By Aldous Huxley CHAPTER I.
Along this particular stretch of line no express had ever passed. All the trains–the few that
there were–stopped at all the stations. Denis knew the names of those stations by heart.
Bole, Tritton, Spavin Delawarr, Knipswich for Timpany, West Bowlby, and, finally, Camlet-on-the-Water.
Camlet was where he always got out, leaving the train to creep indolently onward, goodness
only knew whither, into the green heart of England. They were snorting out of West Bowlby
now. It was the next station, thank Heaven. Denis took his chattels off the rack and piled
them neatly in the corner opposite his own. A futile proceeding. But one must have something
to do. When he had finished, he sank back into his
seat and closed his eyes. It was extremely hot. Oh, this journey! It was two hours cut
clean out of his life; two hours in which he might have done so much, so much–written
the perfect poem, for example, or read the one illuminating book. Instead of which his
gorge rose at the smell of the dusty cushions against which he was leaning. Two hours. One
hundred and twenty minutes. Anything might be done in that time. Anything. Nothing. Oh,
he had had hundreds of hours, and what had he done with them? Wasted them, spilt the
precious minutes as though his reservoir were inexhaustible.
Denis groaned in the spirit, condemned himself utterly with all his works. What right had
he to sit in the sunshine, to occupy corner seats in third-class carriages, to be alive?
None, none, none. Misery and a nameless nostalgic distress possessed him. He was twenty-three,
and oh! so agonizingly conscious of the fact. The train came bumpingly to a halt. Here was
Camlet at last. Denis jumped up, crammed his hat over his eyes, deranged his pile of baggage,
leaned out of the window and shouted for a porter, seized a bag in either hand, and had
to put them down again in order to open the door. When at last he had safely bundled himself
and his baggage on to the platform, he ran up the train towards the van.
“A bicycle, a bicycle!” he said breathlessly to the guard. He felt himself a man of action.
The guard paid no attention, but continued methodically to hand out, one by one, the
packages labelled to Camlet. “A bicycle!” Denis repeated. “A green machine, cross-framed,
name of Stone. S-T-O-N-E.� “All in good time, sir,” said the guard soothingly. He
was a large, stately man with a naval beard. One pictured him at home, drinking tea, surrounded
by a numerous family. It was in that tone that he must have spoken to his children when
they were tiresome. “All in good time, sir.� Denis’s man of action collapsed, punctured.
He left his luggage to be called for later, and pushed off on his bicycle. He always took
his bicycle when he went into the country. It was part of the theory of exercise. One
day one would get up at six o’clock and pedal away to Kenilworth, or Stratford-on-Avon–anywhere.
And within a radius of twenty miles there were always Norman churches and Tudor mansions
to be seen in the course of an afternoon’s excursion. Somehow they never did get seen,
but all the same it was nice to feel that the bicycle was there, and that one fine morning
one really might get up at six. Once at the top of the long hill which led up from Camlet
station, he felt his spirits mounting. The world, he found, was good. The far-away
blue hills, the harvests whitening on the slopes of the ridge along which his road led
him, the treeless sky-lines that changed as he moved–yes, they were all good. He was
overcome by the beauty of those deeply embayed combes, scooped in the flanks of the ridge
beneath him. Curves, curves: he repeated the word slowly, trying as he did so to find some
term in which to give expression to his appreciation. Curves–no, that was inadequate. He made a
gesture with his hand, as though to scoop the achieved expression out of the air, and
almost fell off his bicycle. What was the word to describe the curves of
those little valleys? They were as fine as the lines of a human body, they were informed
with the subtlety of art… Galbe. That was a good word; but it was French. Le galbe evase
de ses hanches: had one ever read a French novel in which that phrase didn’t occur? Some
day he would compile a dictionary for the use of novelists. Galbe, gonfle, goulu: parfum,
peau, pervers, potele, pudeur: vertu, volupte. But he really must find that word. Curves
curves…Those little valleys had the lines of a cup moulded round a woman’s breast; they
seemed the dinted imprints of some huge divine body that had rested on these hills. Cumbrous
locutions, these; but through them he seemed to be getting nearer to what he wanted.
Dinted, dimpled, wimpled–his mind wandered down echoing corridors of assonance and alliteration
ever further and further from the point. He was enamoured with the beauty of words. Becoming
once more aware of the outer world, he found himself on the crest of a descent. The road
plunged down, steep and straight, into a considerable valley. There, on the opposite slope, a little
higher up the valley, stood Crome, his destination. He put on his brakes; this view of Crome was
pleasant to linger over. The facade with its three projecting towers rose precipitously
from among the dark trees of the garden. The house basked in full sunlight; the old brick
rosily glowed. How ripe and rich it was, how superbly mellow!
And at the same time, how austere! The hill was becoming steeper and steeper; he was gaining
speed in spite of his brakes. He loosed his grip of the levers, and in a moment was rushing
headlong down. Five minutes later he was passing through the gate of the great courtyard. The
front door stood hospitably open. He left his bicycle leaning against the wall and walked
in. He would take them by surprise. End of chapter
CHAPTER II. He took nobody by surprise; there was nobody
to take. All was quiet; Denis wandered from room to empty room, looking with pleasure
at the familiar pictures and furniture, at all the little untidy signs of life that lay
scattered here and there. He was rather glad that they were all out; it was amusing to
wander through the house as though one were exploring a dead, deserted Pompeii. What sort
of life would the excavator reconstruct from these remains; how would he people these empty
chambers? There was the long gallery, with its rows of respectable and (though, of course,
one couldn’t publicly admit it) rather boring Italian primitives, its Chinese sculptures,
its unobtrusive, dateless furniture. There was the panelled drawing-room, where
the huge chintz-covered arm-chairs stood, oases of comfort among the austere flesh-mortifying
antiques. There was the morning-room, with its pale lemon walls, its painted Venetian
chairs and rococo tables, its mirrors, its modern pictures. There was the library, cool,
spacious, and dark, book-lined from floor to ceiling, rich in portentous folios. There
was the dining-room, solidly, portwinily English, with its great mahogany table, its eighteenth-century
chairs and sideboard, its eighteenth-century pictures–family portraits, meticulous animal
paintings. What could one reconstruct from such data?
There was much of Henry Wimbush in the long gallery and the library, something of Anne,
perhaps, in the morning-room. That was all. Among the accumulations of ten generations
the living had left but few traces. Lying on the table in the morning-room he saw his
own book of poems. What tact! He picked it up and opened it. It was what the reviewers
call “a slim volume.” He read at hazard: “…But silence and the topless dark Vault in the
lights of Luna Park; And Black pool from the nightly gloom Hollows a bright tumultuous
tomb.� He put it down again, shook his head, and sighed. “What genius I had
then!” he reflected, echoing the aged Swift. It was nearly six months since the book had
been published; he was glad to think he would never write anything of the same sort again.
Who could have been reading it, he wondered? Anne, perhaps; he liked to think so. Perhaps,
too, she had at last recognized herself in the Hamadryad of the poplar sapling; the slim
Hamadryad whose movements were like the swaying of a young tree in the wind. “The Woman who
was a Tree” was what he had called the poem. He had given her the book when it came out,
hoping that the poem would tell her what he hadn’t dared to say. She had never referred
to it. He shut his eyes and saw a vision of her in a red velvet cloak,
Swaying into the little restaurant where they sometimes dined together in London–three
quarters of an hour late, and he at his table, haggard with anxiety, irritation, hunger.
Oh, she was damnable! It occurred to him that perhaps his hostess might be in her boudoir.
It was a possibility; he would go and see. Mrs. Wimbush’s boudoir was in the central
tower on the garden front. A little staircase cork-screwed up to it from the hall. Denis
mounted, tapped at the door. “Come in.� Ah, she was there; he had rather hoped she
wouldn’t be. He opened the door. Priscilla Wimbush was lying on the sofa. A blotting-pad
rested on her knees and she was thoughtfully sucking the end of a silver pencil.
“Hullo,” she said, looking up. “I’d forgotten you were coming.� “Well, here I am, I’m
afraid,” said Denis deprecatingly. “I’m awfully sorry.� Mrs. Wimbush laughed. Her voice,
her laughter, were deep and masculine. Everything about her was manly. She had a large, square,
middle-aged face, with a massive projecting nose and little greenish eyes, the whole surmounted
by a lofty and elaborate coiffure of a curiously improbable shade of orange. Looking at her,
Denis always thought of Wilkie Bard as the cantatrice. “That’s why I’m going to Sing
in op’ra, sing in op’ra, Sing in op-pop-pop-pop-pop-popera.� Today she was wearing a purple silk dress
with a high collar and a row of pearls. The costume, so richly dowagerish, so suggestive
of the Royal Family, made her look more than ever like something on the Halls. “What have
you been doing all this time?” she asked. “Well,” said Denis, and he hesitated, almost
voluptuously. He had a tremendously amusing account of London and its doings all ripe
and ready in his mind. It would be a pleasure to give it utterance. “To begin with,” he
said… But he was too late. Mrs. Wimbush’s question had been what the grammarians call
rhetorical; it asked for no answer. It was a little conversational flourish, a gambit
in the polite game. “You find me busy at my horoscopes,” she said, without even being
aware that she had interrupted him. A little pained, Denis decided to reserve
his story for more receptive ears. He contented himself, by way of revenge, with saying “Oh?”
rather icily. “Did I tell you how I won four hundred on the Grand National this year?�
“Yes,” he replied, still frigid and mono-syllabic. She must have told him at least six times.
“Wonderful, isn’t it? Everything is in the Stars. In the Old Days, before I had the Stars
to help me, I used to lose thousands. Now”�she paused an instant–“well, look at that four
hundred on the Grand National. That’s the Stars.� Denis would have liked to hear more
about the Old Days. But he was too discreet and, still more, too shy to ask.
There had been something of a bust up; that was all he knew. Old Priscilla–not so old
then, of course, and sprightlier–had lost a great deal of money, dropped it in handfuls
and hatfuls on every race-course in the country. She had gambled too. The number of thousands
varied in the different legends, but all put it high. Henry Wimbush was forced to sell
some of his Primitives–a Taddeo da Poggibonsi, an Amico di Taddeo, and four or five nameless
Sienese–to the Americans. There was a crisis. For the first time in his life Henry asserted
himself, and with good effect, it seemed. Priscilla’s gay and gadding existence had
come to an abrupt end. Nowadays she spent almost all her time at
Crome, cultivating a rather ill-defined malady. For consolation she dallied with New Thought
and the Occult. Her passion for racing still possessed her, and Henry, who was a kind-hearted
fellow at bottom, allowed her forty pounds a month betting money. Most of Priscilla’s
days were spent in casting the horoscopes of horses, and she invested her money scientifically,
as the stars dictated. She betted on football too, and had a large notebook in which she
registered the horoscopes of all the players in all the teams of the League. The process
of balancing the horoscopes of two elevens one against the other was a very delicate
and difficult one. A match between the Spurs and the Villa entailed
a conflict in the heavens so vast and so complicated that it was not to be wondered at if she sometimes
made a mistake about the outcome. “Such a pity you don’t believe in these things, Denis,
such a pity,� said Mrs. Wimbush in her deep, distinct voice. “I can’t say I feel it so.�
“Ah, that’s because you don’t know what it’s like to have faith. You’ve no idea how amusing
and exciting life becomes when you do believe. All that happens means something; nothing
you do is ever insignificant. It makes life so jolly, you know. Here am I at Crome. Dull
as ditchwater, you’d think; but no, I don’t find it so.
I don’t regret the Old Days a bit. I have the Stars…” She picked up the sheet of paper
that was lying on the blotting-pad. “Inman’s horoscope,” she explained. “(I thought I’d
like to have a little fling on the billiards championship this autumn.) I have the Infinite
to keep in tune with,” she waved her hand. “And then there’s the next world and all the
spirits, and one’s Aura, and Mrs. Eddy and saying you’re not ill, and the Christian Mysteries
and Mrs. Besant. It’s all splendid. One’s never dull for a moment. I can’t think how
I used to get on before–in the Old Days. Pleasure–running about, that’s all it was;
just running about. Lunch, tea, dinner, theatre, supper every day. It was fun, of course, while
it lasted. But there wasn’t much left of it afterwards.
There’s rather a good thing about that in Barbecue-Smith’s new book. Where is it?�
She sat up and reached for a book that was lying on the little table by the head of the
sofa. “Do you know him, by the way?” she asked. “Who?� “Mr. Barbecue-Smith.� Denis knew
of him vaguely. Barbecue-Smith was a name in the Sunday papers. He wrote about the Conduct
of Life. He might even be the author of “What a Young Girl Ought to Know”. “No, not personally,”
he said. “I’ve invited him for next week-end.” She turned over the pages of the book. “Here’s
the passage I was thinking of. I marked it. I always mark the things I like.”
Holding the book almost at arm’s length, for she was somewhat long-sighted, and making
suitable gestures with her free hand, she began to read, slowly, dramatically. “‘What
are thousand pound fur coats, what are quarter million incomes?’� She looked up from the
page with a histrionic movement of the head; her orange coiffure nodded portentously. Denis
looked at it, fascinated. Was it the Real Thing and henna, he wondered, or was it one
of those Complete Transformations one sees in the advertisements? “‘What are Thrones
and Sceptres?’� The orange Transformation–yes, it must be a Transformation–bobbed up again.
“‘What are the gaieties of the Rich, the splendours of the Powerful, what is the pride of the
Great, what are the gaudy pleasures of High Society?’� The voice, which had risen in
tone, questioningly, from sentence to sentence, dropped suddenly and boomed reply. “‘They
are nothing. Vanity, fluff, dandelion seed in the wind, thin vapours of fever. The things
that matter happen in the heart. Seen things are sweet, but those unseen are a thousand
times more significant. It is the unseen that counts in Life.’� Mrs. Wimbush lowered the
book. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” she said. Denis preferred not to hazard an opinion, but uttered
a non-committal “H’m.” “Ah, it’s a fine book this, a beautiful book,”
said Priscilla, as she let the pages flick back, one by one, from under her thumb. “And
here’s the passage about the Lotus Pool. He compares the Soul to a Lotus Pool, you know.”
She held up the book again and read. “‘A Friend of mine has a Lotus Pool in his garden. It
lies in a little dell embowered with wild roses and eglantine, among which the nightingale
pours forth its amorous descant all the summer long. Within the pool the Lotuses blossom,
and the birds of the air come to drink and bathe themselves in its crystal waters…’
Ah, and that reminds me,” Priscilla exclaimed, shutting the book with a clap and uttering
her big profound laugh–” that reminds me of the things that have been
going on in our bathing-pool since you were here last. We gave the village people leave
to come and bathe here in the evenings. You’ve no idea of the things that happened.� She
leaned forward, speaking in a confidential whisper; every now and then she uttered a
deep gurgle of laughter. “…mixed bathing…saw them out of my window…sent for a pair of
field-glasses to make sure…no doubt of it…” The laughter broke out again. Denis laughed
too. Barbecue-Smith was tossed on the floor. “It’s time we went to see if tea’s ready,”
said Priscilla. She hoisted herself up from the sofa and went swishing off across the
room, striding beneath the trailing silk. Denis followed her, faintly humming to himself:
“That’s why I’m going to Sing in op’ra, sing in op’ra, Sing in op-pop-pop-pop-popera.�
And then the little twiddly bit of accompaniment at the end: “ra-ra.”
End of chapter CHAPTER III.
The terrace in front of the house was a long narrow strip of turf, bounded along its outer
edge by a graceful stone balustrade. Two little summer-houses of brick stood at either end.
Below the house the ground sloped very steeply away, and the terrace was a remarkably high
one; from the balusters to the sloping lawn beneath was a drop of thirty feet. Seen from
below, the high unbroken terrace wall, built like the house itself of brick, had the almost
menacing aspect of a fortification–a castle bastion, from whose parapet one looked out
across airy depths to distances level with the eye. Below, in the foreground, hedged
in by solid masses of sculptured yew trees, lay the stone-brimmed swimming-pool.
Beyond it stretched the park, with its massive elms, its green expanses of grass, and, at
the bottom of the valley, the gleam of the narrow river. On the farther side of the stream
the land rose again in a long slope, chequered with cultivation. Looking up the valley, to
the right, one saw a line of blue, far-off hills. The tea-table had been planted in the
shade of one of the little summer-houses, and the rest of the party was already assembled
about it when Denis and Priscilla made their appearance. Henry Wimbush had begun to pour
out the tea. He was one of those ageless, unchanging men on the farther side of fifty,
who might be thirty, who might be anything. Denis had known him almost as long as he could
remember. In all those years his pale, rather handsome
face had never grown any older; it was like the pale grey bowler hat which he always wore,
winter and summer–unageing, calm, serenely without expression. Next him, but separated
from him and from the rest of the world by the almost impenetrable barriers of her deafness,
sat Jenny Mullion. She was perhaps thirty, had a tilted nose and a pink-and-white complexion,
and wore her brown hair plaited and coiled in two lateral buns over her ears. In the
secret tower of her deafness she sat apart, looking down at the world through sharply
piercing eyes. What did she think of men and women and things? That was something that
Denis had never been able to discover. In her enigmatic remoteness Jenny was a little
disquieting. Even now some interior joke seemed to be amusing her, for she was smiling to
herself, and her brown eyes were like very bright round marbles. On his other side the
serious, moonlike innocence of Mary Bracegirdle’s face shone pink and childish. She was nearly
twenty-three, but one wouldn’t have guessed it. Her short hair, clipped like a page’s,
hung in a bell of elastic gold about her cheeks. She had large blue china eyes, whose expression
was one of ingenuous and often puzzled earnestness. Next to Mary a small gaunt man was sitting,
rigid and erect in his chair. In appearance Mr. Scogan was like one of those extinct bird-lizards
of the Tertiary. His nose was beaked, his dark eye had the
shining quickness of a robin’s. But there was nothing soft or gracious or feathery about
him. The skin of his wrinkled brown face had a dry and scaly look; his hands were the hands
of a crocodile. His movements were marked by the lizard’s disconcertingly abrupt clockwork
speed; his speech was thin, fluty, and dry. Henry Wimbush’s school-fellow and exact contemporary,
Mr. Scogan looked far older and, at the same time, far more youthfully alive than did that
gentle aristocrat with the face like a grey bowler. Mr. Scogan might look like an extinct
saurian, but Gombauld was altogether and essentially human.
