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Title: Monday or Tuesday
Author: Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)
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Language:   English
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Title: Monday or Tuesday
Author: Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)



1. A HAUNTED HOUSE



Whatever hour you woke there was a door shunting. From room to room they
went, hand in hand, lifting here, opening there, making sure--a ghostly
couple.

"Here we left it," she said. And he added, "Oh, but here too!" "It's
upstairs," she murmured. "And in the garden," he whispered "Quietly,"
they said, "or we shall wake them."

But it wasn't that you woke us. Oh, no. "They're looking for it; they're
drawing the curtain," one might say, and so read on a page or two. "Now
they've found it," one would be certain, stopping the pencil on the
margin. And then, tired of reading, one might rise and see for oneself,
the house all empty, the doors standing open, only the wood pigeons
bubbling with content and the hum of the threshing machine sounding from
the farm. "What did I come in here for? What did I want to find?" My
hands were empty. "Perhaps it's upstairs then?" The apples were in the
loft. And so down again, the garden still as ever, only the book had
slipped into the grass.

But they had found it in the drawing room. Not that one could ever see
them. The window panes reflected apples, reflected roses; all the leaves
were green in the glass. If they moved in the drawing room, the apple
only turned its yellow side. Yet, the moment after, if the door was
opened, spread about the floor, hung upon the walls, pendant from the
ceiling--what? My hands were empty. The shadow of a thrush crossed the
carpet; from the deepest wells of silence the wood pigeon drew its bubble
of sound. "Safe, safe, safe," the pulse of the house beat softly. "The
treasure buried; the room. . ." the pulse stopped short. Oh, was that the
buried treasure?

A moment later the light had faded. Out in the garden then? But the trees
spun darkness for a wandering beam of sun. So fine, so rare, coolly sunk
beneath the surface the beam I sought always burnt behind the glass.
Death was the glass; death was between us; coming to the woman first,
hundreds of years ago, leaving the house, sealing all the windows; the
rooms were darkened. He left it, left her, went North, went East, saw the
stars turned in the Southern sky; sought the house, found it dropped
beneath the Downs. "Safe, safe, safe," the pulse of the house beat
gladly. "The Treasure yours."

The wind roars up the avenue. Trees stoop and bend this way and that.
Moonbeams splash and spill wildly in the rain. But the beam of the lamp
falls straight from the window. The candle burns stiff and still.
Wandering through the house, opening the windows, whispering not to wake
us, the ghostly couple seek their joy.

"Here we slept," she says. And he adds, "Kisses without number." "Waking
in the morning--" "Silver between the trees--" "Upstairs--" "In the
garden--" "When summer came--" "In winter snowtime--" The doors go
shutting far in the distance, gently knocking like the pulse of a heart.

Nearer they come; cease at the doorway. The wind falls, the rain slides
silver down the glass. Our eyes darken; we hear no steps beside us; we
see no lady spread her ghostly cloak. His hands shield the lantern.
"Look," he breathes. "Sound asleep. Love upon their lips."

Stooping, holding their silver lamp above us, long they look and deeply.
Long they pause. The wind drives straightly; the flame stoops slightly.
Wild beams of moonlight cross both floor and wall, and, meeting, stain
the faces bent; the faces pondering; the faces that search the sleepers
and seek their hidden joy.

"Safe, safe, safe," the heart of the house beats proudly. "Long years--"
he sighs. "Again you found me." "Here," she murmurs, "sleeping; in the
garden reading; laughing, rolling apples in the loft. Here we left our
treasure--" Stooping, their light lifts the lids upon my eyes. "Safe!
safe! safe!" the pulse of the house beats wildly. Waking, I cry "Oh, is
this your buried treasure? The light in the heart."




2. A SOCIETY



This is how it all came about. Six or seven of us were sitting one day
after tea. Some were gazing across the street into the windows of a
milliner's shop where the light still shone brightly upon scarlet
feathers and golden slippers. Others were idly occupied in building
little towers of sugar upon the edge of the tea tray. After a time, so
far as I can remember, we drew round the fire and began as usual to
praise men--how strong, how noble, how brilliant, how courageous, how
beautiful they were--how we envied those who by hook or by crook managed
to get attached to one for life--when Poll, who had said nothing, burst
into tears. Poll, I must tell you, has always been queer. For one thing
her father was a strange man. He left her a fortune in his will, but on
condition that she read all the books in the London Library. We comforted
her as best we could; but we knew in our hearts how vain it was. For
though we like her, Poll is no beauty; leaves her shoe laces untied; and
must have been thinking, while we praised men, that not one of them would
ever wish to marry her. At last she dried her tears. For some time we
could make nothing of what she said. Strange enough it was in all
conscience. She told us that, as we knew, she spent most of her time in
the London Library, reading. She had begun, she said, with English
literature on the top floor; and was steadily working her way down to the
Times on the bottom. And now half, or perhaps only a quarter, way through
a terrible thing had happened. She could read no more. Books were not
what we thought them. "Books," she cried, rising to her feet and speaking
with an intensity of desolation which I shall never forget, "are for the
most part unutterably bad!"

Of course we cried out that Shakespeare wrote books, and Milton and
Shelley.

"Oh, yes," she interrupted us. "You've been well taught, I can see. But
you are not members of the London Library." Here her sobs broke forth
anew. At length, recovering a little, she opened one of the pile of books
which she always carried about with her--"From a Window" or "In a Garden,"
or some such name as that it was called, and it was written by a man
called Benton or Henson, or something of that kind. She read the first
few pages. We listened in silence. "But that's not a book," someone said.
So she chose another. This time it was a history, but I have forgotten
the writer's name. Our trepidation increased as she went on. Not a word
of it seemed to be true, and the style in which it was written was
execrable.

"Poetry! Poetry!" we cried, impatiently.

"Read us poetry!" I cannot describe the desolation which fell upon us as
she opened a little volume and mouthed out the verbose, sentimental
foolery which it contained.

"It must have been written by a woman," one of us urged. But no. She told
us that it was written by a young man, one of the most famous poets of
the day. I leave you to imagine what the shock of the discovery was.
Though we all cried and begged her to read no more, she persisted and
read us extracts from the Lives of the Lord Chancellors. When she had
finished, Jane, the eldest and wisest of us, rose to her feet and said
that she for one was not convinced.

"Why," she asked, "if men write such rubbish as this, should our mothers
have wasted their youth in bringing them into the world?"

We were all silent; and, in the silence, poor Poll could be heard sobbing
out, "Why, why did my father teach me to read?"

Clorinda was the first to come to her senses. "It's all our fault," she
said. "Every one of us knows how to read. But no one, save Poll, has ever
taken the trouble to do it. I, for one, have taken it for granted that it
was a woman's duty to spend her youth in bearing children. I venerated my
mother for bearing ten; still more my grandmother for bearing fifteen; it
was, I confess, my own ambition to bear twenty. We have gone on all these
ages supposing that men were equally industrious, and that their works
were of equal merit. While we have borne the children, they, we supposed,
have borne the books and the pictures. We have populated the world. They
have civilized it. But now that we can read, what prevents us from
judging the results? Before we bring another child into the world we must
swear that we will find out what the world is like."

So we made ourselves into a society for asking questions. One of us was
to visit a man-of-war; another was to hide herself in a scholar's study;
another was to attend a meeting of business men; while all were to read
books, look at pictures, go to concerts, keep our eyes open in the
streets, and ask questions perpetually. We were very young. You can judge
of our simplicity when I tell you that before parting that night we
agreed that the objects of life were to produce good people and good
books. Our questions were to be directed to finding out how far these
objects were now attained by men. We vowed solemnly that we would not
bear a single child until we were satisfied.

Off we went then, some to the British Museum; others to the King's Navy;
some to Oxford; others to Cambridge; we visited the Royal Academy and the
Tate; heard modern music in concert rooms, went to the Law Courts, and
saw new plays. No one dined out without asking her partner certain
questions and carefully noting his replies. At intervals we met together
and compared our observations. Oh, those were merry meeting! Never have I
laughed so much as I did when Rose read her notes upon "Honour" and
described how she had dressed herself as an Ethiopian Prince and gone
aboard one of His Majesty's ships. Discovering the hoax, the Captain
visited her (now disguised as a private gentleman) and demanded that
honour should be satisfied. "But how?" she asked. "How?" he bellowed.
"With the cane of course!" Seeing that he was beside himself with rage
and expecting that her last moment had come, she bent over and received,
to her amazement, six light taps upon the behind. "The honour of the
British Navy is avenged!" he cried, and, raising herself, she saw him
with the sweat pouring down his face holding out a trembling right hand.
"Away!" she exclaimed, striking an attitude and imitating the ferocity of
his own expression, "My honour has still to be satisfied!" "Spoken like a
gentleman!" he returned, and fell into profound thought. "If six strokes
avenge the honour of the King's Navy," he mused, "how many avenge the
honour of a private gentleman?" He said he would prefer to lay the case
before his brother officers. She replied haughtily that she could not
wait. He praised her sensibility. "Let me see," he cried suddenly, "did
your father keep a carriage?" "No," she said. "Or a riding horse?" "We
had a donkey," she bethought her, "which drew the mowing machine." At
this his face lighted. "My mother's name--" she added. "For God's sake,
man, don't mention your mother's name!" he shrieked, trembling like an
aspen and flushing to the roots of his hair, and it was ten minutes at
least before she could induce him to proceed. At length he decreed that
if she gave him four strokes and a half in the small of the back at a
spot indicated by himself (the half conceded, he said, in recognition of
the fact that her great grandmother's uncle was killed at Trafalgar) it
was his opinion that her honour would be as good as new. This was done;
they retired to a restaurant; drank two bottles of wine for which he
insisted upon paying; and parted with protestations of eternal
friendship.

Then we had Fanny's account of her visit to the Law Courts. At her first
visit she had come to the conclusion that the Judges were either made of
wood or were impersonated by large animals resembling man who had been
trained to move with extreme dignity, mumble and nod their heads. To test
her theory she had liberated a handkerchief of bluebottles at the
critical moment of a trial, but was unable to judge whether the creatures
gave signs of humanity for the buzzing of the flies induced so sound a
sleep that she only woke in time to see the prisoners led into the cells
below. But from the evidence she brought we voted that it is unfair to
suppose that the Judges are men.

Helen went to the Royal Academy, but when asked to deliver her report
upon the pictures she began to recite from a pale blue volume, "O! for
the touch of a vanished hand and the sound of a voice that is still. Home
is the hunter, home from the hill. He gave his bridle reins a shake. Love
is sweet, love is brief. Spring, the fair spring, is the year's pleasant
King. O! to be in England now that April's there. Men must work and women
must weep. The path of duty is the way to glory--" We could listen to no
more of this gibberish.

"We want no more poetry!" we cried.

"Daughters of England!" she began, but here we pulled her down, a vase of
water getting spilt over her in the scuffle.

"Thank God!" she exclaimed, shaking herself like a dog. "Now I'll roll on
the carpet and see if I can't brush off what remains of the Union Jack.
Then perhaps--" here she rolled energetically. Getting up she began to
explain to us what modern pictures are like when Castalia stopped her.

