Memories of the Ford Administration

Memories of the Ford Administration by John Updike Read Free Book Online

Book: Memories of the Ford Administration by John Updike Read Free Book Online
Authors: John Updike
landlocked at some Midwestern teachers’ college had deconstructed Chaucer right down to the ground, and also left Langland with hardly a leg to stand on. Brent, a pleasant enough, rapid-speaking fellow with the clammy white skin of the library-bound and the stiff beige hair of a shaving brush, explained to me that all history consists simply of texts: there is no Platonically ideal history apart from texts, and texts are inevitablyindefinite, self-contradictory, and doomed to a final aporia.
    So why not
text, added to all the others? I leaped in. I began, I should say, to leap in, to overcome my mistaken reverence for the knowable actual versus supposition or fiction, my illusory distinction between fact and fancy. Here, dear NNEAAH and editors of
, in continuance of my faithful if prolonged answer to your inquiry, is a section of my text, composed under the benign overarch of the Ford Administration, and no doubt partaking of some of that Administration’s intellectual currents.
    In the middle of September of 1819, under a late-summer sky of a powdery blue, in the rose-red little city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania—incorporated as a city just the previous year, and within the past decade the very capital of the commonwealth—a tall fair man and a thin dark woman shorter than he but tall for her sex could have been seen walking together along East King Street with all outward signs of affection and attachment. They moved—her face frequently upturned toward his, till instinctive decorum dictated she again lower her eyes, and his head somewhat curiously tilted and given to an occasional twitch, as if making a minor readjustment of perspective or as if better to hear the murmuring words of his vivacious and intense companion—past arrays of three- and four-story buildings built of brick or closely cut limestone, some heightened by dormers and decorated by wooden merchants’ signs carved and painted to simulate the forms of lions and stags, leopards and eagles, Indian chiefs and European kings and other such of the emblems that once haunted New World dreams. The gentleman wore a russet frock coat withclaw-hammer tails and an ivory-colored silk waistcoat embroidered along the button-tape, a white shirt with upstanding collar, and a loosely but studiously tied linen cravat. His tight-fitting buckskin breeches descended into jockey boots of black leather, with downturned buff cuffs. The lady’s dress of dotted lawn was high-waisted in the Empire style, tied beneath her breasts with a tasselled pink gown-cord. Over it she wore a grape-colored cape of light cloth trimmed in black velvet. A gauzy frill wreathed her throat; a small cockleshell-shaped bonnet of close-woven straw, with a pleated taffeta ribbon, defended her face from the sun, here in this latitude but a half-degree north of the Mason-Dixon Line; in addition, she carried a lime-green parasol of moiré silk. This enviable couple were James Buchanan, one of Lancaster’s leading bachelors, an accomplished lawyer and experienced politician, and Ann Coleman, the city’s pre-eminent unmarried heiress. They had become engaged this summer, so their public appearance together was the opposite of scandalous. The parrot-bright signboards, the dimpled small window-lights of the basking brick housefronts, the subdued glisten of the slightly hazy day could be imagined to be smiling down upon them.
    Buchanan, having overcome his customary reluctance to exchange the security of his heaped desk for the uncertainties of the wider world, had departed his office on East King Street—two doors down from the Dutchman’s Inn, where he had found lodgings when first arrived in Lancaster nearly ten years ago—and had called for Ann at the Coleman town house in the next block, at the corner of Christian Street. In this latitude, at this hour of five o’clock, as Ann looked up toward the steady, gentle, finicking, rather high-pitched voice emanating from her escort, she saw

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