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Title: Balloons
Author: Bibesco, Elizabeth, 1897-1945
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Balloons" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



Team.



BALLOONS

BY

ELIZABETH BIBESCO

_Author of "I Have Only Myself to Blame," etc._

NEW YORK

GEORGE H. DORAN COMPANY

_1922_

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA



CONTENTS


                                                        PAGE
   I  HAVEN                                                9
        _To Clarence Day, Jr._

  II  TWO PARIS EPISODES                                  21
        _To Anthony Asquith_
          I: THE STORY OF A COAT
          II: BALLOONS

 III  COURTSHIP                                           27

  IV  "DO YOU REMEMBER...?"                              29
        _To Leslie Hartley_

   V  THE MARTYR                                          37
        _To H.G. Wells_

  VI  A MOTOR                                             53
        _To Alice Longworth_

 VII  THE MASTERPIECE                                     60
        _To Harold Child_

VIII  TEA TIME                                            67
        _To Sylvester Gates_

  IX  THE END                                             78

   X  MISUNDERSTOOD                                       83
        _To John Maynard Keynes_

  XI  COUNTERPOINT                                        92
        _To the Marchese Giovanni Visconti Venosta_

 XII  VILLEGIATURA                                       102
        _To Marcel Proust_

XIII  AULD LANG SYNE                                     132
        _To Harold Nicolson_

 XIV  TWO TAXI DRIVES                                    147
        _To Paul Morand_
          I: SUNSHINE
          II: LAMPS

  XV  A TOUCH OF SPRING                                  155
        _To W.Y. Turner_

 XVI  FIDO AND PONTO                                     161



BALLOONS



I

HAVEN

[_To CLARENCE DAY, JR._]


"You should only," we are told, "wear white in early youth and old age.
It is very becoming with a fresh complexion or white hair. When you no
longer feel as young as you were, other colours are more flattering.
Also, you should avoid bright lights and worry."

Here, the beauty specialist reminds you of the specialist who says in
winter, "Avoid wet feet and germs." In spite of both, we are still
subjected to sunshine and anxiety and rain and microbes.

But there are risks which the would-be young can and should avoid.
Surely Miss Wilcox ought to have known better than to flop down on the
grass with an effort and a bump, clasping (with some difficulty) her
knees because Vera, who is sixteen, slim and lithe, with the gawky grace
of a young colt, had made such an obvious success of the operation!

It is better not to sit on the grass after thirty when sprawling at all
is difficult, let alone sprawling gracefully.

Poor Miss Wilcox! At seventeen she had been a pretty, bouncing girl with
bright blue eyes, bright pink cheeks and brighter yellow hair. All the
young men of the neighbourhood had kissed her in conservatories or
bushes and to each in turn, she had answered, "Well, I never!"

Then an era of intellectual indifference to the world set in. She read
Milton in a garret and ate very little. When addressed, she gave the
impression of being suddenly dragged down from some sublime pinnacle of
thought. This was the period of absent-mindedness, of untidiness, of
unpunctuality, for she was convinced that these three ingredients
compose the spiritual life. But it was not a success. True, her cheeks
lost their roses, but without attaining an interesting transparent
whiteness and her figure became angular, rather than thin. Cold food,
ugly clothes and enforced isolation began to lose their charms and Miss
Wilcox abandoned the intellectual life.

She discovered that men were her only interest--probably she had always
known it. Even the curate, who was like a curate on the stage, was
glorified into an adventurous possibility from the mere fact that he
belonged to that strange, tropical species--the other sex.

Unfortunately, Miss Wilcox, who was practical and orderly, knew just
"what men liked in a woman." It was, it appeared, necessary to be
bright--relentlessly bright, with a determined, irrelevant cheerfulness
which no considerations of appropriateness could check and it was
necessary to have "something to say for yourself" which in Miss Wilcox's
hands, meant a series of pert tu quoques of the "you're another"
variety. Her two other axioms, "Don't let them see that you care for
them" and "feed the beasts," were alas! never put to the test as no man
had ever considered the possibility of being loved by Miss Wilcox and
the feeding stage had, in consequence, never been reached.

Nevertheless, in defence of her theses, Miss Wilcox was rough-toughed in
public, while in private, she studied recipes and articles on cooking.
As hope gradually began to give way to experience, Miss Wilcox came to
the conclusion that she frightened men off. They regarded her, she
imagined, as cold and indifferent and unapproachable. "I don't cheapen
myself," she would say, forgetting her conservatory days. In her heart
of hearts, she imagined herself in humble surrender, laying her strong
personality at the feet of a still stronger one and being gently lifted
up on to a pedestal. It was curious, she thought, that her wonderful,
unique gift of tenderness should go unperceived. But how is one to show
that one is tender? It is so difficult for a maiden lady, living alone.
She saw visions of a huge man with whimsical, smiling eyes, who after
seeing her two or three times would call at her cottage. He would stand
in the door and simply say, "Ellen," and she would put her head on his
shoulder and cry gently while he stroked her hair. "Does my loving you
make you sad, little one?" he would say, and she would answer, "No, no,
they are tears of happiness."

Miss Wilcox thought it would be delightful to be called "little one."
And then, rather nervously and tremulously, she would murmur, "I am
afraid I am not very beautiful," and he would laugh a deep, joyous laugh
and say, "To me, you are the most beautiful woman in the world."

But it never happened. Even the chinless curate, whose voice without
consonants gave the effect of an intoning bumble-bee, never took
advantage of her suggestions (frequently repeated) that he should drop
in to tea.

She tried to learn lawn-tennis and chess, but driving a ball into a net
and studying problems in the Sunday papers becomes very monotonous. It
was extraordinary how little provision life seemed to have made for
superior people with fastidious tastes, whereas an empty head and a
pretty face conquers the world! Miss Wilcox was very proud of the
epigram, "empty heads and pretty faces." She used it frequently, more
in sorrow than in anger. Vera was an excellent example. She was
incapable of "conducting a conversation," she never read a book, but
simply because her eyes sparkled and somehow or other, she always
reminded you of a Shepperson drawing, she was invariably surrounded by a
host of adorers. She was indifferent to the axioms, "boys will be boys"
and "gentlemen are different." In her philosophy, "girls would be boys"
and the difference between the sexes was simply one of what you might
and might not do.

"A positive savage," Miss Wilcox would explain and then, "You should be
more womanly, dear; men like a womanly woman." And Vera's eyes would
sparkle maliciously, for men undoubtedly did like Vera.

I do not know at what moment in life, if ever, we realise that we are
neither George Sands nor Juliets. Of course, if we are not beautiful, we
recognise early that beauty is nothing. What are features? The only
thing that matters is to have charm and expression. Then comes that
horrible gnawing doubt of our own magnetism. Is it possible that, though
we are not lovely, we are not irresistible either? That we will have to
go through life belonging neither to the triumphantly beautiful nor to
the triumphantly ugly? Miss Wilcox knew that she was not exactly
clever. But after all, what is prettiness and "men don't like clever
women." So she consoled herself with the thought that though her manner
"permitted no liberties," the warm tenderness of her true nature must be
apparent to the really discerning.

Poor Miss Wilcox! She had tried brightness and common-sense, Milton and
lawn-tennis, the arch and the aloof. She would have liked to have been
seductive and a little wicked, but she had found it easier to be
dignified and very good. Easier but no more satisfactory. Evidently
charm was a strange, mysterious thing, for which there was no recipe. A
dangerous force governing many things and subject to no law.

Every one was kind to Miss Wilcox. Lady Mary (Vera's mother) was always
asking her to picnics and lawn-tennis, parties and festivities of all
sorts. On these occasions, Sir Harry invariably chaffed her about the
curate, little knowing that his foolish jokes were a source of exquisite
and almost guilty pleasure to her. Was it, she wondered, altogether fair
to let him think that Mr. Simpson loved her? But she did enjoy it so
much, the nervous agonising sense of expectancy and then the sudden hot
blush. "Their little secret," Sir Harry called it and though, of course,
it was very wicked of her to let him continue under a misapprehension,
it was so difficult to clear the matter up, as, the more she protested,
the more confused she became, the more he was bound to think that there
was something in it.

Poor Miss Wilcox, battling with her conscience when Mr. Simpson's
passion was an invention of Vera's to whom old maids and curates were
simply stage properties. Vera with her long legs and her laughing eyes
and her happy, unimaginative youth--how was she to know that the
Simpsons of life stand for romance and mystery and longings unachieved?
To some people the impossible is impossible. One fine day they wake up
in the morning knowing that they will never hold the moon in their hands
and with the certainty, perfect peace descends on them.

Miss Wilcox was not like that. She couldn't settle down to decorating
the church and organising village entertainments. She woke up every
morning sure that something was going to happen and went to bed every
night dissatisfied in proportion to her confidence.

And then, quite close together, two things did happen. Miss Wilcox was
left a small fortune and Vera became engaged to be married.

The wedding, of course, was a great dramatic event. The preparations
engulfed everybody. What flowers should the triumphal arches be made of
and were the fair or the dark bridesmaids to be considered in the
bridesmaids' dresses? Miss Wilcox gave her advice freely and tied cards
on to presents but she felt unaccountably depressed. This, of course,
was because dear little Vera whom she had known since a child, whom she
had loved as a child, was leaving them and plunging into this strange,
unknown adventure. What an uncertain thing marriage, what an elusive
thing happiness! At nights she would dream of white satin figures
shrouded in white tulle veils, of shy, passionate bridegrooms and shy,
radiant brides. Sometimes she would see Vera's face and sometimes her
own and often in the morning, she would find her pillow wet. "It will be
you and Simpson next," Sir Harry teased her. But somehow the remark no
longer pleased her and she no longer blushed.

And then, one day she couldn't bear it any more. Without saying a word
to any one she went to London. A thick orange fog greeted her, a
wonderful, mysterious fog, creating immense prehistoric silhouettes, a
fog which freed you from old accustomed sights and sounds so that your
individuality seemed at last to be released and to belong exclusively to
you.

Gratefully Miss Wilcox accepted this gift of privacy. London belonged to
her, there were no prying eyes. Slowly she walked along the pavement
peering into shop windows. It was difficult to see anything. At last
she distinguished a blur of gold and jewels. She walked on and then back
again. She stood still. Her heart was in her mouth. Resolutely she
pushed the door open. The brightness blinded her, the sudden warmth made
her feel dizzy. Weakly she sat on a chair. A sympathetic salesman asked
her if he could do anything for her. "No, thank you," she murmured
faintly, "if I might sit here a moment."

Gradually she recovered and walked out again. The fog was thicker than
ever. The traffic had stopped. People bumped into her with muttered
apologies. Hesitatingly, wearily, she walked along. At last, she reached
another jeweller's. Firmly, quickly she walked in. How was she to ask
for what she wanted?

"What can I do for you, Madam?"

She looked up like a frightened animal.

"I've lost my wedding ring," she stammered. "It was a broad gold one.
I--I don't want my husband to discover it."

How easy it was after all.

The salesman was very sympathetic. She looked at a great number of
rings, toying with them in voluptuous hesitation. She enjoyed fingering
them. At last she chose one. The gold band on her finger frightened her.
It made her feel a strange, different person, rather disreputable and
quite unlike herself.

Miss Wilcox went to the Ritz. It was, she felt, a place where married
ladies without husbands would be neither noticed nor commented on. There
is, after all, nothing so very unusual in a wedding ring and Miss
Wilcox's appearance did not arouse idle and libelous speculations. But
still, she felt safer at the Ritz--there is something so conspicuous
about a quiet hotel.

The next day the fog had been cleared away and the sun, emerging after a
day's rest, sparkled with refreshed gaiety. Miss Wilcox, in deep
mourning, went out to buy new black clothes--lovely they were,
intentionally, not accidentally black, filmy chiffons, rippling
crêpe-de-chines, demure cashmeres, severe, perfect tailleurs. Here and
there touches of snowy crepe gave a relief suitable to deep unhappiness
and her widow's cap, low on the forehead, was the softest and most
nun-like frame to her face. Seeing herself in the glass, Miss Wilcox
blushed with pleasure.

"My husband was so fond of clothes," she murmured to the vendeuse with a
break in her voice, "and he always said that nothing became a woman like
black."

       *       *       *       *       *

There is a little village on the Seine. An old grey church nestles among
the huddling houses. A platoon of poplars guards the river, and little
pink almond bushes spring out of patches of violets. Miss Wilcox,
calling herself Mrs. Demarest, lives in a charming old house surrounded
by box hedges, paved paths lead through beds of old-fashioned
sweet-scented flowers, stocks and wall flowers and mignonette and moss
roses, lavender, myrtle, thyme and sweet geranium. Mr. Demarest, it
appears, could not bear the wonderful new varieties of huge, smell-less
blooms.

Miss Wilcox has never gone out of mourning, though she sometimes wears
grey and mauve. Her gracious sweetness has made her much beloved in the
village where her gentle presence is loved and honoured. She can often
be seen bringing soup to some old invalid, or taking flowers to the
church she loves to decorate. Her charity and her piety are revered by
all. Sometimes in the evening she plays a game of cards with her
neighbours or chess with the curé. It is known that a rich man from the
adjoining town proposed marriage to her, but she continues to mourn her
late husband with profound devoted fidelity. She is too unselfish to
force her grief on to others, but every one knows that her heart is
broken. Sometimes she talks of her sorrow--very gently, very
uncomplainingly, and there are always flowers in front of the photograph
of her husband on her writing table. He must have been a magnificent
man--huge, with whimsical smiling eyes. Every one in the village feels
as if they had known him. They have heard so much about him. He had only
seen Miss Wilcox three times when he walked into her cottage. Standing
in the doorway--"Ellen," he said, and she went to him--

"I suppose I knew it was for always," she explains gently. "It has been
a short always on earth--but so happy, so very happy."

All the girls of the village go to Mrs. Demarest before they marry. Her
wise counsel and the radiant memory of her happiness lights them on
their way.

"I have had everything," she says, "and now I have found peace."

It is the severity of suffering bravely borne. She has called her house
"Haven."



II

TWO PARIS EPISODES

[_To ANTHONY ASQUITH_]

I: THE STORY OF A COAT


"Le Printemps a brûlé cette nuit." The news greeted me when I was
called. It had no special significance, but spread through my
semi-consciousness into meaningless patterns. Then I woke up. "Comme
c'est terrible," I said, "quelle chance que ça s'est fait la nuit!" I
saw visions of leaping flames and angry reds reflected in the sky.

Then I remembered. It was at the Printemps that I had chosen my divine
coat. They had promised faithfully to send it me to-day. The loveliest
coat in the world--"fumée de Londres," the salesman had called it, and
in fact, it was the colour of the purple-grey smoke that ascends in
solid spirals from factory chimneys. There were stripes too of silvery
grey chenil which made a play-ground for lights and shadows. In shape it
was like an old print of a coachman driving a four-in-hand, long with a
flapping cape, and the lining was the colour of the sky when the sun has
set.

I saw my coat giving new life to the dying flames. Tongues of fire were
darting down the lines of silvery grey chenil, greedily eating up the
smoky back-ground. Finally, a mass of ashes--purple-grey like their
victim--was carried by the wind into the unknown. All day long my coat
became more and more beautiful. The texture was solid smoke and the
stripes were shafts of moonlight. How it shimmered through the mirage of
my regrets.

When I got home that afternoon I found a cardboard box. The inspector of
the Printemps, knowing that I was leaving for England, had brought me a
coat from the reserve stock which was not kept in the shop. Infinitely
touched, my heart overflowing with gratitude, I wrote a love letter to
the Printemps.

Then I looked at my coat. The silvery stripes turned out to be black and
white, giving a grey effect. The texture of the back-ground was not
purple smoke, but rather scratchy wool. Evidently it was no longer the
coat of my sad dreams. In becoming once more "la création" of the
Printemps it had ceased to be the creation of my imagination.
Resurrection is a dangerous thing.

My coat which was once a legend is a reality again. It has travelled
from fairy-land to life. Now it is a symbol. Isn't this the story of the
Life of Christ?


II: BALLOONS

All my life I have loved balloons--all balloons--the heavy English sort,
immense and round, that have to be pushed about, and the gay, light,
gas-filled French ones that soar into the air the moment you let go of
them. How well I remember when I was little, the colossal effort of
blowing up the dark red, floppy India rubber until it got brighter and
brighter and more and more transparent, though it always stayed opaque
enough to hold the promise of still greater bigness. And then the
crucial moment when ambition demanded an extra puff and a catastrophe
became ever more imminent.

And now, when I suddenly see a huge bunch of wonderful bloated tropical
grapes, overpowering some old woman in the street, I feel so happy! In
Paris, of course, they are quite different--balloons have much too much
flavour to be international--they are smaller and lighter in colour and
gayer and more reckless--they always look as if they were out on a
spree, just waiting to break loose from the long string by which they
are tied, in a huge multi-coloured sunshade, to a stick. There is
something very independent about French balloons--you feel you couldn't
make a pet of one.

But I am telling you things you know already, instead of getting on with
my story.

It was the sort of spring day when all the buds look like feathers and
the sun has been bathing in milk. I was walking down the Champs Elysées,
sniffing secret violets in the air and feeling as joyous as if the world
were entirely full of primroses and larks and light-hearted passers-by
whom I would never see again. In the distance a barrel organ became more
and more distinct and as I drew nearer and the noise grew louder, I
wanted to dance and sing. It was in tune with my mood. A symbol of the
crescendo of living.

And then, in the distance, I saw Cousin Emily crawling towards me like a
black beetle with her half-shut eyes that see everything except beauty
and innocence. Though I avoided her and the day was as lovely as ever, I
had become conscious that the world was inhabited and that there were
people who didn't whistle--or want to whistle--in the streets.

I tried to think of larks and primroses, but my thoughts were dragged
back to thick, half-drawn red curtains, black woolen shawls and silver
photograph frames. Then I had an idea. "I will buy a balloon," I
thought. My spirits rose and my heart leapt. Should I buy a green one
like a bad emerald, or a red one like wine and water, or a thick bright
yellow one? White was charming too, and sailed up into the sky like a
tight, round cloud--

I reached the Galleries Lafayette.

"Des ballons, s'il vous plait. Joujoux," I added. I was told to go
straight on, to turn to the right and the left, to go up three steps and
down three steps--but my mind wandered as it always does when I am
listening to directions that I have to follow. By an unseemly scramble I
got into an over-crowded lift. I seemed to be treading on children and
reclining on tight, upholstered bosoms. At random, I chose the third
floor and found myself among a forest of lamps. Desperately determined
not to risk another struggle for the lift, I tried to find the
staircase. At last, after endless enquiries and--it seemed--going back
five steps for every three I had gone forward, I reached the toy
department. Breathless, bedraggled, hot and exhausted, I clutched the
arm of the first saleswoman I saw. "Des ballons, Madame," I gasped.

She looked at me with contempt, "Les ballons, ca ne se vend pas, ca se
donne."

For a moment I was awed by the aristocratic magnificence of balloons.
How superb, how reckless! Very humbly I appealed to her,

"Pouvez-vous, voulez-vous me donner un ballon?"

"Les ballons, ca ne se donne pas apres cinq heures," she said.

