Part 2 out of 4
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
"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
"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.
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
tunnelled 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
"How true!" sighed Priscilla, nodding the baleful splendours of
"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
"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.
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.
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
"Well?" said Anne at last, turning with raised inquiring eyebrows
"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,
It was left for Henry Wimbush to make a pronouncement. "A very
agreeable adjunct to the week-end," he said. His tone was
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
"'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
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."
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
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.
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
"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.
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-
"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
"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
"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
remodelling 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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
"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
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
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
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
"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
"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.
"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."
"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
"But I tell you..." began Mary furiously. Her face had flushed
with excitement. Her cheeks were the cheeks of a great ripe
"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
"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
"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
"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
"I'm delighted to hear it," said Mr. Scogan.
The ladies had left the room and the port was circulating. Mr.
Scogan filled his glass, passed on the decanter, and, leaning
back in his chair, looked about him for a moment in silence. The
conversation rippled idly round him, but he disregarded it; he
was smiling at some private joke. Gombauld noticed his smile.
"What's amusing you?" he asked.
"I was just looking at you all, sitting round this table," said
"Are we as comic as all that?"
"Not at all," Mr. Scogan answered politely. "I was merely amused
by my own speculations."
"And what were they?"
"The idlest, the most academic of speculations. I was looking at
you one by one and trying to imagine which of the first six
Caesars you would each resemble, if you were given the
opportunity of behaving like a Caesar. The Caesars are one of my
touchstones," Mr. Scogan explained. "They are characters
functioning, so to speak, in the void. They are human beings
developed to their logical conclusions. Hence their unequalled
value as a touchstone, a standard. When I meet someone for the
first time, I ask myself this question: Given the Caesarean
environment, which of the Caesars would this person resemble--
Julius, Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula, Claudius, Nero? I take
each trait of character, each mental and emotional bias, each
little oddity, and magnify them a thousand times. The resulting
image gives me his Caesarean formula."
"And which of the Caesars do you resemble?" asked Gombauld.
"I am potentially all of them," Mr. Scogan replied, "all--with
the possible exception of Claudius, who was much too stupid to be
a development of anything in my character. The seeds of Julius's
courage and compelling energy, of Augustus's prudence, of the
libidinousness and cruelty of Tiberius, of Caligula's folly, of
Nero's artistic genius and enormous vanity, are all within me.
Given the opportunities, I might have been something fabulous.
But circumstances were against me. I was born and brought up in
a country rectory; I passed my youth doing a great deal of
utterly senseless hard work for a very little money. The result
is that now, in middle age, I am the poor thing that I am. But
perhaps it is as well. Perhaps, too, it's as well that Denis
hasn't been permitted to flower into a little Nero, and that Ivor
remains only potentially a Caligula. Yes, it's better so, no
doubt. But it would have been more amusing, as a spectacle, if
they had had the chance to develop, untrammelled, the full horror
of their potentialities. It would have been pleasant and
interesting to watch their tics and foibles and little vices
swelling and burgeoning and blossoming into enormous and
fantastic flowers of cruelty and pride and lewdness and avarice.
The Caesarean environment makes the Caesar, as the special food
and the queenly cell make the queen bee. We differ from the bees
in so far that, given the proper food, they can be sure of making
a queen every time. With us there is no such certainty; out of
every ten men placed in the Caesarean environment one will be
temperamentally good, or intelligent, or great. The rest will
blossom into Caesars; he will not. Seventy and eighty years ago
simple-minded people, reading of the exploits of the Bourbons in
South Italy, cried out in amazement: To think that such things
should be happening in the nineteenth century! And a few years
since we too were astonished to find that in our still more
astonishing twentieth century, unhappy blackamoors on the Congo
and the Amazon were being treated as English serfs were treated
in the time of Stephen. To-day we are no longer surprised at
these things. The Black and Tans harry Ireland, the Poles
maltreat the Silesians, the bold Fascisti slaughter their poorer
countrymen: we take it all for granted. Since the war we wonder
at nothing. We have created a Caesarean environment and a host
of little Caesars has sprung up. What could be more natural?"
