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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Waugh Evelyn
 

«A Handful Of Dust», Evelyn Waugh

  • … I will show you something different from either
  • Your shadow at morning striding behind you
  • Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
  • I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

— THE WASTELAND

CHAPTER ONE

Du CГґtГ© de Chez Beaver

“WAS anyone hurt?”

“No one I am thankful to say,” said Mrs. Beaver, “except two housemaids who lost their heads and jumped through a glass roof into the paved court. They were in no danger. The fire never properly reached the bedrooms I am afraid. Still they are bound to need doing up, everything black with smoke and drenched in water and luckily they had that old-fashioned sort of extinguisher that ruins everything. One really cannot complain. The chief rooms were completely gutted and everything was insured. Sylvia Newport knows the people. I must get on to them this morning before that ghoul Mrs. Shutter snaps them up.”

Mrs. Beaver stood with her back to the fire, eating her morning yoghort. She held the carton close under her chin and gobbled with a spoon.

“Heavens, how nasty this stuff is. I wish you'd take to it, John. You're looking so tired lately. I don't know how I should get through my day without it.”

“But, mumsey, I haven't as much to do as you have.”

“That's true, my son.”

John Beaver lived with his mother at the house in Sussex Gardens where they had moved after his father's death. There was little in it to suggest the austerely elegant interiors which Mrs. Beaver planned for her customers. It was crowded with the unsaleable furniture of two larger houses, without pretension to any period, least of all to the present. The best pieces and those which had sentimental interest for Mrs. Beaver were in the L-shaped drawing room upstairs.

Beaver had a dark little sitting room on the ground floor behind the dining room, and his own telephone. The elderly parlourmaid looked after his clothes. She also dusted, polished and maintained in symmetrical order on his dressing table and on the top of his chest of drawers, the collection of sombre and bulky objects that had stood in his father's dressing room; indestructible presents for his wedding and twenty-first birthday, ivory, brass bound; covered in pigskin, crested and gold mounted, suggestive of expensive Edwardian masculinity — racing flasks and hunting flasks, cigar cases, tobacco jars, jockeys, elaborate meerschaum pipes, button hooks and hat brushes.

There were four servants, all female and all, save one elderly.

When anyone asked Beaver why he stayed there instead of setting up on his own, he sometimes said that he thought his mother liked having him there (in spite of her business she was lonely); sometimes that it saved him at least five pounds a week.

His total income varied around six pounds a week, this was an important saving.

He was twenty-five years old. From leaving Oxford until the beginning of the slump he had worked in an advertising agency. Since then no one had been able to find anything for him to do. So he got up late and sat near his telephone most of the day, hoping to be called up.

Whenever it was possible, Mrs. Beaver took an hour off in the middle of the morning. She was always at her shop punctually at nine, and by half past eleven she needed a break. Then, if no important customer was imminent, she would get into her two-seater and drive home to Sussex Gardens. Beaver was usually dressed by then and she had grown to value their morning interchange of gossip.

“What was your evening?”

“Audrey rang me up at eight and asked me to dinner. Ten of us at the Embassy, rather dreary. Afterwards we all went on to a party by a woman called de Trommet.”

“I know who you mean. American. She hasn't paid for the toile-de-jouy chaircovers we made her last April. I had a dull time too; didn't hold a card all the evening and came away four pounds ten to the bad.”

“Poor mumsey.”

“I'm lunching at Viola Chasm's. What are you doing? I didn't order anything here I'm afraid.”

“Nothing so far. But I can always go round to Brat's.”

“But that's so expensive. I'm sure if we ask Chambers she'll be able to get you something in. I thought you were certain to be out.”

“Well I still may be. It isn't twelve yet.”

Most of Beaver's invitations came to him at the last moment; occasionally even later, when he had already begun to eat a solitary meal from a tray (… “John, darling, there's been a muddle and Sonia has arrived without Reggie. Could you be an angel and help me out. Only be quick, because we're going in now”). Then he would go precipitately for a taxi and arrive, with apologies, after the first course … One of his few recent quarrels with his mother had occurred when he left a luncheon party of hers in this way.

“Where are you going for the week-end?”

“Hetton.”

“Who's that? I forget?”

“Tony Last.”

“Yes, of course. She's lovely, he's rather a stick. I didn't know you knew them.”

“Well I don't really. Tony asked me in Brat's the other night. He may have forgotten.”


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