"So of course,"
wrote Betty Flanders, pressing her heels rather deeper in
the sand, "there was nothing for it but to leave."
Slowly welling from the point of her gold
nib, pale blue ink dissolved the full stop; for there her
pen stuck; her eyes fixed, and tears slowly filled them. The
entire bay quivered; the lighthouse wobbled; and she had the
illusion that the mast of Mr. Connor's little yacht was
bending like a wax candle in the sun. She winked quickly.
Accidents were awful things. She winked again. The mast was
straight; the waves were regular; the lighthouse was
upright; but the blot had spread.
"…nothing for it but to leave," she read.
"Well, if Jacob doesn't want to play" (the
shadow of Archer, her eldest son, fell across the notepaper
and looked blue on the sand, and she felt chilly—it was the
third of September already), "if Jacob doesn't want to
play"—what a horrid blot! It must be getting late.
"Where IS that tiresome little boy?" she
said. "I don't see him. Run and find him. Tell him to come
at once." "…but mercifully," she scribbled, ignoring the
full stop, "everything seems satisfactorily arranged, packed
though we are like herrings in a barrel, and forced to stand
the perambulator which the landlady quite naturally won't
Such were Betty Flanders's letters to
Captain Barfoot—many-paged, tear- stained. Scarborough is
seven hundred miles from Cornwall: Captain Barfoot is in
Scarborough: Seabrook is dead. Tears made all the dahlias in
her garden undulate in red waves and flashed the glass house
in her eyes, and spangled the kitchen with bright knives,
and made Mrs. Jarvis, the rector's wife, think at church,
while the hymn-tune played and Mrs. Flanders bent low over
her little boys' heads, that marriage is a fortress and
widows stray solitary in the open fields, picking up stones,
gleaning a few golden straws, lonely, unprotected, poor
creatures. Mrs. Flanders had been a widow for these two
"Ja—cob! Ja—cob!" Archer shouted.
"Scarborough," Mrs. Flanders wrote on the
envelope, and dashed a bold line beneath; it was her native
town; the hub of the universe. But a stamp? She ferreted in
her bag; then held it up mouth downwards; then fumbled in
her lap, all so vigorously that Charles Steele in the Panama
hat suspended his paint-brush.
Like the antennae of some irritable insect
it positively trembled. Here was that woman moving—actually
going to get up—confound her! He struck the canvas a hasty
violet-black dab. For the landscape needed it. It was too
pale—greys flowing into lavenders, and one star or a white
gull suspended just so—too pale as usual. The critics would
say it was too pale, for he was an unknown man exhibiting
obscurely, a favourite with his landladies' children,
wearing a cross on his watch chain, and much gratified if
his landladies liked his pictures—which they often did.
"Ja—cob! Ja—cob!" Archer shouted.
Exasperated by the noise, yet loving
children, Steele picked nervously at the dark little coils
on his palette.
"I saw your brother—I saw your brother," he
said, nodding his head, as Archer lagged past him, trailing
his spade, and scowling at the old gentleman in spectacles.
"Over there—by the rock," Steele muttered,
with his brush between his teeth, squeezing out raw sienna,
and keeping his eyes fixed on Betty Flanders's back.
"Ja—cob! Ja—cob!" shouted Archer, lagging on
after a second.
The voice had an extraordinary sadness. Pure
from all body, pure from all passion, going out into the
world, solitary, unanswered, breaking against rocks—so it
Steele frowned; but was pleased by the
effect of the black—it was just THAT note which brought the
rest together. "Ah, one may learn to paint at fifty! There's
Titian…" and so, having found the right tint, up he looked
and saw to his horror a cloud over the bay.
Mrs. Flanders rose, slapped her coat this
side and that to get the sand off, and picked up her black
The rock was one of those tremendously solid
brown, or rather black, rocks which emerge from the sand
like something primitive. Rough with crinkled limpet shells
and sparsely strewn with locks of dry seaweed, a small boy
has to stretch his legs far apart, and indeed to feel rather
heroic, before he gets to the top.
But there, on the very top, is a hollow full
of water, with a sandy bottom; with a blob of jelly stuck to
the side, and some mussels. A fish darts across. The fringe
of yellow-brown seaweed flutters, and out pushes an
"Oh, a huge crab," Jacob murmured—and begins
his journey on weakly legs on the sandy bottom. Now! Jacob
plunged his hand. The crab was cool and very light. But the
water was thick with sand, and so, scrambling down, Jacob
was about to jump, holding his bucket in front of him, when
he saw, stretched entirely rigid, side by side, their faces
very red, an enormous man and woman.
An enormous man and woman (it was
early-closing day) were stretched motionless, with their
heads on pocket-handkerchiefs, side by side, within a few
feet of the sea, while two or three gulls gracefully skirted
the incoming waves, and settled near their boots.
The large red faces lying on the bandanna
handkerchiefs stared up at Jacob. Jacob stared down at them.
Holding his bucket very carefully, Jacob then jumped
deliberately and trotted away very nonchalantly at first,
but faster and faster as the waves came creaming up to him
and he had to swerve to avoid them, and the gulls rose in
front of him and floated out and settled again a little
farther on. A large black woman was sitting on the sand. He
ran towards her.
"Nanny! Nanny!" he cried, sobbing the words
out on the crest of each gasping breath.
The waves came round her. She was a rock.
She was covered with the seaweed which pops when it is
pressed. He was lost.
There he stood. His face composed itself. He
was about to roar when, lying among the black sticks and
straw under the cliff, he saw a whole skull—perhaps a cow's
skull, a skull, perhaps, with the teeth in it. Sobbing, but
absent-mindedly, he ran farther and farther away until he
held the skull in his arms.
"There he is!" cried Mrs. Flanders, coming
round the rock and covering the whole space of the beach in
a few seconds. "What has he got hold of? Put it down, Jacob!
Drop it this moment! Something horrid, I know. Why didn't
you stay with us? Naughty little boy! Now put it down. Now
come along both of you," and she swept round, holding Archer
by one hand and fumbling for Jacob's arm with the other. But
he ducked down and picked up the sheep's jaw, which was
Swinging her bag, clutching her parasol,
holding Archer's hand, and telling the story of the
gunpowder explosion in which poor Mr. Curnow had lost his
eye, Mrs. Flanders hurried up the steep lane, aware all the
time in the depths of her mind of some buried discomfort.
There on the sand not far from the lovers
lay the old sheep's skull without its jaw. Clean, white,
wind-swept, sand-rubbed, a more unpolluted piece of bone
existed nowhere on the coast of Cornwall. The sea holly
would grow through the eye-sockets; it would turn to powder,
or some golfer, hitting his ball one fine day, would
disperse a little dust—No, but not in lodgings, thought Mrs.
Flanders. It's a great experiment coming so far with young
children. There's no man to help with the perambulator. And
Jacob is such a handful; so obstinate already.
"Throw it away, dear, do," she said, as they
got into the road; but Jacob squirmed away from her; and the
wind rising, she took out her bonnet-pin, looked at the sea,
and stuck it in afresh. The wind was rising. The waves
showed that uneasiness, like something alive, restive,
expecting the whip, of waves before a storm. The
fishing-boats were leaning to the water's brim. A pale
yellow light shot across the purple sea; and shut. The
lighthouse was lit. "Come along," said Betty Flanders. The
sun blazed in their faces and gilded the great blackberries
trembling out from the hedge which Archer tried to strip as
"Don't lag, boys. You've got nothing to
change into," said Betty, pulling them along, and looking
with uneasy emotion at the earth displayed so luridly, with
sudden sparks of light from greenhouses in gardens, with a
sort of yellow and black mutability, against this blazing
sunset, this astonishing agitation and vitality of colour,
which stirred Betty Flanders and made her think of
responsibility and danger. She gripped Archer's hand. On she
plodded up the hill.
"What did I ask you to remember?" she said.
"I don't know," said Archer.
"Well, I don't know either," said Betty,
humorously and simply, and who shall deny that this
blankness of mind, when combined with profusion, mother wit,
old wives' tales, haphazard ways, moments of astonishing
daring, humour, and sentimentality—who shall deny that in
these respects every woman is nicer than any man?
Well, Betty Flanders, to begin with.
She had her hand upon the garden gate.
"The meat!" she exclaimed, striking the
She had forgotten the meat.
There was Rebecca at the window.
The bareness of Mrs. Pearce's front room was
fully displayed at ten o'clock at night when a powerful oil
lamp stood on the middle of the table. The harsh light fell
on the garden; cut straight across the lawn; lit up a
child's bucket and a purple aster and reached the hedge.
Mrs. Flanders had left her sewing on the table. There were
her large reels of white cotton and her steel spectacles;
her needle-case; her brown wool wound round an old postcard.
There were the bulrushes and the Strand magazines; and the
linoleum sandy from the boys' boots. A daddy-long- legs shot
from corner to corner and hit the lamp globe. The wind blew
straight dashes of rain across the window, which flashed
silver as they passed through the light. A single leaf
tapped hurriedly, persistently, upon the glass. There was a
hurricane out at sea.
Archer could not sleep.
Mrs. Flanders stooped over him. "Think of
the fairies," said Betty Flanders. "Think of the lovely,
lovely birds settling down on their nests. Now shut your
eyes and see the old mother bird with a worm in her beak.
Now turn and shut your eyes," she murmured, "and shut your
The lodging-house seemed full of gurgling
and rushing; the cistern overflowing; water bubbling and
squeaking and running along the pipes and streaming down the
"What's all that water rushing in?" murmured
"It's only the bath water running away,"
said Mrs. Flanders.
Something snapped out of doors.
"I say, won't that steamer sink?" said
Archer, opening his eyes.
"Of course it won't," said Mrs. Flanders.
"The Captain's in bed long ago. Shut your eyes, and think of
the fairies, fast asleep, under the flowers."
"I thought he'd never get off—such a
hurricane," she whispered to
Rebecca, who was bending over a spirit-lamp in the small
room next door.
The wind rushed outside, but the small flame of the
quietly, shaded from the cot by a book stood on edge.
"Did he take his bottle well?" Mrs. Flanders
whispered, and Rebecca nodded and went to the cot and turned
down the quilt, and Mrs. Flanders bent over and looked
anxiously at the baby, asleep, but frowning. The window
shook, and Rebecca stole like a cat and wedged it.
The two women murmured over the spirit-lamp,
plotting the eternal conspiracy of hush and clean bottles
while the wind raged and gave a sudden wrench at the cheap
Both looked round at the cot. Their lips
were pursed. Mrs. Flanders crossed over to the cot.
"Asleep?" whispered Rebecca, looking at the
Mrs. Flanders nodded.
"Good-night, Rebecca," Mrs. Flanders
murmured, and Rebecca called her ma'm, though they were
conspirators plotting the eternal conspiracy of hush and
Mrs. Flanders had left the lamp burning in
the front room. There were her spectacles, her sewing; and a
letter with the Scarborough postmark. She had not drawn the
The light blazed out across the patch of
grass; fell on the child's green bucket with the gold line
round it, and upon the aster which trembled violently beside
it. For the wind was tearing across the coast, hurling
itself at the hills, and leaping, in sudden gusts, on top of
its own back. How it spread over the town in the hollow! How
the lights seemed to wink and quiver in its fury, lights in
the harbour, lights in bedroom windows high up! And rolling
dark waves before it, it raced over the Atlantic, jerking
the stars above the ships this way and that.
There was a click in the front sitting-room.
Mr. Pearce had extinguished the lamp. The garden went out.
It was but a dark patch. Every inch was rained upon. Every
blade of grass was bent by rain. Eyelids would have been
fastened down by the rain. Lying on one's back one would
have seen nothing but muddle and confusion—clouds turning
and turning, and something yellow-tinted and sulphurous in
The little boys in the front bedroom had
thrown off their blankets and lay under the sheets. It was
hot; rather sticky and steamy. Archer lay spread out, with
one arm striking across the pillow. He was flushed; and when
the heavy curtain blew out a little he turned and
half-opened his eyes. The wind actually stirred the cloth on
the chest of drawers, and let in a little light, so that the
sharp edge of the chest of drawers was visible, running
straight up, until a white shape bulged out; and a silver
streak showed in the looking-glass.
In the other bed by the door Jacob lay
asleep, fast asleep, profoundly unconscious. The sheep's jaw
with the big yellow teeth in it lay at his feet. He had
kicked it against the iron bed-rail.
Outside the rain poured down more directly
and powerfully as the wind fell in the early hours of the
morning. The aster was beaten to the earth. The child's
bucket was half-full of rainwater; and the opal- shelled
crab slowly circled round the bottom, trying with its weakly
legs to climb the steep side; trying again and falling back,
and trying again and again.
FLANDERS"—"Poor Betty Flanders"—"Dear Betty"—"She's very
attractive still"—"Odd she don't marry again!" "There's
Captain Barfoot to be sure—calls every Wednesday as regular
as clockwork, and never brings his wife."
"But that's Ellen Barfoot's fault," the
ladies of Scarborough said. "She don't put herself out for
"A man likes to have a son—that we know."
"Some tumours have to be cut; but the sort
my mother had you bear with for years and years, and never
even have a cup of tea brought up to you in bed."
(Mrs. Barfoot was an invalid.)
Elizabeth Flanders, of whom this and much
more than this had been said and would be said, was, of
course, a widow in her prime. She was half- way between
forty and fifty. Years and sorrow between them; the death of
Seabrook, her husband; three boys; poverty; a house on the
outskirts of Scarborough; her brother, poor Morty's,
downfall and possible demise— for where was he? what was he?
Shading her eyes, she looked along the road for Captain
Barfoot—yes, there he was, punctual as ever; the attentions
of the Captain—all ripened Betty Flanders, enlarged her
figure, tinged her face with jollity, and flooded her eyes
for no reason that any one could see perhaps three times a
True, there's no harm in crying for one's
husband, and the tombstone, though plain, was a solid piece
of work, and on summer's days when the widow brought her
boys to stand there one felt kindly towards her. Hats were
raised higher than usual; wives tugged their husbands' arms.
Seabrook lay six foot beneath, dead these many years;
enclosed in three shells; the crevices sealed with lead, so
that, had earth and wood been glass, doubtless his very face
lay visible beneath, the face of a young man whiskered,
shapely, who had gone out duck-shooting and refused to
change his boots.
"Merchant of this city," the tombstone said;
though why Betty Flanders had chosen so to call him when, as
many still remembered, he had only sat behind an office
window for three months, and before that had broken horses,
ridden to hounds, farmed a few fields, and run a little
wild— well, she had to call him something. An example for
Had he, then, been nothing? An unanswerable
question, since even if it weren't the habit of the
undertaker to close the eyes, the light so soon goes out of
them. At first, part of herself; now one of a company, he
had merged in the grass, the sloping hillside, the thousand
white stones, some slanting, others upright, the decayed
wreaths, the crosses of green tin, the narrow yellow paths,
and the lilacs that drooped in April, with a scent like that
of an invalid's bedroom, over the churchyard wall. Seabrook
was now all that; and when, with her skirt hitched up,
feeding the chickens, she heard the bell for service or
funeral, that was Seabrook's voice—the voice of the dead.
The rooster had been known to fly on her
shoulder and peck her neck, so that now she carried a stick
or took one of the children with her when she went to feed
"Wouldn't you like my knife, mother?" said
Sounding at the same moment as the bell, her
son's voice mixed life and death inextricably,
"What a big knife for a small boy!" she
said. She took it to please him. Then the rooster flew out
of the hen-house, and, shouting to Archer to shut the door
into the kitchen garden, Mrs. Flanders set her meal down,
clucked for the hens, went bustling about the orchard, and
was seen from over the way by Mrs. Cranch, who, beating her
mat against the wall, held it for a moment suspended while
she observed to Mrs. Page next door that Mrs. Flanders was
in the orchard with the chickens.
Mrs. Page, Mrs. Cranch, and Mrs. Garfit
could see Mrs. Flanders in the orchard because the orchard
was a piece of Dods Hill enclosed; and Dods Hill dominated
the village. No words can exaggerate the importance of Dods
Hill. It was the earth; the world against the sky; the
horizon of how many glances can best be computed by those
who have lived all their lives in the same village, only
leaving it once to fight in the Crimea, like old George
Garfit, leaning over his garden gate smoking his pipe. The
progress of the sun was measured by it; the tint of the day
laid against it to be judged.
"Now she's going up the hill with little
John," said Mrs. Cranch to Mrs. Garfit, shaking her mat for
the last time, and bustling indoors. Opening the orchard
gate, Mrs. Flanders walked to the top of Dods Hill, holding
John by the hand. Archer and Jacob ran in front or lagged
behind; but they were in the Roman fortress when she came
there, and shouting out what ships were to be seen in the
bay. For there was a magnificent view —moors behind, sea in
front, and the whole of Scarborough from one end to the
other laid out flat like a puzzle. Mrs. Flanders, who was
growing stout, sat down in the fortress and looked about
The entire gamut of the view's changes
should have been known to her; its winter aspect, spring,
summer and autumn; how storms came up from the sea; how the
moors shuddered and brightened as the clouds went over; she
should have noted the red spot where the villas were
building; and the criss-cross of lines where the allotments
were cut; and the diamond flash of little glass houses in
the sun. Or, if details like these escaped her, she might
have let her fancy play upon the gold tint of the sea at
sunset, and thought how it lapped in coins of gold upon the
shingle. Little pleasure boats shoved out into it; the black
arm of the pier hoarded it up. The whole city was pink and
gold; domed; mist- wreathed; resonant; strident. Banjoes
strummed; the parade smelt of tar which stuck to the heels;
goats suddenly cantered their carriages through crowds. It
was observed how well the Corporation had laid out the
flower-beds. Sometimes a straw hat was blown away. Tulips
burnt in the sun. Numbers of sponge-bag trousers were
stretched in rows. Purple bonnets fringed soft, pink,
querulous faces on pillows in bath chairs. Triangular
hoardings were wheeled along by men in white coats. Captain
George Boase had caught a monster shark. One side of the
triangular hoarding said so in red, blue, and yellow
letters; and each line ended with three differently coloured
notes of exclamation.
So that was a reason for going down into the
Aquarium, where the sallow blinds, the stale smell of
spirits of salt, the bamboo chairs, the tables with
ash-trays, the revolving fish, the attendant knitting behind
six or seven chocolate boxes (often she was quite alone with
the fish for hours at a time) remained in the mind as part
of the monster shark, he himself being only a flabby yellow
receptacle, like an empty Gladstone bag in a tank. No one
had ever been cheered by the Aquarium; but the faces of
those emerging quickly lost their dim, chilled expression
when they perceived that it was only by standing in a queue
that one could be admitted to the pier. Once through the
turnstiles, every one walked for a yard or two very briskly;
some flagged at this stall; others at that.
But it was the band that drew them all to it
finally; even the fishermen on the lower pier taking up
their pitch within its range.
The band played in the Moorish kiosk. Number
nine went up on the board. It was a waltz tune. The pale
girls, the old widow lady, the three Jews lodging in the
same boarding-house, the dandy, the major, the horse-
dealer, and the gentleman of independent means, all wore the
same blurred, drugged expression, and through the chinks in
the planks at their feet they could see the green summer
waves, peacefully, amiably, swaying round the iron pillars
of the pier.
But there was a time when none of this had
any existence (thought the young man leaning against the
railings). Fix your eyes upon the lady's skirt; the grey one
will do—above the pink silk stockings. It changes; drapes
her ankles—the nineties; then it amplifies—the seventies;
now it's burnished red and stretched above a crinoline—the
sixties; a tiny black foot wearing a white cotton stocking
peeps out. Still sitting there? Yes—she's still on the pier.
The silk now is sprigged with roses, but somehow one no
longer sees so clearly. There's no pier beneath us. The
heavy chariot may swing along the turnpike road, but there's
no pier for it to stop at, and how grey and turbulent the
sea is in the seventeenth century! Let's to the museum.
Cannon-balls; arrow- heads; Roman glass and a forceps green
with verdigris. The Rev. Jaspar Floyd dug them up at his own
expense early in the forties in the Roman camp on Dods
Hill—see the little ticket with the faded writing on it.
And now, what's the next thing to see in
Mrs. Flanders sat on the raised circle of
the Roman camp, patching Jacob's breeches; only looking up
as she sucked the end of her cotton, or when some insect
dashed at her, boomed in her ear, and was gone.
John kept trotting up and slapping down in
her lap grass or dead leaves which he called "tea," and she
arranged them methodically but absent- mindedly, laying the
flowery heads of the grasses together, thinking how Archer
had been awake again last night; the church clock was ten or
thirteen minutes fast; she wished she could buy Garfit's
"That's an orchid leaf, Johnny. Look at the little brown
spots. Come, my dear. We must go home. Ar-cher! Ja-cob!"
"Ar-cher! Ja-cob!" Johnny piped after her,
pivoting round on his heel, and strewing the grass and
leaves in his hands as if he were sowing seed. Archer and
Jacob jumped up from behind the mound where they had been
crouching with the intention of springing upon their mother
unexpectedly, and they all began to walk slowly home.
"Who is that?" said Mrs. Flanders, shading
"That old man in the road?" said Archer,
"He's not an old man," said Mrs. Flanders.
"He's—no, he's not—I thought it was the Captain, but it's
Mr. Floyd. Come along, boys."
"Oh, bother Mr. Floyd!" said Jacob,
switching off a thistle's head, for he knew already that Mr.
Floyd was going to teach them Latin, as indeed he did for
three years in his spare time, out of kindness, for there
was no other gentleman in the neighbourhood whom Mrs.
Flanders could have asked to do such a thing, and the elder
boys were getting beyond her, and must be got ready for
school, and it was more than most clergymen would have done,
coming round after tea, or having them in his own room —as
he could fit it in—for the parish was a very large one, and
Mr. Floyd, like his father before him, visited cottages
miles away on the moors, and, like old Mr. Floyd, was a
great scholar, which made it so unlikely—she had never
dreamt of such a thing. Ought she to have guessed? But let
alone being a scholar he was eight years younger than she
was. She knew his mother—old Mrs. Floyd. She had tea there.
And it was that very evening when she came back from having
tea with old Mrs. Floyd that she found the note in the hall
and took it into the kitchen with her when she went to give
Rebecca the fish, thinking it must be something about the
"Mr. Floyd brought it himself, did he?—I
think the cheese must be in the parcel in the hall—oh, in
the hall—" for she was reading. No, it was not about the
"Yes, enough for fish-cakes to-morrow
certainly—Perhaps Captain Barfoot—" she had come to the word
"love." She went into the garden and read, leaning against
the walnut tree to steady herself. Up and down went her
breast. Seabrook came so vividly before her. She shook her
head and was looking through her tears at the little
shifting leaves against the yellow sky when three geese,
half-running, half-flying, scuttled across the lawn with
Johnny behind them, brandishing a stick.
Mrs. Flanders flushed with anger.
"How many times have I told you?" she cried,
and seized him and snatched his stick away from him.
"But they'd escaped!" he cried, struggling
to get free.
"You're a very naughty boy. If I've told you
once, I've told you a thousand times. I won't have you
chasing the geese!" she said, and crumpling Mr. Floyd's
letter in her hand, she held Johnny fast and herded the
geese back into the orchard.
"How could I think of marriage!" she said to
herself bitterly, as she fastened the gate with a piece of
wire. She had always disliked red hair in men, she thought,
thinking of Mr. Floyd's appearance, that night when the boys
had gone to bed. And pushing her work-box away, she drew the
blotting-paper towards her, and read Mr. Floyd's letter
again, and her breast went up and down when she came to the
word "love," but not so fast this time, for she saw Johnny
chasing the geese, and knew that it was impossible for her
to marry any one—let alone Mr. Floyd, who was so much
younger than she was, but what a nice man—and such a scholar
"Dear Mr. Floyd," she wrote.—"Did I forget
about the cheese?" she wondered, laying down her pen. No,
she had told Rebecca that the cheese was in the hall. "I am
much surprised…" she wrote.
But the letter which Mr. Floyd found on the
table when he got up early next morning did not begin "I am
much surprised," and it was such a motherly, respectful,
inconsequent, regretful letter that he kept it for many
years; long after his marriage with Miss Wimbush, of
Andover; long after he had left the village. For he asked
for a parish in Sheffield, which was given him; and, sending
for Archer, Jacob, and John to say good-bye, he told them to
choose whatever they liked in his study to remember him by.
Archer chose a paper-knife, because he did not like to
choose anything too good; Jacob chose the works of Byron in
one volume; John, who was still too young to make a proper
choice, chose Mr. Floyd's kitten, which his brothers thought
an absurd choice, but Mr. Floyd upheld him when he said: "It
has fur like you." Then Mr. Floyd spoke about the King's
Navy (to which Archer was going); and about Rugby (to which
Jacob was going); and next day he received a silver salver
and went—first to Sheffield, where he met Miss Wimbush, who
was on a visit to her uncle, then to Hackney—then to
Maresfield House, of which he became the principal, and
finally, becoming editor of a well-known series of
Ecclesiastical Biographies, he retired to Hampstead with his
wife and daughter, and is often to be seen feeding the ducks
on Leg of Mutton Pond. As for Mrs. Flanders's letter—when he
looked for it the other day he could not find it, and did
not like to ask his wife whether she had put it away.
Meeting Jacob in Piccadilly lately, he recognized him after
three seconds. But Jacob had grown such a fine young man
that Mr. Floyd did not like to stop him in the street.
"Dear me," said Mrs. Flanders, when she read
in the Scarborough and
Harrogate Courier that the Rev. Andrew Floyd, etc., etc.,
had been made
Principal of Maresfield House, "that must be our Mr. Floyd."
A slight gloom fell upon the table. Jacob
was helping himself to jam; the postman was talking to
Rebecca in the kitchen; there was a bee humming at the
yellow flower which nodded at the open window. They were all
alive, that is to say, while poor Mr. Floyd was becoming
Principal of Maresfield House.
Mrs. Flanders got up and went over to the
fender and stroked Topaz on the neck behind the ears.
"Poor Topaz," she said (for Mr. Floyd's
kitten was now a very old cat, a little mangy behind the
ears, and one of these days would have to be killed).
"Poor old Topaz," said Mrs. Flanders, as he
stretched himself out in the sun, and she smiled, thinking
how she had had him gelded, and how she did not like red
hair in men. Smiling, she went into the kitchen.
Jacob drew rather a dirty
pocket-handkerchief across his face. He went upstairs to his
The stag-beetle dies slowly (it was John who
collected the beetles). Even on the second day its legs were
supple. But the butterflies were dead. A whiff of rotten
eggs had vanquished the pale clouded yellows which came
pelting across the orchard and up Dods Hill and away on to
the moor, now lost behind a furze bush, then off again
helter-skelter in a broiling sun. A fritillary basked on a
white stone in the Roman camp. From the valley came the
sound of church bells. They were all eating roast beef in
Scarborough; for it was Sunday when Jacob caught the pale
clouded yellows in the clover field, eight miles from home.
Rebecca had caught the death's-head moth in
A strong smell of camphor came from the
Mixed with the smell of camphor was the
unmistakable smell of seaweed.
Tawny ribbons hung on the door. The sun beat straight upon
The upper wings of the moth which Jacob held
were undoubtedly marked with kidney-shaped spots of a
fulvous hue. But there was no crescent upon the underwing.
The tree had fallen the night he caught it. There had been a
volley of pistol-shots suddenly in the depths of the wood.
And his mother had taken him for a burglar when he came home
late. The only one of her sons who never obeyed her, she
Morris called it "an extremely local insect
found in damp or marshy places." But Morris is sometimes
wrong. Sometimes Jacob, choosing a very fine pen, made a
correction in the margin.
The tree had fallen, though it was a
windless night, and the lantern, stood upon the ground, had
lit up the still green leaves and the dead beech leaves. It
was a dry place. A toad was there. And the red underwing had
circled round the light and flashed and gone. The red
underwing had never come back, though Jacob had waited. It
was after twelve when he crossed the lawn and saw his mother
in the bright room, playing patience, sitting up.
"How you frightened me!" she had cried. She
thought something dreadful had happened. And he woke
Rebecca, who had to be up so early.
There he stood pale, come out of the depths
of darkness, in the hot room, blinking at the light.
No, it could not be a straw-bordered
The mowing-machine always wanted oiling.
Barnet turned it under Jacob's window, and it
creaked—creaked, and rattled across the lawn and creaked
Now it was clouding over.
Back came the sun, dazzlingly.
It fell like an eye upon the stirrups, and
then suddenly and yet very gently rested upon the bed, upon
the alarum clock, and upon the butterfly box stood open. The
pale clouded yellows had pelted over the moor; they had
zigzagged across the purple clover. The fritillaries
flaunted along the hedgerows. The blues settled on little
bones lying on the turf with the sun beating on them, and
the painted ladies and the peacocks feasted upon bloody
entrails dropped by a hawk. Miles away from home, in a
hollow among teasles beneath a ruin, he had found the
commas. He had seen a white admiral circling higher and
higher round an oak tree, but he had never caught it. An old
cottage woman living alone, high up, had told him of a
purple butterfly which came every summer to her garden. The
fox cubs played in the gorse in the early morning, she told
him. And if you looked out at dawn you could always see two
badgers. Sometimes they knocked each other over like two
boys fighting, she said.
"You won't go far this afternoon, Jacob,"
said his mother, popping her head in at the door, "for the
Captain's coming to say good-bye." It was the last day of
the Easter holidays.
Wednesday was Captain Barfoot's day. He
dressed himself very neatly in blue serge, took his
rubber-shod stick—for he was lame and wanted two fingers on
the left hand, having served his country—and set out from
the house with the flagstaff precisely at four o'clock in
At three Mr. Dickens, the bath-chair man,
had called for Mrs. Barfoot.
"Move me," she would say to Mr. Dickens,
after sitting on the esplanade for fifteen minutes. And
again, "That'll do, thank you, Mr. Dickens." At the first
command he would seek the sun; at the second he would stay
the chair there in the bright strip.
An old inhabitant himself, he had much in
common with Mrs. Barfoot— James Coppard's daughter. The
drinking-fountain, where West Street joins Broad Street, is
the gift of James Coppard, who was mayor at the time of
Queen Victoria's jubilee, and Coppard is painted upon
municipal watering-carts and over shop windows, and upon the
zinc blinds of solicitors' consulting-room windows. But
Ellen Barfoot never visited the Aquarium (though she had
known Captain Boase who had caught the shark quite well),
and when the men came by with the posters she eyed them
superciliously, for she knew that she would never see the
Pierrots, or the brothers Zeno, or Daisy Budd and her troupe
of performing seals. For Ellen Barfoot in her bath-chair on
the esplanade was a prisoner— civilization's prisoner—all
the bars of her cage falling across the esplanade on sunny
days when the town hall, the drapery stores, the
swimming-bath, and the memorial hall striped the ground with
An old inhabitant himself, Mr. Dickens would
stand a little behind her, smoking his pipe. She would ask
him questions—who people were—who now kept Mr. Jones's
shop—then about the season—and had Mrs. Dickens tried,
whatever it might be—the words issuing from her lips like
crumbs of dry biscuit.
She closed her eyes. Mr. Dickens took a
turn. The feelings of a man had not altogether deserted him,
though as you saw him coming towards you, you noticed how
one knobbed black boot swung tremulously in front of the
other; how there was a shadow between his waistcoat and his
trousers; how he leant forward unsteadily, like an old horse
who finds himself suddenly out of the shafts drawing no
cart. But as Mr. Dickens sucked in the smoke and puffed it
out again, the feelings of a man were perceptible in his
eyes. He was thinking how Captain Barfoot was now on his way
to Mount Pleasant; Captain Barfoot, his master. For at home
in the little sitting-room above the mews, with the canary
in the window, and the girls at the sewing-machine, and Mrs.
Dickens huddled up with the rheumatics—at home where he was
made little of, the thought of being in the employ of
Captain Barfoot supported him. He liked to think that while
he chatted with Mrs. Barfoot on the front, he helped the
Captain on his way to Mrs. Flanders. He, a man, was in
charge of Mrs. Barfoot, a woman.
Turning, he saw that she was chatting with
Mrs. Rogers. Turning again, he saw that Mrs. Rogers had
moved on. So he came back to the bath-chair, and Mrs.
Barfoot asked him the time, and he took out his great silver
watch and told her the time very obligingly, as if he knew a
great deal more about the time and everything than she did.
But Mrs. Barfoot knew that Captain Barfoot was on his way to
Indeed he was well on his way there, having
left the tram, and seeing Dods Hill to the south-east, green
against a blue sky that was suffused with dust colour on the
horizon. He was marching up the hill. In spite of his
lameness there was something military in his approach. Mrs.
Jarvis, as she came out of the Rectory gate, saw him coming,
and her Newfoundland dog, Nero, slowly swept his tail from
side to side.
"Oh, Captain Barfoot!" Mrs. Jarvis
"Good-day, Mrs. Jarvis," said the Captain.
They walked on together, and when they
reached Mrs. Flanders's gate Captain Barfoot took off his
tweed cap, and said, bowing very courteously:
"Good-day to you, Mrs. Jarvis."
And Mrs. Jarvis walked on alone.
She was going to walk on the moor. Had she
again been pacing her lawn late at night? Had she again
tapped on the study window and cried: "Look at the moon,
look at the moon, Herbert!"
And Herbert looked at the moon.
Mrs. Jarvis walked on the moor when she was
unhappy, going as far as a certain saucer-shaped hollow,
though she always meant to go to a more distant ridge; and
there she sat down, and took out the little book hidden
beneath her cloak and read a few lines of poetry, and looked
about her. She was not very unhappy, and, seeing that she
was forty- five, never perhaps would be very unhappy,
desperately unhappy that is, and leave her husband, and ruin
a good man's career, as she sometimes threatened.
