Cover image for Conditions of faith
Title:
Conditions of faith
Author:
Miller, Alex, 1936-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Scribner, [2000]

©2000
Physical Description:
351 pages ; 25 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780684869353
Format :
Book

Available:*

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Central Library X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
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Summary

Summary

""There is a moment in our lives when we must decide which world we belong to. The world of our dreams or the other one. We can't all drift back and forth between them without risking losing our place in both.""


From one of Australia's most revered contemporary authors comes the romantic saga of Emily Stanton and her restless struggle against the conventions of her time.

When Alex Miller's mother died several years ago, she left him the fragmentary journal she'd kept while living briefly in Paris as a young woman in the 1920s. Inspired by this surprising entree into his mother's emotional life and her conflicted passions of young womanhood, Miller has written "Conditions of Faith." In spare, precise prose, Miller brings us into vivid 1920s Australia, France, and Tunisia and gives us a taste of feminism at the beginning of the century through the story of Emily Stanton. Like Henry James's Isabel Archer before her, Emily is beautiful and headstrong, restless, idealistic, and determined to live a fulfilling life despite smothering social conventions.

It's 1923 and at age twenty-five, Emily, an Australian, impulsively marri


Author Notes

Alexander McPhee Miller was born on December 27, 1936 in London. He is an Australian novelist. He won the Miles Franklin Award twice, once in 1993 for the Ancestor Game and again in 2003 for Journey to the Stone Country. He also won the overall award for the Commonwealth Writer's Prize for The Ancestor Game in 1993.

Miller's first novel, Watching the Climbers on the Mountain, was published in 1988 and republished by Allen & Unwin in 2012. Major national and international recognition came with the publication of The Ancestor Game, his third novel and the winner of both the Miles Franklin Award and overall winner of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize in 1993. Since then Miller has published on average a major novel every two years, his tenth being Autumn Laing published in 2011.

His title Coal Creek, made the finalists for the $30,000 Best Writing Award, presented for `a piece of published or produced work of outstanding clarity, originality and creativity by a Victorian writer.

(Bowker Author Biography)


Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

Carefully researched yet curiously flat, Miller's (The Ancestor Game) fifth novel follows a young Australian woman as she attempts to find her place in the world in the early 1920s. The daughter of a professor at Melbourne University, Emily Stanton has just graduated from that institution with a First in the history of classical civilizations. Though her father feels she has potential as a scholar and urges her to go on to study at Cambridge, Emily marries Georges Elder, a Scotsman who grew up in Chartres, works as an engineer in Paris and has come to Australia to plan a bridge for Sydney Harbor . Returning with her husband to Paris, Emily is disillusioned with her new life, and a visit to Chartres to meet Georges's widowed mother, the formidably stout and pious Madame Elder, and his Aunt Juliette, only exacerbates her feeling that she has entered a stiffling environment. An erotic encounter with a priest in the cathedral further confuses Emily. Soon after, Emily's health begins to fail, and Georges sends her to Tunisia to recover. There she meets working archeologists and her interest in history, particularly in the Christian-claimed martyr Perpetua, is rekindled, an intellectual need that will eventually be pitted against Emily's role as wife and mother. Although Miller meticulously reconstructs Paris, Chartres and a Tunisian village in the early '20s, his thorough and indiscriminate attention to detail and his sometimes wooden prose make the novel slow going. A few striking scenes later in the novelDone capturing the disconcerting blend of familiarity and formality between husband and wife, for instanceDwill reward the patient reader. Miller's characters, however, are broadly sketched and lack convincing interior lives. Despite the novel's careful construction, his tale never acquires vitality. Agent, Arnold Goodman. (July) FYI: In 1993, Miller received both the Miles Franklin Award and the Commonwealth Writers Prize. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Booklist Review

The inspiration for this rich and deeply emotional novel is as fascinating as the novel itself. When the author's mother died she left him her journal, consisting only of a few brief entries about her life as a young woman living in Paris in the 1920s. From this sparse but revealing material, Miller created Emily Stanton, a promising young Australian scholar who, in the need to broaden her horizons, impulsively marries Georges Elder, an engineer from Paris. Shortly after arriving in Paris, Emily realizes Georges' true love is the bridge he is planning to construct in Sydney. Emily's restlessness and dissatisfaction lead her to a secret liaison with a young priest, deep in the maze of chambers beneath Chartres Cathedral. Before long she discovers she is pregnant, causing her to question her identity and the purpose of her life. Miller's detailed visual images of Chartres, Paris itself, and Tunisia in the 1920s are transporting. The emotional pitch is high in his compelling portrayal of a young woman's complicated feelings in the face of motherhood. --Grace Fill


Library Journal Review

Miller supposedly based this first novel on his mother's journal, a distinctly unfilial act that has produced a fine book. Spirited and beautiful Emily finds marriage and impending motherhood insufficient for her fulfillment. However, 1920s France, rigid in its views of gender roles, frowns on her attempt at serious scholarship. Then, even more than now, a woman could not have it all; it was assumed that if she had a serious career and children, one must receive less than its due. For Emily, her life's work is in Tunisia, uncovering the history of a young Berber woman executed by the Romans in the second century A.D. However, her husband's future is in Australia. Emily's decision regarding which life to surrender is abundantly painful and beautifully rendered (a number of subplots involving questions of paternity, place, and faith keep the reader involved). Consider for all fiction collections, especially those where readers are interested in women's studies.ÄJudith Kicinski, Sarah Lawrence Coll. Lib., Bronxville, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