In the old-fashioned natural histories of the ‘thirties he might have figured in a steel
engraving as a type of Homo Sapiens–an honour which at that time commonly fell to Lord Byron.
Indeed, with more hair and less collar, Gombauld would have been completely Byronic–more than
Byronic, even, for Gombauld was of Provencal descent, a black-haired young corsair of thirty,
with flashing teeth and luminous large dark eyes. Denis looked at him enviously. He was
jealous of his talent: if only he wrote verse as well as Gombauld painted pictures! Still
more, at the moment, he envied Gombauld his looks, his vitality, his easy confidence of
manner. Was it surprising that Anne should like him?
Like him?–it might even be something worse, Denis reflected bitterly, as he walked at
Priscilla’s side down the long grass terrace. Between Gombauld and Mr. Scogan a very much
lowered deck-chair presented its back to the new arrivals as they advanced towards the
tea-table. Gombauld was leaning over it; his face moved vivaciously; he smiled, he laughed,
he made quick gestures with his hands. From the depths of the chair came up a sound of
soft, lazy laughter. Denis started as he heard it. That laughter–how well he knew it! What
emotions it evoked in him! He quickened his pace.
In her low deck-chair Anne was nearer to lying than to sitting. Her long, slender body reposed
in an attitude of listless and indolent grace. Within its setting of light brown hair her
face had a pretty regularity that was almost doll-like. And indeed there were moments when
she seemed nothing more than a doll; when the oval face, with its long-lashed, pale
blue eyes, expressed nothing; when it was no more than a lazy mask of wax. She was Henry
Wimbush’s own niece; that bowler-like countenance was one of the Wimbush heirlooms; it ran in
the family, appearing in its female members as a blank doll-face. But across this dollish
mask, like a gay melody dancing over an unchanging fundamental bass, passed Anne’s other inheritance–quick
laughter, light ironic amusement, and the changing expressions
of many moods. She was smiling now as Denis looked down at her: her cat’s smile, he called
it, for no very good reason. The mouth was compressed, and on either side of it two tiny
wrinkles had formed themselves in her cheeks. An infinity of slightly malicious amusement
lurked in those little folds, in the puckers about the half-closed eyes, in the eyes themselves,
bright and laughing between the narrowed lids. The preliminary greetings spoken, Denis found
an empty chair between Gombauld and Jenny and sat down. “How are you, Jenny?” he shouted
to her. Jenny nodded and smiled in mysterious silence, as though the subject of her health
were a secret that could not be publicly divulged. “How’s London been since I went away?” Anne
inquired from the depth of her chair. The moment had come; the tremendously amusing
narrative was waiting for utterance. “Well,” said Denis, smiling happily, “to begin with…�
“Has Priscilla told you of our great antiquarian find?” Henry Wimbush leaned forward; the most
promising of buds was nipped. “To begin with,” said Denis desperately, “there was the Ballet…�
“Last week,” Mr. Wimbush went on softly and implacably, “we dug up fifty yards of oaken
drain-pipes; just tree trunks with a hole bored through the middle. Very interesting
indeed. Whether they were laid down by the monks in the fifteenth century, or whether…”
Denis listened gloomily. “Extraordinary!” he said, when Mr. Wimbush had finished; “quite
extraordinary!” He helped himself to another slice of cake. He didn’t even want to tell
his tale about London now; he was damped. For some time past Mary’s grave blue eyes
had been fixed upon him. “What have you been writing lately?” she asked. It would be nice
to have a little literary conversation. “Oh, verse and prose,” said Denis–“just verse
and prose.� “Prose?” Mr. Scogan pounced alarmingly on the word. “You’ve been writing
prose?� “Yes.� “Not a novel?� “Yes.� “My poor Denis!” exclaimed Mr. Scogan. “What
about? “Denis felt rather uncomfortable. “Oh, about the usual things, you know.”
“Of course,” Mr. Scogan groaned. “I’ll describe the plot for you. Little Percy, the hero,
was never good at games, but he was always clever. He passes through the usual public
school and the usual university and comes to London, where he lives among the artists.
He is bowed down with melancholy thought; he carries the whole weight of the universe
upon his shoulders. He writes a novel of dazzling brilliance; he dabbles delicately in Amour
and disappears, at the end of the book, into the luminous Future.� Denis blushed scarlet.
Mr. Scogan had described the plan of his novel with an accuracy that was appalling. He made
an effort to laugh. “You’re entirely wrong,” he said. “My novel is not in the least like
that. It was a heroic lie. Luckily, he reflected,
only two chapters were written. He would tear them up that very evening when he unpacked.
Mr. Scogan paid no attention to his denial, but went on: “Why will you young men continue
to write about things that are so entirely uninteresting as the mentality of adolescents
and artists? Professional anthropologists might find it interesting to turn sometimes
from the beliefs of the Black fellow to the philosophical preoccupations of the undergraduate.
But you can’t expect an ordinary adult man, like myself, to be much moved by the story
of his spiritual troubles. And after all, even in England, even in Germany and Russia,
there are more adults than adolescents. As for the artist, he is preoccupied with
problems that are so utterly unlike those of the ordinary adult man–problems of pure
aesthetics which don’t so much as present themselves to people like myself–that a description
of his mental processes is as boring to the ordinary reader as a piece of pure mathematics.
A serious book about artists regarded as artists is unreadable; and a book about artists regarded
as lovers, husbands, dipsomaniacs, heroes, and the like is really not worth writing again.
Jean-Christophe is the stock artist of literature, just as Professor Radium of ‘Comic Cuts’ is
its stock man of science.� “I’m sorry to hear I’m as uninteresting
as all that,” said Gombauld. “Not at all, my dear Gombauld,” Mr. Scogan
hastened to explain. “As a lover or a dipsomaniac, I’ve no doubt of your being a most fascinating
specimen. But as a combiner of forms, you must honestly admit it, you’re a bore.�
“I entirely disagree with you,” exclaimed Mary. She was somehow always out of breath
when she talked. And her speech was punctuated by little gasps. “I’ve known a great many
artists, and I’ve always found their mentality very interesting. Especially in Paris. Tschuplitski,
for example–I saw a great deal of Tschuplitski in Paris this spring…� “Ah, but then you’re
an exception, Mary, you’re an exception,” said Mr. Scogan. “You are a femme superieure.�
A flush of pleasure turned Mary’s face into a harvest moon.
End of chapter CHAPTER IV.
Denis woke up next morning to find the sun shining, the sky serene. He decided to wear
white flannel trousers–white flannel trousers and a black jacket, with a silk shirt and
his new peach-coloured tie. And what shoes? White was the obvious choice, but there was
something rather pleasing about the notion of black patent leather. He lay in bed for
several minutes considering the problem. Before he went down–patent leather was his final
choice–he looked at himself critically in the glass. His hair might have been more golden,
he reflected. As it was, its yellowness had the hint of a greenish tinge in it. But his
forehead was good. His forehead made up in height what his chin lacked in prominence.
His nose might have been longer, but it would pass. His eyes might have been blue and not
green. But his coat was very well cut and, discreetly padded, made him seem robuster
than he actually was. His legs, in their white casing, were long and elegant. Satisfied,
he descended the stairs. Most of the party had already finished their breakfast. He found
himself alone with Jenny. “I hope you slept well,” he said. “Yes, isn’t it lovely?” Jenny
replied, giving two rapid little nods. “But we had such awful thunderstorms last week.�
Parallel straight lines, Denis reflected, meet only at infinity. He might talk for ever
of care-charmer sleep and she of meteorology till the end of time.
Did one ever establish contact with anyone? We are all parallel straight lines. Jenny
was only a little more parallel than most. “They are very alarming, these thunderstorms,”
he said, helping himself to porridge. “Don’t you think so? Or are you above being frightened?�
“No. I always go to bed in a storm. One is so much safer lying down.� “Why?� “Because,”
said Jenny, making a descriptive gesture, “because lightning goes downwards and not
flat ways. When you’re lying down you’re out of the current.� “That’s very ingenious.�
“It’s true.� There was a silence. Denis finished his porridge and helped himself to
bacon. For lack of anything better to say, and because
Mr. Scogan’s absurd phrase was for some reason running in his head, he turned to Jenny and
asked: “Do you consider yourself a femme superieure?” He had to repeat the question several times
before Jenny got the hang of it. “No,” she said, rather indignantly, when at last she
heard what Denis was saying. “Certainly not. Has anyone been suggesting that I am?� “No,”
said Denis. “Mr. Scogan told Mary she was one.� “Did he?” Jenny lowered her voice.
“Shall I tell you what I think of that man? I think he’s slightly sinister. Having made
this pronouncement, she entered the ivory tower of her deafness and closed the door.
Denis could not induce her to say anything more, could not induce her even to listen.
She just smiled at him, smiled and occasionally nodded. Denis went out on to the terrace to
smoke his after-breakfast pipe and to read his morning paper. An hour later, when Anne
came down, she found him still reading. By this time he had got to the Court Circular
and the Forthcoming Weddings. He got up to meet her as she approached, a Hamadryad in
white muslin, across the grass. “Why, Denis,” she exclaimed, “you look perfectly sweet in
your white trousers.� Denis was dreadfully taken aback. There was no possible retort.
“You speak as though I were a child in a new frock,” he said, with a show of irritation.
“But that’s how I feel about you, Denis dear.” “Then you oughtn’t to.� “But I can’t help
it. I’m so much older than you.� “I like that,” he said. “Four years older.� “And
if you do look perfectly sweet in your white trousers, why shouldn’t I say so? And why
did you put them on, if you didn’t think you were going to look sweet in them?� “Let’s
go into the garden,” said Denis. He was put out; the conversation had taken such a preposterous
and unexpected turn. He had planned a very different opening, in which he was to lead
off with, “You look adorable this morning,” or something of the kind, and she was to answer,
“Do I?” and then there was to be a pregnant silence. And now she had got in first with
the trousers. It was provoking; his pride was hurt.
That part of the garden that sloped down from the foot of the terrace to the pool had a
beauty which did not depend on colour so much as on forms. It was as beautiful by moonlight
as in the sun. The silver of water, the dark shapes of yew and ilex trees remained, at
all hours and seasons, the dominant features of the scene. It was a landscape in black
and white. For colour there was the flower-garden; it lay to one side of the pool, separated
from it by a huge Babylonian wall of yews. You passed through a tunnel in the hedge,
you opened a wicket in a wall, and you found yourself, startlingly and suddenly, in the
world of colour. The July borders blazed and flared under the sun.
Within its high brick walls the garden was like a great tank of warmth and perfume and
colour. Denis held open the little iron gate for his companion. “It’s like passing from
a cloister into an Oriental palace,” he said, and took a deep breath of the warm, flower-scented
air. “‘In fragrant volleys they let fly…’ How does it go? “‘Well shot, ye firemen! Oh
how sweet And round your equal fires do meet; Whose shrill report no ear can tell, But echoes
to the eye and smell…’� “You have a bad habit of quoting,” said Anne. “As I never
know the context or author, I find it humiliating.� Denis apologized. “It’s the fault of one’s
education. Things somehow seem more real and vivid when one can apply somebody else’s ready-made
phrase about them. And then there are lots of lovely names and
words–Monophysite, Iamblichus, Pomponazzi; you bring them out triumphantly, and feel
you’ve clinched the argument with the mere magical sound of them. That’s what comes of
the higher education.� “You may regret your education,” said Anne; “I’m ashamed of my
lack of it. Look at those sunflowers! Aren’t they magnificent?� “Dark faces and golden
crowns–they’re kings of Ethiopia. And I like the way the tits cling to the flowers and
pick out the seeds, while the other loutish birds, grubbing dirtily for their food, look
up in envy from the ground. Do they look up in envy? That’s the literary touch, I’m afraid.
Education again. It always comes back to that.” He was silent.
Anne had sat down on a bench that stood in the shade of an old apple tree. “I’m listening,”
she said. He did not sit down, but walked backwards and forwards in front of the bench,
gesticulating a little as he talked. “Books,” he said–“books. One reads so many, and one
sees so few people and so little of the world. Great thick books about the universe and the
mind and ethics. You’ve no idea how many there are. I must have read twenty or thirty tons
of them in the last five years. Twenty tons of ratiocination. Weighted with that, one’s
pushed out into the world.� He went on walking up and down. His voice rose, fell, was silent
a moment, and then talked on. He moved his hands, sometimes he waved his arms.
Anne looked and listened quietly, as though she were at a lecture. He was a nice boy,
and to-day he looked charming–charming! One entered the world, Denis pursued, having ready-made
ideas about everything. One had a philosophy and tried to make life fit into it. One should
have lived first and then made one’s philosophy to fit life…Life, facts, things were horribly
complicated; ideas, even the most difficult of them, deceptively simple. In the world
of ideas everything was clear; in life all was obscure, embroiled. Was it surprising
that one was miserable, horribly unhappy? Denis came to a halt in front of the bench,
and as he asked this last question he stretched out his arms and stood for an instant in an
attitude of crucifixion, then let them fall again to his sides.
“My poor Denis!” Anne was touched. He was really too pathetic as he stood there in front
of her in his white flannel trousers. “But does one suffer about these things? It seems
very extraordinary.� “You’re like Scogan,” cried Denis bitterly. “You regard me as a
specimen for an anthropologist. Well, I suppose I am.� “No, no,” she protested, and drew
in her skirt with a gesture that indicated that he was to sit down beside her. He sat
down. “Why can’t you just take things for granted and as they come?” she asked. “It’s
so much simpler.� “Of course it is,” said Denis. “But it’s a lesson to be learnt gradually.
There are the twenty tons of ratiocination to be got rid of first.”
“I’ve always taken things as they come,” said Anne. “It seems so obvious. One enjoys the
pleasant things, avoids the nasty ones. There’s nothing more to be said.� “Nothing–for
you. But, then, you were born a pagan; I am trying laboriously to make myself one. I can
take nothing for granted, I can enjoy nothing as it comes along. Beauty, pleasure, art,
women–I have to invent an excuse, a justification for everything that’s delightful. Otherwise
I can’t enjoy it with an easy conscience. I make up a little story about beauty and
pretend that it has something to do with truth and goodness. I have to say that art is the
process by which one reconstructs the divine reality out of chaos.
Pleasure is one of the mystical roads to union with the infinite–the ecstasies of drinking,
dancing, love-making. As for women, I am perpetually assuring myself that they’re the broad highway
to divinity. And to think that I’m only just beginning to see through the silliness of
the whole thing! It’s incredible to me that anyone should have escaped these horrors.�
“It’s still more incredible to me,” said Anne, “that anyone should have been a victim to
them. I should like to see myself believing that men are the highway to divinity.” The
amused malice of her smile planted two little folds on either side of her mouth, and through
their half-closed lids her eyes shone with laughter.
“What you need, Denis, is a nice plump young wife, a fixed income, and a little congenial
but regular work.� “What I need is you.” That was what he ought to have retorted, that
was what he wanted passionately to say. He could not say it. His desire fought against
his shyness. “What I need is you.” Mentally he shouted the words, but not a sound issued
from his lips. He looked at her despairingly. Couldn’t she see what was going on inside
him? Couldn’t she understand? “What I need is you.” He would say it, he would–he
would. “I think I shall go and bathe,” said Anne. “It’s so hot.” The opportunity had passed.
End of chapter CHAPTER V.
Mr. Wimbush had taken them to see the sights of the Home Farm, and now they were standing,
all six of them–Henry Wimbush, Mr. Scogan, Denis, Gombauld, Anne, and Mary–by the low
wall of the piggery, looking into one of the styes. “This is a good sow,” said Henry Wimbush.
“She had a litter of fourteen. “Fourteen?” Mary echoed incredulously. She turned astonished
blue eyes towards Mr. Wimbush, then let them fall onto the seething mass of elan vital
that fermented in the sty. An immense sow reposed on her side in the middle of the pen.
Her round, black belly, fringed with a double line of dugs, presented itself to the assault
of an army of small, brownish-black swine. With a frantic greed they tugged at their
mother’s flank. The old sow stirred sometimes uneasily or uttered a little grunt of pain.
One small pig, the runt, the weakling of the litter, had been unable to secure a place
at the banquet. Squealing shrilly, he ran backwards and forwards, trying to push in
among his stronger brothers or even to climb over their tight little black backs towards
the maternal reservoir. “There ARE fourteen,” said Mary. “You’re quite right. I counted.
It’s extraordinary.� “The sow next door,” Mr. Wimbush went on, “has done very badly.
