by Virginia Woolf
"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
"...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
"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 sounded.
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 parasol.
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 opal-shelled crab—
"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
"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 loose.
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
"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 they passed.
"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 latch down.
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
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 windows.
"What's all that water rushing in?" murmured Archer.
"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
"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 spirit-lamp
burnt 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
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 fastenings.
Both looked round at the cot. Their lips were pursed. Mrs. Flanders
crossed over to the cot.
"Asleep?" whispered Rebecca, looking at the cot.
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 clean bottles.
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 curtains either.
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
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.
"MRS. 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 no one."
"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 day.
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 the
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 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 the fowls.
"Wouldn't you like my knife, mother?" said Archer.
Sounding at the same moment as the bell, her son's voice mixed life
and death inextricably, exhilaratingly.
"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
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 her.
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 Scarborough?
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 her eyes.
"That old man in the road?" said Archer, looking below.
"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 boys.
"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 boys.
"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 too.
"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
Jacob drew rather a dirty pocket-handkerchief across his face. He
went upstairs to his room.
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
Rebecca had caught the death's-head moth in the kitchen.
A strong smell of camphor came from the butterfly boxes.
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 said.
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 underwing.
The mowing-machine always wanted oiling. Barnet turned it under
Jacob's window, and it creaked—creaked, and rattled across the lawn
and creaked again.
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 the
At three Mr. Dickens, the bath-chair man, had called for Mrs.
"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 shadow.
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 Mrs.
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 exclaimed.
"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
"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
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
"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 over
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 Mr. Polegate."
He had heard from Mr. Polegate that he could advise nothing better
than to send a boy to one of the universities.
"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 Captain Maxwell."
"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
"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
"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
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
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. Flanders?"
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 half.
"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
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 of freedom.
"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
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
"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 bank.
"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, Durrant said...
"There's the cash difficulty," said Jacob.
"My people'll see to that," said Durrant (the son of a banker,
"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
"I expect he's feeding the sharks, if the truth were known," said
Jacob. "I say, Durrant, there's none left!" he exclaimed, crumpling
the bag 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 the river.
A sort of awkwardness, grumpiness, gloom came into his eyes.
"Shall we move on... this beastly crowd..." he said.
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 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 there.
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 windows.
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 thing settled.
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 of
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
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 living.
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
"... 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
"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
"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 turn sulky.
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
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,
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
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 external signs.
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 is so."
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
"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 Timmy.
"So are his aunts," said Jacob.
"His sister," said Timmy, "is a very pretty girl."
"That's what'll happen to you, Timmy," said Jacob.
"It'll happen to you first," said Timmy.
"But this woman I was telling you about—Masham's aunt—"
"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 speak.
"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 Timmy.
"He's a gentleman," said Jacob.
"The Duke of Wellington was a gentleman," said Timmy.
"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 began
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 to himself.
"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 waterfalls.
"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
"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 rocks."
Even on a summer's day you hear them murmuring.
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 night.
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 pure gold.
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
Three seconds later Mrs. Durrant rapped upon the door.
"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
"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 Lizzie yet,
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
"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 house.
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 the window.
"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
"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
"That was the bet; with the fish," said Clara seriously. "Begonias,
mother. To eat them with his fish."
"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 door.
"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
"Why are you so sad?" Charlotte asked impulsively.
"Do I seem to you sad? I hope not," said Mrs. Durrant.
"Well, just now. You're NOT old."
"Old enough to be Timothy's mother." They stopped.
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 dining-room.
"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 verbena leaf.
Mrs. Durrant turned and walked away by herself.
"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
"It's so interesting to guess ..." murmured Julia Eliot.
"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 Eliot decidedly.
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
"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
"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
"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
"I want to hear about your voyage," said Mrs. Durrant.
"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 distinguished-looking."
"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 stiffly.
"You do that for your mother," said Mrs. Durrant, looking at him
again keenly, as she transferred the skein. "Yes, it goes much
He smiled; but said nothing.
Elsbeth Siddons hovered behind them with something silver on her
"We want," she said. ... "I've come ..." she paused.
"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
"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 vaguely.
"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
"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
"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. Jacob!"
"Mr. Flanders!" cried Mr. Clutterbuck, trying to extricate himself
from his beehive chair. "Jacob Flanders!"
