01 - 07

کتاب: واشینگتون سیاه / فصل 7

01 - 07

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  • زمان مطالعه 12 دقیقه
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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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متن انگلیسی فصل

7

MORNING ROSE in a white blaze on the horizon. I stood on the porch with Titch before breakfast, studying the pale wash of sky, recognizing in its haze a day that would only grow hotter.

Titch saw what I saw; he felt the heat as I felt it. And yet he said to me, without turning his face from the boiling sun: “Today we shall climb Corvus Peak, Washington.”

I regarded him, waiting. He extended a single insect-like arm and pointed at the haze of Corvus Peak in the distance, its flat grey top. Most great houses were built on their plantation’s highest point, but that would have proved impossible here at Faith, on Corvus Peak, which was really a small, steep mountain with very little surface area. At dusk it was often feverishly swarmed by rooks—thus its name. To us field hands, who never ventured there, it was a fearsome watchtower, a place the overseers could go to view our every move from the skies. It terrified us.

After breakfast, as we collected various implements and measuring devices, Titch explained that he meant for us to survey the terrain as a place to assemble and launch his mysterious Cloud-cutter. I glimpsed what I now knew was eagerness in his ruddy, bright-eyed face. I held my tongue, expressing neither my fear of Corvus Peak nor warning of the day’s coming heat.

We trudged out into the wide, sun-scorched fields. Titch wore loose-fitting trousers and a white linen shirt beneath a light coat. We both carried several packs strapped across our shoulders. I carried the precious wooden vasculum at my hip. The path to the base of Corvus Peak skirted the fields and then led inland through scrub and rough forest, before losing itself in the scree and dry rocks of the mountain itself. Blades of tall grass hissed at our knees. As we walked, I glimpsed in the distance machetes flashing in the heat. I tried to pick out Big Kit from all the flaring motion, but it was impossible.

In the trees the heat eased, though the insects began to bite. We walked waving our hands and slapping at our necks. Here it was less a path than a trampled line of broken bushes. Titch tied off a green ribbon on the trunks of several trees, though he did not explain his purpose. The hour passed. At last it seemed we were moving uphill; the trees thinned, and the heat started to press its awful weight upon us again. The air at the rocky base of the hill was warm, fungal, smelling of rotting grass. Here we paused, Titch handing me a vessel of warm water tasting of wood, and we ate several hard crackers. Then we rose, speaking little, and began to climb. From this low vantage Corvus Peak appeared little more than a rocky, brush-strewn cliff face. I could not see the great height of it rising beyond.

We scrambled at first rather easily, our footing sure. I followed Titch, watching his footholds, testing my weight before continuing. The dirt was loose and shaled. It poured down around our ankles at each step. Sometimes, when we passed an odd stand of grass, or some clot of small leaves, Titch would call for me to gather them up, crush them into the vasculum, and I would do so, grateful for the rest it afforded. Otherwise he did not talk, absorbed in his own plans. But I was not much frightened of his silences now. I folded small yellow flowers into the vasculum’s carved cells, glancing up to watch him plunge a thermometer into the moist earth, squinting against the wind at the rising mercury.

“Thirty-eight point seven,” he muttered, frowning. “Let us continue.”

What had been loose ground only moments earlier turned suddenly steep. We were scrabbling now on hands and knees, clutching at the crumbling scree, the cases slapping and clattering on our backs. I slipped and fell back several times, Titch pausing and twisting to peer down at me, and we continued. Then an outcropping of rock I set my foot against gave out; the weight of the vasculum dragged me sidelong, and I felt my hands loosen. I plunged hard down some five feet, colliding with a flat bench of rock.

I lay gasping, the breath knocked from me. I pushed myself upright to touch the sting of blood on my lip, my cheek. My shirt was torn; my knees were bleeding. I was frightened that I had broken Titch’s precious vasculum, and I immediately began struggling with the strap. In the air beyond, a flock of waterbirds rose as one, their wings black against the sky.

Titch climbed carefully back down to where I kneeled on the ground.

“Nothing is broken,” I said, anxious, holding up the vasculum that he might see.

“It is your bones I am the more concerned about.” Titch crouched beside me, slapped the dust from my shoulders. His skin smelled of mint. “There are less painful ways to test Newton’s second law.” With his thin fingers he reached into the chest pocket of his frock coat and drew out a red silk handkerchief. He leaned in to dab at my cheek. Through the tear in my shirt he glimpsed the mottled sear of the F branded into my chest. He frowned.

“We there, nearly?” I asked, in part to draw his attention away.

His voice was quiet, soft. “You are growing tired?”

“No, Titch.”

