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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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.

They were on the point of moving forward again when the door of the cottage opened and the figure of a young girl presented itself in the doorway.

“I saw you through the window,” said this apparition in a voice so faint that the words hardly reached them. “Come in, won’t you? Come in, please!”

They made their way through the tiny garden and entered the house.

Nell took them into her own sitting room and placed them on the sofa opposite the fire. She persuaded Netta to take off her shoes and hold her feet to the blaze.

They spoke of Lexie, how mysterious his illness was and how unwisely he treated himself, taking long exhausting walks when the one thing the doctor implored him to avoid was that kind of exertion.

And then quite suddenly, as she sat on a little stool by the side of the hearth, the visitors became aware that the girl was trembling from head to foot.

Shivering convulsive tremors ran through her slim frame. Her small head, whose wavy light-brown hair framed a face as shell-like in its transparency as an old miniature, straightened itself stiffly on its slender neck as if to defy some mortal weakness.

“What is it?” murmured Cousin Ann, laying her wet gloved hand on the young woman’s knee.

The sympathetic voice and touch seemed to alarm the girl rather than quiet her. Curious twitching lines appeared on her face; and her mouth, which normally had a piteous twist, began to resemble the mouth of an unhappy little gargoyle.

She rose from her seat, biting her under lip, clenching her fingers in the palms of her hands, and stood by the mantelpiece.

Lady Ann also rose and for a moment remained hesitating. Netta, who kept glancing timidly from one to another as she stretched her feet nearer and nearer to the fire, was vaguely struck by something brusque and blundering in her friend’s movement. She became conscious of a wish that Cousin Ann would turn her steady glance away from that troubled figure; and behind that wish she found herself feeling a faint, a very faint hostility to her dear friend.

Lady Ann had never looked more competent, more high-spirited, more kind. She seemed on the point of making some pronounced sympathetic gesture, perhaps even of taking the hysterical girl in her arms. Netta had a feeble inclination to cry out: “Let her alone! let her alone!” But all she could do was to wish herself out in the rain again, out in the road, in the fields, in the middle of Hangdown Cover; out anywhere, so as not to see — she couldn’t tell quite what!

Thank Heaven! The door opened just then and the Vicar of Ashover entered. Netta had not been able yet to make up her mind whether she liked William Hastings or disliked him. He made her think of a picture of Napoleon that hung in the Major-General’s bathroom and that association was horrible. But he also made her think of Monseigneur Tallainton, the little old French priest of the Catholic church in Bristol; and that association endeared him to her. She liked something compact and weighty about his rather corpulent body, and she liked his hands, which were very small and very white. It was a certain suppressed passion in his face which puzzled her and disturbed her. It was like a ship with its decks covered with great dark guns coming down upon her out of the mist.

The Vicar shook hands cordially with Cousin Ann and bending quickly over Netta herself prevented her from rising. It was while he was doing this that his young wife slipped silently around the outside of the group and escaped from the room.

It was not till after the conversation had begun that the girl’s disappearance was noticed.

“Yes, I’m afraid she was upset by something,” said Lady Ann, catching the Vicar’s eye as it roved from Netta’s outstretched feet to her cloth cap.

“It’s the weather,” said William Hastings. “She is always like this when it rains. Nell hates the rain.”

“I think it was more than that, Mr. Hastings,” said Lady Ann gravely. “But it’s a pity the climate doesn’t suit her, if you’re going on living here.”

“Dorsetshire suits us better than any other place when the wind’s not in the west.”

As if in response to the clergyman’s words a great gust of wind shook the windows of the house and a splutter of rain came hissing down the chimney.

Netta thought she could hear a bed creaking in the room above them, and the sound troubled her more than the sound of sobs. She drew her feet away from the fire and began putting on her stiff half-dried shoes.

“Yes, we must be going,” said Lady Ann, rising. “But I would have liked to ask you about your book. Is it coming on well?”

The Vicar’s face changed its expression completely. “Seventeen chapters,” he said with a look at Netta as if she and her troublesome shoe-strings were the eighteenth chapter. “But it is the old story with me, Lady Ann. I tear most of it up. It isn’t a very cheerful book.”

Lady Ann smiled as she wrapped her plaid round her. She had grown accustomed to this kind of thing from William Hastings and had ceased to take it seriously. No one but the man’s own wife had ever seen this mysterious work, and for some reason or another Nell Hastings never spoke of it.

But Netta was on her feet now and gravely contemplating the faded carpet. Hastings and his book presented themselves to her mind as a great plump black crow carrying a little plump black crow in his claws. She fancied she heard that bed creaking again.

She pulled on her mackintosh with such rapidity that the clergyman was not in time to assist her. She was glad when they were out of the house. She was glad to feel the rain on her face again.

As for Cousin Ann the whole experience of that little room, with its grotesque antimacassars across the backs of mahogany chairs and its double row of daguerreotypes, seemed to sail off over the ditches like a bubble of froth. Her only remark, as the rain eddied and gyrated past them like a horizontal cataract, reducing the whole world to the grayness of a cadaver, was a remark that conveyed no meaning at all to the mind of Netta.

“Queen Elizabeth was right. There’s something funny about it. They ought never to have allowed it.”

The rain increased in volume. The village in front of them seemed completely to disappear. The plaid cloak soon became as wringing wet as if it had been flung into the ditch. The drops trickled down Netta’s back in cold persistent streamlets that made her shiver. Her shoes were so full of water that they responded with gurgling swishing noises every time she moved her feet.

On and on they struggled, their heads bent, their soaked garments clinging to the curves of their figures like Pheidian drapery, their eyes blurred, the rain tasting salty in their mouths, as if it were the tears of some vast inconsolable Niobe.

It seemed to Netta as though their heavy progress would never end; as though all her troubled life had been only a fantastic preparation for a destiny that meant walking, walking, walking, by the side of a being whose thoughts she could never read, toward a goal that could never be reached!

And obscurely, through the clamminess of her clothes, through the gurglings of her shoes, she kept hearing that invisible bed in the upper room of Toll-Pike Cottage creaking, creaking, creaking, like the hinge of a gate behind a retreating assassin.

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