Part 4 out of 4
something in this sort of thing after all? After all, they
thought, as the hag shook her head over their hands, after
all...And they waited, with an uncomfortably beating heart, for
the oracle to speak. After a long and silent inspection, Mr.
Scogan would suddenly look up and ask, in a hoarse whisper, some
horrifying question, such as, "Have you ever been hit on the head
with a hammer by a young man with red hair?" When the answer was
in the negative, which it could hardly fail to be, Mr. Scogan
would nod several times, saying, "I was afraid so. Everything is
still to come, still to come, though it can't be very far off
now." Sometimes, after a long examination, he would just
whisper, "Where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise," and
refuse to divulge any details of a future too appalling to be
envisaged without despair. Sesostris had a success of horror.
People stood in a queue outside the witch's booth waiting for the
privilege of hearing sentence pronounced upon them.
Denis, in the course of his round, looked with curiosity at this
crowd of suppliants before the shrine of the oracle. He had a
great desire to see how Mr. Scogan played his part. The canvas
booth was a rickety, ill-made structure. Between its walls and
its sagging roof were long gaping chinks and crannies. Denis
went to the tea-tent and borrowed a wooden bench and a small
Union Jack. With these he hurried back to the booth of
Sesostris. Setting down the bench at the back of the booth, he
climbed up, and with a great air of busy efficiency began to tie
the Union Jack to the top of one of the tent-poles. Through the
crannies in the canvas he could see almost the whole of the
interior of the tent. Mr. Scogan's bandana-covered head was just
below him; his terrifying whispers came clearly up. Denis looked
and listened while the witch prophesied financial losses, death
by apoplexy, destruction by air-raids in the next war.
"Is there going to be another war?" asked the old lady to whom he
had predicted this end.
"Very soon," said Mr. Scogan, with an air of quiet confidence.
The old lady was succeeded by a girl dressed in white muslin,
garnished with pink ribbons. She was wearing a broad hat, so
that Denis could not see her face; but from her figure and the
roundness of her bare arms he judged her young and pleasing. Mr.
Scogan looked at her hand, then whispered, "You are still
The young lady giggled and exclaimed, "Oh, lor'!"
"But you will not remain so for long," added Mr. Scogan
sepulchrally. The young lady giggled again. "Destiny, which
interests itself in small things no less than in great, has
announced the fact upon your hand." Mr. Scogan took up the
magnifying-glass and began once more to examine the white palm.
"Very interesting," he said, as though to himself--"very
interesting. It's as clear as day." He was silent.
"What's clear?" asked the girl.
"I don't think I ought to tell you." Mr. Scogan shook his head;
the pendulous brass ear-rings which he had screwed on to his ears
"Please, please!," she implored.
The witch seemed to ignore her remark. "Afterwards, it's not at
all clear. The fates don't say whether you will settle down to
married life and have four children or whether you will try to go
on the cinema and have none. They are only specific about this
one rather crucial incident."
"What is it? What is it? Oh, do tell me!"
The white muslin figure leant eagerly forward.
Mr. Scogan sighed. "Very well," he said, "if you must know, you
must know. But if anything untoward happens you must blame your
own curiosity. Listen. Listen." He lifted up a sharp, claw-
nailed forefinger. "This is what the fates have written. Next
Sunday afternoon at six o'clock you will be sitting on the second
stile on the footpath that leads from the church to the lower
road. At that moment a man will appear walking along the
footpath." Mr. Scogan looked at her hand again as though to
refresh his memory of the details of the scene. "A man," he
repeated--"a small man with a sharp nose, not exactly good
looking nor precisely young, but fascinating." He lingered
hissingly over the word. "He will ask you, 'Can you tell me the
way to Paradise?' and you will answer, 'Yes, I'll show you,' and
walk with him down towards the little hazel copse. I cannot read
what will happen after that." There was a silence.
"Is it really true?" asked white muslin.
The witch gave a shrug of the shoulders. "I merely tell you what
I read in your hand. Good afternoon. That will be sixpence.
Yes, I have change. Thank you. Good afternoon."
Denis stepped down from the bench; tied insecurely and crookedly
to the tentpole, the Union Jack hung limp on the windless air.
"If only I could do things like that!" he thought, as he carried
the bench back to the tea-tent.
Anne was sitting behind a long table filling thick white cups
from an urn. A neat pile of printed sheets lay before her on the
table. Denis took one of them and looked at it affectionately.
It was his poem. They had printed five hundred copies, and very
nice the quarto broadsheets looked.
"Have you sold many?" he asked in a casual tone.
