JULIAN OF NORWICH, HER SHOWING OF LOVE
AND ITS CONTEXTS © 1997-2024 JULIA BOLTON HOLLOWAY
|| JULIAN OF NORWICH || SHOWING OF
LOVE || HER TEXTS
|| HER SELF || ABOUT HER TEXTS || BEFORE JULIAN || HER CONTEMPORARIES || AFTER JULIAN || JULIAN IN OUR TIME || ST BIRGITTA OF SWEDEN ||
BIBLE AND WOMEN || EQUALLY IN GOD'S IMAGE || MIRROR OF SAINTS || BENEDICTINISM || THE CLOISTER || ITS SCRIPTORIUM || AMHERST MANUSCRIPT || PRAYER || CATALOGUE AND PORTFOLIO (HANDCRAFTS,
BOOKS ) || BOOK
REVIEWS || BIBLIOGRAPHY ||
MOSAIC, PART II
Sir Harry Newton
No, nothing is the matter, nothing, nothing, nothing. I assure you. I am old. There is sunlight coming into the room. I watch it as I sit here quietly wrapped up in age. It creeps along the polished oak table, picking out, one by one, as if they were the hours of sundial, the books in their glass cases around the room. The books. The books, with their fine leather bindings, leather as rich and as lustrous as the conkers I played with as a child picked up from under the horse chestnut ress in the park that seemed as monstrously huge as a forest then.
I have learned since that the forests of childhood are but woods, but that there are more terrible forests, deeper forests of thick undergrowth, that reach across to ensnare one when one is least aware of their treachery. And now I stand upon the threshold of the darkest of them all. But I welcome it. This darkness will be complete and it is only shadows that terrify, that half light that deceives and seems worse than reality, that plays tricks with the brain. I am not afraid of death,
I have often read the lesson to the parishioners sitting quietly in their oak pews, the sunlight streaming down upon them from the windows in the white church walls. Our parish church is Norman, austere, blunt. There is nothing to detract from its solidness. For years I have read the lesson out of the big Bible on the brazen spread eagle, the pompous music of the King James'. I would like to go back just once.
But no. A wheelchair would look strange there. They would stare. I, who once played rugger, who heard the cheering of the watching schoolboys as we tackled in the mud, culminating in victory. I, who am now old, shrunken and wasted by sickness. They would pity me and I will have no pity.
I will have no pity from any man. But I weep for myself. No, I do not weep. Not one tear have I shed for him. And she shed too many. A woman is not a Stoic. And my sorrow is not more than others. It is not. It is not. But why was this done to me?
I am alone now, this book by my side. It is one I picked up in my Oxford days, when I began to love books. They surround me and their words reveal to me other men such as I, but none of them have felt as much sorrow as I. No, that is wrong, Lord Chesterfield's son died also. We live in times of war and many are killed. It is hard to believe the war is now over. It seems only yesterday that the evacuee children were here in this very room. Poor little Cockneys. My father had been Lord Mayor of London. I showed them my books. I let them handle them. It is good for the leather to be held and handled. It nourishes it. But there was the day they came in when I was in the village at the funeral of a machine-gunned child. When I returned they had built a castle of my books on the oak floor. And they were bombing it with others. The cover was ripped off of a Gibbon that I had found in London in 1936 when my son Jeremy was seventeen. Other books were scratched and pages torn. After that the library doors were kept locked.
I have a title to give my son when I die. But my son is already dead. I have written him a book, modelled on Chesterfield's Letters, a book on the care and value of old books, of rare first editions. This fine collection that surrounds me in this room, it is all for him. But he was shot dead on the beach of Salerno.
But it was I who died then, not Jeremy. It was my blood that seeped through the sand coloured uniform in the monotone of surrounding sand making a momentary brilliance until the sun dried it to the colour of mud and dung. I was the only son of the Lord Mayor of London but now I have no son. I am Sir Harry Newton, Baronet of Westfield Place, but there will be no Sir Jeremy to succeed me when I die. The taste of my bitterness is gall and ashes. The life is all spilled away without issue. And this is the end, amidst these lifeless books that know no death nor life but simply pass as objects from hand to hand, estate to estate, culture to culture. They are skeletons, photographic images, teasing dead things that cannot tell of my son's smile, his promise, his bodily strength and manly beauty, his bravery because it only came to nought, did not capture kingdoms, invent, discover, merely gave one tired old man all that he could ever desire, then was torn from him by the brutality of a mad war. Death will come pleasantly to me, will lead me from this room of horror where I commune each day with my sorrow.
Haec studia adolescentiam alunt, senectutem oblectant, secundas res ornant, adversis perfugiam ac solatium praebunt, delectant domi, non impediunt foris, pernoctant nobiscum, peregrinantur, rusticantur.
I have been dreaming. I awoke with a start knowing in a split second, hearing a metallic thump, that the baby had got hold of the alarm clock, and that I had better rescue it if we wished still to possess a working timepiece. The dream is still with me. According to psychologists, it lasted by a second. Here it is.
In my dream, although at first I knew I was here asleep in my bed, I was in your office, as we actually were yesterday morning. Only we had more time to talk. After the preliminary conversation about the two boys which had really taken place, you asked if I were still writing. 'Yes,' I had answered. You went on to ask about my style. What were my sentences like when I wrote in your class? I had answered that they were terribly short and childish and that later I rebelled against the earlier style and had taken to wild, run-on sentences but that this was unsatisfactory and I had destroyed a lot of this writing. You had looked both horrified and pleased at the thought of a writer wilfully destroying pages and pages of work. Then I declared, forgetting this was only a dream, 'I am writing a novel, my second. The first one I destroyed when it was half-finished. This one is turning out better'. You were very pleased, in the dream, and cried out that I was becoming a writer. I was no longer just a student in your writing class. You talked of my short stories you had read. In my dream you gave descriptions and explanations of them which seemed most apt but which now appear so much nonsense. I remember you labelled them 'stories of realization', epiphanies, among other things.
Then we got into a ridiculous discussion of the masculine and feminine in architecture. We positively scintillated. The straight Georgian columns and the ornamental round balls got dragged in. You were showing me drawings of English and Italian houses, also of their interiors. Then I told you of a children's book I had written for Robin in which each page is a drawing of an interior of a house with doors opening from room to room in diminishing perspective. You asked to see it but I had already sent it to a publisher and was now patiently waiting for the reject slip. 'The Editor rejects . . . ' of which I boasted I now had ten for various stories and poems. You asked where I had sent them. And I listed a whole lot of magazines of which I had never heard. The children were restless at this point in the dream, too, when I suddenly heard that clunk of a clock! Did I really dream all that in a second?
At any rate, all this writing did happen in more than just a dream. I had hoped yesterday to talk to you about it. As a consolation for the dental visit which brought us down to San Jose en famille! But there was no time. Now there is. Mosaic is now 120 pages of single and double spaced typing, a colossal muddle needing a tremendous amount of retyping and revising. But it does exist. It is probably too experimental. As an artist has to limit himself to the canvas and pigments that are at hand, so have I had to evolve a style and work plan that I can use and still every few minutes leave it to tend to my two sons. So I finally decided on a form in which roughly the same story is told countless times, the presentation of many facets. It is basically autobiographical. That is something that is so hard to escape. It is a description of the family, acquaintances, Sussex. It is something which occurred in one dimension and which is now viewed from another. I had already started this before I read Michel Butor's Degrees. So it is not plagiarism. But when one embarks on something like this one has a heightened awareness of anything in the least similar to it. I have just finished Vintila Hora's God was Born in Exile: Ovid's Memoirs at Tomis, which has the same theme, of banishment from a world which in the end turns out not to be as magnificent as it once seemed, though a regret lingers.
But primarily I draw inspiration from the Fauvist painters, from Matisse with his love of pattern, his manner of analysing a room, not into tables, chairs and things, but into the design of colour, fabric, the primary hues and repetitive shapes that children love. I have always wanted to try out this technique in writing. You know how different people furnish their homes to suit their characters. The objects they surround themselves with are emanations of their personalities. I am trying to see if it is possible to delineate the characters in a book in this manner. It is quite easy to do this with the thinly disguised people I once actually knew. There is the bachelor vicar who, after his mother's death, prides himself on his disposable paper dog collars, his washing machine, his nylon sheets and shirts, trying to show everyone how self-sufficient he is and at the same time showing marvellous sympathy for anyone who likewise suffers from loneliness. There is a tyrannical matriarch who worships her family history, who passionately believes in aristocracy and paints the holes in the red stair carpet where the white paint wood shows through a matching deceiving red. This when a couple of ambassadors come to visit her house which is dilapidated but 'one of the gracious homes of England'. She has to sell off a family portrait or two to keep the house heated in winter. These are just some of the minor characters of the book. But you can see the method.
It is written from the viewpoint of a child who sees objects and associates them with different people in her world, whose eye is caught by beautiful things which hold secret meanings for her. Her mother is always seen in rooms filled with dark Jacobean designs, meandering trees of life, which can also be serpents of evil. Her mother's passion for antique furniture, Marlowe, intrigue, scarlet and tawdry gold seem to point to a basic unreality in her mind, a desire for passion and guilt. She attempts to force the different members of her family to act these out as a scene in some violent Jacobean drama. When they refuse they are driven away and the family is in diaspora. In exile the patterns of childhood, which then seemed random and delightful, begin to show their true shape and design and a key unlocks their meaning. Underneath can be seen something rather hideous, yet it has a fascination.
Some days I can write pages and pages of it. Then, later, I go through it ruthlessly cutting out great hunks, unravelling Penelope's web. In your writing class the stories I submitted were the first draft and yet I felt there was almost nothing I could change in them. But in this there is so much snippeting and cutting and tailoring to do! Some day, I'll have it in sufficient shape to show you, if you have time for such nonsense. I dare not show it to anyone else. Least of all my husband. I destroyed the first novel, written for him, as is this one, when he sneered at it.
I hope we did not take too much of your time yesterday. The children are wonderful.
A profusion of plums and mulberries spills across our floor, a Bokhara carpet. It has been carried on the backs of camels in caravans along the ancient roads from Samarkand. The fine roseate hues were concocted in the desert town of Bokhara. The warp and woof were woven by young girls slaving for their dowries in nomadic tents pitched along the Indus River. They have mixed camel hair dyed both pink and orange red together and used lines of black and white goats' wool to harmonize them. And they have thrown in dark plum blue for measure. The laden camels still to this day amble along the golden road to Samarkand where merchants haggle and determine the distribution of their precious burdens.
Coleridge rhymes of mighty underground arterial rivers. The veins are roads. Rivers germinate and fertilize civilizations, and roads carry their products, their wealth, throughout the vast bodies of land mass. Amber, after the flints, that came from Danish warships to Norway and the interior of Germany some four thousand years before Christ, was the previous substance of international trade. An amber statuette was priced at one able-bodied slave. Not only did it serve as ornament but also as medicine. Unlike diamonds, which are inorganic and cold, amber is warm to the touch, rich in colour and made from the living sap of trees. Often in it are imprisoned insects, caught in a translucent trap. From the shores of the Baltic, throughout Europe, to the peninsulas of Italy and Greece this substance found its way. Schleimann found amber at Troy, four hundred beads in a kingly grave.
Etruscan workshops were set up in Italy and Switzerland to work the crude material into beads and statuettes. The main trading in amber continued when the martial Romans swallowed up the Etruscan towns and their peaceable civilizations. Pytheas, in 350 B.C., became the Columbus and the Vasco da Gama of the ancient world by sailing from Marseilles out to the Atlantic, up to the North Sea, and through to the Baltic where he observed savages to use the precious amber washed up from the sea as fuel for their fires. On his return no one would believe his fantastic accounts, and the Graeco-Phoenician from Marsilia became the laughing-stock of his century.
An English fin-de-siècle merchant was also the laughing stock of his day. Julia Bolton's great grandfather, a Yorkshire mill owner, would return from his trips to Imperial Russia, where he had been purchasing the wool of the angora goat that he might weave it with the wool of the alpaca llama from Peru to make coats for the world, declaring that 'Russia is a country with a great and unlimited future!' Men laughed at his ideas. Russia was so backward, so Asiatic, so disorganized. How absurd to think it could become anything but what it was, a third-rate power, becoming more and more insignificant each day while the rest of the world, Europe and America particularly, forged ahead into the glories of the industrial age.
Nevertheless my great grandfather, Sir James Roberts, Bart., quietly invested in Russian mines and industries with his millions. He endowed a Chair of Russia at Leeds University. As a prominent Liberal he was listed as a Veto Peer when the power of the House of Lords was to be broken. The Peerage was not realized but he intended to take his seat and argue for greater recognition of Russia's importance. When the Bolshevist revolution came, the prophet sorrowed; his prophecy was a two-edged sword, and it had turned in his hand.
Among his Russian investments was a mine of amber near the shores of the North Sea. For each child, each grandchild, and each great grandchild of his there came a string of amber beads. Julia's were lost, they were loaned to a cousin by her mother and never returned. But Julia can remember their rich glow and warmth. Before each party her mother would ask which she would wear with her white silk dress, the coral beads or the amber. And from her jewel box lined with scarlet satin and edged with white silk within the walnut drawers would come the necklaces and the Indian silver bracelet set with turquoises. She would dance before the mirror, pirouette and curtsey, then turn and run down the stairs to throw herself into the arms of her brother, her father.
On other days, when she and her brother wore the brown Holland pinafores of everyday, they would play, if it rained, in their mother's dressing room. Julia would explore the jewel box, the great ring from China, the silver bracelets from Persia, pins, brooches, ear-rings in coral, amethyst or peal. Her brother would dive into the great chest that contained the fancy dress clothes their parents had used for parties. The Napoleon coat whose black silk tails would hang down on the floor behinf her brother's feet. The peasant dirndls her mother had had made for her in the Tyrol. There were Indian saris, a silk embroidered Mandarin coat, and black silk trousers. Also her father's white silk suits for tropical wear which from time to time the village dressmaker would make into skirts for Julia. There was a cavalry uniform for the Bombay Light Horse. And a Masonic apron. Violet spats, waistcoat and cravat for weddings, stiff-fronted shirts and a collapsible black silk opera hat.