I didn't press her. How could I? By how many thousands of years of
tradition might not the habits of balloons have been fixed? Their lives
were evidently strangely and remotely unlike our lives. Wearily I walked
downstairs, not snubbed but humbled and a little awed.

       *       *       *       *       *

Half an hour later I was walking down the Champ Elysées sniffing at the
secret violets in the air. I had forgotten Cousin Emily and the world
was full of primroses and larks and light-hearted passers-by. Suddenly,
at the other side of the street I saw a bursting sunshade of balloons,
emerald and ruby, transparent white and thick, solid yellow, a birthday
bouquet from a Titan to his lady. Reverently, lovingly, I looked at
them, my heart full of joy, but I did not cross the street.



III

COURTSHIP


"I do love yachting," she said, "to see the sea change from aquamarines
and diamonds to sapphires and emeralds, with thick unexpected streaks of
turquoise. To sail away into the unknown, away from your own life----"

She was looking dreamily in front of her to the blue beyond the mimosa.

"The sea is jolly," he said.

"To feel that you are leaving land behind you and your friends and your
relations and your duties and what are called your pleasures. To be
free," she murmured.

"There's nothing like horses," he said. "Their very smell does you good.
An hour's gallop before breakfast in summer, a twenty minutes' run with
the hounds in winter----"

A week later they were engaged to be married. I wondered whether he
would take to yachting or she to riding or both to golf.

I didn't see them for five years. And then, I met her at Melton. She had
taken a house for the winter. "So he won," I reflected to myself.

"Have you done much yachting lately?" I asked her.

"Yachting?" she said, "why it's my idea of hell. I'm the worst sailor in
the world. A sea as calm as a pond finishes me."

"How is your husband?" I murmured weakly. "Is he coming down here to
hunt?"

"Tommy?" she laughed. "Why he's never known a horse from a cow."



IV

"DO YOU REMEMBER----?"

[_To LESLIE HARTLEY_]


There are so many delightful things about being a bride besides actual
happiness, little peaks of pleasure that gradually sink into the level
of existence, unimportant, all-important things that never come again.
To begin with, there is your wedding ring which keeps glistening up at
you, unexpectedly making such an absurd difference, not only to the look
of your hand but to everything else, as well. And there are your trunks,
shiny and untravelled, with glaring new initials almost shouting at you,
so very unlike other people's battered luggage with half obliterated
labels sprawling over it.

And trousseau clothes are quite unlike other clothes--not prettier,
often uglier--but different. Your shoes and stockings match, not yet
having begun that uneven race which, starting from the same mole, ends
with a fawn-colored shoe and a grey blue stocking. Your hats go with
your dresses and your sunshades with both. You have an appropriate
garment for all occasions, instead of always being--as you once were
and soon will become again--short of something. Altogether, there is no
other word for it--you are equipped.

And then you feel exhilarated and responsible--your jewels are still new
and so is the strange, beautifully embroidered monogram on your
handkerchiefs and underclothes. Also, for the first time in your life,
you have a jet evening dress with a train and your maid calls you
"Madam."

Lucy was extremely pleased about all of these things. She was pleased,
too, to have married a foreigner, to be sailing away into a new milieu,
where she would be surrounded by the strange exciting faces of her
husband's friends. It would be delightful to have nothing to do, but
make yourself liked, to be automatically disentangled from all of your
own complicated, complicating relationships with nothing around you but
a new world to conquer. And how thrilled and curious every one must be
about her. What sort of a woman had succeeded in catching dear old Tony!
Tony, who was so delightfully, so essentially, a man's man. There had
been Vivian, of course, but no one quite knew the rights and the wrongs
of that and it was over anyway. Tony was so deuced unsusceptible (Lucy
prided herself on being able to think in English), unsophisticated, too,
about women, but with a sense of self-preservation like an animal's. And
now he had gone and married an American and a Bostonian. Americans, one
knew, were heiresses and Bostonians were blue-stockings. The lady, it
appeared, was not very rich, but of course, Tony would never have
married for money. It was all very puzzling.

And then, Lucy imagined herself walking into a room full of strange,
curious faces and some one murmured, "That is Tony's wife," and every
one looked up. She was wearing a shimmering, silvery blue dress and she
was looking her very, very best. An old lady told her that she ought
still to be in school and a young man told her that she was a jolly
lucky woman and Tony a jolly lucky man, by Jove.

Lucy was sure that that was the way Englishmen talked.

And on their way home, people agreed that they could understand any
man's falling in love with her. Tony talked a lot about his men friends.
Women meant nothing to him. He had, Lucy knew, once been engaged to a
woman--Vivian, she had been called--rumour had woven a pattern of
legends about it, but he had never seemed anxious to discuss it. People
said he had behaved badly--but how was one to tell? Those things were
always so complicated. Usually, every one ended by behaving badly. At
any rate, the girl had made a brilliant marriage, which might or might
not mean a broken heart. It was, Lucy thought tenderly, so
characteristic of Tony to have sown such legitimate wild oats. An
engagement contracted and broken off in gusty fits of honour.

"You look very lovely," he smiled at her.

She was shimmering in silvery blue, her eyes like cloudy star sapphires,
her hair like primroses and ashes.

In the motor she leant against him, a discreet gentle pressure. She
always gave you a feeling of delicately intertwined reticencies and
avowals, a faint New England flavouring which she had never lost.

"I do hope they'll like me," she murmured.

Dinner was a great success. Lucy loved her neighbours and her neighbours
loved her, while secretly congratulating themselves on having always
been right about Boston (which they had never visited and of which they
knew nothing).

After dinner a few guests trickled in for the tiny dance that was to
follow. It was all very much as Lucy had imagined it, old ladies
delighted by her youth, old men delighted by her prettiness. Every one
saying that she was very un-American (by which they meant unlike the
Americans they had known).

Then, suddenly, a hushed silence grabbed hold of all the various
conversations. Tony got up. His hostess was saying, "I want to present
Mrs. Everill." Some one in a corner gave a little suppressed laugh,
Lucy looked.

She saw a thin, dark woman with charming irregular features and a figure
which looked as if it had been put into her black velvet dress with a
shoehorn, and she heard her say in a low voice which somehow seemed to
creep inside shut parts of you, "Tony and I are very old friends." They
were coming straight to her and then, next thing she knew was that voice
again, saying, "Mrs. Everill, you must forgive me if I say that, for the
moment, you are to me, just Tony's wife. But, of course, I know that to
be that you must be a great many other things besides."

Lucy knew that every one was looking at them, not at her, Lucy, the
bride (and she had been so proud and happy--childishly happy--to be a
bride), not at Tony, not even at Lady Dynevor, but at _them_, at the
situation. It seemed to Lucy so indecent, so vulgar.

"You will love Lucy, Vivian," Tony said quietly, and Lucy looked up at
the charming, gracious apparition so dominant, with her beautifully
friendly manner. Her eyes looked as if she could never find the bottom,
as if tears were just going to well up and drown them.

"Of course I shall," she said, and there was a little edge on her voice,
as if it were going to break. That was the feeling she gave you, Lucy
thought, of being on the brink of something, a tenseness like the moment
when the conductor's baton is raised before you have been released by
the music.

"How ill you look," Tony was saying. Vivian laughed,

"You always said that, do you remember----?"

Conversation was buzzing again. Lucy turned to her neighbour. Through
what he was saying, she could hear Tony--"your white velvet dress--do
you remember...?"

She got up to dance. The room seemed to whirl round her while she stood
quite still.

"Of course, we know all about Boston, Mrs. Everill," her partner was
saying, "it produces beans and Cabots and blue-stockings--and brides,"
he added, smiling.

Tony and Vivian were still sitting on their sofa. As she passed, she
heard Vivian laugh, "Do you remember?"

The evening seemed to Lucy interminable. Tony was very good. He did his
duty very nobly, dancing with every one, even his wife.

At half-past one they went home.

"How charming Lady Dynevor is," Lucy murmured.

"Charming?" Tony looked puzzled. "Vivian?"

It obviously seemed to him an almost grotesquely irrelevant, inadequate
word. And then, feeling that something was expected of him, "She is a
wonderful woman, loyal, faithful, a real friend."

"She is very pretty," Lucy said.

"Pretty, is she? I hadn't noticed it." Again he seemed puzzled, as if it
were really too difficult to connect up these absurd adjectives with
Vivian. Then an idea occurred to him.

"You're not _jealous_, sweetheart, are you?"

"No," she lied.

"Vivian is--well, Vivian," he explained, making matters worse. And Lucy
knew that if she had said "beautiful, fascinating, majestic," if she had
used all the superlatives in the world, they would have seemed to him
equally irrelevant and inadequate. But Tony was very much in love with
his wife and she knew it and soon, in his tender, whimsical, loving,
teasing way, he had made her perfectly happy again.

She was standing in front of her dressing-table, her cendre
hair--shadows shot with sunlight--falling like a waterfall over her
shoulders. With one hand she was combing it, with the other she fingered
a bundle of snapshots taken on their honeymoon--lovely snapshots, full
of sunshine and queer, characteristic positions and expressions. They
might, she thought, have been taken by a loving detective.

Tony came in.

"Do you remember," she said--and then, suddenly, with a wave of misery,
she realised it. The phrase did not belong to her.



V

THE MARTYR

[_To H.G. WELLS_]


I, myself, have always liked Delancey Woburn. To begin with, there is
something so endearing about the way he displays his defects, never
hiding them or tidying them away or covering them up. There they are for
all the world to see, a reassuring shop window full of frank
shortcomings. Besides, I never can resist triumphant vitality. Delancey
is overflowing with joie de vivre, with curiosity, with a certainty of
imminent adventure. If you say to him, "I saw a policeman," his face
lights up and so it would if you said "I saw a dog," or a cat, or a
donkey-cart. To him policemen and dogs and cats and donkey-carts are
always just about to do something dramatic or absurd or unexpected. Nor
is he discouraged by unfailing regularity in their behaviour. Faith is
"the evidence of things not seen."

And then, too, he is so very welcoming. Not, of course, that he makes
you feel you are the only person in the world because a world with only
one other person in it would be inconceivably horrible to him, but he
does make you quite sure that he is most frightfully glad to see
you--all the gladder because it is such a surprise. Delancey always
makes a point of being surprised. Also, though he is invariably in a
hurry--being in a hurry is one of the tributes he pays to life--he as
invariably turns round and walks with you, in your direction, to
convince himself that having met you in Jermyn Street is an altogether
unexpected and delightful adventure. And he never feels, as I always do,
that a five minutes' conversation is a stupid, embarrassing thing, too
long for mere civility and too short for anything else. The five minutes
are filled to the brim and off he rushes again, leaving me just a little
more tired and leisurely from the contact. Delancey is the life and soul
of a party--or perhaps I should say the life and body. He likes eating
and drinking and talking to women and talking to men and smoking and
telling a story. And if he does address his neighbour a little as if she
were a meeting at a bye-election, open air, he at any rate never
addresses her as if she were a duty and no one had ever wanted to kiss
her.

To Delancey all women have had lovers and husbands and children and
religious conversions and railway accidents. Old maids and clergymen's
wives adore him.

I don't know what it was that made him write originally. Perhaps it was
his name--Delancey Woburn sounds like the author--or the hero--of a
serial. Or it may have been that his exuberant desire for
self-expression had burst through the four walls of practical
professions. He had, I believe, considered the stage and the church.
Journalism would have seemed to me the obvious outlet but he preferred
literature. "Creation is such _fun_," he would explain, beaming. And, of
course, he was tremendously successful. Delancey was designed on a
pattern of success.

That was one of the obvious defects I was talking about. Delancey has
missed his failures. He has fought and been defeated but he has never
longed and been frustrated. In his case, romance is realism. He has only
known happy endings.

Naturally he is not an interesting writer. How could he be? And,
naturally, he is a successful one. How could he help it? Delancey writes
for magazines in England and America. I, myself, never read magazines,
but occasionally he sends me one and every twenty stories (I think it is
twenty) become a book. The English ones were about scapegraces and
irresistible ne'er-do-wells, ancestral homes with frayed carpets and
faded hangings in which penniless woman-haters (the last of a noble
line) sit and brood, living alone with equally gruff, woman-hating
family retainers. Sometimes, too, there was an absent-minded dreamer,
and villainous business men worked indefatigably in the interests of
their own ultimate frustration.

But this, of course, would never do for America where there isn't a
market for ne'er-do-wells, frayed carpets inspire no glamour, and
dreamers who before the war were despised as harmless, are now damned as
dangerous. No, America must have her special line and no one better than
Delancey knew how to mix the fragrance of true love with the flavour of
Wall Street and serve at the right temperature.

He wasn't proud of his writing--or, rather, he wasn't proud of it with
every one. In his heart of hearts, what he wanted was not the applause
of the public, but the faith of a coterie, to be a martyr, misunderstood
by the many, worshipped by the few. A Bloomsbury hero, a Chelsea King!
"We confess that as a writer Mr. Delancey Woburn is altogether too
rarefied for our taste. His work is far too impregnated by the stamp of
a tiny clique of rather self-conscious superintellectuals. Reading his
books, we feel as if we had suddenly entered a room full of people who
know one another very well. In other words, we feel out of it."

What would not Delancey have given for a review that began like that!
Instead of which the best that he could hope for in "shorter notices"
would be an announcement that "Mr. Woburn's many admirers will no doubt
find his last book eminently to their taste. He provides a lavish supply
of the features they are accustomed to look for in his work."

Poor Delancey, his stories _did_ sell so well! And there was his flat in
Grafton Street with the beautiful new taffetas curtains and the cigars
that had just arrived from Havana, with his own initials on.

So from week to week he put off becoming an artist and one year (after a
four-month love affair and two lacquer cabinets) he made a lecture tour
in America.

"Was it a success?" I asked wearily (Delancey's success is always such a
terribly foregone conclusion).

"Tremendous," he beamed. "I was careful to be a little dull because then
they think they're learning something." But he was out of love, the flat
was overcrowded, money continued to pour in and he knew terribly well
that he was not making a contribution to contemporary literature.

He had always assured me at intervals that some day he would write his
"real book" but I think it was after his tour in America that the dream
became a project. He burst in to tell me about it. Delancey always
begins things with a sudden noisy rush.

"Charlotte," he said, "I have made up my mind."

"It sounds very momentous," I teased. He decided years ago that I was
grave, fastidious, whimsical, aloof and (I suspect) a little faded. I
have long given up fighting my own battle (to be known) because I
realise that Delancey never revises the passports given to old ideas.
There is always, to him, something a little bit sacred about the
accepted. "I can't go on with it any longer," he explained.

"Go on with what?"

"My damned stories."

"How ungrateful you are," I murmured, thinking of the lacquer cabinets,
"you have a market, you can command a price. Each of your love affairs
is more magnificently studded with flowers than the last----"

"Be quiet," he said. "I came to you because I knew that you would
understand."

"You are trying to blackmail me."

"Do be serious," he pleaded. "I am going to give all that up. I have
determined to settle down and dedicate myself entirely to my book."

"But," I expostulated, "have you thought of the yearning _Saturday
Evening Post_, of the deserted _Strand_?"

"I have thought of everything," he said, "I shall be sacrificing 5,000
pounds a year, but what is 5,000 pounds a year?"

I thought of the taffetas curtains and the cigars, but I answered quite
truthfully.

"I don't know."

"You see, Charlotte," he dropped the noble for the confidential, "I have
got things to say, things that are vital to me. I couldn't put them in
my other work. How could I? It would have seemed--you will think me
ridiculous--a kind of prostitution."

"Yes," I said.

"But they were clamouring for expression all the time. And I have kept
them down till I couldn't keep them down any longer. Of course, I know
my book won't be a success--a popular success, I mean--but it won't have
been written for the multitude but for the few--the people who really
care, who really understand. It may be even thought," there was
exultation in his voice, "dull."

"Well," I said, "I think it is very brave of you--and quite right. Truly
I do."

"I think I shall take a tiny cottage in a fishing village in
Devonshire," Delancey was as usual seeing things pictorially--bare
white-washed walls, blue and white linen curtains and a pot of wall
flowers.

A week later he came to see me again.

"When are you off to Devonshire?" I asked.

"I have decided to stay here," he answered, "there is a roar of life in
London, a vibrating pulse, a muffled thunder." I began to be afraid that
Delancey's book would be very bad indeed. It was, it appeared, to be a
novel. "Not exactly a novel," he explained, "a large canvas with figures
moving on a back-ground of world conditions." I thought of "War and
Peace" and was silent. It doesn't matter being silent with Delancey
because he doesn't notice it.

"I want," he said, "to picture the very earth in the agonies of labour
giving birth to a new world." Later, the theme was (to my secret relief)
narrowed down to England.

"I have changed my motif a little," he said. "I simply want to portray
the quicksilver of after-war conditions--England in transition." At this
time Delancey seemed to me the least little tiny bit depressed. The
income he was sacrificing rose (in his conversation) from 5,000 to 7,000
pounds. He dined out less, avoided his club and Christie's. Also, he
kept out of love. For ten years, Delancey had always been in love.
Managed by him, it was a delightful state, ably presided over by head
waiters and florists. It made, he once explained to me, all the
difference to walking into a room.

But everything was changed now. The masterpiece was a jealous god.
Jealous and, I sometimes thought, apt to be a little tiresome. It had to
be referred to so very deferentially, with such carefully serious
respect. Also, it cast a shadow of gravity over Delancey--Delancey who
was never meant to be a high priest, but rather a young man in white
flannels, with a cigarette in his mouth, punting a young girl with a red
sunshade--like an illustration to one of his own stories.

Friendship is a difficult, dangerous job. It is also (though we rarely
admit it) extremely exhausting. But never have my patience and endurance
been more severely tested than during the year of Delancey's
masterpiece. He finally decided that in the foreground, there was to be
the clash of two human souls and in the background, the collision of two
worlds--the old (pre-War) and the new. In fact, a partie carrée of
conflicts.

"You with your love of form," he explained to me, "will appreciate the
care I have given to the structure. It is," he added, "difficult to
mould vast masses of material."

As the months went by I began to be horribly afraid that Delancey's
novel would be very, very long indeed. And even if nobody read it
through, not even a reviewer, I should have to without skipping a word
or a comma.

"The sentences," Delancey told me, "are rather long. I find the
semicolon very useful for cumulative effects." A vast array of words
policed by semi-colons. I felt a little dizzy. Would they be able to
keep order?

"Of course," he continued, "the interest is very largely psychological,
but I regard the book mainly as a document--a social document. The
fiction of to-day is the history of to-morrow."

This seemed conclusive. The book could not have less than 700 pages. A
social document with psychological interest and a double conflict. Why,
it would be short at that. And then, one day, when Delancey's book had
become to me a form of eternity, he arrived, breathless with excitement.

"To all intents and purposes, it's finished," he gasped.

"Thank God," I murmured faintly.

"It will be an awful loss to me," he stated mournfully.

"It isn't dead yet," I said with feeble jocularity.

"It is sad to see your children leave you. To watch them step out into a
cold, inhospitable world," he went on.

"A warm, welcoming world," I amended dishonestly. "You haven't told me
what it is called yet."

"It isn't called anything. I want you to be its god-mother, Charlotte.
What about 'Whither'?"

"Too like a pamphlet," I was glad to be on firm ground again.

