Title: The Shorter Fiction of Aldous Huxley
Author: Aldous Huxley
SKU: ZG36

  Limbo

    Farcical History of Richard Greenow

      I

      II

      III

      IV

      V

      VI

      VII

      VIII

      IX

      X

    Happily Ever After

      I

      II

    Wilts.

      III

      IV

    Eupompus Gave Splendour to Art by Numbers

    Happy Families

    The Bookshop

    The Death of Lully

  Mortal Coils

    The Gioconda Smile

      I

      II

      III

      IV

      V

      VI

    Permutations Among the Nightingales

      I

      II

      III

      IV

    Green Tunnels

    Nuns at Luncheon

  Little Mexican

    Uncle Spencer

    Little Mexican

    Hubert and Minnie

    Fard

    The Portrait

    Young Archimedes

  Two or Three Graces

    Two or Three Graces

    Half-holiday

      I

      II

    The Monocle

    Fairy Godmother

      II

      III

  Brief Candles

    Chawdron

    The Rest Cure

    The Claxtons

    After the Fireworks

      1

      2

      3

      4

      5

      6

      7

      8

      9

  Miscellaneous Short Stories

    Eupompus Gave Splendour to Art by Numbers

    Sir Hercules

Limbo

CONTENTS

  • FARCICAL HISTORY OF RICHARD GREENOW

  • HAPPILY EVER AFTER

  • EUPOMPUS GAVE SPLENDOUR TO ART BY NUMBERS

  • HAPPY FAMILIES

  • CYNTHIA

  • THE BOOKSHOP

  • THE DEATH OF LULLY

Farcical History of Richard Greenow

I

THE MOST SUMPTUOUS present that Millicent received on her seventh birthday was a doll’s house. “With love to darling little Mill from Aunty Loo.” Aunt Loo was immensely rich, and the doll’s house was almost as grandiose and massive as herself.

It was divided into four rooms, each papered in a different colour and each furnished as was fitting: beds and washstands and wardrobes in the upstair rooms, arm-chairs and artificial plants below. “Replete with every modern convenience; sumptuous appointments.” There was even a cold collation ready spread on the dining-room table — two scarlet lobsters on a dish, and a ham that had been sliced into just enough to reveal an internal complexion of the loveliest pink and white. One might go on talking about the doll’s house for ever, it was so beautiful. Such, at any rate, was the opinion of Millicent’s brother Dick. He would spend hours opening and shutting the front door, peeping through the windows, arranging and rearranging the furniture. As for Millicent, the gorgeous present left her cold. She had been hoping — and, what is more, praying, fervently, every night for a month — that Aunty Loo would give her a toy sewing-machine (one of the kind that works, though) for her birthday.

She was bitterly disappointed when the doll’s house came instead. But she bore it all stoically and managed to be wonderfully polite to Aunty Loo about the whole affair. She never looked at the doll’s house: it simply didn’t interest her.

Dick had already been at a preparatory school for a couple of terms. Mr. Killigrew, the headmaster, thought him a promising boy. “Has quite a remarkable aptitude for mathematics,” he wrote in his report. “He has started Algebra this term and shows a”— “quite remarkable” scratched out (the language of reports is apt to be somewhat limited)— “a very unusual grasp of the subject.” Mr. Killigrew didn’t know that his pupil also took an interest in dolls: if he had, he would have gibed at Dick as unmercifully and in nearly the same terms as Dick’s fellow-schoolboys — for shepherds grow to resemble their sheep and pedagogues their childish charges. But of course Dick would never have dreamt of telling anyone at school about it. He was chary of letting even the people at home divine his weakness, and when anyone came into the room where the doll’s house was, he would put his hands in his pockets and stroll out, whistling the tune of, “There is a Happy Land far, far away, where they have Ham and Eggs seven times a day,” as though he had merely stepped in to have a look at the beastly thing — just to give it a kick.

When he wasn’t playing with the doll’s house, Dick spent his holiday time in reading, largely, devouringly. No length or incomprehensibility could put him off; he had swallowed down Robert Elsmere in the three-volume edition at the age of eight. When he wasn’t reading he used to sit and think about Things in General and Nothing in Particular; in fact, as Millicent reproachfully put it, he just mooned about. Millicent, on the other hand, was always busily doing something: weeding in the garden, or hoeing, or fruit-picking (she could be trusted not to eat more than the recognized tariff — one in twenty raspberries or one in forty plums); helping Kate in the kitchen; knitting mufflers for those beings known vaguely as The Cripples, while her mother read aloud in the evenings before bedtime. She disapproved of Dick’s mooning, but Dick mooned all the same.

When Dick was twelve and a half he knew enough about mathematics and history and the dead languages to realize that his dear parents were profoundly ignorant and uncultured. But, what was more pleasing to the dear parents, he knew enough to win a scholarship at Æsop College, which is one of our Greatest Public Schools.

If this were a Public School story, I should record the fact that, while at Æsop, Dick swore, lied, blasphemed, repeated dirty stories, read the articles in John Bull about brothels disguised as nursing-homes and satyrs disguised as curates; that he regarded his masters, with very few exceptions, as fools, not even always well-meaning. And so on. All which would be quite true, but beside the point. For this is not one of the conventional studies of those clever young men who discover Atheism and Art at School, Socialism at the University, and, passing through the inevitable stage of Sex and Syphilis after taking their B.A., turn into maturely brilliant novelists at the age of twenty-five. I prefer, therefore, to pass over the minor incidents of a difficult pubescence, touching only on those points which seem to throw a light on the future career of our hero.

It is possible for those who desire it — incredible as the thing may appear — to learn something at Æsop College. Dick even learnt a great deal. From the beginning he was the young Benjamin of his mathematical tutor, Mr. Skewbauld, a man of great abilities in his own art, and who, though wholly incapable of keeping a form in order, could make his private tuition a source of much profit to a mathematically minded boy. Mr. Skewbauld’s house was the worst in Æsop: Dick described it as a mixture between a ghetto and a home for the mentally deficient, and when he read in Sir Thomas Browne that it was a Vulgar Error to suppose that Jews stink, he wrote a letter to the School Magazine exploding that famous doctor as a quack and a charlatan, whose statements ran counter to the manifest facts of everyday life in Mr. Skewbauld’s house. It may seem surprising that Dick should have read Sir Thomas Browne at all. But he was more than a mere mathematician. He filled the ample leisure, which is Æsop’s most precious gift to those of its Alumni who know how to use it, with much and varied reading in history, in literature, in physical science, and in more than one foreign language. Dick was something of a prodigy.

“Greenow’s an intellectual,” was Mr. Copthorne-Slazenger’s contemptuous verdict. “I have the misfortune to have two or three intellectuals in my house. They’re all of them friends of his. I think he’s a Bad Influence in the School.” Copthorne-Slazenger regarded himself as the perfect example of mens sana in corpore sano, the soul of an English gentleman in the body of a Greek god. Unfortunately his legs were rather too short and his lower lip was underhung like a salmon’s.

Dick had, indeed, collected about him a band of kindred spirits. There was Partington, who specialized in history; Gay, who had read all the classical writings of the golden age and was engaged in the study of mediæval Latin; Fletton, who was fantastically clever and had brought the art of being idle to a pitch never previously reached in the annals of Æsop. These were his chief friends, and a queer-looking group they made — Dick, small and dark and nervous; Partington, all roundness, and whose spectacles were two moons in a moonface; Gay, with the stiff walk of a little old man; and Fletton, who looked like nobody so much as Mr. Jingle, tall and thin with a twisted, comical face.

“An ugly skulking crew,” Copthorne-Slazenger, conscious of his own Olympian splendour, would say as he saw them pass.

With these faithful friends Dick should have been — and indeed for the most part was — very happy. Between them they mustered up a great stock of knowledge; they could discuss every subject under the sun. They were a liberal education and an amusement to one another. There were times, however, when Dick was filled with a vague, but acute, discontent. He wanted something which his friends could not give him; but what, but what? The discontent rankled under the surface, like a suppressed measles. It was Lord Francis Quarles who brought it out and made the symptoms manifest.

Francis Quarles was a superb creature, with the curly forehead of a bull and the face and limbs of a Græco-Roman statue. It was a sight worth seeing when he looked down through half-shut eyelids, in his usual attitude of sleepy arrogance, on the world about him. He was in effect what Mr. Copthorne-Slazenger imagined himself to be, and he shared that gentleman’s dislike for Dick and his friends. “Yellow little atheists,” he called them. He always stood up for God and the Church of England; they were essential adjuncts to the aristocracy. God, indeed, was almost a member of the Family; lack of belief in Him amounted to a personal insult to the name of Quarles.

It was half-way through the summer term, when Dick was sixteen, on one of those days of brilliant sunshine and cloudless blue, when the sight of beautiful and ancient buildings is peculiarly poignant. Their age and quiet stand out in melancholy contrast against the radiant life of the summer; and at Æsop the boys go laughing under their antique shadow; “Little victims” — you feel how right Gray was. Dick was idly strolling across the quadrangle, engaged in merely observing the beauty about him — the golden-grey chapel, with its deep geometrical shadows between the buttresses, the comely rose-coloured shapes of the brick-built Tudor buildings, the weathercocks glittering in the sun, the wheeling flurries of pigeons. His old discontent had seized on him again, and to-day in the presence of all this beauty it had become almost unbearable. All at once, out of the mouth of one of the dark little tunnelled doors pierced in the flanks of the sleeping building, a figure emerged into the light. It was Francis Quarles, clad in white flannels and the radiance of the sunshine. He appeared like a revelation, bright, beautiful, and sudden, before Dick’s eyes. A violent emotion seized him; his heart leapt, his bowels were moved within him; he felt a little sick and faint — he had fallen in love.

Francis passed by without deigning to notice him. His head was high, his eyes drowsy under their drooping lids. He was gone, and for Dick all the light was out, the beloved quadrangle was a prison-yard, the pigeons a loathsome flock of carrion eaters. Gay and Partington came up behind him with shouts of invitation. Dick walked rudely away. God! how he hated them and their wretched, silly talk and their yellow, ugly faces.

The weeks that followed were full of strangeness. For the first time in his life Dick took to writing poetry. There was one sonnet which began:

Is it a vision or a waking dream?

Or is it truly Apollo that I see,

Come from his sylvan haunts in Arcady

To

laugh and loiter

sing and saunter by an English stream. . . .

He kept on repeating the words to himself, “Sylvan haunts in Arcady,” “laugh and loiter” (after much thought he had adopted that as more liquidly melodious than “sing and saunter”). How beautiful they sounded! — as beautiful as Keats — more beautiful, for they were his own.

He avoided the company of Gay and Fletton and Partington; they had become odious to him, and their conversation, when he could bring himself to listen to it, was, somehow, almost incomprehensible. He would sit for hours alone in his study; not working — for he could not understand the mathematical problems on which he had been engaged before the fateful day in the quadrangle — but reading novels and the poetry of Mrs. Browning, and at intervals writing something rather ecstatic of his own. After a long preparatory screwing up of his courage, he dared at last to send a fag with a note to Francis, asking him to tea; and when Francis rather frigidly refused, he actually burst into tears. He had not cried like that since he was a child.

He became suddenly very religious. He would spend an hour on his knees every night, praying, praying with frenzy. He mortified the flesh with fasting and watching. He even went so far as to flagellate himself — or at least tried to; for it is very difficult to flagellate yourself adequately with a cane in a room so small that any violent gesture imperils the bric-à-brac. He would pass half the night stark naked, in absurd postures, trying to hurt himself. And then, after the dolorously pleasant process of self-maceration was over, he used to lean out of the window and listen to the murmurs of the night and fill his spirit with the warm velvet darkness of midsummer. Copthorne-Slazenger, coming back by the late train from town one night, happened to see his moon-pale face hanging out of window and was delighted to be able to give him two hundred Greek lines to remind him that even a member of the Sixth Form requires sleep sometimes.

The fit lasted three weeks. “I can’t think what’s the matter with you, Greenow,” complained Mr. Skewbauld snufflingly. “You seem incapable or unwilling to do anything at all. I suspect the cause is constipation. If only everyone would take a little paraffin every night before going to bed! . . .” Mr. Skewbauld’s self-imposed mission in life was the propagation of the paraffin habit. It was the universal panacea — the cure for every ill.

His friends of before the crisis shook their heads and could only suppose him mad. And then the fit ended as suddenly as it had begun.

It happened at a dinner-party given by the Cravisters. Dr. Cravister was the Headmaster of Æsop — a good, gentle, learned old man, with snow-white hair and a saintly face which the spirit of comic irony had embellished with a nose that might, so red and bulbous it was, have been borrowed from the properties of a music-hall funny man. And then there was Mrs. Cravister, large and stately as a galleon with all sails set. Those who met her for the first time might be awed by the dignity of what an Elizabethan would have called her “swelling port.” But those who knew her well went in terror of the fantastic spirit which lurked behind the outward majesty. They were afraid of what that richly modulated voice of hers might utter. It was not merely that she was malicious — and she had a gift of ever-ready irony; no, what was alarming in all her conversation was the element of the unexpected. With most people one feels comfortably secure that they will always say the obvious and ordinary things; with Mrs. Cravister, never. The best one could do was to be on guard and to try and look, when she made a more than usually characteristic remark, less of a bewildered fool than one felt.

Mrs. Cravister received her guests — they were all of them boys — with stately courtesy. They found it pleasant to be taken so seriously, to be treated as perfectly grown men; but at the same time, they always had with Mrs. Cravister a faint uncomfortable suspicion that all her politeness was an irony so exquisite as to be practically undistinguishable from ingenuousness.

“Good evening, Mr. Gay,” she said, holding out her hand and shutting her eyes; it was one of her disconcerting habits, this shutting of the eyes. “What a pleasure it will be to hear you talking to us again about eschatology.”

Gay, who had never talked about eschatology and did not know the meaning of the word, smiled a little dimly and made a protesting noise.

“Eschatology? What a charming subject!” The fluty voice belonged to Henry Cravister, the Headmaster’s son, a man of about forty who worked in the British Museum. He was almost too cultured, too erudite.

“But I don’t know anything about it,” said Gay desperately.

“Spare us your modesty,” Henry Cravister protested.

His mother shook hands with the other guests, putting some at their ease with a charming phrase and embarrassing others by saying something baffling and unexpected that would have dismayed even the hardiest diner-out, much more a schoolboy tremblingly on his good behaviour. At the tail end of the group of boys stood Dick and Francis Quarles. Mrs. Cravister slowly raised her heavy waxen eyelids and regarded them a moment in silence.

“The Græco-Roman and the Gothic side by side!” she exclaimed. “Lord Francis is something in the Vatican, a rather late piece of work; and Mr. Greenow is a little gargoyle from the roof of Notre Dame de Paris. Two epochs of art — how clearly one sees the difference. And my husband, I always think, is purely Malayan in design — purely Malayan,” she repeated as she shook hands with the two boys.

Dick blushed to the roots of his hair, but Francis’ impassive arrogance remained unmoved. Dick stole a glance in his direction, and at the sight of his calm face he felt a new wave of adoring admiration sweeping through him.

The company was assembled and complete, Mrs. Cravister looked round the room and remarking, “We won’t wait for Mr. Copthorne-Slazenger,” sailed majestically in the direction of the door. She particularly disliked this member of her husband’s staff, and lost no opportunity of being rude to him. Thus, where an ordinary hostess might have said, “Shall we come in to dinner?” Mrs. Cravister employed the formula, “We won’t wait for Mr. Copthorne-Slazenger”; and a guest unacquainted with Mrs. Cravister’s habits would be surprised on entering the dining-room to find that all the seats at the table were filled, and that the meal proceeded smoothly without a single further reference to the missing Copthorne, who never turned up at all, for the good reason that he had never been invited.

Dinner began a little nervously and uncomfortably. At one end of the table the Headmaster was telling anecdotes of Æsop in the sixties, at which the boys in his neighbourhood laughed with a violent nervous insincerity. Henry Cravister, still talking about eschatology, was quoting from Sidonius Apollinarius and Commodianus of Gaza. Mrs. Cravister, who had been engaged in a long colloquy with the butler, suddenly turned on Dick with the remark, “And so you have a deep, passionate fondness for cats,” as though they had been intimately discussing the subject for the last hour. Dick had enough presence of mind to say that, yes, he did like cats — all except those Manx ones that had no tails.

“No tails,” Mrs. Cravister repeated— “no tails. Like men. How symbolical everything is!”

Francis Quarles was sitting opposite him, so that Dick had ample opportunity to look at his idol. How perfectly he did everything, down to eating his soup! The first lines of a new poem began to buzz in Dick’s head:

“All, all I lay at thy proud marble feet —

My heart, my love and all my future days.

Upon thy brow for ever let me gaze,

For ever touch thy hair: oh (something) sweet . . .”

Would he be able to find enough rhymes to make it into a sonnet? Mrs. Cravister, who had been leaning back in her chair for the last few minutes in a state of exhausted abstraction, opened her eyes and said to nobody in particular:

“Ah, how I envy the calm of those Chinese dynasties!”

“Which Chinese dynasties?” a well-meaning youth inquired.

“Any Chinese dynasty, the more remote the better. Henry, tell us the names of some Chinese dynasties.”

In obedience to his mother, Henry delivered a brief disquisition on the history of politics, art, and letters in the Far East.

The Headmaster continued his reminiscences.

An angel of silence passed. The boys, whose shyness had begun to wear off, became suddenly and painfully conscious of hearing themselves eating. Mrs. Cravister saved the situation.

“Lord Francis knows all about birds,” she said in her most thrilling voice. “Perhaps he can tell us why it is the unhappy fate of the carrion crow to mate for life.”

Conversation again became general. Dick was still thinking about his sonnet. Oh, these rhymes! — praise, bays, roundelays, amaze: greet, bleat, defeat, beat, paraclete. . . .

“. . . to sing the praise

In anthems high and solemn roundelays

Of Holy Father, Son and Paraclete.”

That was good — damned good; but it hardly seemed to fit in with the first quatrain. It would do for one of his religious poems, though. He had written a lot of sacred verse lately.

Then suddenly, cutting across his ecstatic thoughts, came the sound of Henry Cravister’s reedy voice.

“But I always find Pater’s style so coarse,” it said.

Something explosive took place in Dick’s head. It often happens when one blows one’s nose that some passage in the labyrinth connecting ears and nose and throat is momentarily blocked, and one becomes deaf and strangely dizzy. Then, suddenly, the mucous bubble bursts, sound rushes back to the brain, the head feels clear and stable once more. It was something like this, but transposed into terms of the spirit, that seemed now to have happened to Dick.

It was as though some mysterious obstruction in his brain, which had dammed up and diverted his faculties from their normal course during the past three weeks, had been on a sudden overthrown. His life seemed to be flowing once more along familiar channels.

He was himself again.

“But I always find Pater’s style so coarse.”

These few words of solemn foolery were the spell which had somehow performed the miracle. It was just the sort of remark he might have made three weeks ago, before the crisis. For a moment, indeed, he almost thought it was he himself who had spoken; his own authentic voice, carried across the separating gulf of days, had woken him again to life!

He looked at Francis Quarles. Why, the fellow was nothing but a great prize ox, a monstrous animal. “There was a Lady loved a Swine. Honey, said she . . .” It was ignoble, it was ridiculous. He could have hidden his face in his hands for pure shame; shame tingled through his body. Goodness, how grotesquely he had behaved!

He leaned across and began talking to Henry Cravister about Pater and style and books in general. Cravister was amazed at the maturity of the boy’s mind; for he possessed to a remarkable degree that critical faculty which in the vast majority of boys is — and from their lack of experience must be — wholly lacking.

“You must come and see me some time when you’re in London,” Henry Cravister said to him when the time came for the boys to get back to their houses. Dick was flattered; he had not said that to any of the others. He walked home with Gay, laughing and talking quite in his old fashion. Gay marvelled at the change in his companion; strange, inexplicable fellow! but it was pleasant to have him back again, to repossess the lost friend. Arrived in his room, Dick sat down to attack the last set of mathematical problems that had been set him. Three hours ago they had appeared utterly incomprehensible; now he understood them perfectly. His mind was like a giant refreshed, delighting in its strength.

Next day Mr. Skewbauld congratulated him on his answers.

“You seem quite to have recovered your old form, Greenow,” he said. “Did you take my advice? Paraffin regularly . . .”

Looking back on the events of the last weeks, Dick was disquieted. Mr. Skewbauld might be wrong in recommending paraffin, but he was surely right in supposing that something was the matter and required a remedy. What could it be? He felt so well; but that, of course, proved nothing. He began doing Müller’s exercises, and he bought a jar of malt extract and a bottle of hypophosphites. After much consultation of medical handbooks and the encyclopædia, he came to the conclusion that he was suffering from anæmia of the brain; and for some time one fixed idea haunted him: Suppose the blood completely ceased to flow to his brain, suppose he were to fall down suddenly dead or, worse, become utterly and hopelessly paralysed. . . . Happily the distractions of Æsop in the summer term were sufficiently numerous and delightful to divert his mind from this gloomy brooding, and he felt so well and in such high spirits that it was impossible to go on seriously believing that he was at death’s door. Still, whenever he thought of the events of those strange weeks he was troubled. He did not like being confronted by problems which he could not solve. During the rest of his stay at school he was troubled by no more than the merest velleities of a relapse. A fit of moon-gazing and incapacity to understand the higher mathematics had threatened him one time when he was working rather too strenuously for a scholarship. But a couple of days’ complete rest had staved off the peril. There had been rather a painful scene, too, at Dick’s last School Concert. Oh, those Æsop concerts! Musically speaking, of course, they are deplorable; but how rich from all other points of view than the merely æsthetic! The supreme moment arrives at the very end when three of the most eminent and popular of those about to leave mount the platform together and sing the famous “Æsop, Farewell.” Greatest of school songs! The words are not much, but the tune, which goes swooning along in three-four time, is perhaps the masterpiece of the late organist, Dr. Pilch.

Dick was leaving, but he was not a sufficiently heroic figure to have been asked to sing, “Æsop, Farewell.” He was simply a member of the audience, and one, moreover, who had come to the concert in a critical and mocking spirit. For, as he had an ear for music, it was impossible for him to take the concert very seriously. The choir had clamorously re-crucified the Messiah; the soloists had all done their worst; and now it was time for “Æsop, Farewell.” The heroes climbed on to the stage. They were three demi-gods, but Francis Quarles was the most splendid of the group as he stood there with head thrown back, eyes almost closed, calm and apparently unconscious of the crowd that seethed, actually and metaphorically, beneath him. He was wearing an enormous pink orchid in the buttonhole of his evening coat; his shirt-front twinkled with diamond studs; the buttons of his waistcoat were of fine gold. At the sight of him, Dick felt his heart beating violently; he was not, he painfully realized, master of himself.

The music struck up — Dum, dum, dumdidi, dumdidi; dum, dum, dum, and so on. So like the Merry Widow. In two days’ time he would have left Æsop for ever. The prospect had never affected him very intensely. He had enjoyed himself at school, but he had never, like so many Æsopians, fallen in love with the place. It remained for him an institution; for others it was almost an adored person. But to-night his spirit, rocked on a treacly ocean of dominant sevenths, succumbed utterly to the sweet sorrow of parting. And there on the platform stood Francis. Oh, how radiantly beautiful! And when he began, in his rich tenor, the first verse of the Valedictory:

“Farewell, Mother Æsop,

Our childhood’s home!

Our spirit is with thee,

Though far we roam . . .”

he found himself hysterically sobbing.

II

CANTELOUP COLLEGE is perhaps the most frightful building in Oxford — and to those who know their Oxford well this will mean not a little. Up till the middle of last century Canteloup possessed two quadrangles of fifteenth-century buildings, unimpressive and petty, like so much of College architecture, but at least quiet, unassuming, decent. After the accession of Victoria the College began to grow in numbers, wealth, and pride. The old buildings were too small and unpretentious for what had now become a Great College. In the summer of 1867 a great madness fell upon the Master and Fellows. They hired a most distinguished architect, bred up in the school of Ruskin, who incontinently razed all the existing buildings to the ground and erected in their stead a vast pile in the approved Mauro-Venetian Gothic of the period. The New Buildings contained a great number of rooms, each served by a separate and almost perpendicular staircase; and if nearly half of them were so dark as to make it necessary to light them artificially for all but three hours out of the twenty-four, this slight defect was wholly outweighed by the striking beauty, from outside, of the Neo-Byzantine loopholes by which they were, euphemistically, “lighted.”

Prospects in Canteloup may not please; but man, on the other hand, tends to be less vile there than in many other places. There is an equal profusion at Canteloup of Firsts and Blues; there are Union orators of every shade of opinion and young men so languidly well bred as to take no interest in politics of any kind; there are drinkers of cocoa and drinkers of champagne. Canteloup is a microcosm, a whole world in miniature; and whatever your temperament and habits may be, whether you wish to drink, or row, or work, or hunt, Canteloup will provide you with congenial companions and a spiritual home.

Lack of athletic distinction had prevented Dick from being, at Æsop, a hero or anything like one. At Canteloup, in a less barbarically ordered state of society, things were different. His rooms in the Venetian gazebo over the North Gate became the meeting-place of all that was most intellectually distinguished in Canteloup and the University at large. He had had his sitting-room austerely upholstered and papered in grey. A large white Chinese figure of the best period stood pedestalled in one corner, and on the walls there hung a few uncompromisingly good drawings and lithographs by modern artists. Fletton, who had accompanied Dick from Æsop to Canteloup, called it the “cerebral chamber”; and with its prevailing tone of brain-coloured grey and the rather dry intellectual taste of its decorations it deserved the name.

To-night the cerebral chamber had been crammed. The Canteloup branch of the Fabian Society, under Dick’s presidency, had been holding a meeting. “Art in the Socialist State” was what they had been discussing. And now the meeting had broken up, leaving nothing but three empty jugs that had once contained mulled claret and a general air of untidiness to testify to its having taken place at all. Dick stood leaning an elbow on the mantelpiece and absent-mindedly kicking, to the great detriment of his pumps, at the expiring red embers in the grate. From the depths of a huge and cavernous arm-chair, Fletton, pipe in mouth, fumed like a sleepy volcano.

“I liked the way, Dick,” he said, with a laugh— “the way you went for the Arty-Crafties. You utterly destroyed them.”

“I merely pointed out, what is sufficiently obvious, that crafts are not art, nor anything like it, that’s all.” Dick snapped out the words. He was nervous and excited, and his body felt as though it were full of compressed springs ready to jump at the most imponderable touch. He was always like that after making a speech.

“You did it very effectively,” said Fletton. There was a silence between the two young men.

A noise like the throaty yelling of savages in rut came wafting up from the quadrangle on which the windows of the cerebral chamber opened. Dick started; all the springs within him had gone off at once — a thousand simultaneous Jack-in-the-boxes.

“It’s only Francis Quarles’ dinner-party becoming vocal,” Fletton explained. “Blind mouths, as Milton would call them.”

Dick began restlessly pacing up and down the room. When Fletton spoke to him, he did not reply or, at best, gave utterance to a monosyllable or a grunt.

“My dear Dick,” said the other at last, “you’re not very good company to-night,” and heaving himself up from the arm-chair, Fletton went shuffling in his loose, heelless slippers towards the door. “I’m going to bed.”

Dick paused in his lion-like prowling to listen to the receding sound of feet on the stairs. All was silent now: Gott sei dank. He went into his bedroom. It was there that he kept his piano, for it was a piece of furniture too smugly black and polished to have a place in the cerebral chamber. He had been thirsting after his piano all the time Fletton was sitting there, damn him! He drew up a chair and began to play over and over a certain series of chords. With his left hand he struck an octave G in the base, while his right dwelt lovingly on F, B, and E. A luscious chord, beloved by Mendelssohn — a chord in which the native richness of the dominant seventh is made more rich, more piercing sweet by the addition of a divine discord. G, F, B, and E — he let the notes hang tremulously on the silence, savoured to the full their angelic overtones; then, when the sound of the chord had almost died away, he let it droop reluctantly through D to the simple, triumphal beauty of C natural — the diapason closing full in what was for Dick a wholly ineffable emotion.

He repeated that dying fall again and again, perhaps twenty times. Then, when he was satiated with its deliciousness, he rose from the piano and opening the lowest drawer of the wardrobe pulled out from under his evening clothes a large portfolio. He undid the strings; it was full of photogravure reproductions from various Old Masters. There was an almost complete set of Greuze’s works, several of the most striking Ary Scheffers, some Alma Tadema, some Leighton, photographs of sculpture by Torwaldsen and Canova, Boecklin’s “Island of the Dead,” religious pieces by Holman Hunt, and a large packet of miscellaneous pictures from the Paris Salons of the last forty years. He took them into the cerebral chamber where the light was better, and began to study them, lovingly, one by one. The Cézanne lithograph, the three admirable etchings by Van Gogh, the little Picasso looked on, unmoved, from the walls.

It was three o’clock before Dick got to bed. He was stiff and cold, but full of the satisfaction of having accomplished something. And, indeed, he had cause to be satisfied; for he had written the first four thousand words of a novel, a chapter and a half of Heartsease Fitzroy: the Story of a Young Girl.

Next morning Dick looked at what he had written overnight, and was alarmed. He had never produced anything quite like this since the days of the Quarles incident at Æsop. A relapse? He wondered. Not a serious one in any case; for this morning he felt himself in full possession of all his ordinary faculties. He must have got overtired speaking to the Fabians in the evening. He looked at his manuscript again, and read: “‘Daddy, do the little girl angels in heaven have toys and kittens and teddy-bears?’

“‘I don’t know,’ said Sir Christopher gently. ‘Why does my little one ask?’

“‘Because, daddy,” said the child— ‘because I think that soon I too may be a little angel, and I should so like to have my teddy-bear with me in heaven.’

“Sir Christopher clasped her to his breast. How frail she was, how ethereal, how nearly an angel already! Would she have her teddy-bear in heaven? The childish question rang in his ears. Great, strong man though he was, he was weeping. His tears fell in a rain upon her auburn curls.

“‘Tell me, daddy,’ she insisted, ‘will dearest God allow me my teddy-bear?’

“‘My child,’ he sobbed, ‘my child . . .’”

The blushes mounted hot to his cheeks; he turned away his head in horror. He would really have to look after himself for a bit, go to bed early, take exercise, not do much work. This sort of thing couldn’t be allowed to go on.

He went to bed at half-past nine that night, and woke up the following morning to find that he had added a dozen or more closely written pages to his original manuscript during the night. He supposed he must have written them in his sleep. It was all very disquieting. The days passed by; every morning a fresh instalment was added to the rapidly growing bulk of Heartsease Fitzroy. It was as though some goblin, some Lob-lie-by-the-Fire, came each night to perform the appointed task, vanishing before the morning. In a little while Dick’s alarm wore off; during the day he was perfectly well; his mind functioned with marvellous efficiency. It really didn’t seem to matter what he did in his sleep provided he was all right in his waking hours. He almost forgot about Heartsease, and was only reminded of her existence when by chance he opened the drawer in which the steadily growing pile of manuscript reposed.

In five weeks Heartsease Fitzroy was finished. Dick made a parcel of the manuscript and sent it to a literary agent. He had no hopes of any publisher taking the thing; but he was in sore straits for money at the moment, and it seemed worth trying, on the off-chance. A fortnight later Dick received a letter beginning: “DEAR MADAM, — Permit me to hail in you a new authoress of real talent. Heartsease Fitzroy is GREAT,” — and signed “EBOR W. SIMS, Editor, Hildebrand’s Home Weekly.”

Details of the circulation of Hildebrand’s Home Weekly were printed at the head of the paper; its average net sale was said to exceed three and a quarter millions. The terms offered by Mr. Sims seemed to Dick positively fabulous. And there would be the royalties on the thing in book form after the serial had run its course.

The letter arrived at breakfast; Dick cancelled all engagements for the day and set out immediately for a long and solitary walk. It was necessary to be alone, to think. He made his way along the Seven Bridges Road, up Cumnor Hill, through the village, and down the footpath to Bablock Hithe, thence to pursue the course of the “stripling Thames” — haunted at every step by the Scholar Gipsy, damn him! He drank beer and ate some bread and cheese in a little inn by a bridge, farther up the river; and it was there, in the inn parlour, surrounded by engravings of the late Queen, and breathing the slightly mouldy preserved air bottled some three centuries ago into that hermetically sealed chamber — it was there that he solved the problem, perceived the strange truth about himself.

He was a hermaphrodite.

A hermaphrodite, not in the gross obvious sense, of course, but spiritually. Two persons in one, male and female. Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: or rather a new William Sharp and Fiona MacLeod — a more intelligent William, a vulgarer Fiona. Everything was explained; the deplorable Quarles incident was simple and obvious now. A sentimental young lady of literary tastes writing sonnets to her Ouida guardsman. And what an unerring flair Mr. Sims had shown by addressing him so roundly and unhesitatingly as “madam”!

Dick was elated at this discovery. He had an orderly mind that disliked mysteries. He had been a puzzle to himself for a long time; now he was solved. He was not in the least distressed to discover this abnormality in his character. As long as the two parts of him kept well apart, as long as his male self could understand mathematics, and as long as his lady novelist’s self kept up her regular habit of writing at night and retiring from business during the day, the arrangement would be admirable. The more he thought about it, the more it seemed an ideal state of affairs. His life would arrange itself so easily and well. He would devote the day to the disinterested pursuit of knowledge, to philosophy and mathematics, with perhaps an occasional excursion into politics. After midnight he would write novels with a feminine pen, earning the money that would make his unproductive male labours possible. A kind of spiritual souteneur. But the fear of poverty need haunt him no more; no need to become a wage-slave, to sacrifice his intelligence to the needs of his belly. Like a gentleman of the East, he would sit still and smoke his philosophic pipe while the womenfolk did the dirty work. Could anything be more satisfactory?

He paid for his bread and beer, and walked home, whistling as he went.

III

TWO months later the first instalment of Heartsease Fitzroy: the Story of a Young Girl, by Pearl Bellairs, appeared in the pages of Hildebrand’s Home Weekly. Three and a quarter millions read and approved. When the story appeared in book form, two hundred thousand copies were sold in six weeks; and in the course of the next two years no less than sixteen thousand female infants in London alone were christened Heartsease. With her fourth novel and her two hundred and fiftieth Sunday paper article, Pearl Bellairs was well on her way to becoming a household word.

Meanwhile Dick was in receipt of an income far beyond the wildest dreams of his avarice. He was able to realize the two great ambitions of his life — to wear silk underclothing and to smoke good (but really good) cigars.

IV

DICK went down from Canteloup in a blaze of glory. The most brilliant man of his generation, exceptional mind, prospects, career. But his head was not turned. When people congratulated him on his academic successes, he thanked them politely and then invited them to come and see his Memento Mori. His Memento Mori was called Mr. Glottenham and could be found at any hour of the day in the premises of the Union, or if it was evening, in the Senior Common Room at Canteloup. He was an old member of the College, and the dons in pity for his age and loneliness had made him, some years before, a member of their Common Room. This act of charity was as bitterly regretted as any generous impulse in the history of the world. Mr. Glottenham made the life of the Canteloup fellows a burden to them; he dined in Hall with fiendish regularity, never missing a night, and he was always the last to leave the Common Room. Mr. Glottenham did not prepossess at a first glance; the furrows of his face were covered with a short grey sordid stubble; his clothes were disgusting with the spilth of many years of dirty feeding; he had the shoulders and long hanging arms of an ape — an ape with a horribly human look about it. When he spoke, it was like the sound of a man breaking coke; he spoke incessantly and on every subject. His knowledge was enormous; but he possessed the secret of a strange inverted alchemy — he knew how to turn the richest gold to lead, could make the most interesting topic so intolerably tedious that it was impossible, when he talked, not to loathe it.

This was the death’s-head to which Dick, like an ancient philosopher at a banquet, would direct the attention of his heartiest congratulators. Mr. Glottenham had had the most dazzling academic career of his generation. His tutors had prophesied for him a future far more brilliant than that of any of his contemporaries. They were now Ministers of State, poets, philosophers, judges, millionaires. Mr. Glottenham frequented the Union and the Canteloup Senior Common Room, and was — well, he was just Mr. Glottenham. Which was why Dick did not think too highly of his own laurels.

V

“WHAT shall I do? what ought I to do?” Dick walked up and down the room smoking, furiously and without at all savouring its richness, one of his opulent cigars.

“My dear,” said Cravister — for it was in Cravister’s high-ceilinged Bloomsbury room that Dick was thus unveiling his distress of spirit— “my dear, this isn’t a revival meeting. You speak as though there were an urgent need for your soul to be saved from hell fire. It’s not as bad as that, you know.”

“But it is a revival meeting,” Dick shouted in exasperation— “it is. I’m a revivalist. You don’t know what it’s like to have a feeling about your soul. I’m terrifyingly earnest; you don’t seem to understand that. I have all the feelings of Bunyan without his religion. I regard the salvation of my soul as important. How simple everything would be if one could go out with those creatures in bonnets and sing hymns like, ‘Hip, hip for the blood of the Lamb, hurrah!’ or that exquisite one:

“‘The bells of Hell ring tingalingaling

For you, but not for me.

For me the angels singalingaling;

They’ve got the goods for me.’

Unhappily it’s impossible.”

“Your ideas,” said Cravister in his flutiest voice, “are somewhat Gothic. I think I can understand them, though of course I don’t sympathize or approve. My advice to people in doubt about what course of action they ought to pursue is always the same: do what you want to.”

“Cravister, you’re hopeless,” said Dick, laughing. “I suppose I am rather Gothic, but I do feel that the question of ought as well as of want does arise.”

Dick had come to his old friend for advice about Life. What ought he to do? The indefatigable pen of Pearl Bellairs solved for him the financial problem. There remained only the moral problem: how could he best expend his energies and his time? Should he devote himself to knowing or doing, philosophy or politics? He felt in himself the desire to search for truth and the ability — who knows? — to find it. On the other hand, the horrors of the world about him seemed to call on him to put forth all his strength in an effort to ameliorate what was so patently and repulsively bad. Actually, what had to be decided was this: Should he devote himself to the researches necessary to carry out the plan, long ripening in his brain, of a new system of scientific philosophy; or should he devote his powers and Pearl Bellairs’ money in propaganda that should put life into the English revolutionary movement? Great moral principles were in the balance. And Cravister’s advice was, do what you want to!

After a month of painful indecision, Dick, who was a real Englishman, arrived at a satisfactory compromise. He started work on his new Synthetic Philosophy, and at the same time joined the staff of the Weekly International, to which he contributed both money and articles. The weeks slipped pleasantly and profitably along. The secret of happiness lies in congenial work, and no one could have worked harder than Dick, unless it was the indefatigable Pearl Bellairs, whose nightly output of five thousand words sufficed to support not only Dick but the Weekly International as well. These months were perhaps the happiest period of Dick’s life. He had friends, money, liberty; he knew himself to be working well; and it was an extra, a supererogatory happiness that he began at this time to get on much better with his sister Millicent than he had ever done before. Millicent had come up to Oxford as a student at St. Mungo Hall in Dick’s third year. She had grown into a very efficient and very intelligent young woman. A particularly handsome young woman as well. She was boyishly slender, and a natural grace kept on breaking through the somewhat rigid deportment, which she always tried to impose upon herself, in little beautiful gestures and movements that made the onlooker catch his breath with astonished pleasure.

“Wincing she was as is a jolly colt,

Straight as a mast and upright as a bolt:”

Chaucer had as good an eye for youthful grace as for mormals and bristly nostrils and thick red jovial villainousness.

Millicent lost no time in making her presence at St. Mungo’s felt. Second- and third-year heroines might snort at the forwardness of a mere fresh-girl, might resent the complete absence of veneration for their glory exhibited by this youthful bejauna; Millicent pursued her course unmoved. She founded new societies and put fresh life into the institutions which already existed at St. Mungo’s to take cocoa and discuss the problems of the universe. She played hockey like a tornado, and she worked alarmingly hard. Decidedly, Millicent was a Force, very soon the biggest Force in the St. Mungo world. In her fifth term she organized the famous St. Mungo general strike, which compelled the authorities to relax a few of the more intolerably tyrannical and anachronistic rules restricting the liberty of the students. It was she who went, on behalf of the strikers, to interview the redoubtable Miss Prosser, Principal of St. Mungo’s. The redoubtable Miss Prosser looked grim and invited her to sit down, Millicent sat down and, without quailing, delivered a short but pointed speech attacking the fundamental principles of the St. Mungo system of discipline.

“Your whole point of view,” she assured Miss Prosser, “is radically wrong. It’s an insult to the female sex; it’s positively obscene. Your root assumption is simply this: that we’re all in a chronic state of sexual excitement; leave us alone for a moment and we’ll immediately put our desires into practice. It’s disgusting. It makes me blush. After all, Miss Prosser, we are a college of intelligent women, not an asylum of nymphomaniacs.”

For the first time in her career, Miss Prosser had to admit herself beaten. The authorities gave in — reluctantly and on only a few points; but the principle had been shaken, and that, as Millicent pointed out, was what really mattered.

Dick used to see a good deal of his sister while he was still in residence at Canteloup, and after he had gone down he used to come regularly once a fortnight during term to visit her. That horrible mutual reserve, which poisons the social life of most families and which had effectively made of their brotherly and sisterly relation a prolonged discomfort in the past, began to disappear. They became the best of friends.

“I like you, Dick, a great deal better than I did,” said Millicent one day as they were parting at the gate of St. Mungo’s after a long walk together.

Dick took off his hat and bowed. “My dear, I reciprocate the sentiment. And, what’s more, I esteem and admire you. So there.”

Millicent curtsied, and they laughed. They both felt very happy.

VI

“WHAT a life!” said Dick, with a sigh of weariness as the train moved out of Euston.

Not a bad life, Millicent thought.

“But horribly fatiguing. I am quite outreined by it.”

“Outreined” was Dick’s translation of éreinté. He liked using words of his own manufacture; one had to learn his idiom before one could properly appreciate his intimate conversation.

Dick had every justification for being outreined. The spring and summer had passed for him in a whirl of incessant activity. He had written three long chapters of the New Synthetic Philosophy, and had the material for two more ready in the form of notes. He had helped to organize and bring to its successful conclusion the great carpenters’ strike of May and June. He had written four pamphlets and a small army of political articles. And this comprised only half his labour; for nightly, from twelve till two, Pearl Bellairs emerged to compose the masterpieces which supplied Dick with his bread and butter. Apes in Purple had been published in May. Since then she had finished La Belle Dame sans Morality, and had embarked on the first chapters of Daisy’s Voyage to Cythera. Her weekly articles, “For the Girls of Britain,” had become, during this period, a regular and favourite feature in the pages of Hildebrand’s Sabbath, that prince of Sunday papers. At the beginning of July, Dick considered that he had earned a holiday, and now they were off, he and Millicent, for the North.

Dick had taken a cottage on the shore of one of those long salt-water lochs that give to the west coast of Scotland such a dissipated appearance on the map. For miles around there was not a living soul who did not bear the name of Campbell — two families only excepted, one of whom was called Murray-Drummond and the other Drummond-Murray. However, it was not for the people that Dick and Millicent had come, so much as for the landscape, which made up in variety for anything that the inhabitants might lack. Behind the cottage, in the midst of a narrow strip of bog lying between the loch and the foot of the mountains, stood one of the numerous tombs of Ossian, a great barrow of ancient stones. And a couple of miles away the remains of Deirdre’s Scottish refuge bore witness to the Celtic past. The countryside was dotted with the black skeletons of mediæval castles. Astonishing country, convulsed into fantastic mountain shapes, cut and indented by winding fiords. On summer days the whole of this improbable landscape became blue and remote and aerially transparent. Its beauty lacked all verisimilitude. It was for that reason that Dick chose the neighbourhood for his holidays. After the insistent actuality of London this frankly unreal coast was particularly refreshing to a jaded spirit.

“Nous sommes ici en plein romantisme,” said Dick on the day of their arrival, making a comprehensive gesture towards the dream-like scenery, and for the rest of his holiday he acted the part of a young romantic of the palmy period. He sat at the foot of Ossian’s tomb and read Lamartine; he declaimed Byron from the summit of the mountains and Shelley as he rowed along the loch. In the evening he read George Sand’s Indiana; he agonized with the pure, but passionate, heroine, while his admiration for Sir Brown, her English lover, the impassive giant who never speaks and is always clothed in faultless hunting costume, knew no bounds. He saturated himself in the verses of Victor Hugo, and at last almost came to persuade himself that the words, Dieu, infinité, eternité, with which the works of that deplorable genius are so profusely sprinkled, actually possessed some meaning, though what that meaning was he could not, even in his most romantic transports, discover. Pearl Bellairs, of course, understood quite clearly their significance, and though she was a very poor French scholar she used sometimes to be moved almost to tears by the books she found lying about when she came into existence after midnight. She even copied out extracts into her notebooks with a view to using them in her next novel.

“Les plus désespérés sont les chants les plus beaux,

Et j’en sais d’immortels qui sont de purs sanglots,”

was a couplet which struck her as sublime.

Millicent, meanwhile, did the housekeeping with extraordinary efficiency, took a great deal of exercise, and read long, serious books; she humoured her brother in his holiday romanticism, but refused to take part in the game.

The declaration of war took them completely by surprise. It is true that a Scotsman found its way into the cottage by about lunch-time every day, but it was never read, and served only to light fires and wrap up fish and things of that sort. No letters were being forwarded, for they had left no address; they were isolated from the world. On the fatal morning Dick had, indeed, glanced at the paper, without however noticing anything out of the ordinary. It was only later when, alarmed by the rumours floating round the village shop, he came to examine his Scotsman more closely, that he found about half-way down the third column of one of the middle pages an admirable account of all that had been so tragically happening in the last twenty-four hours; he learnt with horror that Europe was at war and that; his country too had entered the arena. Even in the midst of his anguish of spirit he could not help admiring the Scotsman’s splendid impassivity — no headlines, no ruffling of the traditional aristocratic dignity. Like Sir Rodolphe Brown in Indiana, he thought, with a sickly smile.

Dick determined to start for London at once. He felt that he must act, or at least create the illusion of action; he could not stay quietly where he was. It was arranged that he should set out that afternoon, while Millicent should follow a day or two later with the bulk of the luggage. The train which took him to Glasgow was slower than he thought it possible for any train to be. He tried to read, he tried to sleep; it was no good. His nervous agitation was pitiable; he made little involuntary movements with his limbs, and every now and then the muscles of his face began twitching in a spasmodic and uncontrollable tic. There were three hours to wait in Glasgow; he spent them in wandering about the streets. In the interminable summer twilight the inhabitants of Glasgow came forth into the open to amuse themselves; the sight almost made him sick. Was it possible that there should be human beings so numerous and so uniformly hideous? Small, deformed, sallow, they seemed malignantly ugly, as if on purpose. The words they spoke were incomprehensible. He shuddered; it was an alien place — it was hell.

The London train was crammed. Three gross Italians got into Dick’s carriage, and after they had drunk and eaten with loud, unpleasant gusto, they prepared themselves for sleep by taking off their boots. Their feet smelt strongly ammoniac, like a cage of mice long uncleaned. Acutely awake, while the other occupants of the compartment enjoyed a happy unconsciousness, he looked at the huddled carcasses that surrounded him. The warmth and the smell of them was suffocating, and there came to his mind, with the nightmarish insistence of a fixed idea, the thought that every breath they exhaled was saturated with disease. To be condemned to sit in a hot bath of consumption and syphilis — it was too horrible! The moment came at last when he could bear it no longer; he got up and went into the corridor. Standing there, or sitting sometimes for a few dreary minutes in the lavatory, he passed the rest of the night. The train roared along without a stop. The roaring became articulate: in the days of his childhood trains used to run to the tune of “Lancashire, to Lancashire, to fetch a pocket-handkercher; to Lancashire, to Lancashire . . .” But to-night the wheels were shouting insistently, a million times over, two words only— “the War, the War; the War, the War.” He tried desperately to make them say something else, but they refused to recite Milton; they refused to go to Lancashire; they went on with their endless Tibetan litany — the War, the War, the War.

By the time he reached London, Dick was in a wretched state. His nerves were twittering and jumping within him; he felt like a walking aviary. The tic in his face had become more violent and persistent. As he stood in the station, waiting for a cab, he overheard a small child saying to its mother, “What’s the matter with that man’s face, mother?”

“Sh — sh, darling,” was the reply. “It’s rude.”

Dick turned and saw the child’s big round eyes fixed with fascinated curiosity upon him, as though he were a kind of monster. He put his hand to his forehead and tried to stop the twitching of the muscles beneath the skin. It pained him to think that he had become a scarecrow for children.

Arrived at his flat, Dick drank a glass of brandy and lay down for a rest. He felt exhausted — ill. At half-past one he got up, drank some more brandy, and crept down into the street. It was intensely hot; the pavements reverberated the sunlight in a glare which hurt his eyes; they seemed to be in a state of grey incandescence. A nauseating smell of wetted dust rose from the roadway, along which a water-cart was slowly piddling its way. He realized suddenly that he ought not to have drunk all that brandy on an empty stomach; he was definitely rather tipsy. He had arrived at that state of drunkenness when the senses perceive things clearly, but do not transmit their knowledge to the understanding. He was painfully conscious of this division, and it needed all the power of his will to establish contact between his parted faculties. It was as though he were, by a great and prolonged effort, keeping his brain pressed against the back of his eyes; as soon as he relaxed the pressure, the understanding part slipped back, the contact was broken, and he relapsed into a state bordering on imbecility. The actions which ordinarily one does by habit and without thinking, he had to perform consciously and voluntarily. He had to reason out the problem of walking — first the left foot forward, then the right. How ingeniously he worked his ankles and knees and hips! How delicately the thighs slid past one another!

He found a restaurant and sat there drinking coffee and trying to eat an omelette until he felt quite sober. Then he drove to the offices of the Weekly International to have a talk with Hyman, the editor. Hyman was sitting in his shirt-sleeves, writing.

He lifted his head as Dick came in. “Greenow,” he shouted delightedly, “we were all wondering what had become of you. We thought you’d joined the Army.”

Dick shook his head, but did not speak; the hot stuffy smell of printer’s ink and machinery combined with the atrocious reek of Hyman’s Virginian cigarettes to make him feel rather faint. He sat down on the window-ledge, so as to be able to breathe an uncontaminated air.

“Well,” he said at last, “what about it?”

“It’s going to be hell.”

“Did you suppose I thought it was going to be paradise?” Dick replied irritably. “Internationalism looks rather funny now, doesn’t it?”

“I believe in it more than ever I did,” cried Hyman. His face lit up with the fervour of his enthusiasm. It was a fine face, gaunt, furrowed, and angular, for all that he was barely thirty, looking as though it had been boldly chiselled from some hard stone. “The rest of the world may go mad; we’ll try and keep our sanity. The time will come when they’ll see we were right.”

Hyman talked on. His passionate sincerity and singleness of purpose were an inspiration to Dick. He had always admired Hyman — with the reservations, of course, that the man was rather a fanatic and not so well-educated as he might have been — but to-day he admired him more than ever. He was even moved by that perhaps too facile eloquence which of old had been used to leave him cold. After promising to do a series of articles on international relations for the paper, Dick went home, feeling better than he had done all day.

He decided that he would begin writing his articles at once. He collected pens, paper, and ink and sat down in a business-like way at his bureau. He remembered distinctly biting the tip of his pen-holder; it tasted rather bitter.

And then he realized he was standing in Regent Street, looking in at one of the windows of Liberty’s.

For a long time he stood there quite still, absorbed to all appearance in the contemplation of a piece of peacock-blue fabric. But all his attention was concentrated within himself, not on anything outside. He was wondering — wondering how it came about that he was sitting at his writing-table at one moment, and standing, at the next, in Regent Street. He hadn’t — the thought flashed upon him — he hadn’t been drinking any more of that brandy, had he? No, he felt himself to be perfectly sober. He moved slowly away and continued to speculate as he walked.

At Oxford Circus he bought an evening paper. He almost screamed aloud when he saw that the date printed at the head of the page was August 12th. It was on August 7th that he had sat down at his writing-table to compose those articles. Five days ago, and he had not the faintest recollection of what had happened in those five days.

He made all haste back to the flat. Everything was in perfect order. He had evidently had a picnic lunch that morning — sardines, bread and jam, and raisins; the remains of it still covered the table. He opened the sideboard and took out the brandy bottle. Better make quite sure. He held it up to the light; it was more than three-quarters full. Not a drop had gone since the day of his return. If brandy wasn’t the cause, then what was?

As he sat there thinking, he began in an absent-minded way to look at his evening paper. He read the news on the front page, then turned to the inner sheets. His eye fell on these words printed at the head of the column next the leading article:

“To the Women of the Empire. Thoughts in War-Time. By Pearl Bellairs.” Underneath in brackets: “The first of a series of inspiring patriotic articles by Miss Bellairs, the well-known novelist.”

Dick groaned in agony. He saw in a flash what had happened to his five missing days. Pearl had got hold of them somehow, had trespassed upon his life out of her own reserved nocturnal existence. She had taken advantage of his agitated mental state to have a little fun in her own horrible way.

He picked up the paper once more and began to read Pearl’s article. “Inspiring and patriotic”: those were feeble words in which to describe Pearl’s shrilly raucous chauvinism. And the style! Christ! to think that he was responsible, at least in part, for this. Responsible, for had not the words been written by his own hand and composed in some horrible bluebeard’s chamber of his own brain? They had, there was no denying it. Pearl’s literary atrocities had never much distressed him; he had long given up reading a word she wrote. Her bank balance was the only thing about her that interested him. But now she was invading the sanctities of his private life. She was trampling on his dearest convictions, denying his faith. She was a public danger. It was all too frightful.

He passed the afternoon in misery. Suicide or brandy seemed the only cures. Not very satisfactory ones, though. Towards evening an illuminating idea occurred to him. He would go and see Rogers. Rogers knew all about psychology — from books, at any rate: Freud, Jung, Morton Prince, and people like that. He used to try hypnotic experiments on his friends and even dabbled in amateur psychotherapy. Rogers might help him to lay the ghost of Pearl. He ate a hasty dinner and went to see Rogers in his Kensington rooms.

Rogers was sitting at a table with a great book open in front of him. The reading-lamp, which was the only light in the room, brightly illumined one side of the pallid, puffy, spectacled face, leaving the other in complete darkness, save for a little cedilla of golden light caught on the fold of flesh at the corner of his mouth. His huge shadow crossed the floor, began to climb the wall, and from the shoulders upwards mingled itself with the general darkness of the room.

“Good evening, Rogers,” said Dick wearily. “I wish you wouldn’t try and look like Rembrandt’s ‘Christ at Emmaus’ with these spectacular chiaroscuro effects.”

Rogers gave vent to his usual nervous giggling laugh. “This is very nice of you to come and see me, Greenow.”

“How’s the Board of Trade?” Rogers was a Civil Servant by profession.

“Oh, business as usual, as the Daily Mail would say.” Rogers laughed again as though he had made a joke.

After a little talk of things indifferent, Dick brought the conversation round to himself.

“I believe I’m getting a bit neurasthenic,” he said. “Fits of depression, nervous pains, lassitude, anæmia of the will. I’ve come to you for professional advice. I want you to nose out my suppressed complexes, analyse me, dissect me. Will you do that for me?”

Rogers was evidently delighted. “I’ll do my best,” he said, with assumed modesty. “But I’m no good at the thing, so you mustn’t expect much.”

“I’m at your disposal,” said Dick.

Rogers placed his guest in a large arm-chair. “Relax your muscles and think of nothing at all.” Dick sat there flabby and abstracted while Rogers made his preparations. His apparatus consisted chiefly in a notebook and a stop-watch. He seated himself at the table.

“Now,” he said solemnly, “I want you to listen to me. I propose to read out a list of words; after each of the words you must say the first word that comes into your head. The very first, mind, however foolish it may seem. And say it as soon as it crosses your mind; don’t wait to think. I shall write down your answers and take the time between each question and reply.”

Rogers cleared his throat and started.

“Mother,” he said in a loud, clear voice. He always began his analyses with the family. For since the majority of kinks and complexes date from childhood, it is instructive to investigate the relations between the patient and those who surrounded him at an early age. “Mother.”

“Dead,” replied Dick immediately. He had scarcely known his mother.

“Father.”

“Dull.” One and a fifth seconds’ interval.

“Sister.” Rogers pricked his ears for the reply: his favourite incest-theory depended on it.

“Fabian Society,” said Dick, after two seconds’ interval. Rogers was a little disappointed. He was agreeably thrilled and excited by the answer he received to his next word: “Aunt.”

The seconds passed, bringing nothing with them; and then at last there floated into Dick’s mind the image of himself as a child, dressed in green velvet and lace, a perfect Bubbles boy, kneeling on Auntie Loo’s lap and arranging a troop of lead soldiers on the horizontal projection of her corsage.

“Bosom,” he said.

Rogers wrote down the word and underlined it. Six and three-fifths seconds: very significant. He turned now to the chapter of possible accidents productive of nervous shocks.

“Fire.”

“Coal.”

“Sea.”

“Sick.”

“Train.”

“Smell.”

And so on. Dull answers all the time. Evidently, nothing very catastrophic had ever happened to him. Now for a frontal attack on the fortress of sex itself.

“Women.” There was rather a long pause, four seconds, and then Dick replied, “Novelist.” Rogers was puzzled.

“Breast.”

“Chicken.” That was disappointing. Rogers could find no trace of those sinister moral censors, expurgators of impulse, suppressors of happiness. Perhaps the trouble lay in religion.

“Christ,” he said.

Dick replied, “Amen,” with the promptitude of a parish clerk.

“God.”

Dick’s mind remained a perfect blank. The word seemed to convey to him nothing at all. God, God. After a long time there appeared before his inward eye the face of a boy he had known at school and at Oxford, one Godfrey Wilkinson, called God for short.

“Wilkinson.” Ten seconds and a fifth.

A few more miscellaneous questions, and the list was exhausted. Almost suddenly, Dick fell into a kind of hypnotic sleep. Rogers sat pensive in front of his notes; sometimes he consulted a text-book. At the end of half an hour he awakened Dick to tell him that he had had, as a child, consciously or unconsciously, a great Freudian passion for his aunt; that later on he had had another passion, almost religious in its fervour and intensity, for somebody called Wilkinson; and that the cause of all his present troubles lay in one or other of these episodes. If he liked, he (Rogers) would investigate the matter further with a view to establishing a cure.

Dick thanked him very much, thought it wasn’t worth taking any more trouble, and went home.

VII

MILLICENT was organizing a hospital supply dépôt, organizing indefatigably, from morning till night. It was October; Dick had not seen his sister since those first hours of the war in Scotland; he had had too much to think about these last months to pay attention to anyone but himself. To-day, at last, he decided that he would go and pay her a visit. Millicent had commandeered a large house in Kensington from a family of Jews, who were anxious to live down a deplorable name by a display of patriotism. Dick found her sitting there in her office — young, formidable, beautiful, severe — at a big desk covered with papers.

“Well,” said Dick, “you’re winning the war, I see.”

“You, I gather, are not,” Millicent replied.

“I believe in the things I always believed in.”

“So do I.”

“But in a different way, my dear — in a different way,” said Dick sadly. There was a silence.

“Had we better quarrel?” Millicent asked meditatively.

“I think we can manage with nothing worse than a coolness — for the duration.”

“Very well, a coolness.”

“A smouldering coolness.”

“Good,” said Millicent briskly. “Let it start smouldering at once. I must get on with my work. Good-bye, Dick. God bless you. Let me know sometimes how you get on.”

“No need to ask how you get on,” said Dick with a smile, as he shook her hand. “I know by experience that you always get on, only too well, ruthlessly well.”

He went out. Millicent returned to her letters with concentrated ardour; a frown puckered the skin between her eyebrows.

Probably, Dick reflected as he made his way down the stairs, he wouldn’t see her again for a year or so. He couldn’t honestly say that it affected him much. Other people became daily more and more like ghosts, unreal, thin, vaporous; while every hour the consciousness of himself grew more intense and all-absorbing. The only person who was more than a shadow to him now was Hyman of the Weekly International. In those first horrible months of the war, when he was wrestling with Pearl Bellairs and failing to cast her out, it was Hyman who kept him from melancholy and suicide. Hyman made him write a long article every week, dragged him into the office to do sub-editorial work, kept him so busy that there were long hours when he had no time to brood over his own insoluble problems. And his enthusiasm was so passionate and sincere that sometimes even Dick was infected by it; he could believe that life was worth living and the cause worth fighting for. But not for long; for the devil would return, insistent and untiring. Pearl Bellairs was greedy for life; she was not content with her short midnight hours; she wanted the freedom of whole days. And whenever Dick was overtired, or ill or nervous, she leapt upon him and stamped him out of existence, till enough strength came back for him to reassert his personality. And the articles she wrote! The short stories! The recruiting songs! Dick dared not read them; they were terrible, terrible.

VIII

THE months passed by. The longer the war lasted, the longer it seemed likely to last. Dick supported life somehow. Then came the menace of conscription. The Weekly International organized a great anti-conscription campaign, in which Hyman and Dick were the leading spirits. Dick was almost happy. This kind of active work was new to him and he enjoyed it, finding it exciting and at the same time sedative. For a self-absorbed and brooding mind, pain itself is an anodyne. He enjoyed his incessant journeys, his speechmaking to queer audiences in obscure halls and chapels; he liked talking with earnest members of impossible Christian sects, pacifists who took not the faintest interest in the welfare of humanity at large, but were wholly absorbed in the salvation of their own souls and in keeping their consciences clear from the faintest trace of blood-guiltiness. He enjoyed the sense of power which came to him, when he roused the passion of the crowd to enthusiastic assent, or breasted the storm of antagonism. He enjoyed everything — even getting a bloody nose from a patriot hired and intoxicated by a great evening paper to break up one of his meetings. It all seemed tremendously exciting and important at the time. And yet when, in quiet moments, he came to look back on his days of activity, they seemed utterly empty and futile. What was left of them? Nothing, nothing at all. The momentary intoxication had died away, the stirred ant’s-nest had gone back to normal life. Futility of action! There was nothing permanent, or decent, or worth while, except thought. And of that he was almost incapable now. His mind, when it was not occupied by the immediate and actual, turned inward morbidly upon itself. He looked at the manuscript of his book and wondered whether he would ever be able to go on with it. It seemed doubtful. Was he, then, condemned to pass the rest of his existence enslaved to the beastliness and futility of mere quotidian action? And even in action his powers were limited; if he exerted himself too much — and the limits of fatigue were soon reached — Pearl Bellairs, watching perpetually like a hungry tigress for her opportunity, leapt upon him and took possession of his conscious faculties. And then, it might be for a matter of hours or of days, he was lost, blotted off the register of living souls, while she performed, with intense and hideous industry, her self-appointed task. More than once his anti-conscription campaigns had been cut short and he himself had suddenly disappeared from public life, to return with the vaguest stories of illness or private affairs — stories that made his friends shake their heads and wonder which it was among the noble army of vices that poor Dick Greenow was so mysteriously addicted to. Some said drink, some said women, some said opium, and some hinted at things infinitely darker and more horrid. Hyman asked him point-blank what it was, one morning when he had returned to the office after three days’ unaccountable absence.

Dick blushed painfully. “It isn’t anything you think,” he said.

“What is it, then?” Hyman insisted.

“I can’t tell you,” Dick replied desperately and in torture, “but I swear it’s nothing discreditable. I beg you won’t ask me any more.”

Hyman had to pretend to be satisfied with that.

IX

A TACTICAL move in the anti-conscription campaign was the foundation of a club, a place where people with pacific or generally advanced ideas could congregate.

“A club like this would soon be the intellectual centre of London,” said Hyman, ever sanguine.

Dick shrugged his shoulders. He had a wide experience of pacifists.

“If you bring people together,” Hyman went on, “they encourage one another to be bold — strengthen one another’s faith.”

“Yes,” said Dick dyspeptically. “When they’re in a herd, they can believe that they’re much more numerous and important than they really are.”

“But, man, they are numerous, they are important!” Hyman shouted and gesticulated.

Dick allowed himself to be persuaded into an optimism which he knew to be ill-founded. The consolations of religion do not console the less efficaciously for being illusory.

It was a longtime before they could think of a suitable name for their club. Dick suggested that it should be called the Sclopis Club. “Such a lovely name,” he explained. “Sclopis — Sclopis; it tastes precious in the mouth.” But the rest of the committee would not hear of it; they wanted a name that meant something. One lady suggested that it should be called the Everyman Club; Dick objected with passion. “It makes one shudder,” he said. The lady thought it was a beautiful and uplifting name, but as Mr. Greenow was so strongly opposed, she wouldn’t press the claims of Everyman. Hyman wanted to call it the Pacifist Club, but that was judged too provocative. Finally, they agreed to call it the Novembrist Club, because it was November and they could think of no better title.

The inaugural dinner of the Novembrist Club was held at Piccolomini’s Restaurant. Piccolomini is in, but not exactly of, Soho, for it is a cross between a Soho restaurant and a Corner House, a hybrid which combines the worst qualities of both parents — the dirt and inefficiency of Soho, the size and vulgarity of Lyons. There is a large upper chamber reserved for agapes. Here, one wet and dismal winter’s evening, the Novembrists assembled.

Dick arrived early, and from his place near the door he watched his fellow-members come in. He didn’t much like the look of them. “Middle class” was what he found himself thinking; and he had to admit, when his conscience reproached him for it, that he did not like the middle classes, the lower middle classes, the lower classes. He was, there was no denying it, a bloodsucker at heart — cultured and intelligent, perhaps, but a bloodsucker none the less.

The meal began. Everything about it was profoundly suspect. The spoons were made of some pale pinchbeck metal, very light and flimsy; one expected them to melt in the soup, or one would have done, if the soup had been even tepid. The food was thick and greasy. Dick wondered what it really looked like under the concealing sauces. The wine left an indescribable taste that lingered on the palate, like the savour of brass or of charcoal fumes.

From childhood upwards Dick had suffered from the intensity of his visceral reactions to emotion. Fear and shyness were apt to make him feel very sick, and disgust produced in him a sensation of intolerable queasiness. Disgust had seized upon his mind to-night. He grew paler with the arrival of every dish, and the wine, instead of cheering him, made him feel much worse. His neighbours to right and left ate with revolting heartiness. On one side sat Miss Gibbs, garishly dressed in ill-assorted colours that might be called futuristic; on the other was Mr. Something in pince-nez, rather ambrosial about the hair. Mr. Something was a poet, or so the man who introduced them had said. Miss Gibbs was just an ordinary member of the Intelligentsia, like the rest of us.

The Lower Classes, the Lower Classes . . .

“Are you interested in the Modern Theatre?” asked Mr. Something in his mellow voice. Too mellow — oh, much too mellow!

“Passably,” said Dick.

“So am I,” said Mr. Thingummy. “I am a vice-president of the Craftsmen’s League of Joy, which perhaps you may have heard of.”

Dick shook his head; this was going to be terrible.

“The objects of the Craftsmen’s League of Joy,” Mr. Thingummy continued, “or rather, one of the objects — for it has many — is to establish Little Theatres in every town and village in England, where simple, uplifting, beautiful plays might be acted. The people have no joy.”

“They have the cinema and the music hall,” said Dick. He was filled with a sudden senseless irritation. “They get all the joy they want out of the jokes of the comics and the legs of the women.”

“Ah, but that is an impure joy,” Mr. What’s-his-name protested.

“Impure purple, Herbert Spenser’s favourite colour,” flashed irrelevantly through Dick’s brain.

“Well, speaking for myself,” he said aloud, “I know I get more joy out of a good pair of legs than out of any number of uplifting plays of the kind they’d be sure to act in your little theatres. The people ask for sex and you give them a stone.”

How was it, he wondered, that the right opinions in the mouths of these people sounded so horribly cheap and wrong? They degraded what was noble; beauty became fly-blown at their touch. Their intellectual tradition was all wrong. Lower classes, it always came back to that. When they talked about war and the International, Dick felt a hot geyser of chauvinism bubbling up in his breast. In order to say nothing stupid, he refrained from speaking at all. Miss Gibbs switched the conversation on to art. She admired all the right people. Dick told her that he thought Sir Luke Fildes to be the best modern artist. But his irritation knew no bounds when he found out a little later that Mr. Something had read the poems of Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke. He felt inclined to say, “You may have read them, but of course you can’t understand or appreciate them.”

Lower Classes . . .

How clear and splendid were the ideas of right and justice! If only one could filter away the contaminating human element. . . . Reason compelled him to believe in democracy, in internationalism, in revolution; morality demanded justice for the oppressed. But neither morality nor reason would ever bring him to take pleasure in the company of democrats or revolutionaries, or make him find the oppressed, individually, any less antipathetic.

At the end of this nauseating meal, Dick was called on to make a speech. Rising to his feet, he began stammering and hesitating; he felt like an imbecile. Then suddenly inspiration came. The great religious ideas of Justice and Democracy swept like a rushing wind through his mind, purging it of all insignificant human and personal preferences or dislikes. He was filled with pentecostal fire. He spoke in a white heat of intellectual passion, dominating his hearers, infecting them with his own high enthusiasm. He sat down amid cheers. Miss Gibbs and Mr. Thingummy leaned towards him with flushed, shining faces.

“That was wonderful, Mr. Greenow. I’ve never heard anything like it,” exclaimed Miss Gibbs, with genuine, unflattering enthusiasm.

Mr. Thing said something poetical about a trumpet-call. Dick looked from one to the other with blank and fishy eyes. So it was for these creatures he had been speaking!

Good God! . . .

X

DICK’S life was now a monotonous nightmare. The same impossible situation was repeated again and again. If it were not for the fact that he knew Pearl Bellairs to be entirely devoid of humour, Dick might have suspected that she was having a little quiet fun with him, so grotesque were the anomalies of his double life. Grotesque, but dreary, intolerably dreary. Situations which seem, in contemplation, romantic and adventurous have a habit of proving, when actually experienced, as dull and daily as a bank clerk’s routine. When you read about it, a Jekyll and Hyde existence sounds delightfully amusing; but when you live through it, as Dick found to his cost, it is merely a boring horror.

In due course Dick was called up by the Military Authorities. He pleaded conscientious objection. The date of his appearance before the Tribunal was fixed. Dick did not much relish the prospect of being a Christian martyr; it seemed an anachronism. However, it would have to be done. He would be an absolutist; there would be a little buffeting, spitting, and scourging, followed by an indefinite term of hard labour. It was all very unpleasant. But nothing could be much more unpleasant than life as he was now living it. He didn’t even mind very much if they killed him. Being or not being — the alternatives left him equally cold.

The days that preceded his appearance before the Tribunal were busy days, spent in consulting solicitors, preparing speeches, collecting witnesses.

“We’ll give you a good run for your money,” said Hyman. “I hope they’ll be feeling a little uncomfortable by the time they have done with you, Greenow.”

“Not nearly so uncomfortable as I shall be feeling,” Dick replied, with a slightly melancholy smile.

The South Marylebone Tribunal sat in a gloomy and fetid chamber in a police station. Dick, who was extremely sensitive to his surroundings, felt his fatigue and nervousness perceptibly increase as he entered the room. Five or six pitiable creatures with paralytic mothers or one-man businesses were briskly disposed of, and then it was Dick’s turn to present himself before his judges. He looked round the court, nodded to Hyman, smiled at Millicent, who had so far thawed their wartime coolness as to come and see him condemned, caught other friendly eyes. It was as though he were about to be electrocuted. The preliminaries passed off; he found himself answering questions in a loud, clear voice. Then the Military Representative began to loom horribly large. The Military Representative was a solicitor’s clerk disguised as a lieutenant in the Army Service Corps. He spoke in an accent that was more than genteel; it was rich, noble, aristocratic. Dick tried to remember where he had heard a man speaking like that before. He had it now. Once when he had been at Oxford after term was over. He had gone to see the Varieties, which come twice nightly and with cheap seats to the theatre after the undergraduates have departed. One of the turns had been a Nut, a descendant of the bloods and Champagne Charlies of earlier days. A young man in an alpaca evening suit and a monocle. He had danced, sung a song, spoken some patter. Sitting in the front row of the stalls, Dick had been able to see the large, swollen, tuberculous glands in his neck. They wobbled when he danced or sang. Fascinatingly horrible, those glands; and the young man, how terribly, painfully pathetic. . . . When the Military Representative spoke, he could hear again that wretched Nut’s rendering of the Eton and Oxford voice. It unnerved him.

“What is your religion, Mr. Greenow?” the Military Representative asked.

Fascinated, Dick looked to see whether he too had tuberculous glands. The Lieutenant had to repeat his question sharply. When he was irritated, his voice went back to its more natural nasal twang. Dick recovered his presence of mind.

“I have no religion,” he answered.

“But, surely, sir, you must have some kind of religion.”

“Well, if I must, if it’s in the Army Regulations, you had better put me down as an Albigensian, or a Bogomile, or, better still, as a Manichean. One can’t find oneself in this court without possessing a profound sense of the reality and active existence of a power of evil equal to, if not greater than, the power of good.”

“This is rather irrelevant, Mr. Greenow,” said the Chairman.

“I apologize.” Dick bowed to the court.

“But if,” the Military Representative continued— “if your objection is not religious, may I ask what it is?”

“It is based on a belief that all war is wrong, and that the solidarity of the human race can only be achieved in practice by protesting against war, wherever it appears and in whatever form.”

“Do you disbelieve in force, Mr. Greenow?”

“You might as well ask me if I disbelieve in gravitation. Of course, I believe in force: it is a fact.”

“What would you do if you saw a German violating your sister?” said the Military Representative, putting his deadliest question.

“Perhaps I had better ask my sister first,” Dick replied. “She is sitting just behind you in the court.”

The Military Representative was covered with confusion. He coughed and blew his nose. The case dragged on. Dick made a speech; the Military Representative made a speech; the Chairman made a speech. The atmosphere of the court-room grew fouler and fouler. Dick sickened and suffocated in the second-hand air. An immense lassitude took possession of him; he did not care about anything — about the cause, about himself, about Hyman or Millicent or Pearl Bellairs. He was just tired. Voices buzzed and drawled in his ears — sometimes his own voice, sometimes other people’s. He did not listen to what they said. He was tired — tired of all this idiotic talk, tired of the heat and smell. . . .

Tired of picking up very thistly wheat sheaves and propping them up in stooks on the yellow stubble. For that was what, suddenly, he found himself doing. Overhead the sky expanded in endless steppes of blue-hot cobalt. The pungent prickly dust of the dried sheaves plucked at his nose with imminent sneezes, made his eyes smart and water. In the distance a reaping-machine whirred and hummed. Dick looked blankly about him, wondering where he was. He was thankful, at any rate, not to be in that sweltering court-room; and it was a mercy, too, to have escaped from the odious gentility of the Military Representative’s accent. And, after all, there were worse occupations than harvesting.

Gradually, and bit by bit, Dick pieced together his history. He had, it seemed, done a cowardly and treacherous thing: deserted in the face of the enemy, betrayed his cause. He had a bitter letter from Hyman. “Why couldn’t you have stuck it out? I thought it was in you. You’ve urged others to go to prison for their beliefs, but you get out of it yourself by sneaking off to a soft alternative service job on a friend’s estate. You’ve brought discredit on the whole movement.” It was very painful, but what could he answer? The truth was so ridiculous that nobody could be expected to swallow it. And yet the fact was that he had been as much startled to find himself working at Crome as anyone. It was all Pearl’s doing.

He had found in his room a piece of paper covered with the large, flamboyant feminine writing which he knew to be Pearl’s. It was evidently the rough copy of an article on the delights of being a land-girl: dewy dawns, rosy children’s faces, quaint cottages, mossy thatch, milkmaids, healthy exercise. Pearl was being a land-girl; but he could hardly explain the fact to Hyman. Better not attempt to answer him.

Dick hated the manual labour of the farm. It was hard, monotonous, dirty, and depressing. It inhibited almost completely the functions of his brain. He was unable to think about anything at all; there was no opportunity to do anything but feel uncomfortable. God had not made him a Caliban to scatter ordure over fields, to pick up ordure from cattle-yards. His rôle was Prospero.

“Ban, Ban, Caliban” — it was to that derisive measure that he pumped water, sawed wood, mowed grass; it was a march for his slow, clotted feet as he followed the dung-carts up the winding lanes. “Ban, Ban, Caliban — Ban, Ban, Ban . . .”

“Oh, that bloody old fool Tolstoy,” was his profoundest reflection on a general subject in three months of manual labour and communion with mother earth.

He hated the work, and his fellow-workers hated him. They mistrusted him because they could not understand him, taking the silence of his overpowering shyness for arrogance and the contempt of one class for another. Dick longed to become friendly with them. His chief trouble was that he did not know what to say. At meal-times he would spend long minutes in cudgelling his brains for some suitable remark to make. And even if he thought of something good, like— “It looks as though it were going to be a good year for roots,” he somehow hesitated to speak, feeling that such a remark, uttered in his exquisitely modulated tones, would be, somehow, a little ridiculous. It was the sort of thing that ought to be said rustically, with plenty of Z’s and long vowels, in the manner of William Barnes. In the end, for lack of courage to act the yokel’s part, he generally remained silent. While the others were eating their bread and cheese with laughter and talk, he sat like the skeleton at the feast — a skeleton that longed to join in the revelry, but had not the power to move its stony jaws. On the rare occasions that he actually succeeded in uttering something, the labourers looked at one another in surprise and alarm, as though it were indeed a skeleton that had spoken.

He was not much more popular with the other inhabitants of the village. Often, in the evenings, as he was returning from work, the children would pursue him, yelling. With the unerringly cruel instinct of the young they had recognized in him a fit object for abuse and lapidation. An outcast member of another class, from whom that class in casting him out had withdrawn its protection, an alien in speech and habit, a criminal, as their zealous schoolmaster lost no opportunity of reminding them, guilty of the blackest treason against God and man — he was the obviously predestined victim of childish persecution. When stones began to fly, and dung and precocious obscenity, he bowed his head and pretended not to notice that anything unusual was happening. It was difficult, however, to look quite dignified.

There were occasional short alleviations to the dreariness of his existence. One day, when he was engaged in his usual occupation of manuring, a familiar figure suddenly appeared along the footpath through the field. It was Mrs. Cravister. She was evidently staying at the big house; one of the Manorial dachshunds preceded her. He took off his cap.

“Mr. Greenow!” she exclaimed, coming to a halt. “Ah, what a pleasure to see you again! Working on the land: so Tolstoyan. But I trust it doesn’t affect your æsthetic ideas in the same way as it did his. Fifty peasants singing together is music; but Bach’s chromatic fantasia is mere gibbering incomprehensibility.”

“I don’t do this for pleasure,” Dick explained. “It’s hard labour, meted out to the Conscientious Objector.”

“Of course, of course,” said Mrs. Cravister, raising her hand to arrest any further explanation. “I had forgotten. A conscientious objector, a Bible student. I remember how passionately devoted you were, even at school, to the Bible.”

She closed her eyes and nodded her head several times.

“On the contrary — —” Dick began; but it was no good. Mrs. Cravister had determined that he should be a Bible student and it was no use gainsaying her. She cut him short.

“Dear me, the Bible. . . . What a style! That alone would prove it to have been directly inspired. You remember how Mahomet appealed to the beauty of his style as a sign of his divine mission. Why has nobody done the same for the Bible? It remains for you, Mr. Greenow, to do so. You will write a book about it. How I envy you!”

“The style is very fine,” Dick ventured, “but don’t you think the matter occasionally leaves something to be desired?”

“The matter is nothing,” cried Mrs. Cravister, making a gesture that seemed to send all meaning flying like a pinch of salt along the wind— “nothing at all. It’s the style that counts. Think of Madame Bovary.”

“I certainly will,” said Dick.

Mrs. Cravister held out her hand. “Good-bye. Yes, I certainly envy you. I envy you your innocent labour and your incessant study of that most wonderful of books. If I were asked, Mr. Greenow, what book I should take with me to a desert island, what single solitary book, I should certainly say the Bible, though, indeed, there are moments when I think I should choose Tristram Shandy. Good-bye.”

Mrs. Cravister sailed slowly away. The little brown basset trotted ahead, straining his leash. One had the impression of a great ship being towed into harbour by a diminutive tug.

Dick was cheered by this glimpse of civilization and humanity. The unexpected arrival, one Saturday afternoon, of Millicent was not quite such an unmixed pleasure. “I’ve come to see how you’re getting on,” she announced, “and to put your cottage straight and make you comfortable.”

“Very kind of you,” said Dick. He didn’t want his cottage put straight.

Millicent was in the Ministry of Munitions now, controlling three thousand female clerks with unsurpassed efficiency. Dick looked at her curiously, as she talked that evening of her doings. “To think I should have a sister like that,” he said to himself. She was terrifying.

“You do enjoy bullying other people!” he exclaimed at last. “You’ve found your true vocation. One sees now how the new world will be arranged after the war. The women will continue to do all the bureaucratic jobs, all that entails routine and neatness and interfering with other people’s affairs. And man, it is to be hoped, will be left free for the important statesman’s business, free for creation and thought. He will stay at home and give proper education to the children, too. He is fit to do these things, because his mind is disinterested and detached. It’s an arrangement which will liberate all man’s best energies for their proper uses. The only flaw I can see in the system is that you women will be so fiendishly and ruthlessly tyrannical in your administration.”

“You can’t seriously expect me to argue with you,” said Millicent.

“No, please don’t. I am not strong enough. My dung-carrying has taken the edge off all my reasoning powers.”

Millicent spent the next morning in completely rearranging Dick’s furniture. By lunch-time every article in the cottage was occupying a new position.

“That’s much nicer,” said Millicent, surveying her work and seeing that it was good.

There was a knock at the door. Dick opened it and was astonished to find Hyman.

“I just ran down to see how you were getting on,” he explained.

“I’m getting on very well since my sister rearranged my furniture,” said Dick. He found it pleasing to have an opportunity of exercising his long unused powers of malicious irony. This was very mild, but with practice he would soon come on to something more spiteful and amusing.

Hyman shook hands with Millicent, scowling as he did so. He was irritated that she was there; he wanted to talk with Dick alone. He turned his back on her and began addressing Dick.

“Well,” he said, “I haven’t seen you since the fatal day. How is the turnip-hoeing?”

“Pretty beastly,” said Dick.

“Better than doing hard labour in a gaol, I suppose?”

Dick nodded his head wearily, foreseeing what must inevitably come.

“You’ve escaped that all right,” Hyman went on.

“Yes; you ought to be thankful,” Millicent chimed in.

“I still can’t understand why you did it, Greenow. It was a blow to me. I didn’t expect it of you.” Hyman spoke with feeling. “It was desertion; it was treason.”

“I agree,” said Millicent judicially. “He ought to have stuck to his principles.”

“He ought to have stuck to what was right, oughtn’t he, Miss Greenow?” Hyman turned towards Millicent, pleased at finding someone who shared his views.

“Of course,” she replied— “of course. I totally disagree with you about what is right. But if he believed it right not to fight, he certainly ought to have gone to prison for his belief.”

Dick lit a pipe with an air of nonchalance. He tried to disguise the fact that he was feeling extremely uncomfortable under these two pairs of merciless, accusing eyes.

“To my mind, at any rate,” said Millicent, “your position seems quite illogical and untenable, Dick.”

It was a relief to be talked to and not about.

“I’m sorry about that,” said Dick rather huskily — not a very intelligent remark, but what was there to say?

“Of course, it’s illogical and untenable. Your sister is quite right.” Hyman banged the table.

“I can’t understand what induced you to take it up — —”

“After you’d said you were going to be one of the absolutes,” cried Hyman, interrupting and continuing Millicent’s words.

“Why?” said Millicent.

“Why, why, why?” Hyman echoed.

Dick, who had been blowing out smoke at a great rate, put down his pipe. The taste of the tobacco was making him feel rather sick. “I wish you would stop,” he said wearily. “If I gave you the real reasons, you wouldn’t believe me. And I can’t invent any others that would be in the least convincing.”

“I believe the real reason is that you were afraid of prison.”

Dick leaned back in his chair and shut his eyes. He did not mind being insulted now; it made no difference. Hyman and Millicent were still talking about him, but what they said did not interest him; he scarcely listened.

They went back to London together in the evening.

“Very intelligent woman, your sister,” said Hyman just before they were starting. “Pity she’s not on the right side about the war and so forth.”

Four weeks later Dick received a letter in which Hyman announced that he and Millicent had decided to get married.

“I am happy to think,” Dick wrote in his congratulatory reply, “that it was I who brought you together.”

He smiled as he read through the sentence; that was what the Christian martyr might say to the two lions who had scraped acquaintance over his bones in the amphitheatre.

One warm afternoon in the summer of 1918, Mr. Hobart, Clerk to the Wibley Town Council, was disturbed in the midst of his duties by the sudden entry into his office of a small dark man, dressed in corduroys and gaiters, but not having the air of a genuine agricultural labourer.

“What may I do for you?” inquired Mr. Hobart.

“I have come to inquire about my vote,” said the stranger.

“Aren’t you already registered?”

“Not yet. You see, it isn’t long since the Act was passed giving us the vote.”

Mr. Hobart stared.

“I don’t quite follow,” he said.

“I may not look it,” said the stranger, putting his head on one side and looking arch— “I may not look it, but I will confess to you, Mr. — er — Mr. — er — —”

“Hobart.”

“Mr. Hobart, that I am a woman of over thirty.”

Mr. Hobart grew visibly paler. Then, assuming a forced smile and speaking as one speaks to a child or a spoiled animal, he said:

“I see — I see. Over thirty, dear me.”

He looked at the bell, which was over by the fireplace at the other side of the room, and wondered how he should ring it without rousing the maniac’s suspicions.

“Over thirty,” the stranger went on. “You know my woman’s secret. I am Miss Pearl Bellairs, the novelist. Perhaps you have read some of my books. Or are you too busy?”

“Oh no, I’ve read several,” Mr. Hobart replied, smiling more and more brightly and speaking in even more coaxing and indulgent tones.

“Then we’re friends already, Mr. Hobart. Anyone who knows my books, knows me. My whole heart is in them. Now, you must tell me all about my poor little vote. I shall be very patriotic with it when the time comes to use it.”

Mr. Hobart saw his opportunity.

“Certainly, Miss Bellairs,” he said. “I will ring for my clerk and we’ll — er — we’ll take down the details.”

He got up, crossed the room, and rang the bell with violence.

“I’ll just go and see that he brings the right books,” he added, and darted to the door. Once outside in the passage, he mopped his face and heaved a sigh of relief. That had been a narrow shave, by Jove. A loony in the office — dangerous-looking brute, too.

On the following day Dick woke up and found himself in a bare whitewashed room, sparsely furnished with a little iron bed, a washstand, a chair, and table. He looked round him in surprise. Where had he got to this time? He went to the door and tried to open it; it was locked. An idea entered his mind: he was in barracks somewhere; the Military Authorities must have got hold of him somehow in spite of his exemption certificate. Or perhaps Pearl had gone and enlisted. . . . He turned next to the window, which was barred. Outside, he could see a courtyard, filled, not with soldiers, as he had expected, but a curious motley crew of individuals, some men and some women, wandering hither and thither with an air of complete aimlessness. Very odd, he thought — very odd. Beyond the courtyard, on the farther side of a phenomenally high wall, ran a railway line and beyond it a village, roofed with tile and thatch, and a tall church spire in the midst. Dick looked carefully at the spire. Didn’t he know it? Surely — yes, those imbricated copper plates with which it was covered, that gilded ship that served as wind vane, the little gargoyles at the corner of the tower there could be no doubt; it was Belbury church. Belbury — that was where the . . . No, no; he wouldn’t believe it. But looking down again into that high-walled courtyard, full of those queer, aimless folk, he was forced to admit it. The County Asylum stands at Belbury. He had often noticed it from the train, a huge, gaunt building of sausage-coloured brick, standing close to the railway, on the opposite side of the line to Belbury village and church. He remembered how, the last time he had passed in the train, he had wondered what they did in the asylum. He had regarded it then as one of those mysterious, unapproachable places, like Lhassa or a Ladies’ Lavatory, into which he would never penetrate. And now, here he was, looking out through the bars, like any other madman. It was all Pearl’s doing, as usual. If there had been no bars, he would have thrown himself out of the window.

He sat down on his bed and began to think about what he should do. He would have to be very sane and show them by his behaviour and speech that he was no more mad than the commonalty of mankind. He would be extremely dignified about it all. If a warder or a doctor or somebody came in to see him, he would rise to his feet and say in the calmest and severest tones: “May I ask, pray, why I am detained here and upon whose authority?” That ought to stagger them. He practised that sentence, and the noble attitude with which he would accompany it, for the best part of an hour. Then, suddenly, there was the sound of a key in the lock. He hastily sat down again on the bed. A brisk little man of about forty, clean shaven and with pince-nez, stepped into the room, followed by a nurse and a warder in uniform. The doctor! Dick’s heart was beating with absurd violence; he felt like an amateur actor at the first performance of an imperfectly rehearsed play. He rose, rather unsteadily, to his feet, and in a voice that quavered a little with an emotion he could not suppress, began:

“Pray I ask, may . . .”

Then, realizing that something had gone wrong, he hesitated, stammered, and came to a pause.

The doctor turned to the nurse.

“Did you hear that?” he asked. “He called me May. He seems to think everybody’s a woman, not only himself.”

Turning to Dick with a cheerful smile, he went on:

“Sit down, Miss Bellairs, please sit down.”

It was too much. Dick burst into tears, flung himself upon the bed, and buried his face in the pillow. The doctor looked at him as he lay there sobbing, his whole body shaken and convulsed.

“A bad case, I fear.”

And the nurse nodded.

For the next three days Dick refused to eat. It was certainly unreasonable, but it seemed the only way of making a protest. On the fourth day the doctor signed a certificate to the effect that forcible feeding had become necessary. Accompanied by two warders and a nurse, he entered Dick’s room.

“Now, Miss Bellairs,” he said, making a last persuasive appeal, “do have a little of this nice soup. We have come to have lunch with you.”

“I refuse to eat,” said Dick icily, “as a protest against my unlawful detention in this place. I am as sane as any of you here.”

“Yes, yes.” The doctor’s voice was soothing. He made a sign to the warders. One was very large and stout, the other wiry, thin, sinister, like the second murderer in a play. They closed in on Dick.

“I won’t eat and I won’t be made to eat!” Dick cried. “Let me go!” he shouted at the fat warder, who had laid a hand on his shoulder. His temper was beginning to rise.

“Now, do behave yourself,” said the fat warder. “It ain’t a bit of use kicking up a row. Now, do take a little of this lovely soup,” he added wheedlingly.

“Let me go!” Dick screamed again, all his self-control gone. “I will not let myself be bullied.”

He began to struggle violently. The fat warder put an arm round his shoulders, as though he were an immense mother comforting an irritable child. Dick felt himself helpless; the struggle had quite exhausted him; he was weaker than he had any idea of. He began kicking the fat man’s shins; it was the only way he could still show fight.

“Temper, temper,” remonstrated the warder, more motherly than ever. The thin warder stooped down, slipped a strap round the kicking legs, and drew it tight. Dick could move no more. His fury found vent in words — vain, abusive, filthy words, such as he had not used since he was a schoolboy.

“Let me go,” he screamed— “let me go, you devils! You beasts, you swine! beasts and swine!” he howled again and again.

They soon had him securely strapped in a chair, his head held back ready for the doctor and his horrible-looking tubes. They were pushing the horrors up his nostrils. He coughed and choked, spat, shouted inarticulately, retched. It was like having a spoon put on your tongue and being told to say A-a-h, but worse; it was like jumping into the river and getting water up your nose — how he had always hated that! — only much worse. It was like almost everything unpleasant, only much, much worse than all. He exhausted himself struggling against his utterly immovable bonds. They had to carry him to his bed, he was so weak.

He lay there, unmoving — for he was unable to move — staring at the ceiling. He felt as though he were floating on air, unsupported, solid no longer; the sensation was not unpleasant. For that reason he refused to let his mind dwell upon it; he would think of nothing that was not painful, odious, horrible. He thought about the torture which had just been inflicted on him and of the monstrous injustice of which he was a victim. He thought of the millions who had been and were still being slaughtered in the war; he thought of their pain, all the countless separate pains of them; pain incommunicable, individual, beyond the reach of sympathy; infinities of pain pent within frail finite bodies; pain without sense or object, bringing with it no hope and no redemption, futile, unnecessary, stupid. In one supreme apocalyptic moment he saw, he felt the universe in all its horror.

They forcibly fed him again the following morning and again on the day after. On the fourth day pneumonia, the result of shock, complicated by acute inflammation of the throat and pleura, set in. The fever and pain gained ground. Dick had not the strength to resist their ravages, and his condition grew hourly worse. His mind, however, continued to work clearly — too clearly. It occurred to him that he might very likely die. He asked for pencil and paper to be brought him, and putting forth all the little strength he had left, he began to make his testament.

“I am perfectly sane,” he wrote at the top of the page, and underlined the words three times. “I am confined here by the most intol. injust.” As soon as he began, he realized how little time and strength were left him; it was a waste to finish the long words. “They are killing me for my opins. I regard this war and all wars as utter bad. Capitalists’ war. The devils will be smashed sooner later. Wish I could help. But it won’t make any difference,” he added on a new line and as though by an afterthought. “World will always be hell. Cap. or Lab., Engl. or Germ. — all beasts. One in a mill. is GOOD. I wasn’t. Selfish intellect. Perhaps Pearl Bellairs better. If die, send corp. to hosp. for anatomy. Useful for once in my life!”

Quite suddenly, he lapsed into delirium. The clear lucidity of his mind became troubled. The real world disappeared from before his eyes, and in its place he saw a succession of bright, unsteady visions created by his sick fantasy. Scenes from his childhood, long forgotten, bubbled up and disappeared. Unknown, hideous faces crowded in upon him; old friends revisited him. He was living in a bewildering mixture of the familiar and the strange. And all the while, across this changing unsubstantial world, there hurried a continual, interminable procession of dromedaries — countless high-domed beasts, with gargoyle faces and stiff legs and necks that bobbed as though on springs. Do what he could, he was unable to drive them away. He lost his temper with the brutes at last, struck at them, shouted; but in vain. The room rang with his cries of, “Get away, you beasts. Bloody humps. None of your nonconformist faces here.” And while he was yelling and gesticulating (with his left hand only), his right hand was still busily engaged in writing. The words were clear and legible; the sentences consecutive and eminently sane. Dick might rave, but Pearl Bellairs remained calm and in full possession of her deplorable faculties. And what was Pearl doing with her busy pencil, while Dick, like a frenzied Betsy Trotwood, shouted at the trespassing camels? The first thing she did was to scratch out all that poor Dick had said about the war. Underneath it she wrote:

“We shall not sheathe the sword, which we have not lightly . . .” And then, evidently finding that memorable sentence too long, particularly so since the addition of Poland and Czecho-Slovakia to the list of Allies, she began again.

“We are fighting for honour and the defence of Small Nationalities. Plucky little Belgium! We went into the war with clean hands.”

A little of Pearl’s thought seemed at this moment to have slopped over into Dick’s mind; for he suddenly stopped abusing his dromedaries and began to cry out in the most pitiable fashion, “Clean hands, clean hands! I can’t get mine clean. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. I contaminate everything.” And he kept rubbing his left hand against the bed-clothes and putting his fingers to his nose, only to exclaim, “Ugh, they still stink of goat!” and then to start rubbing again.

The right hand wrote on unperturbed. “No peace with the Hun until he is crushed and humiliated. Self-respecting Britons will refuse to shake a Hunnish hand for many a long year after the war. No more German waiters. Intern the Forty-Seven Thousand Hidden Hands in High Places!”

At this point, Pearl seemed to have been struck by a new idea. She took a clean page and began:

“To the Girls of England. I am a woman and proud of the fact. But, girls, I blushed for my sex to-day when I read in the papers that there had been cases of English girls talking to Hun prisoners, and not only talking to them, but allowing themselves to be kissed by them. Imagine! Clean, healthy British girls allowing themselves to be kissed by the swinish and bloodstained lips of the unspeakable Hun! Do you wonder that I blush for my sex? Stands England where she did? No, emphatically no, if these stories are true, and true — sadly and with a heavy bleeding heart do I admit it — true they are.”

“Clean hands, clean hands,” Dick was still muttering, and applying his ringers to his nose once more, “Christ,” he cried, “how they stink! Goats, dung . . .”

“Is there any excuse for such conduct?” the pencil continued. “The most that can be said in palliation of the offence is that girls are thoughtless, that they do not consider the full significance of their actions. But listen to me, girls of all ages, classes and creeds, from the blue-eyed, light-hearted flapper of sixteen to the stern-faced, hard-headed business woman — listen to me. There is a girlish charm about thoughtlessness, but there is a point beyond which thoughtlessness becomes criminal. A flapper may kiss a Hun without thinking what she is doing, merely for the fun of the thing; perhaps, even, out of misguided pity. Will she repeat the offence if she realizes, as she must realize if she will only think, that this thoughtless fun, this mawkish and hysterical pity, is nothing less than Treason? Treason — it is a sinister word, but . . .”

The pencil stopped writing; even Pearl was beginning to grow tired. Dick’s shouting had died away to a hoarse, faint whisper. Suddenly her attention was caught by the last words that Dick had written — the injunction to send his body, if he died, to a hospital for an anatomy. She put forth a great effort.

“NO. NO,” she wrote in huge capitals. “Bury me in a little country churchyard, with lovely marble angels like the ones in St. George’s at Windsor, over Princess Charlotte’s tomb. Not anatomy. Too horrible, too disgus . . .”

The coma which had blotted out Dick’s mind fell now upon hers as well. Two hours later Dick Greenow was dead; the fingers of his right hand still grasped a pencil. The scribbled papers were thrown away as being merely the written ravings of a madman; they were accustomed that sort of thing at the asylum.

Happily Ever After

I

AT THE BEST of times it is a long way from Chicago to Blaybury in Wiltshire, but war has fixed between them a great gulf. In the circumstances, therefore, it seemed an act of singular devotion on the part of Peter Jacobsen to have come all the way from the Middle West, in the fourth year of war, on a visit to his old friend Petherton, when the project entailed a single-handed struggle with two Great Powers over the question of passports and the risk, when they had been obtained, of perishing miserably by the way, a victim of frightfulness.

At the expense of much time and more trouble Jacobsen had at last arrived; the gulf between Chicago and Blaybury was spanned. In the hall of Petherton’s house a scene of welcome was being enacted under the dim gaze of six or seven brown family portraits by unknown masters of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Old Alfred Petherton, a grey shawl over his shoulders — for he had to be careful, even in June, of draughts and colds — was shaking his guest’s hand with interminable cordiality.

“My dear boy,” he kept repeating, “it is a pleasure to see you. My dear boy . . .”

Jacobsen limply abandoned his forearm and waited in patience.

“I can never be grateful enough,” Mr. Petherton went on— “never grateful enough to you for having taken all this endless trouble to come and see an old decrepit man — for that’s what I am now, that’s what I am, believe me.”

“Oh, I assure you . . .” said Jacobsen, with vague deprecation. “Le vieux crétin qui pleurniche,” he said to himself. French was a wonderfully expressive language, to be sure.

“My digestion and my heart have got much worse since I saw you last. But I think I must have told you about that in my letters.”

“You did indeed, and I was most grieved to hear it.”

“Grieved” — what a curious flavour that word had! Like somebody’s tea which used to recall the most delicious blends of forty years ago. But it was decidedly the mot juste. It had the right obituary note about it.

“Yes,” Mr. Petherton continued, “my palpitations are very bad now. Aren’t they, Marjorie?” He appealed to his daughter who was standing beside him.