For hours they would play on rainy days with the riches of yesteryear that came tumbling out of the great oak chest. But around them lay the shadow of war, bleak and dark. Other days they made games of dressing up in gas masks. Once, on Julia's birthday, neighbour children came with a gift of fine white silk polka dotted with coral. It was for Julia, they said, since it had arrived on her birthday. Their father had sent it from Burma, where his regiments was going to fight in torrid jungle warfare garbed in hideous camouflage. He had sent the precious silk for his own children. Her mother thanked the little children and the next day she had the dressmaker make a blouse of the material for Julia to wear with the heavy Indian silk skits. Julia never liked to wear it. She wished the family had kept it. Their father was away for three years. It would have reminded them of him, brought him closer. Instead they had given away the most precious gift they had, silk from the Orient, paid for in the coinage of human blood. They say that trade is the whitest cockade a British soldier wears in his hat. The French are more honest with their plumes of brilliant red.
I lie here, my child within my womb, about me castle walls, beyond,
The sky's star-spangled cloak of darkness.
A moonlit castle,
Silver moat and baroque
Pinnacles and towers.
The hours echoing in the sylvan valley
Of its clock chiming,
Daring to measure the infinity
With that loving and curious
Science of man
That cares not for gold nor power
But for the purity of curious truth
I found some of these lines, scribbled six years ago in a margin and then condemned to banishment. A trite memory of the Château of Chantilly. I add to their beginning a fragment from a now-lost poem, a Browningesque soliloquy. For they use an image I still employ - the sunlight in Sir Harry's library, the mechanical clock of St Mary's Church, Rye.
Jean de France, the third son of the king, Jean le Bon and his queen, Bonne de Luxembourg, Duc de Berry and of Auvergne, comte de Poitou, d'Etamps et de Boulogne (1314-1416) was a passionate collector of art and he loved especially fine Books of Hours. His TrÃ¨s Riches Heures now in the Condé Museum at Chantilly, France, were begun by three artist brothers from Holland, Pol, Jean and Herman Limbourg. Later Jean de Colombe took up the work, but the illuminations were never completed. Part of the Book of Hours contains an appropriate illumination for each month of the calendar:
The month is January.The great medieval hall is filled with noise. Dogs are barking. The gold dishes and wine vessels clink musically.
The warmly and richly dressed courtiers come in from the cold outside. 'Ma foi!' they exclaim to each other as they hold their hands
out to the great fire, turning their faces away from the blaze, 'But this is a cold winter'. They do not wear shoes but motley hose and
they walk on a woven rush mat.
Behind them on the wall is a great tapestry showing armoured knights jousting at a tournament under a summer's sky amidst green
hills. Or perhaps it is a full-scale battle, for more knights essay forth from the great gateway of the town on horseback, coming to the
But outside there must be snow on the ground, or at least a cold black frost. Perhaps a bitter north-east wind blows, chilling all to the bone.
In front of the great fire seated at a white-clothed table the artist has painted a great nobleman dressed in a loose blue robe embroidered heavily with gold and wearing a fur cap upon his head. A gold chain is around his neck. His face is like the face on the statue of an Italian Quattrocento condottiero.
By his side sits an ecclesiastic in red and white vestments. He is Martin Gouge, Bishop of Chartres, and later of Clermont. He listens closely to what the noble Duc de Berry says.
A servant feeds a graceful white hunting dog. Two little dogs run along the table eating the food out of the dishes near the massive gold cellar which is intended, as was the famous salt cellar of Benvenuto Cellini, to tell where the guests were supposed to be seated, above or below the 'salt'. Another servant cries, 'Approche, approche', to the entering courtiers. The words are painted in gold above his head.
As we turn the pages month by month we see snowy February, the farmyard with its four beehives, the sheep in the fold, the birds come to eat the spilled grain, a peasant guiding his panniered donkey to the next village over the snow-covered hills, and another peasant holding his cloak over his mouth against the cold.
April shows two golden-haired girls picking flowers from the grass. One is dressed in pink and the other in rich blue and black. TheirBehind the figures the landscape sweeps up to the lake before the castle of Dourdan, where men in two boats catch fish in nets. To one side is a walled garden with fruit trees in blossom. The towers of the grey stone château are a warm rose pink.
supple movements contrast with the stately pose of two lovers exchanging rings in the presence of two witnesses. The lovers are
dressed in the richest robes. The woman has a great coral necklace that plunges down the side of her blue and gold dress. Her
petticoat is cloth of gold.
In May are celebrated the Spring rites. Riding through the forest comes a cavalcade of gay courtiers with green ivy leaves twined in their hair. Three young girls wear green robes, and the others wear blue with accents of deep red. The young girl who is in the centre of the picture rides a white palfrey with green trappings. The girl's sleeves are lined with gold-embroidered deep blue cloth. A coral necklace hangs over her arm down the brilliant green of her dress.
The sound of the trotting horses and
the barking dogs is accompanied by the music of trumpets,
for the cavalcade is led by four heralds. Their golden
instruments adored wit deep blue pennants point to the blue
May sky. Behind the trees rise the Gothic towers of the town
of Riom. A may bush is in flower.
women and three men make hay on the banks of the river
Seine. The men scythe the grass while the women rake it into
heaps to dry. The river flows past them bordered by willow
trees. Beyond rise the old wall and towers of Paris. The
blue summer's sky shimmers in the heat. The labourers wear
blue and white against the green of the grass. One woman has
tucked up the skirt of her blue gown into her bodice. Her
white slip reaches down to her bare ankles.
July is the month of sheep-shearing and harvesting. It must be evening, for golden clouds are painted onto the blue sky that reaches up
from behind the white and blue castle of Poitiers. In the stream that drains off the castle moat are two swans sailing past the rushes.
August is hot and dry. The green has turned to yellow. The Château d'Etamps is golden in the hot sun. Some courtiers are out with
their falcons, The women ride pillion behind the men on their richly caparisone horses. Two dogs accompany the falconers. Some young
peasants are swimming in the cool waters of the lake, while others harvest the golden wheat.
September brings the wine harvest. Two bullocks draw great vats filled with the purple grape. A woman holds her aching head while she
pauses from her gathering. Donkeys pass down the pathways with grape-filled panniers across their patient backs. Behind, the chaste
white towers of Saumur rear up against an autumn sky.
In October the
seed is sown and the earth harrowed. Brids come flying down
to eat of the seed. An archer, or rather a scarecrow, tries
to shoot them. Willow trees grow along the banks of the
river, and the ferries are working overtime outside the
walls of the city of Paris.
And in November the hogs are taken out under the turning oak trees and there they snout out the acorns. The swineherds beat them with their sticks aided by their dog. Beyond the trees can be seen the low-lying land of islands and blue green water.
December. In the clearing of a golden autumn forest a wild boar is being dragged down by the hunting dogs of the Duke. One of the huntsmen, the one in blue with orange hose, blows his horn and the sound winds out through the still evening air. The other two huntsmen drag off the dogs. Shouting all the while. Beyond the golden-leafed trees are white towers, the castle of Vincennes where Jean de Berry was born. They are lit by the rays of the setting sun. All the melancholy of December is there. The golden leaves lie on the ground beneath the great trees.
Taking a map of the shires and counties of England you will find Sussex to the south, bordering Kent. There lie flat marshlands, while its western half is down land, green hills covering chalk white soil fit only for grazing sheep. Between the marshes and the downs lies the Wold, a rich fertile belt composed of streams and green meadows and ancient shady oaks.
There rivulets girdle the fields and traverse the woods, laughing and rippling over the stones. Creepers hang down and tree roots swing the streams around in delightful curves. They run under the narrow bridges of roads that had been first built by the helmeted Romans, that had known the pilgrims going to Canterbury à horseback, the ox carts and hay wains of the people, and coaches, then new cars and heavy steam rollers that laid down gravel and brown molten tar.
The streams are older than the roads. Once they had been great and wide rivers opening to the sea. The Danes and Normans had come rampaging up them. The Saxons had quietly farmed their valleys. Monasteries were built beside them so that monks could fish lazily in the sunlight of a Lenten spring Friday. Castles were built for strategic defense by the banks. Now both abbeys and castles like in magnificent ruins, amidst the meadows embroidered with daisies and buttercups and cowslips and wild orchids.
Once great forests had stretched over this land where sheep and cows now graze in the fields. The forests had slowly been chopped down, their wood used to build houses and ships, Drake's ships, English man o' wars to fight the Spaniards ad the French. The great trees had been burned to make charcoal for smelting iron ore. The forests are gone now.
The farmers now erect play forests, stately Gothic aisles of delicate greenery, hops. They are harvested by sallow Cockney families and the scent, acrid and bitter, of the crop, hangs over the countryside. Dried in the oast houses and then shipped away. The Cockney crowds gone too. Leaving only the memory of the tracery, the arcuated pattern and the chatter above bushel baskets and bins. The wind turns the vanes on the churches, the cowls on the oast houses. The sun revolves the shadows of gnomens of garden sundials. Time continues and the patterned seasons return.
Even if I cannot.
A painting by John Nun Bolton hung above the stairhead at Darbyes of a young woman with loose brown hair, wearing a green dress. She has just finished playing her violin and her eyes have a trick of following you around the room. Julia's father can remember the portrait being painted at Quaker House. Aunt Dorothy would play gay dances on her violin for the boy. The sun would come into the raftered room, lighting up in turn the vivid pigments and making strange shaped shadows of the long brushes. The smell of linseed oil, of turpentine, was everywhere. It was not unpleasing.
It is interesting to see how great writers are surrounded by parasitical hordes, those who imitate them and those who turn a pretty penny criticizing them. The former are more honest. At least, they try to reach the heights attained by their paragon. One can only censor them for the harm they do to their source. Look how Milton's magnificence was dulled and leadened by his copiers.
But the critics, horrors! They do not dare to write on their own, their minds can only attack the work of others in a desperate attempt to prove what they cannot emulate to be on a par with their own third rate thoughts. Lawrence is surrounded by them like Gulliver in Lilliput. His writing is lead and gold. They can outshine his lead and hire out his gold to eke out their own fame and fortune.
Ah, but this is unfair. Not all criticism is a rationalization of this order. Some fine minds can clarify the meanings of giants in order that our pigmy mind can grasp and comprehend their full glory. These critics, there, are the interpreters of the great to the small. They speak and understand both languages in order to hold this job. Their stature cannot be petty in this case.
But there is a cult that is a passion amongst the writers on writers. They take the life of the writer on the one hand and his work on the other and they attempt to twist the two together as if they could possibly be warp and woof. Truly, some writer should play a practical joke on them, catch them at their own game, write his autobiography and intersperse it with stories, inspired by the different incidents in the reality of his life. Cheat them of their prey. Plan clues of deliberate confusion.
But I doubt they would get the point. They'd gaily continue to write their shallow books on his books. Samuel Butler even had those written in 'righteous' indignation by his relatives and those of his admirers taking up the cudgels in his defence! And so the gallons of ink and reams of paper continue to be manufactured for those who wish to participate in these wars of the ego.
However, better the splashing of ink on paper than that of blood on sand.
Fingers of intensity
Feel and braid across a night sky
As they braid like stiff wire
Above the arcuated trees.
Bullets land in the quietness
Of a village street,
A little child is killed,
Its body riddled through.
The swastika is become
A most hated symbol.
Searing searchlight rip up
The darkness of the sky.
And comes war.
And all the while
Fingers of intensity
Feel and grope
Across the dark.
At Dante's tomb, at Ravenna, the people took the candles from the altar to honour him. 'Thou art more holy than the other, the one they crucified'.
The San Franciscan monastery of Fiesole. There the monks have each a skull in their cells to contemplate death amidst beauty.
The last Pope to be in Jerusalem was visited by the Polos seeking to carry out the Khan's request for missionaries to Cathay.
Notebooks of Albert Camus
Amato carried my Robin into the Duomo of Florence and there led us to the Michelangelo Pietà. I have seen Amato pray at the tomb of Michelangelo with Robin at his side. I sketched in sanguine chalk. Robin, leaning out of Amato's arms, beat time to the singing. The sermon was a denunciation of the film, La Dolce Vita. Why? Surely, the film, too, was a sermon.
In Fiesole that day while visiting the little hilltop monastery we were caught by a fierce thunderstorm. The birds sang amidst the peals and the little brown friars with silvery hair ran out of service to cover the bird cages with cloths. One friar took Robin by the hand and showed him the old tortoise that lived in the tiny cloister. A group of nuns, come for confession, were terrified by the storm and cowered in archways. But Robin had no fear. The rain poured down in torrents. High on the hill above Florence it seemed that surely we would be struck. But we were not. And, until the storm lessened, we amused ourselves by looking round the museum where were gathered precious porcelain and embroidery brought back from China by Franciscan missionaries. Blue and white china from Cathay and beneath us, veiled by rain, Florence.
In Saveverell Sitwell's Traveller in Time is quoted a description from Burney's account of Venice. Burney is in the Byzantine Duomo listening to the music. The choir is singing lustily, led by a nun, who wears a sprig of daphne over her ear.
There beneath the domed roofs and
mysterious mosaics, Robin had wandered. An old woman,
praying at a shrine, saw him, clasped him in her arms,
kissed him. He returned to me holding in his hand the gift
of a picture, a card with an engraving of a Madonna and
Child. He held it out to me. And a shaft of sunlight struck
him from a far window as he came.
This real, unreal world existed, must still exist today. I knew it so well. Loved it too well. In my dreams I am there still. But change in time for me has also been change in dimension. I map the past and know it is not the future. Therefore it is irreality and this manuscript is absurdity, a mythical history, a fabulous geography.
Powdermill House A Satirical Comedy
Mrs Evelyn Webster
Godfrey Webster, her son
Mr and Mrs Glorney Bolton
Richard Rothwell Bolton, their children
Dean Naylor, Dean of Battle
Clorinda Naylor, his daughter
Michael Pembroke, M.P. for Hastings
(The action takes place at Powdermill
House, Sussex, England, after the end of WWII, during the
days of austerity. The curtain rises to show the drawing
room, a large white room in Georgian style. Family portraits
are hung on the walls. Some are Elizabethan, others are
Restoration. There are some by Lely, some by Van Dyke.
