mercoledì 6 agosto 2008

Brideshead Revisited: Book I. Et in Arcadia Ego. Chapter Two

Chapter Two

towards the end of that summer term I received the last visit and Grand
Remonstrance of my cousin Jasper. I was just free of the schools, having
taken the last paper of History Previous on the afternoon before; Jasper's
subfusc suit and white tie proclaimed him still in the thick of it; he'had,
too, the exhausted but resentful air of one who fears he has failed to do
himself full justice on the subject of Pindar's Orphism. Duty alone had
brought him to my rooms that afternoon, at great inconvenience to himself
and, as it happened, to me, who, when he caught me in the door, was on my
way to make final arrangements about a dinner I was giving that evening. It
was one of several parties designed to comfort Hardcastle -- one of the
tasks that had lately fallen to Sebastian and me since, by leaving his car
out, we had got him into grave trouble with the proctors.

Jasper would not sit down; this was to be no cosy chat; he stood with
his back to the fireplace and, in his own phrase, talked to me "like an

". . . I've tried to get in touch with you several times in the last
week or two. In fact, I have the impression you are avoiding me. If that is
so, Charles, I can't say I'm surprised.

"You may think it none of my business, but I feel a sense of
responsibility. You know as well as I do that since your -- well, since the
war, your father has not been really in touch with things -- lives in his
own world. I don't want to sit back and see you making mistakes which a word
in season might save you from.

"I expected you to make mistakes your first year. We all do. I got in
with some thoroughly objectionable O.S.C.U. men who ran a mission to
hop-pickers during the long vac. But you, my dear Charles, whether you
realize it or not, have gone straight, hook, line and sinker, into the very
worst set in the University. You may think that, living in digs, I don't
know what goes on in college; but I hear things. In fact, I hear all too
much. I find that I've become a figure of mockery on your account at the
Dining Club. There's that chap Sebastian Flyte you seem inseparable from. He
may be all right, I don't know. His brother Brideshead was a very sound
fellow. But this friend of yours looks odd to me, and he gets himself talked
about. Of course, they're an odd family. The Marchmains have lived apart
since the war, you know. An extraordinary thing; everyone thought they were
a devoted couple. Then he went off to France with his Yeomanry and just
never came back. It was as if he'd been killed. She's a Roman Catholic, so
she can't get a divorce -- or won't, I expect. You can do anything at Rome
with money, and they're enormously rich. Flyte may be all right, but Anthony
Blanche--now there's a man there's absolutely no excuse for."

"I don't particularly like him myself," I said.

"Well, he's always hanging round here, and the stiffer element in
college don't like it. They won't stand for him at the House. He was in
Mercury again last night. None of these people you go about with pull any
weight in their own colleges, and that's the real test. They think because
they've got a lot of money to throw about, they can do anything.

"And that's another thing. I don't know what allowance my uncle makes
you, but I don't mind betting you're spending double. All this" he said,
including in a wide sweep of his hand the evidences of profligacy about him.
It was true; my room had cast its austere winter garments, and, by not very
slow stages, assumed a richer wardrobe. "Is that paid for?" (The box of a
hundred cabinet Partagas on the sideboard.) "Or those?" (A dozen frivolous,
new books on the table.) "Or those?" (A Lalique decanter and glasses.) "Or
that peculiarly noisome object?" (A human skull lately purchased from the
School of Medicine, which, resting in a bowl of roses, formed, at the
moment, the chief decoration of my table. It bore the motto Et in Arcadia
ego inscribed on its forehead.)

"Yes," I said, glad to be clear of one charge. "I had to pay cash for
the skull."

"You can't be doing any work. Not that that matters, particularly if
you're making something of your career elsewhere -- but are you? Have you
spoken at the Union or at any of the clubs? Are you connected with any of
the magazines? Are you even making a position in the O.U.D.S.? And your
clothes!" continued my cousin. "When you came up I remember advising you to
dress as you would in a country house. Your present get-up seems an unhappy
compromise between the correct wear for a theatrical party at Maidenhead and
a glee-singing competition in a garden suburb.

"And drink -- no one minds a man getting tight once or twice a term. In
fact, he ought to, on certain occasions. But I hear you're constantly seen
drunk in the middle of the afternoon."
He paused, his duty discharged. Already the perplexities of the
examination school were beginning to re-assert themselves in his mind.

"I'm sorry, Jasper," I said. "I know it must be embarrassing for you,
but I happen to like this bad set. I like getting drunk at luncheon, and
though I haven't yet spent quite double my allowance, I undoubtedly shall
before the end of term. I usually have a glass of champagne about this time.
Will you join me?"

