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Конкурс переводов - Тур 71 (апрель 2008 г.)
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Leopold's justly famous band, its cheeks puffed out and its eyeballs rolling, was playing a popular melody with lots of stomp in it, and for the first time since she had accepted Hugo's invitation to the dance, Sue, gliding round the floor, was conscious of a spiritual calm. Her conscience, quieted by the moaning of the saxophones, seemed to have retired from business. It realized, no doubt, the futility of trying to pretend that there was anything wrong in a girl enjoying this delightful exercise.

How absurd, she felt, Ronnie's objections were. It was, considered Sue, becoming analytical, as if she were to make a tremendous fuss because he played tennis and golf with girls. Dancing was just a game like those two pastimes, and it so happened that you had to have a man with you or you couldn't play it. To get all jealous and throaty just because one went out dancing was simply ridiculous.

On the other hand, placid though her conscience now was, she had to admit that it was a relief to feel that he would never know of this little outing.

Men were such children when they were in love. Sue found herself sighing over the opposite sex's eccentricities. If they were only sensible, how simple life would be. It amazed her that Ronnie could ever have any possible doubt, however she might spend her leisure hours, that her heart belonged to him alone. She marvelled that he should suppose for a moment that even if she danced all night and every night with every other man in the world it would make any difference to her feelings towards him.

All the same, holding the peculiar views he did, he must undoubtedly be humoured.

'You won't breathe a word to Ronnie about our coming here, will you, Hugo?' she said, repeating an injunction which had been her opening speech on arriving at the restaurant.

'Not a syllable.'

'I can trust you ?'

'Implicitly. Telegraphic address, Discretion, Market Blandings.'

'Ronnie's funny, you see.'

'One long scream.'

'I mean, he wouldn't understand.'

'No. Great surprise it was to me,' said Hugo, doing complicated things with his feet, 'to hear that you and the old hound had decided to team up. You could have knocked me down with a feather. Odd he never confided in his boyhood friend.'

'Well, it wouldn't do for it to get about.'

'Are you suggesting that Hugo Carmody is a babbler ?'

'You do like gossiping. You know you do.'

'I know nothing of the sort,' said Hugo with dignity. 'If I were asked to give my opinion, I should say that I was essentially a strong, silent man.'

He made a complete circle of the floor in that capacity. His taciturnity surprised Sue.

'What's the matter ?' she asked.

'Dudgeon,' said Hugo.


'I'm sulking. That remark of yours rankles. That totally unfounded accusation that I cannot keep a secret. It may interest you to know that I, too, am secretly engaged and have never so much as mentioned it to a soul.'


'Yes. Betrothed. And so at long last came a day when Love wound his silken fetters about Hugo Carmody.'

'Who's the unfortunate girl?'

'There is no unfortunate girl. The lucky girl. .. Was that your foot ?'


'Sorry. I haven't got the hang of these new steps yet. The lucky girl, I was saying, is Miss Millicent Threepwood.'

As if stunned by the momentousness of the announcement, the band stopped playing; and, chancing to be immediately opposite their table, the man who never revealed secrets led his partner to her chair. She was gazing at him ecstatically. 'You don't mean that?'

'I do mean that. What did you think I meant ?'

'I never heard anything so wonderful in my life!'

'Good news ?'

'I'm simply delighted.'

'I'm pleased, too,' said Hugo.

'I've been trying not to admit it to myself, but I was very scared about Millicent. Ronnie told me the family wanted him and her to marry, and you never know what may happen when families throw their weight about. And now it's all right!'

'Quite all right.'

The music had started again, but Sue remained in her seat. 'Not ?' said Hugo, astonished.

'Not just yet. I want to talk. You don't realize what this means to me. Besides, your dancing's gone off, Hugo. You're not the man you were.'

'I need practice.' He lit a cigarette and tapped a philosophical vein of thought, eyeing the gyrating couples meditatively. 'It's the way they're always introducing new steps that bothers the man who has been living out in the woods. I have become a rusty rustic.'

'I didn't mean you were bad. Only you used to be such a marvel. Dancing with you was like floating on a pink cloud above an ocean of bliss.'

'A very accurate description, I should imagine,' agreed Hugo. 'But don't blame me. Blame these Amalgamated Professors of the Dance, or whatever they call themselves - the birds who get together every couple of weeks or so to decide how they can make things more difficult. Amazing thing that they won't leave well alone.'

'You must have change.'

'I disagree with you,' said Hugo. 'No other walk in life is afflicted by a gang of thugs who are perpetually altering the rules of the game. When you learn to play golf, the professional doesn't tell you to bring the club up slowly and keep the head steady and roll the forearms and bend the left knee and raise the left heel and keep your eye on the ball and not sway back and a few more things, and then, after you've sweated yourself to the bone learning all that, suddenly add "Of course, you understand that this is merely intended to see you through till about three weeks from next Thursday. After that the Supreme Grand Council of Consolidated Divot-Shifters will scrap these methods and invent an entirely new set!"'

'Is this more dudgeon ?'

'No. Not dudgeon.'

'It sounds like dudgeon. I believe your little feelings are hurt because I said your dancing wasn't as good as it used to be.'

'Not at all. We welcome criticism.'

'Well, get your mind off it and tell me all about you and Millicent and ... '

'When I was about five,' resumed Hugo, removing his cigarette from the holder and inserting another, 'I attended my first dancing-school. I'm a bit shaky on some of the incidents of the days when I was trailing clouds of glory, but I do remember that dancing-school. At great trouble and expense I was taught to throw up a rubber ball with my left hand and catch it with my right, keeping the small of the back rigid and generally behaving in a graceful and attractive manner. It doesn't sound a likely sort of thing to learn at a dancing-school, but I swear to you that that's what the curriculum was. Now, the point I am making . ..'

'Did you fall in love with Millicent right away, or was it gradual ?'

'The point I am making is this. I became very good at throwing and catching that rubber ball. I dislike boasting, but I stood out conspicuously among a pretty hot bunch. People would nudge each other and say "Who is he?" behind their hands. I don't suppose, when I was feeling right, I missed the rubber ball more than once in twenty goes. But what good does it do me now? Absolutely none. Long before I got a chance of exhibiting my accomplishment in public and having beautiful women fawn on me for my skill, the Society of Amalgamated Professors of the Dance decided that the Rubber-Ball Glide, or whatever it was called, was out of date.'

'Is she very pretty ?'

'And what I say is that all this chopping and changing handicaps a chap. I am perfectly prepared at this moment to step out on that floor and heave a rubber ball about, but it simply isn't being done nowadays. People wouldn't understand what I was driving at. In other words, all the time and money and trouble that I spent on mastering the Rubber-Ball Shimmy is a dead loss. I tell you, if the Amalgamated Professors want to make people cynics, they're going the right way to work.'

'I wish you would tell me all about Millicent.'

'In a moment. Dancing, they taught me at school, dates back to the early Egyptians, who ascribed the invention to the god Thoth. The Phrygian Corybantes danced in honour of somebody whose name I've forgotten, and every time the festival of Rhea Silvia came round the ancient Roman hoofers were there with their hair in a braid. But what was good enough for the god Thoth isn't good enough for these blighted Amalgamated Professors! Oh no! And it's been the same all through the ages. I don't suppose there has been a moment in history when some poor, well-meaning devil, with ambition at one end of him and two left feet at the other, wasn't getting it in the neck.'


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