"What is the average size of a picture?" she asked. "Perhaps two feet by
two and a half," she said. Castalia made notes while Helen spoke, and
when she had done, and we were trying not to meet each other's eyes, rose
and said, "At your wish I spent last week at Oxbridge, disguised as a
charwoman. I thus had access to the rooms of several Professors and will
now attempt to give you some idea--only," she broke off, "I can't think
how to do it. It's all so queer. These Professors," she went on, "live in
large houses built round grass plots each in a kind of cell by himself.
Yet they have every convenience and comfort. You have only to press a
button or light a little lamp. Theirs papers are beautifully filed. Books
abound. There are no children or animals, save half a dozen stray cats
and one aged bullfinch--a cock. I remember," she broke off, "an Aunt of
mine who lived at Dulwich and kept cactuses. You reached the conservatory
through the double drawing-room, and there, on the hot pipes, were dozens
of them, ugly, squat, bristly little plants each in a separate pot. Once
in a hundred years the Aloe flowered, so my Aunt said. But she died
before that happened--" We told her to keep to the point. "Well," she
resumed, "when Professor Hobkin was out, I examined his life work, an
edition of Sappho. It's a queer looking book, six or seven inches thick,
not all by Sappho. Oh, no. Most of it is a defence of Sappho's chastity,
which some German had denied, add I can assure you the passion with which
these two gentlemen argued, the learning they displayed, the prodigious
ingenuity with which they disputed the use of some implement which looked
to me for all the world like a hairpin astounded me; especially when the
door opened and Professor Hobkin himself appeared. A very nice, mild, old
gentleman, but what could he know about chastity?" We misunderstood her.

"No, no," she protested, "he's the soul of honour I'm sure--not that he
resembled Rose's sea captain in the least. I was thinking rather of my
Aunt's cactuses. What could they know about chastity?"

Again we told her not to wander from the point,--did the Oxbridge
professors help to produce good people and good books?--the objects of
life.

"There!" she exclaimed. "It never struck me to ask. It never occurred to
me that they could possibly produce anything."

"I believe," said Sue, "that you made some mistake. Probably Professor
Hobkin was a gynecologist. A scholar is a very different sort of man. A
scholar is overflowing with humour and invention--perhaps addicted to
wine, but what of that?--a delightful companion, generous, subtle,
imaginative--as stands to reason. For he spends his life in company with
the finest human beings that have ever existed."

"Hum," said Castalia. "Perhaps I'd better go back and try again."

Some three months later it happened that I was sitting alone when
Castalia entered. I don't know what it was in the look of her that so
moved me; but I could not restrain myself, and, dashing across the room,
I clasped her in my arms. Not only was she very beautiful; she seemed
also in the highest spirits. "How happy you look!" I exclaimed, as she
sat down.

"I've been at Oxbridge," she said.

"Asking questions?"

"Answering them," she replied.

"You have not broken our vows?" I said anxiously, noticing something
about her figure.

"Oh, the vow," she said casually. "I'm going to have a baby, if that's
what you mean. You can't imagine," she burst out, "how exciting, how
beautiful, how satisfying--"

"What is?" I asked.

"To--to--answer questions," she replied in some confusion. Whereupon she
told me the whole of her story. But in the middle of an account which
interested and excited me more than anything I had ever heard, she gave
the strangest cry, half whoop, half holloa--

"Chastity! Chastity! Where's my chastity!" she cried. "Help Ho! The scent
bottle!"

There was nothing in the room but a cruet containing mustard, which I was
about to administer when she recovered her composure.

"You should have thought of that three months ago," I said severely.

"True," she replied. "There's not much good in thinking of it now. It was
unfortunate, by the way, that my mother had me called Castalia."

"Oh, Castalia, your mother--" I was beginning when she reached for the
mustard pot.

"No, no, no," she said, shaking her head. "If you'd been a chaste woman
yourself you would have screamed at the sight of me--instead of which you
rushed across the room and took me in your arms. No, Cassandra. We are
neither of us chaste." So we went on talking.

Meanwhile the room was filling up, for it was the day appointed to
discuss the results of our observations. Everyone, I thought, felt as I
did about Castalia. They kissed her and said how glad they were to see
her again. At length, when we were all assembled, Jane rose and said that
it was time to begin. She began by saying that we had now asked questions
for over five years, and that though the results were bound to be
inconclusive--here Castalia nudged me and whispered that she was not so
sure about that. Then she got up, and, interrupting Jane in the middle of
a sentence, said:

"Before you say any more, I want to know--am I to stay in the room?
Because," she added, "I have to confess that I am an impure woman."

Everyone looked at her in astonishment.

"You are going to have a baby?" asked Jane.

She nodded her head.

It was extraordinary to see the different expressions on their faces. A
sort of hum went through the room, in which I could catch the words
"impure," "baby," "Castalia," and so on. Jane, who was herself
considerably moved, put it to us:

"Shall she go? Is she impure?"

Such a roar filled the room as might have been heard in the street
outside.

"No! No! No! Let her stay! Impure? Fiddlesticks!" Yet I fancied that some
of the youngest, girls of nineteen or twenty, held back as if overcome
with shyness. Then we all came about her and began asking questions, and
at last I saw one of the youngest, who had kept in the background,
approach shyly and say to her:

"What is chastity then? I mean is it good, or is it bad, or is it nothing
at all?" She replied so low that I could not catch what she said.

"You know I was shocked," said another, "for at least ten minutes."

"In my opinion," said Poll, who was growing crusty from always reading in
the London Library, "chastity is nothing but ignorance--a most
discreditable state of mind. We should admit only the unchaste to our
society. I vote that Castalia shall be our President."

This was violently disputed.

"It is as unfair to brand women with chastity as with unchastity," said
Poll. "Some of us haven't the opportunity either. Moreover, I don't
believe Cassy herself maintains that she acted as she did from a pure
love of knowledge."

"He is only twenty-one and divinely beautiful," said Cassy, with a
ravishing gesture.

"I move," said Helen, "that no one be allowed to talk of chastity or
unchastity save those who are in love."

"Oh, bother," said Judith, who had been enquiring into scientific
matters, "I'm not in love and I'm longing to explain my measures for
dispensing with prostitutes and fertilizing virgins by Act of
Parliament."

She went on to tell us of an invention of hers to be erected at Tube
stations and other public resorts, which, upon payment of a small fee,
would safeguard the nation's health, accommodate its sons, and relieve
its daughters. Then she had contrived a method of preserving in sealed
tubes the germs of future Lord Chancellors "or poets or painters or
musicians," she went on, "supposing, that is to say, that these breeds
are not extinct, and that women still wish to bear children--"

"Of course we wish to bear children!" cried Castalia, impatiently. Jane
rapped the table.

"That is the very point we are met to consider," she said. "For five
years we have been trying to find out whether we are justified in
continuing the human race. Castalia has anticipated our decision. But it
remains for the rest of us to make up our minds."

Here one after another of our messengers rose and delivered their
reports. The marvels of civilisation far exceeded our expectations, and,
as we learnt for the first time how man flies in the air, talks across
space, penetrates to the heart of an atom, and embraces the universe in
his speculations, a murmur of admiration burst from our lips.

"We are proud," we cried, "that our mothers sacrificed their youth in
such a cause as this!" Castalia, who had been listening intently, looked
prouder than all the rest. Then Jane reminded us that we had still much
to learn, and Castalia begged us to make haste. On we went through a vast
tangle of statistics. We learnt that England has a population of so many
millions, and that such and such a proportion of them is constantly
hungry and in prison; that the average size of a working man's family is
such, and that so great a percentage of women die from maladies incident
to childbirth. Reports were read of visits to factories, shops, slums,
and dockyards. Descriptions were given of the Stock Exchange, of a
gigantic house of business in the City, and of a Government Office. The
British Colonies were now discussed, and some account was given of our
rule in India, Africa and Ireland. I was sitting by Castalia and I
noticed her uneasiness.

"We shall never come to any conclusion at all at this rate," she said.
"As it appears that civilisation is so much more complex than we had any
notion, would it not be better to confine ourselves to our original
enquiry? We agreed that it was the object of life to produce good people
and good books. All this time we have been talking of aeroplanes,
factories, and money. Let us talk about men themselves and their arts,
for that is the heart of the matter."

So the diners out stepped forward with long slips of paper containing
answers to their questions. These had been framed after much
consideration. A good man, we had agreed, must at any rate be honest,
passionate, and unworldly. But whether or not a particular man possessed
those qualities could only be discovered by asking questions, often
beginning at a remote distance from the centre. Is Kensington a nice
place to live in? Where is your son being educated--and your daughter? Now
please tell me, what do you pay for your cigars? By the way, is Sir
Joseph a baronet or only a knight? Often it seemed that we learnt more
from trivial questions of this kind than from more direct ones. "I
accepted my peerage," said Lord Bunkum, "because my wife wished it." I
forget how many titles were accepted for the same reason. "Working
fifteen hours out of the twenty-four, as I do--" ten thousand
professional men began.

"No, no, of course you can neither read nor write. But why do you work so
hard?" "My dear lady, with a growing family--" "But why does your family
grow?" Their wives wished that too, or perhaps it was the British Empire.
But more significant than the answers were the refusals to answer. Very
few would reply at all to questions about morality and religion, and such
answers as were given were not serious. Questions as to the value of
money and power were almost invariably brushed aside, or pressed at
extreme risk to the asker. "I'm sure," said Jill, "that if Sir Harley
Tightboots hadn't been carving the mutton when I asked him about the
capitalist system he would have cut my throat. The only reason why we
escaped with our lives over and over again is that men are at once so
hungry and so chivalrous. They despise us too much to mind what we say."

"Of course they despise us," said Eleanor. "At the same time how do you
account for this--I made enquiries among the artists. Now, no woman has
ever been an artist, has she, Polls?"

"Jane--Austen--Charlotte--Bronte--George--Eliot," cried Poll, like a man
crying muffins in a back street.

"Damn the woman!" someone exclaimed. "What a bore she is!"

"Since Sappho there has been no female of first rate--" Eleanor began,
quoting from a weekly newspaper.

"It's now well known that Sappho was the somewhat lewd invention of
Professor Hobkin," Ruth interrupted.

"Anyhow, there is no reason to suppose that any woman ever has been able
to write or ever will be able to write," Eleanor continued. "And yet,
whenever I go among authors they never cease to talk to me about their
books. Masterly! I say, or Shakespeare himself! (for one must say
something) and I assure you, they believe me."

"That proves nothing," said Jane. "They all do it. Only," she sighed, "it
doesn't seem to help us much. Perhaps we had better examine modern
literature next. Liz, it's your turn."

Elizabeth rose and said that in order to prosecute her enquiry she had
dressed as a man and been taken for a reviewer.

"I have read new books pretty steadily for the past five years," said
she. "Mr. Wells is the most popular living writer; then comes Mr. Arnold
Bennett; then Mr. Compton Makenzie; Mr. McKenna and Mr. Walpole may be
bracketed together." She sat down.

