At forty-three, Edith has lost a husband, and has children who have children of their own. Living in a large Vermont house, her days are spent idly reading and playing music. But all of this is to change when two candidates for her affection arrive on the scene. The first is thirty years her senior, a philosopher named Edwin with whom she enjoys an enriching intellectual friendship. The second, Jared, is twenty years her junior: a handsome scientist, he attracts Edith in mind and body. But even if Jared shares her passion, does he have enough life experience to know whether such a union is in his best interests? In this exquisite and probing examination of desire, contrasting passions come to a head. This ebook features an illustrated biography of Pearl S. Buck including rare images from the author’s estate.
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About the Author
Pearl S. Buck (1892–1973) was a bestselling and Nobel Prize–winning author. Her classic novel The Good Earth (1931) was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and William Dean Howells Medal. Born in Hillsboro, West Virginia, Buck was the daughter of missionaries and spent much of the first half of her life in China, where many of her books are set. In 1934, civil unrest in China forced Buck back to the United States. Throughout her life she worked in support of civil and women’s rights, and established Welcome House, the first international, interracial adoption agency. In addition to her highly acclaimed novels, Buck wrote two memoirs and biographies of both of her parents. For her body of work, Buck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938, the first American woman to have done so. She died in Vermont.
Date of Birth:June 26, 1892
Date of Death:March 6, 1973
Place of Birth:Hillsboro, West Virginia
Place of Death:Danby, Vermont
Read an Excerpt
The Goddess Abides
By Pearl S. Buck
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1972 Creativity, Inc.
All rights reserved.
She had been reading too long and by a light too dim. Now she closed the book and leaned back in her low chair. Through the glass wall of the house, where she lived alone, she gazed at the mountain. The sun was setting to the right, and its dying rays caught the snowy peak and suffused it in rose-red bloom. Below the peak the moving dots of color were the last skiers, gliding and twisting down the smooth white flanks until they were lost in the shadows of the dark forest at the mountain's base. Soon they would be tramping into the lodge, they would stand before the great fireplace, their damp garments smoking in the heat, they would drink and talk and boast of their prowess, then they would go to their rooms and bathe and dress in their informal evening clothes. They would eat gargantuan dinners and sit before the fire again and sing and talk their ski talk until, already half asleep, they went at last to their beds. In the morning they would rise to repeat the day before.
And she, here in her house alone, must now prepare her own solitary dinner, a small matter of a lamb chop and a salad and some fruit, and then after an hour or so of music, she would go to bed in the long bedroom that was half study. But first she must light the evening fire.
She lingered, however, watching the white peat glow and fade into silver, then into ash and at last into the night sky, unless by grace of moonlight it appeared again as a ghost of beauty. Tonight the moon was late. She rose and drew the curtains across the glass. She lit the logs in the huge stone chimney piece—too big, too big, Arnold had said when she drew the design of their house.
"How will you ever lift the logs?" he had inquired.
"You will lift them," she had replied with laughter and mischief.
He had not laughed. "I may not be here always," he said.
It was his first announcement. Looking back, remembering, she realized that he knew he was doomed to the death that came ten months later, a cruel death with pain eased only by the heaviest sedatives and final unconsciousness. Yet he had not spoken to her of death for nearly six months, and then by saying that he hoped she would marry again. He was too old for her he had maintained through all the years of their marriage, and she had denied it as steadfastly.
"Young men don't interest me," she told him, at first lightly and then with doggedness, until he was gone.
Yes, she had insisted upon the fireplace, and it was true that the logs were too heavy. When Sam, the hired man, a Vermonter and a neighbor, did not come on Sundays, she made a blaze of sticks that she could manage. But on every other morning he came to lay the fire which she demanded summer and winter, for this huge room without a fire could at night return to a primordial cave and she become a lost animal in its shadows. Her day ended with the dying blaze of the fire but she lit another in her bedroom. She always slept before the lesser fire died.
She rose to prepare her dinner, aware of sudden hunger, for she had forgotten to eat at noon in her absorption in her book. As usual before she set the table she turned on the stereophonic music. When she knew that Arnold must die before the year was ended, she had made the house ready to live in alone.
"Bookshelves along this north wall, please, Sam," she had ordered. "I'll need many books."
He had grumbled under his breath. "Dunno what you want so many books for—you only come here a couple of times a year."
It was true. When Arnold lived they came to Vermont for a month in the summer and when the children were not yet grown, they came for Christmas and skiing. She had given up her skis when Arnold fell ill, not wanting to leave him. She had not begun to ski again—not yet. Perhaps she never would. Meanwhile she would live in the vast old house in Philadelphia, where she had been born, an only child, and where she and Arnold had lived since her parents died.
