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Authors: Patrick White

The Eye of the Storm

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Patrick White was born in England in 1912. He was taken to Australia (where his father owned a sheep farm) when he was six months old, but educated in England, at Cheltenham College and King's College, Cambridge. He settled in London, where he wrote several unpublished novels, then served in the RAF during the Second World War. He returned after the war to Australia, where he became the most considerable figure in modern Australian literature before being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973. His position as a man of letters was controversial, provoked by his unpredictable public statements and his belief that it is eccentric individuals who offer the only hope of salvation. Technically brilliant, he is a modern novelist of whom the epithet ‘visionary' can safely be applied. Patrick White died in September 1990. In 2012, Knopf will publish
The Hanging Garden
. Handwritten in 1982 it had remained untranscribed, until now.

BY PATRICK WHITE

Fiction

Happy Valley

The Living And The Dead

The Aunt's Story

The Tree Of Man

Voss

Riders In The Chariot

The Burnt Ones

The Solid Mandala

The Vivisector

The Eye Of The Storm

The Cockatoos

A Fringe Of Leaves

The Twyborn Affair

Three Uneasy Pieces

Memoirs Of Many In One
(Editor)

Autobiography

Flaws In The Glass

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity, including internet search engines or retailers, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, photocopying (except under the statutory exceptions provisions of the Australian
Copyright Act 1968
), recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of Random House Australia. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

The Eye of the Storm
9781742743684

A Vintage book
Published by Random House Australia Pty Ltd
Level 3, 100 Pacific Highway, North Sydney NSW 2060
www.randomhouse.com.au

First published by Vintage in 1995
First published in Great Britain by Jonathan Cape Ltd in 1973

Copyright © Patrick White 1973

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity, including internet search engines or retailers, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying (except under the statutory exceptions provisions of the Australian
Copyright Act 1968
), recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of Random House Australia.

Addresses for companies within the Random House Group can be found at
www.randomhouse.com.au/offices

National Library of Australia
Cataloguing-in-Publication Entry

White, Patrick, 1912-1990
The eye of the storm/Patrick White

ISBN 978 1 74275 258 7 (pbk.)

A823.3

Cover illustration © Transmission Films
Cover design by saso content & design pty ltd

CONTENTS

Cover

About the Author

Also by Patrick White

Title Page

Copyright

Imprint Page

Dedication

Epigraph

 

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

TO MAIE CASEY

I was given by chance this human body so
difficult to wear.

N
play

He felt what could have been a tremor of
heaven's own perverse love.

Kawabata

Men and boughs break;

Praise life while you walk and wake;

It is only lent.

David Campbell

One

T
HE OLD
woman's head was barely fretting against the pillow. She could have moaned slightly.

‘What is it?' asked the nurse, advancing on her out of the shadow. ‘Aren't you comfortable, Mrs Hunter?'

‘Not at all. I'm lying on corks. They're hurting me.'

The nurse smoothed the kidney-blanket, the macintosh, and stretched the sheet. She worked with an air which was not quite professional detachment, nor yet human tenderness; she was probably something of a ritualist. There was no need to switch on a lamp: a white light had begun spilling through the open window; there was a bloom of moonstones on the dark grove of furniture.

‘Oh dear, will it never be morning?' Mrs Hunter got her head as well as she could out of the steamy pillows.

‘It is,' said the nurse; ‘can't you—can't
you feel
it?' While working around this almost chrysalis in her charge, her veil had grown transparent; on the other hand, the wings of her hair, escaping from beneath the lawn, could not have looked a more solid black.

‘Yes. I can feel it. It is morning.' The old creature sighed; then the lips, the pale gums opened in the smile of a giant baby. ‘Which one are you?' she asked.

‘De Santis. But I'm sure you know. I'm the night nurse.'

‘Yes. Of course.'

Sister de Santis had taken the pillows and was shaking them up, all but one; in spite of this continued support, Mrs Hunter looked pretty flat.

‘I do hope it's going to be one of my good days,' she said. ‘I do want to
sound
intelligent. And look—presentable.'

‘You will if you want to.' Sister de Santis replaced the pillows. ‘I've never known you not rise to an occasion.'

