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    Chapter 3

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    Chapter 3
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    CHAPTER III.

    The terrace in front of the house was a long narrow strip of
    turf, bounded along its outer edge by a graceful stone
    balustrade. Two little summer-houses of brick stood at either
    end. Below the house the ground sloped very steeply away, and
    the terrace was a remarkably high one; from the balusters to the
    sloping lawn beneath was a drop of thirty feet. Seen from below,
    the high unbroken terrace wall, built like the house itself of
    brick, had the almost menacing aspect of a fortification--a
    castle bastion, from whose parapet one looked out across airy
    depths to distances level with the eye. Below, in the
    foreground, hedged in by solid masses of sculptured yew trees,
    lay the stone-brimmed swimming-pool. Beyond it stretched the
    park, with its massive elms, its green expanses of grass, and, at
    the bottom of the valley, the gleam of the narrow river. On the
    farther side of the stream the land rose again in a long slope,
    chequered with cultivation. Looking up the valley, to the right,
    one saw a line of blue, far-off hills.

    The tea-table had been planted in the shade of one of the little
    summer-houses, and the rest of the party was already assembled
    about it when Denis and Priscilla made their appearance. Henry
    Wimbush had begun to pour out the tea. He was one of those
    ageless, unchanging men on the farther side of fifty, who might
    be thirty, who might be anything. Denis had known him almost as
    long as he could remember. In all those years his pale, rather
    handsome face had never grown any older; it was like the pale
    grey bowler hat which he always wore, winter and summer--
    unageing, calm, serenely without expression.

    Next him, but separated from him and from the rest of the world
    by the almost impenetrable barriers of her deafness, sat Jenny
    Mullion. She was perhaps thirty, had a tilted nose and a pink-
    and-white complexion, and wore her brown hair plaited and coiled
    in two lateral buns over her ears. In the secret tower of her
    deafness she sat apart, looking down at the world through sharply
    piercing eyes. What did she think of men and women and things?
    That was something that Denis had never been able to discover.
    In her enigmatic remoteness Jenny was a little disquieting. Even
    now some interior joke seemed to be amusing her, for she was
    smiling to herself, and her brown eyes were like very bright
    round marbles.

    On his other side the serious, moonlike innocence of Mary
    Bracegirdle's face shone pink and childish. She was nearly
    twenty-three, but one wouldn't have guessed it. Her short hair,
    clipped like a page's, hung in a bell of elastic gold about her
    cheeks. She had large blue china eyes, whose expression was one
    of ingenuous and often puzzled earnestness.

    Next to Mary a small gaunt man was sitting, rigid and erect in
    his chair. In appearance Mr. Scogan was like one of those
    extinct bird-lizards of the Tertiary. His nose was beaked, his
    dark eye had the shining quickness of a robin's. But there was
    nothing soft or gracious or feathery about him. The skin of his
    wrinkled brown face had a dry and scaly look; his hands were the
    hands of a crocodile. His movements were marked by the lizard's
    disconcertingly abrupt clockwork speed; his speech was thin,
    fluty, and dry. Henry Wimbush's school-fellow and exact
    contemporary, Mr. Scogan looked far older and, at the same time,
    far more youthfully alive than did that gentle aristocrat with
    the face like a grey bowler.

    Mr. Scogan might look like an extinct saurian, but Gombauld was
    altogether and essentially human. In the old-fashioned natural
    histories of the 'thirties he might have figured in a steel
    engraving as a type of Homo Sapiens--an honour which at that time
    commonly fell to Lord Byron. Indeed, with more hair and less
    collar, Gombauld would have been completely Byronic--more than
    Byronic, even, for Gombauld was of Provencal descent, a black-
    haired young corsair of thirty, with flashing teeth and luminous
    large dark eyes. Denis looked at him enviously. He was jealous
    of his talent: if only he wrote verse as well as Gombauld
    painted pictures! Still more, at the moment, he envied Gombauld
    his looks, his vitality, his easy confidence of manner. Was it
    surprising that Anne should like him? Like him?--it might even
    be something worse, Denis reflected bitterly, as he walked at
    Priscilla's side down the long grass terrace.

    Between Gombauld and Mr. Scogan a very much lowered deck-chair
    presented its back to the new arrivals as they advanced towards
    the tea-table. Gombauld was leaning over it; his face moved
    vivaciously; he smiled, he laughed, he made quick gestures with
    his hands. From the depths of the chair came up a sound of soft,
    lazy laughter. Denis started as he heard it. That laughter--how
    well he knew it! What emotions it evoked in him! He quickened
    his pace.