Anne put her head on one side deprecatingly. "Only three so far,
I'm afraid. But I'm giving a free copy to everyone who spends
more than a shilling on his tea. So in any case it's having a
Denis made no reply, but walked slowly away. He looked at the
broadsheet in his hand and read the lines to himself relishingly
as he walked along:
"This day of roundabouts and swings,
Struck weights, shied cocoa-nuts, tossed rings,
Switchbacks, Aunt Sallies, and all such small
High jinks--you call it ferial?
A holiday? But paper noses
Sniffed the artificial roses
Of round Venetian cheeks through half
Each carnival year, and masks might laugh
At things the naked face for shame
Would blush at--laugh and think no blame.
A holiday? But Galba showed
Elephants on an airy road;
Jumbo trod the tightrope then,
And in the circus armed men
Stabbed home for sport and died to break
Those dull imperatives that make
A prison of every working day,
Where all must drudge and all obey.
Sing Holiday! You do not know
How to be free. The Russian snow
flowered with bright blood whose roses spread
Petals of fading, fading red
That died into the snow again,
Into the virgin snow; and men
From all ancient bonds were freed.
Old law, old custom, and old creed,
Old right and wrong there bled to death;
The frozen air received their breath,
A little smoke that died away;
And round about them where they lay
The snow bloomed roses. Blood was there
A red gay flower and only fair.
Sing Holiday! Beneath the Tree
Of Innocence and Liberty,
Paper Nose and Red Cockade
Dance within the magic shade
That makes them drunken, merry, and strong
To laugh and sing their ferial song:
But Echo answers
Faintly to the laughing dancers,
'Free'--and faintly laughs, and still,
Within the hollows of the hill,
Faintlier laughs and whispers, 'Free,'
'Free,' and laughter faints away...
Sing Holiday! Sing Holiday!"
He folded the sheet carefully and put it in his pocket. The
thing had its merits. Oh, decidedly, decidedly! But how
unpleasant the crowd smelt! He lit a cigarette. The smell of
cows was preferable. He passed through the gate in the park wall
into the garden. The swimming-pool was a centre of noise and
"Second Heat in the Young Ladies' Championship." It was the
polite voice of Henry Wimbush. A crowd of sleek, seal-like
figures in black bathing-dresses surrounded him. His grey bowler
hat, smooth, round, and motionless in the midst of a moving sea,
was an island of aristocratic calm.
Holding his tortoise-shell-rimmed pince-nez an inch or two in
front of his eyes, he read out names from a list.
"Miss Dolly Miles, Miss Rebecca Balister, Miss Doris Gabell..."
Five young persons ranged themselves on the brink. From their
seats of honour at the other end of the pool, old Lord Moleyn and
Mr. Callamay looked on with eager interest.
Henry Wimbush raised his hand. There was an expectant silence.
"When I say 'Go,' go. Go!" he said. There was an almost
Denis pushed his way through the spectators. Somebody plucked
him by the sleeve; he looked down. It was old Mrs. Budge.
"Delighted to see you again, Mr. Stone," she said in her rich,
husky voice. She panted a little as she spoke, like a short-
winded lap-dog. It was Mrs. Budge who, having read in the "Daily
Mirror" that the Government needed peach stones--what they needed
them for she never knew--had made the collection of peach stones
her peculiar "bit" of war work. She had thirty-six peach trees
in her walled garden, as well as four hot-houses in which trees
could be forced, so that she was able to eat peaches practically
the whole year round. In 1916 she ate 4200 peaches, and sent the
stones to the Government. In 1917 the military authorities
called up three of her gardeners, and what with this and the fact
that it was a bad year for wall fruit, she only managed to eat
2900 peaches during that crucial period of the national
destinies. In 1918 she did rather better, for between January
1st and the date of the Armistice she ate 3300 peaches. Since
the Armistice she had relaxed her efforts; now she did not eat
more than two or three peaches a day. Her constitution, she
complained, had suffered; but it had suffered for a good cause.
Denis answered her greeting by a vague and polite noise.
"So nice to see the young people enjoying themselves," Mrs. Budge
went on. "And the old people too, for that matter. Look at old
Lord Moleyn and dear Mr. Callamay. Isn't it delightful to see
the way they enjoy themselves?"
Denis looked. He wasn't sure whether it was so very delightful
after all. Why didn't they go and watch the sack races? The two
old gentlemen were engaged at the moment in congratulating the
winner of the race; it seemed an act of supererogatory
graciousness; for, after all, she had only won a heat.
"Pretty little thing, isn't she?" said Mrs. Budge huskily, and
panted two or three times.
"Yes," Denis nodded agreement. Sixteen, slender, but nubile, he
said to himself, and laid up the phrase in his memory as a happy
one. Old Mr. Callamay had put on his spectacles to congratulate
the victor, and Lord Moleyn, leaning forward over his walking-
stick, showed his long ivory teeth, hungrily smiling.