"But you've told us nothing!" we expostulated. "Or do you mean that these
gentlemen have greatly surpassed Jane-Elliot and that English fiction
is--where's that review of yours? Oh, yes, 'safe in their hands.'"

"Safe, quite safe," she said, shifting uneasily from foot to foot. "And
I'm sure that they give away even more than they receive."

We were all sure of that. "But," we pressed her, "do they write good
books?"

"Good books?" she said, looking at the ceiling "You must remember," she
began, speaking with extreme rapidity, "that fiction is the mirror of
life. And you can't deny that education is of the highest importance, and
that it would be extremely annoying, if you found yourself alone at
Brighton late at night, not to know which was the best boarding house to
stay at, and suppose it was a dripping Sunday evening--wouldn't it be nice
to go to the Movies?"

"But what has that got to do with it?" we asked.

"Nothing--nothing--nothing whatever," she replied.

"Well, tell us the truth," we bade her.

"The truth? But isn't it wonderful," she broke off--"Mr. Chitter has
written a weekly article for the past thirty years upon love or hot
buttered toast and has sent all his sons to Eton--"

"The truth!" we demanded.

"Oh, the truth," she stammered, "the truth has nothing to do with
literature," and sitting down she refused to say another word.

It all seemed to us very inconclusive.

"Ladies, we must try to sum up the results," Jane was beginning, when a
hum, which had been heard for some time through the open window, drowned
her voice.

"War! War! War! Declaration of War!" men were shouting in the street
below.

We looked at each other in horror.

"What war?" we cried. "What war?" We remembered, too late, that we had
never thought of sending anyone to the House of Commons. We had forgotten
all about it. We turned to Poll, who had reached the history shelves in
the London Library, and asked her to enlighten us.

"Why," we cried, "do men go to war?"

"Sometimes for one reason, sometimes for another," she replied calmly.
"In 1760, for example--" The shouts outside drowned her words. "Again in
1797--in 1804--It was the Austrians in 1866-1870 was the
Franco-Prussian--In 1900 on the other hand--"

"But it's now 1914!" we cut her short.

"Ah, I don't know what they're going to war for now," she admitted.

*    *    *    *    *

The war was over and peace was in process of being signed, when I once
more found myself with Castalia in the room where our meetings used to be
held. We began idly turning over the pages of our old minute books.
"Queer," I mused, "to see what we were thinking five years ago." "We are
agreed," Castalia quoted, reading over my shoulder, "that it is the
object of life to produce good people and good books." We made no comment
upon that. "A good man is at any rate honest, passionate and unworldly."
"What a woman's language!" I observed. "Oh, dear," cried Castalia,
pushing the book away from her, "what fools we were! It was all Poll's
father's fault," she went on. "I believe he did it on purpose--that
ridiculous will, I mean, forcing Poll to read all the books in the London
Library. If we hadn't learnt to read," she said bitterly, "we might still
have been bearing children in ignorance and that I believe was the
happiest life after all. I know what you're going to say about war," she
checked me, "and the horror of bearing children to see them killed, but
our mothers did it, and their mothers, and their mothers before them. And
they didn't complain. They couldn't read. I've done my best," she sighed,
"to prevent my little girl from learning to read, but what's the use? I
caught Ann only yesterday with a newspaper in her hand and she was
beginning to ask me if it was 'true.' Next she'll ask me whether Mr.
Lloyd George is a good man, then whether Mr. Arnold Bennett is a good
novelist, and finally whether I believe in God. How can I bring my
daughter up to believe in nothing?" she demanded.

"Surely you could teach her to believe that a man's intellect is, and
always will be, fundamentally superior to a woman's?" I suggested. She
brightened at this and began to turn over our old minutes again. "Yes,"
she said, "think of their discoveries, their mathematics, their science,
their philosophy, their scholarship--" and then she began to laugh, "I
shall never forget old Hobkin and the hairpin," she said, and went on
reading and laughing and I thought she was quite happy, when suddenly she
drew the book from her and burst out, "Oh, Cassandra, why do you torment
me? Don't you know that our belief in man's intellect is the greatest
fallacy of them all?" "What?" I exclaimed. "Ask any journalist,
schoolmaster, politician or public house keeper in the land and they will
all tell you that men are much cleverer than women." "As if I doubted
it," she said scornfully. "How could they help it? Haven't we bred them
and fed and kept them in comfort since the beginning of time so that they
may be clever even if they're nothing else? It's all our doing!" she
cried. "We insisted upon having intellect and now we've got it. And it's
intellect," she continued, "that's at the bottom of it. What could be
more charming than a boy before he has begun to cultivate his intellect?
He is beautiful to look at; he gives himself no airs; he understands the
meaning of art and literature instinctively; he goes about enjoying his
life and making other people enjoy theirs. Then they teach him to
cultivate his intellect. He becomes a barrister, a civil servant, a
general, an author, a professor. Every day he goes to an office. Every
year he produces a book. He maintains a whole family by the products of
his brain--poor devil! Soon he cannot come into a room without making us
all feel uncomfortable; he condescends to every woman he meets, and dares
not tell the truth even to his own wife; instead of rejoicing our eyes we
have to shut them if we are to take him in our arms. True, they console
themselves with stars of all shapes, ribbons of all shades, and incomes
of all sizes--but what is to console us? That we shall be able in ten
years' time to spend a weekend at Lahore? Or that the least insect in
Japan has a name twice the length of its body? Oh, Cassandra, for
Heaven's sake let us devise a method by which men may bear children! It
is our only chance. For unless we provide them with some innocent
occupation we shall get neither good people nor good books; we shall
perish beneath the fruits of their unbridled activity; and not a human
being will survive to know that there once was Shakespeare!"

"It is too late," I replied. "We cannot provide even for the children
that we have."

"And then you ask me to believe in intellect," she said.

While we spoke, man were crying hoarsely and wearily in the street, and,
listening, we heard that the Treaty of Peace had just been signed. The
voices died away. The rain was falling and interfered no doubt with the
proper explosion of the fireworks.

"My cook will have bought the Evening News," said Castalia, "and Ann will
be spelling it out over her tea. I must go home."

"It's no good--not a bit of good," I said. "Once she knows how to read
there's only one thing you can teach her to believe in--and that is
herself."

"Well, that would be a change," sighed Castalia.

So we swept up the papers of our Society, and, though Ann was playing
with her doll very happily, we solemnly made her a present of the lot and
told her we had chosen her to be President of the Society of the
future--upon which she burst into tears, poor little girl.




3. Monday or Tuesday



Lazy and indifferent, shaking space easily from his wings, knowing his
way, the heron passes over the church beneath the sky. White and distant,
absorbed in itself, endlessly the sky covers and uncovers, moves and
remains. A lake? Blot the shores of it out! A mountain? Oh, perfect--the
sun gold on its slopes. Down that falls. Ferns then, or white feathers,
for ever and ever--

Desiring truth, awaiting it, laboriously distilling a few words, for ever
desiring--(a cry starts to the left, another to the right. Wheels strike
divergently. Omnibuses conglomerate in conflict)--for ever desiring--(the
clock asseverates with twelve distinct strokes that it is midday; light
sheds gold scales; children swarm)--for ever desiring truth. Red is the
dome; coins hang on the trees; smoke trails from the chimneys; bark,
shout, cry "Iron for sale"--and truth?

Radiating to a point men's feet and women's feet, black or
gold-encrusted--(This foggy weather--Sugar? No, thank you--The
commonwealth of the future)--the firelight darting and making the room
red, save for the black figures and their bright eyes, while outside a
van discharges, Miss Thingummy drinks tea at her desk, and plate-glass
preserves fur coats--

Flaunted, leaf--light, drifting at corners, blown across the wheels,
silver-splashed, home or not home, gathered, scattered, squandered in
separate scales, swept up, down, torn, sunk, assembled--and truth?

Now to recollect by the fireside on the white square of marble. From
ivory depths words rising shed their blackness, blossom and penetrate.
Fallen the book; in the flame, in the smoke, in the momentary sparks--or
now voyaging, the marble square pendant, minarets beneath and the Indian
seas, while space rushes blue and stars glint--truth? content with
closeness?

Lazy and indifferent the heron returns; the sky veils her stars; then
bares them.




4. An Unwritten Novel



Such an expression of unhappiness was enough by itself to make one's eyes
slide above the paper's edge to the poor woman's face--insignificant
without that look, almost a symbol of human destiny with it. Life's what
you see in people's eyes; life's what they learn, and, having learnt it,
never, though they seek to hide it, cease to be aware of--what? That
life's like that, it seems. Five faces opposite--five mature faces--and
the knowledge in each face. Strange, though, how people want to conceal
it! Marks of reticence are on all those faces: lips shut, eyes shaded,
each one of the five doing something to hide or stultify his knowledge.
One smokes; another reads; a third checks entries in a pocket book; a
fourth stares at the map of the line framed opposite; and the fifth--the
terrible thing about the fifth is that she does nothing at all. She looks
at life. Ah, but my poor, unfortunate woman, do play the game--do, for
all our sakes, conceal it!

As if she heard me, she looked up, shifted slightly in her seat and
sighed. She seemed to apologise and at the same time to say to me, "If
only you knew!" Then she looked at life again. "But I do know," I
answered silently, glancing at the Times for manners' sake. "I know the
whole business. 'Peace between Germany and the Allied Powers was
yesterday officially ushered in at Paris--Signor Nitti, the Italian Prime
Minister--a passenger train at Doncaster was in collision with a goods
train. . .' We all know--the Times knows--but we pretend we don't." My
eyes had once more crept over the paper's rim She shuddered, twitched her
arm queerly to the middle of her back and shook her head. Again I dipped
into my great reservoir of life. "Take what you like," I continued,
"births, deaths, marriages, Court Circular, the habits of birds, Leonardo
da Vinci, the Sandhills murder, high wages and the cost of living--oh,
take what you like," I repeated, "it's all in the Times!" Again with
infinite weariness she moved her head from side to side until, like a top
exhausted with spinning, it settled on her neck.

The Times was no protection against such sorrow as hers. But other human
beings forbade intercourse. The best thing to do against life was to fold
the paper so that it made a perfect square, crisp, thick, impervious even
to life. This done, I glanced up quickly, armed with a shield of my own.
She pierced through my shield; she gazed into my eyes as if searching any
sediment of courage at the depths of them and damping it to clay. Her
twitch alone denied all hope, discounted all illusion.

So we rattled through Surrey and across the border into Sussex. But with
my eyes upon life I did not see that the other travellers had left, one
by one, till, save for the man who read, we were alone together. Here was
Three Bridges station. We drew slowly down the platform and stopped. Was
he going to leave us? I prayed both ways--I prayed last that he might
stay. At that instant he roused himself, crumpled his paper
contemptuously, like a thing done with, burst open the door, and left us
alone.

