04 - 02

کتاب: واشینگتون سیاه / فصل 33

04 - 02

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  • زمان مطالعه 9 دقیقه
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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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دانلود اپلیکیشن «زیبوک»

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2

AND YET, I was not convinced he was lost.

Some weeks after we arrived in London, during a brisk walk in Blackfriars along the northern bank of the Thames, I caught a chill. Within hours I was too weak to stand, even to lift my head. I shivered and shivered, my teeth clicking in my jaw. And what filled my mind in that wretched state were scenes from the past: Willard’s attack, that last sad dinner at which I’d caught my final glimpse of Big Kit, the flash of Titch’s eyes as the pane of hydrogen exploded in shards between us. And I thought also of Titch still alive somewhere among these green fields of his country, pacing the same London streets with their laughter and dirty-cheeked children, their ill-lit alleyways alive with the bright hiss of rats. And a strange fog settled across my mind, a kind of dull, fireless anger.

Tanna crept in every few hours and set the iron kettle on the coals. I sensed her presence flitting about the darkness, the pale weight of her lying beside me on the bed. I felt the warmth of her hand on my brow, and it was like a touch of sun seeping through the linens nailed at the window. Faintly, I called out, “Kit.”

There was a rasping sound as of a machete being sharpened.

“Kit,” I said again.

“Shh. You must eat something.”

The sound of the machete thinned, became, strangely, the sound of boiling water.

“This is no evening,” I said. “Not now, not tonight. The moon is too low.”

Her breath was close on my face. “Wash?”

I felt myself surface a little, aware now that the voice was Tanna’s. She sounded distant, as if she were in another room, and when I raised my hand to touch her I felt only the unpleasantness of my own skin slick with sweat.

I felt my shoes and socks quietly being removed, and I began to murmur, something about ashes in water, about winter.

“Rest, Wash.” All at once there was a damp scrap of cloth across my eyes. “You will never recover unless you rest.”

I do not know how many nights I lay delirious, only that I felt hot then cold then hot, my skin wet and my breath tasting of paper.

I began to remember the weekend before last, when we had made the long, slow trek out to Weymouth, to the shoreline; and suddenly I was there again, wading into the cold waters. The dawn was calm, the beach deserted, and I removed my waistcoat and set to floating on my back, the sea plants shivering blackly on the surface all about me. I lay weightless with the water filling my ears, staring high above me at the brittle stars fading in the rising sun.

— I WOKE WITH a heaviness, as if a large cat had leapt upon my ribs. Around me the cottage’s wood creaked in the damp weather. I turned and twisted in the wet sheets, bleary-eyed, my head aching still. But the fever had finally broken. At the window the horizon burned redly over the dead grey grasses. I stood and I wetted my face and scraped at my teeth with the harsh brush, dressing without care. Then I pulled on my boots and coat and went out.

I knew I should not venture outside, so shortly after recovering from my chill. But the cottage felt dark, close; I had been confined too long. The day was overcast, clouded, a thin fog silvering the maples. I waded through the brambles and mud, my boots squelching. Breath threaded from my mouth like vapour.

How was it that I had lately given more thought to the possibility of his being alive than to Big Kit’s death? It was shameful. But my sense of betrayal shook me deeply—the idea that Titch had cut, rather casually, my tie to him, which was all I’d had in the world, my lifeblood. I trod past a grove of dead elms and then into a grove of live ones, their leaves glistening. It seemed too early in the season for so great a rain, but here it was, vast and hanging over the fields in a mist. I felt as though I were passing through a canvas, a landscape of grey strokes.

It struck me that his disappearance had been nothing but another desperate act to rid himself of me. That he had survived, and walked quite comfortably into another life.

And yet what lengths, to shuck off one small, hopeless innocent. Perhaps he did not like to think of me unprotected in the world, and so was finally relieved to see how I might make a life with his father and Peter House. I thought of all the protections he had offered, his speeches that my humanity should be everywhere known and accepted. And yet Tanna’s objections to him bore some truth, I now saw. Titch’s actions were the truer measure, and he had abandoned me, in the end. Once he’d finished his papers on aerostation and the treatment of slaves on Faith, I had lost some value for him. I had become, perhaps, too solid, too heavy, too real—an object to be got rid of. He had mounted a frail Cloud-cutter, crossed a heaving black sea and walked vulnerable into a wall of snow, as though even the risking of his own life were worth being shed of me.

How could he have treated me so, he who congratulated himself on his belief that I was his equal? I had never been his equal. To him, perhaps, any deep acceptance of equality was impossible. He saw only those who were there to be saved, and those who did the saving.

— I RETURNED TO FIND a smudged note pinned to my cottage door. Tanna had come to seek me out; when I returned, I should come to the main house to dine, if I felt myself so recovered that I could go out in this weather. The sharpness of her words made me, despite myself, smile. I set the note aside, and folding my coat on my cot, I sat instead at my tiny wooden table to draw.

I drew and I drew, and I thought irritably of Titch. It turned black at the window and my hands began to ache, and still I drew, the lines fine and threadlike, taking on great dimension. Never, since leaving Faith, had I been compelled to depict it. Yet here it was, all that I could remember of it, in brisk, vicious detail. There were the huts, their roofs stripped half-bare by decades of hurricane weather, the Spanish cedars nearby and the great royal palm with its wondrous purple-and-yellow berries. There were the bright frogs croaking in the underbrush, and the old sugar boiler, its stone chimney piercing the aquamarine sky. There was the dry, stony path leading up to Wilde Hall, its canopy of redwoods eerie with moss that hung like white men’s hair, the sun’s glow red in the strands.

There were the four tall walls of the hothouse I had lived in after Big Kit had broken my ribs as a child, the stone traced with water stains like large maps. There were the bullfinches that creaked from a high-up crater. And there was the tablet mounted above the hothouse’s entrance, the Latin script upon it: Not Unmindful of the Sick and Wretched.

There were the fanged metal jaws of a mantrap meant to catch runaways, and the blood-blackened boulder upon which several men had been whipped dead, and there was the solitary redwood wide as a carriage, from which a weathered noose hung. And there were knife marks in the tree’s bark, where men had been pinned through the throat and left to perish, and there were the raw patches where the grass had not grown back since the bodies of the old and infirm had been set there to rot.

And above it all, pristine and untroubled, sat Wilde Hall, with its clear view to the sea—a sea turquoise and glistening with phosphorus, the miles of sand pure and white as salt.

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