极速飞艇冠军选码技巧

极速飞艇冠军选码技巧极速飞艇冠军选码技巧

极速飞艇冠军选码技巧

Justine (1957) NOTEChapter IVThe EndTHE CITYThe same mental suburbs slip from youth to age, 极速飞艇冠军选码技巧 Balthazar (1958) Part I Chapter 6Justine (1957) Part IV Chapter 1Justine (1957) Part III Chapter 2Black ruins of my life rise into view.Chapter X Landscape-tones: brown to bronze, steep skyline, low cloud, pearl ground with shadowed oyster and violet reflections. The lion-dust of desert: prophets’ tombs turned to zinc and copper at sunset on the ancient lake. Its huge sand-faults like watermarks from the air; green and citron giving to gunmetal, to a single plum-dark sail, moist, palpitant: sticky-winged nymph. Taposiris is dead among its tumbling columns and seamarks, vanished the Harpoon Men … Mareotis under a sky of hot lilac. summer: buff sand, hot marble sky. autumn: swollen bruise-greys, winter: freezing snow, cool sand. clear sky panels, glittering with mica. washed delta greens. magnificent starscapes. And spring? Ah! there is no spring in the Delta, no sense of refreshment and renewal in things. One is plunged out of winter into: wax effigy of a summer too hot to breathe. But here, at least, in Alexandria, the sea-breaths save us from the tideless weight of summer nothingness, creeping over the bar among the warships, to flutter the striped awnings of the cafés upon the Grande Corniche. I would never have … ***** The city, half-imagined (yet wholly real), begins and ends in us, roots lodged in our memory. Why must I return to it night after night, writing here by the fire of carob-wood while the Aegean wind clutches at this island house, clutching and releasing it, bending back the cypresses like bows? Have I not said enough about Alexandria? Am I to be reinfected once more by the dream of it and the memory of its inhabitants? Dreams I had thought safely locked up on paper, confided to the strong-rooms of memory! You will think I am indulging myself. It is not so. A single chance factor has altered everything, has turned me back upon my tracks. A memory which catches sight of itself in a mirror. Justine, Melissa, Clea…. There were so few of us really — you would have thought them easily disposed of in a single book, would you not? So would I, so did I. Dispersed now by time and circumstance, the circuit broken forever…. I had set myself the task of trying to recover them in words, reinstate them in memory, allot to each his and her position in my time. Selfishly. And with that writing complete, I felt that I had turned a key upon the doll’s house of our actions. Indeed, I saw my lovers and friends no longer as living people but as coloured transfers of the mind; inhabiting my papers now, no longer the city, like tapestry figures. It was difficult to concede to them any more common reality than to the words I had used about them. What has recalled me to myself? But in order to go on, it is necessary to go back: not that anything I wrote about them is untrue, far from it. Yet when I wrote, the full facts were not at my disposal. The picture I drew was a provisional one — like the picture of a lost civilization deduced from a few fragmented vases, an inscribed tablet, an amulet, some human bones, a gold smiling death-mask. ***** ‘We live’ writes Pursewarden somewhere ‘lives based upon selected fictions. Our view of reality is conditioned by our position in space and time — not by our personalities as we like to think. Thus every interpretation of reality is based upon a unique position. Two paces east or west and the whole picture is changed.’ Something of this order…. And as for human characters, whether real or invented, there are no such animals. Each psyche is really an ant-hill of opposing predispositions. Personality as something with fixed attributes is an illusion — but a necessary illusion if we are to love! As for the something that remains constant … the shy kiss of Melissa is predictable, for example (amateurish as an early form of printing), or the frowns of Justine, which cast a shadow over those blazing dark eyes — orbits of the Sphinx at noon. ‘In the end’ says Pursewarden ‘everything will be found to be true of everybody. Saint and Villain are co-sharers.’ He is right. I am making every attempt to be matter-of-fact….Chapter XVIThe dream dissipated, were one to recover one’s commonsense mood, the thing would be of but mediocre import — ’tis the story of mental wrongdoing. Everyone knows very well and it offends no one. But alas! one sometimes carries the thing a little further. What, one dares wonder, what would not be the idea’s realization if its mere abstract shape thus exalted has just so profoundly moved one? The accursed reverie is vivified and its existence is a crime.On these spring mornings while the island slowly uncurls from the sea in the light of an early sun I walk about on the deserted beaches, trying to recover my memories of the time spent in Upper Egypt. It is strange when everything about Alexandria is so vivid that I can recover so little of that lost period. Or perhaps it is not so strange — for compared to the city life I had lived my new life was dull and uneventful. I remember the back-breaking sweat of school work: walks in the flat rich fields with their bumper crops feeding upon dead men’s bones: the black silt-fed Nile moving corpulently through the Delta to the sea: the bilharziaridden peasantry whose patience and nobility shone through their rags like patents of dispossessed royalty: village patriarchs intoning: the blind cattle turning the slow globe of their waterwheels, blind-folded against monotony — how small can a world become? Throughout this period I read nothing, thought nothing, was nothing. The fathers of the school were kindly and left me alone in my spare time, sensing perhaps my distaste for the cloth, for the apparatus of the Holy Office. The children of course were a torment — but then what teacher of sensibility does not echo in his heart the terrible words of Tolstoy: ‘Whenever I enter a school and see a multitude of children, ragged thin and dirty but with their clear eyes and sometimes angelic expressions, I am seized with restlessness and terror, as though I saw people drowning’? Unreal as all correspondence seemed, I kept up a desultory contact with Melissa whose letters arrived punctually. Clea wrote once or twice, and surprisingly enough old Scobie who appeared to be rather annoyed that he should miss me as much as he obviously did. His letters were full of fantastic animadversion against Jews (who were always referred to jeeringly as ‘snipcocks’) and, surprisingly enough, to passive pederasts (whom he labelled ‘Herms’, i.e. Hermaphrodites). I was not surprised to learn that the Secret Service had gravelled him, and he was now able to spend most of the day in bed with what he called a ‘bottle of wallop’ at his elbow. But he was lonely, hence his correspondence. These letters were useful to me. My feeling of unreality had grown to such a pitch that at times I distrusted my own memory, finding it hard to believe that there had ever been such a town as Alexandria. Letters were a lifeline attaching me to an existence in which the greater part of myself was no longer engaged. As soon as my work was finished I locked myself in my room and crawled into bed; beside it lay the green jade box full of hashish-loaded cigarettes. If my way of life was noticed or commented upon at least I left no loophole for criticism in my work. It would be hard to grudge me simply an inordinate taste for solitude. Father Racine, it is true, made one or two attempts to rouse me. He was the most sensitive and intelligent of them all and perhaps felt that my friendship might temper his own intellectual loneliness. I was sorry for him and regretted in a way not being able to respond to these overtures. But I was afflicted by a gradually increasing numbness, a mental apathy which made me shrink from contact. Once or twice I accompanied him for a walk along the river (he was a botanist) and heard him talk lightly and brilliantly on his own subject. But my taste for the landscape, its flatness, its unresponsiveness to the seasons had gone stale. The sun seemed to have scorched up my appetite for everything — food, company and even speech. I preferred to lie in bed staring at the ceiling and listening to the noises around me in the teachers’ block: Father Gaudier sneezing, opening and shutting drawers; Father Racine playing a few phrases over and over again on his flute; the ruminations of the organ mouldering away among its harmonies in the dark chapel. The heavy cigarettes soothed the mind, emptying it of every preoccupation. One day Gaudier called to me as I was crossing the close and said that someone wished to speak to me on the telephone. I could hardly comprehend, hardly believe my ears. After so long a silence who would telephone? Nessim perhaps? The telephone was in the Head’s study, a forbidding room full of elephantine furniture and fine bindings. The receiver, crepitating slightly, lay on the blotter before him. He squinted slightly and said with distaste ‘It is a woman from Alexandria.’ I thought it must be Melissa but to my surprise Clea’s voice suddenly swam up out of the incoherence of memory: ‘I am speaking from the Greek hospital. Melissa is here, very ill indeed. Perhaps even dying.’ Undeniably my surprise and confusion emerged as anger. ‘But she would not let me tell you before. She didn’t want you to see her ill — so thin. But I simply must now. Can you come quickly? She will see you now.’ In my mind’s eye I could see the jogging night train with its interminable stoppings and startings in dust-blown towns and villages — the dirt and the heat. It would take all night. I turned to Gaudier and asked his permission to absent myself for the whole week-end. ‘In exceptional cases we do grant permission’ he said thoughtfully. ‘If you were going to be married, for example, or if someone was seriously ill.’ I swear that the idea of marrying Melissa had not entered my head until he spoke the words. There was another memory, too, which visited me now as I packed my cheap suitcase. The rings, Cohen’s rings, were still in my stud-box wrapped in brown paper. I stood for a while looking at them and wondering if inanimate objects also had a destiny as human beings have. These wretched rings, I thought — why, it was as if they had been anxiously waiting here all the time like human beings; waiting for some shabby fulfilment on the finger of someone trapped into a mariage de convenance. I put the poor things in my pocket. Far off events, transformed by memory, acquire a burnished brilliance because they are seen in isolation, divorced from the details of before and after, the fibres and wrappings of time. The actors, too, suffer a transformation; they sink slowly deeper and deeper into the ocean of memory like weighted bodies, finding at every level a new assessment, a new evaluation in the human heart. It was not anguish I felt so much at Melissa’s defection, it was rage, a purposeless fury based, I imagine, in contrition. The enormous vistas of the future which in all my vagueness I had nevertheless peopled with images of her had gone by default now; and it was only now that I realized to what an extent I had been nourishing myself on them. It had all been there like a huge trust fund, an account upon which I would one day draw. Now I was suddenly bankrupt. Balthazar was waiting for me at the station in his little car. He pressed my hand with rough and ready sympathy as he said, in a matter-of-fact voice: ‘She died last night poor girl. I gave her morphia to help her away. Well.’ He sighed and glanced sideways at me. ‘A pity you are not in the habit of shedding tears. .a aurait été un soulagement.’ ‘Soulagement grotesque.’ ‘Approfondir les émotions … les purger.’ ‘Tais-toi, Balthazar, shut up.’ ‘She loved you, I suppose.’ ‘Je le sais.’ ‘Elle parlait de vous sans cesse. Cléa a été avec elle toute la semaine.’ ‘Assez.’ Never had the city looked so entrancing in that soft morning air. I took the light wind from the harbour on my stubbled cheek like the kiss of an old friend. Mareotis glinted here and there between the palm-tops, between the mud huts and the factories. The shops along Rue Fuad seemed to have all the glitter and novelty of Paris. I had, I realized, become a complete provincial in Upper Egypt. Alexandria seemed a capital city. In the trim garden nurses were rolling their prams and children their hoops. The trams squashed and clicked and rattled. ‘There is something else’ Balthazar was saying as we raced along. ‘Melissa’s child, Nessim’s child. But I suppose you know all about it. It is out at the summer villa. A little girl.’ I could not take all this in, so drunk was I on the beauty of the city which I had almost forgotten. Outside the Municipality the professional scribes sat at their stools, inkhorns, pens and stamped paper beside them. They scratched themselves, chattering amiably. We climbed the low bluff on which the hospital stood after threading the long bony spine of the Canopic Way. Balthazar was still talking as we left the lift and started to negotiate the long white corridors of the second floor. ‘A coolness has sprung up between Nessim and myself. When Melissa came back he refused to see her out of a sort of disgust which I found inhuman, hard to comprehend. I don’t know…. As for the child he is trying to get it adopted. He has come almost to hate it, I suppose. He thinks Justine will never come back to him so long as he has Melissa’s child. For my part’ he added more slowly ‘I look at it this way: by one of those fearful displacements of which only love seems capable the child Justine lost was given back by Nessim not to her but to Melissa. Do you see?’ The sense of ghostly familiarity which was growing upon me now was due to the fact that we were approaching the little room in which I had visited Cohen when he was dying. Of course Melissa must be lying in the same narrow iron bed in the corner by the wall. It would be just like real life to imitate art at this point. There were some nurses in the room busy whispering round the bed, arranging screens; but at a word from Balthazar they scattered and disappeared. We stood arm in arm in the doorway for a moment looking in. Melissa looked pale and somehow wizened. They had bound up her jaw with tape and closed the eyes so that she looked as if she had fallen asleep during a beauty treatment. I was glad her eyes were closed; I had been dreading their glance. I was left alone with her for a while in the huge silence of that whitewashed ward and all of a sudden I found myself suffering from acute embarrassment. It is hard to know how to behave with the dead; their enormous deafness and rigidity is so studied. One becomes awkward as if in the presence of royalty. I coughed behind my hand and walked up and down the ward stealing little glances at her out of the corner of my eye, remembering the confusion which had once beset me when she called upon me with a gift of flowers. I would have liked to slip Cohen’s rings on her fingers but they had already swathed her body in bandages and her arms were bound stiffly to her sides. In this climate bodies decompose so quickly that they have to be almost unceremoniously rushed to the grave. I said ‘Melissa’ twice in an uncertain whisper bending my lips to her ear. Then I lit a cigarette and sat down beside her on a chair to make a long study of her face, comparing it to all the other faces of Melissa which thronged my memory and had established their identity there. She bore no resemblance to any of them — and yet she set them off, concluded them. This white little face was the last term of a series. Beyond this point there was a locked door. At such times one gropes about for a gesture which will match the terrible marble repose of the will which one reads on the faces of the dead. There is nothing in the whole ragbag of human emotions. ‘Terrible are the four faces of love,’ wrote Arnauti in another context. I mentally told the figure on the bed that I would take the child if Nessim would part with her, and this silent agreement made I kissed the high pale forehead once and left her to the ministrations of those who would parcel her up for the grave. I was glad to leave the room, to leave a silence so elaborate and forbidding. I suppose we writers are cruel people. The dead do not care. It is the living who might be spared if we could quarry the message which lies buried in the heart of all human experience. (‘In the old days the sailing ships in need of ballast would collect tortoises from the mainland and fill great barrels with them, alive. Those that survived the terrible journey might be sold as pets for children. The putrefying bodies of the rest were emptied into the East India Docks. There were plenty more where they came from.’) I walked lightly effortlessly about the town like an escaped prisoner. Mnemjian had violet tears in his violet eyes as he embraced me warmly. He settled down to shave me himself, his every gesture expressing an emollient sympathy and tenderness. Outside on the pavements drenched with sunlight walked the citizens of Alexandria each locked into a world of personal relationships and fears, yet each seeming to my eyes infinitely remote from those upon which my own thoughts and feelings were busy. The city was smiling with a heartbreaking indifference, a cocotte refreshed by the darkness. There remained only one thing to do now, to see Nessim. I was relieved to learn that he was due to come into town that evening. Here again time had another surprise in store for me for the Nessim who lived in my memories had changed. He had aged like a woman — his lips and face had both broadened. He walked now with his weight distributed comfortably on the flat of his feet as if his body had already submitted to a dozen pregnancies. The queer litheness of his step had gone. Moreover he radiated now a flabby charm mixed with concern which made him at first all but unrecognizable. A foolish authoritativeness had replaced the delightful old diffidence. He was just back from Kenya. I had hardly time to capture and examine these new impressions when he suggested that we should visit the Etoile together — the night-club where Melissa used to dance. It had changed hands, he added, as if this somehow excused our visiting it on the very day of her funeral. Shocked and surprised as I was I agreed without hesitation, prompted both by curiosity as to his own feelings and a desire to discuss the transaction which concerned the child — this mythical child. When we walked down the narrow airless stairway into the white light of the place a cry went up and the girls came running to him from every corner like cockroaches. It appeared that he was well known now as an habitué. He opened his arms to them with a shout of laughter, turning to me for approval as he did so. Then taking their hands one after another he pressed them voluptuously to the breast pocket of his coat so that they might feel the outlines of the thick wallet he now carried, stuffed with banknotes. This gesture at once reminded me of how, when I was accosted one night in the dark streets of the city by a pregnant woman and trying to make my escape, she took my hand, as if to give me an idea of the pleasure she was offering (or perhaps to emphasize her need) and pressed it upon her swollen abdomen. Now, watching Nessim, I suddenly recalled the tremulous beat of the foetal heart in the eighth month. It is difficult to describe how unspeakably strange I found it to sit beside this vulgar double of the Nessim I had once known. I studied him keenly but he avoided my eye and confined his conversation to laboured commonplaces which he punctuated by yawns that were one by one tapped away behind ringed fingers. Here and there, however, behind this new fa.ade stirred a hint of the old diffidence, but buried — as a fine physique may be buried in a mountain of fat. In the washroom Zoltan the waiter confided in me: ‘He has become truly himself since his wife went away. All Alexandria says so.’ The truth was that he had become like all Alexandria. Late that night the whim seized him to drive me to Montaza in the late moonlight; we sat in the car for a long time in silence, smoking, gazing out at the moonlit waves hobbling across the sand bar. It was during this silence that I apprehended the truth about him. He had not really changed inside. He had merely adopted a new mask. Justine (1957) Part I Chapter 7To Alexandria as she is leaving.That autumn, when we struck camp and returned to the city for its winter season, nothing had been decided; the feeling of crisis had even diminished. We were all held there, so to speak, in the misty solution of everyday life out of which futurity was to crystallize whatever drama lay ahead. I was called upon to begin my new job for Scobie and addressed myself helplessly to the wretched boustrophedon upon which Balthazar continued to instruct me, in between bouts of chess. I admit that I tried to allay my pangs of conscience in the matter by trying at first to tell Scobie’s office the truth — namely that the Cabal was a harmless sect devoted to Hermetic philosophy and that its activities bore no reference to espionage. In answer to this I was curtly told that I must not believe their obvious cover-story but must try to break the code. Detailed reports of the meetings were called for and these I duly supplied, typing out Balthazar’s discourses on Ammon and Hermes Trismegistus with a certain peevish pleasure, imagining as I did so the jaded government servants who have to wade through the stuff in damp basements a thousand miles away. But I was paid and paid well; for the first time I was able to send Melissa a little money and to make some attempt to pay Justine what I owed her. It was interesting, too, to discover which of my acquaintances were really part of the espionage grape-vine. Mnemjian, for example, was one; his shop was a clearing-post for general intelligence concerning the city, and was admirably chosen. He performed his duties with tremendous care and discretion, and insisted on shaving me free of charge; it was disheartening to learn much later on that he patiently copied out his intelligence summaries in triplicate and sold copies to various other intelligence services. Another interesting aspect of the work was that one had the power to order raids to be made on the house of one’s friends. I enjoyed very much having Pombal’s apartment raided. The poor fellow had a calamitous habit of bringing official files home to work on in the evening. We captured a whole set of papers which delighted Scobie for they contained detailed memoranda upon French influence in Syria, and a list of French agents in the city. I noticed on one of these lists the name of the old furrier, Cohen. Pombal was badly shaken by this raid and went about looking over his shoulder for nearly a month afterwards, convinced that he was being shadowed. He also developed the delusion that one-eyed Hamid had been paid to poison him and would only eat food cooked at home after I had first tasted it. He was still waiting for his cross and his transfer and was very much afraid that the loss of the files would prejudice both, but as we had thoughtfully left him the classification-covers he was able to return them to their series with a minute to say that they had been burnt ‘according to instructions’. He had been having no small success lately with his carefully graduated cocktail-parties — into which he occasionally introduced guests from the humbler spheres of life like prostitution or the arts. But the expense and boredom were excruciating and I remember him explaining to me once, in tones of misery, the origin of these functions. ‘The cocktail-party — as the name itself indicates — was originally invented by dogs. They are simply bottomsniffings raised to the rank of formal ceremonies.’ Nevertheless he persevered in them and was rewarded by the favours of his Consul-General whom, despite his contempt, he still regarded with a certain childish awe. He even persuaded Justine, after much humorous pleading, to put in an appearance at one of these functions in order to further his plans for crucifixion. This gave us a chance to study Pordre and the small diplomatic circle of Alexandria — for the most part people who gave the impression of being painted with an air-brush, so etiolated and diffused did their official personalities seem to me. Pordre himself was a whim rather than a man. He was born to be a cartoonist’s butt. He had a long pale spoiled face, set off by a splendid head of silver hair which he used to affect. But it was a lackey’s countenance. The falseness of his gestures (his exaggerated solicitude and friendship for the merest acquaintances) grated disagreeably and enabled me to understand both the motto my friend had composed for the French Foreign Office and also the epitaph which he once told me should be placed on the tomb of his Chief. (‘His mediocrity was his salvation.’) Indeed, his character was as thin as a single skin of gold leaf — the veneer of culture which diplomats are in a better position to acquire than most men. The party went off to perfection, and a dinner invitation from Nessim threw the old diplomat into a transport of pleasure which was not feigned. It was well known that the King was a frequent guest at Nessim’s table and the old man was already writing a despatch in his mind which began with the words: ‘Dining with the King last week I brought the conversation round to the question of …. He said … I replied….’ His lips began to move, his eyes to unfocus themselves, as he retired into one of those public trances for which he was famous, and from which he would awake with a start to astonish his interlocutors with a silly cod’s smile of apology. For my part I found it strange to revisit the little tank-like flat where I had passed nearly two years of my life; to recall that it was here, in this very room, that I had first encountered Melissa. It had undergone a great transformation at the hands of Pombal’s latest mistress. She had insisted upon its being panelled and painted off-white with a maroon skirting-board. The old arm-chairs whose stuffing used to leak slowly out of the rents in their sides had been re-upholstered in some heavy damask material with a pattern of fleur-de-lis while the three ancient sofas had been banished completely to make floor-space. No doubt they had been sold or broken up. ‘Somewhere’ I thought in quotation from a poem by the old poet, ‘somewhere those wretched old things must still be knocking about.’ How grudging memory is, and how bitterly she clutches the raw material of her daily work. Pombal’s gaunt bedroom had become vaguely fin de siècle and was as clean as a new pin. Oscar Wilde might have admitted it as a set for the first act of a play. My own room had reverted once more to a box-room, but the bed was still there standing against the wall by the iron sink. The yellow curtain had of course disappeared and had been replaced by a drab piece of white cloth. I put my hand to the rusted frame of the old bed and was stabbed to the heart by the memory of Melissa turning her candid eyes upon me in the dusky half-light of the little room. I was ashamed and surprised by my grief. And when Justine came into the room behind me I kicked the door shut and immediately began to kiss her lips and hair and forehead, squeezing her almost breathless in my arms lest she should surprise the tears in my eyes. But she knew at once, and returning my kisses with that wonderful ardour that only friendship can give to our actions, she murmured: ‘I know. I know.’ Then softly disengaging herself she led me out of the room and closed the door behind us. ‘I must tell you about Nessim’ she said in a low voice. ‘Listen to me. On Wednesday, the day before we left the Summer Palace, I went for a ride alone by the sea. There was a big flight of herring-gulls over the shoreline and all of a sudden I saw the car in the distance rolling and scrambling down the dunes towards the sea with Selim at the wheel. I couldn’t make out what they were doing. Nessim was in the back. I thought she would surely get stuck, but no: they raced down to the water’s edge where the sand was firm and began to speed along the shore towards me. I was not on the beach but in a hollow about fifty yards from the sea. As they came racing level with me and the gulls rose I saw that Nessim had the old repeating-gun in his hands. He raised it and fired again and again into the cloud of gulls, until the magazine was exhausted. Three or four fell fluttering into the sea, but the car did not stop. They were past me in a flash. There must have been a way back from the long beach to the sandstone and so back on to the main road because when I rode in half an hour later the car was back. Nessim was in his observatory. The door was locked and he said he was busy. I asked Selim the meaning of this scene and he simply shrugged his shoulders and pointed at Nessim’s door. “He gave me the orders” was all he said. But, my dear, if you had seen Nessim’s face as he raised the gun….’ And thinking of it she involuntarily raised her long fingers to her own cheeks as if to adjust the expression on her own face. ‘He looked mad.’ In the other room they were talking politely of world politics and the situation in Germany. Nessim had perched himself gracefully on Pordre’s chair. Pombal was swallowing yawns which kept returning distressingly enough in the form of belches. My mind was still full of Melissa. I had sent her some money that afternoon and the thought of her buying herself some fine clothes — or even spending it in some foolish way — warmed me. ‘Money’ Pombal was saying playfully to an elderly woman who had the appearance of a contrite camel. ‘One should always make sure of a supply. For only with money can one make more money. Madame certainly knows the Arabic proverb which says: “Riches can buy riches, but poverty will scarcely buy one a leper’s kiss.” ’ ‘We must go’ said Justine, and staring into her warm dark eyes as I said good-bye I knew that she divined how full of Melissa my mind was at the moment; it gave her handshake an added warmth and sympathy. I suppose it was that night, while she was dressing for dinner that Nessim came into her room and addressed her reflection in the spade-shaped mirror. ‘Justine’ he said firmly, ‘I must ask you not to think that I am going mad or anything like that but — has Balthazar ever been more than a friend to you?’ Justine was placing a cigale made of gold on the lobe of her left ear; she looked up at him for a long second before answering in the same level, equable tone: ‘No, my dear.’ ‘Thank you.’ Nessim stared at his own reflection for a long time, boldly, comprehensively. Then he sighed once and took from the waistcoatpocket of his dress-clothes a little gold key, in the form of an ankh. ‘I simply cannot think how this came into my possession’ he said, blushing deeply and holding it up for her to see. It was the little watch-key whose loss had caused Balthazar so much concern. Justine stared at it and then at her husband with a somewhat startled air. ‘Where was it?’ she said. ‘In my stud-box.’ Justine went on with her toilette at a slower pace, looking curiously at her husband who for his part went on studying his own features with the same deliberate rational scrutiny. ‘I must find a way of returning it to him. Perhaps he dropped it at a meeting. But the strange thing is….’ He sighed again. ‘I don’t remember.’ It was clear to them both that he had stolen it. Nessim turned on his heel and said: ‘I shall wait for you downstairs.’ As the door closed softly behind him Justine examined the little key with curiosity.The mirror sees the man as beautiful, the mirror loves the man; another mirror sees the man as frightful and hates him; and it is always the same being who produces the impressions.Berlin was also in the grip of snow, but here the sullen goaded helplessness of the Russias was replaced by a malignant euphoria hardly less dispiriting. The air was tonic with gloom and uncertainty. In the grey-green lamplight of the Embassy he listened thoughtfully to the latest evaluations of the new Attila, and a valuable summary of the measured predictions which for months past had blackened the marbled minute-papers of German Department, and the columns of the P.E. printings — political evaluations. Was it really by now so obvious that this nation-wide exercise in political diabolism would end by plunging Europe into bloodshed? The case seemed overwhelming. But there was one hope — that Attila might turn eastwards and leave the cowering west to moulder away in peace. If the two dark angels which hovered over the European subconscious could only fight and destroy each other…. There was some real hope of this. ‘The only hope, sir’ said the young attaché quietly, and not without a certain relish, so pleasing to a part of the mind is the prospect of total destruction, as the only cure for the classical ennui of modern man. ‘The only hope’ he repeated. Extreme views, thought Mountolive, frowning. He had been taught to avoid them. It had become second nature to remain uncommitted in his mind. That night he was dined somewhat extravagantly by the youthful Chargé d’Affaires, as the Ambassador was absent on duty, and after dinner was taken to the fashionable Tanzfest for the cabaret. The network of candle-lit cellars, whose walls were lined with blue damask, was ruled with the glow of a hundred cigarettes, twinkling away like fireflies outside the radius of white lights where a huge hermaphrodite with the face of a narwhal conducted the measures of the ‘Fox Macabre Totentanz’. Bathed in the pearly sweat of the nigger saxophonists the refrain ran on with its hysterical coda: Berlin, dein Tanzer ist der Tod! Berlin, du wuhlst mit Lust im Kot! Halt ein! lass sein! und denk ein bischen nach: Du tanzt dir dock vom Leibe nicht die Schmach. denn du boxt, und du jazzt, und du foxt auf dem Pulverfass! It was an admirable commentary on the deliberations of the afternoon and underneath the frenetic licence and fervour of the singing he seemed to catch the drift of older undertones — passages from Tacitus, perhaps? Or the carousings of death-dedicated warriors heading for Valhalla? Somehow the heavy smell of the abattoir clung to it, despite the tinsel and the streamers. Thoughtfully Mountolive sat among the white whorls of cigar-smoke and watched the crude peristaltic movements of the Black Bottom. The words repeated themselves in his mind over and over again. ‘You won’t dance the shame out of your belly,’ he repeated to himself as he watched the dancers break out and the lights change from green and gold to violet. Then he suddenly sat up and said ‘My Goodness!’ He had caught sight of a familiar face in a far corner of the cellar: that of Nessim. He was seated at a table among a group of elderly men in evening-dress, smoking a lean cheroot and nodding from time to time. They were taking scant notice of the cabaret. A magnum of champagne stood upon the table. It was too far to depend upon signals and Mountolive sent over a card, waiting until he saw Nessim follow the waiter’s pointing finger before he smiled and raised a hand. They both stood up, and Nessim at once came over to his table with his warm shy smile to utter the conventional exclamations of surprise and delight. He was, he said, in Berlin on a two-day business visit. ‘Trying to market tungsten’ he added quietly. He was flying back to Egypt at dawn next morning. Mountolive introduced him to his own host and persuaded him to spend a few moments at their table. ‘It is such a rare pleasure — and now.’ But Nessim had already heard the rumour of his impending appointment. ‘I know it isn’t confirmed yet,’ he said, ‘but it leaked just the same — needless to say via Pursewarden. You can imagine our delight after so long.’ They talked on for a while, Nessim smiling as he answered Mountolive’s questions. Only Leila was at first not mentioned. After a while Nessim’s face took on a curious expression — a sort of chaste cunning, and he said with hesitation: ‘Leila will be so delighted.’ He gave him a swift upward glance from under his long lashes and then looked hastily away. He stubbed out his cheroot and gave Mountolive another equivocal glance. He stood up and glanced anxiously back in the direction of his party at the far table. ‘I must go’ he said. They discussed plans for a possible meeting in England before Mountolive should fly Out to his new appointment. Nessim was vague, unsure of his movements. They would have to wait upon the event. But now Mountolive’s host had returned from the cloak-room, a fact which effectively prevented any further private exchanges. They said good-bye with good grace and Nessim walked slowly back to his table. ‘Is your friend in armaments?’ asked the Chargé d’Affaires as they were leaving. Mountolive shook his head. ‘He’s a banker. Unless tungsten plays a part in armaments — I don’t really know.’ ‘It isn’t important. Just idle curiosity. You see, the people at his table are all from Krupps, and so I wondered. That was all.’ So much have I reconstructed from the labyrinth of notes which Balthazar has left me. ‘To imagine is not necessarily to invent’ he says elsewhere, ‘nor dares one make a claim for omniscience in interpreting people’s actions. One assumes that they have grown out of their feelings as leaves grow out of a branch. But can one work backwards, deducing the one form from the other? Perhaps a writer could if he were sufficiently brave to cement these apparent gaps in our actions with interpretations of his own to bind them together? What was going on in Nessim’s mind? This is really a question for you to put to yourself. ‘Or in Justine’s for that matter? One really doesn’t know; all I can say is that their esteem for each other grew in inverse ratio to their regard — for there never by common consent was any love between them as I have shown you. Perhaps it is as well. But in all the long discussions I had with them separately, I could not find the key to a relationship which failed signally — one could see it daily sinking as land sinks, as the level of a lake might sink, and not know why. The surface colouring was brilliantly executed and so perfect as to deceive most observers like yourself, for example. Nor do I share Leila’s view — who never liked Justine. I sat beside her at the presentation which Narouz organized at the great mulid of Abu Girg which falls towards Easter every year. Justine had by then renounced Judaism to become a Copt in obedience to Nessim’s wish, and as he could only marry her privately since she had already once been married, Narouz had to be content with a party which would present her to the great house and its dependants whose lives he was always anxious to cement into the family pattern. ‘For four days then a huge encampment of tents and marquees grew up around the house — carpets and chandeliers and brilliant decorations. Alexandria was stripped bare of hothouse flowers and not less of its great social figures who made the somewhat mocking journey down to Abu Girg (nothing excites so much mocking amusement in the city as a fashionable wedding) to pay their respects and congratulate Leila. Local mudirs and sheiks, peasants innumerable, dignitaries from near and far had flocked in to be entertained — while the Bedouin, whose tribal grounds fringed the estate, gave magnificent displays of horsemanship, galloping round and round the house firing their guns — for all the world as if Justine were a young bride — a virgin. Imagine the smiles of Athena Trasha, of the Cervonis! And old Abu Kar himself rode up the steps of the house on his white Arab and into the very reception-rooms with a bowl of flowers. ‘As for Leila, she never for one moment took those clever eyes off Justine. She followed her with care like someone studying a historical figure. “Is she not lovely?” I asked as I followed her glance and she turned a quick bird-like glance in my direction before turning back to the subject of her absorbed study. “We are old friends, Balthazar, and I can talk to you. I was telling myself that she looked something like I did once, and that she is an adventuress ; like a small dark snake coiled up at the centre of Nessim’s life.” I protested in a formal manner at this; she stared into my eyes for a long moment and then gave a slow chuckle. I was surprised by what she said next. “Yes, she is just like me — merciless in the pursuit of pleasure and yet arid — all her milk has turned into power-love. Yet she is also like me in that she is tender and kindly and a real man’s woman. I hate her because she is like me, do you understand? And I fear her because she can read my mind.” She began to laugh. “My darling” she called out to Justine, “come over here and sit by me.” And she thrust upon her the one sort of confectionery she herself most loathed — crystallized violets — which I saw Justine accept with reserve — for she loathed them too. And so the two of them sat there, the veiled sphinx and the unveiled, eating sugar violets which neither could bear. I was delighted to be able to see women at their most primitive like this. Nor can I tell you very much about the validity of such judgements. We all make them about each other. ‘The curious thing was, that despite this antipathy between the two women — the antipathy of affinity, you might say — there sprang up side by side with it a strange sympathy, a sense of identification with each other. For example when Leila at last dared to meet Mountolive it was done secretly and arranged by Justine. It was Justine who brought them together, both masked, during the carnival ball. Or so I heard. ‘As for Nessim, I would, at the risk of over-simplification, say something like this: he was so innocent that he had not realized that you cannot live with a woman without in some degree falling in love with her — that possession is nine points of the jealousy? He was dismayed and terrified by the extent of his own jealousy for Justine and was honestly trying to practise something new for him — indifference. True or false? I don’t know. ‘And then, turning the coin round, I would say that what irked Justine herself unexpectedly was to find that the contract of wife undertaken so rationally, and at the level of a financial bargain, was somehow more binding than a wedding ring. One does not, as a woman (if passion seems to sanction it) think twice about being unfaithful to a husband; but to be unfaithful to Nessim seemed like stealing money from the till. What would you say?’ My own feeling (pace Balthazar) is that Justine became slowly aware of something hidden in the character of this solitary endearing long-suffering man; namely a jealousy all the more terrible and indeed dangerous for never allowing itself any outlet. Sometimes … but here I am in danger of revealing confidences which Justine made to me during the period of the so-called love affair which so much wounded me and in which, as I learn now, she was only using me as a cover for other activities. I have described the progress of it all elsewhere; but if I were now to reveal all she told me of Nessim in her own words I should be in danger, primo, of setting down material perhaps distasteful to the reader and indeed unfair to Nessim himself. Secundo: I am not sure any more of its relative truth since it might have been part of the whole grand design of deception! In my own mind even those feelings (‘important lessons learned’ etc.) are all coloured by the central doubt which the Interlinear has raised in my mind. ‘Truth is what most contradicts itself …’! What a farce it all is! But what he says of the jealousy of Nessim must be true, however, for I lived for a while in its shadow, and there is no doubt about the effect it had on Justine. Almost from the beginning she had found herself followed, kept under surveillance, and very naturally this gave her a feeling of uncertainty: uncertainty made terrible by the fact that Nessim never openly spoke of it. It rested, an invisible weight of suspicion dogging and discolouring her commonest remarks, the most innocent of after-dinner walks. He would sit between the tall candles gently smiling at her while a whole silent inquisition unrolled reverberating in his mind. So at least she said. The simplest and most sincere actions — a visit to a public library, a shopping list, a message on a place-card — became baffling to the eye of a jealousy founded in emotional impotence. Nessim was torn to rags by her demands; she was torn to rags by the doubts she saw reflected in his eyes — by the very tenderness with which he put a wrap around her shoulders. It felt as if he were slipping a noose over her neck. In a queer sort of way this relationship echoed the psycho-analytic relationship described in Moeurs by her first husband — where Justine became for them all a Case rather than a person, chased almost out of her right mind by the tiresome inquisitions of those who never know when to leave ill alone. Yes, she had fallen into a trap, there is no doubt. The thought echoed in her mind like mad laughter. I hear it echo still. So they went on side by side, like runners perfectly matched, offering to Alexandria what seemed the perfect pattern of a relationship all envied and none could copy. Nessim the indulgent, the uxorious, Justine the lovely and contented wife. ‘In his own way’ notes Balthazar ‘I suppose he was only hunting for the truth. Isn’t this becoming rather a ridiculous remark? We should drop it by common consent! It is after all such an odd business. Shall I give you yet another example from another quarter? Your account of Capodistria’s death on the lake is the version which we all of us accepted at the time as likely to be true: in our minds, of course. ‘But in the Police depositions, everyone concerned mentioned one particular thing — namely that when they raised his body from the lake in which it was floating, with the black patch beside it in the water, his false teeth fell into the boat with a clatter, and startled them all. Now listen to this: three months later I was having dinner with Pierre Balbz who was his dentist. He assured me that Da Capo had an almost perfect set of teeth and certainly no false teeth which could possibly have fallen out. Who then was it? I don’t know. And if Da Capo simply disappeared and arranged for some decoy to take his place, he had every reason: leaving behind him debts of over two million. Do you see what I mean? ‘Fact is unstable by its very nature. Narouz once said to me that he loved the desert because there “the wind blew out one’s footsteps like candle-flames”. So it seems to me does reality. How then can we hunt for the truth?’MY CONVERSATIONS WITH BROTHER ASS (being extracts from Pursewarden’s Notebook) WWith what a fearful compulsion we return to it again and again — like a tongue to a hollow tooth — this question of writing! Can writers talk nothing but shop then? No. But with old Darley I am seized with a sort of convulsive vertigo for, while we have everything in common, I find I cannot talk to him at all. But wait. I mean that I do talk: endlessly, passionately, hysterically without uttering a word aloud! There is no way to drive a wedge between his ideas which, ma foi, are thoughtful, orderly, the very essence of ‘soundness’. Two men propped on bar-stools thoughtfully gnawing at the universe as if at a stick of sugar-cane! The one speaks in a low, modulated voice, using language with tact and intuition; the other shifts from buttock to listless buttock shamefacedly shouting in his own mind, but only answering with an occasional affirmative or negative to these well-rounded propositions which are, for the most part, incontestably valuable and true! This would perhaps make the germ of a short story? (‘But Brother Ass, there is a whole dimension lacking to what you say. How is it possible for one to convey this in Oxford English?’) Still with sad penitential frowns the man on the high bar-stool proceeds with his exposition about the problem of the creative act — I ask you! From time to time he shoots a shyish sideways glance at his tormentor — for in a funny sort of way I do seem to torment him; otherwise he would not always be at me, aiming the button of his foil at the chinks in my self-esteem, or at the place where he believes I must keep my heart. No, we would be content with simpler conversational staples like the weather. In me he scents an enigma, something crying out for the probe. (‘But Brother Ass, I am as clear as a bell — a sancing bell! The problem is there, here, nowhere!’) At times while he is talking like this I have the sudden urge to jump on his back and ride him frantically up and down Rue Fuad, thrashing him with a Thesaurus and crying: ‘Awake, moon-calf! Let me take you by your long silken jackass’s ears and drive you at a gallop through the waxworks of our literature, among the clicking of Box Brownies each taking its monochrome snapshots of so-called reality! Together we will circumvent the furies and become celebrated for our depiction of the English scene, of English life which moves to the stately rhythm of an autopsy! Do you hear me, Brother Ass?’ He does not hear, he will not hear. His voice comes to me from a great way off, as if over a faulty land-line. ‘Hullo! Can you hear me?’ I cry, shaking the receiver. I hear his voice faintly against the roaring of Niagara Falls. ‘What is that? Did you say that you wished to contribute to English literature? What, to arrange a few sprigs of parsley over this dead turbot? To blow diligently into the nostrils of this corpse? Have you mobilized your means, Brother Ass? Have you managed to annul your early pot-training? Can you climb like a cat-burglar with loosened sphincters? But then what will you say to people whose affective life is that of hearty Swiss hoteliers? I will tell you. I will say it and save all you artists the trouble. A simple word. Edelweiss. Say it in a low well-modulated voice with a refined accent, and lubricate it with a sigh! The whole secret is here, in a word which grows above snowline! And then, having solved the problem of ends and means you will have to face another just as troublesome — for if by any chance a work of art should cross the channel it would be sure to be turned back at Dover on the grounds of being improperly dressed! It is not easy, Brother Ass. (Perhaps it would be wisest to ask the French for intellectual asylum?) But I see you will not heed me. You continue in the same unfaltering tone to describe for me the literary scene which was summed up once and for all by the poet Gray in the line “The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea”! Here I cannot deny the truth of what you say. It is cogent, it is prescient, it is carefully studied. But I have taken my own precautions against a nation of mental grannies. Each of my books bears a scarlet wrapper with the legend: NOT TO BE OPENED BY OLD WOMEN OF EITHER SEX. (Dear D.H.L. so wrong, so right, so great, may his ghost breathe on us all!)’ He puts down his glass with a little clock and sighing runs his fingers through his hair. Kindness is no excuse, I tell myself. Disinterested goodness is no exoneration from the basic demands of the artist’s life. You see, Brother Ass, there is my life and then the life of my life. They must belong as fruit and rind. I am not being cruel. It is simply that I am not indulgent! ‘How lucky not to be interested in writing’ says Darley with a touch of plaintive despair in his tone. ‘I envy you’. But he does not, really, not at all. Brother Ass, I will tell you a short story. A team of Chinese anthropologists arrived in Europe to study our habits and beliefs. Within three weeks they were all dead. They died of uncontrollable laughter and were buried with full military honours! What do you make of that? We have turned ideas into a paying form of tourism. Darley talks on with slanting eye buried in his gin-sling. I reply wordlessly. In truth I am deafened by the pomposity of my own utterances. They echo in my skull like the reverberating eructations of Zarathustra, like the wind whistling through Montaigne’s beard. At times I mentally seize him by the shoulders and shout: ‘Should literature be a path-finder or a bromide? Decide! Decide!’ He does not heed, does not hear me. He has just come from the library, from the pot-house, or from a Bach concert (the gravy still running down his chin). We have aligned our shoes upon the polished brass rail below the bar. The evening has begun to yawn around us with the wearisome promise of girls to be ploughed. And here is Brother Ass discoursing upon the book he is writing and from which he has been thrown, as from a horse, time and time again. It is not really art which is at issue, it is ourselves. Shall we always be content with the ancient tinned salad of the subsidized novel? Or the tired ice-cream of poems which cry themselves to sleep in the refrigerators of the mind? If it were possible to adopt a bolder scansion, a racier rhythm, we might all breathe more freely! Poor Darley’s books — will they always be such painstaking descriptions of the soul-states of … the human omelette? (Art occurs at the point where a form is sincerely honoured by an awakened spirit.) ‘This one’s on me.’ ‘No, old man, on me.’ ‘No. No; I insist.’ ‘No. It’s my turn.’ This amiable quibble allows me just the split second I need to jot down the salient points for my self-portrait on a rather ragged cuff. I think it covers the whole scope of the thing with admirable succinctness. Item one. ‘Like all fat men I tend to be my own hero.’ Item two. ‘Like all young men I set out to be a genius, but mercifully laughter intervened.’ Item three. ‘I always hoped to achieve the Elephant’s Eye view.’ Item four. ‘I realized that to become an artist one must shed the whole complex of egotisms which led to the choice of self-expression as the only means of growth! This because it is impossible I call The Whole Joke!’ Darley is talking of disappointments! But Brother Ass, disenchantment is the essence of the game. With what high hopes we invaded London from the provinces in those old dead days, our manuscripts bagging our suitcases. Do you recall? With what emotion we gazed over Westminster Bridge, reciting Wordsworth’s indifferent sonnet and wondering if his daughter grew up less beautiful for being French. The metropolis seemed to quiver with the portent of our talent, our skill, our discernment. Walking along the Mall we wondered who all those men were — tall hawk-featured men perched on balconies and high places, scanning the city with heavy binoculars. What were they seeking so earnestly? Who were they — so composed and steely-eyed? Timidly we stopped a policeman to ask him. ‘They are publishers’ he said mildly. Publishers! Our hearts stopped beating. ‘They are on the look-out for new talent.’ Great God! It was for us they were waiting and watching! Then the kindly policemen lowered his voice confidentially and said in hollow and reverent tones: ‘They are waiting for the new Trollope to be born!’ Do you remember, at these words, how heavy our suitcases suddenly felt? How our blood slowed, our footsteps lagged? Brother Ass, we had been bashfully thinking of a kind of illumination such as Rimbaud dreamed of — a nagging poem which was not didactic or expository but which infected — was not simply a rationalized intuition, I mean, clothed in isinglass! We had come to the wrong shop, with the wrong change! A chill struck us as we saw the mist falling in Trafalgar Square, coiling around us its tendrils of ectoplasm! A million muffin-eating moralists were waiting, not for us, Brother Ass, but for the plucky and tedious Trollope! (If you are dissatisfied with your form, reach for the curette.) Now do you wonder if I laugh a little off-key? Do you ask yourself what has turned me into nature’s bashful little aphorist? Disguised as an eiron, why who should it be But tuft-hunting, dram-drinking, toad-eating Me! We who are, after all, simply poor co-workers in the psyche of our nation, what can we expect but the natural automatic rejection from a public which resents interference? And quite right too. There is no injustice in the matter, for I also resent interference, Brother Ass, just as you do. No, it is not a question of being aggrieved, it is a question of being unlucky. Of the ten thousand reasons for my books’ unpopularity I shall only bother to give you the first, for it includes all the others. A puritan culture’s conception of art is something which will endorse its morality and flatter its patriotism. Nothing else. I see you raise your eyebrows. Even you, Brother Ass, realize the basic unreality of this proposition. Nevertheless it explains everything. A puritan culture, argal, does not know what art is — how can it be expected to care? (I leave religion to the bishops — there it can do most harm!) No croked legge, no blered eye, no part deformed out of kinde Nor yet so onolye half can be As is the inward suspicious minde. The wheel is patience on to which I’m bound. Time is this nothingness within the round. Gradually we compile our own anthologies of misfortune, our dictionaries of verbs and nouns, our copulas and gerundives. That symptomatic policeman of the London dusk first breathed the message to us! That kindly father-figure put the truth in a nutshell. And here we are both in a foreign city built of smegmatinted crystal and tinsel whose moeurs, if we described them, would be regarded as the fantasies of our disordered brains. Brother Ass, we have the hardest lesson of all to learn as yet — that truth cannot be forced but must be allowed to plead for itself! Can you hear me? The line is faulty again, your voice has gone far away. I hear the water rushing! Be bleak, young man, and let who will be sprightly, And honour Venus if you can twice nightly. All things being equal you should not refuse To ring the slow sad cowbell of the English muse! Art’s Truth’s Nonentity made quite explicit. If it ain’t this then what the devil is it? Writing in my room last night I saw an ant upon the table. It crossed near the inkwell, and I saw it hesitate at the whiteness of a sheet of paper on which I had written the word ‘Love’; my pen faltered, the ant turned back, and suddenly my candle guttered and went out. Clear octaves of yellow fight flickered behind my eyeballs. I had wanted to start a sentence with the words ‘Proponents of love’ — but the thought had guttered out with the candle! Later on, just before dropping off to sleep an idea struck me. On the wall above my bed I wrote in pencil the words: ‘What is to be done when one cannot share one’s own opinions about love?’ I heard my own exasperated sigh as I was dropping off to sleep. In the morning I awoke, clear as a perforated appendix, and wrote my own epitaph on the mirror with my shaving-stick: ‘I never knew which side my art was buttered’ Were the Last Words that poor Pursewarden uttered! As for the proponents of love, I was glad they had vanished for they would have led me irresistibly in the direction of sex — that bad debt which hangs upon my compatriots’ consciences. The quiddity! The veritable nub and quiddity of this disordered world, and the only proper field for the deployment of our talents, Brother Ass. But one true, honest unemphatic word in this department will immediately produce one of those neighing and whinnying acts peculiar to our native intellectuals! For them sex is either a Gold Rush or a Retreat from Moscow. And for us? No, but if we are to be a moment serious I will explain what I mean. (Cuckow, Cuckow, a merry note, unpleasing to the pigskin ear.) I mean more than they think. (The strange sad hermaphrodite figure of the London dusk — the Guardsman waiting in Ebury Street for the titled gent.) No, quite another region of enquiry which cannot be reached without traversing this terrain vague of the partial spirits. Our topic, Brother Ass, is the same, always and irremediably the same — I spell the word for you: l-o-v-e. Four letters, each letter a volume! The point faible of the human psyche, the very site of the carcinoma maxima! How, since the Greeks, has it got mixed up with the cloaca maxima? It is a complete mystery to which the Jews hold the key unless my history is faulty. For this gifted and troublesome race which has never known art, but exhausted its creative processes purely in the construction of ethical systems, has fathered on us all, literally impregnated the Western European psyche with, the whole range of ideas based on ‘race’ and sexual containment in the furtherance of the race! I hear Balthazar growling and lashing his tail! But where the devil do these fantasies of purified bloodstreams come from? Am I wrong to turn to the fearful prohibitions listed in Leviticus for an explanation of the manic depressive fury of Plymouth Brethren and a host of other dismal sectarians? We have had our testicles pinched for centuries by the Mosaic Law; hence the wan and pollarded look of our young girls and boys. Hence the mincing effrontery of adults willed to perpetual adolescence! Speak, Brother Ass! Do you heed me? If I am wrong you have only to say so! But in my conception of the four-letter word — which I am surprised has not been blacklisted with the other three by the English printer — I am somewhat bold and sweeping. I mean the whole bloody range — from the little greenstick fractures of the human heart right up to its higher spiritual connivance with the … well, the absolute ways of nature, if you like. Surely, Brother Ass, this is the improper study of man? The main drainage of the soul? We could make an atlas of our sighs! Zeus gets Hera on her back But finds that she has lost the knack. Extenuated by excesses She is unable, she confesses. Nothing daunted Zeus, who wise is, Tries a dozen good disguises. Eagle, ram, and bull and bear Quickly answer Hera’s prayer. One knows a God should be prolix, But … think of all those different ! But I break off here in some confusion, for I see that I am in danger of not taking myself as seriously as I should! And this is an unpardonable offence. Moreover I missed your last remark which was something about the choice of a style. Yes, Brother Ass, the choice of a style is most important; in the market garden of our domestic culture you will find strange and terrible blooms with every stamen standing erect. Oh, to write like Ruskin! When poor Effie Grey tried to get to his bed, he shoo’d the girl away! Oh, to write like Carlyle! Haggis of the mind. When a Scotsman comes to toun Can Spring be far behind? No. Everything you say is truthful and full of point; relative truth, and somewhat pointless point, but nevertheless I will try and think about this invention of the scholiasts, for clearly style is as important to you as matter to me. How shall we go about it? Keats, the word-drunk, searched for resonance among vowel-sounds which might give him an echo of his inner self. He sounded the empty coffin of his early death with patient knuckles, listening to the dull resonances given off by his certain immortality. Byron was off-hand with English, treating it as master to servant; but the language, being no lackey, grew up like tropic lianas between the cracks of his verses, almost strangling the man. He really lived, his life was truly imaginary; under the figment of the passional self there is a mage, though he himself was not aware of the fact. Donne stopped upon the exposed nerve, jangling the whole cranium. Truth should make one wince, he thought. He hurts us, fearing his own facility; despite the pain of the stopping his verse must be chewed to rags. Shakespeare makes all Nature hang its head. Pope, in an anguish of method, like a constipated child, sandpapers his surfaces to make them slippery for our feet. Great stylists are those who are least certain of their effects. The secret lack in their matter haunts them without knowing it! Eliot puts a cool chloroform pad upon a spirit too tightly braced by the information it has gathered. His honesty of measure and his resolute bravery to return to the headsman’s axe is a challenge to us all; but where is the smile? He induces awkward sprains at a moment when we are trying to dance! He has chosen greyness rather than light, and he shares his portion with Rembrandt. Blake and Whitman are awkward brown paper parcels full of vessels borrowed from the temple which tumble all over the place when the string breaks. Longfellow heralds the age of invention for he first thought out the mechanical piano. You pedal, it recites. Lawrence was a limb of the genuine oak-tree, with the needed girth and span. Why did he show them that it mattered, and so make himself vulnerable to their arrows? Auden also always talks. He has manumitted the colloquial…. But here, Brother Ass, I break off; for clearly this is not higher or even lower criticism! I do not see this sort of fustian going down at our older universities where they are still painfully trying to extract from art some shadow of justification for their way of life. Surely there must be a grain of hope, they ask anxiously? After all, there must be a grain of hope for decent honest Christian folk in all this rigmarole which is poured out by our tribe from generation to generation. Or is art simply the little white stick which is given to the blind man and by the help of which he tap tap taps along a road he cannot see but which he is certain is there? Brother Ass, it is for you to decide! When I was chided by Balthazar for being equivocal I replied, without a moment’s conscious thought: ‘Words being what they are, people being what they are, perhaps it would be better always to say the opposite of what one means?’ Afterwards, when I reflected on this view (which I did not know that I held) it seemed to me really eminently sage! So much for conscious thought: you see, we Anglo-Saxons are incapable of thinking for ourselves; about, yes. In thinking about ourselves we put up every kind of pretty performance in every sort of voice, from cracked Yorkshire to the hot-potato-in-the-mouth voice of the BBC. There we excel, for we see ourselves at one remove from reality, as a subject under a microscope. This idea of objectivity is really a flattering extension of our sense of humbug. When you start to think for yourself it is impossible to cant — and we live by cant! Ah! I hear you say with a sigh, another of those English writers, eminent jailors of the soul! How they weary and disturb us! Very true and very sad. Hail! Albion drear, fond home of cant! Pursewarden sends thee greetings scant. Thy notions he’s turned back to front Abhorring cant, adoring **** But if you wish to enlarge the image turn to Europe, the Europe which spans, say, Rabelais to de Sade. A progress from the belly-consciousness to the head-consciousness, from flesh and food to sweet (sweet!) reason. Accompanied by all the interchanging ills which mock us. A progress from religious ecstasy to duodenal ulcer! (It is probably healthier to be entirely brainless.) But, Brother Ass, this is something which you did not take into account when you chose to compete for the Heavyweight Belt for Artists of the Millennium. It is too late to complain. You thought you would somehow sneak by the penalties without being called upon to do more than demonstrate your skill with words. But words … they are only an Aeolian harp, or a cheap xylophone. Even a sea-lion can learn to balance a football on its nose or to play the slide trombone in a circus. What lies beyond…? No, but seriously, if you wished to be — I do not say original but merely contemporary — you might try a four-card trick in the form of a novel; passing a common axis through four stories, say, and dedicating each to one of the four winds of heaven. A continuum, forsooth, embodying not a temps retrouvé but a temps delivré. The curvature of space itself would give you stereoscopic narrative, while human personality seen across a continuum would perhaps become prismatic? Who can say? I throw the idea out. I can imagine a form which, if satisfied, might raise in human terms the problems of causality or indeterminacy…. And nothing very recherché either. Just an ordinary Girl Meets Boy story. But tackled in this way you would not, like most of your contemporaries, be drowsily cutting along a dotted line! That is the sort of question which you will one day be forced to ask yourself (‘We will never get to Mecca!’ as the Tchekhov sisters remarked in a play, the title of which I have forgotten.) Nature he loved, and next to nature nudes, He strove with every woman worth the strife, Warming both cheeks before the fire of life, And fell, doing battle with a million prudes. Who dares to dream of capturing the fleeting image of truth in all its gruesome multiplicity? (No, no, let us dine cheerfully off scraps of ancient discarded poultice and allow ourselves to be classified by science as wet and dry bobs.) Whose are the figures I see before me, fishing the brackish reaches of the C. of E.? One writes, Brother Ass, for the spiritually starving, the castaways of the soul! They will always be a majority even when everyone is a state-owned millionaire. Have courage, for here you will always be master of your audience! Genius which cannot be helped should be politely ignored. Nor do I mean that it is useless to master and continuously practise your craft. No. A good writer should be able to write anything. But a great writer is the servant of compulsions which are ordained by the very structure of the psyche and cannot be disregarded. Where is he? Where is he? Come, let us collaborate on a four- or five-decker job, shall we? ‘Why the Curate Slipped’ would be a good title. Quick, they are waiting, those hypnagogic figures among the London minarets, the muezzin of the trade. ‘Does Curate get girl as well as stipend, or only stipend? Read the next thousand pages and find out!’ English life in the raw — like some pious melodrama acted by criminal churchwardens sentenced to a lifetime of sexual misgivings! In this way we can put a tea-cosy over reality to our mutual advantage, writing it all in the plain prose which is only just distinguishable from galvanized iron. In this way we will put a lid on a box with no sides! Brother Ass, let us conciliate a world of listless curmudgeons who read to verify, not their intuitions, but their prejudices! I remember old Da Capo saying one afternoon: ‘Today I had five girls. I know it will seem excessive to you. I was not trying to prove anything to myself. But if I said that I had merely blended five teas to suit my palate or five tobaccos to suit my pipe, you would not give the matter a second thought. You would, on the contrary, admire my eclecticism, would you not?’ The belly-furbished Kenilworth at the F.O. once told me plaintively that he had ‘just dropped in’ on James Joyce out of curiosity, and was surprised and pained to find him rude, arrogant and short-tempered. ‘But’ I said ‘he was paying for his privacy by giving lessons to niggers at one and six an hour! He might have been entitled to feel safe from ineffables like yourself who imagine that art is something to which a good education automatically entitles you; that it is a part of a social equipment, class aptitude, like painting water-colours was for a Victorian gentlewoman! I can imagine his poor heart sinking as he studied your face, with its expression of wayward condescension — the fathomless self-esteem which one sees occasionally flit across the face of a goldfish with a hereditary title!’ After this we never spoke, which was what I wanted. The art of making necessary enemies! Yet one thing I liked in him: he pronounced the word ‘Civilization’ as if it had an S-bend in it. (Brother Ass is on symbolism now, and really talking good sense, I must admit.) Symbolism! The abbreviation of language into poem. The heraldic aspect of reality! Symbolism is the great repair-outfit of the psyche, Brother Ass, the fond de pouvoir of the soul. The sphincter-loosening music which copies the ripples of the soul’s progress through human flesh, playing in us like electricity! (Old Parr, when he was drunk, said once: ‘Yes, but it hurts to realize!’) Of course it does. But we know that the history of literature is the history of laughter and pain. The imperatives from which there is no escape are: Laugh till it hurts, and hurt till you laugh! The greatest thoughts are accessible to the least of men. Why do we have to struggle so? Because understanding is a function not of ratiocination but of the psyche’s stage of growth. There, Brother Ass, is the point at which we are at variance. No amount of explanation can close the gap. Only realization! One day you are going to wake from your sleep shouting with laughter. Ecco! About Art I always tell myself: while they are watching the firework display, yclept Beauty, you must smuggle the truth into their veins like a filter-passing virus! This is easier said than done. How slowly one learns to embrace the paradox! Even I am not there as yet; nevertheless, like that little party of explorers, ‘Though we were still two days’ march from the falls we suddenly heard their thunder growing up in the distance’! Ah! those who merit it may one day be granted a rebirth-certificate by a kindly Government Department. This will entitle them to receive everything free of charge — a prize reserved for those who want nothing. Celestial economics, about which Lenin is strangely silent! Ah! the gaunt faces of the English muses! Pale distressed gentlewomen in smocks and beads, dispensing tea and drop-scones to the unwary! The foxy faces Of Edwardian Graces Horse-faces full of charm With strings of beads And a packet of seeds And an ape-tuft under each arm! Society! Let us complicate existence to the point of drudgery so that it acts as a drug against reality. Unfair! Unfair! But, my dear Brother Ass, the sort of book I have in mind will be characterized by the desired quality which will make us rich and famous: it will be characterized by a total lack of codpiece! When I want to infuriate Balthazar I say: ‘Now if the Jews would only assimilate they would give us a valuable lead in the matter of breaking down puritanism everywhere. For they are the licence-holders and patentees of the closed system, the ethical response! Even our absurd food prohibitions and inhibitions are copied from their melancholy priest-ridden rigmarole about flesh and fowl. Aye! We artists are not interested in policies but in values — this is our field of battle! If once we could loosen up, relax the terrible grip of the so-called Kingdom of Heaven which has made the earth such a blood-soaked place, we might rediscover in sex the key to a metaphysical search which is our raison d’être here below! If the closed system and the moral exclusiveness on divine right were relaxed a little what could we not do?’ What indeed? But the good Balthazar smokes his Lakadif gloomily and shakes his shaggy head. I think of the black velvet sighs of Juliet and fall silent. I think of the soft white knosps — unopened flower-shapes — which decorate the tombs of Moslem women! The slack, soft insipid mansuetude of these females of the mind! No, clearly my history is pretty weak. Islam also libs as the Pope does. Brother Ass, let us trace the progress of the European artist from problem-child to case-history, from case-history to crybaby! He has kept the psyche of Europe alive by his ability to be wrong, by his continual cowardice — this is his function! Cry-baby of the Western World! Cry-babies of the world unite! But let me hasten to add, lest this sounds cynical or despairing, that I am full of hope. For always, at every moment of time, there is a chance that the artist will stumble upon what I can only call The Great Inkling! Whenever this happens he is at once free to enjoy his fecundating role; but it can never really happen as fully and completely as it deserves until the miracle comes about — the miracle of Pursewarden’s Ideal Commonwealth! Yes, I believe in this miracle. Our very existence as artists affirms it! It is the act of yea-saying about which the old poet of the city speaks in a poem you once showed me in translation.* The fact of an artist being born affirms and reaffirms this in every generation. The miracle is there, on ice so to speak. One fine day it will blossom: then the artist suddenly grows up and accepts the full responsibility for his origins in the people, and when simultaneously the people recognize his peculiar significance and value, and greet him as the unborn child in themselves, the infant Joy! I am certain it will come. At the moment they are like wrestlers nervously circling one another, looking for the hold. But when it comes, this great blinding second of illumination — only then shall we be able to dispense with hierarchy as a social form. The new society — so different from anything we can imagine now — will be born around the small strict white temple of the Infant Joy! Men and women will group themselves around it, the protoplasmic growth of the village, the town, the capital! Nothing stands in the way of this Ideal Commonwealth, save that in every generation the vanity and laziness of the artist has always matched the self-indulgent blindness of the people. But prepare, prepare! It is on the way. It is here, there, nowhere! The great schools of love will arise, and sensual and intellectual knowledge will draw their impetus from each other. The human animal will be uncaged, all his dirty cultural straw and coprolitic refuse of belief cleaned out. And the human spirit, radiating light and laughter, will softly tread the green grass like a dancer; will emerge to cohabit with the time-forms and give children to the world of the elementaries — undines and salamanders, sylphs and sylvestres, Gnomi and Vulcani, angels and gnomes. Yes, to extend the range of physical sensuality to embrace mathematics and theology: to nourish not to stunt the intuitions. For culture means sex, the root-knowledge, and where the faculty is derailed or crippled, its derivatives like religion come up dwarfed or contorted — instead of the emblematic mystic rose you get Judaic cauliflowers like Morons or Vegetarians, instead of artists you get cry-babies, instead of philosophy semantics. The sexual and the creative energy go hand in hand. They convert into one another — the solar sexual and the lunar spiritual holding an eternal dialogue. They ride the spiral of time together. They embrace the whole of the human motive. The truth is only to be found in our own entrails — the truth of Time. ‘Copulation is the lyric of the mob!’ Aye, and also the university of the soul: but a university at present without endowments, without books or even students. No, there are a few. How wonderful the death-struggle of Lawrence: to realize his sexual nature fully, to break free from the manacles of the Old Testament; flashing down the firmament like a great white struggling man-fish, the last Christian martyr. His struggle is ours — to rescue Jesus from Moses. For a brief moment it looked possible, but St Paul restored the balance and the iron handcuffs of the Judaic prison closed about the growing soul forever. Yet in The Man Who Died he tells us plainly what must be, what the reawakening of Jesus should have meant — the true birth of free man. Where is he? What has happened to him? Will he ever come? My spirit trembles with joy as I contemplate this city of light which a divine accident might create before our very eyes at any moment! Here art will find its true form and place, and the artist can play like a fountain without contention, without even trying. For I see art more and more clearly as a sort of manuring of the psyche. It has no intention, that is to say no theology. By nourishing the psyche, by dunging it up, it helps it to find its own level, like water. That level is an original innocence — who invented the perversion of Original Sin, that filthy obscenity of the West? Art, like a skilled masseur on a playing-field, is always standing by to help deal with casualties; and just as a masseur does, its ministrations ease up the tensions of the psyche’s musculature. That is why it always goes for the sore places, its fingers pressing upon the knotted muscles, the tendon afflicted with cramp — the sins, perversions, displeasing points which we are reluctant to accept. Revealing them with its harsh kindness it unravels the tensions, relaxes the psyche. The other part of the work, if there is any other work, must belong to religion. Art is the purifying factor merely. It predicates nothing. It is the handmaid of silent content, essential only to joy and to love! These strange beliefs, Brother Ass, you will find lurking under my mordant humours, which may be described simply as a technique of therapy. As Balthazar says: ‘A good doctor, and in a special sense the psychologist, makes it quite deliberately, slightly harder for the patient to recover too easily. You do this to see if his psyche has any real bounce in it, for the secret of healing is in the patient and not the doctor. The only measure is the reaction!’ I was born under Jupiter, Hero of the Comic Mode! My poems, like soft music invading the encumbered senses of young lovers left alone at night…. What was I saying? Yes, the best thing to do with a great truth, as Rabelais discovered, is to bury it in a mountain of follies where it can comfortably wait for the picks and shovels of the elect. Between infinity and eternity stretches the thin hard tightrope human beings must walk, joined at the waist! Do not let these unamiable propositions dismay you, Brother Ass. They are written down in pure joy, uncontaminated by a desire to preach! I am really writing for an audience of the blind — but aren’t we all? Good art points, like a man too ill to speak, like a baby! But if instead of following the direction it indicates you take it for a thing in itself, having some sort of absolute value, or as a thesis upon something which can be paraphrased, surely you miss the point; you lose yourself at once among the barren abstractions of the critic? Try to tell yourself that its fundamental object was only to invoke the ultimate healing silence — and that the symbolism contained in form and pattern is only a frame of reference through which, as in a mirror, one may glimpse the idea of a universe at rest, a universe in love with itself. Then like a babe in arms you will ‘milk the universe at every breath’! We must learn to read between the lines, between the lives. Liza used to say: ‘But its very perfection makes one sure that it will come to an end.’ She was right; but women will not accept time and the dictates of the death-divining second. They do not see that a civilization is simply a great metaphor which describes the aspirations of the individual soul in collective form — as perhaps a novel or a poem might do. The struggle is always for greater consciousness. But alas! Civilizations die in the measure that they become conscious of themselves. They realize, they lose heart, the propulsion of the unconscious motive is no longer there. Desperately they begin to copy themselves in the mirror. It is no use. But surely there is a catch in all this? Yes, Time is the catch! Space is a concrete idea, but Time is abstract. In the scar tissue of Proust’s great poem you see that so clearly; his work is the great academy of the time-consciousness. But being unwilling to mobilize the meaning of time he was driven to fall back on memory, the ancestor of hope! Ah! but being a Jew he had hope — and with Hope comes the irresistible desire to meddle. Now we Celts mate with despair out of which alone grows laughter and the desperate romance of the eternally hopeless. We hunt the unattainable, and for us there is only a search unending. For him it would mean nothing, my phrase ‘the prolongation of childhood into art’. Brother Ass, the diving-board, the trapeze, lie just to the eastward of this position! A leap through the firmament to a new status — only don’t miss the ring! Why for example don’t they recognize in Jesus the great Ironist that he is, the comedian? I am sure that two-thirds of the Beatitudes are jokes or squibs in the manner of Chuang Tzu. Generations of mystagogues and pedants have lost the sense. I am sure of it however because he must have known that Truth disappears with the telling of it. It can only be conveyed, not stated; irony alone is the weapon for such a task. Or let us turn to another aspect of the thing; it was you, just a moment ago, who mentioned our poverty of observation in all that concerns each other — the limitations of sight itself. Bravely spoken! But translated spiritually you get the picture of a man walking about the house, hunting for the spectacles which are on his forehead. To see is to imagine! And what, Brother Ass, could be a better illustration than your manner of seeing Justine, fitfully lit up in the electric signs of the imagination? It is not the same woman evidently who set about besieging me and who was finally driven off by my sardonic laughter. What you saw as soft and appealing in her seemed to me a specially calculated hardness, not which she invented, but which you evoked in her. All that throaty chatter, the compulsion to exteriorize hysteria, reminded me of a feverish patient plucking at a sheet! The violent necessity to incriminate life, to explain her soul-states, reminded me of a mendicant soliciting pity by a nice exhibition of sores. Mentally she always had me scratching myself! Yet there was much to admire in her and I indulged my curiosity in exploring the outlines of her character with some sympathy — the configurations of an unhappiness which was genuine, though it always smelt of grease paint! The child, for example! ‘I found it, of course. Or rather Mnemjian did. In a brothel. It died from something, perhaps meningitis. Darley and Nessim came and dragged me away. All of a sudden I realized that I could not bear to find it; all the time I hunted I lived on the hope of finding it. But this thing, once dead, seemed suddenly to deprive me of all purpose. I recognized it, but my inner mind kept crying out that it was not true, refusing to let me recognize it, even though I already had consciously done so!’ The mixture of conflicting emotions was so interesting that I jotted them down in my notebook between a poem and a recipe for angel bread which I got from El Kalef. Tabulated thus: 1. Relief at end of search. 2. Despair at end of search; no further motive force in life. 3. Horror at death. 4. Relief at death. What future possible for it? 5. Intense shame (don’t understand this). 6. Sudden desire to continue search uselessly rather than admit truth. 7. Preferred to continue to feed on false hopes! A bewildering collection of fragments to leave among the analects of a moribund poet! But here was the point I was trying to make. She said: ‘Of course neither Nessim nor Darley noticed anything. Men are so stupid, they never do. I would have been able to forget it even perhaps, and dream that I had never really discovered it, but for Mnemjian, who wanted the reward, and was so convinced of the truth of his case that he made a great row. There was some talk of an autopsy by Balthazar. I was foolish enough to go to his clinic and offer to bribe him to say it was not my child. He was pretty astonished. I wanted him to deny a truth which I so perfectly knew to be true, so that I should not have to change my outlook. I would not be deprived of my sorrow, if you like; I wanted it to go on — to go on passionately searching for what I did not dare to find. I even frightened Nessim and incurred his suspicions with my antics over his private safe. So the matter passed off, and for a long time I still went on automatically searching until underneath I could stand the strain of the truth and come to terms with it. I see it so clearly, the divan, the tenement.’ Here she put on her most beautiful expression, which was one of intense sadness, and put her hands upon her breasts. Shall I tell you something? I suspected her of lying; it was an unworthy thought but then … I am an unworthy person. I: ‘Have you ever been back to the place?’ She: ‘No. I have often wanted to, but did not dare.’ She shuddered a little. ‘In my memory I have become attached to that old divan. It must be knocking about somewhere. You see, I am still half convinced it was all a dream.’ At once I took up my pipe, violin and deerstalker like a veritable Sherlock. I have always been an X-marks-the-spot man. ‘Let us go and revisit it’ I said briskly. At the worst, I thought, such a visitation would be cathartic. It was in fact a supremely practical thing to suggest, and to my surprise she at once rose and put on her coat. We walked silently down through the western edges of the town, arm in arm. There was some kind of festival going on in the Arab town which was blazing with electric fight and flags. Motionless sea, small high clouds, and a moon like a disapproving archimandrite of another faith. Smell of fish, cardamon seed and frying entrails packed with cummin and garlic. The air was full of the noise of mandolines scratching their little souls out on the night, as if afflicted with fleas — scratching until the blood came on the lice-intoxicated night! The air was heavy. Each breath invisibly perforated it. You felt it come in and out of the lungs as if in a leather bellows. Eheu! It was grisly all that light and noise, I thought. And they talk of the romance of the East! Give me the Metropole at Brighton any day! We traversed this sector of light with quick deliberate step. She walked unerringly, head bent, deep in thought. Then gradually the streets grew darker, faded into the violet of darkness, became narrower, twisted and turned. At last we came to a great empty space with starlight. A dim great barrack of a building. She moved slowly now, with less certainty, hunting for a door. In a whisper she said ‘This place is run by old Mettrawi. He is bedridden. The door is always open. But he hears everything from his bed. Take my hand.’ I was never a great fire-eater and I must confess to a certain uneasiness as we walked into this bandage of total blackness. Her hand was firm and cool, her voice precise, unmarked by any range of emphasis, betraying neither excitement nor fear. I thought I heard the scurrying of immense rats in the rotten structure around me, the very rafters of night itself. (Once in a thunderstorm among the ruins I had seen their fat wet glittering bodies flash here and there as they feasted on garbage.) ‘Please God, remember that even though I am an English poet I do not deserve to be eaten by rats’ I prayed silently. We had started to walk down a long corridor of blackness with the rotten wooden boards creaking under us; here and there was one missing, and I wondered if we were not walking over the bottomless pit itself! The air smelt of wet ashes and that unmistakable odour of black flesh when it is sweating. It is quite different from white flesh. It is dense, foetid, like the lion’s cage at the Zoo. The Darkness itself was sweating — and why not? The Darkness must wear Othello’s skin. Always a timorous fellow, I suddenly wanted to go to the lavatory but I crushed the thought like a blackbeetle. Let my bladder wait. On we went, and round two sides of a … piece of darkness floored with rotten boards. Then suddenly she whispered: ‘I think we are there!’ and pushed open a door upon another piece of impenetrable darkness. But it was a room of some size for the air was cool. One felt the space though one could see nothing whatsoever. We both inhaled deeply. ‘Yes’ she whispered thoughtfully and, groping in her velvet handbag for a box of matches, hesitantly struck one. It was a tall room, so tall that it was roofed by darkness despite the yellow flapping of the match-flame; one huge shattered window faintly reflected starlight. The walls were of verdigris, the plaster peeling everywhere, and their only decoration was the imprint of little blue hands which ran round the four walls in a haphazard pattern. As if a lot of pygmies had gone mad with blue paint and then galloped all over the walls standing on their hands! To the left, a little off centre, reposed a large gloomy divan, floating upon the gloom like a Viking catafalque; it was a twice-chewed relic of some Ottoman calif, riddled with holes. The match went out. ‘There it is’ she said and putting the box into my hand she left my side. When I lit up again she was sitting beside the divan with her cheek resting upon it, softly stroking it with the palm of her hand. She was completely composed. She stroked it with a calm voluptuous gesture and then crossed her paws on it, reminding me of a lioness sitting astride its lunch. The moment had a kind of weird tension, but this was not reflected on her face. (Human beings are like pipe-organs, I thought. You pull out a stop marked ‘Lover’ or ‘Mother’ and the requisite emotions are unleashed — tears or sighs or endearments. Sometimes I try and think of us all as habit-patterns rather than human beings. I mean, wasn’t the idea of the individual soul grafted on us by the Greeks in the wild hope that, by its sheer beauty, it would ‘take’ — as we say of vaccination? That we might grow up to the size of the concept and grow the heavenly flame in each of our hearts? Has it taken or hasn’t it? Who can say? Some of us still have one, but how vestigial it seems. Perhaps….) ‘They have heard us.’ Somewhere in the darkness there was a thin snarl of voice, and the silence became suddenly padded out with the scamper of feet upon rotted woodwork. In the expiring flicker of the match I saw, as if somewhere very far away, a bar of light — like a distant furnace door opening in heaven. And voices now, the voices of ants! The children came through a sort of hatch or trap-door made of darkness, in their cotton nightgowns, absurdly faded. With rings on their fingers and bells on their toes. She shall have music wherever she goes! One of them carried a waxlight floating in a saucer. They twanged nasally about us, interrogating our needs with blasting frankness — but they were surprised to see Justine sitting beside the Viking catafalque, her head (now smiling) half turned towards them. ‘I think we should leave’ I said in a low voice, for they smelt dreadfully these tiny apparitions, and they showed a disagreeable tendency to twine their skinny arms about my waist as they wheedled and intoned. But Justine turned to one and said: ‘Bring the light here, where we can all see.’ And when the light was brought she suddenly turned herself, crossed her legs under her, and in the high ringing tone of the street storyteller she intoned: ‘Now gather about me, all ye blessed of Allah, and hear the wonders of the story I shall tell you.’ The effect was electric; they settled about her like a pattern of dead leaves in a wind, crowding up close together. Some even climbed on to the old divan, chuckling and nudging with delight. And in the same rich triumphant voice, saturated with unshed tears, Justine began again in the voice of the professional story-teller: ‘Ah, listen to me, all ye true believers, and I will unfold to you the story of Yuna and Aziz, of their great many-petalled love, and of the mishaps which befell them from the doing of Abu Ali Saraq el-Maza. In those days of the great Califate, when many heads fell and armies marched….’ It was a wild sort of poetry for the place and the time — the little circle of wizened faces, the divan, the flopping light; and the strangely captivating lilt of the Arabic with its heavy damascened imagery, the thick brocade of alliterative repetitions, the nasal twanging accents, gave it a laic splendour which brought tears to my eyes — gluttonous tears! It was such a rich diet for the soul! It made me aware how thin the fare is which we moderns supply to our hungry readers. The epic contours, that is what her story had! I was envious. How rich these beggar children were. And I was envious too of her audience. Talk of suspended judgement! They sank into the imagery of her story like plummets. One saw, creeping out like mice, their true souls — creeping out upon those painted masks in little expressions of wonder, suspense and joy. In that yellow gloaming they were expressions of a terrible truth. You saw how they would be in middle age — the witch, the good wife, the gossip, the shrew. The poetry had stripped them to the bone and left only their natural selves to flower thus in expressions faithfully portraying their tiny stunted spirits! How could I help but admire her for giving me one of the most significant and memorable moments of a writer’s life? I put my arm about her shoulders and sat, as rapt as any of them, following the long sinuous curves of the immortal story as it unfolded before our eyes. They could hardly bear to part with us when at last the story came to an end. They clung to her, pleading for more. Some picked the hem of her skirt and kissed it in an agony of pleading. ‘There is no time’ she said, smiling calmly. ‘But I will come again, my little ones.’ They hardly heeded the money she distributed but thronged after us along the dark corridors to the blackness of the square. At the corner I looked back but could only see the flicker of shadows. They said farewell in voices of heartbreaking sweetness. We talked in deep contented silence across the shattered, time-corrupted town until we reached the cool seafront; and stood a long time leaning upon the cold stone piers above the sea, smoking and saying nothing! At last she turned to me a face of tremendous weariness and whispered: ‘Take me home, now. I’m dead tired.’ And so we hailed a pottering gharry and swung along the Corniche as sedately as bankers after a congress. ‘I suppose we are all hunting for the secrets of growth!’ was all she said as we parted. It was a strange remark to make at parting. I watched her walk wearily up the steps to the great house groping for her key. I still felt drunk with the story of Yuna and Aziz! Brother Ass, it is a pity that you will never have a chance to read all this tedious rigmarole; it would amuse me to study your puzzled expression as you did so. Why should the artist always be trying to saturate the world with his own anguish, you asked me once. Why indeed? I will give you another phrase: emotional gongorism! I have always been good at polite phrasemaking. Loneliness and desire, Lord of the Flies, Are thy unholy empire and The self’s inmost surprise! Come to these arms, my dear old Dutch And firmly bar the door I could not love thee, dear, so much Loved I not more! And later, aimlessly walking, who should I encounter but the slightly titubating Pombal just back from the Casino with a chamber-pot full of paper money and a raging thirst for a last beaker of champagne which we took together at the Etoile. It was strange that I had no taste for a girl that night; somehow Yuna and Aziz had barred the way. Instead I straggled back to Mount Vulture with a bottle in my mackintosh pocket, to confront once more the ill-starred pages of my book which, twenty years from now, will be the cause of many a thrashing among the lower forms of our schools. It seemed a disastrous sort of gift to be offering to the generations as yet unborn; I would rather have left them something like Yuna and Aziz, but it hasn’t been possible since Chaucer; the sophistication of the laic audience is perhaps to blame? The thought of all those smarting little bottoms made me close my notebooks with a series of ill-tempered snaps. Champagne is a wonderfully soothing drink, however, and prevented me from being too cast-down. Then I stumbled upon the little note which you, Brother Ass, had pushed under the door earlier in the evening: a note which complimented me on the new series of poems which the Anvil was producing (a misprint per line); and writers being what they are I thought most kindly of you, I raised my glass to you. In my eyes you had become a critic of the purest discernment; and once more I asked myself in exasperated tones why the devil I had never wasted more time on you? It was really remiss of me. And falling asleep I made a mental note to take you to dinner the next evening and talk your jackass’s head off — about writing, of course, what else? Ah! but that is the point. Once a writer seldom a talker; I knew that, speechless as Goldsmith, I should sit hugging my hands in my armpits while you did the talking! In my sleep I dug up a mummy with poppy-coloured lips, dressed in the long white wedding dress of the Arab sugar-dolls. She smiled but would not awake, though I kissed her and talked to her persuasively. Once her eyes half opened; but they closed again and she lapsed back into smiling sleep. I whispered her name which was Yuna, but which had unaccountably become Liza. And as it was no use I interred her once more among the shifting dunes where (the wind-shapes were changing fast) there would be no trace remaining of the spot. At dawn I woke early and took a gharry down to the Rushdi beach to cleanse myself in the dawn-sea. There was not a soul about at that time save Clea, who was on the far beach in a blue bathing-costume, her marvellous hair swinging about her like a blonde Botticelli. I waved and she waved back, but showed no inclination to come and talk which made me grateful. We lay, a thousand yards apart, smoking and wet as seals. I thought for an instant of the lovely burnt coffee of her summer flesh, with the little hairs on her temples bleached to ash. I inhaled her metaphorically, like a whiff of roasting coffee, dreaming of the white thighs with those small blue veins in them! Well, well … she would have been worth taking trouble over had she not been so beautiful. That brilliant glance exposed everything and forced me to take shelter from her. One could hardly ask her to bandage them in order to be made love to! And yet … like the black silk stockings some men insist on! Two sentences ending with a preposition! What is poor Purse-warden coming to? His prose created grievous lusts Among the middle classes His propositions were decried As dangerous for the masses His major works were classified Among the noxious gases England awake! Brother Ass, the so-called act of living is really an act of the imagination. The world — which we always visualize as ‘the outside’ World — yields only to self-exploration! Faced by this cruel, yet necessary paradox, the poet finds himself growing gills and a tail, the better to swim against the currents of unenlightenment. What appears to be perhaps an arbitrary act of violence is precisely the opposite, for by reversing process in this way, he unites the rushing, heedless stream of humanity to the still, tranquil, motionless, odourless, tasteless plenum from which its own motive essence is derived. (Yes, but it hurts to realize!) If he were to abandon his role all hope of gaining a purchase on the slippery surface of reality would be lost, and everything in nature would disappear! But this act, the poetic act, will cease to be necessary when everyone can perform it for himself. What hinders them, you ask? Well, we are all naturally afraid to surrender our own pitifully rationalized morality — and the poetic jump I’m predicating lies the other side of it. It is only terrifying because we refuse to recognize in ourselves the horrible gargoyles which decorate the totem poles of our churches — murderers, liars, adulterers and so on. (Once recognized, these papier-maché masks fade.) Whoever makes this enigmatic leap into the heraldic reality of the poetic life discovers that truth has its own built-in morality! There is no need to wear a truss any longer. Inside the penumbra of this sort of truth morality can be disregarded because it is a donnée, a part of the thing, and not simply a brake, an inhibition. It is there to be lived out and not thought out! Ah, Brother Ass, this will seem a far cry to the ‘purely literary’ preoccupations which beset you; yet unless you tackle this corner of the field with your sickle you will never reap the harvest in yourself, and so fulfil your true function here below. But how? you ask me plaintively. And truly here you have me by the short hairs, for the thing operates differently with each one of us. I am only suggesting that you have not become desperate enough, determined enough. Somewhere at the heart of things you are still lazy of spirit. But then, why struggle? If it is to happen to you it will happen of its own accord. You may be quite right to hang about like this, waiting. I was too proud. I felt I must take it by the horns, this vital question of my birthright. For me it was grounded in an act of will. So for people like me I would say: ‘Force the lock, batter down the door. Outface, defy, disprove the Oracle in order to become the poet, the darer!’ But I am aware the test may come under any guise, perhaps even in the physical world by a blow between the eyes or a few lines scribbled in pencil on the back of an envelope left in a café. The heraldic reality can strike from any point, above or below: it is not particular. But without it the enigma will remain. You may travel round the world and colonize the ends of the earth with your lines and yet never hear the singing yourself.Chapter IIJustine (1957) Part I Chapter 6He was filled by some ghastly inhibition like a mental stroke. He stayed like this until he could stand it no longer — until he felt that he was on the point of suffocating. Then he jumped into bed and drew the sheets over his head murmuring broken fragments of oaths and involuntary pleadings which he did not recognize as emanating from any part of himself. Outwardly however there were no signs of these struggles to be seen; his speech remained dry and measured despite the fever of the thoughts behind it. His doctor complimented him on his excellent reflexes and assured him that his urine was free from excess albumen. An occasional headache only proved him to be a victim of petit mal — or some other such customary disease of the rich and idle. For his own part he was prepared to suffer thus as long as the suffering remained within the control of his consciousness. What terrified him only was the sensation of utter loneliness — a reality which he would never, he realized, be able to communicate either to his friends or to the doctors who might be called in to pronounce upon anomalies of behaviour which they would regard only as symptoms of disorder. He tried feverishly to take up his painting again, but without result. Self-consciousness like a poison seemed to eat into the very paint, making it sluggish and dead. It was hard even to manipulate the brush with an invisible hand pulling at one’s sleeve the whole time, hindering, whispering, displacing all freedom and fluidity of movement. Surrounded as he was by this menacing twilight of the feelings he turned once more, in a vain effort to restore his balance and composure, to the completion of the Summer Palace — as it was jokingly called; the little group of Arab huts and stables at Abousir. Long ago, in the course of a ride to Benghazi along the lonely shoreline, he had come upon a fold in the desert, less than a mile from the sea, where a fresh spring suddenly burst through the thick sand pelt and hobbled a little way down towards the desolate beaches before it was overtaken and smothered by the dunes. Here the Bedouin, overtaken by the involuntary hunger for greenness which lies at the heart of all desert-lovers, had planted a palm and a fig whose roots had taken a firm subterranean grip upon the sandstone from which the pure water ran. Resting with the horses in the shade of these young trees, Nessim’s eye had dwelt with wonder upon the distant view of the old Arab fort, and the long-drawn white scar of the empty beach where the waves pounded night and day. The dunes had folded themselves hereabouts into a long shapely valley which his imagination had already begun to people with clicking palm-trees and the green figs which, as always near running water, offer a shade so deep as to be like a wet cloth pressed to the skull. For a year he had allowed the spot to mature in his imagination, riding out frequently to study it in every kind of weather, until he had mastered its properties. He had not spoken of it to anyone, but in the back of his mind had lurked the idea of building a summer pleasure house for Justine — a miniature oasis where she could stable her three Arab thoroughbreds and pass the hottest season of the year in her favourite amusements, bathing and riding. The spring had been dug out, channelled and gathered into the marble cistern which formed the centre-piece to the little courtyard, paved with rough sandstone, around which the house and stables were to stand. As the water grew so the green grew with it; shade created the prongy abstract shapes of cactus and the bushy exuberance of Indian corn. In time even a melon-bed was achieved — like some rare exile from Persia. A single severe stable in the Arab style turned its back upon the winter sea-wind, while in the form of an L grew up a cluster of storerooms and small living-rooms with grilled windows and shutters of black iron. Two or three small bedrooms, no larger than the cells of medieval monks, gave directly into a pleasant oblong central room with a low ceiling, which was both living and dining-room; at one end a fireplace grew up massive and white, and with decorated lintels suggested by the designs of Arab ceramics. At the other end stood a stone table and stone benches reminiscent of some priory refectory used by desert fathers perhaps. The severity of the room was discountenanced by rich Persian rugs and some tremendous carved chests with gilt ornamentation writhing over their hooked clasps and leather-polished sides. It was all of a controlled simplicity which is the best sort of magnificence. On the severe white-washed walls, whose few grilled windows offered sudden magnificent slotted views of beach and desert, hung a few old trophies of hunting or meditation, like: an Arab lance-pennon, a Buddhist mandala, a few assegais in exile, a longbow still used for hunting of hares, a yacht-burgee. There were no books save an old Koran with ivory covers and tarnished metal clasps, but several packs of cards lay about on the sills, including the Grand Tarot for amateur divination and a set of Happy Families. In one corner, too, there stood an old samovar to do justice to the one addiction from which they both suffered — tea-drinking. The work went forward slowly and hesitantly, but when at last, unable to contain his secret any longer, he had taken Justine out to see it, she had been unable to contain her tears as she walked about it, from window to window of the graceful rooms, to snatch now a picture of the emerald sea rolling on the sand, now a sudden whorled picture of the dunes sliding eastward into the sky. Then she sat down abruptly before the thorn fire in her habit and listened to the soft clear drumming of the sea upon the long beaches mingled with the cough and stamp of the horses in their new stalls beyond the courtyard. It was late autumn, then, and in the moist gathering darkness the fireflies had begun to snatch fitfully, filling them both with pleasure to think that already their oasis had begun to support other life than their own. What Nessim had begun was now Justine’s to complete. The small terrace under the palm-tree was extended towards the east and walled in to hold back the steady sand-drift which, after a winter of wind, would move forward and cover the stones of the courtyard in six inches of sand. A windbreak of junipers contributed a dull copper humus of leaf-mould which in time would become firm soil nourishing first bushes and later other and taller trees. She was careful, too, to repay her husband’s thoughtfulness by paying a tribute to what was then his ruling passion — astronomy. At one corner of the L-shaped block of buildings she laid down a small observatory which housed a telescope of thirty magnifications. Here Nessim would sit night after night in the winter, dressed in his old rust-coloured abba, staring gravely at Betelgeuse, or hovering over books of calculations for all the world like some medieval soothsayer. Here too their friends could look at the moon or by altering the angle of the barrel catch sudden smoky glimpses of the clouds of pearl which the city always seemed to exhale from afar. All this, of course began to stand in need of a guardian, and it came as no surprise to them when Panayotis arrived and took up his residence in a tiny room near the stables. This old man with his spade beard and gimlet-eyes had been for twenty years a secondary school teacher at Damanhur. He had taken orders and spent nine years at the monastery of St Catherine in Sinai. What brought him to the oasis it was impossible to tell for at some stage in his apparently unadventurous life he had had his tongue cut out of his head. From the signs he made in response to questions it might seem that he had been making a pilgrimage on foot to the little shrine of St Menas situated to the west when he had stumbled upon the oasis. At any rate there seemed nothing fortuitous about his decision to adopt it. He fitted it to perfection, and for a small salary stayed there all the year round as watchman and gardener. He was an able-bodied little old man, active as a spider, and fearfully jealous of the green things which owed their life to his industry and care. It was he who coaxed the melon-bed into life and at last persuaded a vine to start climbing beside the lintel of the central doorway. His laughter was an inarticulate clucking, and he had a shy habit of hiding his face in the tattered sleeve of his old beadle’s soutane. His Greek loquacity, dammed up behind his disability, had overflowed into his eyes where it sparkled and danced at the slightest remark or question. What more could anyone ask of life, he seemed to say, than this oasis by the sea? What more indeed? It was the question that Nessim asked himself repeatedly as the car whimpered towards the desert with hawk-featured Selim motionless at the wheel. Some miles before the Arab fort the road fetches away inland from the coast and to reach the oasis one must swerve aside off the tarmac along an outcrop of stiff flaky dune — like beaten white of egg, glittering and mica-shafted. Here and there where the swaying car threatens to sink its driving-wheels in the dune they always find purchase again on the bed of friable sandstone which forms the backbone to the whole promontory. It was exhilarating to feather this sea of white crispness like a cutter travelling before a following wind. It had been in Nessim’s mind for some time past — the suggestion had originally been Pursewarden’s — to repay the devotion of old Panayotis with the only kind of gift the old man would understand and find acceptable: and he carried now in his polished brief-case a dispensation from the Patriarch of Alexandria permitting him to build and endow a small chapel to St Arsenius in his house. The choice of saint had been, as it always should be, fortuitous. Clea had found an eighteenth-century ikon of him, in pleasing taste, lying among the lumber of a Muski stall in Cairo. She had given it to Justine as a birthday present. These then were the treasures they unpacked before the restless bargaining eye of the old man. It took them some time to make him understand for he followed Arabic indifferently and Nessim knew no Greek. But looking up at last from the written dispensation he clasped both hands and threw up his chin with a smile; he seemed about to founder under the emotions which beset him. Everything was understood. Now he knew why Nessim had spent such hours considering the empty end-stable and sketching on paper. He shook his hands warmly and made inarticulate clucking-noises. Nessim’s heart went out to him with a kind of malicious envy to see how wholehearted his pleasure was at this act of thoughtfulness. From deep inside the camera obscura of the thoughts which filled his mind he studied the old beadle carefully, as if by intense scrutiny to surprise the single-heartedness which brought the old man happiness, peace of mind. Here at least, thought Nessim, building something with my own hands will keep me stable and unreflective — and he studied the horny old hands of the Greek with admiring envy as he thought of the time they had killed for him, of the thinking they had saved him. He read into them years of healthy bodily activity which imprisoned thought, neutralized reflection. And yet … who could say? Those long years of school-teaching: the years in the monastery: and now the long winter solitude which closed in around the oasis, when only the boom and slither of the sea and the whacking of palm-fronds were there to accompany one’s thoughts…. There is always time for spiritual crises, he thought, as he doggedly mixed cement and dry sand in a wooden mortar. But even here he was not to be left alone for Justine, with that maddening guilty solicitude which she had come to feel for the man whom she loved, and yet was trying to destroy, appeared with her trio of Arabs and took up her summer quarters at the oasis. A restless, moody, alert familiar. And then I, impelled by the fearful pangs her absence created in me, smuggled a note to her telling her either that she must return to the city or persuade Nessim to invite me out to the Summer Palace. Selim duly arrived with the car and motored me out in a sympathetic silence into which he did not dare to inject the slightest trace of contempt. For his part Nessim received me with a studied tenderness; in fact, he was glad to see us again at close quarters, to detach us from the fictitious framework of his agents’ reports and to judge for himself if we were … what am I to say? ‘In love?’ The word implies a totality which was missing in my mistress, who resembled one of those ancient goddesses in that her attributes proliferated through her life and were not condensed about a single quality of heart which one could love or unlove. ‘Possession’ is on the other hand too strong: we were human beings not Bronte cartoons. But English lacks the distinctions which might give us (as Modern Greek does) a word for passion-love. Apart from all this, not knowing the content and direction of Nessim’s thoughts I could in no way set his inmost fears at rest: by telling him that Justine was merely working out with me the same obsessive pattern she had followed out in the pages of Arnauti. She was creating a desire of the will which, since it fed secretly on itself, must be exhausted like a lamp — or blown out. I knew this with only a part of my mind: but there I detected the true lack in this union. It was not based on any repose of the will. And yet how magically she seemed to live — a mistress so full of wit and incantation that one wondered how one had ever managed to love before and be content in the quality of the loving. At the same time I was astonished to realize that the side of me which clave to Melissa was living its own autonomous existence, quietly and surely belonging to her yet not wishing her back. The letters she wrote me were gay and full and unmarred by any shadow of reproof or self-pity; I found in all she wrote an enlargement of her self-confidence. She described the little sanatorium where she was lodged with humour and a nimble eye, describing the doctors and the other patients as a holidaymaker might. On paper she seemed to have grown, to have become another woman. I answered her as well as I was able but it was hard to disguise the shiftless confusion which reigned in my life; it was equally impossible to allude to my obsession with Justine — we were moving through a different world of flowers and books and ideas, a world quite foreign to Melissa. Environment had closed the gates to her, not lack of sensibility. ‘Poverty is a great cutter-off’ said Justine once, ‘and riches a great shutter-off.’ But she had gained admittance to both worlds, the world of want and the world of plenty, and was consequently free to live naturally. But here at least in the oasis one had the illusion of a beatitude which eluded one in town life. We rose early and worked on the chapel until the heat of the day began, when Nessim retired to his business papers in the little observatory and Justine and I rode down the feathery dunes to the sea to spend our time in swimming and talking. About a mile from the oasis the sea had pushed up a great coarse roundel of sand which formed a shallow-water lagoon beside which, tucked into the pectoral curve of a dune, stood a reed hut roofed with leaves, which offered the bather shade and a changing-place. Here we spent most of the day together. The news of Pursewarden’s death was still fresh, I remember, and we discussed him with a warmth and awe, as if for the first time we were seriously trying to evaluate a character whose qualities had masked its real nature. It was as if in dying he had cast off from his earthly character, and taken on some of the grandiose proportions of his own writings, which swam more and more into view as the memory of the man itself faded. Death provided a new critical referent, and a new mental stature to the tiresome, brilliant, ineffectual and often tedious man with whom we had had to cope. He was only to be seen now through the distorting mirror of anecdote or the dusty spectrum of memory. Later I was to hear people ask whether Pursewarden had been tall or short, whether he had worn a moustache or not: and these simple memories were the hardest to recover and to be sure of. Some who had known him well said his eyes had been green, others that they had been brown…. It was amazing how quickly the human image was dissolving into the mythical image he had created of himself in his trilogy God is a Humorist. Here, in these days of blinding sunlight, we talked of him like people anxious to capture and fix the human memory before it quite shaded into the growing myth; we talked of him, confirming and denying and comparing, like secret agents rehearsing a cover story, for after all the fallible human being had belonged to us, the myth belonged to the world. It was now too that I learned of him saying, one night to Justine, as they watched Melissa dance: ‘If I thought there were any hope of success I would propose marriage to her tomorrow. But she is so ignorant and her mind is so deformed by poverty and bad luck that she would refuse out of incredulity.’ But step by step behind us Nessim followed with his fears. One day I found the word ‘Beware’ (Προσοoχ.) written in the sand with a stick at the bathing-place. The Greek word suggested the hand of Panayotis but Selim also knew Greek well. This further warning was given point for me by an incident which occurred very shortly afterwards when, in search of a sheet of notepaper on which to write to Melissa, I strayed into Nessim’s little observatory and rummaged about on his desk for what I needed. I happened to notice that the telescope barrel had been canted downwards so that it no longer pointed at the sky but across the dunes towards where the city slumbered in its misty reaches of pearl cloud. This was not unusual, for trying to catch glimpses of the highest minarets as the airs condensed and shifted was a favourite pastime. I sat on the three-legged stool and placed my eye to the eye-piece, to allow the faintly trembling and vibrating image of the landscape to assemble for me. Despite the firm stone base on which the tripod stood the high magnification of the lens and the heat haze between them contributed a feathery vibration to the image which gave the landscape the appearance of breathing softly and irregularly. I was astonished to see — quivering and jumping, yet pin-point clear — the little reed hut where not an hour since Justine and I had been lying in each other’s arms, talking of Pursewarden. A brilliant yellow patch on the dune showed up the cover of a pocket King Lear which I had taken out with me and forgotten to bring back; had the image not trembled so I do not doubt but that I should have been able to read the title on the cover. I stared at this image breathlessly for a long moment and became afraid. It was as if, all of a sudden, in a dark but familiar room one believed was empty a hand had suddenly reached out and placed itself on one’s shoulder. I tip-toed from the observatory with the writing pad and pencil and sat in the arm-chair looking out at the sea, wondering what I could say to Melissa.‘When you pluck a flower, the branch springs back into place. This is not true of the heart’s affections’ is what Clea once said to Balthazar. ***** And so, slowly, reluctantly, I have been driven back to my starting-point, like a man who at the end of a tremendous journey is told that he has been sleepwalking. ‘Truth’ said Balthazar to me once, blowing his nose in an old tennis sock, ‘Truth is what most contradicts itself in time.’ And Pursewarden on another occasion, but not less memorably: ‘If things were always what they seemed, how impoverished would be the imagination of man!’ How will I ever deliver myself from this whore among cities — sea, desert, minaret, sand, sea? No. I must set it all down in cold black and white, until such time as the memory and impulse of it is spent. I know that the key I am trying to turn is in myself. 极速飞艇冠军选码技巧 ***** Of Nessim’s outer life — those immense and boring receptions, at first devoted to business colleagues but later to become devoted to obscure political ends — I do not wish to write. As I slunk through the great hall and up the stairs to the studio I would pause to study the great leather shield on the mantelpiece with its plan of the table — to see who had been placed on Justine’s right and left. For a short while they made a kindly attempt to include me in these gatherings but I rapidly tired of them and pleaded illness, though I was glad to have the run of the studio and the immense library. And afterwards we would meet like conspirators and Justine would throw off the gay, bored, petulant affectations which she wore in her social life. They would kick off their shoes and play piquet by candle-light. Later, going to bed, she would catch sight of herself in the mirror on the first landing and say to her reflection: ‘Tiresome pretentious hysterical Jewess that you are!’***** The sound of distant shooting upon the lake was a commonplace among the vocabulary of lake-sounds; it belonged to the music of the gulls, visitants from the seashore, and the other water-birds which thronged the reed-haunted lagoons. When the big shoots were on the ripple of thirty guns in action at one and the same time flowed tidelessly out into the air of Mareotis like a cadenza. Habit taught one gradually to differentiate between the various sounds and to recognize them — and Nessim too had spent his childhood here with a gun. He could tell the difference between the deep tang of a punt gun aimed at highflying geese and the flat biff of a twelve-bore. The two men were standing by their horses at the ferry when it came, a small puckering of the air merely, falling upon the ear-drum in a patter: raindrops sliding from an oar, the drip of a tap in an old house, were hardly less in volume. But it was certainly shooting. Balthazar turned his head and gazed out over the lake. ‘That sounded pistolish’ he said; Nessim smiled and shook his head. ‘Small calibre rifle, I should say. A poacher after sitting duck?’ But there were more shots than could be accommodated at one time in the magazine of either weapon. They mounted, a little puzzled that the horses had been sent for them but that Ali had disappeared. He had tied the animals to the hitching-post of the ferry, commending them to the care of the ferryman, and vanished in the mist. They rode briskly down the embankments side by side. The sun was up now and the whole surface of the lake was rising into the sky like the floor of a theatre, pouring upwards with the mist; here and there reality was withered by mirages, landscapes hanging in the sky upside down or else four or five superimposed on each other with the effect of a multiple exposure. The first indication of anything amiss was a figure dressed in white robes which fled into the mist — an unheard-of action in that peaceful country. Who would fly from two horsemen on the Karm Abu Girg road? A vagabond? They stopped in bemused wonder. ‘I thought I heard shouts’ said Nessim at last in a small constrained voice, ‘towards the house.’ As if both were stimulated by the same simultaneous anxiety, they pushed their horses into a brisk gallop, heading them for the house. A horse, Narouz’ horse, now riderless, stood trembling outside the open gates of the manor house. It had been shot through the lips — a profusely-bleeding graze which gave it a weird bloody smile. It whinnied softly as they came up. Before they had time to dismount there came shouts from the palm-grove and a flying figure burst through the trees waving to them. It was Ali. He pointed down among the plantations and shouted the name of Narouz. The name, so full of omens for Nessim, had a curiously obituary ring already, though he was not as yet dead. ‘By the Holy Tree’ shouted Ali, and both men drove their heels into their horses’ flanks and crashed into the plantation as fast as they could go. He was lying on the grass underneath the nubk tree with his head and neck supported by it, an angle which cocked his face forward so that he appeared to be studying the pistol-wounds in his own body. His eyes alone were movable, but they could only reach up to the knee of his rescuers; and the pain had winced them from the normal periwinkle blue to the dull blue of plumbago. His whip had got coiled round his body in some manner, probably when he fell from the saddle. Balthazar dismounted and walked slowly and deliberately over to him, making the little clucking noise he always made with his tongue; it sounded sympathetic, but it was in fact a reproof to his own curiosity, to the elation with which one part of his professional mind responded to human tragedy. It always seemed to him that he had no right to be so interested. Tsck, tsck. Nessim was very pale and very calm but he did not approach the fallen figure of his brother. Yet it had for him a dreadful magnetism — it was as if Balthazar were laying some tremendously powerful explosive which might go off and kill them both. He was merely helping by holding the horse. Narouz said in a small peevish voice — the voice of a feverish child which can count on its illness for the indulgence it seeks — something unexpected. ‘I want to see Clea.’ It ran smoothly off his tongue, as if he had been rehearsing the one phrase in his mind for centuries. He licked his lips and repeated it more slowly. It seemed from Balthazar’s angle of vision that a smile settled upon his lips, but he recognized that the contraction was a grimace of pain. He hunted swiftly for the old pair of surgical scissors which he had brought to use upon the soft wire duck-seals and slit the vest of Narouz stiffly from North to South. At this Nessim drew nearer and together they looked down upon the shaggy and powerful body on which the blue and bloodless bullet-holes had sunk like knots in an oak. But they were many, very many. Balthazar made his characteristic little gesture of uncertainty which parodied a Chinaman shaking hands with himself. Other people had now entered the clearing. Thinking became easier. They had brought an enormous purple curtain with which to carry him back to the house. And now, in some strange way, the place was full of servants. They had ebbed back like a tide. The air was dark with their concern. Narouz ground his teeth and groaned as they lifted him to the great purple cloak and bore him back, like a wounded stag, through the plantations. Once as he neared the house, he said in the same clear child’s voice: ‘To see Clea’ and then subsided into a feverish silence punctuated by occasional quivering sighs. The servants were saying: ‘Praise be to God that the doctor is here! All will be well with him!’ Balthazar felt Nessim’s eyes turned upon him. He shook his head gravely and hopelessly and repeated his clucking sound softly. It was a matter of hours, of minutes, of seconds. So they reached the house like some grotesque religious procession bearing the body of the younger son. Softly mewing and sobbing, but with hope and faith in his recovery, the women gazed down upon the jutting head and the sprawled body in the purple curtain which swelled under his weight like a sail. Nessim gave directions, uttering small words like ‘Gently here’ and ‘Slowly at the corner’. So they gradually got him back to the gaunt bedroom from which he had sallied forth that morning, while Balthazar busied himself, breaking open a packet of medical supplies which were kept in a cupboard against lake-accidents, hunting for a hypodermic needle and a phial of morphia. Small croaks and groans were now issuing from the mouth of Narouz. His eyes were closed. He could not hear the dim conversation which Nessim, in another corner of the house, was having with Clea on the telephone. ‘But he is dying, Clea.’ Clea made an inarticulate moaning noise of protest. ‘What can I do, Nessim? He is nothing to me, never was, never will be. Oh, it is so disgusting — please do not make me come, Nessim.’ ‘Of course not. I simply thought as he is dying ——’ ‘But if you think I should I will feel obliged to.’ ‘I think nothing. He has not long to live, Clea.’ ‘I hear from your voice that I must come. Oh, Nessim, how disgusting that people should love without consent! Will you send the car or shall I telephone Selim? My flesh quails on my bones.’ ‘Thank you, Clea’ said Nessim shortly and with sadly downcast head; for some reason the word ‘disgusting’ had wounded him. He walked slowly back to the bedroom, noticing on the way that the courtyard was thronged with people — not only the house servants but many new curious visitors. Calamity draws people as an open wound draws flies, Nessim thought. Narouz was in a doze. They sat for a while talking in whispers. ‘Then he must really die?’ asked Nessim sadly, ‘without his mother?’ It seemed to him an added burden of guilt that it was through his agency that Leila had been forced to leave. ‘Alone like this.’ Balthazar made a grimace of impatience. ‘It is amazing he’s alive at all still’ he said. ‘And there is absolutely nothing….’ Slowly and gravely Balthazar shook that dark intelligent head. Nessim stood up and said: ‘Then I should tell them that there is no hope of recovery. They will want to prepare for his death.’ ‘Do as you wish.’ ‘I must send for Tobias the priest. He must have the last sacraments — the Holy Eucharist. The servants will know the truth from him.’ ‘Act as seems good to you’ said Balthazar dryly, and the tall figure of his friend slipped down the staircase into the courtyard to give instructions. A rider was to be despatched at once to the priest with instructions to consecrate the holy elements in the church and then come post-haste to Karm Abu Girg to administer the last sacraments to Narouz. As this intelligence went abroad there went up a great sigh of dreadful expectancy and the faces of the servants lengthened with dread. ‘And the doctor?’ they cried in tones of anguish. ‘And the doctor?’ Balthazar smiled grimly as he sat on the chair beside the dying man. He repeated to himself softly, under his breath, ‘And the doctor?’ What a mockery! He placed his cool palm on Narouz’ forehead for a moment, with an air of certitude and resignation. A high temperature, a dozen bullet-holes…. ‘And the doctor?’ Musing upon the futility of human affairs and the dreadful accidents to which life exposed the least distrustful, the most innocent of creatures, he lit a cigarette and went out on to the balcony. A hundred eager glances sought his, imploring him by the power of his magic to restore the patient to health. He frowned heavily at one and all. If he had been able to resort to the old-fashioned magic of the Egyptian fables, of the New Testament, he would gladly have told Narouz to rise. But … ‘And the doctor?’ Despite the internal haemorrhages, the drumming of the pulses in his ears, the fever and pain, the patient was only resting — in a sense — husbanding his energies for the appearance of Clea. He mistook the little flutter of voices and footsteps upon the staircase which heralded the appearance of the priest. His eyelashes fluttered and then sank down again, exhausted to hear the fat voice of the goose-shaped young man with the greasy face and the air of just having dined on sucking-pig. He returned to his own remote watchfulness, content that Tobias should treat him as insensible, as dead even, provided he could husband a small share of his dying space for the blonde image — intractable and remote as ever now to his mind — yet an image which might respond to all this hoarded suffering. Even from pity. He was swollen with desire, distended like a pregnant woman. When you are in love you know that love is a beggar, shameless as a beggar; and the responses of merely human pity can console one where love is absent by a false travesty of an imagined happiness. Yet the day dragged on and still she did not come. The anxiety of the house deepened with his own. And Balthazar, whose intuition had guessed rightly the cause of his patience, was tempted by the thought: ‘I could imitate Clea’s voice — would he know? I could soothe him with a few words spoken in her voice.’ He was a ventriloquist and mimic of the first order. But to the first voice a second replied: ‘No. One must not interfere with a destiny however bitter by introducing lies. He must die as he was meant to.’ And the first voice said bitterly: ‘Then why morphia, why the comforts of religion, and not the solace of a desired human voice imitated, the pressure of a hand imitated? You could easily do this.’ But he shook his dark head at himself and said ‘No’ with bitter obstinacy, as he listened to the unpleasant voice of the priest reading passages of scripture upon the balcony, his voice mixing with the murmuring and shuffling of the human beings in the courtyard below. Was not the evangel all that the imitation of Clea’s voice might have been? He kissed his patient’s brow slowly, sadly as he reflected. Narouz began to feel the tuggings of the Underworld, the five wild dogs of the sense pulling ever more heavily upon the leash. He opposed to them the forces of his mighty will, playing for time, waiting for the only human revelation he could expect — voice and odour of a girl who had become embalmed by his senses, entombed like some precious image. He could hear the-nerves ticking away in their spirals of pain, the oxygen bubbles rising ever more slowly to explode in his blood. He knew that he was running out of funds, running out of time. The slowly gathering weight of a paralysis was settling over his mind, the narcotic of pain. Nessim went away to the telephone again. He was wax pale now, with a hectic spot of pink in each cheek, and he spoke with the high sweet hysterical voice of his mother. Clea had already started for Karm Abu Girg, but it seemed that a part of the road had been washed away by a broken dyke. Selim doubted whether she could get through to the ferry that evening. There now began a tremendous struggle in the breast of Narouz — a struggle to maintain an equilibrium between the forces battling within him. His musculature contracted in heavy bunches with the effort of waiting; his veins bunched out, polished to ebony with the strain, controlled by his will. He ground his teeth savagely together like a wild boar as he felt himself foundering. And Balthazar sat like an effigy, one hand upon his brow and the other fiercely holding the contorted muscles of his wrist. He whispered in Arabic: ‘Rest, my darling. Easily, my loved one.’ His sadness gave him complete mastery of himself, complete calm. Truth is so bitter that the knowledge of it confers a kind of luxury. So it went for a while. Then lastly there burst from the hairy throat of the dying man a single tremendous word, the name of Clea, uttered in the cavernous voice of a wounded lion: a voice which combined anger, reproof and an overwhelming sadness in its sudden roar. So nude a word, her name, as simple as ‘God’ or ‘Mother’ — yet it sounded as if upon the lips of some dying conqueror, some lost king, conscious of the body and breath dissolving within him. The name of Clea sounded through the whole house, drenched by the splendour of his anguish, silencing the little knots of whispering servants and visitors, setting back the ears of the hunting dogs, making them crouch and fawn: ringing in Nessim’s mind with a new and terrifying bitterness too deep for tears. And as this great cry slowly faded, the intelligence of his death dawned upon them with a new and crushing weight — like the pressure of some great tomb door closing upon hope. Immobile, ageless as pain itself, sat the defeated effigy of the doctor at the bedside of pain. He was thinking to himself, full of the bright fight of intellection: ‘A phrase like “out of the jaws of death” might mean something like that cry of Narouz’, its bravery. Or “out of the jaws of Hell”. It must mean the hell of a private mind. No, we can do nothing.’ The great voice thinned softly into the burring comb-andpaper sound of a long death-rattle, fading into the buzz of a fly caught in some remote spider’s web. And now Nessim gave a single sweet sob out there on the balcony — the noise that a bamboo stem makes when it is plucked from the stalk. And like the formal opening bars of some great symphony this small sob was echoed below in the darkness, passed from lip to lip, heart to heart. Their sobs lighted one another — as candles take a light from one another — an orchestral fulfilment of the precious theme of sorrow, and a long quivering ragged moan came up out of the empty well to climb upwards towards the darkening sky, a long hushing sigh which mingled with the hushing of the rain upon Lake Mareotis. The death of Narouz had begun to be borne. Balthazar with lowered head was quoting softly to himself in Greek the lines: Now the sorrow of the knowledge of parting Moves like wind in the rigging of the ship Of the man’s death, figurehead of the white body, The sails of the soul being filled By the Ghost of the Breath, replete and eternal. It was the signal for a release, for now the inescapably terrible scenes of a Coptic wake were to be enacted in the house, scenes charged with an ancient terror and abandon. Death had brought the women into their kingdom, and made them free to deliver each her inheritance of sorrow. They crept forward in a body, gathering speed as they mounted the staircases, their faces rapt and transfigured now as they uttered the first terrible screaming. Their fingers were turned into hooks now, tearing at their own flesh, their breasts, their cheeks, with a lustful abandon as they moved swiftly up the staircase. They were uttering that curious and thrilling ululation which is called the zagreet, their tongues rippling on their palates like mandolines. An ear-splitting chorus of tongue trills in various keys. The old house echoed to the shrieks of these harpies as they took possession of it and invaded the room of death to circle round the silent corpse, still repeating the blood-curdling signal of death, full of an unbearable animal abandon. They began the dances of ritual grief while Nessim and Balthazar sat silent upon their chairs, their heads sunk upon their breasts, their hands clasped — the very picture of human failure. They allowed these fierce quivering screams to pierce them to the very quick of their beings. Only submission now to the ritual of this ancient sorrow was permissible: and sorrow had become an orgiastic frenzy which bordered on madness. The women were dancing now as they circled the body, striking their breasts and howling, but dancing in the slow measured figures of a dance recaptured from long-forgotten friezes upon the tombs of the ancient world. They moved and swayed, quivering from throat to ankles, and they twisted and turned calling upon the dead man to rise. ‘Rise, my despair! Rise, my death! Rise, my golden one, my death, my camel, my protector! O beloved body full of seed, arise!’ And then the ghastly ululations torn from their throats, the bitter tears streaming from their torn minds. Round and round they moved, hypnotized by their own lamentations, infecting the whole house with their sorrow while from the dark courtyard below came the deeper, darker hum of their menfolk sobbing as they touched hands in consolation and repeated, to comfort one another: ‘Ma-a-lesh! Let it be forgiven! Nothing avails our grief!’ So the sorrow multiplied and proliferated. From everywhere now the women came in numbers. Some had already put on the dress of ritual mourning — the dirty coverings of dark blue cotton. They had smeared their faces with indigo and rubbed ash from the fires into their black loosened tresses. They now answered the shrieks of their sisters above with their own, baring their glittering teeth, and climbed the stairs, poured into the upper rooms with the ruthlessness of demons. Room by room, with a systematic frenzy, they attacked the old house, pausing only to utter the same terrifying screams as they set about their work. Bedsteads, cupboards, sofas were propelled out upon the balcony and hurled from there into the courtyard. At each new crash a fresh fever of screaming — the long bubbling zagreet — would break out and be answered from every corner of the house. Now the mirrors were shivered into a thousand fragments, the pictures turned back to front, the carpets reversed. All the china and glass in the house — save for the ceremonial black coffee set which was kept for funerals — was now broken up, trampled on, shivered to atoms. It was all swept into a great mound on the balcony. Everything that might suggest the order and continuity of earthly life, domestic, personal or social, must be discarded now and obliterated. The systematic destruction of the memory of death itself in plates, pictures, ornaments or clothes…. The domestic furnishings of the house were- completely wrecked now, and everything that remained had been covered in black drapes. Meanwhile, down below a great coloured tent had been pitched, a marquee, in which visiting mourners would come and sit through the whole of the ‘Night of Loneliness’ drinking coffee in silence from the black cups and listening to the deep thrilling moaning up above which swelled up from time to time into a new outbreak of screaming or the noise of a woman fainting, or rolling on the ground in a seizure. Nothing must be spared to make this great man’s funeral successful. Other mourners too had now begun to appear, both personal and professional, so to speak; those who had a personal stake in the funeral of a friend came to spend the night in the coloured marquee under the brilliant light. But there were others, the professional mourners of the surrounding villages for whom death was something like a public competition in the poetry of mourning; they came on foot, in carts, on camel-back. And as each entered the gate of the house she set up a long shivering cry, like an orgasm, that stirred the griefs of the other mourners anew, so that they responded from every corner of the house — the low sobbing notes gradually swelling into a blood-curdling and sustained tongue-trill that pierced the nerves. These professional mourners brought with them all the wild poetry of their caste, of memories loaded with years of death-practice. They were often young and beautiful. They were singers. They carried with them the ritual drums and tambourines to which they danced and which they used to punctuate their own grief and stimulate the flagging griefs of those who had already been in action. ‘Praise the inmate of the House’ they cried proudly as with superb and calculated slowness they began their slow dance about the body, turning and twisting in an ecstasy of pity as they recited eulogies couched in the finest poetic Arabic upon Narouz. They praised his character, his rectitude, his beauty, his riches. And these long perfectly turned strophes were punctuated by the sobs and groans of the audience, both above and below; so vulnerable to poetry, even the old men seated on the stiff-backed chairs in the tent below found their throats tightening until a dry sob broke from their lips and they hung their heads, whispering ‘Ma-a-lesh.’ Among them, Mohammed Shebab, the old schoolmaster and friend of the Hosnanis, had pride of place. He was dressed in his best and even wore a pair of ancient pearl spats with a new scarlet tarbush. The memory of forgotten evenings which he had spent on the balcony of the old house listening to music with Nessim and Narouz, gossiping to Leila, smote him now with pain which was not feigned. And since the people of the Delta often use a wake as an excuse to discharge private griefs in communal mourning, he too found himself thinking of his dead sister and sobbing, and he turned to the servant, pressing money into his hand as he said: ‘Ask Alam the singer to sing the recitative of the Image of Women once more, please. I wish to mourn it through again.’ And as the great poem began, he leaned back luxuriously swollen with the refreshment of a sorrow which would achieve catharsis thus in poetry. There were others too who asked for their favourite laments to be sung, offering the singers the requisite payment. In this way the whole grief of the countryside was refunded once again into living, purged of bitterness, reconquered by the living through the dead image of Narouz. Until morning now it would be kept up, the strange circling dances, the ripple and shiver of tambourines, the tongue-trilling screams, and the slow pulse of the dirges with their magnificent plumage of metaphor and image — poetry of the death-house. Some were early overcome with exhaustion and several among the house-servants had fainted from hysteria after two hours of singing thus; the professional keeners, however, knew their own strength and behaved like the ritual performers they were. When overcome by excess of grief or by a long burst of screams, they would sink to the floor and take a short rest, sometimes even smoking a cigarette. Then they would once more join the circle of dancers, refreshed. Presently, however, when the first long passion of grief had been expressed, Nessim sent for the priests who would add the light of tall bloodless candles and the noise of the psalms to the sound of water and sponge — for the body must be washed. They came at last. The body-washers were the two beadles of the little Coptic Church — ignorant louts both. Here a hideous altercation broke out, for the dead man’s clothes are the perquisites of the layer-out, and the beadles could find nothing in Narouz’ shabby wardrobe which seemed an adequate recompense for the trouble. A few old cloaks and boots, a torn nightshirt, and a small embroidered cap which dated from his circumcision — that was all Narouz owned. Nor would the beadles accept money — that would have been unlucky. Nessim began to rage, but they stood there obstinate as mules, refusing to wash Narouz without the ritual payment. Finally both Nessim and Balthazar were obliged to get out of their own suits in order to make them over to the beadles as payment. They put on the tattered old clothes of Narouz with a shiver of dread — cloaks which hung down like a graduate’s gown upon their tall figures. But somehow the ceremony must be completed, so that he could be taken to the church at dawn for burial — or else the ceremonial mourners might keep up the performance for days and nights together: in the olden times such mourning lasted forty days! Nessim also ordered the coffin to be made, and the singing was punctuated all night by the sound of hammers and saws in the wheelwright’s yard hard by. Nessim himself was completely exhausted by now, and dozed fitfully on a chair, being woken from time to time by a burst of keening or by some personal problem which remained to be solved and which was submitted to his arbitration by the servants of the house. Sounds of chanting, rosy flickering of candle-light, swish of sponges and the scratching of a razor upon dead flesh. The experience gave no pain now, but an unearthly numbness of spirits. The sound of water trickling and of sponges crushing softly upon the body of his brother, seemed part of an entirely new fabric of thought and emotion. The groans of the washers as they turned him over; the thump of the body on the table as it turned over. The soft thump of a hare’s dead body when it is thrown on to a kitchen table…. He shuddered. Narouz at last, washed and oiled and sprinkled with rosemary and thyme, lay at ease in his rough coffin clad in the shroud which he, like every Copt, had preserved against this moment; a shroud made of white flax which had been dipped in the River Jordan. He had no jewels or rich costumes to take to the grave with him, but Balthazar coiled the great bloodstained whip and placed it under his pillow. (The next morning the servants were to carry in the body of a wretch whose whole face had been pulped by the blows of this singular weapon; he had run, it seems, screaming, unrecognizable, across the plantation to fall insensible in a dyke and drown. So thoroughly had the whip done its work that he was unidentifiable.) The first part of the work was now complete and it only remained to wait for dawn. Once more the mourners were admitted to the room of death where Narouz lay, once more they resumed their passionate dancing and drumming. Balthazar took his leave now, for there was nothing more he could do to help. The two men crossed the courtyard slowly, arm in arm, leaning on each other as if exhausted. ‘If you meet Clea at the ferry, take her back’ said Nessim. ‘Of course I will.’ They shook hands slowly and embraced each other. Then Nessim turned back, yawning and shivering, into the house. He sat dozing on a chair. It would be three days before the house could be purged of sadness and the soul of Narouz ‘sent away’ by the priestly rituals. First would come the long straggling procession with the torches and banners in the early dawn, before the mist rose, the women with faces blackened now like furies, tearing their hair. The deacons chanting ‘Remember me O Lord when Thou hast come to Thy Kingdom’ in deep thrilling voices. Then on the cold floor of the church the sods raining down on Narouz’ pale face and the voices reciting ‘From dust to dust’, and the rolling periods of the evangel singing him away to heaven. Squeak of the brass screws as the lid went down. All this he saw, foreshadowed in his mind as he drowsed upon the stiff-backed chair beside the rough-hewn coffin. Of what, he wondered, could Narouz be dreaming now, with the great whip coiled beneath his pillow?The characters in this story, the first of a group, are all inventions together with the personality of the narrator, and bear no resemblance to living persons. Only the city is real.Capodistria … how does he fit in? He is more of a goblin than a man, you would think. The flat triangular head of the snake with the huge frontal lobes; the hair grows forward in a widow’s peak A whitish flickering tongue is forever busy keeping his thin lips moist. He is ineffably rich and does not have to lift a finger for himself. He sits all day on the terrace of the Brokers’ Club watching the women pass, with the restless eye of someone endlessly shuffling through an old soiled pack of cards. From time to time there is a flick, like a chameleon’s tongue striking — a signal almost invisible to the inattentive. Then a figure slips from the terrace to trail the woman he had indicated. Sometimes his agents will quite openly stop and importune women on the street in his name, mentioning a sum of money. No one is offended by the mention of money in our city. Some girls simply laugh. Some consent at once. You never see vexation on their features. Virtue with us is never feigned. Nor vice. Both are natural. Capodistria sits remote from it all, in his immaculate shark-skin coat with the coloured silk handkerchief lolling at his breast. His narrow shoes gleam. His friends call him Da Capo because of a sexual prowess reputed to be as great as his fortune — or his ugliness. He is obscurely related to Justine who says of him: ‘I pity him. His heart has withered in him and he has been left with the five senses, like pieces of a broken wineglass.’ However a life of such striking monotony does not seem to depress him. His family is noted for the number of suicides in it, and his psychological inheritance is an unlucky one with its history of mental disturbance and illness. He is unperturbed however and says, touching his temples with a long forefinger: ‘All my ancestors went wrong here in the head. My father also. He was a great womanizer. When he was very old he had a model of the perfect woman built in rubber — life-size. She could be filled with hot water in the winter. She was strikingly beautiful. He called her Sabina after his mother, and took her everywhere. He had a passion for travelling on ocean liners and actually lived on one for the last two years of his life, travelling backwards and forwards to New York. Sabina had a wonderful wardrobe. It was a sight to see them come into the dining-saloon, dressed for dinner. He travelled with his keeper, a manservant called Kelly. Between them, held on either side like a beautiful drunkard, walked Sabina in her marvellous evening clothes. The night he died he said to Kelly: “Send Demetrius a telegram and tell him that Sabina died in my arms tonight without any pain.” She was buried with him off Naples.’ His laughter is the most natural and unfeigned of any I have ever heard. Later when I was half mad with worry and heavily in Capodistria’s debt, I found him less accommodating a companion; and one night, there was Melissa sitting half drunk on the footstool by the fire holding in those long reflective fingers the I.O.U. which I had made out to him with the curt word ‘discharged’ written across it in green ink…. These memories wound. Melissa said: ‘Justine would have paid your debt from her immense fortune. I did not want to see her increase her hold over you. Besides, even though you no longer care for me I still wanted to do something for you — and this was the least of sacrifices. I did not think that it would hurt you so much for me to sleep with him. Have you not done the same for me — I mean did you not borrow the money from Justine to send me away for the X-ray business? Though you lied about it I knew. I won’t lie, I never do. Here, take it and destroy it: but don’t gamble with him any more. He is not of your kind.’ And turning her head she made the Arab motion of spitting. chapter XChapter XIJustine (1957) Part IV Chapter 1Late that autumn his posting came through. He was somewhat surprised to rind himself accredited to the Mission in Prague, as he had been given to understand that after his lengthy refresher in Arabic he might expect to find himself a lodgement somewhere in the Levant Consular where his special knowledge would prove of use. Yet despite an initial dismay he accepted his fate with good grace and joined in the elaborate game of musical chairs which the Foreign Office plays with such eloquent impersonality. The only consolation, a meagre one, was to find that everyone in his first mission knew as little as he did about the language and politics of the country. His Chancery consisted of two Japanese experts and three specialists in Latin American affairs. They all twisted their faces in melancholy unison over the vagaries of the Czech language and gazed out from their office windows on snow-lit landscapes: they felt full of a solemn Slav foreboding. He was in the Service now. He had only managed to see Leila half a dozen times in Alexandria — meetings made more troubling and incoherent than thrilling by the enforced secrecy which surrounded them. He ought to have felt like a young dog — but in fact he felt rather a cad. He only returned to the Hosnani lands once, for a spell of three days’ leave — and here at any rate the old spiteful magic of circumstance and place held him; but so briefly — like a fugitive afterglow from the conflagration of the previous spring. Leila appeared to be somehow fading, receding on the curvature of a world moving in time, detaching herself from his own memories of her. The foreground of his new life was becoming crowded with the expensive coloured toys of his professional life — banquets and anniversaries and forms of behaviour new to him. His concentration was becoming dispersed. For Leila, however, it was a different matter; she was already so intent upon the recreation of herself in the new role she had planned that she rehearsed it every day to herself, in her own private mind, and to her astonishment realized that she was waiting with actual impatience for the parting to become final, for the old links to snap. As an actor uncertain of a new part might wait in a fever of anxiety for his cue to be spoken. She longed for what she most dreaded, the word ‘Good-bye’. But with his first sad letter from Prague, she felt something like a new sense of elation rising in her, for now at last she would be free to possess Mountolive as she wished — greedily in her mind. The difference in their ages — widening like the chasms in floating pack-ice — were swiftly carrying their bodies out of reach of each other, out of touch. There was no permanence in any of the records to be made by the flesh with its language of promises and endearments, these were all already compromised by a beauty no longer in its first flower. But she calculated that her inner powers were strong enough to keep him to herself in the one special sense most dear to maturity, if only she could gain the courage to substitute mind for heart. Nor was she wrong in realizing that had they been free to indulge passion at will, their relationship could not have survived more than a twelvemonth. But the distance and the necessity to transfer their commerce to new ground had the effect of refreshing their images in one another. For him the image of Leila did not dissolve but suffered a new and thrilling mutation as it took shape on paper. She kept pace with his growth in those long, well-written, ardent letters which betrayed only the hunger which is as poignant as anything the flesh is called upon to cure: the hunger for friendship, the fear of being forgotten. From Prague, Oslo, Berne, this correspondence flowed backwards and forwards, the letters swelling or diminishing in size but always remaining constant to the mind directing it — the lively, dedicated mind of Leila. Mountolive, growing, found these long letters in warm English or concise French an aid to the process, a provocation. She planted ideas beside him in the soft ground of a professional life which demanded little beyond charm and reserve — just as a gardener will plant sticks for a climbing sweet-pea. If the one love died, another grew up in its place. Leila became his only mentor and confidant, his only source of encouragement. It was to meet these demands of hers that he taught himself to write well in English and French. Taught himself to appreciate things which normally would have been outside the orbit of his interests — painting and music. He informed himself in order to inform her. ‘You say you will be in Zagreb next month. Please visit and describe to me …’ she would write, or ‘How lucky you will be in passing through Amsterdam; there is a retrospective Klee which has received tremendous notices in the French press. Please pay it a visit and describe your impressions honestly to me, even if unfavourable. I have never seen an original myself.’ This was Leila’s parody of love, a flirtation of minds, in which the roles were now reversed; for she was deprived of the riches of Europe and she fed upon his long letters and parcels of books with the double gluttony. The young man strained every nerve to meet these demands, and suddenly found the hitherto padlocked worlds of paint, architecture, music and writing opening on every side of him. So she gave him almost a gratuitous education in the world which he would never have been able to compass by himself. And where the old dependence of his youth slowly foundered, the new one grew. Mountolive, in the strictest sense of the words, had now found a woman after his own heart. The old love was slowly metamorphosed into admiration, just as his physical longing for her (so bitter at first) turned into a consuming and depersonalized tenderness which fed upon her absence instead of dying from it. In a few years she was able to confess: ‘I feel somehow nearer to you today, on paper, than I did before we parted. Why is this?’ But she knew only too well. Yet she added at once, for honesty’s sake: ‘Is this feeling a little unhealthy perhaps? To outsiders it might even seem a little pathetic or ludicrous — who can say? And these long long letters, David — are they the bitter-sweet of a Sanseverina’s commerce with her nephew Fabrizio? I often wonder if they were lovers — their intimacy is so hot and close? Stendhal never actually says so. I wish I knew Italy. Has your lover turned aunt in her old age? Don’t answer even if you know the truth. Yet it is lucky in a way that we are both solitaries, with large blank unfilled areas of heart — like the early maps of Africa? — and need each other still. I mean, you as an only child with only your mother to think of, and I — of course, I have many cares, but live within a very narrow cage. Your description of the ballerina and your love-affair was amusing and touching; thank you for telling me. Have a care, dear friend, and do not wound yourself.’ It was a measure of the understanding which had grown up between them that he was now able to confide in her without reserve details of the few personal histories which occupied him: the love-affair with Grishkin which almost entangled him in a premature marriage; his unhappy passion for an Ambassador’s mistress which exposed him to a duel, and perhaps disgrace. If she felt any pangs, she concealed them, writing to advise and console him with the warmth of an apparent detachment. They were frank with each other, and sometimes her own deliberate exchanges all but shocked him, dwelling as they did upon the self-examinations which people transfer to paper only when there is no one to whom they can talk. As when she could write: ‘It was a shock, I mean, to suddenly see Nessim’s naked body floating in the mirror, the slender white back so like yours and the loins. I sat down and, to my own surprise, burst into tears, because I wondered suddenly whether my attachment for you wasn’t lodged here somehow among the feeble incestuous desires of the inner heart, I know so little about the penetralia of sex which they are exploring so laboriously, the doctors. Their findings fill me with misgivings. Then I also wondered whether there wasn’t a touch of the vampire about me, clinging so close to you for so long, always dragging at your sleeve when by now you must have outgrown me quite. What do you think? Write and reassure me, David, even while you kiss little Grishkin, will you? Look, I am sending you a recent photo so you can judge how much I have aged. Show it to her, and tell her that I fear nothing so much as her unfounded jealousy. But one glance will set her heart at rest. I must not forget to thank you for the telegram on my birthday — it gave me a sudden image of you sitting on the balcony talking to Nessim. He is now so rich and independent that he hardly ever bothers to visit the land. He is too occupied with great affairs in the city. Yet … he feels the depth of my absence as I would wish you to; more strongly than if we were living in each other’s laps. We write often and at length; our minds understudy each other, yet we leave our hearts free to love, to grow. Through him I hope that one day we Copts will regain our place in Egypt — but no more of this now….’ Clear-headed, self-possessed and spirited the words ran on in that tall fluent hand upon different-coloured stationery, letters that he would open eagerly in some remote Legation garden, reading them with an answer half-formulated in his mind which must be written and sealed up in time to catch the outgoing bag. He had come to depend on this friendship which still dictated, as a form, the words ‘My dearest love’ at the head of letters concerned solely with, say, art, or love (his love) or life (his life). And for his part, he was scrupulously honest with her — as for instance in writing about his ballerina: ‘It is true that I even considered at one time marrying her. I was certainly very much in love. But she cured me in time. You see, her language which I did not know, effectively hid her commonness from me. Fortunately she once or twice risked a public familiarity which froze me; once when the whole ballet was invited to a reception I got myself seated next to her believing that she would behave with discretion since none of my colleagues knew of our liaison. Imagine their amusement and my horror when all of a sudden while we were seated at supper she passed her hand up the back of my head to ruffle my hair in a gesture of coarse endearment! It served me right. But I realized the truth in time, and even her wretched pregnancy when it came seemed altogether too transparent a ruse. I was cured.’ When at last they parted Grishkin taunted him saying: ‘You are only a diplomat. You have no politics and no religion!’ But it was to Leila that he turned for an elucidation of this telling charge. And it was Leila who discussed it with him with the blithe disciplined tenderness of an old lover. So in her skilful fashion she held him year by year until his youthful awkwardness gave place to a maturity which matched her own. Though it was only a dialect of love they spoke, it sufficed her and absorbed him; yet it remained for him impossible to classify or analyse. And punctually now as the calendar years succeeded each other, as his posts changed, so the image of Leila was shot through with the colours and experiences of the countries which passed like fictions before his eyes: cherry-starred Japan, hook-nosed Lima. But never Egypt, despite all his entreaties for postings which he knew were falling or had fallen vacant. It seemed that the Foreign Office would never forgive him for having learned Arabic, and even deliberately selected posts from which leave taken in Egypt was difficult or impossible. Yet the link held. Twice he met Nessim in Paris, but that was all. They were delighted with each other, and with their own worldliness. In time his annoyance gave place to resignation. His profession which valued only judgement, coolness and reserve, taught him the hardest lesson of all and the most crippling — never to utter the pejorative thought aloud. It offered him too something like a long Jesuitical training in self-deception which enabled him to present an ever more highly polished surface to the world without deepening his human experience. If his personality did not become completely diluted it was due to Leila; for he lived surrounded by his ambitious and sycophantic fellows who taught him only how to excel in forms of address, and the elaborate kindnesses which, in pleasing, pave the way to advancement. His real life became a buried stream, flowing on underground, seldom emerging into that artificial world in which the diplomat lives — slowly suffocating like a cat in an air-pump. Was he happy or unhappy? He hardly knew any longer. He was alone, that was all. And several times, encouraged by Leila, he thought to solace his solitary concentration (which was turning to selfishness) by marrying. But somehow, surrounded as he was by eligible young women, he found that his only attraction lay among those who were already married, or who were much older than himself. Foreigners were beyond consideration for even at that time mixed marriages were regarded as a serious bar to advancement in the service. In diplomacy as in everything else there is a right and a wrong kind of marriage. But as the time slipped by he found himself climbing the slow gyres — by expediency, compromise and hard work — towards the narrow anteroom of diplomatic power: the rank of councillor or minister. Then one day the whole bright mirage which lay buried and forgotten reawoke, re-emerged, substantial and shining from the past; in the fullness of his powers he woke one day to learn that the coveted ‘K’ was his, and something else even more desirable — the long-denied Embassy to Egypt…. But Leila would not have been a woman had she not been capable of one moment of weakness which all but prejudiced the whole unique pattern of their relationship. It came with her husband’s death. But it was swiftly followed by a romantic punishment which drove her further back into the solitude which, for one wild moment, she dreamed of abandoning. It was perhaps as well, for everything might have been lost by it. There was a silence after her telegram announcing Faltaus’ death; and then a letter unlike anything she had written before, so full of hesitations and ambiguities was it. ‘My indecision has become to my surprise such an agony. I am really quite distraught. I want you to think most carefully about the proposal I am about to make. Analyse it, and if the least trace of disgust arises in your mind, the least reservation, we will banish it and never speak of it again. David! Today as I looked in my mirror, as critically and cruelly as I could, I found myself entertaining a thought which for years now I have rigorously excluded. The thought of seeing you again. Only I could not for the life of me see the terms and conditions of such a meeting. My vision of it was covered by a black cloud of doubt. Now that Faltaus is dead and buried the whole of that part of my life has snapped off short. I have no other except the one I shared with you — a paper life. Crudely, we have been like people drifting steadily apart in age as each year passed. Subconsciously I must have been waiting for Faltaus’ death, though I never wished it, for how else should this hope, this delusion suddenly rise up in me now? It suddenly occurred to me last night that we might still have six months or a year left to spend together before the link snaps for good in the old sense. Is this rubbish? Yes! Would I in fact only encumber you, embarrass you by arriving in Paris as I plan to do in two months’ time? For goodness’ sake write back at once and dissuade me from my false hopes, from such folly — for I recognize deep within myself that it is a folly. But … to enjoy you for a few months before I return here to take up this life: how hard it is to abandon the hope. Scotch it, please, at once; so that when I do come I will be at peace, simply regarding you (as I have all these years) as something more than my closest friend.’ She knew it was unfair to put him in such a position; but she could not help herself. Was it fortunate then that fate prevented him from having to make such an elaborate decision — for her letter arrived on his desk in the same post as Nessim’s long telegram announcing the onset of her illness? And while he was still hesitating between a choice of answers there came her post-card, written in a new sprawling hand, which absolved him finally by the words: ‘Do not write again until I can read you; I am bandaged from head to foot. Something very bad, very definitive has happened.’ During the whole of that hot summer the confluent smallpox — invented perhaps as the cruellest remedy for human vanity — dragged on, melting down what remained of her once celebrated beauty. It was useless to pretend even to herself that her whole life would not be altered by it. But how? Mountolive waited in an agony of indecision until their correspondence could be renewed, writing now to Nessim, now to Narouz. A void had suddenly opened at his feet. Then: ‘It is an odd experience to look upon one’s own features full of pot-holes and landslides — like a familiar landscape blown up. I fear that I must get used to the new sensation of being a hag. But by my own force. Of course, all this may strengthen other sides of my character — as acids can — I’ve lost the metaphor! Ach! what sophistry it is, for there is no way out. And how bitterly ashamed I am of the proposals contained in my last long letter. This is not the face to parade through Europe, nor would one dare to shame you by letting it claim your acquaintance at close range. Today I ordered a dozen black veils such as the poor people of my religion still wear! But it seemed so painful an act that I ordered my jeweller to come and measure me afresh for some new bracelets and rings. I have become so thin of late. A reward for bravery too, as children are bribed with a sweet for facing a nasty medicine. Poor little Hakim. He wept bitterly as he showed me his wares. I felt his tears on my fingers. Yet somehow, I was able to laugh. My voice too has changed. I have been so sick of lying in darkened rooms. The veils will free me. Yes, and of course I have been debating suicide — who does not at such times? No, but if I live on it won’t be to pity myself. Or perhaps woman’s vanity is not, as we think, a mortal matter — a killing business? I must be confident and strong. Please don’t turn solemn and pity me. When you write, let your letters be gay as always, will you?’ But thereafter came a silence before their correspondence was fully resumed, and her letters now had a new quality — of bitter resignation. She had retired, she wrote, to the land once more, where she lived alone with Narouz. ‘His gentle savagery makes him an ideal companion. Besides, at times I am troubled in mind now, not quite compos mentis, and then I retire for days at a time to the little summer-house, remember? At the end of the garden. There I read and write with only my snake — the genius of the house these days is a great dusty cobra, tame as a cat. It is company enough. Besides, I have other cares now, other plans. Desert without and desert within! ‘The veil’s a fine and private place: But none, I think, do there embrace. ‘If I should write nonsense to you during the times when the afreet has bewitched my mind (as the servants say) don’t answer. These attacks only last a day or two at most.’ And so the new epoch began. For years she sat, an eccentric and veiled recluse in Karm Abu Girg, writing those long marvellous letters, her mind still ranging freely about the lost worlds of Europe in which he still found himself a traveller. But there were fewer imperatives of the old eager kind. She seldom looked outward now towards new experiences, but mostly backwards into the past as one whose memory of small things needed to be refreshed. Could one hear the cicadas on the Tour Magne? Was the Seine corn-green at Bougival? At the Pallio of Siena were the costumes of silk? The cherry-trees of Navarra…. She wanted to verify the past, to look back over her shoulder, and patiently Mountolive undertook these reassurances on every journey. Rembrandt’s little monkey — had she seen or only imagined it in his canvases? No, it existed, he told her sadly. Very occasionally a request touching the new came up. ‘My interest has been aroused by some singular poems in Values (Sept) signed Ludwig Purse-warden. Something new and harsh here. As you are going to London next week, please enquire about him for me. Is he German? Is he the novelist who wrote those two strange novels about Africa? The name is the same.’ It was this request which led directly to Mountolive’s first meeting with the poet who later was to play a part of some importance in his life. Despite the almost French devotion he felt (copied from Leila) for artists, he found Pursewarden’s name an awkward, almost comical one to write upon the postcard which he addressed to him care of his publishers. For a month he heard nothing; but as he was in London on a three-months’ course of instruction he could afford to be patient. When his answer came it was surprisingly enough, written upon the familiar Foreign Office notepaper; his post, it appeared, was that of a junior in the Cultural Department! He telephoned him at once and was agreeably surprised by the pleasant, collected voice. He had half-expected someone aggressively underbred, and was relieved to hear a civilized note of self-collected humour in Pursewarden’s voice. They agreed to meet for a drink at the ‘Compasses’ near Westminster Bridge that evening, and Mountolive looked forward to the meeting as much for Leila’s sake as his own, for he intended to write her an account of it, carefully describing her artist for her. It was snowing with light persistence, the snow melting as it touched the pavements, but lingering longer on coat-collars and hats. (A snowflake on the eyelash suddenly bursts the world asunder into the gleaming component colours of the prism.) Mountolive bent his head and came round the corner just in time to see a youthful-looking couple turn into the bar of the ‘Compasses’. The girl, who turned to address a remark to her companion over her shoulder as the door opened, wore a brilliant tartan shawl with a great white brooch. The warm lamplight splashed upon her broad pale face with its helmet of dark curling hair. She was strikingly beautiful with a beauty whose somehow shocking placidity took Mountolive a full second to analyse. Then he saw that she was blind, her face slightly upcast to her companion’s in the manner of those whose expressions never fully attain their target — the eyes of another. She stayed thus a full second before her companion said something laughingly and pressed her onwards into the bar. Mountolive entered on their heels and found himself at once grasping the warm steady hand of Pursewarden. The blind girl, it seemed, was his sister. A few moments of awkwardness ensued while they disposed themselves by the blazing coke fire in the corner and ordered drinks. Pursewarden, though in no way a striking person, seemed agreeably normal. He was of medium height and somewhat pale in colouring with a trimmed moustache which made a barely noticeable circumflex above a well-cut mouth. He was, however, so completely unlike his sister in colouring that Mountolive concluded that the magnificent dark hair of the sightless girl must perhaps be dyed, though it seemed natural enough, and her slender eyebrows were also dark. Only the eyes might have given one a clue to the secret of this Mediterranean pigmentation, and they, of course, were spectacularly missing. It was the head of a Medusa, its blindness was that of a Greek statue — a blindness perhaps brought about by intense concentration through centuries upon sunlight and blue water? Her expression, however, was not magistral but tender and appealing. Long silken fingers curled and softened at the butts like the fingers of a concert pianist moved softly upon the oaken table between them, as if touching, confirming, certifying — hesitating to ascribe qualities to his voice. At times her own lips moved softly as if she were privately repeating the words they spoke to herself in order to recapture their resonance and meaning; then she was like someone following music with a private score. ‘Liza, my darling?’ said the poet. ‘Brandy and soda.’ She replied with her placid blankness in a voice at once clear and melodious — a voice which might have given some such overtone to the words ‘Honey and nectar’. They seated themselves somewhat awkwardly while the drinks were dispensed. Brother and sister sat side by side, which gave them a somewhat defensive air. The blind girl put one hand in the brother’s pocket. So began, in rather a halting fashion, the conversation which lasted them far into the evening and which he afterwards transcribed so accurately to Leila, thanks to his formidable memory. ‘He was somewhat shy at first and took refuge in a pleasant diffidence. I found to my surprise that he was earmarked for a Cairo posting next year and told him a little about my friends there, offering to give him a few letters of introduction, notably to Nessim. He may have been a little intimidated by my rank but this soon wore off; he hasn’t much of a head for drinks and after the second began to talk in a most amusing and cutting fashion. A rather different person now emerged — odd and equivocal as one might expect an artist to be — but with pronounced views on a number of subjects, some of them not at all to my taste. But they had an oddly personal ring. One felt they were deduced from experience and not worked out simply to épater. He is, for example, rather an old-fashioned reactionary in his outlook, and is consequently rather mal vu by his brother craftsmen who suspect him of Fascist sympathies; the prevailing distemper of left-wing thought, indeed all radicalism is repugnant to him. But his views were expressed humorously and without heat. I could not, for example, rouse him on the Spanish issue. (“All those little beige people trooping off to die for the Left Book Club!”)’ Mountolive had indeed been rather shocked by opinions as clear-cut as they were trenchant, for he at the time shared the prevailing egalitarian sympathies of the day — albeit in the anodyne liberalized form then current in The Office. Pursewarden’s royal contempts made him rather a formidable person. ‘I confess’ Mountolive wrote ‘that I did not feel I had exactly placed him in any one category. But he expressed views rather than attitudes, and I must say he said a number of striking things which I memorized for you, as: “The artist’s work constitutes the only satisfactory relationship he can have with his fellow-men since he seeks his real friends among the dead and the unborn. That is why he can’t dabble in politics, it isn’t his job. He must concentrate on values rather than policies. Today it all looks to me like a silly shadow-play, for ruling is an art, not a science, just as a society is an organism, not a system. Its smallest unit is the family and really royalism is the right structure for it — for a Royal Family is a mirror image of the human, a legitimate idolatry. I mean, for us, the British, with our essentially quixotic temperament and mental sloth. I don’t know about the others. As for capitalism, its errors and injustices are all remediable, by fair taxation. We should be hunting not for an imaginary equality among men, but simply for a decent equity. But then Kings should be manufacturing a philosophy of sorts, as they did in China; and absolute Monarchy is hopeless for us today because the philosophy of kingship is at a low ebb. The same goes for a dictatorship. ‘ “As for Communism, I can see that is hopeless too; the analysis of man in terms of economic behaviourism takes all the fun out of living, and to divest him of a personal psyche is madness.” And so on. He has visited Russia for a month with a cultural delegation and did not like what he felt there; other boutades like “Sad Jews on whose faces one could see all the melancholia of a secret arithmetic; I asked an old man in Kiev if Russia was a happy place. He drew his breath sharply and after looking around him furtively said: ‘We say that once Lucifer had good intentions, a change of heart. He decided to perform a good act for a change — just one. So hell was born on earth, and they named it Soviet Russia.’ ” ‘In all this, his sister played no part but sat in eloquent silence with her fingers softly touching the table, curling like tendrils of vine, smiling at his aphorisms as if at private wickednesses. Only once, when he had gone out for a second, she turned to me and said: “He shouldn’t concern himself with these matters really. His one job is to learn how to submit to despair.” I was very much struck by this oracular phrase which fell so naturally from her lips and did not know what to reply. When he returned he resumed his place and the conversation at one and the same time as if he had been dunking it over by himself. He said “No, they are a biological necessity, Kings. Perhaps they mirror the very constitution of the psyche? We have compromised so admirably with the question of their divinity that I should hate to see them replaced by a dictator or a Workers’ Council and a firing squad.” I had to protest at this preposterous view, but he was quite serious. “I assure you that this is the way the left-wing tends; its object is civil war, though it does not realize it — thanks to the cunning with which the sapless puritans like Shaw and company have presented their case. Marxism is the revenge of the Irish and the Jews!” I had to laugh at this, and so — to do him justice — did he. “But at least it will explain why I am mal vu” he said, “and why I am always glad to get out of England to countries where I feel no moral responsibility and no desire to work out such depressing formulations. After all, what the hell! I am a writer!” ‘By this time he had had several drinks and was quite at his ease. “Let us leave this barren field! Oh, how much I want to get away to the cities which were created by their women; a Paris or Rome built in response to the female lusts. I never see old Nelson’s soot-covered form in Trafalgar Square without thinking: poor Emma had to go all the way to Naples to assert the right to be pretty, feather-witted and d’une splendeur in bed. What am I, Pursewarden, doing here among people who live in a frenzy of propriety? Let me wander where people have come to terms with their own human obscenity, safe in the poet’s cloak of invisibility. I want to learn to respect nothing while despising nothing — crooked is the path of the initiate!” ‘ “My dear, you are tipsy!” cried Liza with delight. ‘ “Tipsy and sad. Sad and tipsy. But joyful, joyful!” ‘I must say this new and amusing vein in his character seemed to bring me much nearer to the man himself. “Why the stylized emotions? Why the fear and trembling? All those gloomy lavatories with mackintoshed policewomen waiting to see if one pees straight or not? Think of all the passionate adjustment of dress that goes on in the kingdom! the keeping off the grass: is it any wonder that I absent-mindedly take the entrance marked Aliens Only whenever I return?” ‘ “You are tipsy” cried Liza again. ‘ “No. I am happy.” He said it seriously. “And happiness can’t be induced. You must wait and ambush it like a quail or a girl with tired wings. Between art and contrivance there is a gulf fixed!” ‘On he went in this new and headlong strain; and I must confess that I was much taken by the effortless play of a mind which was no longer conscious of itself. Of course, here and there I stumbled against a coarseness of expression which was boorish, and looked anxiously at his sister, but she only smiled her blind smile, indulgent and uncritical. ‘It was late when we walked back together towards Trafalgar Square in the falling snow. There were few people about and the snowflakes deadened our footsteps. In the Square itself your poet stopped to apostrophize Nelson Stylites in true calf-killing fashion. I have forgotten exactly what he said, but it was sufficiently funny to make me laugh very heartily. And then he suddenly changed his mood and turning to his sister said: “Do you know what has been upsetting me all day, Liza? Today is Blake’s birthday. Think of it, the birthday of codger Blake. I felt I ought to see some signs of it on the national countenance, I looked about me eagerly all day. But there was nothing. Darling Liza, let us celebrate the old b …’s birthday, shall we? You and I and David Mountolive here — as if we were French or Italian, as if it meant something.” The snow was falling fast, the last sodden leaves lying in mounds, the pigeons uttering their guttural clotted noises. “Shall we, Liza?” A spot of bright pink had appeared in each of her cheeks. Her lips were parted. Snowflakes like dissolving jewels in her dark hair. “How?” she said. “Just how?” ‘ “We will dance for Blake” said Pursewarden, with a comical look of seriousness on his face, and taking her in his arms he started to waltz, humming the Blue Danube. Over his shoulder, through the falling snowflakes, he said: “This is for Will and Kate Blake.” I don’t know why I felt astonished and rather touched. They moved in perfect measure gradually increasing in speed until they were skimming across the square under the bronze lions, hardly heavier than the whiffs of spray from the fountains. Like pebbles skimming across a smooth lake or stones across an icebound pond…. It was a strange spectacle. I forgot my cold hands and the snow melting on my collar as I watched them. So they went, completing a long gradual ellipse across the open space, scattering the leaves and the pigeons, their breath steaming on the night-air. And then, gently, effortlessly spinning out the arc to bring them back to me — to where I stood now with a highly doubtful-looking policeman at my side. It was rather amusing. “What’s goin’ on ’ere?” said the bobby, staring at them with a distrustful admiration. Their waltzing was so perfect that I think even he was stirred by it. On they went and on, magnificently in accord, the dark girl’s hair flying behind her, her sightless face turned up towards the old admiral on his sooty perch. “They are celebrating Blake’s birthday” I explained in rather a shamefaced fashion, and the officer looked a shade more relieved as he followed them with an admiring eye. He coughed and said “Well, he can’t be drunk to dance like that, can he? The things people get up to on their birthdays!” ‘At long last they were back, laughing and panting and kissing one another. Pursewarden’s good humour seemed to be quite restored now, and he bade me the warmest of good-nights as I put them both in a taxi and sent them on their way. There! My dear Leila, I don’t know what you will make of all this. I learned nothing of his private circumstances or background, but I shall be able to look him up; and you will be able to meet him when he comes to Egypt. I am sending you a small printed collection of his newest verses which he gave me. They have not appeared anywhere as yet.’ In the warm central heating of the club bedroom, he turned the pages of the little book, more with a sense of duty than one of pleasure. It was not only modern poetry which bored him, but all poetry. He could never get the wave-length, so to speak, however hard he tried. He was forced to reduce the words to paraphrase in his own mind, so that they stopped their dance. This inadequacy in himself (Leila had taught him to regard it as such) irritated him. Yet as he turned the pages of the little book he was suddenly interested by a poem which impinged upon his memory, filling him with a sudden chill of misgiving. It was inscribed to the poet’s sister and was unmistakingly a love-poem to ‘a blind girl whose hair is painted black’. At once he saw the white serene face of Liza Pursewarden rising up from the text. Greek statues with their bullet holes for eyes Blinded as Eros by surprise, The secrets of the foundling heart disguise, Lover and loved…. It had a kind of savage deliberate awkwardness of surface; but it was the sort of poem a modern Catullus might have written. It made Mountolive extremely thoughtful. Swallowing, he read it again. It had the simple beauty of shamelessness. He stared gravely at the wall for a long time before slipping the book into an envelope and addressing it to Leila. There were no further meetings during that month, though once or twice Mountolive tried to telephone to Pursewarden at his office. But each time he was either on leave or on some obscure mission in the north of England. Nevertheless he traced the sister and took her out to dinner on several occasions, finding her a delightful and somehow moving companion. Leila wrote in due course to thank him for his information, adding characteristically: ‘The poems were splendid. But of course I would not wish to meet an artist I admired. The work has no connection with the man, I think. But I am glad he is coming to Egypt. Perhaps Nessim can help him — perhaps he can help Nessim? We shall see.’ Mountolive did not know what the penultimate phrase meant. The following summer, however, his leave coincided with a visit to Paris by Nessim, and the two friends met to enjoy the galleries and plan a painting holiday in Brittany. They had both recently started to try their hands at painting and were full of the fervour of amateurs in a new medium. It was here in Paris that they ran into Pursewarden. It was a happy accident, and Mount-olive was delighted at the chance of making his path smooth for him by this lucky introduction. Pursewarden himself was quite transfigured and in the happiest of moods, and Nessim seemed to like him immensely. When the time came to say good-bye, Mount-olive had the genuine conviction that a friendship had been established and cemented over all this good food and blithe living. He saw them off at the station and that very evening reported to Leila on the notepaper of his favourite café: ‘It was a real regret to put them on the train and to think that this week I shall be back in Russia! My heart sinks at the thought. But I have grown to like P. very much, to understand him better. I am inclined to put down his robust scolding manners not to boorishness as I did, but to a profoundly hidden shyness, almost a feeling of guilt. His conversation this time was quite captivating. You must ask Nessim. I believe he liked him even more than I did. And so … what? An empty space, a long frozen journey. Ah! my dear Leila, how much I miss you — what you stand for. When will we meet again, I wonder? If I have enough money on my next leave I may fly down to visit you….’ He was unaware that quite soon he would once more find his way back to Egypt — the beloved country to which distance and exile lent a haunting brilliance as of tapestry. Could anything as rich as memory be a cheat? He never asked himself the question. Ancient lands, in all their prehistoric intactness: lake-solitudes hardly brushed by the hurrying feet of the centuries where the uninterrupted pedigrees of pelican and ibis and heron evolve their slow destinies in complete seclusion. Clover-patches of green baize swarming with snakes and clouds of mosquitoes. A landscape devoid of songbirds yet full of owls, hoopoes and kingfishers hunting by day, pluming themselves on the banks of the tawny waterways. The packs of half-wild dogs foraging, the blindfolded water-buffaloes circling the waterwheels in an eternity of darkness. The little wayside chancels built of dry mud and floored with fresh straw where the pious traveller might say a prayer as he journeyed. Egypt! The goose-winged sails scurrying among the freshets with perhaps a human voice singing a trailing snatch of song. The click-click of the wind in the Indian corn, plucking at the coarse leaves, shumbling them. Liquid mud exploded by rainstorms in the dust-laden air throwing up mirages everywhere, despoiling perspectives. A lump of mud swells to the size of a man, a man to the size of a church. Whole segments of the sky and land displace, open like a lid, or heel over on their side to turn upside down. Flocks of sheep walk in and out of these twisted mirrors, appearing and disappearing, goaded by the quivering nasal cries of invisible shepherds. A great confluence of pastoral images from the forgotten history of the old world which still lives on side by side with the one we have inherited. The clouds of silver winged ants floating up to meet and incandesce in the sunlight. The clap of a horse’s hoofs on the mud floors of this lost world echo like a pulse and the brain swims among these veils and melting rainbows. And so at last, following the curves of the green embankments you come upon an old house built sideways upon an intersection of violet canals, its cracked and faded shutters tightly fastened, its rooms hung with dervish trophies, hide shields, bloodstained spears and magnificent carpets. The gardens desolate and untended. Only the little figures on the wall move their celluloid wings — scarecrows which guard against the Evil Eye. The silence of complete desuetude. But then the whole countryside of Egypt shares this melancholy feeling of having been abandoned, allowed to run to seed, to bake and crack and moulder under the brazen sun. Turn under an arch and clatter over the cobbles of a dark courtyard. Will this be a new point of departure or a return to the starting-point? It is hard to know.To London he always returned with the tremulous eagerness of a lover who has been separated a long time from his mistress; he returned, so to speak, upon a note of interrogation. Had life altered? Had anything been changed? Perhaps the nation had, after all, woken up and begun to live? The thin black drizzle over Trafalgar Square, the soot-encrusted cornices of Whitehall, the slur of rubber tyres spinning upon macadam, the haunting conspiratorial voice of river traffic behind the veils of mist — they were both a reassurance and a threat. He loved it inarticulately, the melancholy of it, though he knew in his heart he could no longer live here permanently, for his profession had made an expatriate of him. He walked in the soft clinging rain towards Downing Street, muffled in his heavy overcoat, comparing himself from time to time, not without a certain complacence, to the histrionic Grand Duke who smiled at him from the occasional hoardings advertising De Reszke cigarettes. He smiled to himself as he remembered some of Pursewarden’s acid strictures on their native capital, repeating them in his own mind with pleasure, as compliments almost. Pursewarden transferring his sister’s hand from one elbow to another in order to complete a vague gesture towards the charred-looking figure of Nelson under its swarming troops of pigeons befluffed against the brute cold. ‘Ah, Mountolive! Look at it all. Home of the eccentric and the sexually disabled. London! Thy food as appetizing as a barium meal, thy gloating discomforts, thy causes not lost but gone before.’ Mountolive had protested laughingly. ‘Never mind, It is our own — and it is greater than the sum of its defects.’ But his companion had found such sentiments uncongenial. He smiled now as he remembered the writer’s wry criticisms of gloom, discomfort and the native barbarism. As for Mountolive, it nourished him, the gloom; he felt something like the fox’s love for its earth. He listened with a comfortable smiling indulgence while his companion perorated with mock fury at the image of his native island, saying: ‘Ah, England! England where the members of the R.S.P.C.A. eat meat twice a day and the nudist devours imported fruit in the snow. The only country which is ashamed of poverty.’ Big Ben struck its foundering plunging note. Lamps had begun to throw out their lines of prismatic light. Even in the rain there was the usual little cluster of tourists and loungers outside the gates of Number Ten. He turned sharply away and entered the silent archways of the Foreign Office, directing his alien steps to the bag-room, virtually deserted now, where he declared himself and gave instructions about the forwarding of his mail, and left an order for the printing of new and more resplendent invitation cards. Then in a somewhat more thoughtful mood, and a warier walk to match it, he climbed the cold staircase smelling of cobwebs and reached the embrasures in the great hall patrolled by the uniformed janitors. It was late, and most of the inhabitants of what Pursewarden always called the ‘Central Dovecot’ had surrendered their tagged keys and vanished. Here and there in the great building were small oases of light behind barred windows. The clink of teacups sounded somewhere out of sight. Someone fell over a pile of scarlet despatch boxes which had been stacked in a corridor against collection. Mountolive sighed with familiar pleasure. He had deliberately chosen the evening hours for his first few interviews because there was Kenilworth to be seen and … his ideas were not very precise upon the point; but he might atone for his dislike of the man by taking him to his club for a drink? For somewhere along the line he had made an enemy of him, he could not guess how, for it had never been marked by any open disagreement. Yet it was there, like a knot in wood. They had been near-contemporaries at school and university, though never friends. But while he, Mountolive, had climbed smoothly and faultlessly up the ladder of promotion the other had been somehow faulted, had always missed his footing; had drifted about among the departments of little concern, collecting the routine honours, but never somehow catching a favourable current. The man’s brilliance and industry were undeniable. Why had he never succeeded? Mountolive asked himself the question fretfully, indignantly. Luck? At any rate here was Kenilworth now heading the new department concerned with Personnel, innocuous enough, to be sure, but his failure embarrassed Mountolive. For a man of his endowment it was really a shame to be merely in charge of one of those blank administrative constructs which offered no openings into the worlds of policy. A dead end. And if he could not develop positively he would soon develop the negative powers of obstruction which always derive from a sense of failure. As he was thinking this he was climbing slowly to the third floor to report his presence to Granier, moving through the violet crepuscule towards the tall cream doors behind which the Under-Secretary sat in a frozen bubble of green light, incising designs on his pink blotter with a paper-knife. Congratulations weighed something here, for they were spiced with professional envy. Granier was a clever, witty and good-tempered man with some of the mental agility and drive of a French grandmother. It was easy to like him. He spoke rapidly and confidently, marking his sentences with little motions of the ivory paper-weight. Mount-olive fell in naturally with the charm of his language — the English of fine breeding and polish which carried those invisible diacritical marks, the expression of its caste. ‘You looked in on the Berlin mission, I gather? Good. Anyway, if you’ve been following P.E. you will see the shape of things to come perhaps, and be able to judge the extent of our preoccupations with your own appointment. Eh?’ He did not like to use the word ‘war’. It sounded theatrical. ‘If the worst comes to the worst we don’t need to emphasize a concern for Suez — indeed, for the whole Arab complex of states. But since you’ve served out there I won’t pretend to lecture you about it. But we’ll look forward to your papers with interest. And moreover as you know Arabic’ ‘My Arabic has all gone, rusted away.’ ‘Hush’ said Granier, ‘not too loud. You owe your appointment in a very large measure to it. Can you get it back swiftly?’ ‘If I am allowed the leave I have accrued.’ ‘Of course. Besides, now that the Commission is wound up, we shall have to get agrément and so on. And of course the Secretary of State will want to confer when he gets back from Washington. Then what about investiture, and kissing hands and all that? Though we regard every appointment of the sort as urgent … well, you know as well as I do the mandarin calm of F.O. movements’ He smiled his clever and indulgent smile, lighting a Turkish cigarette. ‘I’m not so sure it isn’t a good philosophy either’ he went on. ‘At any rate, as a bias for policy. After all, we are always facing the inevitable, the irremediable; more haste, more muddle! More panic and less confidence. In diplomacy one can only propose, never dispose. That is up to God, don’t you think?’ Granier was one of those worldly Catholics who regarded God as a congenial club-member whose motives are above question. He sighed and was silent for a moment before adding: ‘No, we’ll have to set the chessboard up for you properly. It’s not everyone who’d consider Egypt a plum. All the better for you.’ Mountolive was mentally unrolling a map of Egypt with its green central spine bounded by deserts, the dusty anomalies of its peoples and creeds; and then watching it fade in three directions into incoherent desert and grassland; to the north Suez like a caesarian section through which the East was untimely ripped; then again the sinuous complex of mountains and dead granite, orchards and plains which were geographically distributed about the map at hazard, boundaries marked by dots…. The metaphor from chess was an apposite one. Cairo lay to the centre of this cobweb. He sighed and took his leave, preparing a new face with which to greet the unhappy Kenilworth. As he walked thoughtfully back to the janitors on the first floor he noted with alarm that he was already ten minutes late for his second interview and prayed under his breath that this would not be regarded as a deliberate slight. ‘Mr. Kenilworth has phoned down twice, sir. I told him where you were.’ Mountolive breathed more freely and addressed himself once more to the staircase, only to turn right this time and wind down several cold but odourless corridors to where Kenilworth waited, tapping his rimless pince-nez against a large and shapely thumb. They greeted one another with a grotesque effusion which effectively masked a reciprocal distaste. ‘My dear David’…. Was it, Mountolive wondered, simply an antipathy to a physical type? Kenilworth was of a large and porcine aspect, over two hundred pounds of food-and-culture snob. He was prematurely grey. His fat, well-manicured fingers held a pen with a delicacy suggesting incipient crewel-work or crochet. ‘My dear David!’ They embraced warmly. All the fat on Kenilworth’s large body hung down when he stood up. His flesh was knitted in a heavy cable stitch. ‘My dear Kenny’ said Mountolive with apprehension and self-disgust. ‘What splendid news. I flatter myself Kenilworth put on an arch expression ‘that I may have had something, quite small, quite insignificant, to do with it. Your Arabic weighed with the S. of S. and it was I who remembered it! A long memory. Paper work.’ He chuckled confusedly and sat down motioning Mount-olive to a chair. They discussed commonplaces for a while and at last Kenilworth joined his fingers into a gesture reminiscent of a pout and said: ‘But to our moutons, dear boy. I’ve assembled all the personal papers for you to browse over. It is all in order. It’s a well-found mission, you’ll find, very well-found. I’ve every confidence in your Head of Chancery, Errol. Of course, your own recommendations will weigh. You will look into the staff structure, won’t you, and let me know? Think about an A.D.C. too, eh? And I don’t know how you feel about a P.A. unless you can rob the typists’ pool. But as a bachelor, you’ll need someone for the social side, won’t you? I don’t think your third secretary would be much good.’ ‘Surely I can do all this on the spot?’ ‘Of course, of course. I was just anxious to see you settled in as comfortably as possible.’ ‘Thank you.’ ‘There is only one change I was contemplating on my own. That was Pursewarden as first political.’ ‘Pursewarden?’ said Mountolive with a start. ‘I am transferring him. He has done statutory time, and he isn’t really happy about it. Needs a change in my view.’ ‘Has he said so?’ ‘Not in so many words.’ Mountolive’s heart sank. He took out the cigarette holder which he only used in moments of perplexity, charged it from the silver box on the desk, and sat back in the heavy old-fashioned chair. ‘Have you any other reasons?’ he asked quietly. ‘Because I should personally like to keep him, at least for a time.’ Kenilworth’s small eyes narrowed. His heavy neck became contused by the blush of annoyance which was trying to find its way up to his face. ‘To be frank with you, yes’ he said shortly. ‘Do tell me.’ ‘You will find a long report on him by Errol in the papers I’ve assembled. I don’t think he is altogether suitable. But then contract officers have never been as dependable as officers of the career. It’s a generalization, I know. I won’t say that our friend isn’t faithful to the firm — far from it. But I can say that he is opinionated and difficult. Well, soit! He’s a writer, isn’t he?’ Kenilworth ingratiated himself with the image of Pursewarden by a brief smile of unconscious contempt. ‘There has been endless friction with Errol. You see, since the gradual break-up of the High Commission after the signing of the Treaty, there has been a huge gap created, a hiatus; all the agencies which have grown up there since 1918 and which worked to the Commission have been cut adrift now that the parent body is giving place to an Embassy. There will be some thorough-going decisions for you to make. Everything is at sixes and sevens. Suspended animation has been the keynote of the last year and a half — and unsuspended hostilities between an Embassy lacking a Chief, and all these parentless bodies struggling against their own demise. Do you see? Now Pursewarden may be brilliant but he has put a lot of backs up — not only in the mission; people like Maskelyne, for example, who runs the War Office I.C. Branch and has this past five years. They are at each other’s throats.’ ‘But what has an I. Branch to do with us?’ ‘Exactly, nothing. But the High Commissioner’s Political Section depended on Maskelyne’s Intelligence reports. I.C. Intelligence Collation was the central agency for the Middle East Central Archives and all that sort of thing.’ ‘Where’s the quarrel?’ ‘Pursewarden as political feels that the Embassy has also in a way inherited Maskelyne’s department from the Commission. Maskelyne refuses to countenance this. He demands parity or even complete freedom for his show. It is military after all.’ ‘Then set it under a military attaché for the time being.’ ‘Good, but Maskelyne refuses to agree to become part of your mission as his seniority is greater than your attaché designate’s.’ ‘What rubbish all this is. What is his rank?’ ‘Brigadier. You see, since the end of the ’18 show, Cairo has been the senior post office of the intelligence network and all intelligence was funnelled through Maskelyne. Now Pursewarden is trying to appropriate him, bring him to heel. Battle royal, of course. Poor Errol, who I admit is rather weak in some ways, is flapping between them like a loose sail. That is why I thought your task would be easier if you shed Pursewarden.’ ‘Or Maskelyne.’ ‘Good, but he’s a War Office body. You couldn’t. At any rate, he is most eager for you to arrive and arbitrate. He feels sure you will establish his complete autonomy.’ ‘I can’t tolerate an autonomous War Office Agency in a territory to which I am accredited, can I?’ ‘I agree. I agree, my dear fellow.’ ‘What does the War Office say?’ ‘You know the military! They will stand by any decision you choose to make. They’ll have to. But they have been dug in there for years now. Own staff branches and their transmitter up in Alexandria. I think they would like to stay.’ ‘Not independently. How could I?’ ‘Exactly. That is what Pursewarden maintains. Good, but someone will have to go in the interests of equity. We can’t have all this pin-pricking.’ ‘What pin-pricking?’ ‘Well, Maskelyne withholding reports and being forced to disgorge them to Political Branch. Then Pursewarden criticizing their accuracy and questioning the value of I.C. Branch. I tell you, real fireworks. No joke. Better shed the fellow. Besides, you know, he’s something of a…, keeps odd company. Errol is troubled about his security. Mind you, there is nothing against Pursewarden. It’s simply that’s he’s, well … a bit of a vulgarian, would you say? I don’t know how to qualify it. It’s Errol’s paper.’ Mountolive sighed. ‘It’s surely only the difference between, say, Eton and Worthing, isn’t it?’ They stared at one another. Neither thought the remark was funny. Kenilworth shrugged his shoulders with obvious pique. ‘My dear chap’ he said, ‘if you propose to make an issue of it with the S. of S. I can’t help it; you will get my proposals overruled. But my views have gone on record now. You’ll forgive me if I let them stay like that, as a comment upon Errol’s reports. After all, he has been running the show.’ ‘I know.’ ‘It is hardly fair on him.’ Stirring vaguely in his subconscious Mountolive felt once more the intimations of power now available to him — a power to take decisions in factors like these which had hitherto been left to fate, or the haphazard dictation of mediating wills; factors which had been unworth the resentments and doubts which their summary resolution by an act of thought would have bred. But if he was ever to claim the world of action as his true inheritance he must begin somewhere. A Head of Mission had the right to propose and sponsor the staff of his choice. Why should Pursewarden suffer through these small administrative troubles, endure the discomfort of a new posting to some uncongenial place? ‘I’m afraid the F.O. will lose him altogether if we play about with him’ he said unconvincingly; and then, as if to atone for a proposition so circuitous, added crisply: ‘At any rate, I propose to keep him for a while.’ The smile on Kenilworth’s face was one in which his eyes played no part. Mountolive felt the silence close upon them like the door of a vault. There was nothing to be done about it. He rose with an exaggerated purposefulness and extruded his cigarette-end into the ugly ashtray as he said: ‘At any rate, those are my views; and I can always send him packing if he is no use to me.’ Kenilworth swallowed quietly, like a toad under a stone, his expressionless eyes fixed upon the neutral wall-paper. The quiet susurrus of the London traffic came welling up between them. ‘I must go’ said Mountolive, by now beginning to feel annoyed with himself. ‘I am collecting all the files to take down to the country tomorrow evening. Today and tomorrow I’ll clear off routine interviews, and then … some leave I hope. Good-bye, Kenny.’ ‘Good-bye.’ But he did not move from his desk. He only nodded smilingly at the door as Mountolive closed it; then he turned back with a sigh to Errol’s neatly-typed memoranda which had been assembled in the grey file marked Attention of Ambassador Designate. He read a few lines, and then looked up wearily at the dark window before crossing the room to draw the curtains and pick up the phone. ‘Give me Archives, please.’ It would be wiser for the moment not to press his view. This trifling estrangement, however, had the effect of making Mountolive set aside his plan to take Kenilworth back to his club with him. It was in its way a relief. He rang up Liza Pursewarden instead and took her out to dinner. It was only two hours down to Dewford Mallows but once they were outside London it was clear that the whole countryside was deeply under snow. They had to slow down to a crawl which delighted Mountolive but infuriated the driver of the duty-car. ‘We’ll be there for Christmas, sir’ he said, ‘if at all!’ Ice-Age villages, their thatched barns and cottages perfected by the floury whiteness of snow, glistening as if from the tray of an expert confectioner; curving white meadows printed in cuneiform with the small footmarks of birds or otters, or the thawing blotches of cattle. The car windows sealing up steadily, gummed by the frost. They had no chains and no heater. Three miles from the village they came upon a wrecked lorry with a couple of villagers and an A.A. man standing idly about it, blowing on their perished fingers. The telegraph poles were down hereabouts. There was a dead bird lying on the glittering grey ice of Newton’s Pond — a hawk. They would never get over Parson’s Ridge, and Mountolive took pity on his driver and turned him back summarily on to the main road by the foot-bridge. ‘I live just over the hill’ he said. ‘It’ll take me just twenty-five minutes to walk it.’ The man was glad to turn back and unwilling to accept the tip Mountolive offered. Then he reversed slowly and turned the car away northward, while his passenger stepped forward into the brilliance, his condensing breath rising before him in a column. He followed the familiar footpath across fields which tilted ever more steeply away towards an invisible sky-line, describing (his memory had to do duty for his eyesight) something as perfected in its simplicity as Cavendish’s first plane. A ritual landscape made now overwhelmingly mysterious by the light of an invisible sun, moving somewhere up there behind the opaque screens of low mist which shifted before him, withdrawing and closing. It was a walk full of memories — but in default of visibility he was forced to imagine the two small hamlets on the hill-crown, the intent groves of beeches, the ruins of a Norman castle. His shoes cut a trembling mass of raindrops from the lush grass at every scythe-like step, until the bottoms of his trousers were soaked and his ankles turned to ice. Out of the invisible marched shadowy oaks, and suddenly there came a rattling and splattering — as if their teeth were chattering with the cold; the thawing snow was dripping down upon the carpet of dead leaves from the upper branches. Once over the crown all space was cut off. Rabbits lobbed softly away on all sides. The tall plumed grass had been starched into spikes by frost. Here and there came glimpses of a pale sun, its furred brilliance shining through the mist like a gas mantle burning brightly but without heat. And now he heard the click of his own shoes upon the macadam of the second-class road as he hastened his pace towards the tall gates of the house. Hereabouts the oaks were studded with brilliants; as he passed two fat pigeons rushed out of them and disappeared with the sharp wingflap of a thousand closing books. He was startled and then amused. There was the ‘form’ of a hare in the paddock, quite near the house. Fingers of ice tumbled about the trees with a ragged clatter — a thousand broken wineglasses. He groped for the old Yale key and smiled again as he felt it turn, admitting him to an unforgotten warmth which smelt of apricots and old books, polish and flowers; all the memories which led him back unerringly towards Piers Plowman, the pony, the fishing-rod, the stamp album. He stood in the hall and called her name softly. His mother was sitting by the fire, just as he had last left her with a book open upon her knees, smiling. It had become a convention between them to disregard his disappearance and returns: to behave as if he had simply absented himself for a few moments from this companionable room where she spent her life, reading or painting or knitting before the great fireplace. She was smiling now with the same smile — designed to cement space and time, and to anneal the loneliness which beset her while he was away. Mountolive put down his heavy briefcase and made a funny little involuntary gesture as he stepped towards her. ‘Oh dear’ he said, ‘I can see from your face that you’ve heard. I was so hoping to surprise you with my news!’ They were both heartbroken by the fact; and as she kissed him she said: ‘The Graniers came to tea last week. Oh, David, I’m so sorry. I did so want you to have your surprise. But I pretend so badly.’ Mountolive felt an absurd disposition towards tears of sheer vexation: he had invented the whole scene in his mind, and made up question and answer. It was like tearing up a play into which one had put a lot of imagination and hard work. ‘Damn’ he said, ‘how thoughtless of them!’ ‘They were trying to please me — and of course it did. You can imagine how much, can’t you?’ But from this point he stepped once more, lightly and effortlessly back into the current of memories which the house evoked around her and which led back almost to his eleventh birthday, the sense of well-being and plenitude as the warmth of the fire came out to greet him. ‘Your father will be pleased,’ she said later, in a new voice, sharper for being full of an unrealized jealousy — tidemarks of a passion which had long since refunded itself into an unwilling acquiescence. ‘I put all your mail in his study for you.’ ‘His’ study — the study which his father had never seen, never inhabited. The defection of his father stood always between them as their closest bond, seldom discussed yet somehow always there — the invisible weight of his private existence, apart from them both, in another corner of the world: happy or unhappy, who can say? ‘For those of us who stand upon the margins of the world, as yet unsolicited by any God, the only truth is that work itself is Love.’ An odd, a striking phrase for the old man to embed in a scholarly preface to a Pali text! Mountolive had turned the green volume over and over in his hands, debating the meaning of the words and measuring them against the memory of his father — the lean brown figure with the spare bone-structure of a famished sea-bird: dressed in an incongruous pith-helmet. Now, apparently he wore the robes of an Indian fakir! Was one to smile? He had not seen his father since his departure from India on his eleventh birthday; he had become like someone condemned in absentia for a crime … which could not be formulated. A friendly withdrawal into the world of Eastern scholarship on which his heart had been set for many years. It was perplexing. Mountolive senior had belonged to the vanished India, to the company of its rulers whose common devotion to their charge had made them a caste; but a caste which was prouder of a hostage given to Buddhist scholarship than of one given to an Honours List. Such disinterested devotions usually ended by a passionate self-identification with the subject of them — this sprawling subcontinent with its castes and creeds, its monuments and faiths and ruins. At first he had been simply a judge in the service, but within a few years he had become pre-eminent in Indian scholarship, an editor and interpreter of rare and neglected texts. The young Mountolive and his mother had been comfortably settled in England on the understanding that he would join them on retirement; to this end had this pleasant house been furnished with the trophies, books and pictures of a long working career. If it now had something of the air of a museum, it was because it had been deserted by its real author who had decided to stay on in India to complete the studies which (they both now recognized) would last him the rest of his life. This was not an uncommon phenomenon among the officials of the now vanished and disbanded corps. But it had come gradually. He had deliberated upon it for years before arriving at the decision, so that the letter he wrote announcing it all had the air of a document long meditated. It was in fact the last letter either of them received from him. From time to time, however, a passer-by who had visited him in the Buddhist Lodge near Madras to which he had retired, brought a kindly message from him. And of course the books themselves arrived punctually, one after the other, resplendent in their rich uniforms and bearing the grandiose imprints of University Presses. The books were, in a way, both his excuse and his apology. Mountolive’s mother had respected this decision; and nowadays hardly ever spoke of it. Only now and again the invisible author of their joint lives here in this snowy island emerged thus in a reference to ‘his’ study; or in some other remark like it which, uncommented upon, evaporated back into the mystery (for them) of a life which represented an unknown, an unresolved factor. Mountolive could never see below the surface of his mother’s pride in order to judge how much this defection might have injured her. Yet a common passionate shyness had grown up between them on the subject, for each secretly believed the other wounded. Before dressing for dinner that evening, Mountolive went into the book-lined study, which was also a gun-room, and took formal possession of ‘his father’s’ desk which he used whenever he was at home. He locked his files away carefully and sorted out his mail. Among the letters and postcards was a bulky envelope with a Cyprus stamp addressed to him in the unmistakable hand of Pursewarden. It suggested a manuscript at first and he cracked the seal with his finger in some perplexity. ‘My dear David’ it read. ‘You will be astonished to get a letter of such length from me, I don’t doubt. But the news of your appointment only reached me lately in rumoured form, and there is much you should know about the state of affairs here which I could not address to you formally as Ambassador Designate (Confidential: Under Flying Seal) ahem!’ There would be time enough, thought Mountolive with a sigh, to study all this accumulation of memoranda, and he unlocked the desk again to place it with his other papers. He sat at the great desk for a while in the quietness, soothed by the associations of the room with its bric-à-brac; the mandala paintings from some Burmese shrine, the Lepcha flags, the framed drawings for the first edition of the Jungle Book, the case of Emperor moths, the votive objects left at some abandoned temple. Then the rare books and pamphlets — early Kipling bearing the imprint of Thacker and Spink, Calcutta, Edwards Thompson’s fascicules, Younghusband, Mallows, Derby…. Some museum would be glad of them one day. Under a pressmark they would revert back to anonymity. He picked up the old Tibetan prayer-wheel which lay on the desk and twirled it once or twice, hearing the faint scrape of the revolving drum, still stuffed with the yellowing fragments of paper on which devout pens had long ago scribbled the classical invocation Om Mani Padme Hum. This had been an accidental parting gift. Before the boat left he had pestered his father for a celluloid aeroplane and together they had combed the bazaar for one without avail. Then his father had suddenly stopped at a pedlar’s stall and bought the wheel for a few rupees, thrusting it into his unwilling fingers as a substitute. It was late. They had to rush. Their good-byes had been perfunctory. Then after that, what? A tawny river-mouth under a brazen sun, the iridescent shimmer of heat blurring the faces, the smoke from the burning ghats, the dead bodies of men, blue and swollen, floating down the estuary…. That was as far as his memory went. He put down the heavy wheel and sighed. The wind shook the windows, whirling the snow against them, as if to remind him where he was. He took out his bundle of Arabic primers and the great dictionary. These must live beside his bed for the next few months. That night he was once more visited by the unaccountable affliction with which he always celebrated his return home — a crushing ear-ache which rapidly reduced him to a shivering pain-racked ghost of himself. It was a mystery, for no doctor had so far managed to allay — or even satisfactorily to diagnose — this onslaught of the petit mal. It never attacked him save when he was at home. As always, his mother overheard his groans and knew from old experience what they meant; she materialized out of the darkness by his bed bringing the comfort of ancient familiarity and the one specific which, since childhood, she had used to combat his distress. She always kept it handy now, in the cupboard beside her bed. Salad oil, warmed in a teaspoon over a candle-flame. He felt the warmth of the oil penetrate and embalm his brain, while his mother’s voice upon the darkness soothed him with its promises of relief. In a little while the tide of agony receded to leave him, washed up so to speak, on the shores of sleep — a sleep stirred vaguely by those comforting memories of childhood illnesses which his mother had always shared — they fell ill together, as if by sympathy. Was it so that they might lie in adjoining rooms talking to each other, reading to each other, sharing the luxury of a common convalescence? He did not know. He slept. It was a week before he addressed himself to his official papers and read the letter from Pursewarden.EVE***** These quiet bemused island days are a fitting commentary to the thoughts and feelings of one walking alone on deserted beaches, or doing the simple duties of a household which lacks a mother. But I carry now the great Interlinear in my hand wherever I go, whether cooking or teaching the child to swim, or cutting wood for the fireplace. But these fictions all live on as a projection of the white city itself whose pearly skies are broken in spring only by the white stalks of the minarets and the flocks of pigeons turning in clouds of silver and amethyst; whose veridian and black marble harbour-water reflects the snouts of foreign men-of-war turning through their slow arcs, depicting the prevailing wind; or swallowing their own inky reflections, touching and overlapping like the very tongues and sects and races over which they keep their uneasy patrol: symbolizing the western consciousness whose power is exemplified in steel — those sullen preaching guns against the yellow metal of the lake and the town which breaks open at sunset like a rose. Your fortunes having failed you now,***** Mnemjian’s Babylonian barber’s shop was on the corner of Fuad I and Nebi Daniel and here every morning Pombal lay down beside me in the mirrors. We were lifted simultaneously and swung smoothly down into the ground wrapped like dead Pharaohs, only to reappear at the same instant on the ceiling, spread out like specimens. White cloths had been spread over us by a small black boy while in a great Victorian moustache-cup the barber thwacked up his dense and sweet-smelling lather before applying it in direct considered brush-strokes to our cheeks. The first covering complete, he surrendered his task to an assistant while he went to the great strop hanging among the flypapers on the end wall of the shop and began to sweeten the edge of an English razor. Little Mnemjian is a dwarf with a violet eye that has never lost its childhood. He is the Memory man, the archives of the city. If you should wish to know the ancestry or income of the most casual passer-by you have only to ask him; he will recite the details in a sing-song voice as he strops his razor and tries it upon the coarse black hair of his forearm. What he does not know he can find out in a matter of moments. Moreover he is as well briefed in the living as in the dead; I mean this in the literal sense, for the Greek Hospital employs him to shave and lay out its victims before they are committed to the undertakers — a task which he performs with relish tinged by racial unction. His ancient trade embraces the two worlds, and some of his best observations begin with the phrase: ‘As so-and-so said to me with his last breath.’ He is rumoured to be fantastically attractive to women and he is said to have put away a small fortune earned for him by his admirers. But he also has several elderly Egyptian ladies, the wives and widows of pashas, as permanent clients upon whom he calls at regular intervals to set their hair. They have, as he says slyly, ‘got beyond everything’ — and reaching up over his back to touch the unsightly hump which crowns it he adds with pride: ‘This excites them.’ Among other things, he has a gold cigarette case given to him by one of these admirers in which he keeps a stock of loose cigarette-paper. His Greek is defective but adventurous and vivid and Pombal refuses to permit him to talk French, which he does much better. He does a little mild procuring for my friend, and I am always astonished by the sudden flights of poetry of which he is capable in describing his protégées. Leaning over Pombal’s moon-like face he will say, for example, in a discreet undertone, as the razor begins to whisper: ‘I have something for you — something special’ Pombal catches my eye in the mirror and looks hastily away lest we infect one another by a smile. He gives a cautious grunt. Mnemjian leans lightly on the balls of his feet, his eyes squinting slightly. The small wheedling voice puts a husk of double meaning round everything he says, and his speech is not the less remarkable for being punctuated by small world-weary sighs. For a while nothing more is said. I can see the top of Mnemjian’s head in the mirror — that obscene outcrop of black hair which he had trained into a spitcurl at each temple, hoping no doubt to draw attention away from that crooked papier-maché back of his. While he works with a razor his eyes dim out and his features become as expressionless as a bottle. His fingers travel as coolly upon our live faces as they do upon those of the fastidious and (yes, lucky) dead. ‘This time’ says Mnemjian ‘you will be delighted from every point of view. She is young, cheap and clean. You will say to yourself, a young partridge, a honey-comb with all its honey sealed in it, a dove. She is in difficulties over money. She has recently come from the lunatic asylum in Helwan where her husband tried to get her locked up as mad. I have arranged for her to sit at the Rose Marie at the end table on the pavement. Go and see her at one o’clock; if you wish her to accompany you give her the card I will prepare for you. But remember, you will pay only me. As one gentleman to another it is the only condition I lay down.’ He says nothing more for the time. Pombal continues to stare at himself in the mirror, his natural curiosity doing battle with the forlorn apathy of the summer air. Later no doubt he will bustle into the flat with some exhausted, disoriented creature whose distorted smile can rouse no feelings in him save those of pity. I cannot say that my friend lacks kindness, for he is always trying to find work of some sort for these girls; indeed most of the consulates are staffed by ex-casuals desperately trying to look correct; whose jobs they owe to Georges’ importunities among his colleagues of the career. Nevertheless there is no woman too humble, too battered, too old, to receive those outward attentions — those little gallantries and sorties of wit which I have come to associate with the Gallic temperament; the heady meretricious French charm which evaporates so easily into pride and mental indolence — like French thought which flows so quickly into sand-moulds, the original esprit hardening immediately into deadening concepts. The light play of sex which hovers over his thought and actions has, however, an air of disinterestedness which makes it qualitatively different from, say, the actions and thoughts of Capodistria, who often joins us for a morning shave. Capodistria has the purely involuntary knack of turning everything into a woman; under his eyes chairs become painfully conscious of their bare legs. He impregnates things. At table I have seen a water-melon become conscious under his gaze so that it felt the seeds inside it stirring with life! Women feel like birds confronted by a viper when they gaze into that narrow flat face with its tongue always moving across the thin lips. I think of Melissa once more: hortus conclusus, soror mea sponsor….Chapter IIDeliberately, with pride, with resignationTo drink past all deceiving 极速飞艇冠军选码技巧 Chapter XChater IIOne plot of ground you’ve ruined its worth***** I have had many such glimpses of Justine at different times, and of course I knew her well by sight long before we met: our city does not permit anonymity to any with incomes of over two hundred pounds a year. I see her sitting alone by the sea, reading a newspaper and eating an apple; or in the vestibule of the Cecil Hotel, among the dusty palms, dressed in a sheath of silver drops, holding her magnificent fur at her back as a peasant holds his coat — her long forefinger hooked through the tag. Nessim has stopped at the door of the ballroom which is flooded with light and music. He has missed her. Under the palms, in a deep alcove, sit a couple of old men playing chess. Justine has stopped to watch them. She knows nothing of the game, but the aura of stillness and concentration which brims the alcove fascinates her. She stands there between the deaf players and the world of music for a long time, as if uncertain into which to plunge. Finally Nessim comes softly to take her arm and they stand together for a while, she watching the players, he watching her. At last she goes softly, reluctantly, circumspectly into the lighted world with a little sigh. Then in other circumstances, less creditable no doubt to herself, or to the rest of us: how touching, how pliantly feminine this most masculine and resourceful of women could be. She could not help but remind me of that race of terrific queens which left behind them the ammoniac smell of their incestuous loves to hover like a cloud over the Alexandrian subconscious. The giant man-eating cats like Arsinoe were her true siblings. Yet behind the acts of Justine lay something else, born of a later tragic philosophy in which morals must be weighed in the balance against rogue personality. She was the victim of truly heroic doubts. Nevertheless I can still see a direct connection between the picture of Justine bending over the dirty sink with the foetus in it, and poor Sophia of Valentinus who died for a love as perfect as it was wrong-headed.I am accustoming myself to the idea of regarding every sexual act as a process in which four persons are involved. We shall have a lot to discuss about that.There are two positions available to us — either crime which renders us happy, or the noose, which prevents us from being unhappy. I ask whether there can be any hesitation, lovely Thérèse, and where will your little mind find an argument able to combat that one? chapter X***** Alexandria Main Station: midnight. A deathly heavy dew. The noise of wheels cracking the slime-slithering pavements. Yellow pools of phosphorous light, and corridors of darkness like tears in the dull brick fa.ade of a stage set. Policemen in the shadows. Standing against an insanitary brick wall to kiss her goodbye. She is going for a week, but in the panic, half-asleep I can see that she may never come back. The soft resolute kiss and the bright eyes fill me with emptiness. From the dark platform comes the crunch of rifle-butts and the clicking of Bengali. A detail of Indian troops on some routine transfer to Cairo. It is only as the train begins to move, and as the figure at the window, dark against the darkness, lets go of my hand, that I feel Melissa is really leaving; feel everything that is inexorably denied — the long pull of the train into the silver light reminds me of the sudden long pull of the vertebrae of her white back turning in bed. ‘Melissa’ I call out, but the giant sniffing of the engine blots out all sound. She begins to tilt, to curve and slide; and quick as a scene-shifter the station packs away advertisement after advertisement, stacking them in the darkness. I stand as if marooned on an iceberg. Beside me a tall Sikh shoulders the rifle he has stopped with a rose. The shadowy figure is sliding away down the steel rails into the darkness; a final lurch and the train pours away down a tunnel, as if turned to liquid. I walk about Moharrem-Bey that night, watching the moon cloud over, preyed upon by an inexpressible anxiety. Intense light behind cloud; by four o’clock a thin pure drizzle like needles. The poinsettias in the Consulate garden stark with silver drops standing on their stamens. No birds singing in the dawn. A light wind making the palm trees sway their necks with a faint dry formal clicking. The wonderful hushing of rain on Mareotis. Five o’clock. Walking about in her room, studying inanimate objects with intense concentration. The empty powder-boxes. The depilatories from Sardis. The smell of satin and leather. The horrible feeling of some great impending scandal…. I write these lines in very different circumstances and many months have elapsed since that night; here, under this olive-tree, in the pool of light thrown by an oil lamp, I write and relive that night which has taken its place in the enormous fund of the city’s memories. Somewhere else, in a great study hung with tawny curtains Justine was copying into her diary the terrible aphorisms of Herakleitos. The book lies beside me now. On one page she has written: ‘It is hard to fight with one’s heart’s desire; whatever it wishes to get, it purchases at the cost of soul.’ And lower down in the margins: ‘Night-walkers, Magians, Bakchoi, Lenai and the initiated….’