The unhappy woman, leaning a little forward, palely and colourlessly
addressed me--talked of stations and holidays, of brothers at Eastbourne,
and the time of year, which was, I forget now, early or late. But at last
looking from the window and seeing, I knew, only life, she breathed,
"Staying away--that's the drawback of it--" Ah, now we approached the
catastrophe, "My sister-in-law"--the bitterness of her tone was like
lemon on cold steel, and speaking, not to me, but to herself, she
muttered, "nonsense, she would say--that's what they all say," and while
she spoke she fidgeted as though the skin on her back were as a plucked
fowl's in a poulterer's shop-window.

"Oh, that cow!" she broke off nervously, as though the great wooden cow
in the meadow had shocked her and saved her from some indiscretion. Then
she shuddered, and then she made the awkward angular movement that I had
seen before, as if, after the spasm, some spot between the shoulders
burnt or itched. Then again she looked the most unhappy woman in the
world, and I once more reproached her, though not with the same
conviction, for if there were a reason, and if I knew the reason, the
stigma was removed from life.

"Sisters-in-law," I said--

Her lips pursed as if to spit venom at the word; pursed they remained.
All she did was to take her glove and rub hard at a spot on the
window-pane. She rubbed as if she would rub something out for ever--some
stain, some indelible contamination. Indeed, the spot remained for all
her rubbing, and back she sank with the shudder and the clutch of the arm
I had come to expect. Something impelled me to take my glove and rub my
window. There, too, was a little speck on the glass. For all my rubbing
it remained. And then the spasm went through me I crooked my arm and
plucked at the middle of my back. My skin, too, felt like the damp
chicken's skin in the poulterer's shop-window; one spot between the
shoulders itched and irritated, felt clammy, felt raw. Could I reach it?
Surreptitiously I tried. She saw me. A smile of infinite irony, infinite
sorrow, flitted and faded from her face. But she had communicated, shared
her secret, passed her poison she would speak no more. Leaning back in my
corner, shielding my eyes from her eyes, seeing only the slopes and
hollows, greys and purples, of the winter's landscape, I read her
message, deciphered her secret, reading it beneath her gaze.

Hilda's the sister-in-law. Hilda? Hilda? Hilda Marsh--Hilda the blooming,
the full bosomed, the matronly. Hilda stands at the door as the cab draws
up, holding a coin. "Poor Minnie, more of a grasshopper than ever--old
cloak she had last year. Well, well, with too children these days one
can't do more. No, Minnie, I've got it; here you are, cabby--none of your
ways with me. Come in, Minnie. Oh, I could carry you, let alone your
basket!" So they go into the dining-room. "Aunt Minnie, children."

Slowly the knives and forks sink from the upright. Down they get (Bob and
Barbara), hold out hands stiffly; back again to their chairs, staring
between the resumed mouthfuls. [But this we'll skip; ornaments, curtains,
trefoil china plate, yellow oblongs of cheese, white squares of
biscuit--skip--oh, but wait! Half-way through luncheon one of those
shivers; Bob stares at her, spoon in mouth. "Get on with your pudding,
Bob;" but Hilda disapproves. "Why should she twitch?" Skip, skip, till we
reach the landing on the upper floor; stairs brass-bound; linoleum worn;
oh, yes! little bedroom looking out over the roofs of
Eastbourne--zigzagging roofs like the spines of caterpillars, this way,
that way, striped red and yellow, with blue-black slating]. Now, Minnie,
the door's shut; Hilda heavily descends to the basement; you unstrap the
straps of your basket, lay on the bed a meagre nightgown, stand side by
side furred felt slippers. The looking-glass--no, you avoid the
looking-glass. Some methodical disposition of hat-pins. Perhaps the shell
box has something in it? You shake it; it's the pearl stud there was last
year--that's all. And then the sniff, the sigh, the sitting by the
window. Three o'clock on a December afternoon; the rain drizzling; one
light low in the skylight of a drapery emporium; another high in a
servant's bedroom--this one goes out. That gives her nothing to look at.
A moment's blankness--then, what are you thinking? (Let me peep across at
her opposite; she's asleep or pretending it; so what would she think
about sitting at the window at three o'clock in the afternoon? Health,
money, bills, her God?) Yes, sitting on the very edge of the chair
looking over the roofs of Eastbourne, Minnie Marsh prays to Gods. That's
all very well; and she may rub the pane too, as though to see God better;
but what God does she see? Who's the God of Minnie Marsh, the God of the
back streets of Eastbourne, the God of three o'clock in the afternoon? I,
too, see roofs, I see sky; but, oh, dear--this seeing of Gods! More like
President Kruger than Prince Albert--that's the best I can do for him;
and I see him on a chair, in a black frock-coat, not so very high up
either; I can manage a cloud or two for him to sit on; and then his hand
trailing in the cloud holds a rod, a truncheon is it?--black, thick,
thorned--a brutal old bully--Minnie's God! Did he send the itch and the
patch and the twitch? Is that why she prays? What she rubs on the window
is the stain of sin. Oh, she committed some crime!

I have my choice of crimes. The woods flit and fly--in summer there are
bluebells; in the opening there, when Spring comes, primroses. A parting,
was it, twenty years ago? Vows broken? Not Minnie's! . . . She was
faithful. How she nursed her mother! All her savings on the tombstone--
wreaths under glass--daffodils in jars. But I'm off the track. A
crime. . . They would say she kept her sorrow, suppressed her secret--her
sex, they'd say--the scientific people. But what flummery to saddle her
with sex! No--more like this. Passing down the streets of Croydon twenty
years ago, the violet loops of ribbon in the draper's window spangled in
the electric light catch her eye. She lingers--past six. Still by running
she can reach home. She pushes through the glass swing door. It's
sale-time. Shallow trays brim with ribbons. She pauses, pulls this,
fingers that with the raised roses on it--no need to choose, no need to
buy, and each tray with its surprises. "We don't shut till seven," and
then it is seven. She runs, she rushes, home she reaches, but too late.
Neighbours--the doctor--baby brother--the kettle--scalded--hospital--
dead--or only the shock of it, the blame? Ah, but the detail matters
nothing! It's what she carries with her; the spot, the crime, the thing
to expiate, always there between her shoulders.

"Yes," she seems to nod to me, "it's the thing I did."

Whether you did, or what you did, I don't mind; it's not the thing I
want. The draper's window looped with violet--that'll do; a little cheap
perhaps, a little commonplace--since one has a choice of crimes, but then
so many (let me peep across again--still sleeping, or pretending sleep!
white, worn, the mouth closed--a touch of obstinacy, more than one would
think--no hint of sex)--so many crimes aren't your crime; your crime was
cheap; only the retribution solemn; for now the church door opens, the
hard wooden pew receives her; on the brown tiles she kneels; every day,
winter, summer, dusk, dawn (here she's at it) prays. All her sins fall,
fall, for ever fall. The spot receives them. It's raised, it's red, it's
burning. Next she twitches. Small boys point. "Bob at lunch to-day"--But
elderly women are the worst.

Indeed now you can't sit praying any longer. Kruger's sunk beneath the
clouds--washed over as with a painter's brush of liquid grey, to which he
adds a tinge of black--even the tip of the truncheon gone now. That's
what always happens! Just as you've seen him, felt him, someone
interrupts. It's Hilda now.

How you hate her! She'll even lock the bathroom door overnight, too,
though it's only cold water you want, and sometimes when the night's been
bad it seems as if washing helped. And John at breakfast--the
children--meals are worst, and sometimes there are friends--ferns don't
altogether hide 'em--they guess, too; so out you go along the front,
where the waves are grey, and the papers blow, and the glass shelters
green and draughty, and the chairs cost tuppence--too much--for there
must be preachers along the sands. Ah, that's a nigger--that's a funny
man--that's a man with parakeets--poor little creatures! Is there no one
here who thinks of God?--just up there, over the pier, with his rod--but
no--there's nothing but grey in the sky or if it's blue the white clouds
hide him, and the music--it's military music--and what they are fishing
for? Do they catch them? How the children stare! Well, then home a back
way--"Home a back way!" The words have meaning; might have been spoken by
the old man with whiskers--no, no, he didn't really speak; but everything
has meaning--placards leaning against doorways--names above
shop-windows--red fruit in baskets--women's heads in the
hairdresser's--all say "Minnie Marsh!" But here's a jerk. "Eggs are
cheaper!" That's what always happens! I was heading her over the
waterfall, straight for madness, when, like a flock of dream sheep, she
turns t'other way and runs between my fingers. Eggs are cheaper. Tethered
to the shores of the world, none of the crimes, sorrows, rhapsodies, or
insanities for poor Minnie Marsh; never late for luncheon; never caught
in a storm without a mackintosh; never utterly unconscious of the
cheapness of eggs. So she reaches home--scrapes her boots.

Have I read you right? But the human face--the human face at the top of
the fullest sheet of print holds more, withholds more. Now, eyes open,
she looks out; and in the human eye--how d'you define it?--there's a
break--a division--so that when you've grasped the stem the butterfly's
off--the moth that hangs in the evening over the yellow flower--move,
raise your hand, off, high, away. I won't raise my hand. Hang still,
then, quiver, life, soul, spirit, whatever you are of Minnie Marsh--I,
too, on my flower--the hawk over the down--alone, or what were the worth
of life? To rise; hang still in the evening, in the midday; hang still
over the down. The flicker of a hand--off, up! then poised again. Alone,
unseen; seeing all so still down there, all so lovely. None seeing, none
caring. The eyes of others our prisons; their thoughts our cages. Air
above, air below. And the moon and immortality. . . Oh, but I drop to the
turf! Are you down too, you in the corner, what's your
name--woman--Minnie Marsh; some such name as that? There she is, tight to
her blossom; opening her hand-bag, from which she takes a hollow
shell--an egg--who was saying that eggs were cheaper? You or I? Oh, it
was you who said it on the way home, you remember, when the old
gentleman, suddenly opening his umbrella--or sneezing was it? Anyhow,
Kruger went, and you came "home a back way," and scraped your boots. Yes.
And now you lay across your knees a pocket-handkerchief into which drop
little angular fragments of eggshell--fragments of a map--a puzzle. I
wish I could piece them together! If you would only sit still. She's
moved her knees--the map's in bits again. Down the slopes of the Andes
the white blocks of marble go bounding and hurtling, crushing to death a
whole troop of Spanish muleteers, with their convoy--Drake's booty, gold
and silver. But to return--

To what, to where? She opened the door, and, putting her umbrella in the
stand--that goes without saying; so, too, the whiff of beef from the
basement; dot, dot, dot. But what I cannot thus eliminate, what I must,
head down, eyes shut, with the courage of a battalion and the blindness
of a bull, charge and disperse are, indubitably, the figures behind the
ferns, commercial travellers. There I've hidden them all this time in the
hope that somehow they'd disappear, or better still emerge, as indeed
they must, if the story's to go on gathering richness and rotundity,
destiny and tragedy, as stories should, rolling along with it two, if not
three, commercial travellers and a whole grove of aspidistra. "The fronds
of the aspidistra only partly concealed the commercial traveller--"
Rhododendrons would conceal him utterly, and into the bargain give me my
fling of red and white, for which I starve and strive; but rhododendrons
in Eastbourne--in December--on the Marshes' table--no, no, I dare not;
it's all a matter of crusts and cruets, frills and ferns. Perhaps
there'll be a moment later by the sea. Moreover, I feel, pleasantly
pricking through the green fretwork and over the glacis of cut glass, a
desire to peer and peep at the man opposite--one's as much as I can
manage. James Moggridge is it, whom the Marshes call Jimmy? [Minnie, you
must promise not to twitch till I've got this straight]. James Moggridge
travels in--shall we say buttons?--but the time's not come for bringing
them in--the big and the little on the long cards, some peacock-eyed,
others dull gold; cairngorms some, and others coral sprays--but I say the
time's not come. He travels, and on Thursdays, his Eastbourne day, takes
his meals with the Marshes. His red face, his little steady eyes--by no
means. altogether commonplace--his enormous appetite (that's safe; he
won't look at Minnie till the bread's swamped the gravy dry), napkin
tucked diamond-wise--but this is primitive, and, whatever it may do the
reader, don't take me in. Let's dodge to the Moggridge household, set
that in motion. Well, the family boots are mended on Sundays by James
himself. He reads Truth. But his passion? Roses--and his wife a retired
hospital nurse--interesting--for God's sake let me have one woman with a
name I like! But no; she's of the unborn children of the mind, illicit,
none the less loved, like my rhododendrons. How many die in every novel
that's written--the best, the dearest, while Moggridge lives. It's life's
fault. Here's Minnie eating her egg at the moment opposite and at t'other
end of the line--are we past Lewes?--there must be Jimmy--or what's her
twitch for?