School Library Journal Review

Carefully researched yet curiously flat, Miller's (The Ancestor Game) fifth novel follows a young Australian woman as she attempts to find her place in the world in the early 1920s. The daughter of a professor at Melbourne University, Emily Stanton has just graduated from that institution with a First in the history of classical civilizations. Though her father feels she has potential as a scholar and urges her to go on to study at Cambridge, Emily marries Georges Elder, a Scotsman who grew up in Chartres, works as an engineer in Paris and has come to Australia to plan a bridge for Sydney Harbor . Returning with her husband to Paris, Emily is disillusioned with her new life, and a visit to Chartres to meet Georges's widowed mother, the formidably stout and pious Madame Elder, and his Aunt Juliette, only exacerbates her feeling that she has entered a stiffling environment. An erotic encounter with a priest in the cathedral further confuses Emily. Soon after, Emily's health begins to fail, and Georges sends her to Tunisia to recover. There she meets working archeologists and her interest in history, particularly in the Christian-claimed martyr Perpetua, is rekindled, an intellectual need that will eventually be pitted against Emily's role as wife and mother. Although Miller meticulously reconstructs Paris, Chartres and a Tunisian village in the early '20s, his thorough and indiscriminate attention to detail and his sometimes wooden prose make the novel slow going. A few striking scenes later in the novel--one capturing the disconcerting blend of familiarity and formality between husband and wife, for instance--will reward the patient reader. Miller's characters, however, are broadly sketched and lack convincing interior lives. Despite the novel's careful construction, his tale never acquires vitality. Agent, Arnold Goodman. (July) FYI: In 1993, Miller received both the Miles Franklin Award and the Commonwealth Writers Prize. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One When Emily reached the warm shallows she stood up and waded to the edge of the sand where she had left her towel. As she came to the shore through the soft lapping of the water she reached and pulled off her bathing cap and shook out her long brown hair. At the sand she bent and picked up her towel then turned and stood looking back out to sea, her hand raised shielding her eyes from the glare off the water. Two hundred yards offshore her father was stroking a steady overarm toward the partly submerged wreck, his solitary advance breaking the silvery membrane of the sea. The air was still and hot, the bay luminous and flat in the afternoon sunlight. Farther down the beach toward the yacht club with its thicket of bare masts, isolated bathers stood about listlessly in the shallows gazing out to sea or toward the beach. Far out a white-hulled passenger liner was steaming slowly toward the port past anchored cargo vessels; the gray smoke from its twin funnels was penciled against the white of the sky and stretched behind it over the horizon. The sharp cries of children at play carried to Emily and somewhere behind her in the tea-trees that grew thickly along the slope below the road a dog barked repeatedly. Already the cooling effect of her swim was wearing off and the heat beginning to press down on her. She watched until her father reached the wreck, waiting until he turned and began the return swim, then she started up the beach toward the tea-trees and the line of gaily painted bathing boxes. Outside her family's blue bathing box Emily's mother was still sitting in her deck chair beneath the shade of the red-and-white-striped umbrella. She was no longer reading her book, however, but was gazing off into the distance, or perhaps had fallen asleep. Beside her mother, their visitor's deck chair was empty. Georges Elder had moved across onto the sand, where he was sitting cross-legged on a towel in the sun. Emily saw that while she had been swimming he had changed into his bathing costume. He was bent forward, drawing again in the blue notebook he carried about with him. The sunlight blazed on his coppery hair and his white shoulders. She had failed earlier to coax him into the water. As she approached him she examined his body. His shoulders were broad and well muscled, his arms long and pale, the veins of his forearms and biceps standing out in the hard sunlight. Fine coppery hairs glinted on his arms and chest as he moved. He looked up and saw her approaching and raised his hand and waved. She and her mother had wondered about his age and had supposed him to be in his middle thirties. She drew level with him and stood looking down at his drawing, the hot sand beginning to burn the soles of her feet. He held the notebook at arm's length for her to see, his head on one side and his lips pursed. "The future of your city," he said lightly. The drawing was not an artist's impression but was a rendering of the major elements of the landscape as simplified structures: the long curve of the bay framed by the yacht club on the left and far over to the right the huddle of city buildings, the You Yang hills on the western horizon. There was no attempt at texture. The bay was indicated merely by a single line. In the drawing there was a roadway that was not in the actual landscape. The fanciful road of the future escaped into the air from the crosshatched mass of the city and swung out over the distant hills, disdaining the congested structures of the city and the natural contours of the landscape and sweeping on its tall supporting columns in an elegant arc over the horizon westward toward Geelong. "Is that a road or a bridge?" she asked. He considered his drawing. "The road will have to become a bridge." He turned and looked up at her, squinting with the sun in his eyes, trying to see her. "To bridge the city," he explained and smiled. She touched the reddening skin of his shoulder with the tips of her fingers. "You're burning," she warned and she moved into the shade of the bathing box. He closed the blue notebook and put it aside, watching her spread her towel and arrange herself on the sand, her back against the painted weatherboards. She took a packet of cigarettes from her bag and leaned and held it out to him. He took a cigarette and waited, watching her and holding the cigarette close to his mouth, while she struck the match. Her mother's deck chair creaked and she asked sleepily, "Is that you, darling?" "Not asleep, Mother?" "I was asleep. I thought I heard you talking." "Mr. Elder has done a drawing." "How nice." Georges got up on his knees and crawled forward, bringing his towel and his notebook into the shade at Emily's feet. He lay on his back, smoking and staring up at the pointed overhang of the bathing box. The smoke from their cigarettes drifted in the still air between the bathing boxes and into the tea-trees. The dog barked persistently. Emily looked down at him. The sea might have washed him up at her feet. "That dog's treed something," he said. "A possum," she suggested. He rolled over and raised himself on his elbow. "Let's go and look." She smiled and shook her head. He lay down again. He had been with them at Richmond Hill for almost a week after spending a month in Sydney. He was in Australia to report to a Belgian construction firm on the feasibility of tendering for the design of the great bridge over Sydney Harbor. It was Emily's father, Richard Stanton, the professor of civil engineering at Melbourne University and Australia's leading authority on the new steel alloys, whom Georges had come to Melbourne to consult. Emily was remembering their initial meeting among the cool shadows in the hallway of her parents' house on Richmond Hill. Coming out of the sun he had looked tall and a little stooped, as if he inclined himself toward her, modestly, to place himself in her trust. The sunlight through the lead lighted windows of the front door an amber radiance through the tangle of his hair. His gray eyes had searched quickly for her thought, as if he had been cautioned by her father to expect a difficulty or a challenge. His manner restrained, even grave. She had expected a French accent. But he spoke with a lowland Scottish burr. A certain formality. "How do you do, Miss Stanton." She welcomed him and put him at his ease. Before dinner that first evening she took his arm and led him to the mantelpiece in the dining room and handed him the photograph of herself and her parents taken in Paris when she was five. The framed image of a little girl in a pale dress standing between her unsmiling parents and clutching a hired model sailboat against her ribbons and