Still there is no need to say what risks a
clergyman's wife runs when she walks on the moor. Short,
dark, with kindling eyes, a pheasant's feather in her hat,
Mrs. Jarvis was just the sort of woman to lose her faith
upon the moors—to confound her God with the universal that
is— but she did not lose her faith, did not leave her
husband, never read her poem through, and went on walking
the moors, looking at the moon behind the elm trees, and
feeling as she sat on the grass high above Scarborough… Yes,
yes, when the lark soars; when the sheep, moving a step or
two onwards, crop the turf, and at the same time set their
bells tinkling; when the breeze first blows, then dies down,
leaving the cheek kissed; when the ships on the sea below
seem to cross each other and pass on as if drawn by an
invisible hand; when there are distant concussions in the
air and phantom horsemen galloping, ceasing; when the
horizon swims blue, green, emotional—then Mrs. Jarvis,
heaving a sigh, thinks to herself, "If only some one could
give me… if I could give some one…." But she does not know
what she wants to give, nor who could give it her.
"Mrs. Flanders stepped out only five minutes
ago, Captain," said Rebecca. Captain Barfoot sat him down in
the arm-chair to wait. Resting his elbows on the arms,
putting one hand over the other, sticking his lame leg
straight out, and placing the stick with the rubber ferrule
beside it, he sat perfectly still. There was something rigid
about him. Did he think? Probably the same thoughts again
and again. But were they "nice" thoughts, interesting
thoughts? He was a man with a temper; tenacious, faithful.
Women would have felt, "Here is law. Here is order.
Therefore we must cherish this man. He is on the Bridge at
night," and, handing him his cup, or whatever it might be,
would run on to visions of shipwreck and disaster, in which
all the passengers come tumbling from their cabins, and
there is the captain, buttoned in his pea-jacket, matched
with the storm, vanquished by it but by none other. "Yet I
have a soul," Mrs. Jarvis would bethink her, as Captain
Barfoot suddenly blew his nose in a great red bandanna
handkerchief, "and it's the man's stupidity that's the cause
of this, and the storm's my storm as well as his"… so Mrs.
Jarvis would bethink her when the Captain dropped in to see
them and found Herbert out, and spent two or three hours,
almost silent, sitting in the arm-chair. But Betty Flanders
thought nothing of the kind.
"Oh, Captain," said Mrs. Flanders, bursting
into the drawing-room, "I had to run after Barker's man… I
hope Rebecca… I hope Jacob…"
She was very much out of breath, yet not at
all upset, and as she put down the hearth-brush which she
had bought of the oil-man, she said it was hot, flung the
window further open, straightened a cover, picked up a book,
as if she were very confident, very fond of the Captain, and
a great many years younger than he was. Indeed, in her blue
apron she did not look more than thirty-five. He was well
She moved her hands about the table; the
Captain moved his head from side to side, and made little
sounds, as Betty went on chattering, completely at his
ease—after twenty years.
"Well," he said at length, "I've heard from
He had heard from Mr. Polegate that he could
advise nothing better than to send a boy to one of the
"Mr. Floyd was at Cambridge… no, at Oxford…
well, at one or the other," said Mrs. Flanders.
She looked out of the window. Little
windows, and the lilac and green of the garden were
reflected in her eyes.
"Archer is doing very well," she said. "I
have a very nice report from
"I will leave you the letter to show Jacob,"
said the Captain, putting it clumsily back in its envelope.
"Jacob is after his butterflies as usual,"
said Mrs. Flanders irritably, but was surprised by a sudden
afterthought, "Cricket begins this week, of course."
"Edward Jenkinson has handed in his
resignation," said Captain Barfoot.
"Then you will stand for the Council?" Mrs.
Flanders exclaimed, looking the Captain full in the face.
"Well, about that," Captain Barfoot began,
settling himself rather deeper in his chair.
Jacob Flanders, therefore, went up to
Cambridge in October, 1906.
"This is not a
smoking-carriage," Mrs. Norman protested, nervously but very
feebly, as the door swung open and a powerfully built young
man jumped in. He seemed not to hear her. The train did not
stop before it reached Cambridge, and here she was shut up
alone, in a railway carriage, with a young man.
She touched the spring of her dressing-case,
and ascertained that the scent-bottle and a novel from
Mudie's were both handy (the young man was standing up with
his back to her, putting his bag in the rack). She would
throw the scent-bottle with her right hand, she decided, and
tug the communication cord with her left. She was fifty
years of age, and had a son at college. Nevertheless, it is
a fact that men are dangerous. She read half a column of her
newspaper; then stealthily looked over the edge to decide
the question of safety by the infallible test of
appearance…. She would like to offer him her paper. But do
young men read the Morning Post? She looked to see what he
was reading—the Daily Telegraph.
Taking note of socks (loose), of tie
(shabby), she once more reached his face. She dwelt upon his
mouth. The lips were shut. The eyes bent down, since he was
reading. All was firm, yet youthful, indifferent,
unconscious—as for knocking one down! No, no, no! She looked
out of the window, smiling slightly now, and then came back
again, for he didn't notice her. Grave, unconscious… now he
looked up, past her… he seemed so out of place, somehow,
alone with an elderly lady… then he fixed his eyes—which
were blue—on the landscape. He had not realized her
presence, she thought. Yet it was none of HER fault that
this was not a smoking-carriage—if that was what he meant.
Nobody sees any one as he is, let alone an
elderly lady sitting opposite a strange young man in a
railway carriage. They see a whole—they see all sorts of
things—they see themselves…. Mrs. Norman now read three
pages of one of Mr. Norris's novels. Should she say to the
young man (and after all he was just the same age as her own
boy): "If you want to smoke, don't mind me"? No: he seemed
absolutely indifferent to her presence… she did not wish to
But since, even at her age, she noted his
indifference, presumably he was in some way or other—to her
at least—nice, handsome, interesting, distinguished, well
built, like her own boy? One must do the best one can with
her report. Anyhow, this was Jacob Flanders, aged nineteen.
It is no use trying to sum people up. One must follow hints,
not exactly what is said, nor yet entirely what is done—for
instance, when the train drew into the station, Mr. Flanders
burst open the door, and put the lady's dressing-case out
for her, saying, or rather mumbling: "Let me" very shyly;
indeed he was rather clumsy about it.
"Who…" said the lady, meeting her son; but
as there was a great crowd on the platform and Jacob had
already gone, she did not finish her sentence. As this was
Cambridge, as she was staying there for the week- end, as
she saw nothing but young men all day long, in streets and
round tables, this sight of her fellow-traveller was
completely lost in her mind, as the crooked pin dropped by a
child into the wishing-well twirls in the water and
disappears for ever.
They say the sky is the same everywhere.
Travellers, the shipwrecked, exiles, and the dying draw
comfort from the thought, and no doubt if you are of a
mystical tendency, consolation, and even explanation, shower
down from the unbroken surface. But above Cambridge—anyhow
above the roof of King's College Chapel—there is a
difference. Out at sea a great city will cast a brightness
into the night. Is it fanciful to suppose the sky, washed
into the crevices of King's College Chapel, lighter,
thinner, more sparkling than the sky elsewhere? Does
Cambridge burn not only into the night, but into the day?
Look, as they pass into service, how airily
the gowns blow out, as though nothing dense and corporeal
were within. What sculptured faces, what certainty,
authority controlled by piety, although great boots march
under the gowns. In what orderly procession they advance.
Thick wax candles stand upright; young men rise in white
gowns; while the subservient eagle bears up for inspection
the great white book.
An inclined plane of light comes accurately
through each window, purple and yellow even in its most
diffused dust, while, where it breaks upon stone, that stone
is softly chalked red, yellow, and purple. Neither snow nor
greenery, winter nor summer, has power over the old stained
glass. As the sides of a lantern protect the flame so that
it burns steady even in the wildest night—burns steady and
gravely illumines the tree-trunks—so inside the Chapel all
was orderly. Gravely sounded the voices; wisely the organ
replied, as if buttressing human faith with the assent of
the elements. The white-robed figures crossed from side to
side; now mounted steps, now descended, all very orderly.
… If you stand a lantern under a tree every
insect in the forest creeps up to it—a curious assembly,
since though they scramble and swing and knock their heads
against the glass, they seem to have no purpose—something
senseless inspires them. One gets tired of watching them, as
they amble round the lantern and blindly tap as if for
admittance, one large toad being the most besotted of any
and shouldering his way through the rest. Ah, but what's
that? A terrifying volley of pistol-shots rings out—cracks
sharply; ripples spread— silence laps smooth over sound. A
tree—a tree has fallen, a sort of death in the forest. After
that, the wind in the trees sounds melancholy.
But this service in King's College
Chapel—why allow women to take part in it? Surely, if the
mind wanders (and Jacob looked extraordinarily vacant, his
head thrown back, his hymn-book open at the wrong place), if
the mind wanders it is because several hat shops and
cupboards upon cupboards of coloured dresses are displayed
upon rush-bottomed chairs. Though heads and bodies may be
devout enough, one has a sense of individuals—some like
blue, others brown; some feathers, others pansies and
forget-me-nots. No one would think of bringing a dog into
church. For though a dog is all very well on a gravel path,
and shows no disrespect to flowers, the way he wanders down
an aisle, looking, lifting a paw, and approaching a pillar
with a purpose that makes the blood run cold with horror
(should you be one of a congregation—alone, shyness is out
of the question), a dog destroys the service completely. So
do these women—though separately devout, distinguished, and
vouched for by the theology, mathematics, Latin, and Greek
of their husbands. Heaven knows why it is. For one thing,
thought Jacob, they're as ugly as sin.
Now there was a scraping and murmuring. He
caught Timmy Durrant's eye; looked very sternly at him; and
then, very solemnly, winked.
"Waverley," the villa on the road to Girton
was called, not that Mr. Plumer admired Scott or would have
chosen any name at all, but names are useful when you have
to entertain undergraduates, and as they sat waiting for the
fourth undergraduate, on Sunday at lunch-time, there was
talk of names upon gates.
"How tiresome," Mrs. Plumer interrupted
impulsively. "Does anybody know
Mr. Durrant knew him; and therefore blushed
slightly, and said, awkwardly, something about being
sure—looking at Mr. Plumer and hitching the right leg of his
trouser as he spoke. Mr. Plumer got up and stood in front of
the fireplace. Mrs. Plumer laughed like a straightforward
friendly fellow. In short, anything more horrible than the
scene, the setting, the prospect, even the May garden being
afflicted with chill sterility and a cloud choosing that
moment to cross the sun, cannot be imagined. There was the
garden, of course. Every one at the same moment looked at
it. Owing to the cloud, the leaves ruffled grey, and the
sparrows—there were two sparrows.
"I think," said Mrs. Plumer, taking
advantage of the momentary respite, while the young men
stared at the garden, to look at her husband, and he, not
accepting full responsibility for the act, nevertheless
touched the bell.
There can be no excuse for this outrage upon
one hour of human life, save the reflection which occurred
to Mr. Plumer as he carved the mutton, that if no don ever
gave a luncheon party, if Sunday after Sunday passed, if men
went down, became lawyers, doctors, members of Parliament,
business men—if no don ever gave a luncheon party—
"Now, does lamb make the mint sauce, or mint
sauce make the lamb?" he asked the young man next him, to
break a silence which had already lasted five minutes and a
"I don't know, sir," said the young man,
blushing very vividly.
At this moment in came Mr. Flanders. He had
mistaken the time.
Now, though they had finished their meat,
Mrs. Plumer took a second helping of cabbage. Jacob
determined, of course, that he would eat his meat in the
time it took her to finish her cabbage, looking once or
twice to measure his speed—only he was infernally hungry.
Seeing this, Mrs. Plumer said that she was sure Mr. Flanders
would not mind—and the tart was brought in. Nodding in a
peculiar way, she directed the maid to give Mr. Flanders a
second helping of mutton. She glanced at the mutton. Not
much of the leg would be left for luncheon.
It was none of her fault—since how could she
control her father begetting her forty years ago in the
suburbs of Manchester? and once begotten, how could she do
other than grow up cheese-paring, ambitious, with an
instinctively accurate notion of the rungs of the ladder and
an ant-like assiduity in pushing George Plumer ahead of her
to the top of the ladder? What was at the top of the ladder?
A sense that all the rungs were beneath one apparently;
since by the time that George Plumer became Professor of
Physics, or whatever it might be, Mrs. Plumer could only be
in a condition to cling tight to her eminence, peer down at
the ground, and goad her two plain daughters to climb the
rungs of the ladder.
"I was down at the races yesterday," she
said, "with my two little girls."
It was none of THEIR fault either. In they
came to the drawing-room, in white frocks and blue sashes.
They handed the cigarettes. Rhoda had inherited her father's
cold grey eyes. Cold grey eyes George Plumer had, but in
them was an abstract light. He could talk about Persia and
the Trade winds, the Reform Bill and the cycle of the
harvests. Books were on his shelves by Wells and Shaw; on
the table serious six-penny weeklies written by pale men in
muddy boots—the weekly creak and screech of brains rinsed in
cold water and wrung dry—melancholy papers.
"I don't feel that I know the truth about
anything till I've read them both!" said Mrs. Plumer
brightly, tapping the table of contents with her bare red
hand, upon which the ring looked so incongruous.
"Oh God, oh God, oh God!" exclaimed Jacob,
as the four undergraduates left the house. "Oh, my God!"
"Bloody beastly!" he said, scanning the
street for lilac or bicycle— anything to restore his sense
"Bloody beastly," he said to Timmy Durrant,
summing up his discomfort at the world shown him at
lunch-time, a world capable of existing—there was no doubt
about that—but so unnecessary, such a thing to believe in—
Shaw and Wells and the serious sixpenny weeklies! What were
they after, scrubbing and demolishing, these elderly people?
Had they never read Homer, Shakespeare, the Elizabethans? He
saw it clearly outlined against the feelings he drew from
youth and natural inclination. The poor devils had rigged up
this meagre object. Yet something of pity was in him. Those
wretched little girls—
The extent to which he was disturbed proves
that he was already agog. Insolent he was and inexperienced,
but sure enough the cities which the elderly of the race
have built upon the skyline showed like brick suburbs,
barracks, and places of discipline against a red and yellow
flame. He was impressionable; but the word is contradicted
by the composure with which he hollowed his hand to screen a
match. He was a young man of substance.
Anyhow, whether undergraduate or shop boy,
man or woman, it must come as a shock about the age of
twenty—the world of the elderly—thrown up in such black
outline upon what we are; upon the reality; the moors and
Byron; the sea and the lighthouse; the sheep's jaw with the
yellow teeth in it; upon the obstinate irrepressible
conviction which makes youth so intolerably disagreeable—"I
am what I am, and intend to be it," for which there will be
no form in the world unless Jacob makes one for himself. The
Plumers will try to prevent him from making it. Wells and
Shaw and the serious sixpenny weeklies will sit on its head.
Every time he lunches out on Sunday—at dinner parties and
tea parties—there will be this same
shock—horror—discomfort—then pleasure, for he draws into him
at every step as he walks by the river such steady
certainty, such reassurance from all sides, the trees
bowing, the grey spires soft in the blue, voices blowing and
seeming suspended in the air, the springy air of May, the
elastic air with its particles—chestnut bloom, pollen,
whatever it is that gives the May air its potency, blurring
the trees, gumming the buds, daubing the green. And the
river too runs past, not at flood, nor swiftly, but cloying
the oar that dips in it and drops white drops from the
blade, swimming green and deep over the bowed rushes, as if
lavishly caressing them.
Where they moored their boat the trees
showered down, so that their topmost leaves trailed in the
ripples and the green wedge that lay in the water being made
of leaves shifted in leaf-breadths as the real leaves
shifted. Now there was a shiver of wind—instantly an edge of
sky; and as Durrant ate cherries he dropped the stunted
yellow cherries through the green wedge of leaves, their
stalks twinkling as they wriggled in and out, and sometimes
one half-bitten cherry would go down red into the green. The
meadow was on a level with Jacob's eyes as he lay back; gilt
with buttercups, but the grass did not run like the thin
green water of the graveyard grass about to overflow the
tombstones, but stood juicy and thick. Looking up,
backwards, he saw the legs of children deep in the grass,
and the legs of cows. Munch, munch, he heard; then a short
step through the grass; then again munch, munch, munch, as
they tore the grass short at the roots. In front of him two
white butterflies circled higher and higher round the elm
"Jacob's off," thought Durrant looking up
from his novel. He kept reading a few pages and then looking
up in a curiously methodical manner, and each time he looked
up he took a few cherries out of the bag and ate them
abstractedly. Other boats passed them, crossing the
backwater from side to side to avoid each other, for many
were now moored, and there were now white dresses and a flaw
in the column of air between two trees, round which curled a
thread of blue—Lady Miller's picnic party. Still more boats
kept coming, and Durrant, without getting up, shoved their
boat closer to the bank.
"Oh-h-h-h," groaned Jacob, as the boat
rocked, and the trees rocked, and the white dresses and the
white flannel trousers drew out long and wavering up the
"Oh-h-h-h!" He sat up, and felt as if a
piece of elastic had snapped in his face.
"They're friends of my mother's," said
Durrant. "So old Bow took no end of trouble about the boat."
And this boat had gone from Falmouth to St.
Ives Bay, all round the coast. A larger boat, a ten-ton
yacht, about the twentieth of June, properly fitted out,
"There's the cash difficulty," said Jacob.
"My people'll see to that," said Durrant
(the son of a banker, deceased).
"I intend to preserve my economic
independence," said Jacob stiffly. (He was getting excited.)
"My mother said something about going to
Harrogate," he said with a little annoyance, feeling the
pocket where he kept his letters.
"Was that true about your uncle becoming a
Mohammedan?" asked Timmy
Jacob had told the story of his Uncle Morty
in Durrant's room the night before.
"I expect he's feeding the sharks, if the
truth were known," said Jacob.
"I say, Durrant, there's none left!" he exclaimed, crumpling
which had held the cherries, and throwing it into the river.
He saw Lady
Miller's picnic party on the island as he threw the bag into
A sort of awkwardness, grumpiness, gloom
came into his eyes.
"Shall we move on… this beastly crowd…" he
So up they went, past the island.
The feathery white moon never let the sky
grow dark; all night the chestnut blossoms were white in the
green; dim was the cow-parsley in the meadows.
The waiters at Trinity must have been
shuffling china plates like cards, from the clatter that
could be heard in the Great Court. Jacob's rooms, however,
were in Neville's Court; at the top; so that reaching his
door one went in a little out of breath; but he wasn't
there. Dining in Hall, presumably. It will be quite dark in
Neville's Court long before midnight, only the pillars
opposite will always be white, and the fountains. A curious
effect the gate has, like lace upon pale green. Even in the
window you hear the plates; a hum of talk, too, from the
diners; the Hall lit up, and the swing-doors opening and
shutting with a soft thud. Some are late.
Jacob's room had a round table and two low
chairs. There were yellow flags in a jar on the mantelpiece;
a photograph of his mother; cards from societies with little
raised crescents, coats of arms, and initials; notes and
pipes; on the table lay paper ruled with a red margin—an
essay, no doubt—"Does History consist of the Biographies of
Great Men?" There were books enough; very few French books;
but then any one who's worth anything reads just what he
likes, as the mood takes him, with extravagant enthusiasm.
Lives of the Duke of Wellington, for example; Spinoza; the
works of Dickens; the Faery Queen; a Greek dictionary with
the petals of poppies pressed to silk between the pages; all
the Elizabethans. His slippers were incredibly shabby, like
boats burnt to the water's rim. Then there were photographs
from the Greeks, and a mezzotint from Sir Joshua—all very
English. The works of Jane Austen, too, in deference,
perhaps, to some one else's standard. Carlyle was a prize.
There were books upon the Italian painters of the
Renaissance, a Manual of the Diseases of the Horse, and all
the usual text-books. Listless is the air in an empty room,
just swelling the curtain; the flowers in the jar shift. One
fibre in the wicker arm-chair creaks, though no one sits
Coming down the steps a little sideways
[Jacob sat on the window-seat talking to Durrant; he smoked,
and Durrant looked at the map], the old man, with his hands
locked behind him, his gown floating black, lurched,
unsteadily, near the wall; then, upstairs he went into his
room. Then another, who raised his hand and praised the
columns, the gate, the sky; another, tripping and smug. Each
went up a staircase; three lights were lit in the dark
If any light burns above Cambridge, it must
be from three such rooms; Greek burns here; science there;
philosophy on the ground floor. Poor old Huxtable can't walk
straight;—Sopwith, too, has praised the sky any night these
twenty years; and Cowan still chuckles at the same stories.
It is not simple, or pure, or wholly splendid, the lamp of
learning, since if you see them there under its light
(whether Rossetti's on the wall, or Van Gogh reproduced,
whether there are lilacs in the bowl or rusty pipes), how
priestly they look! How like a suburb where you go to see a
view and eat a special cake! "We are the sole purveyors of
this cake." Back you go to London; for the treat is over.
Old Professor Huxtable, performing with the
method of a clock his change of dress, let himself down into
his chair; filled his pipe; chose his paper; crossed his
feet; and extracted his glasses. The whole flesh of his face
then fell into folds as if props were removed. Yet strip a
whole seat of an underground railway carriage of its heads
and old Huxtable's head will hold them all. Now, as his eye
goes down the print, what a procession tramps through the
corridors of his brain, orderly, quick-stepping, and
reinforced, as the march goes on, by fresh runnels, till the
whole hall, dome, whatever one calls it, is populous with
ideas. Such a muster takes place in no other brain. Yet
sometimes there he'll sit for hours together, gripping the
arm of the chair, like a man holding fast because stranded,
and then, just because his corn twinges, or it may be the
gout, what execrations, and, dear me, to hear him talk of
money, taking out his leather purse and grudging even the
smallest silver coin, secretive and suspicious as an old
peasant woman with all her lies. Strange paralysis and
constriction—marvellous illumination. Serene over it all
rides the great full brow, and sometimes asleep or in the
quiet spaces of the night you might fancy that on a pillow
of stone he lay triumphant.
Sopwith, meanwhile, advancing with a curious
trip from the fire-place, cut the chocolate cake into
segments. Until midnight or later there would be
undergraduates in his room, sometimes as many as twelve,
sometimes three or four; but nobody got up when they went or
when they came; Sopwith went on talking. Talking, talking,
talking—as if everything could be talked—the soul itself
slipped through the lips in thin silver disks which dissolve
in young men's minds like silver, like moonlight. Oh, far
away they'd remember it, and deep in dulness gaze back on
it, and come to refresh themselves again.
"Well, I never. That's old Chucky. My dear
boy, how's the world treating you?" And in came poor little
Chucky, the unsuccessful provincial, Stenhouse his real
name, but of course Sopwith brought back by using the other
everything, everything, "all I could never be"—yes, though
next day, buying his newspaper and catching the early train,
it all seemed to him childish, absurd; the chocolate cake,
the young men; Sopwith summing things up; no, not all; he
would send his son there. He would save every penny to send
his son there.
Sopwith went on talking; twining stiff
fibres of awkward speech—things young men blurted
out—plaiting them round his own smooth garland, making the
bright side show, the vivid greens, the sharp thorns,
manliness. He loved it. Indeed to Sopwith a man could say
anything, until perhaps he'd grown old, or gone under, gone
deep, when the silver disks would tinkle hollow, and the
inscription read a little too simple, and the old stamp look
too pure, and the impress always the same—a Greek boy's
head. But he would respect still. A woman, divining the
priest, would, involuntarily, despise.
Cowan, Erasmus Cowan, sipped his port alone,
or with one rosy little man, whose memory held precisely the
same span of time; sipped his port, and told his stories,
and without book before him intoned Latin, Virgil and
Catullus, as if language were wine upon his lips.
Only—sometimes it will come over one—what if the poet strode
in? "THIS my image?" he might ask, pointing to the chubby
man, whose brain is, after all, Virgil's representative
among us, though the body gluttonize, and as for arms, bees,
or even the plough, Cowan takes his trips abroad with a
French novel in his pocket, a rug about his knees, and is
thankful to be home again in his place, in his line, holding
up in his snug little mirror the image of Virgil, all rayed
round with good stories of the dons of Trinity and red beams
of port. But language is wine upon his lips. Nowhere else
would Virgil hear the like. And though, as she goes
sauntering along the Backs, old Miss Umphelby sings him
melodiously enough, accurately too, she is always brought up
by this question as she reaches Clare Bridge: "But if I met
him, what should I wear?"—and then, taking her way up the
avenue towards Newnham, she lets her fancy play upon other
details of men's meeting with women which have never got
into print. Her lectures, therefore, are not half so well
attended as those of Cowan, and the thing she might have
said in elucidation of the text for ever left out. In short,
face a teacher with the image of the taught and the mirror
breaks. But Cowan sipped his port, his exaltation over, no
longer the representative of Virgil. No, the builder,
assessor, surveyor, rather; ruling lines between names,
hanging lists above doors. Such is the fabric through which
the light must shine, if shine it can— the light of all
these languages, Chinese and Russian, Persian and Arabic, of
symbols and figures, of history, of things that are known
and things that are about to be known. So that if at night,
far out at sea over the tumbling waves, one saw a haze on
the waters, a city illuminated, a whiteness even in the sky,
such as that now over the Hall of Trinity where they're
still dining, or washing up plates, that would be the light
burning there—the light of Cambridge.
"Let's go round to Simeon's room," said
Jacob, and they rolled up the map, having got the whole
All the lights were coming out round the
court, and falling on the cobbles, picking out dark patches
of grass and single daisies. The young men were now back in
their rooms. Heaven knows what they were doing. What was it
that could DROP like that? And leaning down over a foaming
window-box, one stopped another hurrying past, and upstairs
they went and down they went, until a sort of fulness
settled on the court, the hive full of bees, the bees home
thick with gold, drowsy, humming, suddenly vocal; the
Moonlight Sonata answered by a waltz.
The Moonlight Sonata tinkled away; the waltz
crashed. Although young men still went in and out, they
walked as if keeping engagements. Now and then there was a
thud, as if some heavy piece of furniture had fallen,
unexpectedly, of its own accord, not in the general stir of
life after dinner. One supposed that young men raised their
eyes from their books as the furniture fell. Were they
reading? Certainly there was a sense of concentration in the
air. Behind the grey walls sat so many young men, some
undoubtedly reading, magazines, shilling shockers, no doubt;
legs, perhaps, over the arms of chairs; smoking; sprawling
over tables, and writing while their heads went round in a
circle as the pen moved— simple young men, these, who
would—but there is no need to think of them grown old;
others eating sweets; here they boxed; and, well, Mr.
Hawkins must have been mad suddenly to throw up his window
and bawl: "Jo—seph! Jo—seph!" and then he ran as hard as
ever he could across the court, while an elderly man, in a
green apron, carrying an immense pile of tin covers,
hesitated, balanced, and then went on. But this was a
diversion. There were young men who read, lying in shallow
arm-chairs, holding their books as if they had hold in their
hands of something that would see them through; they being
all in a torment, coming from midland towns, clergymen's
sons. Others read Keats. And those long histories in many
volumes—surely some one was now beginning at the beginning
in order to understand the Holy Roman Empire, as one must.
That was part of the concentration, though it would be
dangerous on a hot spring night— dangerous, perhaps, to
concentrate too much upon single books, actual chapters,
when at any moment the door opened and Jacob appeared; or
Richard Bonamy, reading Keats no longer, began making long
pink spills from an old newspaper, bending forward, and
looking eager and contented no more, but almost fierce. Why?
Only perhaps that Keats died young—one wants to write poetry
too and to love—oh, the brutes! It's damnably difficult.
But, after all, not so difficult if on the next staircase,
in the large room, there are two, three, five young men all
convinced of this—of brutality, that is, and the clear
division between right and wrong. There was a sofa, chairs,
a square table, and the window being open, one could see how
they sat—legs issuing here, one there crumpled in a corner
of the sofa; and, presumably, for you could not see him,
somebody stood by the fender, talking. Anyhow, Jacob, who
sat astride a chair and ate dates from a long box, burst out
laughing. The answer came from the sofa corner; for his pipe
was held in the air, then replaced. Jacob wheeled round. He
had something to say to THAT, though the sturdy red-haired
boy at the table seemed to deny it, wagging his head slowly
from side to side; and then, taking out his penknife, he dug
the point of it again and again into a knot in the table, as
if affirming that the voice from the fender spoke the
truth—which Jacob could not deny. Possibly, when he had done
arranging the date-stones, he might find something to say to
it—indeed his lips opened—only then there broke out a roar
The laughter died in the air. The sound of
it could scarcely have reached any one standing by the
Chapel, which stretched along the opposite side of the
court. The laughter died out, and only gestures of arms,
movements of bodies, could be seen shaping something in the
room. Was it an argument? A bet on the boat races? Was it
nothing of the sort? What was shaped by the arms and bodies
moving in the twilight room?
A step or two beyond the window there was
nothing at all, except the enclosing buildings—chimneys
upright, roofs horizontal; too much brick and building for a
May night, perhaps. And then before one's eyes would come
the bare hills of Turkey—sharp lines, dry earth, coloured
flowers, and colour on the shoulders of the women, standing
naked-legged in the stream to beat linen on the stones. The
stream made loops of water round their ankles. But none of
that could show clearly through the swaddlings and
blanketings of the Cambridge night. The stroke of the clock
even was muffled; as if intoned by somebody reverent from a
pulpit; as if generations of learned men heard the last hour
go rolling through their ranks and issued it, already smooth
and time-worn, with their blessing, for the use of the
Was it to receive this gift from the past
that the young man came to the window and stood there,
looking out across the court? It was Jacob. He stood smoking
his pipe while the last stroke of the clock purred softly
round him. Perhaps there had been an argument. He looked
satisfied; indeed masterly; which expression changed
slightly as he stood there, the sound of the clock conveying
to him (it may be) a sense of old buildings and time; and
himself the inheritor; and then to-morrow; and friends; at
the thought of whom, in sheer confidence and pleasure, it
seemed, he yawned and stretched himself.
Meanwhile behind him the shape they had
made, whether by argument or not, the spiritual shape, hard
yet ephemeral, as of glass compared with the dark stone of
the Chapel, was dashed to splinters, young men rising from
chairs and sofa corners, buzzing and barging about the room,
one driving another against the bedroom door, which giving
way, in they fell. Then Jacob was left there, in the shallow
arm-chair, alone with Masham? Anderson? Simeon? Oh, it was
Simeon. The others had all gone.
"… Julian the Apostate…." Which of them said
that and the other words murmured round it? But about
midnight there sometimes rises, like a veiled figure
suddenly woken, a heavy wind; and this now flapping through
Trinity lifted unseen leaves and blurred everything. "Julian
the Apostate"—and then the wind. Up go the elm branches, out
blow the sails, the old schooners rear and plunge, the grey
waves in the hot Indian Ocean tumble sultrily, and then all
falls flat again.
So, if the veiled lady stepped through the
Courts of Trinity, she now drowsed once more, all her
draperies about her, her head against a pillar.
"Somehow it seems to matter."
The low voice was Simeon's.
The voice was even lower that answered him.
The sharp tap of a pipe on the mantelpiece cancelled the
words. And perhaps Jacob only said "hum," or said nothing at
all. True, the words were inaudible. It was the intimacy, a
sort of spiritual suppleness, when mind prints upon mind
"Well, you seem to have studied the
subject," said Jacob, rising and standing over Simeon's
chair. He balanced himself; he swayed a little. He appeared
extraordinarily happy, as if his pleasure would brim and
spill down the sides if Simeon spoke.
Simeon said nothing. Jacob remained
standing. But intimacy—the room was full of it, still, deep,
like a pool. Without need of movement or speech it rose
softly and washed over everything, mollifying, kindling, and
coating the mind with the lustre of pearl, so that if you
talk of a light, of Cambridge burning, it's not languages
only. It's Julian the Apostate.
But Jacob moved. He murmured good-night. He
went out into the court. He buttoned his jacket across his
chest. He went back to his rooms, and being the only man who
walked at that moment back to his rooms, his footsteps rang
out, his figure loomed large. Back from the Chapel, back
from the Hall, back from the Library, came the sound of his
footsteps, as if the old stone echoed with magisterial
authority: "The young man— the young man—the young man-back
to his rooms."
What's the use of
trying to read Shakespeare, especially in one of those
little thin paper editions whose pages get ruffled, or stuck
together with sea-water? Although the plays of Shakespeare
had frequently been praised, even quoted, and placed higher
than the Greek, never since they started had Jacob managed
to read one through. Yet what an opportunity!
For the Scilly Isles had been sighted by
Timmy Durrant lying like mountain-tops almost a-wash in
precisely the right place. His calculations had worked
perfectly, and really the sight of him sitting there, with
his hand on the tiller, rosy gilled, with a sprout of beard,
looking sternly at the stars, then at a compass, spelling
out quite correctly his page of the eternal lesson-book,
would have moved a woman. Jacob, of course, was not a woman.
The sight of Timmy Durrant was no sight for him, nothing to
set against the sky and worship; far from it. They had
quarrelled. Why the right way to open a tin of beef, with
Shakespeare on board, under conditions of such splendour,
should have turned them to sulky schoolboys, none can tell.
Tinned beef is cold eating, though; and salt water spoils
biscuits; and the waves tumble and lollop much the same hour
after hour—tumble and lollop all across the horizon. Now a
spray of seaweed floats past-now a log of wood. Ships have
been wrecked here. One or two go past, keeping their own
side of the road. Timmy knew where they were bound, what
their cargoes were, and, by looking through his glass, could
tell the name of the line, and even guess what dividends it
paid its shareholders. Yet that was no reason for Jacob to
The Scilly Isles had the look of
mountain-tops almost a-wash….
Unfortunately, Jacob broke the pin of the Primus stove.
The Scilly Isles might well be obliterated
by a roller sweeping straight across.
But one must give young men the credit of
admitting that, though breakfast eaten under these
circumstances is grim, it is sincere enough. No need to make
conversation. They got out their pipes.
Timmy wrote up some scientific observations;
and—what was the question that broke the silence—the exact
time or the day of the month? anyhow, it was spoken without
the least awkwardness; in the most matter-of-fact way in the
world; and then Jacob began to unbutton his clothes and sat
naked, save for his shirt, intending, apparently, to bathe.
