BOOK II A TWITCH UPON THE THREAD
my theme is memory, that winged host that soared about me one grey
morning of war-time.
These memories, which are my life--for we possess nothing certainly
except the past--were always with me. Like the pigeons of St. Mark's, they
were everywhere, under my feet, singly, in pairs, in little honey-voiced
congregations, nodding, strutting, winking, rolling the tender feathers of
their necks, perching sometimes, if I stood still, on my shoulder or pecking
a broken biscuit from between my lips; until, suddenly, the noon gun boomed
and in a moment, with a flutter and sweep of wings, the pavement was bare
and the whole sky above dark with a tumult of fowl. Thus it was that
These memories are the memorials and pledges of the vital hours of a
lifetime. These hours of afflatus in the human spirit, the springs of art,
are, in their mystery, akin to the epochs of history, when a race which for
centuries has lived content, unknown, behind its own frontiers, digging,
eating, sleeping, begetting, doing what was requisite for survival and
nothing else, will, for a generation or two, stupefy the world; commit all
manner of crimes, perhaps; follow the wildest chimeras, go down in the end
in agony, but leave behind a record of new heights scaled and new rewards
won for all mankind; the vision fades, the soul sickens, and the routine of
survival starts again.
The human soul enjoys these rare, classic periods, but, apart from
them, we are seldom single or unique; we keep company in this world with a
hoard of abstractions and reflections and counterfeits of ourselves -- the
sensual man, the economic man, the man of reason, the beast, the machine and
the sleep-walker, and heaven knows what besides, all in our own image,
indistinguishable from ourselves to the outward eye. We get borne along, out
of sight in the press, unresisting, till we get the chance to drop behind
unnoticed, or to dodge down a side street, pause, j| breathe freely and take
our bearings, or to push ahead, out-' distance our shadows, lead them a
dance, so that when at length they catch up with us, they look at one
another askance, knowing we have a secret we shall never share.
For nearly ten years I was thus borne along a road outwardly full of
change and incident, but never during that time, except sometimes in my
painting -- and that at longer and longer intervals-- did I come alive as I
had been during the time of my friendship with Sebastian. I took it to be
youth, not life, that I was losing. My work upheld me, for I had chosen to
do what I could do well, did better daily, and liked doing; incidentally it
was something which no one else at that time was attempting to do. I became
an architectural painter. I have always loved building, holding it to be not
only the highest achievement of man but one in which, at the moment of
consummation, things were most clearly taken out of his hands and perfected,
without his intention, by other means, and I regarded men as something much
less than the buildings they made and inhabited, as mere lodgers and
short-term sub-lessees of small importance in the-long, fruitful life of
More even than the work of the great architects, 1 loved buildings that
grew silently with the centuries, catching and keeping the best of each
generation, while time curbed the artist's pride and the Philistine's
vulgarity, and repaired the clumsiness of the dull workman. In such
buildings England abounded, and in the last decade of their grandeur,
Englishmen seemed for the first time to become conscious of what before was
taken for granted, and to salute their achievements at the moment of
extinction. Hence my prosperity, far beyond my merits; my work had nothing
to recommend it except my growing technical skill, enthusiasm for my subject
and independence of popular notions. The financial slump of the period,
which left many painters without employment, served to enhance my success,
which was, indeed, itself a symptom of the decline. When the water-holes
were dry people sought to drink at the mirage. After my first exhibition I
was called to all parts of the country to make portraits of houses that were
soon to be deserted or debased; indeed, my arrival seemed often to be only a
few paces ahead of the auctioneers, a presage of doom.
I published three splendid folios--Ryder's Country Seats, Ryder's
English Homes, and Ryder's Village and Provincial Architecture, which each
sold its thousand copies at five guineas apiece. I seldom failed to please,
for there was no conflict between myself and my patrons; we both wanted the
same thing. But as the years passed I began to mourn the loss of something I
had known in the drawing-room of Marchmain House and once or twice since,
the intensity and singleness and the belief that it was not all done by
hand--in a word, the inspiration.
In quest of this fading light I went abroad, in the Augustan manner,
laden with the apparatus of my trade, for two years' refreshment among alien
styles. I did not go to Europe; her treasures were safe, too safe, swaddled
in expert care, obscured by reverence. Europe could wait. There would be a
time for Europe, I thought; all too soon the days would come when I should
need a man at my side to put up my easel and carry my paints; when I could
not venture more than an hour's journey from a good hotel; when I should
need soft breezes and mellow sunshine all day long; then I would take my old
eyes to Germany and Italy. Now while I had the strength I would go to the
wild lands where man had deserted his post and the jungle was creeping back
to its old strongholds.
Accordingly, by slow but not easy stages, I travelled through Mexico
and Central America in a world which had all I needed, and the change from
parkland and hall should have quickened me and set me right with myself. I
sought inspiration among gutted palaces and cloisters embowered in weed,
derelict churches where the vampire-bats hung in the dome like dry seed-pods
and only the ants were ceaselessly astir tunnelling in the rich stalls;
cities where no road led, and mausoleums where a single, agued family of
Indians sheltered from the rains. There in great labour, sickness and
occasionally in some danger, I made the first drawings for Ryder's Latin
America. Every few weeks I came to rest, finding myself once more in the
zone of trade or tourism, recuperated, set up my studio, transcribed my
sketches, anxiously packed the completed canvasses, despatched them to my
New York agent, and then set out again, with my small retinue, into the
I was at no great pains to keep touch with England. I followed local
advice for my itinerary and had no settled route, so that much of my mail
never reached me, and the rest accumulated until there was more than could
be read at a sitting. I used to stuff a bundle of letters into my bag and
read them when I felt inclined, which was in circumstances so incongruous --
swinging in my hammock under the net by the light of a storm lantern;
drifting down-river, sprawled amidships in the canoe, with the boys astern
of me lazily keeping our nose out of the bank, with the dark water keeping
pace with us, in the green shade, with the great trees towering above us and
the monkeys screeching in the sunlight, high overhead among the flowers on
the roof of the forest; on the verandah of a hospitable ranch, where the ice
and the dice clicked, and a tiger cat played with its chain on the mown
grass -- that they seemed voices so distant as to be meaningless; their
matter passed clean through the mind, and out, leaving no mark, like the
facts about themselves which fellow travellers distribute so freely in
American railway trains.
But despite this isolation and this long sojourn in a strange world, I
remained unchanged, still a small part of myself pretending to be whole. I
discarded the experiences of those two years with my tropical kit and
returned to New York as I had set out. I had a fine haul -- eleven paintings
and fifty odd drawings-- and when eventually I exhibited them in London, the
art critics, many of whom hitherto had been patronizing in tone as my
success invited, acclaimed a new and richer note in my work.
Mr. Ryder [the most respected of them wrote] rises like a fresh young
trout to the hypodermic injection of a new culture and discloses a powerful
facet in the vista of his potentialities ... By focusing the frankly
traditional battery of his elegance and erudition on the maelstrom of
barbarism, Mr. Ryder has at last found himself.
Grateful words, but, alas, not true by a long chalk. My wife, who
crossed to New York to meet me, and saw the fruits of our separation
displayed in my agent's office, summed the thing up better by saying: "Of
course, I can see they're perfectly brilliant and really rather beautiful in
a sinister way, but somehow I don't feel they are quite you"
In Europe my wife was sometimes taken for an American because of her
dapper and jaunty way of dressing, and the curiously hygienic quality of her
prettiness; in America she assumed an English softness and reticence. She
arrived a day or two before me, and was on the pier when my ship docked.
"It has been a long time," she said fondly when we met.
She had not joined the expedition; she explained to our friends that
the country was unsuitable and she had her son at home. There was also a
daughter now, she remarked, and it came back to me that there had been talk
of this before I started, as an additional reason for her staying behind.