So my cousin Jasper despaired and, I learned later,' wrote to his
father on the subject of my excesses who, in his turn, wrote to my father,
who took no action or particular thought in the matter, partly because he
had disliked my uncle for nearly sixty years and partly because, as Jasper
had said, he lived in his own world now, since my mother's death.

Thus, in broad outline, Jasper sketched the more prominent features of
my first year; some detail may be added on the same scale.

I had committed myself earlier to spend the Easter vacation with
Collins and, though I would have broken my word without compunction, and
left my former friend friendless, had Sebastian made a sign, no sign was
made; accordingly Collins and I spent several economical and instructive
weeks together in Ravenna. A bleak wind blew from the Adriatic among those
mighty tombs. In a hotel bedroom, designed for a warmer season, I wrote long
letters to Sebastian and called daily at the post office for his answers.
There were two, each from a different address, neither giving any plain news
of himself, for he wrote in a style of remote fantasy (. .-. Mummy and two
attendant poets have three bad colds in the head, so I have come here. It is
the feast of S. Nichodemus of Thyatira, who was martyred by having goatskin
nailed to his pate, and is accordingly the patron of bald heads. Tell
Collins, who I am sure will be bald before us. There are too many people
here, but one, praise heaven! has an ear-trumpet, and that keeps me in good
humour. And now I must try to catch a fish. It is too far to send it to you
so I will keep the backbone . . .) which left me fretful. Collins made notes
for a little thesis pointing out the inferiority of the original mosaics to
their photographs. Here was planted the seed of what became his life's
harvest. When, many years later, there appeared the first massive volume of
his still unfinished work on Byzantine Art, I was touched to find, among two
pages of polite, preliminary acknowledgments of debt, my own name:.... To
Charles Ryder, with the aid of whose all-seeing eyes I first saw the
Mausoleum of Galla Placidia and San Vitale . . .

I sometimes wonder whether, had it not been for Sebastian, I might have
trodden the same path as Collins round the cultural water-wheel. My father
in his youth sat for All Souls and, in a year of hot competition, failed;
other successes and honours came his way later, but that early failure
impressed itself on him, and through him on me, so that I came up with an
ill-considered sense that there lay the proper and natural goal of the life
of reason. I, too, should doubtless have failed, but, having failed, I might
perhaps have slipped into a less august academic life elsewhere. It is
conceivable, but not, I believe, likely, for the hot spring of anarchy rose
from deep furnaces where was no solid earth, and burst into the sunlight --
a rainbow in its cooling vapours -- with a power the rocks could not

In the event, that Easter vacation formed a short stretch of level road
in the precipitous descent of which Jasper warned me. Descent or ascent? It
seems to me that I grew younger daily with each adult habit that I acquired.
I had lived a lonely childhood and a boyhood straitened by war and
overshadowed by bereavement; to the hard bachelordom of English adolescence,
the premature dignity and authority of the school system, I had added a sad
and grim strain of my own. Now, that summer term with Sebastian, it seemed
as though I was being given a brief spell of what I had never known, a happy
childhood, and though its toys were silk shirts and liqueurs and cigars and
its naughtiness high in the catalogue of grave sins, there was something of
nursery freshness about us that fell little short of the joy of innocence.
At the end of the term I took my first schools; it was necessary to pass, if
I was to remain at Oxford, and pass I did, after a week in which I forbade
Sebastian my rooms and sat up to a late hour, with iced black coffee and
charcoal biscuits, cramming myself with the neglected texts. I remember no
syllable of them now, but the other, more ancient, lore which I acquired
that term will be with me in one shape or another to my last hour.

"I like this bad set and I like getting drunk at luncheon"; that was
enough then. Is more needed now?

Looking back, now, after twenty years, there is little I would have
left undone or done otherwise. I could match my cousin Jasper's game-cock
maturity with a sturdier fowl. I could tell him that all the wickedness of
that time was like the spirit they mix with the pure grape of the Douro,
heady stuff full of dark ingredients; it at once enriched and retarded the
whole process of adolescence as the spirit checks the fermentation of the
wine, renders it undrinkable, so that it must lie in the dark, year in, year
out, until it is brought up at last fit for the table.
I could tell him, too, that to know and love one other human being is
the root of all wisdom. But I felt no need for these sophistries as I sat
before my cousin, saw him, freed from his , inconclusive struggle with
Pindar, in his dark grey suit, his white tie, his scholar's gown; heard his
grave tones and, all the time, savoured the gillyflowers in full bloom under
my windows. I had my secret and sure defence, like a talisman worn in the
bosom, felt for in the moment of danger, found and firmly grasped. So I told
him what was not in fact the truth, that I usually had a glass of champagne
about that time, and asked him to join me.

