GUY and Jacobsen were walking in the Dutch garden, an incongruous couple. On Guy military servitude had left no outwardly visible mark; out of uniform, he still looked like a tall, untidy undergraduate; he stooped and drooped as much as ever; his hair was still bushy and, to judge by the dim expression of his face, he had not yet learnt to think imperially. His khaki always looked like a disguise, like the most absurd fancy dress. Jacobsen trotted beside him, short, fattish, very sleek, and correct. They talked in a desultory way about things indifferent. Guy, anxious for a little intellectual exercise after so many months of discipline, had been trying to inveigle his companion into a philosophical discussion. Jacobsen consistently eluded his efforts; he was too lazy to talk seriously; there was no profit that he could see to be got out of this young man’s opinions, and he had not the faintest desire to make a disciple. He preferred, therefore, to discuss the war and the weather. It irritated him that people should want to trespass on the domain of thought—people who had no right to live anywhere but on the vegetative plane of mere existence. He wished they would simply be content to be or do, not try, so hopelessly, to think, when only one in a million can think with the least profit to himself or anyone else.
Out of the corner of his eye he looked at the dark, sensitive face of his companion; he ought to have gone into business at eighteen, was Jacobsen’s verdict. It was bad for him to think; he wasn’t strong enough.
A great sound of barking broke upon the calm of the garden. Looking up, the two strollers saw George White running across the green turf of the croquet lawn with a huge fawn-coloured dog bounding along at his side.
“Morning,” he shouted. He was hatless and out of breath. “I was taking Bella for a run, and thought I’d look in and see how you all were.”
“What a lovely dog!” Jacobsen exclaimed.
“An old English mastiff our—one aboriginal dog. She has a pedigree going straight back to Edward the Confessor.”
Jacobsen began a lively conversation with George on the virtues and shortcomings of dogs. Bella smelt his calves and then lifted up her gentle black eyes to look at him. She seemed satisfied.
He looked at them for a little; they were too much absorbed in their doggy conversation to pay attention to him. He made a gesture as though he had suddenly remembered something, gave a little grunt, and with a very preoccupied expression on his face turned to go towards the house. His elaborate piece of by-play escaped the notice of the intended spectators; Guy saw that it had, and felt more miserable and angry and jealous than ever. They would think he had slunk off because he wasn’t wanted—which was quite true—instead of believing that he had something very important to do, which was what he had intended they should believe.
A cloud of self-doubt settled upon him. Was his mind, after all, worthless, and the little things he had written—rubbish, not potential genius as he had hoped? Jacobsen was right in preferring George’s company. George was perfect, physically, a splendid creature; what could he himself claim?
“I’m second-rate,” he thought—“second-rate, physically, morally, mentally. Jacobsen is quite right.”
The best he could hope to be was a pedestrian literary man with quiet tastes.
NO, no, no! He clenched his hands and, as though to register his resolve before the universe, he said, aloud:
“I will do it; I will be first-rate, I will.”
He was covered with confusion on seeing a gardener pop up, surprised from behind a bank of rose-bushes. Talking to himself—the man must have thought him mad!
He hurried on across the lawn, entered the house, and ran upstairs to his room. There was not a second to lose; he must begin at once. He would write something—something that would last, solid, hard, shining. . . .
“Damn them all! I will do it, I can . . .”
There were writing materials and a table in his room. He selected a pen—with a Relief nib he would be able to go on for hours without getting tired—and a large square sheet of writing-paper.
Station: Cogham, 3 miles; Nobes Monacorum, 4½ miles.”
Stupid of people to have their stationery printed in red, when black or blue is so much nicer! He inked over the letters.
He held up the paper to the light; there was a watermark, “Pimlico Bond.” What an admirable name for the hero of a novel! Pimlico Bond. . . .
“There’s be-eef in the la-arder
And du-ucks in the pond;
Crying dilly dilly, dilly dilly . . .”
He bit the end of his pen. “What I want to get,” he said to himself, “is something very hard, very external. Intense emotion, but one will somehow have got outside it.” He made a movement of hands, arms, and shoulders, tightening his muscles in an effort to express to himself physically that hardness and tightness and firmness of style after which he was struggling!
He began to draw on his virgin paper. A woman, naked, one arm lifted over her head, so that it pulled up her breast by that wonderful curving muscle that comes down from the shoulder. The inner surface of the thighs, remember, is slightly concave. The feet, seen from the front, are always a difficulty.
It would never do to leave that about. What would the servants think? He turned the nipples into eyes, drew heavy lines for nose, mouth, and chin, slopped on the ink thick; it made a passable face now—though an acute observer might have detected the original nudity. He tore it up into very small pieces.
A crescendo booming filled the house. It was the gong. He looked at his watch. Lunch-time, and he had done nothing. O God! . . .