There must be Moggridge--life's fault. Life imposes her laws; life blocks
the way; life's behind the fern; life's the tyrant; oh, but not the
bully! No, for I assure you I come willingly; I come wooed by Heaven
knows what compulsion across ferns and cruets, table splashed and bottles
smeared. I come irresistibly to lodge myself somewhere on the firm flesh,
in the robust spine, wherever I can penetrate or find foothold on the
person, in the soul, of Moggridge the man. The enormous stability of the
fabric; the spine tough as whalebone, straight as oaktree; the ribs
radiating branches; the flesh taut tarpaulin; the red hollows; the suck
and regurgitation of the heart; while from above meat falls in brown
cubes and beer gushes to be churned to blood again--and so we reach the
eyes. Behind the aspidistra they see something: black, white, dismal; now
the plate again; behind the aspidistra they see elderly woman; "Marsh's
sister, Hilda's more my sort;" the tablecloth now. "Marsh would know
what's wrong with Morrises. . ." talk that over; cheese has come; the plate
again; turn it round--the enormous fingers; now the woman opposite.
"Marsh's sister--not a bit like Marsh; wretched, elderly female. . . You
should feed your hens. . . God's truth, what's set her twitching? Not what
I said? Dear, dear, dear! these elderly women. Dear, dear!"

[Yes, Minnie; I know you've twitched, but one moment--James Moggridge].

"Dear, dear, dear!" How beautiful the sound is! like the knock of a
mallet on seasoned timber, like the throb of the heart of an ancient
whaler when the seas press thick and the green is clouded. "Dear, dear!"
what a passing bell for the souls of the fretful to soothe them and
solace them, lap them in linen, saying, "So long. Good luck to you!" and
then, "What's your pleasure?" for though Moggridge would pluck his rose
for her, that's done, that's over. Now what's the next thing? "Madam,
you'll miss your train," for they don't linger.

That's the man's way; that's the sound that reverberates; that's St.
Paul's and the motor-omnibuses. But we're brushing the crumbs off. Oh,
Moggridge, you won't stay? You must be off? Are you driving through
Eastbourne this afternoon in one of those little carriages? Are you man
who's walled up in green cardboard boxes, and sometimes has the blinds
down, and sometimes sits so solemn staring like a sphinx, and always
there's a look of the sepulchral, something of the undertaker, the
coffin, and the dusk about horse and driver? Do tell me--but the doors
slammed. We shall never meet again. Moggridge, farewell!

Yes, yes, I'm coming. Right up to the top of the house. One moment I'll
linger. How the mud goes round in the mind--what a swirl these monsters
leave, the waters rocking, the weeds waving and green here, black there,
striking to the sand, till by degrees the atoms reassemble, the deposit
sifts itself, and again through the eyes one sees clear and still, and
there comes to the lips some prayer for the departed, some obsequy for
the souls of those one nods to, the people one never meets again.

James Moggridge is dead now, gone for ever. Well, Minnie--"I can face it
no longer." If she said that--(Let me look at her. She is brushing the
eggshell into deep declivities). She said it certainly, leaning against
the wall of the bedroom, and plucking at the little balls which edge the
claret-coloured curtain. But when the self speaks to the self, who is
speaking?--the entombed soul, the spirit driven in, in, in to the central
catacomb; the self that took the veil and left the world--a coward
perhaps, yet somehow beautiful, as it flits with its lantern restlessly
up and down the dark corridors. "I can bear it no longer," her spirit
says. "That man at lunch--Hilda--the children." Oh, heavens, her sob!
It's the spirit wailing its destiny, the spirit driven hither, thither,
lodging on the diminishing carpets--meagre footholds--shrunken shreds of
all the vanishing universe--love, life, faith, husband, children, I know
not what splendours and pageantries glimpsed in girlhood. "Not for
me--not for me."

But then--the muffins, the bald elderly dog? Bead mats I should fancy and
the consolation of underlinen. If Minnie Marsh were run over and taken to
hospital, nurses and doctors themselves would exclaim. . . There's the
vista and the vision--there's the distance--the blue blot at the end of
the avenue, while, after all, the tea is rich, the muffin hot, and the
dog--"Benny, to your basket, sir, and see what mother's brought you!" So,
taking the glove with the worn thumb, defying once more the encroaching
demon of what's called going in holes, you renew the fortifications,
threading the grey wool, running it in and out.

Running it in and out, across and over, spinning a web through which God
himself--hush, don't think of God! How firm the stitches are! You must be
proud of your darning. Let nothing disturb her. Let the light fall
gently, and the clouds show an inner vest of the first green leaf. Let
the sparrow perch on the twig and shake the raindrop hanging to the
twig's elbow. . . Why look up? Was it a sound, a thought? Oh, heavens!
Back again to the thing you did, the plate glass with the violet loops?
But Hilda will come. Ignominies, humiliations, oh! Close the breach.

Having mended her glove, Minnie Marsh lays it in the drawer. She shuts
the drawer with decision. I catch sight of her face in the glass. Lips
are pursed. Chin held high. Next she laces her shoes. Then she touches
her throat. What's your brooch? Mistletoe or merry-thought? And what is
happening? Unless I'm much mistaken, the pulse's quickened, the moment's
coming, the threads are racing, Niagara's ahead. Here's the crisis!
Heaven be with you! Down she goes. Courage, courage! Face it, be it! For
God's sake don't wait on the mat now! There's the door! I'm on your side.
Speak! Confront her, confound her soul!

"Oh, I beg your pardon! Yes, this is Eastbourne. I'll reach it down for
you. Let me try the handle." [But, Minnie, though we keep up pretences,
I've read you right--I'm with you now].

"That's all your luggage?"

"Much obliged, I'm sure."

(But why do you look about you? Hilda don't come to the station, nor
John; and Moggridge is driving at the far side of Eastbourne).

"I'll wait by my bag, ma'am, that's safest. He said he'd meet me. . . Oh,
there he is! That's my son."

So they walk off together.

Well, but I'm confounded. . . Surely, Minnie, you know better! A strange
young man. . . Stop! I'll tell him--Minnie!--Miss Marsh!--I don't know
though. There's something queer in her cloak as it blows. Oh, but it's
untrue, it's indecent. . . Look how he bends as they reach the gateway.
She finds her ticket. What's the joke? Off they go, down the road, side
by side. . . Well, my world's done for! What do I stand on? What do I
know? That's not Minnie. There never was Moggridge. Who am I? Life's bare
as bone.

And yet the last look of them--he stepping from the kerb and she
following him round the edge of the big building brims me with
wonder--floods me anew. Mysterious figures! Mother and son. Who are you?
Why do you walk down the street? Where to-night will you sleep, and then,
to-morrow? Oh, how it whirls and surges--floats me afresh! I start after
them. People drive this way and that. The white light splutters and
pours. Plate-glass windows. Carnations; chrysanthemums. Ivy in dark
gardens. Milk carts at the door. Wherever I go, mysterious figures, I see
you, turning the corner, mothers and sons; you, you, you. I hasten, I
follow. This, I fancy, must be the sea. Grey is the landscape; dim as
ashes; the water murmurs and moves. If I fall on my knees, if I go
through the ritual, the ancient antics, it's you, unknown figures, you I
adore; if I open my arms, it's you I embrace, you I draw to me--adorable
world!




5. The String Quartet



Well, here we are, and if you cast your eye over the room you will see
that Tubes and trams and omnibuses, private carriages not a few, even, I
venture to believe, landaus with bays in them, have been busy at it,
weaving threads from one end of London to the other. Yet I begin to have
my doubts--

If indeed it's true, as they're saying, that Regent Street is up, and the
Treaty signed, and the weather not cold for the time of year, and even at
that rent not a flat to be had, and the worst of influenza its after
effects; if I bethink me of having forgotten to write about the leak in
the larder, and left my glove in the train; if the ties of blood require
me, leaning forward, to accept cordially the hand which is perhaps
offered hesitatingly--

"Seven years since we met!"

"The last time in Venice."

"And where are you living now?"

"Well, the late afternoon suits me the best, though, if it weren't asking
too much--"

"But I knew you at once!"

"Still, the war made a break--"

If the mind's shot through by such little arrows, and--for human society
compels it--no sooner is one launched than another presses forward; if
this engenders heat and in addition they've turned on the electric light;
if saying one thing does, in so many cases, leave behind it a need to
improve and revise, stirring besides regrets, pleasures, vanities, and
desires--if it's all the facts I mean, and the hats, the fur boas, the
gentlemen's swallow-tail coats, and pearl tie-pins that come to the
surface--what chance is there?

Of what? It becomes every minute more difficult to say why, in spite of
everything, I sit here believing I can't now say what, or even remember
the last time it happened.

"Did you see the procession?"

"The King looked cold."

"No, no, no. But what was it?"

"She's bought a house at Malmesbury."

"How lucky to find one!"

