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Chapter 6

  • The flames had fairly caught.
  • "There's St. Paul's!" some one cried.
  • As the wood caught the city of London was lit up for a second; on other side_f the fire there were trees. Of the faces which came out fresh and vivid a_hough painted in yellow and red, the most prominent was a girl's face. By _rick of the firelight she seemed to have no body. The oval of the face an_air hung beside the fire with a dark vacuum for background. As if dazed b_he glare, her green-blue eyes stared at the flames. Every muscle of her fac_as taut. There was something tragic in her thus staring—her age betwee_wenty and twenty-five.
  • A hand descending from the chequered darkness thrust on her head the conica_hite hat of a pierrot. Shaking her head, she still stared. A whiskered fac_ppeared above her. They dropped two legs of a table upon the fire and _cattering of twigs and leaves. All this blazed up and showed faces far back, round, pale, smooth, bearded, some with billycock hats on; all intent; showe_oo St. Paul's floating on the uneven white mist, and two or three narrow, paper-white, extinguisher-shaped spires.
  • The flames were struggling through the wood and roaring up when, goodnes_nows where from, pails flung water in beautiful hollow shapes, as of polishe_ortoiseshell; flung again and again; until the hiss was like a swarm of bees; and all the faces went out.
  • "Oh Jacob," said the girl, as they pounded up the hill in the dark, "I'm s_rightfully unhappy!"
  • Shouts of laughter came from the others—high, low; some before, others after.
  • The hotel dining-room was brightly lit. A stag's head in plaster was at on_nd of the table; at the other some Roman bust blackened and reddened t_epresent Guy Fawkes, whose night it was. The diners were linked together b_engths of paper roses, so that when it came to singing "Auld Lang Syne" wit_heir hands crossed a pink and yellow line rose and fell the entire length o_he table. There was an enormous tapping of green wine-glasses. A young ma_tood up, and Florinda, taking one of the purplish globes that lay on th_able, flung it straight at his head. It crushed to powder.
  • "I'm so frightfully unhappy!" she said, turning to Jacob, who sat beside her.
  • The table ran, as if on invisible legs, to the side of the room, and a barre_rgan decorated with a red cloth and two pots of paper flowers reeled ou_altz music.
  • Jacob could not dance. He stood against the wall smoking a pipe.
  • "We think," said two of the dancers, breaking off from the rest, and bowin_rofoundly before him, "that you are the most beautiful man we have eve_een."
  • So they wreathed his head with paper flowers. Then somebody brought out _hite and gilt chair and made him sit on it. As they passed, people hung glas_rapes on his shoulders, until he looked like the figure-head of a wrecke_hip. Then Florinda got upon his knee and hid her face in his waistcoat. Wit_ne hand he held her; with the other, his pipe.
  • "Now let us talk," said Jacob, as he walked down Haverstock Hill between fou_nd five o'clock in the morning of November the sixth arm-in-arm with Timm_urrant, "about something sensible."
  • The Greeks—yes, that was what they talked about—how when all's said and done, when one's rinsed one's mouth with every literature in the world, includin_hinese and Russian (but these Slavs aren't civilized), it's the flavour o_reek that remains. Durrant quoted Aeschylus—Jacob Sophocles. It is true tha_o Greek could have understood or professor refrained from pointing out—Neve_ind; what is Greek for if not to be shouted on Haverstock Hill in the dawn?
  • Moreover, Durrant never listened to Sophocles, nor Jacob to Aeschylus. The_ere boastful, triumphant; it seemed to both that they had read every book i_he world; known every sin, passion, and joy. Civilizations stood round the_ike flowers ready for picking. Ages lapped at their feet like waves fit fo_ailing. And surveying all this, looming through the fog, the lamplight, th_hades of London, the two young men decided in favour of Greece.
  • "Probably," said Jacob, "we are the only people in the world who know what th_reeks meant."
  • They drank coffee at a stall where the urns were burnished and little lamp_urnt along the counter.
  • Taking Jacob for a military gentleman, the stall-keeper told him about his bo_t Gibraltar, and Jacob cursed the British army and praised the Duke o_ellington. So on again they went down the hill talking about the Greeks.
  • A strange thing—when you come to think of it—this love of Greek, flourishin_n such obscurity, distorted, discouraged, yet leaping out, all of a sudden, especially on leaving crowded rooms, or after a surfeit of print, or when th_oon floats among the waves of the hills, or in hollow, sallow, fruitles_ondon days, like a specific; a clean blade; always a miracle. Jacob knew n_ore Greek than served him to stumble through a play. Of ancient history h_new nothing. However, as he tramped into London it seemed to him that the_ere making the flagstones ring on the road to the Acropolis, and that i_ocrates saw them coming he would bestir himself and say "my fine fellows,"
  • for the whole sentiment of Athens was entirely after his heart; free, venturesome, high-spirited…. She had called him Jacob without asking hi_eave. She had sat upon his knee. Thus did all good women in the days of th_reeks.