French windows open onto the Italian terrace and the garden
beyond. An Italian Renaissance statuette of a naked boy
balances joyously on the balustrade of the terrace. Mrs
Webster is discovered sitting in a chintz covered armchair,
half turned towards her son, Godfrey Webster, who is leaning
against the mantelpiece of the fireplace. His attitude is a
nonchalant one. He sports a monocle. The room has a slightly
worn, shabby air.
After an exasperated pause Mrs Webster speaks.)
Mrs Webster. Godfrey, you are grieving me terribly. This is not the first nor the second time I have had to speak to you like this.
Godfrey. Nor the third nor the fourth nor the fifth . . . perhaps the tenth or the thirteenth.
Mrs Webster. Godfrey, darling, do be serious.
Godfrey. Yes, Mother. (He moves away from the fireplace, sits down and starts filling his pipe.)
Mrs Webster. Godfrey, I do not approve of pipe smoking in the house. It is unmannerly. (Godfrey puts his pipe away again and leans forward in his chair, putting his elbows on his knees.) I don't quite know how to say this. (She pauses and then continues.) It is some months now since we gave your twenty-first coming of age ball. It is really time that you think about proposing to some nice girl.
Godfrey. Mother. Really. (He speaks
Mrs. Webster. The Glorney Bolton girl is all right. The trouble is, these days, that all the girls that come from nice families have so little money and the estate just swallows funds. But the rich girls all seem to have fathers who own factories. And that would not do at all. You must realize that you come from a very fine old family. (She includes the paintings round the room with a gesture of her hand.)
Godfrey. (By now standing up and beginning to pace the floor.) Mother, darling, I'm only twenty-one. There's still quite a lot of time left really before we need worry about that. And besides I want to make these decisions myself. God damn it, Mother, I'm not a child anymore.
Mrs Webster. Godfrey, my darling. (She is upset.)
Godfrey. Sorry, Mother. But you know how it is.
Mrs Webster. (Coldly.) Fetch me my jacket, Godfrey. I am going to take a turn in the garden. Thank you, darling. (Godfrey helps her with her jacket and opens the French window for her. He watches her go into the garden. He then walks to the book shelves and handles some of the books. The room begins to darken. It has started to rain outside. The ring of a doorbell is heard. Mrs Webster offstage calls 'Godfrey'. Voices are heard approaching the drawing room. Mrs Webster and Mrs Glorney Bolton are talking nineteen to the dozen to each other.)
Mrs Webster. How nice it is to see you, Sibyl darling.
Godfrey. (Shaking hands with Mr Glorney Bolton). Nice to see you, sir. Dreadful weather we're having.
Mrs Glorney Bolton. Evelyn, how lovely to see you again.
Mr Glorney Bolton. Yes, aren't we. But you know the sun was actually shining when we left London this morning.
Mrs Glorney Bolton. Oh, yes. You know we've been having a perfectly divine spell of weather in town lately, Evelyn, perfectly divine.
Mrs Webster. And how are you, dear Julia?
Julia. Very well, thank you, Mrs Webster.
Mrs Webster. And you, Richard? Godfrey, you go and take their bags to their rooms.
Godfrey. Yes, of course, Mother.
Mr Glorney Bolton. I'll come with you, Godfrey.
Godfrey. Well, thank you, sir. (Exit Mr Glorney Bolton and Godfrey Webster.)
Mrs Webster. What a pity it is raining. Just when you arrive, too. It has been so lovely this morning. It clouded over just as you came.
Mrs Glorney Bolton. Never mind, Evelyn. After all it is just April weather. Oh, by the way, can my children help in any way?
Mrs Webster. Oh, please, do not worry about that, Sibyl. By the way, Julia, how are you getting on now? I hear you have left school now. And Richard?
Mrs Glorney Bolton. Yes, you know, Julia's head mistress tried to persuade her to accept a state scholarship she won to go on to university. But I said no. I do not approve of girls going to university and I don't want my Julia turning into a blue stocking.
Julia. Mother, I afraid I still do not see why you so disapprove of Oxford.
Mrs Glorney Bolton. It is not that I disapprove of Oxford, dear. Were you a son I would be only too happy. But too much education is disastrous in a young girl.
Mrs Webster. Then you wanted to go, Julia?
Julia. Oh, yes.
Mrs Webster. Couldn't you let her go, Sibyl? But perhaps your mother is right, Julia. None of us would want you to become horribly intellectual.
Julia. But you don't understand, Mrs Webster . . .
Mrs Glorney Bolton. Julia, go and help your father with the bags.
Richard. Will you excuse me? I'll go with Julia.
Mrs Webster. Certainly, my child.
(Exit Julia and Richard.)
Mrs Glorney Bolton. Oh dear, whatever possessed me to have a mad cap daughter. Richard is so good compared to her. But Evelyn darling, what is the news with Godfrey?
Mrs Webster. Oh, he's just the same as ever. I wish he would settle down and marry someone. But perhaps it is rather soon to be talking of that.
Mrs Glorney Bolton. Er . . . Does he ever talk of Julia, Evelyn?
Mrs Webster. Oh, sometimes. I wish . . . Oh, the rain is coming through the ceiling again. It has spoilt my dress too. Help me move this chair out of the way, Sibyl, please. (She shakes out her dress and she and Mrs Glorney Bolton push the heavy chintz chair out of the way of the water.) This is always happening here. Someday when we can afford it we really must fix that ceiling. I have to keep a bucket in this room specially for it. (She searches for something.) Ah, here it is. (She brings out an old bucket from behind the chintz sofa and places it under the dripping water. Sibyl, darling, I really must apologize for the state of my house. I suppose your London place never does this. Shall we go and see what the others are doing?
(Mrs Glorney Bolton and Mrs Webster leave the room. The fastidious Mrs Glorney Bolton is obviously not quite sure what to think about the physical condition of Powdermill House but Mrs Webster does not notice her guest's attitude.)
The curtain rises. The set is the same as at the end of scene 1. It is now evening. A fire is burning in the fireplace. If at all possible there should be a spaniel dog or two on the set lying before the fire. Mrs and Mrs Glorney Bolton, Julia and Richard are on the set. And so is Michael Pembroke, M.P. Julia is trying to engage him in conversation. Godfrey is walking about the room. He wears an embroidered waistcoat. He seems to be secretly amused about the whole set up.
Mr Glorney Bolton. Well, sir, and how are things in the House right now.
Pembroke. Oh, pretty well just now, sir.
Mrs Glorney Bolton. And . . . er . . . how is your wife?
Godfrey. (Leaning over Michael's chair.) Oh, you know, Michael's a bachelor as far as they go. Aren't you, Michael?
Pembroke. Well, yes, Godfrey's jolly right.
Julia. Oh, Mr Pembroke, are you often in town?
Godfrey. And that, my dear little Julia, is something you surely know as well as Mr Pembroke himself. An M.P. would be no good at all if he just stayed down in the country all the time. They say, Michael, don't they, that you're quite a promising junior Member. Eh?
Pembroke. Oh, Godfrey, I wouldn't say that. (Laughing)
(There is a pause.)
Mrs Glorney Bolton. This rainy April weather.
(Mrs Webster enters the room. She looks worried.)
Mrs. Webster. The dear Dean has not
come yet. And he promised me he would. He's bringing
Clorinda, his daughter. She's at Oxford now and doing pretty
well. (The doorbell is heard ringing.) Ah, there they are. I
knew they wouldn't fail me. Will you excuse me, please?
(The men stand as she leaves the room. Beyond can be heard their voices talking about the rain as they take off their wet coats. Then Mrs Webster brings in the Dean of Battle and his daughter, Clorinda.)
The Dean. Well and how is everyone, this jolly evening? It's good to see you all. (The Dean is a large person, extremely benign, with a rich ecclesiastical voice that makes his everyday language sound slightly alien.)
Mrs Webster. (Standing up.) It's good to see you, sir, it's good indeed. (Clorinda shakes hands with Godfrey. Gradually the group finds places to sit down and they recompose themselves. Mrs Webster leaves the room to get the coffee service.)
Mrs Glorney Bolton. I hope, sir, you did not find it too wet coming over.
The Dean. Oh, not at all, not at all, I assure you.
(There is another silence)
Ah, I do not see my Julia.
Mrs Glorney Bolton. Oh, I do believe she is upstairs somewhere. She said something about having found a book that fascinated her. It's very rude of her not to come down when there's company.
Julia. Oh, hello everybody. Please excuse my coming down late. Hello, Clorinda. (Clorinda gets off a chintz chair and offers it to her.) Why, thank you. (She sits down and is buried in the chintz. Richard sits on the arm of the chair. Godfrey comes round the other side.) Why, you are all treating me like a queen. (She smiles.)
(Mrs Webster enters with the tray with demi-tasses of Turkish coffee. Clorinda and Julia jump up to help her.)
Mrs Webster. No, Julia. Clorinda can help me. Thank you, my dear. (The coffee is served and the conversation starts up again.)
Julia. Clorinda, you are lucky! They won't let me go to Oxford.
Mrs Glorney Bolton. You know, Dean, we decided Julia should not go. She would become a blue stocking.
The Dean. But, Mrs Glorney Bolton, I would have thought it would have been a wonderful chance for her.
Julia. Clorinda, you have a nice father. I wish he would change my mother's mind.
Pembroke. Richard, do you care much for riding?
Richard. Oh, I like it tolerably.
Godfrey. You picked the wrong horse there. You should see Julia mounted. She is something to sing about.
Julia. Godfrey, I won't have you say such things.
Godfrey. Why on earth not? You do ride jolly well.
Julia. Yes, but Richard's not bad either.
Mrs Webster. Well, when you've stopped quarrelling, maybe we can go into dinner. I think I heard the bell just them.
The Dean. May I have the pleasure?
Mrs Webster. Certainly, dear Dean.
(He takes her down, Pembroke takes Clorinda. Mr and Mrs Glorney Bolton go into dinner together. Both Godfrey and Richard take in Julia, all three of them laughing.)
The curtain rises. Mrs Glorney Bolton, Julia and Richard are on the set. Mrs Glorney Bolton is seated in an arm chair. Richard sits by her. Julia is perusing the books on the shelves.)
Mrs Glorney Bolton. Listen, children. (She raises her voice.) Julia, are you paying attention?
Julia. Just a minute, mother. Look, Richard, look. (She takes a leather covered volume down from the shelves.) It's a first edition of Gibbon. Is it not perfectly beautiful?
Richard. Oh, come on, book worm. Mother has something to tell us.
Julia. All right, sour puss.
Mrs. Glorney Bolton. Children . . . when will you stop fighting? Julia, come over here this minute. (Julia comes.) Now listen. While you are staying here I don't want you to be shy of young Godfrey Webster. He has a very good name. Do you understand?
Julia. Mother! I positively refuse to be bartered off in this way . . . You are always trying to marry me off. Why can't I decide that?
Richard. Julia, aren't you rather rude to speak to Mother like that.
Julia. (Disgusted.) Oh, Richard. (She stalks over to the shelves, takes out Gibbon, laying the great book across her knees, and starts reading it.)
Richard. While we are on this subject, Mother, what do you think of Clorinda?
Mrs Glorney Bolton. Not too bad, either. Though Oxford makes her a bluestocking.
Julia. (Standing up.) I don't care two hoots for old Godfrey. See you later. (She walks through the open French window. Richard and her mother exchange exasperated glances.)
It is moonlight. The rain has stopped and clouds drift across the sky. The great drawing room is lit only by the moonlight. The little Italian statuette can be seen through the open French window.
Julia. Oh, Michael.
(They stand in front of the open French window.)
Julia, Michael, I . . .
Michael. Let us be silent. It is so beautiful.
Julia. Michael, I . . .
Michael. What is it, sweet Julia ?
Julia. Look how the little statue stands so gaily. He's laughing at us, perhaps.
Julia. Can one wish to the moon?
Michael. What would you wish?
Julia. That I could go to Oxford.
Michael. Why not.
Julia. Oh, Michael, I daren't. My mother . . .
(They stand silently.)
Michael. Go to Oxford.
Julia. Yes, I will.
(They stand and look at the moon and then step out onto the terrace into the garden. A pause. Then Richard and Clorinda enter.)
Richard. Look, Clorinda. Look at the mad moon.
Clorinda. Why do you call it mad, Richard?
Richard. Oh, I don't know . . . Clorinda, will you marry me?
Clorinda. Oh, Richard. Do you really mean it? Yes, let's go and ask Father.
Richard. Oh, stay here a minute.
Clorinda. (After a pause.) Oh, Richard, let's go and tell my Father.
Richard. All right, Clorinda. (They leave.)
(Julia and Michael come back up on the terrace running into the house. They are laughing. They leave. Then Godfrey and Mr Glorney Bolton enter the room talking. Godfrey fumbles with the light switch and then the light is turned on. )
Godfrey. Someone has left the damned window open. The crazy fool. (He goes over and closes it.) There'd be no point in lighting the fire now but, brrh, it' cold. Care for a smoke, sir. (He hands a box of cigarettes to Glorney Bolton who demurs. Godfrey lights one for himself.)
Godfrey. You know, sir, I've been wondering. Is there anything a young chap like myself can do? I mean in the business world and all that sort of thing.
Mr Glorney Bolton. You mean you would like to try your hand at something?
Godfrey. Yes, sir. I was wondering how one could go about it. You see I'm tired of being a bloody gentleman. I want to get moving. I want to be among a group of people who don't care about my social standing, my centuries' old name, my estates and what have you. I get so sick and tired of all these silly portraits. Look at that man there in the ruff. He's Godfrey Webster. And that old chap with the lace ruffles on his sleeve. He's my namesake, too. All of them are. I want to get somewhere where I can forget about the whole damn crew.
Mr Glorney Bolton. You've quite a problem there, Godfrey. For one thing you have no training for anything. Eton just gave a kind of polish. Ardingly did the same for me. It just simply means that other men are always slightly afraid of you. I know and hate it, too. You didn't go to university, which was a pity. Perhaps you could do that. Or maybe you want to be something elegant. Why not be a winetaster. I know several public school boys like you who've done that for a living.
Godfrey. But all that's just the very kind of thing I want to get away from. I want to get away from it all. I want to go to the farthest ends of the earth, where people do not know who I am and do not care.
