvelous. And so back to Copenhagen (in the rain) with the Rover's boot full of smuggled wine to beat the Banish taxes, and the old lady quaking all the way for fear they'd be thrown in jail. We rejoin them in the apartment on Havnegade, in the company of their interesting but troubled friend the Countess Astrid Wredel-Krarup, abandoned wife of the celebrated quisling."
我翻过去几页，然后看到了字迹清晰但却仍然很潦草的记录。“中间空了一段。现在接着是5月13日的。为了避开丹麦下雨，奥尔斯通夫妇去汽车旅行了，走了十天，他们刚回来。他们在雨中开车穿过汉堡和汉诺威。还在策勒的酒窖里度过了个美好的夜晚。他们绕着东德国边境行驶，(在雨中)横穿浪漫之路，路过名叫丁克尔斯比尔和罗腾堡的两个小镇，在那里的教堂里看到了山墙和圣坛装饰品上雕刻的哉言和经文。他们在去茵斯布鲁克的路上，(在雨中)穿过了许多开花的苹果树。茵斯布鲁克的客栈里已没有空余的房间。一场暴风雨过后，河流像绿色玻璃一般，街道上满是掉落的紫丁香和七叶果，这些还记得么?还记得那个在剧院里唱Cosi Fan Tutt尹的慕尼黑剧团么?之后他们(在雨中)开车往回绕，穿过莱茵河一摩泽尔河之间的村庄。1953年是丰收的一年，杂货店的葡萄酒每升一美元，美味可口，这是一段愉快的旅程。然后又(在雨中)回到哥本哈根，后车厢里载满了偷运回来的葡萄酒，避开了丹麦的关税。那个老女人在回来的路上吓得一直发抖，担心会被关进监狱。我们与他们在Havnegade的公寓重新相聚，见到了有趣但又遇到麻烦的阿斯特丽兹·弗雷德一克拉鲁普女伯爵。她是被臭名昭著的卖国贼遗弃的妻子。”
"Idiot,"Ruth said. "Read."
"Cursed be he whose thirst is quenched,"I said.
The countess' eyes were on the seventh plate; then they came up and met Manon's. That was a speaking look if I ever heard one, though I didn't understand thewords. The countess' mouth tightened till she was white around the lips. Manon lifteda thin sweatered shoulder. The butler came in and announced lunch.
There was little masculine company to distribute, just Little Lord Fauntleory andme. We waited. After several minutes a woman, not especially young but verypregnant, came carrying her great belly before from one of the parlors. She had abroad, healthy-looking face and a way of smiling slyly to herself. I thought she wasfaking a composure she didn't quite possess.
Manon thrust out her lips into a nervous pucker and blinked her round eyes. InDanish she said to the woman, "You remember Astrid."
The woman gave what can only be called scornful snort. In that room, in thatcontext, it was an extraordinary response.
"Naturlgvis" she said. "Yelkommen." Her eyes touched the eyes of the countessfor just an instant. A complex expression passed across her face and was covered overby the careful sly smile.
"God dag," the countess said-oh, icy.
"And these are Astrid's friends, Mr. And Mrs. Allston."
"God dag," the countess said. And we said.
"Miss Weibull,”Manon said.
I had an immediate semaphore from Ruth, which said, with flapping red flags,DO NOT SAYANYTHING! DO NOT, REPEAT DO NOT, ASK HER WHO HERHUSBAND IS OR WHAT HE DOES. DO NOT SAY ANYTHING BEYONDROUTINE POLITENESS. TAKE CARE. BE ALERT. SHUT UP.
She assumes that I have all the acuteness of a mongoloid, and so she stands ontiptoe and wigwags wildly enough to catch the attention of everyone within a halfmile, and unless I give her back a signal as obvious as her own, she believes I havenot only missed the original situation that set her to signaling but have somehowoverlooked the fact that she is now up on the table flapping her arms.
In this case I carefully did not look at her. I smiled at the countess, who .wasstony with an angry flush around her eyes, and at Manon, skinny and nervous andmaintaining her sweet vague expression. Then I fmalIy did look across at Ruth andwiden my eyes slightly so she could relax. With her help，I managed not to say to thisMiss Weibull, HOW COME YOU'RE A MISS, BUT EIGHT MONTHS ALONG?OLD DANISH CUSTOM, EH? HA-HA.
