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Title:      The Waves (1931)
Author:     Virginia Woolf
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Language:   English
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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Title:      The Waves (1931)
Author:     Virginia Woolf

The sun had not yet risen.  The sea was indistinguishable from the
sky, except that the sea was slightly creased as if a cloth had
wrinkles in it.  Gradually as the sky whitened a dark line lay on
the horizon dividing the sea from the sky and the grey cloth became
barred with thick strokes moving, one after another, beneath the
surface, following each other, pursuing each other, perpetually.

As they neared the shore each bar rose, heaped itself, broke and
swept a thin veil of white water across the sand.  The wave paused,
and then drew out again, sighing like a sleeper whose breath comes
and goes unconsciously.  Gradually the dark bar on the horizon
became clear as if the sediment in an old wine-bottle had sunk and
left the glass green.  Behind it, too, the sky cleared as if the
white sediment there had sunk, or as if the arm of a woman couched
beneath the horizon had raised a lamp and flat bars of white, green
and yellow spread across the sky like the blades of a fan.  Then
she raised her lamp higher and the air seemed to become fibrous and
to tear away from the green surface flickering and flaming in red
and yellow fibres like the smoky fire that roars from a bonfire.
Gradually the fibres of the burning bonfire were fused into one
haze, one incandescence which lifted the weight of the woollen grey
sky on top of it and turned it to a million atoms of soft blue.
The surface of the sea slowly became transparent and lay rippling
and sparkling until the dark stripes were almost rubbed out.
Slowly the arm that held the lamp raised it higher and then higher
until a broad flame became visible; an arc of fire burnt on the rim
of the horizon, and all round it the sea blazed gold.

The light struck upon the trees in the garden, making one leaf
transparent and then another.  One bird chirped high up; there was
a pause; another chirped lower down.  The sun sharpened the walls
of the house, and rested like the tip of a fan upon a white blind
and made a blue finger-print of shadow under the leaf by the
bedroom window.  The blind stirred slightly, but all within was dim
and unsubstantial.  The birds sang their blank melody outside.

'I see a ring,' said Bernard, 'hanging above me.  It quivers and
hangs in a loop of light.'

'I see a slab of pale yellow,' said Susan, 'spreading away until it
meets a purple stripe.'

'I hear a sound,' said Rhoda, 'cheep, chirp; cheep chirp; going up
and down.'

'I see a globe,' said Neville, 'hanging down in a drop against the
enormous flanks of some hill.'

'I see a crimson tassel,' said Jinny, 'twisted with gold threads.'

'I hear something stamping,' said Louis.  'A great beast's foot is
chained.  It stamps, and stamps, and stamps.'

'Look at the spider's web on the corner of the balcony,' said
Bernard.  'It has beads of water on it, drops of white light.'

'The leaves are gathered round the window like pointed ears,' said

'A shadow falls on the path,' said Louis, 'like an elbow bent.'

'Islands of light are swimming on the grass,' said Rhoda.  'They
have fallen through the trees.'

'The birds' eyes are bright in the tunnels between the leaves,'
said Neville.

'The stalks are covered with harsh, short hairs,' said Jinny, 'and
drops of water have stuck to them.'

'A caterpillar is curled in a green ring,' said Susan, 'notched
with blunt feet.'

'The grey-shelled snail draws across the path and flattens the
blades behind him,' said Rhoda.

'And burning lights from the window-panes flash in and out on the
grasses,' said Louis.

'Stones are cold to my feet,' said Neville.  'I feel each one,
round or pointed, separately.'

'The back of my hand burns,' said Jinny, 'but the palm is clammy
and damp with dew.'

'Now the cock crows like a spurt of hard, red water in the white
tide,' said Bernard.

'Birds are singing up and down and in and out all round us,' said

'The beast stamps; the elephant with its foot chained; the great
brute on the beach stamps,' said Louis.

'Look at the house,' said Jinny, 'with all its windows white with

'Cold water begins to run from the scullery tap,' said Rhoda, 'over
the mackerel in the bowl.'

'The walls are cracked with gold cracks,' said Bernard, 'and there
are blue, finger-shaped shadows of leaves beneath the windows.'

'Now Mrs Constable pulls up her thick black stockings,' said Susan.

'When the smoke rises, sleep curls off the roof like a mist,' said

'The birds sang in chorus first,' said Rhoda.  'Now the scullery
door is unbarred.  Off they fly.  Off they fly like a fling of
seed.  But one sings by the bedroom window alone.'

'Bubbles form on the floor of the saucepan,' said Jinny.  'Then
they rise, quicker and quicker, in a silver chain to the top.'

'Now Billy scrapes the fish-scales with a jagged knife on to a
wooden board,' said Neville.

'The dining-room window is dark blue now,' said Bernard, 'and the
air ripples above the chimneys.'

'A swallow is perched on the lightning-conductor,' said Susan.
'And Biddy has smacked down the bucket on the kitchen flags.'

'That is the first stroke of the church bell,' said Louis.  'Then
the others follow; one, two; one, two; one, two.'

'Look at the table-cloth, flying white along the table,' said
Rhoda.  'Now there are rounds of white china, and silver streaks
beside each plate.'

'Suddenly a bee booms in my ear,' said Neville.  'It is here; it is

'I burn, I shiver,' said Jinny, 'out of this sun, into this

'Now they have all gone,' said Louis.  'I am alone.  They have gone
into the house for breakfast, and I am left standing by the wall
among the flowers.  It is very early, before lessons.  Flower after
flower is specked on the depths of green.  The petals are
harlequins.  Stalks rise from the black hollows beneath.  The
flowers swim like fish made of light upon the dark, green waters.
I hold a stalk in my hand.  I am the stalk.  My roots go down to
the depths of the world, through earth dry with brick, and damp
earth, through veins of lead and silver.  I am all fibre.  All
tremors shake me, and the weight of the earth is pressed to my
ribs.  Up here my eyes are green leaves, unseeing.  I am a boy in
grey flannels with a belt fastened by a brass snake up here.  Down
there my eyes are the lidless eyes of a stone figure in a desert by
the Nile.  I see women passing with red pitchers to the river; I
see camels swaying and men in turbans.  I hear tramplings,
tremblings, stirrings round me.

'Up here Bernard, Neville, Jinny and Susan (but not Rhoda) skim the
flower-beds with their nets.  They skim the butterflies from the
nodding tops of the flowers.  They brush the surface of the world.
Their nets are full of fluttering wings.  "Louis!  Louis!  Louis!"
they shout.  But they cannot see me.  I am on the other side of the
hedge.  There are only little eye-holes among the leaves.  Oh Lord,
let them pass.  Lord, let them lay their butterflies on a pocket-
handkerchief on the gravel.  Let them count out their tortoise-
shells, their red admirals and cabbage whites.  But let me be
unseen.  I am green as a yew tree in the shade of the hedge.  My
hair is made of leaves.  I am rooted to the middle of the earth.
My body is a stalk.  I press the stalk.  A drop oozes from the hole
at the mouth and slowly, thickly, grows larger and larger.  Now
something pink passes the eyehole.  Now an eye-beam is slid through
the chink.  Its beam strikes me.  I am a boy in a grey flannel
suit.  She has found me.  I am struck on the nape of the neck.  She
has kissed me.  All is shattered.'

'I was running,' said Jinny, 'after breakfast.  I saw leaves moving
in a hole in the hedge.  I thought "That is a bird on its nest."  I
parted them and looked; but there was no bird on a nest.  The
leaves went on moving.  I was frightened.  I ran past Susan, past
Rhoda, and Neville and Bernard in the tool-house talking.  I cried
as I ran, faster and faster.  What moved the leaves?  What moves my
heart, my legs?  And I dashed in here, seeing you green as a bush,
like a branch, very still, Louis, with your eyes fixed.  "Is he
dead?" I thought, and kissed you, with my heart jumping under my
pink frock like the leaves, which go on moving, though there is
nothing to move them.  Now I smell geraniums; I smell earth mould.
I dance.  I ripple.  I am thrown over you like a net of light.  I
lie quivering flung over you.'

'Through the chink in the hedge,' said Susan, 'I saw her kiss him.
I raised my head from my flower-pot and looked through a chink in
the hedge.  I saw her kiss him.  I saw them, Jinny and Louis,
kissing.  Now I will wrap my agony inside my pocket-handkerchief.
It shall be screwed tight into a ball.  I will go to the beech wood
alone, before lessons.  I will not sit at a table, doing sums.  I
will not sit next Jinny and next Louis.  I will take my anguish and
lay it upon the roots under the beech trees.  I will examine it and
take it between my fingers.  They will not find me.  I shall eat
nuts and peer for eggs through the brambles and my hair will be
matted and I shall sleep under hedges and drink water from ditches
and die there.'

'Susan has passed us,' said Bernard.  'She has passed the tool-
house door with her handkerchief screwed into a ball.  She was not
crying, but her eyes, which are so beautiful, were narrow as cats'
eyes before they spring.  I shall follow her, Neville.  I shall go
gently behind her, to be at hand, with my curiosity, to comfort her
when she bursts out in a rage and thinks, "I am alone."

'Now she walks across the field with a swing, nonchalantly, to
deceive us.  Then she comes to the dip; she thinks she is unseen;
she begins to run with her fists clenched in front of her.  Her
nails meet in the ball of her pocket-handkerchief.  She is making
for the beech woods out of the light.  She spreads her arms as she
comes to them and takes to the shade like a swimmer.  But she is
blind after the light and trips and flings herself down on the
roots under the trees, where the light seems to pant in and out, in
and out.  The branches heave up and down.  There is agitation and
trouble here.  There is gloom.  The light is fitful.  There is
anguish here.  The roots make a skeleton on the ground, with dead
leaves heaped in the angles.  Susan has spread her anguish out.
Her pocket-handkerchief is laid on the roots of the beech trees and
she sobs, sitting crumpled where she has fallen.'

'I saw her kiss him,' said Susan.  'I looked between the leaves and
saw her.  She danced in flecked with diamonds light as dust.  And I
am squat, Bernard, I am short.  I have eyes that look close to the
ground and see insects in the grass.  The yellow warmth in my side
turned to stone when I saw Jinny kiss Louis.  I shall eat grass and
die in a ditch in the brown water where dead leaves have rotted.'

'I saw you go,' said Bernard.  'As you passed the door of the tool-
house I heard you cry "I am unhappy."  I put down my knife.  I was
making boats out of firewood with Neville.  And my hair is untidy,
because when Mrs Constable told me to brush it there was a fly in a
web, and I asked, "Shall I free the fly?  Shall I let the fly be
eaten?"  So I am late always.  My hair is unbrushed and these chips
of wood stick in it.  When I heard you cry I followed you, and saw
you put down your handkerchief, screwed up, with its rage, with its
hate, knotted in it.  But soon that will cease.  Our bodies are
close now.  You hear me breathe.  You see the beetle too carrying
off a leaf on its back.  It runs this way, then that way, so that
even your desire while you watch the beetle, to possess one single
thing (it is Louis now) must waver, like the light in and out of
the beech leaves; and then words, moving darkly, in the depths of
your mind will break up this knot of hardness, screwed in your

'I love,' said Susan, 'and I hate.  I desire one thing only.  My
eyes are hard.  Jinny's eyes break into a thousand lights.  Rhoda's
are like those pale flowers to which moths come in the evening.
Yours grow full and brim and never break.  But I am already set on
my pursuit.  I see insects in the grass.  Though my mother still
knits white socks for me and hems pinafores and I am a child, I
love and I hate.'

'But when we sit together, close,' said Bernard, 'we melt into each
other with phrases.  We are edged with mist.  We make an
unsubstantial territory.'

'I see the beetle,' said Susan.  'It is black, I see; it is green,
I see; I am tied down with single words.  But you wander off; you
slip away; you rise up higher, with words and words in phrases.'

'Now,' said Bernard, 'let us explore.  There is the white house
lying among the trees.  It lies down there ever so far beneath us.
We shall sink like swimmers just touching the ground with the tips
of their toes.  We shall sink through the green air of the leaves,
Susan.  We sink as we run.  The waves close over us, the beech
leaves meet above our heads.  There is the stable clock with its
gilt hands shining.  Those are the flats and heights of the roofs
of the great house.  There is the stable-boy clattering in the yard
in rubber boots.  That is Elvedon.

'Now we have fallen through the tree-tops to the earth.  The air no
longer rolls its long, unhappy, purple waves over us.  We touch
earth; we tread ground.  That is the close-clipped hedge of the
ladies' garden.  There they walk at noon, with scissors, clipping
roses.  Now we are in the ringed wood with the wall round it.  This
is Elvedon.  I have seen signposts at the cross-roads with one arm
pointing "To Elvedon".  No one has been there.  The ferns smell
very strong, and there are red funguses growing beneath them.  Now
we wake the sleeping daws who have never seen a human form; now we
tread on rotten oak apples, red with age and slippery.  There is a
ring of wall round this wood; nobody comes here.  Listen!  That is
the flop of a giant toad in the undergrowth; that is the patter of
some primeval fir-cone falling to rot among the ferns.

'Put your foot on this brick.  Look over the wall.  That is
Elvedon.  The lady sits between the two long windows, writing.  The
gardeners sweep the lawn with giant brooms.  We are the first to
come here.  We are the discoverers of an unknown land.  Do not
stir; if the gardeners saw us they would shoot us.  We should be
nailed like stoats to the stable door.  Look!  Do not move.  Grasp
the ferns tight on the top of the wall.'

'I see the lady writing.  I see the gardeners sweeping,' said
Susan.  'If we died here, nobody would bury us.'

'Run!' said Bernard.  'Run!  The gardener with the black beard has
seen us!  We shall be shot!  We shall be shot like jays and pinned
to the wall!  We are in a hostile country.  We must escape to the
beech wood.  We must hide under the trees.  I turned a twig as we
came.  There is a secret path.  Bend as low as you can.  Follow
without looking back.  They will think we are foxes.  Run!

'Now we are safe.  Now we can stand upright again.  Now we can
stretch our arms in this high canopy, in this vast wood.  I hear
nothing.  That is only the murmur of the waves in the air.  That is
a wood-pigeon breaking cover in the tops of the beech trees.  The
pigeon beats the air; the pigeon beats the air with wooden wings.'

'Now you trail away,' said Susan, 'making phrases.  Now you mount
like an air-ball's string, higher and higher through the layers of
the leaves, out of reach.  Now you lag.  Now you tug at my skirts,
looking back, making phrases.  You have escaped me.  Here is the
garden.  Here is the hedge.  Here is Rhoda on the path rocking
petals to and fro in her brown basin.'

'All my ships are white,' said Rhoda.  'I do not want red petals of
hollyhocks or geranium.  I want white petals that float when I tip
the basin up.  I have a fleet now swimming from shore to shore.  I
will drop a twig in as a raft for a drowning sailor.  I will drop a
stone in and see bubbles rise from the depths of the sea.  Neville
has gone and Susan has gone; Jinny is in the kitchen garden picking
currants with Louis perhaps.  I have a short time alone, while Miss
Hudson spreads our copy-books on the schoolroom table.  I have a
short space of freedom.  I have picked all the fallen petals and
made them swim.  I have put raindrops in some.  I will plant a
lighthouse here, a head of Sweet Alice.  And I will now rock the
brown basin from side to side so that my ships may ride the waves.
Some will founder.  Some will dash themselves against the cliffs.
One sails alone.  That is my ship.  It sails into icy caverns where
the sea-bear barks and stalactites swing green chains.  The waves
rise; their crests curl; look at the lights on the mastheads.  They
have scattered, they have foundered, all except my ship, which
mounts the wave and sweeps before the gale and reaches the islands
where the parrots chatter and the creepers . . .'

'Where is Bernard?' said Neville.  'He has my knife.  We were in
the tool-shed making boats, and Susan came past the door.  And
Bernard dropped his boat and went after her taking my knife, the
sharp one that cuts the keel.  He is like a dangling wire, a broken
bell-pull, always twangling.  He is like the seaweed hung outside
the window, damp now, now dry.  He leaves me in the lurch; he
follows Susan; and if Susan cries he will take my knife and tell
her stories.  The big blade is an emperor; the broken blade a
Negro.  I hate dangling things; I hate dampish things.  I hate
wandering and mixing things together.  Now the bell rings and we
shall be late.  Now we must drop our toys.  Now we must go in
together.  The copy-books are laid out side by side on the green
baize table.'

'I will not conjugate the verb,' said Louis, 'until Bernard has
said it.  My father is a banker in Brisbane and I speak with an
Australian accent.  I will wait and copy Bernard.  He is English.
They are all English.  Susan's father is a clergyman.  Rhoda has no
father.  Bernard and Neville are the sons of gentlemen.  Jinny
lives with her grandmother in London.  Now they suck their pens.
Now they twist their copy-books, and, looking sideways at Miss
Hudson, count the purple buttons on her bodice.  Bernard has a chip
in his hair.  Susan has a red look in her eyes.  Both are flushed.
But I am pale; I am neat, and my knickerbockers are drawn together
by a belt with a brass snake.  I know the lesson by heart.  I know
more than they will ever know.  I knew my cases and my genders; I
could know everything in the world if I wished.  But I do not wish
to come to the top and say my lesson.  My roots are threaded, like
fibres in a flower-pot, round and round about the world.  I do not
wish to come to the top and live in the light of this great clock,
yellow-faced, which ticks and ticks.  Jinny and Susan, Bernard and
Neville bind themselves into a thong with which to lash me.  They
laugh at my neatness, at my Australian accent.  I will now try to
imitate Bernard softly lisping Latin.'

'Those are white words,' said Susan, 'like stones one picks up by
the seashore.'

'They flick their tails right and left as I speak them,' said
Bernard.  'They wag their tails; they flick their tails; they move
through the air in flocks, now this way, now that way, moving all
together, now dividing, now coming together.'

'Those are yellow words, those are fiery words,' said Jinny.  'I
should like a fiery dress, a yellow dress, a fulvous dress to wear
in the evening.'

'Each tense,' said Neville, 'means differently.  There is an order
in this world; there are distinctions, there are differences in
this world, upon whose verge I step.  For this is only a

'Now Miss Hudson,' said Rhoda, 'has shut the book.  Now the terror
is beginning.  Now taking her lump of chalk she draws figures, six,
seven, eight, and then a cross and then a line on the blackboard.
What is the answer?  The others look; they look with understanding.
Louis writes; Susan writes; Neville writes; Jinny writes; even
Bernard has now begun to write.  But I cannot write.  I see only
figures.  The others are handing in their answers, one by one.  Now
it is my turn.  But I have no answer.  The others are allowed to
go.  They slam the door.  Miss Hudson goes.  I am left alone to
find an answer.  The figures mean nothing now.  Meaning has gone.
The clock ticks.  The two hands are convoys marching through a
desert.  The black bars on the clock face are green oases.  The
long hand has marched ahead to find water.  The other, painfully
stumbles among hot stones in the desert.  It will die in the
desert.  The kitchen door slams.  Wild dogs bark far away.  Look,
the loop of the figure is beginning to fill with time; it holds the
world in it.  I begin to draw a figure and the world is looped in
it, and I myself am outside the loop; which I now join--so--and
seal up, and make entire.  The world is entire, and I am outside of
it, crying, "Oh save me, from being blown for ever outside the loop
of time!"'

'There Rhoda sits staring at the blackboard,' said Louis, 'in the
schoolroom, while we ramble off, picking here a bit of thyme,
pinching here a leaf of southernwood while Bernard tells a story.
Her shoulder-blades meet across her back like the wings of a small
butterfly.  And as she stares at the chalk figures, her mind lodges
in those white circles, it steps through those white loops into
emptiness, alone.  They have no meaning for her.  She has no answer
for them.  She has no body as the others have.  And I, who speak
with an Australian accent, whose father is a banker in Brisbane, do
not fear her as I fear the others.'

'Let us now crawl,' said Bernard, 'under the canopy of the currant
leaves, and tell stories.  Let us inhabit the underworld.  Let us
take possession of our secret territory, which is lit by pendant
currants like candelabra, shining red on one side, black on the
other.  Here, Jinny, if we curl up close, we can sit under the
canopy of the currant leaves and watch the censers swing.  This is
our universe.  The others pass down the carriage-drive.  The skirts
of Miss Hudson and Miss Curry sweep by like candle extinguishers.
Those are Susan's white socks.  Those are Louis' neat sand-shoes
firmly printing the gravel.  Here come warm gusts of decomposing
leaves, of rotting vegetation.  We are in a swamp now; in a
malarial jungle.  There is an elephant white with maggots, killed
by an arrow shot dead in its eye.  The bright eyes of hopping
birds--eagles, vultures--are apparent.  They take us for fallen
trees.  They pick at a worm--that is a hooded cobra--and leave it
with a festering brown scar to be mauled by lions.  This is our
world, lit with crescents and stars of light; and great petals half
transparent block the openings like purple windows.  Everything is
strange.  Things are huge and very small.  The stalks of flowers
are thick as oak trees.  Leaves are high as the domes of vast
cathedrals.  We are giants, lying here, who can make forests

'This is here,' said Jinny, 'this is now.  But soon we shall go.
Soon Miss Curry will blow her whistle.  We shall walk.  We shall
part.  You will go to school.  You will have masters wearing
crosses with white ties.  I shall have a mistress in a school on
the East Coast who sits under a portrait of Queen Alexandra.  That
is where I am going, and Susan and Rhoda.  This is only here; this
is only now.  Now we lie under the currant bushes and every time
the breeze stirs we are mottled all over.  My hand is like a
snake's skin.  My knees are pink floating islands.  Your face is
like an apple tree netted under.'

'The heat is going,' said Bernard, 'from the Jungle.  The leaves
flap black wings over us.  Miss Curry has blown her whistle on the
terrace.  We must creep out from the awning of the currant leaves
and stand upright.  There are twigs in your hair, Jinny.  There is
a green caterpillar on your neck.  We must form, two by two.  Miss
Curry is taking us for a brisk walk, while Miss Hudson sits at her
desk settling her accounts.'

'It is dull,' said Jinny, 'walking along the high road with no
windows to look at, with no bleared eyes of blue glass let into the

'We must form into pairs,' said Susan, 'and walk in order, not
shuffling our feet, not lagging, with Louis going first to lead us,
because Louis is alert and not a wool-gatherer.'

'Since I am supposed,' said Neville, 'to be too delicate to go with
them, since I get so easily tired and then am sick, I will use this
hour of solitude, this reprieve from conversation, to coast round
the purlieus of the house and recover, if I can, by standing on the
same stair half-way up the landing, what I felt when I heard about
the dead man through the swing-door last night when cook was
shoving in and out the dampers.  He was found with his throat cut.
The apple-tree leaves became fixed in the sky; the moon glared; I
was unable to lift my foot up the stair.  He was found in the
gutter.  His blood gurgled down the gutter.  His jowl was white as
a dead codfish.  I shall call this stricture, this rigidity, "death
among the apple trees" for ever.  There were the floating, pale-
grey clouds; and the immitigable tree; the implacable tree with its
greaved silver bark.  The ripple of my life was unavailing.  I was
unable to pass by.  There was an obstacle.  "I cannot surmount this
unintelligible obstacle," I said.  And the others passed on.  But
we are doomed, all of us, by the apple trees, by the immitigable
tree which we cannot pass.

'Now the stricture and rigidity are over; and I will continue to
make my survey of the purlieus of the house in the late afternoon,
in the sunset, when the sun makes oleaginous spots on the linoleum,
and a crack of light kneels on the wall, making the chair legs look

'I saw Florrie in the kitchen garden,' said Susan, 'as we came back
from our walk, with the washing blown out round her, the pyjamas,
the drawers, the night-gowns blown tight.  And Ernest kissed her.
He was in his green baize apron, cleaning silver; and his mouth was
sucked like a purse in wrinkles and he seized her with the pyjamas
blown out hard between them.  He was blind as a bull, and she
swooned in anguish, only little veins streaking her white cheeks
red.  Now though they pass plates of bread and butter and cups of
milk at tea-time I see a crack in the earth and hot steam hisses
up; and the urn roars as Ernest roared, and I am blown out hard
like the pyjamas, even while my teeth meet in the soft bread and
butter, and I lap the sweet milk.  I am not afraid of heat, nor of
the frozen winter.  Rhoda dreams, sucking a crust soaked in milk;
Louis regards the wall opposite with snail-green eyes; Bernard
moulds his bread into pellets and calls them "people".  Neville
with his clean and decisive ways has finished.  He has rolled his
napkin and slipped it through the silver ring.  Jinny spins her
fingers on the table-cloth, as if they were dancing in the
sunshine, pirouetting.  But I am not afraid of the heat or of the
frozen winter.'

'Now,' said Louis, 'we all rise; we all stand up.  Miss Curry
spreads wide the black book on the harmonium.  It is difficult not
to weep as we sing, as we pray that God may keep us safe while we
sleep, calling ourselves little children.  When we are sad and
trembling with apprehension it is sweet to sing together, leaning
slightly, I towards Susan, Susan towards Bernard, clasping hands,
afraid of much, I of my accent, Rhoda of figures; yet resolute to

'We troop upstairs like ponies,' said Bernard, 'stamping,
clattering one behind another to take our turns in the bathroom.
We buffet, we tussle, we spring up and down on the hard, white
beds.  My turn has come.  I come now.

'Mrs Constable, girt in a bath-towel, takes her lemon-coloured
sponge and soaks it in water; it turns chocolate-brown; it drips;
and, holding it high above me, shivering beneath her, she squeezes
it.  Water pours down the runnel of my spine.  Bright arrows of
sensation shoot on either side.  I am covered with warm flesh.  My
dry crannies are wetted; my cold body is warmed; it is sluiced and
gleaming.  Water descends and sheets me like an eel.  Now hot
towels envelop me, and their roughness, as I rub my back, makes my
blood purr.  Rich and heavy sensations form on the roof of my mind;
down showers the day--the woods; and Elvedon; Susan and the pigeon.
Pouring down the walls of my mind, running together, the day falls
copious, resplendent.  Now I tie my pyjamas loosely round me, and
lie under this thin sheet afloat in the shallow light which is like
a film of water drawn over my eyes by a wave.  I hear through it
far off, far away, faint and far, the chorus beginning; wheels;
dogs; men shouting; church bells; the chorus beginning.'

'As I fold up my frock and my chemise,' said Rhoda, 'so I put off
my hopeless desire to be Susan, to be Jinny.  But I will stretch my
toes so that they touch the rail at the end of the bed; I will
assure myself, touching the rail, of something hard.  Now I cannot
sink; cannot altogether fall through the thin sheet now.  Now I
spread my body on this frail mattress and hang suspended.  I am
above the earth now.  I am no longer upright, to be knocked against
and damaged.  All is soft, and bending.  Walls and cupboards whiten
and bend their yellow squares on top of which a pale glass gleams.
Out of me now my mind can pour.  I can think of my Armadas sailing
on the high waves.  I am relieved of hard contacts and collisions.
I sail on alone under the white cliffs.  Oh, but I sink, I fall!
That is the corner of the cupboard; that is the nursery looking-
glass.  But they stretch, they elongate.  I sink down on the black
plumes of sleep; its thick wings are pressed to my eyes.
Travelling through darkness I see the stretched flower-beds, and
Mrs Constable runs from behind the corner of the pampas-grass to
say my aunt has come to fetch me in a carriage.  I mount; I escape;
I rise on spring-heeled boots over the tree-tops.  But I am now
fallen into the carriage at the hall door, where she sits nodding
yellow plumes with eyes hard like glazed marbles.  Oh, to awake
from dreaming!  Look, there is the chest of drawers.  Let me pull
myself out of these waters.  But they heap themselves on me; they
sweep me between their great shoulders; I am turned; I am tumbled;
I am stretched, among these long lights, these long waves, these
endless paths, with people pursuing, pursuing.'

The sun rose higher.  Blue waves, green waves swept a quick fan
over the beach, circling the spike of sea-holly and leaving shallow
pools of light here and there on the sand.  A faint black rim was
left behind them.  The rocks which had been misty and soft hardened
and were marked with red clefts.

Sharp stripes of shadow lay on the grass, and the dew dancing on
the tips of the flowers and leaves made the garden like a mosaic of
single sparks not yet formed into one whole.  The birds, whose
breasts were specked canary and rose, now sang a strain or two
together, wildly, like skaters rollicking arm-in-arm, and were
suddenly silent, breaking asunder.

The sun laid broader blades upon the house.  The light touched
something green in the window corner and made it a lump of emerald,
a cave of pure green like stoneless fruit.  It sharpened the edges
of chairs and tables and stitched white table-cloths with fine gold
wires.  As the light increased a bud here and there split asunder
and shook out flowers, green veined and quivering, as if the effort
of opening had set them rocking, and pealing a faint carillon as
they beat their frail clappers against their white walls.
Everything became softly amorphous, as if the china of the plate
flowed and the steel of the knife were liquid.  Meanwhile the
concussion of the waves breaking fell with muffled thuds, like logs
falling, on the shore.

'Now,' said Bernard, 'the time has come.  The day has come.  The
cab is at the door.  My huge box bends George's bandy-legs even
wider.  The horrible ceremony is over, the tips, and the good-byes
in the hall.  Now there is this gulping ceremony with my mother,
this hand-shaking ceremony with my father; now I must go on waving,
I must go on waving, till we turn the corner.  Now that ceremony is
over.  Heaven be praised, all ceremonies are over.  I am alone; I
am going to school for the first time.

'Everybody seems to be doing things for this moment only; and never
again.  Never again.  The urgency of it all is fearful.  Everybody
knows I am going to school, going to school for the first time.
"That boy is going to school for the first time," says the
housemaid, cleaning the steps.  I must not cry.  I must behold them
indifferently.  Now the awful portals of the station gape; "the
moon-faced clock regards me."  I must make phrases and phrases and
so interpose something hard between myself and the stare of
housemaids, the stare of clocks, staring faces, indifferent faces,
or I shall cry.  There is Louis, there is Neville, in long coats,
carrying handbags, by the booking-office.  They are composed.  But
they look different.'

'Here is Bernard,' said Louis.  'He is composed; he is easy.  He
swings his bag as he walks.  I will follow Bernard, because he is
not afraid.  We are drawn through the booking-office on to the
platform as a stream draws twigs and straws round the piers of a
bridge.  There is the very powerful, bottle-green engine without a
neck, all back and thighs, breathing steam.  The guard blows his
whistle; the flag is dipped; without an effort, of its own
momentum, like an avalanche started by a gentle push, we start
forward.  Bernard spreads a rug and plays knuckle-bones.  Neville
reads.  London crumbles.  London heaves and surges.  There is a
bristling of chimneys and towers.  There a white church; there a
mast among the spires.  There a canal.  Now there are open spaces
with asphalt paths upon which it is strange that people should now
be walking.  There is a hill striped with red houses.  A man
crosses a bridge with a dog at his heels.  Now the red boy begins
firing at a pheasant.  The blue boy shoves him aside.  "My uncle is
the best shot in England.  My cousin is Master of Foxhounds."
Boasting begins.  And I cannot boast, for my father is a banker in
Brisbane, and I speak with an Australian accent.'

'After all this hubbub,' said Neville, 'all this scuffling and
hubbub, we have arrived.  This is indeed a moment--this is indeed a
solemn moment.  I come, like a lord to his halls appointed.  That
is our founder; our illustrious founder, standing in the courtyard
with one foot raised.  I salute our founder.  A noble Roman air
hangs over these austere quadrangles.  Already the lights are lit
in the form rooms.  Those are laboratories perhaps; and that a
library, where I shall explore the exactitude of the Latin
language, and step firmly upon the well-laid sentences, and
pronounce the explicit, the sonorous hexameters of Virgil, of
Lucretius; and chant with a passion that is never obscure or
formless the loves of Catullus, reading from a big book, a quarto
with margins.  I shall lie, too, in the fields among the tickling
grasses.  I shall lie with my friends under the towering elm trees.

'Behold, the Headmaster.  Alas, that he should excite my ridicule.
He is too sleek, he is altogether too shiny and black, like some
statue in a public garden.  And on the left side of his waistcoat,
his taut, his drum-like waistcoat, hangs a crucifix.'

'Old Crane,' said Bernard, 'now rises to address us.  Old Crane,
the Headmaster, has a nose like a mountain at sunset, and a blue
cleft in his chin, like a wooded ravine, which some tripper has
fired; like a wooded ravine seen from the train window.  He sways
slightly, mouthing out his tremendous and sonorous words.  I love
tremendous and sonorous words.  But his words are too hearty to be
true.  Yet he is by this time convinced of their truth.  And when
he leaves the room, lurching rather heavily from side to side, and
hurls his way through the swing-doors, all the masters, lurching
rather heavily from side to side, hurl themselves also through the
swing-doors.  This is our first night at school, apart from our

'This is my first night at school,' said Susan, 'away from my
father, away from my home.  My eyes swell; my eyes prick with
tears.  I hate the smell of pine and linoleum.  I hate the wind-
bitten shrubs and the sanitary tiles.  I hate the cheerful jokes
and the glazed look of everyone.  I left my squirrel and my doves
for the boy to look after.  The kitchen door slams, and shot
patters among the leaves when Percy fires at the rooks.  All here
is false; all is meretricious.  Rhoda and Jinny sit far off in
brown serge, and look at Miss Lambert who sits under a picture of
Queen Alexandra reading from a book before her.  There is also a
blue scroll of needlework embroidered by some old girl.  If I do
not purse my lips, if I do not screw my handkerchief, I shall cry.'

'The purple light,' said Rhoda, 'in Miss Lambert's ring passes to
and fro across the black stain on the white page of the Prayer
Book.  It is a vinous, it is an amorous light.  Now that our boxes
are unpacked in the dormitories, we sit herded together under maps
of the entire world.  There are desks with wells for the ink.  We
shall write our exercises in ink here.  But here I am nobody.  I
have no face.  This great company, all dressed in brown serge, has
robbed me of my identity.  We are all callous, unfriended.  I will
seek out a face, a composed, a monumental face, and will endow it
with omniscience, and wear it under my dress like a talisman and
then (I promise this) I will find some dingle in a wood where I can
display my assortment of curious treasures.  I promise myself this.
So I will not cry.'

'That dark woman,' said Jinny, 'with high cheek-bones, has a shiny
dress, like a shell, veined, for wearing in the evening.  That is
nice for summer, but for winter I should like a thin dress shot
with red threads that would gleam in the firelight.  Then when the
lamps were lit, I should put on my red dress and it would be thin
as a veil, and would wind about my body, and billow out as I came
into the room, pirouetting.  It would make a flower shape as I sank
down, in the middle of the room, on a gilt chair.  But Miss Lambert
wears an opaque dress, that falls in a cascade from her snow-white
ruffle as she sits under a picture of Queen Alexandra pressing one
white finger firmly on the page.  And we pray.'

'Now we march, two by two,' said Louis, 'orderly, processional,
into chapel.  I like the dimness that falls as we enter the sacred
building.  I like the orderly progress.  We file in; we seat
ourselves.  We put off our distinctions as we enter.  I like it
now, when, lurching slightly, but only from his momentum, Dr Crane
mounts the pulpit and reads the lesson from a Bible spread on the
back of the brass eagle.  I rejoice; my heart expands in his bulk,
in his authority.  He lays the whirling dust clouds in my
tremulous, my ignominiously agitated mind--how we danced round the
Christmas tree and handing parcels they forgot me, and the fat
woman said, "This little boy has no present," and gave me a shiny
Union Jack from the top of the tree, and I cried with fury--to be
remembered with pity.  Now all is laid by his authority, his
crucifix, and I feel come over me the sense of the earth under me,
and my roots going down and down till they wrap themselves round
some hardness at the centre.  I recover my continuity, as he reads.
I become a figure in the procession, a spoke in the huge wheel that
turning, at last erects me, here and now.  I have been in the dark;
I have been hidden; but when the wheel turns (as he reads) I rise
into this dim light where I just perceive, but scarcely, kneeling
boys, pillars and memorial brasses.  There is no crudity here, no
sudden kisses.'

'The brute menaces my liberty,' said Neville, 'when he prays.
Unwarmed by imagination, his words fall cold on my head like
paving-stones, while the gilt cross heaves on his waistcoat.  The
words of authority are corrupted by those who speak them.  I gibe
and mock at this sad religion, at these tremulous, grief-stricken
figures advancing, cadaverous and wounded, down a white road
shadowed by fig trees where boys sprawl in the dust--naked boys;
and goatskins distended with wine hang at the tavern door.  I was
in Rome travelling with my father at Easter; and the trembling
figure of Christ's mother was borne niddle-noddling along the
streets; there went by also the stricken figure of Christ in a
glass case.

'Now I will lean sideways as if to scratch my thigh.  So I shall
see Percival.  There he sits, upright among the smaller fry.  He
breathes through his straight nose rather heavily.  His blue and
oddly inexpressive eyes are fixed with pagan indifference upon the
pillar opposite.  He would make an admirable churchwarden.  He
should have a birch and beat little boys for misdemeanours.  He is
allied with the Latin phrases on the memorial brasses.  He sees
nothing; he hears nothing.  He is remote from us all in a pagan
universe.  But look--he flicks his hand to the back of his neck.
For such gestures one falls hopelessly in love for a lifetime.
Dalton, Jones, Edgar and Bateman flick their hands to the back of
their necks likewise.  But they do not succeed.'

'At last,' said Bernard, 'the growl ceases.  The sermon ends.  He
has minced the dance of the white butterflies at the door to
powder.  His rough and hairy voice is like an unshaven chin.  Now
he lurches back to his seat like a drunken sailor.  It is an action
that all the other masters will try to imitate; but, being flimsy,
being floppy, wearing grey trousers, they will only succeed in
making themselves ridiculous.  I do not despise them.  Their antics
seem pitiable in my eyes.  I note the fact for future reference
with many others in my notebook.  When I am grown up I shall carry
a notebook--a fat book with many pages, methodically lettered.  I
shall enter my phrases.  Under B shall come "Butterfly powder".
If, in my novel, I describe the sun on the window-sill, I shall
look under B and find butterfly powder.  That will be useful.  The
tree "shades the window with green fingers".  That will be useful.
But alas!  I am so soon distracted--by a hair like twisted candy,
by Celia's Prayer Book, ivory covered.  Louis' can contemplate
nature, unwinking, by the hour.  Soon I fail, unless talked to.
"The lake of my mind, unbroken by oars, heaves placidly and soon
sinks into an oily somnolence."  That will be useful.'

'Now we move out of this cool temple, into the yellow playing-
fields,' said Louis.  'And, as it is a half-holiday (the Duke's
birthday) we will settle among the long grasses, while they play
cricket.  Could I be "they" I would choose it; I would buckle on my
pads and stride across the playing-field at the head of the
batsmen.  Look now, how everybody follows Percival.  He is heavy.
He walks clumsily down the field, through the long grass, to where
the great elm trees stand.  His magnificence is that of some
mediaeval commander.  A wake of light seems to lie on the grass
behind him.  Look at us trooping after him, his faithful servants,
to be shot like sheep, for he will certainly attempt some forlorn
enterprise and die in battle.  My heart turns rough; it abrades my
side like a file with two edges: one, that I adore his magnificence;
the other I despise his slovenly accents--I who am so much his
superior--and am jealous.'

'And now,' said Neville, 'let Bernard begin.  Let him burble on,
telling us stories, while we lie recumbent.  Let him describe what
we have all seen so that it becomes a sequence.  Bernard says there
is always a story.  I am a story.  Louis is a story.  There is the
story of the boot-boy, the story of the man with one eye, the story
of the woman who sells winkles.  Let him burble on with his story
while I lie back and regard the stiff-legged figures of the padded
batsmen through the trembling grasses.  It seems as if the whole
world were flowing and curving--on the earth the trees, in the sky
the clouds.  I look up, through the trees, into the sky.  The match
seems to be played up there.  Faintly among the soft, white clouds
I hear the cry "Run", I hear the cry "How's that?"  The clouds lose
tufts of whiteness as the breeze dishevels them.  If that blue
could stay for ever; if that hole could remain for ever; if this
moment could stay for ever--

'But Bernard goes on talking.  Up they bubble--images.  "Like a
camel," . . . "a vulture."  The camel is a vulture; the vulture a
camel; for Bernard is a dangling wire, loose, but seductive.  Yes,
for when he talks, when he makes his foolish comparisons, a
lightness comes over one.  One floats, too, as if one were that
bubble; one is freed; I have escaped, one feels.  Even the chubby
little boys (Dalton, Larpent and Baker) feel the same abandonment.
They like this better than the cricket.  They catch the phrases as
they bubble.  They let the feathery grasses tickle their noses.
And then we all feel Percival lying heavy among us.  His curious
guffaw seems to sanction our laughter.  But now he has rolled
himself over in the long grass.  He is, I think, chewing a stalk
between his teeth.  He feels bored; I too feel bored.  Bernard at
once perceives that we are bored.  I detect a certain effort, an
extravagance in his phrase, as if he said "Look!" but Percival says
"No."  For he is always the first to detect insincerity; and is
brutal in the extreme.  The sentence tails off feebly.  Yes, the
appalling moment has come when Bernard's power fails him and there
is no longer any sequence and he sags and twiddles a bit of string
and falls silent, gaping as if about to burst into tears.  Among
the tortures and devastations of life is this then--our friends are
not able to finish their stories.'

'Now let me try,' said Louis, 'before we rise, before we go to tea,
to fix the moment in one effort of supreme endeavour.  This shall
endure.  We are parting; some to tea; some to the nets; I to show
my essay to Mr Barker.  This will endure.  From discord, from
hatred (I despise dabblers in imagery--I resent the power of
Percival intensely) my shattered mind is pieced together by some
sudden perception.  I take the trees, the clouds, to be witnesses
of my complete integration.  I, Louis, I, who shall walk the earth
these seventy years, am born entire, out of hatred, out of discord.
Here on this ring of grass we have sat together, bound by the
tremendous power of some inner compulsion.  The trees wave, the
clouds pass.  The time approaches when these soliloquies shall be
shared.  We shall not always give out a sound like a beaten gong as
one sensation strikes and then another.  Children, our lives have
been gongs striking; clamour and boasting; cries of despair; blows
on the nape of the neck in gardens.

'Now grass and trees, the travelling air blowing empty spaces in
the blue which they then recover, shaking the leaves which then
replace themselves, and our ring here, sitting, with our arms
binding our knees, hint at some other order, and better, which
makes a reason everlastingly.  This I see for a second, and shall
try tonight to fix in words, to forge in a ring of steel, though
Percival destroys it, as he blunders off, crushing the grasses,
with the small fry trotting subservient after him.  Yet it is
Percival I need; for it is Percival who inspires poetry.'

'For how many months,' said Susan, 'for how many years, have I run
up these stairs, in the dismal days of winter, in the chilly days
of spring?  Now it is midsummer.  We go upstairs to change into
white frocks to play tennis--Jinny and I with Rhoda following
after.  I count each step as I mount, counting each step something
done with.  So each night I tear off the old day from the calendar,
and screw it tight into a ball.  I do this vindictively, while
Betty and Clara are on their knees.  I do not pray.  I revenge
myself upon the day.  I wreak my spite upon its image.  You are
dead now, I say, school day, hated day.  They have made all the
days of June--this is the twenty-fifth--shiny and orderly, with
gongs, with lessons, with orders to wash, to change, to work, to
eat.  We listen to missionaries from China.  We drive off in brakes
along the asphalt pavement, to attend concerts in halls.  We are
shown galleries and pictures.

'At home the hay waves over the meadows.  My father leans upon the
stile, smoking.  In the house one door bangs and then another, as
the summer air puffs along the empty passages.  Some old picture
perhaps swings on the wall.  A petal drops from the rose in the
jar.  The farm wagons strew the hedges with tufts of hay.  All this
I see, I always see, as I pass the looking-glass on the landing,
with Jinny in front and Rhoda lagging behind.  Jinny dances.  Jinny
always dances in the hall on the ugly, the encaustic tiles; she
turns cartwheels in the playground; she picks some flower
forbiddenly, and sticks it behind her ear so that Miss Perry's dark
eyes smoulder with admiration, for Jinny, not me.  Miss Perry loves
Jinny; and I could have loved her, but now love no one, except my
father, my doves and the squirrel whom I left in the cage at home
for the boy to look after.'

'I hate the small looking-glass on the stairs,' said Jinny.  'It
shows our heads only; it cuts off our heads.  And my lips are too
wide, and my eyes are too close together; I show my gums too much
when I laugh.  Susan's head, with its fell look, with its grass-
green eyes which poets will love, Bernard said, because they fall
upon close white stitching, put mine out; even Rhoda's face,
mooning, vacant, is completed, like those white petals she used to
swim in her bowl.  So I skip up the stairs past them, to the next
landing, where the long glass hangs and I see myself entire.  I see
my body and head in one now; for even in this serge frock they are
one, my body and my head.  Look, when I move my head I ripple all
down my narrow body; even my thin legs ripple like a stalk in the
wind.  I flicker between the set face of Susan and Rhoda's
vagueness; I leap like one of those flames that run between the
cracks of the earth; I move, I dance; I never cease to move and to
dance.  I move like the leaf that moved in the hedge as a child and
frightened me.  I dance over these streaked, these impersonal,
distempered walls with their yellow skirting as firelight dances
over teapots.  I catch fire even from women's cold eyes.  When I
read, a purple rim runs round the black edge of the textbook.  Yet
I cannot follow any word through its changes.  I cannot follow any
thought from present to past.  I do not stand lost, like Susan,
with tears in my eyes remembering home; or lie, like Rhoda,
crumpled among the ferns, staining my pink cotton green, while I
dream of plants that flower under the sea, and rocks through which
the fish swim slowly.  I do not dream.

'Now let us be quick.  Now let me be the first to pull off these
coarse clothes.  Here are my clean white stockings.  Here are my
new shoes.  I bind my hair with a white ribbon, so that when I leap
across the court the ribbon will stream out in a flash, yet curl
round my neck, perfectly in its place.  Not a hair shall be

'That is my face,' said Rhoda, 'in the looking-glass behind Susan's
shoulder--that face is my face.  But I will duck behind her to hide
it, for I am not here.  I have no face.  Other people have faces;
Susan and Jinny have faces; they are here.  Their world is the real
world.  The things they lift are heavy.  They say Yes, they say No;
whereas I shift and change and am seen through in a second.  If
they meet a housemaid she looks at them without laughing.  But she
laughs at me.  They know what to say if spoken to.  They laugh
really; they get angry really; while I have to look first and do
what other people do when they have done it.