Mr Glorney Bolton. That isn't such a bad idea, Godfrey. You could go abroad. There are plenty of commercial jobs going to men like you. And away from your own people there would be no one to criticize you. But wouldn't you miss the hunting, old chap? You're a great one to follow hounds.
Godfrey. I could give that up easily to get my freedom, sir. I want to be a man, not a puppet with a name. But it's late, sir, Can I see you to your room? This house is so dark at night.
Mr Glorney Bolton. That's all right, Godfrey. I know my way. Thank you.
Godfrey. Thank you. And good night, sir.
(Godfrey turns off the light and follows Mr Glorney Bolton out of the room. It is left in moonlight.)
(It is a day in early summer. Mrs Webster and the Dean are in the drawing room, talking. Mrs Webster is arranging flowers in a large vase.)
Mrs Webster. I had a letter from dear Sibyl the other day. She says she is terribly lonely without her two children. Richard and your Clorinda have had their honeymoon. So we can expect to see them soon. I still can't see that Julia at Oxford.
The Dean. Oh, Clorinda writes a lot about her. She loves punting on the river best of all, she says. They ride, too.
Mrs Webster. Really. I wonder either of them find time for their studies.
The Dean. Oh, they're both doing very well.
Mrs Webster. I remember you once liked to row . . .
The Dean. Yes, Evelyn. I once liked to row . . . But that was a long time ago, a long time ago. (The Dean looks rather sad and gazes out of the French window onto the gardens.)
Mrs Webster. Ah, but Dean, not so very long ago. (A noise is heard as of suitcases being lifted down the stairs.) Why, what can be happening? That crazy son of mine. I can't think of anyone suitable for him. And he must get married. After all, there has been a Webster at Powdermill House, at Battle Abbey, at Bodiam Castle, for hundreds of years. I can't say I haven't warned him. I wish his father had not left when he was so young.
The Dean. Ah, yes. I have often thought that way about my Clorinda's mother's death. But Clorinda is a fine lass, a fine lass.
(The doorbell rings. Voices are heard in the hall. 'Welcome and hello, honeymooners. Mother's in the drawing room', says Godfrey's voice. 'What on earth are you doing with those monstrous suitcases, Godfrey?' calls Clorinda. They enter the room.)
Mrs Webster. Welcome, my dear people. How good it is to see you. I have only just got a letter from your dear mother, Richard. Won't you sit down?
Clorinda. No, really, we've only just come to call. So good of you.
Godfrey. Hey, don't leave yet. I wonder whether you'd care to know the reason for the suitcases.
Mrs Webster. Yes, Godfrey, what on earth is it you're up to now?
Godfrey, Well, Mother. It's like this. I sail Tuesday for Brazil.
Mrs Webster. Godfrey, you're pulling my leg.
Godfrey. No, Mother, really I'm not. Here are the tickets. (He produces them from his coat pocket.)
Mrs Webster. But why Brazil?
Godfrey. Well, that is a long story. Do you want me to tell it.
Clorinda. Go on.
Godfrey. Well, once upon a time. That, Mother, was the way you always began yours stories to me, was it not? Well, once there was a young man who was tired of being Godfrey Webster. Instead, he wanted to be plain John Smith. But nobody would let him be, however hard he tried. So finally he decided he would have to go to the other side of the globe and see whether he might have better luck there.
Mrs Webster. Godfrey, I don't understand you at all.
Godfrey. Well, Mother, I just got tired of being Godfrey Webster, Gentleman. I wanted to work honestly for my living and be a free man, be independent, like any plain John Smith. So when I saw an ad in the Times about a position as a host for a brand new hotel in Rio I did something about it. In fact, I shall be in charge of the whole works. It's going to be the greatest adventure of my life.
Mrs Webster. Running a hotel. God, you don't mean it. A Webster like you touching such bourgeois stuff . . . How could you even contemplate it? Dean, please assist me. No, I won't faint or anything . . . but running a hotel . . . (She is greatly agitated.)
Godfrey. Well, before I go and pack then I had better say 'Goodby' to you folks. (He shakes Richard's and Clorinda's hands.)
Mrs Webster. But, Godfrey, my son, how could you go? This is your home.
Godfrey. It leaked all winter . . . Besides I can sent the money back for the repairs. Will you excuse me now? There's so much packing left. (Exit Godfrey.)
Richard. I don't believe him.
Mrs Webster. Hotel keeping!
The Dean. Pembroke would rather admire
Mrs Webster. Hotel keeping! Hotel keeping!
Clorinda. How silly.
Mrs Webster. But HOTEL KEEPING! Oh, no!
Two forlorn figures in the grey streets of London, oppressed both with an impending sense of disaster, huddling along in the fine rain mist of winter towards the sheltering garishness of a Lyons Corner House. There they will sit in a communion of sorrow in front of plates of uneaten and unpalatable food until they start guiltily again heading for the exit to meet an appointment with the man's publisher. There in the musty offices the girl will sit on a hard chair for an eternity of grief while her father converses in an inner sanctum with the head of the firm.
She longs again for the ordered rule of her convent school. Four days ago she had said her final farewell, embraced the spare, habit-draped figures and kissed the old apple cheeks under the harsh starched wimples. Not a word of reproach did they give her, only kindliness. They led her through the classrooms of memory, walked with her in the gardens where the birds sang perched on the boughs of the old trees. Brother Juniper, an affectionate, aged Airedale, came bounding across towards her, leaving a nun who was hoeing in the formal rose garden. Julia buried her face in his rough coat, leaving there a few hot tears. On they went under the great cedars and yews, up the baroque stone stairway of the Italian terrace with its obelisks and urns, through the vast rooms, a paradise of green and blue birds on Jacobean boughs, the Della Robbia terracotta, the Fra Angelicos. And at the door a benediction, the last glimpse of the severely dressed figures smiling, the heavy knotted ropes around their waists, emblematic of their sacred and threefold vow. Above the door was carved PAX INTRANTIBUS/ SALUS EXEUNTIBUS/ BENEDICTIO HABITANTIBUS. I no longer live there, she had thought, and I shall never again enter these doors, so not for me is the peace and the blessing. Somewhere else in the garden is chiselled SALVE ATQUE VALE, a salutation for the condemned. The nuns finally closed the great door. Then before her were the heavy green gates let into the wall. When she closed them behind her the latch had fallen into place with a clang.
'Yes,' had said her mother, floating around in her deep red velvet gown with its long medieval sleeves, the rich cloth gleaming in the dark oaken room. 'Yes,' she had said. 'It is all arranged and very convenient it is, too. I am glad I have rescued one thing at least from the holocaust. My little slug, you will sail away from me to the New World and there you will find complete happiness. I will throw you out of the nest in order to teach you to fly. That is what the birds do, the more brutal the better. I will fling you into the water to teach you to swim. I will be absolutely brutal and harsh. I shall put you completely out of my mind. I will never have to worry about you. Isn't it a wonderful thing!'
Julia, sixteen, had stood motionless, sick with the fear of change. The fire was dying. An old voice croaked, 'Julia, Julia, get in more wood'. Old hypocrite cold again? Ha! 'Dormouse', said her mother, 'Hurry up and bring it in. Stop dreaming'. Julia had gone out to get the wood. She had laughed that for the present her Great Uncle Henry and her mother were again reconciled. He called her the Scarlet Whore of Babylon and she called him the Hypocrite. Together they scrapped like cats. Great Uncle dressed always in black. In the past he had worn a queue. Old and crabbed and sour, he called himself a minister of God and a doctor. No one was sure whether he really were so. But for years he had lived in China. He would chuckle over the six coolies he had killed off with overwork when they had made him a tennis court on the hottest days of the year. He had had his hand in the copra business in the islands of the Pacific. His son had died of fever in Jerusalem. The father had bled him to death. In his miserliness he let his wife starve. Since then he had wandered around England beseeching shelter out of respect for his cloth. He altered his will as he altered his landlady. His fortune was said to be immense and Julia's mother had her eye on it only, not on Great Uncle's charms.
Julia lived in a little room beneath a gable when she was home from school, a book-filled room with a narrow bed, a crucifix and a photograph of her grandmother in white court robes and Prince of Wales feathers, the train curved round her feet. Her mother came from a wealthy family, but one day in a fit of spite she offended her millionaire grandfather and he immediately called for his lawyers and had her struck off his will, leaving provisions that if any other member of the family had pity on her he also would forfeit his right to the estate. And so Mrs Glorney Bolton, the spoiled rich man's daughter, continued to have her lovers, her affairs, but no longer had money.
Julia's father was Anglo-Irish. Honour and chivalry were his code. It did not matter how poor one was. Richard Bolton had been Lord Chancellor of Ireland. Mrs Bolton drank the dregs of the family's fortune. The heart of Julia's father was broken. 'So your mother has ordained you are to go to America. I am sorry that you are to go. You should have been my son. I, perhaps, shall never see you again. Farewell'.
It was spring. Mrs Hod knew it was. The calendar said April. Yesterday Jane, the middle child, declared that coming home through the woods from school she had heard a cuckoo. But today it rained. Mrs Hod got up, straightening her back. She had been scrubbing the stone kitchen floor and she could feel twinges of rheumatism as she moved.
It had rained all morning but now the sun came out. Suddenly the soapsuds on the floor sparkled with the myriad hues of rainbows. She rinsed out the pail of soapy water and started to the floor once more. The rainbows gradually dulled as the rain began to fall again.
Six children she had. The eldest with her flaring hair had cried herself to sleep last night. Pamela's young man had taken the innkeeper's daughter to the films. Poor Pamela. She should not have cared so much for him if he was that sort. Her daughter was much more lovely than the smartly dressed Mary Ann. Mrs Hod wrung out the cloth hard with her strong worn hands.
Six children she had. And a job. Cleaning other people's houses, cooking other people's meals. The money from it helped clothe and feed the six children. The youngest three went to the government school in the village. Two had scholarships to the big grammar school in the nearby town. Pamela, the oldest, had left school. Pamela, they thought, was going to be married to Bob. She worked in a chemist's shop in town. Bob had come home on leave and taken Mary Ann to the films.
Mrs Hod got up from the floor once more and walked stubbornly over to the doorway with the heavy pail and emptied the sparkling soapsuds and muddy water down the drain outside. Her apron was dampened by the rain but the sun shining at the same time made everything gleam. There were sparkling drops of rain on the bean tendrils and in the cabbage leaves. The sun near blinded her at its morning low angle. She knew that round the other side of the house was a rainbow, but there was not time to look. She went back into the clean-floored kitchen and got things ready for baking.
Mrs Hod was a good cook. She made buns and strawberry tarts and pies and sponge cakes and all other kinds of pastry and tea things. She also made a good steak-and-kidney pie. She had dark, crinkly hair, and although she had born six children and looked anything but young she always tied a blue satin ribbon round her hair in the way a young child's is worn at a party. She had small, dark eyes. The rest of her was plump and covered by the usual print dress and print apron. She wore plimsole shoes on her feet.
She started to prepare the dough and knead it for her pastry. The wooden kitchen door opened from the dining room.
'Good morning, Mrs Hod', said a girl not as old as Pamela.
'Good morning, Mus' Julia. You do be late getting up. Would you like me to be getting you sum breakfast?'
'Would you mind? Oh, no. You're busy with the baking. Please don't bother for I'll do it myself if I'm not in your way. Can I lick out the bowl when you're through?'
'Oh, Mus' Julia, you never grows up, do you, Ducks!' Mrs Hod's eyes crinkled as she laughed.
Julia got herself some breakfast and set it down on the table by Mrs Hod. 'You don't mind, do you? Of course I know I shouldn't do this'.
'Of course, that's all right, Mus' Julia'. Mrs Hod cleared away a spot for her amongst the numerous kitchen bowls she used. She went back to her kneading in the large crockery basin with its border of raised wheat eats and biscuit colour glaze. She placed the dough on the scrubbed white pine wood of the table and started to roll it. Miss Julia watched her movements. She was still sleepy, the way one is when one has overslept, not wanting to get up and face the world. She had a slight headache as well. She had read late into the morning, burying her trouble into the words of printed pages.
'My Pam's having lovers' troubles', said Mrs Hod as she rolled the pin up and down the smooth pastry.
'Oh, what has happened, Mrs Hod'.
'Her Bob came home on leave and took that Mary Ann to the films. My Pamela cried all night'.
'Oh, Mrs Hod, I am sorry'.
Julia took the breakfast things to the sink and washed them up. Under the sound of the running water she said, 'It seems like everybody is having lovers' troubles'. Her mother had fallen for her father's friend and guest. There was unease and guilt in everything they did. Mrs Hod did not hear. Julia called out, 'Mrs Hod, where's my mother?'
'She and that gentleman went out for a walk in the rain with the dog', she replied.
The back door rang then. Mrs Hod opened it. Miss Hobden, the milk woman, was standing there in the rain.
'Good morning, Mus' Hod'.
'Good morning, Mus' Hobden. Let me make you sum tea this rainy morning'.
'Why that would be a nice treat, Mus' Hod. Thanks. I see you're baking. Good morning, Mus' Julia'.
'Good morning, Mus' Hobden. Mrs Hod, if anyone wants me I'll be in Father's study'. Julia went out of the kitchen. The door slammed. Miss Hobden jumped at the noise. Mrs Hod warmed the kettle.
They sipped the strong tea and exchanged the news, Bob's jilting Pamela, the gentleman from India who was Mr Bolton's friend and who had come to stay in the house, the butcher's brother's broken arm, the child John's scholarship to Grammar School.
After a while Miss Hobden left to finish her milk rounds in the soft April rain. Mrs Hod got on with the baking. Julia, alone, relived the memory of yesterday. She had opened the door, not knowing they were there. Her mother was on the bed, unclothed and white. Her father's friend stood there, bewildered, caught. The black oak and red damask of the room had swirled around. She slammed the door and ran. Now she picked up a book, any book, to push the picture away from her mind.
In the kitchen Mrs Hod was talking to Mrs Archer, the butcher lady. Mrs Hod had got a great deal of baking done, already. Her dark hair was bleached in places with flour. Mrs Archer was a ruddy woman with a booming voice. While she and Mrs Hod were talking the kitchen bell rang again. 'Who can it be?' Mrs Hod opened the door. Bob, Pamela's lover, was there. He stood there nervously. Mrs Hod said coldly, 'Come in, Mus' Bendge'. He slung his tall, khaki clad body into the kitchen.