The Scilly Isles were turning bluish; and
suddenly blue, purple, and green flushed the sea; left it
grey; struck a stripe which vanished; but when Jacob had got
his shirt over his head the whole floor of the waves was
blue and white, rippling and crisp, though now and again a
broad purple mark appeared, like a bruise; or there floated
an entire emerald tinged with yellow. He plunged. He gulped
in water, spat it out, struck with his right arm, struck
with his left, was towed by a rope, gasped, splashed, and
was hauled on board.
The seat in the boat was positively hot, and
the sun warmed his back as he sat naked with a towel in his
hand, looking at the Scilly Isles which—confound it! the
sail flapped. Shakespeare was knocked overboard. There you
could see him floating merrily away, with all his pages
ruffling innumerably; and then he went under.
Strangely enough, you could smell violets,
or if violets were impossible in July, they must grow
something very pungent on the mainland then. The mainland,
not so very far off—you could see clefts in the cliffs,
white cottages, smoke going up—wore an extraordinary look of
calm, of sunny peace, as if wisdom and piety had descended
upon the dwellers there. Now a cry sounded, as of a man
calling pilchards in a main street. It wore an extraordinary
look of piety and peace, as if old men smoked by the door,
and girls stood, hands on hips, at the well, and horses
stood; as if the end of the world had come, and cabbage
fields and stone walls, and coast-guard stations, and, above
all, the white sand bays with the waves breaking unseen by
any one, rose to heaven in a kind of ecstasy.
But imperceptibly the cottage smoke droops,
has the look of a mourning emblem, a flag floating its
caress over a grave. The gulls, making their broad flight
and then riding at peace, seem to mark the grave.
No doubt if this were Italy, Greece, or even
the shores of Spain, sadness would be routed by strangeness
and excitement and the nudge of a classical education. But
the Cornish hills have stark chimneys standing on them; and,
somehow or other, loveliness is infernally sad. Yes, the
chimneys and the coast-guard stations and the little bays
with the waves breaking unseen by any one make one remember
the overpowering sorrow. And what can this sorrow be?
It is brewed by the earth itself. It comes
from the houses on the coast. We start transparent, and then
the cloud thickens. All history backs our pane of glass. To
escape is vain.
But whether this is the right interpretation
of Jacob's gloom as he sat naked, in the sun, looking at the
Land's End, it is impossible to say; for he never spoke a
word. Timmy sometimes wondered (only for a second) whether
his people bothered him…. No matter. There are things that
can't be said. Let's shake it off. Let's dry ourselves, and
take up the first thing that comes handy…. Timmy Durrant's
notebook of scientific observations.
"Now…" said Jacob.
It is a tremendous argument.
Some people can follow every step of the
way, and even take a little one, six inches long, by
themselves at the end; others remain observant of the
The eyes fix themselves upon the poker; the
right hand takes the poker and lifts it; turns it slowly
round, and then, very accurately, replaces it. The left
hand, which lies on the knee, plays some stately but
intermittent piece of march music. A deep breath is taken;
but allowed to evaporate unused. The cat marches across the
hearth-rug. No one observes her.
"That's about as near as I can get to it,"
Durrant wound up.
The next minute is quiet as the grave.
"It follows…" said Jacob.
Only half a sentence followed; but these
half-sentences are like flags set on tops of buildings to
the observer of external sights down below. What was the
coast of Cornwall, with its violet scents, and mourning
emblems, and tranquil piety, but a screen happening to hang
straight behind as his mind marched up?
"It follows…" said Jacob.
"Yes," said Timmy, after reflection. "That
Now Jacob began plunging about, half to
stretch himself, half in a kind of jollity, no doubt, for
the strangest sound issued from his lips as he furled the
sail, rubbed the plates—gruff, tuneless—a sort of pasan, for
having grasped the argument, for being master of the
situation, sunburnt, unshaven, capable into the bargain of
sailing round the world in a ten-ton yacht, which, very
likely, he would do one of these days instead of settling
down in a lawyer's office, and wearing spats.
"Our friend Masham," said Timmy Durrant,
"would rather not be seen in our company as we are now." His
buttons had come off.
"D'you know Masham's aunt?" said Jacob.
"Never knew he had one," said Timmy.
"Masham has millions of aunts," said Jacob.
"Masham is mentioned in Domesday Book," said
"So are his aunts," said Jacob.
"His sister," said Timmy, "is a very pretty
"That's what'll happen to you, Timmy," said
"It'll happen to you first," said Timmy.
"But this woman I was telling you
"Oh, do get on," said Timmy, for Jacob was
laughing so much that he could not speak.
Timmy laughed so much that he could not
"What is there about Masham that makes one
laugh?" said Timmy.
"Hang it all—a man who swallows his
tie-pin," said Jacob.
"Lord Chancellor before he's fifty," said
"He's a gentleman," said Jacob.
"The Duke of Wellington was a gentleman,"
"Lord Salisbury was."
"And what about God?" said Jacob.
The Scilly Isles now appeared as if directly
pointed at by a golden finger issuing from a cloud; and
everybody knows how portentous that sight is, and how these
broad rays, whether they light upon the Scilly Isles or upon
the tombs of crusaders in cathedrals, always shake the very
foundations of scepticism and lead to jokes about God.
"Abide with me:
Fast falls the eventide;
The shadows deepen;
Lord, with me abide,"
sang Timmy Durrant.
"At my place we used to have a hymn which
Great God, what do I see and hear?"
Gulls rode gently swaying in little
companies of two or three quite near the boat; the
cormorant, as if following his long strained neck in eternal
pursuit, skimmed an inch above the water to the next rock;
and the drone of the tide in the caves came across the
water, low, monotonous, like the voice of some one talking
"Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee,"
Like the blunt tooth of some monster, a rock
broke the surface; brown; overflown with perpetual
"Rock of Ages,"
Jacob sang, lying on his back, looking up
into the sky at midday, from which every shred of cloud had
been withdrawn, so that it was like something permanently
displayed with the cover off.
By six o'clock a breeze blew in off an
icefield; and by seven the water was more purple than blue;
and by half-past seven there was a patch of rough
gold-beater's skin round the Scilly Isles, and Durrant's
face, as he sat steering, was of the colour of a red lacquer
box polished for generations. By nine all the fire and
confusion had gone out of the sky, leaving wedges of
apple-green and plates of pale yellow; and by ten the
lanterns on the boat were making twisted colours upon the
waves, elongated or squat, as the waves stretched or humped
themselves. The beam from the lighthouse strode rapidly
across the water. Infinite millions of miles away powdered
stars twinkled; but the waves slapped the boat, and crashed,
with regular and appalling solemnity, against the rocks.
Although it would be possible to knock at
the cottage door and ask for a glass of milk, it is only
thirst that would compel the intrusion. Yet perhaps Mrs.
Pascoe would welcome it. The summer's day may be wearing
heavy. Washing in her little scullery, she may hear the
cheap clock on the mantelpiece tick, tick, tick … tick,
tick, tick. She is alone in the house. Her husband is out
helping Farmer Hosken; her daughter married and gone to
America. Her elder son is married too, but she does not
agree with his wife. The Wesleyan minister came along and
took the younger boy. She is alone in the house. A steamer,
probably bound for Cardiff, now crosses the horizon, while
near at hand one bell of a foxglove swings to and fro with a
bumble-bee for clapper. These white Cornish cottages are
built on the edge of the cliff; the garden grows gorse more
readily than cabbages; and for hedge, some primeval man has
piled granite boulders. In one of these, to hold, an
historian conjectures, the victim's blood, a basin has been
hollowed, but in our time it serves more tamely to seat
those tourists who wish for an uninterrupted view of the
Gurnard's Head. Not that any one objects to a blue print
dress and a white apron in a cottage garden.
"Look—she has to draw her water from a well
in the garden."
"Very lonely it must be in winter, with the
wind sweeping over those hills, and the waves dashing on the
Even on a summer's day you hear them
Having drawn her water, Mrs. Pascoe went in.
The tourists regretted that they had brought no glasses, so
that they might have read the name of the tramp steamer.
Indeed, it was such a fine day that there was no saying what
a pair of field-glasses might not have fetched into view.
Two fishing luggers, presumably from St. Ives Bay, were now
sailing in an opposite direction from the steamer, and the
floor of the sea became alternately clear and opaque. As for
the bee, having sucked its fill of honey, it visited the
teasle and thence made a straight line to Mrs. Pascoe's
patch, once more directing the tourists' gaze to the old
woman's print dress and white apron, for she had come to the
door of the cottage and was standing there.
There she stood, shading her eyes and
looking out to sea.
For the millionth time, perhaps, she looked
at the sea. A peacock butterfly now spread himself upon the
teasle, fresh and newly emerged, as the blue and chocolate
down on his wings testified. Mrs. Pascoe went indoors,
fetched a cream pan, came out, and stood scouring it. Her
face was assuredly not soft, sensual, or lecherous, but
hard, wise, wholesome rather, signifying in a room full of
sophisticated people the flesh and blood of life. She would
tell a lie, though, as soon as the truth. Behind her on the
wall hung a large dried skate. Shut up in the parlour she
prized mats, china mugs, and photographs, though the mouldy
little room was saved from the salt breeze only by the depth
of a brick, and between lace curtains you saw the gannet
drop like a stone, and on stormy days the gulls came
shuddering through the air, and the steamers' lights were
now high, now deep. Melancholy were the sounds on a winter's
The picture papers were delivered punctually
on Sunday, and she pored long over Lady Cynthia's wedding at
the Abbey. She, too, would have liked to ride in a carriage
with springs. The soft, swift syllables of educated speech
often shamed her few rude ones. And then all night to hear
the grinding of the Atlantic upon the rocks instead of
hansom cabs and footmen whistling for motor cars. … So she
may have dreamed, scouring her cream pan. But the talkative,
nimble-witted people have taken themselves to towns. Like a
miser, she has hoarded her feelings within her own breast.
Not a penny piece has she changed all these years, and,
watching her enviously, it seems as if all within must be
The wise old woman, having fixed her eyes
upon the sea, once more withdrew. The tourists decided that
it was time to move on to the Gurnard's Head.
Three seconds later Mrs. Durrant rapped upon
"Mrs. Pascoe?" she said.
Rather haughtily, she watched the tourists
cross the field path. She came of a Highland race, famous
for its chieftains.
Mrs. Pascoe appeared.
"I envy you that bush, Mrs. Pascoe," said
Mrs. Durrant, pointing the parasol with which she had rapped
on the door at the fine clump of St. John's wort that grew
beside it. Mrs. Pascoe looked at the bush deprecatingly.
"I expect my son in a day or two," said Mrs.
Durrant. "Sailing from
Falmouth with a friend in a little boat. … Any news of
Her long-tailed ponies stood twitching their
ears on the road twenty yards away. The boy, Curnow, flicked
flies off them occasionally. He saw his mistress go into the
cottage; come out again; and pass, talking energetically to
judge by the movements of her hands, round the vegetable
plot in front of the cottage. Mrs. Pascoe was his aunt. Both
women surveyed a bush. Mrs. Durrant stooped and picked a
sprig from it. Next she pointed (her movements were
peremptory; she held herself very upright) at the potatoes.
They had the blight. All potatoes that year had the blight.
Mrs. Durrant showed Mrs. Pascoe how bad the blight was on
her potatoes. Mrs. Durrant talked energetically; Mrs. Pascoe
listened submissively. The boy Curnow knew that Mrs. Durrant
was saying that it is perfectly simple; you mix the powder
in a gallon of water; "I have done it with my own hands in
my own garden," Mrs. Durrant was saying.
"You won't have a potato left—you won't have
a potato left," Mrs. Durrant was saying in her emphatic
voice as they reached the gate. The boy Curnow became as
immobile as stone.
Mrs. Durrant took the reins in her hands and
settled herself on the driver's seat.
"Take care of that leg, or I shall send the
doctor to you," she called back over her shoulder; touched
the ponies; and the carriage started forward. The boy Curnow
had only just time to swing himself up by the toe of his
boot. The boy Curnow, sitting in the middle of the back
seat, looked at his aunt.
Mrs. Pascoe stood at the gate looking after
them; stood at the gate till the trap was round the corner;
stood at the gate, looking now to the right, now to the
left; then went back to her cottage.
Soon the ponies attacked the swelling moor
road with striving forelegs. Mrs. Durrant let the reins fall
slackly, and leant backwards. Her vivacity had left her. Her
hawk nose was thin as a bleached bone through which you
almost see the light. Her hands, lying on the reins in her
lap, were firm even in repose. The upper lip was cut so
short that it raised itself almost in a sneer from the front
teeth. Her mind skimmed leagues where Mrs. Pascoe's mind
adhered to its solitary patch. Her mind skimmed leagues as
the ponies climbed the hill road. Forwards and backwards she
cast her mind, as if the roofless cottages, mounds of slag,
and cottage gardens overgrown with foxglove and bramble cast
shade upon her mind. Arrived at the summit, she stopped the
carriage. The pale hills were round her, each scattered with
ancient stones; beneath was the sea, variable as a southern
sea; she herself sat there looking from hill to sea,
upright, aquiline, equally poised between gloom and
laughter. Suddenly she flicked the ponies so that the boy
Curnow had to swing himself up by the toe of his boot.
The rooks settled; the rooks rose. The trees
which they touched so capriciously seemed insufficient to
lodge their numbers. The tree-tops sang with the breeze in
them; the branches creaked audibly and dropped now and then,
though the season was midsummer, husks or twigs. Up went the
rooks and down again, rising in lesser numbers each time as
the sager birds made ready to settle, for the evening was
already spent enough to make the air inside the wood almost
dark. The moss was soft; the tree-trunks spectral. Beyond
them lay a silvery meadow. The pampas grass raised its
feathery spears from mounds of green at the end of the
meadow. A breadth of water gleamed. Already the convolvulus
moth was spinning over the flowers. Orange and purple,
nasturtium and cherry pie, were washed into the twilight,
but the tobacco plant and the passion flower, over which the
great moth spun, were white as china. The rooks creaked
their wings together on the tree-tops, and were settling
down for sleep when, far off, a familiar sound shook and
trembled—increased —fairly dinned in their ears—scared
sleepy wings into the air again— the dinner bell at the
After six days of salt wind, rain, and sun,
Jacob Flanders had put on a dinner jacket. The discreet
black object had made its appearance now and then in the
boat among tins, pickles, preserved meats, and as the voyage
went on had become more and more irrelevant, hardly to be
believed in. And now, the world being stable, lit by
candle-light, the dinner jacket alone preserved him. He
could not be sufficiently thankful. Even so his neck,
wrists, and face were exposed without cover, and his whole
person, whether exposed or not, tingled and glowed so as to
make even black cloth an imperfect screen. He drew back the
great red hand that lay on the table-cloth. Surreptitiously
it closed upon slim glasses and curved silver forks. The
bones of the cutlets were decorated with pink frills- and
yesterday he had gnawn ham from the bone! Opposite him were
hazy, semi-transparent shapes of yellow and blue. Behind
them, again, was the grey-green garden, and among the
pear-shaped leaves of the escallonia fishing-boats seemed
caught and suspended. A sailing ship slowly drew past the
women's backs. Two or three figures crossed the terrace
hastily in the dusk. The door opened and shut. Nothing
settled or stayed unbroken. Like oars rowing now this side,
now that, were the sentences that came now here, now there,
from either side of the table.
"Oh, Clara, Clara!" exclaimed Mrs. Durrant,
and Timothy Durrant adding, "Clara, Clara," Jacob named the
shape in yellow gauze Timothy's sister, Clara. The girl sat
smiling and flushed. With her brother's dark eyes, she was
vaguer and softer than he was. When the laugh died down she
said: "But, mother, it was true. He said so, didn't he? Miss
Eliot agreed with us. …"
But Miss Eliot, tall, grey-headed, was
making room beside her for the old man who had come in from
the terrace. The dinner would never end, Jacob thought, and
he did not wish it to end, though the ship had sailed from
one corner of the window-frame to the other, and a light
marked the end of the pier. He saw Mrs. Durrant gaze at the
light. She turned to him.
"Did you take command, or Timothy?" she
said. "Forgive me if I call you
Jacob. I've heard so much of you." Then her eyes went back
to the sea.
Her eyes glazed as she looked at the view.
"A little village once," she said, "and now
grown. …" She rose, taking her napkin with her, and stood by
"Did you quarrel with Timothy?" Clara asked
shyly. "I should have."
Mrs. Durrant came back from the window.
"It gets later and later," she said, sitting
upright, and looking down the table. "You ought to be
ashamed—all of you. Mr. Clutterbuck, you ought to be
ashamed." She raised her voice, for Mr. Clutterbuck was
"We ARE ashamed," said a girl. But the old
man with the beard went on eating plum tart. Mrs. Durrant
laughed and leant back in her chair, as if indulging him.
"We put it to you, Mrs. Durrant," said a
young man with thick spectacles and a fiery moustache. "I
say the conditions were fulfilled. She owes me a sovereign."
"Not BEFORE the fish—with it, Mrs. Durrant,"
said Charlotte Wilding.
"That was the bet; with the fish," said
Clara seriously. "Begonias, mother. To eat them with his
"Oh dear," said Mrs. Durrant.
"Charlotte won't pay you," said Timothy.
"How dare you …" said Charlotte.
"That privilege will be mine," said the
courtly Mr. Wortley, producing a silver case primed with
sovereigns and slipping one coin on to the table. Then Mrs.
Durrant got up and passed down the room, holding herself
very straight, and the girls in yellow and blue and silver
gauze followed her, and elderly Miss Eliot in her velvet;
and a little rosy woman, hesitating at the door, clean,
scrupulous, probably a governess. All passed out at the open
"When you are as old as I am, Charlotte,"
said Mrs. Durrant, drawing the girl's arm within hers as
they paced up and down the terrace.
"Why are you so sad?" Charlotte asked
"Do I seem to you sad? I hope not," said
"Well, just now. You're NOT old."
"Old enough to be Timothy's mother." They
Miss Eliot was looking through Mr.
Clutterbuck's telescope at the edge of the terrace. The deaf
old man stood beside her, fondling his beard, and reciting
the names of the constellations: "Andromeda, Bootes,
Sidonia, Cassiopeia. …"
"Andromeda," murmured Miss Eliot, shifting
the telescope slightly.
Mrs. Durrant and Charlotte looked along the
barrel of the instrument pointed at the skies.
"There are MILLIONS of stars," said
Charlotte with conviction. Miss Eliot turned away from the
telescope. The young men laughed suddenly in the
"Let ME look," said Charlotte eagerly.
"The stars bore me," said Mrs. Durrant,
walking down the terrace with Julia Eliot. "I read a book
once about the stars. … What are they saying?" She stopped
in front of the dining-room window. "Timothy," she noted.
"The silent young man," said Miss Eliot.
"Yes, Jacob Flanders," said Mrs. Durrant.
"Oh, mother! I didn't recognize you!"
exclaimed Clara Durrant, coming from the opposite direction
with Elsbeth. "How delicious," she breathed, crushing a
Mrs. Durrant turned and walked away by
"Clara!" she called. Clara went to her.
"How unlike they are!" said Miss Eliot.
Mr. Wortley passed them, smoking a cigar.
"Every day I live I find myself agreeing …"
he said as he passed them.
"It's so interesting to guess …" murmured
"When first we came out we could see the
flowers in that bed," said
"We see very little now," said Miss Eliot.
"She must have been so beautiful, and
everybody loved her, of course," said Charlotte. "I suppose
Mr. Wortley …" she paused.
"Edward's death was a tragedy," said Miss
Here Mr. Erskine joined them.
"There's no such thing as silence," he said
positively. "I can hear twenty different sounds on a night
like this without counting your voices."
"Make a bet of it?" said Charlotte.
"Done," said Mr. Erskine. "One, the sea;
two, the wind; three, a dog; four …"
The others passed on.
"Poor Timothy," said Elsbeth.
"A very fine night," shouted Miss Eliot into
Mr. Clutterbuck's ear.
"Like to look at the stars?" said the old
man, turning the telescope towards Elsbeth.
"Doesn't it make you melancholy—looking at
the stars?" shouted Miss
"Dear me no, dear me no," Mr. Clutterbuck
chuckled when he understood her. "Why should it make me
melancholy? Not for a moment—dear me no."
"Thank you, Timothy, but I'm coming in,"
said Miss Eliot. "Elsbeth, here's a shawl."
"I'm coming in," Elsbeth murmured with her
eye to the telescope. "Cassiopeia," she murmured. "Where are
you all?" she asked, taking her eye away from the telescope.
"How dark it is!"
Mrs. Durrant sat in the drawing-room by a
lamp winding a ball of wool. Mr. Clutterbuck read the Times.
In the distance stood a second lamp, and round it sat the
young ladies, flashing scissors over silver-spangled stuff
for private theatricals. Mr. Wortley read a book.
"Yes; he is perfectly right," said Mrs.
Durrant, drawing herself up and ceasing to wind her wool.
And while Mr. Clutterbuck read the rest of Lord Lansdowne's
speech she sat upright, without touching her ball.
"Ah, Mr. Flanders," she said, speaking
proudly, as if to Lord Lansdowne himself. Then she sighed
and began to wind her wool again.
"Sit THERE," she said.
Jacob came out from the dark place by the
window where he had hovered. The light poured over him,
illuminating every cranny of his skin; but not a muscle of
his face moved as he sat looking out into the garden.
"I want to hear about your voyage," said
"Yes," he said.
"Twenty years ago we did the same thing."
"Yes," he said. She looked at him sharply.
"He is extraordinarily awkward," she
thought, noticing how he fingered his socks. "Yet so
"In those days …" she resumed, and told him
how they had sailed … "my husband, who knew a good deal
about sailing, for he kept a yacht before we married" … and
then how rashly they had defied the fishermen, "almost paid
for it with our lives, but so proud of ourselves!" She flung
the hand out that held the ball of wool.
"Shall I hold your wool?" Jacob asked
"You do that for your mother," said Mrs.
Durrant, looking at him again keenly, as she transferred the
skein. "Yes, it goes much better."
He smiled; but said nothing.
Elsbeth Siddons hovered behind them with
something silver on her arm.
"We want," she said. … "I've come …" she
"Poor Jacob," said Mrs. Durrant, quietly, as
if she had known him all his life. "They're going to make
you act in their play."
"How I love you!" said Elsbeth, kneeling
beside Mrs. Durrant's chair.
"Give me the wool," said Mrs. Durrant.
"He's come—he's come!" cried Charlotte
Wilding. "I've won my bet!"
"There's another bunch higher up," murmured
Clara Durrant, mounting another step of the ladder. Jacob
held the ladder as she stretched out to reach the grapes
high up on the vine.
"There!" she said, cutting through the
stalk. She looked semi- transparent, pale, wonderfully
beautiful up there among the vine leaves and the yellow and
purple bunches, the lights swimming over her in coloured
islands. Geraniums and begonias stood in pots along planks;
tomatoes climbed the walls.
"The leaves really want thinning," she
considered, and one green one, spread like the palm of a
hand, circled down past Jacob's head.
"I have more than I can eat already," he
said, looking up.
"It does seem absurd …" Clara began, "going
back to London. …"
"Ridiculous," said Jacob, firmly.
"Then …" said Clara, "you must come next
year, properly," she said, snipping another vine leaf,
rather at random.
"If … if …"
A child ran past the greenhouse shouting.
Clara slowly descended the ladder with her basket of grapes.
"One bunch of white, and two of purple," she
said, and she placed two great leaves over them where they
lay curled warm in the basket.
"I have enjoyed myself," said Jacob, looking
down the greenhouse.
"Yes, it's been delightful," she said
"Oh, Miss Durrant," he said, taking the
basket of grapes; but she walked past him towards the door
of the greenhouse.
"You're too good—too good," she thought,
thinking of Jacob, thinking that he must not say that he
loved her. No, no, no.
The children were whirling past the door,
throwing things high into the air.
"Little demons!" she cried. "What have they
got?" she asked Jacob.
"Onions, I think," said Jacob. He looked at
them without moving.
"Next August, remember, Jacob," said Mrs.
Durrant, shaking hands with him on the terrace where the
fuchsia hung, like a scarlet ear-ring, behind her head. Mr.
Wortley came out of the window in yellow slippers, trailing
the Times and holding out his hand very cordially.
"Good-bye," said Jacob. "Good-bye," he
repeated. "Good-bye," he said once more. Charlotte Wilding
flung up her bedroom window and cried out: "Good-bye, Mr.
"Mr. Flanders!" cried Mr. Clutterbuck,
trying to extricate himself from his beehive chair. "Jacob
"Too late, Joseph," said Mrs. Durrant.
"Not to sit for me," said Miss Eliot,
planting her tripod upon the lawn.
"I rather think,"
said Jacob, taking his pipe from his mouth, "it's in
Virgil," and pushing back his chair, he went to the window.
The rashest drivers in the world are,
certainly, the drivers of post- office vans. Swinging down
Lamb's Conduit Street, the scarlet van rounded the corner by
the pillar box in such a way as to graze the kerb and make
the little girl who was standing on tiptoe to post a letter
look up, half frightened, half curious. She paused with her
hand in the mouth of the box; then dropped her letter and
ran away. It is seldom only that we see a child on tiptoe
with pity—more often a dim discomfort, a grain of sand in
the shoe which it's scarcely worth while to remove—that's
our feeling, and so—Jacob turned to the bookcase.
Long ago great people lived here, and coming
back from Court past midnight stood, huddling their satin
skirts, under the carved door-posts while the footman roused
himself from his mattress on the floor, hurriedly fastened
the lower buttons of his waistcoat, and let them in. The
bitter eighteenth-century rain rushed down the kennel.
Southampton Row, however, is chiefly remarkable nowadays for
the fact that you will always find a man there trying to
sell a tortoise to a tailor. "Showing off the tweed, sir;
what the gentry wants is something singular to catch the
eye, sir—and clean in their habits, sir!" So they display
At Mudie's corner in Oxford Street all the
red and blue beads had run together on the string. The motor
omnibuses were locked. Mr. Spalding going to the city looked
at Mr. Charles Budgeon bound for Shepherd's Bush. The
proximity of the omnibuses gave the outside passengers an
opportunity to stare into each other's faces. Yet few took
advantage of it. Each had his own business to think of. Each
had his past shut in him like the leaves of a book known to
him by heart; and his friends could only read the title,
James Spalding, or Charles Budgeon, and the passengers going
the opposite way could read nothing at all—save "a man with
a red moustache," "a young man in grey smoking a pipe." The
October sunlight rested upon all these men and women sitting
immobile; and little Johnnie Sturgeon took the chance to
swing down the staircase, carrying his large mysterious
parcel, and so dodging a zigzag course between the wheels he
reached the pavement, started to whistle a tune and was soon
out of sight—for ever. The omnibuses jerked on, and every
single person felt relief at being a little nearer to his
journey's end, though some cajoled themselves past the
immediate engagement by promise of indulgence beyond—steak
and kidney pudding, drink or a game of dominoes in the smoky
corner of a city restaurant. Oh yes, human life is very
tolerable on the top of an omnibus in Holborn, when the
policeman holds up his arm and the sun beats on your back,
and if there is such a thing as a shell secreted by man to
fit man himself here we find it, on the banks of the Thames,
where the great streets join and St. Paul's Cathedral, like
the volute on the top of the snail shell, finishes it off.
Jacob, getting off his omnibus, loitered up the steps,
consulted his watch, and finally made up his mind to go in.
… Does it need an effort? Yes. These changes of mood wear us
Dim it is, haunted by ghosts of white
marble, to whom the organ for ever chaunts. If a boot
creaks, it's awful; then the order; the discipline. The
verger with his rod has life ironed out beneath him. Sweet
and holy are the angelic choristers. And for ever round the
marble shoulders, in and out of the folded fingers, go the
thin high sounds of voice and organ. For ever
requiem—repose. Tired with scrubbing the steps of the
Prudential Society's office, which she did year in year out,
Mrs. Lidgett took her seat beneath the great Duke's tomb,
folded her hands, and half closed her eyes. A magnificent
place for an old woman to rest in, by the very side of the
great Duke's bones, whose victories mean nothing to her,
whose name she knows not, though she never fails to greet
the little angels opposite, as she passes out, wishing the
like on her own tomb, for the leathern curtain of the heart
has flapped wide, and out steal on tiptoe thoughts of rest,
sweet melodies. … Old Spicer, jute merchant, thought nothing
of the kind though. Strangely enough he'd never been in St.
Paul's these fifty years, though his office windows looked
on the churchyard. "So that's all? Well, a gloomy old place.
… Where's Nelson's tomb? No time now—come again—a coin to
leave in the box. … Rain or fine is it? Well, if it would
only make up its mind!" Idly the children stray in—the
verger dissuades them—and another and another … man, woman,
man, woman, boy … casting their eyes up, pursing their lips,
the same shadow brushing the same faces; the leathern
curtain of the heart flaps wide.
Nothing could appear more certain from the
steps of St. Paul's than that each person is miraculously
provided with coat, skirt, and boots; an income; an object.
Only Jacob, carrying in his hand Finlay's Byzantine Empire,
which he had bought in Ludgate Hill, looked a little
different; for in his hand he carried a book, which book he
would at nine-thirty precisely, by his own fireside, open
and study, as no one else of all these multitudes would do.
They have no houses. The streets belong to them; the shops;
the churches; theirs the innumerable desks; the stretched
office lights; the vans are theirs, and the railway slung
high above the street. If you look closer you will see that
three elderly men at a little distance from each other run
spiders along the pavement as if the street were their
parlour, and here, against the wall, a woman stares at
nothing, boot-laces extended, which she does not ask you to
buy. The posters are theirs too; and the news on them. A
town destroyed; a race won. A homeless people, circling
beneath the sky whose blue or white is held off by a ceiling
cloth of steel filings and horse dung shredded to dust.
There, under the green shade, with his head
bent over white paper, Mr. Sibley transferred figures to
folios, and upon each desk you observe, like provender, a
bunch of papers, the day's nutriment, slowly consumed by the
industrious pen. Innumerable overcoats of the quality
prescribed hung empty all day in the corridors, but as the
clock struck six each was exactly filled, and the little
figures, split apart into trousers or moulded into a single
thickness, jerked rapidly with angular forward motion along
the pavement; then dropped into darkness. Beneath the
pavement, sunk in the earth, hollow drains lined with yellow
light for ever conveyed them this way and that, and large
letters upon enamel plates represented in the underworld the
parks, squares, and circuses of the upper. "Marble
Arch—Shepherd's Bush"—to the majority the Arch and the Bush
are eternally white letters upon a blue ground. Only at one
point—it may be Acton, Holloway, Kensal Rise, Caledonian
Road—does the name mean shops where you buy things, and
houses, in one of which, down to the right, where the
pollard trees grow out of the paving stones, there is a
square curtained window, and a bedroom.
Long past sunset an old blind woman sat on a
camp-stool with her back to the stone wall of the Union of
London and Smith's Bank, clasping a brown mongrel tight in
her arms and singing out loud, not for coppers, no, from the
depths of her gay wild heart—her sinful, tanned heart—for
the child who fetches her is the fruit of sin, and should
have been in bed, curtained, asleep, instead of hearing in
the lamplight her mother's wild song, where she sits against
the Bank, singing not for coppers, with her dog against her
Home they went. The grey church spires
received them; the hoary city, old, sinful, and majestic.
One behind another, round or pointed, piercing the sky or
massing themselves, like sailing ships, like granite cliffs,
spires and offices, wharves and factories crowd the bank;
eternally the pilgrims trudge; barges rest in mid stream
heavy laden; as some believe, the city loves her
But few, it seems, are admitted to that
degree. Of all the carriages that leave the arch of the
Opera House, not one turns eastward, and when the little
thief is caught in the empty market-place no one in black-
and-white or rose-coloured evening dress blocks the way by
pausing with a hand upon the carriage door to help or
condemn—though Lady Charles, to do her justice, sighs sadly
as she ascends her staircase, takes down Thomas a Kempis,
and does not sleep till her mind has lost itself tunnelling
into the complexity of things. "Why? Why? Why?" she sighs.
On the whole it's best to walk back from the Opera House.
Fatigue is the safest sleeping draught.
The autumn season was in full swing. Tristan
was twitching his rug up under his armpits twice a week;
Isolde waved her scarf in miraculous sympathy with the
conductor's baton. In all parts of the house were to be
found pink faces and glittering breasts. When a Royal hand
attached to an invisible body slipped out and withdrew the
red and white bouquet reposing on the scarlet ledge, the
Queen of England seemed a name worth dying for. Beauty, in
its hothouse variety (which is none of the worst), flowered
in box after box; and though nothing was said of profound
importance, and though it is generally agreed that wit
deserted beautiful lips about the time that Walpole died—at
any rate when Victoria in her nightgown descended to meet
her ministers, the lips (through an opera glass) remained
red, adorable. Bald distinguished men with gold-headed canes
strolled down the crimson avenues between the stalls, and
only broke from intercourse with the boxes when the lights
went down, and the conductor, first bowing to the Queen,
next to the bald-headed men, swept round on his feet and
raised his wand.
Then two thousand hearts in the
semi-darkness remembered, anticipated, travelled dark
labyrinths; and Clara Durrant said farewell to Jacob
Flanders, and tasted the sweetness of death in effigy; and
Mrs. Durrant, sitting behind her in the dark of the box,
sighed her sharp sigh; and Mr. Wortley, shifting his
position behind the Italian Ambassador's wife, thought that
Brangaena was a trifle hoarse; and suspended in the gallery
many feet above their heads, Edward Whittaker
surreptitiously held a torch to his miniature score; and …
In short, the observer is choked with
observations. Only to prevent us from being submerged by
chaos, nature and society between them have arranged a
system of classification which is simplicity itself; stalls,
boxes, amphitheatre, gallery. The moulds are filled nightly.
There is no need to distinguish details. But the difficulty
remains—one has to choose. For though I have no wish to be
Queen of England or only for a moment—I would willingly sit
beside her; I would hear the Prime Minister's gossip; the
countess whisper, and share her memories of halls and
gardens; the massive fronts of the respectable conceal after
all their secret code; or why so impermeable? And then,
doffing one's own headpiece, how strange to assume for a
moment some one's—any one's—to be a man of valour who has
ruled the Empire; to refer while Brangaena sings to the
fragments of Sophocles, or see in a flash, as the shepherd
pipes his tune, bridges and aqueducts. But no—we must
choose. Never was there a harsher necessity! or one which
entails greater pain, more certain disaster; for wherever I
seat myself, I die in exile: Whittaker in his lodging-house;
Lady Charles at the Manor.
