Child of the word
Hilary Birdu is forty one years old. He works “in the state department – no matter what”, in the bureaucratic hierarchy, except for the typist and clerk, stands on the lowest step; lives in an uncomfortable apartment, which serves him only as a “place for sleeping,” without trying to equip it or even just how to remove it. He blindly follows the routine – “since he lost all hope of salvation,” for “routine… excludes thought, and the measured monotony of the days of the week causes a pleasing consciousness of complete subordination of time and history.” (The chapters of the book are called as the days of the week: Thursday, Friday, etc.) Weekends are hell for him, and he takes leave only for fear of gossip and simply hides in his hole, mostly trying to sleep.
So, Saturday he invariably dedicates to his sister Kristel, five years younger than him. She lives in a cramped
apartment on the shabby alley of North End Road, also alone, trying to earn by sewing. Their fathers and Kristel were different, and they did not know their fathers. Their mother died when Hilary was about seven years old, and Kristel was very small, but before the boy could understand the meaning of the word, he was told that his mother was a whore. The mother’s sister took the children to her, but soon she sent Hilary to the orphanage, separated from her sister and instilled into him for the rest of her life, that he was “bad” – a bad boy who can not be kept at home. Neither about Aunt Bill nor Hilary’s shelter can remember without shudder – not so much because of hunger and beatings, but because no one loved him – scratched by the life of a boy who had established himself in anger and resentment, with a sensation of an incurable wound,
Actually, the reputation of the “bad” was deserved to him – he was strong and pugnacious; well developed physically, he sought to subjugate others with the help of brute force; He liked to beat people, liked to break things;
He hated the whole world – for himself, for Christel, for his mother. At the age of twelve he was first brought before a juvenile court, and then troubles with the police arose regularly. In those years, Kristel was everything to him – a sister, a mother, the only hope, almost the Lord God. He does not separate Christel from himself and loves her as himself. And then saved him then two people: Kristel and school teacher Osmand, who managed to discern his brilliant ability for languages. Osmand was the first person who attentively and interestedly reacted to a teenager, to whom everyone gave up; and he learned first French, then Latin, then Ancient Greek and, of course, their own language. He discovered the words – and this became his salvation; as others say “the child of love,” one could say of him “child of speech.” He began to study in an inspired way and was so successful that he went to Oxford, the first of all generations of pupils at the school where he studied, and received there all the prizes he could claim. Oxford changed it, but at the same time showed how difficult it is for him to change – profound ignorance and hopeless despair became a part of his existence; he did not start real friends, was touchy, unsociable and always afraid to make a mistake. He tried to compensate for this by successes in the examinations – he tried for himself and for Christel’s sake, dreaming of how his sister would settle with him in Oxford and they would end forever with the hopelessness in which they grew up. But, becoming a teacher, Hilary Baird was forced to resign. It was a failure; since then he has been vegetating, unwilling-or unable-to regain his life, and only his sister (he believes) keeps him from committing suicide.
(In the department where Hilary Baird serves, they are preparing to put on a Christmas pantomime for Peter Pan, stories about a boy who did not want to grow up, much talk about it, and a statue of Peter Pan in Kensington gardens is one of Hilary’s favorite places.)
On Mondays, Baird spends his evening with Clifford Larre, a former fellow practitioner in Oxford, who now serves with him in the same institution, but stands much higher on the career ladder. Larr, in his own words, collects oddities, to which Hilary Byrd also counts; he treats with touching admiration the fact that his sister Kristel is a virgin. In the service they pretend that they are unfamiliar, keeping a chaste silence about the terrible secrets of each other. It was Larr who persuaded him to rent one of his apartment rooms to Christopher, his former lover (he is a homosexual). Christopher, in the early youth of the head of the rock band, one of the songs which entered the top-ten of the UK, is now fond of “searching for God” and drugs.
On Tuesdays, Baird spends his evening with Arthur Fish – he serves in the same institution and reports to Baird, and besides, he is in love with Kristel and wants to marry her.
Wednesday is “this is my day for myself” – so says Byrd to his mistress Tommy, whom she spends Friday when she wants to increase the number of meetings with him to two a week. As a rule, Wednesday evening takes place in the bar on the Sloane Square subway station or Liverpool Street, which was for him “a place of deep communication with London, with the sources of life, with the abysses of humility between grief and death.”
On Thursdays, he dines with Laura and Freddie Impayette, where Clifford Larr is also a couple, and when he returns home, he goes to Christel to take Arthur from there, who is having dinner with her this evening.
These people constitute the “routine” to which he limited his life.