"Capital performance, capital," Mr. Callamay was saying in his
The victor wriggled with embarrassment. She stood with her hands
behind her back, rubbing one foot nervously on the other. Her
wet bathing-dress shone, a torso of black polished marble.
"Very good indeed," said Lord Moleyn. His voice seemed to come
from just behind his teeth, a toothy voice. It was as though a
dog should suddenly begin to speak. He smiled again, Mr.
Callamay readjusted his spectacles.
"When I say 'Go,' go. Go!"
Splash! The third heat had started.
"Do you know, I never could learn to swim," said Mrs. Budge.
"But I used to be able to float."
Denis imagined her floating--up and down, up and down on a great
green swell. A blown black bladder; no, that wasn't good, that
wasn't good at all. A new winner was being congratulated. She
was atrociously stubby and fat. The last one, long and
harmoniously, continuously curved from knee to breast, had been
an Eve by Cranach; but this, this one was a bad Rubens.
"...go--go--go!" Henry Wimbush's polite level voice once more
pronounced the formula. Another batch of young ladies dived in.
Grown a little weary of sustaining a conversation with Mrs.
Budge, Denis conveniently remembered that his duties as a steward
called him elsewhere. He pushed out through the lines of
spectators and made his way along the path left clear behind
them. He was thinking again that his soul was a pale, tenuous
membrane, when he was startled by hearing a thin, sibilant voice,
speaking apparently from just above his head, pronounce the
single word "Disgusting!"
He looked up sharply. The path along which he was walking passed
under the lee of a wall of clipped yew. Behind the hedge the
ground sloped steeply up towards the foot of the terrace and the
house; for one standing on the higher ground it was easy to look
over the dark barrier. Looking up, Denis saw two heads
overtopping the hedge immediately above him. He recognised the
iron mask of Mr. Bodiham and the pale, colourless face of his
wife. They were looking over his head, over the heads of the
spectators, at the swimmers in the pond.
"Disgusting!" Mrs. Bodiham repeated, hissing softly.
The rector turned up his iron mask towards the solid cobalt of
the sky. "How long?" he said, as though to himself; "how long?"
He lowered his eyes again, and they fell on Denis's upturned
curious face. There was an abrupt movement, and Mr. and Mrs.
Bodiham popped out of sight behind the hedge.
Denis continued his promenade. He wandered past the merry-go-
round, through the thronged streets of the canvas village; the
membrane of his soul flapped tumultuously in the noise and
laughter. In a roped-off space beyond, Mary was directing the
children's sports. Little creatures seethed round about her,
making a shrill, tinny clamour; others clustered about the skirts
and trousers of their parents. Mary's face was shining in the
heat; with an immense output of energy she started a three-legged
race. Denis looked on in admiration.
"You're wonderful," he said, coming up behind her and touching
her on the arm. "I've never seen such energy."
She turned towards him a face, round, red, and honest as the
setting sun; the golden bell of her hair swung silently as she
moved her head and quivered to rest.
"Do you know, Denis," she said, in a low, serious voice, gasping
a little as she spoke--"do you know that there's a woman here who
has had three children in thirty-one months?"
"Really," said Denis, making rapid mental calculations.
"It's appalling. I've been telling her about the Malthusian
League. One really ought..."
But a sudden violent renewal of the metallic yelling announced
the fact that somebody had won the race. Mary became once more
the centre of a dangerous vortex. It was time, Denis thought, to
move on; he might be asked to do something if he stayed too long.
He turned back towards the canvas village. The thought of tea
was making itself insistent in his mind. Tea, tea, tea. But the
tea-tent was horribly thronged. Anne, with an unusual expression
of grimness on her flushed face, was furiously working the handle
of the urn; the brown liquid spurted incessantly into the
proffered cups. Portentous, in the farther corner of the tent,
Priscilla, in her royal toque, was encouraging the villagers. In
a momentary lull Denis could hear her deep, jovial laughter and
her manly voice. Clearly, he told himself, this was no place for
one who wanted tea. He stood irresolute at the entrance to the
tent. A beautiful thought suddenly came to him; if he went back
to the house, went unobtrusively, without being observed, if he
tiptoed into the dining-room and noiselessly opened the little
doors of the sideboard--ah, then! In the cool recess within he
would find bottles and a siphon; a bottle of crystal gin and a
quart of soda water, and then for the cups that inebriate as well
A minute later he was walking briskly up the shady yew-tree walk.
Within the house it was deliciously quiet and cool. Carrying his
well-filled tumbler with care, he went into the library. There,
the glass on the corner of the table beside him, he settled into
a chair with a volume of Sainte-Beuve. There was nothing, he
found, like a Causerie du Lundi for settling and soothing the
troubled spirits. That tenuous membrane of his had been too
rudely buffeted by the afternoon's emotions; it required a rest.