A young man with a Wellington nose, who had
occupied a seven-and- sixpenny seat, made his way down the
stone stairs when the opera ended, as if he were still set a
little apart from his fellows by the influence of the music.
At midnight Jacob Flanders heard a rap on
"By Jove!" he exclaimed. "You're the very
man I want!" and without more ado they discovered the lines
which he had been seeking all day; only they come not in
Virgil, but in Lucretius.
"Yes; that should make him sit up," said
Bonamy, as Jacob stopped reading. Jacob was excited. It was
the first time he had read his essay aloud.
"Damned swine!" he said, rather too
extravagantly; but the praise had gone to his head.
Professor Bulteel, of Leeds, had issued an edition of
Wycherley without stating that he had left out,
disembowelled, or indicated only by asterisks, several
indecent words and some indecent phrases. An outrage, Jacob
said; a breach of faith; sheer prudery; token of a lewd mind
and a disgusting nature. Aristophanes and Shakespeare were
cited. Modern life was repudiated. Great play was made with
the professional title, and Leeds as a seat of learning was
laughed to scorn. And the extraordinary thing was that these
young men were perfectly right—extraordinary, because, even
as Jacob copied his pages, he knew that no one would ever
print them; and sure enough back they came from the
Fortnightly, the Contemporary, the Nineteenth Century— when
Jacob threw them into the black wooden box where he kept his
mother's letters, his old flannel trousers, and a note or
two with the Cornish postmark. The lid shut upon the truth.
This black wooden box, upon which his name
was still legible in white paint, stood between the long
windows of the sitting-room. The street ran beneath. No
doubt the bedroom was behind. The furniture—three wicker
chairs and a gate-legged table—came from Cambridge. These
houses (Mrs. Garfit's daughter, Mrs. Whitehorn, was the
landlady of this one) were built, say, a hundred and fifty
years ago. The rooms are shapely, the ceilings high; over
the doorway a rose, or a ram's skull, is carved in the wood.
The eighteenth century has its distinction. Even the panels,
painted in raspberry-coloured paint, have their distinction.
"Distinction"—Mrs. Durrant said that Jacob
Flanders was "distinguished- looking." "Extremely awkward,"
she said, "but so distinguished-looking." Seeing him for the
first time that no doubt is the word for him. Lying back in
his chair, taking his pipe from his lips, and saying to
Bonamy: "About this opera now" (for they had done with
indecency). "This fellow Wagner" … distinction was one of
the words to use naturally, though, from looking at him, one
would have found it difficult to say which seat in the opera
house was his, stalls, gallery, or dress circle. A writer?
He lacked self-consciousness. A painter? There was something
in the shape of his hands (he was descended on his mother's
side from a family of the greatest antiquity and deepest
obscurity) which indicated taste. Then his mouth—but surely,
of all futile occupations this of cataloguing features is
the worst. One word is sufficient. But if one cannot find
"I like Jacob Flanders," wrote Clara Durrant
in her diary. "He is so unworldly. He gives himself no airs,
and one can say what one likes to him, though he's
frightening because …" But Mr. Letts allows little space in
his shilling diaries. Clara was not the one to encroach upon
Wednesday. Humblest, most candid of women! "No, no, no," she
sighed, standing at the greenhouse door, "don't break—don't
spoil"—what? Something infinitely wonderful.
But then, this is only a young woman's
language, one, too, who loves, or refrains from loving. She
wished the moment to continue for ever precisely as it was
that July morning. And moments don't. Now, for instance,
Jacob was telling a story about some walking tour he'd
taken, and the inn was called "The Foaming Pot," which,
considering the landlady's name … They shouted with
laughter. The joke was indecent.
Then Julia Eliot said "the silent young
man," and as she dined with Prime Ministers, no doubt she
meant: "If he is going to get on in the world, he will have
to find his tongue."
Timothy Durrant never made any comment at
The housemaid found herself very liberally
Mr. Sopwith's opinion was as sentimental as
Clara's, though far more skilfully expressed.
Betty Flanders was romantic about Archer and
tender about John; she was unreasonably irritated by Jacob's
clumsiness in the house.
Captain Barfoot liked him best of the boys;
but as for saying why …
It seems then that men and women are equally
at fault. It seems that a profound, impartial, and
absolutely just opinion of our fellow-creatures is utterly
unknown. Either we are men, or we are women. Either we are
cold, or we are sentimental. Either we are young, or growing
old. In any case life is but a procession of shadows, and
God knows why it is that we embrace them so eagerly, and see
them depart with such anguish, being shadows. And why, if
this—and much more than this is true, why are we yet
surprised in the window corner by a sudden vision that the
young man in the chair is of all things in the world the
most real, the most solid, the best known to us—why indeed?
For the moment after we know nothing about him.
Such is the manner of our seeing. Such the
conditions of our love.
("I'm twenty-two. It's nearly the end of
October. Life is thoroughly pleasant, although unfortunately
there are a great number of fools about. One must apply
oneself to something or other—God knows what. Everything is
really very jolly—except getting up in the morning and
wearing a tail coat.")
"I say, Bonamy, what about Beethoven?"
("Bonamy is an amazing fellow. He knows
practically everything—not more about English literature
than I do—but then he's read all those Frenchmen.")
"I rather suspect you're talking rot,
Bonamy. In spite of what you say, poor old Tennyson. …"
("The truth is one ought to have been taught
French. Now, I suppose, old Barfoot is talking to my mother.
That's an odd affair to be sure. But I can't see Bonamy down
there. Damn London!") for the market carts were lumbering
down the street.
"What about a walk on Saturday?"
("What's happening on Saturday?")
Then, taking out his pocket-book, he assured
himself that the night of the Durrants' party came next
But though all this may very well be true—so
Jacob thought and spoke— so he crossed his legs—filled his
pipe—sipped his whisky, and once looked at his pocket-book,
rumpling his hair as he did so, there remains over something
which can never be conveyed to a second person save by Jacob
himself. Moreover, part of this is not Jacob but Richard
Bonamy— the room; the market carts; the hour; the very
moment of history. Then consider the effect of sex—how
between man and woman it hangs wavy, tremulous, so that
here's a valley, there's a peak, when in truth, perhaps,
all's as flat as my hand. Even the exact words get the wrong
accent on them. But something is always impelling one to hum
vibrating, like the hawk moth, at the mouth of the cavern of
mystery, endowing Jacob Flanders with all sorts of qualities
he had not at all—for though, certainly, he sat talking to
Bonamy, half of what he said was too dull to repeat; much
unintelligible (about unknown people and Parliament); what
remains is mostly a matter of guess work. Yet over him we
"Yes," said Captain Barfoot, knocking out
his pipe on Betty Flanders's hob, and buttoning his coat.
"It doubles the work, but I don't mind that."
He was now town councillor. They looked at
the night, which was the same as the London night, only a
good deal more transparent. Church bells down in the town
were striking eleven o'clock. The wind was off the sea. And
all the bedroom windows were dark—the Pages were asleep; the
Garfits were asleep; the Cranches were asleep—whereas in
London at this hour they were burning Guy Fawkes on
The flames had
"There's St. Paul's!" some one cried.
As the wood caught the city of London was
lit up for a second; on other sides of the fire there were
trees. Of the faces which came out fresh and vivid as though
painted in yellow and red, the most prominent was a girl's
face. By a trick of the firelight she seemed to have no
body. The oval of the face and hair hung beside the fire
with a dark vacuum for background. As if dazed by the glare,
her green-blue eyes stared at the flames. Every muscle of
her face was taut. There was something tragic in her thus
staring—her age between twenty and twenty-five.
A hand descending from the chequered
darkness thrust on her head the conical white hat of a
pierrot. Shaking her head, she still stared. A whiskered
face appeared above her. They dropped two legs of a table
upon the fire and a scattering of twigs and leaves. All this
blazed up and showed faces far back, round, pale, smooth,
bearded, some with billycock hats on; all intent; showed too
St. Paul's floating on the uneven white mist, and two or
three narrow, paper-white, extinguisher-shaped spires.
The flames were struggling through the wood
and roaring up when, goodness knows where from, pails flung
water in beautiful hollow shapes, as of polished
tortoiseshell; flung again and again; until the hiss was
like a swarm of bees; and all the faces went out.
"Oh Jacob," said the girl, as they pounded
up the hill in the dark, "I'm so frightfully unhappy!"
Shouts of laughter came from the
others—high, low; some before, others after.
The hotel dining-room was brightly lit. A
stag's head in plaster was at one end of the table; at the
other some Roman bust blackened and reddened to represent
Guy Fawkes, whose night it was. The diners were linked
together by lengths of paper roses, so that when it came to
singing "Auld Lang Syne" with their hands crossed a pink and
yellow line rose and fell the entire length of the table.
There was an enormous tapping of green wine-glasses. A young
man stood up, and Florinda, taking one of the purplish
globes that lay on the table, flung it straight at his head.
It crushed to powder.
"I'm so frightfully unhappy!" she said,
turning to Jacob, who sat beside her.
The table ran, as if on invisible legs, to
the side of the room, and a barrel organ decorated with a
red cloth and two pots of paper flowers reeled out waltz
Jacob could not dance. He stood against the
wall smoking a pipe.
"We think," said two of the dancers,
breaking off from the rest, and bowing profoundly before
him, "that you are the most beautiful man we have ever
So they wreathed his head with paper
flowers. Then somebody brought out a white and gilt chair
and made him sit on it. As they passed, people hung glass
grapes on his shoulders, until he looked like the
figure-head of a wrecked ship. Then Florinda got upon his
knee and hid her face in his waistcoat. With one hand he
held her; with the other, his pipe.
"Now let us talk," said Jacob, as he walked
down Haverstock Hill between four and five o'clock in the
morning of November the sixth arm-in-arm with Timmy Durrant,
"about something sensible."
The Greeks—yes, that was what they talked
about—how when all's said and done, when one's rinsed one's
mouth with every literature in the world, including Chinese
and Russian (but these Slavs aren't civilized), it's the
flavour of Greek that remains. Durrant quoted
Aeschylus—Jacob Sophocles. It is true that no Greek could
have understood or professor refrained from pointing
out—Never mind; what is Greek for if not to be shouted on
Haverstock Hill in the dawn? Moreover, Durrant never
listened to Sophocles, nor Jacob to Aeschylus. They were
boastful, triumphant; it seemed to both that they had read
every book in the world; known every sin, passion, and joy.
Civilizations stood round them like flowers ready for
picking. Ages lapped at their feet like waves fit for
sailing. And surveying all this, looming through the fog,
the lamplight, the shades of London, the two young men
decided in favour of Greece.
"Probably," said Jacob, "we are the only
people in the world who know what the Greeks meant."
They drank coffee at a stall where the urns
were burnished and little lamps burnt along the counter.
Taking Jacob for a military gentleman, the
stall-keeper told him about his boy at Gibraltar, and Jacob
cursed the British army and praised the Duke of Wellington.
So on again they went down the hill talking about the
A strange thing—when you come to think of
it—this love of Greek, flourishing in such obscurity,
distorted, discouraged, yet leaping out, all of a sudden,
especially on leaving crowded rooms, or after a surfeit of
print, or when the moon floats among the waves of the hills,
or in hollow, sallow, fruitless London days, like a
specific; a clean blade; always a miracle. Jacob knew no
more Greek than served him to stumble through a play. Of
ancient history he knew nothing. However, as he tramped into
London it seemed to him that they were making the flagstones
ring on the road to the Acropolis, and that if Socrates saw
them coming he would bestir himself and say "my fine
fellows," for the whole sentiment of Athens was entirely
after his heart; free, venturesome, high-spirited. … She had
called him Jacob without asking his leave. She had sat upon
his knee. Thus did all good women in the days of the Greeks.
At this moment there shook out into the air
a wavering, quavering, doleful lamentation which seemed to
lack strength to unfold itself, and yet flagged on; at the
sound of which doors in back streets burst sullenly open;
workmen stumped forth.
Florinda was sick.
Mrs. Durrant, sleepless as usual, scored a
mark by the side of certain lines in the Inferno.
Clara slept buried in her pillows; on her
dressing-table dishevelled roses and a pair of long white
Still wearing the conical white hat of a
pierrot, Florinda was sick.
The bedroom seemed fit for these
catastrophes—cheap, mustard-coloured, half attic, half
studio, curiously ornamented with silver paper stars,
Welshwomen's hats, and rosaries pendent from the gas
brackets. As for Florinda's story, her name had been
bestowed upon her by a painter who had wished it to signify
that the flower of her maidenhood was still unplucked. Be
that as it may, she was without a surname, and for parents
had only the photograph of a tombstone beneath which, she
said, her father lay buried. Sometimes she would dwell upon
the size of it, and rumour had it that Florinda's father had
died from the growth of his bones which nothing could stop;
just as her mother enjoyed the confidence of a Royal master,
and now and again Florinda herself was a Princess, but
chiefly when drunk. Thus deserted, pretty into the bargain,
with tragic eyes and the lips of a child, she talked more
about virginity than women mostly do; and had lost it only
the night before, or cherished it beyond the heart in her
breast, according to the man she talked to. But did she
always talk to men? No, she had her confidante: Mother
Stuart. Stuart, as the lady would point out, is the name of
a Royal house; but what that signified, and what her
business way, no one knew; only that Mrs. Stuart got postal
orders every Monday morning, kept a parrot, believed in the
transmigration of souls, and could read the future in tea
leaves. Dirty lodging-house wallpaper she was behind the
chastity of Florinda.
Now Florinda wept, and spent the day
wandering the streets; stood at Chelsea watching the river
swim past; trailed along the shopping streets; opened her
bag and powdered her cheeks in omnibuses; read love letters,
propping them against the milk pot in the A.B.C. shop;
detected glass in the sugar bowl; accused the waitress of
wishing to poison her; declared that young men stared at
her; and found herself towards evening slowly sauntering
down Jacob's street, when it struck her that she liked that
man Jacob better than dirty Jews, and sitting at his table
(he was copying his essay upon the Ethics of Indecency),
drew off her gloves and told him how Mother Stuart had
banged her on the head with the tea-cosy.
Jacob took her word for it that she was
chaste. She prattled, sitting by
the fireside, of famous painters. The tomb of her father was
Wild and frail and beautiful she looked, and thus the women
Greeks were, Jacob thought; and this was life; and himself a
She left with one of Shelley's poems beneath
her arm. Mrs. Stuart, she said, often talked of him.
Marvellous are the innocent. To believe that
the girl herself transcends all lies (for Jacob was not such
a fool as to believe implicitly), to wonder enviously at the
unanchored life—his own seeming petted and even cloistered
in comparison—to have at hand as sovereign specifics for all
disorders of the soul Adonais and the plays of Shakespeare;
to figure out a comradeship all spirited on her side,
protective on his, yet equal on both, for women, thought
Jacob, are just the same as men—innocence such as this is
marvellous enough, and perhaps not so foolish after all.
For when Florinda got home that night she
first washed her head; then ate chocolate creams; then
opened Shelley. True, she was horribly bored. What on earth
was it ABOUT? She had to wager with herself that she would
turn the page before she ate another. In fact she slept. But
then her day had been a long one, Mother Stuart had thrown
the tea-cosy;—there are formidable sights in the streets,
and though Florinda was ignorant as an owl, and would never
learn to read even her love letters correctly, still she had
her feelings, liked some men better than others, and was
entirely at the beck and call of life. Whether or not she
was a virgin seems a matter of no importance whatever.
Unless, indeed, it is the only thing of any importance at
Jacob was restless when she left him.
All night men and women seethed up and down
the well-known beats. Late home-comers could see shadows
against the blinds even in the most respectable suburbs. Not
a square in snow or fog lacked its amorous couple. All plays
turned on the same subject. Bullets went through heads in
hotel bedrooms almost nightly on that account. When the body
escaped mutilation, seldom did the heart go to the grave
unscarred. Little else was talked of in theatres and popular
novels. Yet we say it is a matter of no importance at all.
What with Shakespeare and Adonais, Mozart
and Bishop Berkeley—choose whom you like—the fact is
concealed and the evenings for most of us pass reputably, or
with only the sort of tremor that a snake makes sliding
through the grass. But then concealment by itself distracts
the mind from the print and the sound. If Florinda had had a
mind, she might have read with clearer eyes than we can. She
and her sort have solved the question by turning it to a
trifle of washing the hands nightly before going to bed, the
only difficulty being whether you prefer your water hot or
cold, which being settled, the mind can go about its
But it did occur to Jacob, half-way through
dinner, to wonder whether she had a mind.
They sat at a little table in the
Florinda leant the points of her elbows on
the table and held her chin in the cup of her hands. Her
cloak had slipped behind her. Gold and white with bright
beads on her she emerged, her face flowering from her body,
innocent, scarcely tinted, the eyes gazing frankly about
her, or slowly settling on Jacob and resting there. She
"You know that big black box the Australian
left in my room ever so long ago? … I do think furs make a
woman look old. … That's Bechstein come in now. … I was
wondering what you looked like when you were a little boy,
Jacob." She nibbled her roll and looked at him.
"Jacob. You're like one of those statues. …
I think there are lovely things in the British Museum, don't
you? Lots of lovely things …" she spoke dreamily. The room
was filling; the heat increasing. Talk in a restaurant is
dazed sleep-walkers' talk, so many things to look at—so much
noise—other people talking. Can one overhear? Oh, but they
mustn't overhear US.
"That's like Ellen Nagle—that girl …" and so
"I'm awfully happy since I've known you,
Jacob. You're such a GOOD man."
The room got fuller and fuller; talk louder;
knives more clattering.
"Well, you see what makes her say things
like that is …"
She stopped. So did every one.
"To-morrow … Sunday … a beastly … you tell
me … go then!" Crash!
And out she swept.
It was at the table next them that the voice
spun higher and higher. Suddenly the woman dashed the plates
to the floor. The man was left there. Everybody stared.
Then—"Well, poor chap, we mustn't sit staring. What a go!
Did you hear what she said? By God, he looks a fool! Didn't
come up to the scratch, I suppose. All the mustard on the
tablecloth. The waiters laughing."
Jacob observed Florinda. In her face there
seemed to him something horribly brainless—as she sat
Out she swept, the black woman with the
dancing feather in her hat.
Yet she had to go somewhere. The night is
not a tumultuous black ocean in which you sink or sail as a
star. As a matter of fact it was a wet November night. The
lamps of Soho made large greasy spots of light upon the
pavement. The by-streets were dark enough to shelter man or
woman leaning against the doorways. One detached herself as
Jacob and Florinda approached.
"She's dropped her glove," said Florinda.
Jacob, pressing forward, gave it her.
Effusively she thanked him; retraced her
steps; dropped her glove again. But why? For whom?
Meanwhile, where had the other woman got to? And the man?
The street lamps do not carry far enough to
tell us. The voices, angry, lustful, despairing, passionate,
were scarcely more than the voices of caged beasts at night.
Only they are not caged, nor beasts. Stop a man; ask him the
way; he'll tell it you; but one's afraid to ask him the way.
What does one fear?—the human eye. At once the pavement
narrows, the chasm deepens. There! They've melted into
it—both man and woman. Further on, blatantly advertising its
meritorious solidity, a boarding- house exhibits behind
uncurtained windows its testimony to the soundness of
London. There they sit, plainly illuminated, dressed like
ladies and gentlemen, in bamboo chairs. The widows of
business men prove laboriously that they are related to
judges. The wives of coal merchants instantly retort that
their fathers kept coachmen. A servant brings coffee, and
the crochet basket has to be moved. And so on again into the
dark, passing a girl here for sale, or there an old woman
with only matches to offer, passing the crowd from the Tube
station, the women with veiled hair, passing at length no
one but shut doors, carved door- posts, and a solitary
policeman, Jacob, with Florinda on his arm, reached his room
and, lighting the lamp, said nothing at all.
"I don't like you when you look like that,"
The problem is insoluble. The body is
harnessed to a brain. Beauty goes hand in hand with
stupidity. There she sat staring at the fire as she had
stared at the broken mustard-pot. In spite of defending
indecency, Jacob doubted whether he liked it in the raw. He
had a violent reversion towards male society, cloistered
rooms, and the works of the classics; and was ready to turn
with wrath upon whoever it was who had fashioned life thus.
Then Florinda laid her hand upon his knee.
After all, it was none of her fault. But the
thought saddened him. It's not catastrophes, murders,
deaths, diseases, that age and kill us; it's the way people
look and laugh, and run up the steps of omnibuses.
Any excuse, though, serves a stupid woman.
He told her his head ached.
But when she looked at him, dumbly,
half-guessing, half-understanding, apologizing perhaps,
anyhow saying as he had said, "It's none of my fault,"
straight and beautiful in body, her face like a shell within
its cap, then he knew that cloisters and classics are no use
whatever. The problem is insoluble.
About this time a
firm of merchants having dealings with the East put on the
market little paper flowers which opened on touching water.
As it was the custom also to use finger-bowls at the end of
dinner, the new discovery was found of excellent service. In
these sheltered lakes the little coloured flowers swam and
slid; surmounted smooth slippery waves, and sometimes
foundered and lay like pebbles on the glass floor. Their
fortunes were watched by eyes intent and lovely. It is
surely a great discovery that leads to the union of hearts
and foundation of homes. The paper flowers did no less.
It must not be thought, though, that they
ousted the flowers of nature. Roses, lilies, carnations in
particular, looked over the rims of vases and surveyed the
bright lives and swift dooms of their artificial relations.
Mr. Stuart Ormond made this very observation; and charming
it was thought; and Kitty Craster married him on the
strength of it six months later. But real flowers can never
be dispensed with. If they could, human life would be a
different affair altogether. For flowers fade;
chrysanthemums are the worst; perfect over night; yellow and
jaded next morning—not fit to be seen. On the whole, though
the price is sinful, carnations pay best;—it's a question,
however, whether it's wise to have them wired. Some shops
advise it. Certainly it's the only way to keep them at a
dance; but whether it is necessary at dinner parties, unless
the rooms are very hot, remains in dispute. Old Mrs. Temple
used to recommend an ivy leaf—just one—dropped into the
bowl. She said it kept the water pure for days and days. But
there is some reason to think that old Mrs. Temple was
The little cards, however, with names
engraved on them, are a more serious problem than the
flowers. More horses' legs have been worn out, more
coachmen's lives consumed, more hours of sound afternoon
time vainly lavished than served to win us the battle of
Waterloo, and pay for it into the bargain. The little demons
are the source of as many reprieves, calamities, and
anxieties as the battle itself. Sometimes Mrs. Bonham has
just gone out; at others she is at home. But, even if the
cards should be superseded, which seems unlikely, there are
unruly powers blowing life into storms, disordering sedulous
mornings, and uprooting the stability of the
afternoon—dressmakers, that is to say, and confectioners'
shops. Six yards of silk will cover one body; but if you
have to devise six hundred shapes for it, and twice as many
colours?—in the middle of which there is the urgent question
of the pudding with tufts of green cream and battlements of
almond paste. It has not arrived.
The flamingo hours fluttered softly through
the sky. But regularly they dipped their wings in pitch
black; Notting Hill, for instance, or the purlieus of
Clerkenwell. No wonder that Italian remained a hidden art,
and the piano always played the same sonata. In order to buy
one pair of elastic stockings for Mrs. Page, widow, aged
sixty-three, in receipt of five shillings out-door relief,
and help from her only son employed in Messrs. Mackie's
dye-works, suffering in winter with his chest, letters must
be written, columns filled up in the same round, simple hand
that wrote in Mr. Letts's diary how the weather was fine,
the children demons, and Jacob Flanders unworldly. Clara
Durrant procured the stockings, played the sonata, filled
the vases, fetched the pudding, left the cards, and when the
great invention of paper flowers to swim in finger-bowls was
discovered, was one of those who most marvelled at their
Nor were there wanting poets to celebrate
the theme. Edwin Mallett, for example, wrote his verses
And read their doom in Chloe's eyes,
which caused Clara to blush at the first
reading, and to laugh at the second, saying that it was just
like him to call her Chloe when her name was Clara.
Ridiculous young man! But when, between ten and eleven on a
rainy morning, Edwin Mallett laid his life at her feet she
ran out of the room and hid herself in her bedroom, and
Timothy below could not get on with his work all that
morning on account of her sobs.
"Which is the result of enjoying yourself,"
said Mrs. Durrant severely, surveying the dance programme
all scored with the same initials, or rather they were
different ones this time—R.B. instead of E.M.; Richard
Bonamy it was now, the young man with the Wellington nose.
"But I could never marry a man with a nose
like that," said Clara.
"Nonsense," said Mrs. Durrant.
"But I am too severe," she thought to
herself. For Clara, losing all vivacity, tore up her dance
programme and threw it in the fender.
Such were the very serious consequences of
the invention of paper flowers to swim in bowls.
"Please," said Julia Eliot, taking up her
position by the curtain almost opposite the door, "don't
introduce me. I like to look on. The amusing thing," she
went on, addressing Mr. Salvin, who, owing to his lameness,
was accommodated with a chair, "the amusing thing about a
party is to watch the people—coming and going, coming and
"Last time we met," said Mr. Salvin, "was at
the Farquhars. Poor lady!
She has much to put up with."
"Doesn't she look charming?" exclaimed Miss
Eliot, as Clara Durrant passed them.
"And which of them …?" asked Mr. Salvin,
dropping his voice and speaking in quizzical tones.
"There are so many …" Miss Eliot replied.
Three young men stood at the doorway looking about for their
"You don't remember Elizabeth as I do," said
Mr. Salvin, "dancing Highland reels at Banchorie. Clara
lacks her mother's spirit. Clara is a little pale."
"What different people one sees here!" said
"Happily we are not governed by the evening
papers," said Mr. Salvin.
"I never read them," said Miss Eliot. "I
know nothing about politics," she added.
"The piano is in tune," said Clara, passing
them, "but we may have to ask some one to move it for us."
"Are they going to dance?" asked Mr. Salvin.
"Nobody shall disturb you," said Mrs.
Durrant peremptorily as she passed.
"Julia Eliot. It IS Julia Eliot!" said old
Lady Hibbert, holding out both her hands. "And Mr. Salvin.
What is going to happen to us, Mr. Salvin? With all my
experience of English politics—My dear, I was thinking of
your father last night—one of my oldest friends, Mr. Salvin.
Never tell me that girls often are incapable of love! I had
all Shakespeare by heart before I was in my teens, Mr.
"You don't say so," said Mr. Salvin.
"But I do," said Lady Hibbert.
"Oh, Mr. Salvin, I'm so sorry. …"
"I will remove myself if you'll kindly lend
me a hand," said Mr. Salvin.
"You shall sit by my mother," said Clara.
"Everybody seems to come in here. … Mr. Calthorp, let me
introduce you to Miss Edwards."
"Are you going away for Christmas?" said Mr.
"If my brother gets his leave," said Miss
"What regiment is he in?" said Mr. Calthorp.
"The Twentieth Hussars," said Miss Edwards.
"Perhaps he knows my brother?" said Mr.
"I am afraid I did not catch your name,"
said Miss Edwards.
"Calthorp," said Mr. Calthorp.
"But what proof was there that the marriage
service was actually performed?" said Mr. Crosby.
"There is no reason to doubt that Charles
James Fox …" Mr. Burley began; but here Mrs. Stretton told
him that she knew his sister well; had stayed with her not
six weeks ago; and thought the house charming, but bleak in
"Going about as girls do nowadays—" said
Mr. Bowley looked round him, and catching
sight of Rose Shaw moved towards her, threw out his hands,
and exclaimed: "Well!"
"Nothing!" she replied. "Nothing at
all—though I left them alone the entire afternoon on
"Dear me, dear me," said Mr. Bowley. "I will
ask Jimmy to breakfast."
"But who could resist her?" cried Rose Shaw.
"Dearest Clara—I know we mustn't try to stop you…"
"You and Mr. Bowley are talking dreadful
gossip, I know," said Clara.
"Life is wicked—life is detestable!" cried
"There's not much to be said for this sort
of thing, is there?" said
Timothy Durrant to Jacob.
"Women like it."
"Like what?" said Charlotte Wilding, coming
up to them.
"Where have you come from?" said Timothy.
"Dining somewhere, I suppose."
"I don't see why not," said Charlotte.
"People must go downstairs," said Clara,
passing. "Take Charlotte,
Timothy. How d'you do, Mr. Flanders."
"How d'you do, Mr. Flanders," said Julia
Eliot, holding out her hand.
"What's been happening to you?"
"Who is Silvia? what is she?
That all our swains commend her?"
sang Elsbeth Siddons.
Every one stood where they were, or sat down
if a chair was empty.
"Ah," sighed Clara, who stood beside Jacob,
"Then to Silvia let us sing,
That Silvia is excelling;
She excels each mortal thing
Upon the dull earth dwelling.
To her let us garlands bring,"
sang Elsbeth Siddons.
"Ah!" Clara exclaimed out loud, and clapped
her gloved hands; and Jacob clapped his bare ones; and then
she moved forward and directed people to come in from the
"You are living in London?" asked Miss Julia
"Yes," said Jacob.
"There is Mr. Clutterbuck. You always see
Mr. Clutterbuck here. He is not very happy at home, I am
afraid. They say that Mrs. Clutterbuck …" she dropped her
voice. "That's why he stays with the Durrants. Were you
there when they acted Mr. Wortley's play? Oh, no, of course
not—at the last moment, did you hear—you had to go to join
your mother, I remember, at Harrogate—At the last moment, as
I was saying, just as everything was ready, the clothes
finished and everything—Now Elsbeth is going to sing again.
Clara is playing her accompaniment or turning over for Mr.
Carter, I think. No, Mr. Carter is playing by himself—This
is BACH," she whispered, as Mr. Carter played the first
"Are you fond of music?" said Mr. Durrant.
"Yes. I like hearing it," said Jacob. "I
know nothing about it."
"Very few people do that," said Mrs.
Durrant. "I daresay you were never taught. Why is that, Sir
Jasper?—Sir Jasper Bigham—Mr. Flanders. Why is nobody taught
anything that they ought to know, Sir Jasper?" She left them
standing against the wall.
Neither of the gentlemen said anything for
three minutes, though Jacob shifted perhaps five inches to
the left, and then as many to the right. Then Jacob grunted,
and suddenly crossed the room.
"Will you come and have something to eat?"
he said to Clara Durrant.
"Yes, an ice. Quickly. Now," she said.
Downstairs they went.
But half-way down they met Mr. and Mrs.
Gresham, Herbert Turner, Sylvia Rashleigh, and a friend,
whom they had dared to bring, from America, "knowing that
Mrs. Durrant—wishing to show Mr. Pilcher.—Mr. Pilcher from
New York—This is Miss Durrant."
"Whom I have heard so much of," said Mr.
Pilcher, bowing low.
So Clara left him.
About half-past nine
Jacob left the house, his door slamming, other doors
slamming, buying his paper, mounting his omnibus, or,
weather permitting, walking his road as other people do.
Head bent down, a desk, a telephone, books bound in green
leather, electric light…. "Fresh coals, sir?" … "Your tea,
sir."… Talk about football, the Hotspurs, the Harlequins;
six-thirty Star brought in by the office boy; the rooks of
Gray's Inn passing overhead; branches in the fog thin and
brittle; and through the roar of traffic now and again a
voice shouting: "Verdict—verdict—winner—winner," while
letters accumulate in a basket, Jacob signs them, and each
evening finds him, as he takes his coat down, with some
muscle of the brain new stretched.
Then, sometimes a game of chess; or pictures
in Bond Street, or a long way home to take the air with
Bonamy on his arm, meditatively marching, head thrown back,
the world a spectacle, the early moon above the steeples
coming in for praise, the sea-gulls flying high, Nelson on
his column surveying the horizon, and the world our ship.
Meanwhile, poor Betty Flanders's letter,
having caught the second post, lay on the hall table—poor
Betty Flanders writing her son's name, Jacob Alan Flanders,
Esq., as mothers do, and the ink pale, profuse, suggesting
how mothers down at Scarborough scribble over the fire with
their feet on the fender, when tea's cleared away, and can
never, never say, whatever it may be—probably this—Don't go
with bad women, do be a good boy; wear your thick shirts;
and come back, come back, come back to me.
But she said nothing of the kind. "Do you
remember old Miss Wargrave, who used to be so kind when you
had the whooping-cough?" she wrote; "she's dead at last,
poor thing. They would like it if you wrote. Ellen came over
and we spent a nice day shopping. Old Mouse gets very stiff,
and we have to walk him up the smallest hill. Rebecca, at
last, after I don't know how long, went into Mr. Adamson's.
Three teeth, he says, must come out. Such mild weather for
the time of year, the little buds actually on the pear
trees. And Mrs. Jarvis tells me—"Mrs. Flanders liked Mrs.
Jarvis, always said of her that she was too good for such a
quiet place, and, though she never listened to her
discontent and told her at the end of it (looking up,
sucking her thread, or taking off her spectacles) that a
little peat wrapped round the iris roots keeps them from the
frost, and Parrot's great white sale is Tuesday next, "do
remember,"—Mrs. Flanders knew precisely how Mrs. Jarvis
felt; and how interesting her letters were, about Mrs.
Jarvis, could one read them year in, year out—the
unpublished works of women, written by the fireside in pale
profusion, dried by the flame, for the blotting-paper's worn
to holes and the nib cleft and clotted. Then Captain
Barfoot. Him she called "the Captain," spoke of frankly, yet
never without reserve. The Captain was enquiring for her
about Garfit's acre; advised chickens; could promise profit;
or had the sciatica; or Mrs. Barfoot had been indoors for
weeks; or the Captain says things look bad, politics that
is, for as Jacob knew, the Captain would sometimes talk, as
the evening waned, about Ireland or India; and then Mrs.