    In her low deck-chair Anne was nearer to lying than to sitting.
    Her long, slender body reposed in an attitude of listless and
    indolent grace. Within its setting of light brown hair her face
    had a pretty regularity that was almost doll-like. And indeed
    there were moments when she seemed nothing more than a doll; when
    the oval face, with its long-lashed, pale blue eyes, expressed
    nothing; when it was no more than a lazy mask of wax. She was
    Henry Wimbush's own niece; that bowler-like countenance was one
    of the Wimbush heirlooms; it ran in the family, appearing in its
    female members as a blank doll-face. But across this dollish
    mask, like a gay melody dancing over an unchanging fundamental
    bass, passed Anne's other inheritance--quick laughter, light
    ironic amusement, and the changing expressions of many moods.
    She was smiling now as Denis looked down at her: her cat's
    smile, he called it, for no very good reason. The mouth was
    compressed, and on either side of it two tiny wrinkles had formed
    themselves in her cheeks. An infinity of slightly malicious
    amusement lurked in those little folds, in the puckers about the
    half-closed eyes, in the eyes themselves, bright and laughing
    between the narrowed lids.

    The preliminary greetings spoken, Denis found an empty chair
    between Gombauld and Jenny and sat down.

    "How are you, Jenny?" he shouted to her.

    Jenny nodded and smiled in mysterious silence, as though the
    subject of her health were a secret that could not be publicly
    divulged.

    "How's London been since I went away?" Anne inquired from the
    depth of her chair.

    The moment had come; the tremendously amusing narrative was
    waiting for utterance. "Well," said Denis, smiling happily, "to
    begin with..."

    "Has Priscilla told you of our great antiquarian find?" Henry
    Wimbush leaned forward; the most promising of buds was nipped.

    "To begin with," said Denis desperately, "there was the
    Ballet..."

    "Last week," Mr. Wimbush went on softly and implacably, "we dug
    up fifty yards of oaken drain-pipes; just tree trunks with a hole
    bored through the middle. Very interesting indeed. Whether they
    were laid down by the monks in the fifteenth century, or
    whether..."

    Denis listened gloomily. "Extraordinary!" he said, when Mr.
    Wimbush had finished; "quite extraordinary!" He helped himself
    to another slice of cake. He didn't even want to tell his tale
    about London now; he was damped.

    For some time past Mary's grave blue eyes had been fixed upon
    him. "What have you been writing lately?" she asked. It would
    be nice to have a little literary conversation.

    "Oh, verse and prose," said Denis--"just verse and prose."

    "Prose?" Mr. Scogan pounced alarmingly on the word. "You've been
    writing prose?"

    "Yes."

    "Not a novel?"

    "Yes."

    "My poor Denis!" exclaimed Mr. Scogan. "What about?"

    Denis felt rather uncomfortable. "Oh, about the usual things,
    you know."

    "Of course," Mr. Scogan groaned. "I'll describe the plot for
    you. Little Percy, the hero, was never good at games, but he was
    always clever. He passes through the usual public school and the
    usual university and comes to London, where he lives among the
    artists. He is bowed down with melancholy thought; he carries
    the whole weight of the universe upon his shoulders. He writes a
    novel of dazzling brilliance; he dabbles delicately in Amour and
    disappears, at the end of the book, into the luminous Future."

    Denis blushed scarlet. Mr. Scogan had described the plan of his
    novel with an accuracy that was appalling. He made an effort to
    laugh. "You're entirely wrong," he said. "My novel is not in
    the least like that." It was a heroic lie. Luckily, he
    reflected, only two chapters were written. He would tear them up
    that very evening when he unpacked.

    Mr. Scogan paid no attention to his denial, but went on: "Why
    will you young men continue to write about things that are so
    entirely uninteresting as the mentality of adolescents and
    artists? Professional anthropologists might find it interesting
    to turn sometimes from the beliefs of the Blackfellow to the
    philosophical preoccupations of the undergraduate. But you can't
    expect an ordinary adult man, like myself, to be much moved by
    the story of his spiritual troubles. And after all, even in
    England, even in Germany and Russia, there are more adults than
    adolescents. As for the artist, he is preoccupied with problems
    that are so utterly unlike those of the ordinary adult man--
    problems of pure aesthetics which don't so much as present
    themselves to people like myself--that a description of his
    mental processes is as boring to the ordinary reader as a piece
    of pure mathematics. A serious book about artists regarded as
    artists is unreadable; and a book about artists regarded as
    lovers, husbands, dipsomaniacs, heroes, and the like is really
    not worth writing again. Jean-Christophe is the stock artist of
    literature, just as Professor Radium of "Comic Cuts" is its stock
    man of science."

    'I'm sorry to hear I'm as uninteresting as all that," said
    Gombauld.

    "Not at all, my dear Gombauld," Mr. Scogan hastened to explain.
    "As a lover or a dipsomaniac, I've no doubt of your being a most
    fascinating specimen. But as a combiner of forms, you must
    honestly admit it, you're a bore."

    "I entirely disagree with you," exclaimed Mary. She was somehow
    always out of breath when she talked. And her speech was
    punctuated by little gasps. "I've known a great many artists,
    and I've always found their mentality very interesting.
    Especially in Paris. Tschuplitski, for example--I saw a great
    deal of Tschuplitski in Paris this spring..."

    "Ah, but then you're an exception, Mary, you're an exception,"
    said Mr. Scogan. "You are a femme superieure."

    A flush of pleasure turned Mary's face into a harvest moon.
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