Towards sunset the fair itself became quiescent. It was the hour
for the dancing to begin. At one side of the village of tents a
space had been roped off. Acetylene lamps, hung round it on
posts, cast a piercing white light. In one corner sat the band,
and, obedient to its scraping and blowing, two or three hundred
dancers trampled across the dry ground, wearing away the grass
with their booted feet. Round this patch of all but daylight,
alive with motion and noise, the night seemed preternaturally
dark. Bars of light reached out into it, and every now and then
a lonely figure or a couple of lovers, interlaced, would cross
the bright shaft, flashing for a moment into visible existence,
to disappear again as quickly and surprisingly as they had come.
Denis stood by the entrance of the enclosure, watching the
swaying, shuffling crowd. The slow vortex brought the couples
round and round again before him, as though he were passing them
in review. There was Priscilla, still wearing her queenly toque,
still encouraging the villagers--this time by dancing with one of
the tenant farmers. There was Lord Moleyn, who had stayed on to
the disorganised, passoverish meal that took the place of dinner
on this festal day; he one-stepped shamblingly, his bent knees
more precariously wobbly than ever, with a terrified village
beauty. Mr. Scogan trotted round with another. Mary was in the
embrace of a young farmer of heroic proportions; she was looking
up at him, talking, as Denis could see, very seriously. What
about? he wondered. The Malthusian League, perhaps. Seated in
the corner among the band, Jenny was performing wonders of
virtuosity upon the drums. Her eyes shone, she smiled to
herself. A whole subterranean life seemed to be expressing
itself in those loud rat-tats, those long rolls and flourishes of
drumming. Looking at her, Denis ruefully remembered the red
notebook; he wondered what sort of a figure he was cutting now.
But the sight of Anne and Gombauld swimming past--Anne with her
eyes almost shut and sleeping, as it were, on the sustaining
wings of movement and music--dissipated these preoccupations.
Male and female created He them...There they were, Anne and
Gombauld, and a hundred couples more--all stepping harmoniously
together to the old tune of Male and Female created He them. But
Denis sat apart; he alone lacked his complementary opposite.
They were all coupled but he; all but he...
Somebody touched him on the shoulder and he looked up. It was
"I never showed you our oaken drainpipes," he said. "Some of the
ones we dug up are lying quite close to here. Would you like to
come and see them?"
Denis got up, and they walked off together into the darkness.
The music grew fainter behind them. Some of the higher notes
faded out altogether. Jenny's drumming and the steady sawing of
the bass throbbed on, tuneless and meaningless in their ears.
Henry Wimbush halted.
"Here we are," he said, and, taking an electric torch out of his
pocket, he cast a dim beam over two or three blackened sections
of tree trunk, scooped out into the semblance of pipes, which
were lying forlornly in a little depression in the ground.
"Very interesting," said Denis, with a rather tepid enthusiasm.
They sat down on the grass. A faint white glare, rising from
behind a belt of trees, indicated the position of the dancing-
floor. The music was nothing but a muffled rhythmic pulse.
"I shall be glad," said Henry Wimbush, "when this function comes
at last to an end."
"I can believe it."
"I do not know how it is," Mr. Wimbush continued, "but the
spectacle of numbers of my fellow-creatures in a state of
agitation moves in me a certain weariness, rather than any gaiety
or excitement. The fact is, they don't very much interest me.
They're aren't in my line. You follow me? I could never take
much interest, for example, in a collection of postage stamps.
Primitives or seventeenth-century books--yes. They are my line.
But stamps, no. I don't know anything about them; they're not my
line. They don't interest me, they give me no emotion. It's
rather the same with people, I'm afraid. I'm more at home with
these pipes." He jerked his head sideways towards the hollowed
logs. "The trouble with the people and events of the present is
that you never know anything about them. What do I know of
contemporary politics? Nothing. What do I know of the people I
see round about me? Nothing. What they think of me or of
anything else in the world, what they will do in five minutes'
time, are things I can't guess at. For all I know, you may
suddenly jump up and try to murder me in a moment's time."
"Come, come," said Denis.
"True," Mr. Wimbush continued, "the little I know about your past
is certainly reassuring. But I know nothing of your present, and
neither you nor I know anything of your future. It's appalling;
in living people, one is dealing with unknown and unknowable
quantities. One can only hope to find out anything about them by
a long series of the most disagreeable and boring human contacts,
involving a terrible expense of time. It's the same with current
events; how can I find out anything about them except by devoting
years to the most exhausting first-hand study, involving once
more an endless number of the most unpleasant contacts? No, give
me the past. It doesn't change; it's all there in black and
white, and you can get to know about it comfortably and
decorously and, above all, privately--by reading. By reading I
know a great deal of Caesar Borgia, of St. Francis, of Dr.