flounces. Her mother's enormous black hat, like an untidy vulture in the act of alighting. The rank of marble statues of famous French women behind them and the avenue of dark trees, limes or perhaps lindens. Georges examined the photograph closely before pronouncing his confident verdict, "It's the terrace overlooking the octagonal pond in the Luxembourg Gardens." She stood beside him, her arm brushing his sleeve. "My father returned to Cambridge for two years. On the way home we visited Paris." Georges turned to her, seeking a likeness in the features of the young woman at his side to the stubborn, rebellious child in the photograph. "I've imagined," she confided to him, "that I'll go back one day and claim Paris for myself. It's been a kind of promise." She looked at him, unsure if he would understand. "You know, not a real ambition, but one of those things you tell yourself..." She didn't finish, however, for his expression of faint puzzlement had not encouraged her to persist. She reached to take the photograph from him. "I still remember that sailboat." "She clings to her little ship of liberty," he said with a smile, returning the photograph to her. She replaced it on the mantelpiece. "I'd been told I had to give the boat back. But I was determined to keep it. Children can't believe in the idea of hiring something. To be given a coveted object for half an hour and then to be told to give it back. I'd set off on my perfect adventure in that little boat." She reached and straightened the frame with her fingers. "I'm still convinced it belongs to me." He teased her lightly, "Then why not come back to Paris with me and claim your property?" "My ship of liberty," she said and had laughed with him; but all the same it had been a secret pleasure to imagine a mysterious destiny in their meeting; something arcane and concealed from everyone but herself, for which his heroic design for the Sydney Harbor Bridge was to provide them merely with a resemblance of purpose. His teasing invitation, Come back to Paris with me and claim your property , sounded uncannily right to her. She put her arm through his, "Excellent, Monsieur Elder, ainsi sera fait." His pleased surprise at the readiness of her French. Lying on the sand now in the shade of the painted bathing box she closed her eyes. She was enjoying the steady heat of the summer afternoon, the taste of tobacco smoke on her palate, aware of Georges Elder just below her and behind her mother's deck chair, attentive and undecided. He was lying on his stomach looking up at her. She could feel his gaze on her body. In his silence she sensed his preoccupation, his uncertainty; the skin of her bare thighs tight and tingling not only with the sea salt. She was sure that if he did not speak within the minute, he would touch her. She was waiting for his first caress, the question of his desire in her mind. "I've been dreaming of coming to Australia all my life." He spoke softly, for her benefit only and so that her mother would not hear. "I was twelve when I first read about the Sydney Harbor Bridge competition. It's been with me all my life." He fell silent and she opened her eyes, conscious of his appeal to something serious. He was examining the arch of her foot. "I was in boarding school in Glasgow." He touched her foot lightly with his forefinger, then looked up at her. She did not withdraw. With his finger he followed the curve of her instep, delicately brushing away the grains of sand that clung to her skin. She curled her toes, encouraging his caress. "You here dreaming of Paris," he said, his voice a little unsteady. "While I was over there dreaming of Australia. Now here we are on this beach together. Your beach. It's extraordinary." His fingers remained touching her foot. Behind him Emily saw her father wade out of the sea and start up the sand toward them; a large, broad-girthed man of sixty, but still strong and without any hesitation in his step. Catherine Stanton, who faced the sea and could not see them, said lazily from her deck chair, "Oh, not so extraordinary, Mr. Elder. Here we all spend our lives dreaming of Paris." There was a soft drift of air, the first sign that the heat of the day was to give way soon to the cool of evening, and for a moment the honey perfume of the tea-tree blossoms invaded the shade where they lay. Richard Stanton came up and stood looking down at them, his small eyes bright and intensely focused, shifting from the young engineer to his daughter. Georges had removed his hand from Emily's foot. He sat up. "How about drinks for everyone then, Em?" her father said. Emily drew up her legs and hugged her knees. She looked up at her father but made no move to get up. "If you like," she said. Richard Stanton was over six feet tall with a thick powerful body and heavy facial features. The moment he stopped speaking his mouth drooped at the corners, making him look sulky, disgruntled, and on the point of anger. His hair, which was thick and long and completely gray, was plastered to the dome of his skull and lay in wet licks against the loose skin of his neck. Catherine Stanton twisted around in her deck chair and examined the three of them. Seeing that Emily was not about to get up, her father laughed shortly. "A glass of something, then, Georges? Catherine, for you?" Catherine Stanton reached and touched her husband's hand, accepting his offer of a drink. "I've been thinking about the You Yangs," she said, determined to share her private contemplation with their visitor. "That bluish smudge on the horizon, Mr. Elder. There! Do you see?" She was pointing, a tremor in her long pale finger. "Georges has already put them in his drawing," Emily said softly and she looked at Georges, who was dutifully attending to the You Yangs. "Those modest little hills were there before we human beings were put upon this earth. And there they are today and we may sit here and drink our lemon squash -- when Richard has been kind enough to bring it to us -- and admire them as if they had been put there just for us. Doesn't it make you a little breathless to think of that, Mr. Elder? How long, I wonder, before we arrived had the You Yangs risen out of the plain? Three hundred million years? A hundred million? Sitting there waiting for us to notice them." She sounded astonished, awed, and unbelieving at the thought of the silent vigil of the hills. "The Paleozoic, isn't it? The most ancient? My ignorance of these things appalls me, but I am curious nevertheless." She reached and took the tumbler of lemon squash from her husband's hand. "When did human beings evolve, Richard? I know you've told me before, but I've forgotten." Richard Stanton stood by his wife's deck chair looking out toward the bluish smudge of hills on the far side of the bay. The fingers of his large hand absently kneaded her shoulder. Slowly he drained his glass, then he turned and looked down at Georges and Emily. "Yes, the You Yangs," he said and he breathed and turned and went into the bathing box. A moment later he called to them, "Another drink, anyone?" They heard him shifting things about in the bathing box. Catherine Stanton's attempt at conversation had failed. The three of them sipped their lemon squashes and gazed steadfastly across the bay in silence. They might have been pilgrims assembled at this sacred shore to witness a revelation at an appointed hour, patient, silent, certain their faith was to be rewarded. The dog barked and the heat of the summer afternoon was sweetly perfumed by the tea-tree blossoms. Emily placed her empty glass on the sand against the wall of the bathing box and stood up. Her mother and Georges Elder turned and watched her tuck her long hair into her bathing cap. Then she ran down the beach and into the shallows. She waded out and when the water reached her waist she dived and began to swim. Catherine Stanton said in a measured voice, "I do believe, Mr. Elder, Emily is expecting you to swim after her." Georges shielded his eyes. "I'm afraid I'm not a swimmer, Mrs. Stanton," he said regretfully. "Oh dear! That is a pity, Mr. Elder." There was a silence between them then. Catherine Stanton eventually turned and looked at the young man who sat on the sand gazing out to sea after her daughter. "I'm afraid my husband has a...well, a rather unorthodox approach to Emily's prospects, Mr. Elder. He would like you to think she is a bluestocking and is destined for an academic career. It is because she did so well at the university. But you mustn't take Richard too seriously. Emily is sure to see to things in her own way when the time comes for her to decide." Georges Elder looked at her, then looked away and said nothing. Together