Along this particular stretch of line no express had ever passed.
All the trains--the few that there were--stopped at all the
stations. Denis knew the names of those stations by heart.
Bole, Tritton, Spavin Delawarr, Knipswich for Timpany, West
Bowlby, and, finally, Camlet-on-the-Water. Camlet was where he
always got out, leaving the train to creep indolently onward,
goodness only knew whither, into the green heart of England.
They were snorting out of West Bowlby now. It was the next
station, thank Heaven. Denis took his chattels off the rack and
piled them neatly in the corner opposite his own. A futile
proceeding. But one must have something to do. When he had
finished, he sank back into his seat and closed his eyes. It was
Oh, this journey! It was two hours cut clean out of his life;
two hours in which he might have done so much, so much--written
the perfect poem, for example, or read the one illuminating book.
Instead of which--his gorge rose at the smell of the dusty
cushions against which he was leaning.
Two hours. One hundred and twenty minutes. Anything might be
done in that time. Anything. Nothing. Oh, he had had hundreds
of hours, and what had he done with them? Wasted them, spilt the
precious minutes as though his reservoir were inexhaustible.
Denis groaned in the spirit, condemned himself utterly with all
his works. What right had he to sit in the sunshine, to occupy
corner seats in third-class carriages, to be alive? None, none,
Misery and a nameless nostalgic distress possessed him. He was
twenty-three, and oh! so agonizingly conscious of the fact.
The train came bumpingly to a halt. Here was Camlet at last.
Denis jumped up, crammed his hat over his eyes, deranged his pile
of baggage, leaned out of the window and shouted for a porter,
seized a bag in either hand, and had to put them down again in
order to open the door. When at last he had safely bundled
himself and his baggage on to the platform, he ran up the train
towards the van.
"A bicycle, a bicycle!" he said breathlessly to the guard. He
felt himself a man of action. The guard paid no attention, but
continued methodically to hand out, one by one, the packages
labelled to Camlet. "A bicycle!" Denis repeated. "A green
machine, cross-framed, name of Stone. S-T-O-N-E."
"All in good time, sir," said the guard soothingly. He was a
large, stately man with a naval beard. One pictured him at home,
drinking tea, surrounded by a numerous family. It was in that
tone that he must have spoken to his children when they were
tiresome. "All in good time, sir." Denis's man of action
He left his luggage to be called for later, and pushed off on his
bicycle. He always took his bicycle when he went into the
country. It was part of the theory of exercise. One day one
would get up at six o'clock and pedal away to Kenilworth, or
Stratford-on-Avon--anywhere. And within a radius of twenty miles
there were always Norman churches and Tudor mansions to be seen
in the course of an afternoon's excursion. Somehow they never
did get seen, but all the same it was nice to feel that the
bicycle was there, and that one fine morning one really might get
up at six.
Once at the top of the long hill which led up from Camlet
station, he felt his spirits mounting. The world, he found, was
good. The far-away blue hills, the harvests whitening on the
slopes of the ridge along which his road led him, the treeless
sky-lines that changed as he moved--yes, they were all good. He
was overcome by the beauty of those deeply embayed combes,
scooped in the flanks of the ridge beneath him. Curves, curves:
he repeated the word slowly, trying as he did so to find some
term in which to give expression to his appreciation. Curves--
no, that was inadequate. He made a gesture with his hand, as
though to scoop the achieved expression out of the air, and
almost fell off his bicycle. What was the word to describe the
curves of those little valleys? They were as fine as the lines
of a human body, they were informed with the subtlety of art...
Galbe. That was a good word; but it was French. Le galbe evase
de ses hanches: had one ever read a French novel in which that
phrase didn't occur? Some day he would compile a dictionary for
the use of novelists. Galbe, gonfle, goulu: parfum, peau,
pervers, potele, pudeur: vertu, volupte.
But he really must find that word. Curves curves...Those little
valleys had the lines of a cup moulded round a woman's breast;
they seemed the dinted imprints of some huge divine body that had
rested on these hills. Cumbrous locutions, these; but through
them he seemed to be getting nearer to what he wanted. Dinted,
dimpled, wimpled--his mind wandered down echoing corridors of
assonance and alliteration ever further and further from the
point. He was enamoured with the beauty of words.
Becoming once more aware of the outer world, he found himself on
the crest of a descent. The road plunged down, steep and
straight, into a considerable valley. There, on the opposite
slope, a little higher up the valley, stood Crome, his
destination. He put on his brakes; this view of Crome was
pleasant to linger over. The facade with its three projecting
towers rose precipitously from among the dark trees of the
garden. The house basked in full sunlight; the old brick rosily
glowed. How ripe and rich it was, how superbly mellow! And at
the same time, how austere! The hill was becoming steeper and
steeper; he was gaining speed in spite of his brakes. He loosed
his grip of the levers, and in a moment was rushing headlong
down. Five minutes later he was passing through the gate of the
great courtyard. The front door stood hospitably open. He left
his bicycle leaning against the wall and walked in. He would
take them by surprise.