'See now with what extraordinary certainty Jinny pulls on her
stockings, simply to play tennis.  That I admire.  But I like
Susan's way better, for she is more resolute, and less ambitious of
distinction than Jinny.  Both despise me for copying what they do;
but Susan sometimes teaches me, for instance, how to tie a bow,
while Jinny has her own knowledge but keeps it to herself.  They
have friends to sit by.  They have things to say privately in
corners.  But I attach myself only to names and faces; and hoard
them like amulets against disaster.  I choose out across the hall
some unknown face and can hardly drink my tea when she whose name I
do not know sits opposite.  I choke.  I am rocked from side to side
by the violence of my emotion.  I imagine these nameless, these
immaculate people, watching me from behind bushes.  I leap high to
excite their admiration.  At night, in bed, I excite their complete
wonder.  I often die pierced with arrows to win their tears.  If
they should say, or I should see from a label on their boxes, that
they were in Scarborough last holidays, the whole town runs gold,
the whole pavement is illuminated.  Therefore I hate looking-
glasses which show me my real face.  Alone, I often fall down into
nothingness.  I must push my foot stealthily lest I should fall off
the edge of the world into nothingness.  I have to bang my head
against some hard door to call myself back to the body.'

'We are late,' said Susan.  We must wait our turn to play.  We will
pitch here in the long grass and pretend to watch Jinny and Clara,
Betty and Mavis.  But we will not watch them.  I hate watching
other people play games.  I will make images of all the things I
hate most and bury them in the ground.  This shiny pebble is Madame
Carlo, and I will bury her deep because of her fawning and
ingratiating manners, because of the sixpence she gave me for
keeping my knuckles flat when I played my scales.  I buried her
sixpence.  I would bury the whole school: the gymnasium; the
classroom; the dining-room that always smells of meat; and the
chapel.  I would bury the red-brown tiles and the oily portraits of
old men--benefactors, founders of schools.  There are some trees I
like; the cherry tree with lumps of clear gum on the bark; and one
view from the attic towards some far hills.  Save for these, I
would bury it all as I bury these ugly stones that are always
scattered about this briny coast, with its piers and its trippers.
At home, the waves are mile long.  On winter nights we hear them
booming.  Last Christmas a man was drowned sitting alone in his

'When Miss Lambert passes,' said Rhoda, 'talking to the clergyman,
the others laugh and imitate her hunch behind her back; yet
everything changes and becomes luminous.  Jinny leaps higher too
when Miss Lambert passes.  Suppose she saw that daisy, it would
change.  Wherever she goes, things are changed under her eyes; and
yet when she has gone is not the thing the same again?  Miss
Lambert is taking the clergyman through the wicket-gate to her
private garden; and when she comes to the pond, she sees a frog on
a leaf, and that will change.  All is solemn, all is pale where she
stands, like a statue in a grove.  She lets her tasselled silken
cloak slip down, and only her purple ring still glows, her vinous,
her amethystine ring.  There is this mystery about people when they
leave us.  When they leave us I can companion them to the pond and
make them stately.  When Miss Lambert passes, she makes the daisy
change; and everything runs like streaks of fire when she carves
the beef.  Month by month things are losing their hardness; even my
body now lets the light through; my spine is soft like wax near the
flame of the candle.  I dream; I dream.'

'I have won the game,' said Jinny.  'Now it is your turn.  I must
throw myself on the ground and pant.  I am out of breath with
running, with triumph.  Everything in my body seems thinned out
with running and triumph.  My blood must be bright red, whipped up,
slapping against my ribs.  My soles tingle, as if wire rings opened
and shut in my feet.  I see every blade of grass very clear.  But
the pulse drums so in my forehead, behind my eyes, that everything
dances--the net, the grass; your faces leap like butterflies; the
trees seem to jump up and down.  There is nothing staid, nothing
settled, in this universe.  All is rippling, all is dancing; all is
quickness and triumph.  Only, when I have lain alone on the hard
ground, watching you play your game, I begin to feel the wish to be
singled out; to be summoned, to be called away by one person who
comes to find me, who is attracted towards me, who cannot keep
himself from me, but comes to where I sit on my gilt chair, with my
frock billowing round me like a flower.  And withdrawing into an
alcove, sitting alone on a balcony we talk together.

'Now the tide sinks.  Now the trees come to earth; the brisk waves
that slap my ribs rock more gently, and my heart rides at anchor,
like a sailing-boat whose sails slide slowly down on to the white
deck.  The game is over.  We must go to tea now.'

'The boasting boys,' said Louis, 'have gone now in a vast team to
play cricket.  They have driven off in their great brake, singing
in chorus.  All their heads turn simultaneously at the corner by
the laurel bushes.  Now they are boasting.  Larpent's brother
played football for Oxford; Smith's father made a century at Lords.
Archie and Hugh; Parker and Dalton; Larpent and Smith; then again
Archie and Hugh; Parker and Dalton; Larpent and Smith--the names
repeat themselves; the names are the same always.  They are the
volunteers; they are the cricketers; they are the officers of the
Natural History Society.  They are always forming into fours and
marching in troops with badges on their caps; they salute
simultaneously passing the figure of their general.  How majestic
is their order, how beautiful is their obedience!  If I could
follow, if I could be with them, I would sacrifice all I know.  But
they also leave butterflies trembling with their wings pinched off;
they throw dirty pocket-handkerchiefs clotted with blood screwed up
into corners.  They make little boys sob in dark passages.  They
have big red ears that stand out under their caps.  Yet that is
what we wish to be, Neville and I.  I watch them go with envy.
Peeping from behind a curtain, I note the simultaneity of their
movements with delight.  If my legs were reinforced by theirs, how
they would run!  If I had been with them and won matches and rowed
in great races, and galloped all day, how I should thunder out
songs at midnight!  In what a torrent the words would rush from my

'Percival has gone now,' said Neville.  'He is thinking of nothing
but the match.  He never waved his hand as the brake turned the
corner by the laurel bush.  He despises me for being too weak to
play (yet he is always kind to my weakness).  He despises me for
not caring if they win or lose except that he cares.  He takes my
devotion; he accepts my tremulous, no doubt abject offering, mixed
with contempt as it is for his mind.  For he cannot read.  Yet when
I read Shakespeare or Catullus, lying in the long grass, he
understands more than Louis.  Not the words--but what are words?
Do I not know already how to rhyme, how to imitate Pope, Dryden,
even Shakespeare?  But I cannot stand all day in the sun with my
eyes on the ball; I cannot feel the flight of the ball through my
body and think only of the ball.  I shall be a clinger to the
outsides of words all my life.  Yet I could not live with him and
suffer his stupidity.  He will coarsen and snore.  He will marry
and there will be scenes of tenderness at breakfast.  But now he is
young.  Not a thread, not a sheet of paper lies between him and the
sun, between him and the rain, between him and the moon as he lies
naked, tumbled, hot, on his bed.  Now as they drive along the high
road in their brake his face is mottled red and yellow.  He will
throw off his coat and stand with his legs apart, with his hands
ready, watching the wicket.  And he will pray, "Lord let us win";
he will think of one thing only, that they should win.

'How could I go with them in a brake to play cricket?  Only Bernard
could go with them, but Bernard is too late to go with them.  He is
always too late.  He is prevented by his incorrigible moodiness
from going with them.  He stops, when he washes his hands, to say,
"There is a fly in that web.  Shall I rescue that fly; shall I let
the spider eat it?"  He is shaded with innumerable perplexities, or
he would go with them to play cricket, and would lie in the grass,
watching the sky, and would start when the ball was hit.  But they
would forgive him; for he would tell them a story.'

'They have bowled off,' said Bernard, 'and I am too late to go with
them.  The horrid little boys, who are also so beautiful, whom you
and Louis, Neville, envy so deeply, have bowled off with their
heads all turned the same way.  But I am unaware of these profound
distinctions.  My fingers slip over the keyboard without knowing
which is black and which white.  Archie makes easily a hundred; I
by a fluke make sometimes fifteen.  But what is the difference
between us?  Wait though, Neville; let me talk.  The bubbles are
rising like the silver bubbles from the floor of a saucepan; image
on top of image.  I cannot sit down to my book, like Louis, with
ferocious tenacity.  I must open the little trap-door and let out
these linked phrases in which I run together whatever happens, so
that instead of incoherence there is perceived a wandering thread,
lightly joining one thing to another.  I will tell you the story of
the doctor.

'When Dr Crane lurches through the swing-doors after prayers he is
convinced, it seems, of his immense superiority; and indeed
Neville, we cannot deny that his departure leaves us not only with
a sense of relief, but also with a sense of something removed, like
a tooth.  Now let us follow him as he heaves through the swing-door
to his own apartments.  Let us imagine him in his private room over
the stables undressing.  He unfastens his sock suspenders (let us
be trivial, let us be intimate).  Then with a characteristic
gesture (it is difficult to avoid these ready-made phrases, and
they are, in his case, somehow appropriate) he takes the silver, he
takes the coppers from his trouser pockets and places them there,
and there, on his dressing-table.  With both arms stretched on the
arms of his chair he reflects (this is his private moment; it is
here we must try to catch him): shall he cross the pink bridge into
his bedroom or shall he not cross it?  The two rooms are united by
a bridge of rosy light from the lamp at the bedside where Mrs Crane
lies with her hair on the pillow reading a French memoir.  As she
reads, she sweeps her hand with an abandoned and despairing gesture
over her forehead, and sighs, "Is this all?" comparing herself with
some French duchess.  Now, says the doctor, in two years I shall
retire.  I shall clip yew hedges in a west country garden.  An
admiral I might have been; or a judge; not a schoolmaster.  What
forces, he asks, staring at the gas-fire with his shoulders hunched
up more hugely than we know them (he is in his shirt-sleeves
remember), have brought me to this?  What vast forces? he thinks,
getting into the stride of his majestic phrases as he looks over
his shoulder at the window.  It is a stormy night; the branches of
the chestnut trees are ploughing up and down.  Stars flash between
them.  What vast forces of good and evil have brought me here? he
asks, and sees with sorrow that his chair has worn a little hole in
the pile of the purple carpet.  So there he sits, swinging his
braces.  But stories that follow people into their private rooms
are difficult.  I cannot go on with this story.  I twiddle a piece
of string; I turn over four or five coins in my trouser pocket.'

'Bernard's stories amuse me,' said Neville, 'at the start.  But
when they tail off absurdly and he gapes, twiddling a bit of
string, I feel my own solitude.  He sees everyone with blurred
edges.  Hence I cannot talk to him of Percival.  I cannot expose my
absurd and violent passion to his sympathetic understanding.  It
too would make a "story".  I need someone whose mind falls like a
chopper on a block; to whom the pitch of absurdity is sublime, and
a shoe-string adorable.  To whom I can expose the urgency of my own
passion?  Louis is too cold, too universal.  There is nobody here
among these grey arches, and moaning pigeons, and cheerful games
and tradition and emulation, all so skilfully organized to prevent
feeling alone.  Yet I am struck still as I walk by sudden
premonitions of what is to come.  Yesterday, passing the open door
leading into the private garden, I saw Fenwick with his mallet
raised.  The steam from the tea-urn rose in the middle of the lawn.
There were banks of blue flowers.  Then suddenly descended upon me
the obscure, the mystic sense of adoration, of completeness that
triumphed over chaos.  Nobody saw my poised and intent figure as I
stood at the open door.  Nobody guessed the need I had to offer my
being to one god; and perish, and disappear.  His mallet descended;
the vision broke.

'Should I seek out some tree?  Should I desert these form rooms and
libraries, and the broad yellow page in which I read Catullus, for
woods and fields?  Should I walk under beech trees, or saunter
along the river bank, where the trees meet united like lovers in
the water?  But nature is too vegetable, too vapid.  She has only
sublimities and vastitudes and water and leaves.  I begin to wish
for firelight, privacy, and the limbs of one person.'

'I begin to wish,' said Louis, 'for night to come.  As I stand here
with my hand on the grained oak panel of Mr Wickham's door I think
myself the friend of Richelieu, or the Duke of St Simon holding out
a snuff-box to the King himself.  It is my privilege.  My
witticisms "run like wildfire through the court".  Duchesses tear
emeralds from their earrings out of admiration--but these rockets
rise best in darkness, in my cubicle at night.  I am now a boy only
with a colonial accent holding my knuckles against Mr Wickham's
grained oak door.  The day has been full of ignominies and triumphs
concealed from fear of laughter.  I am the best scholar in the
school.  But when darkness comes I put off this unenviable body--my
large nose, my thin lips, my colonial accent--and inhabit space.  I
am then Virgil's companion, and Plato's.  I am then the last scion
of one of the great houses of France.  But I am also one who will
force himself to desert these windy and moonlit territories, these
midnight wanderings, and confront grained oak doors.  I will
achieve in my life--Heaven grant that it be not long--some gigantic
amalgamation between the two discrepancies so hideously apparent to
me.  Out of my suffering I will do it.  I will knock.  I will

'I have torn off the whole of May and June,' said Susan, 'and
twenty days of July.  I have torn them off and screwed them up so
that they no longer exist, save as a weight in my side.  They have
been crippled days, like moths with shrivelled wings unable to fly.
There are only eight days left.  In eight days' time I shall get
out of the train and stand on the platform at six twenty five.
Then my freedom will unfurl, and all these restrictions that
wrinkle and shrivel--hours and order and discipline, and being here
and there exactly at the right moment--will crack asunder.  Out the
day will spring, as I open the carriage-door and see my father in
his old hat and gaiters.  I shall tremble.  I shall burst into
tears.  Then next morning I shall get up at dawn.  I shall let
myself out by the kitchen door.  I shall walk on the moor.  The
great horses of the phantom riders will thunder behind me and stop
suddenly.  I shall see the swallow skim the grass.  I shall throw
myself on a bank by the river and watch the fish slip in and out
among the reeds.  The palms of my hands will be printed with pine-
needles.  I shall there unfold and take out whatever it is I have
made here; something hard.  For something has grown in me here,
through the winters and summers, on staircases, in bedrooms.  I do
not want, as Jinny wants, to be admired.  I do not want people,
when I come in, to look up with admiration.  I want to give, to be
given, and solitude in which to unfold my possessions.

'Then I shall come back through the trembling lanes under the
arches of the nut leaves.  I shall pass an old woman wheeling a
perambulator full of sticks; and the shepherd.  But we shall not
speak.  I shall come back through the kitchen garden, and see the
curved leaves of the cabbages pebbled with dew, and the house in
the garden, blind with curtained windows.  I shall go upstairs to
my room, and turn over my own things, locked carefully in the
wardrobe: my shells; my eggs; my curious grasses.  I shall feed my
doves and my squirrel.  I shall go to the kennel and comb my
spaniel.  So gradually I shall turn over the hard thing that has
grown here in my side.  But here bells ring; feet shuffle

'I hate darkness and sleep and night,' said Jinny, 'and lie longing
for the day to come.  I long that the week should be all one day
without divisions.  When I wake early--and the birds wake me--I lie
and watch the brass handles on the cupboard grow clear; then the
basin; then the towel-horse.  As each thing in the bedroom grows
clear, my heart beats quicker.  I feel my body harden, and become
pink, yellow, brown.  My hands pass over my legs and body.  I feel
its slopes, its thinness.  I love to hear the gong roar through the
house and the stir begin--here a thud, there a patter.  Doors slam;
water rushes.  Here is another day, here is another day, I cry, as
my feet touch the floor.  It may be a bruised day, an imperfect
day.  I am often scolded.  I am often in disgrace for idleness, for
laughing; but even as Miss Matthews grumbles at my feather-headed
carelessness, I catch sight of something moving--a speck of sun
perhaps on a picture, or the donkey drawing the mowing-machine
across the lawn; or a sail that passes between the laurel leaves,
so that I am never cast down.  I cannot be prevented from
pirouetting behind Miss Matthews into prayers.

'Now, too, the time is coming when we shall leave school and wear
long skirts.  I shall wear necklaces and a white dress without
sleeves at night.  There will be parties in brilliant rooms; and
one man will single me out and will tell me what he has told no
other person.  He will like me better than Susan or Rhoda.  He will
find in me some quality, some peculiar thing.  But I shall not let
myself be attached to one person only.  I do not want to be fixed,
to be pinioned.  I tremble, I quiver, like the leaf in the hedge,
as I sit dangling my feet, on the edge of the bed, with a new day
to break open.  I have fifty years, I have sixty years to spend.  I
have not yet broken into my hoard.  This is the beginning.'

'There are hours and hours,' said Rhoda, 'before I can put out the
light and lie suspended on my bed above the world, before I can let
the day drop down, before I can let my tree grow, quivering in
green pavilions above my head.  Here I cannot let it grow.
Somebody knocks through it.  They ask questions, they interrupt,
they throw it down.

'Now I will go to the bathroom and take off my shoes and wash; but
as I wash, as I bend my head down over the basin, I will let the
Russian Empress's veil flow about my shoulders.  The diamonds of
the Imperial crown blaze on my forehead.  I hear the roar of the
hostile mob as I step out on to the balcony.  Now I dry my hands,
vigorously, so that Miss, whose name I forget, cannot suspect that
I am waving my fist at an infuriated mob.  "I am your Empress,
people."  My attitude is one of defiance.  I am fearless.  I

'But this is a thin dream.  This is a papery tree.  Miss Lambert
blows it down.  Even the sight of her vanishing down the corridor
blows it to atoms.  It is not solid; it gives me no satisfaction--
this Empress dream.  It leaves me, now that it has fallen, here in
the passage rather shivering.  Things seem paler.  I will go now
into the library and take out some book, and read and look; and
read again and look.  Here is a poem about a hedge.  I will wander
down it and pick flowers, green cowbind and the moonlight-coloured
May, wild roses and ivy serpentine.  I will clasp them in my hands
and lay them on the desk's shiny surface.  I will sit by the
river's trembling edge and look at the water-lilies, broad and
bright, which lit the oak that overhung the hedge with moonlight
beams of their own watery light.  I will pick flowers; I will bind
flowers in one garland and clasp them and present them--Oh! to
whom?  There is some check in the flow of my being; a deep stream
presses on some obstacle; it jerks; it tugs; some knot in the
centre resists.  Oh, this is pain, this is anguish!  I faint, I
fail.  Now my body thaws; I am unsealed, I am incandescent.  Now
the stream pours in a deep tide fertilizing, opening the shut,
forcing the tight-folded, flooding free.  To whom shall I give all
that now flows through me, from my warm, my porous body?  I will
gather my flowers and present them--Oh! to whom?

'Sailors loiter on the parade, and amorous couples; the omnibuses
rattle along the sea front to the town.  I will give; I will
enrich; I will return to the world this beauty.  I will bind my
flowers in one garland and advancing with my hand outstretched will
present them--Oh! to whom?'

'Now we have received,' said Louis, 'for this is the last day of
the last term--Neville's and Bernard's and my last day--whatever
our masters have had to give us.  The introduction has been made;
the world presented.  They stay, we depart.  The great Doctor, whom
of all men I most revere, swaying a little from side to side among
the tables, the bound volumes, has dealt out Horace, Tennyson, the
complete works of Keats and Matthew Arnold, suitably inscribed.  I
respect the hand which gave them.  He speaks with complete
conviction.  To him his words are true, though not to us.  Speaking
in the gruff voice of deep emotion, fiercely, tenderly, he has told
us that we are about to go.  He has bid us "quit ourselves like
men".  (On his lips quotations from the Bible, from The Times, seem
equally magnificent.)  Some will do this; others that.  Some will
not meet again.  Neville, Bernard and I shall not meet here again.
Life will divide us.  But we have formed certain ties.  Our boyish,
our irresponsible years are over.  But we have forged certain
links.  Above all, we have inherited traditions.  These stone flags
have been worn for six hundred years.  On these walls are inscribed
the names of men of war, of statesmen, of some unhappy poets (mine
shall be among them).  Blessings be on all traditions, on all
safeguards and circumscriptions!  I am most grateful to you men in
black gowns, and you, dead, for your leading, for your guardianship;
yet after all, the problem remains.  The differences are not yet
solved.  Flowers toss their heads outside the window. I see wild
birds, and impulses wilder than the wildest birds strike from my
wild heart.  My eyes are wild; my lips tight pressed.  The bird
flies; the flower dances; but I hear always the sullen thud of the
waves; and the chained beast stamps on the beach.  It stamps and

'This is the final ceremony,' said Bernard.  This is the last of
all our ceremonies.  We are overcome by strange feelings.  The
guard holding his flag is about to blow his whistle; the train
breathing steam in another moment is about to start.  One wants to
say something, to feel something, absolutely appropriate to the
occasion.  One's mind is primed; one's lips are pursed.  And then a
bee drifts in and hums round the flowers in the bouquet which Lady
Hampton, the wife of the General, keeps smelling to show her
appreciation of the compliment.  If the bee were to sting her nose?
We are all deeply moved; yet irreverent; yet penitent; yet anxious
to get it over; yet reluctant to part.  The bee distracts us; its
casual flight seems to deride our intensity.  Humming vaguely,
skimming widely, it is settled now on the carnation.  Many of us
will not meet again.  We shall not enjoy certain pleasures again,
when we are free to go to bed, or to sit up, when I need no longer
smuggle in bits of candle-ends and immoral literature.  The bee now
hums round the head of the great Doctor.  Larpent, John, Archie,
Percival, Baker and Smith--I have liked them enormously.  I have
known one mad boy only.  I have hated one mean boy only.  I enjoy
in retrospect my terribly awkward breakfasts at the Headmaster's
table with toast and marmalade.  He alone does not notice the bee.
If it were to settle on his nose he would flick it off with one
magnificent gesture.  Now he has made his joke; now his voice has
almost broken but not quite.  Now we are dismissed--Louis, Neville
and I for ever.  We take our highly polished books, scholastically
inscribed in a little crabbed hand.  We rise, we disperse; the
pressure is removed.  The bee has become an insignificant, a
disregarded insect, flown through the open window into obscurity.
Tomorrow we go.'

'We are about to part,' said Neville.  'Here are the boxes; here
are the cabs.  There is Percival in his billycock hat.  He will
forget me.  He will leave my letters lying about among guns and
dogs unanswered.  I shall send him poems and he will perhaps reply
with a picture post card.  But it is for that that I love him.  I
shall propose meeting--under a clock, by some Cross; and shall
wait, and he will not come.  It is for that that I love him.
Oblivious, almost entirely ignorant, he will pass from my life.
And I shall pass, incredible as it seems, into other lives; this is
only an escapade perhaps, a prelude only.  I feel already, though I
cannot endure the Doctor's pompous mummery and faked emotions, that
things we have only dimly perceived draw near.  I shall be free to
enter the garden where Fenwick raises his mallet.  Those who have
despised me shall acknowledge my sovereignty.  But by some
inscrutable law of my being sovereignty and the possession of power
will not be enough; I shall always push through curtains to
privacy, and want some whispered words alone.  Therefore I go,
dubious, but elate; apprehensive of intolerable pain; yet I think
bound in my adventuring to conquer after huge suffering, bound,
surely, to discover my desire in the end.  There, for the last
time, I see the statue of our pious founder with the doves about
his head.  They will wheel for ever about his head, whitening it,
while the organ moans in the chapel.  So I take my seat; and, when
I have found my place in the comer of our reserved compartment, I
will shade my eyes with a book to hide one tear; I will shade my
eyes to observe; to peep at one face.  It is the first day of the
summer holidays.'

'It is the first day of the summer holidays,' said Susan.  'But the
day is still rolled up.  I will not examine it until I step out on
to the platform in the evening.  I will not let myself even smell
it until I smell the cold green air off the fields.  But already
these are not school fields; these are not school hedges; the men
in these fields are doing real things; they fill carts with real
hay; and those are real cows, not school cows.  But the carbolic
smell of corridors and the chalky smell of schoolrooms is still in
my nostrils.  The glazed, shiny look of matchboard is still in my
eyes.  I must wait for fields and hedges, and woods and fields, and
steep railway cuttings, sprinkled with gorse bushes, and trucks in
sidings, and tunnels and suburban gardens with women hanging out
washing, and then fields again and children swinging on gates, to
cover it over, to bury it deep, this school that I have hated.

'I will not send my children to school nor spend a night all my
life in London.  Here in this vast station everything echoes and
booms hollowly.  The light is like the yellow light under an
awning.  Jinny lives here.  Jinny takes her dog for walks on these
pavements.  People here shoot through the streets silently.  They
look at nothing but shop-windows.  Their heads bob up and down all
at about the same height.  The streets are laced together with
telegraph wires.  The houses are all glass, all festoons and
glitter; now all front doors and lace curtains, all pillars and
white steps.  But now I pass on, out of London again; the fields
begin again; and the houses, and women hanging washing, and trees
and fields.  London is now veiled, now vanished, now crumbled, now
fallen.  The carbolic and the pitch-pine begin to lose their
savour.  I smell corn and turnips.  I undo a paper packet tied with
a piece of white cotton.  The egg shells slide into the cleft
between my knees.  Now we stop at station after station, rolling
out milk cans.  Now women kiss each other and help with baskets.
Now I will let myself lean out of the window.  The air rushes down
my nose and throat--the cold air, the salt air with the smell of
turnip fields in it.  And there is my father, with his back turned,
talking to a farmer.  I tremble, I cry.  There is my father in
gaiters.  There is my father.'

'I sit snug in my own corner going North,' said Jinny, 'in this
roaring express which is yet so smooth that it flattens hedges,
lengthens hills.  We flash past signal-boxes; we make the earth
rock slightly from side to side.  The distance closes for ever in a
point; and we for ever open the distance wide again.  The telegraph
poles bob up incessantly; one is felled, another rises.  Now we
roar and swing into a tunnel.  The gentleman pulls up the window.
I see reflections on the shining glass which lines the tunnel.  I
see him lower his paper.  He smiles at my reflection in the tunnel.
My body instantly of its own accord puts forth a frill under his
gaze.  My body lives a life of its own.  Now the black window glass
is green again.  We are out of the tunnel.  He reads his paper.
But we have exchanged the approval of our bodies.  There is then a
great society of bodies, and mine is introduced; mine has come into
the room where the gilt chairs are.  Look--all the windows of the
villas and their white-tented curtains dance; and the men sitting
in the hedges in the cornfields with knotted blue handkerchiefs are
aware too, as I am aware, of heat and rapture.  One waves as we
pass him.  There are bowers and arbours in these villa gardens and
young men in shirt-sleeves on ladders trimming roses.  A man on a
horse canters over the field.  His horse plunges as we pass.  And
the rider turns to look at us.  We roar again through blackness.
And I lie back; I give myself up to rapture; I think that at the
end of the tunnel I enter a lamp-lit room with chairs, into one of
which I sink, much admired, my dress billowing round me.  But
behold, looking up, I meet the eyes of a sour woman, who suspects
me of rapture.  My body shuts in her face, impertinently, like a
parasol.  I open my body, I shut my body at my will.  Life is
beginning.  I now break into my hoard of life.'

'It is the first day of the summer holidays,' said Rhoda.  'And
now, as the train passes by these red rocks, by this blue sea, the
term, done with, forms itself into one shape behind me.  I see its
colour.  June was white.  I see the fields white with daisies, and
white with dresses; and tennis courts marked with white.  Then
there was wind and violent thunder.  There was a star riding
through clouds one night, and I said to the star, "Consume me."
That was at midsummer, after the garden party and my humiliation at
the garden party.  Wind and storm coloured July.  Also, in the
middle, cadaverous, awful, lay the grey puddle in the courtyard,
when, holding an envelope in my hand, I carried a message.  I came
to the puddle.  I could not cross it.  Identity failed me.  We are
nothing, I said, and fell.  I was blown like a feather, I was
wafted down tunnels.  Then very gingerly, I pushed my foot across.
I laid my hand against a brick wall.  I returned very painfully,
drawing myself back into my body over the grey, cadaverous space of
the puddle.  This is life then to which I am committed.

'So I detach the summer term.  With intermittent shocks, sudden as
the springs of a tiger, life emerges heaving its dark crest from
the sea.  It is to this we are attached; it is to this we are
bound, as bodies to wild horses.  And yet we have invented devices
for filling up the crevices and disguising these fissures.  Here is
the ticket collector.  Here are two men; three women; there is a
cat in a basket; myself with my elbow on the window-sill--this is
here and now.  We draw on, we make off, through whispering fields
of golden corn.  Women in the fields are surprised to be left
behind there, hoeing.  The train now stamps heavily, breathes
stertorously, as it climbs up and up.  At last we are on the top of
the moor.  Only a few wild sheep live here; a few shaggy ponies;
yet we are provided with every comfort; with tables to hold our
newspapers, with rings to hold our tumblers.  We come carrying
these appliances with us over the top of the moor.  Now we are on
the summit.  Silence will close behind us.  If I look back over
that bald head, I can see silence already closing and the shadows
of clouds chasing each other over the empty moor; silence closes
over our transient passage.  This I say is the present moment; this
is the first day of the summer holidays.  This is part of the
emerging monster to whom we are attached.'

'Now we are off,' said Louis.  'Now I hang suspended without
attachments.  We are nowhere.  We are passing through England in a
train.  England slips by the window, always changing from hill to
wood, from rivers and willows to towns again.  And I have no firm
ground to which I go.  Bernard and Neville, Percival, Archie,
Larpent and Baker go to Oxford or Cambridge, to Edinburgh, Rome,
Paris, Berlin, or to some American University.  I go vaguely, to
make money vaguely.  Therefore a poignant shadow, a keen accent,
falls on these golden bristles, on these poppy-red fields, this
flowing corn that never overflows its boundaries; but runs rippling
to the edge.  This is the first day of a new life, another spoke of
the rising wheel.  But my body passes vagrant as a bird's shadow.
I should be transient as the shadow on the meadow, soon fading,
soon darkening and dying there where it meets the wood, were it not
that I coerce my brain to form in my forehead; I force myself to
state, if only in one line of unwritten poetry, this moment; to
mark this inch in the long, long history that began in Egypt, in
the time of the Pharaohs, when women carried red pitchers to the
Nile.  I seem already to have lived many thousand years.  But if I
now shut my eyes, if I fail to realize the meeting-place of past
and present, that I sit in a third-class railway carriage full of
boys going home for the holidays, human history is defrauded of a
moment's vision.  Its eye, that would see through me, shuts--if I
sleep now, through slovenliness, or cowardice, burying myself in
the past, in the dark; or acquiesce, as Bernard acquiesces, telling
stories; or boast, as Percival, Archie, John, Walter, Lathom,
Larpent, Roper, Smith boast--the names are the same always, the
names of the boasting boys.  They are all boasting, all talking,
except Neville, who slips a look occasionally over the edge of a
French novel, and so will always slip into cushioned firelit rooms,
with many books and one friend, while I tilt on an office chair
behind a counter.  Then I shall grow bitter and mock at them.  I
shall envy them their continuance down the safe traditional ways
under the shade of old yew trees while I consort with cockneys and
clerks, and tap the pavements of the city.

'But now disembodied, passing over fields without lodgment--(there
is a river; a man fishes; there is a spire, there is the village
street with its bow-windowed inn)--all is dreamlike and dim to me.
These hard thoughts, this envy, this bitterness, make no lodgment
in me.  I am the ghost of Louis, an ephemeral passer-by, in whose
mind dreams have power, and garden sounds when in the early morning
petals float on fathomless depths and the birds sing.  I dash and
sprinkle myself with the bright waters of childhood.  Its thin veil
quivers.  But the chained beast stamps and stamps on the shore.'

'Louis and Neville,' said Bernard, 'both sit silent.  Both are
absorbed.  Both feel the presence of other people as a separating
wall.  But if I find myself in company with other people, words at
once make smoke rings--see how phrases at once begin to wreathe off
my lips.  It seems that a match is set to a fire; something burns.
An elderly and apparently prosperous man, a traveller, now gets in.
And I at once wish to approach him; I instinctively dislike the
sense of his presence, cold, unassimilated, among us.  I do not
believe in separation.  We are not single.  Also I wish to add to
my collection of valuable observations upon the true nature of
human life.  My book will certainly run to many volumes, embracing
every known variety of man and woman.  I fill my mind with whatever
happens to be the contents of a room or a railway carriage as one
fills a fountain-pen in an inkpot.  I have a steady unquenchable
thirst.  Now I feel by imperceptible signs, which I cannot yet
interpret but will later, that his defiance is about to thaw.  His
solitude shows signs of cracking.  He has passed a remark about a
country house.  A smoke ring issues from my lips (about crops) and
circles him, bringing him into contact.  The human voice has a
disarming quality--(we are not single, we are one).  As we exchange
these few but amiable remarks about country houses, I furbish him
up and make him concrete.  He is indulgent as a husband but not
faithful; a small builder who employs a few men.  In local society
he is important; is already a councillor, and perhaps in time will
be mayor.  He wears a large ornament, like a double tooth torn up
by the roots, made of coral, hanging at his watch-chain.  Walter J.
Trumble is the sort of name that would fit him.  He has been in
America, on a business trip with his wife, and a double room in a
smallish hotel cost him a whole month's wages.  His front tooth is
stopped with gold.

'The fact is that I have little aptitude for reflection.  I require
the concrete in everything.  It is so only that I lay hands upon
the world.  A good phrase, however, seems to me to have an
independent existence.  Yet I think it is likely that the best are
made in solitude.  They require some final refrigeration which I
cannot give them, dabbling always in warm soluble words.  My
method, nevertheless, has certain advantages over theirs.  Neville
is repelled by the grossness of Trumble.  Louis, glancing, tripping
with the high step of a disdainful crane, picks up words as if in
sugar-tongs.  It is true that his eyes--wild, laughing, yet
desperate--express something that we have not gauged.  There is
about both Neville and Louis a precision, an exactitude, that I
admire and shall never possess.  Now I begin to be aware that
action is demanded.  We approach a junction; at a junction I have
to change.  I have to board a train for Edinburgh.  I cannot
precisely lay fingers on this fact--it lodges loosely among my
thoughts like a button, like a small coin.  Here is the jolly old
boy who collects tickets.  I had one--I had one certainly.  But it
does not matter.  Either I shall find it, or I shall not find it.
I examine my note-case.  I look in all my pockets.  These are the
things that for ever interrupt the process upon which I am
eternally engaged of finding some perfect phrase that fits this
very moment exactly.'

'Bernard has gone,' said Neville, 'without a ticket.  He has
escaped us, making a phrase, waving his hand.  He talked as easily
to the horse-breeder or to the plumber as to us.  The plumber
accepted him with devotion.  "If he had a son like that," he was
thinking, "he would manage to send him to Oxford."  But what did
Bernard feel for the plumber?  Did he not only wish to continue the
sequence of the story which he never stops telling himself?  He
began it when he rolled his bread into pellets as a child.  One
pellet was a man, one was a woman.  We are all pellets.  We are all
phrases in Bernard's story, things he writes down in his notebook
under A or under B.  He tells our story with extraordinary
understanding, except of what we most feel.  For he does not need
us.  He is never at our mercy.  There he is, waving his arms on the
platform.  The train has gone without him.  He has missed his
connection.  He has lost his ticket.  But that does not matter.  He
will talk to the barmaid about the nature of human destiny.  We are
off; he has forgotten us already; we pass out of his view; we go
on, filled with lingering sensations, half bitter, half sweet, for
he is somehow to be pitied, breasting the world with half-finished
phrases, having lost his ticket: he is also to be loved.

'Now I pretend again to read.  I raise my book, till it almost
covers my eyes.  But I cannot read in the presence of horse-dealers
and plumbers.  I have no power of ingratiating myself.  I do not
admire that man; he does not admire me.  Let me at least be honest.
Let me denounce this piffling, trifling, self-satisfied world;
these horse-hair seats; these coloured photographs of piers and
parades.  I could shriek aloud at the smug self-satisfaction, at
the mediocrity of this world, which breeds horse-dealers with coral
ornaments hanging from their watch-chains.  There is that in me
which will consume them entirely.  My laughter shall make them
twist in their seats; shall drive them howling before me.  No; they
are immortal.  They triumph.  They will make it impossible for me
always to read Catullus in a third-class railway carriage.  They
will drive me in October to take refuge in one of the universities,
where I shall become a don; and go with schoolmasters to Greece;
and lecture on the ruins of the Parthenon.  It would be better to
breed horses and live in one of those red villas than to run in and
out of the skulls of Sophocles and Euripides like a maggot, with a
high-minded wife, one of those University women.  That, however,
will be my fate.  I shall suffer.  I am already at eighteen capable
of such contempt that horse-breeders hate me.  That is my triumph;
I do not compromise.  I am not timid; I have no accent.  I do not
finick about fearing what people think of "my father a banker at
Brisbane" like Louis.

'Now we draw near the centre of the civilized world.  There are the
familiar gasometers.  There are the public gardens intersected by
asphalt paths.  There are the lovers lying shamelessly mouth to
mouth on the burnt grass.  Percival is now almost in Scotland; his
train draws through the red moors; he sees the long line of the
Border hills and the Roman wall.  He reads a detective novel, yet
understands everything.

The train slows and lengthens, as we approach London, the centre,
and my heart draws out too, in fear, in exultation.  I am about to
meet--what?  What extraordinary adventure waits me, among these
mail vans, these porters, these swarms of people calling taxis?  I
feel insignificant, lost, but exultant.  With a soft shock we stop.
I will let the others get out before me.  I will sit still one
moment before I emerge into that chaos, that tumult.  I will not
anticipate what is to come.  The huge uproar is in my ears.  It
sounds and resounds, under this glass roof like the surge of a sea.
We are cast down on the platform with our handbags.  We are whirled
asunder.  My sense of self almost perishes; my contempt.  I become
drawn in, tossed down, thrown sky-high.  I step out on to the
platform, grasping tightly all that I possess--one bag.'

The sun rose.  Bars of yellow and green fell on the shore, gilding
the ribs of the eaten-out boat and making the sea-holly and its
mailed leaves gleam blue as steel.  Light almost pierced the thin
swift waves as they raced fan-shaped over the beach.  The girl who
had shaken her head and made all the jewels, the topaz, the
aquamarine, the water-coloured jewels with sparks of fire in them,
dance, now bared her brows and with wide-opened eyes drove a
straight pathway over the waves.  Their quivering mackerel
sparkling was darkened; they massed themselves; their green hollows
deepened and darkened and might be traversed by shoals of wandering
fish.  As they splashed and drew back they left a black rim of
twigs and cork on the shore and straws and sticks of wood, as if
some light shallop had foundered and burst its sides and the sailor
had swum to land and bounded up the cliff and left his frail cargo
to be washed ashore.

In the garden the birds that had sung erratically and spasmodically
in the dawn on that tree, on that bush, now sang together in
chorus, shrill and sharp; now together, as if conscious of
companionship, now alone as if to the pale blue sky.  They swerved,
all in one flight, when the black cat moved among the bushes, when
the cook threw cinders on the ash heap and startled them.  Fear was
in their song, and apprehension of pain, and joy to be snatched
quickly now at this instant.  Also they sang emulously in the clear
morning air, swerving high over the elm tree, singing together as
they chased each other, escaping, pursuing, pecking each other as
they turned high in the air.  And then tiring of pursuit and
flight, lovelily they came descending, delicately declining,
dropped down and sat silent on the tree, on the wall, with their
bright eyes glancing, and their heads turned this way, that way;
aware, awake; intensely conscious of one thing, one object in

Perhaps it was a snail shell, rising in the grass like a grey
cathedral, a swelling building burnt with dark rings and shadowed
green by the grass.  Or perhaps they saw the splendour of the
flowers making a light of flowing purple over the beds, through
which dark tunnels of purple shade were driven between the stalks.
Or they fixed their gaze on the small bright apple leaves, dancing
yet withheld, stiffly sparkling among the pink-tipped blossoms.  Or
they saw the rain drop on the hedge, pendent but not falling, with
a whole house bent in it, and towering elms; or, gazing straight at
the sun, their eyes became gold beads.

Now glancing this side, that side, they looked deeper, beneath the
flowers, down the dark avenues into the unlit world where the leaf
rots and the flower has fallen.  Then one of them, beautifully
darting, accurately alighting, spiked the soft, monstrous body of
the defenceless worm, pecked again and yet again, and left it to
fester.  Down there among the roots where the flowers decayed,
gusts of dead smells were wafted; drops formed on the bloated sides
of swollen things.  The skin of rotten fruit broke, and matter
oozed too thick to run.  Yellow excretions were exuded by slugs,
and now and again an amorphous body with a head at either end
swayed slowly from side to side.  The gold-eyed birds darting in
between the leaves observed that purulence, that wetness,
quizzically.  Now and then they plunged the tips of their beaks
savagely into the sticky mixture.

Now, too, the rising sun came in at the window, touching the red-
edged curtain, and began to bring out circles and lines.  Now in
the growing light its whiteness settled in the plate; the blade
condensed its gleam.  Chairs and cupboards loomed behind so that
though each was separate they seemed inextricably involved.  The
looking-glass whitened its pool upon the wall.  The real flower on
the window-sill was attended by a phantom flower.  Yet the phantom
was part of the flower, for when a bud broke free the paler flower
in the glass opened a bud too.

The wind rose.  The waves drummed on the shore, like turbaned
warriors, like turbaned men with poisoned assegais who, whirling
their arms on high, advance upon the feeding flocks, the white

'The complexity of things becomes more close,' said Bernard, 'here
at college, where the stir and pressure of life are so extreme,
where the excitement of mere living becomes daily more urgent.
Every hour something new is unburied in the great bran pie.  What
am I? I ask.  This?  No, I am that.  Especially now, when I have
left a room, and people talking, and the stone flags ring out with
my solitary footsteps, and I behold the moon rising, sublimely,
indifferently, over the ancient chapel--then it becomes clear that
I am not one and simple, but complex and many.  Bernard, in public,
bubbles; in private, is secretive.  That is what they do not
understand, for they are now undoubtedly discussing me, saying I
escape them, am evasive.  They do not understand that I have to
effect different transitions; have to cover the entrances and exits
of several different men who alternately act their parts as
Bernard.  I am abnormally aware of circumstances.  I can never read
a book in a railway carriage without asking, Is he a builder?  Is
she unhappy?  I was aware today acutely that poor Simes, with his
pimple, was feeling, how bitterly, that his chance of making a good
impression upon Billy Jackson was remote.  Feeling this painfully,
I invited him to dinner with ardour.  This he will attribute to an
admiration which is not mine.  That is true.  But "joined to the
sensibility of a woman" (I am here quoting my own biographer)
"Bernard possessed the logical sobriety of a man."  Now people who
make a single impression, and that, in the main, a good one (for
there seems to be a virtue in simplicity), are those who keep their
equilibrium in mid-stream.  (I instantly see fish with their noses
one way, the stream rushing past another.)  Canon, Lycett, Peters,
Hawkins, Larpent, Neville--all fish in mid-stream.  But you
understand, YOU, my self, who always comes at a call (that would be
a harrowing experience to call and for no one to come; that would
make the midnight hollow, and explains the expression of old men in
clubs--they have given up calling for a self who does not come),
you understand that I am only superficially represented by what I
was saying tonight.  Underneath, and, at the moment when I am most
disparate, I am also integrated.  I sympathize effusively; I also
sit, like a toad in a hole, receiving with perfect coldness
whatever comes.  Very few of you who are now discussing me have the
double capacity to feel, to reason.  Lycett, you see, believes in
running after hares; Hawkins has spent a most industrious afternoon
in the library.  Peters has his young lady at the circulating
library.  You are all engaged, involved, drawn in, and absolutely
energized to the top of your bent--all save Neville, whose mind is
far too complex to be roused by any single activity.  I also am too
complex.  In my case something remains floating, unattached.

'Now, as a proof of my susceptibility to atmosphere, here, as I
come into my room, and turn on the light, and see the sheet of
paper, the table, my gown lying negligently over the back of the
chair, I feel that I am that dashing yet reflective man, that bold
and deleterious figure, who, lightly throwing off his cloak, seizes
his pen and at once flings off the following letter to the girl
with whom he is passionately in love.

'Yes, all is propitious.  I am now in the mood.  I can write the
letter straight off which I have begun ever so many times.  I have
just come in; I have flung down my hat and my stick; I am writing
the first thing that comes into my head without troubling to put
the paper straight.  It is going to be a brilliant sketch which,
she must think, was written without a pause, without an erasure.
Look how unformed the letters are--there is a careless blot.  All
must be sacrificed to speed and carelessness.  I will write a
quick, running, small hand, exaggerating the down stroke of the "y"
and crossing the "t" thus--with a dash.  The date shall be only
Tuesday, the 17th, and then a question mark.  But also I must give
her the impression that though he--for this is not myself--is
writing in such an off-hand, such a slap-dash way, there is some
subtle suggestion of intimacy and respect.  I must allude to talks
we have had together--bring back some remembered scene.  But I must
seem to her (this is very important) to be passing from thing to
thing with the greatest ease in the world.  I shall pass from the
service for the man who was drowned (I have a phrase for that) to
Mrs Moffat and her sayings (I have a note of them), and so to some
reflections apparently casual but full of profundity (profound
criticism is often written casually) about some book I have been
reading, some out-of-the-way book.  I want her to say as she
brushes her hair or puts out the candle, "Where did I read that?
Oh, in Bernard's letter."  It is the speed, the hot, molten effect,
the laval flow of sentence into sentence that I need.  Who am I
thinking of?  Byron of course.  I am, in some ways, like Byron.
Perhaps a sip of Byron will help to put me in the vein.  Let me
read a page.  No; this is dull; this is scrappy.  This is rather
too formal.  Now I am getting the hang of it.  Now I am getting his
beat into my brain (the rhythm is the main thing in writing).  Now,
without pausing I will begin, on the very lilt of the stroke--.