"I thought about 'Fate's Laboratory,' but it isn't very rhythmical, is
it?"

"Not very," I agreed.

"The question mark after the 'Whither' would look nice on the cover," he
reflected regretfully.

I brightened. This was the old Delancey. The Delancey of the _Saturday
Evening Post_ and the _Strand_, of the taffetas curtains and the cottage
in Devonshire. By my sudden glow of gladness I realised how much I had
missed him. But I couldn't say, "Dear, _dear_ Delancey, please be your
old self and never, never, whatever you do, write another 'good' book,"
so I confessed that a question mark _would_ look very nice, but that I
still thought that "Whither" sounded rather like a religious tract.

"Well, we must think it over," he said.

A week later, he announced to me in a tone which indicated clearly that
my opinion was only wanted if it was approval, "I have decided to call
my book 'Transition.'"

"I always like single word titles," I said.

"No one will read it," he said. "One bares one's soul to the public and
they throw stones at it. But at any rate, now I can hold my head high."

I didn't laugh, but it was the effort of a lifetime. Dear Delancey was
so very absurd as a self-made martyr. It was somehow impossible for him
to give an impression of having been persecuted for righteousness'
sake. His shiny, rosy face had never looked rounder, his trousers had
never been more perfect or his shoes more polished. And there were still
the same little outbursts of childish prosperity, his watch, his
tie-pin, his links were all redolent of a vitality that had ever been
just the least little bit blatant.

"Delancey," I said, "I want you to have just the sort of success you
want for yourself."

"Thank you," he said, wondering if I knew what I was talking about.

And then, one day, a proof copy of Delancey's book arrived. I looked at
the paper cover. It was bright orange with "Transition" slanting upwards
in immense black letters. "Very arresting," I could hear the publisher
saying. Gingerly I unwrapped it. Underneath, it was sober black linen,
with bright blue lettering still on the cross. I sat with it in my
hands, feeling limp and will-less. But, at last, I pulled myself
together. I read the dedication, "To those who died." I saw that there
were 600 pages, big pages crowded with words. And then, saying to
myself, "It is no good putting it off," I began to read. Delancey's book
was certainly not at all like his stories. It was very nearly rather a
good book and it was quite extraordinarily dull. The social structure
played a rôle of deadly relentless magnitude. It began (before the War)
as an immense iron scaffolding and ended sprawling in the foreground,
torn up by the roots. In the clutches of this gigantic monster, the two
chief characters not unnaturally reduced by comparison with their
surroundings to the proportion of pygmies in their turn, worked from
happiness to the self-conscious misery which is the only true state of
grace.

"I have chosen a man and a woman, neither of them in any way
exceptional," wrote Delancey in the preface and though this was
undoubtedly so, they seemed to me truer to fiction than to life. No, the
merits of the book had nothing to do with the characters, they lay in
the descriptions of the English countryside, of village life, of London
traffic, of the Armistice, of an Albert Hall meeting. There was a close
observation of detail and that pictorial sense which is Delancey's one
gift and which he relentlessly suppressed whenever he could,
nevertheless forced its way out here and there. The canvas seemed to me
immense. Politicians and preachers, workers and capitalists, artists and
philistines, "good" women and prostitutes, soldiers and conscientious
objectors jostled one another in the mêlée. Bloomsbury, Westminster,
Chelsea and Mayfair each had its appointed place, while race-courses and
night-clubs alternated with mining villages and methodist chapels. But,
unlike Delancey's other stories, the soldiers had no V.C.'s and the
workers didn't touch their caps. My eyes ached and my brain tired as I
read on, but I forced myself forward with the thought that no one else
in the world would reach the end.

Then the reviews began. I felt a little nervous but one seemed more
glowing than the last. Finally, a notice appeared two columns long
entitled "A Social Document" which ended with the words, "We venture to
predict that this book will be read 100 years hence as a truer picture
of the England of to-day than most of the histories that are being
written." Delancey was frightfully pleased, naturally. With child-like
joy he showed me cuttings from intellectual literary papers. His book
was even mentioned in a leading article and formed the topic of a
sermon.

"Think of reaching a pulpit," he exclaimed exultantly. "Of course, I
know I've lost my old public but I've found my soul."

"People talk to me of their work now," he told me another time; "in old
days, they never thought me one of themselves. I was a story teller, not
an artist."

And then it was that an extraordinary thing happened--"Transition" began
to sell. It was quoted and talked about until the snowball of fame,
steadily gathering momentum, started rolling down-hill to the general
public. The sales went up and up and up. The circulation reached
100,000 and soon after, 150,000. Why people bought it and whether they
read it, I don't know, but Sydney (the heroine) and Mark Allison (the
hero) became household words and soon they were used as generic terms--a
Sydney, or an Allison, without so much as an inverted comma!

Delancey hardly ever came to see me. I imagine he was in a very divided
state of mind! He had so dreadfully wanted to be an intellectual, to be
able to rail at the base imbecile public in exquisitely select
Bloomsbury coteries, he had so resolutely determined to be a martyr, to
sacrifice himself on the altar of pure art, and somehow Mr. T.S. Eliot
and martyrdom were as far off as ever. After all, he had given up 5,000
pounds a year and V.C.'s and happy endings. Was it his fault if he was
making more money than ever and the inner circles of the unread elect
seemed more firmly closed than ever?

At this time, Delancey avoided me, but I heard that "Transition" was to
be dramatised and that the film rights had been bought. How the endless
chaotic mass, loosely held together by semi-colons, was to be moulded
into a drama or a movie was quite beyond my imagination, but evidently
some enterprising people had decided to call their play "Transition."
"Delancey must," I reflected, "be getting very rich indeed." But still
he didn't come near me, until one day I sent for him. He looked, I
thought, just a tiny bit care-worn. The all conquering light had gone
out of his eye. His boots were a little dusty and he wore no tie-pin. He
had, I suppose, become rich beyond the symptoms of prosperity.

"Well," I smiled at him to reassure him.

"It has all been very surprising, hasn't it?" he said with an
embarrassed expression.

I didn't know whether to say "yes" or "no," that I was glad or that I
was sorry.

"But it doesn't alter the quality of your book," I consoled him.

He brightened, "No," he said, "it doesn't; I am glad you said that."

We talked about other things, music and old furniture and people. He
had, he said, thought of buying a house in Chelsea. It was, I realised,
not exactly the entry he had planned but I encouraged the idea. There
was, I explained, nothing like the Thames.

And so we rambled on till he took his leave. But five minutes after his
departure I heard the bell ring. Delancey burst back into the room,

"I forgot to tell you," he said, "that 185,000 copies of 'Transition'
have sold."



VI

A MOTOR

[_To ALICE LONGWORTH_]


There is a special quality about a December sunset. The ruffles of red
gold gradually untightening, the congested mauve islands on a
transparent sea of green, the ultimate luminous primrose dissolving into
violet powder and then the cold biting night lit up by strange patches
of colour that have somehow been forgotten in the sky.

Eve was walking home, her quick, defiant movements challenging the
evening, her head bent slightly forward, her chin almost touching her
muff, while her eyes shone and her cheeks glowed and her lithe figure
seemed almost to be cutting through the icy air.

"This is happiness," she thought exultantly, "this bitter winter
stimulus--I feel so light--as if my heart and mind were empty--only my
body is quivering with life--the pure life of physical fitness. Why
think, or feel, or look forward?" She doubled her pace until her feet
seemed to be skimming the road. "I feel like a duck and drake," she
laughed to herself. "Nothing matters, nothing, while there is still
frost in the world."

And then she saw a little motor waiting on the other side of the road.
She stopped dead and her heart stopped with her.

"There is no reason why it should be his. Hundreds of people have motors
like that."

Resolutely she took a step forward. "I can't see from here, and I won't
go and look," she added as she crossed over.

And then, shutting her eyes:

"Jerry," she said to herself, trying to kill his ghost with his name.

The evening air had become damp and penetrating. It made her throat feel
sore and she choked a little as she breathed it.

Gingerly she approached the motor to make sure. What an absurd phrase!
Why, a leap of her heart would have announced its presence, even had her
eyes been shut.

She knew its every detail, the sound the gears made changing, the feel
of the seat, the way the hood went up. And, above all, the little clock,
ticking its warning by day, regular and relentless, while at night its
bright prying eyes reminded her of all the things she wanted to forget.
"It is my conscience," she would say, "and fate and mortality. It
symbolises all the limitations of life. It is the frontier to
happiness, the defeat of peace."

"Go on," he had said, "and you will end by forgetting it."

It was what he had called her habit of talking things "away."

How often she had slipped into his motor after him, sliding along the
shiny leather, nestling happily against him, explaining that there was
no draught, that the rain was not coming in, that her feet were as warm
as toast. How often he had steered slowly with one hand, while her
fingers crept into the palm of the other. And then he had turned off the
engine and they had sat there together silent and alone, cut off from
the world. How she had loved his motor! Surreptitiously she would caress
it with her hand, stroking the cool shiny leather, and seeing him
looking at her, she would say, "I think my purse must have fallen behind
the seat." It had become to her a child and a mother, a refuge and an
adventure, an island cut off from all the wretched necessities of
existence, associated only with her and with him. It was a much better
kingdom than a room; for a room is full of paraphernalia and
impedimenta, with books and photographs, and the envelopes of letters to
remind you of people and things that you want to forget. After all she
could not sweep her house clear of her life, empty it of the necessary
and the superfluous of her ties and her duties and her responsibilities.

But his motor--his little gasping uncomfortable motor--that was really
and truly hers, because it was his. Here was her throne and his altar.

No wonder she sometimes stroked it a little, when it was too dark for
him to ask her what she was doing.

And now, now some one else crept in after him, slid towards him on the
shiny leather, murmured that her feet were as warm as toast, that there
was no draught, and of course the rain didn't come in....

Or did she say, "Do you think there is something the matter with your
motor to-day? It seems a little asthmatic?"

Eve looked at the house. She could see brightness shining behind the
curtains. She could imagine a glowing fire and a faint smell of warm
roses. Who was the woman? What were they doing? Sitting on either side
of the fireplace drowsily intimate, smiling a little perhaps and hardly
talking, conscious only of the cold outside and the warm room and one
another....

Eve shivered. Almost unconsciously she fingered the mud guard. "A room
is a horrible unprivate thing," she said. "People walk in and out of it,
any one, and there are books and photographs and letters. It is a
market place, not a sanctuary,--whereas you...." She looked at the
little motor. It was too dark to see anything, but every line of it was
branded on her heart.

"No one will ever love you as I did," she said to it and slowly,
wearily, dragging one foot after another, she walked away into the cold
raw night.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Nothing in the world like winter air to make you feel fit," Bob said to
himself as he swung himself along the road at a tremendous pace.

"Jove, what a sunset!" he added, looking up at the red gold ruffles
slowly untightening. He reflected that there is nothing in the world
like health. Live cleanly and the high thinking will look after
itself--or at least won't matter. Physical condition, there's nothing
like it. Love and that sort of thing all very well in its way, but a
cold bath in the morning and plenty of exercise.... He began to whistle,
and then--because he did feel most frightfully well--to run.

"Run a mile without being out of breath," he thought complacently, and
then--because he hadn't meant to--("wasn't even thinking of her," he
grumbled to Providence)--he found himself outside her door. And in the
road there was a motor, a little coral coloured motor. He looked at it
in dismay and then he looked at the house. He saw it was lit up and he
imagined the room he knew so well. The crimson damask curtains and the
creamy walls, the glowing fire and the red roses, the roses he had sent
for her. Probably she would be sitting on that white fur rug on the
floor, her arms clasped round her knees, her red hair as bright as the
red hot coals, her dark eyes dreamy and half closed.

"Damn him, I wonder who he is," and he started examining the motor.

"It's not very new," he thought, "the varnish is all off and those shiny
leather seats are damned cold and slippery, draughty too, I should say;
hood doesn't close properly. Must let in the rain like a leaking boat."

He put his hand on the mud guard. "Bent," he said. He felt a little
cheered. But then, looking at the glowing house, he grew disconsolate
again.

"Wonder what they're doing," he grumbled to himself. "Jabbering away,
I'll be bound. Never was much of a hand at talking myself. Wonder who
the deuce he is."

And then he looked contemptuously at the little motor.

"Damned if I couldn't do her better than that," he said. "God, how cold
it is."

Irresolutely he moved away. Then he began to run, but the raw air
caught his throat and he felt out of breath.

"Not as young as I was," he thought as he walked away into the damp
night.



VII

THE MASTERPIECE

[_To HAROLD CHILD_]


He sat in front of his writing-table with a blank sheet of paper in
front of him--a creamy, virginal sheet, inviting and elusive. "A few
black smudges and the whole of life might be there," he thought,
"concentrated but limited with four corners and no boundaries." He
thought of the untouched whiteness of the paper violated by a
masterpiece--or a love letter. He didn't want to think of love letters.
He had written such hundreds, and for four years now they had all been
to the same person. His fidelity had been due, he supposed, to the fact
that to him she was almost more an idea than an individual, a legend
that he had created. She was his faith, his religion, his shrine. She
was on a pedestal from which she shed a pale gold light--silvery
gold--of serenity won through suffering. He saw her very seldom, but
when he was with her she reminded him of a catch in the voice. It was as
if her life had reached breaking point and for one moment she would give
him as divine gift a little poignant stumble before she regained the
sure foothold of her calm courage. It was these precious moments that
gave a burning spirit to his image of her. The legend had a soul.

But to-day he didn't want to think of her. He wanted to work. The word
made him smile a little. There had been a time when ideas had seized
hold of him and driven him recklessly wherever they wanted him to go.
Then he had made form his fetish and it had become his prison. Now he
had lost both his abandon and his rigidity and with each, a certain
driving force had been taken away from him. He would sit in front of his
table and remember that all the masterpieces of the world are contained
in the alphabet and it would prevent him from writing. And then he would
think of her and that would mean writing to her or writing for her. In a
sense, everything he wrote was "To her." He remembered the first time
that he had dared to write her a letter without a beginning. His pen had
trembled in his hand. And yet it is the way all borderland letters
begin, whether the frontier is between acquaintanceship and friendship,
or between friendship and love. For there are moments in life when if
you can't say "My own Blessed," you can say nothing--omission is the
substitute for the absolute. Only with her, formality was a flavouring
of intimacy, a curious fragrance like a faint clinging of unseen
pot-pourri. And so, for a long time after he had sent her his first
endless, beginningless out-pouring, her letters had begun, "Dear
Mr. ----" and had ended very tidily, with a signature at the bottom of a
page.

He had dedicated his first novel to her,--"To Mrs. ----" The dedication
had pleased him. It was so immensely full of reserve and respect and the
possibility of other things. A little, locked box of a dedication. It
had pleased her, too. "It is a lovely dedication," she had said with
that smile she had, which was like a peeping glimmer of sunshine on a
grey day.

He had always gone on dedicating his books to her. His collection of
poems had been called "To Jane"--which was not her name, but his name
for her--a deep, clear name, resolute and courageous, calm and direct
and sure. A still name. He wondered if any one had ever given to another
human being as much as he had given her. Or perhaps it was no longer a
question of giving. Everything came from her and belonged to her. She
was the womb of his thoughts and feelings. She was his roots in life and
his blossoming. She was the only fixed point in the chaotic muddle of
things, giving a certain reality to the world simply by being in it.

He hardly ever saw her. He couldn't bring himself to force his way
through the labyrinthine tangle of circumstances that surrounded her. It
was as if by doing so, he could only reach her mud-spattered and chipped
and bedraggled, an unworthy, battered object. And so he preferred her to
live in his heart, warming and watering his imagination, glowing in
cold, dark places, gilding the tips of his fancies, fertilising his
soul. He hardly wanted her outside in the physical world. But when she
was with him, he felt a deep serenity, an absolute harmony of life.
Questions and questionings seemed remote and frivolous, the useless
paraphernalia of empty lives. There came, with her, a fullness, a sense
of completion.

He sat and thought of her and gradually he shut his eyes and imagined
her coming into the room. Her movements would be very slow and
deliberate and a little tired, as if gently, almost imperceptibly, she
were laying down the burden of her life and allowing herself, just for a
few moments, the luxurious restfulness of fatigue. Slowly she would pull
off her long, clinging gloves and he would hold his breath with joy as
she unsheathed her marvelous arms and hands. And then very tenderly, he
would lift them to his lips, one by one, laying them down on her lap
again where he could see them. And they would smile at one another--a
faint smile hers would be, seen as it were, through the veils of her
exquisite reticencies. And then because she knew it made him happy, she
would take off her hat and release the shimmer of her silvery gold hair,
a halo made of sunshine and moonlight, inextricably interwoven. She
always gave him a feeling of gold and silver and luminous whiteness, a
steady radiance that illuminated without blinding. And perhaps she would
sink her head back into a cushion and shut her eyes with a little
grateful sigh to these moments of respite, and he would watch her, proud
beyond measure to be able to give her these little patches of peace. And
between them there would be a fullness of silence. Sometimes she would
talk a little with a low, clear, echoless voice like a note without a
pedal. A still voice--monotonous, people called it--with almost
imperceptible modulations which seemed gradually deeply significant as
your ear became attuned to them, like a dim room in which you are able
to see everything when your eye is accustomed to the light.

It was one of the altogether satisfying things about her, this abundant
treasure of intimacy which could not be guessed at or even suspected by
the ordinary passer-by. "That is the woman with the lovely hair? I never
know what to talk to her about," he had heard people say, and
exultantly, reverently, he had pressed her image to his heart. She never
talked much. Seeing her in imagination to-day, he saw her leaning back,
everything about her drooping and relaxed, her arms, her hands, her
feet--they had all abdicated--only from the depths of her infinite
tiredness she was smiling faintly and her smile was the dedication of
this moment to him. Every now and then she would ask him a question and
he would answer--rather shortly--or she would make a statement which he
would seal with a monosyllable. There were never any comments between
them. In the absoluteness of their understanding, explanations and
amplifications had become impossible.

And she would get up slowly, giving herself a little shake to wake
herself up into reality while he gave her her hat, her hat-pins, her
veil, her gloves, her bag, one by one, and taking her hands, he would
kiss them first on the backs and then on the palms and then give them
too back to her.

And she would say, "Thank you," and look slowly all round the room, as
she always did, wanting to take it away with her without one detail
missing, for it was to this room that her soul retreated in its moments
of unbearable loneliness.

With difficulty, she would make her way to the door and rather
hurriedly, because she knew it was a weakness--she who was so deliberate
and so strong--she would say, "Write to me," and then she would open and
shut the door herself because she liked to take away the picture of him
standing in the middle of his sanctuary--her sanctuary....

       *       *       *       *       *

He opened his eyes. The room was so full of her that he took a deep
breath, breathing the certainty of her into his soul. And he seemed to
hear the words, "Write to me." He smiled very tenderly. He loved her to
have this one little wish--she was so far above and beyond concrete
manifestations--she who had such a deep contempt for imprisoning forms.
And he remembered her once looking at a cheque and saying, "The figures,
after all, are a limitation." And suddenly in front of him he saw the
blank sheet of paper. "She shall have the most wonderful love-letter
ever written by man to woman," he said to himself and at the very bottom
of the page, he put one initial. Then very tenderly he folded it up and
addressed it, remembering that it was thus that his first novel had been
dedicated--"To Mrs. ----." "The difference is," he thought, "that this is
a masterpiece."



