The Spider's Web
He preferred walking to the estate as not to expose his feelings to anyone, but rather keep his memories to himself. After further thought he chose to go on the coach with his dad. After all, he believed that now, with his new experience, he had the formula to avoid suffering. He was confident that nothing could happen to him.
This time Vincent did not feel any discomfort in the coach and the ride back was quite short. He was plunged deep in thought with all the feelings he had experienced on his first day in India. No physical trial could diminish the happiness that Vincent now felt. The time factor had disappeared in Vincents conception. Vincent did not find it necessary to converse with anyone.
Upon reaching the house, he went directly to his room and lay down on his bed. He did not feel lonely anymore. He had become his own best companion. He had the impression now that he always had someone to speak to.
Mr. Mershensons house was like a palace. The tall columns which held up the ceiling gave an impressing stature to the house. The immense living room was an expression of Mr. Mershenson’s wealth. The garden was well tended but Vincent found that too regular a symmetry in the line of flower beds had disturbed the natural Asian landscape. Personally, he preferred the wheat fields. Of course, Vincent was well advised not to share his opinion with Mr. Mershenson, who was proud of his straight flower lines.
Now Vincent found it easy to play his role. He would tell Mr. Mershenson what he wanted to hear. Vincent understood that Mr. Mershenson could not accept any criticism, especially concerning his garden. Vincent even believed that if Mr. Mershenson knew Vincents real opinion, he would prefer not to hear it. In the evening, Vincent had to dress elegantly, as he knew that Mr. Mershenson liked this kind of life. Clearly, Mr. Mershenson could not imagine even for a moment what was going on in Vincent's mind.
Mr. de Montaigne had prepared Vincent well in playing the games of society. One day he said to Vincent, “If you want to be accepted by your peers, you should first learn to be a good player.” Although Vincent knew how to play his part he was at least sincere at heart. He tried to be careful not to fall into his own trap.
The second dinner ceremony was more impressive than the first. It was not easy for Vincent to play this part and be sincere with himself at the same time. He could only relax when he reached his own room. The four silent walls of his room finally enabled Vincent to hear his own heart. He could now distinguish a rhythm, which was like a secret language. The feel¬ings that he had had just a few hours ago became an enigma which he had slowly to learn to decipher.
These feelings and sensations Vincent had not learned in school. Now every new experience gave him a new feeling and became a secret language for him. Suddenly, Vincent's room became brilliantly lit with a flash of lightning, starkly visible through the large window. This was followed by a deafening clap of thunder. A tropical rain came pouring down and the garden was quickly inundated. The sky seemed inexhaustible.
Water cascaded down from the roof against Vincent’s window and pattered on the floor. He arose hastily and shut the windows. The butler hurried in, drenched to the skin. The water streamed down along the white walls outside. The fresh smell of rain on dry soil permeated through every room. Steam rose up from the courtyard, which had been seared by the sun all day long.
Mr. Mershenson went to the library, which was furnished with book laden shelves along an entire wall. Mr. de Montaigne, smartly dressed, came over to Vincent's room to ask him if he wanted to join him. Vincent, too wide awake, accepted gladly. Both gentlemen were now dressed as if for ceremony. Mr. Mershenson was dressed like a prince, with a white silk scarf. He remarked to the two Montaignes, “Have you seen such rain? Without such rain, we will parch here. Now smell the fresh air. In a few moments, the rain will be gone. It is a different world here”. Vincent, who had never seen such rain, agreed with Mr. Mershenson and seemed to be happy. Mr. Mershenson made a small sign with his eyes to the butler.
Three weeks had now passed with elaborate meals and trips with the coach. Each day was almost exactly like the one before. Vincent felt lonely as his dad was almost completely occupied with Mr. Mershenson. His dream was to have a direct liaison with the tea growers, without having to go through brokers, who could not provide the merchandise most of the time when he had a buyer, and always came up with an excuse for not delivering the promised goods.
Mr. de Montaigne had spent his entire life in disappointment. Now a direct deal seemed on hand. One day he came to Vincent, happy as a boy, and said, “You see, Vincent, all this represents a lot of money. We shall be rich and we won't need to travel any longer from city to city and village to village. Just a few ship loads of tea and our problems will be over”. He continued, smiling, “You can imagine how lucky we are, to have a friend like Mr. Mershenson. I met Mr. Mershenson when he was in the army. He came one day to accompany his general, who had a meeting with the French Government. One evening, he was free from duty and was walking alone, without knowing a word of French. I was alone too and as I knew English, I volunteered to spend that evening with him. Since then, we have exchanged friendly letters. He had already spoken to me, then, about India, where he was born. He had told me about his dad’s fortune. I was too young at the time and all that he said was soon forgotten. Since then, we became good friends. If I had known all this, I would have come much earlier. I should have been rich by now.”