‘My will is sometimes rusty.'

‘Dr Gidley's coming in case. I rang him last night. We must remember to tell Sister Badgery.'

‘The will doesn't depend on doctors.'

Though she might have been in agreement, it was one of the remarks Sister de Santis chose not to hear. ‘Are you comfortable now, Mrs Hunter?'

The old head lay looking almost embalmed against the perfect structure of pillows; below the chin a straight line of sheet was pinning the body to the bed. ‘I haven't felt comfortable for years.' said the voice. ‘And why do you have to go? Why must I have Badgery?'

‘Because she takes over at morning.'

A burst of pigeons' wings was fired from somewhere in the garden below.

‘I hate Badgery.'

‘You know you don't. She's so kind.'

‘She talks too much—on and on about that husband. She's too bossy.'

‘She's only practical. You have to be in the daytime.' One reason why she herself preferred night duties.

‘I hate all those other women.' Mrs Hunter had mustered her complete stubbornness this morning. ‘It's only you I love, Sister de Santis.' She directed at the nurse that milky stare which at times still seemed to unshutter glimpses of a terrifying mineral blue.

Sister de Santis began moving about the room with practised discretion.

‘At least I can see you this morning.' Mrs Hunter announced. ‘You can't escape me. You look like some kind of—big—
lily
.'

The nurse could not prevent herself ducking her veil.

‘Are you listening to me?'

Of course she was: these were the moments which refreshed them both.

‘I can see the window too,' Mrs Hunter meandered. ‘And something—a sort of wateriness—oh yes, the looking-glass. All
good signs! This is one of the days when I can see better. I shall see
them
!'

‘Yes. You'll see them.' The nurse was arranging the hairbrushes; the ivory brushes with their true-lovers' knots in gold and lapis lazuli had a fascination for her.

‘The worst thing about love between human beings,' the voice was directed at her from the bed, ‘when you're prepared to love them they don't want it; when they do, it's you who can't bear the idea.'

‘You've got an exhausting day ahead,' Sister de Santis warned; ‘you'd better not excite yourself.'

‘I've always excited myself if the opportunity arose. I can't stop now—for anyone.'

Again there was that moment of splintered sapphires, before the lids, dropping like scales, extinguished it.

‘You're right, though. I shall need my strength.' The voice began to wheedle. ‘Won't you hold my hand a little, dear Mary—isn't it? de Santis?'

Sister de Santis hesitated enough to appease the spirit of her training. Then she drew up a little mahogany tabouret upholstered in a faded sage. She settled her opulent breasts, a surprise in an otherwise austere figure, and took the skin and bone of Mrs Hunter's hand.

Thus placed they were exquisitely united. According to the light it was neither night nor day. They inhabited a world of trust, to which their bodies and minds were no more than entrance gates. Of course Sister de Santis could not answer truthfully for her patient's mind: so old and erratic, often feeble since the stroke; but there were moments such as this when they seemed to reach a peculiar pitch of empathy. The nurse might have wished to remain clinging to their state of perfection if she had not evolved, in the course of her working life, a belief—no, it was stronger: a religion—of perpetual becoming. Because she was handsome in looks and her bearing suggested authority, those of her colleagues who detected in her something odd and reprehensible would not have dared call it ‘religious'; if they laughed at her, it was not to her face. Even so, it
could have been the breath of scorn which had dictated her choice of the night hours in which to patrol the intenser world of her conviction, to practise not only the disciplines of her professed vocation, but the rituals of her secret faith.

Then why Mrs Hunter? those less dedicated or more rational might have suggested, and Mary de Santis failed to explain; except that this ruin of an over-indulged and beautiful youth, rustling with fretful spite when not bludgeoning with a brutality only old age is ingenious enough to use, was also a soul about to leave the body it had worn, and already able to emancipate itself so completely from human emotions, it became at times as redemptive as water, as clear as morning light.

This actual morning old Mrs Hunter opened her eyes and said to her nurse,' Where are the dolls?'

‘Where you left them, I expect,' Because her inept answer satisfied neither of them, the nurse developed a pained look.

‘But that's what they always say! Why don't they bring them?' Mrs Hunter protested.

BOOK: The Eye of the Storm
3.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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