Flanders would fall musing about Morty, her brother, lost
all these years—had the natives got him, was his ship
sunk—would the Admiralty tell her?—the Captain knocking his
pipe out, as Jacob knew, rising to go, stiffly stretching to
pick up Mrs. Flanders's wool which had rolled beneath the
chair. Talk of the chicken farm came back and back, the
women, even at fifty, impulsive at heart, sketching on the
cloudy future flocks of Leghorns, Cochin Chinas, Orpingtons;
like Jacob in the blur of her outline; but powerful as he
was; fresh and vigorous, running about the house, scolding
The letter lay upon the hall table; Florinda
coming in that night took it up with her, put it on the
table as she kissed Jacob, and Jacob seeing the hand, left
it there under the lamp, between the biscuit-tin and the
tobacco-box. They shut the bedroom door behind them.
The sitting-room neither knew nor cared. The
door was shut; and to suppose that wood, when it creaks,
transmits anything save that rats are busy and wood dry is
childish. These old houses are only brick and wood, soaked
in human sweat, grained with human dirt. But if the pale
blue envelope lying by the biscuit-box had the feelings of a
mother, the heart was torn by the little creak, the sudden
stir. Behind the door was the obscene thing, the alarming
presence, and terror would come over her as at death, or the
birth of a child. Better, perhaps, burst in and face it than
sit in the antechamber listening to the little creak, the
sudden stir, for her heart was swollen, and pain threaded
it. My son, my son— such would be her cry, uttered to hide
her vision of him stretched with Florinda, inexcusable,
irrational, in a woman with three children living at
Scarborough. And the fault lay with Florinda. Indeed, when
the door opened and the couple came out, Mrs. Flanders would
have flounced upon her—only it was Jacob who came first, in
his dressing-gown, amiable, authoritative, beautifully
healthy, like a baby after an airing, with an eye clear as
running water. Florinda followed, lazily stretching; yawning
a little; arranging her hair at the looking-glass—while
Jacob read his mother's letter.
Let us consider letters—how they come at
breakfast, and at night, with their yellow stamps and their
green stamps, immortalized by the postmark—for to see one's
own envelope on another's table is to realize how soon deeds
sever and become alien. Then at last the power of the mind
to quit the body is manifest, and perhaps we fear or hate or
wish annihilated this phantom of ourselves, lying on the
table. Still, there are letters that merely say how dinner's
at seven; others ordering coal; making appointments. The
hand in them is scarcely perceptible, let alone the voice or
the scowl. Ah, but when the post knocks and the letter comes
always the miracle seems repeated—speech attempted.
Venerable are letters, infinitely brave, forlorn, and lost.
Life would split asunder without them. "Come
to tea, come to dinner, what's the truth of the story? have
you heard the news? life in the capital is gay; the Russian
dancers…." These are our stays and props. These lace our
days together and make of life a perfect globe. And yet, and
yet … when we go to dinner, when pressing finger-tips we
hope to meet somewhere soon, a doubt insinuates itself; is
this the way to spend our days? the rare, the limited, so
soon dealt out to us—drinking tea? dining out? And the notes
accumulate. And the telephones ring. And everywhere we go
wires and tubes surround us to carry the voices that try to
penetrate before the last card is dealt and the days are
over. "Try to penetrate," for as we lift the cup, shake the
hand, express the hope, something whispers, Is this all? Can
I never know, share, be certain? Am I doomed all my days to
write letters, send voices, which fall upon the tea-table,
fade upon the passage, making appointments, while life
dwindles, to come and dine? Yet letters are venerable; and
the telephone valiant, for the journey is a lonely one, and
if bound together by notes and telephones we went in
company, perhaps—who knows?—we might talk by the way.
Well, people have tried. Byron wrote
letters. So did Cowper. For centuries the writing-desk has
contained sheets fit precisely for the communications of
friends. Masters of language, poets of long ages, have
turned from the sheet that endures to the sheet that
perishes, pushing aside the tea-tray, drawing close to the
fire (for letters are written when the dark presses round a
bright red cave), and addressed themselves to the task of
reaching, touching, penetrating the individual heart. Were
it possible! But words have been used too often; touched and
turned, and left exposed to the dust of the street. The
words we seek hang close to the tree. We come at dawn and
find them sweet beneath the leaf.
Mrs. Flanders wrote letters; Mrs. Jarvis
wrote them; Mrs. Durrant too; Mother Stuart actually scented
her pages, thereby adding a flavour which the English
language fails to provide; Jacob had written in his day long
letters about art, morality, and politics to young men at
college. Clara Durrant's letters were those of a child.
Florinda—the impediment between Florinda and her pen was
something impassable. Fancy a butterfly, gnat, or other
winged insect, attached to a twig which, clogged with mud,
it rolls across a page. Her spelling was abominable. Her
sentiments infantile. And for some reason when she wrote she
declared her belief in God. Then there were crosses—tear
stains; and the hand itself rambling and redeemed only by
the fact—which always did redeem Florinda—by the fact that
she cared. Yes, whether it was for chocolate creams, hot
baths, the shape of her face in the looking-glass, Florinda
could no more pretend a feeling than swallow whisky.
Incontinent was her rejection. Great men are truthful, and
these little prostitutes, staring in the fire, taking out a
powder-puff, decorating lips at an inch of looking-glass,
have (so Jacob thought) an inviolable fidelity.
Then he saw her turning up Greek Street upon
another man's arm.
The light from the arc lamp drenched him
from head to toe. He stood for a minute motionless beneath
it. Shadows chequered the street. Other figures, single and
together, poured out, wavered across, and obliterated
Florinda and the man.
The light drenched Jacob from head to toe.
You could see the pattern on his trousers; the old thorns on
his stick; his shoe laces; bare hands; and face.
It was as if a stone were ground to dust; as
if white sparks flew from a livid whetstone, which was his
spine; as if the switchback railway, having swooped to the
depths, fell, fell, fell. This was in his face.
Whether we know what was in his mind is
another question. Granted ten years' seniority and a
difference of sex, fear of him comes first; this is
swallowed up by a desire to help—overwhelming sense, reason,
and the time of night; anger would follow close on that—with
Florinda, with destiny; and then up would bubble an
irresponsible optimism. "Surely there's enough light in the
street at this moment to drown all our cares in gold!" Ah,
what's the use of saying it? Even while you speak and look
over your shoulder towards Shaftesbury Avenue, destiny is
chipping a dent in him. He has turned to go. As for
following him back to his rooms, no—that we won't do.
Yet that, of course, is precisely what one
does. He let himself in and shut the door, though it was
only striking ten on one of the city clocks. No one can go
to bed at ten. Nobody was thinking of going to bed. It was
January and dismal, but Mrs. Wagg stood on her doorstep, as
if expecting something to happen. A barrel-organ played like
an obscene nightingale beneath wet leaves. Children ran
across the road. Here and there one could see brown
panelling inside the hall door…. The march that the mind
keeps beneath the windows of others is queer enough. Now
distracted by brown panelling; now by a fern in a pot; here
improvising a few phrases to dance with the barrel-organ;
again snatching a detached gaiety from a drunken man; then
altogether absorbed by words the poor shout across the
street at each other (so outright, so lusty)—yet all the
while having for centre, for magnet, a young man alone in
"Life is wicked—life is detestable," cried
The strange thing about life is that though
the nature of it must have been apparent to every one for
hundreds of years, no one has left any adequate account of
it. The streets of London have their map; but our passions
are uncharted. What are you going to meet if you turn this
"Holborn straight ahead of you" says the
policeman. Ah, but where are you going if instead of
brushing past the old man with the white beard, the silver
medal, and the cheap violin, you let him go on with his
story, which ends in an invitation to step somewhere, to his
room, presumably, off Queen's Square, and there he shows you
a collection of birds' eggs and a letter from the Prince of
Wales's secretary, and this (skipping the intermediate
stages) brings you one winter's day to the Essex coast,
where the little boat makes off to the ship, and the ship
sails and you behold on the skyline the Azores; and the
flamingoes rise; and there you sit on the verge of the marsh
drinking rum-punch, an outcast from civilization, for you
have committed a crime, are infected with yellow fever as
likely as not, and—fill in the sketch as you like. As
frequent as street corners in Holborn are these chasms in
the continuity of our ways. Yet we keep straight on.
Rose Shaw, talking in rather an emotional
manner to Mr. Bowley at Mrs. Durrant's evening party a few
nights back, said that life was wicked because a man called
Jimmy refused to marry a woman called (if memory serves)
Both were beautiful. Both were inanimate.
The oval tea-table invariably separated them, and the plate
of biscuits was all he ever gave her. He bowed; she inclined
her head. They danced. He danced divinely. They sat in the
alcove; never a word was said. Her pillow was wet with
tears. Kind Mr. Bowley and dear Rose Shaw marvelled and
deplored. Bowley had rooms in the Albany. Rose was re-born
every evening precisely as the clock struck eight. All four
were civilization's triumphs, and if you persist that a
command of the English language is part of our inheritance,
one can only reply that beauty is almost always dumb. Male
beauty in association with female beauty breeds in the
onlooker a sense of fear. Often have I seen them—Helen and
Jimmy—and likened them to ships adrift, and feared for my
own little craft. Or again, have you ever watched fine
collie dogs couchant at twenty yards' distance? As she
passed him his cup there was that quiver in her flanks.
Bowley saw what was up-asked Jimmy to breakfast. Helen must
have confided in Rose. For my own part, I find it
exceedingly difficult to interpret songs without words. And
now Jimmy feeds crows in Flanders and Helen visits
hospitals. Oh, life is damnable, life is wicked, as Rose
The lamps of London uphold the dark as upon
the points of burning bayonets. The yellow canopy sinks and
swells over the great four-poster. Passengers in the
mail-coaches running into London in the eighteenth century
looked through leafless branches and saw it flaring beneath
them. The light burns behind yellow blinds and pink blinds,
and above fanlights, and down in basement windows. The
street market in Soho is fierce with light. Raw meat, china
mugs, and silk stockings blaze in it. Raw voices wrap
themselves round the flaring gas-jets. Arms akimbo, they
stand on the pavement bawling—Messrs. Kettle and Wilkinson;
their wives sit in the shop, furs wrapped round their necks,
arms folded, eyes contemptuous. Such faces as one sees. The
little man fingering the meat must have squatted before the
fire in innumerable lodging-houses, and heard and seen and
known so much that it seems to utter itself even volubly
from dark eyes, loose lips, as he fingers the meat silently,
his face sad as a poet's, and never a song sung. Shawled
women carry babies with purple eyelids; boys stand at street
corners; girls look across the road—rude illustrations,
pictures in a book whose pages we turn over and over as if
we should at last find what we look for. Every face, every
shop, bedroom window, public-house, and dark square is a
picture feverishly turned—in search of what? It is the same
with books. What do we seek through millions of pages? Still
hopefully turning the pages— oh, here is Jacob's room.
He sat at the table reading the Globe. The
pinkish sheet was spread flat before him. He propped his
face in his hand, so that the skin of his cheek was wrinkled
in deep folds. Terribly severe he looked, set, and defiant.
(What people go through in half an hour! But nothing could
save him. These events are features of our landscape. A
foreigner coming to London could scarcely miss seeing St.
Paul's.) He judged life. These pinkish and greenish
newspapers are thin sheets of gelatine pressed nightly over
the brain and heart of the world. They take the impression
of the whole. Jacob cast his eye over it. A strike, a
murder, football, bodies found; vociferation from all parts
of England simultaneously. How miserable it is that the
Globe newspaper offers nothing better to Jacob Flanders!
When a child begins to read history one marvels,
sorrowfully, to hear him spell out in his new voice the
The Prime Minister's speech was reported in
something over five columns. Feeling in his pocket, Jacob
took out a pipe and proceeded to fill it. Five minutes, ten
minutes, fifteen minutes passed. Jacob took the paper over
to the fire. The Prime Minister proposed a measure for
giving Home Rule to Ireland. Jacob knocked out his pipe. He
was certainly thinking about Home Rule in Ireland—a very
difficult matter. A very cold night.
The snow, which had been falling all night,
lay at three o'clock in the afternoon over the fields and
the hill. Clumps of withered grass stood out upon the
hill-top; the furze bushes were black, and now and then a
black shiver crossed the snow as the wind drove flurries of
frozen particles before it. The sound was that of a broom
The stream crept along by the road unseen by
any one. Sticks and leaves caught in the frozen grass. The
sky was sullen grey and the trees of black iron.
Uncompromising was the severity of the country. At four
o'clock the snow was again falling. The day had gone out.
A window tinged yellow about two feet across
alone combated the white fields and the black trees …. At
six o'clock a man's figure carrying a lantern crossed the
field …. A raft of twig stayed upon a stone, suddenly
detached itself, and floated towards the culvert …. A load
of snow slipped and fell from a fir branch …. Later there
was a mournful cry …. A motor car came along the road
shoving the dark before it …. The dark shut down behind it….
Spaces of complete immobility separated each
of these movements. The land seemed to lie dead …. Then the
old shepherd returned stiffly across the field. Stiffly and
painfully the frozen earth was trodden under and gave
beneath pressure like a treadmill. The worn voices of clocks
repeated the fact of the hour all night long.
Jacob, too, heard them, and raked out the
fire. He rose. He stretched himself. He went to bed.
The Countess of
Rocksbier sat at the head of the table alone with Jacob. Fed
upon champagne and spices for at least two centuries (four,
if you count the female line), the Countess Lucy looked well
fed. A discriminating nose she had for scents, prolonged, as
if in quest of them; her underlip protruded a narrow red
shelf; her eyes were small, with sandy tufts for eyebrows,
and her jowl was heavy. Behind her (the window looked on
Grosvenor Square) stood Moll Pratt on the pavement, offering
violets for sale; and Mrs. Hilda Thomas, lifting her skirts,
preparing to cross the road. One was from Walworth; the
other from Putney. Both wore black stockings, but Mrs.
Thomas was coiled in furs. The comparison was much in Lady
Rocksbier's favour. Moll had more humour, but was violent;
stupid too. Hilda Thomas was mealy-mouthed, all her silver
frames aslant; egg-cups in the drawing-room; and the windows
shrouded. Lady Rocksbier, whatever the deficiencies of her
profile, had been a great rider to hounds. She used her
knife with authority, tore her chicken bones, asking Jacob's
pardon, with her own hands.
"Who is that driving by?" she asked Boxall,
"Lady Firtlemere's carriage, my lady," which
reminded her to send a card to ask after his lordship's
health. A rude old lady, Jacob thought. The wine was
excellent. She called herself "an old woman"—"so kind to
lunch with an old woman"—which flattered him. She talked of
Joseph Chamberlain, whom she had known. She said that Jacob
must come and meet— one of our celebrities. And the Lady
Alice came in with three dogs on a leash, and Jackie, who
ran to kiss his grandmother, while Boxall brought in a
telegram, and Jacob was given a good cigar.
A few moments before a horse jumps it slows,
sidles, gathers itself together, goes up like a monster
wave, and pitches down on the further side. Hedges and sky
swoop in a semicircle. Then as if your own body ran into the
horse's body and it was your own forelegs grown with his
that sprang, rushing through the air you go, the ground
resilient, bodies a mass of muscles, yet you have command
too, upright stillness, eyes accurately judging. Then the
curves cease, changing to downright hammer strokes, which
jar; and you draw up with a jolt; sitting back a little,
sparkling, tingling, glazed with ice over pounding arteries,
gasping: "Ah! ho! Hah!" the steam going up from the horses
as they jostle together at the cross-roads, where the
signpost is, and the woman in the apron stands and stares at
the doorway. The man raises himself from the cabbages to
So Jacob galloped over the fields of Essex,
flopped in the mud, lost the hunt, and rode by himself
eating sandwiches, looking over the hedges, noticing the
colours as if new scraped, cursing his luck.
He had tea at the Inn; and there they all
were, slapping, stamping, saying, "After you," clipped,
curt, jocose, red as the wattles of turkeys, using free
speech until Mrs. Horsefield and her friend Miss Dudding
appeared at the doorway with their skirts hitched up, and
hair looping down. Then Tom Dudding rapped at the window
with his whip. A motor car throbbed in the courtyard.
Gentlemen, feeling for matches, moved out, and Jacob went
into the bar with Brandy Jones to smoke with the rustics.
There was old Jevons with one eye gone, and his clothes the
colour of mud, his bag over his back, and his brains laid
feet down in earth among the violet roots and the nettle
roots; Mary Sanders with her box of wood; and Tom sent for
beer, the half-witted son of the sexton— all this within
thirty miles of London.
Mrs. Papworth, of Endell Street, Covent
Garden, did for Mr. Bonamy in New Square, Lincoln's Inn, and
as she washed up the dinner things in the scullery she heard
the young gentlemen talking in the room next door. Mr.
Sanders was there again; Flanders she meant; and where an
inquisitive old woman gets a name wrong, what chance is
there that she will faithfully report an argument? As she
held the plates under water and then dealt them on the pile
beneath the hissing gas, she listened: heard Sanders
speaking in a loud rather overbearing tone of voice: "good,"
he said, and "absolute" and "justice" and "punishment," and
"the will of the majority." Then her gentleman piped up; she
backed him for argument against Sanders. Yet Sanders was a
fine young fellow (here all the scraps went swirling round
the sink, scoured after by her purple, almost nailless
hands). "Women"—she thought, and wondered what Sanders and
her gentleman did in THAT line, one eyelid sinking
perceptibly as she mused, for she was the mother of
nine—three still-born and one deaf and dumb from birth.
Putting the plates in the rack she heard once more Sanders
at it again ("He don't give Bonamy a chance," she thought).
"Objective something," said Bonamy; and "common ground" and
something else—all very long words, she noted. "Book
learning does it," she thought to herself, and, as she
thrust her arms into her jacket, heard something—might be
the little table by the fire—fall; and then stamp, stamp,
stamp—as if they were having at each other—round the room,
making the plates dance.
"To-morrow's breakfast, sir," she said,
opening the door; and there were Sanders and Bonamy like two
bulls of Bashan driving each other up and down, making such
a racket, and all them chairs in the way. They never noticed
her. She felt motherly towards them. "Your breakfast, sir,"
she said, as they came near. And Bonamy, all his hair
touzled and his tie flying, broke off, and pushed Sanders
into the arm-chair, and said Mr. Sanders had smashed the
coffee-pot and he was teaching Mr. Sanders—
Sure enough, the coffee-pot lay broken on
"Any day this week except Thursday," wrote
Miss Perry, and this was not the first invitation by any
means. Were all Miss Perry's weeks blank with the exception
of Thursday, and was her only desire to see her old friend's
son? Time is issued to spinster ladies of wealth in long
white ribbons. These they wind round and round, round and
round, assisted by five female servants, a butler, a fine
Mexican parrot, regular meals, Mudie's library, and friends
dropping in. A little hurt she was already that Jacob had
"Your mother," she said, "is one of my
Miss Rosseter, who was sitting by the fire,
holding the Spectator between her cheek and the blaze,
refused to have a fire screen, but finally accepted one. The
weather was then discussed, for in deference to Parkes, who
was opening little tables, graver matters were postponed.
Miss Rosseter drew Jacob's attention to the beauty of the
"So wonderfully clever in picking things
up," she said. Miss Perry had found it in Yorkshire. The
North of England was discussed. When Jacob spoke they both
listened. Miss Perry was bethinking her of something
suitable and manly to say when the door opened and Mr.
Benson was announced. Now there were four people sitting in
that room. Miss Perry aged 66; Miss Rosseter 42; Mr. Benson
38; and Jacob 25.
"My old friend looks as well as ever," said
Mr. Benson, tapping the bars of the parrot's cage; Miss
Rosseter simultaneously praised the tea; Jacob handed the
wrong plates; and Miss Perry signified her desire to
approach more closely. "Your brothers," she began vaguely.
"Archer and John," Jacob supplied her. Then
to her pleasure she recovered Rebecca's name; and how one
day "when you were all little boys, playing in the
"But Miss Perry has the kettle-holder," said
Miss Rosseter, and indeed Miss Perry was clasping it to her
breast. (Had she, then, loved Jacob's father?)
"So clever"—"not so good as usual"—"I
thought it most unfair," said Mr. Benson and Miss Rosseter,
discussing the Saturday Westminster. Did they not compete
regularly for prizes? Had not Mr. Benson three times won a
guinea, and Miss Rosseter once ten and sixpence? Of course
Everard Benson had a weak heart, but still, to win prizes,
remember parrots, toady Miss Perry, despise Miss Rosseter,
give tea-parties in his rooms (which were in the style of
Whistler, with pretty books on tables), all this, so Jacob
felt without knowing him, made him a contemptible ass. As
for Miss Rosseter, she had nursed cancer, and now painted
"Running away so soon?" said Miss Perry
vaguely. "At home every afternoon, if you've nothing better
to do—except Thursdays."
"I've never known you desert your old ladies
once," Miss Rosseter was saying, and Mr. Benson was stooping
over the parrot's cage, and Miss Perry was moving towards
The fire burnt clear between two pillars of
greenish marble, and on the mantelpiece there was a green
clock guarded by Britannia leaning on her spear. As for
pictures—a maiden in a large hat offered roses over the
garden gate to a gentleman in eighteenth-century costume. A
mastiff lay extended against a battered door. The lower
panes of the windows were of ground glass, and the curtains,
accurately looped, were of plush and green too.
Laurette and Jacob sat with their toes in
the fender side by side, in two large chairs covered in
green plush. Laurette's skirts were short, her legs long,
thin, and transparently covered. Her fingers stroked her
"It's not exactly that I don't understand
them," she was saying thoughtfully. "I must go and try
"What time will you be there?" said Jacob.
She shrugged her shoulders.
No, not to-morrow.
"This weather makes me long for the
country," she said, looking over her shoulder at the back
view of tall houses through the window.
"I wish you'd been with me on Saturday,"
"I used to ride," she said. She got up
gracefully, calmly. Jacob got up. She smiled at him. As she
shut the door he put so many shillings on the mantelpiece.
Altogether a most reasonable conversation; a
most respectable room; an intelligent girl. Only Madame
herself seeing Jacob out had about her that leer, that
lewdness, that quake of the surface (visible in the eyes
chiefly), which threatens to spill the whole bag of ordure,
with difficulty held together, over the pavement. In short,
something was wrong.
Not so very long ago the workmen had gilt
the final "y" in Lord Macaulay's name, and the names
stretched in unbroken file round the dome of the British
Museum. At a considerable depth beneath, many hundreds of
the living sat at the spokes of a cart-wheel copying from
printed books into manuscript books; now and then rising to
consult the catalogue; regaining their places stealthily,
while from time to time a silent man replenished their
There was a little catastrophe. Miss
Marchmont's pile overbalanced and fell into Jacob's
compartment. Such things happened to Miss Marchmont. What
was she seeking through millions of pages, in her old plush
dress, and her wig of claret-coloured hair, with her gems
and her chilblains? Sometimes one thing, sometimes another,
to confirm her philosophy that colour is sound—or, perhaps,
it has something to do with music. She could never quite
say, though it was not for lack of trying. And she could not
ask you back to her room, for it was "not very clean, I'm
afraid," so she must catch you in the passage, or take a
chair in Hyde Park to explain her philosophy. The rhythm of
the soul depends on it— ("how rude the little boys are!" she
would say), and Mr. Asquith's Irish policy, and Shakespeare
comes in, "and Queen Alexandra most graciously once
acknowledged a copy of my pamphlet," she would say, waving
the little boys magnificently away. But she needs funds to
publish her book, for "publishers are capitalists—publishers
are cowards." And so, digging her elbow into her pile of
books it fell over.
Jacob remained quite unmoved.
But Fraser, the atheist, on the other side,
detesting plush, more than once accosted with leaflets,
shifted irritably. He abhorred vagueness— the Christian
religion, for example, and old Dean Parker's pronouncements.
Dean Parker wrote books and Fraser utterly destroyed them by
force of logic and left his children unbaptized—his wife did
it secretly in the washing basin—but Fraser ignored her, and
went on supporting blasphemers, distributing leaflets,
getting up his facts in the British Museum, always in the
same check suit and fiery tie, but pale, spotted, irritable.
Indeed, what a work—to destroy religion!
Jacob transcribed a whole passage from
Miss Julia Hedge, the feminist, waited for
her books. They did not come. She wetted her pen. She looked
about her. Her eye was caught by the final letters in Lord
Macaulay's name. And she read them all round the dome—the
names of great men which remind us—"Oh damn," said Julia
Hedge, "why didn't they leave room for an Eliot or a
Unfortunate Julia! wetting her pen in
bitterness, and leaving her shoe laces untied. When her
books came she applied herself to her gigantic labours, but
perceived through one of the nerves of her exasperated
sensibility how composedly, unconcernedly, and with every
consideration the male readers applied themselves to theirs.
That young man for example. What had he got to do except
copy out poetry? And she must study statistics. There are
more women than men. Yes; but if you let women work as men
work, they'll die off much quicker. They'll become extinct.
That was her argument. Death and gall and bitter dust were
on her pen-tip; and as the afternoon wore on, red had worked
into her cheek-bones and a light was in her eyes.
But what brought Jacob Flanders to read
Marlowe in the British Museum? Youth, youth—something
savage—something pedantic. For example, there is Mr.
Masefield, there is Mr. Bennett. Stuff them into the flame
of Marlowe and burn them to cinders. Let not a shred remain.
Don't palter with the second rate. Detest your own age.
Build a better one. And to set that on foot read incredibly
dull essays upon Marlowe to your friends. For which purpose
one most collate editions in the British Museum. One must do
the thing oneself. Useless to trust to the Victorians, who
disembowel, or to the living, who are mere publicists. The
flesh and blood of the future depends entirely upon six
young men. And as Jacob was one of them, no doubt he looked
a little regal and pompous as he turned his page, and Julia
Hedge disliked him naturally enough.
But then a pudding-faced man pushed a note
towards Jacob, and Jacob, leaning back in his chair, began
an uneasy murmured conversation, and they went off together
(Julia Hedge watched them), and laughed aloud (she thought)
directly they were in the hall.
Nobody laughed in the reading-room. There
were shirtings, murmurings, apologetic sneezes, and sudden
unashamed devastating coughs. The lesson hour was almost
over. Ushers were collecting exercises. Lazy children wanted
to stretch. Good ones scribbled assiduously—ah, another day
over and so little done! And now and then was to be heard
from the whole collection of human beings a heavy sigh,
after which the humiliating old man would cough shamelessly,
and Miss Marchmont hinnied like a horse.
Jacob came back only in time to return his
The books were now replaced. A few letters
of the alphabet were sprinkled round the dome. Closely stood
together in a ring round the dome were Plato, Aristotle,
Sophocles, and Shakespeare; the literature of Rome, Greece,
China, India, Persia. One leaf of poetry was pressed flat
against another leaf, one burnished letter laid smooth
against another in a density of meaning, a conglomeration of
"One does want one's tea," said Miss
Marchmont, reclaiming her shabby umbrella.
Miss Marchmont wanted her tea, but could
never resist a last look at the Elgin Marbles. She looked at
them sideways, waving her hand and muttering a word or two
of salutation which made Jacob and the other man turn round.
She smiled at them amiably. It all came into her philosophy—
that colour is sound, or perhaps it has something to do with
music. And having done her service, she hobbled off to tea.
It was closing time. The public collected in the hall to
receive their umbrellas.
For the most part the students wait their
turn very patiently. To stand and wait while some one
examines white discs is soothing. The umbrella will
certainly be found. But the fact leads you on all day
through Macaulay, Hobbes, Gibbon; through octavos, quartos,
folios; sinks deeper and deeper through ivory pages and
morocco bindings into this density of thought, this
conglomeration of knowledge.
Jacob's walking-stick was like all the
others; they had muddled the pigeon-holes perhaps.
There is in the British Museum an enormous
mind. Consider that Plato is there cheek by jowl with
Aristotle; and Shakespeare with Marlowe. This great mind is
hoarded beyond the power of any single mind to possess it.
Nevertheless (as they take so long finding one's
walking-stick) one can't help thinking how one might come
with a notebook, sit at a desk, and read it all through. A
learned man is the most venerable of all—a man like Huxtable
of Trinity, who writes all his letters in Greek, they say,
and could have kept his end up with Bentley. And then there
is science, pictures, architecture,—an enormous mind.
They pushed the walking-stick across the
counter. Jacob stood beneath the porch of the British
Museum. It was raining. Great Russell Street was glazed and
shining—here yellow, here, outside the chemist's, red and
pale blue. People scuttled quickly close to the wall;
carriages rattled rather helter-skelter down the streets.
Well, but a little rain hurts nobody. Jacob walked off much
as if he had been in the country; and late that night there
he was sitting at his table with his pipe and his book.
The rain poured down. The British Museum
stood in one solid immense mound, very pale, very sleek in
the rain, not a quarter of a mile from him. The vast mind
was sheeted with stone; and each compartment in the depths
of it was safe and dry. The night-watchmen, flashing their
lanterns over the backs of Plato and Shakespeare, saw that
on the twenty-second of February neither flame, rat, nor
burglar was going to violate these treasures—poor, highly
respectable men, with wives and families at Kentish Town, do
their best for twenty years to protect Plato and
Shakespeare, and then are buried at Highgate.
Stone lies solid over the British Museum, as
bone lies cool over the visions and heat of the brain. Only
here the brain is Plato's brain and Shakespeare's; the brain
has made pots and statues, great bulls and little jewels,
and crossed the river of death this way and that
incessantly, seeking some landing, now wrapping the body
well for its long sleep; now laying a penny piece on the
eyes; now turning the toes scrupulously to the East.
Meanwhile, Plato continues his dialogue; in spite of the
rain; in spite of the cab whistles; in spite of the woman in
the mews behind Great Ormond Street who has come home drunk
and cries all night long, "Let me in! Let me in!"
In the street below Jacob's room voices were
But he read on. For after all Plato
continues imperturbably. And Hamlet utters his soliloquy.
And there the Elgin Marbles lie, all night long, old Jones's
lantern sometimes recalling Ulysses, or a horse's head; or
sometimes a flash of gold, or a mummy's sunk yellow cheek.
Plato and Shakespeare continue; and Jacob, who was reading
the Phaedrus, heard people vociferating round the lamp-post,
and the woman battering at the door and crying, "Let me in!"
as if a coal had dropped from the fire, or a fly, falling
from the ceiling, had lain on its back, too weak to turn
The Phaedrus is very difficult. And so, when
at length one reads straight ahead, falling into step,
marching on, becoming (so it seems) momentarily part of this
rolling, imperturbable energy, which has driven darkness
before it since Plato walked the Acropolis, it is impossible
to see to the fire.
The dialogue draws to its close. Plato's
argument is done. Plato's argument is stowed away in Jacob's
mind, and for five minutes Jacob's mind continues alone,
onwards, into the darkness. Then, getting up, he parted the
curtains, and saw, with astonishing clearness, how the
Springetts opposite had gone to bed; how it rained; how the
Jews and the foreign woman, at the end of the street, stood
by the pillar-box, arguing.
Every time the door opened and fresh people
came in, those already in the room shifted slightly; those
who were standing looked over their shoulders; those who
were sitting stopped in the middle of sentences. What with
the light, the wine, the strumming of a guitar, something
exciting happened each time the door opened. Who was coming
"But go on with what you were saying."
They were saying something that was far, far
too intimate to be said outright. But the noise of the
voices served like a clapper in little Mrs. Withers's mind,
scaring into the air blocks of small birds, and then they'd
settle, and then she'd feel afraid, put one hand to her
hair, bind both round her knees, and look up at Oliver
Skelton nervously, and say:
"Promise, PROMISE, you'll tell no one." … so
considerate he was, so tender. It was her husband's
character that she discussed. He was cold, she said.
Down upon them came the splendid Magdalen,
brown, warm, voluminous, scarcely brushing the grass with
her sandalled feet. Her hair flew; pins seemed scarcely to
attach the flying silks. An actress of course, a line of
light perpetually beneath her. It was only "My dear" that
she said, but her voice went jodelling between Alpine
passes. And down she tumbled on the floor, and sang, since
there was nothing to be said, round ah's and oh's. Mangin,
the poet, coming up to her, stood looking down at her,
drawing at his pipe. The dancing began.
Grey-haired Mrs. Keymer asked Dick Graves to
tell her who Mangin was, and said that she had seen too much
of this sort of thing in Paris (Magdalen had got upon his
knees; now his pipe was in her mouth) to be shocked. "Who is
that?" she said, staying her glasses when they came to
Jacob, for indeed he looked quiet, not indifferent, but like
some one on a beach, watching.
"Oh, my dear, let me lean on you," gasped
Helen Askew, hopping on one foot, for the silver cord round
her ankle had worked loose. Mrs. Keymer turned and looked at
the picture on the wall.
"Look at Jacob," said Helen (they were
binding his eyes for some game).
And Dick Graves, being a little drunk, very
faithful, and very simple- minded, told her that he thought
Jacob the greatest man he had ever known. And down they sat
cross-legged upon cushions and talked about Jacob, and
Helen's voice trembled, for they both seemed heroes to her,
and the friendship between them so much more beautiful than
women's friendships. Anthony Pollett now asked her to dance,
and as she danced she looked at them, over her shoulder,
standing at the table, drinking together.
The magnificent world—the live, sane,
vigorous world …. These words refer to the stretch of wood
pavement between Hammersmith and Holborn in January between
two and three in the morning. That was the ground beneath
Jacob's feet. It was healthy and magnificent because one
room, above a mews, somewhere near the river, contained
fifty excited, talkative, friendly people. And then to
stride over the pavement (there was scarcely a cab or
policeman in sight) is of itself exhilarating. The long loop
of Piccadilly, diamond-stitched, shows to best advantage
when it is empty. A young man has nothing to fear. On the
contrary, though he may not have said anything brilliant, he
feels pretty confident he can hold his own. He was pleased
to have met Mangin; he admired the young woman on the floor;
he liked them all; he liked that sort of thing. In short,
all the drums and trumpets were sounding. The street
scavengers were the only people about at the moment. It is
scarcely necessary to say how well-disposed Jacob felt
towards them; how it pleased him to let himself in with his
latch-key at his own door; how he seemed to bring back with
him into the empty room ten or eleven people whom he had not
known when he set out; how he looked about for something to
read, and found it, and never read it, and fell asleep.
