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Конкурс переводов - Тур 55 (март 2006 г.)
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It is not everybody who, in times of mental stress, can find ready to hand among his or her personal acquaintances an expert counsellor, prepared at a moment's notice to listen with sympathy and advise with tact and skill. Everyone's world is full of friends, relatives, and others, who will give advice on any subject that may be presented to them; but there are crises in life which cannot be left to the amateur. It is the aim of a certain widely read class of paper to fill this void.

Of this class Fireside Chat was one of the best-known representatives. In exchange for one penny its five hundred thousand readers received every week a serial story about life in highest circles, a short story packed with heart-interest, articles on the removal of stains and the best method of coping with the cold mutton, anecdotes of Royalty, photographs of peeresses, hints on dress, chats about baby, brief but pointed dialogues between Blogson and Snogson, poems, Great Thoughts from the Dead and Brainy, half-hours in the editor's cosy sanctum, a slab of brown paper, and--the journal's leading feature--Advice on Matters of the Heart. The weekly contribution of the advice specialist of Fireside Chat, entitled 'In the Consulting Room, by Dr Cupid', was made up mainly of Answers to Correspondents. He affected the bedside manner of the kind, breezy old physician; and probably gave a good deal of comfort. At any rate, he always seemed to have plenty of cases on his hands.

It was to this expert that Maud took her trouble. She had been a regular reader of the paper for several years; and had, indeed, consulted the great man once before, when he had replied favourably to her query as to whether it would be right for her to accept caramels from Arthur, then almost a stranger. It was only natural that she should go to him now, in an even greater dilemma. The letter was not easy to write, but she finished it at last; and, after an anxious interval, judgement was delivered as follows:

'Well, well, well! Bless my soul, what is all this? M. P. writes me:

'I am a young lady, and until recently was very, very happy, except that my fiance, though truly loving me, was of a very jealous disposition, though I am sure I gave him no cause. He would scowl when I spoke to any other man, and this used to make me unhappy. But for some time now he has quite changed, and does not seem to mind at all, and though at first this made me feel happy, to think that he had got over his jealousy, I now feel unhappy because I am beginning to be afraid that he no longer cares for me. Do you think this is so, and what ought I to do?'

'My dear young lady, I should like to be able to reassure you; but it is kindest sometimes, you know, to be candid, however it may hurt. It has been my experience that, when jealousy flies out of the window, indifference comes in at the door. In the old days a knight would joust for the love of a ladye, risking physical injury rather than permit others to rival him in her affections. I think, M. P., that you should endeavour to discover the true state of your fiance's feelings. I do not, of course, advocate anything in the shape of unwomanly behaviour, of which I am sure, my dear young lady, you are incapable; but I think that you should certainly try to pique your fiance, to test him. At your next ball, for instance, refuse him a certain number of dances, on the plea that your programme is full. At garden-parties, at-homes, and so on, exhibit pleasure in the society and conversation of other gentlemen, and mark his demeanour as you do so. These little tests should serve either to relieve your apprehensions, provided they are groundless, or to show you the truth. And, after all, if it is the truth, it must be faced, must it not, M. P.?'

Before the end of the day Maud knew the whole passage by heart. The more her mind dwelt on it, the more clearly did it seem to express what she had felt but could not put into words. The point about jousting struck her as particularly well taken. She had looked up 'joust' in the dictionary, and it seemed to her that in these few words was contained the kernel of her trouble. In the old days, if any man had attempted to rival him in her affections (outside business hours), Arthur would undoubtedly have jousted--and jousted with the vigour of one who means to make his presence felt. Now, in similar circumstances, he would probably step aside politely, as who should say, 'After you, my dear Alphonse.'

There was no time to lose. An hour after her first perusal of Dr Cupid's advice, Maud had begun to act upon it. By the time the first lull in the morning's work had come, and there was a chance for private conversation, she had invented an imaginary young man, a shadowy Lothario, who, being introduced into her home on the previous Sunday by her brother Horace, had carried on in a way you wouldn't believe, paying all manner of compliments.

'He said I had such white hands,' said Maud.

Arthur nodded, stropping a razor the while. He appeared to be bearing the revelations with complete fortitude. Yet, only a few weeks before, a customer's comment on this same whiteness had stirred him to his depths.

'And this morning--what do you think? Why, he meets me as bold as you please, and gives me a cake of toilet soap. Like his impudence!'

She paused, hopefully.

'Always useful, soap,' said Arthur, politely sententious.

'Lovely it was,' went on Maud, dully conscious of failure, but stippling in like an artist the little touches which give atmosphere and verisimilitude to a story. 'All scented. Horace will tease me about it, I can tell you.'

She paused. Surely he must--Why, a sea-anemone would be torn with jealousy at such a tale.

Arthur did not even wince. He was charming about it. Thought it very kind of the young fellow. Didn't blame him for being struck by the whiteness of her hands. Touched on the history of soap, which he happened to have been reading up in the encyclopedia at the free library. And behaved altogether in such a thoroughly gentlemanly fashion that Maud stayed awake half the night, crying.

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