Sunday, August 01, 2010

How the Poor Die: Mr. Jewel Remembers His Youth

Mr. Jewel's father "was a coastguard" on the South Coast of England, near Falmouth.  Mr. Jewel worked as a merchant seaman; he lost his job at Alexandria, in Egypt.  Now he has gone to ground in a hospital in Jerusalem.  His visitor is Felix, himself a war orphan:
"Don't you ever want to go back to England?" asked Felix, who privately thought England might be the best place for Mr,. Jewel.  
"No.  When I came to Alex, I had an accident and in hospital they used to wheel me out every day on to the balcony and there I lay in the sun and thought: 'This is the stuff--this is what I've always wanted. No grey skies, no rain, no cold--people in England don't know what they're missing.'"
Later, Mr. Jewel takes to reminiscing on his childhood:
"The costguard station was out on a headland.  To get to it, I mind, you'd walk a double hedge for two miles with the wind blowing a gale over you."
"What!  Always?"
"In the winter anyway.  It'd come across there so strong the birds'd drop exhausted from the sky.  Some of them died, too,.  I remember I found a guillemot once--dead, without a mark on it. I can see that bird lying on the sand now; I can see every feaather--the breast so white and silky, the wings folded, the little feet clenched under it and the beak lifted as if it were still driving against the wind.  As clear as clear.  I've wondered often since at God who made these birds so perfect to fly, and the wind too strong for them."

"Yes," murmured Felix, much affected by the bird that  had fallen before the wind perhaps fifty years before he was born.
--Olivia Manning, School for Love 95-97 (NYRB Classics ed. 2009).

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