Mr. Scogan drank off what was left of his port and refilled the
At this very moment," he went on, "the most frightful horrors are
taking place in every corner of the world. People are being
crushed, slashed, disembowelled, mangled; their dead bodies rot
and their eyes decay with the rest. Screams of pain and fear go
pulsing through the air at the rate of eleven hundred feet per
second. After travelling for three seconds they are perfectly
inaudible. These are distressing facts; but do we enjoy life any
the less because of them? Most certainly we do not. We feel
sympathy, no doubt; we represent to ourselves imaginatively the
sufferings of nations and individuals and we deplore them. But,
after all, what are sympathy and imagination? Precious little,
unless the person for whom we feel sympathy happens to be closely
involved in our affections; and even then they don't go very far.
And a good thing too; for if one had an imagination vivid enough
and a sympathy sufficiently sensitive really to comprehend and to
feel the sufferings of other people, one would never have a
moment's peace of mind. A really sympathetic race would not so
much as know the meaning of happiness. But luckily, as I've
already said, we aren't a sympathetic race. At the beginning of
the war I used to think I really suffered, through imagination
and sympathy, with those who physically suffered. But after a
month or two I had to admit that, honestly, I didn't. And yet I
think I have a more vivid imagination than most. One is always
alone in suffering; the fact is depressing when one happens to be
the sufferer, but it makes pleasure possible for the rest of the
There was a pause. Henry Wimbush pushed back his chair.
"I think perhaps we ought to go and join the ladies," he said.
"So do I," said Ivor, jumping up with alacrity. He turned to Mr.
Scogan. "Fortunately," he said, "we can share our pleasures. We
are not always condemned to be happy alone."
Ivor brought his hands down with a bang on to the final chord of
his rhapsody. There was just a hint in that triumphant harmony
that the seventh had been struck along with the octave by the
thumb of the left hand; but the general effect of splendid noise
emerged clearly enough. Small details matter little so long as
the general effect is good. And, besides, that hint of the
seventh was decidedly modern. He turned round in his seat and
tossed the hair back out of his eyes.
"There," he said. "That's the best I can do for you, I'm
Murmurs of applause and gratitude were heard, and Mary, her large
china eyes fixed on the performer, cried out aloud, "Wonderful!"
and gasped for new breath as though she were suffocating.
Nature and fortune had vied with one another in heaping on Ivor
Lombard all their choicest gifts. He had wealth and he was
perfectly independent. He was good looking, possessed an
irresistible charm of manner, and was the hero of more amorous
successes than he could well remember. His accomplishments were
extraordinary for their number and variety. He had a beautiful
untrained tenor voice; he could improvise, with a startling
brilliance, rapidly and loudly, on the piano. He was a good
amateur medium and telepathist, and had a considerable first-hand
knowledge of the next world. He could write rhymed verses with
an extraordinary rapidity. For painting symbolical pictures he
had a dashing style, and if the drawing was sometimes a little
weak, the colour was always pyrotechnical. He excelled in
amateur theatricals and, when occasion offered, he could cook
with genius. He resembled Shakespeare in knowing little Latin
and less Greek. For a mind like his, education seemed
supererogatory. Training would only have destroyed his natural
"Let's go out into the garden," Ivor suggested. "It's a
"Thank you," said Mr. Scogan, "but I for one prefer these still
more wonderful arm-chairs." His pipe had begun to bubble oozily
every time he pulled at it. He was perfectly happy.
Henry Wimbush was also happy. He looked for a moment over his
pince-nez in Ivor's direction and then, without saying anything,
returned to the grimy little sixteenth-century account books
which were now his favourite reading. He knew more about Sir
Ferdinando's household expenses than about his own.
The outdoor party, enrolled under Ivor's banner, consisted of
Anne, Mary, Denis, and, rather unexpectedly, Jenny. Outside it
was warm and dark; there was no moon. They walked up and down
the terrace, and Ivor sang a Neapolitan song: "Stretti,
stretti"--close, close--with something about the little Spanish
girl to follow. The atmosphere began to palpitate. Ivor put his
arm round Anne's waist, dropped his head sideways onto her
shoulder, and in that position walked on, singing as he walked.