Sam had built the shelves here in the Vermont house to her specification and she had filled them with books which she had always wanted to read and had never had time for while Arnold lived. And music, of course, she revived in her life, now solitary, not only the music of the great, but her own musical talent, dormant after years of wifehood and motherhood and the daily business of being Arnold's wife. She had opened the piano after his death and left it open always, invitation to practice and enjoy, and she found in the valley a retired German music master to give her lessons again. She had hungered, too, for languages, many languages, she wanted various tongues and so she had begun once more to study French—first French, she told herself, for her grandmother had been a Frenchwoman, and then Spanish and Italian and perhaps German. Out of the many occupations she provided for her life alone she might choose one and make it a profession, although Arnold had left her with enough money. She liked clothes and jewels, not for themselves, but as part of the woman she still wished to be. Who, she inquired of herself, was that woman and what was to be her profession?
The amplitude of music swelled and soared into the high beams.
"You'll never get those beams hoisted to the roof," Arnold had said.
They were cedars cut from the forest that surrounded the house on three sides. She had ordered them to be stripped of bark and left in the weather of sun and snow and rain until they had aged to silver gray.
"I'll get them hoisted," she had insisted, and so she had done, Sam and a contractor between them fashioning a mighty lever with rope and crane.
The house was her own design and there was no room in it for children. She had married young, had borne her children young, and she had been a good mother. She had seen her children through early babyhood, childhood and adolescence, a son, a daughter, and then into somewhat too early marriages. Now she thought of them as friends, apart from herself, man and woman with their own concerns. Indeed she drew apart from them, needing to discover whether her life had meaning beyond wifehood and motherhood. She had enjoyed both functions in her somewhat reserved fashion, but there was a time for everything, and the time had come for something more.
In spite of the music, in the midst of the Andante, she heard a strong knock on the door. She turned and through the glass door she saw the figure of a man in ski garb.
"You shouldn't be there all alone," her children had said. "The whole area is changing now that the mountain is being developed. All sorts of characters—"
She left the counter, which was as much as she needed of kitchen, although Arnold had prophesied that she would soon be tired of nothing but a counter.
"You'll want to go back to your servants and the big house," he had told her.
But she was glad to be free, at least for a while, of the oppressive presence of servants and what she wanted to eat was easily made at the counter in one corner of this huge room. She peered now through the glass door. The light of the lamp over the dining table shone upon a man's face, a young face, the eyes dark and intense, the features strong. She opened the door.
"Come in," she said.
He stamped the snow from his boots and set his skis and poles against the stone outer wall of the house. Then he came in.
"Well?" she asked.
He hesitated, smiled, his hand outstretched.
"I'm Jared Barnow," he said, "and I'm not brash—only desperate."
"I'm told that you have the only empty room in the township, and I have no place to lay my head! I'd no idea the area would be so crowded. I'm alone, and I thought it wouldn't be hard to find a place for a solitary man."
His accent was good, he was mannerly, but—
"It would be most inconvenient, I'm afraid," she said frankly.
He stood looking at her, waiting, his dark, intelligent eyes inquiring.
"I've never taken strangers into my house," she said. And then upon an impulse of loneliness she went on. "Put off your things and have something to eat. Then—"
He took off his jacket and peeled off a rough sweater and she saw that he was slender, well above medium height but a graceful, compact figure, quick moving, his hair blond above the dark eyes.
"You'll want to wash up," she said. "That's my husband's room there, and his bath—was, I mean. He's—not living."
He went in without reply to this, and she put two more chops in the oven and set another place at the table.
"I don't get many holidays," he was saying an hour later.
If he noticed that she had changed to her dark red wool dress, sleeveless but long to her ankles and high at the neck, he gave no sign. He was eating with concentrated zeal.
"You went to prep school," she said.
He looked up. "How did you know?"
She smiled. "You don't look like a depressed person, but you've had to eat in a hurry before others got the food. That means boys."
"Might have been the army?"
"I think not. I have a son and I know."
He laughed. "You're right. Prep school. Then college. I finished that when I was twenty."
She was accustomed to taciturn young men, but he was not so much taciturn as self-absorbed. A single-minded young man, she guessed, one with a purpose. He had fine hands, she noticed, well kept without being overtended, a masculine hand, the fingers strong and the palm capable. He looked young enough to be her son—not that she wanted more sons!
"What do you do?" she inquired.
He pushed aside his empty plate. "For a living or for fun?"
"I'm lucky," he said. "What I want to do for a living is also fun."
"And that is?"
"I don't suppose you know anything about electronics?"
"I know the word. My father was a physicist."
He woke instantly. "No! What was his name?"
"Mansfield. Raymond Mansfield."
"I say!" He threw down his napkin. "Incredible luck! I stumble into a house and find the daughter of Raymond Mansfield!"
"But you're too young ever to have met him."
"I've studied his books. God, I wish he were alive! He'd know what I want to do."
He looked at her shrewdly, shyly. "How do I know you'll understand?"
"Well, I'm an engineer, a sort of a super-engineer, I suppose. But I—my real work is inventing. I have things I've invented."
"What sort of things?"
"Well—" he looked at her and stopped abruptly. "They wouldn't interest you. They wouldn't interest any woman."
"I might be different."
"Yes, I suppose—"
He got up and went to the chimney piece and stood looking into its blazing cavern.
She called to him. "Would you mind putting on a log? The woodbox is there in the corner."
"That a woodbox? I thought it was a cabinet sort of thing."