VIII

TEA TIME

[_To SYLVESTER GATES_]


She lay on a sofa covered with white marabou, her head sunk deep into a
billowy morass of lace-coloured satin and lace-coloured lace. She could
see her pointed toes emerging and her arm dangling over the edge as if
she had forgotten it. On her finger was a huge emerald ring, a splotch
of crème de menthe spilt on the whiteness of her hand. She felt
entrenched and anchored in an altogether strong position, so fixed that
all advances would have to be made to her. This gave to her voice and to
her gestures an indolent melodious security.

As the door opened she turned her eyes round slowly, suppressing all
eagerness.

"Mortimer!" She wondered if disappointment could be as easily controlled
as joy. "How nice of you to come and see me!"

"Are you glad--really?" He was kissing her hand with an unnecessary
mixture of shyness and intensity.

"How intolerably literal people in love are," she thought petulantly;
"always forcing significance into everything."

"Of course," she said, smiling lazily.

"It is good of you to let me come like this." How she hated his
humility, but--"I like you to," she murmured, automatically kind.

"How lovely you look! Lovelier than ever before--as lovely as ever
before." And then, "I love you."

"Do you think so?" She seemed amused and sceptical.

"Do you doubt it?" He clutched her wrist.

"Not if you put it like that."

"You are laughing at me," he recognised sadly.

"Forgive me." She put her hand on his, lightly, caressingly, her voice
gentle and tender.

"But you do know it, don't you?" He was very insistent.

("Does he think that I am blind and deaf and that no one has ever loved
me before?" she wondered irritably.)

"I think you think so," she prevaricated.

"I know," he was firm. "I shall love you always."

"Nonsense." She was tart with realism. "Why do you fly in the face of
all experience with meaningless generalisations?"

"I have never said it before."

"Then how can you know?"

He hated her barrister mood.

"Elaine, aren't you glad I love you?"

"Of course." She closed her eyes wearily. They talked of other things
and she remembered how intelligent he was. It had been--during these
last months--very easy to forget. But though her interest was
concentrated, his attention was on other things.

"Elaine," he blurted, "are you going to the country to-morrow?"

"I don't know."

"When will you know?"

"I have no idea!"

"But when shall I see you again?"

"I can't tell."

"Elaine, please do put me out of my misery."

"Very well then--I shan't see you again this week."

"Elaine!"

"Yes."

"Please."

"Please what?"

"I _am_ sorry I bothered you; don't punish me. I promise not to ask any
more questions, but please let me know when you come back. Even if you
only ring me up on the telephone I shall have heard your voice!"

"Very well."

"You're not angry with me, are you?"

"Why should I be?"

"I thought perhaps you were."

There was a pause. "Is there anything amusing about being loved?" she
thought; "what patient women the great coquettes of the world must have
been! How I wish I were a crisp intelligent old maid, with a talent
perhaps for gardening or books on the Renaissance!"

"How tired you look!" He had taken her hand and was pressing it with
funny little jerky grasps. "I wish you belonged to me; I wouldn't let
you spend yourself on every Tom, Dick and Harry."

"It is so difficult to know," she murmured, "who is Tom, who is Dick, or
who is Harry!"

"When I think of the way your divine sympathy is imposed upon--the way
your friends take advantage of you!"

"But I like being taken advantage of."

"People's selfishness makes me sick. Look at your white face and your
drooping eyelids, and your tired little smiles."

"I am sorry."

"Sorry! Good God! My beloved, do take care of yourself, please. Promise
me not to see any one after I leave; go to bed and pull the blinds."

"But I am expecting Bill."

"Bill will be all the better for not getting what he wants for once."

"But supposing he doesn't want it?"

"I don't understand."

The door opened.

"Bill!" She put out her left hand, all her features lit up with a quiet
luminous radiance. His eyes were smiling, but his mouth was grave.

"Elaine!" He said it as if it were a very significant remark, and,
though he hadn't meant to, he caressed her name with his voice.

"Mortimer thinks I ought to go to bed and send you away."

"But you won't?"

"Probably not." She was bubbling over with gaiety. "I am very
weak-minded."

The two men were not looking at one another, but currents of hostility
flowed between them. Bill had not fought for Elaine's love; it had come
to him with a strange inevitability. He had no fear of losing it and no
particular desire to keep it, but the thought that you possess something
that some one else passionately covets is always exhilarating. He would
never have admitted it--he could never have admitted it, but she was to
him like an object dangled on a watch chain--not obtrusively displayed
but a possession recognised by everybody and taken for granted by him.
Only he never seemed bored because he was never tired of mobilising his
own charms. And in herself, she delighted him--it was only in her
relations with him that she got on his nerves. He loved to see her with
other men exercising the divine arts of her irresistibility, her every
smile, her every gesture, the intonations of her voice, the turn of her
head, her bubbling brilliance, her cool indifference, the ice of her
intellect, the glow of her sympathy, each contributing to the
masterpiece of her coquetry. But with him she was not even a
coquette--jerky, passionate, nervous, humble, exacting, dull--she tired
him to death.

"Well, I must be going." Mortimer spoke doubtfully. There was a pause.
Then Elaine pulled herself together.

"Why?"

"I have so much to do."

"It was so nice of you to come and see me."

"It was so nice of you to let me come. Please remember your promise to
let me know when you come back."

"Of course." He was gone.

Wearily she shut her eyes. "Do you remember the time when Mortimer was
charming?"

"Indeed I do; he was quite delightful till he fell in love with you. He
is really a warning against loving."

"You hardly heed it, do you?" Her voice was very bitter. How he hated
the entry of the acidulated tragic into all their talks.

"Perhaps not." He felt guilty, knowing how much he was hurting her.
"After all you cannot ask me to model myself on the man who bores you
most in the world."

She smiled. "What a good reason for not loving me!"

"The best!" He was smiling his enchanting, flattering smile at her--the
smile that always seemed to draw you into the Holy of Holies of his
confidence.

"I may be going away to-morrow," she said.

"May you?"

"But I shall be back on Thursday. Shall we dine together that night?"

"I am dining with a Russian friend of mine who is passing through
London."

"Friday, then?"

"Friday I am going to the country for the week-end."

"Then it will have to be Monday."

"Yes, I am afraid so."

"Afraid that you will have to dine with me?"

"How civil you are!"

There was a pause. She wished she could keep all the acid out of her
voice. He thought how tiresome women were, always wanting to know just
what you were going to do.

"Bill," she said, holding out her hand, which he took rather
perfunctorily. He felt like a dog that knows exactly which trick follows
what word of command, but as, from force of habit, he invariably became
lover-like when he was absent-minded, he stroked her arm with a
significant caressing gesture that filled her with joy.

"Are you glad I love you?" she murmured.

"Of course."

"There is an intelligent woman," he thought, "who has had hundreds of
men in love with her, making a demand for verbal assurances that can't
possibly add anything to her peace of mind. Either they are true and
superfluous, or they are false and transparently unconvincing."

"Bill," she said, reading his thoughts, "you can't understand my wanting
mere words, can you?"

"No," he said, "not you, who know so exactly what they mean."

"Nevertheless, they are sometimes vaguely comforting and reassuring--a
sort of local anæsthetic." He loved her insight, her curious layers of
detachment.

"Bill," she murmured, "I haven't seen you for ages."

"Not since two this morning."

"I don't count a ball; besides I was too tired to stop dancing."

"You danced like an angel and your eyes were shining with ecstasy,
lighting hopes all round, though of course I knew you didn't know your
partner from the parquet--if he happened to be as good as the floor."

"You love watching me, don't you? much better than seeing me." How he
wished she weren't always right.

"Remember what a wonderful drama you are, Elaine."

"A drama in which you have played lead. But you only liked the first
act--the Comedy Act, and you won't even enjoy the curtain as much as you
think, because always there will be the nasty certainty of its some day
going up again, and then you won't even be in the wings."

How diabolically clear-sighted she was!

"Bill, dearest," she held out her hand, "you are reaching the moment
when you long to be the third person. You want a little rest. You have
come to the point in the life of every lover when he prefers the husband
to the wife."

But this was more than he could stand. A horrible shadow was being cast
over his future, romance was shrinking before his eyes. Frightened, he
bent down and kissed her. "Darling," he murmured, nestling his face in
her neck, "what nonsense you talk."

Love, passion, romance, fidelity--all were vindicated by this deliberate
act.

Her doubts, her certainties, subsided, vanished--hypnotised with
happiness. "I was teasing," she lied.

"I must go," he said.

"No."

"Yes."

"Not just this moment, please; five more minutes."

"It will be just as difficult then."

"But I shall have had five more minutes."

"How practical you are!"

He stayed.

"I will write to you."

"Do."

"And I shall try and be back in time for tea Thursday, then I shall see
you, in spite of your stupid Russian."

"If I can get away."

"Can't you bring him to dine with me?"

"I'm afraid not; he has asked some one else."

"Shall I have some forms printed with 'I miss you, bless you,' for you
to sign and send me each day."

"Goose!"

"Well, at any rate, I shall have you properly on Monday."

"Yes."

"And please make a great effort about Thursday."

"Yes."

She drew him down to her, holding his face in her hands.

"It is silly to love at my time of life," she said; "I am too young. It
is like wearing a lovely new dress to climb mountains in."

"You will always be young," he said; "you are eternal."

It was his considered view; he wished she weren't. Kissing her a little
absently he walked to the door; then because he had always done so, he
walked back.

"Bless you," he said. It was perfunctory and final. The shutting of the
door turned out the light in her eyes.

"How tired I am!" she thought, and then--"Tuesday, Wednesday,
Thursday--Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday."



IX

THE END


He knew that nothing could ever possibly happen to him again and so he
sat on his sofa waiting--for death, he supposed, having excluded every
other possibility. He didn't want to die, he didn't want to do anything,
to eat or drink or feel or think--above all, he didn't want to move. He
had shut his eyes trying to shut out the room. Every bit of it was
saturated in her, everything had been consecrated--contaminated, it
seemed to him now--by her touch. There wasn't a patch of carpet or
chintz that didn't belong to her intimately and exclusively. Every
object in the room seemed to pose her and add to the interminable
picture gallery of his memory. He opened his eyes and saw an uncut
pencil. Here, at any rate, was something new and independent--neutral
territory, unsharpened it was an unloaded pistol and he wanted to shoot.
At her? He was bound to miss. His bitterness was no medium through which
to recapture her magic and without it he would merely be forcing a lay
figure to perform vulgar and meaningless antics. And if he tore her to
bits, it would be an indictment of himself, not of his gentlemanliness,
that had long ceased to mean anything to him--but of his taste. Wearily,
he shut his eyes. It was no good thinking when your mind had become a
circle--a very small circle. He remembered something she had once said,
"The future looks like the present, stretching interminably ahead in the
shadow of the past." She had always understood everything, so she didn't
deserve to be forgiven anything.

The front door bell rang and at once, he felt sick and faint. A ring
still excited him as much as it had done in the days when it might have
been hers. It was a ridiculous state of nerves that he had never been
able to get out of.

A moment later she was in the room.

An absolute limpness had come over him. If his life had depended on it,
he couldn't have lifted his hand. The surface of his mind examined every
detail of her--the intense whiteness of her face and the severe
blackness of her clothes, the fact that she wore no jewel of any sort,
not even a ring--except, of course, her wedding-ring. He had never seen
it before and it seemed a gaudy splash of colour out of harmony with the
rest of her.

She took off her hat and laid it on the table. Then she walked to the
window, touching the things she passed with a little caressing gesture.
He noticed that she picked up the unpointed pencil and he felt a little
desolate feeling, as if he had lost his only friend.

Suddenly, she turned round, "I am leaving England to-morrow," she said.

He shivered at her velvety voice, as he would have shivered had his hand
touched suede. "Well," his voice was too natural to be natural, "you
don't want to say good-bye to me again, do you?"

"Is there such a thing as 'good-bye,'" she mused; "won't this room
always be a part of my life? Can one end anything? A chapter, a
paragraph, a sentence even? Doesn't everything one has ever done go on
living in spite of subsequent events?"

Relentlessly he brought her down from her generalisations.

"You have ended my life," he said.

"Oh, no." She was sitting beside him on the sofa. Gently and tentatively
she put her hand on his. "Take it away," he said roughly, miserably,
conscious that he was behaving like a hero of melodrama, and then more
quietly, "can't you spare me anything?"

"I never could spare any one anything, could I? Not _even_ myself?"

He resisted the wistful pleading of her eyes, taking a savage pleasure
in their tired look. No doubt the preparations for her journey had
exhausted her. Her hand was lying limply on the arm of the sofa.

"What does it feel like to wear a wedding-ring?" he asked harshly.

"It feels so strange at first. One keeps catching sight of it and being
made to feel different by it. Somehow, it really matters, it really
seems to mean something."

"Indeed?" He was ashamed of the cheap cynicism of his tone. It wasn't
what he had meant to say.

She waited a few minutes and then she got up and put on her hat, deftly
arranging her veil with almost mechanical quickness and skill. Then she
pulled on her gloves. How well he knew the swift deliberateness of her
movements. Without turning round she left the room. He heard her go into
the dining-room.... A few minutes later, he heard her come out again. He
heard her open and shut the front door.... He went to the open window.
Would she look up? Surely that was the test of whether or not she was
still the same--the eternal. In the past, whatever had happened between
them, she had never been able to resist that final peep, half to see
whether he was there, half to send up a little tiny semi-binding glance
of reconciliation. Sometimes, when he had been very angry with her he
had watched from behind the curtains. To-day, he was at the open window,
waiting to send her the smile which was to obliterate the past
half-hour, the past six months. It was not to be so much a smile as a
look, a benediction.

She got into her taxi. Through the far window she told the driver where
to go. She never glanced behind her, she never glanced up.

He shut the window with a shiver. "The end," he murmured.



X

MISUNDERSTOOD

[_To JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES_]


Her greatness was an accepted fact. Her fame had not been a dashing
offensive but an inevitable advance quietly over-running the world.
People who never read knew her name as well as Napoleon's. There was,
somehow, something a little irreverent about being her contemporary. To
attend the birth of so many masterpieces gave you the feeling of a
legendary past invading the present.

A few great critics wrote wonderfully about her, but a vast majority of
them, trained only in witty disparagement and acute disintegrating
perception, became empty and formal in face of an unaccustomed challenge
to admiration and reverence.

It is only the generous who give to the rich, the big who praise the
big; the niggardly salve their consciences in doles to the humbly poor,
making life into a pilgrimage of greedy patrons in search of grateful
victims.

June was radiantly removed from the possible inroads of charity. You
couldn't even pretend to have discovered her--unless, of course, you
had met her--then you were quite sure that you had. Her friends
explained--as friends always do--that it was what she was, not what she
did, that mattered, that her letters and her conversation were far more
wonderful than her books, that she was her own greatest masterpiece.

It was irritating to be forced out of it like that, but when you had
seen her you began doing the same thing.

It was impossible not to want to tell people that her hair was like a
crisp heap of rusty October beech leaves, that she always had time for
you. And then you began to explain that she was happily married, which
led you to the fact that she was happy, which reminded you that you were
happy, by which time no one was listening to you. But it didn't seem to
matter. People would ask such silly questions about her. "Does she
admire Dostoievski?" they would say, and you would answer, "She has the
most enchanting brown squirrel----"

George wasn't thinking any of those things. His mind didn't work like
that. He was eating a huge breakfast, with the "Times" propped up
against his coffee pot. The two and a half columns about her new book
annoyed him. He hated a woman to get herself talked about--June, too, of
all people. There was nothing new-fangled about June. Why, his mother
loved her and she was so pretty and so fond of clothes and babies. There
was really no excuse for her sprawling over his paper when she ought to
have been moving discreetly through the social column like his other
female friends.

There was really no reason for a happy, cared-for woman to write. It
wasn't even as if she had to earn her own living. Richard ought to put
his foot down, but Richard didn't seem to mind. One might almost have
thought that he was proud of his wife's reputation, if one hadn't known
him to be such a manly man. After all, a woman's place was in her
home--or the Court Circular. She should never stray from birth, deaths
and marriages to other parts of the paper. Even the sporting news
(though he liked a woman to play a good game of golf or a good game of
tennis) was _hardly_ the place for a lady.

George knew that he was working himself up and he hated doing that at
breakfast. So he started undoing the elaborate knot of a brown paper
parcel to soothe his nerves--George never cut string. And out of it
emerged her book--her new book. It was beautifully bound (she knew that
he liked a book to look nice) and on the fly leaf was the inscription:
"A leather cover, a little paper and my love."

It was as if she had sent him a box or a paper weight or a clock. It
wasn't the gift, it was the thought that mattered. She knew that he had
never read any of her books, but they were as good a vehicle for her
affection as another.

"You are the only person," she had said to him, "to whom my books are
really tokens," and she had smiled very radiantly as if he were the only
person who had discovered the real secret of her books. George reflected
sadly that he was the only person who understood her. Why, it was
maddening to think that any one reading those paragraphs in the "Times"
might imagine her middle-aged and ugly and spectacled. And how were they
to know that her knowledge of cricket averages was probably greater than
that of the Selection Committee? Probably, too, they pictured her with
short hair, June, with her crinkling crown of autumn beach leaves; and
thick ankles, June with her Shepperson legs; and blunt inky fingers,
June with her rosy pointing nails and her hands like uncurling fans.

His mind went to other things, her low hard volleys and the lithe, easy
grace with which she leapt over the lawn-tennis net. In thinking of her,
the irritation her writing caused him decreased. It seemed altogether
too irrelevant. June was the sort of woman one did things for. Helpless,
he reflected with satisfaction, thinking of her tininess. Why, he could
lift her up with one hand. George always mixed up physical phenomena
with psychological fact. Small women were in need of protection; pale
women were delicate; clever women were masculine--the greatest of all
crimes. June might think it funny to be clever, but no one could deny
that she was feminine--the sort of woman who appealed to you to do
little tiny things for her (things you would have done in any case), as
if they were very important and very dramatic and very difficult. George
liked the sort of woman who said to him: "Mr. Carruthers, you who know
everything----" It was apt, of course, to lead you into a lot of
trouble, but that was one of the necessary results of being a man and
having a superior intellect. June wasn't like that. She never asked you
for legal advice or financial tips. She simply thought it most angelic
of you to have fetched her coat and so clever of you to have noticed
that it was getting chilly. And when you sent her flowers on her
birthday, she would explain to you the flow of delight she had felt and
perhaps a tiny little moment of surprise until she realised that of
course it wasn't surprising at all, but just exactly what she knew at
the bottom of her heart you would do--you, who were such a wonderful
friend. Only the flowers were far more beautiful than she could have
imagined and how had you been able to find them?

George had a photograph of June on his writing table. People were apt to
stop short at it and say: "Is that the _great_ June Rivers, the writer?"
And he would brush the question aside--one must be loyal--and say: "She
is a friend of mine," rather stiffly, as if they had said that she had
run away from her husband or been found drunk.

He looked at it this morning, and suddenly he felt that he must see
her--a feeling she frequently inspired. He knew that she hated the
telephone, so he sent her a little note.