"Too late, Joseph," said Mrs. Durrant.
"Not to sit for me," said Miss Eliot, planting her tripod upon the
"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
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 their tortoises.
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 out.
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 breast.
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 prostitutes.
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 ... 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 his door.
"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
"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
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 all.
The housemaid found herself very liberally rewarded.
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
"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 week.
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 hang vibrating.
"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 Parliament Hill.
The flames had fairly caught.
"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
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,
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
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 music.
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 seen."
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,
"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 Greeks.
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 gloves.
Still wearing the conical white hat of a pierrot, Florinda was
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
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 mentioned. Wild and frail and beautiful she looked, and thus the
women of the Greeks were, Jacob thought; and this was life; and
himself a man and Florinda chaste.
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 business unassailed.
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 restaurant.
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 talked:
"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 on.
"I'm awfully happy since I've known you, Jacob. You're such a GOOD
The room got fuller and fuller; talk louder; knives more
"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 staring.
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," said Florinda.
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
Any excuse, though, serves a stupid woman. He told her his head
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 mistaken.
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 brief lives.
Nor were there wanting poets to celebrate the theme. Edwin Mallett,
for example, wrote his verses ending:
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
"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
"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 going."
"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
"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 hostess.
"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 Miss Eliot.
"Happily we are not governed by the evening papers," said Mr.
"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
"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. Salvin!"
"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.
"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. Calthorp.
"If my brother gets his leave," said Miss Edwards.
"What regiment is he in?" said Mr. Calthorp.
"The Twentieth Hussars," said Miss Edwards.
"Perhaps he knows my brother?" said Mr. Calthorp.
"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 winter.
"Going about as girls do nowadays—" said Mrs. Forster.
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 purpose."
"Dear me, dear me," said Mr. Bowley. "I will ask Jimmy to
"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
"Life is wicked—life is detestable!" cried Rose Shaw.
"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
"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, half-way through.
"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 doorway.
"You are living in London?" asked Miss Julia Eliot.
"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
"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
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,
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
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
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
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 his room.
"Life is wicked—life is detestable," cried Rose Shaw.
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
"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) Helen Aitken.
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 Shaw said.
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
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 ancient words.
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
"Who is that driving by?" she asked Boxall, the butler.
"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
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 stare too.
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
Sure enough, the coffee-pot lay broken on the hearthrug.
"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 not called.
"Your mother," she said, "is one of my oldest friends."
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 drawing-room—"
"But Miss Perry has the kettle-holder," said Miss Rosseter, and
indeed Miss Perry was clasping it to her breast. (Had she, then, loved
"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 water-colours.
"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 bell....
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 ankles.
"It's not exactly that I don't understand them," she was saying
thoughtfully. "I must go and try again."
"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," said Jacob.
"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
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 compartments.
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 Marlowe.
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 Bronte?"
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
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 books.
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 loveliness.
"One does want one's tea," said Miss Marchmont, reclaiming her
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
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
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
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 raised.
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 over.
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,
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
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 the window.
She was on her way to sit to Nick Bramham the painter.
She sat in a flowered Spanish shawl, holding in her hand a yellow
"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 through.
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 minutes later.
"Bloody rot," said Jacob.
"Miss Elmer," said Nick.
Jacob took his pipe out of his mouth very awkwardly.
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
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
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
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 plaits.
"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 sausages.
"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 no more.
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
The coal merchant read the Telegraph without stopping, missed the
saucer, and, feeling abstractedly, put the cup down on the
"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 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 length.
"Don't, then," Nick replied, and off she ran without so much as
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
"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 opposite.
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 Tom Jones.
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
"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 Jones.
"Archer," said Mrs. Flanders with that tenderness which mothers so
often display towards their eldest sons, "will be at Gibraltar
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
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 hundred pounds.)
"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 irritably.
Jacob looked at Mallinson with excessive composure.
"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 began. ...
"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
"'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 understand?"
"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 Raspaille.
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
"Oh, that I did ages ago," said Cruttendon, looking over his
"You're a pretty competent painter in my opinion," said Jacob after
"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 painted white.
"A pretty solid piece of work," said Jacob, straddling his legs in
front of it. "But what I wish you'd explain ..."
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 Carslake.
"No," said Cruttendon decidedly. "Can't be done."
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. "You ..."
