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    Chapter 2

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    Chapter 2
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    He took nobody by surprise; there was nobody to take. All was
    quiet; Denis wandered from room to empty room, looking with
    pleasure at the familiar pictures and furniture, at all the
    little untidy signs of life that lay scattered here and there.
    He was rather glad that they were all out; it was amusing to
    wander through the house as though one were exploring a dead,
    deserted Pompeii. What sort of life would the excavator
    reconstruct from these remains; how would he people these empty
    chambers? There was the long gallery, with its rows of
    respectable and (though, of course, one couldn't publicly admit
    it) rather boring Italian primitives, its Chinese sculptures, its
    unobtrusive, dateless furniture. There was the panelled drawing-
    room, where the huge chintz-covered arm-chairs stood, oases of
    comfort among the austere flesh-mortifying antiques. There was
    the morning-room, with its pale lemon walls, its painted Venetian
    chairs and rococo tables, its mirrors, its modern pictures.
    There was the library, cool, spacious, and dark, book-lined from
    floor to ceiling, rich in portentous folios. There was the
    dining-room, solidly, portwinily English, with its great mahogany
    table, its eighteenth-century chairs and sideboard, its
    eighteenth-century pictures--family portraits, meticulous animal
    paintings. What could one reconstruct from such data? There was
    much of Henry Wimbush in the long gallery and the library,
    something of Anne, perhaps, in the morning-room. That was all.
    Among the accumulations of ten generations the living had left
    but few traces.

    Lying on the table in the morning-room he saw his own book of
    poems. What tact! He picked it up and opened it. It was what
    the reviewers call "a slim volume." He read at hazard:

    "...But silence and the topless dark
    Vault in the lights of Luna Park;
    And Blackpool from the nightly gloom
    Hollows a bright tumultuous tomb."

    He put it down again, shook his head, and sighed. "What genius I
    had then!" he reflected, echoing the aged Swift. It was nearly
    six months since the book had been published; he was glad to
    think he would never write anything of the same sort again. Who
    could have been reading it, he wondered? Anne, perhaps; he liked
    to think so. Perhaps, too, she had at last recognised herself in
    the Hamadryad of the poplar sapling; the slim Hamadryad whose
    movements were like the swaying of a young tree in the wind.
    "The Woman who was a Tree" was what he had called the poem. He
    had given her the book when it came out, hoping that the poem
    would tell her what he hadn't dared to say. She had never
    referred to it.

    He shut his eyes and saw a vision of her in a red velvet cloak,
    swaying into the little restaurant where they sometimes dined
    together in London--three quarters of an hour late, and he at his
    table, haggard with anxiety, irritation, hunger. Oh, she was

    It occurred to him that perhaps his hostess might be in her
    boudoir. It was a possibility; he would go and see. Mrs.
    Wimbush's boudoir was in the central tower on the garden front.
    A little staircase cork-screwed up to it from the hall. Denis
    mounted, tapped at the door. "Come in." Ah, she was there; he
    had rather hoped she wouldn't be. He opened the door.

    Priscilla Wimbush was lying on the sofa. A blotting-pad rested
    on her knees and she was thoughtfully sucking the end of a silver

    "Hullo," she said, looking up. "I'd forgotten you were coming."

    "Well, here I am, I'm afraid," said Denis deprecatingly. "I'm
    awfully sorry."

    Mrs. Wimbush laughed. Her voice, her laughter, were deep and
    masculine. Everything about her was manly. She had a large,
    square, middle-aged face, with a massive projecting nose and
    little greenish eyes, the whole surmounted by a lofty and
    elaborate coiffure of a curiously improbable shade of orange.
    Looking at her, Denis always thought of Wilkie Bard as the

    "That's why I'm going to
    Sing in op'ra, sing in op'ra,
    Sing in op-pop-pop-pop-pop-popera."

    Today she was wearing a purple silk dress with a high collar and
    a row of pearls. The costume, so richly dowagerish, so
    suggestive of the Royal Family, made her look more than ever like
    something on the Halls.

    "What have you been doing all this time?" she asked.

    "Well," said Denis, and he hesitated, almost voluptuously. He
    had a tremendously amusing account of London and its doings all
    ripe and ready in his mind. It would be a pleasure to give it
    utterance. "To begin with," he said...

    But he was too late. Mrs. Wimbush's question had been what the
    grammarians call rhetorical; it asked for no answer. It was a
    little conversational flourish, a gambit in the polite game.

    "You find me busy at my horoscopes," she said, without even being
    aware that she had interrupted him.

    A little pained, Denis decided to reserve his story for more
    receptive ears. He contented himself, by way of revenge, with
    saying "Oh?" rather icily.

    "Did I tell you how I won four hundred on the Grand National this

    "Yes," he replied, still frigid and mono-syllabic. She must have
    told him at least six times.

    "Wonderful, isn't it? Everything is in the Stars. In the Old
    Days, before I had the Stars to help me, I used to lose
    thousands. Now"--she paused an instant--"well, look at that four
    hundred on the Grand National. That's the Stars."