“Father’s palpitations are very bad,” she replied dutifully.

It was as though they were talking about some precious heirloom long and lovingly cherished.

“And my digestion. . . . This physical infirmity makes all mental activity so difficult. All the same, I manage to do a little useful work. We’ll discuss that later, though. You must be feeling tired and dusty after your journey down. I’ll guide you to your room. Marjorie, will you get someone to take up his luggage?”

“I can take it myself,” said Jacobsen, and he picked up a small gladstone-bag that had been deposited by the door.

“Is that all?” Mr. Petherton asked.

“Yes, that’s all.”

As one living the life of reason, Jacobsen objected to owning things. One so easily became the slave of things and not their master. He liked to be free; he checked his possessive instincts and limited his possessions to the strictly essential. He was as much or as little at home at Blaybury or Pekin. He could have explained all this if he liked. But in the present case it wasn’t worth taking the trouble.

“This is your humble chamber,” said Mr. Petherton, throwing open the door of what was, indeed, a very handsome spare-room, bright with chintzes and cut flowers and silver candlesticks. “A poor thing, but your own.”

Courtly grace! Dear old man! Apt quotation! Jacobsen unpacked his bag and arranged its contents neatly and methodically in the various drawers and shelves of the wardrobe.

It was a good many years now since Jacobsen had come in the course of his grand educational tour to Oxford. He spent a couple of years there, for he liked the place, and its inhabitants were a source of unfailing amusement to him.

A Norwegian, born in the Argentine, educated in the United States, in France, and in Germany; a man with no nationality and no prejudices, enormously old in experience, he found something very new and fresh and entertaining about his fellow-students with their comic public-school traditions and fabulous ignorance of the world. He had quietly watched them doing their little antics, feeling all the time that a row of bars separated them from himself, and that he ought, after each particularly amusing trick, to offer them a bun or a handful of pea-nuts. In the intervals of sight-seeing in this strange and delightful Jardin des Plantes he read Greats, and it was through Aristotle that he had come into contact with Alfred Petherton, fellow and tutor of his college.

The name of Petherton is a respectable one in the academic world. You will find it on the title-page of such meritorious, if not exactly brilliant, books as Plato’s Predecessors, Three Scottish Metaphysicians, Introduction to the Study of Ethics, Essays in Neo-Idealism. Some of his works are published in cheap editions as text-books.

One of those curious inexplicable friendships that often link the most unlikely people had sprung up between tutor and pupil, and had lasted unbroken for upwards of twenty years. Petherton felt a fatherly affection for the younger man, together with a father’s pride, now that Jacobsen was a man of world-wide reputation, in having, as he supposed, spiritually begotten him. And now Jacobsen had travelled three or four thousand miles across a world at war just to see the old man. Petherton was profoundly touched.

“Did you see any submarines on the way over?” Marjorie asked, as she and Jacobsen were strolling together in the garden after breakfast the next day.

“I didn’t notice any; but then I am very unobservant about these things.”

There was a pause. At last, “I suppose there is a great deal of war-work being done in America now?” said Marjorie.

Jacobsen supposed so; and there floated across his mind a vision of massed bands, of orators with megaphones, of patriotic sky-signs, of streets made perilous by the organized highway robbery of Red Cross collectors. He was too lazy to describe it all; besides, she wouldn’t see the point of it.

“I should like to be able to do some war-work,” Marjorie explained apologetically. “But I have to look after father, and there’s the housekeeping, so I really haven’t the time.”

Jacobsen thought he detected a formula for the benefit of strangers. She evidently wanted to make things right about herself in people’s minds. Her remark about the housekeeping made Jacobsen think of the late Mrs. Petherton, her mother; she had been a good-looking, painfully sprightly woman with a hankering to shine in University society at Oxford. One quickly learned that she was related to bishops and country families; a hunter of ecclesiastical lions and a snob. He felt glad she was dead.

“Won’t it be awful when there’s no war-work,” he said. “People will have nothing to do or think about when peace comes.”

“I shall be glad. Housekeeping will be so much easier.”

“True. There are consolations.”

Marjorie looked at him suspiciously; she didn’t like being laughed at. What an undistinguished-looking little man he was! Short, stoutish, with waxed brown moustaches and a forehead that incipient baldness had made interminably high. He looked like the sort of man to whom one says: “Thank you, I’ll take it in notes with a pound’s worth of silver.” There were pouches under his eyes and pouches under his chin, and you could never guess from his expression what he was thinking about. She was glad that she was taller than he and could look down on him.

Mr. Petherton appeared from the house, his grey shawl over his shoulders and the crackling expanse of the Times between his hands.

“Good morrow,” he cried.

To the Shakespearian heartiness of this greeting Marjorie returned her most icily modern “Morning.” Her father always said “Good morrow” instead of “Good morning,” and the fact irritated her with unfailing regularity every day of her life.

“There’s a most interesting account,” said Mr. Petherton, “by a young pilot of an air fight in to-day’s paper,” and as they walked up and down the gravel path he read the article, which was a column and a half in length.

Marjorie made no attempt to disguise her boredom, and occupied herself by reading something on the other side of the page, craning her neck round to see.

“Very interesting,” said Jacobsen when it was finished.

Mr. Petherton had turned over and was now looking at the Court Circular page.

“I see,” he said, “there’s someone called Beryl Camberley-Belcher going to be married. Do you know if that’s any relation of the Howard Camberley-Belchers, Marjorie?”

“I’ve no idea who the Howard Camberley-Belchers are,” Marjorie answered rather sharply.

“Oh, I thought you did. Let me see. Howard Camberley-Belcher was at college with me. And he had a brother called James — or was it William? — and a sister who married one of the Riders, or at any rate some relation of the Riders; for I know the Camberley-Belchers and the Riders used to fit in somewhere. Dear me, I’m afraid my memory for names is going.”

Marjorie went indoors to prepare the day’s domestic campaign with the cook. When that was over she retired to her sitting-room and unlocked her very private desk. She must write to Guy this morning. Marjorie had known Guy Lambourne for years and years, almost as long as she could remember. The Lambournes were old family friends of the Pethertons: indeed they were, distantly, connections; they “fitted in somewhere,” as Mr. Petherton would say — somewhere, about a couple of generations back. Marjorie was two years younger than Guy; they were both only children; circumstances had naturally thrown them a great deal together. Then Guy’s father had died, and not long afterwards his mother, and at the age of seventeen Guy had actually come to live with the Pethertons, for the old man was his guardian. And now they were engaged; had been, more or less, from the first year of the war.

Marjorie took pen, ink, and paper. “DEAR GUY,” she began — (“We aren’t sentimental,” she had once remarked, with a mixture of contempt and secret envy, to a friend who had confided that she and her fiancé never began with anything less than Darling.)— “I am longing for another of your letters. . . .” She went through the usual litany of longing. “It was father’s birthday yesterday; he is sixty-five. I cannot bear to think that some day you and I will be as old as that. Aunt Ellen sent him a Stilton cheese — a useful war-time present. How boring housekeeping is. By dint of thinking about cheeses my mind is rapidly turning into one — a Gruyère; where there isn’t cheese there are just holes, full of vacuum . . .”

She didn’t really mind housekeeping so much. She took it for granted, and did it just because it was there to be done. Guy, on the contrary, never took anything for granted; she made these demonstrations for his benefit.

“I read Keats’s letters, as you suggested, and thought them too beautiful . . .”

At the end of a page of rapture she paused and bit her pen. What was there to say next? It seemed absurd one should have to write letters about the books one had been reading. But there was nothing else to write about; nothing ever happened. After all, what had happened in her life? Her mother dying when she was sixteen; then the excitement of Guy coming to live with them; then the war, but that hadn’t meant much to her; then Guy falling in love, and their getting engaged. That was really all. She wished she could write about her feelings in an accurate, complicated way, like people in novels; but when she came to think about it, she didn’t seem to have any feelings to describe.

She looked at Guy’s last letter from France. “Sometimes,” he had written, “I am tortured by an intense physical desire for you. I can think of nothing but your beauty, your young, strong body. I hate that; I have to struggle to repress it. Do you forgive me?” It rather thrilled her that he should feel like that about her: he had always been so cold, so reserved, so much opposed to sentimentality — to the kisses and endearments she would, perhaps, secretly have liked. But he had seemed so right when he said, “We must love like rational beings, with our minds, not with our hands and lips.” All the same . . .

She dipped her pen in the ink and began to write again. “I know the feelings you spoke of in your letter. Sometimes I long for you in the same way. I dreamt the other night I was holding you in my arms, and woke up hugging the pillow.” She looked at what she had written. It was too awful, too vulgar! She would have to scratch it out. But no, she would leave it in spite of everything, just to see what he would think about it. She finished the letter quickly, sealed and stamped it, and rang for the maid to take it to the post. When the servant had gone, she shut up her desk with a bang. Bang — the letter had gone, irrevocably.

She picked up a large book lying on the table and began to read. It was the first volume of the Decline and Fall. Guy had said she must read Gibbon; she wouldn’t be educated till she had read Gibbon. And so yesterday she had gone to her father in his library to get the book.

“Gibbon,” Mr. Petherton had said, “certainly, my dear. How delightful it is to look at these grand old books again. One always finds something new every time.”

Marjorie gave him to understand that she had never read it. She felt rather proud of her ignorance.

Mr. Petherton handed the first of eleven volumes to her. “A great book,” he murmured— “an essential book. It fills the gap between your classical history and your mediæval stuff.”

“Your” classical history, Marjorie repeated to herself, “your” classical history indeed! Her father had an irritating way of taking it for granted that she knew everything, that classical history was as much hers as his. Only a day or two before he had turned to her at luncheon with, “Do you remember, dear child, whether it was Pomponazzi who denied the personal immortality of the soul, or else that queer fellow, Laurentius Valla? It’s gone out of my head for the moment.” Marjorie had quite lost her temper at the question — much to the innocent bewilderment of her poor father.

She had set to work with energy on the Gibbon; her bookmarker registered the fact that she had got through one hundred and twenty-three pages yesterday. Marjorie started reading. After two pages she stopped. She looked at the number of pages still remaining to be read — and this was only the first volume. She felt like a wasp sitting down to eat a vegetable marrow. Gibbon’s bulk was not perceptibly diminished by her first bite. It was too long. She shut the book and went out for a walk. Passing the Whites’ house, she saw her friend, Beatrice White that was, sitting on the lawn with her two babies. Beatrice hailed her, and she turned in.

“Pat a cake, pat a cake,” she said. At the age of ten months, baby John had already learnt the art of patting cakes. He slapped the outstretched hand offered him, and his face, round and smooth and pink like an enormous peach, beamed with pleasure.

“Isn’t he a darling!” Marjorie exclaimed. “You know, I’m sure he’s grown since last I saw him, which was on Tuesday.”

“He put on eleven ounces last week,” Beatrice affirmed.

“How wonderful! His hair’s coming on splendidly . . .”

It was Sunday the next day. Jacobsen appeared at breakfast in the neatest of black suits. He looked, Marjorie thought, more than ever like a cashier. She longed to tell him to hurry up or he’d miss the 8.53 for the second time this week and the manager would be annoyed. Marjorie herself was, rather consciously, not in Sunday best.

“What is the name of the Vicar?” Jacobsen inquired, as he helped himself to bacon.

“Trubshaw. Luke Trubshaw, I believe.”

“Does he preach well?”

“He didn’t when I used to hear him. But I don’t often go to church now, so I don’t know what he’s like these days.”

“Why don’t you go to church?” Jacobsen inquired, with a silkiness of tone which veiled the crude outlines of his leading question.

Marjorie was painfully conscious of blushing. She was filled with rage against Jacobsen. “Because,” she said firmly, “I don’t think it necessary to give expression to my religious feelings by making a lot of” — she hesitated a moment— “a lot of meaningless gestures with a crowd of other people.”

“You used to go,” said Jacobsen.

“When I was a child and hadn’t thought about these things.”

Jacobsen was silent, and concealed a smile in his coffee-cup. Really, he said to himself, there ought to be religious conscription for women — and for most men, too. It was grotesque the way these people thought they could stand by themselves — the fools, when there was the infinite authority of organized religion to support their ridiculous feebleness.

“Does Lambourne go to church?” he asked maliciously, and with an air of perfect naïveté and good faith.

Marjorie coloured again, and a fresh wave of hatred surged up within her. Even as she had said the words she had wondered whether Jacobsen would notice that the phrase “meaningless gestures” didn’t ring very much like one of her own coinages. “Gesture” — that was one of Guy’s words, like “incredible,” “exacerbate,” “impinge,” “sinister.” Of course all her present views about religion had come from Guy. She looked Jacobsen straight in the face and replied:

“Yes, I think he goes to church pretty regularly. But I really don’t know: his religion has nothing to do with me.”

Jacobsen was lost in delight and admiration.

Punctually at twenty minutes to eleven he set out for church. From where she was sitting in the summer-house Marjorie watched him as he crossed the garden, incredibly absurd and incongruous in his black clothes among the blazing flowers and the young emerald of the trees. Now he was hidden behind the sweet-briar hedge, all except the hard black melon of his bowler hat, which she could see bobbing along between the topmost sprays.

She went on with her letter to Guy. “. . . What a strange man Mr. Jacobsen is. I suppose he is very clever, but I can’t get very much out of him. We had an argument about religion at breakfast this morning; I rather scored off him. He has now gone off to church all by himself; — I really couldn’t face the prospect of going with him — I hope he’ll enjoy old Mr. Trubshaw’s preaching!”

Jacobsen did enjoy Mr. Trubshaw’s preaching enormously. He always made a point, in whatever part of Christendom he happened to be, of attending divine service. He had the greatest admiration of churches as institutions. In their solidity and unchangeableness he saw one of the few hopes for humanity. Further, he derived great pleasure from comparing the Church as an institution — splendid, powerful, eternal — with the childish imbecility of its representatives. How delightful it was to sit in the herded congregation and listen to the sincere outpourings of an intellect only a little less limited than that of an Australian aboriginal! How restful to feel oneself a member of a flock, guided by a good shepherd — himself a sheep! Then there was the scientific interest (he went to church as student of anthropology, as a Freudian psychologist) and the philosophic amusement of counting the undistributed middles and tabulating historically the exploded fallacies in the parson’s discourse.

To-day Mr. Trubshaw preached a topical sermon about the Irish situation. His was the gospel of the Morning Post, slightly tempered by Christianity. It was our duty, he said, to pray for the Irish first of all, and if that had no effect upon recruiting, why, then, we must conscribe them as zealously as we had prayed before.

Jacobsen leaned back in his pew with a sigh of contentment. A connoisseur, he recognized that this was the right stuff.

“Well,” said Mr. Petherton over the Sunday beef at lunch, “how did you like our dear Vicar?”

“He was splendid,” said Jacobsen, with grave enthusiasm. “One of the best sermons I’ve ever heard.”

“Indeed? I shall really have to go and hear him again. It must be nearly ten years since I listened to him.”

“He’s inimitable.”

Marjorie looked at Jacobsen carefully. He seemed to be perfectly serious. She was more than ever puzzled by the man.

The days went slipping by, hot blue days that passed like a flash almost without one’s noticing them, cold grey days, seeming interminable and without number, and about which one spoke with a sense of justified grievance, for the season was supposed to be summer. There was fighting going on in France — terrific battles, to judge from the headlines in the Times; but, after all, one day’s paper was very much like another’s. Marjorie read them dutifully, but didn’t honestly take in very much; at least she forgot about things very soon. She couldn’t keep count with the battles of Ypres, and when somebody told her that she ought to go and see the photographs of the Vindictive, she smiled vaguely and said Yes, without remembering precisely what the Vindictive was — a ship, she supposed.

Guy was in France, to be sure, but he was an Intelligence Officer now, so that she was hardly anxious about him at all. Clergymen used to say that the war was bringing us all back to a sense of the fundamental realities of life. She supposed it was true: Guy’s enforced absences were a pain to her, and the difficulties of housekeeping continually increased and multiplied.

Mr. Petherton took a more intelligent interest in the war than did his daughter. He prided himself on being able to see the thing as a whole, on taking an historical, God’s-eye view of it all. He talked about it at meal-times, insisting that the world must be made safe for democracy. Between meals he sat in the library working at his monumental History of Morals. To his dinner-table disquisitions Marjorie would listen more or less attentively, Jacobsen with an unfailing, bright, intelligent politeness. Jacobsen himself rarely volunteered a remark about the war; it was taken for granted that he thought about it in the same way as all other right-thinking folk. Between meals he worked in his room or discussed the morals of the Italian Renaissance with his host. Marjorie could write to Guy that nothing was happening, and that but for his absence and the weather interfering so much with tennis, she would be perfectly happy.

Into the midst of this placidity there fell, delightful bolt from the blue, the announcement that Guy was getting leave at the end of July. “DARLING,” Marjorie wrote, “I am so excited to think that you will be with me in such a little — such a long, long time.” Indeed, she was so excited and delighted that she realized with a touch of remorse how comparatively little she had thought of him when there seemed no chance of seeing him, how dim a figure in absence he was. A week later she heard that George White had arranged to get leave at the same time so as to see Guy. She was glad; George was a charming boy, and Guy was so fond of him. The Whites were their nearest neighbours, and ever since Guy had come to live at Blaybury he had seen a great deal of young George.

“We shall be a most festive party,” said Mr. Petherton. “Roger will be coming to us just at the same time as Guy.”

“I’d quite forgotten Uncle Roger,” said Marjorie. “Of course, his holidays begin then, don’t they?”

The Reverend Roger was Alfred Petherton’s brother and a master at one of our most glorious public schools. Marjorie hardly agreed with her father in thinking that his presence would add anything to the “festiveness” of the party. It was a pity he should be coming at this particular moment. However, we all have our little cross to bear.

Mr. Petherton was feeling playful. “We must bring down,” he said, “the choicest Falernian, bottled when Gladstone was consul, for the occasion. We must prepare wreaths and unguents and hire a flute player and a couple of dancing girls . . .”

He spent the rest of the meal in quoting Horace, Catullus, the Greek Anthology, Petronius, and Sidonius Apollinarius. Marjorie’s knowledge of the dead languages was decidedly limited. Her thoughts were elsewhere, and it was only dimly and as it were through a mist that she heard her father murmuring — whether merely to himself or with the hope of eliciting an answer from somebody, she hardly knew— “Let me see: how does that epigram go? — that one about the different kinds of fish and the garlands of roses, by Meleager, or is it Poseidippus? . . .”

II

GUY and Jacobsen were walking in the Dutch garden, an incongruous couple. On Guy military servitude had left no outwardly visible mark; out of uniform, he still looked like a tall, untidy undergraduate; he stooped and drooped as much as ever; his hair was still bushy and, to judge by the dim expression of his face, he had not yet learnt to think imperially. His khaki always looked like a disguise, like the most absurd fancy dress. Jacobsen trotted beside him, short, fattish, very sleek, and correct. They talked in a desultory way about things indifferent. Guy, anxious for a little intellectual exercise after so many months of discipline, had been trying to inveigle his companion into a philosophical discussion. Jacobsen consistently eluded his efforts; he was too lazy to talk seriously; there was no profit that he could see to be got out of this young man’s opinions, and he had not the faintest desire to make a disciple. He preferred, therefore, to discuss the war and the weather. It irritated him that people should want to trespass on the domain of thought — people who had no right to live anywhere but on the vegetative plane of mere existence. He wished they would simply be content to be or do, not try, so hopelessly, to think, when only one in a million can think with the least profit to himself or anyone else.

Out of the corner of his eye he looked at the dark, sensitive face of his companion; he ought to have gone into business at eighteen, was Jacobsen’s verdict. It was bad for him to think; he wasn’t strong enough.

A great sound of barking broke upon the calm of the garden. Looking up, the two strollers saw George White running across the green turf of the croquet lawn with a huge fawn-coloured dog bounding along at his side.

“Morning,” he shouted. He was hatless and out of breath. “I was taking Bella for a run, and thought I’d look in and see how you all were.”

“What a lovely dog!” Jacobsen exclaimed.

“An old English mastiff our — one aboriginal dog. She has a pedigree going straight back to Edward the Confessor.”

Jacobsen began a lively conversation with George on the virtues and shortcomings of dogs. Bella smelt his calves and then lifted up her gentle black eyes to look at him. She seemed satisfied.

He looked at them for a little; they were too much absorbed in their doggy conversation to pay attention to him. He made a gesture as though he had suddenly remembered something, gave a little grunt, and with a very preoccupied expression on his face turned to go towards the house. His elaborate piece of by-play escaped the notice of the intended spectators; Guy saw that it had, and felt more miserable and angry and jealous than ever. They would think he had slunk off because he wasn’t wanted — which was quite true — instead of believing that he had something very important to do, which was what he had intended they should believe.

A cloud of self-doubt settled upon him. Was his mind, after all, worthless, and the little things he had written — rubbish, not potential genius as he had hoped? Jacobsen was right in preferring George’s company. George was perfect, physically, a splendid creature; what could he himself claim?

“I’m second-rate,” he thought— “second-rate, physically, morally, mentally. Jacobsen is quite right.”

The best he could hope to be was a pedestrian literary man with quiet tastes.

NO, no, no! He clenched his hands and, as though to register his resolve before the universe, he said, aloud:

“I will do it; I will be first-rate, I will.”

He was covered with confusion on seeing a gardener pop up, surprised from behind a bank of rose-bushes. Talking to himself — the man must have thought him mad!

He hurried on across the lawn, entered the house, and ran upstairs to his room. There was not a second to lose; he must begin at once. He would write something — something that would last, solid, hard, shining. . . .

“Damn them all! I will do it, I can . . .”

There were writing materials and a table in his room. He selected a pen — with a Relief nib he would be able to go on for hours without getting tired — and a large square sheet of writing-paper.

“HATCH HOUSE,

BLAYBURY,

Wilts.

Station: Cogham, 3 miles; Nobes Monacorum, 4½ miles.”

Stupid of people to have their stationery printed in red, when black or blue is so much nicer! He inked over the letters.

He held up the paper to the light; there was a watermark, “Pimlico Bond.” What an admirable name for the hero of a novel! Pimlico Bond. . . .

“There’s be-eef in the la-arder

And du-ucks in the pond;

Crying dilly dilly, dilly dilly . . .”

He bit the end of his pen. “What I want to get,” he said to himself, “is something very hard, very external. Intense emotion, but one will somehow have got outside it.” He made a movement of hands, arms, and shoulders, tightening his muscles in an effort to express to himself physically that hardness and tightness and firmness of style after which he was struggling!

He began to draw on his virgin paper. A woman, naked, one arm lifted over her head, so that it pulled up her breast by that wonderful curving muscle that comes down from the shoulder. The inner surface of the thighs, remember, is slightly concave. The feet, seen from the front, are always a difficulty.

It would never do to leave that about. What would the servants think? He turned the nipples into eyes, drew heavy lines for nose, mouth, and chin, slopped on the ink thick; it made a passable face now — though an acute observer might have detected the original nudity. He tore it up into very small pieces.

A crescendo booming filled the house. It was the gong. He looked at his watch. Lunch-time, and he had done nothing. O God! . . .

III

IT was dinner-time on the last evening of Guy’s leave. The uncovered mahogany table was like a pool of brown unruffled water within whose depths flowers and the glinting shapes of glass and silver hung dimly reflected. Mr. Petherton sat at the head of the board, flanked by his brother Roger and Jacobsen. Youth, in the persons of Marjorie, Guy, and George White, had collected at the other end. They had reached the stage of dessert.

“This is excellent port,” said Roger, sleek and glossy like a well-fed black cob under his silken clerical waistcoat. He was a strong, thick-set man of about fifty, with a red neck as thick as his head. His hair was cropped with military closeness; he liked to set a good example to the boys, some of whom showed distressing “æsthetic” tendencies and wore their hair long.

“I’m glad you like it. I mayn’t touch it myself, of course. Have another glass.” Alfred Petherton’s face wore an expression of dyspeptic melancholy. He was wishing he hadn’t taken quite so much of that duck.

“Thank you, I will.” Roger took the decanter with a smile of satisfaction. “The tired schoolmaster is worthy of his second glass. White, you look rather pale; I think you must have another.” Roger had a hearty, jocular manner, calculated to prove to his pupils that he was not one of the slimy sort of parsons, not a Creeping Jesus.

There was an absorbing conversation going on at the youthful end of the table. Secretly irritated at having been thus interrupted in the middle of it, White turned round and smiled vaguely at Roger.

“Oh, thank you, sir,” he said, and pushed his glass forward to be filled. The “sir” slipped out unawares; it was, after all, such a little while since he had been a schoolboy under Roger’s dominion.

“One is lucky,” Roger went on seriously, “to get any port wine at all now. I’m thankful to say I bought ten dozen from my old college some years ago to lay down; otherwise I don’t know what I should do. My wine merchant tells me he couldn’t let me have a single bottle. Indeed, he offered to buy some off me, if I’d sell. But I wasn’t having any. A bottle in the cellar is worth ten shillings in the pocket these days. I always say that port has become a necessity now one gets so little meat. Lambourne! you are another of our brave defenders; you deserve a second glass.”

“No, thanks,” said Guy, hardly looking up. “I’ve had enough.” He went on talking to Marjorie — about the different views of life held by the French and the Russians.

Roger helped himself to cherries. “One has to select them carefully,” he remarked for the benefit of the unwillingly listening George. “There is nothing that gives you such stomach-aches as unripe cherries.”

“I expect you’re glad, Mr. Petherton, that holidays have begun at last?” said Jacobsen.

“Glad? I should think so. One is utterly dead beat at the end of the summer term. Isn’t one, White?”

White had taken the opportunity to turn back again and listen to Guy’s conversation; recalled, like a dog who has started off on a forbidden scent, he obediently assented that one did get tired at the end of the summer term.

“I suppose,” said Jacobsen, “you still teach the same old things — Cæsar, Latin verses, Greek grammar, and the rest? We Americans can hardly believe that all that still goes on.”

“Thank goodness,” said Roger, “we still hammer a little solid stuff into them. But there’s been a great deal of fuss lately about new curriculums and so forth. They do a lot of science now and things of that kind, but I don’t believe the children learn anything at all. It’s pure waste of time.”

“So is all education, I dare say,” said Jacobsen lightly.

“Not if you teach them discipline. That’s what’s wanted — discipline. Most of these little boys need plenty of beating, and they don’t get enough now. Besides, if you can’t hammer knowledge in at their heads, you can at least beat a little in at their tails.”

“You’re very ferocious, Roger,” said Mr. Petherton, smiling. He was feeling better; the duck was settling down.

“No, it’s the vital thing. The best thing the war has brought us is discipline. The country had got slack and wanted tightening up.” Roger’s face glowed with zeal.

From the other end of the table Guy’s voice could be heard saying, “Do you know César Franck’s ‘Dieu s’avance à travers la lande’? It’s one of the finest bits of religious music I know.”

Mr. Petherton’s face lighted up; he leaned forward. “No,” he said, throwing his answer unexpectedly into the midst of the young people’s conversation. “I don’t know it; but do you know this? Wait a minute.” He knitted his brows, and his lips moved as though he were trying to recapture a formula. “Ah, I’ve got it. Now, can you tell me this? The name of what famous piece of religious music do I utter when I order an old carpenter, once a Liberal but now a renegade to Conservatism, to make a hive for bees?”

Guy gave it up; his guardian beamed delightedly.

“Hoary Tory, oh, Judas! Make a bee-house,” he said. “Do you see? Oratorio Judas Maccabeus.”

Guy could have wished that this bit of flotsam from Mr. Petherton’s sportive youth had not been thus washed up at his feet. He felt that he had been peeping indecently close into the dark backward and abysm of time.

“That was a good one,” Mr. Petherton chuckled. “I must see if I can think of some more.”

Roger, who was not easily to be turned away from his favourite topic, waited till this irrelevant spark of levity had quite expired, and continued: “It’s a remarkable and noticeable fact that you never seem to get discipline combined with the teaching of science or modern languages. Who ever heard of a science master having a good house at a school? Scientists’ houses are always bad.”

“How very strange!” said Jacobsen.

“Strange, but a fact. It seems to me a great mistake to give them houses at all if they can’t keep discipline. And then there’s the question of religion. Some of these men never come to chapel except when they’re on duty. And then, I ask you, what happens when they prepare their boys for Confirmation? Why, I’ve known boys come to me who were supposed to have been prepared by one or other of these men, and, on asking them, I’ve found that they know nothing whatever about the most solemn facts of the Eucharist. — May I have some more of those excellent cherries please, White? — Of course, I do my best in such cases to tell the boys what I feel personally about these solemn things. But there generally isn’t the time; one’s life is so crowded; and so they go into Confirmation with only the very haziest knowledge of what it’s all about. You see how absurd it is to let anyone but the classical men have anything to do with the boys’ lives.”

“Shake it well, dear,” Mr. Petherton was saying to his daughter, who had come with his medicine.

“What is that stuff?” asked Roger.

“Oh, it’s merely my peptones. I can hardly digest at all without it, you know.”

“You have all my sympathies. My poor colleague, Flexner, suffers from chronic colitis. I can’t imagine how he goes on with his work.”

“No, indeed. I find I can do nothing strenuous.”

Roger turned and seized once more on the unhappy George. “White,” he said, “let this be a lesson to you. Take care of your inside; it’s the secret of a happy old age.”

Guy looked up quickly. “Don’t worry about his old age,” he said in a strange harsh voice, very different from the gentle, elaborately modulated tone in which he generally spoke. “He won’t have an old age. His chances against surviving are about fourteen to three if the war goes on another year.”

“Come,” said Roger, “don’t let’s be pessimistic.”

“But I’m not. I assure you, I’m giving you a most rosy view of George’s chance of reaching old age.”

It was felt that Guy’s remarks had been in poor taste. There was a silence; eyes floated vaguely and uneasily, trying not to encounter one another. Roger cracked a nut loudly. When he had sufficiently relished the situation, Jacobsen changed the subject by remarking:

“That was a fine bit of work by our destroyers this morning, wasn’t it?”

“It did one good to read about it,” said Mr. Petherton. “Quite the Nelson touch.”

Roger raised his glass. “Nelson!” he said, and emptied it at a gulp. “What a man! I am trying to persuade the Headmaster to make Trafalgar Day a holiday. It is the best way of reminding boys of things of that sort.”

“A curiously untypical Englishman to be a national hero, isn’t he?” said Jacobsen. “So emotional and lacking in Britannic phlegm.”

The Reverend Roger looked grave. “There’s one thing I’ve never been able to understand about Nelson, and that is, how a man who was so much the soul of honour and of patriotism could have been — er — immoral with Lady Hamilton. I know people say that it was the custom of the age, that these things meant nothing then, and so forth; but all the same, I repeat, I cannot understand how a man who was so intensely a patriotic Englishman could have done such a thing.”

“I fail to see what patriotism has got to do with it,” said Guy.

Roger fixed him with his most pedagogic look and said slowly and gravely, “Then I am sorry for you. I shouldn’t have thought it was necessary to tell an Englishman that purity of morals is a national tradition: you especially, a public-school man.”

“Let us go and have a hundred up at billiards,” said Mr. Petherton. “Roger, will you come? And you, George, and Guy?”

“I’m so incredibly bad,” Guy insisted, “I’d really rather not.”

“So am I,” said Jacobsen.

“Then, Marjorie, you must make the fourth.”

The billiard players trooped out; Guy and Jacobsen were left alone, brooding over the wreckage of dinner. There was a long silence. The two men sat smoking, Guy sitting in a sagging, crumpled attitude, like a half-empty sack abandoned on a chair, Jacobsen very upright and serene.

“Do you find you can suffer fools gladly?” asked Guy abruptly.

“Perfectly gladly.”

“I wish I could. The Reverend Roger has a tendency to make my blood boil.”

“But such a good soul,” Jacobsen insisted.

“I dare say, but a monster all the same.”

“You should take him more calmly. I make a point of never letting myself be moved by external things. I stick to my writing and thinking. Truth is beauty, beauty is truth, and so forth: after all, they’re the only things of solid value.” Jacobsen looked at the young man with a smile as he said these words. There is no doubt, he said to himself, that that boy ought to have gone into business; what a mistake this higher education is, to be sure.

“Of course, they’re the only things,” Guy burst out passionately. “You can afford to say so because you had the luck to be born twenty years before I was, and with five thousand miles of good deep water between you and Europe. Here am I, called upon to devote my life, in a very different way from which you devote yours to truth and beauty — to devote my life to — well, what? I’m not quite sure, but I preserve a touching faith that it is good. And you tell me to ignore external circumstances. Come and live in Flanders a little and try . . .” He launched forth into a tirade about agony and death and blood and putrefaction.

“What is one to do?” he concluded despairingly. “What the devil is right? I had meant to spend my life writing and thinking, trying to create something beautiful or discover something true. But oughtn’t one, after all, if one survives, to give up everything else and try to make this hideous den of a world a little more habitable?”

“I think you can take it that a world which has let itself be dragooned into this criminal folly is pretty hopeless. Follow your inclinations; or, better, go into a bank and make a lot of money.”

Guy burst out laughing, rather too loudly. “Admirable, admirable!” he said. “To return to our old topic of fools: frankly, Jacobsen, I cannot imagine why you should elect to pass your time with my dear old guardian. He’s a charming old man, but one must admit — —” He waved his hand.

“One must live somewhere,” said Jacobsen. “I find your guardian a most interesting man to be with. — Oh, do look at that dog!” On the hearth-rug Marjorie’s little Pekingese, Confucius, was preparing to lie down and go to sleep. He went assiduously through the solemn farce of scratching the floor, under the impression, no doubt, that he was making a comfortable nest to lie in. He turned round and round, scratching earnestly and methodically. Then he lay down, curled himself up in a ball, and was asleep in the twinkling of an eye.

“Isn’t that too wonderfully human!” exclaimed Jacobsen delightedly. Guy thought he could see now why Jacobsen enjoyed living with Mr. Petherton. The old man was so wonderfully human.

Later in the evening, when the billiards was over and Mr. Petherton had duly commented on the anachronism of introducing the game into Anthony and Cleopatra, Guy and Marjorie went for a stroll in the garden. The moon had risen above the trees and lit up the front of the house with its bright pale light that could not wake the sleeping colours of the world.

“Moonlight is the proper architectural light,” said Guy, as they stood looking at the house. The white light and the hard black shadows brought out all the elegance of its Georgian symmetry.

“Look, here’s the ghost of a rose.” Marjorie touched a big cool flower, which one guessed rather than saw to be red, a faint equivocal lunar crimson. “And, oh, smell the tobacco-plant flowers. Aren’t they delicious!”

“I always think there’s something very mysterious about perfume drifting through the dark like this. It seems to come from some perfectly different immaterial world, peopled by unembodied sensations, phantom passions. Think of the spiritual effect of incense in a dark church. One isn’t surprised that people have believed in the existence of the soul.”

They walked on in silence. Sometimes, accidentally, his hand would brush against hers in the movement of their march. Guy felt an intolerable emotion of expectancy, akin to fear. It made him feel almost physically sick.

“Do you remember,” he said abruptly, “that summer holiday our families spent together in Wales? It must have been nineteen four or five. I was ten and you were eight or thereabouts.”

“Of course I remember,” cried Marjorie. “Everything. There was that funny little toy railway from the slate quarries.”

“And do you remember our gold-mine? All those tons of yellow ironstone we collected and hoarded in a cave, fully believing they were nuggets. How incredibly remote it seems!”

“And you had a wonderful process by which you tested whether the stuff was real gold or not. It all passed triumphantly as genuine, I remember!”

“Having that secret together first made us friends, I believe.”

“I dare say,” said Marjorie. “Fourteen years ago — what a time! And you began educating me even then: all that stuff you told me about gold-mining, for instance.”

“Fourteen years,” Guy repeated reflectively, “and I shall be going out again to-morrow . . .”

“Don’t speak about it. I am so miserable when you’re away.” She genuinely forgot what a delightful summer she had had, except for the shortage of tennis.

“We must make this the happiest hour of our lives. Perhaps it may be the last we shall be together.” Guy looked up at the moon, and he perceived, with a sudden start, that it was a sphere islanded in an endless night, not a flat disk stuck on a wall not so very far away. It filled him with an infinite dreariness; he felt too insignificant to live at all.

“Guy, you mustn’t talk like that,” said Marjorie appealingly.

“We’ve got twelve hours,” said Guy in a meditative voice, “but that’s only clock-work time. You can give an hour the quality of everlastingness, and spend years which are as though they had never been. We get our immortality here and now; it’s a question of quality, not of quantity. I don’t look forward to golden harps or anything of that sort. I know that when I am dead, I shall be dead; there isn’t any afterwards. If I’m killed, my immortality will be in your memory. Perhaps, too, somebody will read the things I’ve written, and in his mind I shall survive, feebly and partially. But in your mind I shall survive intact and whole.”

“But I’m sure we shall go on living after death. It can’t be the end.” Marjorie was conscious that she had heard those words before. Where? Oh yes, it was earnest Evangeline who had spoken them at the school debating society.

“I wouldn’t count on it,” Guy replied, with a little laugh. “You may get such a disappointment when you die.” Then in an altered voice, “I don’t want to die. I hate and fear death. But probably I shan’t be killed after all. All the same . . .” His voice faded out. They stepped into a tunnel of impenetrable darkness between two tall hornbeam hedges. He had become nothing but a voice, and now that had ceased; he had disappeared. The voice began again, low, quick, monotonous, a little breathless. “I remember once reading a poem by one of the old Provençal troubadours, telling how God had once granted him supreme happiness; for the night before he was to set out for the Crusade, it had been granted him to hold his lady in his arms — all the short eternal night through. Ains que j’aille oltre mer: when I was going beyond sea.” The voice stopped again. They were standing at the very mouth of the hornbeam alley, looking out from that close-pent river of shadow upon an ocean of pale moonlight.

“How still it is.” They did not speak; they hardly breathed. They became saturated with the quiet.

Marjorie broke the silence. “Do you want me as much as all that, Guy?” All through that long, speechless minute she had been trying to say the words, repeating them over to herself, longing to say them aloud, but paralysed, unable to. And at last she had spoken them, impersonally, as though through the mouth of someone else. She heard them very distinctly, and was amazed at the matter-of-factness of the tone.

Guy’s answer took the form of a question. “Well, suppose I were killed now,” he said, “should I ever have really lived?”

They had stepped out of the cavernous alley into the moonlight. She could see him clearly now, and there was something so drooping and dejected and pathetic about him, he seemed so much of a great, overgrown child that a wave of passionate pitifulness rushed through her, reinforcing other emotions less maternal. She longed to take him in her arms, stroke his hair, lullaby him, baby-fashion, to sleep upon her breast. And Guy, on his side, desired nothing better than to give his fatigues and sensibilities to her maternal care, to have his eyes kissed fast, and sleep to her soothing. In his relations with women — but his experience in this direction was deplorably small — he had, unconsciously at first but afterwards with a realization of what he was doing, played this child part. In moments of self-analysis he laughed at himself for acting the “child stunt,” as he called it. Here he was — he hadn’t noticed it yet — doing it again, drooping, dejected, wholly pathetic, feeble . . .

Marjorie was carried away by her emotion. She would give herself to her lover, would take possession of her helpless, pitiable child. She put her arms round his neck, lifted her face to his kisses, whispered something tender and inaudible.

Guy drew her towards him and began kissing the soft, warm mouth. He touched the bare arm that encircled his neck; the flesh was resilient under his fingers; he felt a desire to pinch it and tear it.

It had been just like this with that little slut Minnie. Just the same — all horrible lust. He remembered a curious physiological fact out of Havelock Ellis. He shuddered as though he had touched something disgusting, and pushed her away.

“No, no, no. It’s horrible; it’s odious. Drunk with moonlight and sentimentalizing about death. . . . Why not just say with Biblical frankness, Lie with me — Lie with me?”

That this love, which was to have been so marvellous and new and beautiful, should end libidinously and bestially like the affair, never remembered without a shiver of shame, with Minnie (the vulgarity of her!) — filled him with horror.

Marjorie burst into tears and ran away, wounded and trembling, into the solitude of the hornbeam shadow. “Go away, go away,” she sobbed, with such intensity of command that Guy, moved by an immediate remorse and the sight of tears to stop her and ask forgiveness, was constrained to let her go her ways.

A cool, impersonal calm had succeeded almost immediately to his outburst. Critically, he examined what he had done, and judged it, not without a certain feeling of satisfaction, to be the greatest “floater” of his life. But at least the thing was done and couldn’t be undone. He took the weak-willed man’s delight in the irrevocability of action. He walked up and down the lawn smoking a cigarette and thinking, clearly and quietly — remembering the past, questioning the future. When the cigarette was finished he went into the house.

He entered the smoking-room to hear Roger saying, “. . . It’s the poor who are having the good time now. Plenty to eat, plenty of money, and no taxes to pay. No taxes — that’s the sickening thing. Look at Alfred’s gardener, for instance. He gets twenty-five or thirty bob a week and an uncommon good house. He’s married, but only has one child. A man like that is uncommonly well off. He ought to be paying income-tax; he can perfectly well afford it.”

Mr. Petherton was listening somnolently, Jacobsen with his usual keen, intelligent politeness; George was playing with the blue Persian kitten.

It had been arranged that George should stay the night, because it was such a bore having to walk that mile and a bit home again in the dark. Guy took him up to his room and sat down on the bed for a final cigarette, while George was undressing. It was the hour of confidence — that rather perilous moment when fatigue has relaxed the fibres of the mind, making it ready and ripe for sentiment.

“It depresses me so much,” said Guy, “to think that you’re only twenty and that I’m just on twenty-four. You will be young and sprightly when the war ends; I shall be an old antique man.”

“Not so old as all that,” George answered, pulling off his shirt. His skin was very white, face, neck, and hands seeming dark brown by comparison; there was a sharply demarcated high-water mark of sunburn at throat and wrist.

“It horrifies me to think of the time one is wasting in this bloody war, growing stupider and grosser every day, achieving nothing at all. It will be five, six — God knows how many — years cut clean out of one’s life. You’ll have the world before you when it’s all over, but I shall have spent my best time.”

“Of course, it doesn’t make so much difference to me,” said George through a foam of tooth-brushing; “I’m not capable of doing anything of any particular value. It’s really all the same whether I lead a blameless life broking stocks or spend my time getting killed. But for you, I agree, it’s too bloody. . . .”

Guy smoked on in silence, his mind filled with a languid resentment against circumstance. George put on his pyjamas and crept under the sheet; he had to curl himself up into a ball, because Guy was lying across the end of the bed, and he couldn’t put his feet down.

“I suppose,” said Guy at last, meditatively— “I suppose the only consolations are, after all, women and wine. I shall really have to resort to them. Only women are mostly so fearfully boring and wine is so expensive now.”

“But not all women!” George, it was evident, was waiting to get a confidence off his chest.

“I gather you’ve found the exceptions.”

George poured forth. He had just spent six months at Chelsea — six dreary months on the barrack square; but there had been lucid intervals between the drills and the special courses, which he had filled with many notable voyages of discovery among unknown worlds. And chiefly, Columbus to his own soul, he had discovered all those psychological intricacies and potentialities, which only the passions bring to light. Nosce teipsum, it has been commanded; and a judicious cultivation of the passions is one of the surest roads to self-knowledge. To George, at barely twenty, it was all so amazingly new and exciting, and Guy listened to the story of his adventures with admiration and a touch of envy. He regretted the dismal and cloistered chastity — broken only once, and how sordidly! Wouldn’t he have learnt much more, he wondered — have been a more real and better human being if he had had George’s experiences? He would have profited by them more than George could ever hope to do. There was the risk of George’s getting involved in a mere foolish expense of spirit in a waste of shame. He might not be sufficiently an individual to remain himself in spite of his surroundings; his hand would be coloured by the dye he worked in. Guy felt sure that he himself would have run no risk; he would have come, seen, conquered, and returned intact and still himself, but enriched by the spoils of a new knowledge. Had he been wrong after all? Had life in the cloister of his own philosophy been wholly unprofitable?

He looked at George. It was not surprising that the ladies favoured him, glorious ephebus that he was.

“With a face and figure like mine,” he reflected, “I shouldn’t have been able to lead his life, even if I’d wanted to.” He laughed inwardly.

“You really must meet her,” George was saying enthusiastically.

Guy smiled. “No, I really mustn’t. Let me give you a bit of perfectly good advice. Never attempt to share your joys with anyone else. People will sympathize with pain, but not with pleasure. Good night, George.”

He bent over the pillow and kissed the smiling face that was as smooth as a child’s to his lips.

Guy lay awake for a long time, and his eyes were dry and aching before sleep finally came upon him. He spent those dark interminable hours thinking — thinking hard, intensely, painfully. No sooner had he left George’s room than a feeling of intense unhappiness took hold of him. “Distorted with misery,” that was how he described himself; he loved to coin such phrases, for he felt the artist’s need to express as well as to feel and think. Distorted with misery, he went to bed; distorted with misery, he lay and thought and thought. He had, positively, a sense of physical distortion: his guts were twisted, he had a hunched back, his legs were withered. . . .

He had the right to be miserable. He was going back to France to-morrow, he had trampled on his mistress’s love, and he was beginning to doubt himself, to wonder whether his whole life hadn’t been one ludicrous folly.

He reviewed his life, like a man about to die. Born in another age, he would, he supposed, have been religious. He had got over religion early, like the measles — at nine a Low Churchman, at twelve a Broad Churchman, and at fourteen an Agnostic — but he still retained the temperament of a religious man. Intellectually he was a Voltairian, emotionally a Bunyanite. To have arrived at this formula was, he felt, a distinct advance in self-knowledge. And what a fool he had been with Marjorie! The priggishness of his attitude — making her read Wordsworth when she didn’t want to. Intellectual love — his phrases weren’t always a blessing; how hopelessly he had deceived himself with words! And now this evening the crowning outrage, when he had behaved to her like a hysterical anchorite dealing with a temptation. His body tingled, at the recollection, with shame.

An idea occurred to him; he would go and see her, tiptoe downstairs to her room, kneel by her bed, ask for her forgiveness. He lay quite still imagining the whole scene. He even went so far as to get out of bed, open the door, which made a noise in the process like a peacock’s scream, quite unnerving him, and creep to the head of the stairs. He stood there a long time, his feet growing colder and colder, and then decided that the adventure was really too sordidly like the episode at the beginning of Tolstoy’s Resurrection. The door screamed again as he returned; he lay in bed, trying to persuade himself that his self-control had been admirable and at the same time cursing his absence of courage in not carrying out what he had intended.

He remembered a lecture he had given Marjorie once on the subject of Sacred and Profane Love. Poor girl, how had she listened in patience? He could see her attending with such a serious expression on her face that she looked quite ugly. She looked so beautiful when she was laughing or happy; at the Whites’, for instance, three nights ago, when George and she had danced after dinner and he had sat, secretly envious, reading a book in the corner of the room and looking superior. He wouldn’t learn to dance, but always wished he could. It was a barbarous, aphrodisiacal occupation, he said, and he preferred to spend his time and energies in reading. Salvationist again! What a much wiser person George had proved himself than he. He had no prejudices, no theoretical views about the conduct of life; he just lived, admirably, naturally, as the spirit or the flesh moved him. If only he could live his life again, if only he could abolish this evening’s monstrous stupidity. . . .

Marjorie also lay awake. She too felt herself distorted with misery. How odiously cruel he had been, and how much she longed to forgive him! Perhaps he would come in the dark, when all the house was asleep, tiptoeing into the room very quietly to kneel by her bed and ask to be forgiven. Would he come, she wondered? She stared into the blackness above her and about her, willing him to come, commanding him — angry and wretched because he was so slow in coming, because he didn’t come at all. They were both of them asleep before two.

Seven hours of sleep make a surprising difference to the state of mind. Guy, who thought he was distorted for life, woke to find himself healthily normal. Marjorie’s angers and despairs had subsided. The hour they had together between breakfast and Guy’s departure was filled with almost trivial conversation. Guy was determined to say something about last’s night incident. But it was only at the very last moment, when the dog-cart was actually at the door, that he managed to bring out some stammered repentance for what had happened last night.

“Don’t think about it,” Marjorie had told him. So they had kissed and parted, and their relations were precisely the same as they had been before Guy came on leave.

George was sent out a week or two later, and a month after that they heard at Blaybury that he had lost a leg — fortunately below the knee.

“Poor boy!” said Mr. Petherton. “I must really write a line to his mother at once.”

Jacobsen made no comment, but it was a surprise to him to find how much he had been moved by the news. George White had lost a leg; he couldn’t get the thought out of his head. But only below the knee; he might be called lucky. Lucky — things are deplorably relative, he reflected. One thanks God because He has thought fit to deprive one of His creatures of a limb.

“Neither delighteth He in any man’s legs,” eh? Nous avons changé tout cela.

George had lost a leg. There would be no more of that Olympian speed and strength and beauty. Jacobsen conjured up before his memory a vision of the boy running with his great fawn-coloured dog across green expanses of grass. How glorious he had looked, his fine brown hair blowing like fire in the wind of his own speed, his cheeks flushed, his eyes very bright. And how easily he ran, with long, bounding strides, looking down at the dog that jumped and barked at his side!

He had had a perfection, and now it was spoilt. Instead of a leg he had a stump. Moignon, the French called it; there was the right repulsive sound about moignon which was lacking in “stump.” Soignons le moignon en l’oignant d’oignons.

Often, at night before he went to sleep, he couldn’t help thinking of George and the war and all the millions of moignons there must be in the world. He had a dream one night of slimy red knobbles, large polyp-like things, growing as he looked at them, swelling between his hands — moignons, in fact.

George was well enough in the late autumn to come home. He had learnt to hop along on his crutches very skilfully, and his preposterous donkey-drawn bath-chair soon became a familiar object in the lanes of the neighbourhood. It was a grand sight to behold when George rattled past at the trot, leaning forward like a young Phœbus in his chariot and urging his unwilling beast with voice and crutch. He drove over to Blaybury almost every day; Marjorie and he had endless talks about life and love and Guy and other absorbing topics. With Jacobsen he played piquet and discussed a thousand subjects. He was always gay and happy — that was what especially lacerated Jacobsen’s heart with pity.

IV

THE Christmas holidays had begun, and the Reverend Roger was back again at Blaybury. He was sitting at the writing-table in the drawing-room, engaged, at the moment, in biting the end of his pen and scratching his head. His face wore an expression of perplexity; one would have said that he was in the throes of literary composition. Which indeed he was: “Beloved ward of Alfred Petherton . . .” he said aloud. “Beloved ward . . .” He shook his head doubtfully.

The door opened and Jacobsen came into the room. Roger turned round at once.

“Have you heard the grievous news?” he said.

“No. What?”

“Poor Guy is dead. We got the telegram half an hour ago.”

“Good God!” said Jacobsen in an agonized voice which seemed to show that he had been startled out of the calm belonging to one who leads the life of reason. He had been conscious ever since George’s mutilation that his defences were growing weaker; external circumstance was steadily encroaching upon him. Now it had broken in and, for the moment, he was at its mercy. Guy dead. . . . He pulled himself together sufficiently to say, after a pause, “Well, I suppose it was only to be expected sooner or later. Poor boy.”

“Yes, it’s terrible, isn’t it?” said Roger, shaking his head. “I am just writing out an announcement to send to the Times. One can hardly say ‘the beloved ward of Alfred Petherton,’ can one? It doesn’t sound quite right; and yet one would like somehow to give public expression to the deep affection Alfred felt for him. ‘Beloved ward’ — no, decidedly it won’t do.”

“You’ll have to get round it somehow,” said Jacobsen. Roger’s presence somehow made a return to the life of reason easier.

“Poor Alfred,” the other went on. “You’ve no idea how hardly he takes it. He feels as though he had given a son.”

“What a waste it is!” Jacobsen exclaimed. He was altogether too deeply moved.

“I have done my best to console Alfred. One must always bear in mind for what Cause he died.”

“All those potentialities destroyed. He was an able fellow, was Guy.” Jacobsen was speaking more to himself than to his companion, but Roger took up the suggestion.

“Yes, he certainly was that. Alfred thought he was very promising. It is for his sake I am particularly sorry. I never got on very well with the boy myself. He was too eccentric for my taste. There’s such a thing as being too clever, isn’t there? It’s rather inhuman. He used to do most remarkable Greek iambics for me when he was a boy. I dare say he was a very good fellow under all that cleverness and queerness. It’s all very distressing, very grievous.”

“How was he killed?”

“Died of wounds yesterday morning. Do you think it would be a good thing to put in some quotation at the end of the announcement in the paper? Something like, ‘Dulce et Decorum,’ or ‘Sed Miles, sed Pro Patria,’ or ‘Per Ardua ad Astra’?”

“It hardly seems essential,” said Jacobsen.

“Perhaps not.” Roger’s lips moved silently; he was counting. “Forty-two words. I suppose that counts as eight lines. Poor Marjorie! I hope she won’t feel it too bitterly. Alfred told me they were unofficially engaged.”

“So I gathered.”

“I am afraid I shall have to break the news to her. Alfred is too much upset to be able to do anything himself. It will be a most painful task. Poor girl! I suppose as a matter of fact they would not have been able to marry for some time, as Guy had next to no money. These early marriages are very rash. Let me see: eight times three shillings is one pound four, isn’t it? I suppose they take cheques all right?”

“How old was he?” asked Jacobsen.

“Twenty-four and a few months.”

Jacobsen was walking restlessly up and down the room. “Just reaching maturity! One is thankful these days to have one’s own work and thoughts to take the mind off these horrors.”

“It’s terrible, isn’t it? — terrible. So many of my pupils have been killed now that I can hardly keep count of the number.”

There was a tapping at the French window; it was Marjorie asking to be let in. She had been cutting holly and ivy for the Christmas decorations, and carried a basket full of dark, shining leaves.

Jacobsen unbolted the big window and Marjorie came in, flushed with the cold and smiling. Jacobsen had never seen her looking so handsome: she was superb, radiant, like Iphigenia coming in her wedding garments to the sacrifice.

“The holly is very poor this year,” she remarked. “I am afraid we shan’t make much of a show with our Christmas decorations.”

Jacobsen took the opportunity of slipping out through the French window. Although it was unpleasantly cold, he walked up and down the flagged paths of the Dutch garden, hatless and overcoatless, for quite a long time.

Marjorie moved about the drawing-room fixing sprigs of holly round the picture frames. Her uncle watched her, hesitating to speak; he was feeling enormously uncomfortable.

“I am afraid,” he said at last, “that your father’s very upset this morning.” His voice was husky; he made an explosive noise to clear his throat.

“Is it his palpitations?” Marjorie asked coolly; her father’s infirmities did not cause her much anxiety.

“No, no.” Roger realized that his opening gambit had been a mistake. “No. It is — er — a more mental affliction, and one which, I fear, will touch you closely too. Marjorie, you must be strong and courageous; we have just heard that Guy is dead.”

“Guy dead?” She couldn’t believe it; she had hardly envisaged the possibility; besides, he was on the Staff. “Oh, Uncle Roger, it isn’t true.”

“I am afraid there is no doubt. The War Office telegram came just after you had gone out for the holly.”

Marjorie sat down on the sofa and hid her face in her hands. Guy dead; she would never see him again, never see him again, never; she began to cry.

Roger approached and stood, with his hand on her shoulder, in the attitude of a thought-reader. To those overwhelmed by sorrow the touch of a friendly hand is often comforting. They have fallen into an abyss, and the touching hand serves to remind them that life and God and human sympathy still exist, however bottomless the gulf of grief may seem. On Marjorie’s shoulder her uncle’s hand rested with a damp, heavy warmth that was peculiarly unpleasant.

“Dear child, it is very grievous, I know; but you must try and be strong and bear it bravely. We all have our cross to bear. We shall be celebrating the Birth of Christ in two days’ time; remember with what patience He received the cup of agony. And then remember for what Cause Guy has given his life. He has died a hero’s death, a martyr’s death, witnessing to Heaven against the powers of evil.” Roger was unconsciously slipping into the words of his last sermon in the school chapel. “You should feel pride in his death as well as sorrow. There, there, poor child.” He patted her shoulder two or three times. “Perhaps it would be kinder to leave you now.”

For some time after her uncle’s departure Marjorie sat motionless in the same position, her body bent forward, her face in her hands. She kept on repeating the words, “Never again,” and the sound of them filled her with despair and made her cry. They seemed to open up such a dreary grey infinite vista— “never again.” They were as a spell evoking tears.

She got up at last and began walking aimlessly about the room. She paused in front of a little old black-framed mirror that hung near the window and looked at her reflection in the glass. She had expected somehow to look different, to have changed. She was surprised to find her face entirely unaltered: grave, melancholy perhaps, but still the same face she had looked at when she was doing her hair this morning. A curious idea entered her head; she wondered whether she would be able to smile now, at this dreadful moment. She moved the muscles of her face and was overwhelmed with shame at the sight of the mirthless grin that mocked her from the glass. What a beast she was! She burst into tears and threw herself again on the sofa, burying her face in a cushion. The door opened, and by the noise of shuffling and tapping Marjorie recognized the approach of George White on his crutches. She did not look up. At the sight of the abject figure on the sofa, George halted, uncertain what he should do. Should he quietly go away again, or should he stay and try to say something comforting? The sight of her lying there gave him almost physical pain. He decided to stay.

He approached the sofa and stood over her, suspended on his crutches. Still she did not lift her head, but pressed her face deeper into the smothering blindness of the cushion, as though to shut out from her consciousness all the external world. George looked down at her in silence. The little delicate tendrils of hair on the nape of her neck were exquisitely beautiful.

“I was told about it,” he said at last, “just now, as I came in. It’s too awful. I think I cared for Guy more than for almost anyone in the world. We both did, didn’t we?”

She began sobbing again. George was overcome with remorse, feeling that he had somehow hurt her, somehow added to her pain by what he had said. “Poor child, poor child,” he said, almost aloud. She was a year older than he, but she seemed so helplessly and pathetically young now that she was crying.

Standing up for long tired him, and he lowered himself, slowly and painfully, into the sofa beside her. She looked up at last and began drying her eyes.

“I’m so wretched, George, so specially wretched because I feel I didn’t act rightly towards darling Guy. There were times, you know, when I wondered whether it wasn’t all a great mistake, our being engaged. Sometimes I felt I almost hated him. I’d been feeling so odious about him these last weeks. And now comes this, and it makes me realize how awful I’ve been towards him.” She found it a relief to confide and confess; George was so sympathetic, he would understand. “I’ve been a beast.”

Her voice broke, and it was as though something had broken in George’s head. He was overwhelmed with pity; he couldn’t bear it that she should suffer.

“You mustn’t distress yourself unnecessarily, Marjorie dear,” he begged her, stroking the back of her hand with his large hard palm. “Don’t.”

Marjorie went on remorselessly. “When Uncle Roger told me just now, do you know what I did? I said to myself, Do I really care? I couldn’t make out. I looked in the glass to see if I could tell from my face. Then I suddenly thought I’d see whether I could laugh, and I did. And that made me feel how detestable I was, and I started crying again. Oh, I have been a beast, George, haven’t I?”

She burst into a passion of tears and hid her face once more in the friendly cushion. George couldn’t bear it at all. He laid his hand on her shoulder and bent forward, close to her, till his face almost touched her hair. “Don’t,” he cried. “Don’t, Marjorie. You mustn’t torment yourself like this. I know you loved Guy; we both loved him. He would have wanted us to be happy and brave and to go on with life — not make his death a source of hopeless despair.” There was a silence, broken only by the agonizing sound of sobbing. “Marjorie, darling, you mustn’t cry.”

“There, I’m not,” said Marjorie through her tears. “I’ll try to stop. Guy wouldn’t have wanted us to cry for him. You’re right; he would have wanted us to live for him — worthily, in his splendid way.”

“We who knew him and loved him must make our lives a memorial of him.” In ordinary circumstances George would have died rather than make a remark like that. But in speaking of the dead, people forget themselves and conform to the peculiar obituary convention of thought and language. Spontaneously, unconsciously, George had conformed.

Marjorie wiped her eyes. “Thank you, George. You know so well what darling Guy would have liked. You’ve made me feel stronger to bear it. But, all the same, I do feel odious for what I thought about him sometimes. I didn’t love him enough. And now it’s too late. I shall never see him again.” The spell of that “never” worked again: Marjorie sobbed despairingly.

George’s distress knew no bounds. He put his arm round Marjorie’s shoulders and kissed her hair. “Don’t cry, Marjorie. Everybody feels like that sometimes, even towards the people they love most. You really mustn’t make yourself miserable.”

Once more she lifted her face and looked at him with a heart-breaking, tearful smile. “You have been too sweet to me, George. I don’t know what I should have done without you.”

“Poor darling!” said George. “I can’t bear to see you unhappy.” Their faces were close to one another, and it seemed natural that at this point their lips should meet in a long kiss. “We’ll remember only the splendid, glorious things about Guy,” he went on— “what a wonderful person he was, and how much we loved him.” He kissed her again.

“Perhaps our darling Guy is with us here even now,” said Marjorie, with a look of ecstasy on her face.

“Perhaps he is,” George echoed.

It was at this point that a heavy footstep was heard and a hand rattled at the door. Marjorie and George moved a little farther apart. The intruder was Roger, who bustled in, rubbing his hands with an air of conscious heartiness, studiously pretending that nothing untoward had occurred. It is our English tradition that we should conceal our emotions. “Well, well,” he said. “I think we had better be going in to luncheon. The bell has gone.”

Eupompus Gave Splendour to Art by Numbers

“I HAVE MADE a discovery,” said Emberlin as I entered his room.

“What about?” I asked.

“A discovery,” he replied, “about Discoveries.” He radiated an unconcealed satisfaction; the conversation had evidently gone exactly as he had intended it to go. He had made his phrase, and, repeating it lovingly— “A discovery about Discoveries” — he smiled benignly at me, enjoying my look of mystification — an expression which, I confess, I had purposely exaggerated in order to give him pleasure. For Emberlin, in many ways so childish, took an especial delight in puzzling and nonplussing his acquaintances; and these small triumphs, these little “scores” off people afforded him some of his keenest pleasures. I always indulged his weakness when I could, for it was worth while being on Emberlin’s good books. To be allowed to listen to his post-prandial conversation was a privilege indeed. Not only was he himself a consummately good talker, but he had also the power of stimulating others to talk well. He was like some subtle wine, intoxicating just to the Meredithian level of tipsiness. In his company you would find yourself lifted to the sphere of nimble and mercurial conceptions; you would suddenly realize that some miracle had occurred, that you were living no longer in a dull world of jumbled things but somewhere above the hotch-potch in a glassily perfect universe of ideas, where all was informed, consistent, symmetrical. And it was Emberlin who, godlike, had the power of creating this new and real world. He built it out of words, this crystal Eden, where no belly-going snake, devourer of quotidian dirt, might ever enter and disturb its harmonies. Since I first knew Emberlin I have come to have a greatly enhanced respect for magic and all the formules of its liturgy. If by words Emberlin can create a new world for me, can make my spirit slough off completely the domination of the old, why should not he or I or anyone, having found the suitable phrases, exert by means of them an influence more vulgarly miraculous upon the world of mere things? Indeed, when I compare Emberlin and the common or garden black magician of commerce, it seems to me that Emberlin is the greater thaumaturge. But let that pass; I am straying from my purpose, which was to give some description of the man who so confidentially whispered to me that he had made a discovery about Discoveries.

In the best sense of the word, then, Emberlin was academic. For us who knew him his rooms were an oasis of aloofness planted secretly in the heart of the desert of London. He exhaled an atmosphere that combined the fantastic speculativeness of the undergraduate with the more mellowed oddity of incredibly wise and antique dons. He was immensely erudite, but in a wholly unencyclopædic way — a mine of irrelevant information, as his enemies said of him. He wrote a certain amount, but, like Mallarmé, avoided publication, deeming it akin to “the offence of exhibitionism.” Once, however, in the folly of youth, some dozen years ago, he had published a volume of verses. He spent a good deal of time now in assiduously collecting copies of his book and burning them. There can be but very few left in the world now. My friend Cope had the fortune to pick one up the other day — a little blue book, which he showed me very secretly. I am at a loss to understand why Emberlin wishes to stamp out all trace of it. There is nothing to be ashamed of in the book; some of the verses, indeed, are, in their young ecstatic fashion, good. But they are certainly conceived in a style that is unlike that of his present poems. Perhaps it is that which makes him so implacable against them. What he writes now for very private manuscript circulation is curious stuff. I confess I prefer the earlier work; I do not like the stony, hard-edged quality of this sort of thing — the only one I can remember of his later productions. It is a sonnet on a porcelain figure of a woman, dug up at Cnossus:

“Her eyes of bright unwinking glaze

All imperturbable do not

Even make pretences to regard

The jutting absence of her stays

Where many a Syrian gallipot

Excites desire with spilth of nard.

The bistred rims above the fard

Of cheeks as red as bergamot

Attest that no shamefaced delays

Will clog fulfilment nor retard

Full payment of the Cyprian’s praise

Down to the last remorseful jot.

Hail priestess of we know not what

Strange cult of Mycenean days!”

Regrettably, I cannot remember any of Emberlin’s French poems. His peculiar muse expresses herself better, I think, in that language than in her native tongue.

Such is Emberlin; such, I should rather say, was he, for, as I propose to show, he is not now the man that he was when he whispered so confidentially to me, as I entered the room, that he had made a discovery about Discoveries.

I waited patiently till he had finished his little game of mystification and, when the moment seemed ripe, I asked him to explain himself. Emberlin was ready to open out.

“Well,” he began, “these are the facts — a tedious introduction, I fear, but necessary. Years ago, when I was first reading Ben Jonson’s Discoveries, that queer jotting of his, ‘Eupompus gave splendour to Art by Numbers,’ tickled my curiosity. You yourself must have been struck by the phrase, everybody must have noticed it; and everybody must have noticed too that no commentator has a word to say on the subject. That is the way of commentators — the obvious points fulsomely explained and discussed, the hard passages, about which one might want to know something passed over in the silence of sheer ignorance. ‘Eupompus gave splendour to Art by Numbers’ — the absurd phrase stuck in my head. At one time it positively haunted me. I used to chant it in my bath, set to music as an anthem. It went like this, so far as I remember” — and he burst into song: “‘Eupompus, Eu-u-pompus gave sple-e-e-endour . . .’” and so on, through all the repetitions, the dragged-out rises and falls of a parodied anthem.

“I sing you this,” he said when he had finished, “just to show you what a hold that dreadful sentence took upon my mind. For eight years, off and on, its senselessness has besieged me. I have looked up Eupompus in all the obvious books of reference, of course. He is there all right — Alexandrian artist, eternized by some wretched little author in some even wretcheder little anecdote, which at the moment I entirely forget; it had nothing, at any rate, to do with the embellishment of art by numbers. Long ago I gave up the search as hopeless; Eupompus remained for me a shadowy figure of mystery, author of some nameless outrage, bestower of some forgotten benefit upon the art that he practised. His history seemed wrapt in an impenetrable darkness. And then yesterday I discovered all about him and his art and his numbers. A chance discovery, than which few things have given me a greater pleasure.

“I happened upon it, as I say, yesterday when I was glancing through a volume of Zuylerius. Not, of course, the Zuylerius one knows,” he added quickly, “otherwise one would have had the heart out of Eupompus’ secret years ago.”

“Of course,” I repeated, “not the familiar Zuylerius.”

“Exactly,” said Emberlin, taking seriously my flippancy, “not the familiar John Zuylerius, Junior, but the elder Henricus Zuylerius, a much less — though perhaps undeservedly so — renowned figure than his son. But this is not the time to discuss their respective merits. At any rate, I discovered in a volume of critical dialogues by the elder Zuylerius, the reference, to which, without doubt, Jonson was referring in his note. (It was of course a mere jotting, never meant to be printed, but which Jonson’s literary executors pitched into the book with all the rest of the available posthumous materials.) ‘Eupompus gave splendour to Art by Numbers’ — Zuylerius gives a very circumstantial account of the process. He must, I suppose, have found the sources for it in some writer now lost to us.”

Emberlin paused a moment to muse. The loss of the work of any ancient writer gave him the keenest sorrow. I rather believe he had written a version of the unrecovered books of Petronius. Some day I hope I shall be permitted to see what conception Emberlin has of the Satyricon as a whole. He would, I am sure, do Petronius justice — almost too much, perhaps.

“What was the story of Eupompus?” I asked. “I am all curiosity to know.”

Emberlin heaved a sigh and went on.

“Zuylerius’ narrative,” he said, “is very bald, but on the whole lucid; and I think it gives one the main points of the story. I will give it you in my own words; that is preferable to reading his Dutch Latin. Eupompus, then, was one of the most fashionable portrait-painters of Alexandria. His clientele was large, his business immensely profitable. For a half-length in oils the great courtesans would pay him a month’s earnings. He would paint likenesses of the merchant princes in exchange for the costliest of their outlandish treasures. Coal-black potentates would come a thousand miles out of Ethiopia to have a miniature limned on some specially choice panel of ivory; and for payment there would be camel-loads of gold and spices. Fame, riches, and honour came to him while he was yet young; an unparalleled career seemed to lie before him. And then, quite suddenly, he gave it all up — refused to paint another portrait. The doors of his studio were closed. It was in vain that clients, however rich, however distinguished, demanded admission; the slaves had their order; Eupompus would see no one but his own intimates.”

Emberlin made a pause in his narrative.

“What was Eupompus doing?” I asked.

“He was, of course,” said Emberlin, “occupied in giving splendour to Art by Numbers. And this, as far as I can gather from Zuylerius, is how it all happened. He just suddenly fell in love with numbers — head over ears, amorous of pure counting. Number seemed to him to be the sole reality, the only thing about which the mind of man could be certain. To count was the one thing worth doing, because it was the one thing you could be sure of doing right. Thus, art, that it may have any value at all, must ally itself with reality — must, that is, possess a numerical foundation. He carried the idea into practice by painting the first picture in his new style. It was a gigantic canvas, covering several hundred square feet — I have no doubt that Eupompus could have told you the exact area to an inch — and upon it was represented an illimitable ocean covered, as far as the eye could reach in every direction, with a multitude of black swans. There were thirty-three thousand of these black swans, each, even though it might be but a speck on the horizon, distinctly limned. In the middle of the ocean was an island, upon which stood a more or less human figure having three eyes, three arms and legs, three breasts and three navels. In the leaden sky three suns were dimly expiring. There was nothing more in the picture; Zuylerius describes it exactly. Eupompus spent nine months of hard work in painting it. The privileged few who were allowed to see it pronounced it, finished, a masterpiece. They gathered round Eupompus in a little school, calling themselves the Philarithmics. They would sit for hours in front of his great work, contemplating the swans and counting them; according to the Philarithmics, to count and to contemplate were the same thing.

“Eupompus’ next picture, representing an orchard of identical trees set in quincunxes, was regarded with less favour by the connoisseurs. His studies of crowds were, however, more highly esteemed; in these were portrayed masses of people arranged in groups that exactly imitated the number and position of the stars making up various of the more famous constellations. And then there was his famous picture of the amphitheatre, which created a furore among the Philarithmics. Zuylerius again gives us a detailed description. Tier upon tier of seats are seen, all occupied by strange Cyclopean figures. Each tier accommodates more people than the tier below, and the number rises in a complicated but regular progression. All the figures seated in the amphitheatre possess but a single eye, enormous and luminous, planted in the middle of the forehead: and all these thousands of single eyes are fixed, in a terrible and menacing scrutiny, upon a dwarf-like creature cowering pitiably in the arena. . . . He alone of the multitude possesses two eyes.

“I would give anything to see that picture,” Emberlin added, after a pause. “The colouring, you know; Zuylerius gives no hint, but I feel somehow certain that the dominant tone must have been a fierce brick-red — a red granite amphitheatre filled with a red-robed assembly, sharply defined against an implacable blue sky.”

“Their eyes would be green,” I suggested.

Emberlin closed his eyes to visualize the scene and then nodded a slow and rather dubious assent.

“Up to this point,” Emberlin resumed at length, “Zuylerius’ account is very clear. But his descriptions of the later philarithmic art become extremely obscure; I doubt whether he understood in the least what it was all about. I will give you such meaning as I manage to extract from his chaos. Eupompus seems to have grown tired of painting merely numbers of objects. He wanted now to represent Number itself. And then he conceived the plan of rendering visible the fundamental ideas of life through the medium of those purely numerical terms into which, according to him, they must ultimately resolve themselves. Zuylerius speaks vaguely of a picture of Eros, which seems to have consisted of a series of interlacing planes. Eupompus’ fancy seems next to have been taken by various of the Socratic dialogues upon the nature of general ideas, and he made a series of illustrations for them in the same arithmo-geometric style. Finally there is Zuylerius’ wild description of the last picture that Eupompus ever painted. I can make very little of it. The subject of the work, at least, is clearly stated; it was a representation of Pure Number, or God and the Universe, or whatever you like to call that pleasingly inane conception of totality. It was a picture of the cosmos seen, I take it, through a rather Neoplatonic camera obscura — very clear and in small. Zuylerius suggests a design of planes radiating out from a single point of light. I dare say something of the kind came in. Actually, I have no doubt, the work was a very adequate rendering in visible form of the conception of the one and the many, with all the intermediate stages of enlightenment between matter and the Fons Deitatis. However, it’s no use speculating what the picture may have been going to look like. Poor old Eupompus went mad before he had completely finished it and, after he had dispatched two of the admiring Philarithmics with a hammer, he flung himself out of the window and broke his neck. That was the end of him, and that was how he gave splendour, regrettably transient, to Art by Numbers.”

Emberlin stopped. We brooded over our pipes in silence; poor old Eupompus!

That was four months ago, and to-day Emberlin is a confirmed and apparently irreclaimable Philarithmic, a quite whole-hearted Eupompian.

It was always Emberlin’s way to take up the ideas that he finds in books and to put them into practice. He was once, for example, a working alchemist, and attained to considerable proficiency in the Great Art. He studied mnemonics under Bruno and Raymond Lully, and constructed for himself a model of the latter’s syllogizing machine, in hopes of gaining that universal knowledge which the Enlightened Doctor guaranteed to its user. This time it is Eupompianism, and the thing has taken hold of him. I have held up to him all the hideous warnings that I can find in history. But it is no use.

There is the pitiable spectacle of Dr. Johnson under the tyranny of an Eupompian ritual, counting the posts and the paving-stones of Fleet Street. He himself knew best how nearly a madman he was.

And then I count as Eupompians all gamblers, all calculating boys, all interpreters of the prophecies of Daniel and the Apocalypse; then too the Elberfeld horses, most complete of all Eupompians.

And here was Emberlin joining himself to this sect, degrading himself to the level of counting beasts and irrational children and men, more or less insane. Dr. Johnson was at least born with a strain of the Eupompian aberration in him; Emberlin is busily and consciously acquiring it. My expostulations, the expostulations of all his friends, are as yet unavailing. It is in vain that I tell Emberlin that counting is the easiest thing in the world to do, that when I am utterly exhausted, my brain, for lack of ability to perform any other work, just counts and reckons, like a machine, like an Elberfeld horse. It all falls on deaf ears; Emberlin merely smiles and shows me some new numerical joke that he has discovered. Emberlin can never enter a tiled bathroom now without counting how many courses of tiles there are from floor to ceiling. He regards it as an interesting fact that there are twenty-six rows of tiles in his bathroom and thirty-two in mine, while all the public lavatories in Holborn have the same number. He knows now how many paces it is from any one point in London to any other. I have given up going for walks with him. I am always made so distressingly conscious by his preoccupied look, that he is counting his steps.

His evenings, too, have become profoundly melancholy; the conversation, however well it may begin, always comes round to the same nauseating subject. We can never escape numbers; Eupompus haunts us. It is not as if we were mathematicians and could discuss problems of any interest or value. No, none of us are mathematicians, least of all Emberlin. Emberlin likes talking about such points as the numerical significance of the Trinity, the immense importance of its being three in one, not forgetting the even greater importance of its being one in three. He likes giving us statistics about the speed of light or the rate of growth in fingernails. He loves to speculate on the nature of odd and even numbers. And he seems to be unconscious how much he has changed for the worse. He is happy in an exclusively absorbing interest. It is as though some mental leprosy had fallen upon his intelligence.

In another year or so, I tell Emberlin, he may almost be able to compete with the calculating horses on their own ground. He will have lost all traces of his reason, but he will be able to extract cube roots in his head. It occurs to me that the reason why Eupompus killed himself was not that he was mad; on the contrary, it was because he was, temporarily, sane. He had been mad for years, and then suddenly the idiot’s self-complacency was lit up by a flash of sanity. By its momentary light he saw into what gulfs of imbecility he had plunged. He saw and understood, and the full horror, the lamentable absurdity of the situation made him desperate. He vindicated Eupompus against Eupompianism, humanity against the Philarithmics. It gives me the greatest pleasure to think that he disposed of two of that hideous crew before he died himself.

Happy Families

THE SCENE IS a conservatory. Luxuriant tropical plants are seen looming through a greenish aquarium twilight, punctuated here and there by the surprising pink of several Chinese lanterns hanging from the roof or on the branches of trees, while a warm yellow radiance streams out from the ball-room by a door on the left of the scene. Through the glass of the conservatory, at the back of the stage, one perceives a black-and-white landscape under the moon — expanses of snow, lined and dotted with coal-black hedges and trees. Outside is frost and death: but within the conservatory all is palpitating and steaming with tropical life and heat. Enormous fantastic plants encumber it; trees, creepers that writhe with serpentine life, orchids of every kind. Everywhere dense vegetation; horrible flowers that look like bottled spiders, like suppurating wounds; flowers with eyes and tongues, with moving, sensitive tentacles, with breasts and teeth and spotted skins.

The strains of a waltz float in through the ball-room door, and to that slow, soft music there enter, in parallel processions, the two families which are respectively Mr. Aston J. Tyrrell and Miss Topsy Garrick.

The doyen of the Tyrrell family is a young and perhaps too cultured literary man with rather long, dark brown hair, a face well cut and sensitive, if a trifle weak about the lower jaw, and a voice whose exquisite modulations could only be the product of education at one of the two Great Universities. We will call him plain Aston. Miss Topsy, the head of the Garrick family, is a young woman of not quite twenty, with sleek, yellow hair hanging, like a page’s, short and thick about her ears; boyish, too, in her slenderness and length of leg — boyish, but feminine and attractive to the last degree. Miss Topsy paints charmingly, sings in a small, pure voice that twists the heart and makes the bowels yearn in the hearing of it, is well educated, and has read, or at least heard of, most of the best books in three languages, knows something, too, of economics and the doctrines of Freud.

They enter arm in arm, fresh from the dance, trailing behind them with their disengaged hands two absurd ventriloquist’s dummies of themselves. They sit down on a bench placed in the middle of the stage under a kind of arbour festooned with fabulous flowers. The other members of the two families lurk in the tropical twilight of the background.

Aston advances his dummy and makes it speak, moving its mouth and limbs appropriately by means of the secret levers which his hand controls.

ASTON’S DUMMY.

What a perfect floor it is to-night!

TOPSY’S DUMMY.

Yes, it’s like ice, isn’t it? And such a good band.

ASTON’S DUMMY.

Oh yes, a very good band.

TOPSY’S DUMMY.

They play at dinner-time at the Necropole, you know.

ASTON’S DUMMY.

Really! (A long, uncomfortable silence.)

(From under a lofty twangum tree emerges the figure of CAIN WASHINGTON TYRRELL, ASTON’S negro brother — for the TYRRELLS, I regret to say, have a lick of the tar-brush in them and CAIN is a Mendelian throwback to the pure Jamaican type. CAIN is stout and his black face shines with grease. The whites of his eyes are like enamel, his smile is chryselephantine. He is dressed in faultless evening dress and a ribbon of seals tinkles on his stomach. He walks with legs wide apart, the upper part of his body thrown back and his belly projecting, as though he were supporting the weight of an Aristophanic actor’s costume. He struts up and down in front of the couple on the seat, grinning and slapping himself on the waistcoat.)

CAIN.

What hair, nyum nyum! and the nape of her neck; and her body — how slender! and what lovely movements, nyum nyum! (Approaching ASTON and speaking into his ear.) Eh? eh? eh?

ASTON.

Go away, you pig. Go away. (He holds up his dummy as a shield: CAIN retires discomfited.)

ASTON’S DUMMY.

Have you read any amusing novels lately?

TOPSY.

(Speaking over the head of her dummy.) No; I never read novels. They are mostly so frightful, aren’t they?

ASTON.

(Enthusiastically.) How splendid! Neither do I. I only write them sometimes, that’s all. (They abandon their dummies, which fall limply into one another’s arms and collapse on to the floor with an expiring sigh.)

TOPSY.

You write them? I didn’t know. . . .

ASTON.

Oh, I’d very much rather you didn’t know. I shouldn’t like you ever to read one of them. They’re all awful: still, they keep the pot boiling, you know. But tell me, what do you read?

TOPSY.

Mostly history, and philosophy, and a little criticism and psychology, and lots of poetry.

ASTON.

My dear young lady! how wonderful, how altogether unexpectedly splendid. (CAIN emerges with the third brother, SIR JASPER, who is a paler, thinner, more sinister and aristocratic ASTON.)

CAIN.

Nyum nyum nyum. . . .

SIR JASPER.

What a perfect sentence that was of yours, Aston: quite Henry Jamesian! “My dear young lady” — as though you were forty years her senior; and the rare old-worldliness of that “altogether unexpectedly splendid”! Admirable. I don’t remember your ever employing quite exactly this opening gambit before: but of course there were things very like it. (To CAIN.) What a nasty spectacle you are, Cain, gnashing your teeth like that!

CAIN.

Nyum nyum nyum.

(ASTON and TOPSY are enthusiastically talking about books: the two brothers, finding themselves quite unnoticed, retire into the shade of their twangum tree. BELLE GARRICK has been hovering behind TOPSY for some time past. She is more obviously pretty than her sister, full-bosomed and with a loose, red, laughing mouth. Unable to attract TOPSY’S attention, she turns round and calls, “HENRIKA.” A pale face with wide, surprised eyes peeps round the trunk, hairy like a mammoth’s leg, of a kadapoo tree with magenta leaves and flame-coloured blossoms. This is HENRIKA, TOPSY’S youngest sister. She is dressed in a little white muslin frock set off with blue ribbons.)

HENRIKA.

(Tiptoes forward.) Here I am; what is it? I was rather frightened of that man. But he really seems quite nice and tame, doesn’t he?

BELLE.

Of course he is! What a goose you are to hide like that!

HENRIKA.

He seems a nice, quiet, gentle man; and so clever.

BELLE.

What good hands he has, hasn’t he? (Approaching TOPSY and whispering in her ear.) Your hair’s going into your eyes, my dear. Toss it back in that pretty way you have. (TOPSY tosses her head; the soft, golden bell of hair quivers elastically about her ears.) That’s right!

CAIN.

(Bounding into the air and landing with feet apart, knees bent, and a hand on either knee.) Oh, nyum nyum!

ASTON.

Oh, the beauty of that movement! It simply makes one catch one’s breath with surprised pleasure, as the gesture of a perfect dancer might.

SIR JASPER.

Beautiful, wasn’t it? — a pleasure purely æsthetic and æsthetically pure. Listen to Cain.

ASTON.

(To TOPSY.) And do you ever try writing yourself? I’m sure you ought to.

SIR JASPER.

Yes, yes, we’re sure you ought to. Eh, Cain?

TOPSY.

Well, I have written a little poetry — or rather a few bad verses — at one time or another.

ASTON.

Really now! What about, may I ask?

TOPSY.

Well . . . (hesitating) about different things, you know. (She fans herself rather nervously.)

BELLE.

(Leaning over TOPSY’S shoulder and addressing ASTON directly.) Mostly about Love. (She dwells long and voluptuously on the last word, pronouncing it “lovv” rather than “luvv.”)

CAIN.

Oh, dat’s good, dat’s good; dat’s dam good. (In moments of emotion CAIN’S manners and language savour more obviously than usual of the Old Plantation.) Did yoh see her face den?

BELLE.

(Repeats, slowly and solemnly.) Mostly about Love.

HENRIKA.

Oh, oh. (She covers her face with her hands.) How could you? It makes me tingle all over. (She runs behind the kadapoo tree again.)

ASTON.

(Very seriously and intelligently.) Really. That’s very interesting. I wish you’d let me see what you’ve done some time.

SIR JASPER.

We always like to see these things, don’t we, Aston? Do you remember Mrs. Towler? How pretty she was! And the way we criticized her literary productions. . . .

ASTON.

Mrs. Towler. . . . (He shudders as though he had touched something soft and filthy.) Oh, don’t, Jasper, don’t!

SIR JASPER.

Dear Mrs. Towler! We were very nice about her poems, weren’t we? Do you remember the one that began:

“My Love is like a silvern flower-de-luce

Within some wondrous dream-garden pent:

God made my lovely lily not for use,

But for an ornament.”

Even Cain, I believe, saw the joke of that.

ASTON.

Mrs. Towler — oh, my God! But this is quite different: this girl really interests me.

SIR JASPER.

Oh yes, I know, I know. She interests you too, Cain, doesn’t she?

CAIN.

(Prances two or three steps of a cake-walk and sings.) Oh, ma honey, oh, ma honey.

ASTON.

But, I tell you, this is quite different.

SIR JASPER.

Of course it is. Any fool could see that it was. I’ve admitted it already.

ASTON.

(To TOPSY.) You will show them me, won’t you? I should so much like to see them.

TOPSY.

(Covered with confusion.) No, I really couldn’t. You’re a professional, you see.

HENRIKA.

(From behind the kadapoo tree.) No, you mustn’t show them to him. They’re really mine, you know, a great many of them.

BELLE.

Nonsense! (She stoops down and moves TOPSY’S foot in such a way that a very well-shaped, white-stockinged leg is visible some way up the calf. Then, to TOPSY.) Pull your skirt down, my dear. You’re quite indecent.

CAIN.

(Putting up his monocle.) Oh, nyum nyum, ma honey! Come wid me to Dixie Land. . . .

SIR JASPER.

H’m, a little conscious, don’t you think?

ASTON.

But even professionals are human, my dear young lady. And perhaps I might be able to give you some help with your writings.

TOPSY.

That’s awfully kind of you, Mr. Tyrrell.

HENRIKA.

Oh, don’t let him see them. I don’t want him to. Don’t let him.

ASTON.

(With heavy charm.) It always interests me so much when I hear of the young — and I trust you won’t be offended if I include you in their number — when I hear of the young taking to writing. It is one of the most important duties that we of the older generation can perform — to help and encourage the young with their work. It’s a great service to the cause of Art.

SIR JASPER.

That was what I was always saying to Mrs. Towler, if I remember rightly.

TOPSY.

I can’t tell you, Mr. Tyrrell, how delightful it is to have one’s work taken seriously. I am so grateful to you. May I send you my little efforts, then?

CAIN.

(Executes a step dance to the furious clicking of a pair of bones.)

SIR JASPER.

I congratulate you, Aston. A most masterful bit of strategy.

BELLE.

I wonder what he’ll do next. Isn’t it exciting? Topsy, toss your head again. That’s right. Oh, I wish something would happen!

HENRIKA.

What have you done? Oh, Topsy, you really mustn’t send him my poems.

BELLE.

You said he was such a nice man just now.

HENRIKA.

Oh yes, he’s nice, I know. But then he’s a man, you must admit that. I don’t want him to see them.

TOPSY.

(Firmly.) You’re being merely foolish, Henrika. Mr. Tyrrell, a very distinguished literary man, has been kind enough to take an interest in my work. His criticism will be the greatest help to me.

BELLE.

Of course it will, and he has such charming eyes. (A pause. The music, which has, all this while, been faintly heard through the ball-room door, becomes more audible. They are playing a rich, creamy waltz.) What delicious music! Henrika, come and have a dance. (She seizes HENRIKA round the waist and begins to waltz. HENRIKA is reluctant at first, but little by little the rhythm of the dance takes possession of her till, with her half-closed eyes and languorous, trance-like movements, she might figure as the visible living symbol of the waltz. ASTON and TOPSY lean back in their seats, marking the time with a languid beating of the hand. CAIN sways and swoons and revolves in his own peculiar and inimitable version of the dance.)

SIR JASPER.

(Who has been watching the whole scene with amusement.) What a pretty spectacle! “Music hath charms. . . .”

HENRIKA.

(In an almost extinct voice.) Oh, Belle, Belle, I could go on dancing like this for ever. I feel quite intoxicated with it.

TOPSY.

(To ASTON.) What a jolly tune this is!

ASTON.

Isn’t it? It’s called “Dreams of Desire,” I believe.

BELLE.

What a pretty name!

TOPSY.

These are wonderful flowers here.

ASTON.

Let’s go and have a look at them.

(They get up and walk round the conservatory. The flowers light up as they pass; in the midst of each is a small electric globe.)

ASTON.

This purple one with eyes is the assafœtida flower. Don’t put your nose too near; it has a smell like burning flesh. This is a Cypripedium from Sumatra. It is the only man-eating flower in the world. Notice its double set of teeth. (He puts a stick into the mouth of the flower, which instantly snaps to, like a steel trap.) Nasty, vicious brute! These blossoms like purple sponges belong to the twangum tree; when you squeeze them they ooze blood. This is the Jonesia, the octopus of the floral world: each of its eight tentacles is armed with a sting capable of killing a horse. Now this is a most interesting and instructive flower — the patchouli bloom. It is perhaps the most striking example in nature of structural specialization brought about by Evolution. If only Darwin had lived to see the patchouli plant! You have heard of flowers specially adapting themselves to be fertilized by bees or butterflies or spiders and such-like? Well, this plant which grows in the forests of Guatemala can only be fertilized by English explorers. Observe the structure of the flower; at the base is a flat, projecting pan, containing the pistil; above it an overarching tube ending in a spout. On either side a small crevice about three-quarters of an inch in length may be discerned in the fleshy lobes of the calix. The English traveller seeing this plant is immediately struck by its resemblance to those penny-in-the-slot machines which provide scent for the public in the railway stations at home. Through sheer force of habit he takes a penny from his pocket and inserts it in one of the crevices or slots. Immediate result — a jet of highly scented liquid pollen is discharged from the spout upon the pistil lying below, and the plant is fertilized. Could anything be more miraculous? And yet there are those who deny the existence of God. Poor fools!

TOPSY.

Wonderful! (Sniffing.) What a good scent.

ASTON.

The purest patchouli.

BELLE.

How delicious! Oh, my dear . . . (She shuts her eyes in ecstasy.)

HENRIKA.

(Drowsily.) Delicious, ‘licious. . . .

SIR JASPER.

I always like these rather canaille perfumes. Their effect is admirable.

ASTON.

This is the leopard-flower. Observe its spotted skin and its thorns like agate claws. This is the singing Alocusia — Alocusia Cantatrix — discovered by Humboldt during his second voyage to the Amazons. If you stroke its throat in the right place, it will begin to sing like a nightingale. Allow me. (He takes her by the wrist and guides her fingers towards the palpitating throat of a gigantic flower shaped like a gramophone trumpet. The Alocusia bursts into song; it has a voice like Caruso’s.)

CAIN.

Oh, nyum nyum! What a hand! Oh, ma honey. (He runs a thick black finger along TOPSY’S arm.)

TOPSY.

What a remarkable flower!

BELLE.

I wonder whether he stroked my arm like that by accident or on purpose.

HENRIKA.

(Gives a little shiver.) He’s touching me, he’s touching me! But somehow I feel so sleepy I can’t move.

TOPSY.

(She moves on towards the next flower: BELLE does not allow her to disengage her hand at once.) What a curious smell this one has!

ASTON.

Be careful, be careful! That’s the chloroform plant.

TOPSY.

Oh, I feel quite dizzy and faint. That smell and the heat . . . (She almost falls: ASTON puts out his arm and holds her up.)

ASTON.

Poor child!

CAIN.

Poh chile, poh chile! (He hovers round her, his hands almost touching her, trembling with excitement: his white eyeballs roll horribly.)

ASTON.

I’ll open the door. The air will make you feel better. (He opens the conservatory door, still supporting TOPSY with his right arm. The wind is heard, fearfully whistling: a flurry of snow blows into the conservatory. The flowers utter piercing screams of rage and fear; their lights flicker wildly; several turn perfectly black and drop on to the floor writhing in agony. The floral octopus agitates its tentacles; the twangum blooms drip blood; all the leaves of all the trees clap together with a dry, scaly sound.)

TOPSY.

(Faintly.) Thank you; that’s better.

ASTON.

(Closing the door.) Poor child! Come and sit down again; the chloroform flower is a real danger. (Much moved, he leads her back towards the seat.)

CAIN.

(Executes a war dance round the seated couple.) Poh chile, poh chile! Nyum nyum nyum.

SIR JASPER.

One perceives the well-known dangers of playing the Good Samaritan towards an afflicted member of the opposite sex. Pity has touched even our good Cain to tears.

BELLE.

Oh, I wonder what’s going to happen! It’s so exciting. I’m so glad Henrika’s gone to sleep.

TOPSY.

It was silly of me to go all faint like that.

ASTON.

I ought to have warned you in time of the chloroform flower.

BELLE.

But it’s such a lovely feeling now — like being in a very hot bath with lots of verbena bath-salts, and hardly able to move with limpness, but just ever so comfortable and happy.

ASTON.

How do you feel now? I’m afraid you’re looking very pale. Poor child!

CAIN.

Poh chile, poh chile! . . .

SIR JASPER.

I don’t know much about these things, but it seems to me, my dear Aston, that the moment has decidedly arrived.

ASTON.

I’m so sorry. You poor little thing . . . (He kisses her very gently on the forehead.)

BELLE.

A — a — h.

HENRIKA.

Oh! He kissed me: but he’s so kind and good, so kind and good. (She stirs and falls back again into her drowsy trance.)

CAIN.

Poh chile, poh chile! (He leans over ASTON’S shoulder and begins rudely kissing TOPSY’S trance-calm, parted lips. TOPSY opens her eyes and sees the black, greasy face, the chryselephantine smile, the pink, thick lips, the goggling eyeballs of white enamel. She screams. HENRIKA springs up and screams too. TOPSY slips on to the floor, and CAIN and ASTON are left face to face with HENRIKA, pale as death and with wide-open, terrified eyes. She is trembling in every limb.)

ASTON.

(Gives CAIN a push that sends him sprawling backwards, and falls on his knees before the pathetic figure of HENRIKA.) Oh, I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. What a beast I am! I don’t know what I can have been thinking of to do such a thing.

SIR JASPER.

My dear boy, I’m afraid you and Cain knew only too well what you were thinking of. Only too well . . .

ASTON.

Will you forgive me? I can’t forgive myself.

HENRIKA.

Oh, you hurt me, you frightened me so much. I can’t bear it. (She cries.)

ASTON.

O God! O God! (The tears start into his eyes also. He takes HENRIKA’S hand and begins to kiss it.) I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.

SIR JASPER.

If you’re not very careful, Aston, you’ll have Cain to deal with again. (CAIN has picked himself up and is creeping stealthily towards the couple in the centre of the conservatory.)

ASTON.

(Turning round.) Cain, you brute, go to hell! (CAIN slinks back.) Oh, will you forgive me for having been such a swine? What can I do?

TOPSY.

(Who has recovered her self-possession, rises to her feet and pushes HENRIKA into the background.) Thank you, it is really quite all right. I think it would be best to say no more about it, to forget what has happened.

ASTON.

Will you forgive me, then?

TOPSY.

Of course, of course. Please get up, Mr. Tyrrell.

ASTON.

(Climbing to his feet.) I can’t think how I ever came to be such a brute.

TOPSY.

(Coldly.) I thought we had agreed not to talk about this incident any further. (There is a silence.)

SIR JASPER.

Well, Aston? This has been rather fun.

BELLE.

I wish you hadn’t been quite so cold with him, Topsy. Poor man! He really is very sorry. One can see that.

HENRIKA.

But did you see that awful face? (She shudders and covers her eyes.)

ASTON.

(Picking up his dummy and manipulating it.) It is very hot in here, is it not? Shall we go back to the dancing-room?

TOPSY.

(Also takes up her dummy.) Yes, let us go back.

ASTON’S DUMMY.

Isn’t that “Roses in Picardy” that the band is playing?

TOPSY’S DUMMY.

I believe it is. What a very good band, don’t you think?

ASTON’S DUMMY.

Yes; it plays during dinner, you know, at the Necropole. (To JASPER.) Lord, what a fool I am! I’d quite forgotten; it was she who told me so as we came in.

TOPSY’S DUMMY.

At the Necropole? Really.

ASTON’S DUMMY.

A very good band and a very good floor.

TOPSY’S DUMMY.

Yes, it’s a perfect floor, isn’t it? Like glass. . . . (They go out, followed by their respective families. BELLE supports HENRIKA, who is still very weak after her shock.)

BELLE.

How exciting it was, wasn’t it, Henrika?

HENRIKA.

Wasn’t it awful — too awful! Oh, that face. . . . (CAIN follows ASTON out in silence and dejection. SIR JASPER brings up the rear of the procession. His face wears its usual expression of slightly bored amusement. He lights a cigarette.)

SIR JASPER.

Charming evening, charming evening. . . . Now it’s over, I wonder whether it ever existed. (He goes out. The conservatory is left empty. The flowers flash their luminous pistils; the eyes of the assafœtida blossoms solemnly wink; leaves shake and sway and rustle; several of the flowers are heard to utter a low chuckle, while the Alocusia, after whistling a few derisive notes, finally utters a loud, gross Oriental hiccough.)

THE CURTAIN SLOWLY DESCENDS.

CYNTHIA

WHEN, SOME FIFTY years hence, my grandchildren ask me what I did when I was at Oxford in the remote days towards the beginning of our monstrous century, I shall look back across the widening gulf of time and tell them with perfect good faith that I never worked less than eight hours a day, that I took a keen interest in Social Service, and that coffee was the strongest stimulant in which I indulged. And they will very justly say — but I hope I shall be out of hearing. That is why I propose to write my memoirs as soon as possible, before I have had time to forget, so that having the truth before me I shall never in time to come be able, consciously or unconsciously, to tell lies about myself.

At present I have no time to write a complete account of that decisive period in my history. I must content myself therefore with describing a single incident of my undergraduate days. I have selected this one because it is curious and at the same time wholly characteristic of Oxford life before the war.

My friend Lykeham was an Exhibitioner at Swellfoot College. He combined blood (he was immensely proud of his Anglo-Saxon descent and the derivation of his name from Old English lycam, a corpse) with brains. His tastes were eccentric, his habits deplorable, the range of his information immense. As he is now dead, I will say no more about his character.

To proceed with my anecdote: I had gone one evening, as was my custom, to visit him in his rooms at Swellfoot. It was just after nine when I mounted the stairs, and great Tom was still tolling.

“In Thomae laude

Resono bim bam sine fraude,”

as the charmingly imbecile motto used to run, and to-night he was living up to it by bim-bamming away in a persistent basso profondo that made an astonishing background of discord to the sound of frantic guitar playing which emanated from Lykeham’s room. From the fury of his twanging I could tell that something more than usually cataclysmic had happened, for mercifully it was only in moments of the greatest stress that Lykeham touched his guitar.

I entered the room with my hands over my ears. “For God’s sake — —” I implored. Through the open window Tom was shouting a deep E flat, with a spread chord of under- and over-tones, while the guitar gibbered shrilly and hysterically in D natural. Lykeham laughed, banged down his guitar on to the sofa with such violence that it gave forth a trembling groan from all its strings, and ran forward to meet me. He slapped me on the shoulder with painful heartiness; his whole face radiated joy and excitement.

I can sympathize with people’s pains, but not with their pleasures. There is something curiously boring about somebody else’s happiness.

“You are perspiring,” I said coldly.