Mr. Mershenson did not seem in any hurry to make the deal with his friend. Mr. de Montaigne was patient. This was his last chance. He was now talking to himself. “It is not easy to become rich. It takes some years for a person to become rich. We may have to wait patiently for a few weeks and that is not a big deal. After all, we are happy here and have everything.”
Vincent, on his part was happy that the deal was still not made as he wanted to spend a few months in India. He had never been as happy as he was now.
Vincent had never asked Mr. Mershenson about his daughter. One morning he did not feel well. His father advised him to stay home and relax. Mr. Mershenson and Mr. de Montaigne went to Bombay for the day. Around noon, Vincent thought he was dreaming, as he had the impression of hearing footsteps. For a moment he thought that these could be the butler’s footsteps, but his were much slower and heavier. These steps were much lighter. He was curious; he opened his door, when suddenly and surprisingly he faced a nice young lady walking towards him. He thought at first that she was a maid. Then he decided that she was too well dressed for that and she seemed cultivated in her appearance. She passed him without saying a word. Vincent greeted her; she returned his greeting with a sweet smile.
When Vincent quietly shut the door so as not to appear curious, he sensed something good. He had wished to gaze at her indefinitely. He blamed himself for being shy. “I should have started a conversation with her,” he muttered to himself. He paced nervously about the room, between the door and his window. As he became quite desperate, someone knocked at his door. Vincent, his heart aflutter, hurriedly passed a brush through his hair, took a quick look at himself in the mirror then graciously opened the door.
She was standing at the threshold of the door. Vincent was dumbfounded and nervous. She smiled, and as if to get over his embarrassment, asked, “Are you Vincent?”
Still stupefied, he awkwardly arranged a smile on his face and stammered, “Yes, Miss...?”
“Mershenson,” she completed. Then, with an air of confidence and authority she asked him, “May I come in and have a glimpse of your room to see if you have been treated well?” Vincent could not have wished for better and answered quickly, “Please do, Miss Mershenson”.
“Sonia. It is a very short name.” she replied. Vincent was sure he was dreaming. Sonia walked into the room and inspected every corner like an army officer. Then she said, ”Do you like this room?” Vincent, who did not really like the room, answered, “Oh yes! Its fine, Miss. Mershenson”.
She corrected him with “Say Sonia”.
Vincent obediently repeated, “Yes, Miss. Sonia”.
“Everyone here calls me ‘Miss. Can't you just call me Sonia?”
Vincent realized he had forgotten to introduce himself and decided to rectify the situation immediately. “My name is Vincent de Montaigne.”
“I know your name and I know who you are.” She responded politely. Vincent was agreeably confused, and could not understand how she knew his name. He then said, “You can call me Vincent”.
“No, I would like to call you D.J.”, she said.
Vincent thought she must be joking. He repeated after her in astonishment, “D.J., what’s that?”
“Yes. I like shortened names. I call my father ‘Pa and Miss Gibson, I call ‘Gibbs”. Vincent could not understand a word of what she was saying. “Who is Miss. Gibson, or Gibbs?” he demanded. At this, Sonia was confused and said with astonishment, “You don’t know Miss. Gibson?” Vincent was embarrassed at not knowing anything about her, while she seemed to know so much about him. Vincent could not guess who she was and could not see her as Mr. Mershensons daughter.
He murmured to himself, “She is not a maid, she cannot be Mr. Mershensons wife. Maybe she is a sister or a cousin of Mr. Mershensons.” Since he had arrived at this house, he had not seen any women at all. He was of course, charmed by her presence. But Sonia was still an enigma to Vincent. Then suddenly relief was provided by Sonia, who upon realizing that Vincent was confused and troubled, said to him softly, “Vincent, sit down for a moment,” and she took him by his hand like a child and sat him down on the bed.
Vincent who was completely enraptured by the touch of her soft hand, sat down on the bed and without hesitation, Sonia sat down beside him. Vincents emotions ran high as it was the first time he came so close to a girl. She looked into his eyes and said, “Vincent, I can see that you dont know who I am, although I have been thinking about you for years”. These words increased Vincent’s sensitivity and his thoughts started racing in his head. Vincent waited impatiently for her next move.