'Er, um, Mrs Hod, er . . . ' he stuttered.
'I'll see you Wednesday', boomed Mrs Archer and left with her great basket that banged against the side of the door.
'Er, Mrs Hod, I, er, is come to ask you if I could take you Pamela to the film tonight'.
'Well, Mr Bendge, but what about your Mary Annâ?'
'Well, it's like this. I took Mary Ann last night'.
'And Pamela cried her eyes out about it, too, last night, poor ducky'.
'And, er, I'm sorry about that, Mrs Hod. Well, another chappy took Mary Ann home. And Pamela, she's a good sort. I thought she'd like this'. He held something out in his huge rough hand.
'Oo, er, it's a di'mond ring. And so purty, too. It's like an April rainbow, I do declare. Bob, Pamela'll be so happy.
'Well, Mus' Hod, I, er, just thought I'd come round to tell you I'll come for Pam at six, I will'. He left the kitchen awkwardly.
Mrs Hod murmured to herself. 'Real di'monds'. The buns began to burn. She rushed to the oven. They were too brown. She began to cry quietly.
We lie across the bed. Talking. I ask him. 'Now it is written, what do you think of it? Is it good? Tell me. Tell me which parts are bad'.
He is reluctant. We had met in Creative Writing class and Dr Holloway continues to be in touch with us. 'Wait. I don't want to say. Let Dr Holloway say. She has greater wisdom. I am too close'.
'But just tell me which parts are wrong, childish, silly'.
'I don't want to'.
'You're afraid I'll be angry. I'm not now'. Last week I had thrown the sheets to the wind, all the numbered, ordered pages in snatches to the oak trees, on the hillside. In anger, disillusionment. The suicide of a book. Because he had seemed to hate and despise it. He and the children had gathered them up, and brought them back to me.
'Well, then, I'll tell you. It needs, let us say, tying up. The ideas are not clear. The concepts. Sharpen them. Some things I don't feel are drawn together. It is too disparate. Perhaps you can explain to me what you mean'.
'Yes, I can'. I take up the battered clock from his hand. He has been setting its alarm for the morrow's waking, preparation for teaching. 'You see, a mechanical clock only tells sundial time twice a day. This is a joke amongst school children, which would you rather, a clock that told the right time twice a day or a clock that told it twice a year. The unsuspecting are greeted with derision. Their clock is more accurate yet useless. The hours of the sun are different from those of mechanism. Winter day hours are short and night hours long. The solstices are even Capricorns and Cancers. Midsummer night is magic, breathless. A clock you can compare to Irena/Sibyl's harsh jewelry, delicately wrought, bitter. A sundial is more atune to nature, compare it to the earrings John Whitecastle gives her of bright and shining cherries. One is artifice and pain, the other, natural and real.
'And so I begin this book with the church clock of St Mary, the device of art, and written in devised prose. There are hints of shadow time also, for it is always there, the sun shadow, the real, the Platonic, the way my life was designed within its society, with all the artifice of social intercourse, the placement of one person, planned and set. Yet the mechanism has gone wrong, the gears grind in eccentric meshes and life is torn apart by Leonardo's bestial madness which is war.
'Then comes the harsh wrench of exile. Alteration in time, space. New dimensions, where are they? You say the book is bitter. No, there is no bitterness in sundial time. For I, with my children, our children, there align myself to shadow time, sundial time, sun time. Can you not see the real wealth that lies there? Alignment with nature which is reality, not artifice which is folly'.
'You do not know the stultifying nature of English society, could you not see the parody of it in the play, Powdermill House, those shallow, stuffy people, puffed up with a sense of their importance, when there was really nothing worthy about them? The only road to worth there was flight, escape. I had wanted to escape that. So I came to your land, to you, to our children. Yet I had not wanted exile. There I did have a kind of perverse meaning. Here I had none. So, in the pages of a book, I have spun anew my identity. Does that make sense?'
'Yes. Write that down. What you have just explained. I had not seen the connection of the clock with the sundial and the children. Now you've tied them together and the meaning comes clear. Other things I understand but I did not think of 'Powdermill House' as parody'.
'Yes. And Irena is also in another aspect my mother, Sibyl'.
'Yes, I saw that. I wonder whether others will. You must tell them. And now we must wait for Dr Holloway's impressions. She will tell you of other things you will need to make more clear'.
'Which is something I shall dread doing. The typing, weeks and weeks of it, the children needing my attention, too. Let's leave it obscure for their sakes. Sometimes, did you guess, the obscurity is very deliberate. Such as when I discover Sibyl in her bedroom, nude with her lover. I suppress and hide the rather explosive incident within a bucolic romance. No Françoise Sagan am I. The story will not be a book, merely a sentence. The crucial discovery is subjected to Freudian belittlement. We are looking through the wrong end of the telescope'.
'Put that in, too. I need this book to pay our bills for having children. Now let me sleep. Too soon the alarm will go off. And already you've kept me awake too late. Tomorrow, I am condemned to teach'.
'Good night. And thank you. The clock is set and I won't type late'.
I was a child of war time. From the age of three 'till the age of eight I lived in a world gone mad. We held ourselves together in our waking hours and pretended all was sane. But at night a nightmare came. I dreaded it. In the day playing in the quiet orchard with my brother, I wondered how I could stop it coming. Could I put my hands to my eyes in my sleep and open them, waking and ceasing to dream horrors? I tried. A thousand dream hands fluttered to eyes to no avail and the horror went on. Then on the eve of my eighth birthday I tried once more, desperately; the thousand hands rose, opened a thousand dream eyes which continued to see the landscape of dream, for they were not awake. At last, slowly rose my real hands, lead weights, that opened my eyes, still staring at the dread landscape. And the landscape vanished. My eyes were open. It was dark, the middle of the night, and I lay awake in the loneliness and triumph. I had conquered. I never again dreamed that nightmare.
Perhaps it had its origins in Mr Beattie's work. A peace-time carpenter, during the war he worked in an armaments factory near Battle. He took us there once, showed us the large room, filled with machines and men. In the dream the room became a vast hall. There were no men, but the machines possessed a diabolical power of their own. They could pull one to them by magnetic power and one had to strain to remain exactly in the middle of the field of force between two machines, lest a machine gain ascendancy and clasp you into its maw. One wandered amongst these mechanical monsters, ever straining, always terrified. Then in desperation one went into the second half of the dream. In it, too, there was no escape. I could fly from floor to floor. They opened up for me and I passed through, layer after layer. But the machines, too, thrust up through the floors, elongated themselves and grew and cleaved to me. Then the third part of the dream would come. I and my father would be crossing the bridges of the Thames in London. The one beneath us would collapse. We'd have to fly. And flying was the most difficult thing in the world to do, one strained and held in one's breath and slowly managed to reach the next bridge, when that too collapsed, and then the next, which in turn, too, collapsed. And then the dream melted back into sleep.
One night, instead, I dreamed that a blue velvet curtain was before my eyes. It was looped with red silk fringes. I could feel its luxury. I knew that behind it must be something glorious for a child, a Christmas pantomime, perhaps. But, no, the curtain rose and the machines came for me. They were grey, without colour, horrible.
I found my dream only the other day, in the Confessions of De Quincey.
Many years ago, when I was looking over Piranesi's Antiquities of Rome, Mr Coleridge, who was standing by, described to me a set of plates by the artist, called his Dreams, and which record the scenery of his own visions during the delirium of a fever; some representing vast Gothic halls; on the floor of which stood all sorts of engines and machinery, wheels, cables, pulleys, levers, catapults, etc., etc., expressive of enormous power put forth and resistance overcome. Creeping along the walls, you perceived a staircase; and upon it, groping his way upwards, was Piranesi himself; follow the stairs a little further, and you perceive it come to a sudden abrupt termination, without any balustrade, and allowing no step onwards to him who had reached the extremity, except into the depths below.
Whatever is to become of poor
Piranesi, you suppose, at least, that his labours must in
some way terminate here. But raise you eyes, and behold a
second flight of stairs still higher; on which again
Piranesi is perceived, but this time standing on thy very
brink of the abyss. Again you elevate your eye, and a still
more aerial flight of stairs is beheld; and again is poor
Piranesi busy on his aspiring labours; and so on, until the
unfinished stairs and Piranesi both are lost in the upper
gloom of the hall.
This has been something memorial. Thoughts and remembrances of a past which will otherwise be lost. A mosaic of impressions, incidents, scenes without meaning to others but which were once my cosmos. But Marcel Proust achieved his re-creation by working in a cork-lined study, cut off from the world in which he then was, in order to return to the world of his past. I cannot do so. For . . .
The older child, Robin, stampedes through the room, glorying in a million plans and a million exploits. Where I know only a little boy in blue shorts, with red bucket and yellow shovel, he, in his mind's eye, sees himself as some fantastic giant, Herculean, vanquishing by counter-magic and by physical strength all strange spells and obstacles. His play is deadly earnest. The things I value, to him are but paltry. So he cannot understand my tears when I find torn up scraps of paper, smeared with paint, which once held so bravely words that I had composed and which now are grievously mutilated. And I force myself to remember the charming description in Durrell's Quartet of the writer on the isle of Prospero and the young child who took his paper for playthings, a censorship which pleased him.
But, when Robin is tired, if I unfeelingly disturb a magical pattern laid out with blocks upon the floor, or touch him with water-wet hands, or fail otherwise to carry through with some incomprehensible and mysterious ritual that to him is some fabulous pattern, what sorrow, what terror ensures! We live in two worlds, not one, being two people, and we both learn and not learn the language and laws of the other's domain.
Across the marbled floor sweeps the breath of God. A room that is as simple and as bare as the soul of a new-born child. The heavy tapestries are parted to let in the weak, gilded, dawn light and upon the parapet are stone urns with rounded dark green fruit trees with the gilded dawn fruit. A peacock struts amongst them, outlined against the vivid sky.
Someone has placed a rounded pottery jar upon the floor and from it rise the sharp angular lilies common to those parts, flowers which turn at dawn to adore the rising sun, their silent trumpets blaring forth soundless praise to their Maker. The peacock gives a shrill call and beyond the wall can be heard cockcrow in the city that lies beneath this hill, the strutting chanticleers, the iron weather vanes upon every church steeple, the cock that crowed thrice when Peter denied his Master.
Anna enters, spare and gaunt, in a gown of grey pleated linen, and wimple of snow to bind and hide her sparse and greying hairs. She strews sawdust, sweeps and all is garnered and clean. She is old, has born a child, a miraculous child in her old age, which she has given to the Elders with solemn vows of chastity, the life of a cloistered nun. Today, Maria will be bethrothed in a marriage of chastity to one of the Elders, an aged priest and a carpenter of Anna's own people. It is the custom. She again enters the room, this time leading the trembling Maria.
'Maria, now it is time for your prayers on this holy morn. Kneel in peace that you may learn of the revelations of God. God grant you grace, my daughter, my love. God grant you peace'. And so saying Anna leaves for the garden pleasaunce. Her daughter is to be bethrothed now. The ceremonies are hurried. Her pure child has been sick and failing these last months and perhaps it is because Death will take her for his handmaiden. Anna wonders why, when the coming of the child was so improbably, so miraculous, that this should now be.
She hears the pigeons cooing in this garden above the town- The dawn is in splendid array. Then there is sudden music; a strange unearthly singing of voices. What can it be? Anna is struck with wonder. She sits upon the stone seat with its griffon claws at the end of the path to ponder these things, the beauty of the morning, the strange music.
Maria, half asleep, has knelt at her desk in the bare room. Her eyes close, and then she again wakes with a start. She feels unwell but must pray. Her blue dress falls in rich folds around her feet. Her fair hair escapes from its clasp and streams down her bowed shoulder. The words will not come and her mind falters. Then she feel the dawn light seeping through her trellised fingers. A bird sings somewhere. An aromatic odour of incense swirls suddenly about the room. She looks up. A strange Being kneels in front of her, a look of infinite tenderness on its face. It holds a sceptre in its hand, a lily, and it smiles at her as it gently folds its great wings and its robes fall in folds of white and silver upon the marble floor. An intense beam of light streams through glass window panes and there are specks of rainbow light throughout the room. A white dove plummets from the sky singing like a lark.
The strange musical voice tells her that she bears the fruit of God and straight way the life leaps within her. She is filled with a love of all things, so great her heart would break. She starts, astonished, hardly able to comprehend what the angel would tell her. Then slowly she smiles the smile of a woman who feels her child within her. But this child is holy. Her vision vanishes while the joy and fear within her prompt her prayers.
They led her that afternoon through the gates of the Golden City to the Duomo, across the rush strewn roads and moated bridges. The populace stared from their balconies at the young and beautiful maiden. The musicians played their instruments and the choir sang. Her rich robes of white samite and gold hung heavily and oppressed her. The children stopped their play to watch her. Long tapers borne before her flickered in the moving air. In the dark Duomo she was led to the side of Josephus, the old priest, and took her part in the rites. And then the pair was led again out of the vast building into the light of day.
Josephus found it strange in his old age to be living with this young, fair girl. He became suspicious, uneasy. She neglected her work. And he scolded her. One evening while walking in e cherry grove, she begged him to reach her some cherries. Josephus turned in a fury. 'You have cuckolded me. No cherries will I gather for you, you slut. If you would have them, gather them yourself'. For in that country the pregnant women desire cherries. But the tree boughs bent themselves down for Maria, and Josephus repented of his harsh words, suddenly finding that his wife's child was some being divine. In his remorse he treated her gently and served her faithfully, walking by her side on their long journeys in distant lands, preparing food in the desert on the caravan route to Egypt while Maria suckled the holy bairn. When the child was born in a stable Josephus arranged the straw to make a soft couch for his wife and spread his cloak over the harsh stubble and he himself had slept in weariness from the long journey leaning against the post of the cow byre. He did not see the birth, when the angels fluttering around like autumn leaves and fallen snow, for his eyes then were closed in weariness. But he did see the child grow and wax big, playing in the sawdust floor of the carpenter's shop. And he loved to watch the perfection with which the child did everything. For the child could carve toys of wood and mould them of clay and they would come to life. Birds that could sing he made, and little conies that hopped and lollopped across the floor, little snakes that glided under tables and into cupboards, frightening his mother. Lady-birds and butterflies he made, too. Then when the child was five years old Josephus died in his old age and left Maria a widow and the child an orphan. So Maria ended her marriage with God and was taken to wife by a strong fisherman. She bore him several sons, the child's half brothers. And Maria was probably happy in her earthly marriage. Her heavenly one brought only sorrow.