Indeed, drums and trumpets is no phrase.
Indeed, Piccadilly and Holborn, and the empty sitting-room
and the sitting-room with fifty people in it are liable at
any moment to blow music into the air. Women perhaps are
more excitable than men. It is seldom that any one says
anything about it, and to see the hordes crossing Waterloo
Bridge to catch the non-stop to Surbiton one might think
that reason impelled them. No, no. It is the drums and
trumpets. Only, should you turn aside into one of those
little bays on Waterloo Bridge to think the matter over, it
will probably seem to you all a muddle—all a mystery.
They cross the Bridge incessantly. Sometimes
in the midst of carts and omnibuses a lorry will appear with
great forest trees chained to it. Then, perhaps, a mason's
van with newly lettered tombstones recording how some one
loved some one who is buried at Putney. Then the motor car
in front jerks forward, and the tombstones pass too quick
for you to read more. All the time the stream of people
never ceases passing from the Surrey side to the Strand;
from the Strand to the Surrey side. It seems as if the poor
had gone raiding the town, and now trapesed back to their
own quarters, like beetles scurrying to their holes, for
that old woman fairly hobbles towards Waterloo, grasping a
shiny bag, as if she had been out into the light and now
made off with some scraped chicken bones to her hovel
underground. On the other hand, though the wind is rough and
blowing in their faces, those girls there, striding hand in
hand, shouting out a song, seem to feel neither cold nor
shame. They are hatless. They triumph.
The wind has blown up the waves. The river
races beneath us, and the men standing on the barges have to
lean all their weight on the tiller. A black tarpaulin is
tied down over a swelling load of gold. Avalanches of coal
glitter blackly. As usual, painters are slung on planks
across the great riverside hotels, and the hotel windows
have already points of light in them. On the other side the
city is white as if with age; St. Paul's swells white above
the fretted, pointed, or oblong buildings beside it. The
cross alone shines rosy-gilt. But what century have we
reached? Has this procession from the Surrey side to the
Strand gone on for ever? That old man has been crossing the
Bridge these six hundred years, with the rabble of little
boys at his heels, for he is drunk, or blind with misery,
and tied round with old clouts of clothing such as pilgrims
might have worn. He shuffles on. No one stands still. It
seems as if we marched to the sound of music; perhaps the
wind and the river; perhaps these same drums and
trumpets—the ecstasy and hubbub of the soul. Why, even the
unhappy laugh, and the policeman, far from judging the drunk
man, surveys him humorously, and the little boys scamper
back again, and the clerk from Somerset House has nothing
but tolerance for him, and the man who is reading half a
page of Lothair at the bookstall muses charitably, with his
eyes off the print, and the girl hesitates at the crossing
and turns on him the bright yet vague glance of the young.
Bright yet vague. She is perhaps twenty-two.
She is shabby. She crosses the road and looks at the
daffodils and the red tulips in the florist's window. She
hesitates, and makes off in the direction of Temple Bar. She
walks fast, and yet anything distracts her. Now she seems to
see, and now to notice nothing.
Through the disused
graveyard in the parish of St. Pancras, Fanny Elmer strayed
between the white tombs which lean against the wall,
crossing the grass to read a name, hurrying on when the
grave-keeper approached, hurrying into the street, pausing
now by a window with blue china, now quickly making up for
lost time, abruptly entering a baker's shop, buying rolls,
adding cakes, going on again so that any one wishing to
follow must fairly trot. She was not drably shabby, though.
She wore silk stockings, and silver-buckled shoes, only the
red feather in her hat drooped, and the clasp of her bag was
weak, for out fell a copy of Madame Tussaud's programme as
she walked. She had the ankles of a stag. Her face was
hidden. Of course, in this dusk, rapid movements, quick
glances, and soaring hopes come naturally enough. She passed
right beneath Jacob's window.
The house was flat, dark, and silent. Jacob
was at home engaged upon a chess problem, the board being on
a stool between his knees. One hand was fingering the hair
at the back of his head. He slowly brought it forward and
raised the white queen from her square; then put her down
again on the same spot. He filled his pipe; ruminated; moved
two pawns; advanced the white knight; then ruminated with
one finger upon the bishop. Now Fanny Elmer passed beneath
She was on her way to sit to Nick Bramham
She sat in a flowered Spanish shawl, holding
in her hand a yellow novel.
"A little lower, a little looser, so—better,
that's right," Bramham mumbled, who was drawing her, and
smoking at the same time, and was naturally speechless. His
head might have been the work of a sculptor, who had squared
the forehead, stretched the mouth, and left marks of his
thumbs and streaks from his fingers in the clay. But the
eyes had never been shut. They were rather prominent, and
rather bloodshot, as if from staring and staring, and when
he spoke they looked for a second disturbed, but went on
staring. An unshaded electric light hung above her head.
As for the beauty of women, it is like the
light on the sea, never constant to a single wave. They all
have it; they all lose it. Now she is dull and thick as
bacon; now transparent as a hanging glass. The fixed faces
are the dull ones. Here comes Lady Venice displayed like a
monument for admiration, but carved in alabaster, to be set
on the mantelpiece and never dusted. A dapper brunette
complete from head to foot serves only as an illustration to
lie upon the drawing-room table. The women in the streets
have the faces of playing cards; the outlines accurately
filled in with pink or yellow, and the line drawn tightly
round them. Then, at a top-floor window, leaning out,
looking down, you see beauty itself; or in the corner of an
omnibus; or squatted in a ditch—beauty glowing, suddenly
expressive, withdrawn the moment after. No one can count on
it or seize it or have it wrapped in paper. Nothing is to be
won from the shops, and Heaven knows it would be better to
sit at home than haunt the plate-glass windows in the hope
of lifting the shining green, the glowing ruby, out of them
alive. Sea glass in a saucer loses its lustre no sooner than
silks do. Thus if you talk of a beautiful woman you mean
only something flying fast which for a second uses the eyes,
lips, or cheeks of Fanny Elmer, for example, to glow
She was not beautiful, as she sat stiffly;
her underlip too prominent; her nose too large; her eyes too
near together. She was a thin girl, with brilliant cheeks
and dark hair, sulky just now, or stiff with sitting. When
Bramham snapped his stick of charcoal she started. Bramham
was out of temper. He squatted before the gas fire warming
his hands. Meanwhile she looked at his drawing. He grunted.
Fanny threw on a dressing-gown and boiled a kettle.
"By God, it's bad," said Bramham.
Fanny dropped on to the floor, clasped her
hands round her knees, and looked at him, her beautiful
eyes—yes, beauty, flying through the room, shone there for a
second. Fanny's eyes seemed to question, to commiserate, to
be, for a second, love itself. But she exaggerated. Bramham
noticed nothing. And when the kettle boiled, up she
scrambled, more like a colt or a puppy than a loving woman.
Now Jacob walked over to the window and
stood with his hands in his pockets. Mr. Springett opposite
came out, looked at his shop window, and went in again. The
children drifted past, eyeing the pink sticks of sweetstuff.
Pickford's van swung down the street. A small boy twirled
from a rope. Jacob turned away. Two minutes later he opened
the front door, and walked off in the direction of Holborn.
Fanny Elmer took down her cloak from the
hook. Nick Bramham unpinned his drawing and rolled it under
his arm. They turned out the lights and set off down the
street, holding on their way through all the people, motor
cars, omnibuses, carts, until they reached Leicester Square,
five minutes before Jacob reached it, for his way was
slightly longer, and he had been stopped by a block in
Holborn waiting to see the King drive by, so that Nick and
Fanny were already leaning over the barrier in the promenade
at the Empire when Jacob pushed through the swing doors and
took his place beside them.
"Hullo, never noticed you," said Nick, five
"Bloody rot," said Jacob.
"Miss Elmer," said Nick.
Jacob took his pipe out of his mouth very
Very awkward he was. And when they sat upon
a plush sofa and let the smoke go up between them and the
stage, and heard far off the high- pitched voices and the
jolly orchestra breaking in opportunely he was still
awkward, only Fanny thought: "What a beautiful voice!" She
thought how little he said yet how firm it was. She thought
how young men are dignified and aloof, and how unconscious
they are, and how quietly one might sit beside Jacob and
look at him. And how childlike he would be, come in tired of
an evening, she thought, and how majestic; a little
overbearing perhaps; "But I wouldn't give way," she thought.
He got up and leant over the barrier. The smoke hung about
And for ever the beauty of young men seems
to be set in smoke, however lustily they chase footballs, or
drive cricket balls, dance, run, or stride along roads.
Possibly they are soon to lose it. Possibly they look into
the eyes of faraway heroes, and take their station among us
half contemptuously, she thought (vibrating like a
fiddle-string, to be played on and snapped). Anyhow, they
love silence, and speak beautifully, each word falling like
a disc new cut, not a hubble-bubble of small smooth coins
such as girls use; and they move decidedly, as if they knew
how long to stay and when to go—oh, but Mr. Flanders was
only gone to get a programme.
"The dancers come right at the end," he
said, coming back to them.
And isn't it pleasant, Fanny went on
thinking, how young men bring out lots of silver coins from
their trouser pockets, and look at them, instead of having
just so many in a purse?
Then there she was herself, whirling across
the stage in white flounces, and the music was the dance and
fling of her own soul, and the whole machinery, rock and
gear of the world was spun smoothly into those swift eddies
and falls, she felt, as she stood rigid leaning over the
barrier two feet from Jacob Flanders.
Her screwed-up black glove dropped to the
floor. When Jacob gave it her, she started angrily. For
never was there a more irrational passion. And Jacob was
afraid of her for a moment—so violent, so dangerous is it
when young women stand rigid; grasp the barrier; fall in
It was the middle of February. The roofs of
Hampstead Garden Suburb lay in a tremulous haze. It was too
hot to walk. A dog barked, barked, barked down in the
hollow. The liquid shadows went over the plain.
The body after long illness is languid,
passive, receptive of sweetness, but too weak to contain it.
The tears well and fall as the dog barks in the hollow, the
children skim after hoops, the country darkens and
brightens. Beyond a veil it seems. Ah, but draw the veil
thicker lest I faint with sweetness, Fanny Elmer sighed, as
she sat on a bench in Judges Walk looking at Hampstead
Garden Suburb. But the dog went on barking. The motor cars
hooted on the road. She heard a far-away rush and humming.
Agitation was at her heart. Up she got and walked. The grass
was freshly green; the sun hot. All round the pond children
were stooping to launch little boats; or were drawn back
screaming by their nurses.
At mid-day young women walk out into the
air. All the men are busy in the town. They stand by the
edge of the blue pond. The fresh wind scatters the
children's voices all about. My children, thought Fanny
Elmer. The women stand round the pond, beating off great
prancing shaggy dogs. Gently the baby is rocked in the
perambulator. The eyes of all the nurses, mothers, and
wandering women are a little glazed, absorbed. They gently
nod instead of answering when the little boys tug at their
skirts, begging them to move on.
And Fanny moved, hearing some cry—a
workman's whistle perhaps—high in mid-air. Now, among the
trees, it was the thrush trilling out into the warm air a
flutter of jubilation, but fear seemed to spur him, Fanny
thought; as if he too were anxious with such joy at his
heart—as if he were watched as he sang, and pressed by
tumult to sing. There! Restless, he flew to the next tree.
She heard his song more faintly. Beyond it was the humming
of the wheels and the wind rushing.
She spent tenpence on lunch.
"Dear, miss, she's left her umbrella,"
grumbled the mottled woman in the glass box near the door at
the Express Dairy Company's shop.
"Perhaps I'll catch her," answered Milly
Edwards, the waitress with the pale plaits of hair; and she
dashed through the door.
"No good," she said, coming back a moment
later with Fanny's cheap umbrella. She put her hand to her
"Oh, that door!" grumbled the cashier.
Her hands were cased in black mittens, and
the finger-tips that drew in the paper slips were swollen as
"Pie and greens for one. Large coffee and
crumpets. Eggs on toast. Two fruit cakes."
Thus the sharp voices of the waitresses
snapped. The lunchers heard their orders repeated with
approval; saw the next table served with anticipation. Their
own eggs on toast were at last delivered. Their eyes strayed
Damp cubes of pastry fell into mouths opened
like triangular bags.
Nelly Jenkinson, the typist, crumbled her
cake indifferently enough.
Every time the door opened she looked up. What did she
expect to see?
The coal merchant read the Telegraph without
stopping, missed the saucer, and, feeling abstractedly, put
the cup down on the table-cloth.
"Did you ever hear the like of that for
impertinence?" Mrs. Parsons wound up, brushing the crumbs
from her furs.
"Hot milk and scone for one. Pot of tea.
Roll and butter," cried the waitresses.
The door opened and shut.
Such is the life of the elderly.
It is curious, lying in a boat, to watch the
waves. Here are three coming regularly one after another,
all much of a size. Then, hurrying after them comes a
fourth, very large and menacing; it lifts the boat; on it
goes; somehow merges without accomplishing anything;
flattens itself out with the rest.
What can be more violent than the fling of
boughs in a gale, the tree yielding itself all up the trunk,
to the very tip of the branch, streaming and shuddering the
way the wind blows, yet never flying in dishevelment away?
The corn squirms and abases itself as if preparing to tug
itself free from the roots, and yet is tied down.
Why, from the very windows, even in the
dusk, you see a swelling run through the street, an
aspiration, as with arms outstretched, eyes desiring, mouths
agape. And then we peaceably subside. For if the exaltation
lasted we should be blown like foam into the air. The stars
would shine through us. We should go down the gale in salt
drops—as sometimes happens. For the impetuous spirits will
have none of this cradling. Never any swaying or aimlessly
lolling for them. Never any making believe, or lying cosily,
or genially supposing that one is much like another, fire
warm, wine pleasant, extravagance a sin.
"People are so nice, once you know them."
"I couldn't think ill of her. One must
remember—" But Nick perhaps, or Fanny Elmer, believing
implicitly in the truth of the moment, fling off, sting the
cheek, are gone like sharp hail.
"Oh," said Fanny, bursting into the studio
three-quarters of an hour late because she had been hanging
about the neighbourhood of the Foundling Hospital merely for
the chance of seeing Jacob walk down the street, take out
his latch-key, and open the door, "I'm afraid I'm late";
upon which Nick said nothing and Fanny grew defiant.
"I'll never come again!" she cried at
"Don't, then," Nick replied, and off she ran
without so much as good- night.
How exquisite it was—that dress in Evelina's
shop off Shaftesbury Avenue! It was four o'clock on a fine
day early in April, and was Fanny the one to spend four
o'clock on a fine day indoors? Other girls in that very
street sat over ledgers, or drew long threads wearily
between silk and gauze; or, festooned with ribbons in Swan
and Edgars, rapidly added up pence and farthings on the back
of the bill and twisted the yard and three-quarters in
tissue paper and asked "Your pleasure?" of the next comer.
In Evelina's shop off Shaftesbury Avenue the
parts of a woman were shown separate. In the left hand was
her skirt. Twining round a pole in the middle was a feather
boa. Ranged like the heads of malefactors on Temple Bar were
hats—emerald and white, lightly wreathed or drooping beneath
deep-dyed feathers. And on the carpet were her feet—pointed
gold, or patent leather slashed with scarlet.
Feasted upon by the eyes of women, the
clothes by four o'clock were flyblown like sugar cakes in a
baker's window. Fanny eyed them too. But coming along
Gerrard Street was a tall man in a shabby coat. A shadow
fell across Evelina's window—Jacob's shadow, though it was
not Jacob. And Fanny turned and walked along Gerrard Street
and wished that she had read books. Nick never read books,
never talked of Ireland, or the House of Lords; and as for
his finger-nails! She would learn Latin and read Virgil. She
had been a great reader. She had read Scott; she had read
Dumas. At the Slade no one read. But no one knew Fanny at
the Slade, or guessed how empty it seemed to her; the
passion for ear-rings, for dances, for Tonks and Steer—when
it was only the French who could paint, Jacob said. For the
moderns were futile; painting the least respectable of the
arts; and why read anything but Marlowe and Shakespeare,
Jacob said, and Fielding if you must read novels?
"Fielding," said Fanny, when the man in
Charing Cross Road asked her what book she wanted.
She bought Tom Jones.
At ten o'clock in the morning, in a room
which she shared with a school teacher, Fanny Elmer read Tom
Jones—that mystic book. For this dull stuff (Fanny thought)
about people with odd names is what Jacob likes. Good people
like it. Dowdy women who don't mind how they cross their
legs read Tom Jones—a mystic book; for there is something,
Fanny thought, about books which if I had been educated I
could have liked— much better than ear-rings and flowers,
she sighed, thinking of the corridors at the Slade and the
fancy-dress dance next week. She had nothing to wear.
They are real, thought Fanny Elmer, setting
her feet on the mantelpiece. Some people are. Nick perhaps,
only he was so stupid. And women never— except Miss Sargent,
but she went off at lunch-time and gave herself airs. There
they sat quietly of a night reading, she thought. Not going
to music-halls; not looking in at shop windows; not wearing
each other's clothes, like Robertson who had worn her shawl,
and she had worn his waistcoat, which Jacob could only do
very awkwardly; for he liked Tom Jones.
There it lay on her lap, in double columns,
price three and sixpence; the mystic book in which Henry
Fielding ever so many years ago rebuked Fanny Elmer for
feasting on scarlet, in perfect prose, Jacob said. For he
never read modern novels. He liked Tom Jones.
"I do like Tom Jones," said Fanny, at
five-thirty that same day early in
April when Jacob took out his pipe in the arm-chair
Alas, women lie! But not Clara Durrant. A
flawless mind; a candid nature; a virgin chained to a rock
(somewhere off Lowndes Square) eternally pouring out tea for
old men in white waistcoats, blue-eyed, looking you straight
in the face, playing Bach. Of all women, Jacob honoured her
most. But to sit at a table with bread and butter, with
dowagers in velvet, and never say more to Clara Durrant than
Benson said to the parrot when old Miss Perry poured out
tea, was an insufferable outrage upon the liberties and
decencies of human nature—or words to that effect. For Jacob
said nothing. Only he glared at the fire. Fanny laid down
She stitched or knitted.
"What's that?" asked Jacob.
"For the dance at the Slade."
And she fetched her head-dress; her
trousers; her shoes with red tassels. What should she wear?
"I shall be in Paris," said Jacob.
And what is the point of fancy-dress dances?
thought Fanny. You meet the same people; you wear the same
clothes; Mangin gets drunk; Florinda sits on his knee. She
flirts outrageously—with Nick Bramham just now.
"In Paris?" said Fanny.
"On my way to Greece," he replied.
For, he said, there is nothing so detestable
as London in May.
He would forget her.
A sparrow flew past the window trailing a
straw—a straw from a stack stood by a barn in a farmyard.
The old brown spaniel snuffs at the base for a rat. Already
the upper branches of the elm trees are blotted with nests.
The chestnuts have flirted their fans. And the butterflies
are flaunting across the rides in the Forest. Perhaps the
Purple Emperor is feasting, as Morris says, upon a mass of
putrid carrion at the base of an oak tree.
Fanny thought it all came from Tom Jones. He
could go alone with a book in his pocket and watch the
badgers. He would take a train at eight- thirty and walk all
night. He saw fire-flies, and brought back glow- worms in
pill-boxes. He would hunt with the New Forest Staghounds. It
all came from Tom Jones; and he would go to Greece with a
book in his pocket and forget her.
She fetched her hand-glass. There was her
face. And suppose one wreathed Jacob in a turban? There was
his face. She lit the lamp. But as the daylight came through
the window only half was lit up by the lamp. And though he
looked terrible and magnificent and would chuck the Forest,
he said, and come to the Slade, and be a Turkish knight or a
Roman emperor (and he let her blacken his lips and clenched
his teeth and scowled in the glass), still—there lay Tom
"Archer," said Mrs.
Flanders with that tenderness which mothers so often display
towards their eldest sons, "will be at Gibraltar to-morrow."
The post for which she was waiting
(strolling up Dods Hill while the random church bells swung
a hymn tune about her head, the clock striking four straight
through the circling notes; the glass purpling under a
storm-cloud; and the two dozen houses of the village
cowering, infinitely humble, in company under a leaf of
shadow), the post, with all its variety of messages,
envelopes addressed in bold hands, in slanting hands,
stamped now with English stamps, again with Colonial stamps,
or sometimes hastily dabbed with a yellow bar, the post was
about to scatter a myriad messages over the world. Whether
we gain or not by this habit of profuse communication it is
not for us to say. But that letter-writing is practised
mendaciously nowadays, particularly by young men travelling
in foreign parts, seems likely enough.
For example, take this scene.
Here was Jacob Flanders gone abroad and
staying to break his journey in Paris. (Old Miss Birkbeck,
his mother's cousin, had died last June and left him a
"You needn't repeat the whole damned thing
over again, Cruttendon," said Mallinson, the little bald
painter who was sitting at a marble table, splashed with
coffee and ringed with wine, talking very fast, and
undoubtedly more than a little drunk.
"Well, Flanders, finished writing to your
lady?" said Cruttendon, as Jacob came and took his seat
beside them, holding in his hand an envelope addressed to
Mrs. Flanders, near Scarborough, England.
"Do you uphold Velasquez?" said Cruttendon.
"By God, he does," said Mallinson.
"He always gets like this," said Cruttendon
Jacob looked at Mallinson with excessive
"I'll tell you the three greatest things
that were ever written in the whole of literature,"
Cruttendon burst out. "'Hang there like fruit my soul.'" he
"Don't listen to a man who don't like
Velasquez," said Mallinson.
"Adolphe, don't give Mr. Mallinson any more
wine," said Cruttendon.
"Fair play, fair play," said Jacob
judicially. "Let a man get drunk if he likes. That's
Shakespeare, Cruttendon. I'm with you there. Shakespeare had
more guts than all these damned frogs put together. 'Hang
there like fruit my soul,'" he began quoting, in a musical
rhetorical voice, flourishing his wine-glass. "The devil
damn you black, you cream-faced loon!" he exclaimed as the
wine washed over the rim.
"'Hang there like fruit my soul,'"
Cruttendon and Jacob both began again at the same moment,
and both burst out laughing.
"Curse these flies," said Mallinson,
flicking at his bald head. "What do they take me for?"
"Something sweet-smelling," said Cruttendon.
"Shut up, Cruttendon," said Jacob. "The
fellow has no manners," he explained to Mallinson very
politely. "Wants to cut people off their drink. Look here. I
want grilled bone. What's the French for grilled bone?
Grilled bone, Adolphe. Now you juggins, don't you
"And I'll tell you, Flanders, the second
most beautiful thing in the whole of literature," said
Cruttendon, bringing his feet down on to the floor, and
leaning right across the table, so that his face almost
touched Jacob's face.
"'Hey diddle diddle, the cat and the
fiddle,'" Mallinson interrupted, strumming his fingers on
the table. "The most ex-qui-sitely beautiful thing in the
whole of literature. … Cruttendon is a very good fellow," he
remarked confidentially. "But he's a bit of a fool." And he
jerked his head forward.
Well, not a word of this was ever told to
Mrs. Flanders; nor what happened when they paid the bill and
left the restaurant, and walked along the Boulevard
Then here is another scrap of conversation;
the time about eleven in the morning; the scene a studio;
and the day Sunday.
"I tell you, Flanders," said Cruttendon,
"I'd as soon have one of Mallinson's little pictures as a
Chardin. And when I say that …" he squeezed the tail of an
emaciated tube … "Chardin was a great swell. … He sells 'em
to pay his dinner now. But wait till the dealers get hold of
him. A great swell—oh, a very great swell."
"It's an awfully pleasant life," said Jacob,
"messing away up here.
Still, it's a stupid art, Cruttendon." He wandered off
across the room.
"There's this man, Pierre Louys now." He took up a book.
"Now my good sir, are you going to settle
down?" said Cruttendon.
"That's a solid piece of work," said Jacob,
standing a canvas on a chair.
"Oh, that I did ages ago," said Cruttendon,
looking over his shoulder.
"You're a pretty competent painter in my
opinion," said Jacob after a time.
"Now if you'd like to see what I'm after at
the present moment," said Cruttendon, putting a canvas
before Jacob. "There. That's it. That's more like it. That's
…" he squirmed his thumb in a circle round a lamp globe
"A pretty solid piece of work," said Jacob,
straddling his legs in front of it. "But what I wish you'd
Miss Jinny Carslake, pale, freckled, morbid,
came into the room.
"Oh Jinny, here's a friend. Flanders. An
Englishman. Wealthy. Highly connected. Go on, Flanders. …"
Jacob said nothing.
"It's THAT—that's not right," said Jinny
"No," said Cruttendon decidedly. "Can't be
He took the canvas off the chair and stood
it on the floor with its back to them.
"Sit down, ladies and gentlemen. Miss
Carslake comes from your part of the world, Flanders. From
Devonshire. Oh, I thought you said Devonshire. Very well.
She's a daughter of the church too. The black sheep of the
family. Her mother writes her such letters. I say—have you
one about you? It's generally Sundays they come. Sort of
church-bell effect, you know."
"Have you met all the painter men?" said
Jinny. "Was Mallinson drunk? If you go to his studio he'll
give you one of his pictures. I say, Teddy …"
"Half a jiff," said Cruttendon. "What's the
season of the year?" He looked out of the window.
"We take a day off on Sundays, Flanders."
"Will he …" said Jinny, looking at Jacob.
"Yes, he'll come with us," said Cruttendon.
And then, here is Versailles. Jinny stood on
the stone rim and leant over the pond, clasped by
Cruttendon's arms or she would have fallen in. "There!
There!" she cried. "Right up to the top!" Some sluggish,
sloping-shouldered fish had floated up from the depths to
nip her crumbs. "You look," she said, jumping down. And then
the dazzling white water, rough and throttled, shot up into
the air. The fountain spread itself. Through it came the
sound of military music far away. All the water was puckered
with drops. A blue air-ball gently bumped the surface. How
all the nurses and children and old men and young crowded to
the edge, leant over and waved their sticks! The little girl
ran stretching her arms towards her air-ball, but it sank
beneath the fountain.
Edward Cruttendon, Jinny Carslake, and Jacob
Flanders walked in a row along the yellow gravel path; got
on to the grass; so passed under the trees; and came out at
the summer-house where Marie Antoinette used to drink
chocolate. In went Edward and Jinny, but Jacob waited
outside, sitting on the handle of his walking-stick. Out
they came again.
"Well?" said Cruttendon, smiling at Jacob.
Jinny waited; Edward waited; and both looked
"Well?" said Jacob, smiling and pressing
both hands on his stick.
"Come along," he decided; and started off.
The others followed him, smiling.
And then they went to the little cafe in the
by-street where people sit drinking coffee, watching the
soldiers, meditatively knocking ashes into trays.
"But he's quite different," said Jinny,
folding her hands over the top of her glass. "I don't
suppose you know what Ted means when he says a thing like
that," she said, looking at Jacob. "But I do. Sometimes I
could kill myself. Sometimes he lies in bed all day
long—just lies there. … I don't want you right on the
table"; she waved her hands. Swollen iridescent pigeons were
waddling round their feet.
"Look at that woman's hat," said Cruttendon.
"How do they come to think of it? … No, Flanders, I don't
think I could live like you. When one walks down that street
opposite the British Museum—what's it called?— that's what I
mean. It's all like that. Those fat women—and the man
standing in the middle of the road as if he were going to
have a fit …"
"Everybody feeds them," said Jinny, waving
the pigeons away. "They're stupid old things."
"Well, I don't know," said Jacob, smoking
his cigarette. "There's St.
"I mean going to an office," said
"Hang it all," Jacob expostulated.
"But you don't count," said Jinny, looking
at Cruttendon. "You're mad. I mean, you just think of
"Yes, I know. I can't help it. I say, will
King George give way about the peers?"
"He'll jolly well have to," said Jacob.
"There!" said Jinny. "He really knows."
"You see, I would if I could," said
Cruttendon, "but I simply can't."
"I THINK I could," said Jinny. "Only, it's
all the people one dislikes who do it. At home, I mean. They
talk of nothing else. Even people like my mother."
"Now if I came and lived here—-" said Jacob.
"What's my share, Cruttendon? Oh, very well. Have it your
own way. Those silly birds, directly one wants them—they've
And finally under the arc lamps in the Gare
des Invalides, with one of those queer movements which are
so slight yet so definite, which may wound or pass unnoticed
but generally inflict a good deal of discomfort, Jinny and
Cruttendon drew together; Jacob stood apart. They had to
separate. Something must be said. Nothing was said. A man
wheeled a trolley past Jacob's legs so near that he almost
grazed them. When Jacob recovered his balance the other two
were turning away, though Jinny looked over her shoulder,
and Cruttendon, waving his hand, disappeared like the very
great genius that he was.
No—Mrs. Flanders was told none of this,
though Jacob felt, it is safe to say, that nothing in the
world was of greater importance; and as for Cruttendon and
Jinny, he thought them the most remarkable people he had
ever met—being of course unable to foresee how it fell out
in the course of time that Cruttendon took to painting
orchards; had therefore to live in Kent; and must, one would
think, see through apple blossom by this time, since his
wife, for whose sake he did it, eloped with a novelist; but
no; Cruttendon still paints orchards, savagely, in solitude.
Then Jinny Carslake, after her affair with Lefanu the
American painter, frequented Indian philosophers, and now
you find her in pensions in Italy cherishing a little
jeweller's box containing ordinary pebbles picked off the
road. But if you look at them steadily, she says,
multiplicity becomes unity, which is somehow the secret of
life, though it does not prevent her from following the
macaroni as it goes round the table, and sometimes, on
spring nights, she makes the strangest confidences to shy
Jacob had nothing to hide from his mother.
It was only that he could make no sense himself of his
extraordinary excitement, and as for writing it down—-
"Jacob's letters are so like him," said Mrs.
Jarvis, folding the sheet.
"Indeed he seems to be having …" said Mrs.
Flanders, and paused, for she was cutting out a dress and
had to straighten the pattern, "… a very gay time."
Mrs. Jarvis thought of Paris. At her back
the window was open, for it was a mild night; a calm night;
when the moon seemed muffled and the apple trees stood
"I never pity the dead," said Mrs. Jarvis,
shifting the cushion at her back, and clasping her hands
behind her head. Betty Flanders did not hear, for her
scissors made so much noise on the table.
"They are at rest," said Mrs. Jarvis. "And
we spend our days doing foolish unnecessary things without
Mrs. Jarvis was not liked in the village.
"You never walk at this time of night?" she
asked Mrs. Flanders.
"It is certainly wonderfully mild," said
Yet it was years since she had opened the
orchard gate and gone out on
Dods Hill after dinner.
"It is perfectly dry," said Mrs. Jarvis, as
they shut the orchard door and stepped on to the turf.
"I shan't go far," said Betty Flanders.
"Yes, Jacob will leave Paris on
"Jacob was always my friend of the three,"
said Mrs. Jarvis.
"Now, my dear, I am going no further," said
Mrs. Flanders. They had climbed the dark hill and reached
the Roman camp.
The rampart rose at their feet—the smooth
circle surrounding the camp or the grave. How many needles
Betty Flanders had lost there; and her garnet brooch.
"It is much clearer than this sometimes,"
said Mrs. Jarvis, standing upon the ridge. There were no
clouds, and yet there was a haze over the sea, and over the
moors. The lights of Scarborough flashed, as if a woman
wearing a diamond necklace turned her head this way and
"How quiet it is!" said Mrs. Jarvis.
Mrs. Flanders rubbed the turf with her toe,
thinking of her garnet brooch.
Mrs. Jarvis found it difficult to think of
herself to-night. It was so calm. There was no wind; nothing
racing, flying, escaping. Black shadows stood still over the
silver moors. The furze bushes stood perfectly still.
Neither did Mrs. Jarvis think of God. There was a church
behind them, of course. The church clock struck ten. Did the
strokes reach the furze bush, or did the thorn tree hear
Mrs. Flanders was stooping down to pick up a
pebble. Sometimes people do find things, Mrs. Jarvis
thought, and yet in this hazy moonlight it was impossible to
see anything, except bones, and little pieces of chalk.
"Jacob bought it with his own money, and
then I brought Mr. Parker up to see the view, and it must
have dropped—" Mrs. Flanders murmured.
Did the bones stir, or the rusty swords? Was
Mrs. Flanders's twopenny- halfpenny brooch for ever part of
the rich accumulation? and if all the ghosts flocked thick
and rubbed shoulders with Mrs. Flanders in the circle, would
she not have seemed perfectly in her place, a live English
matron, growing stout?
The clock struck the quarter.
The frail waves of sound broke among the
stiff gorse and the hawthorn twigs as the church clock
divided time into quarters.
Motionless and broad-backed the moors
received the statement "It is fifteen minutes past the
hour," but made no answer, unless a bramble stirred.
Yet even in this light the legends on the
tombstones could be read, brief voices saying, "I am Bertha
Ruck," "I am Tom Gage." And they say which day of the year
they died, and the New Testament says something for them,
very proud, very emphatic, or consoling.
The moors accept all that too.
The moonlight falls like a pale page upon
the church wall, and illumines the kneeling family in the
niche, and the tablet set up in 1780 to the Squire of the
parish who relieved the poor, and believed in God—so the
measured voice goes on down the marble scroll, as though it
could impose itself upon time and the open air.
Now a fox steals out from behind the gorse
Often, even at night, the church seems full
of people. The pews are worn and greasy, and the cassocks in
place, and the hymn-books on the ledges. It is a ship with
all its crew aboard. The timbers strain to hold the dead and
the living, the ploughmen, the carpenters, the fox-hunting
gentlemen and the farmers smelling of mud and brandy. Their
tongues join together in syllabling the sharp-cut words,
which for ever slice asunder time and the broad-backed
moors. Plaint and belief and elegy, despair and triumph, but
for the most part good sense and jolly indifference, go
trampling out of the windows any time these five hundred
Still, as Mrs. Jarvis said, stepping out on
to the moors, "How quiet it is!" Quiet at midday, except
when the hunt scatters across it; quiet in the afternoon,
save for the drifting sheep; at night the moor is perfectly
A garnet brooch has dropped into its grass.