The measured flow of life of this person in the case is violated by a strange event – a colored girl begins to come to him. She is half-Indian, her name is Alexandra Bisset (she asks to call herself Biscuit), and she does not explain the purposes of her visits. At the same time, he learns that their department should be headed by a new chief – Ganner Joyling. Twenty years ago he was a professor at Baird in Oxford; not without his support, Byrd was elected a member of the college council and also began to teach; he was one of the main actors of the drama, played out then. Byrd had an affair with his wife Anne (this was his first love); “a man of unrestrained passions is attractive only in books” – this love has not brought happiness to anyone. When Ann came to say goodbye, wanting to end the relationship, for Ganner learned about their relationship, Baird decided to take her away. In the car, she said she was pregnant, and the child was Gunner and he knew about it. Byrd, not letting go of her, furiously and grief pressed on the gas, the car skidded, she collided with the counter. As a result of the car accident, Ann died. Hilary survived, but was crushed spiritually; he felt like a murderer; he lost his self-esteem and with him – the ability to control his life. It was a collapse – not only for him, but for Kristel. He resigned, Ganner too. Ganner became a politician, then a government official, acquired the name and fame, married again… And now life again reduced them, and the past, much more alive and bright than the present, rushed over to Hilary Byrd. but was crushed spiritually; he felt like a murderer; he lost his self-esteem and with him – the ability to control his life. It was a collapse – not only for him, but for Kristel. He resigned, Ganner too. Ganner became a politician, then a government official, acquired the name and fame, married again… And now life again reduced them, and the past, much more alive and bright than the present, rushed over to Hilary Byrd. but was crushed spiritually; he felt like a murderer; he lost his self-esteem and with him – the ability to control his life. It was a collapse – not only for him, but for Kristel. He resigned, Ganner too. Ganner became a politician, then a government official, acquired the name and fame, married again… And now life again reduced them, and the past, much more alive and bright than the present, rushed over to Hilary Byrd.
Biscuit is the maid of the second wife of Ganner Joyling, Lady Kitty; she brings Hilary a letter from her landlady asking to meet her for a talk about how to help her husband get rid of the ghosts of the past. The meeting was held; Kitty asks Hilary to talk with Ganner, who has not yet overcome grief and hatred.
Immersed in his own sufferings and guilt, Hilary only now realizes that he was not the only one who suffered. He agrees. In addition, he falls in love with Lady Kitty.
Unexpectedly, Kristel, to whom he tells all this, sharply resists his meetings with Ganner and Lady Kitty, begging him to resign and leave London. Feeling that she did not convince him, she admits that she loved Gunner twenty years ago, and on the night of the disaster, when Ann died, and Hilary survived, she consoled Gunner and came to his room and lost innocence with him. That’s why she refused to Arthur Fish, unable to reveal to him the past, and not because Hilary thought that there was nothing more precious for her than a brother, and he did not want this marriage in his heart.
Falling in love with Lady Kitty, Hilary Baird’s letter breaks off the engagement with Tommy, who under the influence of the minute promised to marry her, which Tommy strives with all his might, for he truly loves him. She does not want to come to terms with the rift, pursues his letters, comes to his house; he spends the night in a hotel, does not answer letters, and makes it clear in every way that everything is over between them.
The first conversation with Ganner does not lead to the desired result; Only after the meeting with Christel Ganner thawed and they were able to talk really; it seems to them that the conversation brought relief and the past slowly begins to let them go.
At the same time, the “case” of Hilary Bird begins to gradually break down. It turns out that Laura Impayette and Christopher are already in contact for a year, using Hilary as a screen. One day, Christopher and his friends pumped Hilary and Laura with drugs, she did not return home, her husband was looking for her from Hilary, and “on Thursday Laura arranges a loud clarification of the relationship between Freddie, Hilary and Christopher, as a result of which Hilary is denied at home, his Thursdays are released; and Christopher finally literally does what Hilary has repeatedly shouted at him: “Get out!” He moves out of the apartment.
Tommy also literally fulfills Hilary’s repeated wish to leave him alone: she comes to say goodbye, announcing that she is getting married.
Clifford Larre, learning from Hilary about Gunner and Kristel, takes this unexpectedly painful, rushes to the overthrown idol – Kristel – and insults her; Hilary overtakes him, there is a fight. When after a while Hilary comes to Clifford’s apartment, he learns from his heirs that Larr committed suicide.
Consoling Kristel, Hilary promises not to meet more with the Joyling, to go with her from London and settle down together somewhere in the rural wilderness. He only needs to see Lady Kitty for the last time, because he has already promised, and to say goodbye to her forever.
Their meeting takes place on the pier, not far from the Joyling house. Suddenly, embracing Kitty, Hilary sees Gunner. “I’ll kill him right now,” says Gunner, but Kitty falls from the pier. He jumps after her. She dies in the hospital from hypothermia – before the rescue boat arrived for too long stayed in the Thames ice-cold December water.
The newspapers did not have the name Hilary Byrd in connection with this story – he swam out himself, away from the boat. This time he did not tell Kristel everything. Twenty years ago, he admitted that Ann’s death hit her sister with all its weight, but when everything was so terrible, I realized that it was cruel to lay this load on her too. For the first time in his life, he separated Christel from himself. Kristel married Arthur.
Biscuit, having inherited the death of Lady Kitty, married, for Christopher.
Tommy repented that she had sent an anonymous letter to Hannar – that Hilary Baird was in love with his wife. “In her naivety, Tommy gave birth to a meeting, as a result of which Kitty died, Christelle married and a double eternal curse that ruined my life and the life of Ganner.”
Under the bells of Christmas bells, Tommy decisively tells Hilary that she intends to marry him.