There had been some mention of it, too, in her letters.
"I don't believe you read my letters," she said that night at last,
late, after a dinner party and some hours at a cabaret, we found ourselves
alone in our hotel bedroom.
"Some went astray. I remember distinctly your telling me that the
daffodils in the orchard were a dream, that the nurserymaid was a jewel,
that the Regency four-poster was a find, but frankly I do not remember
hearing that your new baby was called Caroline. Why did you call it that?"
"After Charles, of course."
"I made Bertha Van Halt godmother. I thought she was safe for a good
present. What do you think she gave?"
"Bertha Van Halt is a well-known trap. What?"
"A fifteen-shilling book token. Now that Johnjohn has a companion -- "
"Your son, darling. You haven't forgotten him, too?"
"For Christ's sake," I said, "why do you call him that?"
"It's the name he invented for himself. Don't you think it sweet? Now
that Johnjohn has a companion I think we'd better not have any more for some
time, don't you?"
"Just as you please."
"Johnjohn talks of you such a lot. He prays every night for your safe
She talked in this way while she undressed, with an effort to appear at
ease; then she sat at the dressing table, ran a comb through her hair, and
with her bare back towards me, looking at herself in the glass, said, "I
hope you admire my self-restraint."
"I'm not asking awkward questions. I may say I've been tormented with
visions of voluptuous half-castes ever since you went away. But I determined
not to ask and I haven't."
"That suits me," I said.
She left the dressing-table and crossed the room.
"As you like. I'm not sleepy."
We lay in our twin beds, a yard or two distant, smoking. I looked at my
watch; it was four o'clock, but neither of us was ready to sleep, for in
that city there is neurosis in the air which the inhabitants mistake for
"I don't believe you've changed at all, Charles."
"No, I'm afraid not."
"D'you want to change?"
"It's the only evidence of life."
"But you might change so that you didn't love me any more."
"There is that risk."
"Charles, you haven't stopped loving me?"
"You said yourself I hadn't changed."
"Well, I'm beginning to think you have. I haven't."
"No," I said, "no; I can see that."
"Were you at all frightened at meeting me to-day?"
"Not the least."
"You didn't wonder if I should have fallen in love with someone else in
"No. Have you?"
"You know I haven't. Have you?"
"No. I'm not in love."
My wife seemed content with this answer. She had married me six years
ago at the time of my first exhibition, and had done much since then to push
our interests. People said she had "made" me, but she herself took credit
only for supplying me with a congenial background; she had firm faith in my
genius and in the "artistic temperament," and in the principle that things
done on the sly are not really done at all. .
Presently she said: "Looking forward to getting home?" (My father gave
me as a wedding present the price of a house, and I bought an old rectory in
my wife's part of the country.) "I've got a surprise for you."
"I've turned the old tithe barn into a studio for you, so that you
needn't be disturbed by the children or when we have people to stay. I got
Emden to do it. Everyone thinks it a great success. There was an article on
it in Country Life; I brought it for you to see."
She showed me the article:. . . happy example of architectural good
manners. . . . Sir Joseph Emden's tactful adaptation of traditional material
to modern needs . . . ; there were some photographs; wide oak boards now
covered the earthen floor; a high, stone-mullioned bay-window had been built
in the north wall, and the great timbered roof, which before had been lost
in shadow, now stood out stark, well lit, with clean white plaster between
the beams; it looked like a village hall. I remembered the smell of the
place, which would now be lost.
"I rather liked that barn," I said.
"But you'll be able to work there, won't you?"
"After squatting in a cloud of sting-fly," I said, "under a sun which
scorched the paper off the block as I drew, I could work on the top of an
omnibus. I expect the vicar would like to borrow the place for whist
"There's a lot of work waiting for you. I promised Lady Anchorage you
would do Anchorage House as soon as you got back. That's coming down, too,
you know--shops underneath and two-roomed flats above. You don't think, do
you, Charles, that all this exotic work you've been doing is going to spoil
you for that sort of thing?"
"Why should it?"
"Well, it's so different. Don't be cross."
"It's just another jungle closing in."
"I know just how you feel, darling. The Georgian Society made such a
fuss, but we couldn't do anything. . . . Did you ever get my letter about
"Did I? What did it say?"
(Boy Mulcaster was her brother.)
"About his engagement. It doesn't matter now because it's all off, but
Father and Mother were terribly upset. She was an awful girl. They had to
give her money in the end."
"No, I heard nothing of Boy."
"He and Johnjohn are tremendous friends, now. It's so sweet to see them
together. Whenever he comes home the first thing he does is to drive
straight to the Old Rectory. He just walks into the house, pays no attention
to anyone else, and hollers out: 'Where's my chum Johnjohn?' and Johnjohn
comes tumbling downstairs and off they go into the spinney together and play
for hours. You'd think, to hear them talk to each other, they were the same
age. It was really Johnjohn who made him see reason about that girl;
seriously, you know, he's frightfully sharp. He must have heard Mother and
me talking, because next time Boy came he said: 'Uncle Boy shan't marry
horrid girl and leave Johnjohn,' and that was the very day -he settled for
two thousand pounds out of court. Johnjohn admires Boy so tremendously and
imitates him in everything. It's so good for them both."
I crossed the room and tried once more, ineffectively, to moderate the
heat of the radiators; I drank some iced water and opened the window, but,
besides the sharp night air, music was borne in from the next room where
they were playing the wireless. I shut it and turned,back towards my wife.
At length she began talking again, more drowsily. . . . "The garden's
come on a lot. . . . The box hedges you planted grew five inches last year.
... I had some men down from London to put the tennis court right . . .
first-class cook at the moment . . .' As the city below us began to wake we
both fell asleep, but not for long; the telephone rang and a voice of
hermaphroditic gaiety said: "Savoy-Carlton-Hotelgoodmorning. It is now a
quarter of eight."
"I didn't ask to be called, you know."
"Oh, it doesn't matter."
As I was shaving, my wife from the bath said: "Just like old times. I'm
not worrying any more, Charles."
"I was so terribly afraid that two years might have made a difference.
Now I know we can start again exactly where we left off."
I paused in my shaving.
"When?" I asked. "What? When we left off what?"
"When you went away, of course."
"You are npt thinking of something else, a little time before?"
"Oh, Charles, that's old history. That was nothing. It was never
anything. It's all over and forgotten."
"I just wanted to know," I said. "We're back as we were the day I went
abroad, is that it?"
So we started that day exactly where we left off two years before, with
my wife in tears.
My wife's softness and English reticence, her-very white, small,
regular teeth, her neat rosy finger-nails, her schoolgirl air of innocent
mischief and her schoolgirl dress, her modern jewellery, which was made at
great expense to give the impression, at a distance, of having been
mass-produced, her ready, rewarding smile, her deference to me and her zeal
in my interests, her motherly heart which made her cable daily to the nanny
at home -- in short, her peculiar charm -- made her popular among the
Americans, and our cabin on the day of departure was full of cellophane
packages -- flowers, fruit, sweets, books, toys for the children--from
friends she had known for a week. Stewards, like sisters in a nursing home,
used to judge their passengers' importance by the number and value of these
trophies; we therefore started the voyage in high esteem.
My wife's first thought on coming aboard was of the passenger list.
"Such a lot of friends," she said. "It's going to be a lovely trip.
Let's have a cocktail party this evening."
The companion-ways were no sooner cast off than she was busy with the
"Julia. This is Celia -- Celia Ryder. It's lovely to find you on board.
What have you been up to? Come and have a cocktail this evening and tell me
all about it."
"Mottram. I haven't seen her for years."