they watched Emily swimming through the dazzle of sun on the water. Richard Stanton came out of the bathing box and stood and looked with them. "There's no telling how far she'll go," he said. A couta boat passed slowly between the shore and Emily, its dark red sail slack against its thick mast, the boatman leaning and pulling at the oars, dragging his heavy vessel through the viscous sea. When the boat had passed, Richard Stanton said, "She's going out to the wreck. She's just as likely to stay there till dark and make us all wait for her." He was impatient with something and sat heavily in the deck chair beside his wife. The feet of the chair sank abruptly as his weight struck the canvas and the professor's bottom rested heavily on the sand. Georges stood up. Richard Stanton turned and looked at him, examining him critically, his thick fleshy lips pushed out, frowning from under his bushy eyebrows at the younger man, his eyes glittery and alert with sudden malice. "Ye-es," he said eventually, as if he resolved a question of great weight. "We all want big bridges, Georges. But big bridges often destroy the men who build them." He settled himself resolutely in the inadequate deck chair and folded his arms across his stomach. Catherine Stanton turned to him. "Goodness, Richard! What a dreadful thing to say to Mr. Elder. My husband is jealous, Mr. Elder," she explained. "He wishes he had made the harbor bridge his own life's work and not left it to his old friend John Bradfield. They have been rivals, you see, since their time together at the university in Sydney." Richard Stanton thrust his broad feet into the sand, as if to anchor himself against the approaching squall. "What bloody nonsense you do talk, Catherine!" "My husband had his chance at your great bridge, Mr. Elder. That is what he regrets. His ambition is compromised. That is why he is so ambitious now for Emily." She laughed, a short, nervous bark, fearful that she had gone too far. Richard said tightly, warning her, his voice thick with anger, "That will do, my dear, I think." "Well, I don't know why you will say these things! It is such a provocation." They were silent, staring out to sea. Georges leaned down and picked up his blue notebook from the towel and brushed at it. Its boards had curled in the heat. He opened the book at his drawing and stood examining it: Port Phillip Bay, the city of Melbourne, the modest outcrop of hills to the west, and the elegant sweep of his reinforced-concrete skyroad sheering away into the future -- offering its new promise of the freedom the city had failed to provide men with. He closed the book. "I might go and see what that dog's found," he said and he didn't wait but set off across the sand, his notebook clasped to his side. In their green canvas deck chairs beneath the red-and-white-striped umbrella that was no longer shielding them from the sun, which had progressed to the last quarter of the sky and now hung redly over the You Yangs, Richard and Catherine Stanton watched the tall, slightly stooped figure of their guest as he walked away from their little family encampment toward the belt of tea-trees where the dog was barking. Catherine Stanton said, "I believe our Mr. Elder has grown quite fond of Emily." Richard Stanton grunted. "I shall organize a dance at Richmond Hill before he leaves us." "I don't think Mr. Elder will be with us for very much longer. Our young engineer is determined to have his big bridge before he's forty, and I doubt if there's much room in his mind for anything else." They fell silent once again, disagreeing. Catherine Stanton felt compelled at last, however, to hazard the question that had been maturing in her mind ever since Georges Elder's arrival in the household. "Do you think Emily likes him enough?" "Enough?" Richard Stanton shifted impatiently. "It's not marriage that's Em's answer." She turned and looked at him, and she laid her hand gently on his arm. "I know you're disappointed, my dear, but she won't have you direct her life forever. No matter what you care to believe about Emily, it is every woman's secret longing to have a home and a family of her own. Emily's no different from other women in this and I believe it's time you accepted that fact with good grace." Richard Stanton glared at the embalmed sea. He did not wish to be convinced. At school Emily had excelled at French and Latin. After two or three worrying changes of direction at the university -- her wasted years, he called them -- she had at last graduated the previous year with a first in the history of classical civilizations. But instead of applying for a scholarship to one of the women's colleges at Cambridge, as he and her university tutors had advised her to, Emily postponed a decision. "I'm not ready to decide anything yet," she told him. Almost a year had gone by since then and still she had not resolved her situation. She had stayed in bed until lunchtime and read novels and taken long walks and gone to stay with friends. "You're becoming intellectually lazy," he accused her. "You're wasting the best opportunity life is ever to offer you." He was angry and disappointed with her. "If you were my son, I'd compel you!" he said bitterly to her one day. She had laughed at him. "But I'm not your son and you can't compel me." He lost his temper and said something to her then that he had wished every day since that he could unsay. "You're weak!" he had accused her venomously. He shifted uneasily now in his deck chair at the memory of it. "What is it that you want?" he demanded. And she had told him calmly, "I want you to allow me to not know what I want. That's all. To take my own risks and not to do as you've done." She had accused him quietly, "You've never risked anything. I thought you'd be satisfied when I got a first, but you're not." Since that day she had not confided in him and he feared he had forfeited her respect. He regretted bitterly the loss of the effortless trust that had existed between them ever since she was a little girl. Unhappy, regretful, but unable to bring himself to apologize to her, he had asked her gloomily if she were looking for a husband. She had not replied. The dog suddenly ran out of the tea-trees to their left. It looked back, barking and prancing excitedly, eager to play with its new companion. Georges Elder came out of the trees and threw a stick for it. "He's not bringing that bloody dog over here with him, is he?" Richard Stanton's voice was filled with contempt. "For the love of God, Catherine, don't tell me that's the man who's going to design our bridge for us!" She laid her hand on his. "Please, Richard, don't get upset." "She's worth two of him!" She reached and took his hand in hers and would have held it on her lap, and perhaps have stroked it, but he withdrew his hand and hauled himself out of his deck chair. Without a word he strode across the warm sand to the edge of the water and stood gazing at the rusting hulk of the iron ship that lay scuttled on the rocks two hundred yards offshore. Emily stood on the high side of the sloping deck, a gilded figure silhouetted against the red sun, poised to dive into the deep green water below her. The iron wreck glowed, as if it had been heated in a furnace. He waited until she dived, then Richard Stanton waded out and began to swim to meet her, his arms rising and falling, the broken water sparkling around him, showers of gold in the summer air. By the blue bathing box, under the umbrella, Catherine Stanton read her book. A little way along the beach, Georges Elder played with the stray dog. He had been joined by some children. When Georges paused in the play to stand and gaze toward the wreck, his arm lifted to his eyes, the children stood and gazed with him, frowning at the sinking sun, certain the stranger witnessed some wonderful unfolding of events. * * * The saxophones and trumpets competed with each other, high and thin and reedy, urged to their squeaking limits by the speeding trip-hammer of the drums. He danced her across the lawn, his arm around her waist, spinning her in and out between the abandoned tables, the white cloths waving in the wind and snapping at the flying tails of his coat. The colored lanterns, strung above the lawn from the eaves of the house to a branch of the peppermint gum, swung about in the strengthening southerly, red and green and blue and yellow shadows dancing across the lawn with them. She had kicked off her shoes and was dancing barefoot, trusting her weight to his arm, her head thrown back, the lanterns whirling above her. When the record came to an end, he held her against him, breathless and laughing. Then he leaned and kissed her on the