For when she was old she wept at the feet of her dying son, at the foot of the tree, and her sorrow was so full she failed to see the new branches and boughs thick with fruit shooting out from the old wood, the new Spring that was come to the world while she watered the dead, lacerated flesh with her plenteous tears.
In the evening, by the firelight, my father told us tales of voyages, adventures. A thousand times he had us all enthused with plans for cruises half way round the world, glorious golden schemes that were reality until he stopped his golden talk and my mother chimed in, rudely waking us, making us see that such dreams were not practical.
But once in a while we defied practicality and made those golden dreams reality. When I was eleven and Richard nine and my father had just bought us bicycles on the never-never scheme, he suggested that we all go cycling in France. And we went. Except for my mother.
We set off early in the morning from the village where we lived in Sussex. Soon we left the hills of home behind us and were already cycling across the broad flat marshlands of Romney in neighbouring Kent. We were going to Folkstone to board the channel steamer. We had never been abroad before; we had never been on a ship: we had never cycled across the Marsh in the early hours of the morning; we had never before gone to a country where the spoken language was other than English. That is, my brother and I. My father had travelled all over the globe. He had spent five years in India and many were the tales he told us of tigers and terrific monsoon storms, elephants and polo ponies. But he thought we were too young to tell us of his meeting with Gandhi and with Nehru and of the ideas he had and the work he did. He had met my mother in Canada. It was strange that we had never been out of Britain. Though since then I have come to California, putting an ocean and a continent in between myself and southern England. But my brother and I knew nothing of that then while we cycled across the flat marshland covered with grazing sheep.
We reached Folkstone and so excited were we by the Channel steamer that we forgot to be tired by the longest journey we had yet made on bicycles. The Channel was stormy. The waves came over and washed the decks which were crowded to capacity by seasick and miserable summer travellers. But we even laughed to see adults lose their control over their feelings. Children can be cruel. It was not long before I had made friends with the galley cooks (what would my mother have said) who in turn introduced me to the chief engineer, who took my brother and me on a tour of inspection of the engine room. The ship was new, and the engineer possessed great pride which was well matched by the fiendish motors and dials and the list of the ship. It was adventure all right.
And adventures pile upon adventures. There was the sight of the rolling, heaving sea through portholes, the feel of spray on cheek, the leaden colour intermixed with green, a green that one longed to paint but knew with despair that it was impossible. There was the confusion of the Calais customs. All our preconceived ideas about the wildness of French gestures and tempers and tongue were strengthened. We were filled with admiration for my father, who spoke also that weird language, which meant nothing to us, although we had studied it in school, and who seemed to get his point over to these strange romantic foreigners. Remembering that day, it was a shock to me to find out later that my father's French was not of the most fluent, that in fact I could in time, speak better French than he.
Calais was different than England. The advertisements were in a different language. There were tramlines in the street that we had to avoid with our bicycles. Everywhere the buildings were bombed. It was grim. The sun had set, making everything grey. All that I could see of what I thought France should be existed in some red-and-white checked restaurant curtains and brass champagne buckets. My brother, younger than I, suddenly began to cry. The adventure was too big and the war was too near. That night at the hotel everyone smiled at us. Even the English thought we were mad.
The next morning we set off at dawn, cycling down the grim continental streets of Calais and out of the city and along the coastal road. It was no gentle landscape. Rather it was a land not yet healed from the scars of war. Shells lay along the road. Where once had been villages were the husks of burnt houses. It was a wild, desolate and terrible sight for a child who had not been in a country overrun by the enemy.
But the country softened. A hill rose above us, and on our right lay the grey sea. We could see the cliffs of England. My brother and my father were tired and soon got off their cycles to walk. But for the only time in my life I bettered them. Some miraculous energy kept me on, and I cycled farther and farther up the hill. What was at the top? On and on I went, my bicycle describing fantastic figures of eights as I forced the machine up the steep hill. My mouth tasted like pennies. Just before I got to the top I dismounted and ran the rest of the way. I looked around. There was a hideous gun turret covered with dismal camouflage paint. Barbed wire lay tangled around. The stormy wind made the grass grow stubby and discoloured. A large poster said 'DANGER!' There were more bomb shells.
And then below me was the valley. It
was a green valley filled with the neat square patterns of
fields. Tall poplars stood in graceful lines. By the side of
the bay of the sea, which was here a sparkling joyous blue,
was a fairy town. I looked right down into it. The streets
were narrow. The buildings were sun-baked. The people were
moving around on their daily tasks. The streets went right
down into the sand dunes, where a church was, and lined up
on the beach were boats and nets spread out to dry. And the
bay swept out into the Channel with tiny racing white
horses. For the first time that day it seemed the sun shone
and drew bright colours.
I turned round to the greyness and desolation of the other side. My father and brother were still toiling up the hill. 'Come on', I yelled down to them. 'Hurry, hurry, hurry, Daddy, there is the most beautiful town down there and a beach. It's French. Hurry up, for goodness' sake'. And my father called up in his rich voice, 'We're coming. I knew you'd like it'. He had planned it all along.
At last they reached the top. Soon we were off again, zooming round the steep, hairpin bends, our brakes on hard and the wind singing in our ears. Never had I cycled down so steep a hill with so little fear.
And so we came to the town. It was bigger than it looked. It had a beach where we swam all day and got tanned. In the stores were sold marzipan in shapes of shrimps and fruits such as we never saw at home. It had thousands of French children. It had long loaves of French bread. It had beautiful countryside all around. It had fishermen and fishing boats. It was there we spent the most wonderful summer, my father, my brother and I. But nothing quite equalled that moment when I looked down and saw the jewel set in all the greyness.
One summer I spent in the High Sierras in California as a counsellor in a girls' camp. We lived by the side of a lake beneath the Two Sentinels, two great outcroppings of rock perched atop a vast steep ridge. Another counsellor and I decided to climb the Two Sentinels by moonlight and see the dawn sweep over the valley. She woke me at four o'clock in the morning. It was cold and dark. We washed in snow water that stung our faces. Combing our hair in the dark and cold made electric sparks appear before our eyes vivid as lightning. The moon shone blue and cold and its light was deceptive.
We passed the sleeping figures of the campers with their faces blindly looking into the moonlit glades of pine trees. Even the sound of our feet amongst the pine needles was strange. We crossed over the first ridge of sheer granite rock, stumbling over the rotten logs. Passing by Hidden Lake we could see the reflection of the moon shimmering amongst the reeds. We climbed up and onto the road. Above us still were the Two Sentinels. The beginning part of the ridge was not so sheer. Trees grew here, and we walked over pine needles, climbing under that eerie moonlight that filtered through the trees. We climbed beyond the trees out into the open where the moonlight was brighter. Bushes sprouted out of the weird rock. Here it was conglomerate. Strange knobs and pebbles stuck in natural cement. You had to test each piece before you trusted your weight to it and then sometimes it gave way and you sprawled on the rock face, trying not to give way to panic, trying to find such another foothold, searching for it in the unearthly light.
It was very sheer here and just before the top we saw what seemed to be a smooth stretch of rock with no foothold or handhold of any sort. Above our heads, beyond reach, was the top of the ridge. Many minutes we spent looking for some accessible part. Finally we made it. A few bushes and knobs helped us to the top. Blue Jay climbed first and then reached down to me. As I clambered up the bush gave way under me, but Blue Jay was holding me. We stood up. Our hearts were beating hard and the cold wind was shrieking around us.
The moon shone down with its fantastic brilliance. Beneath us lay the valley in the moonlight. The mountain stream, a twisting ribbon amidst the thickly wooded slopes, was silver in its light. On the other side were more trees, no lakes like ours, no streams, but miles of desolate untidy mountain forest. We both turned to look back where our own lovely valley lay, where Lake Kirkwood was, and the camp. It was cold standing in that strange wild moonlight wind. We walked further along the ridge, bending our bodies against its fantastic force. We passed the first Sentinel. We had some time to wait before the dawn. We went up to the second Sentinel, a vast outcropping of rock. Blue Jay and I never spoke. It was too strange for words, and we should have had to shout above the shrieking air currents.
Together we climbed an outcropping of rock and sat there enthroned looking over the valley, waiting for the dawn. The terrible brightness of the moon began to fade, and silver streams became lead. The stars had gone out. It seemed colder.
Over the rim of the world came a slender line of molten sun. Dawn had come and we watched it slowly spill into the valley, gilding the lake and the stream and giving back colour to the world - greens, blues, yellows, orange, brown, in warm richness. The valley became something that we sought and then found. We looked at each other in wonderment and the sun climbed over the long shadows of the morning.
As we walked down the hillside we disturbed a doe and her fawn. We stood still as we watched them glide with lithe grace across the flower-filled meadow. It was like some medieval tapestry. We had seen the birth of morning.
We were staying in a mountain town, Saltillo, in Mexico. My aunt, a teacher, and I had never been to Mexico before and we walked around the golden sunbaked streets and saw the world with new eyes. Our eyes were afflicted with having see too much that was strange. We pondered for hours, trying to decide which pieces of enchanted coloured glass to buy, which gay fabrics.
And then one morning early as we were walking by the Cathedral with the swallows swooping over our heads and the morning sunlight beginning to gild the streets an old verger called after us. We had intended to climb the Cathedral tower? Yes, we would, we were eager for any adventure. We had our water colour paints with us. We had intended to paint the Cathedral plaza in the morning sunlight. We followed the verger, who put away the broom with which he had been sweeping the steps, and he unlocked the door of the tower for us. He was a strange man. One eye was gone. He was a kind of Quasimodo, but his face had more honesty than any other man's face I have seen. I almost distrusted him for this.
Once inside the door which Quasimodo carefully locked again we began climbing the dimly lit, gyring stairway. Quasimodo led. I was behind him. And then my aunt. We were carrying our paints in straw baskets which were difficult to handle in that narrow stairway. It was dim. Then the light would begin to seep down the stairwell again as we came to the narrow windows cut into the thickness of the wall. Each window we passed gave us a glimpse of the glorious sunlight in the plaza and the swooping swallows. The plaza and the people in it, the ice cream vendor, the shoe-shine boys, the old men reading the paper, got smaller and smaller, the higher we climbed.
We reached the end of the stairs. The blue sky was arched by gold grey stone. The plaza was very distant now, the ice cream vendor was walking away, the little shoe-shine boys were like flies crawling over the sunlit expanse. Dark blobs with light blobs that caught the sunlight were the old men reading the newspapers. The large fountain playing in the center of the plaza could be eclipsed by the flight of the cathedral pigeons.
A strange sound surrounded us on all sides, a soft feathery sound, something like the sough, sought of hops being turned in the drying rooms of oast houses. Hundreds of pigeons were nesting in the great roof of the cathedral, the roof that caught and held the sunlight, letting it soak into the old stone that had been placed under the eyes of bygone Spaniards. At first we could not identify the sound and then our guide, seeing our wonderment, made motions with his hands indicating the flight of birds, speaking all the while in his soft, unintelligible Spanish, smiling his Cyclopean smile. We were in a world of gold and blue, of arches and voids, of Spain, Morocco, Mexico, and the soft whispering of doves. We were on an equal with the sky. Like a frieze the mountains lay all around. Below us was the town and its folk. But it was the sky alone that enveloped us.
Quasimodo, grinning, made us touch the bells. A peal in miniature rang out as we pushed the clapper against the bronze. The bells were immense.
When we emerged later from the small
tower door, a wedding procession, with the young bride
giggling, was entering the cathedral portal.
We are free to stoke the crematory fires or to devote ourselves to the care of lepers
Albert Camus, Notebooks
Great Uncle Henry, he of the Chinese queue, fell in love with another aged guest of ours, an ancient lady whom we dubbed 'Mystical', for she was forever forgetting where she had last laid down her spectacles, her cane, her book, her needlework, and would come to us in a dither, imploring our aid in her search through the rusty labyrinths of her memory.
'Mystical' was of very different mettle than he whom we christened the 'Hypocrite'. The 'Hypocrite' loved nothing better than to tell us of his exploitations of Chinese coolies. 'They aren't like white men you know, after all. Why, no white man could live on their diet of a tiny handful of rice a day and carry a grand piano unaided through the thoroughfares of Hong Kong. They are not people like us. So it's all right'. We seethed at such statements, barely able to remain even coldly polite to our odd and elderly relative who shared our salt. While 'Mystical' never told us of her work in India. We knew she had lived there but that was all.
Then there came the day when 'Mystical' had no more funds with which to pay her board. We visited her bank with her to check on her remaining account. The manager took us to her safe deposit box, extricated it and gasped on opening the container. There was no money inside, just a medal, the Kaiser-i-Hind medal. We queried 'Mystical', how had she obtained this. 'Oh, it was just for going to a leper village and caring for the people there', she explained. She'd heard rumours of it, of course, completely inaccessible, no one would go. So she went. And worked there for years unsung. Dear 'Mystical'. And they awarded the Kaiser-i-Hind medal for bravery. And now she was penniless. And unknown. And vague.
'Stuff and nonsense', outraged the Revd. Dr. Henry Bolton. 'What she do that for? They're just a bunch of heathen savages. Aren't like us white people at all. Don't feel pain. We'd starve on their diet. Subhuman, that's what they are, not worth the bother'.
'Oh, but, Dr Bolton, you cannot say such things', sweetly retorted the mild 'Mystical'. 'Why, I baptized the entire leper colony single handed. No one else came near. And never better Christians have I known. They make England heathen by comparison'.
'Stuff and nonsense', said Dr Bolton. I am ashamed I was his flesh and blood.
A few days after Evelyn left Powdermill House for London, Godfrey Webster found himself showing a gentleman around the house and the abbey, specifically to examine the family portraits. The gentleman would write an article on them, an article which was to appear in a journal for curio lovers. Evelyn hoped thereby to sell one of the portraits, one for which she did not particularly care. The money was necessary and Mrs Webster felt that if the sale were discreet enough, all should be well.
