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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » I Walked in Arden » Chapter One I BEGIN AT THE BEGINNING
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I hardly know where to begin, because, as I grow older, I find it more and more difficult to know what really is the beginning of anything. Causes are all mixed up, and things that seem afterwards to have a bearing were not at the time important enough to be noted. And it is probably ten to one that some factors have been completely forgotten. I suppose nobody can tell all of what happened or tell any of it with absolute accuracy. At least, as I look on at life, any attempt to record it on paper seems hopeless. Things happen, you don't know why—and you try to use your judgment while they are happening, but even if you are very clever, you don't know whether your judgment was the best judgment. All you can observe is how things end—when they do end.

And yet I know that character—whatever that is—probably is more important than circumstances. There's an old vulgar song, something about, "It isn't what you do, it's how you take things." These aren't the words, but that is the idea. It's the same thing that my father used to say to me: "Play fair, Ted—and then if you lose, why, you must grin and bear it." I know this isn't a novel philosophy; it is a useful one. Original ideas are not necessarily helpful. An honest platitude has better sticking powers.

I must try to tell a little about the beginning. My name is Edward Jevons and I was born in New York City, but I have never had the pleasure of living in what, for lack of a better term, I shall call my native town. At the age of six, when Her Majesty Queen Victoria was seated upon the comfortable throne of those days, I was taken by my father and mother to live in England. From the age of six to the age of eighteen I was a cockney and grew up in London. In all that time my eyes did not see America.

I have nothing but pleasant memories of this childhood in London. We were not a fashionable family; we knew nothing of the wealthy Anglo-American set in London; but we had a comfortable house out Hampstead way, and, as the saying is, "did ourselves rather well." We also had a little villa in the country, near a golf-course, in Hertfordshire. The country place we rented for the summers.

My father was a business man, but he had tried his hand, in earlier life, at writing—I believe with some success. Business was more profitable than writing—and he abandoned the latter. He kept up, however, many of his literary friendships, and our house was frequented by writers of more or less fame and a few theatre people. I thus became early infected with a desire to write—a wish which my father encouraged. He took a good deal of pains over training me in observation and in arousing in me what he called, "a curiosity about life"—without which, he said, no one could write anything worth while. In the evenings I would bring him my day's work and he would discuss it seriously with me over a pipe.

My early recollections of my mother are more vague. She was a woman of strong will who rather frightened me with her direct ways of getting what she wanted. Instead of waiting to see what would happen, she took a hand in making things happen to suit her. I could never quite approve the energy she put into having her own way. My way never seemed to me important enough to make a special fuss over getting it. One could always think to please one's self—which was a happier solution than to try to do the impossible. I was always shy in my mother's presence. She, on the other hand, had a ferocious devotion to me that was terrifying. I can remember being scolded and wept over for my coldness. It wasn't that; I couldn't explain things. I don't know whether my father understood me—sometimes I thought he did and at other times I was certain he did not. I was an only son.

My sister, Frances, was much younger. I liked her very much—except when she interfered with the things in my room (I am speaking now as I remember her when a child), and then we quarrelled gorgeously. My mother always took my part, and poor Frances would end in tears. Secretly I enjoyed Frances' obvious hero-worship and the fact that I could make her cry. I was skilled in subtle ways of bullying her—teasing is perhaps a better word. Frances is one of the few persons who has ever taken me seriously. As a boy I took advantage of this to harrow her feelings. She was not, however, an important part of my life, because of the difference in our ages.

My education was rather a haphazard affair. An amiable young man was my tutor, and he did his best to make me believe arithmetic a useful branch of knowledge. He did not convince me. I tolerated his efforts and got along fairly well. I read a great deal for myself; there were always plenty of new books in the house, and my father's library of standard works was larger than even an industrious reader could get through. I absorbed a good deal of literary background without being aware I was storing up anything. Like other boys, I read for amusement—only it happened that I was amused by a fairly wide range of authors. I knew few children my own age and was not particularly interested in those I did know. They did not read much.

It was at the beginning of my eighteenth year that my father called me into his study one night and informed me that he planned sending me to America to college. The announcement was a great surprise to me, for I was happy where I was, and I could remember little about America.

There was another surprise in my father's proposal. It appeared that I was to be trained as a manufacturing chemist. My father pointed out that he needed an expert chemist in the future development of his business and had decided to make me that man. I remember I protested, pointing out to him my ambition to become a writer. My protest was overruled. My father said something about bread and butter coming first and added that chemistry need not keep me from writing.

I went to America and spent four years at a small college in one of the Eastern States—Hilltown University, it was called. They were not wholly happy years, for I found myself in the awkward predicament of being, because of my foreign upbringing, a stranger among my classmates. I did not make friends easily, but on the whole, I got through creditably. Summer holidays during these four years I spent in England with the family.

I was graduated and ready to join my father in his London business. For a year I worked away at the practical side of chemistry, and to my inward astonishment, my work appeared to give satisfaction. Indeed, I was entrusted more and more with tasks of responsibility and, according to reports, acquitted myself well. I could never quite believe that I was really a chemist. Sometimes I would sit, in the evening, before my toy theatre and, while in the act of composing a play with its doubtful aid, wonder if I were the person who went to the laboratory every morning and worked at chemistry. My writing made little progress; the curtain of my toy theatre was more often down than up, because, as my work increased in difficulty, chemistry claimed more and more of my time.

I think Sims, my mother's maid and formerly my old nurse, understood how I felt.