Lykeham mopped himself, but went grinning.

“Well, what is it this time?” I asked. “Are you engaged to be married again?”

Lykeham burst forth with the triumphant pleasure of one who has at last found an opportunity of disburdening himself of an oppressive secret. “Far better than that,” he cried.

I groaned. “Some more than usually unpleasant amour, I suppose.” I knew that he had been in London the day before, a pressing engagement with the dentist having furnished an excuse to stay the night.

“Don’t be gross,” said Lykeham, with a nervous laugh which showed that my suspicions had been only too well founded.

“Well, let’s hear about the delectable Flossie or Effie or whatever her name was,” I said, with resignation.

“I tell you she was a goddess.”

“The goddess of reason, I suppose.”

“A goddess,” Lykeham continued; “the most wonderful creature I’ve ever seen. And the extraordinary thing is,” he added confidentially, and with ill-suppressed pride, “that it seems I myself am a god of sorts.”

“Of gardens; but do come down to facts.”

“I’ll tell you the whole story. It was like this: Last night I was in town, you know, and went to see that capital play that’s running at the Prince Consort’s. It’s one of those ingenious combinations of melodrama and problem play, which thrill you to the marrow and at the same time give you a virtuous feeling that you’ve been to see something serious. Well, I rolled in rather late, having secured an admirable place in the front row of the dress circle. I trampled in over the populace, and casually observed that there was a girl sitting next me, whom I apologized to for treading on her toes. I thought no more about her during the first act. In the interval, when the lights were on again, I turned round to look at things in general and discovered that there was a goddess sitting next me. One only had to look at her to see she was a goddess. She was quite incredibly beautiful — rather pale and virginal and slim, and at the same time very stately. I can’t describe her; she was simply perfect — there’s nothing more to be said.”

“Perfect,” I repeated, “but so were all the rest.”

“Fool!” Lykeham answered impatiently. “All the rest were just damned women. This was a goddess, I tell you. Don’t interrupt me any more. As I was looking with astonishment at her profile, she turned her head and looked squarely at me. I’ve never seen anything so lovely; I almost swooned away. Our eyes met — —”

“What an awful novelist’s expression!” I expostulated.

“I can’t help it; there’s no other word. Our eyes did meet, and we both fell simultaneously in love.”

“Speak for yourself.”

“I could see it in her eyes. Well, to go on. We looked at one another several times during that first interval, and then the second act began. In the course of the act, entirely accidentally, I knocked my programme on to the floor, and reaching down to get it I touched her hand. Well, there was obviously nothing else to do but to take hold of it.”

“And what did she do?”

“Nothing. We sat like that the whole of the rest of the act, rapturously happy and — —”

“And quietly perspiring palm to palm. I know exactly, so we can pass over that. Proceed.”

“Of course you don’t know in the least; you’ve never held a goddess’s hand. When the lights went up again I reluctantly dropped her hand, not liking the thought of the profane crowd seeing us, and for want of anything better to say, I asked her if she actually was a goddess. She said it was a curious question, as she’d been wondering what god I was. So we said, how incredible: and I said I was sure she was a goddess, and she said she was certain I was a god, and I bought some chocolates, and the third act began. Now, it being a melodrama, there was of course in the third act a murder and burglary scene, in which all the lights were turned out. In this thrilling moment of total blackness I suddenly felt her kiss me on the cheek.”

“I thought you said she was virginal.”

“So she was — absolutely, frozenly virginal; but she was made of a sort of burning ice, if you understand me. She was virginally passionate — just the combination you’d expect to find in a goddess. I admit I was startled when she kissed me, but with infinite presence of mind I kissed her back, on the mouth. Then the murder was finished and the lights went on again. Nothing much more happened till the end of the show, when I helped her on with her coat and we went out together, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world, and got into a taxi. I told the man to drive somewhere where we could get supper, and he drove there.”

“Not without embracements by the way?”

“No, not without certain embracements.”

“Always passionately virginal?”

“Always virginally passionate.”

“Proceed.”

“Well, we had supper — a positively Olympian affair, nectar and ambrosia and stolen hand-pressures. She became more and more wonderful every moment. My God, you should have seen her eyes! The whole soul seemed to burn in their depths, like fire under the sea — —”

“For narrative,” I interrupted him, “the epic or heroic style is altogether more suitable than the lyrical.”

“Well, as I say, we had supper, and after that my memory becomes a sort of burning mist.”

“Let us make haste to draw the inevitable veil. What was her name?”

Lykeham confessed that he didn’t know; as she was a goddess, it didn’t really seem to matter what her earthly name was. How did he expect to find her again? He hadn’t thought of that, but knew she’d turn up somehow. I told him he was a fool, and asked which particular goddess he thought she was and which particular god he himself.

“We discussed that,” he said. “We first thought Ares and Aphrodite; but she wasn’t my idea of Aphrodite, and I don’t know that I’m very much like Ares.”

He looked pensively in the old Venetian mirror which hung over the fireplace. It was a complacent look, for Lykeham was rather vain about his personal appearance, which was, indeed, repulsive at first sight, but had, when you looked again, a certain strange and fascinating ugly beauty. Bearded, he would have made a passable Socrates. But Ares — no, certainly he wasn’t Ares.

“Perhaps you’re Hephæstus,” I suggested; but the idea was received coldly.

Was he sure that she was a goddess? Mightn’t she just have been a nymph of sorts? Europa, for instance. Lykeham repudiated the implied suggestion that he was a bull, nor would he hear of himself as a swan or a shower of gold. It was possible, however, he thought, that he was Apollo and she Daphne, reincarnated from her vegetable state. And though I laughed heartily at the idea of his being Phœbus Apollo, Lykeham stuck to the theory with increasing obstinacy. The more he thought of it the more it seemed to him probable that his nymph, with her burning cold virginal passion, was Daphne, while to doubt that he himself was Apollo seemed hardly to occur to him.

It was about a fortnight later, in June, towards the end of term, that we discovered Lykeham’s Olympian identity. We had gone, Lykeham and I, for an after-dinner walk. We set out through the pale tranquillity of twilight, and following the towpath up the river as far as Godstow, halted at the inn for a glass of port and a talk with the glorious old female Falstaff in black silk who kept it. We were royally entertained with gossip and old wine, and after Lykeham had sung a comic song which had reduced the old lady to a quivering jelly of hysterical laughter, we set out once more, intending to go yet a little farther up the river before we turned back. Darkness had fallen by this time; the stars were lighted in the sky; it was the sort of summer night to which Marlowe compared Helen of Troy. Over the meadows invisible peewits wheeled and uttered their melancholy cry; the far-off thunder of the weir bore a continuous, even burden to all the other small noises of the night. Lykeham and I walked on in silence. We had covered perhaps a quarter of a mile when all at once my companion stopped and began looking fixedly westward towards Witham Hill. I paused too, and saw that he was staring at the thin crescent of the moon, which was preparing to set in the dark woods that crowned the eminence.

“What are you looking at?” I asked.

But Lykeham paid no attention, only muttered something to himself. Then suddenly he cried out, “It’s she!” and started off at full gallop across the fields in the direction of the hill. Conceiving that he had gone suddenly mad, I followed. We crashed through the first hedge twenty yards apart. Then came the backwater; Lykeham leapt, flopped in three-quarters of the way across, and scrambled oozily ashore. I made a better jump and landed among the mud and rushes of the farther bank. Two more hedges and a ploughed field, a hedge, a road, a gate, another field, and then we were in Witham Wood itself. It was pitch black under the trees, and Lykeham had perforce to slacken his pace a little. I followed him by the noise he made crashing through the undergrowth and cursing when he hurt himself. That wood was a nightmare, but we got through it somehow and into the open glade at the top of the hill. Through the trees on the farther side of the clearing shone the moon, seeming incredibly close at hand. Then, suddenly, along the very path of the moonlight, the figure of a woman came walking through the trees into the open. Lykeham rushed towards her and flung himself at her feet and embraced her knees; she stooped down and smoothed his ruffled hair. I turned and walked away; it is not for a mere mortal to look on at the embracements of the gods.

As I walked back, I wondered who on earth — or rather who in heaven — Lykeham could be. For here was chaste Cynthia giving herself to him in the most unequivocal fashion. Could he be Endymion? No, the idea was too preposterous to be entertained for a moment. But I could think of no other loved by the virgin moon. Yet surely I seemed dimly to recollect that there had been some favoured god; for the life of me I could not remember who. All the way back along the river path I searched my mind for his name, and always it eluded me.

But on my return I looked up the matter in Lemprière, and almost died of laughing when I discovered the truth. I thought of Lykeham’s Venetian mirror and his complacent side glances at his own image, and his belief that he was Apollo, and I laughed and laughed. And when, considerably after midnight, Lykeham got back to college, I met him in the porch and took him quietly by the sleeve, and in his ear I whispered, “GOAT-FOOT,” and then I roared with laughter once again.

The Bookshop

IT SEEMED INDEED an unlikely place to find a bookshop. All the other commercial enterprises of the street aimed at purveying the barest necessities to the busy squalor of the quarter. In this, the main arterial street, there was a specious glitter and life produced by the swift passage of the traffic. It was almost airy, almost gay. But all around great tracts of slum pullulated dankly. The inhabitants did their shopping in the grand street; they passed, holding gobbets of meat that showed glutinous even through the wrappings of paper; they cheapened linoleum at upholstery doors; women, black-bonneted and black-shawled, went shuffling to their marketing with dilapidated bags of straw plait. How should these, I wondered, buy books? And yet there it was, a tiny shop; and the windows were fitted with shelves, and there were the brown backs of books. To the right a large emporium overflowed into the street with its fabulously cheap furniture; to the left the curtained, discreet windows of an eating-house announced in chipped white letters the merits of sixpenny dinners. Between, so narrow as scarcely to prevent the junction of food and furniture, was the little shop. A door and four feet of dark window, that was the full extent of frontage. One saw here that literature was a luxury; it took its proportionable room here in this place of necessity. Still, the comfort was that it survived, definitely survived.

The owner of the shop was standing in the doorway, a little man, grizzle-bearded and with eyes very active round the corners of the spectacles that bridged his long, sharp nose.

“Trade is good?” I inquired.

“Better in my grandfather’s day,” he told me, shaking his head sadly.

“We grow progressively more Philistine,” I suggested.

“It is our cheap press. The ephemeral overwhelms the permanent, the classical.”

“This journalism,” I agreed, “or call it rather this piddling quotidianism, is the curse of our age.”

“Fit only for — —” He gesticulated clutchingly with his hands as though seeking the word.

“For the fire.”

The old man was triumphantly emphatic with his, “No: for the sewer.”

I laughed sympathetically at his passion. “We are delightfully at one in our views,” I told him. “May I look about me a little among your treasures?”

Within the shop was a brown twilight, redolent with old leather and the smell of that fine subtle dust that clings to the pages of forgotten books, as though preservative of their secrets — like the dry sand of Asian deserts beneath which, still incredibly intact, lie the treasures and the rubbish of a thousand years ago. I opened the first volume that came to my hand. It was a book of fashion-plates, tinted elaborately by hand in magenta and purple, maroon and solferino and puce and those melting shades of green that a yet earlier generation had called “the sorrows of Werther.” Beauties in crinolines swam with the amplitude of pavilioned ships across the pages. Their feet were represented as thin and flat and black, like tea-leaves shyly protruding from under their petticoats. Their faces were egg-shaped, sleeked round with hair of glossy black, and expressive of an immaculate purity. I thought of our modern fashion figures, with their heels and their arch of instep, their flattened faces and smile of pouting invitation. It was difficult not to be a deteriorationist. I am easily moved by symbols; there is something of a Quarles in my nature. Lacking the philosophic mind, I prefer to see my abstractions concretely imaged. And it occurred to me then that if I wanted an emblem to picture the sacredness of marriage and the influence of the home I could not do better than choose two little black feet like tea-leaves peeping out decorously from under the hem of wide, disguising petticoats. While heels and thoroughbred insteps should figure — oh well, the reverse.

The current of my thoughts was turned aside by the old man’s voice. “I expect you are musical,” he said.

Oh yes, I was a little; and he held out to me a bulky folio.

“Did you ever hear this?” he asked.

Robert the Devil: no, I never had. I did not doubt that it was a gap in my musical education.

The old man took the book and drew up a chair from the dim penetralia of the shop. It was then that I noticed a surprising fact: what I had, at a careless glance, taken to be a common counter I perceived now to be a piano of a square, unfamiliar shape. The old man sat down before it. “You must forgive any defects in its tone,” he said, turning to me. “An early Broadwood, Georgian, you know, and has seen a deal of service in a hundred years.”

He opened the lid, and the yellow keys grinned at me in the darkness like the teeth of an ancient horse.

The old man rustled pages till he found a desired place. “The ballet music,” he said: “it’s fine. Listen to this.”

His bony, rather tremulous hands began suddenly to move with an astonishing nimbleness, and there rose up, faint and tinkling against the roar of the traffic, a gay pirouetting music. The instrument rattled considerably and the volume of sound was thin as the trickle of a drought-shrunken stream: but, still, it kept tune and the melody was there, filmy, aerial.

“And now for the drinking-song,” cried the old man, warming excitedly to his work. He played a series of chords that mounted modulating upwards towards a breaking-point; so supremely operatic as positively to be a parody of that moment of tautening suspense, when the singers are bracing themselves for a burst of passion. And then it came, the drinking chorus. One pictured to oneself cloaked men, wildly jovial over the emptiness of cardboard flagons.

“Versiam’ a tazza piena

Il generoso umor . . .”

The old man’s voice was cracked and shrill, but his enthusiasm made up for any defects in execution. I had never seen anyone so wholeheartedly a reveller.

He turned over a few more pages. “Ah, the ‘Valse Infernale,’” he said. “That’s good.” There was a little melancholy prelude and then the tune, not so infernal perhaps as one might have been led to expect, but still pleasant enough. I looked over his shoulder at the words and sang to his accompaniment.

“Demoni fatali

Fantasmi d’orror,

Dei regni infernali

Plaudite al signor.”

A great steam-driven brewer’s lorry roared past with its annihilating thunder and utterly blotted out the last line. The old man’s hands still moved over the yellow keys, my mouth opened and shut; but there was no sound of words or music. It was as though the fatal demons, the phantasms of horror, had made a sudden irruption into this peaceful, abstracted place.

I looked out through the narrow door. The traffic ceaselessly passed; men and women hurried along with set faces. Phantasms of horror, all of them: infernal realms wherein they dwelt. Outside, men lived under the tyranny of things. Their every action was determined by the orders of mere matter, by money, and the tools of their trade and the unthinking laws of habit and convention. But here I seemed to be safe from things, living at a remove from actuality; here where a bearded old man, improbable survival from some other time, indomitably played the music of romance, despite the fact that the phantasms of horror might occasionally drown the sound of it with their clamour.

“So: will you take it?” The voice of the old man broke across my thoughts. “I will let you have it for five shillings.” He was holding out the thick, dilapidated volume towards me. His face wore a look of strained anxiety. I could see how eager he was to get my five shillings, how necessary, poor man! for him. He has been, I thought with an unreasonable bitterness — he has been simply performing for my benefit, like a trained dog. His aloofness, his culture — all a business trick. I felt aggrieved. He was just one of the common phantasms of horror masquerading as the angel of this somewhat comic paradise of contemplation. I gave him a couple of half-crowns and he began wrapping the book in paper.

“I tell you,” he said, “I’m sorry to part with it. I get attached to my books, you know; but they always have to go.”

He sighed with such an obvious genuineness of feeling that I repented of the judgment I had passed upon him. He was a reluctant inhabitant of the infernal realms, even as was I myself.

Outside they were beginning to cry the evening papers: a ship sunk, trenches captured, somebody’s new stirring speech. We looked at one another — the old bookseller and I — in silence. We understood one another without speech. Here were we in particular, and here was the whole of humanity in general, all faced by the hideous triumph of things. In this continued massacre of men, in this old man’s enforced sacrifice, matter equally triumphed. And walking homeward through Regent’s Park, I too found matter triumphing over me. My book was unconscionably heavy, and I wondered what in the world I should do with a piano score of Robert the Devil when I had got it home. It would only be another thing to weigh me down and hinder me; and at the moment it was very, oh, abominably, heavy. I leaned over the railings that ring round the ornamental water, and as unostentatiously as I could, I let the book fall into the bushes.

I often think it would be best not to attempt the solution of the problem of life. Living is hard enough without complicating the process by thinking about it. The wisest thing, perhaps, is to take for granted the “wearisome condition of humanity, born under one law, to another bound,” and to leave the matter at that, without an attempt to reconcile the incompatibles. Oh, the absurd difficulty of it all! And I have, moreover, wasted five shillings, which is serious, you know, in these thin times.

The Death of Lully

THE SEA LAY in a breathing calm, and the galley, bosomed in its transparent water, stirred rhythmically to the slow pulse of its sleeping life. Down below there, fathoms away through the crystal-clear Mediterranean, the shadow of the ship lazily swung, moving, a long dark patch, very slowly back and forth across the white sand of the sea-bottom — very slowly, a scarcely perceptible advance and recession of the green darkness. Fishes sometimes passed, now hanging poised with idly tremulous fins, now darting onwards, effortless and incredibly swift; and always, as it seemed, utterly aimless, whether they rested or whether they moved; as the life of angels their life seemed mysterious and unknowable.

All was silence on board the ship. In their fetid cage below decks the rowers slept where they sat, chained, on their narrow benches. On deck the sailors lay sleeping or sat in little groups playing at dice. The fore-part of the deck was reserved, it seemed, for passengers of distinction. Two figures, a man and a woman, were reclining there on couches, their faces and half-bared limbs flushed in the coloured shadow that was thrown by the great red awning stretched above them.

It was a nobleman, the sailors had heard, and his mistress that they had on board. They had taken their passage at Scanderoon, and were homeward bound for Spain. Proud as sin these Spaniards were; the man treated them like slaves or dogs. As for the woman, she was well enough, but they could find as good a face and pair of breasts in their native Genoa. If anyone so much as looked at her from half the ship’s length away it sent her possessor into a rage. He had struck one man for smiling at her. Damned Catalonian, as jealous as a stag; they wished him the stag’s horns as well as its temper.

It was intensely hot even under the awning. The man woke from his uneasy sleep and reached out to where on a little table beside him stood a deep silver cup of mixed wine and water. He drank a gulp of it; it was as warm as blood and hardly cooled his throat. He turned over and, leaning on his elbow, looked at his companion. She on her back, quietly breathing through parted lips, still asleep. He leaned across and pinched her on the breast, so that she woke up with a sudden start and cry of pain.

“Why did you wake me?” she asked.

He laughed and shrugged his shoulders. He had, indeed, had no reason for doing so, except that he did not like it that she should be comfortably asleep, while he was awake and unpleasantly conscious of the heat.

“It is hotter than ever,” he said, with a kind of gloomy satisfaction at the thought that she would now have to suffer the same discomforts as himself. “The wine scorches instead of cooling; the sun seems no lower down the sky.”

The woman pouted. “You pinched me cruelly,” she said. “And I still do not know why you wanted to wake me.”

He smiled again, this time with a good-humoured lasciviousness. “I wanted to kiss you,” he said. He passed his hand over her body possessively, as a man might caress a dog.

Suddenly the quiet of the afternoon was shattered. A great clamour rose up, ragged and uneven, on the air. Shrill yells pierced the dull rumbling growl of bass voices, pierced the sound of beaten drums and hammered metal.

“What are they doing in the town?” asked the woman anxiously of her lover.

“God knows,” he answered. “Perhaps the heathen hounds are making some trouble with our men.”

He got up and walked to the rail of the ship. A quarter of a mile away, across the smooth water of the bay, stood the little African town at which they had stopped to call. The sunlight showed everything with a hard and merciless definition. Sky, palms, white houses, domes, and towers seemed as though made from some hard enamelled metal. A ridge of low red hills rolled away to right and left. The sunshine gave to everything in the scene the same clarity of detail, so that to the eye of the onlooker there was no impression of distance. The whole thing seemed to be painted in flat upon a single plane.

The young man returned to his couch under the awning and lay down. It was hotter than ever, or seemed so, at least, since he had made the exertion of getting up. He thought of high cool pastures in the hills, with the pleasant sound of streams, far down and out of sight in their deep channels. He thought of winds that were fresh and scented — winds that were not mere breaths of dust and fire. He thought of the shade of cypresses, a narrow opaque strip of darkness; and he thought too of the green coolness, more diffused and fluid and transparent, of chestnut groves. And he thought of the people he remembered sitting under the trees — young people, gay and brightly dressed, whose life was all gaiety and deliciousness. There were the songs that they sang — he recalled the voices and the dancing of the strings. And there were perfumes and, when one drew closer, the faint intoxicating fragrance of a woman’s body. He thought of the stories they told; one in particular came to his mind, a capital tale of a sorcerer who offered to change a peasant’s wife into a mare, and how he gulled the husband and enjoyed the woman before his eyes, and the delightful excuses he made when she failed to change her shape. He smiled to himself at the thought of it, and stretching out a hand touched his mistress. Her bosom was soft to his fingers and damp with sweat; he had an unpleasant notion that she was melting in the heat.

“Why do you touch me?” she asked.

He made no reply, but turned away from her. He wondered how it would come to pass that people would rise again in the body. It seemed curious, considering the manifest activities of worms. And suppose one rose in the body that one possessed in age. He shuddered, picturing to himself what this woman would be like when she was sixty, seventy. She would be beyond words repulsive. Old men too were horrible. They stank, and their eyes were rheumy and rosiny, like the eyes of deer. He decided that he would kill himself before he grew old. He was eight-and-twenty now. He would give himself twelve years more. Then he would end it. His thoughts dimmed and faded away into sleep.

The woman looked at him as he slept. He was a good man, she thought, though sometimes cruel. He was different from all the other men she had known. Once, when she was sixteen and a beginner in the business of love, she had thought that all men were always drunk when they made love. They were all dirty and like beasts; she had felt herself superior to them. But this man was a nobleman. She could not understand him; his thoughts were always obscure. She felt herself infinitely inferior to him. She was afraid of him and his occasional cruelty; but still he was a good man, and he might do what he liked with her.

From far off came the sound of oars, a rhythmical splash and creak. Somebody shouted, and from startlingly close at hand one of the sailors hallooed back.

The young man woke up with a start.

“What is it?” he asked, turning with an angry look to the girl, as though he held her to be responsible for this breaking in upon his slumbers.

“The boat, I think,” she said. “It must be coming back from the shore.”

The boat’s crew came up over the side, and all the stagnant life of the ship flowed excitedly round them. They were the centre of a vortex towards which all were drawn. Even the young Catalonian, for all his hatred of these stinking Genoese shipmen, was sucked into the eddy. Everybody was talking at once, and in the general hubbub of question and answer there was nothing coherent to be made out. Piercingly distinct above all the noise came the voice of the little cabin-boy, who had been to shore with the boat’s crew. He was running round to everyone in turn repeating: “I hit one of them. You know. I hit one. With a stone on the forehead. Didn’t he bleed, ooh! didn’t he just!” And he would dance with uncontrollable excitement.

The captain held up his hand and shouted for silence. “One at a time, there,” he ordered, and when order had a little been restored, added grumblingly, “Like a pack of dogs on a bone. You talk, boatswain.”

“I hit one of them,” said the boy. Somebody cuffed him over the head, and he relapsed into silence.

When the boatswain’s story had rambled through labyrinths of digression, over countless obstacles of interruptions and emendations, to its conclusion, the Spaniard went back to join his companion under the awning. He had assumed again his habitual indifference.

“Nearly butchered,” he said languidly, in response to her eager questions. “They” — he jerked a hand in the direction of the town— “they were pelting an old fellow who had come there preaching the Faith. Left him dead on the beach. Our men had to run for it.”

She could get no more out of him; he turned over and pretended to go to sleep.

Towards evening they received a visit from the captain. He was a large, handsome man, with gold ear-rings glinting from among a bush of black hair.

“Divine Providence,” he remarked sententiously, after the usual courtesies had passed, “has called upon us to perform a very notable work.”

“Indeed?” said the young man.

“No less a work,” continued the captain, “than to save from the clutches of the infidels and heathen the precious remains of a holy martyr.”

The captain let fall his pompous manner. It was evident that he had carefully prepared these pious sentences, they rolled so roundly off his tongue. But he was eager now to get on with his story, and it was in a homelier style that he went on: “If you knew these seas as well as I — and it’s near twenty years now that I’ve been sailing them — you’d have some knowledge of this same holy man that — God rot their souls for it! — these cursed Arabs have done to death here. I’ve heard of him more than once in my time, and not always well spoken of; for, to tell the honest truth, he does more harm with his preachments to good Christian traders than ever he did good to black-hearted heathen dogs. Leave the bees alone, I say, and if you can get a little honey out of them quietly, so much the better; but he goes about among the beehives with a pole, stirring up trouble for himself and others too. Leave them alone to their damnation, is what I say, and get what you can from them this side of hell. But, still, he has died a holy martyr’s death. God rest his soul! A martyr is a wonderful thing, you know, and it’s not for the likes of us to understand what they mean by it all.

“They do say, too, that he could make gold. And, to my mind, it would have been a thing more pleasing to God and man if he had stopped at home minting money for poor folks and dealing it round, so that there’d be no need to work any more and break oneself for a morsel of bread. Yes, he was great at gold-making and at the books too. They tell me he was called the Illuminated Doctor. But I know him still as plain Lully. I used to hear of him from my father, plain Lully, and no better once than he should have been.

“My father was a shipwright in Minorca in those days — how long since? Fifty, sixty years perhaps. He knew him then; he has often told me the tale. And a raffish young dog he was. Drinking, drabbing, and dicing he outdid them all, and between the bouts wrote poems, they say, which was more than the rest could do. But he gave it all up on the sudden. Gave away his lands, quitted his former companions, and turned hermit up in the hills, living alone like a fox in his burrow, high up above the vines. And all because of a woman and his own qualmish stomach.”

The shipmaster paused and helped himself to a little wine. “And what did this woman do?” the girl asked curiously.

“Ah, it’s not what she did but what she didn’t do,” the captain answered, with a leer and wink. “She kept him at his distance — all but once, all but once; and that was what put him on the road to being a martyr. But there, I’m outrunning myself. I must go more soberly.

“There was a lady of some consequence in the island — one of the Castellos, I think she was; her first name has quite slipped my memory — Anastasia, or something of the kind. Lully conceives a passion for her, and sighs and importunes her through I know not how many months and years. But her virtue stands steady as the judgment seat. Well, in the end, what happens was this. The story leaked out after it was all over, and he was turned hermit in the mountains. What happened, I say, was this. She tells him at last that he may come and see her, fixing some solitary twilight place and time, her own room at nightfall. You can guess how he washes and curls and scents himself, shaves his chin, chews anises, musks over whatever of the goat may cling about the body. Off he goes, dreaming swoons and ecstasies, foretasting inconceivable sweets. Arrived, he finds the lady a little melancholy — her settled humour, but a man might expect a smile at such a time. Still, nothing abashed, he falls at her feet and pours out his piteous case, telling her he has sighed through seven years, not closed an eye for above a hundred nights, is forepined to a shadow, and, in a word, will perish unless she show some mercy. She, still melancholy her — settled humour, mark you — makes answer that she is ready to yield, and that her body is entirely his. With that, she lets herself be done with as he pleases, but always sorrowfully. ‘You are all mine,’ says he— ‘all mine’ — and unlaces her gorgeret to prove the same. But he was wrong. Another lover was already in her bosom, and his kisses had been passionate — oh, burning passionate, for he had kissed away half her left breast. From the nipple down it had all been gnawed away by a cancer.

“Bah, a man may see as bad as that any day in the street or at church-doors where beggars most congregate. I grant you that it is a nasty sight, worm-eaten flesh, but still — not enough, you will agree, to make yourself a hermit over. But there, I told you he had a queasiness of the stomach. But doubtless it was all in God’s plan to make a holy martyr of him. But for that same queasiness of his, he would still be living there, a superannuated rake; or else have died in very foul odour, instead of passing, all embalmed with sanctity, to Paradise Gate.

“I know not what happened to him between his hermit-hood and his quest for martyrdom. I saw him first a dozen years ago, down Tunis way. They were always clapping him into prison or pulling out his beard for preaching. This time, it seems, they have made a holy martyr of him, done the business thoroughly with no bungling. Well, may he pray for our souls at the throne of God. I go in secretly to-night to steal his body. It lies on the shore there beyond the jetty. It will be a notable work, I tell you, to bring back so precious a corpse to Christendom. A most notable work. . . .”

The captain rubbed his hands.

It was after midnight, but there was still a bustle of activity on board the galley. At any moment they were expecting the arrival of the boat with the corpse of the martyr. A couch, neatly draped in black, with at its head and foot candles burning two by two, had been set out on the poop for the reception of the body. The captain called the young Spaniard and his mistress to come and see the bier.

“That’s a good bit of work for you,” he said, with justifiable pride. “I defy anyone to make a more decent resting-place for a martyr than that is. It could hardly have been done better on shore, with every appliance at hand. But we sailors, you know, can make anything out of nothing. A truckle-bed, a strip of tarred canvas, and four tallow dips from the cabin lanterns — there you are, a bier for a king.”

He hurried away, and a little later the young man and the girl could hear him giving orders and cursing somewhere down below. The candles burned almost without a tremor in the windless air, and the reflections of the stars were long, thin tracks of fire along the utterly calm water.

“Were there but perfumed flowers and the sound of a lute,” said the young Spaniard, “the night would tremble into passion of its own accord. Love should come unsought on such a night as this, among these black waters and the stars that sleep so peacefully on their bosom.”

He put his arm round the girl and bent his head to kiss her. But she averted her face. He could feel a shudder run her through the body.

“Not to-night,” she whispered. “I think of the poor dead man. I would rather pray.”

“No, no,” he cried. “Forget him. Remember only that we are alive, and that we have but little time and none to waste.”

He drew her into the shadow under the bulwark, and, sitting down on a coil of rope, crushed her body to his own and began kissing her with fury. She lay, at first, limp in his arms, but gradually she kindled to his passion.

A plash of oars announced the approach of the boat. The captain hallooed into the darkness: “Did you find him?”

“Yes, we have him here,” came back the answer.

“Good. Bring him alongside and we’ll hoist him up. We have the bier in readiness. He shall lie in state to-night.”

“But he’s not dead,” shouted back the voice from the night.

“Not dead?” repeated the captain, thunderstruck. “But what about the bier, then?”

A thin, feeble voice came back. “Your work will not be wasted, my friend. It will be but a short time before I need your bier.”

The captain, a little abashed, answered in a gentler tone, “We thought, holy father, that the heathens had done their worst and that Almighty God had already given you the martyr’s crown.”

By this time the boat had emerged from the darkness. In the stern sheets an old man was lying, his white hair and beard stained with blood, his Dominican’s robe torn and fouled with dust. At the sight of him, the captain pulled off his cap and dropped upon his knees.

“Give us your blessing, holy father,” he begged.

The old man raised his hand and wished him peace.

They lifted him on board and, at his own desire, laid him upon the bier which had been prepared for his dead body. “It would be a waste of trouble,” he said, “to put me anywhere else, seeing I shall in any case be lying there so soon.”

So there he lay, very still under the four candles. One might have taken him for dead already, but that his eyes, when he opened them, shone so brightly.

He dismissed from the poop everyone except the young Spaniard. “We are countrymen,” he said, “and of noble blood, both of us. I would rather have you near me than anyone else.”

The sailors knelt for a blessing and disappeared; soon they could be heard weighing the anchor; it was safest to be off before day. Like mourners at either side of the lighted bier crouched the Spaniard and his mistress. The body of the old man, who was not yet dead, lay quiet under the candles. The martyr was silent for some time, but at last he opened his eyes and looked at the young man and the woman.

“I too,” he said, “was in love, once. In this year falls the jubilee of my last earthly passion; fifty years have run since last I longed after the flesh — fifty years since God opened my eyes to the hideousness of the corruption that man has brought upon himself.

“You are young, and your bodies are clean and straight, with no blotch or ulcer or leprous taint to mar their much-desired beauty; but because of your outward pride, your souls, it may be, fester inwardly the more.

“And yet God made all perfect; it is but accident and the evil of will that causes defaults. All metals should be gold, were it not that their elements willed evilly in their desire to combine. And so with men: the burning sulphur of passion, the salt of wisdom, the nimble mercurial soul should come together to make a golden being, incorruptible and rustless. But the elements mingle jarringly, not in a pure harmony of love, and gold is rare, while lead and iron and poisonous brass that leaves a taste as of remorse behind it are everywhere common.

“God opened my eyes to it before my youth had too utterly wasted itself to rottenness. It was half a hundred years ago, but I see her still, my Ambrosia, with her white, sad face and her naked body and that monstrous ill eating away at her breast.

“I have lived since then trying to amend the evil, trying to restore, as far as my poor powers would go, some measure of original perfection to the corrupted world. I have striven to give to all metals their true nature, to make true gold from the false, the unreal, the accidental metals, lead and copper and tin and iron. And I have essayed that more difficult alchemy, the transformation of men. I die now in my effort to purge away that most foul dross of misbelief from the souls of these heathen men. Have I achieved anything? I know not.”

The galley was moving now, its head turned seaward. The candles shivered in the wind of its speed, casting uncertain, changing shadows upon his face. There was a long silence on the poop. The oars creaked and splashed. Sometimes a shout would come up from below, orders given by the overseer of the slaves, a curse, the sound of a blow. The old man spoke again, more weakly now, as though to himself.

“I have had eighty years of it,” he said— “eighty years in the midst of this corroding sea of hatred and strife. A man has need to keep pure and unalloyed his core of gold, that little centre of perfection with which all, even in this declination of time, are born. All other metal, though it be as tough as steel, as shining-hard as brass, will melt before the devouring bitterness of life. Hatred, lust, anger — the vile passions will corrode your will of iron, the warlike pomp of your front of brass. It needs the golden perfection of pure love and pure knowledge to withstand them.

“God has willed that I should be the stone — weak, indeed, in virtue — that has touched and transformed at least a little of baser metal into the gold that is above corruption. But it is hard work — thankless work. Man has made a hell of his world, and has set up gods of pain to rule it. Goatish gods, that revel and feast on the agony of it all, poring over the tortured world, like those hateful lovers, whose lust burns darkly into cruelty.

“Fever goads us through life in a delirium of madness. Thirsting for the swamps of evil whence the fever came, thirsting for the mirages of his own delirium, man rushes headlong he knows not whither. And all the time a devouring cancer gnaws at his entrails. It will kill him in the end, when even the ghastly inspiration of fever will not be enough to whip him on. He will lie there, cumbering the earth, a heap of rottenness and pain, until at last the cleansing fire comes to sweep the horror away.

“Fever and cancer; acids that burn and corrode. . . . I have had eighty years of it. Thank God, it is the end.”

It was already dawn; the candles were hardly visible now in the light, faded to nothing, like souls in prosperity. In a little while the old man was asleep.

The captain tiptoed up on to the poop and drew the young Spaniard aside for a confidential talk.

“Do you think he will die to-day?” he asked.

The young man nodded.

“God rest his soul,” said the captain piously. “But do you think it would be best to take his body to Minorca or to Genoa? At Minorca they would give much to have their own patron martyr. At the same time it would add to the glory of Genoa to possess so holy a relic, though he is in no way connected with the place. It’s there is my difficulty. Suppose, you see, that my people of Genoa did not want the body, he being from Minorca and not one of them. I should look a fool then, bringing it in in state. Oh, it’s hard, it’s hard. There’s so much to think about. I am not sure but what I hadn’t better put in at Minorca first. What do you think?”

The Spaniard shrugged his shoulder. “I have no advice to offer.”

“Lord,” said the captain as he bustled away, “life is a tangled knot to unravel.”

Mortal Coils

CONTENTS

  • THE GIOCONDA SMILE

  • PERMUTATIONS AMONG THE NIGHTINGALES

  • THE TILLOTSON BANQUET

  • GREEN TUNNELS

  • NUNS AT LUNCHEON


The first edition

The Gioconda Smile

I

“MISS SPENCE WILL be down directly, sir.”

“Thank you,” said Mr. Hutton, without turning round. Janet Spence’s parlourmaid was so ugly — ugly on purpose, it always seemed to him, malignantly, criminally ugly — that he could not bear to look at her more than was necessary. The door closed. Left to himself, Mr. Hutton got up and began to wander round the room, looking with meditative eyes at the familiar objects it contained.

Photographs of Greek statuary, photographs of the Roman Forum, coloured prints of Italian masterpieces, all very safe and well known. Poor, dear Janet, what a prig — what an intellectual snob! Her real taste was illustrated in that water-colour by the pavement artist, the one she had paid half a crown for (and thirty-five shillings for the frame). How often his had heard her tell the story, how often expatiate on the beauties of that skilful imitation of an oleograph! “A real Artist in the streets,” and you could hear the capital A in Artist as she spoke the words. She made you feel that part of his glory had entered into Janet Spence when she tendered him that half-crown for the copy of the oleograph. She was implying a compliment to her own taste and penetration. A genuine Old Master for half a crown. Poor, dear Janet!

Mr. Hutton came to a pause in front of a small oblong mirror. Stooping a little to get a full view of his face, he passed a white, well-manicured finger over his moustache. It was as curly, as freshly auburn as it had been twenty years ago. His hair still retained its colour, and there was no sign of baldness yet — only a certain elevation of the brow. “Shakespearean,” thought Mr. Hutton, with a smile, as he surveyed the smooth and polished expanse of his forehead.

Others abide our question, thou art free.... Footsteps in the sea ... Majesty ... Shakespeare, thou shouldst be living at this hour. No, that was Milton, wasn’t it? Milton, the Lady of Christ’s. There was no lady about him. He was what the women, would call a manly man. That was why they liked him — for the curly auburn moustache and the discreet redolence of tobacco. Mr. Hutton smiled again; he enjoyed making fun of himself. Lady of Christ’s? No, no. He was the Christ of Ladies. Very pretty, very pretty. The Christ of Ladies. Mr. Hutton wished there were somebody he could tell the joke to. Poor, dear Janet wouldn’t appreciate it, alas?

He straightened himself up, patted his hair, and resumed his peregrination. Damn the Roman Forum; he hated those dreary photographs.

Suddenly he became aware that Janet Spence was in the room, standing near the door. Mr. Hutton started, as though he had been taken in some felonious act. To make these silent and spectral appearances was one of Janet Spence’s peculiar talents. Perhaps she had been there all the time, had seen him looking at himself in the mirror. Impossible! But, still, it was disquieting.

“Oh, you gave me such a surprise,” said Mr. Hutton, recovering his smile and advancing with outstretched hand to meet her.

Miss Spence was smiling too: her Gioconda smile, he had once called it, in a moment of half-ironical flattery. Miss Spence had taken the compliment seriously, and had always tried to live up to the Leonardo standard. She smiled on his silence while Mr. Hutton shook hands; that was part of the Gioconda business.

“I hope you’re well,” said Mr. Hutton. “You look it.”

What a queer face she had! That small mouth pursed forward by the Gioconda expression into a little snout with a round hole in the middle as though for whistling — it was like a penholder seen from the front. Above the mouth a well-shaped nose, finely aquiline. Eyes large, lustrous, and dark, with the largeness, lustre, and darkness that seems to invite sties and an occasional blood-shot suffusion. They were fine eyes, but unchangingly grave. The penholder might do its Gioconda trick, but the eyes never altered in their earnestness. Above them, a pair of boldly arched, heavily pencilled black eyebrows lent a surprising air of power, as of a Roman matron, to the upper portion of the face. Her hair was dark and equally Roman; Agrippina from the brows upward.

“I thought I’d just look in on my way home,” Mr. Hutton went on. “Ah, it’s good to be back here” — he indicated with a wave of his hand the flowers in the vases, the sunshine and greenery beyond the windows— “it’s good to be back in the country after a stuffy day of business in town.”

Miss Spence, who had sat down, pointed to a chair at her side.

“No, really, I cant sit down,” Mr. Hutton protested. “I must get back to see how poor Emily is. She was rather seedy this morning.” He sat down, nevertheless. “It’s these wretched liver chills. She’s always getting them. Women—” He broke off and coughed, so as to hide the fact that he had uttered. He was about to say that women with weak digestions ought not to marry; but the remark was too cruel, and he didn’t really believe it. Janet Spence, moreover, was a believer in eternal flames and spiritual attachments. “She hopes to be well enough,” he added, “to see you at luncheon to-morrow. Can you come? Do!” He smiled persuasively. “It’s my invitation too, you know.”

She dropped her eyes, and Mr. Hutton almost thought that he detected a certain reddening of the cheek. It was a tribute; he stroked his moustache.

“I should like to come if you think Emily’s really well enough to have a visitor.”

“Of course. You’ll do her good. You’ll do us both good. In married life three is often better company than two.”

“Oh, you’re cynical.”

Mr. Hutton always had a desire to say “Bow-wow-wow” whenever that last word was spoken. It irritated him more than any other word in the language. But instead of barking he made haste to protest.

“No, no. I’m only speaking a melancholy truth. Reality doesn’t always come up to the ideal, you know. But that doesn’t make me believe any the less in the ideal. Indeed, I believe in it passionately the ideal of a matrimony between two people in perfect accord. I think it’s realisable. I’m sure it is.”

He paused significantly and looked at her with an arch expression. A virgin of thirty-six, but still unwithered; she had her charms. And there was something really rather enigmatic about her. Miss Spence made no reply but continued to smile. There were times when Mr. Hutton got rather bored with the Gioconda. He stood up.

“I must really be going now. Farewell, mysterious Gioconda.” The smile grew intenser, focused itself, as it were, in a narrower snout. Mr. Hutton made a Cinquecento gesture, and kissed her extended hand. It was the first time he had done such a thing; the action seemed not to be resented. “I look forward to to-morrow.”

“Do you?”

For answer Mr. Hutton once more kissed her hand, then turned to go. Miss Spence accompanied him to the porch.

“Where’s your car?” she asked.

“I left it at the gate of the drive.”

“I’ll come and see you off.”

“No, no.” Mr. Hutton was playful, but determined. “You must do no such thing. I simply forbid you.”

“But I should like to come,” Miss Spence protested, throwing a rapid Gioconda at him.

Mr. Hutton held up his hand. “No,” he repeated, and then, with a gesture that was almost the blowing of a kiss, he started to run down the drive, lightly on his toes, with long, bounding strides like a boy’s. He was proud of that run; it was quite marvellously youthful. Still, he was glad the drive was no longer. At the last bend, before passing out of sight of the house, he halted and turned round. Miss Spence was still standing on the steps, smiling her smile. He waved his hand, and this time quite definitely and overtly wafted a kiss in her direction. Then, breaking once more into his magnificent canter, he rounded the last dark promontory of trees. Once out of sight of the house he let his high paces decline to a trot, and finally to a walk. He took out his handkerchief and began wiping his neck inside his collar. What fools, what fools! Had there ever been such an ass as poor, dear Janet Spence? Never, unless it was himself. Decidedly he was the more malignant fool, since he, at least, was aware of his folly and still persisted in it. Why did he persist? Ah, the problem that was himself, the problem that was other people.

He had reached the gate. A large, prosperous-looking motor was standing at the side of the road.

“Home, M’Nab.” The chauffeur touched his cap. “And stop at the cross-roads on the way, as usual,” Mr. Hutton added, as he opened the door of the car. “Well?” he said, speaking into the obscurity that lurked within.

“Oh, Teddy Bear, what an age you’ve been!” It was a fresh and childish voice that spoke the words. There was the faintest hint of Cockney impurity about the vowel sounds.

Mr. Hutton bent his large form and darted into the car with the agility of an animal regaining its burrow.

“Have I?” he said, as he shut the door. The machine began to move. “You must have missed me a lot if you found the time so long.” He sat back in the low seat; a cherishing warmth enveloped him.

“Teddy Bear....” and with a sigh of contentment a charming little head declined on to Mr. Hutton’s shoulder. Ravished, he looked down sideways at the round, babyish face.

“Do you know, Doris, you look like the pictures of Louise de Kerouaille.” He passed his fingers through a mass of curly hair.

“Who’s Louise de Kera-whatever-it-is?” Doris spoke from remote distances.

“She was, alas! Fuit. We shall all be ‘was’ one of these days. Meanwhile....”

Mr. Hutton covered the babyish face with kisses. The car rushed smoothly along. McNab’s back, through the front window was stonily impassive, the back of a statue.

“Your hands,” Doris whispered. “Oh, you mustn’t touch me. They give me electric shocks.”

Mr. Hutton adored her for the virgin imbecility of the words. How late in one’s existence one makes the discovery of one’s body!

“The electricity isn’t in me, it’s in you.” He kissed her again, whispering her name several times: Doris, Doris, Doris. The scientific appellation of the sea-mouse, he was thinking as he kissed the throat, she offered him, white and extended like the throat of a victim awaiting the sacrificial knife. The sea-mouse was a sausage with iridescent fur: very peculiar. Or was Doris the sea cucumber, which turns itself inside out in moments of alarm? He would really have to go to Naples again, just to see the aquarium. These sea creatures were fabulous, unbelievably fantastic.

“Oh, Teddy Bear!” (More zoology; but he was only a land animal. His poor little jokes!) “Teddy Bear, I’m so happy.”

“So am I,” said Mr. Hutton. Was it true?

“But I wish I knew if it were right. Tell me, Teddy Bear, is it right or wrong?”

“Ah, my dear, that’s just what I’ve been wondering for the last thirty years.”

“Be serious, Teddy Bear. I want to know if this is right; if it’s right that I should be here with you and that we should love one another, and that it should give me electric shocks when you touch me.”

“Right? Well, it’s certainly good that you should have electric shocks rather than sexual repressions. Read Freud; repressions are the devil.”

“Oh, you don’t help me. Why aren’t you ever serious? If only you knew how miserable I am sometimes, thinking it’s not right. Perhaps, you know, there is a hell, and all that. I don t know what to do. Sometimes I think I ought to stop loving you.”

“But could you?” asked Mr. Hutton, confident in the powers of his seduction and his moustache.

“No, Teddy Bear, you know I couldn’t. But I could run away, I could hide from you, I could lock myself up and force myself not to come to you.”

“Silly little thing!” He tightened his embrace.

“Oh, dear, I hope it isn’t wrong. And there are times when I don’t care if it is.”

Mr. Hutton was touched. He had a certain protective affection for this little creature. He laid his cheek against her hair and so, interlaced, they sat in silence, while the car, swaying and pitching a little as it hastened along, seemed to draw in the white road and the dusty hedges towards it devouringly.

“Good-bye, good-bye.”

The car moved on, gathered speed, vanished round a curve, and Doris was left standing by the sign-post at the cross-roads, still dizzy and weak with the languor born of those kisses and the electrical touch of those gentle hands. She had to take a deep breath, to draw herself up deliberately, before she was strong enough to start her homeward walk. She had half a mile in which to invent the necessary lies.

Alone, Mr. Hutton suddenly found himself the prey of an appalling boredom.

II

Mrs. Hutton was lying on the sofa in her boudoir, playing Patience. In spite of the warmth of the July evening a wood fire was burning on the hearth. A black Pomeranian, extenuated by the heat and the fatigues of digestion, slept before the blaze.

“Phew! Isn’t it rather hot in here?” Mr. Hutton asked as he entered the room.

“You know I have to keep warm, dear.” The voice seemed breaking on the verge of tears. “I get so shivery.”

“I hope you’re better this evening.”

“Not much, I’m afraid.”

The conversation stagnated. Mr. Hutton stood leaning his back against the mantelpiece. He looked down at the Pomeranian lying at his feet, and with the toe of his right boot he rolled the little dog over and rubbed its white-flecked chest and belly. The creature lay in an inert ecstasy. Mrs. Hutton continued to play Patience. Arrived at an impasse, she altered the position of one card, took back another, and went on playing. Her Patiences always came out.

“Dr. Libbard thinks I ought to go to Llandrindod Wells this summer.”

“Well — go, my dear — go, most certainly.”

Mr. Hutton was thinking of the events of the afternoon: how they had driven, Doris and he, up to the hanging wood, had left the car to wait for them under the shade of the trees, and walked together out into the windless sunshine of the chalk down.

“I’m to drink the waters for my liver, and he thinks I ought to have massage and electric treatment, too.”

Hat in hand, Doris had stalked four blue butterflies that were dancing together round a scabious flower with a motion that was like the flickering of blue fire. The blue fire burst and scattered into whirling sparks; she had given chase, laughing and shouting like a child.

“I’m sure it will do you good, my dear.”

“I was wondering if you’d come with me, dear.”

“But you know I’m going to Scotland at the end of the month.”

Mrs. Hutton looked up at him entreatingly. “It’s the journey,” she said. “The thought of it is such a nightmare. I don’t know if I can manage it. And you know I can’t sleep in hotels. And then there’s the luggage and all the worries. I can’t go alone.

“But you won’t be alone. You’ll have your maid with you.” He spoke impatiently. The sick woman was usurping the place of the healthy one. He was being dragged back from the memory of the sunlit down and the quick, laughing girl, back to this unhealthy, overheated room and its complaining occupant.

“I don’t think I shall be able to go.”

“But you must, my dear, if the doctor tells you to. And, besides, a change will do you good.”

“I don’t think so.”

“But Libbard thinks so, and he knows what he’s talking about.”

“No, I can’t face it. I’m too weak. I can’t go alone.” Mrs. Hutton pulled a handkerchief out of her black silk bag, and put it to her eyes.

“Nonsense, my dear, you must make the effort.”

“I had rather be left in peace to die here.” She was crying in earnest now.

“O Lord! Now do be reasonable. Listen now, please.” Mrs. Hutton only sobbed more violently. “Oh, what is one to do?” He shrugged his shoulders and walked out of the room.

Mr. Hutton was aware that he had not behaved with proper patience; but he could not help it. Very early in his manhood he had discovered that not only did he not feel sympathy for the poor, the weak, the diseased, and deformed; he actually hated them. Once, as an undergraduate, he spent three days at a mission in the East End. He had returned, filled with a profound and ineradicable disgust. Instead of pitying, he loathed the unfortunate. It was not, he knew, a very comely emotion; and he had been ashamed of it at first. In the end he had decided that it was temperamental, inevitable, and had felt no further qualms. Emily had been healthy and beautiful when he married her. He had loved her then. But now — was it his fault that she was like this?

Mr. Hutton dined alone. Food and drink left him more benevolent than he had been before dinner. To make amends for his show of exasperation he went up to his wife’s room and offered to read to her. She was touched, gratefully accepted the offer, and Mr. Hutton, who was particularly proud of his accent, suggested a little light reading in French.

“French? I am so fond of French.” Mrs. Hutton spoke of the language of Racine as though it were a dish of green peas.

Mr. Hutton ran down to the library and returned with a yellow volume. He began reading. The effort of pronouncing perfectly absorbed his whole attention. But how good his accent was! The fact of its goodness seemed to improve the quality of the novel he was reading.

At the end of fifteen pages an unmistakable sound aroused him. He looked up; Mrs. Hutton had gone to sleep. He sat still for a little while, looking with a dispassionate curiosity at the sleeping face. Once it had been beautiful; once, long ago, the sight of it, the recollection of it, had moved him with an emotion profounder, perhaps, than any he had felt before or since. Now it was lined and cadaverous. The skin was stretched tightly over the cheekbones, across the bridge of the sharp, bird-like nose. The closed eyes were set in profound bone-rimmed sockets. The lamplight striking on the face from the side emphasised with light and shade its cavities and projections. It was the face of a dead Christ by Morales.

Le squelette était invisible


Au temps heureux de l’art païen.

He shivered a little, and tiptoed out of the room.

On the following day Mrs. Hutton came down to luncheon. She had had some unpleasant palpitations during the night, but she was feeling better now. Besides, she wanted to do honour to her guest. Miss Spence listened to her complaints about Llandrindod Wells, and was loud in sympathy, lavish with advice. Whatever she said was always said with intensity. She leaned forward, aimed, so to speak, like a gun, and fired her words. Bang! the charge in her soul was ignited, the words whizzed forth at the narrow barrel of her mouth. She was a machine-gun riddling her hostess with sympathy. Mr. Hutton had undergone similar bombardments, mostly of a literary or philosophic character — bombardments of Maeterlinck, of Mrs. Besant, of Bergson, of William James. To-day the missiles were medical. She talked about insomnia, she expatiated on the virtues of harmless drugs and beneficent specialists. Under the bombardment Mrs. Hutton opened out, like a flower in the sun.

Mr. Hutton looked on in silence. The spectacle of Janet Spence evoked in him an unfailing curiosity. He was not romantic enough to imagine that every face masked an interior physiognomy of beauty or strangeness, that every woman’s small talk was like a vapour hanging over mysterious gulfs. His wife, for example, and Doris; they were nothing more than what they seemed to be. But with Janet Spence it was somehow different. Here one could be sure that there was some kind of a queer face behind the Gioconda smile and the Roman eyebrows. The only question was: What exactly was there? Mr. Hutton could never quite make out.

“But perhaps you won’t have to go to Llandrindod after all,” Miss Spence was saying. “If you get well quickly Dr. Libbard will let you off.”

“I only hope so. Indeed, I do really feel rather better to-day.”

Mr. Hutton felt ashamed. How much was it his own lack of sympathy that prevented her from feeling well every day? But he comforted himself by reflecting that it was only a case of feeling, not of being better. Sympathy does not mend a diseased liver or a weak heart.

“My dear, I wouldn’t eat those red currants if I were you,” he said, suddenly solicitous. “You know that Libbard has banned everything with skins and pips.”

“But I am so fond of them,” Mrs. Hutton protested, “and I feel so well to-day.”

“Don’t be a tyrant,” said Miss Spence, looking first at him and then at his wife. “Let the poor invalid have what she fancies; it will do her good.” She laid her hand on Mrs. Hutton’s arm and patted it affectionately two or three times.

“Thank you, my dear.” Mrs. Hutton helped herself to the stewed currants.

“Well, don’t blame me if they make you ill again.”

“Do I ever blame you, dear?”

“You have nothing to blame me for,” Mr. Hutton answered playfully. “I am the perfect husband.”

They sat in the garden after luncheon. From the island of shade under the old cypress tree they looked out across a flat expanse of lawn, in which the parterres of flowers shone with a metallic brilliance.

Mr. Hutton took a deep breath of the warm and fragrant air. “It’s good to be alive,” he said.

“Just to be alive,” his wife echoed, stretching one pale, knot-jointed hand into the sunlight.

A maid brought the coffee; the silver pots and the little blue cups were set on a folding table near the group of chairs.

“Oh, my medicine!” exclaimed Mrs. Hutton. “Run in and fetch it, Clara, will you? The white bottle on the sideboard.”

“I’ll go,” said Mr. Hutton. “I’ve got to go and fetch a cigar in any case.”

He ran in towards the house. On the threshold he turned round for an instant. The maid was walking back across the lawn. His wife was sitting up in her deck-chair, engaged in opening her white parasol. Miss Spence was bending over the table, pouring out the coffee. He passed into the cool obscurity of the house.

“Do you like sugar in your coffee?” Miss Spence inquired.

“Yes, please. Give me rather a lot. I’ll drink it after my medicine to take the taste away.”

Mrs. Hutton leaned back in her chair, lowering the sunshade over her eyes, so as to shut out from her vision the burning sky.

Behind her, Miss Spence was making a delicate clinking among the coffee-cups.

“I’ve given you three large spoonfuls. That ought to take the taste away. And here comes the medicine.”

Mr. Hutton had reappeared, carrying a wineglass, half full of a pale liquid.

“It smells delicious,” he said, as he handed it to his wife.

“That’s only the flavouring.” She drank it off at a gulp, shuddered, and made a grimace. “Ugh, it’s so nasty. Give me my coffee.”

Miss Spence gave her the cup; she sipped at it. “You’ve made it like syrup. But it’s very nice, after that atrocious medicine.”

At half-past three Mrs. Hutton complained that she did not feel as well as she had done, and went indoors to lie down. Her husband would have said something about the red currants, but checked himself; the triumph of an “I told you so” was too cheaply won. Instead, he was sympathetic, and gave her his arm to the house.

“A rest will do you good,” he said. “By the way, I shan’t be back till after dinner.”

“But why? Where are you going?”

“I promised to go to Johnson’s this evening. We have to discuss the war memorial, you know.”

“Oh, I wish you weren’t going.” Mrs. Hutton was almost in tears. “Can’t you stay? I don’t like being alone in the house.”

“But, my dear, I promised weeks ago.” It was a bother having to lie like this. “And now I must get back and look after Miss Spence.”

He kissed her on the forehead and went out again into the garden. Miss Spence received him aimed and intense.

“Your wife is dreadfully ill,” she fired off at him.

“I thought she cheered up so much when you came.”

“That was purely nervous, purely nervous. I was watching her closely. With a heart in that condition and her digestion wrecked — yes, wrecked — anything might happen.”

“Libbard doesn’t take so gloomy a view of poor Emily’s health.” Mr. Hutton held open the gate that led from the garden into the drive; Miss Spence’s car was standing by the front door.

“Libbard is only a country doctor. You ought to see a specialist.”

He could not refrain from laughing. “You have a macabre passion for specialists.”

Miss Spence held up her hand in protest. “I am serious. I think poor Emily is in a very bad state. Anything might happen at any moment.”

He handed her into the car and shut the door. The chauffeur started the engine and climbed into his place, ready to drive off.

“Shall I tell him to start?” He had no desire to continue the conversation.

Miss Spence leaned forward and shot a Gioconda in his direction. “Remember, I expect you to come and see me again soon.”

Mechanically he grinned, made a polite noise, and, as the car moved forward, waved his hand. He was happy to be alone.

A few minutes afterwards Mr. Hutton himself drove away. Doris was waiting at the cross-roads. They dined together twenty miles from home, at a roadside hotel. It was one of those bad, expensive meals which are only cooked in country hotels frequented by motorists. It revolted Mr. Hutton, but Doris enjoyed it. She always enjoyed things. Mr. Hutton ordered a not very good brand of champagne. He was wishing he had spent the evening in his library.

When they started homewards Doris was a little tipsy and extremely affectionate. It was very dark inside the car, but looking forward, past the motionless form of M’Nab, they could see a bright and narrow universe of forms and colours scooped out of the night by the electric head-lamps.

It was after eleven when Mr. Hutton reached home. Dr. Libbard met him in the hall. He was a small man with delicate hands and well-formed features that were almost feminine. His brown eyes were large and melancholy. He used to waste a great deal of time sitting at the bedside of his patients, looking sadness through those eyes and talking in a sad, low voice about nothing in particular. His person exhaled a pleasing odour, decidedly antiseptic but at the same time suave and discreetly delicious.

“Libbard?” said Mr. Hutton in surprise. “You here? Is my wife ill?”

“We tried to fetch you earlier,” the soft, melancholy voice replied. “It was thought you were at Mr. Johnson’s, but they had no news of you there.”

“No, I was detained. I had a breakdown,” Mr. Hutton answered irritably. It was tiresome to be caught out in a lie.

“Your wife wanted to see you urgently.”

“Well, I can go now.” Mr. Hutton moved towards the stairs.

Dr. Libbard laid a hand on his arm. “I am afraid it’s too late.”

“Too late?” He began fumbling with his watch; it wouldn’t come out of the pocket.

“Mrs. Hutton passed away half an hour ago.”

The voice remained even in its softness, the melancholy of the eyes did not deepen. Dr. Libbard spoke of death as he would speak of a local cricket match. All things were equally vain and equally deplorable.

Mr. Hutton found himself thinking of Janet Spence’s words. At any moment — at any moment. She had been extraordinarily right.

“What happened?” he asked. “What was the cause?”

Dr. Libbard explained. It was heart failure brought on by a violent attack of nausea, caused in its turn by the eating of something of an irritant nature. Red currants? Mr. Hutton suggested. Very likely. It had been too much for the heart. There was chronic valvular disease: something had collapsed under the strain. It was all over; she could not have suffered much.

III

“It’s a pity they should have chosen the day of the Eton and Harrow match for the funeral,” old General Grego was saying as he stood, his top hat in his hand, under the shadow of the lych gate, wiping his face with his handkerchief.

Mr. Hutton overheard the remark and with difficulty restrained a desire to inflict grievous bodily pain on the General. He would have liked to hit the old brute in the middle of his big red face. Monstrous great mulberry, spotted with meal! Was there no respect for the dead? Did nobody care? In theory he didn’t much care; let the dead bury their dead. But here, at the graveside, he had found himself actually sobbing. Poor Emily, they had been pretty happy once. Now she was lying at the bottom of a seven-foot hole. And here was Grego complaining that he couldn’t go to the Eton and Harrow match.

Mr. Hutton looked round at the groups of black figures that were drifting slowly out of the churchyard towards the fleet of cabs and motors assembled in the road outside. Against the brilliant background of the July grass and flowers and foliage, they had a horribly alien and unnatural appearance. It pleased him to think that all these people would soon be dead, too.

That evening Mr. Hutton sat up late in his library reading the life of Milton. There was no particular reason why he should have chosen Milton; it was the book that first came to hand, that was all. It was after midnight when he had finished. He got up from his armchair, unbolted the French windows, and stepped out on to the little paved terrace. The night was quiet and clear. Mr. Hutton looked at the stars and at the holes between them, dropped his eyes to the dim lawns and hueless flowers of the garden, and let them wander over the farther landscape, black and grey under the moon.

He began to think with a kind of confused violence. There were the stars, there was Milton. A man can be somehow the peer of stars and night. Greatness, nobility. But is there seriously a difference between the noble and the ignoble? Milton, the stars, death, and himself — himself. The soul, the body; the higher and the lower nature. Perhaps there was something in it, after all. Milton had a god on his side and righteousness. What had he? Nothing, nothing whatever. There were only Doris’s little breasts. What was the point of it all? Milton, the stars, death, and Emily in her grave, Doris and himself — always himself....

Oh, he was a futile and disgusting being. Everything convinced him of it. It was a solemn moment. He spoke aloud: “I will, I will.” The sound of his own voice in the darkness was appalling; it seemed to him that he had sworn that infernal oath which binds even the gods: “I will, I will.” There had been New Year’s days and solemn anniversaries in the past, when he had felt the same contritions and recorded similar resolutions. They had all thinned away, these resolutions, like smoke, into nothingness. But this was a greater moment and he had pronounced a more fearful oath. In the future it was to be different. Yes, he would live by reason, he would be industrious, he would curb his appetites, he would devote his life to some good purpose. It was resolved and it would be so.

In practice he saw himself spending his mornings in agricultural pursuits, riding round with the bailiff, seeing that his land was farmed in the best modern way — silos and artificial manures and continuous cropping, and all that. The remainder of the day should be devoted to serious study. There was that book he had been intending to write for so long — The Effect of Diseases on Civilisation.

Mr. Hutton went to bed humble and contrite, but with a sense that grace had entered into him. He slept for seven and a half hours, and woke to find the sun brilliantly shining. The emotions of the evening before had been transformed by a good night’s rest into his customary cheerfulness. It was not until a good many seconds after his return to conscious life that he remembered his resolution, his Stygian oath. Milton and death seemed somehow different in the sunlight. As for the stars, they were not there. But the resolutions were good; even in the daytime he could see that. He had his horse saddled after breakfast, and rode round the farm with the bailiff. After luncheon he read Thucydides on the plague at Athens. In the evening he made a few notes on malaria in Southern Italy. While he was undressing he remembered that there was a good anecdote in Skelton’s jest-book about the Sweating Sickness. He would have made a note of it if only he could have found a pencil.

On the sixth morning of his new life Mr. Hutton found among his correspondence an envelope addressed in that peculiarly vulgar handwriting which he knew to be Doris’s. He opened it, and began to read. She didn’t know what to say; words were so inadequate. His wife dying like that, and so suddenly — it was too terrible. Mr. Hutton sighed, but his interest revived somewhat as he read on:

“Death is so frightening, I never think of it when I can help it. But when something like this happens, or when I am feeling ill or depressed, then I can’t help remembering it is there so close, and I think about all the wicked things I have done and about you and me, and I wonder what will happen, and I am so frightened. I am so lonely, Teddy Bear, and so unhappy, and I don’t know what to do. I can’t get rid of the idea of dying, I am so wretched and helpless without you. I didn’t mean to write to you; I meant to wait till you were out of mourning and could come and see me again, but I was so lonely and miserable, Teddy Bear, I had to write. I couldn’t help it. Forgive me, I want you so much; I have nobody in the world but you. You are so good and gentle and understanding; there is nobody like you. I shall never forget how good and kind you have been to me, and you are so clever and know so much, I can t understand how you ever came to pay any attention to me, I am so dull and stupid, much less like me and love me, because you do love me a little, don’t you, Teddy Bear?”

Mr. Hutton was touched with shame and remorse. To be thanked like this, worshipped for having seduced the girl — it was too much. It had just been a piece of imbecile wantonness. Imbecile, idiotic: there was no other way to describe it. For, when all was said, he had derived very little pleasure from it. Taking all things together, he had probably been more bored than amused. Once upon a time he had believed himself to be a hedonist. But to be a hedonist implies a certain process of reasoning, a deliberate choice of known pleasures, a rejection of known pains. This had been done without reason, against it. For he knew beforehand — so well, so well — that there was no interest or pleasure to be derived from these wretched affairs. And yet each time the vague itch came upon him he succumbed, involving himself once more in the old stupidity. There had been Maggie, his wife’s maid, and Edith, the girl on the farm, and Mrs. Pringle, and the waitress in London, and others — there seemed to be dozens of them. It had all been so stale and boring. He knew it would be; he always knew. And yet, and yet.... Experience doesn’t teach.

Poor little Doris! He would write to her kindly, comfortingly, but he wouldn’t see her again. A servant came to tell him that his horse was saddled and waiting. He mounted and rode off. That morning the old bailiff was more irritating than usual.

Five days later Doris and Mr. Hutton ware sitting together on the pier at Southend; Doris, in white muslin with pink garnishings, radiated happiness; Mr. Hutton, legs outstretched and chair tilted, had pushed the panama back from his forehead, and was trying to feel like a tripper. That night, when Doris was asleep, breathing and warm by his side, he recaptured, in this moment of darkness and physical fatigue, the rather cosmic emotion which had possessed him that evening, not a fortnight ago, when he had made his great resolution. And so his solemn oath had already gone the way of so many other resolutions. Unreason had triumphed; at the first itch of desire he had given way. He was hopeless, hopeless.

For a long time he lay with closed eyes, ruminating his humiliation. The girl stirred in her sleep, Mr. Hutton turned over and looked in her direction. Enough faint light crept in between the half-drawn curtains to show her bare arm and shoulder, her neck, and the dark tangle of hair on the pillow. She was beautiful, desirable. Why did he lie there moaning over his sins? What did it matter? If he were hopeless, then so be it; he would make the best of his hopelessness. A glorious sense of irresponsibility suddenly filled him. He was free, magnificently free. In a kind of exaltation he drew the girl towards him. She woke, bewildered, almost frightened under his rough kisses.

The storm of his desire subsided into a kind of serene merriment. The whole atmosphere seemed to be quivering with enormous silent laughter.

“Could anyone love you as much as I do, Teddy Bear?” The question came faintly from distant worlds of love.

“I think I know somebody who does,” Mr. Hutton replied. The submarine laughter was swelling, rising, ready to break the surface of silence and resound.

“Who? Tell me. What do you mean?” The voice had come very close; charged with suspicion, anguish, indignation, it belonged to this immediate world.

“A — ah!”

“Who?”

“You’ll never guess.” Mr. Hutton kept up the joke until it began to grow tedious, and then pronounced the name “Janet Spence.”

Doris was incredulous. “Miss Spence of the Manor? That old woman?” It was too ridiculous. Mr. Hutton laughed too.

“But it’s quite true,” he said. “She adores me.” Oh, the vast joke. He would go and see her as soon as he returned — see and conquer. “I believe she wants to marry me,” he added.

“But you wouldn’t ... you don’t intend....”

The air was fairly crepitating with humour. Mr. Hutton laughed aloud. “I intend to marry you,” he said. It seemed to him the best joke he had ever made in his life.

When Mr. Hutton left Southend he was once more a married man. It was agreed that, for the time being, the fact should be kept secret. In the autumn they would go abroad together, and the world should be informed. Meanwhile he was to go back to his own house and Doris to hers.

The day after his return he walked over in the afternoon to see Miss Spence. She received him with the old Gioconda.

“I was expecting you to come.”

“I couldn’t keep away,” Mr. Hutton gallantly replied.

They sat in the summer-house. It was a pleasant place — a little old stucco temple bowered among dense bushes of evergreen. Miss Spence had left her mark on it by hanging up over the seat a blue-and-white Della Robbia plaque.

“I am thinking of going to Italy this autumn,” said Mr. Hutton. He felt like a ginger-beer bottle, ready to pop with bubbling humorous excitement.

“Italy....” Miss Spence closed her eyes ecstatically. “I feel drawn there too.”

“Why not let yourself be drawn?”

“I don’t know. One somehow hasn’t the energy and initiative to set out alone.”

“Alone....” Ah, sound of guitars and throaty singing. “Yes, travelling alone isn’t much fun.”

Miss Spence lay back in her chair without speaking. Her eyes were still closed. Mr. Hutton stroked his moustache. The silence prolonged itself for what seemed a very long time.

Pressed to stay to dinner, Mr. Hutton did not refuse. The fun had hardly started. The table was laid in the loggia. Through its arches they looked out on to the sloping garden, to the valley below and the farther hills. Light ebbed away; the heat and silence were oppressive. A huge cloud was mounting up the sky, and there were distant breathings of thunder. The thunder drew nearer, a wind began to blow, and the first drops of rain fell. The table was cleared. Miss Spence and Mr. Hutton sat on in the growing darkness.

Miss Spence broke a long silence by saying meditatively.

“I think everyone has a right to a certain amount of happiness, don’t you?”

“Most certainly.” But what was she leading up to? Nobody makes generalisations about life unless they mean to talk about themselves. Happiness: he looked back on his own life, and saw a cheerful, placid existence disturbed by no great griefs or discomforts or alarms. He had always had money and freedom; he had been able to do very much as he wanted. Yes, he supposed he had been happy — happier than most men. And now he was not merely happy; he had discovered in irresponsibility the secret of gaiety. He was about to say something about his happiness when Miss Spence went on speaking.

“People like you and me have a right to be happy some time in our lives.”

“Me?” said Mr. Hutton surprised.

“Poor Henry! Fate hasn’t treated either of us very well.”

“Oh, well, it might have treated me worse.”

“You re being cheerful. That’s brave of you. But don’t think I can’t see behind the mask.”

Miss Spence spoke louder and louder as the rain came down more and more heavily. Periodically the thunder cut across her utterances. She talked on, shouting against the noise.

“I have understood you so well and for so long.”

A flash revealed her, aimed and intent, leaning towards him. Her eyes were two profound and menacing gun-barrels. The darkness re-engulfed her.

“You were a lonely soul seeking a companion soul. I could sympathise with you in your solitude. Your marriage ...”

The thunder cut short the sentence. Miss Spence’s voice became audible once more with the words:

“... could offer no companionship to a man of your stamp. You needed a soul mate.”

A soul mate — he! a soul mate. It was incredibly fantastic. Georgette Leblanc, the ex-soul mate of Maurice Maeterlinck. He had seen that in the paper a few days ago. So it was thus that Janet Spence had painted him in her imagination — a soul-mater. And for Doris he was a picture of goodness and the cleverest man in the world. And actually, really, he was what? — Who knows?

“My heart went out to you. I could understand; I was lonely, too.” Miss Spence laid her hand on his knee. “You were so patient.” Another flash. She was still aimed, dangerously. “You never complained. But I could guess — I could guess.”

“How wonderful of you!” So he was an âme incomprise.

“Only a woman’s intuition....”

The thunder crashed and rumbled, died away, and only the sound of the ram was left. The thunder was his laughter, magnified, externalised. Flash and crash, there it was again, right on top of them.

“Don’t you feel that you have within you something that is akin to this storm?” He could imagine her leaning forward as she uttered the words. “Passion makes one the equal of the elements.”

What was his gambit now? Why, obviously, he should have said “Yes,” and ventured on some unequivocal gesture. But Mr. Hutton suddenly took fright. The ginger beer in him had gone flat. The woman was serious — terribly serious. He was appalled.

Passion? “No,” he desperately answered. “I am without passion.”

But his remark was either unheard or unheeded, for Miss Spence went on with a growing exaltation, speaking so rapidly, however, and in such a burningly intimate whisper that Mr. Hutton found it very difficult to distinguish what she was saying. She was telling him, as far as he could make out, the story of her life. The lightning was less frequent now, and there were long intervals of darkness. But at each flash he saw her still aiming towards him, still yearning forward with a terrifying intensity. Darkness, the rain, and then flash! her face was there, close at hand. A pale mask, greenish white; the large eyes, the narrow barrel of the mouth, the heavy eyebrows. Agrippina, or wasn’t it rather — yes, wasn’t it rather George Robey?

He began devising absurd plans for escaping. He might suddenly jump up, Pretending he had seen a burglar — Stop thief, stop thief! — and dash off into the night in pursuit. Or should he say that he felt faint, a heart attack? or that he had seen, a ghost — Emily’s ghost — in the garden? Absorbed in his childish plotting, he had ceased to pay any attention to Miss Spence’s words. The spasmodic clutching of her hand recalled his thoughts.

“I honoured you for that, Henry,” she was saying.

Honoured him for what?

“Marriage is a sacred tie, and your respect for it, even when the marriage was, as it was in your case, an unhappy one, made me respect you and admire you, and — shall I dare say the word?—”

Oh, the burglar, the ghost in the garden! But it was too late.

“... yes, love you, Henry, all the more. But we’re free now, Henry.”

Free? There was a movement in the dark, and she was kneeling on the floor by his chair.

“Oh, Henry, Henry, I have been unhappy too.”

Her arms embraced him, and by the shaking of her body he could feel that she was sobbing. She might have been a suppliant crying for mercy.

“You mustn’t, Janet,” he protested. Those tears were terrible, terrible. “Not now, not now! You must be calm; you must go to bed.” He patted her shoulder, then got up, disengaging himself from her embrace. He left her still crouching on the floor beside the chair on which he had been sitting.

Groping his way into the hall, and without waiting to look for his hat, he went out of the house, taking infinite pains to close the front door noiselessly behind him. The clouds had blown over, and the moon was shining from a clear sky. There were puddles all along the road, and a noise of running water rose from the gutters and ditches. Mr. Hutton splashed along, not caring if he got wet.

How heartrendingly she had sobbed! With the emotions of pity and remorse that the recollection evoked in him there was a certain resentment: why couldn’t she have played the game that he was playing the heartless, amusing game? Yes, but he had known all the time that she wouldn’t, she couldn’t play that game; he had known and persisted.

What had she said about passion and the elements? Something absurdly stale, but true, true. There she was, a cloud black bosomed and charged with thunder, and he, like some absurd little Benjamin Franklin, had sent up a kite into the heart of the menace. Now he was complaining that his toy had drawn the lightning.

She was probably still kneeling by that chair in the loggia, crying.

But why hadn’t he been able to keep up the game? Why had his irresponsibility deserted him, leaving him suddenly sober in a cold world? There were no answers to any of his questions. One idea burned steady and luminous in his mind — the idea of flight. He must get away at once.

IV

“What are you thinking about, Teddy Bear?”

“Nothing.”

There was a silence. Mr. Hutton remained motionless, his elbows on the parapet of the terrace, his chin in his hands, looking down over Florence. He had taken a villa on one of the hilltops to the south of the city. From a little raised terrace at the end of the garden one looked down a long fertile valley on to the town and beyond it to the bleak mass of Monte Morello and, eastward of it, to the peopled hill of Fiesole, dotted with white houses. Everything was clear and luminous in the September sunshine.

“Are you worried about anything?”

“No, thank you.”

“Tell me, Teddy Bear.”

“But, my dear, there’s nothing to tell.” Mr. Hutton turned round, smiled, and patted the girl’s hand. “I think you’d better go in and have your siesta. It’s too hot for you here.”

“Very well, Teddy Bear. Are you coming too?”

“When I’ve finished my cigar.”

“All right. But do hurry up and finish it, Teddy Bear.” Slowly, reluctantly, she descended the steps of the terrace and walked towards the house.

Mr. Hutton continued his contemplation of Florence. He had need to be alone. It was good sometimes to escape from Doris and the restless solicitude of her passion. He had never known the pains of loving hopelessly, but he was experiencing now the pains of being loved. These last weeks had been a period of growing discomfort. Doris was always with him, like an obsession, like a guilty conscience. Yes, it was good to be alone.

He pulled an envelope out of his pocket and opened it; not without reluctance. He hated letters; they always contained something unpleasant — nowadays, since his second marriage. This was from his sister. He began skimming through the insulting home-truths of which it was composed. The words “indecent haste,” “social suicide,” “scarcely cold in her grave,” “person of the lower classes,” all occurred. They were inevitable now in any communication from a well-meaning and right-thinking relative. Impatient, he was about to tear the stupid letter to pieces when his eye fell on a sentence at the bottom of the third page. His heart beat with uncomfortable violence as he read it. It was too monstrous! Janet Spence was going about telling everyone that he had poisoned his wife in order to marry Doris. What damnable malice! Ordinarily a man of the suavest temper, Mr. Hutton found himself trembling with rage. He took the childish satisfaction of calling names — he cursed the woman.

Then suddenly he saw the ridiculous side of the situation. The notion that he should have murdered anyone in order to marry Doris! If they only knew how miserably bored he was. Poor, dear Janet! She had tried to be malicious; she had only succeeded in being stupid.

A sound of footsteps aroused him; he looked round. In the garden below the little terrace the servant girl of the house was picking fruit. A Neapolitan, strayed somehow as far north as Florence, she was a specimen of the classical type — a little debased. Her profile might have been taken from a Sicilian coin of a bad period. Her features, carved floridly in the grand tradition, expressed an almost perfect stupidity. Her mouth was the most beautiful thing about her; the calligraphic hand of nature had richly curved it into an expression of mulish bad temper.... Under her hideous black clothes, Mr. Hutton divined a powerful body, firm and massive. He had looked at her before with a vague interest and curiosity. To-day the curiosity defined and focused itself into a desire. An idyll of Theocritus. Here was the woman; he, alas, was not precisely like a goatherd on the volcanic hills. He called to her.

“Armida!”

The smile with which she answered him was so provocative, attested so easy a virtue, that Mr. Hutton took fright. He was on the brink once more — on the brink. He must draw back, oh! quickly, quickly, before it was too late. The girl continued to look up at him.

“Ha chiamito?” she asked at last.

Stupidity or reason? Oh, there was no choice now. It was imbecility every time.

“Scendo” he called back to her. Twelve steps led from the garden to the terrace. Mr. Hutton counted them. Down, down, down, down.... He saw a vision of himself descending from one circle of the inferno to the next — from a darkness full of wind and hail to an abyss of stinking mud.

V

For a good many days the Hutton case had a place on the front page of every newspaper. There had been no more popular murder trial since George Smith had temporarily eclipsed the European War by drowning in a warm bath his seventh bride. The public imagination was stirred by this tale of a murder brought to light months after the date of the crime. Here, it was felt, was one of those incidents in human life, so notable because they are so rare, which do definitely justify the ways of God to man. A wicked man had been moved by an illicit passion to kill his wife. For months he had lived in sin and fancied security —— only to be dashed at last more horribly into the pit he had prepared for himself. Murder will out, and here was a case of it. The readers of the newspapers were in a position to follow every movement of the hand of God. There had been vague, but persistent, rumours in the neighbourhood; the police had taken action at last. Then came the exhumation order, the post-mortem examination, the inquest, the evidence of the experts, the verdict of the coroner’s jury, the trial, the condemnation. For once Providence had done its duty, obviously, grossly, didactically, as in a melodrama. The newspapers were right in making of the case the staple intellectual food of a whole season.

Mr. Hutton’s first emotion when he was summoned from Italy to give evidence at the inquest was one of indignation. It was a monstrous, a scandalous thing that the police should take such idle, malicious gossip seriously. When the inquest was over he would bring an action for malicious prosecution against the Chief Constable; he would sue the Spence woman for slander.

The inquest was opened; the astonishing evidence unrolled itself. The experts had examined the body, and had found traces of arsenic; they were of opinion that the late Mrs. Hutton had died of arsenic poisoning.

Arsenic poisoning.... Emily had died of arsenic poisoning? After that, Mr. Hutton learned with surprise that there was enough arsenicated insecticide in his green-houses to poison an army.

It was now, quite suddenly, that he saw it: there was a case against him. Fascinated, he watched it growing, growing, like some monstrous tropical plant. It was enveloping him, surrounding him; he was lost in a tangled forest.

When was the poison administered? The experts agreed that it must have been swallowed eight or nine hours before death. About lunch-time? Yes, about lunch-time. Clara, the parlour-maid, was called. Mrs. Hutton, she remembered, had asked her to go and fetch her medicine. Mr. Hutton had volunteered to go instead; he had gone alone. Miss Spence — ah, the memory of the storm, the white aimed face! the horror of it all! — Miss Spence confirmed Clara’s statement, and added that Mr. Hutton had come back with the medicine already poured out in a wineglass, not in the bottle.

Mr. Hutton’s indignation evaporated. He was dismayed, frightened. It was all too fantastic to be taken seriously, and yet this nightmare was a fact it was actually happening.

M’Nab had seen them kissing, often. He had taken them for a drive on the day of Mrs. Hutton’s death. He could see them reflected in the wind-screen, sometimes out of the tail of his eye.

The inquest was adjourned. That evening Doris went to bed with a headache. When he went to her room after dinner, Mr. Hutton found her crying.

“What’s the matter?” He sat down on the edge of her bed and began to stroke her hair. For a long time she did not answer, and he went on stroking her hair mechanically, almost unconsciously; sometimes, even he bent down and kissed her bare shoulder. He had his own affairs, however, to think about. What had happened? How was it that the stupid gossip had actually come true? Emily had died of arsenic poisoning. It was absurd, impossible. The order of things had been broken, and he was at the mercy of an irresponsibility. What had happened, what was going to happen? He was interrupted in the midst of his thoughts.

“It’s my fault — it’s my fault!” Doris suddenly sobbed out. “I shouldn’t have loved you; I oughtn’t to have let you love me. Why was I ever born?”

Mr. Hutton didn’t say anything but looked down in silence at the abject figure of misery lying on the bed.

“If they do anything to you I shall kill myself.”

She sat up, held him for a moment at arm’s length, and looked at him with a kind of violence, as though she were never to see him again.

“I love you, I love you, I love you.” She drew him, inert and passive, towards her, clasped him, pressed herself against him. “I didn’t know you loved me as much as that, Teddy Bear. But why did you do it — why did you do it?”

Mr. Hutton undid her clasping arms and got up. His face became very red. “You seem to take it for granted that I murdered my wife,” he said. “It’s really too grotesque. What do you all take me for? A cinema hero?” He had begun to lose his temper. All the exasperation, all the fear and bewilderment of the day, was transformed into a violent anger against her. “It’s all such damned stupidity. Haven’t you any conception of a civilised man’s mentality? Do I look the sort of man who’d go about slaughtering people? I suppose you imagined I was so insanely in love with you that I could commit any folly. When will you women understand that one isn’t insanely in love? All one asks for is a quiet life, which you won’t allow one to have. I don’t know what the devil ever induced me to marry you. It was all a damned stupid, practical joke. And now you go about saying I’m a murderer. I won’t stand it.”

Mr. Hutton stamped towards the door. He had said horrible things, he knew — odious things that he ought speedily to unsay. But he wouldn’t. He closed the door behind him.

“Teddy Bear!” He turned the handle; the latch clicked into place. Teddy Bear! The voice that came to him through the closed door was agonised. Should he go back? He ought to go back. He touched the handle, then withdrew his fingers and quickly walked away. When he was half-way down the stairs he halted. She might try to do something silly — throw herself out of the window or God knows what! He listened attentively; there was no sound. But he pictured her very clearly, tiptoeing across the room, lifting the sash as high as it would go, leaning out into the cold night air. It was raining a little. Under the window lay the paved terrace. How far below? Twenty-five or thirty feet? Once, when he was walking along Piccadilly, a dog had jumped out of a third-storey window of the Ritz. He had seen it fall; he had heard it strike the pavement. Should he go back? He was damned if he would; he hated her.

He sat for a long time in the library. What had happened? What was happening? He turned the question over and over in his mind and could find no answer. Suppose the nightmare dreamed itself out to its horrible conclusion. Death was waiting for him. His eyes filled with tears; he wanted so passionately to live. “Just to be alive.” Poor Emily had wished it too, he remembered: “Just to be alive.” There were still so many places in this astonishing world unvisited, so many queer delightful people still unknown, so many lovely women never so much as seen. The huge white oxen would still be dragging their wains along the Tuscan roads, the cypresses would still go up, straight as pillars, to the blue heaven; but he would not be there to see them. And the sweet southern wines — Tear of Christ and Blood of Judas — others would drink them, not he. Others would walk down the obscure and narrow lanes between the bookshelves in the London Library, sniffing the dusty perfume of good literature, peering at strange titles, discovering unknown names, exploring the fringes of vast domains of knowledge. He would be lying in a hole in the ground. And why, why? Confusedly he felt that some extraordinary kind of justice was being done. In the past he had been wanton and imbecile and irresponsible. Now Fate was playing as wantonly, as irresponsibly, with him. It was tit for tat, and God existed after all.

He felt that he would like to pray. Forty years ago he used to kneel by his bed every evening. The nightly formula of his childhood came to him almost unsought from some long unopened chamber of the memory. “God bless Father and Mother, Tom and Cissie and the Baby, Mademoiselle and Nurse, and everyone that I love, and make me a good boy. Amen.” They were all dead now all except Cissie.

His mind seemed to soften and dissolve; a great calm descended upon his spirit. He went upstairs to ask Doris’s forgiveness. He found her lying on the couch at the foot of the bed. On the floor beside her stood a blue bottle of liniment, marked “Not to be taken”; she seemed to have drunk about half of it.

“You didn’t love me,” was all she said when she opened her eyes to find him bending over her.

Dr. Libbard arrived in time to prevent any very serious consequences. “You mustn’t do this again,” he said while Mr. Hutton was out of the room.

“What’s to prevent me?” she asked defiantly.

Dr. Libbard looked at her with his large, sad eyes. “There’s nothing to prevent you,” he said. “Only yourself and your baby. Isn’t it rather bad luck on your baby, not allowing it to come into the world because you want to go out of it?”

Doris was silent for a time. “All right,” she whispered. “I won’t.”

Mr. Hutton sat by her bedside for the rest of the night. He felt himself now to be indeed a murderer. For a time he persuaded himself that he loved this pitiable child. Dozing in his chair, he woke up, stiff and cold, to find himself drained dry, as it were, of every emotion. He had become nothing but a tired and suffering carcase. At six o’clock he undressed and went to bed for a couple of hours’ sleep. In the course of the same afternoon the coroner’s jury brought in a verdict of “Wilful Murder,” and Mr. Hutton was committed for trial.

VI

Miss Spence was not at all well. She had found her public appearances in the witness-box very trying, and when it was all over she had something that was very nearly a breakdown. She slept badly, and suffered from nervous indigestion. Dr. Libbard used to call every other day. She talked to him a great deal — mostly about the Hutton case.... Her moral indignation was always on the boil. Wasn’t it appalling to think that one had had a murderer in one’s house. Wasn’t it extraordinary that one could have been for so long mistaken about the man’s character? (But she had had an inkling from the first.) And then the girl he had gone off with — so low class, so little better than a prostitute. The news that the second Mrs. Hutton was expecting a baby the posthumous child of a condemned and executed criminal — revolted her; the thing was shocking an obscenity. Dr. Libbard answered her gently and vaguely, and prescribed bromide.

One morning he interrupted her in the midst of her customary tirade. “By the way,” he said in his soft, melancholy voice, “I suppose it was really you who poisoned Mrs. Hutton.”

Miss Spence stared at him for two or three seconds with enormous eyes, and then quietly said, “Yes.” After that she started to cry.

“In the coffee, I suppose.”

She seemed to nod assent. Dr. Libbard took out his fountain-pen, and in his neat, meticulous calligraphy wrote out a prescription for a sleeping draught.

Permutations Among the Nightingales

A PLAY

IT IS NIGHT on the terrace outside the Hotel Cimarosa. Part of the garden façade of the hotel is seen at the back of the stage — a bare white wall, with three French windows giving on to balconies about ten feet from the ground, and below them, leading from the terrace to the lounge, a double door of glass, open now, through which a yellow radiance streams out into the night. On the paved terrace stand two or three green iron tables and chairs. To the left a mass of dark foliage, ilex and cypress, in the shadow of which more tables and chairs are set. At the back to the left a strip of sky is visible between the corner of the hotel and the dark trees, blue and starry, for it is a marvellous June evening. Behind the trees the ground slopes steeply down and down to an old city in the valley below, of whose invisible presence you are made aware by the sound of many bells wafted up from a score of slender towers in a sweet and melancholy discord that seems to mourn the passing of each successive hour. When the curtain rises the terrace is almost deserted; the hotel dinner is not yet over. A single guest, COUNT ALBERTO TIRETTA, is discovered, sitting in a position of histrionic despair at one of the little green tables. A waiter stands respectfully sympathetic at his side, ALBERTO is a little man with large lustrous eyes and a black moustache, about twenty-five years of age. He has the pathetic charm of an Italian street-boy with an organ — almost as pretty and sentimental as Murillo’s little beggars.

ALBERTO (making a florid gesture with his right hand and with his left covering his eyes). Whereupon, Waiter (he is reciting a tale of woes), she slammed the door in my face. (He brings down his gesticulating right hand with a crash on to the table.)

WAITER. In your face, Signore? Impossible!

ALBERTO. Impossible, but a fact. Some more brandy, please; I am a little weary. (The waiter uncorks the bottle he has been holding under his arm and fills Alberto’s glass.)

WAITER. That will be one lira twenty-five, Signore.

ALBERTO (throwing down a note). Keep the change.

WAITER (bowing). Thank you, Signore. But if I were the Signore I should beat her. (He holds up the Cognac bottle and by way of illustration slaps its black polished flanks.)

ALBERTO. Beat her? But I tell you I am in love with her.

WAITER. All the more reason, then, Signore. It will be not only a stern disciplinary duty, but a pleasure as well; oh, I assure you, Signore, a pleasure.

ALBERTO. Enough, enough. You sully the melancholy beauty of my thoughts. My feelings at this moment are of an unheard-of delicacy and purity. Respect them, I beg you. Some more brandy, please.

WAITER (pouring out the brandy). Delicacy, purity.... Ah, believe me, Signore ... That will be one lira twenty-five.

ALBERTO (throwing down another note with the same superbly aristocratic gesture). Keep the change.

WAITER. Thank you, Signore. But as I was saying, Signore, delicacy, purity.... You think I do not understand such sentiments. Alas, Signore, beneath the humblest shirt-front there beats a heart. And if the Signore’s sentiments are too much for him, I have a niece. Eighteen years old, and what eyes, what forms!

ALBERTO. Stop, stop. Respect my feelings, Waiter, as well as the ears of the young lady (he points towards the glass doors). Remember she is an American. (The Waiter, bows and goes into the hotel.)

SIDNEY DOLPHIN and MISS AMY TOOMIS

come out together on to the terrace. MISS AMY supports a well-shaped head on one of the most graceful necks that ever issued from Minneapolis. The eyes are dark, limpid, ingenuous; the mouth expresses sensibility. She is twenty-two and the heiress of those ill-gotten Toomis millions. SIDNEY DOLPHIN has a romantic aristocratic appearance. The tailoring of 1830 would suit him. Balzac would have described his face as plein de poésie. In effect he does happen to be a poet. His two volumes of verse, “Zeotrope and ‘Trembling Ears,” have been recognised by intelligent critics as remarkable. How far they are poetry nobody, least of all Dolphin himself, is certain. They may be merely the ingenious products of a very cultured and elaborate brain. Mere curiosities; who knows? His age is twenty-seven. They sit down at one of the little iron tables, ALBERTO they do not see; the shadow of the trees conceals him. For his part, he is too much absorbed in savouring his own despair to pay any attention to the newcomers. There is a long, uncomfortable silence. DOLPHIN assumes the Thinker’s mask — the bent brow, the frown, the finger to the forehead, AMY regards this romantic gargoyle with some astonishment. Pleased with her interest in him, DOLPHIN racks his brains to think of some way of exploiting this curiosity to his own advantage; but he is too shy to play any of the gambits which his ingenuity suggests. AMY makes a social effort and speaks, in chanting Middle Western tones. AMY. It’s been a wonderful day, hasn’t it?

DOLPHIN (starting, as though roused from profoundest thought). Yes, yes, it has.

AMY. You don’t often get it as fine as this in England, I guess.

DOLPHIN. Not often.

AMY. Nor do we over at home.

DOLPHIN. So I should suppose. (Silence. A spasm of anguish crosses DOLPHIN’S face; then he reassumes the old Thinker’s mask. AMY looks at him for a little longer, then, unable to suppress her growing curiosity, she says with a sudden burst of childish confidence:)

AMY. It must be wonderful to be able to think as hard as you do, Mr. Dolphin. Or are you sad about something?

DOLPHIN (looks up, smiles, and blushes; a spell has been broken). The finger at the temple, Miss Toomis, is not the barrel of a revolver.

AMY. That means you’re not specially sad about anything. Just thinking.

DOLPHIN. Just thinking.

AMY. What about?

DOLPHIN. Oh, just life, you know — life and letters.

AMY. Letters? Do you mean love letters.

DOLPHIN. No, no. Letters in the sense of literature; letters as opposed to life.

AMY. (disappointed). Oh, literature. They used to teach us literature at school. But I could never understand Emerson. What do you think about literature for?

DOLPHIN. It interests me, you know. I read it; I even try to write it.

AMY (very much excited). What, are you a writer, a poet, Mr. Dolphin?

DOLPHIN. Alas, it is only too true; I am.

AMY. But what do you write?

DOLPHIN. Verse and prose, Miss Toomis. Just verse and prose.

AMY (with enthusiasm). Isn’t that interesting. I’ve never met a poet before, you know.

DOLPHIN. Fortunate being. Why, before I left England I attended a luncheon of the Poetry Union at which no less than a hundred and eighty-nine poets were present. The sight of them made me decide to go to Italy.

AMY. Will you show me your books?

DOLPHIN. Certainly not, Miss Toomis. That would ruin our friendship. I am insufferable in my writings. In them I give vent to all the horrible thoughts and impulses which I am too timid to express or put into practice in real life. Take me as you find me here, a decent specimen of a man, shy but able to talk intelligently when the layers of ice are broken, aimless, ineffective, but on the whole quite a good sort.

AMY. But I know that man already, Mr. Dolphin. I want to know the poet. Tell me what the poet is like.

DOLPHIN. He is older, Miss Toomis, than the rocks on which he sits. He is villainous. He is ... but there, I really must stop. It was you who set me going, though. Did you do it on purpose.

AMY. Do what on purpose?

DOLPHIN. Make me talk about myself. If you want to get people to like you, you must always lead the conversation on to the subject of their characters. Nothing pleases them so much. They’ll talk with enthusiasm for hours and go away saying that you’re the most charming, cleverest person they’ve ever met. But of course you knew that already. You re Machiavellian.

AMY. Machiavellian? You’re the first person that’s ever said that. I always thought I was very simple and straight-forward. People say about me that.... Ah, now I’m talking about myself. That was unscrupulous of you. But you shouldn’t have told me about the trick if you wanted it to succeed.

DOLPHIN. Yes. It was silly of me. If I hadn’t, you’d have gone on talking about yourself and thought me the nicest man in the world.

AMY. I want to hear about your poetry. Are you writing any now?

DOLPHIN. I have composed the first line of a magnificent epic. But I can’t get any further.

AMY. How does it go?

DOLPHIN. Like this (he clears his throat). “Casbeen has been, and Moghreb is no more.” Ah, the transience of all sublunary things! But inspiration has stopped short there.

AMY. What exactly does it mean?

DOLPHIN. Ah, there you re asking too much, Miss Toomis. Waiter, some coffee for two.

WAITER (who is standing in the door of the lounge). Si, Signore. Will the lady and gentleman take it here, or in the gardens, perhaps?

DOLPHIN. A good suggestion. Why shouldn’t the lady and gentleman take it in the garden?

AMY. Why not?

DOLPHIN. By the fountain, then, Waiter. We can talk about ourselves there to the tune of falling waters.

AMY. And you shall recite your poetry, Mr. Dolphin. I just love poetry. Do you know Mrs. Wilcox’s Poems of Passion? (They go out to the left. A nightingale utters two or three phrases of song and from far down the bells of the city jangle the three-quarters and die slowly away into the silence out of which they rose and came together.)

(LUCREZIA GRATTAROL has come out of the hotel just in time to overhear Miss Toomis’s last remark, just in time to see her walk slowly away with a hand on SIDNEY DOLPHIN’s arm. LUCREZIA has a fine thoroughbred appearance, an aquiline nose, a finely curved sensual mouth, a superb white brow, a quivering nostril. She is the last of a family whose name is as illustrious in Venetian annals as that of Foscarini, Tiepolo, or Tron. She stamps a preposterously high-heeled foot and tosses her head.)

LUCREZIA. Passion! Passion, indeed. An American! (She starts to run after the retreating couple, when ALBERTO, who has been sitting with his head between his hands, looks up and catches sight of the newcomer.)

ALBERTO. Lucrezia!

LUCREZIA (starts, for in the shade beneath the trees she had not seen him). Oh! You gave me such a fright, Alberto. I’m in a hurry now. Later on, if you....

ALBERTO (in a desperate voice that breaks into a sob). Lucrezia! You must come and talk to me. You must.

LUCREZIA. But I tell you I can’t now, Alberto. Later on.

ALBERTO (the tears streaming down his cheeks). Now, now, now! You must come now. I am lost if you don’t.

LUCREZIA (looking indecisively first at ALBERTO and then along the path down which AMY and SIDNEY DOLPHIN have disappeared). But supposing I am lost if I do come?

ALBERTO. But you couldn’t be as much lost as I am. Ah, you don’t know what it is to suffer. Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt weiss wass ich leide. Oh, Lucrezia.... (He sobs unrestrainedly.)

LUCREZIA (goes over to where ALBERTO is sitting. She pats his shoulder and his bowed head of black curly hair). There, there, my little Bertino. Tell me what it is. You mustn’t cry. There, there.

ALBERTO (drying his eyes and rubbing his head, like a cat, avid of caresses, against her hand). How can I thank you enough, Lucrezia? You are like a mother to me.

LUCREZIA. I know. That’s just what’s so dangerous.

ALBERTO (lets his head fall upon her bosom). I come to you for comfort, like a tired child, Lucrezia.

LUCREZIA. Poor darling! (She strokes his hair, twines its thick black tendrils round her fingers, ALBERTO is abjectly pathetic.)

ALBERTO (with closed eyes and a seraphic smile). Ah, the suavity, the beauty of this maternal instinct!

LUCREZIA (with a sudden access of energy and passion). The disgustingness of it, you mean. (She pushes him from her. His head wobbles once, as though it were inanimate, before he straightens into life.) The maternal instinct. Ugh. It’s been the undoing of too many women. You men come with your sentimental babyishness and exploit it for your own lusts. Be a man, Bertino. Be a woman, I mean, if you can.

ALBERTO (looking up at her with eyes full of doglike, dumb reproach). Lucrezia! You, too? Is there nobody who cares for me? This is the unkindest cut of all. I may as well die. (He relapses into tears.)

LUCREZIA (who has started to go, turns back, irresolute). Now, don’t cry, Bertino. Can’t you behave like a reasonable being? (She makes as though to go again.)