It seemed the easiest, the most natural, thing in the world.
Denis wondered why he had never done it. He hated Ivor.
"Let's go down to the pool," said Ivor. He disengaged his
embrace and turned round to shepherd his little flock. They made
their way along the side of the house to the entrance of the yew-
tree walk that led down to the lower garden. Between the blank
precipitous wall of the house and the tall yew trees the path was
a chasm of impenetrable gloom. Somewhere there were steps down
to the right, a gap in the yew hedge. Denis, who headed the
party, groped his way cautiously; in this darkness, one had an
irrational fear of yawning precipices, of horrible spiked
obstructions. Suddenly from behind him he heard a shrill,
startled, "Oh!" and then a sharp, dry concussion that might have
been the sound of a slap. After that, Jenny's voice was heard
pronouncing, "I am going back to the house." Her tone was
decided, and even as she pronounced the words she was melting
away into the darkness. The incident, whatever it had been, was
closed. Denis resumed his forward groping. From somewhere
behind Ivor began to sing again, softly:
"Phillis plus avare que tendre
Ne gagnant rien a refuser,
Un jour exigea a Silvandre
Trente moutons pour un baiser."
The melody drooped and climbed again with a kind of easy languor;
the warm darkness seemed to pulse like blood about them.
"Le lendemain, nouvelle affaire:
Pour le berger le troc fut bon..."
"Here are the steps," cried Denis. He guided his companions over
the danger, and in a moment they had the turf of the yew-tree
walk under their feet. It was lighter here, or at least it was
just perceptibly less dark; for the yew walk was wider than the
path that had led them under the lea of the house. Looking up,
they could see between the high black hedges a strip of sky and a
"Car il obtint de la bergere..."
Went on Ivor, and then interrupted himself to shout, "I'm going
to run down," and he was off, full speed, down the invisible
slope, singing unevenly as he went:
"Trente baisers pour un mouton."
The others followed. Denis shambled in the rear, vainly
exhorting everyone to caution: the slope was steep, one might
break one's neck. What was wrong with these people, he wondered?
They had become like young kittens after a dose of cat-nip. He
himself felt a certain kittenishness sporting within him; but it
was, like all his emotions, rather a theoretical feeling; it did
not overmasteringly seek to express itself in a practical
demonstration of kittenishness.
"Be careful," he shouted once more, and hardly were the words out
of his mouth when, thump! there was the sound of a heavy fall in
front of him, followed by the long "F-f-f-f-f" of a breath
indrawn with pain and afterwards by a very sincere, "Oo-ooh!"
Denis was almost pleased; he had told them so, the idiots, and
they wouldn't listen. He trotted down the slope towards the
Mary came down the hill like a runaway steam-engine. It was
tremendously exciting, this blind rush through the dark; she felt
she would never stop. But the ground grew level beneath her feet,
her speed insensibly slackened, and suddenly she was caught by an
extended arm and brought to an abrupt halt.
"Well," said Ivor as he tightened his embrace, "you're caught
She made an effort to release herself. "It's not Anne. It's
Ivor burst into a peal of amused laughter. "So it is!" he
exclaimed. "I seem to be making nothing but floaters this
evening. I've already made one with Jenny." He laughed again,
and there was something so jolly about his laughter that Mary
could not help laughing too. He did not remove his encircling
arm, and somehow it was all so amusing and natural that Mary made
no further attempt to escape from it. They walked along by the
side of the pool, interlaced. Mary was too short for him to be
able, with any comfort, to lay his head on her shoulder. He
rubbed his cheek, caressed and caressing, against the thick,
sleek mass of her hair. In a little while he began to sing
again; the night trembled amorously to the sound of his voice.
When he had finished he kissed her. Anne or Mary: Mary or Anne.
It didn't seem to make much difference which it was. There were
differences in detail, of course; but the general effect was the
same; and, after all, the general effect was the important thing.
Denis made his way down the hill.
"Any damage done?" he called out.
"Is that you, Denis? I've hurt my ankle so--and my knee, and my
hand. I'm all in pieces."
"My poor Anne," he said. "But then," he couldn't help adding,
"it was silly to start running downhill in the dark."