On the day after Jasper's Grand Remonstrance I received another, in
different terms and from an unexpected source.

All the term I had been seeing rather more of Anthony Blanche than my
liking for him warranted. I lived now among his friends, but our frequent
meetings were more of his choosing than mine, for I held him in considerable

In years he was barely my senior, but he seemed then to be burdened
with the experience of the Wandering Jew. He was indeed a nomad of no

An attempt had been made in his childhood to make an Englishman of him;
he was two years at Eton; then in the middle of the war he had defied the
submarines, rejoined his mother in the Argentine, and a clever and audacious
schoolboy was added to the valet, the maid, the two chauffeurs,'the Pekinese
and the second husband. Criss-cross about the world he travelled with them,
waxing in wickedness like a Hogarthian page-boy. When peace came they
returned to Europe to hotels and furnished villas, spas, casinos and bathing
beaches. At the age of fifteen, for a wager, he was disguised as a girl and
taken to play at the big table in the Jockey Club at Buenos Aires; he dined
with Proust and Gide and was on closer terms with Cocteau and Diag-hilev;
Firbank sent him his novels with fervent inscriptions; he had aroused three
irreconcilable feuds in Capri; he had practised black art in Cefalu; he had
been cured of drug-taking in California and of an OEdipus complex in Vienna.

At times we all seemed children beside him -- at most times, but not
always, for there was a bluster and zest in Anthony which the rest of us had
shed somewhere in our more leisured adolescence, on the playing field or in
the school-room; his vices flourished less in the pursuit of pleasure than
in the wish to shock, and in the midst of his polished exhibitions I was
often reminded of an urchin I had once seen in Naples, capering derisively,
with obscene, unambiguous gestures, before a party of English tourists; as
he told the tale of his evening at the gaming table one could see in the
roll of his eye just how he had glanced, covertly, over the dwindling pile
of chips at his stepfather's party; while we had been rolling one another in
the mud at football and gorging ourselves with crumpets, Anthony had helped
oil fading beauties on sub-tropical sands and had sipped his aperitif in
smart little bars, so that the savage we had tamed was still rampant in him.
He was competitive in the bet-you-can't-do-this style of the private school;
you had only to mention the name of your bootmaker for him to recommend an
Armenian at Biarritz who catered especially for fetishists, or to name a
house where you had stayed, for him to describe a palace he frequented in
Madrid. He was cruel, too, in the wanton, insect-maiming manner of the very
young and 'fearless, like a little boy, charging, head down, small fists
whirling, at the school prefects.

He asked me to dinner, and I was a little disconcerted to find that we
were to dine alone. "We are going to Thame," he said. "There is a delightful
hotel there, which luckily doesn't appeal to the Bullingdon. We will drink
Rhine wine and imagine ourselves . . . where? Not on a j-j-jaunt with
J-J-Jorrocks, anyway. But first we will have our aperitif."

At the George bar he ordered "Four Alexander cocktails, please," ranged
them before him with a loud "Yum-yum" which drew every eye, outraged, upon
him. "I expect you would prefer sherry, but, my dear Charles, you are not
going to have sherry. Isn't this a delicious concoction? You don't like it?
Then I will drink it for you. One, two, three, four, down the red lane they
go. How the students stare!" And he led me out to the waiting motor car.