"You're laughing at me. Well, I grant you, I've a mania for bigness."
He was rummaging for a log, choosing the longest, the heaviest, and he threw it into the fire. A fountain of sparks flew up. "You're not so big yourself. Who plays the piano?"
"So do I."
He sat down and without effort played a movement from a Beethoven sonata. Halfway between table and sink, her hands fall of dishes, she listened and was amazed. A musician, a real one, playing as she had not heard a man play since her father died, playing with precision, elegance and depth! No one really understood music unless he was a scientist, her father had declared, and not just a scientist, either, oh, no, only the real ones, the theoreticians, whose language was mathematics. She had not understood mathematics until he had explained to her that it was the symbolic language of relationships. "And relationships," he had told her, "contain the essential meaning of life."
She set the dishes down softly and tiptoed to a chair. He played on until the last movement before the finale. Then he stopped abruptly and turned to face her. "I don't play the finale. It doesn't belong. Beethoven never knew how to stop the great music, and he just subsides or ends with a sudden bang. He had to finish somehow."
She laughed. "You're a blasphemer, but you're right. It's what I've often thought and never dared to say."
He was walking around the room restlessly and went to the window. The edge of the full moon was shining over the horizon.
"Do you live here all the year round?"
"No—just since my husband's death."
"Both married and living their own lives—thank God!"
"You don't like children?"
"I love them, but any self-respecting woman likes to see her children on their own. Then she knows she's done a good job."
"You don't look—motherly."
She evaded this. "Is your own mother living?"
"No, nor my father. I don't remember them. In fact, I never knew them." He stopped by the piano and repeated a few bars of the sonata, then stopped again and went over to the fire and stood gazing into the high flames leaping into the chimney. "I grew up with an uncle, an old bachelor who always seems surprised to see me in his house, however long I'm there."
"What is he?"
"Retired—ever since I can remember. Kind and confused—writes books about classical French poetry that no one publishes, but it doesn't seem to bother him. He's been awfully good to me, especially since he's never had the least idea of what I busy myself about. My mother was his sister."
He murmured this abstractedly, as though he were talking about someone else.
"Are you married?" she asked.
"No, but I think about it—now and then."
"The girl is chosen?"
"Well, she's chosen me, you might say."
She laughed again. Living alone, laughter was what she missed. "Is that what they do nowadays?"
"A good thing," he said, unsmiling. "I doubt I'll have time to choose for myself. My sort of work takes up the mind."
"And the heart—"
He looked at his watch. "I say, do you mind—may I stay? I'll get up early so as to have an early go at the mountain—if that doesn't upset you? I can make my own breakfast. Shall I put on another log?"
"No," she said, "and I get up early, too."
They parted then with nod and smile, and when she had cleared the table and washed the dishes she sat down at the piano and played softly while the fire died to ash.
And then later, when she had finished her ritual of bath and brushing her long fair hair, when she was lying in the big bed in her own room, the fire blazing upon the high stone hearth, she fulfilled the end of each day, she lifted the telephone from its place and dialed seven digits and she listened until she heard the gentle old voice.
"Is that you, my darling?" the voice inquired.
"It is I," she said.
"I have been waiting for you—a long evening, waiting."
"Are you alone?"
"Yes. Henry had an errand in the village. I have been rereading my essay on myth in the crowd mind. The boundary between myth and reality is very delicate. Myth is the dream, the hope, the faith, the vision of possibility which grows naturally into planning, and so possibility is very close indeed to reality, may indeed at any moment become reality, and that is its ineffable magic, its luring charm. Do I bore you, my love? I am company only for myself, I am afraid, and yet you will never know what you supply me now—King David and his Bathsheba—I doubt they talked, you know! I imagine it was just the warmth of her young flesh against his—no talk needed. Lacking that, I talk—"
He broke into mild laughter, and she laughed with him.
"You are laughing at me?" he inquired. "I don't mind, dear child—so that I make you laugh."
"I am not laughing at you," she told him. "I am thinking how glad I shall be when I get so old that I, too, can say anything I like. Have you taken your medicine today?"
"Oh, yes—Henry sees to that."
"Where are you now?"
"If you must know, you inquisitive female, I am just out of my bath, wrapped in a large towel, dripping water on the floor."
"Oh, Edwin," she protested. "You are incorrigible. Yes, you are, talking to me while you catch cold! Put on your pajamas at once and get into bed. Are you wearing your flannel, ones?"
"Yes, darling. Henry put the summer ones away. He put them away the first day of October as usual, and then it turned warm—Indian summer, you know—but be wouldn't get them out again, so I had to roast until snow fell. But you know all that. I hope you've forgotten tomorrow is my birthday?"
"I've forgotten how old you are, if that's what you mean!"
"Seventy-six, my dear love, and I still feel a stir in my central parts when I hear your voice."
"You reproach me?"
"Good night, good night, and I repeat—you're incorrigible!"
"God's blessing on you, sweetheart! When are you coming to see me?"
Excerpted from The Goddess Abides by Pearl S. Buck. Copyright © 1972 Creativity, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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