"Ass!" she retorted in a tone of tearful irritation; "of course
He sat down beside on the grass, and found himself breathing the
faint, delicious atmosphere of perfume that she carried always
"Light a match," she commanded. "I want to look at my wounds."
He felt in his pockets for the match-box. The light spurted and
then grew steady. Magically, a little universe had been created,
a world of colours and forms--Anne's face, the shimmering orange
of her dress, her white, bare arms, a patch of green turf--and
round about a darkness that had become solid and utterly blind.
Anne held out her hands; both were green and earthy with her
fall, and the left exhibited two or three red abrasions.
"Not so bad," she said. But Denis was terribly distressed, and
his emotion was intensified when, looking up at her face, he saw
that the trace of tears, involuntary tears of pain, lingered on
her eyelashes. He pulled out his handkerchief and began to wipe
away the dirt from the wounded hand. The match went out; it was
not worth while to light another. Anne allowed herself to be
attended to, meekly and gratefully. "Thank you," she said, when
he had finished cleaning and bandaging her hand; and there was
something in her tone that made him feel that she had lost her
superiority over him, that she was younger than he, had become,
suddenly, almost a child. He felt tremendously large and
protective. The feeling was so strong that instinctively he put
his arm about her. She drew closer, leaned against him, and so
they sat in silence. Then, from below, soft but wonderfully
clear through the still darkness, they heard the sound of Ivor's
singing. He was going on with his half-finished song:
"Le lendemain Phillis plus tendre,
Ne voulant deplaire au berger,
Fut trop heureuse de lui rendre
Trente moutons pour un baiser."
There was a rather prolonged pause. It was as though time were
being allowed for the giving and receiving of a few of those
thirty kisses. Then the voice sang on:
"Le lendemain Phillis peu sage
Aurait donne moutons et chien
Pour un baiser que le volage
A Lisette donnait pour rien."
The last note died away into an uninterrupted silence.
"Are you better?" Denis whispered. "Are you comfortable like
She nodded a Yes to both questions.
"Trente moutons pour un baiser." The sheep, the woolly mutton--
baa, baa, baa...? Or the shepherd? Yes, decidedly, he felt
himself to be the shepherd now. He was the master, the
protector. A wave of courage swelled through him, warm as wine.
He turned his head, and began to kiss her face, at first rather
randomly, then, with more precision, on the mouth.
Anne averted her head; he kissed the ear, the smooth nape that
this movement presented him. "No," she protested; "no, Denis."
"It spoils our friendship, and that was so jolly."
"Bosh!" said Denis.
She tried to explain. "Can't you see," she said, "it isn't...it
isn't our stunt at all." It was true. Somehow she had never
thought of Denis in the light of a man who might make love; she
had never so much as conceived the possibilities of an amorous
relationship with him. He was so absurdly young, so...so...she
couldn't find the adjective, but she knew what she meant.
"Why isn't it our stunt?" asked Denis. "And, by the way, that's
a horrible and inappropriate expression."
"Because it isn't."
"But if I say it is?"
"It makes no difference. I say it isn't."
"I shall make you say it is."
"All right, Denis. But you must do it another time. I must go
in and get my ankle into hot water. It's beginning to swell."
Reasons of health could not be gainsaid. Denis got up
reluctantly, and helped his companion to her feet. She took a
cautious step. "Ooh!" She halted and leaned heavily on his arm.
"I'll carry you," Denis offered. He had never tried to carry a
woman, but on the cinema it always looked an easy piece of
"You couldn't," said Anne.
"Of course I can." He felt larger and more protective than ever.
"Put your arms round my neck," he ordered. She did so and,
stooping, he picked her up under the knees and lifted her from
the ground. Good heavens, what a weight! He took five
staggering steps up the slope, then almost lost his equilibrium,
and had to deposit his burden suddenly, with something of a bump.
Anne was shaking with laughter. "I said You couldn't, my poor
"I can," said Denis, without conviction. "I'll try again."
"It's perfectly sweet of you to offer, but I'd rather walk,
thanks." She laid her hand on his shoulder and, thus supported,
began to limp slowly up the hill.