'Yet it falls flat.  It peters out.  I cannot get up steam enough
to carry me over the transition.  My true self breaks off from my
assumed.  And if I begin to re-write it, she will feel "Bernard is
posing as a literary man; Bernard is thinking of his biographer"
(which is true).  No, I will write the letter tomorrow directly
after breakfast.

'Now let me fill my mind with imaginary pictures.  Let me suppose
that I am asked to stay at Restover, King's Laughton, Station
Langley three miles.  I arrive in the dusk.  In the courtyard of
this shabby but distinguished house there are two or three dogs,
slinking, long-legged.  There are faded rugs in the hall; a
military gentleman smokes a pipe as he paces the terrace.  The note
is of distinguished poverty and military connections.  A hunter's
hoof on the writing table--a favourite horse.  "Do you ride?"
"Yes, sir, I love riding."  "My daughter expects us in the drawing-
room."  My heart pounds against my ribs.  She is standing at a low
table; she has been hunting; she munches sandwiches like a tomboy.
I make a fairly good impression on the Colonel.  I am not too
clever, he thinks; I am not too raw.  Also I play billiards.  Then
the nice maid who has been with the family thirty years comes in.
The pattern on the plates is of Oriental long-tailed birds.  Her
mother's portrait in muslin hangs over the fireplace.  I can sketch
the surroundings up to a point with extraordinary ease.  But can I
make it work?  Can I hear her voice--the precise tone with which,
when we are alone, she says "Bernard"?  And then what next?

'The truth is that I need the stimulus of other people.  Alone,
over my dead fire, I tend to see the thin places in my own stories.
The real novelist, the perfectly simple human being, could go on,
indefinitely, imagining.  He would not integrate, as I do.  He
would not have this devastating sense of grey ashes in a burnt-out
grate.  Some blind flaps in my eyes.  Everything becomes
impervious.  I cease to invent.

'Let me recollect.  It has been on the whole a good day.  The drop
that forms on the roof of the soul in the evening is round, many-
coloured.  There was the morning, fine; there was the afternoon,
walking.  I like views of spires across grey fields.  I like
glimpses between people's shoulders.  Things kept popping into my
head.  I was imaginative, subtle.  After dinner, I was dramatic.  I
put into concrete form many things that we had dimly observed about
our common friends.  I made my transitions easily.  But now let me
ask myself the final question, as I sit over this grey fire, with
its naked promontories of black coal, which of these people am I?
It depends so much upon the room.  When I say to myself, "Bernard",
who comes?  A faithful, sardonic man, disillusioned, but not
embittered.  A man of no particular age or calling.  Myself,
merely.  It is he who now takes the poker and rattles the cinders
so that they fall in showers through the grate.  "Lord," he says to
himself, watching them fall, "what a pother!" and then he adds,
lugubriously, but with some sense of consolation, "Mrs Moffat will
come and sweep it all up--"  I fancy I shall often repeat to myself
that phrase, as I rattle and bang through life, hitting first this
side of the carriage, then the other, "Oh, yes, Mrs Moffat will
come and sweep it all up."  And so to bed.'

'In a world which contains the present moment,' said Neville, 'why
discriminate?  Nothing should be named lest by so doing we change
it.  Let it exist, this bank, this beauty, and I, for one instant,
steeped in pleasure.  The sun is hot.  I see the river.  I see
trees specked and burnt in the autumn sunlight.  Boats float past,
through the red, through the green.  Far away a bell tolls, but not
for death.  There are bells that ring for life.  A leaf falls, from
joy.  Oh, I am in love with life!  Look how the willow shoots its
fine sprays into the air!  Look how through them a boat passes,
filled with indolent, with unconscious, with powerful young men.
They are listening to the gramophone; they are eating fruit out of
paper bags.  They are tossing the skins of bananas, which then sink
eel-like, into the river.  All they do is beautiful.  There are
cruets behind them and ornaments; their rooms are full of oars and
oleographs but they have turned all to beauty.  That boat passes
under the bridge.  Another comes.  Then another.  That is Percival,
lounging on the cushions, monolithic, in giant repose.  No, it is
only one of his satellites, imitating his monolithic, his giant
repose.  He alone is unconscious of their tricks, and when he
catches them at it he buffets them good-humouredly with a blow of
his paw.  They, too, have passed under the bridge through 'the
fountains of the pendant trees', through its fine strokes of yellow
and plum colour.  The breeze stirs; the curtain quivers; I see
behind the leaves the grave, yet eternally joyous buildings, which
seem porous, not gravid; light, though set so immemorially on the
ancient turf.  Now begins to rise in me the familiar rhythm; words
that have lain dormant now lift, now toss their crests, and fall
and rise, and fall and rise again.  I am a poet, yes.  Surely I am
a great poet.  Boats and youth passing and distant trees, "the
falling fountains of the pendant trees".  I see it all.  I feel it
all.  I am inspired.  My eyes fill with tears.  Yet even as I feel
this, I lash my frenzy higher and higher.  It foams.  It becomes
artificial, insincere.  Words and words and words, how they gallop--
how they lash their long manes and tails, but for some fault in me
I cannot give myself to their backs; I cannot fly with them,
scattering women and string bags.  There is some flaw in me--some
fatal hesitancy, which, if I pass it over, turns to foam and
falsity.  Yet it is incredible that I should not be a great poet.
What did I write last night if it was not good poetry?  Am I too
fast, too facile?  I do not know.  I do not know myself sometimes,
or how to measure and name and count out the grains that make me
what I am.

'Something now leaves me; something goes from me to meet that
figure who is coming, and assures me that I know him before I see
who it is.  How curiously one is changed by the addition, even at a
distance, of a friend.  How useful an office one's friends perform
when they recall us.  Yet how painful to be recalled, to be
mitigated, to have one's self adulterated, mixed up, become part of
another.  As he approaches I become not myself but Neville mixed
with somebody--with whom?--with Bernard?  Yes, it is Bernard, and
it is to Bernard that I shall put the question, Who am I?'

'How strange,' said Bernard, 'the willow looks seen together.  I
was Byron, and the tree was Byron's tree, lachrymose, down-
showering, lamenting.  Now that we look at the tree together, it
has a combined look, each branch distinct, and I will tell you what
I feel, under the compulsion of your clarity.

'I feel your disapproval, I feel your force.  I become, with you,
an untidy, an impulsive human being whose bandanna handkerchief is
for ever stained with the grease of crumpets.  Yes, I hold Gray's
Elegy in one hand; with the other I scoop out the bottom crumpet,
that has absorbed all the butter and sticks to the bottom of the
plate.  This offends you; I feel your distress acutely.  Inspired
by it and anxious to regain your good opinion, I proceed to tell
you how I have just pulled Percival out of bed; I describe his
slippers, his table, his guttered candle; his surly and complaining
accents as I pull the blankets off his feet; he burrowing like some
vast cocoon meanwhile.  I describe all this in such a way that,
centred as you are upon some private sorrow (for a hooded shape
presides over our encounter), you give way, you laugh and delight
in me.  My charm and flow of language, unexpected and spontaneous
as it is, delights me too.  I am astonished, as I draw the veil off
things with words, how much, how infinitely more than I can say, I
have observed.  More and more bubbles into my mind as I talk,
images and images.  This, I say to myself, is what I need; why, I
ask, can I not finish the letter that I am writing?  For my room is
always scattered with unfinished letters.  I begin to suspect, when
I am with you, that I am among the most gifted of men.  I am filled
with the delight of youth, with potency, with the sense of what is
to come.  Blundering, but fervid, I see myself buzzing round
flowers, humming down scarlet cups, making blue funnels resound
with my prodigious booming.  How richly I shall enjoy my youth (you
make me feel).  And London.  And freedom.  But stop.  You are not
listening.  You are making some protest, as you slide, with an
inexpressibly familiar gesture, your hand along your knee.  By such
signs we diagnose our friends' diseases.  "Do not, in your
affluence and plenty," you seem to say, "pass me by."  "Stop," you
say.  "Ask me what I suffer."

'Let me then create you.  (You have done as much for me.)  You lie
on this hot bank, in this lovely, this fading, this still bright
October day, watching boat after boat float through the combed-out
twigs of the willow tree.  And you wish to be a poet; and you wish
to be a lover.  But the splendid clarity of your intelligence, and
the remorseless honesty of your intellect (these Latin words I owe
you; these qualities of yours make me shift a little uneasily and
see the faded patches, the thin strands in my own equipment) bring
you to a halt.  You indulge in no mystifications.  You do not fog
yourself with rosy clouds, or yellow.

'Am I right?  Have I read the little gesture of your left hand
correctly?  If so, give me your poems; hand over the sheets you
wrote last night in such a fervour of inspiration that you now feel
a little sheepish.  For you distrust inspiration, yours or mine.
Let us go back together, over the bridge, under the elm trees, to
my room, where, with walls round us and red serge curtains drawn,
we can shut out these distracting voices, scents and savours of
lime trees, and other lives; these pert shop-girls, disdainfully
tripping, these shuffling, heavy-laden old women; these furtive
glimpses of some vague and vanishing figure--it might be Jinny, it
might be Susan, or was that Rhoda disappearing down the avenue?
Again, from some slight twitch I guess your feeling; I have escaped
you; I have gone buzzing like a swarm of bees, endlessly vagrant,
with none of your power of fixing remorselessly upon a single
object.  But I will return.'

'When there are buildings like these,' said Neville, 'I cannot
endure that there should be shop-girls.  Their titter, their
gossip, offends me; breaks into my stillness, and nudges me, in
moments of purest exultation, to remember our degradation.

'But now we have regained our territory after that brief brush with
the bicycles and the lime scent and the vanishing figures in the
distracted street.  Here we are masters of tranquillity and order;
inheritors of proud tradition.  The lights are beginning to make
yellow slits across the square.  Mists from the river are filling
these ancient spaces.  They cling, gently, to the hoary stone.  The
leaves now are thick in country lanes, sheep cough in the damp
fields; but here in your room we are dry.  We talk privately.  The
fire leaps and sinks, making some knob bright.

'You have been reading Byron.  You have been marking the passages
that seem to approve of your own character.  I find marks against
all those sentences which seem to express a sardonic yet passionate
nature; a moth-like impetuosity dashing itself against hard glass.
You thought, as you drew your pencil there, "I too throw off my
cloak like that.  I too snap my fingers in the face of destiny."
Yet Byron never made tea as you do, who fill the pot so that when
you put the lid on the tea spills over.  There is a brown pool on
the table--it is running among your books and papers.  Now you mop
it up, clumsily, with your pocket-handkerchief.  You then stuff
your handkerchief back into your pocket--that is not Byron; that is
you; that is so essentially you that if I think of you in twenty
years' time, when we are both famous, gouty and intolerable, it
will be by that scene: and if you are dead, I shall weep.  Once you
were Tolstoi's young man; now you are Byron's young man; perhaps
you will be Meredith's young man; then you will visit Paris in the
Easter vacation and come back wearing a black tie, some detestable
Frenchman whom nobody has ever heard of.  Then I shall drop you.

'I am one person--myself.  I do not impersonate Catullus, whom I
adore.  I am the most slavish of students, with here a dictionary,
there a notebook in which I enter curious uses of the past
participle.  But one cannot go on for ever cutting these ancient
inscriptions clearer with a knife.  Shall I always draw the red
serge curtain close and see my book, laid like a block of marble,
pale under the lamp?  That would be a glorious life, to addict
oneself to perfection; to follow the curve of the sentence wherever
it might lead, into deserts, under drifts of sand, regardless of
lures, of seductions; to be poor always and unkempt; to be
ridiculous in Piccadilly.

'But I am too nervous to end my sentence properly.  I speak
quickly, as I pace up and down, to conceal my agitation.  I hate
your greasy handkerchiefs--you will stain your copy of Don Juan.
You are not listening to me.  You are making phrases about Byron.
And while you gesticulate, with your cloak, your cane, I am trying
to expose a secret told to nobody yet; I am asking you (as I stand
with my back to you) to take my life in your hands and tell me
whether I am doomed always to cause repulsion in those I love?

'I stand with my back to you fidgeting.  No, my hands are now
perfectly still.  Precisely, opening a space in the bookcase, I
insert Don Juan; there.  I would rather be loved, I would rather be
famous than follow perfection through the sand.  But am I doomed to
cause disgust?  Am I a poet?  Take it.  The desire which is loaded
behind my lips, cold as lead, fell as a bullet, the thing I aim at
shop-girls, women, the pretence, the vulgarity of life (because I
love it) shoots at you as I throw--catch it--my poem.'

'He has shot like an arrow from the room,' said Bernard.  'He has
left me his poem.  O friendship, I too will press flowers between
the pages of Shakespeare's sonnets!  O friendship, how piercing are
your darts--there, there, again there.  He looked at me, turning to
face me; he gave me his poem.  All mists curl off the roof of my
being.  That confidence I shall keep to my dying day.  Like a long
wave, like a roll of heavy waters, he went over me, his devastating
presence--dragging me open, laying bare the pebbles on the shore of
my soul.  It was humiliating; I was turned to small stones.  All
semblances were rolled up.  "You are not Byron; you are your self."
To be contracted by another person into a single being--how

'How strange to feel the line that is spun from us lengthening its
fine filament across the misty spaces of the intervening world.  He
is gone; I stand here, holding his poem.  Between us is this line.
But now, how comfortable, how reassuring to feel that alien
presence removed, that scrutiny darkened and hooded over!  How
grateful to draw the blinds, and admit no other presence; to feel
returning from the dark corners in which they took refuge, those
shabby inmates, those familiars, whom, with his superior force, he
drove into hiding.  The mocking, the observant spirits who, even in
the crisis and stab of the moment, watched on my behalf now come
flocking home again.  With their addition, I am Bernard; I am
Byron; I am this, that and the other.  They darken the air and
enrich me, as of old, with their antics, their comments, and cloud
the fine simplicity of my moment of emotion.  For I am more selves
than Neville thinks.  We are not simple as our friends would have
us to meet their needs.  Yet love is simple.

'Now they have returned, my inmates, my familiars.  Now the stab,
the rent in my defences that Neville made with his astonishing fine
rapier, is repaired.  I am almost whole now; and see how jubilant I
am, bringing into play all that Neville ignores in me.  I feel, as
I look from the window, parting the curtains, "That would give him
no pleasure; but it rejoices me."  (We use our friends to measure
our own stature.)  My scope embraces what Neville never reaches.
They are shouting hunting-songs over the way.  They are celebrating
some run with the beagles.  The, little boys in caps who always
turned at the same moment when the brake went round the corner are
clapping each other on the shoulder and boasting.  But Neville,
delicately avoiding interference, stealthily, like a conspirator,
hastens back to his room.  I see him sunk in his low chair gazing
at the fire which has assumed for the moment an architectural
solidity.  If life, he thinks, could wear that permanence, if life
could have that order--for above all he desires order, and detests
my Byronic untidiness; and so draws his curtain; and bolts his
door.  His eyes (for he is in love; the sinister figure of love
presided at our encounter) fill with longing; fill with tears.  He
snatches the poker and with one blow destroys that momentary
appearance of solidity in the burning coals.  All changes.  And
youth and love.  The boat has floated through the arch of the
willows and is now under the bridge.  Percival, Tony, Archie, or
another, will go to India.  We shall not meet again.  Then he
stretches his hand for his copy-book--a neat volume bound in
mottled paper--and writes feverishly long lines of poetry, in the
manner of whomever he admires most at the moment.

'But I want to linger; to lean from the window; to listen.  There
again comes that rollicking chorus.  They are now smashing china--
that also is the convention.  The chorus, like a torrent jumping
rocks, brutally assaulting old trees, pours with splendid
abandonment headlong over precipices.  On they roll; on they
gallop, after hounds, after footballs; they pump up and down
attached to oars like sacks of flour.  All divisions are merged--
they act like one man.  The gusty October wind blows the uproar in
bursts of sound and silence across the court.  Now again they are
smashing the china--that is the convention.  An old, unsteady woman
carrying a bag trots home under the fire-red windows.  She is half
afraid that they will fall on her and tumble her into the gutter.
Yet she pauses as if to warm her knobbed, her rheumaticky hands at
the bonfire which flares away with streams of sparks and bits of
blown paper.  The old woman pauses against the lit window.  A
contrast.  That I see and Neville does not see; that I feel and
Neville does not feel.  Hence he will reach perfection and I shall
fail and shall leave nothing behind me but imperfect phrases
littered with sand.

'I think of Louis now.  What malevolent yet searching light would
Louis throw upon this dwindling autumn evening, upon this china-
smashing and trolling of hunting-songs, upon Neville, Byron and our
life here?  His thin lips are somewhat pursed; his cheeks are pale;
he pores in an office over some obscure commercial document.  "My
father, a banker at Brisbane"--being ashamed of him he always talks
of him--failed.  So he sits in an office, Louis the best scholar in
the school.  But I seeking contrasts often feel his eye on us, his
laughing eye, his wild eye, adding us up like insignificant items
in some grand total which he is for ever pursuing in his office.
And one day, taking a fine pen and dipping it in red ink, the
addition will be complete; our total will be known; but it will not
be enough.

'Bang!  They have thrown a chair now against the wall.  We are
damned then.  My case is dubious too.  Am I not indulging in
unwarranted emotions?  Yes, as I lean out of the window and drop my
cigarette so that it twirls lightly to the ground, I feel Louis
watching even my cigarette.  And Louis says, "That means something.
But what?"'

'People go on passing,' said Louis.  They pass the window of this
eating-shop incessantly.  Motor-cars, vans, motor-omnibuses; and
again motor-omnibuses, vans, motor-cars--they pass the window.  In
the background I perceive shops and houses; also the grey spires of
a city church.  In the foreground are glass shelves set with plates
of buns and ham sandwiches.  All is somewhat obscured by steam from
a tea-urn.  A meaty, vapourish smell of beef and mutton, sausages
and mash, hangs down like a damp net in the middle of the eating-
house.  I prop my book against a bottle of Worcester sauce and try
to look like the rest.

'Yet I cannot.  (They go on passing, they go on passing in
disorderly procession.)  I cannot read my book, or order my beef,
with conviction.  I repeat, "I am an average Englishman; I am an
average clerk", yet I look at the little men at the next table to
be sure that I do what they do.  Supple-faced, with rippling skins,
that are always twitching with the multiplicity of their
sensations, prehensile like monkeys, greased to this particular
moment, they are discussing with all the right gestures the sale of
a piano.  It blocks up the hall; so he would take a Tenner.  People
go on passing; they go on passing against the spires of the
church and the plates of ham sandwiches.  The streamers of my
consciousness waver out and are perpetually torn and distressed by
their disorder.  I cannot therefore concentrate on my dinner.  "I
would take a tenner.  The case is handsome; but it blocks up the
hall."  They dive and plunge like guillemots whose feathers are
slippery with oil.  All excesses beyond that norm are vanity.  That
is the mean; that is the average.  Meanwhile the hats bob up and
down; the door perpetually shuts and opens.  I am conscious of
flux, of disorder; of annihilation and despair.  If this is all,
this is worthless.  Yet I feel, too, the rhythm of the eating-
house.  It is like a waltz tune, eddying in and out, round and
round.  The waitresses, balancing trays, swing in and out, round
and round, dealing plates of greens, of apricot and custard,
dealing them at the right time, to the right customers.  The
average men, including her rhythm in their rhythm ("I would take a
tenner; for it blocks up the hall") take their greens, take their
apricots and custard.  Where then is the break in this continuity?
What the fissure through which one sees disaster?  The circle is
unbroken; the harmony complete.  Here is the central rhythm; here
the common mainspring.  I watch it expand, contract; and then
expand again.  Yet I am not included.  If I speak, imitating their
accent, they prick their ears, waiting for me to speak again, in
order that they may place me--if I come from Canada or Australia,
I, who desire above all things to be taken to the arms with love,
am alien, external.  I, who would wish to feel close over me the
protective waves of the ordinary, catch with the tail of my eye
some far horizon; am aware of hats bobbing up and down in perpetual
disorder.  To me is addressed the plaint of the wandering and
distracted spirit (a woman with bad teeth falters at the counter),
"Bring us back to the fold, we who pass so disjectedly, bobbing up
and down, past windows with plates of ham sandwiches in the
foreground."  Yes; I will reduce you to order.

'I will read in the book that is propped against the bottle of
Worcester sauce.  It contains some forged rings, some perfect
statements, a few words, but poetry.  You, all of you, ignore it.
What the dead poet said, you have forgotten.  And I cannot
translate it to you so that its binding power ropes you in, and
makes it clear to you that you are aimless; and the rhythm is cheap
and worthless; and so remove that degradation which, if you are
unaware of your aimlessness, pervades you, making you senile, even
while you are young.  To translate that poem so that it is easily
read is to be my endeavour.  I, the companion of Plato, of Virgil,
will knock at the grained oak door.  I oppose to what is passing
this ramrod of beaten steel.  I will not submit to this aimless
passing of billycock hats and Homburg hats and all the plumed and
variegated head-dresses of women.  (Susan, whom I respect, would
wear a plain straw hat on a summer's day.)  And the grinding and
the steam that runs in unequal drops down the window pane; and the
stopping and the starting with a jerk of motor-omnibuses; and the
hesitations at counters; and the words that trail drearily without
human meaning; I will reduce you to order.

'My roots go down through veins of lead and silver, through damp,
marshy places that exhale odours, to a knot made of oak roots bound
together in the centre.  Sealed and blind, with earth stopping my
ears, I have yet heard rumours of wars; and the nightingale; have
felt the hurrying of many troops of men flocking hither and thither
in quest of civilization like flocks of birds migrating seeking the
summer; I have seen women carrying red pitchers to the banks of the
Nile.  I woke in a garden, with a blow on the nape of my neck, a
hot kiss, Jinny's; remembering all this as one remembers confused
cries and toppling pillars and shafts of red and black in some
nocturnal conflagration.  I am for ever sleeping and waking.  Now I
sleep; now I wake.  I see the gleaming tea-urn; the glass cases
full of pale-yellow sandwiches; the men in round coats perched on
stools at the counter; and also behind them, eternity.  It is a
stigma burnt on my quivering flesh by a cowled man with a red-hot
iron.  I see this eating-shop against the packed and fluttering
birds' wings, many feathered, folded, of the past.  Hence my pursed
lips, my sickly pallor; my distasteful and uninviting aspect as I
turn my face with hatred and bitterness upon Bernard and Neville,
who saunter under yew trees; who inherit armchairs; and draw their
curtains close, so that lamplight falls on their books.

'Susan, I respect; because she sits stitching.  She sews under a
quiet lamp in a house where the corn sighs close to the window and
gives me safety.  For I am the weakest, the youngest of them all.
I am a child looking at his feet and the little runnels that the
stream has made in the gravel.  That is a snail, I say; that is a
leaf.  I delight in the snails; I delight in the leaf, I am always
the youngest, the most innocent, the most trustful.  You are all
protected.  I am naked.  When the waitress with the plaited wreaths
of hair swings past, she deals you your apricots and custard
unhesitatingly, like a sister.  You are her brothers.  But when I
get up, brushing the crumbs from my waistcoat, I slip too large a
tip, a shilling, under the edge of my plate, so that she may not
find it till I am gone, and her scorn, as she picks it up with
laughter, may not strike on me till I am past the swing-doors.'

'Now the wind lifts the blind,' said Susan, 'jars, bowls, matting
and the shabby arm-chair with the hole in it are now become
distinct.  The usual faded ribbons sprinkle the wallpaper.  The
bird chorus is over, only one bird now sings close to the bedroom
window.  I will pull on my stockings and go quietly past the
bedroom doors, and down through the kitchen, out through the garden
past the greenhouse into the field.  It is still early morning.
The mist is on the marshes.  The day is stark and stiff as a linen
shroud.  But it will soften; it will warm.  At this hour, this
still early hour, I think I am the field, I am the barn, I am the
trees; mine are the flocks of birds, and this young hare who leaps,
at the last moment when I step almost on him.  Mine is the heron
that stretches its vast wings lazily; and the cow that creaks as it
pushes one foot before another munching; and the wild, swooping
swallow; and the faint red in the sky, and the green when the red
fades; the silence and the bell; the call of the man fetching cart-
horses from the fields--all are mine.

'I cannot be divided, or kept apart.  I was sent to school; I was
sent to Switzerland to finish my education.  I hate linoleum; I
hate fir trees and mountains.  Let me now fling myself on this flat
ground under a pale sky where the clouds pace slowly.  The cart
grows gradually larger as it comes along the road.  The sheep
gather in the middle of the field.  The birds gather in the middle
of the road--they need not fly yet.  The wood smoke rises.  The
starkness of the dawn is going out of it.  Now the day stirs.
Colour returns.  The day waves yellow with all its crops.  The
earth hangs heavy beneath me.

'But who am I, who lean on this gate and watch my setter nose in a
circle?  I think sometimes (I am not twenty yet) I am not a woman,
but the light that falls on this gate, on this ground.  I am the
seasons, I think sometimes, January, May, November; the mud, the
mist, the dawn.  I cannot be tossed about, or float gently, or mix
with other people.  Yet now, leaning here till the gate prints my
arm, I feel the weight that has formed itself in my side.
Something has formed, at school, in Switzerland, some hard thing.
Not sighs and laughter, not circling and ingenious phrases; not
Rhoda's strange communications when she looks past us, over our
shoulders; nor Jinny's pirouetting, all of a piece, limbs and body.
What I give is fell.  I cannot float gently, mixing with other
people.  I like best the stare of shepherds met in the road; the
stare of gipsy women beside a cart in a ditch suckling their
children as I shall suckle my children.  For soon in the hot midday
when the bees hum round the hollyhocks my lover will come.  He will
stand under the cedar tree.  To his one word I shall answer my one
word.  What has formed in me I shall give him.  I shall have
children; I shall have maids in aprons; men with pitchforks; a
kitchen where they bring the ailing lambs to warm in baskets, where
the hams hang and the onions glisten.  I shall be like my mother,
silent in a blue apron locking up the cupboards.

'Now I am hungry.  I will call my setter.  I think of crusts and
bread and butter and white plates in a sunny room.  I will go back
across the fields.  I will walk along this grass path with strong,
even strides, now swerving to avoid the puddle, now leaping lightly
to a clump.  Beads of wet form on my rough skirt; my shoes become
supple and dark.  The stiffness has gone from the day; it is shaded
with grey, green and umber.  The birds no longer settle on the high

'I return, like a cat or fox returning, whose fur is grey with
rime, whose pads are hardened by the coarse earth.  I push through
the cabbages, making their leaves squeak and their drops spill.  I
sit waiting for my father's footsteps as he shuffles down the
passage pinching some herb between his fingers.  I pour out cup
after cup while the unopened flowers hold themselves erect on the
table among the pots of jam, the loaves and the butter.  We are

'I go then to the cupboard, and take the damp bags of rich
sultanas; I lift the heavy flour on to the clean scrubbed kitchen
table.  I knead; I stretch; I pull, plunging my hands in the warm
inwards of the dough.  I let the cold water stream fanwise through
my fingers.  The fire roars; the flies buzz in a circle.  All my
currants and rices, the silver bags and the blue bags, are locked
again in the cupboard.  The meat is stood in the oven; the bread
rises in a soft dome under the clean towel.  I walk in the
afternoon down to the river.  All the world is breeding.  The flies
are going from grass to grass.  The flowers are thick with pollen.
The swans ride the stream in order.  The clouds, warm now, sun-
spotted, sweep over the hills, leaving gold in the water, and gold
on the necks of the swans.  Pushing one foot before the other, the
cows munch their way across the field.  I feel through the grass
for the white-domed mushroom; and break its stalk and pick the
purple orchid that grows beside it and lay the orchid by the
mushroom with the earth at its root, and so home to make the kettle
boil for my father among the just reddened roses on the tea-table.

'But evening comes and the lamps are lit.  And when evening comes
and the lamps are lit they make a yellow fire in the ivy.  I sit
with my sewing by the table.  I think of Jinny; of Rhoda; and hear
the rattle of wheels on the pavement as the farm horses plod home;
I hear traffic roaring in the evening wind.  I look at the
quivering leaves in the dark garden and think "They dance in
London.  Jinny kisses Louis".'

'How strange,' said Jinny, 'that people should sleep, that people
should put out the lights and go upstairs.  They have taken off
their dresses, they have put on white nightgowns.  There are no
lights in any of these houses.  There is a line of chimney-pots
against the sky; and a street lamp or two burning, as lamps burn
when nobody needs them.  The only people in the streets are poor
people hurrying.  There is no one coming or going in this street;
the day is over.  A few policemen stand at the corners.  Yet night
is beginning.  I feel myself shining in the dark.  Silk is on my
knee.  My silk legs rub smoothly together.  The stones of a
necklace lie cold on my throat.  My feet feel the pinch of shoes.
I sit bolt upright so that my hair may not touch the back of the
seat.  I am arrayed, I am prepared.  This is the momentary pause;
the dark moment.  The fiddlers have lifted their bows.

'Now the car slides to a stop.  A strip of pavement is lighted.
The door is opening and shutting.  People are arriving; they do not
speak; they hasten in.  There is the swishing sound of cloaks
falling in the hall.  This is the prelude, this is the beginning.
I glance, I peep, I powder.  All is exact, prepared.  My hair is
swept in one curve.  My lips are precisely red.  I am ready now to
join men and women on the stairs, my peers.  I pass them, exposed
to their gaze, as they are to mine.  Like lightning we look but do
not soften or show signs of recognition.  Our bodies communicate.
This is my calling.  This is my world.  All is decided and ready;
the servants, standing here, and again here, take my name, my
fresh, my unknown name, and toss it before me.  I enter.

'Here are gilt chairs in the empty, the expectant rooms, and
flowers, stiller, statelier, than flowers that grow, spread green,
spread white, against the walls.  And on one small table is one
bound book.  This is what I have dreamt; this is what I have
foretold.  I am native here.  I tread naturally on thick carpets.
I slide easily on smooth-polished floors, I now begin to unfurl, in
this scent, in this radiance, as a fern when its curled leaves
unfurl.  I stop.  I take stock of this world.  I look among the
groups of unknown people.  Among the lustrous green, pink, pearl-
grey women stand upright the bodies of men.  They are black and
white; they are grooved beneath their clothes with deep rills.  I
feel again the reflection in the window of the tunnel; it moves.
The black-and-white figures of unknown men look at me as I lean
forward; as I turn aside to look at a picture, they turn too.
Their hands go fluttering to their ties.  They touch their
waistcoats, their pocket-handkerchiefs.  They are very young.  They
are anxious to make a good impression.  I feel a thousand
capacities spring up in me.  I am arch, gay, languid, melancholy by
turns.  I am rooted, but I flow.  All gold, flowing that way, I say
to this one, "Come."  Rippling black, I say to that one, "No."  One
breaks off from his station under the glass cabinet.  He
approaches.  He makes towards me.  This is the most exciting moment
I have ever known.  I flutter.  I ripple.  I stream like a plant in
the river, flowing this way, flowing that way, but rooted, so that
he may come to me.  "Come," I say, "come."  Pale, with dark hair,
the one who is coming is melancholy, romantic.  And I am arch and
fluent and capricious; for he is melancholy, he is romantic.  He is
here; he stands at my side.

'Now with a little jerk, like a limpet broken from a rock, I am
broken off: I fall with him; I am carried off.  We yield to this
slow flood.  We go in and out of this hesitating music.  Rocks
break the current of the dance; it jars, it shivers.  In and out,
we are swept now into this large figure; it holds us together; we
cannot step outside its sinuous, its hesitating, its abrupt, its
perfectly encircling walls.  Our bodies, his hard, mine flowing,
are pressed together within its body; it holds us together; and
then lengthening out, in smooth, in sinuous folds, rolls us between
it, on and on.  Suddenly the music breaks.  My blood runs on but my
body stands still.  The room reels past my eyes.  It stops.

'Come, then, let us wander whirling to the gilt chairs.  The body
is stronger than I thought.  I am dizzier than I supposed.  I do
not care for anything in the world.  I do not care for anybody save
this man whose name I do not know.  Are we not acceptable, moon?
Are we not lovely sitting together here, I in my satin; he in black
and white?  My peers may look at me now.  I look straight back at
you, men and women.  I am one of you.  This is my world.  Now I
take this thin-stemmed glass and sip.  Wine has a drastic, an
astringent taste.  I cannot help wincing as I drink.  Scent and
flowers, radiance and heat, are distilled here to a fiery, to a
yellow liquid.  Just behind my shoulder-blades some dry thing,
wide-eyed, gently closes, gradually lulls itself to sleep.  This is
rapture; this is relief.  The bar at the back of my throat lowers
itself.  Words crowd and cluster and push forth one on top of
another.  It does not matter which.  They jostle and mount on each
other's shoulders.  The single and the solitary mate, tumble and
become many.  It does not matter what I say.  Crowding, like a
fluttering bird, one sentence crosses the empty space between us.
It settles on his lips.  I fill my glass again.  I drink.  The veil
drops between us.  I am admitted to the warmth and privacy of
another soul.  We are together, high up, on some Alpine pass.  He
stands melancholy on the crest of the road.  I stoop.  I pick a
blue flower and fix it, standing on tiptoe to reach him, in his
coat.  There!  That is my moment of ecstasy.  Now it is over.

'Now slackness and indifference invade us.  Other people brush
past.  We have lost consciousness of our bodies uniting under the
table.  I also like fair-haired men with blue eyes.  The door
opens.  The door goes on opening.  Now I think, next time it opens
the whole of my life will be changed.  Who comes?  But it is only a
servant, bringing glasses.  That is an old man--I should be a child
with him.  That is a great lady--with her I should dissemble.
There are girls of my own age, for whom I feel the drawn swords of
an honourable antagonism.  For these are my peers.  I am a native
of this world.  Here is my risk, here is my adventure.  The door
opens.  O come, I say to this one, rippling gold from head to
heels.  "Come," and he comes towards me.'

'I shall edge behind them,' said Rhoda, 'as if I saw someone I
know.  But I know no one.  I shall twitch the curtain and look at
the moon.  Draughts of oblivion shall quench my agitation.  The
door opens; the tiger leaps.  The door opens; terror rushes in;
terror upon terror, pursuing me.  Let me visit furtively the
treasures I have laid apart.  Pools lie on the other side of the
world reflecting marble columns.  The swallow dips her wing in dark
pools.  But here the door opens and people come; they come towards
me.  Throwing faint smiles to mask their cruelty, their
indifference, they seize me.  The swallow dips her wings; the moon
rides through the blue seas alone.  I must take his hand; I must
answer.  But what answer shall I give?  I am thrust back to stand
burning in this clumsy, this ill-fitting body, to receive the
shafts of his indifference and his scorn, I who long for marble
columns and pools on the other side of the world where the swallow
dips her wings.

'Night has wheeled a little further over the chimney-pots.  I see
out of the window over his shoulder some unembarrassed cat, not
drowned in light, not trapped in silk, free to pause, to stretch,
and to move again.  I hate all details of the individual life.  But
I am fixed here to listen.  An immense pressure is on me.  I cannot
move without dislodging the weight of centuries.  A million arrows
pierce me.  Scorn and ridicule pierce me.  I, who could beat my
breast against the storm and let the hail choke me joyfully, am
pinned down here; am exposed.  The tiger leaps.  Tongues with their
whips are upon me.  Mobile, incessant, they flicker over me.  I
must prevaricate and fence them off with lies.  What amulet is
there against this disaster?  What face can I summon to lay cool
upon this heat?  I think of names on boxes; of mothers from whose
wide knees skirts descend; of glades where the many-backed steep
hills come down.  Hide me, I cry, protect me, for I am the
youngest, the most naked of you all.  Jinny rides like a gull on
the wave, dealing her looks adroitly here and there, saying this,
saying that, with truth.  But I lie; I prevaricate.

'Alone, I rock my basins; I am mistress of my fleet of ships.  But
here, twisting the tassels of this brocaded curtain in my hostess's
window, I am broken into separate pieces; I am no longer one.  What
then is the knowledge that Jinny has as she dances; the assurance
that Susan has as, stooping quietly beneath the lamplight, she
draws the white cotton through the eye of her needle?  They say,
Yes; they say, No; they bring their fists down with a bang on the
table.  But I doubt; I tremble; I see the wild thorn tree shake its
shadow in the desert.

'Now I will walk, as if I had an end in view, across the room, to
the balcony under the awning.  I see the sky, softly feathered with
its sudden effulgence of moon.  I also see the railings of the
square, and two people without faces, leaning like statues against
the sky.  There is, then, a world immune from change.  When I have
passed through this drawing-room flickering with tongues that cut
me like knives, making me stammer, making me lie, I find faces rid
of features, robed in beauty.  The lovers crouch under the plane
tree.  The policeman stands sentinel at the corner.  A man passes.
There is, then, a world immune from change.  But I am not composed
enough, standing on tiptoe on the verge of fire, still scorched by
the hot breath, afraid of the door opening and the leap of the
tiger, to make even one sentence.  What I say is perpetually
contradicted.  Each time the door opens I am interrupted.  I am not
yet twenty-one.  I am to be broken.  I am to be derided all my
life.  I am to be cast up and down among these men and women, with
their twitching faces, with their lying tongues, like a cork on a
rough sea.  Like a ribbon of weed I am flung far every time the
door opens.  I am the foam that sweeps and fills the uttermost rims
of the rocks with whiteness; I am also a girl, here in this room.'

The sun, risen, no longer couched on a green mattress darting a
fitful glance through watery jewels, bared its face and looked
straight over the waves.  They fell with a regular thud.  They fell
with the concussion of horses' hooves on the turf.  Their spray
rose like the tossing of lances and assegais over the riders'
heads.  They swept the beach with steel blue and diamond-tipped
water.  They drew in and out with the energy, the muscularity, of
an engine which sweeps its force out and in again.  The sun fell on
cornfields and woods, rivers became blue and many-plaited, lawns
that sloped down to the water's edge became green as birds'
feathers softly ruffling their plumes.  The hills, curved and
controlled, seemed bound back by thongs, as a limb is laced by
muscles; and the woods which bristled proudly on their flanks were
like the curt, clipped mane on the neck of a horse.

In the garden where the trees stood, thick over flowerbeds, ponds,
and greenhouses the birds sang in the hot sunshine, each alone.
One sang under the bedroom window; another on the topmost twig of
the lilac bush; another on the edge of the wall.  Each sang
stridently, with passion, with vehemence, as if to let the song
burst out of it, no matter if it shattered the song of another bird
with harsh discord.  Their round eyes bulged with brightness; their
claws gripped the twig or rail.  They sang, exposed without
shelter, to the air and the sun, beautiful in their new plumage,
shell-veined or brightly mailed, here barred with soft blues, here
splashed with gold, or striped with one bright feather.  They sang
as if the song were urged out of them by the pressure of the
morning.  They sang as if the edge of being were sharpened and must
cut, must split the softness of the blue-green light, the dampness
of the wet earth; the fumes and steams of the greasy kitchen
vapour; the hot breath of mutton and beef; the richness of pastry
and fruit; the damp shreds and peelings thrown from the kitchen
bucket, from which a slow steam oozed on the rubbish heap.  On all
the sodden, the damp-spotted, the curled with wetness, they
descended, dry-beaked, ruthless, abrupt.  They swooped suddenly
from the lilac bough or the fence.  They spied a snail and tapped
the shell against a stone.  They tapped furiously, methodically,
until the shell broke and something slimy oozed from the crack.
They swept and soared sharply in flights high into the air,
twittering short, sharp notes, and perched in the upper branches of
some tree, and looked down upon leaves and spires beneath, and the
country white with blossom, flowing with grass, and the sea which
beat like a drum that raises a regiment of plumed and turbaned
soldiers.  Now and again their songs ran together in swift scales
like the interlacings of a mountain stream whose waters, meeting,
foam and then mix, and hasten quicker and quicker down the same
channel, brushing the same broad leaves.  But there is a rock; they

The sun fell in sharp wedges inside the room.  Whatever the light
touched became dowered with a fanatical existence.  A plate was
like a white lake.  A knife looked like a dagger of ice.  Suddenly
tumblers revealed themselves upheld by streaks of light.  Tables
and chairs rose to the surface as if they had been sunk under water
and rose, filmed with red, orange, purple like the bloom on the
skin of ripe fruit.  The veins on the glaze of the china, the grain
of the wood, the fibres of the matting became more and more finely
engraved.  Everything was without shadow.  A jar was so green that
the eye seemed sucked up through a funnel by its intensity and
stuck to it like a limpet.  Then shapes took on mass and edge.
Here was the boss of a chair; here the bulk of a cupboard.  And as
the light increased, flocks of shadow were driven before it and
conglomerated and hung in many-pleated folds in the background.

'How fair, how strange,' said Bernard, 'glittering, many-pointed
and many-domed London lies before me under mist.  Guarded by
gasometers, by factory chimneys, she lies sleeping as we approach.
She folds the ant-heap to her breast.  All cries, all clamour, are
softly enveloped in silence.  Not Rome herself looks more majestic.
But we are aimed at her.  Already her maternal somnolence is
uneasy.  Ridges, fledged with houses rise from the mist.
Factories, cathedrals, glass domes, institutions and theatres erect
themselves.  The early train from the north is hurled at her like a
missile.  We draw a curtain as we pass.  Blank expectant faces
stare at us as we rattle and flash through stations.  Men clutch
their newspapers a little tighter, as our wind sweeps them,
envisaging death.  But we roar on.  We are about to explode in the
flanks of the city like a shell in the side of some ponderous,
maternal, majestic animal.  She hums and murmurs; she awaits us.

'Meanwhile as I stand looking from the train window, I feel
strangely, persuasively, that because of my great happiness (being
engaged to be married) I am become part of this speed, this missile
hurled at the city.  I am numbed to tolerance and acquiescence.  My
dear sir, I could say, why do you fidget, taking down your suitcase
and pressing into it the cap that you have worn all night?  Nothing
we can do will avail.  Over us all broods a splendid unanimity.  We
are enlarged and solemnized and brushed into uniformity as with the
grey wing of some enormous goose (it is a fine but colourless
morning) because we have only one desire--to arrive at the station.
I do not want the train to stop with a thud.  I do not want the
connection which has bound us together sitting opposite each other
all night long to be broken.  I do not want to feel that hate and
rivalry have resumed their sway; and different desires.  Our
community in the rushing train, sitting together with only one
wish, to arrive at Euston, was very welcome.  But behold!  It is
over.  We have attained our desire.  We have drawn up at the
platform.  Hurry and confusion and the wish to be first through the
gate into the lift assert themselves.  But I do not wish to be
first through the gate, to assume the burden of individual life.
I, who have been since Monday, when she accepted me, charged in
every nerve with a sense of identity, who could not see a tooth-
brush in a glass without saying, "My toothbrush", now wish to
unclasp my hands and let fall my possessions, and merely stand here
in the street, taking no part, watching the omnibuses, without
desire; without envy; with what would be boundless curiosity about
human destiny if there were any longer an edge to my mind.  But it
has none.  I have arrived; am accepted.  I ask nothing.

'Having dropped off satisfied like a child from the breast, I am at
liberty now to sink down, deep, into what passes, this omnipresent,
general life.  (How much, let me note, depends upon trousers; the
intelligent head is entirely handicapped by shabby trousers.)  One
observes curious hesitations at the door of the lift.  This way,
that way, the other?  Then individuality asserts itself.  They are
off.  They are all impelled by some necessity.  Some miserable
affair of keeping an appointment, of buying a hat, severs these
beautiful human beings once so united.  For myself, I have no aim.
I have no ambition.  I will let myself be carried on by the general
impulse.  The surface of my mind slips along like a pale-grey
stream, reflecting what passes.  I cannot remember my past, my
nose, or the colour of my eyes, or what my general opinion of
myself is.  Only in moments of emergency, at a crossing, at a kerb,
the wish to preserve my body springs out and seizes me and stops
me, here, before this omnibus.  We insist, it seems, on living.
Then again, indifference descends.  The roar of the traffic, the
passage of undifferentiated faces, this way and that way, drugs me
into dreams; rubs the features from faces.  People might walk
through me.  And, what is this moment of time, this particular day
in which I have found myself caught?  The growl of traffic might be
any uproar--forest trees or the roar of wild beasts.  Time has
whizzed back an inch or two on its reel; our short progress has
been cancelled.  I think also that our bodies are in truth naked.
We are only lightly covered with buttoned cloth; and beneath these
pavements are shells, bones and silence.

'It is, however, true that my dreaming, my tentative advance like
one carried beneath the surface of a stream, is interrupted, torn,
pricked and plucked at by sensations, spontaneous and irrelevant,
of curiosity, greed, desire, irresponsible as in sleep.  (I covet
that bag--etc.)  No, but I wish to go under; to visit the profound
depths; once in a while to exercise my prerogative not always to
act, but to explore; to hear vague, ancestral sounds of boughs
creaking, of mammoths; to indulge impossible desires to embrace the
whole world with the arms of understanding--impossible to those who
act.  Am I not, as I walk, trembling with strange oscillations and
vibrations of sympathy, which, unmoored as I am from a private
being, bid me embrace these engrossed flocks; these starers and
trippers; these errand-boys and furtive and fugitive girls who,
ignoring their doom, look in at shop-windows?  But I am aware of
our ephemeral passage.

'It is, however, true that I cannot deny a sense that life for me
is now mysteriously prolonged.  Is it that I may have children, may
cast a fling of seed wider, beyond this generation, this doom-
encircled population, shuffling each other in endless competition
along the street?  My daughters shall come here, in other summers;
my sons shall turn new fields.  Hence we are not raindrops, soon
dried by the wind; we make gardens blow and forests roar; we come
up differently, for ever and ever.  This, then, serves to explain
my confidence, my central stability, otherwise so monstrously
absurd as I breast the stream of this crowded thoroughfare, making
always a passage for myself between people's bodies, taking
advantage of safe moments to cross.  It is not vanity; for I am
emptied of ambition; I do not remember my special gifts, or
idiosyncrasy, or the marks I bear on my person; eyes, nose or
mouth.  I am not, at this moment, myself.