Nor had I; not, in fact, since my wedding day, not to speak to for any
time, since the private view of my exhibition where the four canvasses of
Marchmain House, lent by Brideshead, had hung together attracting much
attention. Those pictures were my last contact with the Flytes; our lives,
so close for a year or two, had drawn apart. Sebastian, I knew, was still
abroad; Rex and Julia, I sometimes heard said, were unhappy together. Rex
was not prospering quite as well as had been predicted; he remained on the
fringe of the Government, prominent but vaguely suspect. He lived among the
very rich, and in his speeches seemed to incline to revolutionary policies,
flirting with Communists and fascists. I heard the Mottrams' names in
conversation; I saw their faces now and again peeping from the Tatler, as I
turned the pages impatiently waiting for someone to come, but they and I had
fallen apart, as one could in England and only there, into separate worlds,
little spinning planets of personal relationship; there is probably a
perfect metaphor for the process to be found in physics, from the way in
which, I dimly apprehend, particles of energy group and regroup themselves
in separate magnetic systems, a metaphor ready to hand for the man who can
speak of these things with assurance; not for me, who can only say that
England abounded in these small companies of intimate friends, so that, as
in this case of Julia and myself, we could live in the same street in
London, see at times, a few miles distant, the same rural horizon, could
have a liking one for the other, a mild curiosity about the other's
fortunes, a regret, even, that we 1 should be separated, and the knowledge
that either of us had only to pick up the telephone and speak by the other's
pillow, enjoy the intimacies of the levee, coming in, as it were, with the
morning orange juice and the sun, yet be restrained from doing so by the
centripetal force of our own worlds, and the coldj interstellar space
My wife, perched on the back of the sofa in a litter of cellophane and
silk ribbons, continued telephoning, working brightly through the passenger
list ... "Yes, do of course bring him, I'm told he's sweet. . . . Yes, I've
got Charles back from the wilds atyj last; isn't it lovely. . . . What a
treat seeing your name in the list! It's made my trip . . . darling, we were
at the Savoy-Car Iton, too; how can we have missed you? . . ." Sometimes she
turned to me and said: "I have to make sure you're still really there. I
haven't got used to it yet."
I went up and out as we steamed slowly down the river to one of the
great glass cases where the passengers stood to watch the land slip by.
"Such a lot of friends," my wife had said. They looked a strange crowd to
me; the emotions of leave-taking were just beginning to subside; some of
them, who had been drinking till the last moment with those who were seeing
them off, were still boisterous; others were planning where they would have
their deck chairs; the band played unnoticed -- all were as restless as
I turned into some of the halls of the ship, which were huge without
any splendour, as though they had been designed for a railway coach and
preposterously magnified. I passed through vast bronze gates whose ornament
was like the trade mark of a cake of soap which had been used once or twice;
I trod carpets the colour of blotting paper; the painted panels of the walls
were like blotting paper, too: kindergarten work in flat, drab colours; and
between the walls were yards and yards of biscuit-coloured wood which no
carpenter's tool had ever touched, wood that had been bent round corners,
invisibly joined strip to strip, steamed and squeezed and polished; all over
the blotting-paper carpet were strewn tables designed perhaps by a sanitary
engineer, square blocks of stuffing, with square holes for sitting in, and,
upholstered, it seemed, in blotting paper also; the light of the hall was
suffused from scores of hollows, giving an even glow, casting no shadows --
the whole place hummed from its hundred ventilators and vibrated with the
turn of the great engines below.
Here I am, I thought, back from the jungle, back from the ruins. Here,
where wealth is no longer gorgeous and power has no dignity. Quomodo sedet
sola civitas (for I had heard that great lament, which Cordelia once quoted
to me in the drawing-room of Marchmain House, sung by a half-caste choif in
Guatemala, nearly a year ago).
A steward came up to me.
"Can I get you anything, sir?"
"A whiskey-and-soda, not iced."
"I'm sorry, sir, all the soda is iced."
"Is the water iced, too?"
"Oh yes, sir."
"Well, it doesn't matter."
He trotted off, puzzled, soundless in the pervading hum.
I looked behind me. Julia was sitting in a cube of blotting-paper, her
hands folded in her lap, so still that I had passed by without noticing her.
"I heard you were here. Celia telephoned to me. It's delightful."
"What are you doing?"
She opened the empty hands in her lap with a little eloquent gesture.
"Waiting. My maid's unpacking; she's been so disagreeable ever since we left
England. She's complaining now about my cabin. I can't think why. It seems a
lap to me."
The steward returned with whiskey and two jugs, one of iced water, the
other of boiling water; I mixed them to the right temperature. He watched
and said: "I'll remember that's how you take it, sir."
Most passengers had fads; he was paid to fortify their self-esteem.
Julia asked for a cup of hot chocolate. I sat by her in the next cube.
"I never see you now," she said. "I never seem to see anyone I like. I
don't know why."
But she spoke as though it were a matter of weeks rather than of years;
as though, too, before our parting we had been firm friends. It was dead
contrary to the common experience of such encounters, when time is found to
have built its own defensive lines, camouflaged vulnerable points, and laid
a field of mines across all but a few well-trodden paths, so that, more
often than not, we can only signal to one another from either side of the
tangle of wire. Here she and I, who were never friends before, met on terms
of long and unbroken intimacy.
"What have you been doing in America?"
She looked up slowly from her chocolate and, her splendid, serious eyes
in mine, said: "Don't you know? I'll tell you about it sometime. I've been a
mug. I thought I was in love with someone, but it didn't turn out that way."
And my mind went back ten years to the evening at Brideshead, when that
lovely, spidery child of nineteen, as though brought in for an hour from the
nursery and nettled by lack of attention from the grown-ups, had said: "I'm
causing anxiety, too, you know," and I had thought at the time, though
scarcely, it now seemed to me, in long trousers myself: "How important these
girls make themselves with their love affairs."
Now it was different; there was nothing but humility and friendly
candour in the way she spoke.
I wished I could respond to her confidence, give some token of
acceptance, but there was nothing in my last, flat, eventful years that I
could share with her. I began instead to talk of my time in the jungle, of
the comic characters I had met and the lost places I had visited, but in
this mood of old friendship the tale faltered and came to an end abruptly.
"I long to see the paintings," she said.
"Celia wanted me to unpack some and stick them round the cabin for her
cocktail party. I couldn't do that."
"No. ... Is Celia as pretty as ever? I always thought she had the most
delicious looks of any girl of my year." "She hasn't changed."
"You have, Charles. So lean and grim, not at all the pretty boy
Sebastian brought home with him. Harder, too." "And you're softer."
"Yes, I think so ... and very patient now." She was not yet thirty, but
was approaching the zenith of her loveliness, all her rich promise
abundantly fulfilled. She had lost that fashionable, spidery look; the head
that I used to think Quattrocento, which had sat a little oddly on her, was
now part of herself and not at all Florentine--not connected in any way with
painting or the arts or with anything except herself, so that it would be
idle to itemize and dissect her beauty, which was her own essence, and could
only be known in her and by her authority and in the love I was soon to have
Time had wrought another change, too; not for her the sly, complacent
smile of La Gioconda; the years had been more than "the sound of lyres and
flutes," and had saddened her. She seemed to say, "Look at me. I have done
my share. I am beautiful. It is something quite out of the ordinary, this
beauty of mine. I am made for delight. But what do I get out of it? Where is
That was the change in her from ten years ago; that, indeed, was her
reward, this haunting, magical sadness which spoke straight to the heart and
struck silence; it was the completion of her beauty.
"Sadder, too," I said.
"Oh yes, much sadder."
My wife was in exuberant spirits when, two hours later, I returned to
"I've had to do everything. How does it look?"