On the contrary, it seems to me pretty sure that she, whoever she may be,
is damned, since it's all a matter of flats and hats and sea gulls, or so
it seems to be for a hundred people sitting here well dressed, walled in,
furred, replete. Not that I can boast, since I too sit passive on a gilt
chair, only turning the earth above a buried memory, as we all do, for
there are signs, if I'm not mistaken, that we're all recalling something,
furtively seeking something. Why fidget? Why so anxious about the sit of
cloaks; and gloves--whether to button or unbutton? Then watch that
elderly face against the dark canvas, a moment ago urbane and flushed;
now taciturn and sad, as if in shadow. Was it the sound of the second
violin tuning in the ante-room? Here they come; four black figures,
carrying instruments, and seat themselves facing the white squares under
the downpour of light; rest the tips of their bows on the music stand;
with a simultaneous movement lift them; lightly poise them, and, looking
across at the player opposite, the first violin counts one, two, three--

Flourish, spring, burgeon, burst! The pear tree on the top of the
mountain. Fountains jet; drops descend. But the waters of the Rhone flow
swift and deep, race under the arches, and sweep the trailing water
leaves, washing shadows over the silver fish, the spotted fish rushed
down by the swift waters, now swept into an eddy where--it's difficult
this--conglomeration of fish all in a pool; leaping, splashing, scraping
sharp fins; and such a boil of current that the yellow pebbles are
churned round and round, round and round--free now, rushing downwards, or
even somehow ascending in exquisite spirals into the air; curled like
thin shavings from under a plane; up and up. . . How lovely goodness is in
those who, stepping lightly, go smiling through the world! Also in jolly
old fishwives, squatted under arches, oh scene old women, how deeply they
laugh and shake and rollick, when they walk, from side to side, hum, hah!

"That's an early Mozart, of course--"

"But the tune, like all his tunes, makes one despair--I mean hope. What
do I mean? That's the worst of music! I want to dance, laugh, eat pink
cakes, yellow cakes, drink thin, sharp wine. Or an indecent story, now--I
could relish that. The older one grows the more one likes indecency.
Hall, hah! I'm laughing. What at? You said nothing, nor did the old
gentleman opposite. . . But suppose--suppose--Hush!"

The melancholy river bears us on. When the moon comes through the
trailing willow boughs, I see your face, I hear your voice and the bird
singing as we pass the osier bed. What are you whispering? Sorrow,
sorrow. Joy, joy. Woven together, like reeds in moonlight. Woven
together, inextricably commingled, bound in pain and strewn in
sorrow--crash!

The boat sinks. Rising, the figures ascend, but now leaf thin, tapering
to a dusky wraith, which, fiery tipped, draws its twofold passion from my
heart. For me it sings, unseals my sorrow, thaws compassion, floods with
love the sunless world, nor, ceasing, abates its tenderness but deftly,
subtly, weaves in and out until in this pattern, this consummation, the
cleft ones unify; soar, sob, sink to rest, sorrow and joy.

Why then grieve? Ask what? Remain unsatisfied? I say all's been settled;
yes; laid to rest under a coverlet of rose leaves, falling. Falling. Ah,
but they cease. One rose leaf, falling from an enormous height, like a
little parachute dropped from an invisible balloon, turns, flutters
waveringly. It won't reach us.

"No, no. I noticed nothing. That's the worst of music--these silly
dreams. The second violin was late, you say?"

"There's old Mrs. Munro, feeling her way out--blinder each year, poor
woman--on this slippery floor."

Eyeless old age, grey-headed Sphinx. . . There she stands on the pavement,
beckoning, so sternly, the red omnibus.

"How lovely! How well they play! How--how--how!"

The tongue is but a clapper. Simplicity itself. The feathers in the hat
next me are bright and pleasing as a child's rattle. The leaf on the
plane-tree flashes green through the chink in the curtain. Very strange,
very exciting.

"How--how--how!" Hush!

These are the lovers on the grass.

"If, madam, you will take my hand--"

"Sir, I would trust you with my heart. Moreover, we have left our bodies
in the banqueting hall. Those on the turf are the shadows of our souls."

"Then these are the embraces of our souls." The lemons nod assent. The
swan pushes from the bank and floats dreaming into mid stream.

"But to return. He followed me down the corridor, and, as we turned the
corner, trod on the lace of my petticoat. What could I do but cry 'Ah!'
and stop to finger it? At which he drew his sword, made passes as if he
were stabbing something to death, and cried, 'Mad! Mad! Mad!' Whereupon I
screamed, and the Prince, who was writing in the large vellum book in the
oriel window, came out in his velvet skull-cap and furred slippers,
snatched a rapier from the wall--the King of Spain's gift, you know--on
which I escaped, flinging on this cloak to hide the ravages to my
skirt--to hide. . . But listen! the horns!"

The gentleman replies so fast to the lady, and she runs up the scale with
such witty exchange of compliment now culminating in a sob of passion,
that the words are indistinguishable though the meaning is plain
enough--love, laughter, flight, pursuit, celestial bliss--all floated out
on the gayest ripple of tender endearment--until the sound of the silver
horns, at first far distant, gradually sounds more and more distinctly,
as if seneschals were saluting the dawn or proclaiming ominously the
escape of the lovers. . . The green garden, moonlit pool, lemons, lovers,
and fish are all dissolved in the opal sky, across which, as the horns
are joined by trumpets and supported by clarions there rise white arches
firmly planted on marble pillars. . . Tramp and trumpeting. Clang and
clangour. Firm establishment. Fast foundations. March of myriads.
Confusion and chaos trod to earth. But this city to which we travel has
neither stone nor marble; hangs enduring; stands unshakable; nor does a
face, nor does a flag greet or welcome. Leave then to perish your hope;
droop in the desert my joy; naked advance. Bare are the pillars;
auspicious to none; casting no shade; resplendent; severe. Back then I
fall, eager no more, desiring only to go, find the street, mark the
buildings, greet the applewoman, say to the maid who opens the door: A
starry night.

"Good night, good night. You go this way?"

"Alas. I go that."




6. Blue & Green



GREEN

The ported fingers of glass hang downwards. The light slides down the
glass, and drops a pool of green. All day long the ten fingers of the
lustre drop green upon the marble. The feathers of parakeets--their harsh
cries--sharp blades of palm trees--green, too; green needles glittering
in the sun. But the hard glass drips on to the marble; the pools hover
above the dessert sand; the camels lurch through them; the pools settle
on the marble; rushes edge them; weeds clog them; here and there a white
blossom; the frog flops over; at night the stars are set there unbroken.
Evening comes, and the shadow sweeps the green over the mantelpiece; the
ruffled surface of ocean. No ships come; the aimless waves sway beneath
the empty sky. It's night; the needles drip blots of blue. The green's
out.

BLUE

The snub-nosed monster rises to the surface and spouts through his blunt
nostrils two columns of water, which, fiery-white in the centre, spray
off into a fringe of blue beads. Strokes of blue line the black tarpaulin
of his hide. Slushing the water through mouth and nostrils he sings,
heavy with water, and the blue closes over him dowsing the polished
pebbles of his eyes. Thrown upon the beach he lies, blunt, obtuse,
shedding dry blue scales. Their metallic blue stains the rusty iron on
the beach. Blue are the ribs of the wrecked rowing boat. A wave rolls
beneath the blue bells. But the cathedral's different, cold, incense
laden, faint blue with the veils of madonnas.




7. Kew Gardens



From the oval-shaped flower-bed there rose perhaps a hundred stalks
spreading into heart-shaped or tongue-shaped leaves half way up and
unfurling at the tip red or blue or yellow petals marked with spots of
colour raised upon the surface; and from the red, blue or yellow gloom of
the throat emerged a straight bar, rough with gold dust and slightly
clubbed at the end. The petals were voluminous enough to be stirred by
the summer breeze, and when they moved, the red, blue and yellow lights
passed one over the other, staining an inch of the brown earth beneath
with a spot of the most intricate colour. The light fell either upon the
smooth, grey back of a pebble, or, the shell of a snail with its brown,
circular veins, or falling into a raindrop, it expanded with such
intensity of red, blue and yellow the thin walls of water that one
expected them to burst and disappear. Instead, the drop was left in a
second silver grey once more, and the light now settled upon the flesh of
a leaf, revealing the branching thread of fibre beneath the surface, and
again it moved on and spread its illumination in the vast green spaces
beneath the dome of the heart-shaped and tongue-shaped leaves. Then the
breeze stirred rather more briskly overhead and the colour was flashed
into the air above, into the eyes of the men and women who walk in Kew
Gardens in July.

The figures of these men and women straggled past the flower-bed with a
curiously irregular movement not unlike that of the white and blue
butterflies who crossed the turf in zig-zag flights from bed to bed. The
man was about six inches in front of the woman, strolling carelessly,
while she bore on with greater purpose, only turning her head now and
then to see that the children were not too far behind. The man kept this
distance in front of the woman purposely, though perhaps unconsciously,
for he wished to go on with his thoughts.

"Fifteen years ago I came here with Lily," he thought. "We sat somewhere
over there by a lake and I begged her to marry me all through the hot
afternoon. How the dragonfly kept circling round us: how clearly I see
the dragonfly and her shoe with the square silver buckle at the toe. All
the time I spoke I saw her shoe and when it moved impatiently I knew
without looking up what she was going to say: the whole of her seemed to
be in her shoe. And my love, my desire, were in the dragonfly; for some
reason I thought that if it settled there, on that leaf, the broad one
with the red flower in the middle of it, if the dragonfly settled on the
leaf she would say "Yes" at once. But the dragonfly went round and round:
it never settled anywhere--of course not, happily not, or I shouldn't be
walking here with Eleanor and the children--Tell me, Eleanor. D'you ever
think of the past?"

"Why do you ask, Simon?"

"Because I've been thinking of the past. I've been thinking of Lily, the
woman I might have married. . . Well, why are you silent? Do you mind my
thinking of the past?"

"Why should I mind, Simon? Doesn't one always think of the past, in a
garden with men and women lying under the trees? Aren't they one's past,
all that remains of it, those men and women, those ghosts lying under the
trees. . . one's happiness, one's reality?"

"For me, a square silver shoe buckle and a dragonfly--"

"For me, a kiss. Imagine six little girls sitting before their easels
twenty years ago, down by the side of a lake, painting the water-lilies,
the first red water-lilies I'd ever seen. And suddenly a kiss, there on
the back of my neck. And my hand shook all the afternoon so that I
couldn't paint. I took out my watch and marked the hour when I would
allow myself to think of the kiss for five minutes only--it was so
precious--the kiss of an old grey-haired woman with a wart on her nose,
the mother of all my kisses all my life. Come, Caroline, come, Hubert."

They walked on the past the flower-bed, now walking four abreast, and
soon diminished in size among the trees and looked half transparent as
the sunlight and shade swam over their backs in large trembling irregular
patches.

In the oval flower bed the snail, whose shelled had been stained red,
blue, and yellow for the space of two minutes or so, now appeared to be
moving very slightly in its shell, and next began to labour over the
crumbs of loose earth which broke away and rolled down as it passed over
them. It appeared to have a definite goal in front of it, differing in
this respect from the singular high stepping angular green insect who
attempted to cross in front of it, and waited for a second with its
antenna trembling as if in deliberation, and then stepped off as rapidly
and strangely in the opposite direction. Brown cliffs with deep green
lakes in the hollows, flat, blade-like trees that waved from root to tip,
round boulders of grey stone, vast crumpled surfaces of a thin crackling
texture--all these objects lay across the snail's progress between one
stalk and another to his goal. Before he had decided whether to
circumvent the arched tent of a dead leaf or to breast it there came past
the bed the feet of other human beings.