'Yet behold, it returns.  One cannot extinguish that persistent
smell.  It steals in through some crack in the structure--one's
identity.  I am not part of the street--no, I observe the street.
One splits off, therefore.  For instance, up that back street a
girl stands waiting; for whom?  A romantic story.  On the wall of
that shop is fixed a small crane, and for what reason, I ask, was
that crane fixed there? and invent a purple lady swelling,
circumambient, hauled from a barouche landau by a perspiring
husband sometime in the sixties.  A grotesque story.  That is, I am
a natural coiner of words, a blower of bubbles through one thing
and another.  And, striking off these observations spontaneously, I
elaborate myself; differentiate myself and, listening to the voice
that says as I stroll past, "Look!  Take note of that!"  I conceive
myself called upon to provide, some winter's night, a meaning for
all my observations--a line that runs from one to another, a
summing up that completes.  But soliloquies in back streets soon
pall.  I need an audience.  That is my downfall.  That always
ruffles the edge of the final statement and prevents it from
forming.  I cannot seat myself in some sordid eating-house and
order the same glass day after day and imbue myself entirely in one
fluid--this life.  I make my phrase and run off with it to some
furnished room where it will be lit by dozens of candles.  I need
eyes on me to draw out these frills and furbelows.  To be myself (I
note) I need the illumination of other people's eyes, and therefore
cannot be entirely sure what is my self.  The authentics, like
Louis, like Rhoda, exist most completely in solitude.  They resent
illumination, reduplication.  They toss their pictures once painted
face downward on the field.  On Louis' words the ice is packed
thick.  His words issue pressed, condensed, enduring.

'I wish, then, after this somnolence to sparkle, many-faceted under
the light of my friends' faces.  I have been traversing the sunless
territory of non-identity.  A strange land.  I have heard in my
moment of appeasement, in my moment of obliterating satisfaction,
the sigh, as it goes in, comes out, of the tide that draws beyond
this circle of bright light, this drumming of insensate fury.  I
have had one moment of enormous peace.  This perhaps is happiness.
Now I am drawn back by pricking sensations; by curiosity, greed (I
am hungry) and the irresistible desire to be myself.  I think of
people to whom I could say things: Louis, Neville, Susan, Jinny and
Rhoda.  With them I am many-sided.  They retrieve me from darkness.
We shall meet tonight, thank Heaven.  Thank Heaven, I need not be
alone.  We shall dine together.  We shall say good-bye to Percival,
who goes to India.  The hour is still distant, but I feel already
those harbingers, those outriders, figures of one's friends in
absence.  I see Louis, stone-carved, sculpturesque; Neville,
scissor-cutting, exact; Susan with eyes like lumps of crystal;
Jinny dancing like a flame, febrile, hot, over dry earth; and Rhoda
the nymph of the fountain always wet.  These are fantastic
pictures--these are figments, these visions of friends in absence,
grotesque, dropsical, vanishing at the first touch of the toe of a
real boot.  Yet they drum me alive.  They brush off these vapours.
I begin to be impatient of solitude--to feel its draperies hang
sweltering, unwholesome about me.  Oh, to toss them off and be
active!  Anybody will do.  I am not fastidious.  The crossing-
sweeper will do; the postman; the waiter in this French restaurant;
better still the genial proprietor, whose geniality seems reserved
for oneself.  He mixes the salad with his own hands for some
privileged guest.  Which is the privileged guest, I ask, and why?
And what is he saying to the lady in ear-rings; is she a friend or
a customer?  I feel at once, as I sit down at a table, the
delicious jostle of confusion, of uncertainty, of possibility, of
speculation.  Images breed instantly.  I am embarrassed by my own
fertility.  I could describe every chair, table, luncher here
copiously, freely.  My mind hums hither and thither with its veil
of words for everything.  To speak, about wine even to the waiter,
is to bring about an explosion.  Up goes the rocket.  Its golden
grain falls, fertilizing, upon the rich soil of my imagination.
The entirely unexpected nature of this explosion--that is the joy
of intercourse.  I, mixed with an unknown Italian waiter--what am
I?  There is no stability in this world.  Who is to say what
meaning there is in anything?  Who is to foretell the flight of a
word?  It is a balloon that sails over tree-tops.  To speak of
knowledge is futile.  All is experiment and adventure.  We are for
ever mixing ourselves with unknown quantities.  What is to come?  I
know not.  But as I put down my glass I remember: I am engaged to
be married.  I am to dine with my friends tonight.  I am Bernard,

'It is now five minutes to eight,' said Neville.  'I have come
early.  I have taken my place at the table ten minutes before the
time in order to taste every moment of anticipation; to see the
door open and to say, "Is it Percival?  No; it is not Percival."
There is a morbid pleasure in saying:  "No, it is not Percival."  I
have seen the door open and shut twenty times already; each time
the suspense sharpens.  This is the place to which he is coming.
This is the table at which he will sit.  Here, incredible as it
seems, will be his actual body.  This table, these chairs, this
metal vase with its three red flowers are about to undergo an
extraordinary transformation.  Already the room, with its swing-
doors, its tables heaped with fruit, with cold joints, wears the
wavering, unreal appearance of a place where one waits expecting
something to happen.  Things quiver as if not yet in being.  The
blankness of the white table-cloth glares.  The hostility, the
indifference of other people dining here is oppressive.  We look at
each other; see that we do not know each other, stare, and go off.
Such looks are lashes.  I feel the whole cruelty and indifference
of the world in them.  If he should not come I could not bear it.
I should go.  Yet somebody must be seeing him now.  He must be in
some cab; he must be passing some shop.  And every moment he seems
to pump into this room this prickly light, this intensity of being,
so that things have lost their normal uses--this knife-blade is
only a flash of light, not a thing to cut with.  The normal is

'The door opens, but he does not come.  That is Louis hesitating
there.  That is his strange mixture of assurance and timidity.  He
looks at himself in the looking-glass as he comes in; he touches
his hair; he is dissatisfied with his appearance.  He says, "I am a
Duke--the last of an ancient race."  He is acrid, suspicious,
domineering, difficult (I am comparing him with Percival).  At the
same time he is formidable, for there is laughter in his eyes.  He
has seen me.  Here he is.'

'There is Susan,' said Louis.  'She does not see us.  She has not
dressed, because she despises the futility of London.  She stands
for a moment at the swing-door, looking about her like a creature
dazed by the light of a lamp.  Now she moves.  She has the stealthy
yet assured movements (even among tables and chairs) of a wild
beast.  She seems to find her way by instinct in and out among
these little tables, touching no one, disregarding waiters, yet
comes straight to our table in the corner.  When she sees us
(Neville, and myself) her face assumes a certainty which is
alarming, as if she had what she wanted.  To be loved by Susan
would be to be impaled by a bird's sharp beak, to be nailed to a
barnyard door.  Yet there are moments when I could wish to be
speared by a beak, to be nailed to a barnyard door, positively,
once and for all.

'Rhoda comes now, from nowhere, having slipped in while we were not
looking.  She must have made a tortuous course, taking cover now
behind a waiter, now behind some ornamental pillar, so as to put
off as long as possible the shock of recognition, so as to be
secure for one more moment to rock her petals in her basin.  We
wake her.  We torture her.  She dreads us, she despises us, yet
comes cringing to our sides because for all our cruelty there is
always some name, some face, which sheds a radiance, which lights
up her pavements and makes it possible for her to replenish her

'The door opens, the door goes on opening,' said Neville, 'yet he
does not come.'

'There is Jinny,' said Susan.  'She stands in the door.  Everything
seems stayed.  The waiter stops.  The diners at the table by the
door look.  She seems to centre everything; round her tables, lines
of doors, windows, ceilings, ray themselves, like rays round the
star in the middle of a smashed window-pane.  She brings things to
a point, to order.  Now she sees us, and moves, and all the rays
ripple and flow and waver over us, bringing in new tides of
sensation.  We change.  Louis puts his hand to his tie.  Neville,
who sits waiting with agonized intensity, nervously straightens the
forks in front of him.  Rhoda sees her with surprise, as if on some
far horizon a fire blazed.  And I, though I pile my mind with damp
grass, with wet fields, with the sound of rain on the roof and the
gusts of wind that batter at the house in winter and so protect my
soul against her, feel her derision steal round me, feel her
laughter curl its tongues of fire round me and light up unsparingly
my shabby dress, my square-tipped finger-nails, which I at once
hide under the table-cloth.'

'He has not come,' said Neville.  The door opens and he does not
come.  That is Bernard.  As he pulls off his coat he shows, of
course, the blue shirt under his arm-pits.  And then, unlike the
rest of us, he comes in without pushing open a door, without
knowing that he comes into a room full of strangers.  He does not
look in the glass.  His hair is untidy, but he does not know it.
He has no perception that we differ, or that this table is his
goal.  He hesitates on his way here.  Who is that? he asks himself,
as he half knows a woman in an opera cloak.  He half knows
everybody; he knows nobody (I compare him with Percival).  But now,
perceiving us, he waves a benevolent salute; he bears down with
such benignity, with such love of mankind (crossed with humour at
the futility of "loving mankind"), that, if it were not for
Percival, who turns all this to vapour, one would feel, as the
others already feel:  Now is our festival; now we are together.
But without Percival there is no solidity.  We are silhouettes,
hollow phantoms moving mistily without a background.'

'The swing-door goes on opening,' said Rhoda.  'Strangers keep on
coming, people we shall never see again, people who brush us
disagreeably with their familiarity, their indifference, and the
sense of a world continuing without us.  We cannot sink down, we
cannot forget our faces.  Even I who have no face, who make no
difference when I come in (Susan and Jinny change bodies and
faces), flutter unattached, without anchorage anywhere,
unconsolidated, incapable of composing any blankness or continuity
or wall against which these bodies move.  It is because of Neville
and his misery.  The sharp breath of his misery scatters my being.
Nothing can settle; nothing can subside.  Every time the door opens
he looks fixedly at the table--he dare not raise his eyes--then
looks for one second and says, "He has not come."  But here he is.'

'Now,' said Neville, 'my tree flowers.  My heart rises.  All
oppression is relieved.  All impediment is removed.  The reign of
chaos is over.  He has imposed order.  Knives cut again.'

'Here is Percival,' said Jinny.  'He has not dressed.'

'Here is Percival,' said Bernard, 'smoothing his hair, not from
vanity (he does not look in the glass), but to propitiate the god
of decency.  He is conventional; he is a hero.  The little boys
trooped after him across the playing-fields.  They blew their noses
as he blew his nose, but unsuccessfully, for he is Percival.  Now,
when he is about to leave us, to go to India, all these trifles
come together.  He is a hero.  Oh yes, that is not to be denied,
and when he takes his seat by Susan, whom he loves, the occasion is
crowned.  We who yelped like jackals biting at each other's heels
now assume the sober and confident air of soldiers in the presence
of their captain.  We who have been separated by our youth (the
oldest is not yet twenty-five), who have sung like eager birds each
his own song and tapped with the remorseless and savage egotism of
the young our own snail-shell till it cracked (I am engaged), or
perched solitary outside some bedroom window and sang of love, of
fame and other single experiences so dear to the callow bird with a
yellow tuft on its beak, now come nearer; and shuffling closer on
our perch in this restaurant where everybody's interests are at
variance, and the incessant passage of traffic chafes us with
distractions, and the door opening perpetually its glass cage
solicits us with myriad temptations and offers insults and wounds
to our confidence--sitting together here we love each other and
believe in our own endurance.'

'Now let us issue from the darkness of solitude,' said Louis.

'Now let us say, brutally and directly, what is in our minds,' said
Neville.  'Our isolation, our preparation, is over.  The furtive
days of secrecy and hiding, the revelations on staircases, moments
of terror and ecstasy.'

'Old Mrs Constable lifted her sponge and warmth poured over us,'
said Bernard.  'We became clothed in this changing, this feeling
garment of flesh.'

'The boot-boy made love to the scullery-maid in the kitchen
garden,' said Susan, 'among the blown-out washing.'

'The breath of the wind was like a tiger panting,' said Rhoda.

'The man lay livid with his throat cut in the gutter,' said
Neville.  'And going upstairs I could not raise my foot against the
immitigable apple tree with its silver leaves held stiff.'

The leaf danced in the hedge without anyone to blow it,' said

'In the sun-baked corner,' said Louis, 'the petals swam on depths
of green.'

'At Elvedon the gardeners swept and swept with their great brooms,
and the woman sat at a table writing,' said Bernard.

'From these close-furled balls of string we draw now every
filament,' said Louis, 'remembering, when we meet.'

'And then,' said Bernard, 'the cab came to the door, and, pressing
our new bowler hats tightly over our eyes to hide our unmanly
tears, we drove through streets in which even the housemaids looked
at us, and our names painted in white letters on our boxes
proclaimed to all the world that we were going to school with the
regulation number of socks and drawers, on which our mothers for
some nights previously had stitched our initials, in our boxes.  A
second severance from the body of our mother.'

'And Miss Lambert, Miss Cutting and Miss Bard,' said Jinny,
'monumental ladies, white-ruffed, stone-coloured, enigmatic, with
amethyst rings moving like virginal tapers, dim glow-worms over the
pages of French, geography and arithmetic, presided; and there were
maps, green-baize boards, and rows of shoes on a shelf.'

'Bells rang punctually,' said Susan, 'maids scuffled and giggled.
There was a drawing in of chairs and a drawing out of chairs on the
linoleum.  But from one attic there was a blue view, a distant view
of a field unstained by the corruption of this regimented, unreal

'Down from our heads veils fell,' said Rhoda.  'We clasped the
flowers with their green leaves rustling in garlands.'

'We changed, we became unrecognizable,' said Louis.  'Exposed to
all these different lights, what we had in us (for we are all so
different) came intermittently, in violent patches, spaced by blank
voids, to the surface as if some acid had dropped unequally on the
plate.  I was this, Neville that, Rhoda different again, and
Bernard too.'

'Then canoes slipped through palely tinted yellow branches,' said
Neville, 'and Bernard, advancing in his casual way against breadths
of green, against houses of very ancient foundation, tumbled in a
heap on the ground beside me.  In an access of emotion--winds are
not more raving, nor lightning more sudden--I took my poem, I flung
my poem, I slammed the door behind me.'

'I, however,' said Louis, 'losing sight of you, sat in my office
and tore the date from the calendar, and announced to the world of
ship-brokers, corn-chandlers and actuaries that Friday the tenth,
or Tuesday the eighteenth, had dawned on the city of London.'

'Then,' said Jinny, 'Rhoda and I, exposed in bright dresses, with a
few precious stones nestling on a cold ring round our throats,
bowed, shook hands and took a sandwich from a plate with a smile.'

'The tiger leapt, and the swallow dipped her wings in dark pools on
the other side of the world,' said Rhoda.

'But here and now we are together,' said Bernard.  'We have come
together, at a particular time, to this particular spot.  We are
drawn into this communion by some deep, some common emotion.  Shall
we call it, conveniently, "love"?  Shall we say "love of Percival"
because Percival is going to India?

'No, that is too small, too particular a name.  We cannot attach
the width and spread of our feelings to so small a mark.  We have
come together (from the North, from the South, from Susan's farm,
from Louis' house of business) to make one thing, not enduring--for
what endures?--but seen by many eyes simultaneously.  There is a
red carnation in that vase.  A single flower as we sat here
waiting, but now a seven-sided flower, many-petalled, red, puce,
purple-shaded, stiff with silver-tinted leaves--a whole flower to
which every eye brings its own contribution.

'After the capricious fires, the abysmal dullness of youth,' said
Neville, 'the light falls upon real objects now.  Here are knives
and forks.  The world is displayed, and we too, so that we can

'We differ, it may be too profoundly,' said Louis, 'for
explanation.  But let us attempt it.  I smoothed my hair when I
came in, hoping to look like the rest of you.  But I cannot, for I
am not single and entire as you are.  I have lived a thousand lives
already.  Every day I unbury--I dig up.  I find relics of myself in
the sand that women made thousands of years ago, when I heard songs
by the Nile and the chained beast stamping.  What you see beside
you, this man, this Louis, is only the cinders and refuse of
something once splendid.  I was an Arab prince; behold my free
gestures.  I was a great poet in the time of Elizabeth.  I was a
Duke at the court of Louis the Fourteenth.  I am very vain, very
confident; I have an immeasurable desire that women should sigh in
sympathy.  I have eaten no lunch today in order that Susan may
think me cadaverous and that Jinny may extend to me the exquisite
balm of her sympathy.  But while I admire Susan and Percival, I
hate the others, because it is for them that I do these antics,
smoothing my hair, concealing my accent.  I am the little ape who
chatters over a nut, and you are the dowdy women with shiny bags of
stale buns; I am also the caged tiger, and you are the keepers with
red-hot bars.  That is, I am fiercer and stronger than you are, yet
the apparition that appears above ground after ages of nonentity
will be spent in terror lest you should laugh at me, in veerings
with the wind against the soot storms, in efforts to make a steel
ring of clear poetry that shall connect the gulls and the women
with bad teeth, the church spire and the bobbing billycock hats as
I see them when I take my luncheon and prop my poet--is it
Lucretius?--against a cruet and the gravy-splashed bill of fare.'

'But you will never hate me,' said Jinny.  'You will never see me,
even across a room full of gilt chairs and ambassadors, without
coming to me across the room to seek my sympathy.  When I came in
just now everything stood still in a pattern.  Waiters stopped,
diners raised their forks and held them.  I had the air of being
prepared for what would happen.  When I sat down you put your hands
to your ties, you hid them under the table.  But I hide nothing.  I
am prepared.  Every time the door opens I cry "More!"  But my
imagination is the bodies.  I can imagine nothing beyond the circle
cast by my body.  My body goes before me, like a lantern down a
dark lane, bringing one thing after another out of darkness into a
ring of light.  I dazzle you; I make you believe that this is all.'

'But when you stand in the door,' said Neville, 'you inflict
stillness, demanding admiration, and that is a great impediment to
the freedom of intercourse.  You stand in the door making us notice
you.  But none of you saw me approach.  I came early; I came
quickly and directly, HERE, to sit by the person whom I love.  My
life has a rapidity that yours lack.  I am like a hound on the
scent.  I hunt from dawn to dusk.  Nothing, not the pursuit of
perfection through the sand, nor fame, nor money, has meaning for
me.  I shall have riches; I shall have fame.  But I shall never
have what I want, for I lack bodily grace and the courage that
comes with it.  The swiftness of my mind is too strong for my body.
I fail before I reach the end and fall in a heap, damp, perhaps
disgusting.  I excite pity in the crises of life, not love.
Therefore I suffer horribly.  But I do not suffer, as Louis does,
to make myself a spectacle.  I have too fine a sense of fact to
allow myself these juggleries, these pretences.  I see everything--
except one thing--with complete clarity.  That is my saving.  That
is what gives my suffering an unceasing excitement.  That is what
makes me dictate, even when I am silent.  And since I am, in one
respect, deluded, since the person is always changing, though not
the desire, and I do not know in the morning by whom I shall sit at
night, I am never stagnant; I rise from my worst disasters, I turn,
I change.  Pebbles bounce off the mail of my muscular, my extended
body.  In this pursuit I shall grow old.'

'If I could believe,' said Rhoda, 'that I should grow old in
pursuit and change, I should be rid of my fear: nothing persists.
One moment does not lead to another.  The door opens and the tiger
leaps.  You did not see me come.  I circled round the chairs to
avoid the horror of the spring.  I am afraid of you all.  I am
afraid of the shock of sensation that leaps upon me, because I
cannot deal with it as you do--I cannot make one moment merge in
the next.  To me they are all violent, all separate; and if I fall
under the shock of the leap of the moment you will be on me,
tearing me to pieces.  I have no end in view.  I do not know how to
run minute to minute and hour to hour, solving them by some natural
force until they make the whole and indivisible mass that you call
life.  Because you have an end in view--one person, is it, to sit
beside, an idea is it, your beauty is it?  I do not know--your days
and hours pass like the boughs of forest trees and the smooth green
of forest rides to a hound running on the scent.  But there is no
single scent, no single body for me to follow.  And I have no face.
I am like the foam that races over the beach or the moonlight that
falls arrowlike here on a tin can, here on a spike of the mailed
sea holly, or a bone or a half-eaten boat.  I am whirled down
caverns, and flap like paper against endless corridors, and must
press my hand against the wall to draw myself back.

'But since I wish above all things to have lodgment, I pretend, as
I go upstairs lagging behind Jinny and Susan, to have an end in
view.  I pull on my stockings as I see them pull on theirs.  I wait
for you to speak and then speak like you.  I am drawn here across
London to a particular spot, to a particular place, not to see you
or you or you, but to light my fire at the general blaze of you who
live wholly, indivisibly and without caring.'

'When I came into the room tonight,' said Susan, 'I stopped, I
peered about like an animal with its eyes near to the ground.  The
smell of carpets and furniture and scent disgusts me.  I like to
walk through the wet fields alone, or to stop at a gate and watch
my setter nose in a circle, and to ask:  Where is the hare?  I like
to be with people who twist herbs, and spit into the fire, and
shuffle down long passages in slippers like my father.  The only
sayings I understand are cries of love, hate, rage and pain.  This
talking is undressing an old woman whose dress had seemed to be
part of her, but now, as we talk, she turns pinkish underneath, and
has wrinkled thighs and sagging breasts.  When you are silent you
are again beautiful.  I shall never have anything but natural
happiness.  It will almost content me.  I shall go to bed tired.  I
shall lie like a field bearing crops in rotation; in the summer
heat will dance over me; in the winter I shall be cracked with the
cold.  But heat and cold will follow each other naturally without
my willing or unwilling.  My children will carry me on; their
teething, their crying, their going to school and coming back will
be like the waves of the sea under me.  No day will be without its
movement.  I shall be lifted higher than any of you on the backs of
the seasons.  I shall possess more than Jinny, more than Rhoda, by
the time I die.  But on the other hand, where you are various and
dimple a million times to the ideas and laughter of others, I shall
be sullen, storm-tinted and all one purple.  I shall be debased and
hide-bound by the bestial and beautiful passion of maternity.  I
shall push the fortunes of my children unscrupulously.  I shall
hate those who see their faults.  I shall lie basely to help them.
I shall let them wall me away from you, from you and from you.
Also, I am torn with jealousy.  I hate Jinny because she shows me
that my hands are red, my nails bitten.  I love with such ferocity
that it kills me when the object of my love shows by a phrase that
he can escape.  He escapes, and I am left clutching at a string
that slips in and out among the leaves on the tree-tops.  I do not
understand phrases.'

'Had I been born,' said Bernard, 'not knowing that one word follows
another I might have been, who knows, perhaps anything.  As it is,
finding sequences everywhere, I cannot bear the pressure of
solitude.  When I cannot see words curling like rings of smoke
round me I am in darkness--I am nothing.  When I am alone I fall
into lethargy, and say to myself dismally as I poke the cinders
through the bars of the grate, Mrs Moffat will come.  She will come
and sweep it all up.  When Louis is alone he sees with astonishing
intensity, and will write some words that may outlast us all.
Rhoda loves to be alone.  She fears us because we shatter the sense
of being which is so extreme in solitude--see how she grasps her
fork--her weapon against us.  But I only come into existence when
the plumber, or the horse-dealer, or whoever it may be, says
something which sets me alight.  Then how lovely the smoke of my
phrase is, rising and falling, flaunting and falling, upon red
lobsters and yellow fruit, wreathing them into one beauty.  But
observe how meretricious the phrase is--made up of what evasions
and old lies.  Thus my character is in part made of the stimulus
which other people provide, and is not mine, as yours are.  There
is some fatal streak, some wandering and irregular vein of silver,
weakening it.  Hence the fact that used to enrage Neville at
school, that I left him.  I went with the boasting boys with little
caps and badges, driving off in big brakes--there are some here
tonight, dining together, correctly dressed, before they go off in
perfect concord to the music hall; I loved them.  For they bring me
into existence as certainly as you do.  Hence, too, when I am
leaving you and the train is going, you feel that it is not the
train that is going, but I, Bernard, who does not care, who does
not feel, who has no ticket, and has lost perhaps his purse.
Susan, staring at the string that slips in and out among the leaves
of the beech trees, cries:  "He is gone!  He has escaped me!"  For
there is nothing to lay hold of.  I am made and remade continually.
Different people draw different words from me.

'Thus there is not one person but fifty people whom I want to sit
beside tonight.  But I am the only one of you who is at home here
without taking liberties.  I am not gross; I am not a snob.  If I
lie open to the pressure of society I often succeed with the
dexterity of my tongue in putting something difficult into the
currency.  See my little toys, twisted out of nothing in a second,
how they entertain.  I am no hoarder--I shall leave only a cupboard
of old clothes when I die--and I am almost indifferent to the minor
vanities of life which cause Louis so much torture.  But I have
sacrificed much.  Veined as I am with iron, with silver and streaks
of common mud, I cannot contract into the firm fist which those
clench who do not depend upon stimulus.  I am incapable of the
denials, the heroisms of Louis and Rhoda.  I shall never succeed,
even in talk, in making a perfect phrase.  But I shall have
contributed more to the passing moment than any of you; I shall go
into more rooms, more different rooms, than any of you.  But
because there is something that comes from outside and not from
within I shall be forgotten; when my voice is silent you will not
remember me, save as the echo of a voice that once wreathed the
fruit into phrases.'

'Look,' said Rhoda; 'listen.  Look how the light becomes richer,
second by second, and bloom and ripeness lie everywhere; and our
eyes, as they range round this room with all its tables, seem to
push through curtains of colour, red, orange, umber and queer
ambiguous tints, which yield like veils and close behind them, and
one thing melts into another.'

'Yes,' said Jinny, 'our senses have widened.  Membranes, webs of
nerve that lay white and limp, have filled and spread themselves
and float round us like filaments, making the air tangible and
catching in them far-away sounds unheard before.'

'The roar of London,' said Louis, 'is round us.  Motor-cars, vans,
omnibuses pass and repass continuously.  All are merged in one
turning wheel of single sound.  All separate sounds--wheels, bells,
the cries of drunkards, of merrymakers--are churned into one sound,
steel blue, circular.  Then a siren hoots.  At that shores slip
away, chimneys flatten themselves, the ship makes for the open

'Percival is going,' said Neville.  'We sit here, surrounded, lit
up, many coloured; all things--hands, curtains, knives and forks,
other people dining--run into each other.  We are walled in here.
But India lies outside.'

'I see India,' said Bernard.  'I see the low, long shore; I see the
tortuous lanes of stamped mud that lead in and out among ramshackle
pagodas; I see the gilt and crenellated buildings which have an air
of fragility and decay as if they were temporarily run up buildings
in some Oriental exhibition.  I see a pair of bullocks who drag a
low cart along the sun-baked road.  The cart sways incompetently
from side to side.  Now one wheel sticks in the rut, and at once
innumerable natives in loin-cloths swarm round it, chattering
excitedly.  But they do nothing.  Time seems endless, ambition
vain.  Over all broods a sense of the uselessness of human
exertion.  There are strange sour smells.  An old man in a ditch
continues to chew betel and to contemplate his navel.  But now,
behold, Percival advances; Percival rides a flea-bitten mare, and
wears a sun-helmet.  By applying the standards of the West, by
using the violent language that is natural to him, the bullock-cart
is righted in less than five minutes.  The Oriental problem is
solved.  He rides on; the multitude cluster round him, regarding
him as if he were--what indeed he is--a God.'

'Unknown, with or without a secret, it does not matter,' said
Rhoda, 'he is like a stone fallen into a pond round which minnows
swarm.  Like minnows, we who had been shooting this way, that way,
all shot round him when he came.  Like minnows, conscious of the
presence of a great stone, we undulate and eddy contentedly.
Comfort steals over us.  Gold runs in our blood.  One, two; one,
two; the heart beats in serenity, in confidence, in some trance of
well-being, in some rapture of benignity; and look--the outermost
parts of the earth--pale shadows on the utmost horizon, India for
instance, rise into our purview.  The world that had been
shrivelled, rounds itself; remote provinces are fetched up out of
darkness; we see muddy roads, twisted jungle, swarms of men, and
the vulture that feeds on some bloated carcass as within our scope,
part of our proud and splendid province, since Percival, riding
alone on a flea-bitten mare, advances down a solitary path, has his
camp pitched among desolate trees, and sits alone, looking at the
enormous mountains.'

'It is Percival,' said Louis, 'sitting silent as he sat among the
tickling grasses when the breeze parted the clouds and they formed
again, who makes us aware that these attempts to say, "I am this, I
am that," which we make, coming together, like separated parts of
one body and soul, are false.  Something has been left out from
fear.  Something has been altered, from vanity.  We have tried to
accentuate differences.  From the desire to be separate we have
laid stress upon our faults, and what is particular to us.  But
there is a chain whirling round, round, in a steel-blue circle

'It is hate, it is love,' said Susan.  That is the furious coal-
black stream that makes us dizzy if we look down into it.  We stand
on a ledge here, but if we look down we turn giddy.'

'It is love,' said Jinny, 'it is hate, such as Susan feels for me
because I kissed Louis once in the garden; because equipped as I
am, I make her think when I come in, "My hands are red," and hide
them.  But our hatred is almost indistinguishable from our love.'

'Yet these roaring waters,' said Neville, 'upon which we build our
crazy platforms are more stable than the wild, the weak and
inconsequent cries that we utter when, trying to speak, we rise;
when we reason and jerk out these false sayings, "I am this; I am
that!"  Speech is false.

'But I eat.  I gradually lose all knowledge of particulars as I
eat.  I am becoming weighed down with food.  These delicious
mouthfuls of roast duck, fitly piled with vegetables, following
each other in exquisite rotation of warmth, weight, sweet and
bitter, past my palate, down my gullet, into my stomach, have
stabilized my body.  I feel quiet, gravity, control.  All is solid
now.  Instinctively my palate now requires and anticipates
sweetness and lightness, something sugared and evanescent; and cool
wine, fitting glove-like over those finer nerves that seem to
tremble from the roof of my mouth and make it spread (as I drink)
into a domed cavern, green with vine leaves, musk-scented, purple
with grapes.  Now I can look steadily into the mill-race that foams
beneath.  By what particular name are we to call it?  Let Rhoda
speak, whose face I see reflected mistily in the looking-glass
opposite; Rhoda whom I interrupted when she rocked her petals in a
brown basin, asking for the pocket-knife that Bernard had stolen.
Love is not a whirlpool to her.  She is not giddy when she looks
down.  She looks far away over our heads, beyond India.'

'Yes, between your shoulders, over your heads, to a landscape,'
said Rhoda, 'to a hollow where the many-backed steep hills come
down like birds' wings folded.  There, on the short, firm turf, are
bushes, dark leaved, and against their darkness I see a shape,
white, but not of stone, moving, perhaps alive.  But it is not you,
it is not you, it is not you; not Percival, Susan, Jinny, Neville
or Louis.  When the white arm rests upon the knee it is a triangle;
now it is upright--a column; now a fountain, falling.  It makes no
sign, it does not beckon, it does not see us.  Behind it roars the
sea.  It is beyond our reach.  Yet there I venture.  There I go to
replenish my emptiness, to stretch my nights and fill them fuller
and fuller with dreams.  And for a second even now, even here, I
reach my object and say, "Wander no more.  All else is trial and
make-believe.  Here is the end."  But these pilgrimages, these
moments of departure, start always in your presence, from this
table, these lights from Percival and Susan, here and now.  Always
I see the grove over your heads, between your shoulders, or from a
window when I have crossed the room at a party and stand looking
down into the street.'

'But his slippers?' said Neville.  'And his voice downstairs in the
hall?  And catching sight of him when he does not see one?  One
waits and he does not come.  It gets later and later.  He has
forgotten.  He is with someone else.  He is faithless, his love
meant nothing.  Oh, then the agony--then the intolerable despair!
And then the door opens.  He is here.'

'Ripping gold, I say to him, "Come",' said Jinny.  'And he comes;
he crosses the room to where I sit, with my dress like a veil
billowing round me on the gilt chair.  Our hands touch, our bodies
burst into fire.  The chair, the cup, the table--nothing remains
unlit.  All quivers, all kindles, all burns clear.'

('Look, Rhoda,' said Louis, 'they have become nocturnal, rapt.
Their eyes are like moths' wings moving so quickly that they do not
seem to move at all.'

'Horns and trumpets,' said Rhoda, 'ring out.  Leaves unfold; the
stags blare in the thicket.  There is a dancing and a drumming,
like the dancing and the drumming of naked men with assegais.'

'Like the dance of savages,' said Louis, 'round the camp-fire.
They are savage; they are ruthless.  They dance in a circle,
flapping bladders.  The flames leap over their painted faces, over
the leopard skins and the bleeding limbs which they have torn from
the living body.'

'The flames of the festival rise high,' said Rhoda.  'The great
procession passes, flinging green boughs and flowering branches.
Their horns spill blue smoke; their skins are dappled red and
yellow in the torchlight.  They throw violets.  They deck the
beloved with garlands and with laurel leaves, there on the ring of
turf where the steep-backed hills come down.  The procession
passes.  And while it passes, Louis, we are aware of downfalling,
we forebode decay.  The shadow slants.  We who are conspirators,
withdrawn together to lean over some cold urn, note how the purple
flame flows downwards.'

'Death is woven in with the violets,' said Louis.  'Death and again

'How proudly we sit here,' said Jinny, 'we who are not yet twenty-
five!  Outside the trees flower; outside the women linger; outside
the cabs swerve and sweep.  Emerged from the tentative ways, the
obscurities and dazzle of youth, we look straight in front of us,
ready for what may come (the door opens, the door keeps on
opening).  All is real; all is firm without shadow or illusion.
Beauty rides our brows.  There is mine, there is Susan's.  Our
flesh is firm and cool.  Our differences are clear-cut as the
shadows of rocks in full sunlight.  Beside us lie crisp rolls,
yellow-glazed and hard; the table-cloth is white; and our hands lie
half curled, ready to contract.  Days and days are to come; winter
days, summer days; we have scarcely broken into our hoard.  Now the
fruit is swollen beneath the leaf.  The room is golden, and I say
to him, "Come".'

'He has red ears,' said Louis, 'and the smell of meat hangs down in
a damp net while the city clerks take snacks at the lunch bar.'

'With infinite time before us,' said Neville, 'we ask what shall we
do?  Shall we loiter down Bond Street, looking here and there, and
buying perhaps a fountain-pen because it is green, or asking how
much is the ring with the blue stone?  Or shall we sit indoors and
watch the coals turn crimson?  Shall we stretch our hands for books
and read here a passage and there a passage?  Shall we shout with
laughter for no reason?  Shall we push through flowering meadows
and make daisy chains?  Shall we find out when the next train
starts for the Hebrides and engage a reserved compartment?  All is
to come.'

'For you,' said Bernard, 'but yesterday I walked bang into a
pillar-box.  Yesterday I became engaged.'

'How strange,' said Susan, 'the little heaps of sugar look by the
side of our plates.  Also the mottled peelings of pears, and the
plush rims to the looking-glasses.  I had not seen them before.
Everything is now set; everything is fixed.  Bernard is engaged.
Something irrevocable has happened.  A circle has been cast on the
waters; a chain is imposed.  We shall never flow freely again.'

'For one moment only,' said Louis.  'Before the chain breaks,
before disorder returns, see us fixed, see us displayed, see us
held in a vice.

'But now the circle breaks.  Now the current flows.  Now we rush
faster than before.  Now passions that lay in wait down there in
the dark weeds which grow at the bottom rise and pound us with
their waves.  Pain and jealousy, envy and desire, and something
deeper than they are, stronger than love and more subterranean.
The voice of action speaks.  Listen, Rhoda (for we are conspirators,
with our hands on the cold urn), to the casual, quick, exciting
voice of action, of hounds running on the scent. They speak now
without troubling to finish their sentences.  They talk a little
language such as lovers use.  An imperious brute possesses them.
The nerves thrill in their thighs.  Their hearts pound and churn in
their sides.  Susan screws her pocket-handkerchief.  Jinny's eyes
dance with fire.'

'They are immune,' said Rhoda, 'from picking fingers and searching
eyes.  How easily they turn and glance; what poses they take of
energy and pride!  What life shines in Jinny's eyes; how fell, how
entire Susan's glance is, searching for insects at the roots!
Their hair shines lustrous.  Their eyes burn like the eyes of
animals brushing through leaves on the scent of the prey.  The
circle is destroyed.  We are thrown asunder.'

'But soon, too soon,' said Bernard, 'this egotistic exultation
fails.  Too soon the moment of ravenous identity is over, and the
appetite for happiness, and happiness, and still more happiness is
glutted.  The stone is sunk; the moment is over.  Round me there
spreads a wide margin of indifference.  Now open in my eyes a
thousand eyes of curiosity.  Anyone now is at liberty to murder
Bernard, who is engaged to be married, so long as they leave
untouched this margin of unknown territory, this forest of the
unknown world.  Why, I ask (whispering discreetly), do women dine
alone together there?  Who are they?  And what has brought them on
this particular evening to this particular spot?  The youth in the
corner, judging from the nervous way in which he puts his hand from
time to time to the back of his head, is from the country.  He is
suppliant, and so anxious to respond suitably to the kindness of
his father's friend, his host, that he can scarcely enjoy now what
he will enjoy very much at about half-past eleven tomorrow morning.
I have also seen that lady powder her nose three times in the midst
of an absorbing conversation--about love, perhaps, about the
unhappiness of their dearest friend perhaps.  "Ah, but the state of
my nose!" she thinks, and out comes her powder-puff, obliterating
in its passage all the most fervent feelings of the human heart.
There remains, however, the insoluble problem of the solitary man
with the eyeglass; of the elderly lady drinking champagne alone.
Who and what are these unknown people? I ask.  I could make a dozen
stories of what he said, of what she said--I can see a dozen
pictures.  But what are stories?  Toys I twist, bubbles I blow, one
ring passing through another.  And sometimes I begin to doubt if
there are stories.  What is my story?  What is Rhoda's?  What is
Neville's?  There are facts, as, for example:  "The handsome young
man in the grey suit, whose reserve contrasted so strangely with
the loquacity of the others, now brushed the crumbs from his
waistcoat and, with a characteristic gesture at once commanding and
benign, made a sign to the waiter, who came instantly and returned
a moment later with the bill discreetly folded upon a plate."  That
is the truth; that is a fact, but beyond it all is darkness and

'Now once more,' said Louis, 'as we are about to part, having paid
our bill, the circle in our blood, broken so often, so sharply, for
we are so different, closes in a ring.  Something is made.  Yes, as
we rise and fidget, a little nervously, we pray, holding in our
hands this common feeling, "Do not move, do not let the swing door
cut to pieces the thing that we have made, that globes itself here,
among these lights, these peelings, this litter of bread crumbs and
people passing.  Do not move, do not go.  Hold it for ever."'

'Let us hold it for one moment,' said Jinny; 'love, hatred, by
whatever name we call it, this globe whose walls are made of
Percival, of youth and beauty, and something so deep sunk within us
that we shall perhaps never make this moment out of one man again.'

'Forests and far countries on the other side of the world,' said
Rhoda, 'are in it; seas and jungles; the howlings of jackals and
moonlight falling upon some high peak where the eagle soars.'

'Happiness is in it,' said Neville, 'and the quiet of ordinary
things.  A table, a chair, a book with a paper-knife stuck between
the pages.  And the petal falling from the rose, and the light
flickering as we sit silent, or, perhaps, bethinking us of some
trifle, suddenly speak.'

'Week-days are in it,' said Susan, 'Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday; the
horses going up to the fields, and the horses returning; the rooks
rising and falling, and catching the elm-trees in their net,
whether it is April, whether it is November.'

'What is to come is in it,' said Bernard.  'That is the last drop
and the brightest that we let fall like some supernal quicksilver
into the swelling and splendid moment created by us from Percival.
What is to come? I ask, brushing the crumbs from my waistcoat, what
is outside?  We have proved, sitting eating, sitting talking, that
we can add to the treasury of moments.  We are not slaves bound to
suffer incessantly unrecorded petty blows on our bent backs.  We
are not sheep either, following a master.  We are creators.  We too
have made something that will join the innumerable congregations of
past time.  We too, as we put on our hats and push open the door,
stride not into chaos, but into a world that our own force can
subjugate and make part of the illumined and everlasting road.

'Look, Percival, while they fetch the taxi, at the prospect which
you are so soon to lose.  The street is hard and burnished with the
churning of innumerable wheels.  The yellow canopy of our
tremendous energy hangs like a burning cloth above our heads.
Theatres, music halls and lamps in private houses make that light.'

'Peaked clouds,' said Rhoda, 'voyage over a sky dark like polished

'Now the agony begins; now the horror has seized me with its
fangs,' said Neville.  'Now the cab comes; now Percival goes.  What
can we do to keep him?  How bridge the distance between us?  How
fan the fire so that it blazes for ever?  How signal to all time to
come that we, who stand in the street, in the lamplight, loved
Percival?  Now Percival is gone.'

The sun had risen to its full height.  It was no longer half seen
and guessed at, from hints and gleams, as if a girl couched on her
green-sea mattress tired her brows with water-globed jewels that
sent lances of opal-tinted light falling and flashing in the
uncertain air like the flanks of a dolphin leaping, or the flash of
a falling blade.  Now the sun burnt uncompromising, undeniable.  It
struck upon the hard sand, and the rocks became furnaces of red
heat; it searched each pool and caught the minnow hiding in the
cranny, and showed the rusty cartwheel, the white bone, or the boot
without laces stuck, black as iron, in the sand.  It gave to
everything its exact measure of colour; to the sandhills their
innumerable glitter, to the wild grasses their glancing green; or
it fell upon the arid waste of the desert, here wind-scourged into
furrows, here swept into desolate cairns, here sprinkled with
stunted dark-green jungle trees.  It lit up the smooth gilt mosque,
the frail pink-and-white card houses of the southern village, and
the long-breasted, white-haired women who knelt in the river bed
beating wrinkled cloths upon stones.  Steamers thudding slowly over
the sea were caught in the level stare of the sun, and it beat
through the yellow awnings upon passengers who dozed or paced the
deck, shading their eyes to look for the land, while day after day,
compressed in its oily throbbing sides, the ship bore them on
monotonously over the waters.

The sun beat on the crowded pinnacles of southern hills and glared
into deep, stony river beds where the water was shrunk beneath the
high slung bridge so that washerwomen kneeling on hot stones could
scarcely wet their linen; and lean mules went picking their way
among the chattering grey stones with panniers slung across their
narrow shoulders.  At midday the heat of the sun made the hills
grey as if shaved and singed in an explosion, while, further north,
in cloudier and rainier countries hills smoothed into slabs as with
the back of a spade had a light in them as if a warder, deep
within, went from chamber to chamber carrying a green lamp.
Through atoms of grey-blue air the sun struck at English fields and
lit up marshes and pools, a white gull on a stake, the slow sail of
shadows over blunt-headed woods and young corn and flowing
hayfields.  It beat on the orchard wall, and every pit and grain of
the brick was silver pointed, purple, fiery as if soft to touch, as
if touched it must melt into hot-baked grains of dust.  The
currants hung against the wall in ripples and cascades of polished
red; plums swelled out their leaves, and all the blades of the
grass were run together in one fluent green blaze.  The trees'
shadow was sunk to a dark pool at the root.  Light descending in
floods dissolved the separate foliation into one green mound.

The birds sang passionate songs addressed to one ear only and then
stopped.  Bubbling and chuckling they carried little bits of straw
and twig to the dark knots in the higher branches of the trees.
Gilt and purpled they perched in the garden where cones of laburnum
and purple shook down gold and lilac, for now at midday the garden
was all blossom and profusion and even the tunnels under the plants
were green and purple and tawny as the sun beat through the red
petal, or the broad yellow petal, or was barred by some thickly
furred green stalk.

The sun struck straight upon the house, making the white walls
glare between the dark windows.  Their panes, woven thickly with
green branches, held circles of impenetrable darkness.  Sharp-edged
wedges of light lay upon the window-sill and showed inside the room
plates with blue rings, cups with curved handles, the bulge of a
great bowl, the crisscross pattern in the rug, and the formidable
corners and lines of cabinets and bookcases.  Behind their
conglomeration hung a zone of shadow in which might be a further
shape to be disencumbered of shadow or still denser depths of

The waves broke and spread their waters swiftly over the shore.
One after another they massed themselves and fell; the spray tossed
itself back with the energy of their fall.  The waves were steeped
deep-blue save for a pattern of diamond-pointed light on their
backs which rippled as the backs of great horses ripple with
muscles as they move.  The waves fell; withdrew and fell again,
like the thud of a great beast stamping.

'He is dead,' said Neville.  'He fell.  His horse tripped.  He was
thrown.  The sails of the world have swung round and caught me on
the head.  All is over.  The lights of the world have gone out.
There stands the tree which I cannot pass.

'Oh, to crumple this telegram in my fingers--to let the light of
the world flood back--to say this has not happened!  But why turn
one's head hither and thither?  This is the truth.  This is the
fact.  His horse stumbled; he was thrown.  The flashing trees and
white rails went up in a shower.  There was a surge; a drumming in
his ears.  Then the blow; the world crashed; he breathed heavily.
He died where he fell.

'Barns and summer days in the country, rooms where we sat--all now
lie in the unreal world which is gone.  My past is cut from me.
They came running.  They carried him to some pavilion, men in
riding-boots, men in sun helmets; among unknown men he died.
Loneliness and silence often surrounded him.  He often left me.
And then, returning, "See where he comes!" I said.

'Women shuffle past the window as if there were no gulf cut in the
street, no tree with stiff leaves which we cannot pass.  We deserve
then to be tripped by molehills.  We are infinitely abject,
shuffling past with our eyes shut.  But why should I submit?  Why
try to lift my foot and mount the stair?  This is where I stand;
here, holding the telegram.  The past, summer days and rooms where
we sat, stream away like burnt paper with red eyes in it.  Why meet
and resume?  Why talk and eat and make up other combinations with
other people?  From this moment I am solitary.  No one will know me
now.  I have three letters, "I am about to play quoits with a
colonel, so no more," thus he ends our friendship, shouldering his
way through the crowd with a wave of his hand.  This farce is worth
no more formal celebration.  Yet if someone had but said:  "Wait";
had pulled the strap three holes tighter--he would have done
justice for fifty years, and sat in Court and ridden alone at the
head of troops and denounced some monstrous tyranny, and come back
to us.