She only had five in her litter. I shall give her another chance. If she does no better
next time, I shall fat her up and kill her. There’s the boar,� he pointed towards a
farther sty. “Fine old beast, isn’t he? But he’s getting
past his prime. He’ll have to go too.� “How cruel!” Anne exclaimed. “But how practical,
how eminently realistic!” said Mr. Scogan. “In this farm we have a model of sound paternal
government. Make them breed, make them work, and when they’re past working or breeding
or begetting, slaughter them.� “Farming seems to be mostly indecency and cruelty,”
said Anne. With the ferrule of his walking-stick Denis began to scratch the boar’s long bristly
back. The animal moved a little so as to bring himself within easier range of the instrument
that evoked in him such delicious sensations; then he stood stock still, softly grunting
his contentment. The mud of years flaked off his sides in a grey powdery scurf.
“What a pleasure it is,” said Denis, “to do somebody a kindness. I believe I enjoy scratching
this pig quite as much as he enjoys being scratched. If only one could always be kind
with so little expense or trouble…� A gate slammed; there was a sound of heavy footsteps.
“Morning, Rowley!” said Henry Wimbush. “Morning, sir,” old Rowley answered. He was the most
venerable of the labourers on the farm–a tall, solid man, still unbent, with grey side-whiskers
and a steep, dignified profile. Grave, weighty in his manner, splendidly respectable, Rowley
had the air of a great English statesman of the mid-nineteenth century.
He halted on the outskirts of the group, and for a moment they all looked at the pigs in
a silence that was only broken by the sound of grunting or the squelch of a sharp hoof
in the mire. Rowley turned at last, slowly and ponderously and nobly, as he did everything,
and addressed himself to Henry Wimbush. “Look at them, sir,” he said, with a motion of his
hand towards the wallowing swine. “Rightly is they called pigs.� “Rightly indeed,”
Mr. Wimbush agreed. “I am abashed by that man,” said Mr. Scogan, as old Rowley plodded
off slowly and with dignity. “What wisdom, what judgment, what a sense of values! ‘Rightly
are they called swine.’ Yes. And I wish I could, with as much justice, say, ‘Rightly
are we called men.'” They walked on towards the cowsheds and the
stables of the cart-horses. Five white geese, taking the air this fine morning, even as
they were doing, met them in the way. They hesitated, cackled; then, converting their
lifted necks into rigid, horizontal snakes, they rushed off in disorder, hissing horribly
as they went. Red calves paddled in the dung and mud of a spacious yard. In another enclosure
stood the bull, massive as a locomotive. He was a very calm bull, and his face wore an
expression of melancholy stupidity. He gazed with reddish-brown eyes at his visitors, chewed
thoughtfully at the tangible memories of an earlier meal, swallowed and regurgitated,
chewed again. His tail lashed savagely from side to side;
it seemed to have nothing to do with his impassive bulk. Between his short horns was a triangle
of red curls, short and dense. “Splendid animal,” said Henry Wimbush. “Pedigree stock. But he’s
getting a little old, like the boar.� “Fat him up and slaughter him,” Mr. Scogan pronounced,
with a delicate old-maidish precision of utterance. “Couldn’t you give the animals a little holiday
from producing children?” asked Anne. “I’m so sorry for the poor things.� Mr. Wimbush
shook his head. “Personally,” he said, “I rather like seeing fourteen pigs grow where
only one grew before. The spectacle of so much crude life is refreshing.”
“I’m glad to hear you say so,” Gombauld broke in warmly. “Lots of life: that’s what we want.
I like pullulation; everything ought to increase and multiply as hard as it can.� Gombauld
grew lyrical. Everybody ought to have children–Anne ought to have them, Mary ought to have them–dozens
and dozens. He emphasised his point by thumping with his walking-stick on the bull’s leather
flanks. Mr. Scogan ought to pass on his intelligence to little Scogans, and Denis to little Denises.
The bull turned his head to see what was happening, regarded the drumming stick for several seconds,
then turned back again satisfied, it seemed, that nothing was happening.
Sterility was odious, unnatural, a sin against life. Life, life, and still more life. The
ribs of the placid bull resounded. Standing with his back against the farmyard pump, a
little apart, Denis examined the group. Gombauld, passionate and vivacious, was its centre.
The others stood round, listening–Henry Wimbush, calm and polite beneath his grey bowler; Mary,
with parted lips and eyes that shone with the indignation of a convinced birth-controller.
Anne looked on through half-shut eyes, smiling; and beside her stood Mr. Scogan, bolt upright
in an attitude of metallic rigidity that contrasted strangely with that fluid grace of hers which
even in stillness suggested a soft movement. Gombauld ceased talking, and Mary, flushed
and outraged, opened her mouth to refute him. But she was too slow. Before she could utter
a word Mr. Scogan’s fluty voice had pronounced the opening phrases of a discourse. There
was no hope of getting so much as a word in edgeways; Mary had perforce to resign herself.
“Even your eloquence, my dear Gombauld,” he was saying–“even your eloquence must prove
inadequate to reconvert the world to a belief in the delights of mere multiplication. With
the gramophone, the cinema, and the automatic pistol, the goddess of Applied Science has
presented the world with another gift, more precious even than these–the means of dissociating
love from propagation. Eros, for those who wish it, is now an entirely
free god; his deplorable associations with Lucina may be broken at will. In the course
of the next few centuries, who knows? the world may see a more complete severance. I
look forward to it optimistically. Where the great Erasmus Darwin and Miss Anna Seward,
Swan of Lichfield, experimented–and, for all their scientific ardour, failed–our descendants
will experiment and succeed. An impersonal generation will take the place of Nature’s
hideous system. In vast state incubators, rows upon rows of gravid bottles will supply
the world with the population it requires. The family system will disappear; society,
sapped at its very base, will have to find new foundations; and Eros, beautifully and
irresponsibly free, will flit like a gay butterfly from flower to flower through a sunlit world.�
“It sounds lovely,” said Anne. “The distant future always does.� Mary’s china blue eyes,
more serious and more astonished than ever, were fixed on Mr. Scogan. “Bottles?” she said.
“Do you really think so? Bottles…” End of chapter
CHAPTER VI. Mr. Barbecue-Smith arrived in time for tea
on Saturday afternoon. He was a short and corpulent man, with a very large head and
no neck. In his earlier middle age he had been distressed by this absence of neck, but
was comforted by reading in Balzac’s “Louis Lambert” that all the world’s great men have
been marked by the same peculiarity, and for a simple and obvious reason: Greatness is
nothing more nor less than the harmonious functioning of the faculties of the head and
heart; the shorter the neck, the more closely these two organs approach one another; argal…It
was convincing. Mr. Barbecue-Smith belonged to the old school of journalists.
He sported a leonine head with a greyish-black mane of oddly unappetising hair brushed back
from a broad but low forehead. And somehow he always seemed slightly, ever so slightly,
soiled. In younger days he had gaily called himself a Bohemian. He did so no longer. He
was a teacher now, a kind of prophet. Some of his books of comfort and spiritual teaching
were in their hundred and twentieth thousand. Priscilla received him with every mark of
esteem. He had never been to Crome before; she showed him round the house. Mr. Barbecue-Smith
was full of admiration. “So quaint, so old-world,” he kept repeating. He had a rich, rather unctuous
voice. Priscilla praised his latest book. “Splendid, I thought it was,” she said in
her large, jolly way. “I’m happy to think you found it a comfort,” said Mr. Barbecue-Smith.
“Oh, tremendously! And the bit about the Lotus Pool–I thought that so beautiful.� “I knew
you would like that. It came to me, you know, from without.” He waved his hand to indicate
the astral world. They went out into the garden for tea. Mr. Barbecue-Smith was duly introduced.
“Mr. Stone is a writer too,” said Priscilla, as she introduced Denis. “Indeed!” Mr. Barbecue-Smith
smiled benignly, and, looking up at Denis with an expression of Olympian condescension,
“And what sort of things do you write?” Denis was furious, and, to make matters worse,
he felt himself blushing hotly. Had Priscilla no sense of proportion? She was putting them
in the same category–Barbecue-Smith and himself. They were both writers, they both used pen
and ink. To Mr. Barbecue-Smith’s question he answered, “Oh, nothing much, nothing,”
and looked away. “Mr. Stone is one of our younger poets.” It was Anne’s voice. He scowled
at her, and she smiled back exasperatingly. “Excellent, excellent,” said Mr. Barbecue-Smith,
and he squeezed Denis’s arm encouragingly. “The Bard’s is a noble calling.� As soon
as tea was over Mr. Barbecue-Smith excused himself; he had to do some writing before
dinner. Priscilla quite understood. The prophet retired
to his chamber. Mr. Barbecue-Smith came down to the drawing-room at ten to eight. He was
in a good humour, and, as he descended the stairs, he smiled to himself and rubbed his
large white hands together. In the drawing-room someone was playing softly and ramblingly
on the piano. He wondered who it could be. One of the young ladies, perhaps. But no,
it was only Denis, who got up hurriedly and with some embarrassment as he came into the
room. “Do go on, do go on,” said Mr. Barbecue-Smith. “I am very fond of music.� “Then I couldn’t
possibly go on,” Denis replied. “I only make noises.� There was a silence.
Mr. Barbecue-Smith stood with his back to the hearth, warming himself at the memory
of last winter’s fires. He could not control his interior satisfaction, but still went
on smiling to himself. At last he turned to Denis. “You write,” he asked, “don’t you?�
“Well, yes–a little, you know.� “How many words do you find you can write in an hour?�
“I don’t think I’ve ever counted.� “Oh, you ought to, you ought to. It’s most important.�
Denis exercised his memory. “When I’m in good form,” he said, “I fancy I do a twelve-hundred-word
review in about four hours. But sometimes it takes me much longer.” Mr. Barbecue-Smith
nodded. “Yes, three hundred words an hour at your best.
He walked out into the middle of the room, turned round on his heels, and confronted
Denis again. “Guess how many words I wrote this evening between five and half-past seven.�
“I can’t imagine.� “No, but you must guess. Between five and half-past seven–that’s two
and a half hours.� “Twelve hundred words,” Denis hazarded. “No, no, no.” Mr. Barbecue-Smith’s
expanded face shone with gaiety. “Try again.� “Fifteen hundred.� “No.””I give it up,”
said Denis. He found he couldn’t summon up much interest in Mr. Barbecue-Smith’s writing.
“Well, I’ll tell you. Three thousand eight hundred.� Denis opened his eyes. “You must
get a lot done in a day,” he said. Mr. Barbecue-Smith suddenly became extremely
confidential. He pulled up a stool to the side of Denis’s arm-chair, sat down in it,
and began to talk softly and rapidly. “Listen to me,” he said, laying his hand on Denis’s
sleeve. “You want to make your living by writing; you’re young, you’re inexperienced. Let me
give you a little sound advice.� What was the fellow going to do? Denis wondered: give
him an introduction to the editor of “John o’ London’s Weekly”, or tell him where he
could sell a light middle for seven guineas? Mr. Barbecue-Smith patted his arm several
times and went on. “The secret of writing,” he said, breathing it into the young man’s
ear–“the secret of writing is Inspiration.” Denis looked at him in astonishment. “Inspiration…”
Mr. Barbecue-Smith repeated. “You mean the native wood-note business?� Mr. Barbecue-Smith
nodded. “Oh, then I entirely agree with you,” said Denis. “But what if one hasn’t got Inspiration?�
“That was precisely the question I was waiting for,” said Mr. Barbecue-Smith. “You ask me
what one should do if one hasn’t got Inspiration. I answer: you have Inspiration; everyone has
Inspiration. It’s simply a question of getting it to function.� The clock struck eight.
There was no sign of any of the other guests; everybody was always late at Crome. Mr. Barbecue-Smith
went on. “That’s my secret,” he said. “I give it you
freely.” (Denis made a suitably grateful murmur and grimace.) “I’ll help you to find your
Inspiration, because I don’t like to see a nice, steady young man like you exhausting
his vitality and wasting the best years of his life in a grinding intellectual labour
that could be completely obviated by Inspiration. I did it myself, so I know what it’s like.
Up till the time I was thirty-eight I was a writer like you–a writer without Inspiration.
All I wrote I squeezed out of myself by sheer hard work. Why, in those days I was never
able to do more than six-fifty words an hour, and what’s more, I often didn’t sell what
I wrote. He sighed. “We artists,” he said parenthetically, “we
intellectuals aren’t much appreciated here in England.” Denis wondered if there was any
method, consistent, of course, with politeness, by which he could dissociate himself from
Mr. Barbecue-Smith’s “we.” There was none; and besides, it was too late now, for Mr.
Barbecue-Smith was once more pursuing the tenor of his discourse. “At thirty-eight I
was a poor, struggling, tired, overworked, unknown journalist. Now, at fifty…” He paused
modestly and made a little gesture, moving his fat hands outwards, away from one another,
and expanding his fingers as though in demonstration. He was exhibiting himself.
Denis thought of that advertisement of Nestle’s milk–the two cats on the wall, under the
moon, one black and thin, the other white, sleek, and fat. Before Inspiration and after.
“Inspiration has made the difference,” said Mr. Barbecue-Smith solemnly. “It came quite
suddenly–like a gentle dew from heaven.” He lifted his hand and let it fall back on
to his knee to indicate the descent of the dew. “It was one evening. I was writing my
first little book about the Conduct of Life–‘Humble Heroisms’. You may have read it; it has been
a comfort–at least I hope and think so–a comfort to many thousands. I was in the middle
of the second chapter, and I was stuck. I sat biting the end of my pen and looking
at the electric light, which hung above my table, a little above and in front of me.”
He indicated the position of the lamp with elaborate care. “Have you ever looked at a
bright light intently for a long time?” he asked, turning to Denis. Denis didn’t think
he had. “You can hypnotise yourself that way,” Mr. Barbecue-Smith went on. The gong sounded
in a terrific crescendo from the hall. Still no sign of the others. Denis was horribly
hungry. “That’s what happened to me,” said Mr. Barbecue-Smith. “I was hypnotised. I lost
consciousness like that.” He snapped his fingers. “When I came to, I found that it was past
midnight, and I had written four thousand words. Four thousand,” he repeated,
opening his mouth very wide on the “ou” of thousand. “Inspiration had come to me.�
“What a very extraordinary thing,” said Denis. “I was afraid of it at first. It didn’t seem
to me natural. I didn’t feel, somehow, that it was quite right, quite fair, I might almost
say, to produce a literary composition unconsciously. Besides, I was afraid I might have written
nonsense.� “And had you written nonsense?” Denis asked. “Certainly not,” Mr. Barbecue-Smith
replied, with a trace of annoyance. “Certainly not. It was admirable. Just a few spelling
mistakes and slips, such as there generally are in automatic writing. But the style, the
thought–all the essentials were admirable. After that, Inspiration came to me regularly.
I wrote the whole of ‘Humble Heroisms’ like that. It was a great success, and so has everything
been that I have written since.” He leaned forward and jabbed at Denis with his finger.
“That’s my secret,” he said, “and that’s how you could write too, if you tried–without
effort, fluently, well.� “But how?” asked Denis, trying not to show how deeply he had
been insulted by that final “well.� “By cultivating your Inspiration, by getting into
touch with your Subconscious. Have you ever read my little book, ‘Pipe-Lines to the Infinite’?�
Denis had to confess that that was, precisely, one of the few, perhaps the only one, of Mr.
Barbecue-Smith’s works he had not read. “Never mind, never mind,” said Mr. Barbecue-Smith.
“It’s just a little book about the connection of the Subconscious with the Infinite. Get
into touch with the Subconscious and you are in touch with the Universe. Inspiration, in
fact. You follow me?� “Perfectly, perfectly,” said Denis. “But don’t you find that the Universe
sometimes sends you very irrelevant messages?� “I don’t allow it to,” Mr. Barbecue-Smith
replied. “I canalise it. I bring it down through pipes to work the turbines of my conscious
mind.� “Like Niagara,” Denis suggested. Some of Mr. Barbecue-Smith’s remarks sounded
strangely like quotations–quotations from his own works, no doubt. “Precisely. Like
Niagara. And this is how I do it.” He leaned forward, and with a raised forefinger
marked his points as he made them, beating time, as it were, to his discourse. “Before
I go off into my trance, I concentrate on the subject I wish to be inspired about. Let
us say I am writing about the humble heroisms; for ten
minutes before I go into the trance I think of nothing but orphans supporting their little
brothers and sisters, of dull work well and patiently done, and I focus my mind on such
great philosophical truths as the purification and uplifting of the soul by suffering, and
the alchemical transformation of leaden evil into golden good.” (Denis again hung up his
little festoon of quotation marks.) “Then I pop off.
Two or three hours later I wake up again, and find that inspiration has done its work.
Thousands of words, comforting, uplifting words, lie before me. I type them out neatly
on my machine and they are ready for the printer.� “It all sounds wonderfully simple,” said Denis.
“It is. All the great and splendid and divine things of life are wonderfully simple.” (Quotation
marks again.) “When I have to do my aphorisms,” Mr. Barbecue-Smith continued, “I prelude my
trance by turning over the pages of any Dictionary of Quotations or Shakespeare Calendar that
comes to hand. That sets the key, so to speak; that ensures that the Universe shall come
flowing in, not in a continuous rush, but in aphorismic drops. You see the idea?”
Denis nodded. Mr. Barbecue-Smith put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a notebook. “I
did a few in the train to-day,” he said, turning over the pages. “Just dropped off into a trance
in the corner of my carriage. I find the train very conducive to good work. Here they are.”
He cleared his throat and read: “The Mountain Road may be steep, but the air is pure up
there, and it is from the Summit that one gets the view.� “The Things that Really
Matter happen in the Heart.� It was curious, Denis reflected, the way the Infinite sometimes
repeated itself. “Seeing is Believing. Yes, but Believing is also Seeing. If I believe
in God, I see God, even in the things that seem to be evil.� Mr. Barbecue-Smith looked
up from his notebook. “That last one,” he said, “is particularly
subtle and beautiful, don’t you think? Without Inspiration I could never have hit on that.”