lips. They were alone in the garden. There was no one now at the tables on the lawn. It was three in the morning and the last guests had left. Georges and Emily stood together in the thin light by the glowing trunk of the peppermint gum, his arm around her waist, and looked toward the lighted house. Richard and Catherine Stanton were dancing without music in the silence of the dining room, which had been emptied of furniture, its French doors thrown open to the summer night, the light streaming out onto the black-and-white marble flagstones of the gallery. Emily was transformed. On an impulse she had had her long hair cut short for the dance. Her hair was without ornament; a tight cloche that closely followed the contours of her skull and feathered across her forehead. Her features had emerged from the dark frame of glossy hair, her brown eyes large and oval. She appeared younger than her twenty-four years and might, in the enchanted lantern light of the garden, have been a girl of eighteen. She had not calculated the effect, but without the long hair that she had worn ever since she was a little girl, Emily seemed to have been liberated from her past; and from the weight of Cambridge, that future abandoned with her old plumage. Georges pressed her to his side. "I'm not going back to Paris without you." He looked down at her. "I think you already know that." She looked up at him. "What if I say I shan't come with you?" She reached into the inside pocket of his jacket, her hand brushing his chest, and she drew out his gold cigarette case. "What about your bridge? You must go back. You can't stay here. What if I decide to go to Cambridge after all?" "You're not going to say no to me." "You can't be sure of that." "Yes I can." She laughed. Her heart was still racing from the exertion of the dance. The strings of colored lanterns dipped and jumped about in the rising wind, the unsteady illumination playing across Emily's features and over the glossy folds of her deep blue gown. He held his lighter for her, his hand cupping the flame against the wind. She drew on the two cigarettes, then took one from her lips and passed it to him. On the tables on the lawn there was a litter of dirty plates, half-eaten sandwiches, the scattered remains of cakes, cigarette butts in saucers, and empty glasses stained with the purple dregs of claret cup. He felt for her hand and held it. A gust of wind drove a paper doily across the lawn toward them and Emily tensed, seeing the flapping doily for an instant as an injured gull struggling for flight. She tightened her hand in his and blew the smoke into the wind. "You're a traveler," she said softly. "Travelers fall in love, then they go home and forget." From a branch of the gum tree above them a frayed end of rope swung back and forth emptily in the air. It was all that remained of the swing her father had put up for her nearly twenty years earlier. In three days Georges was to join the Blue Funnel Line's Demeter at Port Melbourne on its way to Le Havre via the Cape of Good Hope. From Le Havre he would go home to his bachelor apartment in Paris and resume his life as consulting design engineer for the Belgian firm of Baume Marpent. By the time he got back to Paris he would have been away for more than five months. Emily watched her parents revolving slowly in each other's arms. "They are still lovers," she said. They smoked their cigarettes and saw her parents pass and repass the open doors. French chalk had been spread on the boards for the dance and, gathering it as she danced, Catherine Stanton's black velvet gown now seemed to be hemmed with white lace. Her dark abundant hair was coiled on top of her head in a glowing chignon and was ornamented with loops of pearls. She was dancing with her eyes closed. Richard Stanton, patrician and elegant in his evening dress, held his wife in a tender, formal embrace. "Don't you think my parents are sad and magnificent tonight?" she said. "Poor Father. I've so disappointed him." She was seeing herself in Paris, in the modest bachelor apartment in rue Saint-Dominique that Georges had described for her, five minutes' walk from the Invalides and the Champ-de-Mars, the Eiffel Tower, and the Seine. She was seeing Paris, foreign, longed for, exotic; her decision already made -- almost made for her -- foreshadowed that first moment in the entrance hall when he had searched in her eyes for something familiar and expected, the tall stranger of her imagination. The photograph of herself in the Luxembourg Gardens waiting on the mantelpiece for him for almost twenty years. He had joked its truth into the open: She clings to her little ship of liberty . What had made him say it? Richard Stanton was putting another record on the gramophone and Catherine had come to stand at the French doors. Catherine Stanton was looking out into the garden, her hands raised to her hair, adjusting a loop of pearls, her bare shoulders and her white arms above the sable gown, her long black gloves, her full figure sculptural in the soft light. "It is quite definite, then?" Georges said, just a little breathless, a little less steady, now that it seemed she was to yield to him. Emily laughed and turned to him. "You know it is." His need for reassurance surprised her, the sudden tension in his voice taking her off her guard. She experienced a moment of clarity then, a moment almost out-of-time, as if she stood on her own in the night wind, some way above this scene. She searched in his gray eyes. This man and I are strangers, she told herself calmly. She might have asked him for time to reflect on his proposal, to be permitted to not know her own mind on this matter, as she had asked her father for time to reflect on Cambridge and the career he wished her to have. She might have lit another cigarette and have walked away from Georges at this moment, across the lawn to the hydrangea bushes, and have taken a moment to imagine her future with him -- to visualize the daily realities of a life in Paris... He said, "You have to be sure, Emily." He was unsmiling now, and she saw in him a quality of reserve and judgment that she had not seen in him before, an earnestness that might prove humorless. He turned and looked down at her, waiting for her reassurance. It was her opportunity to gather her resolve, to steady herself and tell him it was not love after all but was the night and the dancing and the thought of Paris and a new life that had made her foolish. But perhaps she had had enough of indecision. She tucked her arm in his and lifted her face to him and kissed him on the mouth. "Mother's been longing to claim you for her son-in-law since the minute you arrived." "Your father hasn't. He's not going to be pleased." "Do you care?" she said. Her voice was gay and light in the rising wind. It was not the assurance of certainty he had asked her for. As they walked together arm in arm toward the house, Georges and Emily were struck by the first heavy drops of rain from the approaching storm. Emily stopped to pick up her shoes where she had kicked them off. She steadied herself with a hand to the table's edge to slip her shoes on. Then she straightened and lifted her face to the raindrops and closed her eyes, breathing the eucalyptus smell of the peppermint gum, which was suddenly strong in the wash of air. Catherine Stanton watched them approach, waiting for them at the open doors, one hand in its long black glove held to her white throat in a gesture of riveted anticipation. Richard Stanton stood up from the gramophone and swept his long hair back from his forehead with his hand and danced a few short steps to the four/four time of the fox-trot he had put on. Then he heard his wife call to him, and when he looked around he saw that an important moment had matured while his back had been turned. The following afternoon, when the members of the Stanton household had roused themselves, Georges telephoned the offices of the Blue Funnel Line and canceled his passage on the Demeter . Then he and Emily took the tram to the central post office in Bourke Street, and while Emily went off to do some shopping he composed the difficult cable to his mother in Chartres. Am to marry Emily Louise Stanton, the only daughter of Professor and Mrs. Richard Stanton of Richmond Hill, Victoria, on 17th February. He stood at the counter considering whether he could include an apology to his mother for the abruptness of his important news without making it sound as if he were sorry to be getting married after all these years of bachelorhood. In the end he simply asked his mother for her blessing and left it at that. As he made his way through the busy arcade to the teashop