Along this particular stretch of line no express had ever passed.
All the trains--the few that there were--stopped at all the
stations. Denis knew the names of those stations by heart.
Bole Tritton Spavin Delawarr Knipswich for Timpany West
Bowlby and finally Camlet-on-the-Water. Camlet was where he
always got out leaving the train to creep indolently onward
goodness only knew whither into the green heart of England.
They were snorting out of West Bowlby now. It was the next
station thank Heaven. Denis took his chattels off the rack and
piled them neatly in the corner opposite his own. A futile
proceeding. But one must have something to do. When he had
finished he sank back into his seat and closed his eyes. It was
Oh this journey! It was two hours cut clean out of his life;
two hours in which he might have done so much so much--written
the perfect poem for example or read the one illuminating book.
Instead of which--his gorge rose at the smell of the dusty
cushions against which he was leaning.
Two hours. One hundred and twenty minutes. Anything might be
done in that time. Anything. Nothing. Oh he had had hundreds
of hours and what had he done with them? Wasted them spilt the
precious minutes as though his reservoir were inexhaustible.
Denis groaned in the spirit condemned himself utterly with all
his works. What right had he to sit in the sunshine to occupy
corner seats in third-class carriages to be alive? None none
Misery and a nameless nostalgic distress possessed him. He was
twenty-three and oh! so agonizingly conscious of the fact.
The train came bumpingly to a halt. Here was Camlet at last.
Denis jumped up crammed his hat over his eyes deranged his pile
of baggage leaned out of the window and shouted for a porter
seized a bag in either hand and had to put them down again in
order to open the door. When at last he had safely bundled
himself and his baggage on to the platform he ran up the train
towards the van.
"A bicycle a bicycle!" he said breathlessly to the guard. He
felt himself a man of action. The guard paid no attention but
continued methodically to hand out one by one the packages
labelled to Camlet. "A bicycle!" Denis repeated. "A green
machine cross-framed name of Stone. S-T-O-N-E."
"All in good time sir" said the guard soothingly. He was a
large stately man with a naval beard. One pictured him at home
drinking tea surrounded by a numerous family. It was in that
tone that he must have spoken to his children when they were
tiresome. "All in good time sir." Denis's man of action
He left his luggage to be called for later and pushed off on his
bicycle. He always took his bicycle when he went into the
country. It was part of the theory of exercise. One day one
would get up at six o'clock and pedal away to Kenilworth or
Stratford-on-Avon--anywhere. And within a radius of twenty miles
there were always Norman churches and Tudor mansions to be seen
in the course of an afternoon's excursion. Somehow they never
did get seen but all the same it was nice to feel that the
bicycle was there and that one fine morning one really might get
up at six.
Once at the top of the long hill which led up from Camlet
station he felt his spirits mounting. The world he found was
good. The far-away blue hills the harvests whitening on the
slopes of the ridge along which his road led him the treeless
sky-lines that changed as he moved--yes they were all good. He
was overcome by the beauty of those deeply embayed combes
scooped in the flanks of the ridge beneath him. Curves curves:
he repeated the word slowly trying as he did so to find some
term in which to give expression to his appreciation. Curves--
no that was inadequate. He made a gesture with his hand as
though to scoop the achieved expression out of the air and
almost fell off his bicycle. What was the word to describe the
curves of those little valleys? They were as fine as the lines
of a human body they were informed with the subtlety of art...
Galbe. That was a good word; but it was French. Le galbe evase
de ses hanches: had one ever read a French novel in which that
phrase didn't occur? Some day he would compile a dictionary for
the use of novelists. Galbe gonfle goulu: parfum peau
pervers potele pudeur: vertu volupte.
But he really must find that word. Curves curves...Those little
valleys had the lines of a cup moulded round a woman's breast;
they seemed the dinted imprints of some huge divine body that had
rested on these hills. Cumbrous locutions these; but through
them he seemed to be getting nearer to what he wanted. Dinted
dimpled wimpled--his mind wandered down echoing corridors of
assonance and alliteration ever further and further from the
point. He was enamoured with the beauty of words.
