Catherine Mansfield
                      A Cup of Tea

Файл с книжной полки Несененко Алексея OCR: Несененко Алексей январь 2004
Rosemary Fell was not exactly beautiful. No, you couldn't have called her beautiful. Pretty? Well, if you took her to pieces... But why be so cruel as to take anyone to pieces? She was young, brilliant, extremely modern, exquisitely well dressed, amazingly well read in the newest of the new books, and her parties were the most delicious mixture of the really important people and... artists. Rosemary had been married two years. She had a duck of a boy. And her husband absolutely adored her. They were rich, really rich, not just comfortably well off. If Rosemary wanted to shop she would - go to Paris as you and I would go to Bond Street. If she wanted to-buy flowers, the car pulled up at that perfect shop in Regent Street and Rosemary inside the shop just gazed in her dazzled rather exotic way, and said: "I want those and those and those. Give me four bunches of those. And that jar of roses. Yes, I'll have all the roses in the jar." And she was followed to the car by a thin shop-girl staggering under an immense white paper armful that looked like a baby in long clothes. One winter afternoon she had been buying something in a little antique shop in Curzon Street. It was a little box. The shopman had been keeping it for her. He had shown it to nobody as yet. An exquisite enamel box. Rosemary took her hands out of her long gloves. She always took off her gloves to examine such things. Yes, she liked it very much. She loved it. " Charming!" But what was the price? For a moment the shopman did not seem to hear. Then a murmur reached her. "Twenty-eight guineas, madam." "Twenty-eight guineas." Rosemary gave no sign. She laid the little box down; she buttoned her gloves again. Twenty-eight guineas. Even if one is rich... She looked vague, and her voice was dreamy as she answered: "Well, keep it for me - will you? I'll..." But the shopman had already bowed as though keeping it for her was all any human being could ask. He would be willing, of course, to keep it for her for ever. The discreet door shut with a click. She was outside on the step, gazing at the winter afternoon. Rain was falling, and with the rain it seemed the dark came too, spinning down like ashes. There was a cold bitter taste in the air, and the newlighted lamps looked sad. Sad were the lights in the houses opposite. Dimly they burned as if regretting something, There are moments, horrible moments in life, when one emerges from shelter and looks out, and it's awful. One oughtn't to give way to them. One ought to go home and have an extra-special tea. But at the very instant a young girl, thin, dark, shadowy - where had she come from? - was standing at Rosemary's elbow and a voice like a sigh, almost like a sob, breathed: "Madam, may I speak to you a moment?" "Speak to me? " Rosemary turned. She saw a little battered creature with enormous eyes, someone quite young, no older than herself, who clutched at her coat-collar with reddened hands, and shivered as though she had just come out of the water. "M-madam," stammered the voice. "Would you let me have the price of a cup of tea? " "A cup of tea? " There was something simple, sincere in that voice; it wasn't in the least the voice of a beggar. "Then have you no money at all? " asked Rosemary. "None, madam," came the answer. "How extraordinary! Rosemary peered through the dusk and the girl gazed back i her. How more than extraordinary! And suddenly it seemed 1 Rosemary such an adventure. It was like something out of a novel by Dostoevsky, this meeting in the dusk. Supposing she took the girl home? Supposing she did do one of those things she was always reading about or seeing on the stage, what would happen? It would be thrilling. And she stepped forward and said to that dim person beside her: "Come home to tea with me." The girl drew back startled. She even stopped shivering for a moment. "You - you don't mean it, madam," said the girl, and there was pain in her voice. "But I do," cried Rosemary. "I want you to. To please m Come along." The girl put her fingers to her lips and her eyes devoured Rosemary. "You're not taking me to the police station?" she stammered. "The police station!" Rosemary laughed out. "Why should I be so cruel? No, I only want to make you warm and to hear anything you care to tell me." Hungry people are easily led. The footman held the door of the car open, and a moment later they were skimming through the dusk. "There!" said Rosemary. "Don't be frightened. After all, why shouldn't you come back with me? We're both women. If I'm the more fortunate, you ought to expect..." But happily at that moment, for she didn't know how the sentence was going to end, the car stopped. The bell was rung, the door opened, and with a charming, protecting, almost embracing movement, Rosemary drew the other into the hall. "Come, come upstairs," said Rosemary, longing to begin to be generous. "Come up to my room." "And there!" cried Rosemary again, as they reached her beautiful big bedroom with the curtains drawn, the fire leaping on her wonderful lacquer, her gold cushions and the primrose and blue rugs. The girl stood just inside the door; she seemed dazed. But Rosemary didn't mind that. " Come and sit down," she cried, dragging her big chair up to the fire, "in this comfy chair. Come and get warm. You look so dreadfully cold." "I daren't, madam," said the girl, and she edged backwards. "Oh, please," - Rosemary ran forward - "you mustn't be frightened, you