We had been given, without paying more for it, a large suite of rooms,
one so large, in fact, that it was seldom booked except by directors of the
line, and on most voyages, the chief purser admitted, was given to those he
wished to honour. (My wife was adept in achieving such small advantages,
first impressing the impressionable with her chic and my celebrity and,
superiority once firmly established, changing quickly to a pose of almost
flirtatious affability.) In token of her appreciation the chief purser had
been asked to our party and he, in token of his appreciation, had sent
before him the life-size effigy of a swan, moulded in ice and filled with
caviar. This chilly piece of magnificence now dominated the room, standing
on a table in the centre, thawing gently, dripping at the beak into its
silver dish. The flowers of the morning delivery hid as much as possible of
the panelling (for this room was a miniature of the monstrous hall above).
"You must get dressed at once. Where have you been all this time?"
"Talking to Julia Mottram."
"D'you know her? Oh, of course, you were a friend of the dipso brother.
Goodness, her glamour!"
"She greatly admires your looks, too."
"She used to be a girl friend of Boy's."
"He always said so."
"Have you considered," I asked, "how your guests are going to eat this
"I have. It's insoluble. But there's all this" -- she revealed some
trays of glassy tit-bits -- "and anyway, people always find ways of eating
things at parties. D'you remember we once ate potted shrimps with a paper
"Darling, it was the night you popped the question."
"As I remember, you popped."
"Well, the night we got engaged. But you haven't said how you like the
The arrangements, apart from the swan and the flowers, consisted of a
steward already inextricably trapped in the corner behind an improvised bar,
and another steward, tray in hand, in comparative freedom.
"A cinema actor's dream," I said.
"Cinema actors," said my wife; "that's what I want to talk about."
She came with me to my dressing-room and talked while I changed. It had
occurred to her that, with my interest in architecture, my true metier was
designing scenery for the films, and she had asked two Hollywood magnates to
the party with whom she wished to ingratiate me.
We returned to the sitting-room.
"Darling, I believe you've taken against my bird. Don't be beastly
about it in front of the purser. It was sweet of him to think of it.
Besides, you know, if you had read about it in a description of a
sixteenth-century banquet in Venice, you would have said those were the days
"In sixteenth-century Venice it would have been a somewhat different
"Here is Father Christmas. We were just in raptures over your swan."
The chief purser came into the room and shook hands powerfully.
"Dear Lady Celia," he said, "if you'll put on your warmest clothes and
come an expedition into the cold storage with me to-morrow, I can show you a
whole Noah's Ark of such objects. The toast will be along in a minute.
They're keeping it hot."
"Toast!" said my wife, as though this was something beyond the dreams
of gluttony. "Do you hear that, Charles? Toast."
Soon the guests began to arrive; there was nothing to delay them.
"Celia," they said, "what a grand cabin and what a beautiful swan!" and, for
all that it was one of the largest in the ship, our room was soon painfully
crowded; they began to put out their cigarettes in the little pool of
ice-water which now surrounded the swan.
The purser made a sensation, as sailors like to do, by predicting a
storm. "How can you be so beastly?" asked my wife, conveying the flattering
suggestion that not only the cabin and the caviar, but the waves, too, were
at his command. "Anyway, storms don't affect a ship like this, do they?"
"Might hold us back a bit."
"But it wouldn't make us sick?"
"Depends if you're a good sailor. I'm always sick in storms, ever since
I was a boy."
"I don't believe it. He's just being sadistic. Come over here, there's
something I want to show you."
It was the latest photograph of her children. "Charles hasn't even seen
Caroline yet. Isn't it thrilling for him?"
There were no friends of mine there, but I knew about a third of the
party, and talked away civilly enough. An elderly woman said to me, "So
you're Charles. I feel I know you through and through, Celia's talked so
much about you."
Through and through, I thought. Through and through is a long way,
madam. Can you indeed see into those dark places where my own eyes seek in
vain to guide me? Can you tell me, dear Mrs. Stuyvesant Oglander -- if I am
correct in thinking that is how I heard my wife speak of you -- why it is
that at this moment, while I talk to you, here, about my forthcoming
exhibition, I am thinking all the time only of when Julia will come? Why can
I talk like this to you, but not to her? Why have I already set her apart
from humankind, and myself with her? What is going on in those secret places
of my spirit with which you make so free? What is cooking, Mrs. Stuyvesant
Still Julia did not come, and the noise of twenty people in that tiny
room, which was so large that no one hired it, was the noise of a multitude.
Then I saw a curious thing. There was a little red-headed man whom no
one seemed to know, a dowdy fellow quite unlike the general run of my wife's
guests; he had been standing by the caviar for twenty minutes eating as fast
as a rabbit. Now he wiped his mouth with his handkerchief and, on the
impulse apparently, leaned forward and dabbed the beak of the swan, removing
the drop of water that had been swelling there and would soon have fallen.
Then he looked round furtively to see if he had been observed, caught my
eye, and giggled nervously.
"Been wanting to do that for a long time," he said. "Bet you don't know
how many drops to the minute. I do, I counted."
"I've no idea."
"Guess. Tanner if you're wrong; half a dollar if you're right. That's
"Three," I said.
"Coo, you're a sharp one. Been counting 'em yourself." But he showed no
inclination to pay this debt. Instead he said: "How d'you figure this out?
I'm an Englishman born and bred, but this is my first time on the Atlantic."
"You flew out perhaps?"
"No, nor over it."
"Then I presume you went round the world and came across the Pacific."
"You are a sharp one and no mistake. I've made quite a bit getting into
arguments over that one."
"What was your route?" I asked, wishing to be agreeable.
"Ah, that'd be telling. Well, I must skedaddle. So long."
"Charles," said my wife, "this is Mr. Kramm, of Interastral Films."
"So you are Mr. Charles Ryder," said Mr. Kramm.
"Well, well, well." He paused. I waited. "The purser here says we're
heading for dirty weather. What d'you know about that?"
"Far less than the purser."
"Pardon me, Mr. Ryder, I don't quite get you."
"I mean I know less than the purser."
"Is that so? Well, well, well. I've enjoyed our talk very much. I hope
that it will be the first of many."
An Englishwoman said: "Oh, that swan! Six weeks in America has given me
an absolute phobia of ice. Do tell me, how did it feel meeting Celia again
after two years? I know I should feel indecently bridal. But Celia's never
quite got the orange blossom out of her hair, has she?"
Another woman said: "Isn't it heaven saying good-bye and I knowing we
shall meet again in half an hour and go on meeting every half-hour for
Our guests began to go, and each on leaving informed me ofj something
my wife had promised to bring me to in the near future; it was the theme of
the evening that we should all be seeing a lot of each other, that we had
formed one of those molecular systems that physicists can illustrate. At
last the swan was wheeled out, too, and I said to my wife, "Julia never
"No, she telephoned. I couldn't hear what she said, there was such a
noise going on--something about a dress. Quite lucky really, there wasn't
room for a cat. It was a lovely party, wasn't it? Did you hate it very much?
You behaved beautifully and looked so distinguished. Who was your red-baked
"No chum of mine."
"How very peculiar! Did you say anything to Mr. Kramm about working in
"Of course not."
"Oh, Charles, you are a worry to me. It's not enough just to stand
about looking distinguished and a martyr for Art. Let's go to dinner. We're
at the Captain's table. I don't suppose he'll dine down to-night, but it's
polite to be fairly punctual."
By the time that we reached the table the rest of the party had
arranged themselves. On either side of the Captain's empty chair sat Julia
and Mrs. Stuyvesant Oglander; besides them there were an English diplomat
and his wife, Senator Stuyvesant Oglander, and an American clergyman at
present totally isolated between two pairs of empty chairs. This clergyman
later described himself -- redundantly it seemed -- as an Episcopalian
Bishop. Husbands and wives sat together here. My wife was confronted with a
quick decision, and although the steward attempted to direct us otherwise,
sat so that she had the Senator and I the Bishop. Julia gave us both a
little dismal signal of sympathy.