ALBERTO (through his sobs). You too, Lucrezia! Oh, I can’t bear it, I can’t bear it.

LUCREZIA (turning back desperately). But what do you want me to do? Why should you expect me to hold your hand?

ALBERTO. I thought better of you, Lucrezia. Let me go. There is nothing left for me now but death. (He rises to his feet, takes a step or two, and then collapses into another chair, unable to move.)

LUCREZIA (torn between anger and remorse). Now do behave yourself sensibly, Bertino. There, there ... you mustn’t cry. I’m sorry if I’ve hurt you. (Looking towards the left along the path taken by AMY and DOLPHIN.) Oh, damnation! (She stamps her foot.) Here, Bertino, do pull yourself together. (She raises him up.) There, now you must stop crying. (But as soon as she lets go of him his head falls back on to the iron table with an unpleasant, meaty bump. That bump is too much for LUCREZIA. She bends over him, strokes his head, even kisses the lustrous curls.) Oh, forgive me, forgive me! I have been a beast. But, tell me first, what’s the matter, Bertino? What is it, my poor darling? Tell me.

ALBERTO. Nobody loves me.

LUCREZIA. But we’re all devoted to you, Bertino mio.

ALBERTO. She isn’t. To-day she shut the door in my face.

LUCREZIA. She? You mean the French-woman, the one you told me about? Louise, wasn’t she?

ALBERTO. Yes, the one with the golden hair.

LUCREZIA. And the white legs. I remember: you saw her bathing.

ALBERTO (lays his hand on his heart). Ah, don’t remind me of it. (His face twitches convulsively.)

LUCREZIA. And now she’s gone and shut the door in your face.

ALBERTO. In my face, Lucrezia.

LUCREZIA. Poor darling!

ALBERTO. For me there is nothing now but the outer darkness.

LUCREZIA. Is the door shut forever, then?

ALBERTO. Definitively, for ever.

LUCREZIA. But have you tried knocking? Perhaps, after all, it might be opened again, if only a crack.

ALBERTO. What, bruise my hands against the granite of her heart?

LUCREZIA. Don’t be too poetical, Bertino mio. Why not try again, in any case?

ALBERTO. You give me courage.

LUCREZIA. There’s no harm in trying, you know.

ALBERTO. Courage to live, to conquer. (He beats his breast.) I am a man again, thanks to you, Lucrezia, my inspirer, my Muse, my Egeria. How can I be sufficiently grateful. (He kisses her.) I am the child of your spirit. (He kisses her again.)

LUCREZIA. Enough, enough. I am not ambitious to be a mother, yet awhile. Quickly now, Bertino, I know you will succeed.

ALBERTO (cramming his hat down on his head and knocking with his walking-stick on the ground). Succeed or die, Lucrezia. (He goes out with a loud martial stamp.)

LUCREZIA (to the waiter who is passing across the stage with a coffee-pot and cups on a tray). Have you seen the Signorina Toomis, Giuseppe?

WAITER. The Signorina is down in the garden. So is the Signore Dolphin. By the fountain, Signorina. This is the Signore’s coffee.

LUCREZIA. Have you a mother, Giuseppe?

WAITER. Unfortunately, Signorina.

LUCREZIA. Unfortunately? Does she treat you badly, then?

WAITER. Like a dog, Signorina.

LUCREZIA. Ah, I should like to see your mother. I should like to ask her to give me some hints on how to bring up children.

WAITER. But surely, Signorina, you are not expecting, you — ah....

LUCREZIA. Only figuratively, Giuseppe. My children are spiritual children.

WAITER. Precisely, precisely. My mother, alas! is not a spiritual relation. Nor is my fiançée.

LUCREZIA. I didn’t know you were engaged.

WAITER. To an angel of perdition. Believe me, Signorina, I go to my destruction in that woman — go with open eyes. There is no escape. She is what is called in the Holy Bible (crosses himself) a Fisher of Men.

LUCREZIA. You have remarkable connections, Giuseppe.

WAITER. I am honoured by your words, Signorina. But the coffee becomes cold. (He hurries out to the left.)

LUCREZIA. In the garden! By the fountain! And there’s the nightingale beginning to sing in earnest! Good heavens! what may not already have happened? (She runs out after the waiter.)

(Two persons emerge from the hotel, the VICOMTE DE BARBAZANGE and the BARONESS KOCH DE WORMS. PAUL DE BARBAZANGE is a young man — twenty-six perhaps of exquisite grace. Five foot ten, well built, dark hair, sleek as marble, the most refined aristocratic features, and a monocle, SIMONE DE WORMS is forty, a ripe Semitic beauty. Five years more and the bursting point of overripeness will have been reached. But now, thanks to massage, powerful corsets, skin foods, and powder, she is still a beauty — a beauty of the type Italians admire, cushioned, steatopygous. PAUL, who has a faultless taste in bric-à-brac and women, and is by instinct and upbringing an ardent anti-Semite, finds her infinitely repulsive. The Baronne enters with a loud shrill giggle. She gives PAUL a slap with her green feather fan.)

SIMONE. Oh, you naughty boy! Quelle histoire. Mon Dieu! How dare you tell me such a story!

PAUL. For you, Baronne, I would risk anything even your displeasure.

SIMONE. Charming boy. But stories of that kind.... And you look so innocent, too! Do you know any more like it?

PAUL (suddenly grave). Not of that description. But I will tell you a story of another kind, a true story, a tragic story.

SIMONE. Did I ever tell you how I saw a woman run over by a train? Cut to pieces, literally, to pieces. So disagreeable. I’ll tell you later. But now, what about your story?

PAUL. Oh, it’s nothing, nothing.

SIMONE. But you promised to tell it me.

PAUL. It’s only a commonplace anecdote. A young man, poor but noble, with a name and a position to keep up. A few youthful follies, a mountain of debts, and no way out except the revolver. This is all dull and obvious enough. But now follows the interesting part of the story. He is about to take that way out, when he meets the woman of his dreams, the goddess, the angel, the ideal. He loves, and he must die without a word. (He turns his face away from the Baronne, as though his emotion were too much for him, which indeed it is.)

SIMONE. Vicomte — Paul — this young man is you?

PAUL (solemnly). He is.

SIMONE. And the woman?

PAUL. Oh, I can’t, I mayn’t tell you.

SIMONE. The woman! Tell me, Paul.

PAUL (turning towards her and falling on his knees). The woman, Simone, is you. Ah, but I had no right to say it.

SIMONE (quivering with emotion). My Paul. (She clasps his head to her bosom. A grimace of disgust contorts Paul’s classical features. He endures Simone’s caresses with a stoical patience.) But what is this about a revolver? That is only a joke, Paul, isn’t it? Say it isn’t true.

PAUL. Alas, Simone, too true. (He taps his coat pocket.) There it lies. To-morrow I have a hundred and seventy thousand francs to pay, or be dishonoured. I cannot pay the sum. A Barbazange does not survive dishonour. My ancestors were Crusaders, preux chevaliers to a man. Their code is mine. Dishonour for me is worse than death.

SIMONE. Mon Dieu, Paul, how noble you are! (She lays her hands on his shoulder, leans back, and surveys him at arm’s length, a look of pride and anxious happiness on her face.)

PAUL (dropping his eyes modestly). Not at all. I was born noble, and noblesse oblige, as we say in our family. Farewell, Simone, I love you — and I must die. My last thought will be of you. (He kisses her hand, rises to his feet, and makes as though to go.)

SIMONE (clutching him by the arm). No, Paul, no. You must not, shall not, do anything rash. A hundred and seventy thousand francs, did you say? It is paltry. Is there no one who could lend or give you the money?

PAUL. Not a soul. Farewell, Simone.

SIMONE. Stay, Paul. I hardly dare to ask it of you — you with such lofty ideas of honour — but would you ... from me?

PAUL. Take money from a woman? Ah, Simone, tempt me no more. I might do an ignoble act.

SIMONE. But from me, Paul, from me. I am not in your eyes a woman like any other woman, am I?

PAUL. It is true that my ancestors, the Crusaders, the preux chevaliers, might in all honour receive gifts from the ladies of their choice — chargers, swords, armour, or tenderer mementoes, such as gloves or garters. But money — no; who ever heard of their taking money?

SIMONE. But what would be the use of my giving you swords and horses? You could never use them. Consider, my knight, my noble Sir Paul, in these days the contests of chivalry have assumed a different form; the weapons and the armour have changed. Your sword must be of gold and paper; your breastplate of hard cash; your charger of gilt-edged securities. I offer you the shining panoply of the modern crusader. Will you accept it?

PAUL. You are eloquent, Simone. You could win over the devil himself with that angelic voice of yours. But it cannot be. Money is always money. The code is clear. I cannot accept your offer. Here is the way out. (He takes an automatic pistol out of his pocket.) Thank you, Simone, and good-bye. How wonderful is the love of a pure woman.

SIMONE. Paul, Paul, give that to me! (She snatches the pistol from his hand.) If anything were to happen to you, Paul, I should kill myself with this. You must live, you must consent to accept the money. You mustn’t let your honour make a martyr of you.

PAUL (brushing a tear from his eyes). No, I can’t.... Give me that pistol, I beg you.

SIMONE. For my sake, Paul.

PAUL. Oh, you make it impossible for me to act as the voices of dead ancestors tell me I should.... For your sake, then, Simone, I consent to live. For your sake I dare to accept the gift you offer.

SIMONE (kissing his hand in an outburst of gratitude). Thank you, thank you, Paul. How happy I am!

PAUL. I, too, light of my life.

SIMONE. My month’s allowance arrived to-day. I have the cheque here. (She takes it out of her corsage.) Two hundred thousand francs. It’s signed already. You can get it cashed as soon as the hanks open to-morrow.

PAUL (moved by an outburst of genuine emotion kisses indiscriminately the cheque, the Baronne, his own hands). My angel, you have saved me. How can I thank you? How can I love you enough? Ah, mon petit bouton de rose.

SIMONE. Oh, naughty, naughty! Not now, my Paul; you must wait till some other time.

PAUL. I burn with impatience.

SIMONE. Quelle fougue! Listen, then. In an hour’s time, Paul chéri, in my boudoir; I shall be alone.

PAUL. An hour? It is an eternity.

SIMONE (playfully). An hour. I won’t relent. Till then, my Paul. (She blows a kiss and runs out: the scenery trembles at her passage.)

(PAUL looks at the cheque, then pulls out a large silk handkerchief and wipes his neck inside his collar.) (DOLPHIN drifts in from the left. He is smoking a cigarette, but he does not seem to be enjoying it.)

PAUL. Alone?

DOLPHIN. Alas!

PAUL. Brooding on the universe as usual? I envy you your philosophic detachment. Personally, I find that the world is very much too much with us, and the devil too; (he looks at the cheque in his hand) and above all the flesh. My god, the flesh.... (He wipes his neck again.)

DOLPHIN. My philosophic detachment? But it’s only a mask to hide the ineffectual longings I have to achieve contact with the world.

PAUL. But surely nothing is easier. One just makes a movement and impinges on one’s fellow-beings.

DOLPHIN. Not with a temperament like mine. Imagine a shyness more powerful than curiosity or desire, a paralysis of all the faculties. You are a man of the world. You were born with a forehead of brass to affront every social emergency. Ah, if you knew what a torture it is to find yourself in the presence of someone a woman, perhaps — someone in whom you take an interest that is not merely philosophic; to find oneself in the presence of such a person and to be incapable, yes, physically incapable, of saying a word to express your interest in her or your desire to possess her intimacy. Ah, I notice I have slipped into the feminine. Inevitably, for of course the person is always a she.

PAUL. Of course, of course. That goes without saying. But what’s the trouble? Women are so simple to deal with.

DOLPHIN. I know. Perfectly simply if one’s in the right state of mind. I have found that out myself, for moments come alas, how rarely! — when I am filled with a spirit of confidence, possessed by some angel or devil of power. Ah, then I feel myself to be superb. I carry all before me. In those brief moments the whole secret of the world is revealed to me. I perceive that the supreme quality in the human soul is effrontery. Genius in the man of action is simply the apotheosis of charlatanism. Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Mr. Gladstone, Lloyd George — what are they? Just ordinary human beings projected through the magic lantern of a prodigious effrontery and so magnified to a thousand times larger than life. Look at me. I am far more intelligent than any of these fabulous figures; my sensibility is more refined than theirs, I am morally superior to any of them. And yet, by my lack of charlatanism, I am made less than nothing. My qualities are projected through the wrong end of a telescope and the world perceives me far smaller than I really am. But the world — who cares about the world? The only people who matter are the women.

PAUL. Very true, my dear Dolphin. The women.... (He looks at the cheque and mops himself once more with his mauve silk handkerchief.)

DOLPHIN. To-night was one of my moments of triumph. I felt myself suddenly free of all my inhibitions.

PAUL. I hope you profited by the auspicious occasion.

DOLPHIN. I did. I was making headway. I had — but I don’t know why I should bore you with my confidences. Curious that one should be dumb before intimates and open one’s mind to an all but stranger. I must apologise.

PAUL. But I am all attention and sympathy, my dear Dolphin. And I take it a little hardly that you should regard me as a stranger. (He lays a hand on Dolphin’s shoulder.)

DOLPHIN. Thank you, Barbazange, thank you. Well, if you consent to be the receptacle of my woes, I shall go on pouring them out.... Miss Toomis.... But tell me frankly what you think of her.

PAUL. Well....

DOLPHIN. A little too ingenuous, a little silly even, eh?

PAUL. Now you say so, she certainly isn’t very intellectually stimulating.

DOLPHIN. Precisely. But ... oh, those china-blue eyes, that ingenuousness, that pathetic and enchanting silliness! She touches lost chords in one’s heart. I love the Chromatic Fantasia of Bach, I am transported by Beethoven’s hundred-and-eleventh Sonata; but the fact doesn’t prevent my being moved to tears by the last luscious waltz played by the hotel orchestra. In the best constructed brains there are always spongy surfaces that are sensitive to picture postcards and Little Nelly and the End of a Perfect Day. Miss Toomis has found out my Achilles’s heel. She is boring, ridiculous, absurd to a degree, but oh! how moving, how adorable.

PAUL. You’re done for, my poor Dolphin, sunk — spurlos.

DOLPHIN. And I was getting on so well, was revelling in my new-found confidence, and, knowing its transience, was exploiting it for all I was worth. I had covered an enormous amount of ground and then, hey presto! at a blow all my labour was undone. Actuated by what malice I don’t know, la Lucrezia swoops down like a vulture, and without a by-your-leave or excuse of any kind carries off Miss Toomis from under my very eyes. What a woman! She terrifies me. I am always running away from her.

PAUL. Which means, I suppose, that she is always pursuing you.

DOLPHIN. She has ruined my evening and, it may me, all my chances of success. My precious hour of self-confidence will be wasted (though I hope you’ll not take offence at the word) — wasted on you.

PAUL. It will return.

DOLPHIN. But when — but when? Till it does I shall be impotent and in agony.

PAUL. I know the agony of waiting. I myself was engaged to a Rumanian princess in 1916. But owing to the sad collapse in the Rumanian rate of exchange I have had to postpone our union indefinitely. It is painful, but, believe me, it can be borne. (He looks at the cheque and then at his watch.) There are other things which are much worse. Believe me, Dolphin, it can be borne.

DOLPHIN. I suppose it can. For, when all is said, there are damned few of us who really take things much to heart. Julie de Lespinasses are happily not common. I am even subnormal. At twenty I believed myself passionate: one does at that age. But now, when I come to consider myself candidly, I find that I am really one of those who never deeply felt nor strongly willed. Everything is profoundly indifferent to me. I sometimes try to depress myself with the thought that the world is a cess-pool, that men are pathetic degenerates from the ape whose laboriously manufactured ideals are pure nonsense and find no rhyme in reality, that the whole of life is a bad joke which takes a long time coming to an end. But it really doesn’t upset me. I don’t care a curse. It’s deplorable; one ought to care. The best people do care. Still, I must say I should like to get possession of Miss Toomis. Confound that Grattarol woman. What on earth did she want to rush me like that for, do you suppose?

PAUL. I expect we shall find out now. (PAUL jerks his head towards the left. LUCREZIA and AMY are seen entering from the garden, LUCREZIA holds her companion’s arm and marches with a firm step towards the two men. AMY suffers herself to be drugged along.)

LUCREZIA. Vicomte, Miss Toomis wants you to tell her all about Correggio.

AMY (rather scared). Oh, really — I....

LUCREZIA. And (sternly) — and Michelangelo. She is so much interested in art.

AMY. But please — don’t trouble....

PAUL (bowing gracefully). I shall be delighted. And in return I hope Miss Toomis will tell me all about Longfellow.

AMY (brightening). Oh yes, don’t you just love Evangeline?

PAUL. I do; and with your help, Miss Toomis, I hope I shall learn to love her better.

LUCREZIA (to DOLPHIN, who has been looking from AMY to the VICOMTE and back again at AMY with eyes that betray a certain disquietude). You really must come and look at the moon rising over the hills, Mr. Dolphin. One sees it best from the lower terrace. Shall we go?

DOLPHIN (starts and shrinks). But it’s rather cold, isn’t it? I mean — I think I ought to go and write a letter.

LUCREZIA. Oh, you can do that to-morrow.

DOLPHIN. But really.

LUCREZIA. You’ve no idea how lovely the moon looks.

DOLPHIN. But I must....

LUCREZIA (lays her hand on his sleeve and tows hint after her, crying as she goes). The moon, the moon.... (PAUL and AMY regard their exit in silence.)

PAUL. He doesn’t look as though he much wanted to go and see the moon.

AMY. Perhaps he guesses what’s in store for him.

PAUL (surprised). What, you don’t mean to say you realised all the time?

AMY. Realised what?

PAUL. About la belle Lucrezia.

AMY. I don’t know what you mean. All I know is that she means to give Mr. Dolphin a good talking to. He’s so mercenary. It made me quite indignant when she told me about him. Such a schemer, too. You know in America we have very definite ideas about honour.

PAUL. Here too, Miss Toomis.

AMY. Not Mr. Dolphin. Oh dear, it made me so sad; more sad than angry. I can never be grateful enough to Signorina Grattarol.

PAUL. But I’m still at a loss to know exactly what you’re talking about.

AMY. And I am quite bewildered myself. Would you have believed it of him? I thought him such a nice man.

PAUL. What has he done?

AMY. It’s all for my money, Miss Grattarol told me. She knows. He was just asking me to marry him, and I believe I would have said Yes. But she came in just in the nick of time. It seems he only wanted to marry me because I’m so rich. He doesn’t care for me at all. Miss Grattarol knows what he’s like. It’s awful, isn’t it? Oh dear, I wouldn’t have thought it of him.

PAUL. But you must forgive him, Miss Toomis. Money is a great temptation. Perhaps if you gave him another chance....

AMY. Impossible.

PAUL. Poor Dolphin! He’s such a nice young fellow.

AMY. I thought so too. But he’s false.

PAUL. Don’t be too hard on him. Money probably means too much to him. It’s the fault of his upbringing. No one who has not lived among the traditions of our ancient aristocracy can be expected to have that contempt, almost that hatred of wealth, which is the sign of true nobility. If he had been brought up, as I was, in an old machicolated castle on the Loire, surrounded by ancestral ghosts, imbued with the spirit of the Crusaders and preux chevaliers who had inhabited the place in the past, if he had learnt to know what noblesse oblige really means, believe me, Miss Toomis, he could never have done such a thing.

AMY. I should just think he couldn’t, Monsieur de Barbazange.

PAUL. You have no idea, Miss Toomis, how difficult it is for a man of truly noble feelings to get over the fact of your great wealth. When I heard that you were the possessor of a hundred million dollars....

AMY. Oh, I’m afraid it’s more than that. It’s two hundred million.

PAUL. ... of two hundred million dollars, then ... it only makes it worse; I was very melancholy, Miss Toomis. For those two hundred million dollars were a barrier, which a descendant of Crusaders and preux chevaliers could not overleap. Honour, Miss Toomis, honour forbade. Ah, if only that accursed money had not stood in the way.... When I first saw you oh, how I was moved by that vision of beauty and innocence — I wanted nothing better than to stand gazing on you for ever. But then I heard about those millions. Dolphin was lucky to have felt no restraints. But enough, enough. (He checks a rising tide of emotion.) Give poor Dolphin another chance, Miss Toomis. At bottom he is a good fellow, and he may learn in time to esteem you for your own sake and to forget the dazzling millions.

AMY. Never. I can only marry a man who is entirely disinterested.

PAUL. But, can’t you see, no disinterested man could ever bring himself to ask you? How could he prove his disinterestedness? No one would believe the purity of his intentions.

AMY (much moved). It is for me to judge. I know a disinterested man when I see him. Even in America we can understand honour.

PAUL (with a sob in his voice). Good-bye Miss Toomis.

AMY. But no, I don’t want it to be good-bye.

PAUL. It must be. Never shall it be said of a Barbazange that he hunted a woman for her money.

AMY. But what does it matter what the world says, if I say the opposite?

PAUL. You say the opposite? Thank you, thank you. But no, good-bye.

AMY. Stop. Oh! you’re forcing me to do a most unwomanly thing. You’re making me ask you to marry me. You’re the only disinterested man I’ve ever met or, to judge from what I’ve seen of the world, I’m ever likely to meet. Haven’t you kept away from me in spite of your feelings? Haven’t you even tried to make me listen to another man — a man not worthy to black your boots? Oh, it’s so wonderful, so noble! It’s like something in a picture play. Paul, I offer myself to you. Will you take me in spite of my millions?

PAUL (falling on his knees and kissing the hem of AMY’S skirt). My angel, you’re right; what does it matter what the world says as long as you believe in me? Amy, amie, bien-aimée.... Ah, it’s too good too, too good to be true! (He rises to his feet and embraces her with an unfeigned enthusiasm.)

AMY. Paul, Paul.... And so this is love. Isn’t it wonderful?

PAUL (looking round anxiously). You mustn’t tell anyone about our engagement, my Amy. They might say unpleasant things in the hotel, you know.

AMY. Of course I won’t talk about it. We’ll keep our happiness to ourselves, won’t we?

PAUL. Entirely to ourselves; and to-morrow we’ll go to Paris and arrange about being married.

AMY. Yes, yes; we’ll take the eight o’clock train.

PAUL. Not the eight o clock, my darling. I have to go to the bank to-morrow to do a little business. We must wait till the twelve thirty.

AMY. Very well, then. The twelve-thirty. Oh, how happy I am!

PAUL. So am I, my sweetheart. More than I can tell you. (The sound of a window being opened is heard. They look up and see the BARONESS dressed in a peignoir of the tenderest blue, emerging on to the right hand of the three balconies.)

AMY. Oh, my soul! I think I’d better go in. Good-night, my Paul. (She runs in.)

SIMONE. Has that horrid little American girl gone? (She peers down, then, reassured, she blows a kiss to PAUL.) My Romeo!

PAUL. I come, Juliet.

SIMONE. There’s a kiss for you.

PAUL (throwing kisses with both hands). And there’s one for you. And another, and another. Two hundred million kisses, my angel.

SIMONE (giggling). What a lot!

PAUL. It is; you re quite right. Two hundred million.... I come, my Juliet. (He darts into the hotel, pausing when just inside the door and out of sight of the BARONESS, to mop himself once again with his enormous handkerchief. The operation over, he advances with a resolute step, The BARONESS stands for a moment on the balcony. Then, seeing DOLPHIN and LUCREZIA coming in from the left, she retires, closing the window and drawing the curtains behind her. DOLPHIN comes striding in; LUCREZIA follows a little behind, looking anxiously up at him.)

LUCREZIA. Please, please....

DOLPHIN. NO, I won t listen to anything more. (He walks with an agitated step up and down the stage. LUCREZIA stands with one hand resting on the back of a chair and the other pressed on her heart.) Do you mean to say you deliberately went and told her that I was only after her money? Oh, it’s too bad, too bad. It’s infamous. And I hadn’t the faintest notion that she had any money. Besides, I don’t want money; I have quite enough of my own. It’s infamous, infamous!

LUCREZIA. I know it was a horrible thing to do. But I couldn’t help it. How could I stand by and see you being carried off by that silly little creature?

DOLPHIN. But I cared for her.

LUCREZIA. But not as I cared for you. I’ve got red blood in my veins; she’s got nothing but milk and water. You couldn’t have been happy with her. I can give you love of a kind she could never dream of. What does she know of passion?

DOLPHIN. Nothing, I am thankful to say. I don’t want passion; can’t you understand that? I don’t possess it myself and don’t like it in others. I am a man of sentimental affections, with a touch of quiet sensuality. I don’t want passion, I tell you. It’s too violent; it frightens me. I couldn’t possibly live with you. You’d utterly shatter my peace of mind in a day. Oh, how I wish you’d go away.

LUCREZIA. But Sidney, Sidney, can’t you understand what it is to be madly in love with somebody? You can’t be so cruel.

DOLPHIN. You didn’t think much of my well-being when you interfered between Miss Toomis and me, did you? You’ve probably ruined my whole life, that’s all. I really don’t see why you should expect me to have any pity for you.

LUCREZIA. Very well, then, I shall kill myself. (She bursts into tears.)

DOLPHIN. Oh, but I assure you, one doesn’t kill oneself for things like that. (He approaches her and pats her on the shoulder.) Come, come, don’t worry about it.

LUCREZIA (throws her arms round his neck). Oh, Sidney, Sidney....

DOLPHIN (freeing himself with surprising energy and promptitude from her embrace). No, no, none of that, I beg. Another moment and we shall be losing our heads. Personally I think I shall go to bed now. I should advise you to do the same, Miss Grattarol. You’re overwrought. We might all be better for a small dose of bromide. (He goes in.)

LUCREZIA (looking up and stretching forth her hands). Sidney.... (DOLPHIN does not look round, and disappears through the glass door into the hotel, LUCREZIA covers her face with her hands and sits for a little sobbing silently. The nightingale sings on. Midnight sounds with an infinite melancholy from all the twenty campaniles of the city in the valley. From far away comes the spasmodic throbbing of a guitar and the singing of an Italian voice, high-pitched, passionate, throaty. The seconds pass, LUCREZIA rises to her feet and walks slowly into the hotel. On the threshold she encounters the VICOMTE coming out.)

PAUL. You, Signorina Lucrezia? I’ve escaped for a breath of fresh, cool air. Mightn’t we take a turn together? (LUCREZIA shakes her head.) Ah, well, then, good-night. You’ll be glad to hear that Miss Toomis knows all about Correggio now.

(He inhales a deep breath of air. Then looking at his dinner-jacket he begins brushing at it with his hand. A lamentable figure creeps in from the left. It is ALBERTO. If he had a tail, it would be trailing on the ground between his legs.)

PAUL. Hullo, Alberto. What is it? Been losing at cards?

ALBERTO. Worse than that.

PAUL. Creditors foreclosing?

ALBERTO. Much worse.

PAUL. Father ruined by imprudent speculations?

ALBERTO. No, no, no. It’s nothing to do with money.

PAUL. Oh, well, then. It can’t be anything very serious. It’s women, I suppose.

ALBERTO. My mistress refuses to see me. I have been beating on her door for hours in vain.

PAUL. I wish we all had your luck, Bertino. Mine opens her door only too promptly. The difficulty is to get out again. Does yours use such an awful lot of this evil-smelling powder? I’m simply covered with it. Ugh! (He brushes his coat again.)

ALBERTO. Can’t you be serious, Paul?

PAUL. Of course I can ... about a serious matter. But you can’t expect me to pull a long face about your mistress, can you, now? Do look at things in their right proportions.

ALBERTO. It’s no use talking to you. You’re heartless, soulless.

PAUL. What you mean, my dear Alberto, is that I’m relatively speaking bodiless. Physical passion never goes to my head. I’m always compos mentis. You aren’t, that’s all.

ALBERTO. Oh, you disgust me. I think I shall hang myself to-night.

PAUL. Do. It will give us something to talk about at lunch to-morrow.

ALBERTO. Monster! (He goes into the hotel, PAUL strolls out towards the garden, whistling an air from Mozart as he goes. The window on the left opens and LUCREZIA steps on to her balcony. Uncoiled, her red hair falls almost to her waist. Her nightdress is always half slipping off one shoulder or the other, like those loose-bodied Restoration gowns that reveal the tight-blown charms of Kneller’s Beauties. Her feet are bare. She is a marvellously romantic figure, as she stands there, leaning on the balustrade, and with eyes more sombre than night, gazing into the darkness. The nightingales, the bells, the guitar, and passionate voice strike up. Great stars palpitate in the sky. The moon has swum imperceptibly to the height of heaven. In the garden below flowers are yielding their souls into the air, censers invisible. It is too much, too much.... Large tears roll down LUCREZIA’s cheeks and fall with a splash to the ground. Suddenly, but with the noiselessness of a cat, ALBERTO appears, childish-looking in pink pajamas, on the middle of the three balconies. He sees LUCREZIA, but she is much too deeply absorbed in thought to have noticed his coming, ALBERTO plants his elbows on the rail of the balcony, covers his face, and begins to sob, at first inaudibly, then in a gradual quickening crescendo. At the seventh sob LUCREZIA starts and becomes aware of his presence.)

LUCREZIA. Alberto. I didn’t know.... Have you been there long? (ALBERTO makes no articulate reply, but his sobs keep on growing louder.) Alberto, are you unhappy? Answer me.

ALBERTO (with difficulty, after a pause). Yes.

LUCREZIA. Didn’t she let you in?

ALBERTO. No. (His sobs become convulsive.)

LUCREZIA. Poor boy.

ALBERTO (lifting up a blubbered face to the moonlight). I am so unhappy.

LUCREZIA. You can’t be more unhappy than I am.

ALBERTO. Oh yes, I am. It’s impossible to be unhappier than me.

LUCREZIA. But I am more unhappy.

ALBERTO. You re not. Oh, how can you be so cruel Lucrezia? (He covers his face once more.)

LUCREZIA. But I only said I was unhappy Alberto.

ALBERTO. Yes, I know. That showed you weren’t thinking of me. Nobody loves me. I shall hang myself to-night with the cord of my dressing-gown.

LUCREZIA. NO, no, Alberto. You mustn’t do anything rash.

ALBERTO. I shall. Your cruelty has been the last straw.

LUCREZIA. I’m sorry, Bertino mio. But if you only knew how miserable I was feeling. I didn’t mean to be unsympathetic. Poor boy. I’m so sorry. There, don’t cry, poor darling.

ALBERTO. Oh, I knew you wouldn’t desert me, Lucrezia. You’ve always been a mother to me. (He stretches out his hand and seizes hers, which has gone half-way to meet him; but the balconies are too far apart to allow him to kiss it. He makes an effort and fails. He is too short in the body,) Will you let me come onto your balcony, Lucrezia? I want to tell you how grateful I am.

LUCREZIA. But you can do that from your own balcony.

ALBERTO. Please, please, Lucrezia. You mustn’t be cruel to me again. I can’t bear it.

LUCREZIA. Well, then.... Just for a moment, but for no more, (BERTINO climbs from one balcony to the other. One is a little reminded of the trousered monkeys on the barrel organs. Arrived, he kneels down and kisses LUCREZIA’S hand.)

ALBERTO. You’ve saved me. You’ve given given me a fresh desire to live and a fresh faith in life. How can I thank you enough, Lucrezia, darling?

LUCREZIA (patting his head). There, there. We are just two unhappy creatures. We must try and comfort one another.

ALBERTO. What a brute I am! I never thought of your unhappiness. I am so selfish. What is it, Lucrezia?

LUCREZIA. I can’t tell you, Bertino; but it’s very painful.

ALBERTO. Poor child, poor child. (His kisses, which started at the hand, have mounted, by this time, some way up the arm, changing perceptibly in character as they rise. At the shoulder they have a warmth which could not have been inferred from the respectful salutes which barely touched the fingers.) Poor darling! You’ve given me consolation. Now you must let me comfort your unhappiness.

LUCREZIA (with an effort). I think you ought to go back now, Bertino.

ALBERTO. In a minute, my darling. There, there, poor Lucrezia. (He puts an arm round her, kisses her hair and neck. LUCREZIA leans her bowed head against his chest. The sound of footsteps is heard. They both look up with scared, wide-open eyes.)

LUCREZIA. We mustn’t be seen here, Bertino. What would people think?

ALBERTO. I’ll go back.

LUCREZIA. There’s no time. You must come into my room. Quickly.

(They slip through the French window, but not quickly enough to have escaped the notice of PAUL, returning from his midnight stroll. The VICOMTE stands for a moment looking up at the empty balcony. He laughs softly to himself, and, throwing his cigarette away, passes through the glass door into the house. All is now silent, save for the nightingales and the distant bells. The curtain comes down for a moment to indicate the passage of several hours. It rises again with the sun. LUCREZIA’s window opens and she appears on the balcony. She stands a moment with one foot over the threshold of the long window in a listening pose. Then her eyes fall on the better half of a pair of pink pyjamas lying crumpled on the floor, like a body bereft of its soul; with her bare foot she turns it over. A little shudder plucks at her nerves, and she shakes her head as though, by this symbolic act, to shake off something clinging and contaminating. Then she steps out into the full glory of the early sun, stretching out her arms to the radiance. She bows her face into her hands, crying out loud to herself.) LUCREZIA. Oh, why, why, why? (The last of these Why’s is caught by the WAITER, who has crept forth in shirt-sleeves and list-slippers, duster in hand, to clean the tables. He looks up at her admiringly, passes his tongue over his lips. Then, with a sigh, turns to dust the tables.)

CURTAIN.

THE TILLOTSON BANQUET

I

YOUNG SPODE WAS not a snob; he was too intelligent for that, too fundamentally decent. Not a snob; but all the same he could not help feeling very well pleased at the thought that he was dining, alone and intimately, with Lord Badgery. It was a definite event in his life, a step forward, he felt, towards that final success, social, material, and literary, which he had come to London with the fixed intention of making. The conquest and capture of Badgery was an almost essential strategical move in the campaign.

Edmund, forty-seventh Baron Badgery, was a lineal descendant of that Edmund, surnamed Le Blayreau, who landed on English soil in the train of William the Conqueror. Ennobled by William Rufus, the Badgerys had been one of the very few baronial families to survive the Wars of the Roses and all the other changes and chances of English history. They were a sensible and philoprogenitive race. No Badgery had ever fought in any war, no Badgery had ever engaged in any kind of politics. They had been content to live and quietly to propagate their species in a huge machicolated Norman castle, surrounded by a triple moat, only sallying forth to cultivate their property and to collect their rents. In the eighteenth century, when life had become relatively secure, the Badgerys began to venture forth into civilised society. From boorish squires they blossomed into grands seigneurs, patrons of the arts, virtuosi. Their property was large, they were rich; and with the growth of industrialism their riches also grew. Villages on their estate turned into manufacturing towns, unsuspected coal was discovered beneath the surface of their barren moorlands. By the middle of the nineteenth century the Badgerys were among the richest of English noble families. The forty-seventh baron disposed of an income of at least two hundred thousand pounds a year. Following the great Badgery tradition, he had refused to have anything to do with politics or war. He occupied himself by collecting pictures; he took an interest in theatrical productions; he was the friend and patron of men of letters, of painters, and musician. A personage, in a word, of considerable consequence in that particular world in which young Spode had elected to make his success.

Spode had only recently left the university. Simon Gollamy, the editor of the World’s Review (the “Best of all possible Worlds”), had got to know him — he was always on the look out for youthful talent — had seen possibilities in the young man, and appointed him art critic of his paper. Gollamy liked to have young and teachable people about him. The possession of disciples flattered his vanity, and he found it easier, moreover, to run his paper with docile collaborators than with men grown obstinate and case-hardened with age. Spode had not done badly at his new job. At any rate, his articles had been intelligent enough to arouse the interest of Lord Badgery. It was, ultimately, to them that he owed the honour of sitting to night in the dining-room of Badgery House.

Fortified by several varieties of wine and a glass of aged brandy, Spode felt more confident and at ease than he had done the whole evening. Badgery was rather a disquieting host. He had an alarming habit of changing the subject of any conversation that had lasted for more than two minutes. Spode had found it, for example, horribly mortifying when his host, cutting across what was, he prided himself, a particularly subtle and illuminating disquisition on baroque art, had turned a wandering eye about the room and asked him abruptly whether he liked parrots. He had flushed and glanced suspiciously towards him, fancying that the man was trying to be offensive. But no; Badgery’s white, fleshy, Hanoverian face wore an expression of perfect good faith. There was no malice in his small greenish eyes. He evidently did genuinely want to know if Spode liked parrots. The young man swallowed his irritation and replied that he did. Badgery then told a good story about parrots. Spode was on the point of capping it with a better story, when his host began to talk about Beethoven. And so the game went on. Spode cut his conversation to suit his host’s requirements. In the course of ten minutes he had made a more or less witty epigram on Benvenuto Cellini, Queen Victoria, sport, God, Stephen Phillips, and Moorish architecture. Lord Badgery thought him the most charming young man, and so intelligent.

“If you’ve quite finished your coffee,” he said, rising to his feet as he spoke, “we’ll go and look at the pictures.”

Spode jumped up with alacrity, and only then realised that he had drunk just ever so little too much. He would have to be careful, talk deliberately, plant his feet consciously, one after the other.

“This house is quite cluttered up with pictures,” Lord Badgery complained. “I had a whole wagon-load taken away to the country last week; but there are still far too many. My ancestors would have their portraits painted by Romney. Such a shocking artist, don’t you think? Why couldn’t they have chosen Gainsborough, or even Reynolds? I’ve had all the Romneys hung in the servants’ hall now. It’s such a comfort to know that one can never possibly see them again. I suppose you know all about the ancient Hittites?”

“Well....” the young man replied, with befitting modesty.

“Look at that, then.” He indicated a large stone head which stood in a case near the dining-room door. “It’s not Greek, or Egyptian, or Persian, or anything else; so if it isn’t ancient Hittite, I don’t know what it is. And that reminds me of that story about Lord George Sanger, the Circus King....” and, without giving Spode time to examine the Hittite relic, he led the way up the huge staircase, pausing every now and then in his anecdote to point out some new object of curiosity or beauty.

“I suppose you know Deburau’s pantomimes?” Spode rapped out as soon as the story was over. He was in an itch to let out his information about Deburau. Badgery had given him a perfect opening with his ridiculous Sanger. “What a perfect man, isn’t he? He used to....”

“This is my main gallery,” said Lord Badgery, throwing open one leaf of a tall folding door. “I must apologise for it. It looks like a roller-skating rink.” He fumbled with the electric switches and there was suddenly light — light that revealed an enormous gallery, duly receding into distance according to all the laws of perspective. “I dare say you’ve heard of my poor father,” Lord Badgery continued. “A little insane, you know; sort of mechanical genius with a screw loose. He used to have a toy railway in this room. No end of fun he had, crawling about the floor after his trains. And all the pictures were stacked in the cellars. I can’t tell you what they were like when I found them: mushrooms growing out of the Botticellis. Now I’m rather proud of this Poussin; he painted it for Scarron.”

“Exquisite!” Spode exclaimed, making with his hand a gesture as though he were modelling a pure form in the air. “How splendid the onrush of those trees and leaning figures is! And the way they re caught up, as it were, and stemmed by that single godlike form opposing them with his contrary movement! And the draperies....”

But Lord Badgery had moved on, and was standing in front of a little fifteenth-century Virgin of carved wood.

“School of Rheims,” he explained.

They “did” the gallery at high speed. Badgery never permitted his guest to halt for more than forty seconds before any work of art. Spode would have liked to spend a few moments of recollection and tranquillity in front of some of these lovely things. But it was not permitted.

The gallery done, they passed into a little room leading out of it. At the sight of what the lights revealed, Spode gasped.

“It’s like something out of Balzac,” he exclaimed. “Un de ces salons dorés où se déploie un luxe insolent. You know.”

“My nineteenth-century chamber,” Badgery explained. “The best thing of its kind, I flatter myself, outside the State Apartments at Windsor.”

Spode tiptoed round the room, peering with astonishment at all the objects in glass, in gilded bronze, in china, in leathers, in embroidered and painted silk, in beads, in wax, objects of the most fantastic shapes and colours, all the queer products of a decadent tradition, with which the room was crowded. There were paintings on the walls — a Martin, a Wilkie, an early Landseer, several Ettys, a big Haydon, a slight pretty water-colour of a girl by Wainewright, the pupil of Blake and arsenic poisoner, a score of others. But the picture which arrested Spode’s attention was a medium sized canvas representing Troilus riding into Troy among the flowers and plaudits of an admiring crowd, and oblivious (you could see from his expression) of everything but the eyes of Cressida, who looked down at him from a window, with Pandarus smiling over her shoulder.

“What an absurd and enchanting picture!” Spode exclaimed.

“Ah, you’ve spotted my Troilus.” Lord Badgery was pleased.

“What bright harmonious colours! Like Etty’s, only stronger, not so obviously pretty. And there’s an energy about it that reminds one of Haydon. Only Haydon could never have done anything so impeccable in taste. Who is it by?” Spode turned to his host inquiringly.

“You were right in detecting Haydon,” Lord Badgery answered, “It’s by his pupil, Tillotson. I wish I could get hold of more of his work. But nobody seems to know anything about him. And he seems to have done so little.”

This time it was the younger man who interrupted.

“Tillotson, Tillotson....” He put his hand to his forehead. A frown incongruously distorted his round, floridly curved face. No ... yes, I have it. He looked up triumphantly with serene and childish brows. “Tillotson, Walter Tillotson — the man’s still alive.”

Badgery smiled. “This picture was painted in 1846, you know.”

“Well, that’s all right. Say he was born in 1820, painted his masterpiece when he was twenty-six, and it’s 1913 now; that’s to say he’s only ninety-three. Not as old as Titian yet.”

“But he’s not been heard of since 1860,” Lord Badgery protested.

“Precisely. Your mention of his name reminded me of the discovery I made the other day when I was looking through the obituary notices in the archives of the World’s Review.(One has to bring them up to date every year or so for fear of being caught napping if one of these t old birds chooses to shuffle off suddenly.) Well, there, among them — I remember my astonishment at the time — there I found Walter Tillotson’s biography. Pretty full to 1860, and then a blank, except for a pencil note in the early nineteen hundreds to the effect that he had returned from the East. The obituary has never been used or added to. I draw the obvious conclusion: the old chap isn’t dead yet. He’s just been overlooked somehow.”

“But this is extraordinary,” Lord Badgery exclaimed. “You must find him, Spode — you must find him. I’ll commission him to paint frescoes round this room. It’s just what I’ve always vainly longed for a real nineteenth-century artist to decorate this place for me. Oh, we must find him at once — at once.”

Lord Badgery strode up and down in a state of great excitement.

“I can see how this room could be made quite perfect,” he went on. “We’d clear away all these cases and have the whole of that wall filled by a heroic fresco of Hector and Andromache, or ‘Distraining for Rent’, or Fanny Kemble as Belvidera in ‘Venice Preserved’ anything like that, provided it’s in the grand manner of the ‘thirties and ‘forties. And here I’d have a landscape with lovely receding perspectives, or else something architectural and grand in the style of Belshazzar’s feast. Then we’ll have this Adam fireplace taken down and replaced by something Mauro-Gothic. And on these walls I’ll have mirrors, or no! let me see....”

He sank into meditative silence, from which he finally roused himself to shout:

“The old man, the old man! Spode, we must find this astonishing old creature. And don’t breathe a word to anybody. Tillotson shall be our secret. Oh, it’s too perfect, it’s incredible! Think of the frescoes.”

Lord Badgery’s face had become positively animated. He had talked of a single subject for nearly a quarter of an hour.

II

Three weeks later Lord Badgery was aroused from his usual after-luncheon somnolence by the arrival of a telegram. The message was a short one. “Found. — SPODE.” A look of pleasure and intelligence made human Lord Badgery’s clayey face of surfeit. “No answer,” he said. The footman padded away on noiseless feet.

Lord Badgery closed his eyes and began to contemplate. Found! What a room he would have! There would be nothing like it in the world. The frescoes, the fireplace, the mirrors, the ceiling.... And a small, shrivelled old man clambering about the scaffolding, agile and quick like one of those whiskered little monkeys at the Zoo, painting away, painting away.... Fanny Kemble as Belvidera, Hector and Andromache, or why not the Duke of Clarence in the Butt, the Duke of Malmsey, the Butt of Clarence. ... Lord Badgery was asleep.

Spode did not lag long behind his telegram. He was at Badgery House by six o’clock. His lordship was in the nineteenth-century chamber, engaged in clearing away with his own hands the bric-à-brac. Spode found him looking hot and out of breath.

“Ah, there you are,” said Lord Badgery. You see me already preparing for the great man’s coming. Now you must tell me all about him.

“He’s older even than I thought,” said Spode. “He’s ninety-seven this year. Born in 1816. Incredible, isn’t it! There, I’m beginning at the wrong end.”

“Begin where you like,” said Badgery genially.

“I won’t tell you all the incidents of the hunt. You’ve no idea what a job I had to run him to earth. It was like a Sherlock Holmes story, immensely elaborate, too elaborate. I shall write a book about it some day. At any rate, I found him at last.”

“Where?”

“In a sort of respectable slum in Holloway, older and poorer and lonelier than you could have believed possible. I found out how it was he came to be forgotten, how he came to drop out of life in the way he did. He took it into his head, somewhere about the ‘sixties, to go to Palestine to get local colour for his religious pictures — scapegoats and things, you know. Well, he went to Jerusalem and then on to Mount Lebanon and on and on, and then, somewhere in the middle of Asia Minor, he got stuck. He got stuck for about forty years.”

“But what did he do all that time?”

“Oh, he painted, and started a mission, and converted three Turks, and taught the local Pashas the rudiments of English, Latin, and perspective, and God knows what else. Then, in about 1904, it seems to have occurred to him that he was getting rather old and had been away from home for rather a long time. So he made his way back to England, only to find that everyone he had known was dead, that the dealers had never heard of him and wouldn’t buy his pictures, that he was simply a ridiculous old figure of fun. So he got a job as a drawing-master in a girl’s school in Holloway, and there he’s been ever since, growing older and older, and feebler and feebler, and blinder and deafer, and generally more gaga, until finally the school has given him the sack. He had about ten pounds in the world when I found him. He lives in a kind of black hole in a basement full of beetles. When his ten pounds are spent, I suppose he’ll just quietly die there.”

Badgery held up a white hand. “No more, no more. I find literature quite depressing enough. I insist that life at least shall be a little gayer. Did you tell him I wanted him to paint my room?”

“But he can’t paint. He’s too blind and palsied.”

“Can’t paint?” Badgery exclaimed in horror. “Then what’s the good of the old creature?”

“Well, if you put it like that....” Spode began.

“I shall never have my frescoes. Ring the bell, will you?”

Spode rang.

“What right has Tillotson to go on existing if he can’t paint?” went on Lord Badgery petulantly. “After all, that was his only justification for occupying a place in the sun.”

“He doesn’t have much sun in his basement.”

The footman appeared at the door.

“Get someone to put all these things back in their places,” Lord Badgery commanded, indicating with a wave of the hand the ravaged cases, the confusion of glass and china with which he had littered the floor, the pictures unhooked. “We’ll go to the library, Spode; it’s more comfortable there.”

He led the way through the long gallery and down the stairs.

“I’m sorry old Tillotson has been such a disappointment,” said Spode sympathetically.

“Let us talk about something else; he ceases to interest me.

“But don’t you think we ought to do something about him? He’s only got ten pounds between him and the workhouse. And if you’d seen the black-beetles in his basement!”

“Enough enough. I’ll do everything you think fitting.”

“I thought we might get up a subscription amongst lovers of the arts.”

“There aren’t any,” said Badgery.

“No; but there are plenty of people who will subscribe out of snobbism.”

“Not unless you give them something for their money.”

“That’s true. I hadn’t thought of that.” Spode was silent for a moment. “We might have a dinner in his honour. The Great Tillotson Banquet. Doyen of the British Art. A Link with the Past. Can’t you see it in the papers? I’d make a stunt of it in the World’s Review. That ought to bring in the snobs.”

“And we’ll invite a lot of artists and critics — all the ones who can’t stand one another. It will be fun to see them squabbling.” Badgery laughed. Then his face darkened once again. “Still,” he added, “it’ll be a very poor second best to my frescoes. You’ll stay to dinner, of course.”

“Well, since you suggest it. Thanks very much.”

III

The Tillotson Banquet was fixed to take place about three weeks later. Spode, who had charge of the arrangements, proved himself an excellent organiser. He secured the big banqueting-room at the Café Bomba, and was successful in bullying and cajoling the manager into giving fifty persons dinner at twelve shillings a head, including wine. He sent out invitations and collected subscriptions. He wrote an article on Tillotson in the World’s Review — one of those charming, witty articles couched in the tone of amused patronage and contempt with which one speaks of the great men of 1840. Nor did he neglect Tillotson himself. He used to go to Holloway almost every day to listen to the old man’s endless stories about Asia Minor and the Great Exhibition of ‘51 and Benjamin Robert Haydon. He was sincerely sorry for this relic of another age.

Mr. Tillotson’s room was about ten feet below the level of the soil of South Holloway. A little grey light percolated through the area bars, forced a difficult passage through panes opaque with dirt, and spent itself, like a drop of milk that falls into an inkpot, among the inveterate shadows of the dungeon. The place was haunted by the spur smell of damp plaster and of woodwork that has begun to moulder secretly at the heart. A little miscellaneous furniture, including a bed, a washstand and chest of drawers, a table and one or two chairs, lurked in the obscure corners of the den or ventured furtively out into the open. Hither Spode now came almost every day, bringing the old man news of the progress of the banquet scheme. Every day he found Mr. Tillotson sitting in the same place under the window, bathing, as it were, in his tiny puddle of light. “The oldest man that ever wore grey hairs,” Spode reflected as he looked at him. Only there were very few hairs left on that bald, unpolished head. At the sound of the visitor’s knock Mr. Tillotson would turn in his chair, stare in the direction of the door with blinking, uncertain eyes. He was always full of apologies for being so slow in recognising who was there.

“No discourtesy meant,” he would say, after asking. “It’s not as if I had forgotten who you were. Only it’s so dark and my sight isn’t what it was.”

After that he never failed to give a little laugh, and, pointing out of the window at the area railings, would say:

“Ah, this is the plate for somebody with good sight. It’s the place for looking at ankles. It’s the grand stand.”

It was the day before the great event. Spode came as usual, and Mr. Tillotson punctually made his little joke about the ankles, and Spode, as punctually laughed.

“Well, Mr. Tillotson,” he said, after the reverberation of the joke had died away, “to-morrow you make your re-entry into the world of art and fashion. You’ll find some changes.”

“I’ve always had such extraordinary luck,” said Mr. Tillotson, and Spode could see by his expression that he genuinely believed it, that he had forgotten the black hole and the black-beetles and the almost exhausted ten pounds that stood between him and the workhouse. “What an amazing piece of good fortune, for instance, that you should have found me just when you did. Now, this dinner will bring me back to my place in the world. I shall have money, and in a little while — who knows? — I shall be able to see well enough to paint again. I believe my eyes are getting better, you know. Ah, the future is very rosy.”

Mr. Tillotson looked up, his face puckered into a smile, and nodded his head in affirmation of his words.

“You believe in the life to come?” said Spode, and immediately flushed for shame at the cruelty of the words.

But Mr. Tillotson was in far too cheerful a mood to have caught their significance.

“Life to come,” he repeated. “No, I don’t believe in any of that stuff not since 1859. The ‘Origin of Species’ changed my views, you know. No life to come for me, thank you! You don’t remember the excitement of course. You re very young Mr. Spode.”

“Well, I’m not so old as I was,” Spode replied. “You know how middle-aged one is as a schoolboy and undergraduate. Now I’m old enough to know I’m young.”

Spode was about to develop this little paradox further, but he noticed that Mr. Tillotson had not been listening. He made a note of the gambit for use in companies that were more appreciative of the subtleties.

“You were talking about the ‘Origin of Species,’” he said.

“Was I?” said Mr. Tillotson, waking from reverie.

“About its effect on your faith, Mr. Tillotson.”

“To be sure, yes. It shattered my faith. But I remember a fine thing by the Poet Laureate, something about there being more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in all the ... all the ...: I forget exactly what; but you see the train of thought. Oh, it was a bad time for religion. I am glad my master Haydon never lived to see it. He was a man of fervour. I remember him pacing up and down his studio in Lisson Grove, singing and shouting and praying all at once. It used almost to frighten me. Oh, but he was a wonderful man, a great man. Take him for all in all, we shall not look upon his like again. As usual, the Bard is right. But it was all very long ago, before your time, Mr. Spode.”

“Well, I’m not as old as I was,” said Spode, in the hope of having his paradox appreciated this time. But Mr. Tillotson went on without noticing the interruption.

“It’s a very, very long time. And yet, when I look back on it, it all seems but a day or two ago. Strange that each day should seem so long and that many days added together should be less than an hour. How clearly I can see old Haydon pacing up and down! Much more clearly, indeed, than I see you, Mr. Spode. The eyes of memory don t grow dim. But my sight is improving, I assure you; it’s improving daily. I shall soon be able to see those ankles.” He laughed like a cracked bell — one of those little old bells, Spode fancied, that ring, with much rattling of wires, in the far-off servants quarters of ancient houses. “And very soon,” Mr. Tillotson went on, “I shall be painting again. Ah, Mr. Spode, my luck is extraordinary. I believe in it, I trust in it. And after all, what is luck? Simply another name for Providence, in spite of the Origin of Species and the rest of it. How right the Laureate was when he said that there was more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in all the ... er, the ... er ... well, you know. I regard you, Mr. Spode, as the emissary of Providence. Your coming marked a turning-point in my life, and the beginning, for me, of happier days. Do you know, one of the first things I shall do when my fortunes are restored will be to buy a hedgehog.”

“A hedgehog, Mr. Tillotson?”

“For the blackbeetles. There’s nothing like a hedgehog for beetles. It will eat blackbeetles till it’s sick, till it dies of surfeit. That reminds me of the time when I told my poor great master Haydon — in joke, of course — that he ought to send in a cartoon of King John dying of a surfeit of lampreys for the frescoes in the new Houses of Parliament. As I told him, it’s a most notable event in the annals of British liberty — the providential and exemplary removal of a tyrant.”

Mr. Tillotson laughed again — the little bell in the deserted house; a ghostly hand pulling the cord in the drawing-room, and phantom footmen responding to the thin, flawed note.

“I remember he laughed, laughed like a bull in his old grand manner. But oh, it was a terrible blow when they rejected his design, a terrible blow. It was the first and fundamental cause of his suicide.”

Mr. Tillotson paused. There was a long silence. Spode felt strangely moved, he hardly knew why, in the presence of this man, so frail, so ancient, in body three parts dead, in the spirit so full of life and hopeful patience. He felt ashamed. What was the use of his own youth and cleverness? He saw himself suddenly as a boy with a rattle scaring birds rattling his noisy cleverness, waving his arms in ceaseless and futile activity, never resting in his efforts to scare away the birds that were always trying to settle in his mind. And what birds! widewinged and beautiful, all those serene thoughts and faiths and emotions that only visit minds that have humbled themselves to quiet. Those gracious visitants he was for ever using all his energies to drive away. But this old man, with his hedgehogs and his honest doubts and all the rest of it — his mind was like a field made beautiful by the free coming and going, the unafraid alightings of a multitude of white, bright-winged creatures. He felt ashamed. But then, was it possible to alter one’s life? Wasn’t it a little absurd to risk a conversion? Spode shrugged his shoulders.

“I’ll get you a hedgehog at once,” he said. “They’re sure to have some at Whiteley’s.”

Before he left that evening Spode made an alarming discovery. Mr. Tillotson did not possess a dress-suit. It was hopeless to think of getting one made at this short notice, and, besides, what an unnecessary expense!

“We shall have to borrow a suit, Mr. Tillotson. I ought to have thought of that before.”

“Dear me, dear me.” Mr. Tillotson was a little chagrined by this unlucky discovery. “Borrow a suit?”

Spode hurried away for counsel to Badgery House. Lord Badgery surprisingly rose to the occasion. “Ask Boreham to come and see me,” he told the footman, who answered his ring.

Boreham was one of those immemorial butlers who linger on, generation after generation, in the houses of the great. He was over eighty now, bent, dried up, shrivelled with age.

“All old men are about the same size,” said Lord Badgery. It was a comforting theory. “Ah, here he is. Have you got a spare suit of evening clothes, Boreham?”

“I have an old suit, my lord, that I stopped wearing in let me see was it nineteen seven or eight?”

“That’s the very thing. I should be most grateful, Boreham, if you could lend it to me for Mr. Spode here for a day.”

The old man went out, and soon reappeared carrying over his arm a very old black suit. He held up the coat and trousers for inspection. In the light of day they were deplorable.

“You’ve no idea, sir,” said Boreham deprecatingly to Spode you’ve no idea how easy things get stained with grease and gravy and what not. However careful you are, sir — however careful.

“I should imagine so.” Spode was sympathetic.

“However careful, sir.”

“But in artificial light they’ll look all right.”

“Perfectly all right,” Lord Badgery repeated. “Thank you, Boreham; you shall have them back on Thursday.”

“You re welcome, my lord, I’m sure.” And the old man bowed and disappeared.

On the afternoon of the great day Spode carried up to Holloway a parcel containing Boreham’s retired evening-suit and all the necessary appurtenances in the way of shirts and collars. Owing to the darkness and his own feeble sight Mr. Tillotson was happily unaware of the defects in the suit. He was in a state of extreme nervous agitation. It was with some difficulty that Spode could prevent him, although it was only three o’clock, from starting his toilet on the spot.

“Take it easy, Mr. Tillotson, take it easy. We needn’t start till half-past seven, you know.”

Spode left an hour later, and as soon as he was safely out of the room Mr. Tillotson began to prepare himself for the banquet. He lighted the gas and a couple of candles, and, blinking myopically at the image that fronted him in the tiny looking-glass that stood on his chest of drawers, he set to work, with all the ardour of a young girl preparing for her first ball. At six o’clock, when the last touches had been given, he was not unsatisfied.

He marched up and down his cellar, humming to himself the gay song which had been so popular in his middle years:

“Oh, oh, Anna, Maria Jones!


Queen of the tambourine, the cymbals, and the bones!”

Spode arrived an hour later in Lord Badgery’s second Rolls-Royce. Opening the door of the old man’s dungeon, he stood for a moment, wide-eyed with astonishment, on the threshold. Mr. Tillotson was standing by the empty grate, one elbow resting on the mantelpiece, one leg crossed over the other in a jaunty and gentlemanly attitude. The effect of the candlelight shining on his face was to deepen every line and wrinkle with intense black shadow; he looked immeasurably old. It was a noble and pathetic head. On the other hand, Boreham’s out-worn evening-suit was simply buffoonish. The coat was too long in the sleeves and the tail; the trousers bagged in elephantine creases about his ankles. Some of the grease-spots were visible even in candlelight. The white tie, over which Mr. Tillotson had taken infinite pains and which he believed in his purblindness to be perfect, was fantastically lop-sided. He had buttoned up his waistcoat in such a fashion that one button was widowed of its hole and one hole of its button. Across his shirt front lay the broad green ribbon of some unknown Order.

“Queen of the tambourine, the cymbals, and the bones,” Mr. Tillotson concluded in a gnat-like voice before welcoming his visitor.

“Well, Spode, here you are. I’m dressed already, you see. The suit, I flatter myself, fits very well, almost as though it had been made for me. I am all gratitude to the gentleman who was kind enough to lend it to me; I shall take the greatest care of it. It’s a dangerous thing to lend clothes. For loan oft loseth both itself and friend. The Bard is always right.”

“Just one thing,” said Spode. “A touch to your waistcoat.” He unbuttoned the dissipated garment and did it up again more symmetrically.

Mr. Tillotson was a little piqued at being found so absurdly in the wrong.

“Thanks, thanks,” he said, protestingly, trying to edge away from his valet. “It’s all right, you know; I can do it myself. Foolish oversight. I flatter myself the suit fits very well.”

“And perhaps the tie might....” Spode began tentatively. But the old man would not hear of it.

“No, no. The tie’s all right. I can tie a tie, Mr. Spode. The tie’s all right. Leave it as it is, I beg.”

“I like your Order.”

Mr. Tillotson looked down complacently at his shirt front. “Ah, you’ve noticed my Order. It’s a long time since I wore that. It was given me by the Grand Porte, you know, for services rendered in the Russo-Turkish War. It’s the Order of Chastity, the second class. They only give the first class to crowned heads, you know — browned heads and ambassadors. And only Pashas of the highest rank get the second. Mine’s the second. They only give the first class to crowned heads....”

“Of course, of course,” said Spode.

“Do you think I look all right, Mr. Spode?” Mr. Tillotson asked, a little anxiously.

“Splendid, Mr. Tillotson — splendid. The Order’s, magnificent.”

The old man’s face brightened once more. “I flatter myself,” he said, “that this borrowed suit fits me very well. But I don’t like borrowing clothes. For loan oft loseth both itself and friend, you know. And the Bard is always right.”

“Ugh, there’s one of those horrible beetles!” Spode exclaimed.

Mr. Tillotson bent down and stared at the floor. “I see it,” he said, and stamped on a small piece of coal, which crunched to powder under his foot. “I shall certainly buy a hedgehog.”

It was time for them to start. A crowd of little boys and girls had collected round Lord Badgery’s enormous car. The chauffeur, who felt that honour and dignity were at stake, pretended not to notice the children, but sat gazing, like a statue, into eternity. At the sight of Spode and Mr. Tillotson emerging from the house a yell of mingled awe and derision went up. It subsided to an astonished silence as they climbed into the car. “Bomba’s,” Spode directed. The Rolls-Royce gave a faintly stertorous sigh and began to move. The children yelled again, and ran along beside the car, waving their arms in a frenzy of excitement. It was then that Mr. Tillotson, with an incomparably noble gesture, leaned forward and tossed among the seething crowd of urchins his three last coppers.

IV

In Bomba’s big room the company was assembling. The long gilt-edged mirrors reflected a singular collection of people. Middle-aged Academicians shot suspicious glances at youths whom they suspected, only too correctly, of being iconoclasts, organisers of Post-Impressionist Exhibitions. Rival art critics, brought suddenly face to face, quivered with restrained hatred. Mrs. Nobes, Mrs. Cayman, and Mrs. Mandragore, those indefatigable hunters of artistic big game, came on one another all unawares in this well-stored menagerie, where each had expected to hunt alone, and were filled with rage. Through this crowd of mutually repellent vanities Lord Badgery moved with a suavity that seemed unconscious of all the feuds and hatreds. He was enjoying himself immensely. Behind the heavy waxen mask of his face, ambushed behind the Hanoverian nose, the little lustreless pig’s eyes, the pale thick lips, there lurked a small devil of happy malice that rocked with laughter.

“So nice of you to have come, Mrs. Mandragore, to do honour to England’s artistic past. And I’m so glad to see you’ve brought dear Mrs. Cayman. And is that Mrs. Nobes, too? So it is! I hadn’t noticed her before. How delightful! I knew we could depend on your love of art.”

And he hurried away to seize the opportunity of introducing that eminent sculptor, Sir Herbert Herne, to the bright young critic who had called him, in the public prints, a monumental mason.

A moment later the Maître d’Hôtel came to the door of the gilded saloon and announced, loudly and impressively, “Mr. Walter Tillotson.” Guided from behind by young Spode, Mr. Tillotson came into the room slowly and hesitatingly. In the glare of the lights his eyelids beat heavily, painfully, like the wings of an imprisoned moth, over his filmy eyes. Once inside the door he halted and drew himself up with a conscious assumption of dignity. Lord Badgery hurried forward and seized his hand.

“Welcome, Mr. Tillotson — welcome in the name of English art!”

Mr. Tillotson inclined his head in silence. He was too full of emotion to be able to reply.

“I should like to introduce you to a few of your younger colleagues, who have assembled here to do you honour.”

Lord Badgery presented everyone in the room to the old painter, who bowed, shook hands, made little noises in his throat, but still found himself unable to speak. Mrs. Nobes, Mrs. Cayman, and Mrs. Mandragore all said charming things.

Dinner was served; the party took their places. Lord Badgery sat at the head of the table, with Mr. Tillotson on his right hand and Sir Herbert Herne on his left. Confronted with Bomba’s succulent cooking and Bomba’s wines, Mr. Tillotson ate and drank a good deal. He had the appetite of one who has lived on greens and potatoes for ten years among the blackbeetles. After the second glass of wine he began to talk, suddenly and in a flood, as though a sluice had been pulled up.

“In Asia Minor,” he began, “it is the custom when one goes to dinner, to hiccough as a sign of appreciative fullness. Eructavit cor meum, as the Psalmist has it; he was an Oriental himself.”

Spode had arranged to sit next to Mrs. Cayman; he had designs upon her. She was an impossible woman, of course, but rich and useful; he wanted to bamboozle her into buying some of his young friends’ pictures.

“In a cellar?” Mrs. Cayman was saying, “with, blackbeetles? Oh, how dreadful! Poor old man! And he’s ninety-seven, didn’t you say? Isn’t that shocking! I only hope the subscription will be a large one. Of course, one wishes one could have given more oneself. But then, you know, one has so many expenses, and things are so difficult now.”

“I know, I know,” said Spode, with feeling.

“It’s all because of Labour,” Mrs. Cayman explained. “Of course, I should simply love to have him in to dinner sometimes. But, then, I feel he’s really too old, too farouche and gâteux; it would not be doing a kindness to him, would it? And so you are working with Mr. Gollamy now? What a charming man, so talented, such conversation....”

“Eructavit cor meum,” said Mr. Tillotson for the third time. Lord Badgery tried to head him off the subject of Turkish etiquette, but in vain.

By half-past nine a kinder vinolent atmosphere had put to sleep the hatreds and suspicions of before dinner. Sir Herbert Herne had discovered that the young Cubist sitting next him was not insane and actually knew a surprising amount about the Old Masters. For their part these young men had realised that their elders were not at all malignant; they were just very stupid and pathetic. It was only in the bosoms of Mrs. Nobes, Mrs. Cayman, and Mrs. Mandragore that hatred still reigned undiminished. Being ladies and old-fashioned, they had drunk almost no wine.

The moment for speech-making arrived. Lord Badgery rose to his feet, said what was expected of him, and called upon Sir Herbert to propose the toast of the evening. Sir Herbert coughed, smiled and began. In the course of a speech that lasted twenty minutes he told anecdotes of Mr. Gladstone, Lord Leighton, Sir Almo Tadema, and the late Bishop, of Bombay; he made three puns, he quoted Shakespeare and Whittier, he was playful, he was eloquent, he was grave.... At the end of his harangue Sir Herbert handed to Mr. Tillotson a silk purse containing fifty-eight pounds ten shillings, the total amount of the subscription. The old man’s health was drunk with acclamation.

Mr. Tillotson rose with difficulty to his feet. The dry, snakelike skin of his face was flushed; his tie was more crooked than ever; the green ribbon of the Order of Chastity of the second class had somehow climbed tip his crumpled and maculate shirt front.

“My lords, ladies, and gentlemen,” he began in a choking voice, and then broke down completely. It was a very painful and pathetic spectacle. A feeling of intense discomfort afflicted the minds of all who looked upon that trembling relic of a man, as he stood there weeping and stammering. It was as though a breath of the wind of death had blown suddenly through the room, lifting the vapours of wine and tobacco-smoke, quenching the laughter and the candle flames. Eyes floated uneasily, not knowing where to look. Lord Badgery, with great presence of mind, offered the old man a glass of wine. Mr. Tillotson began to recover. The guests heard him murmur a few disconnected words.

“This great honour ... overwhelmed with kindness ... this magnificent banquet ... not used to it ... in Asia Minor ... eructuvit cor meum.”

At this point Lord Badgery plucked sharply at one of his long coat tails. Mr. Tillotson paused, took another sip of wine, and then went on with a newly won coherence and energy.

“The life of the artist is a hard one. His work is unlike other men’s work, which may be done mechanically, by rote and almost, as it were, in sleep. It demands from him a constant expense of spirit. He gives continually of his best life, and in return he receives much joy, it is true much fame, it may be — but of material blessings, very few. It is eighty years since first I devoted my life to the service of art; eighty years, and almost every one of those years has brought me fresh and painful proof of what I have been saying: the artist’s life is a hard one.”

This unexpected deviation into sense increased the general feeling of discomfort. It became necessary to take the old man seriously, to regard him as a human being. Up till then he had been no more than an object of curiosity, a mummy in an absurd suit of evening-clothes with a green ribbon across the shirt front. People could not help wishing that they had subscribed a little more. Fifty-eight pounds ten it wasn’t enormous. But happily for the peace of mind of the company, Mr. Tillotson paused again, took another sip of wine, and began to live up to his proper character by talking absurdly.

“When I consider the life of that great man, Benjamin Robert Haydon, one of the greatest men England has ever produced....” The audience heaved a sigh of relief; this was all as it should be. There was a burst of loud bravoing and clapping. Mr. Tillotson turned his dim eyes round the room, and smiled gratefully at the misty figures he beheld. “That great man, Benjamin Robert Haydon,” he continued, “whom I am proud to call my master and who, it rejoices my heart to see, still lives in your memory and esteem, that great man, one of the greatest that England has ever produced, led a life so deplorable that I cannot think of it without a tear.”

And with infinite repetitions and divagations, Mr. Tillotson related the history of B.R. Haydon, his imprisonments for debt, his battle with the Academy, his triumphs, his failures, his despair, his suicide. Half-past ten struck. Mr. Tillotson was declaiming against the stupid and prejudiced judges who had rejected Haydon’s designs for the decoration of the new Houses of Parliament in favour of the paltriest German scribblings.

“That great man, one of the greatest England has ever produced, that great Benjamin Robert Haydon, whom I am proud to call my master and who, it rejoices me to see, still lives on in your memory and esteem — at that affront his great heart burst; it was the unkindest cut of all. He who had worked all his life for the recognition, of the artist by the State, he who had petitioned every Prime Minister, including the Duke of Wellington, for thirty years, begging them to employ artists to decorate public buildings, he to whom the scheme for decorating the Houses of Parliament was undeniably due....” Mr. Tillotson lost a grip on his syntax and began a new sentence. “It was the unkindest cut of all, it was the last straw. The artist’s life is a hard one.”

At eleven Mr. Tillotson was talking about the pre-Raphaelites. At a quarter past he had begun to tell the story of B.R. Haydon all over again. At twenty-five minutes to twelve he collapsed quite speechless into his chair. Most of the guests had already gone away; the few who remained made haste to depart. Lord Badgery led the old man to the door and packed him into the second Rolls-Royce. The Tillotson Banquet was over; it had been a pleasant evening, but a little too long.

Spode walked back to his rooms in Bloomsbury, whistling as he went. The arc lamps of Oxford Street reflected in the polished surface of the road; canals of dark bronze. He would have to bring that into an article some time. The Cayman woman had been very successfully nobbled. “Voi che sapete,” he whistled — somewhat out of tune, but he could not hear that.

When Mr. Tillotson’s landlady came in to call him on the following morning, she found the old man lying fully dressed on his bed. He looked very ill and very, very old; Boreham’s dress-suit was in a terrible state, and the green ribbon of the Order of Chastity was ruined. Mr. Tillotson lay very still, but he was not asleep. Hearing the sound of footsteps, he opened his eyes a little and faintly groaned. His landlady looked down at him menacingly.

“Disgusting!” she said, “disgusting, I call it. At your age.”

Mr. Tillotson groaned again. Making a great effort, he drew out of his trouser pocket a large silk purse, opened it, and extracted a sovereign.

“The artist’s life is a hard one, Mrs. Green,” he said, handing her the coin. “Would you mind sending for the doctor? I don’t feel very well. And oh, what shall I do about these clothes? What shall I say to the gentleman who was kind enough to lend them to me? Loan oft loseth both itself and friend. The Bard is always right.”

Green Tunnels

“IN THE ITALIAN gardens of the thirteenth century....” Mr. Buzzacott interrupted himself to take another helping of the risotto which was being offered him. “Excellent risotto this,” he observed. “Nobody who was not born in Milan can make it properly. So they say.”

“So they say,” Mr. Topes repeated in his sad, apologetic voice, and helped himself in his turn.

“Personally,” said Mrs. Topes, with decision, “I find all Italian cooking abominable. I don’t like the oil — especially hot. No, thank you.” She recoiled from the proffered dish.

After the first mouthful Mr. Buzzacott put down his fork. “In the Italian gardens of the thirteenth century,” he began again, making with his long, pale hand a curved and flowery gesture that ended with a clutch at his beard, “a frequent and most felicitous use was made of green tunnels.”

“Green tunnels?” Barbara woke up suddenly from her tranced silence. “Green tunnels?”

“Yes, my dear,” said her father. “Green tunnels. Arched alleys covered with vines or other creeping plants. Their length was often very considerable.”

But Barbara had once more ceased to pay attention to what he was saying. Green tunnels — the word had floated down to her, through profound depths of reverie, across great spaces of abstraction, startling her like the sound of a strange-voiced bell. Green tunnels — what a wonderful idea. She would not listen to her father explaining the phrase into dullness. He made everything dull; an inverted alchemist, turning gold into lead. She pictured caverns in a great aquarium, long vistas between rocks and scarcely swaying weeds and pale, discoloured corals; endless dim green corridors with huge lazy fishes loitering aimlessly along them. Green-faced monsters with goggling eyes and mouths that slowly opened and shut. Green tunnels....

“I have seen them illustrated in illuminated manuscripts of the period,” Mr. Buzzacott went on; once more he clutched his pointed brown beard — clutched and combed it with his long fingers.

Mr. Topes looked up. The glasses of his round owlish spectacles flashed as he moved his head. “I know what you mean,” he said.

“I have a very good mind to have one, planted in my garden here.”

“It will take a long time to grow,” said Mr. Topes. “In this sand, so close to the sea, you will only be able to plant vines. And they come up very slowly very slowly indeed.” He shook his head and the points of light danced wildly in his spectacles. His voice drooped hopelessly, his grey moustache drooped, his whole person drooped. Then, suddenly, he pulled himself up. A shy, apologetic smile appeared on his face. He wriggled uncomfortably. Then, with a final rapid shake of the head, he gave vent to a quotation:

But at my back I always hear


Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.”

He spoke deliberately, and his voice trembled a little. He always found it painfully difficult to say something choice and out of the ordinary; and yet what a wealth of remembered phrase, what apt new coinages were always surging through his mind!

“They don’t grow so slowly as all that,” said Mr. Buzzacott confidently. He was only just over fifty, and looked a handsome thirty-five. He gave himself at least another forty years; indeed, he had not yet begun to contemplate the possibility of ever concluding.

“Miss Barbara will enjoy it, perhaps — your green tunnel.” Mr. Topes sighed and looked across the table at his host’s daughter.

Barbara was sitting with her elbows on the table, her chin in her hands, staring in front of her. The sound of her own name reached her faintly. She turned her head in Mr. Topes’s direction and found herself confronted by the glitter of his round, convex spectacles. At the end of the green tunnel — she stared at the shining circles — hung the eyes of a goggling fish. They approached, floating, closer and closer, along the dim submarine corridor.

Confronted by this fixed regard, Mr. Topes looked away. What thoughtful eyes! He couldn’t remember ever to have seen eyes so full of thought. There were certain Madonnas of Montagna, he reflected, very like hen mild little blonde Madonnas with slightly snub noses and very, very young. But he was old; it would be many years, in spite of Buzzacott, before the vines grew up into a green tunnel. He took a sip of wine; then, mechanically, sucked his drooping grey moustache.

“Arthur!”

At the sound of his wife’s voice Mr. Topes started, raised his napkin to his mouth. Mrs. Topes did not permit the sucking of moustaches. It was only in moments of absent-mindedness that he ever offended, now.

“The Marchese Prampolini is coming here to take coffee,” said Mr. Buzzacott suddenly. “I almost forgot to tell you.”

“One of these Italian marquises, I suppose,” said Mrs. Topes, who was no snob, except in England. She raised her chin with a little jerk.

Mr. Buzzacott executed an upward curve of the hand in her direction. “I assure you, Mrs. Topes, he belongs to a very old and distinguished family. They are Genoese in origin. You remember their palace, Barbara? Built by Alessi.”

Barbara looked up. “Oh yes,” she said vaguely. “Alessi. I know.” Alessi: Aleppo — where a malignant and a turbaned Turk. And a turbaned; that had always seemed to her very funny.

“Several of his ancestors,” Mr. Buzzacott went on, “distinguished themselves as vice-roys of Corsica. They did good work in the suppression of rebellion. Strange, isn’t it” — he turned parenthetically to Mr. Topes— “the way in which sympathy is always on the side of rebels? What a fuss people made of Corsica! That ridiculous book of Gregorovius, for example. And the Irish, and the Poles, and all the rest of them. It always seems to me very superfluous and absurd.”

“Isn’t it, perhaps, a little natural?” Mr. Topes began timorously and tentatively, but his host went on without listening.

“The present marquis,” he said, “is the head of the local Fascisti. They have done no end of good work in this district in the way of preserving law and order and keeping the lower classes in their place.”

“Ah, the Fascisti,” Mrs. Topes repeated approvingly. “One would like to see something of the kind in England. What with all these strikes....”

“He has asked me for a subscription to the funds of the organisation. I shall give him one, of course.”

“Of course.” Mrs. Topes nodded. “My nephew, the one who was a major during the war, volunteered in the last coal strike. He was sorry, I know, that it didn’t come to a fight. ‘Aunt Annie,’ he said to me, when I saw him last, ‘if there had been a fight we should have knocked them out completely — completely.’”

In Aleppo, the Fascisti, malignant and turbaned, were fighting, under the palm trees. Weren’t they palm trees, those tufted green plumes?

“What, no ice to-day? Niente gelato?” inquired Mr. Buzzacott as the maid put down the compote of peaches on the table.

Concetta apologised. The ice-making machine in the village had broken down. There would be no ice till to-morrow.

“Too bad,” said Mr. Buzzacott. “Troppo male, Concetta.”

Under the palm trees, Barbara saw them: they pranced about, fighting. They were mounted on big dogs, and in the trees were enormous many-coloured birds.

“Goodness me, the child’s asleep.” Mrs. Topes was proffering the dish of peaches. “How much longer am I to hold this in front of your nose, Barbara?”

Barbara felt herself blushing. “I’m so sorry,” she mumbled, and took the dish clumsily.

“Day-dreaming. It’s a bad habit.”

“It’s one we all succumb to sometimes,” put in Mr. Topes deprecatingly, with a little nervous tremble of the head.

“You may, my dear,” said his wife. “I do not.”

Mr. Topes lowered his eyes to his plate and went on eating.

“The marchese should be here at any moment now,” said Mr. Buzzacott, looking at his watch. “I hope he won’t be late. I find I suffer so much from any postponement of my siesta. This Italian heat,” he added, with growing plaintiveness, “one can’t be too careful.”

“Ah, but when I was with my father in India,” began Mrs. Topes in a tone of superiority: “he was an Indian civilian, you know....”

Aleppo, India — always the palm trees. Cavalcades of big dogs, and tigers too.

Concetta ushered in the marquis. Delighted. Pleased to meet. Speak English? Yés, yéss. Pocchino. Mrs. Topes: and Mr. Topes, the distinguished antiquarian. Ah, of course; know his name very well. My daughter. Charmed. Often seen the signorina bathing. Admired the way she dives. Beautiful — the hand made a long, caressing gesture. These athletic English signorine. The teeth flashed astonishingly white in the brown face, the dark eyes glittered. She felt herself blushing again, looked away, smiled foolishly. The marquis had already turned back to Mr. Buzzacott.

“So you have decided to settle in our Carrarese.”

Well, not settled exactly; Mr. Buzzacott wouldn’t go so far as to say settled. A villine for the summer months. The winter in Rome. One was forced to live abroad. Taxation in England.... Soon they were all talking. Barbara looked at them. Beside the marquis they all seemed half dead. His face flashed as he talked; he seemed to be boiling with life. Her father was limp and pale, like something long buried from the light; and Mr. Topes was all dry and shrivelled; and Mrs. Topes looked more than ever like something worked by clockwork. They were talking about Socialism and Fascisti, and all that. Barbara did not listen to what they were saying; but she looked at them, absorbed.

Good-bye, good-bye. The animated face with its flash of a smile was turned like a lamp from one to another. Now it was turned on her. Perhaps one evening she would come, with her father, and the Signora Topes. He and his sister gave little dances sometimes. Only the gramophone, of course. But that was better than nothing, and the signorina must dance divinely — another flash — he could see that. He pressed her hand again. Good-bye.

It was time for the siesta.

“Don’t forget to pull down the mosquito netting, my dear,” Mr. Buzzacott exhorted. “There is always a danger of anophylines.”

“All right, father.” She moved towards the door without turning round to answer him. He was always terribly tiresome about mosquito nets. Once they had driven through the Campagna in a hired cab, completely enclosed in an improvised tent of netting. The monuments along the Appian Way had loomed up mistily as through bridal veils. And how everyone had laughed. But her father, of course, hadn’t so much as noticed it. He never noticed anything.

“Is it at Berlin, that charming little Madonna of Montagna’s?” Mr. Topes abruptly asked. “The one with the Donor kneeling in the left-hand corner as if about to kiss the foot of the Child.” His spectacles flashed in Mr. Buzzacott’s direction.

“Why do you ask?”

“I don’t know. I was just thinking of it.”

“I think you must mean the one in the Mond Collection.”

“Ah yes; very probably. In the Mond....”

Barbara opened the door and walked into the twilight of her shuttered room. It was hot even here; for another three hours it would hardly be possible to stir. And that old idiot, Mrs. Topes, always made a fuss if one came in to lunch with bare legs and one’s after-bathing tunic. “In India we always made a point of being properly and adequately dressed. An Englishwoman must keep up her position with natives, and to all intents and purposes Italians are natives.” And so she always had to put on shoes and stockings and a regular frock just at the hottest hour of the day. What an old ass that woman was! She slipped off her clothes as fast as she could. That was a little better.

Standing in front of the long mirror in the wardrobe door she came to the humiliating conclusion that she looked like a piece of badly toasted bread. Brown face, brown neck and shoulders, brown arms, brown legs from the knee downwards; but all the rest of her was white, silly, effeminate, townish white. If only one could run about with no clothes on till one was like those little coppery children who rolled and tumbled in the burning sand! Now she was just underdone, half-baked, and wholly ridiculous. For a long time she looked at her pale image. She saw herself running, bronzed all over, along the sand; or through a field of flowers, narcissus and wild tulips; or in soft grass under grey olive trees. She turned round with a sudden start. There, in the shadows behind her.... No, of course there was nothing.

It was that awful picture in a magazine she had looked at, so many years ago, when she was a child. There was a lady sitting at her dressing-table, doing her hair in front of the glass; and a huge, hairy black monkey creeping up behind her. She always got the creeps when she looked at herself in a mirror. It was very silly. But still. She turned away from the mirror, crossed the room, and, without lowering the mosquito curtains, lay down on her bed. The flies buzzed about her, settled incessantly on her face. She shook her head, flapped at them angrily with her hands. There would be peace if she let down the netting. But she thought of the Appian Way seen mistily through the bridal veil and preferred to suffer the flies. In the end she had to surrender; the brutes were too much for her. But, at any rate, it wasn’t the fear of anophylines that made her lower the netting.

Undisturbed now and motionless, she lay stretched stiffly out under the transparent bell of gauze. A specimen under a glass case. The fancy possessed her mind. She saw a huge museum with thousands of glass cases, full of fossils and butterflies and stuffed birds and mediæval spoons and armour and Florentine jewellery and mummies and carved ivory and illuminated manuscripts. But in one of the cases was a human being, shut up there alive.

All of a sudden she became horribly miserable. “Boring, boring, boring,” she whispered, formulating the words aloud. Would it never stop being boring? The tears came into her eyes. How awful everything was! And perhaps it would go on being as bad as this all her life. Seventeen from seventy was fifty three. Fifty three years of it. And if she lived to a hundred there would be more than eighty.

The thought depressed her all the evening. Even her bath after tea did her no good. Swimming far out, far out, she lay there, floating on the warm water. Sometimes she looked at the sky, sometimes she turned her head towards the shore. Framed in their pinewoods, the villas looked as small and smug as the advertisement of a seaside resort. But behind them, across the level plain, were the mountains. Sharp, bare peaks of limestone, green woodland slopes and grey-green expanses of terraced olive trees — they seemed marvellously close and clear in this evening light. And beautiful, beautiful beyond words. But that, somehow, only made things worse. And Shelley had lived a few miles farther up the coast, there, behind the headland guarding the Gulf of Spezia. Shelley had been drowned in this milk-warm sea. That made it worse too.

The sun was getting very low and red over the sea. She swam slowly in. On the beach Mrs. Topes waited, disapprovingly. She had known somebody, a strong man, who had caught cramp from staying in too long. He sank like a stone. Like a stone. The queer people Mrs. Topes had known! And the funny things they did, the odd things that happened to them.

Dinner that evening was duller than ever. Barbara went early to bed. All night long the same old irritating cicada scraped and scraped among the pine trees, monotonous and regular as clockwork. Zip zip, zip zip zip. Boring, boring. Was the animal never bored by its own noise? It seemed odd that it shouldn’t be. But, when she came to think of it, nobody ever did get bored with their own noise. Mrs. Topes, for example; she never seemed to get bored. Zip zip, zip zip zip. The cicada went on without pause.

Concetta knocked at the door at half-past seven. The morning was as bright and cloudless as all the mornings were. Barbara jumped up, looked from one window at the mountains, from the other at the sea; all seemed to be well with them. All was well with her, too, this morning. Seated at the mirror, she did not so much as think of the big monkey in the far obscure corner of the room. A bathing dress and a bath-gown, sandals, a handkerchief round her head, and she was ready. Sleep had left no recollection of last night’s mortal boredom. She ran downstairs.

“Good morning, Mr. Topes.”

Mr. Topes was walking in the garden among the vines. He turned round, took off his hat, smiled a greeting.

“Good morning, Miss Barbara.” He paused. Then, with an embarrassed wriggle of introduction he went on; a queer little falter came into his voice. “A real Chaucerian morning, Miss Barbara. A May-day morning — only it happens to be September. Nature is fresh and bright, and there is at least one specimen in this dream garden” — he wriggled more uncomfortably than ever, and there was a tremulous glitter in his round spectacle lenses of the poet’s ‘yonge fresshe folkes.’ He bowed in her direction, smiled deprecatingly, and was silent. The remark, it seemed to him, now that he had finished speaking, was somehow not as good as he had thought it would be.

Barbara laughed. “Chaucer! They used to make us read the Canterbury Tales at school. But they always bored me. Are you going to bathe?”

“Not before breakfast.” Mr. Topes shook his head. “One is getting a little too old for that.”

“Is one?” Why did the silly old man always say ‘one’ when he meant ‘I’? She couldn’t help laughing at him. “Well, I must hurry, or else I shall be late for breakfast again, and you know how I catch it.”

She ran out, through the gate in the garden wall, across the beach, to the striped red-and-white bathing cabin that stood before the house. Fifty yards away she saw the Marchese Prampolini, still dripping from the sea, running up towards his bathing hut. Catching sight of her, he flashed a smile in her direction, gave a military salute. Barbara waved her hand, then thought that the gesture had been too familiar — but at this hour of the morning it was difficult not to have bad jolly manners — and added the corrective of a stiff bow. After all, she had only met him yesterday. Soon she was swimming out to sea, and, ugh! what a lot of horrible huge jelly-fish there were.

Mr. Topes had followed her slowly through the gate and across the sand. He watched her running down from the cabin, slender as a boy, with long, bounding strides. He watched her go jumping with great splashes through the deepening water, then throw herself forward and begin to swim. He watched her till she was no more than a small dark dot far out.

Emerging from his cabin, the marquis met him walking slowly along the beach, his head bent down and his lips slightly moving as though he were repeating something, a prayer or a poem, to himself.

“Good morning, signore.” The marquis shook him by the hand with a more than English cordiality.

“Good morning,” replied Mr. Topes, allowing his hand to be shaken. He resented this interruption of his thoughts.

“She swims very well, Miss Buzzacott.”

“Very,” assented Mr. Topes, and smiled to himself to think what beautiful, poetical things he might have said, if he had chosen.

“Well, so, so,” said the marquis, too colloquial by half. He shook hands again, and the two men went their respective ways.

Barbara was still a hundred yards from the shore when she heard the crescendo and dying boom of the gong floating out from the villa. Damn! she’d be late again. She quickened her stroke and came splashing out through the shallows, flushed and breathless.

She’d be ten minutes late, she calculated; it would take her at least that to do her hair and dress. Mrs. Topes would be on the war-path again; though what business that old woman had to lecture her as she did, goodness only knew. She always succeeded in making herself horribly offensive and unpleasant.

The beach was quite deserted as she trotted, panting, across it, empty to right and left as far as she could see. If only she had a horse to go galloping at the water’s edge, miles and miles. Right away down to Bocca d’Arno she’d go, swim the river — she saw herself crouching on the horse’s back, as he swam, with legs tucked up on the saddle, trying not to get her feet wet — and gallop on again, goodness only knew where.

In front of the cabin she suddenly halted. There in the ruffled sand she had seen a writing. Big letters, faintly legible, sprawled across her path.

O CLARA D’ELLÉBEUSE.

She pieced the dim letters together. They hadn’t been there when she started out to bathe. Who?... She looked round. The beach was quite empty. And what was the meaning? “O Clara d’Ellébeuse.” She took her bath-gown from the cabin, slipped on her sandals, and ran back towards the house as fast as she could. She felt most horribly frightened.

It was a sultry, headachey sort of morning, with a hot sirocco that stirred the bunting on the flagstaffs. By midday the thunderclouds had covered half the sky. The sun still blazed on the sea, but over the mountains all was black and indigo. The storm broke noisily overhead just as they were drinking their after-luncheon coffee.

“Arthur,” said Mrs. Topes, painfully calm, “shut the shutters, please.”

She was not frightened, no. But she preferred not to see the lightning. When the room was darkened, she began to talk, suavely and incessantly.

Lying back in her deep arm-chair, Barbara was thinking of Clara d’Ellébeuse. What did it mean and who was Clara d’Ellébeuse? And why had he written it there for her to see? He — for there could be no doubt who had written it. The flash of teeth and eyes, the military salute; she knew she oughtn’t to have waved to him. He had written it there while she was swimming out. Written it and then run away. She rather liked that — just an extraordinary word on the sand, like the footprint in Robinson Crusoe.

“Personally,” Mrs. Topes was saying, “I prefer Harrod’s.”

The thunder crashed and rattled. It was rather exhilarating, Barbara thought; one felt, at any rate, that something was happening for a change. She remembered the little room half-way up the stairs at Lady Thingumy’s house, with the bookshelves and the green curtains and the orange shade on the light; and that awful young man like a white slug who had tried to kiss her there, at the dance last year. But that was different — not at all serious; and the young man had been so horribly ugly. She saw the marquis running up the beach, quick and alert. Copper coloured all over, with black hair. He was certainly very handsome. But as for being in love, well ... what did that exactly mean? Perhaps when she knew him better. Even now she fancied she detected something. O Clara d’Ellébeuse. What an extraordinary thing it was.

With his long fingers Mr. Buzzacott combed his beard. This winter, he was thinking, he would put another thousand into Italian money when the exchange was favourable. In the spring it always seemed to drop back again. One could clear three hundred pounds on one’s capital if the exchange went down to seventy. The income on three hundred was fifteen pounds a year, and fifteen pounds was now fifteen hundred lire. And fifteen hundred lire, when you came to think of it, was really sixty pounds. That was to say that one would make an addition of more than one pound a week to one’s income by this simple little speculation. He became aware that Mrs. Topes had asked him a question.

“Yes, yes, perfectly,” he said.

Mrs. Topes talked on; she was keeping up her morale. Was she right in believing that the thunder sounded a little less alarmingly loud and near?

Mr. Topes sat, polishing his spectacles with a white silk handkerchief. Vague and myopic between their puckered lids, his eyes seemed lost, homeless, unhappy. He was thinking about beauty. There were certain relations between the eyelids and the temples, between the breast and the shoulder; there were certain successions of sounds. But what about them? Ah, that was the problem — that was the problem. And there was youth, there was innocence. But it was all very obscure, and there were so many phrases, so many remembered pictures and melodies; he seemed to get himself entangled among them. And he was after all so old and so ineffective. He put on his spectacles again, and definition came into the foggy world beyond his eyes. The shuttered room was very dark. He could distinguish the Renaissance profile of Mr. Buzzacott, bearded and delicately featured. In her deep arm-chair Barbara appeared, faintly white, in an attitude relaxed and brooding. And Mrs. Topes was nothing more than a voice in the darkness. She had got on to the marriage of the Prince of Wales. Who would they eventually find for him?

Clara d’Ellébeuse, Clara d’Ellébeuse. She saw herself so clearly as the marchesa. They would have a house in Rome, a palace. She saw herself in the Palazzo Spada — it had such a lovely vaulted passage leading from the courtyard to the gardens at the back. “MARCHESA PRAMPOLINI, PALAZZO SPADA, ROMA” — a great big visiting-card beautifully engraved. And she would go riding every day in the Pincio. “Mi porta il mio cavallo” she would say to the footman, who answered the bell. Porta? Would that be quite correct? Hardly. She’d have to take some proper Italian lessons to talk to the servants. One must never be ridiculous before servants. “Voglio il mio cavallo. Haughtily one would say it sitting at one’s writing-table in a riding-habit, without turning round. It would be a green riding-habit, with a black tricorne hat, braided with silver.

“Prendero la mia collazzione al letto.” Was that right for breakfast in bed? Because she would have breakfast in bed, always. And when she got up there would be lovely looking glasses with three panels where one could see oneself sideface. She saw herself leaning forward, powdering her nose, carefully, scientifically. With the monkey creeping up behind? Ooh. Horrible! Ho paura di questa scimmia, questo scimmione.

She would come back to lunch after her ride. Perhaps Prampolini would be there; she had rather left him out of the picture so far. “Dov’ è il Marchese?” “Nella sala di pranza, signora.” I began without you, I was so hungry. Pasta asciutta. Where have you been, my love? Riding, my dove. She supposed they’d get into the habit of saying that sort of thing. Everyone seemed to. And you? I have been out with the Fascisti.

Oh, these Fascisti! Would life be worth living when he was always going out with pistols and bombs and things? They would bring him back one day on a stretcher. She saw it. Pale, pale, with blood on him. Il signore è ferito. Nel petto. Gruvamente. E morto.

How could she bear it? It was too awful; too, too terrible. Her breath came in a kind of sob; she shuddered as though she had been hurt. E morto, E morto. The tears came into her eyes.

She was roused suddenly by a dazzling light. The storm had receded far enough into the distance to permit of Mrs. Topes’s opening the shutters.

“It’s quite stopped raining.”

To be disturbed in one’s intimate sorrow and self-abandonment at a death-bed by a stranger’s intrusion, an alien voice.... Barbara turned her face away from the light and surreptitiously wiped her eyes. They might see and ask her why she had been crying. She hated Mrs. Topes for opening the shutters; at the inrush of the light something beautiful had flown, an emotion had vanished, irrecoverably. It was a sacrilege.

Mr. Buzzacott looked at his watch. “Too late, I fear, for a siesta now,” he said. “Suppose we ring for an early tea.”

“An endless succession of meals,” said Mr. Topes, with a tremolo and a sigh. “That’s what life seems to be — real life.”

“I have been calculating” — Mr. Buzzacott turned his pale green eyes towards his guest— “that I may be able to afford that pretty little cinque cassone, after all. It would be a bit of a squeeze.” He played with his beard. “But still....”

After tea, Barbara and Mr. Topes went for a walk along the beach. She didn’t much want to go, but Mrs. Topes thought it would be good for her; so she had to. The storm had passed and the sky over the sea was clear. But the waves were still breaking with an incessant clamour on the outer shallows, driving wide sheets of water high up the beach, twenty or thirty yards above the line where, on a day of calm, the ripples ordinarily expired. Smooth, shining expanses of water advanced and receded like steel surfaces moved out and back by a huge machine. Through the rain-washed air the mountains appeared with an incredible clarity. Above them hung huge masses of cloud.

“Clouds over Carrara,” said Mr. Topes, deprecating his remark with a little shake of the head and a movement of the shoulders. “I like to fancy sometimes that the spirits of the great sculptors lodge among these marble hills, and that it is their unseen hands that carve the clouds into these enormous splendid shapes. I imagine their ghosts” — his voice trembled— “feeling about among superhuman conceptions, planning huge groups and friezes and monumental figures with blowing draperies; planning, conceiving, but never quite achieving. Look, there’s something of Michelangelo in that white cloud with the dark shadows underneath it.” Mr. Topes pointed, and Barbara, nodded and said, “Yes, yes,” though she wasn’t quite sure which cloud he meant. “It’s like Night on the Medici tomb; all the power and passion are brooding inside it, pent up. And there, in that sweeping, gesticulating piece of vapour — you see the one I mean — there’s a Bernini. All the passion’s on the surface, expressed; the gesture’s caught at its most violent. And that sleek, smug white fellow over there, that’s a delicious absurd Canova.” Mr. Topes chuckled.

“Why do you always talk about art?” said Barbara. “You bring these dead people into everything. What do I know about Canova or whoever it is?” They were none of them alive. She thought of that dark face, bright as a lamp with life. He at least wasn’t dead. She wondered whether the letters were still there in the sand before the cabin. No, of course not; the rain and the wind would have blotted them out.

Mr. Topes was silent; he walked with slightly bent knees and his eyes were fixed on the ground; he wore a speckled black-and-white straw hat. He always thought of art; that was what was wrong with him. Like an old tree he was; built up of dead wood, with only a few fibres of life to keep him from rotting away. They walked on for a long time in silence.

“Here’s the river,” said Mr. Topes at last.

A few steps more and they were on the bank of a wide stream that came down slowly through the plain to the sea. Just inland from the beach it was fringed with pine trees; beyond the trees one could see the plain, and beyond the plain were the mountains. In this calm light after the storm everything looked strange. The colours seemed deeper and more intense than at ordinary times. And though all was so clear, there was a mysterious air of remoteness about the whole scene. There was no sound except the continuous breathing of the sea. They stood for a little while, looking; then turned back.

Far away along the beach two figures were slowly approaching. White flannel trousers, a pink skirt.

“Nature,” Mr. Topes enunciated, with a shake of the head. “One always comes back to nature. At a moment such as this, in surroundings like these, one realises it. One lives now — more quietly, perhaps, but more profoundly. Deep watery. Deep waters....”

The figures drew closer. Wasn’t it the marquis? And who was with him? Barbara strained her eyes to see.

“Most of one’s life,” Mr. Topes went on, “is one prolonged effort to prevent oneself thinking. Your father and I, we collect pictures and read about the dead. Other people achieve the same results by drinking, or breeding rabbits, or doing amateur carpentry. Anything rather than think calmly about the important things.”

Mr. Topes was silent. He looked about him, at the sea, at the mountains, at the great clouds, at his companion. A frail Montagna madonna, with the sea and the westering sun, the mountains and the storm, all eternity as a background. And he was sixty, with all a life, immensely long and yet timelessly short, behind him, an empty life. He thought of death and the miracles of beauty; behind his round, glittering spectacles he felt inclined to weep.

The approaching couple were quite near now.

“What a funny old walrus,” said the lady.

“Walrus? Your natural history is quite wrong.” The marquis laughed. “He’s much too dry to be a walrus. I should suggest some sort of an old cat.”

“Well, whatever he is, I’m sorry for that poor little girl. Think of having nobody better to go about with!”