Johnson; a few weeks have made me thoroughly acquainted with
these interesting characters, and I have been spared the tedious
and revolting process of getting to know them by personal
contact, which I should have to do if they were living now. How
gay and delightful life would be if one could get rid of all the
human contacts! Perhaps, in the future, when machines have
attained to a state of perfection--for I confess that I am, like
Godwin and Shelley, a believer in perfectibility, the
perfectibility of machinery--then, perhaps, it will be possible
for those who, like myself, desire it, to live in a dignified
seclusion, surrounded by the delicate attentions of silent and
graceful machines, and entirely secure from any human intrusion.
It is a beautiful thought."
"Beautiful," Denis agreed. "But what about the desirable human
contacts, like love and friendship?"
The black silhouette against the darkness shook its head. "The
pleasures even of these contacts are much exaggerated," said the
polite level voice. "It seems to me doubtful whether they are
equal to the pleasures of private reading and contemplation.
Human contacts have been so highly valued in the past only
because reading was not a common accomplishment and because books
were scarce and difficult to reproduce. The world, you must
remember, is only just becoming literate. As reading becomes
more and more habitual and widespread, an ever-increasing number
of people will discover that books will give them all the
pleasures of social life and none of its intolerable tedium. At
present people in search of pleasure naturally tend to congregate
in large herds and to make a noise; in future their natural
tendency will be to seek solitude and quiet. The proper study of
mankind is books."
"I sometimes think that it may be," said Denis; he was wondering
if Anne and Gombauld were still dancing together.
"Instead of which," said Mr. Wimbush, with a sigh, "I must go and
see if all is well on the dancing-floor." They got up and began
to walk slowly towards the white glare. "If all these people
were dead," Henry Wimbush went on, "this festivity would be
extremely agreeable. Nothing would be pleasanter than to read in
a well-written book of an open-air ball that took place a century
ago. How charming! one would say; how pretty and how amusing!
But when the ball takes place to-day, when one finds oneself
involved in it, then one sees the thing in its true light. It
turns out to be merely this." He waved his hand in the direction
of the acetylene flares. "In my youth," he went on after a
pause, "I found myself, quite fortuitously, involved in a series
of the most phantasmagorical amorous intrigues. A novelist could
have made his fortune out of them, and even if I were to tell
you, in my bald style, the details of these adventures, you would
be amazed at the romantic tale. But I assure you, while they
were happening--these romantic adventures--they seemed to me no
more and no less exciting than any other incident of actual life.
To climb by night up a rope-ladder to a second-floor window in an
old house in Toledo seemed to me, while I was actually performing
this rather dangerous feat, an action as obvious, as much to be
taken for granted, as--how shall I put it?--as quotidian as
catching the 8.52 from Surbiton to go to business on a Monday
morning. Adventures and romance only take on their adventurous
and romantic qualities at second-hand. Live them, and they are
just a slice of life like the rest. In literature they become as
charming as this dismal ball would be if we were celebrating its
tercentenary." They had come to the entrance of the enclosure
and stood there, blinking in the dazzling light. "Ah, if only we
were!" Henry Wimbush added.
Anne and Gombauld were still dancing together.
It was after ten o'clock. The dancers had already dispersed and
the last lights were being put out. To-morrow the tents would be
struck, the dismantled merry-go-round would be packed into
waggons and carted away. An expanse of worn grass, a shabby
brown patch in the wide green of the park, would be all that
remained. Crome Fair was over.
By the edge of the pool two figures lingered.
"No, no, no," Anne was saying in a breathless whisper, leaning
backwards, turning her head from side to side in an effort to
escape Gombauld's kisses. "No, please. No." Her raised voice
had become imperative.
Gombauld relaxed his embrace a little. "Why not?" he said. "I
With a sudden effort Anne freed herself. "You won't," she
retorted. "You've tried to take the most unfair advantage of
"Unfair advantage?" echoed Gombauld in genuine surprise.
"Yes, unfair advantage. You attack me after I've been dancing
for two hours, while I'm still reeling drunk with the movement,
when I've lost my head, when I've got no mind left but only a
rhythmical body! It's as bad as making love to someone you've
drugged or intoxicated."
Gombauld laughed angrily. "Call me a White Slaver and have done
"Luckily," said Anne, "I am now completely sobered, and if you
try and kiss me again I shall box your ears. Shall we take a few
turns round the pool?" she added. "The night is delicious."
For answer Gombauld made an irritated noise. They paced off
slowly, side by side.
"What I like about the painting of Degas..." Anne began in her
most detached and conversational tone.
"Oh, damn Degas!" Gombauld was almost shouting.