mustn't really. Sit down and, when I've taken off my things we shall go into the next room and have tea and be cosy. And let me help you off with your coat, too" said Rosemary. The girl stood up. But she held on to the chair with one hand and let Rosemary pull. It was quite an effort. The other scarcely helped her at all. She seemed to stagger like a child, and said quickly, but so lightly and strangely: "I'm sorry, madam, but I'm going to faint. I shall go off, madam, if I don't have something. " "Good heavens, how thoughtless I am!" Rosemary rushed to the bell. "Tea! Tea at once! And some brandy immediately!" The maid was gone again, but the girl almost cried out: "No, I don't want no brandy. I never drink brandy. It's a cup of tea I want, madam." And she burst into tears. It was a terrible and fascinating moment. Rosemary knelt beside her chair. "Don't cry, poor little thing," she said. "Don't cry." And she gave the other her lace handkerchief. She really was touched beyond words. She put her arm round those thin bird-like shoulders. Now at last the other forgot to be shy, forgot everything except that they were both women, and gasped out: "I can't go on no longer like this. I can't bear it. I can't bear it. I shall do away with myself. I can't bear no more." "You shan't have to. I'll look after you. Don't cry any more. Do stop crying. It's so exhausting. Please!" The other did stop just in time for Rosemary to get up before the tea came. She had the table placed between them. She plied the poor little creature with everything, all the sandwiches, all the bread and butter, and every time her cup was empty she filled it with tea, cream and sugar. People always said sugar was so nourishing. As for herself she didn't eat; she smoked and looked away tactfully so that the other should not be shy. And really the effect of that slight meal was marvellous. When the tea-table was carried away a new being, a light, frail creature with tangled hair, dark lips, deep, lighted eye, lay back in the big chair in a kind of sweet languor, looking at the blaze. Rosemary lit a fresh cigarette; it was time to begin. "And when did you have your last meal? " she asked softly. But at that moment the door-handle turned. "Rosemary, may I come in? " It was Philip. "Of course." He came in. "Oh, I'm sorry, "he said, and stopped and stared. "It's quite all right," said Rosemary, smiling. "This is my friend, Miss..." "Smith, madam," said the languid figure, who was strangely still and unafraid. "Smith," said Rosemary. "We are going to have a little talk." "Oh, yes," said Philip. "Quite," and smiled his charming smile. "As a matter of fact," said he, "I wanted you to come into the library for a moment. Would you? Will Miss Smith excuse us? " The big eyes were raised to him, but Rosemary answered for her: "Of course, she will." And they went out of the room together. "I say," said Philip, when they were alone. "Explain. Who is she? What does it all mean?" Rosemary, laughing, leaned against the door and said: "I picked her up in Curzon Street. Really. She's a real pickup. She asked me for the price of a cup of tea, and I brought her home with me." "But what on earth are you going to do with her? " cried Phil-ip- "Be nice to her," said Rosemary quickly. "Be frightfully nice to her. Look after her. I don't know how. We haven't talked yet. But show her - treat her - make her feel -" "My darling girl," said Philip, "you're quite mad, you know. It simply can't be done." "I knew you'd say that," retorted Rosemary. "Why not? I want to. Isn't that a reason? And besides, one's always reading about these things. I decided..." " But," said Philip slowly, and he cut the end of a cigar, " she' s so astonishingly pretty." "Pretty?" Rosemary was so surprised that she blushed. "Do you think so? I - I hadn't thought about it." "Good Lord!" Philip struck a match. "She's absolutely lovely. Look again, my child. I was bowled over when I came into your room just now. However... I think you're making a ghastly mistake. Sorry, darling, if I'm crude and all that. But let me know if Miss Smith is going to dine with us." "You absurd creature!" said Rosemary, and she went out of the library, but not back to her bedroom. She went to her writing-room and sat down at her desk. Pretty! Absolutely lovely! Bowled over! Her heart beat like a heavy bell. Pretty! Lovely! She drew her cheque-book towards her. But no, cheques would be no use, of course. She opened a drawer and took out five pound notes, looked at them, put two back, and holding the three squeezed in her hand, she went back to her bedroom. Half an hour later Philip was still in the library, when Rosemary came in. "I only wanted to tell you," said she, and she leaned against the door again and looked at him with her dazzled exotic gaze, "Miss Smith won't dine with us tonight." Philip put down the paper. "Oh, what's happened? Previous engagement?" Rosemary came over and sat down on his knee. "She insisted on going," said she, "so I gave the poor little thing a present of money. I couldn't keep her against her will, could I? " she added softly. Rosemary had just done her hair, darkened her eyes a little and put on her pearls. She put up her hand and touched Philip's cheeks. "Do you like me? " said she. "I like you awfully." There was a pause. Then Rosemary said dreamily: "I saw a fascinating little box today. It cost twenty-eight guineas. May I have it?" "You may, little wasteful one," said he. But that was not really what Rosemary wanted to say. "Philip," she whispered, "am I pretty?"