"I hope we shall find no undergraduates there. I am a little out of
sympathy with them for the moment. You heard about their treatment of me on
Thursday? It was too naughty. Luckily I was wearing my oldest pyjamas and it
was an evening of oppressive heat, or I might have been seriously cross."
Anthony had a habit of putting his face near one when he spoke; the sweet
and creamy cocktail had tainted his breath. I leaned away from him in the
corner of the hired car.
"Picture me, my dear, alone and studious. I had just bought a rather
forbidding book called Antic Hay, which I knew I must read before going to
Garsington on Sunday, because everyone was bound to talk about it, and it's
so banal saying you have not read the book of the moment, if you haven't.
The solution I suppose is not to go to Garsington, but that didn't occur to
me until this moment. So, my dear, I had an omelet and a peach and a bottle
of Vichy water and put on my pyjamas and settled down to read. I must say my
thoughts wandered, but I kept turning the pages and watching the light fade,
which in Peckwater, my dear, is quite an experience -- as darkness falls the
stone seems positively to decay under one's eyes. I was reminded of some of
those leprous fa?ades in the vieux port at Marseille, until suddenly I was
disturbed by such a bawling and caterwauling as you never heard, and there,
down in the little piazza, I saw a mob of about twenty terrible young men,
and do you know what they were chanting 'We want Blanche. We want Blanche!'
in a kind of litany. Such a public declaration! Well, I saw it was all up
with Mr. Huxley for the evening, and I must say I had reached a point of
tedium when any interruption was welcome. I was stirred by the bellows, but,
do you know, the louder they shouted the shyer they seemed ? They kept
saying 'Where's Boy ?' 'He's Boy Mulcaster's friend,' 'Boy must bring him
down.' Now you may or may not know 'Boy' Mulcaster. Seen at a distance -- at
some considerable distance -- you might think him rather personable: a
lanky, old-fashioned young man, you might think; but look at him closer and
his face all falls to pieces in an idiot gape. People are rather free with
the word 'degenerate.' They have even used it of me. If you want to know
what a real degenerate is, look at Boy Mulcaster. He came to Le Touquet at
Easter and, in some extraordinary way, I seemed to have asked him to stay.
Well, my mother is used to me, but my poor stepfather found Mulcaster very
hard to understand. You see my stepfather is a d-d-dago and therefore has a
very high opinion of the English aristocracy. He couldn't quite fit
Mulcaster into his idea of a lord, and really I couldn't explain him; he
lost some infinitesimal sum at cards, and as a result expected me to pay for
all his treats -- well, Mulcaster was in this party; I could see his
ungainly form shuffling about below and hear him saying: 'It's no good. He's
out. Let's go back and have a drink?' So then I put my head out of the
window and called to him: 'Good evening, Mulcaster, old sponge and toady,
are you lurking among the hobbledehoys? Have you come to repay me the three
hundred francs I lent you for the poor drab you picked up in the Casino ? It
was a niggardly sum for her trouble, and what a trouble, Mulcaster. Come up
and pay me, poor hooligan!'

"That, my dear, seemed to put a little life into them, and up the
stairs they came, clattering. About six of them came into my room, the rest
stood mouthing outside. My dear, they looked too extraordinary. They had
been having one of their ridiculous club dinners, and they were all wearing
coloured tail-coats -- a sort of livery. 'My dears,' I said to them, 'you
look like a lot of most disorderly footmen.' Then one of them, rather a
juicy little piece, accused me of unnatural vices. 'My dear,' I said, 'I may
be inverted but I am not insatiable. Come back when you are alone' Then they
began to blaspheme in a very shocking manner, and suddenly I, too, began to
be annoyed. Really, I thought, when I think of all the hullabaloo there was
when I was seventeen, and the Due de Vincennes (old Armand, of course, not
Philippe) challenged me to a duel for an affair of the heart, and very much
more than the heart, I assure you, with the duchess (Stefanie, of course,
not old Poppy) -- now, to submit to impertinence from these pimply, tipsy
virgins . . . Well, I gave up the light, bantering tone and let myself be
just a little offensive.

"Then they began saying, 'Get hold of him. Put him in Mercury.' Now as
you know I have two sculptures by Brancusi and several pretty things and I
did not want them to start getting rough, so I said, pacifically, 'Dear
sweet clodhoppers, if you knew anything of sexual psychology you would know
that nothing could give me keener pleasure than to be manhandled by you
meaty boys. It w.ould be an ecstasy of the very naughtiest kind. I So if any
of you wishes to be my partner in joy come and seize me. If, on the other
hand, you simply wish to satisfy some obscure and less easily classified
libido and see me bathe, come with me quietly, dear louts, to the fountain.'

"Do you know, they all looked a little foolish at that? I walked down
with them and no one came within a yard of me. Then I got into the fountain
and, you know, it was really most refreshing, so I sported there a little
and struck some attitudes, until they turned about and walked sulkily home,
and I heard Boy Mul-caster saying, 'Anyway, we did put him in Mercury.' You
know, Charles, that is just what they'll be saying in thirty years' time.
When they're all married to scraggy little women like hens and have
cretinous, porcine sons like themselves, getting drunk at the same club
dinner in the same coloured coats, they'll still say, when my name is
mentioned, 'We put1 him in Mercury one night,' and their
barn-yard daughters will snigger and think their father was quite a dog in
his day, and what a pity he's grown so dull. Oh, la fatigue du Nord!"

It was not, I knew, the first time Anthony had been ducked, but the
incident seemed much on his mind, for he reverted to it again at dinner.

"Now you can't imagine an unpleasantness like that happening to
Sebastian, can you?"

"No," I said; I could not.