He re-read the apophthegm with a slower and more solemn utterance. “Straight from the
Infinite,� he commented reflectively, then addressed himself to the next aphorism. “The
flame of a candle gives Light, but it also Burns.� Puzzled wrinkles appeared on Mr.
Barbecue-Smith’s forehead. “I don’t exactly know what that means,” he said. “It’s very
gnomic. One could apply it, of course to the Higher Education–illuminating, but provoking
the Lower Classes to discontent and revolution. Yes, I suppose that’s what it is. But it’s
gnomic, it’s gnomic.” You rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
The gong sounded again, clamorously, it seemed imploringly: dinner was growing cold. It roused
Mr. Barbecue-Smith from meditation. He turned to Denis. “You understand me now when I advise
you to cultivate your Inspiration. Let your Subconscious work for you; turn on the Niagara
of the Infinite.� There was the sound of feet on the stairs. Mr. Barbecue-Smith got
up, laid his hand for an instant on Denis’s shoulder,
and said: “No more now. Another time. And remember, I rely absolutely on your discretion
in this matter. There are intimate, sacred things that one doesn’t wish to be generally
known.� “Of course,” said Denis. “I quite understand.”
End of chapter CHAPTER VII.
At Crome all the beds were ancient hereditary pieces of furniture. Huge beds, like four-masted
ships, with furled sails of shining coloured stuff. Beds carved and inlaid, beds painted
and gilded. Beds of walnut and oak, of rare exotic woods. Beds of every date and fashion
from the time of Sir Ferdinando, who built the house, to the time of his namesake in
the late eighteenth century, the last of the family, but all of them grandiose, magnificent.
The finest of all was now Anne’s bed. Sir Julius, son to Sir Ferdinando, had had it
made in Venice against his wife’s first lying-in. Early seicento Venice had expended all its
extravagant art in the making of it. The body of the bed was like a great square
sarcophagus. Clustering roses were carved in high relief on its wooden panels, and luscious
putti wallowed among the roses. On the black ground-work of the panels the carved reliefs
were gilded and burnished. The golden roses twined in spirals up the four pillar-like
posts, and cherubs, seated at the top of each column, supported a wooden canopy fretted
with the same carved flowers. Anne was reading in bed. Two candles stood on the little table
beside her, in their rich light her face, her bare arm and shoulder took on warm hues
and a sort of peach-like quality of surface. Here and there in the canopy above her carved
golden petals shone brightly among profound shadows, and the soft light,
falling on the sculptured panel of the bed, broke restlessly among the intricate roses,
lingered in a broad caress on the blown cheeks, the dimpled bellies, the tight, absurd little
posteriors of the sprawling putti. There was a discreet tap at the door. She looked up.
“Come in, come in.� A face, round and childish, within its sleek bell of golden hair, peered
round the opening door. More childish-looking still, a suit of mauve pyjamas made its entrance.
It was Mary. “I thought I’d just look in for a moment to say good-night,” she said, and
sat down on the edge of the bed. Anne closed her book. “That was very sweet of you.�
“What are you reading?” She looked at the book. “Rather second-rate, isn’t it?
The tone in which Mary pronounced the word “second-rate� implied an almost infinite
denigration. She was accustomed in London to associate only with first-rate people who
liked first-rate things, and she knew that there were very, very few first-rate things
in the world, and that those were mostly French. “Well, I’m afraid I like it,” said Anne. There
was nothing more to be said. The silence that followed was a rather uncomfortable one. Mary
fiddled uneasily with the bottom button of her pyjama jacket. Leaning back on her mound
of heaped-up pillows, Anne waited and wondered what was coming. “I’m so awfully afraid of
repressions,” said Mary at last, bursting suddenly and surprisingly into speech.
She pronounced the words on the tail-end of an expiring breath, and had to gasp for new
air almost before the phrase was finished. “What’s there to be depressed about?� “I
said repressions, not depressions.� “Oh, repressions; I see,” said Anne. “But repressions
of what?� Mary had to explain. “The natural instincts of sex…” she began didactically.
But Anne cut her short. “Yes, yes. Perfectly. I understand. Repressions! old maids and all
the rest. But what about them?� “That’s just it,” said Mary. “I’m afraid of them.
It’s always dangerous to repress one’s instincts. I’m beginning to detect in myself symptoms
like the ones you read of in the books. I constantly dream that I’m falling down wells;
and sometimes I even dream that I’m climbing up ladders. It’s most disquieting. The symptoms
are only too clear.� “Are they?� “One may become a nymphomaniac of one’s not careful.
You’ve no idea how serious these repressions are if you don’t get rid of them in time.�
“It sounds too awful,” said Anne. “But I don’t see that I can do anything to help you.�
“I thought I’d just like to talk it over with you.� “Why, of course; I’m only too happy,
Mary darling.� Mary coughed and drew a deep breath. “I presume,” she began sententiously,
“I presume we may take for granted that an intelligent young woman of twenty-three who
has lived in civilised society in the twentieth century has no prejudices.”
“Well, I confess I still have a few.� “But not about repressions.� “No, not many about
repressions; that’s true.� “Or, rather, about getting rid of repressions.� “Exactly.�
“So much for our fundamental postulate,” said Mary. Solemnity was expressed in every feature
of her round young face, radiated from her large blue eyes. “We come next to the desirability
of possessing experience. I hope we are agreed that knowledge is desirable and that ignorance
is undesirable.� Obedient as one of those complaisant disciples from whom Socrates could
get whatever answer he chose, Anne gave her assent to this proposition. “And we are equally
agreed, I hope, that marriage is what it is.” “It is.� “Good!” said Mary. “And repressions
being what they are…� “Exactly.� “There would therefore seem to be only one conclusion.�
“But I knew that,” Anne exclaimed, “before you began.� “Yes, but now it’s been proved,”
said Mary. “One must do things logically. The question is now…� “But where does
the question come in? You’ve reached your only possible conclusion–logically, which
is more than I could have done. All that remains is to impart the information to someone you
like–someone you like really rather a lot, someone you’re in love with, if I may express
myself so baldly.� “But that’s just where the question comes in,” Mary exclaimed. “I’m
not in love with anybody.” “Then, if I were you, I should wait till you
are.� “But I can’t go on dreaming night after night that I’m falling down a well.
It’s too dangerous.� “Well, if it really is TOO dangerous, then of course you must
do something about it; you must find somebody else.� “But who?” A thoughtful frown puckered
Mary’s brow. “It must be somebody intelligent, somebody with intellectual interests that
I can share. And it must be somebody with a proper respect for women, somebody who’s
prepared to talk seriously about his work and his ideas and about my work and my ideas.
It isn’t, as you see, at all easy to find the right person.� “Well” said Anne, “there
are three unattached and intelligent men in the house at the present time.
There’s Mr. Scogan, to begin with; but perhaps he’s rather too much of a genuine antique.
And there are Gombauld and Denis. Shall we say that the choice is limited to the last
two?� Mary nodded. “I think we had better,” she said, and then hesitated, with a certain
air of embarrassment. “What is it?� “I was wondering,” said Mary, with a gasp, “whether
they really were unattached. I thought that perhaps you might…you might…� “It was
very nice of you to think of me, Mary darling,” said Anne, smiling the tight cat’s smile.
“But as far as I’m concerned, they are both entirely unattached.� “I’m very glad of
that,” said Mary, looking relieved. “We are now confronted with the question: Which of
the two?” “I can give no advice. It’s a matter for your
taste.� “It’s not a matter of my taste,” Mary pronounced, “but of their merits. We
must weigh them and consider them carefully and dispassionately.� “You must do the weighing
yourself,” said Anne; there was still the trace of a smile at the corners of her mouth
and round the half-closed eyes. “I won’t run the risk of advising you wrongly.� “Gombauld
has more talent,” Mary began, “but he is less civilised than Denis.” Mary’s pronunciation
of “civilised” gave the word a special and additional significance. She uttered it meticulously,
in the very front of her mouth, hissing delicately on the opening sibilant.
So few people were civilised, and they, like the first-rate works of art, were mostly French.
“Civilisation is most important, don’t you think?� Anne held up her hand. “I won’t
advise,” she said. “You must make the decision.� “Gombauld’s family,” Mary went on reflectively,
“comes from Marseilles. Rather a dangerous heredity, when one thinks of the Latin attitude
towards women. But then, I sometimes wonder whether Denis is altogether serious-minded,
whether he isn’t rather a dilettante. It’s very difficult. What do you think?� “I’m
not listening,” said Anne. “I refuse to take any responsibility.� Mary sighed. “Well,”
she said, “I think I had better go to bed and think about it.� “Carefully and dispassionately,”
said Anne. At the door Mary turned round. “Good-night,”
she said, and wondered as she said the words why Anne was smiling in that curious way.
It was probably nothing, she reflected. Anne often smiled for no apparent reason; it was
probably just a habit. “I hope I shan’t dream of falling down wells again to-night,” she
added. “Ladders are worse,” said Anne. Mary nodded. “Yes, ladders are much graver.”
End of chapter CHAPTER VIII.
Breakfast on Sunday morning was an hour later than on week-days, and Priscilla, who usually
made no public appearance before luncheon, honoured it by her presence. Dressed in black
silk, with a ruby cross as well as her customary string of pearls round her neck, she presided.
An enormous Sunday paper concealed all but the extreme pinnacle of her coiffure from
the outer world. “I see Surrey has won,” she said, with her mouth full, “by four wickets.
The sun is in Leo: that would account for it!� “Splendid game, cricket,” remarked
Mr. Barbecue-Smith heartily to no one in particular; “so thoroughly English.� Jenny, who was
sitting next to him, woke up suddenly with a start. “What?” she said. “What?”
“So English,” repeated Mr. Barbecue-Smith. Jenny looked at him, surprised. “English?
Of course I am.� He was beginning to explain, when Mrs. Wimbush vailed her Sunday paper,
and appeared, a square, mauve-powdered face in the midst of orange splendours. “I see
there’s a new series of articles on the next world just beginning,” she said to Mr. Barbecue-Smith.
“This one’s called Summer Land and Gehenna.’� “Summer Land,” echoed Mr. Barbecue-Smith,
closing his eyes. “Summer Land. A beautiful name. Beautiful–beautiful.� Mary had taken
the seat next to Denis’s. After a night of careful consideration she had decided on Denis.
He might have less talent than Gombauld, he might be a little lacking in seriousness,
but somehow he was safer. “Are you writing much poetry here in the country?”
she asked, with a bright gravity. “None,” said Denis curtly. “I haven’t brought my typewriter.�
“But do you mean to say you can’t write without a typewriter?� Denis shook his head. He
hated talking at breakfast, and, besides, he wanted to hear what Mr. Scogan was saying
at the other end of the table. “…My scheme for dealing with the Church,” Mr. Scogan was
saying, “is beautifully simple. At the present time the Anglican clergy wear their collars
the wrong way round. I would compel them to wear, not only their collars, but all their
clothes, turned back to frantic–coat, waistcoat, trousers, boots–so that every clergyman should
present to the world a smooth facade, unbroken by stud, button, or lace.
The enforcement of such a livery would act as a wholesome deterrent to those intending
to enter the Church. At the same time it would enormously enhance, what Archbishop Laud so
rightly insisted on, the ‘beauty of holiness’ in the few incorrigibles who could not be
deterred.� “In hell, it seems,” said Priscilla, reading in her Sunday paper, “the children
amuse themselves by flaying lambs alive.� “Ah, but, dear lady, that’s only a symbol,”
exclaimed Mr. Barbecue-Smith, “a material symbol of a h-piritual
truth. Lambs signify…� “Then there are military uniforms,” Mr. Scogan went on. “When
scarlet and pipe-clay were abandoned for khaki, there were some who trembled for the future
of war. But then, finding how elegant the new tunic
was, how closely it clipped the waist, how voluptuously, with the lateral bustles of
the pockets, it exaggerated the hips; when they realized the brilliant potentialities
of breeches and top-boots, they were reassured. Abolish these military elegances, standardise
a uniform of sack-cloth and mackintosh, you will very soon find that…� “Is anyone
coming to church with me this morning?” asked Henry Wimbush. No one responded. He baited
his bare invitation. “I read the lessons, you know. And there’s Mr. Bodiham. His sermons
are sometimes worth hearing.” “Thank you, thank you,” said Mr. Barbecue-Smith.
“I for one prefer to worship in the infinite church of Nature. How does our Shakespeare
put it? ‘Sermons in books, stones in the running brooks.'” He waved his arm in a fine gesture
towards the window, and even as he did so he became vaguely, but none the less insistently,
none the less uncomfortably aware that something had gone wrong with the quotation. Something�what
could it be? Sermons? Stones? Books? End of chapter
CHAPTER IX. Mr. Bodiham was sitting in his study at the
Rectory. The nineteenth-century Gothic windows, narrow and pointed, admitted the light grudgingly;
in spite of the brilliant July weather, the room was sombre. Brown varnished bookshelves
lined the walls, filled with row upon row of those thick, heavy theological works which
the second-hand booksellers generally sell by weight. The mantelpiece, the over-mantel,
a towering structure of spindly pillars and little shelves, were brown and varnished.
The writing-desk was brown and varnished. So were the chairs, so was the door. A dark
red-brown carpet with patterns covered the floor. Everything was brown in the room, and
there was a curious brownish smell. In the midst of this brown gloom Mr. Bodiham
sat at his desk. He was the man in the Iron Mask. A grey metallic face with iron cheek-bones
and a narrow iron brow; iron folds, hard and unchanging, ran perpendicularly down his cheeks;
his nose was the iron beak of some thin, delicate bird of rapine. He had brown eyes, set in
sockets rimmed with iron; round them the skin was dark, as though it had been charred. Dense
wiry hair covered his skull; it had been black, it was turning grey. His ears were very small
and fine. His jaws, his chin, his upper lip were dark, iron-dark, where he had shaved.
His voice, when he spoke and especially when he raised it in preaching, was harsh, like
the grating of iron hinges when a seldom-used door is opened. It was nearly half-past twelve.
He had just come back from church, hoarse and weary with preaching. He preached with
fury, with passion, an iron man beating with a flail upon the souls of his congregation.
But the souls of the faithful at Crome were made of india-rubber, solid rubber; the flail
rebounded. They were used to Mr. Bodiham at Crome. The flail thumped on india-rubber,
and as often as not the rubber slept. That morning he had preached, as he had often preached
before, on the nature of God. He had tried to make them understand about
God, what a fearful thing it was to fall into His hands. God–they thought of something
soft and merciful. They blinded themselves to facts; still more, they blinded themselves
to the Bible. The passengers on the “Titanic” sang “Nearer my God to Thee” as the ship was
going down. Did they realise what they were asking to be brought nearer to? A white fire
of righteousness, an angry fire… When Savonarola preached, men sobbed and groaned aloud. Nothing
broke the polite silence with which Crome listened to Mr. Bodiham–only an occasional
cough and sometimes the sound of heavy breathing. In the front pew sat Henry Wimbush, calm,
well-bred, beautifully dressed. There were times when Mr. Bodiham wanted to jump down
from the pulpit and shake him into life,–times when he would have liked to beat and kill
his whole congregation. He sat at his desk dejectedly. Outside the Gothic windows the
earth was warm and marvelously calm. Everything was as it had always been. And yet, and yet…It
was nearly four years now since he had preached that sermon on Matthew xxiv. 7: “For nation
shall rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines,
and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.” It was nearly four years.
He had had the sermon printed; it was so terribly, so vitally important that all the world should
know what he had to say. A copy of the little pamphlet lay on his desk–eight small grey
pages, printed by a fount of type that had grown blunt, like an old dog’s teeth, by the
endless champing and champing of the press. He opened it and began to read it yet once
again. “‘For nation shall rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there
shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places.� “Nineteen centuries have
elapsed since Our Lord gave utterance to those words, and not a single one of them has been
without wars, plagues, famines, and earthquakes. Mighty empires have crashed in ruin to the
ground, diseases have unpeopled half the globe, there have been vast natural cataclysms in
which thousands have been overwhelmed by flood and fire and whirlwind. Time and again, in
the course of these nineteen centuries, such things have happened, but they have not brought
Christ back to earth. They were ‘signs of the times’ inasmuch as they were signs of
God’s wrath against the chronic wickedness of mankind, but they were not signs of the
times in connection with the Second Coming. “If earnest Christians have regarded the present
war as a true sign of the Lord’s approaching return, it is not merely because it happens
to be a great war involving the lives of millions of people,
not merely because famine is tightening its grip on every country in Europe, not merely
because disease of every kind, from syphilis to spotted fever, is rife among the warring
nations; no, it is not for these reasons that we regard this war as a true Sign of the Times,
but because in its origin and its progress it is marked by certain characteristics which
seem to connect it almost beyond a doubt with the predictions in Christian Prophecy relating
to the Second Coming of the Lord. “Let me enumerate the features of the present war
which most clearly suggest that it is a Sign foretelling the near approach of the Second
Advent. Our Lord said that ‘this Gospel of the Kingdom
shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.’
Although it would be presumptuous for us to say what degree of evangelization will be
regarded by God as sufficient, we may at least confidently hope that a century of unflagging
missionary work has brought the fulfilment of this condition at any rate near. True,
the larger number of the world’s inhabitants have remained deaf to the preaching of the
true religion; but that does not vitiate the fact that the Gospel HAS been preached ‘for
a witness’ to all unbelievers from the Papist to the Zulu.