"I'm miserable about the party," she said, "my beastly maid totally
disappeared with every dress I have. She only turned up half an hour ago.
She'd been playing ping-pong."
"I've been telling the Senator what he missed," said Mrs. Stuyvesant
Oglander. "Wherever Celia is, you'll find she knows all the significant
"On my right," said the Bishop, "a significant couple are expected.
They take all their meals in their cabin except when they have been informed
in advance that the Captain will be present."
We were a gruesome circle; even my wife's high social spirit faltered.
At moments I heard bits of her conversation.
"... an extraordinary little red-haired man. Captain Foulenough in
"But I understood. you to say, Lady Celia, that you unacquainted with
"I mean he was like Captain Foulenough."
"I begin to comprehend. He impersonated this friend of yourtl in order
to come to your party."
"No, no. Captain Foulenough is simply a comic character."
"There seems to have been nothing very amusing about this other man.
Your friend is a comedian?"
"No, no. Captain Foulenough is an imaginary character in an English
paper. You know, like your 'Popeye.'"
The Senator laid down knife and fork. "To recapitulate: an impostor
came to your party and you admitted him because of a fancied resemblance to
a fictitious character in a cartoon."
"Yes, I suppose that was it really."
The Senator looked at his wife as much as to say: "Significant" people,
I heard Julia across the table trying to trace, for the benefit of the
diplomat, the marriage-connections of her Hungarian and Italian cousins. The
diamonds in her hair and on her fingers flashed with fire, but her hands
were nervously rolling little balls, of crumb, and her starry head drooped
The Bishop told me of the goodwill mission on which he was travelling
to Barcelona ... "a very, very valuable work of clearance has been
performed, Mr. Ryder. The time has now come to rebuild on broader
foundations. I have made it my aim to reconcile the so-called Anarchists and
the so-called Communists, and with that in view I and my committee have
digested all the available literature of the subject. Our conclusion, Mr.
Ryder, is unanimous. There is no fundamental diversity between the two
ideologies. It is a matter of personalities, Mr. Ryder, and what
personalities have put asunder personalities can unite. . . ."
On the other side I heard: --
"And may I make so bold as to ask what institutions sponsored your
The diplomat's wife bravely engaged the Bishop across the gulf that
"And what language will you speak when you get to Barcelona?"
"The language of Reason and Brotherhood, madam," and, turning back to
me, "The speech of the coming century is in thoughts not in words. Do you
not agree, Mr. Ryder?"
"Yes," I said. "Yes."
"What are words?" said the Bishop.
"Mere conventional symbols, Mr. Ryder, and this is an age rightly
sceptical of conventional symbols."
My mind reeled; after the parrot-house fever of my wife's party, and
the deep, unplumbed emotions of the afternoon, after all the exertions of my
wife's pleasures in New York, after the months of solitude in the steaming,
green shadows of the jungle, this was too much. I felt like Lear on the
heath, like the Duchess of Main bayed by madmen. I summoned cataracts and
hurri-canoes, and as if by conjUry the call was immediately answered.
For some time now, though whether it was a mere trick of the nerves I
did not then know, I had felt a recurrent and persistently growing motion --
a heave and shudder of the large dining-room as of the breast of a man in
deep sleep. Now my wife turned to me and said: "Either I am a little drunk
or it's getting rough," and even as she spoke we found ourselves leaning
sideways in our chairs; there was a crash and tinkle of falling cutlery by
the wall, and on our table the wine-glasses all together toppled and rolled
over, while each of us steadied the plate and forks and looked at the others
with expressions that varied between frank horror in the diplomat's wife and
relief in Julia.
The gale which, unheard, unseen, unfelt, in our enclosed and insulated
world, had for an hour been-mounting over us, had now veered and fallen full
on our bows.
Silence followed the crash, then a high, nervous babble of laughter.
Stewards laid napkins on the pools of spilt wineJ We tried to resume the
conversation, but all were waiting, as the little ginger man had watched the
drop swell and fall from the swan's beak, for the next great blow; it came,
heavier than the last.
"This is where I say good-night to you all," said the diplomat's wife,
Her husband led her to their cabin. The dining-room was emptying fast.
Soon only Julia, my wife and I were left at the table, and telepathically,
Julia said, "Like King Lear."
"Only each of us is all three of them."
"What can you mean?" asked my wife.
"Lear, Kent, Fool."
"Oh, dear, it's like that agonizing Foulenough conversation over again.
Don't try and explain."
"I doubt if I could," I said.
Another climb, another vast drop. The stewards were at work making
things fast, shutting things up, hustling away unstable ornaments.
"Well, we've finished dinner and set a fine example of British phlegm,"
said my wife. "Let's go and see what's on."
Once on our way to the lounge we had all three to cling to a pillar;
when we got there we found it almost deserted; the band played but no one
danced; the tables were set for tombola but no one bought a card, and the
ship's officer, who made a ' specialty of calling the numbers with all the
patter of the lower j deck -- "sweet sixteen and never been kissed -- key of
the door, twenty-one -- clickety-click, sixty-six" -- was idly talking to
his i colleagues; there were a score of scattered novel readers, a few games
of bridge, some brandy drinking in the smoking-room, but all our guests of
two hours before had disappeared.
The three of us sat for a little by the empty dance floor; my wife was
full of schemes by which, without impoliteness, we could move to another
table in the dining-room. "It's crazy to go to the restaurant," she said,
"and pay extra for exactly the same dinner. Only film people go there,
anyway. I don't see why we should be made to."
Presently she said: "It's making my head ache and I'm tired, anyway.
I'm going to bed."
Julia went with her. I walked round the ship, on one of the covered
decks where the wind howled and the spray leaped up from the darkness and
smashed white and brown against the glass screen; men were posted to keep
the passengers off the open decks. Then I, too, went below.
In my dressing-room everything breakable had been stowed away, the door
to the cabin was hooked open, and my wife called plaintively from within.
"I feel terrible. I didn't know a ship of this size could pitch like
this," she said, and her eyes were full of consternation and resentment,
like those of a woman who, at the end of her time, at length realizes that
however luxurious the nursing home, and however well paid the doctor, her
labour is inevitable; and the lift and fall of the ship came regularly as
the pains of childbirth.
I slept next door; or, rather, I lay there between dreaming and waking.
In a narrow bunk, on a hard mattress, there might have been rest, but here
the beds were broad and buoyant; I collected what cushions I could find and
tried to wedge myself firm, but through the night I turned with each swing
and twist of the ship -- she was rolling now as well as pitching -- and my
head rang with the creak and thud which now succeeded the hum of fine
Once, an hour before dawn, my wife appeared like a ghost in the
doorway, supporting herself with either hand on the jambs, saying: "Are you
awake? Can't you do something? Can't you get something from the doctor?"
I rang for the night steward, who had a draught ready prepared, which
comforted her a little. And all night between dreaming and waking I thought
of Julia; in my brief dreams she took a hundred fantastic and terrible and
obscene forms, but in my waking thoughts she returned with her sad, starry
head just as I had seen her at dinner.
After first light I slept for an hour or two, then awoke clearheaded,
with a joyous sense of anticipation.
The wind had dropped a little, the steward told me, but was still
blowing hard and there was a very heavy swell; "which there's nothing worse
than a heavy swell," he said, "for the If enjoyment of the passengers.
There's not many breakfasts wanted this morning."
I looked in at my wife, found her sleeping, and closed the door I
between us; then I ate salmon kedgeree and cold Bradenham ham and telephoned
for a barber to come and shave me.