Ruth said fiercely from the bed, "Just remember the times when I've saved youfrom making a fool of yourself! And some of the times when I haven't succeeded!"
"You overreacted”I said. "You generally do, because you take it for granted Ican't see what's under my nose. You started this truth party, now hold still and see yourself as others see you."
"Unless I'd warned you, you'd never have known anything was wrong."
"I wrote this journal that vey night, didn't I? Wouldn't you say I'm aware that something is wrong?"
"After I warned you. Anyway, you didn't know what was wrong."
"Don't tell me you did."
"I think so. Part of it, anyway."
"I think you found out just the way I did, and when I did."
"Well, do we have to quarrel about it?"
"No. So why did you start quarreling?”
"I? You started it."
I counted ten, then ten more. She saw me doing it,and was furious. Finally I said,
"Listen, if there's anything more ridiculous than two people seventy years old..."
"Speak for yourself!"
"...or nearly seventy, bickering about who knew what twenty years ago, then it can only be the same two old fools bickering about who started the bicker.”
"All right, but...”
"No buts. Peace, pertubed spirit."
"Oh, I hate that condescending phrase!"
"Condescending?" I said. "Who said it? Prince Hamlet to his father's ghost?'
"Oh, go on and read. And I hope you get through that luncheon pretty soon. There were more important things happening than that luncheon."
"I read what it says in the book," I said. "What it says in the book is what seemed important to me at the time. If you don't like几write your own diary."
"I wish I had. Then there might be a way of checking on yours."
We were still standing, waiting. I kept expecting Manon to tell us to sit down, but she didn't. Beside me this mysterious Miss Weibull stood flat-footedly, breathing hard. She had that faked composure, but she didn't have the look of the quality. Governess who had got in trouble? But governess to whom? There were no children around expert Bertil, who was only a visitor. But not family either. One of Count Eigil's peasant girls? You didn't bring those into .the castle, or at least I assumed you didn't. Those could be left in the hayloft with their dressed up around their necks.
The countess hated her being there, Manon was resigned to her being there, and Miss Weibull was damned well going to be there whether they liked it or not. The most obvious thing about all of it was that all three seemed to believe they were concealing what was perfectly obvious. Also, the more I looked at Miss Webull the more I saw that she was pretty old to be in the condition she was in. She had to be around forty, about the countess' age.
Like people at a funeral before the preacher enters, we waited, }d smiled, and said nothing, and were desperately bright. The bowls of lilacs spaced down the table filled the room with their scent. Now, I grew up among the lilacs, I am a lilac lover, and group silences that go on too long make me nervous. So I said to Miss Weibull, most politely, "Aren't the lilacs marvelous?'
"Jeg taler ikke Engelsk," said Miss Weibull.
"Jeg taler ikke Engelsk,”韦布尔小姐说。
Put on my mettle, I sniffed deeply and appreciatively, rolled my eyes, looked pointedly at the lilacs, sniffed again, and placed a hand over my heart. I searched my mind in vain for the Danish word for lilacs, and had to fall back on something less precise. "Smukke Blomster," I said. I suppose I felt an obligation to make her feel at home.
我鼓起勇气，认真地看着丁香花，深深地并带有赞美表情地闻了一下，接着，又闻了一下，还把手放到了我的心房那里。我绞尽脑汁也没想出丁香在瑞士话里面是哪个单词，就不得不换个不那么精确的词了："Smukke Blomster, "。我觉得我有责任让韦布尔小姐感觉自在些。
Most curiously she looked at me. I have been looked at that way by cows watching me climb through a barbed wire fence. "Ah; oui," she said. Across the table, as if on signal, the countess and Manon straightened their backs. Ruth was about to start her semaphore again, but what had I done? Praised the lilacs.
Then their three pairs of eyes turned sideward, and I looked where they were looking. Here came Grandmama on a servant's arm.