“Pretty, isn’t she?”

“Yes, but too young, of course.”

“I like the innocence.”

“Innocence? Cher ami! These English girls. Oh, la la! They may look innocent But, believe me....”

“Sh, sh. They’ll hear you.”

“Pooh, they don’t understand Italian.”

The marquis raised his hand. “The old walrus....” he whispered; then addressed himself loudly and jovially to the newcomers.

“Good evening, signorina. Good evening, Mr. Topes. After a storm the air is always the purest, don’t you find, eh?”

Barbara nodded, leaving Mr. Topes to answer. It wasn’t his sister. It was the Russian woman, the one of whom Mrs. Topes used to say that it was a disgrace she should be allowed to stay at the hotel. She had turned away, dissociating herself from the conversation; Barbara looked at the line of her averted face. Mr. Topes was saying something about the Pastoral Symphony. Purple face powder in the daylight; it looked hideous.

“Well, au revoir.”

The flash of the marquis’s smile was directed at them. The Russian woman turned back from the sea, slightly bowed, smiled languidly. Her heavy white eyelids were almost closed; she seemed the prey of an enormous ennui.

“They jar a little,” said Mr. Topes when they were out of earshot— “they jar on the time, on the place, on the emotion. They haven’t the innocence for this ... this....” — he wriggled and tremoloed out the just, the all too precious word— “this prelapsarian landscape.”

He looked sideways at Barbara and wondered what she was so thoughtfully frowning over. Oh, lovely and delicate young creature! What could he adequately say of death and beauty and tenderness? Tenderness....

“All this,” he went on desperately, and waved his hand to indicate the sky, the sea, the mountains, “this scene is like something remembered, clear and utterly calm; remembered across great gulfs of intervening time.”

But that was not really what he wanted to say.

“You see what I mean?” he asked dubiously. She made no reply. How could she see? “This scene is so clear and pure and remote; you need the corresponding emotion. Those people were out of harmony. They weren’t clear and pure enough.” He seemed to be getting more muddled than ever. “It’s an emotion of the young and of the old. You could feel it, I could feel it. Those people couldn’t.” He was feeling his way through obscurities. Where would he finally arrive? “Certain poems express it. You know Francis Jammes? I have thought so much of his work lately. Art instead of life, as usual; but then I’m made that way. I can’t help thinking of Jammes. Those delicate, exquisite things he wrote about Clara d’Ellébeuse.”

“Clara d’Ellébeuse?” She stopped and stared at him.

“You know the lines?” Mr. Topes smiled delightedly. “This makes me think, you make me think of them. ‘F’aime dans les temps Clara d’Ellébeuse....’ But, my dear Barbara, what is the matter?”

She had started crying, for no reason whatever.

Nuns at Luncheon

“WHAT HAVE I been doing since you saw me last?” Miss Penny repeated my question in her loud, emphatic voice. “Well, when did you see me last?”

“It must have been June,” I computed.

“Was that after I’d been proposed to by the Russian General?

“Yes; I remember hearing about the Russian General.”

Miss Penny threw back her head and laughed. Her long ear-rings swung and rattled corpses hanging in chains: an agreeably literary simile. And her laughter was like brass, but that had been said before.

“That was an uproarous incident. It’s sad you should have heard of it. I love my Russian General story. ‘Vos yeux me rendent fou.’” She laughed again.

Vos yeux — she had eyes like a hare’s, flush with her head and very bright with a superficial and expressionless brightness. What a formidable woman. I felt sorry for the Russian General.

“‘Sans coeur et sans entrallies,’” she went on, quoting the poor devil’s words. “Such a delightful motto, don’t you think? Like ‘Sans peur et sans reproche.’ But let me think; what have I been doing since then?” Thoughtfully she bit into the crust of her bread with long, sharp, white teeth.

“Two mixed grills,” I said parenthetically to the waiter.

“But of course,” exclaimed Miss Penny suddenly. “I haven’t seen you since my German trip. All sorts of adventures. My appendicitis; my nun.”

“Your nun?”

“My marvellous nun. I must tell you all about her.”

“Do.” Miss Penny’s anecdotes were always curious. I looked forward to an entertaining luncheon.

“You knew I’d been in Germany this autumn?”

“Well, I didn’t, as a matter of fact. But still—”

“I was just wandering round.” Miss Penny described a circle in the air with her gaudily jewelled hand. She always twinkled with massive and improbable jewellery.

“Wandering round, living on three pounds a week, partly amusing myself, partly collecting material for a few little articles. ‘What it Feels Like to be a Conquered Nation’ — sob-stuff for the Liberal press, you know — and ‘How the Hun is Trying to Wriggle out of the Indemnity,’ for the other fellows. One has to make the best of all possible worlds, don’t you find? But we mustn’t talk shop. Well, I was wandering round, and very pleasant I found it. Berlin, Dresden, Leipzig. Then down to Munich and all over the place. One fine day I got to Grauburg. You know Grauburg? It’s one of those picture-book German towns with a castle on a hill, hanging beer-gardens, a Gothic church, an old university, a river, a pretty bridge, and forests all round. Charming. But I hadn’t much opportunity to appreciate the beauties of the place. The day after I arrived there — bang! — I went down with appendicitis — screaming, I may add.”

“But how appalling!”

“They whisked me off to hospital, and cut me open before you could say knife. Excellent surgeon, highly efficient Sisters of Charity to nurse me — I couldn’t have been in better hands. But it was a bore being tied there by the leg for four weeks — a great bore. Still, the thing had its compensations. There was my nun, for example. Ah, here’s the food, thank Heaven!”

The mixed grill proved to be excellent. Miss Penny’s description of the pun came to me in scraps and snatches. A round, pink, pretty face in a winged coif; blue eyes and regular features; teeth altogether too perfect — false, in fact; but the general effect extremely pleasing. A youthful Teutonic twenty eight.

“She wasn’t my nurse,” Miss Penny explained. “But I used to see her quite often when she came in to have a look at the tolle Engländerin. Her name was Sister Agatha. During the war, they told me, she had converted any number of wounded soldiers to the true faith — which wasn’t surprising, considering how pretty she was.”

“Did she try and convert you?” I asked.

“She wasn’t such a fool.” Miss Penny laughed, and rattled the miniature gallows of her ears.

I amused myself for a moment with the thought of Miss Penny’s conversion — Miss Penny confronting a vast assembly of Fathers of the Church, rattling her earrings at their discourses on the Trinity, laughing her appalling laugh at the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, meeting the stern look of the Grand Inquisitor with a flash of her bright, emotionless hare’s eyes. What was the secret of the woman’s formidableness?

But I was missing the story. What had happened? Ah yes, the gist of it was that Sister Agatha had appeared one morning, after two or three days absence, dressed, not as a nun, but in the overalls of a hospital charwoman, with a handkerchief instead of a winged coif on her shaven head.

“Dead,” said Miss Penny; “she looked as though she were dead. A walking corpse, that’s what she was. It was a shocking sight. I shouldn’t have thought it possible for anyone to change so much in so short a time. She walked painfully, as though she had been ill for months, and she had great burnt rings round her eyes and deep lines in her face. And the general expression of unhappiness — that was something quite appalling.”

She leaned out into the gangway between the two rows of tables, and caught the passing waiter by the end of one his coat-tails. The little Italian looked round with an expression of surprise that deepened into terror on his face.

“Half a pint of Guinness,” ordered Miss Penny. “And, after this, bring me some jam roll.”

“No jam roll to-day, madam.”

“Damn!” said Miss Penny. “Bring me what you like, then.”

She let go of the waiter’s tail and resumed her narrative.

“Where was I? Yes, I remember. She came into my room, I was telling you, with a bucket of water and a brush, dressed like a charwoman. Naturally I was rather surprised. ‘What on earth are you doing, Sister Agatha?’ I asked. No answer. She just shook her head, and began to scrub the floor. When she’d finished, she left the room without so much as looking at me again. ‘What’s happened to Sister Agatha?’ I asked my nurse when she next came in. ‘Can’t say.’— ‘Won’t say,’ I said. No answer. It took nearly a week to find out what really had happened. Nobody dared tell me; it was strengst verboten, as they used to say in the good old days. But I wormed it out in the long run. My nurse, the doctor, the charwomen — I got something out of all of them. I always get what I want in the end.” Miss Penny laughed like a horse.

“I’m sure you do,” I said politely.

“Much obliged,” acknowledged Miss Penny. “But to proceed. My information came to me in fragmentary whispers. ‘Sister Agatha ran away with a man.’ — Dear me.— ‘One of the patients.’ — You don’t say so.— ‘A criminal out of the jail.’ — The plot thickens.— ‘He ran away from her.’ — It seems to grow thinner again.— ‘They brought her back here; she’s been disgraced. There’s been a funeral service for her in the chapel — coffin and all. She had to be present at it — her own funeral. She isn’t a nun any more. She has to do charwoman’s work now, the roughest in the hospital. She’s not allowed to speak to anybody, and nobody’s allowed to speak to her. She’s regarded as dead.’” Miss Penny paused to signal to the harassed little Italian. “My small ‘Guinness,’” she called out.

“Coming, coming,” and the foreign voice cried “Guinness” down the lift, and from below another voice echoed, “Guinness.”

“I filled in the details bit by bit. There was our hero, to begin with; I had to bring him into the picture, which was rather difficult, as I had never seen him. But I got a photograph of him. The police circulated one when he got away; I don’t suppose they ever caught him.” Miss Penny opened her bag. “Here it is,” she said. “I always carry it about with me; it’s become a superstition. For years, I remember, I used to carry a little bit of heather tied up with string. Beautiful, isn’t it? There’s a sort of Renaissance look about it, don’t you think? He was half-Italian, you know.”

Italian. Ah, that explained it. I had been wondering how Bavaria could have produced this thin-faced creature with the big dark eyes, the finely modelled nose and chin, and the fleshy lips so royally and sensually curved.

“He’s certainly very superb,” I said, handing back the picture.

Miss Penny put it carefully away in her bag. “Isn’t he?” she said. “Quite marvellous. But his character and his mind were even better. I see him as one of those innocent, childlike monsters of iniquity who are simply unaware of the existence of right and wrong. And he had genius — the real Italian genius for engineering, for dominating and exploiting nature. A true son of the Roman aqueduct builders he was, and a brother of the electrical engineers. Only Kuno — that was his name — didn’t work in water; he worked in women. He knew how to harness the natural energy of passion; he made devotion drive his mills. The commercial exploitation of love-power, that was his specialty. I sometimes wonder,” Miss Penny added in a different tone, “whether I shall ever be exploited, when I get a little more middle-aged and celibate, by one of these young engineers of the passions. It would be humiliating, particularly as I’ve done so little exploiting from my side.”

She frowned and was silent for a moment. No, decidedly, Miss Penny was not beautiful; you could not even honestly say that she had charm or was attractive. That high Scotch colouring, those hare’s eyes, the voice, the terrifying laugh, and the size of her, the general formidableness of the woman. No, no, no.

“You said he had been in prison,” I said. The silence, with all its implications, was becoming embarrassing.

Miss Penny sighed, looked up, and nodded. “He was fool enough,” she said, “to leave the straight and certain road of female exploitation for the dangerous courses of burglary. We all have our occasional accesses of folly. They gave him a heavy sentence, but he succeeded in getting pneumonia, I think it was, a week after entering jail. He was transferred to the hospital. Sister Agatha, with her known talent for saving souls, was given him as his particular attendant. But it was he, I’m afraid, who did the converting.”

Miss Penny finished off the last mouthful of the ginger pudding which the waiter had brought in lieu of jam roll.

“I suppose you don’t smoke cheroots,” I said, as I opened my cigar-case.

“Well, as a matter of fact, I do,” Miss Penny replied. She looked sharply round the restaurant. “I must just see if there are any of those horrible little gossip paragraphers here to-day. One doesn’t want to figure in the social and personal column to-morrow morning: ‘A fact which is not so generally known as it ought to be is, that Miss Penny, the well-known woman journalist, always ends her luncheon with a six-inch Burma cheroot. I saw her yesterday in a restaurant — not a hundred miles from Carmelite Street — smoking like a house on fire.’ You know the touch. But the coast seems to be clear, thank goodness.”

She took a cheroot from the case, lit it at my proffered match, and went on talking.

“Yes, it was young Kuno who did the converting. Sister Agatha was converted back into the worldly Melpomene Fugger she had been before she became the bride of holiness.”

“Melpomene Fugger?”

“That was her name. I had her history from my old doctor. He had seen all Grauburg, living and dying and propagating for generations. Melpomene Fugger why, he had brought little Melpel into the world, little Melpchen. Her father was Professor Fugger, the great Professor Fugger, the berümter Geolog. Oh, yes, of course, I know the name. So well.... He was the man who wrote the standard work on Lemuria — you know, the hypothetical continent where the lemurs come from. I showed due respect. Liberal-minded he was, a disciple of Herder, a world-burgher, as they beautifully call it over there. Anglophile, too, and always ate porridge for breakfast — up till August 1914. Then, the radiant morning of the fifth, he renounced it for ever, solemnly and with tears in his eyes. The national food of a people who had betrayed culture and civilisation — how could he go on eating it? It would stick in his throat. In future he would have a lightly boiled egg. He sounded, I thought, altogether charming. And his daughter, Melpomene — she sounded charming, too; and such thick, yellow pig-tails when she was young! Her mother was dead, and a sister of the great Professor’s ruled the house with an iron rod. Aunt Bertha was her name. Well, Melpomene grew up, very plump and appetising. When she was seventeen, something very odious and disagreeable happened to her. Even the doctor didn’t know exactly what it was; but he wouldn’t have been surprised if it had had something to do with the then Professor of Latin, an old friend of the family’s, who combined, it seems, great erudition with a horrid fondness for very young ladies.”

Miss Penny knocked half an inch of cigar ash into her empty glass.

“If I wrote short stories,” she went on reflectively “(but it’s too much bother), I should make this anecdote into a sort of potted life history, beginning with a scene immediately after this disagreeable event in Melpomene’s life. I see the scene so clearly. Poor little Melpel is leaning over the bastions of Grauburg Castle, weeping into the June night and the mulberry trees in the garden thirty feet below. She is besieged by the memory of what happened this dreadful afternoon. Professor Engelmann, her father’s old friend, with the magnificent red Assyrian beard.... Too awful — too awful! But then, as I was saying, short stones are really too much bother; or perhaps I’m too stupid to write them. I bequeath it to you. You know how to tick these things off.”

“You’re generous.”

“Not at all,” said Miss Penny. “My terms are ten per cent commission on the American sale. Incidentally there won’t be an American sale. Poor Melpchen’s history is not for the chaste public of Those States. But let me hear what you propose to do with Melpomene now you’ve got her on the castle bastions.”

“That’s simple,” I said. “I know all about German university towns and castles on hills. I shall make her look into the June night, as you suggest; into the violet night with its points of golden flame. There will be the black silhouette of the castle, with its sharp roofs and hooded turrets, behind her. From the hanging beer-gardens in the town below the voices of the students, singing in perfect four-part harmony, will float up through the dark-blue spaces. ‘Röslein, Röslein, Röslein rot’ and ‘Das Ringlein sprang in zwei’ — the heart-rendingly sweet old songs will make her cry all the more. Her tears will patter like rain among the leaves of the mulberry trees in the garden below. Does that seem to you adequate?”

“Very nice,” said Miss Penny. “But how are you going to bring the sex problem and all of its horrors into the landscape?”

“Well, let me think.” I called to memory those distant foreign summers when I was completing my education. “I know. I shall suddenly bring a swarm of moving candles and Chinese lanterns under the mulberry trees. You imagine the rich lights and shadows, the jewel-bright leafage, the faces and moving limbs of men and women, seen for an instant and gone again. They are students and girls of the town come out to dance, this windless, blue June night, under the mulberry trees. And now they begin, thumping round and round in a ring, to the music of their own singing.

“Wir können spielen


Vio-vio-vio-lin


Wir können spielen


Vi-o-lin

“Now the rhythm changes, quickens.

“Und wir können tanzen Bumstarara,


Bumstarara, Bumstarara,


Und wir können tanzen Bumstarara,


Bumstarara-rara.

“The dance becomes a rush, an elephantine prancing on the dry lawn under the mulberry trees. And from the bastion Melpomene looks down and perceives, suddenly and apocalyptically, that everything in the world is sex, sex, sex. Men and women, male and female — always the same, and all, in the light of the horror of the afternoon, disgusting. That’s how I should do it, Miss Penny.”

“And very nice, too. But I wish you could find a place to bring in my conversation with the doctor. I shall never forget the way he cleared his throat, and coughed before embarking on the delicate subject. ‘You may know, ahem, gracious Miss,’ he began— ‘you may know that religious phenomena are often, ahem, closely connected with sexual causes.’ I replied that I had heard rumours which might justify me in believing this to be true among Roman Catholics, but that in the Church of England — and I for one was a practitioner of Anglicanismus — it was very different. ‘That might be,’ said the doctor; he had had no opportunity in the course of his long medical career of personally studying Anglicanismus. But he could vouch for the fact that among his patients, here in Grauburg, mysticismus was very often mixed up with the Geschlechtsleben. Melpomene was a case in point. After that hateful afternoon she had become extremely religious; the Professor of Latin had diverted her emotions out of their normal channels. She rebelled against the placid Agnosticismus of her father, and at night, in secret, when Aunt Bertha’s dragon eyes were closed, she would read such forbidden books as The Life of St. Theresa, The Little Flowers of St. Francis, The Imitation of Christ, and the horribly enthralling Book of Martyrs. Aunt Bertha confiscated, these works whenever she came upon them; she considered them more pernicious than the novels of Marcel Prévost. The character of a good potential housewife might be completely undermined by reading of this kind. It was rather a relief for Melpomene when Aunt Bertha shuffled off, in the summer of 1911, this mortal coil. She was one of those indispensables of whom one makes the discovery, when they are gone, that one can get on quite as well without them. Poor Aunt Bertha!”

“One can imagine Melpomene trying to believe she was sorry, and horribly ashamed to find that she was really, in secret, almost glad.” The suggestion seemed to me ingenious, but Miss Penny accepted it as obvious.

“Precisely,” she said; “and the emotion would only further confirm and give new force to the tendencies which her aunt’s death left her free to indulge as much as she liked. Remorse, contrition — they would lead to the idea of doing penance. And for one who was now wallowing in the martyrology, penance was the mortification of the flesh. She used to kneel for hours, at night, in the cold; she ate too little, and when her teeth ached, which they often did, — for she had a set, the doctor told me, which had given trouble from the very first, — she would not go and see the dentist, but lay awake at night, savouring to the full her excruciations, and feeling triumphantly that they must, in some strange way, be pleasing to the Mysterious Powers. She went on like that for two or three years, till she was poisoned through and through. In the end she went down with gastric ulcer. It was three months before she came out of hospital, well for the first time in a long space of years, and with a brand new set of imperishable teeth, all gold and ivory. And in mind, too, she was changed — for the better, I suppose. The nuns who nursed her had made her see that in mortifying herself she had acted supererogatively and through spiritual pride; instead of doing right, she had sinned. The only road to salvation, they told her, lay in discipline, in the orderliness of established religion, in obedience to authority. Secretly, so as not to distress her poor father, whose Agnosticismus was extremely dogmatic, for all its unobtrusiveness, Melpomene became a Roman Catholic. She was twenty-two. Only a few months later came the war and Professor Fugger’s eternal renunciation of porridge. He did not long survive the making of that patriotic gesture. In the autumn of 1914 he caught a fatal influenza. Melpomene was alone in the world. In the spring of 1915 there was a new and very conscientious Sister of Charity at work among the wounded, in the hospital of Grauburg. Here,” explained Miss Penny, jabbing the air with her forefinger, “you put a line of asterisks or dots to signify a six years’ gulf in the narrative. And you begin again right in the middle of a dialogue between Sister Agatha and the newly convalescent Kuno.”

“What’s their dialogue to be about?” I asked.

“Oh, that’s easy enough,” said Miss Penny. “Almost anything would do. What about this, for example? You explain that the fever has just abated; for the first time for days the young man is fully conscious. He feels himself to be well, reborn, as it were, in a new world — a world so bright and novel and jolly that he can’t help laughing at the sight of it. He looks about him; the flies on the ceiling strike him as being extremely comic. How do they manage to walk upside down? They have suckers on their feet, says Sister Agatha, and wonders if her natural history is quite sound. Suckers on their feet — ha, ha! What an uproarious notion! Suckers on their feet — that’s good, that’s damned good! You can say charming, pathetic, positively tender things about the irrelevant mirth of convalescents the more so in this particular case, where the mirth is expressed by a young man who is to be taken back to jail as soon as he can stand firmly on his legs. Ha, ha! Laugh on, unhappy boy. It is the quacking of the Fates, the Parcæ, the Norns!”

Miss Penny gave an exaggerated imitation of her own brassy laughter. At the sound of it the few lunchers who still lingered at the other tables looked up, startled.

“You can write pages about Destiny and its ironic quacking. It’s tremendously impressive, and there’s money in every line.”

“You may be sure I shall.”

“Good! Then I can get on with my story. The days pass and the first hilarity of convalescence fades away. The young man remembers and grows sullen; his strength comes back to him, and with it a sense of despair. His mind broods incessantly on the hateful future. As for the consolations of religion, he won’t listen to them. Sister Agatha perseveres — oh, with what anxious solicitude! — in the attempt to make him understand and believe and be comforted. It is all so tremendously important, and in this case, somehow, more important than in any other. And now you see the Geschlechtsleben working yeastily and obscurely, and once again the quacking of the Norns is audible. By the way,” said Miss Penny, changing her tone and leaning confidentially across the table, “I wish you’d tell me something. Tell me, do you really — honestly, I mean — do you seriously believe in literature?”

“Believe in literature?”

“I was thinking?” Miss Penny explained, “of Ironic Fate and the quacking of the Norns and all that.”

“‘M yes.”

“And then there’s this psychology and introspection business; and construction and good narrative and word pictures and le mot juste and verbal magic and striking metaphors.”

I remembered that I had compared Miss Penny’s tinkling ear-rings to skeletons hanging in chains.

“And then, finally, and to begin with — Alpha and Omega — there’s ourselves, two professionals gloating, with an absolute lack of sympathy, over a seduced nun, and speculating on the best method of turning her misfortunes into cash. It’s all very curious, isn’t it? — when one begins to think about it dispassionately.”

“Very curious,” I agreed. “But, then, so is everything else if you look at it like that.”

“No, no,” said Miss Penny. “Nothing’s so curious as our business. But I shall never get to the end of my story if I get started on first principles.”

Miss Penny continued her narrative. I was still thinking of literature. Do you believe in it? Seriously? Ah! Luckily the question was quite meaningless. The story came to me rather vaguely, but it seemed that the young man was getting better; in a few more days, the doctor had said, he would be well — well enough to go back to jail. No, no. The question was meaningless. I would think about it no more. I concentrated my attention again.

“Sister Agatha,” I heard Miss Penny saying, “prayed, exhorted, indoctrinated. Whenever she had half a minute to spare from her other duties she would come running into the young man’s room. ‘I wonder if you fully realise the importance of prayer?’ she would ask, and, before he had time to answer, she would give him a breathless account of the uses and virtues of regular and patient supplication. Or else, it was: ‘May I tell you about St. Theresa?’ or ‘St. Stephen, the first martyr — you know about him, don’t you?’ Kuno simply wouldn’t listen at first. It seemed so fantastically irrelevant, such an absurd interruption to his thoughts, his serious, despairing thoughts about the future. Prison was real, imminent and this woman buzzed about him with her ridiculous fairy-tales. Then, suddenly, one day he began to listen, he showed signs of contrition and conversion. Sister Agatha announced her triumph to the other nuns, and there was rejoicing over the one lost sheep. Melpomene had never felt so happy in her life, and Kuno, looking at her radiant face, must have wondered how he could have been such a fool as not to see from the first what was now so obvious. The woman had lost her head about him. And he had only four days now — four days in which to tap the tumultuous love power, to canalise it, to set it working for his escape. Why hadn’t he started a week ago? He could have made certain of it then. But now? There was no knowing. Four days was a horribly short time.”

“How did he do it?” I asked, for Miss Penny had paused.

“That’s for you to say,” she replied, and shook her ear-rings at me. “I don’t know. Nobody knows, I imagine, except the two parties concerned and perhaps Sister Agatha’s confessor. But one can reconstruct the crime, as they say. How would you have done it? You’re a man, you ought to be familiar with the processes of amorous engineering.”

“You flatter me,” I answered. “Do you seriously suppose—” I extended my arms. Miss Penny laughed like a horse. “No. But, seriously, it’s a problem. The case is a very special one. The person, a nun, the place, a hospital, the opportunities, few. There could be no favourable circumstances — no moonlight, no distant music; and any form of direct attack would be sure to fail. That audacious confidence which is your amorist’s best weapon would be useless here.”

“Obviously,” said Miss Penny. “But there are surely other methods. There is the approach through pity and the maternal instincts. And there’s the approach through Higher Things, through the soul. Kuno must have worked on those lines, don’t you think? One can imagine him letting himself be converted, praying with her, and at the same time appealing for her sympathy and even threatening — with a great air of seriousness — to kill himself rather than go back to jail. You can write that up easily and convincingly enough. But it’s the sort of thing that bores me so frightfully to do. That’s why I can never bring myself to write fiction. What is the point of it all? And the way you literary men think yourselves so important — particularly if you write tragedies. It’s all very queer, very queer indeed.”

I made no comment. Miss Penny changed her tone and went on with the narrative.

“Well,” she said, “whatever the means employed, the engineering process was perfectly successful. Love was made to find out a way. On the afternoon before Kuno was to go back to prison, two Sisters of Charity walked out of the hospital gates, crossed the square in front of it, glided down the narrow streets towards the river, boarded a tram at the bridge, and did not descend till the car had reached its terminus in the farther suburbs. They began to walk briskly along the high road out into the country. ‘Look!’ said one of them, when they were clear of the houses; and with the gesture of a conjurer produced from nowhere a red leather purse. ‘Where did it come from?’ asked the other, opening her eyes. Memories of Elisha and the ravens, of the widow’s cruse, of the loaves and fishes, must have floated through the radiant fog in poor Melpomene’s mind. ‘The old lady I was sitting next to in the tram left her bag open. Nothing could have been simpler.’ ‘Kuno! You don’t mean to say you stole it?’ Kuno swore horribly. He had opened the purse. ‘Only sixty marks. Who’d have thought that an old camel, all dressed up in silk and furs, would only have sixty marks in her purse. And I must have a thousand at least to get away. It’s easy to reconstruct the rest of the conversation down to the inevitable, ‘For God’s sake, shut up,’ with which Kuno put an end to Melpomene’s dismayed moralising. They trudge on in silence. Kuno thinks desperately. Only sixty marks; he can do nothing with that. If only he had something to sell, a piece of jewellery, some gold or silver anything, anything. He knows such a good place for selling things. Is he to be caught again for lack of a few marks? Melpomene is also thinking. Evil must often be done that good may follow. After all, had not she herself stolen Sister Mary of the Purification’s clothes when she was asleep after night duty? Had not she run away from the convent, broken her vows? And yet how convinced she was that she was doing rightly! The mysterious Powers emphatically approved; she felt sure of it. And now there was the red purse. But what was a red purse in comparison with a saved soul — and, after all, what was she doing hut saving Kuno’s soul?” Miss Penny, who had adapted the voice and gestures of a debater asking rhetorical questions, brought her hand with a slap on to the table. “Lord, what a bore this sort of stuff is!” she exclaimed. “Let’s get to the end of this dingy anecdote as quickly as possible. By this time, you must imagine, the shades of night were falling fast — the chill November twilight, and so on; but I leave the natural descriptions to you. Kuno gets into the ditch at the roadside and takes off his robes. One imagines that he would feel himself safer in trousers, more capable of acting with decision in a crisis. They tramp on for miles. Late in the evening they leave the high road and strike up through the fields towards the forest. At the fringe of the wood they find one of those wheeled huts where the shepherds sleep in the lambing season.

“The real ‘Maison du Berger.’”

“Precisely,” said Miss Penny, and she began to recite:

“Si ton coeur gémissant du poids de notre vie


Se traine et se débat comme un aigle blessé....

“How does it go on? I used to adore it all so much when I was a girl.

“Le seuil est perfumé, l’alcôve est large et sombre,


Et là parmi les fleurs, nous trouverons dans l’ombre,


Pour nos cheveux unis un lit silencieux.

“I could go on like this indefinitely.”

“Do,” I said.

“No, no. No, no. I’m determined to finish this wretched story. Kuno broke the padlock of the door. They entered. What happened in that little hut?” Miss Penny leaned forward at me. Her large hare’s eyes glittered, the long ear-rings swung and faintly tinkled. “Imagine the emotions of a virgin of thirty, and a nun at that, in the terrifying presence of desire. Imagine the easy, familiar brutalities of the young man. Oh, there’s pages to be made out of this — the absolutely impenetrable darkness, the smell of straw, the voices, the strangled crying, the movements! And one likes to fancy that the emotions pulsing about in that confined space made palpable vibrations like a deep sound that shakes the air. Why, it’s ready-made literature, this scene. In the morning,” Miss Penny went on, after a pause, “two woodcutters on their way to work noticed that the door of the hut was ajar. They approached the hut cautiously, their axes raised and ready for a blow if there should be need of it. Peeping in, they saw a woman in a black dress lying face downward in the straw. Dead? No; she moved, she moaned. ‘What’s the matter?’ A blubbered face, smeared with streaks of tear-clotted grey dust, is lifted towards them. ‘What’s the matter?’— ‘He’s gone!’ What a queer, indistinct utterance. The woodcutters regard one another. What does she say? She’s a foreigner, perhaps. ‘What’s the matter?’ they repeat once more. The woman bursts out violently crying. ‘Gone, gone! He’s gone,’ she sobs out in her vague, inarticulate way. ‘Oh, gone. That’s what she says. Who’s gone?’— ‘He’s left me.’— ‘What?’— ‘Left me....’— ‘What the devil...? Speak a little more distinctly.’— ‘I can’t,’ she wails; ‘he’s taken my teeth.’— ‘Your what?— ‘My teeth!’ — and the shrill voice breaks into a scream, and she falls back sobbing into the straw. The woodcutters look significantly at one another. They nod. One of them applies a thick yellow-nailed forefinger to his forehead.”

Miss Penny looked at her watch. “Good heavens!” she said, “it’s nearly half-past three. I must fly. Don’t forget about the funeral service,” she added, as she put on her coat. “The tapers, the black coffin, in the middle of the aisle, the nuns in their white-winged coifs, the gloomy chanting, and the poor cowering creature without any teeth, her face all caved in like an old woman’s, wondering whether she wasn’t really and in fact dead — wondering whether she wasn’t already in hell. Good-bye.”

Little Mexican

OR, YOUNG ARCHIMEDES

CONTENTS

  • Uncle Spencer

  • Little Mexican

  • Hubert and Minnie

  • Fard

  • The Portrait

  • Young Archimedes

Uncle Spencer

SOME PEOPLE I know can look back over the long series of their childish holidays and see in their memory always a different landscape — chalk downs or Swiss mountains; a blue and sunny sea or the grey, ever-troubled fringe of the ocean; heathery moors under the cloud with far away a patch of sunlight on the hills, golden as happiness and, like happiness, remote, precarious, impermanent, or the untroubled waters of Como, the cypresses and the Easter roses.

I envy them the variety of their impressions. For it is good to have seen something of the world with childish eyes, disinterestedly and uncritically, observing not what is useful or beautiful and interesting, but only such things as, to a being less than four feet high and having no knowledge of life or art, seem immediately significant. It is the beggars, it is the green umbrellas under which the cabmen sit when it rains, not Brunelleschi’s dome, not the extortions of the hotel-keeper, not the tombs of the Medici that impress the childish traveller.

Such impressions, it is true, are of no particular value to us when we are grown up. (The famous wisdom of babes, with those childish intimations of immortality and all the rest, never really amounted to very much; and the man who studies the souls of children in the hope of finding out something about the souls of men is about as likely to discover something important as the man who thinks he can explain Beethoven by referring him to the savage origins of music or religion by referring it to the sexual instincts.) None the less, it is good to have had such childish impressions, if only for the sake of comparing (so that we may draw the philosophic moral) what we saw of a place when we were six or seven with what we see again at thirty.

My holidays had no variety. From the time when I first went to my preparatory school to the time when my parents came back for good from India — I was sixteen or seventeen then, I suppose — they were all passed with my Uncle Spencer. For years the only places on the earth’s surface of which I had any knowledge were Eastbourne, where I was at school; Dover (and that reduced itself to the harbour and station), where I embarked; Ostend, where Uncle Spencer met me; Brussels, where we changed trains; and finally Londres in Limburg, where my Uncle Spencer owned the sugar factory, which his mother, my grandmother, had inherited in her turn from her Belgian father, and had his home.

Hanging over the rail of the steamer as it moved slowly, stern foremost, through the narrow gullet of Ostend harbour, I used to strain my eyes, trying to pick out from among the crowd at the quay’s edge the small, familiar figure. And always there he was, waving his coloured silk handkerchief, shouting inaudible greetings and advice, getting in the way of the porters and ticket-collectors, fidgeting with a hardly controllable impatience behind the barrier, until at last, squeezed and almost suffocated amongst the grown men and women — whom the process of disembarkation transformed as though by some malevolent Circean magic into brute beasts, reasonless and snarling — I struggled to shore, clutching in one hand my little bag and with the other holding to my head, if it was summer, a speckled straw, gaudy with the school colours; if winter, a preposterous bowler, whose eclipsing melon crammed over my ears made me look like a child in a comic paper pretending to be grown up.

“Well, here you are, here you are,” my Uncle Spencer would say, snatching my Dag from me. “Eleven minutes late.” And we would dash for the custom-house as though our lives depended on getting there before the other trans-beasted passengers.

My Uncle Spencer was a man of about forty when first I came from my preparatory school to stay with him. Thin he was, rather short, very quick, agile, and impulsive in his movements, with small feet and small, delicate hands. His face was narrow, clear-cut, steep, and aquiline; his eyes dark and extraordinarily bright, deeply set under overhanging brows; his hair was black, and he wore it rather long, brushed back from his forehead. At the sides of his head it had already begun to go grey, and above his ears, as it were, two grey wings were folded against his head, so that, to look at him, one was reminded of Mercury in his winged cap.

“Hurry up!” he called. And I scampered after him. “Hurry up!”

But of course there was no use whatever in our hurrying; for even when we had had my little hand-bag examined, there was always the registered trunk to for; and that, for my Uncle Spencer, was agony. For though our places in the Brussels express were reserved, though he knew that the train would not in any circumstances start without us, this intellectual certainty was not enough to appease his passionate impatience, to allay his instinctive fears.

“Terribly slow,” he kept repeating. “Terribly slow.” And for the hundredth time he looked at his watch. “Dites-moi,” he would say, yet once more, to the sentry at the door of the customs-house, “le grand bagage...?” until in the end the fellow, exasperated by these questions Which it was not his business to answer, would say something rude; upon which my Uncle Spencer, outraged, would call him mal élevé and a grossier personnage — to the fury Of the sentry but correspondingly great relief of his own feelings; for after such an outburst he could wait in patience for a good five minutes, so far forgetting his anxiety about the trunk that he actually began talking to me about other subjects, asking how I had got on this term at school, what was my batting average, whether I liked Latin, and whether Old Thunderguts, which was the name we gave to the headmaster on account of his noble baritone, was still as ill-tempered as ever.

But at the end of the five minutes, unless the trunk had previously appeared, my Uncle Spencer began looking at his watch again.

“Scandalously slow,” he said. And addressing himself to another official, “Dites-moi, monsieur, le grand bagage...?”

But when at last we were safely in the train and there was nothing to prevent him from deploying all the graces and amiabilities of his character, my Uncle Spencer, all charm and kindness now, devoted himself wholeheartedly to me.

“Look!” he said; and from the pocket of his overcoat he pulled out a large and dampish parcel of whose existence my nose had long before made me aware. “Guess what’s in here.”

“Prawns,” I said, without an instant’s hesitation.

And prawns it was, a whole kilo of them. And there we sat in opposite corners of our first-class carriage, with the little folding table opened out between us and the pink prawns on the table, eating with infinite relish and throwing the rosy carapaces, the tails, and the sucked heads out of the window. And the Flemish plain moved past us; the long double files of poplars, planted along the banks of the canals, along the fringes of the high roads, moving as we moved, marched parallel with our course or presented, as we crossed them at right angles, for one significant flashing moment the entrance to Hobbema’s avenue. And now the belfries of Bruges beckoned from far off across the plain; a dozen more shrimps and we were roaring through its station, all gloom and ogives in honour of Memling and the Gothic past. By the time we had eaten another hectogram of prawns, the modern quarter of Ghent was reminding us that art was only five years old and had been invented in Vienna. At Alost the factory chimneys smoked; and before we knew where we were, we were almost on the outskirts of Brussels, with two or three hundred grammes of sea-fruit still intact on the table before us.

“Hurry up!” cried my Uncle Spencer, threatened by another access of anxiety. “We must finish them before we get to Brussels.”

And during the last five miles we ate furiously, shell and all; there was hardly time even to spit out the heads and tails.

“Nothing like prawns,” my Uncle Spencer never failed to say, as the express drew slowly into the station at Brussels, and the last tails and whiskers with the fishy paper were thrown out of the window. “Nothing like prawns when the brain is tired. It’s the phosphorus, you know. After all your end-of-term examinations you need them.” And then he patted me affectionately on the shoulder.

How often since then have I repeated in all earnestness my Uncle Spencer’s words. “It’s the phosphorus,” I assure my fagged friends, as I insist that they shall make their lunch off shellfish. The words come gushing spontaneously out of me; the opinion that prawns and oysters are good for brain-fag is very nearly one of my fundamental and, so to say, instinctive beliefs. But sometimes, as I say the words, suddenly I think of my Uncle Spencer. I see him once more sitting opposite me in a corner of the Brussels express, his eyes flashing, his thin face expressively moving as he talks, while his quick, nervous fingers pick impatiently at the pink carapaces or with a disdainful gesture drop a whiskered head into the Flemish landscape outside the open window. And remembering my Uncle Spencer, I find myself somehow believing less firmly than I did in what I have been saying. And I wonder with a certain sense of disquietude how many other relics of my Uncle Spencer’s spirit I still carry, all unconsciously, about with me.

How many of our beliefs — more serious even than the belief that prawns revive the tired brain — come to us haphazardly from sources far less trustworthy than my Uncle Spencer! The most intelligent men will be found holding opinions about certain things, inculcated in them during their childhood by nurses or stable-boys. And up to the very end of our adolescence, and even after, there are for all of us certain admired beings, whose words sink irresistibly into our minds, generating there beliefs which reason does not presume to question, and which though they may be quite out of harmony with all our other opinions persist along with them without our ever becoming aware of the contradictions between the two sets of ideas. Thus an emancipated young man, whose father happens to have been a distinguished Indian civilian, is an ardent apostle of liberty and self-determination; but insists that the Indians are and for ever will be completely incapable of governing themselves. And an art critic, extremely sound on Vlaminck and Marie Laurencin, will praise as masterly and in the grand manner — and praise sincerely, for he genuinely finds them so — the works of an artist whose dim pretentious paintings of the Tuscan landscape used to delight, because they reminded her of her youth, an old lady, now dead, but whom as a very young man he greatly loved and admired.

My Uncle Spencer was for me, in my boyhood, one of these admired beings, whose opinions possess a more than earthly value for the admiring listener. For years my most passionately cherished beliefs were his. Those opinions which I formed myself, I held more diffidently, with less ardour; for they, after all, were only the fruits of my own judgment and observation, superficial rational growths; whereas the opinions I had taken from my Uncle Spencer — such as this belief in the curative properties of prawns — had nothing to do with my reason, but had been suggested directly into the subrational depths, where they seemed to attach themselves, like barnacles, to the very keel and bottom of my mind. Most of them, I hope, I have since contrived to scrape off; and a long, laborious, painful process it has been. But there are still, I dare say, a goodly number of them left, so deeply ingrained and grown in, that it is impossible for me to be aware of them. And I shall go down to my grave making certain judgments, holding certain opinions, regarding certain things and actions in a certain way — and the way, the opinions, the judgments will not be mine, but my Uncle Spencer’s; and the obscure chambers of my mind will to the end be haunted by his bright, erratic, restless ghost.

There are some people whose habits of thought a boy or a young man might, with the greatest possible advantage to himself, make his own. But my Uncle Spencer was not one of them. His active mind darted hither and thither too wildly and erratically for it to be a safe guide for an inexperienced understanding. It was all too promptly logical to draw conclusions from false premises, too easily and enthusiastically accepted as true. Living as he did in solitude — in a mental solitude; for though he was no recluse and took his share in all social pleasures, the society of Longres could not offer much in the way of high intellectual companionship — he was able to give free play to the native eccentricity of his mind. Having nobody to check or direct him, he would rush headlong down intellectual roads that led nowhere or into morasses of nonsense. When, much later, I used to amuse myself by listening on Sunday afternoons to the speakers at Marble Arch, I used often to be reminded of my Uncle Spencer. For they, like Uncle Spencer, lived in solitude, apart from the main contemporary world of ideas, unaware, or so dimly aware that it hardly counted, of the very existence of organised and systematic science, not knowing even where to look for the accumulated stores of human knowledge. I have talked in the Park to Bible students who boasted that during the day they cobbled or sold cheese, while at night they sat up learning Hebrew and studying the critics of the Holy Book. And I have been ashamed of my own idleness, ashamed of the poor use I have made of my opportunities. These humble scholars heroically pursuing enlightenment are touching and noble figures — but how often, alas, pathetically ludicrous too! For the critics my Bible students used to read and meditate upon Were always at least three-quarters of a century out of date — exploded Tübingen scholars or literal inspirationalists; their authorities were always books written before the invention of modern historical research; their philology was the picturesque lucus a — non lucendo, bloody from by-our-Lady type; their geology had irrefutable proofs of the existence of Atlantis; their physiology, if they happened to be atheists, was obsoletely mechanistic, if Christians, merely providential. All their dogged industry, all their years of heroic striving, had been completely wasted — wasted, at any rate, so far as the increase of human knowledge was concerned, but not for themselves, since the labour, the disinterested ambition, had brought them happiness.

My Uncle Spencer was spiritually a cousin of these Hyde Park orators and higher critics. He had all their passion for enlightenment and profound ideas, but not content with concentrating, like them, on a single subject such as the Bible, he allowed himself to be attracted by everything under the sun. The whole field of history, of science (or rather what my Uncle Spencer thought was science), of philosophy, religion, and art was his province. He had their industry too — an industry, in his case, rather erratic, fitful, and inconstant; for he would start passionately studying one subject, to turn after a little while to another whose aspect seemed to him at the moment more attractive. And like them he displayed — though to a less pronounced degree, since his education had been rather better than theirs (not much better, however, for he had never attended any seat of learning but one of our oldest and most hopeless public schools) — he displayed a vast unawareness of contemporary thought and an uncritical faith in authorities which to a more systematically educated man would have seemed quite obviously out of date; coupled with a profound ignorance of even the methods by which one could acquire a more accurate or at any rate a more “modern” and fashionable knowledge of the universe.

My Uncle Spencer had views and information on almost every subject one cared to mention; but the information was almost invariably faulty and the judgments he based upon it fantastic. What things he used to tell me as we sat facing one another in the corners of our first-class carriage, with the prawns piled up in a little coralline mountain on the folding table between us! Fragments of his eager talk come back to me.

“There are cypresses in Lombardy that were planted by Julius Cæsar...

“The human race is descended from African pygmies. Adam was black and only four feet high....”

“Similia similibus curantur. Have you gone far enough with your Latin to know what that means?” (My Uncle Spencer was an enthusiastic homœopathist, and the words of Hahnemann were to him as a mystic formula, a kind of Om mani hum the repetition of which gave him an immense spiritual satisfaction.)

And once, I remember, as we were passing through the fabulous new station of Ghent — that station which fifteen or sixteen years later I was to see all smashed and gutted by the departing invaders — he began, apropos of a squad of soldiers standing on the platform, to tell me how a German professor had proved, mathematically, using the theories of ballistics and probabilities, that war was now impossible, modern quick-firing rifles and machine-guns being so efficient that it was, as my Uncle Spencer put it, “sci-en-tif-ic-ally impossible” for any body of men to remain alive within a mile of a sufficient number of mitrailleuses, moving backwards and forwards through the arc of a circle and firing continuously all the time. I passed my boyhood in the serene certainty that war was now a thing of the past.

Sometimes he would talk to me earnestly across the prawns of the cosmogonies of Boehme or Swedenborg.

But all this was so exceedingly obscure that I never took it in at all. In spite of my Uncle Spencer’s ascendancy over my mind I was never infected by his mystical enthusiasms. These mental dissipations had been my Uncle Spencer’s wild oats. Reacting from the rather stuffily orthodox respectability of his upbringing, he ran into, not vice, not atheism, but Swedenborg. He had preserved — a legacy from his prosperous nineteenth - century youth — an easy optimism, a great belief in progress and the superiority of modern over ancient times, together with a convenient ignorance of the things about which it would have been disquieting to think too much. This agreeable notion of the world I sucked in easily and copiously with my little crustaceans; my views about the universe and the destinies of man were as rosy in those days as the prawns themselves.

It was not till seven or eight o’clock in the evening that we finally got to our destination. My Uncle Spencer’s carriage — victoria or brougham, according to the season and the state of the weather — would be waiting for us at the station door. In we climbed and away we rolled on our rubbered wheels in a silence that seemed almost magical, so deafeningly did common carts and the mere station cabs go rattling over the cobbles of the long and dismal Rue de la Gare. Even in the winter, when there was nothing to be seen of it but an occasional green gas-lamp, with a little universe of pavement, brick wall and shuttered window dependent upon it and created by it out of the surrounding darkness, the Rue de la Gare was signally depressing, if only because it was so straight and long. But in summer, when the dismal brick houses by which it was flanked revealed themselves in the evening light, when the dust and the waste-paper came puffing along it in gusts of warm, stale-smelling wind, then the street seemed doubly long and disagreeable. But, on the other hand, the contrast between its sordidness and the cool, spacious Grand’ Place into which, after what seemed a carefully studied preparatory twisting and turning among the narrow streets of the old town, it finally debouched, was all the more striking and refreshing. Like a ship floating out from between the jaws of a canyon into a wide and sunlit lake, our carriage emerged upon the Grand’ Place. And the moment was solemn, breathlessly anticipated and theatrical, as though we were gliding in along the suspended calling of the oboes and bassoons, and the violins trembling with amorous anxiety all around us, rolling silently and with not a hitch in the stage carpentry on to some vast and limelit stage where, as soon as we had taken up our position well forward and in the centre, something tremendous, one imagined, would suddenly begin to happen — a huge orchestral tutti from contrabass trombone to piccolo, from bell instrument to triangle, and then the tenor and soprano in such a duet as had never in all the history of opera been heard before.

But when it came to the point, our entrance was never quite so dramatic as all that. One found, when one actually got there, that one had mistaken one’s opera; it wasn’t Parsifal or — ; it was Pelltas or perhaps the Village Romeo and, Juliet. For there was nothing grandiosely Wagnerian, nothing Italian and showy about the Grand’ Place at Longres. The last light was rosy on its towers, the shadows of the promenaders stretched half across the place, and in the vast square the evening had room to be cool and quiet. The Gothic Church had a sharp steeple and the seminary by its side a tower, and the little seventeenth-century Hôtel de Ville, with its slender belfry, standing in the middle of that open space as though not afraid to let itself be seen from every side, was a miracle of gay and sober architecture; and the houses that looked out upon it had faces simple indeed, burgess and ingenuous, but not without a certain nobility, not without a kind of unassuming provincial elegance. In, then, we glided, and the suspended oboeings of our entrance, instead of leading up to some grand and gaudy burst of harmony, fruitily protracted themselves in this evening beauty, exulted quietly in the rosy light, meditated among the lengthening shadows; and the violins, ceasing to tremble with anticipation, swelled and mounted, like light and leaping towers, into the serene sky.

And if the clock happened to strike at the moment that we entered, how charmingly the notes of the mechanical carillon harmonised with this imaginary music! At the hours, the bells in the high tower of the Hôtel de Ville played a minuet and trio, tinkly and formal like the first composition of an infant Boccherini, which lasted till fully three minutes past. At the half-hours it was a patriotic air of the same length. But at the quarters the bells no more than began a tune. Three or four bars and the music broke off, leaving the listener wondering what was to have followed, and attributing to this fragmentary stump of an air some rich; outflowering in the pregnant and musical silence, some subtle development which should have made the whole otherwise enchanting than the completed pieces that followed and preceded, and whose charm, indeed, consisted precisely in their old-fashioned mediocrity, in the ancient, cracked, and quavering sweetness of the bells that played them, and the defects in the mechanism, which imparted to the rhythm that peculiar and unforeseeable irregularity which the child at the piano, tongue between teeth, eyes anxiously glancing from printed notes to fingers and back again, laboriously introduces into the flawless evenness of “The Merry Peasant.”

This regular and repeated carillonage was end indeed still is — for the invaders spared the bells — an essential part of Longres, a feature like the silhouette of its three towers seen from far away between the poplars across the wide, flat land, characteristic and recognisable.

It is with a little laugh of amused delight that the stranger to Longres first hears the jigging airs and the clashes of thin, sweet harmony floating down upon him from the sky, note succeeding unmuted note, so that the vibrations mingle in the air, surrounding the clear outlines of the melody with a faint quivering halo of discord. After an hour or two the minuet and trio, the patriotic air, become all too familiar, ‘while with every repetition the broken fragments at the quarters grow more and more enigmatic, pregnant, dubious, and irritating. The pink light fades from the three towers, the Gothic intricacies of the church sink into a fiat black silhouette against the night sky; but still from high up in the topless darkness floats down, floats up and out over the house-tops, across the flat fields, the minuet and trio. The patriotic air continues still, even after sunset, to commemorate the great events of 1830; and still the fragments between, like pencillings in the notebook of a genius, suggest to the mind in the scribble of twenty notes a splendid theme and the possibility of fifteen hundred variations. At midnight the bells are still playing; at half-past one the stranger starts yet again out of his sleep; re-evoked at a quarter to four his speculations about the possible conclusions of the unfinished symphony keep him awake long enough to hear the minuet and trio at the hour and to wonder how any one in Longres manages to sleep at all. But in a day or two he answers the question himself by sleeping unbrokenly through the hints from Beethoven’s notebook, and the more deliberate evocations of Boccherini’s childhood and the revolution of 1830. The disease creates its own antidote, and the habit of hearing the carillon induces gradually a state of special mental deafness in which the inhabitants of Longres permanently live.

Even as a small boy, to whom insomnia was a thing unknown, I found the bells, for the first night or two after my arrival in Longres, decidedly trying. My Uncle Spencer’s house looked on to the Grand’ Place itself, and my window on the third floor was within fifty yards of the belfry of the Hôtel de Ville and the source of the aerial music. Three-year-old Boccherini might have been in the room with me whenever the wind came from the south, banging his minuet in my ears. But after the second night he might bang and jangle as much as he liked; there was no bell in Longres could wake me.

What did wake me, however — every Saturday morning at about half-past four or five — was the pigs coming into market. One had to have spent a month of Saturdays in Longres before one could acquire the special mental deafness that could ignore the rumbling of cart-wheels over the cobbles and the squealing and grunting of two or three thousand pigs. And when one looked out what a sight it was! All the Grand’ Place was divided up by rails into a multitude of pens and pounds, and every pound was seething with pink naked pigs that looked from above like so much Bergsonian élan vital in a state of incessant agitation. Men came and went between the enclosures, talking, bargaining, critically poking potential bacon or ham with the point of a stick. And when the bargain was struck, the owner would step into the pen, hunt down the victim, and, catching it up by one leather ear and its thin bootlace of a tail, carry it off amid grunts that ended in the piercing, long-drawn harmonics of a squeal to a netted cart or perhaps to some other pen a little farther down the line. Brought up in England to regard the infliction of discomfort upon an animal as being, if anything, rather more reprehensible than cruelty to my fellow-humans, I remember being horrified by this spectacle. So, too, apparently was the German army of occupation. ‘For between 1914 and 1918 no pig in the Longres market might be lifted by tail or ear, the penalty for disobedience being a fine of twenty marks for the first offence, a hundred for the second, and after that a term of forced labour on the lines of communication. Of all the oppressive measures of the invader there was hardly one which more profoundly irritated the Limburgiac peasantry. Nero was unpopular with the people of Rome, not because of his crimes and vices, not because he was a tyrant and a murderer, but for having built in the middle of the city a palace so large that it blocked the entrance to several of the main roads. If the Romans hated him, it was because his golden house compelled them to make a circuit of a quarter of a mile every time they wanted to go shopping. The little customary liberties, the right to do in small things what we have always done, are more highly valued than the greater, more abstract, and less immediate freedoms. And, similarly, most people will rather run the risk of catching typhus than take a few irksome sanitary precautions to which they are not accustomed. In this particular case, moreover, there was the further question: How one to carry a pig except by its tail and ears? One must either throw the creature on its back and lift it up by its four cloven feet — a process hardly feasible, since a pig’s centre of gravity is so near the ground that it is all but impossible to topple him over. Or else — and this is what the people of Longres found themselves disgustedly compelled to do — one must throw one’s arms round the animal and carry it clasped to one’s bosom as though it were a baby, at the risk of being bitten in the ear and with the certainty of stinking like a hog for the rest of the day.

The first Saturday after the departure of the German troops was a bad morning for the pigs. To carry a pig by the tail was an outward and visible symbol of recovered liberty; and the squeals of the porkers mingled with the cheers of the population and the trills and clashing harmonies of the bells awakened by the carilloneur from their four years’ silence.

By ten o’clock the market was over. The railings of the pens had been cleared away, and but for the traces on the cobbles — and those too the municipal scavengers were beginning to sweep up — I could have believed that the scene upon which I had looked from my window in the bright early light had been a scene in some agitated morning dream.

But more dream-like and fantastical was the aspect of the Grand’ Place when, every year during the latter part of August, Longres indulged in its traditional kermesse. For then the whole huge square was covered with booths, with merry-go-rounds turning and twinkling in the sun, with swings and switchbacks, with temporary pinnacles rivalling in height with the permanent and secular towers of the town, and from whose summits one slid, whooping uncontrollably with horrified delight, down a polished spiral track to the ground below. There was bunting everywhere, there were sleek balloons and flags, there were gaudily painted signs. Against the grey walls of the church, against the whitewashed house - fronts, against the dark brickwork of the seminary and the soft yellow stucco of the gabled Hôtel de Ville, a sea of many colours beat tumultuously. And an immense and featureless noise that was a mingling of the music of four or five steam organs, of the voices of thousands of people, of the blowing of trumpets and whistles, the clashing of cymbals, the beating of drums, of shouting, of the howling of children, of enormous rustic laughter, filled the space between the houses from brim to brim — a noise so continuous and so amorphous that hearkening from my high window it was almost, after a time, as though there were no noise at all, but a new kind of silence, in which the tinkling of the infant Boccherini’s minuet, the patriotic air, and the fragmentary symphonies had become for some obscure reason utterly inaudible.

And after sunset the white flares of acetylene and the red flares of coal-gas scooped out of the heart of the night a little private day, in which the fun went on more noisily than ever. And the gaslight striking up on to the towers mingled half-way up their shafts with the moonlight from above, so that to me at my window the belfries seemed to belong half to the earth, half to the pale silence overhead. But gradually, as the night wore on, earth abandoned its claims; the noise diminished; one after another the flares were put out, till at last the moon was left in absolute possession, with only a few dim greenish gas-lamps here and there, making no attempt to dispute her authority. The towers were hers down to the roots, the booths and the hooded roundabouts, the Russian mountains, the swings — all wore the moon’s livery of silver and black; and audible once more the bells seemed in her honour to sound a sweeter, dearer, more melancholy note.

But it was not only from my window that I viewed the kermesse. From the moment that the roundabouts began to turn, which was as soon as the eleven o’clock Mass on the last Sunday but one in August was over, to the moment when they finally came to rest, which was at about ten or eleven on the night of the following Sunday, I moved almost unceasingly among the delights of the fair. And what a fair it was! I have never seen its like in England. Such splendour, such mechanical perfection in the swings, switchbacks, merry-go-rounds, towers, and the like! Such astonishing richness and variety in the side-shows! And withal such marvellous cheapness.

When one was tired of sliding and swinging, of being whirled and jogged, one could go and see for a penny the man who pulled out handfuls of his skin, to pin it up with safety-pins into ornamental folds and pleats. Or one could see the woman with no arms who opened a bottle of champagne with her toes and drank, your health, lifting her glass to her lips with the same members. And then in another booth, over whose entry there waved — a concrete symbol of good faith — a pair of enormous female pantaloons, sat the Fat Woman — so fat that she could (and would, you were told, for four sous extra), in the words of the Flemish notice at the door, which I prefer to leave in their original dialectical obscurity, “heur gezicht bet heur tiekes wassen.” Next to the Fat Woman’s hutch was a much larger tent in which the celebrated Monsieur Figaro, with his wife and seven children, gave seven or eight times daily a dramatic version of the Passion of Our Saviour, at which even the priesthood was authorised to assist. The Figaro family was celebrated from one end of the country to another, and had been for I do not know how many years — forty or fifty at least. For there were several generations of Figaros; and if seven charming and entirely genuine children did indeed still tread the boards, it was not that the seven original sons and daughters of old M. Figaro had remained by some miracle perpetually young; but that marrying and becoming middle-aged they had produced little Figaros of their own, who in their turn gave rise to more, so that the aged and original M. Figaro could count among the seven members of his suppositious family more than one of his great-grandchildren. So celebrated was M. Figaro that there was even a song about him, of which unfortunately I can remember only two lines:

“Et le voilà, et le voilà, Fi-ga-ro, Le plus comique de la Belgique, Fi-ga-ro!”

But on what grounds and in what remote epoch of history he had been called “Le plus comique de la Belgique,” I was never able to discover. For the only part I ever saw the venerable old gentleman play was that of Caiaphas in the Passion of Our Saviour, which was one of the most moving, or at any rate one of the most harrowingly realistic, performances I ever remember to have seen; so much so, that the voices of the actors were often drowned by sobs and sometimes by the piercing screams of a child who thought that they were really and genuinely driving nails into the graceful young Figaro of the third generation, who played the part of the Saviour.

Not a day of my first kermesses passed without my going at least once, and sometimes two or three times, to see the Figaros at their performance; partly, no doubt, because, between the ages of nine and thirteen, I was an extremely devout broad churchman, and partly because the rôle of the Magdalene was played by a little girl of twelve or thereabouts, with whom I fell in love, wildly, extravagantly, as one only can love when one is a child. I would have given fortunes and years of my life to have had the courage to go round to the back after the performance and talk to her. But I did not dare; and to give an intellectual justification for my cowardice, I assured myself that it would have been unseemly on my part to intrude upon a privacy which I invested with all the sacredness of the Magdalene’s public life, an act of sacrilege like going into church with one’s hat on. Moreover, I comforted myself, I should have profited little by meeting my inamorata face to face, since in all likelihood she spoke nothing but Flemish, and besides my own language I only spoke at that time a little French, with enough Latin to know what my Uncle Spencer meant when he said, “Similia similibus curan.” My passion for the Magdalene lasted through three kermesses, but waned, or rather suddenly came to an end, when, rushing to the first of the Figaros’ performances at the fourth, I saw that the little Magdalene, who was now getting on for sixteen, had become, like so many young girls in their middle teens, plump and moony almost to the point of grossness. And my love after falling to zero in the theatre was turned to positive disgust when I saw her, a couple of mornings later before the performance began, walking about the Grand’ Place in a dark blue blouse with a sailor collar, a little blue skirt down to her knees, and a pair of bright yellow boots lacing high up on her full-blown calves, which they compressed so tightly that the exuberant flesh overflowed on to the leather. The next year one of old M. Figaro’s great-grandchildren, who could hardly have been more than seven or eight, took her place on the stage. My Magdalene had left it — to get married, no doubt. All the Figaros married early: it was important that there should be no failure in the supply of juvenile apostles and holy women. But by that time I had ceased to take the slightest interest either in her, her family, or their sacred performance; for it was about the time of my fifth kermesse, if I remember rightly, that my period of atheism began — an atheism, however, still combined with all my Uncle Spencer’s cheerful optimism about the universe.

My Uncle Spencer, though it would have annoyed him to hear any one say so, enjoyed the kermesse almost as much as I aid. In all the year, August was his best month; it contained within its thirty-one days less cause for anxiety, impatience, or irritation than any other month; so that my Uncle spencer, left in peace by the malignant; world, was free to be as high-spirited, as gay and kind-hearted as he possibly could be. And it was astonishing what a stock of these virtues he possessed. If he could have lived on one of those happy islands where nature provides bananas and cocoanuts enough for all and to spare, where the sun shines every day and a little tattooing is all the raiment one needs, where love is easy, commerce unknown, and neither sin nor progress ever heard of — if he could have lived on one of these carefree islands, how entirely happy and how uniformly a saint my Uncle Spencer would have been! But cares and worldly preoccupations too often overlaid his gaiety, stopped up the vents of his kindness; and his quick, nervous, and impulsive temperament — in the Augusts of his life a bubbling source of high spirits — boiled up in a wild impatience, in bilious fountains of irritation, whenever he found himself confronted by the passive malignity of matter, the stupidity or duplicity of man.

He was at his worst during the Christmas holidays; for the season of universal goodwill happened unfortunately to coincide with the season of sugar-making. With the first frosts the beetroots were taken out of the ground, and every day for three or four months three hundred thousand kilograms of roots went floating down the labyrinth of little canals that led to the washing-machines and the formidable slicers of my Uncle Spencer’s factory. From every vent of the huge building issued a sickening smell of boiled beetroot, mingled with the more penetrating stink of the waste products of the manufacture — the vegetable fibre drained of its juice, which was converted on the upper floors of the building into cattle food and in the backyard into manure. The activity during those few months of the beetroot season was feverish, was delirious. A wild orgy of work, day and night, three shifts in the twenty-four hours. And then the factory was shut up, and for the rest of the year it stood there, alone, in the open fields beyond the fringes of the town, desolate as a ruined abbey, lifeless and dumb.

During the beetroot season my Uncle Spencer was almost out of his mind. Rimmed with livid circles of fatigue, his eyes glittered like the eyes of madman; his thin face was no more than pale skin stretched over the starting bones. The slightest contrariety set him cursing and stamping with impatience; it was a torture for him to sit still. One Christmas holidays, I remember, something went wrong with the machinery at the factory, and for nearly five hours the slicers, the churning washers were still. My Uncle Spencer was almost a lost man when he got back to the Grand’ Place for dinner that evening. It was as though a demon had possessed him, and had only been cast out as the result of a horrible labour.

If the breakdown had lasted another hour, I really believe he would have gone mad.

No, Christmas at Uncle Spencer’s was never very cheerful. But by the Easter holidays he was beginning to recover. The frenzied making of sugar had given place to the calmer selling of it. My Uncle Spencer’s good nature began to have a chance of reasserting itself. By August, at the end of a long, calm summer, he was perfect; and the kermesse found him at his most exquisitely mellow. But with September a certain premonitory anxiety began to show itself; the machinery had to be overhauled, the state of the labour market examined, and when, about the twentieth of the month, I left again for school, it was a frowning, melancholy, and taciturn Uncle Spencer who travelled with me from Longres to Brussels, from Brussels to Ostend, and who, preoccupied with other thoughts, waved absent-mindedly from the quay, while the steamer slowly slid out through the false calm of the harbour mouth towards a menacing and equinoctial Channel.

But at the kermesse, as I have said, my Uncle Spencer was at his richest and ripest. Enjoying it all as much as I did myself, he would spend long evenings with me, loitering among the attractions of the Grand’ Place. He was sad, I think, that the dignity of his position as one of the leading citizens of Longres did not permit him to mount with me on the roundabouts, the swings, and the mountain railways. But a visit to the side-shows was not inconsistent with his gravity; we visited them all. While professing to find the exhibition of freaks and monsters a piece of deplorable bad taste, my Uncle Spencer never failed to take me to look at all of them. It was a cardinal point in his theory of education that the young should be brought as early as possible into contact with what he called the Realities of Life. And as nothing, it was obvious, could be more of a Reality than the armless woman or the man who pinned up his skin with safety-pins, it was important that I should make an early acquaintance with them, in spite of the undoubtedly defective taste of the exhibition. It was in obedience to the same educational principle that my Uncle Spencer took me, one Easter holidays, to see the Lunatic Asylum. But the impression made upon me by the huge prison-like building and its queer occupants — one of whom, I remember, gambolled playfully around me wherever I went, patting my cheeks or affectionately pinching my legs — was so strong and disagreeable, that for several nights I could not sleep; or if I did, I was oppressed by hideous nightmares that woke me, screaming and sweating in the dark. My Uncle Spencer had to renounce his intention of taking me to see the anatomy room in the hospital.

Scattered among the monsters, the rifle-ranges, and the games of skill were little booths where one could buy drink and victuals. There was one vendor, for instance, who always did a roaring trade by selling, for two sous, as many raw mussels as any one could eat without coughing. Torn between his belief in the medicinal qualities of shellfish and his fear of typhoid fever, my Uncle Spencer hesitated whether he ought to allow me to spend my penny. In the end he gave his leave. (“It’s the phosphorus, you know.”) I put down my copper, took my mussel, bit, swallowed, and violently coughed. The fish were briny as though they had come out of the Dead Sea. The old vendor did an excellent business. Still, I have seen him sometimes looking anxious; for not all his customers were as susceptible as I. There were hardy young peasants who could put down half a pound of this Dead Sea fruit without turning a hair. In the end, however, the brine did its work on even the toughest gullet.

More satisfactory as food were the apple fritters, which were manufactured by thousands in a large temporary wooden structure that stood under the shade of the Hôtel de Ville. The Quality, like Uncle Spencer and myself, ate their fritters in the partial privacy of a number of little cubicles arranged like loose-boxes along one side of the building. My Uncle Spencer walked resolutely to our appointed box without looking to the left hand or to the right; and I was bidden to follow his example and not to show the least curiosity respecting the occupants of the other loose-boxes, whose entrances we might pass on the way to out own. There was a danger, my Uncle Spencer explained to me, that some of the families eating apple fritters in the loose-boxes might be Blacks — Blacks, I mean, politically, not ethnically — while we were Liberals or even, positively, Freemasons. Therefore — but as a mere stranger to Longres I was never, I confess, quite able to understand the force of this conclusion — therefore, though we might talk to male Blacks in a café, have business relations and even be on terms of friendship with them, it was impossible for us to be known by the female Blacks, even under a booth and over the ferial apple fritters; so that we must not look into the loose-boxes for fear that we might see there a dear old friend who would be in the embarrassing situation of not being able to introduce us to his wife and daughters. I accepted, without understanding, this law; and it seemed to be a perfectly good law until the day came when I found that it forbade me to make the acquaintance of even a single one of the eleven ravishing daughters of M. Moulle. It seemed to me then a stupid law.

In front of the booths where they sold sweets my Uncle Spencer never cared to linger. It was not that he was stingy; on the contrary, he was extremely generous. Nor that he thought it bad for me to eat sweets; he had a professional belief in the virtues of sugar. The fact was that the display in the booths embarrassed him. For already at the kermesse one began to see a sprinkling of those little objects in chocolate which, between the Feast of St. Nicholas and the New Year, fill the windows of every confectioner’s shop in Belgium. My Uncle Spencer had passed a third of a lifetime at Longues, but even after all these years he was still quite unable to excuse or understand the innocent coprophily of its inhabitants, The spectacle, in a sweet-shop window, of a little pot de chambre made of chocolate brought the blush of embarrassment to his cheeks. And when at the kermesse I asked him to buy me some barley-sugar or a few bêtises de Cambrai, he pretended not to have heard what I asked, but walked hastily on; for his quick eyes had seen, on one of the higher shelves of the confectioner’s booth, a long line of little brown pots, on whose equivocal aspect it would have been an agony to him if, standing there and waiting for the barley-sugar to be weighed out, I had naively commented. Not that I ever should have commented upon them; for I was as thoroughly English as my Uncle Spencer himself — more thoroughly, indeed, as being a generation further away from the Flemish mother, the admixture of whose blood, however, had availed nothing against my uncle’s English upbringing. Me, too, the little brown pots astonished and appalled by their lack of reticence. If my companion had been another schoolboy of my own age, I should have pointed at the nameless things and sniggered. But since I was with my Uncle Spencer, I preserved with regard to them an eloquent and pregnant silence; I pretended not to have seen them, but so guiltily that my ignoring of them was in itself a comment that filled my poor Uncle Spencer with embarrassment. If we could have talked about them, if only we could have openly deplored them and denounced their makers, it would have been better. But obviously, somehow, we could not.

In the course of years, however, I learned, being young and still malleable, to be less astonished and appalled by the little chocolate pots and the other manifestations of the immemorial Flemish coprophily. In the end I took them almost for granted, like the natives themselves, till finally, when St. Nicholas had filled the shops with these scatological symbols, I could crunch a pot or two between meals as joyously and with as little self-consciousness as any Belgian child. But I had to eat my chocolate, when it was moulded in this particular form, out of my Uncle Spencer’s sight. He, poor man, would have been horrified if he had seen me on these occasions.

On these occasions, then, I generally took refuge in the housekeeper’s room — and in any case, at this Christmas season, when the sugar was being made, it was better to sit in the cheerful company of Mlle Leeauw than with my gloomy, irritable, demon-ridden Uncle Spencer. Mlle Leeauw was almost from the first one of my firmest and most trusted friends. She was a woman of, I suppose, about thirty-five when I first knew her, rather worn already by a life of active labour, but still preserving a measure of that blonde, decided, and regular beauty which had been hers in girlhood. She was the daughter of a small farmer near Longres, and had received the usual village education, supplemented, however, in recent years by what she had picked up from my Uncle Spencer, who occupied himself every now and then, in his erratic and enthusiastic way, with the improvement of her mind, lent her books from his library, and delivered lectures to her on the subjects that were at the moment nearest to his heart. Mlle Leeauw, unlike most women of her antecedents, felt an insatiable curiosity with regard to all that mysterious and fantastic knowledge which the rich and leisured keep shut up in their libraries; and not only in their books, as she had seen herself (for as a girl had she not served as nursery-maid in the house of that celebrated collector, the Comte de Zuitigny?) not only in their books, but in their pictures too — some of which, Mlle Leeauw assured me, a child could have painted, so badly drawn they were, so unlike life (and yet the count had given heaven only knew how much for them), in their Chinese pots, in the patterns of the very carpets on the floor. Whatever my Uncle Spencer gave her she read with eagerness, she listened attentively to what he said; and there emerged, speck-like in the boundless blank ocean of her ignorance, a few little islands of strange knowledge. One, for example, was called homoeopathy; another the Construction - of - Domes (a subject on which my Uncle Spencer was prepared to talk with a copious and perverse erudition for hours at a time; his thesis being that any mason who knew how to turn the vaulted roof of an oven could have built the cupolas of St. Peter’s, St. Paul’s, and Santa Maria del Fiore, and that therefore the praises lavished on Michelangelo, Wren, and Brunelleschi were entirely undeserved). A third was called Anti - Vivisection. A fourth Swedenborg....

The result of my Uncle Spencer’s teaching was to convince Mlle Leeauw that the knowledge of the rich was something even more fantastic than she had supposed — something unreal and utterly remote from life as it is actually lived, artificial and arbitrary, like the social activities of these same rich, who pass their time in one another’s houses, eating at one another’s expense, and being bored. —

This conviction of the complete futility of knowledge did not make her any the less eager to learn what my Uncle Spencer, whom she regarded as a mine and walking compendium of all human learning, could offer her. And she enchanted him by her respectful attentiveness, by the quickness of her understanding — for she was a woman of very great natural intelligence — and her eagerness for every fresh enlightenment. She did not confide to him her real opinion of knowledge, which was that it was a kind of curious irrelevant joke on the margin of life, worth learning for precisely the same reasons as it is worth learning to handle the fork at table — because it is one of the secrets of the rich. Admiring my Uncle Spencer sincerely, she yet took nothing that he taught her seriously, and though, when with him, she believed in millionth-of-a-grain doses and high spiritual potencies, she continued, when she felt out of sorts or I had overeaten, to resort to the old tablespoonful of castor-oil; though with him she was a convinced Swedenborgian, in church she was entirely orthodox; though in his presence she thought vivisection monstrous, she would tell me with gusto of those happy childish days on the farm, when her father cut the pig’s throat, her mother held the beast by the hind-legs, her sister danced on the body to make the blood flow, and she held the pail under the spouting artery.

If to my Uncle Spencer his housekeeper appeared as he liked to see her, and not as at ordinary times she really was, it was not that she practised with him a conscious insincerity. Hers was one of those quick, sensitive natures that adapt themselves almost automatically to the social atmosphere in which at the moment they happen to be. Thus with well-bred people she had beautiful manners; but the peasants from whose stock she had sprung found her as full of a hearty Flemish gusto, as grossly and innocently coarse as themselves. The core of her being remained solidly peasant; but the upper and conscious part of her mind was, so to speak, only loosely fastened to the foundation, so that it could turn freely this way and that, without strain or difficulty, according to changing circumstances. My Uncle Spencer valued her, not only as a competent, intelligent woman, which she always was in every company, but also because she was, considering her class and origins, so remarkably, well-mannered and refined, which, except with him and his likes, she was not.

With me, however, Mlle Leeauw was thoroughly natural and Flemish. With her quick and, I might say, instinctive understanding of character, she saw that my abashed reaction to coprology, being of so much more recent date than that of my Uncle Spencer, was much less strong, less deeply rooted. At the same time, she perceived that I had no great natural taste for grossness, no leaning to what I may call Flemishism; so that in my presence she could be her natural Flemish self and thus correct an absurd acquired delicacy without running the risk of encouraging to any undue or distressing degree a congenital bias in the opposite direction. And I noticed that whenever Matthieu (or Tcheunke, as they called him), her cousin’s boy, came into town and paid a call on her, Mlle Leeauw became almost as careful and refined as she was with my Uncle Spencer. Not that Tcheunke shared my uncle’s susceptibilities. On the contrary, he took such an immoderate delight in everything that was excrementitious that she judged it best not in any way to indulge him in his taste, just as she judged it best not to indulge my national prejudice in favour of an excessive reticence about these and similar matters. She was right, I believe, in both cases.

Mlle Leeauw had an elder sister, Louise — Louiseke, in the language of Longres, where they put the symbol of the diminutive after almost every name. Louiseke, like her sister, had never married; and considering the ugliness of the woman — for she resembled Mlle Leéauw as a very mischievous caricature resembles its original, that is to say, very closely and at the same time hardly at all, the unlikeness being emphasised in this case by the fact that nature had, for the shaping of certain features, drawn on other ancestral sources, and worse ones, than those from which her sister’s face had been made up — considering her ugliness, I repeat, it was not surprising. Though considering her dowry, perhaps it was. Louiseke was by no means rich; but she had the five hundred francs a year, or thereabouts, which her sister also had, after their father died and the farm was sold, together with another two hundred inherited from an old aunt of her mother’s. This was a sufficient income to allow her to live without working in a leisure principally occupied by the performance of religious exercises.

On the outskirts of Longres there stands a small béguinage, long since abandoned by its Béguines, who are now all over Belgium a diminishing and nearly extinct community, and inhabited by a colony of ordinary poor folk. The little old gabled houses are built round the sides of a large grassy square, in the centre of which stands an abandoned church. Louiseke inhabited one of these houses, partly because the rent was very low, but also because she liked the religious associations of the place. There, in her peaked high house, looking out across the monastic quadrangle to the church, she could almost believe herself a genuine Béguine. Every morning she went out to hear early Mass, and on Sundays and days of festival she was assiduous in church almost to the point of supererogation.

At my uncle Spencer’s we saw a great deal of her; on her way to church, on her way home again, she never failed to drop in for a word with her sister Antonieke. Sometimes, I remember, she brought with her — hurrying on these occasions across the Grand’ Place with the quick, anxious tread, the frightened, suspicious glances to left and right, of a traveller crossing a brigand-haunted moor — a large bag of green baize, full of strange treasures: the silver crown and sceptre of Our Lady, the gilded diadem of the Child, St. Joseph’s halo, the jewelled silver book of I forget which Doctor of the Church, St. Dominick’s lilies, and a mass of silver hearts with gilded flames coming out of them. Louiseke, whose zeal was noted and approved of by M. le Curé, had the rare privilege of being allowed to polish the jewellery belonging to the images in the church. A few days before each of the important feasts the painted plaster saints were stripped of their finery and the spoil handed over to Louiseke, who, not daring to walk with her precious burden under her arm as far as her own house in the béguinage, slipped across the Grand’ Place to my Uncle Spencer’s. There, on the table in Antonieke’s room, the green baize bag was opened, and the treasures, horribly dirty and tarnished after their weeks or months of neglect, were spread out in the light A kind of paste was then made out of French chalk mixed with gin, which the two sisters applied to the crowns and hearts with nail-brushes, or if the work was fine and intricate, with an old toothbrush. The silver was then wiped dry with a cloth and polished with a piece of leather.

A feeling of manly pride forbade me to partake in what I felt to be a womanish labour; but I liked to stand by with my hands in my pockets, watching the sisters at work among these regal and sacred symbols, and trying to understand, so far as my limited knowledge of Flemish and my almost equally limited knowledge of life would admit, the gossip which Louiseke poured out incessantly in a tone of monotonous and unvarying censoriousness.

I myself always found Louiseke a little forbidding. She lacked the charm and the quality, which I can only call mellowness, of her sister; to me she seemed harsh, sour - tempered, and rather malevolent. But it is very possible that I judged her unfairly; for, I confess, I could never quite get over her ugliness. It was a sharp, hooky, witch-like type of ugliness, which at that time I found particularly repulsive.

How difficult it is, even with the best will in the world, even for a grown and reasonable man, to judge his fellow-beings without reference to their external appearance! Beauty is a letter of recommendation which it is almost impossible to ignore; and we attribute too often the ugliness of the face to the character. Or, to be more precise, we make no attempt to get beyond the opaque mask of the face to the realities behind it, but run away from the ugly at sight without even trying to find out what they are really like. That feeling of instinctive dislike which ugliness inspires in a grown man, but which he has reason and strength enough of will to suppress, or at least conceal, is uncontrollable in a child. At three or four years old a child will run screaming from the room at the aspect of a certain visitor whose face strikes him as disagreeable. Why? Because the ugly visitor is “naughty,” is a “bad man.” And up to a much later age, though we have succeeded in preventing ourselves from screaming when the ugly visitor makes his appearance, we do our best — at first, at any rate, or until his actions have strikingly proved that his face belies his character — to keep out of his way. So that if I always disliked Louiseke, it may be that she was not to blame, and that my own peculiar horror of ugliness made me attribute to her unpleasant characteristics which she did not in reality possess. She seemed to me, then, harsh and sour-tempered; perhaps she wasn’t; but, in any case, I thought so. And that accounts for the fact that I never got to know her, never tried to know her, as I knew her sister. Even after the extraordinary event which, a year or two after my first visit to Longres, was to alter completely the whole aspect of her life, I still made no effort to understand Louiseke’s character. How much I regret my remissness now! But, after all, one cannot blame a small boy for failing to have the same standards as a man. Today, in retrospect, I find Louiseke’s character and actions in the highest degree carious and worthy of study. But twenty years ago, when I knew her, her ugliness at first appalled me, and always, even after I had got over my disgust, surrounded her, for me, with a kind of unbreathable atmosphere, through which I could never summon the active interest to penetrate. Moreover, the event which now strikes me as so extraordinary, seemed to me then almost normal and of no particular interest. And since she died before my opinion about it had had time to change, I can only give a child’s impression of her character and a bald recital of the facts so far as I knew them.

It was, then, at my second or third kermesse that a side-show, novel not only for me (to whom indeed everything — fat women, fire-swallowers, elastic men, and down to the merest dwarfs and giants — was a novelty), but even to the oldest inhabitants of Longres, who might have been expected to have seen, in their time, almost everything that the world had ever parturated of marvels, rarities, monsters, and abortions, made its appearance on the Grand’ Place. This was a troupe of devil dancers, self-styled Tibetan for the sake of the name’s high-sounding and mysterious ring; but actually made up of two expatriated Hindus and a couple of swarthy meridional Frenchmen, who might pass at a pinch as the Aryan compatriots of these dark Dravidians. Not that it mattered much what the nationality or colour of the dancers might be; for on the stage they wore enormous masks — huge false heads, grinning, horned, and diabolic, which, it was claimed in the announcement, were those in which the ritual dances were performed before the Dalai Lama in the principal convent of Lhassa. Comparing my memories of them with such knowledge of oriental art as I now possess, I imagine that they came in reality from the shop of some theatrical property maker in Marseilles, from which place the devil dancers had originally started. But they were none the less startling and bloodcurdling for that; just as the dances themselves were none the less salaciously symbolical, none the less typically and conventionally “oriental” for having been in great measure invented by the Frenchmen, who provided all the plot and dramatic substance of the ballets, while the astonished and admiring Indians contributed only a few recollections of Siva worship and the cult of the beneficent linga. This co-operation between East and West was what ensured the performance its success; the western substance satisfied by its perfect familiarity, while the eastern detail gave to the old situations a specious air of novelty and almost a new significance.

Charmed by the prospect of seeing what he supposed would be a few characteristic specimens of the religious rites of the mysterious East, and ambitious to improve my education by initiating me into the secrets of this Reality, my Uncle Spencer took me to see the dancers. But the dramatic pantomime of the Frenchmen represented a brand of Reality that my uncle did not at all approve of. He got up abruptly in the middle of the first dance, saying that he thought the circus would be more amusing; which, for me, it certainly was. For I was not of an age to appreciate either the plastic beauty or the peculiar moral significance of the devil dancers’ performance.

“Hinduism,” said my Uncle Spencer, as we threaded our way between the booths and the whirling machines, “has sadly degenerated from its original Brahmanistic purity.” And he began to expound to me, raising his voice to make itself heard through the noise of the steam organs, the principles of Brahmanism. My Uncle Spencer had a great weakness for oriental religions.

“Well,” asked Mlle Leeauw, when we got back for dinner, “and how did you enjoy the dancers?”

I told her that my Uncle Spencer had thought that I should find the circus more amusing. Antonieke nodded with a significant air of understanding. “Poor man,” she said, and she went on to wonder how Louiseke, who was going to see the dancers that evening, would enjoy the show.

I never knew precisely what happened; for a mystery and, as it were, a zone of silence surrounded the event, and my curiosity about everything to do with Louiseke was too feeble to carry me through it. All I know is that, two or three days later, near the end of the kermesse, young Albert Snyders, the lawyer’s son, came up to me in the street and asked, with the gleeful expression of one who says something which he is sure his interlocutor will find disagreeable: “Well, and what do you think of your Louiseke and her carryings on with the black man?” —

I answered truthfully that I had heard nothing about any such thing, and that in any case Louiseke wasn’t our Louiseke, and that I didn’t care in the least what she did or what might happen to her.

“Not heard about it?” said young Snyders incredulously. “But the black man goes to her house every evening, and she gives him gin, and they sing together, and people see their shadows dancing on the curtains. Everybody’s talking about it.” —

I am afraid that I disappointed young Snyders. He had hoped to get a rise out of me, and he miserably failed. His errors were two: first, to have supposed that I regarded Louiseke as our Louiseke, merely because her sister happened to be my Uncle Spencer’s housekeeper; and, secondly, to have attributed to me a knowledge of the world sufficient to allow me to realise the scandalousness of Louiseke’s conduct. Whereas I disliked Louiseke, took no interest in her actions, and could, moreover, see nothing out of the ordinary in what she was supposed to have done.

Confronted by my unshakable calm, young Snyders retired, rather crestfallen. But he revenged himself before he went by telling me that I must be very stupid and, what I found more insulting, a great baby not to understand.

Antonieke, to whom I repeated young Snyders’s words, merely said that the boy ought to be whipped, specifying with a wealth of precise detail and a gusto that were entirely Flemish how, with what instrument, and where the punishment ought to be applied. I thought no more about the incident. But I noticed after the kermesse was over and the Grand’ Place had become once more the silent and empty Grand’ Place of ordinary days, I noticed loitering aimlessly about the streets a stout, coffee-coloured man, whom the children of Longres, like those three rude boys in Struwwelpeter, pursued at a distance, contorting themselves with mirth. That year I went back to England earlier than usual; for I had been invited to spend the last three weeks of my holidays with a school friend (alas, at Hastings, so that my knowledge of the earth’s surface was not materially widened by the visit). When I returned to Longres for the Christmas holidays I found that Louiseke was no longer mere Louiseke, but the bride of a coffee-coloured husband. Madame Alphonse they called her; for nobody could bother with the devil dancer’s real name: it had an Alin it somewhere — that was all that was known. Monsieur and Madame Alphonse. But the news when I heard it did not particularly impress me.

And even if I had been curious to know more, dense silence continued to envelop the episode. Antonieke never spoke to me of it; and lacking all interest in this kind of Reality, disapproving of it even, my Uncle Spencer seemed to take it silently for granted. That the subject was copiously discussed by the gossips of Longres I do not doubt; and remembering Louiseke’s own censorious anecdotage, I can imagine how. But in my hearing it was never discussed; expressly, I imagine — for I lived under the protection of Antonieke, and people were afraid of Antonieke. So it came about that the story remained for me no more remarkable than that story recorded by Edward Lear of the

“... old Man of Jamaica

Who casually married a Quaker;

But she cried out, ‘Alack,

I have married a black!’

Which distressed that old Man of Jamaica.”

And perhaps, after all, that is the best way of regarding such incidents — unquestioningly, without inquisitiveness. For we are all much too curious about the affairs of our neighbours. Particularly about the affairs of an erotic nature. What an itch we have to know whether Mr. Smith makes love to his secretary, whether his wife consoles herself, whether a certain Cabinet Ministèr is really the satyr he is rumoured to be. And meanwhile the most incredible miracles are happening all round us: stones, when we lift them and let them go, fall to the ground; the sun shines; bees visit the flowers; seeds grow into plants, a cell in nine months multiplies its weight a few thousands of thousands of time, and is a child; and men think, creating the world they live in. These things leave us almost perfectly indifferent.

But concerning the ways in which different individuals satisfy the cravings of one particular instinct we have, in spite of the frightful monotony of the situation, in spite of the one well-known, inevitable consummation, an endless and ever-fresh curiosity. Some day, perhaps, we may become a little tired of books whose theme is always this particular instinct. Some day, it may be, the successful novelist will write about man’s relation to God, to nature, to his own thoughts and the obscure reality on which they work, not about man’s relation with woman. Meanwhile, however...

By what stages the old maid passed from her devoutness and her censorious condemnation of love to her passion for the Dravidian, I can only guess. Most likely there were no stages at all, but the conversion was sudden and fulgurating, like that upon the road to Damascus — and like that, secretly and unconsciously prepared for, long before the event. It was the sheer wildness, no doubt, the triumphant bestiality and paganism of the dances that bowled her over, that irresistibly broke down the repressive barriers behind which, all too human, Louiseke’s nature had so long chafed.

As to Alphonse himself, there could be no question about his motives. Devil dancing, he had found, was an exhausting, precarious, and not very profitable profession. He was growing stout, his heart was not so strong as it had been, he was beginning to feel himself middle-aged. Louiseke and her little income came as a providence. What did her face matter? He did not hesitate.

Monsieur and Madame Alphonse took a little shop in the Rue Neuve. Before he left India and turned devil dancer, Alphonse had been a cobbler in Madras — and as such was capable of contaminating a Brahman at a distance of twenty-four feet; now, having become an eater of beef and an outcast, he was morally infectious at no less than sixty-four feet. But in Longres, luckily, there were no Brahmans.

He was a large, fat, snub-faced, and shiny man, constantly smiling, with a smile that reminded me of a distended accordion. Many a pair of boots I took to him to be soled — for Antonieke, though she was horrified at having what she called a negro for her brother-in-law, though she had quarrelled with her sister about her insane and monstrous folly, and would hardly be reconciled to her, Antonieke insisted that all our custom should go to the new cobbler. That, as she explained, “owed itself.” The duty of members of one family to forward one another’s affairs overrode, in her estimation, the mere personal quarrels that might arise between them.

My Uncle Spencer was a frequent caller at the cobbler’s shop, where he would sit for hours, while M. Alphonse tapped away at his last, listening to mythological anecdotes out of the “Ramayana” or “Mahabharata,” and discussing the Brahmanistic philosophy, of which, of course, he knew far more than a poor Sudra like Alphonse. My uncle Spencer would come back from these visits in the best of humours.

“A most interesting man, your brother-in-law,” he would say to Antonieke. “We had a long talk about Siva this afternoon. Most interesting!”

But Antonieke only shrugged her shoulders. “ — Mais c’est nègre” she muttered. And my uncle Spencer might assure her as much as he liked that Dravidians were not negroes and that Alphonse very likely had good Aryan blood in his veins. It was useless. Antonieke would not be persuaded, would not even listen. It was all very well for the rich to believe things like that, but a negro, after all, was a negro; and that was all about it.

M. Alphonse was a man of many accomplishments; for besides all the rest, he was an expert palmist and told fortunes from the hand with a gravity, a magisterial certainty, that were almost enough in themselves to make what he said come true. This magian and typically oriental accomplishment was learnt on the road between Marseilles and Longres from a charlatan in the travelling company of amusement makers with whom he had come. But he did the trick in the grand prophetic style, so that people credited his cheiromancy with all the magical authority of the mysterious East. But M. Alphonse could not be persuaded to prophesy for every corner. It was noticed that he selected his subjects almost exclusively from among his female customers, as though he were only interested in the fates of women. I could hint as much as I liked that I should like to have my fortune told, I could ask him outright to look at my hand; but in vain. On these occasions he was always too busy to look, or was not feeling in she prophetic mood. But if a young woman should now come into the shop, time immediately created itself, the prophetic mood came back. And without waiting for her to ask him, he would seize her hand, pore over it, pat and prod the palm with his thick brown fingers, every now and then turning up towards his subject those dark eyes, made the darker and more expressive by the brilliance of the bluish whites in which they were set, and expanding his accordian smile. And he would prophesy love — a great deal of it — love with superb dark men, and rows of children; benevolent dark strangers and blond villains; unexpected fortunes, long life — all, in fact, that the heart could desire. And all the time he squeezed and patted the hand — white between his dark Dravidian paws — from which he read these secrets; he rolled his eyes within their shiny blue enamel setting, and across all the breadth of his fat cheeks the accordion of his smile opened and shut.

My pride and my young sense of justice were horribly offended on these occasions. The inconsistency of a man who had no time to tell my fortune, but an infinite leisure for others, seemed to me abstractly reprehensible and personally insulting. I professed, even at that age, not to believe in palmistry; that is to say, I found the fortunes which M. Alphonse prophesied for others absurd. But my interest in my own personality and my own fate was so enormous that it seemed to me, somehow, that everything said about me must have a certain significance. And if M. Alphonse had taken my hand, looked at it, and said, “You are generous; your head is as large as your heart; you will have a severe illness at thirty-eight, but your life after that will be healthy into extreme old age; you will make a large fortune early in your career, but you must beware of fair-haired strangers with blue eyes,” I should have made an exception and decided for the nonce that there must be something in it. But, alas, M. Alphonse never did take my hand; he never told me anything. I felt most cruelly offended, and I felt astonished too. For it seemed to me a most extraordinary thing that a subject which was so obviously fascinating and so important as my character and future should not interest M. Alphonse as much as it did me. That he should prefer to dabble in the dull fates and silly insignificant characters of a lot of stupid young women seemed to me incredible and outrageous.

There was another who, it seemed, shared my opinion. That was Louiseke. If ever she came into the shop from the little back sitting-room — and; she was perpetually popping out through the dark doorway like a cuckoo oh: the stroke of noon from its clock — and found her husband telling the fortune of a female customer, her witch-like face would take on an expression more than ordinarily malevolent.

“Alphonse!” she would say significantly.

And Alphonse dropped his subject’s hand, looked round towards the door, and, rolling his enamelled eyes, creasing his fat cheeks in a charming smile, flashing his ivory teeth, would say something amiable.

But Louiseke did not cease to frown.

“If you must tell somebody’s fortune,” she said, when the customer had left the shop, “why don’t you tell the little gentleman’s?” pointing to me. “I’m sure he would be only too delighted.”

But instead of being grateful to Louiseke, instead of saying, “Oh, of course I’d like it,” and holding out my hand, I always perversely shook my head. “No, no,” I said. “I don’t want to worry M. Alphonse.” But I longed for Alphonse to insist on telling me about my exquisite and marvellous self. In my pride, I did not like to owe my happiness to Louiseke, I did not want to feel that I was taking advantage of her irritation and Alphonse’s desire to mollify her. And besides pride, I was actuated by that strange nameless perversity, which so often makes us insist on doing what we do not want to do — such as making love to a woman we do not like and whose intimacy, we know, will bring us nothing but vexation — or makes us stubbornly decline to do what we have been passionately desiring, merely because the opportunity of doing what we wanted has not presented itself in exactly the way we anticipated, or because the person who offered to fulfil our desires has not been sufficiently insistent with his offers. Alphonse, on these occasions, having no curiosity about my future and taking no pleasure in kneading my small and dirty hand, always took my refusals quite literally and finally, and began to work again with a redoubled ardour. And I would leave the shop, vexed with myself for having let slip the opportunity when it was within my grasp; furious with Louiseke for having presented it in such a way that the seizing of it would be humiliating, and with Alphonse for his obtuseness in failing to observe; how much I desired that he should look at my hand, and his gross discourtesy for not insisting even in the teeth of my refusal.

Years passed; my holidays and the seasons succeeded one another with regularity. Summer and the green poplars and my Uncle Spencer’s amiability gave place to the cold season of sugar-making, to scatological symbols in chocolate, to early darkness and the moral gloom of my Uncle Spencer’s annual neurasthenia. And half-way between the two extremes came the Easter holidays, pale green and hopefully burgeoning, tepid with temperate warmth and a moderate amiability. There were terms, too, as well as holidays. Eastbourne knew me no more; my knowledge of the globe expanded; I became a public schoolboy.

At fifteen, I remember, I entered upon a period of priggishness which made me solemn beyond my years. There are many boys who do not know how young they are till they have come of age, and a young man is often much less on his dignity than a growing schoolboy, who is afraid of being despised for his callowness. It was during this period that I wrote from Longres a letter to one of my school friends, which he fortunately preserved, so that we were able to re-read it, years later, and to laugh and marvel at those grave, academic old gentlemen we were in our youth. He had written me a letter describing his sister’s marriage, to which I replied in these terms:

“How rapidly, my dear Henry, the saffron robe and Hymen’s torches give place to the nænia, the funeral urn, and the cypress! While your days have been passed among the jocundities of a marriage feast, mine have been darkened by the circumambient horrors of death. Such, indeed, is life.”

And I underlined the philosophic reflection.

The horrors of death made more show in my sonorous antitheses than they did in my life. For though the event made a certain impression upon me — for it was the first thing of the kind that had happened within my own personal orbit — I cannot pretend that I was very seriously moved when Louiseke died, too old to have attempted the experiment, in giving birth to a half-Flemish, half-Dravidian daughter, who died with her.: My Uncle Spencer, anxious to introduce! me to the Realities of Life, took me to see the corpse. Death had a little tempered Louiseke’s ugliness. In the presence of that absolute repose I suddenly felt ashamed of having always disliked Louiseke so much. I wanted to be able to explain to her that, if only I had known she was going to die, I would have been nicer to her, I would have tried to like her more. And all at once I found myself crying.

Downstairs in the back parlour M.

Alphonse was crying too, noisily, lamentably, as was his duty. Three days later, when his duty had been sufficiently done and the conventions satisfied, he became all at once exceedingly philosophic about his loss. Louiseke’s little income, was now his; and adding to it what he made by his cobbling, he could live in almost princely style. A week or two after the funeral the kermesse began. His old companions, who had danced several times backwards and forwards across the face of Europe since they were last in Longres, reappeared unexpectedly on the Grand’ Place. Alphonse treated himself to the pleasure of playing the generous host, and every evening when their show was over the devils unhorned themselves, and over the glasses in the little back parlour behind Alphonse’s shop they talked convivially of old times, and congratulated their companion, a little enviously, on his prodigious good fortune.

In the years immediately preceding the war I was not often in Longres. My parents had come back from India; my holidays were passed with them. And when holidays transformed themselves into university vacations and I was old enough to look after myself, I spent most of my leisure in travelling in France, Italy, or Germany, and it was only rarely and fleetingly — on the way to Milan, on my way back from Cologne, or after a fortnight among the Dutch picture galleries — that I now revisited the house on the Grand’ Place, where I had passed so many, and on the whole such happy, days. I liked my Uncle Spencer still, but he had ceased to be an admired being, and his opinions, instead of rooting themselves and proliferating within my mind, as once they did, seemed mostly, the light of my own knowledge and experience, too fantastic even to be worth refuting. I listened to him now with all the young man’s intolerance of the opinions of the old (and my Uncle Spencer, though only fifty, seemed to me utterly fossilised and antediluvian), acquiescing in all that he said with a smile in which a more suspicious and less single-hearted man would have seen the amused contempt. My Uncle Spencer was leaning during these years more and more towards the occult sciences. He talked less of the construction of domes and more of Hahnemann’s mystic high potentials, more of Swedenborg, more of Brahmanistic philosophy, in which he had by this time thoroughly indoctrinated M. Alphonse; and he was enthusiastic now about a new topic — the calculating horses of Elberfeld, which, at that time, were making a great noise in the world by their startling ability to extract cube roots in their heads. Strong in the materialistic philosophy, the careless and unreflecting scepticism which were, in those days, the orthodoxy of every young man who thought himself intelligent, I found my Uncle Spencer’s mystical and religious preoccupations marvellously ludicrous. I should think them less ridiculous now, when it is the easy creed of my boyhood that has come to look rather queer. Now it is possible — it is, indeed, almost necessary — for a man of science to be also a mystic. But there were excuses then for supposing that one could only combine mysticism with the faulty knowledge and the fantastic mental eccentricity of an Uncle Spencer. One lives and learns.

With Mlle Leeauw, on these later visits, I felt, I must confess, not entirely at my ease. Antonieke saw me as essentially the same little boy who had come so regularly all those years, holiday after holiday, to Longres. Her talk with me was always of the joyous events of the past — of which she had that extraordinarily accurate and detailed memory which men and women, whose minds are not exercised by intellectual preoccupations and who do not read much, always astonish their more studious fellows by possessing. Plunged as I then was in all the newly discovered delights of history, philosophy, and art, I was too busy to take more than a very feeble interest in my childish past. Had there been skating on the canals in 1905? Had I been bitten by a horse-fly, the summer before, so poisonously that my cheek swelled up like a balloon and I had to go to bed? Possibly, possibly; now that I was reminded of these things I did, dimly, remember. But of what earthly interest were facts such as these when I had Plato, the novels of Dostoievsky, the frescoes of Michelangelo to think of? How entirely irrelevant they were to, shall we say, David Hume! How insipid compared with the sayings of Zarathustra, the Coriolan overture, the poetry of Arthur Rimbaud! But for poor Antonieke they were all her life. I felt all the time that I was not being as sympathetic with her as I ought to have been. But was it my ‘fault? Could I rebecome what I had been, or make her suddenly different from what she was?

