This etext was prepared by Sue Asscher
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.
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 Blackpool 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 recognised 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.
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.”
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?”
“Not a novel?”
“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 Blackfellow 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.
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.”
“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.”
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.
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…”
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.”
“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. Fatigue, overwork–I had only written a hundred words in the last hour, and I could get no further. 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.” He 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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“Good!” said Mary. “And repressions being what they are…”
“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.”
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?
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 marvellously 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 evangelisation 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 recognised 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 symbolised 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 realise 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.