He regarded me. “It is some way yet, Washington. You would like to go back?”

“No, Titch, sir. I am well, truly. We keep going.”

He squinted against the sun, slack-faced, his own breathing dogged. The skin under his lower lip pimpled with sweat. The thin scar that ran the length of both his cheeks had gone bright red, like a line of blood.

I began to get to my feet, but he put a hand on my wrist, shook his head.

“I fell climbing Chimborazo, in the Andes,” he said. “That will mean nothing to you. It is a grand volcano, perhaps the grandest. Twenty-one thousand feet. So high that it is in snow year-round. It was a foolish ascent, we were none of us prepared. I had climbed in the Pyrenees two years earlier and even then had nearly fainted from altitude sickness. But a theory was circulating then that such sicknesses did not affect one in the southern hemisphere.”

He paused, and we sat in the heat a long moment.

“What is snow?” I asked.

“Something you need never know.” He smiled down at me. “It is frozen water, which falls from the sky like rain. It is very cold and treacherous underfoot.”

“You fell in it.”

“We were above fourteen thousand feet when our porters abandoned us. There were legends about the fog and the cliffs of Chimborazo. We divided the instruments between us, and kept going. At certain points we were obliged to climb on our hands and knees, so thin were the paths. The blood vessels burst in our eyes, our gums were bleeding. Thibodeau, poor man, could not keep even water down. Jorge went blind with headache. It was then I slipped: I just fell, and fell, and kept falling. I managed to brace myself against an outcropping and stop the fall. A broken collarbone: that was the sum of it. It was decided we should all turn back.” He smiled. “Corvus Peak should prove slightly less challenging.”

Titch ran a long, thin hand across the back of his neck; it came away slick with sweat. I stared up at the haze of sky, my eyes narrowed in the brightness.

“From the cold to the heat,” Titch said quietly. He got to his feet.

“Titch, wait.” I opened a burlap sack filled with oversized plant specimens and drew out two fistfuls of stringy palm leaves. Titch looked in gentle perplexity at me. I held both hands high.

“Put these in your hat. It will help.”

“In my hat? It will help with what?”

“The heat, sir. Titch. The heat.”

He looked at me some seconds, half in thought. Then he upended the hat from his sweat-darkened head and began to line the crown with the leaves.

— WE REACHED the flat red expanse of Corvus Peak’s top sometime beyond late afternoon.

But it was not flat; it extended in rough, broken slabs, all of it covered in a long, yellow, burnt grass that lay flat in the hot wind. There were no trees.

Oh, how different the world did look from that height. Imagine it: my whole life I had lived on that brutish island and never had I seen its edges, never had I seen the ocean in its vastness, the white breakers rolling in upon the beaches. Never had I seen the roads, with their tiny men and tiny horses, the roof of Wilde Hall winking in the light. The island fell away on all sides, green, glittering. There were birds in the grasses of Corvus Peak, and as I walked they would rise in a wave of song, scattering into the sky. The sun was already descending, the shadows lengthening beyond us. I walked to the southern cliff edge and stared at the glittering blue ocean, its pricks of light there like thousands of cane-knives. I joined Titch where he stood on the eastern edge. In the dusty light I saw the manicured fields of Faith Plantation, white lines cut into the earth. I stood shaken, confused by the incontestable beauty.

“We must not linger, Washington,” Titch said, as though unmoved by the spectacle. “Lest we find ourselves climbing back down in darkness.”

He strode back to where we had set our instruments down and fumbled with a sack. He waved the folio and the leads at me.

“Come now,” he cried. “I want you to draw what you see. The topography is most important. Draw it from several different vantages.”

Titch withdrew the longest measuring rod from his satchel. Pacing to and fro like a penned animal, he began muttering, scratching down distances. “Twenty paces by seventeen. Yes, yes indeed,” said he to himself. “This will do very well. A rise of sixteen inches at the south corner and a drop of three inches at the north. Fair ground. She will launch perfectly.”

But as I surveyed the terrain, a slow feeling was growing in me, a feeling I could not account for. I watched Titch at his exertions. And as I began to draw what I saw with a clean accuracy, I realized I was troubled by the enormous beauty of that place, of the jewel-like fields below us, littered as I knew them to be with broken teeth. The hot wind snapped at my papers, and in a kind of ghostly sound beneath this I thought I heard the cry of a baby. For the few women who gave birth here were turned immediately back into the fields, and they would set their tender-skinned newborns down in the furrows to wail against the hot sun. I craned out at the fields; I could see nothing. Far out at sea, a great flock of seagulls rose and turned, the late afternoon light flaring on the undersides of their wings.

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