"Dear June: Thank you for your beautifully-bound book. May I come round
this afternoon? I long to see your hair."

He wondered why he had put that: it was a silly sort of thing to say; so
he scratched out the "hair" very carefully so that you could see
nothing, and substituted "you." Then he wrote "George" and, after a
moment's hesitation, added the postscript:

"Of course you saw that Macaulay had taken four wickets for two runs?"

Half an hour later her answer reached him.

"George dear, please come this afternoon. I was so hoping you would.
Come whatever time suits you. I shall be happy and patient and impatient
waiting for you." ("That doesn't mean anything," he growled to himself.
"Pity she can't write more clearly.") "Of course I saw about Macaulay.
June."

At five he was on her doorstep, and a very few moments later he was
holding both her hands. They seemed somehow to have got lost in his.
Her hair was crisper and rustier than ever, swirling about in
competitive overlapping ripples. Her eyes, like a shallow Scotch brook,
were laughing at him: like transparent toffee they were or burnt sugar
or amber. "June," he said, and his voice was funny and thick, "I had
forgotten how pretty you were."

"That was just a little plot you were making with yourself to please
me," she said.

They sat happily on a sofa and talked about the wonderful way Mr. Fender
managed the Surrey bowling; they discussed the iniquities of the
Selection Committee; they decided that no woman who played the base line
game could ever be quite first class. They considered the relative
merits of Cromer and Brighton from the point of view of George's mother;
they agreed that being braced was one thing and being overbraced
another. Then June told George that he ought to marry, and George said
that he was not a marrying man, and June said that men became the worst
old maids and that a man's place was in the home and George thought that
she had got it wrong by accident.

June was perfectly happy. She loved talking to George--George who adored
her without knowing that she had genius, only that she had sympathy--had
no idea that she was a great woman, only that she was a charming one.
He was looking at her with a worried expression.

"June," he said, "you look tired."

"Oh, but I'm not a bit."

He put her feet up and covered them with a shawl.

"I wish you would stop writing," he said. "What good do books do? Health
is the only thing that matters."

"Loving is the only thing that matters," she murmured, "loving and being
loved."

"Well," (George thought it so like a woman to go off at a tangent like
that), "you've got Richard."

"Richard," she twinkled, "is not like you. He loves my books."

"He ought to know better," George asserted severely, and at that moment
in he came.

"George!" Richard was jubilant. "Have you heard the news?"

"What news?" George was thinking of the Carpentier-Lewis fight due that
night.

"June has been awarded the Nobel prize."

"How splendid!" George looked a little puzzled. "Is it for life saving?"

"Yes," June put in quickly.

"I'm not at all surprised." George beamed at her. "You always were as
plucky as they made 'em and gifted. Do you remember how charmingly you
used to sing? 'Not a big voice, but so true,' Mother used to say, and
she's a great judge."

"Your mother has always been so sweet to me."

"What a talented woman like you wants to write for beats me."

George had got back to his grievance again, but she lured him on to the
subject of irises on which they were both experts, and it was not till
just before dinner that he hurried away.

Then suddenly he remembered that he hadn't asked her whose life she had
saved. How silly and how selfish! It was so like her not to talk about
herself, and then he saw on a patch of posters: "June Rivers awarded the
Nobel prize," and though he was very late he stopped to buy an evening
paper.



XI

COUNTERPOINT

[_To THE MARCHESE GIOVANNI VISCONTI VENOSTA_]


Matthew half shut his eyes--as he always did when he particularly wanted
to see.

"For the first time in my life," he said, "I regret my myopia.
Confronted with this room, imagination pales before sight."

Virginia looked round--at the strawberry ice brocade, at the gilt, at
the Bouchers--so painstaking and so painful--at the palms that seemed to
conceal manicurists and barbers.

"Look," he continued, "at our hostess. I am sure her ears and her nose
take off at night. Her hair is a libel on horsehair and dye."

"Oh,"--Virginia's smile was playing like a light over his face--"think
of the days when her eyes were like stars and her ears like shells and
her hair was curling all over the place."

"Virginia," his voice was tender, "where you are there are no more
palms, wigs turn into hair, rouge into blushes----"

"Matthew," she said, "you are a romantic and I am the only person in the
world who knows it."

"You are the only person in the world with whom I am in love."

"For the moment."

"How practical you are!" he teased, "full of forethought and arrière
pensées. Isn't the moment the capture of the divine?"

She sighed a little--wise with the wisdom of frustrated dreams, and she
thought how happy he was--happy with the happiness of iridescent,
ever-changing whimsies.

"Virginia, does that young man love you?"

"Which one?"

"The one in spectacles."

"I don't think so."

"Are you sure?"

"One can never be sure."

"Of course if he doesn't, it proves that I am right in saying that
spectacles are fatal. They prevent people from using either their eyes
or their imagination. Shall I go up to him and ask him?"

"He would answer: 'I don't understand.'"

"And I would explain: 'Virginia is the only lady in orange,' and he
would look at you for a moment or two and, holding out his hand in an
ecstasy of gratitude, he would say: 'Thank you. Yes, I love her.'"

"Matthew," she murmured, "what an unsuitable name."

They sat in silence, interfered with only by the necessity of
convincing passers-by that they did not want to be interrupted.

"Matthew," she said, "do you see that tall fair man?"

"The blond beast?"

"With a very tall woman."

"With gold hair and eyes like cows in pictures of Christ in a manger?"

"Yes. He loves her."

"How suitable."

"But it isn't. He has a red-haired wife."

"How unsuitable."

"Matthew, do be serious. I like him."

"How complicated."

"I told him I hated his air of perfunctory but restrained passion, and
he laughed."

"Any one would have."

"And we made friends."

"You always make friends with everybody."

"You are unsympathetic."

"I am, I confess, a little bewildered by the situation. Do I understand
that you are suffering from an unrequited passion for a man who is
illegitimately attached to a magnificent cow and legitimately bound to a
bewitching squirrel?"

"Matthew, you really are provoking. What I mean is that he is making a
fool of himself."

"Why not?"

"Because he might do something irrevocable."

"Lucky man."

She looked at him in desperation--a desperation half exasperation and
half enchantment. If only Matthew would sometimes appear serious--there
is something so restful about appearances. Instead of which he always
remained superlatively unsatisfactory and superlatively irresistible.

"Virginia," he said, "let us leave all this and drive round the park and
I will talk to you like a lover in a bad book and I will mean every word
I say."

"We can't go yet," she murmured.

"Virginia,"--his voice was urgent--"I will be divinely pompous."

That was so like him. He always tried to safeguard the simplest, most
sincere moments of his life by inverted commas. It was a little trick
that always irritated her.

"What an artist you are," she remarked acidly.

"Yes, indeed," he assented, smiling her out of her irritation. And then:
"I have known you, Virginia, ever since I can remember."

"You told me that the first time we met."

"It is still true."

"How magnificent."

It was her turn now to ward off what she was longing for. To be serious
with Matthew was a form of disarmament you always regretted.

"And knowing you as I do, I recognise the crusading light in your eye
and I must point out to you that your altruistic excursions have not
always ended by tidying up the situation."

"Alas, no."

"Now, why plunge into the eternal triangle? There is really no rôle for
you unless you propose to supplant the cow. What, by the way, is her
name?"

"Grace."

"I don't like the statuesque," he said, wrinkling up his eyes. "Look at
her ecstatic vacant expression. A dangerous combination."

Virginia wished she had not given him this theme. He would weave it into
such marvellous patterns that she would never be able to get it out
intact again.

"I must have some more facts," he said. "What is the squirrel called?"

"Estelle."

"And the hero?"

"Edgar."

"More and more suitable. What prophetic parents! How admirably they kept
their heads at the font. The squirrel is very vivacious--is it a brave
front, a blind eye or a shallow heart?"

"Estelle is a courageous woman and discreet with the unpierceable
reticence of spontaneity."

"How delightful. I might try Estelle myself."

"You might."

"If I said 'I love you,' would she laugh or cry?"

"Laugh, I think."

"With a little hidden tear in her voice?"

"I have my doubts about the hidden tear."

"Then she would be no good to me. I like mixed effects."

At this moment Grace and Edgar danced by. They were both radiantly fair
and a little colossal in scale. Her eyes were half shut and her mouth
was half open.

"Matthew," Virginia was firm, "something must be done. How can he scale
the heights of a great passion carrying that hold-all?"

"An empty hold-all isn't so very heavy."

"It is if you can't put it down."

"Virginia," he said, "your missionary zeal appals me. Why invade the
situation? What are you going to tell the man? That he has children?"

"No. That he is throwing his life into a cul-de-sac."

"He won't believe you."

"No."

"And it will probably end by his falling in love with you and think
what a terrible mess the cow and the squirrel will make."

Edgar came up to them.

"Will you give me the pleasure of a dance?"

"I should love to."

Virginia's apricot had become a strand in the pattern of the ball-room.

A parma violet lady settled on Matthew like a fly.

"I can't think how you have anything left to say to Virginia," she
remarked disagreeably. "But I suppose you simply make love to her."

"It is not simple at all."

"Let us go and sit somewhere," Edgar was saying, and they went into
another room.

All of our real indiscretions in life come in the form of
generalisations. A name is a warning, and we really give ourselves away
in abstract philosophisings applied by an intelligent companion to the
particular.

"Why should we accept ready-made standards?" Edgar said. "None of the
great governing forces of life can fit into a ditch of conventions."

"No."

"Sometimes you have to set out to sea and turn your back on the old
familiar coastline."

"In a pleasure boat for an excursion."

"In a sailing ship for distant seas."

"Argosies have a way of turning into penny steamers."

"You ought not to say that--you of all people, who sail the seas in a
tub with a sunshade."

"Oh," she said, "I am at the mercy of the winds. But you have a harbour
and an anchor and a flag to fly."

"You are thinking that I'm a fool."

"Yes."

"One must sometimes cut one's losses."

"One must sometimes cut one's gains--a much more difficult thing."

"You can't throw away light."

"The world is brighter with your back to the sun."

"Virginia," he said, "I have made up my mind."

"What can I say? I am helpless. I see you going shipwreck on dummy
rocks--the water let in by a penknife."

"You are cruel."

"Don't you think I know those frontiers, when paradise seems but a step
away, but you know that it is a step you can't retrace?"

"Why should you want to go backwards?"

She looked past him into space.

"Behind us," she murmured, "lie so many things--memories of childhood,
dim happy echoes, primroses and hoops and peace shot with laughter. When
you have taken your step you daren't look back. Remembering hurts too
much. And so you look forward--always forward, knowing that the promised
land is behind you."

Grace was dancing round and round, wondering how one stopped. Away from
him she felt restless and nervous and will-less and incomplete, like a
frustrated animal lost and impotent, with smouldering rage in her heart
and sulky fires in her eyes. Why didn't he come to release her, to calm
the tearing fever of her blood?

Again and again she walked through the library and always he was on the
sofa with Virginia--Virginia in her orange haze melting into cushions;
and sometimes he was bending right forward, his whole body curved into
urgency. And when she passed, he half looked up with the tail end of a
smile falling as it were accidentally in her direction.

Estelle laughed and talked, her feet twinkled, her eyes danced.
Marriage, she said, was an altogether delightful thing, quite different
from what people thought----

Matthew was introduced to her. He explained that love was so important
that it could only be discussed lightly. He said that her hair reminded
him ... he wished he could think of what, but he had such a bad memory
for metaphors. It took him all his time to remember that a harp was like
water and Carpentier like a Greek god. It was funny, wasn't it, to have
such a weak head. He thought it came from hay fever--he always had hay
fever during the third week of May. It came entirely from honeysuckle.

Estelle said that she would like to sit in the library. Grace was in a
corner pulling monosyllables out of her mouth like teeth.

Virginia was still in the middle of the sofa, a dissolving mass of
orange mist. Edgar was talking away all risk of his suiting the action
to the word. Estelle was dimpling.

"Do you remember," she said to Matthew, "that orange is flame-colour?"

"By Jove, yes," he said, "oriflammes and hell fire."

A low murmur came from the sofa.

"Will you introduce me to your husband?" Matthew asked.

They all talked together.

"By the way, Virginia," Matthew said, "the young man does love you."

"Dear me, how very nice."

"It only required me to point it out to him."

"Was he pleased?"

"Delighted. By the way, Mr. Wilmot,"--Matthew turned to Edgar--"do you
ever wear spectacles?"



XII

VILLEGIATURA

[_To MARCEL PROUST_]


What a fool he had been to come. These wooden walls creaking at a touch,
and the floors responding like an animal in pain to the lightest
footstep. Not that Marie Aimée had light footsteps--far from it. She
clattered about with the happy noisiness of a good conscience and
perfect health. In her hands the opening of a door became an air-raid
and yet what could you do, confronted with her rosy face beaming with a
child-like confidence in giving pleasure and satisfaction.

No, it was entirely his own fault. Everything was what he might have
expected. The sea was just where he had been told it would be, the air
was relentlessly bracing, the cleanliness of the Hotel Bungalow reminded
you of a shiny soaped face which had never known powder. It was all, he
reflected, quite horrible. The salt-laden wind blowing the sand up from
the dunes, the hard bright sunshine, the effect everything gave you of
having been painted with the six colours of a child's rather cheap
paint-box.

"A different man," she had said he would feel. Well he felt it
already--the lassitude of his body feebly revolting against the
impending bracing, his eyes watering at the glare. Health and
inspiration, Marthe had said, dreamless sleep, an insatiable appetite
and perfect peace in which to finish his novel. "Think how quiet it will
be," she had said. As if the country were ever quiet, crowded as it was
with locos and dogs and sabots. Surely peace meant Paris in August, with
every one away, thick carpets and a noiseless valet.

Maurice imagined himself merging into a huge armchair, just able to see
a square glass vase of Juliette roses--gilt petals lined with deep pink
velvet. Why on earth were there never any flowers in the country? And no
one would disturb him--no one. Privacy is only possible in a big town.
Every detail of life in the Hotel Bungalow was revealed to him in a
series of sights, sounds and smells. And should a fellow lunatic arrive,
how was he to avoid him? At every meal there would be little exchanges
of the banal, after dinner a game of billiards--even possibly, horror of
horrors, potential excursions planned with zest and good fellowship. And
all the time he would be saying "No," more and more ungraciously, or,
worse still--and far more likely--saying "yes."

And then where would his novel be? Not that it was possible any way to
write in a place where the sun was always in your eyes, the wind blew
your paper away and creaking boards made sitting in your bedroom out of
the question.

Marthe was a fool, given up entirely to hygiene and plans for other
people. "You will come back bubbling over with physical fitness, your
dear face all tanned," she had said. "Dear" indeed! It was simply a
bribe. He was being bribed for his own good. And to think that like a
great gaby he had been shoved off to the sea by one term of endearment,
and to a place, too, where there was neither shade nor shadows, simply
miles and miles of bright monotonous sea, three dusty cornflowers, two
bedraggled poppies and the sun all around you.

Tanned, indeed! Why his face would be all blisters and his eyes
bloodshot.

The insensitiveness of women!

If Marthe were here she would bathe before breakfast, feed the hens,
find the eggs, encourage the cook, pat the dog, listen to the story of
Marie Aimée's life, pick the cornflowers, praise the cook, churn the
butter, play with the children, climb on to the hay cart, collect shells
on the beach, lie in the sun, let the sand trickle through her fingers
and explain with perfect sincerity that it was the most delightful place
in the world.

But he didn't like paddling or shrimping or sailing or farmyard life.
He wanted a velvet lawn, a cedar, a rose garden, lavender, a sun dial,
iced lemonade and solitude. Or he wanted his own cool apartment, with
drawn sunblinds, vases full of flowers, his immense writing table, and a
deserted Paris around him.

Women always did to you as they wanted to be done by. That sort of
literal interpretation of Christianity showed such a lack of
imagination. It was no good telling Marthe that you didn't like the sea,
she simply wouldn't believe it.

"Think of the sunset reflected in the wet sand," she would say, and if
you told her that you didn't want to think about it, that it was no fit
subject for an active mind, she would be hurt.

In any case no one had a right to make you do things for your own good.
It was a horrible form of self-sacrifice. If Marthe had said, "_Please_
go to St. Jean-les-Flots and pick me a poppy," he would have been
delighted, but to stay at the Hotel Bungalow in the interests of his own
health was a very different matter.

Marie Aimée was putting a pot with one red geranium in it on his writing
table. It was, she explained, still very early in the season but
Monsieur must not be discouraged. Later it became very gay with dancing
and Japanese lanterns in the garden. The Hotel Bungalow would be quite
full, whereas now there was only Monsieur and a lady.

"A lady?"

"But yes, Monsieur."

"A young lady?"

"A lady of a certain age."

Maurice hoped that it would be an uncertain age. Of course every one
over twenty would seem old to Marie Aimée. Probably the lady was on that
exquisite frontier line, the early thirties, when the bud is already
unfurling its petals, angles have softened into curves, and the
significant is stirring in everything like a quickening child. Thirty,
the age of delicate response, of subtle tasting, divorced equally from
the ignorant impetuosity of youth and the desperate clutchings of middle
age. How he disliked young girls with their sunburn, their manly
strides, their meaningless giggles, their eternal nicknames! And, over
their heads, a warning and a trade mark, that sword of
Damocles--marriage.

Maurice was feeling a little happier. As he walked into lunch he felt a
real twinge of curiosity. Ridiculous it was--why he was getting quite
romantic, imagining an exquisite creature on a holiday from her husband.
That was no doubt the result of the Hotel Bungalow. On the velvet lawn
with the cedar, the rose garden, the sun dial and the iced lemonade, he
would have been enjoying to the full his usual ironic detachment, but
St. Jean-les-Flots would throw any one to romance.

He walked into the dining room. At the far end with her back to him sat
the lady. She wore a white coat embroidered with black, a white skirt, a
white hat with a white lace veil. On the chair beside her lay a Holland
sunshade lined with green. It was he thought, deplorable, and indicated
yellow spectacles. Her feet were very small and gave you the impression
of an insecure foundation to her body. Her back was broad. She was
certainly over forty. Forty, thought Maurice, the dangerous age--the
desperate age. From forty to fifty, the flower in full bloom, the period
of engulfing passions, of urgent transitory satisfactions. For how many
women must it not be a ten years' death struggle.

"What a place," Maurice was disgusted; "it is driving me to melodrama."

The lady got up with a certain waddling stateliness (perhaps after all
she was fifty). Her clothes fell into perfection--she walked slowly and
calmly with appraising steps. The lace veil was over her face. She did
not forget her sunshade, her bag, or her handkerchief. Louis, the
waiter, opened the door for her. She sailed out like a gondola on the
stage, or Lohengrin's swan. Her movements gave an effect of invisible
wheels.

During the afternoon she remained undetectable, which was a tour de
force at St. Jean-les-Flots, where the landscape was a successful
conspiracy against concealment, and a sunshade could be seen for miles.
Maurice had a tiresome feeling that she was lying out somewhere with
that horrible sunshade over her head and a novel by Gyp on her lap. Had
she, he wondered, ever read any of his books? Perhaps when she found out
his name she would come up to him and say: "Are you _the_ Mr. Maurice
Van Trean?" And when he had bowed in the affirmative, she would add that
she liked "Sur les Rives" best of his books--"she had read them all many
times--and especially that marvellous description of Camille's return to
her husband."

