A DILL PICKLE
by Katherine Mansfield
And then, after six years, she saw him again. He was seated at one of those little bamboo tables. There was a tall plate of fruit in front of him, and very carefully, in his "special" way, he was peeling an orange.
He must have felt that shock of recognition in her as he looked up and met her eyes. Incredible! He didn't recognize her! She smiled, he frowned. She came towards him. He closed his eyes, but as he opened them his face lit up. He laid down the orange and pushed back his chair, and she took her little warm hand out of her muff and gave it to him.
"Vera!" he exclaimed. "How strange. Really, for a moment I didn't recognize you. Please sit down? You've had lunch? Won't you have some coffee?" She hesitated, but of course she meant to.
"Yes, I'd like some coffee." And she sat down opposite him.
"You've changed. You've changed very much," he said, staring at her. "You look so well. I've never seen you look so well before."
"Really?" She raised her veil. "I don't feel very well. I can't bear this weather, you know."
"All, no. You don't like the cold..."
"Hate it." She shuddered. "And the worst of it is that the older one grows..."
He interrupted her. "Excuse me," and tapped on the table for the waitress. "Please bring some coffee and cream." To her: "You are sure you won't eat anything? Some fruit, perhaps. The fruit here is very good."
"No, thanks. Nothing."
"Then that's settled." And smiling just a bit too broadly he took up the orange again. "You were saying — the older one grows..."
"The colder," she laughed. But she was thinking how well she remembered that trick of his. How he used to interrupt her and how it used to exasperate her six years ago. She used to feel then as though he, quite suddenly, in the middle of what she was saying, put his hand over her lips, turned from her, attended to something different, and then took his hand away, and with just the same slightly too broad smile, gave her his attention again.1
1 Тогда она чувствовала себя так, как будто он внезапно в середине того, о чем она говорила, приложил палец ей к губам, отвернулся, занялся чем-то другим, а потом убрал свою руку и с той же самой, слегка преувеличенно широкой улыбкой вернул ей свое внимание.
"The colder!" He echoed her words. "Ah, ah. You still say the same things. And there is another thing about you that is not changed at all — your beautiful voice — your beautiful way of speaking. You have only to say one word and I would know your voice among all other voices. I don't know what it is — I've often wondered — what makes your voice such a haunting memory... Do you remember that first afternoon we spent together at Kew Gardens? You were so surprised because I did not know the names of any flowers. I still hear your voice say: 'Geranium, marigold, and verbena.' And those three words are all I recall of some forgotten, heavenly language... You remember that afternoon?"
"Oh, yes, very well." Yet, what had remained in her mind of that afternoon was another scene.
A great many people were taking tea in a Chinese pagoda, and he was behaving like a maniac about the wasps — he tried to wave them away, flap at them with his straw hat. The sniggering tea drinkers had been delighted. And she had suffered.
But now, as he spoke, that memory faded. His memory was the truer. Yes, it had been a wonderful afternoon, full of geranium and marigold and verbena, and — warm sunshine.
And then another memory came. She saw herself on a lawn. He lay beside her, and suddenly, after a long silence, he rolled over and put his head in her lap.
"I wish," he said, in a low, troubled voice, "I wish that I had taken poison and were about to die — here now!"2
She leaned over him.
"Ah, why do you say that? I could not say that."
But he gave a kind of soft moan, took her hand and held it to his cheek.
"Because I know I am going to love you too much — far too much. And I shall suffer so terribly, Vera, because you never, never will love me."
2 Хотел бы, чтобы я принял яд и умирал бы прямо здесь и сейчас.
He was certainly far better looking now than he had been then. Now he looked like a man who has found his place in life. He must have made money, too. His clothes were of very good quality, and at that moment he pulled a Russian cigarette case out of his pocket.
"Won't you smoke?" "Yes, I will." "They look very good." "I think they are. They are made for me by a little man in St. James's Street. I don't smoke very much. I'm not like you — but when I do, they must be delicious, very fresh cigarettes. Smoking isn't a habit with me; it's a luxury — like perfume. Are you still so fond of perfumes? Ah, when I was in Russia..."
She broke in: "You've really been to Russia?"
"Oh, yes. I was there for over a year. Have you forgotten how we used to talk of going there?"
"No, I've not forgotten."
He gave a strange half laugh and leaned back in his chair. "Isn't it curious? I have really carried out all those journeys that we planned. Yes, I have been to all those places that we talked of. In fact, I have spent the last three years of my life travelling all the time. Spain, Corsica, Siberia, Russia, Egypt. The only country left is China, and I mean to go there, too."
As he spoke, she felt the strange beast that had slept so long within her soul wake up, jump to its feet and fix its hungry stare upon those far away places.3 But all she said was: "How I envy you."
He accepted that. "It has been," he said, "very wonderful — especially Russia. Russia was all that we had imagined, and far, far more. I even spent some days on a river boat on the Volga. Do you remember that boatman's song that you used to play?"
"Yes." It began to play in her mind as she spoke.
"Do you ever play it now?"
"No, I've no piano."
He was amazed at that. "But what has become of your beautiful piano?"