At the beginning of August 1914 I was staying at Longres on my way to the Ardennes, where I meant to settle down quietly for a month or so with two or three friends, to do a little solid reading before going south to Italy in September. Strong in the faith of the German professor who had proved, by the theories of ballistics and probabilities, that war was now out of the question, my Uncle Spencer paid no attention to the premonitory rumbles. It was just another little Agadir crisis and would lead to nothing. I too — absorbed, I remember, in the reading of William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience — paid no attention; I did not even look at the papers. At that time, still, my Uncle Spencer’s convictions about the impossibility of war were also mine; I had had no experience to make me believe them unfounded, and, besides, they fitted in very well with my hopes, my aspirations, my political creed — for at that time I was an ardent syndicalist and internationalist.

And then, suddenly, it was all on top of us. —

My Uncle Spencer, however, remained perfectly optimistic. After a week of fighting, he prophesied, the German professor would be proved right and they would have to stop. My own feeling, I remember, was one of a rather childish exhilaration; my excitement was much more powerful than my shock of horror. I felt rather as I had felt on the eve of the kermesse when, looking from my window, I gazed down at the mountebanks setting up their booths and engines in the square below. Something was really going to happen. That childish sense of excitement is, I suppose, the prevailing emotion at the beginning of a war. An intoxicating Bank Holiday air seems to blow through the streets. War is always popular, at the beginning.

I did not return immediately to England, but lingered for a few days at Longres, in the vague hope that I might “see something,” or that perhaps my Uncle Spencer might really — as I still believed — be right, and that, perhaps, the whole thing would be over in a few days. My hope that I should “see something” was fulfilled. But the something was not one of those brilliant and romantic spectacles I had imagined. It consisted of a few little troops of refugees from the villages round Liège — unshaven men, and haggard women with long tear-marks on their dusty cheeks, and little boys and girls tottering along as though in their sleep, dumb and stupid with fatigue. My Uncle Spencer took a family of them into his house. “In a few days,” he said, “when everything’s over, they’ll be able to go home again.” And when indignantly Antonieke repeated to him their stories of burnings and shootings, he wouldn’t believe them.

“After all,” he said, “this is the twentieth century. These things don’t happen nowadays. These poor people are too tired and frightened to know exactly what they are saying.”

In the second week of August I went back to England. My Uncle Spencer was quite indignant when I suggested that he should come back with me. To begin with, he said, it would all be over so very soon. In the second place, this was the twentieth century — which was what the Cretans said, no doubt, when in 1500 B.C., after two thousand years of peace, prosperity, and progressive civilisation, they were threatened by the wild men from the north. In the third place, he must stay at Longres to look after his interests. I did not press him any further; it would have been useless.

“Good-bye, dear boy,” he said, and there was an unaccustomed note of emotion in his voice, “good-bye.”

The train slowly moved away. Looking out of the window, I could see him standing on the platform, waving his hat. His hair was white all over now, but his face was as young, his eyes as darkly bright, his small spare body as straight and agile as when I had known him first.

“Good-bye, good-bye.”

I was not to see him again for nearly five years.

Louvain was burnt on the 19th of August. The Germans entered Brussels on the 20th. Longres, though farther east than Louvain, was not occupied till two or three days later — for the town lay off the direct route to Brussels and the interior. One of the first acts of the German commandant was to put my Uncle Spencer and M. Alphonse under arrest. It was not that they had done anything; it was merely to their existence that he objected. The fact that they were British subjects was in itself extremely incriminating.

“Aber wir sind,” my Uncle Spencer protested in his rather rudimentary German, “im zwanzigsten jahrhunderd. Und der — or is it das? — krieg wird nicht lang...” he stammered, searched hopelessly for the word, “well, in any case,” he concluded, relapsing into his own language and happy to be able to express his astonished protest with fluency, “it won’t last a week.”

“So we hope,” the commandant replied in excellent English, smiling. “But meanwhile I regret...”

My Uncle Spencer and his fellow-Briton were locked up for the time being in the lunatic asylum. A few days later they were sent under escort to Brussels. Alphonse, my Uncle Spencer told me afterwards, bore his misfortune with exemplary and oriental patience. Mute, uncomplaining, obedient, he stayed where his captors put him, like a large brown bundle left by the traveller on the platform, while he goes to the buffet for a drink and a sandwich. And more decile than a mere bundle, mutely, obediently, he followed wherever he was led.

“I wish I could have imitated him,” said my Uncle Spencer. “But I couldn’t. My blood fairly boiled.”

And from what I remembered of him in the sugar-making season I could imagine the depth, the fury of my Uncle Spencer’s impatience and irritation.

“But this is the twentieth century,” he kept repeating to the guards. “And I have nothing to do with your beastly war. And where the devil are you taking us? And how much longer are we to wait in this damned station without our lunch?” He spoke as a rich man, accustomed to being able to buy every convenience and consideration. The soldiers, who had the patience of poor men and were well used to being ordered hither and thither, to waiting indefinitely in the place where they were told to wait, could not understand this wild irritation against what they regarded as the natural order of things. My Uncle Spencer first amused them; then, as his impatience grew greater instead of less, he began to annoy them.

In the end, one of his guards lost patience too, and gave him a great kick in the breech to make him hold his tongue. My Uncle Spencer turned round and rushed at the man; but another soldier tripped him up with his rifle, and he tumbled heavily to the ground. Slowly he picked himself up; the soldiers were roaring with laughter. Alphonse, like a brown package, stood where they had put him, motionless, expressionless, his eyes shut.

In the top floor of the Ministry of the Interior the German authorities had established a sort of temporary internment camp. All suspicious persons — dubious foreigners, recalcitrant natives, any one suspected by the invaders of possessing a dangerous influence over his neighbours — were sent to Brussels and shut up in the Ministry of the Interior, to remain there until the authorities should have time to go into their case. It was into this makeshift prison that my Uncle Spencer and his Dravidian compatriot were ushered, one sweltering afternoon towards the end of August. In an ordinary year, my Uncle Spencer reflected, the kermesse at Longres would now be in full swing. The fat woman would be washing her face with her bosom, the Figaros would be re-enacting amid sobs the Passion of Our Saviour, the armless lady would be drinking healths with her toes, the vendor of raw mussels would be listening anxiously for the first hoarse sound that might be taken for a cough. Where were they all this year, all these good people? And where was he himself? Incredulously he looked about him.

In the attics of the Ministry of the Interior the company was strange and mixed. There were Belgian noblemen whom the invaders considered it unsafe to leave in their châteaux among their peasantry. There were a Russian countess and an anarchist, incarcerated on account of their nationality. There was an opera singer, who might be an international spy. There was a little golden-haired male impersonator, who had been appearing at a music-hall in Liège, and whose offence, like that of my Uncle Spencer and the Dravidian, was to have been a British subject. There were a number of miscellaneous Frenchmen and Frenchwomen, caught on the wrong side of the border. There was an organ-grinder, who had gone on playing the “Brabançonne” when told to stop, and a whole collection of other Belgians, of all classes and both sexes, from every part of the country, who had committed some crime or other, or perhaps had contrived merely to look suspicious, and who were now waiting to have their fate decided, as soon as the authorities should have time to pay attention to them.

Into this haphazardly assembled society my Uncle Spencer and the Dravidian were now casually dropped. The door closed behind them; they were left, like new arrivals in hell, to make the best of their situation.

The top floor of the Ministry of the Interior was divided up into one very large and a number of small rooms, the latter lined, for the most part, with pigeon-holes and filing cabinets in which were stored the paper products of years of bureaucratic activity.

In the smaller chambers the prisoners had placed the straw mattresses allotted to them by their gaolers; the men slept in the rooms at one end of the corridor, the women in those at the other end. The big room, which must once have housed the staff of the Ministry’s registry, still contained a number of desks, tables, and chairs; it served now as the prisoners’ drawing-room, dining-room, and recreation ground. There was no bathroom, and only one washing - basin and one chalet de nécessité, as my Uncle Spencer, with a characteristic euphemism, always called it. Life in the attics of the Ministry of the Interior was not particularly agreeable.

My Uncle Spencer noticed that those of the prisoners who were not sunk in gloom and a sickening anxiety for the future, preserved an almost too boisterous cheerfulness. You had, it seemed, either to take this sort of thing as a prodigious joke, or brood over it as the most horrible of nightmares. There seemed to be no alternative. In time, no doubt, the two extremes would level down to the same calm resignation. But confinement had still been too short for that; the situation was still too new, dream-like, and phantasmagorical, and fate too uncertain.

The cheerful ones abounded in japes, loud laughter, and practical jokes. They had created in the prison a kind of private-school atmosphere. Those whose confinement was oldest (and some had been in the Ministry for nearly a week now, almost from the day of the German entry into Brussels) assumed the inalienable right of seniors to make the new arrivals feel raw and uncomfortable. Each freshman was subjected to a searching cross-examination, like that which awaits the new boy at his first school. Sometimes, if the latest victim seemed particularly ingenuous, they would, play a little practical joke on him.

The leader of the cheerful party was a middle-aged Belgian journalist — a powerful, stout man, with carroty red moustaches and a high crimson complexion, a huge roaring voice and a boundless gift for laughter and genial Rabelaisian conversation. At the appearance of the meek Dravidian he had fairly whooped with delight. So great, indeed, was his interest in Alphonse that my Uncle Spencer escaped with the most perfunctory examination and the minimum of playful “ragging.” It was perhaps for the best; my Uncle Spencer was in no mood to be trifled with, even by a fellow-sufferer.

Round poor Alphonse the journalist immediately improvised a farce. Sitting like a judge at one of the desks in the large room, he had the Dravidian brought before him, giving him to understand that he was the German commissary who had to deal with his case. Under cross-examination the Dravidian was made to tell his whole history. Born, Madras; profession, cobbler — a clerk took down all his answers as he delivered them. When he spoke of devil dancing, the judge made him give a specimen of his performance there and then in front of the desk. The question of his marriage with Louiseke was gone into in the most intimate detail. Convinced that his liberty and probably his life depended on his sincerity, Alphonse answered every question as truthfully as he possibly could.

In the end, the journalist, clearing his throat, gravely summed up and gave judgment. Innocent. The prisoner would forthwith be released. On a large sheet of official paper he wrote laissez passer, signed it Von der Golz, and, opening a drawer of the desk, selected from among the numerous official seals it contained that with which, in happier times, certain agricultural diplomas were stamped. On the thick red wax appeared the figure of a prize shorthorn cow with, round it, the words: “Pour l’amélioration de la race bovine.”

“Here,” roared the journalist, handing him the sealed paper. “You may go.”

Poor Alphonse took his laissez passer and, bowing at intervals almost to the ground, retreated backwards out of the room. Joyously he picked up his hat and his little bundle, ran to the door, knocked and called. The sentry outside opened to see what was the matter. Alphonse produced his passport.

“Aber wass ist das?” asked the sentry.

Alphonse pointed to the seal: for the amelioration of the bovine race; to the signature: Von der Golz. The sentry, thinking that it was he, not the Dravidian, who was the victim of the joke, became annoyed. He pushed Alphonse roughly back through the door; and when, protesting, propitiatively murmuring and smiling, the poor man advanced again to explain to the sentry his mistake, the soldier picked up his rifle and with the butt gave him a prod in the belly, which sent him back, doubled up and coughing, along the corridor. The door slammed to. Vainly, when he had recovered, Alphonse hammered and shouted. It did not open again. My Uncle Spencer found him standing there — knocking, listening, knocking again. The tears were streaming down his cheeks; it was a long time before my Uncle Spencer could make him understand that the whole affair had been nothing but a joke. At last, however, Alphonse permitted himself to be led off to his mattress. In silence he lay down and closed his eyes. In his right hand he still held the passport — firmly, preciously between his thick brown fingers. He would not throw it away; not yet. Perhaps if he went to sleep this incident at the door would prove, when he woke up, to have been a dream. The paper would have ceased to be a joke, and when, to-morrow, he showed it again, who knew? the sentry would present arms and he would walk downstairs; and all the soldiers in the courtyard would salute and he would walk out into the sunny streets, waving the signature, pointing to the thick red seal.

Quite still he lay there. His arm was crossed over his body. From between the fingers of his hand hung the paper. Bold, as only the signature of a conquering general could be, Von der Golz sprawled across the sheet. And in the bottom right-hand corner, stamped in the red wax, the image of the sacred cow was like a symbol of true salvation from across the separating ocean and the centuries. Pour l’amélioration — la race bovine.

But might it not be more reasonable, in the circumstances, to begin with the human race?

My Uncle Spencer left him to go and expostulate with the journalist on the barbarity of his joke. He found the man sitting on the floor — for there were not enough chairs to go round — teaching the golden-haired male impersonator how to swear in French.

“And this,” he was saying, in his loud, jolly voice, “this is what you must say to Von der Golz if ever you see him.” And he let off a string of abusive words, which the little male impersonator carefully repeated, distorted by her drawling English intonation, in her clear, shrill voice: “Sari esspayss de coshaw.” The journalist roared with delighted laughter and slapped his thighs. “What comes after that?” she asked.

“Excuse me,” said my Uncle Spencer, breaking in on the lesson. He was blushing slightly. He never liked hearing this sort of language — and in the mouth of a young woman (a compatriot too, it seemed) it sounded doubly distressing. “Excuse me.” And he begged the journalist not to play any more jokes on Alphonse. “He takes it too much to heart,” he explained.

At his description of the Dravidian’s despair, the little male impersonator was touched almost to tears. And the journalist, who, like all the rest of us, had a heart of gold whenever he was reminded of its existence — and, like all the rest of us, he needed pretty frequent reminders; for his own pleasures and interests prevented him very often from remembering it — the journalist was extremely sorry at what he had done, declared that he had no idea that Alphonse would take the little farce so seriously, and promised for the future to leave him in peace.

The days passed; the nightmare became habitual, followed a routine. Three times a day the meagre supply of unappetising food arrived and was consumed. Twice a day an officer with a little squad of soldiers behind him made a tour of inspection. In the morning one waited for one’s turn to wash; but the afternoons were immense gulfs of hot time, which the prisoners tried to fill with games, with talk, with the reading of ancient dossiers from the files, with solitary brooding or with pacing up and down the corridor — twenty steps each way, up and down, up and down, till one had covered in one’s imagination the distance between one loved and familiar place and another. Up and down, up and down. My Uncle Spencer sometimes walked along the poplar-lined high road between Longres and Waret; sometimes from Charing Cross along the Strand, under the railway bridge and up the hill to St. Paul’s, and from St. Paul’s to the Bank, and from the Bank tortuously to the Tower of London, the river, and the ships. Sometimes he walked with his brother from Chamonix to the Montanvert; from Grenoble over the pass to the Grande Chartreuse. Sometimes, less strenuously, he walked with his long-dead mother through the glades of Windsor Forest, where the grass is so green in early summer that it seem! as though each blade were an emerald illumined from within; and here and there among the oak trees the dark-leaved rhododendrons light their innumerable rosy lamps.

In the evening the cheerful ones, with the journalist at their head, organised entertainments for the amusement of the company. The journalist himself recited poems of his own composition about the Kaiser. One of the Frenchmen did some amateur conjuring with packs of cards, handkerchiefs, and coins. The opera singer bawled out at the top of his prodigious tenor, “La donna è mobile,”

“O sole mio,” and when something more serious was called for, César Franck’s “Dieu s’avance à travers la lande”; which last, however, he sang in so richly operatic a style that my Uncle Spencer, who was very fond of this particular song, could hardly recognise it. But the most popular turn was always that of “the celebrated diva, Emmy Wendle,” as the journalist called her, when he introduced her to the company. The enthusiasm was tremendous when Emmy Wendle appeared — dressed in an Eton jacket, broad starched collar, striped trousers, and a top hat, and carrying in her hand a little cane — did two or three rattling clog dances and sang a song with the chorus:

“We are the nuts that get the girls

Every time;

We get the ones with the curly curls,

We get the peaches, we get the pearls —

Every time.”

And when, at the end of the turn, she took off her top hat, and, standing rigidly at attention, like a soldier, her childish snubby little face very grave, her blue eyes fixed on visions not of this world, sang in her tuneless street-urchin’s voice an astonishingly English version of the “Brabançonne,” then there was something more than enthusiasm. For men would suddenly feel the tears coming into their eyes, and women wept outright; and when it was over, everybody violently stamped and clapped and waved handkerchiefs, and laughed, and shouted imprecations against the Germans, and said “Vive la Belgique!” and ran to Emmy Wendle, and took her hand, or slapped her on the back as though she had really been a boy, or kissed her — but as though she were not a girl, and dressed in rather tight striped trousers at that — kissed her as though she were a symbol of the country, a visible and charming personification of their own patriotism and misfortunes.

When the evening’s entertainment was over, the company began to disperse. Stretched on their hard mattresses along the floor, the prisoners uneasily slept or lay awake through the sultry nights, listening to the steps of the sentries in the court below and hearing every now and then through the unnatural silence of the invaded town, the heavy beat, beat, beat of a regiment marching along the deserted street, the rumble and sharp, hoofy clatter of a battery on the move towards some distant front.

The days passed. My Uncle Spencer soon grew accustomed to the strange little hell into which he had been dropped. He knew it by heart. A huge, square room, low-ceilinged and stifling under the hot leads. Men in their shirt-sleeves standing, or sitting, some on chairs, some on the corner of a desk or a table, some on the floor. Some leaned their elbows on the window-sill and looked out, satisfying their eyes with the sight of the trees in the park across the street, breathing a purer air — for the air in the room was stale, twice-breathed, and smelt of sweat, tobacco, and cabbage soup.

From the first the prisoners had divided themselves, automatically almost, into little separate groups. Equal in their misery, they still retained their social distinctions. The organ-grinder and the artisans and peasants always sat together in one corner on the floor, playing games with a greasy pack of cards, smoking and, in spite of expostulations, in spite of sincere efforts to restrain themselves, spitting on the floor all round them.

“Mine!” the organ-grinder would say triumphantly, and plank down his ace of hearts. “Mine!” And profusely, to emphasise his satisfaction, he spat. “Ah, pardon!” Remembering too late, he looked apologetically round the room. “Excuse me.” And he would get up, rub the gob of spittle into the floor with his boot, and going to the window would lean out and spit again — not that he felt any need to, having spat only a moment before, but for the sake of showing that he had good manners and could spit out of the window and not on the floor when he thought of it.

Another separate group was that of the aristocracy. There was the little old count with a face like a teapot — such shiny round cheeks, such a thin, irrelevant nose; and the young count with the monocle — the one so exquisitely affable with every one and yet so remote and aloof under all his politeness, the other so arrogant in manner, but one could see, so wistfully wishing that his social position would permit him to mingle with his spiritual equals. The old-count politely laughed whenever the journalist or some other member of the cheerful party made a joke; the young count scowled, till the only smooth surface left in his corrugated face was the monocle. But he longed to be allowed to join in the horse-play and the jokes. With the two counts were associated two or three rich and important citizens, among them during the first days my Uncle Spencer. But other interests were to make him abandon their company almost completely after a while.

On the fringes of their circle hovered occasionally the Russian countess. This lady spent most of the day in her sleeping apartment, lying on her mattress and smoking cigarettes. She had decided views about the respect that was due to her rank, and expected the wash-house to be immediately evacuated whenever she expressed a desire to use it. On being told that she must wait her turn, she flew into a rage. When she was bored with being alone, she would come into the living-room to find somebody to talk to. On one occasion she took my Uncle Spencer aside and told him at great length and with a wealth of intimate detail about the ninth and greatest love affair of her life. In future, whenever my Uncle Spencer caught sight of her turning her large, dark, rather protruding eyes round the room, he took care to be absorbed in conversation with somebody else.

Her compatriot, the anarchist, was a Jewish-looking man with a black beard and a nose like the figure six. He associated himself with none of the little groups, was delighted by the war, which he gleefully prophesied would destroy so-called civilisation, and made a point of being as disagreeable as he could to every one — particularly to the countess, whom he was able to insult confidentially in Russian. It was in obedience to the same democratic principles that he possessed himself of the only arm-chair in the prison — it must have been the throne of at least a chef de division — refusing to part with it even for a lady or an invalid. He sat in it immovably all day, put it between his mattress and the wall at night, and took it with him even into the wash-house and the chalet de nécessité.

The cheerful party grouped itself, planet fashion, round the radiant jollity of the journalist. His favourite amusement was hunting through the files for curious dossiers which he could read out, with appropriate comments and improvised emendations to the assembled group. But the most relished of all his jokes was played ritually every morning when he went through the papers of nobility of the whole Belgic aristocracy (discovered, neatly stowed away, in a cupboard in the corridor), selecting from among the noble names a few high-sounding titles which he would carry with him to the chalet of necessity. His disciples included a number of burgesses, French and Belgian; a rather odious and spotty young English bank clerk caught on his foreign holiday; the Russian countess in certain moods; the male impersonator, on and off; and the opera singer.

With this last my Uncle Spencer, who was a great lover of music and even a moderately accomplished pianist, made frequent attempts to talk about his favourite art. But the opera singer, he found, was only interested in music in so far as it affected the tenor voice. He had consequently never heard of Bach or Beethoven. On Leoncavallo, however, on Puccini, Saint-Saëns, and Gounod he was extremely knowledgeable. He was an imposing personage, with a large, handsome face and the gracious, condescending smile of a great man who does not object to talking even with you. With ladies, as he often gave it to be understood, he had a great success. But his fear of doing anything that might injure his voice was almost as powerful as his lasciviousness and his vanity; he passed his life, like a monk of the Thebaid, in a state of perpetual conflict. Outwardly and professedly a member of the cheerful party, the opera singer was secretly extremely concerned about, his future. In private he discussed with my Uncle Spencer the horrors of the situation.

More obviously melancholy was the little grey-haired professor of Latin who spent most of the day walking up and down the corridor like a wolf in a cage, brooding and pining. Poor Alphonse, squatting with his back to the wall near the door, was another sad and solitary figure. Sometimes he looked thoughtfully about him, watching his fellow-prisoners at their various occupations with the air of an inhabitant of eternity watching the incomprehensible antics of those who live in time. Sometimes he would spend whole hours with closed eyes in a state of meditation. When some one spoke to him, he came back to the present as though from an immense distance.

But, for my Uncle Spencer, how remote, gradually, they all became! They receded, they seemed to lose light; and with their fading the figure of Emmy Wendle came closer, grew larger and brighter. From the first moment he set eyes on her, sitting there on the floor, taking her lesson in vituperation from the journalist, my Uncle Spencer had taken particular notice of her. Making his way towards the pair of them, he had been agreeably struck by the childishness and innocence of her appearance — by the little snub nose, the blue eyes, the yellow hair, so stubbornly curly that she had to wear it cut short like a boy’s, for there was no oiling down or tying back a long mane of it; even in her private feminine life there was a hint — and it only made her seem the more childish — of male impersonation. And then, coming within earshot, it had been “sarl esspayss de coshaw” and a string besides of less endearing locutions proceeding from these lips. Startling, shocking. But a moment later, when he was telling them how hardly poor Alphonse had taken the joke, she said the most charming things and with such real feeling in her cockney voice, such a genuine expression of sympathy and commiseration on her face, that my Uncle Spencer wondered whether he had heard aright, or if that “sarl coshaw” and all the rest could really have been pronounced by so delicate and sensitive a creature.

The state of agination in which, my Uncle Spencer had lived ever since his arrest, the astonishing and horrible novelty of his situation, had doubtless in some measure predisposed him to falling in love. For it frequently happens that one emotion — providing that it is not so powerful as to make us unconscious of anything but itself — will stimulate us to feel another. Thus danger, if it is not acute enough to cause panic, tends to attach us to those with whom we risk it, the feelings of compassion, sympathy, and even love being stimulated and quickened by apprehension. Grief, in the same way, often brings with it a need of affection and even, though we do not like to admit it to ourselves, even obscurely a kind of desire; so that a passion of sorrow will convert itself by scarcely perceptible degrees, or sometimes suddenly, into a passion of love. My Uncle Spencer’s habitual attitude towards women was one of extreme reserve. Once, as a young man, he had been in love and engaged to be married but the object of his affections had jilted him for somebody else. Since then, partly from a fear of renewing his disappointment, partly out of a kind of romantic fidelity to the unfaithful one, he had avoided women, or at least taken pains not to fall in love any more, living always in a state of perfect celibacy, which would have done credit to the most virtuous of priests. But the agitations of the last few days had disturbed all his habits of life and thought. Apprehension of danger, an indignation that was a very different thing from the recurrent irritability of the sugar-making season, profound bewilderment, and a sense of mental disorientation had left him without his customary defences and in a state of more than ordinary susceptibility; so that when he saw, in the midst of his waking nightmare, that charming childish head, when he heard those gentle words of sympathy for the poor Dravidian, he was strangely moved; and he found himself aware of Emmy Wendle as he had not been aware of any woman since the first unfaithful one of his youth had left him.

Everything conspired to make my Uncle Spencer take an interest in Emmy Wendie — everything, not merely his own emotional state, but the place, the time, the outward circumstances. He might have gone to see her at the music hall every night for a year; and though he might have enjoyed her turn — and as a matter of fact he would not, for he would have thought it essentially rather vulgar — though he might have found her pretty and charming, it would never have occurred to him to try to make her acquaintance or introduce himself into her history. But here, in this detestable makeshift prison, she took on a new significance, she became the personification of all that was gracious, sweet, sympathetic, of all that was not war. And at the end of her performance (still, it was true, in poorish taste, but more permissible, seeing that it was given for the comfort of the afflicted) how profoundly impressive was her singing of the “Brabançonne”! She had become great with the greatness of the moment, with the grandeur of the emotions to which she was giving utterance in that harsh guttersnipe’s voice of hers — singing of exultations, agonies, and man’s unconquerable mind. We attribute to the symbol something of the sacredness of the thing or idea symbolised. Two bits of wood set cross-wise are not two ordinary bits of wood, and a divinity has hedged the weakest and worst of kings. Similarly, at any crisis in our lives, the most trivial object, or a person in himself insignificant, may become, for some reason, charged with all the greatness of the moment.

Even the “sarl coshaw” incident had helped to raise my Uncle Spencer’s interest in Emmy Wendle. For if she was gentle, innocent, and young, if she personified in her small, bright self all the unhappiness and all the courage of a country, of the whole afflicted world, she was also fallible, feminine, and weak; she was subject to bad influences, she might be led astray. And the recollection of those gross phrases, candidly, innocently, and openly uttered (as the most prudish can always utter them when they happen to be in an unfamiliar language, round whose words custom has not crystallised that wealth of associations which give to the native locutions their peculiar and, from age to age, varying significance), filled my Uncle Spencer with alarm and with a missionary zeal to rescue so potentially beautiful and even grand a nature from corruption.

For her part, Emmy Wendle was charmed, at any rate during the first days, of their acquaintance, with my Uncle Spencer. He was English, to begin with, and spoke her language; he was also — which the equally English and intelligible bank clerk was not — a gentleman. More important for Emmy, in her present mood, he did not attempt to flirt with her. Emmy wanted no admirers, at the moment. In the present circumstances she felt that it would have been wrong, uncomely, and rather disreputable to think of flirtation. She sang the “Brabançonne” with too much religious ardour for that; the moment was too solemn, too extraordinary. True, the solemnity of the moment and the ardour of her patriotic feelings might, if a suitable young man had happened to find himself with her in the attics of the Ministry of the Interior, have caused her to fall in love with a fervour having almost the religious quality of her other feelings. But no suitable young man, unfortunately, presented himself. The bank clerk had spots on his face and was not a gentleman, the journalist was middle-aged and too stout. Both tried to flirt with her. But their advances had, for Emmy, all the impropriety of a flirtation in a sacred place. With my Uncle Spencer, however, she felt entirely safe. It was not merely that he had white hair; Emmy had lived long enough to know that that symbol was no guarantee of decorous behaviour — on the contrary; but because he was, obviously, such a gentleman, because of the signs of unworldliness and mild idealism stamped all over his face.

At first, indeed, it was only to escape from the tiresome and indecorous attentions of the bank clerk and the journalist that she addressed herself to Uncle Spencer. But she soon came to like his company for its own sake; she began to take an interest in what he said, she listened seriously to my Uncle Spencer’s invariably serious conversation — for he never talked except on profitable and intellectual themes, having no fund of ordinary small talk.

During the first days Emmy treated him with the respectful courtesy which, she felt, was due to a man of his age, position, and character. But later, when he began to follow her with his abject adoration, she became more familiar. Inevitably; for one cannot expect to be treated as old and important by some one at whom one looks with the appealing eyes of a dog. She called him Uncle Spenny and ordered him about, made him carry and fetch as though he were a trained animal. My Uncle Spencer was only too delighted, of course, to obey her. He was charmed by the familiarities she took with him. The period of her pretty teasing familiarity (intermediate between her respectfulness and her later cruelty) was the happiest, so far as my Uncle Spencer was concerned, in their brief connection. He loved and felt himself, if not loved in return, at least playfully tolerated.

Another man would have permitted himself to take liberties in return, to be sportive, gallant, and importunate. But my Uncle Spencer remained gravely and tenderly himself. His only reprisal for “Uncle Spenny” and the rest was to call her by her Christian name instead of “Miss Wendle,” as he had always solemnly done before. Yes, Emmy felt herself safe with Uncle Spenny; almost too safe, perhaps.

My Uncle Spencer’s conversations were always, as I have s aid, of a very serious cast. They were even more serious at this time than usual; for the catastrophe, and now his passion, had brought on in his mind a very severe fit of thinking. There was so much that, in the light of the happenings of the last few weeks, needed reconsidering. From the German professor’s theory to the problem of good and evil; from the idea of progress (for, after all, was not this the twentieth century?) to the austere theory and the strange new fact of love; from internationalism to God — everything had to be considered afresh. And he considered them out loud with Emmy Wendle. Goodness, for example, was that no more than a relative thing, an affair of social conventions, gauged by merely local and accidental standards? Or was there something absolute, ultimate, and fundamental about the moral idea? And God — could God be absolutely good? And was there such a vast difference between the twentieth and other centuries?

Could fact ever rhyme with ideal? All these disturbing questions had to be asked and answered to his own satisfaction once again. —

It was characteristic of my Uncle Spencer that he answered them all — even after taking into consideration everything that had happened — on the hopeful side, just as he had done before the catastrophe; and what was more, with a deeper conviction. Before, he had accepted the cheerful idealistic view a little too easily. He had inherited it from the century in which he was born, had sucked it in from the respectable and ever-prospering elders among whom he had been brought up. Circumstances were now making that facile cheerfulness seem rather stupid. But it was precisely because he had to reconsider the objections to optimism, the arguments against hopefulness, not theoretically in the void, but practically and in the midst of personal and universal calamity (the latter very bearable if one is comfortably placed oneself, but real, but disturbing, if one is also suffering a little), that he now became convinced, more hardly but more profoundly, of the truth of what he had believed before, but lightly and, as he now saw, almost accidentally. Events were shortly to disturb this new-found conviction.

Emmy listened to him with rapture. The circumstances, the time, the place, inclined her to the serious and reflective mood. My Uncle Spencer’s discourses were just what she needed at this particular moment. Naturally superstitious, she lived at all times under the protection of a small gold lucky pig and a coral cross which had once belonged to her mother. And when luck was bad, she went to church and consulted crystal gazers. That time she broke her leg and had to cancel that wonderful engagement to tour in Australia, she knew it was because she had been neglecting God in all the prosperous months before; she prayed and she promised amendment. When she got better, God sent her an offer from Cohen’s Provincial Alhambras Ltd., in token that her repentance was accepted and she was forgiven. And now, though she had seemed to belong to the cheerful party in the attics of the Ministry of the Interior, her thoughts had secretly been very grave. At night, lying awake on her mattress, she wondered in the darkness what was the reason of all this — the war, her bad luck in getting caught by the Germans. Yes, what could the reason be? Why was God angry with her once again?

But of course she knew why. It was all that dreadful, dreadful business last June when she was working at Wimbledon. That young man who had waited for her at the stage door; and would she do him the honour of having supper with him? And she had said yes, though it was all against her rules. Yes: because he had such a beautiful voice, so refined, almost like a very high-class West and actor’s voice. “I came to see the marionettes,” he told her. “Marionettes never seem to get farther than the suburbs, do they? But I stayed for you.”

They drove in a taxi all the way from Wimbledon to Piccadilly. “Some day,” she said, pointing to the Pavilion, “you’ll see my name there, in big electric letters: EMMY WENDLE.” A hundred pounds a week and the real West End. What a dream!

He had such beautiful manners and he looked so handsome when you saw him in the light. They had champagne for supper.

In the darkness, Emmy blushed with retrospective shame. She buried her face in the pillow as though she were trying to hide from some searching glance. No wonder God was angry. In an agony she kissed the coral cross. She pulled at the blue ribbon, at the end of which, between her two small breasts, hung the golden pig; she held the mascot in her hand, tightly, as though hoping to extract from it something of that power for happiness stored mysteriously within it, as the power to attract iron filings is stored within the magnet.

A few feet away the Russian countess heavily breathed. At the stertorous sound Emmy shuddered, remembering the wickedness that slumbered so near her. For if she herself had ceased to be, technically, a good girl, she was — now that her luck had turned — ashamed of it, she knew, from God’s anger, that she had done wrong. But the countess, if sleep had not overtaken her, would have gone on boasting all night about her lovers. To middle-class Emmy the countess’s frankness, her freedom from the ordinary prejudices, her aristocratic contempt for public opinion, and her assumption — the assumption of almost all idle women and of such idle as have nothing better to do or think about — that the only end of life is to make love, complicatedly, at leisure and with a great many people, seemed profoundly shocking. It didn’t so much matter that she wasn’t a good girl — or rather a good ripe widow. What seemed to Emmy so dreadful was that she should talk about it as though not being good were natural, to be taken for granted, and even positively meritorious. No wonder God was angry.

To Emmy my Uncle Spencer — or shall I call him now her Uncle Spenny? — came as a comforter and sustainer in her remorseful misery. His wandering speculations were not, it was true, always particularly relevant to her own trouble; nor did she always understand what he was talking about. But there was a certain quality in all his discourses, whatever the subject, which she found uplifting and sustaining. Thus my Uncle Spencer quoting Swedenborg to prove that, in spite of all present appearances to the contrary, things were probably all right, was the greatest of comforts. There was something about him like a very high-class clergyman — a West End clergyman, so to say. When he talked she felt better and in some sort safer.

He inspired in her so much confidence that one day, while the journalist was playing some noisy joke that kept all the rest of the company occupied, she took him aside into the embrasure of one of the windows and told him all, or nearly all, about the episode on account of which God was now so angry. My Uncle Spencer assured her that God didn’t see things in quite the way she imagined; and that if He had decided that there must be a European War, it was not, in all human probability, to provide an excuse for getting Emmy Wendle — however guilty — locked up in the attics of the Ministry of the Interior at Brussels. As for the sin itself, my Uncle Spencer tried to make her believe that it was not quite so grave as she thought. He did not know that she only thought it grave because she was in prison and, naturally, depressed.

“No, no,” he said comfortingly, “you mustn’t take it to heart like that.”

But the knowledge that this exquisite and innocent young creature had once — and if once, why not twice, why not (my Uncle Spencer left to his own midnight thoughts feverishly speculated), why not fifty times? — fallen from virtue distressed him. He had imagined her, it was true, surrounded by bad influences, like the journalist; but between being taught to say “sarl coshaw” and an actual lapse from virtue, there was a considerable difference. It had never occurred to my Uncle Spencer that Emmy could have got beyond the “coshaw” stage. And now he had it from her own lips that she had.

Celibate like a priest, my Uncle Spencer had not enjoyed the priest’s: vicarious experience in the confessionals, He had not read those astonishing handbooks of practical psychology, fruit of the accumulated wisdom of centuries, from which the seminarist learns to understand his penitents, to classify and gauge their sins, and, incidentally — so crude, bald, and uncompromising are the descriptions of human vice that they contain — to loathe the temptations which, when rosily and delicately painted, can seem so damnably alluring. His ignorance of human beings was enormous. In his refinement he had preferred not to know; and circumstances, so far, had wonderfully conspired to spare him knowledge.

Years afterwards, I remember, when we met again, he asked me after a silence, and speaking with an effort, as though overcoming a repugnance, what I really thought about women and all “that sort of thing.” It was a subject about which at that time I happened to feel with the bitterness and mirthful cynicism of one who has been only too amply successful in love with the many in whom he took no interest, and lamentably and persistently unsuccessful with the one being, in whose case success would have been in the least worth while:

“You really think, then,” said my Uncle Spencer, when I paused for breath, “that a lot of that sort of thing actually does go on?”

I really did.

He sighed and shut his eyes, as though to conceal their expression from me. He was thinking of Emmy Wendle. How passionately he had hoped that I should prove her, necessarily and a virtuous!

There are certain sensitive and idealistic people in whom the discovery that the world is what it is brings on a sudden and violent reaction towards cynicism. From soaring in spheres of ideal purity they rush down into the mud, rub their noses in it, eat it, bathe and wallow. They lacerate their own highest feelings and delight in the pain. They take pleasure in defiling the things which before they thought beautiful and noble; they pore with a disgusted attention over the foul entrails of the things whose smooth and lovely skin was what they had once worshipped. —

Swift, surely, was one these — the greatest of them. His type our islands still produce; and more copiously, perhaps, during the last two or three generations than ever before. For the nineteenth century specialised in that romantic, optimistic idealism which postulates that man is on the whole good and inevitably becoming better. The idealism of the men of the Middle Ages was more sensible; for it insisted, to begin with, that man was mostly and essentially bad, a sinner by instinct and heredity. Their ideals, their religion, were divine and unnatural antidotes to original sin. They saw the worst first and could be astonished by no horror — only by the occasional miracle of sweetness and light. But their descendants of the romantic, optimistic, humanitarian century, in which my Uncle Spencer was born and brought up, vented their idealism otherwise. They began by seeing the best; they insisted that men were naturally good, spiritual, and lovely. A sensitive youth brought up in this genial creed has only to come upon a characteristic specimen of original sin to be astonished, shocked, and disillusioned into despair. Circumstances and temperament had permitted my Uncle Spencer to retain his romantic optimism very much longer than most men.

The tardy recognition of the existence of original sin disturbed my Uncle Spencer’s mind. But the effects of it were not immediate. At the moment, while he was in Emmys’ pretty and intoxicating presence, and while she was still kind, he could not believe that she too had her share of original sin. And even when he forced himself to do so, her childish ingenuous face was in itself a complete excuse. It was later — and especially when he was separated from her — that the poison began slowly to work, embittering his whole spirit. At present Emmy’s confession only served to increase his passion for her. For, to begin with, it made her seem more than ever in need of protection. And next, by painfully satisfying a little of his curiosity about her life, it quickened his desire to know all, to introduce himself completely into her history. And at the same time it provoked a retrospective jealousy, together with an intense present suspiciousness and an agonised anticipation of future dangers. His passion became like a painful disease. He pursued her with an incessant and abject devotion.

Relieved, partly by my Uncle Spencer’s spiritual ministrations, partly by the medicating power of time, from her first access of remorse, depression, and self-reproach, Emmy began to recover her normal high spirits. My Uncle Spencer became less necessary to her as a comforter. His incomprehensible speculations began to bore her. Conversely, the jokes of the cheerful ones seemed more funny, while the gallantries of the journalist and the bank clerk appeared less repulsive, because — now that her mood had changed — they struck her as less incongruous and indecorous. She was no longer, spiritually speaking, in church. In church, my Uncle Spencer’s undemonstrative and unimportunate devotion had seemed beautifully in place. But now that she was emerging again out of the dim religious into the brightly secular mood, she found it rather ridiculous and, since she did not return the adoration, tiresome.

“If you could just see yourself now, Uncle Spenny,” she said to him, “the way you look.”

And she drew down the corners of her mouth, then opened her eyes in a fishy, reverential stare. Then the grimace in which my Uncle Spencer was supposed to see his adoration truly mirrored, disintegrated in laughter; the eyes screwed themselves up, a little horizontal wrinkle appeared near the tip of the snub nose, the mouth opened, waves of mirth seemed to ripple out from it across the face, and a shrill peal of laughter mocked him into an attempted smile.

“Do I really look like that?” he asked.

“You really do,” Emmy nodded. “Not a very cheerful thing to have staring at one day and night, is it?”

Sometimes — and this to my Uncle Spencer was inexpressibly painful — she would even bring in some third person to share the sport at his expense; she would associate the bank clerk, the opera singer, or the journalist in her mocking laughter. The teasing which, in the first days, had been so light and affectionate, became cruel.

Emmy would have been distressed, no doubt, if she had known how much she hurt him. But he did not complain. All she knew was that my Uncle Spencer was ridiculous. The temptation to say something smart and disagreeable about him was irresistible.

To my Uncle Spencer’s company she now preferred that of the journalist, the bank clerk, and the opera singer. With the bank clerk she talked about West End actors and actresses, music-hall artists, and cinema stars. True, he was not much of a gentleman; but on this absorbing subject he was extremely knowledgeable. The singer revealed to her the gorgeous and almost unknown universe of the operatic stage — a world of art so awe-inspiringly high that it was above even the West End. The journalist told her spicy stories of the Brussels stage. My Uncle Spencer would sit at the fringes of the group, listening in silence and across a gulf of separation, while Emmy and the bank clerk agreed that Clarice Mayne was sweet, George Robey a scream, and Florence Smithson a really high-class artist. When asked for his opinion, my Uncle Spencer always had to admit that he had never seen the artist in question. Emmy and the bank clerk would set up a howl of derision; and the opera singer, with biting sarcasm, would ask my Uncle Spencer how a man who professed to be fond of music could have gone through life without even making an attempt to hear Caruso. My Uncle Spencer was too sadly depressed to try to explain.

The days passed. Sometimes a prisoner would be sent for and examined by the German authorities. The little old nobleman like a teapot was released a week after my Uncle Spencer’s arrival; and a few days later the haughty and monocled one disappeared. Most of the peasants next vanished. Then the Russian anarchist was sent for, lengthily examined and sent back again, to find that his arm-chair was being occupied by the journalist.

In the fourth week of my Uncle Spencer’s imprisonment Alphonse fell ill. The poor man had never recovered from the effects of the practical joke that had been played upon him on the day of his arrival. Melancholy, oppressed by fears, the more awful for being vague and without a definite object (for he could never grasp why and by whom he had been imprisoned; and as to his ultimate fate — no one could persuade him that it was to be anything but the most frightful and lingering of deaths), he sat brooding by himself in a corner. His free pardon, signed Von der Golz and sealed with the image of the Sacred Cow, he still preserved; for though he was now intellectually certain that the paper was valueless, he still hoped faintly in the depths of his being that it might turn out, one day, to be a talisman; and, in any case, the image of the Cow was very comforting. Every now and then he would take the paper out of his pocket, tenderly unfold it and gaze with large sad eyes at the sacred effigy: Pour l’amélioration de la race bovine — and tears would well up from under his eyelids, would hang suspended among the lashes and roll at last down his brown cheeks.

They were not so round now, those cheeks, as they had been. The skin sagged, the bright convex high-lights had lost their brilliance. Miserably he pined. My Uncle Spencer did his best to cheer him. Alphonse was grateful, but would take no comfort. He had lost all interest even in women; and when, learning from my Uncle Spencer that the Indian was something of a prophet, Emmy asked him to read her hand, he looked at her listlessly as though she had been a mere male and not a male impersonator, and shook his head.

One morning he complained that he was feeling too ill to get up. His head was hot, he coughed, breathed shortly and with difficulty, felt a pain in his right lung. My Uncle Spencer tried to think what Hahnemann would have prescribed in the circumstances, and came to the conclusion that the thousandth of a grain of aconite was the appropriate remedy. Unhappily, there was not so much as a millionth of a grain of aconite to be found in all the prison. Inquiry produced only a bottle of aspirin tablets and, from the Russian countess, a packet of cocaine snuff. It was thought best to give the Dravidian a dose of each and wait for the doctor.

At his midday visit the inspecting officer was informed of Alphonse’s state, and promised to have the doctor sent at once. But it was not, in point of fact, till the next morning that the doctor came. My Uncle Spencer, Meanwhile, constituted himself the Dravidian’s nurse. The fact that Alphonse was the widower of his housekeeper’s sister, and Shad lived in his city of adoption, made my Uncle Spencer feel somehow responsible for the poor Indian. Moreover, he was glad to have some definite occupation which would allow him to forget, if only partially and for an occasional moment, his unhappy passion.

From the first, Alphonse was certain that he was going to die. To my Uncle Spencer he foretold his impending extinction, not merely with equanimity, but almost with satisfaction. For by dying, he felt, he would be spiting and cheating his enemies, who desired so fiendishly to put an end to him at their own time and in their own horrible fashion. It was in vain that my Uncle Spencer assured him that he would not die, that there was nothing serious the matter with him. Alphonse stuck to his assertion.

“In eight days,” he said, “I shall be dead.”

And shutting his eyes, he was silent.

The doctor, when he came next day, diagnosed acute lobar pneumonia. Through the oppression of his fever, Alphonse smiled at my Uncle Spencer with a look almost of triumph. That night he was delirious and began to rave in a language my Uncle Spencer could not understand.

My Uncle Spencer listened in the darkness to the Dravidian’s incomprehensible chattering; and all at once, with a shudder, with a sense of terror he felt — in the presence of this man of another race, speaking in an unknown tongue words uttered out of obscure depths for no man’s hearing and which even his own soul did not hear or understand — he felt unutterably alone. He was imprisoned within himself. He was an island surrounded on every side by wide and bottomless solitudes. And while the Indian chattered away, now softly, persuasively, cajolingly, now with bursts of anger, now loudly laughing, he thought of all the millions and millions of men and women in the world — all alone, all solitary and confined. He thought of friends, incomprehensible to one another and opaque after a lifetime of companionship; he thought of lovers remote in one another’s arms. And the hopelessness of his passion revealed itself to him — the hopelessness of every passion, since every passion aims at attaining to what, in the nature of things, is unattainable: the fusion and interpenetration of two lives, two separate histories, two solitary and for ever sundered individualities.

The Indian roared with laughter.

But the unattainableness of a thing was never a reason for ceasing to desire it. On the contrary, it tends to increase and even to create desire. Thus our love for those we know, and our longing to be with them, are often increased by their death. And the impossibility of ever communicating with him again will actually create out of indifference an affection, a respect and esteem for some one whose company in life seemed rather tedious than desirable. So, for the lover, the realisation that what he desires is unattainable, and that every possession will reveal yet vaster tracts of what is unpossessed and unpossessable, is not a deterrent, is not an antidote to his passion; but serves rather to exacerbate his desire, sharpening it to a kind of desperation, and at the same time making the object of his desire seem more than ever precious.

The Indian chattered on, a ghost among the ghosts of his imagination, remote as though he were speaking from another world. And Emmy — was she not as far away, as unattainable? And being remote, she was the more desirable; being mysterious, she was the more lovely. A more brutal and experienced man than my Uncle Spencer would have devoted all his energies to seducing the young woman, knowing that after a time the satisfaction of his physical desire would probably make him cease to take any interest in her soul or her history. But physical possession was the last thing my Uncle Spencer thought of, and his love had taken the form of an immense desire for the impossible union, not of bodies, but of minds and lives. True, what he had so far learned about her mind and history was not particularly encouraging. But for my Uncle Spencer her silliness, love of pleasure, and frivolity were strange and mysterious qualities — for he had known few women in his life and none, before, like Emmy Wendle — rather lovely still in their unfamiliarity, and if recognised as at all bad, excused as being the symptoms of charming childishness and an unfortunate upbringing. Her solicitude, that first day, about poor Alphonse convinced him that she was fundamentally good-hearted; and if she had proved herself cruel since then towards himself, that was more by mistake and because of surrounding bad influences than from natural malignity. And, then, there was the way in which she sang the “Brabançonne.” It was noble, it was moving. To be able to sing like that one must have a fine and beautiful character. In thinking like this, my Uncle Spencer was forgetting that no characteristic is incompatible with any other, that any deadly sin may be found in company with any cardinal virtue, even the apparently contradictory virtue. But unfortunately that is the kind of wisdom which one invariably forgets precisely at the moment when it might be of use to one. One learns it almost in the cradle; at any rate, I remember at my preparatory school reading, in Professor Oman’s Shorter History of England, of “the heroic though profligate Duke of Ormond,” and of a great English king who was none the less, “a stuttering, lolling pedant with a tongue too big for his mouth.” But though one knows well enough in theory that a duke can be licentious as well as brave, that majestic wisdom may be combined with pedantry and defective speech, yet in practice one continues to believe that an attractive woman is kind because she is charming, and virtuous because she rejects your first advances; without reflecting that the grace of her manner may thinly conceal an unyielding ruthlessness and selfishness, while the coyness in face of insistence may be a mere device for still more completely ensnaring the victim. It is only in the presence of unsympathetic persons that we remember that the most odious actions are compatible with the most genuinely noble sentiments, and that a man or woman who does one thing, while professing another, is not necessarily a conscious liar or hypocrite. If only we could steadfastly bear this knowledge in mind when we are with persons whom we find sympathetic!

Desiring Emmy as passionately as he did, my Uncle Spencer would not have had much difficulty in persuading himself — even in spite of her recent cruelty towards him — that the spirit with which he longed to unite his own Was on the whole a beautiful and interesting spirit; would indeed have had no difficulty at all, had it not been for that unfortunate confession of hers. This, though it flattered him as a token of her confidence in his discretion and wisdom, had sadly disturbed him and was continuing to disturb him more and more. For out of all her history — the history in which it was his longing to make himself entirely at home as though he had actually lived through it with her — this episode was almost the only chapter he knew. Like a thin ray of light her confession had picked it out for him, from the surrounding obscurity. And what an episode! The more my Uncle Spencer reflected on it, the more he found it distressing.

The brutal practical man my Uncle Spencer was not would have taken this incident from the past as being of good augury for his own future prospects. But since he did not desire, consciously at any rate the sort of success it augured, the knowledge of this incident brought him an unadulterated distress. For however much my Uncle Spencer might insist in his own mind on the guiltiness of external circumstance and of the other party, he could not entirely exonerate Emmy. Nor could he pretend that she had not in some sort, if only physically, taken part in her own lapse. And perhaps she had participated willingly. And even if she had not, the thought that she had been defiled, however reluctantly, by the obscene contact was unspeakably painful to him. And while the Indian raved, and through the long, dark silences during which there was no sound but the unnaturally quick and shallow breathing, and sometimes a moan, and sometimes a dry cough, my Uncle Spencer painfully thought and thought; and his mind oscillated between a conviction of her purity and the fear that perhaps she was utterly corrupt. He saw in his imagination, now her childish face and the rapt expression upon it while she sang the “Brabançonne,” now the sweet, solicitous look while she commiserated on poor Alphonse’s unhappiness, and then, a moment later, endless embracements, kisses brutal and innumerable. And always he loved her.

Next day the Dravidian’s fever was still high. The doctor, when he came, announced that red hepatisation of both lungs was already setting in. It was a grave case which ought to be at the hospital; but he had no authority to have the man sent there. He ordered tepid spongings to reduce the fever.

In the face of the very defective sanitary arrangements of the prison, my Uncle Spencer did his best. He had a crowd of willing assistants; everybody was anxious to do something helpful.

Nobody was more anxious than Emmy Wendle. The forced inaction of prison life, even when it was relieved by the jokes of the cheerful ones, by theatrical discussions and the facetious gallantry of the bank clerk and the journalist, was disagreeable to her. And the prospect of being able to do something, and particularly (since it was war-time, after all) of doing something useful and charitable, was welcomed by her with a real satisfaction. She sat by the Dravidian’s mattress, talked to him, gave him what he asked for, did the disagreeable jobs that have to be done in the sick-room, ordered my Uncle Spencer and the others about, and seemed completely happy.

For his part, my Uncle Spencer was delighted by what he regarded as a reversion to her true self. There could be no doubt about it now: Emmy was good, was kind, a ministering angel, and therefore (in spite of the professor’s heroic though profligate duke), therefore pure, therefore interesting, therefore worthy of all the love he could give her. He forgot the confession, or at least he ceased to attach importance to it; he was no longer haunted by the odious images which too much brooding over it evoked in his mind. What convinced him, perhaps, better than everything of her essential goodness, was the fact that she was once more kind to him. Her young energy, fully occupied in practical work (which was not, however, sufficiently trying to overtax the strength or set the nerves on edge), did not have to vent itself in laughter and mockery, as it had done when she recovered from the mood of melancholy which had depressed it during the first days of her imprisonment. They were fellow-workers now.

The Dravidian, meanwhile, grew worse and worse, weaker and weaker every day. The doctor was positively irritated.

“The man has no business to be so ill as he is,” he grumbled. “He’s not old, he isn’t an alcoholic or a syphilitic, his constitution is sound enough. He’s just letting himself die. At this rate he’ll never get past the crisis.”

At this piece of news Emmy became grave. She had never seen death at close quarters — a defect in her education which my Uncle Spencer, if he had had the bringing up of her, would have remedied.

For death was one of those Realities of Life with which, he thought, every one ought to make the earliest possible acquaintance. Love, on the other hand, was not one of the desirable Realities. It never occurred to him to ask himself the reason for this invidious distinction. Indeed, there was no reason; it just was so.

“Tell me, Uncle Spenny,” she whispered, when the doctor had gone, “what does really happen to people when they die?”

Charmed by this sign of Emmy’s renewed interest in serious themes, my Uncle Spencer explained to her what Alphonse at any rate thought would happen to him.

At midday, over the repeated cabbage soup and the horrible boiled meat, the bank clerk, with characteristically tasteless facetiousness, asked, “How’s our one little nigger boy?”

Emmy looked at him with disgust and anger. “I think you’re perfectly horrible,” she said. And, lowering her voice reverently, she went on, “The doctor says he’s going to die.”

The bank clerk was unabashed. “Oh, he’s going to kick the bucket, is he? Poor old blacky!”

Emmy made no answer; there was a general silence. It was as though somebody had started to make an unseemly noise in a church.

Afterwards, in the privacy of the little room, where, among the filing cabinets and the dusty papers, the Dravidian lay contentedly dying, Emmy turned to my Uncle Spencer and said, “You know, Uncle Spenny, I think you’re a wonderfully decent sort. I do, really.”

My Uncle Spencer was too much overcome to say anything but “Emmy, Emmy,” two or three times. He took her hand and, very gently, kissed it.

That afternoon they went on talking about all the things that might conceivably happen after one were dead. Emmy told my Uncle Spencer all that she had thought when she got the telegram — two years ago it was, and she was working in a hall at Glasgow, one of her first engagements, too — saying that her father had suddenly died. He drank too much, her father did; and he wasn’t kind to mother when he wasn’t himself. But she had been very fond of him, all the same; and when that telegram came she wondered and wondered....

My Uncle Spencer listened attentively, happy in having this new glimpse of her past; he forgot the other incident, which the beam of her confession had illumined for him.

Late that evening, after having lain for a long time quite still, as though he were asleep, Alphonse suddenly stirred, opened his large black eyes, and began to talk, at first in the incomprehensible language which came from him in delirium, then, when he realised that his listeners did not understand him, more slowly and in his strange pidgin-French.

“I have seen everything just now,” he said—” everything.”

“But what?” they asked.

“All that is going to happen. I have seen that this war will last a long time — a long time. More than fifty months.” And he prophesied enormous calamities.

My Uncle Spencer, who knew for certain that the war couldn’t possibly last more than three months, was incredulous. But Emmy, who had no preconceived ideas on war and a strong faith in oracles, stopped him impatiently when he wanted to bring the Dravidian to silence.

“Tell me,” she said, “what’s going to happen to us.” She had very little interest in the fate of civilisation.

“I am going to die,” Alphonse began.

My Uncle Spencer made certain deprecating little noises. “No, no,” he protested.

The Indian paid no attention to him. “I am going to die,” he repeated. “And you,” he said to my Uncle Spencer, “you will be let go and then again be put into prison. But not here. Somewhere else. A long way off. For a long time — a very long time. You will be very unhappy.” He shook his head. “I cannot help it; even though you have been so good to me. That is what I see. But the man who deceived me” — he meant the journalist—” he will very soon be set free and he will live in freedom, all the time. In such freedom as there will be here. And he who sits in the chair will at last go back to his own country. And he who sings will go free like the man who deceived me. And the small grey man will be sent to another prison in another country. And the fat woman with a red mouth will be sent to another country; but she will not be in prison. I think she will be married there — again.” The portraits were recognisably those of the Russian countess and the professor of Latin. “And the man with carbuncles on his face” (this was the bank clerk, no doubt) “will be sent to another prison in another country; and there he will die. And the woman in black who is so sad...”

But Emmy could bear to wait no longer. “What about me?” she asked. “Tell me what you see about me.”

The Dravidian closed his eyes and was silent for a moment. “You will be set free,” he said. “Soon. And some day,” he went on, “you will be the wife of this good man.” He indicated my Uncle Spencer. “But not yet; not for a long time; till all this strife is at an end. You will have children... good fortune....” His words grew fainter; once more he closed his eyes. He sighed as though utterly exhausted. “Beware of fair strangers,” he murmured, reverting to the old familiar formula. He said no more.

Emmy and my Uncle Spencer were left looking at one another in silence.

“What do you think, Uncle Spenny?” she whispered at last. “Is it true?

Two hours later the Indian was dead.

My Uncle Spencer slept that night, or rather did not sleep, in the living-room. The corpse lay alone among the archives. The words of the Indian continued to echo and re-echo in his mind: “Some day you will be the wife of this kind man.” Perhaps, he thought, on the verge of death, the spirit already begins to try its wings in the new world. Perhaps already it has begun to! know the fringes, as it were, of secrets that are to be revealed to it. To my Uncle Spencer there was nothing repugnant in the idea. There was room in his universe for what are commonly and perhaps wrongly known as miracles. Perhaps the words were a promise, a statement of future fact. Lying on his back, his eyes fixed on the dark blue starry sky beyond the open window, he meditated on that problem of fixed fate and free will, with which the devils in Milton’s hell wasted their infernal leisure. And like a refrain the words repeated themselves: “Some day you will be the wife of this good man.” The stars moved slowly across the opening of the window. He did not sleep.

In the morning an order came for the release of the Journalist and the opera singer. Joyfully they said good-bye to their fellow-prisoners; the door closed behind them. Emmy turned to my Uncle Spencer with a look almost of terror in her eyes; the Indian’s prophesies were already beginning to come true. But they said nothing to one another. Two days later the bank clerk left for an internment camp in Germany.

And then, one morning, my Uncle Spencer himself was sent for. The order came quite suddenly; they left him no time to take leave. He was examined by the competent authority, found harmless, and permitted to return to Longres, where, however, he was to live under supervision. They did not even allow him to go back to the prison and say good-bye; a soldier brought his effects from the Ministry; he was put on to the train, with orders to report to the commandant at Longres as soon as he arrived.

Antonieke received her master with tears of joy. But my Uncle Spencer took no pleasure in his recovered freedom. Emmy Wendle was still a prisoner. True, she would soon be set free; but then, he now realised to his horror, she did not know his address. He had been released at such startlingly short notice that he had had no time to arrange with her about the possibilities of future meetings; he had not even seen her on the morning of his liberation.

Two days after his return to Longres, he asked permission from the commandant, to whom he had to report himself every day, whether he might go to Brussels. He was asked why; my Uncle Spencer answered truthfully that it was to visit a friend in the prison from which he himself had just been released. Permission was at once refused.

My Uncle Spencer went to Brussels all the same. The sentry at the door of the prison arrested him as a suspicious person. He was sent back to Longres; the commandant talked to him menacingly. The next week, my Uncle Spencer tried again. It was sheer insanity, he knew; but doing something idiotic was preferable to doing nothing. He was again arrested.

This time they condemned him to internment in a camp in Germany. The Indian’s prophecies were being fulfilled with a remarkable accuracy. And the war did last for more than fifty months. And the carbuncular bank clerk, whom he found again in the internment camp, did, in fact, die....

What made him confide in me — me, whom he had known as a child and almost fathered — I do not know. Or perhaps I do know. Perhaps it was because he felt that I should be more competent to advise him on this sort of subject than his brother — my father — or old Mr. Bullinger, the Dante scholar, or any other of his friends. He would have felt ashamed, perhaps, to talk to them about this sort of thing. And he would have felt, too, that perhaps it wouldn’t be much good talking to them, and that I, in spite of my youth, or even because of it, might actually be more experienced in these matters than they. Neither my father nor Mr. Bullinger, I imagine, knew very much about male impersonators.

At any rate, whatever the cause, it was to me that he talked about the whole affair, that spring of 1919, when he was staying with us in Sussex, recuperating after those dreary months of confinement. We used to go for long walks together, across the open downs, or between the grey pillars of the beechwoods; and painfully overcoming reluctance after reluctance, proceeding from confidence to more intimate confidence, my Uncle Spencer told me the whole story.

The story involved interminable discussions by the way. For we had to decide, first of all, whether there was any possible scientific explication of prophecy; whether there was such a thing as an absolute future braking to be lived through. And at much greater length, even, we had to argue about women — whether they were really “like that” (and into what depths of cynicism my poor Uncle Spencer had learned, during the long, embittered meditations of his prison days and nights, to plunge and wallow!), or whether they were like the angels he had desired them to be.

But more important than to speculate on Emmy’s possible character was to discover where she now was. More urgent than to wonder if prophecy could conceivably be reliable, was to take steps to fulfil this particular prophecy. For weeks my Uncle Spencer and I played at detectives.

I have often fancied that we must have looked, when we made our inquiries together, uncommonly like the traditional pair in the stories — my Uncle Spencer, the bright-eyed, cadaverous, sharp-featured genius, the Holmes of the combination; and I, moon-faced and chubby, a very youthful Watson. But, as a matter of fact, it was I, if I may say so without fatuity, who was the real Holmes of the two. My Uncle Spencer was too innocent of the world to know how to set about looking for a vanished mistress; just as he was too innocent of science to know how or where to find out what there was to be discovered on any abstracter subject.

It was I who took him to the British Museum and made him look up all the back numbers of the theatrical papers to see when Emmy had last advertised her desire to be engaged. It was I, the apparent Watson, who thought of the theatrical agencies and the stage doors of all the suburban music-halls. Sleuth-like in aspect, innocent at heart, my Uncle Spencer followed, marvelling at my familiarity with the ways of the strange world.

But I must temper my boasting by the confession that we were always entirely unsuccessful. No agency had heard of Emmy Wendle since 1914. Her card had appeared in no paper. The porters of music-halls remembered her, but only as something antediluvian. “Emmy Wendle? Oh yes, Emmy Wendle...” And scratching their heads, they strove by a mental effort to pass from the mere name to the person, like palaeontologists reconstructing the whole diplodocus from the single fossil bone.

Two or three times we were even given addresses. But the landladies of the lodging-houses where she had stayed did not even remember her; and the old aunt at Ealing, from whom we joyfully hoped so much, had washed her hands of Emmy two or three months before the war began. And the conviction she then had that Emmy was a bad girl was only intensified and confirmed by our impertinent inquiries. No, she knew nothing about Emmy Wendle, now, and didn’t want to know. And she’d trouble us to leave respectable people like herself in peace. And, defeated, we climbed back into our taxi, while the inhabitants of the squalid little street peered out at us and our vehicle, as though we had been visitors from another planet, and the metropolitan hackney carriage a fairy chariot.

“Perhaps she’s dead,” said my Uncle Spencer softly, after a long silence.

“Perhaps,” I said brutally, “she’s found a husband and retired into private life.”

My Uncle Spencer shut his eyes, sighed, and drew his hand across his forehead. What dreadful images filled his mind? He would almost have preferred that she should be dead.

“And yet the Indian,” he murmured, “he was always right...”

And perhaps he may still be right in this. Who knows?

Little Mexican

THE SHOPKEEPER CALLED it, affectionately, a little Mexican; and little, for a Mexican, it may have been. But in this Europe of ours, where space is limited and the scale smaller, the little Mexican was portentous, a giant among hats. It hung there, in the centre of the hatter’s window, a huge black aureole, fit for a king among devils. But no devil walked that morning through the streets of Ravenna; only the mildest of literary tourists. Those were the days when very large hats seemed in my eyes very desirable, and it was on my head, all unworthy, that the aureole of darkness was destined to descend. On my head; for at the first sight of the hat, I had run into the shop, tried it on, found the size correct, and bought it, without bargaining, at a foreigner’s price. I left the shop with the little Mexican on my head, and my shadow on the pavements of Ravenna was like the shadow of an umbrella pine.

The little Mexican is very old now, and moth-eaten and green. But I still preserve it. Occasionally, for old associations’ sake, I even wear it. Dear Mexican! it represents for me a whole epoch of my life. It stands for emancipation and the first year at the university. It symbolizes the discovery of how many new things, new ideas, new sensations! — of French literature, of alcohol, of modern painting, of Nietzsche, of love, of metaphysics, of Mallarmé, of syndicalism, and of goodness knows what else. But, above all, I prize it because it reminds me of my first discovery of Italy. It re-evokes for me, my little Mexican, all the thrills and astonishments and virgin raptures of that first Italian tour in the early autumn of 1912. Urbino, Rimini, Ravenna, Ferrara, Modena, Mantua, Verona, Vicenza, Padua, Venice — my first impressions of all these fabulous names lie, like a hatful of jewels, in the crown of the little Mexican. Shall I ever have the heart to throw it away?

And then, of course, there is Tirabassi. Without the little Mexican I should never have made Tirabassi’s acquaintance. He would never have taken me, in my small unemphatic English hat, for a painter. And I should never, in consequence, have seen the frescoes, never have talked with the old Count, never heard of the Colombella. Never.... When I think of that, the little Mexican seems to me more than ever precious.

It was, of course, very typical of Tirabassi to suppose, from the size of my hat, that I must be a painter. He had a neat military mind that refused to accept the vague disorder of the world. He was for ever labelling and pigeon-holing and limiting his universe; and when the classified objects broke out of their pigeonholes and tore the labels from off their necks, Tirabassi was puzzled and annoyed. In any case, it was obvious to him from the first moment he saw me in the restaurant at Padua, that I must be a painter. All painters wear large black hats. I was wearing the little Mexican. Ergo, I was a painter. It was syllogistic, unescapable.

He sent the waiter to ask me whether I would do him the honour of taking coffee with him at his table. For the first moment, I must confess, I was a little alarmed. This dashing young lieutenant of cavalry — what on earth could he want with me? The most absurd fancies filled my mind: I had committed, all unconsciously, some frightful solecism; I had trodden on the toes of the lieutenant’s honour, and he was about to challenge me to a duel. The choice of weapons, I rapidly reflected, would be mine. But what — oh, what on earth should I choose? Swords? I had never learnt to fence. Pistols? I had once fired six shots at a bottle, and missed it with every shot. Would there be time to write one or two letters, make some sort of a testament about my personal belongings? From this anguish of mind the waiter, returning a moment later with my fried octopus, delivered me. The Lieutenant Count, he explained in a whisper of confidence, bad a villa on the Brenta, not far from Strà. A villa — he spread out his hands in a generous gesture — full of paintings. Full, full, full. And he was anxious that I should see them, because he felt sure that I was interested in paintings. Oh, of course — I smiled rather foolishly, for the waiter seemed to expect some sort of confirmatory interpolation from me — I was interested in paintings; very much. In that case, said the waiter, the Count would be delighted to take me to see them. He left me, still puzzled, but vastly relieved. At any rate, I was not being called upon to make the very embarrassing choice between swords and pistols.

Surreptitiously, whenever he was not looking in my direction, I examined the Lieutenant Count. His appearance was not typically Italian (but then what is a typical Italian?). He was not, that is to say, blue-jowled, beady-eyed, swarthy, and aquiline. On the contrary, he had pale ginger hair, grey eyes, a snub nose, and a freckled complexion. I knew plenty of young Englishmen who might have been Count Tirabassi’s less vivacious brothers.

He received me, when the time came, with the most exquisite courtesy, apologizing for the unceremonious way in which he had made my acquaintance. “But as I felt sure,” he said, “that you were interested in art, I thought you would forgive me for the sake of what I have to show you.” I couldn’t help wondering why the Count felt so certain about my interest in art. It was only later, when we left the restaurant together, that I understood; for, as I put on my hat to go, he pointed with a smile at the little Mexican. “One can see,” he said, “that you are a real artist.” I was left at a loss, not knowing what to answer.

After we had exchanged the preliminary courtesies, the Lieutenant plunged at once, entirely for my benefit I could see, into a conversation about art. “Nowadays,” he said, “we Italians don’t take enough interest in art. In a modern country, you see.. He shrugged his shoulders, leaving the sentence unfinished. “But I don’t think that’s right. I adore art. Simply adore it. When I see foreigners going round with their guidebooks, standing for half an hour in front of one picture, looking first at the book, then at the picture” — and here he gave the most brilliantly finished imitation of an Anglican clergyman conscientiously “doing” the Mantegna chapel: first a glance at the imaginary guide-book held open in his two hands, then, with the movement of a chicken that drinks, a lifting of the face towards an imaginary fresco, a long stare between puckered eyelids, a falling open of the mouth, and finally a turning back of the eyes towards the inspired pages of Baedeker— “when I see them, I feel ashamed for us Italians.” The Count spoke very earnestly, feeling, no doubt, that his talent for mimicry had carried him a little too far. “And if they stand for half an hour looking at the thing, I go and stand there for an hour. That’s the way to understand great art. The only way.” He leaned back in his chair and sipped his coffee. “Unfortunately,” he added, after a moment, “one hasn’t got much time.”

I agreed with him. “When one can only get to Italy for a month at a stretch, like myself..

“Ah, but if only I could travel about the world like you!” The Count sighed. “But here I am, cooped up in this wretched town. And when I think of the enormous capital that’s hanging there on the walls of my house...” He checked himself, shaking his head. Then, changing his tone, he began to tell me about his house on the Brenta. It sounded altogether too good to be true. Carpioni, yes — I could believe in frescoes by Carpioni; almost any one might have those. But a hall by Veronese, but rooms by Tiepolo, all in the same house — that sounded incredible. I could not help believing that the Count’s enthusiasm for art had carried him away. But, in any case, to-morrow I should be able to judge for myself; the Count had invited me to lunch with him.

We left the restaurant. Still embarrassed by the Count’s references to my little Mexican, I walked by his side in silence up the arcaded street.

“I am going to introduce you to my father,” said the Count. “He, too, adores the arts.”

More than ever I felt myself a swindler. I had wriggled into the Count’s confidence on false pretences; my hat was a lie. I felt that I ought to do something to clear up the misunderstanding. But the Count was so busy complaining to me about his father that I had no opportunity to put in my explanation. I didn’t listen very attentively, I confess, to what he was saying. In the course of a year at Oxford, I had heard so many young men complain of their fathers. Not enough money, too much interference — the story was a stale one. And at that time, moreover, I was taking a very high philosophical line about this sort of thing. I was pretending that people didn’t interest me — only books, only ideas. What a fool one can make of oneself at that age!

“Eccoci,” said the Count. We halted in front of the Café Pedrochi. “He always comes here for his coffee.”

And where else, indeed, should he come for his coffee? Who, in Padua, would go anywhere else?

We found him sitting out on the terrace at the farther end of the building. I had never, I thought, seen a jollier-looking old gentleman. The old Count had a red weather-beaten face, with white moustaches bristling gallantly upwards and a white imperial in the grand Risorgimento manner of Victor Emmanuel the Second. Under the white tufty eyebrows, and set in the midst of a webwork of fine wrinkles, the eyes were brown and bright like a robin’s. His long nose looked, somehow, more practically useful than the ordinary human nose, as though made for fine judicial sniffing, for delicate burrowing and probing. Thick set and strong, he sat there solidly in his chair, his knees apart, his hands clasped over the knob of his cane, carrying his paunch with dignity, nobiy I had almost said, before him. He was dressed all in white linen — for the weather was still very hot — and his wide grey hat was tilted rakishly forward over his left eye. It gave one a real satisfaction to look at him; he was so complete, so perfect in his kind.

The young Count introduced me. “This is an English gentleman. Signor...” He turned to me for the name.

“Oosselay,” I said, having learnt by experience that that was as near as any Italian could be expected to get to it.

“Signor Oosselay,” the young Count continued, “is an artist.”

“Well, not exactly an artist,” I was beginning; but he would not let me make an end.

“He is also very much interested in ancient art,” he continued. “To-morrow I am taking him to Dolo to see the frescoes. I know he will like them.”

We sat down at the old Count’s table; critically he looked at me and nodded. “Benissimo,” he said, and then added, “Let’s hope you’ll be able to do something to help us sell the things.”

This was startling. I looked in some perplexity towards the young Count. He was frowning angrily at his father. The old gentleman had evidently said the wrong thing; he had spoken, I guessed, too soon. At any rate, he took his son’s hint and glided off serenely on another tack.

“The fervid phantasy of Tiepolo,” he began rotundly, “the cool, unimpassioned splendour of Veronese — at Dolo you will see them contrasted.” I listened attentively, while the old gentleman thundered on in what was evidendy a set speech. When it was over, the young Count got up; he had to be back at the barracks by half-past two. I too made as though to go; but the old man laid his hand on my arm. “Stay with me,” he said. “I enjoy your conversation infinitely.” And as he himself had hardly ceased speaking for one moment since first I set eyes on him, I could well believe it. With the gesture of a lady lifting her skirts out of the mud (and those were the days when skirts still had to be lifted) the young Count picked up his trailing sabre and swaggered off, very military, very brilliant and glittering, like a soldier on the stage, into the sunlight, out of sight.

The old man’s bird-bright eyes followed him as he went. “A good boy, Fabio,” he said, turning back to me at last, “a good son.” He spoke affectionately; but there was a hint, I thought, in his smile, in the tone of his voice, a hint of amusement, of irony. It was as though he were adding, by implication, “But good boys, after all, are fools to be so good.” I found myself, in spite of my affectation of detachment, extremely curious about this old gentleman. And he, for his part, was not the man to allow any one in his company to remain for long in splendid isolation. He insisted on my taking an interest in his affairs. He told me all about them — or at any rate all about some of them — pouring out his confidences with an astonishing absence of reserve. Next to the intimate and trusted friend, the perfect stranger is the best of all possible confidants. There is no commercial traveller, of moderately sympathetic appearance, who has not, in the course of his days in the train, his evenings in the parlours of commercial hotels, been made the repository of a thousand intimate secrets — even in England. And in Italy — goodness knows what commercial travellers get told in Italy. Even I, a foreigner, speaking the language badly, and not very skilful anyhow in conducting a conversation with strangers, have heard queer things in the second-class carriages of Italian trains.... Here, too, on Pedrochi’s terrace I was to hear queer things. A door was to be left ajar, and through the crack I was to have a peep at unfamiliar lives.

“What I should do without him,” the old gentleman continued, “I really don’t know. The way he manages the estate is simply wonderful.” And he went rambling off into long digressions about the stupidity of peasants, the incompetence and dishonesty of bailiffs, the badness of the weather, the spread of phylloxera, the high price of manure. The upshot of it all was that, since Fabio had taken over the estate, everything had gone well; even the weather had improved. “It’s such a relief,” the Count concluded, “to feel that I have some one in charge on whom I can rely, some one I can trust, absolutely. It leaves me free to devote my mind to more important things.”

I could not help wondering what the important things were; but it would have been impertinent, I felt, to ask. Instead, I put a more practical question. “But what will happen,” I asked, “when your son’s military duties take him away from Padua?”

The old Count gave me a wink and laid his forefinger, very deliberately, to the side of his long nose. The gesture was rich with significance. “They never will,” he said. “It’s all arranged. A little combinazione, you know. I have a friend in the Ministry. His military duties will always keep him in Padua.” He winked again and smiled.

I could not help laughing, and the old Count joined in with a joyous ha-ha that was the expression of a profound satisfaction, that was, as it were, a burst of self-applause. He was evidently proud of his little combinazione. But he was prouder still of the other combination, about which he now confidentially leaned across the table to tell me. It was decidedly the subtler of the two.

“And it’s not merely his military duties,” he said, wagging at me the thick, yellow-nailed forefinger which he had laid against his nose, “it’s not merely his military duties that’ll keep the boy in Padua. It’s his domestic duties. He’s married. I married him.” He leaned back in his chair, and surveyed me, smiling. The little wrinkles round his eyes seemed to be alive. “That boy, I said to myself, must settle down. He must have a nest, or else he’ll fly away. He must have roots, or else he’ll run. And his poor old father will be left in the lurch. He’s young, I thought, but he must marry. He must marry. At once.” And the old gentleman made great play with his forefinger. It was a long story. His old friend, the Awocato Monaldeschi, had twelve children — three boys and nine girls. (And here there were digressions about the Awocato and the size of good Catholic families.) The eldest girl was just the right age for Fabio. No money, of course; but a good girl and pretty, and very well brought up and religious. Religious — that was very important, for it was essential that Fabio should have a large family — to keep him more effectually rooted, the old Count explained — and with these modern young women brought up outside the Church one could never be certain of children. Yes, her religion was most important; he had looked into that very carefully before selecting her. Well, the next thing, of course, was that Fabio should be induced to select her. It had been a matter of bringing the horse to water and making him drink. Oh, a most difficult and delicate business! For Fabio prided himself on his independence; and he was obstinate, like a mule. Nobody should interfere with his affairs, nobody should make him do what he didn’t want to. And he was so touchy, he was so pig-headed that often he wouldn’t do what he really wanted, merely because somebody else had suggested that he ought to do it. So I could imagine — the old Count spread out his hands before me — just how difficult and delicate a business it had been. Only a consummate diplomat could have succeeded. He did it by throwing them together a great deal and talking, meanwhile, about the rashness of early marriages, the uselessness of poor wives, the undesirability of wives not of noble birth. It worked like a charm; within four months, Fabio was engaged; two months later he was married, and ten months after that he had a son and heir. And now he was fixed, rooted. The old gentleman chuckled, and I could fancy that I was listening to the chuckling of some old white-haired tyrant of the quattrocento, congratulating himself on the success of some peculiarly ingenious stroke of policy — a rich city induced to surrender itself by fraud, a dangerous rival lured by fair words into a cage and trapped. Poor Fabio, I thought; and also, what a waste of talent!

Yes, the old Count went on, now he would never go. He was not like his younger brother, Lucio. Lucio was a rogue, Jurbo, sly; he had no conscience. But Fabio had ideas about duty, and lived up to them. Once he had engaged himself, he would stick to his engagements, obstinately, with all the mulishness of his character. Well, now he lived on the estate, in the big painted house at Dolo. Three days a week he came into Padua for his military duties, and the rest of his time he devoted to the estate. It brought in, now, more than it had ever done before. But goodness knew, the old man complained, that was little enough. Bread and oil, and wine and milk, and chickens and beef — there was plenty of those and to spare. Fabio could have a family of fifty and they would never starve. But ready money — there wasn’t much of that. “In England,” the Count concluded, “you are rich. But we Italians...” He shook his head.

I spent the next quarter of an hour trying to persuade him that we were not all millionaires. But in vain. My statistics, based on somewhat imperfect memories of Mr and Mrs Sidney Webb, carried no conviction. In the end I gave it up.

The next morning Fabio appeared at the door of my hotel in a large, very old and very noisy Fiat. It was the family machine of-all-work, bruised, scratched, and dirtied by years of service. Fabio drove it with a brilliant and easy recklessness. We rushed through the town, swerving from one side of the narrow street to the other, with a disregard for the rules of the road which, in a pedantic country like England, would have meant at the least a five-pound fine and an endorsed licence. But here the Carabiniers, walking gravely in couples under the arcades, let us pass without comment. Right or left — after all, what did it matter?

“Why do you keep the silencer out?” I shouted through the frightful clamour of the engine.

Fabio slightly shrugged his shoulders. “Ê più allegro cosi,” he answered.

I said no more. From a member of this hardy race which likes noise, which enjoys discomfort, a nerve-ridden Englishman could hardly hope to get much sympathy.

We were soon out of the town. Trailing behind us a seething white wake of dust and with the engine rattling off its explosions like a battery of machine-guns, we raced along the Fusina road. On either hand extended the cultivated plain. The road was bordered by ditches, and on the banks beyond, instead of hedges, stood rows of little pollards, with grape-laden vines festooned from tree to tree. White with the dust, tendrils, fruit, and leaves hung there like so much goldsmith’s work sculptured in frosted metal, hung like the swags of fruit and foliage looped round the flanks of a great silver bowl. We hurried on. Soon, on our right hand, we had the Brenta, sunk deep between the banks of its canal. And now we were at Strà. Through gateways rich with fantastic stucco, down tunnels of undeciduous shade, we looked in a series of momentary glimpses into the heart of the park. And now for an instant the statues on the roof of the villa beckoned against the sky and were passed. On we went. To right and left, on either bank of the river, I got every now and then a glimpse of some enchanting mansion, gay and brilliant even in decay. Little baroque garden houses peeped at me over walls; and through great gates, at the end of powdery cypress avenues, half humorously, it seemed, the magniloquent and frivolous façades soared up in defiance of all the rules. I should have liked to do the journey slowly, to stop here and there, to look, to savour at leisure; but Fabio disdained to travel at anything less than fifty kilometres to the hour, and I had to be content with momentary and precarious glimpses. It was in these villas, I reflected, as we bumped along at the head of our desolation of white dust, that Casanova used to come and spend the summer; seducing the chamber-maids, taking advantage of terrified marchionesses in caliches during thunder-storms, bamboozling soft-witted old senators of Venice with his fortune-telling and black magic. Gorgeous and happy scoundrel! In spite of my professed detachment, I envied him. And, indeed, what was that famous detachment but a disguised expression of the envy which the successes and audacities of a Casanova must necessarily arouse in every timid and diffident mind? If I lived in splendid isolation, it was because I lacked the audacity to make war — even to make entangling alliances. I was absorbed in these pleasing self-condemnatory thoughts, when the car slowed down and came to a standstill in front of a huge imposing gate. Fabio hooted impatiently on his horn; there was a scurry of footsteps, the sound of bolts being drawn, and the gate swung open. At the end of a short drive, very large and grave, very chaste and austere, stood the house. It was considerably older than most of the other villas I had seen in glimpses on our way. There was no frivolousness in its façade, no irregular grandiloquence. A great block of stuccoed brick; a central portico approached by steps and topped with a massive pediment; a row of rigid statues on the balustrade above the cornice. It was correctly, coldly even, Palladian. Fabio brought the car to a halt in front of the porch. We got out. At the top of the steps stood a young woman with a red-headed child in her arms. It was the Countess with the son and heir.

The Countess impressed me very agreeably. She was slim and tall — two or three inches taller than her husband; with dark hair, drawn back from the forehead and twisted into a knot on the nape of her neck; dark eyes, vague, lustrous, and melancholy, like the eyes of a gentle animal; a skin brown and transparent like darkened amber. Her manner was gentle and unemphatic. She rarely gesticulated; I never heard her raise her voice. She spoke, indeed, very little. The old Count had told me that his daughter-in-law was religious, and from her appearance I could easily believe it. She looked at you with the calm, remote regard of one whose life mostly goes on behind the eyes.

Fabio kissed his wife and then, bending his face towards the child, he made a frightful grimace and roared like a lion. It was all done in affection; but the poor little creature shrank away, terrified. Fabio laughed and pinched its ear.

“Don’t tease him,” said the Countess gently. “You’ll make him cry.”

Fabio turned to me. “That’s what comes of leaving a boy to be looked after by women. He cries at everything. Let’s come in,” he added. “At present we only use two or three rooms on the ground floor, and the kitchen in the basement. All the rest is deserted. I don’t know how these old fellows managed to keep up their palaces. I can’t.” He shrugged his shoulders. Through a door on the right of the portico we passed into the house. “This is our drawing-room and dining-room combined.”

It was a fine big room, nobly proportioned — a double cube, I guessed — with doorways of sculptured marble and a magnificent fireplace flanked by a pair of nymphs on whose bowed shoulders rested a sloping overmantel carved with coats of arms and festoons of foliage. Round the walls ran a frieze, painted in grisaille; in a graceful litter of cornucopias and panoplies, goddesses sumptuously reclined, cherubs wriggled and flew. The furniture was strangely mixed. Round a sixteenth-century dining-table that was a piece of Palladian architecture in wood, were ranged eight chairs in the Viennese secession style of 1905. A large chalet-shaped cuckoo clock from Bern hung on the wall between two cabinets of walnut, plastered and pedimented to look like little temples, and with heroic statuettes in yellow boxwood, standing in niches between the pillars. And then the pictures on the walls, the cretonnes with which the arm-chairs were covered! Tactfully, however, I admired everything, new as well as old.

“And now,” said the Count, “for the frescoes.”

I followed him through one of the marble-framed doorways and found myself at once in the great central hall of the villa. The Count turned round to me. “There!” he said, smiling triumphantly with the air of one who has really succeeded in producing a rabbit out of an empty hat. And, indeed, the spectacle was sufficiently astonishing.

The walls of the enormous room were completely covered with frescoes which it did not need much critical judgment or knowledge to perceive were genuine Veroneses. The authorship was obvious, palpable. Who else could have painted those harmoniously undulating groups of figures set in their splendid architectural frame? Who else but Veronese could have combined such splendour with such coolness, so much extravagant opulence with such exquisite suavity?

“È grandioso!” I said to the Count.

And indeed it was. Grandiose; there was no other word. A rich triumphal arcade ran all round the room, four or five arches appearing on each wall. Through the arches one looked into a garden; and there, against a background of cypresses and statues and far-away blue mountains, companies of Venetian ladies and gentlemen gravely disported themselves. Under one arch they were making music; through another, one saw them sitting round a table, drinking one another’s health in glasses of red wine, while a little blackamoor in a livery of green and yellow carried round the silver jug. In the next panel they were watching a fight between a monkey and a cat. On the opposite wall a poet was reading his verses to the assembled company, and next to him Veronese himself — the self-portrait was recognizable — stood at his easel, painting the picture of an opulent blonde in rose-coloured satin. At the feet of the artist lay his dog; two parrots and a monkey were sitting on the marble balustrade in the middle distance.

I gazed with delight. “What a marvellous thing to possess!” I exclaimed, fairly carried away by my enthusiasm. “I envy you.”

The Count made a little grimace and laughed. “Shall we come and look at the Tiepolos?” he asked.

We passed through a couple of cheerful rooms by Carpioni — satyrs chasing nymphs through a romantic forest and, on the fringes of a seascape, a very eccentric rape of mermaids by centaurs — to step across a threshold into that brilliant universe, at once delicate and violently extravagant, wild and subtly orderly, which Tiepolo, in the last days of Italian painting, so masterfully and magically created. It was the story of Eros and Psyche, and the tale ran through three large rooms, spreading itself even on to the ceilings, where, in a pale sky dappled with white and golden clouds, the appropriate deities balanced themselves, diving or ascending through the empyrean with that air of being perfectly at home in their element which seems to belong, in nature, only to fishes and perhaps a few winged insects and birds.

Fabio had boasted to me that, in front of a picture, he could outstare any foreigner. But I was such a mortally long time admiring these dazzling phantasies that in the end he quite lost patience.

“I wanted to show you the farm before lunch,” he said, looking at his watch. “There’s only just time.” I followed him reluctantly.

We looked at the cows, the horses, the prize bull, the turkeys. We looked at the tall, thin haystacks, shaped like giant cigars set on end. We looked at the sacks of wheat in the barn. For lack of any better comment I told the Count that they reminded me of the sacks of wheat in English barns; he seemed delighted.

The farm buildings were set round an immense courtyard. We had explored three sides of this piazza; now we came to the fourth, which was occupied by a long, low building pierced with round archways and, I was surprised to see, completely empty.

“What’s this?” I asked, as we entered.

“It is nothing,” the Count replied. “But it might, some day, become... chi fa?” He stood there for a moment in silence, frowning pensively, with the expression of Napoleon on St Helena — dreaming of the future, regretting past opportunities for ever lost. His freckled face, ordinarily a lamp for brightness, became incongruously sombre. Then all at once he burst out — damning life, cursing fate, wishing to God he could get away and do something instead of wasting himself here. I listened, making every now and then a vague noise of sympathy. What could I do about it? And then, to my dismay, I found that I could do something about it, that I was expected to do something. I was being asked to help the Count to sell his frescoes. As an artist, it was obvious, I must be acquainted with rich patrons, museums, millionaires. I had seen the frescoes; I could honestly recommend them. And now there was this perfected process for transferring frescoes on to canvas. The walls could easily be peeled of their painting, the canvases rolled up and taken to Venice. And from there it would be the easiest thing in the world to smuggle them on board a ship and get away with them. As for prices — if he could get a million and a half of lire, so much the better; but he’d take a million, he’d even take three-quarters. And he’d give me ten per cent, commission....

And afterwards, when he’d sold his frescoes, what would he do? To begin with — the Count smiled at me triumphantly — he’d turn this empty building in which we were now standing into an up-to-date cheese-factory. He could start the business handsome!) on half a million, and then, using cheap female labour from the country round, he could be almost sure of making big profits at once. In a couple of years, he calculated, he’d be netting eighty of a hundred thousand a year from his cheeses. And then, ah then, he’d be independent, he’d be able to get away, he’d see the world. He’d go to Brazil and the Argentine. An enterprising man with capital could always do well out there. He’d go to New York, to London, to Berlin, to Paris. There was nothing he could not do.

But meanwhile the frescoes were still on the walls — beautiful, no doubt (for, the Count reminded me, he adored art), but futile; a huge capital frozen into the plaster, eating its head off, utterly useless. Whereas, with his cheese-factory...

Slowly we walked back towards the house.

I was in Venice again in the September of the following year, 1913. There were, I imagine, that autumn, more German honeymoon-couples, more parties of rucksacked Wander-Birds than there had ever been in Venice before. There were too many, in any case, for me; I packed my bag and took the train for Padua.

I had not originally intended to see young Tirabassi again. I didn’t know, indeed, how pleased he would be to see me. For the frescoes, so far as I knew, at any rate, were still safely on the walls, the cheese-factory still remote in the future, in the imagination. I had written to him more than once, telling him that I was doing my best, but that at the moment, etcetera, etcetera. Not that I had ever held out much hope. I had made it clear from the first that my acquaintance among millionaires was limited, that I knew no directors of American museums, that I had nothing to do with any of the international picture dealers. But the Count’s faith in me had remained, none the less, unshaken. It was the little Mexican, I believe, that inspired so much confidence. But now, after my letters, after all this lapse of time and nothing done, he might feel that I had let him down, deceived him somehow. That was why I took no steps to seek him out. But chance overruled my decision. On the third day of my stay in Padua, I ran into him in the street. Or rather he ran into me.

It was nearly six o’clock, and I had strolled down to the Piazza del Santo. At that hour, when the slanting light is full of colour and the shadows are long and profound, the great church, with its cupolas and turrets and campaniles, takes on an aspect more than ever fantastic and oriental. I had walked round the church, and now I was standing at the foot of Donatello’s statue, looking up at the grim bronze man, the ponderously stepping beast, when I suddenly became aware that some one was standing very close behind me. I took a step to one side and turned round. It was Fabio. Wearing his famous expression of the sight-seeing parson, he was gazing up at the statue, his mouth open in a vacant and fish-like gape. I burst out laughing.

“Did I look like that?” I asked.

“Precisely.” He laughed too. “I’ve been watching you for the last ten minutes, mooning round the church. You English! Really...” He shook his head.

Together we strolled up the Via del Santo, talking as we went.

“I’m sorry I wasn’t able to do anything about the frescoes,” I said. “But really...” I entered into explanations.

“Some day, perhaps.” Fabio was still optimistic.

“And how’s the Countess?”

“Oh, she’s very well,” said Fabio, “considering. You know she had another son three or four months after you came to see us.”

“No?”

“She’s expecting another now.” Fabio spoke rather gloomily, I thought. More than ever I admired the old Count’s sagacity. But I was sorry, for his son’s sake, that he had not a wider field in which to exercise his talents.

“And your father?” I asked. “Shall we find him sitting at Pedrochi’s, as usual?”

Fabio laughed. “We shall not,” he said significantly. “He’s flown.”

“Flown?”

“Gone, vanished, disappeared.”

“But where?”

“Who knows?” said Fabio. “My father is like the swallows; he comes and he goes. Every year.... But the migration isn’t regular. Sometimes he goes away in the spring; sometimes it’s the autumn, sometimes it’s the summer.... One fine morning his man goes into his room to call him as usual, and he isn’t there. Vanished. He might be dead. Oh, but he isn’t” Fabio laughed. “Two or three months later, in he walks again, as though he were just coming back from a stroll in the Botanical Gardens. ‘Good evening. Good evening.’” Fabio imitated the old Count’s voice and manner, snuffing the air like a war-horse, twisting the ends of an imaginary white moustache. “‘How’s your mother? How are the girls? How have the grapes done this year?’ Snuff, snuff. ‘How’s Lucio? And who the devil has left all this rubbish lying about in my study?’”Fabio burst into an indignant roar that made the loiterers in the Via Roma turn, astonished, in our direction.

“And where does he go?” I asked.

“Nobody knows. My mother used to ask, once. But she soon gave it up. It was no good. ‘Where have you been, Ascanio?’

‘My dear, I’m afraid the olive crop is going to be very poor this year.’ Snuff, snuff. And when she pressed him, he would fly into a temper and slam the doors.... What do you say to an aperitif?” Pedrochi’s open doors invited. We entered, chose a retired table, and sat down.

“But what do you suppose the old gentleman does when he’s away?”

“Ah!” And making the richly significant gesture I had so much admired in his father, the young Count laid his finger against his nose and slowly, solemnly winked his left eye.

“You mean...?”

Fabio nodded. “There’s a little widow here in Padua.” With his extended finger the young Count described in the air an undulating line. “Nice and plump. Black eyes. I’ve noticed that she generally seems to be out of town just at the time the old man does his migrations. But it may, of course, be a mere coincidence.” The waiter brought us our vermouth. Pensively the young Count sipped. The gaiety went out of his open, lamp-like face. “And meanwhile,” he went on slowly and in an altered voice, “I stay here, looking after the estate, so that the old man can go running round the world with his little pigeon — la sua colombella.” (The expression struck me as particularly choice.) “Oh, it’s funny, no doubt,” the young Count went on. “But it isn’t right. If I wasn’t married, I’d go clean away and try my luck somewhere else. I’d leave him to look after everything himself. But with a wife and two children — three children soon — how can I take the risk? At any rate, there’s plenty to eat as long as I stay here. My only hope,” he added, after a little pause, “is in the frescoes.”

Which implied, I reflected, that his only hope was in me; I felt sorry for him.

In the spring of 1914 I sent two rich Americans to look at Fabio’s villa. Neither of them made any offer to buy the frescoes; it would have astonished me if they had. But Fabio was greatly encouraged by their arrival. “I feel,” he wrote to me, “that a beginning has now been made. These Americans will go back to their country and tell their friends. Soon there will be a procession of millionaires coming to see the frescoes. Meanwhile, life is the same as ever. Rather worse, if anything. Our little daughter, whom we have christened Emilia, was born last month. My wife had a very bad time and is still far from well, which is very troublesome.” (It seemed a curious adjective to use, in the circumstances. But coming from Fabio, I understood it; he was one of those exceedingly healthy people to whom any sort of illness is mysterious, unaccountable, and above all extraordinarily tiresome and irritating.) “The day before yesterday my father disappeared again. I have not yet had time to find out if the Colombella has also vanished. My brother, Lucio, has succeeded in getting a motor-bicycle out of him, which is more than I ever managed to do. But then I was never one for creeping diplomatically round and round a thing, as he can do.... I have been going very carefully into the cheese-factory business lately, and I am not sure that it might not be more profitable to set up a silkweaving establishment instead. When you next come, I will go into details with you.”

But it was a very long time before I saw Padua and the Count again.... The War put an end to my yearly visits to Italy, and for various reasons, even when it was over, I could not go south again as soon as I should have liked. Not till the autumn of 1921 did I embark again on the Venice express.

It was in an Italy not altogether familiar that I now found myself — an Italy full of violence and bloodshed. The Fascists and the Communists were still busily fighting. Roaring at the head of their dust-storms, the motor-lorries, loaded with cargoes of singing boys, careered across the country in search of adventure and lurking Bolshevism. One stood respectfully in the gutter while they passed; and through the flying dust, through the noise of the engine, a snatch of that singing would be blown back: “Giovinezza, giovinezza, primavera di bellezza...” (Youth, youth, springtime of beauty.) Where but in Italy would they have put such words to a political song? And then the proclamations, the manifestos, the denunciations, the appeals! Every hoarding and blank wall was plastered with them. Between the station and Pedrochi’s I walked through a whole library of these things. “Citizens!” they would begin. “A heroic wind is to-day reviving the almost asphyxiated soul of our unhappy Italy, overcome by the poisonous fumes of Bolshevism and wallowing in ignoble abasement at the feet of the Nations.” And they finished, for the most part, with references to Dante. I read them all with infinite pleasure.

I reached Pedrochi’s at last. On the terrace, sitting in the very corner where I had seen him first, years before, was the old Count. He stared at me blankly when I saluted him, not recognizing me at all. I began to explain who I was; after a moment he cut me short, almost impatiently, protesting that he remembered now, perfectly well. I doubted very much whether he really did; but he was too proud to confess that he had forgotten. Meanwhile, he invited me to sit at his table.

At a first glance, from a distance, I fancied that the old Count had not aged a day since last I saw him. But I was wrong. From the street, I had only seen the rakish tilt of his hat, the bristling of his white moustache and imperial, the parted knees, the noble protrusion of the paunch. But now that I could look at him closely and at leisure, I saw that he was in fact a very different man. Under the tilted hat his face was unhealthily purple; the flesh sagged into pouches. In the whites of his eyes, discoloured and as though tarnished with age, the little broken veins showed red. And, lustreless, the eyes themselves seemed to look without interest at what they saw. His shoulders were bent as though under a weight, and when he lifted his cup to his lips his hand trembled so much that a drop of coffee splashed on to the table. He was an old man now, old and tired.

“How’s Fabio?” I asked; since 1916 I had had no news of him.

“Oh, Fabio’s well,” the old Count answered, “Fabio’s very well. He has six children now, you know.” And the old gentleman nodded and smiled at me without a trace of malice. He seemed quite to have forgotten the reasons for which he had been at so much pains to select a good Catholic for a daughter-in-law. “Six,” he repeated. “And then, you know, he did very well in the war. We Tirabassi have always been warriors.” Full of pride, he went on to tell me of Fabio’s exploits and sufferings. Twice wounded, special promotion on the field of battle, splendid decorations. He was a major now.

“And do his military duties still keep him in Padua?”

The old gentleman nodded, and suddenly there appeared on his face something like the old smile. “A little combinatione of mine,” he said, and chuckled.

“And the estate?” I asked.

Oh, that was doing all right, everything considered. It had got rather out of hand during the war, while Fabio was at the front. And then, afterwards, there had been a lot of trouble with the peasants; but Fabio and his Fascists were putting all that to rights. “With Fabio on the spot,” said the old gentleman, “I have no anxieties.” And then he began to tell me, all over again, about Fabio’s exploits in the war.

The next day I took the train to Strà, and after an hour agreeably spent in the villa and the park, I walked on at my leisure towards Dolo. It took me a long time to get there, for on this occasion I was able to stop and look for as long as I liked at all the charming things on the way. Casanova seemed, now, a good deal less enviable, I noticed, looking inwards on myself, than he had when last I passed this way. I was nine years older.

