As she settles on the divan, Elsa feels content with what she has written. Just the right balance of affection and firmness has been struck. She knows that the toneso much more adult than her other letterswill surprise him. Now she is the one offering apologies. Max won't have expected her to end things; he has always known the depth of her feelings. But surely he will understand the circumstances. Even if it means upending his ideals about liberty, his belief that all objectives can be reached through ardor, skill, and determination. That was, after all, what he said he admired in herher ardor. And it was what she loved in him. But of what use is it now? For all his sympathy, Max has never known what it means to be trapped.
She glances at her journal, the envelope's corner protruding from its pages. How odd that a few sheets of paper bear her decision, that at any moment she can hold them to the candle's flame, or never post them at all. But her decision is final, and has little to do with Max's knowledge of it. After all, it will be months before the letter reaches him. Perhaps it's for herself she has written, to understand once again her predicament, the unsatisfying idea of what now seems her future.
On the table beside her lies Edward's most recent book: The Indigenous Peoples of British East Africa. She extracts the ribbon marking her page and begins reading. The book so far engages herand how nice, finally, to have the luxury to read such a comprehensive study. Religious practices, domestic life, transfer of property: to each of these Edward has devoted a detailed chapter. Father always praised his field research skills. The language, though, she finds too formalA monthly ritual to grieve the dead allows adolescent members of the tribe to display emotion in the form of tears, yelps, or occasional songbut she hasn't told Edward so. "It's engrossing!" she has announced across the dinner table, the white tablecloth stretched between them like a snow-covered boulevard. "Edward, you really have known such excitement! You've seen such wonderful places." And she has watched a brief smile nudge the reserve from his face: "I am delighted, my dear, that your attention is captured by those studies which have occupied the bulk of my days. The world is filled with other wonderful places ready for study. Perhaps someday you can share in my endeavors. Really. I am touched, in the utmost, by your interest in my work." It is, thinks Elsa, the least she can do. And how could she not be intrigued by such far-off lands, and the faint promise he might take her to one?
In the center of the sitting room's carpet, Alice is sprawled on her stomach, drawing pictures. Her stocking feet, flung up behind her, crisscross in distracted excitement. Her long brown braid, Elsa's morning handiwork, has already unfurled into a riot of curls. Every few minutes Alice leaps up and rattles a picture in front of Elsa: "Beazley," she announces with a smile. From years of hearing their father use that name, Alice cannot be persuaded to call him "Edward." "Wonderful, dearest," Elsa replies. Then she straightens Alice's dress, tucking away the lacy edges that have crept up the bodice, the straps that have wandered out of place. A fortnight earlier, Alice lay slung across the chesterfield, her skirt twisted like a bedsheet about her waist, her stark white bloomers perforating the dark shadows of the room. When, returning from the university, Edward had stepped in to say hello, Alice's indecency startled him. She should at least prevent him further embarrassment. Now, beneath the fastidiousness of Elsa's hands, Alice squirms and sighs and huffsthe opening notes to her temper's looming aria.
"Allie, dear, I've an idea." Elsa whisks her expression into exaggerated delight. "Would you draw me another?"
Then Alice drops down, her black skirt ballooning, and begins again.
Excerpted from Easter Island by Jennifer Vanderbes Copyright© 2003 by Jennifer Vanderbes. Excerpted by permission of Dial Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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