"No, Sebastian has charm." He held up his glass of hock to the
candle-light and repeated, "Such charm. Do you know, I went round to call on
Sebastian next day? I thought the tale of my evening's adventures might
amuse him. And what do you think I found -- besides, of course, his amusing
toy bear? Mulcaster and two of his cronies of the night before. They looked
very foolish and Sebastian, as composed as Mrs. P-p-ponsonby-de-Tomkyns in
P-p-punch, said, 'You know Lord Mulcaster, of course,' and the oafs said,
'Oh, we just came to see how Aloysius was,' for they find the toy bear just
as amusing as we do -- or, shall I hint, just a teeny bit more? So off they
went. And I said, 'S-s-sebastian, do you realize that those s-sycophantic
s-slugs insulted me last night, and but for the warmth of the weather might
have given me a s-s-severe cold?' and he said, 'Poor things. I expect they
were drunk.' He has a kind word for everyone you see; he has such charm.

"I can see he has completely captivated you, my dear Charles. Well, I'm
not surprised. Of course, you haven't known him as long as I have. I was at
school with him. You wouldn't believe it, but in those days people used to
say he was a little bitch; just a few unkind boys who knew him well.
Everyone in pop liked him, of course, and all the masters. I expect it was
really that they were jealous of him. He never seemed to get into trouble.
The rest of us were constantly being beaten in the most savage way, on the
most frivolous pretexts, but never Sebastian. He was the only boy in my
house who was never beaten at all. I can see him now, at the age of fifteen.
He never had spots you know; all the other boys were spotty. Boy Mulcaster
was positively scrofulous. But not Sebastian. Or did he have one, rather a
stubborn one at the back of his neck ? I think, now, that he did. Narcissus,
with one pustule. He and I were both Catholics, so we used to go to mass
together. He used to spend such a'time in the confessional, I used to wonder
what he had to say, because he never did anything wrong; never quite; at
least, he never got punished. Perhaps he was just being charming through the
grille. I left under what is called a 'cloud,' you know--I can't think why
it is called that; it seemed to me a glare of unwelcome light; the process
involved aseries ofharrowing interviews with my tutor. Itwas
disconcerting to find how observant that mild old man proved to be. The
things he knew about me, which I thought no one -- except possibly Sebastian
-- knew. It was a lesson never to trust mild old men -- or charming
schoolboys; which?

"Shall we have another bottle of this wine, or of something different?
Something different, some bloody, old Burgundy, eh? You see, Charles, I
understand all your tastes. You must come to France with me and drink the
wine. We will go at the vintage. I will take you to stay at the Vincennes'.
It is all made up with them now, and he has the finest wine in France; he
and the Prince de Portallon--I will take you there, too. I think they would
amuse you, and of course they would love you. I want to introduce you to a
lot of my friends. I have told Cocteau about you. He is all agog. You see,
my dear Charles, you are that very rare thing, An Artist. Oh yes, you must
not look bashful. Behind that cold, English, phlegmatic exterior you are An
Artist. I have seen those little drawings you keep hidden away in your room.
They are exquisite. And you, dear Charles, if you will understand me, are
not exquisite; but not at all. Artists are not exquisite. I am; Sebastian,
in a kind of way, is exquisite; but the Artist is an eternal type, solid,
purposeful, observant -- and, beneath it all, p-p-passionate, eh, Charles ?

"But who recognizes you? The other day I was speaking to Sebastian
about you, and I said, 'But you know Charles is an artist. He draws like a
young Ingres,' and do you know what Sebastian said? 'Yes, Aloysius draws
very prettily, too, but of course he's rather more modern.' So charming; so

"Of course those that have charm don't really need brains. Stefanie de
Vincennes intoxicated me four years ago; but I was besotted with her,
crawling with love like lice. My dear, I even used the same coloured varnish
for my toe-nails. I used her words and lit my cigarette in the same way and
spoke with her tone on the telephone so that the duke used to carry on long
and intimate conversations with me, thinking that I was her. It was largely
that which put his mind on pistol and sabres in such an old-fashioned
manner. My stepfather thought it an excellent education for me. He thought
it would make me grow out of what he calls my 'English habits.' Poor man, he
is very South American. Well, I have kept my 'English habits,' but I think I
lost something else. At seventeen I might have been anything; an artist
even; it is not impossible; it is in the blood. At twenty-one I am what you
see me. To have squandered everything, so young, on a woman who, except that
I was more presentable, would as soon have had her chiropodist for her
lover. ... I never heard anyone speak an ill word of Stefanie, except the
duke; everyone loved her, whatever she did."