The responsibility for the continued prevalence of unbelief lies, not with the preachers,
but with those preached to. “Again, it has been generally recognized that ‘the drying
up of the waters of the great river Euphrates,’ mentioned in the sixteenth chapter of Revelation,
refers to the decay and extinction of Turkish power, and is a sign of the near approaching
end of the world as we know it. The capture of Jerusalem and the successes in Mesopotamia
are great strides forward in the destruction of the Ottoman Empire; though it must be admitted
that the Gallipoli episode proved that the Turk still possesses a ‘notable horn’ of strength.
Historically speaking, this drying up of Ottoman power has been going on for the past century;
the last two years have witnessed a great acceleration of the process, and there can
be no doubt that complete desiccation is within sight. “Closely following on the words concerning
the drying up of Euphrates comes the prophecy of Armageddon, that world war with which the
Second Coming is to be so closely associated. Once begun, the world war can end only with
the return of Christ, and His coming will be sudden and unexpected, like that of a thief
in the night. “Let us examine the facts. In history, exactly as in St. John’s Gospel,
the world war is immediately preceded by the drying up of Euphrates, or the decay of Turkish
power. This fact alone would be enough to connect
the present conflict with the Armageddon of Revelation and therefore to point to the near
approach of the Second Advent. But further evidence of an even more solid and convincing
nature can be adduced. “Armageddon is brought about by the activities of three unclean spirits,
as it were toads, which come out of the mouths of the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet.
If we can identify these three powers of evil much light will clearly be thrown on the whole
question. “The Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet can all be identified in history.
Satan, who can only work through human agency, has used these three powers in the long war
against Christ which has filled the last nineteen centuries with religious strife. The Dragon,
it has been sufficiently established, is pagan Rome, and the spirit issuing from its mouth
is the spirit of Infidelity. The Beast, alternatively symbolized as a Woman, is undoubtedly the
Papal power, and Popery is the spirit which it spews forth. There is only one power which
answers to the description of the False Prophet, the wolf in sheep’s clothing, the agent of
the devil working in the guise of the Lamb, and that power is the so-called ‘Society of
Jesus. The spirit that issues from the mouth of the False Prophet is the spirit of False
Morality. “We may assume, then, that the three evil
spirits are Infidelity, Popery, and False Morality. Have these three influences been
the real cause of the present conflict? The answer is clear. “The spirit of Infidelity
is the very spirit of German criticism. The Higher Criticism, as it is mockingly called,
denies the possibility of miracles, prediction, and real inspiration, and attempts to account
for the Bible as a natural development. Slowly but surely, during the last eighty years,
the spirit of Infidelity has been robbing the Germans of their Bible and their faith,
so that Germany is to-day a nation of unbelievers. Higher Criticism has thus made the war possible;
for it would be absolutely impossible for any Christian nation to wage war as Germany
is waging it. “We come next to the spirit of Popery, whose
influence in causing the war was quite as great as that of Infidelity, though not, perhaps,
so immediately obvious. Since the Franco-Prussian War the Papal power has steadily declined
in France, while in Germany it has steadily increased. To-day France is an anti-papal
state, while Germany possesses a powerful Roman Catholic minority. Two papally controlled
states, Germany and Austria, are at war with six anti-papal states–England, France, Italy,
Russia, Serbia, and Portugal. Belgium is, of course, a thoroughly papal state,
and there can be little doubt that the presence on the Allies� side of an element so essentially
hostile has done much to hamper the righteous cause and is responsible for our comparative
ill-success. That the spirit of Popery is behind the war is thus seen clearly enough
in the grouping of the opposed powers, while the rebellion in the Roman Catholic parts
of Ireland has merely confirmed a conclusion already obvious to any unbiased mind. “The
spirit of False Morality has played as great a part in this war as the two other evil spirits.
The Scrap of Paper incident is the nearest and most obvious example of Germany’s adherence
to this essentially unchristian or Jesuitical morality.
The end is German world-power, and in the attainment of this end, any means are justifiable.
It is the true principle of Jesuitry applied to international politics. “The identification
is now complete. As was predicted in Revelation, the three evil spirits have gone forth just
as the decay of the Ottoman power was nearing completion, and have joined together to make
the world war. The warning, ‘Behold, I come as a thief,’ is therefore meant for the present
period–for you and me and all the world. This war will lead on inevitably to the war
of Armageddon, and will only be brought to an end by the Lord’s personal return.
“And when He returns, what will happen? Those who are in Christ, St. John tells us, will
be called to the Supper of the Lamb. Those who are found fighting against Him will be
called to the Supper of the Great God–that grim banquet where they shall not feast, but
be feasted on. ‘For,’ as St. John says, ‘I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried
in a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather
yourselves together unto the supper of the Great God; that ye may eat the flesh of kings,
and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of
them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond,
both small and great.’ All the enemies of Christ will be slain with the sword of him
that sits upon the horse, ‘and all the fowls will be filled with their flesh.’ That is
the Supper of the Great God. “It may be soon or it may, as men reckon time, be long; but
sooner or later, inevitably, the Lord will come and deliver the world from its present
troubles. And woe unto them who are called, not to the Supper of the Lamb, but to the
Supper of the Great God. They will realize then, but too late, that God is a God of Wrath
as well as a God of Forgiveness. The God who sent bears to devour the mockers
of Elisha, the God who smote the Egyptians for their stubborn wickedness, will assuredly
smite them too, unless they make haste to repent. But perhaps it is already too late.
Who knows but that to-morrow, in a moment even, Christ may be upon us unawares, like
a thief? In a little while, who knows? The angel standing in the sun may be summoning
the ravens and vultures from their crannies in the rocks to feed upon the putrefying flesh
of the millions of unrighteous whom God’s wrath has destroyed. Be ready, then; the coming
of the Lord is at hand. May it be for all of you an object of hope, not a moment to
look forward to with terror and trembling.” Mr. Bodiham closed the little pamphlet and
leaned back in his chair. The argument was sound, absolutely compelling; and yet–it
was four years since he had preached that sermon; four years, and England was at peace,
the sun shone, the people of Crome were as wicked and indifferent as ever–more so, indeed,
if that were possible. If only he could understand, if the heavens would but make a sign! But
his questionings remained unanswered. Seated there in his brown varnished chair under the
Ruskinian window, he could have screamed aloud. He gripped the arms of his chair–gripping,
gripping for control. The knuckles of his hands whitened; he bit his lip.
In a few seconds he was able to relax the tension; he began to rebuke himself for his
rebellious impatience. Four years, he reflected; what were four years, after all? It must inevitably
take a long time for Armageddon to ripen to yeast itself up. The episode of 1914 had been
a preliminary skirmish. And as for the war having come to an end–why, that, of course,
was illusory. It was still going on, smouldering away in Silesia, in Ireland, in Anatolia;
the discontent in Egypt and India was preparing the way, perhaps, for a great extension of
the slaughter among the heathen peoples. The Chinese boycott of Japan, and the rivalries
of that country and America in the Pacific, might be breeding a great new war in the East.
The prospect, Mr. Bodiham tried to assure himself, was hopeful; the real, the genuine
Armageddon might soon begin, and then, like a thief in the night…But, in spite of all
his comfortable reasoning, he remained unhappy, dissatisfied. Four years ago he had been so
confident; God’s intention seemed then so plain. And now? Now, he did well to be angry.
And now he suffered too. Sudden and silent as a phantom Mrs. Bodiham appeared, gliding
noiselessly across the room. Above her black dress her face was pale with an opaque whiteness,
her eyes were pale as water in a glass, and her strawy hair was almost colourless. She
held a large envelope in her hand. “This came for you by the post,” she said softly.
The envelope was unsealed. Mechanically Mr. Bodiham tore it open. It contained a pamphlet,
larger than his own and more elegant in appearance. “The House of Sheeny, Clerical Outfitters,
Birmingham.” He turned over the pages. The catalogue was tastefully and ecclesiastically
printed in antique characters with illuminated Gothic initials. Red marginal lines, crossed
at the corners after the manner of an Oxford picture frame, enclosed each page of type,
little red crosses took the place of full stops. Mr. Bodiham turned the pages. “Soutane
in best black merino. Ready to wear; in all sizes. Clerical frock coats. From nine guineas.
A dressy garment, tailored by our own experienced ecclesiastical cutters.” Half-tone illustrations
represented young curates, some dapper, some Rugbeian and muscular, some with ascetic faces
and large ecstatic eyes, dressed in jackets, in frock-coats, in surplices, in clerical
evening dress, in black Norfolk suitings. “A large assortment of chasubles. “Rope girdles.
“Sheeny’s Special Skirt Cassocks. Tied by a string about the waist…When worn under
a surplice presents an appearance indistinguishable from that of a complete cassock…Recommended
for summer wear and hot climates.� With a gesture of horror and disgust Mr. Bodiham
threw the catalogue into the waste-paper basket. Mrs. Bodiham looked at him; her pale, glaucous
eyes reflected his action without comment. “The village,” she said in her quiet voice,
“the village grows worse and worse every day.� “What has happened now?” asked Mr. Bodiham,
feeling suddenly very weary. “I’ll tell you.” She pulled up a brown varnished chair and
sat down. In the village of Crome, it seemed, Sodom and Gomorrah had come to a second birth.
End of chapter CHAPTER X.
Denis did not dance, but when ragtime came squirting out of the pianola in gushes of
treacle and hot perfume, in jets of Bengal light, then things began to dance inside him.
Little black nigger corpuscles jigged and drummed in his arteries. He became a cage
of movement, a walking palais de danse. It was very uncomfortable, like the preliminary
symptoms of a disease. He sat in one of the window-seats, glumly pretending to read. At
the pianola, Henry Wimbush, smoking a long cigar through a tunneled pillar of amber,
trod out the shattering dance music with serene patience. Locked together, Gombauld and Anne
moved with a harmoniousness that made them seem a single creature, two-headed and four-legged.
Mr. Scogan, solemnly buffoonish, shuffled round the room with Mary. Jenny sat in the
shadow behind the piano, scribbling, so it seemed, in a big red notebook. In arm-chairs
by the fireplace, Priscilla and Mr. Barbecue-Smith discussed higher things, without, apparently,
being disturbed by the noise on the Lower Plane. “Optimism,” said Mr. Barbecue-Smith
with a tone of finality, speaking through strains of the “Wild, Wild Women”–“optimism
is the opening out of the soul towards the light; it is an expansion towards and into
God, it is a h-piritual self-unification with the Infinite.� “How true!” sighed Priscilla,
nodding the baleful splendours of her coiffure. “Pessimism, on the other hand, is the contraction
of the soul towards darkness; it is a focusing of the self upon a point in the Lower Plane;
it is a h-piritual slavery to mere facts; to gross physical phenomena.� “They’re making
a wild man of me.” The refrain sang itself over in Denis’s mind. Yes, they were; damn
them! A wild man, but not wild enough; that was the trouble. Wild inside; raging, writhing–yes,
“writhing” was the word, writhing with desire. But outwardly he was hopelessly tame; outwardly–baa,
baa, baa. There they were, Anne and Gombauld, moving together as though they were a single
supple creature. The beast with two backs. And he sat in a corner, pretending to read,
pretending he didn’t want to dance, pretending he rather despised dancing. Why? It was the
baa-baa business again. Why was he born with a different face? Why WAS he? Gombauld had
a face of brass–one of those old, brazen rams that thumped against the walls of cities
till they fell. He was born with a different face–a woolly face. The music stopped. The
single harmonious creature broke in two. Flushed, a little breathless, Anne swayed across the
room to the pianola, laid her hand on Mr. Wimbush’s shoulder. “A waltz this time, please,
Uncle Henry,” she said. “A waltz,” he repeated, and turned to the cabinet where the rolls
were kept. He trod off the old roll and trod on the new,
a slave at the mill, uncomplaining and beautifully well bred. “Rum; Tum; Rum-ti-ti; Tum-ti-ti…”
The melody wallowed oozily along, like a ship moving forward over a sleek and oily swell.
The four-legged creature, more graceful, more harmonious in its movements than ever, slid
across the floor. Oh, why was he born with a different face? “What are you reading?�
He looked up, startled. It was Mary. She had broken from the uncomfortable embrace of Mr.
Scogan, who had now seized on Jenny for his victim. “What are you reading?� “I don’t
know,” said Denis truthfully. He looked at the title page; the book was called “The Stock
Breeder’s Vade Mecum.” “I think you are so sensible to sit and read
quietly,” said Mary, fixing him with her china eyes. “I don’t know why one dances. It’s so
boring.� Denis made no reply; she exacerbated him. From the arm-chair by the fireplace he
heard Priscilla’s deep voice. “Tell me, Mr Barbecue-Smith–you know all about science,
I know–” A deprecating noise came from Mr. Barbecue-Smith’s chair. “This Einstein theory.
It seems to upset the whole starry universe. It makes me so worried about my horoscopes.
You see…� Mary renewed her attack. “Which of the contemporary poets do you like best?”
she asked. Denis was filled with fury. Why couldn’t this pest of a girl leave him
alone? He wanted to listen to the horrible music, to watch them dancing–oh, with what
grace, as though they had been made for one another!–to savour his misery in peace. And
she came and put him through this absurd catechism! She was like “Mangold’s Questions”: “What
are the three diseases of wheat?”–“Which of the contemporary poets do you like best?�
“Blight, Mildew, and Smut,” he replied, with the laconism of one who is absolutely certain
of his own mind. It was several hours before Denis managed to go to sleep that night. Vague
but agonising miseries possessed his mind. It was not only Anne who made him miserable;
he was wretched about himself, the future, life in general, the universe. “This adolescence
business,” he repeated to himself every now and then, “is horribly boring.” But the fact
that he knew his disease did not help him to cure it. After kicking all the clothes
off the bed, he got up and sought relief in composition. He wanted to imprison his nameless
misery in words. At the end of an hour, nine more or less complete lines emerged from among
the blots and scratchings. “I do not know what I desire When summer nights are dark
and still, When the wind’s many-voiced quire Sleeps among the muffled branches.
I long and know not what I will: And not a sound of life or laughter stanches Time’s
black and silent flow. I do not know what I desire, I do not know.� He read it through
aloud; then threw the scribbled sheet into the waste-paper basket and got into bed again.
In a very few minutes he was asleep. End of chapter
CHAPTER XI. Mr. Barbecue-Smith was gone. The motor had
whirled him away to the station; a faint smell of burning oil commemorated his recent departure.
A considerable detachment had come into the courtyard to speed him on his way; and now
they were walking back, round the side of the house, towards the terrace and the garden.
They walked in silence; nobody had yet ventured to comment on the departed guest. “Well?”
said Anne at last, turning with raised inquiring eyebrows to Denis. “Well?” It was time for
someone to begin. Denis declined the invitation; he passed it on to Mr Scogan. “Well?” he said.
Mr. Scogan did not respond; he only repeated the question, “Well?”
It was left for Henry Wimbush to make a pronouncement. “A very agreeable adjunct to the week-end,”
he said. His tone was obituary. They had descended, without paying much attention where they were
going, the steep yew-walk that went down, under the flank of the terrace, to the pool.
The house towered above them, immensely tall, with the whole height of the built-up terrace
added to its own seventy feet of brick facade. The perpendicular lines of the three towers
soared up, uninterrupted, enhancing the impression of height until it became overwhelming. They
paused at the edge of the pool to look back. “The man who built this house knew his business,”
said Denis. “He was an architect.” “Was he?” said Henry Wimbush reflectively.
“I doubt it. The builder of this house was Sir Ferdinando Lapith, who flourished during
the reign of Elizabeth. He inherited the estate from his father, to whom it had been granted
at the time of the dissolution of the monasteries; for Crome was originally a cloister of monks
and this swimming-pool their fish-pond. Sir Ferdinando was not content merely to adapt
the old monastic buildings to his own purposes; but using them as a stone quarry for his barns
and byres and outhouses, he built for himself a grand new house of brick–the house you
see now.� He waved his hand in the direction of the house and was silent, severe,
imposing, almost menacing, Crome loomed down on them.
“The great thing about Crome,” said Mr. Scogan, seizing the opportunity to speak, “is the
fact that it’s so unmistakably and aggressively a work of art. It makes no compromise with
nature, but affronts it and rebels against it. It has no likeness to Shelley’s tower,
in the Epipsychidion,’ which, if I remember rightly– “‘Seems not now a work of human
art, But as it were titanic, in the heart Of earth having assumed its form and grown
Out of the mountain, from the living stone, Lifting itself in caverns light and high.�
“No, no, there isn’t any nonsense of that sort about Crome. That the hovels of the peasantry
should look as though they had grown out of the earth, to which their inmates are attached,
is right, no doubt, and suitable. But the house of an intelligent, civilised,
and sophisticated man should never seem to have sprouted from the clods. It should rather
be an expression of his grand unnatural remoteness from the cloddish life. Since the days of
William Morris that’s a fact which we in England have been unable to comprehend. Civilised
and sophisticated men have solemnly played at being peasants. Hence quaintness, arts
and crafts, cottage architecture, and all the rest of it. In the suburbs of our cities
you may see, reduplicated in endless rows, studiedly quaint imitations and adaptations
of the village hovel. Poverty, ignorance, and a limited range of
materials produced the hovel, which possesses undoubtedly, in suitable surroundings, its
own ‘as it were titanic� charm. We now employ our wealth, our technical knowledge, our rich
variety of materials for the purpose of building millions of imitation hovels in totally unsuitable
surroundings. Could imbecility go further?� Henry Wimbush took up the thread of his interrupted
discourse. “All that you say, my dear Scogan,” he began, “is certainly very just, very true.