'Now I say there is a grinning, there is a subterfuge.  There is
something sneering behind our backs.  That boy almost lost his
footing as he leapt on the bus.  Percival fell; was killed; is
buried; and I watch people passing; holding tight to the rails of
omnibuses; determined to save their lives.

'I will not lift my foot to climb the stair.  I will stand for one
moment beneath the immitigable tree, alone with the man whose
throat is cut, while downstairs the cook shoves in and out the
dampers.  I will not climb the stair.  We are doomed, all of us.
Women shuffle past with shopping-bags.  People keep on passing.
Yet you shall not destroy me.  For this moment, this one moment, we
are together.  I press you to me.  Come, pain, feed on me.  Bury
your fangs in my flesh.  Tear me asunder.  I sob, I sob.'

'Such is the incomprehensible combination,' said Bernard, 'such is
the complexity of things, that as I descend the staircase I do not
know which is sorrow, which joy.  My son is born; Percival is dead.
I am upheld by pillars, shored up on either side by stark emotions;
but which is sorrow, which is joy?  I ask, and do not know, only
that I need silence, and to be alone and to go out, and to save one
hour to consider what has happened to my world, what death has done
to my world.

'This then is the world that Percival sees no longer.  Let me look.
The butcher delivers meat next door; two old men stumble along the
pavement; sparrows alight.  The machine then works; I note the
rhythm, the throb, but as a thing in which I have no part, since he
sees it no longer.  (He lies pale and bandaged in some room.)  Now
then is my chance to find out what is of great importance, and I
must be careful, and tell no lies.  About him my feeling was: he
sat there in the centre.  Now I go to that spot no longer.  The
place is empty.

'Oh yes, I can assure you, men in felt hats and women carrying
baskets--you have lost something that would have been very valuable
to you.  You have lost a leader whom you would have followed; and
one of you has lost happiness and children.  He is dead who would
have given you that.  He lies on a camp-bed, bandaged, in some hot
Indian hospital while coolies squatted on the floor agitate those
fans--I forget how they call them.  But this is important; "You are
well out of it," I said, while the doves descended over the roofs
and my son was born, as if it were a fact.  I remember, as a boy,
his curious air of detachment.  And I go on to say (my eyes fill
with tears and then are dry), "But this is better than one had
dared to hope."  I say, addressing what is abstract, facing me
eyeless at the end of the avenue, in the sky, "Is this the utmost
you can do?"  Then we have triumphed.  You have done your utmost, I
say, addressing that blank and brutal face (for he was twenty-five
and should have lived to be eighty) without avail.  I am not going
to lie down and weep away a life of care.  (An entry to be made in
my pocket-book; contempt for those who inflict meaningless death.)
Further, this is important; that I should be able to place him in
trifling and ridiculous situations, so that he may not feel himself
absurd, perched on a great horse.  I must be able to say,
"Percival, a ridiculous name."  At the same time let me tell you,
men and women, hurrying to the tube station, you would have had to
respect him.  You would have had to form up and follow behind him.
How strange to oar one's way through crowds seeing life through
hollow eyes, burning eyes.

'Yet already signals begin, beckonings, attempts to lure me back.
Curiosity is knocked out for only a short time.  One cannot live
outside the machine for more perhaps than half an hour.  Bodies, I
note, already begin to look ordinary; but what is behind them
differs--the perspective.  Behind that newspaper placard is the
hospital; the long room with black men pulling ropes; and then they
bury him.  Yet since it says a famous actress has been divorced, I
ask instantly Which?  Yet I cannot take out my penny; I cannot buy
a paper; I cannot suffer interruption yet.

'I ask, if I shall never see you again and fix my eyes on that
solidity, what form will our communication take?  You have gone
across the court, further and further, drawing finer and finer the
thread between us.  But you exist somewhere.  Something of you
remains.  A judge.  That is, if I discover a new vein in myself I
shall submit it to you privately.  I shall ask, What is your
verdict?  You shall remain the arbiter.  But for how long?  Things
will become too difficult to explain: there will be new things;
already my son.  I am now at the zenith of an experience.  It will
decline.  Already I no longer cry with conviction, "What luck!"
Exaltation, the flight of doves descending, is over.  Chaos, detail
return.  I am no longer amazed by names written over shop-windows.
I do not feel Why hurry?  Why catch trains?  The sequence returns;
one thing leads to another--the usual order.

'Yes, but I still resent the usual order.  I will not let myself be
made yet to accept the sequence of things.  I will walk; I will not
change the rhythm of my mind by stopping, by looking; I will walk.
I will go up these steps into the gallery and submit myself to the
influence of minds like mine outside the sequence.  There is little
time left to answer the question; my powers flag; I become torpid.
Here are pictures.  Here are cold madonnas among their pillars.
Let them lay to rest the incessant activity of the mind's eye, the
bandaged head, the men with ropes, so that I may find something
unvisual beneath.  Here are gardens; and Venus among her flowers;
here are saints and blue madonnas.  Mercifully these pictures make
no reference; they do not nudge; they do not point.  Thus they
expand my consciousness of him and bring him back to me
differently.  I remember his beauty.  "Look, where he comes," I

'Lines and colours almost persuade me that I too can be heroic, I,
who make phrases so easily, am so soon seduced, love what comes
next, and cannot clench my fist, but vacillate weakly making phrases
according to my circumstances.  Now, through my own infirmity I
recover what he was to me: my opposite.  Being naturally truthful,
he did not see the point of these exaggerations, and was borne on by
a natural sense of the fitting, was indeed a great master of the art
of living so that he seems to have lived long, and to have spread
calm round him, indifference one might almost say, certainly to his
own advancement, save that he had also great compassion.  A child
playing--a summer evening--doors will open and shut, will keep
opening and shutting, through which I see sights that make me weep.
For they cannot be imparted.  Hence our loneliness; hence our
desolation.  I turn to that spot in my mind and find it empty.  My
own infirmities oppress me.  There is no longer him to oppose them.

'Behold, then, the blue madonna streaked with tears.  This is my
funeral service.  We have no ceremonies, only private dirges and no
conclusions, only violent sensations, each separate.  Nothing that
has been said meets our case.  We sit in the Italian room at the
National Gallery picking up fragments.  I doubt that Titian ever
felt this rat gnaw.  Painters live lives of methodical absorption,
adding stroke to stroke.  They are not like poets--scapegoats; they
are not chained to the rock.  Hence the silence, the sublimity.
Yet that crimson must have burnt in Titian's gizzard.  No doubt he
rose with the great arms holding the cornucopia, and fell, in that
descent.  But the silence weighs on me--the perpetual solicitation
of the eye.  The pressure is intermittent and muffled.  I
distinguish too little and too vaguely.  The bell is pressed and I
do not ring or give out irrelevant clamours all jangled.  I am
titillated inordinately by some splendour; the ruffled crimson
against the green lining; the march of pillars: the orange light
behind the black, pricked ears of the olive trees.  Arrows of
sensation strike from my spine, but without order.

'Yet something is added to my interpretation.  Something lies
deeply buried.  For one moment I thought to grasp it.  But bury it,
bury it; let it breed, hidden in the depths of my mind some day to
fructify.  After a long lifetime, loosely, in a moment of
revelation, I may lay hands on it, but now the idea breaks in my
hand.  Ideas break a thousand times for once that they globe
themselves entire.  They break: they fall over me.  "Line and
colours they survive, therefore . . ."

'I am yawning.  I am glutted with sensations.  I am exhausted with
the strain and the long, long time--twenty-five minutes, half an
hour--that I have held myself alone outside the machine.  I grow
numb; I grow stiff.  How shall I break up this numbness which
discredits my sympathetic heart?  There are others suffering--
multitudes of people suffering.  Neville suffers.  He loved
Percival.  But I can no longer endure extremities; I want someone
with whom to laugh, with whom to yawn, with whom to remember how he
scratched his head; someone he was at ease with and liked (not
Susan, whom he loved, but Jinny rather).  In her room also I could
do penance.  I could ask, Did he tell you how I refused him when he
asked me to go to Hampton Court that day?  Those are the thoughts
that will wake me leaping in anguish in the middle of the night--
the crimes for which one would do penance in all the markets of the
world bareheaded; that one did not go to Hampton Court that day.

'But now I want life round me, and books and little ornaments, and
the usual sounds of tradesmen calling on which to pillow my head
after this exhaustion, and shut my eyes after this revelation.  I
will go straight, then, down the stairs, and hail the first taxi
and drive to Jinny.'

'There is the puddle,' said Rhoda, 'and I cannot cross it.  I hear
the rush of the great grindstone within an inch of my head.  Its
wind roars in my face.  All palpable forms of life have failed me.
Unless I can stretch and touch something hard, I shall be blown
down the eternal corridors for ever.  What, then, can I touch?
What brick, what stone? and so draw myself across the enormous gulf
into my body safely?

'Now the shadow has fallen and the purple light slants downwards.
The figure that was robed in beauty is now clothed in ruin.  The
figure that stood in the grove where the steep-backed hills come
down falls in ruin, as I told them when they said they loved his
voice on the stair, and his old shoes and moments of being

'Now I will walk down Oxford Street envisaging a world rent by
lightning; I will look at oaks cracked asunder and red where the
flowering branch has fallen.  I will go to Oxford Street and buy
stockings for a party.  I will do the usual things under the
lightning flash.  On the bare ground I will pick violets and bind
them together and offer them to Percival, something given him by
me.  Look now at what Percival has given me.  Look at the street
now that Percival is dead.  The houses are lightly founded to be
puffed over by a breath of air.  Reckless and random the cars race
and roar and hunt us to death like bloodhounds.  I am alone in a
hostile world.  The human face is hideous.  This is to my liking.
I want publicity and violence and to be dashed like a stone on the
rocks.  I like factory chimneys and cranes and lorries.  I like the
passing of face and face and face, deformed, indifferent.  I am
sick of prettiness; I am sick of privacy.  I ride rough waters and
shall sink with no one to save me.

'Percival, by his death, has made me this present, has revealed
this terror, has left me to undergo this humiliation--faces and
faces, served out like soup-plates by scullions; coarse, greedy,
casual; looking in at shop-windows with pendent parcels; ogling,
brushing, destroying everything, leaving even our love impure,
touched now by their dirty fingers.

'Here is the shop where they sell stockings.  And I could believe
that beauty is once more set flowing.  Its whisper comes down these
aisles, through these laces, breathing among baskets of coloured
ribbons.  There are then warm hollows grooved in the heart of the
uproar; alcoves of silence where we can shelter under the wing of
beauty from truth which I desire.  Pain is suspended as a girl
silently slides open a drawer.  And then, she speaks; her voice
wakes me.  I shoot to the bottom among the weeds and see envy,
jealousy, hatred and spite scuttle like crabs over the sand as she
speaks.  These are our companion's.  I will pay my bill and take my

'This is Oxford Street.  Here are hate, jealousy, hurry, and
indifference frothed into the wild semblance of life.  These are
our companions.  Consider the friends with whom we sit and eat.  I
think of Louis, reading the sporting column of an evening
newspaper, afraid of ridicule; a snob.  He says, looking at the
people passing, he will shepherd us if we will follow.  If we
submit he will reduce us to order.  Thus he will smooth out the
death of Percival to his satisfaction, looking fixedly over the
cruet, past the houses at the sky.  Bernard, meanwhile, flops red-
eyed into some arm-chair.  He will have out his notebook; under D,
he will enter "Phrases to be used on the deaths of friends".
Jinny, pirouetting across the room, will perch on the arm of his
chair and ask, "Did he love me?"  "More than he loved Susan?"
Susan, engaged to her farmer in the country, will stand for a
second with the telegram before her, holding a plate; and then,
with a kick of her heel, slam to the oven door.  Neville, after
staring at the window through his tears, will see through his
tears, and ask, "Who passes the window?"--"What lovely boy?"  This
is my tribute to Percival; withered violets, blackened violets.

'Where shall I go then?  To some museum, where they keep rings
under glass cases, where there are cabinets, and the dresses that
queens have worn?  Or shall I go to Hampton Court and look at the
red walls and courtyards and the seemliness of herded yew trees
making black pyramids symmetrically on the grass among flowers?
There shall I recover beauty, and impose order upon my raked, my
dishevelled soul?  But what can one make in loneliness?  Alone I
should stand on the empty grass and say, Rooks fly; somebody passes
with a bag; there is a gardener with a wheelbarrow.  I should stand
in a queue and smell sweat, and scent as horrible as sweat; and be
hung with other people like a joint of meat among other joints of

'Here is a hall where one pays money and goes in, where one hears
music among somnolent people who have come here after lunch on a
hot afternoon.  We have eaten beef and pudding enough to live for a
week without tasting food.  Therefore we cluster like maggots on
the back of something that will carry us on.  Decorous, portly--we
have white hair waved under our hats; slim shoes; little bags;
clean-shaven cheeks; here and there a military moustache; not a
speck of dust has been allowed to settle anywhere on our
broadcloth.  Swaying and opening programmes, with a few words of
greeting to friends, we settle down, like walruses stranded on
rocks, like heavy bodies incapable of waddling to the sea, hoping
for a wave to lift us, but we are too heavy, and too much dry
shingle lies between us and the sea.  We lie gorged with food,
torpid in the heat.  Then, swollen but contained in slippery satin,
the seagreen woman comes to our rescue.  She sucks in her lips,
assumes an air of intensity, inflates herself and hurls herself
precisely at the right moment as if she saw an apple and her voice
was the arrow into the note, "Ah!"

'An axe has split a tree to the core; the core is warm; sound
quivers within the bark.  "Ah!" cried a woman to her lover, leaning
from her window in Venice.  "Ah, ah!" she cried, and again she
cries "Ah!"  She has provided us with a cry.  But only a cry.  And
what is a cry?  Then the beetle-shaped men come with their violins;
wait; count; nod; down come their bows.  And there is ripple and
laughter like the dance of olive trees and their myriad-tongued
grey leaves when a seafarer, biting a twig between his lips where
the many-backed steep hills come down, leaps on shore.

'"Like" and "like" and "like"--but what is the thing that lies
beneath the semblance of the thing?  Now that lightning has gashed
the tree and the flowering branch has fallen and Percival, by his
death, has made me this gift, let me see the thing.  There is a
square; there is an oblong.  The players take the square and place
it upon the oblong.  They place it very accurately; they make a
perfect dwelling-place.  Very little is left outside.  The
structure is now visible; what is inchoate is here stated; we are
not so various or so mean; we have made oblongs and stood them upon
squares.  This is our triumph; this is our consolation.

The sweetness of this content overflowing runs down the walls of my
mind, and liberates understanding.  Wander no more, I say; this is
the end.  The oblong has been set upon the square; the spiral is on
top.  We have been hauled over the shingle, down to the sea.  The
players come again.  But they are mopping their faces.  They are no
longer so spruce or so debonair.  I will go.  I will set aside this
afternoon.  I will make a pilgrimage.  I will go to Greenwich.  I
will fling myself fearlessly into trams, into omnibuses.  As we
lurch down Regent Street, and I am flung upon this woman, upon this
man, I am not injured, I am not outraged by the collision.  A
square stands upon an oblong.  Here are mean streets where
chaffering goes on in street markets, and every sort of iron rod,
bolt and screw is laid out, and people swarm off the pavement,
pinching raw meat with thick fingers.  The structure is visible.
We have made a dwelling-place.

'These, then, are the flowers that grow among the rough grasses of
the field which the cows trample, wind-bitten, almost deformed,
without fruit or blossom.  These are what I bring, torn up by the
roots from the pavement of Oxford Street, my penny bunch, my penny
bunch of violets.  Now from the window of the tram I see masts
among chimneys; there is the river; there are ships that sail to
India.  I will walk by the river.  I will pace this embankment,
where an old man reads a newspaper in a glass shelter.  I will pace
this terrace and watch the ships bowling down the tide.  A woman
walks on deck, with a dog barking round her.  Her skirts are blown;
her hair is blown; they are going out to sea; they are leaving us;
they are vanishing this summer evening.  Now I will relinquish; now
I will let loose.  Now I will at last free the checked, the jerked-
back desire to be spent, to be consumed.  We will gallop together
over desert hills where the swallow dips her wings in dark pools
and the pillars stand entire.  Into the wave that dashes upon the
shore, into the wave that flings its white foam to the uttermost
corners of the earth, I throw my violets, my offering to Percival.'

The sun no longer stood in the middle of the sky.  Its light
slanted, falling obliquely.  Here it caught on the edge of a cloud
and burnt it into a slice of light, a blazing island on which no
foot could rest.  Then another cloud was caught in the light and
another and another, so that the waves beneath were arrow-struck
with fiery feathered darts that shot erratically across the
quivering blue.

The topmost leaves of the tree were crisped in the sun.  They
rustled stiffly in the random breeze.  The birds sat still save
that they flicked their heads sharply from side to side.  Now they
paused in their song as if glutted with sound, as if the fullness
of midday had gorged them.  The dragon-fly poised motionless over a
reed, then shot its blue stitch further through the air.  The far
hum in the distance seemed made of the broken tremor of fine wings
dancing up and down on the horizon.  The river water held the reeds
now fixed as if glass had hardened round them; and then the glass
wavered and the reeds swept low.  Pondering, sunken headed, the
cattle stood in the fields and cumbrously moved one foot and then
another.  In the bucket near the house the tap stopped dripping, as
if the bucket were full, and then the tap dripped one, two, three
separate drops in succession.

The windows showed erratically spots of burning fire, the elbow of
one branch, and then some tranquil space of pure clarity.  The
blind hung red at the window's edge and within the room daggers of
light fell upon chairs and tables making cracks across their
lacquer and polish.  The green pot bulged enormously, with its
white window elongated in its side.  Light driving darkness before
it spilt itself profusely upon the corners and bosses; and yet
heaped up darkness in mounds of unmoulded shape.

The waves massed themselves, curved their backs and crashed.  Up
spurted stones and shingle.  They swept round the rocks, and the
spray, leaping high, spattered the walls of a cave that had been
dry before, and left pools inland, where some fish stranded lashed
its tail as the wave drew back.

'I have signed my name,' said Louis, 'already twenty times.  I, and
again I, and again I.  Clear, firm, unequivocal, there it stands,
my name.  Clear-cut and unequivocal am I too.  Yet a vast
inheritance of experience is packed in me.  I have lived thousands
of years.  I am like a worm that has eaten its way through the wood
of a very old oak beam.  But now I am compact; now I am gathered
together this fine morning.

'The sun shines from a clear sky.  But twelve o'clock brings
neither rain nor sunshine.  It is the hour when Miss Johnson brings
me my letters in a wire tray.  Upon these white sheets I indent my
name.  The whisper of leaves, water running down gutters, green
depths flecked with dahlias or zinnias; I, now a duke, now Plato,
companion of Socrates; the tramp of dark men and yellow men
migrating east, west, north and south; the eternal procession,
women going with attaché cases down the Strand as they went once
with pitchers to the Nile; all the furled and close-packed leaves
of my many-folded life are now summed in my name; incised cleanly
and barely on the sheet.  Now a full-grown man; now upright
standing in sun or rain.  I must drop heavy as a hatchet and cut
the oak with my sheer weight, for if I deviate, glancing this way,
or that way, I shall fall like snow and be wasted.

'I am half in love with the typewriter and the telephone.  With
letters and cables and brief but courteous commands on the
telephone to Paris, Berlin, New York, I have fused my many lives
into one; I have helped by my assiduity and decision to score those
lines on the map there by which the different parts of the world
are laced together.  I love punctually at ten to come into my room;
I love the purple glow of the dark mahogany; I love the table and
its sharp edge; and the smooth-running drawers.  I love the
telephone with its lip stretched to my whisper, and the date on the
wall; and the engagement book.  Mr Prentice at four; Mr Eyres sharp
at four-thirty.

'I like to be asked to come to Mr Burchard's private room and
report on our commitments to China.  I hope to inherit an arm-chair
and a Turkey carpet.  My shoulder is to the wheel; I roll the dark
before me, spreading commerce where there was chaos in the far
parts of the world.  If I press on,--from chaos making order, I
shall find myself where Chatham stood, and Pitt, Burke and Sir
Robert Peel.  Thus I expunge certain stains, and erase old
defilements; the woman who gave me a flag from the top of the
Christmas tree; my accent; beatings and other tortures; the
boasting boys; my father, a banker at Brisbane.

'I have read my poet in an eating-house, and, stirring my coffee,
listened to the clerks making bets at the little tables, watched
the women hesitating at the counter.  I said that nothing should be
irrelevant, like a piece of brown paper dropped casually on the
floor.  I said their journeys should have an end in view; they
should earn their two pound ten a week at the command of an august
master; some hand, some robe, should fold us about in the evening.
When I have healed these fractures and comprehended these
monstrosities so that they need neither excuse nor apology, which
both waste our strength, I shall give back to the street and the
eating-shop what they lost when they fell on these hard times and
broke on these stony beaches.  I shall assemble a few words and
forge round us a hammered ring of beaten steel.

'But now I have not a moment to spare.  There is no respite here,
no shadow made of quivering leaves, or alcove to which one can
retreat from the sun, to sit, with a lover, in the cool of the
evening.  The weight of the world is on our shoulders; its vision
is through our eyes; if we blink or look aside, or turn back to
finger what Plato said or remember Napoleon and his conquests, we
inflict on the world the injury of some obliquity.  This is life;
Mr Prentice at four; Mr Eyres at four-thirty.  I like to hear the
soft rush of the lift and the thud with which it stops on my
landing and the heavy male tread of responsible feet down the
corridors.  So by dint of our united exertions we send ships to the
remotest parts of the globe; replete with lavatories and
gymnasiums.  The weight of the world is on our shoulders.  This is
life.  If I press on, I shall inherit a chair and a rug; a place in
Surrey with glass houses, and some rare conifer, melon or flowering
tree which other merchants will envy.

'Yet I still keep my attic room.  There I open the usual little
book; there I watch the rain glisten on the tiles till they shine
like a policeman's waterproof; there I see the broken windows in
poor people's houses; the lean cats; some slattern squinting in a
cracked looking-glass as she arranges her face for the street
corner; there Rhoda sometimes comes.  For we are lovers.

'Percival has died (he died in Egypt; he died in Greece; all deaths
are one death).  Susan has children; Neville mounts rapidly to the
conspicuous heights.  Life passes.  The clouds change perpetually
over our houses.  I do this, do that, and again do this and then
that.  Meeting and parting, we assemble different forms, make
different patterns.  But if I do not nail these impressions to the
board and out of the many men in me make one; exist here and now
and not in streaks and patches, like scattered snow wreaths on far
mountains; and ask Miss Johnson as I pass through the office about
the movies and take my cup of tea and accept also my favourite
biscuit, then I shall fall like snow and be wasted.

'Yet when six o'clock comes and I touch my hat to the commissionaire,
being always too effusive in ceremony since I desire so much to be
accepted; and struggle, leaning against the wind, buttoned up, with
my jaws blue and my eyes running water, I wish that a little typist
would cuddle on my knees; I think that my favourite dish is liver
and bacon; and so am apt to wander to the river, to the narrow
streets where there are frequent public-houses, and the shadows of
ships passing at the end of the street, and women fighting.  But I
say to myself, recovering my sanity, Mr Prentice at four; Mr Eyres
at four-thirty.  The hatchet must fall on the block; the oak must be
cleft to the centre.  The weight of the world is on my shoulders.
Here is the pen and the paper; on the letters in the wire basket I
sign my name, I, I, and again I.'

'Summer comes, and winter,' said Susan.  'The seasons pass.  The
pear fills itself and drops from the tree.  The dead leaf rests on
its edge.  But steam has obscured the window.  I sit by the fire
watching the kettle boil.  I see the pear tree through the streaked
steam on the window-pane.

'Sleep, sleep, I croon, whether it is summer or winter, May or
November.  Sleep I sing--I, who am unmelodious and hear no music
save rustic music when a dog barks, a bell tinkles, or wheels
crunch upon the gravel.  I sing my song by the fire like an old
shell murmuring on the beach.  Sleep, sleep, I say, warning off
with my voice all who rattle milk-cans, fire at rooks, shoot
rabbits, or in any way bring the shock of destruction near this
wicker cradle, laden with soft limbs, curled under a pink coverlet.

'I have lost my indifference, my blank eyes, my pear-shaped eyes
that saw to the root.  I am no longer January, May or any other
season, but am all spun to a fine thread round the cradle, wrapping
in a cocoon made of my own blood the delicate limbs of my baby.
Sleep, I say, and feel within me uprush some wilder, darker
violence, so that I would fell down with one blow any intruder, any
snatcher, who should break into this room and wake the sleeper.

'I pad about the house all day long in apron and slippers, like my
mother who died of cancer.  Whether it is summer, whether it is
winter, I no longer know by the moor grass, and the heath flower;
only by the steam on the window-pane, or the frost on the window-
pane.  When the lark peels high his ring of sound and it falls
through the air like an apple paring, I stoop; I feed my baby.
I, who used to walk through beech woods noting the jay's feather
turning blue as it falls, past the shepherd and the tramp, who
stared at the woman squatted beside a tilted cart in a ditch, go
from room to room with a duster.  Sleep, I say, desiring sleep to
fall like a blanket of down and cover these weak limbs; demanding
that life shall sheathe its claws and gird its lightning and pass
by, making of my own body a hollow, a warm shelter for my child to
sleep in.  Sleep, I say, sleep.  Or I go to the window, I look at
the rook's high nest; and the pear tree.  "His eyes will see when
mine are shut," I think.  "I shall go mixed with them beyond my
body and shall see India.  He will come home, bringing trophies to
be laid at my feet.  He will increase my possessions."

'But I never rise at dawn and see the purple drops in the cabbage
leaves; the red drops in the roses.  I do not watch the setter nose
in a circle, or lie at night watching the leaves hide the stars and
the stars move and the leaves hang still.  The butcher calls; the
milk has to be stood under a shade lest it should sour.

'Sleep, I say, sleep, as the kettle boils and its breath comes
thicker and thicker issuing in one jet from the spout.  So life
fills my veins.  So life pours through my limbs.  So I am driven
forward, till I could cry, as I move from dawn to dusk opening and
shutting, "No more.  I am glutted with natural happiness."  Yet
more will come, more children; more cradles, more baskets in the
kitchen and hams ripening; and onions glistening; and more beds of
lettuce and potatoes.  I am blown like a leaf by the gale; now
brushing the wet grass, now whirled up.  I am glutted with natural
happiness; and wish sometimes that the fullness would pass from me
and the weight of the sleeping house rise, when we sit reading, and
I stay the thread at the eye of my needle.  The lamp kindles a fire
in the dark pane.  A fire burns in the heart of the ivy.  I see a
lit-up street in the evergreens.  I hear traffic in the brush of
the wind down the lane, and broken voices, and laughter, and Jinny
who cries as the door opens, "Come!  Come!"

'But no sound breaks the silence of our house, where the fields
sigh close to the door.  The wind washes through the elm trees; a
moth hits the lamp; a cow lows; a crack of sound starts in the
rafter, and I push my head through the needle and murmur, "Sleep".'

'Now is the moment,' said Jinny.  'Now we have met, and have come
together.  Now let us talk, let us tell stories.  Who is he?  Who
is she?  I am infinitely curious and do not know what is to come.
If you, whom I meet for the first time, were to say to me, "The
coach starts at four from Piccadilly," I would not stay to fling a
few necessaries in a bandbox, but would come at once.

'Let us sit here under the cut flowers, on the sofa by the picture.
Let us decorate our Christmas tree with facts and again with facts.
People are so soon gone; let us catch them.  That man there, by the
cabinet; he lives you say, surrounded by china pots.  Break one and
you shatter a thousand pounds.  And he loved a girl in Rome and she
left him.  Hence the pots, old junk found in lodging-houses or dug
from the desert sands.  And since beauty must be broken daily to
remain beautiful, and he is static, his life stagnates in a china
sea.  It is strange though; for once as a young man, he sat on damp
ground and drank rum with soldiers.

'One must be quick and add facts deftly, like toys to a tree,
fixing them with a twist of the fingers.  He stoops, how he stoops,
even over an azalea.  He stoops over the old woman even, because
she wears diamonds in her ears, and, bundling about her estate in a
pony carriage, directs who is to be helped, what tree felled, and
who turned out tomorrow.  (I have lived my life, I must tell you,
all these years, and I am now past thirty, perilously, like a
mountain goat, leaping from crag to crag; I do not settle long
anywhere; I do not attach myself to one person in particular; but
you will find that if I raise my arm, some figure at once breaks
off and will come.)  And that man is a judge; and that man is a
millionaire, and that man, with the eyeglass, shot his governess
through the heart with an arrow when he was ten years old.
Afterwards he rode through deserts with despatches, took part in
revolutions and now collects materials for a history of his
mother's family, long settled in Norfolk.  That little man with a
blue chin has a right hand that is withered.  But why?  We do not
know.  That woman, you whisper discreetly, with the pearl pagodas
hanging from her ears, was the pure flame who lit the life of one
of our statesmen; now since his death she sees ghosts, tells
fortunes, and has adopted a coffee-coloured youth whom she calls
the Messiah.  That man with the drooping moustache, like a cavalry
officer, lived a life of the utmost debauchery (it is all in some
memoir) until one day he met a stranger in a train who converted
him between Edinburgh and Carlisle by reading the Bible.

'Thus, in a few seconds, deftly, adroitly, we decipher the
hieroglyphs written on other people's faces.  Here, in this room,
are the abraded and battered shells cast on the shore.  The door
goes on opening.  The room fills and fills with knowledge, anguish,
many kinds of ambition, much indifference, some despair.  Between
us, you say, we could build cathedrals, dictate policies, condemn
men to death, and administer the affairs of several public offices.
The common fund of experience is very deep.  We have between us
scores of children of both sexes, whom we are educating, going to
see at school with the measles, and bringing up to inherit our
houses.  In one way or another we make this day, this Friday, some
by going to the Law Courts; others to the city; others to the
nursery; others by marching and forming fours.  A million hands
stitch, raise hods with bricks.  The activity is endless.  And
tomorrow it begins again; tomorrow we make Saturday.  Some take
train for France; others ship for India.  Some will never come into
this room again.  One may die tonight.  Another will beget a child.
From us every sort of building, policy, venture, picture, poem,
child, factory, will spring.  Life comes; life goes; we make life.
So you say.

'But we who live in the body see with the body's imagination things
in outline.  I see rocks in bright sunshine.  I cannot take these
facts into some cave and, shading my eyes, grade their yellows,
blues, umbers into one substance.  I cannot remain seated for long.
I must jump up and go.  The coach may start from Piccadilly.  I
drop all these facts--diamonds, withered hands, china pots and the
rest of it--as a monkey drops nuts from its naked paws.  I cannot
tell you if life is this or that.  I am going to push out into the
heterogeneous crowd.  I am going to be buffeted; to be flung up,
and flung down, among men, like a ship on the sea.

'For now my body, my companion, which is always sending its
signals, the rough black "No", the golden "Come", in rapid running
arrows of sensation, beckons.  Someone moves.  Did I raise my arm?
Did I look?  Did my yellow scarf with the strawberry spots float
and signal?  He has broken from the wall.  He follows.  I am
pursued through the forest.  All is rapt, all is nocturnal, and the
parrots go screaming through the branches.  All my senses stand
erect.  Now I feel the roughness of the fibre of the curtain
through which I push; now I feel the cold iron railing and its
blistered paint beneath my palm.  Now the cool tide of darkness
breaks its waters over me.  We are out of doors.  Night opens;
night traversed by wandering moths; night hiding lovers roaming to
adventure.  I smell roses; I smell violets; I see red and blue just
hidden.  Now gravel is under my shoes; now grass.  Up reel the tall
backs of houses guilty with lights.  All London is uneasy with
flashing lights.  Now let us sing our love song--Come, come, come.
Now my gold signal is like a dragonfly flying taut.  Jug, jug, jug,
I sing like the nightingale whose melody is crowded in the too
narrow passage of her throat.  Now I hear crash and rending of
boughs and the crack of antlers as if the beasts of the forest were
all hunting, all rearing high and plunging down among the thorns.
One has pierced me.  One is driven deep within me.

'And velvet flowers and leaves whose coolness has been stood in
water wash me round, and sheathe me, embalming me.'

'Why, look,' said Neville, 'at the clock ticking on the mantelpiece?
Time passes, yes.  And we grow old.  But to sit with you, alone
with you, here in London, in this firelit room, you there, I here,
is all.  The world ransacked to its uttermost ends, and all its
heights stripped and gathered of their flowers, holds no more.  Look
at the firelight running up and down the gold thread in the curtain.
The fruit it circles droops heavy.  It falls on the toe of your
boot, it gives your face a red rim--I think it is the firelight and
not your face; I think those are books against the wall, and that a
curtain, and that perhaps an armchair.  But when you come everything
changes.  The cups and saucers changed when you came in this
morning.  There can be no doubt, I thought, pushing aside the
newspaper, that our mean lives, unsightly as they are, put on
splendour and have meaning only under the eyes of love.

'I rose.  I had done my breakfast.  There was the whole day before
us, and as it was fine, tender, non-committal, we walked through
the Park to the Embankment, along the Strand to St Paul's, then to
the shop where I bought an umbrella, always talking, and now and
then stopping to look.  But can this last? I said to myself, by a
lion in Trafalgar Square, by the lion seen once and for ever;--so I
revisit my past life, scene by scene; there is an elm tree, and
there lies Percival.  For ever and ever, I swore.  Then darted in
the usual doubt.  I clutched your hand.  You left me.  The descent
into the Tube was like death.  We were cut up, we were dissevered
by all those faces and the hollow wind that seemed to roar down
there over desert boulders.  I sat staring in my own room.  By five
I knew that you were faithless.  I snatched the telephone and the
buzz, buzz, buzz of its stupid voice in your empty room battered my
heart down, when the door opened and there you stood.  That was the
most perfect of our meetings.  But these meetings, these partings,
finally destroy us.

'Now this room seems to me central, something scooped out of the
eternal night.  Outside lines twist and intersect, but round us,
wrapping us about.  Here we are centred.  Here we can be silent, or
speak without raising our voices.  Did you notice that and then
that? we say.  He said that, meaning. . . .  She hesitated, and I
believe suspected.  Anyhow, I heard voices, a sob on the stair late
at night.  It is the end of their relationship.  Thus we spin round
us infinitely fine filaments and construct a system.  Plato and
Shakespeare are included, also quite obscure people, people of no
importance whatsoever.  I hate men who wear crucifixes on the left
side of their waistcoats.  I hate ceremonies and lamentations and
the sad figure of Christ trembling beside another trembling and sad
figure.  Also the pomp and the indifference and the emphasis,
always on the wrong place, of people holding forth under
chandeliers in full evening dress, wearing stars and decorations.
Some spray in a hedge, though, or a sunset over a flat winter
field, or again the way some old woman sits, arms akimbo, in an
omnibus with a basket--those we point at for the other to look at.
It is so vast an alleviation to be able to point for another to
look at.  And then not to talk.  To follow the dark paths of the
mind and enter the past, to visit books, to brush aside their
branches and break off some fruit.  And you take it and marvel, as
I take the careless movements of your body and marvel at its ease,
its power--how you fling open windows and are dexterous with your
hands.  For alas! my mind is a little impeded, it soon tires; I
fall damp, perhaps disgusting, at the goal.

'Alas!  I could not ride about India in a sun helmet and return to
a bungalow.  I cannot tumble, as you do, like half-naked boys on
the deck of a ship, squirting each other with hose-pipes.  I want
this fire, I want this chair.  I want someone to sit beside me
after the day's pursuit and all its anguish, after its listenings,
and its waitings, and its suspicions.  After quarrelling and
reconciliation I need privacy--to be alone with you, to set this
hubbub in order.  For I am as neat as a cat in my habits.  We must
oppose the waste and deformity of the world, its crowds eddying
round and round disgorged and trampling.  One must slip paper-
knives, even, exactly through the pages of novels, and tie up
packets of letters neatly with green silk, and brush up the cinders
with a hearth broom.  Everything must be done to rebuke the horror
of deformity.  Let us read writers of Roman severity and virtue;
let us seek perfection through the sand.  Yes, but I love to slip
the virtue and severity of the noble Romans under the grey light of
your eyes, and dancing grasses and summer breezes and the laughter
and shouts of boys at play--of naked cabin-boys squirting each
other with hosepipes on the decks of ships.  Hence I am not a
disinterested seeker, like Louis, after perfection through the
sand.  Colours always stain the page; clouds pass over it.  And the
poem, I think, is only your voice speaking.  Alcibiades, Ajax,
Hector and Percival are also you.  They loved riding, they risked
their lives wantonly, they were not great readers either.  But you
are not Ajax or Percival.  They did not wrinkle their noses and
scratch their foreheads with your precise gesture.  You are you.
That is what consoles me for the lack of many things--I am ugly, I
am weak--and the depravity of the world, and the flight of youth
and Percival's death, and bitterness and rancour and envies

'But if one day you do not come after breakfast, if one day I see
you in some looking-glass perhaps looking after another, if the
telephone buzzes and buzzes in your empty room, I shall then, after
unspeakable anguish, I shall then--for there is no end to the folly
of the human heart--seek another, find another, you.  Meanwhile,
let us abolish the ticking of time's clock with one blow.  Come

The sun had now sunk lower in the sky.  The islands of cloud had
gained in density and drew themselves across the sun so that the
rocks went suddenly black, and the trembling sea holly lost its
blue and turned silver, and shadows were blown like grey cloths
over the sea.  The waves no longer visited the further pools or
reached the dotted black line which lay irregularly upon the beach.
The sand was pearl white, smoothed and shining.  Birds swooped and
circled high up in the air.  Some raced in the furrows of the wind
and turned and sliced through them as if they were one body cut
into a thousand shreds.  Birds fell like a net descending on the
tree-tops.  Here one bird taking its way alone made wing for the
marsh and sat solitary on a white stake, opening its wings and
shutting them.

Some petals had fallen in the garden.  They lay shell-shaped on the
earth.  The dead leaf no longer stood upon its edge, but had been
blown, now running, now pausing, against some stalk.  Through all
the flowers the same wave of light passed in a sudden flaunt and
flash as if a fin cut the green glass of a lake.  Now and again
some level and masterly blast blew the multitudinous leaves up and
down and then, as the wind flagged, each blade regained its
identity.  The flowers, burning their bright discs in the sun,
flung aside the sunlight as the wind tossed them, and then some
heads too heavy to rise again drooped slightly.

The afternoon sun warmed the fields, poured blue into the shadows
and reddened the corn.  A deep varnish was laid like a lacquer over
the fields.  A cart, a horse, a flock of rooks--whatever moved in
it was rolled round in gold.  If a cow moved a leg it stirred
ripples of red gold, and its horns seemed lined with light.  Sprays
of flaxen-haired corn lay on the hedges, brushed from the shaggy
carts that came up from the meadows short legged and primeval
looking.  The round-headed clouds never dwindled as they bowled
along, but kept every atom of their rotundity.  Now, as they
passed, they caught a whole village in the fling of their net and,
passing, let it fly free again.  Far away on the horizon, among the
million grains of blue-grey dust, burnt one pane, or stood the
single line of one steeple or one tree.

The red curtains and the white blinds blew in and out, flapping
against the edge of the window, and the light which entered by
flaps and breadths unequally had in it some brown tinge, and some
abandonment as it blew through the blowing curtains in gusts.  Here
it browned a cabinet, there reddened a chair, here it made the
window waver in the side of the green jar.

All for a moment wavered and bent in uncertainty and ambiguity, as
if a great moth sailing through the room had shadowed the immense
solidity of chairs and tables with floating wings.

'And time,' said Bernard, 'lets fall its drop.  The drop that has
formed on the roof of the soul falls.  On the roof of my mind time,
forming, lets fall its drop.  Last week, as I stood shaving, the
drop fell.  I, standing with my razor in my hand, became suddenly
aware of the merely habitual nature of my action (this is the drop
forming) and congratulated my hands, ironically, for keeping at it.
Shave, shave, shave, I said.  Go on shaving.  The drop fell.  All
through the day's work, at intervals, my mind went to an empty
place, saying, "What is lost?  What is over?"  And "Over and done
with," I muttered, "over and done with," solacing myself with
words.  People noticed the vacuity of my face and the aimlessness
of my conversation.  The last words of my sentence tailed away.
And as I buttoned on my coat to go home I said more dramatically,
"I have lost my youth."

'It is curious how, at every crisis, some phrase which does not fit
insists upon coming to the rescue--the penalty of living in an old
civilization with a notebook.  This drop falling has nothing to do
with losing my youth.  This drop falling is time tapering to a
point.  Time, which is a sunny pasture covered with a dancing
light, time, which is widespread as a field at midday, becomes
pendant.  Time tapers to a point.  As a drop falls from a glass
heavy with some sediment, time falls.  These are the true cycles,
these are the true events.  Then as if all the luminosity of the
atmosphere were withdrawn I see to the bare bottom.  I see what
habit covers.  I lie sluggish in bed for days.  I dine out and gape
like a codfish.  I do not trouble to finish my sentences, and my
actions, usually so uncertain, acquire a mechanical precision.  On
this occasion, passing an office, I went in and bought, with all
the composure of a mechanical figure, a ticket for Rome.

'Now I sit on a stone seat in these gardens surveying the eternal
city, and the little man who was shaving in London five days ago
looks already like a heap of old clothes.  London has also
crumbled.  London consists of fallen factories and a few
gasometers.  At the same time I am not involved in this pageantry.
I see the violet-sashed priests and the picturesque nursemaids; I
notice externals only.  I sit here like a convalescent, like a very
simple man who knows only words of one syllable.  "The sun is hot,"
I say.  "The wind is cold."  I feel myself carried round like an
insect on top of the earth and could swear that, sitting here, I
feel its hardness, its turning movement.  I have no desire to go
the opposite way from the earth.  Could I prolong this sense
another six inches I have a foreboding that I should touch some
queer territory.  But I have a very limited proboscis.  I never
wish to prolong these states of detachment; I dislike them; I also
despise them.  I do not wish to be a man who sits for fifty years
on the same spot thinking of his navel.  I wish to be harnessed to
a cart, a vegetable-cart that rattles over the cobbles.

'The truth is that I am not one of those who find their satisfaction
in one person, or in infinity.  The private room bores me, also
the sky.  My being only glitters when all its facets are exposed
to many people.  Let them fail and I am full of holes, dwindling
like burnt paper.  Oh, Mrs Moffat, Mrs Moffat, I say, come and sweep
it all up.  Things have dropped from me.  I have outlived certain
desires; I have lost friends, some by death--Percival--others
through sheer inability to cross the street.  I am not so gifted as
at one time seemed likely.  Certain things lie beyond my scope.  I
shall never understand the harder problems of philosophy.  Rome is
the limit of my travelling.  As I drop asleep at night it strikes me
sometimes with a pang that I shall never see savages in Tahiti
spearing fish by the light of a blazing cresset, or a lion spring
in the jungle, or a naked man eating raw flesh.  Nor shall I learn
Russian or read the Vedas.  I shall never again walk bang into the
pillar-box.  (But still a few stars fall through my night,
beautifully, from the violence of that concussion.)  But as I think,
truth has come nearer.  For many years I crooned complacently, "My
children . . . my wife . . . my house . . . my dog."  As I let
myself in with the latch-key I would go through that familiar ritual
and wrap myself in those warm coverings.  Now that lovely veil has
fallen.  I do not want possessions now.  (Note: an Italian washer-
woman stands on the same rung of physical refinement as the daughter
of an English duke.)

'But let me consider.  The drop falls; another stage has been
reached.  Stage upon stage.  And why should there be an end of
stages? and where do they lead?  To what conclusion?  For they come
wearing robes of solemnity.  In these dilemmas the devout consult
those violet-sashed and sensual-looking gentry who are trooping
past me.  But for ourselves, we resent teachers.  Let a man get up
and say, "Behold, this is the truth," and instantly I perceive a
sandy cat filching a piece of fish in the background.  Look, you
have forgotten the cat, I say.  So Neville, at school, in the dim
chapel, raged at the sight of the doctor's crucifix.  I, who am
always distracted, whether by a cat or by a bee buzzing round the
bouquet that Lady Hampden keeps so diligently pressed to her nose,
at once make up a story and so obliterate the angles of the
crucifix.  I have made up thousands of stories; I have filled
innumerable notebooks with phrases to be used when I have found the
true story, the one story to which all these phrases refer.  But I
have never yet found that story.  And I begin to ask, Are there

'Look now from this terrace at the swarming population beneath.
Look at the general activity and clamour.  That man is in
difficulties with his mule.  Half a dozen good-natured loafers
offer their services.  Others pass by without looking.  They have
as many interests as there are threads in a skein.  Look at the
sweep of the sky, bowled over by round white clouds.  Imagine the
leagues of level land and the aqueducts and the broken Roman
pavement and the tombstones in the Campagna, and beyond the
Campagna, the sea, then again more land, then the sea.  I could
break off any detail in all that prospect--say the mule-cart--
and describe it with the greatest ease.  But why describe a man
in trouble with his mule?  Again, I could invent stories about
that girl coming up the steps.  "She met him under the dark
archway. . . .  'It is over,' he said, turning from the cage
where the china parrot hangs."  Or simply, "That was all."  But
why impose my arbitrary design?  Why stress this and shape that
and twist up little figures like the toys men sell in trays in
the street?  Why select this, out of all that--one detail?

'Here am I shedding one of my life-skins, and all they will say is,
"Bernard is spending ten days in Rome."  Here am I marching up and
down this terrace alone, unoriented.  But observe how dots and
dashes are beginning, as I walk, to run themselves into continuous
lines, how things are losing the bald, the separate identity that
they had as I walked up those steps.  The great red pot is now a
reddish streak in a wave of yellowish green.  The world is
beginning to move past me like the banks of a hedge when the train
starts, like the waves of the sea when a steamer moves.  I am
moving too, am becoming involved in the general sequence when one
thing follows another and it seems inevitable that the tree should
come, then the telegraph-pole, then the break in the hedge.  And as
I move, surrounded, included and taking part, the usual phrases
begin to bubble up, and I wish to free these bubbles from the trap-
door in my head, and direct my steps therefore towards that man,
the back of whose head is half familiar to me.  We were together at
school.  We shall undoubtedly meet.  We shall certainly lunch
together.  We shall talk.  But wait, one moment wait.

