Quote comes from pages 44-45
The ringing stopped, and the low musical murmur of his voice drifted between the rooms. I rose from the sofa and walked to one of the bookshelves built in on either side of the mantel. The fire had been going for some time. It was small and compact and extremely hot, hissing and popping discreetly in a pile of spent ash. I ran my fingers along the spines of the books. A wide-ranging collection, I thought to myself, smiling; it ran the gamut from Dean Koontz to Winston Churchill to Virgil, in the original Latin. Nothing like a British boarding-school education.
The books were packed in tightly; in fact, no room had been left for anything but books. No pictures, not objets, no random clutter. Nothing personal, really, unless you considered a man's choice of reading material the most personal thing of all.
"Snooping, I see," came Julian's voice, far too close.
I jumped. "Jeez! You just took a year off my life." I nodded my head to the shelves. "Do you really read Latin?"
"Not a terribly useful skill these days, is it?"
"Not everything has to be useful. I assume you learned it at school?"
"Yes, an old-fashioned education."
Was that a note of strain in his voice? I turned and looked at him. His face had changed, had dimmed somehow, as though he'd gone through and turned off all the unnecessary lights. "Everything all right?" I asked. "The phone call, I mean?"
"Yes, yes. Quite all right." He folded his arms and smiled, somewhat forced. "I've got to fly up to Boston tomorrow, that's all."
"On Christmas Eve?"
"Hard luck, I know."
"Don't you..." I swallowed. "Aren't you going anywhere for Christmas?"
He shrugged. "Geoff has me over for Christmas dinner every year. And services, of course."
"Your family isn't..."
"Around," he finished for me. "Don't worry. I'm over it, as they say. See anything you like?" He nodded upward, and I followed his eye.
"Oh, wow," I said. "Patrick O'Brian. Are those first editions?"
"I indulge myself." He sounded embarrassed.
"I love O'Brian. Historical fiction in general. My friends were always giving me crap about it in college; everyone else was reading chick lit, Shopaholic, that kind of thing. Michelle thinks I was born in the wrong century." I laughed softly.
He didn't reply.
I turned around. He looked peculiar, preoccupied. The tiny lines about his eyes had deepened; his mouth compressed in an unyielding line. I tried to think of something to say, but he spoke first.
"Do you?" he asked, his voice wound tight.
"Do I what?'
"Think you were born in the wrong century."
I laughed. Well, not literally, I guess. I mean, who wants to die in childbirth? But I do sometimes wish.." My voice trailed off.
"Well, nothing's a life or death struggle anymore, is it? The era of honor and sacrifice is over." I looked again at the O'Brian novels, lined up in order. "Jack Aubrey's full of human failings - so's Maturin - but they have principles, and they'd give their lives for them. Or for each other. Now it's all about money and status and celebrity. Not that people haven't always cared about those things, but it used to be considered venal, didn't it?" I shrugged. "It's like nobody bothers to grow up anymore. We just want to be kids all our lives. Collecting toys, having fun."