Maurice walked for miles down the hard glaring white road. It was the
most uncomfortable thing he could think of doing, and when you are
determined to enjoy nothing there is a certain voluptuous satisfaction
in a maximum of unpleasantness. The air was burning and solid. An
occasional convolvulus drowned in dust straggled in weary clinging grace
by the roadside--a pathetic symbol, he reflected, of the pale refined
irrelevant women who fade ineffectually beside the highways of life. He
thought of Marthe with her urgent pulsating rhythm, the rhythm he
remembered bitterly, that had brought him here. He wished vindictively
that she were beside him, the hard burning surface of the road biting
through the soles of her shoes. He would walk on and on till there were
blisters on her feet and her steps were lagging. His teeth were set in
the grim satisfaction of revenge.

"This is the country," he would say. "Do you feel the health-giving sea
breeze you told me about?"

He stopped suddenly. Walking towards him was the lady. The offensive
sunshade was over her head, but her veil was up. She was, he supposed,
forty-six--no, forty-four. Her eyes were wide apart, dark and indolent
and long--brown or blue they might have been. Her face was wide and so
was her mouth with lips like curtains drawn across the teeth. Her
cheek-bones were high and her skin, like marshmallow, was marbled with
the bright yellow lights and bright blue shadows of early afternoon.
There was a curious grace about her broad solid figure, an unhurried
indifferent grace, as if she said to herself, "I shall please at my own
time." She was not pretty. Her clothes belonged to her as essentially as
her limbs.

Maurice took off his hat.

"Forgive me, Madame, but I think that we are both living at the Hotel
Bungalow."

"I think so, too," she said drily.

He thought that she thought that he was taking a liberty, which made him
suppose that she was not quite a lady, which made him accuse himself of
vulgarity.

And then she laughed, and his accusations, both of her and of himself,
fled.

They walked back together and he explained to her just how much he hated
the sea, the heat, the Hotel Bungalow, the cook, and Marie Aimée's
footsteps. He explained how anxious he had been about her--how he had
longed to see her face--how much her sunshade had depressed him--how her
lace veil had been a personal enemy.

She said that she adored the country....

He told her that only in big towns could you find peace or flowers.

She said the Hotel Bungalow had "un caractère assez spècial...."

He did not listen to her comments--they were mere breathing places. On
the subject of the sea he was, he thought, almost witty, with a touch of
real indignation.

She said the sea was her passion....

He decided that she was an obstinate woman--entêtée. How ridiculous to
love the sea--especially for some one who pretended to like the country.
The two were practically incompatible. Could she explain her point of
view?

The sea, she said, was such a wonderful escape....

He was thrilled. A thousand explanations of her presence at the Hotel
Bungalow jostled one another in his mind.

Of course he quite understood what she meant about the sea. It had a
certain spaciousness and it did, so to speak, quarantine you from life.
For instance, in a rowing boat, it was impossible to feel the importance
of being a snob.

That was not, she said, exactly what she meant....

Maurice was annoyed. He was accustomed to people who were proud to share
his meanings.

Madame would perhaps be able to explain....

It was not, Madame murmured, a question of being able to explain, but of
being able to interrupt....

Maurice flushed and relapsed into sulky silence. He watched his
companion trotting by his side, taking three little steps to each one of
his. He took a childish pleasure in making his strides as wide as
possible, upsetting the rhythm of her walk. The brim of her hat hid her
eyes. He felt that his uncertainty as to their expression gave the
matter an interest that it did not intrinsically possess. Even if she
were smiling, what did it matter?

Suddenly she turned to him.

"Has Monsieur anything more to conceal from me?" she asked.

Maurice capitulated. It was a delightful formula. He wished that he had
thought of it himself. It was she, he said, who had been hiding things
from him. Her eyes, for instance. All this time he had been wondering
about the expression of her eyes.

"And yet you deny the potency of the country," she sighed, "the
miracle-working country, which compels a young man of twenty-seven to
wonder about the expression of an old woman of forty-four."

"Madame," he said, "I am very old. I have ceased to take myself
seriously. You are very young, for you can force others to treat you
with curiosity and respect."

She reminded him that eight minutes ago he had taken himself seriously.
"It was you who made me," he retorted, "you have given me back my
youth."

They went on like that for quite a long time--gallant lawn-tennis--long
base line rallies with an occasional smash. And then he said that he
must be indiscreet--specifically so. Why had she come to St.
Jean-les-Flots?

It was, she explained meditatively, an escape (he noticed that it was
the second time that she had used that word). The Hotel Bungalow was
very clean, the food was good, the air was marvellous....

She pulled herself together.

When you took a holiday, she said, you had to make a careful choice
between old acquaintances and new ones. Which was likely to be the more
tiring? She herself always went to new places at the wrong time of year.
Then it was a case of friendship, or nothing. The people who visited
watering places out of season were always either impossible or
enchanting. Very often amusingly impossible and temporarily enchanting,
but so much the better. There is a certain safety in the transitory.

Is Madame married? Maurice asked abruptly. It was the sort of question
that had to be asked brusquely, or not at all.

"Yes--No--Yes. That is to say, I have a husband. He will probably come
here for a day or two later. He is très comme il faut."

"Surely you do not blame him for coming to see you."

She shrugged her shoulders.

"It is magnificent, but it is not life. One is not always young enough
to permit oneself these phantasies. At fifty-six it is silly to waste
two days visiting some one you don't want to see. But there, Edmond is
like that. Oh! the stability when he says 'my wife.' It is superb. It
must be grand, too, when he says 'ma maitresse'; he has the property
sense. And how he adores women, woman, all women, any woman. Even
sometimes me. And when he doesn't, he keeps the habits. Toujours des
petits soins. He never goes out of training, even at home."

"He sounds charming to live with."

"Ah, yes. That is it. He is charming. One cannot bear it. To have the
five-finger exercises of his irresistibility played on one. To be the
stiff piano on which he practises but never plays. It is too much. And
one remembers the days when one was the concert grand. Pouf. It is not
agreeable."

There was a pause. Maurice knew that she was going to say a great many
other things.

But they had reached the Hotel Bungalow. Regretfully they parted.

He thought that she was a very remarkable woman indeed.

She thought how like her husband he was. Her husband twenty-five years
ago.

At dinner she still was in black and white. Black covered with filmy
laces, soft and shadowy and mysterious. After dinner they sat on the
terrace and looked out at the inky relentless sea.

"Being sensible is no good at all," she said with sudden passion.
"Courage is the only helpful virtue; when I married I was young and very
pretty and I had thought about life a lot. I knew that in men fidelity
had the importance that they gave to it. To a few--very few--it
matters--but in most cases unfaithfulness is not a psychological thing
at all; it is simply a temporary excess like getting drunk--squalid, if
you like--but not touching your real relationships. Women bluff a lot on
the subject and many are fools. They believe in the same law for both
sexes. It is a ridiculous fallacy. Only Edmond was different. He loved
women--_psychologically_. He was therefore inconstant, which is the real
sin against marriage. He was a great lover, an artist. Every woman was
to him what a canvas is to a painter, a violin to a violinist. The
colours and the sounds he got were marvellous. Sometimes he would try
impossible subjects--for fun--but always he could bring some sort of
harmony out of everything. Ma foi, it amuses me to watch him now--now
that it is difficult, and he is fifty-six and I don't love him--but
then, when everything was easy and he was twenty-seven and I cared--then
it was--well, it was different."

The way that her voice opened and shut reminded him of a sea anemone.

"It is not the way to talk to a stranger, is it?" she said abruptly,
"but I feel as if I had known you for a long time. For twenty-five
years, to be exact," she added.

Maurice felt curiously tongue-tied. He longed to tell her about Marthe.
For the first time in his life he was finding a confidence difficult to
make. He wondered why.

"Bon soir, Monsieur," she said, and she walked up to bed with a
characteristic lack of pause or hesitation.

Maurice woke up--was woken up--knowing that he had something to look
forward to. Sleepily he wondered what it was while patterns spread over
his semi-consciousness--dreamily he saw Marthe in a filmy lace dress
over black and he felt himself trying to play on a grand piano, every
note of which was a sea anemone. Then he woke up completely, and with a
delightful rush he remembered Madame and all of the marvellous things
that she had told him and all of the significant things he had not yet
said to her.

He walked down to breakfast whistling. In the courtyard he patted the
dog and lifted the patron's son on to his shoulder, then he asked the
patronne if the cook had a name and whether he might some day come and
watch her churn butter. In the dining room he praised the coffee, and
admired the geraniums. St. Jean-les-Flots must have a particularly fine
soil for geraniums, and what air! Why, he felt a different man already.

Madame Marly--he had discovered her name--did not appear till lunch.
They bowed to one another, and each talked a little to the waiter. It
was delightful to keep their pleasure at arm's length. Coffee on the
terrace brought them together.

"You are right," she said, "the country is an impossible place. It makes
one talk."

"I love the country," he said.

"And then the sea. It is always going on without you."

"I have a passion for the sea," he murmured.

"I would like to wring the neck of the cook, chloroform the dog, buy
Marie Aimée some lawn tennis shoes, and have a daily box of flowers from
Paris."

"They shall be ordered at once."

"I should also like," she was looking out to sea, "to fill the hotel
with people."

"You flatter me," he murmured.

"Perhaps," she added, "it would be simpler to go away."

"Simpler but impossible."

"Why impossible?"

"The air is unique. The Hotel Bungalow...."

"Please don't," she begged.

"Besides, for the first time in my life I am becoming discreet."

"Ah, no, my friend, believe me. It was merely that you, too, found it
difficult to interrupt."

"I did not want to interrupt."

"There you had an advantage over me. I was longing to bring your
remarks about the sea to an untimely end."

Her laugh was the most confidential thing in the world. You felt as if
she had given you an unlimited credit of intimacy. He thought that she
was looking ten years younger in her creamy crêpe de Chine dress, with
her big straw hat, which seemed to have conquered, without an effort,
the perfection and simplicity of the absolute.

"What is it called?" he asked fingering it.

"Crêpe surprise."

He asked her to describe its lines, but she refused.

"Ne parlons pas robes," she said.

They decided to go for a drive.

The cocher explained that he had lost his wife, but that "Lisette était
un très bon petit cheval."

They laughed--at him, at one another, at the sun, at the sea, at
everything. He told her about the convolvuluses, and she said he ought
to write a book.

He told her his name.

She puckered her forehead a little, and looked to him for help.

He explained rather stiffly that he had written three novels, a book of
short sketches, a book of light verse, and a phantasy on Algeria.

She asked what they were called. He told her.

She asked which was the best.

He said that "Sur les Rives" had the best things in it. Perhaps it was
less finished than some of the others, but it was on a bigger scale, the
conception was more interesting.

She asked what the conception was.

He told her that it was about a woman who, out of affection for her
husband, and deep intrinsical virtue, refuses to become the mistress of
the man she passionately adores. He goes away and she gives herself to
the first person she meets with a look of him. Her original great
struggle has exhausted all her powers of resistance.

Madame Marly was silent.

"It is true," she said, "for big things we have big resistances, and for
little things little resistances. And so we live our lives in small weak
lapses--not driven by hate or love, but by pique or boredom, lowering
our flag to salute a pleasure boat, not a battleship. Pouf," she made a
little gesture of disgust that he was beginning to know. "We occupy the
places that other people make for us. We curl on their divans, we sprawl
in their gutters, we sit proudly on the pedestals they put for us, we
occupy their altars, and when we are alone, what happens to us? We
dissolve into air."

"Not you," he said. "I feel it. You are so independent, so sure. Where
are your hesitations? Your very doubts are challenges to truth."

"Challenges to truth," she said. "It is a nice phrase."

Driving back into the sunset they were silent. He wrapped her cloak
round her, and once he kissed her hand, but it didn't feel as if it
belonged to her. Her thoughts had taken her right away out of his
presence, out of the carriage beyond the sunset. Where had they taken
her? He wondered.

       *       *       *       *       *

That night she came down, dressed in glowing apricot--"fold after fold
to the fainting air."

As always, her clothes seemed part of her, without ends or beginnings,
flowing from her, a streaming enhancing accompaniment. He asked her if
her dress were nymphe émue or feuille morte. He was proud of knowing
those two names. She said it was neither. He begged her to tell him, but
she refused rather abruptly to discuss it. He said he loved her
clothes--that he would like to know....

"Pour l'amour de Dieu, ne parlons pas robes."

He wondered at her irritability, but he obeyed.

They went out on to the terrace. The sea was black and angry, all the
waves at cross purposes.

"What is your name?"

"Paula."

"What will you say when I tell you that I love you, that I want you?"

"You won't tell me because you will know that I don't want you to."

Her voice was a part of the wind.

"Why don't you want me to?" he was urgent--harsh with desire.

"Because it all happened twenty-five years ago."

He didn't understand.

"Because--because there are some things you can't do twice--like your
book, they are the big things that create a strength of resistance.
Because they are the beautiful things that belong to our dreams. Because
they are of a magic fabric, into which you can weave no facts."

It was dark and he could not see her. The end of his cigarette was a
bright spot in the night. The sea and the wind were the counterpoint of
her voice.

He felt unreal and remote and small. A tiny strand in the vast design of
destiny.

She got up and walked in. He did not move.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Thank you for the flowers."

The sun was glittering frivolous and cynical.

The box he had ordered from Paris had arrived. First there was a mass of
Juliette roses--gilt and velvet--then a staircase of sweet peas,
flame-coloured, coral, crimson, magenta, purple, bronze and black.

Both together they drank in the blaze of colour.

Ecstatically he said to her,

"You can't thank _me_, can you? They are too beautiful."

"Perhaps not," she said, "but it was beauty unleashed by you."

He looked at her with adoring eyes. She gave you phrases which lit
torches in your soul.

They walked down the beach together. The sea was light and mutinous.

"How untransparent it is," he said, "lapis lazuli and turquoise and
chrysoprase--no emeralds or aquamarines, or sapphires."

"How are we to get in our purple without an amethyst?"

"I don't know."

"That is what comes from not reading the Book of Revelations," she said.

They saw big, dissolving, poisonous jellyfish in the sea, mysteriously
without lines--and tidy slabs of jellyfish on the beach. They found a
starfish, and wondered who came to dance a sword dance round it. They
picked up shells that looked as if they had fallen out of fading sunsets
or glimmering dawns--they looked into pools of shutting and opening sea
anemones.

They never noticed a sardine box or an old boot.

They were happy.

Over her head was a scarlet paper sunshade. It looked like a huge
tropical flower.

"Paula," he said--and his eyes opened to her like a magic trap door.

That night they stayed indoors.

"Tell me the things that life has given you," he said, "the things that
have made you so rich."

"If I am rich," she said, "it is from the things that _I_ have given."

"Yes," he said, "but why do you impoverish yourself at my expense?"

"Please," she said, "don't talk about that. There are in all of us
exposed places--you can call them pain or romance--Sehnsucht or
memory--but they are the sanctuaries of our hearts--they cannot be
violated."

"Paula," he said, "you have made too much of life. You have made it into
the sort of hope that is always a disillusionment."

"Yes," she murmured very low.

"Why were you so unpractical?" his bantering tone revived her.

"I have done for some one (even for you, perhaps) what I have never done
for myself;" she was smiling. "I will tell you a story. There was once a
man who loved me. He was born with everything--a marvellous name, great
riches, beauty, a magnetic quality that I have never seen equalled. I
always reproached him with having added nothing to his inheritance--no
glory--no achievement--'I have spent,' he would say, shrugging his
shoulders. 'Wasted,' I retorted tartly. 'If you like. I have never
admitted my past or my future as barriers--or even frontiers--to my
actions. I have lived without forethought or arrière pensée--without the
weakness of regrets or the stinginess of precautions,' and then he
turned to me--his eyes were half shut and his voice was muffled as if a
flood were battering on the door of his dispassionateness, 'I have had
everything in life except you,' he said. I smiled at him, a little
sadly, a little cynically. 'It is I who have given you the greatest
gift,' I said. 'I have given you a regret and an illusion. Vous avez
donc tout eu.' That night he killed himself."

"And you, Paula, did you feel a murderess?"

"No, a saviour."

       *       *       *       *       *

She was dressed in pale lilac--the coolest lilac in the world. It
rippled round her like loving caressing waves.

"What is your dress called, Paula?"

"Oasis," she said. "'Indian summer' would have been a better name."

"Tell me about it."

"Why do you always want to know?"

"I am writing a book."

"Tant pis."

She was out of temper.

The flowers arrived.

Old-fashioned pink roses, coral carnations, purple stocks, pink pinks,
mauve orchids, moss roses, patterned chintz-like phlox.

"Oh!" she said, and for a moment she shut her eyes.

Then:

"Tell me about her," she said.

"Marthe?"

"Is that her name?"

"She is vibrant."

"But of course. What does she look like?"

"Her hair is like a dirty new coin. You feel that you could polish it
into brightness. Her eyes are like tea--yellow camomile tea. Her mouth
is big and rather grave. There are electric waves of aliveness running
all through her."

"I do not like her."

"No?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"All that irrelevant, interfering vitality. It is dangerous."

"And slumbering, mysterious magnetism, is that not dangerous?"

"That, too."

There was a thunderstorm and the air got cool.

Madame Marly had a headache and dined in her room.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next day was grey--grey air, a grey sky, a grey countryside, a grey
sea--not luminous, lustrous grey, but opaque chiffon drawn across the
world.

Paula's flowers had arrived--lemon-coloured hollyhocks, blue and mauve
and purple delphiniums, filmy love-in-the-mist, primrose antirrhinums,
snowy Madonna lilies with golden middles, huge creamy roses, tiny yellow
rosebuds, straggling larkspurs.

She was dressed in a grey whipcord coat and skirt with a grey swathed
turban. She looked distant--on the brink of disappearance--not so much
as if she were going to travel but as if she were going to vanish.

She regarded the flowers with grave concentration. It was as if she felt
for them a stern passionate devotion. She took one of the white roses
and stroked it--as if it were a shy mother with her first child. Then
she said:

"I want to go for a long walk."

They walked for miles and miles. The mist sprinkled her hair with
dew-drops. It looked quite white. Her eyes were deep and brooding and
you couldn't catch them.

"Paula," Maurice said, "how remote you are."

"Am I?" she said. And it made her more remote than ever.

He walked desperately, as if each step were an obstacle painfully
overcome. She walked with a swaying unconscious rhythm, as if she did
not know what she was doing.

She cut off his perfunctory attempts at conversation with a
monosyllable. When they got home they were both tired.

They each decided to have a hot bath and rest before dinner.

She was dressed in very severe perfect black, marvellous lines, waiting
to be sculpted.

He told her so.

She pursed her lips.

They sat in front of the fire in the hall.

"Tell me a little more about your husband?" he said.

"What can I tell you? I know him so well. You see, I have loved him and
hated him--I have become indifferent to him--and I appreciate him. But I
have had nothing from him that a hundred other people have not
had--except, perhaps, his name."

"Marly?"

She looked at him in amazement.