'These moments of escape are not to be despised.  They come too
seldom.  Tahiti becomes possible.  Leaning over this parapet I see
far out a waste of water.  A fin turns.  This bare visual
impression is unattached to any line of reason, it springs up as
one might see the fin of a porpoise on the horizon.  Visual
impressions often communicate thus briefly statements that we shall
in time to come uncover and coax into words.  I note under F.,
therefore, "Fin in a waste of waters."  I, who am perpetually
making notes in the margin of my mind for some final statement,
make this mark, waiting for some winter's evening.

'Now I shall go and lunch somewhere, I shall hold my glass up, I
shall look through the wine, I shall observe with more than my
usual detachment, and when a pretty woman enters the restaurant and
comes down the room between the tables I shall say to myself, "Look
where she comes against a waste of waters."  A meaningless
observation, but to me, solemn, slate-coloured, with a fatal sound
of ruining worlds and waters falling to destruction.

'So, Bernard (I recall you, you the usual partner in my
enterprises), let us begin this new chapter, and observe the
formation of this new, this unknown, strange, altogether
unidentified and terrifying experience--the new drop--which is
about to shape itself.  Larpent is that man's name.'

'In this hot afternoon,' said Susan, 'here in this garden, here in
this field where I walk with my son, I have reached the summit of
my desires.  The hinge of the gate is rusty; he heaves it open.
The violent passions of childhood, my tears in the garden when
Jinny kissed Louis, my rage in the schoolroom, which smelt of pine,
my loneliness in foreign places, when the mules came clattering in
on their pointed hoofs and the Italian women chattered at the
fountain, shawled, with carnations twisted in their hair, are
rewarded by security, possession, familiarity.  I have had
peaceful, productive years.  I possess all I see.  I have grown
trees from the seed.  I have made ponds in which goldfish hide
under the broad-leaved lilies.  I have netted over strawberry beds
and lettuce beds, and stitched the pears and the plums into white
bags to keep them safe from the wasps.  I have seen my sons and
daughters, once netted over like fruit in their cots, break the
meshes and walk with me, taller than I am, casting shadows on the

'I am fenced in, planted here like one of my own trees.  I say, "My
son," I say, "My daughter," and even the ironmonger looking up from
his counter strewn with nails, paint and wire-fencing respects the
shabby car at the door with its butterfly nets, pads and bee-hives.
We hang mistletoe over the clock at Christmas, weigh our
blackberries and mushrooms, count out jam-pots, and stand year by
year to be measured against the shutter in the drawing-room window.
I also make wreaths of white flowers, twisting silver-leaved plants
among them for the dead, attaching my card with sorrow for the dead
shepherd, with sympathy for the wife of the dead carter; and sit by
the beds of dying women, who murmur their last terrors, who clutch
my hand; frequenting rooms intolerable except to one born as I was
and early acquainted with the farmyard and the dung-heap and the
hens straying in and out, and the mother with two rooms and growing
children.  I have seen the windows run with heat, I have smelt the

'I ask now, standing with my scissors among my flowers, Where can
the shadow enter?  What shock can loosen my laboriously gathered,
relentlessly pressed down life?  Yet sometimes I am sick of natural
happiness, and fruit growing, and children scattering the house
with oars, guns, skulls, books won for prizes and other trophies.
I am sick of the body, I am sick of my own craft, industry and
cunning, of the unscrupulous ways of the mother who protects, who
collects under her jealous eyes at one long table her own children,
always her own.

'It is when spring comes, cold showery, with sudden yellow flowers--
then as I look at the meat under the blue shade and press the
heavy silver bags of tea, of sultanas, I remember how the sun rose,
and the swallows skimmed the grass, and phrases that Bernard made
when we were children, and the leaves shook over us, many-folded,
very light, breaking the blue of the sky, scattering wandering
lights upon the skeleton roots of the beech trees where I sat,
sobbing.  The pigeon rose.  I jumped up and ran after the words
that trailed like the dangling string from an air ball, up and up,
from branch to branch escaping.  Then like a cracked bowl the
fixity of my morning broke, and putting down the bags of flour I
thought, Life stands round me like a glass round the imprisoned

'I hold some scissors and snip off the hollyhocks, who went to
Elvedon and trod on rotten oak-apples, and saw the lady writing and
the gardeners with their great brooms.  We ran back panting lest we
should be shot and nailed like stoats to the wall.  Now I measure,
I preserve.  At night I sit in the arm-chair and stretch my arm for
my sewing; and hear my husband snore; and look up when the light
from a passing car dazzles the windows and feel the waves of my
life tossed, broken, round me who am rooted; and hear cries, and
see other's lives eddying like straws round the piers of a bridge
while I push my needle in and out and draw my thread through the

'I think sometimes of Percival who loved me.  He rode and fell in
India.  I think sometimes of Rhoda.  Uneasy cries wake me at dead
of night.  But for the most part I walk content with my sons.  I
cut the dead petals from hollyhocks.  Rather squat, grey before my
time, but with clear eyes, pear-shaped eyes, I pace my fields.'

'Here I stand,' said Jinny, 'in the Tube station where everything
that is desirable meets--Piccadilly South Side, Piccadilly North
Side, Regent Street and the Haymarket.  I stand for a moment under
the pavement in the heart of London.  Innumerable wheels rush and
feet press just over my head.  The great avenues of civilization
meet here and strike this way and that.  I am in the heart of life.
But look--there is my body in that looking glass.  How solitary,
how shrunk, how aged!  I am no longer young.  I am no longer part
of the procession.  Millions descend those stairs in a terrible
descent.  Great wheels churn inexorably urging them downwards.
Millions have died.  Percival died.  I still move.  I still live.
But who will come if I signal?

'Little animal that I am, sucking my flanks in and out with fear, I
stand here, palpitating, trembling.  But I will not be afraid.  I
will bring the whip down on my flanks.  I am not a whimpering
little animal making for the shadow.  It was only for a moment,
catching sight of myself before I had time to prepare myself as I
always prepare myself for the sight of myself, that I quailed.  It
is true; I am not young--I shall soon raise my arm in vain and my
scarf will fall to my side without having signalled.  I shall not
hear the sudden sigh in the night and feel through the dark someone
coming.  There will be no reflections in window-panes in dark
tunnels.  I shall look into faces, and I shall see them seek some
other face.  I admit for one moment the soundless flight of upright
bodies down the moving stairs like the pinioned and terrible
descent of some army of the dead downwards and the churning of the
great engines remorselessly forwarding us, all of us, onwards, made
me cower and run for shelter.

'But now I swear, making deliberately in front of the glass those
slight preparations that equip me, I will not be afraid.  Think of
the superb omnibuses, red and yellow, stopping and starting,
punctually in order.  Think of the powerful and beautiful cars that
now slow to a foot's pace and now shoot forward; think of men,
think of women, equipped, prepared, driving onward.  This is the
triumphant procession; this is the army of victory with banners and
brass eagles and heads crowned with laurel-leaves won in battle.
They are better than savages in loin-cloths, and women whose hair
is dank, whose long breasts sag, with children tugging at their
long breasts.  These broad thoroughfares--Piccadilly South,
Piccadilly North, Regent Street and the Haymarket--are sanded paths
of victory driven through the jungle.  I too, with my little
patent-leather shoes, my handkerchief that is but a film of gauze,
my reddened lips and my finely pencilled eyebrows, march to victory
with the band.

'Look how they show off clothes here even under ground in a
perpetual radiance.  They will not let the earth even lie wormy and
sodden.  There are gauzes and silks illumined in glass cases and
underclothes trimmed with a million close stitches of fine
embroidery.  Crimson, green, violet, they are dyed all colours.
Think how they organize, roll out, smooth, dip in dyes, and drive
tunnels blasting the rock.  Lifts rise and fall; trains stop, trams
start as regularly as the waves of the sea.  This is what has my
adhesion.  I am a native of this world, I follow its banners.  How
could I run for shelter when they are so magnificently adventurous,
daring, curious, too, and strong enough in the midst of effort to
pause and scrawl with a free hand a joke upon the wall?  Therefore
I will powder my face and redden my lips.  I will make the angle of
my eyebrows sharper than usual.  I will rise to the surface,
standing erect with the others in Piccadilly Circus.  I will sign
with a sharp gesture to a cab whose driver will signify by some
indescribable alacrity his understanding of my signals.  For I
still excite eagerness.  I still feel the bowing of men in the
street like the silent stoop of the corn when the light wind blows,
ruffling it red.

'I will drive to my own house.  I will fill the vases with lavish,
with luxurious, with extravagant flowers nodding in great bunches.
I will place one chair there, another here.  I will put ready
cigarettes, glasses and some gaily covered new unread book in case
Bernard comes, or Neville or Louis.  But perhaps it will not be
Bernard, Neville or Louis, but somebody new, somebody unknown,
somebody I passed on a staircase and, just turning as we passed, I
murmured, "Come."  He will come this afternoon; somebody I do not
know, somebody new.  Let the silent army of the dead descend.  I
march forward.'

'I no longer need a room now,' said Neville, 'or walls and
firelight.  I am no longer young.  I pass Jinny's house without
envy, and smile at the young man who arranges his tie a little
nervously on the door-step.  Let the dapper young man ring the
bell; let him find her.  I shall find her if I want her; if not, I
pass on.  The old corrosion has lost its bite--envy, intrigue and
bitterness have been washed out.  We have lost our glory too.  When
we were young we sat anywhere, on bare benches in draughty halls
with the doors always banging.  We tumbled about half naked like
boys on the deck of a ship squirting each other with hose-pipes.
Now I could swear that I like people pouring profusely out of the
Tube when the day's work is done, unanimous, indiscriminate,
uncounted.  I have picked my own fruit.  I look dispassionately.

'After all, we are not responsible.  We are not judges.  We are not
called upon to torture our fellows with thumb-screws and irons; we
are not called upon to mount pulpits and lecture them on pale
Sunday afternoons.  It is better to look at a rose, or to read
Shakespeare as I read him here in Shaftesbury Avenue.  Here's the
fool, here's the villain, here in a car comes Cleopatra, burning on
her barge.  Here are figures of the damned too, noseless men by the
police-court wall, standing with their feet in fire, howling.  This
is poetry if we do not write it.  They act their parts infallibly,
and almost before they open their lips I know what they are going
to say, and wait the divine moment when they speak the word that
must have been written.  If it were only for the sake of the play,
I could walk Shaftesbury Avenue for ever.

'Then coming from the street, entering some room, there are people
talking, or hardly troubling to talk.  He says, she says, somebody
else says things have been said so often that one word is now
enough to lift a whole weight.  Argument, laughter, old grievances--
they fall through the air, thickening it.  I take a book and read
half a page of anything.  They have not mended the spout of the
teapot yet.  The child dances, dressed in her mother's clothes.

'But then Rhoda, or it may be Louis, some fasting and anguished
spirit, passes through and out again.  They want a plot, do they?
They want a reason?  It is not enough for them, this ordinary
scene.  It is not enough to wait for the thing to be said as if it
were written; to see the sentence lay its dab of clay precisely on
the right place, making character; to perceive, suddenly, some
group in outline against the sky.  Yet if they want violence, I
have seen death and murder and suicide all in one room.  One comes
in, one goes out.  There are sobs on the staircase.  I have heard
threads broken and knots tied and the quiet stitching of white
cambric going on and on on the knees of a woman.  Why ask, like
Louis, for a reason, or fly like Rhoda to some far grove and part
the leaves of the laurels and look for statues?  They say that one
must beat one's wings against the storm in the belief that beyond
this welter the sun shines; the sun falls sheer into pools that are
fledged with willows.  (Here it is November; the poor hold out
matchboxes in wind-bitten fingers.)  They say truth is to be found
there entire, and virtue, that shuffles along here, down blind
alleys, is to be had there perfect.  Rhoda flies with her neck
outstretched and blind fanatic eyes, past us.  Louis, now so
opulent, goes to his attic window among the blistered roofs and
gazes where she has vanished, but must sit down in his office among
the typewriters and the telephone and work it all out for our
instruction, for our regeneration, and the reform of an unborn

'But now in this room, which I enter without knocking, things are
said as if they had been written.  I go to the bookcase.  If I
choose, I read half a page of anything.  I need not speak.  But I
listen.  I am marvellously on the alert.  Certainly, one cannot
read this poem without effort.  The page is often corrupt and mud-
stained, and torn and stuck together with faded leaves, with scraps
of verbena or geranium.  To read this poem one must have myriad
eyes, like one of those lamps that turn on slabs of racing water at
midnight in the Atlantic, when perhaps only a spray of seaweed
pricks the surface, or suddenly the waves gape and up shoulders a
monster.  One must put aside antipathies and jealousies and not
interrupt.  One must have patience and infinite care and let the
light sound, whether of spiders' delicate feet on a leaf or the
chuckle of water in some irrelevant drain-pipe, unfold too.
Nothing is to be rejected in fear or horror.  The poet who has
written this page (what I read with people talking) has withdrawn.
There are no commas or semi-colons.  The lines do not run in
convenient lengths.  Much is sheer nonsense.  One must be
sceptical, but throw caution to the winds and when the door opens
accept absolutely.  Also sometimes weep; also cut away ruthlessly
with a slice of the blade soot, bark, hard accretions of all sorts.
And so (while they talk) let down one's net deeper and deeper and
gently draw in and bring to the surface what he said and she said
and make poetry.

'Now I have listened to them talking.  They have gone now.  I am
alone.  I could be content to watch the fire burn for ever, like a
dome, like a furnace; now some spike of wood takes the look of a
scaffold, or pit, or happy valley; now it is a serpent curled
crimson with white scales.  The fruit on the curtain swells beneath
the parrot's beak.  Cheep, cheep, creaks the fire, like the cheep
of insects in the middle of a forest.  Cheep, cheep, it clicks
while out there the branches thrash the air, and now, like a volley
of shot, a tree falls.  These are the sounds of a London night.
Then I hear the one sound I wait for.  Up and up it comes,
approaches, hesitates, stops at my door.  I cry, "Come in.  Sit by
me.  Sit on the edge of the chair."  Swept away by the old
hallucination, I cry, "Come closer, closer".'

'I come back from the office,' said Louis.  'I hang my coat here,
place my stick there--I like to fancy that Richelieu walked with
such a cane.  Thus I divest myself of my authority.  I have been
sitting at the right hand of a director at a varnished table.  The
maps of our successful undertakings confront us on the wall.  We
have laced the world together with our ships.  The globe is strung
with our lines.  I am immensely respectable.  All the young ladies
in the office acknowledge my entrance.  I can dine where I like
now, and without vanity may suppose that I shall soon acquire a
house in Surrey, two cars, a conservatory and some rare species of
melon.  But I still return, I still come back to my attic, hang up
my hat and resume in solitude that curious attempt which I have
made since I brought down my fist on my master's grained oak door.
I open a little book.  I read one poem.  One poem is enough.

     O western wind . . .

O western wind, you are at enmity with my mahogany table and spats,
and also, alas, with the vulgarity of my mistress, the little
actress, who has never been able to speak English correctly--

     O western wind, when wilt thou blow . . .

Rhoda, with her intense abstraction, with her unseeing eyes the
colour of snail's flesh, does not destroy you, western wind,
whether she comes at midnight when the stars blaze or at the most
prosaic hour of midday.  She stands at the window and looks at the
chimney-pots and the broken windows in the houses of poor people--

     O western wind, when wilt thou blow . . .

'My task, my burden, has always been greater than other people's.
A pyramid has been set on my shoulders.  I have tried to do a
colossal labour.  I have driven a violent, an unruly, a vicious
team.  With my Australian accent I have sat in eating-shops and
tried to make the clerks accept me, yet never forgotten my solemn
and severe convictions and the discrepancies and incoherences that
must be resolved.  As a boy I dreamt of the Nile, was reluctant to
awake, yet brought down my fist on the grained oak door.  It would
have been happier to have been born without a destiny, like Susan,
like Percival, whom I most admire.

     O western wind, when wilt thou blow.
     That the small rain down can rain?

'Life has been a terrible affair for me.  I am like some vast
sucker, some glutinous, some adhesive, some insatiable mouth.  I
have tried to draw from the living flesh the stone lodged at the
centre.  I have known little natural happiness, thought I chose my
mistress in order that, with her cockney accent, she might make me
feel at my ease.  But she only tumbled the floor with dirty under-
linen, and the charwoman and the shop-boys called after me a dozen
times a day, mocking my prim and supercilious gait.

     O western wind, when wilt thou blow,
     That the small rain down can rain?

'What has my destiny been, the sharp-pointed pyramid that has
pressed on my ribs all these years?  That I remember the Nile and
the women carrying pitchers on their heads; that I feel myself
woven in and out of the long summers and winters that have made the
corn flow and have frozen the streams.  I am not a single and
passing being.  My life is not a moment's bright spark like that on
the surface of a diamond.  I go beneath ground tortuously, as if a
warder carried a lamp from cell to cell.  My destiny has been that
I remember and must weave together, must plait into one cable the
many threads, the thin, the thick, the broken, the enduring of our
long history, of our tumultuous and varied day.  There is always
more to be understood; a discord to be listened for; a falsity to
be reprimanded.  Broken and soot-stained are these roofs with their
chimney cowls, their loose slates, their slinking cats and attic
windows.  I pick my way over broken glass, among blistered tiles,
and see only vile and famished faces.

'Let us suppose that I make reason of it all--one poem on a page,
and then die.  I can assure you it will not be unwillingly.
Percival died.  Rhoda left me.  But I shall live to be gaunt and
sere, to tap my way, much respected, with my gold-headed cane along
the pavements of the city.  Perhaps I shall never die, shall never
attain even that continuity and permanence--

     O western wind, when wilt thou blow,
     That the small rain down can rain?

'Percival was flowering with green leaves and was laid in the earth
with all his branches still sighing in the summer wind.  Rhoda,
with whom I shared silence when the others spoke, she who hung back
and turned aside when the herd assembled and galloped with orderly,
sleek backs over the rich pastures, has gone now like the desert
heat.  When the sun blisters the roofs of the city I think of her;
when the dry leaves patter to the ground; when the old men come
with pointed sticks and pierce little bits of paper as we pierced

     O western wind, when wilt thou blow,
     That the small rain down can rain?
     Christ, that my love were in my arms,
     And I in my bed again!

I return now to my book; I return now to my attempt.'

'Oh, life, how I have dreaded you,' said Rhoda, 'oh, human beings,
how I have hated you!  How you have nudged, how you have
interrupted, how hideous you have looked in Oxford Street, how
squalid sitting opposite each other staring in the Tube!  Now as I
climb this mountain, from the top of which I shall see Africa, my
mind is printed with brown-paper parcels and your faces.  I have
been stained by you and corrupted.  You smelt so unpleasant too,
lining up outside doors to buy tickets.  All were dressed in
indeterminate shades of grey and brown, never even a blue feather
pinned to a hat.  None had the courage to be one thing rather than
another.  What dissolution of the soul you demanded in order to get
through one day, what lies, bowings, scrapings, fluency and
servility!  How you chained me to one spot, one hour, one chair,
and sat yourselves down opposite!  How you snatched from me the
white spaces that lie between hour and hour and rolled them into
dirty pellets and tossed them into the waste-paper basket with your
greasy paws.  Yet those were my life.

'But I yielded.  Sneers and yawns were covered with my hand.  I did
not go out into the street and break a bottle in the gutter as a
sign of rage.  Trembling with ardour, I pretended that I was not
surprised.  What you did, I did.  If Susan and Jinny pulled up
their stockings like that, I pulled mine up like that also.  So
terrible was life that I held up shade after shade.  Look at life
through this, look at life through that; let there be rose leaves,
let there be vine leaves--I covered the whole street, Oxford
Street, Piccadilly Circus, with the blaze and ripple of my mind,
with vine leaves and rose leaves.  There were boxes too, standing
in the passage when the school broke up.  I stole secretly to read
the labels and dream of names and faces.  Harrogate, perhaps,
Edinburgh, perhaps, was ruffled with golden glory where some girl
whose name I forget stood on the pavement.  But it was the name
only.  I left Louis; I feared embraces.  With fleeces, with
vestments, I have tried to cover the blue-black blade.  I implored
day to break into night.  I have longed to see the cupboard
dwindle, to feel the bed soften, to float suspended, to perceive
lengthened trees, lengthened faces, a green bank on a moor and two
figures in distress saying good-bye.  I flung words in fans like
those the sower throws over the ploughed fields when the earth is
bare.  I desired always to stretch the night and fill it fuller and
fuller with dreams.

'Then in some Hall I parted the boughs of music and saw the house
we have made; the square stood upon the oblong.  "The house which
contains all," I said, lurching against people's shoulders in an
omnibus after Percival died; yet I went to Greenwich.  Walking on
the embankment, I prayed that I might thunder for ever on the verge
of the world where there is no vegetation, but here and there a
marble pillar.  I threw my bunch into the spreading wave.  I said,
"Consume me, carry me to the furthest limit."  The wave has broken;
the bunch is withered.  I seldom think of Percival now.

'Now I climb this Spanish hill; and I will suppose that this mule-
back is my bed and that I lie dying.  There is only a thin sheet
between me now and the infinite depths.  The lumps in the mattress
soften beneath me.  We stumble up--we stumble on.  My path has been
up and up, towards some solitary tree with a pool beside it on the
very top.  I have sliced the waters of beauty in the evening when
the hills close themselves like birds' wings folded.  I have picked
sometimes a red carnation, and wisps of hay.  I have sunk alone on
the turf and fingered some old bone and thought:  When the wind
stoops to brush this height, may there be nothing found but a pinch
of dust.

'The mule stumbles up and on.  The ridge of the hill rises like
mist, but from the top I shall see Africa.  Now the bed gives under
me.  The sheets spotted with yellow holes let me fall through.  The
good woman with a face like a white horse at the end of the bed
makes a valedictory movement and turns to go.  Who then comes with
me?  Flowers only, the cowbind and the moonlight-coloured May.
Gathering them loosely in a sheaf I made of them a garland and gave
them--Oh, to whom?  We launch out now over the precipice.  Beneath
us lie the lights of the herring fleet.  The cliffs vanish.
Rippling small, rippling grey, innumerable waves spread beneath us.
I touch nothing.  I see nothing.  We may sink and settle on the
waves.  The sea will drum in my ears.  The white petals will be
darkened with sea water.  They will float for a moment and then
sink.  Rolling me over the waves will shoulder me under.
Everything falls in a tremendous shower, dissolving me.

'Yet that tree has bristling branches; that is the hard line of a
cottage roof.  Those bladder shapes painted red and yellow are
faces.  Putting my foot to the ground I step gingerly and press my
hand against the hard door of a Spanish inn.'

The sun was sinking.  The hard stone of the day was cracked and
light poured through its splinters.  Red and gold shot through the
waves, in rapid running arrows, feathered with darkness.
Erratically rays of light flashed and wandered, like signals from
sunken islands, or darts shot through laurel groves by shameless,
laughing boys.  But the waves, as they neared the shore, were
robbed of light, and fell in one long concussion, like a wall
falling, a wall of grey stone, unpierced by any chink of light.

A breeze rose; a shiver ran through the leaves; and thus stirred
they lost their brown density and became grey or white as the tree
shifted its mass, winked and lost its domed uniformity.  The hawk
poised on the topmost branch flicked its eyelids and rose and
sailed and soared far away.  The wild plover cried in the marshes,
evading, circling, and crying further off in loneliness.  The smoke
of trains and chimneys was stretched and torn and became part of
the fleecy canopy that hung over the sea and the fields.

Now the corn was cut.  Now only a brisk stubble was left of all its
flowing and waving.  Slowly a great owl launched itself from the
elm tree and swung and rose, as if on a line that dipped, to the
height of the cedar.  On the hills the slow shadows now broadened,
now shrank, as they passed over.  The pool on the top of the moor
looked blank.  No furry face looked there, or hoof splashed, or hot
muzzle seethed in the water.  A bird, perched on an ash-coloured
twig, sipped a beak full of cold water.  There was no sound of
cropping, and no sound of wheels, but only the sudden roar of the
wind letting its sails fill and brushing the tops of the grasses.
One bone lay rain-pocked and sun-bleached till it shone like a twig
that the sea has polished.  The tree, that had burnt foxy red in
spring and in midsummer bent pliant leaves to the south wind, was
now black as iron, and as bare.

The land was so distant that no shining roof or glittering window
could be any longer seen.  The tremendous weight of the shadowed
earth had engulfed such frail fetters, such snail-shell
encumbrances.  Now there was only the liquid shadow of the cloud,
the buffeting of the rain, a single darting spear of sunshine, or
the sudden bruise of the rainstorm.  Solitary trees marked distant
hills like obelisks.

The evening sun, whose heat had gone out of it and whose burning
spot of intensity had been diffused, made chairs and tables
mellower and inlaid them with lozenges of brown and yellow.  Lined
with shadows their weight seemed more ponderous, as if colour,
tilted, had run to one side.  Here lay knife, fork and glass, but
lengthened, swollen, and made portentous.  Rimmed in a gold circle
the looking-glass held the scene immobile as if everlasting in its

Meanwhile the shadows lengthened on the beach; the blackness
deepened.  The iron black boot became a pool of deep blue.  The
rocks lost their hardness.  The water that stood round the old boat
was dark as if mussels had been steeped in it.  The foam had turned
livid and left here and there a white gleam of pearl on the misty

'Hampton Court,' said Bernard.  'Hampton Court.  This is our
meeting-place.  Behold the red chimneys, the square battlements of
Hampton Court.  The tone of my voice as I say "Hampton Court"
proves that I am middle-aged.  Ten years, fifteen years ago, I
should have said "Hampton Court?" with interrogation--what will it
be like?  Will there be lakes, mazes?  Or with anticipation, What
is going to happen to me here?  Whom shall I meet?  Now, Hampton
Court--Hampton Court--the words beat a gong in the space which I
have so laboriously cleared with half a dozen telephone messages
and post cards, give off ring after ring of sound, booming,
sonorous: and pictures rise--summer afternoons, boats, old ladies
holding their skirts up, one urn in winter, some daffodils in
March--these all float to the top of the waters that now lie deep
on every scene.

There at the door by the Inn, our meeting-place, they are already
standing--Susan, Louis, Rhoda, Jinny and Neville.  They have come
together already.  In a moment, when I have joined them, another
arrangement will form, another pattern.  What now runs to waste,
forming scenes profusely, will be checked, stated.  I am reluctant
to suffer that compulsion.  Already at fifty yards distance I feel
the order of my being changed.  The tug of the magnet of their
society tells upon me.  I come nearer.  They do not see me.  Now
Rhoda sees me, but she pretends, with her horror of the shock of
meeting, that I am a stranger.  Now Neville turns.  Suddenly,
raising my hand, saluting Neville I cry, "I too have pressed
flowers between the pages of Shakespeare's sonnets," and am churned
up.  My little boat bobs unsteadily upon the chopped and tossing
waves.  There is no panacea (let me note) against the shock of

'It is uncomfortable too, joining ragged edges, raw edges; only
gradually, as we shuffle and trample into the Inn, taking coats and
hats off, does meeting become agreeable.  Now we assemble in the
long, bare dining-room that overlooks some park, some green space
still fantastically lit by the setting sun so that there is a gold
bar between the trees, and sit ourselves down.'

'Now sitting side by side,' said Neville, 'at this narrow table,
now before the first emotion is worn smooth, what do we feel?
Honestly now, openly and directly as befits old friends meeting
with difficulty, what do we feel on meeting?  Sorrow.  The door
will not open; he will not come.  And we are laden.  Being now all
of us middle-aged, loads are on us.  Let us put down our loads.
What have you made of life, we ask, and I?  You, Bernard; you,
Susan; you, Jinny; and Rhoda and Louis?  The lists have been posted
on the doors.  Before we break these rolls, and help ourselves to
fish and salad, I feel in my private pocket and find my
credentials--what I carry to prove my superiority.  I have passed.
I have papers in my private pocket that prove it.  But your eyes,
Susan, full of turnips and cornfields, disturb me.  These papers in
my private pocket--the clamour that proves that I have passed--make
a faint sound like that of a man clapping in an empty field to
scare away rooks.  Now it has died down altogether, under Susan's
stare (the clapping, the reverberation that I have made), and I
hear only the wind sweeping over the ploughed land and some bird
singing--perhaps some intoxicated lark.  Has the waiter heard of
me, or those furtive everlasting couples, now loitering, now
holding back and looking at the trees which are not yet dark enough
to shelter their prostrate bodies?  No; the sound of clapping has

'What then remains, when I cannot pull out my papers and make you
believe by reading aloud my credentials that I have passed?  What
remains is what Susan brings to light under the acid of her green
eyes, her crystal, pear-shaped eyes.  There is always somebody,
when we come together, and the edges of meeting are still sharp,
who refuses to be submerged; whose identity therefore one wishes to
make crouch beneath one's own.  For me now, it is Susan.  I talk to
impress Susan.  Listen to me, Susan.

'When someone comes in at breakfast, even the embroidered fruit on
my curtain swells so that parrots can peck it; one can break it off
between one's thumb and finger.  The thin, skimmed milk of early
morning turns opal, blue, rose.  At that hour your husband--the man
who slapped his gaiters, pointing with his whip at the barren cow--
grumbles.  You say nothing.  You see nothing.  Custom blinds your
eyes.  At that hour your relationship is mute, null, dun-coloured.
Mine at that hour is warm and various.  There are no repetitions
for me.  Each day is dangerous.  Smooth on the surface, we are all
bone beneath like snakes coiling.  Suppose we read The Times;
suppose we argue.  It is an experience.  Suppose it is winter.  The
snow falling loads down the roof and seals us together in a red
cave.  The pipes have burst.  We stand a yellow tin bath in the
middle of the room.  We rush helter-skelter for basins.  Look
there--it has burst again over the bookcase.  We shout with
laughter at the sight of ruin.  Let solidity be destroyed.  Let us
have no possessions.  Or is it summer?  We may wander to a lake and
watch Chinese geese waddling flat-footed to the water's edge or see
a bone-like city church with young green trembling before it.  (I
choose at random; I choose the obvious.)  Each sight is an
arabesque scrawled suddenly to illustrate some hazard and marvel of
intimacy.  The snow, the burst pipe, the tin bath, the Chinese
goose--these are signs swung high aloft upon which, looking back, I
read the character of each love; how each was different.

'You meanwhile--for I want to diminish your hostility, your green
eyes fixed on mine, and your shabby dress, your rough hands, and
all the other emblems of your maternal splendour--have stuck like a
limpet to the same rock.  Yet it is true, I do not want to hurt
you; only to refresh and furbish up my own belief in myself that
failed at your entry.  Change is no longer possible.  We are
committed.  Before, when we met in a restaurant in London with
Percival, all simmered and shook; we could have been anything.  We
have chosen now, or sometimes it seems the choice was made for us--
a pair of tongs pinched us between the shoulders.  I chose.  I took
the print of life not outwardly, but inwardly upon the raw, the
white, the unprotected fibre.  I am clouded and bruised with the
print of minds and faces and things so subtle that they have smell,
colour, texture, substance, but no name.  I am merely "Neville" to
you, who see the narrow limits of my life and the line it cannot
pass.  But to myself I am immeasurable; a net whose fibres pass
imperceptibly beneath the world.  My net is almost indistinguishable
from that which it surrounds.  It lifts whales--huge leviathans and
white jellies, what is amorphous and wandering; I detect, I
perceive.  Beneath my eyes opens--a book; I see to the bottom; the
heart--I see to the depths.  I know what loves are trembling into
fire; how jealousy shoots its green flashes hither and thither; how
intricately love crosses love; love makes knots; love brutally tears
them apart.  I have been knotted; I have been torn apart.

'But there was another glory once, when we watched for the door to
open, and Percival came; when we flung ourselves unattached on the
edge of a hard bench in a public room.'

'There was the beech wood,' said Susan, 'Elvedon, and the gilt
hands of the clock sparkling among the trees.  The pigeons broke
the leaves.  The changing travelling lights wandered over me.  They
escaped me.  Yet look, Neville, whom I discredit in order to be
myself, at my hand on the table.  Look at the gradations of healthy
colour here on the knuckles, here on the palm.  My body has been
used daily, rightly, like a tool by a good workman, all over.  The
blade is clean, sharp, worn in the centre.  (We battle together
like beasts fighting in a field, like stags making their horns
clash.)  Seen through your pale and yielding flesh, even apples and
bunches of fruit must have a filmed look as if they stood under
glass.  Lying deep in a chair with one person, one person only, but
one person who changes, you see one inch of flesh only; its nerves,
fibres, the sullen or quick flow of blood on it; but nothing
entire.  You do not see a house in a garden; a horse in a field; a
town laid out, as you bend like an old woman straining her eyes
over her darning.  But I have seen life in blocks, substantial,
huge; its battlements and towers, factories and gasometers; a
dwelling-place made from time immemorial after an hereditary
pattern.  These things remain square, prominent, undissolved in my
mind.  I am not sinuous or suave; I sit among you abrading your
softness with my hardness, quenching the silver-grey flickering
moth-wing quiver of words with the green spurt of my clear eyes.

'Now we have clashed our antlers.  This is the necessary prelude;
the salute of old friends.'

'The gold has faded between the trees,' said Rhoda, 'and a slice of
green lies behind them, elongated like the blade of a knife seen in
dreams, or some tapering island on which nobody sets foot.  Now the
cars begin to wink and flicker, coming down the avenue.  Lovers can
draw into the darkness now; the boles of the trees are swollen, are
obscene with lovers.'

'It was different once,' said Bernard.  'Once we could break the
current as we chose.  How many telephone calls, how many post
cards, are now needed to cut this hole through which we come
together, united, at Hampton Court?  How swift life runs from
January to December!  We are all swept on by the torrent of things
grown so familiar that they cast no shade; we make no comparisons;
think scarcely ever of I or of you; and in this unconsciousness
attain the utmost freedom from friction and part the weeds that
grow over the mouths of sunken channels.  We have to leap like
fish, high in the air, in order to catch the train from Waterloo.
And however high we leap we fall back again into the stream.  I
shall never now take ship for the South Sea Islands.  A journey to
Rome is the limit of my travelling.  I have sons and daughters.  I
am wedged into my place in the puzzle.

'But it is only my body--this elderly man here whom you call
Bernard--that is fixed irrevocably--so I desire to believe.  I
think more disinterestedly than I could when I was young and must
dig furiously like a child rummaging in a bran-pie to discover my
self.  "Look, what is this?  And this?  Is this going to be a fine
present?  Is that all?" and so on.  Now I know what the parcels
hold; and do not care much.  I throw my mind out in the air as a
man throws seeds in great fan-flights, falling through the purple
sunset, falling on the pressed and shining ploughland which is

'A phrase.  An imperfect phrase.  And what are phrases?  They have
left me very little to lay on the table, beside Susan's hand; to
take from my pocket, with Neville's credentials.  I am not an
authority on law, or medicine, or finance.  I am wrapped round with
phrases, like damp straw; I glow, phosphorescent.  And each of you
feels when I speak, "I am lit up.  I am glowing."  The little boys
used to feel "That's a good one, that's a good one", as the phrases
bubbled up from my lips under the elm trees in the playing-fields.
They too bubbled up; they also escaped with my phrases.  But I pine
in solitude.  Solitude is my undoing.

'I pass from house to house like the friars in the Middle Ages who
cozened the wives and girls with beads and ballads.  I am a
traveller, a pedlar, paying for my lodging with a ballad; I am an
indiscriminate, an easily pleased guest; often putting up in the
best room in a four-poster; then lying in a barn on a haystack.  I
don't mind the fleas and find no fault with silk either.  I am very
tolerant.  I am not a moralist.  I have too great a sense of the
shortness of life and its temptations to rule red lines.  Yet I am
not so indiscriminate as you think, judging me--as you judge me--
from my fluency.  I have a little dagger of contempt and severity
hidden up my sleeve.  But I am apt to be deflected.  I make
stories.  I twist up toys out of anything.  A girl sits at a
cottage door; she is waiting; for whom?  Seduced, or not seduced?
The headmaster sees the hole in the carpet.  He sighs.  His wife,
drawing her fingers through the waves of her still abundant hair,
reflects--et cetera.  Waves of hands, hesitations at street
corners, someone dropping a cigarette into the gutter--all are
stories.  But which is the true story?  That I do not know.  Hence
I keep my phrases hung like clothes in a cupboard, waiting for
someone to wear them.  Thus waiting, thus speculating, making this
note and then another, I do not cling to life.  I shall be brushed
like a bee from a sunflower.  My philosophy, always accumulating,
welling up moment by moment, runs like quicksilver a dozen ways at
once.  But Louis, wild-eyed but severe, in his attic, in his
office, has formed unalterable conclusions upon the true nature of
what is to be known.'

'It breaks,' said Louis, 'the thread I try to spin; your laughter
breaks it, your indifference, also your beauty.  Jinny broke the
thread when she kissed me in the garden years ago.  The boasting
boys mocked me at school for my Australian accent and broke it.
"This is the meaning," I say; and then start with a pang--vanity.
"Listen," I say, "to the nightingale, who sings among the trampling
feet; the conquests and migrations.  Believe--" and then am
twitched asunder.  Over broken tiles and splinters of glass I pick
my way.  Different lights fall, making the ordinary leopard spotted
and strange.  This moment of reconciliation, when we meet together
united, this evening moment, with its wine and shaking leaves, and
youth coming up from the river in white flannels, carrying
cushions, is to me black with the shadows of dungeons and the
tortures and infamies practised by man upon man.  So imperfect are
my senses that they never blot out with one purple the serious
charge that my reason adds and adds against us, even as we sit
here.  What is the solution, I ask myself, and the bridge?  How can
I reduce these dazzling, these dancing apparitions to one line
capable of linking all in one?  So I ponder; and you meanwhile
observe maliciously my pursed lips, my sallow cheeks and my
invariable frown.

'But I beg you also to notice my cane and my waistcoat.  I have
inherited a desk of solid mahogany in a room hung with maps.  Our
steamers have won an enviable reputation for their cabins replete
with luxury.  We supply swimming-baths and gymnasiums.  I wear a
white waistcoat now and consult a little book before I make an

'This is the arch and ironical manner in which I hope to distract
you from my shivering, my tender, and infinitely young and
unprotected soul.  For I am always the youngest; the most naïvely
surprised; the one who runs in advance in apprehension and sympathy
with discomfort or ridicule--should there be a smut on a nose, or a
button undone.  I suffer for all humiliations.  Yet I am also
ruthless, marmoreal.  I do not see how you can say that it is
fortunate to have lived.  Your little excitements, your childish
transports, when a kettle boils, when the soft air lifts Jinny's
spotted scarf and it floats web-like, are to me like silk streamers
thrown in the eyes of the charging bull.  I condemn you.  Yet my
heart yearns towards you.  I would go with you through the fires of
death.  Yet am happiest alone.  I luxuriate in gold and purple
vestments.  Yet I prefer a view over chimneypots; cats scraping
their mangy sides upon blistered chimney-stacks; broken windows;
and the hoarse clangour of bells from the steeple of some brick

'I see what is before me,' said Jinny.  'This scarf, these wine-
coloured spots.  This glass.  This mustard pot.  This flower.  I
like what one touches, what one tastes.  I like rain when it has
turned to snow and become palatable.  And being rash, and much more
courageous than you are, I do not temper my beauty with meanness
lest it should scorch me.  I gulp it down entire.  It is made of
flesh; it is made of stuff.  My imagination is the body's.  Its
visions are not fine-spun and white with purity like Louis'.  I do
not like your lean cats and your blistered chimney-pots.  The
scrannel beauties of your roof-tops repel me.  Men and women, in
uniforms, wigs and gowns, bowler hats and tennis shirts beautifully
open at the neck, the infinite variety of women's dresses (I note
all clothes always) delight me.  I eddy with them, in and out, in
and out, into rooms, into halls, here, there, everywhere, wherever
they go.  This man lifts the hoof of a horse.  This man shoves in
and out the drawers of his private collection.  I am never alone.
I am attended by a regiment of my fellows.  My mother must have
followed the drum, my father the sea.  I am like a little dog that
trots down the road after the regimental band, but stops to snuff a
tree-trunk, to sniff some brown stain, and suddenly careers across
the street after some mongrel cur and then holds one paw up while
it sniffs an entrancing whiff of meat from the butcher's shop.  My
traffics have led me into strange places.  Men, how many, have
broken from the wall and come to me.  I have only to hold my hand
up.  Straight as a dart they have come to the place of assignation--
perhaps a chair on a balcony, perhaps a shop at a street corner.
The torments, the divisions of your lives have been solved for me
night after night, sometimes only by the touch of a finger under
the table-cloth as we sat dining--so fluid has my body become,
forming even at the touch of a finger into one full drop, which
fills itself, which quivers, which flashes, which falls in ecstasy.

'I have sat before a looking-glass as you sit writing, adding up
figures at desks.  So, before the looking-glass in the temple of my
bedroom, I have judged my nose and my chin; my lips that open too
wide and show too much gum.  I have looked.  I have noted.  I have
chosen what yellow or white, what shine or dullness, what loop or
straightness suits.  I am volatile for one, rigid for another,
angular as an icicle in silver, or voluptuous as a candle flame in
gold.  I have run violently like a whip flung out to the extreme
end of my tether.  His shirt front, there in the corner, has been
white; then purple; smoke and flame have wrapped us about; after a
furious conflagration--yet we scarcely raised our voices, sitting
on the hearth-rug, as we murmured all the secrets of our hearts as
into shells so that nobody might hear in the sleeping-house, but I
heard the cook stir once, and once we thought the ticking of the
clock was a footfall--we have sunk to ashes, leaving no relics, no
unburnt bones, no wisps of hair to be kept in lockets such as your
intimacies leave behind them.  Now I turn grey; now I turn gaunt;
but I look at my face at midday sitting in front of the looking-
glass in broad daylight, and note precisely my nose, my chin, my
lips that open too wide and show too much gum.  But I am not

'There were lamp-posts,' said Rhoda, 'and trees that had not yet
shed their leaves on the way from the station.  The leaves might
have hidden me still.  But I did not hide behind them.  I walked
straight up to you instead of circling round to avoid the shock of
sensation as I used.  But it is only that I have taught my body to
do a certain trick.  Inwardly I am not taught; I fear, I hate, I
love, I envy and despise you, but I never join you happily.  Coming
up from the station, refusing to accept the shadow of the trees and
the pillar-boxes, I perceived, from your coats and umbrellas, even
at a distance, how you stand embedded in a substance made of
repeated moments run together; are committed, have an attitude,
with children, authority, fame, love, society; where I have
nothing.  I have no face.

'Here in this dining-room you see the antlers and the tumblers; the
salt-cellars; the yellow stains on the tablecloth.  "Waiter!" says
Bernard.  "Bread!" says Susan.  And the waiter comes; he brings
bread.  But I see the side of a cup like a mountain and only parts
of antlers, and the brightness on the side of that jug like a crack
in darkness with wonder and terror.  Your voices sound like trees
creaking in a forest.  So with your faces and their prominences and
hollows.  How beautiful, standing at a distance immobile at
midnight against the railings of some square!  Behind you is a
white crescent of foam, and fishermen on the verge of the world are
drawing in nets and casting them.  A wind ruffles the topmost
leaves of primeval trees.  (Yet here we sit at Hampton Court.)
Parrots shrieking break the intense stillness of the jungle.  (Here
the trams start.)  The swallow dips her wings in midnight pools.
(Here we talk.)  That is the circumference that I try to grasp as
we sit together.  Thus I must undergo the penance of Hampton Court
at seven thirty precisely.

'But since these rolls of bread and wine bottles are needed by me,
and your faces with their hollows and prominences are beautiful,
and the table-cloth and its yellow stain, far from being allowed to
spread in wider and wider circles of understanding that may at last
(so I dream, falling off the edge of the earth at night when my bed
floats suspended) embrace the entire world, I must go through the
antics of the individual.  I must start when you pluck at me with
your children, your poems, your chilblains or whatever it is that
you do and suffer.  But I am not deluded.  After all these callings
hither and thither, these pluckings and searchings, I shall fall
alone through this thin sheet into gulfs of fire.  And you will not
help me.  More cruel than the old torturers, you will let me fall,
and will tear me to pieces when I am fallen.  Yet there are moments
when the walls of the mind grow thin; when nothing is unabsorbed,
and I could fancy that we might blow so vast a bubble that the sun
might set and rise in it and we might take the blue of midday and
the black of midnight and be cast off and escape from here and

'Drop upon drop,' said Bernard, 'silence falls.  It forms on the
roof of the mind and falls into pools beneath.  For ever alone,
alone, alone,--hear silence fall and sweep its rings to the
farthest edges.  Gorged and replete, solid with middle-aged
content, I, whom loneliness destroys, let silence fall, drop by

'But now silence falling pits my face, wastes my nose like a
snowman stood out in a yard in the rain.  As silence falls I am
dissolved utterly and become featureless and scarcely to be
distinguished from another.  It does not matter.  What matters?  We
have dined well.  The fish, the veal cutlets, the wine have blunted
the sharp tooth of egotism.  Anxiety is at rest.  The vainest of
us, Louis perhaps, does not care what people think.  Neville's
tortures are at rest.  Let others prosper--that is what he thinks.
Susan hears the breathing of all her children safe asleep.  Sleep,
sleep, she murmurs.  Rhoda has rocked her ships to shore.  Whether
they have foundered, whether they have anchored, she cares no
longer.  We are ready to consider any suggestion that the world may
offer quite impartially.  I reflect now that the earth is only a
pebble flicked off accidentally from the face of the sun and that
there is no life anywhere in the abysses of space.'

'In this silence,' said Susan, 'it seems as if no leaf would ever
fall, or bird fly.'