But whether Sir Ferdinando shared your views about architecture or if, indeed, he had any
views about architecture at all, I very much doubt.
In building this house, Sir Ferdinando was, as a matter of fact, preoccupied by only one
thought–the proper placing of his privies. Sanitation was the one great interest of his
life. In 1573 he even published, on this subject, a little book–now extremely scarce–called,
‘Certaine Priuy Counsels’ by ‘One of Her Maiestie’s Most Honourable Priuy Counsels, F.L. Knight’,
in which the whole matter is treated with great learning and elegance. His guiding principle
in arranging the sanitation of a house was to secure that the greatest possible distance
should separate the privy from the sewage arrangements.
Hence it followed inevitably that the privies were to be placed at the top of the house,
being connected by vertical shafts with pits or channels in the ground. It must not be
thought that Sir Ferdinando was moved only by material and merely sanitary considerations;
for the placing of his privies in an exalted position he had also certain excellent spiritual
reasons. For, he argues in the third chapter of his ‘Priuy Counsels’, the necessities of
nature are so base and brutish that in obeying them we are apt to forget that we are the
noblest creatures of the universe. To counteract these degrading effects he advised that the
privy should be in every house the room nearest to heaven,
that it should be well provided with windows commanding an extensive and noble prospect,
and that the walls of the chamber should be lined with bookshelves containing all the
ripest products of human wisdom, such as the Proverbs of Solomon, Boethius’s ‘Consolations
of Philosophy’, the apophthegms of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, the ‘Enchiridion’ of
Erasmus, and all other works, ancient or modern, which testify to the nobility of the human
soul. In Crome he was able to put his theories into practice. At the top of each of the three
projecting towers he placed a privy. From these a shaft went down the whole height of
the house, that is to say, more than seventy feet, through the cellars,
and into a series of conduits provided with flowing water tunnelled in the ground on a
level with the base of the raised terrace. These conduits emptied themselves into the
stream several hundred yards below the fish-pond. The total depth of the shafts from the top
of the towers to their subterranean conduits was a hundred and two feet. The eighteenth
century, with its passion for modernisation, swept away these monuments of sanitary ingenuity.
Were it not for tradition and the explicit account of them left by Sir Ferdinando, we
should be unaware that these noble privies had ever existed. We should even suppose that
Sir Ferdinando built his house after this strange and splendid model for merely aesthetic
reasons.” The contemplation of the glories of the past
always evoked in Henry Wimbush a certain enthusiasm. Under the grey bowler his face worked and
glowed as he spoke. The thought of these vanished privies moved him profoundly. He ceased to
speak; the light gradually died out of his face, and it became once more the replica
of the grave, polite hat which shaded it. There was a long silence; the same gently
melancholy thoughts seemed to possess the mind of each of them. Permanence, transience�Sir
Ferdinando and his privies were gone, Crome still stood. How brightly the sun shone and
how inevitable was death! The ways of God were strange; the ways of man were stranger
still… “It does one’s heart good,” exclaimed Mr.
Scogan at last, “to hear of these fantastic English aristocrats. To have a theory about
privies and to build an immense and splendid house in order to put it into practise–it’s
magnificent, beautiful! I like to think of them all: the eccentric milords rolling across
Europe in ponderous carriages, bound on extraordinary errands. One is going to Venice to buy La
Bianchi’s larynx; he won’t get it till she’s dead, of course, but no matter; he’s prepared
to wait; he has a collection, pickled in glass bottles, of the throats of famous opera singers.
And the instruments of renowned virtuosi–he goes in for them too; he will try to bribe
Paganini to part with his little Guarnerio, but he has small hope of success. Paganini
won’t sell his fiddle; but perhaps he might sacrifice one of his guitars. Others are bound
on crusades–one to die miserably among the savage Greeks, another, in his white top hat,
to lead Italians against their oppressors. Others have no business at all; they are just
giving their oddity a continental airing. At home they cultivate themselves at leisure
and with greater elaboration. Beckford builds towers, Portland digs holes in the ground,
Cavendish, the millionaire, lives in a stable, eats nothing but mutton,
and amuses himself–oh, solely for his private delectation–by anticipating the electrical
discoveries of half a century. Glorious eccentrics! Every age is enlivened by their presence.
Some day, my dear Denis,” said Mr Scogan, turning a beady bright regard in his direction–“some
day you must become their biographer–‘The Lives of Queer Men.’ What a subject! I should
like to undertake it myself.� Mr. Scogan paused, looked up once more at the towering
house, then murmured the word “Eccentricity,” two or three times. “Eccentricity…It’s the
justification of all aristocracies. It justifies leisured classes and inherited wealth and
privilege and endowments and all the other injustices of that sort.
If you’re to do anything reasonable in this world, you must have a class of people who
are secure, safe from public opinion, safe from poverty, leisured, not compelled to waste
their time in the imbecile routines that go by the name of Honest Work. You must have
a class of which the members can think and, within the obvious limits, do what they please.
You must have a class in which people who have eccentricities can indulge them and in
which eccentricity in general will be tolerated and understood. That’s the important thing
about an aristocracy. Not only is it eccentric itself–often grandiosely so; it also tolerates
and even encourages eccentricity in others. The eccentricities of the artist and the new-fangled
thinker don’t inspire it with that fear, loathing, and disgust which the burgesses instinctively
feel towards them. It is a sort of Red Indian Reservation planted in the midst of a vast
horde of Poor Whites–colonials at that. Within its boundaries wild men disport themselves–often,
it must be admitted, a little grossly, a little too flamboyantly; and when kindred spirits
are born outside the pale it offers them some sort of refuge from the hatred which the Poor
Whites, en bons bourgeois, lavish on anything that is wild or out of the ordinary.
After the social revolution there will be no Reservations; the Redskins will be drowned
in the great sea of Poor Whites. What then? Will they suffer you to go on writing villanelles,
my good Denis? Will you, unhappy Henry, be allowed to live in this house of the splendid
privies, to continue your quiet delving in the mines of futile knowledge? Will Anne…�
“And you,” said Anne, interrupting him, “will you be allowed to go on talking?� “You may
rest assured,” Mr. Scogan replied, “that I shall not. I shall have some Honest Work to
do.” End of chapter
CHAPTER XII. “Blight, Mildew, and Smut…” Mary was puzzled
and distressed. Perhaps her ears had played her false. Perhaps what he had really said
was, “Squire, Binyon, and Shanks,” or “Childe, Blunden, and Earp,” or even “Abercrombie,
Drinkwater, and Rabindranath Tagore.” Perhaps. But then her ears never did play her false.
“Blight, Mildew, and Smut.” The impression was distinct and ineffaceable. “Blight, Mildew…”
she was forced to the conclusion, reluctantly, that Denis had indeed pronounced those improbable
words. He had deliberately repelled her attempts to open a serious discussion.
That was horrible. A man who would not talk seriously to a woman just because she was
a woman–oh, impossible! Egeria or nothing. Perhaps Gombauld would be more satisfactory.
True, his meridional heredity was a little disquieting; but at least he was a serious
worker, and it was with his work that she would associate herself. And Denis? After
all, what WAS Denis? A dilettante, an amateur… Gombauld had annexed for his painting-room
a little disused granary that stood by itself in a green close beyond the farm-yard. It
was a square brick building with a peaked roof and little windows set high up in each
of its walls. A ladder of four rungs led up to the door;
for the granary was perched above the ground, and out of reach of the rats, on four massive
toadstools of grey stone. Within, there lingered a faint smell of dust and cobwebs; and the
narrow shaft of sunlight that came slanting in at every hour of the day through one of
the little windows was always alive with silvery motes. Here Gombauld worked, with a kind of
concentrated ferocity, during six or seven hours of each day. He was pursuing something
new, something terrific, if only he could catch it. During the last eight years, nearly
half of which had been spent in the process of winning the war, he had worked his way
industriously through cubism. Now he had come out on the other side.
He had begun by painting a formalised nature; then, little by little, he had risen from
nature into the world of pure form, till in the end he was painting nothing but his own
thoughts, externalised in the abstract geometrical forms of the mind’s devising. He found the
process arduous and exhilarating. And then, quite suddenly, he grew dissatisfied; he felt
himself cramped and confined within intolerably narrow limitations. He was humiliated to find
how few and crude and uninteresting were the forms he could invent; the inventions of nature
were without number, inconceivably subtle and elaborate. He had done with cubism. He
was out on the other side. But the cubist discipline preserved him from
falling into excesses of nature worship. He took from nature its rich, subtle, elaborate
forms, but his aim was always to work them into a whole that should have the thrilling
simplicity and formality of an idea; to combine prodigious realism with prodigious simplification.
Memories of Caravaggio’s portentous achievements haunted him. Forms of a breathing, living
reality emerged from darkness, built themselves up into compositions as luminously simple
and single as a mathematical idea. He thought of the “Call of Matthew,” of “Peter Crucified,”
of the “Lute players,” of “Magdalen.” He had the secret, that astonishing ruffian,
he had the secret! And now Gombauld was after it, in hot pursuit. Yes, it would be something
terrific, if only he could catch it. For a long time an idea had been stirring and spreading,
yeastily, in his mind. He had made a portfolio full of studies, he had drawn a cartoon; and
now the idea was taking shape on canvas. A man fallen from a horse. The huge animal,
a gaunt white cart-horse, filled the upper half of the picture with its great body. Its
head, lowered towards the ground, was in shadow; the immense bony body was what arrested the
eye, the body and the legs, which came down on either side of the picture like the pillars
of an arch. On the ground, between the legs of the towering
beast, lay the foreshortened figure of a man, the head in the extreme foreground, the arms
flung wide to right and left. A white, relentless light poured down from a point in the right
foreground. The beast, the fallen man, were sharply illuminated; round them, beyond and
behind them, was the night. They were alone in the darkness, a universe in themselves.
The horse’s body filled the upper part of the picture; the legs, the great hoofs, frozen
to stillness in the midst of their trampling, limited it on either side. And beneath lay
the man, his foreshortened face at the focal point in the centre,
his arms outstretched towards the sides of the picture. Under the arch of the horse’s
belly, between his legs, the eye looked through into an intense darkness; below, the space
was closed in by the figure of the prostrate man. A central gulf of darkness surrounded
by luminous forms… The picture was more than half finished. Gombauld had been at work
all the morning on the figure of the man, and now he was taking a rest�the time to
smoke a cigarette. Tilting back his chair till it touched the wall, he looked thoughtfully
at his canvas. He was pleased, and at the same time he was desolated. In itself, the
thing was good; he knew it. But that something he was after, that something
that would be so terrific if only he could catch it–had he caught it? Would he ever
catch it? Three little taps–rat, tat, tat! Surprised, Gombauld turned his eyes towards
the door. Nobody ever disturbed him while he was at work; it was one of the unwritten
laws. “Come in!” he called. The door, which was ajar, swung open, revealing, from the
waist upwards, the form of Mary. She had only dared to mount half-way up the ladder. If
he didn’t want her, retreat would be easier and more dignified than if she climbed to
the top. “May I come in?” she asked. “Certainly.� She skipped up the remaining two rungs and
was over the threshold in an instant. “A letter came for you by the second post,”
she said. “I thought it might be important, so I brought it out to you.” Her eyes, her
childish face were luminously candid as she handed him the letter. There had never been
a flimsier pretext. Gombauld looked at the envelope and put it in his pocket unopened.
“Luckily,” he said, “it isn’t at all important. Thanks very much all the same.� There was
a silence; Mary felt a little uncomfortable. “May I have a look at what you’ve been painting?”
she had the courage to say at last. Gombauld had only half smoked his cigarette; in any
case he wouldn’t begin work again till he had finished. He would give her the five minutes
that separated him from the bitter end. ” “This is the best place to see it from,” he
said. Mary looked at the picture for some time without saying anything. Indeed, she
didn’t know what to say; she was taken aback, she was at a loss. She had expected a cubist
masterpiece, and here was a picture of a man and a horse, not only recognisable as such,
but even aggressively in drawing. Trompe-l’oeil–there was no other word to describe the delineation
of that foreshortened figure under the trampling feet of the horse. What was she to think,
what was she to say? Her orientations were gone. One could admire representationalism
in the Old Masters. Obviously. But in a modern…? At eighteen she might have done so. But now,
after five years of schooling among the best judges,
her instinctive reaction to a contemporary piece of representation was contempt–an outburst
of laughing disparagement. What could Gombauld be up to? She had felt so safe in admiring
his work before. But now�she didn’t know what to think. It was very difficult, very
difficult. “There’s rather a lot of chiaroscuro, isn’t there?” she ventured at last, and inwardly
congratulated herself on having found a critical formula so gentle and at the same time so
penetrating. “There is,” Gombauld agreed. Mary was pleased; he accepted her criticism;
it was a serious discussion. She put her head on one side and screwed up her eyes.
“I think it’s awfully fine,” she said. “But of course it’s a little too…too…trompe-l’oeil
for my taste.” She looked at Gombauld, who made no response, but continued to smoke,
gazing meditatively all the time at his picture. Mary went on gaspingly. “When I was in Paris
this spring I saw a lot of Tschuplitski. I admire his work so tremendously. Of course,
it’s frightfully abstract now–frightfully abstract and frightfully intellectual. He
just throws a few oblongs on to his canvas–quite flat, you know, and painted in pure primary
colours. But his design is wonderful. He’s getting more and more abstract every day.
He’d given up the third dimension when I was there and was just thinking of giving up the
second. Soon, he says, there’ll be just the blank canvas. That’s the logical conclusion.
Complete abstraction. Painting’s finished; he’s finishing it. When he’s reached pure
abstraction he’s going to take up architecture. He says it’s more intellectual than painting.
Do you agree?” she asked, with a final gasp. Gombauld dropped his cigarette end and trod
on it. “Tschuplitski’s finished painting,” he said. “I’ve finished my cigarette. But
I’m going on painting.” And, advancing towards her, he put his arm round her shoulders and
turned her round, away from the picture. Mary looked up at him; her hair swung back, a soundless
bell of gold. Her eyes were serene; she smiled. So the moment
had come. His arm was round her. He moved slowly, almost imperceptibly, and she moved
with him. It was a peripatetic embracement. “Do you agree with him?” she repeated. The
moment might have come, but she would not cease to be intellectual, serious. “I don’t
know. I shall have to think about it.” Gombauld loosened his embrace, his hand dropped from
her shoulder. “Be careful going down the ladder,” he added solicitously. Mary looked round,
startled. They were in front of the open door. She remained standing there for a moment in
bewilderment. The hand that had rested on her shoulder made
itself felt lower down her back; it administered three or four kindly little smacks. Replying
automatically to its stimulus, she moved forward. “Be careful going down the ladder,” said Gombauld
once more. She was careful. The door closed behind her and she was alone in the little
green close. She walked slowly back through the farmyard; she was pensive.
End of chapter CHAPTER XIII.
Henry Wimbush brought down with him to dinner a budget of printed sheets loosely bound together
in a cardboard portfolio. “To-day,” he said, exhibiting it with a certain solemnity, “to-day
I have finished the printing of my ‘History of Crome’. I helped to set up the type of
the last page this evening.� “The famous History?” cried Anne. The writing and the
printing of this Magnum Opus had been going on as long as she could remember. All her
childhood long Uncle Henry’s History had been a vague and fabulous thing, often heard of
and never seen. “It has taken me nearly thirty years,” said Mr. Wimbush. “Twenty-five years
of writing and nearly four of printing. And now it’s finished�the whole chronicle,
from Sir Ferdinando Lapith’s birth to the death of my father William Wimbush–more than
three centuries and a half: a history of Crome, written at Crome, and printed at Crome by
my own press.� “Shall we be allowed to read it now it’s finished?” asked Denis. Mr. Wimbush
nodded. “Certainly,” he said. “And I hope you will not find it uninteresting,” he added
modestly. “Our muniment room is particularly rich in ancient records, and I have some genuinely
new light to throw on the introduction of the three-pronged fork.� “And the people?”
asked Gombauld. “Sir Ferdinando and the rest of them–were they amusing? Were there any
crimes or tragedies in the family?” “Let me see,” Henry Wimbush rubbed his chin
thoughtfully. “I can only think of two suicides, one violent death, four or perhaps five broken
hearts, and half a dozen little blots on the scutcheon in the way of misalliances, seductions,
natural children, and the like. No, on the whole, it’s a placid and uneventful record.�
“The Wimbushes and the Lapiths were always an unadventurous, respectable crew,” said
Priscilla, with a note of scorn in her voice. “If I were to
write my family history now! Why, it would be one long continuous blot from beginning
to end.” She laughed jovially, and helped herself to another glass of wine. “If I were
to write mine,” Mr. Scogan remarked, “it wouldn’t exist.
After the second generation we Scogans are lost in the mists of antiquity.� “After
dinner,” said Henry Wimbush, a little piqued by his wife’s disparaging comment on the masters
of Crome, “I’ll read you an episode from my History that will make you admit that even
the Lapiths, in their own respectable way, had their tragedies and strange adventures.�
“I’m glad to hear it,” said Priscilla. “Glad to hear what?” asked Jenny, emerging suddenly
from her private interior world like a cuckoo from a clock. She received an explanation,
smiled, nodded, cuckooed at last “I see,” and popped back, clapping shut the door behind
her. Dinner was eaten; the party had adjourned to the drawing-room.