Anthony had lost his stammer in the deep waters of his old romance. It
came floating back to him, momentarily, with the coffee and liqueurs. "Real
G-g-green Chartreuse, made before the expulsion of the monks. There are five
distinct tastes as it trickles over the tongue. It is like swallowing a
sp-spectrum. Do you wish Sebastian was with us? Of course you do. Do I? I
wonder. How our thoughts do run on that little bundle of charm to be sure. I
think you must be mesmerizing me, Charles. I bring you here, at very
considerable expense, my dear, simply to talk about myself, and I find I
talk of no one except Sebastian. It's odd because there's really no mystery
about him except how he came to be born of such a very sinister family.

"I forget if you know his family. Now there, my dear, is1 a
subject for the poet -- for the poet of the future who must be also a
psychoanalyst -- and perhaps a diabolist, too. I don't suppose he'll ever
let you meet them. He's far too clever. They're all charming, of course, and
quite, quite gruesome. Do you ever feel is something a teeny bit gruesome
about Sebastian? No? Perhaps I imagine it; it's simply that he loofo so like
the rest of them, sometimes.

"There's Brideshead who's something archaic, out of a cave that's been
sealed for centuries. He has the face as though an Aztec sculptor had
attempted a portrait of Sebastian; he's a learned bigot, a ceremonious
barbarian, a snowbound lama. . . . Well, anything you like. But not Julia,
oh, not Lady Julia. She is one thing only, Renaissance tragedy. You know
what she looks like. Who could help it? Her photograph appears as regularly
in the illustrated papers as the advertisements for Beecham's Pills. A face
of flawless Florentine Quattrocento beauty; almost anyone else with those
looks would have been tempted to become artistic; not Lady Julia; she's as
smart as -- well, as smart as Stefanie. Nothing greenery-yallery about her.
So gay, so correct, so unaffected. Dogs and children love her, other girls
love her -- my dear, she's a fiend -- a passionless, acquisitive,
intriguing, ruthless filler. I wonder if she's incestuous. I doubt it; all
she wants is power. There ought to be an Inquisition especially set up to
burn her. There's another sister, too, I believe, in the schoolroom. Nothing
is known of her yet except that her governess went mad and drowned herself
not long ago. I'm sure she's abominable. So you see there was really very
little left for poor Sebastian to do except be sweet and charming.

"It's when one gets to the parents that a bottomless pit opens. My
dear, such a pair. How does Lady Marchmain manage it? It is one of the
questions of the age. You have seen her? Very, very beautiful; no artifice,
her hair just turning grey in elegant silvery streaks, no rouge, very pale,
huge-eyed -- it is extraordinary how large those eyes look and how the lids
are veined blue where anyone else would have touched them with a fingertip
of paint; pearls and a few great starlike jewels, heirlooms, in ancient
settings, a voice as quiet as a prayer, and as powerful. And Lord Marchmain,
well, a little fleshy perhaps, but very handsome, a magnified, a voluptuary,
Byronic, bored, infectiously slothful, not at all the sort of man you would
expect to see easily put down. And that Reinhardt nun, my dear, has
destroyed him --but utterly. He daren't show his great purple face anywhere.
He is the last, historic, authentic case of someone being hounded out of
society. Brideshead won't see him, the girls mayn't, Sebastian does, of
course, because he's so charming. No one else goes near him. Why, last
September Lady March-main was in Venice staying at the Palazzo Fogliere. To
tell you the truth she was just a teeny bit ridiculous in Venice. She never,
went near the Lido, of course, but she was always drifting about the canals
in a gondola with Sir Adrian Person -- such attitudes, my dear, like Madame
Recamier; once I passed them and I caught the eye of the Fogliere gondolier,
whom, of course, I knew, and, my dear, he gave me such a wink. She came to
all the parties in a sort of cocoon of gossamer, my dear, as though she were
part of some Celtic play or a heroine from Maeterlinck; and she would go to
church. Well, as you know, Venice is the one town in Italy where no one ever
has gone to church. Anyway, she was rather a figure of fun that year, and
then who should turn up, in the Maltons' yacht, but poor Lord Marchmain.
He'd taken a little palace there, but was he allowed in? Lord Malton put him
and his valet into a dinghy, my dear, and transhipped him there and then
into the steamer for Trieste. He hadn't even his mistress with him. It was
her yearly holiday. No one ever knew how they heard Lady Marchmain was
there. And, do you know, for a week Lord Malton slunk about as if he was in
disgrace? And he was in disgrace. The Principessa Fogliere gave a ball and
Lord Malton was not asked nor anyone from his yacht -- even the de Panoses.
How does Lady Marchmain do it? She has convinced the world that Lord
Marchmain is a monster. And what is the truth ? They were married for
fifteen years or so and then Lord Marchmain went to the war; he never came
back but formed a connection with a highly talented dancer. There are a
thousand such cases. She refuses to divorce him because she is so pious.
Well, there have been cases of that before. Usually, it arouses sympathy for
the adulterer; not for Lord Marchmain though. You would think that the old
reprobate had tortured her, stolen her patrimony, flung her out of doors,
roasted, stuffed and eaten his children, and gone frolicking about wreathed
in all the flowers of Sodom and Gomorrah; instead of what? Begetting four
splendid children by her, handing over to her Brideshead and Marchmain House
in St. James's and all the money she can possibly want to spend, while he
sits with a snowy shirt-front at Larue's with a personable, middle-aged lady
of the theatre, in the most conventional Edwardian style. And she meanwhile
keeps a small gang of enslaved and emaciated prisoners for her exclusive
enjoyment. She sucks their blood. You can see the tooth-marks all over
Adrian Porson's shoulders when he is bathing. And he, my dear, was the
greatest, the only, poet of our time. He's bled dry; there's nothing left of
him. There are five or six others of all ages and sexes, like wraiths
following her round. They never escape once she's had her teeth into them.
It is witchcraft. There's no other explanation.