  • At this moment there shook out into the air a wavering, quavering, dolefu_amentation which seemed to lack strength to unfold itself, and yet flagge_n; at the sound of which doors in back streets burst sullenly open; workme_tumped forth.
  • Florinda was sick.
  • Mrs. Durrant, sleepless as usual, scored a mark by the side of certain line_n the Inferno.
  • Clara slept buried in her pillows; on her dressing-table dishevelled roses an_ pair of long white gloves.
  • Still wearing the conical white hat of a pierrot, Florinda was sick.
  • The bedroom seemed fit for these catastrophes—cheap, mustard-coloured, hal_ttic, half studio, curiously ornamented with silver paper stars, Welshwomen'_ats, and rosaries pendent from the gas brackets. As for Florinda's story, he_ame had been bestowed upon her by a painter who had wished it to signify tha_he flower of her maidenhood was still unplucked. Be that as it may, she wa_ithout a surname, and for parents had only the photograph of a tombston_eneath which, she said, her father lay buried. Sometimes she would dwell upo_he size of it, and rumour had it that Florinda's father had died from th_rowth of his bones which nothing could stop; just as her mother enjoyed th_onfidence of a Royal master, and now and again Florinda herself was _rincess, but chiefly when drunk. Thus deserted, pretty into the bargain, wit_ragic eyes and the lips of a child, she talked more about virginity tha_omen mostly do; and had lost it only the night before, or cherished it beyon_he heart in her breast, according to the man she talked to. But did sh_lways talk to men? No, she had her confidante: Mother Stuart. Stuart, as th_ady would point out, is the name of a Royal house; but what that signified, and what her business way, no one knew; only that Mrs. Stuart got posta_rders every Monday morning, kept a parrot, believed in the transmigration o_ouls, and could read the future in tea leaves. Dirty lodging-house wallpape_he was behind the chastity of Florinda.
  • Now Florinda wept, and spent the day wandering the streets; stood at Chelse_atching the river swim past; trailed along the shopping streets; opened he_ag and powdered her cheeks in omnibuses; read love letters, propping the_gainst the milk pot in the A.B.C. shop; detected glass in the sugar bowl; accused the waitress of wishing to poison her; declared that young men stare_t her; and found herself towards evening slowly sauntering down Jacob'_treet, when it struck her that she liked that man Jacob better than dirt_ews, and sitting at his table (he was copying his essay upon the Ethics o_ndecency), drew off her gloves and told him how Mother Stuart had banged he_n the head with the tea-cosy.
  • Jacob took her word for it that she was chaste. She prattled, sitting by the fireside, of famous painters. The tomb of her father was mentioned.
  • Wild and frail and beautiful she looked, and thus the women of the Greeks were, Jacob thought; and this was life; and himself a man and Florinda chaste.
  • She left with one of Shelley's poems beneath her arm. Mrs. Stuart, she said, often talked of him.
  • Marvellous are the innocent. To believe that the girl herself transcends al_ies (for Jacob was not such a fool as to believe implicitly), to wonde_nviously at the unanchored life—his own seeming petted and even cloistered i_omparison—to have at hand as sovereign specifics for all disorders of th_oul Adonais and the plays of Shakespeare; to figure out a comradeship al_pirited on her side, protective on his, yet equal on both, for women, though_acob, are just the same as men—innocence such as this is marvellous enough, and perhaps not so foolish after all.
  • For when Florinda got home that night she first washed her head; then at_hocolate creams; then opened Shelley. True, she was horribly bored. What o_arth was it ABOUT? She had to wager with herself that she would turn the pag_efore she ate another. In fact she slept. But then her day had been a lon_ne, Mother Stuart had thrown the tea-cosy;—there are formidable sights in th_treets, and though Florinda was ignorant as an owl, and would never learn t_ead even her love letters correctly, still she had her feelings, liked som_en better than others, and was entirely at the beck and call of life. Whethe_r not she was a virgin seems a matter of no importance whatever. Unless, indeed, it is the only thing of any importance at all.
  • Jacob was restless when she left him.
  • All night men and women seethed up and down the well-known beats. Late home- comers could see shadows against the blinds even in the most respectabl_uburbs. Not a square in snow or fog lacked its amorous couple. All play_urned on the same subject. Bullets went through heads in hotel bedroom_lmost nightly on that account. When the body escaped mutilation, seldom di_he heart go to the grave unscarred. Little else was talked of in theatres an_opular novels. Yet we say it is a matter of no importance at all.
  • What with Shakespeare and Adonais, Mozart and Bishop Berkeley—choose whom yo_ike—the fact is concealed and the evenings for most of us pass reputably, o_ith only the sort of tremor that a snake makes sliding through the grass. Bu_hen concealment by itself distracts the mind from the print and the sound. I_lorinda had had a mind, she might have read with clearer eyes than we can.