'As if the miracle had happened,' said Jinny, 'and life were stayed
here and now.'

'And,' said Rhoda, 'we had no more to live.'

'But listen,' said Louis, 'to the world moving through abysses of
infinite space.  It roars; the lighted strip of history is past and
our Kings and Queens; we are gone; our civilization; the Nile; and
all life.  Our separate drops are dissolved; we are extinct, lost
in the abysses of time, in the darkness.'

'Silence falls; silence falls,' said Bernard.  'But now listen;
tick, tick; hoot, hoot; the world has hailed us back to it.  I
heard for one moment the howling winds of darkness as we passed
beyond life.  Then tick, tick (the clock); then hoot, hoot (the
cars).  We are landed; we are on shore; we are sitting, six of us,
at a table.  It is the memory of my nose that recalls me.  I rise;
"Fight," I cry, "fight!" remembering the shape of my own nose, and
strike with this spoon upon this table pugnaciously.'

'Oppose ourselves to this illimitable chaos,' said Neville, 'this
formless imbecility.  Making love to a nursemaid behind a tree,
that soldier is more admirable than all the stars.  Yet sometimes
one trembling star comes in the clear sky and makes me think the
world beautiful and we maggots deforming even the trees with our

('Yet, Louis,' said Rhoda, 'how short a time silence lasts.
Already they are beginning to smooth their napkins by the side of
their plates.  "Who comes?" says Jinny; and Neville sighs,
remembering that Percival comes no more.  Jinny has taken out her
looking-glass.  Surveying her face like an artist, she draws a
powder-puff down her nose, and after one moment of deliberation has
given precisely that red to the lips that the lips need.  Susan,
who feels scorn and fear at the sight of these preparations,
fastens the top button of her coat, and unfastens it.  What is she
making ready for?  For something, but something different.'

'They are saying to themselves,' said Louis, '"It is time.  I am
still vigorous," they are saying.  "My face shall be cut against
the black of infinite space."  They do not finish their sentences.
"It is time," they keep saying.  "The gardens will be shut."  And
going with them, Rhoda, swept into their current, we shall perhaps
drop a little behind.'

'Like conspirators who have something to whisper,' said Rhoda.)

'It is true, and I know for a fact,' said Bernard, 'as we walk down
this avenue, that a King, riding, fell over a molehill here.  But
how strange it seems to set against the whirling abysses of
infinite space a little figure with a golden teapot on his head.
Soon one recovers belief in figures: but not at once in what they
put on their heads.  Our English past--one inch of light.  Then
people put teapots on their heads and say, "I am a King!"  No, I
try to recover, as we walk, the sense of time, but with that
streaming darkness in my eyes I have lost my grip.  This Palace
seems light as a cloud set for a moment on the sky.  It is a trick
of the mind--to put Kings on their thrones, one following another,
with crowns on their heads.  And we ourselves, walking six abreast,
what do we oppose, with this random flicker of light in us that we
call brain and feeling, how can we do battle against this flood;
what has permanence?  Our lives too stream away, down the unlighted
avenues, past the strip of time, unidentified.  Once Neville threw
a poem at my head.  Feeling a sudden conviction of immortality, I
said, "I too know what Shakespeare knew."  But that has gone.'

'Unreasonably, ridiculously,' said Neville, 'as we walk, time comes
back.  A dog does it, prancing.  The machine works.  Age makes
hoary that gateway.  Three hundred years now seem no more than a
moment vanished against that dog.  King William mounts his horse
wearing a wig, and the court ladies sweep the turf with their
embroidered panniers.  I am beginning to be convinced, as we walk,
that the fate of Europe is of immense importance, and, ridiculous
as it still seems, that all depends upon the battle of Blenheim.
Yes; I declare, as we pass through this gateway, it is the present
moment; I am become a subject of King George.'

'While we advance down this avenue,' said Louis, 'I leaning
slightly upon Jinny, Bernard arm-in-arm with Neville, and Susan
with her hand in mine, it is difficult not to weep, calling
ourselves little children, praying that God may keep us safe while
we sleep.  It is sweet to sing together, clasping hands, afraid of
the dark, while Miss Curry plays the harmonium.'

'The iron gates have rolled back,' said Jinny.  'Time's fangs have
ceased their devouring.  We have triumphed over the abysses of
space, with rouge, with powder, with flimsy pocket-handkerchiefs.'

'I grasp, I hold fast,' said Susan.  'I hold firmly to this hand,
anyone's, with love, with hatred; it does not matter which.'

'The still mood, the disembodied mood is on us,' said Rhoda, 'and
we enjoy this momentary alleviation (it is not often that one has
no anxiety) when the walls of the mind become transparent.  Wren's
palace, like the quartet played to the dry and stranded people in
the stalls, makes an oblong.  A square is stood upon the oblong and
we say, "This is our dwelling-place.  The structure is now visible.
Very little is left outside."'

'The flower,' said Bernard, 'the red carnation that stood in the
vase on the table of the restaurant when we dined together with
Percival, is become a six-sided flower; made of six lives.'

'A mysterious illumination,' said Louis, 'visible against those yew

'Built up with much pain, many strokes,' said Jinny.

'Marriage, death, travel, friendship,' said Bernard; 'town and
country; children and all that; a many-sided substance cut out of
this dark; a many-faceted flower.  Let us stop for a moment; let us
behold what we have made.  Let it blaze against the yew trees.  One
life.  There.  It is over.  Gone out.'

'Now they vanish,' said Louis.  'Susan with Bernard.  Neville with
Jinny.  You and I, Rhoda, stop for a moment by this stone urn.
What song shall we hear now that these couples have sought the
groves, and Jinny, pointing with her gloved hand, pretends to
notice the water-lilies, and Susan, who has always loved Bernard,
says to him, "My ruined life, my wasted life."  And Neville, taking
Jinny's little hand, with the cherry-coloured finger-nails, by the
lake, by the moonlit water, cries, "Love, love," and she answers,
imitating the bird, "Love, love?"  What song do we hear?'

'They vanish, towards the lake,' said Rhoda.  'They slink away over
the grass furtively, yet with assurance as if they asked of our
pity their ancient privilege--not to be disturbed.  The tide in the
soul, tipped, flows that way; they cannot help deserting us.  The
dark has closed over their bodies.  What song do we hear--the
owl's, the nightingale's, the wren's?  The steamer hoots; the light
on the electric rails flashes; the trees gravely bow and bend.  The
flare hangs over London.  Here is an old woman, quietly returning,
and a man, a late fisherman, comes down the terrace with his rod.
Not a sound, not a movement must escape us.'

'A bird flies homeward,' said Louis.  'Evening opens her eyes and
gives one quick glance among the bushes before she sleeps.  How
shall we put it together, the confused and composite message that
they send back to us, and not they only, but many dead, boys and
girls, grown men and women, who have wandered here, under one king
or another?'

'A weight has dropped into the night,' said Rhoda, 'dragging it
down.  Every tree is big with a shadow that is not the shadow of
the tree behind it.  We hear a drumming on the roofs of a fasting
city when the Turks are hungry and uncertain tempered.  We hear
them crying with sharp, stag-like barks, "Open, open."  Listen to
the trams squealing and to the flashes from the electric rails.  We
hear the beech trees and the birch trees raise their branches as if
the bride had let her silken nightdress fall and come to the
doorway saying "Open, open".'

'All seems alive,' said Louis.  'I cannot hear death anywhere
tonight.  Stupidity, on that man's face, age, on that woman's,
would be strong enough, one would think, to resist the incantation,
and bring in death.  But where is death tonight?  All the crudity,
odds and ends, this and that, have been crushed like glass
splinters into the blue, the red-fringed tide, which, drawing into
the shore, fertile with innumerable fish, breaks at our feet.'

'If we could mount together, if we could perceive from a sufficient
height,' said Rhoda, 'if we could remain untouched without any
support--but you, disturbed by faint clapping sounds of praise and
laughter, and I, resenting compromise and right and wrong on human
lips, trust only in solitude and the violence of death and thus are

'For ever,' said Louis, 'divided.  We have sacrificed the embrace
among the ferns, and love, love, love by the lake, standing, like
conspirators who have drawn apart to share some secret, by the urn.
But now look, as we stand here, a ripple breaks on the horizon.
The net is raised higher and higher.  It comes to the top of the
water.  The water is broken by silver, by quivering little fish.
Now leaping, now lashing, they are laid on shore.  Life tumbles its
catch upon the grass.  There are figures coming towards us.  Are
they men or are they women?  They still wear the ambiguous
draperies of the flowing tide in which they have been immersed.'

'Now,' said Rhoda, 'as they pass that tree, they regain their
natural size.  They are only men, only women.  Wonder and awe
change as they put off the draperies of the flowing tide.  Pity
returns, as they emerge into the moonlight, like the relics of an
army, our representatives, going every night (here or in Greece) to
battle, and coming back every night with their wounds, their
ravaged faces.  Now light falls on them again.  They have faces.
They become Susan and Bernard, Jinny and Neville, people we know.
Now what a shrinkage takes place!  Now what a shrivelling, what an
humiliation!  The old shivers run through me, hatred and terror, as
I feel myself grappled to one spot by these hooks they cast on us;
these greetings, recognitions, pluckings of the finger and
searchings of the eyes.  Yet they have only to speak, and their
first words, with the remembered tone and the perpetual deviation
from what one expects, and their hands moving and making a thousand
past days rise again in the darkness, shake my purpose.'

'Something flickers and dances,' said Louis.  'Illusion returns as
they approach down the avenue.  Rippling and questioning begin.
What do I think of you--what do you think of me?  Who are you?  Who
am I?--that quivers again its uneasy air over us, and the pulse
quickens and the eye brightens and all the insanity of personal
existence without which life would fall flat and die, begins again.
They are on us.  The southern sun flickers over this urn; we push
off in to the tide of the violent and cruel sea.  Lord help us to
act our parts as we greet them returning--Susan and Bernard,
Neville and Jinny.'

'We have destroyed something by our presence,' said Bernard, 'a
world perhaps.'

'Yet we scarcely breathe,' said Neville, 'spent as we are.  We are
in that passive and exhausted frame of mind when we only wish to
rejoin the body of our mother from whom we have been severed.  All
else is distasteful, forced and fatiguing.  Jinny's yellow scarf is
moth-coloured in this light; Susan's eyes are quenched.  We are
scarcely to be distinguished from the river.  One cigarette end is
the only point of emphasis among us.  And sadness tinges our
content, that we should have left you, torn the fabric; yielded to
the desire to press out, alone, some bitterer, some blacker juice,
which was sweet too.  But now we are worn out.'

'After our fire,' said Jinny, 'there is nothing left to put in

'Still I gape,' said Susan, 'like a young bird, unsatisfied, for
something that has escaped me.'

'Let us stay for a moment,' said Bernard, 'before we go.  Let us
pace the terrace by the river almost alone.  It is nearly bed-time.
People have gone home.  Now how comforting it is to watch the
lights coming out in the bedrooms of small shopkeepers on the other
side of the river.  There is one--there is another.  What do you
think their takings have been today?  Only just enough to pay for
the rent, for light and food and the children's clothing.  But just
enough.  What a sense of the tolerableness of life the lights in
the bedrooms of small shopkeepers give us!  Saturday comes, and
there is just enough to pay perhaps for seats at the Pictures.
Perhaps before they put out the light they go into the little
garden and look at the giant rabbit couched in its wooden hut.
That is the rabbit they will have for Sunday dinner.  Then they put
out the light.  Then they sleep.  And for thousands of people sleep
is nothing but warmth and silence and one moment's sport with some
fantastic dream.  "I have posted my letter," the greengrocer
thinks, "to the Sunday newspaper.  Suppose I win five hundred
pounds in the football competition?  And we shall kill the rabbit.
Life is pleasant.  Life is good.  I have posted the letter.  We
shall kill the rabbit."  And he sleeps.

'That goes on.  Listen.  There is a sound like the knocking of
railway trucks in a siding.  That is the happy concatenation of one
event following another in our lives.  Knock, knock, knock.  Must,
must, must.  Must go, must sleep, must wake, must get up--sober,
merciful word which we pretend to revile, which we press tight to
our hearts, without which we should be undone.  How we worship that
sound like the knocking together of trucks in a siding!

'Now far off down the river I hear the chorus; the song of the
boasting boys, who are coming back in large charabancs from a day's
outing on the decks of crowded steamers.  Still they are singing as
they used to sing, across the court, on winters' nights, or with
the windows open in summer, getting drunk, breaking the furniture,
wearing little striped caps, all turning their heads the same way
as the brake rounded the corner; and I wished to be with them.

'What with the chorus, and the spinning water and the just
perceptible murmur of the breeze we are slipping away.  Little bits
of ourselves are crumbling.  There!  Something very important fell
then.  I cannot keep myself together.  I shall sleep.  But we must
go; must catch our train; must walk back to the station--must,
must, must.  We are only bodies jogging along side by side.  I
exist only in the soles of my feet and in the tired muscles of my
thighs.  We have been walking for hours it seems.  But where?  I
cannot remember.  I am like a log slipping smoothly over some
waterfall.  I am not a judge.  I am not called upon to give my
opinion.  Houses and trees are all the same in this grey light.  Is
that a post?  Is that a woman walking?  Here is the station, and if
the train were to cut me in two, I should come together on the
further side, being one, being indivisible.  But what is odd is
that I still clasp the return half of my ticket to Waterloo firmly
between the fingers of my right hand, even now, even sleeping.'

Now the sun had sunk.  Sky and sea were indistinguishable.  The
waves breaking spread their white fans far out over the shore, sent
white shadows into the recesses of sonorous caves and then rolled
back sighing over the shingle.

The tree shook its branches and a scattering of leaves fell to the
ground.  There they settled with perfect composure on the precise
spot where they would await dissolution.  Black and grey were shot
into the garden from the broken vessel that had once held red
light.  Dark shadows blackened the tunnels between the stalks.  The
thrush was silent and the worm sucked itself back into its narrow
hole.  Now and again a whitened and hollow straw was blown from an
old nest and fell into the dark grasses among the rotten apples.
The light had faded from the tool-house wall and the adder's skin
hung from the nail empty.  All the colours in the room had
overflown their banks.  The precise brush stroke was swollen and
lop-sided; cupboards and chairs melted their brown masses into one
huge obscurity.  The height from floor to ceiling was hung with
vast curtains of shaking darkness.  The looking-glass was pale as
the mouth of a cave shadowed by hanging creepers.

The substance had gone from the solidity of the hills.  Travelling
lights drove a plumy wedge among unseen and sunken roads, but no
lights opened among the folded wings of the hills, and there was no
sound save the cry of a bird seeking some lonelier tree.  At the
cliff's edge there was an equal murmur of air that had been brushed
through forests, of water that had been cooled in a thousand glassy
hollows of mid-ocean.

As if there were waves of darkness in the air, darkness moved on,
covering houses, hills, trees, as waves of water wash round the
sides of some sunken ship.  Darkness washed down streets, eddying
round single figures, engulfing them; blotting out couples clasped
under the showery darkness of elm trees in full summer foliage.
Darkness rolled its waves along grassy rides and over the wrinkled
skin of the turf, enveloping the solitary thorn tree and the empty
snail shells at its foot.  Mounting higher, darkness blew along the
bare upland slopes, and met the fretted and abraded pinnacles of
the mountain where the snow lodges for ever on the hard rock even
when the valleys are full of running streams and yellow vine
leaves, and girls, sitting on verandahs, look up at the snow,
shading their faces with their fans.  Them, too, darkness covered.

'Now to sum up,' said Bernard.  'Now to explain to you the meaning
of my life.  Since we do not know each other (though I met you
once, I think, on board a ship going to Africa), we can talk
freely.  The illusion is upon me that something adheres for a
moment, has roundness, weight, depth, is completed.  This, for the
moment, seems to be my life.  If it were possible, I would hand it
to you entire.  I would break it off as one breaks off a bunch of
grapes.  I would say, "Take it.  This is my life."

'But unfortunately, what I see (this globe, full of figures) you do
not see.  You see me, sitting at a table opposite you, a rather
heavy, elderly man, grey at the temples.  You see me take my napkin
and unfold it.  You see me pour myself out a glass of wine.  And
you see behind me the door opening, and people passing.  But in
order to make you understand, to give you my life, I must tell you
a story--and there are so many, and so many--stories of childhood,
stories of school, love, marriage, death, and so on; and none of
them are true.  Yet like children we tell each other stories, and
to decorate them we make up these ridiculous, flamboyant, beautiful
phrases.  How tired I am of stories, how tired I am of phrases that
come down beautifully with all their feet on the ground!  Also, how
I distrust neat designs of life that are drawn upon half-sheets of
note-paper.  I begin to long for some little language such as
lovers use, broken words, inarticulate words, like the shuffling of
feet on the pavement.  I begin to seek some design more in
accordance with those moments of humiliation and triumph that come
now and then undeniably.  Lying in a ditch on a stormy day, when it
has been raining, then enormous clouds come marching over the sky,
tattered clouds, wisps of cloud.  What delights me then is the
confusion, the height, the indifference and the fury.  Great clouds
always changing, and movement; something sulphurous and sinister,
bowled up, helter-skelter; towering, trailing, broken off, lost,
and I forgotten, minute, in a ditch.  Of story, of design, I do not
see a trace then.

'But meanwhile, while we eat, let us turn over these scenes as
children turn over the pages of a picture-book and the nurse says,
pointing:  "That's a cow.  That's a boat."  Let us turn over the
pages, and I will add, for your amusement, a comment in the margin.

'In the beginning, there was the nursery, with windows opening on
to a garden, and beyond that the sea.  I saw something brighten--no
doubt the brass handle of a cupboard.  Then Mrs Constable raised
the sponge above her head, squeezed it, and out shot, right, left,
all down the spine, arrows of sensation.  And so, as long as we
draw breath, for the rest of time, if we knock against a chair, a
table, or a woman, we are pierced with arrows of sensation--if we
walk in a garden, if we drink this wine.  Sometimes indeed, when I
pass a cottage with a light in the window where a child has been
born, I could implore them not to squeeze the sponge over that new
body.  Then, there was the garden and the canopy of the currant
leaves which seemed to enclose everything; flowers, burning like
sparks upon the depths of green; a rat wreathing with maggots under
a rhubarb leaf; the fly going buzz, buzz, buzz upon the nursery
ceiling, and plates upon plates of innocent bread and butter.  All
these things happen in one second and last for ever.  Faces loom.
Dashing round the corner.  "Hullo," one says, "there's Jinny.
That's Neville.  That's Louis in grey flannel with a snake belt.
That's Rhoda."  She had a basin in which she sailed petals of white
flowers.  It was Susan who cried, that day when I was in the tool-
house with Neville; and I felt my indifference melt.  Neville did
not melt.  "Therefore," I said, "I am myself, not Neville", a
wonderful discovery.  Susan cried and I followed her.  Her wet
pocket-handkerchief, and the sight of her little back heaving up
and down like a pump-handle, sobbing for what was denied her,
screwed my nerves up.  "That is not to be borne," I said, as I sat
beside her on the roots that were hard as skeletons.  I then first
became aware of the presence of those enemies who change, but are
always there; the forces we fight against.  To let oneself be
carried on passively is unthinkable.  "That's your course, world,"
one says, "mine is this."  So, "Let's explore," I cried, and jumped
up, and ran downhill with Susan and saw the stable-boy clattering
about the yard in great boots.  Down below, through the depths of
the leaves, the gardeners swept the lawns with great brooms.  The
lady sat writing.  Transfixed, stopped dead, I thought, "I cannot
interfere with a single stroke of those brooms.  They sweep and
they sweep.  Nor with the fixity of that woman writing."  It is
strange that one cannot stop gardeners sweeping nor dislodge a
woman.  There they have remained all my life.  It is as if one had
woken in Stonehenge surrounded by a circle of great stones, these
enemies, these presences.  Then a wood-pigeon flew out of the
trees.  And being in love for the first time, I made a phrase--a
poem about a wood-pigeon--a single phrase, for a hole had been
knocked in my mind, one of those sudden transparencies through
which one sees everything.  Then more bread and butter and more
flies droning round the nursery ceiling on which quivered islands
of light, ruffled, opalescent, while the pointed fingers of the
lustre dripped blue pools on the corner of the mantelpiece.  Day
after day as we sat at tea we observed these sights.

'But we were all different.  The wax--the virginal wax that coats
the spine melted in different patches for each of us.  The growl of
the boot-boy making love to the tweeny among the gooseberry bushes;
the clothes blown out hard on the line; the dead man in the gutter;
the apple tree, stark in the moonlight; the rat swarming with
maggots; the lustre dripping blue--our white wax was streaked and
stained by each of these differently.  Louis was disgusted by the
nature of human flesh; Rhoda by our cruelty; Susan could not share;
Neville wanted order; Jinny love; and so on.  We suffered terribly
as we became separate bodies.

'Yet I was preserved from these excesses and have survived many of
my friends, am a little stout, grey, rubbed on the thorax as it
were, because it is the panorama of life, seen not from the roof,
but from the third-storey window, that delights me, not what one
woman says to one man, even if that man is myself.  How could I be
bullied at school therefore?  How could they make things hot for
me?  There was the Doctor lurching into chapel, as if he trod a
battleship in a gale of wind, shouting out his commands through a
megaphone, since people in authority always become melodramatic--I
did not hate him like Neville, or revere him like Louis.  I took
notes as we sat together in chapel.  There were pillars, shadows,
memorial brasses, boys scuffling and swopping stamps behind Prayer
Books; the sound of a rusty pump; the Doctor booming, about
immortality and quitting ourselves like men; and Percival
scratching his thigh.  I made notes for stories; drew portraits in
the margin of my pocket-book and thus became still more separate.
Here are one or two of the figures I saw.

'Percival sat staring straight ahead of him that day in chapel.  He
also had a way of flicking his hand to the back of his neck.  His
movements were always remarkable.  We all flicked our hands to the
backs of our heads--unsuccessfully.  He had the kind of beauty
which defends itself from any caress.  As he was not in the least
precocious, he read whatever was written up for our edification
without any comment, and thought with that magnificent equanimity
(Latin words come naturally) that was to preserve him from so many
meannesses and humiliations, that Lucy's flaxen pigtails and pink
cheeks were the height of female beauty.  Thus preserved, his taste
later was of extreme fineness.  But there should be music, some
wild carol.  Through the window should come a hunting-song from
some rapid unapprehended life--a sound that shouts among the hills
and dies away.  What is startling, what is unexpected, what we
cannot account for, what turns symmetry to nonsense--that comes
suddenly to my mind, thinking of him.  The little apparatus of
observation is unhinged.  Pillars go down; the Doctor floats off;
some sudden exaltation possesses me.  He was thrown, riding in a
race, and when I came along Shaftesbury Avenue tonight, those
insignificant and scarcely formulated faces that bubble up out of
the doors of the Tube, and many obscure Indians, and people dying
of famine and disease, and women who have been cheated, and whipped
dogs and crying children--all these seemed to me bereft.  He would
have done justice.  He would have protected.  About the age of
forty he would have shocked the authorities.  No lullaby has ever
occurred to me capable of singing him to rest.

'But let me dip again and bring up in my spoon another of these
minute objects which we call optimistically, "characters of our
friends"--Louis.  He sat staring at the preacher.  His being seemed
conglobulated in his brow, his lips were pressed; his eyes were
fixed, but suddenly they flashed with laughter.  Also he suffered
from chilblains, the penalty of an imperfect circulation.  Unhappy,
unfriended, in exile he would sometimes, in moments of confidence,
describe how the surf swept over the beaches of his home.  The
remorseless eye of youth fixed itself upon his swollen joints.
Yes, but we were also quick to perceive how cutting, how apt, how
severe he was, how naturally, when we lay under the elm trees
pretending to watch cricket, we waited his approval, seldom given.
His ascendancy was resented, as Percival's was adored.  Prim,
suspicious, lifting his feet like a crane, there was yet a legend
that he had smashed a door with his naked fist.  But his peak was
too bare, too stony for that kind of mist to cling to it.  He was
without those simple attachments by which one is connected with
another.  He remained aloof; enigmatic; a scholar capable of that
inspired accuracy which has something formidable about it.  My
phrases (how to describe the moon) did not meet with his approval.
On the other hand, he envied me to the point of desperation for
being at my ease with servants.  Not that the sense of his own
deserts failed him.  That was commensurate with his respect for
discipline.  Hence his success, finally.  His life, though, was not
happy.  But look--his eye turns white as he lies in the palm of my
hand.  Suddenly the sense of what people are leaves one.  I return
him to the pool where he will acquire lustre.

'Neville next--lying on his back staring up at the summer sky.  He
floated among us like a piece of thistledown, indolently haunting
the sunny corner of the playing-field, not listening, yet not
remote.  It was through him that I have nosed round without ever
precisely touching the Latin classics and have also derived some of
those persistent habits of thought which make us irredeemably lop-
sided--for instance about crucifixes, that they are the mark of the
devil.  Our half-loves and half-hates and ambiguities on these
points were to him indefensible treacheries.  The swaying and
sonorous Doctor, whom I made to sit swinging his braces over a gas-
fire, was to him nothing but an instrument of the inquisition.  So
he turned with a passion that made up for his indolence upon
Catullus, Horace, Lucretius, lying lazily dormant, yes, but
regardant, noticing, with rapture, cricketers, while with a mind
like the tongue of an ant-eater, rapid, dexterous, glutinous, he
searched out every curl and twist of those Roman sentences, and
sought out one person, always one person to sit beside.

'And the long skirts of the masters' wives would come swishing by,
mountainous, menacing; and our hands would fly to our caps.  And
immense dullness would descend unbroken, monotonous.  Nothing,
nothing, nothing broke with its fin that leaden waste of waters.
Nothing would happen to lift that weight of intolerable boredom.
The terms went on.  We grew; we changed; for, of course, we are
animals.  We are not always aware by any means; we breathe, eat,
sleep automatically.  We exist not only separately but in
undifferentiated blobs of matter.  With one scoop a whole brakeful
of boys is swept up and goes cricketing, footballing.  An army
marches across Europe.  We assemble in parks and halls and
sedulously oppose any renegade (Neville, Louis, Rhoda) who sets up
a separate existence.  And I am so made that, while I hear one or
two distinct melodies, such as Louis sings, or Neville, I am also
drawn irresistibly to the sound of the chorus chanting its old,
chanting its almost wordless, almost senseless song that comes
across courts at night; which we hear now booming round us as cars
and omnibuses take people to theatres.  (Listen; the cars rush past
this restaurant; now and then, down the river, a siren hoots, as a
steamer makes for the sea.)  If a bagman offers me snuff in a train
I accept.  I like the copious, shapeless, warm, not so very clever,
but extremely easy and rather coarse aspect of things; the talk of
men in clubs and public-houses, of miners half naked in drawers--
the forthright, perfectly unassuming, and without end in view
except dinner, love, money and getting along tolerably; that which
is without great hopes, ideals or anything of that kind; what is
unassuming except to make a tolerably good job of it.  I like all
that.  So I joined them, when Neville sulked or Louis, as I quite
agree sublimely, turned on his heel.

'Thus, not equally by any means or with order, but in great streaks
my waxen waistcoat melted, here one drop, there another.  Now
through this transparency became visible those wondrous pastures,
at first so moon-white, radiant, where no foot has been; meadows of
the rose, the crocus, of the rock and the snake too; of the spotted
and swart; the embarrassing, the binding and tripping up.  One
leaps out of bed, throws up the window; with what a whirr the birds
rise!  You know that sudden rush of wings, that exclamation, carol,
and confusion; the riot and babble of voices; and all the drops are
sparkling, trembling, as if the garden were a splintered mosaic,
vanishing, twinkling; not yet formed into one whole; and a bird
sings close to the window.  I heard those songs.  I followed those
phantoms.  I saw Joans, Dorothys, Miriams, I forget their names,
passing down avenues, stopping on the crest of bridges to look down
into the river.  And from among them rise one or two distinct
figures, birds who sang with the rapt egotism of youth by the
window; broke their snails on stones, dipped their beaks in sticky,
viscous matter; hard, avid, remorseless; Jinny, Susan, Rhoda.  They
had been educated on the east coast or on the south coast.  They
had grown long pigtails and acquired the look of startled foals,
which is the mark of adolescence.

'Jinny was the first to come sidling up to the gate to eat sugar.
She nipped it off the palms of one's hands very cleverly, but her
ears were laid back as if she might bite.  Rhoda was wild--Rhoda
one never could catch.  She was both frightened and clumsy.  It was
Susan who first became wholly woman, purely feminine.  It was she
who dropped on my face those scalding tears which are terrible,
beautiful; both, neither.  She was born to be the adored of poets,
since poets require safety; someone who sits sewing, who says, "I
hate, I love," who is neither comfortable nor prosperous, but has
some quality in accordance with the high but unemphatic beauty of
pure style which those who create poetry so particularly admire.
Her father trailed from room to room and down flagged corridors in
his flapping dressing-gown and worn slippers.  On still nights a
wall of water fell with a roar a mile off.  The ancient dog could
scarcely heave himself up on to his chair.  And some witless
servant could be heard laughing at the top of the house as she
whirred the wheel of the sewing-machine round and round.

'That I observed even in the midst of my anguish when, twisting her
pocket-handkerchief, Susan cried, "I love; I hate."  "A worthless
servant," I observed, "laughs upstairs in the attic," and that
little piece of dramatization shows how incompletely we are merged
in our own experiences.  On the outskirts of every agony sits some
observant fellow who points; who whispers as he whispered to me
that summer morning in the house where the corn comes up to the
window, "The willow grows on the turf by the river.  The gardeners
sweep with great brooms and the lady sits writing."  Thus he
directed me to that which is beyond and outside our own
predicament; to that which is symbolic, and thus perhaps permanent,
if there is any permanence in our sleeping, eating, breathing, so
animal, so spiritual and tumultuous lives.

'The willow tree grew by the river.  I sat on the smooth turf with
Neville, with Larpent, with Baker, Romsey, Hughes, Percival and
Jinny.  Through its fine plumes specked with little pricked ears of
green in spring, of orange in autumn, I saw boats; buildings; I saw
hurrying, decrepit women.  I buried match after match in the turf
decidedly to mark this or that stage in the process of understanding
(it might be philosophy; science; it might be myself) while the
fringe of my intelligence floating unattached caught those distant
sensations which after a time the mind draws in and works upon; the
chime of bells; general murmurs; vanishing figures; one girl on a
bicycle who, as she rode, seemed to lift the corner of a curtain
concealing the populous undifferentiated chaos of life which surged
behind the outlines of my friends and the willow tree.

'The tree alone resisted our eternal flux.  For I changed and
changed; was Hamlet, was Shelley, was the hero, whose name I now
forget, of a novel by Dostoevsky; was for a whole term, incredibly,
Napoleon; but was Byron chiefly.  For many weeks at a time it was
my part to stride into rooms and fling gloves and coat on the back
of chairs, scowling slightly.  I was always going to the bookcase
for another sip of the divine specific.  Therefore, I let fly my
tremendous battery of phrases upon somebody quite inappropriate--a
girl now married, now buried; every book, every window-seat was
littered with the sheets of my unfinished letters to the woman who
made me Byron.  For it is difficult to finish a letter in somebody
else's style.  I arrived all in a lather at her house; exchanged
tokens but did not marry her, being no doubt unripe for that

'Here again there should be music.  Not that wild hunting-song,
Percival's music; but a painful, guttural, visceral, also soaring,
lark-like, pealing song to replace these flagging, foolish
transcripts--how much too deliberate! how much too reasonable!--
which attempt to describe the flying moment of first love.  A
purple slide is slipped over the day.  Look at a room before she
comes and after.  Look at the innocents outside pursuing their way.
They neither see nor hear; yet on they go.  Moving oneself in this
radiant yet gummy atmosphere how conscious one is of every
movement--something adheres, something sticks to one's hands,
taking up a newspaper even.  Then there is the being eviscerated--
drawn out, spun like a spider's web and twisted in agony round a
thorn.  Then a thunder-clap of complete indifference; the light
blown out; then the return of measureless irresponsible joy;
certain fields seem to glow green for ever, and innocent landscapes
appear as if in the light of the first dawn--one patch of green,
for example, up at Hampstead; and all faces are lit up, all
conspire in a hush of tender joy; and then the mystic sense of
completion and then that rasping, dog-fish skin-like roughness--
those black arrows of shivering sensation, when she misses the
post, when she does not come.  Out rush a bristle of horned
suspicions, horror, horror, horror--but what is the use of
painfully elaborating these consecutive sentences when what one
needs is nothing consecutive but a bark, a groan?  And years later
to see a middle-aged woman in a restaurant taking off her cloak.

'But to return.  Let us again pretend that life is a solid
substance, shaped like a globe, which we turn about in our fingers.
Let us pretend that we can make out a plain and logical story, so
that when one matter is despatched--love for instance--we go on, in
an orderly manner, to the next.  I was saying there was a willow
tree.  Its shower of falling branches, its creased and crooked bark
had the effect of what remains outside our illusions yet cannot
stay them, is changed by them for the moment, yet shows through
stable, still, and with a sternness that our lives lack.  Hence the
comment it makes; the standard it supplies, and the reason why, as
we flow and change, it seems to measure.  Neville, for example, sat
with me on the turf.  But can anything be as clear as all that, I
would say, following his gaze, through the branches, to a punt on
the river, and a young man eating bananas from a paper bag?  The
scene was cut out with such intensity and so permeated with the
quality of his vision that for a moment I could see it too; the
punt, the bananas, the young man, through the branches of the
willow tree.  Then it faded.

'Rhoda came wandering vaguely.  She would take advantage of any
scholar in a blowing gown, or donkey rolling the turf with
slippered feet to hide behind.  What fear wavered and hid itself
and blew to a flame in the depths of her grey, her startled, her
dreaming eyes?  Cruel and vindictive as we are, we are not bad to
that extent.  We have our fundamental goodness surely or to talk as
I talk freely to someone I hardly know would be impossible--we
should cease.  The willow as she saw it grew on the verge of a grey
desert where no bird sang.  The leaves shrivelled as she looked at
them, tossed in agony as she passed them.  The trams and omnibuses
roared hoarse in the street ran over rocks and sped foaming away.
Perhaps one pillar, sunlit, stood in her desert by a pool where
wild beasts come down stealthily to drink.

'Then Jinny came.  She flashed her fire over the tree.  She was
like a crinkled poppy, febrile, thirsty with the desire to drink
dry dust.  Darting, angular, not in the least impulsive, she came
prepared.  So little flames zigzag over the cracks in the dry
earth.  She made the willows dance, but not with illusion; for she
saw nothing that was not there.  It was a tree; there was the
river; it was afternoon; here we were; I in my serge suit; she in
green.  There was no past, no future; merely the moment in its ring
of light, and our bodies; and the inevitable climax, the ecstasy.

'Louis, when he let himself down on the grass, cautiously spreading
(I do not exaggerate) a mackintosh square, made one acknowledge his
presence.  It was formidable.  I had the intelligence to salute his
integrity; his research with bony fingers wrapped in rags because
of chilblains for some diamond of indissoluble veracity.  I buried
boxes of burnt matches in holes in the turf at his feet.  His grim
and caustic tongue reproved my indolence.  He fascinated me with
his sordid imagination.  His heroes wore bowler-hats and talked
about selling pianos for tenners.  Through his landscape the tram
squealed; the factory poured its acrid fumes.  He haunted mean
streets and towns where women lay drunk, naked, on counterpanes on
Christmas day.  His words falling from a shot-tower hit the water
and up it spurted.  He found one word, one only for the moon.  Then
he got up and went; we all got up; we all went.  But I, pausing,
looked at the tree, and as I looked in autumn at the fiery and
yellow branches, some sediment formed; I formed; a drop fell; I
fell--that is, from some completed experience I had emerged.

'I rose and walked away--I, I, I; not Byron, Shelley, Dostoevsky,
but I, Bernard.  I even repeated my own name once or twice.  I
went, swinging my stick, into a shop, and bought--not that I love
music--a picture of Beethoven in a silver frame.  Not that I love
music, but because the whole of life, its masters, its adventurers,
then appeared in long ranks of magnificent human beings behind me;
and I was the inheritor; I, the continuer; I, the person
miraculously appointed to carry it on.  So, swinging my stick, with
my eyes filmed, not with pride, but with humility rather, I walked
down the street.  The first whirr of wings had gone up, the carol,
the exclamation; and now one enters; one goes into the house, the
dry, uncompromising, inhabited house, the place with all its
traditions, its objects, its accumulations of rubbish, and
treasures displayed upon tables.  I visited the family tailor, who
remembered my uncle.  People turned up in great quantities, not cut
out, like the first faces (Neville, Louis, Jinny, Susan, Rhoda),
but confused, featureless, or changed their features so fast that
they seemed to have none.  And blushing yet scornful, in the oddest
condition of raw rapture and scepticism, I took the blow; the mixed
sensations; the complex and disturbing and utterly unprepared for
impacts of life all over, in all places, at the same time.  How
upsetting!  How humiliating never to be sure what to say next, and
those painful silences, glaring as dry deserts, with every pebble
apparent; and then to say what one ought not to have said, and then
to be conscious of a ramrod of incorruptible sincerity which one
would willingly exchange for a shower of smooth pence, but could
not, there at that party, where Jinny sat quite at her ease, rayed
out on a gilt chair.

'Then says some lady with an impressive gesture, "Come with me."
She leads one into a private alcove and admits one to the honour of
her intimacy.  Surnames change to Christian names; Christian names
to nicknames.  What is to be done about India, Ireland or Morocco?
Old gentlemen answer the question standing decorated under
chandeliers.  One finds oneself surprisingly supplied with
information.  Outside the undifferentiated forces roar; inside we
are very private, very explicit, have a sense indeed, that it is
here, in this little room, that we make whatever day of the week it
may be.  Friday or Saturday.  A shell forms upon the soft soul,
nacreous, shiny, upon which sensations tap their beaks in vain.  On
me it formed earlier than on most.  Soon I could carve my pear when
other people had done dessert.  I could bring my sentence to a
close in a hush of complete silence.  It is at that season too that
perfection has a lure.  One can learn Spanish, one thinks, by tying
a string to the right toe and waking early.  One fills up the
little compartments of one's engagement book with dinner at eight;
luncheon at one-thirty.  One has shirts, socks, ties laid out on
one's bed.

'But it is a mistake, this extreme precision, this orderly and
military progress; a convenience, a lie.  There is always deep
below it, even when we arrive punctually at the appointed time with
our white waistcoats and polite formalities, a rushing stream of
broken dreams, nursery rhymes, street cries, half-finished
sentences and sights--elm trees, willow trees, gardeners sweeping,
women writing--that rise and sink even as we hand a lady down to
dinner.  While one straightens the fork so precisely on the table-
cloth, a thousand faces mop and mow.  There is nothing one can fish
up in a spoon; nothing one can call an event.  Yet it is alive too
and deep, this stream.  Immersed in it I would stop between one
mouthful and the next, and look intently at a vase, perhaps with
one red flower, while a reason struck me, a sudden revelation.  Or
I would say, walking along the Strand, "That's the phrase I want",
as some beautiful, fabulous phantom bird, fish or cloud with fiery
edges swam up to enclose once and for all some notion haunting me,
after which on I trotted taking stock with renewed delight of ties
and things in shop-windows.

'The crystal, the globe of life as one calls it, far from being
hard and cold to the touch, has walls of thinnest air.  If I press
them all will burst.  Whatever sentence I extract whole and entire
from this cauldron is only a string of six little fish that let
themselves be caught while a million others leap and sizzle, making
the cauldron bubble like boiling silver, and slip through my
fingers.  Faces recur, faces and faces--they press their beauty to
the walls of my bubble--Neville, Susan, Louis, Jinny, Rhoda and a
thousand others.  How impossible to order them rightly; to detach
one separately, or to give the effect of the whole--again like
music.  What a symphony with its concord and its discord, and its
tunes on top and its complicated bass beneath, then grew up!  Each
played his own tune, fiddle, flute, trumpet, drum or whatever the
instrument might be.  With Neville, "Let's discuss Hamlet."  With
Louis, science.  With Jinny, love.  Then suddenly, in a moment of
exasperation, off to Cumberland with a quiet man for a whole week
in an inn, with the rain running down the window-panes and nothing
but mutton and mutton and again mutton for dinner.  Yet that week
remains a solid stone in the welter of unrecorded sensation.  It
was then we played dominoes; then we quarrelled about tough mutton.
Then we walked on the fell.  And a little girl, peeping round the
door, gave me that letter, written on blue paper, in which I learnt
that the girl who had made me Byron was to marry a squire.  A man
in gaiters, a man with a whip, a man who made speeches about fat
oxen at dinner--I exclaimed derisively and looked at the racing
clouds, and felt my own failure; my desire to be free; to escape;
to be bound; to make an end; to continue; to be Louis; to be
myself; and walked out in my mackintosh alone, and felt grumpy
under the eternal hills and not in the least sublime; and came home
and blamed the meat and packed and so back again to the welter; to
the torture.

'Nevertheless, life is pleasant, life is tolerable.  Tuesday
follows Monday; then comes Wednesday.  The mind grows rings; the
identity becomes robust; pain is absorbed in growth.  Opening and
shutting, shutting and opening, with increasing hum and sturdiness,
the haste and fever of youth are drawn into service until the whole
being seems to expand in and out like the mainspring of a clock.
How fast the stream flows from January to December!  We are swept
on by the torrent of things grown so familiar that they cast no
shadow.  We float, we float . . .

'However, since one must leap (to tell you this story), I leap,
here, at this point, and alight now upon some perfectly commonplace
object--say the poker and tongs, as I saw them sometime later,
after that lady who had made me Byron had married, under the light
of one whom I will call the third Miss Jones.  She is the girl who
wears a certain dress expecting one at dinner, who picks a certain
rose, who makes one feel "Steady, steady, this is a matter of some
importance", as one shaves.  Then one asks, "How does she behave to
children?"  One observes that she is a little clumsy with her
umbrella; but minded when the mole was caught in the trap; and
finally, would not make the loaf at breakfast (I was thinking of
the interminable breakfasts of married life as I shaved) altogether
prosaic--it would not surprise one sitting opposite this girl to
see a dragon-fly perched on the loaf at breakfast.  Also she
inspired me with a desire to rise in the world; also she made me
look with curiosity at the hitherto repulsive faces of new-born
babies.  And the little fierce beat--tick-tack, tick-tack--of the
pulse of one's mind took on a more majestic rhythm.  I roamed down
Oxford Street.  We are the continuers, we are the inheritors, I
said, thinking of my sons and daughters; and if the feeling is so
grandiose as to be absurd and one conceals it by jumping on to a
bus or buying the evening paper, it is still a curious element in
the ardour with which one laces up one's boots, with which one now
addresses old friends committed to different careers.  Louis, the
attic dweller; Rhoda, the nymph of the fountain always wet; both
contradicted what was then so positive to me; both gave the other
side of what seemed to me so evident (that we marry, that we
domesticate); for which I loved them, pitied them, and also deeply
envied them their different lot.

'Once I had a biographer, dead long since, but if he still followed
my footsteps with his old flattering intensity he would here say,
"About this time Bernard married and bought a house . . .  His
friends observed in him a growing tendency to domesticity . . .
The birth of children made it highly desirable that he should
augment his income."  That is the biographic style, and it does to
tack together torn bits of stuff, stuff with raw edges.  After all,
one cannot find fault with the biographic style if one begins
letters "Dear Sir", ends them "your faithfully"; one cannot despise
these phrases laid like Roman roads across the tumult of our lives,
since they compel us to walk in step like civilized people with the
slow and measured tread of policemen though one may be humming any
nonsense under one's breath at the same time--"Hark, hark, the dogs
do bark", "Come away, come away, death", "Let me not to the
marriage of true minds", and so on.  "He attained some success in
his profession . . .  He inherited a small sum of money from an
uncle"--that is how the biographer continues, and if one wears
trousers and hitches them up with braces, one has to say that,
though it is tempting now and then to go blackberrying; tempting to
play ducks and drakes with all these phrases.  But one has to say

'I became, I mean, a certain kind of man, scoring my path across
life as one treads a path across the fields.  My boots became worn
a little on the left side.  When I came in, certain re-arrangements
took place.  "Here's Bernard!"  How differently different people
say that!  There are many rooms--many Bernards.  There was the
charming, but weak; the strong, but supercilious; the brilliant,
but remorseless; the very good fellow, but, I make no doubt, the
awful bore; the sympathetic, but cold; the shabby, but--go into the
next room--the foppish, worldly, and too well dressed.  What I was
to myself was different; was none of these.  I am inclined to pin
myself down most firmly there before the loaf at breakfast with my
wife, who being now entirely my wife and not at all the girl who
wore when she hoped to meet me a certain rose, gave me that
feeling of existing in the midst of unconsciousness such as the
tree-frog must have couched on the right shade of green leaf.
"Pass" . . . I would say.  "Milk" . . . she might answer, or
"Mary's coming" . . .--simple words for those who have inherited
the spoils of all the ages but not as said then, day after day,
in the full tide of life, when one feels complete, entire, at
breakfast.  Muscles, nerves, intestines, blood-vessels, all that
makes the coil and spring of our being, the unconscious hum of the
engine, as well as the dart and flicker of the tongue, functioned
superbly. Opening, shutting; shutting, opening; eating, drinking;
sometimes speaking--the whole mechanism seemed to expand, to
contract, like the mainspring of a clock.  Toast and butter, coffee
and bacon.  The Times and letters--suddenly the telephone rang
with urgency and I rose deliberately and went to the telephone.
I took up the black mouth.  I marked the ease with which my mind
adjusted itself to assimilate the message--it might be (one has
these fancies) to assume command of the British Empire; I observed
my composure; I remarked with what magnificent vitality the atoms
of my attention dispersed, swarmed round the interruption,
assimilated the message, adapted themselves to a new state of
affairs and had created, by the time I put back the receiver, a
richer, stronger, a more complicated world in which I was called
upon to act my part and had no doubt whatever that I could do it.
Clapping my hat on my head, I strode into a world inhabited by vast
numbers of men who had also clapped their hats on their heads, and
as we jostled and encountered in trains and tubes we exchanged the
knowing wink of competitors and comrades braced with a thousand
snares and dodges to achieve the same end--to earn our livings.