"There's a lot of stuff in the sitting-room for the lady," said the
steward; "shall I leave it for the time?"
I went to see. There was a second delivery of cellophane parcels from
the shops on board, some ordered by radio from ' 1 friends in New York whose
secretaries had failed to remind them of our departure in time, some by our
guests as they left the cocktail party. It was no day for flower vases; I
told him to leave them on the floor and then, struck by the thought, removed
the car^ from Mr. Kramm's roses and sent them with my love to Julia.
She telephoned while I was being shaved.
"What a deplorable thing to do, Charles! How unlike you!"
"Don't you like them?" "What can I do with roses on a day like this?"
There was a pause and a rustle of unpacking. "They've absolutely no
smell at all."
"What have you had for breakfast?"
"Muscat grapes and cantaloup."
"When shall I see you?"
"Before lunch. I'm busy till then with a masseuse."
"Yes, isn't it peculiar. I've never had one before, except once when I
hurt my shoulder hunting. What is it about being on a boat that makes
everyone behave like a film star?"
"How about these very embarrassing roses ?"
The barber did his work with extraordinary dexterity -- indeed, with
agility, for he stood like a swordsman in a ballet sometimes on the point of
one foot, sometimes on the other, lightly flicking the lather off his blade
and swooping back to my chin as the ship righted herself; I should not have
dared use a safety razor on myself.
The telephone rang again.
It was my wife.
"How are you, Charles ?"
"Aren't you coming to see me ?"
"I came once. I'll be in again."
I .brought her the flowers from the sitting-room; they completed the
atmosphere of a maternity ward which she had managed to create in the cabin;
the stewardess had the air of a midwife, standing by the bed, a pillar of
starched linen and composure. My wife turned her head on the pillow and
smiled wanly; she stretched out a bare arm and caressed with the tips of her
fingers the cellophane and silk ribbons of the largest bouquet. "How sweet
people are," she said faintly, as though the gale were a private misfortune
of her own which the world in its love was condoling.
"I take it you're not getting up."
"Oh no, Mrs. Clark is being so sweet." She was always quick to get
servants' names. "Don't 'bother. Come in sometimes and tell me what's going
"Now, now, dear," said the stewardess, "the less we are disturbed
to-day the better."
My wife seemed to make a sacred, female rite even of seasickness.
Julia's cabin, I knew, was somewhere below ours. I waited for her by
the lift on the main deck; when she came we walked once round the promenade;
I held the rail, she took my other arm. It was hard going; through the
streaming glass we saw a distorted world of grey sky and black water. When
the ship rolled heavily I swung her round so that she could hold the rail
with her other hand; the howl of the wind was subdued, but the whole ship
creaked with strain. We made the circuit once; then Julia said: "It's no
good. That woman beat hell out of me, and I feel limp, anyway. Let's sit
The great bronze doors of the lounge had torn away from their hooks and
were swinging free with the roll of the ship; regularly and, it seemed,
irresistibly, first one, then the other, opened and shut; they paused at the
completion of each half circle, began to move slowly and finished fast with
a resounding-clash. There was no real risk in passing them, except of
slipping and being caught by that swift, final blow; there was ample time to
walk through unhurried, but there was something forbidding in the sight of
that great weight of uncontrolled metal, flapping to and fro, which might
have made a timid man flinch or skip through too quickly; I rejoiced to feel
Julia's hand perfectly steady on my arm and know, as I walked beside her,
that she was wholly undismayed.
"Bravo," said a man sitting near by. "I confess I went round the other
way. I didn't like the look of those doors somehow. They've been trying to
fix them all the morning."
There were few people about that day, and that few seemed bound
together by a camaraderie of reciprocal esteem; they did nothing except sit
rather glumly in their armchairs, drink occasionally and exchange
congratulations on not being seasick.
"You're the first lady I've seen," said the man.
"I'm very lucky."
"We are very lucky," he said, with a movement which began as a bow and
ended as a lurch forward to his knees, as the blotting-paper floor dipped
steeply between us. The roll carried us away from him, clinging together but
still on our feet, and we quickly sat where our dance led us, on the further
side, in isolation; a web of life-lines had been stretched across the
lounge, and we seemed like boxers, roped into the ring.
The steward approached. "Your usual, sir? Whiskey and tepid water, I
think. And for the lady? Might I suggest a nip of champagne?"
"D'you know, the awful thing is I would like champagne very much?" said
Julia. "What a life of pleasure -- roses, half an hour with a female
pugilist, and now champagne!"
"I wish you wouldn't go on about the roses. It wasn't my idea in the
first place. Someone sent them to Celia."
"Oh, that's quite different. It lets you out completely. But it makes
my massage worse."
"I was shaved in bed."
"I'm glad about the roses," said Julia. "Frankly, they were a shock.
They made me think we were starting the day on quite the wrong footing."
I knew what she meant, and in that moment felt as though I had shaken
off some of the dust and grit of ten dry years; then and always, however she
spoke to me -- in half sentences, single words, stock phrases of
contemporary jargon, in scarcely perceptible movements of eyes or lips or
hands -- however inexpressible her thought, however quick and far it had
glanced from the matter in hand, however deep it had plunged, as it often
did, straight from the surface to the depths, I knew; even that day when I
still stood on the extreme verge of love, I knew what she meant.
We drank our wine and soon our new friend came lurching towards us down
"Mind if I join you? Nothing like a bit of rough weather for bringing
people together. This is my tenth crossing, and I've never seen anything
like it. I can see you are an experienced sailor, young lady."
"No. As a matter of fact, I've never been at sea before except coming
to New York and, of course, crossing the Channel. I don't feel sick, thank
God, but I feel tired. I thought at first it was only the massage, but I'm
coming to the conclusion it's the ship."
"My wife's in a terrible way. She's an experienced sailor. Only shows,
He joined us at luncheon, and I did not mind his being there; he had
clearly taken a fancy to Julia, and he thought we were man and wife; this
misconception and his gallantry seemed.in some way to bring her and me
closer together. "Saw you two last night at the Captain's table," he said,
"with all the nobs."
"Very, dull nobs."
"If you ask me, nobs always are. When you get a storm like this you
find out what people are really made of."
"You have a predilection for good sailors?"
"Well, put like that I don't know that I do--what I mean is, it makes
for getting together."
"Take us for example. But for this we might never have met. I've had
some very romantic encounters at sea in my time. If the lady will excuse me,
I'd like to tell you about a little adventure I had in the Gulf of Lyons
when I was younger than I am now."
We were both weary; lack of sleep, the incessant din and the strain
every movement required, wore us down. We spent that afternoon apart in our
cabins. I slept, and when I awoke the sea was as high as ever, inky clouds
swept over us and the glass streamed still with water, but I had grown used
to the storm in my sleep, had made its rhythm mine, had become part of it,
so that I arose strongly and confidently and found Julia already up and in
the same temper.
"What d'you think?" she said. "That man's giving a little 'get-together
party' to-night in the smoking-room for all the good sailors. He asked me to
bring my husband."
"Are we going?"
"Of course. ... I wonder if I ought to feel like the lady our friend
met on the way to Barcelona. I don't, Charles, not a bit'."
There were eighteen people at the "get-together party"; we had nothing
in common except immunity from seasickness. We drank champagne, and
presently our host said: "Tell you what, I've got a roulette wheel. Trouble
is we can't go to my cabin on account of the wife, and we aren't allowed to
play in public."
So the party adjourned to my sitting-room and we played for low stakes
until late into the night, when Julia left and our host had drunk too much
wine to be surprised that she and I were not in the same quarters. When all
but he had gone he fell asleep in his chair, and I left him there. It was
the last I saw of him, for later, so the steward told me when he came from
returning the roulette things to the man's cabin, he broke his collar-bone,
falling in the corridor, and was taken to the ship's hospital.