"My poor Denis!" she repeated, and laughed again. Humiliated, he
was silent. It seemed incredible that, only two minutes ago, he
should have been holding her in his embrace, kissing her.
Incredible. She was helpless then, a child. Now she had
regained all her superiority; she was once more the far-off
being, desired and unassailable. Why had he been such a fool as
to suggest that carrying stunt? He reached the house in a state
of the profoundest depression.
He helped Anne upstairs, left her in the hands of a maid, and
came down again to the drawing-room. He was surprised to find
them all sitting just where he had left them. He had expected
that, somehow, everything would be quite different--it seemed
such a prodigious time since he went away. All silent and all
damned, he reflected, as he looked at them. Mr. Scogan's pipe
still wheezed; that was the only sound. Henry Wimbush was still
deep in his account books; he had just made the discovery that
Sir Ferdinando was in the habit of eating oysters the whole
summer through, regardless of the absence of the justifying R.
Gombauld, in horn-rimmed spectacles, was reading. Jenny was
mysteriously scribbling in her red notebook. And, seated in her
favourite arm-chair at the corner of the hearth, Priscilla was
looking through a pile of drawings. One by one she held them out
at arm's length and, throwing back her mountainous orange head,
looked long and attentively through half-closed eyelids. She
wore a pale sea-green dress; on the slope of her mauve-powdered
decolletage diamonds twinkled. An immensely long cigarette-
holder projected at an angle from her face. Diamonds were
embedded in her high-piled coiffure; they glittered every time
she moved. It was a batch of Ivor's drawings--sketches of Spirit
Life, made in the course of tranced tours through the other
world. On the back of each sheet descriptive titles were
written: "Portrait of an Angel, 15th March '20;" "Astral Beings
at Play, 3rd December '19;" "A Party of Souls on their Way to a
Higher Sphere, 21st May '21." Before examining the drawing on
the obverse of each sheet, she turned it over to read the title.
Try as she could--and she tried hard--Priscilla had never seen a
vision or succeeded in establishing any communication with the
Spirit World. She had to be content with the reported
experiences of others.
"What have you done with the rest of your party?" she asked,
looking up as Denis entered the room.
He explained. Anne had gone to bed, Ivor and Mary were still in
the garden. He selected a book and a comfortable chair, and
tried, as far as the disturbed state of his mind would permit
him, to compose himself for an evening's reading. The lamplight
was utterly serene; there was no movement save the stir of
Priscilla among her papers. All silent and all damned, Denis
repeated to himself, all silent and all damned...
It was nearly an hour later when Ivor and Mary made their
"We waited to see the moon rise," said Ivor.
"It was gibbous, you know," Mary explained, very technical and
"It was so beautiful down in the garden! The trees, the scent of
the flowers, the stars..." Ivor waved his arms. "And when the
moon came up, it was really too much. It made me burst into
tears." He sat down at the piano and opened the lid.
"There were a great many meteorites," said Mary to anyone who
would listen. "The earth must just be coming into the summer
shower of them. In July and August..."
But Ivor had already begun to strike the keys. He played the
garden, the stars, the scent of flowers, the rising moon. He
even put in a nightingale that was not there. Mary looked on and
listened with parted lips. The others pursued their occupations,
without appearing to be seriously disturbed. On this very July
day, exactly three hundred and fifty years ago, Sir Ferdinando
had eaten seven dozen oysters. The discovery of this fact gave
Henry Wimbush a peculiar pleasure. He had a natural piety which
made him delight in the celebration of memorial feasts. The
three hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the seven dozen
oysters...He wished he had known before dinner; he would have
On her way to bed Mary paid a call. The light was out in Anne's
room, but she was not yet asleep.
"Why didn't you come down to the garden with us?" Mary asked.
"I fell down and twisted my ankle. Denis helped me home."
Mary was full of sympathy. Inwardly, too, she was relieved to
find Anne's non-appearance so simply accounted for. She had been
vaguely suspicious, down there in the garden--suspicious of what,
she hardly knew; but there had seemed to be something a little
louche in the way she had suddenly found herself alone with Ivor.