'Life is pleasant.  Life is good.  The mere process of life is
satisfactory.  Take the ordinary man in good health.  He likes
eating and sleeping.  He likes the snuff of fresh air and walking
at a brisk pace down the Strand.  Or in the country there's a cock
crowing on a gate; there's a foal galloping round a field.
Something always has to be done next.  Tuesday follows Monday;
Wednesday Tuesday.  Each spreads the same ripple of wellbeing,
repeats the same curve of rhythm; covers fresh sand with a chill or
ebbs a little slackly without.  So the being grows rings; identity
becomes robust.  What was fiery and furtive like a fling of grain
cast into the air and blown hither and thither by wild gusts of
life from every quarter is now methodical and orderly and flung
with a purpose--so it seems.

'Lord, how pleasant!  Lord, how good!  How tolerable is the life of
little shopkeepers, I would say, as the train drew through the
suburbs and one saw lights in bedroom windows.  Active, energetic
as a swarm of ants, I said, as I stood at the window and watched
workers, bag in hand, stream into town.  What hardness, what energy
and violence of limb, I thought, seeing men in white drawers'
scouring after a football on a patch of snow in January.  Now being
grumpy about some small matter--it might be the meat--it seemed
luxurious to disturb with a little ripple the enormous stability,
whose quiver, for our child was about to be born, increased its
joy, of our married life.  I snapped at dinner.  I spoke
unreasonably as if, being a millionaire, I could throw away five
shillings; or, being a perfect steeple-jack, stumbled over a
footstool on purpose.  Going up to bed we settled our quarrel on
the stairs, and standing by the window looking at a sky clear like
the inside of a blue stone, "Heaven be praised," I said, "we need
not whip this prose into poetry.  The little language is enough."
For the space of the prospect and its clarity seemed to offer no
impediment whatsoever, but to allow our lives to spread out and out
beyond all bristling of roofs and chimneys to the flawless verge.

'Into this crashed death--Percival's.  "Which is happiness?" I said
(our child had been born), "which pain?" referring to the two sides
of my body, as I came downstairs, making a purely physical
statement.  Also I made note of the state of the house; the curtain
blowing; the cook singing; the wardrobe showing through the half-
opened door.  I said, "Give him (myself) another moment's respite"
as I went downstairs.  "Now in this drawing-room he is going to
suffer.  There is no escape."  But for pain words are lacking.
There should be cries, cracks, fissures, whiteness passing over
chintz covers, interference with the sense of time, of space; the
sense also of extreme fixity in passing objects; and sounds very
remote and then very close; flesh being gashed and blood spurting,
a joint suddenly twisted--beneath all of which appears something
very important, yet remote, to be just held in solitude.  So I went
out.  I saw the first morning he would never see--the sparrows were
like toys dangled from a string by a child.  To see things without
attachment, from the outside, and to realize their beauty in
itself--how strange!  And then the sense that a burden has been
removed; pretence and make-believe and unreality are gone, and
lightness has come with a kind of transparency, making oneself
invisible and things seen through as one walks--how strange.  "And
now what other discovery will there be?" I said, and in order to
hold it tight ignored newspaper placards and went and looked at
pictures.  Madonnas and pillars, arches and orange trees, still as
on the first day of creation, but acquainted with grief, there they
hung, and I gazed at them.  "Here," I said, "we are together
without interruption."  This freedom, this immunity, seemed then a
conquest, and stirred in me such exaltation that I sometimes go
there, even now, to bring back exaltation and Percival.  But it did
not last.  What torments one is the horrible activity of the mind's
eye--how he fell, how he looked, where they carried him; men in
loin-cloths, pulling ropes; the bandages and the mud.  Then comes
the terrible pounce of memory, not to be foretold, not to be warded
off--that I did not go with him to Hampton Court.  That claw
scratched; that fang tore; I did not go.  In spite of his
impatiently protesting that it did not matter; why interrupt, why
spoil our moment of uninterrupted community?--Still, I repeated
sullenly, I did not go, and so, driven out of the sanctuary by
these officious devils, went to Jinny because she had a room; a
room with little tables, with little ornaments scattered on little
tables.  There I confessed, with tears--I had not gone to Hampton
Court.  And she, remembering other things, to me trifles but
torturing to her, showed me how life withers when there are things
we cannot share.  Soon, too, a maid came in with a note, and as she
turned to answer it and I felt my own curiosity to know what she
was writing and to whom, I saw the first leaf fall on his grave.  I
saw us push beyond this moment, and leave it behind us for ever.
And then sitting side by side on the sofa we remembered inevitably
what had been said by others; "the lily of the day is fairer far in
May"; we compared Percival to a lily--Percival whom I wanted to
lose his hair, to shock the authorities, to grow old with me; he
was already covered with lilies.

'So the sincerity of the moment passed; so it became symbolical;
and that I could not stand.  Let us commit any blasphemy of
laughter and criticism rather than exude this lily-sweet glue; and
cover him with phrases, I cried.  Therefore I broke off, and Jinny,
who was without future, or speculation, but respected the moment
with complete integrity, gave her body a flick with the whip,
powdered her face (for which I loved her), and waved to me as she
stood on the doorstep, pressing her hand to her hair so that the
wind might not disorder it, a gesture for which I honoured her, as
if it confirmed our determination--not to let lilies grow.

'I observed with disillusioned clarity the despicable nonentity of
the street; its porches; its window curtains; the drab clothes, the
cupidity and complacency of shopping women; and old men taking the
air in comforters; the caution of people crossing; the universal
determination to go on living, when really, fools and gulls that
you are, I said, any slate may fly from a roof, any car may swerve,
for there is neither rhyme nor reason when a drunk man staggers
about with a club in his hand--that is all.  I was like one
admitted behind the scenes: like one shown how the effects are
produced.  I returned, however, to my own snug home and was warned
by the parlourmaid to creep upstairs in my stockings.  The child
was asleep.  I went to my room.

'Was there no sword, nothing with which to batter down these walls,
this protection, this begetting of children and living behind
curtains, and becoming daily more involved and committed, with
books and pictures?  Better burn one's life out like Louis,
desiring perfection; or like Rhoda leave us, flying past us to the
desert; or choose one out of millions and one only like Neville;
better be like Susan and love and hate the heat of the sun or the
frost-bitten grass; or be like Jinny, honest, an animal.  All had
their rapture; their common feeling with death; something that
stood them in stead.  Thus I visited each of my friends in turn,
trying, with fumbling fingers, to prise open their locked caskets.
I went from one to the other holding my sorrow--no, not my sorrow
but the incomprehensible nature of this our life--for their
inspection.  Some people go to priests; others to poetry; I to my
friends, I to my own heart, I to seek among phrases and fragments
something unbroken--I to whom there is not beauty enough in moon or
tree; to whom the touch of one person with another is all, yet who
cannot grasp even that, who am so imperfect, so weak, so
unspeakably lonely.  There I sat.

'Should this be the end of the story? a kind of sigh? a last ripple
of the wave?  A trickle of water in some gutter where, burbling, it
dies away?  Let me touch the table--so--and thus recover my sense
of the moment.  A sideboard covered with cruets; a basket full of
rolls; a plate of bananas--these are comfortable sights.  But if
there are no stories, what end can there be, or what beginning?
Life is not susceptible perhaps to the treatment we give it when we
try to tell it.  Sitting up late at night it seems strange not to
have more control.  Pigeon-holes are not then very useful.  It is
strange how force ebbs away and away into some dry creek.  Sitting
alone, it seems we are spent; our waters can only just surround
feebly that spike of sea-holly; we cannot reach that further pebble
so as to wet it.  It is over, we are ended.  But wait--I sat all
night waiting--an impulse again runs through us; we rise, we toss
back a mane of white spray; we pound on the shore; we are not to be
confined.  That is, I shaved and washed; did not wake my wife, and
had breakfast; put on my hat, and went out to earn my living.
After Monday, Tuesday comes.

'Yet some doubt remained, some note of interrogation.  I was
surprised, opening a door, to find people thus occupied; I
hesitated, taking a cup of tea, whether one said milk or sugar.
And the light of the stars falling, as it falls now, on my hand
after travelling for millions upon millions of years--I could get a
cold shock from that for a moment--not more, my imagination is too
feeble.  But some doubt remained.  A shadow flitted through my mind
like moths' wings among chairs and tables in a room in the evening.
When, for example, I went to Lincolnshire that summer to see Susan
and she advanced towards me across the garden with the lazy
movement of a half-filled sail, with the swaying movement of a
woman with child, I thought, "It goes on; but why?"  We sat in the
garden; the farm carts came up dripping with hay; there was the
usual gabble of rooks and doves; fruit was netted and covered over;
the gardener dug.  Bees boomed down the purple tunnels of flowers;
bees embedded themselves on the golden shields of sunflowers.
Little twigs were blown across the grass.  How rhythmical, and half
conscious and like something wrapped in mist it was; but to me
hateful, like a net folding one's limbs in its meshes, cramping.
She who had refused Percival lent herself to this, to this covering

'Sitting down on a bank to wait for my train, I thought then how we
surrender, how we submit to the stupidity of nature.  Woods covered
in thick green leafage lay in front of me.  And by some flick of a
scent or a sound on a nerve, the old image--the gardeners sweeping,
the lady writing--returned.  I saw the figures beneath the beech
trees at Elvedon.  The gardeners swept; the lady at the table sat
writing.  But I now made the contribution of maturity to
childhood's intuitions--satiety and doom; the sense of what is
unescapable in our lot; death; the knowledge of limitations; how
life is more obdurate than one had thought it.  Then, when I was a
child, the presence of an enemy had asserted itself; the need for
opposition had stung me.  I had jumped up and cried, "Let's
explore."  The horror of the situation was ended.

'Now what situation was there to end?  Dullness and doom.  And what
to explore?  The leaves and the wood concealed nothing.  If a bird
rose I should no longer make a poem--I should repeat what I had
seen before.  Thus if I had a stick with which to point to
indentations in the curve of being, this is the lowest; here it
coils useless on the mud where no tide comes--here, where I sit
with my back to a hedge, and my hat over my eyes, while the sheep
advanced remorselessly in that wooden way of theirs, step by step
on stiff, pointed legs.  But if you hold a blunt blade to a
grindstone long enough, something spurts--a jagged edge of fire; so
held to lack of reason, aimlessness, the usual, all massed
together, out spurted in one flame hatred, contempt.  I took my
mind, my being, the old dejected, almost inanimate object, and
lashed it about among these odds and ends, sticks and straws,
detestable little bits of wreckage, flotsam and jetsam, floating on
the oily surface.  I jumped up.  I said, "Fight!  Fight!" I
repeated.  It is the effort and the struggle, it is the perpetual
warfare, it is the shattering and piecing together--this is the
daily battle, defeat or victory, the absorbing pursuit.  The trees,
scattered, put on order; the thick green of the leaves thinned
itself to a dancing light.  I netted them under with a sudden
phrase.  I retrieved them from formlessness with words.

'The train came in.  Lengthening down the platform, the train came
to a stop.  I caught my train.  And so back to London in the
evening.  How satisfactory, the atmosphere of common sense and
tobacco; old women clambering into the third-class carriage with
their baskets; the sucking at pipes; the good-nights and see you
tomorrows of friends parting at wayside stations, and then the
lights of London--not the flaring ecstasy of youth, not that
tattered violet banner, but still the lights of London all the
same; hard, electric lights, high up in offices; street lamps laced
along dry pavements; flares roaring above street markets.  I like
all this when I have despatched the enemy for a moment.

'Also I like to find the pageant of existence roaring, in a theatre
for instance.  The clay-coloured, earthy nondescript animal of the
field here erects himself and with infinite ingenuity and effort
puts up a fight against the green woods and green fields and sheep
advancing with measured tread, munching.  And, of course, windows
in the long grey streets were lit up; strips of carpet cut the
pavement; there were swept and garnished rooms, fire, food, wine,
talk.  Men with withered hands, women with pearl pagodas hanging
from their ears, came in and went out.  I saw old men's faces
carved into wrinkles and sneers by the work of the world; beauty
cherished so that it seemed newly sprung even in age; and youth so
apt for pleasure that pleasure, one thought, must exist; it seemed
that grass-lands must roll for it; and the sea be chopped up into
little waves; and the woods rustle with bright-coloured birds for
youth, for youth expectant.  There one met Jinny and Hal, Tom and
Betty; there we had our jokes and shared our secrets; and never
parted in the doorway without arranging to meet again in some other
room as the occasion, as the time of the year, suggested.  Life is
pleasant; life is good.  After Monday comes Tuesday, and Wednesday

'Yes, but after a time with a difference.  It may be that something
in the look of the room one night, in the arrangement of the
chairs, suggests it.  It seems comfortable to sink down on a sofa
in a corner, to look, to listen.  Then it happens that two figures
standing with their backs to the window appear against the branches
of a spreading willow.  With a shock of emotion one feels "There
are figures without features robed in beauty."  In the pause that
follows while the ripples spread, the girl to whom one should be
talking says to herself, "He is old."  But she is wrong.  It is not
age; it is that a drop has fallen; another drop.  Time has given
the arrangement another shake.  Out we creep from the arch of the
currant leaves, out into a wider world.  The true order of things--
this is our perpetual illusion--is now apparent.  Thus in a moment,
in a drawing-room, our life adjusts itself to the majestic march of
day across the sky.

'It was for this reason that instead of pulling on my patent-
leather shoes and finding a tolerable tie, I sought Neville.  I
sought my oldest friend, who had known me when I was Byron; when I
was Meredith's young man, and also that hero in a book by
Dostoevsky whose name I have forgotten.  I found him alone,
reading.  A perfectly neat table; a curtain pulled methodically
straight; a paper-knife dividing a French volume--nobody, I
thought, ever changes the attitude in which we saw them first, or
the clothes.  Here he has sat in this chair, in these clothes, ever
since we first met.  Here was freedom; here was intimacy; the
firelight broke off some round apple on the curtain.  There we
talked; sat talking; sauntered down that avenue, the avenue which
runs under the trees, under the thick-leaved murmuring trees, the
trees that are hung with fruit, which we have trodden so often
together, so that now the turf is bare round some of those trees,
round certain plays and poems, certain favourites of ours--the turf
is trodden bare by our incessant unmethodical pacing.  If I have to
wait, I read; if I wake in the night, I feel along the shelf for a
book.  Swelling, perpetually augmented, there is a vast
accumulation of unrecorded matter in my head.  Now and then I break
off a lump, Shakespeare it may be, it may be some old woman called
Peck; and say to myself, smoking a cigarette in bed, "That's
Shakespeare.  That's Peck"--with a certainty of recognition and a
shock of knowledge which is endlessly delightful, though not to be
imparted.  So we shared our Pecks, our Shakespeares; compared each
other's versions; allowed each other's insight to set our own Peck
or Shakespeare in a better light; and then sank into one of those
silences which are now and again broken by a few words, as if a fin
rose in the wastes of silence; and then the fin, the thought, sinks
back into the depths, spreading round it a little ripple of
satisfaction, content.

'Yes, but suddenly one hears a clock tick.  We who had been
immersed in this world became aware of another.  It is painful.  It
was Neville who changed our time.  He, who had been thinking with
the unlimited time of the mind, which stretches in a flash from
Shakespeare to ourselves, poked the fire and began to live by that
other clock which marks the approach of a particular person.  The
wide and dignified sweep of his mind contracted.  He became on the
alert.  I could feel him listening to sounds in the street.  I
noted how he touched a cushion.  From the myriads of mankind and
all time past he had chosen one person, one moment in particular.
A sound was heard in the hall.  What he was saying wavered in the
air like an uneasy flame.  I watched him disentangle one footstep
from other footsteps; wait for some particular mark of identification
and glance with the swiftness of a snake at the handle of the door.
(Hence the astonishing acuteness of his perceptions; he has been
trained always by one person.)  So concentrated a passion shot out
others like foreign matter from a still, sparkling fluid.  I became
aware of my own vague and cloudy nature full of sediment, full of
doubt, full of phrases and notes to be made in pocket-books.  The
folds of the curtain became still, statuesque; the paperweight on
the table hardened; the threads on the curtain sparkled; everything
became definite, external, a scene in which I had no part.  I rose,
therefore; I left him.

'Heavens! how they caught me as I left the room, the fangs of that
old pain! the desire for someone not there.  For whom?  I did not
know at first; then remembered Percival.  I had not thought of him
for months.  Now to laugh with him, to laugh with him at Neville--
that was what I wanted, to walk off arm-in-arm together laughing.
But he was not there.  The place was empty.

'It is strange how the dead leap out on us at street corners, or in

'This fitful gust blowing so sharp and cold upon me sent me that
night across London to visit other friends, Rhoda and Louis,
desiring company, certainty, contact.  I wondered, as I mounted the
stairs, what was their relationship?  What did they say alone?  I
figured her awkward with the tea-kettle.  She gazed over the slate
roofs--the nymph of the fountain always wet, obsessed with visions,
dreaming.  She parted the curtain to look at the night.  "Away!"
she said.  "The moor is dark beneath the moon."  I rang; I waited.
Louis perhaps poured out milk in a saucer for the cat; Louis, whose
bony hands shut like the sides of a dock closing themselves with a
slow anguish of effort upon an enormous tumult of waters, who knew
what has been said by the Egyptian, the Indian, by men with high
cheek-bones and solitaires in hair shirts.  I knocked: I waited;
there was no answer.  I tramped down the stone stairs again.  Our
friends--how distant, how mute, how seldom visited and little
known.  And I, too, am dim to my friends and unknown; a phantom,
sometimes seen, often not.  Life is a dream surely.  Our flame, the
will-o'-the-wisp that dances in a few eyes, is soon to be blown out
and all will fade.  I recalled my friends.  I thought of Susan.
She had bought fields.  Cucumbers and tomatoes ripened in her
hothouses.  The vine that had been killed by last year's frost was
putting out a leaf or two.  She walked heavily with her sons across
her meadows.  She went about the land attended by men in gaiters,
pointing with her stick at a roof, at hedges, at walls fallen into
disrepair.  The pigeons followed her, waddling, for the grain that
she let fall from her capable, earthy fingers.  "But I no longer
rise at dawn," she said.  Then Jinny--entertaining, no doubt, some
new young man.  They reached the crisis of the usual conversation.
The room would be darkened; chairs arranged.  For she still sought
the moment.  Without illusions, hard and clear as crystal, she rode
at the day with her breast bared.  She let its spikes pierce her.
When the lock whitened on her forehead she twisted it fearlessly
among the rest.  So when they come to bury her nothing will be out
of order.  Bits of ribbons will be found curled up.  But still the
door opens.  Who is coming in? she asks, and rises to meet him,
prepared, as on those first spring nights when the tree under the
big London houses where respectable citizens were going soberly to
bed scarcely sheltered her love; and the squeak of trams mixed with
her cry of delight and the rippling of leaves had to shade her
languor, her delicious lassitude as she sank down cooled by all the
sweetness of nature satisfied.  Our friends, how seldom visited,
how little known--it is true; and yet, when I meet an unknown
person, and try to break off, here at this table, what I call "my
life", it is not one life that I look back upon; I am not one
person; I am many people; I do not altogether know who I am--Jinny,
Susan, Neville, Rhoda, or Louis; or how to distinguish my life from

'So I thought that night in early autumn when we came together and
dined once more at Hampton Court.  Our discomfort was at first
considerable, for each by that time was committed to a statement,
and the other person coming along the road to the meeting-place
dressed like this or that, with a stick or without, seemed to
contradict it.  I saw Jinny look at Susan's earthy fingers and then
hide her own; I, considering Neville, so neat and exact, felt the
nebulosity of my own life blurred with all these phrases.  He then
boasted, because he was ashamed of one room and one person and his
own success.  Louis and Rhoda, the conspirators, the spies at
table, who take notes, felt, "After all, Bernard can make the
waiter fetch us rolls--a contact denied us."  We saw for a moment
laid out among us the body of the complete human being whom we have
failed to be, but at the same time, cannot forget.  All that we
might have been we saw; all that we had missed, and we grudged for
a moment the other's claim, as children when the cake is cut, the
one cake, the only cake, watch their slice diminishing.

'However, we had our bottle of wine, and under that seduction lost
our enmity, and stopped comparing.  And, half-way through dinner,
we felt enlarge itself round us the huge blackness of what is
outside us, of what we are not.  The wind, the rush of wheels
became the roar of time, and we rushed--where?  And who were we?
We were extinguished for a moment, went out like sparks in burnt
paper and the blackness roared.  Past time, past history we went.
For me this lasts but one second.  It is ended by my own pugnacity.
I strike the table with a spoon.  If I could measure things with
compasses I would, but since my only measure is a phrase, I make
phrases--I forget what, on this occasion.  We became six people at
a table in Hampton Court.  We rose and walked together down the
avenue.  In the thin, the unreal twilight, fitfully like the echo
of voices laughing down some alley, geniality returned to me and
flesh.  Against the gateway, against some cedar tree I saw blaze
bright, Neville, Jinny, Rhoda, Louis, Susan, and myself, our life,
our identity.  Still King William seemed an unreal monarch and his
crown mere tinsel.  But we--against the brick, against the
branches, we six, out of how many million millions, for one moment
out of what measureless abundance of past time and time to come,
burnt there triumphant.  The moment was all; the moment was enough.
And then Neville, Jinny, Susan and I, as a wave breaks, burst
asunder, surrendered--to the next leaf, to the precise bird, to a
child with a hoop, to a prancing dog, to the warmth that is hoarded
in woods after a hot day, to the lights twisted like white ribbon
on rippled waters.  We drew apart; we were consumed in the darkness
of the trees, leaving Rhoda and Louis to stand on the terrace by
the urn.

'When we emerged from that immersion--how sweet, how deep!--and
came to the surface and saw the conspirators still standing there
it was with some compunction.  We had lost what they had kept.  We
interrupted.  But we were tired, and whether it had been good or
bad, accomplished or left undone, the dusky veil was falling upon
our endeavours; the lights were sinking as we paused for a moment
upon the terrace that overlooks the river.  The steamers were
landing their trippers on the bank; there was a distant cheering,
the sound of singing, as if people waved their hats and joined in
some last song.  The sound of the chorus came across the water and
I felt leap up that old impulse, which has moved me all my life, to
be thrown up and down on the roar of other people's voices, singing
the same song; to be tossed up and down on the roar of almost
senseless merriment, sentiment, triumph, desire.  But not now.  No!
I could not collect myself; I could not distinguish myself; I could
not help letting fall the things that had made me a minute ago
eager, amused, jealous, vigilant, and hosts of other things, into
the water.  I could not recover myself from that endless throwing
away, dissipation, flooding forth without our willing it and
rushing soundlessly away out there under the arches of the bridge,
round some clump of trees or an island, out where sea-birds sit on
stakes, over the roughened water to become waves in the sea--I
could not recover myself from that dissipation.  So we parted.

'Was this, then, this streaming away mixed with Susan, Jinny,
Neville, Rhoda, Louis, a sort of death?  A new assembly of
elements?  Some hint of what was to come?  The note was scribbled,
the book shut, for I am an intermittent student.  I do not say my
lessons by any means at the stated hour.  Later, walking down Fleet
Street at the rush hour, I recalled that moment; I continued it.
"Must I for ever," I said, "beat my spoon on the table-cloth?
Shall I not, too, consent?"  The omnibuses were clogged; one came
up behind another and stopped with a click, like a link added to a
stone chain.  People passed.

'Multitudinous, carrying attaché-cases, dodging with incredible
celerity in and out, they went past like a river in spate.  They
went past roaring like a train in a tunnel.  Seizing my chance I
crossed; dived down a dark passage and entered the shop where they
cut my hair.  I leant my head back and was swathed in a sheet.
Looking-glasses confronted me in which I could see my pinioned body
and people passing; stopping, looking, and going on indifferent.
The hairdresser began to move his scissors to and fro.  I felt
myself powerless to stop the oscillations of the cold steel.  So we
are cut and laid in swaths, I said; so we lie side by side on the
damp meadows, withered branches and flowering.  We have no more to
expose ourselves on the bare hedges to the wind and snow; no more
to carry ourselves erect when the gale sweeps, to bear our burden
upheld; or stay, unmurmuring, on those pallid noondays when the
bird creeps close to the bough and the damp whitens the leaf.  We
are cut, we are fallen.  We are become part of that unfeeling
universe that sleeps when we are at our quickest and burns red when
we lie asleep.  We have renounced our station and lie now flat,
withered and how soon forgotten!  Upon which I saw an expression in
the tail of the eye of the hairdresser as if something interested
him in the street.

'What interested the hairdresser?  What did the hairdresser see in
the street?  It is thus that I am recalled.  (For I am no mystic;
something always plucks at me--curiosity, envy, admiration,
interest in hairdressers and the like bring me to the surface.)
While he brushed the fluff from my coat I took pains to assure
myself of his identity, and then, swinging my stick, I went into
the Strand, and evoked to serve as opposite to myself the figure of
Rhoda, always so furtive, always with fear in her eyes, always
seeking some pillar in the desert, to find which she had gone; she
had killed herself.  "Wait," I said, putting my arm in imagination
(thus we consort with our friends) through her arm.  "Wait until
these omnibuses have gone by.  Do not cross so dangerously.  These
men are your brothers."  In persuading her I was also persuading my
own soul.  For this is not one life; nor do I always know if I am
man or woman, Bernard or Neville, Louis, Susan, Jinny, or Rhoda--so
strange is the contact of one with another.

'Swinging my stick, with my hair newly cut and the nape of my neck
tingling, I went past all those trays of penny toys imported from
Germany that men hold out in the street by St Paul's--St Paul's,
the brooding hen with spread wings from whose shelter run omnibuses
and streams of men and women at the rush hour.  I thought how Louis
would mount those steps in his neat suit with his cane in his hand
and his angular, rather detached gait.  With his Australian accent
("My father, a banker at Brisbane") he would come, I thought, with
greater respect to these old ceremonies than I do, who have heard
the same lullabies for a thousand years.  I am always impressed, as
I enter, by the rubbed roses; the polished brasses; the flapping
and the chanting, while one boy's voice wails round the dome like
some lost and wandering dove.  The recumbency and the peace of the
dead impress me--warriors at rest under their old banners.  Then I
scoff at the floridity and absurdity of some scrolloping tomb; and
the trumpets and the victories and the coats of arms and the
certainty, so sonorously repeated, of resurrection, of eternal
life.  My wandering and inquisitive eye then shows me an awe-
stricken child; a shuffling pensioner; or the obeisances of tired
shop-girls burdened with heaven knows what strife in their poor
thin breasts come to solace themselves in the rush hour.  I stray
and look and wonder, and sometimes, rather furtively, try to rise
on the shaft of somebody else's prayer into the dome, out, beyond,
wherever they go.  But then like the lost and wailing dove, I find
myself failing, fluttering, descending and perching upon some
curious gargoyle, some battered nose or absurd tombstone, with
humour, with wonder, and so again watch the sightseers with their
Baedekers shuffling past, while the boy's voice soars in the dome
and the organ now and then indulges in a moment of elephantine
triumph.  How then, I asked, would Louis roof us all in?  How would
he confine us, make us one, with his red ink, with his very fine
nib?  The voice petered out in the dome, wailing.

'So into the street again, swinging my stick, looking at wire trays
in stationers' shop-windows, at baskets of fruit grown in the
colonies, murmuring Pillicock sat on Pillicock's hill, or Hark,
hark, the dogs do bark, or The World's great age begins anew, or
Come away, come away, death--mingling nonsense and poetry, floating
in the stream.  Something always has to be done next.  Tuesday
follows Monday: Wednesday, Tuesday.  Each spreads the same ripple.
The being grows rings, like a tree.  Like a tree, leaves fall.

'For one day as I leant over a gate that led into a field, the
rhythm stopped; the rhymes and the hummings, the nonsense and the
poetry.  A space was cleared in my mind.  I saw through the thick
leaves of habit.  Leaning over the gate I regretted so much litter,
so much unaccomplishment and separation, for one cannot cross
London to see a friend, life being so full of engagements; nor take
ship to India and see a naked man spearing fish in blue water.  I
said life had been imperfect, an unfinishing phrase.  It had been
impossible for me, taking snuff as I do from any bagman met in a
train, to keep coherency--that sense of the generations, of women
carrying red pitchers to the Nile, of the nightingale who sings
among conquests and migrations.  It had been too vast an
undertaking, I said, and how can I go on lifting my foot
perpetually to climb the stair?  I addressed myself as one would
speak to a companion with whom one is voyaging to the North Pole.

'I spoke to that self who had been with me in many tremendous
adventures; the faithful man who sits over the fire when everybody
has gone to bed, stirring the cinders with a poker; the man who has
been so mysteriously and with sudden accretions of being built up,
in a beech wood, sitting by a willow tree on a bank, leaning over a
parapet at Hampton Court; the man who has collected himself in
moments of emergency and banged his spoon on the table, saying, "I
will not consent."

'This self now as I leant over the gate looking down over fields
rolling in waves of colour beneath me made no answer.  He threw up
no opposition.  He attempted no phrase.  His fist did not form.  I
waited.  I listened.  Nothing came, nothing.  I cried then with a
sudden conviction of complete desertion, Now there is nothing.  No
fin breaks the waste of this immeasurable sea.  Life has destroyed
me.  No echo comes when I speak, no varied words.  This is more
truly death than the death of friends, than the death of youth.  I
am the swathed figure in the hairdresser's shop taking up only so
much space.

'The scene beneath me withered.  It was like the eclipse when the
sun went out and left the earth, flourishing in full summer
foliage, withered, brittle, false.  Also I saw on a winding road in
a dust dance the groups we had made, how they came together, how
they ate together, how they met in this room or that.  I saw my own
indefatigable busyness--how I had rushed from one to the other,
fetched and carried, travelled and returned, joined this group and
that, here kissed, here withdrawn; always kept hard at it by some
extraordinary purpose, with my nose to the ground like a dog on the
scent; with an occasional toss of the head, an occasional cry of
amazement, despair and then back again with my nose to the scent.
What a litter--what a confusion; with here birth, here death;
succulence and sweetness; effort and anguish; and myself always
running hither and thither.  Now it was done with.  I had no more
appetites to glut; no more stings in me with which to poison
people; no more sharp teeth and clutching hands or desire to feel
the pear and the grape and the sun beating down from the orchard

'The woods had vanished; the earth was a waste of shadow.  No sound
broke the silence of the wintry landscape.  No cock crowed; no
smoke rose; no train moved.  A man without a self, I said.  A heavy
body leaning on a gate.  A dead man.  With dispassionate despair,
with entire disillusionment, I surveyed the dust dance; my life, my
friends' lives, and those fabulous presences, men with brooms,
women writing, the willow tree by the river--clouds and phantoms
made of dust too, of dust that changed, as clouds lose and gain and
take gold or red and lose their summits and billow this way and
that, mutable, vain.  I, carrying a notebook, making phrases, had
recorded mere changes; a shadow.  I had been sedulous to take note
of shadows.  How can I proceed now, I said, without a self,
weightless and visionless, through a world weightless, without

'The heaviness of my despondency thrust open the gate I leant on
and pushed me, an elderly man, a heavy man with grey hair, through
the colourless field, the empty field.  No more to hear echoes, no
more to see phantoms, to conjure up no opposition, but to walk
always unshadowed, making no impress upon the dead earth.  If even
there had been sheep munching, pushing one foot after another, or a
bird, or a man driving a spade into the earth, had there been a
bramble to trip me, or a ditch, damp with soaked leaves, into which
to fall--but no, the melancholy path led along the level, to more
wintriness and pallor and the equal and uninteresting view of the
same landscape.

'How then does light return to the world after the eclipse of the
sun?  Miraculously.  Frailly.  In thin stripes.  It hangs like a
glass cage.  It is a hoop to be fractured by a tiny jar.  There is
a spark there.  Next moment a flush of dun.  Then a vapour as if
earth were breathing in and out, once, twice, for the first time.
Then under the dullness someone walks with a green light.  Then off
twists a white wraith.  The woods throb blue and green, and
gradually the fields drink in red, gold, brown.  Suddenly a river
snatches a blue light.  The earth absorbs colour like a sponge
slowly drinking water.  It puts on weight; rounds itself; hangs
pendent; settles and swings beneath our feet.

'So the landscape returned to me; so I saw the fields rolling in
waves of colour beneath me, but now with this difference; I saw but
was not seen.  I walked unshadowed; I came unheralded.  From me had
dropped the old cloak, the old response; the hollowed hand that
beats back sounds.  Thin as a ghost, leaving no trace where I trod,
perceiving merely, I walked alone in a new world, never trodden;
brushing new flowers, unable to speak save in a child's words of
one syllable; without shelter from phrases--I who have made so
many; unattended, I who have always gone with my kind; solitary, I
who have always had someone to share the empty grate, or the
cupboard with its hanging loop of gold.

'But how describe the world seen without a self?  There are no
words.  Blue, red--even they distract, even they hide with
thickness instead of letting the light through.  How describe or
say anything in articulate words again?--save that it fades, save
that it undergoes a gradual transformation, becomes, even in the
course of one short walk, habitual--this scene also.  Blindness
returns as one moves and one leaf repeats another.  Loveliness
returns as one looks, with all its train of phantom phrases.  One
breathes in and out substantial breath; down in the valley the
train draws across the fields lop-eared with smoke.

'But for a moment I had sat on the turf somewhere high above the
flow of the sea and the sound of the woods, had seen the house, the
garden, and the waves breaking.  The old nurse who turns the pages
of the picture-book had stopped and had said, "Look.  This is the

'So I was thinking as I came along Shaftesbury Avenue to-night.  I
was thinking of that page in the picture-book.  And when I met you
in the place where one goes to hang up one's coat I said to myself,
"It does not matter whom I meet.  All this little affair of 'being'
is over.  Who this is I do not know; nor care; we will dine
together."  So I hung up my coat, tapped you on the shoulder, and
said, "Sit with me."

'Now the meal is finished; we are surrounded by peelings and
breadcrumbs.  I have tried to break off this bunch and hand it you;
but whether there is substance or truth in it I do not know.  Nor
do I know exactly where we are.  What city does that stretch of sky
look down upon?  Is it Paris, is it London where we sit, or some
southern city of pink-washed houses lying under cypresses, under
high mountains, where eagles soar?  I do not at this moment feel

'I begin now to forget; I begin to doubt the fixity of tables, the
reality of here and now, to tap my knuckles smartly upon the edges
of apparently solid objects and say, "Are you hard?"  I have seen
so many different things, have made so many different sentences.  I
have lost in the process of eating and drinking and rubbing my eyes
along surfaces that thin, hard shell which cases the soul, which,
in youth, shuts one in--hence the fierceness, and the tap, tap, tap
of the remorseless beaks of the young.  And now I ask, "Who am I?"
I have been talking of Bernard, Neville, Jinny, Susan, Rhoda and
Louis.  Am I all of them?  Am I one and distinct?  I do not know.
We sat here together.  But now Percival is dead, and Rhoda is dead;
we are divided; we are not here.  Yet I cannot find any obstacle
separating us.  There is no division between me and them.  As I
talked I felt "I am you".  This difference we make so much of, this
identity we so feverishly cherish, was overcome.  Yes, ever since
old Mrs Constable lifted her sponge and pouring warm water over me
covered me with flesh I have been sensitive, percipient.  Here on
my brow is the blow I got when Percival fell.  Here on the nape of
my neck is the kiss Jinny gave Louis.  My eyes fill with Susan's
tears.  I see far away, quivering like a gold thread, the pillar
Rhoda saw, and feel the rush of the wind of her flight when she

'Thus when I come to shape here at this table between my hands the
story of my life and set it before you as a complete thing, I have
to recall things gone far, gone deep, sunk into this life or that
and become part of it; dreams, too, things surrounding me, and the
inmates, those old half-articulate ghosts who keep up their
hauntings by day and night; who turn over in their sleep, who utter
their confused cries, who put out their phantom fingers and clutch
at me as I try to escape--shadows of people one might have been;
unborn selves.  There is the old brute, too, the savage, the hairy
man who dabbles his fingers in ropes of entrails; and gobbles and
belches; whose speech is guttural, visceral--well, he is here.  He
squats in me.  To-night he has been feasted on quails, salad, and
sweetbread.  He now holds a glass of fine old brandy in his paw.
He brindles, purrs and shoots warm thrills all down my spine as I
sip.  It is true, he washes his hands before dinner, but they are
still hairy.  He buttons on trousers and waistcoats, but they
contain the same organs.  He jibs if I keep him waiting for dinner.
He mops and mows perpetually, pointing with his half-idiot gestures
of greed and covetousness at what he desires.  I assure you, I have
great difficulty sometimes in controlling him.  That man, the
hairy, the ape-like, has contributed his part to my life.  He has
given a greener glow to green things, has held his torch with its
red flames, its thick and smarting smoke, behind every leaf.  He
has lit up the cool garden even.  He has brandished his torch in
murky by-streets where girls suddenly seem to shine with a red and
intoxicating translucency.  Oh, he has tossed his torch high!  He
has led me wild dances!

'But no more.  Now to-night, my body rises tier upon tier like some
cool temple whose floor is strewn with carpets and murmurs rise and
the altars stand smoking; but up above, here in my serene head,
comes only fine gusts of melody, waves of incense, while the lost
dove wails, and the banners tremble above tombs, and the dark airs
of midnight shake trees outside the open windows.  When I look down
from this transcendency, how beautiful are even the crumbled relics
of bread!  What shapely spirals the peelings of pears make--how
thin, and mottled like some sea-bird's egg.  Even the forks laid
straight side by side appear lucid, logical, exact; and the horns
of the rolls which we have left are glazed, yellow-plated, hard.  I
could worship my hand even, with its fan of bones laced by blue
mysterious veins and its astonishing look of aptness, suppleness
and ability to curl softly or suddenly crush--its infinite

'Immeasurably receptive, holding everything, trembling with
fullness, yet clear, contained--so my being seems, now that desire
urges it no more out and away; now that curiosity no longer dyes it
a thousand colours.  It lies deep, tideless, immune, now that he is
dead, the man I called "Bernard", the man who kept a book in his
pocket in which he made notes--phrases for the moon, notes of
features; how people looked, turned, dropped their cigarette ends;
under B, butterfly powder, under D, ways of naming death.  But now
let the door open, the glass door that is for ever turning on its
hinges.  Let a woman come, let a young man in evening-dress with a
moustache sit down: is there anything that they can tell me?  No!
I know all that, too.  And if she suddenly gets up and goes, "My
dear," I say, "you no longer make me look after you."  The shock of
the falling wave which has sounded all my life, which woke me so
that I saw the gold loop on the cupboard, no longer makes quiver
what I hold.

'So now, taking upon me the mystery of things, I could go like a
spy without leaving this place, without stirring from my chair.  I
can visit the remote verges of the desert lands where the savage
sits by the camp-fire.  Day rises; the girl lifts the watery fire-
hearted jewels to her brow; the sun levels his beams straight at
the sleeping house; the waves deepen their bars; they fling
themselves on shore; back blows the spray; sweeping their waters
they surround the boat and the sea-holly.  The birds sing in
chorus; deep tunnels run between the stalks of flowers; the house
is whitened; the sleeper stretches; gradually all is astir.  Light
floods the room and drives shadow beyond shadow to where they hang
in folds inscrutable.  What does the central shadow hold?
Something?  Nothing?  I do not know.

'Oh, but there is your face.  I catch your eye.  I, who had been
thinking myself so vast, a temple, a church, a whole universe,
unconfined and capable of being everywhere on the verge of things
and here too, am now nothing but what you see--an elderly man,
rather heavy, grey above the ears, who (I see myself in the glass)
leans one elbow on the table, and holds in his left hand a glass of
old brandy.  That is the blow you have dealt me.  I have walked
bang into the pillar-box.  I reel from side to side.  I put my
hands to my head.  My hat is off--I have dropped my stick.  I have
made an awful ass of myself and am justly laughed at by any passer-

'Lord, how unutterably disgusting life is!  What dirty tricks it
plays us, one moment free; the next, this.  Here we are among the
breadcrumbs and the stained napkins again.  That knife is already
congealing with grease.  Disorder, sordidity and corruption
surround us.  We have been taking into our mouths the bodies of
dead birds.  It is with these greasy crumbs, slobbered over
napkins, and little corpses that we have to build.  Always it
begins again; always there is the enemy; eyes meeting ours; fingers
twitching ours; the effort waiting.  Call the waiter.  Pay the
bill.  We must pull ourselves up out of our chairs.  We must find
our coats.  We must go.  Must, must, must--detestable word.  Once
more, I who had thought myself immune, who had said, "Now I am rid
of all that," find that the wave has tumbled me over, head over
heels, scattering my possessions, leaving me to collect, to
assemble, to heap together, summon my forces, rise and confront the

'It is strange that we, who are capable of so much suffering,
should inflict so much suffering.  Strange that the face of a
person whom I scarcely know save that I think we met once on the
gangway of a ship bound for Africa--a mere adumbration of eyes,
cheeks, nostrils--should have power to inflict this insult.  You
look, eat, smile, are bored, pleased, annoyed--that is all I know.
Yet this shadow which has sat by me for an hour or two, this mask
from which peep two eyes, has power to drive me back, to pinion me
down among all those other faces, to shut me in a hot room; to send
me dashing like a moth from candle to candle.

'But wait.  While they add up the bill behind the screen, wait one
moment.  Now that I have reviled you for the blow that sent me
staggering among peelings and crumblings and old scraps of meat, I
will record in words of one syllable how also under your gaze with
that compulsion on me I begin to perceive this, that and the other.
The clock ticks; the woman sneezes; the waiter comes--there is a
gradual coming together, running into one, acceleration and
unification.  Listen: a whistle sounds, wheels rush, the door
creaks on its hinges.  I regain the sense of the complexity and the
reality and the struggle, for which I thank you.  And with some
pity, some envy and much good will, take your hand and bid you good

'Heaven be praised for solitude!  I am alone now.  That almost
unknown person has gone, to catch some train, to take some cab, to
go to some place or person whom I do not know.  The face looking at
me has gone.  The pressure is removed.  Here are empty coffee-cups.
Here are chairs turned but nobody sits on them.  Here are empty
tables and nobody any more coming to dine at them to-night.

'Let me now raise my song of glory.  Heaven be praised for
solitude.  Let me be alone.  Let me cast and throw away this veil
of being, this cloud that changes with the least breath, night and
day, and all night and all day.  While I sat here I have been
changing.  I have watched the sky change.  I have seen clouds cover
the stars, then free the stars, then cover the stars again.  Now I
look at their changing no more.  Now no one sees me and I change no
more.  Heaven be praised for solitude that has removed the pressure
of the eye, the solicitation of the body, and all need of lies and

'My book, stuffed with phrases, has dropped to the floor.  It lies
under the table, to be swept up by the charwoman when she comes
wearily at dawn looking for scraps of paper, old tram tickets, and
here and there a note screwed into a ball and left with the litter
to be swept up.  What is the phrase for the moon?  And the phrase
for love?  By what name are we to call death?  I do not know.  I
need a little language such as lovers use, words of one syllable
such as children speak when they come into the room and find their
mother sewing and pick up some scrap of bright wool, a feather, or
a shred of chintz.  I need a howl; a cry.  When the storm crosses
the marsh and sweeps over me where I lie in the ditch unregarded I
need no words.  Nothing neat.  Nothing that comes down with all its
feet on the floor.  None of those resonances and lovely echoes that
break and chime from nerve to nerve in our breasts, making wild
music, false phrases.  I have done with phrases.

'How much better is silence; the coffee-cup, the table.  How much
better to sit by myself like the solitary sea-bird that opens its
wings on the stake.  Let me sit here for ever with bare things,
this coffee-cup, this knife, this fork, things in themselves,
myself being myself.  Do not come and worry me with your hints that
it is time to shut the shop and be gone.  I would willingly give
all my money that you should not disturb me but will let me sit on
and on, silent, alone.

'But now the head waiter, who has finished his own meal, appears
and frowns; he takes his muffler from his pocket and ostentatiously
makes ready to go.  They must go; must put up the shutters, most
fold the table-cloths, and give one brush with a wet mop under the

'Curse you then.  However beat and done with it all I am, I must
haul myself up, and find the particular coat that belongs to me;
must push my arms into the sleeves; must muffle myself up against
the night air and be off.  I, I, I, tired as I am, spent as I am,
and almost worn out with all this rubbing of my nose along the
surfaces of things, even I, an elderly man who is getting rather
heavy and dislikes exertion, must take myself off and catch some
last train.

'Again I see before me the usual street.  The canopy of
civilization is burnt out.  The sky is dark as polished whalebone.
But there is a kindling in the sky whether of lamplight or of dawn.
There is a stir of some sort--sparrows on plane trees somewhere
chirping.  There is a sense of the break of day.  I will not call
it dawn.  What is dawn in the city to an elderly man standing in
the street looking up rather dizzily at the sky?  Dawn is some sort
of whitening of the sky; some sort of renewal.  Another day;
another Friday; another twentieth of March, January, or September.
Another general awakening.  The stars draw back and are
extinguished.  The bars deepen themselves between the waves.  The
film of mist thickens on the fields.  A redness gathers on the
roses, even on the pale rose that hangs by the bedroom window.  A
bird chirps.  Cottagers light their early candles.  Yes, this is
the eternal renewal, the incessant rise and fall and fall and rise

'And in me too the wave rises.  It swells; it arches its back.  I
am aware once more of a new desire, something rising beneath me
like the proud horse whose rider first spurs and then pulls him
back.  What enemy do we now perceive advancing against us, you whom
I ride now, as we stand pawing this stretch of pavement?  It is
death.  Death is the enemy.  It is death against whom I ride with
my spear couched and my hair flying back like a young man's, like
Percival's, when he galloped in India.  I strike spurs into my
horse.  Against you I will fling myself, unvanquished and
unyielding, O Death!'

The waves broke on the shore.


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