The gates were open; I walked in. There stood the house, as grave and ponderous as ever, but shabbier than when I saw it last. The shutters needed painting, and here and there the stucco was peeling off in scabs. I approached. From within the house came a cheerful noise of children’s laughter and shouting. The family, I supposed, was playing hide-and-seek, or trains, or perhaps some topical game of Fascists and Communists. As I climbed the steps of the porch, I could hear the sound of small feet racing over the tiled floors; in the empty rooms footsteps and shouting strangely echoed. And then suddenly, from the sitting-room on the right, came the sound of Fabio’s voice, furiously shouting, “Oh, for God’s sake,” it yelled, “keep those wretched children quiet.” And then, petulantly, it complained, “How do you expect me to do accounts with this sort of thing going on?” There was at once a profound and as it were unnatural silence; then the sound of small feet tiptoeing away, some whispering, a little nervous laugh. I rang the bell.

It was the Countess who opened the door. She stood for a moment hesitatingly, wondering who I was; then remembered, smiled, held out her hand. She had grown, I noticed, very thin, and with the wasting of her face, her eyes seemed to have become larger. Their expression was as gentle and serene as ever; she seemed to be looking at me from a distance.

“Fabio will be delighted to see you,” she said, and she took me through the door on the right of the porch straight into the sitting-room. Fabio was sitting at the Palladian table in front of a heap of papers, biting the end of his pencil.

Even in his grey-green service uniform the young Count looked wonderfully brilliant, like a soldier on the stage. His face was still boyishly freckled, but the skin was deeply lined; he looked very much older than when I had seen him last-older than he really was. The open cheerfulness, the shining, lamp-like brightness were gone. On his snubby-featured face he wore a ludicrously incongruous expression of chronic melancholy. He brightened, it is true, for a moment when I appeared; I think he was genuinely glad to see me.

“Caspita!” he kept repeating. “Caspita!” (It was his favourite expression of astonishment, an odd, old-fashioned word.) “Who would have thought it? After all this time!”

“And all the eternity of the war as well,” I said.

But when the first ebullition of surprise and pleasure subsided, the look of melancholy came back.

“It gives me the spleen,” he said, “to see you again; still travelling about; free to go where you like. If you knew what life was like here...”

“Well, in any case,” I said, feeling that I ought, for the Countess’s sake, to make some sort of protest, “in any case the war’s over, and you have escaped a real revolution. That’s something.”

“Oh, you’re as bad as Laura,” said the Count impatiently. He looked towards his wife, as though hoping that she would say something. But the Countess went on with her sewing without even looking up. The Count took my arm. “Come along,” he said, and his tone was almost one of anger. “Let’s take a turn outside.” His wife’s religious resignation, her patience, her serenity angered him, I could see, like a reprimand — tacit, indeed, and unintentionally given, but none the less galling.

Along the weed-grown paths of what had once, in the ancient days of splendour, been the garden, slowly we walked towards the farm. A few ragged box-trees grew along the fringes of the paths; once there had been neat hedges. Poised over a dry basin a Triton blew his waterless conch. At the end of the vista a pair of rapes — Pluto and Proserpine, Apollo and Daphne — writhed desparately against the sky.

“I saw your father yesterday,” I said. “He looks aged.”

“And so he ought,” said Fabio murderously. “He’s sixty-nine.”

I felt uncomfortably that the subject had become too serious for light conversation. I had wanted to ask after the Colombella; in the circumstances, I decided that it would be wiser to say nothing about her. I repressed my curiosity. We were walking now under the lea of the farm buildings.

“The cows look very healthy,” I said politely, looking through an open doorway. In the twilight within, six grey rumps plastered with dry dung presented themselves in file; six long leather tails swished impatiently from side to side. Fabio made no comment; he only grunted.

“In any case,” he went on slowly, after another silence, “he can’t live much longer. I shall sell my share and clear off to South America, family or no family.” It was a threat against his own destiny, a threat of which he must have known the vanity. He was deceiving himself to keep up his spirits.

“But I say,” I exclaimed, taking another and better opportunity to change the conversation, “I see you have started a factory here after all.” We had walked round to the farther side of the square. Through the windows of the long low building which, at my last visit, had stood untenanted, I saw the complicated shapes of machines, rows of them in a double line down the whole length of the building. “Looms? Then you decided against cheese? And the frescoes?” I turned questioningly towards the Count. I had a horrible fear that, when we got back to the house, I should find the great hall peeled of its Veroneses and a blank of plaster where once had been the history of Eros and Psyche.

“Oh, the frescoes are still there, what’s left of them.” And in spite of Fabio’s long face, I was delighted at the news. “I persuaded my father to sell some of his house property in Padua, and we started this weaving business here two years ago. Just in time,” Fabio added, “for the Communist revolution.”

Poor Fabio, he had no luck. The peasants had seized his factory and had tried to possess themselves of his land. For three weeks he had lived at the villa in a state of siege, defending the place, with twenty Fascists to help him, against all the peasants of the countryside. The danger was over now; but the machines were broken, and in any case it was out of the question to start them again; feeling was still too high. And what, for Fabio, made it worse was the fact that his brother Lucio, who had also got a little capital out of the old man, had gone off to Bulgaria and invested it in a bootlace factory. It was the only bootlace factory in the country, and Lucio was making money hand over fist. Free as air he was, well off, with a lovely Turkish girl for a mistress. For Fabio, the Turkish girl was evidently the last straw. “Una Turca, una vera Turca,” he repeated, shaking his head. The female infidel symbolized in his eyes all that was exotic, irregular, undomestic; all that was not the family; all that was remote from Padua and the estate.

“And they were such beautiful machines,” said Fabio, pausing for a moment to look in at the last of the long line of windows. “Whether to sell them, whether to wait till all this has blown over and have them put right and try to start again — I don’t know.” He shrugged his shoulders hopelessly. “Or just let things slide till the old man dies.” We turned the corner of the square and began to walk back towards the house. “Sometimes,” he added, after a silence, “I don’t believe he ever will die.”

The children were playing in the great hall of the Veroneses. The majestic double doors which gave on to the portico were ajar; through the opening we watched them for a moment without being seen. The family was formed up in order of battle. A redheaded boy of ten or eleven led the van, a brown boy followed. Then came three little girls, diminishing regularly in size like graded pearls; and finally a little toddling creature in blue linen crawlers. All six of them carried shouldered bamboos, and they were singing in ragged unison to a kind of trumpet call of three notes: “All’ armi i Fascisti; a morte i Communisti; a basso i Socialisti” — over and over again. And as they sang they marched, round and round, earnestly, indefatigably. The huge empty room echoed like a swimming-bath. Remote under their triumphal arches, in their serene world of fantastic beauty, the silken ladies and gentlemen played their music, drank their wine; the poet declaimed, the painter poised his brush before the canvas; the monkeys clambered among the Roman ruins, the parrots dozed on the balustrades. “All’ armi i Fascisti, a morte i Communisti...” I should have liked to stand there in silence, merely to see how long the children would continue their patriotic march. But Fabio had none of my scientific curiosity; or if he ever had, it had certainly been exhausted long before the last of his children was born. After indulging me for a moment with the spectacle, he pushed open the door and walked in. The children looked round and were immediately silent. What with his bad temper and his theory of education by teasing, they seemed to be thoroughly frightened of their father.

“Go on,” he said, “go on.” But they wouldn’t; they obviously couldn’t, in his terrifying presence. Unobtrusively they slipped away.

Fabio led me round the painted room. “Look here,” he said, “and look here.” In one of the walls of the great hall there were half a dozen bullet holes. A chip had been taken off one of the painted cornices; one lady was horriby wounded in the face; there were two or three holes in the landscape, and a monkey’s tail was severed. “That’s our friends, the peasants,” Fabio explained.

In the Carpioni rooms all was still well; the satyrs still pursued their nymphs, and in the room of the centaurs and the mermaids, the men who were half horses still galloped as tumultuously as ever into the sea, to ravish the women who were half fish. But the tale of Eros and Psyche had suffered dreadfully. The exquisite panel in which Tiepolo had painted Psyche holding up the lamp to look at her mysterious lover was no more than a faint, mildewy smudge. And where once the indignant young god had flown upwards to rejoin his Olympian relatives (who still, fortunately, swam about intact among the clouds on the ceiling) there was nothing but the palest ghost of an ascending Cupid, while Psyche weeping on the earth below was now quite invisible.

“That’s our friends the French,” said Fabio. “They were quartered here in 1918, and they didn’t trouble to shut the windows when it rained.”

Poor Fabio! Everything was against him. I had no consolation to offer. That autumn I sent him an art critic and three more Americans. But nothing came of their visits. The fact was that he had too much to offer. A picture — that might easily have been disposed of. But what could one do with a whole houseful of paintings like this?

The months passed. About Easter time of the next year I had another letter from Fabio. The olive crop had been poor. The Countess was expecting another baby and was far from well. The two eldest children were down with measles, and the last but one had what the Italians call an “asinine cough.” He expected all the children to catch both diseases in due course. He was very doubtful now if it would ever be worth while to restart his looms; the position of the silk trade was not so sound as it had been at the end of 1919. If only he had stuck to cheese, as he first intended! Ludo had just made fifty thousand lire by a lucky stroke of speculation. But the female infidel had run off with a Rumanian. The old Count was ageing rapidly; when Fabio saw him last, he had told the same anecdote three times in the space of ten minutes. With these two pieces of good news — they were for him, I imagine, the only bright spots in the surrounding gloom — Fabio dosed his letter. I was left wondering why he troubled to write to me at all. It may be that he got a certain lacerating satisfaction by thus enumerating his troubles.

That August there was a musical festival in Salzburg. I had never been in Austria; the occasion seemed to me a good one. I went, and I enjoyed myself prodigiously. Salzburg at the moment is all in the movement. There are baroque churches in abundance; there are Italianate fountains; there are gardens and palaces that mimic in their extravagantly ponderous Teutonic way the gardens and palaces of Rome. And, choicest treasure of all, there is a tunnel, forty feet high, bored through a precipitous crag — a tunnel such as only a Prince Bishop of the seventeenth century could have dreamed of, having at either end an arch of triumph, with pilasters, broken pediments, statues, scutcheons, all carved out of the living rock — a masterpiece among tunnels, and in a town where everything, without being really good, is exquisitely “amusing,” the most amusing feature of all. Ah, decidedly, Salzburg is in the movement.

One afternoon I took the funicular up to the castle. There is a beer-terrace under the walls of the fortress from which you get a view that is starred in Baedeker. Below you on one side lies the town, spread out in the curving valley, with a river running through it, like a small and German version of Florence. From the other side of the terrace you look out over a panorama that makes no pretence to Italianism; it is as sweetly and romantically German as an air out of Weber’s Freischûtz. There are mountains on the horizon, spiky and blue like mountains in a picture book; and in the foreground, extending to the very foot of the extremely improbable crag on which the castle and the beer-garden are perched, stretches a flat green plain — miles upon miles of juicy meadows dotted with minusculous cows, with here and there a neat toy farm, or, more rarely, a cluster of dolls’ houses, with a spire going up glittering from the midst of them.

I was sitting with my blond beer in front of this delicious and slightly comical landscape, thinking comfortably of nothing in particular, when I heard behind me a rapturous voice exclaiming, “Bello, bello!” I looked round curiously — for it seemed to me somehow rather surprising to hear Italian spoken here — and saw one of those fine sumptuous women they admire so much in the South. She was a bella grassa, plump to the verge of overripeness and perilously near middle age; but still in her way exceedingly handsome. Her face had the proportions of an iceberg — one-fifth above water, four-fifths below. Ample and florid from the eyes downwards, it was almost foreheadless; the hair began immediately above the brows. The eyes themselves were dark, large, and, for my taste, at least, somewhat excessively tender in expression. I took her in in a moment and was about to look away again when her companion, who had been looking at the view on the other side, turned round. It was the old Count.

I was far more embarrassed, I believe, than he. I felt myself blushing, as our eyes met, as though it were I who had been travelling about the world with a Colombella and he who had caught me in the act. I did not know what to do — whether to smile and speak to him, or to turn away as though I had not recognized him, or to nod from a distance and then, discreetly, to disappear. But the old Count put an end to my irresolution by calling out my name in astonishment, by running up to me and seizing my hand. What a delight to see an old friend! Here of all places! In this God-forsaken country — though it was cheap enough, didn’t I find? He would introduce me to a charming compatriot of his own, an Italian lady he had met yesterday in the train from Vienna.

I was made known to the Colombella, and we all sat down at my table. Speaking resolutely in Italian, the Count ordered two more beers. We talked. Or rather the Count talked; for the conversation was a monologue. He told us anecdotes of the Italy of fifty yean ago; he gave us imitations of the queer characters he had known; he even, at one moment, imitated the braying of an ass — I forgot in what context; but the braying remains vividly in my memory. Snuffing the air between every sentence, he gave us his views on women. The Colombella screamed indignant protests, dissolved herself in laughter. The old Count twisted his moustaches, twinkling at her through the network of his wrinkles. Every now and then he turned in my direction and gave me a little wink.

I listened in astonishment. Was this the man who had told the same anecdote three times in ten minutes? I looked at the old Count. He was leaning towards the Colombella whispering something in her ear which made her laugh so much that she had to wipe the tears from her eyes. Turning away from her, he caught my eye; smiling, he shrugged his shoulders as though to say, “These women! What imbeciles, but how delicious, how indispensable!” Was this the tired old man I had seen a year ago sitting on Pedrochi’s terrace? It seemed incredible.

“Well, good-bye, a rivederci.” They had to get down into the town again. The funicular was waiting.

“I’m delighted to have seen you,” said the old Count, shaking me affectionately by the hand.

“And so am I,” I protested. “Particularly delighted to see you so well.”

“Yes, I’m wonderfully well now,” he said, blowing out his chest.

“And young,” I went on. “Younger than I am! How have you done it?”

“Aha!” The old Count cocked his head on one side mysteriously.

More in joke than in earnest, “I believe you’ve been seeing Steinach in Vienna,” I said. “Having a rejuvenating operation.”

For all reply, the old Count raised the forefinger of his right hand, laying it first to his lips, then along the side of his nose, and as he did so he winked. Then clenching his fist, and with his thumb sticking rigidly up, he made a complicated gesture which would, I am sure, for an Italian, have been full of a profound and vital significance. To me, however, unfamiliar with the language of signs, the exact meaning was not entirely clear. But the Count offered no verbal explanation. Still without uttering a word, he raised his hat; then laying his finger once more to his lips, he turned and ran with an astonishing agility down the steep path towards the little carriage of the funicular, in which the Colombella had already taken her seat.

Hubert and Minnie

FOR HUBERT LAPELL this first love-affair was extremely important. “Important” was the word he had used himself when he was writing about it in his diary. It was an event in his life, a real event for a change. It marked, he felt, a genuine turning-point in his spiritual development.

“Voltaire,” he wrote in his diary — and he wrote it a second time in one of his letters to Minnie— “Voltaire said that one died twice: once with the death of the whole body and once before, with the death of one’s capacity to love. And in the same way one is born twice, the second time being on the occasion when one first falls in love. One is born, then, into a new world — a world of intenser feelings, heightened values, more penetrating insights.” And so on.

In point of actual fact Hubert found this new world a little disappointing. The intenser feelings proved to be rather mild; not by any means up to literary standards.

“I tell thee I am mad

In Cressid’s love. Thou answer’st: she is fair,

Pour’st in the open ulcer of my heart

Her eyes, her hair, her cheek, her gait, her voice....”

No, it certainly wasn’t quite that. In his diary, in his letters to Minnie, he painted, it is true, a series of brilliant and romantic landscapes of the new world. But they were composite imaginary landscapes in the manner of Salvator Rosa — richer, wilder, more picturesquely clear-obscure than the real thing. Hubert would seize with avidity on the least velleity of an unhappiness, a physical desire, a spiritual yearning, to work it up in his letters and journals into something substantially romantic. There were times, generally very late at night, when he succeeded in persuading himself that he was indeed the wildest, unhappiest, most passionate of lovers. But in the daytime he went about his business nourishing something like a grievance against love.The thing was a bit of a fraud; yes, really, he decided, rather a fraud. All the same, he supposed it was important.

For Minnie, however, love was no fraud at all. Almost from the first moment she had adored him. A common friend had brought him to one of her Wednesday evenings. “This is Mr Lapell; but he’s too young to be called anything but Hubert.” That was how he had been introduced. And, laughing, she had taken his hand and called him Hubert at once. He too had laughed, rather nervously. “My name’s Minnie,” she said. But he had been too shy to call her anything at all that evening. His brown hair was tufty and untidy, like a little boy’s, and he had shy grey eyes that never looked at you for more than a glimpse at a time, but turned away almost at once, as though they were afraid. Quickly he glanced at you, eagerly — then away again; and his musical voice, with its sudden emphases, its quick modulations from high to low, seemed always to address itself to a ghost floating low down and a little to one side of the person to whom he was talking. Above the brows was a forehead beautifully domed, with a pensive wrinkle running up from between the eyes. In repose his full-lipped mouth pouted a little, as though he were expressing some chronic discontent with the world. And, of course, thought Minnie, the world wasn’t beautiful enough for his idealism.

“But after all,” he had said earnestly that first evening, “one has the world of thought to live in. That, at any rate, is simple and clear and beautiful. One can always live apart from the brutal scramble.”

And from the depths of the arm-chair in which, fragile, tired, and in these rather “artistic” surroundings almost incongruously elegant, she was sitting, Helen Glamber laughed her clear little laugh. “I think, on the contrary,” she said (Minnie remembered every incident of that first evening), “I think one ought to rush about and know thousands of people, and eat and drink enormously, and make love incessantly, and shout and laugh and knock people over the head.” And having vented these Rabelaisian sentiments, Mrs Glamber dropped back with a sigh of fatigue, covering her eyes with a thin white hand; for she had a splitting headache, and the light hurt her.

“Really!” Minnie protested, laughing. She would have felt rather shocked if any one eke had said that; but Helen Glamber was allowed to say anything.

Hubert reaffirmed his quietkm. Elegant, weary, infinitely fragile, Mrs Glamber lay back in her arm-chair, listening. Or perhaps, under her covering hand, she was trying to go to sleep.

She had adored him at first sight. Now that she looked back she could see that it had been at first sight. Adored him protectively, maternally — for he was only twenty and very young, in spite of the wrinkle between his brows, and the long words, and the undergraduate’s newly discovered knowledge; only twenty, and she was nearly twenty-nine. And she had fallen in love with his beauty, too. Ah, passionately.

Hubert, perceiving it later, was surprised and exceedingly flattered. This had never happened to him before. He enjoyed being worshipped, and since Minnie had fallen so violently in love with him, it seemed the most natural thing in the world for him to be in love with Minnie. True, if she had not started by adoring him, it would never have occurred to Hubert to fall in love with her. At their first meeting he had found her certainly very nice, but not particularly exciting. Afterwards, the manifest expression of her adoration had made him find her more interesting, and in the end he had fallen in love himself. But perhaps it was not to be wondered at if he found the process a little disappointing.

But still, he reflected on those secret occasions when he had to admit to himself that something was wrong with this passion, love without possession could never, surely, in the nature of things, be quite the genuine article. In his diary he recorded aptly those two quatrains of John Donne:

“So must pure lovers’ souls descend

To affections and to faculties,

Which sense may reach and apprehend,

Else a great prince in prison lies.

To our bodies turn we then, that so

Weak men on love revealed may look;

Love’s mysteries in souls do grow,

But yet the body is his book.”

At their next meeting he recited them to Minnie. The conversation which followed, compounded as it was of philosophy and personal confidences, was exquisite. It really, Hubert felt, came up to literary standards.

The next morning Minnie rang up her friend Helen Glamber and asked if she might come to tea that afternoon. She had several things to talk to her about. Mrs. Glamber sighed as she hung up the receiver. “Minnie’s coming to tea,” she called, turning towards the open door.

From across the passage her husband’s voice came back to her. “Good Lord!” it said in a tone of far-away horror, of absent-minded resignation; for John Glamber was deep in his work and there was only a little of him left, so to speak, above the surface to react to the bad news.

Helen Glamber sighed again, and propping herself more comfortably against her pillows she reached for her book. She knew that far-away voice and what it meant. It meant that he wouldn’t answer if she went on with the conversation; only say “h’m” or “m’yes.” And if she persisted after that, it meant that he’d say, plaintively, heart-breakingly, “Darling, you must let me get on with my work.” And at that moment she would so much have liked to talk a little. Instead, she went on reading at the point where she had broken off to answer Minnie’s telephone call.

“By this time the flames had enveloped the gynaeceum. Nineteen times did the heroic Patriarch of Alexandria venture into the blazing fabric, from which he succeeded in rescuing all but two of its lovely occupants, twenty-seven in number, all of whom he caused to be transported at once to his own private apartments....”

It was one of those instructive books John liked her to read. History, mystery, lesson, and law. But at the moment she didn’t feel much like history. She felt like talking. And that was out of the question; absolutely out of it.

She put down her book and began to file her nails and think of poor Minnie. Yes, poor Minnie. Why was it that one couldn’t help saying Good Lord! heart-feltly, when one heard she was coming to tea? And why did one never have the heart to refuse to let her come to tea? She was pathetic, but pathetic in such a boring way. There are some people you like being kind to, people you want to help and befriend. People that look at you with the eyes of sick monkeys. Your heart breaks when you see them. But poor Minnie had none of the charms of a sick monkey. She was just a great big healthy young woman of twenty-eight who ought to have been married and the mother of children, and who wasn’t. She would have made such a good wife, such an admirably solicitous and careful mother. But it just happened that none of the men she knew had ever wanted to marry her. And why should they want to? When she came into a room, the light seemed to grow perceptibly dimmer, the electric tension slackened off. She brought no life with her; she absorbed what there was, she was like so much blotting-paper. No wonder nobody wanted to marry her. And yet, of course, it was the only thing. Particularly as she was always falling in love herself. The only thing.

“John!” Mrs Glamber suddenly called. “Is it really true about ferrets?”

“Ferrets?” the voice from across the passage repeated with a remote irritation. “Is what true about ferrets?”

“That the females die if they’re not mated.”

“How on earth should I know?”

“But you generally know everything.”

“But, my darling, really...” The voice was plaintive, full of reproach.

Mrs Glamber clapped her hand over her mouth and only took it off again to blow a kiss. “All right,” she said very quickly. “All right. Really. I’m sorry. I won’t do it again. Really.” She blew another kiss towards the door.

“But ferrets...” repeated the voice.

“Sh — sh, sh — sh.”

“Why ferrets?”

“Darling,” said Mrs Glamber almost sternly, “you really must go on with your work.”

Minnie came to tea. She put the case — hypothetically at first, as though it were the case of a third person; then, gaining courage, she put it personally. It was her own case. Out of the depths of her untroubled, pagan innocence, Helen Glamber brutally advised her. “If you want to go to bed with the young man,” she said, “go to bed with him. The thing has no importance in itself. At least not much. It’s only important because it makes possible more secret confidences, because it strengthens affection, makes the man in a way dependent on you. And then, of course, it’s the natural thing. I’m all for nature except when it comes to painting one’s face. They say that ferrets...” But Minnie noticed that she never finished the sentence. Appalled and fascinated, shocked and yet convinced, she listened.

“My darling,” said Mrs Glamber that evening when her husband came home — for he hadn’t been able to face Minnie; he had gone to the Club for tea— “who was it that invented religion, and sin, and all that? And why?”

John laughed. “It was invented by Adam,” he said, “for various little transcendental reasons which you would probably find it difficult to appreciate. But also for the very practical purpose of keeping Eve in order.”

“Well, if you call complicating people’s lives keeping them in order, then I dare say you’re right.” Mrs Glamber shook her head. “I find it all too obscure. At sixteen, yes. But one really ought to have grown out of that sort of thing by twenty. And at thirty — the woman’s nearly thirty, you know — well, really...” In the end, Minnie wrote to Hubert telling him that she had made up her mind. Hubert was staying in Hertfordshire with his friend Watchett. It was a big house, the food was good, one was very comfortable; and old Mr Watchett, moreover, had a very sound library. In the impenetrable shade of the Wellingtonias Hubert and Ted Watchett played croquet and discussed the best methods of cultivating the Me. You could do a good deal, they decided, with art — books, you know, and pictures and music. “Listen to Stravinsky’s Sacre,” said Ted Watchett, “and you’re for ever excused from going to Tibet or the Gold Coast or any of those awful places. And then there’s Dostoievsky instead of murder, and D. H. Lawrence as a substitute for sex.”

“All the same,” said Hubert, “one must have a certain amount of actual non-imaginative experience.” He spoke earnestly, abstractedly; but Minnie’s letter was in his pocket. “Gnosce teipsum. You can’t really know yourself without coming into collision with events, can you?”

Next day, Ted’s cousin, Phoebe, arrived. She had red hair and a milky skin, and was more or less on the musical comedy stage. “One foot on and one foot off.” she explained. “The splits.” And there and then she did them, the splits, on the drawing-room carpet. “It’s quite easy,” she said, laughing, and jumped up again with an easy grace that fairly took one’s breath away. Ted didn’t like her. “Tiresome girl,” he said. “So silly, too. Consciously silly, silly on purpose, which makes it worse.” And, it was true, she did like boasting about the amount of champagne she could put away without getting buffy, and the number of times she had exceeded the generous allowance and been “blind to the world.” She liked talking about her admirers in terms which might make you suppose that they were all her accepted lovers. But then she had the justification of her vitality and her shining red hair.

“Vitality,” Hubert wrote in his diary (he contemplated a distant date, after, or preferably before, his death, when these confessions and aphorisms would be published), “vitality can make claims on the world almost as imperiously as can beauty. Sometimes beauty and vitality meet in one person.”

It was Hubert who arranged that they should stay at the mill. One of his friends had once been there with a reading party, and found the place comfortable, secluded, and admirably quiet. Quiet, that is to say, with the special quietness peculiar to mills. For the silence there was not the silence of night on a mountain; it was a silence made of continuous thunder. At nine o’clock every morning the mill-wheel began to turn, and its roaring never stopped all day. For the first moments the noise was terrifying, was almost unbearable. Then, after a little, one grew accustomed to it. The thunder became, by reason of its very unintermittence, a perfect silence, wonderfuly rich and profound.

At the back of the mill was a little garden hemmed in on three sides by the house, the outhouses, and a high brick wall, and open on the fourth towards the water. Looking over the parapet, Minnie watched it sliding past. It was like a brown snake with arrowy markings on its back; and it crawled, it glided, it slid along for ever. She sat there, waiting: her train, from London, had brought her here soon after lunch; Hubert, coming across country from the Watchetts, would hardly arrive before six. The water flowed beneath her eyes like time, like destiny, smoothly towards some new and violent event.

The immense noise that in this garden was silence enveloped her. Inured, her mind moved in it as though in its native element. From beyond the parapet came the coolness and the weedy smell of water. But if she turned back towards the garden, she breathed at once the hot perfume of sunlight beating on flowers and ripening fruit. In the afternoon sunlight all the world was ripe. The old red house lay there, ripe, like a dropped plum; the walls were riper than the fruits of the nectarine trees so tenderly and neatly crucified on their warm bricks. And that richer silence of unremitting thunder seemed, as it were, the powdery bloom on a day that had come to exquisite maturity and was hanging, round as a peach and juicy with life and happiness, waiting in the sunshine for the bite of eager teeth.

At the heart of this fruit-ripe world Minnie waited. The water flowed towards the wheel; smoothly, smoothly — then it fell, it broke itself to pieces on the turning wheel. And time was sliding onwards, quietly towards an event that would shatter all the smoothness of her life.

“If you really want to go to bed with the young man, go to bed with him.” She could hear Helen’s clear, shrill voice saying impossible, brutal things. If any one else had said them, she would have run out of the room. But in Helen’s mouth they seemed, somehow, so simple, so innocuous, and so true. And yet all that other people had said or implied — at home, at school, among the people she was used to meeting — seemed equally true.

But then, of course, there was love. Hubert had written a Shakespearean sonnet which began:

“Love hallows all whereon’ tis truly placed,

Turns dross to gold with one touch of his dart,

Makes matter mind, extremest passion chaste,

And builds a temple in the lustful heart.”

She thought that very beautiful. And very true. It seemed to throw a bridge between Helen and the other people. Love, true love, made all the difference. It justified. Love — how much, how much she loved!

Time passed and the light grew richer as the sun declined out of the height of the sky. The day grew more and more deliciously ripe, swelling with unheard-of sweetness. Over its sun-flushed cheeks the thundery silence of the mill-wheel spread the softest, peachiest of blooms. Minnie sat on the parapet, waiting. Sometimes she looked down at the sliding water, sometimes she turned her eyes towards the garden. Time flowed, but she was now no more afraid of that shattering event that thundered there, in the future. The ripe sweetness of the afternoon seemed to enter into her spirit, filling it to the brim. There was no more room for doubts, or fearful anticipations, or regrets. She was happy. Tenderly, with a tenderness she could not have expressed in words, only with the gentlest of light kisses, with fingers caressingly drawn through the ruffled hair, she thought of Hubert, her Hubert.

Hubert, Hubert.... And suddenly, startlingly, he was standing there at her side.

“Oh,” she said, and for a moment she stared at him with round brown eyes, in which there was nothing but astonishment. Then the expression changed. “Hubert,” she said softly.

Hubert took her hand and dropped it again; looked at her for an instant, then turned away. Leaning on the parapet, he stared down into the sliding water; his face was unsmiling. For a long time both were silent. Minnie remained where she was, sitting quite still, her eyes fixed on the young man’s averted face. She was happy, happy, happy. The long day ripened and ripened, perfection after perfection.

“Minnie,” said the young man suddenly, and with a loud abruptness, as though he had been a long time deciding himself to speak and had at last succeeded in bringing out the prepared and pent-up words, “I feel I’ve behaved very badly towards you. I never ought to have asked you to come here. It was wrong. I’m sorry.”

“But I came because I wanted to,” Minnie exclaimed.

Hubert glanced at her, then turned away his eyes and went on addressing a ghost that floated, it seemed, just above the face of the sliding water. “It was too much to ask. I shouldn’t have done it. For a man it’s different. But for a woman..

“But, I tell you, I wanted to.”

“It’s too much.”

“It’s nothing,” said Minnie, “because I love you.” And leaning forward, she ran her fingers through his hair. Ah, tenderness that no words could express’. “You silly boy,” she whispered. “Did you think I didn’t love you enough for that?”

Hubert did not look up. The water slid and slid away before his eyes; Minnie’s fingers played in his hair, ran caressingly over the nape of his neck. He felt suddenly a positive hatred for this woman. Idiot! Why couldn’t she take a hint? He didn’t want her. And why on earth had he ever imagined that he did? All the way in the train he had been asking himself that question. Why? Why? And the question had asked itself still more urgently just now as, standing at the garden door, he had looked out between the apple tree and watched her, unobserved, through a long minute — watched her sitting there on the parapet, turning her vague brown eyes now at the water, now towards the garden, and smiling to herself with an expression that had seemed to him so dim and vacuous that he could almost have fancied her an imbecile.

And with Phoebe yesterday he had stood on the crest of the bare chalk down. Like a sea at their feet stretched the plain, and above the dim horizon towered heroic clouds. Fingers of the wind lifted the red locks of her hair. She stood as though poised, ready to leap off into the boisterous air. “How I should like to fly!” she said. “There’s something particularly attractive about airmen, I always think.” And she had gone running down the hill.

But Minnie, with her dull hair, her apple-red cheeks, and big, slow body, was like a peasant girl. How had he ever persuaded himself that he wanted her? And what made it much worse, of course, was that she adored him, embarrassingly, tiresomely, like a too affectionate spaniel that insists on tumbling about at your feet and licking your hand just when you want to sit quietly and concentrate on serious things.

Hubert moved away, out of reach of her caressing hand. He lifted towards her for a moment a pair of eyes that had become, as it were, opaque with a cold anger; then dropped them again.

“The sacrifice is too great,” he said in a voice that sounded to him like somebody else’s voice. He found it very difficult to say this sort of thing convincingly. “I can’t ask it of you,” the actor pursued. “I won’t.”

“But it isn’t a sacrifice,” Minnie protested. “It’s a joy, it’s happiness. Oh, can’t you understand?”

Hubert did not answer. Motionless, his elbows on the parapet, he stared down into the water. Minnie looked at him, perplexed only, at first; but all at once she was seized with a nameless agonizing doubt that grew and grew within her, as the silence prolonged itself, like some dreadful cancer of the spirit, until it had eaten away all her happiness, until there was nothing left in her mind but doubt and apprehension.

“What is it?” she said at last. “Why are you so strange? What is it, Hubert? What is it?”

Leaning anxiously forward, she laid her two hands on either side of his averted face and turned it towards her. Blank and opaque with anger were the eyes. “What is it?” she repeated. “Hubert, what is it?”

Hubert disengaged himself. “It’s no good,” he said in a smothered voice. “No good at all. It was a mistake. I’m sorry. I think I’d better go away. The trap’s still at the door.

And without waiting for her to say anything, without explaining himself any further, he turned and walked quickly away, almost ran, towards the house. Well, thank goodness, he said to himself, he was out of that. He hadn’t done it very well, or handsomely, or courageously; but, at any rate, he was out of it. Poor Minnie! He felt sorry for her; but after all, what could he do about it? Poor Minnie! Still, it rather flattered his vanity to think that she would be mourning over him. And in any case, he reassured his conscience, she couldn’t really mind very much. But on the other hand, his vanity reminded him, she did adore him. Oh, she absolutely worshipped...

The door closed behind him. Minnie was alone again in the garden. Ripe, ripe it lay there in the late sunshine. Half of it was in shadow now; but the rest of it, in the coloured evening light, seemed to have come to the final and absolute perfection of maturity. Bloomy with thundery silence, the choicest fruit of all time hung there, deliciously sweet, sweet to the core; hung flushed and beautiful on the brink of darkness.

Minnie sat there quite still, wondering what had happened. Had he gone, had he really gone? The door closed behind him with a bang, and almost as though the sound were a signal prearranged, a man walked out from the mill on to the dam and closed the sluice. And all at once the wheel was still. Apocalyptically there was silence; the silence of soundlessness took the place of that other silence that was uninterrupted sound. Gulls opened endlessly out around her; she was alone. Across the void of soundlessness a belated bee trailed its thin buzzing; the sparrows chirped, and from across the water came the sound of voices and far-away laughter. And as though woken from a sleep, Minnie looked up and listened, fearfully, turning her head from side to side.

Fard

THEY HAD BEEN quarrelling now for nearly three-quarters of an hour. Muted and inarticulate, the voices floated down the corridor, from the other end of the flat. Stooping over her sewing, Sophie wondered, without much curiosity, what it was all about this time. It was Madame’s voice that she heard most often. Shrill with anger and indignant with tears, it burst out in gusts, in gushes. Monsieur was more self-controlled, and his deeper voice was too softly pitched to penetrate easily the closed doors and to carry along the passage. To Sophie, in her cold little room, the quarrel sounded, most of the time, like a series of monologues by Madame, interrupted by strange and ominous silences. But every now and then Monsieur seemed to lose his temper outright, and then there was no silence between the gusts, but a harsh, deep, angry shout. Madame kept up her loud shrillness continuously and without flagging; her voice had, even in anger, a curious, level monotony. But Monsieur spoke now loudly, now softly, with emphases and modulations and sudden outbursts, so that his contributions to the squabble, when they were audible, sounded like a series of separate explosions. Bow, wow, wow-wow-wow, wow — a dog barking rather slowly.

After a time Sophie paid no more heed to the noise of quarrelling. She was mending one of Madame’s camisoles, and the work required all her attention. She felt very tired; her body ached all over. It had been a hard day; so had yesterday, so had the day before. Every day was a hard day, and she wasn’t so young as she had been. Two years more and she’d be fifty. Every day had been a hard day ever since she could remember. She thought of the sacks of potatoes she used to carry when she was a little girl in the country. Slowly, slowly she was walking along the dusty road with the sack over her shoulder. Ten steps more; she could manage that. Only it never was the end; one always had to begin again.

She looked up from her sewing, moved her head from side to side, blinked. She had begun to see lights and spots of colour dancing before her eyes; it often happened to her now. A sort of yellowish bright worm was wriggling up towards the right-hand corner of her field of vision; and though it was always moving upwards, upwards, it was always there in the same place. And there were stars of red and green that snapped and brightened and faded all round the worm. They moved between her and her sewing; they were there when she shut her eyes. After a moment she went on with her work; Madame wanted her camisole most particularly to-morrow morning. But it was difficult to see round the worm.

There was suddenly a great increase of noise from the other end of the corridor. A door had opened; words articulated themselves.

“... bien tort, mon ami, si tu crois que je suis ton esclave. Je ferai ce que je voudrai.”

“Moi aussi.” Monsieur uttered a harsh, dangerous laugh. There was the sound of heavy footsteps in the passage, a rattling in the umbrella stand; then the front door banged.

Sophie looked down again at her work. Oh, the worm, the coloured stars, the aching fatigue in all her limbs! If one could only spend a whole day in bed — in a huge bed, feathery, warm and soft, all the day long...

The ringing of the bell startled her. It always made her jump, that furious wasp-like buzzer. She got up, put her work down on the table, smoothed her apron, set straight her cap, and stepped out into the corridor. Once more the bell buzzed furiously. Madame was impatient.

“At last, Sophie. I thought you were never coming.”

Sophie said nothing; there was nothing to say. Madame was standing in front of the open wardrobe. A bundle of dresses hung over her arm, and there were more of them lying in a heap on the bed.

“Une beauté à la Rubens,” her husband used to call her when he was in an amorous mood. He liked these massive, splendid, great women. None of your flexible drain-pipes for him. “Hélène Fourmont” was his pet name for her.

“Some day,” Madame used to tell her friends, “some day I really must go to the Louvre and see my portrait. By Rubens, you know. It’s extraordinary that one should have lived all one’s life in Paris and never have seen the Louvre. Don’t you think so?”

She-was superb to-night. Her cheeks were flushed; her blue eyes shone with an unusual brilliance between their long lashes; her short, red-brown hair had broken wildly loose.

“To-morrow, Sophie,” she said dramatically, “we start for Rome. To-morrow morning.” She unhooked another dress from the wardrobe as she spoke, and threw it on to the bed. With the movement her dressing-gown flew open, and there was a vision of ornate underclothing and white exuberant flesh. “We must pack at once.”

“For how long, Madame?”

“A fortnight, three months — how should I know?”

“It makes a difference, Madame.”

“The important thing is to get away. I shall not return to this house, after what has been said to me to-night, till I am humbly asked to.”

“We had better take the large trunk, then, Madame; I will go and fetch it.”

The air in the box-room was sickly with the smell of dust and leather. The big trunk was jammed in a far corner. She had to bend and strain at it in order to pull it out. The worm and the coloured stars flickered before her eyes; she felt dizzy when she straightened herself up. “I’ll help you to pack, Sophie,” said Madame, when the servant returned, dragging the heavy trunk after her. What a death’s-head the old woman looked nowadays! She hated having old, ugly people near her. But Sophie was so efficient; it would be madness to get rid of her.

“Madame need not trouble.” There would be no end to it, Sophie knew, if Madame started opening drawers and throwing things about. “Madame had much better go to bed. It’s late.”

No, no. She wouldn’t be able to sleep. She was to such a degree enervated. These men... What an embeastment! One was not their slave. One would not be treated in this way.

Sophie was packing. A whole day in bed, in a huge, soft bed, like Madame’s. One would doze, one would wake up for a moment, one would doze again.

“His latest game,” Madame was saying indignantly, “is to tell me he hasn’t got any money. I’m not to buy any clothes, he says. Too grotesque. I can’t go about naked, can I?” She threw out her hands. “And as for saying he can’t afford, that’s simply nonsense. He can, perfectly well. Only he’s mean, mean, horribly mean. And if he’d only do a little honest work, for a change, instead of writing silly verses and publishing them at his own expense, he’d have plenty and to spare.” She walked up and down the room. “Besides,” she went on, “there’s his old father. What’s he for, I should like to know? ‘You must be proud of having a poet for a husband,’ he says.” She made her voice quaver like an old man’s. “It’s all I can do not to laugh in his face. ‘And what beautiful verses Hégésippe writes about you! What passion, what fire!’” Thinking of the old man, she grimaced, wobbled her head, shook her finger, doddered on her legs. “And when one reflects that poor Hégésippe is bald, and dyes the few hairs he has left.” She laughed. “As for the passion he talks so much about in his beastly verses,” she laughed— “that’s all pure invention. But, my good Sophie, what are you thinking of? Why are you packing that hideous old green dress?”

Sophie pulled out the dress without saying anything. Why did the woman choose this night to look so terribly ill? She had a yellow face and blue teeth. Madame shuddered; it was too horrible. She ought to send her to bed. But, after all, the work had to be done. What could one do about it? She felt more than ever aggrieved.

“Life is terrible.” Sighing, she sat down heavily on the edge of the bed. The buoyant springs rocked her gently once or twice before they settled to rest. “To be married to a man like this. I shall soon be getting old and fat. And never once unfaithful. But look how he treats me.” She got up again and began to wander aimlessly about the room. “I won’t stand it, though,” she burst out. She had halted in front of the long mirror, and was admiring her own splendid tragic figure. No one would believe, to look at her, that she was over thirty. Behind the beautiful tragedian she could see in the glass a thin, miserable, old creature, with a yellow face and blue teeth, crouching over the trunk. Really, it was too disagreeable. Sophie looked like one of those beggar women one sees on a cold morning, standing in the gutter. Does one hurry past, trying not to look at them? Or does one stop, open one’s purse, and give them one’s copper and nickel — even as much as a two-franc note, if one has no change? But whatever one did, one always felt uncomfortable, one always felt apologetic for one’s furs. That was what came of walking. If one had a car — but that was another of Hégésippe’s meannesses — one wouldn’t, rolling along behind closed windows, have to be conscious of them at all. She turned away from the glass.

“I won’t stand it,” she said, trying not to think of the beggar women, of blue teeth in a yellow face; “I won’t stand it.” She dropped into a chair.

But think of a lover with a yellow face and blue, uneven teeth! She closed her eyes, shuddered at the thought. It would be enough to make one sick. She felt impelled to take another look: Sophie’s eyes were the colour of greenish lead, quite without life. What was one to do about it? The woman’s face was a reproach, an accusation. And besides, the sight of it was making her feel positively ill. She had never been so profoundly enervated.

Sophie rose slowly and with difficulty from her knees; an expression of pain crossed her face. Slowly she walked to the chest of drawers, slowly counted out six pairs of silk stockings. She turned back towards the trunk. The woman was a walking corpse!

“Life is terrible,” Madame repeated with conviction, “terrible, terrible, terrible.”

She ought to send the woman to bed. But she would never be able to get her packing done by herself. And it was so important to get off to-morrow morning. She had told Hégésippe she would go, and he had simply laughed; he hadn’t believed it. She must give him a lesson this time. In Rome she would see Luigino. Such a charming boy, and a marquis, too. Perhaps... But she could think of nothing but Sophie’s face; the leaden eyes, the bluish teeth, the yellow, wrinkled skin.

“Sophie,” she said suddenly; it was with difficulty that she prevented herself screaming, “look on my dressing-table. You’ll see a box of rouge, the Dorin number twenty-four. Put a little on your cheeks. And there’s a stick of lip salve in the right-hand drawer.”

She kept her eyes resolutely shut while Sophie got up — with what a horrible creaking of the joints! — walked over to the dressing-table, and stood there, rustling faintly, through what seemed an eternity. What a life, my God, what a life! Slow footsteps trailed back again. She opened her eyes. Oh, that was far better, far better.

“Thank you, Sophie. You look much less tired now.” She got up briskly. “And now we must hurry.” Full of energy, she ran to the wardrobe. “Goodness me,” she exclaimed, throwing up her hands, “you’ve forgotten to put in my blue evening dress. How could you be so stupid, Sophie?”

The Portrait

“PICTURES,” SAID MR Bigger; “you want to see some pictures?

Well, we have a very interesting mixed exhibition of modern stuff in our galleries at the moment. French and English, you know.” The customer held up his hand, shook his head. “No, no. Nothing modern for me,” he declared, in his pleasant northern English. “I want real pictures, old pictures. Rembrandt and Sir Joshua Reynolds and that sort of thing.”

“Perfectly.” Mr Bigger nodded. “Old Masters. Oh, of course we deal in the old as well as the modern.”

“The fact is,” said the other, “that I’ve just bought a rather large house — a Manor House,” he added, in impressive tones.

Mr Bigger smiled; there was an ingenuousness about this simple-minded fellow which was most engaging. He wondered how the man had made his money. “A Manor House.” The way he had said it was really charming. Here was a man who had worked his way up from serfdom to the lordship of a manor, from the broad base of the feudal pyramid to the narrow summit. His own history and all the history of classes had been implicit in that awed proud emphasis on the “Manor”. But the stranger was running on; Mr Bigger could not allow his thoughts to wander farther. “In a house of this style,” he was saying, “and with a position like mine to keep up, one must have a few pictures. Old Masters, you know; Rembrandts and What’s-his-names.”

“Of course,” said Mr Bigger, “an Old Master is a symbol of social superiority.”

“That’s just it,” cried the other, beaming; “you’ve said just what I wanted to say.”

Mr Bigger bowed and smiled. It was delightful to find some one who took one’s little ironies as sober seriousness.

“Of course, we should only need Old Masters downstairs, in the reception-room. It would be too much of a good thing to have them in the bedrooms too.”

“Altogether too much of a good thing,” Mr Bigger assented. “As a matter of fact,” the Lord of the Manor went on, “my daughter — she does a bit of sketching. And very pretty it is. I’m having some of her things framed to hang in the bedrooms. It’s useful having an artist in the family. Saves you buying pictures. But, of course, we must have something old downstairs.”

“I think I have exactly what you want.” Mr Bigger got up and rang the bell. “My daughter does a little sketching” — he pictured a large, blonde, barmaidish personage, thirty-one and not yet married, running a bit to seed. His secretary appeared at the door. “Bring me the Venetian portrait, Miss Pratt, the one in the back room. You know which I mean.”

“You’re very snug in here,” said the Lord of the Manor. “Business good, I hope.”

Mr Bigger sighed. “The slump,” he said. “We art dealers feel it worse than any one.”

“Ah, the slump.” The Lord of the Manor chuckled. “I foresaw it all the time. Some people seemed to think the good times were going to last for ever. What fools! I sold out of everything at the crest of the wave. That’s why I can buy pictures now.”

Mr. Bigger laughed too. This was the right sort of customer. “Wish I’d had anything to sell out during the boom,” he said.

The Lord of the Manor laughed till the tears rolled down his cheeks. He was still laughing when Miss Pratt re-entered the room. She carried a picture, shieldwise, in her two hands, before her.

“Put it on the easel, Miss Pratt,” said Mr Bigger. “Now,” he turned to the Lord of the Manor, “what do you think of that?”

The picture that stood on the easel before them was a half-length portrait. Plump-faced, white-skinned, high-bosomed in her deeply scalloped dress of blue silk, the subject of the picture seemed a typical Italian lady of the middle eighteenth century. A little complacent smile curved the pouting lips, and in one hand she held a black mask, as though she had just taken it off after a day of carnival.

“Very nice,” said the Lord of the Manor; but he added doubtfully, “It isn’t very like Rembrandt, is it? It’s all so clear and bright. Generally in Old Masters you can never see anything at all, they’re so dark and foggy.”

“Very true,” said Mr Bigger. “But not all Old Masters are like Rembrandt.”

“I suppose not” The Lord of the Manor seemed hardly to be convinced.

“This is eighteenth-century Venetian. Their colour was always luminous. Giangolini was the painter. He died young, you know. Not more than half a dozen of his pictures are known. And this is one.”

The Lord of the Manor nodded. He could appreciate the value of rarity.

“One notices at a first glance the influence of Longhi,” Mr Bigger went on airily. “And there is something of the morbidezza of Rosalba in the painting of the face.”

The Lord of the Manor was looking uncomfortably from Mr Bigger to the picture and from the picture to Mr Bigger. There is nothing so embarrassing as to be talked at by some one possessing more knowledge than you do. Mr Bigger pressed his advantage.

“Curious,” he went on, “that one sees nothing of Tiepolo’s manner in this. Don’t you think so?”

The Lord of the Manor nodded. His face wore a gloomy expression. The corners of his baby’s mouth drooped. One almost expected him to burst into tears.

“It’s pleasant,” said Mr Bigger, relenting at last, “to talk to somebody who really knows about painting. So few people do.”

“Well, I can’t say I’ve ever gone into the subject very deeply,” said the Lord of the Manor modestly. “But I know what I like when I see it.” His face brightened again, as he felt himself on safer ground.

“A natural instinct,” said Mr Bigger. “That’s a very precious gift. I could see by your face that you had it; I could see that the moment you came into the gallery.”

The Lord of the Manor was delighted. “Really, now,” he said. He felt himself growing larger, more important. “Really.” He cocked his head critically on one side. “Yes. I must say I think that’s a very fine bit of painting. Very fine. But the fact is, I should rather have liked a more historical piece, if you know what I mean. Something more ancestor-like, you know. A portrait of somebody with a story — like Anne Boleyn, or Nell Gwynn, or the Duke of Wellington, or some one like that.”

“But, my dear sir, I was just going to tell you. This picture has a story.” Mr Bigger leaned forward and tapped the Lord of the Manor on the knee. His eyes twinkled with benevolent and amused brightness under his bushy eyebrows. There was a knowing kindliness in his smile. “A most remarkable story is connected with the painting of that picture.”

“You don’t say so?” The Lord of the Manor raised his eyebrows.

Mr Bigger leaned back in his chair. “The lady you see there,” he said, indicating the portrait with a wave of the hand, “was the wife of the fourth Earl Hurtmore. The family is now extinct. The ninth Earl died only last year. I got this picture when the house was sold up. It’s sad to see the passing of these old ancestral homes.” Mr Bigger sighed. The Lord of the Manor looked solemn, as though he were in church. There was a moment’s silence; then Mr Bigger went on in a changed tone. “From his portraits, which I have seen, the fourth Earl seems to have been a long-faced, gloomy, grey-looking fellow. One can never imagine him young; he was the sort of man who looks permanently fifty. His chief interests in life were music and Roman antiquities. There’s one portrait of him holding an ivory flute in one hand and resting the other on a fragment of Roman carving. He spent at least half his life travelling in Italy, looking for antiques and listening to music. When he was about fifty-five, he suddenly decided that it was about time to get married. This was the lady of his choice.” Mr Bigger pointed to the picture. “His money and his title must have made up for many deficiencies. One can’t imagine, from her appearance, that Lady Hurtmore took a great deal of interest in Roman antiquities. Nor, I should think, did she care much for the science and history of music. She liked clothes, she liked society, she liked gambling, she liked flirting, she liked enjoying herself. It doesn’t seem that the newly wedded couple got on too well. But still, they avoided an open breach. A year after the marriage Lord Hurtmore decided to pay another visit to Italy. They reached Venice in the early autumn. For Lord Hurtmore, Venice meant unlimited music. It meant Galuppi’s daily concerts at the orphanage of the Misericordia. It meant Piccini at Santa Maria. It meant new operas at the San Moise; it meant delicious cantatas at a hundred churches. It meant private concerts of amateurs; it meant Porpora and the finest singers in Europe; it meant Tartini and the greatest violinists. For Lady Hurtmore, Venice meant something rather different. It meant gambling at the Ridotto, masked balls, gay supper-parties — all the delights of the most amusing city in the world. Living their separate lives, both might have been happy here in Venice almost indefinitely. But one day Lord Hurtmore had the disastrous idea of having his wife’s portrait painted. Young Giangolini was recommended to him as the promising, the coming painter. Lady Hurtmore began her sittings. Giangolini was handsome and dashing, Giangolini was young. He had an amorous technique as perfect as his artistic technique. Lady Hurtmore would have been more than human if she had been able to resist him. She was not more than human.”

“None of us are, eh?” The Lord of the Manor dug his finger into Mr Bigger’s ribs and laughed.

Politely, Mr Bigger joined in his mirth; when it had subsided, he went on. “In the end they decided to run away together across the border. They would live at Vienna — live on the Hurtmore family jewels, which the lady would be careful to pack in her suitcase. They were worth upwards of twenty thousand, the Hurtmore jewels; and in Vienna, under Maria-Theresa, one could live handsomely on the interest of twenty thousand.

“The arrangements were easily made. Giangolini had a friend who did everything for them — got them passports under an assumed name, hired horses to be in waiting on the mainland, placed his gondola at their disposal. They decided to flee on the day of the last sitting. The day came. Lord Hurtmore, according to his usual custom, brought his wife to Giangolini’s studio in a gondola, left her there, perched on the high-backed model’s throne, and went off again to listen to Galuppi’s concert at the Misericordia. It was the time of full carnival. Even in broad daylight people went about in masks. Lady Hurtmore wore one of black silk — you see her holding it, there, in the portrait. Her husband, though he was no reveller and disapproved of carnival junketings, preferred to conform to the grotesque fashion of his neighbours rather than attract attention to himself by not conforming.

“The long black cloak, the huge three-cornered black hat, the long-nosed mask of white paper were the ordinary attire of every Venetian gentleman in these carnival weeks. Lord Hurtmore did not care to be conspicuous; he wore the same. There must have been something richly absurd and incongruous in the spectacle of this grave and solemn-faced English milord dressed in the clown’s uniform of a gay Venetian masker. ‘Pantaloon in the clothes of Pulcinella,’ was how the lovers described him to one another; the old dotard of the eternal comedy dressed up as the clown. Well, this morning, as I have said, Lord Hurtmore came as usual in his hired gondola, bringing his lady with him. And she in her turn was bringing, under the folds of her capacious cloak, a little leather box wherein, snug on their silken bed, reposed the Hurtmore jewels. Seated in the dark little cabin of the gondola they watched the churches, the richly fretted palazzi, the high mean houses gliding past them. From under his Punch’s mask Lord Hurtmore’s voice spoke gravely, slowly, imperturbably.

“‘The learned Father Martini,’ he said, ‘has promised to do me the honour of coming to dine with us to-morrow. I doubt if any man knows more of musical history than he. I will ask you to be at pains to do him special honour.’

“‘You may be sure I will, my lord.’ She could hardly contain the laughing excitement that bubbled up within her. To-morrow at dinner-time she would be far away — over the frontier, beyond Gorizia, galloping along the Vienna road. Poor old Pantaloon! But no, she wasn’t in the least sorry for him. After all, he had his music, he had his odds and ends of broken marble. Under her cloak she clutched the jewel-case more tightly. How intoxicatingly amusing her secret was!”

Mr Bigger clasped his hands and pressed them dramatically over his heart. He was enjoying himself. He turned his long, foxy nose towards the Lord of the Manor, and smiled benevolently. The Lord of the Manor for his part was all attention.

“Well?” he inquired.

Mr Bigger unclasped his hands, and let them fall on to his knees.

“Well,” he said, “the gondola draws up at Giangolini’s door, Lord Hurtmore helps his wife out, leads her up to the painter’s great room on the first floor, commits her into his charge with his usual polite formula, and then goes off to hear Galuppi’s morning concert at the Misericordia. The lovers have a good two hours to make their final preparations.

“Old Pantaloon safely out of sight, up pops the painter’s useful friend, masked and cloaked like every one else in the streets and on the canals of this carnival Venice. There follow embracements and handshakings and laughter all round; everything has been so marvellously successful, not a suspicion roused. From under Lady Hurtmore’s cloak comes the jewel-case. She opens it, and there are loud Italian exclamations of astonishment and admiration.

The brilliants, the pearls, the great Hurtmore emeralds, the ruby clasps, the diamond ear-rings — all these bright, glittering things are lovingly examined, knowingly handled. Fifty thousand sequins at the least is the estimate of the useful friend. The two lovers throw themselves ecstatically into one another’s arms.

“The useful friend interrupts them; there are still a few last things to be done. They must go and sign for their passports at the Ministry of Police. Oh, a mere formality; but still it has to be done. He will go out at the same time and sell one of the lady’s diamonds to provide the necessary funds for the journey.”

Mr Bigger paused to light a cigarette. He blew a cloud of smoke, and went on.

“So they set out, all in their masks and capes, the useful friend in one direction, the painter and his mistress in another. Ah, love in Venice!” Mr Bigger turned up his eyes in ecstasy. “Have you ever been in Venice and in love, sir?” he inquired of the Lord of the Manor.

“Never farther than Dieppe,” said the Lord of the Manor, shaking his head.

“Ah, then you’ve missed one of life’s great experiences. You can never fully and completely understand what must have been the sensations of little Lady Hurtmore and the artist as they glided down the long canals, gazing at one another through the eyeholes of their masks. Sometimes, perhaps, they kissed — though it would have been difficult to do that without unmasking, and there was always the danger that some one might have recognized their naked faces through the windows of their little cabin. No, on the whole,” Mr Bigger concluded reflectively, “I expect they confined themselves to looking at one another. But in Venice, drowsing along the canals, one can almost be satisfied with looking — just looking.”

He caressed the air with his hand and let his voice droop away into silence. He took two or three puffs at his cigarette without saying anything. When he went on, his voice was very quiet and even.

“About half an hour after they had gone, a gondola drew up at Giangolini’s door and a man in a paper mask, wrapped in a black cloak and wearing on his head the inevitable three-cornered hat, got out and went upstairs to the painter’s room. It was empty. The portrait smiled sweetly and a little fatuously from the easel.

But no painter stood before it and the model’s throne was untenanted. The long-nosed mask looked about the room with an expressionless curiosity. The wandering glance came to rest at last on the jewel-case that stood where the lovers had carelessly left it, open on the table. Deep-set and darkly shadowed behind the grotesque mask, the eyes dwelt long and fixedly on this object. Long-nosed Pulcinella seemed to be wrapped in meditation.

“A few minutes later there was the sound of footsteps on the stairs, of two voices laughing together. The masker turned away to look out of the window. Behind him the door opened noisily; drunk with excitement, with gay, laughable irresponsibility, the lovers burst in.

“‘Aha, caro amico! Back already. What luck with the diamond?’

“The cloaked figure at the window did not stir; Giangolini rattled gaily on. There had been no trouble whatever about the signatures, no questions asked; he had the passports in his pocket. They could start at once.

“Lady Hurtmore suddenly began to laugh uncontrollably; she couldn’t stop.

“‘What’s the matter?’ asked Giangolini, laughing too.

“‘I was thinking,’ she gasped between the paroxysms of her mirth, T was thinking of old Pantaloon sitting at the Misericordia, solemn as an owl, listening’ — she almost choked, and the words came out shrill and forced as though she were speaking through tears— ‘listening to old Galuppi’s boring old cantatas.’

“The man at the window turned round. ‘Unfortunately, madam,’ he said, ‘the learned maestro was indisposed this morning. There was no concert.’ He took off his mask. ‘And so I took the liberty of returning earlier than usual.’ The long, grey, unsmiling face of Lord Hurtmore confronted them.

“The lovers stared at him for a moment speechlessly. Lady Hurtmore put her hand to her heart; it had given a fearful jump, and she felt a horrible sensation in the pit of her stomach. Poor Giangolini had gone as white as his paper mask. Even in these days of cicisbei, of official gentlemen friends, there were cases on record of outraged and jealous husbands resorting to homicide. He was unarmed, but goodness only knew what weapons of destruction were concealed under that enigmatic black cloak. But Lord Hurtmore did nothing brutal or undignified. Gravely and calmly, as he did everything, he walked over to the table, picked up the jewel-case, closed it with the greatest care, and saying, ‘My box, I think,’ put it in his pocket and walked out of the room. The lovers were left looking questioningly at one another.

There was a silence.

“What happened then?” asked the Lord of the Manor.

“The anti-climax,” Mr Bigger replied, shaking his head mournfully. “Giangolini had bargained to elope with fifty thousand sequins. Lady Hurtmore didn’t, on reflection, much relish the idea of love in a cottage. Woman’s place, she decided at last, is the home — with the family jewels. But would Lord Hurtmore see the matter in precisely the same light? That was the question, the alarming, disquieting question. She decided to go and see for herself.

“She got back just in time for dinner. ‘His Illustrissimous Excellency is waiting in the dining-room,’ said the major-domo. The tall doors were flung open before her; she swam in majestically, chin held high — but with what a terror in her soul! Her husband was standing by the fireplace. He advanced to meet her.

“I was expecting you, madam,’ he said, and led her to her place.

“That was the only reference he ever made to the incident. In the afternoon he sent a servant to fetch the portrait from the painter’s studio. It formed part of their baggage when, a month later, they set out for England. The story has been passed down with the picture from one generation to the next. I had it from an old friend of the family when I bought the portrait last year.”

Mr Bigger threw his cigarette end into the grate. He flattered himself that he had told that tale very well.

‘Very interesting,’ said the Lord of the Manor, “very interesting indeed. Quite historical, isn’t it? One could hardly do better with Nell Gwynn or Anne Boleyn, could one?”

Mr Bigger smiled vaguely, distantly. He was thinking of Venice — the Russian countess staying in his pension, the tufted tree in the courtyard outside his bedroom, that strong, hot scent she used (it made you catch your breath when you first smelt it), and there was the bathing on the Lido, and the gondola, and the dome of the Salute against the hazy sky, looking just as it looked when Guardi painted it. How enormously long ago and far away it all seemed now! He was hardly more than a boy then; it had been his first great adventure. He woke up with a start from his reverie.

The Lord of the Manor was speaking. “How much, now, would you want for that picture?” he asked. His tone was detached, off-hand; hie was a rare one for bargaining.

“Well,” said Mr Bigger, quitting with reluctance the Russian countess, the paradisiacal Venice of five-and-twenty years ago, “I’ve asked as much as a thousand for less important works than this. But I don’t mind letting this go to you for seven-fifty.”

The Lord of the Manor whistled. “Seven-fifty?” he repeated. “It’s too much.”

“But, my dear sir,” Mr Bigger protested, “think what you’d have to pay for a Rembrandt of this size and quality — twenty thousand at least. Seven hundred and fifty isn’t at all too much. On the contrary, it’s very little considering the importance of the picture you’re getting. You have a good enough judgment to see that this is a very fine work of art.”

“Oh, I’m not denying that,” said the Lord of the Manor. “All I say is that seven-fifty’s a lot of money. Whe-ew! I’m glad my daughter does sketching. Think if I’d had to furnish the bedrooms with pictures at seven-fifty a time!” He laughed.

Mr Bigger smiled. “You must also remember,” he said, “that you’re making a very good investment. Late Venetians are going up. If I had any capital to spare—” The door opened and Miss Pratt’s blonde and frizzy head popped in.

“Mr Crowley wants to know if he can see you, Mr Bigger.”

Mr Bigger frowned. “Tell him to wait,” he said irritably. He coughed and turned back to the Lord of the Manor. “If I had any capital to spare, I’d put it all into late Venetians. Every penny.”

He wondered, as he said the words, how often he had told people that he’d put all his capital, if he had any, into primitives cubism, nigger sculpture, Japanese prints....

In the end the Lord of the Manor wrote him a cheque for six hundred and eighty.

“You might let me have a typewritten copy of the story,” he said, as he put on his hat. “It would be a good tale to tell one’s guests at dinner, don’t you think? I’d like to have the details quite correct.”

“Oh, of course, of course,” said Mr Bigger, “the details are most important.”

He ushered the little round man to the door. “Good morning. Good morning.” He was gone.

A tall, pale youth with side whiskers appeared in the doorway. His eyes were dark and melancholy; his expression, his general appearance, were romantic and at the same time a little pitiable. It was young Crowley, the painter.

“Sorry to have kept you waiting,” said Mr Bigger. “What did you want to see me for?”

Mr Crowley looked embarrassed, he hesitated. How he hated having to do this sort of thing! “The fact is,” he said at last, “I’m horribly short of money. I wondered if perhaps you wouldn’t mind — if it would be convenient to you — to pay me for that thing I did for you the other day. I’m awfully sorry to bother you like this.”

“Not at all, my dear fellow.” Mr Bigger felt sorry for this wretched creature who didn’t know how to look after himself. Poor young Crowley was as helpless as a baby. “How much did we settle it was to be?”

“Twenty pounds, I think it was,” said Mr Crowley timidly.

Mr Bigger took out his pocket-book. “We’ll make it twenty-five,” he said.

“Oh no, really, I couldn’t. Thanks very much.” Mr Crowley blushed like a girl. “I suppose you wouldn’t like to have a show of some of my landscapes, would you?” he asked, emboldened by Mr Bigger’s air of benevolence.

“No, no. Nothing of your own.” Mr Bigger shook his head inexorably.

“There’s no money in modern stuff. But I’ll take any number of those sham Old Masters of yours.” He drummed with his fingers on Lady Hurtmore’s sleekly painted shoulder. “Try another Venetian,” he added. “This one was a great success.”

Young Archimedes

IT WAS THE view which finally made us take the place. True, the house had its disadvantages. It was a long way out of town and had no telephone. The rent was unduly high, the drainage system poor. On windy nights, when the ill-fitting panes were rattling so furiously in the window-frames that you could fancy yourself in an hotel omnibus, the electric light, for some mysterious reason, used invariably to go out and leave you in the noisy dark. There was a splendid bathroom; but the electric pump, which was supposed to send up water from the rain-water tanks in the terrace, did not work. Punctually every autumn the drinking well ran dry. And our landlady was a liar and a cheat.

But these are the little disadvantages of every hired house, all over the world. For Italy they were not really at all serious. I have seen plenty of houses which had them all and a hundred others, without possessing the compensating advantages of ours — the southward facing garden and terrace for the winter and spring, the large cool rooms against the midsummer heat, the hilltop air and freedom from mosquitoes, and finally the view.

And what a view it was! Or rather, what a succession of views. For it was different every day; and without stirring from the house one had the impression of an incessant change of scene: all the delights of travel without its fatigues. There were autumn days when all the valleys were filled with mist and the crests of Apennines rose darkly out of a flat white lake. There were days when the mist invaded even our hilltop and we were enveloped in a soft vapour in which the mist-coloured olive trees, that sloped away below our windows towards the valley, disappeared as though into their own spiritual essence; and the only firm and definite things in the small, dim world within which we found ourselves confined were the two tall black cypresses growing on a little projecting terrace a hundred feet down the hill. Black, sharp, and solid, they stood there, twin pillars of Hercules at the extremity of the known universe; and beyond them there was only pale cloud and round them only the cloudy olive trees.

These were the wintry days; but there were days of spring and autumn, days unchangingly cloudless, or — more lovely still — made various by the huge floating shapes of vapour that, snowy above the far-away snow-capped mountains, gradually unfolded, against the pale bright blue, enormous heroic gestures. And in the height of the sky the bellying draperies, the swans, the aerial marbles, hewed and left unfinished by gods grown tired of creation almost before they had begun, drifted sleeping along the wind, changing form as they moved. And the sun would come and go behind them; and now the town in the valley would fade and almost vanish in the shadow, and now, like an immense fretted jewel between the hills, it would glow as though by its own light. And looking across the nearer tributary valley that wound from below our crest down towards the Amo, looking over the low dark shoulder of hill on whose extreme promontory stood the towered church of San Miniato, one saw the huge dome airily hanging on its ribs of masonry, the square campanile, the sharp spire of Santa Croce, and the canopied tower of the Signoria, rising above the intricate maze of houses, distinct and brilliant, like small treasures carved out of precious stones. For a moment only, and then their light would fade away once more, and the travelling beam would pick out, among the indigo hills beyond, a single golden crest.

There were days when the air was wet with passed or with approaching rain, and all the distances seemed miraculously near and clear. The olive trees detached themselves one from another on the distant slopes; the far-away villages were lovely and pathetic like the most exquisite small toys. There were days in summer-time, days of impending thunder when, bright and sunlit against huge bellying masses of black and purple, the hills and the white houses shone as it were precariously, in a dying splendour, on the brink of some fearful calamity.

How the hills changed and varied! Every day and every hour of the day, almost, they were different. There would be moments when, looking across the plain of Florence, one would see only a dark blue silhouette against the sky. The scene had no depth; there was only a hanging curtain painted flatly with the symbols of mountains. And then, suddenly almost, with the passing of a cloud, or when the sun had declined to a certain level in the sky, the flat scene transformed itself; and where there had been only a painted curtain, now there were ranges behind ranges of hills, graduated tone after tone from brown, or grey, or a green gold to far-away blue. Shapes that a moment before had been fused together indiscriminately into a single mass, now came apart into their constituents. Fiesole, which had seemed only a spur of Monte Morello, now revealed itself as the jutting headland of another system of hills, divided from the nearest bastions of its greater neighbour by a deep and shadowy valley.

At noon, during the heats of summer, the landscape became dim, powdery, vague, and almost colourless under the midday sun; the hills disappeared into the trembling fringes of the sky. But as the afternoon wore on the landscape emerged again, it dropped its anonymity, it climbed back out of nothingness into form and life. And its life, as the sun sank and slowly sank through the long afternoon, grew richer, grew more intense with every moment. The level light, with its attendant long, dark shadows, laid bare, so to speak, the anatomy of the land; the hills — each western escarpment shining, and each slope averted from the sunlight profoundly shadowed — became massive, jutty, and solid. Little folds and dimples in the seemingly even ground revealed themselves. Eastward from our hilltop, across the plain of the Ema, a great bluff cast its ever-increasing shadow; in the surrounding brightness of the valley a whole town lay eclipsed within it. And as the sun expired on the horizon, the further hills flushed in its warm light, till their illumined flanks were the colour of tawny roses; but the valleys were already filled with the blue mist of evening. And it mounted, mounted; the fire went out of the western windows of the populous slopes; only the crests were still alight, and at last they too were all extinct. The mountains faded and fused together again into a flat painting of mountains against the pale evening sky. In a little while it was night; and if the moon were full, a ghost of the dead scene still haunted the horizons.

Changeful in its beauty, this wide landscape always preserved a quality of humanness and domestication which made it, to my mind at any rate, the best of all landscapes to live with. Day by day one travelled through its different beauties; but the journey, like our ancestors’ Grand Tour, was always a journey through civilization. For all its mountains, its steep slopes and deep valleys, the Tuscan scene is dominated by its inhabitants. They have cultivated every rood of ground that can be cultivated; their houses are thickly scattered even over the hills, and the valleys are populous. Solitary on the hilltop, one is not alone in a wilderness. Man’s traces are across the country, and already — one feels it with satisfaction as one looks out across it — for centuries, for thousands of years, it has been his, submissive, tamed, and humanized. The wide, blank moorlands, the sands, the forests of innumerable trees — these are places for occasional visitation, healthful to the spirit which submits itself to them for not too long. But fiendish influences as well as divine haunt these total solitudes. The vegetative life of plants and things is alien and hostile to the human. Men cannot live at ease except where they have mastered their surroundings and where their accumulated lives outnumber and outweigh the vegetative lives about them. Stripped of its dark woods, planted, terraced, and tilled almost to the mountains’ tops, the Tuscan landscape is humanized and safe. Sometimes upon those who live in the midst of it there comes a longing for some place that is solitary, inhuman, lifeless, or peopled only with alien life. But the longing is soon satisfied, and one is glad to return to the civilized and submissive scene.

I found that house on the hilltop the ideal dwelling-place. For there, safe in the midst of a humanized landscape, one was yet alone; one could be as solitary as one liked. Neighbours whom one never sees at close quarters are the ideal and perfect neighbours.

Our nearest neighbours, in terms of physical proximity, lived very near. We had two sets of them, as a matter of fact, almost in the same house with us. One was the peasant family, who lived in a long, low building, part dwelling-house, part stables, storerooms and cowsheds, adjoining the villa. Our other neighbours — intermittent neighbours, however, for they only ventured out of town every now and then, during the most flawless weather — were the owners of the villa, who had reserved for themselves the smaller wing of the huge L-shaped house — a mere dozen rooms or so — leaving the remaining eighteen or twenty to us.

They were a curious couple, our proprietors. An old husband, grey, listless, tottering, seventy at least; and a signora of about forty, short, very plump, with tiny fat hands and feet and a pair of very large, very dark black eyes, which she used with all the skill of a born comedian. Her vitality, if you could have harnessed it and made it do some useful work, would have supplied a whole town with electric light. The physicists talk of deriving energy from the atom; they would be more profitably employed nearer home — in discovering some way of tapping those enormous stores of vital energy which accumulate in unemployed women of sanguine temperament and which, in the present imperfect state of social and scientific organization, vent themselves in ways that are generally so deplorable: in interfering with other people’s affairs, in working up emotional scenes, in thinking about love and making it, and in bothering men till they cannot get on with their work.

Signora Bondi got rid of her superfluous energy, among other ways, by “doing in” her tenants. The old gentleman, who was a retired merchant with a reputation for the most perfect rectitude, was allowed to have no dealings with us. When we came to see the house, it was the wife who showed us round. It was she who, with a lavish display of charm, with irresistible rollings of the eyes, expatiated on the merits of the place, sang the praises of the electric pump, glorified the bathroom (considering which, she insisted, the rent was remarkably moderate), and when we suggested calling in a surveyor to look over the house, earnestly begged us, as though our well-being were her only consideration, not to waste our money unnecessarily in doing anything so superfluous. “After all,” she said, “we are honest people. I wouldn’t dream of letting you the house except in perfect condition. Have confidence.” And she looked at me with an appealing, pained expression in her magnificent eyes, as though begging me not to insult her by my coarse suspiciousness. And leaving us no time to pursue the subject of surveyors any further, she began assuring us that our little boy was the most beautiful angel she had ever seen. By the time our interview with Signora Bondi was at an end, we had definitely decided to take the house.

“Charming woman,” I said, as we left the house. But I think that Elizabeth was not quite so certain of it as I.

Then the pump episode began.

On the evening of our arrival in the house we switched on the electricity. The pump made a very professional whirring noise; but no water came out of the taps in the bathroom. We looked at one another doubtfully.

“Charming woman?” Elizabeth raised her eyebrows.

We asked for interviews; but somehow the old gentleman could never see us, and the Signora was invariably out or indisposed.

We left notes; they were never answered. In the end, we found that the only method of communicating with our landlords, who were living in the same house with us, was to go down into Florence and send a registered express letter to them. For this they had to sign two separate receipts and even, if we chose to pay forty centimes more, a third incriminating document, which was then returned to us. There could be no pretending, as there always was with ordinary letters or notes, that the communication had never been received. We began at last to get answers to our complaints. The Signora, who wrote all the letters, started by telling us that, naturally, the pump didn’t work, as the cisterns were empty, owing to the long drought. I had to walk three miles to the post office in order to register my letter reminding her that there had been a violent thunderstorm only last Wednesday, and that the tanks were consequently more than half full. The answer came back: bath water had not been guaranteed in the contract; and if I wanted it, why hadn’t I had the pump looked at before I took the house? Another walk into town to ask the Signora next door whether she remembered her adjurations to us to have confidence in her, and to inform her that the existence in a house of a bathroom was in itself an implicit guarantee of bath water. The reply to that was that the Signora couldn’t continue to have communications with people who wrote so rudely to her. After that I put the matter into the hands of a lawyer. Two months later the pump was actually replaced. But we had to serve a writ on the lady before she gave in. And the costs were considerable.

One day, towards the end of the episode, I met the old gentleman in the road, taking his big maremman dog for a walk — or being taken, rather, for a walk by the dog. For where the dog pulled the old gentleman had perforce to follow. And when it stopped to smell, or scratch the ground, or leave against a gatepost its visiting-card or an offensive challenge, patiently, at his end of the leash, the old man had to wait. I passed him standing at the side of the road, a few hundred yards below our house. The dog was sniffing at the roots of one of the twin cypresses which grew one on either side of the entry to a farm; I heard the beast growling indignantly to itself, as though it scented an intolerable insult. Old Signor Bondi, leashed to his dog, was waiting. The knees inside the tubular grey trousers were slightly bent.

Leaning on his cane, he stood gazing mournfully and vacantly at the view. The whites of his old eyes were discoloured, like ancient billiard balls. In the grey, deeply wrinkled face, his nose was dyspeptically red. His white moustache, ragged and yellowing at the fringes, drooped in a melancholy curve. In his black tie he wore a very large diamond; perhaps that was what Signora Bondi had found so attractive about him.

I took off my hat as I approached. The old man stared at me absently, and it was only when I was already almost past him that he recollected who I was.

“Wait,” he called after me, “wait!” And he hastened down the road in pursuit. Taken utterly by surprise and at a disadvantage — for it was engaged in retorting to the affront imprinted on the cypress roots — the dog permitted itself to be jerked after him. Too much astonished to be anything but obedient, it followed its master. “Wait!”

I waited.

“My dear sir,” said the old gentleman, catching me by the lapel of my coat and blowing most disagreeably in my face, “I want to apologize.” He looked around him, as though afraid that even here he might be overheard. “I want to apologize,” he went on, “about that wretched pump business. I assure you that, if it had been only my affair, I’d have put the thing right as soon as you asked. You were quite right: a bathroom is an implicit guarantee of bath water. I saw from the first that we should have no chance if it came to court. And besides, I think one ought to treat one’s tenants as handsomely as one can afford to. But my wife” — he lowered his voice— “the fact is that she likes this sort of thing, even when she knows that she’s in the wrong and must lose. And besides, she hoped, I dare say, that you’d get tired of asking and have the job done yourself. I told her from the first that we ought to give in; but she wouldn’t listen. You see, she enjoys it. Still, now she sees that it must be done. In the course of the next two or three days you’ll be having your bath water. But I thought I’d just like to tell you how...” But the Maremmano, which had recovered by this time from its surprise of a moment since, suddenly bounded, growling, up the road. The old gentleman tried to hold the beast, strained at the leash, tottered unsteadily, then gave way and allowed himself to be dragged off. “... how sorry I am,” he went on, as he receded from me, “that this little misunderstanding.. But it was no use. “Good-bye.” He smiled politely, made a little deprecating gesture, as though he had suddenly remembered a pressing engagement, and had no time to explain what it was. “Good-bye.” He took off his hat and abandoned himself completely to the dog.

A week later the water really did begin to flow, and the day after our first bath Signora Bondi, dressed in dove-grey satin and wearing all her pearls, came to call.

“Is it peace now?” she asked, with a charming frankness, as she shook hands.

We assured her that, so far as we were concerned, it certainly was.

“But why did you write me such dreadfully rude letters?” she said, turning on me a reproachful glance that ought to have moved the most ruthless malefactor to contrition. “And then that writ. How could you? To a lady...”

I mumbled something about the pump and our wanting baths.

“But how could you expect me to listen to you while you were in that mood? Why didn’t you set about it differently — politely, charmingly?” She smiled at me and dropped her fluttering eyelids.

I thought it best to change the conversation. It is disagreeable, when one is in the right, to be made to appear in the wrong.

A few weeks later we had a letter — duly registered and by express messenger — in which the Signora asked us whether we proposed to renew our lease (which was only for six months), and notifying us that, if we did, the rent would be raised 25 per cent., in consideration of the improvements which had been carried out. We thought ourselves lucky, at the end of much bargaining, to get the lease renewed for a whole year with an increase in the rent of only 15 per cent.

It was chiefly for the sake of the view that we put up with these intolerable extortions. But we had found other reasons, after a few days’ residence, for liking the house. Of these the most cogent was that, in the peasant’s youngest child, we had discovered what seemed the perfect playfellow for our own small boy. Between little Guido — for that was his name — and the youngest of his brothers and sisters there was a gap of six or seven years. His two elder brothers worked with their father in the fields; since the time of the mother’s death, two or three years before we knew them, the eldest sister had ruled the house, and the younger, who had just left school, helped her and in between-whiles kept an eye on Guido, who by this time, however, needed very little looking after; for he was between six and seven years old and as precocious, self-assured, and responsible as the children of the poor, left as they are to themselves almost from the time they can walk, generally are.

Though fully two and a half years older than little Robin — and at that age thirty months are crammed with half a lifetime’s experience — Guido took no undue advantage of his superior intelligence and strength. I have never seen a child more patient, tolerant, and untyrannical. He never laughed at Robin for his clumsy efforts to imitate his own prodigious feats; he did not tease or bully, but helped his small companion when he was in difficulties and explained when he could not understand. In return, Robin adored him, regarded him as the model and perfect Big Boy, and slavishly imitated him in every way he could.

These attempts of Robin’s to imitate his companion were often exceedingly ludicrous. For by an obscure psychological law, words and actions in themselves quite serious become comic as soon as they are copied; and the more accurately, if the imitation is a deliberate parody, the funnier — for an overloaded imitation of some one we know does not make us laugh so much as one that is almost indistinguishably like the original. The bad imitation is only ludicrous when it is a piece of sincere and earnest flattery which does not quite come off. Robin’s imitations were mostly of this kind. His heroic and unsuccessful attempts to perform the feats of strength and skill, which Guido could do with ease, were exquisitely comic. And his careful, long-drawn imitations of Guido’s habits and mannerisms were no less amusing. Most ludicrous of all, because most earnestly undertaken and most incongruous in the imitator, were Robin’s impersonations of Guido in the pensive mood. Guido was a thoughtful child, given to brooding and sudden abstractions. One would find him sitting in a corner by himself, chin in hand, elbow on knee, plunged, to all appearances, in the profoundest meditation. And sometimes, even in the midst of his play, he would suddenly break off, to stand, his hands behind his back, frowning and staring at the ground. When this happened, Robin became overawed and a little disquieted. In a puzzled silence he looked at his companion.

“Guido,” he would say softly, “Guido.” But Guido was generally too much preoccupied to answer; and Robin, not venturing to insist, would creep near him, and throwing himself as nearly as possible into Guido’s attitude — standing Napoleonically, his hands clasped behind him, or sitting in the posture of Michelangelo’s Lorenzo the Magnificent — would try to meditate too. Every few seconds he would turn his bright blue eyes towards the elder child to see whether he was doing it quite right. But at the end of a minute he began to grow impatient; meditation wasn’t his strong point. “Guido,” he called again and, louder, “Guido!” And he would take him by the hand and try to pull him away. Sometimes Guido roused himself from his reverie and went back to the interrupted game. Sometimes he paid no attention. Melancholy, perplexed, Robin had to take himself off to play by himself. And Guido would go on sitting or standing there, quite still; and his eyes, if one looked into them, were beautiful in their grave and pensive calm.

They were large eyes, set far apart and, what was strange in a dark-haired Italian child, of a luminous pale blue-grey colour. They were not always grave and calm, as in these pensive moments. When he was playing, when he talked or laughed, they lit up; and the surface of those clear, pale lakes of thought seemed, as it were, to be shaken into brilliant sun-flashing ripples. Above those eyes was a beautiful forehead, high and steep and domed in a curve that was like the subtle curve of a rose petal. The nose was straight, the chin small and rather pointed, the mouth drooped a little sadly at the corners.

I have a snapshot of the two children sitting together on the parapet of the terrace. Guido sits almost facing the camera, but looking a little to one side and downwards; his hands are crossed in his lap and his expression, his attitude are thoughtful, grave, and meditative. It is Guido in one of those moods of abstraction into which he would pass even at the height of laughter and play — quite suddenly and completely, as though he had all at once taken it into his head to go away and had left the silent and beautiful body behind, like an empty house, to wait for his return. And by his side sits little Robin, turning to look up at him, his face half averted from the camera, but the curve of his cheek showing that he is laughing; one little raised hand is caught at the top of a gesture, the other clutches at Guido’s sleeve, as though he were urging him to come away and play. And the legs dangling from the parapet have been seen by the blinking instrument in the midst of an impatient wriggle; he is on the point of slipping down and running off to play hide-and-seek in the garden. All the essential characteristics of both the children are in that little snapshot.

“If Robin were not Robin,” Elizabeth used to say, “I could almost wish he were Guido.”

And even at that time, when I took no particular interest in the child, I agreed with her. Guido seemed to me one of the most charming little boys I had ever seen.

We were not alone in admiring him. Signora Bondi when, in those cordial intervals between our quarrels, she came to call, was constantly speaking of him. “Such a beautiful, beautiful child!” she would exclaim with enthusiasm. “It’s really a waste that he should belong to peasants who can’t afford to dress him properly. If he were mine, I should put him into black velvet; or little white knickers and a white knitted silk jersey with a red line at the collar and cuffs; or perhaps a white sailor suit would be pretty. And in winter a little fur coat, with a squirrel skin cap, and possibly Russian boots...” Her imagination was running away with her. “And I’d let his hair grow, like a page’s, and have it just curled up a little at the tips. And a straight fringe across his forehead. Every one would turn round and stare after us if I took him out with me in Via Tornabuoni.”

What you want, I should have liked to tell her, is not a child; it’s a clock-work doll or a performing monkey. But I did not say so — partly because I could not think of the Italian for a clockwork doll and partly because I did not want to risk having the rent raised another 15 per cent.

“Ah, if only I had a little boy like that!” She sighed and modestly dropped her eyelids. “I adore children. I sometimes think of adopting one — that is, if my husband would allow it.”

I thought of the poor old gentleman being dragged along at the heels of his big white dog and inwardly smiled.

“But I don’t know if he would,” the Signora was continuing, “I don’t know if he would.” She was silent for a moment, as though considering a new idea.

A few days later, when we were sitting in the garden after luncheon, drinking our coffee, Guido’s father, instead of passing with a nod and the usual cheerful good-day, halted in front of us and began to talk. He was a fine handsome man, not very tall, but well proportioned, quick and elastic in his movements, and full of life. He had a thin brown face, featured like a Roman’s and lit by a pair of the most intelligent-looking grey eyes I ever saw. They exhibited almost too much intelligence when, as not infrequently happened, he was trying, with an assumption of perfect frankness and a childlike innocence, to take one in or get something out of one. Delighting in itself, the intelligence shone there mischievously. The face might be ingenuous, impassive, almost imbecile in its expression; but the eyes on these occasions gave him completely away. One knew, when they glittered like that, that one would have to be careful.

To-day, however, there was no dangerous light in them. He wanted nothing out of us, nothing of any value — only advice, which is a commodity, he knew, that most people are only too happy to part with. But he wanted advice on what was, for us, rather a delicate subject: on Signora Bondi. Carlo had often complained to us about her. The old man is good, he told us, very good and kind indeed. Which meant, I dare say, among other things, that he could easily be swindled. But his wife... Well, the woman was a beast. And he would tell us stories of her insatiable rapacity: she was always claiming more than the half of the produce which, by the laws of the métayage system, was the proprietor’s due. He complained of her suspiciousness: she was for ever accusing him of sharp practices, of downright stealing — him, he struck his breast, the soul of honesty. He complained of her short-sighted avarice: she wouldn’t spend enough on manure, wouldn’t buy him another cow, wouldn’t have electric light installed in the stables. And we had sympathized, but cautiously, without expressing too strong an opinion on the subject. The Italians are wonderfully non-committal in their speech; they will give nothing away to an interested person until they are quite certain that it is right and necessary and, above all, safe to do so. We had lived long enough among them to imitate their caution. What we said to Carlo would be sure, sooner or later, to get back to Signora Bondi. There was nothing to be gained by unnecessarily embittering our relations with the lady — only another 15 per cent., very likely, to be lost.

To-day he wasn’t so much complaining as feeling perplexed.

The Signora had sent for him, it seemed, and asked him how he would like it if she were to make an offer — it was all very hypothetical in the cautious Italian style — to adopt little Guido. Carlo’s first instinct had been to say that he wouldn’t like it at all. But an answer like that would have been too coarsely committal. He had preferred to say that he would think about it. And now he was asking for our advice.

Do what you think best, was what in effect we replied. But we gave it distantly but distinctly to be understood that we didn’t think that Signora Bondi would make a very good foster-mother for the child. And Carlo was inclined to agree. Besides, he was very fond of the boy.

“But the thing is,” he concluded rather gloomily, “that if she has really set her heart on getting hold of the child, there’s nothing she won’t do to get him — nothing.”

He too, I could see, would have liked the physicists to start on unemployed childless women of sanguine temperament before they tried to tackle the atom. Still, I reflected, as I watched him striding away along the terrace, singing powerfully from a brazen gullet as he went, there was force there, there was life enough in those elastic limbs, behind those bright grey eyes, to put up a good fight even against the accumulated vital energies of Signora Bondi.

It was a few days after this that my gramophone and two or three boxes of records arrived from England. They were a great comfort to us on the hilltop, providing as they did the only thing in which that spiritually fertile solitude — otherwise a perfect Swiss Family Robinson’s island — was lacking: music. There is not much music to be heard nowadays in Florence. The times when Dr Burney could tour through Italy, listening to an unending succession of new operas, symphonies, quartets, cantatas, are gone. Gone are the days when a learned musician, inferior only to the Reverend Father Martini of Bologna, could admire what the peasants sang and the strolling players thrummed and scraped on their instruments. I have travelled for weeks through the peninsula and hardly heard a note that was not “Salome” or the Fascists’ song. Rich in nothing else that makes life agreeable or even supportable, the northern metropolises are rich in music. That is perhaps the only inducement that a reasonable man can find for living there. The other attractions — organized gaiety, people, miscellaneous conversation, the social pleasures — what are those, after all, but an expense of spirit that buys nothing in return? And then the cold, the darkness, the mouldering dirt, the damp and squalor.... No, where there is no necessity that retains, music can be the only inducement. And that, thanks to the ingenious Edison, can now be taken about in a box and unpacked in whatever solitude one chooses to visit. One can live at Benin, or Nuneaton, or Tozeur in the Sahara, and still hear Mozart quartets, and selections from the Well-Tempered Clavichord, and the Fifth Symphony, and the Brahms clarinet quintet, and motets by Palestrina.

Carlo, who had gone down to the station with his mule and cart to fetch the packing-case, was vastly interested in the machine.

“One will hear some music again,” he said, as he watched me unpacking the gramophone and the disks. “It is difficult to do much oneself.”

Still, I reflected, he managed to do a good deal. On warm nights we used to hear him, where he sat at the door of his house, playing his guitar and softly singing; the eldest boy shrilled out the melody on the mandoline, and sometimes the whole family would join in, and the darkness would be filled with their passionate, throaty singing. Piedigrotta songs they mostly sang; and the voices drooped slurringly from note to note, lazily climbed or jerked themselves with sudden sobbing emphases from one tone to another. At a distance and under the stars the effect was not unpleasing.

“Before the war,” he went on, “in normal times” (and Carlo had a hope, even a belief, that the normal times were coming back and that life would soon be as cheap and easy as it had been in the days before the flood), “I used to go and listen to the operas at the Politeama. Ah, they were magnificent. But it costs five lire now to get in.”

“Too much,” I agreed.

“Have you got Trooatore?” he asked.

I shook my head.

“Rigoletto?”

“I’m afraid not.”

“Bohème? Fanciulla del West? Pagliacci?”

I had to go on disappointing him.

“Not even Normal Or the Barbiere?”

I put on Battistini in “La ci darem” out of Don Giovanni. He agreed that the singing was good; but I could see that he didn’t much like the music. Why not? He found it difficult to explain.

“It’s not like Pagliacci,” he said at last.

“Not palpitating?” I suggested, using a word with which I was sure he would be familiar; for it occurs in every Italian political speech and patriotic leading article.

“Not palpitating,” he agreed.

And I reflected that it is precisely by the difference between Pagliacci and Don Giovanni, between the palpitating and the nonpalpitating, that modern musical taste is separated from the old. The corruption of the best, I thought, is the worst. Beethoven taught music to palpitate with his intellectual and spiritual passion. It has gone on palpitating ever since, but with the passion of inferior men. Indirectly, I thought, Beethoven is responsible for Parsifal, Pagliacci, and the Pom of Fire; still more indirectly for Samson and Delilah and “Ivy, cling to me.” Mozart’s melodies may be brilliant, memorable, infectious; but they don’t palpitate, don’t catch you between wind and water, don’t send the listener off into erotic ecstasies.

Carlo and his elder children found my gramophone, I am afraid, rather a disappointment. They were too polite, however, to say so openly; they merely ceased, after the first day or two, to take any interest in the machine and the music it played. They preferred the guitar and their own singing.

Guido, on the other hand, was immensely interested. And he liked, not the cheerful dance tunes, to whose sharp rhythms our little Robin loved to go stamping round and round the room, pretending that he was a whole regiment of soldiers, but the genuine stuff. The first record he heard, I remember, was that of the slow movement of Bach’s Concerto in D Minor for two violins. That was the disk I put on the turn-table as soon as Carlo had left me. It seemed to me, so to speak, the most musical piece of music with which I could refresh my long-parched mind — the coolest and clearest of all draughts. The movement had just got under way and was beginning to unfold its pure and melancholy beauties in accordance with the laws of the most exacting intellectual logic, when the two children, Guido in front and little Robin breathlessly following, came clattering into the room from the loggia.

Guido came to a halt in front of the gramophone and stood there, motionless, listening. His pale blue-grey eyes opened themselves wide; making a little nervous gesture that I had often noticed in him before, he plucked at his lower lip with his thumb and forefinger. He must have taken a deep breath; for I noticed that, after listening for a few seconds, he sharply expired and drew in a fresh gulp of air. For an instant he looked at me — a questioning, astonished, rapturous look — gave a little laugh that ended in a kind of nervous shudder, and turned back towards the source of the incredible sounds. Slavishly imitating his elder comrade, Robin had also taken up his stand in front of the gramophone, and in exactly the same position, glancing at Guido from time to time to make sure that he was doing everything, down to plucking at his lip, in the correct way. But after a minute or so he became bored.

“Soldiers,” he said, turning to me; “I want soldiers. Like in London.” He remembered the rag-time and the jolly marches round and round the room.

I put my fingers to my lips. “Afterwards,” I whispered.

Robin managed to remain silent and still for perhaps another twenty seconds. Then he seized Guido by the arm, shouting, “Vieni, Guido! Soldiers. Soldati. Vieni giuocare soldati.”

It was then, for the first time, that I saw Guido impatient. “Vai!” he whispered angrily, slapped at Robin’s clutching hand and pushed him roughly away. And he leaned a little closer to the instrument, as though to make up by yet intenser listening for what the interruption had caused him to miss.

Robin looked at him, astonished. Such a thing had never happened before. Then he burst out crying and came to me for consolation.

When the quarrel was made up — and Guido was sincerely repentant, was as nice as he knew how to be when the music had stopped and his mind was free to think of Robin once more — I asked him how he liked the music. He said he thought it was beautiful. But bello in Italian is too vague a word, too easily and frequently uttered, to mean very much.

“What did you like best?” I insisted. For he had seemed to enjoy it so much that I was curious to find out what had really impressed him.

He was silent for a moment, pensively frowning. “Well,” he said at last, “I liked the bit that went like this.” And he hummed a long phrase. “And then there’s the other thing singing at the same time — but what are those things,” he interrupted himself, “that sing like that?”

“They’re called violins,” I said.

“Violins.” He nodded. “Well, the other violin goes like this.” He hummed again. “Why can’t one sing both at once? And what is in that box? What makes it make that noise?” The child poured out his questions.

I answered him as best I could, showing him the little spirals on the disk, the needle, the diaphragm. I told him to remember how the string of the guitar trembled when one plucked it; sound is a shaking in the air, I told him, and I tried to explain how those shakings get printed on the black disk. Guido listened to me very gravely, nodding from time to time. I had the impression that he understood perfectly well everything I was saying.

By this time, however, poor Robin was so dreadfully bored that in pity for him -I had to send the two children out into the garden to play. Guido went obediently; but I could see that he would have preferred to stay indoors and listen to more music. A little while later, when I looked out, he was hiding in the dark recesses of the big bay tree, roaring like a lion, and Robin, laughing, but a little nervously, as though he were afraid that the horrible noise might possibly turn out, after all, to be the roaring of a real lion, was beating the bush with a stick, and shouting, “Come out, come out! I want to shoot you.”

After lunch, when Robin had gone upstairs for his afternoon sleep, he reappeared. “May I listen to the music now?” he asked. And for an hour he sat there in front of the instrument, his head cocked slightly on one side, listening while I put on one disk after another.

Thenceforward he came every afternoon. Very soon he knew all my library of records, had his preferences and dislikes, and could ask for what he wanted by humming the principal theme.

“I don’t like that one,” he said of Strauss’s “Till Eulenspiegel.”

“It’s like what we sing in our house. Not really like, you know. But somehow rather like, all the same. You understand?” He looked at us perplexedly and appealingly, as though begging us to understand what he meant and so save him from going on explaining. We nodded. Guido went on. “And then,” he said, “the end doesn’t seem to come properly out of the beginning. It’s not like the one you played the first time.” He hummed a bar or two from the slow movement of Bach’s D Minor Concerto.

“It isn’t,” I suggested, “like saying: All little boys like playing. Guido is a little boy. Therefore Guido likes playing.”

He frowned. “Yes, perhaps that’s it,” he said at last. “The one you played first is more like that. But, you know,” he added, with an excessive regard for truth, “I don’t like playing as much as Robin does.”

Wagner was among his dislikes; so was Debussy. When I played the record of one of Debussy’s Arabesques, he said, “Why does he say the same thing over and over again? He ought to say something new, or go on, or make the thing grow. Can’t he think of anything different?” But he was less censorious about the “Après-midi d’un Faune.”

“The things have beautiful voices,” he said.

Mozart overwhelmed him with delight. The duet from Don Giovanni, which his father had found insufficiently palpitating, enchanted Guido. But he preferred the quartets and the orchestral pieces.

“I like music,” he said, “better than singing.”

Most people, I reflected, like singing better than music; are more interested in the executant than in what he executes, and find the impersonal orchestra less moving than the soloist. The touch of the pianist is the human touch, and the soprano’s high C is the personal note. It is for the sake of his touch, that note, that audiences fill the concert halls.

Guido, however, preferred music. True, he liked “La ci darem”; he liked “Deh vieni alia finestra”; he thought “Chesoave zefiretto” so lovely that almost all our concerts had to begin with it. But he preferred the other things. The Figaro overture was one of his favourites. There is a passage not far from the beginning of the piece, where the first violins suddenly go rocketing up into the heights of loveliness; as the music approached that point, I used always to see a smile developing and gradually brightening on Guido’s face, and when, punctually, the thing happened, he clapped his hands and laughed aloud with pleasure.

On the other side of the same disk, it happened, was recorded Beethoven’s Egmont overture. He liked that almost better than Figaro.

“It has more voices,” he explained. And I was delighted by the acuteness of the criticism; for it is precisely in the richness of its orchestration that Egmont goes beyond Figaro.

But what stirred him almost more than anything was the Coriolan overture. The third movement of the Fifth Symphony, the second movement of the Seventh, the slow movement of the Emperor Concerto — all these things ran it pretty close. But none excited him so much as Coriolan. One day he made me play it three or four times in succession; then he put it away.

“I don’t think I want to hear that any more,” he said.

“Why not?”

“It’s too... too.. he hesitated, “too big,” he said at last. “I don’t really understand it. Play me the one that goes like this.” He hummed the phrase from the D Minor Concerto.

“Do you like that one better?” I asked.

He shook his head. “No, it’s not that exactly. But it’s easier.”

“Easier?” It seemed to me rather a queer word to apply to Bach.

“I understand it better.”

One afternoon, while we were in the middle of our concert, Signora Bondi was ushered in. She began at once to be overwhelmingly affectionate towards the child; kissed him, patted his head, paid him the most outrageous compliments on his appearance. Guido edged away from her.

“And do you like music?” she asked.

The child nodded.

“I think he has a gift,” I said. “At any rate, he has a wonderful ear and a power of listening and criticizing such as I’ve never met with in a child of that age. We’re thinking of hiring a piano for him to learn on.”

A moment later I was cursing myself for my undue frankness in praising the boy. For Signora Bondi began immediately to protest that, if she could have the upbringing of the child, she would give him the best masters, bring out his talent, make an accomplished maestro of him — and, on the way, an infant prodigy. And at that moment, I am sure, she saw herself sitting maternally, in pearls and black satin, in the lea of the huge Steinway, while an angelic Guido, dressed like little Lord Fauntleroy, rattled out Liszt and Chopin, to the loud delight of a thronged auditorium. She saw the bouquets and all the elaborate floral tributes, heard the clapping and the few well-chosen words with which the veteran maestri, touched almost to tears, would hail the coming of the little genius. It became more than ever important for her to acquire the child.

