Thursday, September 6, 2007

Chapter 17 - The Price of Things

How do you send me the next pages of what was only a dream?

I got the narrow parcel with only a few pages in it, but the cover page gave the title of the book. It's some kind of novel by an English writer, a woman, I'm sure of it. I can't tell when it was written, but the setting seems to be between the wars, am I right? And the whole thing is the continuation of my strange dream!

This *is* what you sent, isn't it?

""Then you won't dance it with me?" Amaryllis challenged smilingly--she would not let him see that she was cast down. "I do so want to dance!"

His eyes grew fierce.

"I beg of you not! I desire to keep the picture I have made of you since we met--later I shall dance it myself with a suitable partner, but I donot want you mixed with this tarnished herd."

Amaryllis answered with dignity:

"If I thought of it as you do I should not want to dance it at all." She was aggrieved that her expressed desire might have made him hold her less high--"and you have taken all the bloom from my butterfly's wing--I will never enjoy dancing it again--let us go and sit down."

He gave her his arm and they moved from the room, coming almost into conflict with Madame Boleski and her partner, Ferdinand Ardayre, whose movements would have done honour to the lowest human being.

"There is your friend, Madame Boleski--she dances--and so well!"

"Harietta is an elemental--as I told you before--it is right that she should express herself so. She is very well aware of what it all means and delights in it. But look at that lady with the hair going grey--it is the Marquise de Saint Vrillière--of the bluest blood in France and of a rigid respectability. She married her second daughter last week. They all spend their days at the tango classes, from early morning till dark--mothers and daughters, grandmothers and demi-mondaines, Russian
Grand Duchesses, Austrian Princesses--clasped in the arms of incredible scum from the Argentine, half-castes from Mexico, and farceurs from New York--decadent male things they would not receive in their ante-chambers before this madness set in!"

"And you say it is a dance Macabre? Tell me just what you mean."

They had reached a comfortable sofa by now in a salon devoted to bridge, which was almost empty, the players, so eager to take part in the dancing, that they had deserted even this, their favourite game.

"When a nation loses all sense of balance and belies the traditions of its whole history, and when masses of civilised individuals experience this craze for dancing and miming, and sex display, it presages some great upheaval--some calamity. It was thus before the revolution of 1793, and since it is affecting England and America and all of Europe it seems, the cataclysm will be great."

Amaryllis shivered. "You frighten me," she whispered. "Do you mean some war--or some earthquake--or some pestilence, or what?"

"Events will show. But let us talk of something else..."

Are you like that, Ivan? I feel the heroine here:

"A sudden illumination seemed to come into Amaryllis' brain; she felt how limited had been all her thoughts and standpoints in life. She had been willing to drift on without speculation as to the goal to be reached. Indeed, even now, had she any definite goal? She looked at the Russian's strong, rugged face, his inscrutable eyes narrowed and gazing ahead--of
what was he thinking? Not stupid, ordinary things--that was certain.

"It is the second evening, amidst the most unlikely surroundings, that you have made me speculate about subjects which never troubled me before. Then you leave me unsatisfied--I want to know--definitely to know!"

"Searcher after wisdom!" and he smiled. "No one can teach another very much. Enlightenment must come from within; we have reached a better stage when we realise that we are units in some vast scheme and responsible for its working, and not only atoms floating hither and thither by chance.

Most people have the brains of grasshoppers; they spring from subject to subject, their thoughts are never under control. Their thoughts rule them--it is not they who rule their thoughts."

They were seated comfortably on their sofa, and Verisschenzko leaning forward from his corner, looked straight into her eyes.

"You control your thoughts?" she asked. "Can you really only let them wander where you choose?"

"They very seldom escape me, but I consciously allow them indulgences."

"Such as?"

"Visions--day dreams--which I know ought not to materialise."

Something disturbed her in his regard; it was not easy to meet, so full of magnetic emanation. Amaryllis was conscious that she no longer felt very calm--she longed to know What his dreams could be.

"Yes--but if I told you, you would send me away."

It seemed that he could read her desire. "I shall order myself to be gone presently, because the interest which you cause me to feel would interfere with work which I have to do."

"And your dreams? Tell them first?" she knew that she was playing with fire.

He looked down now, and she saw that he was not going to gratify her curiosity.

"My noblest dream is for the regeneration of a nation--on that I have ordered my thoughts to dwell. For the others, the time is not yet for me to tell you of them--it may never come.

Then you've cut the pages and continue here:

"It is quite useless for a family merely to continue from generation to generation piling up possessions, and narrowing its interests. It must do this for a time to become solid, and then it should take a vaster view, and begin to help the world. Nearly everything is spoiled in all civilisation because of this inability to see beyond the nose, this poor and paltry outlook."

"People rave vaguely," Amaryllis argued, "about one's duty and vast outlooks and those things, but it is difficult to get any one to give concrete advice--what would you advise me to do, for instance?"

"I would advise you first to begin asking yourself the reason of everything, each day, since Pandora's box has been opened for you in any case. 'What caused this? What caused that?' Search for causes--then eradicate the roots, if they are not good, do not waste time on trying to ameliorate the results!

Determine as to why you are put into such and such a place, and accomplish what you discover to be the duty of the
situation. But how serious we have become! I am not a priest to give you guidance--I am a man fighting a tremendously strong desire to take you in my arms--so come, we will return to the ball room, and I will deliver you to your husband."

Amaryllis rose and stood facing him, her heart was beating fast. "If I try to do well--to climb the straight road of the soul's advancement, will you give me counsel should I need it by the way?"

"Yes, this I will do when I have complete control, but for the moment you are causing me emotions, and I wish to keep you a thing apart--of the spirit. Hermits and saints subdue the flesh by abstinence and fasting; they then become useless to the world. A man can only lead men while he remains a man, with a man's passions, so that he should not fight in this beyond his strength--only he should _never sully the wrong thing_. Come! Return to the husband--and I shall go for a while to hell."

And presently Amaryllis, standing safely with John, saw Verisschenzko dancing the maddest one-step with Madame Boleski, their undulations outdoing all others in the room!"

Wow! I don't know what to think of this. But I know now that I do not know you.

Am I safe?


That night I didn't dream, but as I fell asleep, I heard a familiar phrase: "Pick up the book and read," it said.

And I remembered that command was given to St. Augustine -- before he was a saint, when he was still a wild animal.

I guess I'll have to read about Peter Wimsey. This Stepan fellow is exciting, but he makes me uneasy.

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