"Marly?" she laughed. "Marly is not even my own name. We are all of us
so very monogamous when we love, proprietary, exclusive, jealous,
whatever you like to call it. Edmond's character was like a pergola.
You walked in and out. There were always roses and jasmine, clematis and
wisteria, peeps of the garden and patches of the sky--but never a shut
door--never one. Oh," there was a breaking passion in her voice--"how I
longed for four walls, for a lock and key, for a dungeon, for bars.
'Don't you know,' I would say to him, 'that much trodden territory
becomes neutral?' and he would smile and say, 'you are generous.'"

Maurice was looking into the fire.

"Poor little Paula," he said. "But you were his only wife."

"Yes," she said, "a law-given copyright."

"Paula," he said, "will you do something for me?"

"I wonder. There are surely no somethings where we are concerned."

"I want you to describe several dresses to me. Your own perfect divine
dresses. I want them for my book."

"So I am to be made use of, am I?"

Her eyes were flashing.

He was not looking at her.

"Yes," he said, "I am going to steal some of your genius."

She had left him. He was not surprised. She never said "Good-night."

The next day she had gone--very early, leaving no address, no letter.

She had, he heard, left his box of flowers at the village infirmary. He
knew that that day it was to have been full of verbena, sweet geranium,
sweet briar, thyme, myrtle, lavender and single roses....

       *       *       *       *       *

Marthe had insisted that he should come with her to Lally. He was
feeling foolish and fascinated--dressing was evidently a religion with
the most solemn rites in the world. The gravity and concentration of
every one astounded him--the firm vendeuse refusing to allow her cliente
any freedom of choice. The pathetic cliente pining in vain for forbidden
fruit--the hopelessly ugly and unrewarding, who alone were permitted to
follow their fancies. Patterns were discussed in hushed but intense
undertones, faint but all-important modifications were offered by the
vendeuse to bridge the gulf between the figures of the mannequins and
those of the clients. The brave longing of a squat pigeon to have the
model reproduced "textuellement" was resolutely suppressed.

Marthe was discussing her vendeuse's child....

And then suddenly Maurice saw Madame Marly. She was without a hat and
scattering her terrified staff with her eye.

She came straight to him, her voice was mocking.

"Maintenant, je peux donner des renseignements à Monsieur."

"I did not know," he blurted, "I had no idea," and then as the ultimate
significance of their meeting disentangled itself from the immediate
embarrassment,

"Thank God, I have found you."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mlle. de Marveau married the Comte de Cély.

The Comtesse de Cély wanted an escape and became Madame Lalli.

Madame Lalli wanted an escape and became Madame Marly--for Paula was
always Paula.

And then she met Maurice and her youth. Twenty-five years of age and
experience and disappointment fell from her. But to keep her great
illusion she offered her big resistance....

And then the tiny knife turned in the tiny wound. The unconscious
buzzing machine touched the exposed nerve--the silly, absurd, irrelevant
name.

The lover in pursuit of the beloved became the novelist examining the
dressmaker, seeking for information. When professional meets
professional.

This time she capitulated for she ran away.

       *       *       *       *       *

That night Maurice wrote to her.

"Paula, I love you. I loved you always. I loved you invulnerable, wise,
fortified beyond the wiles of men. How much more do I love you now with
your one weak spot--so weak, so absurd that it can only be kissed, and
laughed at and adored.

"Paula, my own, the twenty-five years have never existed. There is only
one immortal moment--and that is to come.

"Beloved, best beloved, only beloved, I want you so badly.

"MAURICE.

"Besides, you have got to describe me several dresses for my new book."



XIII

AULD LANG SYNE

[_To HAROLD NICOLSON_]


It was delightful to be back in England after two and a half years. Two
and a half years of India, of pomp and circumstance and being envied, of
heat and homesickness and loneliness. How starved she had felt--starved
of little intellectual coteries with their huge intellectual
sensations--starved of new books and old pictures and music, of moss
roses and primroses and bluebell woods, starved even into the
selfishness of coming home, urged away by Robert, who did not know how
to be selfish. Thinking of him made her feel very tender and very small.
His iron public spirit, his inevitable devotion to duty, unconscious and
instinctive and uncensorious, combined with a guilty sense that her
youth and beauty had been uprooted by him, and put into a dusty distant
soil. He was more convinced than any one of the importance of books and
music and intellectual interests (he never read and did not know one
note from another) because they were important to her and had therefore
received a consecration they could never have had by merely being
important to him. It was all so very simple--What she admired was
beautiful; what she laughed at was funny; what she loved was divine--And
she belonged to him--Robert. It was a miracle that found him every night
on his knees in humble gratitude. She had, he thought, been so
wonderfully good, walking on his red baize carpets as if they were
fields of flowers, learning Sanscrit with passion and pretending, with
what seemed to him complete success, and to them, absolute failure, that
she liked Anglo-Indian women. When one by one his staff were
incapacitated by love, he never complained. It made them of course
useless, but how could they help falling in love with her? It would have
been so unnatural if they had not. And when she told him--and to do her
justice she knew that she was telling him the truth--that she was not
worthy to do up his shoe laces--he would laugh and kiss her hand and
send up a little internal prayer to God to be able to do something to
deserve his wife.

No wonder he was always urging her to go home--haunted as he was by the
feeling of having put her in a prison and, no wonder, not having his
iron character, she had finally succumbed--as she so often succumbed to
his unselfishness.

How she was loving England! The wet, heavy air--the sky curtained with
clouds--the drenched leaves--the saturated flowers--the damp breathing
earth--the distant lethargic sun. She could feel a pulse in the sopping
soil and her heart beat with it.

Finding her friends too was such an adventure. What struck her most
about them was that they seemed so stationary. There they were, just as
she had left them, doing the same things, thinking the same things,
saying the same things--fixed points with their lives revolving round
them, seeming to have lost the capacity for independent motion.

She and Robert were not like that. Thank God, they were still pilgrims.
After all, her life had been a big spacious thing in spite of India,
because of India and, even more, because of Robert. Only she did not
want to think about it now. Just to go on repeating to herself: "I'm at
home. I'm in England."

And she was going to stay with St. John. How excited she would have been
four years ago. How her heart had beaten when she heard his footsteps,
how she had thrilled when he had said "dear" to her. She remembered the
care he had taken of her, the beautiful considerate devotion he had
always shown her when she was longing so passionately for other things,
trying with all her might and main to make him lose his head. _How_
badly she had behaved. She could wonder now dispassionately whether he
had _ever_ been in love with her. On the whole, she thought, he never
had. If she had not been married--it was a silly "if." The most he had
said was "you make things very difficult," not a very satisfactory
avowal when you came to think it over calmly. But she remembered how it
had thrilled her at the time--what a blank cheque of possibilities it
had seemed. She remembered, too, the evening when he had talked
seriously to her--very gently, very tenderly, very gravely. She had
thought he was going to say, "I don't want to be made unhappy," and,
instead, he had said, "I don't want you to be unhappy." That had been a
nasty one. How she had lashed him with her tongue! What inexhaustible
reserves of icy acid she had brought forward.

She had tried to hurt him as much as ever she could. How hurt had he
been? She wondered. It was all such very ancient history. And yet he had
gone on being fond of her. Fonder and fonder--men were so odd.

So many things had happened since then. She had been away and he had
lost an uncle and inherited a property. And now she was going to stay
with him. Last time they had met, two years ago, he had talked to her as
if they had had a boy and girl affair thirty years before. She had been
very much amused but she had hidden it; hiding your amusement was an
essential part of being fond of St. John--a rule of the game, so to
speak. That was one of the delightful things about him; to like him at
all you had to be really devoted to him and when you had reached that
stage, all of the qualities that would have been intolerable in other
people became subtly lovable. Somehow they seemed to creep under your
wing, compelling you to give them the protection of your own intimate
understanding. It was impossible not to make pets of St. John's defects.
Ariadne remembered the way he had always tried to keep her out of moral
draughts, how he had hated to see her in a room with any one of a
doubtful reputation, how her habit of taking off her hat in motors in
towns got on his nerves.

"But if it tires my head," she would say, and he would explain very
seriously what an intimate gesture it was.

Then as she always rested before dinner, people would come to tea with
her in her bedroom. St. John didn't like it at all. There was to him
something inherently disreputable about the horizontal. If she were too
tired to sit up in an armchair, she was too tired to see any one--except
him, of course, who understood her (which was just what he didn't do).

"But my back does ache so easily. After all, if I were really ill you
wouldn't mind."

"That is different."

"How ill do I have to be before I can abdicate the perpendicular in the
presence of a young man?" He consoled himself with the thought that she
was extremely, exceptionally innocent. She told him that thousands of
people were extremely, exceptionally innocent. It was a fact which could
never be explained to juries. St. John doubted it. He believed in a vast
number of rules to which all of the people he liked and most of the
people he knew were exceptions.

The train drew up at the platform. Ariadne got out. The footman
explained to her that his Lordship was so very sorry not to be able to
come to the station, but he was attending a cattle show.

"Of course," said Ariadne, and she felt it.

She got into the brougham--it was so characteristic of St. John not to
use a motor in the country--which had that delightful, almost forgotten,
smell of broughams, and drove through an avenue of oaks up to the fine
old Georgian house, dignified and mellow and lived in--a house proud of
its cellar and its stables--of its linen and its silver--a house where
men were men and women were women--where the master hunted and sat on
the Bench, and the mistress embroidered and looked after the
household--each having his separate functions and the one joint one of
propagating the race.

In the hall, St. John's housekeeper, in a black taffetas apron,
welcomed her.

"His Lordship would be most distressed not to have been there when her
ladyship arrived, but the cattle show----"

"Of course," said Ariadne, and hinted at a quite special awareness of
the importance of Cattle Shows.

Her bedroom was immense--there were lavender bags in all the drawers,
and flowers on the dressing table, the fire was lit and there was
boiling water in the shiny pale brass can. Her maid, the housekeeper
explained, was sleeping in the dressing room. On the table by her bed
was a glass box of biscuits, "The Wrong Box," "Omar Khayyam" and Lucas
Malet's last novel.

Ariadne was smiling with happiness. Talk about the joys of the
unexpected, can they compare with the joys of the expected, of finding
everything delightfully and completely what you knew it was going to be?
There was a tap at the door.

"Come in."

"It's I." (St. John never said "It's me.")

She threw open the door.

"Do come in," she said, and then, with a little stab of extra pleasure,
she wondered if he would be shocked by her flimsy pink dressing gown and
her bare feet.

"St. John," she put out both her hands. "I _am_ happy to be here."

He took them and held them quite tight, then he kissed them.

"Little Ariadne," he said.

It was, she supposed, a way of getting over the dressing gown.

"You look younger than ever," he said.

"It's my hair being down," she murmured.

He asked her if she had had a good journey, and whether the housekeeper
had seen that she had everything she wanted.

She asked him if the cattle show had been a success.

He said he really must dress for dinner, and so must she.

"Ariadne," he put his hand on her arm, "it's good to have you here."

There was an emotion welling up in his voice that surprised her. He
turned his back and left the room rather hurriedly. She realised that he
had almost kissed her. Would he have said, "I'm sorry, but you looked
such a baby," or, "Forgive me, it was seeing you again after so long,"
or, "Ariadne, can you forgive me? I lost my head."

She plumped for the baby, and wondered if the visit could conceivably be
going to be a slight strain. In old days there had always been a certain
tenseness about their relationship, made worse by her attempts to
topple over his gentlemanliness. She had felt that if her wish could
have been gratified just once, she would have been released from it and
never have wanted to repeat the experiment. Also a little of the
responsibility would have been his--thus obliterating the irritating
daily spectacle of his untarnished blamelessness.

Of course he had never been in love with her. She had always been buoyed
up by little things she wouldn't even have noticed in some one she
hadn't cared about. If there were acute disquieting moments when the
troublante quality of her loveliness tossed him about
unmercifully--weren't they moments that any stranger might go through
sitting next to her at dinner? No--the truth always had been that he was
really fond of her.

"I'm glad now," she smiled to herself, "how lucky that we can't always
sculpt our own relationships."

She went down to dinner--in the huge hall full of armchairs and cushions
and antlers and comfort St. John stood with his back to the fire smoking
a cigarette which he threw into the grate when he saw her (St. John
invariably threw away his cigarette when you came into the room and then
asked your permission to light a new one. In her mind's eye Ariadne
always saw him opening the door for his wife after a violent scene with
her).

"My dear," she said, "what a divine house."

"The wing you are sleeping in was built by the fifth Lord....

"The staircase was designed by....

"The mantelpieces in the drawing room....

"After dinner I will show you...."

Dinner was announced.

She tucked her hand under his arm.

"Are you going to take me in to dinner, St. John?"

"Of course," he smiled at her.

The dining room was big enough to reduce the immense pieces of Georgian
silver--beautiful they were--to reasonable proportions.

St. John said there were some very fine pieces of Queen Anne which he
would show her.

"There was," she murmured, "nothing like Queen Anne."

The attentiveness of the footman and even of the butler did not seem to
her to be entirely confined to their wants.

St. John asked her questions about India, which she answered as she
answered travelling Europeans--correctly, concisely, and without any
frills of vocabulary. It was quite possible, she reflected, that St.
John wanted to know the answers to his questions. That was the worst of
being abroad so much, you were always either trying to tell things it
bored people to hear, or else they were determined to hear things that
it bored you to tell. Her mind wandered to the curious tide-like quality
of interest, the way it advanced and retreated in a conversation.

St. John was explaining what a quiet life he had led. Perhaps, to her,
it would have even seemed dull. (This to him was rhetorical paradox, and
to her an obvious truth.) She did not know, he said, what it meant to
feel that the land belonged to you--to see your own flowers growing,
your own calves being born--to feel yourself surrounded by your own
people, for whose happiness and welfare you were responsible.

Ariadne said that inheritance was a sacred trust (it was wonderful how
easy she found it to talk like St. John).

"Yes," he said, "that is just it--a sacred trust. Why, I hardly ever go
up to London now, and when I do, I feel quite homesick till I get here
again."

They got up from dinner.

"Shall we go and sit in the library?" he said.

They sat one on either side of the fire. She felt like an ancestress or
a family portrait. The rosy haze of her tea-gown looked strange and
alien fluttering in the huge leather armchair.

"What a wisp you look," St. John said. She remembered how satisfactory
her tininess had always been to him. "I think I could blow you away with
a puff of smoke."

"I am a limpet really," she laughed, "think how I have stuck to your
life."

"Thank God," he affirmed fervently.

"Are you still a great flirt, St. John?"

He looked at her in amazement.

"You have surely not forgotten the way you played fast and loose with
me?"

"Ariadne," he was using the firm voice she knew so well, "you mustn't
talk like that."

"But you did. Don't you remember that dinner you gave when we went to
the L----'s ball and you never danced with me till seventeen minutes
past one?"

"My dear, I was saving you up. The joy after all the duties."

"You never told me so."

"There were a lot of things I never told you."

"I tried so hard to make you."

"It was so hard not to."

"St. John," she said, "the things you didn't tell me, were they true?"

"Yes, they were true."

He had got up and knelt by her chair.

She put her hand on his head.

"St. John," she said. Should she tell him that they were not true? That
he was building up a retrospective passion which had never existed? That
what he supposed to have been renunciation and self-control and chivalry
had in reality been a rather tactfully steered uninflammable affection?
Why his voice now was far more broken up and moved than she had ever
heard it before. Of course he had not been in love with her. She had
never realised it as clearly as to-night. For a moment he put his face
in her lap, then he kissed her hands--reverently, in memory of his great
sacrifice.

"May I smoke a cigarette?" he asked.

"Please do."

He went back to his chair.

She was, he said, a wonderful friend.

So, she said, was he.

They talked about his family and her family--a little about their mutual
friends and a lot about friends of his that she had never seen.

They talked about furniture and gardens.

There were, he said, a lot of subjects on which he wanted her advice.

It was all very domestic, their two armchairs and the fire--the dying
fire. He must, she supposed, be imagining that they were married, seeing
her at the head of the table, in the family pew. She wondered if he
would have let her re-set the family jewels. Perhaps his mind had
reached the nursery. He was dreaming of children, his children, her
children, their children.

Dear St. John. She looked at him tenderly. She longed to explain what an
unsuitable wife she would have made him.

"What are you thinking about?" her voice was very gentle.

"I was thinking of the cattle I bought to-day, and wondering what sort
of fencing I should put up at the bottom of the drive. Ariadne, you
remember how gregarious I used to be; well, you can't think how
perfectly happy I am living here alone."

Smiles were popping out of her face shamelessly. No sooner had she kept
one out of her eyes than it reappeared on her lips.

"Dear St. John," she said, "I do love you."

He looked, she thought, a little alarmed.

"Not like that, that is all over."

"Quite over?"

"Quite--are you glad?"

"If it makes you happier," and then, "No, I'm damned if I'm glad."

"Thank you, St. John," she was laughing a little.

He looked puzzled, even rather disappointed.

She had broken the rules and laughed.

"How lucky you didn't say that to me four years ago."

"Don't," he said sharply.

"I'm sorry."

He was lighting her candle.

"To-morrow," he said, "you will choose the colour of the garden gates
and advise me about the fencing."

"That _will_ be fun."

She shivered.

"Are you cold?"

"One is always cold after India."

He took her to the door of her bedroom.

"Good-night--God bless you," he said.

She put her two hands on his shoulders and, bending forward, she kissed
him lightly. It was a cruel way of showing him that she didn't care any
more.

"What a revengeful woman I am, punishing him after all these years," she
thought.

But he didn't see it like that.

"I think I deserve her trust," he said to himself, and then his
thoughts, let out to graze, returned to the subject of fences.

"Robert," wrote Ariadne, "I am homesick for India."



XIV

TWO TAXI DRIVES

[_To PAUL MORAND_]

I: SUNSHINE


"Margaret, my dear, how delightful."

"Is it?"

"But of course."

"I always wonder," she murmured, "about accidental and sudden meetings.
They are a sort of nervous shock and you always feel that you are
looking for something that you've mislaid and that you don't seem able
to find again until you've parted."

"How depressing you are. Looking for mislaid intimacy, do you mean?"

"I suppose so."

"When I saw you I simply felt--Margaret, thank God!"

"Matthew, you old humbug."

"And for you who specialise in intimacy and the unexpected, it is simply
disgraceful."

"But I don't."

"You used to."

"Yes."

"Are you a reformed character?"

"A reformed experimentalist."

"I don't believe it."

"Matthew, after all I _am_ glad to see you."

"Then let us take a taxi and drive round the Bois."

"Very well."

"You're not reformed at all. If you were, you would say, 'I've got to
try on,' or, 'there are so many things I must do before lunch,' or 'I am
only in Paris for such a short time.'"

"They're all true."

"Of course--that sort of thing is always true. The point is, is it
relevant?"

"Talking of specialists. Do you still specialise in the irrelevant?"

"I have never understood what that word meant when applied to my
activities. I have still kept my sense of proportion, if that is what
you are driving at?"

"And Virginia?"

"Is still Virginia."

"And you love her?"

"Very often."

"Not all the time?"

"Certainly not. How then should I have my opportunities of discovering
that I loved her?"

"Does she like your method?"

"I wonder. Sometimes it gets on her nerves."

"Poor Virginia."