Not that she minded, of course; far from it. But she didn't like
the idea that perhaps she was the victim of a put-up job.
"I do hope you'll be better to-morrow," she said, and she
commiserated with Anne on all she had missed--the garden, the
stars, the scent of flowers, the meteorites through whose summer
shower the earth was now passing, the rising moon and its
gibbosity. And then they had had such interesting conversation.
What about? About almost everything. Nature, art, science,
poetry, the stars, spiritualism, the relations of the sexes,
music, religion. Ivor, she thought, had an interesting mind.
The two young ladies parted affectionately.
The nearest Roman Catholic church was upwards of twenty miles
away. Ivor, who was punctilious in his devotions, came down
early to breakfast and had his car at the door, ready to start,
by a quarter to ten. It was a smart, expensive-looking machine,
enamelled a pure lemon yellow and upholstered in emerald green
leather. There were two seats--three if you squeezed tightly
enough--and their occupants were protected from wind, dust, and
weather by a glazed sedan that rose, an elegant eighteenth-
century hump, from the midst of the body of the car.
Mary had never been to a Roman Catholic service, thought it would
be an interesting experience, and, when the car moved off through
the great gates of the courtyard, she was occupying the spare
seat in the sedan. The sea-lion horn roared, faintlier,
faintlier, and they were gone.
In the parish church of Crome Mr. Bodiham preached on 1 Kings vi.
18: "And the cedar of the house within was carved with knops"--a
sermon of immediately local interest. For the past two years the
problem of the War Memorial had exercised the minds of all those
in Crome who had enough leisure, or mental energy, or party
spirit to think of such things. Henry Wimbush was all for a
library--a library of local literature, stocked with county
histories, old maps of the district, monographs on the local
antiquities, dialect dictionaries, handbooks of the local geology
and natural history. He liked to think of the villagers,
inspired by such reading, making up parties of a Sunday afternoon
to look for fossils and flint arrow-heads. The villagers
themselves favoured the idea of a memorial reservoir and water
supply. But the busiest and most articulate party followed Mr.
Bodiham in demanding something religious in character--a second
lich-gate, for example, a stained-glass window, a monument of
marble, or, if possible, all three. So far, however, nothing had
been done, partly because the memorial committee had never been
able to agree, partly for the more cogent reason that too little
money had been subscribed to carry out any of the proposed
schemes. Every three or four months Mr. Bodiham preached a
sermon on the subject. His last had been delivered in March; it
was high time that his congregation had a fresh reminder.
"And the cedar of the house within was carved with knops."
Mr. Bodiham touched lightly on Solomon's temple. From thence he
passed to temples and churches in general. What were the
characteristics of these buildings dedicated to God? Obviously,
the fact of their, from a human point of view, complete
uselessness. They were unpractical buildings "carved with
knops." Solomon might have built a library--indeed, what could
be more to the taste of the world's wisest man? He might have
dug a reservoir--what more useful in a parched city like
Jerusalem? He did neither; he built a house all carved with
knops, useless and unpractical. Why? Because he was dedicating
the work to God. There had been much talk in Crome about the
proposed War Memorial. A War Memorial was, in its very nature, a
work dedicated to God. It was a token of thankfulness that the
first stage in the culminating world-war had been crowned by the
triumph of righteousness; it was at the same time a visibly
embodied supplication that God might not long delay the Advent
which alone could bring the final peace. A library, a reservoir?
Mr. Bodiham scornfully and indignantly condemned the idea. These
were works dedicated to man, not to God. As a War Memorial they
were totally unsuitable. A lich-gate had been suggested. This
was an object which answered perfectly to the definition of a War
Memorial: a useless work dedicated to God and carved with knops.
One lich-gate, it was true, already existed. But nothing would
be easier than to make a second entrance into the churchyard; and
a second entrance would need a second gate. Other suggestions
had been made. Stained-glass windows, a monument of marble.
Both these were admirable, especially the latter. It was high
time that the War Memorial was erected. It might soon be too
late. At any moment, like a thief in the night, God might come.
Meanwhile a difficulty stood in the way. Funds were inadequate.
All should subscribe according to their means. Those who had
lost relations in the war might reasonably be expected to
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