John Powys: Ducdame

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John Powys Ducdame
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Ducdame: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Ducdame was John Cowper Powys' fourth novel published in 1925. It is set in Dorset. The protagonist, Rook Ashover (a wonderfully Powysian name) is an introverted young squire with a dilemma: to go on loving his mistress, Netta Page, or, make a respectable marriage and produce an heir. Of his early novels (pre- Wolf Solent) this one is often considered to be the most carefully constructed and best organized. Like them all it contains a gallery of rich, complex characters and glorious writing.

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When Pandie was gone the crackling of the newly lit sticks increased Netta’s content.

The effect of rain-lashed windows was to give to the light that filled the room a curious atmospheric quality; a quality that roused in the woman who sat there an indefinable feeling connected with a mysterious dream she had sometimes, the exact outlines of which, though repeated again and again‚ she invariably lost.

What the rain really did was to throw a greenish-gray shadow into the room, a shadow that was broken at this moment by spurts and splashes of redness coming from the grate.

She drank her remaining cup of tea in quick little sips, holding up the cup with a certain nonchalant air as she had seen Cousin Ann do, the little finger stiffly extended, the elbow resting on the table.

Over the fireplace was a portrait of Sir Robert Ashover, the unfortunate Cavalier; and the sad eyes and melancholy forehead of this picture met her gaze with penetrating sympathy.

From the very first she had taken a fancy to Sir Robert. She loved his carefully combed curls and his dreamy sensuous lips. She looked at him now with renewed reassurance. He was certainly the last person in the world to will any harm to a poor girl.

She found herself on the point of wishing that Rook was more like Sir Robert and less like his mother.

But Rook had something in him that separated him from all of them; from her most of all.

Oh, dear! She hurriedly jerked up her consciousness, like an entangled fishing line, out of that trouble; and threw it again, with a clear fresh swing, into less weedy waters.

How wonderful it was to be free from worry.

She had worried a great deal when she first came to this place. She wondered what her Bristol friends, Madge and Minnie, would feel if they were in her shoes.

She smiled to herself as she thought of such a possibility. They would be miserable. They would be pining for shops and picture houses and “boys.” Why was it she didn’t crave for any of these things? Minnie and Madge had always said she was a “funny one‚” and she supposed they were right. She remembered how even Rook had expressed surprise that she could go on like this, month after month, doing nothing at all and wanting nothing at all.

Cousin Ann was the only person who never seemed to get annoyed with her. It did not appear to aggravate Cousin Ann when she wanted to read stories in her bedroom instead of walking through the mud and rain. The young lady even chose books for her, just the ones she liked best, out of the jumble of volumes that filled the house.

Thinking of Cousin Ann she rose from her chair and went out into the hall.

Here she stood for a moment, very still and quiet, listening to the wind and to the voice of Pandie talking in the kitchen.

Then she gave a little jerk to one of her sleeves, glanced at her feet to see that her stockings were unruffled, and opening the door with rather a deprecatory softness, went into the drawing room.

Lady Ann was standing at a large rosewood table which she had covered with newspapers. On the table was a great rain-drenched heap of chrysanthemums, laurustinus, and a few marigolds, together with the wet leaves of certain other plants. Lady Ann was engaged in shaking the water out of these flowers and in arranging them in a row of tall vases.

She welcomed Netta with affectionate gravity, as one priestess might welcome another when engaged in something which implied an hieratic freemasonry.

Nor was their background at that moment unworthy of them. The chairs and sofas of the chilly room wore a kind of grand ghostliness in their chintz covers. They seemed to survey these two warm-blooded persons like so many wistful defunct nuns. The stately ornaments on the chimney-piece were all white and gilt; the landscapes on the walls were all in pale water colour or pastel. The whole room had the look of something that accepted Time and Change and Death as its lords and masters and yet refused to yield one inch of its own dignity and ceremoniousness.

Neither Lady Ann nor Netta spoke much as they went on with their work but they were both obviously very happy in what they were doing. Indeed, as they laughed and spread out fresh paper on the table and poured water from one vase to another one and arranged the cut stalks and the pungent-smelling leaves, it was as if all individual difference between them dropped away; while two depersonalized figures, as in some old faded print entitled “Women Arranging Flowers‚” substituted themselves for the real Ann Gore and the real Netta Page.

“Rook says that Lexie isn’t so well.”

These words, as soon as Netta had uttered them, sounded to her ears as if she had heard them long before, spoken by someone else.

Cousin Ann stared at her in obvious surprise.

“He didn’t tell me that this morning,” she said. “But of course he may have been too worried to talk about it.”

She was silent for a moment, her large gray eyes staring in front of her, her full lips parted, her rounded chin raised.

Then with a sudden almost childish gesture of excitement: “Listen, Netta, I’ve got an idea. Let’s go round there now, this very moment. Let’s take him some of these flowers.”

The blank look with which the older woman received this suggestion and her glance at the windows increased Cousin Ann’s excitement.

“Yes, yes, yes,” she cried. “That’s what we’ll do! We’ll surprise him. There’s heaps of time. I’ll lend you my mackintosh and take my plaid cloak. Oh, you dear, how funny and frightened you look, Come on. I’ll get Pandie to clear these things away. No, no. Of course I can’t go alone. Oh, you dear thing. I do adore you when you look so scared.”

In her impetuosity the young girl seized Netta’s head between her hands and kissed her on the forehead. Then she dragged her out of the room and up the historic staircase.

The road between Ashover Church and Ashover village lay east and west. Between it and the water meadows there was nothing but a stretch of low white railings. Halfway to the village the road crossed a narrow wooden bridge where the river turned sharply to the south.

It was a road that had a distinct character of its own and no reforming county council had yet dared to meddle with that character.

The flooded ruts into which the two women kept stumbling might have been indented by the wagon wheels of Cromwell; and the rough ditch-side grass, now beaten flat by the weather, might have fed the flocks of Wolsey.

Cousin Ann’s excitement seemed rather to increase than to diminish. Her thick boots and stockings kept her feet dry; while the water streaming down her cheeks heightened her eager colour.

Netta, on the contrary, was conscious that her feet were miserably wet, that the draggled ends of her hair were hanging loose, and that the rain was finding its way down her very neck behind the collar of her mackintosh.

Dead yellow leaves whirled past them as they struggled on. The willows bowed down toward the alders. The alders bent desolately toward the reeds. The reeds crouched and shuddered until they touched the surface of the swollen ditches. Tossed wildly on the rain came flocks of starlings, their awkward bodies carried up and down by the wind, their wings beating aimlessly.

The women arrived at last at the cottage of the Vicar of Ashover, a little whitewashed two-story building close to the road, where in former times had stood the turnpike toll-gate.

Lady Ann hesitated here a moment, pulling her cloak closer round herself and adjusting the mackintosh of her companion. She had made Netta wear a cloth cap of Rook’s and the miserable patience of the rain-drenched face beneath it struck her now with a little twinge of remorse.

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