  • She and her sort have solved the question by turning it to a trifle of washin_he hands nightly before going to bed, the only difficulty being whether yo_refer your water hot or cold, which being settled, the mind can go about it_usiness unassailed.
  • But it did occur to Jacob, half-way through dinner, to wonder whether she ha_ mind.
  • They sat at a little table in the restaurant.
  • Florinda leant the points of her elbows on the table and held her chin in th_up of her hands. Her cloak had slipped behind her. Gold and white with brigh_eads on her she emerged, her face flowering from her body, innocent, scarcel_inted, the eyes gazing frankly about her, or slowly settling on Jacob an_esting there. She talked:
  • "You know that big black box the Australian left in my room ever so long ago?
  • … I do think furs make a woman look old…. That's Bechstein come in now…. I wa_ondering what you looked like when you were a little boy, Jacob." She nibble_er roll and looked at him.
  • "Jacob. You're like one of those statues…. I think there are lovely things i_he British Museum, don't you? Lots of lovely things …" she spoke dreamily.
  • The room was filling; the heat increasing. Talk in a restaurant is daze_leep-walkers' talk, so many things to look at—so much noise—other peopl_alking. Can one overhear? Oh, but they mustn't overhear US.
  • "That's like Ellen Nagle—that girl …" and so on.
  • "I'm awfully happy since I've known you, Jacob. You're such a GOOD man."
  • The room got fuller and fuller; talk louder; knives more clattering.
  • "Well, you see what makes her say things like that is …"
  • She stopped. So did every one.
  • "To-morrow … Sunday … a beastly … you tell me … go then!" Crash!
  • And out she swept.
  • It was at the table next them that the voice spun higher and higher. Suddenl_he woman dashed the plates to the floor. The man was left there. Everybod_tared. Then—"Well, poor chap, we mustn't sit staring. What a go! Did you hea_hat she said? By God, he looks a fool! Didn't come up to the scratch, _uppose. All the mustard on the tablecloth. The waiters laughing."
  • Jacob observed Florinda. In her face there seemed to him something horribl_rainless—as she sat staring.
  • Out she swept, the black woman with the dancing feather in her hat.
  • Yet she had to go somewhere. The night is not a tumultuous black ocean i_hich you sink or sail as a star. As a matter of fact it was a wet Novembe_ight. The lamps of Soho made large greasy spots of light upon the pavement.
  • The by-streets were dark enough to shelter man or woman leaning against th_oorways. One detached herself as Jacob and Florinda approached.
  • "She's dropped her glove," said Florinda.
  • Jacob, pressing forward, gave it her.
  • Effusively she thanked him; retraced her steps; dropped her glove again. Bu_hy? For whom? Meanwhile, where had the other woman got to? And the man?
  • The street lamps do not carry far enough to tell us. The voices, angry, lustful, despairing, passionate, were scarcely more than the voices of cage_easts at night. Only they are not caged, nor beasts. Stop a man; ask him th_ay; he'll tell it you; but one's afraid to ask him the way. What does on_ear?—the human eye. At once the pavement narrows, the chasm deepens. There!
  • They've melted into it—both man and woman. Further on, blatantly advertisin_ts meritorious solidity, a boarding-house exhibits behind uncurtained window_ts testimony to the soundness of London. There they sit, plainly illuminated, dressed like ladies and gentlemen, in bamboo chairs. The widows of busines_en prove laboriously that they are related to judges. The wives of coa_erchants instantly retort that their fathers kept coachmen. A servant bring_offee, and the crochet basket has to be moved. And so on again into the dark, passing a girl here for sale, or there an old woman with only matches t_ffer, passing the crowd from the Tube station, the women with veiled hair, passing at length no one but shut doors, carved door-posts, and a solitar_oliceman, Jacob, with Florinda on his arm, reached his room and, lighting th_amp, said nothing at all.
  • "I don't like you when you look like that," said Florinda.
  • The problem is insoluble. The body is harnessed to a brain. Beauty goes han_n hand with stupidity. There she sat staring at the fire as she had stared a_he broken mustard-pot. In spite of defending indecency, Jacob doubted whethe_e liked it in the raw. He had a violent reversion towards male society, cloistered rooms, and the works of the classics; and was ready to turn wit_rath upon whoever it was who had fashioned life thus.
  • Then Florinda laid her hand upon his knee.
  • After all, it was none of her fault. But the thought saddened him. It's no_atastrophes, murders, deaths, diseases, that age and kill us; it's the wa_eople look and laugh, and run up the steps of omnibuses.
  • Any excuse, though, serves a stupid woman. He told her his head ached.
  • But when she looked at him, dumbly, half-guessing, half-understanding, apologizing perhaps, anyhow saying as he had said, "It's none of my fault,"
  • straight and beautiful in body, her face like a shell within its cap, then h_new that cloisters and classics are no use whatever. The problem i_nsoluble.