where he was to meet Emily, he imagined a postcard from his future. It was a picture of the great arch of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, more or less as John Bradfield envisaged it, with Emily and himself and their happy brood of children standing proudly in front of it. It was a postcard to himself, but it seemed to Georges that this image must satisfy not only his own ambitions but must satisfy also the hopes of the young woman who was soon to become his wife. Georges was anxious to get home to Paris. The wedding was arranged with so much haste that Catherine Stanton feared people might talk. "I'm already weeks late with my report to the directors," he objected when she wondered if they couldn't be just a little more leisurely with their plans. "No one will be able to give enough notice to their dressmaker or milliner," she explained to him, but not with any asperity or firmness; and in case he thought she was going to resist him she put her arm through his and added encouragingly, "You're a man with a vision, Georges. And we must all bend a little before it." She liked him and was content that the question of Emily's future was resolved. As she watched Emily and Georges laughing together in the garden, she realized, with a hollow feeling in her stomach, that her only child would soon be gone from home. Emily, always, in a slightly troubling way, more a stranger the older she grew. When she had seen Emily with her hair cut as short as a boy's the other day, Catherine Stanton had been thoroughly startled and had thought she really was a stranger. "What have you done to yourself?" she asked, as if Emily had had herself tattooed. "Oh, don't carry on, Mother. It'll grow again." "After the golden years of childhood, when they've stopped believing everything we tell them," she said suddenly to Richard when they were sitting together on the terrace having a cup of tea, "can we ever know who our children really are?" "I've no influence with her anymore," the professor said, and he shook his newspaper and went on reading the cricket results. A moment later Emily's shout of laughter carried to them across the lawn and he lowered the newspaper and looked over the top of his glasses to where she and Georges were lying on the grass in the shade of the peppermint gum. In case there should be any doubt, Catherine Stanton said, "She's happy, Richard. You have to see that." Richard frowned and raised his newspaper. "For how long?" * * * At eleven o'clock on the morning of the seventeenth of February 1923 Georges and Emily and Richard Stanton and Georges's best man stood side by side before the altar in the massive bluestone parish church of St. Ignatius Loyola on Richmond Hill. The Stantons were not regular churchgoers but haphazard and occasional in the practice of their Catholicism. This was the first time since Christmas Eve Mass that they had all been in church together. The nave on Emily's side of the aisle was crowded with her old school and university friends, and her aunts and uncles and their families, and the numerous friends and associates of her parents. The blues and greens and pastels of the women's hats and dresses a nervously shifting field of blossoms. On Georges's side of the aisle, except for the solitary figure of an inquisitive bystander, the long nave of the great church was empty. Even Georges's best man was a colleague of Richard Stanton's and had been introduced to Georges only that morning. Georges had received no reply from his mother to his cable, and as he waited for the solemn order of the service to begin he was thinking of her. He was regretting her absence from this moment in his life. His mother was a devout woman and for twenty years had walked from the lower town to the cathedral every day to render thanks to the Mother of God, to kneel before the niche of Notre-Dame du-Pilier , the Black Virgin of Chartres, who was said to reward the loyal devotions of women with the blessing of children and grandchildren. As he stood waiting for the service to begin, Georges could feel his mother's resentment of the occasion. A resentment that drew deeply on their pasts, on the years of her struggle after his father's early death, and on their unspoken promise never to abandon each other. While he had a moment to spare he sent up a small, fervently conceived prayer that his mother would make Emily welcome. He added, And if Mother doesn't make her welcome, please, God, give Emily the grace to understand! The priest had begun to address them. Emily tightened her arm in her father's. She didn't register what the priest was saying but was remembering his words to her two days earlier. "Matris Munia," Father Kane had said portentously, the phrase sticking in her mind as if the Latin contained a solemn admonition to her -- a surprising secret in the priest's keeping to be disclosed to the betrothed woman at the last moment. "The holy sacrament of matrimony, my dear, is so called because the female who contracts it undertakes to fulfill the office and duties of motherhood." She had said nothing, but his words had left in her a feeling that the priest suspected her of some forbidden desire. She had wanted to tell him, "I stopped believing when I was a child of eleven, Father." At a little before midday, after Richard Stanton had consented to give his only child away and Georges and Emily had made their solemn vows to each other before God, Father Kane pronounced them to be husband and wife. Under a white-hot summer sky, Georges and Emily sailed from North Wharf on the Kairos for Adelaide and ports beyond. The Kairos was a merchant ship and Monsieur and Madame Georges Elder were her only passengers. It was the first available ship from Melbourne bound for Le Havre and was the best Georges had been able to manage at such short notice. The holds of the Kairos were filled with bales of merino wool for the European spinning mills and there was a smell of sheep in the air. They might have been out in the dry paddocks of the inland instead of on board ship at the edge of the ocean. It was not a festive occasion. There was no bunting or streamers or bands or crowds of cheering well-wishers to farewell them from the wharf on their journey to Europe, as there would have been if they had been sailing on one of the great passenger ships of the White Star Line. Richard and Catherine Stanton stood beside each other on the wharf among the cranes and gantries and the lorries and the dockside workers and waved their handkerchiefs as the Kairos drew away and steamed under her pilot downriver toward the open water of Port Phillip Bay and a first sight of the You Yangs. At the last minute Richard Stanton called, "Good luck, darling!" and he put his arm around his wife's shoulders and drew her against him. Georges and Emily stood together at the rail in the fierce sunlight until they could no longer make out the figures of her parents on the wharf. Georges offered her his handkerchief. "It's not forever," he consoled her. "You'll be seeing them again soon enough." He was relieved to be on his way. "If Baume Marpent wins the tender, we'll be back in Sydney in a year." "I'm not crying because I'm leaving my parents," Emily protested. She wiped her eyes with his handkerchief and handed it back to him. She didn't know why she was crying. As the Kairos slipped down the channel and the skyline of Melbourne dwindled behind them, the emotion had welled up in her chest and she had begun to weep. That was all. It didn't matter why. Not bitterly or with sorrow. Her tears may even have been from a sense of relief at having made good her escape; or from a momentary sadness of her spirit that was not to be explained. They made their way below together into the cool of their cabin. It was the owner's stateroom and there was much gleaming brass and beveled glass and glossy French-polished timber. An enormous double bunk, taking up nearly half the cabin space, was built against the iron bulkhead. Around the bed hung blue velvet curtains, to be drawn together for privacy. Georges closed the cabin door and took her in his arms. They undressed and made love and afterward lay beside each other. They were silent and thoughtful, listening to the ship's engines, uncertain with their nakedness and with what they shared. At last he asked her, "Are you happy?" She did not hesitate. "Yes," she said, which seemed a practical reply and no less than the truth. When the note of the ship's engines suddenly deepened and the Kairos groaned and lifted its bow into the long swell of Bass Strait, Emily got onto her knees and looked out through the porthole. "We've gone through the Heads," she said with sudden