“Now,” said Henry Wimbush, pulling up a chair to the lamp. He put on his round pince-nez,
rimmed with tortoise-shell, and began cautiously to turn over the pages of his loose and still
fragmentary book. He found his place at last. “Shall I begin?” he asked, looking up. “Do,”
said Priscilla, yawning. In the midst of an attentive silence Mr. Wimbush gave a little
preliminary cough and started to read. “The infant who was destined to become the fourth
baronet of the name of Lapith was born in the year 1740. He was a very small baby, weighing
not more than three pounds at birth, but from the first he was sturdy and healthy.
In honour of his maternal grandfather, Sir Hercules Occam of Bishop’s Occam, he was christened
Hercules. His mother, like many other mothers, kept a notebook, in which his progress from
month to month was recorded. He walked at ten months, and before his second year was
out he had learnt to speak a number of words. At three years he weighed but twenty-four
pounds, and at six, though he could read and write perfectly and showed a remarkable aptitude
for music, he was no larger and heavier than a well-grown child of two. Meanwhile, his
mother had borne two other children, a boy and a girl, one of whom died of croup during
infancy, while the other was carried off by smallpox before it reached the age of five.
Hercules remained the only surviving child. “On his twelfth birthday Hercules was still
only three feet and two inches in height. His head, which was very handsome and nobly
shaped, was too big for his body, but otherwise he was exquisitely proportioned, and, for
his size, of great strength and agility. His parents, in the hope of making him grow, consulted
all the most eminent physicians of the time. Their various prescriptions were followed
to the letter, but in vain. One ordered a very plentiful meat diet; another exercise;
a third constructed a little rack, modelled on those employed by the Holy Inquisition,
on which young Hercules was stretched, with excruciating torments,
for half an hour every morning and evening. In the course of the next three years Hercules
gained perhaps two inches. After that his growth stopped completely, and he remained
for the rest of his life a pigmy of three feet and four inches. His father, who had
built the most extravagant hopes upon his son, planning for him in his imagination a
military career equal to that of Marlborough, found himself a disappointed man. ‘I have
brought an abortion into the world,’ he would say, and he took so violent a dislike to his
son that the boy dared scarcely come into his presence.
His temper, which had been serene, was turned by disappointment to moroseness and savagery.
He avoided all company (being, as he said, ashamed to show himself, the father of a lusus
naturae, among normal, healthy human beings), and took to solitary drinking, which carried
him very rapidly to his grave; for the year before Hercules came of age his father was
taken off by an apoplexy. His mother, whose love for him had increased with the growth
of his father’s unkindness, did not long survive, but little more than a year after her husband’s
death succumbed, after eating two dozen of oysters, to an attack of typhoid fever.
“Hercules thus found himself at the age of twenty-one alone in the world, and master
of a considerable fortune, including the estate and mansion of Crome. The beauty and intelligence
of his childhood had survived into his manly age, and, but for his dwarfish stature, he
would have taken his place among the handsomest and most accomplished young men of his time.
He was well read in the Greek and Latin authors, as well as in all the moderns of any merit
who had written in English, French, or Italian. He had a good ear for music, and was no indifferent
performer on the violin, which he used to play like a bass viol, seated on a chair with
the instrument between his legs. To the music of the harpsichord and clavichord
he was extremely partial, but the smallness of his hands made it impossible for him ever
to perform upon these instruments. He had a small ivory flute made for him, on which,
whenever he was melancholy, he used to play a simple country air or jig, affirming that
this rustic music had more power to clear and raise the spirits than the most artificial
productions of the masters. From an early age he practised the composition of poetry,
but, though conscious of his great powers in this art, he would never publish any specimen
of his writing. ‘My stature,’ he would say, ‘is reflected in my verses;
If the public were to read them it would not be because I am a poet, but because I am a
dwarf.’ Several MS. books of Sir Hercules’s poems survive. A single specimen will suffice
to illustrate his qualities as a poet. “‘In ancient days, while yet the world was young,
Ere Abram fed his flocks or Homer sung; When blacksmith Tubal tamed creative fire, And
Jabal dwelt in tents and Jubal struck the lyre; Flesh grown corrupt brought forth a
monstrous birth And obscene giants trod the shrinking earth, Till God, impatient of their
sinful brood, Gave rein to wrath and drown’d them in the Flood. Teeming again, repeopled
Tellus bore The lubber Hero and the Man of War; Huge towers of Brawn, topp’d with an
empty Skull, Witlessly bold, heroically dull. Long ages pass’d and Man grown more refin’d,
Slighter in muscle but of vaster Mind, Smiled at his grandsire’s broadsword, bow and bill,
And learn’d to wield the Pencil and the Quill. The glowing canvas and the written page Immortaliz’d
his name from age to age, His name emblazon’d on Fame’s temple wall; For Art grew great
as Humankind grew small. Thus man’s long progress step by step we trace; The Giant dies, the
hero takes his place; The Giant vile, the dull heroic Block: At one we shudder and at
one we mock. Man last appears. In him the Soul’s pure flame Burns brightlier in a not
inord’nate frame. Of old when Heroes fought and Giants swarmed,
Men were huge mounds of matter scarce inform’d; Wearied by leavening so vast a mass, The spirit
slept and all the mind was crass. The smaller carcase of these later days Is soon inform’d;
the Soul unwearied plays And like a Pharos darts abroad her mental rays. But can we think
that Providence will stay Man’s footsteps here upon the upward way? Mankind in understanding
and in grace Advanc’d so far beyond the Giants’ race? Hence impious thought! Still led by
GOD’S own Hand, Mankind proceeds towards the Promised Land. A time will come (prophetic,
I descry Remoter dawns along the gloomy sky), When happy mortals of a Golden Age Will backward
turn the dark historic page, And in our vaunted race of Men behold A form as gross, a Mind
as dead and cold, As we in Giants see, in warriors of old. A time will come, wherein
the soul shall be From all superfluous matter wholly free; When the light body, agile as
a fawn’s, Shall sport with grace along the velvet lawns. Nature’s most delicate and final
birth, Mankind perfected shall possess the earth. But ah, not yet! For still the Giants’
race, Huge, though diminish’d, tramps the Earth’s fair face; Gross and repulsive, yet
perversely proud, Men of their imperfections boast aloud.
Vain of their bulk, of all they still retain Of giant ugliness absurdly vain; At all that’s
small they point their stupid scorn And, monsters, think themselves divinely born. Sad is the
Fate of those, ah, sad indeed, The rare precursors of the nobler breed! Who come man’s golden
glory to foretell, But pointing Heav’nwards live themselves in Hell.� “As soon as he
came into the estate, Sir Hercules set about remodeling his household. For though by no
means ashamed of his deformity–indeed, if we may judge from the poem quoted above, he
regarded himself as being in many ways superior to the ordinary race of man–he found the
presence of full-grown men and women embarrassing. Realising, too, that he must abandon all ambitions
in the great world, he determined to retire absolutely from it and to create, as it were,
at Crome a private world of his own, in which all should be proportionable to himself. Accordingly,
he discharged all the old servants of the house and replaced them gradually, as he was
able to find suitable successors, by others of dwarfish stature. In the course of a few
years he had assembled about himself a numerous household, no member of which was above four
feet high and the smallest among them scarcely two feet and six inches.
His father’s dogs, such as setters, mastiffs, greyhounds, and a pack of beagles, he sold
or gave away as too large and too boisterous for his house, replacing them by pugs and
King Charles spaniels and whatever other breeds of dog were the smallest. His father’s stable
was also sold. For his own use, whether riding or driving, he had six black Shetland ponies,
with four very choice piebald animals of New Forest breed. “Having thus settled his household
entirely to his own satisfaction, it only remained for him to find some suitable companion
with whom to share his paradise. Sir Hercules had a susceptible heart, and had more than
once, between the ages of sixteen and twenty, felt what it was to love.
But here his deformity had been a source of the most bitter humiliation, for, having once
dared to declare himself to a young lady of his choice, he had been received with laughter.
On his persisting, she had picked him up and shaken him like an importunate child, telling
him to run away and plague her no more. The story soon got about–indeed, the young lady
herself used to tell it as a particularly pleasant anecdote�and the taunts and mockery
it occasioned were a source of the most acute distress to Hercules. From the poems written
at this period we gather that he meditated taking his own life.
In course of time, however, he lived down this humiliation; but never again, though
he often fell in love, and that very passionately, did he dare to make any advances to those
in whom he was interested. After coming to the estate and finding that he was in a position
to create his own world as he desired it, he saw that, if he was to have a wife–which
he very much desired, being of an affectionate and, indeed, amorous temper–he must choose
her as he had chosen his servants–from among the race of dwarfs. But to find a suitable
wife was, he found, a matter of some difficulty; for he would marry none who was not distinguished
by beauty and gentle birth. The dwarfish daughter of Lord Bemboro he refused
on the ground that besides being a pigmy she was hunchbacked; while another young lady,
an orphan belonging to a very good family in Hampshire, was rejected by him because
her face, like that of so many dwarfs, was wizened and repulsive. Finally, when he was
almost despairing of success, he heard from a reliable source that Count Titimalo, a Venetian
nobleman, possessed a daughter of exquisite beauty and great accomplishments, who was
by three feet in height. Setting out at once for Venice, he went immediately on his arrival
to pay his respects to the count, whom he found living with his wife and five
children in a very mean apartment in one of the poorer quarters of the town. Indeed, the
count was so far reduced in his circumstances that he was even then negotiating (so it was
rumoured) with a travelling company of clowns and acrobats, who had had the misfortune to
lose their performing dwarf, for the sale of his diminutive daughter Filomena. Sir Hercules
arrived in time to save her from this untoward fate, for he was so much charmed by Filomena’s
grace and beauty, that at the end of three days’ courtship he made her a formal offer
of marriage, which was accepted by her no less joyfully than by her father,
who perceived in an English son-in-law a rich and unfailing source of revenue. After an
unostentatious marriage, at which the English ambassador acted as one of the witnesses,
Sir Hercules and his bride returned by sea to England, where they settled down, as it
proved, to a life of uneventful happiness. “Crome and its household of dwarfs delighted
Filomena, who felt herself now for the first time to be a free woman living among her equals
in a friendly world. She had many tastes in common with her husband, especially that of
music. She had a beautiful voice, of a power surprising in one so small, and could touch
A in alt without effort. Accompanied by her husband on his fine Cremona
fiddle, which he played, as we have noted before, as one plays a bass viol, she would
sing all the liveliest and tenderest airs from the operas and cantatas of her native
country. Seated together at the harpsichord, they found that they could with their four
hands play all the music written for two hands of ordinary size, a circumstance which gave
Sir Hercules unfailing pleasure. “When they were not making music or reading together,
which they often did, both in English and Italian, they spent their time in healthful
outdoor exercises, sometimes rowing in a little boat on the lake,
But more often riding or driving, occupations in which, because they were entirely new to
her, Filomena especially delighted. When she had become a perfectly proficient rider, Filomena
and her husband used often to go hunting in the park, at that time very much more extensive
than it is now. They hunted not foxes nor hares, but rabbits, using a pack of about
thirty black and fawn-coloured pugs, a kind of dog which, when not overfed, can course
a rabbit as well as any of the smaller breeds. Four dwarf grooms, dressed in scarlet liveries
and mounted on white Exmoor ponies, hunted the pack, while their master and mistress,
in green habits, followed either on the black Shetlands or on the piebald New Forest ponies.
A picture of the whole hunt–dogs, horses, grooms, and masters–was painted by William
Stubbs, whose work Sir Hercules admired so much that he invited him, though a man of
ordinary stature, to come and stay at the mansion for the purpose of executing this
picture. Stubbs likewise painted a portrait of Sir Hercules and his lady driving in their
green enamelled calash drawn by four black Shetlands. Sir Hercules wears a plum-coloured
velvet coat and white breeches; Filomena is dressed in flowered muslin and a very large
hat with pink feathers. The two figures in their gay carriage stand out sharply against
a dark background of trees; but to the left of the picture the trees fall away and disappear,
so that the four black ponies are seen against a pale and strangely lurid sky that has the
golden-brown colour of thunder-clouds lighted up by the sun. “In this way four years passed
happily by. At the end of that time Filomena found herself great with child. Sir Hercules
was overjoyed. ‘If God is good,’ he wrote in his day-book, ‘the name of Lapith will
be preserved and our rarer and more delicate race transmitted through the generations until
in the fullness of time the world shall recognise the superiority of those beings whom now it
uses to make mock of.’ On his wife’s being brought to bed of a son he wrote a poem to
the same effect. The child was christened Ferdinando in memory of the builder of the
house. “With the passage of the months a certain
sense of disquiet began to invade the minds of Sir Hercules and his lady. For the child
was growing with an extraordinary rapidity. At a year he weighed as much as Hercules had
weighed when he was three. ‘Ferdinando goes crescendo,’ wrote Filomena in her diary. ‘It
seems not natural.’ At eighteen months the baby was almost as tall as their smallest
jockey, who was a man of thirty-six. Could it be that Ferdinando was destined to become
a man of the normal, gigantic dimensions? It was a thought to which neither of his parents
dared yet give open utterance, but in the secrecy of their respective diaries they brooded
over it in terror and dismay. “On his third birthday Ferdinando was taller
than his mother and not more than a couple of inches short of his father’s height. ‘To-day
for the first time’ wrote Sir Hercules, ‘we discussed the situation. The hideous truth
can be concealed no longer: Ferdinando is not one of us. On this, his third birthday,
a day when we should have been rejoicing at the health, the strength, and beauty of our
child, we wept together over the ruin of our happiness. God give us strength to bear this
cross.� “At the age of eight Ferdinando was so large and so exuberantly healthy that
his parents decided, though reluctantly, to send him to school.
He was packed off to Eton at the beginning of the next half. A profound peace settled
upon the house. Ferdinando returned for the summer holidays larger and stronger than ever.
One day he knocked down the butler and broke his arm. ‘He is rough, inconsiderate, unamenable
to persuasion,’ wrote his father. ‘The only thing that will teach him manners is corporal
chastisement.’ Ferdinando, who at this age was already seventeen inches taller than his
father, received no corporal chastisement. “One summer holidays about three years later
Ferdinando returned to Crome accompanied by a very large mastiff dog.
He had bought it from an old man at Windsor who had found the beast too expensive to feed.
It was a savage, unreliable animal; hardly had it entered the house when it attacked
one of Sir Hercules’s favourite pugs, seizing the creature in its jaws and shaking it till
it was nearly dead. Extremely put out by this occurrence, Sir Hercules ordered that the
beast should be chained up in the stable-yard. Ferdinando sullenly answered that the dog
was his, and he would keep it where he pleased. His father, growing angry, bade him take the
animal out of the house at once, on pain of his utmost displeasure. Ferdinando refused
to move. His mother at this moment coming into the
room, the dog flew at her, knocked her down, and in a twinkling had very severely mauled
her arm and shoulder; in another instant it must infallibly have had her by the throat,
had not Sir Hercules drawn his sword and stabbed the animal to the heart. Turning on his son,
he ordered him to leave the room immediately, as being unfit to remain in the same place
with the mother whom he had nearly murdered. So awe-inspiring was the spectacle of Sir
Hercules standing with one foot on the carcase of the gigantic dog, his sword drawn and still
bloody, so commanding were his voice, his gestures, and the expression of his face
that Ferdinando slunk out of the room in terror and behaved himself for all the rest of the
vacation in an entirely exemplary fashion. His mother soon recovered from the bites of
the mastiff, but the effect on her mind of this adventure was ineradicable; from that
time forth she lived always among imaginary terrors. “The two years which Ferdinando spent
on the Continent, making the Grand Tour, were a period of happy repose for his parents.
But even now the thought of the future haunted them; nor were they able to solace themselves
with all the diversions of their younger days. The Lady Filomena had lost her voice and Sir
Hercules was grown too rheumatical to play the violin.
He, it is true, still rode after his pugs, but his wife felt herself too old and, since
the episode of the mastiff, too nervous for such sports. At most, to please her husband,
she would follow the hunt at a distance in a little gig drawn by the safest and oldest
of the Shetlands. “The day fixed for Ferdinando’s return came round. Filomena, sick with vague
dreads and presentiments, retired to her chamber and her bed. Sir Hercules received his son
alone. A giant in a brown travelling-suit entered the room. ‘Welcome home, my son,’
said Sir Hercules in a voice that trembled a little. “‘I hope I see you well, sir.’ Ferdinando
bent down to shake hands, then straightened himself up again. The top of his father’s
head reached to the level of his hip. “Ferdinando had not come alone. Two friends
of his own age accompanied him, and each of the young men had brought a servant. Not for
thirty years had Crome been desecrated by the presence of so many members of the common
race of men. Sir Hercules was appalled and indignant, but the laws of hospitality had
to be obeyed. He received the young gentlemen with grave politeness and sent the servants
to the kitchen, with orders that they should be well cared for. “The old family dining-table
was dragged out into the light and dusted (Sir Hercules and his lady were accustomed
to dine at a small table twenty inches high). Simon, the aged butler, who could only just
look over the edge of the big table, was helped at supper by the three servants
brought by Ferdinando and his guests. “Sir Hercules presided, and with his usual grace
supported a conversation on the pleasures of foreign travel, the beauties of art and
nature to be met with abroad, the opera at Venice, the singing of the orphans in the
churches of the same city, and on other topics of a similar nature. The young men were not
particularly attentive to his discourses; they were occupied in watching the efforts
of the butler to change the plates and replenish the glasses. They covered their laughter by
violent and repeated fits of coughing or choking. Sir Hercules affected not to notice, but changed
the subject of the conversation to sport. Upon this one of the young men asked whether
it was true, as he had heard, that he used to hunt the rabbit with a pack of pug dogs.