She made a little grimace. "Sold. Ages ago."
He let it go at that.4 "That river life," he went on, "is something quite special. After a day or two you cannot realize that you have ever known another. And it is not necessary to know the language — you eat with them, pass the day with them, and in the evening there is that endless singing."
As he spoke she heard the boatman's song, loud and tragic, and saw the boat floating on the darkening river... "Yes, I should like that,"5 said she, stroking her muff.
3 Пока он говорил, она почувствовала, как странный зверь, который так давно спал в ее душе, проснулся, вскочил на ноги и голодным взглядом уставился на все эти далекие места.
4 На этом он сменил тему.
5 "Да, мне бы это понравилось".
"You'd like almost everything about Russian life," he said warmly. "It's so informal, so impulsive, so free without question. And then the peasants are so splendid. They are such human beings — yes, that is it. Even the man who drives your carriage has some real part in what is happening. I remember the evening a party of us, two friends of mine and the wife of one of them, went for a picnic by the Black Sea. We took supper and champagne and ate and drank on the grass. And while we were eating the coachman came up. 'Have a dill pickle,' he said. He wanted to share with us. That seemed to me so right, so — you know what I mean?"
And she seemed at that moment to be sitting on the grass beside the mysteriously Black Sea, black as velvet. She saw the carriage, and the little group on the grass, their faces and hands white in the moonlight. Apart from them, with his supper in a cloth on his knees, sat the coachman. "Have a dill pickle," said he, and although she was not certain what a dill pickle was, she saw the greenish glass jar and sucked in her cheeks; the dill pickle was terribly sour...
"Yes, I know perfectly what you mean," she said.
"What a marvelous listener you are," he said. "When you look at me with those wild eyes I feel that I could tell you things that I would never breathe to another human being."
Was there just a hint of mockery in his voice or was it her imagination?6 She could not be sure.
"Before I met you," he said, "I had never spoken of myself to anybody. How well I remember one night, the night that I brought you the little Christmas tree and told you all about my childhood. And of how I was so miserable that I ran away and lived under a cart in our yard for two days. And you listened, and your eyes shone, and I felt that you had even made the little Christmas tree listen too, as in a fairy story."
But of that evening she had remembered a little pot of caviar. It had cost seven and sixpence. While she ate it he watched her, delighted and shocked.
"No, really, that is eating money. You could not get seven shillings into a little pot that size." And he had begun some complicated calculations...
But now goodbye to the caviar. The Christmas tree was on the table, and the little boy lay under the cart with his head on the yard dog. "The dog was called Bosun," she cried delightedly.
But he did not follow. "Which dog? Your dog? I don't remember a dog at all."
"No, no. I meant the yard dog when you were a little boy."
He laughed. "Was he? Do you know I had forgotten that. It seems such ages ago. I cannot believe that it is only six years. I was such a kid then." He
6 Был ли в его голосе намек на насмешку или ей показалось?
drummed on the table. "I've often thought how I must have bored you. And now I understand so perfectly why you wrote to me as you did, although at the time that letter nearly finished my life. I found it again the other day, and I laughed as I read it. It was so clever, such a true picture of me." He glanced up. "You're not going?"
"Yes, I am afraid I must," she said, and managed a smile. Now she knew that he had been mocking.
"Ah, no, please," he pleaded. "Don't go just for a moment," and he caught up one of her gloves from the table and clutched at it as if that would hold her. "I see so few people to talk to nowadays, that I have turned into a sort of barbarian," he said. "Have I said something to hurt you?"
"Not a bit," she lied. But as she watched him draw her glove through his fingers, gently, gently, her anger really did die down, and besides, at the moment he looked more like himself of six years ago...
"What I really wanted then," he said softly, "was to make myself into a sort of carpet for you to walk on so that you need not be hurt by the sharp stones and mud that you hated. And one day I wished to turn into a magic carpet and carry you away to all those lands you wanted to see."
As he spoke she lifted her head as though she drank something; the strange beast in her bosom began to purr...
"I felt that you were more lonely than anybody else in the world," he went on, "and yet, perhaps, that you were the only person in the world who was really, truly alive." He murmured, stroking the glove.
Ah, God! What had she done! How had she dared to throw away her happiness like this? This was the only man who had ever understood her. Was it too late? Could it be too late? She was that glove that he held in his fingers...
"And then the fact that you had no friends and never had made friends with people. How I understood that, for neither had I. Is it just the same now?"
"Yes," she breathed. "Just the same. I am as alone as ever."
"So am I," he laughed gently, "just the same." Suddenly with a quick gesture he handed her back the glove. "But what seemed to me so mysterious then, is perfectly clear to me now. And to you, too, of course. ... It simply was that we were such egoists, so wrapped up in ourselves that we hadn't a corner in our hearts for anybody else. Do you know, I began studying a Mind System when I was in Russia, and I found that we were not peculiar at all.
It's quite a well-known form of... "
She had gone. He sat there, thunder-struck... And then he asked the waitress for his bill.
"But the cream has not been touched," he said. "Please do not charge me for it."