emotion. She stayed kneeling at the porthole, watching the sunlit headland fall away behind them, the white tower of the Point Lonsdale lighthouse a beacon of the past. Georges reached up and drew her down beside him and lay with his leg over her, pinning her beneath him and studying her. "What is it?" she asked him, uneasy with the intensity of his scrutiny, in which there was perhaps a mixture of admiration and impatience. "You're like a beautiful child sometimes," he said. She laughed and pushed him away. She got up and went over to the stack of luggage piled by the door and lifted one of her suitcases onto the end of the bed. She opened the case and took out her green housecoat. She put the housecoat on and tied the belt at her waist and turned to him. "Which drawers do you want? The top ones or the bottom ones?" He didn't answer but lay propped on his elbow watching her. She took her dresses from the suitcase and hung them in the wardrobe, then folded her underclothes and placed them neatly one on top of the other in the top drawers of the chest. Georges watched her from the bed for a while, then he got up and fetched his toilet articles from a bag and went into the bathroom and closed the door. The ship trembled and heaved, lifting over the long swells and settling in the troughs. As she put her clothes away and unpacked her books and writing things and set them about the cabin, making a little home of it, Emily sang softly to herself, "My Bonnie lies over the ocean, my Bonnie lies over the sea, my Bonnie lies over the ocean, oh bring back my Bonnie to me." They soon grew accustomed to the thudding of the propellers driving the Kairos through the water and ceased to notice the continuous tremor that made the ship a living thing. The smell of engine oil and coalsmoke and sheep were no longer novel but passed for normality. Their daily negotiations of the iron gangways and narrow steps -- the hazards of the track between their cabin, the dining saloon, and the deck -- were soon familiar to them. John Anderson, a Glaswegian like Georges himself and the captain of their floating world, made available to Georges a small chart room adjoining his own cabin, where Georges spread his papers and began to work on his report to the directors of Baume Marpent on the feasibility of tendering for the design of the Sydney Harbor Bridge. At dinner Captain Anderson said to Emily, "Imagine it if you can, Madame Elder! Fifty thousand tons of steel poised in the air above the water of the greatest natural harbor in the world!" The captain's astonished gaze remained fixed on her, as if he spied the finished contours of the bridge deep in her eyes and expected her to chant with him, Hurrah for the Scots and the biggest bridge in the world! She smiled. "Oh, I do imagine it, Captain Anderson. Frequently." Between mouthfuls of roasted mutton Georges was more cautious. "If I convince Baume Marpent to tender, and then only if our tender is successful." He caught Emily's look, seeing her amusement at the captain's visionary depths. "There are a great many uncertainties yet between us and this bridge, Captain Anderson." Emily said gaily, "Oh, the bridge, the bridge. It is a certainty. Isn't it why we're here together?" And she laughed. The two men looked at her, unsure of her meaning. Captain Anderson's heavy brows were drawn together. "Yes, Madame Elder, the bridge." He reached for the decanter and filled their wineglasses with claret. Then, solemnly, as if he poured a libation to his gods, he slowly filled his own glass until the red wine trembled at the rim and revealed to him a message concerning the state of the ocean and his ship. His intention, it had seemed for a moment, was to propose them a toast. Emily and Georges waited for him, their fingers ready on the stems of their wineglasses. But Captain Anderson drank steadily from his glass and said nothing, gazing before him as if they were no longer with him. Then he set his glass on the white linen and took up his utensils and resumed his meal in silence. When they had returned to their cabin after dinner, Emily said, "Captain Anderson no longer thinks of reaching land as we do. He is at home in the oceans." When Georges did not respond, she looked up at his reflection in the glass of the dresser before her. Georges stood gazing out the porthole into the blackness. "I shan't mind if you want to go and do some more work," she offered. He turned and came over and leaned and kissed her. "I'll only be an hour," he said gratefully. He left her and returned to the stuffy chart room next to the captain's cabin. He had already spent ten hours there since that morning, searching assiduously among his figures for the anomalies that he knew would be detected at once by the skeptical old men in Belgium if he did not detect them first himself. Once Georges was seated at the chart table with his calculations in front of him he soon became so engrossed that he ceased to notice the passage of time. It was after midnight when Captain Anderson opened the door to the chart room and looked in on him. "You'll have a dram before you turn in, then, Georges?" Georges consulted his watch. "I'll have to be getting back, John. I'd no idea it was so late." "Aye, you'll not be wanting to leave that wee wifey of yours on her own any longer than necessary. We'll make it a quick one, then, lad." Sitting in the captain's cozy cabin, the two men drank whiskey and smoked cigars and talked of their birthplace and of ships and great engineering projects, as if they knew but one language between them. It was three in the morning and the whiskey bottle was empty when Georges got up to leave. * * * Emily woke early each morning and left Georges to sleep on. She drew the blue curtains around their bed to shield him from the daylight and she took a book for company and ate her breakfast alone in the saloon. And after breakfast she stood at the rail and looked at the sea. "I've abandoned you," Georges said, coming up on her and putting his arm around her. She turned to him and reached and touched his cheek. "You look tired. Don't think of me. I'm happy. Prepare your report. There's plenty for me to do." She found a place out of the wind in the sun on deck and she read Flaubert's pitiless narrative of Madame Bovary in French and watched the sea for hours. And when she was not reading or watching the sea, she sat at the mahogany desk in the cabin and opened the expensive green morocco writing case, with her initials embossed in gold on the cover, that her father had given her as his farewell gift, and she wrote letters home. "Keep a journal of your travels," her father had directed her solemnly when he gave her the writing case, as if this was the purpose of his gift. "One day your children will read it. If we do not write it down, we forget everything. We lose it all. Your mother has always regretted not keeping a journal of our travels when you were a child." But Emily's attempts at journal writing dried up and came to nothing. I feel a kind of vertigo in it, she wrote to him, attempting to explain so that he would not see her failure as a proof of her desire to go against him in everything. If you were to attempt it yourself, you would see at once what a terrible inhibition it is to be writing something that is to have no end. I bring my letters safely to an end after a few pages, when I have faithfully recorded my impression of the past few days. But a journal, if it is to serve its purpose, must go on for years or for decades. It must go on, in fact, until I have lived the life the journal is to record! It makes me dizzy to think of it, and while I'm writing I find it impossible not to imagine myself looking back from the journal's future, an old woman already and at the end of the life I am recording. The present loses its meaning for me the instant I begin to record it with the cold abstracted gaze of the future. To keep a record of her life for her children, she discovered, was to see herself already dead. She tore out the few pages she had managed to write and threw them over the stern into the southern ocean. She watched the white pages tossed by the wind like exhausted birds, falling farther and farther behind in the seething wake of the Kairos until they were lost to her sight. A week out from Adelaide, while they were crossing the Great Australian Bight, the fine weather they had been enjoying changed abruptly. Purple-and-ocher banks of cloud came up from the south and covered the sky, the wind grew bitterly cold, and the ship was lashed by driving rain and seaspray. Before they joined Captain Anderson for dinner that evening the Kairos had entered a storm depression and