From where he stood, leaning in an attitude of despair against
the parapet of the terrace, Denis had seen them, the two pale
figures in a patch of moonlight, far down by the pool's edge. He
had seen the beginning of what promised to be an endless
passionate embracement, and at the sight he had fled. It was too
much; he couldn't stand it. In another moment, he felt, he would
have burst into irrepressible tears.
Dashing blindly into the house, he almost ran into Mr. Scogan,
who was walking up and down the hall smoking a final pipe.
"Hullo!" said Mr. Scogan, catching him by the arm; dazed and
hardly conscious of what he was doing or where he was, Denis
stood there for a moment like a somnambulist. "What's the
matter?" Mr. Scogan went on. "you look disturbed, distressed,
Denis shook his head without replying.
"Worried about the cosmos, eh?" Mr. Scogan patted him on the arm.
"I know the feeling," he said. "It's a most distressing symptom.
'What's the point of it all? All is vanity. What's the good of
continuing to function if one's doomed to be snuffed out at last
along with everything else?' Yes, yes. I know exactly how you
feel. It's most distressing if one allows oneself to be
distressed. But then why allow oneself to be distressed? After
all, we all know that there's no ultimate point. But what
difference does that make?"
At this point the somnambulist suddenly woke up. "What?" he
said, blinking and frowning at his interlocutor. "What?" Then
breaking away he dashed up the stairs, two steps at a time.
Mr. Scogan ran to the foot of the stairs and called up after him.
"It makes no difference, none whatever. Life is gay all the
same, always, under whatever circumstances--under whatever
circumstances," he added, raising his voice to a shout. But
Denis was already far out of hearing, and even if he had not
been, his mind to-night was proof against all the consolations of
philosophy. Mr. Scogan replaced his pipe between his teeth and
resumed his meditative pacing. "Under any circumstances," he
repeated to himself. It was ungrammatical to begin with; was it
true? And is life really its own reward? He wondered. When his
pipe had burned itself to its stinking conclusion he took a drink
of gin and went to bed. In ten minutes he was deeply, innocently
Denis had mechanically undressed and, clad in those flowered silk
pyjamas of which he was so justly proud, was lying face downwards
on his bed. Time passed. When at last he looked up, the candle
which he had left alight at his bedside had burned down almost to
the socket. He looked at his watch; it was nearly half-past one.
His head ached, his dry, sleepless eyes felt as though they had
been bruised from behind, and the blood was beating within his
ears a loud arterial drum. He got up, opened the door, tiptoed
noiselessly along the passage, and began to mount the stairs
towards the higher floors. Arrived at the servants' quarters
under the roof, he hesitated, then turning to the right he opened
a little door at the end of the corridor. Within was a pitch-
dark cupboard-like boxroom, hot, stuffy, and smelling of dust and
old leather. He advanced cautiously into the blackness, groping
with his hands. It was from this den that the ladder went up to
the leads of the western tower. He found the ladder, and set his
feet on the rungs; noiselessly, he lifted the trap-door above his
head; the moonlit sky was over him, he breathed the fresh, cool
air of the night. In a moment he was standing on the leads,
gazing out over the dim, colourless landscape, looking
perpendicularly down at the terrace seventy feet below.
Why had he climbed up to this high, desolate place? Was it to
look at the moon? Was it to commit suicide? As yet he hardly
knew. Death--the tears came into his eyes when he thought of it.
His misery assumed a certain solemnity; he was lifted up on the
wings of a kind of exaltation. It was a mood in which he might
have done almost anything, however foolish. He advanced towards
the farther parapet; the drop was sheer there and uninterrupted.
A good leap, and perhaps one might clear the narrow terrace and
so crash down yet another thirty feet to the sun-baked ground
below. He paused at the corner of the tower, looking now down
into the shadowy gulf below, now up towards the rare stars and
the waning moon. He made a gesture with his hand, muttered
something, he could not afterwards remember what; but the fact
that he had said it aloud gave the utterance a peculiarly
terrible significance. Then he looked down once more into the
"What ARE you doing, Denis?" questioned a voice from somewhere
very close behind him.
Denis uttered a cry of frightened surprise, and very nearly went
over the parapet in good earnest. His heart was beating
terribly, and he was pale when, recovering himself, he turned
round in the direction from which the voice had come.
"Are you ill?"
In the profound shadow that slept under the eastern parapet of
the tower, he saw something he had not previously noticed--an
oblong shape. It was a mattress, and someone was lying on it.
Since that first memorable night on the tower, Mary had slept out
every evening; it was a sort of manifestation of fidelity.
"It gave me a fright," she went on, "to wake up and see you
waving your arms and gibbering there. What on earth were you
Denis laughed melodramatically. "What, indeed!" he said. If she
hadn't woken up as she did, he would be lying in pieces at the
bottom of the tower; he was certain of that, now.