The gentleman posed as a genteel Bohemian. He had a greying beard. His face was sensitive and distinguished. When the chief editor, receiving Mrs Webster's letter, asked him to go down to Battle and do a write-up on the portraits, Puce-Lemon had accepted. His father had run an antique shop in the nearby picturesque town of Old Hastings. He knew the surrounding country and the local families. They had often brought furniture to his father's shop when they were in need of money. His father, always deferential to his customers, was, in private, somewhat smug over having members of the old families come to him with the emblems of their dignity for sale. His son had inherited that smugness, although it was well concealed always.
And now Mr Puce-Lemon was at Powdermill, being shown the portraits by Godfrey, knowing fully as well as did the heir that the article he was to write was supposed to lead to a sale or two. The idea pleased Mr Puce-Lemon considerably.
Godfrey took his guest up on the gallery, showing him the old engravings hanging there, Hogarth works, illustrations for Sir Roger de Coverley and hunting prints. The portrait of the Creole woman who became the bride of a Sir Godfrey Webster at the time of the French Revolution hung at the head of the stairs. There were several portraits of her around the house, for she had been a great beauty but notorious for her infidelity. Godfrey did not tell Mr Puce-Lemon this, however, and Mr Puce-Lemon, although he guessed as much, would refrain from writing on this aspect of the woman with her painted cheeks and high bosom. He was quite interested in the engravings and took down a few notes concerning them.
Then Godfrey took him down the stairs again and through the white doors into the dining room. As they entered the large room smelling still of food, cabbage odours predominating, Mr Puce-Leon started ever so slightly. He was impressed by the array. He had not realized that the Websters had been such a family as this. He promised himself a fine time writing up this roomful of portraits, omitting the fact that the portraits were almost all hung maddeningly slightly crooked. The room smelt badly of stale cooking, too. But, yes, it would be a good touch to say that the furnishings, mind you, not the furniture, were slightly worn. Yes, that would be a very clever, subtle way of indicating the possibility of a sale.
By the door was a second portrait of the Creoleienne. Her gaze was languid, her neckline low, and her waist high. The paint on this one was cracked. In her eyes there is a slight expression of impudence. She had dressed her hair after the style of the Empress Josephine. She would not do. Godfrey and Mr Puce-Lemon turned away and stopped to look at a boy clad in buskins, holding a bow, bounding through the Powdermill Woods, surrounded by hunting dogs. Its label read 'Godfrey Webster, aetatis 5'. A ruddy cheeked Webster by Romney hung opposite, a languid Lady Webster hung at his side, painted by Lely. A handsome Van Dyke Webster gazed down from above the sideboard. The silver on the table and sideboard was tarnished and the walls were damp. In the eyes of the portraits was reproach. Or was it mere boredom, tedium of long sittings before dull painters, futile sacrifices to the altar of fame and immortality.
I took Robin and Colin for a walk. Robin had to hold my hand when we crossed the streets. He laughed and jumped over the pavement squares. He has freckles on his nose and auburn hair - like John Milton's. Colin rides in the stroller, solemn and regal, and his fair hair shines silver in the sunlight. His eyes are grey and large and he is a serious baby.
We stopped at a store where we often go for there they sell toys from the Orient, birds that swing around on a stick and twitter when they fly, wooden puzzle blocks, coloured sheets of paper for making intricate folded animals and birds. They like my children there. They have a daughter, born the same day as Colin. They bring her out and we sit the two dolls on the counter, one blond, the, other, almond-eyed, dark, merry. They pat each others' faces and smile.
I bought a book, well bound with blank pages. We take it home, struggling with the stroller through the traffic. I have many pictures, many poems, and for my two beloved sons I make a book.
The Beatties had made such books for us. They called them scrapbooks. There we had filled them with post card views of Scotland, Burns' poems, pressed sprigs of heather and tartan plaid. Elizabethans collected lyrics in Commonplace Books. Ours began with
Now I will believe
That there are unicorns, that in Arabia
There is one tree, the phoenix' throne, one phoenix
At this hour reigning there.
Then follow Italian Renaissance portraits of princesses, children's rhymes, 'The King of Spain's daughter . . . '˜ and
Shake off your heavy trance!
And leap into a dance
Such as not mortals use to tread:
Fit only for Apollo
To play, for the moon to leadm
And all the stars to follow!
By a primitive painting of the Nativity comes John Short's
There was a boy bedden in bracken,
Like to a sleeping snake all curled he lay;
On his thin navel turned this spinning sphere,
Each feeble finger fetched seven suns away.
He was not dropped in good-for-lambing weather,
He took no such when shook buds sing together,
But he is come in cold-as-workhouse weather,
Poor as a Salford child.
And then with a photograph I bought of Jan Breughel the Elder's Creation,
the one that hangs in the Galleria Doria in Rome which Robin had loved with its peacocks, horses, lions, pards, swans, elephants, giraffes, goats, monkeys, deer, rabbits, snakes, hawks, dogs and Adam and Eve glanced in distant perspective in a grove, white and naked, arguing, beneath it Milton's lines:
About them frisking play'd
All Beasts of th'Earth, since wild, and of all chase
In Wood or Wilderness, Forest or Den;
Sporting the Lion ram'p, and in his paw
Dandl'd the Kid; Bears, Tigers, Ounces, Pards
Gamboll'd before them, th'unwieldy Elephant
To make them mirth us'd all his might, and wreath'd
His Lithe Proboscis; close the Serpent sly
Insinuating, wove with Gordian twine
His braided train, and of his fatal guile
Gave proof unheeded; others on the grass
Couch't, and now fill'd with plasture gazing sat,
Or Bedward ruminating; for the Sun
Declin'd was hasting now with prone career
To th'Ocean Isles, and in th'ascending Scale
Of Heav'n the Stars that usher Evening rose.
Then comes Greece, Lawrence's lines on the 'rotunda of the sky', the Temple of Neptune at Paestum, the sketch I made of a pagan god at San Clemente with his noble leer.
With Pieter Breughel' 'Winter Scene' comes 'A Poem for my Son'. And then the Mantegna St George, the Knight in shining armour and the bitter orient face, looking from the window of his portrait into a sad distance. A swag of fruit loops down from the Venetian sky. A procession of men and horses winds up to the gates of a distant hillside town. The lance is shattered. The buckles of the armour cry for you to undo them. While the dragon is foreshortened, unreal, a phantasmagoria.
Then is the sketch of a pilgrim by Modigliani and the lines of Tommaso Campanella,
Gli uomini sono giuoco di Dio e degli Angeli
Nel teatro del mondo ammascherate
L'alme da' corpi e dagli effetti loro,
spettacolo al supremo consistoro
da natura, divina arte, apprestate,
fan gli atti e detti tutte a chi son nate;
di scena in scena van, di coro in coro;
si veston di letizia e di martòro,
dal comico fatal libro ordinate.
Nè san, nè ponno, nè vogliono fare,
nè patir altro che'l gran Senno scrisse
di tutte lieto, per tutte allegrare;
quando, rendendo, al fin di giuochi e risse,
le maschere alla terra, al cielo, al mare,
in Dio vedrem chi meglio fece e disse.
Then in sanguine and charcoal crayon on grey paper are the sketches I made of Michelangelo's Pietà , the one in the Duomo in Florence where Robin beat time to the singing of the choir while Amato held him in his arms. Beside the burdened group is a prayer Petrarch wrote at Avignon, 1 June 1335. And for the sketch of the head of Joseph of Arimathea, that is also Michelangelo's self-portrait, are the words of Wisdom from the old morality play,
I will go with thee,
And be thy guide
In thy most need
To go by thy side.
Many are the
treasures in this book, painted cartoons for mosaics, poems,
Sophia's Papa in London Town, Sorrow of Seagulls, Sacrament,
sketches from Greek reliefs, the Byzantine icon that Robin
brought to me in Venice's San Marco, gay children's poems,
reproductions from the Italian galleries, little Tobit and
the Angel, the Mozart-like child spinning a top at his
Robin looks at the
pictures while I hold Colin and read the words. 'Tyger,
tyger, burning bright, In the forests of the night'.
Soon Robin and Colin are
sleepy, lulled by words they only half understand yet enjoy.
I put Colin in his crib and his eyes close, one fist
clenches, then uncurls beneath his cheek, and I cover him to
his chin with his patchwork quilt. Robin climbs into bed
with his huge bear and smiles when I turn out the light.
'There's a moon in the sky, a moon in the sky like a boat',
he murmurs while falling asleep.
Soon Robin and Colin are
sleepy, lulled by words they only half understand yet enjoy.
I put Colin in his crib and his eyes close, one fist
clenches, then uncurls beneath his cheek, and I cover him to
his chin with his patchwork quilt. Robin climbs into bed
with his huge bear and smiles when I turn out the light.
'There's a moon in the sky, a moon in the sky like a boat',
he murmurs while falling asleep.
home from the noise of typewriters and later the sounds of
cars and the red London buses sloshing through the rainy
streets I find contentment here, in this small room up many
stairs. I know I should share a room with another girl. But
I do not like to have another near me, one whom I do not
understand, one who would take away privacy and aloneness
and thoughts. The rain sluices over the window panes. I do
not indulge in curtains so the window is bare. From it I can
look down where red buses pass in the street below. A tree
with sooty boughs places an indomitable chirping sparrow
near my window.
I turn and my image
confronts me with its staring eyes. I realize I am still
wearing the head scarf I put on in the street outside the
office against the rain with the wind buffeting and the cars
splashing dirty street water up against the curb. I had
walked from the office in the rain to save the fare. Through
the park there had been sparrows but I had not dared to look
at them. A story was knocking at the door within my mind.
But coming home I find that it is more reluctant to come
forth. Then it had seemed to sound a triumphant paean. There
on the plain deal table is my typewriter. Beside it is
paper, not too much, for I buy it myself. I have too much
pride to take paper from the dusty office where I now work.
My father used to do that in the old days. And I wrote my
first stories, weak things, on stolen paper. But I have too
much shame for that now.
Beside the pile of
virginal paper lie also closely type-written sheets,
stories, three quarters of a novel, some plays, precious
things that mean more to me than the friendship of any man
or woman. But I have sent several of them to magazines and
they have come back with the polite cold note, 'The Editor
regrets . . . '
But it is all I can
do. At day I type legal notices, dry dead things. At night I
type again but with filaments of imagination and past bits
of reality creating webs that are soothing, satisfying, that
give meaning and intensity to my, I suppose, senseless
rebelling. This new, chosen life seems to banish shame to
oblivion. But memories, recollections it does not banish.
With weariness they come breaking the floodgates of the
mind, the sweep of a stairway, the look of firelight and the
warmth, the glimmering sunlight on the surface of the lake,
the children's games, horses, hounds, woods and streams, my
mother in her tea gown of lace and her neurotic mind, my
father scratching pen on paper, day after day, keeping the
wolf from the door. But the wolf came.
I am used to the pain, the trembling, the distortion to one's thoughts that hunger brings. Hunger lives with me here, too. But now I look my fellow men in the eye. I earn all that I have. Were I a man I would work and sleep at night on the park benches, saving the money to join my father in Rome where he is now working. And then we would write together, he and I, in a garret of the Eternal City, and walk together in the piazza of St Peters with the clean fall of water of Maderna's fountains. But I cannot. A story sold might give me that, but I will not write to him and ask for the money. The money he earns from his books must go solely to paying the debts my mother and he incurred. And that will take a long, long, time. I cannot ask of him money that is rightly another's.
But instead of
blaming my mother I should, rather, try to understand why. I
believe I do now. But I cannot forgive. She held us all in
her grip and hurt us again and again. She had been hurt as a
child, a divorce, a scandal. Perhaps that was the reason why
she became so destructive, why she could not bear to see
others happy, why she tried to destroy herself and those
near to her as well. My father and I, shall I say, escaped,
wounded. And she . . . I do not go and see her. I cannot
She was once very
beautiful. She came from a rich family but she had no wealth
of her own, only the knowledge of luxury that wealth brings.
She bought expensive clothes. Her taste ran to antique
furniture with which she filled Darbyes. My father met her
again at this time. They were married and I arrived and
later my brother. We lived in London and weekends were spent
at Darbyes. I had a Russian Nanny, dancing lessons, music
lessons, beautiful clothes, toys. My mother had many
friends, one who lived near her in the country in a large
decayed and beautiful Georgian house. Evelyn Webster. Her
family had had great landholdings and a title for centuries.
She was the last one left. Defiantly she made her son change
his name back to the ancestral one. He was a boy at the
time. When he grew up he left for Brazil and went into hotel
keeping. He has no interest in his family's history.
When the war came
my mother found it a nuisance having children around in air
raids. We were to be sent to an aunt in America. Then the
plans were changed. A ship filled with children had been
torpedoed, their lives lost. While my parents worked at
different jobs we were to live with Russian Nanny at
Darbyes. Then Nanny left. Finally, we were put in the hands
of a Scottish couple who had no children of their own. A
governess came daily to instruct me in the art of pressing
flowers, painting and so forth. When the war was over and
our parents came to take us back home we could not
comprehend the change. Our parents had become such in name
I was a handful to my mother, so I was sent to boarding school, a convent school, where the Church of England nuns were kind. School became a refuge for me, a sanctuary. I was plain. But I would work, enjoying everything I learned. It was exciting to translate a poem of Ovid on Oenone and find his to be far more beautiful than Tennyson's. Soon I was usually to be placed first or second in the class. My head mistress, Sister Elizabeth, said I should go on to University. I had two more years of study before I could qualify for the examinations. But at home my parents told me bluntly that they were penniless, that my school fees were unpaid for several years, and that they could no longer continue to send me to school. Neither would they allow me to work. I spent my time reading innumerable books and mastering my father's typewriter. I wrote strange, puerile stories and my parents fought all the time. I joined the fights, trying to help, but only making things worse. My mother threw a pan of hot grease at me at the height of one of her rages. It missed and later, when I cleaned it, I noticed that the paint on the wall had blistered and peeled with the heat.