“You’ve sent her away fairly ravening,” said Elizabeth, when Signora Bondi had gone. “Better tell her next time that you made a mistake, and that the boy’s got no musical talent whatever.”

In due course, the piano arrived. After giving him the minimum of preliminary instruction, I let Guido loose on it. He began by picking out for himself the melodies he had heard, reconstructing the harmonies in which they were embedded. After a few lessons, he understood the rudiments of musical notation and could read a simple passage at sight, albeit very slowly. The whole process of reading was still strange to him; he had picked up his letters somehow, but nobody had yet taught him to read whole words and sentences.

I took occasion, next time I saw Signora Bondi, to assure her that Guido had disappointed me. There was nothing in his musical talent, really. She professed to be very sorry to hear it; but I could see that she didn’t for a moment believe me. Probably she thought that we were after the child too, and wanted to bag the infant prodigy for ourselves, before she could get in her claim, thus depriving her of what she regarded almost as her feudal right. For, after all, weren’t they her peasants? If any one was to profit by adopting the child it ought to be herself.

Tactfully, diplomatically, she renewed her negotiations with Carlo. The boy, she put it to him, had genius. It was the foreign gentleman who had told her so, and he was the sort of man, clearly, who knew about such things. If Carlo would let her adopt the child, she’d have him trained. He’d become a great maestro and get engagements in the Argentine and the United States, in Paris and London. He’d earn millions and millions. Think of Caruso, for example. Part of the millions, she explained, would of course come to Carlo. But before they began to roll in, those millions, the boy would have to be trained. But training was very expensive. In his own interest, as well as in that of his son, he ought to let her take charge of the child. Carlo said he would think it over, and again applied to us for advice. We suggested that it would be best in any case to wait a little and see what progress the boy made.

He made, in spite of my assertions to Signora Bondi, excellent progress. Every afternoon, while Robin was asleep, he came for his concert and his lesson. He was getting along famously with his reading; his small fingers were acquiring strength and agility. But what to me was more interesting was that he had begun to make up little pieces on his own account. A few of them I took down as he played them and I have them still. Most of them, strangely enough, as I thought then, are canons. He had a passion for canons. When I explained to him the principles of the form he was enchanted.

“It is beautiful,” he said, with admiration. “Beautiful, beautiful. And so easy!”

Again the word surprised me. The canon is not, after all, so conspicuously simple. Thenceforward he spent most of his time at the piano in working out little canons for his own amusement. They were often remarkably ingenious. But in the invention of other kinds of music he did not show himself so fertile as I had hoped. He composed and harmonized one or two solemn little airs like hymn tunes, with a few sprightlier pieces in the spirit of the military march. They were extraordinary, of course, as being the inventions of a child. But a great many children can do extraordinary things; we are all geniuses up to the age of ten. But I had hoped that Guido was a child who was going to be a genius at forty; in which case what was extraordinary for an ordinary child was not extraordinary enough for him. “He’s hardly a Mozart,” we agreed, as we played his little pieces over. I felt, it must be confessed, almost aggrieved. Anything less than a Mozart, it seemed to me, was hardly worth thinking about.

He was not a Mozart. No. But he was somebody, as I was to find out, quite as extraordinary. It was one morning in the early summer that I made the discovery. I was sitting in the warm shade of our westward-facing balcony, working. Guido and Robin were playing in the little enclosed garden below. Absorbed in my work, it was only, I suppose, after the silence had prolonged itself a considerable time that I became aware that the children were making remarkably little noise. There was no shouting, no running about; only a quiet talking. Knowing by experience that when children are quiet it generally means that they are absorbed in some delicious mischief, I got up from my chair and looked over the balustrade to see what they were doing. I expected to catch them dabbling in water, making a bonfire, covering themselves with tar. But what I actually saw was Guido, with a burnt stick in his hand, demonstrating on the smooth paving-stones of the path, that the square on the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides.

Kneeling on the floor, he was drawing with the point of his blackened stick on the flagstones. And Robin, kneeling imitatively beside him, was growing, I could see, rather impatient with this very slow game.

“Guido,” he said. But Guido paid no attention. Pensively frowning, he went on with his diagram. “Guido!” The younger child bent down and then craned round his neck so as to look up into Guido’s face. “Why don’t you draw a train?”

“Afterwards,” said Guido. “But I just want to show you this first. It’s so beautiful,” he added cajolingly.

“But I want a train,” Robin persisted.

“In a moment. Do just wait a moment.” The tone was almost imploring. Robin armed himself with renewed patience. A minute later Guido had finished both his diagrams.

“There!” he said triumphantly, and straightened himself up to look at them. “Now I’ll explain.”

And he proceeded to prove the theorem of Pythagoras — not in Euclid’s way, but by the simpler and more satisfying method which was, in all probability, employed by Pythagoras himself. He had drawn a square and dissected it, by a pair of crossed perpendiculars, into two squares and two equal rectangles. The equal rectangles he divided up by their diagonals into four equal right-angled triangles. The two squares are then seen to be the squares on the two sides of any one of these triangles other than the hypotenuse. So much for the first diagram. In the next he took the four right-angled triangles into which the rectangles had been divided and rearranged them round the original square so that their right angles filled the corners of the square, the hypotenuses looked inwards, and the greater and less sides of the triangles were in continuation along the sides of the square (which are each equal to the sum of these sides). In this way the original square is redissected into four right-angled triangles and the square on the hypotenuse. The four triangles are equal to the two rectangles of the original dissection. Therefore the square on the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the two squares — the squares on the other two sides — into which, with the rectangles, the original square was first dissected.

In very untechnical language, but clearly and with a relentless logic, Guido expounded his proof. Robin listened, with an expression on his bright, freckled face of perfect incomprehension.

“Treno,” he repeated from time to time. “Treno. Make a train.”

“In a moment,” Guido implored. “Wait a moment. But do just look at this. Do.” He coaxed and cajoled. “It’s so beautiful. It’s so easy.”

So easy.... The theorem of Pythagoras seemed to explain for me Guido’s musical predilections. It was not an infant Mozart we had been cherishing; it was a little Archimedes with, like most of his kind, an incidental musical twist.

“Treno, treno!” shouted Robin, growing more and more restless as the exposition went on. And when Guido insisted on going on with his proof, he lost his temper. “Cattivo Guido,” he shouted, and began to hit out at him with his fists.

“All right,” said Guido resignedly. “I’ll make a train.” And with his stick of charcoal he began to scribble on the stones.

I looked on for a moment in silence. It was not a very good train. Guido might be able to invent for himself and prove the theorem of Pythagoras; but he was not much of a draughtsman.

“Guido!” I called. The two children turned and looked up. “Who taught you to draw those squares?” It was conceivable, of course, that somebody might have taught him.

“Nobody.” He shook his head. Then, rather anxiously, as though he were afraid there might be something wrong about drawing squares, he went on to apologize and explain. “You see,” he said, “it seemed to me so beautiful. Because those squares” — he pointed at the two small squares in the first figure— “are just as big as this one.” And, indicating the square on the hypotenuse in the second diagram, he looked up at me with a deprecating smile.

I nodded. “Yes, it’s very beautiful,” I said— “it’s very beautiful indeed.”

An expression of delighted relief appeared on his face; he laughed with pleasure. “You see, it’s like this,” he went on, eager to initiate me into the glorious secret he had discovered. “You cut these two long squares” — he meant the rectangles— “into two slices. And then there are four slices, all just the same, because, because — oh, I ought to have said that before — because these long squares are the same, because those lines, you see..

“But I want a train,” protested Robin.

Leaning on the rail of the balcony, I watched the children below. I thought of the extraordinary thing I had just seen and of what it meant.

I thought of the vast differences between human beings. We classify men by the colour of their eyes and hair, the shape of their skulls. Would it not be more sensible to divide them up into intellectual species? There would be even wider gulfs between the extreme mental types than between a Bushman and a Scandinavian. This child, I thought, when he grows up, will be to me, intellectually, what a man is to a dog. And there are other men and women who are, perhaps, almost as dogs to me.

Perhaps the men of genius are the only true men. In all the history of the race there have been only a few thousand real men. And the rest of us — what are we? Teachable animals. Without the help of the real men, we should have found out almost nothing at all. Almost all the ideas with which we are familiar could never have occurred to minds like ours. Plant the seeds there and they will grow; but our minds could never spontaneously have generated them.

There have been whole nations of dogs, I thought; whole epochs in which no Man was born. From the dull Egyptians the Greeks took crude experience and rules of thumb and made sciences. More than a thousand years passed before Archimedes had a comparable successor. There has been only one Buddha, one Jesus, only one Bach that we know of, one Michelangelo.

Is it by a mere chance, I wondered, that a Man is born from time to time? What causes a whole constellation of them to come contemporaneously into being and from out of a single people? Taine thought that Leonardo, Michelangelo, and Raphael were born when they were because the time was ripe for great painters and the Italian scene congenial. In the mouth of a rationalizing nineteenth-century Frenchman the doctrine b strangely mystical; it may be none the less true for that. But what of those born out of time? Blake, for example. What of those?

The child, I thought, has had the fortune to be born at a time when he will be able to make good use of his capacities. He will find the most elaborate analytical methods lying ready to his hand; he will have a prodigious experience behind him. Suppose him born while Stone Henge was building; he might have spent a lifetime discovering the rudiments, guessing darkly where now he might have had a chance of proving. Born at the time of the Norman Conquest, he would have had to wrestle with all the preliminary difficulties created by an inadequate symbolism; it would have taken him long years, for example, to learn the art of dividing MMMCCCCLXXXVIII by MCMXIX. In five years, nowadays, he will learn what it took generations of Men to discover.

And I thought of the fate of all the Men born so hopelessly out of time that they could achieve little or nothing of value. Beethoven born in Greece, I thought, would have had to be content to play thin melodies on the flute or lyre; in those intellectual surroundings it would hardly have been possible for him to imagine the nature of harmony.

From drawing trains, the children in the garden below had gone on to playing trains. They were trotting round and round; with blown round cheeks and pouting mouth, like the cherubic symbol of a wind, Robin puff-puffed, and Guido, holding the skirt of his smock, shuffled behind him, tooting. They ran forward, backed, stopped at imaginary stations, shunted, roared over bridges, crashed through tunnels, met with occasional collisions and derailments. The young Archimedes seemed to be just as happy as the little tow-headed barbarian. A few minutes ago he had been busy with the theorem of Pythagoras. Now, tooting indefatigably along imaginary rails, he was perfectly content to shuffle backwards and forwards among the flower-beds, between the pillars of the loggia, in and out of the dark tunnels of the laurel tree. The fact that one is going to be Archimedes does not prevent one from being an ordinary cheerful child meanwhile. I thought of this strange talent distinct and separate from the rest of the mind, independent, almost, of experience. The typical child-prodigies are musical and mathematical; the other talents ripen slowly under the influence of emotional experience and growth. Till he was thirty Balzac gave proof of nothing but ineptitude; but at four the young Mozart was already a musician, and some of Pascal’s most brilliant work was done before he was out of his teens.

In the weeks that followed, I alternated the daily piano lessons with lessons in mathematics. Hints rather than lessons they were; for I only made suggestions, indicated methods, and left the child himself to work out the ideas in detail. Thus I introduced him to algebra by showing him another proof of the theorem of Pythagoras. In this proof one drops a perpendicular from the right angle on to the hypotenuse, and arguing from the fact that the two triangles thus created are similar to one another and to the original triangle, and that the proportions which their corresponding sides bear to one another are therefore equal, one can show in algebraical form that c2+d2 (the squares on the other two sides) are equal to a2+b2 (the squares on the two segments of the hypotenuse) +2ab; which last, it is easy to show geometrically, is equal to (a+b)2, or the square on the hypotenuse. Guido was as much enchanted by the rudiments of algebra as he would have been if I had given him an engine worked by steam, with a methylated spirit lamp to heat the boiler; more enchanted, perhaps — for the engine would have got broken, and, remaining always itself, would in any case have lost its charm, while the rudiments of algebra continued to grow and blossom in his mind with an unfailing luxuriance. Every day he made the discovery of something which seemed to him exquisitely beautiful; the new toy was inexhaustible in its potentialities.

In the intervals of applying algebra to the second book of Euclid, we experimented with circles; we stuck bamboos into the parched earth, measured their shadows at different hours of the day, and drew exciting conclusions from our observations. Sometimes, for fun, we cut and folded sheets of paper so as to make cubes and pyramids. One afternoon Guido arrived carrying carefully between his small and rather grubby hands a flimsy dodecahedron.

“È tanto bello!” he said, as he showed us his paper crystal; and when I asked him how he had managed to make it, he merely smiled and said it had been so easy. I looked at Elizabeth and laughed. But it would have been more symbolically to the point, I felt, if I had gone down on all fours, wagged the spiritual outgrowth of my os coccyx, and barked my astonished admiration.

It was an uncommonly hot summer. By the beginning of July our little Robin, unaccustomed to these high temperatures, began to look pale and tired; he was listless, had lost his appetite and energy. The doctor advised mountain air. We decided to spend the next ten or twelve weeks in Switzerland. My parting gift to Guido was the first six books of Euclid in Italian. He turned over the pages, looking ecstatically at the figures.

“If only I knew how to read properly,” he said “I’m so stupid. But now I shall really try to learn.”

From our hotel near Grindelwald we sent the child, in Robin’s name, various post cards of cows, Alp-horns, Swiss chalets, edelweiss, and the like. We received no answers to these cards; but then we did not expect answers. Guido could not write, and there was no reason why his father or his sisters should take the trouble to write for him. No news, we took it, was good news. And then one day, early in September, there arrived at the hotel a strange letter. The manager had it stuck up on the glass-fronted notice-board in the hall, so that all the guests might see it, and whoever conscientiously thought that it belonged to him might claim it. Passing the board on the way into lunch, Elizabeth stopped to look at it.

“But it must be from Guido,” she said.

I came and looked at the envelope over her shoulder. It was unstamped and black with postmarks. Traced out in pencil, the big uncertain capital letters sprawled across its face. In the first line was written: AL BABBO DI ROBIN, and there followed a travestied version of the name of the hotel and the place. Round the address bewildered postal officials had scrawled suggested emendations. The letter had wandered for a fortnight at least, back and forth across the face of Europe.

“Al Babbo di Robin. To Robin’s father.” I laughed. “Pretty smart of the postmen to have got it here at all.” I went to the manager’s office, set forth the justice of my claim to the letter and, having paid the fifty-centime surcharge for the missing stamp, had the case unlocked and the letter given me. We went in to lunch.

“The writing’s magnificent,” we agreed, laughing, as we examined the address at close quarters. “Thanks to Euclid,” I added. “That’s what comes of pandering to the ruling passion.” But when I opened the envelope and looked at its contents I no longer laughed. The letter was brief and almost telegraphical in style. “SONO DALLA PADRONA,” it ran, “NON MI PIACE HA RUBATO IL MIO LIBRO NON VOOLIO SUONARE PIU VOQLIO TORNARB A CASA VENOA SUBITO GUIDO.”

“What is it?”

I handed Elizabeth the letter. “That blasted woman’s got hold of him,” I said.

Busts of men in Homburg hats, angels bathed in marble tears extinguishing torches, statues of little girls, cherubs, veiled figures, allegories and ruthlessrealisms — the strangest and most diverse idols beckoned and gesticulated as we passed. Printed indelibly on tin and embedded in the living rock, the brown photographs looked out, under glass, from the humbler crosses, headstones, and broken pillars. Dead ladies in the cubistic geometrical fashions of thirty years ago — two cones of black satin meeting point to point at the waist, and the arms; a sphere to the elbow, a polished cylinder below — smiled mournfully out of their marble frames; the smiling faces, the white hands, were the only recognizably human things that emerged from the solid geometry of their clothes. Men with black moustaches, men with white beards, young clean-shaven men, stared or averted their gaze to show a Roman profile. Children in their stiff best opened wide their eyes, smiled hopefully in anticipation of the little bird that was to issue from the camera’s muzzle, smiled sceptically in the knowledge that it wouldn’t, smiled laboriously and obediently because they had been told to. In spiky Gothic cottages of marble the richer dead privately reposed; through grilled doors one caught a glimpse of pale Inconsolables weeping, of distraught Geniuses guarding the secret of the tomb. The less prosperous sections of the majority slept in communities, close-crowded but elegantly housed under smooth continuous marble floors, whose every flagstone was the mouth of a separate grave.

These continental cemeteries, I thought, as Carlo and I made our way among the dead, are more frightful than ours, because these people pay more attention to their dead than we do. That primordial cult of corpses, that tender solicitude for their material well-being, which led the ancients to house their dead in stone, while they themselves lived between wattles and under thatch, still lingers here; persists, I thought, more vigorously than with us. There are a hundred gesticulating statues here for every one in an English graveyard. There are more family vaults, more “luxuriously appointed” (as they say of liners and hotels) than one would find at home. And embedded in every tombstone there are photographs to remind the powdered bones within what form they will have to resume on the Day of Judgment; beside each are little hanging lamps to burn optimistically on All Soul’s Day. To the Man who built the Pyramids they are nearer, I thought, than we.

“If I had known,” Carlo kept repeating, “if only I had known.” His voice came to me through my reflections as though from a distance. “At the time he didn’t mind at all. How should I have known that he would take it so much to heart afterwards? And she deceived me, she lied to me.”

I assured him yet once more that it wasn’t his fault. Though, of course, it was, in part. It was mine too, in part; I ought to have thought of the possibility and somehow guarded against it. And he shouldn’t have let the child go, even temporarily and on trial, even though the woman was bringing pressure to bear on him. And the pressure had been considerable. They had worked on the same holding for more than a hundred years, the men of Carlo’s family; and now she had made the old man threaten to turn him out. It would be a dreadful thing to leave the place; and besides, another place wasn’t so easy to And. It was made quite plain, however, that he could stay if he let her have the child. Only for a little to begin with; just to see how he got on. There would be no compulsion whatever on him to stay if he didn’t like it. And it would be all to Guido’s advantage; and to his father’s, too, in the end. All that the Englishman had said about his not being such a good musician as he had thought at first was obviously untrue — mere jealousy and little-mindedness: the man wanted to take credit for Guido himself, that was all. And the boy, it was obvious, would learn nothing from him. What he needed was a real good professional master.

All the energy that, if the physicists had known their business, would have been driving dynamos, went into this campaign. It began the moment we were out of the house, intensively. She would have more chance of success, the Signora doubtless thought, if we weren’t there. And besides, it was essential to take the opportunity when it offered itself and get hold of the child before we could make our bid — for it was obvious to her that we wanted Guido just as much as she did.

Day after day she renewed the assault. At the end of a week she sent her husband to complain about the state of the vines: they were in a shocking condition; he had decided, or very nearly decided, to give Carlo notice. Meekly, shamefacedly, in obedience to higher orders, the old gentleman uttered his threats. Next day Signora Bondi returned to the attack. The padrone, she declared, had been in a towering passion; but she’d do her best, her very best, to mollify him. And after a significant pause she went on to talk about Guido.

In the end Carlo gave in. The woman was too persistent and she held too many trump cards. The child could go and stay with her for a month or two on trial. After that, if he really expressed a desire to remain with her, she could formally adopt him.

At the idea of going for a holiday to the seaside — and it was to the seaside, Signora Bondi told him, that they were going — Guido was pleased and excited. He had heard a lot about the sea from Robin. “Tanta acqua!” It had sounded almost too good to be true. And now he was actually to go and see this marvel. It was very cheerfully that he parted from his family.

But after the holiday by the sea was over, and Signora Bondi had brought him back to her town house in Florence, he began to be homesick. The Signora, it was true, treated him exceedingly kindly, bought him new clothes, took him out to tea in the Via Tomabuoni and filled him up with cakes, iced strawberryade, whipped cream, and chocolates. But she made him practise the piano more than he liked, and what was worse, she took away his Euclid, on the score that he wasted too much time with it. And when he said that he wanted to go home, she put him off with promises and excuses and downright lies. She told him that she couldn’t take him at once, but that next week, if he were good and worked hard at his piano meanwhile, next week... And when the time came she told him that his father didn’t want him back. And she redoubled her petting, gave him expensive presents, and stuffed him with yet unhealthier foods. To no purpose. Guido didn’t like his new life, didn’t want to practise scales, pined for his book, and longed to be back with his brothers and sisters. Signora Bondi, meanwhile, continued to hope that time and chocolates would eventually make the child hers; and to keep his family at a distance, she wrote to Carlo every few days letters which still purported to come from the seaside (she took the trouble to send them to a friend, who posted them back again to Florence), and in which she painted the most charming picture of Guido’s happiness.

It was then that Guido wrote his letter to me. Abandoned, as he supposed, by his family — for that they shouldn’t take the trouble to come to see him when they were so near was only to be explained on the hypothesis that they really had given him up — he must have looked to me as his last and only hope. And the letter, with its fantastic address, had been nearly a fortnight on its way. A fortnight — it must have seemed hundreds of years; and as the centuries succeeded one another, gradually, no doubt, the poor child became convinced that I too had abandoned him. There was no hope left.

“Here we are,” said Carlo.

I looked up and found myself confronted by an enormous monument. In a kind of grotto hollowed in the flanks of a monolith of grey sandstone, Sacred Love, in bronze, was embracing a funerary urn. And in bronze letters riveted into the stone was a long legend to the effect that the inconsolable Ernesto Bondi had raised this monument to the memory of his beloved wife, Annunziata, as a token of his undying love for one whom, snatched from him by a premature death, he hoped very soon to join beneath this stone. The first Signora Bondi had died in 1912. I thought of the old man leashed to his white dog; he must always, I reflected, have been a most uxorious husband.

“They buried him here.”

We stood there for a long time in silence. I felt the tears coming into my eyes as I thought of the poor child lying there underground. I thought of those luminous grave eyes, and the curve of that beautiful forehead, the droop of the melancholy mouth, of the expression of delight which illumined his face when he learned of some new idea that pleased him, when he heard a piece of music that he liked. And this beautiful small being was dead; and the spirit that inhabited this form, the amazing spirit, that too had been destroyed almost before it had begun to exist.

And the unhappiness that must have preceded the final act, the child’s despair, the conviction of his utter abandonment — those were terrible to think of, terrible.

“I think we had better come away now,” I said at last, and touched Carlo on the arm. He was standing there like a blind man, his eyes shut, his face slightly lifted towards the light; from between his closed eyelids the tears welled out, hung for a moment, and trickled down his cheeks. His lips trembled and I could see that he was making an effort to keep them still. “Come away,” I repeated.

The face which had been still in its sorrow, was suddenly convulsed; he opened his eyes, and through the tears they were bright with a violent anger. “I shall kill her,” he said, “I shall kill her. When I think of him throwing himself out, falling through the air...” With his two hands he made a violent gesture, bringing them down from over his head and arresting them with a sudden jerk when they were on a level with his breast. “And then crash.” He shuddered. “She’s as much responsible as though she had pushed him down herself. I shall kill her.” He clenched his teeth.

To be angry is easier than to be sad, less painful. It is comforting to think of revenge. “Don’t talk like that,” I said. “It’s no good. It’s stupid. And what would be the point?” He had had those fits before, when grief became too painful and he had tried to escape from it. Anger had been the easiest way of escape. I had had, before this, to persuade him back into the harder path of grief. “It’s stupid to talk like that,” I repeated, and I led him away through the ghastly labyrinth of tombs, where death seemed more terrible even than it is.

By the time we had left the cemetery, and were walking down from San Miniato towards the Piazzale Michelangelo below, he had become calmer. His anger had subsided again into the sorrow from which it had derived all its strength and its bitterness. In the Piazzale we halted for a moment to look down at the city in the valley below us. It was a day of floating clouds — great shapes, white, golden, and grey; and between them patches of a thin, transparent blue. Its lantern level, almost, with our eyes, the dome of the cathedral revealed itself in all its grandiose lightness, its vastness and aerial strength. On the innumerable brown and rosy roofs of the city the afternoon sunlight lay softly, sumptuously, and the towers were as though varnished and enamelled with an old gold. I thought of all the Men who had lived here and left the visible traces of their spirit and conceived extraordinary things. I thought of the dead child.

Two or Three Graces

CONTENTS

  • Two or Three Graces

  • Half-holiday

  • The Monocle

  • Fairy Godmother


The first edition

Two or Three Graces

THE WORD ‘BORE’ is of doubtful etymology. Some authorities derive it from the verb meaning to pierce. A bore is a person who drills a hole in your spirit, who tunnels relentlessly through your patience, through all the crusts of voluntary deafness, inattention, rudeness, which you vainly interpose — through and through till he pierces to the very quick of your being. But there are other authorities, as good or even better, who would derive the word from the French bourrer, to stuff, to satiate. If this etymology be correct, a bore is one who stuffs you with his thick and suffocating discourse, who rams his suety personality, like a dumpling, down your throat. He stuffs you; and you, to use an apposite modern metaphor, are ‘fed up with him.’ I like to think, impossibly, that both these derivations of the word are correct; for bores are both piercers and stuffers. They are like dentists’ drills, and they are also like stale buns. But they are characterized by a further quality, which drills and dough-nuts do not possess; they cling. That is why (though no philologist) I venture to suggest a third derivation, from ‘burr.’ Burr, — bore — all the sticking, stuffing, piercing qualities of boredom are implicit in those three possible etymologies. Each of the “three of them deserves to be correct.

Herbert Comfrey was above all a sticking bore. He attached himself to any one who had the misfortune to come in contact with him; attached himself and could not be shaken off. A burr-bore, vegetable and passive; not actively penetrating. For Herbert, providentially, was not particularly talkative; he was too lazy and lymphatic for that. He was just exceedingly sociable, like a large sentimental dog that cannot bear to be left alone. Like a dog, he followed people about; he lay, metaphorically speaking, at their feet in front of the fire. And like a dog, he did not talk. It was just your company that made him happy; he was quite content if he might trot at your side or doze under your chair. He did not demand that you should pay much attention to him; all that he asked was to be permitted to enjoy the light of your countenance and bask in the warmth of your presence. If once a week he got the equivalent of a pat on the head and a ‘Good dog, Herbert,’ he wagged his spirit’s tail and was perfectly happy.

To some of my friends — the quick, the impatient, the highly strung — poor vegetable Herbert was exasperating to the point of madness. His very virtues — that good nature of his, that placidity, that unshakable fidelity — infuriated them. Even his appearance drove them wild. The sight of his broad smiling face, of his big, lazy, dubberly body and limbs was alone sufficient to set their nerves twittering and jumping like a frightened avary. I have known people who, after living in the same house with Herbert for three days, have secretly packed their trunks, caught the first convenient train, and, leaving no address, nave travelled hundreds of miles in order to escape from him.

To me, poor Herbert was boring indeed, but not exasperatingly or intolerably so. Mine is a patient temper, my nerves are not easily set twittering. I even liked him in a way; he was such a good, faithful, kind old dog. And I soon acquired, in his dumb presence, a knack of quite ignoring him, of regarding him simply as a piece of furniture — so much so, that I sometimes caught myself on the point of carelessly setting down my emptied coffee-cup on his head as he sat on the floor beside me (he always sat on the floor whenever it was possible), or of flicking my cigarette ash into the inviting cranny between his neck and his coat collar.

As boys, Herbert and I had been at the same public school. But as we were in different houses and he was two years older than I (two years, at that age, is an enormous seniority), we had hardly ever spoken to one another. But none the less, it was on the strength of our old school that Herbert reintroduced himself into my life. His return was doubly disastrous. A bore entered my existence and, in the entering, drove out, temporarily at least, a being who, whatever his other qualities, was the very antithesis of boredom.

It was in a café of the Passage du Panorama in Paris that the thing happened. We had been sitting there for an hour, Kingham and. I, talking and drinking vermouth. It was characteristic of Kingham that he did most of both — drinking as well as talking. Characteristic, too, that he should have been abusing me, among many other things, for wasting my time and spirit in precisely these two occupations.

‘You sit about,’ he said, ‘letting every thought in your head trickle out uselessly in talk. Not that there are many thoughts, of course, because you daren’t think. You do anything not to think. You create futile business, you rush about seeing people you don’t like and don’t take the slightest interest in, you drift from bar to bar, you swill till you’re stupefied — all because you daren’t think and can’t bring yourself to make the effort to do something serious and decent. It’s the result partly of laziness, partly of lack of faith — faith in anything. Garçon!’ He ordered another vermouth. ‘It’s the great modern vice,’ he went on, ‘the great temptation of every young man or woman who’s intelligent and acutely conscious. Everything that’s easy and momentarily diverting and anaesthetic tempts — people, chatter, drink, fornication. Everything that’s difficult and big, everything that needs thought and effort, repels. It’s the war that did it. Not to mention the peace. But it would have come gradually in any case. Modern life was making it inevitable. Look at the young people who had nothing to do with the war — were only children when it happened — they’re the worst of all. It’s time to stop, it’s time to do something. Can’t you see that you can’t go on like this? Can’t you see?’

He leaned across the table at me, angrily. He hated these vices which he had attributed to me, hated them with a special fury because they happened really to be his. He was confessing the weakness he hated in himself — hated and could not eradicate.

Kingham looked handsome in anger. He had dark eyes, beautiful and very bright; his hair was dark brown, fine and plentiful: a close-cut beard, redder than his hair, disguised the lower part of his face, with whose pale, young smoothness it seemed curiously incongruous. There was a brilliancy, a vividness about him. If I were less slow to kindle, I should have burned responsively with his every ardour being what I am, I could always remain cool, critical, and cautious, however passionately he might burn. My uninflammableness, I believe, had somehow fascinated him. I exasperated him, but he continued to frequent my company — chiefly to abuse me, to tell me passionately how hopeless I was. I winced under these dissections; for though he often talked, as far as I was concerned, wildly at random (accusing me, as he-had done on this particular occasion, of the weakness which he felt and resented in himself), his analysis was often painfully exact and penetrating. I winced, but all the same I delighted in his company. We irritated one another profoundly; but we were friends.

I suppose I must have smiled at Kingham’s question. Goodness knows, I am no teetotaller, I am not averse to wasting my time over agreeable futilities. But compared with Kingham — particularly the Kingham of 1920 — I am a monument of industry, dutiful steadiness, sobriety. I take no credit to myself for it; I happen to be one of nature’s burgesses, that is all. I am as little capable of leading a perfectly disorderly life as I am of, shall we say, writing a good book. Kingham was born with both talents. Hence the absurdity, so far as I was concerned, of his hortatory question. I did not mean to smile, but some trace of my amusement must have appeared on my face, for Kingham suddenly became most passionately angry, ‘You think it’s a joke?’ he cried, and thumped the marble table. ‘I tell you, it’s the sin against the Holy Ghost. It’s unforgivable. It’s burying your talent. Damn this blasted Bible,’ he added with parenthetic fury. ‘Why is it that one can never talk about anything serious without getting mixed up in it?’

‘It happens to be quite a serious book.’ I suggested.

‘A lot you understand about it,’ said Kingham. ‘I tell you,’ he went on impressively.... But at this moment Herbert made his second entry into my life, I felt a hand laid on my shoulder, looked up, and saw a stranger, ‘Hullo, Wilkes,’ said the stranger. ‘You don’t remember me.’

I looked more attentively, and had to admit that I didn’t.

‘I am Comfrey,’ he explained, ‘Herbert Comfrey. I was at Dunhill’s, don’t you remember? You were at Struthers’, weren’t you? Or was it Lane’s?’

At the names of these pedagogues, who had figured so largely in my boyhood, recesses in my mind, long closed, suddenly burst open, as though before a magical word. Visions of inky schoolrooms, football fields, cricket fields, fives courts, the school chapel, rose up confusedly; and from the midst of this educational chaos there disengaged itself the loutish figure of Comfrey of Dunhill’s.

‘Of course,’ I said, and took him by the hand. Through the corner of my eye, I saw Kingham angrily frowning. ‘How did you remember me?’

‘Oh, I remember every one,’ he answered. It was no vain boast, as I afterwards discovered; he — did remember. He remembered every one he had ever met, and all the trivial incidents of his past life. He had the enormous memory of royal personages and family retainers — the memory of those who never read, or reason, or reflect, and whose minds are therefore wholly free to indulge in retrospect. ‘I never forget a face,’ he added, and without being invited, sat down at our table. indignantly, Kingham threw himself back in his chair. He kicked me under the table. I looked at him and made a little grimace, signifying my helplessness.

I mumbled a perfunctory introduction. Kingham said nothing, only frowned more blackly, as he shook hands with Herbert. And for his part, Herbert was hardly more cordial. True, he smiled his amiable dim smile; but he said nothing, he hardly even looked at Kingham. He was in too much of a hurry to turn back to me and talk about the dear old school. The dear old school — it was the only subject that ever made Herbert really loquacious. It metamorphosed him from a merely vegetable burr-bore into an active, piercing dentist’s drill of tediousness. He had a passion for the school, and thought that all ex-members of it ought to be in constant and friendly communication with one another. I have noticed that, as a general rule, people of decided individuality very rarely continue their schoolboy acquaintanceships into later life. It is only to be expected. The chances that they will have found in the tiny microcosm of school the sort of friends they will like when they are grown up — grown out of recognition — are obviously very small. Coteries whose bond of union consists in the fact that their component members happened to be at the same school at the same time are generally the dreariest of assemblages. It could scarcely be otherwise; men who have no better reasons for associating with one another must be colourless indeed, and insipid. Poor Herbert, who regarded the accident of our having worn similarly striped caps and blazers at a certain period of our boyhood as being a sufficient reason for our entering into a bosom friendship, was only an extreme specimen of the type.

I put on my chilliest and most repellant manner. But in vain. Herbert talked and talked. Did I remember the exciting match against Winchester in 1910? And how poor old Mr. Cutler had been ragged? And that memorable occasion when Pye had climbed on to the roof of the school chapel, at night, and hung a chamber-pot on one of the Gothic pinnacles? Anxiously, I looked towards Kingham. He had exchanged his expression of anger for one of contempt, and was leaning back, his eyes shut, tilting his chair.

Kingham had never been to a public school. He had not had the luck (or the misfortune) to be born a hereditary, professional gentleman. He was proud of the fact, he sometimes even boasted of it. But that did not prevent him from being morbidly sensitive to anything that might be interpreted as a reference to his origin. He was always on the look-out for insults from ‘gentlemen,’ Veiled insults, insults offered unconsciously even, unintentionally, in perfect ignorance — any sort of insult was enough to set him quivering with pain and fury. More than once I had seen him take violent offence at words that were entirely well-intentioned. Would he regard Herbert’s dreary recollections of the dear old school as an insult? He was quite capable of it. I looked forward nervously to an outburst and a violent exit. But the scene, this time, was not to be acted in public. After listening for a few minutes to Herbert’s anecdotage, Kingham got up, excused himself with ironical politeness, and bade us good evening I laid my hand on his arm.

‘Do stay.’

‘A thousand regrets ‘; he laid his hand on his heart, smiled, bowed, and was gone, leaving me (I may add parenthetically that it was his habit) to pay for his drinks.

We public school men were left to ourselves.

The next morning I lay late in bed. At about eleven o’clock Kingham burst into my room. The scene which I had been spared the night before was enacted for me now with redoubled passion. Another man would have slept on the supposed insult and, waking, have found it negligible. Not so Kingham. He had brooded over his wrongs, till what was originally small had grown enormous. The truth was that Kingham liked scenes. He loved to flounder in emotion — his own and other people’s. He was exhilarated by these baths of passion; he felt that he really lived, that he was more than a man, while he splashed about in them. And the intoxication was so delicious that he indulged in it without considering the consequences — or perhaps it would be truer to say that he considered the consequences (for intellectually no man could be clearer-sighted than Kingham) but deliberately ignored them.

When I say that he had a great facility for making scenes, I do not mean to imply that he ever simulated an emotion. He felt genuinely about things — genuinely and strongly, but too easily. And he took pleasure in cultivating and working up his emotions. For instance, what in other men would have been a passing irritation, held in check by self-control, to be modified very likely by subsequent impressions, was converted by Kingham, almost deliberately, into a wild fury which no second thoughts were allowed to assuage. Often these passions were the result of mere mistakes on the part of those who had provoked them. But once emotionally committed, Kingham would never admit a mistake — unless, of course, his passion for self-humiliation happened at the moment to be stronger than his passion for self-assertion. Often, too, he would take up unchanging emotional attitudes towards people. A single powerful impression would be allowed to dominate all other impressions. His intellect was put into blinkers, the most manifest facts were ignored; and until further orders the individual in question produced in Kingham only one particular set of reactions.

As he approached my bed. I could see from the expression on his white face that I was in for a bad quarter of an hour.

‘Well?’ I said, with an affectation of careless cordiality., ‘I always knew you were an intellectual snob,’ Kingham began in a low, intense voice, drawing up a chair to my bedside as he spoke. ‘But really, I thought you were above being an ordinary, suburban, lower middle-class social snob.’

I made the grimace which in French novels is represented by the sign ‘ — ?’

‘I know that my father was a plumber,’ he went on, ‘and that I was educated at the expense of the State and by scholarships for the encouragement of clever paupers. I know I speak Cockney, and not Eton and Oxford. I know that my manners are bad and that I eat dirtily, and that I don’t wash my teeth enough.’ (None of these things were true; but it suited Kingham, at the moment, to believe that they were. He wanted to feel abased, in order that he might react with greater violence. He insulted himself in order that he might attribute the insults, under which he genuinely winced, to me, and so have an excuse for being angry with me.) ‘I know I’m a cad and a little bounder.’ He spoke the words with an extraordinary gusto, as though he enjoyed the pain he was inflicting on himself. ‘I know I’m an outsider, only tolerated for my cleverness. A sort of buffoon or tame monkey for the amusement of cultured gentlemen. I know all this, and I know you knew it. But I really thought you didn’t mind, that we met as human beings, not as specimens of upper and lower classes. I was fool enough to imagine that you liked me in spite of it all. I thought you even preferred me to the people in your own herd. It only shows what an innocent I am. No sooner does a gentleman come along, an old school chum, what?’ (derisively he assumed the public school accent as rendered on the music hall stage) ‘than you fling your arms round his neck and leave the dirty little outsider very definitely outside.’ He laughed ferociously.

‘My good Kingham,’ I began, ‘why will you make a bloody fool of yourself?’

But Kingham, who doubtless knew as well as I did that he was making a fool of himself, only went on with the process more vehemently. He was committed to making a fool of himself, and he liked it. Shifting his ground a little, he began telling me home truths — real home truths this time. In the end, I too began to get angry.

‘I’ll trouble you to get out,’ I said.

‘Oh, I’ve not finished yet.’

‘And stay out till you’ve got over your fit of hysterics. You’re behaving like a girl who needs a husband.’

‘As I was saying,’ Kingham went on in a voice that had become softer, more sinisterly quiet, more poisonously honied in proportion as mine had grown louder and harsher, ‘your great defect is spiritual impotence. Your morality, your art — they’re just impotence organized into systems. Your whole view of life — impotence again. Your very strength, such as it is — your horrible passive resistance — that’s based in impotence too.’

‘Which won’t prevent me from throwing you downstairs if you don’t clear out at once.’ It is one thing to know the truth about oneself; it is quite another thing to have it told one by somebody else. I knew myself a natural bourgeois; but when Kingham told me so — and in his words — it seemed to me that I was learning a new and horribly unpleasant truth.

‘Wait,’ Kingham drawled out with exasperating calm, ‘wait one moment. One more word before I go.’

‘Get out,’ I said. ‘Get out at once.’

There was a knock at the door. It opened. The large, ruddy face of Herbert Comfrey looked round it into the room.

‘ I hope I don’t disturb,’ said Herbert, grinning at us.

‘Oh, not a bit, not a bit,’ cried Kingham. He jumped up, and with an excessive politeness proffered his vacant chair. ‘I was just going. Do sit down. Wilkes was impatiently expecting you. Sit down, do sit down.’ He propelled Herbert towards the chair.

‘Really,’ Herbert began, politely protesting. But Kingham cut him short. ‘And now I leave you two old friends together,’ he said. ‘Good-bye. Good-bye. I’m only sorry I shan’t have an opportunity for saying that last word I wanted to say.’

Cumbrously, Herbert made as though to get up. ‘I’ll go,’ he said. ‘I had no idea.... I’m so sorry.’

But Kingham put his hands on his shoulders and forced him back into the chair. ‘No, no,’ he insisted. ‘Stay where you are. I’m off.’ And picking up his hat, he ran out of the room.

‘Queer fellow,’ said Herbert. ‘Who is he?’ ‘Oh, a friend of mine,’ I answered. My anger had dropped, and I wondered, sadly, whether in calling him a friend I was telling the truth. And to think that, if he were no longer my friend, it was because of this lumpish imbecile sitting by my bed! I looked at Herbert pensively. He smiled at me — a smile that was all good nature. One could not bear a grudge against such a man.

The breach was complete, at any rate for the time; it was more than two years before Kingham and I met again. But if I had lost Kingham, I had acquired Herbert Comfrey — only too completely. From that moment, my life in Paris was no longer my own; I had to share it with Herbert. Being at that moment quite unattached, a dog without a master, he fastened himself to me, taking it ingenuously for granted that I would be just as happy in his company as he was in mine. He established himself in my hotel, and for the rest of my stay in Paris I was almost never alone. I ought, I know, to have been firm with Herbert; I ought to have been rude, told him to go to the devil, kicked him downstairs. But I lacked the heart. I was too kind. (Another symptom of my spiritual impotence! My morality — impotence systematized. I know, I know.) Herbert preyed on me, and, like the Brahman who permits himself, unresistingly, to be devoured by every passing blood-sucker, from mosquitoes to tigers, I suffered him to prey on me. The most I did was occasionally to run away from him. Herbert was, fortunately, a sluggard. The Last Trump would hardly have got him out of bed before ten. When I wanted a day’s freedom, I ordered an eight-o’clock breakfast and left the hotel while Herbert was still asleep. Returning at night from these holidays, I would find him waiting, dog-like, in my room. I always had the impression that he had been waiting there the whole day — from dawn (or what for him was dawn — about noon) to midnight. And he was always so genuinely pleased to see me back that I was almost made to feel ashamed, as though I had committed an act of perfidy. I would begin to apologize and explain. I had had to go out early to see a man about something; and then I had met another man, who had asked me to have lunch with him; and then I had had to go to my dear old friend, Madame Dubois, for tea; after which I had dropped in on Langlois, and we had dined and gone to a concert. In fine, as he could see, I could not have got back a minute earlier.

It was in answer to the reproaches of my own conscience that I made these apologies. Poor Herbert never complained; he was only too happy to see me back. I could not help feeling that his clinging fidelity had established some sort of claim on me, that I was somehow a little responsible for him. It was absurd, of course, unreasonable and preposterous. For why should I, the victim, feel pity for my persecutor? Preposterous; and yet the fact remained that I did feel pity for him. I have always been too tender-hearted, insufficiently ruthless.

The time came for me to return to London. Herbert, who had just enough money to make it unnecessary for him to do anything or to be anywhere at any particular time, packed his bags and got into the same train.

It was a very disagreeable journey; the train was crowded, the sea just choppy enough to make me sick. Coming on deck as we drew into Dover harbour, I found Herbert looking exasperatingly well. If I had not been feeling so ill,’ I should have found an excuse for quarrelling with him. But I had not the requisite energy. Meanwhile, it must be admitted, Herbert made himself very useful about the luggage.

Experience was shortly to teach me that, instead of feeling exasperated with poor Herbert, I ought to have been thankful that he was not far worse. For Herbert, after all, was only a burr-bore, a passive vegetable clinger. I might have been fastened on by one who was actively and piercingly as well as just clingingly boring. Herbert might, for example, have been like his brother-in-law, John Peddley; and then there would have been only three alternatives left me: murder, suicide, exile. I was feeling annoyed with Herbert as we slid slowly across Dover harbour. A few hours later, I had realized that I ought to have been feeling thankful that he was no worse than he was. On Dover quay we met John Peddley.

Peddley was an active bore, the most active, I think, that I ever met; an indefatigable piercer, a relentless stuffier and crammer. He talked incessantly, and his knowledge of uninteresting subjects was really enormous. All that I know of the Swiss banking system, of artificial manures, of the; law relating to insurance companies, of pig-breeding, of the ex-sultan of Turkey, of sugar rationing during the war, and a hundred other similar subjects, is due to Peddley. He was appalling, really appalling, there is no other word I know no human being with whom I would less willingly pass an hour. And yet the man was extremely amiable and full of good qualities. He had a kind heart. He was energetic and efficient. He was even intelligent. One could not listen to his account of insurance companies or artificial manures without realizing that he had completely mastered his subject. Moreover, a successful solicitor, like Peddley, cannot be a fool, at least, that is what those of us who are not solicitors like to believe. What made the man so afflicting was his genius for dulness, his self-assertive pedantry, his voice, his highly developed social instinct, and finally his insensitiveness. His genius for dulness caused him unfailingly to take an interest in the things which interested nobody else, and even when, by some mistake, he embarked on some more promising theme than the Swiss banking system, he had the power of rendering the most intrinsically fascinating of subjects profoundly dull. By a process of inverse alchemy he transmuted the purest gold to lead. His self-assertiveness and a certain pedagogic instinct made him ambitious to be the instructor of his fellows, he loved the sound of his own lecturing voice. And what a voice! Not unmusical, but loud, booming, persistent. It set up strange, nay, positively dangerous vibrations in one’s head I could never listen to it for more than a few minutes without feeling confused and dizzy. If I had had to live with that voice, I believe I should have begun, one day, to turn and turn like those Japanese waltzing mice — for ever Peddley’s voice affected the semi-circular canals. And then there was his sociability. It was a passion, a vice, he could not live without the company of his fellow-beings. It was an agony for him to be alone. He hunted company ferociously, as wild beasts pursue their prey. But the odd thing was that he never seemed to crave for friendship or intimacy. So far as I know, he had no friends, in the ordinarily accepted sense of the term. He desired only acquaintances and auditors, and acquaintances and reluctant auditors were all that he had. In the first period of my acquaintance with Peddley I used to wonder what he did when he felt the need of confiding his intimate and private feelings. Later on I came to doubt whether, at ordinary times, he had any private life that needed talking about. Only very rarely and when something catastrophic had explosively shattered the crust of his public existence, did he ever develop a private life. When things were running smoothly in their regular daily grooves, he lived only on the public surface, at the office, at the club, at his own dinner-table, perfectly content so long as there was somebody present to listen to his talk. It mattered not that his auditors might be listening with manifest and extreme reluctance. Like Herbert — and indeed like most bores — John Peddley was more than half unaware of the people upon whom he inflicted himself. He realized that they were there, physically there, that was all. To their feelings and thoughts he was utterly insensitive. It was this insensitiveness, coupled with his passionate sociability, that gave him his power. He could hunt down his victims and torture them without remorse. The wolf, if he were really sensitive to the feelings of the lamb, might end by turning vegetarian. But he is not sensitive. He is aware only of his own hunger and the deliciousness of mutton. It was the same with John Peddley. Ignorant of the terror which he inspired, of the mental agonies which he inflicted, he could pursue his course relentlessly and with a perfect equanimity. My first impressions of John Peddley were not unfavourable. True, the halloo with which he greeted Herbert from the quay-side, as we were waiting our turn in the shoving crowd of human sheep to pass down the gangway on to dry land, sounded to me, in my present condition, rather distressingly hearty. And his appearance, when Herbert pointed him out to me, offended me by its robustious healthiness. Nor, when Herbert had introduced us, did I much appreciate the vehemence of his handshake and the loud volubility of his expressions of sympathy. But, on the other hand, he was very kind and efficient. He produced a silver flask from his pocket and made me take a swig of excellent old brandy. Noticing that I was chilled and green with cold, he insisted on my putting on his fur coat. He darted to the customhouse and returned, in an incredibly short space of time, with the official hieroglyph duly chalked upon our suit-cases. A minute later we were sitting in his car, rolling briskly out of Dover along the Canterbury road I was feeling, at the time, too ill to think and it hardly occurred to me that the situation was, after all, rather odd. Peddley had been waiting on the quay — but not for us, for we were unexpected. Waiting, then, for whom? The question did propound itself to me at the time, but uninsistently. There was no room in my mind for anything but the consciousness of sea-sickness I forgot to wonder, and took my seat in the car, as though it were the most, natural thing in the world that we should have been met at the quay by somebody who did not know that we were crossing. And the apparent naturalness of the situation was confirmed for me by the behaviour of my companions. For Peddley had taken it for granted from the first that we should come and stay with him at his country house. And Herbert, for whom one place was always just as good as another, had accepted the invitation at once I began by protesting, but feebly, and more out of politeness than in earnest. For it was not essential for me to get back to London that evening, and the prospect of that dismal journey from Dover, of the cab drive in the chill of the night across London, of a home-coming to fireless and deserted rooms, was very dreadful to me. If I accepted Peddley’s invitation, I should find myself in less than half an hour in a warm, comfortable room, at rest and without responsibilities. The temptation to a sea-sick traveller was great, I succumbed ‘Well,’ said Peddley heartily, in his loud, trombone-like voice, ‘well, this is luck’ He brought down his hand with a tremendous dap on to my knee, as though he were patting a horse ‘The greatest luck! Think of running into you and Herbert at the gangway! And carrying you off like this! Too delightful, too delightful’

I was warmed by his gladness, it seemed so genuine. And genuine it was — the genuine gladness of an ogre who has found a chubby infant straying alone in the woods ‘Extraordinary,’ Peddley went on, ‘how many acquaintances one meets at Dover quay I come every day, you know, when I’m staying in the country, every day, to meet the afternoon boat. It’s a great resource when one’s feeling dull. All the advantages of a London club in the country. And there’s always time for a good chat before the train starts. That’s what makes me like this district of Kent so much. I’m trying to persuade my landlord to sell me the house. I’ve nearly coaxed him, I think.’

‘And then,’ said Herbert, who had a way of occasionally breaking his habitual silence with one of those simple and devastatingly judicious reflections which render children so dangerous in polite, adult society, ‘and then you’ll find that every one will be travelling by aeroplane. You’ll have to sell the house and move to Croydon, near the aerodrome’ But Peddley was not the man to be put out by even the most terrible of terrible infants. Wrapped in his insensitiveness, he was not so much as aware of the infant’s terribleness.

‘Pooh!’ he retorted ‘I don’t believe in aeroplanes. They’ll never be safe or cheap or comfortable enough to compete with the steamers. Not in our day.’ And he embarked on a long discourse about helicopters and gyroscopes, air pockets and the cost of petrol.

Meanwhile, I had begun to wonder, in some alarm, what manner of man this kind, efficient, hospitable host of mine could be. A man who, on his own confession, drove into Dover every afternoon to meet the packet, who waylaid sea-sick acquaintances and had good chats with them while they waited for the train, and who so much loved his afternoon diversions at the quay-side that he felt moved to refute in serious, technical argument the prophet of aerial travel. Decidedly, a strange, a dangerous man. And his voice, meanwhile, boomed and boomed in my ears till I felt dizzy with the sound of it. Too late, it occurred to me that it might have been better if I had faced that dreary journey, that chilly drive, that icy and inhospitable home-coming to empty rooms too late.

I discovered afterwards that Peddley’s holidays were always spent at railway junctions, frontier towns and places of international resort, where he was likely to find a good supply of victims. For week-ends, Whitsun and Easter, he had his country house near Dover At Christmas time he always took a week or ten days on the French Riviera. And during the summer he simultaneously satisfied his social passions and his passion for mountain scenery by taking up some strategic position on the Franco-Swiss, Italo-French, or Swiss-Italian frontier, where he could go for walks in the hills and, in the intervals, meet the trans-continental trains. One year he would take his family to Pontarlier, another to Valorbes, another to Modane, another to Brigue, another to Chiasso. In the course of a few years he had visited all the principal frontier towns in the mountainous parts of central and southern Europe. He knew the best seasons for each Valorbes, for example, had to be visited early in the season. It was in July and at the beginning of August that the greatest number of English people passed through on their way to Switzerland. When he had seen them on their homeward way at the end of August, Peddley would move on for a fortnight’s stay to one of the. Italian frontier towns, so as to catch the September tourists on their way to Florence or Venice. His favourite haunt at this season was Modane. There are lots of good walks round Modane, and the principal trains wait there for two and a half hours Rosy with healthful exercise, Peddley would come striding down at the appointed hour to meet the express. The victim was marked down, caught, and led away to the station buffet. For the next two hours Peddley indulged in what he called ‘a really good chat’ Peddley’s circle of acquaintanceship was enormous. There was his legal practice, to begin with, that brought him into professional contact with a great variety of people. Then there were his clubs, he was a member of three or four, which he frequented assiduously. And, finally, there was his own constantly hospitable dinner-table, it is astonishing what even the richest men will put up with for the sake of a good free meal. He was on talking terms with hundreds, almost thousands, of his fellows. It was not to be wondered at if he often spied familiar faces in the Modane custom-house. But there were many days, of course, when nobody of his acquaintance happened to be going South. On these occasions Peddley would seek out some particularly harassed - looking stranger and offer his assistance. The kindness, so far as Peddley was concerned, was entirely wholehearted, he was not conscious of the wolf concealed beneath his sheep’s clothing. He just felt a desire to be friendly and helpful and, incidentally, chatty. And helpful he certainly was. But in the buffet, when the ordeal of the custom-house was over, the stranger would gradually come to the conclusion, as he listened to Peddley’s masterly exposition of the financial policy of Sweden, that he would have preferred, on the whole, to face the rapacious porters and the insolent douaniers alone and unassisted.

John Peddley had not yet enumerated all his reasons for supposing that aeroplanes would never cut out the cross-channel steamers, when we reached our destination ‘Ah, here we are,’ he said, and opened the door for me to get out ‘But as I was saying,’ he added, turning back to Herbert, ‘the great defect of gyroscopes is their weight and the excessive rigidity they give to the machine. Now I grant you, my dear boy.’

But I forget what he granted. All I remember is that he was still granting it when we entered the drawing-room, where Mrs Peddley was sitting with her children.

From the first, I found Grace Peddley charming. Positively and actively charming. And yet she was Herbert’s own sister and in many respects very like him. Which only shows (what, after all, is sufficiently obvious) that we are prepared to tolerate “and even admire in persons of the opposite sex qualities which infuriate us when we meet with them in persons of our own I found Herbert a bore because he was mentally blank and vague, because he was without initiative, because he attached himself and clung. But Grace, whose character was really very similar to Herbert’s, charmed me, in spite, or perhaps even because, of these qualities which made me rank her brother among the minor calamities of my existence.

But it is not only the moral and mental qualities of our fellow-beings that inspire our love or hate I should not, I am sure, have found Herbert so deplorable if he had been smaller and less cumbrous, less clumsy of body. He was altogether too much the lubber fiend for my taste Physically, Grace displayed little resemblance to her brother. She was tall, it is true, but slim and light of movement Herbert was thick, shambling and leaden-footed. In a heavy, large-featured way, Herbert was not unhandsome. He had a profile, his nose and chin were Roman and positively noble. At a distance you might mistake him for some formidable Caesarean man of action. But when you came close enough to see his eyes and read the expression on that large pretentious face, you perceived that, if Roman, he was the dullest and blankest Roman of them all.

Grace was not in the least imposing or classical. You could never, at however great a distance, have mistaken her for the mother of the Gracchi. Her features were small and seemed, somehow, still indefinite, like the features of a child. A lot of dark red-brown hair which, at that epoch, when fashion still permitted women to have hair, she wore looped up in a couple of spirally coiled plaits over either ear, emphasized the pallor of that childish face. A pair of very round, wide-open grey eyes looked out from under the hair with an expression of slightly perplexed ingenuousness. Her face was the face of a rather ugly but very nice little girl. And when she smiled, she was suddenly almost beautiful Herbert smiled in the same way — a sudden smile, full of kindness and good nature. It was that smile of his that made it impossible, for me at any rate, to treat him with proper ruthlessness. In both of them, brother and sister, if was a singularly dim and helpless goodness that expressed itself in that smile — a gentle, inefficient kindliness that was tinged, in Herbert’s case, with a sort of loutish rusticity. He was a bumpkin even in his goodness Grace’s smile was dim, but expressive at the same time of a native refinement which Herbert did not possess. They were brother and sister, but hers was a soul of better, more aristocratic birth.

It was in her relations with her children that the inefficiency of Grace’s benevolence revealed itself most clearly in practice. She loved them, but she didn’t know what to do with them or how to treat them. It was lucky for her — and for the children too — that she could afford to keep nurses and governesses. She could never have brought her children up by herself. They would either have died in infancy, or, if they had survived the first two years of unpunctual and hopelessly unhygienic feeding, would have grown up into little savages. As it was, they had been well brought up by professional child-tamers, were healthy and, except towards their mother, beautifully behaved. Their mother, however, they regarded as a being of another species — a lovely and eminently adorable being, but not serious, like nurse or Miss Phillips, not really grown up, more than half a child, and what wasn’t child, mostly fairy. Their mother was the elfin being who permitted or even herself suggested the most fantastic bleaches of all the ordinary rules. It was she, for example, who had invented the sport of bathing, in summertime, under the revolving sprinkler which watered the lawn. It was she who had first suggested that excellent game, so strenuously disapproved of by Miss Phillips, nurse and father, of biting your slice of bread, at dinnertime, into the shape of a flower or a heart, a little bridge, a letter of the alphabet, a triangle, a railway engine. They adored her, but they would not take her seriously, as a person in authority, it never even occurred to them to obey her ‘You’re a little girl,’ I once heard her four-year-old daughter explaining to her ‘You’re a little girl, mummy Miss Phillips is an old lady.’

Grace turned her wide, perplexed eyes in my direction ‘You see,’ she said despairingly, yet with a kind of triumph, as though she were conclusively proving a disputed point, ‘you see! What can I do with them?’

She couldn’t do anything. When she was alone with them, the children became like little wild beasts.

‘But, children,’ she would protest, ‘children! You really mustn’t’ But she knew that she might as well have expostulated with a litter of grizzly bears.

Sometimes, when the protest was more than ordinarily loud and despairing, the children would look up from their absorbing mischief and reassuringly smile to her. ‘It’s all right, mummy,’ they would say ‘It’s quite all right, you know.’

And then, helplessly, their mother would give it up.

In Herbert I found this helpless inefficiency intolerable. But the ineptitude of his sister had a certain style, even her clumsiness was somehow graceful. For clumsy she was. When it came to sewing, for example, her fingers were all thumbs. She had quite given up trying to sew when I first knew her. But she still regarded it as part of her maternal duty to knit warm mufflers — she never attempted anything more complicated than a muffler — for the children. She knitted very slowly, painfully concentrating her whole attention on the work in hand until, after a few minutes, exhausted by the mental strain, she was forced, with a great sigh, to give up and take a little rest. A muffler took months to finish. And when it was finished, what an extraordinary object it was! A sort of woollen fishing-net.

‘Not quite right, I’m afraid,’ Grace would say, holding it out at arm’s length ‘Still,’ she added, cocking her head on one side and half closing her eyes, as though she were looking at a pointillliste picture, ‘it isn’t bad, considering.’

Secretly, she was very proud of these mufflers, proud with the pride of a child who has written its first letter or embroidered on canvas its first kettle-holder, with practically no help at all from nurse. It still seemed to her extraordinary that she could do things all by herself, unassisted.

This graceful ineptitude of hers amused and charmed me.. True, if I had had to marry it, I might not have found it quite so enchanting, if only for the reason that I should never have been able to afford a sufficiency of servants and child-tamers to counteract its effects on domestic, daily life. Nor, I am afraid, would the absurd charm of her intellectual vagueness have survived a long intimacy. For how vague, how bottomlessly vague she was! For example, she was quite incapable — and no experience could teach her — of realizing the value of money. At one moment she was lavishly extravagant, would spend pounds as though they were pence. The next, overvaluing her money as wildly as she had undervalued it, she would grudge every penny spent on the first necessities of life. Poor Peddley would sometimes come home from his office to find that there was nothing for dinner but lentils. Another man would have been violently and explosively annoyed, but Peddley, whose pedagogic passions were more powerful than his angel, only made a reasoned expostulation in the shape of a discourse on the meaning of money and the true nature of wealth, followed by a brief lecture on dietetics and the theory of calories Grace listened attentively and with humility. But try as she would, she could never remember a word of what he had said, or rather she remembered, partially, but remembered all wrong. The phrases which Peddley had built up into a rational discourse, Grace rearranged in her mind so as to make complete nonsense. It was the same with what she read. The arguments got turned upside down. The non-essential facts were vividly remembered, the essential forgotten. Dates were utterly meaningless to her. Poor Grace! she was painfully conscious of her inefficiency of mind, she longed above everything to be learned, authoritative, capable. But though she read a great number of serious books — and read them with genuine pleasure, as well as on principle — she could never contrive to be well read. Inside her head everything got muddled. It was as though her mind were inhabited by some mischievous imp which delighted in taking to pieces the beautifully composed mosaics of learning and genius, and resetting the tesserae (after throwing a good many of them away) in the most fantastic and ludicrous disorder.

The consciousness of these defects made her particularly admire those who were distinguished by the opposite and positive qualities. It was this admiration, I am sure, which made her Peddley’s wife. She was very young when he fell in love with her and asked her to marry him — eighteen to his thirty-four or thereabouts — very young and (being fresh from school, with its accompaniment of examination failures and pedagogic reproaches) more than ordinarily sensitive to her own shortcomings and to the merits of those unlike herself Peddley made his entry into her life. The well-documented accuracy of his knowledge of artificial manures and the Swiss banking system astonished her. True, she did not feel a passionate interest in these subjects, but for that she blamed herself, not him. He seemed to her the personification of learning and wisdom — omniscient, an encyclopaedia on legs.

It is not uncommon for schoolgirls to fall in love with their aged professors. It is the tribute paid by youth — by flighty, high-spirited, but passionately earnest youth — to venerable mind Grace was not lucky. The most venerable mind with which, at eighteen, she had yet come into contact was Peddley’s Peddley’s! She admired, she was awed by what seemed to her the towering, Newtonian intellect of the man. And when the Newtonian intellect laid itself at her feet, she felt at first astonished — was it possible that he, Peddley, the omniscient, should abase himself before one who had failed three times, lgnominiously, in the Cambridge Locals? — then flattered and profoundly grateful. Moreover, Peddley, unlike the proverbial professor, was neither grey-bearded nor decrepit. He was in the prime of life, extremely active, healthy, and energetic, good-looking, too, in the ruddy, large-chinned style of those Keen Business Men one sees portrayed in advertisements and the illustrations of magazine stories. Quite inexperienced in these matters, she easily persuaded herself that her gratitude and her schoolgirl’s excitement were the genuine passion of the novels. She imagined that she was in love with him. And it would have mattered little, in all probability, if she had not Peddley’s tireless courtship would have ended infallibly by forcing her to surrender. There was no strength in Grace, she could be bullied into anything. In this case, however, only a very little bullying was necessary. At his second proposal, she accepted him. And so, in 1914, a month or two before the outbreak of war, they were married.

A marriage which began with the war might have been expected to be a strange, unusual, catastrophic marriage. But for the Peddleys, as a matter of fact, the war had next to no significance, it did not touch their life. For the first year John Peddley made Business as Usual his motto. Later, after being rejected for active service on account of his short sight, he enrolled himself as a temporary bureaucrat, was highly efficient in a number of jobs, had managed, when the medical boards became stricter, to make himself indispensable, as a sugar rationer, and ended up with an O B E.

Grace, meanwhile, lived quietly at home and gave birth, in three successive years, to three children. They kept her occupied, the war, for her, was an irrelevance. She witnessed neither its tragedies, nor its feverish and sordid farces. She knew as little of apprehension, suspense, grief, as she knew of the reckless extravagances, the intoxications, the too facile pleasures, the ferocious debaucheries which ran parallel with the agonies, which mingled and alternated with them. Ineffectually, Grace nursed her babies, she might have been living in the eighteenth century.

At the time I knew her first Grace had been married about six years. Her eldest child was five years old, her youngest about two Peddley, I judged, was still in love with her — in his own way, that is. The wild passion which had hurried him into a not very reasonable marriage, a passion mainly physical, had subsided. He was no longer mad about Grace, but he continued to find her eminently desirable. Habit, moreover, had endeared her to him, had made her indispensable, it had become difficult for him to imagine an existence without her. But for all that, there was no intimacy between them. Possessing, as I have said, no private life of his own, Peddley did not understand the meaning of intimacy. He could give no confidences and therefore asked for none. He did not know what to do with them when they came to him unasked I do not know if Grace ever tried to confide in him, if so, she must soon have given it up as a bad job. One might as well have tried to confide into a gramophone, one might whisper the most secret and sacred thoughts into the trumpet of the machine, but there came back only a loud booming voice that expounded the financial policy of Sweden, food control, or the law relating to insurance companies — it depended which particular record out of the large, but still limited repertory, happened at the moment to be on the turn table. In the spiritual home of the Peddleys there was only a bedroom and a lecture-room — no sentimental boudoir for confidences, no quiet study pleasantly violated from time to time by feminine intrusion. Nothing between the physical intimacies of the bedroom and the impersonal relations of pupil and sonorously braying professor in the reverberant lecture-hall. And then, what lectures!

Grace, who still believed in the intellectual eminence of her husband, continued to blame herself for finding them tedious. But tedious they were to her, that was a fact she could not deny. Long practice had taught her to cultivate a kind of mental deafness Peddley’s discourses no longer got on her nerves, because she no longer heard them I have often seen her sitting, her wide eyes turned on Peddley with an expression, apparently, of rapt attention, seeming to drink in every word he uttered. It was so she must have sat in those first months of her marriage, when she really did listen, when she still tried her hardest to be interested and to remember correctly. Only in those days, I fancy, there can never have been quite so perfect a serenity on her face. There must have been little frowns of concentration and agonizingly suppressed yawns. Now there was only an unruffled calm, the calm of complete and absolute abstraction.

I found her out on the very first evening of our acquaintance John Peddley, who must have been told (I suppose by Herbert) that I was interested, more or less professionally, in music, began, in my honour, a long description of the mechanism of pianolas I was rather touched by this manifest effort to make me feel spiritually at home, and, though I was dizzied by the sound of his voice, made a great show of being interested in what he was saying. In a pause, while Peddley was helping himself to the vegetables (what a blessing it was to have a moment’s respite from that maddening voice!), I turned to Grace and asked her politely, as a new guest should, whether she were as much interested in pianolas as her husband. She started, as though I had woken her out of sleep, turned on me a “pair of blank, rather frightened eyes, blushed scarlet.

‘As much interested as John in what?’ she asked ‘Pianolas.’

‘Oh, pianolas’ And she uttered the word in a puzzled, bewildered tone which made it quite clear that she had no idea that pianolas had been the subject of conversation for at least the last ten minutes ‘Pianolas?’ she repeated almost incredulously. And she had seemed so deeply attentive.

I admired her for this power of absenting herself, for being, spiritually, not there I admired, but I also pitied. To have to live in surroundings from which it was necessary, in mere self-preservation, to absent oneself — that was pitiable indeed.

Next morning, assuming an invalid’s privilege, I had breakfast in bed. By the time I came down from my room, Peddley and Herbert had set out for a hearty walk I found Grace alone, arranging flowers. We exchanged good-mornings. By the expression of her face, I could see that she found my presence rather formidable. A stranger, a high-brow, a musical critic — what to say to him? Courageously doing her duty, she began to talk to me about Bach. Did I like Bach? Didn’t I think he was the greatest musician? I did my best to reply, but somehow, at that hour of the morning, there seemed to be very little to say about Bach. The conversation began to droop.

‘And the Well-Tempered Clavichord,’ she went on desperately ‘What lovely things in that!’

‘And so useful for torturing children who learn the piano,’ I replied, as desperately. Facetiousness, the last resort.

But my words had touched a chord in Grace’s mind ‘Torture,’ she said ‘That’s the word I remember when I was at school.’

And there we were, happily launched at last upon an interesting, because a personal, subject Grace was as fond of her dear old school as Herbert was of his. But, with the rest of her sex, she had a better excuse for her fondness. For many women, the years spent in that uncomplicated, companionable, exciting, purely feminine world, which is the world of school, are the happiest of their lives Grace was one of them. She adored her school, she looked back on her schooldays as on a golden age True, there had been Cambridge. Locals and censorious mistresses, but on the other hand, there had been no Peddley, no annual child-bearing, no domestic responsibilities, no social duties, no money to be too lavish or too stingy with, no servants. She talked with enthusiasm, and I listened with pleasure.

An hour and a half later, when the bores came back, red-faced and ravenous, from their walk, we were sorry to be interrupted I had learned a great many facts about Grace’s girlhood I knew that she had had an unhappy passion for the younger of the visiting music mistresses, that one of her friends had received a love-letter from a boy of fifteen, beginning ‘I saw a photograph of you in the Sketchy walking in the Park with your mother. Can I ever forget it?’ I knew that she had had mumps for five weeks, that she had climbed on the roof by moonlight in pyjamas, that she was no good at hockey. From time to time most of us feel a need, often urgent and imperious, to talk about ourselves. We desire to assert our personalities, to insist on a fact which the world about us seems in danger of forgetting — the fact that we exist, that we are we. In some people the desire is so chronic and so strong, that they can never stop talking about themselves. Rather than be silent, they will pour out the most humiliating and discreditable confidences Grace was afflicted by no such perverse and extravagant longings, there was nothing of the exhibitionist in her. But she did like, every now and then, to have a good talk about her soul, her past history, her future. She liked to talk, and she too rarely had an opportunity. In me she found a sympathetic listener and commentator. By the end of the morning she was regarding me as an old friend. And I, for my part, had found her charming. So charming, indeed, that for Grace’s sake I was prepared to put up even with John Peddley’s exposition of the law regarding insurance companies.

Within a few weeks of our first introduction we were finding it the most natural thing in the world that we should be constantly meeting. We talked a great deal, on these occasions, about ourselves, about Life and about Love — subjects which can be discussed with the fullest pleasure and profit only between persons of opposite sexes. On none of these three topics, it must be admitted, did Grace have very much of significance to say. She had lived very little and loved not at all, it was impossible, therefore, that she should know herself. But it was precisely this ignorance and her ingenuous, confident expression of it that charmed me.

‘I feel I’m already old,’ she complained to me ‘Old and finished. Like those funny straw hats and leg-of-mutton sleeves in the bound volumes of the Illustrated London News,’ she added, trying to make her meaning clearer for me I laughed at her ‘You’re absurdly young,’ I said, ‘and you haven’t begun.’

She shook her head and sighed. When we talked about love, she professed a sad, middle-aged scepticism ‘People make a most ridiculous fuss about it’

‘Rightly.’

‘But it’s not worth making a fuss about,’ she insisted ‘Not in reality. Not outside of books.’

‘Isn’t it?’ I said ‘You’ll think differently,’ I told her, ‘when you’ve waited two or three hours for somebody who hasn’t turned up, when you can’t sleep for wondering where somebody’s been and with whom, and you want to cry — yes, you do cry — and you feel as though you were just going to have influenza.’

‘Ah, but that isn’t love,’ Grace retorted sententiously, in the tone of one who has some private and certain source of information ‘What is it, then?’

‘ It’s’ Grace hesitated and suddenly blushed, ‘it’s well, it’s physical.’

I could not help laughing, uproariously Grace was vexed ‘Well, isn’t it true?’ she insisted obstinately.

‘Perfectly,’ I had to admit ‘But why isn’t that love?’ I added, hoping to elicit Grace’s views on the subject. She let me have them. They were positively Dantesque I can only suppose that Peddley’s ardours had left her cold, disgusted even. But Life and Love were not our only topics Grace’s ignorance and my own native reticence made it impossible for us to discuss these themes with any profit for very long at a stretch. In the intervals, like John Peddley, I played the pedagogic part. Through casual remarks of mine, Grace suddenly became aware of things whose very existence had previously been unknown to her — things like contemporary painting and literature, young music, new theories of art. It was a revelation. All her efforts, it seemed to her, all her strivings towards culture had been wasted. She had been laboriously trying to scale the wrong mountain, to force her way into the wrong sanctuary. At the top, if she had ever reached it, within the holy of holies, she would have found — what? a grotesque and moth-eaten collection of those funny little straw hats and leg-of-mutton sleeves from the bound volumes of the Illustrated London News. It was dreadful, it was humiliating. But now she had caught a glimpse of another sanctuary, upholstered by Martine, enriched by the offerings of the Poirets and Lanvins of the spirit, a modish, modern sanctuary, a fashionable Olympus. She was eager to climb, to enter.

Acting the part of those decayed gentlewomen who, for a consideration, introduce parvenus into good society, I made Grace acquainted with all that was smartest and latest in the world of the spirit I gave her lessons in intellectual etiquette, warned her against aesthetic gaffes. She listened attentively, and was soon tolerably at home in the unfamiliar world — knew what to say when confronted by a Dada poem, a picture by Picasso, a Schoenberg quartet, an Archipenko sculpture.

I was working, at that period, as a musical critic, and two or three times a week I used to take Grace with me to my concerts. It did not take me long to discover that she had very little feeling for music and no analytical understanding of it. But she professed, hypocritically, to adore it. And as it bored me most excruciatingly to have to go by myself to listen to second-rate pianists playing the same old morsels of Liszt and Chopin, second-rate contraltos fruitily hooting Schubert and Brahms, second-rate fiddlers scraping away at Tartini and Wiemawski, I pretended to believe in Grace’s enthusiasm for the musical art and took her with me to all the most painful recitals. If the hall were empty — which, to the eternal credit of the music-loving public, it generally was — one could get a seat at the back, far away from the other sparsely sprinkled auditors, and talk very pleasantly through the whole performance. At first, Grace was terribly shocked when, after listening judicially to the first three bars of Du fast wie eine Blume or the Trillo del Diavolo, I opened a conversation. She herself had a very perfect concert-goer’s technique, and listened with the same expression of melancholy devotion, as though she were in church, to every item on the programme. My whispered chatter seemed to her sacrilegious. It was only when I assured her, professionally and ex cathedra, that the stuff wasn’t worth listening to, that she would consent, albeit with considerable misgivings in the early days of our concert-going, to take her part in the conversation. In a little while, however, she grew accustomed to the outrage, so much so, that when the music or the performance happened to be good (a little detail which Grace was not sufficiently musical to notice) it was I who had to play the verger’s part and hush her sacrilegious chatter in a place suddenly made holy. She learned in the end to take her cue from me — to look devout when I looked devout, to chatter when I chattered.

Once, rather maliciously, I put on my raptest expression while some maudlin incompetent was pounding out Rachmaninoff. After a quick glance at me through the tail of her eye, Grace also passed into ecstasy, gazing at the pianist as St. Theresa might have gazed at the uplifted Host. When the ordeal was over, she turned on me a pair of bright, shining eyes.

‘Wasn’t that splendid?’ she said. And such is the power of self-suggestion, that she had genuinely enjoyed it ‘I thought it the most revolting performance I ever listened to,’ was my answer.

Poor Grace turned fiery red, the tears came into her eyes, to hide them from me, she averted her face ‘I thought it very good,’ she insisted, heroically ‘But of course I’m no judge.’

‘Oh, of course it wasn’t as bad as all that,’ I made haste to assure her. ‘One exaggerates, you know’ The sight of her unhappy face had made me feel profoundly penitent I had meant only to make mild fun of her, and I had managed somehow to hurt her, cruelly I wished to goodness that I had never played the stupid trick. It was a long time before she completely forgave me.

Later, when I knew her better, I came to understand why it was that she had taken my little clownery so hardly. Rudely and suddenly, my joke had shattered one of those delightful pictures of herself which Grace was for ever fancifully creating and trying to live up to. What had been a joke for me had been, for her, a kind of murder Grace was a born visualizer I discovered, for example, that she had what Galton calls a ‘number form’ When she had to do any sort of arithmetical calculation, she saw the figures arranged in space before her eyes. Each number had its own peculiar colour and its own position in the form. After a hundred the figures became dim, that was why she always found it so difficult to work in large numbers. The difference between three thousand, thirty thousand, and three hundred thousand was never immediately apparent to her, because in the case of these large numbers she could see nothing, they floated indistinctly on the blurred fringes of her number form. A million, however, she saw quite clearly, its place was high up, to the left, above her head, and it consisted of a huge pile of those envelopes they have at banks for putting money in — thousands and thousands of them, each marked with the word MILLION in large black letters. All her mental processes were a succession of visual images, and these mental pictures were so vivid as to rival in brightness and definition the images she received through her eyes. What she could not visualize, she could not think about.

I am myself a very poor visualizer I should find it very difficult, for example, to describe from memory the furniture in my room I know that there are so many chairs, so many tables, doors, bookshelves and so on, but I have no clear mental vision of them. When I do mental arithmetic, I see no coloured numbers. The word Africa does not call up in my mind, as Grace assured me once that it always did in hers, a vision of sand with palm trees and lions. When I make plans for the future, I do not see myself, as though on the stage, playing a part in imaginary dramas I think without pictures, abstractly and in the void. That is why I cannot pretend to write with complete understanding of the workings of Grace’s mind. The congenitally deaf are not the best judges of music I can only guess, only imaginatively reconstruct.

From what I gathered in conversation with her, I imagine that Grace was in the habit of vividly ‘seeing herself’ in every kind of situation. Some of these situations had no relation to her actual life, were the purely fantastic and hypothetical situations or daydreams. Others were real, or at any rate potentially real, situations. Living her life, she saw herself living it, acting in the scenes of the flat quotidian drama a very decided and definite part. Thus, when she went for a walk in the country, she saw herself walking — a female mountaineer for tireless strength and energy. When she accompanied Peddley on his annual expeditions to the Riviera, she saw herself as she climbed into the wagon lit, or swam along the Promenade des Anglais, as an immensely rich and haughty milady, envied by the canaille, remote and star-like above them. On certain socially important occasions at home, a similar character made its appearance I saw the milady once or twice during the first months of our acquaintanceship. Later on the milady turned into a very Parisian, very twentieth-cum-eighteenth-century grande dame. But of that in its place.

Grace was much assisted in these visualizations of herself by her clothes. In the costume which she donned for a two-mile walk in Kent she might have crossed the Andes. And in all her garments, for every occasion, one noticed the same dramatic appropriateness. It was a pity that she did not know how to change her features with her clothes. Her face, whether she lolled along the sea-fronts of the Riviera or addressed herself, in brogues, short skirts, and sweaters to the ascent of some Kentish hillock, was always the same — the face of a rather ugly but very nice little girl, a face that opened on to the world through large, perplexed eyes, and that became, from time to time, suddenly and briefly beautiful with a dim benevolence when she smiled Grace’s visions of herself were not merely momentary and occasional. There was generally one predominating character in which she saw herself over considerable periods of time. During the first four years of her marriage, for example, she had seen herself predominantly as the housewife and mother. But her manifest incapacity to act either of these parts successfully had gradually chilled her enthusiasm for them. She wanted to run the house, she saw herself tinkling about with keys, giving orders to the maids, but, in practice, whenever she interfered with the rule of her masterful old cook, everything went wrong. She loved her children, she pictured them growing up, healthy and good, under her influence, but they were always sick when she fed them, they behaved like beasts when she tried to make them obey. To one who tried to see herself as the complete, the almost German matron, it was not encouraging. By the time her last child was born, she had practically abandoned the attempt. From the first, the baby had been handed over, body and soul, to the nuises. And except when she was seized with a financial panic and forbade the ordering of anything but lentils, she let the old cook have her way. When I first met her, Grace was not seeing herself continuously in any one predominating rôle. Punctured by sharp experience, the matron had flattened out and collapsed, and the matron had had, so far, no successor. Left without an imaginary character to live up to, Grace had relapsed into that dim characterlessness which in her, as in Herbert, seemed to be the natural state. She still saw herself vividly enough in the separate, occasional incidents of her life — as the mountain climber, as the rich and haughty milady. But she saw no central and permanent figure in whose life these incidents of mountaineering and opulently visiting the Riviera occurred. She was a succession of points, so to speak not a line.

Her friendship with me was responsible for the emergence into her consciousness of a new permanent image of herself. She discovered in my company a new rôle, not so important, indeed, not so rich in potentialities as that of the matron, but still a leading lady’s part. She had been so long without a character that she eagerly embraced the opportunity of acquiring one, however incongruous. And incongruous it was, this new character, odd and eminently unsuitable Grace had come to see herself as a musical critic.

It was our concert-going — our professional concert-going — that had done it. If I had happened not to be a journalist, if we had paid for admission instead of coming in free on my complimentary tickets, it would never have occurred to her to see herself as a critic. Simple mortals, accustomed to pay for their pleasures, are always impressed by the sight of a free ticket. The critic’s jus primae nocits seems to them an enviable thing. Sharing the marvellous privilege, Grace came to feel that she must also share the judicial duties of a critic. She saw herself distributing praise and blame — a rapturous listener when the performance was worth listening to, a contemptuous chatterer when it wasn’t. Identifying herself with me — not the real but an ideal exalted me — she pictured herself as the final arbiter of musical reputations. My malicious little practical joke had thrown down this delightful image of herself. The critic had suddenly been murdered.

At the time I did not understand why poor Grace should have been so deeply hurt. It was only in the light of my later knowledge that I realized what must have been her feelings. It was only later, too, that I came to understand the significance of that curious little pantomime which she used regularly to perform as we entered a concert hall. That languid gait with which she strolled across the vestibule, dragging her feet with a kind of reluctance, as though she were on boring business, that sigh, that drooping of the eyelids as she stood, patiently while the attendant looked at my tickets, that air, when we were in the concert-room, of being perfectly at home, of owning the place (she used, I remember, to put her feet up on the seat in front), and that smile of overacted contempt, that wearily amused smile with which she used (once she had got over the idea that she was committing a sacrilege) to respond, during a bad performance, to my whispered chatter — these were the gait, the bored patience, the possessive at-homeness, the contempt of a hardened critic.

And what a quantity of music she bought at this time and never played! How many volumes of musical criticism and biography she took out of the library! And the grave pronouncements she used to make across the dinner-table!— ‘Beethoven was the greatest. of them all,’ and so on in the same style I understood it all afterwards. And the better I understood, the more I regretted my cruel little joke. As the critic, she had been so happy. My joke destroyed that happiness. She became diffident and self-conscious, got actor’s fright, and though I never repeated the jest, though I always encouraged her, after that, to believe in her musicianship, she could never whole-heartedly see herself in the part again.

But what a poor part, at the best of times, the critic’s was! It was too dry, too intellectual and impersonal to be really satisfying. That it lay within my power to provide her with a much better rôle — the guilty wife’s — I do not and did not at the time much doubt. True, when I knew her first Grace was a perfectly virtuous young woman. But her virtue was founded on no solid principle — on a profound love for her husband, for example, or on strong religious prejudices. It was not a virtue that in any way involved her intimate being. If she happened to be virtuous, it was more by accident than on principle or from psychological necessity. She had not yet had any occasion for not being virtuous, that was all. She could have been bullied or cajoled into infidelity as she had been bullied and cajoled by Peddley into marriage Grace floated vaguely on the surface of life without compass or destination, one had only to persuade her that adultery was Eldorado, and she would have shaped her course forthwith towards that magical shore. It was just a question of putting the case sufficiently speciously. She still retained, at this time, the prejudices of her excellent upper middle-class upbringing, but they were not very deeply rooted. Nothing in Grace was so deeply rooted that it could not quite easily be eradicated.

I realized these facts at the time. But I did not try to take advantage of them. The truth is that, though I liked Grace very much, I was never urgently in love with her. True, one can very agreeably and effectively act the part of the ‘lover,’ in the restricted and technical sense of that term, without being wildly in love. And if both parties could always guarantee to keep their emotions in a state of equilibrium, these little sentimental sensualities would doubtless be most exquisitely diverting. But the equilibrium can never be guaranteed. The balanced hearts begin sooner or later, almost inevitably, to tilt towards love or hatred. In the end, one of the sentimental sensualities turns into a passion — whether of longing or disgust it matters not — and then, farewell to all hope of tranquillity I should be chary of saying so in Kingham’s presence, but the fact remains that I like tranquillity. For me, the love-game, without love, is not worth the candle. Even as a mere hedonist I should have refrained. And I had other scruples — scruples which an overmastering passion might have overridden, but which were sufficient to keep a mere mild sensuality in check I was never Grace’s lover, neither genuinely, by right of passion, nor technically by the accident of physical possession. Never her lover. An ironic fate had reserved for me a less glorious part — the part, not of the lover, but of the introducer of lovers. All unintentionally, I was to play benevolent Uncle Pandarus to Grace’s Cressida. And there were two Troiluses.

The first of them was no less — or shouldn’t I rather say ‘no more’? for how absurdly his reputation was exaggerated! — than Clegg, the Clegg, Rodney Clegg, the painter I have known Clegg for years and liked him, in a way — liked him rather as one likes Grock, or Little Tich, or the Fratellini as a comic spectacle. This is not the best way of liking people, I know. But with Rodney it was the only way. You had either to like him as a purveyor of amusement, or dislike him as a human being. That, at any rate, was always my experience I have tried hard to get to know and like him intimately — off the stage, so to speak. But it was never any good. In the end, I gave up the attempt once and for all, took to regarding him quite frankly as a music-hall comedian, and was able, in consequence, thoroughly to enjoy his company. Whenever I feel like a tired business man, I go to see Rodney Clegg.

Perhaps, as a lover, Rodney was somehow different from his ordinary self. Perhaps he dropped his vanity and his worldliness. Perhaps he became unexpectedly humble and unselfish, forgot his snobbery, craved no longer for cheap successes and, for love, thought the world well lost. Perhaps. Or more probably, I am afraid, he remained very much as he always was, and only in Grace’s eyes seemed different from the Rodney whose chatter and little antics diverted the tired business man in me. Was hers the correct vision of him, or was mine? Neither, I take it. It must have been in the spring of 1921 that I first took Grace to Rodney’s studio. For her, the visit was an event, she was about to see, for the first time in her life, a famous man. Particularly famous at the moment, it happened, for Rodney was very much in the papers that season. There had been a fuss about his latest exhibition. The critics, with a fine contemptuous inaccuracy, had branded his pictures as post-impressionistic, cubistic, futuristic, they threw any brick-bat that came to hand. And the pictures had been found improper as well as disturbingly ‘modern’ Professional moralists had been sent by the Sunday papers to look at them, they came back boiling with professional indignation Rodney was delighted, of course. This was fame — and a fame, moreover, that was perfectly compatible with prosperity. The outcry of the professional moralists did not interfere with his sales. He was doing a very good business.

Rodney’s conversion to ‘modern art,’ instead of ruining him, had been the source of increased profit and an enhanced notoriety. With his unfailing, intuitive knowledge of what the public wanted, he had devised a formula which combined modernity with the more appealing graces of literature and pornography. Nothing, for example, could have been less academic than his nudes. They were monstrously elongated, the paint was laid on quite flatly, there was no modelling, no realistic light and shade, the human form was reduced to a paper silhouette. The eyes were round black boot-buttons, the nipples magenta berries, the lips vermilion hearts, the hair was represented by a collection of crinkly black lines. The exasperated critics of the older school protested that a child of ten could have painted them. But the child of ten who could have painted such pictures must have been an exceedingly perverse child. In comparison, Freud’s Little Hans would have been an angel of purity. For Rodney’s nudes, however unrealistic, were luscious and voluptuous, were even positively indecent. What had distressed the public in the work of the French post-impressionists was not so much the distortion and the absence of realism as the repellant austerity, the intellectual asceticism, which rejected the appeal both of sex and of the anecdote Rodney had supplied the deficiencies. For these engagingly luscious nudities of his were never represented in the void, so to speak, but in all sorts of curious and amusing situations — taking tickets at railway stations, or riding bicycles, or sitting at cafés with negro jazz-bands in the background, drinking crème de menthe. All the people who felt that they ought to be in the movement, that it was a disgrace not to like modern art, discovered in Rodney Clegg, to their enormous delight, a modern artist whom they could really and honestly admire. His pictures sold like hot cakes.

The conversion to modernism marked the real beginning of Rodney’s success. Not that he had been unknown or painfull) poor before his conversion. A man with Rodney’s social talents, with Rodney’s instinct for popularity, could never have known real obscurity or poverty. But all things are relative, before his conversion, Rodney had been obscurer and poorer than he deserved to be — He knew no duchesses, no millionaires, then, he had no deposit at the bank — only a current account that swelled and ebbed capriciously, like a mountain stream. His conversion changed all that.

When Grace and I paid our first visit, he was already on the upward path.

‘I hope he isn’t very formidable,’ Grace said to me, as we were making our way to Hampstead to see him. She was always rather frightened by the prospect of meeting new people.

I laughed ‘It depends what you’re afraid of,’ I said ‘Of being treated with high-brow haughtiness, or losing your virtue I never heard of any woman who found him formidable in the first respect’

‘Oh, that’s all right, then,’ said Grace looking relieved. Certainly, there was nothing very formidable in Rodney’s appearance. At the age of thirty-five he had preserved (and he also cultivated with artful care) the appearance of a good-looking boy. He was small and neatly made, slim, and very agile in his movements. Under a mass of curly brown hair, which was always in a state of picturesque and studied untidiness, his face was like the face of a lively and impertinent cherub. Smooth, rounded, almost unlined, it still preserved its boyish contours (There were always pots and pots of beauty cream on his dressing-table ) His eyes were blue, bright and expressive. He had good teeth, and when he smiled two dimples appeared in his cheeks. He opened the studio door himself. Dressed in his butcher’s blue overalls, he looked charming. One’s instinct was to pat the curly head and say. ‘Isn’t he too sweet! Dressed up like that, pretending to be a workman!’ Even I felt moved to make some such gesture. To a woman, a potential mother of chubby children, the temptation must have been almost irresistible.

Rodney was very cordial ‘Dear old Dick!’ he said, and patted me on the shoulder I had not seen him for some months, he had spent the winter abroad ‘What a delight to see you!’ I believe he genuinely liked me I introduced him to Grace. He kissed her hand ‘Too charming of you to have come. And what an enchanting ring’ he added, looking down again at her hand, which he still held in his own ‘Do, please, let me look at it.’

Grace smiled and blushed with pleasure as she gave it him ‘I got it in Florence,’ she said ‘I’m so glad you like it.’

It was certainly a charming piece of old. Italian jewellery. Sadly I reflected that I had known Grace intimately for more than six months and never so much as noticed the ring, far less made any comment on it. No wonder that I had been generally unlucky in love.

We found the studio littered with specimens of Rodney’s latest artistic invention. Naked ladies in brown boots leading borzoi dogs, tenderly embracing one another in the middle of a still-life of bottles, guitars and newspapers (the old familiar modern still-life rendered acceptable to the great public and richly saleable by the introduction of the equivocal nudes), more naked ladies riding on bicycles (Rodney’s favourite subject, his patent, so to say), playing the concertina, catching yellow butterflies in large green nets Rodney brought them out one by one. From her arm-chair in front of the easel, Grace looked at them, her face wore that rapt religious expression which I had so often noticed in the concert-room ‘Lovely,’ she murmured, as canvas succeeded canvas, ‘too lovely.’

Looking at the pictures, I reflected with some amusement that, a year before, Rodney had been painting melodramatic crucifixions in the style of Tiepolo. At that time he had been an ardent Christian.

‘Art can’t live without religion,’ he used to say then ‘We must get back to religion’ And with his customary facility Rodney had got back to it. Oh, those pictures! They were really shocking in their accomplished insincerity. So emotional, so dramatic, and yet so utterly false and empty. The subjects, you felt, had been apprehended as a cinema producer might apprehend them, in terms of ‘effectiveness’ There were always great darknesses and tender serene lights, touches of vivid colour and portentous silhouettes. Very ‘stark,’ was what Rodney’s admirers used to call those pictures, I remember. They were too stark by half for my taste Rodney set up another canvas on the easel ‘I call this “The Bicycle made for Two,” he said.

It represented a negress and a blonde with a Chinese white skin, riding on a tandem bicycle against a background of gigantic pink and yellow roses. In the foreground, on the right, stood a plate of fruit, tilted forward towards the spectator, in the characteristic ‘modern’ style. A greyhound trotted along beside the bicycle.

‘Really too’ began Grace ecstatically. But finding no synonym for ‘lovely,’ the epithet which she had applied to all the other pictures, she got no further, but made one of those non-committal laudatory noises, which are so much more satisfactory than articulate speech, when you don’t know what to say to an artist about his works. She looked up at me ‘Isn’t it really?’ she asked.

‘Yes, absolutely’ I nodded my affirmation. Then, rather maliciously, ‘Tell me, Rodney,’ I said, ‘do you still paint religious pictures? I remember a most grandiose. Descent from the Cross you were busy on not so long ago.’

But my malice was disappointed Rodney was not in the least embarrassed by this reminder of the skeleton in his cupboard. He laughed.

‘Oh, that? he said ‘I painted it over. Nobody would buy. One cannot serve God and Mammon’ And he laughed again, heartily, at his own witticism.

It went into his repertory at once, that little joke. He took to introducing the subject of his religious paintings himself, in order to have an opportunity of bringing out the phrase, with a comical parody of clerical unction, at the end of his story. In the course of the next few weeks I heard him repeat it, in different assemblages, three or four times ‘God and Mammon,’ he chuckled again ‘Can’t be combined.’

‘Only goddesses and Mammon,’ I suggested, nodding in the direction of his picture. Later, I had the honour of hearing my words incorporated into Rodney’s performance. He had a wonderfully retentive memory ‘Precisely,’ he said ‘Goddesses, I’m happy to say, of a more popular religion. Are you a believer, Mrs Peddley?’ He smiled at her, raising his eyebrows ‘I am — fervently I’m croyant and’ (he emphasized the ‘and’ with arch significance) ‘pratiquant’ Grace laughed rather nervously, not knowing what to answer ‘Well, I suppose we all are,’ she said. She was not accustomed to this sort of gallantry.

Rodney smiled at her more impertinently than ever ‘How happy I should be,’ he said, ‘if I could make a convert of you!’ Grace repeated her nervous laugh and, to change the subject, began to talk about the pictures.

We sat there for some time, talking, drinking tea, smoking cigarettes I looked at my watch, it was half-past six I knew that Grace had a dinner-party that evening.

‘We shall have to go,’ I said to her ‘You’ll be late for your dinner’

‘Good heavens!’ cried Grace, when she heard what the time was. She jumped up ‘must fly Old Lady Wackerbath — imagine if I kept her waiting!’ She laughed, but breathlessly, and she had gone quite pale with anticipatory fright.

‘Stay, do stay,’ implored Rodney ‘Keep her waiting’

‘I daren’t’

‘But, my dear lady, you’re young,’ he insisted, ‘you have the right — I’d say the duty, if the word weren’t so coarse and masculine — to be unpunctual. At your age you must do what you like. You see, I’m assuming that you like being here,’ he added parenthetically.

She returned his smile ‘Of course.’

‘Well then, stay, do what you like, follow your caprices. After all, that’s what you’re there for’ Rodney was very strong on the Eternal Feminine.’

Grace shook her head ‘Good-bye I’ve loved it so much.’

Rodney sighed, looked sad and slowly shook his head ‘If you’d loved it as much as all that,’ he said, ‘as much as I’ve loved it, you wouldn’t be saying good-bye. But if you must’ He smiled seductively, the teeth flashed, the dimples punctually appeared. He took her hand, bent over it and tenderly kissed it ‘You must come again,’ he added ‘Soon And,’ turning to me with a laugh, and patting my shoulder, ‘without old Dick’

‘ He’s frightfully amusing, isn’t he?’ Grace said to me a minute later when we had left the studio.

‘Frightfully,’ agreed, laying a certain emphasis on the adverb.

‘And really,’ she continued, ‘most awfully nice, I thought.’

I made no comment ‘And a wonderful painter,’ she added. All at once I felt that I detested Rodney Clegg I thought of my own sterling qualities of mind and heart, and it seemed to me outrageous, it seemed to me scandalous and intolerable that people, that is to say women in general, and Grace in particular, should be impressed and taken in and charmed by this little middle-aged charlatan with the pretty boy’s face and the horribly knowing, smart, impertinent manner. It seemed to me a disgrace I was on the point of giving vent to my indignation, but it occurred to me, luckily, just in time that I should only be quite superfluously making a fool of myself if I did. Nothing is more ridiculous than a scene of jealousy, particularly when the scene is made by somebody who has no right to make it and on no grounds whatever I held my tongue. My indignation against Rodney died down, I was able to laugh at myself. But driving southward through the slums of Camden Town, I looked attentively at Grace and found her more than ordinarily charming, desirable even I would have liked to tell her so and, telling, kiss her. But I lacked the necessary impudence, I felt diffident of my capacity to carry the amorous undertaking through to a successful issue I said nothing, risked no gesture. But I decided, when the time should come for us to part, that I would kiss her hand. It was a thing I had never done before. At the last moment, however, it occurred to me that she might imagine that, in kissing her hand, I was only stupidly imitating Rodney Clegg I was afraid she might think that his example had emboldened me. We parted on the customary handshake. Four or five weeks after our visit to Rodney’s studio, I went abroad for a six months’ stay in France and Germany. In the interval, Grace and Rodney had met twice, the first time in my flat, for tea, the second at her house, where she had asked us both to lunch Rodney was brilliant on both occasions. A little too brilliant indeed — like a smile of false teeth, I thought. But Grace was dazzled. She had never met any one like this before. Her admiration delighted Rodney.

‘Intelligent woman,’ was his comment, as we left her house together after lunch. A few days later I set out for Paris ‘You must promise to write,’ said Grace in a voice full of sentiment when I came to say good-bye.

I promised, and made her promise too I did not know exactly why we should write to one another or what we should write about, but it seemed, none the less, important that we should write. Letter-writing has acquired a curious sentimental prestige which exalts it, in the realm of friendship, above mere conversation, perhaps because we are less shy at long range than face to face, because we dare to say more in written than in spoken words.

It was Grace who first kept her promise.

‘MY DEAR DICK,’ she wrote ‘Do you remember what you said about Mozart? That his music seems so gay on the surface — so gay and careless, but underneath it is sad and melancholy, almost despairing I think life is like that, really. Everything goes with such a bustle, but what’s it all for? And how sad, how sad it is! Now you mustn’t flatter yourself by imagining that I feel like this just because you happen to have gone away — though as a matter of fact I am sorry you aren’t here to talk about music and people and life and so forth. No, don’t flatter yourself, because I’ve really felt like this for years, almost forever. It’s, so to speak, the bass of my music, this feeling, it throbs along all the time, regardless of what may be happening in the treble. Jigs, minuets, mazurkas, Blue Danube waltzes, but the bass remains the same. This isn’t very good counterpoint, I know, but you see what I mean? The children have just left me, yelling Phyllis has just smashed that hideous Copenhagen rabbit Aunt Eleanor gave me for Christmas. I’m delighted, of course, but I mayn’t say so. And in any case, why must they always act such knockabouts? Sad, sad. And Lecky’s. History of European Morals, that’s sadder still. It’s a book I can never find my place in Page 100 seems exactly the same as page 200 No clue. So that — you know how conscientious I am — I always have to begin again at the beginning. It’s very discouraging I haven’t the spirit to begin again, yet again, this evening I write to you instead. But in a moment I must go and dress for dinner John’s partner is coming, surely no man has a right to be so bald. And Sir Walter Magellan, who is something at the Board of Trade and makes jokes, with Lady.

M — , who’s so affectionate. She has a way. of kissing me, suddenly and intently, like a snake striking. And she spits when she talks. Then there’s Molly Bone, who’s so n