Sir Hercules replied that it was, and proceeded to describe the chase in some detail. The
young men roared with laughter. “When supper was over, Sir Hercules climbed down from his
chair and, giving as his excuse that he must see how his lady did, bade them good-night.
The sound of laughter followed him up the stairs. Filomena was not asleep; she had been
lying on her bed listening to the sound of enormous laughter and the tread of strangely
heavy feet on the stairs and along the corridors. Sir Hercules drew a chair to her bedside and
sat there for a long time in silence, holding his wife’s hand and sometimes gently squeezing
it. At about ten o’clock they were startled by a violent noise. There was a breaking of
glass, a stamping of feet, with an outburst of shouts and laughter. The uproar continuing
for several minutes, Sir Hercules rose to his feet and, in spite of his wife’s entreaties,
prepared to go and see what was happening. There was no light on the staircase, and Sir
Hercules groped his way down cautiously, lowering himself from stair to stair and standing for
a moment on each tread before adventuring on a new step.
The noise was louder here; the shouting articulated itself into recognisable words and phrases.
A line of light was visible under the dining-room door. Sir Hercules tiptoed across the hall
towards it. Just as he approached the door there was another terrific crash of breaking
glass and jangled metal. What could they be doing? Standing on tiptoe he managed to look
through the keyhole. In the middle of the ravaged table old Simon, the butler, so primed
with drink that he could scarcely keep his balance, was dancing a jig. His feet crunched
and tinkled among the broken glass, and his shoes were wet with spilt wine.
The three young men sat round, thumping the table with their hands or with the empty wine
bottles, shouting and laughing encouragement. The three servants leaning against the wall
laughed too. Ferdinando suddenly threw a handful of walnuts at the dancer’s head, which so
dazed and surprised the little man that he staggered and fell down on his back, upsetting
a decanter and several glasses. They raised him up, gave him some brandy to drink, thumped
him on the back. The old man smiled and hiccoughed. ‘To-morrow,’ said Ferdinando, ‘we’ll have
a concerted ballet of the whole household.� ‘With father Hercules wearing his club and
lion-skin,’ added one of his companions, and all three roared with laughter.
“Sir Hercules would look and listen no further. He crossed the hall once more and began to
climb the stairs, lifting his knees painfully high at each degree. This was the end; there
was no place for him now in the world, no place for him and Ferdinando together. “His
wife was still awake; to her questioning glance he answered, ‘They are making mock of old
Simon. To-morrow it will be our turn.’ They were silent for a time. “At last Filomena
said, ‘I do not want to see to-morrow.� “‘It is better not,’ said Sir Hercules. Going
into his closet he wrote in his day-book a full and particular account of all the events
of the evening. While he was still engaged in this task he
rang for a servant and ordered hot water and a bath to be made ready for him at eleven
o’clock. When he had finished writing he went into his wife’s room, and preparing a dose
of opium twenty times as strong as that which she was accustomed to take when she could
not sleep, he brought it to her, saying, ‘Here is your sleeping-draught.� “Filomena took
the glass and lay for a little time, but did not drink immediately. The tears came into
her eyes. ‘Do you remember the songs we used to sing, sitting out there sulla terrazza
in the summer-time?’ She began singing softly in her ghost of a cracked voice a few bars
from Stradella’s ‘Amor amor, non dormir piu. ‘And you playing on the violin, it seems such
a short time ago, and yet so long, long, long. Addio, amore, a rivederti.’ She drank off
the draught and, lying back on the pillow, closed her eyes. Sir Hercules kissed her hand
and tiptoed away, as though he were afraid of waking her. He returned to his closet,
and having recorded his wife’s last words to him, he poured into his bath the water
that had been brought up in accordance with his orders. The water being too hot for him
to get into the bath at once, he took down from the shelf his copy of Suetonius. He wished
to read how Seneca had died. He opened the book at random.
But dwarfs,’ he read, ‘he held in abhorrence as being lusus naturae and of evil omen.’
He winced as though he had been struck. This same Augustus, he remembered, had exhibited
in the amphitheatre a young man called Lucius, of good family, who was not quite two feet
in height and weighed seventeen pounds, but had a stentorian voice. He turned over the
pages. Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero: it was a tale of growing horror. ‘Seneca his
preceptor, he forced to kill himself.’ And there was Petronius, who had called his friends
about him at the last, bidding them talk to him, not of the consolations of philosophy,
but of love and gallantry, while the life was ebbing away through his opened veins.
Dipping his pen once more in the ink he wrote on the last page of his diary: ‘He died a
Roman death.� Then, putting the toes of one foot into the water and finding that it
was not too hot, he threw off his dressing-gown and, taking a razor in his hand, sat down
in the bath. With one deep cut he severed the artery in his left wrist, then lay back
and composed his mind to meditation. The blood oozed out, floating through the water in dissolving
wreaths and spirals. In a little while the whole bath was tinged with pink. The colour
deepened; Sir Hercules felt himself mastered by an invincible drowsiness; he was sinking
from vague dream to dream. Soon he was sound asleep. There was not much blood in his small
body.” End of chapter
CHAPTER XIV. For their after-luncheon coffee the party
generally adjourned to the library. Its windows looked east, and at this hour of the day it
was the coolest place in the whole house. It was a large room, fitted, during the eighteenth
century, with white painted shelves of an elegant design. In the middle of one wall
a door, ingeniously upholstered with rows of dummy books, gave access to a deep cupboard,
where, among a pile of letter-files and old newspapers, the mummy-case of an Egyptian
lady, brought back by the second Sir Ferdinando on his return from the Grand Tour, mouldered
in the darkness. From ten yards away and at a first glance,
one might almost have mistaken this secret door for a section of shelving filled with
genuine books. Coffee-cup in hand, Mr. Scogan was standing in front of the dummy book-shelf.
Between the sips he discoursed. “The bottom shelf,” he was saying, “is taken up by an
Encyclopaedia in fourteen volumes. Useful, but a little dull, as is also Caprimulge’s
‘Dictionary of the Finnish Language’. The ‘Biographical Dictionary� looks more promising.
‘Biography of Men who were Born Great’, ‘Biography of Men who Achieved Greatness’, ‘Biography
of Men who had Greatness Thrust upon Them’, and ‘Biography of Men who were Never Great
at All’. Then there are ten volumes of ‘Thom’s Works
and Wanderings’, while the ‘Wild Goose Chase, a Novel’, by an anonymous author, fills no
less than six. But what’s this, what’s this?” Mr. Scogan stood on tiptoe and peered up.
“Seven volumes of the ‘Tales of Knockespotch’. The ‘Tales of Knockespotch’,” he repeated.
“Ah, my dear Henry,” he said, turning round, “these are your best books. I would willingly
give all the rest of your library for them.� The happy possessor of a multitude of first
editions, Mr. Wimbush could afford to smile indulgently. “Is it possible,” Mr. Scogan
went on, “that they possess nothing more than a back and a title?
He opened the cupboard door and peeped inside, as though he hoped to find the rest of the
books behind it. “Phooh!� he said, and shut the door again. “It smells of dust and mildew.
How symbolical! One comes to the great masterpieces of the past, expecting some miraculous illumination,
and one finds, on opening them, only darkness and dust and a faint smell of decay. After
all, what is reading but a vice, like drink or venery or any other form of excessive self-indulgence?
One reads to tickle and amuse one’s mind; one reads, above all, to prevent oneself thinking.
Still–the ‘Tales of Knockespotch’…� He paused, and thoughtfully drummed with his
fingers on the backs of the non-existent, unattainable books.
“But I disagree with you about reading,” said Mary. “About serious reading, I mean.� “Quite
right, Mary, quite right,” Mr. Scogan answered. “I had forgotten
there were any serious people in the room.� “I like the idea of the Biographies,” said
Denis. “There’s room for us all within the scheme; it’s comprehensive.� “Yes, the Biographies
are good, the Biographies are excellent,” Mr Scogan agreed. “I imagine them written
in a very elegant Regency style–Brighton Pavilion in words–perhaps by the great Dr.
Lempriere himself. You know his classical dictionary? Ah!” Mr. Scogan raised his hand
and let it limply fall again in a gesture which implied that words failed him.
“Read his biography of Helen; read how Jupiter, disguised as a swan, was ‘enabled to avail
himself of his situation’ vis-a-vis to Leda. And to think that he may have, must have written
these biographies of the Great! What a work, Henry! And, owing to the idiotic arrangement
of your library, it can’t be read.� “I prefer the ‘Wild Goose Chase’,” said Anne. “A novel
in six volumes–it must be restful.� “Restful,” Mr. Scogan repeated. “You’ve hit on the right
word. A ‘Wild Goose Chase’ is sound, but a bit old-fashioned–pictures of clerical life
in the fifties, you know; specimens of the landed gentry; peasants for pathos and comedy;
and in the background, always the picturesque beauties of nature
soberly described. All very good and solid, but, like certain puddings, just a little
dull. Personally, I like much better the notion of ‘Thom’s Works and Wanderings’. The eccentric
Mr. Thom of Thom’s Hill. Old Tom Thom, as his intimates used to call him. He spent ten
years in Thibet organising the clarified butter industry on modern European lines, and was
able to retire at thirty-six with a handsome fortune. The rest of his life he devoted to
travel and ratiocination; here is the result.” Mr. Scogan tapped the dummy books. “And now
we come to the ‘Tales of Knockespotch’. What a masterpiece and what a great man! Knockespotch
knew how to write fiction. Ah, Denis, if you could only read Knockespotch you wouldn’t
be writing a novel about the wearisome development of a young man’s character, you wouldn’t be
describing in endless, fastidious detail, cultured life in Chelsea and Bloomsbury and
Hampstead. You would be trying to write a readable book. But then, alas! owing to the
peculiar arrangement of our host’s library, you never will read Knockespotch.� “Nobody
could regret the fact more than I do,” said Denis. “It was Knockespotch,” Mr. Scogan continued,
“the great Knockespotch, who delivered us from the dreary tyranny of the realistic novel.
My life, Knockespotch said, is not so long that I can afford to spend precious hours
writing or reading descriptions of middle-class interiors. He said again, ‘I am tired of seeing
the human mind bogged in a social plenum; I prefer to paint it in a vacuum, freely and
sportively bombinating.’� “I say,” said Gombauld, “Knockespotch was a little obscure
sometimes, wasn’t he?� “He was,” Mr. Scogan replied, “and with intention. It made him
seem even profounder than he actually was. But it was only in his aphorisms that he was
so dark and oracular. In his Tales he was always luminous. Oh, those Tales–those Tales!
How shall I describe them? Fabulous characters shoot across his pages
like gaily dressed performers on the trapeze. There are extraordinary adventures and still
more extraordinary speculations. Intelligences and emotions, relieved of all the imbecile
preoccupations of civilised life, move in intricate and subtle dances, crossing and
recrossing, advancing, retreating, impinging. An immense erudition and an immense fancy
go hand in hand. All the ideas of the present and of the past, on every possible subject,
bob up among the Tales, smile gravely or grimace a caricature of themselves, then disappear
to make place for something new. The verbal surface of his writing is rich
and fantastically diversified. The wit is incessant. The…� “But couldn’t you give
us a specimen,” Denis broke in–“a concrete example?� “Alas!” Mr. Scogan replied, “Knockespotch’s
great book is like the sword Excalibur. It remains struck fast in this door, awaiting
the coming of a writer with genius enough to draw it forth. I am not even a writer,
I am not so much as qualified to attempt the task. The extraction of Knockespotch from
his wooden prison I leave, my dear Denis, to you.� “Thank you,” said Denis.
End of chapter CHAPTER XV.
“In the time of the amiable Brantome,” Mr. Scogan was saying, “every debutante at the
French Court was invited to dine at the King’s table, where she was served with wine in a
handsome silver cup of Italian workmanship. It was no ordinary cup, this goblet of the
debutantes; for, inside, it had been most curiously and ingeniously engraved with a
series of very lively amorous scenes. With each draught that the young lady swallowed
these engravings became increasingly visible, and the Court looked on with interest, every
time she put her nose in the cup, to see whether she blushed at what the ebbing wine revealed.
If the debutante blushed, they laughed at her for her innocence; if she did not, she
was laughed at for being too knowing.” “Do you propose,” asked Anne, “that the custom
should be revived at Buckingham Palace?� “I do not,” said Mr. Scogan. “I merely quoted
the anecdote as an illustration of the customs, so genially frank, of the sixteenth century.
I might have quoted other anecdotes to show that the customs of the seventeenth and eighteenth,
of the fifteenth and fourteenth centuries, and indeed of every other century, from the
time of Hammurabi onward, were equally genial and equally frank. The only century in which
customs were not characterised by the same cheerful openness was the nineteenth, of blessed
memory. It was the astonishing exception. And yet, with what one must suppose was a
deliberate disregard of history, it looked upon its horribly pregnant silences as normal
and natural and right; the frankness of the previous fifteen or twenty thousand years
was considered abnormal and perverse. It was a curious phenomenon.� “I entirely agree.”
Mary panted with excitement in her effort to bring out what she had to say. “Havelock
Ellis says…� Mr. Scogan, like a policeman arresting the flow of traffic, held up his
hand. “He does; I know. And that brings me to my next point: the nature of the reaction.�
“Havelock Ellis…�”The reaction, when it came–and we may say roughly that it set in
a little before the beginning of this century–the reaction was to openness, but not to the same
openness as had reigned in the earlier ages. It was to a scientific openness, not to the
jovial frankness of the past, that we returned. The whole question of Amour became a terribly
serious one. Earnest young men wrote in the public prints that from this time forth it
would be impossible ever again to make a joke of any sexual matter. Professors wrote thick
books in which sex was sterilised and dissected. It has become customary for serious young
women, like Mary, to discuss, with philosophic calm, matters of which the merest hint would
have sufficed to throw the youth of the sixties into a delirium of amorous excitement. It
is all very estimable, no doubt. But still”–Mr. Scogan sighed.–“I for one should like to
see, mingled with this scientific ardour, a little more of the jovial spirit of Rabelais
and Chaucer.” “I entirely disagree with you,” said Mary.
“Sex isn’t a laughing matter; it’s serious.� “Perhaps,” answered Mr. Scogan, “perhaps I’m
an obscene old man. For I must confess that I cannot always regard it as wholly serious.�
“But I tell you…” began Mary furiously. Her face had flushed with excitement. Her
cheeks were the cheeks of a great ripe peach. “Indeed,” Mr. Scogan continued, “it seems
to me one of few permanently and everlastingly amusing subjects that exist. Amour is the
one human activity of any importance in which laughter and pleasure preponderate, if ever
so slightly, over misery and pain.� “I entirely disagree,” said Mary. There was a silence.
Anne looked at her watch. “Nearly a quarter to eight,” she said. “I
wonder when Ivor will turn up.” She got up from her deck-chair and, leaning her elbows
on the balustrade of the terrace, looked out over the valley and towards the farther hills.
Under the level evening light the architecture of the land revealed itself. The deep shadows,
the bright contrasting lights gave the hills a new solidity. Irregularities of the surface,
unsuspected before, were picked out with light and shade. The grass, the corn, the foliage
of trees were stippled with intricate shadows. The surface of things had taken on a marvellous
enrichment. “Look!” said Anne suddenly, and pointed.
On the opposite side of the valley, at the crest of the ridge, a cloud of dust flushed
by the sunlight to rosy gold was moving rapidly along the sky-line. “It’s Ivor. One can tell
by the speed.� The dust cloud descended into the valley and was lost. A horn with
the voice of a sea-lion made itself heard, approaching. A minute later Ivor came leaping
round the corner of the house. His hair waved in the wind of his own speed; he laughed as
he saw them. “Anne, darling,” he cried, and embraced her, embraced Mary, very nearly embraced
Mr. Scogan. “Well, here I am. I’ve come with incredulous speed.” Ivor’s vocabulary was
rich, but a little erratic. “I’m not late for dinner, am I?” He hoisted
himself up on to the balustrade, and sat there, kicking his heels. With one arm he embraced
a large stone flower-pot, leaning his head sideways against its hard and lichenous flanks
in an attitude of trustful affection. He had brown, wavy hair, and his eyes were of a very
brilliant, pale, improbable blue. His head was narrow, his face thin and rather long,
his nose aquiline. In old age–though it was difficult to imagine Ivor old–he might grow
to have an Iron Ducal grimness. But now, at twenty-six, it was not the structure of his
face that impressed one; it was its expression. That was charming and vivacious, and his smile
was an irradiation. He was forever moving, restlessly and rapidly,
but with an engaging gracefulness. His frail and slender body seemed to be fed by a spring
of inexhaustible energy. “No, you’re not late.� “You’re in time to answer a question,” said
Mr. Scogan. “We were arguing whether Amour were a serious matter or no. What do you think?
Is it serious?� “Serious?” echoed Ivor. “Most certainly. “I told you so,” cried Mary
triumphantly. “But in what sense serious?” Mr. Scogan asked. “I mean as an occupation.
One can go on with it without ever getting bored.� “I see,” said Mr. Scogan. “Perfectly.”
“One can occupy oneself with it,” Ivor continued, “always and everywhere. Women are always wonderfully
the same. Shapes vary a little, that’s all. In Spain”–with his free hand he described
a series of ample curves–“one can’t pass them on the stairs. In England”–he put the
tip of his forefinger against the tip of his thumb and, lowering his hand, drew out this
circle into an imaginary cylinder–“In England they’re tubular. But their sentiments are
always the same. At least, I’ve always found it so.� “I’m delighted to hear it,” said
Mr. Scogan. End of chapter