She was so old she would have had to be dated by carbon 14. Conforming to the rule that old ladies should give up primary colors and return to the pastels of babyhood, she wore a dusty-pink jersey dress that hung on-her like a sweater on a gate. She was thin and brittle. Veins and tendons stood out on the backs of her blotchy hands. Below the sagging jersey dress, which came to mid-calf, her stockings drooped on unpadded bone. The skin had shrunk on her skull, which looked no bigger than a monkey's, and the shrinkage had all gathered into wrinkles. Her face was a spiderweb with eyes.
As we might have watched George Arliss making an entrance, we watched her slide and shuffle toward us. Her eyes were fixed straight ahead on something miles away, disdaining to look for the obstacles her feet felt for. For all her decrepitude she was fiercely erect, and I had one of those little thrills of sensation that sometimes come with martial music. Pride, she had. If the servant had withdrawn his arm, she would have fallen on her back, not on her face. She looked like one of those Milles ghosts, running on her heels toward eternity.
The servant was careful and slow. The old lady's shuffling foot reached the edge of the Chinese rug and felt, inched, slid up over it. Then as she brought the rear foot up over the ridge to meet the front one, she brought her eyes down from whatever horizon they were fixed on, and took us all in in one look. It may have been intended as a greeting; it felt as peremptory as a bullwhip..
Manon and the countess jumped to help the servant get her into the chair at he head of the table. Supported by six hands, she teetered and sank, and went the last four inches with a bump. She clenched her claws on the chair arms while the servant lifted chair and all into place. Only then, her difficult entrance accomplished, she turned her cheek up to the countess; who bent and kissed it. There was a flurry of bird sounds, much pressing of hands. When the countess left her and came around-widely around-Miss Weibull to place herself on my other side, her eyes were wet.
Manon stood with her hand on the old lady's shoulder. Solicitous and gentle, she bent and said, "Grandmama, here are Astrid's friendsz Mr. and Mrs. Allston."
The old red-rimmed eyes touched Ruth and then me, a glance surprisingly steady, though her whole head shook. She crossed an arm across her breast and laid a hand on Zlanon's, still on her shoulder. I liked that gesture, as I liked the tears in the countess' eyes. Aristocracy humanized. Three affectionate women. "You are very welcome here,”the old lady said in English.
Across the table the little baron, with perfect timing, pulled out Manon's chair.She came, he nudged her into place and turned to Ruth. Ad for me, I was torn betweenthe countess and Miss Weibull, and had to elect Miss Weibull as being on my rightand enceinte at that. When I got her bulk shoved up to the table against the resistingpile of the rug, the countess -had seated herself. She gave me a blank, pleasant,annoyed smile as I edged in between them.
It did not begin as the liveliest luncheon I ever attended. Manon was quiet, thecountess nearly mute. Ruth said, in English, to catechize the little baron. The old ladydabbled and picked at her food, Miss Weibull ate heartily for. two. There was fruitsoup, then a great salad of the shrimps they dip up from among the sea grass in thesebrackish estuaries, then a mousse and that universal Danish addiction, marzipancookies. And, praise God, wine. As soon as I properly cloud, I skaa'ded the lady onmy left and got her to melt a little. Then I went on and skaa'led all the rest of theladies in turn. I didn't know whether I was supposed to or not, but there was no oneelse to do it the little baron didn't even have a wineglass-and I thought we couldall use a drink. It was a strange sensation holding the eyes of the old countess, likepering through the cobwebbed window of an abandoned house and meeting the eyesof something alive looking out. I also gazed into the eyes of Miss Weibull, asenigmatic and impenetrable as marbles.
Ruth remarked on how humiliating it was for Americans, but how pleasant, totravel in a country where it seemed everyone spoke English. (And who was it whohad refused to try to learn Danish?)Manon repeated something Astrid's father used tosay-that if a Dane fell into the sea and washed up to the south, he would have toknow German; if he washed up to the wes1} English or French; if to the north or east,Norweigan, Swedish, Finnish, or Russian. So evey Dane was compelled to prepare forthe day when he fell into the sea.
The countess; coming out of her sulks, claimed that if Mr. Allston fell into thesea he would come up speaking anything he needed to, and Manon said ah, but thatwas because he was really a Dane, and to the old lady she}explained that Mr. Allston'smother had been born in Bregninge, wasn't that interesting?