"So you see we mustn't blame Sebastian if at times he seems a little
insipid -- but then you don't blame him, do you, Charles? With that very
murky background, what could he do except set up as being simple and
charming, particularly as he isn't very well endowed in the Top Storey. We
couldn't claim that for him, could we, much as we love him?

"Tell me candidly, have you ever heard Sebastian say anything you have
remembered for five minutes? You know, when I hear him talk, I am reminded
of that in some ways nauseating picture of 'Bubbles.' Conversation, as I
know it, is like juggling; up go the balls and the balloons and the plates,
up and over, in and out, spinning and leaping, good solid objects that
glitter in the footlights and fall with a bang if you miss them. But when
dear Sebastian speaks it is like a little sphere of soapsuds drifting off
the end of an old clay pipe, anywhere, full of rainbow light for a second
and then--"phut!--vanished, with nothing left at all, nothing.

"Stefanie was like that: never dull; at least never really dull; at
least not for the first year; and then, my dear, when she had become a
habit, Boredom grew like a cancer in the breast, more and more; the
anguished suspense of watching the lips you hunger for, framing the words,
the death sentence, of sheer triteness! I felt the oxygen being pumped out
of the atmosphere all round me; I felt myself expiring in a vacuum while all
the while I could see through the bell-glass the loved executioner. And she
went on with the murder in a gentle, leisurely way, quite, quite unconscious
that she was doing any harm. It is not an experience I would recommend for
An Artist at the tenderest stage of his growth, to be strangled with charm."

And then Anthony spoke of the proper experiences of an artist, of the
appreciation and criticism and stimulus he should expect from his friends,
of the hazards he should take in the pursuit of emotion, of one thing and
another while I fell drowsy and let my mind wander a little. So we drove
home, but his words, as we swung over Magdalen Bridge, recalled the central
theme of our dinner. "Well, my dear, I've no doubt that first thing
to-morrow you'll trot round to Sebastian and tell him everything I've said
about him. And I will tell you two things: one, that it will not make the
slightest difference to Sebastian's feeling for me and, secondly, my dear --
and I beg you to remember this though I have plainly bored you into a
condition of coma -- that he will immediately start talking about that
amusing bear of his. Good night. Sleep innocently."

But I slept ill. Within an hour of tumbling drowsily to bed I was awake
again, thirsty, restless, hot and cold by turns and unnaturally excited. I
had drunk a lot, but neither the mixture of wines, nor the Chartreuse, nor
the Mavrodaphne Trifle, nor even the fact that I had sat immobile and almost
silent throughout the evening instead of clearing the fumes, as We normally
did, in J some light frenzy of drunken nonsense, explains the distress of
that hag-ridden night. No dream distorted the images of the evening into
horrific shapes. It seemed I heard St. Mary's strike each quarter till dawn.
The figures of nightmare were already racing through my brain as throughout
the wakeful hours I repeated to myself Anthony's words, catching his accent,
soundlessly, and the stress and cadence of his speech, while under the
closed lips I saw his pale, candle-lit face as it had fronted me across the
dinner table. Once during the hours of darkness I brought to light the
drawings in my sitting-room and sat at the open window, turning them over.
Everything was black and dead-still in the quadrangle; only at the
quarter-hours the bells awoke and sang over the gables. I drank soda water
and smoked and fretted, until light began to break and the rustle of a
rising breeze turned me back to my bed.

When I awoke Lunt was at the open door. "I let you lie," he said, "I
didn't think you'd be going to the Corporate Communion."

"You were quite right."

"Most of the freshmen went and quite a few second- and third-year men.
It's all on account of the new chaplain. There was never Corporate Communion
before -- just Holy Communion for those that wanted it and chapel and
evening chapel."

