"patriarchal! what the - i am not even sure what it means."
"look it up in the fifteenth edition of the encyclopedia brittanica ," drawled rosalind. she stood up, as her turn was next.
"and your author is proust," miss prue told nanette.
"proust. i need help here."
by nanette nanao
illustrations by roy dismas
editorial consultant: Prof. Dan Leo
for many years i attempted, not only to erase all traces of my early life from the eyes of the world, but to obliterate them from my own memory. i found that i could best play the part i wished to on the stage of the world, if i believed in it myself, or at least kept nothing on the surface of my consciousness to contradict it.
i was careful not to overplay my part. thus i never styled myself "countess de this" or "baroness de that" or claimed any aristocratic title at all, leaving to the imagination of my dupes - or should i say dupe, as the whole world was my dupe - the impression that i was incognito, or that i disdained to assume my rightful title in a world swarming with parvenus.
as i made no claims, i could never be accused, in the worst of cases, of professing false ones. even better, i was leaving my interlocutors at the mercy of those most qualified and adept at misleading them - namely, themselves.
so it was that at an age when women born into such circumstances as i had been, are either dead or beaten by fate into shapeless shadows hidden in the dust of the world, and even women born with all advantage are beginning to hear the chilly laughter and feel the first soft caress of mistress time - i, the self-named maxine montfort, having defeated my enemies , survived my friends, and secured my allies, was riding with all contentment down the shady main highway of the province of y-------------.
i had spent the afternoon paying a call on the local eminence madame de n------. a terrible bore, but how could i complain? had i not spent my whole life precisely striving toward the goal of associating with such as madame de n-----------? and she had her good points, such as a cook who produced the most excellent little cream cakes, and a somewhat overstuffed divan that i was quite fond of, and relaxed on perhaps a trifle too comfortably. but i had paid her at the whist table, playing my usual perfect game - that is, not too well, and not too badly. and now after such exertions i was in no particular hurry to reach my own little house, and was quite enjoying the familiar ride.
the coachman made a wide, smooth turn at a bend in the road that i had ridden hundreds of times...
i remember that moment almost every day, and in a detail that a skeptic might smile at. i remember not only that the trees were in full leaf, but i can almost count the leaves on each tree, and every vein on every leaf. i remember that two birds flew out of one of the trees, and passed over the horses' heads. one was a dull brown, with gray flecks on its wings, the other quite a bright little fellow, a sort of reddish-orange with a brighter red on its wings.
and when my eye returned from watching their flight, i noticed a small wagon stopped by the side of the road, in the same direction we were traveling. a rustically dressed, slightly hunchbacked man sat in the drivers seat with his back to us. a small black pony with white markings was in the harness, and though stopped, not in any apparent distress.
nor did the wagon itself show any sign of injury. shadows from the tall chestnut trees that lined the road played cross the wagon, the pony and the driver as the treetops moved back and forth in the not unpleasant late summer wind.
two persons stood a little apart from the wagon in animated conversation, which, of course, i could not make out in our immediate approach, an elegant looking young woman of about fifteen years, raven-haired and pale, wearing a full white dress tastefully trimmed in red,
and a round shouldered older man, like the driver with his back to us, and dressed in green clothing which might almost have belonged to a tramp, but also to a well off peasant or even to a country gentleman of a certain type - the type completely indifferent to the opinion of his fellow creatures.
all this of course, however long it takes to write it , or to read it, impressed itself on me in a matter of a few seconds.
despite the lack of any sign of absolute sign of distress in this little party, there was no question of our not stopping. besides such neighborly considerateness being the "custom of the country", my coachman, joseph, could never pass man or beast if it showed the least indication of needing the least assistance in anything at all. like all of my servants, he was what is known as a "good soul" or even a "simple soul", pious, quiet, and forbearing.
i make it a rule to hire only such people, despite the occasional annoyances they provide, because on the whole, though not of course absolutely - because what in this world is absolute? - they really are less inclined to gossip and poke their noses into one's past and present business.
but i digress. joseph stopped my coach with his usual skill. the young woman in the white dress looked up at me with an air worthy of the empress eugenie. the man in the green coat, after a moment's hesitation, turned and looked me in the eye.
since i did not have a mirror in front of my face, i have always assumed that i turned white. otherwise my years of dissimulation - why call it anything else? - stood me in good stead and in tones of perfect good breeding i enquired if the gentleman needed any assistance.
he replied as courteously that he did not, and only his blue eyes indicated both that he knew me and that he was as surprised by our encounter as i was. so it was that i again came face to face with the man who for the first fourteen years of my existence had been my judge, jury, jailer and vengeful god.