was standing on her stern one minute, shuddering for a timeless second, then swooping bow first toward the base of a dark hill of water, as if she was going to the bottom. Emily was entranced and on the way to dinner with Georges she left the shelter of the companionway and hung over the rail to watch the sea explode over the black bow of the ship in a geyser of green-and-white spume. The broken sea coursed along the deck toward her and Georges reached and snatched her arm and drew her into the shelter of the companionway. "For God's sake, Emily!" he shouted at her above the roar of the wind and the sea. She turned to him, her cheeks wet and flushed and her eyes bright with excitement. "Will we all drown?" "You're not afraid," he said, as if he accused her of some dangerous impropriety. At dinner Captain Anderson steadied his plate and looked at them and observed with exaggerated gloom in his heavy Glasgow accent, "Ships go down without a trace in weather like this." He gazed at Emily. "Not a signal, Madame Elder. Nothing." And as he spoke his ship staggered and seemed to stop in her tracks as a giant sea struck her. A moment of silence followed. Anderson's gaze was steady on Emily. The propellers raced and the lights dimmed then brightened, and the long, slow stomach-churning dive into the abyss. When the ship began to climb again, Anderson nodded at the raging torrent outside the porthole, his bushy eyebrows bunched together. "There she goes," he said, as if each wave were bent upon some mysterious destination. He resumed his meal. "That's one that's no for us." On the fifth day they sailed out of the storm into sunshine and a long rolling swell. Emily heard the seamen laughing and calling to each other again, and she realized the storm had brought out a silence in them. That evening she went up onto the bridge and stood and gazed into the darkness. Captain Anderson pointed. "There! It's the Cape Leeuwin light." A bold white star swept the sea briefly in the darkness to their north. "D'you see it there, lass?" The captain was a freer man on his bridge. "That's to mark the southwesternmost limits of your country. We'll be around the corner by the morning." When they cleared Fremantle two days later, Emily and Georges stood at the stern rail under a red evening sky and watched the flat western coastline of Australia sink behind them over the horizon. "My next letters will have a foreign stamp on them," she said. She turned to Georges and he smiled quickly and murmured something that she did not catch. She saw the preoccupation in his tired eyes, how he struggled with his fatigue now, the endless conversation he was conducting with himself about the bridge. "I'll be a foreigner for the first time," she said. "Ceylon," he corrected her mildly. "It's British." "Well, foreignish, then." She laughed, but he didn't respond. They stood and watched the sky turn from crimson to purple, the mild night wind tugging at their clothes. She tucked her arm firmly in his and pressed herself against him. When she didn't speak, he looked at her. "In some ways," she said, "don't you sometimes feel we almost know each other less well now than we did that very first day when we met in the hallway at Richmond Hill?" He studied her in silence. "What a strange thing to say. We didn't know each other at all then." "Yes," she said, persisting despite his difficulty. "That is what I mean. But we imagined each other that day, as if we believed we had met before. I know it will be different once we're living together in Paris in your dear little apartment. The ship is such a disconnected world, it seems to have disconnected us." "I'm afraid I'm neglecting you," he said. "I can just see the sitting room as you've described it, overlooking the courtyard and the view of the Dôme of the Invalides from the bedroom window." "It's a very modest bachelor flat, I'm afraid. I hope you're not going to be disappointed." "We'll be in Paris! How could I be disappointed?" A few minutes later they turned from the rail to go below. She paused at the top of the companionway and looked back. Australia was gone. There was no hint of the vast continent that lay just over their horizon. Georges came out of Anderson's cabin and took a few steps in the darkness along the deck. He swayed and clutched the rail to steady himself. The Kairos was three weeks out and approaching the Gulf of Aden. Anderson had been in an insistent mood this night and they had broached a second bottle of whiskey together. As he looked over the side at the rushing sea below him, the velvet touch of nausea caressed Georges's palate. He leaned and vomited. The tropical night wind touched his skin. He was clammy with fatigue. He raised his eyes to the silvery horizon. The ocean stirred and glittered under the stars. He was dismayed by the desolation. A landscape on which human intervention had left no trace. A world alien to the civil engineer. He was impatient to be on land again, to be liberated from the endless hours alone in the confinement of the iron chart room, to be home in Paris and at work once again in his office in the rue des Petits-Champs, welcomed by his colleagues, his report accepted, and the decision to tender for the Sydney bridge confirmed by the directors, the great design work underway at last. The roll of the ship pressed him against the rail and he gazed down at the shattered fragments of marine phosphorescence, glowing like cold fire along the iron side of the ship, as if the sea mocked the passing trace of the ship, mocking light itself with its superior power of darkness. Georges felt the shuddering of the ship through his belly and his heart shuddered in his chest. His fatigue hung on him like age. He remembered Richard Stanton's words on the beach that day, We all want big bridges, Georges. But big bridges often destroy the men who build them. He pushed himself away from the rail and made his way unsteadily along the deserted deck to the cabin. He did not put on the light but went quietly into the bathroom and washed his face and cleaned his teeth. In the cabin afterward he undressed in the dark and climbed into the bunk and lay naked beside her. Gratefully he pressed himself against her, breathing the sleepy warmth of her. She woke from her dream and turned to him, catching the strong smell of whiskey and cigars and the smell of his maleness. "What time is it?" she murmured, as if she feared they might be overheard. He reached for her and drew her against his body, bringing his hands up under her nightdress and following the soft contours of her nakedness with his fingers, as if he searched for an impossible reassurance. He moaned softly and pressed his lips to the fragrant skin of her shoulder. She put her arms around him and stroked his hair, which was cold and damp from the seanight air, and she caressed him and confessed to him in breathless whispers under the cover of darkness the intimacies of her dreams, to work, to love, to create, to be. After they had made love, he fell asleep almost at once, his breathing constricted and his mouth open, an anxious frown furrowing his glistening forehead in the purple starlight. She lay awake, aroused and unsatisfied beside him, studying his features. His handsome face might have been the face of a dead man, transfigured in the moment of bewilderment. She felt a sadness for him and for herself. This puzzling bond of intimacy. A bond almost of strangers who find themselves the victims of a common disaster. Not intimacy as it is imagined, but their humanity laid open to each other like a wound, aching for something that is not to be discovered: what they are and what they will never be. She touched his unshaven cheek, his skin coarse and feverish under her fingers. He groaned and moved his hand, reaching through sleep for her. His manly nakedness was uncompromised by his struggle against the effects of the whiskey now and she moved her hand down across his chest and his belly and with her other hand caressed herself. The tension of her pleasure was fraught with the uncertainty that he might wake...The first strong pulsation of her orgasm drew a gasp from her and she shivered and smiled; the beveled mirrorglass glinting and the polished brass of the rail behind the door and the mahogany desk, gleams of light in the trembling darkness. Copyright © 2000 Alex Miller. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Part 1 The Voyage Outp. 1
Part 2 Perpetua's Medallionp. 119
Part 3 The Conditions of Faithp. 203
Part 4 The Household of the Eldersp. 257
Part 5 Death of the Motherp. 323
Part 6 Her Painted Tablep. 361
Acknowledgmentsp. 387

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