It was the last Sunday of term; the last of the year. As I went to my
bath the quad filled with gowned and surpliced undergraduates drifting from
chapel to hall. As I came back they were standing in groups, smoking; Jasper
had cycled in from his digs to be among them.

I walked down the empty Broad to breakfast, as I often did on Sundays,
at a teashop opposite Balliol. The air was full of bells from the
surrounding spires and the sun, casting long shadows across the open spaces,
dispelled the fears of night. The teashop was hushed as a library; a few
solitary men from Balliol and Trinity, in bedroom slippers, looked up as I
entered, then turned back to their Sunday newspapers. I ate my scrambled
eggs and bitter marmalade with the zest which in youth follows a restless
night. I lit a cigarette and sat on, while one by one the Balliol and
Trinity men paid their bills and shuffled away, slipslop, across the street
to their colleges. It was nearly eleven when I left, and during my walk I
heard the change-ringing cease and, all over the town, give place to the
single chime, which warned the city that service was about to start.

None but church-goers seemed abroad that morning; undergraduates and
graduates and wives and tradespeople, walking with that unmistakable English
church-going pace which eschewed equally both haste and idle sauntering;
holding, bound in black lamb-skin and white celluloid, the liturgies of half
a dozen conflicting sects; on their way to St. Barnabas, St. Columba, St.
Aloysius, St. Mary's, Pusey House, Blackfriars and heaven knows where
besides; to restored Norman and revived Gothic, to travesties of Venice and
Athens; all in the summer sunshine going to the temples of their race. Four
proud infidels alone proclaimed their dissent; four Indians from the gates
of Balliol, in freshly laundered white flannels and neatly pressed blazers,
with snow-white turbans on their heads, and in their plump, brown hands
bright cushions, a picnic basket and the Unpleasant Plays of Bernard Shaw,
making for the river.

In the Cornmarket a party of tourists stood on the steps of the
Clarendon Hotel discussing a road map with their chauffeur, while opposite,
through the venerable arch of the Golden Cross, I greeted a group of
undergraduates from my college who had breakfasted there and now lingered
with their pipes in the creeper-hung courtyard. A troop of Boy Scouts,
church-bound too, bright with coloured ribbons and badges, loped past in
unmilitary array, and at Carfax I met the Mayor and corporation, in scarlet
gowns and gold chains, preceded by wand bearers and followed by no curious
glances, in procession to the preaching at the City Church. In St. Aldates I
passed a crocodile of choir-boys, in starched collars and peculiar caps, on
their way to Tom Gate and the Cathedral. So through a world of piety I made
my way to Sebastian.

He was out. I read the letters, none of them very revealing, that
littered his writing table, and scrutinized the invitation cards on his
chimney-piece -- there were no new additions. Then I read Lady into Fox
until he returned.

"I've been to mass at the Old Palace," he said. "I haven't been all
this term, and Monsignor Bell asked me to dinner twice last week, and I know
what that means. Mummy's been writing to him. So I sat bang in front where
he couldn't help seeing me and absolutely shouted the Hail Marys at the end;
so that's over. How was dinner with Antoine? What did you talk about?"

"Well, he did most of the talking. Tell me, did you know him at Eton?"

"He was sacked my first half. I remember seeing him about. He always
has been a noticeable figure."

"Did he go to church with you?"

"I don't think so, why?"

"Has he met any of your family?"

"Charles, how very peculiar you're being to-day. No. I don't suppose

"Not your mother at Venice?"

"I believe she did say something about it. I forget what. I think she
was staying with some Italian cousins of ours, the Foglieres, and Anthony
turned up with his family at the hotel, and there was some party the
Foglieres gave that they weren't | asked to. I know Mummy said something
about it when I told her he was a friend of mine. I can't think why he
should want to go to a party at the Foglieres' -- the princess is so proud
of her English blood that she talks of nothing else. Anyway, no one objected
to Antoine -- much, I gather. It was his mother they thought difficult."

"And who is the Duchess de Vincennes?"



"You must ask Antoine that. He claims to have had an affair with her."

"Did he?"

"There was something --I forget what. I think he was stuck in a lift
with her once at Miami and the old duke made a scene."

"Not a grand passion?"

"Good God, no! Why all this interest?"

"I just wanted to find out how much truth there was in what Anthony
said last night."

"I shouldn't think-a word. That's his great charm."

"You may think it charming. I think it's devilish. Do you know he spent
the whole of yesterday evening trying to turn me against you, and almost

"Did he? How silly. Aloysius wouldn't approve of that at all, would
you, you pompous old bear?"

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