"You hadn't got designs on me, I hope?" Mary inquired, jumping
too rapidly to conclusions.
"I didn't know you were here," said Denis, laughing more bitterly
and artificially than before.
"What IS the matter, Denis?"
He sat down on the edge of the mattress, and for all reply went
on laughing in the same frightful and improbable tone.
An hour later he was reposing with his head on Mary's knees, and
she, with an affectionate solicitude that was wholly maternal,
was running her fingers through his tangled hair. He had told
her everything, everything: his hopeless love, his jealousy, his
despair, his suicide--as it were providentially averted by her
interposition. He had solemnly promised never to think of self-
destruction again. And now his soul was floating in a sad
serenity. It was embalmed in the sympathy that Mary so
generously poured. And it was not only in receiving sympathy
that Denis found serenity and even a kind of happiness; it was
also in giving it. For if he had told Mary everything about his
miseries, Mary, reacting to these confidences, had told him in
return everything, or very nearly everything, about her own.
"Poor Mary!" He was very sorry for her. Still, she might have
guessed that Ivor wasn't precisely a monument of constancy.
"Well," she concluded, "one must put a good face on it." She
wanted to cry, but she wouldn't allow herself to be weak. There
was a silence.
"Do you think," asked Denis hesitatingly--"do you really think
that she...that Gombauld..."
"I'm sure of it," Mary answered decisively. There was another
"I don't know what to do about it," he said at last, utterly
"You'd better go away," advised Mary. "It's the safest thing,
and the most sensible."
"But I've arranged to stay here three weeks more."
"You must concoct an excuse."
"I suppose you're right."
"I know I am," said Mary, who was recovering all her firm self-
possession. "You can't go on like this, can you?"
"No, I can't go on like this," he echoed.
Immensely practical, Mary invented a plan of action.
Startlingly, in the darkness, the church clock struck three.
"You must go to bed at once," she said. "I'd no idea it was so
Denis clambered down the ladder, cautiously descended the
creaking stairs. His room was dark; the candle had long ago
guttered to extinction. He got into bed and fell asleep almost
Denis had been called, but in spite of the parted curtains he had
dropped off again into that drowsy, dozy state when sleep becomes
a sensual pleasure almost consciously savoured. In this
condition he might have remained for another hour if he had not
been disturbed by a violent rapping at the door.
"Come in," he mumbled, without opening his eyes. The latch
clicked, a hand seized him by the shoulder and he was rudely
"Get up, get up!"
His eyelids blinked painfully apart, and he saw Mary standing
over him, bright-faced and earnest.
"Get up!" she repeated. "You must go and send the telegram.
Don't you remember?"
"O Lord!" He threw off the bed-clothes; his tormentor retired.
Denis dressed as quickly as he could and ran up the road to the
village post office. Satisfaction glowed within him as he
returned. He had sent a long telegram, which would in a few
hours evoke an answer ordering him back to town at once--on
urgent business. It was an act performed, a decisive step taken
--and he so rarely took decisive steps; he felt pleased with
himself. It was with a whetted appetite that he came in to
"Good-morning," said Mr. Scogan. "I hope you're better."
"You were rather worried about the cosmos last night."
Denis tried to laugh away the impeachment. "Was I?" he lightly
"I wish," said Mr. Scogan, "that I had nothing worse to prey on
my mind. I should be a happy man."
"One is only happy in action," Denis enunciated, thinking of the
He looked out of the window. Great florid baroque clouds floated
high in the blue heaven. A wind stirred among the trees, and
their shaken foliage twinkled and glittered like metal in the
sun. Everything seemed marvellously beautiful. At the thought
that he would soon be leaving all this beauty he felt a momentary
pang; but he comforted himself by recollecting how decisively he
"Action," he repeated aloud, and going over to the sideboard he
helped himself to an agreeable mixture of bacon and fish.
Breakfast over, Denis repaired to the terrace, and, sitting
there, raised the enormous bulwark of the "Times" against the
possible assaults of Mr. Scogan, who showed an unappeased desire
to go on talking about the Universe. Secure behind the crackling
pages, he meditated. In the light of this brilliant morning the
emotions of last night seemed somehow rather remote. And what if
he had seen them embracing in the moonlight? Perhaps it didn't
mean much after all. And even if it did, why shouldn't he stay?
He felt strong enough to stay, strong enough to be aloof,
disinterested, a mere friendly acquaintance. And even if he
weren't strong enough...
"What time do you think the telegram will arrive?" asked Mary
suddenly, thrusting in upon him over the top of the paper.
Denis started guiltily. "I don't know at all," he said.
