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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Sample Sunday: The Prince and Betty

A scene from Chapter Seven, where Betty confronts John after learning that he is a prince and that he is in on her uncle's schemes to promote his new casino:

In days of old, in the age of legend, omens warned heroes of impending doom. But today the gods have grown weary, and we rush unsuspecting on our fate. No owl hooted, no thunder rolled from the blue sky as John went up the path to meet the white dress that gleamed between the trees.

His heart was singing within him. She had come. She had not forgotten, or changed her mind, or willfully abandoned him. His mood lightened swiftly. Humility vanished. He was not such an outcast, after all. He was someone. He was the man Betty Silver had come to meet.

But with the sight of her face came reaction.

Her face was pale and cold and hard. She did not speak or smile. As she drew near she looked at him, and there was that in her look which set a chill wind blowing through the world and cast a veil across the sun.

And in this bleak world they stood silent and motionless while eons rolled by.

Betty was the first to speak.

"I'm late," she said.

John searched in his brain for words, and came away empty. He shook his head dumbly.

"Shall we sit down?" said Betty.

John indicated silently the sandstone rock on which he had been communing with himself.
They sat down. A sense of being preposterously and indecently big obsessed John. There seemed no end to him. Wherever he looked, there were hands and feet and legs. He was a vast blot on the face of the earth. He glanced out of the corner of his eye at Betty. She was gazing out to sea.

He dived into his brain again. It was absurd! There must be something to say.

And then he realized that a worse thing had befallen. He had no voice. It had gone. He knew that, try he never so hard to speak, he would not be able to utter a word. A nightmare feeling of unreality came upon him. Had he ever spoken? Had he ever done anything but sit dumbly on that rock, looking at those sea gulls out in the water?

He shot another swift glance at Betty, and a thrill went through him. There were tears in her eyes.

The next moment—the action was almost automatic—his left hand was clasping her right, and he was moving along the rock to her side.

She snatched her hand away.

His brain, ransacked for the third time, yielded a single word.


She got up quickly.

In the confused state of his mind, John found it necessary if he were to speak at all, to say the essential thing in the shortest possible way. Polished periods are not for the man who is feeling deeply.

He blurted out, huskily, "I love you!" and finding that this was all that he could say, was silent.

Even to himself the words, as he spoke them, sounded bald and meaningless. To Betty, shaken by her encounter with Mr. Scobell, they sounded artificial, as if he were forcing himself to repeat a lesson. They jarred upon her.

"Don't!" she said sharply. "Oh, don't!"

Her voice stabbed him. It could not have stirred him more if she had uttered a cry of physical pain.

"Don't! I know. I've been told."

"Been told?"

She went on quickly.

"I know all about it. My stepfather has just told me. He said—he said you were his—" she choked—"his hired man; that he paid you to stay here and advertise the Casino. Oh, it's too horrible! That it should be you! You, who have been—you can't understand what you—have been to me—ever since we met; you couldn't understand. I can't tell you—a sort of help—something—something that—I can't put it into words. Only it used to help me just to think of you. It was almost impersonal. I didn't mind if I never saw you again. I didn't expect ever to see you again. It was just being able to think of you. It helped—you were something I could trust. Something strong—solid." She laughed bitterly. "I suppose I made a hero of you. Girls are fools. But it helped me to feel that there was one man alive who—who put his honor above money—"

She broke off. John stood motionless, staring at the ground. For the first time in his easy-going life he knew shame. Even now he had not grasped to the full the purport of her words. The scales were falling from his eyes, but as yet he saw but dimly.

She began to speak again, in a low, monotonous voice, almost as if she were talking to herself. She was looking past him, at the gulls that swooped and skimmed above the glittering water.

"I'm so tired of money—money—money. Everything's money. Isn't there a man in the world who won't sell himself? I thought that you—I suppose I'm stupid. It's business, I suppose. One expects too much."

She looked at him wearily.

"Good-bye," she said. "I'm going."

He did not move.

She turned, and went slowly up the path. Still he made no movement. A spell seemed to be on him. His eyes never left her as she passed into the shadow of the trees. For a moment her white dress stood out clearly. She had stopped. With his whole soul he prayed that she would look back. But she moved on once more, and was gone. And suddenly a strange weakness came upon John. 

He trembled. The hillside flickered before his eyes for an instant, and he clutched at the sandstone rock to steady himself.

Then his brain cleared, and he found himself thinking swiftly. He could not let her go like this. He must overtake her. He must stop her. He must speak to her. He must say—he did not know what it was that he would say—anything, so that he spoke to her again.

He raced up the path, calling her name. No answer came to his cries. Above him lay the hillside, dozing in the noonday sun; below, the Mediterranean, sleek and blue, without a ripple. He stood alone in a land of silence and sleep.

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The Prince and Betty by P.G. Wodehouse
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