Becoming once more aware of the outer world he found himself on
the crest of a descent. The road plunged down steep and
straight into a considerable valley. There on the opposite
slope a little higher up the valley stood Crome his
destination. He put on his brakes; this view of Crome was
pleasant to linger over. The facade with its three projecting
towers rose precipitously from among the dark trees of the
garden. The house basked in full sunlight; the old brick rosily
glowed. How ripe and rich it was how superbly mellow! And at
the same time how austere! The hill was becoming steeper and
steeper; he was gaining speed in spite of his brakes. He loosed
his grip of the levers and in a moment was rushing headlong
down. Five minutes later he was passing through the gate of the
great courtyard. The front door stood hospitably open. He left
his bicycle leaning against the wall and walked in. He would
take them by surprise.
He took nobody by surprise; there was nobody to take. All was
quiet; Denis wandered from room to empty room looking with
pleasure at the familiar pictures and furniture at all the
little untidy signs of life that lay scattered here and there.
He was rather glad that they were all out; it was amusing to
wander through the house as though one were exploring a dead
deserted Pompeii. What sort of life would the excavator
reconstruct from these remains; how would he people these empty
chambers? There was the long gallery with its rows of
respectable and (though of course one couldn't publicly admit
it) rather boring Italian primitives its Chinese sculptures its
unobtrusive dateless furniture. There was the panelled drawing-
room where the huge chintz-covered arm-chairs stood oases of
comfort among the austere flesh-mortifying antiques. There was
the morning-room with its pale lemon walls its painted Venetian
chairs and rococo tables its mirrors its modern pictures.
There was the library cool spacious and dark book-lined from
floor to ceiling rich in portentous folios. There was the
dining-room solidly portwinily English with its great mahogany
table its eighteenth-century chairs and sideboard its
eighteenth-century pictures--family portraits meticulous animal
paintings. What could one reconstruct from such data? There was
much of Henry Wimbush in the long gallery and the library
something of Anne perhaps in the morning-room. That was all.
Among the accumulations of ten generations the living had left
but few traces.
Lying on the table in the morning-room he saw his own book of
poems. What tact! He picked it up and opened it. It was what
the reviewers call "a slim volume." He read at hazard:
"...But silence and the topless dark
Vault in the lights of Luna Park;
And Blackpool from the nightly gloom
Hollows a bright tumultuous tomb."
He put it down again shook his head and sighed. "What genius I
had then!" he reflected echoing the aged Swift. It was nearly
six months since the book had been published; he was glad to
think he would never write anything of the same sort again. Who
could have been reading it he wondered? Anne perhaps; he liked
to think so. Perhaps too she had at last recognised herself in
the Hamadryad of the poplar sapling; the slim Hamadryad whose
movements were like the swaying of a young tree in the wind.
"The Woman who was a Tree" was what he had called the poem. He
had given her the book when it came out hoping that the poem
would tell her what he hadn't dared to say. She had never
referred to it.
He shut his eyes and saw a vision of her in a red velvet cloak
swaying into the little restaurant where they sometimes dined
together in London--three quarters of an hour late and he at his
table haggard with anxiety irritation hunger. Oh she was
It occurred to him that perhaps his hostess might be in her
boudoir. It was a possibility; he would go and see. Mrs.
Wimbush's boudoir was in the central tower on the garden front.
A little staircase cork-screwed up to it from the hall. Denis
mounted tapped at the door. "Come in." Ah she was there; he
had rather hoped she wouldn't be. He opened the door.
Priscilla Wimbush was lying on the sofa. A blotting-pad rested
on her knees and she was thoughtfully sucking the end of a silver
"Hullo" she said looking up. "I'd forgotten you were coming."
"Well here I am I'm afraid" said Denis deprecatingly. "I'm
Mrs. Wimbush laughed. Her voice her laughter were deep and
masculine. Everything about her was manly. She had a large
square middle-aged face with a massive projecting nose and
little greenish eyes the whole surmounted by a lofty and
elaborate coiffure of a curiously improbable shade of orange.
Looking at her Denis always thought of Wilkie Bard as the
"That's why I'm going to
Sing in op'ra sing in op'ra
Sing in op-pop-pop-pop-pop-popera."
Today she was wearing a purple silk dress with a high collar and
a row of pearls. The costume so richly dowagerish so
suggestive of the Royal Family made her look more than ever like
something on the Halls.