"I was only wondering," said Mary, "because there's a very good
train at 3.27, and it would be nice if you could catch it,
"Awfully nice," he agreed weakly. He felt as though he were
making arrangements for his own funeral. Train leaves Waterloo
3.27. No flowers...Mary was gone. No, he was blowed if he'd let
himself be hurried down to the Necropolis like this. He was
blowed. The sight of Mr. Scogan looking out, with a hungry
expression, from the drawing-room window made him precipitately
hoist the "Times" once more. For a long while he kept it
hoisted. Lowering it at last to take another cautious peep at
his surroundings, he found himself, with what astonishment!
confronted by Anne's faint, amused, malicious smile. She was
standing before him,--the woman who was a tree,--the swaying
grace of her movement arrested in a pose that seemed itself a
"How long have you been standing there?" he asked, when he had
done gaping at her.
"Oh, about half an hour, I suppose," she said airily. "You were
so very deep in your paper--head over ears--I didn't like to
"You look lovely this morning," Denis exclaimed. It was the
first time he had ever had the courage to utter a personal remark
of the kind.
Anne held up her hand as though to ward off a blow. "Don't
bludgeon me, please." She sat down on the bench beside him. He
was a nice boy, she thought, quite charming; and Gombauld's
violent insistences were really becoming rather tiresome. "Why
don't you wear white trousers?" she asked. "I like you so much
in white trousers."
"They're at the wash," Denis replied rather curtly. This white-
trouser business was all in the wrong spirit. He was just
preparing a scheme to manoeuvre the conversation back to the
proper path, when Mr. Scogan suddenly darted out of the house,
crossed the terrace with clockwork rapidity, and came to a halt
in front of the bench on which they were seated.
"To go on with our interesting conversation about the cosmos," he
began, "I become more and more convinced that the various parts
of the concern are fundamentally discrete...But would you mind,
Denis, moving a shade to your right?" He wedged himself between
them on the bench. "And if you would shift a few inches to the
left, my dear Anne...Thank you. Discrete, I think, was what I
"You were," said Anne. Denis was speechless.
They were taking their after luncheon coffee in the library when
the telegram arrived. Denis blushed guiltily as he took the
orange envelope from the salver and tore it open. "Return at
once. Urgent family business." It was too ridiculous. As if he
had any family business! Wouldn't it be best just to crumple the
thing up and put it in his pocket without saying anything about
it? He looked up; Mary's large blue china eyes were fixed upon
him, seriously, penetratingly. He blushed more deeply than ever,
hesitated in a horrible uncertainty.
"What's your telegram about?" Mary asked significantly.
He lost his head, "I'm afraid," he mumbled, "I'm afraid this
means I shall have to go back to town at once." He frowned at
the telegram ferociously.
"But that's absurd, impossible," cried Anne. She had been
standing by the window talking to Gombauld; but at Denis's words
she came swaying across the room towards him.
"It's urgent," he repeated desperately.
"But you've only been here such a short time," Anne protested.
"I know," he said, utterly miserable. Oh, if only she could
understand! Women were supposed to have intuition.
"If he must go, he must," put in Mary firmly.
"Yes, I must." He looked at the telegram again for inspiration.
"You see, it's urgent family business," he explained.
Priscilla got up from her chair in some excitement. "I had a
distinct presentiment of this last night," she said. "A distinct
"A mere coincidence, no doubt," said Mary, brushing Mrs. Wimbush
out of the conversation. "There's a very good train at 3.27."
She looked at the clock on the mantelpiece. "You'll have nice
time to pack."
"I'll order the motor at once." Henry Wimbush rang the bell.
The funeral was well under way. It was awful, awful.
"I am wretched you should be going," said Anne.
Denis turned towards her; she really did look wretched. He
abandoned himself hopelessly, fatalistically to his destiny.
This was what came of action, of doing something decisive. If
only he'd just let things drift! If only...
"I shall miss your conversation," said Mr. Scogan.
Mary looked at the clock again. "I think perhaps you ought to go
and pack," she said.
Obediently Denis left the room. Never again, he said to himself,
never again would he do anything decisive. Camlet, West Bowlby,
Knipswich for Timpany, Spavin Delawarr; and then all the other
stations; and then, finally, London. The thought of the journey
appalled him. And what on earth was he going to do in London
when he got there? He climbed wearily up the stairs. It was
time for him to lay himself in his coffin.
The car was at the door--the hearse. The whole party had
assembled to see him go. Good-bye, good-bye. Mechanically he
tapped the barometer that hung in the porch; the needle stirred
perceptibly to the left. A sudden smile lighted up his
"'It sinks and I am ready to depart,'" he said, quoting Landor
with an exquisite aptness. He looked quickly round from face to
face. Nobody had noticed. He climbed into the hearse.
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