It was two hours cut clean out of his life, two hours in which he might have done so much, so much–written the perfect poem, for example, or read the one illuminating book.

Two hours. One hundred and twenty minutes. Anything might be done in that time. Anything. Nothing. Oh, he had hundreds of hours, and what had he done with them? Wasted them, spilt the precious minutes as though his reservoir were inexhaustible. Denis groaned in the spirit, condemned himself utterly with all his works. What right had he to sit in the sunshine, to occupy corner seats in third-class carriages, to be alive? None, none, none.

Misery and a nameless nostalgic distress possessed him. He was twenty-three, and oh! so agonizingly conscious of the fact.

Curves, curves: he repeated the word slowly, trying as he did so to find some term in which to give expression to his appreciation. He made a gesture with his hand, as though to scoop the achieved expression out of the air, and almost fell off his bicycle. What was the word to describe the curves of those little valleys? They were as fine as the lines of a human body, they were informed with the subtlety of art. . . .

He really must find that word. Curves curves. . . . Those little valleys had the lines of a cup moulded round a woman’s breast; they seemed the dinted imprints of some huge divine body that had rested on these hills. Cumbrous locutions, these; but through them he seemed to be getting nearer to what he wanted. Dinted, dimpled, wimpled–his mind wandered down echoing corridors of assonance and alliteration ever further and further from the point. He was enamoured with the beauty of words.

Parallel straight lines, Denis reflected, meet only at infinity. He might talk for ever of care-charmer sleep and she of meteorology till the end of time. Did one ever establish contact with anyone? We are all parallel straight lines.

“You have a bad habit of quoting,” said Anne. “As I never know the context or author, I find it humiliating.”

Denis apologized. “It’s the fault of one’s education. Things somehow seem more real and vivid when one can apply somebody else’s ready-made phrase about them. And then there are lots of lovely names and words–Monophysite, Iamblichus, Pomponazzi; you bring them out triumphantly, and feel you’ve clinched the argument with the mere magical sound of them. That’s what comes of higher education.”

“You may regret your education,” said Anne;  “I’m ashamed of my lack of it. Look at those sunflowers! Aren’t they magnificent?”

“Dark faces and golden crowns–they’re kings in Ethiopia. And I like the way the tits cling to the flowers and pick out the seeds, while the other loutish birds, grubbing dirtily for their food, look up in envy from the ground. Do they look up in envy? That’s the literary touch, I’m afraid. Education again. It always comes back to that.” He was silent.

Anne had sat down on a bench that stood in the shade of an old apple tree. “I’m listening,” she said.

He did not sit down, but walked backwards and forwards in front of the bench, gesticulating a little as he talked. “Books,” he said, “books. One reads so many, and one sees so few people and so little of the world. Great thick books about the universe and the mind and ethics. You’ve no idea how many there are. I must have read twenty or thirty tons of them in the last five years. Twenty tons of ratiocination. Weighted with that, one’s pushed out into the world.”

One entered the world, Denis pursued, having ready-made ideas about everything. One had a philosophy and tried to make life fit into it. One should have lived first and then made one’s philosophy to fit life. . . . Life, facts, things were horribly complicated; ideas, even the most difficult of them, deceptively simple. In the world of ideas everything was clear; in life all was obscure, embroiled. Was it surprising that one was miserable, horribly unhappy? Denis came to a halt in front of the bench, and as he asked this last question he stretched out his arms and stood for an instant in an attitude of crucifixion, then let them fall again to his sides.

“My poor Denis!” Anne was touched. He was really too pathetic as he stood there in front of her in his white flannel trousers. “But does one suffer about these things? It seems very extraordinary.”

“You’re like Scogan,” cried Denis bitterly. “You regard me as a specimen for an anthropologist. Well, I suppose I am.”

“No, no,” she protested, and drew in her skirt with a gesture that indicated he was to sit down beside her. He sat down.”Why can’t you just take things for granted and as they come?” she asked. “It’s so much simpler.”

“Of course it is,” said Denis. “But it’s a lesson to be learnt gradually. There are the twenty tons of ratiocination to be got rid of first.”

“I’ve always taken things as they’ve come,” said Anne. “It seems so obvious. One enjoys the pleasant things, avoids the nasty ones. There’s nothing more to be said.”

“Nothing–for you. But, then, you were born a pagan; I am trying laboriously to make myself one. I can take nothing for granted, I can enjoy nothing as it comes along. Beauty, pleasure, art, women–I have to invent an excuse, a justification for everything that’s delightful. Otherwise I can’t enjoy it with an easy conscience. I make up a little story about beauty and pretend that it has something to do with truth and goodness. I have to say that art is the process by which one reconstructs the divine reality out of chaos. Pleasure is one of the mystical roads to union with the infinite–the ecstasies of drinking, dancing, love-making. As for women, I am perpetually assuring myself that they’re the broad highway to divinity. And to think that I’m only just beginning to see through the silliness of the whole thing! It’s incredible to me that anyone should have escaped the horrors.”

“The Mountain Road may be steep, but the air is pure up there, and it is from the Summit that one gets the view.”

“The Things that Really Matter happen in the Heart.”

It was curious, Denis reflected, the way the Infinite sometimes repeated itself.

“Seeing is Believing. Yes, but Believing is also Seeing. If I believe in God, I see God, even in the things that seem to be evil.”

Mr. Barbecue-Smith looked up from his notebook. “That last one,” he said,” is particularly subtle and beautiful, don’t you think? Without Inspiration I could never have hit on that.” He re-read the apophthegm with a slower and more solemn utterance.  “Straight from the Infinite,” he commented reflectively, then addressed himself to the next aphorism.

“The flame of a candle gives Light, but it also Burns.”

Puzzled wrinkles appeared on Mr. Barbecue-Smith’s forehead.  “I don’t exactly know what that means,” he said. It’s very gnomic. One could apply it, of course, to the Higher Education–illuminating, but provoking the Lower Classes to discontent and revolution. Yes, I suppose that’s what it is. But it’s very gnomic, it’s gnomic.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. The gong sounded again, clamorously, it seemed imploringly; dinner was growing cold. It roused Mr. Barbecue-Smith from meditation. He turned to Denis.

“You understand me now when I advise you to cultivate your Inspiration. Let your Subconscious work for you; turn on the Niagara of the Infinite.”

“That’s the test for the literary mind,” said Denis; “the feeling of magic, the sense that words have power. The technical, verbal part of literature is simply a development of magic. Words are man’s first and most grandiose invention. With language he created a whole new universe; what power to them! With fitted, harmonious words the magicians summoned rabbits out of empty hats and spirits from the elements. Their descendants, the literary men, still go on with the process, morticing their verbal formuas together and, before the power of the finished spell, trembling with delight and awe. Rabbits out of empty hats? No, their spells are more subtly powerful, for they evoke emotions out of empty minds. Formulated by their art the most insipid statements become enormously significant. For example, I proffer the constation, ‘Black ladders lack bladders.’ A self-evident truth, one on which it would not have been worth while to insist, had I chosen to formulate it in such words as ‘Black fire-escapes have no bladders,’ or, ‘Les echelles noires manquent de vessie.’ But since I put it as I do, ‘Black ladders lack bladders,’ it becomes, for all its self-evidence, significant, unforgettable, moving. The creation by word-power of something out of nothing–what is that but magic? And, I may add, what is that but literature? Half the world’s greatest poetry is simply ‘Les echelles noires manquest de vessie,’ translated into magic significance as, ‘Black ladders lack bladders.’ And you can’t appreciate words. I’m sorry for you.”

“A mental carminative,” said Mr. Scogan reflectively. “That’s what you need.”

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