"The dust do be gettin' that thick on some of your books, Master Ted. You'll 'ave to let me 'ave a go at them one of these days."

Sims's expressions of sympathy were always veiled in household threats. And then there was Chitty, an ex-soldier and one-time officer's batman, who washed apparatus for me in the laboratory. To Chitty the processes of chemistry were akin to mediaeval incantations, and it was clear that he regarded me as out of my element in having anything to do with them. When we—my father and I, that is—went away week-ends to play golf, Chitty left the laboratory and accompanied us in the capacity of handy man valet. He had a large family and definite views about the fitness of things. A gentleman following a chemical career he considered as at variance with the natural order.

"It isn't as if you was born, sir, to earning a living," he confided to me one afternoon when I had cursed an unsuccessful experiment. (It was an amiable weakness of Chitty's to believe that no one that he called a "gentleman" was under any actual necessity of working.) "Why don't you chuck it, sir, for today and come out and 'ave a round of golf?"

Possibly his advice was not always disinterested, but I believe it was. Next to my sister's, Chitty's hero-worship of me was the most profound I have known. In fact, as I think things over, these are the only two to whom I was ever a hero. Many have liked me; they had faith in me. But I am wandering, as usual.

It was late in June of my twenty-third year, and exactly twelve months after my graduation into the world of chemistry, that my father called me into his study, one morning as I was about to leave for the laboratory.

"Sit down, Ted," he said. "I've got some news for you."

I sat down hopefully, wondering if at last he had recognized that I was very unhappy over my chemistry.

"Possibly," I thought, "I shall be relieved and allowed to take up writing."

"What do you say to a run over to New York to look at some new business that has cropped up there? I'm thinking of sailing Saturday and taking you with me."

I was disappointed, but there seemed nothing alarming in the suggestion, so I readily agreed.

My mother and sister saw us off at Euston, with old Sims curtseying in the background and Chitty saluting in military fashion.

On the way over my father walked the decks many hours with me and told me of all his business hopes and fears. He had got together all his available capital and was contemplating investing it in an American plant. The company was to be organized in London, with an American branch, and he was looking forward to putting me, ultimately, at the head of the whole thing. Meanwhile the new company had to be built up and to fight its own way against competition. We were to consider, in New York, what he regarded as a favourable offer of a factory which had been made him.

Although I had been in and out of New York many times while an undergraduate at Hilltown, I could never get over a feeling of strange awe at its noise and confusion. In London I was at home; in New York I felt alien and wondered how anybody could feel as if he belonged there. "Luckily," I thought, as we rode down-town on the elevated, "we shan't be here long." I had a return steamer ticket for Liverpool in an inside pocket. It was a question of closing a business transaction and returning.

At the office where we went, I was introduced to a Mr. Knowlton, our electrical engineer, who, my father told me, was to be our American manager. He was a shrewd looking man in the early thirties—possibly the late thirties, I couldn't be certain—with crow's feet about the eyes and a disconcerting grin. I saw him look at me sharply out of the corners of his eyes.

The lawyers proclaimed the situation satisfactory and I heard Knowlton give my father his technical opinion concerning the merits of the Deep Harbor Manufacturing Company, which was the name of the property we had come to see about. The factory was situated at Deep Harbor, a thriving factory town on one of the Great Lakes. On the strength of the two reports my father signed the papers, and the Deep Harbor Manufacturing Company became ours.

We were about to leave, when Knowlton turned to my father and said: "By the way, Mr. Jevons, I should like your authority, before you go, to employ a young research chemist for our laboratory out there at the plant. Some one capable of original work."

As Knowlton uttered these words a panic seized me. I knew before my father spoke what he was going to suggest.

"What about letting you have my son here?" I heard my father say. I could feel Knowlton looking me over, and I prayed for an unfavourable verdict.

"Have you had much experience in research work?" Knowlton levelled at me.

"Only a year," I faltered, wishing I could say "None."

Several other searching questions followed, which I answered as best I could. There was a moment's silence, during which I joyfully concluded that Knowlton did not care much for the look of me. It is difficult, now, to explain, but I did not want to go to Deep Harbor. My whole life, with the exception of the four years at college, had been spent in London, and I had no wish to be in any other place.

"Well," I heard Knowlton say, at last. "It is up to you, Mr. Jevons. I guess your son will fit the job."

My father turned to me.

"It's a heavy responsibility for you, Ted—but I had rather trust you than a stranger. We've got a lot at stake—in fact, all we've got in the world is at stake. Will you do it?"

I looked about the room vaguely, as if I expected to find an avenue of escape miraculously open before me. Instead, I saw Knowlton's shrewd face watching me. I felt an utter loathing and fear of the task laid upon me; yet I did not know how to refuse.

I stammered out at last: "I'll do my best, sir"—an empty-sounding formula to commit one to so much. Instinctively I knew that in uttering these words I was altering the whole course of my life.

My father was delighted by my reply. He shook me warmly by the hand and clapped me on the back.

"Ted, I know you. You'll make good out there. You've got to. And when you have, why, then you can come back to England and be your own boss."

Thus the matter was settled, without time for reflection.

That evening my father spent in giving me advice and further business details. The next morning he sailed for England again, and I was left behind to join Knowlton at the Grand Central Station at five o'clock, when the Limited was to leave that should carry us to Deep Harbor.

"The future is a terrifying thing," I thought as I went to bed that night.


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