The bills piled up. The grocery bill needed paying, the electricity was cut off. Finally, we were evicted for non-payment of rent. For then we were renting a house. Long before, my mother had sold Darbyes and had bought a larger house, a huge place, in Brede. That had had to be sold, and was sold at a loss. In the first place, the money which bought it had been borrowed. Cheques were written and a few days later came back dishonoured. My mother would try to continue buying antiques, priceless furniture, but dealers were now hesitant. My father tried to stop her, telling her that she had been the cause of all their financial troubles. She would not listen. My father was too upset to continue with his work. He knew he could not write in a house filled with hatred and despair. Again and again, he tried to make my mother understand. But he had only to come near her, and she would behave like a wild animal trapped. It was a terrible thing.
The day we were evicted my father left. He just started out on a walk to think things out and went on walking. I had gone with him part of the way and tried to see some hope. We had talked together as we rarely had before. He told me then how much it would have meant to him for me to have gone on to Oxford as he had done and how bitterly he felt about everything. My father had always valued education, learning, knowledge, above wealth and the semblance of wealth. It seemed strange to me that he should then have married my mother. He told me how beautiful she had been when he met her. And then I returned to the house. He said he would come home later. But he had gone on walking. That night he decided to return to Italy to shake off the shackles of hatred in the only way he could. I wished I could have gone with him.
Instead, my mother and I went to stay with Evelyn in her shabby, beautiful house. Always I was filled with shame. But I found solace in writing. There was an old gun room there filled with sports trophies, fox masks and brushes mounted on the walls, a collection of hunting guns and whips. I would build a fire of coals and write alone where no one would disturb me. It was fun being with Evelyn. She had many friends. Some were writers, some were artists, others had important political posts. The conversation was always lively. But my mother always spoilt them. Her ideas were becoming more and more warped. Once a famous authoress came. She was a shy, charming woman. My mother grabbed the place next to her on the drawing room couch and held forth. I could see only the emptiness of it, my mother with her ravaged face, demanding the floor, speaking of what was near nonsense but with frightening conviction, and the shy, lovely authoress, cowed, beside her. It was as if we were all like my mother taking someone like the authoress, shy and natural, and putting her on display for our neurotic pleasure. Evelyn's circle cultivated fame.
Once two ambassadors came to stay. Before their Excellencies arrived Evelyn put me to work painting the holes in the red carpet on the white stairs a matching red. Sometimes I longed to say to my mother, to Evelyn and to celebrities who courted the hypocrisy of it all, 'Oh, you are nothing but a pack of cards', and have the pleasure of seeing them collapse, fold up, leaving nothing behind to show for all their efforts to impress one another.
It was when my mother started to show an interest in me that I really wanted to run away. She began entering my sanctuary, reading my stories, trying to make me change them to show her own ideas, and railing about my father. Particularly did she comment that I was beginning to turn into quite a nice daughter despite all her previous disappointment in my lack of beauty, my lack of dancing ability, my lack of musical talent. I had no desire to be liked by her and when she spoke of my father with hate, misunderstanding and bitterness, I could not even tolerate her.
It was Evelyn who helped. I suppose because I am like my father I did the same thing that he did. I was out walking by the lake side. Once one of Evelyn's guests had drowned herself there. I thought of that and then I found myself filled with the desire to run away. I walked across the countryside to the railway station. From there I telephoned Evelyn and told her not to expect me back and to tell my mother lest she worry. Evelyn was very nice and told me of an employment bureau she knew. I asked her to take care of my mother, saying I would not give my address. Evelyn understood even that. She had liked my mother a great deal when they were school friends together. She understood my mother far better than I. I thanked her and hung up the phone. The train bell rang at the Battle Station as I did so. I bought a third-class ticket and went out on the platform. The train came in. I got into a carriage and the upholstery was dusty. With much noise the train started off. Through fields and meadows it went. Soon we came, it seemed, to London, though the train was a slow local, stopping at every hamlet. At Victoria I got off amidst the dirty crowds of pushing people. I took a bus to the employment bureau. It was almost ready to close. The people were tired. But I found a job in a government office where they needed a typist. Next I found this room, my home. Until I saved enough to buy this typewriter I wrote in the evenings in longhand.
A web of many
filaments, many colours; a mosaic of brilliant tesserae,
peacocks, purple, azure, blanche, towers, palaces of Empire
style or Georgian country houses, orgival arches, poems by
Yeats with a scrap of brocade and a rusty scabbard and a
gyring stair, ideas of Plato, lucid and beauteous, and a
vast Miltonic universe, a structure of the mind . . . so
strangely interspersed with meadows and verdures and running
rivulets . . . searchlights of war with fingers, slender,
bright, against the dark sky. And then again . . . a meadow
and a young lamb following, a woman talking slow and foreign
with a cat of night colour and a trunk, that my mother
called Pandora's box, that when open showed forth cloth with
gold threads scrapped together making gayest Byzantine quilt
work . . . mosaic . . . and a Russian doll in wood with
hard, bright cheeks. The chest was opened, I remember, by
Russian Nanny, to find a green hair ribbon for the braid of
my doll that I might bind and lace the filaments of her gold
hair with it.
. . . and a man
with a voice, paused and hesitated in the correct Oxford
intonation, leant down and said that I had made my doll an
Irish doll, for she was all dressed in green. Then my father
smiled and turned back to his writing. The pages spewed out
across the table and on, onto the floor, falling with a
paper-falling sound onto the eastern carpet, all over the
Tree of Life that was repeated forever in the Jacobean cloth
of the room and in the carving of the Tudor furniture. My
father wrote and the black words desecrated white paper in
slanting lines that went on and on and on. The sheets fell
covered with forever-dancing hieroglyphs that stepped,
lightly, firmly across the page, and the ink was blue and
. . . and the
Oxford father taking us, my young brother and I, to London
for a first, our very first plane ride . . . flying over
emerald green lands stretched far below, grazing land, fruit
land, mosaic of land and the round mounds of the Welsh
mountains looking strangely flat from above . . . and then .
. . Dublin, Georgian, Joycean.
. . . an old aunt,
a great, great aunt Jennie Bolton pottering amongst the
potted plants, serious in her concentration . . . 'I tink
dat is yer grand feyther's painting dere, child'. I looked
in awe, for I was to be an artist, a painter myself. I
decided that when I was four and only changed my mind when I
was fourteen. And I had heard much of the artistic prowess
of my father's father. There were his paintings like
sparkling jewels in their marine charm, a boy painting boats
and ships and water and hills and trees. 'I tink yer
grandfeyther was twelve when he painted dat'. An old
shrivelled hand points at a picture overburdened by
Victorian gilt, which, when sought out, shows with perfect
technique a sail boat sailing into the sun on a dappled sea
and a horizon girt with clouds and the sail a deep, deep red
brown. A perfect thing. I was to be an artist I then
thought, but never could I paint like this. Her skinny
finger continued to point out the gilded canvases and on she
talked. My father's father had died before the age of
thirty, scarcely half way to the real maturity of his
talent. He painted so often by the water's edge catching the
reflections as well as the actuality on his canvas, his
. . . convent
school, a sanctuary in an old house with green storm
shutters, a gracious home with long white corridors and
Italian reliefs . . . Della Robbia with Mary in white
surrounded by blue sky and crowned with stars as she leant
over the Babe, Moses and Miriam-like in the rushes. Slow
chanting of psalms in the chapel .
. . Compline, Vespers,
Evensong, the Angelus, Sung Eucharist. The choir girls in
long white veils, the nuns in black veils with our short
linen veils over blue dresses that smelt of stale incense .
. . a place of sweeping lawns of verdure and tall old trees
where we could sit and watch the copulation of cattle and in
the pond study the spawning of frogs. The pond was part of
our biology class. The cows belonged to the farmer who
leased the convent meadows. We were not supposed to
understand their strange antics. Those school days came to
I wanted to see
other lands, other people, Already, I loved France, Ireland.
I wanted more. My father begged me to stay in England,
begged while I stood in front of his lined hieroglyphiced
paper-strewn desk in the room with sunlight and books.
. . . when the
little maid Pamela heard I was going to California she came
to me, her big brown eyes full of wonder and her red halo
wilder than ever around her anaemic face and said, 'Be ye
going to Hollywood, Mus' Bolton, be ye going where all them
film stars is?' And she wiped her hands on her flowered
print apron that created yet another of the endless patterns
that my life and your life and another's are made of.
And the ocean was
full of pattern. The water swirled in a special way showing
deep dark green on one side and on the other turquoise blue
speckled with lead colour. The wake churned behind us and
the land was left farther and farther away.
Then the shape of
the web changed with the direction and the place, the
tesserae were of different colours and set in different
types of patterns . . . big, bold mountains, vast deserts
and valleys, all summer long, endless lifeless blue skies
and so little green and no lambs in meadows, no sound of
cows going to milking-shed at six in the morning and six in
the evening, no shearing time, no lambing time.
. . . instead
patterns of type dancing on the page, books, papers, all
that the eye meets and the mind knows, exploration in dusty
tomes, stacks, stairs, concrete, science, water colour,
life-drawing with a skinny model and a pony tail that
reached below her waist and with which she used to hide
herself from us and that heavy drawing board balanced on my
knees while I tried to decipher the pattern of the human
body . . . when one day a whisper went round the class when
the model came in. On the third finger of the left hand she
wore a band of gold. The pattern was changed. She no longer
hid her body with her long black hair. The hair became
chained, bound in a net that made of it a chignon. The thin
band of gold on one skinny finger now hid her nakedness from
. . . friends . . .
a dark haired girl I once met who discussed with me the
novels of Galsworthy which she had read in school and which
I had found at twelve. We talked on many things. I told her
of books I had found on my parents' shelves and liked,
Dosteievski's Idiot, Anatole France's Lys
rouge, Fielding's novels, The
Book of Launcelot, Shaw's Saint
Joan and the Apple Cart,
Thomas Mann's Faustus, Proust. And she,
in turn, made me read Tom Wolfe, Faulkner, Hemingway.
. . . and when she
married a philosophy student she invited me to the wedding .
. . a wedding party held in an Italo-American home on a
hillside . . . the reading of a Shakespeare sonnet for the
ceremony . . . and later beer and dancing and music on the
patio. I said good-by to my friend and her tall husband as
they stood amidst their many philosophical friends, their
Old Country relatives. They went to Europe for a year living
on little and learning more about the human race than they
could in the college year they missed, to come back and see
her again after so long at a swim party on a hot San Jose
night where the beer again flowed freely.
. . . And this time
I, too, was aware of the feeling that my friend had tried to
tell me of when she told me to tell her whether she should
marry the philosopher, the 'professor'. . . .
. . . It happened
one Spring filled with homesickness when I was seventeen . .
. I had seen him before. We had by chance taken the same
class . . . but that term we never spoke to each other. I do
not know what made my husband ask me to have coffee with him
one day. Perhaps the Spring, the sunshine. I did not wish to
leave my books, indeed was persuaded over my reluctance.
Back in the other land, the differently patterned land there
was a Michael, a Julian, a Hugh, a Godfrey, an Alexander,
all whom my parents liked and whom I would again see when I
went back . . . but I never did go back.
. . . Walking
together out of the thick book-lined room into the sunlight,
I found myself forgetting the concrete and noticing instead
the hawthorn tree in blossom, the song birds, the dappled
light. I found myself laughing and my husband . . . no, he
was not my husband then and I did not then know . . .
. . . And then
there was the night . . . on the eve of my eighteenth
birthday when he . . .
The next day he gave me a red rose, stealing it from the bush in someone's yard as we passed by . . .
That night he leaned near, took my face in his hands and . . . kissed me full on the mouth . . . my first kiss.
The patterns wove around in a frenzy, weaving, shrieking, in kaleidoscopic change, contrasting filaments of pain and joy, colours, all the colours I had ever known, coming back, all that had happened in my life like one on the brink of death by water, like reflections and ripples in water cast by a stone forever circling, resuming its pattern. The mosaic of a life was thrown apart and all the elements were rejoined, not one lost, coming back to a design more complete than ever before. A Pandora's chest opened, a tapestry woven from the back, full coloured patterned chaos, and then seeing it from the front in its jewel-like Byzantine design. A dream and an awakening into dream. A tesseraed mosaic.
And from love came marriage, and you and you, my children.
This has not been a novel in the true sense. Rather an
autobiography masquerading as novel. A Book of Hours, a Shepheardes Calendar,
and Almanach. A cycle, a Viconian gyre. It is not the
straightforward chronological prosaic Victorian affair with
that fait accompli
of numerous marriages in the last chapter and 'they lived
happily ever after'. It could not be. For it displays a life
in progress. And Julia cannot herself tell what, in 1962,
will next unfold. Ariadne's thread is but partially
unravelled and we do not know what lies at the end of the
maze in which she guides Theseus. Whether this is real or
fantasy we leave to the reader to suppose. A story woven
with the warp and the woof of revery and chimaera.
This has not been a novel in the true sense. Rather an
autobiography masquerading as novel. A Book of Hours, a Shepheardes Calendar,
and Almanach. A cycle, a Viconian gyre. It is not the
straightforward chronological prosaic Victorian affair with
that fait accompli
of numerous marriages in the last chapter and 'they lived
happily ever after'. It could not be. For it displays a life
in progress. And Julia cannot herself tell what, in 1962,
will next unfold. Ariadne's thread is but partially
unravelled and we do not know what lies at the end of the
maze in which she guides Theseus. Whether this is real or
fantasy we leave to the reader to suppose. A story woven
with the warp and the woof of revery and chimaera.
Around the author the book still persists in living its life, in acting out its drama. Only today came a letter from my now married Richard and his Spanish bride. The air is full of sunlight. I should like to meet Richard's Maria Antonia. The distance is so far, that letters only must suffice for the links of the familial chain. Perhaps again I'll see my brother in the flesh. And my father. It seems that I return but once each seven years. And each seven years is an eternity of grief.
Yet with the bitterness, there is also happiness, the humour and wonder of my sons' childhood, the blossoming of their intellect, their emerging characters. They write my book as much as I. They censor my pages, stolen treasures upon which to draw rainbows, houses with many windows, storms, suns, princes catching Golden Birds. I retrieve the papers and continue, sometimes in anger, sometimes with joy.
. . . the whole blue rotunda of the sky . . . He thought of the ruins of the Grecian worship, and it seemed a temple was never perfectly a temple, till it was ruined and mixed up with the winds and the sky and the herbs.
D. H. Lawrence
D. H. Lawrence
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