Sonia continued, “My father's invitation was my idea. Do you know how many times I have dreamed about you? I became obsessed and could hardly study. When you arrived my father and my teacher did not want me to show up until I had finished my exams as they had to be mailed to London. I was furious but I had to give way to them. Now, do you understand?”
Vincent was still perplexed and the words caught in his throat. She continued, “Do you remember one day when I came to Paris with my dad? I was ten years old, then. You did not even glance at me, but I admired you and looked at you all the time”. Vincent could not remember having seen her; he tried hard to think back to find some association with her words but could not find a trace.
She continued, “You have not changed, you are taller and more mature, but your eyes are still the same.” Vincent was enchanted with this new adventure and everything seemed to be turning out for him like a delightful romance. Ever since he had left Josephine, he had been eager to meet a young girl. Now everything seemed well arranged like it was orchestrated. Here he was, alone with a charming young girl. Her skirt touched his leg once in a while. He wished he had the courage to hug her, but he was prudent and preferred to wait. He felt already conquered by her charm and her feminine voice.
He was a little embarrassed at the thought of Sonia sitting on his bed. If someone were to enter just now, he would be abashed. The thought that his dad and Mr. Mershenson might see them both in such a compromising position disturbed him. He wanted to be at his best, but at the same time he wished that no one would disturb these delightful moments that he was enjoying so much. Breaking off from his day dream, he said, “Sonia, can you imagine if your dad surprised us right now?” Sonia smiled confidently and said, “My dad will not return before evening and besides we are doing nothing wrong!” “But we are together on the same bed!” Sonia laughed and said, “What would you do if I wanted to kiss you?”
Vincent’s face flashed by the thought, but he was also eager to kiss her and while he was musing, Sonia, true to her words hugged him and kissed him. Vincent was thrilled and felt his heart melt. Her warmth was unique. He had never felt like this, even when he was with Josephine. Now a burning fire embraced his entire being.
Nothing further happened. Sonia continued, “When I was little, my mother died after a long illness.” Vincent was shocked that someone else had lost her mother and said in a sad voice, “You lost your mother too?”
Yes,” she said calmly. “After that, my father hired Miss Gibson specially to look after me. She is like my mother but she is strict with me when it comes to studying. She wants me to be the best student. For what reason, I do not know. They want to shape me like they want, like a good girl, as they used to say. A girl who dresses well, to indicate that she belongs to high society. A girl who obeys every order and complies with all their traditions and their way of life. A girl who always has a prepared answer as from a book. A polite girl. A girl with a sense of humor, well-prepared in advance. To laugh when they want me to laugh, to be serious when they want me to be serious. Nothing is left for my imagination, for my spontaneity, for my feelings, for natural enthusiasm. I cannot cry when I want to cry. Nothing is left for my love or to my choice. Everything is guided like a robot. No one wants to know about my personality. My personality should reflect my fathers will and his wealth. Do you understand what this is all about, Vincent?” Then she glanced at Vincent and continued:
“Sometimes, I want to be alone, just to remember the song of the bird, the color of the flower, the blooming of the roses when they show their beautiful colors, the smell of jasmine, the dark night sky full of stars, the sunrise, which fills our hearts with hope and joy and happiness, the sim¬ple folk songs, the colorful designs without method, just as they come, the wild trees in their natural shape. I dream of a garden that grows without the symmetry that my father loves so much. To laugh and to cry when I want. To sleep when I am sleepy, to eat when I am hungry, sometimes just a piece of bread with something that I like and not to be obligated to eat what our cook has decided to have for the day. I have had enough of all those big lunches with the usual ceremony.
I dream of walking and running when I feel like it. To dress casually and let myself burn under the sun. To cut my hair and not to be obliged to look like a monkey in a society where everyone tries to impress everyone else not by their intelligence but by their clothes and wealth. I dream of going back to my childhood and to hug my mom and to share with her my love and my aspirations. I have grown up with Miss Gibbs, whose only duty is to shape me like a living sculpture just for the admiration of others. Who cares about what others think about me. Who cares who I am! I don't want to be like them. I want to be myself and only myself with my vast horizon which is not limited to the wealth of my dad. To write about all my feelings and to cherish you as you became during all those years, my dream and my only dream. You were my only hope.
Many a night have I dreamed that you rode on horseback to save me from all my misery and take me away high in the mountains, close to the sky, where solitude has its own music which thrills my soul and vibrates through my entire being. To see the sun rise and set without saying a word.”
Copyright Emile M. Tubiana 2009 all rights reserved