A fox pads stealthily. A leaf turns on its edge. Mrs.
Jarvis, who is fifty years of age, reposes in the camp in
the hazy moonlight.
"… and," said Mrs. Flanders, straightening
her back, "I never cared for Mr. Parker."
"Neither did I," said Mrs. Jarvis. They
began to walk home.
But their voices floated for a little above
the camp. The moonlight destroyed nothing. The moor accepted
everything. Tom Gage cries aloud so long as his tombstone
endures. The Roman skeletons are in safe keeping. Betty
Flanders's darning needles are safe too and her garnet
brooch. And sometimes at midday, in the sunshine, the moor
seems to hoard these little treasures, like a nurse. But at
midnight when no one speaks or gallops, and the thorn tree
is perfectly still, it would be foolish to vex the moor with
questions—what? and why?
The church clock, however, strikes twelve.
The water fell off a
ledge like lead—like a chain with thick white links. The
train ran out into a steep green meadow, and Jacob saw
striped tulips growing and heard a bird singing, in Italy.
A motor car full of Italian officers ran
along the flat road and kept up with the train, raising dust
behind it. There were trees laced together with vines—as
Virgil said. Here was a station; and a tremendous leave-
taking going on, with women in high yellow boots and odd
pale boys in ringed socks. Virgil's bees had gone about the
plains of Lombardy. It was the custom of the ancients to
train vines between elms. Then at Milan there were
sharp-winged hawks, of a bright brown, cutting figures over
These Italian carriages get damnably hot
with the afternoon sun on them, and the chances are that
before the engine has pulled to the top of the gorge the
clanking chain will have broken. Up, up, up, it goes, like a
train on a scenic railway. Every peak is covered with sharp
trees, and amazing white villages are crowded on ledges.
There is always a white tower on the very summit, flat
red-frilled roofs, and a sheer drop beneath. It is not a
country in which one walks after tea. For one thing there is
no grass. A whole hillside will be ruled with olive trees.
Already in April the earth is clotted into dry dust between
them. And there are neither stiles nor footpaths, nor lanes
chequered with the shadows of leaves nor eighteenth-century
inns with bow-windows, where one eats ham and eggs. Oh no,
Italy is all fierceness, bareness, exposure, and black
priests shuffling along the roads. It is strange, too, how
you never get away from villas.
Still, to be travelling on one's own with a
hundred pounds to spend is a fine affair. And if his money
gave out, as it probably would, he would go on foot. He
could live on bread and wine—the wine in straw bottles— for
after doing Greece he was going to knock off Rome. The Roman
civilization was a very inferior affair, no doubt. But
Bonamy talked a lot of rot, all the same. "You ought to have
been in Athens," he would say to Bonamy when he got back.
"Standing on the Parthenon," he would say, or "The ruins of
the Coliseum suggest some fairly sublime reflections," which
he would write out at length in letters. It might turn to an
essay upon civilization. A comparison between the ancients
and moderns, with some pretty sharp hits at Mr.
Asquith—something in the style of Gibbon.
A stout gentleman laboriously hauled himself
in, dusty, baggy, slung with gold chains, and Jacob,
regretting that he did not come of the Latin race, looked
out of the window.
It is a strange reflection that by
travelling two days and nights you are in the heart of
Italy. Accidental villas among olive trees appear; and
men-servants watering the cactuses. Black victorias drive in
between pompous pillars with plaster shields stuck to them.
It is at once momentary and astonishingly intimate—to be
displayed before the eyes of a foreigner. And there is a
lonely hill-top where no one ever comes, and yet it is seen
by me who was lately driving down Piccadilly on an omnibus.
And what I should like would be to get out among the fields,
sit down and hear the grasshoppers, and take up a handful of
earth— Italian earth, as this is Italian dust upon my shoes.
Jacob heard them crying strange names at
railway stations through the night. The train stopped and he
heard frogs croaking close by, and he wrinkled back the
blind cautiously and saw a vast strange marsh all white in
the moonlight. The carriage was thick with cigar smoke,
which floated round the globe with the green shade on it.
The Italian gentleman lay snoring with his boots off and his
waistcoat unbuttoned. … And all this business of going to
Greece seemed to Jacob an intolerable weariness—sitting in
hotels by oneself and looking at monuments—he'd have done
better to go to Cornwall with Timmy Durrant. … "O—h," Jacob
protested, as the darkness began breaking in front of him
and the light showed through, but the man was reaching
across him to get something—the fat Italian man in his
dicky, unshaven, crumpled, obese, was opening the door and
going off to have a wash.
So Jacob sat up, and saw a lean Italian
sportsman with a gun walking down the road in the early
morning light, and the whole idea of the Parthenon came upon
him in a clap.
"By Jove!" he thought, "we must be nearly
there!" and he stuck his head out of the window and got the
air full in his face.
It is highly exasperating that twenty-five
people of your acquaintance should be able to say straight
off something very much to the point about being in Greece,
while for yourself there is a stopper upon all emotions
whatsoever. For after washing at the hotel at Patras, Jacob
had followed the tram lines a mile or so out; and followed
them a mile or so back; he had met several droves of
turkeys; several strings of donkeys; had got lost in back
streets; had read advertisements of corsets and of Maggi's
consomme; children had trodden on his toes; the place smelt
of bad cheese; and he was glad to find himself suddenly come
out opposite his hotel. There was an old copy of the Daily
Mail lying among coffee- cups; which he read. But what could
he do after dinner?
No doubt we should be, on the whole, much
worse off than we are without our astonishing gift for
illusion. At the age of twelve or so, having given up dolls
and broken our steam engines, France, but much more probably
Italy, and India almost for a certainty, draws the
superfluous imagination. One's aunts have been to Rome; and
every one has an uncle who was last heard of—poor man—in
Rangoon. He will never come back any more. But it is the
governesses who start the Greek myth. Look at that for a
head (they say)—nose, you see, straight as a dart, curls,
eyebrows—everything appropriate to manly beauty; while his
legs and arms have lines on them which indicate a perfect
degree of development— the Greeks caring for the body as
much as for the face. And the Greeks could paint fruit so
that birds pecked at it. First you read Xenophon; then
Euripides. One day—that was an occasion, by God—what people
have said appears to have sense in it; "the Greek spirit";
the Greek this, that, and the other; though it is absurd, by
the way, to say that any Greek comes near Shakespeare. The
point is, however, that we have been brought up in an
Jacob, no doubt, thought something in this
fashion, the Daily Mail crumpled in his hand; his legs
extended; the very picture of boredom.
"But it's the way we're brought up," he went
And it all seemed to him very distasteful.
Something ought to be done about it. And from being
moderately depressed he became like a man about to be
executed. Clara Durrant had left him at a party to talk to
an American called Pilchard. And he had come all the way to
Greece and left her. They wore evening-dresses, and talked
nonsense—what damned nonsense—and he put out his hand for
the Globe Trotter, an international magazine which is
supplied free of charge to the proprietors of hotels.
In spite of its ramshackle condition modern
Greece is highly advanced in the electric tramway system, so
that while Jacob sat in the hotel sitting-room the trams
clanked, chimed, rang, rang, rang imperiously to get the
donkeys out of the way, and one old woman who refused to
budge, beneath the windows. The whole of civilization was
The waiter was quite indifferent to that
too. Aristotle, a dirty man, carnivorously interested in the
body of the only guest now occupying the only arm-chair,
came into the room ostentatiously, put something down, put
something straight, and saw that Jacob was still there.
"I shall want to be called early to-morrow,"
said Jacob, over his shoulder. "I am going to Olympia."
This gloom, this surrender to the dark
waters which lap us about, is a modern invention. Perhaps,
as Cruttendon said, we do not believe enough. Our fathers at
any rate had something to demolish. So have we for the
matter of that, thought Jacob, crumpling the Daily Mail in
his hand. He would go into Parliament and make fine
speeches—but what use are fine speeches and Parliament, once
you surrender an inch to the black waters? Indeed there has
never been any explanation of the ebb and flow in our
veins—of happiness and unhappiness. That respectability and
evening parties where one has to dress, and wretched slums
at the back of Gray's Inn—something solid, immovable, and
grotesque—is at the back of it, Jacob thought probable. But
then there was the British Empire which was beginning to
puzzle him; nor was he altogether in favour of giving Home
Rule to Ireland. What did the Daily Mail say about that?
For he had grown to be a man, and was about
to be immersed in things—as indeed the chambermaid, emptying
his basin upstairs, fingering keys, studs, pencils, and
bottles of tabloids strewn on the dressing-table, was aware.
That he had grown to be a man was a fact
that Florinda knew, as she knew everything, by instinct.
And Betty Flanders even now suspected it, as
she read his letter, posted at Milan, "Telling me," she
complained to Mrs. Jarvis, "really nothing that I want to
know"; but she brooded over it.
Fanny Elmer felt it to desperation. For he
would take his stick and his hat and would walk to the
window, and look perfectly absent-minded and very stern too,
"I am going," he would say, "to cadge a meal
"Anyhow, I can drown myself in the Thames,"
Fanny cried, as she hurried past the Foundling Hospital.
"But the Daily Mail isn't to be trusted,"
Jacob said to himself, looking about for something else to
read. And he sighed again, being indeed so profoundly gloomy
that gloom must have been lodged in him to cloud him at any
moment, which was odd in a man who enjoyed things so, was
not much given to analysis, but was horribly romantic, of
course, Bonamy thought, in his rooms in Lincoln's Inn.
"He will fall in love," thought Bonamy.
"Some Greek woman with a straight nose."
It was to Bonamy that Jacob wrote from
Patras—to Bonamy who couldn't love a woman and never read a
There are very few good books after all, for
we can't count profuse histories, travels in mule carts to
discover the sources of the Nile, or the volubility of
I like books whose virtue is all drawn
together in a page or two. I like sentences that don't budge
though armies cross them. I like words to be hard—such were
Bonamy's views, and they won him the hostility of those
whose taste is all for the fresh growths of the morning, who
throw up the window, and find the poppies spread in the sun,
and can't forbear a shout of jubilation at the astonishing
fertility of English literature. That was not Bonamy's way
at all. That his taste in literature affected his
friendships, and made him silent, secretive, fastidious, and
only quite at his ease with one or two young men of his own
way of thinking, was the charge against him.
But then Jacob Flanders was not at all of
his own way of thinking—far from it, Bonamy sighed, laying
the thin sheets of notepaper on the table and falling into
thought about Jacob's character, not for the first time.
The trouble was this romantic vein in him.
"But mixed with the stupidity which leads him into these
absurd predicaments," thought Bonamy, "there is
something—something"—he sighed, for he was fonder of Jacob
than of any one in the world.
Jacob went to the window and stood with his
hands in his pockets. There he saw three Greeks in kilts;
the masts of ships; idle or busy people of the lower classes
strolling or stepping out briskly, or falling into groups
and gesticulating with their hands. Their lack of concern
for him was not the cause of his gloom; but some more
profound conviction—it was not that he himself happened to
be lonely, but that all people are.
Yet next day, as the train slowly rounded a
hill on the way to Olympia, the Greek peasant women were out
among the vines; the old Greek men were sitting at the
stations, sipping sweet wine. And though Jacob remained
gloomy he had never suspected how tremendously pleasant it
is to be alone; out of England; on one's own; cut off from
the whole thing. There are very sharp bare hills on the way
to Olympia; and between them blue sea in triangular spaces.
A little like the Cornish coast. Well now, to go walking by
oneself all day—to get on to that track and follow it up
between the bushes—or are they small trees?—to the top of
that mountain from which one can see half the nations of
"Yes," said Jacob, for his carriage was
empty, "let's look at the map." Blame it or praise it, there
is no denying the wild horse in us. To gallop intemperately;
fall on the sand tired out; to feel the earth spin; to
have—positively—a rush of friendship for stones and grasses,
as if humanity were over, and as for men and women, let them
go hang— there is no getting over the fact that this desire
seizes us pretty often.
The evening air slightly moved the dirty
curtains in the hotel window at
"I am full of love for every one," thought
Mrs. Wentworth Williams, "— for the poor most of all—for the
peasants coming back in the evening with their burdens. And
everything is soft and vague and very sad. It is sad, it is
sad. But everything has meaning," thought Sandra Wentworth
Williams, raising her head a little and looking very
beautiful, tragic, and exalted. "One must love everything."
She held in her hand a little book
convenient for travelling—stories by Tchekov—as she stood,
veiled, in white, in the window of the hotel at Olympia. How
beautiful the evening was! and her beauty was its beauty.
The tragedy of Greece was the tragedy of all high souls. The
inevitable compromise. She seemed to have grasped something.
She would write it down. And moving to the table where her
husband sat reading she leant her chin in her hands and
thought of the peasants, of suffering, of her own beauty, of
the inevitable compromise, and of how she would write it
down. Nor did Evan Williams say anything brutal, banal, or
foolish when he shut his book and put it away to make room
for the plates of soup which were now being placed before
them. Only his drooping bloodhound eyes and his heavy sallow
cheeks expressed his melancholy tolerance, his conviction
that though forced to live with circumspection and
deliberation he could never possibly achieve any of those
objects which, as he knew, are the only ones worth pursuing.
His consideration was flawless; his silence unbroken.
"Everything seems to mean so much," said
Sandra. But with the sound of her own voice the spell was
broken. She forgot the peasants. Only there remained with
her a sense of her own beauty, and in front, luckily, there
was a looking-glass.
"I am very beautiful," she thought.
She shifted her hat slightly. Her husband
saw her looking in the glass; and agreed that beauty is
important; it is an inheritance; one cannot ignore it. But
it is a barrier; it is in fact rather a bore. So he drank
his soup; and kept his eyes fixed upon the window.
"Quails," said Mrs. Wentworth Williams
languidly. "And then goat, I suppose; and then…"
"Caramel custard presumably," said her
husband in the same cadence, with his toothpick out already.
She laid her spoon upon her plate, and her
soup was taken away half finished. Never did she do anything
without dignity; for hers was the English type which is so
Greek, save that villagers have touched their hats to it,
the vicarage reveres it; and upper-gardeners and under-
gardeners respectfully straighten their backs as she comes
down the broad terrace on Sunday morning, dallying at the
stone urns with the Prime Minister to pick a rose—which,
perhaps, she was trying to forget, as her eye wandered round
the dining-room of the inn at Olympia, seeking the window
where her book lay, where a few minutes ago she had
discovered something—something very profound it had been,
about love and sadness and the peasants.
But it was Evan who sighed; not in despair
nor indeed in rebellion. But, being the most ambitious of
men and temperamentally the most sluggish, he had
accomplished nothing; had the political history of England
at his finger-ends, and living much in company with Chatham,
Pitt, Burke, and Charles James Fox could not help
contrasting himself and his age with them and theirs. "Yet
there never was a time when great men are more needed," he
was in the habit of saying to himself, with a sigh. Here he
was picking his teeth in an inn at Olympia. He had done. But
Sandra's eyes wandered.
"Those pink melons are sure to be
dangerous," he said gloomily. And as he spoke the door
opened and in came a young man in a grey check suit.
"Beautiful but dangerous," said Sandra,
immediately talking to her husband in the presence of a
third person. ("Ah, an English boy on tour," she thought to
And Evan knew all that too.
Yes, he knew all that; and he admired her.
Very pleasant, he thought, to have affairs. But for himself,
what with his height (Napoleon was five feet four, he
remembered), his bulk, his inability to impose his own
personality (and yet great men are needed more than ever
now, he sighed), it was useless. He threw away his cigar,
went up to Jacob and asked him, with a simple sort of
sincerity which Jacob liked, whether he had come straight
out from England.
"How very English!" Sandra laughed when the
waiter told them next morning that the young gentleman had
left at five to climb the mountain. "I am sure he asked you
for a bath?" at which the waiter shook his head, and said
that he would ask the manager.
"You do not understand," laughed Sandra.
Stretched on the top of the mountain, quite
alone, Jacob enjoyed himself immensely. Probably he had
never been so happy in the whole of his life.
But at dinner that night Mr. Williams asked
him whether he would like to see the paper; then Mrs.
Williams asked him (as they strolled on the terrace
smoking—and how could he refuse that man's cigar?) whether
he'd seen the theatre by moonlight; whether he knew Everard
Sherborn; whether he read Greek and whether (Evan rose
silently and went in) if he had to sacrifice one it would be
the French literature or the Russian?
"And now," wrote Jacob in his letter to
Bonamy, "I shall have to read her cursed book"—her Tchekov,
he meant, for she had lent it him.
Though the opinion is unpopular it seems
likely enough that bare places, fields too thick with stones
to be ploughed, tossing sea-meadows half- way between
England and America, suit us better than cities.
There is something absolute in us which
despises qualification. It is this which is teased and
twisted in society. People come together in a room. "So
delighted," says somebody, "to meet you," and that is a lie.
And then: "I enjoy the spring more than the autumn now. One
does, I think, as one gets older." For women are always,
always, always talking about what one feels, and if they say
"as one gets older," they mean you to reply with something
quite off the point.
Jacob sat himself down in the quarry where
the Greeks had cut marble for the theatre. It is hot work
walking up Greek hills at midday. The wild red cyclamen was
out; he had seen the little tortoises hobbling from clump to
clump; the air smelt strong and suddenly sweet, and the sun,
striking on jagged splinters of marble, was very dazzling to
the eyes. Composed, commanding, contemptuous, a little
melancholy, and bored with an august kind of boredom, there
he sat smoking his pipe.
Bonamy would have said that this was the
sort of thing that made him uneasy—when Jacob got into the
doldrums, looked like a Margate fisherman out of a job, or a
British Admiral. You couldn't make him understand a thing
when he was in a mood like that. One had better leave him
alone. He was dull. He was apt to be grumpy.
He was up very early, looking at the statues
with his Baedeker.
Sandra Wentworth Williams, ranging the world
before breakfast in quest of adventure or a point of view,
all in white, not so very tall perhaps, but uncommonly
upright—Sandra Williams got Jacob's head exactly on a level
with the head of the Hermes of Praxiteles. The comparison
was all in his favour. But before she could say a single
word he had gone out of the Museum and left her.
Still, a lady of fashion travels with more
than one dress, and if white suits the morning hour, perhaps
sandy yellow with purple spots on it, a black hat, and a
volume of Balzac, suit the evening. Thus she was arranged on
the terrace when Jacob came in. Very beautiful she looked.
With her hands folded she mused, seemed to listen to her
husband, seemed to watch the peasants coming down with
brushwood on their backs, seemed to notice how the hill
changed from blue to black, seemed to discriminate between
truth and falsehood, Jacob thought, and crossed his legs
suddenly, observing the extreme shabbiness of his trousers.
"But he is very distinguished looking,"
And Evan Williams, lying back in his chair
with the paper on his knees, envied them. The best thing he
could do would be to publish, with Macmillans, his monograph
upon the foreign policy of Chatham. But confound this tumid,
queasy feeling—this restlessness, swelling, and heat—it was
jealousy! jealousy! jealousy! which he had sworn never to
"Come with us to Corinth, Flanders," he said
with more than his usual energy, stopping by Jacob's chair.
He was relieved by Jacob's reply, or rather by the solid,
direct, if shy manner in which he said that he would like
very much to come with them to Corinth.
"Here is a fellow," thought Evan Williams,
"who might do very well in politics."
"I intend to come to Greece every year so
long as I live," Jacob wrote to Bonamy. "It is the only
chance I can see of protecting oneself from civilization."
"Goodness knows what he means by that,"
Bonamy sighed. For as he never said a clumsy thing himself,
these dark sayings of Jacob's made him feel apprehensive,
yet somehow impressed, his own turn being all for the
definite, the concrete, and the rational.
Nothing could be much simpler than what
Sandra said as she descended the Acro-Corinth, keeping to
the little path, while Jacob strode over rougher ground by
her side. She had been left motherless at the age of four;
and the Park was vast.
"One never seemed able to get out of it,"
she laughed. Of course there was the library, and dear Mr.
Jones, and notions about things. "I used to stray into the
kitchen and sit upon the butler's knees," she laughed, sadly
Jacob thought that if he had been there he
would have saved her; for she had been exposed to great
dangers, he felt, and, he thought to himself, "People
wouldn't understand a woman talking as she talks."
She made little of the roughness of the
hill; and wore breeches, he saw, under her short skirts.
"Women like Fanny Elmer don't," he thought.
"What's-her-name Carslake didn't; yet they pretend…"
Mrs. Williams said things straight out. He
was surprised by his own knowledge of the rules of
behaviour; how much more can be said than one thought; how
open one can be with a woman; and how little he had known
Evan joined them on the road; and as they
drove along up hill and down hill (for Greece is in a state
of effervescence, yet astonishingly clean-cut, a treeless
land, where you see the ground between the blades, each hill
cut and shaped and outlined as often as not against
sparkling deep blue waters, islands white as sand floating
on the horizon, occasional groves of palm trees standing in
the valleys, which are scattered with black goats, spotted
with little olive trees and sometimes have white hollows,
rayed and criss-crossed, in their flanks), as they drove up
hill and down he scowled in the corner of the carriage, with
his paw so tightly closed that the skin was stretched
between the knuckles and the little hairs stood upright.
Sandra rode opposite, dominant, like a Victory prepared to
fling into the air.
"Heartless!" thought Evan (which was
"Brainless!" he suspected (and that was not
true either). "Still…!" He envied her.
When bedtime came the difficulty was to
write to Bonamy, Jacob found.
Yet he had seen Salamis, and Marathon in the distance. Poor
No; there was something queer about it. He could not write
"I shall go to Athens all the same," he
resolved, looking very set, with this hook dragging in his
The Williamses had already been to Athens.
Athens is still quite capable of striking a
young man as the oddest combination, the most incongruous
assortment. Now it is suburban; now immortal. Now cheap
continental jewellery is laid upon plush trays. Now the
stately woman stands naked, save for a wave of drapery above
the knee. No form can he set on his sensations as he
strolls, one blazing afternoon, along the Parisian boulevard
and skips out of the way of the royal landau which, looking
indescribably ramshackle, rattles along the pitted roadway,
saluted by citizens of both sexes cheaply dressed in bowler
hats and continental costumes; though a shepherd in kilt,
cap, and gaiters very nearly drives his herd of goats
between the royal wheels; and all the time the Acropolis
surges into the air, raises itself above the town, like a
large immobile wave with the yellow columns of the Parthenon
firmly planted upon it.
The yellow columns of the Parthenon are to
be seen at all hours of the day firmly planted upon the
Acropolis; though at sunset, when the ships in the Piraeus
fire their guns, a bell rings, a man in uniform (the
waistcoat unbuttoned) appears; and the women roll up the
black stockings which they are knitting in the shadow of the
columns, call to the children, and troop off down the hill
back to their houses.
There they are again, the pillars, the
pediment, the Temple of Victory and the Erechtheum, set on a
tawny rock cleft with shadows, directly you unlatch your
shutters in the morning and, leaning out, hear the clatter,
the clamour, the whip cracking in the street below. There
The extreme definiteness with which they
stand, now a brilliant white, again yellow, and in some
lights red, imposes ideas of durability, of the emergence
through the earth of some spiritual energy elsewhere
dissipated in elegant trifles. But this durability exists
quite independently of our admiration. Although the beauty
is sufficiently humane to weaken us, to stir the deep
deposit of mud—memories, abandonments, regrets, sentimental
devotions—the Parthenon is separate from all that; and if
you consider how it has stood out all night, for centuries,
you begin to connect the blaze (at midday the glare is
dazzling and the frieze almost invisible) with the idea that
perhaps it is beauty alone that is immortal.
Added to this, compared with the blistered
stucco, the new love songs rasped out to the strum of guitar
and gramophone, and the mobile yet insignificant faces of
the street, the Parthenon is really astonishing in its
silent composure; which is so vigorous that, far from being
decayed, the Parthenon appears, on the contrary, likely to
outlast the entire world.
"And the Greeks, like sensible men, never
bothered to finish the backs of their statues," said Jacob,
shading his eyes and observing that the side of the figure
which is turned away from view is left in the rough.
He noted the slight irregularity in the line
of the steps which "the artistic sense of the Greeks
preferred to mathematical accuracy," he read in his
He stood on the exact spot where the great
statue of Athena used to stand, and identified the more
famous landmarks of the scene beneath.
In short he was accurate and diligent; but
profoundly morose. Moreover he was pestered by guides. This
was on Monday.
But on Wednesday he wrote a telegram to
Bonamy, telling him to come at once. And then he crumpled it
in his hand and threw it in the gutter.
"For one thing he wouldn't come," he
thought. "And then I daresay this sort of thing wears off."
"This sort of thing" being that uneasy, painful feeling,
something like selfishness—one wishes almost that the thing
would stop—it is getting more and more beyond what is
possible— "If it goes on much longer I shan't be able to
cope with it—but if some one else were seeing it at the same
time—Bonamy is stuffed in his room in Lincoln's Inn—oh, I
say, damn it all, I say,"—the sight of Hymettus, Pentelicus,
Lycabettus on one side, and the sea on the other, as one
stands in the Parthenon at sunset, the sky pink feathered,
the plain all colours, the marble tawny in one's eyes, is
thus oppressive. Luckily Jacob had little sense of personal
association; he seldom thought of Plato or Socrates in the
flesh; on the other hand his feeling for architecture was
very strong; he preferred statues to pictures; and he was
beginning to think a great deal about the problems of
civilization, which were solved, of course, so very
remarkably by the ancient Greeks, though their solution is
no help to us. Then the hook gave a great tug in his side as
he lay in bed on Wednesday night; and he turned over with a
desperate sort of tumble, remembering Sandra Wentworth
Williams with whom he was in love.
Next day he climbed Pentelicus.
The day after he went up to the Acropolis.
The hour was early; the place almost deserted; and possibly
there was thunder in the air. But the sun struck full upon
Jacob's intention was to sit down and read,
and, finding a drum of marble conveniently placed, from
which Marathon could be seen, and yet it was in the shade,
while the Erechtheum blazed white in front of him, there he
sat. And after reading a page he put his thumb in his book.
Why not rule countries in the way they should be ruled? And
he read again.
No doubt his position there overlooking
Marathon somehow raised his spirits. Or it may have been
that a slow capacious brain has these moments of flowering.
Or he had, insensibly, while he was abroad, got into the way
of thinking about politics.
And then looking up and seeing the sharp
outline, his meditations were given an extraordinary edge;
Greece was over; the Parthenon in ruins; yet there he was.
(Ladies with green and white umbrellas
passed through the courtyard—
French ladies on their way to join their husbands in
Jacob read on again. And laying the book on
the ground he began, as if inspired by what he had read, to
write a note upon the importance of history—upon
democracy—one of those scribbles upon which the work of a
lifetime may be based; or again, it falls out of a book
twenty years later, and one can't remember a word of it. It
is a little painful. It had better be burnt.
Jacob wrote; began to draw a straight nose;
when all the French ladies opening and shutting their
umbrellas just beneath him exclaimed, looking at the sky,
that one did not know what to expect—rain or fine weather?
Jacob got up and strolled across to the
Erechtheum. There are still several women standing there
holding the roof on their heads. Jacob straightened himself
slightly; for stability and balance affect the body first.
These statues annulled things so! He stared at them, then
turned, and there was Madame Lucien Grave perched on a block
of marble with her kodak pointed at his head. Of course she
jumped down, in spite of her age, her figure, and her tight
boots—having, now that her daughter was married, lapsed with
a luxurious abandonment, grand enough in its way, into the
fleshy grotesque; she jumped down, but not before Jacob had
"Damn these women—damn these women!" he
thought. And he went to fetch his book which he had left
lying on the ground in the Parthenon.
"How they spoil things," he murmured,
leaning against one of the pillars, pressing his book tight
between his arm and his side. (As for the weather, no doubt
the storm would break soon; Athens was under cloud.)
"It is those damned women," said Jacob,
without any trace of bitterness, but rather with sadness and
disappointment that what might have been should never be.
(This violent disillusionment is generally
to be expected in young men in the prime of life, sound of
wind and limb, who will soon become fathers of families and
directors of banks.)
Then, making sure that the Frenchwomen had
gone, and looking cautiously round him, Jacob strolled over
to the Erechtheum and looked rather furtively at the goddess
on the left-hand side holding the roof on her head. She
reminded him of Sandra Wentworth Williams. He looked at her,
then looked away. He looked at her, then looked away. He was
extraordinarily moved, and with the battered Greek nose in
his head, with Sandra in his head, with all sorts of things
in his head, off he started to walk right up to the top of
Mount Hymettus, alone, in the heat.
That very afternoon Bonamy went expressly to
talk about Jacob to tea with Clara Durrant in the square
behind Sloane Street where, on hot spring days, there are
striped blinds over the front windows, single horses pawing
the macadam outside the doors, and elderly gentlemen in
yellow waistcoats ringing bells and stepping in very
politely when the maid demurely replies that Mrs. Durrant is
Bonamy sat with Clara in the sunny front
room with the barrel organ piping sweetly outside; the
water-cart going slowly along spraying the pavement; the
carriages jingling, and all the silver and chintz, brown and
blue rugs and vases filled with green boughs, striped with
trembling yellow bars.
The insipidity of what was said needs no
illustration—Bonamy kept on gently returning quiet answers
and accumulating amazement at an existence squeezed and
emasculated within a white satin shoe (Mrs. Durrant
meanwhile enunciating strident politics with Sir Somebody in
the back room) until the virginity of Clara's soul appeared
to him candid; the depths unknown; and he would have brought
out Jacob's name had he not begun to feel positively certain
that Clara loved him—and could do nothing whatever.
"Nothing whatever!" he exclaimed, as the
door shut, and, for a man of his temperament, got a very
queer feeling, as he walked through the park, of carriages
irresistibly driven; of flower beds uncompromisingly
geometrical; of force rushing round geometrical patterns in
the most senseless way in the world. "Was Clara," he
thought, pausing to watch the boys bathing in the
Serpentine, "the silent woman?—would Jacob marry her?"
But in Athens in the sunshine, in Athens,
where it is almost impossible to get afternoon tea, and
elderly gentlemen who talk politics talk them all the other
way round, in Athens sat Sandra Wentworth Williams, veiled,
in white, her legs stretched in front of her, one elbow on
the arm of the bamboo chair, blue clouds wavering and
drifting from her cigarette.
The orange trees which flourish in the
Square of the Constitution, the band, the dragging of feet,
the sky, the houses, lemon and rose coloured—all this became
so significant to Mrs. Wentworth Williams after her second
cup of coffee that she began dramatizing the story of the
noble and impulsive Englishwoman who had offered a seat in
her carriage to the old American lady at Mycenae (Mrs.
Duggan)—not altogether a false story, though it said nothing
of Evan, standing first on one foot, then on the other,
waiting for the women to stop chattering.
"I am putting the life of Father Damien into
verse," Mrs. Duggan had said, for she had lost
everything—everything in the world, husband and child and
everything, but faith remained.
Sandra, floating from the particular to the
universal, lay back in a trance.
The flight of time which hurries us so
tragically along; the eternal drudge and drone, now bursting
into fiery flame like those brief balls of yellow among
green leaves (she was looking at orange trees); kisses on
lips that are to die; the world turning, turning in mazes of
heat and sound—though to be sure there is the quiet evening
with its lovely pallor, "For I am sensitive to every side of
it," Sandra thought, "and Mrs. Duggan will write to me for
ever, and I shall answer her letters." Now the royal band
marching by with the national flag stirred wider rings of
emotion, and life became something that the courageous mount
and ride out to sea on—the hair blown back (so she envisaged
it, and the breeze stirred slightly among the orange trees)
and she herself was emerging from silver spray—when she saw
Jacob. He was standing in the Square with a book under his
arm looking vacantly about him. That he was heavily built
and might become stout in time was a fact.
But she suspected him of being a mere
"There is that young man," she said,
peevishly, throwing away her cigarette, "that Mr. Flanders."
"Where?" said Evan. "I don't see him."
"Oh, walking away—behind the trees now. No,
you can't see him. But we are sure to run into him," which,
of course, they did.
But how far was he a mere bumpkin? How far
was Jacob Flanders at the age of twenty-six a stupid fellow?
It is no use trying to sum people up. One must follow hints,
not exactly what is said, nor yet entirely what is done.
Some, it is true, take ineffaceable impressions of character
at once. Others dally, loiter, and get blown this way and
that. Kind old ladies assure us that cats are often the best
judges of character. A cat will always go to a good man,
they say; but then, Mrs. Whitehorn, Jacob's landlady,
There is also the highly respectable opinion
that character-mongering is much overdone nowadays. After
all, what does it matter—that Fanny Elmer was all sentiment
and sensation, and Mrs. Durrant hard as iron? that Clara,
owing (so the character-mongers said) largely to her
mother's influence, never yet had the chance to do anything
off her own bat, and only to very observant eyes displayed
deeps of feeling which were positively alarming; and would
certainly throw herself away upon some one unworthy of her
one of these days unless, so the character-mongers said, she
had a spark of her mother's spirit in her—was somehow
heroic. But what a term to apply to Clara Durrant! Simple to
a degree, others thought her. And that is the very reason,
so they said, why she attracts Dick Bonamy—the young man
with the Wellington nose. Now HE'S a dark horse if you like.
And there these gossips would suddenly pause. Obviously they
meant to hint at his peculiar disposition—long rumoured
"But sometimes it is precisely a woman like
Clara that men of that temperament need…" Miss Julia Eliot
"Well," Mr. Bowley would reply, "it may be
For however long these gossips sit, and
however they stuff out their victims' characters till they
are swollen and tender as the livers of geese exposed to a
hot fire, they never come to a decision.
"That young man, Jacob Flanders," they would
say, "so distinguished looking—and yet so awkward." Then
they would apply themselves to Jacob and vacillate eternally
between the two extremes. He rode to hounds— after a
fashion, for he hadn't a penny.
"Did you ever hear who his father was?"
asked Julia Eliot.
"His mother, they say, is somehow connected
with the Rocksbiers," replied Mr. Bowley.
"He doesn't overwork himself anyhow."