All next day Julia and I spent together without interruption; talking,
scarcely moving, held in our chairs by the swell of the sea. After luncheon
the last hardy passengers went to rest and we were alone as though the place
had been cleared for us, as though tact on a Titanic scale had sent everyone
tiptoeing out to leave us to one another.
The bronze doors of the lounge had been fixed, but not before two
seamen had been injured and removed to the sick-bay. They had tried various
devices, lashing with ropes and, later, when these failed, with steel
hawsers, but there was nothing to which they could be made fast; finally,
they drove wooden wedges under them, catching them in the brief moment of
repose when they were full open, and these held them.
When, before dinner, she went to her cabin to get ready (no one dressed
that night) and I came with her, uninvited, unopposed, expected, and behind
closed doors took her in my arms and first kissed her, there was no
alteration from the mood of the afternoon. Later, turning it over in my
mind, as I turned in my bed with the rise and fall of the ship, through the
long, lonely, drowsy night, I recalled the courtships of the past, dead, ten
years; how, knotting my tie before setting out, putting the gardenia in my
buttonhole, I would plan my evening and think, At such and such a time, at
such and such an opportunity, I shall cross the start-line and open my
attack for better or worse; this phase of the battle has gone on long
enough, I would think; a decision must be reached. With Julia there were no
phases, no start-line, no tactics at all.
But later that night when she went to bed and I followed her to her
door she stopped me.
"No, Charles, not yet. Perhaps never. I don't know. I don't know if I
Then something, some surviving ghost from those dead ten years--for one
cannot die, even for a little, without some loss -- made me say, "Love? I'm
not asking for love."
"Oh yes, Charles, you are," she said, and putting up her hand gently
stroked my cheek; then shut her door.
And I reeled back, first on one wall, then on the other, of the long,
softly lighted, empty corridor; for the storm, it appeared, had the form of
a ring. All day we had been sailing through its still centre; now we were
once more in the full fury of the wind -- and that night was to be rougher
than the one before.
Ten hours of talking: what had we to say? Plain fact mostly, the record
of our two lives, so long widely separate, now being knit to one. Through
all that storm-tossed night I rehearsed what she had told me; she was no
longer the alternate succubus and starry vision of the night before; she had
given all that was transferable of her past into my keeping. She told me, as
I have already retold, of her courtship and marriage; she told me, as though
fondly turning the pages of an old nursery-book, of her childhood; and I
lived long, sunny days with her in the meadows, with Nanny Hawkins on her
camp stool and Cordelia asleep in the pram, slept quiet nights under the
dome with the religious pictures fading round the cot as the nightlight
burned low and the embers settled in the grate. She told me of her life with
Rex and of the secret, vicious, disastrous escapade that had taken her to
New York. She, too, had had her dead years. She told me of her long struggle
with Rex as to whether she should have a child; at first she wanted one, but
learned after a year that an operation was needed to make it possible; by
that time Rex and she were out of love, but he still wanted his child, and
when at last she consented, it was born dead.
"Rex has never been unkind to me intentionally," she said. "It's just
that he isn't a real person at all; he's just a few faculties of a man
highly developed; the rest simply isn't there. He couldn't imagine why it
hurt me to find, two months after we came back to London from our honeymoon,
that he was still keeping up with Brenda Champion."
"I was glad when I found Celia was unfaithful," I said. "I felt it was
all right for me to dislike her."
"Is she? Do you? I'm glad. I don't like her either. Why did you marry
"Physical attraction. Ambition. Everyone agrees she's the ideal wife
for a painter. Loneliness, missing Sebastian."
"You loved him, didn't you?"
"Oh yes. He was the forerunner."
The ship creaked and shuddered, rose and fell. My wife called to me
from the next room:
"Charles, are you there?"
"I've been asleep such a long while. What time is it?"
"It's no better, is it?"
"I feel a little better, though. D'you think they'd bring me some tea
or something if I rang the bell?"
I got her some tea and biscuits from the night steward.
"Did you have an amusing evening?"
"Poor Charles. It was going to have been such a lovely trip, too. It
may be better to-morrow."
I turned out the light and shut the door between us.
Waking and dreaming, through the strain and creak and heave of the long
night, flat on my back with my arms and legs spread wide to check the roll,
and my eyes open to the darkness, I lay thinking of Julia.
". . . We thought Papa might come back to England after Mummy died, or
that he might marry again, but he lives just as he did. Rex and I often go
to see him now. I've grown fond of him. . . . Sebastian's disappeared
completely . . . Cordelia's in Spain with an ambulance . . . Bridey leads
his own extraordinary life. He wanted to shut Brideshead after Mummy died,
but Papa wouldn't have it for some reason, so Rex and I live there now, and
Bridey has two rooms up in the dome, next to Nanny Hawkins, part of the old
nurseries. He's like a character from Chekhov. One meets him sometimes
coming out of the library or on the stairs -- I never know when he's at home
-- and now and then- he suddenly comes in to dinner like a ghost quite
". . . Oh, Rex's parties! Politics and money. They can't do anything
except for money; if they walk round the lake they have to make bets about
how many swans they see ... sitting up till two, amusing Rex's girls,
hearing them gossip, rattling away endlessly on the backgammon board while
the men play cards and smoke cigars. The cigar smoke ... I can smell it in
my hair when I wake up in the morning; it's in my clothes when I dress at
night. Do I smell of it now? D'you think that woman who rubbed me felt it in
". . . At first I used to stay away with Rex in his friends' houses. He
doesn't make me any more. He was ashamed of me when he found I didn't cut
the kind of figure he wanted, ashamed of himself for having been taken in. I
wasn't at all the article he'd bargained for. He can't see the point of me,
but whenever v he's made up his mind there isn't a point and he's
begun to feel comfortable, he gets a surprise -- some man, or even woman, he
respects takes a fancy to me and he suddenly sees that there is a whole
world of things we understand and he doesn't. . . . He was upset when I went
away. He'll be delighted to have me , back. I was faithful to him until this
last thing came along. There's nothing like a good upbringing. Do you know
last year, when I thought I was going to have a child, I'd decided to have
it brought up a Catholic? I hadn't thought about religion before; I haven't
since; but just at that time, when I was waiting for the birth, I thought,
'That's one thing I can give her. It doesn't seem to have done me much good,
but my child shall have it.' It was odd, wanting to give something one had
lost oneself. Then, in the end, I couldn't even give that: I couldn't even
give her life. I never saw her; I was too ill to know what was going on, and
afterwards for a long time, until now, I didn't want to speak about her --
she was a daughter, so Rex didn't so much mind her being dead.
"I've been punished a little for marrying Rex. You see, I can't get all
that sort of thing out of my mind, quite -- Death, Judgment, Heaven, Hell,
Nanny Hawkins, and the Catechism. It becomes part of oneself, if they give
it one early enough. And yet I wanted my child to have it. ... Now I suppose
I shall be punished for what I've just done. Perhaps that is why you and I
are here together like this . . . part of a plan."
That was almost the last thing she said to me -- "part of a plan" --
before we went below and parted at her cabin door.
Next day the wind had again dropped, and again we were wallowing in the
swell. The talk was less of seasickness now than of broken bones; people had
been thrown about in the night, and there had been many nasty accidents on
bathroom floors. That day, because we had talked so much the day before and
because what we had to say needed few words, we spoke little. We had books;
Julia found a game she liked. When after long silences we spoke, our
thoughts, we found, had kept pace together side by side.
Once I said, "You are standing guard over your sadness."
"It's all I have earned. You said yesterday. My wages."