This time they were both men. The younger of the two wore an expression
of perhaps unnatural calm; he raised his eyes and fixed them very
steadily in front of him while his companion spoke, and directly his
companion had done speaking he looked on the ground again and sometimes
opened his lips only after a long pause and sometimes did not open them
at all. The elder man had a curiously uneven and shaky method of walking,
jerking his hand forward and throwing up his head abruptly, rather in the
manner of an impatient carriage horse tired of waiting outside a house;
but in the man these gestures were irresolute and pointless. He talked
almost incessantly; he smiled to himself and again began to talk, as if
the smile had been an answer. He was talking about spirits--the spirits
of the dead, who, according to him, were even now telling him all sorts
of odd things about their experiences in Heaven.

"Heaven was known to the ancients as Thessaly, William, and now, with
this war, the spirit matter is rolling between the hills like thunder."
He paused, seemed to listen, smiled, jerked his head and continued:--

"You have a small electric battery and a piece of rubber to insulate the
wire--isolate?--insulate?--well, we'll skip the details, no good going
into details that wouldn't be understood--and in short the little machine
stands in any convenient position by the head of the bed, we will say, on
a neat mahogany stand. All arrangements being properly fixed by workmen
under my direction, the widow applies her ear and summons the spirit by
sign as agreed. Women! Widows! Women in black--"

Here he seemed to have caught sight of a woman's dress in the distance,
which in the shade looked a purple black. He took off his hat, placed his
hand upon his heart, and hurried towards her muttering and gesticulating
feverishly. But William caught him by the sleeve and touched a flower
with the tip of his walking-stick in order to divert the old man's
attention. After looking at it for a moment in some confusion the old man
bent his ear to it and seemed to answer a voice speaking from it, for he
began talking about the forests of Uruguay which he had visited hundreds
of years ago in company with the most beautiful young woman in Europe. He
could be heard murmuring about forests of Uruguay blanketed with the wax
petals of tropical roses, nightingales, sea beaches, mermaids, and women
drowned at sea, as he suffered himself to be moved on by William, upon
whose face the look of stoical patience grew slowly deeper and deeper.

Following his steps so closely as to be slightly puzzled by his gestures
came two elderly women of the lower middle class, one stout and
ponderous, the other rosy cheeked and nimble. Like most people of their
station they were frankly fascinated by any signs of eccentricity
betokening a disordered brain, especially in the well-to-do; but they
were too far off to be certain whether the gestures were merely eccentric
or genuinely mad. After they had scrutinised the old man's back in
silence for a moment and given each other a queer, sly look, they went on
energetically piecing together their very complicated dialogue:

"Nell, Bert, Lot, Cess, Phil, Pa, he says, I says, she says, I says, I
says, I says--"

"My Bert, Sis, Bill, Grandad, the old man, sugar,
Sugar, flour, kippers, greens,
Sugar, sugar, sugar."

The ponderous woman looked through the pattern of falling words at the
flowers standing cool, firm, and upright in the earth, with a curious
expression. She saw them as a sleeper waking from a heavy sleep sees a
brass candlestick reflecting the light in an unfamiliar way, and closes
his eyes and opens them, and seeing the brass candlestick again, finally
starts broad awake and stares at the candlestick with all his powers. So
the heavy woman came to a standstill opposite the oval-shaped flower bed,
and ceased even to pretend to listen to what the other woman was saying.
She stood there letting the words fall over her, swaying the top part of
her body slowly backwards and forwards, looking at the flowers. Then she
suggested that they should find a seat and have their tea.

The snail had now considered every possible method of reaching his goal
without going round the dead leaf or climbing over it. Let alone the
effort needed for climbing a leaf, he was doubtful whether the thin
texture which vibrated with such an alarming crackle when touched even by
the tip of his horns would bear his weight; and this determined him
finally to creep beneath it, for there was a point where the leaf curved
high enough from the ground to admit him. He had just inserted his head
in the opening and was taking stock of the high brown roof and was
getting used to the cool brown light when two other people came past
outside on the turf. This time they were both young, a young man and a
young woman. They were both in the prime of youth, or even in that season
which precedes the prime of youth, the season before the smooth pink
folds of the flower have burst their gummy case, when the wings of the
butterfly, though fully grown, are motionless in the sun.

"Lucky it isn't Friday," he observed.

"Why? D'you believe in luck?"

"They make you pay sixpence on Friday."

"What's sixpence anyway? Isn't it worth sixpence?"

"What's 'it'--what do you mean by 'it'?"

"O, anything--I mean--you know what I mean."

Long pauses came between each of these remarks; they were uttered in
toneless and monotonous voices. The couple stood still on the edge of the
flower bed, and together pressed the end of her parasol deep down into
the soft earth. The action and the fact that his hand rested on the top
of hers expressed their feelings in a strange way, as these short
insignificant words also expressed something, words with short wings for
their heavy body of meaning, inadequate to carry them far and thus
alighting awkwardly upon the very common objects that surrounded them,
and were to their inexperienced touch so massive; but who knows (so they
thought as they pressed the parasol into the earth) what precipices
aren't concealed in them, or what slopes of ice don't shine in the sun on
the other side? Who knows? Who has ever seen this before? Even when she
wondered what sort of tea they gave you at Kew, he felt that something
loomed up behind her words, and stood vast and solid behind them; and the
mist very slowly rose and uncovered--O, Heavens, what were those
shapes?--little white tables, and waitresses who looked first at her and
then at him; and there was a bill that he would pay with a real two
shilling piece, and it was real, all real, he assured himself, fingering
the coin in his pocket, real to everyone except to him and to her; even
to him it began to seem real; and then--but it was too exciting to stand
and think any longer, and he pulled the parasol out of the earth with a
jerk and was impatient to find the place where one had tea with other
people, like other people.

"Come along, Trissie; it's time we had our tea."

"Wherever does one have one's tea?" she asked with the oddest thrill of
excitement in her voice, looking vaguely round and letting herself be
drawn on down the grass path, trailing her parasol, turning her head this
way and that way, forgetting her tea, wishing to go down there and then
down there, remembering orchids and cranes among wild flowers, a Chinese
pagoda and a crimson crested bird; but he bore her on.

Thus one couple after another with much the same irregular and aimless
movement passed the flower-bed and were enveloped in layer after layer of
green blue vapour, in which at first their bodies had substance and a
dash of colour, but later both substance and colour dissolved in the
green-blue atmosphere. How hot it was! So hot that even the thrush chose
to hop, like a mechanical bird, in the shadow of the flowers, with long
pauses between one movement and the next; instead of rambling vaguely the
white butterflies danced one above another, making with their white
shifting flakes the outline of a shattered marble column above the
tallest flowers the glass roofs of the palm house shone as if a whole
market full of shiny green umbrellas had opened in the sun; and in the
drone of the aeroplane the voice of the summer sky murmured its fierce
soul. Yellow and black, pink and snow white, shapes of all these colours,
men, women, and children were spotted for a second upon the horizon, and
then, seeing the breadth of yellow that lay upon the grass, they wavered
and sought shade beneath the trees, dissolving like drops of water in the
yellow and green atmosphere, staining it faintly with red and blue. It
seemed as if all gross and heavy bodies had sunk down in the heat
motionless and lay huddled upon the ground, but their voices went
wavering from them as if they were flames lolling from the thick waxen
bodies of candles. Voices. Yes, voices. Wordless voices, breaking the
silence suddenly with such depth of contentment, such passion of desire,
or, in the voices of children, such freshness of surprise; breaking the
silence? But there was no silence; all the time the motor omnibuses were
turning their wheels and changing their gear; like a vast nest of Chinese
boxes all of wrought steel turning ceaselessly one within another the
city murmured; on the top of which the voices cried aloud and the petals
of myriads of flowers flashed their colours into the air.




8. The Mark on the Wall



Perhaps it was the middle of January in the present that I first looked
up and saw the mark on the wall. In order to fix a date it is necessary
to remember what one saw. So now I think of the fire; the steady film of
yellow light upon the page of my book; the three chrysanthemums in the
round glass bowl on the mantelpiece. Yes, it must have been the winter
time, and we had just finished our tea, for I remember that I was smoking
a cigarette when I looked up and saw the mark on the wall for the first
time. I looked up through the smoke of my cigarette and my eye lodged for
a moment upon the burning coals, and that old fancy of the crimson flag
flapping from the castle tower came into my mind, and I thought of the
cavalcade of red knights riding up the side of the black rock. Rather to
my relief the sight of the mark interrupted the fancy, for it is an old
fancy, an automatic fancy, made as a child perhaps. The mark was a small
round mark, black upon the white wall, about six or seven inches above
the mantelpiece.

How readily our thoughts swarm upon a new object, lifting it a little
way, as ants carry a blade of straw so feverishly, and then leave it. . .
If that mark was made by a nail, it can't have been for a picture, it
must have been for a miniature--the miniature of a lady with white
powdered curls, powder-dusted cheeks, and lips like red carnations. A
fraud of course, for the people who had this house before us would have
chosen pictures in that way--an old picture for an old room. That is the
sort of people they were--very interesting people, and I think of them so
often, in such queer places, because one will never see them again, never
know what happened next. They wanted to leave this house because they
wanted to change their style of furniture, so he said, and he was in
process of saying that in his opinion art should have ideas behind it
when we were torn asunder, as one is torn from the old lady about to pour
out tea and the young man about to hit the tennis ball in the back garden
of the suburban villa as one rushes past in the train.

But as for that mark, I'm not sure about it; I don't believe it was made
by a nail after all; it's too big, too round, for that. I might get up,
but if I got up and looked at it, ten to one I shouldn't be able to say
for certain; because once a thing's done, no one ever knows how it
happened. Oh! dear me, the mystery of life; The inaccuracy of thought!
The ignorance of humanity! To show how very little control of our
possessions we have--what an accidental affair this living is after all
our civilization--let me just count over a few of the things lost in one
lifetime, beginning, for that seems always the most mysterious of
losses--what cat would gnaw, what rat would nibble--three pale blue
canisters of book-binding tools? Then there were the bird cages, the iron
hoops, the steel skates, the Queen Anne coal-scuttle, the bagatelle
board, the hand organ--all gone, and jewels, too. Opals and emeralds,
they lie about the roots of turnips. What a scraping paring affair it is
to be sure! The wonder is that I've any clothes on my back, that I sit
surrounded by solid furniture at this moment. Why, if one wants to
compare life to anything, one must liken it to being blown through the
Tube at fifty miles an hour--landing at the other end without a single
hairpin in one's hair! Shot out at the feet of God entirely naked!
Tumbling head over heels in the asphodel meadows like brown paper parcels
pitched down a shoot in the post office! With one's hair flying back like
the tail of a race-horse. Yes, that seems to express the rapidity of
life, the perpetual waste and repair; all so casual, all so haphazard. . .