"His friends are very fond of him."
"Dick Bonamy, you mean?"
"No, I didn't mean that. It's evidently the
other way with Jacob. He is precisely the young man to fall
headlong in love and repent it for the rest of his life."
"Oh, Mr. Bowley," said Mrs. Durrant,
sweeping down upon them in her imperious manner, "you
remember Mrs. Adams? Well, that is her niece." And Mr.
Bowley, getting up, bowed politely and fetched strawberries.
So we are driven back to see what the other
side means—the men in clubs and Cabinets—when they say that
character-drawing is a frivolous fireside art, a matter of
pins and needles, exquisite outlines enclosing vacancy,
flourishes, and mere scrawls.
The battleships ray out over the North Sea,
keeping their stations accurately apart. At a given signal
all the guns are trained on a target which (the master
gunner counts the seconds, watch in hand—at the sixth he
looks up) flames into splinters. With equal nonchalance a
dozen young men in the prime of life descend with composed
faces into the depths of the sea; and there impassively
(though with perfect mastery of machinery) suffocate
uncomplainingly together. Like blocks of tin soldiers the
army covers the cornfield, moves up the hillside, stops,
reels slightly this way and that, and falls flat, save that,
through field glasses, it can be seen that one or two pieces
still agitate up and down like fragments of broken
These actions, together with the incessant
commerce of banks, laboratories, chancellories, and houses
of business, are the strokes which oar the world forward,
they say. And they are dealt by men as smoothly sculptured
as the impassive policeman at Ludgate Circus. But you will
observe that far from being padded to rotundity his face is
stiff from force of will, and lean from the efforts of
keeping it so. When his right arm rises, all the force in
his veins flows straight from shoulder to finger-tips; not
an ounce is diverted into sudden impulses, sentimental
regrets, wire-drawn distinctions. The buses punctually stop.
It is thus that we live, they say, driven by
an unseizable force. They say that the novelists never catch
it; that it goes hurtling through their nets and leaves them
torn to ribbons. This, they say, is what we live by—this
"Where are the men?" said old General
Gibbons, looking round the drawing-room, full as usual on
Sunday afternoons of well-dressed people. "Where are the
Mrs. Durrant looked too.
Clara, thinking that her mother wanted her,
came in; then went out again.
They were talking about Germany at the
Durrants, and Jacob (driven by this unseizable force) walked
rapidly down Hermes Street and ran straight into the
"Oh!" cried Sandra, with a cordiality which
she suddenly felt. And Evan added, "What luck!"
The dinner which they gave him in the hotel
which looks on to the Square of the Constitution was
excellent. Plated baskets contained fresh rolls. There was
real butter. And the meat scarcely needed the disguise of
innumerable little red and green vegetables glazed in sauce.
It was strange, though. There were the
little tables set out at intervals on the scarlet floor with
the Greek King's monogram wrought in yellow. Sandra dined in
her hat, veiled as usual. Evan looked this way and that over
his shoulder; imperturbable yet supple; and sometimes
sighed. It was strange. For they were English people come
together in Athens on a May evening. Jacob, helping himself
to this and that, answered intelligently, yet with a ring in
The Williamses were going to Constantinople
early next morning, they said.
"Before you are up," said Sandra.
They would leave Jacob alone, then. Turning
very slightly, Evan ordered something—a bottle of wine—from
which he helped Jacob, with a kind of solicitude, with a
kind of paternal solicitude, if that were possible. To be
left alone—that was good for a young fellow. Never was there
a time when the country had more need of men. He sighed.
"And you have been to the Acropolis?" asked
"Yes," said Jacob. And they moved off to the
window together, while Evan spoke to the head waiter about
calling them early.
"It is astonishing," said Jacob, in a gruff
Sandra opened her eyes very slightly.
Possibly her nostrils expanded a little too.
"At half-past six then," said Evan, coming
towards them, looking as if he faced something in facing his
wife and Jacob standing with their backs to the window.
Sandra smiled at him.
And, as he went to the window and had
nothing to say she added, in broken half-sentences:
"Well, but how lovely—wouldn't it be? The
Acropolis, Evan—or are you too tired?"
At that Evan looked at them, or, since Jacob
was staring ahead of him, at his wife, surlily, sullenly,
yet with a kind of distress—not that she would pity him. Nor
would the implacable spirit of love, for anything he could
do, cease its tortures.
They left him and he sat in the
smoking-room, which looks out on to the
Square of the Constitution.
"Evan is happier alone," said Sandra. "We
have been separated from the newspapers. Well, it is better
that people should have what they want…. You have seen all
these wonderful things since we met…. What impression … I
think that you are changed."
"You want to go to the Acropolis," said
Jacob. "Up here then."
"One will remember it all one's life," said
"Yes," said Jacob. "I wish you could have
come in the day-time."
"This is more wonderful," said Sandra,
waving her hand.
Jacob looked vaguely.
"But you should see the Parthenon in the
day-time," he said. "You couldn't come to-morrow—it would be
"You have sat there for hours and hours by
"There were some awful women this morning,"
"Awful women?" Sandra echoed.
"But something very wonderful has happened,"
said Sandra. Ten minutes, fifteen minutes, half an hour—that
was all the time before her.
"Yes," he said.
"When one is your age—when one is young.
What will you do? You will fall in love—oh yes! But don't be
in too great a hurry. I am so much older."
She was brushed off the pavement by parading
"Shall we go on?" Jacob asked.
"Let us go on," she insisted.
For she could not stop until she had told
him—or heard him say—or was it some action on his part that
she required? Far away on the horizon she discerned it and
could not rest.
"You'd never get English people to sit out
like this," he said.
"Never—no. When you get back to England you
won't forget this—or come with us to Constantinople!" she
"You must go to Delphi, of course," she
said. "But," she asked herself, "what do I want from him?
Perhaps it is something that I have missed…."
"You will get there about six in the
evening," she said. "You will see the eagles."
Jacob looked set and even desperate by the
light at the street corner and yet composed. He was
suffering, perhaps. He was credulous. Yet there was
something caustic about him. He had in him the seeds of
extreme disillusionment, which would come to him from women
in middle life. Perhaps if one strove hard enough to reach
the top of the hill it need not come to him—this
disillusionment from women in middle life.
"The hotel is awful," she said. "The last
visitors had left their basins full of dirty water. There is
always that," she laughed.
"The people one meets ARE beastly," Jacob
His excitement was clear enough.
"Write and tell me about it," she said. "And
tell me what you feel and what you think. Tell me
The night was dark. The Acropolis was a
"I should like to, awfully," he said.
"When we get back to London, we shall meet…"
"I suppose they leave the gates open?" he
"We could climb them!" she answered wildly.
Obscuring the moon and altogether darkening
the Acropolis the clouds passed from east to west. The
clouds solidified; the vapours thickened; the trailing veils
stayed and accumulated.
It was dark now over Athens, except for
gauzy red streaks where the streets ran; and the front of
the Palace was cadaverous from electric light. At sea the
piers stood out, marked by separate dots; the waves being
invisible, and promontories and islands were dark humps with
a few lights.
"I'd love to bring my brother, if I may,"
"And then when your mother comes to
London—," said Sandra.
The mainland of Greece was dark; and
somewhere off Euboea a cloud must have touched the waves and
spattered them—the dolphins circling deeper and deeper into
the sea. Violent was the wind now rushing down the Sea of
Marmara between Greece and the plains of Troy.
In Greece and the uplands of Albania and
Turkey, the wind scours the sand and the dust, and sows
itself thick with dry particles. And then it pelts the
smooth domes of the mosques, and makes the cypresses,
standing stiff by the turbaned tombstones of Mohammedans,
creak and bristle.
Sandra's veils were swirled about her.
"I will give you my copy," said Jacob.
"Here. Will you keep it?"
(The book was the poems of Donne.)
Now the agitation of the air uncovered a
racing star. Now it was dark. Now one after another lights
were extinguished. Now great towns—Paris—
Constantinople—London—were black as strewn rocks. Waterways
might be distinguished. In England the trees were heavy in
leaf. Here perhaps in some southern wood an old man lit dry
ferns and the birds were startled. The sheep coughed; one
flower bent slightly towards another. The English sky is
softer, milkier than the Eastern. Something gentle has
passed into it from the grass-rounded hills, something damp.
The salt gale blew in at Betty Flanders's bedroom window,
and the widow lady, raising herself slightly on her elbow,
sighed like one who realizes, but would fain ward off a
little longer—oh, a little longer!—the oppression of
But to return to Jacob and Sandra.
They had vanished. There was the Acropolis;
but had they reached it? The columns and the Temple remain;
the emotion of the living breaks fresh on them year after
year; and of that what remains?
As for reaching the Acropolis who shall say
that we ever do it, or that when Jacob woke next morning he
found anything hard and durable to keep for ever? Still, he
went with them to Constantinople.
Sandra Wentworth Williams certainly woke to
find a copy of Donne's poems upon her dressing-table. And
the book would be stood on the shelf in the English country
house where Sally Duggan's Life of Father Damien in verse
would join it one of these days. There were ten or twelve
little volumes already. Strolling in at dusk, Sandra would
open the books and her eyes would brighten (but not at the
print), and subsiding into the arm-chair she would suck back
again the soul of the moment; or, for sometimes she was
restless, would pull out book after book and swing across
the whole space of her life like an acrobat from bar to bar.
She had had her moments. Meanwhile, the great clock on the
landing ticked and Sandra would hear time accumulating, and
ask herself, "What for? What for?"
"What for? What for?" Sandra would say,
putting the book back, and strolling to the looking-glass
and pressing her hair. And Miss Edwards would be startled at
dinner, as she opened her mouth to admit roast mutton, by
Sandra's sudden solicitude: "Are you happy, Miss Edwards?"—a
thing Cissy Edwards hadn't thought of for years.
"What for? What for?" Jacob never asked
himself any such questions, to judge by the way he laced his
boots; shaved himself; to judge by the depth of his sleep
that night, with the wind fidgeting at the shutters, and
half-a-dozen mosquitoes singing in his ears. He was young—a
man. And then Sandra was right when she judged him to be
credulous as yet. At forty it might be a different matter.
Already he had marked the things he liked in Donne, and they
were savage enough. However, you might place beside them
passages of the purest poetry in Shakespeare.
But the wind was rolling the darkness
through the streets of Athens, rolling it, one might
suppose, with a sort of trampling energy of mood which
forbids too close an analysis of the feelings of any single
person, or inspection of features. All faces—Greek,
Levantine, Turkish, English—would have looked much the same
in that darkness. At length the columns and the Temples
whiten, yellow, turn rose; and the Pyramids and St. Peter's
arise, and at last sluggish St. Paul's looms up.
The Christians have the right to rouse most
cities with their interpretation of the day's meaning. Then,
less melodiously, dissenters of different sects issue a
cantankerous emendation. The steamers, resounding like
gigantic tuning-forks, state the old old fact—how there is a
sea coldly, greenly, swaying outside. But nowadays it is the
thin voice of duty, piping in a white thread from the top of
a funnel, that collects the largest multitudes, and night is
nothing but a long-drawn sigh between hammer-strokes, a deep
breath—you can hear it from an open window even in the heart
But who, save the nerve-worn and sleepless,
or thinkers standing with hands to the eyes on some crag
above the multitude, see things thus in skeleton outline,
bare of flesh? In Surbiton the skeleton is wrapped in flesh.
"The kettle never boils so well on a sunny
morning," says Mrs. Grandage, glancing at the clock on the
mantelpiece. Then the grey Persian cat stretches itself on
the window-seat, and buffets a moth with soft round paws.
And before breakfast is half over (they were late today), a
baby is deposited in her lap, and she must guard the sugar
basin while Tom Grandage reads the golfing article in the
"Times," sips his coffee, wipes his moustaches, and is off
to the office, where he is the greatest authority upon the
foreign exchanges and marked for promotion. The skeleton is
well wrapped in flesh. Even this dark night when the wind
rolls the darkness through Lombard Street and Fetter Lane
and Bedford Square it stirs (since it is summer-time and the
height of the season), plane trees spangled with electric
light, and curtains still preserving the room from the dawn.
People still murmur over the last word said on the
staircase, or strain, all through their dreams, for the
voice of the alarum clock. So when the wind roams through a
forest innumerable twigs stir; hives are brushed; insects
sway on grass blades; the spider runs rapidly up a crease in
the bark; and the whole air is tremulous with breathing;
elastic with filaments.
Only here—in Lombard Street and Fetter Lane
and Bedford Square—each insect carries a globe of the world
in his head, and the webs of the forest are schemes evolved
for the smooth conduct of business; and honey is treasure of
one sort and another; and the stir in the air is the
indescribable agitation of life.
But colour returns; runs up the stalks of
the grass; blows out into tulips and crocuses; solidly
stripes the tree trunks; and fills the gauze of the air and
the grasses and pools.
The Bank of England emerges; and the
Monument with its bristling head of golden hair; the dray
horses crossing London Bridge show grey and strawberry and
iron-coloured. There is a whir of wings as the suburban
trains rush into the terminus. And the light mounts over the
faces of all the tall blind houses, slides through a chink
and paints the lustrous bellying crimson curtains; the green
wine-glasses; the coffee- cups; and the chairs standing
Sunlight strikes in upon shaving-glasses;
and gleaming brass cans; upon all the jolly trappings of the
day; the bright, inquisitive, armoured, resplendent,
summer's day, which has long since vanquished chaos; which
has dried the melancholy mediaeval mists; drained the swamp
and stood glass and stone upon it; and equipped our brains
and bodies with such an armoury of weapons that merely to
see the flash and thrust of limbs engaged in the conduct of
daily life is better than the old pageant of armies drawn
out in battle array upon the plain.
"The Height of the
season," said Bonamy.
The sun had already blistered the paint on
the backs of the green chairs in Hyde Park; peeled the bark
off the plane trees; and turned the earth to powder and to
smooth yellow pebbles. Hyde Park was circled, incessantly,
by turning wheels.
"The height of the season," said Bonamy
He was sarcastic because of Clara Durrant;
because Jacob had come back from Greece very brown and lean,
with his pockets full of Greek notes, which he pulled out
when the chair man came for pence; because Jacob was silent.
"He has not said a word to show that he is
glad to see me," thought
The motor cars passed incessantly over the
bridge of the Serpentine; the upper classes walked upright,
or bent themselves gracefully over the palings; the lower
classes lay with their knees cocked up, flat on their backs;
the sheep grazed on pointed wooden legs; small children ran
down the sloping grass, stretched their arms, and fell.
"Very urbane," Jacob brought out.
"Urbane" on the lips of Jacob had
mysteriously all the shapeliness of a character which Bonamy
thought daily more sublime, devastating, terrific than ever,
though he was still, and perhaps would be for ever,
What superlatives! What adjectives! How
acquit Bonamy of sentimentality of the grossest sort; of
being tossed like a cork on the waves; of having no steady
insight into character; of being unsupported by reason, and
of drawing no comfort whatever from the works of the
"The height of civilization," said Jacob.
He was fond of using Latin words.
Magnanimity, virtue—such words when Jacob
used them in talk with Bonamy meant that he took control of
the situation; that Bonamy would play round him like an
affectionate spaniel; and that (as likely as not) they would
end by rolling on the floor.
"And Greece?" said Bonamy. "The Parthenon
and all that?"
"There's none of this European mysticism,"
"It's the atmosphere. I suppose," said
Bonamy. "And you went to
"Yes," said Jacob.
Bonamy paused, moved a pebble; then darted
in with the rapidity and certainty of a lizard's tongue.
"You are in love!" he exclaimed.
The sharpest of knives never cut so deep.
As for responding, or taking the least
account of it, Jacob stared straight ahead of him, fixed,
monolithic—oh, very beautiful!—like a British Admiral,
exclaimed Bonamy in a rage, rising from his seat and walking
off; waiting for some sound; none came; too proud to look
back; walking quicker and quicker until he found himself
gazing into motor cars and cursing women. Where was the
pretty woman's face? Clara's— Fanny's—Florinda's? Who was
the pretty little creature?
Not Clara Durrant.
The Aberdeen terrier must be exercised, and
as Mr. Bowley was going that very moment—would like nothing
better than a walk—they went together, Clara and kind little
Bowley—Bowley who had rooms in the Albany, Bowley who wrote
letters to the "Times" in a jocular vein about foreign
hotels and the Aurora Borealis—Bowley who liked young people
and walked down Piccadilly with his right arm resting on the
boss of his back.
"Little demon!" cried Clara, and attached
Troy to his chain.
Bowley anticipated—hoped for—a confidence.
Devoted to her mother, Clara sometimes felt her a little,
well, her mother was so sure of herself that she could not
understand other people being—being—"as ludicrous as I am,"
Clara jerked out (the dog tugging her forwards). And Bowley
thought she looked like a huntress and turned over in his
mind which it should be—some pale virgin with a slip of the
moon in her hair, which was a flight for Bowley.
The colour was in her cheeks. To have spoken
outright about her mother— still, it was only to Mr. Bowley,
who loved her, as everybody must; but to speak was unnatural
to her, yet it was awful to feel, as she had done all day,
that she MUST tell some one.
"Wait till we cross the road," she said to
the dog, bending down.
Happily she had recovered by that time.
"She thinks so much about England," she
said. "She is so anxious—-"
Bowley was defrauded as usual. Clara never
confided in any one.
"Why don't the young people settle it, eh?"
he wanted to ask. "What's all this about England?"—a
question poor Clara could not have answered, since, as Mrs.
Durrant discussed with Sir Edgar the policy of Sir Edward
Grey, Clara only wondered why the cabinet looked dusty, and
Jacob had never come. Oh, here was Mrs. Cowley Johnson…
And Clara would hand the pretty china
teacups, and smile at the compliment—that no one in London
made tea so well as she did.
"We get it at Brocklebank's," she said, "in
Ought she not to be grateful? Ought she not
to be happy?
Especially since her mother looked so well
and enjoyed so much talking to Sir Edgar about Morocco,
Venezuela, or some such place.
"Jacob! Jacob!" thought Clara; and kind Mr.
Bowley, who was ever so good with old ladies, looked;
stopped; wondered whether Elizabeth wasn't too harsh with
her daughter; wondered about Bonamy, Jacob—which young
fellow was it?—and jumped up directly Clara said she must
They had reached the site of the old
Exhibition. They looked at the tulips. Stiff and curled, the
little rods of waxy smoothness rose from the earth,
nourished yet contained, suffused with scarlet and coral
pink. Each had its shadow; each grew trimly in the
diamond-shaped wedge as the gardener had planned it.
"Barnes never gets them to grow like that,"
Clara mused; she sighed.
"You are neglecting your friends," said
Bowley, as some one, going the other way, lifted his hat.
She started; acknowledged Mr. Lionel Parry's bow; wasted on
him what had sprung for Jacob.
("Jacob! Jacob!" she thought.)
"But you'll get run over if I let you go,"
she said to the dog.
"England seems all right," said Mr. Bowley.
The loop of the railing beneath the statue
of Achilles was full of parasols and waistcoats; chains and
bangles; of ladies and gentlemen, lounging elegantly,
"'This statue was erected by the women of
England…'" Clara read out with a foolish little laugh. "Oh,
Mr. Bowley! Oh!" Gallop—gallop— gallop—a horse galloped past
without a rider. The stirrups swung; the pebbles spurted.
"Oh, stop! Stop it, Mr. Bowley!" she cried,
white, trembling, gripping his arm, utterly unconscious, the
"Tut-tut!" said Mr. Bowley in his
dressing-room an hour later. "Tut- tut!"—a comment that was
profound enough, though inarticulately expressed, since his
valet was handing his shirt studs.
Julia Eliot, too, had seen the horse run
away, and had risen from her seat to watch the end of the
incident, which, since she came of a sporting family, seemed
to her slightly ridiculous. Sure enough the little man came
pounding behind with his breeches dusty; looked thoroughly
annoyed; and was being helped to mount by a policeman when
Julia Eliot, with a sardonic smile, turned towards the
Marble Arch on her errand of mercy. It was only to visit a
sick old lady who had known her mother and perhaps the Duke
of Wellington; for Julia shared the love of her sex for the
distressed; liked to visit death-beds; threw slippers at
weddings; received confidences by the dozen; knew more
pedigrees than a scholar knows dates, and was one of the
kindliest, most generous, least continent of women.
Yet five minutes after she had passed the
statue of Achilles she had the rapt look of one brushing
through crowds on a summer's afternoon, when the trees are
rustling, the wheels churning yellow, and the tumult of the
present seems like an elegy for past youth and past summers,
and there rose in her mind a curious sadness, as if time and
eternity showed through skirts and waistcoasts, and she saw
people passing tragically to destruction. Yet, Heaven knows,
Julia was no fool. A sharper woman at a bargain did not
exist. She was always punctual. The watch on her wrist gave
her twelve minutes and a half in which to reach Bruton
Street. Lady Congreve expected her at five.
The gilt clock at Verrey's was striking
Florinda looked at it with a dull
expression, like an animal. She looked at the clock; looked
at the door; looked at the long glass opposite; disposed her
cloak; drew closer to the table, for she was pregnant—no
doubt about it, Mother Stuart said, recommending remedies,
consulting friends; sunk, caught by the heel, as she tripped
so lightly over the surface.
Her tumbler of pinkish sweet stuff was set
down by the waiter; and she sucked, through a straw, her
eyes on the looking-glass, on the door, now soothed by the
sweet taste. When Nick Bramham came in it was plain, even to
the young Swiss waiter, that there was a bargain between
them. Nick hitched his clothes together clumsily; ran his
fingers through his hair; sat down, to an ordeal, nervously.
She looked at him; and set off laughing;
laughed—laughed—laughed. The young Swiss waiter, standing
with crossed legs by the pillar, laughed too.
The door opened; in came the roar of Regent
Street, the roar of traffic, impersonal, unpitying; and
sunshine grained with dirt. The Swiss waiter must see to the
newcomers. Bramham lifted his glass.
"He's like Jacob," said Florinda, looking at
"The way he stares." She stopped laughing.
Jacob, leaning forward, drew a plan of the
Parthenon in the dust in Hyde Park, a network of strokes at
least, which may have been the Parthenon, or again a
mathematical diagram. And why was the pebble so emphatically
ground in at the corner? It was not to count his notes that
he took out a wad of papers and read a long flowing letter
which Sandra had written two days ago at Milton Dower House
with his book before her and in her mind the memory of
something said or attempted, some moment in the dark on the
road to the Acropolis which (such was her creed) mattered
"He is," she mused, "like that man in
She meant Alceste. She meant that he was
severe. She meant that she could deceive him.
"Or could I not?" she thought, putting the
poems of Donne back in the bookcase. "Jacob," she went on,
going to the window and looking over the spotted flower-beds
across the grass where the piebald cows grazed under beech
trees, "Jacob would be shocked."
The perambulator was going through the
little gate in the railing. She kissed her hand; directed by
the nurse, Jimmy waved his.
"HE'S a small boy," she said, thinking of
"What a nuisance you are!" Jacob grumbled,
stretching out first one leg and then the other and feeling
in each trouser-pocket for his chair ticket.
"I expect the sheep have eaten it," he said.
"Why do you keep sheep?"
"Sorry to disturb you, sir," said the
ticket-collector, his hand deep in the enormous pouch of
"Well, I hope they pay you for it," said
Jacob. "There you are. No. You can stick to it. Go and get
He had parted with half-a-crown, tolerantly,
compassionately, with considerable contempt for his species.
Even now poor Fanny Elmer was dealing, as
she walked along the Strand, in her incompetent way with
this very careless, indifferent, sublime manner he had of
talking to railway guards or porters; or Mrs. Whitehorn,
when she consulted him about her little boy who was beaten
by the schoolmaster.
Sustained entirely upon picture post cards
for the past two months, Fanny's idea of Jacob was more
statuesque, noble, and eyeless than ever. To reinforce her
vision she had taken to visiting the British Museum, where,
keeping her eyes downcast until she was alongside of the
battered Ulysses, she opened them and got a fresh shock of
Jacob's presence, enough to last her half a day. But this
was wearing thin. And she wrote now—poems, letters that were
never posted, saw his face in advertisements on hoardings,
and would cross the road to let the barrel- organ turn her
musings to rhapsody. But at breakfast (she shared rooms with
a teacher), when the butter was smeared about the plate, and
the prongs of the forks were clotted with old egg yolk, she
revised these visions violently; was, in truth, very cross;
was losing her complexion, as Margery Jackson told her,
bringing the whole thing down (as she laced her stout boots)
to a level of mother-wit, vulgarity, and sentiment, for she
had loved too; and been a fool.
"One's godmothers ought to have told one,"
said Fanny, looking in at the window of Bacon, the
mapseller, in the Strand—told one that it is no use making a
fuss; this is life, they should have said, as Fanny said it
now, looking at the large yellow globe marked with steamship
"This is life. This is life," said Fanny.
"A very hard face," thought Miss Barrett, on
the other side of the glass, buying maps of the Syrian
desert and waiting impatiently to be served. "Girls look old
so soon nowadays."
The equator swam behind tears.
"Piccadilly?" Fanny asked the conductor of
the omnibus, and climbed to the top. After all, he would, he
must, come back to her.
But Jacob might have been thinking of Rome;
of architecture; of jurisprudence; as he sat under the plane
tree in Hyde Park.
The omnibus stopped outside Charing Cross;
and behind it were clogged omnibuses, vans, motor-cars, for
a procession with banners was passing down Whitehall, and
elderly people were stiffly descending from between the paws
of the slippery lions, where they had been testifying to
their faith, singing lustily, raising their eyes from their
music to look into the sky, and still their eyes were on the
sky as they marched behind the gold letters of their creed.
The traffic stopped, and the sun, no longer
sprayed out by the breeze, became almost too hot. But the
procession passed; the banners glittered —far away down
Whitehall; the traffic was released; lurched on; spun to a
smooth continuous uproar; swerving round the curve of
Cockspur Street; and sweeping past Government offices and
equestrian statues down Whitehall to the prickly spires, the
tethered grey fleet of masonry, and the large white clock of
Five strokes Big Ben intoned; Nelson
received the salute. The wires of the Admiralty shivered
with some far-away communication. A voice kept remarking
that Prime Ministers and Viceroys spoke in the Reichstag;
entered Lahore; said that the Emperor travelled; in Milan
they rioted; said there were rumours in Vienna; said that
the Ambassador at Constantinople had audience with the
Sultan; the fleet was at Gibraltar. The voice continued,
imprinting on the faces of the clerks in Whitehall (Timothy
Durrant was one of them) something of its own inexorable
gravity, as they listened, deciphered, wrote down. Papers
accumulated, inscribed with the utterances of Kaisers, the
statistics of ricefields, the growling of hundreds of
work-people, plotting sedition in back streets, or gathering
in the Calcutta bazaars, or mustering their forces in the
uplands of Albania, where the hills are sand-coloured, and
bones lie unburied.
The voice spoke plainly in the square quiet
room with heavy tables, where one elderly man made notes on
the margin of typewritten sheets, his silver-topped umbrella
leaning against the bookcase.
His head—bald, red-veined,
hollow-looking—represented all the heads in the building.
His head, with the amiable pale eyes, carried the burden of
knowledge across the street; laid it before his colleagues,
who came equally burdened; and then the sixteen gentlemen,
lifting their pens or turning perhaps rather wearily in
their chairs, decreed that the course of history should
shape itself this way or that way, being manfully
determined, as their faces showed, to impose some coherency
upon Rajahs and Kaisers and the muttering in bazaars, the
secret gatherings, plainly visible in Whitehall, of kilted
peasants in Albanian uplands; to control the course of
Pitt and Chatham, Burke and Gladstone looked
from side to side with fixed marble eyes and an air of
immortal quiescence which perhaps the living may have
envied, the air being full of whistling and concussions, as
the procession with its banners passed down Whitehall.
Moreover, some were troubled with dyspepsia; one had at that
very moment cracked the glass of his spectacles; another
spoke in Glasgow to-morrow; altogether they looked too red,
fat, pale or lean, to be dealing, as the marble heads had
dealt, with the course of history.
Timmy Durrant in his little room in the
Admiralty, going to consult a Blue book, stopped for a
moment by the window and observed the placard tied round the
Miss Thomas, one of the typists, said to her
friend that if the Cabinet was going to sit much longer she
should miss her boy outside the Gaiety.
Timmy Durrant, returning with his Blue book
under his arm, noticed a little knot of people at the street
corner; conglomerated as though one of them knew something;
and the others, pressing round him, looked up, looked down,
looked along the street. What was it that he knew?
Timothy, placing the Blue book before him,
studied a paper sent round by the Treasury for information.
Mr. Crawley, his fellow-clerk, impaled a letter on a skewer.
Jacob rose from his chair in Hyde Park, tore
his ticket to pieces, and walked away.
"Such a sunset," wrote Mrs. Flanders in her
letter to Archer at
Singapore. "One couldn't make up one's mind to come
indoors," she wrote.
"It seemed wicked to waste even a moment."
The long windows of Kensington Palace
flushed fiery rose as Jacob walked away; a flock of wild
duck flew over the Serpentine; and the trees were stood
against the sky, blackly, magnificently.
"Jacob," wrote Mrs. Flanders, with the red
light on her page, "is hard at work after his delightful
"The Kaiser," the far-away voice remarked in
Whitehall, "received me in audience."
"Now I know that face—" said the Reverend
Andrew Floyd, coming out of
Carter's shop in Piccadilly, "but who the dickens—?" and he
Jacob, turned round to look at him, but could not be sure—
"Oh, Jacob Flanders!" he remembered in a
But he was so tall; so unconscious; such a
fine young fellow.
"I gave him Byron's works," Andrew Floyd
mused, and started forward, as Jacob crossed the road; but
hesitated, and let the moment pass, and lost the
Another procession, without banners, was
blocking Long Acre. Carriages, with dowagers in amethyst and
gentlemen spotted with carnations, intercepted cabs and
motor-cars turned in the opposite direction, in which jaded
men in white waistcoats lolled, on their way home to
shrubberies and billiard-rooms in Putney and Wimbledon.
Two barrel-organs played by the kerb, and
horses coming out of Aldridge's with white labels on their
buttocks straddled across the road and were smartly jerked
Mrs. Durrant, sitting with Mr. Wortley in a
motor-car, was impatient lest they should miss the overture.
But Mr. Wortley, always urbane, always in
time for the overture, buttoned his gloves, and admired Miss
"A shame to spend such a night in the
theatre!" said Mrs. Durrant, seeing all the windows of the
coachmakers in Long Acre ablaze.
"Think of your moors!" said Mr. Wortley to
"Ah! but Clara likes this better," Mrs.
"I don't know—really," said Clara, looking
at the blazing windows. She started.
She saw Jacob.
"Who?" asked Mrs. Durrant sharply, leaning
But she saw no one.
Under the arch of the Opera House large
faces and lean ones, the powdered and the hairy, all alike
were red in the sunset; and, quickened by the great hanging
lamps with their repressed primrose lights, by the tramp,
and the scarlet, and the pompous ceremony, some ladies
looked for a moment into steaming bedrooms near by, where
women with loose hair leaned out of windows, where
girls—where children—(the long mirrors held the ladies
suspended) but one must follow; one must not block the way.
Clara's moors were fine enough. The
Phoenicians slept under their piled grey rocks; the chimneys
of the old mines pointed starkly; early moths blurred the
heather-bells; cartwheels could be heard grinding on the
road far beneath; and the suck and sighing of the waves
sounded gently, persistently, for ever.
Shading her eyes with her hand Mrs. Pascoe
stood in her cabbage-garden looking out to sea. Two steamers
and a sailing-ship crossed each other; passed each other;
and in the bay the gulls kept alighting on a log, rising
high, returning again to the log, while some rode in upon
the waves and stood on the rim of the water until the moon
blanched all to whiteness.
Mrs. Pascoe had gone indoors long ago.
But the red light was on the columns of the
Parthenon, and the Greek women who were knitting their
stockings and sometimes crying to a child to come and have
the insects picked from its head were as jolly as sand-
martins in the heat, quarrelling, scolding, suckling their
babies, until the ships in the Piraeus fired their guns.
The sound spread itself flat, and then went
tunnelling its way with fitful explosions among the channels
of the islands.
Darkness drops like a knife over Greece.
"The guns?" said Betty Flanders, half asleep, getting out of
bed and going to the window, which was decorated with a
fringe of dark leaves.
"Not at this distance," she thought. "It is
Again, far away, she heard the dull sound,
as if nocturnal women were beating great carpets. There was
Morty lost, and Seabrook dead; her sons fighting for their
country. But were the chickens safe? Was that some one
moving downstairs? Rebecca with the toothache? No. The
nocturnal women were beating great carpets. Her hens shifted
slightly on their perches.
"He left everything
just as it was," Bonamy marvelled. "Nothing arranged. All
his letters strewn about for any one to read. What did he
expect? Did he think he would come back?" he mused, standing
in the middle of Jacob's room.
The eighteenth century has its distinction.
These houses were built, say, a hundred and fifty years ago.
The rooms are shapely, the ceilings high; over the doorways
a rose or a ram's skull is carved in the wood. Even the
panels, painted in raspberry-coloured paint, have their
Bonamy took up a bill for a hunting-crop.
"That seems to be paid," he said.
There were Sandra's letters.
Mrs. Durrant was taking a party to
Lady Rocksbier hoped for the pleasure….
Listless is the air in an empty room, just
swelling the curtain; the flowers in the jar shift. One
fibre in the wicker arm-chair creaks, though no one sits
Bonamy crossed to the window. Pickford's van
swung down the street. The omnibuses were locked together at
Mudie's corner. Engines throbbed, and carters, jamming the
brakes down, pulled their horses sharp up. A harsh and
unhappy voice cried something unintelligible. And then
suddenly all the leaves seemed to raise themselves.
"Jacob! Jacob!" cried Bonamy, standing by
the window. The leaves sank down again.
"Such confusion everywhere!" exclaimed Betty
Flanders, bursting open the bedroom door.
Bonamy turned away from the window.
"What am I to do with these, Mr. Bonamy?"
She held out a pair of Jacob's old shoes.