    Denis would have liked to hear more about the Old Days. But he
    was too discreet and, still more, too shy to ask. There had been
    something of a bust up; that was all he knew. Old Priscilla--not
    so old then, of course, and sprightlier--had lost a great deal of
    money, dropped it in handfuls and hatfuls on every race-course in
    the country. She had gambled too. The number of thousands
    varied in the different legends, but all put it high. Henry
    Wimbush was forced to sell some of his Primitives--a Taddeo da
    Poggibonsi, an Amico di Taddeo, and four or five nameless
    Sienese--to the Americans. There was a crisis. For the first
    time in his life Henry asserted himself, and with good effect, it

    Priscilla's gay and gadding existence had come to an abrupt end.
    Nowadays she spent almost all her time at Crome, cultivating a
    rather ill-defined malady. For consolation she dallied with New
    Thought and the Occult. Her passion for racing still possessed
    her, and Henry, who was a kind-hearted fellow at bottom, allowed
    her forty pounds a month betting money. Most of Priscilla's days
    were spent in casting the horoscopes of horses, and she invested
    her money scientifically, as the stars dictated. She betted on
    football too, and had a large notebook in which she registered
    the horoscopes of all the players in all the teams of the League.
    The process of balancing the horoscopes of two elevens one
    against the other was a very delicate and difficult one. A match
    between the Spurs and the Villa entailed a conflict in the
    heavens so vast and so complicated that it was not to be wondered
    at if she sometimes made a mistake about the outcome.

    "Such a pity you don't believe in these things, Denis, such a
    pity," said Mrs. Wimbush in her deep, distinct voice.

    "I can't say I feel it so."

    "Ah, that's because you don't know what it's like to have faith.
    You've no idea how amusing and exciting life becomes when you do
    believe. All that happens means something; nothing you do is
    ever insignificant. It makes life so jolly, you know. Here am I
    at Crome. Dull as ditchwater, you'd think; but no, I don't find
    it so. I don't regret the Old Days a bit. I have the Stars..."
    She picked up the sheet of paper that was lying on the blotting-
    pad. "Inman's horoscope," she explained. "(I thought I'd like
    to have a little fling on the billiards championship this
    autumn.) I have the Infinite to keep in tune with," she waved
    her hand. "And then there's the next world and all the spirits,
    and one's Aura, and Mrs. Eddy and saying you're not ill, and the
    Christian Mysteries and Mrs. Besant. It's all splendid. One's
    never dull for a moment. I can't think how I used to get on
    before--in the Old Days. Pleasure--running about, that's all it
    was; just running about. Lunch, tea, dinner, theatre, supper
    every day. It was fun, of course, while it lasted. But there
    wasn't much left of it afterwards. There's rather a good thing
    about that in Barbecue-Smith's new book. Where is it?"

    She sat up and reached for a book that was lying on the little
    table by the head of the sofa.

    "Do you know him, by the way?" she asked.


    "Mr. Barbecue-Smith."

    Denis knew of him vaguely. Barbecue-Smith was a name in the
    Sunday papers. He wrote about the Conduct of Life. He might
    even be the author of "What a Young Girl Ought to Know".

    "No, not personally," he said.

    "I've invited him for next week-end." She turned over the pages
    of the book. "Here's the passage I was thinking of. I marked
    it. I always mark the things I like."

    Holding the book almost at arm's length, for she was somewhat
    long-sighted, and making suitable gestures with her free hand,
    she began to read, slowly, dramatically.

    "'What are thousand pound fur coats, what are quarter million
    incomes?'" She looked up from the page with a histrionic
    movement of the head; her orange coiffure nodded portentously.
    Denis looked at it, fascinated. Was it the Real Thing and henna,
    he wondered, or was it one of those Complete Transformations one
    sees in the advertisements?

    "'What are Thrones and Sceptres?'"

    The orange Transformation--yes, it must be a Transformation--
    bobbed up again.

    "'What are the gaieties of the Rich, the splendours of the
    Powerful, what is the pride of the Great, what are the gaudy
    pleasures of High Society?'"

    The voice, which had risen in tone, questioningly, from sentence
    to sentence, dropped suddenly and boomed reply.

    "'They are nothing. Vanity, fluff, dandelion seed in the wind,
    thin vapours of fever. The things that matter happen in the
    heart. Seen things are sweet, but those unseen are a thousand
    times more significant. It is the unseen that counts in Life.'"

    Mrs. Wimbush lowered the book. "Beautiful, isn't it?" she said.

    Denis preferred not to hazard an opinion, but uttered a non-
    committal "H'm."

    "Ah, it's a fine book this, a beautiful book," said Priscilla, as
    she let the pages flick back, one by one, from under her thumb.
    "And here's the passage about the Lotus Pool. He compares the
    Soul to a Lotus Pool, you know." She held up the book again and
    read. "'A Friend of mine has a Lotus Pool in his garden. It
    lies in a little dell embowered with wild roses and eglantine,
    among which the nightingale pours forth its amorous descant all
    the summer long. Within the pool the Lotuses blossom, and the
    birds of the air come to drink and bathe themselves in its
    crystal waters...' Ah, and that reminds me," Priscilla
    exclaimed, shutting the book with a clap and uttering her big
    profound laugh--"that reminds me of the things that have been
    going on in our bathing-pool since you were here last. We gave
    the village people leave to come and bathe here in the evenings.
    You've no idea of the things that happened."

    She leaned forward, speaking in a confidential whisper; every now
    and then she uttered a deep gurgle of laughter. "...mixed
    bathing...saw them out of my window...sent for a pair of field-
    glasses to make doubt of it..." The laughter broke out
    again. Denis laughed too. Barbecue-Smith was tossed on the

    It's time we went to see if tea's ready," said Priscilla. She
    hoisted herself up from the sofa and went swishing off across the
    room, striding beneath the trailing silk. Denis followed her,
    faintly humming to himself:

    "That's why I'm going to
    Sing in op'ra, sing in op'ra,
    Sing in op-pop-pop-pop-popera."

    And then the little twiddly bit of accompaniment at the end:
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