But after life. The slow pulling down of thick green stalks so that the
cup of the flower, as it turns over, deluges one with purple and red
light. Why, after all, should one not be born there as one is born here,
helpless, speechless, unable to focus one's eyesight, groping at the
roots of the grass, at the toes of the Giants? As for saying which are
trees, and which are men and women, or whether there are such things,
that one won't be in a condition to do for fifty years or so. There will
be nothing but spaces of light and dark, intersected by thick stalks, and
rather higher up perhaps, rose-shaped blots of an indistinct colour--dim
pinks and blues--which will, as time goes on, become more definite,
become--I don't know what. . .

And yet that mark on the wall is not a hole at all. It may even be caused
by some round black substance, such as a small rose leaf, left over from
the summer, and I, not being a very vigilant housekeeper--look at the
dust on the mantelpiece, for example, the dust which, so they say, buried
Troy three times over, only fragments of pots utterly refusing
annihilation, as one can believe.

The tree outside the window taps very gently on the pane. . . I want to
think quietly, calmly, spaciously, never to be interrupted, never to have
to rise from my chair, to slip easily from one thing to another, without
any sense of hostility, or obstacle. I want to sink deeper and deeper,
away from the surface, with its hard separate facts. To steady myself,
let me catch hold of the first idea that passes. . . Shakespeare. . .
Well, he will do as well as another. A man who sat himself solidly in an
arm-chair, and looked into the fire, so--A shower of ideas fell
perpetually from some very high Heaven down through his mind. He leant
his forehead on his hand, and people, looking in through the open
door,--for this scene is supposed to take place on a summer's
evening--But how dull this is, this historical fiction! It doesn't
interest me at all. I wish I could hit upon a pleasant track of thought,
a track indirectly reflecting credit upon myself, for those are the
pleasantest thoughts, and very frequent even in the minds of modest
mouse-coloured people, who believe genuinely that they dislike to hear
their own praises. They are not thoughts directly praising oneself; that
is the beauty of them; they are thoughts like this:

"And then I came into the room. They were discussing botany. I said how
I'd seen a flower growing on a dust heap on the site of an old house in
Kingsway. The seed, I said, must have been sown in the reign of Charles
the First. What flowers grew in the reign of Charles the First?" I
asked--(but, I don't remember the answer). Tall flowers with purple
tassels to them perhaps. And so it goes on. All the time I'm dressing up
the figure of myself in my own mind, lovingly, stealthily, not openly
adoring it, for if I did that, I should catch myself out, and stretch my
hand at once for a book in self-protection. Indeed, it is curious how
instinctively one protects the image of oneself from idolatry or any
other handling that could make it ridiculous, or too unlike the original
to be believed in any longer. Or is it not so very curious after all? It
is a matter of great importance. Suppose the looking glass smashes, the
image disappears, and the romantic figure with the green of forest depths
all about it is there no longer, but only that shell of a person which is
seen by other people--what an airless, shallow, bald, prominent world it
becomes! A world not to be lived in. As we face each other in omnibuses
and underground railways we are looking into the mirror that accounts for
the vagueness, the gleam of glassiness, in our eyes. And the novelists in
future will realize more and more the importance of these reflections,
for of course there is not one reflection but an almost infinite number;
those are the depths they will explore, those the phantoms they will
pursue, leaving the description of reality more and more out of their
stories, taking a knowledge of it for granted, as the Greeks did and
Shakespeare perhaps--but these generalizations are very worthless. The
military sound of the word is enough. It recalls leading articles,
cabinet ministers--a whole class of things indeed which as a child one
thought the thing itself, the standard thing, the real thing, from which
one could not depart save at the risk of nameless damnation.
Generalizations bring back somehow Sunday in London, Sunday afternoon
walks, Sunday luncheons, and also ways of speaking of the dead, clothes,
and habits--like the habit of sitting all together in one room until a
certain hour, although nobody liked it. There was a rule for everything.
The rule for tablecloths at that particular period was that they should
be made of tapestry with little yellow compartments marked upon them,
such as you may see in photographs of the carpets in the corridors of the
royal palaces. Tablecloths of a different kind were not real tablecloths.
How shocking, and yet how wonderful it was to discover that these real
things, Sunday luncheons, Sunday walks, country houses, and tablecloths
were not entirely real, were indeed half phantoms, and the damnation
which visited the disbeliever in them was only a sense of illegitimate
freedom. What now takes the place of those things I wonder, those real
standard things? Men perhaps, should you be a woman; the masculine point
of view which governs our lives, which sets the standard, which
establishes Whitaker's Table of Precedency, which has become, I suppose,
since the war half a phantom to many men and women, which soon--one may
hope, will be laughed into the dustbin where the phantoms go, the
mahogany sideboards and the Landseer prints, Gods and Devils, Hell and so
forth, leaving us all with an intoxicating sense of illegitimate
freedom--if freedom exists. . .

In certain lights that mark on the wall seems actually to project from
the wall. Nor is it entirely circular. I cannot be sure, but it seems to
cast a perceptible shadow, suggesting that if I ran my finger down that
strip of the wall it would, at a certain point, mount and descend a small
tumulus, a smooth tumulus like those barrows on the South Downs which
are, they say, either tombs or camps. Of the two I should prefer them to
be tombs, desiring melancholy like most English people, and finding it
natural at the end of a walk to think of the bones stretched beneath the
turf. . . There must be some book about it. Some antiquary must have dug
up those bones and given them a name. . . What sort of a man is an
antiquary, I wonder? Retired Colonels for the most part, I daresay,
leading parties of aged labourers to the top here, examining clods of
earth and stone, and getting into correspondence with the neighbouring
clergy, which, being opened at breakfast time, gives them a feeling of
importance, and the comparison of arrow-heads necessitates cross-country
journeys to the county towns, an agreeable necessity both to them and to
their elderly wives, who wish to make plum jam or to clean out the study,
and have every reason for keeping that great question of the camp or the
tomb in perpetual suspension, while the Colonel himself feels agreeably
philosophic in accumulating evidence on both sides of the question. It is
true that he does finally incline to believe in the camp; and, being
opposed, indites a pamphlet which he is about to read at the quarterly
meeting of the local society when a stroke lays him low, and his last
conscious thoughts are not of wife or child, but of the camp and that
arrowhead there, which is now in the case at the local museum, together
with the foot of a Chinese murderess, a handful of Elizabethan nails, a
great many Tudor clay pipes, a piece of Roman pottery, and the wine-glass
that Nelson drank out of--proving I really don't know what.

No, no, nothing is proved, nothing is known. And if I were to get up at
this very moment and ascertain that the mark on the wall is really--what
shall we say?--the head of a gigantic old nail, driven in two hundred
years ago, which has now, owing to the patient attrition of many
generations of housemaids, revealed its head above the coat of paint, and
is taking its first view of modern life in the sight of a white-walled
fire-lit room, what should I gain?--Knowledge? Matter for further
speculation? I can think sitting still as well as standing up. And what
is knowledge? What are our learned men save the descendants of witches
and hermits who crouched in caves and in woods brewing herbs,
interrogating shrew-mice and writing down the language of the stars? And
the less we honour them as our superstitions dwindle and our respect for
beauty and health of mind increases. . . Yes, one could imagine a very
pleasant world. A quiet, spacious world, with the flowers so red and blue
in the open fields. A world without professors or specialists or
house-keepers with the profiles of policemen, a world which one could
slice with one's thought as a fish slices the water with his fin, grazing
the stems of the water-lilies, hanging suspended over nests of white sea
eggs. . . How peaceful it is drown here, rooted in the centre of the world
and gazing up through the grey waters, with their sudden gleams of light,
and their reflections--if it were not for Whitaker's Almanack--if it were
not for the Table of Precedency!

I must jump up and see for myself what that mark on the wall really is--a
nail, a rose-leaf, a crack in the wood?

Here is nature once more at her old game of self-preservation. This train
of thought, she perceives, is threatening mere waste of energy, even some
collision with reality, for who will ever be able to lift a finger
against Whitaker's Table of Precedency? The Archbishop of Canterbury is
followed by the Lord High Chancellor; the Lord High Chancellor is
followed by the Archbishop of York. Everybody follows somebody, such is
the philosophy of Whitaker; and the great thing is to know who follows
whom. Whitaker knows, and let that, so Nature counsels, comfort you,
instead of enraging you; and if you can't be comforted, if you must
shatter this hour of peace, think of the mark on the wall.

I understand Nature's game--her prompting to take action as a way of
ending any thought that threatens to excite or to pain. Hence, I suppose,
comes our slight contempt for men of action--men, we assume, who don't
think. Still, there's no harm in putting a full stop to one's
disagreeable thoughts by looking at a mark on the wall.

Indeed, now that I have fixed my eyes upon it, I feel that I have grasped
a plank in the sea; I feel a satisfying sense of reality which at once
turns the two Archbishops and the Lord High Chancellor to the shadows of
shades. Here is something definite, something real. Thus, waking from a
midnight dream of horror, one hastily turns on the light and lies
quiescent, worshipping the chest of drawers, worshipping solidity,
worshipping reality, worshipping the impersonal world which is a proof of
some existence other than ours. That is what one wants to be sure of. . .
Wood is a pleasant thing to think about. It comes from a tree; and trees
grow, and we don't know how they grow. For years and years they grow,
without paying any attention to us, in meadows, in forests, and by the
side of rivers--all things one likes to think about. The cows swish their
tails beneath them on hot afternoons; they paint rivers so green that
when a moorhen dives one expects to see its feathers all green when it
comes up again. I like to think of the fish balanced against the stream
like flags blown out; and of water-beetles slowly raiding domes of mud
upon the bed of the river. I like to think of the tree itself:--first the
close dry sensation of being wood; then the grinding of the storm; then
the slow, delicious ooze of sap. I like to think of it, too, on winter's
nights standing in the empty field with all leaves close-furled, nothing
tender exposed to the iron bullets of the moon, a naked mast upon an
earth that goes tumbling, tumbling, all night long. The song of birds
must sound very loud and strange in June; and how cold the feet of
insects must feel upon it, as they make laborious progresses up the
creases of the bark, or sun themselves upon the thin green awning of the
leaves, and look straight in front of them with diamond-cut red eyes. . .
One by one the fibres snap beneath the immense cold pressure of the
earth, then the last storm comes and, falling, the highest branches drive
deep into the ground again. Even so, life isn't done with; there are a
million patient, watchful lives still for a tree, all over the world, in
bedrooms, in ships, on the pavement, lining rooms, where men and women
sit after tea, smoking cigarettes. It is full of peaceful thoughts, happy
thoughts, this tree. I should like to take each one separately--but
something is getting in the way. . . Where was I? What has it all been
about? A tree? A river? The Downs? Whitaker's Almanack? The fields of
asphodel? I can't remember a thing. Everything's moving, falling,
slipping, vanishing. . . There is a vast upheaval of matter. Someone is
standing over me and saying--

"I'm going out to buy a newspaper."

"Yes?"

"Though it's no good buying newspapers. . . Nothing ever happens. Curse
this war; God damn this war! . . . All the same, I don't see why we should
have a snail on our wall."

Ah, the mark on the wall! It was a snail.



THE END





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