"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
"Well?" said Cruttendon, smiling at Jacob.
Jinny waited; Edward waited; and both looked at Jacob.
"Well?" said Jacob, smiling and pressing both hands on his stick.
"Come along," he decided; and started off. The others followed him,
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
"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
"I mean going to an office," said Cruttendon.
"Hang it all," Jacob expostulated.
"But you don't count," said Jinny, looking at Cruttendon. "You're
mad. I mean, you just think of painting."
"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
"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 flown away."
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 young Englishmen.
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
"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 perfectly still.
"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 knowing why."
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 Mrs. Flanders.
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 Wednesday."
"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 that.
"How quiet it is!" said Mrs. Jarvis.
Mrs. Flanders rubbed the turf with her toe, thinking of her garnet
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 them?
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
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
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 bushes.
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 years.
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 quiet.
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 the roofs.
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
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 illusion.
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 on.
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
"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, she thought.
"I am going," he would say, "to cadge a meal of Bonamy."
"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
It was to Bonamy that Jacob wrote from Patras—to Bonamy who
couldn't love a woman and never read a foolish book.
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 fiction.
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 antiquity—
"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
The evening air slightly moved the dirty curtains in the hotel
window at Olympia.
"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
"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
"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 herself.)
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. "Never mind."
Stretched on the top of the mountain, quite alone, Jacob enjoyed
himself immensely. Probably he had never been so happy in the whole of
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
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
"But he is very distinguished looking," Sandra decided.
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
"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 though.
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 himself before.
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
"Heartless!" thought Evan (which was untrue).
"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 old
Bonamy! No; there was something queer about it. He could not write to
"I shall go to Athens all the same," he resolved, looking very set,
with this hook dragging in his side.
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 they are.
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
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 guide-book.
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
"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
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 the Acropolis.
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
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 seen her.
"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
"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
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 at home.
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
"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
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 bumpkin.
"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, loathed cats.
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 among them.
"But sometimes it is precisely a woman like Clara that men of that
temperament need..." Miss Julia Eliot would hint.
"Well," Mr. Bowley would reply, "it may be so."
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 match-stick.
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
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 unseizable force.
"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 guns?"
Mrs. Durrant looked too.
Clara, thinking that her mother wanted her, came in; then went out
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 Williamses.
"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
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 his voice.
The Williamses were going to Constantinople early next morning,
"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 Sandra.
"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 voice.
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
"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 Sandra.
"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 too early?"
"You have sat there for hours and hours by yourself?"
"There were some awful women this morning," said Jacob.
"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
"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
She was brushed off the pavement by parading men.
"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 cried suddenly.
"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
"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
"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 said.
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 everything."
The night was dark. The Acropolis was a jagged mound.
"I should like to, awfully," he said.
"When we get back to London, we shall meet..."
"I suppose they leave the gates open?" he asked.
"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
"I'd love to bring my brother, if I may," Jacob murmured.
"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 eternity.
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
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
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 of
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 askew.
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
"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 sarcastically.
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,
"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, barbaric, obscure.
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 classics?
"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," said Jacob.
"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
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 Cursitor Street."
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 exercise Troy.
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
"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, lightly observant.
"'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 tears coming.
"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 five.
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
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 newcomer.
"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 for ever.
"He is," she mused, "like that man in Moliere."
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 Jacob.
"What a nuisance you are!" Jacob grumbled, stretching out first
one leg and then the other and feeling in each trouser-pocket for his
"I expect the sheep have eaten it," he said. "Why do you keep
"Sorry to disturb you, sir," said the ticket-collector, his hand
deep in the enormous pouch of pence.
"Well, I hope they pay you for it," said Jacob. "There you are. No.
You can stick to it. Go and get drunk."
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 Westminster.
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 events.
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 lamp-post.
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
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 journey..."
"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
watched Jacob, turned round to look at him, but could not be sure—
"Oh, Jacob Flanders!" he remembered in a flash.
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 opportunity.
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 back.
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 Clara.
"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 Clara.
"Ah! but Clara likes this better," Mrs. Durrant laughed.
"I don't know—really," said Clara, looking at the blazing windows.
She saw Jacob.
"Who?" asked Mrs. Durrant sharply, leaning forward.
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
"Not at this distance," she thought. "It is the sea."
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
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 Greenwich.
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 there.
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.