"An I.O.U. from life. A promise to pay on demand."
Rain ceased at midday; at evening the clouds dispersed and the sun,
astern of us, suddenly broke into the lounge where we sat, putting all the
lights to shame.
"Sunset," said Julia, "the end of our day."
She rose and, though the roll and pitch of the ship seemed unabated,
led me up to the boat-deck. She put her arm through mine and her hand into
mine, in my great-coat pocket. The deck was dry and empty, swept only by the
wind of the ship's speed. As we made our halting, laborious way forward,
away from the 1 flying smuts of the smoke-stack, we were alternately jostled
together, then strained, nearly sundered, arms and fingers interlocked as I
held the rail and Julia clung to me, thrust together again, drawn apart;
then, in a plunge deeper than the rest, I found myself flung across her,
pressing her against the rail, warding myself off her with the arms that
held her prisoner on either side, and as the ship paused at the end of its
drop as though gathering strength for the ascent, we stood thus embraced, in
the open, cheek against cheek, her hair blowing across my eyes; the dark
horizon of tumbling water, flashing now with gold, stood still above us,
then came sweeping down till I was staring through Julia's dark hair into a
wide and golden sky, and she was thrown forward on my heart, held up by my
hands on the rail, her face still pressed to mine.
In that minute, with her lips to my ear and her breath warm in the salt
wind, Julia said, though I had not spoken, "Yes, now," and as the ship
righted herself and for the moment ran into calmer waters, Julia led me
So at sunset I took formal possession of her as her lover. It was no
time for the sweets of luxury; they would come, in then-season, with the
swallow and the lime-flowers. Now on the rough water, as I was made free of
her narrow loins and, it seemed now, in assuaging that fierce appetite, cast
a burden which I had borne all my life, toiled under, not knowing its nature
-- now, while the waves still broke and thundered on the prow, the act of
possession was a symbol, a rite of ancient origin and solemn meaning.
We dined that night high up in the ship, in the restaurant, and saw
through the bow windows the stars come out and sweep across the sky as once,
I remembered, I had seen them sweep above the towers and gables of Oxford.
The stewards promised that to-morrow night the band would play again and the
place be full. We had better book now, they said, if we wanted a good table.
"Oh dear," said Julia, "where can we hide in fair weather, we orphans
of the storm?"
I could not leave her that night, but early next morning, as once again
I made my way back along the corridor, I found I could walk without
difficulty; the ship rode easily on a smooth sea, and I knew that our
solitude was broken.
My wife called joyously from her cabin: "Charles, Charles, I feel so
well. What do you think I am having for breakfast?" I went to see. She was
eating a beef-steak.
"I've fixed up for a visit to the hairdresser -- do you know they
couldn't take me till four o'clock this afternoon, they're so busy suddenly?
So I shan't appear till the evening, but lots of people are coming in to see
us this morning, and I've asked Miles and Janet to lunch with us in our
sitting-room. I'm afraid I've been a worthless wife to you the last two
days. What have you been up to?"
"One gay evening," I said, "we played roulette till two o'clock, next
door in the sitting-room, and our host passed out."
"Goodness. It sounds very disreputable. Have you been behaving,
Charles? You haven't been picking up sirens?"
"There was scarcely a woman about. I spent most of the time with
"Oh, good. I always wanted to bring you together. She's one of my
friends I knew you'd like. I expect you were a godsend to her. She's had
rather a gloomy time lately. I don't expect she mentioned it, but . . ." my
wife proceeded to relate a current version of Julia's journey to New York.
"I'll ask her to cocktails this morning," she concluded.
Julia came, and it was happiness enough, now, merely to be near her.
"I hear you've been looking after my husband for me," my wife said.
"Yes, we've become very matey. He and I and a man whose name we don't
"Mr. Kramm, what have you done to your arm?"
"It was the bathroom floor," said Mr. Kramm, and explained at length
how he had fallen.
That night the Captain dined at his table and the circle was complete,
for claimants came to the chairs on the Bishop's right, two Japanese who
expressed deep interest in his projects for world-brotherhood. The Captain
was full of chaff at Julia's endurance in the storm, offering to engage her
as a seaman; years of sea-going had given him jokes for every occasion. My
wife, fresh from the beauty parlour, was unravaged by her three days of
distress, and in the eyes of many seemed to outshine Julia, whose sadness
had gone and been replaced by an incommunicable content and tranquillity;
incommunicable save to me; she and I, separated by the crowd, sat alone
together close enwrapped, as we had lain in each other's arms the night
There was a gala spirit in the ship that night. Though it meant rising
at dawn to pack, everyone was determined that for this one night he would
enjoy the luxury the storm had denied him. There was no solitude. Every
corner of the ship was thronged; dance music and high, excited chatter,
stewards darting everywhere with trays of glasses, the voice of the officer
in charge of tombola: "Kelly's eye --number one; legs, eleven; and we'll
Shake the Bag" -- Mrs. Stuyvesant Oglander in a paper cap, Mr. Kramm and his
bandages, the two Japanese decorously throwing paper streamers and hissing
I did not speak to Julia, alone, all that evening.
We met for a minute next day on the starboard side of the ship while
everyone else crowded to port to see the officials come aboard and to gaze
at the green coastline of Devon.
"What are your plans?"
"London for a bit," she said.
"Celia's going straight home. She wants to see the children."
"In London then."
"Charles, the little red-haired man -- Foulenough. Did you see? Two
plain-clothes police have taken him off."
"I missed it. There was such a crowd on that side of the ship."
"I found out the trains and sent a telegram. We shall be home by
dinner. The children will be asleep. Perhaps we might wake Johnjohn up, just
"You go down," I said. "I shall have to stay in London."
"Oh, but Charles, you must come. You haven't seen Caroline."
"Will she change much in a week or two?"
"Darling, she changes every day."
"Then what's the point of seeing her now? I'm sorry, my dear, but I
must get the pictures unpacked and see how they've travelled. I must fix up
for the exhibition right away."
"Must you?" she said, but I knew that her resistance ended when I
appealed to the mysteries of my trade. "It's very disappointing. Besides, I
don't know if Andrew and Cynthia will be out of the flat. They took it till
the end of the month."
"I can go to a hotel."
"But that's so grim. I can't bear you to be alone your first night
home. I'll stay and go down to-morrow."
"You mustn't disappoint the children."
"No." Her children, my art, the two mysteries of our trades . . .
"Will you come for the week-end?"
"If I can."
"All British passports to the smoking-room, please," said a steward.
"I've arranged with that sweet Foreign Office man at our table to get
us off early with him," said my wife.
- Brideshead Revisited_01: Prologue
- Brideshead Revisited_02: Book I. Et in Arcadia Ego. Chapter One
- Brideshead Revisited_03: Book I. Et in Arcadia Ego. Chapter Two
- Brideshead Revisited_04: Book I. Et in Arcadia Ego. Chapter Three
- Brideshead Revisited_05: Book I. Et in Arcadia Ego. Chapter Four
- Brideshead Revisited_06: Book I. Et in Arcadia Ego. Chapter Five
- Brideshead Revisited_07: Book I. Et in Arcadia Ego. Chapter Six
- Brideshead Revisited_08: Book I. Et in Arcadia Ego. Chapter Seven
- Brideshead Revisited_09: Book II. A twitch upon the thread. Chapter One
- Brideshead Revisited_10: Book II. A twitch upon the thread. Chapter Two
- Brideshead Revisited_11: Book II. A twitch upon the thread. Chapter Three
- Brideshead Revisited_12: Book II. A twitch upon the thread. Chapter Four
- Brideshead Revisited_13: Book II. A twitch upon the thread. Chapter Five
- Brideshead Revisited_14: Epilogue