"It is ridiculous to pity Virginia. Every one adores her and she meddles
about in people's lives to her heart's content."

"I always pity women who care for charming men."

"Why--because charming men are fickle?"

"No, because they are vulnerable."

"Nonsense."

"Charm is the dragon's blood."

"But the leaf always falls somewhere."

"And the weak spot is vanity--which is no use to one at all."

"By the way, how is Michael, talking of charming men. Or, were we
talking about them?"

"I suppose so."

"Margaret, I don't like Michael."

"Why not?"

"He is too complete."

"Do you usually tell women that you don't like their husbands?"

"No, they usually tell it to me."

"Is that what you suggest that I am doing?"

"Margaret, please. You know I didn't mean that. It was just an idiotic
jeu de mots."

"Matthew, be careful; if you are serious you will turn my head."

"I would love to turn your head."

"Why is it that you always make me indiscreet?"

"I suppose that I inspire people with the happy illusion that I am not
going to take what they say seriously."

"I suppose that is it."

"By the way, what was India like?"

"Do you want to know?"

"Of course not."

"I stayed with Ariadne."

"Is she happy?"

"Radiant."

"Loving pomp?"

"Loving Robert."

"Dear me."

"Robert is the most wonderful man in the world."

"Well, he wanted to marry you; why didn't you marry him?"

"I thought his pedestal such a precarious foothold in life."

"If Ariadne can balance on it for a moment, it must be pretty firm."

"It is a lovely pedestal. You can see for miles from it, and it is as
comfortable as an armchair."

"Ariadne always had a rare eye for a cushion."

"Ariadne is a perfect wife."

"Margaret, it is absolutely essential that I should see you once every
twenty-four hours for the rest of my life. You will, therefore, not
think me too matter-of-fact if I ask you your immediate plans?"

"I am staying here three more days."

"Damn--sixteen hours gone already, I am off to Deauville."

"Then I am going back to London where it will all begin again."

"I shall be there."

"How grand it sounds to be a melodrama."

"Margaret, do you know that I love you a great deal?"

"I know that you are a great flirt."

"Of course. That makes my real love so very exceptional and precious."

"Does Virginia know that?"

"Virginia almost understands everything, but of course she can't afford
to admit it, or one would behave too impossibly."

"Matthew, may I tell you something very serious?"

"Yes, if you don't expect me to profit by it."

"I used to understand almost everything, and I went on stretching and
stretching till it broke, and now I understand nothing."

"Perhaps you are right," he twinkled at her, "perhaps I had better not
marry Virginia."

"Are you trying to make me unhappy?"

"Margaret, dearest, I might even be serious if I thought that it would
make you happy."

"Good heavens, it's one, and I am lunching at one."

"Margaret, promise never to mislay our intimacy again."

"I promise."

That evening there was a knock at the door.

"Monsieur a fait dire que c'était un bouquet pour Madame."

An immense bunch of balloons followed him into the room.

"For Margaret who--in spite of everything, because of
everything--understands everything."

"Matthew," she wrote, "how young you make me."

And then she murmured to herself:

"Poor Virginia!"


II: LAMPS

"I love you so." The wheels of the taxi were the counterpoint to his
voice.

"What is the good of my turning away when every bit of him bites into my
consciousness?" she thought.

The road stretched ahead of them like ciré satin with a piping of
lights. She had changed her position a little, restless under the
constraint of his eyes. A lamp lit her up for him, her face white and
drawn, her eyelids pulled over her eyes like a heavy curtain.

"One feels that one could skate down the street," she murmured, "it
looks like stuff worn thin with time and use--the shabby shiny surface
of the night."

On and on they went.

"We can't get anywhere," he said.

A lamp lit up her face.

It looked so weary and impotent as if she had abdicated the uneven
struggle with circumstances.

On they raced, down the slippery ribbon of road.

There was a bump and she fell towards him. He stretched out his arm and
held her firm and secure. He wanted her to feel that it was a rampart
and not an insidious outpost of passion quick to take advantage.

"Let me kiss you once, for God's sake," his voice was harsh.

She turned her face towards him. The passing lamp showed her resigned,
pitying, tender.

"Don't look like that," he said--sharp with the things he had wanted.

"I'm sorry," her voice was velvety and comforting.

Yet another lamp, there was a faint smile on her lips--breathed as it
were from him. He huddled into his corner, hurt by her compassion.

"I hate to see the moon," she said, "cynical and prying--an eavesdropper
of a moon."

Again a light gave him a fleeting vision of her--photographed on to his
soul.

Her deep dark eyes, heavy with distress, the corners of her mouth
repudiating the misery of the moment. She put her hand on his arm.

"Don't," she said, "there is in life such an incoherent mass of
interwoven strands. And perhaps something comes and tears them all to
bits."

Her voice was chanting--as if she were singing him a lullaby--then it
became light again.

"Wait till the next lamp," she said. "And you will see in my eyes the
old laughter that you used to love."

They turned down a side street and there were no more lights.

Abruptly the taxi stopped.

She got out. Her pale gold coat was a continuation of the moon.

She turned her brooding eyes away from him.

"Thank you for taking me home," she said; her voice had broken. She
looked back--a smile turned on to her lips.

He heard her latch key. The door opened and shut.



XV

A TOUCH OF SPRING

[_To W.Y. TURNER_]


The sun was streaming through the curtains silhouetting a strange
bloated pattern on the chintz, breaking through an opening and cutting a
deep yellow slit in the carpet. She lay in bed subconsciously awake,
subconsciously asleep, her thoughts drifting into dreams, her limbs
merging into one another. "This is happiness," she murmured to herself,
and feeling consciousness invade her, she clutched at the perfect
moment, and it was gone.

Smiling at her defeat she stretched herself luxuriously like a cat and
poked her toes out into a cool expanse of sheet.

"It is nice," she thought, "to have the whole bed to myself."

She curled herself up and lay for a few moments watching the sun
catching little patches of air and turning them into rainbow dust. Then
she rang. Her maid let in such a flood of light that she was forced to
shade her eyes. An unabashed cuckoo broke into the chorus of birds,
glorying in being a solo part and despising them for mixing and
intertwining their notes.

She got out of bed and her bare feet sank into the warm furry rug;
without putting on her slippers she walked across the room, stepping
like a child into the puddles of sunshine on the carpet. Leaning out of
the window the air pierced through her transparent nightgown--a tingling
quality underlying a faint veil of warmth. Everywhere mist and dew lay
on the countryside like the bloom on a grape. The gardener's boy walking
across the lawn had left his footprints stamped in emerald on the grass.

Smiling intimately to herself she got into her bath, wondering vaguely
at the miracle of water, enjoying impersonally the cool whiteness of her
body, doing tricks of perspective with her arms and legs.

She dressed slowly with indolent rhythmical movements, indifferently
aware of her effortless inevitable perfection.

Even more slowly she walked down the staircase out through the open
window on to the grey terrace. Somehow she felt that she was violating
the morning, forcing the human on to the divine. Sipping the day she
walked towards the almonds with their pink blush of blossom bursting
through the brown; turning round her head she saw the double cherry, its
branches nearly breaking under their load of snow. And at the roots of
every tree uninvited primroses and violets were crowding out the earth.

She followed the winding terraces towards the gleaming river, past
fluttering daffodils and wandering narcissi, over riotous anemones and
bright sturdy scyllæ, shaking showers of diamonds off the grasses as she
went.

The river lay like a long satin streamer, a curling ribbon dropped on
the meadows. And everywhere, hidden and vibrating, was an urgency of
life: buds bursting into blossom, birds bursting into flight.

Gradually the veil was lifting from the morning, the sun was rubbing the
bloom off it as a child rubs sleep from his eyes.

She retraced her steps, putting down her feet with the delicate
fastidiousness of a cat in order not to tread on a flower. "I'm alone
with you," she said shyly and ecstatically to the day. Never before had
she had the Spring to herself. Always there had been the children (now
on a visit) dragging plans and occupations, games, picnics, and bicycles
across the pure joy of living, or her husband like a violin very close
to her ear tearing her nerves to shreds with poignant urgent beauty.

Looking dispassionately at her life, it seemed to her a slum of human
relationships, airless, over-crowded, a dusty arena where psychological
acrobats perform by artificial light. And always that dragging of the
general down to the particular, that circumscribing of everything by the
personal, every rose a token, the moon something to kiss by, flowers
prostituted into bouquets. She thought how happy she was this morning,
feeling a little tiny speck of the miracle of life instead of trying to
catch it like a wasp under the wine glass of some human desire.

This not being a wife, or a mother, or a friend, or a beloved, or even
herself, but a tiny part of the universal, this surely was happiness. To
be at one with the morning, to belong to this frontierless world of
nature, to be coaxed into flower by the sun, to be a strand in some
unknown design, how much better than the weary steering of your life
between the Scylla of your ardent futile longings and the Charybdis of
some senseless malignant providence.

She took her lunch into the wood. The bluebells were still in bud and
hadn't yet swept everything before them in a headlong rush of waves that
never broke. She sat in an open space on a patch of velvety moss,
surrounded by tree trunks and waving windflowers and peeping primroses
and violets, all diffident forerunners of Spring, shyly enjoying the sun
before being submerged in that all-conquering flood of blue.

She caressed the ground with her hand and watched little gusts of wind
play hide and seek with the sun. "I don't believe I've ever been alone
before," she thought, and she stretched out her arms into the air,
initiating them into freedom.

Gradually the sun began to sink, throwing a riotous tangle of crimson
and gold streamers to salute the earth. "They are hauling down the flag
of my perfect day," she thought with a stab of poignant sorrow.

The sky became the colour of a primrose stalk and as transparent as
green glass. Before touching the horizon it dissolved into violet
powder. The colour was being blotted out of everything; one after
another the flowers went out like lights; only the white cherry seemed
phosphorescent in the gathering darkness. A thick white mist was
relentlessly invading everything, climbing higher and higher, enveloping
her in its cold, wet clutches.

Bewildered and miserable, she struggled forward through the extinguished
beauty of the world. A thin white sickle of a moon painted on the sky
looked cynically down at her. Stumbling, shivering, she hurried blindly
along.

The big stone hall was flickering in the blaze of an immense fire,
peopled with strange, unreal, clustering shadows. In front of it stood a
man in a fur coat. He turned towards her with outstretched arms.

"My darling, what have you been doing out without a coat? Look at your
hair all white with mist and your sopping dress. I can't trust you to
look after yourself for one day, can I?"

She looked at him as if he were a ghost. A look of blankness and horror.

He gathered her up and carried her to her bedroom. Putting her in a
chair beside the fire he knelt down and pulled off her shoes and
stockings.

She felt as if something were breaking inside her. Cold unrelieving
tears were running down her face.

He was kissing her hands and her feet, murmuring little caresses,
enveloping her in the glow of his love. And still she couldn't feel any
warmer.

Putting his arms tight round her he held her close to him, her cold wet
face nestling in his neck.

"I shall never leave you alone again," he whispered passionately, but to
his horror he felt her stiffen and fall to the ground with a thud.

At that moment her old maid came in. "Poor wee thing," she said, "don't
you be worrying and fretting yourself. It's just a touch of the Spring."



XVI

FIDO AND PONTO


Fido was a Dalmatian--of the race described by some as blotting paper
and by others as plum pudding dogs. Every line of his body had been
formed by hundreds of years of tradition. You can find his ancestors in
tapestries and petit point in Italian primitives and Flemish family
groups, nestling in voluminous satin petticoats, or running at the heels
of skating children--moving in sedate indifference beside the cortège of
a pope, or barking in gay derision at the tidy Dutch snow. Not "a dog"
or "the dog" but "dog" unspecified and absolute. True, till 1700 it was
largely a matter of silhouette, the lissom outline was there, but with a
certain variety of colouring. Then the 18th century stepped in and made
spots de rigueur--Dalmatians invaded new territory. They conquered the
kingdom of china and occupied a commanding position in coaching prints.
An unaccompanied post chaise, deplorable in life, because unknown in
art, and the expression "carriage dog" came into use for the first time.

The 18th and 19th centuries were the golden age of Dalmatian rule, and
when their dynasty was finally overthrown, it was not by a new upstart
race of dogs, but by a new upstart production of that blind and ugly
mother of strong and hideous children--progress. Motors were invented.

If machinery had a conscience, what a procession of ghosts would it not
be haunted by--ghosts of white fingers and humming spinning wheels,
ghosts of parasols--stiff pagodas of taffetas or rippling fountains of
lace--ghosts of victorias and barouches and tandems--ghosts of spotted
streaks of lightning bounding forward with the grace of cats and the
speed of Derby winners, capering with fastidious frivolity between
yellow wheels.

Dalmatians, console yourselves, you are in good company. Beside you
walks the ghost of civilisation herself--surrounded by the phantom forms
of courtesy and leisure and all the lost company of the divine
superfluous.

Cause and effect, demand and supply, where does the vicious circle begin
and end? Certain it is that when motors began to drench the countryside
in dust and suppress reflexion by providing our afterthoughts with
transport, Dalmatians disappeared. Silently, imperceptibly, putting down
their paws with all the old fastidious grace, they crept out of a world
that had betrayed aristocracy. Only Fido remained--to die of a broken
heart.

When I first saw him, he was a puppy--a thin lanky puppy, waiting to be
filled in by life, a mere sketch of the masterpiece he was to become.
Even in those days he had heavy black charmeuse ears, marvellous thick
rich satin they were, and tiny dark rims to his eyes--a setting of
pencilled shadow. How am I to describe his spots? The wonderful
distribution of black and white, the ruffle at the side of his arched
neck made by the meeting of two competitive rhythms of hairs, the
looseness of his skin, his long lithe legs that would tie themselves
into a tangled heap of grace when he lay down.

To see him move was to see motion made concrete--to see him run was to
realise that even Pavlova had never quite overcome the obstacle of being
a human.

At night he seemed phosphorescent, the dark itself was defeated by his
whiteness. His bark was low and deep and resonant--a church bell of a
bark--it reminded [Transcriber's note: original reads 'remainded'] you
less of a 'cello than all 'cellos--except M. Casal's--remind you of a
bark.

He had the divine irrelevant grace of a cat. Always he was showing off,
practising his paws, curling and stretching and pirouetting, letting
himself go like an arrow out of a bow, circling on the lawn like a
swallow above water, giving you daily a thousand illustrations of how
much you would have lost by only having 100 masterpieces in bronze of
him.

Living with Fido was a daily revelation of absolute beauty. He was the
key to the secret of Phidias and Ucello Pascal and Mozart.

But he was alive, warm and gay and moody--joyous and absurd--full of
little confiding gestures--a nose pressed under one's chin, or a paw
laid in alluring appeal on one's hand. Withal he was detached with the
detachment of his separate universe--a divine world of smells and sounds
and ever new adventurous possibilities, unspoilt by memory and
untarnished by experience.

Dogs are the best company in the world--I would watch Fido abandoning
himself to each moment of the day, the victim or the hero of a hundred
impulses, torn by competing smells and sounds as we are torn by
overlapping warring emotions and ambitions.

And then he would lie sprawling in front of the fire with a half open
eye and when you said "Fido" his ears would answer you, taut with
response, while his tail would beat the floor in indolent happiness. Is
there anything in life so infectiously joyous as a wagging tail? Worry,
distress, crossness, all melt at the sight of it--a hypnotic
conductor's, baton beating the rhythm of triumphant joie de vivre.

Fido was a daily, hourly delight.

I would shut my eyes, to be able to open them suddenly and
realise--with fresh acuteness--his infinite variety. There was to me
something poignant about his loveliness like an open rose in whose very
perfection lies the herald of doom. I loved him too much. The cynical
masterpieces of the past looking at his beauty smiled in satisfied
revenge for they knew that he was alive and that life means death. Love
gives mortality to everything.

Fido grew limp and listless. His nose was hot and dry. He no longer
trotted about, he wandered from room to room. His eyes were dull. His
heart bumped about like money in a money-box. With an effort he wagged
his tail to cheer me up. Wearily he would climb into a chair and lie
there indifferent to my trembling caresses.

Fido died.

       *       *       *       *       *

I gave up looking at dogs, alive or china, embroidered or painted.
Fortunately most of my friends have "pets," griffons that look like
tropical spiders, little shiny naked shivering animals, bloated
prosperous Pekineses, exuding the complacency of their mistresses and
seeming to be rather the last word of a dressmaker, or a furrier, than a
creation of the Gods.

If I saw a sheepdog, or a greyhound, a spaniel or a retriever, I would
avert my eyes, shivering a little as when the hitherto harmless buzzing
machine reaches the hidden nerve.

"Don't you like dogs?" people would say.

LIKE!

"No!" I would answer.

"How strange. I adore animals."

ADORE!

Oh the verbs of the untouched. And then, in spite of everything, because
of everything, a Dalmatian once more invaded my life--the life that I
had so resolutely determined never again to expose to any dog. What is
invulnerability but a pis-aller? Which of us, given the choice between
perfect peace and imperfect love would hesitate for one moment?

When Providence gave me Ponto I accepted him with hungry passion, with
nervous propitiatory prayers to the Gods.

He was a stray dog, masterless and collarless, an erring emigré of
civilisation and he came to me. At first I did not dare look--my heart
was beating so fast. I was frightened of being radiant. I was frightened
of being miserable.

And then I turned to him. He was bigger than Fido, with longer, stronger
legs. His ears were not quite black, there were two little white spots
on them, his eyes were not set in pencilled rims. But he was beautiful,
as beautiful as a Greek athlete--to see him run was to see the Olympic
games, and in the house he would curl and stretch and tangle up his
paws, and put his head on my lap and reassure me with his eyes.

Once more I lived with motion made concrete, with beauty made
absolute--once more a wagging tail brought the inexhaustible dot of
gaiety.

Ponto had finer manners than Fido. He was maturer, with a deeper sense
of noblesse oblige. He never forgot that even if he had been born a
Dalmatian, privilege entails certain obligations.

Perhaps he lacked something of Fido's moody charm, of his frivolous
pathos, of his absurd joyousness, of his enchanting vanity.

Perhaps it was just Fido's youth that he lacked, and his
irresponsibility. There was a certain gravity about Ponto--a perfect
dignity. His fastidiousness had gone beyond the stage of selections, and
had reached the stage of exclusions. But he never lost his manners, or
his manner.

Always he said "Good-morning," and "Good-night." If I was embarrassed,
or worried, he would pretend not to notice it, but if I was happy, or
sad, he would show his sympathy in a hundred ways--putting his head on
my lap, or cutting absurd capers to distract my mind.

And then one day I went away.

I told Ponto when I said good-bye to him that it would be some time
before I saw him again.

How was I to explain partings to him? The monstrous rôle that geography
plays in our lives? I just told him that I loved him, that his image was
in my heart, that our separation was only the preparation of a glorious
meeting when old-remembered delights would merge into newly discovered
ones.

He listened to me while I stroked his heavy charmeuse ears. He licked my
hand, knowing that with my whispering words, I was trying to console
myself as well as him.

Then I left him quickly.

They wrote to me that he had disappeared.

They wrote to me that his master had reclaimed him.

But I know that he is mine.

For I have made a great discovery.

What I love belongs to me. Not the chairs and tables in my house, but
the masterpieces of the world.

It is only a question of loving them enough.


THE END





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